Welcome Robert W. McChesney (University of Illinois) (Open Democracy), John Nichols (The Nation) (Twitter), and Host Richard J. Eskow (HuffingtonPost) (Truthout) (Senior Fellow, Campaign For America’s Future)

Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America

Corruption: Impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle: depravity … a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct.  –Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

The word “corruption” does not appear in the title or subtitle of the latest book by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, which is called Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America. But the word resonates on every page. American democracy has been profoundly corrupted by the – usually legal – infusion of billions of dollars into the political process, and this jeremiad against corruption comes at a critical historical moment.

Nichols and McChesney wisely interweave the degeneration of independent American media with the growing dominance of big-money interests in political campaign, noting that “The moneyed interests are confident, even in the face of temporary setbacks, that they will be able to continue in their initiative because they are well served by the rapid decline in the news media as a checking and balancing force on our politics.”

This is a vital connection that too often goes unrecognized in discussions of money in politics. The concept of an “informed electorate” has become a truism in American politics, but it’s no cliché. Information is the lifeblood of democracy, and the authors have wisely recognized that the loss of an independent, truth-seeking media is half of our political problem.

There’s a reason why revolutionaries always seized the broadcasting stations first in an uprising.

Dollarocracy tells the story of the Fourth Estate’s decline over the last several decades, as big-money interests acquired press outlets while politicians took steps to weaken government requirements for accuracy and fairness in journalism. That laid the groundwork for the creation of Fox News which, as Eric Boehlert says in a trenchant quote, “altered the game by unchaining itself from the moral groundings of U.S. journalism.”

The story of media decline is interwoven with the growing influence of large donors on the political process, including some important data:

The 2012 election cost $10 billion.

That’s twice the cost of the 2008 election.

It’s ten times what was spent a generation ago.

Despite the massive generic unpopularity of Congress, 90 percent of Congressional districts have been gerrymandered to be “safe seats” for the incumbents.

Small donors are a small part of the campaign finance system.

The authors remind us that the exclusion of third-party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson from Presidential debates, despite the fact that both clearly qualified for them under most reasonable measures, helped ensure that the 2012 political debate was limited to relatively innocuous differences of opinion between the two major party candidates. (That’s when they did differ: As Barack Obama said in one such debate, “I suspect that on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position.”)

Nichols and McChesney offer a clear set of possible solutions for this crisis of democracy which include publicly-funded elections, free airtime for candidates, transparency in advertising, and a repeal of the artificial “corporate personhood” doctrine granting “rights” to corporations.

The idea that money is destroying democracy seems to be obvious on its face, so it’s tempting to assume that a book on the topic would be an exercise in stating the obvious. Far from it: Dollarocracy is engaging and enlightening, regularly providing the reader with new information while reorganizing what she or he may know in helpful ways.

If we have any quarrel with the authors, it’s a minor one: They say in the preface that “This is a radical book in the best sense of the term,” reminding us of Martin Luther King Jr’s words: “When you are right you cannot be too radical.”

But while we are great fans of the best kinds of American radicalism, polling suggests that the views in Dollarocracy are squarely in the American mainstream. A Gallup poll conducted last month found that half of those polled supported publicly funded elections, while a “vast majority supports limiting campaign spending and contributions.”

Nichols and McChesney have performed a valuable public service in writing Dollarocracy. They’ve also produced an eminently readable book.

About the authors:

John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written The Nation’s Online Beat since 1999 is their Washington DC correspondent contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times, he is also the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and dozens of other newspapers and he is a frequent guest on radio and television programs as a commentator on politics and media issues. Nichols lives in Madison, WI and Washington DC.

Robert W. McChesney is the Gutgsell Endowed Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the author or editor of sixteen books. He is the President and co-founder of Free Press, a national media reform organization. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and Champaign, Illinois.


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