Political Incentives Align Special Interests Before Taxpayer Interests

March 29, 2014

By Eric Peterson

Business and politicians have long enjoyed an unspoken quid pro quo agreement. Support for bills that give subsides to big business are repaid with big contributions down the road. A prime case in point is the bloated 2014 Farm Bill, which overwhelmingly passed Congress recently, proving bipartisanship in Washington is alive and well when it comes to government handouts.

Scholars at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University recently released a graph highlighting the extent of this partnership. They found that House and Senate Members who voted for the 2013 Farm Bill received on average over 33 thousand dollars in political contributions from agribusiness during the first three quarters on 2013. Their colleagues who voted against it received only a third as much.

As Matthew Mitchell points out, “The fact that members who ultimately voted for the bill received so much more than those who opposed it may indicate that interest groups prefer to donate to members who are likely to support their issue.”

Looking at this graph, is it any wonder the farm bill passes every 5 years with such little opposition?

matt revisted agribusiness chart 5800 Political Incentives Align Special Interests Before Taxpayer Interests

In many ways, members of Congress simply don’t have the right incentives in place—that’s why reforming the Farm Bill and similar legislation is so difficult. As Americans for Prosperity has highlighted before, many federal lawmakers receive millions in farm subsidies themselves. Combined with these political contributions, this conflict of interests is problematic because it discourages them from actually reforming these programs and reining in spending.

Instead, politicians have the strong incentive to transfer from the wallets of hardworking taxpayers and deposit it directly into the bank accounts of special interests, who will in turn use those dollars to fill their campaign war chests.

This once-every-five years ritual of farming the taxpayers is bound to continue if voters don’t take notice of this quiet, $1 trillion (and growing) harvest on the U.S. Treasury — and hold those who make it possible accountable.

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