Pay to Play Category

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LOD: Fractured Ethics

Friday, August 17th, 2012

The NC General Assembly created a new commission to develop the rules for how hydraulic drilling of natural gas (fracking) can proceed in North Carolina and it gave most the seats to the mining and energy industry. That’s bad enough, but it turns out Speaker Thom Tillis filled a seat reserved for an environmentalist with a Lee County man whose company is buying up mineral rights for exploration. A revealing video investigation by WRAL-TV captures just how sneaky the whole affair is – the investigative report begins less than a minute into a half-hour show on ethical conflicts at the new NC Mining and Energy Commission. The fracking industry has a disturbing record of being ethically challenged.


LOD: 250 Years of Scandal

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Mother Jones magazine has boiled the history of political money deals in the United States into a clever annotated timeline and a highly readable article, starring a host of shady characters in “a dramatic battle between the forces of reform and influence that goes back more than 250 years before the birth of the super-PAC.”


LOD: Super PACs & Über-Fat Cats

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Here’s another report about the tiny number of über-fat cats bankrolling the Super PACs. The Washington Post reports: “Just 47 people account for more than half (57.1 percent) of the $230 million raised by super PACs from individual donors, according to the study by U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) and Demos, two liberal research and advocacy organizations. Just over 1,000 donors giving $10,000 or more were responsible for 94 percent of the money raised.” The libertarian Cato Institute would be happy – let people do what they want with their money, no regulation needed. That may be a fine theory for an ivory tower elitist, but it doesn’t work too well in real life, for hamburgers or elections. Fueled by the greedy few, we’re now on our way to experience a record-shattering $5.8 billion federal election cycle, says the Center for Responsive Politics. You can hear the Cato Institute closer to home, at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. John Samples from Cato will join Press Millen, a more level-header soul and local attorney, in a discussion of the meaning and impact of the Citizens United decision as part of the bookstore’s town meeting series. The free event, no reservation needed, is August 13 at 7:30 PM.



Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Students at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication have created an interactive flow chart of the money in NC political campaigns with annotated descriptions of key terms. Visualize rivers of money. They’ve also just posted a series of articles about NC campaign finances on their WhichWayNC website and blog. Did you know that the two leading candidates for governor have already spent more than what an average North Carolinian would earn in 164 years? Another part of the website dissects and grades political advertisements: Good, bad and weird. Some parts of the website need updates, as well as fact-checking and corrections, but hey, nobody should think journalists are perfect. It’s a site that should become more useful as the fall semester and campaign season move into high gear.


LOD: Too Much to Swallow

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Remember the mega-millions poured into making the healthcare debate in Congress so sickening? Well, the lobbying surrounding the 2012 Farm Bill has even more big-money spending from outfits that will make you gag. According to Think Progress, the new Farm Bill “would, among other things, deprive millions of Americans of food stamps, gut food safety protections, and prematurely force genetically engineered crops onto the market.” The fight in Congress is not over and the money keeps flowing. To get a sense of scale, an analysis by Food & Water Watch says that agribusinesses, commodity groups, food manufacturers and other special interests spent $173.5 million on the 2008 Farm Bill — more than $500,000 a day during the 110th Congress. By comparison, the lobbyists’ price tag for the Obama’s healthcare legislation hit $120 million.


LOD: Raleigh v. Big Money

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

The Citizens United decision allowed corporations to use money from their treasuries for candidate advocacy, not direct donations to candidates. Some argue the decision has not released a torrent of political spending by corporations, thinking narrowly of the Fortune 500. But they overlook the new use of corporate nonprofits (particularly secretive c-4s) as front groups for profit-making corporations, as well as the enormous jump in “independent” expenditures by Super PACs funded by the mega-donations of corporate CEOs. The underlying problem is captured well in a resolution for an anti-Citizens United Constitutional amendment adopted by the Raleigh City Council on July 3 (congratulations, Raleigh!) It says, in part: “Whereas concentrated wealth should not outweigh the rights of ordinary citizens by using its economic power to influence election outcomes, including the selection of candidates.” Bottom line: To overturn the conversion of fair elections into commodities sold to the highest bidder, we’ll need an amendment that not only limits corporate power but also declares that the purchasing power of money from all sources is not protected from regulation by the First Amendment; money is property, not speech. By the way, hear George Friday from Move to Amend tonight in Raleigh.


LOD: Political Poison

Friday, June 1st, 2012

The Institute for Southern Studies/Facing South reveals the connection between toxic money pouring into NC politics and legislation to increase toxic chemicals pouring into our air. The article draws on a new analysis by Democracy North Carolina of the political muscle of 27 leading polluters and their trade groups. Hint: by themselves, they annually spend 10 times as much on lobbying and campaign donations as all the environment groups combined.  The legislative effort to allow big polluters to bypass North Carolina’s highly acclaimed Air Toxics Program is all the more diabolical because regulators and several environmental groups are ready to accept the change out of fear that conservative legislators will deliver on a threat to gut the program even further. What madness.


