slides: New England Communities with the Most Political Clout
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
GoLocal looked at who the biggest spending counties were in New England, per capita -- and asked political experts what this meant for the local populations and politicians alike.
See Slides Below to See New England Counties with Highest Per Capita Campaign Contributions
"We just put these data maps out, and it's gotten a lot of attention," said Gabriela Schneider with the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that, according to its website, uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency. "This sort of information is out there, but to be able to visualize it, know what your neighbors are doing, to see how your county compares, that's of interest to people."
Big Money, Small Money, and Votes
Of the top 25 campaign spending counties in New England in 2012, Massachusetts had 9, New Hampshire had 6, Vermont had 4, and Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maine had 2 each.
West continued, "There will be increased scrutiny to money in politics because of the outside money that flows into the political process. Super PACS have come under heavy criticism nationally. They raise money from ultra-rich people and often run the most negative ads in a campaign. We saw that in the 2012 presidential campaign."
Wendy Schiller, Professor of Politics at Brown University, pointed out that turning out the vote, however, was just as important as raising money
"Campaign contribution patterns are closely studied by political advisors and campaign consultants - candidates and elected officials target their messages towards the highest giving communities, and they are typically more responsive to those communities when issues arise with federal and local governance. But the flip side of this is that in a community that is less well off but where more people give money (even in smaller amounts) you can count on more people getting to the polls."
Schiller continued, "So politicians cannot afford to overly favor areas with concentrated campaign giving to the point of ignoring smaller donors who are equally likely to get out to vote. Wealthy donors finance the campaign but the less wealthy donors add up to more actual votes. Think about it this way - if you are a multi-millionaire you can write a check for 10,000 and you may not notice; but if you are not wealthy and you write a check for $100 that can be a stronger signal of support."
Knowing who spends the most -- and where -- affords advantages though to candidates, according to Rhode Island College Assistant Professor of Communications Kay Israel.
"Generally, the advantage of “big giving” communities has less to do with their political power and more to do with the investment of time and energy of a candidate and his campaign. If a candidate can spend one evening raising $25,000 from 50 donors, that’s far more convenient than having spent hour upon hour to make 50 individual calls. Candidates and their staffs see an advantage to the one-stop nature of that form of fundraising effort and will try to take advantage of it whenever possible," said Israel.
Questions of Regulation and Reform
As part of their mapping, which was done in conjunction with Azavea, the Sunlight Foundation also showed the proliferation of giving over time.
See Map of Per Capita Contributions Dating Back to 1990 BELOW
Said West of the role of money in politics -- and its oversight, "I don’t expect any major new regulations in the campaign finance area. The Supreme Court has poked major holes in campaign rules so there are very few restrictions that exist any more
Israel agreed. "The recent decisions by the Supreme Court have left regulation of political contributions weak. They now are reviewing whether states can restrict them. Outside sources, such as the Center for Public Integrity and others are finding it costly to monitor and publicize the donations being made to political office seekers. It’s common for non-incumbents to talk about finance reform, but as long as those making the laws continue to have that edge, change at best would be only incremental," said Israel.
"Change isn’t likely as long as those getting the benefit of the current structure want to continue in office," continued Israel. "For example, one previously passed campaign financing reform act was sarcastically called “The Incumbent Re-election Act” by its critics. It was an uphill battle to get McCain Feingold passed and took years of debate. Given the nature of both the federal and most state governments, a number of those previous laws probably wouldn’t or couldn’t be enacted today."
John Marion with Common Cause touched upon prospects for change in oversight of campaign contributions
"Speaking of federal campaign finance law, the Supreme Court of the United States heard a case several weeks ago (McCutcheon vs. FEC) that could lead to the fall in aggregate contribution limits for federal elections. If that happens then we could see a concentration of giving from the wealthiest sections of the country, including those in Rhode Island, increase. Candidates will cherry pick the most wealthy donors across the United States, regardless of geography," said Marion.
