Does Joe Biden Have a Corruption Problem?

Zephyr Teachout joins Mehdi Hasan to discuss Joe Biden and the culture of corruption in Washington.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images, AP

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On January 20, The Guardian published an op-ed by New York attorney and law professor Zephyr Teachout titled ‘Middle Class’ Joe Biden has a corruption problem — it makes him a weak candidate.” In it, Teachout argues that Biden’s history of taking big donations from the credit card, health care, and fossil fuel industries and then voting on their behalf makes him a poor choice against Donald Trump in the fall. “A lot of the voters we need,” she writes, “independents and people who might stay home — will look at Biden and Trump and say: ‘They’re all dirty.’”

Teachout is a public supporter of Bernie Sanders and when the Biden camp took umbrage at the piece, Sanders apologized for it. “It is absolutely not my view that Joe is corrupt in any way,” said the Vermont senator. “And I’m sorry that that op-ed appeared.” But was that really the right reply from a candidate who has made the fight against big money in politics one of the cornerstones of his campaign? Zephyr Teachout joins Mehdi Hasan to discuss Joe Biden and the culture of corruption in Washington.

Zephyr Teachout: Joe Biden has a long history of taking money from big donors and doing them favors as senator.

[Music interlude.]

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan. On the show today, does Joe Biden, long-standing friend of Wall Street, one-time surrogate for the credit card industry, and a favorite of big donors in this Democratic presidential campaign, does he have a corruption problem? And if so, is Biden a symptom of a broader corrupt culture in Washington DC, dominated as it is by big money and big business?

ZT: We absolutely need to change the way campaigns are funded. We need to make it so that when somebody is running for Congress the first question that is asked is not how many of the richest people in the world do you know and can you call them all up?

MH: That’s my guest today, the academic, activist and corruption expert Zephyr Teachout, who caused controversy last week when she wrote a piece slamming Joe Biden as a “weak candidate” to take on Donald Trump because of his own “big corruption problem.” So, is she right?

Let’s be clear, Donald Trump is the most corrupt president in modern American history. He was impeached, and is now on trial, for abuse of power and for obstruction of Congress but as you’ve heard me say on this show for the past year, he should have been impeached for much, much more.

Newscaster: More than 110 officials from nearly 60 foreign governments have been spotted at Trump hotels, golf courses and other properties since 2017.

Pundit: This is about as direct and profound a violation of the Emoluments Clause as one could create.

Newscaster: Jared Kushner’s appointment as a senior adviser to the president is also drawing controversy.

Newscaster: Ivanka, Jared and the nepotism problem that is blossoming in Trump’s White House.

Newscaster: Trump backing down from a controversial that next year’s G-7 summit of world leaders would take place at Trump’s property in Doral, Florida.

Donald J. Trump: It would’ve been great.

Newscaster: Ethics advocates warn, foreign leaders could be booking stays at Trump properties to curry favor with the president, something which violates the constitution.

Pundit: It’s the casual corruption of the Trump administration.

MH: This week, thanks to the New York Times, we learned that he not only grants perks and favors to his friends, family members and donors, but also, according to John Bolton’s forthcoming book, the leaders of China and Turkey, too. So, when confronted with the brazen and shameless corruption of Trump and his inner circle of grifters, conmen, and sycophants, a lot of Democrats have concluded that getting rid of Trump is all that matters. It doesn’t matter who he’s replaced with, only that he’s replaced.

Newscaster: Most Democrats still say electability is the most important quality.

Newscaster: The Biden argument has been electability. I can beat Donald Trump.

Newscaster: Biden knows that his name of the game is electability. And why do people who like Biden like him? Because they think he can beat Trump.

MH: So you get this situation where former Vice President Joe Biden has been the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination for the past year, even though he has an awful, awful record — including on the issue of corruption and on family members making money off of his name.

To be clear: no one’s saying Biden’s broken any laws. Nor is anyone saying Biden is as corrupt as Trump. Of course not, that would be ridiculous. No one could be as corrupt as Trump, even if they tried. But the “Well, he’s not as bad as Trump” bar is a pretty low bar, I would argue. Especially for Democrats who claim to occupy the moral high ground.

Take Hunter Biden. The Republicans are wrong to say that Joe Biden, as vice president, tried to have the Ukranian chief prosecutor fired to prevent him investigating his son’s role at the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma in 2015 and 2016. There’s zero evidence for that. None. The Republicans and Trump are lying.

