Archive for the ‘Campaign Finance’ Category

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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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.

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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One important aspect of yesterday’s elections not receiving nearly enough attention in the national headlines is the massive amount of political spending – much of it by dark money groups that do not disclose their funding sources – in state judicial elections.

Our friends at Justice At Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice are shining a much-needed light on this overlooked fact and its implications in new research released today.

The research shows the unsettling fact that spending on Supreme Court elections during the 2014 election cycle reached $13.8 million, topping the previous record of $12.2 million, set in 2010.

Among the key take-aways from the report is the extent to which political spending by corporations and other outside Big Money players is an election issue:

TV ads in Montana, Ohio, and Illinois accused candidates of being owned or influenced by special interests, or alternately asserted that a candidate was unaffected by special interests. An ad aired by Montanans for Liberty and Justice said candidate VanDyke was “in the pocket of out of state special interests” while incumbent Wheat urged voters in an ad by his campaign to “tell these corporations that neither your vote, nor my seat, are for sale.” Both VanDyke and Ohio Justice Judith French were targeted with graphically similar TV ads depicting photos of their faces tucked into businessmen’s cash-lined suit pockets.

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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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