Saturday, February 18, 2017

Q&A: Director Michael Galinsky talks protest films and pain for Big Sky Documentary Film Fest

Posted By on Sat, Feb 18, 2017 at 11:55 AM

Filmmaker Michael Galinsky
  • Filmmaker Michael Galinsky


I wrote about Michael Galinsky last February when his photography exhibit, The Meadow, went up at Missoula's now-defunct Brink Gallery. The Chapel Hill, N.C.-based filmmaker was in the middle of making a film called All the Rage with co-directors Suki Hawley (his wife) and David Beilinson. The Meadow exhibit was mostly a street photography-style take on nature—full of gritty black-and-white shots of bees and flowers—but it was also a window into the story behind All the Rage. All the Rage is about Dr. Sarno, a professor of rehabilitation medicine at the New York University School of Medicine who believes that chronic pain is the result of stress and unattended emotional strain that manifests as muscle pain. Galinsky became one of his patients, and the meadow where he took The Meadow's pictures was a place he frequented while trying to heal his back pain.

All the Rage took 10 years to make, and the odd and compelling film gets its Northwest premiere at this week's Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. With notable appearances from Larry David and Howard Stern, it goes far beyond a basic medical story, employing personal anecdotes from Galinsky's own struggles and upbringing and weaving in a larger story about the societal costs—both emotional and financial—of a public in pain.
Galinsky and his partners, who run a film studio called Rumur, are also working on a new documentary about protests, which uses footage they've shot over the years of the Black Panthers, the Occupy movement and Trump. I spoke with Galinsky about protest documentaries and chronic pain in advance of his Big Sky screening.


How did
All The Rage come about?
Michael Galinsky: We started All the Rage in 2004. At that point, we saw it as a follow-up to our film Horns and Halos, which played at—and won—the first Big Sky Doc Fest. We imagined a film in which we followed our character, Dr. Sarno, as he fought to get his message out. However, he didn't really fight in a way that we could film, and his message was so thoroughly rejected by most people that it was incredibly hard to figure out how to fund it, or shoot it. It kind of slipped into a hiatus as we worked on other films, like Battle for Brooklyn. When we tried to put out Battle for Brooklyn, I got so stressed out that my back pain came roaring back and I found myself stuck on the floor in debilitating pain. That's when I called up Dr. Sarno and said, "We have to restart this film."
He agreed, and when we got back to work we found that the [national] problem of chronic pain was wildly worse than even a few years prior. We [also] found that people were increasingly open to and aware of the idea that the pain was connected to stress.

The film focuses on Dr. Sarno but it hints at larger ideas about society's ills. Did you know those pieces would be in there, or were there some surprises?
MG: Early on in our process of re-starting we came across an article by Jonah Lehrer called "Why Science is Failing Us." In it, he articulated many things we had been thinking but hadn't been able to explain—about how the medical system was willfully ignoring what Dr. Sarno had to say. Essentially, Dr. Sarno has been saying for over 40 years that the structural explanations for back pain—herniated disc and spinal stenosis—don't make sense, and that the treatment methods he had been taught, that are still in use, don't work. For the past 15 years, study after study has bolstered his argument, and every time they come out they are ignored, and practice doesn't really change. Even as we made the film about Dr. Sarno, we knew that these larger cultural issues that related to both systems and individuals would have to be a big part of the story.

How did you end up talking with Larry David and Howard Stern?
MG: It took many, many years to get to Howard Stern. It was kind of essential that he be in the film because the vast majority of people know about Dr. Sarno because of Howard Stern. His agent, Don Buchwald, told us he wouldn't do it, but agreed to talk with us himself because, like Howard, he owes a lot to Dr. Sarno. Suki and David did that shoot, and after it was over they were talking about what we needed to do to make the film work. Don was like, "All right, I'll ask him." The next day we got a call saying we'd get five minutes the following week. He gave us 12 and it was all great.
Larry David hadn't talked about his experience with Dr. Sarno before, and we didn't know he was a patient until we were working on a job with a 21-year-old guy who had back pain. We told him about [Sarno's] book and he said, "Larry David called that guy for me last week when we were shooting with him..." I guess [Larry David] thought that Dr. Sarno had sent us his way because he quickly agreed to let us come by.

