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What is a Milker Bill?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A milker bill is a piece of legislation which is designed to generate income for a politician or group of politicians. In such legislation, a threat is made which causes people to mobilize to defeat the bill, thereby generating funds, and the politician later helps to defeat the bill, or edits it so that the threat is removed. In a classic example of a milker bill, a politician would propose raising taxes for certain corporations, in eager anticipation of the fact that those corporations would spread large amounts of funds to defeat the bill.

Such bills go by a number of alternate names. They are sometimes bluntly referred to as “cash cows,” because they do indeed generate a great deal of cash for their sponsors when they are well crafted. Some people call them “juicers” or “juicer bills,” because milker bills are used to squeeze out cash much like one would juice an orange. They are also known as “fetcher bills,” because they literally fetch funds for their authors.

Many people view the concept of the milker bill as simple extortion, and, in a sense, these bills are in fact a form of extortion, because they involve the use of a threat to raise funds. However, it can be hard to categorically prove that a bill is being used to extort funds, as politicians can hide behind rhetoric, claiming that their intentions are honest, and that everyone is entitled to a change of mind when they withdraw the bill.

In some cases, a milker bill is actually used to generate straight payments of cash from lobbyists and members of industry. More commonly, however, the bill is used to drum up interest, getting organizations involved in an attempt to defeat the bill in the hopes that the funds raised will slowly trickle into the politician's coffers. A milker bill gives people something to organize and rally around, and this rallying point can in turn be used to fuel fundraisers, advertising campaigns, and so forth.

Milker bills may involve things like claims of tax reform, threats to take income away from certain organizations or groups, or proposals to change regulatory procedures in a way which could cause economic harm to certain organizations. The funds generated to defeat such bills are usually incorporated into political war chests in such a way that they are viewed as perfectly legal, even though the means of obtaining the funds may be somewhat ethically questionable.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon352472 — On Oct 23, 2013

In 1999, Senator John McCain introduced one of the most famous milker bills: a legislative threat to regulate the airlines with some new consumer protections. The protections would have been good for airline passengers as the industry began its slippery slope of poor customer service, excessive tarmac delays, and misleading advertising. McCain was expecting to run for president and soon his campaign was filled with $3 million in airline donations, led by United Airlines.

McCain and the CEO of United Airlines soon announced jointly the dropping of the bill, stating that after three days of intense negotiations the airline industry would be much better off regulating themselves. This is not what happened within the industry. Instead, the airlines got worse and worse, and more arrogant toward passengers until a rights group held a strand in on the DC mall, asking the senators and congressmen who sold out airline passengers in 1999 to come on down and sit in a cramped tent for 6 hours pretending they, too, were stranded on the tarmac. Not one single politician agreed to sit in the strand in tent, but a few spoke and voters responded. Finally, a law was passed limiting tarmac delays.

Every time I fly, I think of John McCain and how he professed his phony concerns about airline passengers only to have made them pawns in a game of fear based fund raising. How many hours of your life have you donated to John McCain's funding by putting up with poor airline service?

By KoiwiGal — On Oct 29, 2011

@pastanaga - Unfortunately, it's very difficult to regulate this kind of thing without taking funds away from the places where they are genuinely needed.

And giving a set amount to every politician is just asking for trouble. Who decides who should get the money? If they can't get any until they do certain amounts of things, it would take anyone without their own funds out of the running, which would cause an imbalance of power.

Unfortunately, since people are often greedy and power hungry, and there's no way to police that entirely, without policing too much, every system of government is going to be imperfect.

It's just a matter of trying to educate the populace to make the best decisions on elections that they can.

By pastanaga — On Oct 28, 2011

I find this kind of behavior really disgusting.

I personally think that politicians shouldn't be allowed to have money from companies or taxpayers. I think they should each get a standard amount and not be allowed to spend their own money or donations or anything like that on their work.

I'm not sure how you'd make that happen in a fair way, but at the moment it is blatantly not working either.

If they knew they weren't going to be able to make themselves a fortune as a politician we might start getting some honest people in power instead of people who will try things like this, wasting everyone's time and money.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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