Nel's New Day

July 31, 2015

Travesties in Friday News Dump

The last day of the traditional work day is known in the media as “Trash Day,” according to the classic TV series “West Wing” description of the Friday news dump. The tactic is to “dump” bad news or documents on that day so that media scrutiny would be minimized. Here are some of the Friday dump day travesties:

 

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day was last Tuesday: July 28, 2015, is the day when black women caught up with the salary that white men made in 2015. In other words, black women had to work 575 days to match the pay that men made in 365 days. Black women make 64 percent of white men, but Native American women salaries are far worse—at 59 percent of white men’s salaries.

What Voting Problems?! A Wichita State University mathematician asked for Kansas voting machines to be audited because of suspicious patterns in electronic returns, but government officials don’t want anyone to know about its problems. When Beth Clarkson, chief statistician for WSU’s National Institution for Aviation Research, made calculations after last November’s election, she found a “statistically significant” pattern in which the percentage of GOP votes increase according to how big the precinct is, even where other demographics don’t agree. She said that this anomaly happens across the country. Forced to file a lawsuit against state Secretary of State Chris Kobach for documentation, she still hasn’t been able to get the information.

Walker Rides High on Hypocrisy. In an op-ed for the Des Moines Register, presidential candidate and Wisconsin’s GOP governor, Scott Walker, wrote, “You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.” His reference was to how Hillary Clinton spent time in meetings with union bosses, who he calls “big-labor special interests,” as she will “shun everyday” people. Walker is headed to a luxury hotel in Southern California with other GOP presidential candidates—Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio—to attend the Koch brothers annual summer conference for Freedom Partners with 450 of the wealthiest donors on the far-right.

An Environmental Award for Rick Scott Is a Joke. The governor has  one of the worst environmental records in the history of Florida—and that’s saying something—and banned state employees from saying “climate change.” He decimated funding for important departments and projects while appointing developers and land use lawyers to their boards. They gave employees bonuses for speeding up permit approval and suspended Connie Bersok who refused to violate state law by approving development in the state’s wetlands. Chair of the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida giving Scott an award for his “conservation work” is Rodney Barreto—wealthy businessman, lobbyist, chair of the South Florida Super Bowl Committee, and Jeb Bush appointee.

McConnell Shows Game Plan for 2017: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) plans to use reconciliation to bypass the 60 votes necessary to overturn the Affordable Care Act. The purpose of reconciliation is reducing the deficit, and repealing the ACA would increase the deficit. The far-right Heritage Action group suggests replacing an official score of a repeal with a GOP invented score.

GOP Women Posted Graphic Illustration of Lynching on Facebook. The official Facebook page of the Oklahoma Federation of Republican Women briefly showed an image of a lynched black man until complaints led to its withdrawal. The text read, “The KKK was formed by the Democrats to keep control over black Americans. The Democrats of today just traded ropes for welfare.” In 2013, over 40 percent of food stamp recipients were white. The number of food stamp beneficiaries who are black has declined every year from 2001 through 2010; in 2013, only one-fourth of the recipients were black. Even if more beneficiaries were black, there is no excuse for using either the illustration or the text.

Pro-Israel, Anti-Iran Agreement Organization Pays to Take Democrat Senators to Israel on a Propaganda Tour: Lobby group AIPAC led the United States into a war with Iraq, and now it wants the United States to start a war with Iran. That’s why they are sending 40 members of Congress, several of them Democrats, to Israel this coming month to listen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explain why they should vote with him instead of the President of the United States. Legislators prefer to meet with Netanyahu rather than their own constituents. AIPAC is spending at least $50 million to persuade people to vote against the Iran agreement.

Super PAC Carly for America Is Coordinating with Presidential Candidate Carly Fiorina: The Supreme Court ruling allowing almost unlimited money in donations to political candidates through super PACS also mandated no communication between the organizations and the individual campaign efforts of political candidates. Yet the super PAC for Fiorina, confusingly called “Carly for America,” has invited its supporters to join a conference call with the candidate Carly Fiorina while including the necessary legal notice that Carly for America “is an independent expenditure committee and not authorized or coordinated with any federal candidate or candidate’s committee.” The super PAC also performs candidate campaign functions such as managing rapid response to press questions, rolling out endorsements of the candidate, funding grassroots organizing, and organizing advance work for Fiorina’s appearances. Fiorina isn’t alone in crossing the line: presidential candidate and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry delivered his anti-Donald Trump speech at a July 22 event hosted by his super PAC, Opportunity and Freedom PAC.

Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) Lecture Nuclear Physicist on Nuclear Weapons. Last week, Cruz and Johnson accused Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz of knowing less that they did about Iran’s possible nuclear weapons and the threat of an imaginary Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon to take out the nation’s electronic grid. First, the senators accused Moniz of not knowing what an EMP was because he had said he did not know the 2008 Congressional report recommendations. Cruz claimed to be “stunned” at what he considered Moniz’s ignorance about the subject. Then he refused to allow the nuclear physicist, longtime MIT professor, and holder of a PhD in theoretical physics from Stanford to answer a question before accusing him of “refusing to answer the question.” Far-right articles claim that the EMP could easily leave “9 out of 10 Americans dead,”but the Federation of American Scientists stated that this would require a “large device” detonated about 300 miles above Wichita at the altitude of the International Space Station.

Alabama’s governor, Robert Bentley, Appointed Matthew Brown to the State Department of Education: The new appointee is a fundamentalist Christian who hates the public school system and has sworn that his children will never attend public school. Bentley said, “Matthew brings a unique perspective to the position.” His perspective is to starve the public education system through vouchers and charter schools, which Bentley strongly supports through taking $30 million from public schools.

Medicare Turned 50 Yesterday: That’s the good news. The travesty is the GOP attempts to eliminate health care for the elderly and disabled. Presidential candidate Jeb Bush is leading the charge to”figure out a way to phase out this program for [younger people] and move to a new system that allows them to have something.” Backlash led a Bush spokesman to say that Bush wanted only modest reforms. Conservatives say they want to shift the current “defined benefit” program providing specific protections and levels of financial security to a “defined contribution” that distributes money according to a pre-determined formula and require seniors to shop for coverage. What they really want is to end Medicare’s guaranteed health care.

Cruz Tells Code Pink That “Truth Matters” Before He Lies: After pointing out the importance of truth, Cruz said that both Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani “explicitly said they are developing nuclear weapons. There is no doubt about it.” Code Pink’s co-founder Medea Benjamin said, “That is absolutely false.” Benjamin speaks the truth, but Cruz told Benjamin not to interrupt him. Conservatives failed to report the statements but said that Cruz “crushed” Code Pink. [Insight into Cruz: one of his favorite superheroes is Rorschach, the mentally unstable killer in Alan Moore’s Watchman who lives by his own moral code and exacts severe—maybe psychotic—punishment for anyone who violates it.]

pigs flyTexas Displays Judicial ActivismAfter anti-LGBT activists couldn’t get the 17,000 signatures required to put Houston’s anti-discrimination measures to a vote, the Texas Supreme Court suspended the ordinance, ruling that it either be repealed or put before voters. The court couldn’t do this legally, but it made the ruling. Do conservatives find this judicial activism—which they profess to hate? Will they object? Do pigs fly?

Congress Passes Short-term Highway Funding Bill: The Senate has passed a funding bill to continue the Highway Trust Fund for six years but pays for only three, providing $45 billion spread out for the six years over the gasoline tax. They not only refused to increase the gas tax to levels of 20 years ago but also could not work anything out with the House, that passed only a three-month extension of the funding. The Senate made a bipartisan refusal with 18 Democrats and 15 Republicans voting against it. Great comment from Oregon’s senior senator, Ron Wyden:

“I said to a friend this morning with apologies to the elephants: When the elephants lock tusks, it’s never dull.”

States cannot possibly plan for major transportation projects and prolong maintenance on dangerously damaged roads and bridges with short-term fixes, and this is the 34th “fix” since 2009—an average of five each year. After the recess, the two congressional chambers will have to tackle the problem again. And the Iran deal. And the appropriations bill. And Planned Parenthood. And anything else that has nothing to do with jobs. And the infrastructure suffers because Congress hands out the money in dribbles and drabs.

 

April 24, 2015

Campaign Donations – A Murky World

The media is filled with the almost two dozen potential GOP presidential candidates for 2016. Scott Walker is the Koch’s pick–no, they changed their mind and want Marco Rubio. Jeb Bush is leading–no, he’s two points behind Rubio. Hillary Clinton is guilty of fraud–or maybe not. And that’s just in the last few days.

In Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, Peter Schweizer, a Republican researcher, reveals his personal perception of the  correlation between foreign government donations to the Clinton Foundation with favorable State Department decisions while Hillary Clinton was secretary. Although the book won’t be published until May 5, Schweizer has already confessed that he cannot prove his allegations because of his confusion between paid and unpaid appearances. He said that “the errors would be corrected” but didn’t say whether it would be before the publication. With a long history of sloppy research and reporting—even citing a hoax press release in the book—Schweizer admitted he cannot prove the allegations in the book.

