Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mo' money in government and what we get for it

I don't know why these aggregates get so much traffic -- clicks here yesterday were ten times normal -- but if people want to read it, I suppose I'll have to write it.

Regarding campaign spending...

-- Texans outpace congressional colleagues on big donations:

Texas congressional candidates rely far more heavily on large donors than office-seekers in other states do, a Houston Chronicle analysis of federal campaign data for the 2012 election cycle found.

Three-quarters of Texas' congressional candidates collected less than 5 percent of their campaign funds from donations under $200 last year, a rate that is lower than all but nine other states.

A majority of checks from high-dollar Texas contributions went to Republicans, with just 15 percent of large donors siding with Democrats. Houston, the top city for big-dollar campaign cash, supplied 28 percent of all large donations from Texas last year. The reliance on larger contributions increases the political influence of wealthy donors, said Pete Quist, research director for the National Institute of Money in State Politics. For congressional contenders, it means a shorter path to campaign dollars.

"It's a lot easier for the candidates to just go up to these few donors and get the robust funding of their campaigns done," Quist said.

To fuel the record-setting spending of the most recent election campaign, candidates turned to a powerful minority composed of 31,385 mega-donors across the country. That wealthy stratum, including 2,700 Texans, funded nearly one-third of last year's $6 billion election in spending.

Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, who led Texas in Super PAC spending last year, recorded donations of $25 million. He gave money to 15 candidates, including high-profile out-of-state Republicans Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

It's bound to be good for democracy, yeah?

-- It's still easy for incumbents to keep their seats, but it sure costs a lot more:

Over the past 40 years, it hasn't gotten any easier—or harder—to win reelection as a House incumbent. It's just gotten way more expensive.

It's no secret that there's a serious incumbent advantage in the House. (And the Senate, too, but that data are less telling because the chamber has fewer elections and fewer incumbents.) The success rate for House incumbents running for reelection has dipped below 90 percent in only nine of the 34 elections since 1946, according to data compiled by National Journal's own Norm Ornstein and posted by the Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute. The reelection success rate has fallen below 80 percent only once. If you're an incumbent looking to keep your job, you are almost guaranteed to win.

And that hasn't changed much, either. The share of incumbents seeking and winning reelection has hovered around the low 90s for the past four decades. In fact, the trendline, in black below, shows that the odds of an incumbent winning reelection have fallen just slightly by 0.7 percentage points, from 93.7 percent in 1974 to 93 percent in 2012.

Ninety-three percent retention. Brought to you by America's banks, pharmaceutical companies, defense contractors, and the business executives who run them. Ain't it grand?

No, really; what kind of government are we actually getting for all that cash?

-- Pentagon lobbies hard to be allowed to keep failing on military sexual assault:

How does the military keep fending off attempts to seriously change its sexual assault culture? Through the excessive deference of many lawmakers and an enormous lobbying operation, the details of which, as reported by Politico's Darren Samuelsohn and Anna Palmer, are staggering.

In recent months, the Pentagon's big goal has been to block Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's proposal to take decisions about sexual assault and other major crimes prosecutions out of the hands of military commanders and put them in the hands of trained legal experts. The strength of that idea has the military scrambling to accept other important-but-not-strong-enough improvements to the failed anti-sexual assault efforts that have prevailed until now—and exercising its incredible advantages in lobbying Congress:
Nearly every Democratic and GOP member of the Armed Services committees has a career military officer working as a fellow—whose salary is paid by the Pentagon—to help craft legislation, unravel the department’s labyrinth of offices and sub-offices and decipher acronyms. 
“Imagine if we had bankers serving as fellows for the Financial Services Committee. Would we do that?” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who has been pushing the military for years on sexual assault.
Plus there are Capitol Hill liaisons, members of the military who regularly meet with key Hill staff to make the Pentagon’s case on a variety of issues.

This doesn't count the actual defense contractor lobbyists, of course. It's a wonder a single military base has ever been closed. But shielding rapists from prosecution is obviously more serious than $400 hammers, $2000 toilets, incompetent weapons programs that can't be killed by Congress, weapons the military doesn't want that Congress keeps alive, and so on.

As you might imagine, this Catholic Church-like effort to protect the sexual criminals in the ranks means that military recruiters have to, ah, revise their pitch.

On and on we could go in this vein, but in the next post the focus will be on the police and surveillance state of the nation.

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