What kind of reactions has All the Rage gotten from viewers ?
MG: We did about 50 small group screenings as we worked to shape the film. We had all kinds of people there, and we found that we had to do some surprising things to make it work. People think they want information. They want to know everything that Dr. Sarno thinks, and how he came to think it. However, when you put that info in a film it leads to more questions and more skepticism. We learned the hard way because we kept putting in more info but that only made people more skeptical, and it wasn't interesting. We started over and we found ways of weaving in ideas over time.
While we have a lot of studies that basically "prove" Dr. Sarno is on the right path, people who are resistant to those ideas aren't going to buy it anyway ... On the flip side, people who are open to the ideas, even a little bit, have been very passionate in their support.

How does it work to have all three directors from RUMUR working on projects like this?
MG: Film is the most collaborative art form. Suki, David and I all bring different sets of skills and ideas to our practice. David often has a vision for the animations and production elements that totally elevate the film. I tend to come at things with more passion than focus, and Suki is able to make sense of the energy and channel it into a film.

When did you start making the protest shorts?

MG: I never set out with the intent of documenting protests. It just kind of happened. The first shoot I ever did was the day after I graduated from high school. The Klan marched in Chapel Hill and there were about 50 protesters to every Klan member. I took my camera up there and shot a couple rolls of film. Almost 30 years later I moved from Brooklyn back into the house I grew up in and I found those negatives. I scanned a few with my iPhone and put them online and a friend from high school pointed me in the direction of sound that had been recorded that day by some guys at the college radio station. Suki married the sound with the images and it really made them come alive.

You take an observational approach to these films. Why is that important to you?
MG: Observational work can seem a bit boring in the present, but later it just has so much more power because it makes the viewer feel like they are in the situation rather than being told about it.
A couple of years after that Klan shoot I started my first real photo project, documenting malls all across America. It started out as a class project for a color photo class in college. My teacher really loved it and encouraged me to continue. I was taking pretty mundane pictures of people hanging out in malls. At the time when I showed them to people they were like, "Um, yeah that's people in a mall." Twenty five years later, when I found the slides and scanned them they exploded on the internet ... The reason I even mention that project is that these images were taking off on the internet right around the time that Occupy was happening. That's when I really started to document more protests, and from my experience with the mall images I had really come to see how powerful simple observation can be years after the fact.

Between the Occupy movement and the Trump election, how has your idea for this feature developed?
MG: I got to Seattle the day after [the Occupy protests] started there. I had gone out to show Battle for Brooklyn—our 2011 feature doc—so I went out and shot for a few hours and cut something that I projected before I showed my feature that night. There was something very powerful about presenting the work to that community while it was still unfolding.
A couple of years after Occupy, Suki and I moved to North Carolina, where the Moral Monday movement was in full swing. I think the second week we were there, we went out and made a short about that. When the election came around, we started to document some of the candidate events. Bernie's message was so connected to Occupy that we made a short about that which connected directly to our previous Occupy shorts. When Trump came to Greensboro, we made an homage to Jeff Krulik's Heavy Metal Parking Lot that we called Trump Parking Lot.
After the election, the North Carolina General Assembly started to pull some crazy shenanigans. They called themselves into session in the last few weeks before the newly elected governor was sworn in in order to pass laws limiting the power of the incoming governor. I was kind of still in shock from the election, but Suki made me come out that first day. Not a lot happened, but it was clear something was up, so the next day Suki stayed home to edit and I went to shoot. There were four days of intense protest around that and we shot a great deal. We also shot at the DNC in August, and then the inauguration, just trying to capture what both sides had to say. We thought we were done, but the Black Panthers marched the next week. Now I think we are done. Suki is doing a lot of editing of the various shorts in order to have it all make sense.

