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.”
From the digital divide to media consolidation to net neutrality, Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, is on the front lines of media reform. In a discussion with Moyers & Company’s Michael Winship, Aaron says he’s hopeful for the future of the movement. “I think our opponents have very deep pockets. I think they haven’t begun to try all of their dirty tricks. But ultimately, I believe that organized people can still beat organized money, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he says. The conversation* was recorded at the National Conference on Media Reform in Denver, organized by Free Press.
* Winship lost his voice in Denver, so he apologizes in advance for his froggy interview technique!MORE
SEC Chair Mary Schapiro testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington in her former role as SEC chair. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Mary Schapiro, until recently the chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, has passed through Washington’s lengendary revolving door to a new job at Promontory Financial Group, a company well-known as a fixer in the nation’s capital. The Wall Street Journal describes Promontory as “a consulting firm that has built a reputation as a shadow regulator by hiring scores of former government officials” who help banks struggling to comply with – or influence — the rules.
Click the chart to zoom in. Courtesy of Zero Hedge
Schapiro will join many government agency alumni at Promontory — The Wall Street Journal places the number of former regulators there at around 100. Promontory’s founder and CEO Eugene Ludwig is a former regulator himself. He served as President Clinton’s comptroller of the currency from 1993 to 1998. One of their more recent hires is Julie Williams, a key player in writing the Dodd-Frank bank reform law. She served for three decades at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, working at different points as the chief counsel and the acting comptroller of currency. Schapiro will also be working alongside many other former SEC staffers, including longtime Wall Streeter Arthur Levitt, who was the longest serving SEC chair, and former Acting SEC Chair Laura Unger. MORE
At moments, “The Lessons of Watergate” conference, held a couple of weeks ago in Washington, D.C. by the citizen’s lobby Common Cause, was a little like that two-man roadshow retired baseball players Bill Buckner and Mookie Wilson have been touring. In it, they retell the story of the catastrophic moment during the bottom of the last inning of Game Six of the 1986 World Series, when the Mets’ Wilson hit an easy ground ball toward Buckner of the Red Sox, who haplessly let it roll between his legs. That notorious error ultimately cost Boston the championship.
As The New Yorker magazine’s Reeves Wiedeman wrote of the players’ joint public appearance, ”It is as if Custer and Sitting Bull agreed to deconstruct Little Bighorn.” Or those World War II reunions where aging Army Air Corps men meet the Luftwaffe pilots who tried to shoot them down over Bremen.
So, too, in Washington, four decades after the Watergate break-in scandal that led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. Up on stage was Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame, one of the first victims of Nixon’s infamous “plumbers,” the burglars who went skulking into the night to attempt illegal break-ins — including one at the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. MORE
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., center, flanked by then-Sen. Barack Obama, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks at the Library of Congress in Washington to outline their agenda for reform in the wake of the scandal involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Jan. 18, 2006. From left are: Obama, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Reid, Pelosi and Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Center for Responsive Politics
A Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) report released yesterday found that the number of registered lobbyists in Washington has declined from its 2007 peak, and the amount of money being spent on lobbying has declined since 2010. But that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s less lobbying going on in Washington, writes report author Dan Auble.
“[F]ormer lobbyists have not moved far, and they are still likely influencing policy from the shadows,” writes Auble, a researcher who oversees the center’s lobbying and revolving door databases. Auble found that, of the lobbyists who were registered in 2012 but are not registered in 2013, at least 46 percent are still at the same firm, and an additional 15 percent are working within the same industry.
By law, anyone who spends more than 20 percent of their time lobbying is required to register. “The 20 percent threshold for filing is based largely on the honor system,” wrote Auble in a live chat yesterday. “Within a firm, there may be record keeping on an hourly basis, but many lobbyists will be on retainer and simply have to estimate whether they’ve met the limit.” MORE
In the movie adaptation of their book, All the President’s Men, “Follow the money” was the succinct advice given to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein by their secret source Deep Throat as they struggled four decades ago to get to the bottom of the Watergate burglary. The scandal ultimately brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon.
Deep Throat’s three words are even truer today; money remains at the root of corruption in government and politics. Efforts to reform campaign finance in the decades since Watergate have been upended, unleashing torrents of cash from undisclosed sources.
Following the money is journalist Matea Gold’s beat. A political reporter in the Washington bureau of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, she says the story of the 2012 elections was the dark money spent to influence the outcome. Moyers & Company senior writer Michael Winship spoke with her at last week’s Lessons of Watergate conference, organized by the citizen’s lobby Common Cause. MORE
Former Senator Russ Feingold speaks at a Common Cause conference to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Watergate.
