Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lobbyists star in Francis Megahy's THE BEST GOVERNMENT MONEY CAN BUY?

Who really runs our government? Surprise: it's the people we elect to do just that. And yet, by the end of Francis Megahy's fine documentary-- THE BEST GOVERNMENT MONEY CAN BUY?-- you will, I think, be convinced that yours and my best interests are diametrically opposed to that of the government representatives we elect.  How and why this is true is brought home via the pretty much iron-clad case that Mr. Megahy presents, starting with his look at lobbyists and how they work in America.

The filmmaker begins by telling us that lobbyists are required to register with the government, although many of them do not.  Even so, 14,000 of them are officially on record. How many of these people do we need? Megahy, shown below, has produced some really crackerjack interviews with these men and women, and what they have to say is fascinating.  If you're going to a dinner for a particular senator, one fellow explains, leave that guy alone and focus on the other senators who've shown up. Five minutes in a corner with one of these will accomplish more than any formally set-up meeting. It's the snatched conversations that count most.  And, oh, yes -- don't waste time with those who are passionately for or against something: Instead go for those in the middle ground.

Not all lobbyists, we learn, represent large corporations.  Some work for AARP, the ACLU and the U.S. Chambers of Commerce.  One public-interest lobbyist talks about gun control and the power of the NRA. After listening to her, you'll realize that it's no wonder Obama has waffled on this subject almost from the beginning of his career. Another fascinating subject is the Poker Players Alliance. Ditto Billy Tauzin's career with big pharma. As Megahy makes clear, it is not the lobbyists per se that are the problem: It's the money. Remove that perk and everything changes. Follow the money, as they say -- but then stop its source.

If the film is better at presenting the problem (overall, it's the best thing I've seen on this subject) than solutions, still, its first step in the solution is clear: Criminalize campaign donation of all kinds and insist on publicly-funded campaigns. Further, for all ex-government employees, elected or not, demand a five- or ten-year moratorium on accepting any job with any company with whom you've been involved. Will this happen? No way. Because our elected officials will never support this. Sure, it is in the best interest of America, but not in the best interests of those elected -- who only want to hold on to power and their job. Though some make noises about doing this, it's funny how private donations from individuals (but mostly from corporations) just keep rising each year. And now, with the Supreme Court giving carte blanche to corporations to do what individuals cannot, what hope have we?

Mr. Megahy makes a most pleasant guide through this vision of the end of America.  He doesn't natter or condescend. He keep his British reserve, irony and good humor through thick and thin. But he never lets us off the hook. Someone here (I can't recall if  it was the filmmaker or one of his interviewees) notes that "the public is more cynical than is justified?"  Oh, really?  And how cynical should we be, pray tell?   View Megahy's movie and just try to tamp down your own cynicism.

Why wasn't this movie released to theaters? Or given much more of a critical "push" from our cultural taste-makers? Because I don't think any elected official wants you to see it. (As I understand the stiuation, no elected official would agree to be interviewed by Megahy.) The documentary goes to the heart of the matter, and the case it makes regarding what is wrong with our electoral campaign system is thorough and to the point. It is also utterly non-partisan -- as it should be. Democrats and Republicans alike are slaves to money and the power that comes with it. As Megahy points out early on, no situation as grotesquely immense as the K-Street lobbyists exists in any other western democracy.
Good luck, America.

So how do you view this important documentary? You can purchase The Best Government Money Can Buy? from its distributor, Cinema Libre Studio. But can you rent it anywhere?  Interesting question. Netflix says you can "save" the movie to your queue. But since the DVD has been available for some time now, why has not this video giant yet placed an actual order for it so that it can be offered for rental? Get after Netflix, and insist that it stock the film. Blockbuster doesn't even acknowledge the film's existence. Well, bankrupt as it may be, Blockbuster is still a BIG corporation -- or part of one. And Amazon? Yes! You can either buy it or watch it instantly here (a three-day rental costs $3).  I am not a particularly paranoid person, but on the basis of my research, I would say that it appears that the elusive "they" we often hear about certainly don't want you to see this movie. Which should give you all the more reason to do so.

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