Democracy in America

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Here are three quick looks at our ruling class from my morning paper. What’s noteworthy is that hardly any of it is really noteworthy. Look #1 comes from the California legislature, which still hasn’t passed a budget nearly three months after it’s legally required to:

Lawmakers have vacuumed up more than $6.9 million in campaign cash — more than $80,000 a day, state records show — since the fiscal year began without a budget on July 1. Much of the money has come from powerful interests trying to advance an agenda. The legislators have wooed lobbyists and donors over cocktails at a Beverly Hills cigar club, in luxury boxes at baseball games and at Disneyland. A dozen golf retreats were scheduled from July through September.

Meanwhile, billions of dollars in state bills are going unpaid due to the absence of a spending plan. Health clinics that serve the poor are threatening to close their doors, college students are forced to scrape by without their state scholarship funds, and child-care centers may have to shut down.

Look #2 comes from an all-too-routine federal contracting agreement:

In an example of how common it has become for government agencies to outsource seemingly routine tasks to former officials, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has awarded a “strategic consulting” contract worth up to $481,000 over five years to a small firm staffed by former agency insiders….The fees work out to about $240 an hour — not including travel expenses or the cost of the conferences. Among those who will benefit from the contract are the agency’s former commissioner and the husband of a current agency spokeswoman. It’s legal as long as the officials observe a one-year ban on landing work from their former agency.

And finally, look #3 comes from the working class city of Bell, whose executives and city council members have conspired over the past decade to pay each other millions of dollars in salaries and benefits:

Bell spent nearly $95,000 to repay loans that then-City Manager Robert Rizzo made to himself from his retirement accounts, a draft state audit reviewed by The Times shows…..”Public funds were used to repay [Rizzo’s] personal loans, apparently without authorization,” the audit says. The full audit by Controller John Chiang’s office is expected to be released this week. Chiang’s office had previously found that Bell illegally overcharged residents and businesses by $5.6 million in various taxes.

It’s hardly any wonder that the tea partiers are so angry, is it?

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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