Google, the tech giant supposedly guided by its “don’t be evil” motto, has been funding a growing list of groups advancing the agenda of the Koch brothers.
Organizations that received “substantial” funding from Google for the first time over the past year include Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the Federalist Society, the American Conservative Union (best known for its CPAC conference) and the political arm of the Heritage Foundation that led the charge to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act: Heritage Action.
In 2013, Google also funded the corporate lobby group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, although that group is not listed as receiving “substantial” funding in the list published by Google.
US corporations are not required to publicly disclose their funding of political advocacy groups, and very few do so, but since at least 2010 Google has chosen to voluntarily release some limited details about grants it makes to US nonprofits. The published list from Google is not comprehensive, including only those groups that “receive the most substantial contributions from Google’s US Federal Public Policy and Government Affairs team.” MORE
The US Treasury Building in Washington. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)
The IRS and Treasury Department announced proposed guidelines clarifying the definition of political activities for social welfare nonprofits last week, a move that could restrict the spending of the dark money groups that dumped more than $254 million of anonymous money into the 2012 elections. Read the guidelines here.
However, the guidelines, which finally define what constitutes “candidate-related political activity,” aren’t a done deal. They will take some time for public comment and debate, and more time to finalize. (The IRS asks that all comments and requests for a public hearing be submitted by February 27, 2014.) Experts also cautioned that the real test of oversight on the political spending by nonprofits will be how these regulations are enforced, something that the IRS has been so far reticent to do.
The proposed regulations “are only as good as the extent of compliance with them, which history would indicate requires a realistic threat of enforcement and significant sanctions on the groups involved and probably the individuals running those groups,” said Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a law professor and associate dean at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in nonprofits and campaign finance. MORE
In The New York Times, Ken Stern tells the story of how John Donald Cody, a former intelligence officer, put his expertise to use cheating charitable Americans. Under the assumed identity of Bobby Thompson, Cody set up a nonprofit called the US Navy Veterans Association and contracted with telemarketing firms to raise around $100 million in charitable contributions — ostensibly, for needy veterans. The organization, he claimed, had 41 state chapters, 66,000 members and was headed by one Jack L. Nimitz. None of that was true. The organization consisted only of Cody. The charity’s claimed purpose was also false. Most of the money it raised went to the telemarketers and much of the rest went to Cody or to Republican lawmakers he supported. Very little went to veterans.
This story was unwound in 2010 by two reporters at The Tampa Bay Times. Coda fled Florida, where he had run the “charity” out of his duplex apartment in Tampa. In April, 2012, the authorities found him in Portland, OR, where he was holding onto $981,650 — and almost two dozen fake ID cards — in a storage unit.
But none of these details are the most surprising part of this story. The most surprising part, Stern writes, is that most of what Cody did was “probably legal, or at least not specifically illegal.”
The alleged fraud was not that very, very little money ever went to Navy veterans. In fact, the fund-raising explicitly stated that a large portion of donations would go to cover telemarketing and other costs. Mr. Cody ran afoul of the law because he filed registration documents that contained false statements, because he stole the identity of the real Bobby Thompson, and because he pulled money from organizational accounts for his personal use. The irony is that he could have accomplished virtually his entire enrichment scheme without ever violating the law — and others have figured that out. MORE
Rep. Tom Petri, the author of a new campaign finance reform bill. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
After the 2012 election, the Republican National Committee published a 100-page autopsy (PDF) nobly titled the “Growth and Opportunity Project” that pointed the supposed way forward for the humbled Grand Old Party. Regarding the dark-money-driven, super-PAC-mad politics of today, the document left little doubt about the party’s view: Let the money flow. The RNC called for ending the ban on “soft money” (the 1990s-era equivalent of dark money that fueled the Clinton White House scandals), raising contribution limits, removing the aggregate limit on how much overall money a donor can give in one cycle and further deregulating money in politics at the state and federal levels.
But as the cost of winning an election increases, fundraising swallows up more of a congressman’s time and candidates scramble to acquire their own super PACs, several House Republicans are bucking their own party and demanding real reform.
Today’s top — though belated — media criticism comes from Erik Wemple from The Washington Post. He dissects the long lamented but until now much-overlooked blending of ads and coverage within Mike Allen’s fabled, overrated, “Playbook” morning tip sheet (and email newsletter) at Politico. Allen, a former Post reporter, has been one of the chief Politico staffers since its beginning.
One can only cheer when Wemple observes early on in his lengthy piece, “It’s about time that Politico’s Allen got his due as a native-advertising pioneer.”
Other media commentators are now responding and I’ll chart their reactions (and any Allen reply) below at the end of my piece. Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine has tweeted, for example: “The ethical disaster most journalists would define as a firing offense is, for Mike Allen, a job description.” And he’s written this. Andrew Sullivan’s headline declared, “Mike Allen, Busted.” Several wags have re-titled the Wemple piece, “SLAYBOOK.”
