(My last post began a long discussion on the OHP list. Here’s some of my follow-up.)
I don’t believe any of my transparency colleagues believe that there is a pervasive systematic problem with Hill staff & Members making literally corrupt decisions on a regular basis. However, I’m sure everyone here recognizes systemic selection biases (who can afford to get elected) and incentives (the revolving door) that are worthy of study.
The net effect of these biases and incentives is not clear, but there is certainly an effect. We know there have been a few bad apples and it is the public’s duty to be on the lookout for more. And we know that the biases and incentives affect policy results i.e. through who is elected, how committees are assigned, what lobbyists/advocates have access to Congress’s ears, and maybe in some more pernicious ways.
Now whether the net effect is in some sense good, neutral, or bad is something we’re disagreeing on. Tom is basically defending neutral, while most else would say bad.
Compared to what, and how would you know?
The problem with this discussion is that we can’t make up a hypothetical less-money-obsessed world world that we would all agree on. Take away money and some other aspect of the human condition is going to take its place. And even if we could imagine a world, how would you measure if that world was better off?
I’ll try to tie this back into the point I initially made:
Discovering bad applies through investigative, data-driven reporting is great for the country. It is actionable information. But while reporting on mere “correlation” establishes a *possible* bias or incentive, it neither indicates an actual effect on policy nor suggests any action that we could take that we could be reasonably sure would in fact improve policymaking.
Of course, correlations can be the beginning of an investigative project. Paul Blumenthal’s recent post “Incoming finance committee chairman relies on finance campaign contributions” raises a lot of concern over correlations. But its relevance is backed up by other observations and makes a good case that, at the very least, the media should be keeping a close eye on a Member of Congress who is being tempted by some very strong incentives. Hopefully he’ll resist the temptations.