“Short of someone involved coming forward to give sworn testimony, we don’t know what might or might not have been said in private conversations, the exact nature of the transition, or why people in power make the decision they do…. We cannot ultimately know what goes on in their minds and ultimately provide the links between the money they took and the benefits that subsequently accrued to themselves, their friends, and their associates.”

While the GOP pushes a possible scandal about Clinton, Jeb Bush’s financial arrangements are decimating the crumbling foundation of campaign limits. After collection tens of millions of dollars while “not-running” for president, he has announced that he will turn over his campaign’s primary functions to a super PAC that can have unlimited funding from unknown sources. The Right to Rise (interesting name!) PAC will not only provide advertising but also carry out duties usually from a campaign, including direct mail and get-out-the-vote drives.

At this time, contributions have three levels: beneficial donations to a candidate have legal caps; donations to a party may not reach the candidate that the donor desires; and super PACs cannot legally coordinate with specific candidates. In the past these PACs have sometimes run counter to the candidates’ wishes.

Jeb claims he can coordinate with his super PAC because he says he’s not even seriously considering a presidential run, using this time to plan future campaign strategy with the super PAC and participate in dozens of fundraisers. Jeb’s tactic may be found illegal. A provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 states that if Jeb—or any other candidate—has a direct or indirect involvement in “establishing, financing, maintaining or controlling” an outside entity—such as a super PAC—that entity cannot receive or spend contributions that exceed the limit on contributions to a federal PAC of $5,000 per donor per year. The provision includes any candidate’s proxies “acting on behalf” of the candidate.

When Jeb announced his federal leadership PAC, the Right to Rise PAC, his “allies” announced the supporting super PAC, the Right to Rise Super PAC. They sound like twins, but they’re actually triplets with the Right to Rise Policy Solutions, formed by a Bush friend and former staffer, that lets Jeb’s supporters make anonymous contributions. The likely leader for the super PAC after Jeb actually declares is Mike Murphy, Jeb’s longtime political confidant.

Although Jeb’s campaign spokesperson stated that he is not really candidate, that claim has been disputed. A complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission at the end of March accused four presidential hopefuls of violating campaign-finance laws by building campaign infrastructure without formally “testing the waters” for a bid. The other three are GOP Rick Santorum, Scott Walker, and Democrat Martin O’Malley.

Senior counsel to Campaign Legal Center said:

“These 2016 presidential contenders must take the American people for fools — flying repeatedly to Iowa and New Hampshire to meet with party leaders and voters, hiring campaign staff and raising millions of dollars from deep-pocketed mega donors, all the while denying that they are even ‘testing the waters’ of a presidential campaign.”

The FEC has three categories: non-candidates, candidates who are “testing the waters,” and formally declared candidates. Those testing the waters can conduct polls, travel, and make calls about a potential run, but candidates who raise more than $5,000 or formally refer to themselves as candidates must register with the FEC and be subject to reporting and disclosure requirements.

Other candidates have strong connections with super PACs. One supporting Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is run by his former campaign manager who is married to Paul’s niece. Another for Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) is run by his former chief of staff and campaign manager for his 2010 gubernatorial campaign who is assisted by the campaign manager who ran Walker’s 2014 re-election race. Supporting super PAC for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is led by the co-founder of a political consulting firm with another political operative leading Rubio’s federal leadership PAC.

Early this year, the first criminal conviction for illegal coordination between a congressional campaign and a super PAC came down from the Justice Department after a campaign manager in Virginia pleaded guilty to coordinated campaign contributions and false statements. The DoJ stated:

“The Department of Justice is fully committed to addressing the threat posed to the integrity of federal primary and general elections by coordinated campaign contributions, and will aggressively pursue coordination offenses at every appropriate opportunity.”

Jeb has a history of controlling donations. While Florida governor, he shifted $150 million of pension funds toward his cousin, George Herbert Walker IV, at Goldman Sachs and at least another $1.7 billion of state workers’ retirement money to higher-risk, higher-fee investments at the financial firms that donated over $5 million to the campaign of older brother, George W. Bush.  Jeb is now reaping donations for Walker and other financial firms that received state business from Jeb’s administration.

Even conservatives such as columnist Kathleen Parker have serious doubts about the power of super PACS. In a column on “our corrupt campaign finance system,” she wrote, “There’s nothing free about paid-for elections—unless everybody knows where the money came from.” She expressed two concerns about massive shadow funding that bodes poorly for the GOP. One is the recent trend of large numbers of GOP presidential candidates, each with his or her own billionaire, who stay in an unwinnable race while tearing down an opponent who might have a better chance without the controversy about him that it causes, what Parker describes as “death by a thousand insults.”