But it is fair to ask the question: what on earth was Hunter Biden doing getting paid 50k a month to sit on Burisma’s board of directors? He had no knowledge of Ukraine, no experience in the energy industry. He was there because of his last name, because his father was the vice president of the United States, and it was totally inappropriate. Let’s just be clear about that.

The fact is that Hunter Biden, and Joe Biden’s brothers James and Frank, have a long history of cashing in on the family name. Frank is on record telling people his name was a “tremendous asset” when it came to getting business deals with the federal government. And, as my Intercept colleague Ryan Grim reported back in October, citing an investigation by Politico magazine among others, Biden’s late son Beau, who tragically died of cancer in 2015, Beau was roped into an investment meeting in 2006 led by his uncle James and his brother Hunter, at which James allegedly told executives they’d have no problem bringing in people looking for access to Joe Biden, who was a U.S. senator at the time. “We’ve got people all around the world who want to invest in Joe Biden,” James Biden said afterwards and Beau, reportedly, turned red in the face, and told his uncle, “This can never leave this room, and if you ever say it again, I will have nothing to do with this.”

For me the story that stands out even more than this and that’s had so little coverage involves Beau’s brother Hunter but it has nothing to do with Ukraine and everything to do with Delaware. That’s the state Joe Biden represented in the Senate from 1973 to 2009, a state that’s long been home to the credit card industry.

Back in the late 1990s, the credit card industry and the financial services industry more broadly started lobbying for new rules to make it harder for people to declare bankruptcy. MBNA, the credit card giant headquartered in Delaware, was at the forefront of those lobbying efforts and completely coincidentally had the support of Joe Biden for what became known as the bankruptcy bill. MBNA was Biden’s single biggest donor, with executives and employees of MBNA giving $200,000 to Biden’s campaigns between 1989 and 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Biden even became known as “the Senator from MBNA.” Yeah, the Senator from MBNA. And, to top it all off, as Jacobin magazine pointed out, “MBNA hired Biden’s son, Hunter, as a lobbyist straight out of law school, and later hired him as a consultant from 2001 to 2005 — the same years Biden was helping to pass the bill.” The same years.

By the way, back then, Biden was was called out, to his face, for his support for that bankruptcy bill, and his undermining of the middle class voters he’d always claimed to champion, by a certain law professor from Harvard University, a certain Elizabeth Warren:

Joe Biden: Your problem with the credit card companies is usury rates from your position. It’s not about the bankruptcy bill.

Elizabeth Warren: But Senator if you’re not going to fix that problem, you can’t take away the last shred of protection from these families.

JB: I got it. You’re very good, professor.

MH: Most Democratic senators at the time, including Barack Obama, voted against that odious bill. But not Biden, not the Senator from MBNA. And the bill passed in 2005. The New York Times called it a “a big victory for [President] Bush, who supported the measure, and a sharp setback for civil rights organizations and consumer groups. They say the new law will be a huge giveaway to special interests at the expense of many middle and lower income families.” Thanks Joe. Thanks a lot.

To me, it’s astonishing and frustrating that Biden support for the bankruptcy bill, at a time when his son was working for the credit card industry and when he was getting massive donations from the credit card industry. It’s frustrating that that story hasn’t had much attention, neither from his Democratic rivals, nor from the debate moderators on TV. He’s been given a pass on this from too many people in politics and the media, who don’t take special interests, big money, or corruption seriously enough — despite poll after poll, showing a majority of American consider corruption to be a major, if not the major problem with American politics.

So my question today is: how corrupt is Joe Biden? And how corrupt is the U.S. political establishment?

[Music interlude.]

MH: My guest today is Zephyr Teachout, attorney and associate professor of law at Fordham University. She ran for the Democratic nomination for New York State attorney general in 2018, and she is a campaign surrogate for Bernie Sanders.

She’s author of the book “Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United.” And she’s also the author of a recent and much-discussed Guardian op-ed headlined: “Middle Class’ Joe Biden has a corruption problem – it makes him a weak candidate.” An op-ed that caused so much outrage in some Democratic party circles and offended the Biden campaign so much that Bernie Sanders actually came out and apologized for it and disowned it.

Zephyr Teachout, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

ZT: Oh, I’m really thrilled to be here. Thanks for having me on.

