In this essay, Bill examines how the Citizens United decision has candidates campaigning for cash more than votes, and how that money — pouring into TV ads and high-paid political consultants — is creating “a racket, plain and simple.”
BILL MOYERS: Like everyone else, I watched the movie of the week, that clandestine video from Mitt Romney’s fundraiser in Florida. I thought, we now have a record of what our modern day, wealthy gentry really thinks about the rest of us, and it’s not pretty. On the other hand, it’s also not news. If you had reported as long as some of us have on winner-take-all politics and the unenlightened assumptions of the moneyed class, you wouldn’t find the remarks of Romney and his pals all that exceptional. The resentment, disdain, and contempt with which they privately view those beneath them are an old story.
The video, in fact, called to mind our first Gilded Age, back in the late 19th century when the celebrated New York dandy of the time, Frederick Townsend Martin, summed up the era when he declared, “We are the rich; we own America; we got it, God knows how, but we intend to keep it.”
And so they do, as that glitzy gathering in Florida reminds us. You could see and hear one of the guests ask Mitt Romney:
AUDIENCE MEMBER But what do we do? Just tell us what we can help….
MITT ROMNEY: Frankly, what I need you to do is to raise millions of dollars, because the president’s going to have about $800 to $900 million. And that’s – that’s by far the most important thing you could do.
BILL MOYERS: The governor’s being truthful there, because as we heard from Trevor Potter, money rules these campaigns. If there were more secret videos from other candidates, we would see them in equally compromised positions -- bowing and scraping in their infernal pursuit of campaign cash, bending over backwards to suffer the advice that the privileged think their money entitles them.
And I do mean both parties. Not far from this studio the other night, at a Manhattan fundraiser hosted by Jay-Z and Beyoncé, President Obama joked, “If somebody here has a $10 million check -- I can’t solicit it from you, but feel free to use it wisely.” At least, I think he was joking. Obama and Romney alike now shape their schedules as much around moneymaking events as rallies and town halls. They’ll change the campaign jet’s flight plan and make a special landing just for the cold, hard cash.
This folks, is a racket, plain and simple. All that spending by the parties, corporations, super PACs and other outside groups will push political ad spending up this year by half a billion dollars, 25 percent higher than 2010. The biggest increase in history. That prompted the CEO of CBS, Leslie Moonves, to lick his chops and tell investors last December, “There’s going to be a lot of money spent. I’m not saying that’s the best thing for America, but it’s not a bad thing for the CBS Corporation.”
So we journalists can’t stop reporting on this, even though we’re often told, “Please. Change the subject. Everyone’s tired of this one. ” I’m not so sure. Trevor Potter sees a groundswell for rooting the money out of politics, as Americans come to see that this is the one reform that enables other reforms. And two polls released in the last few days report large majorities, as many as eight in ten of you, are in favor of clamping down on the amount of money that corporations, the super-rich, and those shadowy outside groups are pouring into the campaigns. It’s up to all of us to put a sign on every lawn and stoop in the land: “Our democracy is not for sale.”
That’s why next week we’ll investigate yet another way in which corporate forces and their political allies are flying underneath the public’s radar, with the help of a front group that goes by the innocent-sounding name, ALEC:
STATE SEN. STEVE FARLEY I’ve often told people that I talk to out on the campaign trail. When they say, “state what?” when I say I’m running for the state legislature. I tell them that the decisions that are made here in the legislature are often more important for your everyday life than the decisions the president makes.
JOHN NICHOLS If you really want to influence the politics of this country you don’t just give money to presidential campaigns, you don’t just give money to congressional campaign committees. The smart players put their money in states.
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN ALEC has forged a unique partnership between state legislators and leaders from the corporate and business community. This partnership offers businessmen the unique opportunity to apply their talents to solve our nation’s problems and build on our opportunities.
LISA GRAVES I was stunned at the notion that politicians and corporate representatives, corporate lobbyists were actually voting behind closed doors on these changes to the law before they were introduced in statehouses across the country.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: ALEC, has been I think a wonderful organization. Not only does it bring like-minded legislators together. But the private sector engagement in partnership in ALEC is really what I think makes it the organization that it is.
BILL MOYERS: That’s next week’s program. Meanwhile, at BillMoyers.com, our colleague Laura Flanders has a web-exclusive interview on Occupy Wall Street’s first anniversary, and whether its campaign to fight income inequality has made a difference. She talks with journalist Arun Gupta and author and activist Marina Sitrin.
LAURA FLANDERS: Occupy Wall Street got a drubbing in a lot of the press on the anniversary. You had “The New York Times” talking about a "fad" and, you know, "talk is cheap." How do you respond to that, Marina?
MARINA SITRIN: To find out what Occupy is doing, you'd actually have to dig a little deeper and see that Occupy has kind of re-territorialized itself.
ARUN GUPTA: Occupy put the public space back in society. And it recreated the public so that people could come into these spaces and say, like, "Hey, I'm unemployed and can't find a job. Person next to me, their home is in foreclosure. This other person, they have this huge student debt. Someone else, they lack health care." And they see their problems as all the same, because the culprit is all the same, Wall Street.
BILL MOYERS: That’s at BillMoyers.com, where you also can find out more about the people and organizations working to get money out of politics. You can help. I’ll see you there and see you here, next time.