Money On My Mind


The Strategy Behind the Conservative Tax Bill

It is not often that we can see the raw power of wealth in action. But that power was vividly on display in the weeks preceding the December passage of the tax “reform” bill. Under ... Continue Reading

Culturally Inclusive, But Economically Unequal?

Even as the people of the United States become more ethnically diverse and socially inclusive, our political system reinforces economic inequality. On one hand, a recent Gallup Poll headline reads: "Americans Hold Record Liberal Views ... Continue Reading

Defeating Trumpism

If Trumpism is to be prevented from imposing a reckless authoritarianism on the American people, more White workers will have to become part of the resistance than is the case to date. Donald Trump became President ... Continue Reading

Talking About Climate Change

As Hurricane Irma roared toward Florida, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, famously told CNN this was not the time to talk about climate change. But he was wrong. The time is ... Continue Reading

The Avalanche of Outside Spending

Donald Trump’s attack on democracy has come in many forms, and it represents a continuing threat. Yet he has confronted strong resistance whenever and wherever the American people have been asked to acquiesce to his ... Continue Reading

The Cost of Big Donors

More than ever, American politics is a process owned by the super-wealthy. The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) reports that small-donor contributions (individuals making political donations of $200 or less) fell by about 3.4 percent ... Continue Reading

Trump’s Faux Populist Budget

Markets are essential to a functioning economy. They are needed to coordinate the production and sale of goods and services. But their outcomes are often socially undesirable. A clear case in this regard concerns environmental ... Continue Reading

Defeating Trumpism

Flawed as it is, American democracy rests on a foundation that Donald Trump is in the process of destroying. That foundation is composed of the institutions and patterns of behavior that permit citizens to become informed ... Continue Reading

Saving Democracy

Trumpism can be defeated. But it will take grassroots organizing to do so. As the authors of the influential document, Indivisible, have argued, we will have to aggressively attack every retrograde policy that the new ... Continue Reading

The Politics of Globalization

The spread of production to poor countries has come at the expense of jobs in the United States. But trade agreements are not the problem. The spread of production globally would have happened whether or ... Continue Reading

Full Public Financing is the Answer

This essay concerning the objectives of campaign finance reform is written ten days before the election. If the Republican candidate wins, read no further. The issue will be moot. However, if Hillary Clinton is elected, ... Continue Reading

Illegal Dark Money in Wisconsin

On September 14th, The Guardian newspaper published 1,500 leaked documents collected by the Wisconsin prosecutors who were investigating suspected campaign violations by Scott Walker, the state’s Governor. The Guardian analysis found that these documents “speak ... Continue Reading

Student Debt

Wealthy people gain political influence by making large campaign contributions. The opposite is also true. Those who do not fund office-seekers can expect to be disregarded at decision-making time. This political precept is particularly applicable when ... Continue Reading

Spring Awakening

The power exercised by private wealth in this country is all pervasive. It shows up in every walk of life: education, health care, housing, employment, the criminal justice system, and of course in politics. But ... Continue Reading

Defeating Trump

The threat to democracy that the Trump candidacy represents does not exist because of his offensive personality. The real problem is that he has successfully tapped into the anger and alienation that exists widely in ... Continue Reading

Politics and Productivity

Robert Gordon’s new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, is the subject of controversy among economists because of his anticipation that “the outlook for future growth in the U.S. standard of living is ... Continue Reading

Will the President Support Us?

In his State of the Union address, President Obama was as clear as he could be: “We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families and hidden ... Continue Reading

The Importance of Movement Disagreements

The need to drastically change the way political campaigns are financed is no longer a fringe issue. The private money-out-of-politics reform movement has succeeded in raising alarm bells about the damage the “pay-to-play” system inflicts ... Continue Reading

An Attack on Democracy

The political dysfunctions caused by the dominance of rich campaign donors in the American political system have provided an opportunity for opponents of political equality to attack democracy itself. A sophisticated version of this attack ... Continue Reading

A New American Socialism

Writing in The Nation magazine, Eric Alterman recently celebrated the fact that “economic inequality has finally risen to the top of the list of most Americans’ concerns.” Citing recent polls, he reports that more than ... Continue Reading

“Black Lives Matter”

The political financing system we have in this country empowers rich donors. But it also disempowers those who do not provide large donations. Unfairness exists on both sides. One has too much political power; the ... Continue Reading

The Problem of Independent Expenditures

By making large campaign donations to candidates for office and political parties, rich people are able to gain disproportionate influence over the political process. But in the past that power was at least somewhat constrained. ... Continue Reading

Hillary’s “Fix”

What significance should be attached to Hillary Clinton’s recent statement that we should “fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if it takes a constitutional ... Continue Reading

Adam Smith Says...

Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, got a lot of things right. Here is something he said in 1776 that, with only slight adjustment, describes what is happening to the political system in this ... Continue Reading

To Whom are They Listening?

The most important domestic issue facing the United States is the inexorable growth in income inequality. Calculations provided by Emmanuel Saez reveal that over the two decades from 1993 to 2013, the top 1% of ... Continue Reading

The Erosion of Democracy

The control of American politics, like so much in this country, has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite. This trend can be seen by comparing patterns of political expenditures and voter ... Continue Reading

Mayday II

Last month I expressed skepticism concerning Mayday Pac USA’s strategy to advance the cause of campaign finance reform. In the aftermath of the election, Lawrence Lessig, who along with Mark McKinnon is the prime mover ... Continue Reading


The Mayday PAC is a political action committee that “aims to elect a Congress committed to fundamental reform in the way political campaigns are funded by 2016.” 1. The founders of the PAC, Lawrence Lessig ... Continue Reading

New York, New York

In New York City, candidates for city offices who voluntarily choose to participate in that city’s public funding system receive $6.00 in public funds for each $1.00 received in small donations (up to a limit ... Continue Reading

Ferguson, Missouri

To understand what happened in Ferguson, nothing is more important than appreciating the extent of the political alienation that exists in that suburban community. With a population of 21,205, Ferguson is 65 percent African-American. Its ... Continue Reading

McCutcheon’s Contradictions

The recent McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission decision pushed the Supreme Court’s aggressive attack on campaign finance reform further than it has ever done. In this case, it struck down aggregate limits to individual private ... Continue Reading

The SuperRich…and the Rest of Us

The growth in income inequality in the United States since the 1980s stems from two different sources. The first is that the incomes of typical households have stagnated. The other is that the incomes at ... Continue Reading

Funding Environmentalism

All political activity costs money. The need to pay bills is not confined to candidates running for office. Community organizing and issue campaigns too require funding. The question of who provides the funds is an ... Continue Reading

Why Climate Change is Ignored

Two realities threaten the well-being of future generations. The first is global warming. In the words of the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “each of the last three decades has ... Continue Reading

Equality for All

No one should miss seeing Inequality for All, the documentary created by Robert Reich and Jacob Kornbluth. It is an unsparing depiction of how income and wealth in the United States have become concentrated in ... Continue Reading

John Stuart Mill and the Tea Party

In his essay On Liberty, John Stuart Mill writes that it is socially damaging to silence political expression. Mill argues that when the views that are censored are correct, people are denied “the opportunity of ... Continue Reading

The New Oligarchy

The march to economic and political oligarchy in the United States is picking up speed. In a recently published paper, Adam Bonica and his associates have estimated that 0.01 percent of American households (one hundredth of ... Continue Reading

"Dark Money"

The years after 2008 were terrible for the United States economy. But they were even worse for democracy. Greed in the financial system caused unemployment to reach double digit levels, and only government action was ... Continue Reading


The New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, thinks that the Senate’s failure to pass universal background checks for prospective gun owners was Barack Obama’s fault. She turns on him because the defeat occurred despite the ... Continue Reading

The Politics of Neglected Public Investment

The flood of money that has engulfed our political system means that special interests prevail at the expense of the country as a whole. This is nowhere so graphically illustrated as it is with regard ... Continue Reading

The Pushback in New York State

The pushback against billionaire funded politics has taken root in New York State. A substantial citizens’ mobilization is underway to use public funds to finance electoral campaigns; Governor Andrew Cuomo has publicly called for public ... Continue Reading