Another issue is the “withering” of political parties, dooming “political comity.” To succeed, political parties have to agree within themselves whereas super PACs, unaccountable to no one, “form around extreme ideas” with anonymous donors. Even worse to Parker, the current system takes campaign control from the candidates. (She may have written this before Jeb Bush figured out a way around the problem.)

Parker is right about the destructiveness within the GOP. Talk show host Mark Levin attacked Karl Rove’s super PACs because it’s attacking Rand Paul in favor of Jeb Bush. Levin claimed that they are distorting Citizens United by attacking conservatives. Fox’s allowing Karl Rove to use his position to “clear the field” for Jeb is another Levin gripe. Levin called people like Rove “pretend conservatives, who are really on there with an agenda, and so they sit there, they pretend they’re analyzing…that to me is dishonest, it’s flat out dishonest.” He added, “I am trashing the fools like Karl Rove, who are taking advantage of their positions, pretending on the one hand that they’re analysts and on the other hand, they’re trying to defeat every conservative and clear the field for their Bush family candidate.” (Does the word “irony” come to mind?)

The disastrous Supreme Court rulings in Citizens United and its worse follow-up, McCutcheon v. FEC, have permitted almost unlimited donations for candidates. The first decision opened the donation floodgates; the second one ruled that government may restrict political contributions only to target quid pro quo corruption. This corruption is far more difficult to prove that the former criteria of “the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford.” As a result, 25,000 people made 40 percent of the donations to 2016 campaign funds, compared to the 16 percent of the contributions that came from the elite in 1980. With the advantage of McCutcheon and the high stakes for the 2016 election, the percentage will most likely go beyond 50 percent, giving 25,000 people a greater voice than the other 125 million donors in the United States.

donations chartSheldon Adelson gave over $100 million to 2012 political campaigns. Jeb Bush could give Adelson an estimated $139.7 million tax break by eliminating the federal capital gains tax. Cruz could give him $144.1 million, and Rick Perry could give $141.9 million. Scott Walker would be far more generous in shifting tax liability from the rich to working families. The Koch brothers plan to donate at least $1 billion in the current round. The wealthy look at their donations at merely an investment in future fortunes.

November 8, 2012

Romney, GOP in Denial

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:26 PM
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Mitt Romney must have been as positive as Fox News, Drudge Report, Dick Morris, Newt Gringrich, Rush Limbaugh, Joe Scarborough, Karl Rove, and all the other conservatives that he would win the presidency. He posted his “Mitt Romney President-Elect” website the day before the election. On Wednesday, a draft version of his transition website was available to the public on a server belonging to the company that designed it, a Utah software shop called SolutionStream. The website is gone now, but the Internet never forgets.

 

 

Romney didn’t even write his concession speech until Ohio was declared for President Obama. But he did have time that night to take care of some other important details—like cancelling his campaign staff’s credit cards. It was a surprise to the team members who straggled home in the early hours of the morning after Election Day. The next afternoon, Romney thanked them, and Ann Romney told them that they would always be part of the fabric of the Romney family. Their son Tagg drove them one of their homes in Belmont. Meanwhile the campaigners are all unemployed.

The excuses for Romney’s losing the election just keep rolling in. Forced to explain to his donors the waste of all the super-PAC money, Karl Rove said, “The president succeeded by suppressing the vote, by saying to people, ‘you may not like who I am and I know you can’t bring yourself to vote for me, but I’m going to paint this other guy as simply a rich guy who only cares about himself.’”

Rove ignored the fact that the GOP supporters are primarily white and mostly men as compared to the demographics for President Obama supporters. Women comprise almost 51 percent of people in this country; people of color, including Hispanics, comprise 36 percent. Put these figures together, and you get 69 percent of the country’s population that the GOP considered irrelevant. At this time, white men are the minority; within the next 20-30 years, the entire white population will be a minority.

We may never find out what happened in the discussion Rove had today with his donors, but one GOP operative said, “The billionaire donors I hear are livid. There is some holy hell to pay. Karl Rove has a lot of explaining to do … I don’t know how you tell your donors that we spent $390 million and got nothing.” Rove’s American Crossroads got a one-percent return on its $300 million investment.

Rather than considering the changing demographics of the United States, Michael Needham, chief executive of Heritage Action, an arm of the conservative Washington think tank, declared another war. “We are in a war. We’re in a war to save this nation,” Needham said.

The most popular excuse for the president’s victory is Superstorm Sandy, which probably lost him about 800,000 votes. Redstate has another 30 excuses, some of which are so crazy that the blog almost looks like a parody.

