As federal investigators prepare to shift the focus their latest probe of military contracting corruption to Capitol Hill, it’s worth considering what investigators might be looking for. The power players are set: Paul Magliochetti, his PMA Group lobbying firm, his family of donation clones and the members of Congress who received and doled out largesse. But what is the power play? How would we know the corruption of power if we saw it?
It’s possible that members of Congress might receive campaign contributions from military contractors (or lobbying firms like PMA Group representing military contractors) without the existence of corruption. It could just be that some members of Congress just plain old happen to have interest in certain kinds of issues with a certain policy bent, and that as a result of this (rather than as a cause of this) corporations and their lobbyists dole out campaign contributions as a way of helping those members of Congress to be re-elected. But of course — perish the thought! — the campaign contributions have nothing to do with influencing how these members of Congress act. The contributions simply reflect support for how the member independently chooses to act.
That’s how the story told by corporations goes. When Steny Hoyer just happens to get loads of campaign cash from ManTech (not a personal shaving device, a military contractor) around the time that Rep. Hoyer delivers larger loads of taxpayer cash to ManTech in earmarks, a ManTech spokesman is trotted out to the mike to insist, full of dudgeon, that the donation of campaign money occurs simply because Rep. Hoyer “has shown strong interest in issues related to defense and the space community.” Yes, it’s all because Steny Hoyer likes defense and space!
If this characterization of matters is accurate, if corporations give money to people who are interested in general issues and think the same way about them, then we ought to see a pattern: the members of Congress to whom a corporation gives money ought to be more similar in their interests and positions than the Congress as a whole. If corporations act as they say and are at all rational, then legislators to whom a corporation gives more money ought to be more similar in their interests and positions than legislators receiving less money from that corporation.
The alternative hypothesis is that, really, deep down, legislators who get money and dole out earmarks don’t give a hoot about the policy issues surrounding an earmark: they just write out the particular earmark as their corporate paymasters tell them to. In this kind of quid pro quo political universe, there’s no need to suppose that the politicians paid off by corporations show any kind of similarity in issue interests or positions outside of a particular earmark.
Let’s look at some actual data on the matter. Through our congressional database on the House of Representatives, we’ve assembled information on how each member of the House has acted in sponsorship or cosponsorship of every one of the 1979 bills and 42 joint resolutions in consideration in the current 111th Congress as of April 6, 2009. To figure out whether the pattern of campaign contributions by military lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti and his associates reflect the theory of rewarding pre-existing policy orientation, I’ve taken every possible pairing of the 432 active members of the House of Representatives (432*431=186,192 cases), and for each pairing measured how many bills in common the two have both supported through principal sponsorship or cosponsorship. (Why pairs? Well, if I can study the behavior of pairs I can figure out if two members of Congress behave similarly, which is supporting the same sorts of bills. I don’t have to figure out what each of the 1979 House Bills and 42 joint resolutions mean and what a pro-contractor or anti-contractor stance would be. Oy, what a pain that would be! I just have to track commonality of behavior, which should be greater for pairs of Representatives who both get the same kinds of campaign contributions.) For the House of Representatives overall, the mean value of jointly supported bills across all possible member pairs is 9.395. In other words, the average pair of Representatives jointly supported nine or so bills.
If the tale told by military contractors is correct, then the mean number of jointly supported bills should be higher within the set of Representatives who received money from a military contractor or associated lobbyist, since that donation of money is supposed to be rewarding a greater similarity of interest in an issue and position on an issue. The mean number of jointly supported bills should continue to climb as the set of Representatives is restricted more tightly to those who received more campaign contributions from a military contractor or lobbyist.
Let’s get particular with this. The current scandal involving Paul Magliocchetti is a good place to start. Here’s how the mean number of bills jointly supported by pairs of House Representatives changes depending on which group of Representatives you’re referring to (standard deviation in parentheses):
All Pairs of Representatives: 9.395 (8.337)
Representatives receiving any campaign money from one of 10 Magliocchetti family members: 12.207 (8.670)
Representatives receiving at least $1000 from Magliocchetti family members: 12.305 (8.872)
Representatives receiving at least $5000 from Magliocchetti family members: 11.792 (7.806)
Representatives receiving at least $10000 from Magliocchetti family members: 10.347 (7.116)
Representatives receiving at least $25000 from Magliocchetti family members: 13.758 (7.777)
Representatives receiving at least $50000 from Magliocchetti family members: 12.500 (5.536)
Pairs of Representatives who both received any money at all from military contractor lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti and the 9 donating members of his family have a higher average number of bills supported than Pairs of Representatives in general. That lends some support for the contractors’ story that they lend to politicians who hold some ideas and positions in common. But hold the phone: as we limit the set of pairs to those who receive higher and higher amounts of cash from the Magliocchetti family, the mean value of bills supported doesn’t go up. It just meanders around the same value. There’s no general behavioral rationale across the entire set of bills for some members of Congress to be getting over $100,000 from the Magliocchettis and for others to be getting a measly $250.
All right, so that didn’t pan out as we’d expect according to the contractors’ account. What if we get more specific? What if we limit ourselves to bills concerning the military? You might think that a military contractor would select those with an interest in military-issue bills and who have similar positions on them… if it’s not just a matter of doling money out to anybody who will take a payoff. I’ve searched through all 1,979 bills before the House of Representatives as of yesterday and selected those mentioning the “military” in their title or description. Because there are fewer bills in the set of military bills (146 bills), overall the mean values of joint support are of course lower. Just pay attention to the trend:
Mean number of military-related bills supported by pairs of House Representatives:
(standard deviation in parentheses)
All Pairs of Representatives: 1.742 (1.516)
Representatives receiving any campaign money from one of 10 Magliocchetti family members: 2.432 (1.678)
Representatives receiving at least $1000 from Magliocchetti family members: 2.375 (1.640)
Representatives receiving at least $5000 from Magliocchetti family members: 2.313 (1.465)
Representatives receiving at least $10000 from Magliocchetti family members: 2.153 (1.408)
Representatives receiving at least $25000 from Magliocchetti family members: 2.379 (1.475)
Representatives receiving at least $50000 from Magliocchetti family members: 2.000 (1.183)
Again, pairs of House politicos in which both members get any money whatsoever from the Magliocchetti family have a greater number of jointly supported bills between them, on average, than the average across all pairs in the entire House of Representatives. But really, the difference isn’t much: slightly less than 2 bills versus slightly more than 2 bills, out of an opportunity to jointly support 146 bills. And when you start to look at the trends according to which pairs get more Magliocchetti moolah, the trend is the opposite of what you’d expect: pairs of Representatives within the set of those getting the most Magliocchetti family money are less likely to jointly support bills than pairs of Representatives getting less Magliocchetti family money.
I don’t, in short, see any sign that the people getting the biggest campaign cash payments from Paul Magliocchetti and his family are recipients because they share some kind of common policy interest and orientation.
If pre-existing interest in some general policy position doesn’t explain the receipt of Magliocchetti money, then what does? Willingness to award some specific earmark back to Magliocchetti’s clients is among the possibilities. That’s a pretty good operational definition of corruption.