We’re just getting into 2015 and already we’re hearing about super PACs raising millions of dollars for presidential candidates before any of them have even announced plans to run. Let’s face it, it’s gotten pretty nutty out there in the campaign finance world in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which ushered in more money (and more problems) than we’ve ever seen in our political process.
After the most expensive midterm elections ever — and the announcement by the Koch Brothers that they plan to spend nearly $900 million in 2016 (more than twice what their network spent in 2012) — the problem of big money drowning out the rest of us is likely to get worse in 2016. And that’s just the money we know about. Last month, National Journal predicted: The 2016 campaign season is expected to be “more dominated by secret money than any election since Watergate.”
So what does an informed citizen need to know? We’ve pulled some “must-watch” clips from Bill’s recent interviews with journalists, experts and activists to offer a fuller picture of the maddening direction our democracy has taken. Watch them, share them and talk about them below!
How Citizens United Lets Corporations Buy Unlimited Influence
Days after the 2010 Citizens United decision, Bill turned to Monica Youn, an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Zephyr Teachout, a professor at Fordham School of Law (before she ran for governor of New York), to understand what the Supreme Court’s ruling means for democracy.
Watch the full interview.
Why Equating Speech With Money Is the “End Game for Democracy”
David Simon, journalist and creator of The Wire and Treme, talks with Bill about why he believes corporations are “sociopaths as people,” and the one political move he would make “to walk the nightmare back.”
Watch the full interview.
Trevor Potter on Super PACs and Dark Money
In this clip, the founder of the Campaign Legal Center, Trevor Potter, with the help of comedian Stephen Colbert, explains why the big money groups wrought by Citizens United are so abominable.
Watch the full interview.
What You Need to Know About Dark Money
Investigative reporters Kim Barker and Andy Kroll tell Bill how dark money contributes to Washington’s gridlock and keeps politicians from acting in the best interest of their constituents.
Watch the full interview.
How McCutcheon Gives Wealthy Individuals Even More Power
After the McCutcheon v. FEC case was argued before the Supreme Court, Bill spoke with Yale Law School election and constitutional law professor Heather Gerken, who warned that if the court ruled in favor of the appellants — which it ended up doing — the decision would allow even more cash and influence to slosh around in the system.
Watch the full interview.
How Citizens United Led to the Rise of “Shadow Parties”
Gerken explains how the Supreme Court’s landmark decision allows politicians “to have [their] cake and eat it too.”
Watch the full interview.
Lawrence Lessig on How Cash Corrupts Congress
In this clip, activist and scholar Lawrence Lessig talks about why our members of Congress have become like rats in a Skinner box.
Watch the full interview.
A Cause for Optimism? The Movement to Limit Money in Politics
John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation, and Robert McChesney, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois, speak with Bill about the growing movement for an amendment to overturn Citizens United.
Watch the full interview.
Why Transparency Is Critical to Fair Elections
In this clip, Mother Jones editors Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein explain why voters need to know who is funding politicians and their respective campaign ads.
Watch the full interview.
Why Publicly Funded Elections Are Good for America
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, talk about why publicly funded elections are beneficial to candidates and voters alike.
Watch the full interview.
VIDEO: How Citizens United Let Corporations Buy Unlimited Influence
BILL MOYERS: In very plain language, who won the Supreme Court decision?
MONICA YOUN: Well, corporations clearly won this decision. I mean, essentially, what the court does is it awards monopoly power over the First Amendment to corporations. You can think about the last couple of elections as, you know, the slow rise of the grassroots. And as a result, the political parties, for the first time, had an incentive to start reaching out to small donors, to start cultivating grassroots organizing networks. And you saw what happened in the last election. Now, what the Supreme Court has done here is really a power play. It takes power away from the grassroots, and it puts it squarely back in the hands of corporate special interests.
It threatens to make these grassroots networks irrelevant. To say, you know, it’s no longer going to be worthwhile for, you know, parties to look for fundraising opportunities, $20, $100, even $2,400 at a time, if they can just have multimillion dollar support directly from corporate treasuries.
ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: This decision, at its base, is about power. And that’s why people are responding. That’s why people from left and right are responding. This decision means that when you walk past a sign that says Goldman Sachs or Ford, that, what that represents has the same rights that you do to speak about politics, to spend as much money as you want on a political campaign. They are basically equal, and treated as equal entities, even though you’re the citizen. That’s why there’s a really deep grassroots response, there’s a sense that power, political power, is being taken away from the citizen, which is really a core idea of this country.
