The Most Important Hour of Radio I’ve Heard in 20 Years

Jim, I’m guessing that I have probably read (and mentioned) more books and articles on the influence of money in politics than anyone else you know. I do consider it the biggest issue in our politics and the biggest hindrance to our democracy. This weekend I listened to the NPR show This American Life, a show I like and just cause there is so much out there and only so much time I rarely actually listen to. This week’s episode was done in conjunction with the guys who do NPR’s Planet Money podcast, which I do listen to regularly. The episode is called “Take the Money and Run for Office.” You can listen on line or download an mp3 for free (this week; they only offer their new shows for a week for free, so if you don’t have time in the next few days, download and listen when you can.)
I learned a lot in the episode and had other things just made painfully clear. Did you know that virtually every member of congress spends a couple hours a day across the street from the capitol (because it is against the rules to make fund raising calls from their office) at a dingy call center, dialing the phone, asking lobbyists, friends, previous donors, anyone with money, for cash. Is that really a good use of our lawmakers time?
It costs on average now at least a million bucks to run a congressional campaign. That’s a million bucks you have to raise every two years, or between 10 and 15 thousand dollars a day. If you’re in the senate it’s more like 20 or 25 thousand a day.
They interview Nancy Pelosi, who admits she went to over 400 fundraisers in 2011. Again, is this a good use of our lawmakers time? And remember, the great majority of Americans never give anything to political campaigns (or maybe give someone a nominal sum of ten bucks or something), and so are not even part of the equation. When you have to spend hours every day raising money, how concerned can you be with the people who don’t give you money.
They interview Barney Frank, who does point out that the voters still have the power. He’s never heard of anyone in congress voting the way a lobbyist or big funder wanted if the voters in his district were against it. And that is good to know. And they also pointed out that only a very small percentage of bills that pass through congress ever make it to the majority of voters radar screens. So the majority of our legislation is affected by the money, all in a way behind the back of the voters.
Most heinous is the interview with a big time lobbyist who lets it be known that they don’t even need to spend the money to get a congressman to vote the way they want. They just go to his office and say, we know you’re behind us on this issue and we can count on your vote. And just to be clear, if you were to vote against it, we have this little pot of $700,000 we can use to run negative ads against you. And this happens all the time. Don Corleone himself couldn’t do better at making you a deal you can’t refuse.
And you’ll never hear a report like this on the mainstream TV media, which is the only source the majority of Americans get their news from. You won’t see it on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, MSNBC, nowhere. Why? Very simple. It is an advertising cash cow for them. For where does most of that heap of money that is raised go? Towards TV advertising. For many local stations, political ads can give them a 40% or more bump in advertising revenue in elections years. And who can blame them? If you threw that much money at me, I’d shut up about it too.
Until and unless we find a way to get money out of our politics, our democracy, our government of the people, by the people, and for the people, has no chance.

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About JP

We're two guys who met in college, in 1980. We've stayed in touch, and like to talk politics, current events, music and religion. JP is nore liberal than Sid, but not in every way. We figure that dialogue stimulates ideas, moderates perspective, and is in general friendly. These are things we need badly in these dangerous times. The blog name is taken from a song by Bruce Cockburn.
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