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  • BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company

  • JONATHAN SOROS: Money will find a way into politics.

  • DAN CANTOR: Money doesn’t talk, it swears. So were

  • trying to turn down the ability of money to control things.

  • JONATHAN SOROS: For our democracy we cannot rely on disagreements

  • among rich people.

  • BILL MOYERS: And

  • MARTÍN ESPADA: There’s something about poetry that saves

  • me. There’s something about poetry that energizes me that brings me to another plane.

  • Fires all the hormones, I don’t know what. Something intangible and yet tangible at the

  • same time.

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  • BILL MOYERS: Welcome. At the State of the Union speech,

  • there’s always more than meets the eye. Just out of sight is the reality of how we

  • are governed. The House of Representatives, where Congress gathers to hear the President,

  • used to be known asThe People’s House.” But money power owns the lease now and runs

  • the joint from hidden back rooms.

  • You're looking at the most expensive Congress money can buy. The House races last fall cost

  • over one billion dollars. It took more than $700 million to elect just a third of the

  • Senate. The two presidential candidates raised more than a billion a piece. The website Politico

  • added it all up to find that the total number of dollars spent on the 2012 election exceeded

  • the number of people on this planet -- some seven billion.

  • Most of it didn’t come from the average Joe and Jane. Sixty percent of all super PAC

  • donations came from just 159 people. And the top 32 super PAC donors gave an average of

  • 9.9 million dollars. Think how many teachers that much money could hire.

  • Well never actually know where all of the money comes from. One third of the billion

  • dollars from outside groups wasdark money,” secret funds anonymously funneled through

  • fictionalsocial welfareorganizations. Those are front groups, created to launder

  • the money inside the deep pockets.

  • And don't let anyone ever tell you the money didn't make a difference. More than 80 percent

  • of House candidates and two-thirds of Senate candidates who outspent their general election

  • opponents won, and were present and counted as the new Congress prepared to hear the President.

  • Remember, money doesn't necessarily corrupt legislators, but it certainly tilts them.

  • HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER at the State of the Union:

  • Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you, the

  • President of the United States.

  • BILL MOYERS: So let's share some snapshots from the State

  • of the Union. That’s Speaker of the House John Boehner, of course. He's led his party

  • to protect Wall Street from oversight and accountability. The finance, insurance, and

  • real estate industries gave him more than three million dollars last year.

  • Eric Cantor is the Republican majority leader in the House. Among his biggest donors--Goldman

  • Sachs, masterminds of the mortgage-backed securities that almost sank the world economy.

  • Cantor’s also the third largest recipient of money from the National Rifle Association

  • in the House, which is one reason he's such a "big gun" there.

  • Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, may be in hot water. He's currently under

  • investigation for allegations that he improperly intervened with government agencies on behalf

  • of a big donor.

  • And there's Fred Upton, Republican from Michigan, chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

  • What a coincidence. The oil and gas industry is one of his top donors, helping him raise

  • the four million dollars he spent last year to win re-election.

  • Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrats of New York, have Wall

  • Street as a constituent and patron. Her biggest contributors include JPMorgan Chase, Morgan

  • Stanley, Goldman Sachs and law firms that have advised them. His top donors include

  • securities and investment firms, lawyers and legal firms, and lobbyists.

  • And there are fleeting glances of some familiar faces here tonight seen recently on our broadcast.

  • Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader in the Senate, Republican Orrin Hatch

  • of Utah, and Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana. All cited by "The New York Times"

  • as suspects in that mysterious migration of half a billion dollars from taxpayers over

  • to the bottom line of drug companies, especially the pharmaceutical giant Amgen. Would it surprise

  • you to learn that over the past five years, Amgen has been one of the top ten donors to

  • McConnell, Baucus, and Hatch?

  • As for our president--by attending a fundraiser on the average of every 60 hours during his

  • bid for a second term, he once again broke the record for bringing home the bacon. Although

  • the money power that controls Congress could thwart everything Obama proposed in his State

  • of the Union address, there was not a single word in his speech about taming the power

  • of private money over public policy.

  • And so it goes: The golden rule of politics. He who has the gold, rules.

  • Can we do anything about it?

  • My two guests think we can. They say that if anybody should own the politicians, we

  • the people should. Dan Cantor is a former community and union organizer who’s executive

  • director of the Working Families Party. That's a third party that began in New York State

  • and has now spread to five others. Since its launch fifteen years ago, he's helped lead

  • the party's efforts to elect progressive candidates throughout the state and worked to increase

  • New York's minimum wage and raise taxes on the rich.

  • Jonathan Soros is one of those who would pay more. He's a lawyer, investor and philanthropist

  • working on economic change and social goods. A senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute

  • exploring the role of corporations in society, and co-founder of the super PAC Friends of

  • Democracy, which aims to counter the influence of money in politicsan irony we'll discuss

  • later.

  • Dan and Jonathan are on the front lines of the fight to make New York State a national

  • model for the public financing of political campaigns. Welcome to you both.

