In 2010, a wave election propelled tea party-endorsed candidates into statehouses across the country. Last week, the Economic Policy Institute issued the first comprehensive report surveying the impact that conservative legislation has had on workers’ rights in the past two years.
“The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012” reveals the existence of a multifaceted, nationwide campaign to not only deprive working people of the right to join a union, but also keep wages low and make it harder for people to take their employers to court when they’ve been wronged. Moyers & Company caught up with the report’s author Gordon Lafer – a political economist at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center – to discuss his findings. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
Joshua Holland: Your report looks at a wide array of state laws — passed or proposed — that undermined workers’ rights in 2011 and 2012. You say that this is an unprecedented assault on working people.
Reading your report, it struck me that this is exactly what people mean when they say that political inequality follows economic inequality: You have these growing fortunes on the one hand and then declining political clout on the other hand. It just seems like this is a cycle that keeps continuing.
To what degree is this a result of the 2010 wave election, when Republicans took a number of statehouses?
Gordon Lafer: What you’re saying is very important, and what’s even more important than just thinking about the wave election is that 2010 was the year that the Supreme Court said that corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money on politics [in its Citizens United decision]. MORE
Cindy Black, right, and Jill Hill park a car with a giant apple on top that promotes a yes vote on I-522 in Washington state -- which would require genetically engineered foods to be labeled as such -- on Oct. 17, 2013 in Tacoma, Washington. Ahead of Election Day, campaigns on both sides of Initiative 522 have bombarded the airwaves in one of the most costly initiative battles, funded in large part by outside money, in state history. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Today is Election Day and outside money is flooding campaigns in small towns and big cities across the country in amounts not seen in past off-year elections.
The New York Timespoints to the cash that the billionaire Koch brothers have thrown into local races to help sway voters in Iowa, Kansas, Ohio and Texas.
In Coralville, Iowa (population: 20,000), the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity (AFP) jumped into the race to elect the town’s next mayor and city council with an aggressive campaign — including direct mail, newspaper advertising and knocks on doors — focused on the tiny town’s finances.
It’s just one local race AFP has tried to swing — often with success — since the Citizens United decision in 2010. MORE
Ted Cruz recently visited Iowa, where he went hunting with Rep. Steve King. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Ted Cruz has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t care for the ways of Washington.
From the moment of his arrival in the nation’s capital, the brash Texas senator has challenged the Washington establishment and old order, declaring political war on Democrats, many of his fellow Republicans, Beltway insiders, the executive branch and pretty much everything else. More than any than other politician, Cruz was responsible for the recent government shutdown and brinksmanship that brought the country to the edge of default. Evidently, he rejects governing on any terms but his own.
“I made promises to the people of Texas that I would come to Washington to shake up the status quo,” Cruz told The New York Times in February. “That is what I intend to do, and it is what I have done in every way possible in the responsibilities that have been granted to me.”
Well, it turns out he’s not out to shake up Washington in “every way possible.” When it comes to political money, the old ways that he so often derides seem to suit Senator Cruz just fine.
So-called Leadership PACs, for example, are a staple of the status quo, as vehicles for soliciting Washington influence-money and for creating cozy relations between members of Congress and Washington lobbying interests seeking government favors. Here’s how they work: While a donor can give $5,200 to a member’s campaign committee during a six-year election cycle, the same donor can give an additional $30,000 during the six-year period to the member’s Leadership PAC. These Leadership PACs can then be deployed to support other candidates, but are more often used to pay for political and other expenses incurred by the member, other than his campaign expenses.
Cruz apparently likes this particular old way of doing business so much that it took him less than a week after he was elected to create his very own Leadership PAC – the Jobs, Growth and Freedom Fund. Even before he was sworn in as a senator, Cruz was playing the Washington money game.
And from whom did Senator Cruz solicit and receive contributions for his Leadership PAC?
How about representatives of such Washington establishment players as the American Bankers Association, Lockheed Martin, Intel, Northrop Gruman, CSX Corporation, Altria Group (parent company of Phillip Morris) and Comcast? And add to that list representatives of Union Pacific Corporation, FMR Corp (Fidelity Investments), the National Association of Broadcasters, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation, Norfolk Southern, Compass Bancshares, among others.
Not exactly the voices of ordinary citizens and grassroots America.
