My name is Jen Briney and I spend most of my time reading through the ridiculously long bills that are voted on in US Congress and watching fascinating Congressional hearings. I use my podcast to discuss and highlight corporate influence on the bills. I've recorded 93 episodes since 2012.

Most Americans, if they pay attention to politics at all, only pay attention to the Presidential election. I think that’s a huge mistake because we voters have far more influence over our representation in Congress, as the Presidential candidates are largely chosen by political party insiders.

My passion drives me to inform Americans about what happens in Congress after the elections and prepare them for the effects legislation will have on their lives. I also want to inspire more Americans to vote and run for office.

I look forward to any questions you have! AMA!!

EDIT: Thank you for coming to Ask Me Anything today! After over 10 hours of answering questions, I need to get out of this chair but I really enjoyed talking to everyone. Thank you for making my first reddit experience a wonderful one. I’ll be back. Talk to you soon! Jen Briney

Verification: https://twitter.com/JenBriney/status/580016056728616961

Comments: 3374 • Responses: 39  • Date: 

Thehumanracestinks1883 karma

Is there a service people can subscribe to that actually reports what lawmakers are doing? God knows the newspapers don't keep us informed anymore.

JenBriney2156 karma

My favorite source for raw information is govtrack.us. They have a tracking feature that allows you to get the exact information you are looking for. I have mine set up to email me every time a bill is signed into law. Here's the link to the page that lets you set up your tracking preferences https://www.govtrack.us/start

tculpepper942 karma

What's some of the craziest stuff you have found in a bill that the politicians hoped no one would read?

JenBriney2071 karma

There's so much! A lot of the craziest stuff is in the fossil fuel related bills. For example, I've seen multiple bills that make people fly to Washington D.C. to challenge natural gas fracking and fossil fuel pipelines in court and I've seen lots of automatic approvals of permits. There was also a truly scandalous bill that allows US taxpayer bailouts of foreign and domestic banks that trade the riskiest derivatives (the kind that literally crashed the world's economy in 2008). That bill was quietly attached by Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas to the 2015 funding law - which President Obama had to sign to prevent another full government shutdown - and is now law. That is still one of the craziest things I've ever seen in my life.

RegulatorsMountUp821 karma

What are some telltale signs that a bill is purely for corporate interest and not for the betterment of the people?

JenBriney1383 karma

I always follow the money. When the change to the law helps businesses either pay less in taxes or obey fewer rules, you can bet it's designed by businessmen for businessmen.

Genghis_John549 karma

What do you think would be an effective and actually possible way of combating corporate influence in Congress?

Also, how does the current time compare to congresses of the past in impact of corporate influence and money?

JenBriney996 karma

I love the idea Cenk Unger of The Young Turks is running with, which is WolfPAC (<- google that for more info). The idea is to get a constitutional amendment that prohibits corporate money in politics by going through the States, instead of Congress (since our current Congress is the beneficiaries of all that corporate cash). My complimentary idea is to take over a mid-term election ( 2018 would be ideal) and mobilize around the idea of firing the corporate funded candidates from both major Parties. This would require at least one person from every district who is not a corporate hack putting their name on the ballot so that we have someone to vote FOR and then requiring that the first order of business in the new Congress would be the same type of constitutional amendment that WolfPAC is going for. Two strategies: Same goal.

As for the current Congress vs old, I'm not sure. I'm still just learning how all this works and really can't comment on any Congress before the 113th (we're now in the 114th - every Congress is two years long). I can tell you that this one is looking very similar to the last one in terms of priorities and corporate influence... and that is not a good thing.

daddydeaner454 karma

In your experience, what are the top three industries that exert the most influence over American politicians?

JenBriney773 karma

Excellent question.

1) Banking 2) Fossil fuels 3) Insurance/Pharmaceuticals

EDIT: Defense should be #3

Lantro434 karma

Hi, first off, thanks for doing the leg work most of us don't want to -- I can't imagine having to read through 245 congressional bills.

What do you think is the best way an average citizen can compete with the corporate interests at both a local and national level?

