This Is Not What Corruption Looks Like

Less than a third of Congressmen who received campaign contributions from Comcast signed the pro-NBC/Comcast merger memo, and signers didn’t receive any more than non-signers.

A big story that hit the Internet this week was titled What Corruption Looks Like: 87% Of Congressional Reps Supporting Comcast/NBC Merger Got Money From Comcast. The story covered the “scandal” that, of 97 legislators who signed a memo urging speedy approval of the proposed NBC/Comcast merger, “87%” received campaign contributions from Comcast – thus, pure political corruption laid bare.

First of all, by my count 87% is inaccurate. The actual number is closer to 78%, if you compare the signers of the memo and OpenSecrets.org‘s list of campaign contributors from the previous election cycle. If the journalist who made the 87% claim was referring to Congressmen who had ever received campaign contributions from Comcast, he or she was being dishonest. This issue has not been a matter of public debate for more than two years, and certainly not more than four.

That 78%, or 77 legislators, were among 260 who have received campaign contributions from Comcast in the past two years. Thus, a minority of people who received contributions from NBC/Comcast during the time period when the merger was “an issue” signed the memo urging rapid approval of the NBC/Comcast merger. It’s difficult to call this evidence of “corruption” when only about 30% of people who received contributions from Comcast felt inspired to get onboard.

Of recipients of campaign contributions from Comcast who did not sign the memo, the average monetary contribution received was $4,103; of those who did sign, that average was $5,326. That difference is statistically significant-ish; p=0.099, so it broaches the 10% level often used in political science, and the F statistic is 2.749, a much larger value than I expected. However, at the base line, we’re dealing with a difference of $1,000; among those who received campaign contributions from Comcast, a measly $1,000 separates the decision to sign or not to sign the pro-merger memo.

In an election cycle where the average House challenger raised $1,420,000, are we really to believe there isn’t something else going on? I think it’s more likely the legislators who signed this memo are pro-merger for reasons other than “corruption.” Perhaps NBC and Comcast provide a lot of jobs in their districts. Perhaps they honestly believe the merger will bring better cable and wireless options to their areas. Who knows. But if $1,000 in campaign spending – not enough to cover office space for an intern – is enough to flip a vote, then we have a Congress for sale for chump change.

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