This week, the Senate enjoys an opportunity to secure a commitment that criminal mega-banks and their executives will held to the same legal standards as smaller crooks.

On Jan. 28, 2015, the Senate Judiciary Committee opens two days of hearings to consider President Obama’s nomination of Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General (AG) of the United States.  She would be the chief law enforcer for the United States. Currently, she is the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.  In this New York office, she brokered what’s called a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks.  HSBC admitted to massive criminal money laundering. Rather than indict the firm or any individuals, the DPA required HSBC to pay a fine — $1.9 billion, or roughly a month’s profit.  Sen. Charles Grassley (D-Iowa), who will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, asked current AG Eric Holder why the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) didn’t bring criminal charges against HSBC in a hearing two years ago. Holder responded that some firms are just too big.

Here are some questions that senators should ask to make sure that size no longer shields a company from the rule of law.

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The McConnell-Boehner Congress this week lobbed fewer public interest attacks than in its first couple of weeks – likely because Monday’s holiday and Tuesday’s State of the Union address kept them otherwise engaged – but the U.S. Senate did bring upon itself a good dose of ridicule by debating whether human activity is causing climate change. Forty-nine GOP senators, bucking what 97 percent of scientists say, said “no.”

What public interest assaults are coming next week? Here’s what we know about so far. Please contact us if you have questions.

• Senate lawmakers will try to fast track the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on Jan. 29 on the LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act (PDF) (S. 33). The measure would limit the time the Department of Energy has to consider applications to export liquefied natural gas. There are multiple problems with expediting the export of LNG. For instance, it could lead to higher natural gas prices, harming consumers who rely on it. Prioritizing LNG exports would help the fracking industry at the expense of the rest of the economy. And it appears as though exporting LNG is counter to a 1975 law.

• The Senate likely will vote on a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. If this bill succeeds, it will mean higher gasoline prices for U.S. motorists. The purpose of the Keystone pipeline is to take landlocked tar sands oil to the export-oriented refineries of the Gulf Coast, refine the low-grade oil and then ship the product to world markets.

The pipeline would transport the dirtiest oil in the world across America’s largest freshwater aquifer, risking a major oil spill and causing dangerous pollutants to be released into the air during the refining process. A 2013 Public Citizen report questioned the safety of Keystone XL’s Texas segment, documenting anomalies that could lead to spills or leaks.

More info:

Statement: KXL: Not in the National Interest

Good news emerged this week in the fight for health care justice in the United States. A new poll shows that the majority of Americans support single-payer health care. In a single-payer system, every American would be guaranteed a basic level of health care, much like Medicare guarantees health coverage to all American seniors.

Among the poll’s other findings: 80 percent of self-identified Democrats support single-payer, in addition to one-quarter of Republicans. President Obama himself backed single-payer as a state senator. As for a “public option,” where Americans would be given the choice to buy into Medicare before they turn 65, only 13 percent of the public was opposed.

In many ways, this poll is remarkable. More and more Americans understand and embrace a universal Medicare-for-all health plan. Stay tuned for Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) re-introductions of their versions of single-payer, Medicare-for-All bills this year.

Vijay Das is a health care advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch.

Statement of David Arkush, Managing Director, Public Citizen’s Climate Program

Note: Today, 49 U.S. Senate Republicans formally rejected the existence of human-caused climate change by voting against an amendment from U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). Key provisions of the amendment state, “it is the sense of Congress that— (1) climate change is real; and (2) human activity significantly contributes to climate change.”

It is stunning that so many senators refuse to admit the basic facts about this grave threat to humanity.

Ninety-seven percent of relevant scientific papers have concluded that human activity is causing global warming. Opponents of solving the climate crisis like U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are engaging in a bizarre charade: hiding behind the excuse that they are not scientists while refusing to defer to an overwhelming scientific consensus.

In truth, climate change is a moral problem, not a factual one. As the president stated last night in his State of the Union speech, “No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”

It is deeply immoral for elected officials not to respond to this challenge.

The American people – and our future children and grandchildren – need leaders who will foster a transition to renewable energy as quickly as possible. That shift will save thousands of American lives, create tens of thousands of jobs and save billions, if not trillions, of dollars. It also may be necessary to preserve human civilization.

By Taylor Lincoln and Andrew Perez

By definition, super PACs are supposed to be independent from candidates and parties.

However, 45 percent of all super PACs spending more than $100,000 in 2014 did so on behalf of just one candidate. That finding was published in the latest installment in our series of reports quantifying the connections between candidates and outside groups.

The phenomenon of single-candidate super PACs is significant because it is unlikely that many groups would focus all of their efforts on helping just one congressional candidate if they did not have ties to him or her. And if the groups do have ties to candidates, they are not truly independent.

In its overreaching Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in 2010, the Supreme Court chose to permit outside entities to spend at will from their treasuries on elections. This led to super PACs and other outside groups accepting unlimited contributions to influence elections. The court premised its decision on the assumption that spending by independent entities does not pose a risk of corrupting candidates. The risk of corruption is the basis on which the court has supported previous campaign finance restrictions.

The Center for Competitive Politics, which supports the Citizens United decision, promptly issued a response to our report, indicating both that there’s nothing notable about friends of candidates running super PACs and, anyways, any suspicion of coordination between the groups and candidates was just “the stuff of conspiracy theorists and hysterics.”

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