20 Years of ‘Money Trail’ for ABC Bloodhound Ross

While much has been made of Fox News Channel’s nearly 20 years in the game, and that bit of tumult atop the network last week, another 20-year anniversary in TV news is approaching. “Money Trail,” ABC chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross’s franchise segment dedicated to following the money in politics, debuted at the 1996 GOP convention Aug. 12. For the sixth consecutive presidential election season, Ross and his team are at the party conventions, spotlighting the influence of big money in politics.

Ross is in Philadelphia, and likely hoping for a livelier time than what he saw last week in Cleveland. “It was, what if you gave a party, and nobody came?” he told B&C July 20, filing a dispatch about the attention wealthy GOP benefactor Sheldon Adelson was attracting in Cleveland. “I’ve been to a lot of these and never has it felt like a party where no one came.”

He says the idea for “Money Trail” came from Roone Arledge, former ABC News president, and Peter Jennings, former ABC World News Tonight anchor, and the segment has been present at every convention from 1996 until the current ones. “They said, you should go and follow the money,” said Ross of the ABC News icons. “The big donors all want to have special treatment.”

The GOP’s uneven showing in Cleveland led to what he calls “sort of an unintended campaign finance reform,” while the email hacking scandal hitting the Dems leading into their wingding may dampen the mood there too.

Yet Ross says there’s generally more money, and more secrecy, than ever in politics. Nixon’s scandalized White House led to a number of reforms, he says, but over the decades those have been peeled back.

This time around, he says as much as $8 billion in campaign cash may change hands by Election Day. “It’s important to know who gave what,” Ross says, “and what they want in return.”

The Money Trail appears throughout ABC News, whether it’s on GMA or World NewsTonight or ABCNews.com. The trail does not end Nov. 8. “People trying to influence the American government,” Ross said, “is a 24/7 thing for them.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.