The Highest Bidder

George Washington once said that “Few men have the virtue to withstand the highest bidder.”  Since the earliest days of American government, money and politics have gone hand in hand.  And as voters, we tolerate many accusations about our duly-elected representatives–including that they are corrupt.  Today’s map shows a part of how members of the United States House of Representatives fund their campaigns by mapping the percentage of each Representative’s campaign contributions that came from Political Action Committees (PACs)

Under Federal law, a group officially becomes a PAC by “receiving contributions or making expenditures in excess of $1,000 for the purpose of influencing a Federal election.”  PACs operate by focusing and directing money dedicated to a specific cause, such as labor rights, gun control, or immigration policy.  PACs will only contribute money to candidates who support their ideology.  Critics of this process say that by accepting money from a PAC, a politician is beholden to that group’s ideology–a process that they say constitutes corruption.  As an example, here are the ten largest PACs from the 2004 presidential election and how much they contributed, according to Wikipedia:

  1. EMILY’s List – $22,767,521
  2. Service Employees International Union – $12,899,352
  3. American Federation of Teachers – $12,789,296
  4. American Medical Association – $11,901,542
  5. National Rifle Association  – $11,173,358
  6. Teamsters Union – $11,128,729
  7. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – $10,819,724
  8. National Education Association – $10,521,538
  9. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – $9,882,022
  10. Laborers’ International Union of North America – $9,523,837

Today’s map was developed by Change Congress, a organization dedicated to exposing and reducing the degree to which American politicians accept money from PACs, lobbyists, and special interest groups. As an organization, Change Congress seeks to reduce PAC contributions and earmarks, and increase public campaign financing and Congressional transparency.  To see the full map, click here or on the picture above and scroll down to the bottom of the page.

The map shows each Congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The darker the “sludge” color on the map, the more money the congressman representing the district has accepted from PACs.   When you click on a district, a pop-up appears telling you the name of the congressman, their party affiliation and the number of their district, as well as the dollar value of their PAC campaign contributions for 2008.  The map also shows the percentage of each congressman’s funding that came from PACs.

After a quick review of the map, the congressman with the highest percentage of PAC contributions I could find was Al Green, a Democrat representing southern Houston in Texas Congressional District 9.  According to the map, 94% (nearly $60,000) of Green’s 2008 campaign contributions came from PACs.

The figures for notable members of the House vary widely.  Nancy Pelosi, the current Speaker of the House, took 48% of her 2008 campaign funds (about $777,000) from PACs.  PACs provided 60% of the campaign funds (or about $1.5 million) for Steny Hoyer, the current House majority whip, and they provided 55% (or over $1 million) of minority leader John Boehner’s campaign funds.  Dennis Kucinich, a frequent progressive presidential candidate, received 30% (or $15,000) of his reelection funding from PACs. And even Ron Paul, the conservative/libertarian hearthrob, took 9% of his funding ($10,000) from them.

On the other end of the spectrum, former Republican presidential candidate Duncan Hunter, of California’s 52nd congressional district, took no money for his 2008 congressional campaign from PACs, nor did Vic Snyder, a Democrat from Arkansas’ 2nd district, or Todd Platts, a Republican from Pennsylvania’s 19th.  Tom Tancredo, another former Republican presidential candidate, took only $500 from PACs for his 2008 congressional campaign.

Change Congress clearly believes that PAC money distorts the American political process.  Whether you agree or not, this map provides a glimpse into how Congress, money, and politics converge.


1 Response to “The Highest Bidder”

  1. 1 regular dental September 5, 2014 at 2:04 pm

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Cartographia is a blog about how we use maps to represent the world around us, and how people interpret maps today and throughout history. Please feel free to send any questions, comments, or recommendations directly to me at

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