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Why “The Big Buy?” Big Money is our Biggest Obstacle

Howdy from Texas, where of course, everything is bigger, especially our political scandals.

Mark and I are pleased to be able to converse with whoever out there is interested in talking about our film “The Big Buy: Tom DeLay’s Stolen Congress” and/or “Clean Money Day,” tomorrow, June 27th.

By pure coincidence, this week is seeing a couple of climaxes to The Big Buy story.

First, and maybe even by the time you read this blog entry, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on whether the mid-decade congressional reapportionment forced through the Texas Legislature by DeLay will be rubber stamped or changed in any way. Supposedly, this challenge to what everyone calls “the DeLay Map” was picked out by pivotal Justice Kennedy as a test case to rein-in the most blatant gerrymandering abuses of the last decade. It will be interesting to see if even a Bush court can stomach Delay’s computer-precision violations of the Voting Rights Act – violations cited by a Bush Administration Justice Department staff, and then suppressed by John Ashcroft.

A Supreme Court victory for DeLay would mean ultimate vindication for his ambitious scheme, a bold power grab to reshape Congress in his image. He could confidently face years of prison time, (and no doubt profitable martyrdom), if that was the price he had to pay for encoding his master plan into the law of the land.

On the other hand, a rebuke to go back and redraw DeLay’s Texas congressional lines, either on a wholesale level - less likely - or a couple of the most egregiously manufactured districts - more likely - would be like rubbing salt in Delay’s self-imposed wounds. He’s be facing mounting legal bills and the possibility of doing time with a chunk, or all of his plan, negated by the most conservative court in decades.

The court is scheduled to rule on the case before this session ends at the beginning of July. The wires are starting to hum with anticipation for an important legal precedent either way.

Which brings us to the other climatic event of the week – Clean Money Day on Tuesday, June 27th – tomorrow. A nationwide coalition of groups is using The Big Buy as a centerpiece for discussions about the need for public financing of our elections through house parties. This is made possible by our distributor, Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films outfit, and details about C$D and local screenings can be found at bravenewtheaters.org or cleanmoneyday.org.

Tom Delay was able to use a relatively small amount of corporate cash - $4-6 million total – to overwhelm the Texas Legislature and ensure that his redistricting scheme would succeed. For that investment, the corporate contributors got five Tom DeLay clones in Congress who could be relied upon to oppose every sort of regulation not approved by Delay and his client list. In turn, those five votes were the margin of difference in approving a subsidized-filled Energy Bill, a generous Central American Free Trade Agreement and recent Budget resolutions cutting food and housing assistance programs. And this is just one example of kind of spoils that corporate money has won.

No matter what your cause or political philosophy, the largest variable to your success is how much your agenda corresponds to those of a small pool of CEOs with enough dough to buy candidates who become elected officials. Likewise, of course, if you have a different idea than Exxon-Mobil of how to transition to greener energy, or a disagreement with Pfizer over how best to provide low-cost prescription drugs, then your biggest obstacle is the influence that ready money has on the legislative process.

We all know this intellectually, but always put off doing anything about it because we’re already stretched too thin. But I’m telling you as someone who has spent the last three years tracking just a small part of the problem, unless citizens do something fundamental and everlasting to the way we fund elections in this country soon, our other work to change the world will never have a chance.

OK – your turn. Anyone want to talk?

Posted by schermbeck on June 26, 2006 at 03:38 AM | Permalink


Thanks Jim for joining us tonight and posting your thoughts just before Clean$$Day. I like the grassroots - citizens take control message you send along to us. It seems too often that we - as citizens - expect change from the top down, where in reality meaningful change comes from the bottom up. Whether it's the Supreme Court deliberating on gerrymandering, or considering whether the Bush administration must regulate carbon dioxide - the proverbial clock keeps ticking. Ticking in favor of big $$ - and against "we" the common people that make up the strong social and political fabric of this country - now 300 million strong. You talk about changing how this country funds elections - and hosting house parties is one way to do that. Do you see other fundalmental ways for us to counter the oppressive influence of global corporations?

Posted by: Bob | Jun 26, 2006 2:09:17 PM

Thanks for posting. I'm looking forward to seeing the film at DemocracyFest.

Posted by: Jessica | Jun 26, 2006 6:18:13 PM

A BIG thank you to Jim for being with us tonight and weathering the storm of our technical difficulties. I'm in the process of sending out the new URL to join this discussion so I hope the questions will be rolling in soon.


Posted by: Charlene | Jun 26, 2006 8:12:23 PM

What inspired you to spend the past 3 years working on this?

Posted by: Jason | Jun 26, 2006 8:17:07 PM

I'm interested in hearing about what you went through in making your film. I'm helping organize the Media Giraffe Summit Citizen Filmmaking track.

Part of my concern is that filmmaking too often also runs into the obstacle of taking big money to get a film made.

Do you have any words of recommendation to people interested in helping with citizen made documentaries?

(Click on my name for more information on the Media Giraffe Citizen Filmmaking track)

Posted by: Aldon Hynes | Jun 26, 2006 8:19:09 PM

Jim Schermbeck with a update: Although the Supremes didn't hand down a ruling on the Delay map today, they did manage to muddy the waters to the antedote of Delay, Inc. - public campaign financing - by striking down the Vermont law. I don't know what that means for the liklihood of upholding or taking apart Delay's districts in Texas, but the connections between the two cases are so strong, you wonder what the justices thought as they considered them side by side these last months.

