BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company…
NAOMI KLEIN: The whole business model for the fossil fuel industry is based on burning five times more carbon than is compatible with a livable planet. So what we're saying is, "Your business model is at war with life on this planet. It's at war with us."
BILL MOYERS: And…
TREVOR POTTER: There's something fundamentally flawed about a system where in order to get elected the members of Congress have to rely on the very people who are lobbying them day in and day out. Because that's their principal source of funding, those lobbyists and the interests they represent.
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BILL MOYERS: Welcome. The Sherlock Holmes of money in politics -- Trevor Potter -- is here with some clues to what the billionaires and super PACs got for their lavish spending in the most expensive election in our history. In a nutshell: "You ain't seen nothing yet."
But first, if you've been curious about why New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg endorsed Barack Obama for re-election, just take another look at the widespread havoc caused by the Frankenstorm benignly named Sandy. Having surveyed all this damage Bloomberg Business Week concluded: “It’s Global Warming, Stupid: If Hurricane Sandy doesn't persuade Americans to get serious about climate change, nothing will."
Well it was enough to prompt President Obama, at his press conference this week, to say more about global warming than he did all year.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.
BILL MOYERS: But he made it clear that actually doing something about it will take a back seat to the economy for now. He did return to New York on Thursday to review the recovery effort on Staten Island. Climate change and Hurricane Sandy brought Naomi Klein to town, too. You may know her as the author of "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” Readers of two influential magazines to put Naomi Klein high on the list of the 100 leading public thinkers in the world. She is now reporting for a new book and documentary on how climate change can spur political and economic transformation. She also has joined with the environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben in a campaign launched this week called "Do the Math." More on that shortly.
Naomi Klein, Welcome.
NAOMI KLEIN: Thank you so much.
BILL MOYERS: First, congratulations on the baby.
NAOMI KLEIN: Thank you so much.
BILL MOYERS: How old now?
NAOMI KLEIN: He is five months today.
BILL MOYERS: First child?
NAOMI KLEIN: My first child, yeah.
BILL MOYERS: How does a child change the way you see the world?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well it lengthens your timeline definitely. I’m really immersed in climate science right now because of the project I’m working on is related to that. So you know there are always these projections into the future, you know, what's going to happen in 2050? What's going to happen in 2080? And I think when you're solo, you think, "Okay, well, how old will I be then?" Well, you know, and now I'm thinking how old will he be then, right? And so, it's not that-- but I don't like the idea that, "Okay, now I care about the future now that I have a child." I think that everybody cares about the future. And I cared about it when I didn't have a child, too.
BILL MOYERS: Well, I understand that but we're so complacent about climate change. A new study shows that while the number of people who believe it's happening has increased by, say, three percentage points over the last year, the number of people who don't think it is human caused has dropped.
NAOMI KLEIN: It has dropped dramatically. I mean, the statistics on this are quite incredible. 2007, according to a Harris poll, 71 percent of Americans believed that climate change was real, that it was human caused. And by last year, that number went down to 44 percent. 71 percent to 44 percent, that is an unbelievable drop in belief. But then you look at the coverage that the issue's received in the media. And it's also dropped dramatically from that high point. 2007, you know, this was this moment where, you know, Hollywood was on board. “Vanity Fair” launched their annual green issue.
And by the way, there hasn't been an annual green issue since 2008. Stars were showing up to the Academy Awards in hybrid cars. And there was a sense, you know, we all have to play our part, including the elites. And that has really been lost. And that's why it's got to come from the bottom up this time.
BILL MOYERS: But what do you think happened to diminish the enthusiasm for doing something about it, the attention from the press, the interest of the elite? What is it?
NAOMI KLEIN: I think we're up against a very powerful lobby. And you know, this is the fossil fuel lobby. And they have every reason in the world to prevent this from being the most urgent issue on our agenda. And I think, you know, if we look at the history of the environmental movement, going back 25 years to when this issue really broke through, you know, when James Hansen testified before Congress, that--
BILL MOYERS: The NASA scientist, yeah.
NAOMI KLEIN: Exactly, our foremost climate scientist, and said, "I believe it is happening. And I believe it is human caused." That was the moment where we could no longer deny that we knew, right? I mean, scientists actually knew what well beforehand. But that was the breakthrough moment. And that was 1988. And if we think about what else was happening in the late '80s? Well, the Berlin Wall fell the next year. And the end of history was declared. And, you know, climate change in a sense, it hit us at the worst possible historical moment. Because it does require collective action, right? It does require that we, you, regulate corporations. That you get, you know, that you plan collectively as a society. And at the moment that it hit the mainstream, all of those ideas fell into disrepute, right? It was all supposed to be free market solutions. Governments were supposed to get out of the way of corporations. Planning was a dirty word, that was what communists did, right? Anything collective was a dirty word. Margaret Thatcher said, "There's no such thing as society."
Now if you believe that, you can't do anything about climate change, because it is the essence of a collective problem. This is our collective atmosphere. We can only respond to this collectively. So the environmental movement responded to that by really personalizing the problem and saying, "Okay, you recycle. And you buy a hybrid car." And treating this like this could or we'll have business-friendly solutions like cap and trade and carbon offsetting. That doesn't work. So that's part of the problem. So you have this movement that every once in a while would rear up and people would get all excited and we're really going to do something about this. And whether it was the Rio Summit or the Copenhagen Summit or that moment when Al Gore came out with Inconvenient Truth, but then it would just recede, because it didn’t have that collective social support that it needed.
