Political Contributions by Government Lawyers

Paul Caron notes data gathered by Robert Anderson showing that lawyers working for various federal agencies were far more likely to contribute to Democrats than to Republicans in the 2012 election cycle. in some agencies the disparity is quite extreme — much like what one finds on many college campuses. This is not particularly surprising in that Democrats are, on the whole, more supportive of the work of many federal agencies than are Republicans.

The data Anderson compiled is interesting, but it’s also incomplete. While he reports on the absolute number of attorneys in various agencies that made political contributions large enough to be reported to the Federal Election Commission, he has no data on smaller contributions and he does not report on whether those making contributions constitute a significant portion of an agency’s attorneys. Given that he reports on dozens of political contributors, when the federal government employs tens of thousands of attorneys, I suspect that only a small proportion of attorneys in most agencies are giving significant contributions to either party.

Take the IRS. Anderson reports that 38 of the 40 IRS attorneys who made political contributions in 2012 contributed to Democrats. Does this mean IRS attorneys lean to the left? They might, but without knowing how many attorneys work in the IRS, one cannot jump to this conclusion. Given that the IRS employs some 100,000 people, a non-trivial number of which are likely to be attorneys, I would not be surprised to learn that a relatively small percentage of IRS employees give political donations to candidates of any party. So it may well be true that IRS attorneys are more sympathetic to Democrats, but Anderson’s data do not prove the point.