What is film's role in politics and what ideas have you come up with since the election?
MG: Well, I think there are different things that film can do. We were inspired to go down to Occupy after seeing the short films that gave a sense of what was going on. However, those films were very much aligned with the movement. While we appreciated those films and the idea of making activist work, we also thought it was important to document the situation with a kind of longer-term, historical perspective. We believe that this kind of work has much more value later.

All the Rage screens at the Hell Gate Elks Lodge Sat., Feb. 18, at 8:15 PM.

Occupy Seattle from rumur on Vimeo.

Trump Parking Lot from rumur on Vimeo.






Saturday's avalanche advisory: Moderate danger

Posted By on Sat, Feb 18, 2017 at 7:50 AM

From the West Central Montana Avalanche Center: The current avalanche danger for the West Central Montana backcountry is MODERATE above 7,000ft. Avalanches are possible in specific terrain at upper elevations. Below 7,000ft the avalanche danger is LOW and human triggered avalanches will be isolated.
moderate-450.png

Good morning, this is Logan King with the West Central Montana Avalanche Center’s avalanche advisory for Saturday, February 18, 2017. This danger rating does not apply to operating ski areas, expires at midnight tonight and is the sole responsibility of the U.S. Forest Service.

For the full advisory, along with photos and video, visit the West Central Montana Avalanche Center's website.

Here's what the National Weather Service's backcountry forecast has to say about the rest of the weekend here in west central Montana:

Southwest flow continues over the Northern Rockies and is anticipated to remain through at least Tuesday. Several weak disturbances transverse the region in this flow pattern. The first
feature will move in later today causing an increase in shower activity especially across north central Idaho up into northwest Montana. The precipitation diminishes overnight tonight. The second feature is anticipated Sunday afternoon and evening. A more robust system is expected Monday night into Tuesday.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Five more things to do at the Big Sky Doc Fest

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 3:32 PM

Being Evel
  • Being Evel
As if we didn't already give you enough to do.

1. It was a blow to fans everywhere when Carrie Fisher died in late December, and even more heartbreaking when her mom, Debbie Reynolds, died the next day. Strangely enough, the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival had planned to show the HBO film Bright Lights—an intimate portrait of the  pair—to open the festival. Bright Lights uses vintage family film and recent interviews to tell the story of the mother-daughter legacy in a way that seems more poignant now than ever.
Tonight, Fri., Feb. 17, at the Wilma, at 7 PM. Free.

2. You barely need to be a conscious human being to know that podcasts are blowing up everywhere. If you're like me, you've got dozens of subscriptions loaded on your phone, including everything from RadioLab and 2 Dope Queens to Missoula-based Last Best Stories, which features slice-of-life tales about Montana people and critters. This year at BSDFF, podcasts get their due as genre of documentary storytelling. Jule Banville, UM School of Journalism professor and producer of Last Best Stories, has set up a listening lounge at Montgomery Distillery to showcase several audio shorts. You can sip an artisan cocktail and plug in to hear stories about, among other things, a bear encounter, a river trip gone wrong, a surprise brunch with David Bowie, and a woman who inherited a small Montana town but doesn't want it.
At Montgomery Distillery Sat., Feb. 18, through Sat., Feb. 25, from 3 PM to 6 PM. Sponsored by UM's School of Journalism and Last Best Stories.

3. In this week's coverage of the festival we wrote about EyeSteelFilm, a Canadian film collective that often deals in experimental works, 17 of which will be showcased as part of a retrospective at this year's festival. Another retrospective will focus on Daniel Junge, an Oscar and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker whose 2015 film, Being Evel, explores the life of Butte-born stunt motorcyclist Evel Knievel. The festival will show 10 of Junge's films including Saving Face, about acid attacks on women in Pakistan, and They Killed Sister Dorothy, about a nun from Ohio killed in the Brazilian rainforest.
Being Evel screens at the Roxy Sat., Feb. 18, at 3 PM.

