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Bill Moyers: Thomas Frank and Mother Jones on the Vast, Corrupting Power of Money in Politics

When it comes to the vast, corrupting influence of money in politics, historian Thomas Frank has sounded the alarm loudly and often.

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Bill Moyers: I want to show you an ad that I think is a perfect example of dark money. Your reporter, marvelous reporter, Andy Kroll, as the Wisconsin recall was taking place, followed the money back to a Virginia based super PAC called The Coalition For American Values, which spent something like $300,000 on ad time in each of Wisconsin's seven major media markets. But let me play this ad for you.

Karen, Teacher: I didn't vote for Governor Walker.

Linda, Contract Administrator: I did not vote for Scott Walker.

Tim, Machinist: I didn't vote for Scott Walker, but I'm definitely against this recall.

Jim, Restaurateur: Recall isn't the Wisconsin way.

Karen: There's a right way. There's a wrong way. I think this is the wrong way.

Jim: I elected him to do a job.

Bob, Hospitality: Let him serve it out.

Bob, Purchasing Agent: Living in a democracy you have to have faith in who the people elect.

Chad, Foreman: I didn't vote for Scott Walker but I'm against the recall.

Joe, Laborer: And I agree. I agree with you.

Woman's Voice: End the recall madness. Vote for Scott Walker June fifth.

Monika Bauerlein: That ad is really a perfect example of what we call dark money because, as you saw at the very end. It names a treasurer. And that is literally the sum total of the information really that's available about this group. You know, when our reporter, Andy Kroll, tried to figure out who was behind this ad buy he found, you know, a P.O. Box in Milwaukee that leads to a P.O. Box in Virginia, that leads to nothing. And that is possible now, especially in the wake of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision. And it doesn't allow voters to make up their own mind about where this message this very sensible sounding message from, you know, Bob and Chad and so forth is coming from.

Bill Moyers: And the message is, you know, people would say it's a legitimate message. If you may not believe that recall was the way to punish the governor or—

Clara Jeffery: Sure. And interestingly a lot of people who declare that they didn't really like Walker or his policies, but they did not vote to recall him because they did not think this was the right remedy. Now would they have had that opinion so firmly with if the state had not been bombarded by these ads for a week ahead of time? It's impossible to say. But what we can say is that this group, you know, Andy was able to figure this out the day before the election. That this group was dumping all this money in and who they were as best we know. But that's still precious little information for the voters of Wisconsin to really judge who's trying to influence them.

Bill Moyers: What does it mean that the money can't be traced? That the public, the voters, the other candidate, the opponents, cannot figure out who's putting up this money. What are the implications of that?

Monika Bauerlein: Well, that's really the question that you want to know as a participant in a policy debate is who is my opponent? Who am I debating? And what is their motivation for making the argument that they're making? That's all part of the totality of information that in a democracy citizens should have available to them. And with dark money that's really not possible because you get a message, a very well crafted, stage managed message, and you can't assess for yourself whether the person telling you this has an ulterior motive. And that's why historically we've had conflict of interest laws and we've looked at lobbying disclosure and we've looked at, we've had legislation limiting how much money you can invest in a political campaign because people fully understand that those vested interests make a difference.

 
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