Tag Archive: Campaign Finance

Jul 20 2018

Surprise, Surprise, There Are Tapes

Anyone who is surprised about the news that Donald Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen made tapes of conversations hasn’t been paying attention. Michael Cohen secretly recorded a 2016 conversation in which he and President Trump discussed paying hush money to a former Playboy model who claims she slept with Trump, the New York Times reported …

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Jun 15 2018

The Trump Foundation: Family’s Personal Piggy Bank

The New York State Attorney General has sued the Trump Foundation accusing the Trump family of essentially using the non-profit as their personal piggy bank. The New York State attorney general’s office filed a scathingly worded lawsuit on Thursday taking aim at the Donald J. Trump Foundation, accusing the charity and the Trump family of …

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Aug 08 2016

Money, Money, Money

It’s all about the money. Follow the money. Show me the money. American elections have always been about the money and who has the most. The system has made it very expensive requiring candidates to spend massive amounts of time courting millionaires and corporations to donate to their campaigns. Senator Bernie Sanders raised millions with …

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May 08 2015

Big Money in Politics Is Not Controllable

With the Supreme Court ruling Citizens United, the flood doors for campaign spending were sprung open that has allowed the moneyed class and multinational companies to fund super PACs for candidates and legislation that they favor. It also put the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) in a bind trying to regulate the few laws left that govern campaign finance. The Democratic chairperson, Ann Ravel told the New York Times that the agency is “worse than dysfunctional”.

The leader of the Federal Election Commission, the agency charged with regulating the way political money is raised and spent, says she has largely given up hope of reining in abuses in the 2016 presidential campaign, which could generate a record $10 billion in spending. [..]

Her unusually frank assessment reflects a worsening stalemate among the agency’s six commissioners. They are perpetually locked in 3-to-3 ties along party lines on key votes because of a fundamental disagreement over the mandate of the commission, which was created 40 years ago in response to the political corruption of Watergate.

Some commissioners are barely on speaking terms, cross-aisle negotiations are infrequent, and with no consensus on which rules to enforce, the caseload against violators has plummeted.

The F.E.C.’s paralysis comes at a particularly critical time because of the sea change brought about by the Supreme Court’s decision in 2010 in the Citizens United case, which freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds in support of political candidates. Billionaire donors and “super PACs” are already gaining an outsize role in the 2016 campaign, and the lines have become increasingly stretched and blurred over what presidential candidates and political groups are allowed to do.

Watchdog groups have gone to the F.E.C. with complaints that probable presidential candidates like Jeb Bush and Martin O’Malley are skirting finance laws by raising millions without officially declaring that they are considering running.

The FEC is obviously gridlocked and that is exactly what congress intended. Democratic commission member Ellen Weintraub spoke with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow about the partisna gridlock and why she thinks the problem is not hopeless. In the first part of the video, Ms. Maddow discusses the political candidates and their run for the money and how the money is being raised and spent. The substantial discussion of the Super PACs and the FEC starts around 11:00.

Apr 20 2015

The Case for Overturning Citizens United

One of the major things that the exposure of the Sony e-mails by Wikileaks revealed was the shift in campaign donations  to influence elections

Former Dem Senator Chris Dodd Advised Execs to Give to GOP: “Fundraising Does Have An Impact”

By Lee Fang, The Intercept

Chris Dodd’s first career was as the liberal U.S. Senator from Connecticut, a self-professed champion for working families and a Democratic presidential contender in 2008. But hacked emails from Sony offer new insight into how he operates in his second career, as the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, a lobby group for the movie industry.

On January 28, 2014, Dodd emailed executives from major motion picture studios to share two news articles. One revealed that Google had shifted its campaign donation strategy, giving more to Republican lawmakers, and another projected that the GOP would likely perform well in the midterm elections that year.

or to raise money by currying favor with corporations and their executives:

Hacked Sony emails reveal Cuomo fund-raising details

By Conor Skelding, Laura Nahmias and Bill Mahoney, Capital New York

Emails between Sony executives and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s campaign staff leaked as part of the Sony Pictures hack and published in full by WikiLeaks Thursday appear to show Sony executives believed donating to Cuomo was a good idea because he is a “strong protector” of New York’s film tax credit. [..]

The emails also appear to show Cuomo’s campaign pressing Sony to deliver $50,000 worth of donations before a July 15, 2014 campaign filing deadline as he ramped up his re-election campaign last summer.