BILL MOYERS: By permitting corporations to use their own, the money from their own treasuries to advocate for or against a candidate? So, that diminishes the power of the individual?
MONICA YOUN: Well, what the Supreme Court has said by equating money with speech, what the Supreme Court has said is that elections aren’t really about votes anymore. What elections are now going to be about is money and who has the most money. And an individual citizen saying, “I can’t possibly compete with Wal-Mart, with Exxon Mobil, with Goldman Sachs,” is just going to say, “Why should I even bother? My voices will never, my voice will never be heard. My elected official is not going to listen to me. I should just stay home.”
BILL MOYERS: But I mean, our elections are already saturated with money and the outcomes of money before this Supreme Court decision. And I still am trying to understand what is going to be different…
ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Okay.
BILL MOYERS: … from this decision.
ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Okay. Let’s say you work for Goldman Sachs. You mentioned Goldman and I like talking about Goldman, because they’re the smartest political party I know in the country.
BILL MOYERS: Goldman Sachs?
ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: “Mr. Sachs,” right.
ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: No, they’re very effective, politically, as a company, in their lobbying and in their ability to influence people’s thoughts about — directly.
BILL MOYERS: Right.
ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: So, up until now there have been a series of laws that have restrained Goldman’s direct political involvement. And they have a political team, but for the most part, they don’t have a team that is looking at the country, trying to figure out which races to get involved in early. Now, what this decision does is say, “We give you the sanction, we actually encourage you as an important, vibrant part of our society to engage.” Now, that may be a difference of degree, but differences of degree are everything in politics.
MONICA YOUN: It used to be that when corporations got involved in elections, they would do so kind of skulking around by subterfuge. And what this decision does is it says the Supreme Court of the United States says that you, a corporation, have a First Amendment right to buy as much influence as you can afford. You go out there and get them.
VIDEO: Why Equating Speech With Money Is the “End Game for Democracy”
DAVID SIMON: I think if I could fix one thing, if I could concentrate and focus on one thing and hope that by breaking the cycle you might start to walk this nightmare back, it would be campaign finance reform. The logic of Citizens United and other decisions that are framed around that. Certainly our judicial branch has failed to value the idea of one man, one vote.
You don’t count more because you run a corporation and you can heave money in favor of your political philosophy onto the process. You don’t count more, you’re one guy.
BILL MOYERS: Free speech, this court has said–
DAVID SIMON: Of course, of course.
BILL MOYERS: –free speech, under the first amendment corporations have the right of–
DAVID SIMON: And you know what– right, and you know what? Everyone reacted the wrong way when they heard that decision. They all– the chant from the left became, “Corporations are people? Corporations are not people.” Well, no, actually under the law, that’s the reason for corporations if you know, they are indeed given the rights of individuals, and that’s why you form corporations and that’s how the law treats them.
They’re sociopaths as people, you know, they have to report their profit to the– I mean, that’s who they are. But you know, by definition, you know, if all you care about is your profits, to the shareholders, you know, and nothing else in human terms, you’re probably a sociopath.
But okay, they get to exist as– no, it was that speech is money, that was– when you start equating speech with money and you see them as being comparable, money is in a fundamental regard the opposite of speech in many ways. Speech, you know, or it’s a kind of speech so foul that it shouldn’t be– it shouldn’t have the weight it has in our democracy.
And that’s the, that to me was the nails in the coffin. If you can’t fix the elections so that they actually resemble the popular will, if the combination of the monetization of the elections and gerrymandering create a bicameral legislature that doesn’t in any way reflect the will of the American people, you’ve reached the end game for democracy. And I think we have.
VIDEO: Trevor Potter on Super PACs and Dark Money
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.
VIDEO: What You Need to Know About Dark Money
BILL MOYERS: Both of you have talked about– covered and talked about dark money. Exactly, for the benefit of my viewers, what is dark money?
KIM BARKER: Dark money– these are organizations that can take unlimited amounts of money from billionaires or corporations or unions or anybody. And then turn around and spend money on political ads without saying who their donors are. They don’t have to tell who the money came from. They do have to say what it’s being spent on. And where it’s going. But they don’t have to say who the donors are.
