When Big Money Controls Big Media, There’s a Big Decline in Democracy

“Dollarocracy” examines innovations in other democratic nations to solve our money-in-politics crisis.
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Photo by trekandshoot/Shutterstock.


Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America
by John Nichols and
Robert McChesney
Nation Books, $26.99, 368 pages

With more than $10 billion spent on political advocacy, the U.S. 2011-2012 election cycle was the most expensive in history. In Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America, veteran journalists John Nichols and Robert McChesney argue that the flood of money into politics, compounded by declining standards in journalism, amounts to a crisis of democracy. The way U.S. elections are funded, they contend, ensures that moneyed interests set the agenda. This narrows the range of debate and yields government policies contrary to the interests of ordinary citizens.

The authors look for solutions in the best practices of other democratic nations and America's own history of progressive reform. They recommend full public financing of elections, subsidies for democracy-sustaining independent journalism, and a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling that the First Amendment allows unlimited political spending by corporations, associations, and labor unions.

It's impossible to read Dollarocracy without thinking of the revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine. With flashes of rhetoric that could have been written in 1776—"The time has come, finally, for citizens to burst the chains and to assume the blessings and security of self-government"—Dollarocracy is an inspiring polemic of the first order.

If there is a weakness in the book, it is the authors' refusal to make even a grudging concession to groups like the American Civil Liberties Union who worry that spending caps on independent political advocacy constitute an abridgment of free speech. This lapse notwithstanding, Nichols and McChesney have renewed a serious discussion on the role money plays in U.S. electoral politics.

It can be said, without any risk of hyperbole, that Dollarocracy is essential reading for every citizen concerned with maintaining government by and for the people.