The first email dates from Jan. 7, 2014, from Keith Weaver, ‎executive vice president of Worldwide Government Affairs at Sony, to Sony C.E.O. Michael Lynton, concerning a fund-raiser with $25,000 per person ticket prices for Cuomo held on January 23, 2014 at the home of Jim Gianopulos, chairman and C.E.O. of Fox Filmed Entertainment. That fund-raiser yielded $300,000 for Cuomo’s re-election campaign.

Citizens must be made aware of the massive influx of money from billionaires via super PACS to back candidates, and influence congressional and state legislative agendas in order to keep the Republic from further sliding into an oligarchy.

Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) told Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman that if nothing is done to get money out of politics “we can kiss this country goodbye.”

I said on MSNBC that night five years ago that if we do nothing, you can kiss this country goodbye. Well, pucker up, because right now the millionaires and the billionaires and the multinational corporations are calling the shots with whatever they want in TPP, whatever they want in fast track-more generally, whatever they want. They get the bailouts. They get the tax breaks. They get the so-called deregulation. They get what they want here because they get what they pay for.

Bob Menendez Corruption Case Reads Like An Indictment Of Citizens United Ruling, Too

By Paul Blumenthal, Huffington Post

A prime example of the corruption is the indictment of Sen. Robert Menendezl (D-NJ).The indictment of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) on public corruption charges is the first bribery case involving the use of corporate political spending to support a candidate since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision allowed corporations to do just that.

Justice Anthony Kennedy declared in the 5-4 majority opinion that corporations should be free to spend unlimited sums on independent political activities since “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Those making independent expenditures “may have influence over or access to elected officials,” but that “does not mean those officials are corrupt,” Kennedy wrote.

The Department of Justice begs to differ. Menendez’s indictment on Wednesday specifically ties two $300,000 contributions from Dr. Salomon Melgen’s Vitreo-Retinal Consultants to an officially independent super PAC — donations that were earmarked for Menendez’s 2012 re-election effort — to actions that the senator took on behalf of Melgen’s business interests.

This is exactly the kind of behavior that Kennedy could not fathom happening.

Justice Kennedy needed to get oout more.

There are now calls for a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United. Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT-I) has reintroduced an amendment that would do just that

Sen. Sanders had to propose a new amendment because legislation that isn’t acted on by the previous Congress expires at the end of the session. Since Congress didn’t act on the amendment the last time Sanders filed it, he is bringing it back in the new Congress.

The key section of the amendment is Section 2. The second section would halt the Supreme Court’s money is free speech interpretation of the Constitution. The first section of the amendment deals directly with the idea that corporations are people, but the second section overturns the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo Supreme Court decision that money is speech. The second section of the amendment would throw out the entire basis for the Supreme Court’s rulings in campaign finance cases.

However, the chances of getting the 2/3rds majority in both houses of congress and 38 states are somewhere around zero to none. Passage was not Sen. Sanders’ point:

The point is to bring attention to the issue of what Citizens United continues to do to our electoral process. The most likely path to overturning Citizens United remains a Democratic presidential victory in the 2016 election. Two of the conservatives Justices who made up the majority in the Citizens United decision are 78 years old. The odds of one or both justices serving the last two years of President Obama’s term and another eight years under another potential Democratic president are slim. (It also wouldn’t be surprising to see the 81 year old Ruth Bader Ginsburg retire before President Obama leaves office.) The Supreme Court is due for a generational change, and if Democrats control the White House, that change could result in a 5-4 liberal leaning court.

In the meantime, Sen. Sanders is leading the fight to inform the American people about the toxic nature of unlimited money in their electoral process. The movement to overturn Citizens United needs and educated population, because outside of the Supreme Court, public pressure is the best way to get the billionaire dollars out of our elections is to have tens of millions of voices demand it.

The more citizens are made aware of the dark influence of billionaires emboldened by the Supreme Court, the better able to confront the candidates and elected officials on their policies and votes. This can be stopped by a truly informed electorate and taking back local and state governments.

Mar 20 2015

The Corporate Love Affair with Citizens United

A report (pdf) done at Princeton University that was released last year argued that democracy in America has been transformed into an oligarchy with wealthy elites wielding the power. Researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page wrote that this has been a gradual, long term trend predating decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC making it harder for the public to perceive and even harder to reverse. Those rulings, however, may have sealed the deal.

