Lobbying Category

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LOD: Duke, Progress & Political $$

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

The behemoth created by the proposed merger of Duke Energy and Progress Energy would not only yield the nation’s largest electric utility. The new creature would become the most politically influential corporation in NC, according to a new analysis by Democracy North Carolina. Duke and Progress Energy have long sponsored PACs that rank among the top 10 in the state; together, they would surpass Bank of America to form the largest corporate PAC in North Carolina. Charts compiled by Democracy NC show that their utilities’ combined spending to lobby and donate to NC and federal policymakers hit $19 million in the 2009-2010 cycle and a total of $52 million over the past eight years. In the 2010 election, 115 of the 170 state legislative winners got a donation from one or both of the utilities; one-fourth of the legislators got at least $3,500 and the top legislative leaders from both parties received at least $13,000 each. Will all this money and the companies’ other ways of accumulating goodwill give them an even bigger advantage over their critics? Says the report, “Policymakers often act like the utilities are the experts on energy issues but the public has a right to know that alternative perspectives and better strategies are not being overlooked because of the utilities’ money and lobbying muscle.”


LOD: Funding->Performance

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

The State Auditor’s office issued a report criticizing the State Board of Elections’ failure to process campaign finance reports in a timely manner and hold late report filers accountable. Democracy NC has identified similar problems, including our May report pointing out that 42% of the campaign reports for the legislative winners in 2010 had not been entered into the Board’s database, the first step in its review process. The State Auditor’s report reveals the scope of the problem: “At the time of our audit, there were over 30,000 reports that had not been audited. Some of these unaudited reports date back to the 2000 election. The receipts and expenditures for approximately 10,000 of those reports had not been entered in the campaign finance database, which is necessary before an audit can be performed since many of the audit procedures are performed electronically. For the 2010 election cycle . . . 6,578 of the 10,931 reports still had not been entered in the database and therefore had not been audited within the timeframe required.”

Why is the backlog so large? A blog entry and editorial by the Greensboro News & Record suggest it may be purposeful negligence by state legislators who don’t want their reports dissected. Except for a brief period after the conviction of House Speaker Jim Black, the State Board has been chronically understaffed and underfunded by the General Assembly. Meanwhile, some legislators want to merge the campaign finance section into a combined agency with the State Ethics Commission and lobbyist regulation office of the Secretary of State. They better be prepared to put up a lot more money to make it possible for all of these duties to be properly fulfilled.


LOD: Target the Pressure

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Public Campaign has a good bi-partisan campaign that challenges members of the debt reduction Super Committee to stop raising money while they are choosing whose ox will be gored by possible spending cuts or tax increases. The nonprofit has calculated that each of the 12 Members has so much money already stockpiled that they can afford to take a break – collectively, their campaign accounts have $20 million in cash-on-hand. But even as the Committee began meeting, most of them kept up a vigorous fundraising schedule, hosting or attending $1,000-a-person events with lobbyists and their clients – it’s almost laughable to read. Public Campaign scored a victory with a pledge by one member, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), to embargo fundraising for his own campaign. He’s under pressure to stop helping others, too. The bi-partisan campaign is a great illustration of how a focused grassroots effort, with an incremental goal, can yield results.


LOD: Changing Names to Protect…

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

California Republican US Rep. Darrell Issa is a . . . , Issa is a, is a . . . what? At the moment, he’s the heavyweight chair of a key Congressional committee with a mission to gut regulations that big businesses don’t like, even though they may benefit consumers. News stories keep revealing Issa’s cozy relations with lobbyists and corporations, so he has a name to remember. Now comes a bizarre story of a top Issa staffer changing his own name; he was a vice president at Goldman Sachs and now, under a new name, he’s the top dog in Issa’s office pushing the SEC and others to lighten up on Wall Street, despite the horrendous consequences of that approach. Shameless.


LOD: Dissent from the Top

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

The political system is so blatantly tilted to help the super-rich and powerful that even they are embarrassed. They know it’s wrong, and it’s great when they speak out and call for change. In a singularly important op-ed, Warren Buffett, the second richest man in the US, is lambasting Congressional leaders for not making the wealthy share in the pain of a bad economy and red-ink government. Republican leaders are vigorously trashing him for losing sight of the goal: Selfishness First! But the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, is so mad with the Washington establishment that he’s calling on his fellow zillionaires to withhold all campaign contributions to the President and Members of Congress until they consider “all options, from entitlement programs to taxes,” and reach a wide-ranging budget deal “long before the deadline arrives this fall.” Third example: The American Bar Association just adopted a resolution calling for a ban on lobbyists giving or soliciting political donations for Members of Congress they lobbied in the previous two years; in other words, you have to choose to be a donor or a lobbyist but you can’t be both to the same policymaker. This action by the nation’s premiere organization of attorneys gains added weight because it was recommended by a team of blue-chip legal counsel for Republican and Democratic politicians.