Two examples of the GOP narrow vision stand out. Yesterday I wrote about the House election of the Michigan reindeer farmer, Kerry Bentivolio,  although his brother says that the man is outright crazy. Bentivolio defeated Syed Taj, a name that some might consider foreign. Yet Bentivolio lost to David Curson in a special election to replace Thaddeus Cotter for the next two months. Therefore David Curson is a Michigan representative until the beginning of January 3 when Bentivolio takes over.

As Daily Kos explained the equation:  “completely unknown Dem with Anglo name > demonstrably crazy Republican > Dem with strong resume but poor campaign skills and furrn’r name. Could someone with Syed Taj’s resume, but named, say, Jay Teds, have won the full two-year term?”

Another peculiar vote comes from Alabama where voters passed ten out of eleven amendments. The one failure, which also failed six years ago, was a bill to delete remaining “Jim Crow” provisions from the state’s 1901 constitution, including the removal of the term “colored children” from the Constitution, deleting the mandate for poll taxes before blacks can vote, and mandating that all children in the state should have an equal education. Sixty percent of voters rejected this amendment, about the same percentage of people who voted for Romney.

Leader of the narrow, Rush Limbaugh, is still getting his audience through such outrageous statements as women voting for President Obama although ‘he treats them like vaginas.”

Any faint compromise from the GOP is fading. House Speaker John Boehner said that while tax hikes for the wealthy are unacceptable but did offer up Romney’s tax plan. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is threatening to maintain the current debt ceiling agreement if there aren’t deep cuts to the safety net. He also insists that Obamacare be on the table during negotiations.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been silent since his message to President Obama immediately after the president won the majority of the popular vote and the electoral vote. McConnell basically stated that he hoped the president had learned to do what the Republicans want because the president’s election was a mandate to follow GOP wishes.

The truth of the “mandate,” if there is any, is that a majority of the Senate is Democratic, the president won with a majority of the popular vote, and a majority of voters supported Democratic representatives although the GOP gerrymandering doesn’t show this to the casual observer.

A cheery note of hope comes from Arizona. Yes, Arizona. Two-thirds of the voters turned down a proposition to claim ownership of all the state’s natural resources, including the Grand Canyon and other federal park. Theodore Roosevelt would be pleased.

May 7, 2012

Super PAC To Stop Super PACs

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:11 AM
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Wouldn’t this be wonderful?! A new Super PAC registered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) last week: America’s Super PAC For The Permanent Elimination of America’s Super PACs (ASPFTPEASP). Its goal is to get rid of the hundreds of independent-expenditure-only “Super PAC.” The mission of the ASPFTPEASP:

“America’s Super PACs For the Permanent Elimination of America’s Super PACs will seek to raise awareness of the usage of Super PACs during elections and advise citizens on how to demand (from their respective representatives) that Super PACs be removed from politics.

“America’s Super PAC For The Permanent Elimination of America’s Super PACs seeks to call for a constitutional convention where an amendment will be proposed to ensure that corporations are never considered to be people. Why? They’re not. Plain and simple.”

Despite the supposedly humorous approach, according to the new Super PAC’s “High Treasurer” Jonathan Rachowicz, the group has a serious intent. Rachowicz said, “We’re going to fight fire with fire. If we can create a Super PAC with a ridiculous name that creates ridiculous ads, we can show people just how absurd the idea of a Super PAC really is. Once that happens we can really get some change.” Polling shows that more people believe in witchcraft than agree with the Supreme Court ruling Citizens United.

This is one Super PAC that I can support.

January 21, 2012

Citizens United Second Anniversary

Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that provides unlimited money for candidate advertising, turned two years old today. After it was presented as a narrow case, the court expanded it to allow political ads, usually negative, in the 60 days before an election and stopped the requirement that the sponsors identify themselves. Eighteen months later, the court protected wealthy candidates in Buckley v. Valeo by ruling that money is a constitutionally protected free speech and then struck down a matching funds’ formula in Arizona that provided more money to a publicly financed candidate if a rival spent over a specified amount.

Despite Mitt Romney’s claim that “corporations are people,” not everyone is happy about the end of democracy because billionaires can easily buy politicians. More than one million people have signed online petitions against the ruling, and measures in at least 23 states demand a constitutional amendment to reverse this ill-conceived decision. On the other hand, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Republican National Committee seem perfectly happy with the ruling, especially because the conservatives will benefit from over 80 percent of the candidates’ financial help. Newt Gingrich was highly disturbed with the super-PACs  supporting Mitt Romney in Iowa but got over it when super-PACs supported him in South Carolina.

