Finding Patterns in Political Money

If your U.S. Government class is up to Chapter 7: Campaigns and Voting, you’re probably discussing the ins and outs of campaign finance.  Want to take the discussion even further?  Try exploring some of the data sets annotated below.

The Anomaly Tracker from OpenSecrets tracks six kinds of money-in-politics data:

  1. Lawmakers sponsoring legislation that was lobbied by only one company or other organization whose employees or PAC also donated to the sponsoring lawmakers.
  2. Lawmakers receiving twice as much in contributions from their top donors as their next highest donors.
  3. Lawmakers receiving twice as much in contributions from their top donor industries as their next highest donor industries.
  4. Lawmakers receiving more than 50 percent of their itemized contributions from out of state.
  5. More than 50 percent of a committee or candidate’s spending is paid to a single vendor.
  6. PACs giving at least $7,500 to a candidate’s Leadership PAC but nothing to the candidate’s committee.

Of course, the existence of an anomaly is not by itself evidence of shenanigans!  But since patterns can be studied for systemic meaning, anomalies in those patterns should be investigated and explained.

There are other databases to explore that might shed light on political money.  One is the Database on Ideology, Money in Politics, and Elections (DIME) at Stanford University which “contains over 100 million political contributions made by individuals and organizations to local, state, and federal elections spanning a period from 1979 to 2012. A corresponding database of candidates and committees provides additional information on state and federal elections.”

The other is the Money, Politics and Transparency database, which scores countries on five issues:

  1. Direct and Indirect Public Funding during Campaigns
  2. Restrictions on Contribution and Expenditure
  3. Reporting Requirements and Public Disclosure
  4. Third-Party Actors
  5. Monitoring and Enforcement
MPT scorecard for Thailand, Trinidad & Tobago, and Turkey
Each country has two scores: in law (which measures the strength of its existing regulations), and in practice (which measures how well the laws are enforced). The scores are then averaged and weighted to give a composite score.

Comparisons to other systems can help people figure out what works and what doesn’t in terms of keeping politics free from the corruption of money.  Both databases are funded in part by the Sunlight Foundation, which works to make governments open, transparent, and accountable.

[The featured image is a screen grab of Graph: Political Party Finances from WorldView Software’s U.S. Government.]

BulbgraphOnOffUse social media such as a Twitter hashtag to create a running stream of questions during lectures, then go back and discuss.

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