There’s one big, but overlooked, development from the election last night: In Montana, a referendum to state that corporations don’t have constitutional rights has unofficially passed by a 75 percent to 25 percent margin. Initiative number 166 stated that “corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights because they are not human beings,” and thus is a blow to the Citizen’s United ruling that helped make this presidential election the most expensive one ever.
Montana quietly passed a measure that says corporations aren’t humans | Derek Mead | Mother Board
An Arizona-based nonprofit disclosed Monday that it laundered $11 million from pro-Republican groups and sent it to a campaign committee in California that’s fighting a proposed tax increase designed to support public education.
Phoenix-based Americans for Responsible Leadership (ARL) didn’t give up their donor list without a fight, however: after an official complaint by advocacy group Common Cause triggered an investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), ARL appealed their case all the way up to the California Supreme Court. They lost that case this weekend, then opted to turn over the requested information rather than fight it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court…
However, instead of revealing the true source of the money, ARL disclosed Monday that it acted as an intermediary for the $11 million, which came by way of two other pro-Republican groups: The Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Job Security.
It’s a revolting spectacle: the two presidential candidates engaged in a frantic and demeaning scramble for money. By 6 November, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will each have raised more than $1bn. Other groups have already spent a further billion. Every election costs more than the one before; every election, as a result, drags the United States deeper into cronyism and corruption. Whichever candidate takes the most votes, it’s the money that wins.
Is it conceivable, for instance, that Romney, whose top five donors are all Wall Street banks, would put the financial sector back in its cage? Or that Obama, who has received $700,000 from both Microsoft and Google, would challenge their monopolistic powers? Or, in the Senate, that the leading climate change denier James Inhofe, whose biggest donors are fossil fuel companies, could change his views, even when confronted by an overwhelming weight of evidence? The US feeding frenzy shows how the safeguards and structures of a nominal democracy can remain in place while the system they define mutates into plutocracy.
Despite perpetual attempts to reform it, US campaign finance is now more corrupt and corrupting than it has been for decades. It is hard to see how it can be redeemed. If the corporate cronies and billionaires’ bootlickers who currently hold office were to vote to change the system, they’d commit political suicide. What else, apart from the money they spend, would recommend them to the American people?
One thing you can say about the financial industry. It has no sense of loyalty.
Back in 2008, most of the biggest contributors to presidential candidate Barack Obama were financial companies. According to the campaign fund tracking website Open Secrets, after the $1.65 million donated by a political action committee (PAC) for the University of California, the next biggest contributor was a PAC for the giant bank, Goldman Sachs, whose employees ponied up a reported $1 million. Right up there among the top contributors to the Obama campaign that year were two other of the nation’s top banks too: JP Morgan Chase, whose employee PAC gave $809,000, and Citigroup, which gave $737,000. Two more big banks, UBS and Morgan Stanley, as well as General Electric, which less than a year later bought a bank to enable itself to benefit from the government’s largesse in doling out billions of “rescue” dollars under the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), were among Obama’s top 20 campaign donors, handing over $533,000, $512,000 and 530,000 respectively to support his election.
Obama, after winning the presidency, repaid all that campaign largesse, appointing bank industry lackeys and executives to top positions. He made Timothy Geithner, who as head of the New York Federal Reserve branch during the Bush administration, had ignored the scandalous derivatives scandals that brought on the financial crash, his Treasury Secretary, and Lawrence Summers, who as Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton, had pushed for the deregulation of derivatives, and for allowing banks to merge with investment banks, and who during the Bush years earned millions as a consultant to the hedge fund industry and from speaking fees provided by Wall Street banks, got the post of head of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors. Meanwhile, GE’s chairman and CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, who famously exported thousands of GE jobs abroad, was given the post of White House Jobs “Czar.”
