08.13.14

Not What The Founders Intended

Posted in Around The Nation, Elections, Money In Politics at 12:19 pm by wcnews

There’s just no other way to say it.  This is not what our founders intended.  Via The Hill, Who rules America?

A shattering new study by two political science professors has found that ordinary Americans have virtually no impact whatsoever on the making of national policy in our country. The analysts found that rich individuals and business-controlled interest groups largely shape policy outcomes in the United States.

This study should be a loud wake-up call to the vast majority of Americans who are bypassed by their government. To reclaim the promise of American democracy, ordinary citizens must act positively to change the relationship between the people and our government

The new study, with the jaw-clenching title of “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” is forthcoming in the fall 2014 edition of Perspectives on Politics. Its authors, Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, examined survey data on 1,779 national policy issues for which they could gauge the preferences of average citizens, economic elites, mass-based interest groups and business-dominated interest groups. They used statistical methods to determine the influence of each of these four groups on policy outcomes, including both policies that are adopted and rejected.

The analysts found that when controlling for the power of economic elites and organized interest groups, the influence of ordinary Americans registers at a “non-significant, near-zero level.” The analysts further discovered that rich individuals and business-dominated interest groups dominate the policymaking process. The mass-based interest groups had minimal influence compared to the business-based interest groups.

The study also debunks the notion that the policy preferences of business and the rich reflect the views of common citizens. They found to the contrary that such preferences often sharply diverge and when they do, the economic elites and business interests almost always win and the ordinary Americans lose.

The authors also say that given limitations to tapping into the full power elite in America and their policy preferences, “the real world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater” than their findings indicate.

Ultimately, Gilens and Page conclude from their work, “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Rich individuals and business interests have the capacity to hire the lobbyists that shadow legislators in Washington and to fill the campaign coffers of political candidates. Ordinary citizens are themselves partly to blame, however, because they do not choose to vote.

This is not news for those of us not in the economic elite. MayDay PAC is working to fix this.

07.07.14

Transportation Trouble – Every Issue Comes Down To This

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Money In Politics, Transportation, Uncategorized at 10:49 am by wcnews

At EOW we’ve written about transportation issues so many time we’re blue in the face.  This post may be a little different, more philosophical let’s say.  Let’s start with the way the government is talked about, as if it’s some abstract entity we have no control over.  Here’s an example from a recent article from Terri Hall, Lawmakers on collision course with taxpayers on transportation.

When the existing gas tax diversions are closer to $1 billion/year, not $600 million, and the existing vehicles sales tax is $3.3 billion/year, and since TxDOT claims to need $4 billion more per year, there is no need to build another one of these loser toll projects that can’t pay for themselves without taxpayers footing part or all of the bill. It’s never been pro-taxpayer or pro-property rights to hand our public roads to private corporations, so this notion of Nichols and other transportation leaders that $14 billion in private equity is going to ‘help’ Texas pay for our highways is a total disconnect with the people of this state. Private corporations aren’t charities, all the money they put into a deal they want back in profit and interest. What may be a good deal for state government is not a good deal for taxpayers who have to pay at the pump and again to use the road. [Emphasis added]

Think about those statements.  How can something be a good deal for state government without it being a good deal for the taxpayer? Unless we’ve elected a government that no longer cares about the what’s best for the taxpayer, or the people.   Shouldn’t our government and the taxpayer be thought of as the same thing.  Too many of us have lost touch with the concept of the commons.

The commons is an old value that’s resurfacing as a fresh approach to twenty-first-century crises such as escalating economic inequality, looming ecological disruption and worsening social alienation.

In essence, the commons means everything that belongs to all of us, and the many ways we work together to use these assets to build a better society. This encompasses fresh air and clean water, public spaces and public services, the Internet and the airwaves, our legal system, scientific knowledge, biodiversity, language, artistic traditions, fashion styles, cuisines and much more. Taken together, it represents a vast inheritance bequeathed equally to every human—and one that, if used wisely, will provide for future generations.

Tragically, this wealth is being stolen in the name of economic efficiency and global competitiveness. As the disparity between the world’s richest individuals and everyone else grows, a massive takeover of the commons is occurring. Through privatization schemes, land grabs, excessive copyright and patenting claims, no-new-taxes policies, neocolonial globalization and the gutting of government services, we are losing what is rightfully ours. These radical policies inflict economic pain but also diminish the natural world, our sense of community and the ability to participate in decisions affecting our future.

The part about giving away our commons to for-profit corporations is certainly true.  But when we allow our politicians to be funded by corporations we should not be surprised when they act in their best interest and not in the people’s best interest.

It’s clear that Hall sees the government as a separate entity from the the people,  and actually working against the people – an adversarial relationship.   In other words it’s clear that she sees the government as working for someone, or something, other then the people.  And it’s not hard to figure out who or what that is.  The politicians are working to perpetuate a system that got them in office and will keep them there.  Which means doing things for their funders, which are almost always counter to what’s best for the people.  For example, toll roads instead of pay-as-you -go roads.

