WatchSonoma Watch

HERTZ: Money and Politics — Who are some of the big special interest groups?

Richard Hertz


“Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” – Ambrose Bierce (Journalist, Writer 1842 – 1913)

Since this blog will focus a great deal on money in politics, you have a right to know exactly whom I’m talking about when I refer to special interest groups.

Actually, it’s not the special interests that are at the heart of our political problems. Ever since early civilizations began, people quite naturally have been looking out for their own hides. It’s not hard to imagine the back-cave dealings between those who controlled access to the local water supply and tribal leaders who no doubt found a way to channel a little extra flow into their personal cisterns.

There have always been people or groups seeking to influence government for their personal gain. The problem today is soliciting campaign contributions and doing the bidding of special interests has become lawmakers’ main focus. Meanwhile the huge problems facing the country and most Americans are ignored.

So while acknowledging that the demand for campaign donations and other perks is largely driven by lawmakers, let’s nonetheless pull back the curtain and see who some of the biggest contributors are.

Click [here] and you’ll see a list of the interest groups that, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, donated the most money to those running for President and Congress in the 2011 – 2012 election cycle.

In just the first ten months of this period, the finance, insurance and real estate industries made over $120 million in contributions to candidates for federal offices. And that is just from those industries, for only part of one non-election year.

So it is hardly surprising that we have laws that overwhelmingly favor large banks and others in this group, usually at consumers’ expense.

But if we look around a little further on opensecrets.org, we’ll see that big corporate interests are not the only ones investing a lot of money into our political system. Clicking [here] will bring up a list of individual groups or companies that, as opensecrets.org calls them, have been the heavy hitters when it comes to making campaign contributions since 1989.

As you’ll see, most, but not all of the top 15 in this group are unions or groups likely to be sympathetic to the concerns of labor. In that light, it is not surprising that many experts feel the pension obligations made to some public employees are unaffordable and are a ticking time bomb for many municipalities and states.

This is another example of how special interests with very diverse interests can receive favorable treatment from lawmakers dependent on them for large contributions and other forms of support.

Don’t get me wrong. Everyone should have the right to petition or lobby their representatives and donate to whomever they like. The problem is lobbying government officials has become an entire industry, with a huge revolving door shuttling lobbyists into public office and public officials into lobbying jobs.

Can you believe there was actually talk a few years ago, about lobbying firms going public? What would their stock market ticker symbols have been, GFT, CRK, INF? Thank goodness, there’s a three-character limit. Spelling out graft, crooks or influence would probably have been bad for business.

That’s all for me right now. However, it’s worth a few minutes of your time to become familiar with websites like opensecrets.org, followthemoney.org and legistorm.com. They tell the story well, if we’re willing to listen, learn and act.

Bodega Bay resident Richard Hertz owns Hertz Research, which conducts polling for news organizations, public agencies, businesses and other organizations.

18 Responses to “HERTZ: Money and Politics — Who are some of the big special interest groups?”

  1. Union Guy says:

    LBR, At least look up information before you dish it out. 90% of cops and firefighters unions supported Brown because Whitman had vowed to go after their 3% @ 50 pensions in her campaign. Any that voted her way were for fiscal restraint. (This is part of the “Dont believe everything you hear” advice).

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. Juvenal says:

    I don’t see how the word “special” adds anything to “interests” when it comes to politics. I believe we have the so-called Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan, to thank for this particle of claptrap.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  3. Follower says:

    We have “term limits”, they’re called “ELECTIONS”!

    But you idiots keep re-electing these thieves & then whine about how corrupt they are.

    Congress has a 9% approval rating yet they have a 90% re-election rate.

    I rest my case!

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  4. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @RC – yes, certain unions obviously spend a lot – look at the money Police and Fire were throwing Meg Whitman’s way. If she had won, their pensions would have been fully protected. On the other hand, most non-safety city and county employee associations collect little in dues and spend little if anything on campaigns.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 9

  5. Reality Check says:


    It’s hard to see how term limits have benefited our legislature. Nor, though, have they hurt.

    As to special interests having more sway now, I don’t think so. In the election that established term limits special interest money opposed them 9 to 1. Why? lobbyists always prefer dealing with politicians they know and have done favors for.

    New legislators are an unknown risk. Although when you look at who Sonoma county sends to Sacramento, it’s been a small one.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

  6. Reality Check says:

    ” . . . union member dues are not used for political purposes.”

    Not true. The last vote on this issue was, I believe, in 2005, Prop 75. It would have prevented dues money from being spent on political campaigns, but it lost.