JenBriney1014 karma

You're welcome :) Reading the bills is tough but it allows me to do fun things like this.

As for what we can do to compete, that's easy: VOTE!

About 80% of eligible voters under 30 didn't bother to show up in November. I haven't checked the other age brackets (I should) but that's a huge untapped voting block! All the gerrymadering of districts and assumptions and polls would go right out the window if the non-voters showed up. It should be socially unacceptable to not vote.

So let me edit my statement: The best way an average citizen can compete with corporate interests is to vote, and to shame anyone who tells you they don't.

omnomnub284 karma

What are some of the more notable instances of corruption you've found?

JenBriney548 karma

My entire show seems to be an expose of corruption but the bill (now law) that I mentioned above that allows bailouts of foreign and domestic banks that recklessly gamble on debt, that one still blows me away. There was another corrupt attachment to the 2015 funding that also shows how low the 113th would go which is they VASTLY increased the amount of money that rich people could give every year to political parties. It went from something like $33,000 a year (which is a lot to me) to about $250,000. So unbelievably self serving.

Physics_Prop269 karma

How many bills are written to be obscure and hard to read rather than short and effective?

JenBriney423 karma

The vast majority. The reason is that they edit current law. Most of my time is spent finding the part of the current law that is being edited and trying to figure out what is being changed. Some of the most important things I've found look like nothing in the bill - a simple change of one word - but when you see that word in context, it's a game changer. I would love to pass a law that requires the new text of the proposed law in it's entirety to be printed in these bills. It would make them so much easier to understand (even though it would make them "longer" to read).

princemyshkin86236 karma

What's the best new law you've seen implemented?

JenBriney459 karma

Sadly, this is the hardest question yet. The best thing I've witnessed was the repeal of a bad provision. The provision was slipped into a must-sign bill by Roy Blunt of Missouri and was nicknamed the "Monsanto Protection Act". For six months, a company that invented a new plant was allowed to sell that plant - that food - to consumers WHILE it was being evaluated for it's safety. The Internet found out about it and people flooded their Reps with emails. The law that reopened the government in 2013 repealed that provision. That was a beautiful drop of hope. It was proof that we can force change when we try.

KillerBeeTX205 karma

Is it too late for American politics? Has capitalism destroyed democracy entirely? Is there ANY possibility of future laws prohibiting corporate influences on politics? Would a term-limited Congress help stem the tide of corporate money in politics?

JenBriney564 karma

It's not too late at all! One of the beautiful things about our system is that it was designed for times like these. The House of Representatives controls all the money and we have the ability to fire every single person in the House of Representatives every two years. The problem is that we don't. We have two problems that are completely in our hands to fix: 1) We have shamefully low voter turnout and 2) The people who show up vote consistently for the person currently in office. My dream is to see a wave of people - especially young people - show up to vote their first time in a midterm election and dramatically change the Congress. It's absolutely possible. With new people in Congress, yes, we can absolutely create laws prohibiting corporate influence in politics. And no, I don't think term limits are necessary. We just need to vote.

Warlizard197 karma

She's fascinating. Check out this one for a good recap on who she is and what she does:


JenBriney121 karma

That was one of my first ever interviews. Thanks for sharing!

alent1234159 karma

how many bills on average are deleted and rewritten to keep the same HR or senate resolution number and make it harder to search for relevant info?

JenBriney313 karma

I actually don't see it very often, but when I do it tends to be major bills that get attached to minor bills, which make them tough to search for. The 2015 budget is a great example. They took a 6 page bill that had already passed the House (I can't remember exactly what it was about but it was something minor), they deleted that text and then inserted the 1,600+ pages of 2015 funding. During those precious few days before it became law, searching for the 2015 budget using the words "2015", "budget", "appropriations", or anything else that would logically make sense was useless. The only evidence that this happened can be found by looking at the 2015 funding law's sponsor. It still says that the law was written by Donna Christensen - she's the delegate for the Virgin Islands; she doesn't even get to vote! The real author was Hal Rogers, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee

letgoandflow156 karma

What is the craziest thing you've seen in a bill or on cspan that wasn't covered by the major news networks?

