Infographic: how money corrupts Congress, and what to do about it

Money wins Elections is an excellent, scrolling infographic that illustrates how money corrupts the American legislative process, showing that time and again, Congress has voted the way that the big money told it to, against the prevailing popular opinion. It's all in support of the American Anti-corruption Act, and it was created by Tony Chu for part of his MFA thesis project.

Money wins Elections


  1. I hate to bring up the correlation:causation thing here because I agree with the general sentiment, but aren’t the overall percentages likely skewed by (non)contributors who don’t want to throw away money on lost causes?

    A lot of those losing candidates wouldn’t have beaten their opponents no matter how much money they had; probably the only reason an overwhelming favorite spends anything at all is to spread that money around to campaign sinecures.

    The biggest bubble is Bachmann, who IIRC outspent Graves 12:1 and only won by about two points in a district where the R next to a name usually guarantees at least 12. That’s money winning an election. 

    The next biggest is Boehner, who ran unopposed… That’s bribery.

    1. No you are  right. The 95% number is likely heavily skewed by contributors wanting to contribute to the winning side, as opposed to being the causal factor in the election. To correctly asses the effect of money in politics you would want to start with a close race and then look at the effect of sudden money influx. We saw a pretty awful ROI in close elections with all the new money that Citizens United brought in this last election cycle.

      There are other  substantial problems with the infographic: CISPA was defeated in the end, regardless of the massively disproportionate spending. Doesn’t exactly support the thesis.

      It also considers the lack of  success in recent gun control efforts the result of spending, completely ignoring the fact that people who are against gun control are disproportionately single issue voters, while those who support gun control are not. Much has been made of the ratio of those that support gun control vs. those who don’t. Which is the wrong number to look at. 90% of the public might support background checks, but how many are actually willing to vote for someone else based on the issue?

       The animations were slick though.

      1. Just my opinion, but it always seemed to me that when Congress thinks the public isn’t watching they’ll vote for the big money. On the other hand, it does take public votes to win elections and if Congress sees the public watching, they’ll do as the voting public wishes.

        It’s probably a pipe dream, but I’d actually like to see politicians that voted for what they believe is right for their constituents rather than who donates the most money to their re-election bids. Perhaps if more  voters saw this actually happen there would be more talk about issues rather than mud-slinging.

        1. One good indicator that any political system is doomed to either collapse or ossify is that it requires ethical and intelligent politicians in order to work properly.

          A system in which the citizenry can be free and thrive, even though a couple of generations of the incompetent and corrupt hold the levers of political power, is what we should be aiming for.

      2. The 95% number is likely heavily skewed by contributors wanting to contribute to the winning side

        I’m interested – do you have a source?
        And wanting to contribute to the “winning side” – why would they do that?  I really don’t get it.  What’s the benefit?

        1. Presumably because they hope the politician whose campaign they’ve helped to fund will look favourably upon their lobbying. It’s not that they’re giving money to help them get elected, it’s being seen to give the money that’s important.

    2.  yeah it kinda perpetuates the myth that campaign financing is about financing campaigns. it’s not just like SOPA isn’t about stopping piracy, and the high quality research act isn’t about high quality research and the Working Families Flexibility Act isn’t about helping working families and the defense of marriage act isn’t about defending marriage, it’s all just orwellian doublespeak.
      campaign financing is about buying politicians. some of it might go towards their (re)election but mostly it goes to buy the politicians nice things and create a debt so they will vote the way the donors want.

      and outbribing match is just asinine.

      1. This is a form of bribery.  They like it that way and have long since passed the point where they even pretend to be ashamed.  It’s somewhat like the way insider trading is legal when a congressman does it.

  2. something about fixing the issue of people bribing politicians by making an act to allow OTHER people to  bribe politicians seems…wrong.
    on top of that 100 per person sounds like a good amount but how often does that regenerate? once per cycle? they say that makes 7.5m but thats only if everyone in america spends their entire budget for that cycle on politicians and even then corporations will outspend them by an even larger margin.

    i prefer wolf-pac’s approach: make campaign donations illegal and make campaigns publicly funded.
    if it’s a competition of who can outspend who the american people can NEVER win against corporations.

    1.  Agreed. I was a little shocked to see their solution was more money into the system…

      1.  ah, fair point (i always make power of 10 errors.) and that does mean that it’s within the realm of possibility that if everyone in the country spent their whole budget they could out spend the rich (or require the rich to spend even MORE)
        but the main point remains that this is the wrong approach, making this a competition of who can bribe the MOST is missing the point that there should BE legalized bribery. this system they propose works great if you are the politician because it forces people to bribe you more than the other person if you are the politician that is just great, but politicians shouldnt BE taking bribes, justice and rule of law should BE decided by who pays more, and their bill just legitimizes, and accelerates the corruption and bribery which is already going on and says outright that the law is for sale.

        we need to go above this, we need to say that the law is there for the people, not for the highest bidder. that our politicians answer to us, not to whoever pays them more. we need to make it clear that bribery is NOT okay, that corruption is NOT okay, and that we should NEVER HAVE TO MAKE THIS CLEAR AGAIN!

