February 23, 2011

By Roger Shuler | Alternet

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should be disbarred for his failure to truthfully complete financial-disclosure forms over a 20-year period, according to a complaint filed by the watchdog group Protect Our Elections (POE). This would not affect his ability to sit on the Supreme Court, but it would add to mounting pressure on the Department of Justice to investigate Thomas.

In a bar complaint filed with the Missouri Supreme Court, POE attorney Kevin Zeese says Thomas committed multiple violations of the Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct. (See full complaint below.) Zeese asks the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel to take immediate action against Thomas, including disbarment.

Thomas became a member of the Missouri Bar in 1974, and former U.S. Sen. John Danforth (R-MO) was a primary supporter during Thomas’ confirmation hearings in 1991. How is the justice responding to recent allegations against him? He struck a defiant tone in a speech over the weekend in Virginia.

[Read more]

February 23, 2011

By George Monbiot | The Guardian

Every month more evidence piles up, suggesting that online comment threads and forums are being hijacked by people who aren’t what they seem to be. The anonymity of the web gives companies and governments golden opportunities to run astroturf operations: fake grassroots campaigns, which create the impression that large numbers of people are demanding or opposing particular policies. This deception is most likely to occur where the interests of companies or governments come into conflict with the interests of the public. For example, there’s a long history of tobacco companies creating astroturf groups to fight attempts to regulate them.

After I last wrote about online astroturfing, in December, I was contacted by a whistleblower. He was part of a commercial team employed to infest internet forums and comment threads on behalf of corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who opposed them. Like the other members of the team, he posed as a disinterested member of the public. Or, to be more accurate, as a crowd of disinterested members of the public: he used 70 personas, both to avoid detection and to create the impression that there was widespread support for his pro-corporate arguments. I’ll reveal more about what he told me when I’ve finished the investigation I’m working on.

But it now seems that these operations are more widespread, more sophisticated and more automated than most of us had guessed. Emails obtained by political hackers from a US cyber-security firm called HB Gary Federal suggest that a remarkable technological armoury is being deployed to drown out the voices of real people.  [Read more]

February 22, 2011

by Lee Fang  |  ThinkProgress

As ThinkProgress has reported, the global conglomerate Koch Industries not only helped elect Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), but is the leading force orchestrating his union-busting campaign. Koch gave Walker over $43,000 in direct donations and its allies aired millions of dollars worth of attack ads against his Democratic opponent. Then, Koch political operatives pressured Walker to crush labor unions as one of his first priorities. Tim Phillips, a former lobbying partner to Jack Abramoff and current president of Americans for Prosperity, a front financed by David Koch, told the New York Times that Koch operatives “had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown.” A Koch-financed front group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, has prepped Wisconsin GOP lawmakers with anti-labor legislative ideas.

Today, the Koch group Americans for Prosperity announced that it will air an ad smearing the protesters in Madison and calling on the state to support Walker’s power grab. As we noted on Friday, Koch has demanded that collective bargaining rights be curtailed for both private and public sector unions, a step beyond Walker’s already extreme move. The ad disparages the pro-labor protesters for allegedly bringing in “out of state political protesters.” In fact, the small pro-Walker demonstration orchestrated by Koch operatives last Saturday included a number of out of state conservative activists, including Herman Cain (from Georgia), Jim Hoft (from Missouri), and Phillips (from Virginia).  [Read more]

February 22, 2011

Press Release by ODP

COLUMBUS – According to sources at the Statehouse, thousands of Ohioans who travelled from all parts of the state are being shut out and not allowed to make their voices heard. Sources say that only 750 people have been allowed in.

“This is the people’s house. Ohioans came from all over the state today to make their voices heard,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said. “To make them stand in the freezing cold and snow today is an unfathomable and unprecedented step. Thousands and thousands of people were allowed in the Statehouse last week to voice their opposition to Senate Bill 5, and they must be let in today. I call on John Kasich to immediately instruct the Highway Patrol to open the Statehouse and let these people in.”