MH: Zephyr, before we get to Joe Biden, I want to ask you, you’re one of this country’s top experts on corruption. You’ve written books about this stuff. Two big important questions I wanted you to answer for me, for our listeners to set the scene for this discussion: number one, how corrupt is the U.S. political system compared to say, other Western democracies? And number two, how corrupt is Donald Trump compared to U.S. presidents who have come before him?

ZT: Well, I will answer your question, but I actually do want to step back because corrupt and corruption is one of these words that we use regularly but it’s actually a word that means really different things to different people. For a couple hundred years, everybody accepted that corruption was the use of public power whether power gained through elections or appointment for private, selfish ends and the Supreme Court not just in Citizens United, but in a whole series of cases since 1976, has basically shifted to a really different definition of corruption which is where it’s basically when you’re breaking criminal bribery statutes.

So, to answer your second question, Donald Trump is the most corrupt president we’ve had in American history under any definition. And his sort of grotesque use of the power that, you know, it’s a really sacred power that he’s been given by the public, for really personal selfish ends is pretty obvious. And, you know, we may get into this some more but one of the things I think we don’t talk about enough is the way in which he violates some key provisions of the U.S. Constitution taking foreign money and also governmental money from the U.S. government through his businesses for his own private enrichment.

MH: The Emoluments Clause which supposedly forbids that.

ZT: Exactly, and Trump has been violating that since the beginning of his presidency, and arguably has really shaped foreign policy in really dangerous ways. To go to your first question about the U.S. political system as a comparative matter, I’ll be honest, I focused more — I’m a true Americanist. I’m less of a comparativist and what I can say is that really in the last 30 or 40 years, the problems of systemic corruption have gotten a lot worse. I place a lot of the shift in the 90s. When we moved from an era where people would fundraise. They’d raise money from big donors, but it was a couple weeks a year, and now we’ve moved to something that is, oh, sort of gross where the main job of many congress members is actually sitting with a sheaf of papers with the wealthiest people in world history, their names, their hobbies, where they went to school and calling them up one by one and asking them to contribute. It turns our elected officers into sycophants, beggars.

MH: You ran for office in 2013 for the New York Attorney General, how much of that campaign involved you having to ask people for money?

ZT: So I was lucky, and honestly, in part because of Bernie Sanders’ support of a prior campaign, but I recognize my luck because I was able to primarily rely on small dollar donations, and my average contribution was around $18 or $19. Having said that, I did also get a window into the high dollar fundraising and make some phone calls and you can see how it would affect people. I found the whole process really disturbing, but we have to recognize that’s the way our systems are built right now.

MH: Let’s talk Joe Biden, former vice president, you wrote what some people thought was a very controversial Guardian article last week in which you said Joe Biden has, “a big corruption problem.” What is it, Zephyr? What specifically were you referring to?

ZT: Well, Joe Biden has a long history of taking money from big donors, and in particular from people in the credit card field, the financial industry, and I’ll talk about that a little bit more, and doing them favors as a senator. There’s that example. There’s a few others that I talked about. He has over 200 bundlers which he released. These are people who are raising at least $25,000 for his current campaign. There’s a lot of people from the financial sector among those bundlers and also a lot of people in real estate. And so that raises a question, a sort of common sense question about is that influencing his policies? He’s one of the, I think the only remaining candidate who doesn’t have a comprehensive housing policy. The day he announced he had a major fundraiser with a Comcast executive he has — Since we have a little time, I think it’s actually worth going back on Biden’s history.

MH: Just before we do and just to be clear and fair because you mentioned definitions at the start. When you say he has a corruption problem, you’re not saying he’s broken any laws, are you?

ZT: Oh, no, no, no. And what I was really talking about was there is this real problem for when we’re going up against the most corrupt president in American history to have as a potential candidate somebody who has that close connection with big donors and with the transactional politics that so many Americans are so sick of. When we have an option to have a candidate like Bernie Sanders who just to be clear, I’ve endorsed, who really represents the opposite of that, whose entire campaign and whose entire history has been based on low dollar contributions. So actually, the heart of the piece was about my real fear that we are handing the Trump campaign a ‘whataboutism’ playbook. And this is what corrupt regimes always do. If you say, “Hey, you are stealing from the American people”, he’s going to turn around and say “Yeah, but look at the —

MH: I mean, Trump is a master of projection, shameless projection.

ZT: Exactly. Yeah.