4. If you're a filmmaker or a film geek, you might be interested in Big Sky Pitch, an open-to-the-public event  where you can watch filmmakers pitch documentary ideas and in-progress films to a panel of producers from ESPN Films, Film Independent, ITVS, Tribeca Film Institute and New York Times Video. Ten projects have been accepted and will each get 20 minutes to dazzle the panel in the hopes of getting funding.
At the UC Theatre Thu., Feb. 23, starting at 9 AM. Free.

5. Viewing films is the most obvious part of the Big Sky Doc Fest, but for aspiring and professional filmmakers it's also an opportunity to network and learn. Doc Shops is a set of workshops on documentary journalism, branding, crowd-funding, technology and distribution. There's even a Filmmaking 101 workshop for those just dipping their toes in. These classes are hosted by companies and organizations from all over, including The Audience Awards, Epic Montana and The Atlantic. The cost is $150, but the workshops are free to UM and MSU students.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thursday's avalanche advisory: Moderate danger

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2017 at 7:59 AM

From the West Central Montana Avalanche Center: The current avalanche danger is MODERATE for the west central Montana backcountry. Human triggered avalanches are possible in specific terrain. Conditions will change quickly today as water is added to the snowpack and could easily jump to CONSIDERABLE by early afternoon. Continual evaluation of the avalanche conditions will be essential for recreating in the backcountry today.
moderate-450.png

Good morning, this is Logan King with the West Central Montana Avalanche Center’s avalanche advisory for Thursday, February 16, 2017. This danger rating does not apply to operating ski areas, expires at midnight tonight and is the sole responsibility of the U.S. Forest Service.

For the full advisory including photos and video, visit the West Central Montana Avalanche Center's website.

Here's what the National Weather Service's backcountry forecast has to say as the weekend approaches:

A surge of tropical moisture is making its way through the Northern Rockies today causing widespread precipitation. Snow levels will remain fairly high during the day then drop tonight as a weak cold front moves through the region. The mountains across north central Idaho into west central Montana will receive the heaviest amount of moisture from this event. An active weather pattern will persist over the Northern Rockies through at least mid next week.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Here's what happened during Sen. Tester's luncheon with President Trump last week

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2017 at 11:13 AM

Last week, Sen. Jon Tester met with President Donald Trump for a luncheon alongside five other Senate Democrats and four Republicans. They discussed a lot, from federal regulations to Trump's nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a subsequent press call, Tester disclosed that he’d also pressed the president to exempt more Veterans Affairs employees from the federal hiring freeze to alleviate backlogs, and that he’d hand-delivered a letter reiterating his desire to see campaign finance reform measures enacted. Tester referred to the luncheon as a “productive meeting.”
PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder

“I told the president that I’ll give him room to succeed and I will work with him when I can,” Tester told Montana media outlets. “But I also told him that I would hold him accountable if he pushes policies that are bad for Montana or bad for this country.”

That was Thursday. As Friday bled into the weekend, however, reports from Politico and CNN began to paint a slightly different picture of the luncheon. Those stories cited unnamed sources who claimed that Trump had repeated his long-debunked claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election, generating what Politico’s source called “an uncomfortable silence.”

The stories also stated that Trump brought up an episode from earlier in the week when Sen. Elizabeth Warren, while objecting to the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general, was gaveled down (by Montana’s own Sen. Steve Daines). CNN said Trump “taunted” Democrats at the luncheon by referring to Warren several times as “Pocahontas,” quoting a source describing the president’s resurrection of the pejorative as “equal parts bizarre and completely awkward.” On Sunday, Sen. Al Franken, who was not in the meeting, told Politico that if he had been, he would have informed the president that the nickname is “racist.”