How Corporations Run Congress: A Talk With Ryan Grim

Richard (RJ) Eskow, Huffington Post

Interview excerpt with Ryan Grim on The Zero Hour

Merriam-Webster’s first definition of “corruption” is “impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle.” Another is “a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct.” Has democracy been corrupted by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision? Has its integrity and virtue been compromised? Does today’s electoral process reflect what the Founders envisioned?

Writing the majority opinion in Citizens United, Justice Anthony Kennedy assured us that this decision would not have a corrupting influence on democracy. “(T)his Court now concludes,” wrote Kennedy, “that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

Avoiding the appearance of corruption, as well as corrupting itself, was essential to the Court’s ruling, since the mere appearance of corruption discourages voters and hampers democracy. For the Court’s reasoning to stand, elected officials must forever remain like Caesar’s wife: above suspicion. Justice Kennedy’s opinion assured us that, even with “independent” spending limits raised, they would.

The Inside Story Of How Citizens United Has Changed Washington Lawmaking

Paul Blumenthal and Ryan Grim, Huffington Post

When Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the deciding vote to gut a century of campaign finance law, he assured the public that the unlimited corporate spending he was ushering in would “not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Because those authorized to give and spend unlimited amounts were legally required to remain independent of the politicians themselves, Kennedy reasoned, there was no cause for concern.

Just five years later, in a development that may be surprising only to Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision is reshaping how, how much and to whom money flows in Washington.

How the flood of money released by Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (pdf) has changed elections has been the subject of much discussion, but the decision’s role in allowing that same money to soak the legislative process has largely gone unreported. According to an extensive review of public documents held by the FEC, the U.S. Senate and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as interviews with lobbyists and policymakers, Kennedy’s allegedly independent spending has become increasingly intertwined with lobbying and legislation — the precise appearance of corruption campaign finance laws were meant to curb.

Politically active nonprofits, known as “dark money” groups for their ability to shield the identity of donors, and super PACs, which take unlimited sums of money but must disclose donors, have become dominated by lobbyists and other political operatives with close ties to leaders in Congress. Meanwhile, businesses with issues before Congress are pumping increasingly more money into the lobbyist-connected organizations.

The Supreme Court initially established a narrow definition of corruption in the 1970s, but Citizens United used it to blow open the gates that had been holding back corporate money. The 2010 decision came as the U.S. legislative system had evolved into a near parliamentary system of party-line voting and expansive party networks extending seamlessly from the Capitol to party headquarters to lobbying firms to outside political groups. Most top congressional legislators now have “leadership teams” — informal but internally recognized groups of aides-turned-lobbyists who help raise funds.

Nov 18 2014

Fighting Big Money in Politics

This past election saw the lowest voter turn out in 70 years, This happened for a number of reasons, one of which was uninspiring candidates who offered little to no policy agenda, voter fatigue (boredom?) and new voter ID laws that suppressed voters. Another factor that may have effected turn out was the $4 billion that was spent on this campaign flooding the airways with uninspired advertising that turned people off and the lack of an unbiased, independent media. Many candidates couldn’t get their message to the voters because they didn’t have the money for campaign ads and the corporate owned media, with its own agenda, favored certain candidates.

This week Bill Moyers spoke with two academics who got involved this election attempting to spark public interest without the big money. They related their experiences and the lessons they learned about the state of the American democracy.

Lawrence Lessig, who teaches law at Harvard, is a well-known Internet activist and campaign finance reform advocate. This election cycle, he started a crowd-funded SuperPAC aimed at reducing the influence of money in politics. Lessig tells Bill: “Our democracy is flat lined. Because when you can show clearly there’s no relationship between what the average voter cares about, only if it happens to coincide with what the economic elite care about, you’ve shown that we don’t have a democracy anymore.”

Zephyr Teachout, a professor of constitutional and property law at Fordham Law School, ran against New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary. She received more than a third of the vote and carried 30 of the state’s 62 counties, surprising everyone – including Cuomo. “When you talk about the corruption in Congress, people are talking about the same thing that Madison was talking about. This sense that our public servants are just serving themselves,” Teachout tells Bill.

