Preview: The Fight to Keep Democracy Alive

February 14, 2013

As President Obama gave his State of the Union address on Tuesday, many wondered why there was not a word in the speech about taming the power of private money over public policy. There’s no question that big money calls the shots, or at least strongly influences the agenda, on many issues vital to America’s democracy and integrity. On this weekend’s show, Dan Cantor, Executive Director of New York’s Working Families Party, and Jonathan Soros, co-founder of the Friends of Democracy super PAC and a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, join Bill to discuss their proposals to fight the corrosive effects of money in politics.

With the help of Soros’ anti-super PAC super PAC, the two are trying fight the negative impacts of Citizens United by backing candidates who stand up for campaign finance reform. Soros and Cantor advocate for a New York State public financing system inspired by New York City’s publicly-funded program that makes it less financially prohibitive to run for city-wide office.

Also on the program, Martín Espada on the power of poetry, and Bill’s essays on what money and influence will buy you in Washington.

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  • Lynn Cole

    Too many of our Congress people are taking bribes – err, I mean unlimited, anonymous campaign contributions – in exchange for their votes. It’s quid pro quo; its bribery.

  • ccaffrey

    It boggles my mind that, except for your piece, the act of McConnell, Baucus and Hatch to give a $500 million “bailout” to Amgen after they had just criminally defrauded the Medicare/Medicaid programs to the tune of $762, received so little outrage and no call for censure or ethics violation–from the media, the public, the Senate, or the Democrats! They spent huge money and time impeaching Clinton for not keeping his pants zipped. This is SO blatant!! The Right rails on about the expenses of Medicare and Medicaid and yet almost no one is addressing the fact that pharmaceutical companies have now surpassed the military-industrial complex in taxpayer fraud! No jail time, just “cost-off-doing-business” fines. And they are not only allowed to continue doing business with the programs….they get to charge whatever they want since we’re not allowed to negotiate prices with them, or open up “free market” competition!! WTH!!! I want to hear them justify, out loud, how this represents “sound business principles” in ANYone’s book! No private corporation would accept these terms from suppliers. That ought to be first on the list for containing costs, not depriving elders and the most vulnerable needed medical care. This is a moral issue of the highest order!

  • Bill Greene

    “For evil to flourish, all that is required is that one do nothing.” Edmund Burke. (or words to that effect).

  • Trojan Horace

    If it waddles like a bribe…

  • Steve Justino

    The only solution to this problem is to amend the U.S. Constitution so that it clearly, and unequivocally, states that “Corporations are NOT People!” and “Money is NOT Speech!” To read the only proposed amendment that does both things, see Move to Amend’s WE THE PEOPLE Amendment ( which was introduced into congress this week by Congressman Nolan of MN, and Congressman Polan from WI.

    Together we WILL restore democracy to America!

    Steve Justino
    Co-Chair, Colorado Move to Amend

  • Anonymous

    Make no mistake, this is the single most important issue of our time and provides the catalyst for addressing all of our other grave problems. Looking forward to the full episode.

  • jcaimbridge

    Agreed. It is at the root of almost all of our issues today. Some people will just tell you that “money is power, always has been” or make some other dismissive comment, but *scale* matters, and even without Citizens United our system of campaign financing and lobbying *encourages* corruption.

    We must find people involved in the fight underlying each issue area (whether it’s global warming or other environmental concerns, IP law, telecommunications, wallstreet & banking reform, healthcare, legalization of marijuana, consumer rights, military excess, education … everything) and unite them all under this issue. We must offer them evidence that shows it should also be of their own concern and ask for their support (not to replace their efforts, but to supplement it).

    And we must also stop voicing our concerns purely in the abstract and start talking about specific reforms that people can organize around (getting “money out of politics” is great, but we need to actually show people a way). For example, the movement behind the American Anti-Corruption Act, the Grassroots Democracy Act, the “We the people” amendment, etc etc.

  • Thomas A. Heller

    Fresh from viewing your interview with Mr. Cantor and Mr. Soros. My first reaction was two words: Huey Long.

    Make me laugh! I’m stunned by their naivete.