At a time when promising investments were hard to find, corporate America learned that lobbying was one of the most surefire ways of bolstering its bottom line…
Companies spent about $3.5 billion annually on lobbying at the end of the last decade, a nearly 90 percent increase from 1999 after adjusting for inflation, political scientist Lee Drutman notes in a forthcoming book, “The Business of America Is Lobbying.” MORE
Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Billionaire Pete Peterson once thought it would be a good idea to make rich CEOs the public face of his long-standing campaign to slash Social Security.
Guys like Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and GE’s Jeffrey Immelt have indeed won many a battle in Washington. And so it was perhaps understandable for Peterson to assume these corporate chieftains could deliver victory on austerity.
But as Congress heads toward yet another budget showdown, America’s most powerful CEOs are finding that their enormous wealth can also be a double-edged sword.
Last year Peterson put up the initial $5 million to create the Fix the Debt campaign, a PR and lobby machine led by more than 135 CEOs of major corporations. Honeywell CEO David Cote says he organized fellow corporate leaders to chip in the rest of the organization’s $45 million initial budget. MORE
Image: Center for Media and Democracy/ Progressnow
In 1971, Lewis Powell, who would become a Supreme Court justice the following year, penned a memo calling on the American business community to aggressively engage in shaping the country’s political discourse and regulatory landscape. The “American economic system is under broad attack,” he wrote. He said the time had come to fight back. “Business must learn . . . that political power is necessary; that such power must be assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination — without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.”
For Powell, it was all about organizing and planning over the long-term to sway public opinion and shape public policies. “Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations,” he wrote. MORE
A petition to the Securities and Exchange Commission to require more sunlight around corporate political spending has garnered hundreds of thousands of public comments, and almost all of them are in support of the rule change. Of the 643,599 public comments on the proposal to require that public companies disclose use of corporate resources for political activities to shareholders, more than 99.7 percent were in support of such a rule.
Since the Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 Citizens Unitedruling in 2010, corporations have been free to spend as much money as they want on independent expenditures in support of or opposition to political candidates. While some of these expenditures are subject to existing disclosure rules, many keep their spending hidden by funneling the money through tax-exempt groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, and Pat Boone’s 60 Plus Association. Legislation to require meaningful disclosure of who is really behind these ads has been blocked by Congressional Republicans since 2010.
Supporters of transparency have urged the SEC to use its rule-making authority to solve part of the problem. In 2011, ten professors of law petitioned to the Commission, urging it to require public companies to disclose all significant political spending so shareholders can hold their companies accountable. MORE
Noa Bashuk uses a tablet to follow along with her teacher in an eighth grade Spanish class at Autrey Mill Middle School in Johns Creek, Ga. on Thursday, May 9, 2013. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Major electoral contests – governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia, and wins by mayors-elect Martin Walsh in Boston and Bill de Blasio in New York City – caught progressives’ attention a week ago. Voters concerned about the future of public education, however, might want to pay more attention to what happened last week in Bridgeport, Conn. As this website and Salon both noted, that city’s school board race was among the top “under-the-radar” races to watch. Indeed, Bridgeport is a microcosm of education policy battles taking place across the country, and its activities have broad implications for many districts and states confronting similar issues.
Bridgeport is the largest school district in Connecticut – one of the nation’s wealthiest states and also the one with the largest achievement gaps – and among its lowest-performing (it ranks 159 out of 162 districts based on average student math and reading test scores). This should not be a surprise; Bridgeport was hard hit by the deindustrialization wave that swept across New England in the 1970s and 1980s and has since struggled to recover. In 2010, median household income in the racially mixed city was $34,658. In New Canaan, whose schools post the state’s highest average test scores, median household income among the town’s residents, 95 percent of whom are white, was $141,788.
Large achievement gaps in Bridgeport and other Connecticut cities led Gov. Dannel Malloy to advance a series of education policies, from substantial new investments in pre-K programs and in low-income school districts to tying teacher tenure to student test scores. The gaps have also drawn the attention of prominent self-proclaimed reformers, including NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former chancellor of the Washington, DC public schools Michelle Rhee as well as her Students First advocacy group. As such, Bridgeport has become an epicenter of increasingly heated battle over not only education policies, but also which voices should be central to the discussions about them. MORE
WikiLeaks once again provided a valuable public service, releasing a working draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s (TPP) chapter on intellectual property. The chapter has many of the provisions that critics had feared.
Specifically, there are several provisions that will increase protectionism in the prescription drug market, pushing up prices in the countries that sign the agreement. There are also provisions that would strengthen copyright protection, increasing the responsibility of third parties to assist copyright holders in enforcing their copyrights.
The greater protection for prescription drugs takes a variety of forms. For example, there is wording that would require countries to allow patents for new combinations of existing drugs. This has been a hotly contested issue internationally.
Republican gubernatorial candidate, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, delivers his concession speech with his wife, Teiro, during a rally in Richmond, Virginia, on Nov. 5, 2013. Cuccinelli was defeated by Democrat Terry McAuliffe. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Tuesday, as he conceded defeat in the Virginia governor’s race, Ken Cuccinelli II (R) told supporters that he had come closer than polls had indicated “despite being outspent by an unprecedented $15 million.” While he and his conservative supporters now lament that money cost them the victory they felt they deserved, they have long been the defenders of the system of campaign finance non-regulation in Virginia and nationally.
