In his latest Washington Post column, George Will strives to discount the common-sense notion that special-interest money corrupts legislative action. In the process, he finds himself falling back on this classic canard, often repeated by the opponents of campaign-finance reform: "abundant scholarship demonstrates that most legislative behavior -- and most campaign giving -- is explainable by the legislators' political philosophies, party affiliations or constituents' desires."
This is a classic example of looking for one's lost keys under the lamppost rather than in the dark where they would be harder -- but not impossible -- to see. Consider the following clear demonstrations of money's influence on politics:
Dinner Bell for Donors. The Tauzin-Dingell telecom bill that passed the House in February, allowing Baby Bells to offer long-distance broadband services without opening local service to competition, is a classic example of "money in, votes out." Those 273 members who voted in favor of the Baby Bells got seven times as much money from them from 1999 through 2001 as they did from long-distance companies (whose stance was on the other side of the issue). And lawmakers who got twice as much from the Baby Bells as from the long-distance carriers -- some 298 House members -- voted with them by a margin of 4-to-1. Within that group, the 180 members who got at least 10 times as much supported the bill by nearly 5-to-1. Those who got twice as much from the long-distance carriers, on the other hand, voted 19-to-1 against the bill. This holds true across party lines.
CAFE Tabled. Did fuel-efficiency standards ever have a chance? The auto industry accounted for nearly $4 million in soft money, political-action committee, and individual contributions to federal parties and candidates in 2001 (79 percent to Republicans). On average, the 62 senators who voted with the industry to avoid toughening the fuel-efficiency standards received more than $18,800 from auto companies. The 38 senators who wanted strong standards received just a third of that amount.
Called to Account. Or how about the accounting bill that passed the House on April 24? The bill's a huge boon to the industry. And the House members who voted for it got, on average, twice as much from the Big Five accounting firms and their trade association as those who voted against it ($33,150 versus $17,332).
Thanks to the Center for Responsive Politics and Public Campaign for the number crunching above. Over the years, George Will has penned countless apologias for the rich in the form of anti-campaign-finance reform columns. These data show that his latest item is just as off the mark as all the others.