“Even when Congress occasionally does something about big money buying political influence--which it does every forty or fifty years--the Supreme Court says that ‘money is speech.’ No other country says bribery is speech!”
-The author, venting during an early morning power walk with former Denver Post reporter Mike McPhee.
This is our second installment analyzing the special interest PAC contributions to members of Congress. Two weeks ago we looked at money given to Republican Mike Coffman. Here we are looking at PAC money given to Democrat Diana DeGette.
Diana DeGette represents all of Denver, along with parts of Adams, Arapahoe, and Jefferson Counties. She is the longest serving Member from Colorado, first elected in 1996. DeGette serves as a whip for the Democratic minority and sits on the Committee on Energy and Commerce. She was Vice Chair of this committee when Democrats were in the majority from 2007 to 2011.
In her Congressional career she has raised $3.7 million dollars from PACs – 51% of her campaign contributions. Of that $3.7 million, $2,327,531, 64% of the total, comes from business PACs, $1,088,200, 30% of the total, comes from labor and $238,287, 7% comes from single issue ideological PACs. The graphic below is a word cloud of all of her PAC contributors. The size of the font correlates with the size of the contribution. Her top 20 PACs are detailed here.
Most candidates, lobbyists, and big contributors deny that there is anything wrong with our campaign finance system. Contributors will say, “We are just supporting candidates who share our values. We are not buying excessive influence.”
If supporting candidates who share their values were the motivation for campaign contributions, you would not see interests contributing to candidates from opposite ends of the political spectrum. And yet there are 36 special interest PACs that have given to every member of the Colorado delegation who takes PAC money (Polis does not take PAC Money), and 253 have given to at least one Democrat and one Republican!
These are the interests who have contributed to every member of the Colorado delegation who takes PAC money -- Republicans and Democrats (in order of most contributed to least).
Earlier we pointed out that a number of Rep. Coffman’s biggest contributors were defense contractors, and I noted that this was probably because of his membership on the Armed Services Committee.
However, defense contractors Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon actually have contributed to every single member of the Colorado delegation who takes PAC money. Why would PACs contribute to members coming from ideologically divergent points?
Because they aren’t supporting candidates who share their values. They are buying influence with every member of Congress they can. Since you probably don’t have a PAC, they are getting something you don’t have.
This is a disconnect. Ask your member of Congress if they are influenced by their campaign contributions. They will probably deny it. Ask the lobbyist representing these PACs whether they get anything for the money they contribute. A lobbyist quoted in the New York Times on August 10 said, "we make an investment, and we are hopeful that investment produces a return."
Following this line — that special interest PACs contribute to get influence rather than support candidates whose values they share — it is noteworthy that Congresswoman DeGette received more than twice as much money from business interests than she got from labor.
Remember that her district, unlike the Coffman seat, is a safe seat. In 2012 Diana received 68% of the vote. No interest group, whether they like her or not, needs to give her money to ensure that she keeps the seat.
So why do they spend this money?
I hope you are doing well. As always do not hesitate to write back with comments or questions and please share this email with anyone who you think might be interested.
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I think you are doing, and have been doing for many years, important work. I must admit that I’m a bit disappointed that you didn’t seem to apply the same sharp analysis to the influence that Rep Degette’s contributors may be purchasing as you have done with your reviews of the Republicans. While I’m sure it’s tough to point out these issues with your fellow Democrats, it’s important to your credibility and the power of your work to do so.