Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Political Money is Water Part II

The Rain

As I explained in the part one of this series, rain is the simplest level of political money.

Rain is simply political contributions made directly to a politician’s election committee, from people who live within the legislative district (lawn). This level of contribution is simple because, honestly there isn’t a lot of political power generated for anyone in these transactions.

Politicians love lots of contributions from “Joe average” in their legislative district. Many report the smallest contributions, even if they are below the minimum reportable standard. A long list of contributors from the home district looks good on paper. Who can question a $100 check from Aunt Betsy who lives anywhere in the district. Another reason politicians love these kinds of contributions is just about everyone in your district that writes a check – no matter how small – is extremely likely to vote for you.

When someone goes into the voting booth, and has to make a choice between a stranger, and someone they’ve written a check to, odds are great that the familiar name gets the vote.

You get something else with that check. The address of a known supporter who lives in the district and who is likely to cast a favorable vote. Someone you want to encourage voting, and wanting to have a sense of familiarity.

It isn’t about how much they give; it is the giving that is important to you as a politician. You will probably spend more money keeping some of them on the mailing list, than they give, but they are votes.

That said, because these are direct contributions in smaller amounts, that are disconnected from each other, there is little risk that any particular position or vote will upset a large segment of this base. They know the politician personally, and the connection is less about a specific issue and more about personal relationships.

These kinds of contributions actually empower the candidate/politician because a long list of these kinds of contributions shows support within the district. That long list is likely to discourage opposition, as much as a large bank account.

The individual contributors are not empowered, because if the politician actually does upset one or two, the loss of funds is insignificant as a percentage of the total war chest, and that decision to not contribute isn’t particularly noteworthy to anyone except the individual who made the choice to stop giving over some issue.

The reality is individual contributors seldom wield political power. Though people who aggregate those contributions (wells and wholesale water suppliers) do wield that power.

In other words, the little guy’s money carries an insignificant amount of clout in the political process.

That does NOT mean that constituents are not important to a politician. Lobbyists and other organizations prize getting back home constituent contacts with a Congressman.. Aggregation of money is important in the measuring of power in politics. Likewise, aggregating constituents back home generates power for the aggregator more than the individual making the contact.

There’s a theme developing here.

Next: Wells and how aggregating money locally begins to shift power in the process.