Given the ease with which the Obama administration allowed the financial industry to subvert the Congressional legislation designed to reform the banking industry in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008-9, and the White House decision not to prosecute a single bank executive for the wholesale destruction of the US and global economy, one might think that Wall Street would have rewarded Obama with more money for his re-election campaign. Instead the industry, seeing even more advantage in having a Republican in the White House, and particularly one of its own — venture capitalist and multi-millionaire Mitt Romney, has switched its support over to his opponent.
Open Secrets reports that this year there is only one Wall Street bank listed among Obama’s top 20 largest donors: Wells Fargo, which only gave the president’s re-election campaign a scant $202,000, less than half what the smallest of his top 20 donors gave four years ago. Over all, big banks gave Obama over $4 million in 2008, and only $200,000, or just five percent as much, in 2012.
Romney, meanwhile, this year is awash in Wall Street money, and his donations are even bigger than the donations Obama received from the industry back in 2008. Romney’s number one donor is Goldman Sachs, the turncoat institution that gave Obama $1 million four years ago. Its PAC this year as of August had already given Romney almost $900,000. More importantly, the top eight biggest donors to Romney’s campaign were Wall Street financial institutions. [++]
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Montana’s campaign donation limits, telling the federal judge who overturned it to outline his full reasoning so the panel can review the case.
The court intervened late Tuesday less than a week after the judge’s decision opened the door to unlimited money in state elections – during the height of election season.
Big news out of the 9th Circuit this morning, regarding the state of Montana’s continued efforts to regulate campaign finance post-Citizens United. We don’t expect this to be the end of the story though, and it seems increasingly likely that this will end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court before this is all over.
One of the great scandals in this rancid avalanche is something Americans won’t be told by the broadcasters: the TV networks and local stations are making immense profits from these political ads. Hundreds of millions of dollars will flow into the coffers of media companies this year from these sources. The very notion that TV “news” – a word that almost always belongs in sarcastic quotes – would bite the hand that feeds it is, well, absurd. Television is complicit in this thoroughly corrupt system. We need two kinds of disclosure. One is to unmask the anonymous cowards who pay for the rancid advertising. Since that won’t happen as long as Republicans can block legislation, we can at least force some disclosure on the media companies. Naturally, the media industry has been fighting even tame federal regulations that would require the biggest broadcasters to disclose online what they’re being paid, and by which organizations, for political advertising. The hypocrisy of media conglomerates, which (occasionally) insist on transparency in government but resist it themselves, is unsurprising.
A strategy for filtering America’s toxic sludge of political advertising | Dan Gillmor (via globalsociology)
It’s not like we’re going to be opening the cash spigots and influencing races across the country.
COO of the American Bankers Association, which is set to vote tomorrow on a plan to create a 501(c)(4) nonprofit – intended to, per the trade groups’ officials, funnel money into “six to 12 fiercely contested” U.S. Senate races. (via officialssay)
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the U.S. government subsidies here. I’m looking at a Village Voice blog, talks about—they start off with taxpayers are footing the Democratic and Republican conventions to the tune of like, starting off, $136 million—$50 million each for security—and we’ll be broadcasting some of the protests and the security they met here in Tampa.
KEENAN STEINER [of the Sunlight Foundation]: Yep.
AMY GOODMAN: Eighteen million each for the parties for the conventions?
KEENAN STEINER: Yep, exactly, $18 million each in taxpayer money to put the speeches on and all of that, both conventions.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is the party here in Tampa that decries government spending.
KEENAN STEINER: This is the party here that decries government spending, exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, yesterday at the convention, didn’t they start—although they canceled the convention last night, they gaveled in and gaveled out in the afternoon, and at that time, they started a debt clock.
