Last week, House representatives down in D.C. voted on an amendment to the Department of Defense appropriations bill. It was a big deal, because the so-called Amash Amendment would have greatly curtailed the National Security Agency's telephone-surveillance program.
Apart from the headline-stealing news that the vote brought some conservatives and liberals into accord for a brief moment, there's much more insight in the roll call itself. It turns out that campaign contributions from the defense industry etch a pretty reliable line down the vote.
Zooming into Northeast Ohio, in particular, the vote underscores area representatives' commitment to either big money or, in one lone case, the people. Probably the case most worth shedding light on here in Cleveland is Marcy Kaptur, the 9th District Democrat from Toledo. After voters kicked Dennis! Kucinich to the curb last November, Kaptur moved into town to represent much of the West Side - Lakewood, Old Brooklyn, Brookpark and points further west along the lakeshore. During last week's roll call, she voted against the amendment.
"[It was] not because she doesn't think that Congress needs to rein in the NSA, because she does. The Amash Amendment was not the vehicle," Steve Fought, Kaptur's press secretary, says. "She thinks that's not the proper approach to the issue. And there aren't many issues more important than this."
During 2011 and 2012, however, Kaptur received $80,500 from the defense industry, according to data compiled by MapLight. That's campaign cash coming from aerospace contractors, electronic contractors, homeland security contractors, shipbuilders, defense research firms and elsewhere. That's also a bigger sum than any other representative in Ohio, save for House Speaker John Boehner ($131,100) and Mike Turner ($127,775), both Republicans. For what it's worth, Rep. Tim Ryan, a Youngstown-to-Akron Democrat who also cast a "nay" vote, picked up a handy $59,500 in 2011 and 2012, as well.
In total, Kaptur is receiving more than double the average amount of defense-industry contributions than all other representatives who voted against the amendment.
Going forward, though, the representative is hoping to continue the conversation about the NSA's powers.
"She's focused on getting something done that's central to the issue - not showboating," Fought says. He and the office point to Jim Carr, a senior federal judge for the Northern District of Ohio, who is urging an expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Lo and behold, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi led 153 member of the House Democratic Caucus in a call for President Barack Obama to examine the NSA and consider amendments that would right the balance between security and privacy.
(But... But... The Amash... Amendment...)
Pelosi, it should be noted, voted against the amendment. Kaptur signed the letter after it was initially published and distributed. "Although some of us voted for and others against the amendment, we all agree that there are lingering questions and concerns about the current 215 collection program," the letter states.
Back on the roll call line, Rep. Marcia Fudge, whose 11th District covers much of Cleveland and the East Side, cast the only local vote in support of the amendment. Statewide, she was joined in her assent by three Republicans, interestingly enough. In and around Northeast Ohio, though, her district was surrounded by opposition.
"I listened to my constituents. I received a number of calls and letters from residents concerned about the scope of NSA's telecommunications collection program," she says. "They were legitimately concerned that the program may not sufficiently protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans."
Outside of toning down funding for the NSA's phone-tapping program, the amendment would have pushed the agency to focus solely on actual targets of law enforcement, rather than broad swaths of the general public. In the end, the vote came in at 205 to 217, and the amendment was shot down. Given the zeal on both sides, the slim margin wasn't particularly remarkable. And neither are the lines connecting campaign contributions to votes. That's the same horseshit that's driven Congress for years. But Kaptur is still kinda new to the greater Cleveland area, making this an illuminating vote.