Mother Jones Editors Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein on Dark Money

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“Grotesque income inequality is just a symptom of our larger political disease,” say Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein, co-editors of Mother Jones magazine. They’ve devoted the most recent issue of their magazine to investigating and diagramming the obscure, complex ways that money influences politics in a post-Citizens United world.  If you’re part of the 99% (and even if you’re not), you’ll likely find it both riveting and infuriating.

January/February 2012 issue of Mother Jones

We checked in with Clara and Monika via email to ask them what they discovered about the secret economy of dark money in Washington.

As a handy timeline in your current issue illustrates, elections have been bought and sold since the beginning of our democracy. How has the 2010 Citizens United ruling changed the calculus?

It’s not just changed the calculus, it’s wiped out half the equation. For the past four decades, campaign finance was governed by the post-Watergate campaign finance laws (which came about in response to incidents like ADM chairman Dwayne Andreas dropping off envelopes stuffed with $100,000 in cash for Nixon ). Each election cycle has been a push-pull between the money guys and the laws designed to rein them in.

What the Supreme Court did was essentially take away half of that push-pull. Now there are de facto no limits to how much any person or group can give (so long as they do it through certain channels). A corporation like Trevor Rees-Jones’ Chief Oil & Gas , which we investigate in the current issue of MoJo, could choose to saturate an entire swing state with political advertising, and there’s nothing to stop them — or even force disclosure of that spending. That’s new.

So, the rich pour money into elections; in return, politicians write laws that make the rich richer still, and now there’s no ceiling on how much can be spent. Is there a way out of this cycle?

Not an easy one. But it starts with awareness. Citizens United is a very unpopular decision, and rolling it back might be the only thing grassroots Democrats and Republicans agree on. There comes a point — as there did post-Watergate — when it may be politically more costly for Congress to do nothing than to reform the system.  But for that to happen, citizens need information on who’s bankrolling their elected representatives, and if the law won’t provide it, journalism has to step in.

The cover of your current issue invites readers to “Meet the Moneybags who took over Washington.” Can you introduce us to a few of them now?

Where to begin? One of the people we profile is Carl Forti, who has been referred to as “Karl Rove’s Karl Rove.” He was instrumental in creating American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the Rove groups that pioneered the new, unaccountable campaign spending system enabled by Citizens United. He’s also the guy behind the super PAC that has been Mitt Romney’s secret weapon in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Forti is one of those people that you never hear about, but who have more to do with shaping our politics than almost anyone running for office.

In the opening article, which the two of you penned together, you joke that our lawmakers might as well be wearing NASCAR-type logos signaling their corporate sponsors. If this were really the case, who’d be wearing what logo? Can you give us any examples?

Here’s one: You know about Elizabeth Warren’s campaign to take Ted Kennedy’s old seat back from Scott Brown. You may also remember Scott Brown’s election in 2010 as the first electoral victory for the Tea Party movement. But when you look at how that campaign really played out, what won it for Brown was not grassroots anger, but Wall Street, which poured $450,000 into his campaign just days before the election. And that paid off — Brown was instrumental in watering down Wall Street reform.

Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein, editors of Mother Jones magazine

You say that the “Occupy” movement’s best move was directing its anger at Wall Street rather than Washington. But Wall Street isn’t really accountable to the people in the same way that government is. Why should the people on Wall Street to listen to Occupy Wall Street? Are they?

Some [on Wall Street] are even actively involved, as our reporter Josh Harkinson discovered. But yes, the way change is most likely to come about is not from Wall Street listening to Occupy. Instead Occupy — and the response to it from celebrities and politicians, including the president — have catalyzed a conversation that was already happening in the country. They created a space for ordinary people to say “yes, people like me have been screwed,” and it’s not about whining or weakness. It’s about one of America’s core ideas: Basic fair play. Legitimizing that conversation eventually has political effects, and it’s via politics that Wall Street practices will change. These are not laws of nature we’re dealing with. They are human laws, political decisions, and those decisions are subject to change.

You’ve got this great paragraph in your introductory article:

When people feel screwed economically and see no redress politically, guess what happens? Boston shopkeepers dump tea in the harbor. Mobs roam the streets of 1863 New York City shouting, “There goes a $300 man!”—the amount wealthy draftees paid to send a poor kid to be cannon fodder in their stead. The Bonus Army encamps in Washington. The petulant wealthy would also do well to remember that part of what precipitated the French Revolution was the nobility’s réfus, in the face of desperate pleas from Louis XVI, to consider paying taxes at a time when large portions of the crushingly taxed citizenry were literally starving.

But short of a revolution, or sleeping in a park in Lower Manhattan, what can people do to help turn the tide of growing inequality?

