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Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp--On the Trail of the Ultra-Rich Hijacking American Politics Hardcover – 12 Jun 2014

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James Kwak, New York Times Book Review "What Vogel gives us is a detailed look at this new political landscape, where voracious money-sucking beasts mingle with megadonors hungry for behind-the-scenes access...Whether we are witnessing is a tectonic shift or a gradual evolution, 'Big Money' amply and colorfully makes the case that our elected leaders are increasingly dependent on a small number of seven-digit checks written by a few dozen members of the 0.01 percent, and therefore politics are becoming a type of thoroughbred horse racing." Barton Swaim, Wall Street Journal "With 'Big Money'---which takes up the Kochs and other rich political contributors, including Sheldon Adelson, Rob McKay and liberal Texas lawyers Steve and Amber Mostyn---Mr. Vogel has succeeded in doing what I, for one, didn't think possible. He has made the subject of money in politics entertaining--indeed, gripping. He does this by a combination of factual analysis, eyebrow-raising scoops and zany stories." Michael Levin, Huffington Post "Vogel is a master of Politico's deliciously snarky political style and offers us glimpses of our elders and betters at their least dignified. ...Vogel's Big Money is a must-read if you are concerned about politics and the future of this country." Bethany McLean, Washington Post "[Vogel] knows the characters and gets the game. Want to understand Mitt Romney's fundraising operation, how Jim Messina mobilized big donors for Obama's 2012 campaign or the war chest that is already growing underneath Hillary Clinton? Vogel tells the stories. He also offers lots of detail on one of the most fascinating frenmities in modern right-wing politics: Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. And he offers great facts to bolster his overall claim...To his great credit, Vogel is also pretty even-handed...This is a book by an insider, for insiders." Daniel Ben-Ami, Financial Times "Kenneth Vogel, chief investigative reporter for Politico, the news organisation, does an excellent job in untangling this story. Much of the book consists of reportage, with him trying to attend secretive meetings between ultra-wealthy donors and electoral candidates seeking funding. Often he was barred from entering or ejected after being identified as a journalist...He is commendably non-partisan in his reporting. Vogel sketches the shadowy fundraising worlds of both of the main parties. He also reports on the intense factional rivalry that sometimes exists within their respective camps." Walter Shapiro, Brennan Center for Justice "Vogel's paparazzi tactics -- coupled with relentless traditional reporting -- have made Big Money the smartest and most revealing book chronicling the Super PAC era. Instead of predictable legal analysis and a mind-numbing march of statistics, Vogel tries to grasp what motivates the wealthy to invest so heavily in Super PACs. And his answers do not fit into the neat ideological cubbyholes of either campaign reformers or believers in the nonsensical, but powerful, doctrine that money equals free speech." Chris Moody, Yahoo! News "Pull[s] back the curtain on some of the most important players... Through impressive sourcing, Vogel's work...offers a peek into the secretive universe of megadonors in the post-Citizens United era." The Economist's Democracy in America blog "A highly entertaining account of the adventures of billionaires in politics." Joel Connelly, "Vogel manages to entertain while reporting on the politics of excess, even when things turn sinister... The most fascinating aspect of Vogel's book is what manner of candidate big money culture produces, with a look back to 2012 and ahead at 2016... Buy Hillary's book for your coffee table, but take 'Big Money' on vacation." Jim Newell, Bookforum "Vogel's decision to adopt a gonzo-style approach allows us to check out our new oligarchic digs as the contractors near completion. Throughout the book, Vogel shares versions of the same first-person story that never seems to lose its alternatingly comedic and terrifying edges: Here's a closed-door donor conference I snuck into, and here's what happened when they found me out." Truthdig "Excellent and revealing." Politix "Big Money is a fascinating, yet often depressing, tale about what--and who--really matter in American elections...Most books about campaign finance are dry tomes detailing the technicalities of political action committees (PACs), hard vs. soft money, and the like. It's enough to make a reader's eyes glaze over after the first chart or regression analysis. Big Money is instead an incisive, at-time hilarious, look at the very rich human beings who now dominate big-time political fundraising...To learn about who is likely to give and why, Kenneth P. Vogel's Big Money is a must-read."