And on top of that, you have, we've had this concerted campaign by the fossil fuel lobby to both buy off the environmental movement, to defame the environmental movement, to infiltrate the environmental movement, and to spread lies in the culture. And that's what the climate denial movement has been doing so effectively.
BILL MOYERS: I read a piece just this week by the environmental writer Glenn Scherer. He took a look and finds that over the last two years, the lion's share of the damage from extreme weather, floods, tornadoes, droughts, thunder storms, wind storms, heat waves, wildfires, has occurred in Republican-leaning red states. But those states have sent a whole new crop of climate change deniers to Congress.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, someone's going to have to explain Oklahoma to me, you know?
BILL MOYERS: My native state.
NAOMI KLEIN: My sister lives in Oklahoma. And, you know, it is so shocking that James Inhofe, the foremost climate denying senator is from the state that is so deeply climate effected. There was something, actually, I was-- last year I covered the Heartland Conference, which is the annual confab for all the climate deniers. And James Inhofe was supposed to be the keynote speaker. And the first morning of the conference, there was lots of buzz. He’s the rock star among the climate deniers. Inhofe is coming, he's opening up this conference, right? And the first morning the main conference organizer stands up at breakfast and lets loose the bad news that James Inhofe has called in sick and he can't make it.
And it turns out that he had gone swimming in a lake filled with blue-green algae, which is actually a climate-related issue. When lakes get too warm, this blue-green algae spreads. And he had gone swimming. And he had gotten sick from the blue-green algae. So he actually arguably had a climate-related illness and couldn't come to the climate change conference. But even though he was sick, he wrote a letter from his sickbed just telling them what a great job he was doing. So the powers of denial are amazingly strong, Bill. If you are deeply invested in this free-market ideology, you know, if you really believe with your heart and soul that everything public and anything the government does is evil and that, you know, our liberation will come from liberating corporations, then climate change fundamentally challenges your worldview, precisely because we have to regulate.
We have to plan. We can't leave everything to the free market. In fact, climate change is, I would argue, the greatest single free-market failure. This is what happens when you don't regulate corporations and you allow them to treat the atmosphere as an open sewer. So it isn't just, "Okay, the fossil fuel companies want to protect their profits." It's that it's that this science threatens a worldview. And when you dig deeper, when you drill deeper into those statistics about the drop in belief in climate change, what you see is that Democrats still believe in in climate change, in the 70th percentile. That whole drop of belief, drop off in belief has happened on the right side of the political spectrum. So the most reliable predictor of whether or not somebody believes that climate change is real is what their views are on a range of other political subjects. You know, what do you think about abortion? What is your view of taxes? And what you find is that people who have very strong conservative political beliefs cannot deal with this science, because it threatens everything else they believe.
BILL MOYERS: Do you really believe, are you convinced that there are no free-market solutions? There's no way to let the market help us solve this crisis?
NAOMI KLEIN: No, absolutely the market can play a role. There are things that government can do to incentivize the free market to do a better job, yes. But is that a replacement for getting in the way, actively, of the fossil fuel industry and preventing them from destroying our chances of a future on a livable planet? It's not a replacement.
We have to do both. Yes, we need these market incentives on the one hand to encourage renewable energy. But we also need a government that's willing to say no. No, you can't mine the Alberta tar sands and burn enough carbon that you will have game over for the climate as James Hansen has said.
BILL MOYERS: But I'm one of those who is the other end of the corporation. I mean, we had a crisis in New York the last two weeks. We couldn't get gasoline for the indispensable vehicles that get us to work, get us to the supermarket, get us to our sick friends or neighbors. I mean, the point I'm trying to make is we are all the fossil fuel industry, are we not?
NAOMI KLEIN: You know, we often hear that. We often hear that we're all equally responsible for climate change. And that it's just the rules of supply and demand.
BILL MOYERS: I have two cars. I keep them filled with gasoline.
NAOMI KLEIN: But I think the question is, you know, if there was a fantastic public transit system that really made it easy for you to get where you wanted to go, would you drive less? So I don't know about you, but I, you know, I certainly would.
BILL MOYERS: I mean, I use the subways all the time here.
NAOMI KLEIN: And if it was possible to recharge an electric vehicle, if it was as easy to do that as it is to fill up your car with gasoline, you know, if that electricity came from solar and wind, would you insist, "No, I want to fill my car with, you know, with dirty energy"? No, I don't think you would. Because this is what I think we have expressed over and over again. We are willing to make changes. You know we recycle and we compost. We ride bicycles. I mean, there there's actually been a tremendous amount of willingness and goodwill for people to change their behavior. But I think where people get demoralized is when they see, "Okay, I'm making these changes, but emissions are still going up, because the corporations aren't changing how they do business." So no, I don't think we're all equally guilty.
BILL MOYERS: President Obama managed to avoid the subject all through the campaign and he hasn’t exactly been leading the way.