  3. Here’s a thought. If you need a sh*tload of cash in order to run for office (any office), and it is easier to get that sh*tload of cash from very wealthy individuals and corporations, doesn’t that create a selection bias favoring candidates who genuinely believe in the same things these individuals and corporations believe in?

    In other words, do Americans even get a real the chance to even elect people who will represent them, or is the game rigged at the level of the candidate?

    I tried to write down something about what could be called an ‘election bias’ but I’m unsure if I got it right. Anyway, if you’re interested:

    1. A society’s political system and its demands (spending tons money, these days) likely do exert a strong selection pressure on potential candidates. 

  4. “The American Anti-Corruption Act gets money out of politics, so the people can get back in.”


    Money in politics is a symptom, not the problem. I don’t know, why do people keep missing this? An oligarchy is still an oligarchy even if the oligarchs are relatively poor. 

  5. The only thing this bill will do is make things worse. It assumes that voters will care when historically, it should be obvious that that is not the case. It assumes that parties will not move quickly to control that money and direct it to incumbents. And if you think that government election money won’t come with strings attached, you’re charmingly naive. Wait until someone
    tries to donate their election cash to a communist candidate, or an anarchist candidate – they’ll quickly find out just how much power the “citizens” have.

    Trying to separate money and power is like trying to make water not wet. He ignores the correlation between incumbency and winning elections, which amazingly enough also correlates highly with spending. The real problem is that incumbents get and spend more money – and the reason for that is because they have more to offer donors. A LOT more.

    The only way we’re going to be able to deal with that problem is to put serious restrictions on what politicians can offer. Fortunately, a fairly decent set of those limits are built into the Constitution. Get the government out of the business of student lunches and private cybersecurity, and you’ll see that money dry up.

  6. Are there citations somewhere for the 95% and 1%/68% figures?  Are they talking about just House elections (since they mention the 435 number) or all of Congress or something else?  I wonder how some of the per-issue comparisons would change if we included the POTUS and VP?

    They largely lost me at using circles to represent quantities.  Are the circles scaled by diameter?  Probably by volume?  Our brains can’t do much with that.  The static look and transitions are pleasing to they eye, but there’s really no information beyond “one circle is bigger than the other”.

  7. This legislation is a nice try, and I signed the petition, but really, it does very little to reduce all the built in advantages of incumbency.  I still like term limits.

    1. i have yet to see a better proposal (though i wonder if they miss the mark a bit on ending corporate personhood, since, as i recall, the point of corporate personhood was so that people had someone they could sue for damages in a corporation which is led mostly by a board of trustees (and making everyone invested in the corporation liable has…issues) so if they intend to end corporate personhood they need to put something in it’s place for the areas where it serves the public good.)
      their proposal is an amendment, thus making it harder to revoke and would itself possibly revoke some existing laws (since all laws must stand up to the constitution)  it calls for public funding of elections so corporations cannot hide bribes as “campaign financing” (though it does nothing to address the revolving door problem) and the proposal circumvents congress and goes straight to the people.
      one down side, they dont seem to HAVE an amendment yet. they have things they want in the amendment but no actual proposed amendment…

  8. I think we also need to apply antitrust laws to political parties. The 2 parties we have are clearly working in collusion to eliminate the possibility of third party participation. 

  9. The graphics were cool.  Correlation isn’t always causation but BIG MONEY absolutely does carry MASSIVE influence in D.C. and buys elections in many cases.   

    Also some of the hot button issues contained in this infographic couldn’t be resolved by throwing more money at them  (Gun Regulation/Violence.  At least half of gun violence in America is directly attributable to the War on Drugs.  More regulation of guns won’t fix that.  Getting rid of the war on drugs could go a very long way in ending most gun violence in America). 

    Handing every American $100 isn’t going to fix any of this either.  BIG MONEY will simply bribe, coerce, trick, manipulate everyone into donating to their special interests/candidates.  
    How will giving the unwashed masses (American Sheople – busy watching football, Amerikan Idle, or playing video games) $100 towards some political campaign going to level any playing field.  BIG MONEY will still represent big money.  The TWO PARTY DUOPOLY will still maintain control.  Incumbent politicians win most of their elections.  The Presidential Election is always between one shitbag vs. another both of whom are willing to tell us anything it takes to get elected then do exactly the opposite once in office. 

    Giving every dumb American $100 will do nothing.  Americans need to wake up.  They need to stop watching hours of Television PROGRAMMING (programming them to think like the good talking heads on TV – also please note I’m not attacking the medium but most of it is owned/operated by a few massive corps and is generally reduced to soundbites and bullshit.).  Americans need to start reading, studying and contemplating American/World History, Economics and philosophy. 

    The whole system is broken and Amerikans are busy watching TV. 

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