Jul 25 2014

Andrew Cuomo’s Saturday Night Massacre

Last year, after the New York State legislature failed to pass campaign finance and a year riddled with corruption scandals, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo empaneled an “independent” commission to pursue misconduct among public officials and make recommendations to changes to the state’s election and campaign fund-raising laws. The 25 member Moreland Commission was created last July to restore public trust in government. But nine months later, Gov. Cuomo shut it down. The governor claimed that with “the passage of new tougher laws on bribery and  corruption, and improved enforcement of election law”, the commission was no longer needed.

That didn’t satisfy government watch dogs or some lawmakers. Nor did it satisfy Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose investigations had led to the commissions formation. According to the New York Times, Mr. Bharara contacted two of the commission’s three chairs, William J. Fitzpatrick and Milton L. Williams Jr. His suspicion was that Gov. Cuomo had shut down the commission for political expediency and because the commission’s investigation was getting to close to his office. It now appears that Mr. Bharara has really good instincts.

This week the New York Times broke with this extensive report:

Cuomo’s Office Hobbled Ethics Inquiries by Moreland Commission

With Albany rocked by a seemingly endless barrage of scandals and arrests, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set up a high-powered commission last summer to root out corruption in state politics. It was barely two months old when its investigators, hunting for violations of campaign-finance laws, issued a subpoena to a media-buying firm that had placed millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements for the New York State Democratic Party.

The investigators did not realize that the firm, Buying Time, also counted Mr. Cuomo among its clients, having bought the airtime for his campaign when he ran for governor in 2010.

Word that the subpoena had been served quickly reached Mr. Cuomo’s most senior aide, Lawrence S. Schwartz. He called one of the commission’s three co-chairs, William J. Fitzpatrick, the district attorney in Syracuse.

“This is wrong,” Mr. Schwartz said, according to Mr. Fitzpatrick, whose account was corroborated by three other people told about the call at the time. He said the firm worked for the governor, and issued a simple directive:

“Pull it back.”

The subpoena was swiftly withdrawn. The panel’s chief investigator explained why in an email to the two other co-chairs later that afternoon.

“They apparently produced ads for the governor,” she wrote.

The pulled-back subpoena was the most flagrant example of how the commission, established with great ceremony by Mr. Cuomo in July 2013, was hobbled almost from the outset by demands from the governor’s office.

Despite Gov, Cuomo’s denial and protestations that it was his commission to dismiss, Mr Bharara is taking over where the commission’s investigations. The lengthy article is a must read.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow roasted Gov. Cuomo in an extended segment that included an interview with Thomas Kaplan one of the three authors who wrote the NYT’s article.

The governor’s travails also caught the attention of The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart

Gov. Cuomo’s Democratic Primary opponent Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout has called for the governor to resign should these allegations prove true.

Also complicating his headaches, Gov. Cuomo had some of the commission members sworn in as deputy state attorneys general by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that calls into question his assertions that he had a right to interfere with the commission. Quite similar to late President Richard M. Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre when he ordered the independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox fired after Mr. Cox issued subpoenas asking for copies of taped conversations recorded in the Oval Office and authorized by Nixon as evidence.

Gov. Cuomo does have a lot of questions to answer and so far his answers have fallen very short.

Jul 11 2014

Chemical Plants Contents Kept Secret By Campaign Money

On April 17, 2013, an ammonium nitrate chemical storage facility in West, Texas exploded killing 15, injuring 160 and destroyed or damaged over 160 buildings. The cause of the original fire is still unknown. The plant that exploded was owned by a privately held family corporation. The plant only carried $1 million in liability insurance which under Texas law, was $1 million more than it needed. One year later, no legislation has even been introduced to increase regulations or inspections.

A year after the explosion, the US Chemical Safety Board issued its findings:

CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “The fire and explosion at West Fertilizer was preventable. It should never have occurred. It resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it.”

The CSB’s investigation found that at the state level, there is no fire code and in fact counties under a certain population are prohibited from having them.  “Local authorities and specifically-local fire departments-need fire codes so they can hold industrial operators accountable for safe storage and handling of chemicals,” said Dr. Moure-Eraso.

CSB Supervisory Investigator Johnnie Banks said “The CSB found at all levels of government a failure to adopt codes to keep populated areas away from hazardous facilities, not just in West, Texas. We found 1,351 facilities across the country that store ammonium nitrate.  Farm communities are just starting to collect data on how close homes or schools are to AN storage, but there can be little doubt that West is not alone and that other communities should act to determine what hazards might exist in proximity.”