The Indy followed up with Tester’s office about these revelations this week. In an email late Tuesday, Feb. 14, Tester spokesman Luke Jackson confirmed on the senator’s behalf that Trump did indeed make the reported remarks. He also confirmed that no one at the luncheon responded to or confronted the president about them. Asked why the remarks weren’t disclosed as part of last week’s press call, Jackson responded:

These were not new statements from Mr. Trump. The President has routinely called Sen. Warren this derogatory name as far back as May of last year. Also, Mr. Trump has made unfounded claims of voter fraud since before the election and continues to offer no evidence to back them up. Jon is deeply concerned that the President has a tendency to repeat offensive rhetoric and untrue statements.

On that press call, amid talk about rural broadband and concerns that Trump’s federal communications ban is negatively impacting Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries in Montana, Tester did acknowledge reservations about how the president reacts when challenged. Asked during the call if Trump’s Twitter habits had come up during the luncheon, Tester replied they hadn’t, adding, “I don’t think those Twitter feeds, whatever you call them, or sidebar comments about people’s personalities are particularly helpful. But I think in time he’ll realize that.”

As for a direct response to Trump’s comments about Warren and voter fraud, Jackson told the Indy, “Jon thinks what President Trump called Senator Warren is offensive. Jon takes the integrity of our elections very seriously.”

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Saturday's avalanche advisory: Considerable danger

Posted By on Sat, Feb 11, 2017 at 9:01 AM

From the West Central Montana Avalanche Center: The avalanche warning has expired and the current avalanche danger is CONSIDERABLE for the West Central Montana Backcountry. Human triggered avalanches are likely in specific areas, careful evaluation of avalanche conditions are necessary to recreate in the backcountry today.
considerable-450.png

Good morning, this is Logan King with the West Central Montana Avalanche Center’s avalanche advisory for Saturday, February 11, 2017. This danger rating does not apply to operating ski areas, expires at midnight tonight and is the sole responsibility of the U.S. Forest Service.

For the full advisory, plus video and photos, visit the West Central Montana Avalanche Center's website.

Here's what the National Weather Service's backcountry forecast has to say about the rest of the weekend:

Cooler temperature have moved into the region which has created unstable atmospheric conditions and snow showers. Increased westerly winds have also developed and look to increase through mid morning before decreasing for the rest of the day. Snow showers are forecast to decrease through the day so accumulations will mainly be limited to this morning. Cold temperatures will settle in at all elevations for Sunday morning with valley inversions set to develop. Warmer air will begin to move into the terrain on Monday.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thursday's avalanche advisory: High danger

Posted By on Thu, Feb 9, 2017 at 8:21 AM

From the West Central Montana Avalanche Center: An avalanche warning is in effect for the west central Montana backcountry. The current avalanche danger is HIGH. Very dangerous avalanche conditions are present. Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended today. Human triggered avalanches are very likely, and natural avalanches are likely. Avoid runout zones.
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Good morning, this is Travis Craft with an avalanche warning for February 09, 2017. This avalanche warning will expire at 0600 am on February 10, 2017. The warning will be extended or terminated at that time. This danger rating does not apply to operating ski areas and is the sole responsibility of the U.S. Forest Service.

For the full advisory, along with photos and video, visit the West Central Montana Avalanche Center's website here.

This is what the National Weather Service's backcountry forecast has to say heading into the weekend:

Widespread snow is in the process of transitioning over to rain and freezing rain today, especially for elevations below 5000 to 6000 feet. Northwest Montana will be the last to turn over, and some locations may hold on to the colder air for longer that would prevent a rain transition from ever occurring. Southwest winds will be on the rise today as this warm and wet system slides in, and mountain ridges could see gusts over 40-50 mph at times today through Friday.

A relatively cooler air mass will start to usher in tonight/early Friday, dropping snow levels back down to 3000-4000 feet throughout the day Friday. Snow and rain showers will persist in the cooler air mass on Friday, and the unstable profile combined with westerly winds could aid in prolonged shower development.