LOD: Strings Attached to Super 12

Friday, August 12th, 2011

The so-called Super Congress – the six Democrats and six Republicans charged with coming up with a plan to reduce the deficit by more than $1 trillion – all come “with a history of political patrons and connections with special interests,” according to their portraits painted by the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News. The Associated Press also found that the 12 lawmakers “represent a large swath of political ideology and geography, but they have some things in common: They received more than $1 million overall in contributions from the health care industry and at least $700,000 from defense companies. Those two industries, especially, are sensitive to the outcome of the committee’s negotiations because the automatic spending cuts could affect them most directly.” One of the Democratic members has a major Washington fundraising event set for later this month that will likely be very popular. Meanwhile, the largest donor to the Republican co-chair of the Super Congress is an accounting firm that specializes in tax loopholes; it recently paid $456 million in fines, restitution and penalties for providing shady advise that saved its wealthy clients billions in taxes but put the nation further in the hole.


LOD: Thumb’s Up, Down for Legs

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Rep. Steve LaRoque’s home newspaper in Kinston got him to talk about the Policy Watch investigation of his use of two government-funded nonprofits to benefit himself, his family, and his political associates. The paper is owned by the Libertarian-leaning Freedom Communications chain, so it is noteworthy that the story didn’t end when LaRoque dismissed everything as a liberal conspiracy full of lies; indeed, the paper presented a balanced account and let Kinston readers hear from independent experts who added credibility to Policy Watch’s analysis of LaRoque’s inappropriate dealings. Meanwhile, House Speaker Thom Tillis received an award from the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as one the nation’s “best legislators of the year.” Tillis and 31 other NC state legislators are attending the ALEC meeting in New Orleans, no doubt picking up more “model legislation” from the group, per our earlier account. The Sunshine Award that Democracy North Carolina recently presented to 22 legislators is also gaining attention in their hometown media (e.g., in Burlington, Fayetteville and Jacksonville). The award honors legislators for ”demonstrating respect for the public’s right-to-know through the superior quality of your campaign disclosure reports in the 2010 election.” The money chase is well underway for the 2012 cycle, with both state parties pulling in nearly half a million dollars in the first six months of 2011, most of it raised by their respective legislative caucuses. Whether you give the General Assembly a thumb’s up or down, money will be gushing at records levels for the 2012 showdown.


LOD: Access to Budget Cutters

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Practical lobbyists in Washington are telling their clients to open their checkbooks because their ox may be gored by the Super 12 – the yet-to-be-named bipartisan committee of US Senators and Representatives who will recommend where to make additional budget cuts of at least $1.2 trillion. One lobbyist said he’s writing 12 big checks to ensure an inside advantage for his clients. Other practical observers believe the committee will end in another super-charged partisan stalemate, which will trigger indiscriminate across-the-board spending cuts. But lobbyists profit when groups are fighting for favors or protection, and in this case the healthcare industry and defense contractors are especially vulnerable (because of bloated subsidies) so expect to see them making large investments in their lobbyists – and in contributions to the Super 12. As a pre-emptive strike, our friends at Public Campaign are demanding that the Super 12 agree not to accept any political donations and also disclose all meetings with lobbyists. They’re asking you to sign a petition to get that message across, and a cadre of good government groups are joining in their letter making the core demand. The Sunlight Foundation also wants all the meetings of the Super 12 open, with maximum transparency in everything, even if it promotes grandstanding as much as a grander deal for the public.


LOD: Break the Stranglehold

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Stan Greenberg, the veteran strategist for Democratic candidates, has an important op-ed in the New York Times that says people are disgusted with government because it “operates by the wrong values and rules, for the wrong people and purposes. . . . Wall Street lobbyists govern, not Main Street voters.” This is the prevailing view across the board, from Tea Party reactionaries to left-of-center progressives. Then Greenberg provides a recipe for better leadership that includes tackling the corrupting influence of money in politics, special-interest spending, deficit reduction, immigration reform and more. Break the stranglehold of the wealthy lobbies and focus on rewarding responsibility.


