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Campaign Donations Sway Lawmakers’ Vote

By JONATHAN D. SALANT, Associated Press Writer, July 19, 2003

WASHINGTON – You don’t need a scorecard to figure out how lawmakers vote on major issues. You just need to tabulate their campaign donations.

The Associated Press looked at six measures in the House — medical malpractice, class action lawsuits, overhauling bankruptcy laws, the energy bill, gun manufacturer lawsuits and overtime pay — and compared lawmakers’ votes with the financial backing they received from interest groups supporting or opposing the legislation. The House passed five of the six bills and defeated an amendment that would have stopped the Bush administration from rewriting the rules for overtime pay.

In the vast majority of cases, the biggest recipients of interest group money voted the way their donors wanted, according to the AP’s computer-assisted analysis of campaign finance data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Groups that outspent opponents got the bills they wanted in five of the six cases examined by the AP.

For example, House members voting to ban lawsuits against gun manufacturers and distributors averaged more than $173 from supporters of gun owners’ rights for every $1 those groups gave to bill opponents.

Overall, gun rights groups gave $1.2 million to House members during the 2002 elections while supporters of gun control gave $27,250.

“We have a very loyal and very generous membership that recognizes the significance of electing officials who respect their Second Amendment freedoms,” said Chris W. Cox, chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.

Candice Nelson, an associate professor of political science at American University and director of the school’s Campaign Management Institute, said interest groups see campaign donations as investments.

“You want to make sure to get like-minded people elected,” she said.

Lawmakers reject a connection between votes and money.

“There was never a discussion of, `If you do this, I’ll do that,'” said Rep. John Linder (news, bio, voting record), R-Ga., who has raised millions of dollars for House Republicans. “People will write checks because they think we’re working hard to do our best.”

The AP analysis also found:

_Supporters of doctor-backed legislation limiting noneconomic damages for patients injured by medical malpractice averaged $1.41 in campaign contributions from physicians and other health professionals for every $1 given to lawmakers against the measure. Opponents of the bill received $1.85 from lawyers, who objected to curbs on awards, for every $1 given to those who voted yes.

Lawyers gave $21.3 million to House members during the 2002 campaign while health professionals gave $16.7 million.

_House members who sided with trial lawyers and voted against shifting class action lawsuits from state courts to more restrictive federal courts averaged of $1.63 from attorneys for every $1 given to legislation supporters. Businesses contributed $276.7 million to House members, compared with $21.3 million for lawyers.

_Backers of legislation making it harder for consumers to erase their debts in bankruptcy court received, on average, $2.13 from the credit card and finance industries for every $1 given to bill opponents. Those industries gave $2 million; consumer groups gave $1,298.

_Lawmakers voting for an energy bill that would open to drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska averaged $4.64 from the oil and gas industry for every $1 given to those who voted no. Opponents averaged $12.99 from environmental groups for every $1 contributed to bill supporters. The oil industry gave $5.8 million; environmentalists, $751,079.

_House members who voted to overturn Bush administration efforts to rewrite rules governing overtime, which unions said would take the premium pay away from as many as 8 million workers, received $10.40 from labor for every $1 given to lawmakers who opposed the motion. Unions gave $33.7 million in 2002 to business’ $276.7 million.

“People make these political contributions for a reason,” said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “They’re making them to get some benefit, and the benefit is often the legislation.”

Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), a top Democratic fund-raiser, disputed the idea that donors try to buy support.

“Never did I ever feel like I had to support or oppose any particular legislation based upon a contribution,” Kennedy said.

Some lawmakers differed with the interest groups’ positions despite receiving sizable campaign contributions. For instance, Rep. Sherrod Brown (news, bio, voting record), D-Ohio, voted against the malpractice bill even after getting $224,352 from health care professionals, and Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich., backed the class action legislation despite receiving $145,075 from lawyers.

Still, only two of the 140 House members who opposed the gun liability bill — Reps. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., and Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. — received any pro-gun contributions.

With doctors retiring early or dropping specialties because of rising malpractice insurance premiums, the American Medical Association made sure candidates were aware of that issue. The association’s political action committee gave $2.5 million to federal candidates for the 2002 elections. Only four PACs gave more, including that of the trial lawyers.

“What the PAC tries to do is make sure that candidates are in office who will protect patients’ interests and keep physicians in the practice of medicine,” said AMA President Donald Palmisano, a New Orleans surgeon. “That’s why we made medical liability reform our No. 1 priority.”

For more on the way money controls Congress, see the Center for Responsive Politics


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