McKibben and Lessig on the Corrupting Effect of Money in Politics

Bill McKibben had an op-ed in today’s LA Times in which he described being on a panel with Congressmen Ed Markey (D-MA) and Lee Terry (R-NE): What stinks in D.C.

I was a little nervous, because Terry had recently introduced a bill to force the rapid approval of the Keystone pipeline, overriding the president. But we talked back and forth amiably enough, as I explained why the jobs figures for the proposed project he kept repeating were wrong. Markey pointed out that the Canadian tar sands oil that would be transported through the pipeline, far from enhancing U.S. energy security, was destined to be sold abroad. It was all “agree to disagree” harmony.

But then, in passing, I said something that to me seemed so obvious it didn’t even occur to me anyone would object: that it was clearly Big Oil that wanted the pipeline revived, and that it was using the congressmen it funded heavily to make it happen.

Beside me, I could feel Terry bristle. He quickly interjected, something to the effect of, are you saying that we’re “bought off”? And I suddenly felt bad, as if I indeed had said something wrong. I stammered; I tried to say I didn’t know anything about him in particular, that I was sure he’d eventually be part of the solution and so on. But the frost stayed in the air; he seemed genuinely hurt that anyone could think he had a conflict.

McKibben goes on to describe how he looked up Terry’s record afterward, and verified that yeah, he gets lots of contributions from the oil and gas industry, and does indeed vote for their interests 100% of the time. The part that Terry took offense to, it seems clear, was the implication that his votes were in some sense a quid pro quo for the contributions.

This was all very familiar, in that it’s pretty much the whole point of Lawrence Lessig’s Republic, Lost, about which I’ve previously gushed. And in a nice case of synchronicity, there was Lessig on last night’s Daily Show, explaining his campaign against the corrupting influence of money in politics:

They ran out of time, so the interview continued in this online-only clip, which is handy because it gave Lessig a chance to explain his plan for campaign finance reform:

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