Are Senators in favor of war in Syria driven by greed?


That seems to be the suggestion of this article by Donny Shaw over at, a site that’s stated mission is “revealing money’s influence on politics.”

I saw several of my pro-life friends pass this article around, so I wanted to address my concerns with the article, the first of which is that it provides accurate but misleading information.

Before I start with this article, I’ll should let you know my own thoughts on Syria.

Like Pope Francis, I oppose President Obama’s proposed military strike. Since I was a strong supporter of the Iraqi War, that likely means that I’m a hypocrite to some. In fact, Slate magazine tweeted recently: “Congressional Republicans are now using the example of Iraq to oppose Syria. #irony.” For which, I agree with Mary Katherine Ham, who said this admonishment came from “those who implored us to learn the lessons of Iraq.”

In other words, I wish I had listened to Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict. I made a mistake and I learned my lesson. Stay the heck out of the Middle East. Our men and women are the bravest and strongest but war is hell and never goes as planned. Only go to war when it’s the only option. If it’s in doubt, don’t.

But back to the motivations for voting in favor of war. Are they motivated by campaign contributions? Let’s look at the article in question. Shaw looks at the donations given to the 12 members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which 7 voted yes for war and 5 voted no.

Shaw’s data tells a story (no votes on the left, yes votes in the right column):

John Barrasso R WY $86,500 John McCain R AZ $176,300
Marco Rubio R FL $62,790 Dick Durbin D IL $127,350
Chris Murphy D CT $59,250 Timothy Kaine D VA $101,025
Ron Johnson R WI $19,250 Ben Cardin D MD $80,550
Tom Udall D NM $18,700 Bob Corker R TN $70,850
Rand Paul R KY $17,900 Bob Menéndez D NJ $60,000
Jim Risch R ID $14,000 Jeanne Shaheen D NH $41,872
Jeff Flake R AZ $26,900
Barbara Boxer D CA $24,150
Chris Coons D DE $19,500
“No” Average $39,770 “Yes” Average $72,850
“No” Total $278,390 “Yes” Total $728,497

Shaw then notes the following:

  • Senators voting to authorize the use of military force in Syria have received, on average, 83 percent more money from defense contractors and other defense interests than senators voting against the use of military force.
  • Senators voting “YES” on authorization received, on average, $72,850 from the defense industry.
  • Senators voting “NO” on authorization received, on average, $39,770 from the defense industry.

Sounds like a slam dunk, right? The war machine pays well and expects their Senators to vote the right way, right?

Look, I’ve very cynical about politics, but there’s much more to this story. And remember, I was hoping for a no vote.

First, let’s take a look at this data. Shaw only tabulates contributions from January 1, 2007—December 31, 2012. So you are tabulating all of the defense-related contributions received over the last six years.

Well, here’s my graph of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the year they entered the Senate:

John Barrasso R WY 2007 John McCain R AZ 1987
Marco Rubio R FL 2011 Dick Durbin D IL 1997
Chris Murphy D CT 2013 Timothy Kaine D VA 2013
Ron Johnson R WI 2011 Ben Cardin D MD 2007
Tom Udall D NM 2009 Bob Corker R TN 2007
Rand Paul R KY 2011 Bob Menéndez D NJ 2006
Jim Risch R ID 2009 Jeanne Shaheen D NH 2009
Jeff Flake R AZ 2013
Barbara Boxer D CA 1993
Chris Coons D DE 2010

Notice anything interesting there?

Shaw decides to have the start date for donations be 2007, which in convenient for his demonstration because only 1 of the 7 No voters was even in the Senate then. But look at the right column: 5 of the 6 top Yes votes were all Senators in 2007.

Let’s just take the top six Senators from both sides. On the Yes side, that would mean you would tally donations from a total of 31 years. On the No side, you then tally donations from a total of 21 years. So all this chart tells you that the longer you are in the Senate the more money you raise, which is as exciting as saying water is wet.

And don’t you feel for the war machine? They paid Barrasso over $80,000 and didn’t get his vote. But don’t fret, for that sum they were able to scoop up three others, though: Flake, Boxer, and Coons.

If you really wanted to look at defense contributions, you would realize that the Senator from Virginia has been there less than a year and he raked in over $100,000! Yowzers. Does that mean Tim Kaine is bought and sold? Hey, I don’t like Kaine, a self-professed “Catholic” who supports same-sex marriage. But his fundraising haul has more to do with the fact that the Navy headquarters are in Norfolk, and that the defense industry (and the Pentagon itself) reside in northern Virginia. You’re unlikely to see a dove elected to represent Virginia in the Senate any time soon.

And notice that the Senator from Connecticut has also only been there for a year, but still managed to haul in almost $60,000. But he voted no, so go figure right? (Connecticut is home to the submarine base in Groton, but its state economy is still considerably less military-based that Virginia.)

Am I saying that politics play no role in influencing a Senator’s vote? No. Am I saying that donations have no influence on a Senator’s vote? No. But I am saying that Mr. Shaw did not make the case for that.

For the record, I think Senators support the war because they are convinced that the military can seemingly do anything (or they support the President) and they think they will look good by fighting injustice. In other words, it’s likely more team loyalty or hubris than naked greed.

Just because an article seems to provide the evidence that gels with your sentiment, be sure to examine what they’re saying. No matter which side you come down on Syria, it’s a critical issue so we want to avoid bad arguments.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Joshua Mercer is a co-founder of, where he serves as Political Director. Mercer is also regular contributor with Catholic Pulse. Mercer previously served as Washington Correspondent for the National Catholic Register and Chairman for Students for Life of America. He lives in Michigan with his wife and six children.

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