An Irreverant Money-in-Politics Glossary …
Legal definitions, popular usage, acronyms, terms of art and fundamental concepts… surveying the Business-of-Politics, the ethics and the ethically challenged, a journey upriver to native land
Money-in-politics pervades every nook of every cranny. – Anon
The lines between democracy in action and influence peddling, ‘pay-to-play’ politics and a quid pro quo system that funds and pervades the American government in the present day are now being examined as never before given the extent of money-in-politics at historic multi-billion dollar annual spending levels.
The perception and reality of pay-to-play politics where monied interests have direct power to control the levers of government is delivering unprecedented polling numbers of disapproval of Congress, politicians and the ‘establishment’.
Recusal.org has no illusion about this daily quotidian reality playing out in every room and hall in contemporary political life and, as we acknowledge the impossibility of changing the day-to-day business of money-in-politics, we believe that ‘letting the sunshine in’, as the saying goes, will reveal the more tawdry and unacceptable practices and move the system to new requirements where representatives are required to recuse themselves, to step back from voting and participating in decisions where they have become compromised as a result of their deals ‘with string attached’.
Every day the costs of the political-money game increase and the way the game is played adds to the tally of the collector at the end of the day — or, as Ambrose Bierce said in the heyday of Robber Baron era, the devil always arrives to take his due.
The Recusal Glossary is offered with a memorable phrase that comes from the 1993 US presidential campaign — “unholy barter” — a phrase that came from a candidate who had a conversion from being in charge of a major party’s fundraising to becoming an evanglizing force in a campaign that talked of “taking back America” from big money’s influence.
Here’s a tip of the hat toward the Golden State.
In addition to the Recusal Glossary that follows, we recommend you visit another version of a political money-at-work glossary, a ‘K-street plus‘ Glossary — Campaign finance in the U.S. — provided courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation.
Bribes and/or Bribery – Goes hand-to-hand (or bank account-to-bank account whatever modus operandi is favored) with corruption (see definition of corruption). Political bribery is an elemental part in a political pay-to-play (See definition of pay-to-play) system of politics. The ubiquity of political barter of money for access, influence and, bottom line, return on investment (ROI) brings movers and shakers in politics and business with their largesse and campaign contributions, disclosed or undisclosed (See Dark Money), together with the targets of their opportunistic moves … Bribery is a harsh sounding word rarely employed in the political world and bribery is rarely seen in public, acknowledged, investigated or legal prosecuted, yet the meet up of movers and shakers in the business of politics too often involves conflicts of interest (See def). It is what it is you say, but then a political reformer shows up to reform the system…
Buckrake – Not just a big rake used to bring in the hay, or efficiently work the crops and garden. Also a term that’s been picked up in political parlance. Often used as a verb, as in “to buckrake” the money available in the garden of pay-to-play politics.
Comprehensive Legislation – Those who attempt to reform a political system with public demands and support necessary to overcome ‘insider politics’ and ‘special interest’ maneuvers.
Money-in-politics reform efforts have two choices: piecemeal legislative reform or comprehensive reform. Piecemeal reform of money-in-politics is almost guaranteed to be counterproductive (loopholes are a favored M.O. of politics-as-usual). Gradual, incremental changes rarely address larger ‘systemic corruption’ (See def).
Comprehensive reform legislation can be supported by coalitions across the political spectrum — left, independent, right, major party and third-party, and developed via single-issue voting initiatives (See definition). Popular support for comprehensive reform dominated the 2016 presidential campaign.
Conflict(s) of Interest – Simple — conflict of interest — and convoluted — (PBS) How Trump’s foreign dealings could pose conflicts of interest; (CNN) Bill Clinton: ‘Natural’ for foundation donors to seek favors.
Conflicts of interest are endemic and epidemic in political day-to-day exchange. The currency of politics, as it’s practiced, is a business. Everyday, matter of factly, Washington DC becomes a party-orchestrated call center. Congressional dialing-for-dollars isn’t for charity nor are daily hours logged pleading for campaign cash in any way conducting “the people’s business.”