Jeffrey Clements, in Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It, provides a review of the Supreme Court’s increasing rulings on corporations’ money protected as political speech while diminishing individual rights. “Rarely have so few imposed so much damage on so many,” the venerable journalist Bill Moyers wrote in the book’s foreward. He compares Citizens United to the 1857 Dred Scott ruling “that opened the unsettled territories of theUnited States to slavery whether future inhabitants wanted it or not.” According to Moyers, “It took a civil war and another hundred years of enforced segregation and deprivation before the effects of that ruling were finally exorcised from our laws.”

Congress has introduced at least 10 proposals to fix the problem, including one that would revoke the “personhood” status of corporations, thus rolling back over a century of Supreme Court rulings. These all come from the “liberal” side and are unlikely to be taken seriously for a long time.

According to Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of University of  California Irvine School of Law and a respected constitutional scholar, individual states could control the runaway spending. One way is to require shareholders to approve corporate political expenditures just as unions have to get approval from their members. Other legislation could prevent a state contractor from spending money for partisan election activities, just as the federal Hatch Act of 1939 did when it limited federal employees from some partisan activities. Montana’s Supreme Court’s has ruled that the state has a compelling interest to regulate how corporations can raise and spend money in elections. The New York state legislature also plans to adopt a public financing regime.

Yesterday’s victory in California supports Chererinsky’s ideas: a U.S. District Court upheld a citywide ban on corporate campaign donations to candidates in San Diego. Judge Irma E. Gonzales said that FEC v Beaumont directed her ruling instead of Citizens United because the earlier case addressed anti-corruption issues.

“According to the Supreme Court, the prohibition on direct corporate contributions was justified by the ‘special characteristics of the corporate structure’ that threaten the integrity of the political process,” according to Gonzales’ decision. It was necessary to “prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption,” Judge Gonzales wrote, explaining the ruling. “Moreover it was necessary to prevent the use of corporations “as conduits for the circumvention of valid contribution limits.”

Polls show that the nation’s populace disagrees with conservative “leadership.” Last Tuesday a Pew Research Center poll showed that 65 percent of voters from both parties familiar with the Citizens United decision consider it a negative impact on politics. The next day a poll from Main Street Alliance, the American Sustainable Business Council, and Small Business Majority revealed that, in a margin of 7 to 1, 66 percent of small business owners believe Citizens United decision has been bad for small businesses, compared to only 9 percent who think it’s positive.

According to one blog, the radical right might be the biggest loser because their super-PACs don’t have the money that “moderate” Romney does. If enough conservatives think that this is a possibility, Congress might work toward erasing this dangerous threat to democracy.

January 6, 2012

Elected Officials Fight Citizens United

In the 21st century everything gets named “super” from Coca-Cola to politics. Super-PACs are a fine example of the bloating that results from “super” things. Unleashed in early 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, these monsters can raise and spend unlimited funding for candidates. Donors aren’t disclosed until after the presidential primaries or caucuses in early states.

Republican candidates may have approved of these in the beginning, but now some of them are beginning to whine about others’ advantages. Newt Gingrich, targeted by almost one-third of the over $14 million super-PAC advertising before the Iowa caucus, called on Mitt Romney to pull these ads in Iowa; Romney responded, correctly, that he cannot have anything to do with these super-PACs. (According to the ruling, a candidate can have no involvement in this advertising.) Then Gingrich, the man who wanted no negative campaigning on the Republican side, called Romney “a liar” on CBS’s Early Show.

People across the country are getting riled with the ruling. Montana, a state that may have anticipated the problems a century ago, passed a law in 1912 to fight Gilded Age corporate control over its government. The Montana Supreme Court has upheld this law that states, “[A] corporation may not make … an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political party that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party.” States rights will come into play here because Citizens United overturned a similar federal statute when a majority of justices claimed that independent electoral spending by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” that such laws were enacted to combat.

By a 5-2 vote, the Montana Supreme Court refused the ruling that Citizens United barring all laws limiting independent electoral spending. Chief Justice Mike McGrath cited the history surrounding the state law to show that corporate money, even if not directly contributed to a campaign, can give rise to corruption. Over 100 years ago, the ruling in Western Tradition Partnership v. Attorney General came during a time when Montana’s robber barons, the “Copper Kings,” so effectively politically and economically dominated the state that it lost its authority. According to Mark Twain, one Copper King “bought legislatures and judges as other men buy food and raiment.”

