Tag: Campaign Finance

The Trump Foundation: Family’s Personal Piggy Bank

The New York State Attorney General has sued the Trump Foundation accusing the Trump family of essentially using the non-profit as their personal piggy bank. The New York State attorney general’s office filed a scathingly worded lawsuit on Thursday taking aim at the Donald J. Trump Foundation, accusing the charity and the Trump family of …

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Money, Money, Money

It’s all about the money. Follow the money. Show me the money. American elections have always been about the money and who has the most. The system has made it very expensive requiring candidates to spend massive amounts of time courting millionaires and corporations to donate to their campaigns. Senator Bernie Sanders raised millions with …

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The Case for Overturning Citizens United

One of the major things that the exposure of the Sony e-mails by Wikileaks revealed was the shift in campaign donations  to influence elections

Former Dem Senator Chris Dodd Advised Execs to Give to GOP: “Fundraising Does Have An Impact”

By Lee Fang, The Intercept

Chris Dodd’s first career was as the liberal U.S. Senator from Connecticut, a self-professed champion for working families and a Democratic presidential contender in 2008. But hacked emails from Sony offer new insight into how he operates in his second career, as the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, a lobby group for the movie industry.

On January 28, 2014, Dodd emailed executives from major motion picture studios to share two news articles. One revealed that Google had shifted its campaign donation strategy, giving more to Republican lawmakers, and another projected that the GOP would likely perform well in the midterm elections that year.

or to raise money by currying favor with corporations and their executives:

Hacked Sony emails reveal Cuomo fund-raising details

By Conor Skelding, Laura Nahmias and Bill Mahoney, Capital New York

Emails between Sony executives and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s campaign staff leaked as part of the Sony Pictures hack and published in full by WikiLeaks Thursday appear to show Sony executives believed donating to Cuomo was a good idea because he is a “strong protector” of New York’s film tax credit. [..]

The emails also appear to show Cuomo’s campaign pressing Sony to deliver $50,000 worth of donations before a July 15, 2014 campaign filing deadline as he ramped up his re-election campaign last summer.

The first email dates from Jan. 7, 2014, from Keith Weaver, ‎executive vice president of Worldwide Government Affairs at Sony, to Sony C.E.O. Michael Lynton, concerning a fund-raiser with $25,000 per person ticket prices for Cuomo held on January 23, 2014 at the home of Jim Gianopulos, chairman and C.E.O. of Fox Filmed Entertainment. That fund-raiser yielded $300,000 for Cuomo’s re-election campaign.

Citizens must be made aware of the massive influx of money from billionaires via super PACS to back candidates, and influence congressional and state legislative agendas in order to keep the Republic from further sliding into an oligarchy.

Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) told Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman that if nothing is done to get money out of politics “we can kiss this country goodbye.”

I said on MSNBC that night five years ago that if we do nothing, you can kiss this country goodbye. Well, pucker up, because right now the millionaires and the billionaires and the multinational corporations are calling the shots with whatever they want in TPP, whatever they want in fast track-more generally, whatever they want. They get the bailouts. They get the tax breaks. They get the so-called deregulation. They get what they want here because they get what they pay for.

Bob Menendez Corruption Case Reads Like An Indictment Of Citizens United Ruling, Too

By Paul Blumenthal, Huffington Post

A prime example of the corruption is the indictment of Sen. Robert Menendezl (D-NJ).The indictment of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) on public corruption charges is the first bribery case involving the use of corporate political spending to support a candidate since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision allowed corporations to do just that.

Justice Anthony Kennedy declared in the 5-4 majority opinion that corporations should be free to spend unlimited sums on independent political activities since “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Those making independent expenditures “may have influence over or access to elected officials,” but that “does not mean those officials are corrupt,” Kennedy wrote.

The Department of Justice begs to differ. Menendez’s indictment on Wednesday specifically ties two $300,000 contributions from Dr. Salomon Melgen’s Vitreo-Retinal Consultants to an officially independent super PAC — donations that were earmarked for Menendez’s 2012 re-election effort — to actions that the senator took on behalf of Melgen’s business interests.

This is exactly the kind of behavior that Kennedy could not fathom happening.

Justice Kennedy needed to get oout more.