MH: And you said in your piece that nominating a candidate like Biden will make it far more difficult to defeat Trump. And I agree with you. I think that Trump, I think Democrats are mad if they think that you know, Biden’s long record won’t be thrown at him just because they’re choosing not to talk about it in this race. Why do you think it is, Zephyr, that the bankruptcy bill, for example, that Biden played a huge role in passing through the Senate, got passed into law under George W. Bush, why does it get so little coverage today not just from the media, but even from Bernie Sanders, from Elizabeth Warren, who both opposed it at the time, they both know Biden has an awful record on this, but they haven’t really hammered him for it on the debate stage, for example? Last time, they were too busy hammering each other.

ZT: Yeah, I think the bankruptcy bill needs a lot more attention, by the way, as cynical and dishonest and unfair as it will be, it will come up in a general election if Biden is the nominee. And if you doubt me, go back to the late 90s when a Republican was calling Joe Biden, the Senator from MBNA, a major credit card company.

MH: And Trump did this in 2016. He attacked Hillary from the left many times.

ZT: Yeah. So, just to go back to basics, Joe Biden took hundreds of thousands of dollars from MBNA. This major credit card company, became very close to the CEO. I believe he gave a speech at their corporate conference one year in the late 90s. And pushed a bankruptcy bill really splitting with Democrats, pushing a bankruptcy bill that makes it much harder for people to really get a clean slate. To go into the weeds for just a second, there’s basically two kinds of bankruptcy. One, it’s called chapter seven. Let’s say you get into terrible debt because of a health care emergency which happens all the time. Hundreds of thousands of people go bankrupt because of not being able to pay medical bills. So, chapter seven allows people to sell off what assets they can to pay creditors and discharge the rest of their debts quickly. Then there’s another bankruptcy system called chapter thirteen, which puts the debtor on a long term payment plan, so they’re forever carrying the weight of those debts. And Biden was pushing to make chapter seven harder making student debt basically impossible to discharge. So it’s really hard to understand Biden’s persistent efforts on this bill outside of the context of his closeness to the credit card industry.

MH: And people around him don’t even deny it. I mean, he has former aides who have told reporters, you know, that was what he had to do. He was a senator from Delaware. He had a better record as vice president because he didn’t have to worry about Delaware. I mean, they’re pretty open about it.

ZT: But what his constituents need, and the people who’ve been hurt by this 2005 bankruptcy bill, by the way, this bill goes through right before the financial crisis. So, the human impact of this bill has been enormous. And I am surprised and angry that this has not —

MH: Yeah, me too.

ZT: — That this has not been a more central part of the campaign. This is not a throwaway line by Joe Biden where he said something —

MH: This was years and years. He pushed with this over several years.

ZT: And one of the moments that really made me the most angry, I guess, is there was a New York Times interview of Joe Biden for their endorsement process which I recommend everybody read, I think it’s a truly disastrous and embarrassing interview. But there’s a moment in it where one of the people on the editorial board says, a couple of times, you’ve had trouble answering positions you held decades ago which I think it’s ridiculous that that’s an issue. But those questions aren’t going to go away. So it was somebody on the — And there were other really good questions on the ed board. So it’s not universal, but there was a way in which the press was covering for him for his own past that just didn’t make any sense. And bankruptcy didn’t come up in the interview. It wasn’t there.

MH: It’s also okay, I wouldn’t even kind of get the whole 1970s busing. But 2005 is very recent. It was the Bush administration. Barack Obama was in the Senate voting against that bill. And Joe Biden was pushing it and now champions his record with the middle class and working class voters, even though they were the ones most hurt by it.

ZT: Well, I completely agree with you on the second part. And I think what is the most troubling to many of us about even the much longer ago history is an unwillingness to directly confront it, take responsibility, and explain why he has changed his mind.

MH: And why won’t Sanders and Warren speak up more about this and his record? Why are they all so nice to each other?

ZT: Well, I do think that at this moment, people are — There’s a couple of worlds. There’s a world of people who are deeply involved in politics and political news. And there’s another world of people who just feel really shut out, don’t feel like they have a voice, may not be following the news that closely. And especially right now, I really understand why it’s important to get across like how exciting it would be to have a president who is pushing to expand social security. Like really getting back to some basics about what Sanders is, the vision that Sanders has, what the Green New Deal would mean in terms of good union jobs, what Medicare for All would mean. So I’m not, I’m less interested in second guessing campaigns. The Intercept has done a great job on Biden and bankruptcy. I will say that I think reporters on bankruptcy, that we should see a lot more of that in the mainstream news. They do not talk about a much more pocketbook issue. It absolutely affects millions of people’s lives. And it is central to who Biden has been as a senator. This is like at the heart of who he is.

