Saturday, June 18, 2011

A survey of corruption in the USA government

Willoughby, Nikki, Common Cause  |  Video: "I smell corruption on the high court" (March 3, 2011)  |
On Tuesday, March 1, Common Cause Vice President Arn Pearson spoke with journalist Thom Hartmann about proposed legislation that would hold Supreme Court justices accountable to the same code of ethics that apply to other federal judges.

From Kennedy, Elizabeth and Skaggs, Adam, Brennan Center for Justice  |  The People’s Business: Disclosure of Political Spending by Government Contractors (June 16, 2011)  |
By bringing sunlight to the political spending of government contractors, the Obama administration’s draft executive order will give the public and watchdog groups a powerful tool to ensure that corruption in government contracting does not corrode the legitimacy of the federal government.  Doing so will save taxpayers money and not only fight corruption, but prevent the appearance of corruption and political favoritism that undermines confidence in the government.  Significantly, a long and unbroken chain of U.S. Supreme Court precedents has upheld disclosure of political spending, and the draft executive order stands on rock-solid constitutional ground.  President Obama should sign the order without delay.

From People for the American Way  |  Report: Citizens Blindsided: Secret Corporate Money in the 2010 Elections and America’s New Shadow Democracy  |
Unlike actual voters, who can bring not only self-interest but an interest in the broader community and the common good to the ballot box and the campaign, private corporations that intervene in politics are bound by law to spend corporate resources to promote only those candidates whose election will serve to increase company profits and serve the company agenda.   As Justice Stevens put it in his passionate dissenting opinion in Citizens United, “corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.”  But they do have a legally defined purpose to follow, which is to make as much money as possible for their shareholders.  Expenditure for any other purpose constitutes “corporate waste” in all of the states.  For the first time in our history, the Court has thus transformed single-minded profit-making corporations into full-fledged political citizens armed with the rights of the people.

Based on the election results, it looks like the first wave of investment of corporate political venture capital has paid off handsomely for major investors.  In an economy still reeling from the mortgage crisis and trillion-dollar collapse on Wall Street, at a time when millions of citizens are still out of work and millions more are facing home foreclosures, when big bail outs for big banks and budget austerity for everyone else is the order of the day, mere citizens proved to be no match at all for the organized wealth of large corporations and the negative ads the companies underwrote.    Even in the wake of corporate disasters like the BP oil spill, the collapsing West Virginia coal mines of the Massey corporation, and the trillion-dollar subprime mortgage debacle provided by AIG, Goldman Sachs and others, will either of the two major political parties and their elected officials now have the courage to stand up to the awesome economic might of our largest corporations?

This edifying and often horrifying report names the names of the key players who channeled the corporate cash, received it and spent it on building a wall of propaganda in the 2010 campaigns, freely mixing truth and falsehood along the way, as is the right of citizens--and now corporations--under our First Amendment .  Beyond known facts, the report also tells us what we do not know, and cannot know, about corporate political spending unless and until Congress moves to pass the DISCLOSE Act, which is the very least that can be done to give the public a sense of who is paying for the wall of propaganda that just got erected across America.

From Pearson, Esq., Arn H., Vice President for Programs, Common Cause  |  Letter to the US Senate Rules Committee regarding responses to Citizens United court case  (February 1, 2010)  |
Common Cause supports a comprehensive package of reforms to address the effects of the Citizens United decision – and the preexisting condition of big money dominance in federal elections and the halls of Congress. We believe that a reform package should:

1. Prohibit political spending by foreign-owned domestic corporations. The Citizens United decision opens a loophole that would allow foreign-owned corporations chartered in the United States to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections. That loophole must be closed.

2. Require shareholder approval of political expenditures.

3. Prohibit political expenditures by corporations that receive federal government contracts, earmarks, grants, tax breaks or subsidies.

4. Strengthen coordination rules, to ensure that “independent” expenditures are truly independent.

5. Strengthen disclosure rules. Independent expenditures should be disclosed electronically within 24 hours in a manner accessible to candidates, the media and the public. CEO’s should be required to “stand by their ads” just like candidates, and corporations that collect money for political expenditures should provide attribution for their top three donors, in order to prevent evasion of disclosure by “Astroturf” entities. FCC advertising logs should be made available on the Internet.

6. Pay-to-Play reforms. Congress should move quickly to dispel the public’s perception of special interest dominance in Washington by enacting low contribution and solicitation limits for lobbyists and lobbyist employers, and banning earmarks for campaign contributors.

7. Fair Elections. Congress should enact a new system for 21st Century elections that allows candidates who agree to low contribution limits to run competitive campaigns on a blend of small donations and limited public funds.

The problem is not so much the amount we spend on political campaigns – columnist George Will likes to remind us that we spend more on potato chips than elections each year – as it is who pays for them, what they get in return, and how that distorts public policy and spending priorities. Keeping our elected officials dependent on the very same wealthy special interests they are supposed to regulate undermines public confidence in their government and its ability to tackle the tough issues that face the nation. And letting the interests who stand to gain from billions in federal spending and bailouts give politicians campaign cash undermines public faith in government’s ability to spend money wisely.

From Ronayne, Kathleen, Center for Responsive Politics  |  Some Super PACs Reveal Barest of Details About Funders (June 17, 2011 8:00 AM)  |
Super PACs, a new breed of political action committee that may raise unlimited sums of money to fuel political advertisements known as independent expenditures, are subject to one major condition: they must disclose their donors.

Or are they?

Federal Election Commission rules allow super PACs to legally avoid disclosing individual donors by attributing donations to nonprofit organizations, which are not required by law to reveal their donors.

During the 2010 election cycle, five super PACs utilized this little-used route, attributing all or nearly all of their contributions to nonprofit organizations organized with the Internal Revenue Service under section 501(c)(4) or section 501(c)(6) of the U.S. tax code, the Center for Responsive Politics finds.  Most of these non-profit groups are directly affiliated with the super PACs to which they donated money.