It’s much easier for a politician to try and sell a so-called not tax toll road, over an increase in the gas tax to pay for new roads.  Just like they’ve been selling the false doctrine of “trickle-down” economics for the last thirty plus years.  While making every day life harder for hard working families.

Toll roads have apparently become so toxic that the GOP’s tea party base doesn’t want them in the platform anymore, Texas GOP changing stance on toll roads.

In the new platform, Republican delegates removed a provision backing “the legitimate construction of toll roads in Texas” and replaced it with language opposing some aspects of toll projects in Texas, particularly the use of public money to subsidize private entities.

[...]

Yet toll roads, often in concert with private partners, remain a crucial part of the state’s transportation strategy. Billions of dollars in new projects are being developed.

At a recent state Senate hearing, transportation officials spoke about the value of public-private partnerships, often as part of toll projects, to expand highway capacity years earlier than otherwise possible. James Bass, TxDOT’s chief financial officer, noted that the state gas tax paid by Texans — and used to finance highways — had not changed since 1991, while construction costs had more than doubled.

This basically shows they’re for “some aspects” of toll roads.  They’re likely for toll roads, just not corporate toll roads, which is a start. But there’s still nothing about how to adequately pay for the massive amounts needed for maintaining and building new roads in across the state.

We no longer see the value of building or creating things for the public good.  If there’s not a PAC involved that’s supported by a wealthy person or a corporation, and the idea will only benefit the public good it has absolutely no chance of getting done.  We’ve must make our election officials beholden to the people again.

Watch this for the solution.

MayDay.us.

Not much will change until we see the government as us, and not some abstract entity we have no control over.

Further Reading:
Ralph Nader has an interesting take, Unstoppable: Twenty-Five Proposed Redirections and Reforms Through Convergent Action.

07.02.14

GOP In Texas Is Corporate-Owned

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Had Enough Yet?, Money In Politics, Uncategorized at 10:03 am by wcnews

Greg Abbott’s response to a question yesterday show exactly what Republican in Texas think the governments responsibility is to the people of Texas….nothing.  Via Wayne Slater in the DMN, Money from Koch interests flows to governor candidate Greg Abbott.

Five months after an ammonium nitrate explosion that killed 15 people in West, Attorney General Greg Abbott received a $25,000 contribution from a first-time donor to his political campaigns — the head of Koch Industries’ fertilizer division.

The donor, Chase Koch, is the son of one of the billionaire brothers atop Koch Industries’ politically influential business empire.

Abbott, who has since been criticized for allowing Texas chemical facilities to keep secret the contents of their plants, received more than $75,000 from Koch interests after the April 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. storage and distribution facility, campaign finance records filed with the state showed.

The West accident focused public attention on the storage of potentially dangerous chemicals across Texas and regulatory gaps in prevention, data-gathering, enforcement and disclosure to prevent explosions in the future. In addition to the 15 deaths, scores of people were injured, and homes and businesses were leveled.

The issue has re-emerged for Abbott in his run for governor. The Republican nominee recently declared that records on what chemicals the facilities stored could remain hidden, citing state laws meant to deter potential terrorist threats.

The campaign of his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, has charged Abbott with protecting campaign donors. On Tuesday, Abbott struggled to explain how Texans might learn of dangerous chemicals in their midst.

“You know where they are if you drive around,” Abbott told reporters at an event in Austin. “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.” [Emphasis added]

After the West disaster, The Dallas Morning News identified 74 facilities in Texas as having at least 10,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate or ammonium-related material, including a Koch subsidiary, the Georgia-Pacific Gypsum plant in Sweetwater. The subsidiary now makes a nitrogen fertilizer, not the same product as the one that exploded in West.

Industrialists Charles and David Koch have created sprawling political and fund-raising networks that bankroll Republican candidates and business-friendly causes. Their groups are poised to spend millions of dollars to help Republicans win the Senate this fall, and the brothers, who are largely quiet about their political activities, have emerged as the Democrats’ biggest-spending political bogeymen. Opponents warn the Kochs are trying to undo health and safety regulations to benefit their conservative agenda.

What Abbott is saying is that in addition to everything else hard working Texans are already doing – working, taking care of their family, going to school, paying the bills – now they have to do another job, drive around, and get the chemical corporations to disclose information the government already has.  Here’s what Wendy Davis’ campaign had to say about this.

A Davis aide rebuked Abbott for the remarks.

“The only thing more outrageous than Greg Abbott keeping the location of chemical facilities secret is telling Texas parents they literally need to go door to door in order to find out if their child’s school is in the blast radius of dangerous explosives,” said spokesman Zac Petkanas. “Parents have a right to know whether their kids are playing hopscotch next door to the type of facility that exploded in West.”

