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Want to Meet a Congressperson? You Better Be a Donor

Want to Meet a Congressperson? You Better Be a Donor

Most of us already inherently understand that money has corrupted our political system, but it’s always helpful (if not reassuring) to see tangible evidence to validate this belief. As The Washington Post reports, a new study shows that citizens are more likely to get face time with members of Congress and their staffs if they first identify themselves as “political donors.”

David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, graduate students from UC Berkeley and Yale respectively, were curious about how much money impacts whether a congressperson will listen to a citizen’s opinion on pending legislation. Accordingly, they enlisted the help of CREDO Action, a liberal political group, to conduct a randomized, controlled study.

The researchers composed two different emails from people seeking meetings with Representatives and their staffs: one that refers to the senders as “active political donors” and the other simply calls themselves “local constituents.” CREDO participants used one of the two messages when attempting to schedule meetings with Democratic members of Congress.

The results were significant: only 2.4 percent of the participants who called themselves “constituents” achieved a meeting with a Congressperson, whereas 12.5 percent of the self-identified “donors” were granted an appointment.

It wasn’t just members of Congress that factored a person’s money into making meetings; it also appears to have impacted whether the staff made time. When the congressperson wasn’t directly available, “donors” secured meetings with top staffers 20 percent of the time. Meanwhile, only 5.5 percent of the constituents were able to meet with top staffers.

The researchers say these findings are important in light of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. The majority of Justices declared that legislators are not swayed by campaign donations (like those to Super PACs) that don’t go directly into their pockets, but this study suggests otherwise. Clearly, these members of Congress were more likely to appease donors and take their concerns seriously.

In that respect, Broockman believes that the study actually undervalues how much money could influence access to Congress. He expects that if donors were to reference the size and recipients of their contributions, they would receive even more preferential treatment.

Donald Green, a professor at Columbia University, hopes this work inspires similar research. “What is interesting is that it was done on the left, so it cannot be dismissed as a cheap shot at the right-of-center donors who are so often in the news.” Indeed, it would be a mistake to assume this problem applies only to Republicans with campaign finance reform in shambles, politicians of all affiliations are prioritizing money.

As for similar research, there was a study from last year that compared the kind of access a private citizen could get to Senators as compared to a registered lobbyist. A federal lobbyist was able to set up meetings with 27 Senate offices, while the private citizen only achieved 7 such meetings, none of which were with an actual Senator his or herself.

Democracy is definitely in trouble when politicians even the liberals give preferential consideration to those with money. If politicians can’t make time for the average citizen, who is it they’re actually representing anyway?

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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43 comments

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8:07PM PDT on Mar 16, 2014

The article said they identified themselves as local constituents, or active doners. It did not say they handed over any money.Judging from the responses, most people just like to go off on a rant.That does not bode well for credability.

7:43PM PDT on Mar 15, 2014

Various polls reveal that an estimated 90% of the nation has no confidence in its representatives. Just from everyone's comments here, I'd say this estimate is way too low.

5:52PM PDT on Mar 15, 2014

Ha ha ha ha - ain't that America!

2:45PM PDT on Mar 14, 2014

Thank you Kevin, for Sharing this!

8:54AM PDT on Mar 14, 2014

Finally a win-win situation. I don't want to spend my time in the company of congressmen, and I don't want to give them my money. The system works.

7:50AM PDT on Mar 14, 2014

More evidence of how much Congress is totally out of touch with U.S. citizens. The only sound that reaches their triangular pink ears is the jingle-jingle of filthy lucre. That is why we need to redo our electoral system. Yeah, yeah, plenty of people are yapping about that but nobody's doing something about it. However, you can't solve a problem until enough people acknowledge it is a problem.

Let's get off our arses, get organized, and start a movement that will bring real, positive change to this country! Care2 is as good a place to start as any.

7:44AM PDT on Mar 14, 2014

What's the difference between a prostitute and a Congressman/woman? The prostitute has sone remaining ethics.

1:18AM PDT on Mar 14, 2014

He doesn't want to meet me, I've never agreed with my GOTP Rep since he was elected

10:49PM PDT on Mar 13, 2014

Want to Meet a Congressperson?
Why??! Give me at least one reason ... but no thanks

10:38PM PDT on Mar 13, 2014

No thanks. I don't like waiting in lines. And the long lines of people waiting to glad-hand most politicians and stuff wads of cash in their back pockets are filled with corporate lobbyists and their ilk. There are some exceptions of course, but far too few to have much effect on being able to fix a hopelessly corrupt and broken system.

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Lindsay Spangler Lindsay Spangler is a Web Editor and Producer for Care2 Causes. A recent UCLA graduate, she lives in... more
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