BILL MOYERS: What’s all this money doing to us?
KIM BARKER: I would argue that if you’re wondering why your government is so broke and you can’t really get anything passed through Congress, campaign finance has a lot to do with that.
ANDY KROLL: Political science has shown us that members of Congress are already far more receptive to the interests and the ideas and the whims of the very wealthy in this country, sort of the middle class, and basically could not care less about what poor and working people think or want in terms of policymaking. Add super PACs into the mix, add dark money groups into the mix, when really it’s just one donor in your district who can make or break you.
ANDY KROLL: I had a conversation with a progressive senator who is not a fan of super PACs and at the time did not have his own sort of individual super PAC… And I said, ‘What is this like when you’re going to go up against an opponent who does have a super PAC and does have a motivated one percenter in his corner?’ And he said, ‘It’s like going into a boxing ring. I’m wearing boxing gloves. And the other guy has an Uzi.’
VIDEO: How McCutcheon Gives Wealthy Individuals Even More Power
BILL MOYERS: What’s at issue in this case?
HEATHER GERKEN: As you know when you give in a campaign, you can only give a certain amount of money to a candidate. But there’s also a limit that most people never notice because most people don’t have nearly enough money to reach it, but there are limits on how much you can spend in the aggregate. So you can spend about $123,000 on federal elections all told.
BILL MOYERS: In one election cycle–
HEATHER GERKEN: In one election cycle.
BILL MOYERS: –in one two year period–
HEATHER GERKEN: Exactly. But what’s being argued in this case is that you should be able to spend as much as you want, that is you can have limits on the amount you can give to each candidate and each party committee and each party, but you can give to as many candidates as you want and as many party committees as you want and as many PACs as you want. All of those things are capped right now, which would mean just in real terms that instead of about $123,000 being the cap, one donor could give $3.5 million to political parties and candidates
BILL MOYERS: There was this moment during the oral arguments when Justice Scalia told Solicitor General Verrilli that compared with the billions of dollars already spent on federal campaigns by parties, candidates, political action committees and super PACs, he said, I don’t think $3.5 million is a heck of a lot of money. Does this surprise you to hear that from a Supreme Court justice?
HEATHER GERKEN: Well, I will say two things. One is $3.5 million is a lot of money, I think, to just about anyone except for the, you know, the Adelsons of the world. But the other thing that I will just say, and this was made by another commentator, talk about chutzpah. So the reason that these people are spending millions and millions and millions of dollars in the last election is Justice Scalia. You know, they’re the ones who allowed this to happen in the first place. And so–
BILL MOYERS: Scalia and the majority on the court?
HEATHER GERKEN: Scalia and the majority on the court. So for them to say, well, we’ve got a giant problem on one side, so the solution is to create a giant problem on the other side, well, they are the reason for the giant problem that they were describing–
BILL MOYERS: Citizens United?
HEATHER GERKEN: —Citizens United.
BILL MOYERS: In response to Scalia, Solicitor General Verrilli said, “I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it, Your Honor. If you think that a party’s got to get $1.5 billion together … that’s about 450 people you need to round up. Less than 500 people,” the solicitor general said, “can fund the whole shooting match.”
HEATHER GERKEN: It’s a remarkable statement. Although I’ll just tell you my worry is bigger than General Verrilli’s worry. So he worries that 400 people will fund the whole shooting match. My worry is that once 400 people realize they can put funding in like that, there’ll be 800 of them or maybe 1,200 of them, that more money will move into the system because people will realize just how far their money’s going to go, just how much influence their money can buy.
HEATHER GERKEN: That takes us to a world where money plays an even more powerful role in politics than it does now. And I’ll just say, I mean, I believe in the first amendment. But it’s hard to imagine money playing a bigger role than it did in 2012. And yet it looks like we’re heading in that direction in 2016.
VIDEO: How Citizens United Led to the Rise of “Shadow Parties”
BILL MOYERS: What do you think’s been the main impact of Citizens United?
HEATHER GERKEN: To create what I think are shadow parties. So in the olden days, right, money went through the parties, money went through the candidates. But now Citizens United has made it possible to raise inordinate amounts of money outside of the party system. So this is Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, this is the super PACs.