As the US Supreme Court decisions reinforced this week, we now have a government that’s owned and run for corporations.  And a politician like Abbott better do what he’s told if he wants the checks to keep rolling in.

 

05.16.14

An Example of People Power At The FCC

Posted in Around The Nation, Commentary, Money In Politics at 9:19 am by wcnews

It was a good day at the FCC yesterday for the people, Somehow, Activists Have Put Protecting Net Neutrality Back on the Agenda.

When Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler initially proposed rules to allow telecoms to charge Internet companies for access to a “fast lane” to speed content to their users, plenty of people sounded the death rattle for the principle of net neutrality. A few weeks later, despite today’s passage of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on a party-line vote similar to Wheeler’s original plan, the tenor of the debate has shifted. Under massive public pressure, the FCC has shown itself more responsive than Congress, opening up a legitimate debate over the rules. Tech firms have linked arms with the public against the Wheeler proposal. And what activists consider the only path to true net neutralityreclassifying broadband Internet under Title II of the Communications Act as a common carrier service, allowing the FCC to regulate it like phone lineshas moved from an impossible dream to a more viable alternative.

People power did thisthat allegedly outdated work of targeted mass organizing that isn’t supposed to make a difference in our increasingly oligarchical society. Over 3.4 million Internet users took action in some form against the FCC’s proposed ruled in the past three weeks, according to Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron. Dozens of protesters “occupied” the FCC, camping out for a week in tents, joined by hundreds in a mass rally today outside the meeting room.

The grassroots pressure got tech firms off the sidelines. Over 100 of them, including Google, Facebook and Amazon, publicly opposed Chairman Wheeler’s rules, arguing that the rules should not allow “individualized bargaining and discrimination.” Meanwhile, the telecoms could not even round up the same support they had in 2010, when the FCC last proposed open Internet rules. Then, 74 House Democrats joined a letter opposing net neutrality; this time, the telecoms could find only 20 Democrats to back them, while 34 other House Democrats publicly endorsed Title II reclassification.

It’s nice to see that it’s still possible for the people in this country to raise hell and change the debate. Now if we could only get this done regarding our corrupt campaign finance system.  The article ends by stating that it’s time for President Obama to finally take a stand, on the side of the people, in this debate.

Advocates want President Obama, who has for years stated his support for net neutrality, to come off the sidelines and enter the debate. “This is his chairman and his FCC,” said Becky Bond, political director for mobile provider and progressive activist group CREDO. “The ultimate decision may depend on whether President Obama stands up for Internet users or remains silent.”

If nothing else, the FCC showed that it actually managed to listen to the public outcry. “One must think the Founding Fathers are looking down and smiling,” Wheeler said today, referring to the intense political engagement around the issue. Of course, there’s a difference between welcoming activism and actually having it change behavior. “Nothing about this rollout has gone the way the chairman would like to see it,” said Craig Aaron of Free Press. “But it’s going to take more political pressure to change the outcome.”

That last sentence is the most important. Nothing has been won yet. And the only way this will be won is with continued pressure until it is won. Of course the only reason this is a concern is because of whiny corporations. They believe that unless they can gouge consumers they will be unable to figure out a way to make a profit.

The US is way behind most other developed countries in broadband speed, and we pay a much higher price, Here is why your Internet is so pathetic and so expensive.

Comcast is seeking to acquire Time Warner Cable, in a deal that would combine the two largest cable providers in the United States in a single firm with control of about a third of the market. Comcast and Time Warner are nearly monopolists already in the cities where they operate separately, and the fact that the U.S. market for broadband access has failed should be clear from the chart above. (The image is used by permission of the artist. The data is from the OECD.) Americans typically pay more than $2 a month per megabit per second of connectivity, more than people elsewhere in the developed world, despite the piles and piles of money that cable companies are claiming as profit. Some countries have even higher costs, usually because their networks are controlled more exclusively by monopolists (such as Mexico’s Carlos Slim.)

A more competitive broadband industry would likely guarantee Americans to enjoy lower prices and faster speeds. Cable companies use their dominance of local markets to charge exorbitant rates for basic broadband connections, encouraging subscribers to buy more lucrative cable television subscriptions. Less competition, in the long term, will force federal regulators to run the entire industry from Washington, in the same corporatist style in which the Federal Communications Commission and AT&T collaborated to provide telephone access many years ago.

Broadband and wireless should have been treated like electricity was in the last century. Think of the innovation that could happen if broadband and wireless access were not only fast, no matter what, but was extremely inexpensive, or even better free.

Go here to tell the FCC what you think.

 

04.09.14

Inherently Incompatible With Democracy

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Money In Politics at 12:08 pm by wcnews

Apparently there’s nothing illegal about this, Prolific Donors Are Behind Perry’s Marketing Tool.

