Did Campaign Contributions Influence Representatives who Voted in Favor of NSA Phone Spying?

Monday, July 29, 2013
Secret NSA data routing room at AT&T (photo: Mark Klein)

Although last Wednesday’s vote in the House of Representatives that nearly killed the NSA domestic spying programs revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden has been portrayed in ideological terms, defense industry money played a greater role in saving the snooping than did love of liberty.


In the vote on the amendment sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) and John Conyers (D-Michigan), the unexpectedly close outcome of 217 to 205 took Capitol Hill insiders by surprise, as did the remarkably bipartisan nature of the voting. The anti-snooping coalition included 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats, while 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats voted to continue the once-secret program that began shortly after the 2001 terror attacks.


While it was the most bipartisan vote in Congress this session, an analysis by MapLight, a Berkeley-based non-profit, demonstrates that campaign contributions were a far better predictor of a member’s vote than party affiliation. According to Maplight, during a two-year period ending December 31, 2012, the 217 “no” voters received on average more than twice as much cash ($41,635) from the defense and intelligence industries than did the 205 “yes” voters ($18,765). The donations totaled $12.97 million.


Of the top 10 recipients of defense dollars, only one House member—Rep. Jim Moran (D-Virginia)—voted to end the program, while 16 of the 26 members who got nothing voted to do so. Amash himself took only $1,400 from the defense industry.


With President Barack Obama and the leadership of both the House and Senate vocally supporting the spy program, the Amash-Conyers amendment would not have become law even if it had passed the House. But with new revelations about government spying on Americans coming out nearly every week, public opinion is starting to turn.


“They were very worried,” observed Conyers of his party’s leadership. “And the fact that they won this narrowly means they still are worried because this thing isn’t over yet.”         

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Lawmakers Who Upheld NSA Phone Spying Received Double the Defense Industry Cash (by David Kravets, Wired)

Roll Call of Votes on the Amash amendment (govtrack.us)

Justin Amash almost Beat the NSA. Next Time, he Might do it (by Brian Fung, Washington Post)

Left and Right Sue Obama Administration over Indiscriminate Phone Spying (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


Leave a comment