Stupid Liberal Media

Well, the media actually aren’t liberal. But there’s a good case to be made for stupidity. The latest comes via today’s Washington Post:

Registered lobbyists gave President Bush $1.8 million and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) $520,000 in campaign contributions from Jan. 1, 1997, through March 31 this year, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity.

The amounts, while impressive in absolute terms, are tiny compared with total donations received by the politicians. Bush collected $228.4 million and Kerry took in $36.9 million over the period from people who gave $200 or more, additional numbers supplied by the nonpartisan research group show. Total contributions are higher but the campaigns are not required to disclose the names of people who give less than $200.

Over the period, 1,310 registered lobbyists contributed to Bush and 442 registered lobbyists gave money to Kerry, the center said. These numbers, too, are small compared with the total number of donors to both men. Bush had 156,989 contributors who gave $200 or more and Kerry had 30,223 individuals who gave similar amounts, according to the center.

Proportionately, Kerry had more lobbyist donors than Bush did. Registered lobbyists represented 0.8 percent of Bush’s donors and of his itemized contributions, compared with 1.4 percent of Kerry’s through March 31.

Let’s spot the logical flaws in this analysis:

  • The reporter (who gets his data from the Center for Public Integrity, though I can’t find the exact report there) uses the time period from 1/1/1997 to 3/31/2004 to compare the two candidates’ contributions from lobbyists. Given that for half of those years Kerry was a senator while Bush was a governor, this surely distorts the comparison, and most likely in a way unfavorable to Kerry. Particularly if the data only come from the Federal Election Commission then this statistic compares 7 years of Kerry’s funding to 4 years of Bush’s. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t explain exactly what’s being compared. But it’s assuredly not apples-to-apples. If the objective is to describe how beholden each candidate is to lobbyists, then the meaningful statistic is contributions from lobbyists in the current election cycle.
  • The reporter’s claim that “Proportionately, Kerry had more lobbyist donors than Bush did” is also very suspect. The reporter first says that he’s only looking at contributions of $200 or more and then claims that, since 1997, 1.4% of Kerry’s funding is from lobbyists while only 0.8% of Bush’s is. This comparison is specious because Kerry draws more from small donors than Bush. From the Campaign Finance Instutute:

    … with less than five months of fundraising left in the pre-convention period, Bush had raised 71% of his $182 million primary period total in $1,000 and over donations (57% from $2000 contributions) and 20% in small donations. Kerry, less than four months from the Democratic convention, had raised 54% of his $75 million total in $1,000 and over contributions (32% from $2000 donations) and 29% in small donations

    Adjusting total funds for the differences in excluded small donations, about 0.64% of Bush’s funding and 1% of Kerry’s are from lobbyists, which is a noticeably smaller gap. (When I started this post, I suspected this adjustment would wipe out all or most of Kerry’s lead in fundraising from lobbyists. Funny how data work out sometimes. I suppose I could have followed the lead set by AEI’s Kevin Hasset.)

The long and short of this is that if a reporter (1) Ignores a big chunk of Kerrry’s donations and (2) Compares time periods which no sane analyst would consider comparable, then he can contend that “the results are surprising given Kerry’s criticism of Bush for being close to corporate lobbyists.”


P.S. I can’t figure out why the CPI, and by extension the Washington Post reporter, only look at $200+ contributions when the full data are available. For example, a quick check of for the Cleveland Park area of Washignton, DC shows all contributions, including those under $200.