"Prospects for change are mixed. Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asked the SCOTUS for special time to argue against aggregate limits before the Court," said Marion. "Many Republicans in Congress seem to want to further deregulate campaign finance which will make any reforms, including Senator Whitehouses' DISCLOSE Act, difficult to pass.
SEE MAP OF PER CAPITA CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS OVER TIME BELOW (Courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation)
Related Slideshow: New England Communities With the Most Political Clout 2013
The Sunlight Foundation, in conjunction with Azavea, released data maps this week showing political contribution dollars to federal elections dating back to 1990 -- by county.
GoLocal takes a look at the counties in New England that had the highest per-capita contributions in the 2012 election cycle -- and talked with experts about what that meant for those areas in New Engand, as well as the candidates.
24. Cheshire County, NH
Contributions, per capita, 2012: $9.88
Total contributions: $759,209
Cheshire is one of the five original counties in New Hampshire and was founded in 1771. The highest point in Cheshire County is located at the top of Mount Monadnock, which was made famous by the poets Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
21. Hampshire County, MA
Contributions, per capita, 2012: $10.41
Total contributions: $1,664,077
Hampshire County has a total area of 545 square miles and is located in the middle of Massachusetts. Hampshire County is also the only county to be surrounded in all directions by other Massachusetts counties.
20. Barnstable County, MA
Contributions, per capita, 2012: $10.90
Total contributions: $2,348,541
Barnstable County was founded in 1685 and has three national protected areas. Cape Cod National Seashore is the most famous protected area within Barnstable County and brings in a high amount of tourists every year.
19. Berkshire County, MA
Contributions, per capita, 2012: $12.49
Total contributions: $1,624,400
Berkshire County is located on the western side of Massachusetts and borders three different neighboring states. Originally the Mahican Native American Tribe inhabited Berkshire County up until the English settlers arrived and bought the land in 1724.
18. Essex County, MA
Contributions, per capita, 2012: $13.22
Total contributions: $9,991,201
Essex is located in the northeastern part of Massachusetts and contains towns such as Salem, Lynn, and Andover. Essex was founded in 1643 and because of Essex historical background, the whole county has been designated as the Essex National Heritage Area.
15. Addison County, VT
Contributions, per capita, 2012: $15.49
Total contributions: $569,299
Located on the west side of Vermont, Addison County has a total area of 808 square miles. Addison's largest town is Middlebury, where the Community College of Vermont and Middlebury College are located.
11. Bristol County, RI
Contributions, per capita, 2012: $20.91
Total contributions: $1,027,472
Bristol County has a population of 49,144 and is the third smallest county in the United States. Bristol County was originally apart of Massachusetts, but was transferred to Rhode Island in 1746.
10. Grafton County, NH
Contributions, per capita, 2012 :$20.95
Total contributions: $1,868,739
With a population of 89,181, Grafton County is the second largest county in New Hampshire. Home of New Hampshire’s only national forest, White Mountain National Forest takes up about half of Grafton’s total area
7. Middlesex County, MA
Contributions, per capita, 2012: $32.81
Total contributions: $50,432,154
Middlesex County has a population of 1,503,085 and has been ranked as the most populous county in New England. The county government was abolished in 1997, but the county boundaries still exists for court jurisdictions and other administrative purposes.
6. Nantucket County, MA
Contributions, per capita, 2012: $33.41
Total contributions: $344,021
Nantucket County consists of a couple of small islands and is a major tourist destination in Massachusetts. Normally Nantucket has a population of 10,298, but during the summer months the population can reach up to 50,000.
4. Dukes County, MA
Contributions, per capita, 2012: $36.32
Total contributions: $618,960
Consisting of Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands, Dukes County is one of Massachusetts’ top vacation spots. Originally Dukes County was apart New York, however it was transferred to Massachusetts on October 7, 1691.
3. Suffolk County, MA
Contributions, per capita, 2012: $40.73
Total contributions: $30,323,537
Suffolk County has a population of 744,426 and contains Massachusetts’s largest city, Boston. Although Suffolk’s county government was abolished in the late 1900’s, it still remains as a geographic area.
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