JV sent me a link to a post claiming that lobbyists buy votes based on data from MAPLight showing the correlation between donations and votes by various legislators.

If you click the “Video Tour” button on the home page, you’ll see a six-minute video that illustrates the point. You find out that on H.R.5684, the U. S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement, special interests in favor of this bill (including pharmaceutical companies and aircraft makers) gave each senator an average of $244,000. Lobbyists opposed to the bill (such as anti-poverty groups and consumer groups) coughed up only $38,000 per senator.

Surprise! The bill passed.

If you click “Timeline of Contributions,” you find out that — surprise again! — contributions to the lawmakers surged during the six weeks leading up to the vote. On this same page, you can click the name of a particular member of Congress to see how much money that person collected.

Another mind-blowing example: from the home page, click “California.” Click “Legislators,” then click “Fabian Nunez.” The resulting page shows you how much this guy has collected from each special-interest group — $2.2 million so far — and there, in black-and-white type, how often he voted their way.

Construction unions: 94 percent of the time. Casinos: 95 percent of the time. Law firms: 78 percent of the time. Seems as though if you’re an industry lobbyist, giving this fellow money is a pretty good investment.

Of course, correlation does not equal causation, as the first commenter on that post points out. Do legislators vote in certain ways because money is given to their campaigns, or is money given because of how the legislators vote? To put it another way, which came first, the money or the votes? In reality, the answer is neither -- money and votes are symbiotic.

Legislators don't pocket this money, they spend it to get reelected. It's a cycle, like how water cycles through the environment as clouds, rain, rivers, oceans, and then clouds again. "Special interest groups" get money from voters who want to pool their resources to achieve some political goal; the groups give the money to politicians who have and will vote the way the group wants; the politicians spend the money to convince voters that they should be reelected.

Does this political-money cycle always work perfectly? No, because money is not a perfect proxy for votes -- that is, everyone gets one vote, but some people have exponentially more money than others. Still, it's the best system I can think of other than making me king-for-life. The last thing we need is the government "elite" regulating our speech or telling us how we can spend our own money.

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