In his new book, Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes and Line Their Own Pockets, Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, describes Leadership PACs as instruments for “a form of legal extortion designed to extract campaign contributions.”
Leadership PACs have long been considered political slush funds designed first and foremost to benefit the members of Congress who control them rather than to support other candidates. They are certainly not viewed as a means for challenging the old ways or the Washington establishment, which is the principal funder of most Leadership PACs.
Cruz is certainly not taking on the old ways with his strong defense of secret money in American politics. In October, when Cruz put a hold on Thomas Wheeler’s nomination as a commissioner of the FCC, the federal agency that oversees the broadcasting industry, he said he wanted to know Wheeler’s views about whether the FCC had the authority or intent “to implement the requirements of the failed congressional DISCLOSE Act,” according to a Cruz spokesman. Cruz dropped his hold on Wheeler this week after Wheeler reportedly agreed not to make disclosure of political ads by broadcasters a priority for the agency.
But Cruz seems almost obsessed with the DISCLOSE Act, intended to close loopholes that have allowed hundreds of millions of dollars in secret contributions to be spent in federal elections; earlier in the year, he claimed that it raised “grave constitutional concerns for speech protected by the First Amendment.”
Cruz might want to brush up on his First Amendment law. By an 8 to 1 vote, the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case upheld disclosure requirements for corporations and others who make independent campaign expenditures. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said in upholding disclosure: “Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”
Campaign finance disclosure requirements were first upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo, on the grounds that they “deter actual corruption and avoid the appearance of corruption,” and aid voters “in evaluating those who seek federal office.”
Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia provided one of the most powerful defenses of disclosure in Doe v. Reed, a 2010 case involving a referendum petition. Scalia wrote in a concurring opinion, “Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.”
So what, then, are we to make of Cruz’s “war” on the status quo? Leadership PACs and secret money play a central role in the exercise of power in Washington – and on both subjects, the Texas senator is on the side of powerful, wealthy interests at the expense of ordinary Americans.
Not that it’s stopping him from donning populist garb. In Iowa last week, Cruz, who is flirting with a president run, styled himself as a Beltway outsider. “I’m convinced we’re facing a new paradigm in politics; it is the paradigm of the rise of the grassroots. It has official Washington absolutely terrified,” he said.
But back in Washington, Cruz is already playing the insiders’ influence-money game, and competing with the best of them.
Fred Wertheimer is the founder and president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to strengthen our democracy and promotes government integrity, accountability and transparency measures to accomplish its goals.
In America, we expect that our courts are fair and impartial — that their primary interest is to serve justice under the law. But increasingly, state high courts are falling prey to the same out-of-control, post-Citizens United election spending that has plagued legislative and executive races during the past two election cycles.
A supporter looks on during a news conference by the Iowa State Bar Association in Des Moines, Iowa. In 2012, the Iowa State Bar Association had to take a bus tour to counteract a smear campaign of Justice David Wiggins by out-of-state conservative politicians who opposed the Iowa Supreme Court.
Thirty-eight states elect their state Supreme Court justices and, despite the courts’ supposed insulation from politics, during the 2011-2012 cycle huge sums of money poured into these elections. A new report by the Brennan Center for Justice, Justice at Stake and the National Institute on Money in State Politics finds that over $56 million was spent on state high court races across the country. A significant chunk of this money came from special interests one would expect to find operating at the national level, such as the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity and the National Rifle Association-linked Law Enforcement Alliance of America. The spending was concentrated among a small handful of interest groups and political parties — the top 10 spenders shelled out $19.6 million of the $56.4 million total.
And 2011-2012 also saw a new high for TV ad spending for state high court races — $33.6 million. The report found that when candidates create their own ads, or when political parties create ads to help a candidate’s campaign, the ads are positive, promoting the candidate. But when special interest groups buy ads in judicial elections, the content promotes a candidate less than half the time, and is more focused on portraying the opposing candidate in a negative light. These groups often have opaque names — Iowans For Freedom, Greater Wisconsin Committee — making it difficult for voters to determine who is behind them. Increasingly, the courts are becoming as much of a target for well-funded groups with an agenda as the other two branches of government.
