'Meet The Press' Complains About Money In Politics: It’s ’Like The Cold War’

Liberals love to complain that there’s far too much money in politics and on Sunday’s Meet the Press, the entire panel predictably fretted that political spending could spell the demise of American democracy. 

NBC’s Luke Russert introduced the segment by lamenting how “there's real concern about the role money is playing in our politics with some even going as far to argue our democracy is being bought and sold.” 

Russert continued to criticize the role of money in the 2014 midterm elections:

In 2012, outside group spending was 67 times higher. Over a billion dollars. And this year, it'll be just as high. And that doesn't count so-called dark money, whose sources of donors never have to be disclosed, or won't be disclosed until well after the election. In the Senate battleground states, outside groups are spending more on ads than campaigns and political parties combined. Funding the financial arms race, a group of modern-day oligarchs.

While the NBC reporter did complain about political spending on both sides of the political spectrum, Russert did his best to paint the conservative Koch brothers as having a far bigger influence on the so-called problem of money in politics: 

But the Koch brothers, through a number of outside groups, with mundane, if not agreeable-sounding names, like Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners, Concerned Veterans for America, and Generation Opportunity, are outspending Steyer by nearly five to one on ads in the Senate battleground states.

As the pre-packaged segment concluded, moderator Chuck Todd worried that political spending would result in “mutual-assured destruction” before insisting that “it feels like the Cold War. I mean, it is a cold, political war, and we're going down a road where we're just, it's going to destroy the two-party system if they’re not careful.” 

In his eagerness to over-hype the role of money in politics, Todd seemed to be unaware that he was trivializing the Cold War. In the eyes of the Meet the Press moderator are individuals like the Koch brothers the modern day Soviets who will do anything to trap the American public behind a wall of political advertising? 

Unsurprisingly, the entire panel, including Carolyn Ryan of the New York Times, did their best to diminish how people like the Koch brothers are using their First Amendment right of free speech to influence the political process: 

Most of the advertising spending, is from groups that don't really disclose their donors. So the original free-speech argument was, let's list the caps. Let's have contemporaneous disclosure. You'll know where the money is coming from. That's not the case at all.

The anti-money in politics segment concluded with Chuck Todd complaining that money will "drive good candidates from running" before bemoaning that the amount of money in the 2014 midterm elections is "scary." 

See relevant transcript below. 

NBC’s Meet the Press

October 26, 2014 

CHUCK TODD: Well, we're America, and it'd be fair to say we do most things bigger in this country. And that's certainly true when it comes to elections and campaign spending. My man Luke Russert is here to talk about this. You've been crunching some numbers.

LUKE RUSSERT: Indeed.

TODD: This stat’s unbelievable.

RUSSERT: It's wild, Chuck. Remarkably, you could pay for 80 British general election campaigns with what's being spent on this year's midterms alone. And there's real concern about the role money is playing in our politics with some even going as far to argue our democracy is being bought and sold.

(BEGIN TAPE)

LUKE RUSSERT (V/O): Sixteen years ago, the 1998 midterms cost $1.6 billion. This year's price tag? As high as $4 billion. Outside groups spent $15 million on that '98 campaign. In 2012, outside group spending was 67 times higher. Over a billion dollars. And this year, it'll be just as high. And that doesn't count so-called dark money, whose sources of donors never have to be disclosed, or won't be disclosed until well after the election. In the Senate battleground states, outside groups are spending more on ads than campaigns and political parties combined. Funding the financial arms race, a group of modern-day oligarchs.

ALISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES: On Father's Day, I was with my family and Mitch McConnell was with his too, the Koch brothers.

MALE VOICE: The Koch brothers.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER: The Koch brothers.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: The Koch brothers.

SEN. HARRY REID: Senate Republicans, Madam President, are addicted to Koch.

RUSSERT (V/O): On the right, Charles and David Koch, the brothers who run Koch Industries, America's second largest private company. Net worth, $41.9 billion, each. Americans for Prosperity, just one of several Koch-backed groups, has pledged to spend at least $125 million this year. And they have offices in more than 30 states. On the left, newcomer Tom Steyer. Net worth, $1.6 billion. He's already donated at least $58 million in support of candidates with strong records on climate change.

STATE SEN. JONI ERNST: And that California billionaire extreme environmentalist.

NARRATOR: The California billionaire.

NARRATOR: The California billionaire.

RUSSERT (V/O): Last month, Steyer’s PAC began hauling a wooden ark on wheels across Florida, where he's focusing his efforts on retiring Governor Rick Scott. But the Koch brothers, through a number of outside groups, with mundane, if not agreeable-sounding names, like Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners, Concerned Veterans for America, and Generation Opportunity, are outspending Steyer by nearly five to one on ads in the Senate battleground states. In the center, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Net worth, $34 billion. He pledged to spend $50 million to support gun control legislation and became a convenient punching bag for red state Democrats.

SEN. MARK PRYOR (D-AR): Mayor Bloomberg of New York City ran ads in Arkansas criticizing me for standing up for your Second Amendment rights.

RUSSERT (V/O): Now Bloomberg says he'll spend $25 million more backing centrists. Add other big spenders, Sheldon Adelson and Joe Ricketts on the right, George Soros on the left, even Mark Zuckerberg, and we could see an election that costs about $44 a vote. The financial arms race has become so crazy that one campaign reform advocate decided to fight fire with fire. He formed the anti-super PAC super PAC.

LAWRENCE LESSIG: We launched a Mayday PAC, mayday as a distress signal, to rally people to the idea of changing the way elections were funded. And in this cycle, we've had more than 50,000 people contribute.

(END TAPE)

RUSSERT: The question is, Chuck, do voters even care? In 2012, billions spent against President Obama and Democrats. Didn't really move the needle that much.

TODD: Well, it's mutual-assured destruction, is seems, Dan Balz. Let me show you this chart in this morning's Des Moines Register. They listed all the different outside groups that have spent on behalf of Bruce Braley. I've got to scroll it. It's that much here. And then here's all the Joni Ernst groups. I've got to scroll it. I mean, there's a dozen groups it seems on each side. But did you find and voters that, they hate the ads, but do they care about this outside money? Do they vote on it?

DAN BALZ: No, they don't vote on that. They hate the ads. They hate the amount of money that's being spent. But it's not a voting issue. And the interesting thing, Chuck, is I'm sure you've had the same experience. You've talked to the people who are helping to produce these ads. And they're as sick of them as many of the people who are watching them. And you say, "Well, why are you doing it?" For the exact reason you said. We can't afford not to because the other side's doing it.

TODD: It's totally so, it feels like the Cold War. I mean, it is a cold, political war, and we're going down a road where we're just, it's going to destroy the two-party system if they’re not careful. 

CAROLYN RYAN: And remember, one of the most interesting statistics that came out of this, and Nick Confessore had a story showing that most of the money, most of the advertising spending, is from groups that don't really disclose their donors. So the original free-speech argument was, let's list the caps. Let's have contemporaneous disclosure. You'll know where the money is coming from. That's not the case at all.

TODD: Look, I think Nia, very quickly, but I think it's going to drive good candidates from running.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Yeah.

TODD: How do you run in this environment?

HENDERSON: Yeah, because the threshold for getting in there is so high now. I mean, you have Democrats that are complaining about it, but Democrats are pretty good at raising this money and coordinating a lot of these groups on the ground in these different states.

TODD: It's unbelievable. Luke, nice work, scary work.

 

Campaigns & Elections 2014 Congressional NBC Meet the Press Carolyn Ryan Luke Russert Nia-Malika Henderson Dan Balz Chuck Todd

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