NAOMI KLEIN: He has not been leading the way. And in fact, you know, he spent a lot of time on the campaign bragging about how much pipeline he's laid down and this ridiculous notion of an all of the above energy strategy, as if you can, you know, develop solar and wind alongside more coal, you know, more oil, more natural gas, and it's all going to work out in the end.
No, it doesn't add up. And, you know, I think personally, I think the environmental movement has been a little too close to Obama. And, you know, we learned, for instance, recently, about a meeting that took place shortly after Obama was elected where the message that all these big green groups got was, "We don't want to talk about climate change. We want to talk about green jobs and energy security." And a lot of these big green groups played along. So I feel--
BILL MOYERS: You mean the big environmental groups?
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, big environmental groups went along with this messaging, talking about energy security, instead of talking about climate change, 'cause they were told that that wasn't a winnable message. I just think it's wrong. I think it's bad strategy.
BILL MOYERS: He got reelected.
NAOMI KLEIN: He got, well, he got reelected, but you know what? I think he, I think Hurricane Sandy helped Obama get reelected.
BILL MOYERS: How so?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, look at the Bloomberg endorsement that came at the last minute. I mean, Bloomberg endorsed Obama because of climate change. Because he believed that this was an issue that voters cared enough about that they would, that Independents would swing to Obama over climate change, and some of the polling absolutely supports this, that this was one of the reasons why people voted for Obama over Romney was that they were concerned about climate change and they felt that he was a better candidate on climate change.
The truth was, we didn't have a good candidate. We had a terrible, terrible candidate on climate change, and we had a candidate on climate change who needs a lot of pressure. So I feel more optimistic than I did in 2008, because I think in 2008 the attitude of the environmental movement was, "Our guy just got in and we need to support him. And he's going to give us the legislation that we, that we want. And we're going to take his advice. And we're going to be good little soldiers."
And now maybe I'm being overly optimistic, but I think that people learned the lesson of the past four years. And people now understand that what Obama needs or what we need, forget what Obama needs, is a real independent movement with climate change at its center and that's going to put pressure on the entire political class and directly on the fossil fuel companies on this issue. And there's no waiting around for Obama to do it for you.
BILL MOYERS: Why would you think that the next four years of a lame duck president would be more successful from your standpoint than the first four years, when he's looking to reelection?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I think on the one hand, we're going to see more direct action. But the other strategy is to go where the problem is. And the problem is the companies themselves. And we’re launching the “Do the Math” tour which is actually trying to kick off a divestment movement. I mean, we're going after these companies where it hurts, which is their portfolios, which is their stock price.
BILL MOYERS: You're asking people to disinvest, to take their money out of, universities in particular, right? This is what happened during the fight against apartheid in South Africa and ultimately proved successful.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, and this is, we are modeling it on the anti-apartheid divestment movement. And the reason it's called “Do the Math” is because of this new body of research that came out last year. A group in Britain called “The Carbon Tracker Initiative.” And this is, you know, a fairly conservative group that addresses itself to the financial community. This is not, you know, sort of activist research. This is a group that identified a market bubble and were concerned about this meant to investors. So it's a pretty conservative take on it. And what the numbers that they crunched found is that if we are going to ward off truly catastrophic climate change, we need to keep the increase, the temperature increase, below 2 degrees centigrade.
NAOMI KLEIN: The problem with that is that they also measured how much the fossil fuel companies and countries who own their own national oil reserves have now currently in their reserves, which means they have already laid claim to this. They already own it. It's already inflating their stock price, okay? So how much is that? It's five times more. So that means that the whole business model for the fossil fuel industry is based on burning five times more carbon than is compatible with a livable planet. So what we're saying is, "Your business model is at war with life on this planet. It's at war with us. And we need to fight back."
So we're saying, "These are rogue companies. And we think in particular young people whose whole future lies ahead of them have to send a message to their universities, who, and, you know, almost every university has a huge endowment. And there isn't an endowment out there that doesn't have holdings in these fossil fuel companies. And so young people are saying to the people who charged with their education, charged with preparing them for the outside world, for their future jobs, "Explain to me how you can prepare me for a future that with your actions you're demonstrating you don't believe in. How can you prepare me for a future at the same time as you bet against my future with these fossil fuel holdings? You do the math and you tell me." And I think there's a tremendous moral clarity that comes from having that kind of a youth-led movement. So we're really excited about it.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean rogue corporations? You're talking about Chevron and Exxon-Mobil and BP and all of these huge capitalist or institutions.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, rogue corporations, because their business model involves externalizing the price of their waste onto the rest of us. So their business model is based on not having to pay for what they think of as an externality, which is the carbon that's spewed into the atmosphere that is warming the planet. And that price is enormous. We absolutely know that the future is going to be filled with many more such super storms and many more such costly, multibillion-dollar disasters. It's already happening. Last year was-- there were more billion-dollar disasters than any year previously. So climate change is costing us. And yet you see this squabbling at, you know, the state level, at the municipal level, over who is going to pay for this
NAOMI KLEIN: The public sector doesn't have the money to pay for what these rogue corporations have left us with, the price tag of climate change. So we have to do two things. We have to make sure that it doesn't get worse, that the price tag doesn’t get higher. And we need to get some of that money back, which means, you know, looking at issues like fossil fuel subsidies and, you know, to me, it's so crazy. I mean, here we are post-Hurricane Sandy. Everyone is saying, "Well, maybe this is going to be our wakeup call." And right now in New York City, the debate is over how much to increase fares in public transit. And they want to, the Metro Transit Authority wants to increase the price of riding the subway, you know, the price of riding the trains, quite a bit. And so how does this make sense? We're supposedly having a wakeup call about climate change. And we're making it harder for people to use public transit. And that's because we don't have the resources that we need.