    Under the Beck decision, a member is supposed to be able to opt out of paying that portion of the dues that go for politics, but few members risk alienating union leaders by doing so.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  7. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @CS – personally, I think term limits have been bad for California. No one has a chance to figure out what’s going on before they have to find a different position to run for. Special interests now have more sway, not less.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

  8. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Robert Haskins-union member dues are not used for political purposes. Union members, WHO CHOOSE TO, can donate to a COPE fund through their paychecks. That money is used to fund ads (where the PROUD union logo and name are displayed so you all know EXACTLY who financed it unlike these fake “patriot” groups funded by corporations and billionaires who hide their real identities)and donate to endorsed candidates. A COPE member can participate in the vetting of candidates, work for, and vote to donate money to their campaigns.

    These days, being that union busting has been such a GREAT success, the unions have far less money than people think. Compared to these corporate entities it’s just a drop.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 20

  9. Robert Haskins says:

    What does a little guy living in that oasis of political thought, Bodega Bay, know about lobbying, politics and corruption?

    People move there to get away from it all, retire or make bird horror films.

    Washington politics or anything political is out of place in that place.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 6

  10. joet says:

    Wow, only here at Watch! So stopping corruption IS a partisan issue? The hard right bias here is saying in no uncertain terms that corruption and exploitation of government SHOULD exist, and the right should be playing this off as a government that simply taxes and spends too much?

    Wow. Just wow. The right no longer cares to have secret its plan to exploit the government to its own ends, taxing with the public sector to fund the most powerful in the private sector.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 15

  11. Commonsense says:

    After much thought and research, I’m beginning to think that one possible way to help alleviate some of the influence issues is have term limits for all politicians, maybe then a more balanced approach can be reached.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 7

  12. Serious Fish says:

    Mr. Hertz…

    You presented to the PD audience that based on your experince and insights on being a political pollster that you would offer your opnions, suggestions and comments on how to solve political,finaacial and societal problems. Instead on identifying a problem and laying priority precedures to correct that problem you present us with a low level high school political science paper by a student that knows how to use search engines.

    Respectfully, Mr. Hertz, if feel you are a person “in the know” make your problem solving statement and support it.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 6

  13. The Oracle says:

    I, for one, am thankful that the wealthiest among us can buy political access and influence. Imagine how wonderful the world would be if such “free speech” was allowed to influence non-elected officials. Students would be allowed to donate money to their teachers. Accused criminals would be allowed to donate money to our police officers. Our public pension problems would be solved; and we’d be a far more just society.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 11

  14. Reality Check says:

    The feds now spend about $3.7 trillion, 25% of GDP. And, yep, special interests do not not sit idly by as the money is divvied up. Everyone, it seems, wants a bigger piece of pie.

    We should not be surprised that the rise in lobbying and campaign donation correlates well with the rise in government spending.

    Hertz does not identify which problems are being ignored, but the implication is that special interests divert money that would otherwise go to solve those problems. Yet, can one think of a cause in America that isn’t well represented in Washington?

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  15. Porcelain Punisher says:

    I have a special interest in getting my taxes cut and getting the out of control spending stopped. Does that make me evil?

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 5

  16. Robert Haskins says:

    Special interests are not inherently evil. Every group in this country have a special interest. It is their right to lobby their government for their interests.

    That said, the problem is the money. Money buys influence in Washington, Sacramento and Santa Rosa. Money cannot and will not be removed from politics.

    The issue is the inbalance in lobbyist spending. Unions have far too much influence in government by virtue of their unregulated spending of union member dues. Business lobbyists are restricted by Congress but this needs to be reexamined.

    Corrupt politicians spending all of their time going after special interest money is at the heart of the problem.

    Hertz has some explaining to do to tell us how all of this can be resolved.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 6

  17. Steveguy says:

    Well said, and you could have added in the amount of time that our political whores, I mean legislators, spend on obtaining these campaign contributions.

    Ohhh, our so important ‘public servants’ will not disclose their schedules, as the schedules will show that most of the ‘work schedules’ are money grubbing fund raising events hosted by lobbyists. An insane amount of time is spent !

    Releasing their schedules will show what they do day in and day out. And the lobbyists pay a paltry sum compared to the gains that they reap from the bought political whores.

    Occupy the State Capitol, and the lobbying area there. Occupy Congress and K Street in DC.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  18. Graeme Wellington says:

    We’re all familiar with what the problem is. The Press Democrat is great with transcribing problems. Where are the promised solutions Hertz? How many Golis columns have been printed already saying exactly the same things you say here?

    We’re tired of problem explanations. How can we fix America’s political system?

    Wellington 1, Hertz 0

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 4

Leave a Reply