Redfern is a former member of the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board. “I’ve seen more than 750 people in the Statehouse for a wedding,” Redfern added. “We routinely received and approved requests from associations and organizations that numbered in the thousands. What is happening now is intimidation, plain and simple. The people’s house has suddenly been closed.”  [Read more]

February 21, 2011

by Lisa Graves | PR Watch

Madison, Wisconsin — A new investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy documents the big money funneled by one of the richest men in America and one of the richest corporations in the world to put controversial Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in office.

The Republican Governors Association and the Kochs’ Investment in Scott Walker

Walker was elected just over three months ago on the heels of an exceptionally expensive gubernatorial race in the Badger State, fueled by groups funded by the Koch brothers, David and Charles. David Koch, the son of a radical founding member of the John Birch Society, which has long been obsessed with claims about socialism and advocated the repeal of civil rights laws, personally donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association (RGA) in June of last year. This was the most he had ever personally given to that group. (Fellow billionaire Rupert Murdoch matched Koch’s donation to the RGA with a $1 million donation from his company News Corporation, parent company of FOX “News” Channel.)

Screen Shot of RGAs 5 million Investment in Walker

[Read more]

February 20, 2011

by Ralph Nader | Op-Ed News

The 18 day non-violent Egyptian protests for freedom raise the question: is America next? Were Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine around, they would likely say “what are we waiting for?” They would be appalled by the concentration of economic and political power in such a few hands. Remember how often these two men warned about concentrated power.

Our Declaration of Independence (1776) listed grievances against King George III. A good number of them could have been made against “King” George W. Bush who not only brushed aside Congressional War-making authority under the Constitution but plunged the nation through lies into extended illegal wars which he conducted in violation of international law. Even conservative legal scholars such as Republicans Bruce Fein and former Judge Andrew Napolitano believe he and Dick Cheney still should be prosecuted for war and other related crimes. The conservative American Bar Association sent George W. Bush three “white papers” in 2005-2006 that documented his distinct violations of the Constitution he had sworn to uphold.

Here at home, the political system is a two-party dictatorship whose gerrymandering results in most electoral districts being one-party fiefdoms. The two Parties block the freedom of third parties and independent candidates to have equal access to the ballots and to the debates. Another barrier to competitive democratic elections is big money, largely commercial in source, which marinates most politicians in cowardliness and sinecurism.

Our legislative and executive branches, at the federal and state levels, can fairly be called corporate regimes. This is corporatism where government is controlled by private economic power. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called this grip “fascism” in a formal message to Congress in 1938.  [Read more]

February 18, 2011

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By Reginald Fields | The Plain Dealer

COLUMBUS, Ohio – As many as 3,800 boisterous public workers from across the state descended on the Ohio Statehouse on Thursday, rocking the normally sleepy Capitol to protest a far-reaching bill that would restrict collective bargaining rights.

The union workers filled the Statehouse’s atrium, rotunda areas and adjacent stairwells as they listened to testimony on Senate Bill 5 being piped in over speakers from a heavily guarded second-floor hearing room. A smaller group of tea party activists were also in the crowd to support the bill.

Security was stepped up in and around the Statehouse where the public is normally allowed to move about freely. Highway Patrol troopers blocked access to hallways leading to the Senate room and turned people away as they stepped off elevators. Columbus police cruisers, typically absent at the Statehouse, lined each side of the Capitol, occasionally circling the building.

Not since 1997 when the Republican-controlled Senate removed a provision requiring that prevailing wage be paid on school building construction contracts has there been this heavy a union-backed protest inside the Statehouse while lawmakers are in session.

During that protest, union contractors jammed the Ohio Senate chamber and rotunda and caused so much commotion that a frustrated then-Senate President Richard Finan shattered his gavel trying to restore order.

But that was not the case on Thursday. While the protesters, many from the Ohio AFL-CIO and various police and fire and teachers unions across the state, were loud, the demonstrations were peaceful.