JenBriney292 karma

That has to be the treaty with Mexico (that was signed into law as an attachment to must-sign legislation) that allows deepwater drilling even deeper in the Gulf of Mexico than where the Deepwater Horizon was (the area is called the "Western Gap", if you'd like to Google it). Seems like something we should know about, especially the Gulf of Mexico border states.

armpit_puppet143 karma

I'm an American who works and likes to do other things than read bills. If I set aside 15 minutes from my redditing time, what should I be doing to improve the situation?

JenBriney272 karma

Listen to Congressional Dish :)

I'm serious about that, but then also, write emails to your Representatives and Senators about whatever you do know about their job performance. It makes a huge difference. It's important to always remember that all the money in politics is going towards one thing: Influencing your vote. If you communicate with your Representatives, especially when you're unhappy, it freaks them out. The few times I've seen good things happen, it was always because of a flood of emails and phone calls.

Nitro_Pengiun125 karma

I emailed both of my state's Senators (Lindsay Graham and Tim Scott) and my Congressional Representative (James Clyburn) about net neutrality around a month ago. I specifically asked for a response from all three addressing their plans for voting on the issue. The only one I actually got a response from was Senator Scott, who was very dismissive of my viewpoint (which is the same viewpoint of most people, not corporations, on the issue).

This brings me to my question. Other than voting these people out of office (which is beyond my control other than casting my vote) how do you actually reach these congressmen? They're supposed to be representing the people in their state and district, but it seems more like they just represent themselves, without considering the views of the people they represent (other than whichever lobby is padding their pockets). A lot of people are too bothered to vote any other way than the status quo, so the likelihood of them being removed from office is slim to none. They almost get a lifetime appointment to Congress unless they get caught in some sort of scandal. With no guarantee they've actually seen my email (and Senator Graham's admission that he's never sent an email in his life), how can my views and the views of the people in the state get heard by these representatives on Capitol Hill?

JenBriney149 karma

There are lots of ways.

First, don't stop the emails and phone calls. I wouldn't worry too much about the responses because the point is to tell them where you are on a issue. If their inbox is filled with emails saying the same thing as yours, that's how they get scared. I've heard that hand-written letters are most likely to be read - this could be an effective way to reach out to the email-hating Senator Graham.

Second, find out where they do communicate with people and go there. Do they have an active Facebook page? Also, lots of Reps are on Twitter. I had a 6 hour on-off conversation with Huntington Beach, CA's Rep. Dana Rohrabacher on Twitter. Some of them love it as much as we do. At the very least, the ones that use Twitter will see your tweet. Add your voice to the crowd.

You can also physically show up to their town halls. That's the best way to actually speak to them, if that's your goal. Find your Reps website or call their local office. The staff will be happy to help you find out when the next one is.

pm_me_your-mp118 karma

Which company were you most surprised to see spending money on congressional lobbying?

JenBriney224 karma

None of them surprise me. It's a fantastic return on investment. A few million in campaign contributions (or legal bribes, which is what they really are) can get a company BILLIONS in government money, via contracts. Why wouldn't a company get a lobbyist?

MrXhin116 karma

Are both parties equally corrupted by lobbyist influence?

JenBriney197 karma

I don't know about equally but they both definitely corrupted. It's better, in my opinion, to judge by the individual.

pauliedigi100 karma

How many pages long is the average bill?

JenBriney245 karma

There really is no average. Lots of bills are less than a page; it's amazing how big changes can be done by changing one sentence of law. However, some are monsters. The 2015 budget was published less than 48 hours before it passed the House of Representatives and it was well over 1,600 pages long. It took me a month to read.

somerandomguy1695 karma

How often do you see things that have nothing to do with the brief of the bill in the bill? (i.e. having a section on health care within a bill for national security)

JenBriney114 karma

Far more often than I expected

lucasgorski9989 karma

What tactics are used to hide this influence from people like you?