BILL MOYERS: You've been out among the areas of devastation. Why?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, for this book I'm currently writing about climate change and a documentary to go with it, so we were filming in the Rockaways, which is one of the hardest-hit areas and Staten Island and in Red Hook. And also in the relief hubs, where you see just a tremendous number of volunteers organized by, actually, organized by Occupy Wall Street. They call it Occupy Sandy.
BILL MOYERS: Really?
NAOMI KLEIN: Yes. And what I found is that people are—the generosity is tremendous, the humanity is tremendous. I saw a friend last night, and I asked her whether she'd been involved in the hurricane relief. And she said, "Yeah, I gave them my car. I hope I get it back. If you see it, tell me." So people are tremendous.
BILL MOYERS: This means--
NAOMI KLEIN: So one of the things that you find out in a disaster is you really do need a public sector. It really important. And coming back to what we were talking about earlier, why is climate change so threatening to people on the conservative end of the political spectrum? One of the things it makes an argument for is the public sphere. You need public transit to prevent climate change. But you also need a public health care system to respond to it. It can't just be ad hoc. It can't just be charity and goodwill.
BILL MOYERS: When you use terms like “collective action,” “central planning,” you scare corporate executive and the American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation because they say you want to do away with capitalism.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, first of all, I don't use a phrase like "central planning." I talk about planning, but I don't think it should be central. And one of the things that one must admit when looking at climate change is that the only thing just as bad or maybe even worse for the climate than capitalism was communism. And when we look at the carbon emissions for the eastern bloc countries, they were actually, in some cases, worse than countries like Australia or Canada. So, let's just call it a tie. So we need to look for other models. And I think there needs to be much more decentralization and a much deeper definition of democracy than we have right now.
BILL MOYERS: Decentralization of what, Naomi?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, for instance, you know, if we think about renewable energy, well, one of the things that's happened is that when you try to get wind farms set up, really big wind farms, there's usually a lot of community resistance that's happened in the United States. It's happened in Britain. Where it hasn't happened is Germany and Denmark. And the reason for that is that in those places you have movements that have demanded that the renewable energy be community controlled, not centrally planned, but community controlled. So that there's a sense of ownership, not by some big, faceless state, but by the people who actually live in the community that is impacted.
BILL MOYERS: You've written that climate change has little to do with the state of the environment, but much to do with the state of capitalism and transforming the American economic system. And you see an opening with Sandy, right?
NAOMI KLEIN: I do see an opening, because, you know, whenever you have this kind of destruction, there has to be a reconstruction. And what I documented in “The Shock Doctrine” is that these right-wing think tanks, like the ones you named, like the American Enterprise Institute or the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, they historically have gotten very, very good at seizing these moments of opportunity to push through their wish list of policies.
And often their wish list of policies actually dig us deeper into crisis. If I can just-- if you'll bear with me, I'll just give you one example. After Hurricane Katrina, there was a meeting at the Heritage Foundation, just two weeks after the storm hit. Parts of the city were still underwater. And there was a meeting, the “Wall Street Journal” reported on it. And I got the minutes from the meeting.
The heading was 31 free market solutions for Hurricane Katrina. And you go down the list and it was: and don't reopen the public schools, replace the public schools with vouchers. And drill for oil in ANWAR, in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, more oil refineries. So what kind of free market solutions are these, right?
Here you have a crisis that was created by a collision between heavy weather (which may or may not have been linked to climate change, but certainly it's what climate change looks like) colliding with weak infrastructure, because of years and years of neglect. And the free market solutions to this crisis are, "Let's just get rid of the public infrastructure altogether and drill for more oil, which is the root cause of climate change." So that's their shock doctrine. And I think it's time for a people's shock.
BILL MOYERS: People’s shock?
NAOMI KLEIN: A people's shock, which actually we've had before, as you know, where, you know, if you think about 1929 and the market shock, and the way in which the public responded. They wanted to get at the root of the problem. And they wanted to get away from speculative finance and that's how we got some very good legislation passed in this country like Glass-Steagall, and much of the social safety net was born in that moment. Not by exploiting crisis to horde power for the few and to ram through policies that people don't want, but to build popular movements and to really deepen democracy.
BILL MOYERS: Well, the main thesis of “Shock Doctrine,” which came out five years ago before the great crash was that disaster capitalism exploits crises in order to move greater wealth to the hands of the fewer and fewer people. You don't expect those people to change their appetites do you or their ways do you, because we face a climate crisis?
