Here’s How to Buy Your Way Into a Meeting With a Congressman

*Originally published on on June 13th, 2015 by Sean Sawyer*

In Congress, money talks.

Two University of California, Berkeley, political scientists teamed up with CREDO Action to measure how money influences a congress member’s time. They found that constituents who were concerned with policies but not able to contribute to a congressman’s campaign or interests were not heard as loudly as people who could.

Donors are at a major advantage over other constituents, the study found. In fact, they’re 231 percent more likely to be granted a meeting with a congressman and 430 percent more likely to meet with the congressman’s chief of staff.

The study’s authors, Joshua Kalla and David Broockman, posed as either “concerned constituents” or “active political donors” within the CREDO Action group when reaching out to 191 random congressmen. Acting as “concerned constituents,” they were only able to get a meeting 2.4 percent of the time, but posing as “active political donors,” the likelihood of their scoring a meeting increased to 12.5 percent.

“Concerned constituents” were not simply cast away; rather, they were sometimes assigned to lower members of the congressman’s staff.

The results of this study don’t show how hard it is to get face time with congressmen or their staff, but the sharp contrast between their responses to donors and non-donors.

“People who have deep pockets get special treatment; they get the kid gloves, because parties and candidates want to be able to enlist their support and count on them for financial support in the future,” said Sheila Krumholz of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Certain legislation has been brought to the political agenda to reform how money and candidates have a quid pro quo relationship.

The California DISCLOSE Act is a part of the California Clean Money Campaign. Its goal is to replace private campaign contributions with public funding, so voters can once again take control of the government. Its results are already being seen.

Arizona passed a version of California’s clean money law at the turn of the millennium. In 1998, 79 percent of the political races in the state were determined by money. But after the law changed, that number dropped to 2 percent, causing politicians to be more aware of the needs of the “concerned constituent,” according to the nonprofit Public Campaign.

But money is still running the political agenda on both sides of the aisle. For the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama raised over $715 million and Governor Mitt Romney raised over $446 million, reports Open Secrets. These numbers were unheard of at the time, but are expected to grow for the 2016 election, Bloomberg View projects.

The conservative billionaire Koch brothers have already set a goal to donate $889 million during the 2016 elections, The New York Times reports.


David and Charles Koch (AP Photos)

“It’s no wonder the candidates show up when the Koch brothers call,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “That’s exponentially more money than any party organization will spend. In many ways, they have superseded the party.”

While the Koch brothers are hosting events where influential members of Washington are appearing, like presidential candidates Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, some Americans cannot even get meetings with their elected officials.

Devon Osborne is a dialysis patient from Dallas who has flown to Washington to meet with his Senator on several occasions. Each time he has been delegated to junior staffers in the office of Texas Senator John Cornyn and only given 15 minutes of their time.

“It’s chipping at the iceberg,” says Osborne. “You know, this is the second or third time I’ve met with her, and each time it gets a little bit more familiar, and we get our point across each time.”

He seeks to make a case for better Medicare coverage of dialysis, but has failed to meet with his senator each of the four times he has traveled to Capitol Hill.


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