LOD: NC & the Supremes

Monday, May 21st, 2012

US Supreme Court decisions hit home today in two ways (not counting the Court-blessed, corporate-funded slug fest now going on between surrogates of North Carolina’s Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates).  A lower court today ruled that the rescue funds provision of NC’s public campaign financing programs are illegal, because of the US Supreme Court’s decision in a case involving a similar provision in Arizona. In earlier litigation that went to the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the rescue funds provision was upheld. That case involved our judicial public financing program and the losing attorney, James Bopp of Citizens United fame, was delighted to bring the case back when the Supremes made their 5-to-4 ruling about Arizona’s similar provision. So Bopp won today – but the judicial public financing program is still very popular with Republicans and Democrats in North Carolina. In fact, even though they knew no rescue funds would be available if they were clobbered by some big spender, all 8 candidates for 4 seats on the state’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals enrolled in the public financing program. It has its limits, but the private money chase is even more oppressive and debilitating.

Meanwhile, in another court action, NC Attorney General Roy Cooper joined the AGs from 21 other states and the District of Columbia in a “friend of the court” brief that urges the US Supreme Court to reconsider its Citizens United decision – or to at least clarify that the State of Montana should be allowed to regulate corporate-funded political intervention in the state’s elections. The Montana Supreme Court, recalling the power of the old Copper Barons, recently ruled that the public has a legitimate right to restrain corporate political spending, despite what the Citizens United decision says. It has effectively thumbed its nose at the 5 radical US Supreme Court judges who declare that corporate money can’t corrupt politics; most observers believe the 5 will not waver as they review the Montana case, but the brief by the AGs gives them the legal rationale to back off their extremist position.


LOD: Citizens United’s Origins

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

The New Yorker this week has an in-depth account of the manipulations and blunders that inflated a narrow issue before the US Supreme Court into the now infamous Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. The majority opinion didn’t need to make sense – it had 5 of the 9 votes, enough to win; the dissenting views were easily more compelling. “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding,” wrote Justice John Paul Stevens in dissent. “It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Read the article to understand the context of the opinions and significance of one or two appointments to the Supreme Court.


LOD: Wal-Mart Way of Business

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Wal-Mart is in the middle of a scandal involving allegations of massive bribery in Mexico – and the company is depending on the goodwill built through its generous donations to Congressional leaders of both parties to weather the storm; in other words, it’s using another form of bribery that has become standard practice for major businesses, especially as they undergo more scrutiny for abusing their power. Wal-Mart has been the target of numerous complaints over the years as it has enriched the heirs of founder Sam Walton – several are now among the 10 richest individuals in the United States. Earlier this week, the company agreed to pay nearly $5 million in back pay and damages to thousands of workers it had cheated out of overtime pay. That amount pales next to the more than $600 million Wal-Mart agreed to pay to settle dozens of labor-related cases in 2008. Apparently it learned the wrong lesson from that experience, i.e., cheating is cheaper than doing the right thing. Would its owners be so recalcitrant if they couldn’t use protection money to bribe the system in their favor? They are already spending big-time in the 2012 election so they never have to find out.


LOD: Sick for Justice

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

The multi-part series in the News & Observer about NC hospitals will make you sick. Today’s part adds the money-in-politics dimension to the profile of heartless institutions with unbelievable profit margins, hiding behind the respectable shield of non-profit charitable service. Rep. Dale Folwell, the Republican House Speaker Pro-Tem, says his effort to cap a sales tax windfall for hospitals went nowhere fast last year. “The reason this bill never got a hearing is because big money bottled it up,” he said. Today’s paper also includes an op-ed on the dangers of turning the health-care management of prison inmates over to for-profit corporations that use political corruption wherever they go to turn state resources into enormous private gain. Not that North Carolina’s non-profit hospitals do much better with prison care; the N&O shows they routinely charge the state three times their actual costs to treat sick inmates. Sure seems like a crime, but who will threaten these smiling hospital managers with a prison term?


LOD: Tax Dodgers

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Robert Reich, economist and chairman of Common Cause, has a two-minute video that shows how top corporations use their profits to manipulate the political system to reap more tax breaks and the lion’s share of productivity gains over the past several decades; Reich connects a lot of dots in 135 seconds. His themes are fleshed out in a succinct essay by Paul Buchheit on “five reasons why the very rich have not earned their money.”  With Tax Day here, it’s worth recognizing that the maze of tax laws lets corporations like Duke Energy and Wells Fargo pay Zero federal taxes. US PIRG analyzes one giant tax distortion that costs the rest of us $100 billion a year: the offshore tax havens enjoyed by eBay, Wells Fargo and others.


LOD: Mega-Donor Profiles

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

The Charlotte Observer uses research from Democracy North Carolina for an analysis of Duke Energy’s political clout, which would grow even larger after the proposed merger with Progress Energy. “We are not apologetic about what we do in state capitals and Washington,” said Duke spokesperson Tom Williams. “We are a large player and we serve a lot of people. . . . We clearly would be very large and active players in the policy arenas in those six states (Duke and Progress serve) and Washington. Our bottom line is influenced by political policies, and we certainly offer our opinions.”  In another profile of mega-donors, CBS News looks at the contributors to Super PACs through the examples of Julian Robertson, the North Carolina native and hedge fund founder who is a major donor to Mitt Romney, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, Hollywood producer and patron of Barack Obama.


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