Data Shows Democrats Fully Embraced by Surveillance Industry

Data Shows Democrats Fully Embraced by Surveillance Industry

An analysis of 2012 campaign contributions show that the surveillance industry backs Dems equally or more than Republicans -   October 23, 2013
Members don't see ads. If you are a member, and you're seeing this appeal, click here


Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

I support The Real News Network because it is one of the few remaining political voices of the people. - David Pear
Log in and tell us why you support TRNN


Thomas Ferguson is Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, a Senior Fellow of the Roosevelt Institute, and a Contributing Editor at AlterNet. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and taught formerly at MIT and the University of Texas, Austin. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including Golden Rule (University of Chicago Press, 1995) and Right Turn (Hill & Wang, 1986). Most of his research focuses on how economics and politics affect institutions and vice versa. His articles have appeared in many scholarly journals, including the Quarterly Journal of Economics, International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, and the Journal of Economic History. He is a long time Contributing Editor to The Nation and a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of the Historical Society and the International Journal of Political Economy.


Data Shows Democrats Fully Embraced by Surveillance IndustryJAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

Bush and Cheney may have invented it, but national Democratic Party leaders are full-fledged players in the 21st-century national surveillance state. And the interest-group pressures that now help to sustain its defenders in Washington work just as powerfully on Democrats as on Republicans. That's according to Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen. They have just posted a short version of their new report on AlterNet and a working paper for the Roosevelt Institute titled Party Competition and Industrial Structures in the 2012 Elections: Who's Really Driving the Taxi to the Dark Side?

We're now joined by one of the authors, Thomas Ferguson. He's a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston, a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, and a contributing editor at AlterNet.

Thank you so much for joining us.


NOOR: So, Professor Ferguson, what you're arguing here kind of flies in the face of conventional wisdom and the mainstream narrative of the 2012 election. Can you just break down exactly what you're saying?

FERGUSON: Okay. Well, we're saying a lot of things, but I'll focus on the stuff that connects directly to the national surveillance state. We started out trying simply to do a straightforward money-in-politics analysis of the election. Now, I say that fully conscious of the irony, 'cause there's nothing straightforward about that.

We don't use anybody else's data. We download it all from the Federal Election Commission and the IRS, which does the so-called 527 contributions, which are big--it's a lot of money. And then we sort of pore over it and we do a lot of computer techniques that nobody else does. I mean, I've talked about that before on this show--don't particularly feel the need to do it again.

And so we were sitting back and, you know, analyzing it. And our first stages of the study are pretty much the same. You sort of sit there and you try to figure out, okay, let's take the entire business community, then let's subdivide it into big business and the rest and look at those two samples, one everything and the other big business. So we do that.

And in the business as a whole, the big sample, what we discover is straightforward, which is that Obama's support there was not very strong. Just counting percentages of firms that contribute, about 24 percent did. The Republican percentage for Romney was, like, 46 percent--much higher.

And when we look at the big business sample, we find, you know, again a disproportion between the Republicans and the Democrats, though this time everything shifted up. That is to say, 76 percent of the big business firms on our sample were contributing to Romney and about 56 for Obama. Now, you know, what that looked like to us was the usual story, which is, yep, the Republicans are the party of big business, though we thought it was really pretty interesting. And this is one place where we start to depart from the usual narrative. Obama had a lot of support in big business, much more than any discussion of the campaign that I know of would suggest.

But where the story got really interesting for us is when we did our usual move, which was start looking at pieces of the business community, usually sectors first. And there we quickly discover that in certain industries Obama's support is running way higher than his average. And those industries turn out to be six in particular: telecommunications, electronics, defense, software on the web, computers, and manufacturing for the web.

In June 2013, when the Snowden revelations hit, you know, from Glen Greenwald and company at The Guardian, and to some extent The Washington Post, we were looking at these results and said, you know, this is really very interesting. These sectors that are showing extremely high percentages of contribution to Obama are precisely the sectors in which a large number of those firms that are mentioned are real active. And at that point, you know, we know we have a really interesting conclusion, which is that a lot of the Obama bastions of support, maybe the biggest of all, is precisely those firms, the ones responsible for the surveillance--I should say, sectors in which those firms predominate. On the other hand, I can also tell you, without trying to go firm-by-firm, a lot of the folks discussed in The Guardian and other publications, Google, Facebook, Apple, for example, they all contain substantial contributions or contributors, 'cause you can have both the firm and executives contribute under our rules these days. They show up for the Democrats in substantial amounts.

NOOR: And as you point out, many Obama supporters were hoping that President Obama would rein in, you know, what could have been seen as rampant surveillance and, you know, wiretapping under the Bush-Cheney years. So what needs to be done to bring these companies, to bring these industries under heel and under some type of control?