The CSB’s preliminary findings follow a yearlong investigation which has focused on learning how to prevent a similar accident from occurring in another community. “It is imperative that people learn from the tragedy at West,” Dr. Moure-Eraso said.

One of the major factors that has kept any new regulations from being passed has been the large amounts of cash from families like the Koch brothers that has flowed into the pockets of the Republican politicians. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow talked with Wayne Slater, senior political writer for the Dallas Morning News, about Texas Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott allowing chemical plants to keep their contents secret, a move that benefits Koch Industries, and a campaign donor.

Hazardous chemical lists no longer public record in Texas

DALLAS — For the past 30 years, federal law has required chemical makers and handlers to disclose what’s stored on premises. It’s called the Community Right To Know Act, and it has been at the core of the safety conversation since last year’s deadly fertilizer explosion in West, Texas.

But News 8 has learned that in the past few weeks, state health officials have stopped making those hazardous chemical records public. [..]

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “states and communities […] can use the Tier II information to improve chemical safety and protect public health and the environment.” In Texas, Tier II reports are kept on file at the Department of State Health Services and according to its web site, those reports are public information. All citizens “may ask for” them by simply filling out a request.

Yet, just days ago, following the ammonium nitrate building fire in Athens, when News 8 asked the Department of State Health Services for an updated Tier II report on the facility, department spokesperson Carrie Williams told us, “We’re not able to release the kind of information you’re requesting.”

Williams cited an Attorney General’s ruling from May 22, 2014, which denied public access to “Tier Two information […] because it reveals the location, quantity and identity of hazardous chemicals […] likely to assist in the construction of an explosive weapon.”

Emergency officials and responders are now the only ones in Texas able to access Tier II reports.

Abbott: Ask Chemical Plants What’s Inside

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, under fire for blocking public access to state records documenting the location of dangerous chemicals, said Texans still have a right to find out where the substances are stored – as long as they know which companies to ask.

“You know where they are if you drive around,” Abbott told reporters Tuesday. “You can ask every facility whether or not they have chemicals or not. You can ask them if they do, and they can tell you, well, we do have chemicals or we don’t have chemicals, and if they do, they tell which ones they have.”

In a recently released decision by his office, Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, said government entities can withhold the state records – in so-called Tier II reports – of dangerous chemical locations. The reports contain an inventory of hazardous chemicals.

But Abbott said homeowners who think they might live near stores of dangerous chemicals could simply ask the companies near their homes what substances are kept on site.

Collected under the federal Community Right to Know Act, the information was made available upon request by the state for decades to homeowners, the media or anyone else who wanted to know where dangerous chemicals were stored. But, as WFAA-TV recently reported, the Texas Department of State Health Services will no longer release the information because of the attorney general’s ruling.

Apr 04 2014

Obama Signs Law To Get Money Out Of Politics!!!

Mirable Dictu! President Barack Obama has joined hands with Republican Eric Cantor to get money out of politics!

Even cooler, they’ve agreed to give the money to support research for illnesses that hurt children.

What could possibly be wrong with that?

Um… remember that little checkbox on your tax form that lets you give $3 to support presidential candidates?  The one that enabled public funding of presidential campaigns?

Obama just dismantled that with a stroke of his pen.

Obama signs ban on public funding of presidential campaigns into law

A ban on public funding of presidential conventions was quietly signed into law by Barack Obama on Thursday in a move that could further increase the dependency of US political parties on wealthy donors.

A day after the supreme court removed aggregate limits on how much wealthy individuals can spend supporting candidates, the White House agreed to enact legislation dismantling what was left of an alternative public financing model set up after the Watergate scandal.

US taxpayers could previously elect to earmark $3 (pdf) each year to help support presidential candidates, primaries and conventions in a bid to reduce their reliance on donors, but the amount spent has dwindled in recent years as parties increasingly ignore the subsidies on offer because they require agreeing to some limits on overall spending.

Now the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has proposed scrapping the last actively used part of the subsidy system, which provided an $18m grant to support each party convention in 2012, and use the money to fund national research into childhood diseases instead.

Despite opposition from some Democrats, including House speaker Nancy Pelosi, who regard it a political stunt, the bill called the The Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act was signed into law in a ceremony at the White House on Thursday afternoon.

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