Campaign contributions and policies

Michael Franc looked at Federal Election Commission data on campaign contributions and found some interesting things:

Through May 1, the Democratic presidential field has suctioned up a cool $5.7 million from the more than 4,000 donors who list their occupation as “CEO.” The Republicans’ take was only $2.3 million. Chief financial officers, general counsels, directors, and chief information officers also break the Democrats’ way by more than two-to-one margins. . . .

I’m not actually sure where these numbers come from. When I queried the FEC database (looking up “ceo” from 01/01/2008 to 05/01/2008), the total contributions (not just for presidential candidates) were only $45,124. So I must be doing something wrong here in my query. In any case, I guess it makes sense that most of the contributions have gone to Democrats so far, since (a) the Democratic primary has been much more competitive than the Republican, and (b) the Democrats are favored to win this year.

Franc continues:

In this upside-down campaign season when populist GOP campaigners like John McCain and Mike Huckabee surprised the pundits with their primary victories or, in the case of Ron Paul, their fundraising prowess, it almost makes sense that the party of the country club set has been winning the fundraising race among the common man. . . . This trend extends to the saloons, where the Democrats carry the bartenders and the Republicans the waitresses. . .

The bit about the bartenders and waitresses caught my eye. But when I looked it up, I found no contributions from either group this year. Going to the entire database, I did find some “waitress” contributions between 1998 and 2005, but they were mostly to Democrats. Also a few bartender contributions since 1998, again mostly to Democrats. So I’m not really sure about that. I emailed Franc to ask for his data source so I hope to learn more.

Setting aside the data difficulties, I think Franc makes an important point in the conclusion of his article:

National political parties, after all, reflect their supporters, and party leaders traditionally feel a responsibility to cater to their supporters’ whims. A party that receives overwhelming support from elite Wall Street investment firms, corporate bigwigs, and highly educated professionals may find it exceedingly difficult to raise their taxes or impose draconian new Big Government regulations on them. Similarly, a party that is losing well-educated suburban professionals and gaining support from blue-collar workers may find it more difficult to support free trade agreements and embrace globalization.

Washington Democrats have already adapted their Big Government instincts to this new reality. They have designed government guarantees, subsidies or handouts to address the insecurities of middle- and upper-income American families. Think of the new subsidies proposed on Capitol Hill for higher education, more generous flood insurance for vacation homes, bailouts for homeowners with mortgages as high as $730,000 and welfare-style health coverage for kids in middle-income families, and you get the idea.

Their Republican counterparts, meanwhile, have struggled over how best to sell the benefits of limited government, lower taxes, and free markets to the elites who used to love them or their new, more populist constituent base. Addressing this new reality may be the most important challenge both major parties face in the months and years ahead.

I wonder, though, if he’s confusing relative with absolute numbers. Even if the Republicans are doing better with waitresses etc. than they used to, they’re still getting a lot more money from business. So, I agree with Franc about the tension within the Democratic and Republican parties, but I suspect that, to the extent that both parties are influenced by their contributors, they’ll both be pulled in a pro-business direction.

Also, it’s not clear that big business will always support free trade. As Thomas Ferguson reminded us, it was Franklin Roosevelt who implemented a free trade policy in the 1930s, during a period when the Democrats were supported by labor and the Republicans were supported by much (although not all) of big business. Ferguson discusses the idea that different industries have different policy goals.

4 thoughts on “Campaign contributions and policies

  1. Ross Douthat has links for Franc's data source:

    And his commenters find the problem: $200+ contributions only and there's a discrepancy between amount of money given and number of people in an occupation who donate it. That is, Republicans get more money from carpenters (who donate more than $200), but more carpenters (who donate more than $200) give to Democrats. Which … doesn't really suggest much new at all.

  2. A.C.: Interesting! The moral of the story is, always give your data source. Better still, link to it. (Although I admit I don't always do this myself.) I haven't heard back from Franc directly on this yet.

  3. "Big Business" is no more homogeneous than "labor". Boeing and US Steel are both big, but they have very different trade interests . So too do their "workers." FDR brought together labor and business in export-oriented industries; the old-school Republicans continued to represent the interests of labor-intensive and less competitive "big business."

  4. Tomas,

    I agree completely. That's why I find analyses such as Franc's and Ferguson's to be interesting and important.

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