How Much Do Donors Get for Their $?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D NY) and Conor Lamb (D PA) both rejected PAC political contributions. Publix supermarkets announced it will make no more political contributions. Toyota will stop giving election objectors political donations.

None of the corporations and associations for which I worked regularly made political campaign contributions. “And only about a third of the thousands of interest groups active in Washington even have a political action committee with which to give campaign contributions. The other two-thirds give zero dollars to candidates.”[1] Wright Andrews, President of the American League of Lobbyists, says, “Most of the money that has influence is not political contributions but the money that is spent through lobbying, through grassroots lobbying, through newspaper advertising. . . . That’s what has influence.”[2]

“Dozens of studies have discovered that, on average, organizations that give more campaign contributions succeed in their policy goals no more often than we would expect from mere chance.”[3] (emphasis mine) How important are cash campaign contributions to achieving your legislative goals? What do your campaign contributions actually “buy?” Can nonfinancial contributions be as effective as money?

Bradford Fitch’s insight is valuable:

“There’s a dirty secret in Washington that neither Congress nor the special interest community want out: campaign contributions really don’t influence legislative outcomes all that much. The reality is that a campaign contributor will likely get access to a legislator, such as getting a phone call returned by a member of Congress or his senior staff. However, the average constituent can get the same access with about the same amount of effort, such as by showing up at a town hall meeting, or getting three or four fellow constituents with similar interests to set up an in-person meeting in the legislator’s Washington or state office.”[4]

As you consider getting into or staying in political money giving, here are four realities:

Reality 1: Money doesn’t change legislators’ votes
Reality 2: Donate to put friends in office and lock opponents out
Reality 3: Votes don’t follow money; money follows votes
Reality 4: Legislators’ needs are as much emotional as financial

I discuss donating in some detail on pages 217-247 in Winning with Lobbyists, Professional edition.


[1] Beth L. Leech, Lobbyists at Work.  New York: Apress, 2013. Kindle edition.
[2] Larry Mankinson, Speaking Freely Washington Insiders Talk About Money in Politics. Washington: Center for Responsive Politics (2003) pg. 84
[3] Leech, Lobbyists at Work.
[4] Bradford Fitch, Citizen’s Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials. Alexandria: The Capitol Net (2010) pg. 31

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