To reverse the Montana Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court would, according to  Professor Rick Hasen of the University of California-Irvine Law School, have to have said something like, “We don’t care whether or not independent spending can or cannot corrupt; the First Amendment trumps this risk of corruption.” They didn’t, however, so the Justices will have to explain how the Montana Supreme Court was wrong to consider the factual record in justifying corporate spending limits in campaign finance laws.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took a similar stand when, in late December, it upheld a 2006 New York City law that, among other things, bans lobbyists from giving gifts to City officials and requires them to disclose all fundraising and consulting activities. Judge Guido Calabresi agrees that corporate expenditures need to be contained: “If an external factor, such as wealth, allows some individuals to communicate their political views too powerfully, then persons who lack wealth may, for all intents and purposes, be excluded from the democratic dialogue.”

Calabresi added that the desire for a functioning democracy “is, I believe, something that is so fundamental that sooner or later it is going to be recognized. Whether this will happen through a constitutional amendment or through changes in Supreme Court doctrine, I do not know. But it will happen.” Calabresi justified his ruling by saying, “Citizens United stated that mere influence or access to elected officials is insufficient to justify a ban on independent corporate expenditures, improper or undue influence presumably still qualifies as a form of corruption.”

A number of cities across the United States from New York to Los Angeles are requesting that Congress pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The New York City Council suggests that the amendment state  “that corporations are not entitled to the entirety of protections or ‘rights’ of natural persons, specifically so that the expenditure of corporate money to influence the electoral process is no longer a form of constitutionally protected speech.”

California lawmakers have introduced a resolution calling for Congress to “propose and send to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.” All this is following the large number of small towns that began to protest Citizens United months ago and the Occupy Movement protesters against this ruling.

At this time, the Supreme Court’s ruling that money is constitutionally protected free speech and corporations are legal persons entitled to these protections, will probably overturn Montana’s Supreme Court. That’s the reason that other political entities are taking a different approach.

According to the Constitution, 34 state legislatures can call for a constitutional convention which could create an amendment banning corporate funding from elections. A year ago this didn’t look possible because Republicans seemed to be the only ones benefiting from the misguided Citizens United ruling: now Republicans are hurting too.

Even beyond the very peculiar “free speech, personhood” piece of the ruling is the difference in rules for corporations and unions. According to Citizens United, both corporations and unions are allowed to spend freely on campaigns, but corporations are permitted to stockpile funds whereas unions are refused this provision for corporations. In addition, employees may opt out of funding union political activities, but shareholders are forced to participate in corporate political spending. The difference in treatment of the two groups is very likely unconstitutional, but the judicial branch determines constitutionality. So much for following the Founding Fathers’ wishes!

The advertising industry predicts as much as $4 billion in spending across all the campaigns, including those for president, Senate, House and governorships. Much of this will come from corporations.

In Citizens United, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a 90-page dissenting opinion, arguing that “[t]he conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case.” Stevens added, “[a]lthough they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office.”

According to Stevens, “Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

December 7, 2011

Corporations, Wealthy Work to Increase Political Control

Fortunately, I don’t live in Iowa—or New Hampshire—or any other state that will have primaries or caucuses early in 2012. Those are the states where people have to watch television advertising for and against Republican presidential candidates nonstop unless they have a way to block these ads or just don’t watch TV.

At least TV stations are making big bucks because corporations and super PACS are permitted unlimited spending in federal campaigns, thanks to George W. Bush’s Supreme Court. The activist approach of conservative Roberts court was made obvious in its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturned key provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, rules that kept corporations–and their lobbyists and front groups (as well as labor unions)–from spending unlimited amounts of cash on campaign advertising within 60 days of a general election or 30 days before a primary for federal office.

Former Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, explained the results of the ruling: “We’re now in a situation where a lobbyist can walk into my office…and say, ‘I’ve got five million dollars to spend, and I can spend it for you or against you. Which do you prefer?’” To give all this money to the conservatives, who will probably spend 90 percent of this advertising money and swing the elections toward the far right, the court used the concept of “corporate personhood.”

Grayson said, “One-hundred years of settled law meant that corporations cannot buy elections inAmerica, and they [Supreme Court] not only allowed corporations to buy those elections, but they made it a constitutional right.” Although the plaintiffs said nothing about the First Amendment, the court decided to use this as the basis for their decision. Justice John Paul Stevens noted that the conservative majority had “changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”

Corporate personhood’s origin in English law was based on the approach that companies have to be considered “persons” in order to sue them. An inanimate object can’t be sued.

The nineteenth-century robber barons managed to get a few corrupt jurists to codify the idea that corporations enjoy the same constitutional rights as living, breathing people in the 1886 decision Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. The railroad used the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to avoid paying taxes because states had different tax rates.

