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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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And the answer it turned out is nobody. Everybody likes to hide behind an organization with an innocuous name like Americans for Prosperity and, you know, Americans for Apple Pie. And spend unlimited, unregulated money without any scrutiny and any disclosure.

Clara Jeffery: Or they give their money to the Chamber knowing full well that the Chamber will spend their money, generally, to eliminate regulations that are onerous to businesses, whether they're clean water and clean air act type of regulations or tax regulations or, you know, pushing for things that are would reign in the sub-prime industry. That the Chamber of Commerce is going to try and make it the least friction to business as possible. And so corporations don't want to be known that they've dumped a ton of money into one particular race, but they can give money to the Chamber with the full knowledge that the Chamber will do it. And, furthermore, the Chamber then has filtered money through things like the Republican's Governor Association, so it's this just, you know, ever-changing, complicated set of, like three card Monty where the money's under there and it eventually gets to where they want it to go, but you can't really trace it.

Monika Bauerlein: It's particularly bad at the state level, actually. That's something that even people who have followed the evolution of dark money don't really fully understand. Is that at the federal level it created this new structure of super PACs and, you know, 501(c)s and so forth, but at the state level a national or federal organization can go into Wisconsin, register as a politically active corporation, check a box on a form, and never tell anybody anything other than, "Yes, our income comes from, you know, another P.O. Box in another state which gets its income from another P.O. Box in another state."

Bill Moyers: Should you be and we be looking at the money going into the races for Congress and the Senate as much as we look at the money going into the presidential race?

Clara Jeffery: Maybe more so.

Monika Bauerlein: If not more so. We will be looking at it very closely. And you know what else, we will be looking at that nobody is really paying attention to yet is if you can get a lot of bang for your buck in a state-wide election like this one and you might be able to get even more bang for your buck in targeting a few seats in a state House and swinging the majority in a state legislature you can get untold bang for your buck in a judicial race.

If you decide to invest in removing a judge who is in a habit of ruling in favor of consumers, for instance, or for upholding government regulations, if you can get rid of those people, as people have done. There have been fascinating John Grisham-worthy cases of corporations and corporate executives specifically investing in judicial races.

Clara Jeffery: Like our old friend Bob "Swift Boat" Perry, who has given money to every single member of the Texas Supreme Court, which—

Bill Moyers: In their race for office?

Clara Jeffery: Uh-huh. Which ruled in his favor regarding a lawsuit involving the sort of quality and conditions of-- he makes his money by being a mass-- the biggest home builder in America. And basically people who were suing him for having shoddy construction. You know, they ruled in his favor. It's impossible to say that they wouldn't have otherwise, but here's the thing. The appearance of corruption is almost as bad as actual corruption because it just makes people think that they have no stake in their government.

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