And, actually, just to go back to my meta story at the beginning about the 90s and the shift. I can’t say when because interestingly, and you guys have actually done some good reporting on this. Interestingly, Biden was actually really good on money in politics in the 70s when he was a new Senator. He said this was the top priority. And in the 80s, he would be really pushing for it. And I can’t point to a precise moment but starting in the late 90s, he starts to get really cozy with financial services.

MH: So, let me ask you this. You mentioned, you know, people got hurt by the bankruptcy laws. There’s also the issue, the American public is concerned about corruption. All the polls show that voters across the board whether you’re Republican, Democrat, neither, you think corruption in DC and corruption at federal, state level is a big issue. All of the polls show that. So when you have a candidate going up against the most corrupt president, and they’ve got, even if not, you know, the perception of corruption. That’s important. With Hillary Clinton, you know, there was a whole issue about Clinton Foundation, most people didn’t actually dig into the Clinton Foundation. But there was a perception of pay to play or whatever phrases you want to use.

With Biden it’s not just his record with the bankruptcy bill and with the credit card industry and with Wall Street, his closeness to Wall Street, and telling billionaires that you know, their lives aren’t going to change much under a Biden presidency. But also, there’s the Biden family. And when the Ukraine story broke, and Democrats rightly rushed to Joe Biden’s defense pointing out that he hadn’t done anything wrong in terms of the prosecutor. He wasn’t protecting his son from an investigation. There wasn’t an investigation. All of those nonsensical Trump lines that they’re still pushing in the Senate right now, GOP talking points. When that happened, I did think to myself, in the short term at least, this is good for Biden, because now that Trump has launched this totally illegitimate attack on the Bidens, on Hunter, especially, Biden’s democratic rivals aren’t going to dare raise any of the legitimate critiques of the Biden family, including, for example, Hunter’s ridiculous $50,000 a month Burisma salary for a job he totally wasn’t qualified for.

ZT: And I just want to be clear that the attacks are just wildly illegitimate. And the defense, I haven’t actually got a chance to watch all of it, but the little that I saw of the impeachment defense was really nihilistic both in that it jumps all over the place. It suggests Trump did nothing wrong but if he did, then that’s also not wrong.

MH: But the problem is we seem unable, Zephyr to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. We can say that Trump’s attacks on Hunter Biden are completely illegitimate and false but we could also say Hunter Biden’s record of making money out of his dad’s name was not good.

ZT: Well, I think this goes to one thing that you see with corrupt regimes is that they will try to destroy the word corruption and make it sort of, just take it out of the lexicon because they abuse it so terribly. We cannot let Trump define the terms of the debate and instead have to, you know, look hard at all the candidates on their own terms. And what you see with Biden is he may check the boxes on his website in terms of, you know, overturn Citizens United and public financing both of which are really important but he has not communicated in any way, communicated with his heart, the depths of the problems of the current system. And just a small thing, I did note that he was taking big, you know, speaking fees after he left the vice presidency. If you’re going to run for president, don’t take big speaking fees.

MH: Yeah, I think Hillary Clinton could give you some free advice on that subject. Now, I mean, Biden, of course, said last summer, at a fundraiser famously to a group of very rich people, no one’s standard of living needs to change if he’s elected.

ZT: Yeah, that their lives aren’t going to change.

MH: Nothing would fundamentally change I believe was his phrase. Which is a real campaign slogan for 2020. “Vote for me. Nothing will fundamentally change.”

ZT: And that kind of way of talking to donors just shuts out people who really desperately need change, and they know that they may not win every fight, but they want somebody who’s going to be there fighting on their side. We know what we need to do. We need to not only overturn Citizens United and especially speaking to your global audience, you’ll hear a lot of candidates say they want to overturn Citizens United, which, by the way, of course, I want to do I was cited extensively in the dissent, in Steven’s dissent in Citizens United, it’s something we must do. But sometimes that can be a way of not taking responsibility for the things that we can do right now because overturn Citizens United requires either a change in the court or an amendment and there’s a lot we can do right now.

MH: I want to come back. I do want to ask you that before we finish, but before we get there, would we both agree that Biden has a corruption problem in terms of what Trump is going to use against him, in terms of his history with the bankruptcy bill and Wall Street?

ZT: Yes.