The courts bought the argument, but historian Thom Hartmann found no mention about “corporate personhood” in the original verdict. This declaration comes from the headnote to the case—a commentary written by the clerk, which is not legally binding—in which the Court’s clerk wrote: “The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Over 100 years of Supreme Court decisions have been based on an incorrect headnote written by J.C. Bancroft David, a corrupt official, who had previously served as the president of a railroad, working “in collusion with another corrupt Supreme Court Justice, Stephen Field.” The railroad companies, according to Hartmann, had promised Field that they’d sponsor his run for the White House if he assisted them in their effort to gain constitutional rights.

Even after the ruling, Hartmann noted, the idea of corporate personhood remained relatively obscure until corporate lawyers dusted off the doctrine during the Reagan era and used it to help reshape the U.S. political economy. Nike, Sinclair Broadcasting, Dow Chemical, J.C. Penney, tobacco and asbestos companies—all these corporations used the amendment written to free the slaves for their own benefit to avoid surprise inspections, keep secret dangers of their products, and continue practice illegal discrimination. All these companies succeeded except for Nike.

Legal reporter Dahlia Lithwick condemned the court’s “systematic dismantling of existing legal protections for women, workers, the environment, minorities and the disenfranchised.” Those who care about spiraling inequality, she wrote on the Slate, “need look no further than last term at the high court to see what happens when—just for instance—one’s right to sue AT&T, one’s ability to being a class action against Wal-Mart, and one’s ability to hold an investment management fund responsible for its lies, are all eroded by a sweep of the court’s pen.”

Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), among others, are fighting back against this corrupt vision of corporate control by introducing and supporting a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. Udall’s proposal would authorize Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns, including independent expenditures, and allow states to regulate such spending at their level. It would also provide for implementation and enforcement of the amendment through legislation. Over 750,000 people have signed petitions to void the Supreme Court ruling.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) also provided the following: “The SCOTUS made a mistake in the Citizens United ruling by equating money with political speech. We must redress this error before special interest money comes to dominate political campaigns and determine the outcome of American elections.

“On June 24, 2010, I joined with my colleagues in the House to pass HR 5175, the DISCLOSE Act, which aims to curb the ill effects of Citizens United in the near-term. Had the DISCLOSE Act passed in the Senate  it would have required corporations, unions, and other interests to adhere to campaign finance disclosure and expenditure requirements similar to those already in place for candidates standing for election to Congress. Although this bill would not have prevented an influx of money in federal elections, it would have made the sources of such money transparent to the public and prevented foreign intervention.

“In the 112th Congress, I have reintroduced a proposed amendment to the Constitution of theUnited States, H.J. Res 72, to address the long-term and fundamental problems presented by the Citizens United ruling. My proposed amendment would add a new and unfortunately necessary clause to the Constitution affirming that money can be a corrupting influence in a democracy and therefore excessive use of money to buy elections can be restricted under the Constitution of our great country.

“Money does not equal speech. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure free and fair elections in Oregon and throughout the United States of America.”

At least one judge is determined to go farther than the Supreme Court in allowing corporations carte blanche. Although the Supreme Court ruling allowed unlimited independent expenditures in political campaigns from corporations and other organizations, it did not overturn the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates campaigns. Judge James Cacheris of Virginia ruled that “Citizens United requires that corporations and individuals be afforded equal rights to political speech, unqualified.” The Department of Justice is appealing Cacheris’ ruling to the 4th Circuit Court.

Worse yet, Karl Rove has asked the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) if he can run coordinated political advertisements, featuring candidates the PAC is supporting. He justifies his request in this way: “While these advertisements would be fully coordinated with incumbent Members of Congress facing re-election in 2012, they would presumably not qualify as ‘coordinated communications.’”

After debating the question of whether super PAC ads featuring a member of Congress would violate the coordinate ban, which blocks certain interactions between independent groups and candidate committees, the FEC deadlocked at a 3-3 vote. The PAC’s lawyer, Thomas Josefiak, said, “Certainly they’re coordinated, but we’re using that in the lay sense. The question is, is it coordinated from a regulatory perspective?”

The topic was a source of discussion–and hilarity–on Stephen Colbert’s comedy show, The Colbert Report. Typical of Colbert’s tongue-in-cheek approach, he provides a solution to Rove’s request: “To avoid the appearance of collusion, the F.E.C. could rule that candidates can appear in Super PAC ads only against their will,” he wrote. “They’d have to be kidnapped, blindfolded, and thrown in a van before being forced to read a statement supporting their goals and then returned to their fundraisers in time for dessert.”

Commissioner Ellen Weintraub thanked Colbert for “shining a light on this little corner of government” as she brought up the hundreds of comments the commission had received on Rove’s request from viewers of his show.

The thin line between comedy skits and supposedly serious political discussions has dissolved.

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