Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Buying Influence

Someone recently pointed me to a website called OpenSecrets. It's a wealth of information about campaign finance at the national level (I wish we had something like that for state and local elections!). One interesting item is the list of "Heavy Hitters" – the organizations which contribute the most to political campaigns and issues.

Note that the #7 contributor is the National Education Association, giving more than $28 million over the past 10 years, and over $1 million for the 2008 election cycle. In the 2008 election cycle, 86% went to Democrats and 15% to Republicans.

The teachers and other certified employees of the Hilliard School District are nearly all members of the Hilliard Education Association, which is affiliated with both the Ohio Education Association and the National Education Association.

Other breakdowns:

In Congressional races, $671,000 of NEA money has gone to incumbents, and $146,000 to newcomers. In House races, 167 Democrats got an average of $2,900 each, while 23 Republicans received $2,300 each. For Senate seats, 20 Democrats received $6,000 each and 3 Republicans received $2,000 each. Interestingly, one of those Republicans was John McCain, who received $4,550 – as a hedge I'm guessing since they placed much larger bets on Hillary Clinton, who received $22,000, and on Barak Obama at $21,000.

At a more local level, we have race for the US House seat representing Ohio's 15th District (including Hilliard), which is currently held by the retiring Deborah Pryce. The candidates are Steve Stivers (R), Mary Jo Kilroy (D), and Don Eckhart. On their list of top contributors, I found it interesting that the Ohio State University PAC was a top contributor to Ms. Kilroy, at $17,300.

Note that a "PAC" or Political Action Committee is not the organization itself – OSU in this case – but rather a group made up of employees and immediate families. When my company was purchased by Worldcom in 1998, I quickly found that all executives were expected to contribute, via payroll deductions no less, to the Worldcom PAC, which was of course controlled by the CEO, Bernie Ebbers (whose current address is a federal prison, so I guess it didn't help that much). It would be interesting to know whether the contributors to the OSU PAC are the university executives or faculty members.

Many of Ms. Kilroy's other large contributors are labor unions, as would be expected for a Democratic candidate.

Mr. Stivers' largest contributors are corporations – again no surprise for a Republican candidate. They include American Electric Power, Limited Brands, Huntington Bancshares, Nationwide, Scotts, Worthington Industries, National City, Children's Hospital and Wendy's.

These aren't final numbers. Most big contributors dole out their money over the course of the election cycle. While one reason to do this might be to make sure they don't commit all their money to a losing candidate, another powerful reason for contributors to withhold money is that in the home stretch of the campaign, candidates can become increasingly eager to raise money so as to overwhelm the opponent's campaign. Because of that eagerness, big contributors can demand additional commitments from the candidate. It's called leverage.

This is what I despise about modern American politics. It doesn't work at all like they teach you in the 8th grade social studies. Money plays a huge role in who gets elected, all the way from President of the United States to member of a local school board. The deals that are struck by candidates to get that money is what drives the agenda of government bodies. All that stuff they say on TV is just to get elected. I'm sure there's someone out there who keeps track of campaign promises versus promises delivered once elected, and I suspect it doesn't look very good.

Candidate Ted Strickland promised to fix Ohio's school funding problems, I'm sure to gain the endorsement and campaign contributions of the Ohio Education Association, not just to win votes from the public. The teachers' unions of Ohio are looking for the state government to enact laws that gets the unions out of the situation of having their compensation tied to local school levies, and very much wants legislation that would underwrite the cost of their salaries and benefits with first dibs on the state treasury. They have been able to get neither the Governor nor the General Assembly to take action on those wishes, so they tried to bypass our elected officials and put a referendum on the ballot.

Governor Ted Strickland opposed the Getting It Right For Ohio's Future amendment, much to the OEA's surprise I suspect, and the amendment campaign is now essentially dead. He understands that this amendment would create a super-legislature that would keep demanding more and more, regardless of tax revenues and other needs. I couldn't agree more.

I like what I see so far in Governor Strickland. But I wonder what he owes to whom


  1. This is exactly why, as an educator, I am NOT a member of the education association!

  2. Which brings us to the question how much campaign money will the HEA put into the levy campaign given that
    70% of the membership got 7% raises

    Interesting, that during the levy campaign so far the district, levy campaign has not addressed the
    significant raises that were given

    Until they do..........

    Just curious question to HEA members do you expect 7% again
    and the same medical benefits
    on the next contract or will you go on strike.

    A good question poll to ask
    and how would the public feel about a strike

  3. The HEA is detrimental to our kids and district - make no mistake about it.

    The public is lobbied by the HEA leadership and letters from their own members in the Hilliard Northwest News to support the levy "for the good of the kids", yet they never seem to bring up the raises / steps that are completely out of line with our economy.

    Notice how the union was all about job action and working to the "letter of the contract" before the latest contract was settled, but now it's "all about what's best for the kids". Where was this attitude with the job actions in the classroom? The HEA has a very hypocritical attitude, and they are the main reasons we are voting NO for the levy. Unfortunately, if it fails, that will mean some good younger teachers get let go while some lazy clock-watchers stay because of seniority, but that's the only button we have to push right now.

  4. Don Elijah Eckhart, the independent running against Kilroy and Stivers, is a firm conservative and doesn't accept PAC money.