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Pricele$$ 2011

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Bullfrog Films, PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547; 800-543-FROG (3764)
Produced by Steven Cowan
Directed by Steven Cowan
DVD, color, 88 min.

High School - College
Political Science

Date Entered: 08/08/2011

Reviewed by Timothy W. Kneeland, History and Political Science Department, Nazareth College of Rochester, Rochester, NY

Pricele$$ is an excellent study of the corrupting influence of money in congressional politics and its negative impact on both domestic and foreign policy. Using interviews with lobbyists, policy advocates, and current and former members of Congress, the film correlates the amount of campaign contributions received by politicians from corporations and political action committees with their voting record. The film skillfully shows how campaign contributions lead to policy choices in Congress by using two case studies, one drawn from domestic policy and one from foreign policy. The corrosive role of campaign contributions by the chemical-fertilizer and pesticide industries on agricultural policy is exposed. Despite health risks from the environmental impact of chemicals in groundwater and the potential danger of pesticides found in food, Congress has shown little interest in investigating or regulating these industries and almost no interest in exploring alternatives to current farming practices such as organic farming. The documentary also shows how foreign policy can be influenced by corporations. For example, the film suggests that the lack of interest in energy alternatives to carbon based fuel, which has threatened our national security, is strongly correlated to the large contributions from the oil and gas industry to key members of the House and Senate who make energy policy.

The film cleverly juxtaposes school children who have an “emperor has no clothes” attitude about what they label “bribes” to the more evasive comments of the politicians and lobbyists who justify their continued acceptance of large contributions and deny that this shapes the behavior of Congress. In this the film takes a bipartisan approach, finding that the problem is a reflection of the current system of self-financed political campaigns and both major political parties are indicted for shaping public policy to fit the needs of wealthy special interests rather than the common good. To eliminate this problem, the filmmakers suggest Arizona is a successful model for enacting public financing that will eliminate the need for candidates to curry favor from wealthy donors. As a result, Arizona legislators, we are told, are able to focus on the business of the ordinary citizen.

The film has a coherent narrative, excellent cinematography, and at 58 minutes seems much shorter. An added bonus is that the DVD comes with a 25 minute version useful for shorter class periods. My one caveat is that although the documentary is bipartisan, it is not unbiased. When addressing the issues of agricultural and energy the film clearly favors progressive solutions, such as organic farming and alternate energy resources such as solar and wind, rather than more domestic drilling or nuclear power. In addition, public financing is cited as the best solution to the corrupting influence of money in politics, a policy choice consistent with progressive policies. However, these issues do not detract from the overall excellence of the film. In fact, for those teachers with a progressive inclination the film provides an option for use in the classroom to touch on these policies as well as the larger question of money and political influence. For those with a conservative inclination, the film would be a starting point for a guided discussion on these issues.

Highly recommended.