When Gov. Rick Perry announced last summer that he wouldn’t run for re-election, he said he was committed to spending his last 18 months in office working to create more jobs and opportunity in Texas. It’s a pledge he has taken seriously, traveling to places like California, New York and Israel in the last year to promote the “Texas Miracle” and recruit companies to bring jobs to the state.

Supporting Perry’s travels is TexasOne, a quasi-governmental agen­cy that has become the governor’s chief marketing tool to tout the state’s “wide open for business” model and that funds his regular promotional trips.

[...]

TexasOne is controversial in part because of how it’s funded: Many of the same corporations and donors that have contributed millions of dollars combined to the governor’s campaigns also donate to TexasOne, which helps woo corporations to bring jobs to Texas.

The practice is lawful, and it’s not unusual for governors to have close relationships — both financial and business — with influential industry leaders. TexasOne officials say that these donor-members, who contribute $1,000 to $250,000 annually to the program, are solely interested in the state’s economic development.

“No one joins because they feel like they’ll get access to Perry,” TexasOne Chairman Bruce Bugg said. “That’s not how it works.”

Well of course not, they already have access to Perry. It may not be illegal, but what’s going on here is something that is inherently incompatible with democracy. This is plutocracy or corporatism. It just seems wrong that the governor of Texas is allowed to gallivant around the world to do the bidding for corporations.

Then there’s this.

One of the beneficiaries of the Enterprise Zone Program is a top-tier TexasOne donor, Dallas-based accounting firm Ryan LLC, which contributes $250,000 a year for its TexasOne membership. The firm’s success in Texas is rooted in its work helping major corporations obtain large tax rebates from the state’s incentive programs, including the Enterprise Zone Program. CEO Brint Ryan benefited from the program himself in 2008 after his firm qualified for a $1.25 million tax refund.

(The exact amounts paid to companies through the program are confidential under the state’s tax code.)

Ryan is a prominent Perry donor and helped found Make Us Great Again, a Super PAC that supported the governor’s unsuccessful presidential run in 2012. Ryan personally contributed $250,000 to the PAC. Representatives for Ryan declined to comment on whether his company’s involvement in TexasOne or his contributions to Perry presented a conflict with his state benefits.

ExxonMobil qualified for a combined $8.75 million in tax refunds from the Texas Enterprise Zone Program starting in 2004. That same year, ExxonMobil became a member of TexasOne with a $25,000 contribution. ExxonMobil currently contributes $100,000 annually to the program. Representatives for the company could not be reached for comment.

Such examples of the overlap among donors to TexasOne and Perry and state benefits they’ve received “fit a pattern of pay-to-play politics” in Texas that have been common under Perry’s long tenure as governor, said McDonald of Texans for Public Justice.

But Bugg, the TexasOne chairman, said the program is focused on economic development and does not engage in political activities.

That may be the way Bugg feels and believes, but because of the way Perry has governed that statement is incorrect. Perry has made economic development a political activity and because of these donors incestuous practices it’s obvious who these corporations favor politically.

Should we allow our state government to be used in this way? Is our state government nothing more then a piece of the marketing puzzle for corporations, the chamber, and local economic development corporations? Those are the ultimate questions this article brings forward, (though it likely wasn’t the intent).

It’s obvious from this, and the actions of our state over the last decade, that the priority isn’t education, health care, infrastructure or anything else the people, “demos”, of this state need.  Marketing corporations is a political issue in Texas.  When we have a government that puts corporations ahead of the people it can’t help but be a political issue.

Further Reading:
Money buys results & erodes trust.
Rich people rule!

04.03.14

A Bad Day For Democracy In America

Posted in Around The Nation, Money In Politics at 9:32 am by wcnews

 

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SCOTUS sides with the Plutocrats (as usual), With McCutcheon Ruling, An Activist Court Opts for Full-On Plutocracy.

Any doubts about the determination of an activist United States Supreme Court to rewrite election rules so that the dollar matters more than the vote were removed Wednesday, when McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission was decided in favor of the dollar.

The court that in 2010, with its Citizens United v. FEC decision, cleared the way for corporations to spend as freely as they choose to buy elections has now effectively eliminated the ability of the American people and their elected representatives to establish meaningful limits on direct donations by millionaires and billionaires to campaigns.

The Citizens United ruling, coming after many previous judicial assaults on campaign finance rules and regulations, was a disaster for democracy. But it left in place at least some constraints on the campaign donors. Key among these was a limitation on the ability of a wealthy individual to donate more than a total dollar amount of $123,000 total in each two-year election cycle to political candidates and parties.