Posted by: Jim Schermbeck | Jun 26, 2006 8:19:25 PM

Inspiration - the possibility of a political scandal involving the Texas speaker of the House - Tom Craddick and his mentor, the second most powerful politician in DC at the time, depending on where Cheney was, Tom Delay.
We were not sure we had a story until the first indictments however

Posted by: jim | Jun 26, 2006 8:22:46 PM

I'm in VT, and have run for office here. The very low campaign contribution limits made it very hard for a challenger to beat an incumbant who already has a contributer base. I'm glad they overturned it.

Posted by: Jessica | Jun 26, 2006 8:24:39 PM

Most of the Vermont rules deal with "caps" on campaign spending - thus negating "big" $$ influence. Not a very popular idea across the country...politically.

Posted by: Bob | Jun 26, 2006 8:27:01 PM

Grassroots filmamking - the only money Mark and I spent on this film for the first 2 1/2 years was our travel expenses and tape. Mark already owns a camera and editing suite, so we were only investing our time. He and I were the crew.

Nowdays, with the price of the technology so low and the access to final cut pro and a mac so ubiqutious, almost anyone can start to make their own film.

The probelem is you have to find a dramatic hook to tell your story with - IMHO anyway. It's not good ehough to have an interesting news bit. You have to have personalitiies and a storyline - otherwise, people won't watch.

Posted by: Jim Schermbeck | Jun 26, 2006 8:27:03 PM

Jim, hopefully your film and Clean Money Day will put the necessary public attention and pressure to clean up the mess DeLay made with those districts.

I was very proud of your legislators for escaping the state and avoiding a vote for such a long time. They lent me inspiration.

Posted by: Charlene | Jun 26, 2006 8:28:45 PM

I'm not that familiar with the Vermont law, but it was trying to address the problem at the core of our film, and I beleive at the core of just about every wrong headed decision about this country's agenda.

I think the fact that you have 6 different opinions out of nine justices says the issue is ripe for clarification - and in the context of Abramoff, Delay, etc.

Posted by: Jim | Jun 26, 2006 8:29:12 PM

There's no screening in my area. I can't host one at my home. Will the movie be in theaters?

Posted by: Judy | Jun 26, 2006 8:31:37 PM

Killer Ds-

Yes, that bit of the film when we go to Oklahoma with the Texas House Dems in their effort to outflank DeLay was a hoot and some of the first footage we shoot in the film.

That was the most dramatic thing the Tx. Dem Party has done in some time and it let them send the message that they still had a backbone.....

Posted by: Jim Schermbeck | Jun 26, 2006 8:31:47 PM

The film has been, is now, and will continue to be in "select theaters" as they say, but you can go buy a DVD at tomdelaymovie.com for $15.00.

I encourage you to watch it with a group -it's kind of a political Rocky Horror Picture Show experience at this point....

Posted by: Jim Schermbeck | Jun 26, 2006 8:33:24 PM

If it took 16 years for justice to be considered - I'm not sure how viable court justice really is. We really don't have another 16 years!

Posted by: Bob | Jun 26, 2006 8:33:46 PM

Thanks for your dedication in showing DeLay for what he is and for not giving up during those early years. How are you using your film to help the Clean Money Day?

Posted by: george | Jun 26, 2006 8:34:48 PM

You can also go to bravenewtheaters.com and look around for other screenings and see what else is happening in Greenwald's shop, and cleanmoneyday.org for the organizing part of that event....

Posted by: Jim Schermbeck | Jun 26, 2006 8:35:07 PM

I can't wait to see the film; watching it at someone's home around the corner. Then seeing it on the big screen at DemocracyFest. Looking forward to hearing Robert Greenwald introduce it.

Posted by: Charlene | Jun 26, 2006 8:37:19 PM

Well, besides the house parties tomorrow surrounding the showing of the film across the country, we're also trying to tie the film in with this impending Supreme Court decision on Delay's map. I don't think there's a better primer on the whole affair than our film right now - it's as if in 1955 you could go see a doc at the local movie house about Brown vs. Board of Education the day the court handed down its decision.

Personally, I've just decided that this is an issue I'm going to be trying to organize around from here on out, because everything I care about hinges on getting at least a fair hearing. Now those issues aren't getting a hearing at all because I can't contribute $10,000 - 50,000 to each elected official I need to "persuade."

Posted by: Jim Schermbeck | Jun 26, 2006 8:39:33 PM

Does anyone here have the numbers handy for what Dean's average collection was? I recall it being a lot of small donors. Deval Patrick (candidate for Governor) is bringing in the same small money contributions and doing really well.

I agree it's time for true campaign finance reform; though, not involved enough in that aspect to know how that should happen.

Jim, what was your favorite moment of the film? When did you know that you REALLY had something special?

Posted by: Charlene | Jun 26, 2006 8:43:46 PM

There's a screening pretty close to me tomorrow night...Unfortunatly, I'll be out canvassing.

Posted by: Jessica | Jun 26, 2006 8:43:57 PM

I just want to say that I'm not stupid about the immensity of this issue of some kind of public funding of elections -it's the global warming of the good government groups. But honestly, I cannot imagine getting to the kind of America I want with the current system in place. And so I'm willing to give up some of my time from my niche cause - pollution from cement plants - to work on clean money campaigns because I know I will never be able to win my local fight without a better system of getting elected in this country.

Posted by: Jim Schermbeck | Jun 26, 2006 8:46:25 PM

Aldon - please give a brief view of your media bootcamp - how were you inspired?

Posted by: Bob | Jun 26, 2006 8:50:46 PM

"pollution from cement plants". Wow, that is a niche!

Posted by: FryGirl | Jun 26, 2006 8:51:02 PM

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