Commentary: The Right Kind of Political Money

By Mark Gerzon, president of Mediators Foundation, author of The Reunited States of America: How We Can Bridge the Partisan Divide

Let’s face it: if we want to fix our politics, we have to talk about m-o-n-e-y. That’s right: money!

Now that Jane Mayer has chronicled how the Koch brothers’ empire has funded the extreme Right, we know all about how “dark money” can hide in the extremist shadows. But let’s resist the immediate temptation to call the antidote “light money.” The contrast between the poison and the antidote is more than the contrast between secrecy (“dark”) and transparency (“light”). To evoke the contrast more fully, a better designation may be “wall money” vs. “bridge money.”

What is wall money? It is:

  • hard to trace to its source (camouflaged)
  • centralized in the hands of the very wealthy (elitist)
  • associated with political ideas on the fringes (extremist); and
  • designed to polarize one “side” against another (divisive).

In other words, wall money is about using vast amounts of money to amplify the voices of a few at the expense of the voices of the many.

Conversely, the opposite is “bridge money.” It is recognizable because it is:

  • easy to identify and connect to its source (transparent);
  • drawn from numerous and more diverse contributors (populist);
  • based on core values of American culture (mainstream); and
  • designed to bring many “sides” together to solve problems (unifying).

In other words, bridge money is about using money from many pockets to give everyone a voice so that sustainable solutions can be found to the challenges our country faces.

Today bridge money is both harder to recognize and harder to find. First of all, there is a lot less of it. As America polarized, so did the money.  While the amount of money on the Left and the Right has skyrocketed, the resources for the “problem-solving” sector where citizens work together across the divide has not grown at all. While candidates in national races are now throwing around a total of more than $2 billion, this “problem-solving” sector of the political spectrum is being starved. So the bridge-builders remain invisible — hidden behind the partisan fireworks.

What America needs are citizens who commit their resources to thoughtful problem-solving rather than cocky position-taking.  Instead of spending, as a nation, tens of billions of dollars disuniting America, those of us who have contributed to politicians to wage war against each other now need to reconsider our priorities.   We need to shift our focus away from electoral fistfights and toward the renewal of democracy.

There is obviously no “magic pill” to clean up the campaign finance mess. But today there are a wide range of solutions-oriented initiatives from which concerned citizens can select. For a broad range of liberal-leaning approaches to the problem, there is no better place to start than the excellent list of organizations outlined by Issue One. And if you want a more conservative-oriented organization that also recognizes the urgency of this threat to our democracy, check out Take Back Our Republic.

With all these options before us, let’s not just throw our precious dollars to the Democratic and Republican parties. It’s time to fund the solution, not just the problem. Before we make a political donation, let’s ask ourselves: What will benefit us more — higher walls or stronger bridges?

May our answer to that question guide how we invest our money, focus our attention, and, of course, cast our ballots.

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This is Mark Gerzon with “Beyond Red and Blue.” For more information, please go to





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