The New Era

The impact of the Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision has been as bad as we all anticipated. Unregulated political expenditures have sky-rocketed. They stood at $147 million in 2008; four years later they were almost ... Continue Reading

Beyond A Constitutional Amendment

The 2010 Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision damaged democracy. But the v. FEC decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals in the same year was even more injurious. Citizens’ United permitted corporations and unions ... Continue Reading

Money Vs. Voters

Whatever the outcome of the election on November 6, the clear loser will be political equality. Three developments in this election cycle have empowered wealthy special interests at the expense of everyone else. More money ... Continue Reading

Occupy's Anniversary

The first anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street action has come and gone, and with it so has the hope that American politics is about to take up the issue of economic inequality. Of the ... Continue Reading

Ignored in 2012 Campaigns - Gun Control & the Environment

In an electoral system like ours, funded by private contributors, political donations determine why some issues find a place on the country’s political agenda while others, no matter the level of their importance, do not ... Continue Reading

The Missing Teachers

The 2007 financial crisis and the Great Recession of 2008 produced many victims. Unemployment grew, poverty increased, and the availability of public services declined. But not often mentioned is the fact that the country’s children ... Continue Reading

We Don’t Need a Constitutional Amendment

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision has placed the American political process ever more in the hands of rich oligarchs. It has not however done so in the way that most people expected.Most of ... Continue Reading

Learning from the Tea Party

Looking at the role the Tea Party movement plays in the Republican presidential nominating process, it is hard not to be envious. In contrast to the Right’s clout in the GOP, the Tea Party’s progressive ... Continue Reading

Governor Cuomo’s Bet

All politicians are enigmas. We are never privy to their innermost thoughts. But what we do know is that with very few exceptions they all are seeking to be re-elected or to ascend to higher ... Continue Reading

Social Equality; Economic Inequality

Since the 1960s, a contradictory dynamic has been at work in the United States. The country has become socially more inclusive even as economic inequality has increased.Ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation have receded as sources ... Continue Reading

The “Occupiers”

The Occupy Wall Street slogan that represents the movement at its best is a play on the Supreme Court’s 2010 outrageous decision allowing unlimited corporate political spending. The banner that declares “This is Citizen’s United” ... Continue Reading

Today’s Student Activism

It has been half a century since America’s universities were the site of political insurgencies in support of civil rights and in opposition to the war in Vietnam. Is there any chance that the current ... Continue Reading

The Bogus “Crisis”

Vote buying does exist. Campaign contributors do insist that members of Congress vote as their donors wish. But even more important than vote-buying is money’s capacity to shape the political agenda. This is the power ... Continue Reading

The Opportunity Provided by the “Deal” Debacle

The political Right’s victory could not be more comprehensive. It has won the battle of the budget deficit with a plan that contains only cutbacks in expenditures and raises no new tax revenue. Government will ... Continue Reading

The Politics of the Budget Deficit

The federal budget showed a surplus of $185.2 billion in 2000. By 2010 it was in deficit by $1.3 trillion. What happened? Only after that question is answered is it reasonable to discuss what we ... Continue Reading

Energy, Earthquakes, and Democracy

Here is a statistic that might help to place in perspective both the desperate struggle of the Japanese to regain control of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station and the equally desperate effort by the people ... Continue Reading

Democracy Matters in the Middle East

At the 10th annual Democracy Matters National Student Summit last January, one of the issues discussed by the more than 100 student activists in attendance was the stance the United States should take with regard ... Continue Reading

A New Movement For Equal Opportunity

Among political activists in the United States it has long been an article of faith that movements generally are built on identifiable self-interest. Social structures change only to the extent that groups mobilize, demanding an ... Continue Reading

Escaping the Small Government Trap

Faced with myriad difficult issues, the American electorate in November turned to candidates who promised to miniaturize the size of government. This occurred despite the fact that polling data reveal that the American people believe ... Continue Reading

The Political Marketplace

A tidal wave of new political spending is upon us in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, empowering corporations and unions to use their treasuries to pay for political expenditures. According to ... Continue Reading

War Does Not Promote Democracy

A commitment to political equality does not have to end at the United States border. Advocates of political egalitarianism can and should support those who work to achieve decision-making systems that allow and encourage equality. ... Continue Reading

