Congressional Influence Model [How To Choose Allies 4 Hackers]

Congressional Influence Model by Westley Hennigh.

From the webpage:

This is a collection of data and code for investigating influence in Congress. Specifically, it uses data generated by MapLight and the Center for Responsive Politics to identify opposing interest groups and analyze their political contributions.

Unfortunately, due to size constraints, not all of the campaign finance data can be included in this repo. But if you’re curious you can download it using this scraper (see further instructions there).

I found this following the data for:

When interest groups disagreed on legislation, who did the 113th Congress vote with?

Sorted to show groups most frequently on opposite sides of legislation


To fully appreciate the graphic, see the original at: Congress is a Game, and We Have the Data to Show Who’s Winning by Westley Hennigh.

Where Westley also notes after the graphic:

Amongst more ideologically focused groups the situation is much the same. Conservative Republican interests were very often at odds with both health and welfare and human rights advocates, but Congress stood firmly with conservatives. They were almost twice as likely to vote against the interests of human rights advocates, and more than twice as likely to vote against health & welfare policy organizations.

The force driving this correlation between support by certain groups and favorable votes in Congress isn’t incalculable or hard to guess at. It’s money. The groups above that come out on top control massive amounts of political campaign spending relative to their opponents. The conservative Republican interests in conflict with health and welfare policy groups spent an average of 26 times as much on candidates that won seats in the 113th Congress. They outspent human rights advocates by even more — 300 times as much on average. The Chambers of Commerce, meanwhile, has spent more on lobbying than any other group every year since 1999.

As Westley points out, this is something we all “knew” at some level and now the data makes the correlation between money and policy undeniable.

My first reaction was Westley’s data is a good start towards: How much is that Representative/Senator in the window? The one with the waggly tail., a website where the minimum contribution for legislative votes, taking your calls, etc., is estimated for each member of the United States House and Senate. Interest groups could avoid overpaying for junior members and embarrassing themselves with paltry contributions to more senior members. Think of it as a public price list for legislation.

A How much is that Representative/Senator in the window? The one with the waggly tail. website would be very amusing, but it wouldn’t help me because I don’t have that sort of money. And it isn’t a straight out purchase, which is how they avoid the quid pro quo issue. Many of these interest groups have been greasing the palms of, sorry, contributing to, politicians for years.

In order to gain power by contributions, real power, requires a contribution/issue campaign that spans the political careers of multiple politicians, starting at the state and local level and following those careers into Congress. Which means, of course, getting upset about this or that outrage isn’t enough to sustain the required degree of organization and contributions. Contributions and reminders of contributions have to flow 7 x 365, in good years and lean years, perhaps even more so in lean (non-election) years.

Not to mention that you will need to make friends fast and enemies, permanent ones anyway, very slowly. Perhaps a member of Congress has too much local opposition to favor your side on a minor bill. They have simply be absent rather than vote. You have to learn to live with the reality that your representative/senator has other pressure points. Not unless you want to own one outright. They exist I have no doubt but the asking price would be very high. Easier to get one issue representatives elected than senators but I don’t know how useful that would be in the long term.

After thinking about it for a while, I concluded we know three things for sure:

  • Congress votes with conservatives twice as often as human rights advocates.
  • Conservatives outspend other groups and have for decades.
  • Outspending conservatives would require national/state/local contributions for decades.

Based on those facts, would you choose an ally that:

  • Loses twice as often on their issues as other groups?
  • Doesn’t regularly contributed to campaigns at state/local/federal levels?
  • That has no effective national/state/local organization that has persisted for decades?

How you frame your issues makes a difference in available allies.

Take for example the ACLU and its suit against the NSA to take back the Internet Backbone. The NSA Has Taken Over the Internet Backbone. We’re Suing to Get it Back.

The ACLU complaint against the NSA has issues such as:

48. Plaintiffs are educational, legal, human rights, and media organizations. Their work requires them to engage in sensitive and sometimes privileged communications, both international and domestic, with journalists, clients, experts, attorneys, civil society organizations, foreign government officials, and victims of human rights abuses, among others.

49. By intercepting, copying, and reviewing substantially all international text-based communications—and many domestic communications as well—as they transit telecommunications networks inside the United States, the government is seizing and searching Plaintiffs’ communications in violation of the FAA and the Constitution.

Really makes you feel like girding your loins and putting on body armor doesn’t it? Almost fifty (50) pages of such riveting prose.

Don’t get me wrong, I support the ACLU and deeply appreciate their suing the NSA. The NSA needs to be opposed in every venue by everyone who cares about having any semblance of freedom in the United States.

I hope the ACLU is victorious but at best, the NSA will be forced to obey existing laws, assuming you can trust known liars when they say “…now we are obeying the law, but we can’t let you see that we are obeying the law.” Somehow that doesn’t fill me with confidence, assuming the ACLU is successful.

What happens if we re-phrase the issue of NSA surveillance? So we can choose stronger allies to have on our side? Take the mass collection of credit card data for example. Sweeping NSA Surveillance Includes Credit-Card Transactions, Top Three Phone Companies’ Records by Ryan Gallagher.

What would credit card data enable? Hmmm, can you say a de facto national gun registry? With purchase records for guns and ammunition? What reason other than ownership would I have for buying .460 Weatherby Magnum ammunition?

By framing the issue of surveillance as a gun registration issue, we find the NRA joining with the ACLU and others in ACLU vs. Clapper, No. 13-cv-03994 (WHP), saying:

For more than 50 years since its decision in Nat’l Ass’n for Advancement of Colored People v. State of Ala. ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449 (1958), the Supreme Court has recognized that involuntary disclosure of the membership of advocacy groups inhibits the exercise of First Amendment rights by those groups. For nearly as long—since the debates leading up to enactment of the Gun Control Act of 1968—the Congress has recognized that government recordkeeping on gun owners inhibits the exercise of Second Amendment rights. The mass surveillance program raises both issues, potentially providing the government not only with the means of identifying members and others who communicate with the NRA and other advocacy groups, but also with the means of identifying gun owners without their knowledge or consent, contrary to longstanding congressional policy repeatedly reaffirmed and strengthened by Congresses that enacted and reauthorized the legislation at issue in this case. The potential effect on gun owners’ privacy is illustrative of the potential effect of the government’s interpretation of the statute on other statutorily protected privacy rights. The injunction should be issued.

That particular suit was unsuccessful at the district court level but that should give you an idea of how “framing” an issue can enable you to attract allies who are more successful than most.

With support of the ACLU, perhaps, just perhaps the NSA will be told to obey the law. Guesses for grabs on how successful that “telling” will be.

With the support of the NRA and similar groups, the very existence of the NSA data archives will come into question. Not beyond possibility that the NSA will be returned to its former, much smaller footprint of legitimate cryptography work.

And what of other NRA positions? (shrugs) I’m sure that any group you look closely enough at will stand for something you don’t like. As I put it to a theologically diverse group forming to create a Bible encoding, “I’m looking for allies, not soul mates. I already have one of those.”


PS: As of April, 2014, Overview of Constitutional Challenges to NSA Collection Activities and Recent Developments, is a summary of legal challenges to the NSA. Dated but I thought it might be helpful.

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