With the ruling in the McCutcheon case—where the court was actively encouraged to intervene on behalf of big-money politics by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky—a 5-4 court majority (signing on to various opinions) has ruled that caps on the total amount of money an individual donor can give to political candidates, parties and political action committees are unconstitutional. In so doing, says U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, says the court has further tipped the balance of power toward those who did not need any more influence over the affairs of state.

“It is far too often the case in Washington that powerful corporate interests, the wealthy, and the well-connected get to write the rules,” says Baldwin, “and now the Supreme Court has given them more power to rule the ballot box by creating an uneven playing field where big money matters more than the voice of ordinary citizens.”

And this from Ari Berman, The Supreme Court’s Ideology: More Money, Less Voting.

In the past four years, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has made it far easier to buy an election and far harder to vote in one.

First came the Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which brought us the Super PAC era.

Then came the Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act.

Now we have McCutcheon v. FEC, where the Court, in yet another controversial 5-4 opinion written by Roberts, struck down the limits on how much an individual can contribute to candidates, parties and political action committees. So instead of an individual donor being allowed to give $117,000 to campaigns, parties and PACs in an election cycle (the aggregate limit in 2012), they can now give up to $3.5 million, Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reports.

The Court’s conservative majority believes that the First Amendment gives wealthy donors and powerful corporations the carte blanche right to buy an election but that the Fifteenth Amendment does not give Americans the right to vote free of racial discrimination.

These are not unrelated issues—the same people, like the Koch brothers, who favor unlimited secret money in US elections are the ones funding the effort to make it harder for people to vote. The net effect is an attempt to concentrate the power of the top 1 percent in the political process and to drown out the voices and votes of everyone else.

It’s all part of the plan to make sure certain people don’t vote.

Here’s Sen. Bernie Sanders on Democracy Now talking about the decision.

If you like that be sure and check out, Bernie Sanders: ‘I Am Prepared to Run for President of the United States’ [Updated on March 19].

PDiddie has more on the decision.

And many more links from billmoyers.com:

The big one: McCutcheon.

06.16.13

Our political system must change

Posted in Around The Nation, Had Enough Yet?, Money In Politics at 2:19 pm by wcnews

It’s not the people we elect but the political system they’re are elected into that is our problem. And until that’s fixed the problems of the American people cannot and will not be fixed. That’s the takeaway fromthis must watch video or Lawrence Lessig on Bill Moyers & Company this week.

One of the best parts is when he describes his plan for what he calls a “money bomb“:

BILL MOYERS: You have been putting forward a great big idea that you think might make a significant difference in this and radically change the system. It’s called the money bomb.

LAWRENCE LESSIG: It, yeah, well, right, the money bomb is a mechanism for creating the political power that we need to force this change. The change is not such a huge change relative to what other states, even what New York is thinking about right now, just changing the way you fund elections. But the money bomb is let’s figure out how much it would cost in the next two election cycles to win enough seats in the United States Congress to guarantee we get this change.

You know, I don’t know what that number is, but we’re hiring a group to calculate that number let’s say it’s a half a billion dollars. So then let’s go around to 50 billionaires and say to them, “Okay, we want you to write, we want you to promise in Kickstarter-like way, that if we find 49 other people to write a check for that number over 50, you will write a check for that same amount.”

So whether it’s a $10 million check or a $50 million check, I don’t know what the number is going be, but commit to us that you do that. So that by the end of this we’ve got a super PAC with the power to end all super PACs.

It would be for the purpose of electing representatives and a president committed to, we’d identify the package of reform they’ve got to promise. So you go into a district and you say, “Okay fine if this congressperson is not committed to that, we’re going to take that congressperson off, take that congressperson–”

BILL MOYERS: You’re going to punish him for not supporting reform?

LAWRENCE LESSIG: Right. Now, of course, you had Jonathan Soros on your show and Jonathan Soros gave us the pilot that demonstrated how powerful this idea could be. Soros ran a little super PAC called Friends of Democracy. They targeted eight seats. They spent about $2.5 million, not a lot of money, and seven of those eight seats flipped in the way they wanted it to flip.

They made money in politics the issue and in seven of those eight seats people came out and said, “Fine, that’s right. This guy is corrupt in our view and we’re going totake him out.” Now, if you in 2014 went from eight seats to 80 seats and you won even 50 of those 80 seats on the basis of money in the politics so if you had $50 million in 2014 and you won 50 of those seats, that would terrify the United States Congress.

So when you came back in 2016 there would be a lot of people who would all of a sudden magically have become reformers in this fight and we would have a real chance to get a Congress committed to in 2017 their very first bill being the bill to enact the change that gives us a reason once again to have confidence in the system. Now, it’s a huge fight.

