Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Just 10% of contributions in the race for NY-23 came from NY-23?

I read an article yesterday about the wealth of data available on the Federal Election Commission's website - - and after spending a couple of minutes on that site I can say it is a thing of beauty for a data junkie like myself. Since, the race for NY-23 is fresh in our mind, I thought it might make some sense to look back at that race and I think you'll see some eye opening data.

I'll save you the trouble of searching for the candidate's filings. You can find

all of the data for NY-23 here. It's worth noting that because of our special election in 2009-10 some of the data is probably screwy. I excluded Mr. Hoffman's fundraising to ease the comparison (but it's clear that Mr. Hoffman had a passionate base of individual contributors).

The first thing that jumps off the page is that the combined receipts of the two campaigns exceeds $5.2 million. That seems like an awfully large sum of money to be contributed from NNY so it makes sense to start drilling down into the data. If you click on the "individuals" or PAC lists you'll get a detailed file of every contribution to the campaigns.

By exporting the data to excel and sorting by zip code I found that of the $5.2 million of receipts raised by the two candidates just $495,967 came from individuals in what would be considered residents of NY-23. So less than 10% of campaign receipts came from within the district? Even if we back out the candidates substantial individual contributions to their own campaigns (which totaled $1.87 million) we get a new "in district" contribution rate of only 14.5%.

If $86 of every $100 raised in the NY-23 race comes from outside the district it really begs the question: Who does a Congressman answer to? Will it be the farmer in Hammond, the small business owner in Plattsburg or the contributor from Old Greenwich or Palo Alto? I was clearly naive to the amount of "out of district" fundraising that occurs. This provides further evidence that we need to scrap the entire campaign finance system and start over in my opinion.

* For the record both candidates were roughly the same in their ratio of "outside of the district" donations. Congressman Owens did have a higher percentage of individual "in district" contributions - 28% of his individual donations coming from the district vs 10% for Mr. Doheny - but when you add in the substantial PAC donations to Congressman Owens ($996k vs $36k) his ratio of "in district contributions" falls to just 16.6%. While you could argue that some of the PAC donations may have come from "in district" donors, I think that the bulk of them appear to be outside of the district.

** Also, if my 10 year old can spot flaws in the campaign finance system we have a problem. While looking at the data with me this morning she saw one family name listed a number of times. I told her that it's okay because each member of a family can donate to each campaign. However, that made me wonder about the number of people double dipping - donating for themselves and their spouse (and in at least one case a child whose occupation was listed as University Student). After sorting the data again by occupation, it's clear that homemaker is apparently a very lucrative position in some parts of the country as "homemakers" contributed over $120k to one candidate in NY-23 while another candidate did not fair as well with the stay at home crowd only taking in $9k from homemakers. However, don't despair because this candidate was able to take in roughly $60k from people listed as unemployed or listed their job as "none".

I can definitely see myself wasting lots of time reviewing the contributions of other hotly contested races around the US.



Anonymous said...

Excellent job. The money trail is the post important to watch. Like Watergate, Follow the money.

Fellow Claytonian

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to look at the individual donors within the district. The rent seekers donations are overwhelming going to Democrats. The Democrats don’t have a monopoly on payments to rent seekers but clearly are more active using this technique to raise funds then are the Republicans. The alternative energy sector is a perfect example where the industry would not even exist if the funneling of tax payer dollars ended.
Your question “Who does a Congressman answer to?” implies in my mind that you have cause and effect reversed. It seems the conventional wisdom is the poor politician is held hostage to the moneyed interest. What seems lost is the fact that the politicians hold the power to either reward or punish the moneyed interests through legislation and allocation of funds from the public purse. It is analogist to the corner store paying protection money to the Mafia. If you fail to pay the protection money it is easy enough to replace you with someone that will. In the same way the politician is not dependant on any individual donor. If you fail to pay the protection money the politician will have no problem selling a competitive advantage in the form of legislation, subsidies, or tax breaks to your competitors.

Anonymous said...

It's a bit misleading. The financial report only covers up the September primary. I assume a subsequent filing will include the General Election. According to the filing most of Mr. Doheny's campaign was largely self funded. If the self funded portion is discarded, the actual amount of money coming into the Doheny coffers was very small compared to Owens.

Also the blog fails to point out the Doheny faced a bruising primary,unlike Mr. Owens who was unopposed.

Much of the money collected from outside by Doheny came from former colleagues in New York City while Owens received significant amounts from public sector unions that are affected by congressional actions.

It would be interesting to see a subsequent report. It'll be hard to pick out but it would be interesting to see how much money from Democratic supporting groups and people flowed to Hoffman during the run-up to the general election.