September 25, 2018

MARTY KAPLAN: The Real Shakedown to Apologize For

If Barack Obama’s extraction of $20 billion from BP was—as Texas Republican Joe Barton called it – a “shakedown,” then what would Barton call the ” target=”_hplink”>$42 million from PACs and individuals.  Their haul totaled ” target=”_hplink”>115 House members of the Republican Study Committee gave Barton his talking points; in a ” target=”_hplink”>$800 million has poured into congressional PACs and campaign committees during this off-year election cycle.  How many of those checks would be solicited, offered, written and bundled if the Capitol didn’t harbor a legal protection racket?

Though some members of Congress may blow some of those Benjamins on the high life, or stuff them in the freezer, the irony is that they and their contributors are in turn the marks of yet another shakedown.  The principal reason our lawmakers and candidates have to dial for dollars, suck up to contributors and teeter on the brink of quid pro quo is that they need the dough to buy campaign ads on television and radio.

The broadcast industry will take in over ” target=”_hplink”>udicial activists that George W. Bush put on the Supreme Court, the 2010 campaign season will be more awash than ever with money.  Overturning a century of precedent, the court seized on the Citizens United case as an opportunity to declare that corporations can spend without limit on campaign ads.  So not only can corporations threaten to withhold their contributions unless congressmen do their bidding, they can also intimidate our lawmakers by threatening to pay for their own ads attacking them.

I’m not ignoring the Democratic candidates and office holders complicit in and entrapped by this system, nor the donors who support their side of the aisle.  The best that can be said about the bipartisanship of this dysfunction is that progressive organizations and individuals – and not just corporate and right-leaning funders and pressure groups – have a piece of the action.  I’ll also gladly stipulate that there are decent members of Congress – like ” target=”_hplink”>The Distinguished Gentleman.

Elected to Congress, the Eddie Murphy character makes a bee line for the honey pot and scams his way onto the Energy and Commerce Committee.  (Disney lawyers made me rename it Power and Industry, for fear of alienating the committee with jurisdiction over Hollywood.)  By the end of the story, he inconveniently discovers a conscience and exposes how special interest money corrodes democracy.  I know, I know – fat chance.  But it’s a studio comedy.  It had to end happily.  I only wish that were true of the real farce in Washington.

Marty Kaplan directs the ” target=”_hplink”>USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.  Reach him at