About the Author

Ken Vogel covers the confluence of money, politics, and influence for Politico. He's won awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He analyzes politics on national television and radio, and lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife, Danielle, and their dog, Ali. Follow him on Twitter @kenvogel.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 19 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A Must-Read for Every American Voter 19 Jun. 2014
By JerseyGirlReader - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book is a wake-up call to every American who thinks his/her vote counts. The average U.S. citizen no longer has a say in this country because a small handful of very rich and powerful men are running things. Kenneth Vogel documents this scary truth in his extremely well written, thought-provoking book. I only wish BIG MONEY were fiction. Knowing that these things are really going on is scarier than any seat-of-the-pants thriller I've ever read.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Must read 16 Jun. 2014
By Richard H. Immerman - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Particularly as the Republican Party pulls out all the stops to gain a majority in the Senate even as it seeks to hold off Tea Party insurgents, Kenneth Vogel's new book could not be more timely--nor more revealing and instructive. His research on not only the money pouring into PACs but also on the motives behind the pourers, his knack for storytelling and elegant prose, and his expertise and insight make this a must read-book for scholars, political junkies, and, most importantly, concerned citizens. This is the kind of journalism which we historians can really respect.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A must read for all citizens 29 Jun. 2014
By Miriam V. Gold - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Ken Vogel has produced a well written and thought provoking analysis of the consequences of the Supreme Court decision on campaign finance law. The book is full of gritty detail that might come as a surprise to many of us that are not associated with the world he describes. If this were fiction, I would say "great read for the summer." Unfortunately it is not. So I have to add to "great read" that this is also something that everyone engaged in the political system (yes, all of you actual and potential voters out there) must read. It is more than merely entertaining.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Unraveling the Secrets of our New $ Politics 3 July 2014
By Larry Brown - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a "Must-Read" for any political junkie -- or anyone who cares where our democracy is headed. Vogel parses out the connections and conniving of the PACs in ways that make you understand, for instance, why the Republican primary of 2012 was so chaotic. (Too many big money egos refusing to dump their candidate to join forces with others in a unified manner.) And thus, why Romney ultimately lost.
Vogel is on the trail, like a Sherlock Holmes, charting the route of our new political process --clue by clue.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Excellent descriptive reporting of an important problem 12 Sept. 2014
By Dave Kuhlman - Published on
Format: Hardcover
It's ironic that one of the biggest changes in U.S. political system came during the
tenure of the President Obama, who had sworn to defeat and push back against the use and
influence of big money in our political campaigns. For me, that shows the power of the
U.S. Supreme Court to radically change our political system, and to make it responsive to
the rich.

The Citizens United decision and the rise of super PACs has increased the need for more
and bigger checks from donors. And, the need for that huge stream of money goes on
through a long election cycle: through primaries, and through the general election, too.

In some sense, we already knew this. We knew that there were huge amounts of money in our
political system, both in campaign finance and in the lobbying that goes on during
Congress's work to create and vote on legislation. Vogel's value is to give us a readable
and entertaining account of the inside of this process and also, depressingly, to show us
just how huge those sums are and how much influence they enable a small slice of the U.S.
public to have and how corrupt the U.S. political system has become.

It's not a pleasant picture.

This new system and all the money in it has eroded the power of the official political
parties. And, this is one part of "Big money" that I do not understand very well. Vogel
claims that because of the organization of the super PACs, (1) the function of our
political parties has been privatized and (2) that now we have "shadow parties" composed
of organizations of super PACs and the political operatives and consultants that create
and manage them. This privatization of political parties and organizations is especially
true of the Tea Party, which several groups, the Koch brothers in particular, tried to
fund and to capture for their own purposes. This is a topic that I'd love to hear
discussed in a college level political science class or seminar.

One consequence of the erosion of the power of the major political parties in the U.S.
(both the Republican and the Democratic parties) is that leaders in Congress, both in the
Senate and in the House of Representatives, have lost much of their power to control their
members. And, that results in a dysfunctional Congress that refuses or that cannot act to
pass legislation and solve problems.

Vogel reports in detail on the new industry and the teams of consultants and operative
that has grown to create and promote and manage this flood of cash. But, even he cannot
see inside many of these organizations, because of the lack of reporting requirements.
Perhaps 'that' is why he calls them "shadow political parties", because they operate in
the dark, because they are opaque to us, and because they are the dark matter of our
political system.

The details that Vogel reports give a picture of the segments of this industry: (1) the
fund raising and organizing that pumps super rich donors for money; (2) the operational
side, e.g. the spending of these huge amounts of money, especially during and on political
campaigns; and (3) the gate-keepers for the rich, i.e. those who screen the candidates in
an attempt to ensure that the money given to or spent on a particular candidate will
produce the results that the donor wants to achieve.