Yes, we took care not to sound like Jacobins here! It starts, again, with naming the problem. When politicians feel they have to explain to irate voters why they’re giving yet another tax break to multimillionaires, that does affect the decisions they make. That’s the biggest thing — talking about these things with our friends, families, neighbors and elected representatives.

And, of course, we all have our part to play. Right now we’re investigating some of the things — we can’t tell you the details quite yet — that make it possible for us to pay ever lower prices for the stuff we buy. There is a point at which it makes sense to ask: Who are the people who get this stuff to me, and under what conditions are they working? Because with our buying decisions, we can penalize companies that don’t abide by basic decency.

You’ve made a commitment to continued investigative reporting on “dark money” throughout the upcoming election season. What are some of the big stories that we should be looking out for? 

If we told you, our reporters would kill you! But we can tell you what we won’t do — predictable, cookie-cutter stories. We won’t go on breathlessly about who is winning the race for the biggest campaign cash pile; instead we’ll tell you where the cash is coming from, how it’s being hidden, and what the donors have in mind as a reward. A great chart is better than a thousand words, so expect a lot of interesting (and even fun) data visualization, like our income inequality charts that burned up the Internet last year. And we’ll play with video, animation, interactive data apps — and, of course, humor. Our motto: Don’t be boring.

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  • Nowaygen

    hi bill

  • Elizabeth

    I am pleased that you have a new show coming to PBS, and I will watch it as faithfully as your previous endeavors.  Campaign Finance Reform is one of our most pressing of problems that must be solved before we will ever get our legislative representatives to agree on any of our other problems. 
    Dollar limits should be set and equalized to a certain amount for each candidate for running for a particular office by individual, corporate, and other outside ‘dark’ money.  They should not have knowledge as to who the money has come from.  They could use this money as they see fit, but when the money is gone they will just have to wait until election day without a cent more. 
    The main problem is see with reform is, since all of the laws must originate out of Congress, how will we ever get one of them to propose any meaningful change?

  • Laila

    what was that term that defined the marriage of money (power) and politics.. what was it… what was it…?

  • http://pacificador99.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/moyers-and-company/ >Moyers and Company « A Better World
  • Nickandbett

    Annabell
    Publish the financial history of local politians for the voters to read.  The money and
    perks suck in some nasties  and selling their integerty is easy.  Keep them humble and
    let us voters see whose footing the bill for them. 

  • Johnmbowen

    Well, it is about damn time!!!  Thanks for coming back Mr Moyers, and none too soon.  Why are you the only one in all of the media that has the courage to stand up and stand to the defense of this nation?

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Moyers – I am so glad you are back on the air.  A countervailing force – yay!

  • paradox

    Nice to have Bill back on the idiot box. But no matter how well he says the truth about America nor how true his comment are, he can do nothing and I can do nothing to change the situation in this country. The top 1% own the nation, the army, the police and they have the power to pepperspray any America without fear of repurcussion. We do live in a banana republic, just as I told anyone back when Reagan  was elected. I have been proven right, but my being right means nothing.

    The religious right, the duped and the greedy own this joint.

    So, rant on Bill, but do tell us all what WE CAN DO ABOUT IT! Don’t just tell us what we already know!!! Preaching to your own choir never got anything done!

  • Clearwater3

    Bravo!

  • http://www.proclamation2012.com/ Idea1st

    There is a simple solution to take control of our politicians and rebuild America from the bottom up. read more at http://www.proclamation2012.com

  • http://profiles.google.com/zelmodex eric coble

    Your charts that burned up the internet last year starts with a chart that burns me up.

    Your first chart shows the top 1% of wage earners.   This is completely different than the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans.

    The 1% do not gain their positions as the richest 1% of  Americans from wages but through investment and speculation.

    Pitting high income individuals against everyone else is disingenuous.  It smacks of wage earning class warfare and ultimately redistribution. 

    Your theme is to point ” the rich pour money into elections; in return, politicians write laws that make the rich richer still.”  

    The money power elite that control the super packs and the policy making process of our country are those who have erected the “tapeworm economy” (http://notionalvalue.blogspot.com/2011/09/looting-of-america-happy-labor-day.html) of rent extraction and limited competition to preserve and increase their control over the economy and limit your freedoms.  As a strict rule the money power elite do not have 9 to 5 jobs.
     
    Whatever the reason; Obfuscation, misdirection or plain ignorance there is no excuses for such an egregious error.

    JESUS FLIPS (many coins): The Monetary System Is The Most Important Issue Of Our Time

    See the link below the dollar chart:  “$7.77 Trillion: American Kleptocracy – Goodbye Middle Class

    All Americans must consider the following

    “The bane of humanity is we learn nothing from the horrors of past
    atrocities; and history repeats itself. Our/Your passive acceptance of one
    transgression or worse complicit participation, always makes way for
    another.  This and the belief that injustice, visited on our neighbor,
    will not one day come knocking at our door is the banality of evil and its
    final reward is death.” – Inflection Point

    See: RAPE OF THE REPUBLIC

    THE RULE OF LAW MUST APPLY TO ALL AMERICANS!

