Archive for April, 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday, April 29th, 2011

As the price of gas moves toward $4 a gallon and oil company profits soar, US House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declared that Big Oil should pay its fair share of taxes and the industry’s lucrative federal subsidiaries should be reviewed. That was Monday of this week. By Thursday, he was in retreat and echoing the industry line that the solution is more subsidized oil production. Perhaps he looked at his campaign account; he is the top recipient of the $285,500 dumped into federal campaigns by the five biggest oil companies in the first quarter of 2011. The irrational $4 billion annual subsidy for Big Oil is made possible because of our irrational political system. The blog entry in Politico begins with a parallel description of the increased “investment” that high-tech companies are making in lobbying and other political spending. “Corporate tax is not about millions. It’s about billions and trillions and when you’re talking about that kind of money, you now have the CFO and CEO’s attention,” said Ralph Hellmann, senior VP of government relations for the Information Technology Industry Council. “The companies’ headquarters are seeing that these issues have real bottom-line impact to their company and they’re going to make investments in Washington to help them get the best outcome.” Conservative bloggers and the mainstream media are afraid to report what honest business leaders say is a matter of fact: US politics, financed by private money, is a pay-to-play enterprise.



Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Former Sen. Alan Simpson, a conservative Republican from Wyoming, uses a supply-and-demand market analysis to dissect why governance in Washington is broken. It’s broken because the campaign finance system is a private monopoly controlled by wealthy special interests. Everything favors their private agenda, not the public interest, and as a result the nation is going broke. Simpson says there’s no substitute for providing a new, publicly accountable source of campaign money to undercut the supply-side monopoly of special interests.  If you want better government, change the campaign financing system.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday, April 25th, 2011

The Sunlight Foundation provides a valuable overview of President Obama’s draft executive order that would require federal contractors to disclose their direct and indirect political spending. Indirect means donations made to other groups (like 527 committees, trade groups or c-4 organizations) with “the intention or reasonable expectation” that the money would be used for independent expenditures or electioneering communications. Some donors will likely use the “intent” language to continue to keep secret undesignated donations to multi-purpose groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, which engage in lobbying, issue advocacy and political spending. The Atlantic notes that the President’s order comes after the failure of the DISCLOSE Act and regulatory efforts to expose all the money flowing since the Citizens United ruling. Political parties, donor networks and a variety of interest groups are busy creating new conduits for the avalanche of money that is expected to smother the 2012 election. Sunlight notes that Koch Industries will be covered because it’s a federal contractor; predictably, its Congressional loyalists are calling this effort to increase disclosure an attack on free speech. Meanwhile, the Nation gives the details of the campaign package that Koch Industries sent to its employees before the 2008 election, with candidate endorsements and lessons in political correctness. While the expert quoted suggests this indoctrination was illegal before Citizens United, it’s worth noting that under North Carolina law employers have long been free to use the corporation’s money to advise employees (and stockholders) how to vote; businesses were previously barred from using those funds for candidate advocacy to the general public, but Citizens United removed that barrier.



Bill Sponsors Top Recipients of Blue Cross Contributions

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

NC House bill would give insurance companies and other special interests control over healthcare reform implementation

The NC House Insurance Committee has taken up a controversial bill (H-115) that gives insurance companies a large role in overseeing how consumers will be able to buy “affordable” insurance coverage through a state-level “health benefits exchange” to be created under the new national health reform law.

The bill’s biggest supporter is Blue Cross and Blue Shield, NC’s largest insurance company. It gets to help name at least one representative to the new exchange. Notably, sponsors of the Insurance Exchange Bill are top recipients of Blue Cross contributions. Other reserved seats on the Exchange are being earmarked for other special interests and big donors of the bill’s sponsors.

No consumer groups or public health or health-related organizations have been designated seats on the exchange.

Download the full report, including top donors of Blue Cross donations here:

http://www.democracy-nc.org/downloads/BlueCrossRecipients-4-2011.pdf


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

A year after the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, Congress has not passed any major law to prevent another disaster. Why? “The opposition to new legislation that requires stricter oversight largely stems from the anti-regulatory zeal of conservative lawmakers and from the influence of the oil industry, say congressional staffers from both parties. In 2010, the oil and gas industry spent more than $146 million to lobby the federal government and donated $28 million to federal campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.” After a self-imposed timeout, BP is back with the other oil giants, handing out checks to members of Congress. Their brand of pay-at-the-pump politics is effective. Just last week, the new leadership of the House Natural Resources Committee pushed through three bills to make it easier to drill for oil and gas off the coast of North Carolina and several other states.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Blue Cross of NC is the main backer of a bill to create the health insurance exchange in North Carolina that will help implement the national health reform law. The intent of an independent exchange is to give more people access to insurance coverage, boost competition and lower premium costs, somewhat akin to Travelocity for air fares. But the bill gives Blue Cross and its medical industry allies unusual control over the exchange and an elaborate new process for expanding the insurance marketplace. Something smells funny. So Democracy North Carolina took the advice of “follow the money” and – ouch! – it turns out the bill’s chief sponsors are the top two recipients of Blue Cross PAC money in the General Assembly. Explore the questionable ethics of this legislation in our new report and visit the website of Citizens for Responsible Health Care to learn more.



Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday, April 15th, 2011

With Tax Day 2011 almost here, Public Campaign has released a report called “The Artful Dodgers” about 12 well-known corporations that have spent $1 billion on lobbying and campaign donations to reduce their tax bills to nearly nothing. In several case (e.g., Exxon, Bank of America, Boeing and CitiGroup), the corporations paid ZERO taxes and got huge tax rebates. Through their political clout, they’ve added loopholes to the tax code so they can profit from public resources while minimizing their responsibility to society. Progressive States Network has assembled several useful resources about corporate freeloaders. Bottom line: Corporate taxes now account from less than 9% of federal revenue, compared to 27% in 1955, while the share from individuals climbed from 58% to 81% during the same period.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Sweethearts of the Tea Party elected to Congress last November have quickly become water carriers for heavy duty lobbyists and special interests. And they are cashing in like the veterans. So much for their promises of integrity or changing the system; if anything, these guys are even deeper in the pocket of Wall Street and other corporate interests than their predecessors. Here’s how the first of a multi-part investigation into the dealmakers begins: “On a wintry mid-March afternoon at a sparsely attended meeting of a House Financial Services subcommittee, a handful of legislators heard testimony on five bills that would repeal or replace parts of last year’s sweeping financial services reform legislation . . . . The commonality among the five bills? They were all sponsored by freshman Republican legislators holding coveted committee spots, who were showered with campaign donations from financial industry groups immediately after the November elections, according to an analysis by The Fiscal Times and the Center for Responsive Politics.” Another part of the series examines the close correlation between special-interest donations and the committee a member of Congress serves on. It’s no wonder that Americans believe lobbyists and corporations have way too much power, according to a recent Gallup poll.


Redistricting Update 4/12/2011

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

A coalition of advocacy groups spanning the political spectrum and a bipartisan group of state legislators held a press conference today to unveil their proposal (H-824) for North Carolina to adopt a nonpartisan redistricting commission similar to the one used for decades in Iowa. The press conference featured chief sponsors Rep. Rick Glazier and Rep. David Lewis, other speakers and two legislators from Iowa, piped in via Skype. It’s too late for us to use the Iowa model this year – even though North Carolina has the distinction of being the nation’s epicenter of partisan bickering over map drawing. We’ll likely see another round of legal wrangling as new state maps using the 2010 Census get drawn up by the Republican majority in the General Assembly. Their work is slowly moving forward. The first of a dozen public hearings on the shape of new legislative and Congressional districts is set for Wednesday at 3 pm at the Museum of History, with satellite locations at the Nash Community College and Roxboro’s Piedmont Community College campus. There are no proposed maps to critique, but a special General Assembly website is brimming with loads of information and forms for public comment. On Thursday, you can hear a distinguished panel talk about how to move North Carolina along the path of achieving an independent redistricting process; sign up for the luncheon panel in Raleigh with the NC Center for Voter Education.



Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday, April 8th, 2011

The Center for Public Integrity has just released an in-depth investigative report on the sprawling, worldwide business operations of the Koch family, patrons of far-right groups descending from the John Birch Society. Ironically, brothers David and Charles Koch are happy to take government subsidies and spend millions to lobby for special tax breaks and protection from competitors, while defending their right to produce poorly-regulated poisons. Probably their best known subsidiary is Georgia Pacific, the paper and timber products company. The Koch empire is extra hard to hold accountable because the stock is not publicly traded. Importantly, in a case involving Home Depot, the Securities and Exchange Commission has just ruled that stockholders do have the right to place resolutions about corporate political spending on the agenda for a vote. That decision could open the door for more shareholders to demand oversight of post-Citizens United corporate politicking – but the Koch family need only ask themselves what’s best for the world.


Day Of Action: April 13th!

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Help Us Fight Voter Photo ID! (HB 351)
Wednesday, April 13th at 11:00 AM
NC General Assembly Building
16 W. Jones St.  Raleigh, NC


As you probably know — along with protecting voter-owned elections and fighting against big money politics — Democracy North Carolina is opposing a hard-line bill in the General Assembly that requires every citizen to show a government-issued photo ID every time they vote. While we are dedicated to protecting the integrity of our elections, our studies show this provision will disenfranchise thousands of honest citizens while doing very little to address voter fraud.

We were hopeful when Republicans seemed poised to modify the bill’s harsh identification requirements to make it less restrictive and more in line with other states. Unfortunately, extremists prevailed and the bill Republicans are now backing would place North Carolina among only two other states with such restrictive voting barriers. In addition, House Bill 351 takes money from NC’s Voter-Owned Elections programs to pay for implementing its mandatory photo ID requirement — meaning this legislation would also erode one of the nation’s most successful reform efforts to decrease special interest influence and ensure the impartiality of our courts.

North Carolina deserves better. There are more effective and less costly ways to combat voter fraud than those proposed in HB 351. Democracy NC advocates taking measures like hiring additional fraud investigators for the State Board of Elections, making voting technology tamper proof, streamlining the process for challenging voters and better educating citizens on eligibility requirements.

Join Us Next Wednesday
Help show the nation that North Carolinians will not let extremist politics shape our state policies. Join us for a Stop Photo ID: Respect Our Vote Rally on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 starting at 11:00 AM in front of the NC General Assembly Building at 16 W. Jones St. in Raleigh. We will be holding a rally, lobbying state legislators and telling the media our side of the story. We’re asking everyone to wear red to symbolize our need to STOP this unnecessary and expensive bill from becoming law. Download this flyer for more information on the rally or to distribute to others who might be interested. For more information or to RSVP, contact Adam Sotak of Democracy North Carolina @ 919-286-6000 Ext. 11 or email him at adamsotak@democracy-nc.org.

Take Action Now
If you haven’t already, please contact your NC House and NC Senate reps and tell them to vote NO to House Bill 351 and Senate Bill 352. Most importantly, contact Governor Perdue and tell her to VETO THE BILL if it passes both chambers. You can email here, or call her at governor.office@nc.gov. or call her at 1-800-662-7952.

Thank you for taking action! And please help us spread the word!

Sincerely,
Your Democracy NC Team


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