Archive for the ‘Open Government’ Category

By Darci Kovacs

In order to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Public Citizen is pushing for a constitutional amendment to limit spending in elections. Already, the fight to get corporate money out of politics has 16 states on its side – almost half the number of states it would take to ratify an amendment.

Now, after an intensely successful two months—with Oregon, Delaware, West Virginia, Maine and Illinois all backing a constitutional amendment—Public Citizen is taking the fight to overturn Citizens United to Congress for the rest of the summer.

So far, 111 lawmakers have co-sponsored such an amendment in this legislative session. But, 111 does not come close to the 67-vote supermajority in the Senate and 290-vote supermajority in the House of Representatives necessary to pass one.

So in the next month, Public Citizen’s Democracy is For People campaign is taking the momentum from the states that have backed an amendment and calling or visiting lawmakers who have failed to co-sponsor a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

To get lawmakers on board, we need your help.

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You can Google anything right?

Well, try going to the search engine and entering “Google’s political spending.”

You’ll get something like this:

A screen grab of a Google search for the phrase "Google's political spending"

Ironically, the top result is Google’s “transparency policy.”

As you can see, while we get a few results for the company’s direct lobbying activities (which it is required by law to disclose), there’s little else to indicate what Google is doing with its other political dollars.

To make things clearer, I should explain that companies can spend money on politics in a few ways.

First, they can spend directly on lobbying themselves. They can also make direct political expenditures to back candidates or contribute to federally registered political committees. And in some states, they can contribute directly to candidates. This spending generally has to be disclosed.

But they can also spend money that doesn’t have to be disclosed. This spending can vary, but is most commonly done when a company makes contributions to “social welfare” organizations like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS or to “trade associations” like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Neither the organizations nor the companies have to disclose these types of contributions, and the organizations can spend money on a wide range of political activities.

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The government is supposed to serve the public’s best interests. But, too often, corners are cut, resources are wasted or worse, government agencies are defrauded or co-opted to serve narrow political or private interests.

Enter the Whistleblower.

Whistleblowers are often the first line of defense to shield the public from wrong doing when government is no longer protecting the public’s interest.

Sadly, the Obama administration’s actions are creating a chilling effect on whistleblowers who disclose waste, fraud and abuse and diminishing citizens’ ability to blow the whistle. It is a rather ironic state of affairs, considering the administration has promised to be the most transparent ever.

Robert Greenwald’s new film: War on Whistleblowers – Free Press and the National Security State discusses several accounts of whistleblowers who took a stand.

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Party politics and big money interests often work in the shadows to defeat good public policy. An intersection of these two challenges in Washington state may have played a role in the failure of an erstwhile popular resolution to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling.

Public Citizen is a key part of the nationwide movement to pass state resolutions calling for an amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases. The 2010 Citizens United ruling allows corporations to spend unlimited sums in elections independent of parties or candidates. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia already have called for an amendment to overturn the unpopular decision.

Poll after poll shows that large majorities of Republicans, Independents and Democrats alike disapprove of Citizens United and want to see limits on election spending by corporations, unions and individuals. Yet too often, party labels block passage of popular and desperately needed laws.

Earlier this year, the Washington Legislature was moving a resolution calling for an amendment to overturn Citizens United. Thousands of Washingtonians called, emailed and visited their legislators to ask them to support the resolution. More than 15 Washington towns passed resolutions calling for an amendment, from the conservative Walla Walla to the more liberal Seattle.

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"Craig Holman"We urge Congress to resume the legislative effort to shine a light on the activities of Wall Street consultants and lobbyists who lurk on Capitol Hill seeking valuable information they can use to cash in on the stock market. Today, the Government Accountability Office issued its long-awaited report on how this “political intelligence” industry operates in the shadows for the benefit of itself and its paying clients.

When Congress approved the “Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge” (STOCK) Act last year, making it clear for the first time that the laws against insider trading apply to Congress as well as the public, one key provision was left on the cutting room floor: a requirement that financial operatives and lobbyists who make a business trading on information gleaned from congressional sources disclose their activities and clients to the public.

At the time of the law’s passage, many in Congress seemed unclear about what the political intelligence industry is and how it operates. So Congress replaced the political-intel disclosure provision with a mandate for a congressional study on whether there is a problem.

That mandated study became public today, and it shows that there is indeed a problem.

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