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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 as "The 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.

We'll never actually know where all of the money comes from. One third of the billion dollars from outside groups was "dark money," secret funds anonymously funneled through fictional "social welfare" organizations. 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.

So let's share some snapshots from the State of the Union. Speaker of the House John Boehner 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.

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.

Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Learn more at

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Comment Preferences

  •  Your presence here is a treasure (5+ / 0-)

    Your decades-long exposure of the corrosive effect of $ on politics has always been essential reading.   Your penultimate 'graf sums up the primary problem we now face--the fact that 2 of our branches are largely for sale is no longer even a part of our political discourse.

    Today's NYT tells us that the Roberts Court is ready to further chip away at the few campaign finance laws that remain:

    The central question is in one way modest and in another ambitious. It challenges only aggregate limits — overall caps on contributions to several candidates or committees — and does not directly attack the more familiar basic limits on contributions to individual candidates or committees. Should the court agree that those overall limits are unconstitutional, however, its decision could represent a fundamental reassessment of a basic distinction established in Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, which said contributions may be regulated more strictly than expenditures because of their potential for corruption.

    The case was brought by Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama man, and the Republican National Committee. Mr. McCutcheon said he was prepared to abide by contribution limits to individual candidates and groups, which are currently $2,500 per election to federal candidates, $30,800 per year to national party committees, $10,000 per year to state party committees and $5,000 per year to other political committees. But he said he objected to separate overall two-year limits, currently $46,200 for contributions to candidates and $70,800 for contributions to groups, arguing that they were unjustified and too low.

    He said he had made contributions to 16 federal candidates in recent elections and had wanted to give money to 12 more. He said he had also wanted to give $25,000 to each of three political committees established by the Republican Party. Each set of contributions would have put him over the overall limits.

    It's a Sisyphean task, and the hill seems to grow higher w/ each passing year.

    Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?

    by RFK Lives on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 09:25:57 AM PST

  •  Tipped & rec'ed (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    emal, Puddytat
  •  Agree with above commenter (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RFK Lives, Puddytat

    You are a treasure to those of us who feel our voices don't count and certainly don't matter because we don't have $$$$$$$$ to access those who determine our future. Forget the fact we rarely gave our voices heard, but we rarely even get a seat in the door or near the table. We can't afford to hire an army of lobbyist or donate enormous amounts to campaigns that allow us the same chance to run in political leaders circles or to get their ear on a regular basis...unlike corporate and industry executives with deep deep pockets. It truly is an insulated world in which they live and reside, so far removed from those they rule over.

    It truly is only a representative democracy of/for/by the very wealthy.

    Sir, You speak for me and my kids and their generation. We aren't looking for a a handout, just an equal playing field and equal voice....not dependent on our wealth.

    Thank you and your staff from the bottom of my heart for giving me a voice and a smidgen of hope.

    Government of, for, and by the wealthy corporate political ruling class elites. We are the 99%-OWS.

    by emal on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 10:41:40 AM PST

  •  Thanks for covering the important (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    stories that don't see a minute of coverage on the rest of the media.  

    There will be no change until we get the money out of politics and elections, but the coin-operated politicians aren't going to change things anytime soon.

    There already is class warfare in America. Unfortunately, the rich are winning.

    by Puddytat on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 02:17:42 PM PST

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