Pay to Play Category
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Thursday, April 5th, 2012
The protection money that Big Oil doles out to politicians has paid off again in Washington. A solid majority of Americans want to end tax breaks worth over $4 billion a year for oil companies, but 43 Republicans and 4 Democrats blocked a crucial vote in US Senate last week, so the windfall continues. An analysis by Think Progress shows that Big Oil’s supporters received nearly four times the campaign donations of those standing for responsible fiscal policy. Since January 2005, US Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) has received $234,800 from oil and gas industry donors, while Sen. Kay Hagan took in $17,550. Hagan voted to end the tax subsidy, Burr voted to keep it. The New Yorker has a long story (“Gusher”) about the recent history of ExxonMobil’s remarkable political clout, but at the moment only an abstract is accessible. For details about the oil industry’s subsidies and more, see this article from OMB Watch.
Monday, March 19th, 2012
Last week brought a flurry of reporting about the moral decay of America’s economic and political culture; the politics of greed is at the heart of the problem and the right target for the Occupy Movement and others. Somewhere in the 1980s, thanks to leadership at the top ranks of business and government, the transition accelerated from John F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you” to the current mantra of “what’s in it for me.” As Robert Reich knows well, immorality started at the top and trickled down. He writes, “There is moral rot in America but it’s not found in the private behavior of ordinary people. It’s located in the public behavior of people who control our economy and are turning our democracy into a financial slush pump. It’s found in Wall Street fraud, exorbitant pay of top executives, financial conflicts of interest, insider trading, and the outright bribery of public officials through unlimited campaign donations.” Reich wants to focus for the moment on Republican co-conspirators of this sick selfishism, but a fuller analysis would bring in many Democrats as well; the politics of greed is now taken for granted as the way things are, the way to survive and prosper. An insider at Goldman Sachs wrote a revealing op-ed attacking his “morally bankrupt” company as he resigned last week. For a horrific tale of corporate greed and corruption closer to home, read Rolling Stone’s cover story about Charlotte-based Bank of America, “a bank too crooked to fail.” Writes Matt Taibbi: “The threat posed by Bank of America isn’t just financial – it’s a full-blown assault on the American dream. Where’s the incentive to play fair and do well, when what we see rewarded at the highest levels of society is failure, stupidity, incompetence and meanness?” No wonder people will call this the decade of madness.
Wednesday, March 7th, 2012
Advocates for requiring photo ID checks at the polls may delight in a news story breaking in Statesville, where a city council member is charged with voter fraud along with his sister and two of her family members. But all these voters cast ballots in their own names; requiring them to flash a photo document with their name would not have prevented the alleged cheating. So rather than help the ID advocates’ cause, this is another case that highlights how the proposed H-351 will not really address fraud. As editorials this week in Southern Pines and Winston-Salem newspapers make plain, the bill’s claim to “restore confidence in government” is bogus; it’s really about excluding honest people who the reigning political party doesn’t want to vote. Ironically, as a column about House Speaker Thom Tillis points out, his cozy relations with predatory lenders shows he has his own problems with accurate ID information and inspiring confidence in government. Should he, or the lenders, be investigated?
Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
House Speaker Thom Tillis left out loads of information about his donors when he filed his campaign disclosure report for the last half of 2011. He got called out by Democracy NC and others; he said he’d fix the report and file an amendment. Well, the new report is in and there are still lots of holes – but what does get included is even more stunning. Tillis labels the CEO of a consumer loan company a “homemaker” – even though she helped organize a fundraising event for him in Greenville that brought in more than $30,000. Turns out two thirds of that money came from other loan company execs from around the state, apparently bundled together for delivery at the fundraiser, along with fat checks from the industry’s two PACs. This feels like a replay of Jim Black’s style of pay-to-play: Tillis, you will remember, muscled a controversial bill through the House for the loan companies, despite vigorous opposition from military brass and consumer advocates. Democracy North Carolina put all this info together into a release today that stimulated some press coverage, including these video reports on WRAL-TV and Raleigh’s NBC-17.
