Cause or coincidence? Politicians who supported bailout got more money from banking interest groups

updatedPoliticians who supported the proposed Wall Street bailout package may have had a some financial incentive to do so — they received much more money from banks and securities than those who voted against the package, according to nonprofit website MapLight.org. From perception alone, this is rather disconcerting, since it’s banks and securities, as an industry, who might have been saved by the deal. The old adage “follow the money” is as true as ever, right?

Well, there may be some other benign explanation for the correlation between money from the banking interests and a yes vote. For example, the banking lobby may have chosen to contribute to particular politicians it believes are influential on banking legislation, for example those sitting on finance-related committees. Thus, you could make an argument that those politicians are more likely to be more sophisticated about the banking world, and so when presented with the bailout package, were happy to support it — understanding the serious ramifications that could follow from this crisis if we don’t act.

Who knows? Anyway, the bill’s defeat (205-228) and the related stock market plunge dominated today’s headlines.

Overall, bailout supporters received an average of 54 percent more in campaign contributions from banks and securities than bailout opponents over the last five years. The disparity also held true if you look at individual parties. In fact, the 140 Democrats who voted for the bailout received almost twice as much money from banks and securities as the 95 Democrats who voted against it. (The difference was closer to 50 percent for Republicans.)

As mentioned, none of that proves the representatives let their donors dictate their votes, nor does it invalidate any arguments for and against the deal. Still, looked at skeptically, the positive correlation doesn’t inspire much faith in the democratic process. Because even if you go with the forgiving explanation we gave above, the bill’s failure suggests the dummies in Congress actually wield more power.

MapLight is a Berkeley, Calif.-based nonprofit that tries to show the connection between politicians and special interests, and today’s vote is a great demonstration of how powerful its site is. You can see each politician’s vote and campaign contributions here.

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