And the thing that’s amazing about these organizations is they’re not really independent. They’re technically independent, but they’re being run by the campaign staff. They are constantly interacting with the campaigns, which means if you’re a politician you can have your cake and eat it too. You can be part of the party which has lots of limits right now, before McCutcheon on what it can raise. But you can have your shadow party with your guys raising money in exactly the way you want them to and running ads for you.
BILL MOYERS: Why do you call it a shadow party?
HEATHER GERKEN: They’re doing all the kinds of things you can do in a campaign, they’re framing issues, they’re running ads, they’re helping candidates get elected.
The one key difference though is that the party faithful who are the people who knock on doors, the foot soldiers of our democracy, the people who show up at rallies with donuts, the people who put signs on their yard, the people who go drive people around to get them out to vote, they’re in the regular party. They’re not in the shadow party. The shadow party is for the big donors, the elites, the top campaign staff. But the regular everyday people are still stuck back in the old party.
VIDEO: Lawrence Lessig on How Cash Corrupts Congress
BILL MOYERS: There’s a former member of Congress from Virginia who says that both parties have become telemarketing systems–
LAWRENCE LESSIG: Absolutely, I think–
BILL MOYERS: –dialing for dollars.
LAWRENCE LESSIG: Yeah, and that’s not figurative, right. If you could get a camera into both where the Republicans do their work and the Democrats would do their work it would astonish Americans to see these people sitting in these cubicles with headsets on sitting there dialing and dialing and dialing people they’ve never met, but of course they pretend they know these people when they call them, begging them for money.
You know, it’s like, remember the old image of the Skinner box, that, you have the rat, learning which buttons to push to get the food. Well, our congressmen live in a Skinner box. They live 30 to 70 percent of their time raising money to get back to Congress. And as they do that, they’re only humans.
As they do that they learn what are the words they need to utter to the people on the other end of the line to get them to send that $1,000 or $2,400 check. And the point is they’re not calling, they’re not calling the average American. They’re calling people of a very specific set of interests. And that’s the core of the corruption that our system’s built.
BILL MOYERS: So from your experience what’s been the impact on everyday people of this kind of this kind of branding, fundraising?
LAWRENCE LESSIG: Well, I mean, there’s impact in policy. Like, the things that Congress worries about are different from what Congress would worry about if Congress were not so focused on raising money. So for example, The Huffington Post did a fantastic little piece about this. They asked the question in the first quarter of 2011 what was the number one issue Congress spent its time working on, you know, on the floor of the Congress and in committees?
You know, we had a lot of issues at that point. We were in the middle of two wars, huge unemployment crisis. We had a debt crisis, we had a government that was about to be shut down in the summer. There were a lot of issues they could’ve been focused on. So what was number one? And the answer is the bank swipe fee controversy, you know, the question of when you use your debit card how much should the banks get, how much should the credit card companies have to pay.
And why was that number one? Because when a member of Congress stands on the floor of Congress and says, “Well, you know, I’m not sure. There’s a lot of good arguments on one side, a lot of good arguments on the other side,” millions of dollars rain down upon that congressman by these two powerful interests that are keying to try to sway Congress one way or the other.
And so the point is, you know, we have a system where Congress can’t afford to address the most important issues. Like, how much does it pay to talk about unemployment on the floor of Congress? How much money do you actually get for addressing issues that are important to America? And I think the really important thing here is to recognize it’s not because they’re evil. It’s not because they’re bad people. It’s not because they’re criminals.
LAWRENCE LESSIG: The kind of corruption we’ve got today is not bad souls. It’s good souls, it’s good people who are living within a system that forces them to behave in a certain way to succeed. And I think what we need to do is to say to those people, “We understand. But you are responsible for fixing this. And you could fix this. Without changing the constitution you could take the most important first step in fixing this. And if you don’t, then you are responsible for destroying the most important democratic branch we’ve got.”
VIDEO: A Cause for Optimism? The Movement to Limit Money in Politics
BILL MOYERS: The Nation magazine, your magazine, published an excerpt from your book earlier this fall. And it prompted a lot of letters, including this one from a reader in Georgia. Let me read it to you. “I’m sure John Nichols and Robert McChesney are correct about the threat to democracy posed by money. But I’ve grown weary and apathetic reading about the powerful rich and how they are buying America. Most Americans like me feel more and more helpless in the face of moneyed power. Tell us how to fight for democracy and don’t say ‘Go out and vote.’ We do that. Until you can give me a solution, no more articles on democracy sliding into decay.” And her name is Virginia S. Anderson from Ellijay, Georgia.