Additional colder air will move into the area Friday night into early Saturday, lowering snow levels to valley floors. Some light snow showers will linger in this cool, northwest flow.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Today's avalanche advisory: High danger

Posted By on Sat, Feb 4, 2017 at 8:12 AM

From the West Central Montana Avalanche Center: The current avalanche danger is HIGH on wind loaded slopes for the west central Montana backcountry. The danger is CONSIDERABLE on all other slopes in the advisory area. Avoid all wind loaded terrain. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding, and conservative decision-making are essential today. Human triggered avalanches are likely.
high-extreme-450.png

Good morning, this is Travis Craft with the West Central Montana Avalanche Center’s avalanche advisory for February 04, 2017. This danger rating does not apply to operating ski areas, expires at midnight tonight and is the sole responsibility of the U.S. Forest Service.

For the full advisory, including video and photos, visit the West Central Montana Avalanche Center's website.

Here's what the National Weather Service's backcountry forecast has to say about the rest of the weekend:

Impressive snowfall amounts have already been reported across western Montana and north central Idaho Friday. Additional light to moderate snow will occur today into Sunday, with another round of prolonged intense heavy snow Sunday night through Monday. In fact, several feet of snow is still expected for the terrain along the Idaho/Montana border, including the Clearwaters, Bitterroots, and the Kootenai, as well as northwest Montana mountain ranges. The Whitefish, Glacier, JFS Canyon region, Mission, and Swan mountains will be hit continuously with heavy, dense snow during this time. Snowfall rates of 2 inches an hour will be common. In addition, increasing north to northeast winds will occur, causing further degradation of conditions.

Our confidence remains very high in the snowfall amounts being forecast now through Monday. Confidence is moderate-to-high that blizzard conditions are going to be a real concern Sunday night through Monday in northwest Montana, making backcountry conditions impassible.

Friday, February 3, 2017

ACLU Montana membership nearly doubles after election

Posted By on Fri, Feb 3, 2017 at 11:04 AM

aclu_montana.gif
In late January, the national American Civil Liberties Union reported an unprecedented spike in donations, to the tune of $24 million in a single weekend. That's six times the organization's average annual donations. The ACLU attributed the uptick to outrage over the Trump administration's anti-immigrant, anti-refugee policies.

That same enthusiasm for the ACLU's mission is reaching Montana. ACLU Montana reports that it counted about 1,400 active donors prior to the election. In the weeks since Nov. 8, more than 1,100 people have made first-time donations, according to Kileen Marshall, director of philanthropy and strategic initiatives. She says about 250 of those donors have joined just since Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.

"My sense of why people are choosing to do this is they recognize the new administration is threatening—and has already threatened within its first week—several social justice and civil liberties issues that people feel passionately about," Marshall says. Immigration, refugees, women's reproductive choice, LGBT protections, voting rights and racial justice are among the issues widely perceived to be at risk under the Trump administration.

"There's a long list, and the ACLU works on all those issues," Marshall says.

The average donation in Montana  has been about $35. Marshall emphasizes that even token amounts can still help add to the message.

"There are over 2,500 supporters in Montana who’ve paid money and belong to the ACLU. Our voice is strengthened when we can share how many people are with us."

On Inauguration Day, the national ACLU released a seven-point plan of action for taking on the Trump administration, including FOIA requests, lawsuits in response to rights violations, legal assistance to protesters, investigations of law enforcement, and mobilizing its 750,000-plus members in citizen action. ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero wrote:

"While it's true that all presidents swear this oath and inevitably go on to abuse their powers, we believe the Trump administration poses the single greatest threat to civil liberties, civil rights, and the rule of law in modern memory."