NAOMI KLEIN: I don't expect them to. I wrote “The Shock Doctrine” because I believe that we, I believed at the time that we didn't understand this tactic. We didn't understand that during times of crisis certain sectors of the business world and the political class take advantage of our disorientation in order to ram through these policies. And I believed, at the time, that if we understood it, you know, if we had a name for it, if we had a word, a language for it, then the next time they tried it, we would fight back. Because the whole tactic is about taking advantage of our disorientation in those moments of crisis. And the fact that we often can become childlike and look towards, you know, a supposed expert class and leaders to take care of us. And we become too trusting, frankly, during disasters.
BILL MOYERS: It used to be said that weather, now global warming, climate change, was the great equalizer. It affected rich and poor alike. You don’t think it does, do you?
NAOMI KLEIN: What I'm seeing. And I've seen this, you know--I've been tracking this now for about six years, more and more, there's a privatization of response to disaster, where I think that wealthy people understand that, yes, we are going to see more and more storms. We live in a turbulent world. It's going to get even more turbulent. And they're planning. So you have, for instance private insurance companies now increasingly offer what they call a concierge service. The first company that was doing this was A.I.G. And in the midst of the California wildfires about six years ago, for the first time, you saw private firefighters showing up at people's homes, spraying them in fire retardant, so that when the flames came, this house would stay. This mansion, usually, would be standing and the one next door might burn to the ground. So this is extraordinary. Because we would tend to think of, you know, firefighting. This is definitely, you know, a public good. This is definitely something that people get equally. But now we're finding that even that there's even a sort of two-tiering of protection from wildfires.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, there was even a short-lived airline in Florida I read about that offered five-star evacuation service in events of hurricanes.
NAOMI KLEIN: After Hurricane Katrina a company in Florida saw a market opportunity. And they decided to offer a charter airline that would turn your hurricane into a luxury vacation. That was actually the slogan. They would let you know when a hurricane was headed for your area. They would pick you up in a limousine, drive you to the airport, and whisk you up. And they would make you five star hotel reservations at the destination of your choice. So, you know, why does a hurricane have to be bad news after all?
BILL MOYERS: And this kind of privatization is what you wrote about in “Shock Doctrine,” that privatization of resources, monopolization of resources by the rich, in times of crisis, further divide us as a society
NAOMI KLEIN: Absolutely. And, you know, one of the things about deregulated capitalism is that it is a crisis creation machine, you know? You take away all the rules and you are going to have serial crises. They may be economic crises, booms and busts. Or there will be ecological crises. You're going to have both. You're just going to have shock after shock after shock. And the more, the longer this goes on, the more shocks you're going to have.
And the way we're currently responding to it is that with each shock, we become more divided. And the more we understand that this is what the future looks like, the more those who can afford it protect themselves and buy their way out of having to depend on the public sector and therefore are less invested in these collective responses. And that's why there has to be a whole other way of responding to this crisis.
BILL MOYERS: You wrote recently that climate change can be a historic moment to usher in the next great wave of progressive change.
NAOMI KLEIN: It can be and it must be. I mean, it's our only chance. I believe it's the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. And we've been kidding ourselves about what it's going to take to get our emissions down to the extent that they need to go down. I mean, you talk about 80 percent lowering emissions. I mean, that is such a huge shift.
And I think that's part of the way in which, and I don't mean to beat up on the big environmental groups, because they do fantastic work. But I think that part of the reason why public opinion on this issue has been so shaky is that it doesn't really add up to say to the public, you know, "This is a huge problem. It's Armageddon." You know, you have “Inconvenient Truth.” You scare the hell out of people. But then you say, "Well, the solution can be very minor. You can change your light bulb. And we'll have this complicated piece of legislation called cap and trade that you don't really understand, but that basically means that companies here can keep on polluting, but they're going to trade their carbon emissions. And, you know, somebody else is going to plant trees on the other side of the planet and they'll get credits."
And people look at that going, "Okay, if this was a crisis, wouldn't be we be responding more aggressively? So wouldn't we be responding in a way that you have, we've responded in the past during war times, where there's been, you know, that kind of a collective sense of shared responsibility?" Because I think when we really do feel that sense of urgency about an issue, and I believe we should feel it about climate change, we are willing to sacrifice. We have shown that in the past. But when you hold up a supposed emergency and actually don't ask anything of people, anything major, they actually think you might be lying, that it might not really be an emergency after all. So if this is an emergency, we have to act like it. And yeah, it is a fundamental challenge. But the good news is, you know, we get to have a future for our kids.
BILL MOYERS: Naomi Klein, thank you for joining me.
NAOMI KLEIN: Thank you so much. It's been such a pleasure.
BILL MOYERS: Since the election last week those of us concerned about the amount of money in politics have been told repeatedly, “Get over it: your concern’s overblown, Citizens United is a boogeyman, and big money didn’t make all that much difference.” Really? That's not what Trevor Potter thinks. And he's the expert on how money works its will. You may have caught him the other night, advising his client Stephen Colbert, on what to do about the super PAC they had created for Stephen last year in a clever effort to expose the potential for campaign finance corruption.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Can I somehow give the money to myself and thereby hide it forever from all eyes and use it in the way I wish?
TREVOR POTTER: Actually, you can.
STEPHEN COLBERT: I knew it!
BILL MOYERS: Colbert Nation is in good legal hands with Trevor Potter. He knows how the system works. He advised George H. W. Bush and John McCain on their campaigns for the White House. He helped draft the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act, chaired the Federal Election Commission, and founded the Campaign Legal Center. That's a non-partisan group working with other campaign finance reformers to counter the influence of that six billion dollar election.
