VIDEO: How data can link money, influence and legislation in state politics

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When polled, most Americans say they worry about the influence of money in politics. Our latest video lays out why tracking money from donations all the way to legislation is so important, not only to show who helped a candidate get elected, but also to show that influence in action.

In a 2015 Pew Research survey, 76 percent of the respondents said that “money has a greater influence on politics and elected officials today than in the past.” A majority of those polled in another survey said candidates will “most of the time” promote policies that directly help those who donated to their campaigns.

One of the people in the reform world using data to actually link money and legislative outcomes is Edwin Bender of the National Institute on Money in State Politics. We recently talked to him about the challenges and opportunities of getting more data on money in politics online and more easily accessible.

“They don't want it to happen but it's going to happen because the world is changing,” said Bender, regarding many in state and federal government positions.

Bender also made the case that hard data on money in politics can be used to judge whether political reforms being pursued in states across the country are having their desired effect.

“The Institute provides the data, analyses, and web-based tools that empower those pursuing all types of reform, from redistricting and voting to primary-race reform or, of course, all types of campaign-finance reform,” wrote Bender.

The Institute's Competitiveness Index tool lets users see if state-level races were monetarily competitive and/or competitive by vote count, or simply went uncontested.

The My Legislature tool lets users dig into campaign finance data from every state legislature and allows them to track a piece of legislation and understand if campaign contributions may have helped or hurt a bill throughout the process.

Bender was one of the more than 100 reform-minded people who came together in San Francisco for the 50 State Solution gathering earlier this year. The event aimed to expand on a new wave of state-level political reforms that can directly improve the democratic process and help restore citizens’ trust in government, from citizens redistricting and open primaries to automatic voter registration and campaign finance reform.

“Taking the conversation to the states only makes sense, given the dysfunctional processes at the federal level,” added Bender.


John Guenther

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