  • http://profiles.google.com/zelmodex eric coble

    Your charts that burned up the internet last year starts with a chart that burns me up.

    Your first chart shows the top 1% of wage earners.   This is completely different than the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans.

    The 1% do not gain their positions as the richest 1% of  Americans from wages but through investment and speculation.

    Pitting
    high income individuals against everyone else is disingenuous.  It
    smacks of wage earning class warfare and ultimately redistribution. 

    Your
    theme is to point ” the rich pour money into elections; in return,
    politicians write laws that make the rich richer still.”  

    The
    money power elite that control the super packs and the policy making
    process of our country are those who have erected the “tapeworm economy”
    (http://notionalvalue.blogspot….
    of rent extraction and limited competition to preserve and increase
    their control over the economy and limit your freedoms.  As a strict
    rule the money power elite do not have 9 to 5 jobs.
     
    Whatever the reason; Obfuscation, misdirection or plain ignorance there is no excuses for such an egregious error.

    JESUS FLIPS (many coins): The Monetary System Is The Most Important Issue Of Our Time

    http://notionalvalue.blogspot.com/2012/01/jesus-flips-many-coins-monetary-system.html

    See the link below the dollar chart:  “$7.77 Trillion: American Kleptocracy – Goodbye Middle Class

    All Americans must consider the following

    “The bane of humanity is we learn nothing from the horrors of past
    atrocities; and history repeats itself. Our/Your passive acceptance of one
    transgression or worse complicit participation, always makes way for
    another.  This and the belief that injustice, visited on our neighbor,
    will not one day come knocking at our door is the banality of evil and its
    final reward is death.” – Inflection Point

    See: RAPE OF THE REPUBLIC

    - http://notionalvalue.blogspot.com/2011/09/rape-of-your-republic-what-say-you.html

    When it comes to Financial Terrorism; lack of action by those
    constitutionally sworn to protect the people is the equivalent of active
    participation at most and passive complicity at least, both of which are acts
    of treason. 

    To save the republic we love; The Rule Of Law Must Apply To All
    Americans!  John F.
    Kennedy understood the potential cost when
    one group dominates the whole, when he said,

    “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution
    inevitable.”

    See: THE RULE OF LAW MUST APPLY TO ALL AMERICANS!

    - http://notionalvalue.blogspot.com/2011/05/rule-of-law-must-apply-to-all-americans.html

  • http://profiles.google.com/zelmodex eric coble

    “Uncle Bill” I am so happy you are returning to the air.  You have inspired and informed the  people like few others.   True to your Patriotic Duty you are a true Citizen of the Republic!

  • Bobzio

    Thank Bill, most people are unaware of obvious opportunities.  People complain about the corrupt system.  Jack Abramoff details how he manipulated the system.  He also says he could not do this if power was not concentrated in Washington.  DAAAA What is the solution?  Reduce power in Washington.  Translation into  a simple slogan “smaller federal government”.  We have one honest individual running for President who can not be bought off.  You guessed it Ron Paul.  If we do not take the opportunity to put him in a position to rectify this problem then we only have ourselves to blame!

  • GaryBSmith

    Excellent program today– but where do we go from here? You have diagnosed the symptoms, how do we treat the patient? With all the right-wing hoopla surrounding the republican primaries, the focus has shifted to extremists masquerading as would-be presidents… it just seems we are blind to the wreckless behaviors which have brought us to our financial knees.

  • Chris

    Elizabeth, you ask a great question! Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig has some ideas on this. It is worth watching his talk on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ik1AK56FtVc

  • Twlly

    So glad to see you back on today, I’ve  really missed your show. The “Winner Take All Economy”was like a breath of fresh air. People keep asking what they can do to change the corrupt system that controls both Democrats and Republicans, keep watching shows like this, and get mad, get real mad, and remember how all the same social issues get drug out  and flounted  every four years to distract you from the real  problem

  • Twlly

    I’ll bet funding for PBS is really going to come under scrutiny now, keep on seeking the truth Bill.

  • Palsalrex

    it’s funny how so many average joe’s just don’t see that the cards are so heavily stacked against them and that the situation is getting worse.

  • Sojomaro

    Mr. Moyers,  I’m very glad to see your program back on the air!  The “Winner Take All Economy” feature was riveting and, short of averting nuclear war, is probably the most important issue facing America!  Please continue to focus on this issue as it will motivate people like myself to become more active-which might actually bring about change.  Agitate, agitate!  Thank you, sir!

  • http://billmoyers.com BillMoyers.com

    Thanks! But know that, this time around, “Moyers & Company” is being distributed by American Public Television, not PBS. Your PBS station is choosing to air it, as it may other APT programs.