There are now calls for a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United. Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT-I) has reintroduced an amendment that would do just that

Sen. Sanders had to propose a new amendment because legislation that isn’t acted on by the previous Congress expires at the end of the session. Since Congress didn’t act on the amendment the last time Sanders filed it, he is bringing it back in the new Congress.

The key section of the amendment is Section 2. The second section would halt the Supreme Court’s money is free speech interpretation of the Constitution. The first section of the amendment deals directly with the idea that corporations are people, but the second section overturns the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo Supreme Court decision that money is speech. The second section of the amendment would throw out the entire basis for the Supreme Court’s rulings in campaign finance cases.

However, the chances of getting the 2/3rds majority in both houses of congress and 38 states are somewhere around zero to none. Passage was not Sen. Sanders’ point:

The point is to bring attention to the issue of what Citizens United continues to do to our electoral process. The most likely path to overturning Citizens United remains a Democratic presidential victory in the 2016 election. Two of the conservatives Justices who made up the majority in the Citizens United decision are 78 years old. The odds of one or both justices serving the last two years of President Obama’s term and another eight years under another potential Democratic president are slim. (It also wouldn’t be surprising to see the 81 year old Ruth Bader Ginsburg retire before President Obama leaves office.) The Supreme Court is due for a generational change, and if Democrats control the White House, that change could result in a 5-4 liberal leaning court.

In the meantime, Sen. Sanders is leading the fight to inform the American people about the toxic nature of unlimited money in their electoral process. The movement to overturn Citizens United needs and educated population, because outside of the Supreme Court, public pressure is the best way to get the billionaire dollars out of our elections is to have tens of millions of voices demand it.

The more citizens are made aware of the dark influence of billionaires emboldened by the Supreme Court, the better able to confront the candidates and elected officials on their policies and votes. This can be stopped by a truly informed electorate and taking back local and state governments.

The Corporate Love Affair with Citizens United

A report (pdf) done at Princeton University that was released last year argued that democracy in America has been transformed into an oligarchy with wealthy elites wielding the power. Researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page wrote that this has been a gradual, long term trend predating decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC making it harder for the public to perceive and even harder to reverse. Those rulings, however, may have sealed the deal.

How Corporations Run Congress: A Talk With Ryan Grim

Richard (RJ) Eskow, Huffington Post

Interview excerpt with Ryan Grim on The Zero Hour

Merriam-Webster’s first definition of “corruption” is “impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle.” Another is “a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct.” Has democracy been corrupted by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision? Has its integrity and virtue been compromised? Does today’s electoral process reflect what the Founders envisioned?

Writing the majority opinion in Citizens United, Justice Anthony Kennedy assured us that this decision would not have a corrupting influence on democracy. “(T)his Court now concludes,” wrote Kennedy, “that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

Avoiding the appearance of corruption, as well as corrupting itself, was essential to the Court’s ruling, since the mere appearance of corruption discourages voters and hampers democracy. For the Court’s reasoning to stand, elected officials must forever remain like Caesar’s wife: above suspicion. Justice Kennedy’s opinion assured us that, even with “independent” spending limits raised, they would.

The Inside Story Of How Citizens United Has Changed Washington Lawmaking

Paul Blumenthal and Ryan Grim, Huffington Post

When Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the deciding vote to gut a century of campaign finance law, he assured the public that the unlimited corporate spending he was ushering in would “not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Because those authorized to give and spend unlimited amounts were legally required to remain independent of the politicians themselves, Kennedy reasoned, there was no cause for concern.

Just five years later, in a development that may be surprising only to Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision is reshaping how, how much and to whom money flows in Washington.

How the flood of money released by Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (pdf) has changed elections has been the subject of much discussion, but the decision’s role in allowing that same money to soak the legislative process has largely gone unreported. According to an extensive review of public documents held by the FEC, the U.S. Senate and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as interviews with lobbyists and policymakers, Kennedy’s allegedly independent spending has become increasingly intertwined with lobbying and legislation — the precise appearance of corruption campaign finance laws were meant to curb.

Politically active nonprofits, known as “dark money” groups for their ability to shield the identity of donors, and super PACs, which take unlimited sums of money but must disclose donors, have become dominated by lobbyists and other political operatives with close ties to leaders in Congress. Meanwhile, businesses with issues before Congress are pumping increasingly more money into the lobbyist-connected organizations.