“The courts are a great target because they can’t fight back on their own,” says Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan campaign working for fair and impartial courts. MORE
Investors are hungry for more information about the companies they invest in. Shareholders — the owners of the company — deserve to know where their money is going. Currently, it’s too easy for one person in corporate management to secretly spend company money on pet political projects. Disclosure would empower shareholders to engage in oversight and ensure that political expenditures are in the firm’s interest. And transparency helps investors avoid companies where corporate management consistently engages in risky political behavior.
Top corporate leaders increasingly recognize the value of transparency. For example, Microsoft has made its political activity public since 2007. As Microsoft executive Dan Bross explained, “By not being transparent and open, we’d be increasing the risk to the corporation.” Bross has pushed transparency as a way for corporate America to regain the public’s trust. Now the software giant has made its reports even more detailed, in response to shareholder requests.
Since then, those Dems must have had a change of heart. On Tuesday, nearly all of them flip-flopped, and voted against a House bill that would have undermined the same safeguards the letter opposed.
Here’s some background, which was covered in our August report: The Department of Labor, which oversees the law that sets minimum standards for many retirement plans, is considering a rule that would simply require retirement investment advisers to act in the best interest of their customers. The letter, which was signed by 28 out of the 43 members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) — a group of lawmakers that advocates for low-income people and minorities — and four other Democratic lawmakers, sought to delay and weaken the rule. Consumer advocates and government officials argued the rule could provide much need protection for small investors: MORE
This article will appear in the November 11, 2013 edition ofThe Nation.
George Mason University School of Law Professor Todd Zywicki, who also works for Global Economics Group.
Professor Todd Zywicki is vying to be the toughest critic of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new agency set up by the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform law to monitor predatory lending practices. In research papers and speeches, Zywicki not only routinely slams the CFPB’s attempts to regulate bank overdraft fees and payday lenders; he depicts the agency as a “parochial” bureaucracy that is “guaranteed to run off the rails.” He has also become one of the leading detractors of the CFPB’s primary architect, Elizabeth Warren, questioning her seminal research on medical bankruptcies and slamming her for once claiming Native American heritage to gain “an edge in hiring.”
Zywicki’s withering arguments against financial reform have earned him guest columns in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times and on The New York Times’s website. Lobbyists representing the largest consumer finance companies in the country have cited his writings in letters to regulators, and the number of times he has testified before Congress is prominently displayed on his academic website at the George Mason University School of Law.
What isn’t contained in Zywicki’s university profile, CV, byline or congressional testimony is the law professor’s other job: he is a director of the Global Economics Group, a consulting business that boasts in a brochure that its experts have been hired by industry to influence the CFPB and other regulatory agencies. Nor does Zywicki advertise Global’s client list, which includes some of the biggest names in the financial industry, among them Visa, Bank of America and Citigroup. MORE
This post first appeared at Alternet. This is the first in a new series from AlterNet’s New Economic Dialogue Project, edited by Lynn Parramore.
Long before President Obama kicked off his 2008 campaign, many Americans took it for granted that George W. Bush’s vast, sprawling national security apparatus needed to be reined in. For Democrats, many independents and constitutional experts of various persuasions, Vice President Dick Cheney’s notorious doctrine of the “unitary executive” (which holds that the president controls the entire executive branch), was the ultimate statement of the imperial presidency. It was the royal road to easy (or no) warrants for wiretaps, sweeping assertions of the government’s right to classify information secret, and arbitrary presidential power. When Mitt Romney embraced the neoconservatives in the 2012 primaries, supporters of the president often cited the need to avoid a return to the bad old days of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld National Security State as a compelling reason for favoring his reelection. Reelect President Obama, they argued, or Big Brother might be back.
But that’s not how this movie turned out: The 2012 election proved to be a post-modern thriller, in which the main characters everyone thought they knew abruptly turned into their opposites and the plot thickened just when you thought it was over.
Glenn Greenwald, a reporter of the Guardian, speaks to reporters at his hotel in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
In early June 2013, Glenn Greenwald, then of the Guardian, with an assist from journalists at The Washington Post, electrified the world with stories drawn from documents and testimony from Edward Snowden, an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton working under contract with the National Security Agency, who had fled the country. They broke the news that the US government had been collecting vast amounts of information on not only foreigners, but also American citizens. And the US had been doing this for years with the cooperation of virtually all the leading firms in telecommunications, software and high tech electronics, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Verizon and Facebook. Sometimes the government even defrays their costs. MORE
JPMorgan Chase Chairman, President and CEO Jamie Dimon presents his driver's license to Justice Department security officer G. Rocher, as he arrives at the Justice Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
JPMorgan Chase, the star of mega-banks, is up against the wall at the Justice Department, trying to settle its myriad crimes for $13 billion. That’s real money, even for a trillion-dollar bank. So this is progress. After years of scandalous indifference, the Obama administration appears to have found its backbone.
