Professor Lawrence Lessig discusses his new book “Republic, Lost” and our need to attack systemic corruption perpetuated through the lobbyist system.
WASHINGTON, April 26th — So much for détente.
After a brief truce of sorts between the White House and business leaders, the top lobbyist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce took aim at President Obama on Tuesday over an as-yet unannounced plan to force government contractors to disclose their political giving.
The lobbyist, R. Bruce Josten, said in an interview that the powerful business bloc “is not going to tolerate” what it saw as a “backdoor attempt” by the White House to silence private-sector opponents by disclosing their political spending.
“We will fight it through all available means,” Mr. Josten said. In a reference to the White House’s battle to depose Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, he said, “To quote what they say every day on Libya, all options are on the table.”
While no final decision has been announced, the White House has acknowledged that Mr. Obama is considering issuing an executive order requiring all would-be federal contractors to disclose direct and indirect political spending of more than $5,000.
The order could, for instance, force a military contractor or an energy company seeking federal work to report money it gave to the Chamber of Commerce or another advocacy group to help finance political ads and expenditures. [Read more]
Last week, the New York Times ran an explosive front-page story revealing how General Electric (GE), despite making over $14 billion in profits in 2010, paid absolutely nothing in federal corporate income taxes. It even received a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.
ThinkProgress provided substantial coverage of the story, offering further analysis and insight into the firm’s behavior:
– Despite Paying No Income Taxes, GE CEO Lauded His Company’s Patriotism In 2009 West Point Speech [3/25/11]
– Sen. Johnson’s Reaction To General Electric Paying No Taxes: Cut The Corporate Tax Rate [3/25/11]
– After Paying Zero Income Taxes, GE Plans To Ask Its Union Workers To Make Wage And Benefits Concessions [3/28/11]
Reviewing the television coverage of GE’s tax avoidance, ThinkProgress found that the story was covered 23 times by Fox News between March 25 and March 28. Certainly, with an anti-Obama axe to grind, it is not surprising that the network chose to excoriate a company that is considered close to the Obama administration and whose CEO is the head of an outside White House jobs panel.
Yet, as FAIR’s Peter Hart points out, this blockbuster story received scant coverage on another major cable news outlet: MSNBC. A review of MSNBC coverage finds that, over the same three-day period, the General Electric story received relatively little mention. It was only mentioned three times on MSNBC — one of these mentions was by host Rachel Maddow during a conversation with the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson and another mention was made by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a guest on the network. [Read more]
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called for closing corporate tax loopholes and eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies Sunday after reports that General Electric and other giant corporations pay nothing or almost nothing in federal income taxes.
According to The New York Times, General Electric made $14.2 billion in profit last year, $5.1 billion of which was made in the United States. The corporation received $3.2 billion in tax benefits, but did not pay any money in taxes.
“We have a deficit problem,” said Sanders. “It has to be addressed, but it cannot be addressed on the backs of the sick, the elderly, the poor, young people, the most vulnerable in this country. The wealthiest people and the largest corporations in this country have got to contribute. We’ve got to talk about shared sacrifice.”
Oil giant Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009, but paid no federal income taxes, according to the senator. Instead, the corporation received a $156 million rebate from the IRS.
Sanders has introduced legislation that would establish a surtax on millionaires and strip tax deductions for oil companies — a proposal he claims would cut the deficit by about $50 billion. [Read more]
So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.
Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.
Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.
The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely. [Read more]
In 1983 NY hotel-chain-owning billionaire Leona Helmsley said, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes…” As our country migrates from democracy to plutocracy, this more and more appears to be official policy. Again and again we see tax cuts for the wealthy few, tax breaks and subsidies for the big corporations that operate as fronts for those wealthy few, and budget cuts for the things We, the People (government) do to empower and protect each other. Just a few weeks ago we watched as an extension of the Bush tax cuts and a huge cut in the estate tax rate was pushed through. Now we watch as the discussion turns to cuts in Social Security and the rest of the so-called “safety net.”
Another indicator of plutocracy (government of, by and for the wealthy) is impunity for those at the top. Leona Helmsley actually went to jail for tax evasion. Even as recently as the early-90s Savings and Loan Crisis our government investigated, prosecuted and jailed more than a thousand bad actors for fraud and other crimes. This time, well… not so much. Well … actually not at all. Times have changed. Don’t look back. Deal with it. Suck it up. Let’s all get on the same team and keep this ball moving forward down the field at the end of the day. Whatever. Hey, look over there!
Today’s Plutocracy Indicator
From the New York Times, “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether“:
The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.
