Selected Articles from our
The C.A.S.H. Courier
ARTICLE from the Fall 2008 Issue
How To Score Your Legislators on their Votes For Animal Protection
By Peter Muller
the performance of legislators seems to be a newly discovered art for many
animal protective groups. Most animal protective groups are 501(c)(3)
organizations, and because of their covenant with the IRS they are not
allowed to electioneer (endorse or disapprove of a candidate who is running
for office). They can, however, rate an incumbent legislator’s performance
in office. Hence, without doing so explicitly, approve or disapprove of an
incumbent officeholder’s performance.
Scoring, like most activities, can be done intelligently or brainlessly. If
it is done right, it can be used to influence a legislator’s decision to
vote for or against a pending bill. While lobbying for the passage or the
blocking of a bill, I’ve been asked numerous times by the officeholder’s
staff “Are we going to be scored on this?” So, it is a useful tool in the
Animal Rights lobbyist’s tool box.
There are rules to be followed in order for the scoring to be meaningful.
Not all legislative proposals are equal, some are more important than
others. The individual legislative action must be weighted with a factor
representing its importance. The scale can range from -3 to +3. Positive
weights indicate that action favors animal protection, negative values
indicate that it is detrimental to animal protection. Less important actions
are given lower values.
For example, a legislator’s support of a “Parakeet Appreciation Day” is a
nice gesture, but it is not as important as outlawing trapping. Different
organizations would sometimes rate the same bill with greater or lesser
importance depending on their mission. An organization concerned primarily
with wildlife protection will rate the importance of a bill that severely
restricts trapping as higher than an organization whose mission is to
protect farmed animals or improve conditions in shelters.
Not only should the importance of bills be weighted, but the type of action
taken itself is vastly different in importance. Legislators do not only vote
for or against bills, they also sponsor bills, they pass bills out of their
committees, or they can sit on them in their committees and not vote them
out. Heads of legislative bodies can allow them to come to the floor of the
legislature for a vote with their support, or they can simply not allow a
vote on them. All of those various activities must be objectively judged and
ranked in accordance with their importance.
To do this right takes active lobbying experience at the legislative body
that is being judged.
To simply scan the votes by computer from afar and add up the totals leads
to uproariously misleading reports.
A case in point is one New York State Legislative Score Card.
The scoring was done only on some low-ranking bills. Some of them even had
zero impact on any animals in the state since they proscribe actions that do
not occur in the state! The two committees that must pass nearly all animal
protective bills are the Environmental Conservation Committee, and the
Agriculture Committee (in New York State domestic animal bills also go to
the Agriculture Committee). The chairs of those committees in the state
senate are headed by senators who totally oppose animal protection.
The chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee has bottled
up three significant bills for several years (prohibiting “canned hunts,”
allowing counties to regulate trapping within their jurisdiction, and
prohibiting wildlife shooting contests). The Agriculture Chair has similarly
refused to move on outlawing Foie Gras production. Yet both of those
Committee chairs received a score of 90% (an A-rating) on that score card!
From the intended goal of legislative score cards – informing voters
concerned with animal protection of which legislators share their
concern—the score card was woefully inadequate and downright misleading. Had
anyone’s vote been influenced by it, they would have voted for individuals
who consistently, without remorse (and without promise for change), act
against the protection of animals.
Let’s have more intelligent scoring of legislators based on on-the-ground
experience of how the legislators behave in the legislature not at cocktail
parties. By putting out shallowly derived scorecards it hurts our common
goal of protecting animals.
Muller is President of LOHV-The League of Humane Voters– a
national Political Action Committee (PAC) for Animal Protection
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