The Supreme Court initially established a narrow definition of corruption in the 1970s, but Citizens United used it to blow open the gates that had been holding back corporate money. The 2010 decision came as the U.S. legislative system had evolved into a near parliamentary system of party-line voting and expansive party networks extending seamlessly from the Capitol to party headquarters to lobbying firms to outside political groups. Most top congressional legislators now have “leadership teams” — informal but internally recognized groups of aides-turned-lobbyists who help raise funds.

Fighting Big Money in Politics

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This past election saw the lowest voter turn out in 70 years, This happened for a number of reasons, one of which was uninspiring candidates who offered little to no policy agenda, voter fatigue (boredom?) and new voter ID laws that suppressed voters. Another factor that may have effected turn out was the $4 billion that was spent on this campaign flooding the airways with uninspired advertising that turned people off and the lack of an unbiased, independent media. Many candidates couldn’t get their message to the voters because they didn’t have the money for campaign ads and the corporate owned media, with its own agenda, favored certain candidates.

This week Bill Moyers spoke with two academics who got involved this election attempting to spark public interest without the big money. They related their experiences and the lessons they learned about the state of the American democracy.

Lawrence Lessig, who teaches law at Harvard, is a well-known Internet activist and campaign finance reform advocate. This election cycle, he started a crowd-funded SuperPAC aimed at reducing the influence of money in politics. Lessig tells Bill: “Our democracy is flat lined. Because when you can show clearly there’s no relationship between what the average voter cares about, only if it happens to coincide with what the economic elite care about, you’ve shown that we don’t have a democracy anymore.”

Zephyr Teachout, a professor of constitutional and property law at Fordham Law School, ran against New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary. She received more than a third of the vote and carried 30 of the state’s 62 counties, surprising everyone – including Cuomo. “When you talk about the corruption in Congress, people are talking about the same thing that Madison was talking about. This sense that our public servants are just serving themselves,” Teachout tells Bill.

Andrew Cuomo’s Saturday Night Massacre

Cross poated from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Last year, after the New York State legislature failed to pass campaign finance and a year riddled with corruption scandals, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo empaneled an “independent” commission to pursue misconduct among public officials and make recommendations to changes to the state’s election and campaign fund-raising laws. The 25 member Moreland Commission was created last July to restore public trust in government. But nine months later, Gov. Cuomo shut it down. The governor claimed that with “the passage of new tougher laws on bribery and  corruption, and improved enforcement of election law”, the commission was no longer needed.

That didn’t satisfy government watch dogs or some lawmakers. Nor did it satisfy Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose investigations had led to the commissions formation. According to the New York Times, Mr. Bharara contacted two of the commission’s three chairs, William J. Fitzpatrick and Milton L. Williams Jr. His suspicion was that Gov. Cuomo had shut down the commission for political expediency and because the commission’s investigation was getting to close to his office. It now appears that Mr. Bharara has really good instincts.

This week the New York Times broke with this extensive report:

Cuomo’s Office Hobbled Ethics Inquiries by Moreland Commission

With Albany rocked by a seemingly endless barrage of scandals and arrests, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set up a high-powered commission last summer to root out corruption in state politics. It was barely two months old when its investigators, hunting for violations of campaign-finance laws, issued a subpoena to a media-buying firm that had placed millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements for the New York State Democratic Party.

The investigators did not realize that the firm, Buying Time, also counted Mr. Cuomo among its clients, having bought the airtime for his campaign when he ran for governor in 2010.

Word that the subpoena had been served quickly reached Mr. Cuomo’s most senior aide, Lawrence S. Schwartz. He called one of the commission’s three co-chairs, William J. Fitzpatrick, the district attorney in Syracuse.

“This is wrong,” Mr. Schwartz said, according to Mr. Fitzpatrick, whose account was corroborated by three other people told about the call at the time. He said the firm worked for the governor, and issued a simple directive:

“Pull it back.”

The subpoena was swiftly withdrawn. The panel’s chief investigator explained why in an email to the two other co-chairs later that afternoon.

“They apparently produced ads for the governor,” she wrote.

The pulled-back subpoena was the most flagrant example of how the commission, established with great ceremony by Mr. Cuomo in July 2013, was hobbled almost from the outset by demands from the governor’s office.

