While "Free for All" deals with election corruption--the voter I.D. noose among them, "Pay 2 Play" takes on the hugely empowering Big Brother, the mangling of one hundred years of campaign finance controls that culminated in the McCain-Feingold Act (the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002). Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, the devastating Supreme Court decision of 2010, undid all of that work. We have Chief Justice John Roberts to thank for expanding a case involving a small right-wing "home video producer," Citizens United, into a national (and by easy extension international) explosion of the quota of political campaign contributions from corporations and labor unions.
Ask the Koch brothers how happy they were. They'd been at it with their ALEC (American Legislation Exchange Council) lobby, that benevolent 501 c-3, since the early 1970s. Their favorite child of the time was the Powell Manifesto, suggesting the injection of secret, gargantuan funds to boost that loser (at the time) GOP, into a gargantuan plutocracy (another possible name for the moniker "Pay to Play"), elevating its source, corporate lawyer Louis Powell, into the Supreme Court, courtesy of that anti-Christ Richard Nixon.
And so the infection festered and spread slowly, stealthily into the system, with the creation of think tanks and PACS, inflated pharmaceutical corporations, and expansion of lobbies, that quasi fourth arm of the government, which more and more writes law after law which their flunkies pass, profiting donors hugely. Thus the metastasis slowly and stealthily spread as the Koch brothers, third wealthiest entity in the United States with their combined fortune of $100 million, worked with their kindred spirits.
This is only some of the background supplied by Ennis in "Pay to Play," which features interviews of magisterial authorities on the corporate blimp taking over our elections among other vital forces chewing away at democracy: climate change, other environmental abuses, mediocre educational systems, attacks on entitlements and other so-far more successful funding cutbacks aimed against the majority. "Poor" is a four-letter word for the blimp.
Among Ennis's galaxy of interviewees are Professor Noam Chomsky, professor and activist Mark Crispin Miller, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, author and writer Chris Hedges, The Nation authority John Nichols, attorney and professor Bob Fitrakis, Common Cause attorney Cliff Arnebeck, progressive journalist Jason Leopold, blogger and news commentators Brad Friedman and Thom Hartmann, activist Van Jones, and --surprise!--the felon former super power lobbyist Jack Abramoff, one of the few caught in the Act and jailed (can he vote now?). What a catch!
Abramoff it is who, early in the film, defines "Pay 2 Play." You have to have big bucks to enter the political fray and have your way, period. Fifty percent of the U.S. Congress are millionaires. Those who take payoffs will soon be. It is miraculous if a candidate gets to Congress without lobbyist funding. Several ethical challengers who attempt to beat this system have their impact on the people but can't get beyond primary victories. One of them, the first Iraq war veteran to run for Congress, Paul Hackett in 2005, coined the term "chickenhawk" to describe George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, among other war-monging draft dodgers. Ohio, the king of the swing states, is the focus of the compelling exemplars who ran for Congress with the mistaken notion that honesty and ethics can triumph.
Eight-six percent (1012 of 1216) of congressional candidates in 2012 were funded to the hilt by the Koch brothers, it is later added.
Society is no longer divided down congressional aisles as left and right wing. Rather, it's insiders, the one percent, versus outsiders, the rest of us.
Van Jones adds the perspective that each vote these days represents a dollar. Which is stronger? Most Americans don't vote. We're at the bottom of the list in terms of this bottom line of democracy. In Germany, more than 90 percent of the people come out to vote. In Australia and Brazil, among other countries, voting is compulsory, like jury duty or (I might add), paying taxes. There we 99 percenters have the lead. Those whose millions slither into politics are taking the rest of their fortunes overseas.
The talking points in this film are bladed lasers. Would that they could climb up the metaphor into reality. Taken together, with the stunning leitmotifs I will discuss below, they leave you gasping for the oxygen of ethics. And we get it, as you will read below. First the monster, then the Belerophon.
The infamous Paul Weyrich, religious wingnut figurehead of the "New Right" [Reich?], appears several times on videos in the context of his famous 1980 speech that proclaimed the one percent doctrine (the "Rosetta Stone" of the right wing): the fewer people who vote, the better it is for the insiders.
Chomsky socks progressive Democrats with the truth as he sees it (beguiling too): that we have a duopoly in this country: both major political parties, both far to the right of the people in many ways. This duopoly can be named the Business Party, he later adds. It divides us into corporations versus the public. Even our moderate President Barack Obama laments that corporations are the force behind our elections.
How can those who overspend on campaigns be entrusted with our country's financial affairs? A solid gold, jewel-studded Monopoly game graces the lobby of one building on Wall Street.
An even more wrenching dichotomy was born with Citizens United: the equations of money with free speech and corporations with people. How is it possible that all individuals (well, whoever wants to) within a corporation can vote along with their big fish, the company itself? Money does talk, but democracy's ballots are supposed to speak out. I can't help but inject the working title of my next book, "Ballots versus Bills: The Future of Democracy." I hold out hope. I hope that I'll still have reason to by the time the book is done.