I’ve been keeping an eye on the House Judiciary Committee markup session for the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that have happened over the past two days along with the tweets that have been going out in reaction to the proceedings. One of the running threads in the commentary has been the theory of a correlation between campaign contributions from media creators and a desire by representatives to push SOPA through the committee. (Disclosure: I’ve come out publicly against SOPA.) By tabulating the roll call votes and using data from OpenSecrets.org, there does appear to be a correlation, and one that gets tighter the higher the percentage of contributions from media creators. I’ll show my work below.
Getting the tabulation of the roll call votes was the most time consuming part of the process. I used the video posted by KeepTheWebOPEN.com to YouTube that contains the entire proceedings of Thursday’s Judiciary Committee meeting. Specifically, I used the Part 4 video — over four and a half hours from afternoon into evening. During that time I found eight roll call votes (which doesn’t include two voice votes):
- Vote 1 (discussion ongoing at the start of the video) roll call at 13:53
- Vote 2 (discussion starting at 17:41) roll call at 36:55
- Vote 3 (discussion starting at 40:10) roll call at 54:59
- Vote 4 (discussion starting at 58:00) roll call at 1:16:58
- Vote 5 (discussion starting at 1:43:28) roll call at 2:05:11
- Vote 6 (discussion starting at 2:21:56) roll call at 2:40:42
- Vote 7 (discussion starting at 3:13:49) roll call at 3:34:28
- Vote 8 (discussion starting at 3:38:30) roll call at 4:23:24
For campaign contribution information, I relied on the OpenSecrets.org site, and I was specifically looking at two categories of contributions: those affiliated with TV/Movies/Music and those affiliated with Computers/Internet. For each category, I looked at contributions for the 2011-2012 cycle to a representative’s campaign committee and leadership PAC (where applicable). There are probably other industry categories that could be included on each side and one could certainly look at history beyond the current year, but I think this slice of information is enough to see if the correlation holds true.
Based on the above, my data table looks like this:
Now for some assumptions. First, all proposed amendments (and consequently all roll call votes) were for language that weakened SOPA in some way. Second, the difference between contributions from the TV/Movies/Music industry category and the Computers/Internet industry category is a measure of how those industries feel about SOPA. (In other words, there aren’t significant contributions from the TV/Movies/Music industry that are opposed to SOPA and vice versa.)
The best way to analyze this is to plot the ratios of contributions to votes on an X-Y chart and look at the trend line:
This chart shows that there was a correlation between campaign contributions and votes (looking at the slope of the line). What is interesting, though, is the correlation is weaker for representatives that received a higher percentage of contributions from the Computers/Internet sector (as shown by the distance of points to the trend line on the left side of the chart). The farther to the right on the chart, the closer the points are to the trend line.
Another interesting point, given today’s hyper-polarized political climate, is that the pro-SOPA and anti-SOPA divide was not along party lines:
There were two Democrats and two Republicans that consistently voted for amendments to change SOPA. (Note in reading this chart that there are more Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee than there are Democrats.)
I was surprised at the variability in voting positions. To watch the video in real time and hear the names of the representatives fly by it would seem that it was always the same people on each side of the issue. As the voting record shows, that isn’t true. There were four representatives that voted in favor of all eight amendments to the draft legislation (Chaffetz, Issa, Lofgren and Polis) and seven members that voted against all eight amendments (Amodei, Conyers, Deutch, Goodlatte, Smith, Waters, and Watt). Twenty five representatives had varying voting patterns. (Three members of the judiciary committee did not vote at all and presumably were not present.)
I had heard in news stories that the TV/Movies/Music industries has been courting the members of the Judiciary Committee for a number of years, while the Computers/Internet industries have been relatively late to the game. That might explain why there is a higher voting affinity between supporters of SOPA and votes supporting SOPA as proposed.
A Plug for Rootstrikers
I think Lawrence Lessig would be the first to say that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. In this case, it means that the money given by contributors to members of congress doesn’t mean that those members are voting in line with the desires of the contributors. But the appearance of causation is driving many to assume the votes of the committee members have been bought and paid for by contributors from the media creation companies.
According to the data at OpenSecrets.org, contributors aligned with TV/Movies/Music industries have given $620,410 to members of the Judiciary Committee while Computers/Internet contributors gave $468,639. That is over $1 million from those two industry categories alone. That is a lot of money.
In a blog post last month, Lessig offers an explanation on why he is not visible in the SOPA fight.
I am not at the center of the SOPA fight (though obviously a strong supporter). Here’s a couple sentences why.
First, and again, this is a critical battle to wage and win. SOPA is just the latest, but in many ways, the most absurd campaign in the endless saga of America’s copyright wars. It will be yet another failed attempt in a failed war, and I obviously believe it should be opposed.
But second, and as you describe, this isn’t my war anymore. Not because my heart isn’t in it, but because I don’t believe we will win that war (or better, win the peace and move on) — even if we can win battles like this one — until the more basic corruption that is our government gets addressed. That’s the fight I have spent the last 4 years working on. That’s where I’ll be for at least the next 6.
Lessig goes on to describe and cheer for the efforts inside Congress and outside to make sure SOPA doesn’t become law. Then he ends with:
For this is what I know: We will never (as in not ever) win the war you care about until we win the war against this corruption of our Republic.
The corruption he speaks of is the undue influence of campaign contributions to American politics. He and other similarly-minded citizens have formed Rootstrikers to start a movement in this country to eliminate that influence. To learn more about Lessig’s Rootstrikers project, watch his recent interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, or — for a longer version — his Republic, Lost lecture screencast.
I think Lessig is onto something. If nothing else, the appearance of corruption is enough of a reason to address the fundraising needs of politicians. It would seem, though, that the fundraising need is indeed an unhealthy influence on the daily schedules (if not decisions) of politicians and we need a way to remove that influence. The Rootstrikers proposals seem like a reasonable solution to this problem.
As I was preparing this post, the House Judiciary Committee reportedly had adjourned for the year. In the last few minutes of the session on Friday afternoon there was talk about reconvening in January with briefings from the Department of Homeland Security on the DNSSEC implications of SOPA. Now it seems that the Judiciary Committee will resume markup of SOPA on Wednesday. From Representative Darrell Issa, a member of the committee:
BREAKING: Judiciary has scheduled the rest of #SOPA markup next Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 9 AM EST. #stopsopa #open #dontbreaktheinternet #ip
— @DarrellIssa Darrell Issa December 16, 2011 at 4:48pm EST
What do you suppose the conversation was like after the the meeting ended. I imagine it went something like this:
- Media lobbyist:
- Hey! You said you were going to run this legislation through your committee and get it to the house floor before the end of the year! What happened?!?
- Judiciary Committee Chairperson Lamar Smith:
- Well, yeah, that was the plan, but all of these facts kept coming up about how the bill was going to break things and be unenforceable and not actually fix the problem. It was looking bad — I was looking bad — so in the end I said we would wait until the new year when hopefully things will have cooled off.
- Media lobbyist:
- You can’t do that! I promised my clients to give them SOPA for Christmas. If you know what is good for you you’ll get back in there and make it happen.
- Chairperson Smith:
- Alright, alright…I’ll call everyone back to the the committee room three days before Christmas Eve and wear down the opponents.
- Media lobbyist:
- That’s better. By the way, how ’bout I host another fundraiser for you in January. Is the evening of the 6th good for you?
Somebody — please prove me wrong!(This post was updated on 13-Jun-2014.)