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Podcast    H1'ed 3/22/16

Wendell Potter and Nick Penniman: Nation on the Take; How big money corrupts our Democracy and What we can do about it.

Broadcast 3/22/2016 at 7:30 PM EDT (54 Listens, 23 Downloads, 1941 Itunes)
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Wendell Potter is a senior analyst at the Center for Public Integrity, the senior fellow on health care at the Center for Media and Democracy, and a leading critic of the health insurance industry. His book Deadly Spin won the 2011 Ridenhour Book Prize. He's been a repeat guest on the show.

Nick Penniman is executive director of the organization Issue One. He was previously publisher of the Washington Monthly and director of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund.

They've co-authored a great new book, Nation on the Take; How big money corrupts our Democracy and What we can do about it.

Very rough interview notes:

Welcome back Wendell, Welcome to the show, Nick.

Rob: Why did you write this book and what do you hope it will accomplish.

Wendell: experience with health care industry--

Nick: over course of 15 years in Washington saw really great ideas never get a hearing"

Rob: Every moment of our lives from the time we're born is affected by big money. That's a big claim. Talk about that.

Wendell: The middle part of the book talks about that. We looked at the Pharmaceutical, financial, chemical, big food and fossil fuels.

Nick: GOvernment is us, for better or worse. The truth is we live in a country of 330 million. There is government at the state and local level and it touches everything we do.

The point is not to talk about the size of government but that it's there.

Rob: You talk about corruption and something much bigger.

Wendell: the corruption the founding fathers feared was the corruption of wealthy individuals influencing for their interests instead of the common good. .

refers to Big Pharma

Nick: James Madison, who was secretary of the constitutional convention wrote the word corruption 53 times. They were not referring to quid pro quo corruption. They knew there would be a bad apple. What they were talking about was the orchard, not the bad apple, the entire orchard getting the disease. That's what's exactly happened over the past 30 years.

Rob: Go into more detail on that.

Nick: The supreme court looked at corruption that protected "the orchard." The appearance of corruption and real corruption were equal. Appearance of govt. repressed faith in democracy.

Until 2010-- when they shifted to only type of corruption to be concerned with was quid pro quo corruption..

Rob: WHo shifted it?

Nick: John Roberts, but he ginned Kennedy to do it, but certainly alito, scalia and thomas agreed.

Rob; This was the Citizens United decision?


Rob: another think I learned was that the justices could have treated the issue as a different kind of first amendment right-- using freedom of the press instead of freedom of speech.

Nick: discusses Hillary movie. Said it was an act of journalism. FEC said it was an act of political propaganda-- an extended political attack ad. The ruling said the movie could be aired.

The court said that the court doesn't have the right to say what is journalism. But then they went further"

Rob: and that leap basically cancelled out 100 years of decisions that the SCOTUS had made.

Nick Including the Teddy Roosevelt's Tillman act.

Rob: You wrote an article the other day that says that Citizens United money is only about 15% of the problematic money that is rigging the system.


Rob: there's hard money, there's soft money, dark money.

Nick: Hard money is money directly given to political campaigns and PACs, but not superPAcs.

Soft money goes to Super PACS and 501 C4s

501 C4s do not have to disclose their donors.

Wendell: Not just in washington, but in state level and local governments as well.

Rob: Talk about how the hard money affects and rigs the system.

Nick: The house finance committee received $30 million from lobbyists and executives.

Rob: Oh no. Hillary says those kinds of donations don't have any effect on politicians.

NIcK. Those donors end up developing very strong connections to the people they are trying to manipulate and weigh in heavily or write the model legislation themselves.

Wendell. That was certain true for health care. The member of congress who received the most was Max Baucus, who headed the healthcare reform committee.

Rob: tell us in detail about how this worked out in the health care reform

Wendell: Senator Obama promised that people could import medicine from Canada and that medicare would negotiated discounts. But after he got into the White House, the people who were visiting the white house the most were from the pharmaceutical industry.

Rob: and what did Rham Emanuel do

Nick: Rham cut a deal with with big Pharma so they would be totally immune.

Industry lobbyist was former member of congress Billy Tauzin.

When he left congress they paid him $2 million a year.

Rob: talk about the revolving door with members of congress and staffers and lobbyists.

Nick. now, about 50% of congress become lobbyists or working in " it's a stepping term to very much more highly paid positions as lobbyists.

Rob: your Chapter 2 rigged states that Influence is the third largest industry in Washington DC, after government and tourism

campaign cash, lobbying industry, and there's dark lobbying-- all the fake astroturf groups,

Rob: and if add it all up it's over $8 billion a year.

Rob: Let's talk about oligarchy and cronyism. How bad has it gotten in America?

