The House of Representatives passed the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007 (H.R. 1424) yesterday, a bill that would require group health insurance plans to cover mental health and substance-abuse cases just like other medical issues, a significant change over the current system. And thanks to MAPLight.org, the brilliant money-fand-votes tracker (and Sunlight grantee), we have a much better view of how the various interests attempt to influence legislative outcomes.
MAPLight.org analyzed the giving of those groups in real time, releasing immediately after the vote their analysis. (I’m just delayed in posting!) They found that those "interested" in the legislation, both pro and con, gave over $8,000 more to the individual legislators who voted the way they wanted them to. A press release from Maplight.org gives more detail:
Opponents–such as Accident and Health Insurance, Big Business, Chambers of Commerce, Restaurant and Manufacturing, Retail and Wholesale Trade gave an average of $22,693 to legislators who voted No on this bill, compared to $14,183 to legislators who voted Yes. The disparity is 160% more money given to a No vote.
Supporters–such as Health and Welfare, Mental Health care-givers, Mental Health Services, Clergy and Non-profit–gave an average of $4,242 to legislators who voted Yes on this bill, compared to $1,812 to legislators who voted No. The disparity is 234% more money given to a Yes vote, or $2,430.
MAPLight.org looks at correlations between campaign contributions and legislation, giving citizens key information to allow them to "draw their own conclusions about how campaign contributions affect policy," Dan Newman, MAPLight.org’s director, said in the release. Dan points out that campaign contributions are just one factor in determining how a legislator votes, and they do not claim one caused the other. "We do make the claim, however, that campaign contributions bias our legislative system," he adds. "Simply put, candidates who take positions contrary to industry interests are unlikely to receive industry funds and thus have fewer resources for their election campaigns than those who vote in favor."
We know that elected officials often reward campaign contributors with access and influence in the making of laws. MAPLight.org’s database is helping to illuminate the connections between campaign donations and votes in Congress with the goal of making the process more transparent so citizens can more accurately judge their legislators.
In the future, I hope my blogging about their analyses can be as fast as their work.
Update: Dan Newman writes to say that they goofed in some of their calculations of percentages. Their press release should have read
60% not 160% and 134% not 234%.