More Dirty Money messing up my Democratic Process

I’ll say it. The US is materially screwing up its democratic system.

My earlier post about the dastardly interference of celebrity chequebook journalism into the US market is nothing.

A few minutes later, I’m reading about my favourite intersection (journalism and education) and how legislators are being snowed by earnest folks who also happen to be bankrolled by Bill Gates.

Getting rich by selling your life tidbits to the celebrity press is gross enough. But it takes a pretty arrogant and authoritarian heart to think it is okay to use your money to make sure it is your way or the highway.. such that you bypass the natural checks and balances of disinterested intellectuals providing peer-reviewed, empirical evidence and the free and diverse deliberation of ideas.

Key quote from NYTimes journalist Sam Dillon in the piece, Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy: Bill Gates: (emphases mine)

“In some cases, Mr. Gates is creating entirely new advocacy groups. The foundation is also paying Harvard-trained data specialists to work inside school districts, not only to crunch numbers but also to change practices. It is bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations.”

And another:

“Mr. Hess, a frequent blogger on education whose institute received $500,000 from the Gates foundation in 2009 “to influence the national education debates,” acknowledged that he and others sometimes felt constrained. “As researchers, we have a reasonable self-preservation instinct,” he said. “There can be an exquisite carefulness about how we’re going to say anything that could reflect badly on a foundation.””

Dirty money = when you pay actors to parrot your point of view in processes that would normally enable your voice to be only one voice (no louder, no softer).

Look, I get that we’re well past the point at which a democracy taxes companies and then re-distributes that dough based upon a rational, transparent and arms-length process to where we, as a society, determine it should go.  We ban drug company Direct-To-Consumer media advertising, but that doesn’t stop drug companies from funding patient/disease support groups. Suddenly, the pamphlet you get about ‘keeping your Disease-of-the-Week” under control (free of drug company logos, but rife with logos from the supposed ‘arms-length’ association) can’t be seen as free of influence anymore.

We already know the implications to society’s capacity to build new knowledge through the university system that now insists upon  ‘partner’ or ‘industry’ funding (read: stuff that will make us money) to match government grants for basic or applied research.

Now, American legislators have to admit they were duped when they assumed that the “Average Joe” teachers in front of them were speaking of their own “free will” when they addressed a legislative body.

Good on the Times for pointing this out, and to the education professor at Berkeley Dillon quotes who tells it like it is:

“It’s Orwellian in the sense that through this vast funding they start to control even how we tacitly think about the problems facing public education,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

The next line, Dillon notes that Fuller receives “no financing from the foundation”.

Eat that, Gates.


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