The highway patrol estimated the crowd at 1,800 on the low end. The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board put the crowd total at 3,800, explaining that nearly 1,000 were in the atrium alone.   [Read more]

February 18, 2011

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by Lee Fang | ThinkProgress

Last Thursday, ThinkProgress revealed that lawyers representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the most powerful trade associations for large corporations like ExxonMobil and CitiGroup, had solicited a proposal from a set of military contractors to develop a surreptitious campaign to attack the Chamber’s political opponents, including ThinkProgress, the Change to Win labor coalition, SEIU, StopTheChamber.com, MoveOn.org, U.S. Chamber Watch and others. The lawyers from the Chamber’s longtime law firm Hunton and Williams had been compiling their own data set on some of these targets. However, the lawyers sought the military contractors for assistance.

As ThinkProgress has reported, the proposals — created by military contractors Palantir, Berico Technologies, and HBGary Federal, collectively known as “Team Themis” — were discussed at length with the Chamber’s lawyers over the course of several months starting in October of 2010. The core proposals called for snooping on the families of progressive activists, creating phony identities to penetrate progressive organizations, creating bots to “scrape” social media for information, and submitting fake documents to Chamber opponents as a false flag trick to discredit progressive organizations. [Read more]

February 18, 2011

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The war on Wisconsin employees isn’t just about the budget or Wisconsin: Koch toady Gov. Walker is just one soldier in the billionaire’s offensive to kill labor.

By Adele M. Stan | AlterNet

As some 30,000 protesters overwhelmed the state capitol building in Wisconsin today, Democratic state senators hit the road, reportedly with State Police officers in pursuit. The Dems left the state in order to deprive Republicans the necessary quorum for taking a vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s bill to strip benefits and collective bargaining rights from state workers. Newsradio 620 WTMJ reported that the Democratic senators were holed up in a Rockford, Illinois, hotel, out of reach of Wisconsin state troopers. Now, it seems, Republican lawmakers are beginning to waver on their support for the union-busting bill.

Last week, Walker threatened to activate the National Guard in the event of any disruption in services from public employees that, he said, could occur as a result of his legislation.

Gov. Walker claims that his war on the public workers in his state is simply about balancing Wisconsin’s budget; believe that and there’s a collapsed bridge in MInnesota I’d like to sell you. UPDATE: TPM’s Brian Beutler reports that half of Wisconsin’s budget shortfall results from three of Walker’s own business-coddling initiatives.  According to the Capitol Times, as quoted in Beutler’s piece, in January, Walker pushed through “$140 million in spending for special interest groups.”  Walker claims a budget shortfall of $137 million. You do the math. [Read more]

February 18, 2011

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By Andy Kroll|Mother Jones

Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker, whose bill to kill collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions has caused an uproar among state employees, might not be where he is today without the Koch brothers. Charles and David Koch are conservative titans of industry who have infamously used their vast wealth to undermine President Obama and fight legislation they detest, such as the cap-and-trade climate bill, the health care reform act, and the economic stimulus package. For years, the billionaires have made extensive political donations to Republican candidates across the country and have provided millions of dollars to astroturf right-wing organizations. Koch Industries’ political action committee has doled out more than $2.6 million to candidates. And one prominent beneficiary of the Koch brothers’ largess is Scott Walker.

According to Wisconsin campaign finance filings, Walker’s gubernatorial campaign received $43,000 from the Koch Industries PAC during the 2010 election. That donation was his campaign’s second-highest, behind $43,125 in contributions from housing and realtor groups in Wisconsin. The Koch’s PAC also helped Walker via a familiar and much-used politicial maneuver designed to allow donors to skirt campaign finance limits. The PAC gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent $65,000 on independent expenditures to support Walker. The RGA also spent a whopping $3.4 million on TV ads and mailers attacking Walker’s opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker ended up beating Barrett by 5 points. The Koch money, no doubt, helped greatly.  [Read more]

