Bart Naylor at Too Big launchOn June 22, Public Citizen was joined by U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley from Oregon, former congressman Brad Miller of North Carolina, MIT Professor Simon Johnson, University of Maryland Professor Rena Steinzor, and Marcus Stanley of Americans for Financial Reform to celebrate the release of Public Citizen’s latest publication. Too Big: The Mega-Banks Are Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Jail, and Too Big to Manage lays out the reasons why the current regulatory system has allowed mega-banks to remain too large.

Too Big immediately pinpoints the threat to American citizens’ interests as big banks continue to operate without adequate regulation:

“Americans suffered from the financial crisis of the 2008. Adding insult to injury, Americans were compelled to finance bailouts of banks responsible for the crash on the theory that permitting any to fail would cause a cascade of bankruptcies and inflict cataclysmic damage to the economy.

Yet today, the largest banks are even bigger than they were then.”

The book, by Bart Naylor, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division’s financial policy advocate, focuses on commonsense solutions, in the form of regulatory and legislative reforms, to stem the unencumbered power and greed of the mega-banks.

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Beginning shortly before noon on Wednesday and continuing until Thursday afternoon, Democrats in the House of Representatives occupied the House chamber floor for 26 hours in a sit-in to push for a vote on bills that would put tighter restrictions on the purchase of firearms. As one side interrupted normal procedure with an historic action, and the other brazenly moved to an early recess, the House was the very picture of the partisanship and inefficiency that has repeatedly plagued our nation’s capital. And underlying this entire spectacle was another grim reminder of the massive influence of money in subverting the wishes of the people in our politics.

85% of respondents to a new CNN/ORC poll supported “preventing people who are on the U.S. government’s Terrorist Watchlist or no-fly list from owning guns.” Previous polls have shown that the vast majority of gun owners support increased background checks. Despite this overwhelming support, House Republicans have declined to even schedule a vote. Now why might we see such a failure of elected representatives to follow the will of the people? There’s a simple answer: money.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is just one of many lobbying groups with deep pockets and a network of wealthy donors that are overpowering the voice of the American public with millions of dollars’ worth of ads and campaign funding. According to Open Secrets, in 2014 the NRA spent $974,152 on political contributions, $3,360,000 on lobbying and $27,024,618 on outside contributions, such as running ads directly from the NRA.

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Unless we act, Arizona will lose its long-standing progressive campaign finance laws.

Earlier this year, a piece of state legislation (SB 1516) set in motion a plan that would reverse 20 years of state-required political spending disclosure and cripple the ability of Arizona’s Citizens Clean Election Commission to enforce Arizona’s campaign finance laws.

Some of the egregious provisions of the bill would:

  • minimize the state’s role in clean elections;
  • effectively delegate policing “dark money” compliance to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in Washington, D.C.;
  • allow campaigns to spend money from their own funds in order to donate to other candidates;
  • reduce penalties for candidates that overspend; and
  • take away the right of state election officials to subpoena candidate records.

When he signed the bill, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey contended that the law would make it easier for everyday citizens to run for office – but how does an endless supply of undisclosed, “dark money” flowing in to campaigns make it easier for citizens to get involved in our democracy?

In reality, laws like SB 1516 make it increasingly more difficult for voices of everyday Americans to be heard over the avalanches of money that billionaires, corporations and dark money nonprofit organizations they funnel their spending through are able to play in politics. After the disastrous 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case, these conduit organizations can collect and spend unlimited amounts to promote their special interests — so long as they keep their spending “uncoordinated” with candidates and parties. This new law would allow much more of that unlimited spending to occur without even any disclosure of who is really behind it by allowing Arizona political spenders to hide behind claims of federal tax exemption.

We need your help to bring the law back for a citizen referendum – so that Arizona citizens, and not the wealthy few, can decide if a murkier campaign finance system is in their best interest. State disclosure laws, like the one that was overturned by SB 1516, are the only antidote to this corruption of our democracy.

Before SB 1516 was passed, AZ’s Citizens Clean Election Commission was actively enforcing the important state campaign finance laws– but lawmakers catering to their big money donors schemed to write this bill to make sure that spending went back into the dark.

We need just 75,321 signatures to send SB 1516 to citizen referendum and give Arizona residents a say in whether dark money will continue to permeate their elections.

But the biggest loss of all would be the further weakening of our democracy.

Please join us in pushing for a citizen referendum to reverse SB 1516.

 

Public Citizen has repeatedly called on Congress to pass legislation to reform and improve the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). During Sunshine Week in March, we praised the Senate for approving the FOIA Improvement Act (S. 337), and  participated actively with a coalition of partner organizations in the #50DaysOfFOIA campaign urging Congress to finalize FOIA reforms before the law’s 50th birthday on July 4 th.

On June 13th our efforts paid off, as the House passed S.337, the same version of FOIA reform legislation already approved by the Senate, and sent it off to the President, who has already signaled his intent to sign the bill into law.

The landmark Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), enacted by Congress in 1966, is an essential key to unlocking our democracy. FOIA enables Americans to monitor what the government is up to and hold the government accountable for its actions, by giving the public an enforceable right to access government records, subject to nine narrow exemptions. Unfortunately, the government’s implementation of the law has had some real issues, including overuse of exemptions, most notably exemption 5 for internal agency deliberations.

The FOIA Improvement Act (S. 337) makes important changes to FOIA, including prohibiting the government from relying on exemption 5 to deny a FOIA requester records of internal agency deliberations created 25 years or more before the request was made. The FOIA Improvement Act also codifies the “presumption of openness” policy stated by President Obama on his first day in office. This will require the government to release information unless the agency anticipates that disclosure would harm an interest protected by a FOIA exemption. Other improvements to the law will enhance the government’s proactive disclosure of frequently requested records, make it easier for a requester to submit a FOIA request online, limit the circumstances under which an agency can charge fees for a request when it misses the statutory deadlines for responding to that request, and expand the role of the government’s FOIA ombudsman, the Office of Government Information Services.

We look forward to the president signing this significant legislation and locking in place these new tools for increasing transparency.

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– Post written by Jaimon Olmsted, advocacy intern for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Lisa Gilbert at #WeThePeople launchLast week Public Citizen was proud to join Senate Democrats to announce a new policy agenda to curtail big money’s influence in elections.

Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, joined nine senators and other progressive organizations outside the Capitol to debut a package of commonsense policies that will bring the voices of the people back to the electoral process.

Some of the parts of the #WeThePeople agenda would:

  • Demand transparency from corporations, trade associations, and tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups that are playing in politics while keeping their donors secret;
  • Close unethical lobbying loopholes that give special interests special access to government officials through lax lobbyist registration policies;
  • Better enforce existing campaign finance laws by creating a new agency to serve as a campaign finance watchdog to hold candidates accountable;
  • Slam shut the “revolving door” between Wall Street and Washington – a practice which rewards former bankers for taking roles in government in the very agencies that are meant to protect Main Street from Wall Street recklessness; and
  • Overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision by constitutional amendment.

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