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If you have a measure, it will be gamed (politics edition).

They sometimes call it Campbell’s Law:

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is not exactly known for drumming up grassroots enthusiasm and small donor contributions, so it was quite a surprise on Monday when his reelection campaign reported that more than half of his campaign contributors this year gave $250 or less.

But wait—a closer examination of those donations reveals a very odd fact: 69 of them came from just one person, Christopher Kim.

Even odder, it appears Kim lives at the same address as one of Cuomo’s aides! . . .

1) Cuomo has testily fielded questions from reporters about his donor base and that of his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, who loves to needle him over his cozy relationships with rich donors, and who also, in March, told the Buffalo News, “In one day of fundraising I received more small donor [contributions] than Andrew Cuomo received in seven years.” 2) All at once, Cuomo’s campaign got an influx of small donations from someone who appears to share an address with a Cuomo aide. . . .

$1 donations, huh? What the campaign should really do is set up a set of booths where you can just drop a quarter in a slot to make your campaign donation. They could put them in laundromats . . . Hey—do laundromats still take quarters? It’s been a long time since I’ve been in one! Maybe, ummm, I dunno, an arcade?

23 Comments

  1. Michael Watts says:

    I don’t know if the New York Times has silently edited their copy, but as things stand Jezebel appears to be misquoting the Cuomo campaign in a pretty relevant way. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/16/nyregion/cuomo-nixon-campaign-contributions-donors.html says:

    > the Cuomo campaign says that 57 percent of his donations were for $250 or less in the latest filing period.

    https://theslot.jezebel.com/andrew-cuomos-campaign-had-one-very-enthusiastic-small-1827667940 says:

    > it was quite a surprise on Monday when his reelection campaign reported that more than half of his campaign contributors this year gave $250 or less

    But of course his campaign contributors are an entirely different concept from his campaign contributions. One is a set of people and one is a set of events. This doesn’t alter the substance of Jezebel’s report much… but I think they could do without attributing an obvious lie to a campaign that appears to have carefully avoided it.

    • Andrew says:

      Michael:

      It’s hard for me to figure this one out. From the NYT article:

      Now the Cuomo campaign says that 57 percent of his donations were for $250 or less in the latest filing period. His median contribution in the first half of 2018 was $150; in the first half of 2017, it was $2,500.

      I don’t know how much time is covered by a filing period. I found this webpage, where July 2018 is the first filing period listed for 2018. So maybe the latest filing period is the same as “this year,” in which case the Jezebel report and the NYT report are both accurate. If either source got it wrong, I’d guess it’s confusion rather than misquoting.

      • Michael Watts says:

        I’m not looking at the difference between “this year” and “in the latest filing period”. I’m looking at the difference between “57 percent of [the Cuomo campaign’s] donations” and “more than half of [the Cuomo campaign’s] contributors“. No matter how many times Christopher Kim donates $1 to the Cuomo campaign, he can only drive the dollars-per-contributor figure up, because he is only one person.

        It looks to me like the campaign was aware of this and focused carefully on dollars-per-donation, but Jezebel is reporting them as making a claim about dollars-per-contributor.

        • Andrew says:

          Michael:

          You could be right . . . but I don’t know that it makes sense to consider those 69 one-dollar contributions, all given by the same person, as 69 donations. It looks more like one donation, split into 69 pieces. In any case, this is all consistent with the point that, when there is a measure, people will game it. The multiple donations thing didn’t seem to have been noticed by the NYT reporter the first time around, but maybe it will show up in the next story they run.

        • JFA says:

          “It looks to me like the campaign was aware of this and focused carefully on dollars-per-donation, but Jezebel is reporting them as making a claim about dollars-per-contributor.”

          I think you might have missed the forest for the trees. The Cuomo campaign focused carefully on dollars per donation because they figured that they could have their cake and eat it to. Most people won’t notice and just think that its lots of people giving small donations, but if called on it, the Cuomo campaign can just say, “We said dollars per donation not dollars per contributor.”

  2. Paul Alper says:

    Andrew’s Link to “Campbell’s Law” leads insead to Esther Wang’s article. For Campbell’s Law, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campbell%27s_law where it says:
    —-
    Campbell’s law is an adage developed by Donald T. Campbell,[1] a psychologist and social scientist who often wrote about research methodology, which states “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” (p. 85) On a similar note, Campbell also wrote:

    Achievement tests may well be valuable indicators of general school achievement under conditions of normal teaching aimed at general competence. But when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways. (Similar biases of course surround the use of objective tests in courses or as entrance examinations.)
    —————–

  3. Paul Alper says:

    Andrew wrote:

    “Hey—do laundromats still take quarters? It’s been a long time since I’ve been in one!”

    Answer: Yes they do and many, many of them to do a wash. The kind of people who repeatedly donate a dollar to Cuomo may well be different from the people who pour quarters into washing machines.

  4. Guive says:

    Laundromats still take quarters. Arcades, on the other hand, barely exist anymore.

  5. Andrew says:

    I could never run for office. Not knowing whether laundromats take quarters . . . I’m clearly out of touch with the common people!

  6. Thanatos Savehn says:

    I am reminded of a campaign here some years ago in which every last person, from the wealthy partner who ran the law firm to the janitor, made the maximum individual donation; and each to the same judicial candidate. For the janitor and file clerks that meant more than 10% of their salaries. Remember, not all generals drive their cannon fodder at the point of a physical bayonet; some drive them at the point of an economic one.

  7. Terry says:

    more than half of his campaign contributors this year gave $250 or less

    This sounds pretty damning all by itself. (Ignoring the foo faw about the aide.)

    If 10 people give $100 and 10 people give $10,000, then 99% of the MONEY is coming from big donors and only 1% is coming from little donors.

    The fact that a majority of DONORS gave less than $250 gives a false sense that little donors are driving the donations. But they aren’t.

    Or maybe the reporter is being innumerate and means to say that more than half of the money is coming from donations less than $250.

  8. Jonathan (another one) says:

    I note that Campbell’s Law doesn’t count as a real law because it isn’t attributed to an economist. It’s really Goodheart’s Law https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodhart%27s_law

  9. Mark Palko says:

    Though it goes beyond merely gaming and into fraud, check out “Are sellers on Amazon getting shadier? – Press Play with Madeleine Brand on KCRW

    https://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2018/07/19/18660/

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