Despite Gov, Cuomo’s denial and protestations that it was his commission to dismiss, Mr Bharara is taking over where the commission’s investigations. The lengthy article is a must read.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow roasted Gov. Cuomo in an extended segment that included an interview with Thomas Kaplan one of the three authors who wrote the NYT’s article.

The governor’s travails also caught the attention of The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart

Gov. Cuomo’s Democratic Primary opponent Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout has called for the governor to resign should these allegations prove true.

Also complicating his headaches, Gov. Cuomo had some of the commission members sworn in as deputy state attorneys general by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that calls into question his assertions that he had a right to interfere with the commission. Quite similar to late President Richard M. Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre when he ordered the independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox fired after Mr. Cox issued subpoenas asking for copies of taped conversations recorded in the Oval Office and authorized by Nixon as evidence.

Gov. Cuomo does have a lot of questions to answer and so far his answers have fallen very short.

Chemical Plants Contents Kept Secret By Campaign Money

On April 17, 2013, an ammonium nitrate chemical storage facility in West, Texas exploded killing 15, injuring 160 and destroyed or damaged over 160 buildings. The cause of the original fire is still unknown. The plant that exploded was owned by a privately held family corporation. The plant only carried $1 million in liability insurance which under Texas law, was $1 million more than it needed. One year later, no legislation has even been introduced to increase regulations or inspections.

A year after the explosion, the US Chemical Safety Board issued its findings:

CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “The fire and explosion at West Fertilizer was preventable. It should never have occurred. It resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it.”

The CSB’s investigation found that at the state level, there is no fire code and in fact counties under a certain population are prohibited from having them.  “Local authorities and specifically-local fire departments-need fire codes so they can hold industrial operators accountable for safe storage and handling of chemicals,” said Dr. Moure-Eraso.

CSB Supervisory Investigator Johnnie Banks said “The CSB found at all levels of government a failure to adopt codes to keep populated areas away from hazardous facilities, not just in West, Texas. We found 1,351 facilities across the country that store ammonium nitrate.  Farm communities are just starting to collect data on how close homes or schools are to AN storage, but there can be little doubt that West is not alone and that other communities should act to determine what hazards might exist in proximity.”

The CSB’s preliminary findings follow a yearlong investigation which has focused on learning how to prevent a similar accident from occurring in another community. “It is imperative that people learn from the tragedy at West,” Dr. Moure-Eraso said.

One of the major factors that has kept any new regulations from being passed has been the large amounts of cash from families like the Koch brothers that has flowed into the pockets of the Republican politicians. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow talked with Wayne Slater, senior political writer for the Dallas Morning News, about Texas Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott allowing chemical plants to keep their contents secret, a move that benefits Koch Industries, and a campaign donor.

Hazardous chemical lists no longer public record in Texas

DALLAS — For the past 30 years, federal law has required chemical makers and handlers to disclose what’s stored on premises. It’s called the Community Right To Know Act, and it has been at the core of the safety conversation since last year’s deadly fertilizer explosion in West, Texas.

But News 8 has learned that in the past few weeks, state health officials have stopped making those hazardous chemical records public. [..]

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “states and communities […] can use the Tier II information to improve chemical safety and protect public health and the environment.” In Texas, Tier II reports are kept on file at the Department of State Health Services and according to its web site, those reports are public information. All citizens “may ask for” them by simply filling out a request.

Yet, just days ago, following the ammonium nitrate building fire in Athens, when News 8 asked the Department of State Health Services for an updated Tier II report on the facility, department spokesperson Carrie Williams told us, “We’re not able to release the kind of information you’re requesting.”

Williams cited an Attorney General’s ruling from May 22, 2014, which denied public access to “Tier Two information […] because it reveals the location, quantity and identity of hazardous chemicals […] likely to assist in the construction of an explosive weapon.”

Emergency officials and responders are now the only ones in Texas able to access Tier II reports.

Abbott: Ask Chemical Plants What’s Inside

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, under fire for blocking public access to state records documenting the location of dangerous chemicals, said Texans still have a right to find out where the substances are stored – as long as they know which companies to ask.

“You know where they are if you drive around,” Abbott told reporters Tuesday. “You can ask every facility whether or not they have chemicals or not. You can ask them if they do, and they can tell you, well, we do have chemicals or we don’t have chemicals, and if they do, they tell which ones they have.”

In a recently released decision by his office, Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, said government entities can withhold the state records – in so-called Tier II reports – of dangerous chemical locations. The reports contain an inventory of hazardous chemicals.