Better late than never, grumpy citizens can say. But that doesn’t settle the matter. Four years ago, Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware crisply described the more fundamental problem posed by the wantonly reckless behemoths of Wall Street. MORE
The short answer: a one-two punch rewriting of campaign finance law that drove legislators to heed their own parties’ extreme elements.
Former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) has blamed the 2002 McCain-Feingold reform law, calling it “the worst thing that ever happened to Congress.” By taking unlimited “soft money” away from the political parties, but especially from the Republican Party, the law empowered the nascent insurgents at the Club for Growth. MORE
Seven days into a government shutdown, and 9 days away from a potentially catastrophic breach of the nation’s debt limit, and the question everyone is asking is: who will blink first?
The White House says that it absolutely will not negotiate over a debt limit hike. They see it as imperative to delegitimize the tactic of using the threat of default to squeeze policy concessions out of the majority once and for all. For the administration, this is much more than a partisan spat – they see this series of forced crises as a fundamental threat to our democratic system, an approach that has the potential to permanently alter the balance of power between the White House and Congress, and between the House and the Senate. They believe that if they give anything substantial to House Republicans in exchange for a short-term deal funding the government, we’ll just end up in the same situation a few months from now. Lurching from showdown to showdown will become a new norm in Washington, DC.
The only way to delegitimize nullification-through-brinksmanship is to force the GOP to back down without winning anything (or without winning anything more than a symbolic, face-saving concession that everyone will see as such).
On the other side, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) can’t get his caucus to vote for anything that doesn’t win them significant policy concessions. “We’re not going to be disrespected,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) said last week in a much cited interview. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
That position is being shored up by a significant bloc of GOP lawmakers in the House who represent overwhelmingly conservative districts and fear primary challenges from their right – backed by deep-pocketed outside groups that demand a hardline –if they don’t hold fast.
But it’s also been widely reported that there are enough votes in the House to pass a clean budget resolution, and presumably a clean debt limit hike, with mostly Democrats and a handful of Republican moderates. So far, John Boehner has refused to bring a bill to the floor, insisting that he will only consider legislation that has the support of most Republicans.
According to the conventional wisdom, Boehner will face a revolt from within his own ranks and lose his speakership if he folds and passes a bill with mostly Democratic votes (although Jonathan Bernstein argues that Boehner’s got the safest job in Washington because nobody wants to deal with the messy caucus he has to wrangle).
So what is the end-game? Democrats have offered what’s known as a discharge petition which would force Boehner to allow a vote on a clean budget resolution, but it requires the support of a couple of dozen Republican lawmakers, and that’s unlikely to happen. And because of various procedural rules, it won’t be effective for lifting the debt ceiling before the October 17 deadline.
But there are other procedural tricks available if at least 17 Republican lawmakers join with a united Democratic caucus to force a vote. And that’s where a potential escape hatch lies. A couple of dozen Republican lawmakers are on record supporting a clean resolution that would end the impasse. Many in this group don’t come from deep red districts – about 20 representatives come from districts with lots of federal workers in Virginia, or from purple districts in New Jersey, New York, California and Minnesota. They’re not immune to tea party challenges, but they are much more secure from threats on the right and their constituents aren’t pressing them to keep up the fight in the same way as their colleagues are being pushed.
What this means is that John Boehner doesn’t need to bring a bill to the floor himself – he doesn’t need to cave publicly. He can quietly signal to this group that they can join Democrats without fear of retaliation by the party’s leadership, and then he can hold a press conference and weep and yell about he’s been betrayed when the deed is done.
So far, those Republicans who want to vote for a clean budget resolution haven’t bucked their party’s leadership – they haven’t walked the talk. And a number of informed commenters have pointed out that they have little incentive to do so. Those points are well taken, but premature. They have every reason to remain disciplined now, nine days before we breach the debt limit. Soon, the financial markets will start reacting violently as we get closer to the moment of truth. GOP donors will be calling friendly legislators, and they’ll become more frantic as the day of reckoning approaches.
