BILL MOYERS: Welcome. At the State of the Union speech, there’s always more than meets the eye. Just out of sight is the reality of how we are governed. The House of Representatives, where Congress gathers to hear the President, used to be known as “The People’s House.” But money power owns the lease now and runs the joint from hidden back rooms.

You're looking at the most expensive Congress money can buy. The House races last fall cost over one billion dollars. It took more than $700 million to elect just a third of the Senate. The two presidential candidates raised more than a billion a piece. The website Politico added it all up to find that the total number of dollars spent on the 2012 election exceeded the number of people on this planet -- some seven billion.

Most of it didn’t come from the average Joe and Jane. Sixty percent of all super PAC donations came from just 159 people. And the top 32 super PAC donors gave an average of 9.9 million dollars. Think how many teachers that much money could hire.

We’ll never actually know where all of the money comes from. One third of the billion dollars from outside groups was “dark money,” secret funds anonymously funneled through fictional “social welfare” organizations. Those are front groups, created to launder the money inside the deep pockets.

And don't let anyone ever tell you the money didn't make a difference. More than 80 percent of House candidates and two-thirds of Senate candidates who outspent their general election opponents won, and were present and counted as the new Congress prepared to hear the President. Remember, money doesn't necessarily corrupt legislators, but it certainly tilts them.

HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER at the State of the Union: Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you, the President of the United States.

BILL MOYERS: So let's share some snapshots from the State of the Union. That’s Speaker of the House John Boehner, of course. He's led his party to protect Wall Street from oversight and accountability. The finance, insurance, and real estate industries gave him more than three million dollars last year.

Eric Cantor is the Republican majority leader in the House. Among his biggest donors--Goldman Sachs, masterminds of the mortgage-backed securities that almost sank the world economy. Cantor’s also the third largest recipient of money from the National Rifle Association in the House, which is one reason he's such a "big gun" there.

Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, may be in hot water. He's currently under investigation for allegations that he improperly intervened with government agencies on behalf of a big donor.

And there's Fred Upton, Republican from Michigan, chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. What a coincidence. The oil and gas industry is one of his top donors, helping him raise the four million dollars he spent last year to win re-election.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrats of New York, have Wall Street as a constituent and patron. Her biggest contributors include JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and law firms that have advised them. His top donors include securities and investment firms, lawyers and legal firms, and lobbyists.

And there are fleeting glances of some familiar faces here tonight seen recently on our broadcast. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader in the Senate, Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana. All cited by "The New York Times" as suspects in that mysterious migration of half a billion dollars from taxpayers over to the bottom line of drug companies, especially the pharmaceutical giant Amgen. Would it surprise you to learn that over the past five years, Amgen has been one of the top ten donors to McConnell, Baucus, and Hatch?

As for our president--by attending a fundraiser on the average of every 60 hours during his bid for a second term, he once again broke the record for bringing home the bacon. Although the money power that controls Congress could thwart everything Obama proposed in his State of the Union address, there was not a single word in his speech about taming the power of private money over public policy.

And so it goes: The golden rule of politics. He who has the gold, rules.

Bill Moyers Essay: Democracy for Dollars

“The House of Representatives, where Congress gathers to hear the president, used to be known as ‘The Peoples’ House’,” Bill says in this broadcast essay, “but money power owns the lease now, and runs the joint from hidden back rooms.”

Bill spotlights Congressional leaders from both parties whose connections and possible allegiances to deep-pocketed backers makes one wonder who’s really running our government, and buying our democracy.

Producer: Lena Shemel. Editor: Sikay Tang

  • submit to reddit
  • John

    How long will these politicians serve the monied rather than their constituencies? What will it take to wake the American people and demand reform in how elections are funded? Our leaders see us as lemmings and are more than willing suppress and oppress to keep the status quo.

  • We The People – MWV

    Corporations are people in the eyes of the Supreme Court, have been since 1886. Nothing will change until we pass a constitutional amendment stating that the rights and protections afforded to citizens by the Constitution apply to natural persons only.

  • Ex Communicator

    Here’s the worst part. Those of us who seek campaign finance reform must convince both the recipients of campaign contributions AND the donors who control Congress.

    Kind of a stacked deck, no?

  • Brucerltr

    Will Rogers: “Politicians are the best men money can buy.”
    Mark Twain: “I think I can say, and say with pride, that we have some
    legislatures that bring higher prices than any in the world.”

    It is not new but it is still wrong. (But the refs in the election game have been bought off).

  • dash44

    How about requiring Congress members to wear sponsors logos on jumpsuits like the race-car drivers do. At least then we would know who makes them jump to their demands.

  • Lynn Cole

    We have the best politicians that money can buy. When a big donor donates $1 million to a candidate, it is chump change compared to the taxes he saves and special benefits he gets.

  • Erik Delahunt

    Everything is redefined by definition. Anything goes as long as you say it’s not green, it’s turquoise.

  • Anonymous

    Corporations are unable to cry over war, instead they usually reap great profit from it and another reason why they should have no political say. Yet this reality is difficult to voice in our mainstream, corporate-owned media.

  • Todd Jagger

    Believe it or not Mr. Moyer’s and my home state of Texas can lead in getting the money out of politics. Texas is the first state with a pending a resolution (HCR-25) calling for an Article V Convention to propose an amendment addressing Citizens United. It’s the only way to bypass our corrupted and gridlocked Congress to propose the amendment. Following on Texas’ lead other states (Massachusetts & Minnesota currently) have also filed convention calls. You can help by joining us at We can do this.

  • Brian Dickinson

    I always watch Bill Moyers’ programs and rarely disagree with the content of his guests but this last show of “The Fight to Keep Democracy Alive” I could not disagree with the content more.

    First it should have been titled “The fight to keep a REPRESENTATIVE democracy alive.” We don’t have a direct democracy.

    Second,I don’t agree with fighting fire with more fire. It’s as though we want to keep money in the “game” of politics. We should step back and ask why do we need a representative democracy in the first place? Like so many systems in place today we are perpetuating an old design. A design that is older than our nation.

    I analyze systems for a living (or used to), as part of analysis one must remove the old design so a new one can be identified that fulfills the real need. Unfortunately the old design, in this case the representative democracy, has gotten so entrenched that rarely is it questioned and it certainly isn’t
    questioned by those that profit from the current design.

    I took an objective view of this in one of my YouTube videos at :

    I’m not saying that a new design can be implemented easily; implementing an email system or online banking was not easy or cheap, but I don’t want
    to go back to the old designs of these.
    I’m also not saying everyone would want a direct democracy. people, usually want to delegate the decision making process (not I) but that is not a reason to stop everyone from having the option to vote directly on things they find important. I say in my presentations “Don’t get rid of the manual bank
    teller when you introduce the automated teller”, let the customer decide.

    I’ll stop here, I’ve probably upset enough folks already
    because a government that takes from Peter to give to Paul can usually rely on the support of Paul.

  • Michael

    I have continued to try and inform citizens on the state of our Republic through the use of Facebook. I do not know how many “friends”actually take the time to view what I post or whether there is anyone out there
    who really cares about the almost complete destruction of our Republic.

    My view is simple; the wealthy and large

    transnational corporations now control all branches of our local, state and federal governments. The real “takers”
    and the “entitlement” recipients of tax dollars are not the average citizen,but are the said wealthy and corporations. Nothing will change unless we as
    citizens can find ways to get this type of money and influence out of our system. I see no leadership from
    politicians to change the system. It is up to us to insist on campaign reform and put our money and effort where our mouth is.