MH: How did you feel then when Bernie Sanders apologized to Joe Biden after your piece appeared and said, “It is absolutely not my view that Joe is corrupt in any way and I’m sorry that op-ed appeared?”

ZT: Look, I think what’s important is that Sanders and I agree deeply and very fundamentally, and I’ve known him for a long time, on the need for a transformational change in the way that we fund elections, in the way that poor and working class people’s voices are heard, in the way that billionaires have way too much power and in the way that too many elites have just accepted the status quo. So, I think the key point is that I am a, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve endorsed Sanders. I’m a full supporter of not just Sanders’ policy views, but —

MH: But were you surprised is what I’m asking, that he apologize in that way when clearly there is a case against Joe that he himself has made on the debate stage occasionally?

ZT: You know, the real key thing that people care about is where we’re going and our points of agreement are pretty great.

MH: Okay, you’re not gonna answer that question. I get it. I’ll say for you that I was very sad to see him apologize. There was no need to apologize. Your op-ed was excellent and reasonable. Just to be clear, the Sanders campaign had no idea you were going to write that?

ZT: I’m an academic and writing on my own.

MH: I wish Bernie Sanders had written that, to be honest. Not only do I wish he had written it, I’m amazed he apologized for it. Just on Sanders, why Sanders over Warren especially when your big issue is fighting corruption and Elizabeth Warren says her main issue is fighting corruption and has been for a long time not just during this presidential campaign but back when she was a private citizen and a law professor? For a lot of progressives listening at home who are still torn between the two, why’d you go Bernie Sanders over Elizabeth Warren on fighting corruption?

ZT: You know, I really love Elizabeth Warren and I deeply respect her. And I wrote a Nation piece about why I have chosen to support Bernie Sanders. I’ve known Bernie Sanders for a long time. I’ve watched him in politics for a long time, but maybe this is one way to describe why I’m so excited about this campaign is I think, in some ways this campaign started in 2016. Sanders laid out an alternate vision, not just of policy, but of how politics could work. And at first, he was sort of standing alone on a lawn in Washington with a crumpled piece of paper saying “We can actually do the whole system differently. But I can’t do it on my own.” And I see the 2020 campaign as an extension of that 2016 beginning. And he has built extraordinary depth of trust across class, across race. And we’re going to need that in what will be a brutal general election where truth is out the window, and the four, five-year campaign that he has built really matters.

MH: That’s a good point.

ZT: And we’re also going to need it when he’s president because we all know that we need public financing of elections. We know we need to move away from private corporate funding of elections that’s so grotesque. And so the question is how do you get there? And I believe you get there by mobilizing engaged people who are ready to go talk to their lawmaker and say this is a real priority. So, I really believe that this, it’s a rare creation of a movement and it’s a deeply moral movement that has really, really touched so many people and when I imagine a Bernie Sanders presidency, it’s you bringing the not me, us into the White House saying —

MH: Let me jump in there before we finish with one last question right there: “You bring not me, us into the White House.” You have Bernie there. You have his people organizing, mobilizing. Bernie Sanders calls you up and says Zephyr, I’m in the Oval Office. I’ve got my mandate. I’ve got people outside ready to mobilize and campaign. What is the one policy I need to go with as a priority to turn around the corrupt culture in Washington DC, to fight back against political corruption?

ZT: We absolutely need to change the way campaigns are funded. We need to do it. We need to make it so that when somebody is running for Congress, the first question that is asked, is not how many of the richest people in the world do you know and can you call them all up? But what do you care about? And what skills, what passion do you bring? Who are you going to fight for? And right now it’s been upside down for too long and and we can change that. We’ve public financing systems in New York City and in Seattle, the Seattle system fought back an effort by Amazon to really buy the elections. There’s a lot of pieces to a program, but to me, the heart of it is public financing of elections.

MH: Zephyr Teachout, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

ZT: Wonderful to talk to you.

[Music interlude.]

MH: That was Zephyr Teachout, attorney, academic, activist, Bernie Sanders supporter.

A quick announcement before we go: if you’re in LA on Monday, February 10th, we’re recording a special live episode of Deconstructed on the massive issue of criminal justice reform and mass incarceration in front of an audience, and with special, oh very special guests John Legend, yes that John Legend, and Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors. Go to the Intercept website or to my Twitter feed for details on how to buy tickets.

That’s our show! Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review – it helps new people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Thanks so much!

See you next week.

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