Researchers make shocking discovery: money DOES matter in DC

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It may not come as a surprise, but in Washington, money does equal success, or at least according to the scientific findings of two political science graduate students.  

Joshua Kalla of Yale University joined David Broockman at the University of California, Berkeley; released the results of an innovative field experiment to evaluate the effectiveness of campaign donations – or just the possibility of donations – and how they can alter the behavior of Congressional members and their staff.

In a report by Matea Gold for the Washington Post, researchers used an actual political group — liberal-leaning activists at CREDO Action — embedding the investigation into a real lobbying effort.

CREDO officers sent out a series of emails to congressional representatives and staff to set up meetings for co-sponsors for a bill last summer banning certain chemicals.

The subject line of the first e-mail was “Meeting with local campaign donors about cosponsoring bill.” The e-mail talked of about a dozen CREDO members “who are active political donors” that are interested in meeting a member of Congress in his or her home district to talk over the proposal.

The second e-mail removed donor references, replacing it with “local constituents” who want to meet their member of Congress.

If the Congress member was not available, the group asked to meet with senior staff.

Of the 191 members of Congress sent the emails — all of the same political party — 2.4 percent of those who received the “local constituent” email made the lawmaker or chief of staff available while the “political donor” email received a 12.5 percent response.

One in five of the “donors” were able to see a senior staffer, only 5.5 percent of the “constituents” did.

Broockman told the Post that he was surprised by the degree of difference, adding that the study may have actually underestimated access of political donors since none of the offices were given identities of the contributors beforehand, nor how much they had given – or even if they donated to that particular member of Congress.

The point of the study was to address issues raised by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, based on the assumption that lawmakers will are not influenced by political donations that do not go directly to their campaigns.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.