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Selling Out: How Big Corporate Money Buys Elections, Rams Through Legislation, and Betrays Our Democracy

Selling Out: How Big Corporate Money Buys Elections, Rams Through Legislation, and Betrays Our Democracy

by Mark Green

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With CEOs and corporations under fire for years of outrageous deception and fraud, the time has come for Mark Green's groundbreaking book, Selling Out. A political watchdog and longtime crusader for better government, Green exposes the truth about the poisonous role money has come to play in our political culture. How are so many corporations able to


With CEOs and corporations under fire for years of outrageous deception and fraud, the time has come for Mark Green's groundbreaking book, Selling Out. A political watchdog and longtime crusader for better government, Green exposes the truth about the poisonous role money has come to play in our political culture. How are so many corporations able to buy political protection? Why do legislators pay more attention to contributors than to constituents? Filled with bold and practical solutions that are already working to return power to the American people, Selling Out is sure to inflame anyone who's stunned by the recent corporate scandals -- or who's curious about how so many have gotten away with so much for so long.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Onetime New York mayoral candidate Green lashes out against the government's tradition of selling access to politicians to the highest bidder and pricing practically everyone-besides millionaires-out of the ability to participate in our democracy. Although it's easy to detect the scent of sour grapes in Green's screed (he lost the election to business information tycoon Bloomberg), dismissing his words for that reason alone would be foolish. Fortunately eschewing the pervasive idea that American democracy was once a virginal paradise unsullied by as base a thing as money, Green provides a quick but thorough overview of the history of money and influence in national politics (during the post-Civil War era, most legislators openly sold their votes). After showing how we got ourselves into this mess, Green paints a portrait of how exactly the millions of dollars sloshing around the corridors of power shades and corrupts the system. Green does not cover much new ground, but he admirably collects all the usual jeremiads about this subject into one propulsive narrative. Although a Democratic bias creeps in here and there, for the most part Green blames his own party as much as the Republicans, naming names in plenty of embarrassing instances. (On sale Oct. 8) Forecast: Author appearances in New York and Washington, D.C., a 25-city national radio campaign and a national marketing campaign will raise Democrats' awareness of this title. But there's no guarantee they'll buy, since Green lost his election over a year ago and the public's interest may have moved on. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Chapter One

The Evil of Access:
An Introduction

"There are two things you need for success in politics. Money ... and I can't think of the other."
-- Senator Mark Hanna (R–OH), 1903

"Political action committees and moneyed interests are setting the nation's political agenda. ... Are we saying that only the rich have brains in this country? Or only people who have influential friends who have money can be in the Senate?"
-- Senator Barry Goldwater (R–AZ), 1988

"The Enron scandal should launch a national movement to leash the corrupt power of money in politics so that legislators and regulators can serve the public interest."
-- The American Prospect, February 2002

Representative Jim Shannon, a Democrat from Boston's North End -- home to working-class families as far back as the 1848 potato famine -- wasn't happy. As a protégé of Speaker Tip O'Neill, and a member of the prestigious Ways and Means Committee, he thought he'd learned all about the culture of Congress, about its blend of high-minded rhetoric and low-road cynicism. But now he was confronted with an overbearing business lobbyist, telling him that his client was disappointed with Shannon's position on an important tax bill while reminding Shannon that this particular client "makes good PAC contributions to the party." Shannon exploded. "I'm tired of hearing appeals based on money," he shouted. Looking pained, the lobbyist responded, "You think I like this any more than you do?"

How do you know when a democracy is in decline? When a bridge collapses, so does the reputation of its engineer. When a plane loses two engines,passengers suddenly lose their lives. A democracy, however, is more like a bather in water slowly getting hotter and hotter: it's hard to notice the change in circumstances until it's too late.

How do you know when a difference in degree becomes a difference in kind, when a democracy goes from warm to scalded?