JenBriney123 karma

The laws about political action committees are really effective in hiding who is giving money to our candidates. Since 2010, PAC's have been registering with the IRS as tax-exempt 501(c)4 "social welfare" organizations. They don't do this to get out of paying taxes (they don't have to pay taxes even when properly registered as political); they do this because "social welfare" organizations do not have to disclose their donors. This loophole is being used to funnel massive amounts of secret money into influencing votes and I can already see the percentages of money that candidates get from PAC's (as opposed to individuals) increasing. It's tough to tell who is influencing the lawmakers with money if you can't tell where the money is coming from.

rebellioneditor86 karma

Doing your best to put your personal beliefs aside, would you say that one party's congressional and/or legislative habits as a whole are more deceptive than the other's?

JenBriney299 karma

Honestly, no. They are deceptive in different ways. The Republicans are actually quite upfront about their motives; they brag often about how great their bills are for business. In fact, the idea for Congressional Dish was partially hatched when I saw Rep. Tom Cole of OK brag about slipping a provision to protect secret campaign contributions into a spending bill. I saw him say it on C-SPAN. The Democrats are sneakier. As a Party, they are fake opposition. They pretend to be the "Party of the People" but then co-sponsor bills like that awful bill that lets banks get taxpayer bailouts if they crash the economy again. When it comes to judging a Representative or Senator, doing it by Party is not the way to go.

TuckerMcG59 karma

Have you compared the amount of corporate influence in government before and after Citizen's United? It's often cited as the primary cause of corporate influence in politics, but it would be interesting to get an idea of how bad things were before Citizen's United and compare them to how things are now.

JenBriney72 karma

That would be so interesting! Unfortunately, I didn't start reading the bills until 2012 and the Citizens United case was decided in 2010. All of my knowledge is from after the floodgates opened.

bootselectric59 karma

Isn't the silence deafening? What can be done to spur real public interest in these issues? Not that flag waving horror show you see during political rallies.

JenBriney146 karma

Actually, this experience is proving to me - without a doubt - that real public interest is there: The information is not. I'm hoping that Congressional Dish will inspire copycats (because there is too much information for me to find and share myself). If Congressional Dish and other outlets like it become popular, the rest of the media will follow suit. I cancelled my cable news subscription years ago and others are doing the same. The "news" organizations already know their model doesn't work with anyone younger than the baby boomers; what they don't know is what to replace it with. I'm hoping to lead the way.

AgentBif56 karma

What do you think about movements to promote fundamental campaign finance reform? Will that help solve a lot of this pseudo-corruption that seems to be growing in our government?

I'm afraid that huge money from corporations and special interests is turning our government into a for-sale PolicyMart. Money from special interests is drowning out the voice of individual voters.

Sometimes people seem turned off by this issue as if it is some kind of partisan wrangling. But this is NOT a partisan issue. This is an American issue.

Our politicians are supposed to be employees of the people, not our masters. We hired our legislators to make policy and to solve real problems, not to spend most of their time phone calling rich people for money just so they can get elected again.

Anyway, I thought I'd point out some information and some organizations that are trying to do something to solve this problem:

Our politicians need to fear and respect the will of the people again. I think we can fix things, but we each need to get motivated.

We shouldn't let congress bathe in the warm, soothing comfort of our apathy and malaise.

(Note: I am not an official in any of the above organizations. Nor am I affiliated with a special interest or even a political party. I'm just a random guy who's frustrated with his government.)

JenBriney47 karma

I completely share your frustrations, which is one of the main reasons I started Congressional Dish. I had to do SOMETHING. I think legal bribery of politicians is the root of all of our problems and banning legally bribery of politicians by anybody - not just corporations - is the first step to fixing them. If we are going to organize around a focused cause, this should be it.

moderately_extreme47 karma

How often is it the case that corporations write the bills that affect them?

JenBriney70 karma

I don't know, but I want to. I wish I had time to compare all the bills with the texts available on ALEC's website. (ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council and they bring together State representatives and corporations to literally write bills together. They call their bills "model legislation".) I know that lobbyist written bills have made it through Congress; I don't know how many.

raytrace7534 karma

Is corporate lobbying legal? If so, why does the government allow corporate entities to influence legal framework by such means?

