New film sparks conversations about money in politics

Last night, Public Citizen participated in a panel discussion about the solutions to the crisis of money in politics following a sneak peak screening of Casino Jack and the United States of Money at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Panelists included Angela Canterbury of Public Citizen (above right), Heather Smith of Rock the Vote, Mark McKinnon of Change Congress and Ilyse Hogue of MoveOn.org. You can now watch a recording of the discussion on ustream.tv.

The documentary tells the story of uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and teaches tough lessons about the “way Washington works” – an all-too-frequent euphemism for how corporate interests warp the political process to serve their agenda against the public interest.

In the early 2000s, Abramoff siphoned money from lobbying clients into the political war chests of mostly conservative members of Congress. In particular, he cultivated a close (and lucrative) relationship with then-House Majority Leader Rep. Tom Delay (R-Texas), who was indicted and forced to resign because of his association with the scandal.

Abramoff subsequently was convicted of fraud and corrupting public officials. He is now serving a four-year prison sentence. But while Abramoff is out of business, film makes it clear that the corrupting incentives for lawmakers to exchange campaign donations for legislative favors are stronger than ever. (And the film’s Web site also has an interesting tool you can use to compare your members of Congress’ voting record to the interests of their biggest campaign donors.)

Among the solutions panelists discussed was a constitutional amendment to limit corporate influence in elections, as well as the Fair Elections Now Act and the recently proposed DISCLOSE and Shareholder Protection Acts.

Clearly, there is much to be done. But momentum is building to fight for the solutions. This film will help educate and engage activists and spark the necessary discussions that will help push the American people to repair our wounded democracy.