Although the Watergate scandal and its web of bagmen and illegal contributions led to some new, much needed election rules and regulations, it took 30 years until the McCain-Feingold campaign reform act in 2002 made unprecedented changes to the way elections are funded.
We were “moving in the right direction,” former Senator Russ Feingold, co-sponsor of the McCain-Feingold law, said to Moyers & Company senior writer Michael Winship at Common Cause’s recent conference commemorating the 40th anniversary of Watergate. But the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision — which Feingold describes as “lawless, almost absurd” — and other rulings have eviscerated campaign finance reform in America. Nonetheless, Feingold believes that scandal and change will come — that the current system of virtually unlimited and often anonymous campaign monies is not sustainable and “will fall of its own weight.”
Listen to Feingold and Winship’s exclusive conversation here:
At the National Press Club, the citizen’s lobby Common Cause held a conference commemorating the 40th anniversary of Watergate. Kicking off the conference was economist Robert Reich, former secretary of labor under President Clinton. In this audio exclusive at the event, Moyers & Company senior writer Michael Winship talks with Reich about the ways in which Washington has changed since Watergate, and how the influence of money continues to corrupt politics and exacerbate income inequality in America.
Jim Messina, national chairman of Organizing for Action and President Obama's former campaign manager. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Organizing for Action, the new non-profit created to promote the president’s agenda, will disclose donors and dollar amounts over $250, won’t accept corporate donations and won’t guarantee face time with the president to big donors, the organization’s chairman Jim Messina wrote Thursday on CNN.com.
“There has been some confusion about what Organizing for Action is and is not,” Messina wrote. “Organizing for Action is an issue advocacy group, not an electoral one. We’ll mobilize to support the president’s agenda, but we won’t do so on behalf of political candidates. The president has always believed that special interests have undue influence over the policymaking process, and the mission of this organization is to rebalance the power structure.” MORE
A control room at television station WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Va. Because of Virginia's status as a swing state in the 2012 presidential race and the cheap air time in the Roanoke/Lynchburg television market, it was a hotspot for political ads during the last election cycle. By the number of television households, with New York at the top, Roanoke is down the market size list at number 68. (AP Photo/AP Video)
In the run-up to November’s election, a group called Freedom PAC spent $3.8 million, most of it to support former Florida congressman, Connie Mack, in his bid for Senate. Of that spending, $190,000 went to a Tampa, Fla. television station, WFLA. But WFLA noted that when Freedom PAC bought the ads, they “refuse[d] to sign/fill out” the mandatory disclosure forms. WFLA ran the ads anyway.
Freedom PAC did provide a form that listed a treasurer with a Kansas mailing address, but when the Sunlight Foundation, a government watchdog group, contacted the person listed, it turned out to be a representative for the wrong PAC — for a different Kansas-based Freedom PAC that had never purchased television ad time in Florida.
This is just one example of many uncovered by the Sunlight Foundation in which super PACs and politically oriented nonprofits purchase ads without disclosing the names of their board members or their executive officers to the television stations who ran the ads. That goes against the 2002 McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act and, in the top 50 markets, also violates FCC rules requiring that disclosure be made public through an online database. MORE
President Obama has a new nonprofit to fundraise and advocate for his policy goals, called Organizing for Action. The group shares more than initials with its predecessor, Obama for America — it also has access to 2.2 million volunteers, 33 million Facebook friends, 22 million Twitter followers and 17 million e-mail subscribers, most of whom the nonprofit’s leaders gathered during the group’s previous incarnation.
The new 501(c)(4) represents an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mentality in the administration — instead of trying to stop a dangerous game being played by politicians and big donors to the exclusion of everyone else, the president has chosen instead to try and play it better. And there’s a lot about OFA that breaks new ground for the political nonprofits that have emerged since Citizens United.
According to Mother Jones and The Guardian newspaper, over the past decade, a little-known group called Donors Trust has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars from wealthy contributors to a host of right-wing organizations, advocacy groups and think tanks. MJ‘s Andy Kroll dubs it the “dark-money ATM of the right” because of all the conservative campaigns the group had bankrolled. He writes:
Founded in 1999, Donors Trust (and an affiliated group, Donors Capital Fund) has raised north of $500 million and doled out $400 million to more than 1,000 conservative and libertarian groups, according to Whitney Ball, the group’s CEO. Donors Trust allows wealthy contributors who want to donate millions to the most important causes on the right to do so anonymously, essentially scrubbing the identity of those underwriting conservative and libertarian organizations.