Lawyers aren't alone in coughing up lots of campaign cash

A few weeks ago I pointed out that lawyers and law firms gave the largest slice of the $150 million pie of campaign contributions collected by our current crop of presidential candidates in the first three months of this year.

“Why pick on lawyers?” folks asked. Here’s why: They give boatloads of money to candidates.

In every election cycle since 1990, lawyers and law firms have ranked first among more than 80 industries in ponying up campaign contributions to congressional and presidential candidates. In the 2006 election cycle, they were second. That’s according to Federal Election Commission filings aggregated by the Center for Responsive Politics. An election cycle covers two years.

During those 16 years, lawyers and law firms gave more than $780 million to federal candidates, more than any other industry. Holy habeus corpus, Batman!

Generally, the legal profession supports Democrats, who got 72 percent of that money.

In the 2006 election cycle, lawyers and law firms gave nearly $60 million (62 percent to the Dems). Their favored politician? Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). The legal profession gave her $4.3 million.

For the sake of fairness, let’s pick on other industries that are prolific campaign contributors.

Here are the top 14 industries that gave money to congressional incumbents in the 2006 election cycle, the total given and the politician most favored:

1. Lawyers/law firms | $59,963,678 | Sen. Hillary Clinton
2. Retired | $41,930,398 | Sen. Clinton
3. Real estate | $35,283,779 | Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.)
4. Health professionals | $32,494,209 | Sen. Clinton
5. Securities/investment bankers | $28,238,304 | Sen. Lieberman
6. Leadership PACs | $25,938,098 | ex-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.)
7. Insurance | $21,262,375 | ex-Sen. Santorum
8. Lobbyists | $16,371,735 | ex-Sen. Santorum
9. Commercial banks | $16,073,084 | Sen. Clinton
10. Pharmaceuticals/health products | $13,994,760 | ex-Sen. Santorum
11. Miscellaneous finance | $13,590,823 | Sen. Lieberman
12. Electric utilities | $12,827,723 | ex-Sen. Santorum
13. Business services | $12,144,982 | Sen. Clinton
14. TV/movies/music | $12,012,166 | Sen. Clinton

(Here’s what a “Leadership PAC” is.)

Some observations:

Fourteen industries, only three top recipients: Sens. Clinton and Lieberman and former Sen. Santorum.

In the 2006 cycle — just two years — these 14 industries gave a total of $17,040,289 to Sen. Clinton; $15,467,248 to Sen. Lieberman; and $9,345,942 to ex-Sen. Santorum. (I calculated these using Excel and aggregated data from opensecrets.org.)

These 14 industries have given a total of $4,083,883,875 to federal candidates and officeholders in the eight election cycles since 1990. That’s more than $4 billion, people. (That total doesn’t count “miscellaneous finance”; longitudinal data aren’t available.)

That’s just 14 industries, the tip of campaign finance iceberg: The Center for Responsive Politics aggregates data on more than 80 industries. (Here’s how the center classifies contributions.)

But it’s not enough to discuss money in politics just by calculating campaign contributions made. Industries spend big money on lobbying. That means toting up salaries and other costs associated with advancing legislative interests in Congress as well as influencing decisions and rule-making of regulatory agencies of the federal government.

The center maintains a lobbying database. With its data, a little patience and an Excel spreadsheet, you can learn this: Ten of these 14 industries (I’m not counting “misc. finance,” “retired,” “lobbyists” and “leadership PACs”) reported total lobbying expenses between 1998 and 2005 of $5.05 billion. Again, that’s billions, people.

The roll call:

• Pharmaceuticals/health products | $1,086,829,136
• Insurance | $893,436,844
• Electric utilities | $793,774,338
• Real estate | $547,526,603
• Securities/investment bankers | $412,253,906
• Health professionals | $404,012,997
• TV/movies/music | $389,077,314
• Commercial banks | $245,760,658
• Business services | $141,051,078
• Lawyers/law firms | $135,823,518

This is not an argument that money — either as a campaign contribution or a lobbying expense — automatically soils all it touches.

But when voters assess the performance of their elected leaders, or those who seek to be their leaders, understanding who gives them money and why is an important consideration. Similarly, when federal agencies, particularly regulatory ones, make decisions, asking who spent what and where and why prior to those decisions provides clues to motivations.

Bottom line: These 14 industries have given more than $4 billion in campaign contributions since 1990 and spent more than $5 billion on lobbying costs between 1998 and 2005. That’s more than $9 billion. The sheer volume of that industrial-strength, money-fueled voice tends to drown out the voice of a single voter or public-interest advocate.

Money’s everywhere in government and politics. We need to keep track of it.


[Please consider donating to the Center for Responsive Politics. It does useful, exceptional work.]

xpost: 5th Estate

Categories: Politics/Law/Government

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6 replies »

  1. No, we don’t need to keep track of it. We need to ban it.

    I think I said this the last time you laid out some of these numbers – which by the way, are simply horrifying – but the only conceivable way of cleaning up our political mess is just BAN all monies going to our government leaders. 100% public financing.

    But gads – that would mean raising taxes to pay for it, wouldn’t it, Sam?

    Well, I don’t know. According to Denny there’s something like $800M a year that various industries seem to have no better use for…

  2. An interesting hint. But … if if these various industries get forced to underwrite the costs of elections, vs. actual public financing, they’ll think they get to chose who runs and who wins.

    Oh, wait. That’s what they do now.

    Add in their loophole-driven tax breaks as well as their campaign-finance influence … I’m so depressed.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. I don’t know that I would necessarily ban corporate lobbying (I’m ambivilant on that one), but corporate donations to candidates should go right out the window.

    And, as you point out, if we taxed the corporations to that tune alone we could fund pretty much every public campaign we’d ever need. The corporations are already paying it (and, at a minimu, producing the appearance of corruption), wo we might as well make them pay to clean up the apparent corruption they’ve cause.

  4. Ignoring the fact that our politicians are bought and paid for and are really not OUR representatives at all…

    Call me a hippy, but can you imagine what could be done with all that money instead of spending it on the outrageous costs of campaigning? This campaign cycle is two frickin years long. It’s a waste of money as we all get fatigued.

    How about “unkilling” the electric car, looking for alternative energy sources, funding our pathetic public schools, or cleaning up NOLA.

    I’m just sick.