Corruption – In politics, corruption begins with the ‘give and take’ exchange of actions and promises to act in return for financial payment (payments can range from campaign contributions to gifts and many forms of giving as defined by courts and law/codes and regulations). Corruption can included: 1) extended conflicts of interest and and 2) direct ‘quid pro quo bribery’ (See definitions). Recent US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions have acted to reduce legal definitions of corruption and bribery prosecutable offenses to refer only to the ‘quid pro quo’ actions, that is, actions that must be demonstrated, in court testimony and documents, as directly proving money was given in direct expectation/demand for action, which was then directly taken by the politician and/or political recipient. This SCOTUS determined standard has largely eliminated effective prosecution of political corruption laws, and acted to circumscribe federal/state laws intending to address and proscribe the corrupting influence of money-in-politics and political policies and budgets that are the result not of popular votes or expression, but rather the result of the expectations/demands of political contributors. This ‘runaway pay-to-play politics’ (See SCOTUS and Pay-to-Play definitions)
“Dark Money” – Political largesse in the form of “Super PACs” (See def) and other money-in-politics, influence buying conduits that sidestep/avoid/ignore/work around disclosure of and insider trading by political contributors.
The best-selling book by Jane Mayer entitled Dark Money has reached into what was previously a carefully guarded world and brought to life the pay-to-play politics of the Koch bros, Charles and David (see “” (yes Oxford and Merriam Webster, biography-as-definition). A Wikipedia definition with real-world illustrations does little to reveal the extent of dark money as ubiquitious in American political life – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_money
Democracy – In early American history democracy meant what we now call direct democracy, or pejoratively “mobocracy,” and republic meant representative democracy. Both meanings came together to mean the system we now have. It is a common to anti-constitutional discourse to say in the current meaning of the word democracy that the Founders did not intend to create one. In fact the Constitution requires Congress to guaranty the states a republican form of government, which is now democracy in constitutional interpretation. The Constitution used direct democracy by requiring civil and criminal jury trials, and has supported newer techniques of direct democracy such and primary elections, recall and referendum, or direct electio of Senators (17th Amendment). Digital democracy raises the possibility of more forms of direct democracy which would not conflict with the Constituion, or be ruled invalid on the premise that the Constitution created a “republic” which must only be representative in nature.
Duopoly – (Applied to economics) A duopoly is a situation in which two companies own all or nearly all of the market for a given product or service. A duopoly is the most basic form of oligopoly, a market dominated by a small number of companies. A duopoly can have the same impact on the market as a monopoly if the two players collude on prices or output. (Applied to politics in the US) A two-party dominated system. Much of the above definition of duopoly in economics applies to duopoly in politics.
“America’s two-party duopoly, a peculiar and long-lasting arrangement that has stifled political competition from other forces for more than a century. Thanks to laws passed by Democrats and Republicans and upheld by the courts, candidates of other parties face discriminatory ballot access and campaign financing hurdles, gerrymandering, exclusion from debates and media blackouts.” (Working definition of duopoly courtesy of Micah Sifry)
FPTP first-past-the-post voting systems – The US has a nearly pure system of winner take all elections where there is no requirement that a majority cast their vote for the winner but only that the winner get more votes than the second place finisher. This system is easier for a minority to take over. In this system introduction of a more than trivial third party becomes inherently undemocratic to the extent it empowers rule by a minority candidate, such as Bill Clinton was in both 1992 and 1996.
Foreign Policy and Money-in-Politics – The book Foreign Policy Auction is used here to speak to the multiple channels and conduits for money influencing and even permeating US foreign policy, from war decisions to forward deployments across the globe, some 800 bases, from spheres of influence and war theaters, to decades of ‘interventionist’ incursions and invasions, wars and special forces actions. The extent of spending ranges in the trillions USD and annual budgets include the nomenclature of ‘white’ (publicly disclosed) and ‘dark’ (undisclosed) budgeting. The recent build-up of the ‘Security State’ as disclosed in a series of investigative reports by the Washington Post (“Top Secret America“) describes a post 9/11 federal security state that, like the Department of Defense and the multi-hundred billion amalgam of federal contracts and contractors dispersed throughout the Armed Services and Intelligence departments and related agencies and departments, has never been audited.