February 18, 2011

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By Suzy Khimm| Mother Jones

As the political showdown between Republicans and labor unions in Wisconsin continues unabated, an anti-union bill in Ohio has also begun inflaming similar tensions. Thousands of protesters descended upon Columbus on Thursday to register their opposition to a Republican bill that would abolish or weaken collective bargaining rights for public-sector union members, ban public worker strikes, and weaken bargaining rights for police and firefighters prohibited from striking, according to the Lancaster Eagle Gazette. In addition, the Ohio paper adds, “Local unions’ right to bargain for health insurance would be limited, automatic pay increases for public employees would be eliminated and teachers would lose their right to pick their classes or schools if the bill passes.”

In one of the most prominent union strongholds in the country, the crowd—”estimated between 3,800 and 5,000″—was the biggest turnout that Columbus had seen for any legislation in a decade. As in Wisconsin, partisan tensions are exceedingly high in wake of the 2010 election results. In both states, the governorship and the statehouse flipped from Democratic to Republican control last year in highly contested races with heavy union involvement. In Ohio, the ousted former governor, Democrat Ted Strickland, even showed up at the Capitol to display solidarity with the thousands of protesting union members. “This has little to do with balancing this year’s budget,” he told the AP. “I think it’s a power grab. It’s an attempt to diminish the rights of working people. I think it’s an assault of the middle class of this state and it’s so unfair and out of balance.”  [Read more]

February 17, 2011

by CREDO

A case challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform bill passed by Congress is headed to the Supreme Court, and Justice Clarence Thomas has a supreme ethical conflict.

It’s been widely reported that the Thomas family has financial ties to the conservative organizations leading the campaign to bring down our new health care law — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Anthony Weiner and 73 other members of Congress have signed a letter detailing the appearance of ethical conflict and asking Justice Thomas to recuse himself from deliberations on the constitutionality of health care reform.  [Read more]

February 15, 2011

By Dan Eggen | Washington Post

A feud between a security contracting firm and a group of guerrilla computer hackers has spilled over onto K Street, as stolen e-mails reveal plans for a dirty-tricks-style campaign against critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The tale began this month when a global hackers collective known as Anonymous broke into the computers of HBGary Federal, a California security firm, and dumped tens of thousands of internal company e-mails onto the Internet.

The move was in retaliation for assertions by HBGary Federal chief executive Aaron Barr that he had identified leaders of the hackers’ group, which has actively supported the efforts of anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks to obtain and disclose classified documents.

The e-mails revealed, among other things, a series of often-dubious counterintelligence proposals aimed at enemies of Bank of America and the chamber. The proposals included distributing fake documents and launching cyber-attacks.   [Read more]

February 14, 2011

By Brad Friedman | BradBlog

“[W]ho better to develop a corporate information reconnaissance capability than companies that have been market leaders within the DoD and Intelligence Community.”
- ‘Team Themis’, from their 11/3/10 “Corporate Information Reconnaissance Cell” proposal delivered to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s law firm Hunton & Williams.


As I learned late last Thursday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the most powerful Rightwing lobbying group in the country, was revealed to have been working with their law firm and a number of private cyber security and intelligence firms to target progressive organizations, journalists and citizens who they felt were in opposition to their political activism, tactics and points of view.

As I went on the air Thursday night — my fifth in a six-day guest hosting stint on the nationally syndicated Mike Malloy Show — revelations about the planned multi-million dollar political hit job by the security/intelligence firms working to develop a scheme for the U.S. Chamber (and another one, almost identical to it, on behalf of Bank of America) were just beginning to come to light. Both plots were being developed by the Chamber and BofA by the very same law firm, Hunton & Williams and with the cyber intelligence firms HBGary Federal, Berico Technologies & Palantir Technologies.