Thursday, February 2, 2017

With DeVos vote looming, critics call on Sen. Daines and others to recuse themselves over campaign donations

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2017 at 10:35 AM

Betsy DeVos came one step closer to becoming Secretary of Education this week. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Tuesday split along party lines over her confirmation, and Republicans won 12 to 11. The question of DeVos’ installment in the Trump cabinet now falls to the full Senate, which is expected to take up the issue any day now. As that confirmation looms, critics are calling on 23 senators to recuse themselves from the vote in light of past campaign contributions from the DeVos family. One senator on that list is Montana’s Sen. Steve Daines.
Critics of Betsy DeVos' nomination as Secretary of Education have urged 23 U.S. senators—including Montana Sen. Steve Daines—to recuse themselves from the confirmation process in light of the DeVos family's contributions to their campaigns. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Critics of Betsy DeVos' nomination as Secretary of Education have urged 23 U.S. senators—including Montana Sen. Steve Daines—to recuse themselves from the confirmation process in light of the DeVos family's contributions to their campaigns.

According to a search of the National Institute on Money in State Politics’ database, DeVos contributed $5,200 to Daines’ 2014 senate campaign. Additionally, at least seven other members of the DeVos family also donated money to Daines' 2014 run, adding up to $46,800 all told. Campaign contribution reports filed with the Federal Election Commission also show $2,000 in donations from the Alticor PAC, the political arm of the DeVos-owned corporation Alticor. DeVos disclosed her personal contributions to Daines and scores of other candidates and political groups in her Senate questionnaire, and stated during her confirmation hearing that it's "possible" her family has donated as much as $200 million to Republican candidates over the years.

Shortly after a meeting with DeVos in early January, Daines described DeVos as having “a passion for education” and forecast that she “will be a formidable leader at the Department of Education.” In response to questions from the Indy about the donations and the pending confirmation vote, a spokesperson for Daines emailed the following statement:

Steve supports Betsy DeVos because she shares his commitment to increasing local control of our schools with policies that originate with the parents, teachers and administrators who are closest to the classroom. Any implication otherwise is both false and an insult to the people of Montana.

However, thousands of protesters here in the state have already pushed back against the nominations of DeVos and several other cabinet members, at times taking their opposition straight to Daines’ local offices. They aren’t alone. Activists in South Carolina last month pressured Sen. Tim Scott to vote against DeVos’ confirmation with rallies, Facebook comments and calls to Scott’s congressional office. And yesterday, Philadelphia-based writer, teacher and costume designer Katherine Fritz launched a GoFundMe campaign titled “Buy [Sen.] Pat Toomey’s Vote.” In the past 18 hours, she’s raised $9,535. “This campaign isn't actually about buying a vote from an elected official,” Fritz wrote on the campaign’s page. “But it is about using satire to point out the various ways in which our elected officials can—legally!—take money from the same people that now seek political office. Our education system shouldn't be ‘pay-to-play,’ and neither should our democracy.”

The petitions and ads calling for Daines and 22 other senators to bow out of the confirmation process were launched last month by a consortium of left-leaning organizations including End Citizens United. ECU went so far as to publish a report documenting the scope of the DeVos family’s political investments, in which another notable name cropped up: Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of two Republicans who announced on Feb. 1 they intend to vote against DeVos’ confirmation.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that critics are questioning the potential influence of DeVos’ past campaign giving. DeVos made her stance on the role of money in politics known all the way back in 1997, when she penned an op-ed for the Washington, D.C., newspaper Roll Call defending soft money. In the piece she conceded that her family had sought to buy influence by donating vast sums to the Republican Party, and stated that “we do expect some things in return.” Here’s the full letter, as reprinted by Mother Jones:

I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. Occasionally a wayward reporter will try to make the charge that we are giving this money to get something in return, or that we must be purchasing influence in some way.

In fact, shortly after this summer's historic budget agreement, some on the left began shopping a rumor that President Clinton was planning to line-item veto a provision that, they hypothesized, had been somehow sneaked into the agreement to benefit my family's company, the Amway Corporation.

For a moment, the Democrats got very excited, believing they had an opportunity to claim that we bought access. It was all hogwash, and upon being confronted with the facts, they had to scrap their plan.

I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.

We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican Party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections.

People like us must surely be stopped.
That last sentence, clearly, was intended to be sarcastic. Twenty years later, critics are taking it literally.
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