In part two of our special report "Capital Investment," we're digging into the records of North Alabama's U.S. congressmen to see if their votes appear to be influenced by campaign contributions.
It takes on average more than $1.3 million to win a seat in the House of Representatives, according to information from the Campaign Finance Institute.
"The number one place to get that money is from interest groups that want something from government," said Daniel Newman, executive director and co-founder of Maplight.org, an online non-partisan, non-profit political money tracker.
Special interests groups include such as groups as agriculture associations, the banking industry and oil and gas corporations. MapLight collects data on donations made to congressional lawmakers within 30 days of votes. The site also lists the donor's position on a particular bill and ultimately how the lawmaker voted on that bill.
"We combined all of these together so that you can see these influence connections," Newman said.
WAFF 48 News checked MapLight's records on North Alabama's two congressmen. According to the site, Republican 5th District Rep. Mo Brooks' top three donor groups are health professionals, lawyers and law firms and the defense aerospace industry – donating nearly $140,000 combined.
Congressman Brooks just started his term in January, so there's not a significant amount of data to analyze the relationship between donations and his votes. But 4th District Rep. Robert Aderholt, R, is an eight-term incumbent.
MapLight data shows Congressman Aderholt's top three funding groups for the past two years are various defense interests, and more specifically, aerospace defense groups, and health professionals. Combined, the three groups donated nearly $130,000 to the congressman's campaign since 2009.
University of Alabama associate professor of Political Science Dr. Joseph Smith says money is hugely influential when it comes to politics, but it's far more subtle than outright buying and selling of lawmakers' votes.
"It's influential in terms of who gets elected. It's influential in terms of members of Congress who know they are going to face a tough re-election battle, thinking ahead, ‘How is this vote going to affect my ability to raise funds in the future?'" Smith said.
MapLight data from the last two full sessions of Congress, the 110th and 111th, shows Rep. Aderholt voted the way donors wanted 46 percent of the time. For every ten donations, the congressman voted favorable to donors fewer than five times.
Rep. Aderholt's percentage is significantly lower than the average congressman, who voted in line with donors just under 70 percent of the time. That high average is why MapLight's Executive Director Daniel Newman says his web site and other political watchdog groups are necessary.
"Legislators don't necessarily change their minds because they received the money. But the point that we're trying to make is that people need money to get elected, and a legislator favorable to let's say banking industry interests is going to be able to raise a lot more money to put campaign ads on the air to get their message out, and they're much more likely to get elected," Newman said.
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