Money in Politics Category

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LOD: Leading Reform

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

The New Mexico legislature just passed a resolution calling on Congress to initiate a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. A blog entry from John Nichols of The Nation describes the significance of this action and how it fits into other efforts for an amendment and the larger outcry against corporate domination in politics. The question is what bipartisan group of state legislators in North Carolina will step up to shepherd a similar resolution through the General Assembly? Speaking of leadership, here’s one perspective on President Obama’s recent embrace of the arms race in Super PAC fundraising: We don’t expect him to tie a hand behind his back in the 2012 slugfest, but David Donnelly of the Public Campaign Action Fund asks if Obama or some other presidential candidate will at least make a public commitment to be a leader for major reform after the election. Of course, there are multiple ways to demonstrate leadership now, even as they hustle a gazillion dollars for themselves and their alter-ego Super PACs. Back to North Carolina: All the candidates should be asked what they’ll do to attack the cancer worsened by Citizens United, and General Assembly members should be pressed to beef up disclosure of CU-inspired money now.


LOD: McCrory’s Opening Miscue

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Guess where Pat McCrory ended his swing across the state, announcing the official start of his campaign for governor as the candidate who will “turn North Carolina around” and end the “corruption” of the Democrats? The trip finished in Wilmington, with a large McCrory rally at a pool hall and grill – which is owned by Steven Hebert, a donor to former House Speaker and convicted felon Jim Black, and which is stocked even today with video sweepstakes games from Southland Amusements, a company run by Robert E. (Bobby) Huckabee III. Huckabee’s Southland Amusements & Vending Inc. was at the center of the corruption complaint filed by Democracy North Carolina in July 2004 against Jim Black’s network of video-poker donors. Back then, Hebert had Huckabee’s video poker machines in his bar; the two have been doing business together for years. Many of the individuals listed in the complaint funneled campaign money to Black through other donors, with or without their knowledge, including Huckabee’s sister and Hebert’s wife-to-be, Holly Abbuhl. In testimony at the State Board of Elections into the complaint, it came out that Hebert gave Abbuhl the money to make her $1,500 donation to Black. Huckabee avoided testifying at the hearing by conveniently being out the country, but the taint of his dealings continues, as does the controversial evolution of video poker in North Carolina. It’s a surprising blunder to see Pat McCrory pledging to “turn around” pay-to-play politics at a place like Wilmington’s Break Time Billiards & Grille.


LOD: Predatory Super PACs

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Dozens of news stories are telling the horrific impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision on 2012’s election, and we’ve barely begun. Super PACs, billionaires, and front groups for who-knows-what are the oxygen that candidates rely on for their lives. They’ll also have a chokehold on them if they are elected. Election attorney Rick Hasen has a helpful overview of where we are now after Citizens United, and the Campaign Finance Institute adds important background and valuable details. A more responsible Congress would tackle this mess not just through campaign finance regulation but through the tax code. Mega-wealthy “persons” are using tax-exempt vehicles to smash democracy, with no “social welfare” purpose as required by the tax code. It’s past time to tax these entities as predatory commercial enterprises.


LOD: Pope’s Blessing

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

An editorial writer for the Raleigh News & Observer handed Art Pope a bevy of compliments for his “humanitarian” philanthropy, extolling the list of “charities and universities the Pope Foundation blessed with $1.2 million in grants last year.” Alliance Medical Ministries – $10,000; Barium Springs Home for Children – $10,000; Blessed Sacrament School – $10,000; etc. The writer, Burgetta Wheeler, managed this sweet story by cherry picking from the list of foundation recipients and committing the “one dimensional” journalism she ascribes to Pope’s detractors. Here’s a link to the complete list (pp. 20-23). A balanced story would have noted that the Pope Foundation gave a whopping $1.35 million to the strident rightwing group Americans for Prosperity in the same fiscal year, more than the combined total of Wheeler’s featured grantees. Or how does Pope’s giving to the goody-good list compare to one gift for college sports – $1,000,000 to UNC’s Rams Club, cleverly named The Educational Foundation Inc. Other unmentionables for the year: John Locke Foundation – $2.6 million; Civitas Institute – $1.2 million; NC Institute for Constitutional Law – $710,000; Pope Center for Higher Education – $542,800; NC Family Policy Council – $100,000; Job Creators Alliance – $100,000; NC Free Enterprise Foundation – $95,000; Heritage Foundation – $50,000. To shore up the foundation’s cash flow, Art and sister Amanda each donated $3.5 million, presumably from their share of earnings from Variety Wholesalers (Roses, Maxway, Super Dollar). An LOD account of previous foundation donations is here.


LOD: Mike Easley’s Money

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

For those of you fascinated by the strange behavior of former Gov. Mike Easley, Don Carrington of the Carolina Journal has a new piece that examines Easley’s finances after his felony conviction, with an appropriate question: How can he move hundreds of thousands of dollars around and still not pay a dime toward the $90,000-plus fine that the Mike Easley Committee owes the State Board of Elections – that’s the fine Easley says he accepts personal responsibility for, but why doesn’t he pay it? The fine was levied in the same case where Democracy North Carolina filed a complaint against the NC Democratic Party for acting as an illegal conduit of money meant for the Mike Easley Committee, with supplement documentation to highlight the abuse. The Party forked over thousands of dollars as a result, and the Mike Easley Committee was also found guilty of benefitting from undisclosed airplane flights. Even though Democracy North Carolina filed this complaint against the Democratic Party (and the earlier one that triggered the state and federal investigation into Jim Black), some Republicans still say we’re a front for the Democratic Party whenever we criticize their practices. Go figure.


