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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Autumn is upon us. In addition to leaf color tours, pumpkins and cider, this fall has brought a political frenzy to Michigan as numerous members of the congressional delegation retire. Among the departing lawmakers is a real tax policy heavyweight, U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R).

Camp soon will leave his position as chairman of the powerful U.S. House of Representatives Ways & Means Committee without having accomplished his chief goal of comprehensive tax reform. His languished swansong proposal to update the tax code, though flawed in many ways, offered some bold moves, like taxing banks and limiting executive pay.

In his remaining time, Camp should continue to push for such bold proposals. He also should focus on closing international tax loopholes that cost the U.S. an estimated $90 billion per year, and which allow some highly profitable companies pay no federal corporate income tax. With 150,000 Michigan families being hit by food stamp cuts, this is unacceptable.

Corporations avoid taxation in a number of ways, including using tax breaks that allow corporations to indefinitely put off — or “defer” — paying taxes on certain profits. One such scheme allows tax avoidance on some profits that appear to be made by foreign subsidiaries. Another huge loophole allows tax deferral on profits from interest made by foreign financial subsidiaries. Apple and GE are well known to make use of these supposedly temporary loopholes, which are bundled with 50 plus other tax breaks, referred to in Washington, D.C., as “extenders” because they are renewed every couple of years.

The package of corporate tax breaks is estimated to cost taxpayers more than $84 billion and up to nearly $700 billion over 10 years if they are continuously renewed. Even with that stunningly high price tag, the cost of these tax cuts won’t be held to the same standard as is applied to programs on which ordinary Americans depend. For example, House Republicans have refused to allow a vote on extending emergency unemployment benefits for the 3.6 million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months, unless the $25 billion-plus cost of the program is “paid for” with other cuts or tax increases.

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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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The corporate accountability expert offers his thoughts on campaign finance reform.

Robert Weissman is an expert on issues related to financial accountability and corporate responsibility. As president of the nonprofit Public Citizen organization, he’s championed citizen interests before Congress, executive branch agencies and the courts on various policies, including healthcare, intellectual property and trade and globalization.

Advocates deliver 100,000 comments and petitions to the EPA

Advocates deliver 100,000 comments and petitions to the EPA

In comments and petition signatures delivered to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this morning, more than 100,000 people urged the

agency to update the safety requirements for some of the country’s largest hazardous chemical processing facilities.

Comments and signatures were gathered by Public Citizen, Greenpeace, U.S. PIRG, the Sierra Club, BlueGreen Alliance, and many others.

The chemical processing facilities in question are places like fertilizer plants, oil refineries, and bleach manufacturers. Roughly 110 million Americans, or one-third of the country, live in a high-risk zone near a chemical processing facility.

The Center for Effective Government has put together a handy (or terrifying) map showing the locations these chemical plants, and their proximity to public schools.

The EPA is looking for ways to improve its Risk Management Program, a move prompted by an executive order from President Obama that was issued in the wake of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.

The fertilizer plant, which housed more than 270 tons of flammable chemicals but lacked a fire sprinkler system, exploded last April while emergency crews were responding to a fire. The blast killed 15 people, injured 226 more, and destroyed 150 homes.

The EPA’s new plan could prevent tragedies like the one in West, Texas by making new safety standards a requirement for facilities that manufacture and process hazardous chemicals.

The EPA’s new plan to manage these dangerous plants should include requirements for safer processing methods, reduced use of the most dangerous chemicals, and of course, commonsense safety measures like fire sprinklers.

With more than 110 million Americans at risk, it’s far past time for the EPA to act.

Kelly Ngo is the Online Advocacy Organizer for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division.

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