Our new film PAY 2 PLAY is centered on how our political process is bound invariably by big money interests who use campaign spending as bait for politicians to get massive payouts in return from the public piggy bank. As Noam Chomsky explains at the beginning, "Both parties are two factions of one party--the Business Party." I've learned that Chomsky's mere inclusion makes the film seem too "liberal" for some, coupled with the refrain: "Why can't you show both sides? If you showed both sides, then it might be more persuasive to (party label here)."
Choosing sides in an election is secondary to achieving a real democracy in the first place, so that everyone's voices are included. Today, half the country doesn't vote, and half of Congress are millionaires. The inclusive component of what makes America special has been under siege for decades, by people who already have lots of money, and seek to use our government to make themselves even richer. To show "both sides" in this context is to have a billionaire explain that even as the middle class suffers, he intends to use the Republican Congress which he spent a fortune to help elect cut the hell out of spending, balance the budget, reduce regulations, and support business. This actually does appear in our film, when Lee Fang interviewed David Koch celebrating the first day of the Republican Congress in 2011. Koch had just spent money helping elect 1,053 candidates out of 1,216 winning candidates in 2010.
The other gasp of concern comes from passionate activists on the left, who ask, "The two parties are the same? How can you say that? One party denies climate change, supports torture, the other supports women rights and equality..." and you know the rest. In PAY 2 PLAY, we see populist candidates undermined by their own party leaders. We see vanity candidates who are self-financed that don't really believe in anything except that they should be in office, and lying is a good way to get there. We see the effects of low voter turnout. There are so many other obstacles in the road to an open democracy.
The reason we use the number two in our title PAY 2 PLAY is not an homage to Prince lyrics, it is because we have a two-party system, and you have to pay either (or both) political parties if you want to participate. There might be two different buses that want to go in two different directions, but they both run on the same fuel: campaign cash. Endless amounts of it. And this week the U.S. Congress approved a spending package with so many kickbacks and give-aways, in the words of the Great Curtis Scagnetti, it's more rigged than an S&M pirate ship. This is what this "CRomnibus" is, an S&M pirate ship.
Calling it craven doesn't begin to do it justice. More like a re-imagined Disney show, "That's So Craven," this spending bill is a stunning piece of pay-2-play™ at the hands of both parties, despite Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi making powerful stands against it. While we posit in our film that Insiders versus Outsiders are the "both sides" we should be addressing, who could better make that case now than the Insiders themselves, the incumbents? Somehow, in the hundreds of pages necessary to fund the government, someone tripped and fell and dropped this bit of legislation in: party contribution limits were suddenly raised ten-fold. How messed up do you have to make campaign finance laws that even Citizens United denounces it as a gratuitous incumbent incentive? Our elected representatives agreed with no debate that the government couldn't function without jacking up contribution limits for how much their parties can receive. That shit is deep.
Even deeper shit is the paragraphs that were written in this spending bill not by some elected leader or their staff, but by Citigroup, to rollback financial regulation without hearing or deliberation. That backdoor action is literally pay-2-play at its purest: those millions that Citigroup has put into lobbying and contributions could reap them billions. Jack Abramoff makes this clear in our doc: "The return on investment is astonishing." Putting money into politics is a bigger return on investment than Wall Street. That's why Wall Street is writing our legislation.
Combined with bonus features like attacking unions and overruling a local election, this trillion dollars spent by leaders from heavily-gerrymandered districts makes this Cromnibus a Pay-2-Play Parade.
Our film unfolds around a reimagined monopoly board, likening the richest-takes-all board game to the contest of winning elections The thesis of the film is stated ten minutes in: "If we could learn the rules of the game, maybe we could find a way outsiders could win." Taking back our democracy starts with taking back our elections. That's achieved through People Power. As John Nichols explains, "If you want to challenge the money power, you are going to have to build People Power. For every million dollars they spend, you're going to have to get a thousand people. It's not easy. But it is necessary." We can circumvent the impacts of big money in our election process, but it takes people getting involved at every level, like a chain of hands running through your community.
Politicians love to get in front of a parade that is already underway. Let's make that parade. Let's make the fight to #GetMoneyOut cool. I can't help but view this naked grab at money as a conscious last mouth-stuffing, because they know their time is coming to an end.
PAY 2 PLAY: Democracy's High Stakes has just been released on DVD/VOD by Disinformation. Screenings are happening nationwide on the 5th anniversary of Citizens United, January 21. Join or host an event at pay2play.tv.