JenBriney63 karma

Unfortunately, it is. Also unfortunate is that the people who benefit from corporate lobbying are the people who make laws, so they have made it more legal over time - more money allowed and fewer consequences for breaking the rules we have left.

I think it's important to remember that the government doesn't make the laws. People - humans in Congress - make the laws. They allow these laws to stay on the books - and increase the number of those laws - because those individuals in Congress benefit from them. They get to collect millions of dollars and spend it on food, travel, a staff, etc. Who wouldn't want that? That money buys them a lifestyle... a lifestyle that doesn't suck.

People tend to blame "the government" for allowing this but the government is a tool. The government could be used to create amazing infrastructure, to ensure a basic standard of living for every taxpayer, to make this a clean and fair country. Instead, we've trusted this amazing tool to selfish people who work for Wall Street, and therefore, it is being used to benefit Wall Street. It's all about the people in charge.

razerxs30 karma

What's the biggest thing you've seen in bill that wasn't related to the bill's ostensible purpose?

JenBriney55 karma

Well, you can never judge a bill by it's title. Shockingly often, I open a bill expecting it to be one thing and it's something completely different. For example, the "Save American Workers Act" was a bill that makes people work 40 hours or more every week to get health insurance through their jobs (it's currently 30 hours). What's that one saving us from? Health insurance? I never really know what a bill's purpose is until I've read it.

Grammatical_pitfall27 karma

Are you affiliated with any political party?

JenBriney47 karma

Nope. I was registered Republican when I turned 18 because my parents were Republicans. After the Iraq War was launched for no good reason, I registered as Independent, before I knew that was a political party. Now I'm registered as "unenrolled" or "decline to state". I wish we didn't have political parties at all.

totesuncommon26 karma

How often do lobbyists and corporate attorneys "provide the language", that is, actually pen the very laws "written" by congress?

JenBriney34 karma

I wish I had a way to find out. I know for sure that one bill which had 75 out of 80 lines literally written by Citigroup was signed into law a few months ago, but I only know that because of an investigation by Mother Jones. Other than physically comparing the texts with the texts available on ALEC's website, I don't know how I could find out without some journalist assists.

JenBriney10 karma

I wish I knew

cesar033026 karma

How accurate is House of cards in displaying politics?

JenBriney8 karma

I don't really know. I loved the first two seasons because it captured my imagination about what I think it's like, but this last season was a disaster in every way. It's like the lobbyists just disappeared! I wish I could get those 13 hours of my life back.

oxfordkentuckian25 karma

Having read a number of bills yourself, what are your thought on Rand Paul's Read the Bills Act and other similar legislation? Do you think legislation of this kind has any chance of passing?

JenBriney45 karma

I haven't read it but isn't reading the bills just a basic part of a Congressman's job description? Seems absurd to me that we would need a law to get them to read the laws they are creating. The way I see it, the people in Congress are our employees and this is a terrible indication of their job performance. It's on us to fire the ones that aren't doing their jobs.

quickfast20 karma

Hi Jen -

As society, and the country grows, how can an average citizen keep up their understanding of the law and government without making a full time commitment? How can we even begin to understand legislation, its short and long term effects on us with the information resources (school, news) citizens usually have?

JenBriney29 karma

That's the question that lead to Congressional Dish. I asked the same thing but there was no resource, so I created one. It should be the job of the well-paid media to read these bills and report on their contents every day and it's just not happening. Instead, we get wall to wall coverage of a looney Senator announcing his candidacy for a Presidential election he has no chance of winning that's still over a year and a half away. It's madness.

cmde4516 karma

As a citizen I feel completely helpless at the current state of our government. I feel as a whole the government keeps us "just" happy enough and ill informed that we go along with these things. What do you think is one major thing I can do to really see change? If you're answer is voting, I feel that is completely pointless unless you truly inform the majority, can you persuade me on this?

