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  • Matthew Hook


Updated: Dec 27, 2019

Gerrymandering and Money

Gerrymandering is the practice of establishing political advantage for a political party by manipulating the boundaries of a political district. Gerrymandering has been with us since 1812, when it was used in Massachusetts by Governor Elbridge Gerry. Since then, a wealth of data and computing power have combined to take Gerrymandering to new levels. Congressional districts are so gerrymandered that in 2002, eighty-one congressional incumbents faced no major-party opponent. In 2004, when George W. Bush narrowly beat John Kerry, all but ten House victors won easily - most of them in landslides. Because districts are not competitive, incumbents only need to worry about being beaten in primaries - which typically have low voter turnout. As a result, incumbents are not willing to break with their party or compromise on commonsense legislation for fear of being attacked by a more extreme candidate in their party - who tend to be favored by primary voters.

The lack of adequate representation is further exacerbated by the impact of money on elections. Members of Congress spend between 30% and 70% of their time fundraising. On average, a U.S. Senator running for office in 2014 raised over $12 million. More than half of that money comes from less than 0.05% of the population, and over 60% of the money contributed to Super PACs is coming from just 132 people in the United States (TED Talk – Lawrence Lessig: Professor of Law, Harvard University). For example, in Indiana’s 5th district (in which the author lives), of the $1.4 million raised by Susan Brooks during the 2017/2018 election cycle, over $900,000 (64%) of the “contributions” were not from individuals, but from Political Action Committees and other entities. Of the 36% of contributions that did come from individuals, many of them were located outside of Brooks’ district and even the State of Indiana (See Federal Election Commission website –

Since most of this money is raised from a very small number of wealthy donors who dictate policy, most politicians cannot afford to vote against party bosses for fear of losing funding and being ousted in a primary by a candidate willing to bend to the will of these special interests. These big-money donors often have large financial stakes in old-line industries such as coal and oil. Therefore, these industries are protected at the expense of newer, more promising technologies (thus, coal matters and we don't).

Politicians have become so beholden to large donors that even the Speaker of the House of Representatives has to get permission from big money to move forward.

In her book Dark Money, Jane Mayer writes:

"As tensions built in the increasingly calamitous debt ceiling stalemate, two sources say [Speaker] Boehner traveled to New York to personally beseech David Koch’s help. One former adviser to the Koch family stated that Boehner begged David to 'call off the dogs.' Boehner pointed out that if the country defaulted, David’s own investments would tank. A spokeswoman for Boehner (Emily Schillinger) confirmed the visit, but insisted, ‘Anyone who knows Speaker Boehner knows he doesn’t beg.’” (Mayer, 2017).

Additionally, 238 U.S. Representatives and 41 U.S. Senators of the 112th U.S. Congress have signed a pledge with the Americans for Tax Reform - a 501 (c)(4) organization which is not required to disclose its donors, but has historically received large amounts from entities funded by the Koch brothers. Senators and Representatives sign pledges with Washington-based organizations (funded by billionaires) in order to obtain political contributions.

The situation is so bad that a 2014 Princeton/Northwestern study found that, “When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of the organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy" (Gilens & Page, 2014).

...Is it any wonder less than half of the people eligible to vote did so in 2018?

The result of allowing special interests to control the political system is illustrated by our broken healthcare system. According to, the healthcare system spent over $320,000,000 in donations and lobbying in the 2018 election cycle, which helps explain why the United States has the least cost-effective healthcare system in the world. Although the United States spends over 17% of its GDP on healthcare (compared to an average of 10.5% for other countries in the developed world) our life expectancy is 29th out of 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Of the 17% of GDP spent on healthcare, the government spends 8.5%. One example of why the government pays so much is explained by what happened in the late hours of the night when the conference committees of the Senate and House of Representatives were reconciling differences on the Medicare Part D bill. During those late-night negotiations, a provision got put into the bill that prohibited the government from negotiating drug prices. Researchers believe Medicare would save over half of a trillion dollars over 10 years if U.S. prices were negotiated down to levels paid by consumers in Denmark - which has a lot less negotiating power than the United States.

Gilens, M., & Page, B. I. (2014). Testing theories of American politics: Elites, interest groups,

and average citizens. Perspectives on politics, 12(3), 564-581.

Mayer, J. (2017). Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (Reprint): Anchor.

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