Visioning Democracy

Change in politics does not occur without passion, and passion in turn requires a compelling vision of how things could be done differently. In this, the political Right has it all over the Left. Its ... Continue Reading

After Health Care: Now the Harder Part

  The passage of health care reform, no matter how limited, was a significant accomplishment. Its adoption is testimony to the fact that even in a political system distorted by private campaign funding, progressive legislation is ... Continue Reading

The “Shadow” Financing of Elections

  Two recent judicial decisions are reshaping campaign financing in the United States. In combination the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC and a recent Court of Appeals decision ( v. FEC) have created an ... Continue Reading

Changing America with Grassroots Organizing

 In a long and important article in the February 22 issue of The Nation, Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig provides a masterful diagnosis of what is wrong with America’s politics. That he does not develop a ... Continue Reading

The Management Empowerment Decision

 When pressed, defenders of political inequality invariably resort to the free speech gambit. The claim is that any attempt to regulate the political process impairs First Amendment’s guarantees. This is the gist of the Supreme ... Continue Reading

Supporting Student Activism

  There has been a noticeable drop-off this year in progressive campus organizing. Part of this simply is the predictable return to more normal levels following the intense excitement generated by the Obama campaign in 2008. ... Continue Reading

Downsizing the Military

 Once the health care debate is resolved, we are going to hear a great deal about the need to reduce the federal budgetary deficit. Presently the dire straits of the economy has muted this discussion. ... Continue Reading

A New Social Movement

 The struggle for campaign finance reform has not yet generated a mass social movement. As the researchers at the Center for Responsive Politics noted: “The historic social movements that have been responsible for the evolution ... Continue Reading

Subverting the Health Care Debate

 Serious political dysfunction shows up in two possible ways in a political system dominated by private wealth such as ours. Political contributors get their way in the adoption of policies that benefit them, whether or ... Continue Reading

Congressional Fair Elections Act 2009

Last month, Arlen Specter and Dick Durban in the Senate, and John Larson and Walter Jones in the House of Representatives introduced the Bi-Partisan Fair Elections Now Act (Fair Elections), a bill that would for ... Continue Reading

The Politics of Bank Nationalization

As a response to the financial crisis, the Bush Administration’s Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP) was woefully inadequate. But its implementation brought to a close a nearly thirty year period during which market deregulation was ... Continue Reading

Our Twin Crises

It might seem that $25 million is a lot of money. That is the level of campaign donations made by environmentalists and those associated with alternative energy industries since 1990. It sounds as if it ... Continue Reading

The Future of Progressive Reform

 Barack Obama’s victory shows that the United States has changed profoundly. But the way our first Black president-elect paid for his electoral success suggests that it is unlikely that his administration’s policies will be sufficiently ... Continue Reading

The Response to the Economic Crisis

The crisis in the economy’s financial markets has now cascaded into a severe economic downturn. In response, policy-makers have been forced to give up the fiction that markets are self-regulating and that there is no ... Continue Reading

The Political Roots of the Financial Crisis

The devastating financial crisis that has dominated our news recently is rooted in the politics of deregulation. Over the last twenty-five years, Wall Street has been able to achieve its primary political goal: the erosion ... Continue Reading

Breaking the Logjam on Global Warming

Al Gore has challenged the United States to obtain all of its electrical energy from renewable and carbon-free sources within ten years. That challenge is as welcome as it is unusual among prominent politicians. However ... Continue Reading

Small Donor Illusion

In his Cleveland debate in February with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama backtracked from an earlier commitment to limit himself to public funding in the post-convention campaign should he become the nominee, promising only to “sit ... Continue Reading

The Need for Judicial Public Financing

In the thirty-one states where judges are elected, candidates for the judiciary, like everyone else running for office, have to secure private contributions to finance their increasingly expensive campaigns. Not surprisingly, lawyers are the principal ... Continue Reading

The First Amendment and Public Financing

In the current election cycle, according to The New York Times, “independent political groups are using their financial muscle and organizational clout as never before.” Many of these groups, The Times goes on, “face no ... Continue Reading