LOD: Pope v. PopeExposed On the Air

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

Art Pope is going on the radio this Sunday for a two-hour faceoff with Chris Kromm, director of the Institute for Southern Studies and creator of Pope wants to answer his critics and respond to questions from the listening audience. The call-in show is on Raleigh’s Rush Radio 106.1 FM from 3 to 5 PM, but the hosts (publishers of Spectacular Magazine) are civil-rights advocates who don’t fit the usual talk-radio profile. Tune in and ask a question or listen on the web by following the link at this site.


LOD: Big Apple Shines

Friday, January 6th, 2012

New York is stepping up to challenge corporate control of elections. New York City already has a pioneering public financing program for its municipal elections. On Wednesday, it joined a growing list of cities by adopting a resolution calling on Congress to start the process for amending the U.S. Constitution to say corporations don’t have the rights of natural persons. Meanwhile, in Albany, Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a robust call for public campaign financing in his State of the State speech. His backing, fulfilling a 2010 campaign pledge, and the pro-reform NY House make the Empire State the likely epicenter for expanding Voter-Owned Elections programs in 2012. A host of nonprofit groups have been working in the state for years; their efforts are paying off.


LOD: MT Judges Slam US Supremes

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

As the second anniversary of Citizens United approaches (Jan. 21), the corruption flowing from that decision is becoming more apparent. The Supreme Court declared that independent groups can not corrupt the political process, but the dominant role of Super PACs in the Republican primary is just the latest evidence that their decision was based on bias, not fact. Now another court has stepped up to tell the Supremes exactly that. The Montana Supreme Court rejected the Citizens United ruling, saying the evidence shows that independent spenders can and do wield enough influence to corrupt politics. “Organizations like WTP [a corporate political group] that act as a conduit for anonymously spending by others represent a threat to the political marketplace,” wrote Mike McGrath, Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court, for the majority. “Clearly the impact of unlimited corporate donations creates a dominating impact on the political process and inevitably minimizes the impact of individual citizens.” Even the dissenting judges in the 5-2 decision upholding Montana law denounced the US Supreme Court. “While, as a member of this Court, I am bound to follow Citizens United, I do not have to agree with the [U.S.] Supreme Court’s decision,” wrote Justice James C. Nelson, in his dissent. “And, to be absolutely clear, I do not agree with it. For starters, the notion that corporations are disadvantaged in the political realm is unbelievable. Indeed, it has astounded most Americans. The truth is that corporations wield enormous power in Congress and in state legislatures. It is hard to tell where government ends and corporate America begins: the transition is seamless and overlapping.” If the Montana case gets a fair hearing on appeal at the Supreme Court, it will completely expose that majority’s hypocrisy and corruption of judicial duty.


LOD: Dominatrix of the Year

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

Two commentaries close out the year, each describing a way big money shapes our lives. Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, reviews the year with a focus on why Congressional decisions are so out of touch with real needs. Jesse Jackson looks at what’s getting covered over by big money in the presidential campaign.


LOD: MoJo on Dirty Money

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

The first issue of 2012 from Mother Jones has a series of articles dissecting the secretive, seductive direct money that is crippling our entire society. It includes a roadmap for “How to Buy An Elections” and one story (“Occupied Washington”) you can readily access, but the other juicy material requires you to sign in. Worth the connection.


LOD: Mr. Jones v. Citizens United

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., Republican member of Congress from eastern North Carolina, is again stepping up to sponsor legislation to reign in the power of big money in politics. In 2010, he co-sponsored the Fair Elections Now Act, which would provide a much-needed alternative path for candidates to finance their campaigns. Yesterday, he’s joined Kentucky Democrat US Rep. John Yarmuth in introducing a Constitutional amendment to overcome the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The amendment would say that political spending is not protected by the First Amendment and may be regulated to protect the common good. “Corporate money equals influence, not free speech,” says Yarmuth. The amendment would also establish a system for public financing and make Election Day a federal holiday. If you’re having trouble keeping track of all the proposed amendments to elevate your voting rights over a corporation’s right to buy an election, here’s a handy guide from United Republic: “Idiot’s Guide to the Amendments.”


LOD: Attack of the Super PACs

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Aren’t you glad you don’t live in Iowa? Get ready: attack ads and over-the-top hype will soon be coming into your home in unbelievable quantities. In the past week, new creatures known as Super PACs have spent nearly $2.7 million, mostly on TV ads for and against various Republican presidential candidates. Because Super PACs are supposedly independent of the candidates, they can accept unlimited donations – but who believes they are really independent? Fred Wertheimer, president of the watchdog group Democracy 21 and always good with a sound bite, says, “These are the most dangerous vehicles for corruption in American politics today.”


LOD: Gender Bender

Friday, December 16th, 2011

If the men on the US Supreme Court say that corporations are people, are you surprised that the biggest corporations look just like them? The Citizens United ruling makes perfect sense from the perspective of the good ole boy club. A new study says women hold less than one sixth of the seats on the boards of directors of Fortune 500 corporations and they hold less than one in 12 of the firms’ top-paying jobs. Noting the Obama administration’s snub of women, most recently with the decision to limit access to the morning-after pill, the commentator says, “If the corporate campaign contributing person were at least half female, we surely would be able to expect better from the party that supposedly has women’s back.” Gender and racial privilege continues to distort the debate about voter ID as well. If you’re a white man who owns property, you think nothing about the burden of holding a photo ID. If you’re poor, female and black, it’s another story, as this new video from the NAACP highlights.


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