The administration sees this as a do-or-die moment for the relevancy of the executive branch. Obama is not seeking re-election, and his team knows that the polls show that the other side will take more blame for a disaster.
So in the eleventh hour, either Boehner allows a vote on a debt limit hike, there’s a mutiny by Democrats and a handful of Republicans, or we find out what happens when investors lose confidence in the full faith and credit of the US government.
People stand in line outside the Supreme Court this morning to hear arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC.
If you think we need more money influencing politics in America, then today could be a great day for you.
The Supreme Court is hearing arguments this morning in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), a case challenging the overall limits an individual can donate to political action committees, candidates and parties in a two-year federal election cycle.
Under current law, a person can give up to $46,200 for federal candidates and $70,800 for parties and independent committees during the election cycle. With the support of the Republican National Committee, Shaun McCutcheon, a wealthy conservative donor from Alabama, is challenging the limits, arguing that they’re “unsupported by any cognizable government interest.”
The outcome is considered critical to the future of campaign finance, with many calling it Citizens United 2.0, referring to the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizen United v. FEC allowing corporations to give political candidates unlimited funds.
A “bad sequel”
In a phone call yesterday the advocacy group Common Cause called the case a “bad sequel” to Citizens United, which paved the way for the most expensive election in history and a flood of negative ads (those of you in swing states will remember how miserable watching TV was last fall). MORE
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., walks out of the Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
A must-read report by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Mike McIntire in Sunday’s New York Times should put to rest any lingering debate about who’s ultimately to blame for the shutdown. According to the report, a who’s who of conservative activists headed by deep-pocketed funders have planned for months to trigger a budgetary showdown as a last-gasp effort to kill off Obamacare before the American people have a chance to see its biggest benefits come online.
From the story:
Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy. Their push to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new plan.
Out of that session, held one morning in a location the members insist on keeping secret, came a little-noticed “blueprint to defunding Obamacare,” signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups. MORE
Ann Robbins, left, from Richboro, Pa., holds a sign during a rally for religious freedom organized in part by the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, in front of Independence Hall, Friday, March 23, 2012, in Philadelphia. The rally was in objection to the Health and Human Service mandate that private health care cover women's contraception. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Frank and Philip Gilardi live in Ohio and own produce packing and delivery companies that employ about 400 people. The brothers are also devout Catholics who donate food to religious charities, provide a trailer for the local parish picnic every year, put pro-life bumper stickers on all company trucks — and don’t want their companies’ insurance plans to cover contraception, as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires. They’ve sued the Obama administration, arguing that the mandate violates their constitutionally protected religious freedoms.
How? By citing the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which suggested that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as human beings to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. The Gilardis’ lawyers — and a host of similar lawsuits — are arguing that if the courts have found that corporations have free-speech rights, they ought to also find that businesses have the right to free expression of religion.
Judges have so far been pretty skeptical of this line of argument, given that the law still defines a corporation as “an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law.” No court has ever held that a corporation can actually exercise religion, no matter how many bumper stickers are put on its trucks. MORE
This post first appeared in The Nation on September 28, 2013.
The sun rises behind the White House in Washington, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013. Locked in a deepening struggle with President Barack Obama, the Republican-controlled House approved legislation early Sunday imposing a one-year delay in key parts of the nation's health care law and repealing a tax on medical devices as the price for avoiding a partial government shutdown in a few days' time. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Today, House Republicans pushed one more step towards a government shut down by coalescing around a continuing resolution that delays the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by one year, while permanently repealing one of the primary funding mechanisms for the law, a 2.3 percent excise tax on medical device companies.
While its clear that Democrats will reject any delay of health reform, the move to revoke the medical device tax can be seen as a coup by industry lobbyists. The medical device industry, led by AdvaMed, a trade association that spends $29 million a year, has pushed aggressively to ensure that medical device companies contribute nothing to the financing of the ACA.
After the tea party catapulted House Republicans into the majority, 75 right-wing lawmakers wrote a letter to Speaker Boehner demanding that a vote to repeal the device tax occur “as soon as possible.” The metadata of the letter shows that it was authored by Ryan Strandlund, a member of AdvaMed’s government affairs team. MORE