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Sunday, February 26, 2006
One Last (I Hope) Look at the Numbers on Abramoff

I did some more work on the Abramoff analysis this morning. As I noted yesterday, Byron Calame of the New York Times wrote Donald Luskin saying that Krugmans and TAP's analysis was unfair, but factually correct:

"Given that Mr. Krugman cited only one factor in classifying tribal donations -- whether they occurred before or after the tribe hired Mr. Abramoff -- I don't think his statement constitutes a factual error. Is it unfair? Yes. But the fairness of columnists is beyond the mandate of the public editor."

As I wrote Don, Krugman's analysis did contain factual errors. In fairness to Krugman, those errors were in the American Prospect's article, but as Don points out, Krugman's not some schlub columnist; he's supposed to be a world-class economist who knows how to properly analyze numbers and come to his own opinion. Surely before spreading falsehoods in "The Paper of Record" he could spend the time I spend this morning running down the numbers to determine the real truth.

Here's the crucial part of Krugman's column:

But the tribes were already giving money to Democrats before Mr. Abramoff entered the picture; he persuaded them to reduce those Democratic donations, while giving much more money to Republicans. A study commissioned by The American Prospect shows that the tribes’ donations to Democrats fell by 9 percent after they hired Mr. Abramoff, while their contributions to Republicans more than doubled. So in any normal sense of the word “directed,” Mr. Abramoff directed funds away from Democrats, not toward them.

Let's take a look at what really happened. I'm not going to go through the entire analysis because it's tedious (like a lot of economics). Here's what TAP reported for one tribe:

1) Tribe: Saginaw Chippewa (Michigan)
Pre-Abramoff contributions to Dems (1991 - 9/2000): $371,250
Post-Abramoff contributions to Dems (9/2000 - 2003): $191,960

Now, looking at that you would certainly be led to believe that from 1991-9/2000, the Saginaw Chippewa tribe donated $371,250 to the Democrats. But you would be wrong. In the spreadsheet attached to TAP's article (Excel file) showing the year by year donations to each party by each tribe, the totals given to the Democrats from the Saginaw Chippewa by election cycle are as follows:

1992 $-
1994 $1,000
1996 $1,000
1998 $222,000
2000 $57,000
2002 $68,980
2004 $213,230
2006 $-

(Note: Each election cycle is made up of two years. The 1992 cycle includes both 1992 and 1991, the 1994 includes 1994 and 1993, etc.)

First, let me point out that if you add up the total amount donated to the Democrats in the election cycle summary you come to a total of $563,210 and if you add the "pre-Abramoff" and "post-Abramoff" figures from TAP's article you come up the exact same amount. So we know the two spreadsheets are intended to balance somehow. Exactly how is a little complicated, but I'll illustrate.

The first thing we want to do is establish how much was really given to Democrats by the Saginaw Chippewa tribe prior to hiring Abramoff, and it is here that we begin to see where the problem lies (initially) with reconciling the two spreadsheets. The period prior to Abramoff runs from 1991-9/2002, but if we add the cycles from 1991-2002 up, it only adds up to $281,000. TAP's article claims that the total given from 1991-9/2002 is $371,250. That's a $90,250 difference. Worse yet, Abramoff represented the tribe for at least part of that 2002 election cycle, so any funds the Saginaw Chippewa donated after he was engaged would have to be removed from the pre-Abramoff 2002 money. We can find that amount out via Open Secrets/Center for Responsive Politcs' page on Abramoff's Clients.

Scrolling way down to the bottom we can see that the Saginaw Chippewa donated $5,000 to the Democratic Party of Michigan and $1,000 to Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich) in 2000, for a total of $6,000. This $6,000 must be subtracted from the pre-Abramoff estimate of $281,000 above, so that the total pre-Abramoff is actually $275,000. If we accept that their total contributions estimate is correct, and that their total contributions during Abramoff's tenure are correct, then we can pinpoint the real timing of the contributions of the Saginaw Chippewa as follows:

Donations Prior to Abramoff (1991-9/2002): $275,000
Donations During Abramoff's Tenure (9/02-2003): $191,960
Donations After Abramoff's Firing (2003-2004): $96,250

So we can see that the American Prospect made an error when they claimed:

Pre-Abramoff contributions to Dems (1991 - 9/2000): $371,250

In fact, they lumped the Donations After Abramoff's Firing of $96,250 with the Donations Prior to Abramoff of $275,000. If you look at the spreadsheet attached to the American Prospect article as "Abramoff Clients" (Excel file), you can see that the spreadsheet uses more precise language. The $371,250 is not just "pre-Abramoff" money; it's funds donated on "Dates Not Represented by Abramoff". I have confirmed with Dwight Morris, who prepared the study for TAP and the spreadsheet in question that the funds shown as donated on "Dates Not Represented by Abramoff" includes donations made after Abramoff was fired by the tribes, although I should note that I have not confirmed with him the exact calculations made here in this post or any other so far.

Once I figured that out, I was pretty quickly able to figure out how the numbers shown on the two spreadsheets correlated. I went through the above analysis for six of the seven tribes so that I could see exactly how much of the funds shown as "pre-Abramoff" were in fact donations made after Abramoff was fired. The Pueblo of Sandia poses some special problems; in that case I decided to go with TAP's numbers because some other donations have been discovered since the original report was prepared.

Recapping the complete numbers

Amount Donated to Democrats by Abramoff Tribes Prior to Hiring Abramoff: $494,420
Amount Donated to Democrats by Abramoff Tribes During Abramoff's Tenure: $794,483
Amount Donated to Democrats by Abramoff Tribes After Abramoff Fired: $374,470

Now, let's review what Krugman said, phrase by phrase:

But the tribes were already giving money to Democrats before Mr. Abramoff entered the picture;


he persuaded them to reduce those Democratic donations,


while giving much more money to Republicans.

True (not analyzed hard by me, but it certainly appears true)

A study commissioned by The American Prospect shows that the tribes’ donations to Democrats fell by 9 percent after they hired Mr. Abramoff


, while their contributions to Republicans more than doubled.


So in any normal sense of the word “directed,” Mr. Abramoff directed funds away from Democrats, not toward them.


Well, he's half right half the time.

Thanks for the Link: Generation Why, who points out why this is important.
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