JenBriney12 karma

I completely understand the way you feel. Here's a good thing to keep in mind: The government is a tool that is used by human beings to create the laws that make you feel that way. Replace the humans in charge, you can replace the laws. How do you replace those humans? Voting. And here's the great news: Most of us don't vote, especially in midterm elections. In the last election, about 80% of eligible voters in the country's largest voting block - people under the age of 30 - didn't vote. That's a huge untapped voting block! If they simply showed up, all the political calculations and gerry-mandering of districts - which is based on historical voting patterns - flies right out the window.

SomeoneRedditOnce10 karma

Are you involved with Wolf-PAC? Is their method the best way to get money out of politics?

JenBriney12 karma

I'm not but I love their idea. It's one of the best I've heard so far and definitely worth supporting

totallynotfromennis10 karma

With the all of this in mind, what do you think will be the state of the US in the next decade? Do you see any hope in this crony capitalism being reversed or will it only get worse?

JenBriney12 karma

I have lots of hope, otherwise I wouldn't bother with any of this. One of my favorite books is George Orwell's 1984. It's almost like these "powers that be" took that book and used it as an instruction manual. However, the one thing Orwell didn't see coming was the Internet. Yes, the world elite have set up the system to spy on us all but with the internet, we can watch them back. Congressional Dish could not exist 10 years ago, but now, some girl with a microphone and access to online government documents can tell you what is in Congressional bills. It's magical! We also can - and will- use this amazing tool to organize with our communities to vote for better people, and we can do it without playing the money game. Anyone can launch a YouTube channel and speak directly to the world. We really don't need millions of dollars to pay the TV networks for airtime anymore. As soon as this idea spreads, and I think it's inevitable (Democracy Now is already hosting Presidential debates on the Internet), I think we will start to turn things around.

pros5998 karma

When and why do you think Americans started to tune out of politics?

How can we fix this issue?

Rahbek2312 karma

As a complete outsider I'd think it would be important to have an independent body read these bills as they are suggested and summarise them in a form that everyday joe can understand. THe problem is that even if you want to be informed, it's simply too time consuming or even impossible to grasp whats going on and it can be a big turnoff if you just feel it all goes "over your head".

So simply getting it more at eye level for most people would probably help a lot. The big problem in this solution is of course who is to summarise, because that is hard to do in an objective way. I'm sure some people already do this (OP), however it also needs to be advertised to the people in a decent manner, because if only <1% actually reads it, it's probably not overlapping with the people you want to target (the people that zone out of politics).

It's not an end all, but I feel that would be a place to start.

JenBriney14 karma

That's what I'm trying to do with Congressional Dish. It's impossible to be fully objective and entertaining at the same time - I don't try to pretend I don't have opinions - but I spend hours finding ways to explain complicated things in a way that anyone can understand... in a way I can understand. I hope you'll check it out :)

131045982106 karma

Is corporate influence on politics always and necessarily bad?

For instance, I work in the finance industry, and a lot of populist belief about what should and shouldn't be done in finance is very contrary to what people within the industry think should be done, and if some of the populist positions were adopted--a widespread increase to the minimum wage, mandator paid maternity leave, ending the Federal Reserve, just to name a few--these would have disastrous effects on the economy because of complex details the populace doesn't really understand, but industry experts do.

Do you think there are ever any situations in which corporate influence is good?

JenBriney5 karma

I don't deal in absolutes so I'm sure I could find an instance where it might make sense, but the negative effects are so overwhelming that the cost-benefit analysis tells me that corporate influence in politics needs to be stopped.

Bizzteacher1 karma

Are the republicans/tea party really screwing the public for corporate and personal gain or is that just the channel that I watch?

JenBriney11 karma

As a whole, the Party's actions definitely are designed to increase the profits of corporations, however, I truly don't believe that a single one of them are screwing the public on purpose. They seem to think that what is good for Wall Street - whatever makes the stock market rise - is good for all of us. They are bad Representatives for the public good, for sure, but I don't think most of them are bad people.