  • Anonymous

    One needs also to remember that Martha Coakley came across as a cold hearted arrogant B—H

  • Anonymous

    By the way, good to have you back! Mr. Moyers

  • Bcameron43

    Saw Moyers & Company last night. I’m finally starting to understand what’s been going on for the past 30 years. I only hope that some national figure will come out of this and give the Republicans and Democrats a run for their money. What a dreamer! This system (not broken – fixed, rigged) is not likely to stop any time soon.  

  • Lazylb

    Thank you a light in the darknesz

  • Anonymous

    Greed has a cause that we seldom identify no less address.  We live 99 percent of our lives with our thinking and feeling disconnected from authentic nature.  This attaches our natural senses to our artificial substitutes for nature that don’t have nature’s self-correcting, restorative and purifying powers.  This profound loss frustrates our natural senses so they continually want and when we want there is never enough i.e. greed.  What we can do about it is already being done.  Educating, Counseling and Healing with Nature (ECHN) fulfills our senses with nature’s balance and beauty. Greed is replaced by the happiness found in nature’s mutually supportive cooperation.  What to do is use and teach ECHN.  If this sounds unbelievable, view the outcomes at http://www.ecopsych.com/survey.html or consider the process at http://www.SaneEarth.com  Don’t depend on Mr. Moyers or Al Gore to help you with what to do.  They’ve known about it for decades but treat it as if conscious sensory contact with nature is an illicit affair.  

  • Anonymous

    It starts, again, with naming the problem?  Or does it start by recognizing the truth of the problem and its source once it is named.  The record shows that for over a decade Mother Jones has ignored the source:
    THE PROBLEM: Out of shame for our destructiveness, we deny that Industrial Society’s story during our childhood indoctrinates us to excessively exploit nature’s balancing essence as it flows in, through and around us. 

    THE ROOT: Our denial of our indoctrination hides from us the prejudiced against nature source of most personal, social and environmental disorders. 

    THE SOLUTION: The sensory science of Educating, Counseling and Healing with Nature enables our thoughts, feelings and relationships to consciously plug into the natural world and its well known restorative and self-correcting powers. Through this purifying connection we enjoy the benefits of 1) recognizing our denial, 2) reversing our disorders and 3) increasing well-being. See http://www.SaneEarth.com for how to do it, or http://www.ecopsych.com/releaseupdate.html for why you should. 

  • Hank

    Personally, I think the situation is irretrievable and will continue to worsen until there will eventually be a major upheaval which might or might not include armed revolution.   I’m hoping I can live out the remainder of my life before it occurs.

  • Brosereed

    Has anyone made the point that U.S. international corporations should pay higher taxes because our costly military is at their service all over the world creating “business friendly” environments?
    That production workers are not necessary to business owners who make money from money rather than goods?That every time someone makes a statement such as ‘our health care costs billions’ isn’t giving us useful information unless it is accompanied by the information about who is on the receiving end of this money?Glad Bill Moyers is back,  I watch faithfully, but often feel what is the use of understanding what is going on since the U.S is not a democracy.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AS4TU4QDWQGF7DLWYFH5NGC6GA tobedana

    That’s a bit unproductive to wait out what needs to be done now and hope it rests on the shoulders of others.  You should be equally agitated and purposefully engaged in correcting the present selfish wrongs; so long as you live in the U.S. it’s your duty–this country is not for those willing to be sat on, dictated to, relegated to the darkness of tyranny…you don’t have to act with guns blazing, just calling or writing to your Representatives/Senators to express your discontent would do a lot of good; it would to help the rest of us who are actively engaged in this worthwhile fight.  And vote differently–give ron paul a shot.    

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AS4TU4QDWQGF7DLWYFH5NGC6GA tobedana

    That would be ron paul–every economic and corrupt government discussions on this show hit on all points mentioned by paul; if people follow him seriously and do their own homework and not depend on someone’s (the media’s) misleading interpretations, and manage to listen objectively and unselfishly then he’s that third option. He would not be able to accomplish all his agenda, but the two things he would succeed in: ending wars and the Fed, would be a great start. I didn’t come to promote him but it amazes me how people btch and moan and expects different results from the same way of thinking and acting. What kind of difference can one expects when he/she thinks and acts the same. I just need paul to do two things: end all wars and rein the FedRsrv–these two things along would start the change we so desperately need. The economic system we have now is based on false value, an imaginary number on a piece of paper and we are using make-believe money to fight make-believe wars.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AS4TU4QDWQGF7DLWYFH5NGC6GA tobedana

    And I bet most of these “average joe’s” are very staunch believers of some form of super-entity. What happened to “separation between church and state” did that go out the window like the Constitution–yes, it did and here we are.