Foreign Policy and Money-in-Politics describes foreign policy that is influenced by contribution, foreign policy, procurement and US international weapon transactions. The international weapons market, as it has proliferated since World War II and since the collapse of the Soviet Union (in large part due to its spending on Cold War weapons and ‘overextension’ of military spending at the expense of its economy), continues to be one of the great challenges of the modern industrial economies and many point at the military-industrial complex (MIC) as a rising threat itself. Of course, the famous World War II general and US president, Dwight Eisenhower, famously warned of the danger to the nation of military-industrial (and government) complex that grows out of control due to insider trading.
“The Foreign Policy Auction”
Ben Freeman, author of “The Foreign Policy Auction“, writes of this insider-inertia and threat: “U.S. foreign policy is being sold. Not just altered, shifted, manipulated, or influenced -sold. Every single day the agents of foreign governments and businesses work to not only monitor U.S. foreign policy, but actively change and even create it. Lobbying for foreign interests is a half billion dollar industry in the U.S. and nearly every country in the world devotes considerable resources to lobbying officials in Washington, or has done so in the past. In fact, just one lobbying firm, Patton Boggs, lobbies for nearly half of the world’s population. And, one in every ten dollars spent on lobbying in the U.S. comes from foreign governments.” [See Military Industrial Complex (MIC)]
Ethics in Government Act – The Ethics in Government Act of 1978 is a United States federal law that was passed in the wake of the Nixon Watergate scandal and the Saturday Night Massacre. It created mandatory, public disclosure of financial and employment history of public officials and their immediate family. It also created restrictions on lobbying efforts by public officials for a set period after leaving public office. Last, it created the U.S. Office of Independent Counsel, tasked with investigating government officials. (Wikipedia)
Gifts/Gifts-in-Kind/Travel – http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/23/us/politics/justices-disclose-privately-paid-trips-and-gifts.html
“Enthusiastic travelling” Justice Scalia was an enthusiastic traveler, taking more than 250 privately funded trips from 2004 to 2014. Conflict of interest, an ethical obligation from which the Supreme Court has exempted itself.
Identity politics – the symbolic servicing of constituencies disenfranchised by plutocracy, aided by divide and conquer fault lines of racism patriarchy, ethnic or religious discrimination, etc. Use as a diversion from progressive politics that directly challeng plutocracy.
‘Left-wing politics’ (see Right-wing politics’) – economic goals and solutions as opposed to political solutions. Therefore tends to be utopian and diversionary from pursuit of democracy because it takes politics to change the economic system.
Liberal – Wing of the Democratic Party, generally seen as distinct from ‘progressive’ (See definition). Adheres to identity politics and philosophically supports ‘realistic, incremental policies’, as currently defined by Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton’s prior campaign and term-in-office.
LOTE – Lesser-of-two-evils voting
Military-Industrial Complex (MIC): The first and most famous usage of the term was in President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell speech as he left office. It is occasionally rendered in its longer form – ‘Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex‘.
The trillion dollar annual military budget, plus additional ‘special appropriations’ for ongoing wars, makes for a ‘ground truth’ of spending and ‘foreign policy auction. (See def)
Neo-liberalism – (Definition courtesy of Henry A. Giroux)
Neoliberalism is a philosophy which construes profit making as the essence of democracy and consuming as the only operable form of citizenship. It also provides a rationale for a handful of private interests to control as much as possible of social, economic, and political life in order to maximize their personal profit. Neoliberalism is marked by a shift from the manufacturing to the service sector, the rise of temporary and part-time work, growth of the financial sphere and speculative activity, the spread of mass consumerism, the commodification of practically everything.