KEENAN STEINER: That’s right. That’s right. And they’re taking the taxpayer money. They’ve said that they’d prefer to not take taxpayer—to not have taxpayer funds pay for conventions. They get so much—so many corporate funds anyway, $55 million or more in corporate money to pay for this convention, that the Republicans—and the Democrats, frankly—they don’t need the taxpayer money really anymore. This is all soft money. This is a loophole in campaign finance laws. The committees can set up—the parties can set up these unofficial host committees that can raise an unlimited amount of money, and we don’t know who the donors are, because they’re not disclosed until October 15th. We can guess. We see Google has made a massive—not a massive, but a beautiful, impressive innovation center. And the Republican—at the media center, they are the official live-stream provider. They’re doing the same at the Democratic convention. These are all goods and services that they spend a lot of money on, and they have spent $10 million so far lobbying Washington this year to become official sponsors here. So we can ween details, but we don’t know who’s influencing party officials right now for sure.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t we know this? Who would pass the laws to let us know? The very legislators being feted?
KEENAN STEINER: That’s right, yes. If we wanted more real-time disclosure—basically, the fox is guarding the hen house here. If we wanted disclosure within a reasonable amount of time, you would—you could simply pass a law and say that. And it could be all on the internet, as well, which is something the Sunlight Foundation promotes, to get these donations disclosed online. Why not? I mean, it’s 2012.
It is little wonder that American citizens have essentially thrown up their hands in disgust, with many just walking away from the whole thing. Both candidates are at this point owned by corporate America. There may be shades of difference based upon which industries are supporting which candidates, but that is small consolation to the average person, whose interests are for the most part diametrically opposed by those of the rich and of the companies that are buying the candidates.
By the time the 2008 election was held, Obama’s campaign had collected and spent a staggering $745 million. McCain, who had been a leader in the effort to limit corporate campaign spending, stuck with government funding and thus spent “only” $126 million on his losing general election campaign — the amount that Obama would have also been limited to had he not “opted out” of his earlier promise to use only government funds to run for the nation’s top office.
About 80% of Obama’s campaign cash came from large donors — either individuals or, in most cases, corporations. His second biggest donor, giving a total of $1,013,091, was Goldman Sachs, a company that later provided many of the leading economic and financial advisors to the Obama administration, and that, by late 2008, was already known to have been a key player in causing the 2008 financial crisis, and that also received enormous bailout funding from the government, both during the campaign, when Obama was running for office and President George W. Bush was still president, and then later, when Obama was president. The second biggest corporate contributor was software giant Microsoft, $852,167, a company which had serious anti-trust issues being pursued by the federal government. Third was Google, which gave $814,540, which had its own anti-trust and other issues, and fourth was JP Morgan & Chase, another mega-bank that both played a key role in causing the financial crisis, and which benefitted mightily from the federal bailout. Both Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan have subsequently played key roles in lobbying to water down any kind of serious corrective regulation of the financial industry, to block efforts to break up the too-big-to-fail banks, and to have senior banking executives criminally or even civilly prosecuted for their roles in precipitating and profiting from the global economic crisis.
As I’ve explained on these pages again and again, the Framers of our Constitution gave us a “Republic.” By “a Republic,” they meant a “representative democracy.” And by “a representative democracy,” they meant a government that in the legislative branch at least was to be, as Federalist 52 describes it, “dependent upon the People alone.”
In the 225 years since, Congress has evolved a different dependence — a dependence not “upon the People alone” but increasingly, a dependence upon “the funders” of campaigns as well.
But here’s the obvious problem: “the Funders” are not “the People.” As I’ve written again and again, .26 percent of America gives more than $200 to any congressional candidate; .05 percent of America gives the maximum amount to any congressional campaign; .01 percent gives more than $10,000 in an election cycle; through February, .000063 percent of America — 196 citizens — gave close to 80 percent of Super PAC contributions. And according to U.S. PIRG and Demos, 1,000 citizens of the United States (or so we assume) have given more than 94 percent of Super PAC contributions so far.
No one could deny that politicians are “dependent” upon their funders. Nor could anyone believe these funders are a fair representation of “the People.” And thus, no one should doubt that we have allowed the system our Framers intended to be — in a word — corrupted. Ours is not a government with a legislature “dependent upon the People alone.” It is a government with a legislature dependent upon “the People” and upon a different and conflicting group — “the Funders.”
