On the Money: What a Tangled Web We Weave

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Campaign websites in 2014 aren’t always what they seem -> Deceptive political ads are not new to hardball campaigns, but Time Magazine’s Denver Nicks reports that the National Republican Congressional Committee is mastering fakery on a new frontier — the Internet. The RCC bought hundreds of Web addresses in the names of Democrats running for office and, at last count, had designed 16 fake campaign websites. If people don’t read the fine print they might, unknowingly, donate to the NRCC while they think they are supporting a Democrat. For many it’s debatable whether the tactic has crossed a legal line, but not for Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center who tells Nicks that the mock websites he’s perused “seem to clearly violate Federal Election Commission regulations.” A New Jersey political group, the Atlantic Country Democratic Committee, is fed up with these mock sites, reports Buzzfeed’s Kate Nocera, and has filed the first complaint with the FEC. The group is asking for a federal investigation into the practice of using a candidate’s name to profit “in bad faith, through false, fraudulent and deceptive tactics.”

Fight over minimum wage illustrates web of industry ties -> Eric Lipton of The New York Times investigated the funding of the Employment Policies Institute, a widely quoted and seemingly independent nonprofit research center in Washington, DC. He learned that the institute may be cooking up biased research to benefit the restaurant industry. The institute is run by Richard Berman who also runs a for-profit public relations firm and has, reports Lipton, “made millions of dollars in Washington by taking up the causes of corporate America.” One of those causes is the restaurant industry’s desire to defeat the minimum wage. So it’s no surprise that the academic reports produced by the institute consistently find that increasing the minimum wage could harm the economy. What is surprising is that the Employment Policies Institute has no employees of its own. They all work for the profit-driven, advertising side of Berman’s enterprise. Berman then “bills” the nonprofit for the services his employees provide. It seems to be a win-win situation – for Richard Berman and the industry he represents.

Billionaires use super PACs to advance pet causes -> In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision a wave of super PACs emerged. They can, of course, accept unlimited donations from corporations, unions or individuals to support candidates or causes. Michael Beckel at the Center for Public Integrity took a look at the super donors of 2013 and learned that two billionaires sit at the top of the heap and have poured millions into “single-issue vanity” super PACs. In the top slot is Democrat Thomas Steyer, a former hedge fund executive, who invested more than $11.1 million into his own super PACs to fight global warming. Former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, an independent, holds the #2 spot. He donated $8.7 million last year – much of it to his own PAC to fight for stricter gun control laws.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at a rally in front of the WWII Memorial Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

How the GOP plans to crush the tea party revolt -> A conundrum facing mainstream Republican leaders before the 2014 midterm elections is how to win back the party’s moderate voters, without losing the active support of the tea party. Jeremy Peters of The New York Times interviewed Scott Reed, the senior political strategist for the US Chamber of Commerce, who told him they don’t want to “screw around eating our own,” but that the Chamber will work in the primaries to defeat the Republicans that it deems threats to the national party. Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a conservative 501(c)4 group that supports tea party candidates, says mainstream Republicans are playing hardball. The message from a number of their donors has been blunt, says Kibbe: “I can’t give to you because I’ve been told I won’t have access to Republican leadership.” At Talking Points Memo, Daniel Strauss reports that after House Republicans agreed to bring the debt ceiling bill to the floor with no policy strings attached, the tea party seems to be in “open revolt.” His piece, “How the GOP Plans to Crush the Tea Party Revolt,” outlines how the GOP is trying to fight back.

Gail Ablow is a producer for Moyers & Company and a Carnegie Visiting Media Fellow, Democracy.
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