And the reason that money bomb has gotta be so big is that the closer we get and the closer that K Street realizes that we might actually have a chance of winning, they’re going to create all sorts of pushback. Because if we win lobbyists don’t go away. We need lobbyists. Lobbyists are an important part of our system. But the value of lobbying services gets cut in half, right, because they are no longer the fundraiser-lobbyist. They are just somebody, a policy wonk giving a good idea about what they want. So you know, as John Edwards used to say when we used to quote John Edwards, there’s all the difference in the world —

BILL MOYERS: The former John Edwards.

LAWRENCE LESSIG: –yeah. There’s all the difference in the world between a lawyer making an argument to a jury and a lawyer handing out $100 bills to the jurors. And our lobbying system doesn’t understand that difference.

Lessig’s plan cannot succeed without an involved populace and politicians that are accountable to the people and not just the wealthy and corporations like we have now. We’ve all let our democratic muscles atrophy, it’s long past time we started working them our again. This is a great place to start. More at Rootstrikers, Three easy asks.

05.29.13

There is no party of the people anymore

Posted in Around The State, Money In Politics at 5:06 pm by wcnews

Much, if not all, of what frustrates me about politics is that little, if anything, has been done over the last 30 years that has had a positive impact on my life.  And I don’t think I’m alone.  Getting beyond that takes knowing why that is the case.  And no one does a better job so explaining why then Lawrence Lessig, Can Democrats Get a New Party, Too?

Our problem isn’t the Republicans’ — we’re not too exclusive. It’s the opposite: We are wildly too inclusive. The Democrats are indeed a rainbow coalition, courting every hue of American society. But the leaders of the party believe that at our core, there must be a dark shade of green. For at least 20 years, conventional Democratic wisdom has been that we can do nothing unless we give pride of place to large-dollar funders of Democratic campaigns. This money, most Democrats would concede, may well be evil, but it is a necessary evil. And the trick, we’ve been told again and again, is to pass as much policy as we can, subject to the constraints of raising big money.

This position has never been completely uncontested. Indeed, as Mike Lux describes in his book, The Progressive Revolution, at the very birth of the (first) Clinton Administration, there were some who pressed the president to pursue campaign-finance reform before he tried health-care reform. That advice was rejected, and America got neither.

Instead the Democrats got rich. The Clinton Administration bent over backward to convince Wall Street that its populist rhetoric was just that — rhetoric — and that Democrats could bargain away sane financial regulations as quickly as Republicans. The result: a boom in Wall Street giving. And soon the same strategy was replicated across the big-money spectrum. Everyone understood there are things that Democrats had to say. But everyone who mattered understood that rhetoric notwithstanding, there were things that even Democrats would never do.

The consequence is a pattern of reform, or as we call it in the 21st century, “change,” that is completely predictable. “Change” is stuff that either makes big money happy or that big money doesn’t care to block. Welfare reform (how much do the poor give?), NAFTA (how much did the steel workers give, compared to the corporations supporting NAFTA?), or a “health-care reform” bill that passed only because of a $250 billion gift, as The New Republic estimated it, to big pharma and insurance companies.

[...]

So how do we Democrats ever win anything that we really care about, from climate-change legislation, to real financial reform, to health care designed to actually heal people rather than subsidize drug companies or protect insurance companies? These core Democratic objectives are off the table so long as big money funds campaigns. And any Democrat who tells you otherwise either thinks that you’re a fool or is a fool himself.

You don’t get to heaven by sleeping with the devil. And you don’t get to govern by handing the keys to the republic over to interests who have no actual interest in governing. We need a party that stands for ideas. And first among those ideas must be to banish big money from center stage. A credible and unbendable commitment to changing the way campaigns are funded would not only inspire millions to join the party. It would also, and more importantly, make governing possible again.

There’s no need to rehash the past. Maybe compromise was necessary. Who knows? What’s clear today is that this compromise now gets us nothing. The aim of our party must be more than the regular coronation of democratic royalty. It must instead be to do something real. And nothing real will happen so long as big money funds our campaigns. [Emphasis added]

We have a political system in this country where the two main parties are bankrolled by the same money.  And it shows.  As Lessig says we will not change until we get the money out, and then we can have a party of the people again.

And here’s how this system has manifested itself, What Do Wealthy Super Citizens Want from Government?

But a new study is just out that does look at the policy preferences of the wealthy, co-authored by Bartels, Benjamin Page, and Jason Seawright. The study relies on a very small sample of wealthy people in the Chicago area—some with net worths in the tens of millions.  If the results can be extrapolated nationally, we should all be worried.

The study finds that these wealthy individuals are even greater super citizens than their merely affluent counterparts—with a stunning 40 percent of respondents saying they’ve contacted their U.S. Senator and two-thirds saying they have made campaign contributions.

What do the wealthy want from the political system? That’s hard to say, exactly, but the new study finds that the wealthy are far to the right of the American public when it comes to such issues as regulation, job creation, the deficit, education, taxes, and funding for social safety net programs. The table belows shows some of these differences in more detail. With the exception of infrastructure and scientific research, the public favors more spending on a range of domestic priorities—and by large margins.

