Money and Influence

In an April issue of Christian Science Monitor, Robert Reich, a former secretary of the Department of Labor, wrote about his experiences when invited to speak to various groups. In one example he was asked to speak to a religious congregation about widening inequality. Prior to his speaking he was asked not to advocate for raising taxes on the wealthy because this could “antagonize certain wealthy congregants on whose generosity the congregation depended.”


While little harm may be done by limiting the message to be delivered to a defined group, Reich’s other examples present cause for alarm. “It’s bad enough,” he writes, “big money is buying off politicians. It’s also buying off nonprofits that used to be sources of investigation, information, and social change, from criticizing big money.” He cites a nonprofit, dedicated to ensuring voting rights, deciding not to launch a campaign against big donations to politicians so as not to alienate its wealthy donors.


Perhaps most distressing is the influence money can buy in institutions of higher education. Rather than facilitating unbiased discussion of topics of social, economic, and environmental importance, big money gains a seat at the decision-making body that determines what gets investigated and discussed. Reich states that a Koch Foundation pledge of $1.5 million to Florida State University’s economics department “stipulates that a Koch-appointed advisory committee will select professors and undertake annual evaluations.” He reports that the Koch brothers fund programs at over 250 American colleges and universities.


Reich also notes that the influence can be exerted by wealthy progressives as well as wealthy conservatives. Could universities come to be acknowledged as offering biased curricula just as some news sources report from only a single position on the political spectrum? As Reich concludes, “Our democracy is directly threatened when the rich buy off politicians. But no less dangerous is the quieter and more insidious buy-off of institutions democracy depends on to research, investigate, expose, and mobilize action against what is occurring.”

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