What is Wrong with Presidential Campaign Financing

Three very disturbing patterns emerge from an analysis of the 2008 presidential campaign. The first is that none of the leading candidates for their party’s nominations will be publicly funded. Second is that both Republican ... Continue Reading

The Liberal Trap

Reform movements have historically understood the need to look to the federal government to solve social problems. That remains true today. Avoiding environmental catastrophe will require public sector initiatives; reversing the trend towards increased income ... Continue Reading

Private Wealth and Political Alienation

Polling data make clear that there is a gaping disconnect between the American people and their trust in this country’s political system. The United States retains the appearance of a democracy, but its substance has ... Continue Reading

The Politics Of Public Investment

A bridge on an interstate highway collapses and people needlessly lose their lives. The government’s effort to develop alternative energy sources is anemic at best and we continue to pollute the skies, worsening global climate ... Continue Reading

Small Donor Democracy?

Mark Schmitt agrees with us that "the most urgent cause in our democracy is to prevent the profound inequalities of our economic system from being echoed, reinforced and exacerbated in the political system."1 But Schmitt ... Continue Reading

"Fair Elections Now" at the Federal Level

The movement to secure public funding of election campaigns is poised to achieve a greater level of national prominence than at any time since the early 1970's. The "Fair Elections Now Act," legislation to implement ... Continue Reading

Dirty Air / Clean Money

Very soon the United States political system will be forced to confront the issue of global climate change. As reported this month in a "Summary for Policymakers" issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ... Continue Reading

The "Lou Dobbs Phenomenon"

Achieving the public funding of election campaigns in the United States will not be easy. The army of rich interests standing in opposition to “Clean Elections” is formidable. In order to win, we need to ... Continue Reading

A Bridge, Not A Wall

It is easy to see how our donor-driven political process stifles debate. With private financing of campaigns, the only candidates with a chance of victory are themselves rich or able to obtain funding from affluent ... Continue Reading

Paying for College

The system of higher education in the United States has long been considered the best in the world. Our status in this regard did not happen by accident. In the past, university education was the ... Continue Reading

"Earmarks" and National Security

Last March, Randy “Duke” Cunningham, once a powerful member of the House of Representatives, was sentenced to more than eight years in prison for taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense-related business people and lobbyists. ... Continue Reading

No To Laissez-Faire Campaign Finance

An August 8 New York Times op-ed attacked campaign finance reform as a quixotic effort to do the impossible. The authors, Jan Witold Baran and Robert F. Bauer point to the fact that even with ... Continue Reading

The Injustice of Income Inequality

New technologies have transformed the global economy. They are responsible for the industrial revolutions that are occurring in Asia that have brought millions of people out of poverty. They have also raised economic productivity in ... Continue Reading

Who Does Congress Represent?

Larry M. Bartels, a Princeton University political scientist, has broken new ground in the study of Congressional representation in a recently written but as yet unpublished paper. Bringing together survey data and roll call votes, ... Continue Reading

Sharing in the Gains of Globalization

An industrial revolution has occurred in Asia during the last twenty-five years. Countries such as India, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and especially China, have taken advantage of the new technologies associated with globalization and an increasingly ... Continue Reading

The Scandals

The scandals involving Congressman Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon and others mean that in the near future we will learn the lurid details of shameful political quid pro quos, money laundering, shake-downs, betrayal, and ... Continue Reading

How Freakonomics Gets Campaign Financing Wrong

Freakonomics, the best-seller jointly written by the economist Steven L. Levitt and the journalist Stephen J. Dubner, is a dazzling display of the insights into the real world that can be achieved by using economic ... Continue Reading

Arizona's Clean Money System

Advocates of political change always face at least one formidable objection. Since it is never possible to predict with certainty what consequences will flow from reform, opponents of the status quo can always attack by ... Continue Reading

Civil Rights and Financing Elections

 In this "Money on My Mind" I will argue that our failure to treat the electoral system as a public good gets in the way of achieving racial justice. Put another way, campaign finance reform ... Continue Reading

Eccentrics and Fanatics: Free Speech and Public Financing of Elections

Skepticism concerning the desirability of reducing the role of private wealth in elections comes in two flavors. Vanilla says that the effort to get private money out of politics will do no good - it ... Continue Reading

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