Because of the Old Dominion’s anything goes system, candidates can accept millions of dollars from any individual or corporation seeking to ensure their victory. While Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe raised over $32 million, Cuccinelli himself reported at least $19 million in donations — including hundreds of thousands from fossil fuel companies who preferred a climate-change denier to a candidate focused on green energy.
In campaign post-mortems, conservatives from Linda Chavez to Ralph Reed both echoed the candidate’s concession and blamed Cuccinelli’s loss on money. Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots Inc., the nation’s biggest tea party group, lamented that the pro-corporate US Chamber of Commerce went from making seven-figure investments in the 2009 campaign for Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) but spent nothing on Cuccinelli. “Just think what would have happened if the business and donor classes of the Republican Party would have helped.” Ben Domenech blamed the “donor class” as “sore losers” who threw a “temper tantrum” by not opening up their wallets for a more conservative nominee.
As Zack Beauchamp noted Thursday, Cuccinelli got “killed in the fundraising race,” in large part because business leaders did not care for his anti-corporatist stances against a tax increase to increase transportation funding and corporate welfare. Cuccinelli embraced anti-government populist ideas — as well as socially conservative ones — but not the priorities of some business interests. Had Cuccinelli embraced their agenda, as McDonnell did in 2009, others in the business community might well have supported him as enthusiastically as the energy sector did.
In an October press release called “Big Money,” the Cuccinelli campaign highlighted a fundraising appeal, sent by the chairman of the University of Virginia Council of Foundations to a hedge fund manager, explaining that he hoped to enlist a large number of UVA alums to support McAuliffe. “The more influential names we have associated with our shared voice the more likely we are going to have the future governor’s ear,” he wrote.
Therein lies the problem. If money really is the determining factor in who wins elections, candidates who agree with powerful moneyed interests like the Chamber will always have the upper hand over those who do not. And as Virginia saw with McDonnell’s Star Scientific scandal, those wealthy benefactors will be the ones with the freest access to the politicians they bankroll. And if states are the laboratories of democracy, as the late Justice Louis Brandeis suggested, the experiment of unlimited money in Virginia might be a warning sign to conservatives nationally that “anything goes” campaign finance laws may not always work out in their favor.
Josh Israel is a senior investigative reporter for ThinkProgress at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Previously, he was a reporter and oversaw money-in-politics reporting at the Center for Public Integrity, was chief researcher for Nick Kotz’s acclaimed 2005 book Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws that Changed America and was president of the Virginia Partisans Gay & Lesbian Democratic Club.
Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) begins a filibuster in an effort to kill an abortion bill, Tuesday, June 25, 2013, in Austin, Texas. The bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and force many clinics that perform the procedure to upgrade their facilities and be classified as ambulatory surgical centers. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In the dog days of summer, the “war on women” erupted into a full-fledged conflagration, as heated battles to roll back reproductive rights in the US Congress and in state legislatures across the nation were met with protests from women’s rights groups and grassroots uprisings. While the religious right had, over the years, used its influence to restrict access to abortion and contraception and push for feticide and personhood laws, nothing quite like the anti-choice legislative frenzy seen this past summer had taken place before the Koch brothers entered the war, bringing reinforcements from their legion of wealthy associates.
In North Carolina, thousands of activists gathered weekly, throughout the legislative session, at the state capitol in Raleigh for Moral Monday protests of a host of right-wing measures ranging from voter ID laws to rollbacks of reproductive rights. Many were arrested for trying to enter the capitol building.
And in Texas, the state capitol building in Austin was crammed with protesters as state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) earned her place in Lone Star history with her 11-hour filibuster of a draconian anti-choice bill, SB 5, which, after being stopped by Davis and her pro-choice allies with a dramatic run-down of the clock, ultimately passed into law as HB 2 in a subsequent special session called by Republican Gov. Rick Perry.
Back in Washington, DC, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed HR 1797, a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks post-conception.
To the untrained eye, it seemed that a sudden wildfire of anti-choice bills had engulfed the legislative agenda, but in truth the assault had been years, even decades, in the making. It wasn’t until three years ago, however, that conditions became so hospitable for the arsonists who trained their flame-throwers on these fundamental freedoms. MORE
“We’ve found through our experience that timid supplications for justice will not solve the problem,” declared the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967 as he announced the civil rights movement’s pivot toward the economic justice message of the Poor People’s Campaign. “We’ve got to massively confront the power structure.”
With those words, King spoke a language every bit as American as his “I Have a Dream” message of four years earlier. There are times for optimism and hope, and there are times for acknowledgment of an overwhelming challenge and the radical demand that it be addressed. Often they merge, and in these moments, great movements fundamentally redirect the nation. Tom Paine knew that. So did Frederick Douglass, and Jane Addams, and A. Philip Randolph. There is a rich American tradition of recognizing that some crises cannot be answered by tinkering at the edges of the problem. At such times, the people have responded with a boldness that ushered in new political parties or a New Deal, new understandings of the rights of citizens and the responsibilities of governments. And they have amended the Constitution, not once or twice but 27 times. MORE