JOHN NICHOLS: Bob and I are probably as big a pair of optimists as you’ll ever meet. And the fact is that we have a great relief in what political theorists and political scientists refer to as critical junctures, points in history where things get to a level where something has to happen. That is the American story. It is not true that the arc of history bends steadily toward justice. The arc of history kind of bends, it gets broken, it bends again. We repair it. But when you reach a real critical juncture, when things get really serious, all of American history tells us that Americans actually start to get serious as well. We let things get pretty bad before we act.
ROBERT McCHESNEY: There’s this enormous movement that’s already taken place beneath the surface that’s not known. We see it all over the country. It’s part of our optimism.
BILL MOYERS: What is it? Where is it?
ROBERT McCHESNEY: It’s a movement that’s first of all to amend the constitution to take money out of politics, to guarantee the right to vote and the right to have your vote counted. Already in this country, 16 states have already petitioned Congress to change the constitution along these lines.
BILL MOYERS: Takes a long time, but I understand what you mean. We’ve done it 27 times before–
ROBERT McCHESNEY: Well–
BILL MOYERS: –including lowering the voting age to 18 in my time.
ROBERT McCHESNEY: 500 communities have already voted. I don’t think we’ve lost a single election. And John and I have looked at other movements like this in the last 50 or 100 years. There’s nothing that compares. This is spreading like wild fire without any news media coverage.
BILL MOYERS: In fact, the big feet of media say, impossible.
ROBERT McCHESNEY: That’s right.
JOHN NICHOLS: And that’s the crisis of it. But here’s the other thing that we think is dramatically undercovered in America. The bipartisan and multi-partisan nature of this movement. You know, I think there’s too much of a tendency, and we should say it straight out, of an awful lot of people to think that reform is sort of a liberal thing, right? That the liberals want to get money out of politics and want to, you know, make our elections work. When you move down out of that money and media election complex in Washington, you get to states like Maine.
When Maine voted to tell Congress to do a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics or to make it possible to get money out of politics, 30 Republicans voted with the Democrats.
The fact is, Bill, it’s happening, but the tragedy is our media so often covers what Ted Cruz is saying, what’s happening in Washington, but it doesn’t go out and cover what people are trying to do about a broken system.
ROBERT McCHESNEY: The system is collapsing. We’re living through the pain now of a corrupt system that isn’t delivering, that’s not addressing the great crises of our times. And that great despair that that brings.
And then ultimately, what every individual has to do, it’s very simple. You’ve got to look in the mirror and understand, you know, if you act like change for the better is impossible, you guarantee it will be impossible. That’s the one decision each individual faces.
VIDEO: Why Transparency Is Critical to Fair Elections
BILL MOYERS: So how do we change the game? The Supreme Court has essentially said, “Money is speech, corporations are people. Therefore under the First Amendment a government cannot stop corporations from spending almost anything they want to spend.” That’s pretty awesome. How do you change it?
MONIKA BAUERLEIN: The start really probably is information. Because even to us, you know, when we work on these stories a lot of the time it’s not so much outrage that grips us as it is astonishment. You know, we follow this stuff for a living and we’re still flabbergasted some of the time at what we find. And transparency, fortunately, is not something the Supreme Court stops us from doing.
The Supreme Court came right out and said, “Transparency is a good thing. It’s Congress’ job to make sure there is transparency. You over there, take care of that.” Knowing full well, of course, that it’s very, very difficult to get an incumbent in Congress to mandate transparency. But in theory there’s nothing to stop the Congress from passing fantastic disclosure legislation tomorrow.
BILL MOYERS: Well, in fact there was a Disclose Act introduced a couple of years ago and the Republicans killed it. Mitch McConnell in the Senate killed the Disclose Act. That’s not very encouraging.
CLARA JEFFERY: But it’s back. It’s back. It’s winding its way through Congress again. And this time John McCain, for example, who did not speak out for it the last time, has started to speak out on its behalf. So there is a chance that that could pass.
MONIKA BAUERLEIN: And then once you have that and you no longer have dark money filling every crevasse of the political system and there’s sunshine on some of these activities, then you can start having a conversation about do we want this to happen? Who is buying and selling your politics for you? And with that comes potentially momentum for change.