  • when the 0.1 percent of Americans who contribute $1000 or more to political candidates have far more influence than the other 99.9 percent;
  • when, in an election year, it's nearly more likely for an incumbent congressperson to die than to lose;
  • when senators from the ten largest states have to raise an average of over $34,000 a week, every week, for six years to stay in office;
  • when the cost of winning a House or Senate seat has risen tenfold in twenty-four years;
  • when it's far easier for a working-class person to win a seat in the Russian congress than in the American one;
  • when legislatively interested PAC money goes 7 to 1 for incumbents over challengers -- and 98 percent of House incumbents win;
  • when most other democracies get a 70 to 80 percent turnout of eligible voters, while in the U.S. it's half in presidential elections, a third in congressional elections, and often only a fifth in primaries;
  • when one senator and one mayor each spend more getting elected than all the legislative candidates in Great Britain combined.

It's true, as Václav Havel wrote, that a genuine democracy is the equivalent of a distant horizon we can see but never reach. Still, at minimum a democracy requires that "the people will participate in the process by which their lives are organized," as historian Lawrence Goodwin put it. But is it a democracy if 0.1 percent pay the piper, if 80 percent stay at home in primaries, if 98 percent of incumbents return to a "permanent Congress"?

Selling Out is a book about how big money is sabotaging our democracy -- and how to stop it. For despite occasional bursts of reform, the system of checks and balances we studied in high school has steadily evolved instead into a system of checks, checks, and more checks. Warren Beatty's caricatured rants in Bulworth about how elected officials care more about their contributors than about their constituents are a far more accurate depiction of Washington and state capitals today than those heard in July 4th speeches.

Indeed, the corporate abuse in mid-2002 was the direct by-product of a corporate Washington filled with those paid to be what Kipling called "shut-eyed sentries." In the view of Joan Claybrook, head of Public Citizen and a veteran of the campaign finance wars, "political money from the Enrons and others bought loopholes, exemptions, lax law enforcement, underfunded regulatory agencies, and the presumption that corporate officials could buy anything they wanted with the shareholders' money."

The basic problem is that candidates regard money as Mark Twain did bourbon: "Too much is not enough." Because the press and public judge a candidacy by its treasury, and because no one can be sure how much will be "enough," candidates feel the pressure to engage in financial overkill, just as the Soviets and Americans did with nuclear missiles in their arms race. And when the Supreme Court in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision struck down the Federal Election Campaign Act's spending ceilings, the alms race took off. Then -- and now -- the sky's the limit.

Yes, we're weary of screeds about money in politics. It's an old story: from Plutarch writing about how money corrupted elections and ruined Rome ... to the Standard Oil Trust in the 1890s, which, it was said, "did everything to the Pennsylvania Legislature except refine it" ... to Lyndon Johnson's emergence as a major politician, according to biographer Robert A. Caro, only when he distributed large funds from Texas oil interests to congressional colleagues ... to Richard Nixon's $2 million contribution from milk interests in 1972, followed by his order to increase milk price supports and thereby milk prices to millions of American families ... to Charles Keating, of "Keating Five" fame, who, when asked whether his substantial contributions influenced the policy makers receiving them, helpfully replied, "I want to say in the most forceful way I can: I certainly hope so."

We've been so periodically bombarded by small-bore corruption or Watergate-size scandals that money in politics has become like sex in Victorian England -- a subject of gossip, amusement, and ultimately indifference. "They all do it," many citizens sigh, with a shrug.

Selling Out. Copyright © by Mark Green. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Mark Green, New York Times bestselling author of Who Runs Congress?, worked with Ralph Nader for ten years in Washington, D.C., before serving for twelve years as New York City's Consumer Affairs Commissioner and Public Advocate. A television commentator, public interest lawyer, and the former Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City, Green is also the founder and president of the New Democracy Project, a national and urban affairs institute. He has been a lecturer at the New York University School of Law since 2002, and lives with his family in New York City.

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