Welcome back Trevor.
TREVOR POTTER: Thank you very much, nice to be here.
BILL MOYERS: So, did the money matter or not?
TREVOR POTTER: Well, let me give you an analogy that you would appreciate on the east coast, which is if you have a hurricane, and there's still buildings standing at the end, and you come out and say, "I'm still alive," do you stop worrying about hurricanes? No. And I think that's where we are.
The tidal wave of money was there. It left lots of Democrats standing. It was nowhere near what the super PACs hoped it would be on the Republican side in the senate races. And obviously they didn't elect Governor Romney. But I think they had a huge influence on the race. And they undoubtedly learned lessons which they will put into effect in the next elections.
BILL MOYERS: I've heard so many people say since the election, "Well, this proves that big money didn't make all that much of a difference because it was sort of a wash.”
TREVOR POTTER: I think there are a couple ways that actually made a big difference this year. The first one which is very counterintuitive is it may have actually badly injured Romney. And the reason for that is that after Citizens United you had these so-called candidate super PACs.
And in the Republican primaries last spring you had Romney who is widely the leader and assumed to have it wrapped up. And then you had two other candidates who came up, had millions of dollars spent on their behalf by super PACs, and kept the race open. They were the Gingrich candidacy and his super PAC and the Santorum one. What it meant was that instead of wrapping things up in February, Romney waited, had all of these primaries where he was attacked.
And he ended up the primary season somewhat wounded because these Republican super PACs had run really vicious ads against him presaging the Obama attacks. And he was broke. Now if that hadn't happened, if we had had not had super PACs Romney would've raised the money and the other candidates would not have. They raised no money themselves virtually. The millionaires, billionaires funded them. Each of them had one billionaire who kept them in the race. If that hadn't have happened they would've had literally no money to pay for gas for a car.
BILL MOYERS: Are you saying that they--
TREVOR POTTER: And they would've been out.
BILL MOYERS: --that billionaires kept the Republican primaries going?
TREVOR POTTER: Yes. Absolutely. What happened this year is the billionaires kept Santorum and Gingrich going for months in a way that the public never would've.
And they attacked, used the billionaire's money to attack Romney. He had to spend his money to defend himself and raise a lot of money through his super PAC to defend himself. But the result was the election took much longer to get a Republican nominee than the Republicans had hoped. And Romney was broke starting.
If you look at a lot of what the Democrats are saying now it is, "We had an advantage because we were sitting there lying in wait for them." Obama had no opponent. He had raised hundreds of millions of dollars that he could spend on advertising to define Romney in the early summer. And the Romney campaign couldn't hit back because it didn't have the money.
BILL MOYERS: So, do you realize what you're acknowledging or even conceding that although the billionaires may not have gotten what they wanted, the Republican nominee, they set the agenda by spending money on these candidates who eventually had to drop out?
TREVOR POTTER: Oh, I think that's entirely true. The billionaires in many ways drove the Republican primary race. It was their advertising. If you look at the spending candidates weren't raising the money for these ads. The super PACs funded by billionaires were. And in both the Gingrich and Santorum cases just one billionaire each doing it. So you have two billionaires speaking to each other—
BILL MOYERS: Could you get me one?
TREVOR POTTER: And the collateral damage is Governor Romney. So I think Republicans are looking back at this and saying, "We, the party, lost control of the primary process," meaning a billionaire or two, not the people I mean, there're are people out there saying, "Well, this is the voice of the people. And isn't it wonderful to have everyone involved." This is one billionaire speaking to another billionaire or two billionaires attacking a multimillionaire in the person of Mitt Romney.
So it's a very small conversational ambit. But it clearly changed the race. So that's one way where I think they had a huge effect.
The other is if I were a Democrat and I were looking forward, I would say, "We were lucky this time. We dodged a bullet. We had Barack Obama. He's an incumbent president. He had no primary challenge. He started raising money in April of 2011." So he had a whole year before Romney was really even beginning to think about the general election to raise and stockpile money.
Even so he just spent the Republicans to a draw because the Republican super PACs raised and spent three times as much as the Democratic super PAC, the one that Obama supported. And that's what the president out there as an incumbent urging cabinet secretaries to fundraise for it, urging Democratic donors to support it.
And even with that the Republican super PACs outspent the Democratic one, three to one. So if you look forward you don't have an incumbent president. You have a contested Democratic primary. You may have a divisive one as you did Obama versus Clinton in 2008. They're going to be where Romney was this year. They're going to be broke. They're not going to have a list of four million volunteers ready to go.
They're not going to have those hundreds of offices all over the key states and Ohio and elsewhere because they won't have had the money to open them. And the Republican nominee is going to be sitting there again I think with substantially more super PAC support. So just because this time Obama as an incumbent was able to spend them to the draw should not suggest to anyone that that's what happens next time.
BILL MOYERS: I read in a couple of places that by the week of the election President Obama had attended 221 fundraisers, far more than any other incumbent president in our history, in 24 states. I mean, the time that is used to raise this money had to figure into our reckoning of its impact, right?
