Sunday, January 06, 2008

Following the Money
Like an idiot, I got into an internet argument very late last night with a Hillary Clinton supporter who challenged me to back up an assertion I'd made that special interests have contributed sufficiently to Clinton's campaign that it's doubtful she would take them on in her self-assigned role as "change agent." The argument was dumb, but the exercise was worthwhile--I hadn't looked at in a long while, and in addition to trying to glean meaning from patterns of donation to Clinton compared to those to Barack Obama, I got to see that Eagles coach Andy Reid sent a check for the maximum $2,300 to fellow Mormon Mitt Romney back in September. (Feel free to joke that Reid's as bad picking winners in the presidential race as he's often been in the NFL draft.)

The differences between Clinton and Obama might or might not seem like a big deal, probably depending on the biases of who's looking at the numbers. For one thing, they're the two most successful fund-raisers in the race on either side, and nobody else is close. For another, while the site offers breakdowns of donors by industry--something they're required to disclose, of course, as I can assert from my various $18 or $35 donations to candidates over the years--it can't (and shouldn't, really) get into motivations. In other words, the CEO of Cigna might have given to Clinton (or Obama) because he deeply believes in her strength and experience message (or his change narrative), or because the CEO sees her (or him) as a worthwhile investment.

Clinton has raised the most money of anyone, just under $91 million, with $79.6 million dollars in contributions from individuals, $748,052 from political action committees (PACs), and the remainder from, I think, bank interest. (Note: all numbers are through the end of the third quarter of 2007.) Obama is next with $80.3 million, all but about a million of which has come from individual donations with almost all the remainder also accruing from bank interest; he's raised less than $7,000 from PACs.

So is the key point that only 1 percent of Clinton's money is from PACs, or that in raw numbers she raised more than 100 times as much from those groups as Obama? For context, the only candidate on either side whose PAC money comprised more than 1 percent of his total was Chris Dodd, at 4 percent.

A breakdown of what Clinton and Obama donors do is similarly open to interpretation. Among sectors, both Clinton and Obama raised a ton of money from donors in the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector, as well as Lawyers/Lobbyists--though Clinton raised more in all of those, as well as Agribusiness, Construction, Defense, Energy & Natural Resources, Health, Transportation, Misc Business, Labor, and Ideological/Single Issue. The only sectors from which Obama raised more were Communications and "Other," which isn't defined on the site. seems to list "Industries" as subsidiaries of sectors. Among these, Obama raised more from donors who work Computers/Internet, Education, Retired, and TV/Movies/Music. Clinton raised more from Lobbyists--more than seven times as much, in fact--as well as Health Professionals, Insurance, Lawyers/Law Firms, Oil & Gas, and Pharmaceuticals/Health Products. But they're 1-2, either way, in almost every case.

Another breakdown, by the size of donations, maybe makes a better case for Obama. His campaign is 25 percent financed by donors of $200 or less, and 46 percent funded by donors of $2,300 or more including 11 percent from donors of $4,600. Clinton's is 13 percent financed by donors of $200 or less and 63 percent funded by donors of $2,300 or more including 37 percent from donors of $4,600. So she's more dependent upon the very rich--again, whether that's because they believe in her for her, or because they see her as an investment--than is Obama.

I guess a final touch of gray is added by the fact that, somewhat depending upon the nature of the contest, one almost has to raise a lot of money to be viable. (Mike Huckabee's enormous cash disadvantage compared to his Republican opponents hasn't hurt him yet, but it probably will unless he wins the next three contests.) But above some level (and I don't know exactly what that number is) it's probably overkill. Saying Clinton has raised $10 million more than Obama is like saying the US had a thousand more nuclear weapons than the USSR at some point during the Cold War: either side had more than enough firepower to destroy the world. A parallel argument can be made as to whether it matters that Clinton raised a few million more from bankers than Obama did, when they both got at least four times as much from that industry along as Huckabee has raised total.

Probably the most one can say is that there's nothing in the disclosures to refute the notion that Clinton is the candidate more acceptable to "the interests." But it also must be said that there's nothing I found to absolutely confirm the notion either.

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