But Abbott said homeowners who think they might live near stores of dangerous chemicals could simply ask the companies near their homes what substances are kept on site.

Collected under the federal Community Right to Know Act, the information was made available upon request by the state for decades to homeowners, the media or anyone else who wanted to know where dangerous chemicals were stored. But, as WFAA-TV recently reported, the Texas Department of State Health Services will no longer release the information because of the attorney general’s ruling.

The Bidding on The Republic Begins in Earnest

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Get out your check books, folks, the Supreme Court opened the bank for the deposits of big money to flood the US political system.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday continued its abolition of limits on election spending, striking down a decades-old cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle.

The ruling, issued near the start of a campaign season, will very likely increase the role money plays in American politics.

The 5-to-4 decision, with the court’s more conservative members in the majority, echoed Citizens United, the 2010 decision that struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions.

Wednesday’s decision seemed to alter campaign finance law in subtle but important ways, notably by limiting how the government can justify laws said to restrict the exercise of First Amendment rights in the form of campaign contributions.

Power Surge for Donors

By Nicholas Confessor, The New York Times

The ruling opens the door for each party’s establishment to reclaim some power from the super PACs and other independent spending groups that are now playing an outsize role in campaigns. Experts said the decision would permit party leaders to form joint fund-raising committees and solicit multimillion dollar checks on behalf of candidates. The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, for example, could in theory approach a donor seeking to help Democrats win control of the House of Representatives, and solicit as much as $2.3 million – $5,200 for each Democratic candidate in every House race, plus a contribution to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

A donor could also, in theory, give $5,000 per year to every political action committee currently registered with the Federal Election Committee. That would total more than $13 million, versus the $74,600 allowed under the existing aggregate cap.

The bidding is now open.

The Buying of American Elections

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Who’s Buying our Midterm Elections?

In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court is expected to issue another big decision on campaign finance, one that could further open the floodgates to unfettered and anonymous contributions, just as the Citizens United case did four years ago. [..]

Already, three times as much money has been raised for this year’s elections as four years ago, when the Citizens United decision was announced. “This is the era of the empowered ‘one percenter’. They’re taking action and they’re becoming the new, headline players in this political system,” Kroll tells Moyers. Kim Barker adds, “People want influence. It’s a question of whether we’re going to allow it to happen, especially if we’re going to allow it to happen and nobody even knows who the influencers are.”



Transcript can be read here

The Tangled Web of the Koch Brothers

Since the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that corporations are people and protected under the First Amendment, the flood gates of private money from billionaires to shape the future of politics everywhere from Washington, DC to state and local local elections. Two of the biggest sources of this money are the Koch brothers, Charles and David, who have a combined wealth of $34 billion. The brothers are the founders of Americans for Prosperity that financed the ironically named, Tea Party. They initially denied their involvement but you can run but you can’t hide from some intrepid journalists determined to keeping the public informed.

As a matter of fact, they get quite upset about it when their attempts to manipulate the political stage are exposed, often sending nasty letters. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has been one of the most intrepid journalists who has dug into the vast network of Koch-funded groups and initiatives to show their influence on conservative politics, undeterred by nasty letters.

The Koch Party

By The Editorial Board of The New York Times

Only a few weeks into this midterm election year, the right-wing political zeppelin is fully inflated with secret cash and is firing malicious falsehoods at supporters of health care reform.

As Carl Hulse of The Times reported recently, Democrats have been staggered by a $20 million advertising blitz produced by Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group organized and financed by the Koch brothers, billionaire industrialists. The ads take aim at House and Senate candidates for re-election who have supported the health law, and blame them for the hyped-up problems with the law’s rollout that now seem to be the sole plank in this year’s Republican platform. [..]

In 2012, as The Washington Post reported, the Koch network raised $407 million, which was secreted among 17 groups with cryptic names and purposes that were designed to make it impossible to figure out the names of donors the Kochs worked with. As one tax expert told The Post, “it’s designed to make it opaque as to where the money is coming from and where the money is going.” [..]

The clandestine influence of the Kochs and their Palm Springs friends would be much reduced if they were forced to play in the sunshine.