LOD: Koch Bros., Coca-Cola & ALEC

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

The American Legislative Exchange Council brings together corporations (from Koch Industries to Coca-Cola), conservative state legislators, and rightwing think tanks to fabricate model bills that advance their common interests: reduce government regulation and taxes; increase the transfer of wealth from average Americans to the super rich. ALEC working groups, research memos and draft bills push for predatory lending and against EPA regulating greenhouse gases, for restricting access to voting and against living-wage standards for workers. A treasure trove of 800 model bills has just been uncovered by the Center for Media and Democracy, and the Los Angeles Times provides good examples of how the bills ripple through state legislatures, often without being linked to the shadowy organization – but they’re backed up with millions in campaign contributions by ALEC members. Common Cause is challenging the organization’s claim on its IRS reports that it does zero lobbying. You’re invited to sign Common Cause’s petition calling on the IRS to investigate ALEC for misusing its tax-exempt status.


LOD: A Pause to Raise Money

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

While the NC General Assembly is on a 24-day recess, House Republicans are taking quick advantage of a loophole in state law to sponsor a major fundraising event this Wednesday and solicit contributions of up to $5,000 from PACs that are barred from giving while the General Assembly is in session. The event looks like a shakedown of lobby groups and PACs whose favorite legislation just passed or is still pending. As our press release says, “This kind of fundraising symbolizes the pay-to-play culture that Republicans said they would stamp out if they won control of the General Assembly.” It’s understandable that candidates need to raise funds, but they should also be working to change the money-dominated system, not pushing the edge of the law or promising to make change and then making things worse. Several Democracy North Carolina staff members and summer organizers are joining a protest of the GOP fundraising on Wednesday, June 29, from 5:00 to 6:30 PM. You can join, too, on the sidewalk at 34 West Franklin St., Raleigh, across from 18 Seaboard Restaurant, site of the fundraiser (near Peace College).


LOD: Voter Suppression Update

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

North Carolina’s infamous photo ID bill (H-351 – we call it the “Voter Suppression Act of 2011”) passed as expected on party line votes and is on its way to Gov. Bev Perdue. You can encourage her to veto the bill with this handy action alert. The other major anti-voter bill, S-47, was pulled off the floor tonight and will be taken up in July when the General Assembly reconvenes to tackle redistricting and other topics. Before the sponsor pulled the bill, he gained support for an amendment to delete the provision that would have killed Sunday afternoon voting, so “Souls to the Polls” faces one less threat. The bill still has a bucket load of obnoxious provisions, from ending Same-Day Registration and Voter-Owned Elections for executive branch offices to permitting corporate donations to political parties. In other action at the General Assembly, the bill (H-710) to merge three government watchdog agencies into a new underfunded, overtasked agency was also pulled for further study and action in the July session. Looks like a long hot summer.


LOD: Shotgun Merger, Ouch!

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Earlier this week, Democracy North Carolina released a report that sharply criticized a proposal jammed inside the state Senate budget to merge and shrink the three agencies that oversee elections, ethics, and lobbying. We’re pleased to report that the proposal, which many others also rebuked, is no longer a part of the Republican budget plan. The Senate passed the budget bill today (H-200) on a party-line vote and it goes to the House tomorrow for final agreement and then to Gov. Perdue for her possible veto. In our report, we pointed out that budget cuts from last year have already seriously impaired the ability of these watchdog agencies to do their jobs. For example, due to staff shortages, the State Board of Elections has not yet processed 42% of the campaign finance reports filed by the state legislators elected in 2010, much less audited them for mistakes and possible criminal violations, as required by law. Unfortunately, another proposal – this one in H-710 – is still alive; it calls for a shotgun merger of these agencies by January 1, 2012, which would create havoc throughout next year’s election, whether by design or accident.


LOD: Investing in Bad Government

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Another report, this one by Citizens for Tax Justice, spotlights mega-corporations that rake in massive profits and pay nothing in federal income taxes – in fact, they get a credit, which means money from you. This is what happens when corporations rig the tax code to their advantage, a product of their investment in bad government via political donations and unconscionable lobbying. (One of the 12 corporations in the spotlight is Wells Fargo, the owner of Wachovia.) To compound the problem, you may have heard that a federal district judge in Virginia last week ruled that the Citizens United ruling means corporations can make direct donations to candidates, not just spend for uncoordinated promotion of the candidate. Oops, now it appears the judge thinks he may have gone too far and is reconsidering his decision. Either way, unlimited corporate spending in politics poses an enormous challenge for an honest democracy.


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