TREVOR POTTER: This is actually a disaster for the country, this being the fact that we don't have presidential public funding. And instead we have the incumbent president of the United States spending that much time out trying to raise money for his campaign instead of worrying about the economy, national affairs and international affairs. You may recall the, one of the debates Romney went after Obama saying that after the Libyan incident you left Washington and you went to Nevada.
That was for a fundraiser. That's what they're doing. And if you think of that many fundraisings here's an interesting statistic for you. Back in 1984 Ronald Reagan was the incumbent president of the United States. He had a reelection. His campaign had to raise matching funds in the primary. And he had to raise money for the party even though he was taking the federal grant as everyone has until this year in the general election. Ronald Reagan attended in that year four fundraisers.
BILL MOYERS: Compared to 221--
TREVOR POTTER: Compared to 221. So we have a president, and this is not an attack on Obama,
BILL MOYERS: No, no--
TREVOR POTTER: This is an attack on whoever's there. We have a president who is to some extent not doing their job because they have to be off fundraising. The Romney people felt the same way. Romney was heard to be complaining in his campaign that he couldn't go out and meet voters and do the things he thought he had to do as a candidate because he had to spend all his time in closed rooms with small groups of wealthy people to fundraise.
In order to get his ads up for his campaign he couldn't campaign. There's a great irony here. And so you have two issues here. One is the time that the president is spending doing this rather than his job and what happens to a candidate when the only people they meet, and talk to and take questions for months on end are a small group of our society who have a lot of money and certain views. And I think the Romney 47 percent comments reflect what he knew the donors think because he'd spent so much time hearing things like that from this small group of Americans.
BILL MOYERS: Did those Republicans donors, those guys in the room and the big Republican donors in particular get no return on their money this year?
TREVOR POTTER: I think they did get a return. And that's what we're going to see in the future. They didn't elect all the members of the Senate they wanted. They did do, save some members of the Senate, some Republican Congress people who were under attack. But the real point is that these groups have a lobbying agenda. They have a legislative agenda in Washington. And they now have a Republican party that is incredibly grateful for the time and money that was spent in this election.
The Republican leadership wants them to do it again in the midterms in only two years. So they've got chits they can call in. They have earned and purchased influence. If you are a Republican officeholder are you going to listen to Sheldon Adelson when he wants to talk about specific legislative issues when he's spent millions of dollars and you know he can do it again. Of course you are.
Aren't you going to listen to American Crossroads which you hope is going to build a structure for the party in the next elections. Yes. And that's going to be true on both sides. It's not just Republican. If you're the big Democratic super PAC, you are going to have your calls taken by Democratic members when you say this is what we need to do.
BILL MOYERS: I heard you as Steve Colbert's lawyer advise him that he could keep the money he had collected through his super PAC and transfer it to his secret fund, the so-called social welfare fund, and use it for lobbying if he wanted to.
STEPHEN COLBERT on The Colbert Report: Let me see if I can make clear what is happening. I’ve got a 501(c)(4) called Colbert Super PAC SHH! I take the money from the super PAC, I pass it through the 501(c)(4), into a second, unnamed 501(c)(4). I place all the money inside that second unnamed 501(c)(4), and through the magic of your lawyering and the present federal tax code, after I close this and lock it that money is gone forever and no one ever knows what happened to it?
TREVOR POTTER on The Colbert Report: You’ll know, but nobody else will.
TREVOR POTTER: Federal Election Commission rules say that he could have taken the money, written himself a check and gone and bought a yacht. That's permissible. Because what the Congress has done is restricted actual candidates, members of Congress and their challengers, and said they can't use the money to buy a Cadillac, or a yacht or other personal use.
None of these other political monies are restricted. So all these super PACs, they'd have to pay income tax on it. But if they wanted to write themselves a check and take it home they can. But what I was telling Stephen Colbert is if you're not going to do that and everyone's going to know it because that is disclosed, then you can take the money basically off the books, put it in a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization and then move it around. And as we've discussed before these (c)(4)s can use that money for political ads if they want. You just won't know that is was Colbert's money. Or they can use it for lobbying.
BILL MOYERS: So they'll be another invisible influence over the representatives we have sent to Congress that we won't know about funded by super PACs?
TREVOR POTTER: Right. Some of it may be disclosed through the lobbying disclosure provisions. But no grassroots lobbying has to be disclosed that way. So if you run ads or you're generating phone calls in a district or you're sending e-mails, none of that is going to be disclosed.
BILL MOYERS: How do you assess the impact of Citizens United in particular on this election?
TREVOR POTTER: First of all what it tells us is the court really didn't understand how elections work, because they thought this spending would be totally, wholly independent of candidates and parties. And this so-called independent spending was being done by groups that were very close to the candidates and parties. And that's one reason they were so successful in raising all that money is the donors knew they were close to Romney, or Obama or the Republican or Democratic establishment.
So they trusted them with the millions of dollars they got. Then the court said that corporate shareholders would at least know what their corporations were doing. And through corporate democracy they could object if they didn't like it.
The reality is the shareholders don't know. There's no requirement of disclosure to shareholders under the law. And most companies don't tell their shareholders what they're doing. And they certainly don't have an opportunity to object to it in any substantive way or change the corporation's policy. So I think the reform agenda looking forward is going to be shouldn't there be a provision for shareholder democracy, what the Supreme Court talked about in Citizens United.
