MHP   |  October 27, 2012

Dark money fueled by little-known organizations

Scot Ross of "One Wisconsin Now" joins Melissa Harris-Perry and her guests to dig into the details on the Bradley Foundation, what is called the "big granddaddy of political money that no one knows about."

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> municipal races, not to mention the presidential race , $9.8 billion will be spent this year, $9.8 billion. what? and that is just the money to get into office. what about after they get elected? what about the money that floods into the decision making policy process and legislation writing. joining me now from madison, wisconsin is scott ross of one wisconsin now who has been looking at this very issue coming from his back yard to influence policy decisions across the country. nice to have you, scott.

>> melissa , a real pleasure to be here. thank you.

>> talk to me about the bradley foundation . i've spent the last couple days reading everything about them. what i found so shocking is they're bigger than koch, but not a name we know in national politics.

>> a lot of people think the most destructive right wing elements out of wisconsin might be scott walker 's agenda and paul ryan . it turns out it's this little building in milwaukee, wisconsin , that houses the bradley foundation . thanks to intrepid reporting last weyear from the milwaukee journal sent nenl we know that probably since supreme court declared george bush the victor of the election, they've spent nearly $1 billion in to push forward a right-wing agenda. that includes funding think tanks , hoover, manhattan institute , to funding the activities on the ground of voter suppression and activities that take away the right of the people to exercise that sacred right of the franchise. they are massive.

>> scot, i want to pause. i've been framing this as kind of buying your vote through advertising and that kind of thing. but what i found fascinating about the bradley foundation is they lay the intellectual justification for a variety of conservative policy positions. they fund research. they also fund the arts and things that are kind of community-based within wisconsin and milwaukee. but that idea of laying the intellectual framework suggests to me that this is not easily rooted out, for example, with new legislation.

>> no. and the thing is, melissa , they have spent half a billion dollars. 60% of that is for organizations outside the state of wisconsin . they create science, junk science in universities and these think tanks that is the moral justification for these harsh restrictive conservative policies which take away corporate accountability , which privatize our schools. that's one of their massive endeavors is the privatization of private schools . they've moved now into funding organizations about propaganda to say there's massive voter fraud and justify the activities in polling places on election days. that includes, melissa , a contribution to true the vote which ended up being returned because true the vote didn't have its 501(c)(3) status, but true the vote and organizations that are working with true the vote. hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations working with true the vote to put a million poll workers in election precincts on election day .

>> i want to bring in valerie quickly because she's been making the point about on voting day it should be that every vote counts the same. if it's not advertising, if they're putting voter suppression action in the field, that strikes me as particularly troubling.

>> yes. what's especially enraging is that in this time of economic depression so economic waste is being poured into these campaigns. the majority is being spent on negative ads. it would be one thing if this money was deepening political discourse . it's actually cheapening it. they're organizing faith leaders to stand up to money and politics and with ben organizing folks in colorado to pull for a constitutional amendment to overturn citizens united .

>> there's some kind of solution do this?

>> there are a variety of different solutions. i don't think there's any one silver bullet . i think we need to work on a variety of different fronts. just as important as getting the money out of politics, we need to think about policies that bring the people back in, we can't simply think of the problem as one that reduces money in politics. we need to incentivize more participation. through small donor matching programs like in new york city and a variety of states around the country, right now there's a big campaign in new york state to try to get public financing passed. governor cuomo is a big supporter. there's federal legislation. the real challenge is a political one, not pool see one. there are solutions to these issues. the real question is whether we can build the political will to adopt anything that puts some of the sanity back into our political system .

>> scott, the argument here is it's not just money out. it's got to be people in. wisconsin has a long tradition of organizing, of populism. is wisconsin the place where we can start looking for solutions for money out, people in?

>> certainly we saw in the last two years in wisconsin with the agenda of governor walker and the attacks on workers here and the wisconsin way of life , that people have mobilized and are funding against it. in wisconsin we were able to get the billboards taken down, the voter suppression billboards that were funded. so there is a great and massive mobilization. certainly they have unmatched forces, forces that i want to point out are tax deductible . so when corporations give money to these organizations, they can get a tax break out of it. in fact, they ran $4 million worth of television ads , bradley founded organizations here in the state of wisconsin , the first ads run to promote walker's agenda during the recall were 501(c)(3) tax deductible ads paid for by the americans for prosperity foundation. a wisconsin -based group almost holy funded by bradley foundation . now those similar ads are running nationally. the americans for prosperity foundation and citizens against government waste , another group that gets money from the bradley foundation are running those ads with china supposedly in 2030 talking about how america collapsed as a result of debt and things like that.

>> scot, i appreciate you bringing some kind of very clear insights into this. it's a tough issue. it's not going to be fixed overnight. but we've got to keep thinking about how to fix it. thank you to scot ross in madison wisconsin , thank you to david donnelly. the rest are back for more.

>>> i wrote my letter to richard mourdock on tuesday night. but i'm going to read it next. my doctor told