As the U.S. House bargained away on the climate bill, the analysts at MAPLight were busy checking votes and running comparisons between yeas and nays and campaign cash.
The non-profit released some of its findings today in a report titled "How Money Watered Down the Climate Bill." The upshot: House members' votes on the various amendments tended to correlate with financial support from interest groups that stood to benefit.
"That's pretty striking when you think of the significance of the energy legislation," said Dan Newman, executive director of MAPLight.
"I'm continually surprised by how direct the relationship is between the supporters of the bills, their financial backers and the correlations between campaign contributors and votes."
Take for example an amendment proposed by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) to broaden the definition of renewable biomass.
Walden argued forcefully that national forests need to be thinned, and that the removed biomass should count as renewable energy. The League of Conservation Voters had a different view: "enacting Walden's amendment would have removed critical safeguards that prevent habitat on our nation's public and private forests from being plowed up in the name of biofuels production."
MAPLight pulled together data on campaign contributions connected to the forestry and paper products industry and compared the contributions to votes by members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Walden's biomass amendment. It found that
Energy and Commerce Committee members who voted Yes on the Walden amendment received an average of $25,745 each from the forestry and paper products industry, 10 times as much as the $2,541 received on average by each member voting No.
The only four Democrats who supported the amendment were among the top committee recipients of the industry's contributions. One of them, Mike Ross (D-Ark), received $120,250 from the industry, according to MAPLight's numbers, second only to Walden, who took in $300,396.
Walden's amendment failed, but much of it reappeared among the concessions House leaders later added to win enough votes for the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) bill to pass the chamber.
MAPLight also analyzed votes on proposed ACES amendments related to nuclear power, agriculture, refineries and the only Republican amendment considered on the House floor, Rep. Randy Forbes' (R-Va.) proposal to scrap cap-and-trade and replace it with incentives for alternative energy, including nuclear power.
The non-partisan organization compares votes and campaign donations for all the legislation in Congress, using legislative voting records, congressional records and official statements to determine industry support and opposition to bills, and campaign contribution data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
"This is not just an abstract concept – money and politics – it's actually effecting what forests are cut down or stay up. It's going to effect how clean the air is that citizens are breathing," Newman said.
"Legislators are making decisions at the same time that effect their financial backers as well as effect their citizens. What our analysis suggests is that there's a good reason these special interests spend thousands of dollars – they get something in return."