Congressional Committee Sizes

In today’s New York Times, Tom Friedman writes:

Our Congress today is a forum for legalized bribery. One consumer group using information from calculates that the financial services industry, including real estate, spent $2.3 billion on federal campaign contributions from 1990 to 2010, which was more than the health care, energy, defense, agriculture and transportation industries combined. Why are there 61 members on the House Committee on Financial Services? So many congressmen want to be in a position to sell votes to Wall Street.

What an interesting proposition: The size of a Congressional committee will be directly related to the availability of campaign contributions and lobbyists. Growing (shrinking) committees are related to increased (decreased) campaign contributions and lobbyists.

This same logic suggests that: The total number of committees and committee memberships will likewise be directly related to the availability of outside funding. As total spending on contributions and lobbyists goes up (down) the number of committees and committee memberships with increase (decrease).

To follow the money, simply follow the ebb and flow of Congressional committees over time. Taken together the propositions above suggest that Congress functions like a market, and not a ballot box.

Commission on Hope, Growth & Opportunity

Recently, the OMT Blog has invited several organization theory scholars to contribute their thoughts related to the theme of the organization of political campaigns and campaign finance. This week, Ed Walker commented on research opportunities in the post-Citizens United era.

In that spirit, tonight as I was driving my kids home from an after school appointment, I caught a segment on National Public Radio (NPR) about the Commission on Hope, Growth & Opportunity. According to NPR:

“They’ve probably run some of the more entertaining ads this cycle,” says Evan Tracey, who tracks political ads for a living at the Campaign Media Analysis Group. “They don’t look like a lot of the ads that are being shown over and over and over, by candidates and the parties and the other groups in a lot of these races.”

Although many of the ads being run by the Commission sound like political ads, according to a copy of the group’s official Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filing obtained by NPR, when asked by the IRS if the organization planned “to spend any money to influence elections. It answered no.” Despite the group’s claims however:

“There’s not a whole lot of gray area as to whether these are about issues,” Tracey says. “They’re strictly about politics and elections.”

NPR also reports that the Commission on Hope, Growth & Opportunity appears to be skirting the reporting rules established by the Federal Election Commission as well as the Federal Communications Commission.

At the NPR website there is also an elaborate interactive network map which traces some of the people, money, organizations, and network ties involved.

Prop 23 and Out of State Interests

Thomas Friedman’s latest column on “The Terminator vs. Big Oil” adds another dimension to the rampant campaign finance conflicts of interest inherent in our political system.

In particular, Friedman shines a spotlight on California Prop 23, which “proposes to suspend implementation of A.B. 32 until California achieves four consecutive quarters of unemployment below 5.5 percent. It is currently above 12 percent.” A.B. 32, or California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, was designed to put California on a path to reducing greenhouse gases in its air to 1990 levels by 2020, and at the time it was enacted had the support “of Republicans, Democrats, businesses and environmentalists.”

But now, according to Governor Schwarzenegger, speaking at an energy forum last week in Sacramento:

“It is very clear that the oil companies from outside the state that are trying to take out A.B. 32, and trying to take out our environmental laws, have no interest in suspending it, but just to get rid of it… They want to kill A.B. 32. Otherwise they wouldn’t put this provision in there about the 5.5 percent unemployment rate. It’s very rare that California in the last 40 years had an unemployment rate of below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters. They’re not interested in our environment; they are only interested in greed and filling their pockets with more money… And they are very deceptive when they say they want to go and create more jobs in California… Since when has [an] oil company ever been interested in jobs? Let’s be honest. If they really are interested in jobs, they would want to protect A.B. 32, because actually it’s green technology that is creating the most jobs right now in California, 10 times more than any other sector.”

In particular, Texas oil companies Valero and Tesoro “have led the charge against the landmark climate law, along with Koch Industries, the giant oil conglomerate owned by right-wing megafunders Charles and David Koch. Koch recently donated $1 million to the effort and has been supporting front groups involved in the campaign.”

For me, this raises some interesting questions. At the federal level, foreign interests are technically prohibited from making political contributions (although there is reason to suspect they are being circumvented and not adequately enforced). Why don’t states adopt similar regulations with regard to out of state interests — corporate or otherwise? After all, why should the citizens of a state be held hostage to outside interests of any kind? It seems that residents of a state should have more say over their own governance than a couple of businesses who happen to have facilities located there. Of course, the same goes for other activists.