As the show began, I was able to report the news, based on an exclusive report from Lee Fang at ThinkProgress, that internal emails from one of the firms, confirmed that VelvetRevolution.us (VR), a progressive non-partisan, non-profit organization co-founded by The BRAD BLOG, and its StopTheChamber.com campaign were specifically highlighted as targets of the Chamber’s plot which was proposed to include the planting of a “false document”, in hopes they’d be publicly released by VR or other progressive groups, so the U.S. Chamber could then claim the groups involved had created a forgery.

The plan also involved creating “two fake insider personas”, one at VR and another at the unrelated Change To Win organization, which had employed a coalition of union groups to create a non-profit campaign, some months after VR’s, called U.S. Chamber Watch. The plan presented by Team Themis, as the three security firms called themselves, would then use one of the “fake personas” as “leverage to discredit the other while confirming the legitimacy of the second” in hopes of publicizing the fraudulent appearance of some sort of “conspiracy” between the various progressive organizations in order to somehow discredit them.

As Thursday’s show continued, I received confirmation that I, personally, along with members of my family, had been highlighted in Themis’ proposed hit job, as ThinkProgress followed up with a second story, based on several other emails from HBGary’s CEO Aaron Barr. The email focused on me included names, personal information, home addresses, etc. of myself, family members and a number of other members of VR. Naturally, I reported on the then-confirmed news in the second hour of that night’s Malloy Show.   [Read more]

February 13, 2011

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By ADAM LIPTAK | New York Times

A week from Tuesday, when the Supreme Court returns from its midwinter break and hears arguments in two criminal cases, it will have been five years since Justice Clarence Thomas has spoken during a court argument.

If he is true to form, Justice Thomas will spend the arguments as he always does: leaning back in his chair, staring at the ceiling, rubbing his eyes, whispering to Justice Stephen G. Breyer, consulting papers and looking a little irritated and a little bored. He will ask no questions.

In the past 40 years, no other justice has gone an entire term, much less five, without speaking at least once during arguments, according to Timothy R. Johnson, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. Justice Thomas’s epic silence on the bench is just one part of his enigmatic and contradictory persona. He is guarded in public but gregarious in private. He avoids elite universities but speaks frequently to students at regional and religious schools. In those settings, he rarely dwells on legal topics but is happy to discuss a favorite movie, like “Saving Private Ryan.”

He talks freely about the burdens of the job.   [Read more]

February 11, 2011

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by Bob Herbert | New York Times

As the throngs celebrated in Cairo, I couldn’t help wondering about what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it’s on the ropes. We’re in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only.

While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.

So what we get in this democracy of ours are astounding and increasingly obscene tax breaks and other windfall benefits for the wealthiest, while the bought-and-paid-for politicians hack away at essential public services and the social safety net, saying we can’t afford them. One state after another is reporting that it cannot pay its bills. Public employees across the country are walking the plank by the tens of thousands. Camden, N.J., a stricken city with a serious crime problem, laid off nearly half of its police force. Medicaid, the program that provides health benefits to the poor, is under savage assault from nearly all quarters.

The poor, who are suffering from an all-out depression, are never heard from. In terms of their clout, they might as well not exist. The Obama forces reportedly want to raise a billion dollars or more for the president’s re-election bid. Politicians in search of that kind of cash won’t be talking much about the wants and needs of the poor. They’ll be genuflecting before the very rich.  [Read more]

February 11, 2011

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by Lee Fang | Truthout

ThinkProgress has learned that a law firm representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the big business trade association representing ExxonMobil, AIG, and other major international corporations, is working with set of “private security” companies and lobbying firms to undermine their political opponents, including ThinkProgress, with a surreptitious sabotage campaign.

According to e-mails obtained by ThinkProgress, the Chamber hired the lobbying firm Hunton and Williams. Hunton And Williams’ attorney Richard Wyatt, who once represented Food Lion in its infamous lawsuit against ABC News, was hired by the Chamber in October of last year. To assist the Chamber, Wyatt and his associates, John Woods and Bob Quackenboss, solicited a set of private security firms — HBGary Federal, Palantir, and Berico Technologies (collectively called Team Themis) — to develop tactics for damaging progressive groups and labor unions, in particular ThinkProgress, the labor coalition called Change to Win, the SEIU, US Chamber Watch, and StopTheChamber.com.

