This article was originally published by ProPublica.
IRS Headquarters in Washington, DC
In the furious fallout from the revelation that the IRS flagged applications from conservative nonprofits for extra review because of their political activity, some points about the big picture – and big donors — have fallen through the cracks.
Consider this our Top 6 list of need-to-know facts on social welfare nonprofits, also known as dark money groups because they don’t have to disclose their donors. The groups poured more than $256 million into the 2012 federal elections.
Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., left, and the subcommittee's ranking Republican Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., arrive on Capitol Hill this morning. McCain quipped that Apple's tax strategy has given "new meaning" to its old slogan, "Think Different." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
A government report (PDF) released yesterday says that Apple kept billions of dollars in profits in an offshore tax haven that made it possible for them to avoid paying taxes in any country. Reuters reports:
The subsidiary, which has a Cork, Ireland, mailing address, received $29.9 billion in dividends from lower-tiered offshore Apple affiliates from 2009 to 2012, comprising 30 percent of Apple’s total worldwide net profits, the report said.
“Apple has exploited a difference between Irish and U.S. tax residency rules,” the report said.
The streets are so much darker now, since money for streetlights is rarely available to municipal governments. The national parks began closing down years ago. Some are already being subdivided and sold to the highest bidder. Reports on bridges crumbling or even collapsing are commonplace. The air in city after city hangs brown and heavy (and rates of childhood asthma and other lung diseases have shot up), because funding that would allow the enforcement of clean air standards by the Environmental Protection Agency is a distant memory. Public education has been cut to the bone, making good schools a luxury and, according to the Department of Education, two of every five students won’t graduate from high school. MORE
"The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor" by Nathaniel Currier, a lithograph depicting the 1773 Boston Tea Party shows how some colonists disguised themselves as Native Americans. This time, the IRS was trying to unmask political operatives disguised as tea partiers. (Wikicommons)
Friday’s IRS bombshell — the revelation that a Cincinnati field office (and perhaps others) was targeting conservative social welfare groups for special scrutiny — has generated more outrage over the past few days than even the IRS is used to receiving.
The president and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are falling over themselves to express their shock and indignation over the scandal. President Obama said it was “outrageous.” Rep. Darrell Issa of California told just about anyone who would listen how upset he was, saying in a statement that “the fact that Americans were targeted by the IRS because of their political beliefs is unconscionable.” And House Speaker John Boehner was blunt: “My question is who’s going to jail over this scandal?” MORE
A Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)
It’s a distressing milestone that you likely read about: On Friday, the average daily level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere passed 400 parts per million — about 50 ppm over what scientists said was the “safe upper limit.” The gas, of course, is a byproduct of our fossil fuel economy, and is the key driver of climate change.
The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased dramatically since 1958, when the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii — the gold standard for measuring the gas — first began tracking levels. That year, the daily average was 316 ppm — since then, the level has increased by 26.5 percent.
The Washington Post writes that staffers for Sen. Orrin Hatch gave information to investors in Humana that appeared to prompt speculative trading. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
There are many ways corporations and financial interests can exercise influence in Washington. Some donate money to political campaigns while others hire lobbyists to be their megaphones to legislator ears. But information flows the other way, too. And since the financial crisis, details about the laws and regulations being hashed out behind closed doors is more valuable than ever.
A story from the Washington Post this week looks at the growing popularity of “political intelligence” firms that sell analysis of federal actions, and the likely policy ramifications of those actions, to interested parties. Oftentimes, the clients are investors in a company that will be affected by a policy decision or a proposed regulation. Some firms even coordinate meetings and conference calls with congressional staff members in which they share what they know about relevant legislation.
The Post illustrates this with an example: Capitol Street, a political intelligence firm specializing in health policy, recently set up a private conference call between a member of Sen. Orrin Hatch’s staff (R-Utah) and investors in Humana, a major healthcare company. The staffer told the investors that the odds were improving that Congress would make a decision related to Medicare that would help insurance companies. That same morning, the level of speculative trading on Humana’s stock was nearly 10 times more than it had been on any day in the previous two weeks. Lawmakers and federal regulators have noted that this sort of politically informed investing can look suspicious, and investigators recently issued subpoenas in connection with a different spike in trading after a D.C.-based investment-research firm correctly predicted a change in policy. MORE
If you’re a regular visitor to BillMoyers.com, you’re already familiar with Washington’s revolving door – legislators and their staff members becoming lobbyists, and vice versa: lobbyists landing jobs on Capitol Hill. But you may not be aware of one of the newer and more questionable perks – those lobbyists receiving six-figure bonuses from their corporate bosses when they fly the coop for lower paying government jobs. To learn more, investigative reporter Lee Fang of The Nation spent days combing through congressional staff disclosure forms in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building and lived to tell the tale. We spoke with him about what he found.