Wendell: IN the book, in many respects we've lost the ability to self govern in terms of the common good. This is not the first time we've had to have a course correction. But now is the time we need to have a revolution

Nick and this not just a liberal perspective. Mark McKinnon, wrote a piece about how we're becoming an oligarchy. There was a study by Martin Gillins, and tracked policy passed into law vs public opinion and concluded that the laws that got passed very really were consistent with public opinion.

Rob: and there's gridlock. Talk about gridlock.

Wendell-- gridlock occurs when there's lack of progress. The status quo is pretty profitable for the special interests and more often than not the special interests are interested in blocking ".

Nick Money in politics is one of the main drivers of it.

Example of Senator Tom Harkin.

Rob: you write about how much time members of congress spend raising money.


Nick: most of the folks that they are calling don't live in their districts and they'll never meet them.

They are marinated their minds in the lives wealthy people, trying to think like rich people.

Rob: cubicles, slave labor

Wendell: some are quitting. IT's disgusting.

Nick: Steve Israel just announced he would not run-- estimate that 15 years in house he spent 4200 hours fundraising.

Rob: You say that This is fixable. How to fix it.

Nick four things.

1- new ways of financing-- small donor systems, matching funds to encourage small donors.

2 transparency and disclosure. Every dollar should be disclosed within 24 hours.

3lobbying reform. in SC lobbyists can't make donations because they are considered corruption.

4-fix FEC. Kneecap superPACs, stop coordination, no collusion between candidate campaign and superPACs.

Rob: What's the problem with the FEC? Why is that happening? Whose fault is that.

Nick: Both political parties

all that would take to fix is is a piece of legislation already filed by 2 dems and repubs to take politics out of the FEC.

Wendell: it's not just gridlock on capitol

Rob: Which is the order of ease of accomplishing these. What's the lowest hanging friot

Nick: transparency. Getting rid of dark money Mitch McConnell has become an opponent--

next, lobbying reform.

Rob: what would lobbying reform look like.

Nick: If we had a magic wand we'd get rid of lobbyists completely, but also extend the cooling off period-- currently one y ear for staff two for elected members. Should be extended to five years.

Rob: Who are the worst foes to reform.

Nick: Ted Cruz says that we should blow all of the caps and make everything transparent, so billionaires could write unlimited checks to campaigns.

Rob; in the book the Chamber of commerce blocks reform

Wendell: the chamber is essentially for hire. It represents big business.

Center for competitive politics

The big game changer is developing s ystems for small donors to get in the game to pull the loyalty and fealty of politicians back to their home district.

Rob: Advice to Hillary, Bernie and Donald based on the parts of this issue the public are strongly in favor of. What should they say, what should they offer to do? What should they brag about having done?

Nick: the polling is through the roof, bi-partisan 80% rep 84% ind. 90% dems.

Any politicians who hasn't picked up on this wave is making a big mistake. Hillary is making a massive strategic error not talking about it more. Trump is on message, about how republicans are bought and so ld by the lobbyists.

Rob: How is the US seen from outside the US, in terms of the issues your book raises?

Wendell: people abroad look at the US wondering what are you guys doing?

Nick: anecdote: Trevor Potter, former head of the FEC was asked by a foreign reporter, can you talk about the oligarchy. He replied "I don't know much about russian oligarchs." The reporter corrected him, "I"m talking about American oligarchy.

Rob: what do you want to wrap up with.

Wendell: this is critically important. You will not be abel to change public policy as long as you have the rich few who call the shots.

Nick. America was founded 240 years ago when we decided to overthrow a monarch with a dream of a representative govt. and that dream has become the model

If that model fails here, it is very possible the light will go off in countries around us.

Democracy is something we have to work hard at.

Rob: Are there bottom up aspects to this.

Wendell we require efforts at the grass roots level as well as at the grass tops.

Nick. My group issue 1 is working at the top level.

Size: 0 -- 1 hrs, 5 min, 33 sec


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Rob Kall Social Media Pages: Facebook Page       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Rob Kall is an award winning journalist, inventor, software architect, connector and visionary. His work and his writing have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC, the HuffingtonPost, Success, Discover and other media. 

Check out his platform at

He is the author of The Bottom-up Revolution; Mastering the Emerging World of Connectivity

He's given talks and workshops to Fortune 500 execs and national medical and psychological organizations, and pioneered first-of-their-kind conferences in Positive Psychology, Brain Science and Story. He hosts some of the world's smartest, most interesting and powerful people on his Bottom Up Radio Show, and founded and publishes one of the top Google- ranked progressive news and opinion sites,

more detailed bio: 

Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet (more...)

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