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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Pay 2 Play – Democracy’s High Stakes


The Utne Reader calls it “a stirring plea to level the playing field in our political system by ending “pay to play”—the quid pro quo of trading political favors for campaign donations. Picking up on the themes of Occupy Wall Street, the film rails against corporate personhood, dark money, and calls for the repeal of Citizens United.

Daily Kos says: “I believe that this is a must watch film because it puts everything together in a way that anyone can understand this complex issue and it even puts a strategy on the table to get America to a functioning democracy.”

But most importantly says it’s a must-watch – not only because it has footage shot at Occupy Wall Street by our own photographer, Zach D Roberts (example about 1min into the trailer) – but because it’s a vital film for our democracy.  Check out the film’s trailer below. We will have a full interview with the director, good friend of The Mudflats, John Ennis up soon.

Pay to Play is currently screening across the country from Washington to New York City to Ohio (and more)

[We’re working on getting an Alaska screening, if you can help please contact zdroberts (at)]

PAY 2 PLAY trailer from John Wellington Ennis on Vimeo.

Here’s just a bit of what the film tackles.

What is the Pay 2 Play System?

Director John Ennis looks upon our Monopoly-inspired system of government, and identifies how money in politics is the obstacle to any meaningful change. Studying the outlandish Coingate scandal in Ohio, Ennis grasps that the primary function of pay-to-play politics is to repay the donor with public money—way more money than donors put in.

Citizens United vs. FEC

While these experiences of party insiders and outsiders make access to office seem difficult, it only becomes more daunting when the Supreme Court decides in Citizens United vs. FEC in 2010 that corporations are allowed to spend unlimited amounts in elections. Ennis looks into the group Citizens United to see how such influence was won and how their deceptive election tactics work.


Ohio is not just the swing state of America, it is a reliable indicator of the nation’s political attitudes. This makes campaigning in Ohio as hard as any where, and more likely to produce the most profound of political parables. Our film includes episodes in Ohio’s recent political history that provide portraits of where our campaign process is failing us. From the outlandish corruption that breeds from campaign quid pro quo, to the compelling characters that could make a difference as public servants were it not for the staggeringly expensive obstacles.

The Secret History of Monopoly

The dream of the little guy making it big is the American Dream, exemplified by the board game Monopoly and the legend of its creator Charles Darrow. But as Ennis learns, the real story behind the creation of Monopoly not only epitomizes corporate greed and exploitation, it also reveals lessons that forecast our economic meltdown, as well as the implications of public domain versus corporate copyright.

Street Art

While Ennis is wrestling with the implications of Monopoly on our society and the looting of public concerns by corporate interests, he becomes transfixed on the emerging appearance of a Monopoly Man being put up all around Los Angeles. After finally tracking down the elusive street artist Alec Monopoly, Ennis becomes intrigued by the outlaw world of street art as a means of social commentary and individual speech in a corporate environment, despite heavy police crackdowns on graffiti and vandalism.

Monopoly vs. Anti-Monopoly

Ralph Anspach, who proved in court the back history of Monopoly’s origins as The Landlord’s Game, shares with Ennis his experience going to the Supreme Court against Hasbro, who sought to suppress his board game about trust busting called Anti-Monopoly. His experience is contrasted with revelations about The Koch Brothers in 2010, billionaires whose political spending through front groups challenges the Supreme Court’s view of speech. Vignettes from the street artists that Ennis meets illustrate specific points about corporate personhood as a criminal alias and restrictions on speech that favor corporate use of public space.

Powell Memo

Looking into the Pay 2 Play System, Ennis learns about The Powell Memo, a treatise written by Lawrence Powell in 1972 as a strategy to create the appearance of broad public support for a corporate agenda through think tanks, academic stooges, and anti-union laws. As Ennis is watching this agenda unfold in new anti-union laws in 2011 in Wisconsin and Ohio, he feels helpless to get the word out, so he turns to the exciting but dangerous underworld of street art as an effort at “ubiquity” of the message, as described in the Powell Memo.


Revelations from the Wisconsin protests lead to identifying a long running shadow organization known as ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council, which writes corporate friendly legislation and brings it to lawmakers across the country. While the corporate money and legislative power of ALEC make them seem invincible, Ennis observes how the individual efforts of citizens brings the law-writing giant to its knees.

