Money vs. Effort

In the spirit of Tuesday’s voting, I wanted to change course from my regular beat of “business strategy” and talk for a minute about politics.  Before you stop reading, rest assured, this post is not about this party or that; the candidate who won or lost.  Instead, this post is about a little experiment I did to look at money vs. effort within our political system.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government …”

And herein lies the power of interest groups … to influence public opinion and thereby the government.  On a whole, interest groups get a bad rap, but on some level they can be valuable contributors to the voice of the people and issues that otherwise wouldn’t get the attention and protection from our government they deserve … to change public opinion for the better.  Think civil rights, women’s rights, consumer watchdogs, etc.

But is public opinion changing for the better?  And whose interests are being served in the changing of public opinion?

It’s too easy to say that wherever the money is, is where the interest lies.  However, if we reframe the conversation, we might find some new insights into our political system.  So rather than just look at money, let’s look at money AND the effort used to support a group’s interests.

Using data from MapLight.org’s list of political contributions made by interest groups from 09/01/08 – 08/31/10, I created two “top 10 lists.”  The first is a list of interest groups that contributed the most money.  The second is a list of interest groups that took the most positions on bills before the 111st Congress.

My supposition is the groups that contributed the most money have, well, the most money.  Whereas the groups that took the most bill positions, put forth the greatest effort for the issues they support.  Seems reasonable enough.

Here are the results:

Top 10 Interest Groups’ political contributions by dollar amount:

  1. Attorneys and law firms
  2. Lobbyists and Public Relations
  3. General commerce
  4. Security brokers and investment companies
  5. Other physician specialists
  6. Schools and colleges
  7. Physicians
  8. Building trades unions
  9. Real estate
  10. Commercial banks and bank holding companies

Top 10 Interest Groups’ political contributions by bill positions taken:

  1. Environmental policy
  2. Chambers of commerce
  3. Consumer groups
  4. Churches, clergy and religious organizations
  5. Minority/Ethnic Groups
  6. Human Rights
  7. Manufacturing
  8. Health and welfare policy
  9. Fiscal and tax policy
  10. [tie] Women’s issues / Health, Education and Human Resources

Look at that, not a single overlap between the two lists.  It seems those with the most money use that money to have their voices heard.  Whereas, those who take the most positions on bills work hardest in support of the issues in which they believe.  The latter contribute their time, energy and efforts to the political system whereas the biggest financial contributors simply contribute their finances.

Who do you think wins in the battle of changing public opinion: Money or Effort?  Which of the two do you think came out ahead in this election?