The One Simple Graph That Tells You Who Really Holds the Power in Washington


The House Vote last week on the Amash-Conyers Amendment to the PATRIOT Act's controversial Section 215 (50 U.S.C. § 1861) seems to be a scene from the Twilight Zone. We saw Republicans supporting Obama, Democrats holding hands with libertarians, and bizarre coalitions in support Congressman Justin Amash (R-Mich.). 

One of the most notable provision in the amendment was that it prohibits the NSA's blanket collection of telephone records for all Americans unless they are being under investigation. While, this may seem reasonable to balance security and civil liberties, it failed to pass the votes. What could be the motivation behind the "nays" vote? It couldn't be public support. According the Pew Research Center, 47% of people believed the government has gone to far in eroding civil liberties to fight, as opposed to 35% who believed not enough has been done to fight terrorism. If viewing from the lens of public support alone, then the amendment should have passed, so what did all of the "nay" votes have in common?

Those who voted "nay" to the Amash-Conyers Amendment have received more financial contributions from the defense industry.

The MapLight Foundation, "a nonpartisan research organization that reveals money’s influence on politics in the U.S. Congress," conducted a study on the breakdown of the amendment votes that took place a few days ago. They found that elected officials who voted "nay" on the amendment received 122% more contributions from the defense industry than those who did not. To put it in dollars and sense, I mean cents, opponents received an average of $41,635 vs. $18,765 (see Figure 1). 

Figure 1:

Even looking at the partisan lines, the top five recipients contains 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats. Even if you conducted research on organizations, such as OpenSecrets, you can find that defense contractors line of coffers of politicians indiscriminately. For example, both John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Charles Ruppersberger (D-Mary) received $131,000 and $220,550 respectively.

As the topic of national security vs. civil liberties moves forward, you can rely on the old saying, "Follow the money." Because you definitely can't count to predict on partisan lines.