According to one document prepared by Team Themis, the campaign included an entrapment project. The proposal called for first creating a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” to give to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then to subsequently expose the document as a fake to undermine the credibility of the Chamber’s opponents. In addition, the group proposed creating a “fake insider persona” to “generate communications” with Change to Win. View a screenshot below:  [Read more]

February 8, 2011

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by Lee Fang | ThinkProgress

In January, ThinkProgress interviewed billionaire plutocrat David Koch about his views on climate science, his Tea Party movement, and his political plans for the future. On the day of our interview, we also discovered that he planned to hold a party for the new Republicans he helped elect. As we have documented, Koch not only financed the rise of the anti-Obama Tea Party, he has also helped guide the movement to support the narrow business priorities of his conglomerate Koch Industries: Koch funds rallies for young children that attack the EPA, Koch’s front groups spread doubt about climate change, and Koch’s Americans for Prosperity hands out Tea Party talking points attacking clean energy. Building on this research, the Los Angeles Times reported this weekend about the central influence of Koch in the new GOP Congress.

According to the Times, just before David Koch spoke to ThinkProgress following House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) swearing in ceremony, he had met with Boehner in the Speaker’s office. Koch’s top political deputy, former Jack Abramoff operative Tim Phillips, met with the new Energy and Commerce Committee chair Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) that day as well:

When the 85 freshman GOP lawmakers marched into the Capitol on Jan. 5 as part of the new Republican House majority, David Koch was there too. The 70-year-old had an appointment with a staff member of the new speaker, Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). At the same time, the head of Americans for Prosperity, Tim Phillips, had an appointment with Upton. They used the opportunity to introduce themselves to some of the new legislators and invited them to a welcome party at the Capitol Hill Club, a favorite wine-and-cheese venue for Republican power players in Washington.

The Times also reported a fact that most of the traditional media has ignored: in addition to direct donations to candidates, Koch groups spent tens of millions in largely undisclosed money hosting rallies and running “issue ads” in support of climate science-denying GOP candidates in 2010.

[Read more]

February 6, 2011

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The billionaire brothers’ influence is most visible in the makeup of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where members have vowed to undo restrictions on greenhouse gases.

By Tom Hamburger, Kathleen Hennessey and Neela Banerjee | Los Angeles Times

The billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch no longer sit outside Washington’s political establishment, isolated by their uncompromising conservatism. Instead, they are now at the center of Republican power, a change most evident in the new makeup of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Wichita-based Koch Industries and its employees formed the largest single oil and gas donor to members of the panel, ahead of giants like Exxon Mobil, contributing $279,500 to 22 of the committee’s 31 Republicans, and $32,000 to five Democrats.

Nine of the 12 new Republicans on the panel signed a pledge distributed by a Koch-founded advocacy group — Americans for Prosperity — to oppose the Obama administration’s proposal to regulate greenhouse gases. Of the six GOP freshman lawmakers on the panel, five benefited from the group’s separate advertising and grass-roots activity during the 2010 campaign.

Claiming an electoral mandate, Republicans on the committee have launched an agenda of the sort long backed by the Koch brothers. A top early goal: restricting the reach of the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the Kochs’ core energy businesses.   [Read more]

February 5, 2011

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By MOLLY BALL | POLITICO

For the first time, the Democratic National Convention will not accept donations from corporations, PACs or federal lobbyists in 2012.

Individual contributions also will be capped — another first — at $100,000, according to the contract governing the convention.

Democrats say the policy is in keeping with the fundraising focus that powered President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

“From the very beginning, President Obama has placed a high priority on increasing the influence of grass-roots and individual donors, and this convention will go further in that direction than any convention ever,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse said.

The committee aims to raise $36 million for the convention to be held in Charlotte, N.C., the week of Sept. 3, 2012.  [Read more]