The Internal Revenue Service and several lawmakers are beginning to step up their interest in preventing “social welfare” organizations and other tax-sheltered groups from being used as political conduits, but they have encountered the usual resistance from Republican lawmakers. Considering how effectively the Koch brothers are doing their job, it’s easy to see why.

Koch World 2014

By Kenneth P. Vogel, Politico

If the Koch brothers’ political operation seemed ambitious in 2010 or 2012, wait for what’s in store for 2014 and beyond.

The billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch are convening some of the country’s richest Republican donors on Sunday at a resort near Palm Springs, Calif., to raise millions of dollars for efforts to shape the political landscape for years to come.

It’s the cash that can possibly kick Democrats out of the Senate majority this fall and shape the philosophy and agenda of the GOP conference – not to mention the 2016 presidential field.

The Koch political operation has become among the most dominant forces in American politics, rivaling even the official Republican Party in its ability to shape policy debates and elections. But it’s mostly taken a piecemeal approach, sticking to its sweet spots, while leaving other tasks to outsiders, or ad hoc coalitions of allies.

That’s changing. This year, the Kochs’ close allies are rolling out a new, more integrated approach to politics. That includes wading into Republican primaries for the first time to ensure their ideal candidates end up on the ticket, and also centralizing control of their network to limit headache-inducing freelancing by affiliated operatives.

The shift is best illustrated in the expansion of three pieces of the Koch political network expected to be showcased or represented at the three-day meeting in Palm Springs, whose evolving roles were described to POLITICO by several sources.

The Koch’s agenda to influence politics needs more than sunshine, it needs bleach.

Citizens United: Four Years Later

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

 photo Corporate-vote_zps9e1fa673.png It has been four years since the Supreme Court handed down it ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission holding that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions.

Ian Vandewalker, counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, explains the consequences he ruling has made of unlimited spending by corporations and unions, leading to an explosion of outside money in elections.

Certainly, big donors seem to believe their donations can buy influence. Thanks to Citizens United, outside spending skyrocketed in 2012 to more than $1 billion, including $400 million from dark money groups that don’t disclose their donors.

Legislators targeted by the outside negative ads are concerned. Some have used the specter of massive outside spending to argue that they need more direct contributions for their re-election campaigns in order to ‘weaken’ the influence of outside money. Eight states have increased the dollar amounts that donors can give directly to candidates, and similar legislation has advanced in several others. Alabama eliminated its $500 limit on corporate donations, allowing corporations to give unlimited amounts of money directly to candidates. Limits in other states, like Florida, are now several times higher.

Now the same justices whose Citizens United ruling created the outside expenditure quandary are arguing that it necessitates weakening limits on direct contributions. In oral argument for McCutcheon v. FEC, a case challenging limits on the total amount individuals can donate directly to all federal candidates, the court’s conservative justices seem to contradict the reasoning they used to justify their 2010 decision. Justice Scalia said there is no real distinction between the gratitude a candidate would feel toward a contributor on the one hand and a major independent spender on the other. He added, “The thing is, you can’t give [unlimited contributions] to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, but you can start your own PAC… . I’m not sure that that’s a benefit to our political system.”

There is movement toward removing big money from politics, as John Nichols of The Nation notes, and putting democracy back in the hands of the voters. There has been a movement to amend the constitution that is gaining ground:

Sixteen American states have formally demanded that Congress to recognize that the Constitution must be amended in order to re-establish the basic American premise that “money is property and not speech, and [that] the Congress of the United States, state legislatures and local legislative bodies should have the authority to regulate political contributions and expenditures…” [..]

Support for an amendment now stretches from coast to coast, with backing (in the form of legislative resolutions or statewide referendum results) from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia. The District of Columbia is also supportive of the move to amend, as are roughly 500 municipalities, from Liberty, Maine, to Los Angeles, California – where 77 percent of voters backed a May, 2013, referendum instructing elected representatives to seek an amendment establishing that “there should be limits on political campaign spending and that corporations should not have the constitutional rights of human beings.” [..]

The groundbreaking work by national groups such as Public Citizen, Common Cause, Free Speech for People and Move to Amend, in conjunction with grassroots coalitions that are now active from northern Alaska to the tip of the Florida Keys, is far more dramatic than most of the initiatives you’ll see from the Democratic or Republican parties-which don’t do much but fund-raise-and various and sundry groupings on the right and left. [..]

