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Department of Education: ZERO Republican Attorneys, But At Least 47 Democrat Ones

Jun 14, 2013 by

The controversy swirling around the alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups has placed severe scrutiny on that agency. Much of the coverage of the controversy (exhaustively catalogued here) has centered on the IRS specifically, with the disagreement centering primarily on the scope and depth of the wrongdoing. Was the targeting the result of “a few bad apples” or did the activities result from directives issued from senior levels in the hierarchy?

A common theme in the coverage is the perception of an ideological or political bias with the IRS as an agency. One direction stories have taken is to look at the political contributions of IRS employees in an attempt to establish the partisanship of the IRS as an agency. One story reported a four-to-one ratio of Obama contributors to Romney contributors among IRS employees, with the implication that this lopsided partisanship is evidence of a more systematic aspect to the targeting.


The political contributions of random employees within the IRS are not completely persuasive, in part because many employees are in low-level positions with little authority. Their contributions are more likely to result from demographic factors than from agency ideology. To get a better idea about the partisan mix of the policy-making aspect of the agency, I decided to examine the contributions of an arguably more relevant group of employees–the lawyers–within the IRS and other government agencies. Lawyers are relevant because they are the ones taking the lead in writing regulations, litigating cases, and making delicate legal judgment calls in borderline cases.

I searched the Federal Election Commission database for contributors with the term “lawyer” or “attorney” in the occupation field. I then sorted the results by government agency (including the many permutations of agency names in the database). This produced a list of 20 federal agencies with at least 20 employees contributing to either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.

The results for the IRS were striking. Of the IRS lawyers who made contributions in the 2012 election, 95% contributed to Obama rather than to Romney. So among IRS lawyers, the ratio of Obama contributors to Romney contributors was not merely 4-to-1 at previously reported, but more like 20-to-1. The ratio of funds to Obama was even more lopsided, with about 32 times as much money going to Obama as to Romney from IRS lawyers.

So has the IRS gone off the rails into hyper-partisanship, leaving behind other more balanced federal agencies? One might imagine that the IRS is different from other federal agencies in ways that would attract employees who more readily support Democratic candidates. Conservative-leaning lawyers might lack the tax-collecting zeal that could lead a lawyer to a career position in the IRS.

The data show, however, that the partisanship of the lawyers in the IRS is not unsual or even particularly extreme among federal agencies. In fact, the lawyers in every single federal government agency–from the Department of Education to the Department of Defense–contributed overwhelmingly to Obama compared to Romney. The table below shows the results for all agencies with at least 20 employees who contributed to either Obama or Romney. (I also included the United Nations and FINRA, even though neither is a federal agency.)

AGENCY

 

NUMBER OF LAWYERS CONTRIBUTING TO

PERCENT OBAMA

 

OBAMA

ROMNEY

NLRB

44

0

100.00%

UNITED NATIONS

23

0

100.00%

DEPT. OF EDUCATION

47

0

100.00%

DEPT. OF LABOR

66

2

97.06%

FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER

65

2

97.01%

FINRA

26

1

96.30%

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMM.

23

1

95.83%

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

86

4

95.56%

FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION

80

4

95.24%

INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE

38

2

95.00%

FDIC

36

2

94.74%

DEPT. OF HOMELAND SECURITY

34

2

94.44%

EEOC

32

2

94.12%

DEPT. OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

26

2

92.86%

SEC

70

9

88.61%

DEPT. OF THE INTERIOR

20

3

86.96%

FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION

45

8

84.91%

DEPT. OF JUSTICE

455

87

83.95%

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN.

50

10

83.33%

FEDERAL GOVT (UNSPECIFIED)

289

74

79.61%

U.S. ARMY

37

15

71.15%

DEPT. OF DEFENSE

17

8

68.00%

Notes: Some categories overlap. I generally coded the employer at the level of specificity the reporting person disclosed the information even if it could fall within a broader category (e.g., U.S. Attorney versus Department of Justice). Because of wide variations in spelling and terminology, some contributors were undoubtedly left out of the data.

The IRS is near the top in terms of partisanship, but does not stand out as being markedly different from the other agencies. Some agencies, such as the Department of Education and the NLRB, did not have a single lawyer who contributed to Mitt Romney, even though dozens contributed to Barack Obama. The Department of Justice had the largest number of lawyer contributors of any federal agency, and 84% of those employees contributed to Obama.

On the one hand, one might interpret the data as suggesting there is nothing wrong with the IRS; it is on the high end of the partisan scale but not particularly different from other agencies. On the other hand, one might interpret the data as suggesting that there is a nefarious influence in hiring and retention through the whole federal government. Actually, neither conclusion is quite right.

There are two primary reasons why federal agency lawyers might be so lopsided in their publicly disclosed political contributions. The first and most intuitive possibility is that there are virtually no Republican lawyers in the federal government, either by self-selection or because of screening in hiring, firing or promotion. Another possibility is that there are Republican lawyers in the federal government but they do not contribute to presidential campaigns, at least in ways that reveal their identities.


The first explanation–few Republican lawyers in government–does have potentially innnocent explanations related to self-selection. The fact is that lawyers contribute more to Democrats than Republicans, and government workers contribute more to Democrats than Republicans. So a person who is both a government worker and a lawyer is particularly likely to support the Democrats, even if he or she was not chosen for or retained in a position for that reason.

The latter explanation (that Republican lawyers are present in agencies but remain silent) would actually be more ominous in some ways. The explanation has some plausibility, as it seems unlikely that the Department of Education has literally zero Republican attorneys. Why don’t they want to be publicly identified as supporting a Republican candidate? The reason could suggest a more serious cultural problem within the agency than the mere fact of a lopsided government agency.

The political contribution numbers of government lawyers show that the IRS controversy is really a symptom of a larger disease–the rule by career bureaucrat lawyers. Lawyers as a group are not politically representative of the country as a whole, and neither are government employees, so the combination of the two of them creates a dramatic mismatch with the bulk of America. The result of the mismatch is that government agencies lack the political diversity that is necessary to effectively represent the American people. The idea that the Department of Justice, on which we depend for fair and impartial enforcement of the law, is so overwhelmingly tilted to one side should make everyone uneasy regardless of political viewpoint. Whatever the reason for the disparity,the numbers reveal a severely dysfunctional culture in government agencies, one that does not serve the country well.

The media and Congress have understandably focused on the IRS specifically in sorting out the controversy. The numbers, however, suggest that the problem is not with the IRS in particular, but with the federal government as a whole (and indeed, with state governments as well). The root of the problem is the rule by a class of career government employee lawyers who lack the diversity of opinion that is found in the non-lawyer private sector.  The IRS inquiry, rather than focusing narrowly on “who knew what” within the agency, should lead to a top-to-bottom rethinking of who’s doing the administration in the modern bureaucratic administrative state.

The IRS as Microcosm.

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