    Endorsing a “private-public” 6 to-1 funding match for candidates cannot “remove the influence of money in elections.” It merely accentuates it — and worse, does it with “other people’s money”, removed from our wallets involuntarily by the power of the state.

    Maybe the electorate in New York state will support this, but I must ask: how will this somehow bring out “the better angels of our nature”? Isn’t it simply adding yet more “special interests” to those who have our representatives’ ear? Why would it bring a halt to “rent-seeking” and other self-interested legislation?

    This strikes me as a variation of the old saw, “we can tax ourselves rich!” Populism unbound. Fighting fire with yet more fire.

    If you support this, why would you not support Citizen’s United? Don’t both “give voice” to those under-represented? Or is sauce for the goose not sauce for the gander?
    P.S. last week’s interview with Susan Crawford on her prescription for telecom reform apparently unleashed a torrent of stone-throwers at, where three reviewers -and one in particular- who didn’t grade Ms. Crawford’s book highly were subjected to merciless stream of insults.

  • jcaimbridge

    What is being addressed is not “rent-seeking” and “self-interested legislation” *in general*. After all, when an individual exercises their right to vote, that is an act which is in their self-interest (and obviously there is nothing wrong with such an act).

    The problem that people are trying to address is the disproportionate influence the wealthy have in our government. Having more money *greatly* increases the chances of a politician winning re-election (there’s a reason they spend so much time fundraising rather than deliberating on issues, and spending obscene amounts on political ads/large ground efforts/expensive technology for collecting and analyzing massive amounts of voter data–just look up the numbers), and thus an incentive system is created where politicians are rewarded for reflecting the interests of the wealthy. Those that do not listen will not receive the campaign contributions necessary for re-election.

    It is a given that campaigns cost money to run–lots of money. So the solution (if you believe each citizen is entitled to equal influence amongst all others) to making the politician represent the interests of the people is to set up a system where small contributions fund the candidate’s campaign. This is what these CFR proposals are attempting to do.

    As for criticism of the matching contribution approach, I agree there are probably better ways to fund campaigns (my personal favorite is a per-citizen tax rebate), but compared to our current system it is much better.

  • MBrecker

    Keep in mind that the money’s in politics AND the MSM that’s supposed to do their job and report on this. It’s like Jason Robards (as Ben Bradlee in “All the President’s Men”) saying where’s the ******* story? They know where the stories are. However, Obama and the two main parties use their power to keep them in line. You want millions to pay for your spot sales commissions, a new studio and nice MSM corporate dividends? How many station general managers on up to CEO’s are going to say no to that?
    Do you realize that the average NPR station is making more money during their stop sets (“listener support” breaks) than the average commercial station in the same market?

  • MBrecker

    Can you name one Congressperson who’s said no to a pay raise?

  • MBrecker

    Sec. of State Kerry (who has investments in the Keystone project) is one person who’s going to make the final decision on it. Nobody stopped him during his confirmation (we need “more information”). Yet, the neocons will destroy Hagel’s nomination just because they hate Obama.

  • Anonymous

    We need to unite the movement for social justice as a whole, you are right. And you are right that this issue should be a priority and a central organizing principle. But we should also recognize that each of the issue groups you mentioned will also need united support. The issue isn’t just about Citizens United. As a matter of fact, Citizens United and campaign finance reform are just a part of the greater issue of electoral reform. Citizens United should be a part of the greater movement for Electoral Reform which should be pushing for a national conversation on “The State of Our Democracy.”

  • Anonymous

    We’re all trying to move forward on the understanding that those in power can be responsive to citizen democracy. (The Constitution, while powerful as a concept, is a piece of paper interpreted by others.) My experience with dissent from corporatist power, by joining peaceful demonstrations against W’s invasion of Iraq for weapons of mass destruction (Saddam had none) and revenge for 9/11 (no comment) – showed that the State really doesn’t want to hear from its citizens but will certainly betray their duty to inform them. The war happened anyway (and no one mentioned the Gulf of Tonkin). The New York Times did all it could to help the cause, firing an understandably disturbed Chris Hedges in the process. (It’s ok to be disturbed when something like that happens and everyone is lying or willfully blind to it.) To be honest, that bizarro time made me pause. Obama was supposed to be the reset but bizarro time still occurs.