90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Thursday, October 25, 2012

Through Music, ‘Money Is Speech’ Shows How Campaign Dollars Flow

A screenshot from the music video for “Money is Speech: A Musical History of Campaign Finance.”

This presidential race is expected to be the most expensive in history with President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney raising nearly $900 million between them. But that’s just what the campaigns have raised.

Super PACs have taken in another $870 million, and are spending their money mainly on attack ads. The influence of these Super PACs was made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that struck down limits on corporate and union political spending.

President Obama has suggested a constitutional amendment to overturn that decision. Gov. Romney and other Republicans say it’s time to get rid of limits on how much money people can donate to candidates. They argue that will allow for transparency, and divert the money from super PACs and back to the candidates.

The non-profit news organization Pro Publica teamed up with Explainer Music to put the history of campaign finance reform to music. The tune illustrates how each time a new election law or rule is passed, the system finds a way around it.

Read and listen to previous Here & Now coverage of campaign finance:

Transcript: ‘Money Is Speech’

Act I: Brown Paper Bags

“I made my mistakes, but in all my years of public life, I have never profited [from
public service]. I’ve earned every cent.” (Richard Nixon)

“Money is speech.” (Jeff Greenfield)
“The more speech the better.” (Antonin Scalia)
“Money is speech.” (Jeff Greenfield)
“I’ve earned every cent.” (Richard Nixon)
“Money is speech.” (Jeff Greenfield)
“The more speech the better.” (Antonin Scalia)
“I don’t like all the influence of money in politics.” (Mitt Romney)

When people think of Watergate they think of a break-in
But they don’t mention the money that Nixon was taking
From wealthy donors to help him get reelected
Nixon paid them back in favors just like they expected

To battle corruption Congress passed a new law
Capping contributions to a candidate’s haul
The source of the donations had to be disclosed too
And the FEC was formed to enforce the new rules

Some who felt the law went against the Constitution sued
Saying limits on money limited free speech too
So the courts kept the cap on how much you can donate
But said spending was unlimited by an outside group or candidate

That meant no more spending limits to promote a cause
Or to point out a rival campaign’s flaws
So while candidates once snuck around with brown paper bags
From then on they raised money publicly or left it to PACs

“Money is speech.” (Jeff Greenfield)
“The more speech the better.” (Antonin Scalia)
“Money is speech.” (Jeff Greenfield)
“I’ve earned every cent.” (Richard Nixon)
“Money is speech.” (Jeff Greenfield)
“The more speech the better.” (Antonin Scalia)
“I don’t like all the influence of money in politics.” (Mitt Romney)

Act II: Soft Money

“We should also curb the role of big money in elections by capping the cost of
campaigns…” (Bill Clinton)

In the 80s and 90s, there was a new gimmick:
“Soft money” that’s disclosed but had no limits
It’s supposed to cover each party’s expenses
But guys like Clinton used it to help their election chances

There was just one problem, Clinton’s party was broke
So he asked for more money every time he spoke
And in return for the 100 million dollar cash-in
He let donors use the Lincoln Bedroom to crash in

Then the “scandal and reform” cycle happened again
And legislation was proposed by Feingold and McCain
It capped donations to parties, ending soft funds
And banned corporate/union issue ads right before elections

But with each new reform comes new loopholes
Tax exempt “527s” arose
Because they weren’t explicit about whom they supported
Many still raised money without limits to thwart them

“Money is speech.” (Jeff Greenfield)
“The more speech the better.” (Antonin Scalia)
“Money is speech.” (Jeff Greenfield)
“I’ve earned every cent.” (Richard Nixon)
“Money is speech.” (Jeff Greenfield)
“The more speech the better.” (Antonin Scalia)
“The rules are what they are…” (Jay Carney)

Act III: Super PACs and Non-Profits

“I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful
interests.” (Barack Obama)

But the most outside money was yet to be spent
Some argued spending limits broke the first amendment
“Corporations and unions are entitled to free speech”
They took it to court, the Supreme Court agreed.

Super PACs can raise as much money as they want
They can also use union and corporate funds
The only rule is they cannot coordinate
With a specific party or a specific candidate

But reform opponents weren’t quite done yet
They found new uses for 501(c)(4) non-profits
Which are a lot like Super PACs with more mystery
They haven’t had to disclose donors ever in history

Whether Republican or Democrat you might believe
That spending limits jeopardize our freedom of speech
But with each new cycle of deregulation
More money is being injected into our elections

Transcript and video provided by Pro Publica.

Guest:


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Spotlight

Here & Now resident chef and cookbook author Kathy Gunst shares her list of the best cookbooks of the year.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

December 18 Comment

College Counselor: ‘A Deferral Is Not A Denial’

Lisa Micele shares tips for applying to college — especially for students who have been deferred under early decision.

December 18 15 Comments

America’s Political Dynasties

Americans under 38 have only experienced one presidential election that did not involve a Bush or a Clinton.

December 17 2 Comments

Atticus Lish’s ‘Preparation For The Next Life’

The author's debut novel centers on an unlikely romance between an Iraq veteran and a Uyghur from China.

December 17 3 Comments

Diagnosing Ear Infections With Your Smartphone

The CellScope Oto is a clip-on gadget that turns a smartphone into an otoscope — the tool doctors use to check out a patient's eardrum.