Archive for January, 2012

Today, folks are still buzzing about our late afternoon release re: Ron Paul’s YouTube lawsuit last Friday. In other news, Scott Michelman, another star Public Citizen litigation team member is dealing with a troubling issue of unchartered legal "Public Citizen Lady Liberty"territory. While police were mobilizing for the removal of Occupy DC protestors today, Occupy Chattanooga protestors were grappling with a lawsuit– that’s right, a lawsuit.

Although Occupy movements in various cities have initiated court battles over the extent of their rights, this lawsuit appears to be the first of its kind against Occupy demonstrators. Michelman explains,

By suing demonstrators for a ruling on its own law and seeking to recover fees and costs, the county is trying to impose a monetary penalty on a group of innocent people for their political activity – or, in the case of the defendants who are not associated with the Occupy movement, for other people’s political activity. Allowing this case to proceed would set a dangerous precedent for local governments using the threat of court costs to chill political speech.

For more on this troubling case see our press release.

Meanwhile, Public Citizen’s campaign finance and governmental ethics expert Craig Holman has his fingers crossed, as should all Americans. Holman has lobbied hard for the passage of the STOCK Act. Don’t let acronyms deceive! This isn’t a bill for Wall Street elites. STOCK stands for Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act. The STOCK Act, which would prohibit insider trading by members of Congress and their staffs (yes, right now it’s legal), got a much-needed boost last week when President Barack Obama during his State of the Union speech called on Congress to pass it. The bill, which Public Citizen has been advocating for years, got a shot in the arm late last year after a “60 Minutes” segment. However, lawmakers put it on the back burner – until now. This week, likely on Wednesday or Thursday, the Senate will vote on the STOCK Act.

Also this week, Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines program, is in Los Angeles and San Diego to monitor negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement. From what we’ve heard, it likely will include some of the same damaging provisions of NAFTA. The trouble is, officials aren’t releasing the negotiating text – which means they are keeping the public in the dark on a critical international pact. Check out Maybarduk (1:33:15) in this video from today and be sure to follow @PCMedsAccess for the latest on intellectual property debates with real-world applications happening there!

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THIS is what democracy looks like. And more specifically, what American patriots throughout the nation, determined to renew our democracy and reclaim it from the auction block, look like.

Click the image above to play our YouTube video!

Marking the two-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending in our elections, the rapidly growing movement to fight back with a 28th Amendment to the Constitution has seriously stepped out into the national spotlight.

Thousands of Americans, in nearly every state turned out for over 350 events to “celebrate” the anniversary of the Court’s disastrous ruling and the resulting unprecedented leverage of corporate power over politicians. And from courthouse steps to corporate offices, from mock arrests and funerals to rousing rallies to teach-ins and simple one-on-one engagement with neighbors, the (cold) air was thick with the spirit of people-powered democracy that they’d prefer to raise up instead.

Indeed, this wasn’t just another series of protests and demonstrations, but a chance to turn Citizens United into a mechanism that unites citizens. Last weekend was a movement-building moment; an initial “coming out” for the 60-plus organizations, and countless citizens, united by the common purpose of ensuring that democracy is for We the People, not corporations and concentrated wealth.

Occupying Corporate Offices, Downtowns, and State Capitols

On Saturday, thousands of people joined Public Citizen and our allies to Occupy the Corporations, often demonstrating and engaging in creative actions at Bank of America branches and offices, Chevron gas stations and other corporate outposts in our communities. They ranged from local activists braving snow by the dozens to rouse and educate their community in places like Joliet, Illinois and Prince William, Virginia; to activists with the Rainforest Action Network and Occupy groups who “arrested” Cargill at its Minneapolis headquarters and conducted manhunts for a “person” going by the name of Bank of America in Charlotte and San Francisco; and to the  hundreds who joined Congressman Jim McDermott to rally and march through downtown Seattle in the slippery aftermath of an ice storm.

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Stunning Statistics of the Week:

  • $3.27 billion: Amount spent on lobbying in 2011
  • $3.51 billion: Amount spent on lobbying in 2010

Note: The drop is attributed to political gridlock.

Citizens United anniversary: Everything it was cracked up to be and more
We’ve been telling you for a while about the momentum that built toward protest events slated for Saturday, Jan. 21, the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The anniversary was everything we thought it would be and then some. Citizens and elected officials took to the streets in cities throughout the country to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. Check out these pieces in Mother Jones, Truthout.org and Firedoglake. If you haven’t joined the movement, it’s not too late. Visit www.DemocracyIsForPeople.org.

Candidates say “Enough already with the Super PACs”
It might not work but it’s worth a shot. U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and his opponent Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren have signed a “People’s Pledge agreement” designed to keep Super PACs and the negative ads they pay for out of the race. Under the agreement, whichever candidate is aided by an ad paid for by a third party must contribute an amount worth half the ad to his or her opponent’s charity of choice.

House lawmakers draft new DISCLOSE Act
The DISCLOSE Act, designed to mitigate the harmful effects of Citizens United, fell victim in 2011 to GOP intransigence. Now, some lawmakers are making another run at it. U.S. Reps. Bob Brady (D-Pa.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) have drafted a bill that would, among other things, enhance disclosure by Super PACs, corporations and outside groups, and require corporations to tell shareholders about campaign expenditures.

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The Obama "Tyson Slocum" "Public Citizen"administration’s announcement today to expand offshore oil drilling is a terrible idea: It won’t lower oil or gas prices, and it puts taxpayers on the hook for accidents.

The last time the president made such an announcement, the BP disaster occurred two weeks later. We all saw how that ended. Obama should not be laying the groundwork for history to repeat itself.

Current law caps accidental spill liability at $75 million, far below what actual spill damages would likely be. This translates into a huge subsidy for the industry and puts the American people on the hook.

Congress has yet to pass reforms in the wake of that disaster – including raising oil companies’ spill liability from the current $75 million cap.

Opening new areas to drilling while failing to hold oil companies accountable for fleecing taxpayers on existing drilling leases is unfair.

Obama should know better than to hold Big Oil’s support above Main Street’s interests.

Tyson Slocum is Public Citizen’s Energy Program director. Follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum.

The idea that behemoth banks should be broken up is widespread and bipartisan, embraced by regulators and politicians alike.

Flickr by I-5 Design and Manufacture

Regulators—past and present—including Simon Johnson, Richard Fisher and Thomas Hoenig have offered public support for downsizing and reforming “too big to fail banks.”

The latest to publicly embrace the idea is Sheila Bair, the Republican-appointed FDIC chair who was critical in dealing with the financial crisis.

Politicians also have become supportive of breaking up the big banks. Chief among them is Jon Huntsman, who made this issue the central focus of his presidential campaign, but even Newt Gingrich has expressed sympathy for splitting up financial institutions. The conservative media also has gotten into the act. The idea has garnered support from Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, Charles Gasparino of the Fox Business News Network and Arnold Kling of National Review, to name a few.

So, how do regulators actually do it?

They can use section 121 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Section 121 gives the Federal Reserve and the Financial Stability Oversight Council the authority to mitigate the “grave threat” that a financial institution poses by limiting the bank’s activities or forcing it to divest assets—in other words, the authority to break up a bank into separate institutions.

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