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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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These vast amounts of cash, much of it from anonymous sources, have rightly been described as "dark money," and few have pursued the dark money trail more vigilantly than the people who coined that phrase, the hard working journalists at Mother Jones magazine.

Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein have been the co-editors of Mother Jones since 2006. Clara Jeffery was senior editor at Harper's Magazine and worked at "Washington City Paper" in Washington, DC. Monika Bauerlein was the investigative editor of Mother Jones and an editor at "City Pages" in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Their "Dark Money" project is produced with support from the Schumann Media Center, of which I'm president; their latest issue of Mother Jones is a spellbinding look at dark money's history in the forty years since the Watergate scandal brought down Richard Nixon in a tangled web of break-ins and bagmen.

Welcome to both of you.

Clara Jeffery: Thank you very much.

Monika Bauerlein: Thank you Bill.

Bill Moyers: Love your cover. "Want To Buy An Election?" Dracula with has jacket open and an American flag in it. "Want To Buy An Election?"

Both parties play this game. Both parties raise as much money as they can, go as close to the law as they can, will do almost anything to raise it. But is there some distinction between the money that flows through the Republican Party and the money that flows through the Democratic Party?

Monika Bauerlein: It used to be more equivalent than it is today. We remember covering the Clinton era scandals and at that time, that was really a time when we saw the Democratic Party being, turning to big business and to Wall Street for funding that was no longer coming from organized labor and other Democratic constituencies. But now it's the money coming from conservative and deregulatory interests is so much larger and so much—

Clara Jeffery: More extreme.

Monika Bauerlein: Better focused in many ways, that it puts to shame what Democrats can do.

Clara Jeffery: I mean let's look back at Obama's ability to raise, you know, a pretty decent amount of money from Wall Street. And, you know, Obama managed, for better or for worse, the response to the recession. Did not come down heavily on the banks. Did not, you know, no one's in jail. There's been some scolding but nothing's really happened to the hedge fund managers. To the big banks. And yet that money is not 100 percent, but close to 100 percent going to Romney this time because those interests see in Romney and see in the Republicans that their agenda is going to be pushed to where they want it. That it is a more extreme, pro-business, deregulatory climate that the Republican party is eager to usher in.

Monika Bauerlein: Both sides can play this game but Republicans have an inherent advantage in that their natural constituency has a lot more money. Outside expenditures, the kind of money that we tend to refer to as dark money, is, you know, about two thirds to three fourths Republican and the rest is on the Democratic side. I'm sure Democrats and liberals in general would take more of that kind of money if it were—

Clara Jeffery: Sure.

Monika Bauerlein: —available, but it's just not.

Bill Moyers: Mother Jones was the first I saw that used the term "dark money." What were you after there? Why that term?

Clara Jeffery: Well, we were searching around for a metaphor and we had some celestial inspiration, as it were, because like dark matter, which is something that's in the universe and we know is very powerful but we don't really understand it and we can't really see it and we're only beginning to be able to measure it, that's true of dark money especially since Citizens United. There's just so much unregulated, undisclosed money flowing through super PACs and their 501(c)s that are going to candidates. And, to paraphrase John McCain, very often we don't know where the money's coming from, who it's going to, what its purpose is. It's just out there. We can see the effects of it later but we don't really know in anything close to real time what's being raised and spent.

 
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