When Ron Paul officially launched his new think tank Wednesday, the former Texas congressman also introduced a new ranking system for lawmakers based on their foreign policy votes.
"Everyone does it, and Congressman Paul has always wanted to do it," Daniel McAdams, the head of the newly formed Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, told Whispers.
At the same time, senators were getting graded for the first time by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's gun control group Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The group said it would assign letter grades to lawmakers based on the high-profile gun vote on Wednesday and on most future votes on gun legislation.
The practice of grading members of Congress stretches back many decades, starting with groups like the Americans for Democratic Action, which has released its "annual voting records" to measure lawmakers on their political liberalism since the group was founded in 1947. In the 60 years since, a number of conservative groups have developed their own successful grading systems, including the National Rifle Association, which grades lawmakers based on how pro-gun their policies are, and the Club for Growth, which issues an annual scorecard to determine who are the most conservative members of Congress. Today, it seems that most advocacy groups have some kind of grading system in place to name and shame lawmakers.
"Our politics have become such intensely special interest that all these special interest groups are doing ratings on their own issue," Allan Lichtman, an American political historian and professor of history at American University in Washington, D.C., tells Whispers. "They're using it as a carrot and stick to reward their friends and punish their enemies. It gives them something concrete to point to."
That doesn't mean these grading systems are always effective. Lichtman says that while it might be a good tool to raise money, it's unlikely lawmakers are ever moved to change a position on an issue based on scores alone. In local primary elections, however, he says rating systems can make a difference.
"These could open you up to primary attack – that you're not sufficiently pro-choice, pro-life or pro-gun control," Lichtman says. "So they can be very effective devices ... in these low-visibility elections."
In February Toi Hutchinson, a congressional candidate in the special election to fill the seat of former Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., dropped out of the race after Mayors Against Illegal Guns hammered her in TV ads for having an "A" rating from the NRA. MSNBC reported the grade had become a "scarlet letter" in the Democratic district.