May Day

With all Ennis has learned about the Pay 2 Play System and the impact one person can make, he seeks to create a public spectacle that will help excite the returning Occupy movement, while convey the list of issues at play in the larger struggle to get big money out of our political system. A street artist friend helps Ennis realize his dream of a massive Monopoly board that surrounds an intersection for the May Day Marches, with the squares representing topics and issues touched on in the film. On this historic day, people come together across the globe to celebrate the power that people have, when they come together.



7 Responses to “Pay 2 Play – Democracy’s High Stakes”
  1. mike from iowa says:

    Good. Now they need to get Perry and Walker and ex-guv Rounds of South Dakota and Parnell and Jindal and Braindead of iowa and Scott of Florida and Brewer and Snyder and Brownback and Hailey and Fat and Furious of New Jersey and Fallin of Chokelahoma and all the rest.

    • Dagian says:

      The made-for-television movie just WRITES ITSELF.

      Prosecutor: Who gave you the Rolex for Christmas?

      McDonnell: The gift tag said “Santa.”

      (Actual transcript)

      • mike from iowa says:

        🙂 🙂

      • Dagian says:

        I didn’t know this (or if I had read about it years ago I had forgotten it) and it’s utterly shameful.

        “”At home, polls showed McDonnell to be hugely popular as he prepared to steer his signature achievement through the state legislature: a bipartisan plan to improve the state’s crumbling transportation network.”

        Bob McDonnell proudly balanced the budget in 2012 by not paying 2 years due into the Virginia retirement system, and by directing Virginia based companies to pay up 3 years of state taxes in advance.

        When this was found out, Bob McDonnell’s popularity plummeted.”

        In addition,

        “The ex Governor balanced the budget by taking from the State workers’ pension fund. It is legal, but not right and he certainly did not explain that’s how he did it when he did his tour of new shows. He looked so smug on the News Hour touting his accomplishments of a balanced budget. Also, he did not give state workers cost of living raises. How hard is it to balance a budget given those conditions?”

        *jaw drops*

  2. Dagian says:

    *off topic alert!*

    As the open thread isn’t open yet but I’m going to burst if I don’t post this, please indulge me!

    Robert McDonnell guilty of 11 corruption counts

    “RICHMOND — A federal jury Thursday found former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of public corruption — sending a message that they believed the couple sold the office once occupied by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson to a free spending Richmond businessman for golf outings, lavish vacations and $120,000 in sweetheart loans.”


    “The verdict means that Robert McDonnell, who was already the first governor in Virginia history to be charged with a crime, now holds an even more unwanted distinction: the first ever to be convicted of one. He and his wife face decades in federal prison, though their actual sentence could fall well short of that. U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer set a sentencing hearing for Jan. 6, 2015.”

    Personally, I think they both deserve AT LEAST a decade in federal prison. For each of them.

    If one or both of them were democrats I would feel exactly the same way.

    • AKMagpie says:

      And perhaps they could be housed in the same room, the final ignominy of their reportedly failed marriage.

      • Dagian says:

        Don’t you believe a word of that nonsense. It was a transparent lie. Plus it revealed still more of his character because he’s tacitly saying that he doesn’t want to witness his wife being upset about the trial.

        I also don’t care for the way he portrayed or revealed how appallingly she behaved at times but two points come to mind:
        1) She and her defense lawyers agreed to this strategy – so she had a hand in its creation (and people knowing about it)
        2) He knew how to push her buttons and did so.

        Yes, we’re all responsible for what we say or do and we do have a choice in the matter – even if it’s deciding between a bad or worse choice – but it’s simply unkind to knowingly and regularly behave in a manner that will upset someone you profess to love.

        Now, I also bristle at how he used one particular image and model to get elected but tried to weasel out of it when caught. “I’m the head of the household, I earn the money, everyone answers to me!” but they both agreed to his defense strategy of “the b*tch set me up” (Marion Barry) = “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”

        Mean streak revealed – I did guffaw when God answered the family’s prayers and the verdict was ‘guilty’.

        Thank you jury members for paying attention to the evidence for weeks on end and taking your time to thoughtfully render your verdict(s). There were two counts (3?) where they were found not guilty so it’s not as though they weren’t taking it seriously.

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