Tuesday, February 21st, 2012
Here’s a sobering statistic from a Washington Post report: “Four years ago, just 6 percent of campaign advertising in the GOP primaries amounted to attacks on other Republicans; in this election, that figure has shot up to more than 50 percent, according to an analysis of advertising trends.” Most of the money for the negative ads has come from outside groups, not the candidates’ committees, and it is dominating the election cycle so far, thanks to the Supreme Court’s various rulings that equate buying political influence with free speech. Outside groups feel less accountable for what they say, and media outlets let them get away with over-the-top trash talk. The New York Times has a donor-by-donor chart and USA Today adds analysis of the latest financial reports for Super PACs. The puny showing of the operation supporting Barack Obama’s re-election has led the President and his campaign to shift course and join in the hoax of helping “independent” groups raise mega-dollars to run “uncoordinated” advertising campaigns. The election system is being sucked into an Orwellian world ruled by Supreme Court justices who see corporations as people.
Monday, February 20th, 2012
NC House Speaker Thom Tillis deserves credit for his series of town hall meetings where he takes questions from the audience, including a sprinkling of dissenters. But his handlers apparently don’t want him exposed to an audience that is less overwhelmingly sympathetic to his message. Some voices are good, others are just not welcome, even in the People’s House. Tillis’ office was behind the order by police to remove a group of quiet demonstrators from the second floor of the General Assembly last Thursday; they invoked a little-known rule to achieve their censorship. But NC Policy Watch found this video to show that the rule was not used to kick out a similar crowd of Tea Party supporters on the second floor, talking with Speaker Tillis. Policy Watch calls it “Tillis’ double standard.” The News & Observer story about Thursday points out that a gaggle of Time Warner Cable executives were hovering around the Speaker’s office shortly before the demonstrators arrived, a normal sight. Voices of corporate special interests have long received favorable treatment in Raleigh. But that’s not to say we should not keep speaking up, organizing and demonstrating. An article in Yes! magazine, which highlights failed leadership from both Democrats and Republicans, profiles how broad-based grassroots action can beat the corporate giants: ““The government’s rejection of the AT&T/T-Mobile deal is an important reminder that the little guy can win in Washington.”
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.
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.
Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
A trio of small business federations today released a survey showing that two thirds of small business owners across the nation believe the Citizens United decision gives big corporations an unfair advantage over them. The Supreme Court decision from January 2010 allows businesses to spend unlimited amounts from their treasury to tell people how to vote. “America’s entrepreneurs feel corporations have an outsized role and say in politics to the detriment of the small business community,” said John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of Small Business Majority. The Supreme Court’s narrow 5-to-4 majority said campaign spending doesn’t win corporations political friends, or intimidate their enemies, because it must be “independent” of the candidate and can not be given directly to the candidate’s campaign. “Small business owners aren’t stupid,” countered Melanie Collins, owner of Melanie’s Home Childcare in Falmouth, Maine. “We know who wins when corporate heavy hitters can spend all the money they want, as secretively as they want, to influence our country’s elections – and it’s not us.” The survey also shows that by a margin of 7-to-1, small business owners think money plays a negative role in politics.
Tuesday, January 17th, 2012
The landmark Citizens United v. FEC decision, which gave corporations the political speech rights of people, will celebrate its second anniversary on January 21; its impact only grows worse each day. Jeff Clements has written a great book titled Corporations Are Not People that traces the shocking history of how business interests gained the rights of “we the people.” (Hint: The tobacco industry and its attorneys were deeply involved.) Here’s a link to a lively hour-long video interview with Jeff at a Demos breakfast last week. The book has its own valuable website with a very short video of Jeff with Dylan Ratigan of MSNBC, plus good pieces about “What the corporate takeover of the Constitution means to you,” who’s fighting back, and more.
Thursday, January 12th, 2012
How did your state legislator perform in 2011? What effect did Art Pope’s money machine have on state policy? Here’s an answer to both questions: A scorecard of key votes to protect NC’s environmental resources reveals that the current crop of lawmakers in Raleigh achieved the worst grades in decades. The new majority killed bills they perceived as elevating any value above greed. Just say you’re doing it for Jobs or Private Property Rights and slash away. The legislators backed by Art Pope’s money showed even more hostility to environmental issues than their colleagues. As a group, they got less than half the score of the average legislator, pulling down the entire General Assembly (and the state) with their kneejerk hatred of business regulation and investment in public resources.