Neoliberalism combines free market ideology with the privatization of public wealth, the elimination of the social state and social protections, and the deregulation of economic activity. Core narratives of neoliberalism are: privatization, deregulation, commodification, and the selling off of state functions. Neoliberalism advocates lifting the government oversight of free enterprise/trade thereby not providing checks and balances to prevent or mitigate social damage that might occur as a result of the policy of “no governmental interference”; eliminating public funding of social services; deregulating governmental involvement in anything that could cut into the profits of private enterprise; privatizing such enterprises as schools, hospitals, community-based organizations, and other entities traditionally held in the public trust; and eradicating the concept of “the public good” or “community” in favor of “individual responsibility.”
PATRIOT ACT – (Pub. L. No. 107-52) Section 802 defines terrorism to cover “domestic” acts “dangerous to human life”” that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the United States, if the act appears to be intended to:
(i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.
Pay-to-Play Politics – As defined in Wikipedia and as practiced in the real world, e.g., Pay-to-Play politics at every level of governement in the US, a reality of political life that permeates, influences, impact and determines political policy, from from Main Stree to global military and ‘security’ spending. Pay-to-Play can be defined in a limited, legal sense or a broad, political sense. The keyword phrase connects money contributed and/or given with the expectation and/or delivery of political 1) access 2) influence 3) benefits 4) ‘favors’. The money given and political results may or may not be disclosed. The transaction may be legally required to be disclosed or as is often the case the transaction are undisclosed “dark money” (see definition) at work behind the scenes. Decisions by the Supreme Court of the US (see SCOTUS) have enabled the wide-spread adoption of dark money in US politics.
Pay-to-Play in a Geo-political Arena: A Case Study of Regimes in the Middle East Donating to a US Foundation
Pay-to-Play in a Geo-political Arena: A Case Study of Regimes in the Middle East Donating to a US Foundation
Via the International Business Times / #PayToPlay — “Under (Hillary) Clinton’s leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments have given money to the Clinton Foundation, according to an IBTimes analysis of State Department and foundation data. That figure — derived from the three full fiscal years of Clinton’s term as Secretary of State (from October 2010 to September 2012) — represented nearly double the value of American arms sales made to the those countries and approved by the State Department during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term… The Clinton-led State Department also authorized $151 billion of separate Pentagon-brokered deals for 16 of the countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation, resulting in a 143 percent increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration… American defense contractors also donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and in some cases made personal payments to Bill Clinton for speaking engagements. Such firms and their subsidiaries were listed as contractors in $163 billion worth of Pentagon-negotiated deals that were authorized by the Clinton State Department between 2009 and 2012.” More re: Mideast Regime Contributions to the Foundation
Plutocrat / Plutocracy (from Greek ploutokratia government by the rich) – Often exchanged with the term, Oligarch / Oligarch (See def) – First used by progressives (e.g., Teddy Roosevelt) who politically battled ‘the plutocrats of the Gilded Age’. (Today’s era is occasionally referred to as ‘the second Gilded Age’ and statements of Karl Rove comparing himself to Mark Hannah, the famous advisor of McKinley and Robber Barons, has brought more interest to a comparison of the two eras.) Reviving the term, meaning a “state in which the wealthy class rules,” expresses the current “money is speech.” The revival of this term evokes an important point: progressives prevailed in the first money-in-politics battle and lessons carry forward from the McKinley-Cleveland first Robber Baron era. Taken at his word, Karl Rove has carried forward lessons from the era. History, of course, tells a more detailed story of how the damaging big business Trusts were finally broken up to set off a wave of competition and new populist movements across the country.
The beginning of the New Deal as FD Roosevelt continued T Roosevelt’s cause was described as a “war for the survival of democracy” against what he called “the economic royalists.”