Although ‘the heart of man is made to reconcile the most glaring contradictions’ (Hume again), now let us use our heads and deal appropriately, as they say in Washington, with a corporate ruling class that has hijacked the nation, and in so doing eliminate at least one glaring contradiction: that ours is a government of, by, and for the many when it is so notoriously the exclusive preserve of the few.
Gore Vidal (talking about the problem of money in politics in 2000, before Citizens United moved the goal posts even farther):
Some nuts and bolts. Of the billions now spent each election cycle, most is donated in checks exceeding $1,000. But less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the general population make individual contributions at this rate. And among group contributors, better than 90 percent comes from corporations, which duly record their political investment as a tax-deductible “cost of doing business.” These happy few are prepared to pay a high and rising price for the privilege of controlling our government. In the 1998 election cycle, the average winning House candidate cost the owners about $900,000, the average winning Senate candidate a bit over $6 million. Multiply both figures by two if you want the cost of dislodging an incumbent from office—in a system where, last time around, over 97 percent were reelected. To finance a race in big media markets like New York or California, it’s a bit more expensive: as of election day 1998, something like $36 million and $21 million respectively.
All of this, of course, is more blowback from the horrible Supreme Court Citizens United decision, which unleashed this corporate cash monster. Just this week, Justice Richard Posner of U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals – a Republican and until recently, no judicial liberal — said that Citizens United had created a political system that is “pervasively corrupt” in which “wealthy people essentially bribe legislators.”
Nonetheless, at the time of the ruling two and a half years ago, eight of the nine justices also made it clear that key to the decision was the importance of transparency. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The First Amendment protects political speech and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way.”
One of the DISCLOSE Act’s biggest opponents isn’t buying that argument. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who used to say, “We need to have real disclosure,” has changed his tune. Now that conservatives and the GOP are able to haul in the big bucks, he claims that divulging the identity of corporate donors would be the equivalent of creating an “enemies list,” like the one Richard Nixon kept to punish his foes and settle political scores. Here’s what McConnell said in a speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute last month:
“This is nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third party allies… That’s why it’s a mistake to view the attacks we’ve seen on ‘millionaires and billionaires’ as outside our concern. Because it always starts somewhere; and the moment we stop caring about who’s being targeted is the moment we’re all at risk.”
McConnell’s not the only one — every Republican voted to kill the DISCLOSE Act, including fourteen who just a couple of years ago supported it. Groups like Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty smell an un-American conspiracy lurking behind the demands for disclosure. So do the National Rifle Association and FreedomWorks — the Tea Party organizers originally funded by David Koch — each of which warned senators that their votes on the DISCLOSE Act will be included in the scorecards they keep, recording each ballot they don’t approve like pins in a voodoo doll.
Their outrage is ridiculous and hypocritical. These non-profits are just another magic trick, an illusion intended to obscure the fact that these are monumental slush funds, plain and simple.
… The good news is that people are fighting back. On July 5th, California joined state legislatures in Hawaii, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United. The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings July 24th and the state of Montana, which recently had its law barring corporate spending in elections struck down by the Supreme Court, has put a voter initiative on its November ballot, also calling for a constitutional amendment. [++]
The U.S. Senate is set to vote on a campaign finance disclosure bill co-authored by Sen. Al Franken next week, though Republicans have objected to such efforts in the past, complicating its chances of passage.
A group of liberal lawmakers, lead by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Chuck Schumer of New York, have introduced a slightly watered down version of their Disclose Act, and Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a vote on the bill early next week.
The bill would require corporations, labor unions, super PACs and 501(c) organizations to file a report with the Federal Election Commission whenever they spend more than $10,000 on a “campaign-related disbursement,” such as advertising or political donations. An earlier version of the bill required organizations to list their top funders in advertising and approve the message similar to the way candidates do, but that component was stripped from this bill.