IRE/NICAR Tipsheet No. 79
Connecting Campaign Contributions and public policy
By: Brooks Jackson
1. Find the money. Who's giving in large amounts?
A. Political Action Committees
2. Find the policy. What do the donors want? Are they getting it?
B. "Bundled" contributions from individual business executives (or
others with common motive)
C. Hidden money, such as "soft" money, state-level contributions,
contributions to scholarship funds, favorite charities, bulk purchases of
D. "Sweetheart" business deals: real estate sold for less than
market value, etc.
A. Ask the lobbyists, "What are your legislative priorities?"
(Hint: Don't ask: "What are you trying to buy?")
3. Find details that make the connection explicit or obvious. (in the
special-interest world, A+B doesn't always = C).
B. Read annual reports. What are companies telling their
shareholders about the "legislative environment?"
C. Read hearing records. What did witnesses from the company or
trade association say to the Ways and Means committee?
D. Ask congressional staffers. Any "Little old technical
amendments" that benefit only one company or group?
E. Understand the industry. How do they make their money? How are
they taxed? What government actions threaten their profits?
A. Proximity of large gifts to actions. What was the subcommittee
doing on the day of the donation, or just before or after?
4. Apply the two basic tests:
B. Boasting by donors, to PAC members, shareholders, etc.
C. Remarks by lawmakers to donors, at conventions, seminars etc.
A. "SO WHAT?" Explain to your audience why the policy is important
to them. Would they have gotten a $100 refund? Did their taxes go up?
Were dangerous products allowed on the market?
5. Avoid the common pitfalls
B. "W.G.F.?" (Loosely translated: Who suffered?) Did the policy
result in death, injury, injustice or financial loss to any person
or group? Even if your audience isn't affected directly, they can
become involved vicariously if the story has identifiable
A. Don't assume all contribution are bribes.
Actually, many are shakedowns, many more are given for non-economic
motives. Remember: millions of Americans contribute. Only a few deserve to
B. Find ALL the money.
What is the other side giving? Just because the winning side gave
a lot doesn't mean the losing side didn't give a lot, too. Be fair.