Political investment ala “ROI” – Money invested in politics which procures a political return on the investment (ROI) in policy, contracts, and even cash subsidies (tax expenditures, foreign aid, etc). The investments come in three basis categories: paid propaganda (campaign ads, electioneering) influence of commercial Mass media by advertizing revenues, or financial interests of owners (General Electric, Microsoft, Murdoch family, etc.) lobbying candidate contributions and perqs (revolving door, legalized inside trading etc)
Professional activism – (via RH) Term for organizations that support their political work through fundraising as opposed to movements supported by its own members. [Criticism of use of the term Progressive is a fair one from the perspective of its nebulous contemporary use, as a euphemism for the most hypocritical wing of the Democratic party. But the Progressive Era is the model for where we are right now -this is a re-run. In the 1912 election 3 of 4 candidates were vying to be considered the most progressive. The personalities of Wilson, Bryan, Roosevelt, Debbs and LaFollette all misfired to deny the country effective leadership for a progressive movement and a progressive government. The word is still in use vaguely in its original sense -which needs to be shored up. Although F.D. Roosevelt was himself a progressive politician, he transformed its legacy into the New Deal, which replaced the term progressive with the term liberal, and also altered the content while accomplishing many progressive goals through different means. FDR made progressives partisan, one element of the New Deal coalition. Like other perfectly good terms from that era – like “plutocracy” – there is an element of censorship of this word in its original meaning. So here is the draft entry from the book’s glossary section:
Progressives – (via RH) People who seek social reforms to improve the life of the poor and middle classes and/or the perfection of democracy, such as by the adoption during the Progressive Era of initiative and referendum, party primaries, the Tillman Act prohibition of corporate electioneering while advocating strict limitation of all campaign contributions and expenditures, direct election of Senators, women’s suffrage, and proposing to reclaim the Constitution from a plutocratic judiciary by referendum on its invalidation of legislation, in order to empower majorities. Progressives tend to put these social and democratic interests ahead of partisan politics. Progressive is the opposite of “neo-liberal” or plutocracy. Teddy Roosevelt explained: “the ideas that I have championed as to controlling and regulating both competition and combination [monopoly] in the interest of the people, so that the people shall be masters over both, have been in the air in this country for a quarter of a century. I was merely the first prominent candidate for President who took them up. They are the progressive ideas …” Roosevelt ran on the 1912 Progressive Party Platform written by Senator Richard Pettigrew which retains relevance and urgency after 100 years. The term has been stripped of its history by being taken over by partisan liberals, for example to name the Congressional Progressive Caucus and “professional Progressive Movement.” But the term may be revived by its use to denote the Progressive Era, and the third party presidential races in 1912 by Roosevelt, 1924 by LaFollette, and 1948 by Wallace, and the platforms behind those races, which remain models for a progressive program today. Indeed the term “Progressive” has more consistent political content than either Democrat or Republican. In this context the term has heightened relevance a century later with the return of the same issues of extreme, inequality, corporatism and plutocracy from the first Gilded Age that generated the Progressive response that named an era. Progressives stood against that corporate and plutocratic power, and were never overly attached to party labels in doing so, both swinging between Republican (Roosevelt, Pettigrew, LaFollette, Wallace) and Democrats (Bryan, Wilson, Roosevelt) as well as running third party presidential campaigns, including the most successful such effort since 1860, in the 1912 election. In the corrupt Gilded Age the Robber Baron Republicans corrupted national policy as the JimCrow/Tammany Hall Democrats corrupted local politics. Progressives comprised the single issue forces that stood in opposition to forces of corruption in both parties and achieved the four important progressive amendments to the Constitution – the 17th to undercut corruption in the Senate, although prohibition ultimately failed. The most important connotation for modern use of the term “progressive” is its orientation toward principle over partisanship.
Quid pro quo – euphemism employed by Supreme Court for bribery, empasizing the necessity of a direct two way transaction with the subjective intent to trades something of value for abuse of office by a politician.
Recuse, recusal – the remedy mandated in the case of a prohibited conflict of interest which objectively disqualifies the conflicted agent from making a decision, or exercise of delegated power. Subjective corrupt intent of the parties, as in bribery where there is an express agreement, is irrelevant to imposition of the recusal remedy. If objectively a reasonable person would be influenced in favor of the one party or interest in exchange for what is presented as an independent gratuity, then the recipient of the gratuity must recuse him-or herself from acting favorably to that party or interest.
