Smart Talk

Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

Listen to Smart Talk live online from 9-10 a.m. weekdays and at 7 p.m. (Repeat of 9 a.m. program)

Host: Scott LaMar

Smart Talk: Big Money rules in American politics

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Jul 28, 2014 3:04 PM

What to look for on Smart Talk Tuesday, July 29, 2014:

Big Money cover 260 x 170.jpg

The American political landscape has been revolutionized in the past five years.  The Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010 and other court rulings have resulted in staggering amounts of money being spent on political campaigns and causes.

Just as an example -- so-called super PACS, wealthy individuals, corporations, unions and others combined to spend $2.5 billion during the 2012 election campaign.  The Democratic and Republican parties poured $1.6 billion into campaigns.  Outspending the two major parties during an election cycle was unheard up until then.

Voters have seen what all that money has paid for -- one television commercial after another advocating for one candidate over another or more than likely -- attacking a candidate.

Politico investigative reporter Kenneth Vogel outlines the new political realities in his book Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp -- on the Trail of the Ultra Rich Hijacking American Politics. Vogel appears on Tuesday's Smart Talk to tell stories of the billionaires and political consultants who are funding political campaigns today.

Vogel's book reads like a spy novel as he describes trying to sneak into meetings where big donors are being solicited. 

One person mentioned in the book is California businessman Tom Steyer who is behind a group paying for an attack ad airing across Pennsylvania against current Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.


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  • Robert D Colgan img 2014-07-29 08:24

    I think that until money is withdrawn from politics----public money only to qualifying candidates---- nothing will change in the current system.
    But it's more than just the influence of money on the electoral process----it is the constant pressure on legislators throughout their time in office: lobbying by corporate donors starts on day one and never stops.

    My sense of what might be effective action has more to do with overhaul, rather than repair, of the current system.
    1) Gender equality in representation 51% female, 49% male.
    2) Lottery, not elections. Draw names of representatives randomly. True citizen representation.
    3) Term limits. One term and out. Can serve another term after sitting out for a term.
    4) End lobbying. NO money being used to influence the legislative process.
    5) Instant prison time and serious fines for any wrongdoing in office.

  • efdt1950 img 2014-07-29 08:26

    I think it is shameful that we decry the 'oligarchs' in Putin's Russia while effectively creating and supporting an oligarch class here in America.

  • Benjamin img 2014-07-29 08:45

    Hey Scott, you did a great job holding the show together without your author.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-07-29 08:49

    Ben from Harrisburg emails:

    My comment is that this issue is caused by over-regulation. If the government was not in charge of so many minute things, there would be less special favors to buy. On top of this, our elected representatives should not be so influenced by money. Campaign finance reform should start by elected representatives not taking money in the first place. This is not a cause of capitalism, but crony capitalism.
    This over-regulation and crony capitalism is what is causing the distortion of our democracy.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-07-29 08:50

    Lisa emails:

    Big money influence is nothing new nor is it only at the federal or state level. Attend a local township meeting and you will see it. Land gets rezoned when wealthy residents request it, but not necessarily when the non-wealthy request it. Exemptions are given to those with the most money and the best-paid lawyer, but not to those who cannot afford a lawyer. This has been going on since the beginning of our nation.

    And would everyone please stop calling our form of government a democracy because we aren't one, we are a republic.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-07-29 08:51

    Stephen emails:

    Good morning, could you touch on why the Union donations are not discussed in these conversations? In 2008 they reached a billion dollars in donations and this has been going on for years why is it now a problem when Unions donate much more to democrat causes?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-07-29 08:51

    Kyle emails:

    For this one I think a look into Roman history could serve to be a useful guide. To decrease corruption in Roman politics, they turned to a secret ballot system. Votes cast by Roman senators were done in secret as to preclude the common citizen from knowing whether a contribution was worth the money he spent.

    This sounds a preposterous, but I think it would also bring the United States political system more into line with the founding father`s original views. We would be forced as a nation to select capable leaders who we believe will make good decisions for the voters.

    Another possible way of decreasing corruption is to have all money that goes to a political campaign be forced through a third party that would remove all traces of where the money came from. This would hopefully reduce any undue political expectations that one may assume if they spend such a large amount of money on a candidate`s election.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-07-29 08:56

    Tim emails:

    After more than 40 years in politics, my best advice to voters is never to believe anything one candidate or campaign says about another. Centuries of electoral experience tells us that it is impossible for candidates honestly to describe each other. There are lots of sources of solid information. Use them.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-07-29 08:57

    Stephen emails:

    I have worked in IT for 30 years. The thing that concerns me is that since we have moved to computer voting I have no confidence in the elections. With one line of code any election can be fixed to come out the way someone wants it too. There is no way to check how a vote was actually cast.

    As long as the politician writes the voting laws they will always benefit the politician.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-07-29 08:58

    Stephen adds:

    Lying and false claims in a political add needs to be made illegal.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-07-29 09:00

    Thomas writes:

    I've seen the future and the future is nothing new.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-07-29 09:06

    Blaine emails:

    We will not eliminate the money (speech), we SHOULD DEMAND transparency in where ALL money is coming from.

  • Andy W img 2014-07-29 14:48

    Good show Scott. One correction, you mentioned David Koch as being a contributor of thousands of dollars to PBS, the number is closer to $23 Million according to the New Yorker story from May 2013. I crafted a cynical cartoon to that effect and it can be seen here

  • Robert D Colgan img 2014-07-29 23:34

    Yes, Scott, thanks for being the pro you are when the show took an unexpected sideways turn. Opening the show to listener opinion...? Always worth the try.
    I thought it worked.

    I want to clarify one thing re gender equality in representation:
    it is most necessary to begin to undo the most deleterious effects of the last several centuries of patriarchal dominance to IMMEDIATELY empower women if we are to build a fairer and more sustainable world for generations to follow.
    We no longer have the luxury of time on our side--- the severity of a world armed to the teeth/ failing to meet human and ecosystem basic needs/ ignoring the effects of environmental degradation/ maintaining jingoistic boundaries, etc urges us to act quickly but effectively to implement a more balanced approach to solving problems.
    Men have demonstrated they are good at one thing primarily---competing against others. Women tend to work more collaboratively.
    We need cooperative thinking, and acting. . .thus, we need women also in government.