Social scientists have traditionally struggled to identify clear links between political spending and congressional voting, and many journalists have embraced their skepticism. A giant stumbling block has been the challenge of measuring the labyrinthine ways money flows from investors, firms, and industries to particular candidates. Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen directly tackle that classic problem in this paper. Constructing new data sets that capture much larger swaths of political spending, they show direct links between political contributions to individual members of Congress and key floor votes.
Their study builds on two earlier studies published by the Roosevelt Institute. Gerald Epstein and Juan Antonio Montecino’s “Overcharged: The High Cost of High Finance” assesses the staggering costs imposed on the U.S. economy by deregulated, out-of-control finance. Mark Cooper’s “Overcharged and Underserved” analyzes the charges telecommunications oligopolies levy on Americans and their disastrous impacts on services and economic growth.
The message of Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen’s study is simple: Money influences key congressional floor votes on both finance and telecommunication issues. Americans may not have the “best Congress money can buy”—after all, as they note, their results could be even bleaker—but there is no point in pretending that what appears to be the voice of the people is really often the sound of money talking.
Also published on Medium.