Archive for the ‘Activism’ Category

The congressional leaders who negotiated $1.1 trillion federal spending bill – dubbed the “CRomnibus” – must not have known they were in for a fight.

But when Public Citizen and other public interest allies got hold of the 1,600-page bill and saw that it contained a bevy of atrocious policy riders that had nothing to do with funding the government, the fight was coming.

The take-it-or-leave-it budget – including the poison pill provisions that Public Citizen opposed – did ultimately pass. The fight for its passage is instructive for how public interest advocates can wield power in the coming years, even as majorities in Congress seem determined to deliver a return on Corporate America’s Citizens United-enabled election investments.

The worst that could have happened would have been if the giveaways to corporations and the super rich had been accepted without a fight.

Thankfully, that’s not what happened.

We called on grassroots activists like you to act – to email and call your members of Congress – and you acted.

Tens of thousands of outraged citizens made it known that they would not accept a budget bill that allows millionaires and billionaires to have more influence in our elections and that puts taxpayers on the hook for Wall Street’s recklessness.

And then – hearing the outrage of tens of thousands of constituents across the country – principled members of Congress (of both major parties) fought the bipartisan backroom deal.

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We’ve just seen the worst that Washington has to offer with the “cromnibus” government spending bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last night.

Instead of Congress passing a clean funding bill along lines that were previously agreed to and had bipartisan acceptance, Big Business exercised its insider influence and took advantage of an artificially rushed and secretive process to cut deals to enhance the political influence of the super-rich, put taxpayers on the hook – again – for Wall Street recklessness and make our roads less safe.

Moneyed interests maneuvered to eviscerate campaign spending rules, so that a super-rich couple may now contribute up to $3 million to a national political party in a single (two-year) election cycle. It’s a certainty that this move will be followed up by calls to “level the playing field” and permit the same monstrous contributions to candidates and political committees.

Wall Street called on its friends to include a Citigroup-drafted provision that would roll back a key Dodd-Frank measure that was designed to prevent Big Banks from using taxpayer-insured money to bet in the derivatives markets. With the top four banks responsible for 93 percent of derivatives activities in the United States, there is zero question about which entities will benefit. Nor who will pay; when the next financial crisis comes – as it will, as certainly as the calendar changes – taxpayers will be forced to pay for Wall Street gambling on derivatives.

At the behest of the trucking industry, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins included in the spending bill a provision to override rules to reduce truck driver fatigue, which risks the lives of truckers and other drivers.

These are only some of the known giveaways in the spending bill. It will probably take many weeks, or longer, before all of the industry deals are discovered.

As serious and troubling as are these measures, there is reason to fear worse is to come. Even though it opposed many of these harmful provisions, the White House pushed for approval of the overall spending deal, which had to overcome substantial opposition from members of Congress in both parties. If this is the kind of “bipartisanship” we’re going to see in the coming two years, the country is facing dire prospects indeed.

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Susan Harley, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

Public Citizen is standing in solidarity with our European allies who are leading the charge for a strong financial transaction tax (FTT or Wall Street tax) to come out of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (Ecofin). Though France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Estonia, Austria, Portugal, Greece and Slovakia agreed in May 2014 to collaboratively tax financial transactions of shares and “certain” derivative contracts, with the tax taking effect no later than January 2016, the final details of the proposal are still in negotiation. When these European countries have a strong FTT in place it will pave the way for U.S. lawmakers to pass a Wall Street tax here in America too.

Because of the importance of this international agreement, Public Citizen and our allies are joining in a worldwide action to urge European financial leaders to agree to a strong FTT proposal. In advance of the final European finance ministers’ meeting of 2014 on Tuesday, December 9, we ask that you join this movement and show your solidarity too!

There are a few ways you can get involved:

  • Print out this placard and fill in the reasons why you support a European financial transactions tax. Then snap a photo of yourself holding the sign and Tweet it out to your followers using the hash tag #FTT. (See my photo and photo of U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) to see how it’s done.) Your photo may be added to the international collage that’s being created for presentation to the European finance ministers.
  • Short on time? To make it easier, we’ve created some shareable social media images that you can find on Public Citizen’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
  • Support the U.S. proposal to tax Wall Street trades by taking Public Citizen’s online action.

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Our friends at Think Progress posted a gem on their blog this week describing Corporate America’s griping at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event about its supposedly waning “free speech” privileges. Apparently, the huge momentum behind requiring disclosure has dark money political spenders quaking in their boots!

At one point during the event, Paul Atkins, the CEO of Patomak Global Partners LLC, actually compared shareholders who want companies to be more transparent to neo-Nazis. Now that you’ve finished choking on your coffee, consider his actual words:

 When I was a staffer at the SEC [U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission] back in the early 90s, a group of Neo-Nazis came up with a proposal for AT&T… it had to go into the proxy statement because of the way the rules were. That’s pretty bad but carry it forward now — we have issues here like disclosure of political spending or lobbying or general political spending and these disclosures are not material at all.

Sure Paul, advocating for transparency is just the natural outgrowth of neo-Nazism. And neo-Nazism is just “pretty bad” anyway. (Yeah, right!)

If you think Paul Atkins is plain wrong and so is corporations buying lawmakers, send a message to the SEC today asking for immediate disclosure of corporate political spending.

Kelly Ngo is the online advocacy organizer for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

For more than four decades, the landmark right-to-know law, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), has given the public (and organizations like Public Citizen fighting on behalf of the public) an essential tool for prying open the veil of secrecy surrounding government activities. In the words of Justice Louis Brandeis, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” and FOIA is the beacon of light that’s bright enough to shine into the darkest recesses of the government.

But there are limits to the FOIA law’s reach. Nine official exemptions to the law prevent information from being released to the public concerning specific types of documents—for example classified information related to national security or information compiled for law enforcement purposes. Some of the exemptions are grossly overused; “Exemption 5,” for example, can indefinitely keep secret communications between and within agencies on issues like why one rule was enacted instead of a stronger safeguard.

From the start of his Presidency, Barak Obama has officially called for more openness by government agencies — including directing Attorney General Eric Holder to require agencies to disclose more information to the public, which Holder did in 2009. That policy, called “the presumption of openness,” directs agencies to disclose information to the public unless prohibited by law or if the agency can see a direct harm protected by one of the numbered exemptions.

But even though President Obama’s administration has a goal of being the most transparent ever, it’s imperative that his changes be reflected in the language of the FOIA law so that this presumption of openness remains in place after his adminstration.

Public Citizen and our partners in the open government community were very pleased when improvements to the FOIA law were passed unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives and even happier when U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a stronger bipartisan bill in the Senate. The FOIA Improvement Act (S. 2520) cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously earlier this month with more than 70 groups signing the letter of support drafted by Public Citizen and Openthegovernment.org.

Now, there are but a few short days to get this important legislation across the finish line before the end of the 113th Congress. Please let your senators know that you want to see critical improvements made to FOIA.

More can be done to increase the public’s right to know under FOIA, but S. 2520 is an excellent way to increase the amount of information “sunlight” shining on the workings of government.

Susan Harley is the deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

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