Graphic representation of donations to Mayday PAC discussed in this diary. The area of each circle represents the dollars per 100,000 population donated from each state to Mayday PAC through June 27. Map colors represent each state's position on the liberal (blue) to conservative (red) spectrum, according to Gallup. See diary for methods, discussion, and more graphs.
Lawrence Lessig's Mayday PAC
promotes itself as The SuperPAC to End All Pacs, proposing to join together small donations from online supporters plus giant matching contributions from a handful of supportive zillionaires to intervene in five congressional races (TBD) this fall (and many more in 2016):
The money raised is turned over to professional campaigners, who will craft interventions in targeted districts to make fundamental [campaign finance] reform the issue in that campaign — and to make the reform candidate the winner.
It's a controversial plan, to say the least. Mayday's boosters tend to be passionately committed, to the point of being unconcerned that Mayday is an equal opportunity SuperPAC -- it may back either the Republican or the Democrat in any race in which it chooses to intervene. Detractors of Lessig's plan on the other hand (mostly Democrats, it seems to me), tend to bemoan this very same independence, pointing out that this values-free focus
(excepting only the value of campaign finance reform) might end up being the straw that breaks the camel's back, handing control of Congress to the Republicans, and likewise question both the ethics and the logic of an outside PAC interfering in local races in order to bring a halt to outside PACs interfering in local races.
If, as it asserts, Mayday PAC is completely agnostic with respect to 'liberal' versus 'conservative,' then it seems reasonable to ask where its small-money donations principally come from. From liberals? Conservatives? Or both about equally? Because if (for example) Mayday's money comes primarily from liberal donors, and ends up going about equally to support liberal and conservative candidates, that would represent, on balance, a net transfer of wealth from liberal donors to conservative candidates...a pretty neat trick that few if any others have ever managed in American political history.
Join me below the squiggle for my analysis of this question based on Mayday's own publicly released (and, admittedly, very incomplete) data.
Mayday's current Data Analysis page offers two different (and, frankly, not terribly insightful) views of its 23,000 online donations received through June 27th, totaling $2.1 million -- a pretty far cry from today's running total of $7.7 million advertised on its home page (both pages accessed July 10, 2014). With the aid of web-scraping software and some elbow grease I've extracted and databased from those presentations a breakdown of dollars donated per state, and added on U.S. census data regarding population by state, enabling me to calculate, for each state, dollars donated per 100,000 population (scaling the data this way enables more meaningful comparisons between populous and small states). The map at the top of this article reports the results, where the area of each state's circle (not its diameter) is proportional to that state's dollars donated per 100K population.
To take a first stab at asking and answering whether these donated dollars are more likely to be red or blue...roughly speaking, conservative or liberal...I've overlaid these dollars-per-100K-population circles on a heatmap of the U.S. produced last year by Gallup and republished in the Washington Post, in which Gallup assigned shades of red, purple, or blue to the states based on a 2012 survey in which respondents self-identified themselves as either 'conservative,' 'moderate,' or 'liberal.' Granted there are a lot of different ways to slice and dice red versus blue states; this one happens to make sense to me in the present context (your mileage may vary).
The strongly liberal trend of Mayday donors pretty much jumps right off of the page. For example, among the top five dollars-per-100K-population states (in descending order: the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Washington, California, and Oregon) all are deep blue, whereas among the five bottommost dollars-per-100K-population states (South Carolina, Alabama, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Mississippi, in descending order), all but purplish Kentucky are bright red.
Granted, the majority of top-dollar states are all pretty rich, whereas the majority of bottom-dollar states are mostly poor, and that could be a somewhat confounding factor in this analysis --rich people are certainly better able than the poor to donate gobs of money. All I can say in reply is that I, at least, believe that overall societal poverty or wealth are inherent characteristics of conservative or liberal states, respectively, in which case this isn't really much of a confounding factor...it's a feature, not a bug. One might also argue that Mayday is the darling of the technology geek class, and high-dollar states such as California, Washington, and Massachusetts are tech hotbeds. But so too are Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia...low-dollar states all. All things considered then, I find the correlation between blueness and generous donations to Mayday to be pretty compelling.
Just how compelling, quantitatively speaking? The chart below graphs dollars-per-100K-population (vertical axis) as a function of each state's percentage of respondents characterizing themselves as liberal (left panel: blue circles), moderate (middle panel: purple triangles), or conservative (right panel: red squares). The correlation coefficients (R-squared) for liberals and conservatives are reasonably good (for human behavioral data, anyway): 0.48 and 0.43, respectively. The more liberal the state, the more dollars per person its individuals tend to donate to Mayday; and conversely, the more conservative the state, the less. In contrast, there's really no correlation at all for 'moderates' (R-squared equals 0.05).
Long story short: the color of Mayday's small-online-donor money is distinctly blue. Actually, this may not be too surprising a result (though it's still worth quantifying): I suspect liberals today tend to feel persecuted by PACs, and probably for good reason, whereas conservatives tend to like rampant big-money-in-politics just fine, thank you very much.
Of course, the really interesting parts of this story are yet to come. What color are Mayday's zillionaire big-money matching donors? The PAC hasn't revealed their identities yet, so this remains to be seen. And what color are the majority of congressional candidates Mayday will target for destruction?
Stay tuned; I'll keep you posted.