How To Predict a Bailout Vote

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Oct. 1 2008 1:52 PM

How To Predict a Bailout Vote

The 228 members of the House of Representatives who brought down the financial bailout bill on Monday represented a strange coalition, including many of the most liberal and most conservative lawmakers. Some state delegates banded together. All of Arizona voted against the bill, for example, while 25 of 29 New Yorkers supported it.

Reader Nili Gilbert wrote in today with a particularly compelling correlation. Gilbert matched the roll call for the vote against political donations from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac dating back to 1989, using data compiled by Open Secrets . The results are striking: Members who voted for the bill have received an average of $8,588 in political donations from the two gargantuan lenders, which the government rescued from collapse in early September. Those who voted against this week’s bill received an average of $3,877 from the lenders. These figures include both donations from Freddie and Fannie’s political action committees and from employees of those companies. If you break out just the PAC donations, the divide looks just about the same: an average of $6,514 in donations to members who voted for the bill, compared with $3,051 for those who didn’t.

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To be clear, we’re just looking at this data as a predictor of how a member voted on the bailout, not the cause. The two former "government sponsored enterprises" were bailed out in early September and placed in a conservatorship, bringing them under government control, and Monday’s vote wasn’t about doing Fannie or Freddie any favors. Instead, the data shed light on how some lawmakers are far more politically connected with financial institutions than others and how those connections matter when examining votes on financial issues.

Why do we still care about this? The Senate is voting today on a new version of the legislation that supporters hope will be more palatable to the House. Backers of the new bill need 13 more votes in the House, assuming they can retain the 205 who supported the first incarnation. Of the opponents to that bill, 34 have received at least $10,000 in donations from Freddie and Fannie in the past 20 years. According to this thesis, they would be logical people to try and flip. (For the dataphiles out there, this also means the median donation to members who voted against the bill is much lower than the average—just $675. The median for those who voted for the bill is $2,250.)

Got a better predictor of bailout votes? Drop me a line .

Chris Wilson is a Slate contributor.

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