Bill Moyers
February 15, 2013
Bill Moyers Essay: Democracy for Dollars

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.

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