A new documentary on the influence of money and corporations in American politics begins a week long run in Columbus today.
The film entitled "Pay 2 Play" illustrates the corrosive effect of money on democracy using street art, the board game monopoly -- and Ohio politics. Director John Wellington Ennis tells Alison Holm the perennial bellwether state was a perfect setting.
"Ohio is such a crazy prognosticator for the rest of the country. People have this view of Ohio like it's "some other place" that gets to decide on elections, when in fact, Ohio is actually a very reliable barometer of the rest of the country. And an interesting cross section; a Petri dish for a lot of the cultural trends."
The film opens with the 2006 "Coingate" scandal, and the center of the story, Toledo businessman and Republican party fundraiser, Tom Noe. Ennis says Noe's reputation as "the money guy" earned him appointments to the Board of Regents and the Ohio Turnpike Commission that he wasn't qualified for. "When you look at this as a business transaction, when you look at this as our democratic process, when you talk about our streets, our water, our electricity, our air, our children's education and then realize that this is much more like a shopping mart for private interests to be able to do whatever they want, just because they put in a measly amount into campaigns here and there -- I think people will look at this differently and not necessarily fall back into this two-party didactic. It's interesting how much these little things add up. There's so many little laws that can pop up statewide. But once you realize that these kinds of laws that privatize so many different forms, our public utilities and government - once you realize that these are being bundled together by a bill mill called ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, it's actually pretty remarkable to realize the full sort of assault that's been going on for decades." The film follows that assault through the Bush administration, the rise of the Koch brothers, the 2010 mid-term elections and the Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United and the Hobby Lobby case, and uses politicians, political scientists and even lobbyists like Jack Abramhoff to explore the corrosive effect of money on democracy. Ennis says his goal was to make an entertaining film about a grim situation. And he finds reason to be hopeful for the future of American politics - again, in Ohio. "It starts when people are first protesting these bills against collective bargaining by state workers, and as people start to research and find out where these laws are coming from that are identical to other states. It's these protests in Cincinnati at the meetings of ALEC, at the meetings of ALEC, and their annual conference, that an ALEC insider sees this protest, with only a hundred people or so, has a change of heart and actually leaks hundreds of ALEX bills that show what ALEC has been doing across the country in some many different aspects of our lives. And so, when you look at both how "pay-to-play" can take over our entire way of life, and then at the same time what one person can do to undo so much of it, it's a really powerful cycle." Ennis says one of the goals of the film "Pay 2 Play" is to get people talking, and many of the showings this weekend will be followed by discussions led by local activists from groups like Move To Amend and Common Cause.