Cover image for The money men : the real story of fund-raising's influence on political power in America
The money men : the real story of fund-raising's influence on political power in America
Birnbaum, Jeffrey H., 1956-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : Crown Publishers, 2000.
Physical Description:
xvi, 287 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


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JK1991 .B573 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
JK1991 .B573 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
JK1991 .B573 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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The real political campaigns in America begin with the money men. If you assume that fund-raising is so distasteful that you don't want to hear any more about it, you are closing your mind to one of the most fundamental and fascinating stories in American politics, writes Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, author of The Money Men. For the past two decades, Birnbaum has followed the money in Washington, as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Time, and Fortune. In his Washington Post bestsellers, Showdown at Gucci Gulch and The Lobbyists, Birnbaum examined the forces that wield power in our capital and the subtle yet influential interplay between pressure groups and politicians. Now, Birnbaum takes us inside the world of the most elite, powerful, and little-known groups in politics: the fund-raisers and fund-givers who have an increasingly large say in the way our government works. If you want to be taken seriously as a political candidate in America, you've got to start with money and the people who raise it. Until now, no one has taken as close a look at who these people are, what they want, and what they get in return for raising hundreds of millions of dollars. In The Money Men, Birnbaum takes us behind the scenes and into the mansions, banquet halls, and living rooms of the people raising the big bucks for presidential aspirants in Campaign 2000. He details the ritual mating dance of money that is rarely seen and is captivating to behold. Birnbaum also reveals which lobbying organizations are the most effective in advancing their agendas and how they do it. For anyone interested in the state of democracy, the possibility for reform, and the strange art of political salesmanship, The Money Men is required reading.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Birnbaum is an award-winning journalist who currently heads Fortune magazine's Washington bureau. He has already shown how pressure groups and special interests affect political decisions and legislation with The Lobbyists: How Influence Peddlers Get Their Way in Washington (1992). He has also looked at the role of White House staff on these same processes in Madhouse: The Private Turmoil of Working for the President (1996). He now turns his attention to another powerful group--those who raise money for campaigns and contribute to political causes. Birnbaum suggests that political fundraising is as much about pettiness and vanity as it is about greed and corruption, and he warns why "average" citizens should be concerned about the power accumulated by those who raise money. He traces the history of "legal bribery," identifies successfully influential fundraisers, shows how technology has changed the ways money can be raised, and explains how contributions are turned into influence. Because campaign finance reform has become an issue in this year's presidential campaign, Birnbaum will attract attention. --David Rouse

Publisher's Weekly Review

Campaign finance reform was the touchstone of John McCain's ill-fated run for the presidency, and Birnbaum (The Lobbyists) makes it clear why. After hammering away at the difference between soft money (contributed to political parties, not capped by law) and hard money (given directly to candidates and limited by law), this generally workmanlike introduction to campaign fund-raising really comes to life when it begins to describe the impact soft money has on the political system. By far the most illuminating chapter is "The Real Party Bosses," in which Birnbaum maintains that elections offer a choice not between the Democratic and Republican parties, but between the interest groups that undergird them, whether big labor or big business or some other contingent. (Were it not for the support of the AFL-CIO, for instance, Birnbaum contends, "Gore would have collapsed under the pressure from Bill Bradley.") Birnbaum argues that because interest groups can deliver money and votes, their issuesÄe.g., abortion rights, the minimum wage, gun controlÄdominate the national debate on an annual basis. And he comes to the surprising conclusion that the most influential group in American politics is not the AFL-CIO or the NRA, but the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), whose war chest and membership are unmatched by those of any other group. Birnbaum, the Washington bureau chief for Fortune, clearly knows the players and the inner workings of the capital's numerous money machines, and once his story kicks into gear, he provides an important look at what needs to be done to keep money from being the only factor that counts in American politics. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this timely, well-written book, noted political journalist and television analyst Birnbaum takes us, in depressingly gruesome detail, deep inside the baroque world of money men, solicitors, money bundlers, and high-end lobbyists. Money, especially "big money," drives American politics. It serves, among other things, as a gatekeeping device that lets certain candidates into the system and pushes others out. "The country's first primary is not held in New Hampshire," writes Birnbaum, "but on K Street in Washington (the lobbyist's main drag), on Wall Street in New York, and on Michigan Avenue in Chicago." In the "Greed Era," as the author views today's politics, the law can be circumvented with the help of the Federal Election Commission, the supposed watchdog, which the author calls "the most ineffective agency in Washington. On purpose." Is there a way out of this swamp of money and corruption? The author is not optimistic. He offers a list of somewhat underwhelming reform proposals but in the end seems resigned to the inevitable "legal corruption" of the current system. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.DMichael A. Genovese, Loyola Marymount Univ., LA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The real winners in American politics are the money men. These are the few who contribute and raise millions of dollars to finance campaigns, sustain lobbyists, and purchase access and political influence. Journalist and author Birnbaum describes these money men, and occasional money women, by providing numerous accounts of who these people are, how they operate, and the role they play in Washington, DC, and around the country. In tracing the history of campaigns and elections in America from the time of George Washington the conclusion is unmistakable--money has always been a critical feature of politics, and the individuals who can bankroll candidates, issues, and lobbyists are the real source of power. Among the major conclusions are that the political interests and views of the money men are at odds with the views of the majority of Americans. Birnbaum argues that the people will not be able to take back control of their government until these individuals are put out of business. A companion to Elizabeth Drew's The Corruption of American Politics (1999). Suitable for collections on campaigns and elections and money and politics. Recommended at all levels. D. Schultz; Hamline University