“The real power is often derived at the staff level because they are the ones writing the laws and doing the work,” Fang said. “I think these bonuses provide an incentive for them to be more likely to be friendly, or to at least pick up the phone, when they’re contacted by their former associates.”
“A lot of people study conflicts of interest in Congress — why Congress constantly passes bills that are laden with giveaways and bailouts and special favors for big industry,” he said. “I think there’s a little bit too much of a focus on campaign contributions. There are many ways to curry favor in Congress.” MORE
At the urging of a “loose coalition of Democratic elected officials, shareholder activists and pension funds” the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is considering a new rule that will require all publicly traded corporations to disclose their political donations, reports Nick Confessore in The New York Times:
A petition to the SEC asking it to issue the rule has already garnered close to half a million comments, far more than any petition or rule in the agency’s history, with the vast majority in favor of it. While relatively few petitions result in action by the S.E.C., the commission staff filed a notice late last year indicating that it was considering recommending a rule.
The Securities and Exchange Commission building in Washington. (Credit: flickr/arsheffield)
House Speaker John Boehner reenacts the swearing in of Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Once a congressman becomes head of a committee, fundraising for his or her next campaign gets easier.
USA Today reports that in the first quarter of 2013, nine new House committee chairmen received over $1.3 million in donations from political action committees representing special interests. That’s a 74 percent increase from what the same congressmen received from PACs during the first three months of the last Congress, two years ago.
USA Today looked at Federal Elections Commission filings for the nine new chairmen — appointed by the Republican leadership — who together collected $2.8 million in campaign contributions during the first quarter of the year. Of that, $1.9 million, or 68 percent, came from PACs. MORE
Moyers & Company’s Michael Winship speaks with Josh Silver, CEO of the nonpartisan advocacy group United Republic and director of its Represent.Us campaign finance reform campaign, about what he considers to be the main issue confronting all activists and reformers: the corrosive effect of money in politics. Silver, in a conversation taped at the National Conference for Media Reform, tells us, “You’ve got a political system that has become basically coin operated — where those with the money set the parameters of the debate in Washington; they are the most influential in who gets elected and who doesn’t and they are ensuring that the public interest is marginalized so that they can increase their profits, increase their own interests. And that’s happening on every issue virtually, from environment to healthcare to poverty, you name it.” Silver hopes that those who want change on both the right and the left decide that the only way to make progress on any issue is to first get money out of politics.
On Represent.Us’s “K Street 5K”
Represent.Us's dollar bill costumes will be used during the K Street 5K this Saturday. (credit: Represent.Us)
“We are getting about 700 people to dress up as $100 bills running down K Street in Washington D.C. to the US Capitol. We will arrive there, the Capitol police will prevent us from going into the Capitol, and the money will be blocked and we will then provide the Capitol police with an award, a golden plaque congratulating them for doing what Congress has been afraid to do or unwilling to do for decades, which is keep money out of Congress. And what’s really exciting is our two featured speakers are a leader of the Tea Party Patriots and a leader of the Bold Progressives, and we’re showing that we can do single issue organizing, we can put aside the many differences that we have on so many issues, but focus on the issue we all agree on: that money should not determine political outcomes.”
On why all activists and reformers should address money in politics and media reform
“You need to think of your top issue as one of your children and you need to think of media and money in politics as your other two children, let’s say. But the idea being you don’t love one child more than the other, or, as the professor Lawrence Lessig said at his TED talk last week — that was released last week — he said, ‘This doesn’t need to be your top issue, but it needs to be your first issue,’ money in politics, because if you don’t win it, you don’t fix it, you will never pass, you’ll never advance your most prized issue, be it environment, women, whatever.”
On pressuring politicians to be “anti-corrupt”
“Rather than Democrats versus Republicans, let’s create a seal of approval, which is you’re either corrupt or you’re anti-corrupt. And the way you get to be anti-corrupt is you sign on a set of basic provisions that say, ‘In office, I pledge to enact citizen funding of elections, enact sweeping lobbying reform measures and make all political money transparent, to give Congress the ability to limit political spending through a constitutional amendment if necessary, and determine that indeed corporations are not people and do not enjoy the same free speech rights’ — a litmus that can be embraced by the entirety of the democracy reform movement. And then market this new brand, this new seal of approval in the same way you would market a new car or a new online application, with the same kind of Madison Avenue marketing savvy that we see in the for-profit sector.”