  • DAN CANTOR: Thank you so much.

  • JONATHAN SOROS Glad to be here.

  • BILL MOYERS: What an odd couple you are. Jonathan, you're

  • a lawyer, a man of means, you're active in finance among other things. Daniel, you are

  • a street fighter who cut your teeth organizing labor. In fact New York Magazine once called

  • you the very model of a grassroots political boss. What is, briefly, the Working Families

  • Party?

  • DAN CANTOR: So Working Families is a political party organized

  • under the laws of New York more or less in an alliance with the Democrats. We try to

  • yank the Democrats in what we think to be a sensible, humane, progressive direction.

  • We get about five percent of the vote statewide, but in some target races we can get as much

  • as 15 percent, 20 percent, 22 percent.

  • BILL MOYERS: Who funds you?

  • DAN CANTOR: So it's a variety of individual donors. We

  • raise, we do a lot of door-knocking. That's about 25 percent of our donations. Unions,

  • individuals, you know, we scuffle, we do fundraising events. It's not a high donor operation, but

  • we try to keep, you know, keep the doors open.

  • BILL MOYERS: So Jonathan, what drew you to this rabble

  • rouser?

  • JONATHAN SOROS: Well, Dan and I first worked together probably

  • about a decade ago as we were taking on the question of Rockefeller drug laws in New York

  • State. And then he came back to me you know, a little over a year ago. Dan's been working

  • as part of a terrific coalition of groups, the New York Fair Elections Coalition, that

  • have been promoting campaign finance reform for a number of years in New York state. He

  • knew that I had a lot of interest in this issue for a long time. And so we--

  • BILL MOYERS: What, where does, where'd that interest come

  • from?

  • JONATHAN SOROS: My first real job out of college, I ended

  • up spending almost two months in Moldova, the Republic of Moldova, working with a USAID-funded

  • foundation dealing with their first ever parliamentary elections. I was there on the ground for two

  • months. That was my first taste of really how rules matter, in the way that elections

  • are conducted, and how sometimes the unwritten rules matter too--

  • BILL MOYERS: The unwritten rules? Such as?

  • JONATHAN SOROS: Well, so there were, there weren't great rules

  • about campaign finance in Moldova. You know, their first ever elections, there was, you

  • know, a lot of use of state funds in electioneering. Folks who were sitting in the parliament were,

  • an existing parliament were running around in state cars, doing their campaigning.

  • BILL MOYERS: This has been a communist governed country?

  • JONATHAN SOROS: Communist governed country. And then I had

  • a great, I had a great teacher in law school, Lani Guinier, who really opened my eyes to

  • a number of issues related democratic process. And it's been a set of issues that I've cared

  • about ever since.

  • BILL MOYERS: What are you after in New York state?

  • JONATHAN SOROS: So we're after a comprehensive system of campaign

  • finance reform. I got involved in this really actively after Citizens United on the belief

  • that there is still despite the Supreme Court's rulings that there is a suite of reforms that

  • would be transformative in the way that money flows in and around politics. And that's now

  • on the table in New York state. It starts with disclosure obviously. But it really focuses

  • around what we're calling citizen funding, a form of public financing that allows candidates

  • the opportunity, gives them the option to run for public office without dependence on

  • large contributions and independent expenditures. That's really what we're, what we're seeking

  • to achieve.

  • DAN CANTOR: I mean, I think his point about rules is really

  • worth underlining, right. Better rules product better outcomes whether it's in elections

  • or for that matter in the finance industry. There's economic inequality, you've talked

  • a lot about that on this show over the years. But there's also political inequality. And

  • this effort is an attempt to deal with at least that second one a little bit.

  • But if you deal with political inequality, we have a system that should be one person,

  • one vote, not one dollar, one vote, you'll affect other things besides the elections

  • themselves. The, we have a non-virtuous system right now in which wealth gets power, uses

  • the power to increase its wealth. You know, Justice Brandeis' famous comment about how

  • you can have a great concentrations of wealth or you can have a democracy, but you can't

  • have both. So we're at a moment in this society it seems to us which we have to make a decision.

  • And we need to create a system that voters themselves will have more confidence in. Because

  • right now when you knock on doors people are, they're pretty cynical that things can change.

  • BILL MOYERS: Isn't the governor of New York, Governor Cuomo,

  • on your side? Listen to what he said in his State of the State speech in January.

  • GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO: We must enact campaign finance reform because

  • people believe that campaigns are financed by someone else at exorbitant rates […] implement

  • a public finance system based in NYC. It works well in NYC it will work well in NY state.

  • BILL MOYERS: Do you think he's serious?

  • JONATHAN SOROS: I do think he's serious.

  • BILL MOYERS: How will he prove he's serious?

  • JONATHAN SOROS: Well, he'll prove his seriousness by getting

  • this bill passed in the coming legislature. Campaign, I think we can have confidence that

  • the governor will be able to pass something that is called campaign finance reform in

  • this state. The real test and measure is going to be whether it includes this citizen funding.

  • 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. And the election was pretty darn close.