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Lee Fang: Dark Money & Lobbyists Serving as Superdelegates Could Decide the 2016 Race

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We continue our coverage of Democracy Spring and the influence of dark money in the presidential elections with Lee Fang, investigative journalist at The Intercept focusing on the intersection of money and politics. He has revealed that several of the Democrats’ superdelegates now work as lobbyists for banks, oil companies, foreign governments and payday lenders, among other special interests. In a close race, these superdelegates could determine the party’s nominee.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Willie Nelson singing “On the Road Again.” And that’s just where we are. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. And we’re on the road again as part of a 100-city tour, now in San Francisco, California.

But back in Washington, D.C., 400 people were arrested in a massive sit-in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to protest the influence of big money and corporate lobbying in politics. We continue our coverage looking at the influence of dark money by speaking with investigative reporter Lee Fang, a journalist at The Intercept who focuses on the intersection of money and politics. His recent piece we’ll talk about in a moment, but I want to talk about the protests that are taking place and what you’re finding as you sniff the money trail on the presidential campaign trail, Lee.

LEE FANG: Well, Amy, welcome to San Francisco. Thank you so much for having me.

I thought the protests yesterday were very interesting, and they kind of connect to a broader movement, this kind of return to civil disobedience that we’ve seen in recent years, everything from Occupy Wall Street to the Black Lives Matter protests. You know, in the waning years of the Bush administration, we saw a lot of activists shifting their focus to electoral politics, focusing on electing Democrats or left-of-center politicians like Barack Obama. But with some of the failures of Obama—failure to achieve real universal healthcare, a failure to really tackle climate change or growing income inequality—we’re seeing this kind of return to civil disobedience, these tactics from the 1960s, or even going back to the 1930s, that are returning to the mainstream in American politics. And I think that’s very interesting. And it’s very savvy, I should add, for all of these protesters to make corruption, money in politics, their focus, because that’s what kind of threads the needle here. No matter what issue you care about, it’s very difficult to see reform when big money, special interests dominate the policymaking process.

AMY GOODMAN: Lee Fang, you write about a significant number of superdelegates are also lobbyists?

LEE FANG: Yeah, so, there’s also—I focus now on the way the Democratic Party nominates its candidate for the presidency. There are about 4,000 pledged delegates, folks that are committed based on how each primary or caucus state votes, but there are also a little over 700 unpledged delegates, known as superdelegates. Most of these are members of Congress, but some of them, a significant number, are actually party insiders or lobbyists and former politicians who now work in the lobbying industry. So it’s very interesting to see this broader discussion, really in both parties, about the role of money in politics, at the same time you have actual lobbyists, folks who are registered to represent big banks, even in some cases foreign governments, and they have incredible power over the nomination process. And in one potential scenario, we could have these lobbyists selecting the nominee, if Hillary and Bernie have about the same number of pledged delegates going into the convention later this summer.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve also written about Hillary Clinton’s ties to fracking internationally. What do you mean?

LEE FANG: Well, yeah, this is an interesting subject. And as both candidates, Bernie and Hillary, discuss fracking, I think this is an important element of the story the mainstream media has not covered very closely. Hillary Clinton, in her time at the State Department, there’s been a lot of focus on her role in Libya, in the Arab Spring, but a significant part of her legacy is really promoting American-style fracking across the world. She, in fact, reorganized the State Department to create a whole new bureau, a 60-plus-staff bureau, focused on energy resources, with a special focus on promoting fracking. And she traveled the world, partnering with American companies like Chevron, going to countries such as Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Bulgaria, and convincing these governments to take this American technology, this directional drilling hydraulic fracturing known as fracking, and trying to convince these countries to adopt American-style fracking. So this is a significant part of her legacy. And as we talk about the role of fossil fuel money in politics, of where she stands on these important issues, I think her role and her legacy at the State Department is important to scrutinize.

AMY GOODMAN: Bernie Sanders has proposed a national ban on fracking.

LEE FANG: Yeah, and that’s a very clear-cut issue. Hillary Clinton has a less-than-clear position on this. In recent days, I believe with her recent interview with the New York Daily News, she said that she would defer to some states and municipal governments that might ban fracking, and that, in some cases, she would hope for fracking that is environmentally sound, that is well regulated. But we really haven’t seen a scenario where fracking is closely regulated. We still haven’t—the federal government doesn’t have a handle on how methane is leaked from these fracked gas well sites. Of course, methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas. So, for Hillary Clinton to take a position that she would allow fracking in an environmentally sound way is troubling, because we still don’t have those regulations.

AMY GOODMAN: Lee Fang, you’ve also written about pro-TPP op-eds remarkably similar to drafts by foreign government lobbyists.

LEE FANG: Yeah, so, we’ve had this big debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, this massive trade deal being negotiated now. Of course, part of this debate is in the public realm, right? News programs, newspapers covering the debate, trying to explain it to readers, but we found a number of op-eds in California newspapers that were lifted directly from lobbyists working for the Japanese government, who were retained by the Japanese government to promote the TPP. So as we talk about money in politics, it’s important to realize, you know, campaign contributions, Citizens United are only one small part of the puzzle here. If you’re a special interest or, in this case, a foreign government, you can buy out a think tank to produce reports. You can pay off PR consultants to place these types of op-ed in newspapers. You can control the policymaking process in so many different ways that it’s important to realize that, you know, the media is part of the problem here.

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