The candidates are very aware that they are being screened. They know that they are being
auditioned for their future performance. And, they are intensely conscious that if they
do not act accordingly while campaigning and when in office, that they will fore go
important sources of funds.

The outrageous thing is that, since the dominant and most successful strategy is to go
after only the super rich, our political system is becoming skewed so as to represent only
a very narrow segment of our population.

The success rate that big money and super PACs have in getting their candidates elected is
not 100 per cent, which is not surprising, since we now have a system in which the rich
compete against the rich. But, *some* well-funded candidate is going to win, and that
winning candidate knows who paid to get him into office. That elected official knows that
s/he "must dance with the one who brought them". And, remember that much of this huge
pool of money is spent after the campaign: it is used to lobby officials after they get
into office. Either way, the influence in politics is predominantly that of the super
rich, because that's where the money is.

We have to remember that there are those who believe that we should have a right to spend
unlimited amounts of money to influence politics. Perhaps they are aware of the
consequences; perhaps they are not. And, some of them justify, or at least rationalize it
by claiming that it'd be alright if we had full disclosure. I question whether disclosure
would have much effect, since many of the donors are proud of their support. But, you'd
have to get that disclosure requirement written into law and enforced, which seems like an
up-hill battle.

One thing that Vogel's book exposes for us is one of the significant consequences that the
concentration of wealth in the U.S. is having. In effect, it shows the flaw in the
argument that it's good for the rich to get richer, as long as everyone's lot is improved
at the same time. If the rich get *much* richer than everyone else, then, as Vogel shows,
they get much more political power. And, it cannot be good for our country to have a
class of super rich who have much more political influence than everyone else. That's not
democracy; that's plutocracy.

A cautionary note -- The organization of the institutions that collect the donor's money,
that pass along the money, and that spend that money (e.g on campaigning ads), is
extremely complex. That means that there are very smart people behind it. One
implication of that, among others, is that counter-acting this movement, dealing with it,
limiting it, whatever will be extremely difficult. For a Congress that cannot agree to
anything except voting for President Obama or voting against him, that seems like an
unlikely thing to ask for.

There is, in "Big money", a sizable amount of reporting on the libertarian, lower-taxes,
smaller government people and their attempt to produce the kind of government (or lack of
government?) that they want. But, Vogel is balanced. He spends plenty of time on the
left wing, as well, both on the liberal, more progressive big donors and those who are in
the more business friendly segment of the left. And, by the way, there is also on the
right, a segment that pushes more for a government that is favorable to business more than
for less government.

However, Vogel at one point admits (or claims) that if an individual or a company or an
industry, for that matter, wants more from the U.S. government, then the fiscally prudent
thing to do is to spend their money on lobbying after the election rather than on the
election campaign. Vogel as much as admits that writing huge checks in support of a
candidate's election campaign is as much about ego as it is about getting some kind of
desired election results. It's also about perks and wanting to be stroked.

Vogel's book is a very good attempt to provide detailed and well-organized view of one of
the most important problems in U.S. politics, specifically the influence of money in our
political system and the degree to which the money is provided by a narrow class of super
rich. Vogel spends less time on analyzing the results of that influence. But, he does do
an important service in providing the description and details from which that analysis
could start.

A down-side to Vogel's writing is that he makes more of us aware of the extent to which
politics in the U.S. is an activity done by and for the super rich. It's no wonder that
voter participation and citizen satisfaction with our government is so low. I worry that
the kind of awareness that Vogel leads us to will make that even worse. And, it will not
help that delegates to the political convention will see the perks and attention from the
candidates and their organizations going so much toward the super rich.

Some of the consequences that Vogel mentions: (1) A shift toward privatization, in this
case the privatization of the funding of campaigns and the influence exerted on government
officials. (2) An increasing balkanization and tribalism of voters and the officials they
elect. That fragmentation into smaller and more rigid factions makes it more difficult
for our government, especially the Federal government, to do any meaningful work on the
problems we need solved. (3) "A completely legal hijacking of American democracy by the
ultra-rich" (p. 247): those who can afford to buy our government will more and more be
able do so.

One look toward the future: Vogel suggests that the Clintons, both Bill and Hillary, have
a huge ability to raise large sums of money. So, if you are aghast and sickened by that
amount of money chasing politics now, you are not going to want to watch the 2016
campaign. And, one of *my* worries is that, if so much of that big donor money on the
Democratic/liberal side is vacuumed up into the race for the presidency, what will happen
to all the other races. We are already seeing so many state legislatures and
governorships being captured through big funding on the right. Are we likely to see that
become even more skewed?
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