Posts Tagged ‘money in politics’

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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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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Most of us use Google products on a daily basis and are familiar with the company’s powerful email and Internet search services. But these days, there is a lot more to Google’s technological operations — and they come with myriad new ways to collect our information. Now the company that used Street View cars to collect unsuspecting people’s information, and received the Federal Trade Commission’s largest civil penalty ever for misleadingly tracking Safari users, is reaching new levels of political power.

A new Public Citizen report, “Mission Creep-y,” explores Google’s accruing power, both in terms of personal data collection, and federal and state government influence, raising the question of whether it could become too powerful to be held accountable.

Key findings about Google’s growing political power:

  • Over the first three quarters of 2014, Google ranked first among all corporations in lobbying spending, according to OpenSecrets.org, and is on pace to spend $18.2 million on federal lobbying this year. In fact, it has spent $1 million more on lobbying than PhRMA, the powerful trade association of the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Since 2012, no company has spent more money on federal lobbying than Google.
  • Of 102 lobbyists the company has hired or retained in 2014, 81 previously held government jobs. Meanwhile, a steady stream of Google employees has been appointed to high-ranking government jobs – an indication of the company’s growing influence in national affairs.
  • Google’s political action committee (PAC) spent $1.61 million this year, according to Federal Election Commission records. That surpasses, for the first time, PAC expenditures by Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs.
  • Google funds about 140 trade associations and other nonprofits across the ideological spectrum – including some working in issue areas relevant to Google’s practices on privacy, political spending, antitrust and more.

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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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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.

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