Source: Bartels, Page, Seawright study

These findings have profound ramifications in thinking about the health of America’s democracy. Basically, the people with the most money and clout in U.S. society—the kind of people who can get their U.S. Senator on the phone—have a much more constricted vision of what government should be doing than the mass of ordinary voters.

That’s a problem, especially since there’s a lot of evidence coming out of Washington that political leaders are listening closely right now to the wishes of these wealthy super citizens.

This is not the kind of political system our founders envisioned.

Further Reading:
Report from the American Sustainable Business Council, Reverse Citizens United – End Unrestricted Campaign Donations.
Report from the Main Street Alliance, Poll Report: Small Business Owners’ Views on Corporate Tax Reform.
50 Million Americans Are Going Hungry As Congress Considers Gutting Food Stamps.
Will journalists take any steps to defend against attacks on press freedom?

05.27.13

Dark money and lack of transparency to continue in Texas

Posted in 83rd Legislature, Around The State, Money In Politics, The Lege at 9:58 am by wcnews


That’s what Texas Senator Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) said after Texas Gov. Rick Perry vetoed SB 346, aka the “dark money” bill, on Saturday. As Kuff says it was not a surprise.

Perry and Sullivan are of course shedding crocodile tears – people don’t intimidate Sullivan, people are intimidated by him and the millions of dollars he has at his disposal from anonymous donors. You can see from Noel Freeman’s comment in my earlier post that there were issues with this bill that would have caused problems for organizations that don’t cause the kind of trouble that Sullivan’s do, and perhaps because of that the veto is for the best. Let’s just be clear on the prevarication in Perry’s and Sullivan’s words, and let’s hope someone tries again with a better bill in the next session.

This bill was more a fight amongst the funders of the GOP primaries in Texas. So, for the most part, had little to do with Democrats, just GOP infighting. More from the Texas Tribune, Perry Vetoes “Dark Money” Bill.

Gov. Rick Perry has vetoed a divisive measure that would have forced some tax-exempt, politically active nonprofits to disclose their donors. That effectively kills the measure for this session; lawmakers stripped a similar amendment from an Ethics Commission reform bill on Friday.

[...]

The bill’s author, Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said Perry’s veto was “embarrassing,” and added that there “doesn’t seem to be a real strong groundswell” for a veto override, though he didn’t rule it out.

“This is a sad day for integrity and transparency in Texas,” Seliger said. “Gov. Perry’s veto of SB 346 legalizes money laundering in Texas elections. The governor’s veto is ironic since money laundering is illegal in other endeavors.”

House lawmakers passed Senate Bill 346, a “dark money” bill that would’ve applied to nonprofits falling under 501(c)(4) of the tax code, earlier this month. They did it in a hurry, leaving in a provision many of them disliked that exempted labor unions in an effort to deny the upper chamber its request to revisit senators’ original vote to pass it.

The measure has faced ardent opposition from far-right activists like Michael Quinn Sullivan, whose conservative group Texans for Fiscal Responsibility is a 501(c)(4). He has argued that SB 346 is an unconstitutional attempt to harass protected donors.

“Texas Gov. Rick Perry today saved Texans from the threat of harassment and intimidation simply by virtue of their contributing to non-profit entities that speak out politically,” Sullivan said in a statement. “The governor’s veto of SB 346 sends a welcome message, that the Lone Star State won’t tolerate infringements on clear constitutional rights or chilling limitations on political speech.”

Supporters of the legislation “will be subject to threats and intimidation donors to Tea Party groups, home-school organizations, right-to-life advocates and civil rights causes,” Sullivan wrote in an op-ed published in The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday.

But advocates say that if such nonprofit groups are going to play on the political field, they should be subject to the same rules as other campaign donors. In the 2012 election cycle, groups that used the 501(c)(4) designation spent more than $300 million to influence elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Certain groups keep scorecards and continuously bombard the internet. All that’s fine, it’s what this process is about,” state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said during House debate on the measure. “The problem occurs when these groups wade deep into the political process … and use a loophole that keeps their donors secret.”

Transparency and ethics reform were pretty much left alone as well, Lawmaker Transparency Bills Got Little Traction.

Lawmakers talked a big game about improving transparency this session, but when push came to shove, they did next to nothing to advance it.

Key proposals never even got close, like bills to strengthen reporting of lawmakers’ financial interests, prevent the quick revolving door that sends former legislators into the lobby, and stop the practice of allowing elected officials to draw down both their state salary and their pension.

Others got within spitting distance. As of Friday morning, a reform bill for the Texas Ethics Commission still carried amendments the House passed by wide margins to put lawmakers’ financial disclosure forms online, to require groups to report spending on a speaker’s race and to force lawmakers to disclose their contracts with government entities.

