Guest Blog From Bruce Berlin: Big Money: The Problem in American Politics

Wonder why we don’t get what we want from government? In the first of two posts, Bruce Berlin lays it out clearly: It’s about the money. Town Hall tomorrow. Details & plea for RSVPs. Very hard to plan without them.

Our post yesterday graphically presented economic, gender, and racial injustice in America and introduced evidence of strong bi-partisan support for a wide range of policies that would address that injustice. But NONE of those policies are law today. At the end of the post, I asked the question: Why are we not getting what so many American’s want.  Bruce Berlin’s post below neatly answers that question. In tomorrow’s blog, he will explain what we need to do to get rid of money in politics.

Reminder:  Saturday, Aug 19, 3-5pm, 1420 Cerrillos. Retake Our Democracy Town Hall. The focus of the conversation will be: Dialog without Division–How Can the Democratic Party Use Constructive Criticism to Strengthen, Not Divide?  What Does the Party Need to Do Differently to Win in 2018 and 2020?  Join Richard Ellenberg, DPNM Chair, Jon Hendry, Labor Council head, and Paul Gibson co-founder of Retake Our Democracy in an Open Conversation, with you asking the questions. There will also be 20 minutes devoted to Open Mic, so you can add your comments. To plan well for this meeting, we really need to know how many will be coming. So please RSVP by replying to this email or respond on Facebook by clicking here.

Reminder II:  Today at 11am on KSFR 101.1 FM, Retake Our Democracy, an extremely timely interview with Viki Harrison, Common Cause where we talk about the influence of money in politics. Ironically, last night Viki and I, along with Tomás Rivera, Alan Webber, Marcela Diaz, David Coss, and Camilla Feibelman met with Michelle Lujan Grisham where we we gave input and she largely listened. I will say one thing: if this is the group advising her when she is Governor, we will be in very, very good shape.

Big Money: The Problem in American Politics, by Bruce Berlin

        Back in the 1890s, Republican power broker and former U.S. Senator from Ohio, Mark Hanna, explained, “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember the second.” While Hanna’s clever observation places money at the pinnacle of political power, there is something else that can be just as forceful in politics. That is, we, the people, which, as Hanna’s quote illustrates, are often forgotten by our politicians. Nevertheless, while Big Money usually drives our politics, when enough people do rise up, they can overcome the power of Big Money and achieve great social advancements.

More about that in a minute, but first, let’s be clear about something: Big Money’s grip on our government is not a partisan issue. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle as well as presidential administrations of both parties are very often guilty of unduly favoring their Big Money donors over their constituents. The truth is, that is how our political system works, and has worked for a very long time. Here are just a couple outrageous examples:

During the George W. Bush administration, Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, one of the world’s largest oil-services companies, used his position as Vice President to strongly support the extractive energy industry. First, he held secret meetings with oil and gas industry executives while drafting the nation’s new energy policy. According to the Los Angeles Times, Cheney’s task force consulted extensively with corporate executives while environmental groups had little input. Many of the executives at the White House meetings were generous donors to the Republican Party. Big Money bought valuable access to the policymaking process.

Later, Chaney went as far as deceiving our nation into believing Iraq had WMDs, weapons of mass destruction, so that the United States would invade Iraq and presumably gain control of its vast oil reserves for the benefit of Big Oil. While Big Oil never got possession of Iraq’s oil reserves, with Cheney’s help, Halliburton did obtain numerous government contracts in Iraq worth close to $40 billion during our occupation of that country. At the same time, the war cost close to two trillion dollars, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi lives, and thousands of American lives.

        Then, in 2008 the Great Recession struck our nation. Millions of innocent people lost their homes and their jobs when the economy crashed. Though the economic disaster was mostly due to the unscrupulous and fraudulent practices of Wall Street’s big banks, the

Obama administration allowed practically all of those bankers to get off scot-free. Could the facts that some of Obama’s biggest donors during his 2008 campaign were Wall St. banks, and that he appointed a number of Goldman Sachs people, like Larry Summers, Gene Sperling and Rahm Emanuel, to important positions in his administration have something to do with his failure to hold the bankers accountable? Despite the fact that the TARP legislation (Troubled Asset Relief Program) included instructions to use a portion of the funds to prevent foreclosure of people’s homes, President Obama refused to extract foreclosure relief measures from our nation’s biggest banks in return for the huge bailout they received.

Now President Trump and his billionaire friends are running our government. Given the corrupting influence of Big Money in the past, it’s hard to believe that their financial interests won’t play a significant part in how they determine our nation’s policies. Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State and the former head of Exxon Mobil, and Steve Mnuchin, the recently appointed Secretary of the Treasury who previously worked for Goldman Sachs, are just two members of Trump’s cabinet whose policy decisions may very well be influenced by their private financial affairs.

Then, there’s Trump himself. He reportedly was offered up to a 19% stake in Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, in return for his lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia by Pres. Obama. Subsequently, a similar portion of Rosneft was sold to a mysterious

partnership partly owned by a shadowy company in the Cayman Islands, the ownership of which is unknown, according to Reuters. And, the sanctions were relaxed.

Moreover, last month the Chinese government granted President Trump and his business valuable trademark protection for the use of the Trump name in the construction industry, something he had been seeking for more than a decade. While Trump had fought unsuccessfully in Chinese courts for years for control of the trademark, in November, soon after the election, China awarded the trademark to the Trump Organization. This is just one of a number of instances where Trump has corrupted his presidency. Another is Trump’s pay-to-play scheme at his private, Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach resort. Soon after he became president, Trump doubled its initiation fee to $200,000.

So, what are we, the people to do to counter Big Money’s dominance and revive our democracy? The most potent forces for change in our country’s history have been grassroots movements. From the abolitionists to women’s suffrage to more recently civil rights and LBGTQ rights, when millions of Americans come together and demand a more just society, they can and do compel the status quo to change. Now a Democracy movement is developing throughout the nation to eliminate the corrupting influence of Big Money and give all Americans an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.

In Santa Fe, as part of this movement, we have formed New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, or NM MOP, to work on breaking Big Money’s grip on our government. For example, on April 1, NM MOP conducted a free, 3-hour training on the 28th Amendment Initiative to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The Citizens United decision which found that money is speech and corporations are people, effectively giving corporations the same first amendment rights as people. American Promise, a national, bipartisan organization focused on the 28th Amendment Initiative, conducted the training. If you wish to get involved with NM MOP, contact me at I urge you to join this mass movement to break Big Money’s grip on our government and revive our democracy.


         Bruce Berlin is the coordinator of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics and the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America.

I want to thank Bruce first for writing this post, but also for his endless patience with my having asked him to write it and then taken 3 months to get to it. My bad entirely. But, as luck would have it, posting it today, after yesterday’s post is the perfect sequencing of content. Thanks Bruce.

In solidarity,

Roxanne and Paul

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2 replies

  1. This is good, we all need to work on it but Fiesta /Entrada is coming and what are we going to do about our own local annual racist/revisionist spectacle? HELLO! Trump is only part of the story; we are the rest of it!

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