Archive for the ‘Activism’ Category

A new report from Demos details the dominance of individual big-money donors in the 2014 congressional elections. (Total 2014 election spending is estimated to have exceeded $3.67 billion.)

The report’s revelations are grim, but unsurprising. For instance:

Seven of every 10 individual contribution dollars to the federal candidates, parties, PACs and Super PACs that were active in the 2013-2014 election cycle came from donors who gave $200 or more.

The authors note that this statistic does not include the estimated $1 billion in spending by dark money groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, which exploit their dubious status as “social welfare” nonprofits to hide the identities of their funders.

A look at how these numbers play out in individual races is useful for illustrating just how much some candidates depend on funds from the wealthy. The report notes that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the onetime candidate for vice president and future chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, reported receiving more than $5 million from large donors – and nothing (actually, negative $360) from small donors. (How’s that for “makers” versus “takers”?)

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pnc-deliveryToday I delivered a petition signed by more than 67,000 consumers and activists to PNC Financial’s headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The petition calls on PNC to remove the forced arbitration clause from its customer terms. A member of PNC’s senior legal staff accepted the petition on behalf of the bank.

Forced arbitration clauses, buried in the fine print, prevent consumers who have been harmed or ripped off from holding their banks accountable in court and instead force them to plead their cases to private arbitration providers, picked by the banks. The result is that consumers cannot practically or fairly resolve disputes with these powerful financial institutions.

The petition, organized by national consumer and citizen groups including Public Citizen, Consumer Action, The Other 98%, Alliance for Justice, American Association for Justice, Americans for Financial Reform and National Association of Consumer Advocates, targeted the five biggest banks that use forced arbitration clauses: PNC, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and US Bancorp. (Read the press release.)

Joining me in Pittsburgh for the petition delivery were local activists Kristen Hochreiter, a student at the University of Pittsburgh, and Dawn Marie Smith, a student at Carlow University.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, Consumer Action delivered the same list of petition signers to the Wells Fargo bank headquarters. And coincidentally, 16 state attorneys general urged the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to restrict bank use of forced arbitration.

These deliveries were the first of several actions planned to target these five big banks and urge them to remove the fine print that prevents customers from having their day in court if the banks rip them off.

To join this ongoing effort, add your name to the petition to make sure it’s included in the next round of deliveries.

Rick Claypool is the online director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

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Now that the election and its tidal wave of dark money spending has passed, hopefully Congress will get to the process of governing. Granted, forging bipartisan alliances will be even more important as we usher in a new Congress, but holding Wall Street accountable for the financial crisis and reining in high speed trading is something leaders on both sides of the aisle should be able to get behind.

That’s why this fall Public Citizen and a diverse coalition of consumer, labor and economic policy groups hosted a congressional briefing outlining the benefits of a Wall Street Tax (sometimes called a Financial Transaction Tax or Robin Hood Tax) and explaining the great progress that’s taking place in Europe on this issue. But we’ve yet to gain even one Republican co-sponsor to this commonsense policy.

People — individual voices of constituents — are one of the best ways to get the attention of reluctant congressmembers. That’s where you come in. Public Citizen supporters like you have achieved some huge victories and reach very important milestones and we are calling on you to help us win another fight against Wall Street.

If you haven’t already done so, please send an email to your lawmaker in support of the tiny Wall Street Tax (three cents for every $100 traded) that would raise over $352 billion in less than a decade. Then take the next steps to help us win a Wall Street Tax: Watch and share the video below and share the image of Public Citizen President Robert Weissman calling for a Wall Street Tax.

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Today is Veterans Day.

Politicians are making speeches honoring the sacrifices made by servicemen and servicewomen. But being ripped off by predatory lenders — many of whom prey specifically on residents of military bases — should NOT be among our veterans’ sacrifices.

The Department of Defense has the authority to rein in the unpatriotic predators who gouge service members. Please join Public Citizen in urging the DoD to support the troops by cracking down on corporate predators.

Service members are targeted by “payday” lenders because military rules require them to maintain good finances, but the realities of service — such as sudden relocations to different parts of the country — often result in unanticipated expenses.

Meanwhile, forced arbitration clauses buried in the fine print of the terms for these high-interest (as in 500 percent) loans mean that our troops are denied their right to a day in court.

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Welcome to the 2014 Meh-terms, America.

Sure, the attack ads are blanketing the airwaves, and sure, some guys from Kansas are spending millions for your vote, but all the mainstream media wants to talk about is how much no one actually cares about the midterms. America has had enough red meat rhetoric to send a grizzly bear into cardiac arrest, and that appears to be what has happened.

Steeped in nearly $4 billion dollars’ worth of campaign spending – most of it on vapid, sleazy campaign ads – it’s really no wonder that Americans are tuning out the midterms in droves.

To alleviate your despair, here’s an (almost) exhaustive list, in no particular order, of solutions to America’s big dumb, big-money elections.

1. Pass a Constitutional Amendment

The Supreme Court’s delusional ruling in Citizens United helped to demolish the last vestiges of sanity in the system that politicians use to finance their campaigns. For elections to be less dumb we have to make sure that everybody has a say in who gets elected, not just the people with $150 million dollars to blow on elections. The 28th Amendment would simply state that Congress has the authority to bar corporate spending in elections and place reasonable limits on campaign contributions and spending for the sake of leveling the playing field for those of us who aren’t pulling down nine figures this year.

2. The DISCLOSE Act

Organizations that do not disclose their donors, known as dark money groups, can spend millions to influence elections without disclosing to voters who is actually funding the ads. That sort of makes accountability hard to come by. The DISCLOSE Act would simply require organizations that spend $10,000 or more on election-related ads to disclose their donors.

3. Fair Elections Now Act / Democracy Is For People Act / Empowering Citizens Act

These bills would provide matching public funds to candidates who are able to collect large numbers of small donations. The first two would effect House and Senate Races, and the last one would be for both congressional and presidential races. Public financing would empower small donor by encouraging candidates to chat it up with regular people instead of spending four hours a day on the phone chasing millionaires (which can really skew your perspective on the important things in life).

4. Real Time Transparency Act

Nothing fancy here unless you count retiring filing cabinets and putting data on computers as fancy. The Real Time Transparency act would require campaigns, parties, and committees to disclose contributions on-line within 48 hours of receiving them. And before you tell me that this should already be a thing, please ruminate on the fact that in the year 2014 the Senate still files its contribution reports on paper.

5. Shareholder Protection Act

Don’t skip this one just because you’re not a well-heeled investment guru. The Shareholder Protection Act would require companies that spend money in elections to disclose that spending to their shareholders, which also includes anyone with a retirement account. And even if you don’t have a retirement account, no one likes to miss out on a good boycott.

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