Free Speech for People highlights the fact that dozens of Republican legislators have backed calls for an amendment to overturn not just the Citizens United ruling but other barriers to the regulation of money in politics. With backing from third-party and independent legislators, as well, the passage of the state resolutions highlights what the group refers to as “a growing trans-partisan movement…calling for the US Supreme Court’s misguided decision in Citizens United v. FEC (2010) to be overturned, through one or more amendments to the US Constitution.”

Send a message to your state legislators asking them to give voters a chance to directly instruct Congress to pass a constitutional amendment!

Democrats: Bought & Sold by the Spies

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Who Buys the Spies? The Hidden Corporate Cash Behind America’s Out-of-Control National Surveillance State

by Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen

Democratic leaders are full-fledged players in the national surveillance state, right along with Republicans.

Long before President Obama kicked off his 2008 campaign, many Americans took it for granted that George W. Bush’s vast, sprawling national security apparatus needed to be reined in. For Democrats, many independents, and constitutional experts of various persuasions, Vice President Dick Cheney’s notorious doctrine of the “unitary executive” (which holds that the President controls the entire executive branch), was the ultimate statement of the imperial presidency. It was the royal road to easy (or no) warrants for wiretaps, sweeping assertions of the government’s right to classify information secret, and arbitrary presidential power. When Mitt Romney embraced the neoconservatives in the 2012 primaries, supporters of the President often cited the need to avoid a return to the bad old days of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld National Security State as a compelling reason for favoring his reelection. Reelect President Obama, they argued, or Big Brother might be back.

But that’s not how this movie turned out: The 2012 election proved to be a post-modern thriller, in which the main characters everyone thought they knew abruptly turned into their opposites and the plot thickened just when you thought it was over.[..]

As the storm over surveillance broke, we were completing a statistical analysis of campaign contributions in 2012, using an entirely new dataset that we constructed from the raw material provided by the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenues Service (which compiles contributions from so-called “527”s).  In light of what has transpired, our quantitative analysis of presidential election funding invites closer scrutiny, particularly of the finding that we had already settled upon as perhaps most important:  In sharp contrast to endlessly repeated claims that big business was deeply suspicious of the President, our statistical results show that a large and powerful bloc of  “industries of the future” – telecommunications, high tech, computers, and software – showed essentially equal or higher percentages of support for the President in 2012 than they did for Romney [..]

But the point that our findings document is perhaps most instructive of all. Many of the firms and industries at the heart of this Orwellian creation have strong ties to the Democrats. Bush and Cheney may have invented it, but national Democratic leaders are full-fledged players in this 21st century National Surveillance State and the interest group pressures that now help to sustain its defenders in Washington work just as powerfully on Democrats as on Republicans.

Party Competition and Industrial Structure in the 2012 Elections

Key Findings:

   

  • Existing data sources used for studies of campaign finance have a variety of serious flaws.
  • As a result, the degree to which major parties’ presidential candidates depend on very large donors has been underestimated and the role small donors play exaggerated.
  • The relation between the money split between the parties and the proportion of votes received by their candidates in House and Senate races appears to be quite straightforward.
  • Firms and executives in industries strongly affected by proposed regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions heavily backed Mitt Romney. So did much, but not all, of finance.
  • President Obama’s support within big business was broader than hitherto recognized. His level of support from firms in telecommunications and software was very strong indeed, sometimes equaling or exceeding Romney’s. Many firms and sectors most involved in the recent controversies over surveillance were among the President’s strongest supporters.
  • Republican candidates showed sharply different levels of contributions from small donors; President Obama’s campaign, while heavily dependent on large donors, attracted more support from small donors than did his Republican opponent.
  • Big business support for Tea Party candidates for Congress was substantial, but well below levels for more mainstream Republicans. Many of the same sectors that strongly supported Romney also backed Tea Party candidates. Backing for Tea Party candidates by Too Big To Fail banks ran above the average of business as a whole by every measure.

Read “Party Competition and Industrial Structure in the 2012 Elections: Who’s Really Driving the Taxi to the Dark Side?” (pdf), by Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen.

Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts and a Senior Fellow of the Roosevelt Institute, Thomas Ferguson discusses the finding of the study with Real New Networks Jaisal Noor.

As Yves Smith at naked capitalism noted this is a good explanation why “Obama started looking more stressed than usual around the time of the Snowden revelations.”

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