FERGUSON: We know from Tim Shorrock's really excellent book on this subject that steadily forward from the Reagan era, the government privatized more and more of intelligence operations. And, you know, the Clinton people were very big in that. But then the sort of big change is after 911. The whole sort of newly privatized operation then swells enormously in size. And so we're to the point where now, say, like, two-thirds of all the intelligence expenditures, Shorrock estimates, are going to the private sector.

And, you know, I have to say, looking back on this now, this looks to me like an awful lot of other privatization efforts I've seen, where it turns out you get clientele politics. And certainly you get some very powerful interest group pressures. If you look at--I mean, there is a couple of studies--there's at least one study of the amendment that almost passed in the House of Representatives not long after the initial revelations to rein in the NSA, and there they showed you that there was--the correlation between districts with a lot of defense and what they were calling surveillance industry money, which is probably narrower than what I am, it was very high. And it's--that's pretty interesting and it's pretty scary.

But, you know, my take is the actual sort of, if you like, industrial interests here are now very deep, very big. And what looked like a problem of ideology, meaning what top policymakers or bureaucrats thought was legally or morally acceptable, is that's just the tip of the iceberg. You now have a huge interest group problem here.

And, you know, that, I think, poses the question of controlled completely anew. I mean, it seems pretty obvious to me, looking now again at all of this with somewhat, you know, keener eyes, that it's obvious that when Obama came in, yes, as you said, we all expected that he would rein in the sort of super extended national surveillance state from the Bush-Cheney era; instead what he did is fix a few of the most grievous errors, but then, you know, we know he was in fact secretly expanding what was going on underneath in surveillance. The government was even offering to pay some of the costs of firms when they had to change their equipment, you know, which of course makes nonsense of their denials they knew nothing about it. And we actually have here, I'd say--it's pretty scary, right? I mean, you've got a government that wants to collect nearly everything about you, working through firms that also like that idea. And, in fact, what they'd like to do is to, you know, sell the information there. This is kind of a closed loop.

This is--you know, I wouldn't have said this was the major problem. You know, I was of course, like a lot of other people, naive.

NOOR: So, Thomas Ferguson, we certainly have a lot more to talk about, but we're going to end this part of the conversation here. Thank you so much for joining us.


NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


Our automatic spam filter blocks comments with multiple links and multiple users using the same IP address. Please make thoughtful comments with minimal links using only one user name. If you think your comment has been mistakenly removed please email us at


Latest Stories

Eddie Conway Talks Indigenous People's Day and Political Prisoners
Indigenous Peoples' History is More Complicated Than a Holiday Myth
Turkey's Intentions Behind the Downing of a Russian Jet
Policing on Trial as Freddie Gray Case Set to Begin
Is America Powerless to Stop Pfizer Merger?
The Unbreakable Spirit of Gilmor Homes
My Reports on 1995 Human Rights Abuses in Bahrain Ignored by State Department - John Kiriakou on Reality Asserts Itself (3/10)
Wilkerson: The Hypocrisy of U.S. Syria Policy (1/2)
"Being a Founding White Father Ain't What It Used To Be:" Student Protests on College Campuses
Days of Revolt: Militarizing Education
Historic Win for the Right in Argentina's National Election
How I Joined the CIA - John Kiriakou on Reality Asserts Itself (2/10)
Sanders Defines his Social Democracy
MD Among Lowest Number of Hate Crimes in the Nation
Report: The Population of Women in Prison Has Tripled Since the '90s
Native American Genocide & Survival with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
History Will Judge America on Syrian Refugee Crisis As "Shameful"
I Believed America Could Do No Wrong - John Kiriakou, Former CIA Official, on Reality Asserts Itself (1/10)
N Don't Stop - Brook Park + TBB on Rooftop Live
The Black Panthers: A Revolution In Review
What's Fueling Boko Haram Attacks in Nigeria?
Is Obama Walking Into COP21 With An Empty Hand?
Back to Square One, Obama Says Assad Must Go
Towson President Agrees to Students' Demands After Eight-Hour Occupation
The Pentagon and Bernie Sanders Agree: Terrorism Linked to Climate Change
"They Think They've Won"
Canadian PM Trudeau Halts Bombings in Syria, But Is It a Real Shift in Policy?
Between ISIS and Intervening Powers, Perpetual Conflict is Common Goal
Cancer-Causing Processed Meats Largely Affect Low Income Neighborhoods
Hypocrisy Dressed Up as "Realism" Justifies American Alliance with Saudi Dictatorship, Real News Network, Real News, Real News For Real People, IWT are trademarks and service marks of IWT.TV inc. "The Real News" is the flagship show of IWT and Real News Network.

All original content on this site is copyright of The Real News Network. Click here for more

Problems with this site? Please let us know

Linux VPS Hosting by Star Dot Hosting