News Release

Beyond Money in Politics: Corruption Now “Business as Usual”

unaccountable_bookJANINE WEDEL, jwedel at gmu.edu
Wedel, an anthropologist and professor at George Mason University’s School of Policy, Government and International Affairs, is the author of the just-released Unaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt our Finances, Freedom and Security.

She recently wrote in USA Today: “What do the words ‘dark money’ mean to you? Unless you slept through the entire 2014 midterm election, you’ve heard the phrase again and again, almost always referring to undisclosed donors swaying political elections. But the insidious reach of dark money goes far beyond any blizzard of TV ads sponsored by groups you couldn’t quite identify.

“Donors and corporate interests try to shape policy, professional practices and public opinion, not just every two years, but all the time, affecting our health, habitats and pocketbooks. And we have little way of knowing who’s behind it.”

Wedel gives several examples, including “Your Health,” noting: “For nearly every disease there is a patient advocacy group, which do attract real sufferers and sincere advocates. But in recent years, Big Pharma has been exploiting their vulnerabilities to conduct veiled PR campaigns. Companies push their preferred drugs on prospective patients and their doctors. Advocacy groups can also serve as conduits of money and influence in advocating for legislation favored by drug-makers, under cover of ‘grassroots’ advocacy. And they often find handmaidens among elite physicians — so-called Key Opinion Leaders, or KOLs. KOLs are paid or perked by Big Pharma to convince fellow professionals that a particular company’s product is most effective.”

Wedel also wrote the piece “Booted by Voters? Still in Hot Demand: 5 Places Former Pols Go After Leaving Congress,” which states: “1. Think Tanks: After being elected to nine terms in Congress, Jane Harman abruptly ended her tenure by joining a growing number of former elected officials who have joined or become the head of think tanks. Many think tanks, no longer bastions of wonkiness and long-term studies, operate like partisan fighters, armed with rapid-response teams and quickly assembled reports. …Even popular Senators like Jim DeMint, who joined the Heritage Foundation back in 2013, have found ways to influence policy without voting on legislation. …”

“2. Public Relations: After Senators Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg, both past Chairmen of the Senate Budget Committee, left office, they joined the world’s biggest public relations firm, Edelman, as ‘strategic advisors,’ newly created roles that ‘provide public policy advice and communications counsel to a wide variety of corporate, association and nonprofit clients’ according to a company press release. …”

Wedel describes her work in the preface: “I wrote Unaccountable to bring to your attention the invisible corruption that has become business as usual when it comes to how so much power and influence work nowadays. I come to this work as a social anthropologist — not the stereotypical one who dons a pith helmet to live among a long-lost tribe in Borneo, but one who has spent her career in exotic places like Washington and Warsaw as a participant observer in think tanks, government agencies, and academic institutions. As an anthropologist who has long studied how systems and organizations actually work (as opposed to how they purport to work), it is my job to identify and explain patterns.”