“Revolving Door” – Common term for close, even intimate, lobbyist-government connections. Work in government for a time, then leave and lobby government. It is lucrative to lobby, the largesse can be six- and seven-figure, rather than being a government employee, locked into a flow-chart with little to no opportunity to get rich. A more conventional definition of playing the revolving door game in politics, as provided by Wikipedia: The “revolving door” is a movement of personnel between roles as legislators and regulators and the industries affected by the legislation and regulation. That’s an understatement of how revolving doors work and what the consequences of ‘the revolving door’ bring as a way of governing.
Runaway pay-to-play politics – Refers to the multiplier, exponential effect of a chain of actions that occur when certain series of events enable and set loose a speeding up of consequences. Sometimes used in science to indicate a chain of events that cannot be easily predicted because it goes beyond the everyday ’cause and effect’, such as in climate change science. ‘Tipping points’ also refers to this phenomena where, when a level of activity is reached, a cascading effect is ‘tipped’ into rapid change. In the modern US political era, some commentators have referred to recent SCOTUS money-in-politics and extensions to accepted money-in-politics behaviors and actions as enabling a cascade of money and resulting cascading effect of policies and spending that result as a consequence. Statistical studies are demonstrating this effect and the ‘momentum, dynamics and inertia’ of runaway pay-to-play politics.
SCOTUS – Supreme Court of the United States. Its decisions limiting legislative oversight of campaign finance reforms have enabled what is often described as a “new Robber Baron era”. Whether one uses the term plutocracy or oligarchy, the current era of politics is characterized by powerful, monied interests in campaigns and governing. Lobbying is big business and campaigns/lobbying spending is in the billions annually. The Return on Investment (ROI) makes money-in-politics a lucrative pay-to-play, as SCOTUS decision open up the field to powerful players. A recent example (2016) of this propensity to support money and politically access is the (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/06/27/mcdonnell-scotus-decision-could-open-up-a-new-golden-age-of-political-pay-to-play.html McDonnell decision). Other decisions that have acted to enable widespread pay-to-play/money-in-politics practices are https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._FEC Citizens United], [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCutcheon_v._FEC McCutcheon v. FEC], and the ‘granddaddy’ of big money in politics, [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckley_v._Valeo Buckley v. Valeo].
SIV – Single issue voting, known in the progressive era as pressure politics.
Spoliation of evidence – Spoliation of evidence occurs when an individual or entity violates its duty to preserve relevant evidence. A finding of spoliation will often result in the imposition of sanctions and can significantly impact a litigation.
Super PACs – Known technically as “independent expenditure-only committees” and colloquially as “dark-money groups,” Super PAC conduits may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, and individuals, but are (legally) not permitted to contribute to or coordinate directly with parties or candidates. (Illegally) Super PACs find myriad channels to work in ‘harmony’ (i.e. coordinate without laying a paper trail that can be traced) alongside candidate campaigns. Super PACs are a more recent money-in-politics M.O. (method of operation/modus operandi) that have become a key player in the political game, contributing hundreds of millions in each political cycle.
Systemic corruption – Conflicts of interest throughout a political system where laws to prevent conflicts of interest are uneforced or nonexistent; to be carefully distinguished from bribery which remains illegal in such systems but uneforceed except when used by the corrupt system against its enemies or rivals, or occasionally for public relations. Under the best of circumstances bribery laws are virtually unenforceable against progessionals practioners who know how to avoid leaving an evidence trail of bilateral arrangements made in secret. Remedies useful against bribery, or petit corruption, are adequate and are often counterproductive, to remedy systemic, or grand, corruption.
TBTF – “Too big to fail”, a phrase and political norm that results from the close relationship between political institutions, banks and financial institutions in the current era of financialization policies and neoliberalization.
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Special thanks for legal language provided by Rob Hager, Esq.
H/T to Ambrose Bierce / 1907
Lawyer (n.) One skilled in circumvention of the law.
Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.
(Rev. Draft – July 2016)
When It’s Time to Step Back