Almost everyone who works in official Washington eventually has what can be described as the Moment: that  instant when they finally realize that money plays too big a role in politics, way too big. Not that it's a surprise. No one can possibly be happy with a system that compels politicians to spend a third of their time begging for contributions. Yet it's still a shock to see the bazaar up close. It's one thing to know and another to see with your own eyes. It makes a difference. One of my friends experienced his Moment in the mid-1980s when he worked as a press secretary for a southern congressman. At the time, the lawmaker was a hot commodity: He was undecided on whether to vote to fund construction of the B-1 bomber. The Reagan administration, frantic for support, wanted his backing very badly, so White House aides were eager to bargain. In a meeting one day, my friend witnessed the deal as it was struck. The congressman pledged to vote to fund the aircraft in exchange for a VIP tour of the White House for twenty or thirty of his largest and most loyal campaign contributors. The congressman didn't ask for a new dam or a new road or a new grant to help his neediest constituents. Instead, he traded his greatest power, his vote on the House floor, to please the handful of people who really matter to him: the money men who were so key to his reelection. Campaign cash, and lots of it, buys advertisements that, in turn, lure voters to the polls. The more money, the more votes. It's that simple and that venal. Money talks, at least on TV and radio. And the candidate who can put more of his or her ads onto the public airwaves (and local cable channels) has the better chance of winning. Period. That's why lawmakers and executive-branch appointees assist their moneyed constituents whenever they think they can get away with it. They can't always, of course, and big donors are sometimes losers in the game of legislation. Still, it is the rare lawmaker who doesn't keep handy -- or at least keep in mind -- the list of his or her best financial friends. When they call, they are listened to. And conversely, when the lawmakers call them, the donors jump. (Lawmakers often demand contributions, which to the givers seem more like shakedowns.) In any case, it's a symbiotic--or, more accurately, a parasitic -- relationship that absorbs too much of our leaders' attention. It also is part of a deeply ingrained system that's as difficult to fix as it is horrific to behold. But behold it we must. On the threshold of a presidential election, the time is right to focus on this important corner of public policy. We all know vaguely that something is wrong in Washington, especially with its money culture. I hope to show how the money chase works and, in some cases, how we think it works but doesn't really. Only then can we think clearly about how we can -- and cannot -- change it for the better. Washington is awash in campaign cash. It has flooded over the gunwales of the ship of state and threatens to sink the entire vessel. Political donations determine the course and speed of many government actions that -- though we often forget -- will deeply affect our daily lives. The deluge of dollars pouring into lobbying and elections is one of the main reasons Americans are turned off by Washington and its arcane ways. Like so much of what goes on in the nation's capital, fundraising is widely misunderstood. Yes, political giving in its many forms is hugely important. And yes, all of us would be better off if a lot of political giving had never seeped into the system. Yet not all donations are offered for nefarious purposes, nor do they always lead to nefarious ends. In fact, the individuals or groups that give the most don't always win. The relationship between contributions and government action is much more complicated than mere quids and quos. One thing is clear. Political giving is raging like wildfire. George W. Bush shattered all records in his run for president. Indeed, the combination of a surging stock market and huge political stakes have made 2000 the Year of the Firehose. Campaign cash is gushing everywhere now, but the situation has been developing for many years. In one out of six congressional races in 1998 at least one of the candidates spent one million dollars. That was ninety-four candidates in seventy-six congressional districts. Just a decade earlier, only ten House candidates reached the million-dollar mark. The last presidential election cycle cost just over two billion dollars, a record. This time, expect the first three-billion-dollar campaign. Excerpted from The Money Men: The Real Story of Political Power in the U.S.A. by Jeffrey Birnbaum All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.