But House and Senate negotiators stripped those off in conference committee — even while they added provisions to keep more information, like their home addresses, private.

“Behind closed doors, the conferees mounted a strategic assault on transparency,” said Craig McDonald, director of the left-leaning money-in-politics group Texans for Public Justice. “The stage was set to make significant progress on ethics and open government reform. The true nature of the politicians reared its head at the last minute.”

[...]

A couple of smaller-scale ethics advances are hanging to the omnibus Ethics Commission bill awaiting Perry’s signature, including a provision to require railroad commissioners to resign if they run for another office and another that would force those who post political ads online to disclose who’s paying for them. Lawmakers who become lobbyists would also have to wait two years before donating their leftover cash to sitting members by way of campaign contributions.

Lawmakers have also passed a separate measure that would call for an interim study — a common maneuver to kick controversial reform measures down the road — on the state’s ethics laws and reporting requirements.

While lawmakers took some steps forward this session, “the Legislature still has miles to go to end the ethics abuses,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, the Texas director for the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen.

At the end of the day, McDonald said, “politicians can’t be trusted to clean up politics.”

As has always been the case, it’s extremely unlikely that this will change as long as the legislature regulates themselves.

05.23.13

Perry heckled, lobby splurges

Posted in Around The State, Health Care, Money In Politics, The Lege at 1:26 pm by wcnews

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was heckled by activists from the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) yesterday at while speaking at a luncheon for small business owners.

Speaking at a luncheon for small business owners at the Austin Hilton, Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) was repeatedly interrupted by organized protesters angry over his opposition to expanding Medicaid coverage for poor Texans.

“There’s six million Texans that don’t have health coverage, and we need it,” said Reynaldo Gutierrez, a small business owner from Houston who was asked to leave after interrupting the governor to read a statement. “I don’t have enough money to have health insurance.”

For his part, the governor offered an olive branch.

“If you will leave here, I will invite you to the governor’s office and we will have this debate face to face. How about that?” Perry proposed after several interruptions.

[...]

“He listened to us,” offered Connie Paredes with TOP. “But he has his mind set already.”

Baby steps perhaps, just as similar closed door discussions between the House and Senate seemed to reduce some tension as the day progressed.

You can see some of it toward the end of this KVUE video.

And the Texas Tribune reported on a $22,000 plus end of session committee dinner, An Expensive Celebration, Courtesy of the Lobby. (View the tab here).

A remarkably expensive meeting of a key legislative committee took place this week: a $22,000-plus affair at an upscale downtown Austin steakhouse for the 15-member House Calendars Committee.

That panel, which sets the daily lineup of bills for consideration in the House and thus holds life-or-death power over legislation, held its end-of-session dinner at Austin’s III Forks restaurant this past Sunday.

It cost $22,241.03 and required the use of 34 American Express cards, 11 MasterCards and 20 Visa cards. The committee chairman, state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, said there were about 140 people there, and most of them stayed for dinner.

That’s an extraordinary amount of money, as these things go, but the events themselves are common. In a tradition that stretches back as far as anyone can remember, committees in the Texas Legislature throw self-congratulatory dinners to celebrate the completion of their work.

“It’s a large gathering,” Hunter said of the Calendars dinner. “All committees do it. I don’t know how people have done it in the past. I don’t even know the amount. We invite the committee and we invite their staffs, and then we involve lobbyists and outside folks. Some of them are not lobbyists. I don’t know who paid. You can go find out.”

[...]

Not all of the 121 people at the dinner — that number is based on the number of $95 “banquets” on the check — paid for their supper. Beverages ran another $6,580, plus tax and tip. Somebody had a glass of juice for $2.75; elsewhere in the room, the restaurant was serving 24 bottles of pinot noir, 24 bottles of chardonnay, 27 bottles of cabernet and seven bottles of sauvignon blanc, each priced at between $51 and $68. Another three bottles of cabernet — a nicer one, apparently — cost $135 each. That’s on top of a long list of mixed drinks and beers. If you’re keeping count, that’s 85 bottles for 140 people.

The full tab was $18,584.55 and after a 20 percent tip was added on, the total came to $22,241.03.

That’s $183.81 per person, but only 65 guests produced their wallets. They divvied the tab evenly, most of them paying $340.07. A handful varied from that amount, with the smallest tab coming in at $338.12 and the biggest landing at $478.07. Hunter said he didn’t pay and didn’t expect the members of his committee to do so, either.

“I’ve had committee dinners since I’ve been here for seven terms,” Hunter said, speaking in characteristically clipped phrases. “Lobby pays. They follow rules. Everybody knows up front. And we even post it, so we are all in compliance.”

The calendars committee is responsible for setting the agenda on the House floor. It looks like the lobby was certainly happy with the job they did. As Lessig says, “Money buys results & erodes trust“.

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