People inside the D.C. bubble often tell stories about lavish fundraisers and the use of campaign cash to shore up votes in Congress. Conspiracy theories about who uses their PAC money, or direct contributions, to bend the ear of powerful committee chairmen and party leaders circulate throughout the capital faster than the Metro.
Still, the stories are usually hard to substantiate, and publicly members of Congress and their staffs are quick to deny that money has any influence at all. Rarely is the systemic corporate capture of Washington, D.C. on display in such a transparent and ugly way as it was last week.
Former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, now the head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), has been pushing the passage of Web-censorship bills in both the House and Senate. When Congress shelved the bills last week amid an unprecedented wave of public opposition, Dodd told Fox News:
Those who count on 'Hollywood' for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who's going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don't ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don't pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.
Let's unpack this statement.
The fundraising prowess of political candidates is a hot topic in the media. Talking heads on cable news drone on about one candidate's ability to outspend another on TV spots, attack ads, radio blocks and the like.
To be sure, the money machine in Washington has a serious and direct impact on the policymaking process, and it poses a serious and direct threat to the institutions we rely on to protect the interests of everyday people.
However, it isn't often that the person with the checkbook publicly levels threats as blatant as the one Dodd made last week. Usually these quid pro quos happen behind closed doors, or with an unspoken wink and nod.
In some ways, I welcome the frankness. Having served in the Senate, Dodd understands how the process works. Still, we deserve better and we need to stand up and say so.
We can't guarantee that top lobbyists like Dodd, who have gone through the revolving door in D.C., will become more ethical. But we can demand that our elected officials make it clear to K Street who they are supposed to be representing in Washington -- those everyday people who stood up to Hollywood and stopped Congress from passing bills that would have had dire consequences for the Internet, our nation's biggest economic engine.
Free Press is urging lawmakers to put their money where their mouths are. We're asking the top recipients of the MPAA's campaign cash to give the money back. We're hoping this will send a message to Dodd and all other corporate lobbyists that our nation's laws are not for sale.