Tag Archive: 2016 Elelctions

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.