CLARA JEFFERY: Shame. Shame is a great motivator. And sunshine would allow, you know, us to see who is doing this and for what reason. And in real time. I mean that’s completely possible. It’s not like, you know, in the days of old where if someone gave money the FEC couldn’t possibly know for a full quarter. I mean they can know right away. We just need the laws to demand that transparency happen immediately.
MONIKA BAUERLEIN: In fact we have fantastic tools. I mean now with what’s available online you could really make this kind of information available in real time to voters in every channel imaginable. You could annotate every political statement with pop up video showing who paid for it.
CLARA JEFFERY: Create a Twitter stream showing exactly who gave when and what, you know, in real time. So that’s all technologically possible. It’s just a matter of pressuring Congress first to pass the Disclose Act or something like it and to have similar measures in the state houses. And just to bring some transparency back. And really what can be the argument against transparency?
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, what can be the argument against transparency?
CLARA JEFFERY: Not a good one that can think of. I mean, I can see all kinds of reasons why corporations and other vested interests wouldn’t want people to know that they’re doing this, but it’s really hard to make an argument, a public argument.
VIDEO: Why Publicly Funded Elections Are Good for America
BILL MOYERS: How would public funding work?
JONATHAN SOROS: Well, it can work a lot of different ways. We’re, for obvious reasons it’s most useful to point to New York City when you’re in New York state. Here we have a system in the city if you’re running for citywide office or for city council, any contribution up to— you qualify to get into the system, you elect to be in the system, it’s voluntary. Then any contribution up to $175 is matched six to one–
BILL MOYERS: By the public?
JONATHAN SOROS: By the public. Out of a pool from the general fund from the budget. And that has had a dramatic transformative effect in the way that funds are raised.
BILL MOYERS: How so?
JONATHAN SOROS: First of all, the level of small donation. The Campaign Finance Institute and the Brennan Center have done some great research and produced some beautiful maps showing the difference in the two systems. If you look at a map of state assembly races in New York City and how many small contributions there are for those races, there are almost none throughout the entire city. Look at the same map of New York City for city council races, it’s covered.
There are small contributions coming from every neighborhood, even the poorest neighborhoods in the city people who are running for office are reaching out to their constituents, ordinary citizens, they’re having house parties in people’s living rooms, not large, you know, large, check, fundraisers. And the statistics are that the people who participate in the system get the majority of their funding from small contributors and only a small minority of what you, what are still large contributions of, you know, $1,000 and up.
DAN CANTOR: This is a gigantic change. I mean, people should appreciate who gets to run for office when you have a system like this. Librarians run for office, ex-teachers run for office. It’s not just people who have a rolodex of prospective donors who get to run for office. And it’s good for the candidates and the voters alike.
You, there’s a lot of middle class and working class people who can write, who can put that $10 and $20 and $50 together. That’s worth $70 or $140 or $350 to the candidate. So it makes a house party with 30 people at which you raise $1,000, which takes a couple of hours, it’s worth $7,000. That’s a real thing that the candidate can then use because we actually need money to run campaigns. They have to have mailers and staff and so on.
BILL MOYERS: So if I were to run for the city council or some other office in New York City and I announce that I’m going to enter this system and I get you to give me how much?
DAN CANTOR: Forty dollars.
BILL MOYERS: And if you give me $40 what happens?
DAN CANTOR: Then the city fund gives you $240 on top of that. So that’s a $280 contribution. That’s a big contribution. And it means to me as a voter I have a little skin in the game and I’m going to pay attention to you. So it totally changes kind of the relationship between the candidate and the donor, that a lot of small donors. And also we, you know, we favor people putting a little money in.
We don’t, if you can’t go out, if you’re running for office and you can’t find 300 or 400 people to give you $20, you have no business running for office. So we’re not looking for, it’s a little bit of private money and then some public money. But then you don’t have to just spend your time as an elected official should you win, in the unlikely event that you win, you then don’t have to spend your time mostly worrying about how to get those $2,000 and $3,000 checks.
BILL MOYERS: But public funding did not stop Mike Bloomberg from spending a small fortune.
JONATHAN SOROS: A large fortune.
BILL MOYERS: A large fortune on his three elections.
JONATHAN SOROS: That’s true. But it did allow his opponent to run a credible campaign.