Today I noticed that the New York Times had set up one of their room for debate features on the topic What’s the Best Way to Protect Against Online Piracy? The most pro-SOPA piece is written by the Democratic former Senator from Connecticut, Chris Dodd. What’s his current job? Here’s the byline:
Chris Dodd, a former U.S. senator who represented Connecticut from 1981 to 2011, is the C.E.O. and chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America.
You don’t have to think too long to figure out why the MPAA hired Chris Dodd. It’s not because of his experience in the film industry, he’s a lifelong politician. It’s not because of his legislative experience, he was not a member of the relevant committees. He’s got the job because he spent 30 years in the Senate, and the movie industry wants someone with clout to represent their interests on Capitol Hill.
Monied interests, whether they’re companies, trade groups, unions, or issues-based organizations, have many, many ways to influence the political process. Obviously they can attempt to influence the political process directly with money, see Stephen Colbert’s SuperPAC for details. They can also hire lobbyists, who, in addition to wining and dining legislators, also influence the process by offering to take some of the workload off of Congressional staffs. They’ll even write the bills for Congress! And of course they can spend money to try to influence public opinion, through advertising, or organizing “grassroots” opposition or support. They can pay academics to do research that supports their interests. They can pay experts to write opinion pieces in their favor. Or, as in the case of Chris Dodd, they can hire a long-time Senator to run their trade group.
My point is that if you have interests to promote, and you have money you can use to promote those interests, there will always be inroads into the political system available. That’s not an argument against campaign finance reform — the fact that being a politician is more about fundraising than anything else is a big problem that public financing of elections could fix — but it is an argument that in every case where it’s not money versus money, it’s going to be people power versus money, and no reform will change that. The work never ends.