To recap a controversy I didn’t have time to fully explore yesterday, Veronique de Rugy, a veteran of various right-of-center think tanks, produced a study purporting to show that an overwhelming preponderance of stimulus funds were being allocated to Democratic congressional districts. Nate Silver retorted with an effective counterargument:
The three districts receiving the largest amount of stimulus funds are home to the capitals of the three largest states — New York, California, and Texas. Let’s pause for a moment and make a bold prediction. I’ll bet you that the district that ranks 4th on the list will contain the capital of the 4th largest state, Florida.
Bingo. Up 4th on the list is Florida’s 2nd Congressional, home to Tallahassee.
Fifth is Pennsylvania’s 17th, which hosts the state capital, Harrisburg.
The sixth through tenth districts contain the capital cities of other large states: Ohio, Georgia, Michigan, Illinois and New Jersey, respectively. They are followed by districts that include the state capitals of Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia — then another part of Austin, Texas — then Arizona, Missouri, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Finally, in 19th place is South Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, which does not host a state capital.
Which is to say that clearly the stimulus reporting is done in such a way that all grants to state government are coded as grants that are “in” the state capitals even though in reality the beneficiaries of state fiscal aid (people who don’t have their sales and property taxes raised) are distributed throughout the state.
This would have been a good time for De Rugy to say “ooops!” but instead she offers a lengthy reply that barely acknowledges the weight of the evidence against her. Here’s her discussion of the issue:
I will also check for state capitals. While is no doubt that since the reporting only includes primary and sub recipients, it might be the case that money is being disbursed from the capitals. However, after skimming government documents about how the money is allocated there is no clear evidence that this is the case. I will look into it with Mr. Silver’s comments in mind.
Obviously opinions about what is and isn’t “clear evidence” can differ. But Silver has shown both that the eighteen largest recipient districts include state capitals, and also that the very largest recipients are specifically the capitals of the states with the largest population. That’s pretty clear evidence if you ask me. I would further add that though these are largely Democratic districts, they’re largely not districts represented by the most senior Democrats. Representatives from Sacramento and Albany and Tallahassee and Austin aren’t in the leadership and don’t chair important committees.