Friday, August 26, 2016

The Clinton Foundation, access and money

It is sort of amazing that I haven't bothered to talk about Clinton, donations to the Clinton Foundation and access to the State Department.  In any normal year, this would draw attention.  But, in any normal year, we wouldn't have Trump to draw attention away from this stuff.  But there's tons of good social science here, so away we go.

1)  Access versus influence

This is a standard challenge in political science.  What we can often demonstrate is that donors have an easier time getting access to officials than non-donors.  Does that access translate into policy change?  Demonstrating that ranges from difficult to impossible.  A good book focusing on the Congress side: John Wright, Interest Groups and Congress.  The principles are the same for other institutions, though.  Donors get access.  That access means talking.  Translating that blather into policy change is haaaaaaaard.  That's why even the newest leaks couldn't nail any real policy decisions to Clinton Foundation donations-- just meetings.  If you read political science, no surprises there.

2)  Contractors lobby everyone

Take a look at who wanted to talk to Clinton as Sec. State.  Not everyone looked like a natural Clinton partisan.  No surprises there if you read political science.  Some donors are what we call "access-seeking" donors.  They lobby everyone because they want contracts.  If a company like Boeing needs some business, they don't care who is in office.  They want to talk to that person.  If they think a donation will open the door, they'll make that donation.  And, every company bidding for a contract is playing the same game.  Who gets squeezed out?  The companies that don't have the money to make the donation.  Which ones are those?  Um, the ones that couldn't fill the contract.  What, you want sympathy from me?  Have you read this blog before?  I don't do sympathy.

3)  Voters rarely care about campaign finance, and this isn't even campaign finance

Campaign finance is an issue of obsessive interest to quantitative scholars like me (mostly because of data availability), journalists who have delusions of being Woodward & Bernstein, and a certain segment of lefties who need a villain to explain why they don't live in a socialist utopia (besides the fact that they are too lazy to move).  Most of the country?  They don't care.  Go read about "Dollar" Bill Jefferson, former Representative from Louisiana.  The feds raided his house.  In his garage, they found a freezer, filled with tv dinner boxes, stuffed with cash, wrapped in aluminum foil.  He claimed he was conducting his own, private sting operation.  He got re-elected.  That wasn't even campaign finance.  That was straight-up bribery.  Now, he was from New Orleans, but still...  Voters don't care about campaign finance until it gets really, really, really bad.

And the Clinton Foundation isn't campaign finance.  It's a charity.  Nobody will care unless the books open up and we find that they are running a private drug cartel out of it, and with Trump on the other side, maybe not even then.  In a normal year, with a normal candidate, Republicans could make a minor stink about this.  Trump?  Nope.  This goes nowhere.  Jaded political scientists like me will crack jokes about how we already knew that money gets access and anyone shocked, well...

Clinton Foundation donors got access.  There is no evidence of policy change at the State Department.  Contractors lobbied.  And nobody will care.  Yup.  Political science may have gotten a lot wrong for 2016, but sometimes, we get stuff right.

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