Should the S.E.C. or Congress or the states that actually charter corporations, shouldn't they have provisions saying that before a corporation uses shareholder money it needs their approval. And Republicans are going to say, "Well, if that's the case shouldn't we have that for labor unions." Well, why not. I mean, if you're going to have someone in charge of a group spending other people's money, and it really is other people's money, then shouldn't they get their approval to do that.
BILL MOYERS: The supreme court said this money's not a problem if it doesn't corrupt. The perception of corruption is also a danger. So it seems to me that you can't avoid the appearance of corruption in the use of secret money to lobby that was given for campaigns?
TREVOR POTTER: It's one of the real problems with the Citizens United case is that what they effectively said is, "We on high have decided that independent spending in elections cannot corrupt as a matter of fact and theory. We don't want to hear otherwise. It can't do it. And therefore you can have this unlimited spending." So when people look at examples of corruption the court doesn't want to hear it. That's why they turned back a challenge from the state of Montana which said, "We have evidence of corruption in our elections." And they said "We don't want to talk about it. We've already decided the case." So what's going to have to happen here is the, I think we have to build a record over time showing the many ways in which this spending does in fact corrupt or have the potential for corruption.
It may be because it's not really independent and the close ties to the candidates and the parties. It may be that it's not just election spending and an ad that voters are seeing. But it's tied to this lobbying campaign and trying to get something from the members of Congress who were elected by that spending.
BILL MOYERS: What do the reformers do next?
TREVOR POTTER: The whole enforcement problem we have today has got to be addressed. We have a Federal Election Commission that is usually deadlocked three-three which means it can't do anything. That's one reason we have the disclosure gap in this election.
And no one's done anything about the F.E.C. It has five of the six commissioners are in expired terms sitting there waiting for their successors. So I think there's a real opportunity here for the president to take the lead and to say, "We need a functioning F.E.C. I'm going to work with Congress. I'm going to go outside of the system. I'm going to look for people who are not Washington insiders, haven't worked-- for the party committees before."
"I'm going to find people who know something about elections or are independent-prosecutor types who have integrity. And I'm going to nominate them to the Federal Election Commission.”
BILL MOYERS: You've been advocating for campaign reform for a long time. Given what just happened, this hurricane as you say of money, are you going to hang it all up, maybe get a gig on Comedy Central? Are you going to keep at the, at it?
TREVOR POTTER: I'm going to keep at it. And surprisingly as a Republican I've actually come to the judgment that we're going to have to have some sort of citizen funding of elections. We're in an election cycle where not only a handful, literally, of billionaires, I think changed the way the Republican primary came out, were the principal communicators of the general election.
But even if you look past that to all the money that Obama raised, and Romney raised and all those Congressmen and Senators raised, one-third of one percent of the American public actually gave money in recordable amounts to candidates. So 99 point two-thirds percent didn't participate in the system in recordable amounts, which means more than $200 to a candidate.
And what about the rest of the country. They deserve a voice. And I think we're going to have to find a way to do that, whether it is some sort of a tax credit or a tax return to taxpayers. You know, Republicans always say, "We ought to be cutting taxes. We ought to be giving money back to the people." Well, maybe that's exactly what we ought to do, give each citizen, each registered voter $100 or a voucher for $100 dollars and say, "You can give this to the candidate of your choice. It's your money back. You're all paying taxes one way or the other, income tax, gas taxes, social security taxes. You go out and fund candidates and parties that you like." So that's how the 99 point two-thirds percent gets involved. There's something fundamentally flawed about a system where in order to get elected the members of Congress have to rely on the very people who are lobbying them day in and day out. Because that's their principal source of funding, those lobbyists and the interests they represent.
And the problem with super PACs this year is they just upped the ante. Because it used to be a senate race cost, well, who knows, but not much. But then it was millions. The Virginia senate race this year was $80 million, $50 million or so from outside groups, the other $30 from inside.
Well, if you're a senator and you have just been elected, or heaven forbid you're up in two years, what are you thinking. You're thinking I don't have time to worry about deficit reduction and the fiscal cliff. I've going to go to a fundraiser. I have to raise tens of thousands of dollars every day to have enough money to compete with these new super PACs. And it'd be really nice if I could find a billionaire who would help me with my own super PAC.
And that means I need to be nice to a lot of billionaires who often want something from me in order to find the funding for my campaign and hope they'll do a super PAC. So you raise the financial pressure on members and realistically the time pressure for all those fundraisers at the very moment when we face a lot of issues that we'd like them to be focused on instead of their next campaign.
BILL MOYERS: Trevor Potter, thank you for joining us.
TREVOR POTTER: Thank you very much. As always I appreciate it.
BILL MOYERS: That’s it for this week. Go to BillMoyers.com for links to the Campaign Legal Center, the Sunlight Foundation, and other citizen's groups pushing back against the spreading slime of money. And don’t miss our special video report from nearby Coney Island that explores first-hand how “Occupy Sandy” and the group “People’s Relief” are helping those hardest hit and most vulnerable. That’s all at billmoyers.com.
I'm Bill Moyers.