So not only did GE, the highly-profitable recipient of federal contracts and bailout money, not pay taxes, we paid them $3.2 billion! [Read more]
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]
The case: Citizens United. The decision: In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to limit in any way the amount of money corporations can spend on attack ads or other “electioneering communications” to sway a political race.
Before Citizens United, plenty of corporate money had found its way into political PACs and other avenues to influence elections. The court also did nothing to strike down the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates or political parties.
But the decision opened a massive loophole in our country’s already-porous campaign finance system, giving corporations the green light to inject unlimited sums of cash into independent groups — 527s and 501c4s, references to their IRS tax status — that can intervene in elections.
After the January 2010 decision, many in the media reported that corporations may be skittish about fully exploiting Citizens United’s political windfall, but that proved premature. Millions of dollars began flooding into existing electioneering like Americans for Prosperity, backed by benefactors like the Koch brothers and North Carolina retail magnate Art Pope. New groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads andAmerican Crossroads GPS were quickly erected to funnel tens of millions of dollars into key congressional races. (READ MORE) [Read more]
On the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, which overturned nearly a century of restrictions on campaign spending, a progressive group has asked the Department of Justice to look into “conflicts of interest” two justices may have had when issuing the ruling.
In a petition to be sent to the department this week, Common Cause will argue that Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas should have recused themselves from the campaign finance decision because of their involvement with Koch Industries, a corporation run by two conservative activists who many say directly benefited from Citizens United.
“It appears both justices have participated in political strategy sessions, perhaps while the case was pending, with corporate leaders whose political aims were advanced by the decision,” the letter alleges, as quoted at Politico.
The group will urge the department to disqualify Scalia and Thomas from the ruling. [Read more]
SO America’s latest crisis — until it wasn’t — was airport screeners touching our junk. As this long year lurches toward its end, we all agree that something has gone wrong in America, and we’re desperately casting about for a coherent explanation for our discontent, if not a scapegoat. Alas, the national consensus that the T.S.A. and full-body scans might be the source of all evil fizzled in less than a week. Most everyone got to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving without genital distress.
The previous transient scapegoat was the Democrats. They were punished in yet another “wave” election — our third in a row — where voters threw Washington’s bums out. But most of the public remains bummed out nonetheless. In late October, the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found that only 31 percent of respondents believed that America was on the right track. When the survey asked the same question after the shellacking, the percent of optimists jumped to … 32. Regardless of party or politics, there’s a sense a broken country can’t be fixed. Few have faith that even “wave” elections are game-changers anymore. [Read more]
Even amid the most turbulent economic conditions since the Great Depression, US corporate profits are at an all time high, according to a Tuesday report [PDF link] by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.
At the same time, America’s poor and middle classes are under siege, with a mostly stagnant job market that has shown only marginal signs of improvement.
In spite of meager growth in some sectors, the real unemployment rate remains high, at approximately 1 in 5 Americans.
Yet for seven fiscal quarters running — since President Obama’s election — American corporate profits have shown strong growth.
“It’s not too late to limit or reverse the impact of the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Citizens United v. FEC,” says Fran Korten in a recent article for Yes! Magazine. Korten puts forth 10 ideas that would help limit or reverse the Court’s decision, including:
- Require shareholders to approve political spending by their corporations. Public Citizen and the Brennan Center for Justice are among the groups advocating this measure, and some members of Congress appear interested. Britain has required such shareholder approval since 2000.
- Pass the Fair Elections Now Act, which provides federal financing for Congressional elections. This measure has the backing of organizations representing millions of Americans, including Moveon.org, the NAACP, the Service Employees International Union, and the League of Young Voters. Interestingly, the heads of a number of major corporations have also signed on, including those of Ben & Jerry’s, Hasbro, Crate & Barrel, and the former head of Delta Airlines.
- Give qualified candidates equal amounts of free broadcast air time for political messages. This would limit the advantages of paid advertisements in reaching the public through television where most political spending goes.
- Ban political advertising by corporations that receive government money, hire lobbyists, or collect most of their revenue abroad. A fear that many observers have noted is that the Court’s ruling will allow foreign corporations to influence U.S. elections. According to The New York Times, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) are exploring this option.
- Publicize the reform options, inform the public of who is making contributions to whom, and activate the citizenry. If we are to safeguard our democracy, media must inform and citizens must act. [Read more]
“The chamber’s increasingly aggressive role — including record spending in the midterm elections that supports Republicans more than 90 percent of the time — has made it a target of critics, including a few local chamber affiliates who fear it has become too partisan and hard-nosed in its fund-raising.”
So reports a headline story in the New York Times yesterday about the Chamber of Commerce’s increasingly secretive and partisan fundraising and lobbying efforts. The Chamber, once an institution that supported small and family businesses, increasingly does the bidding of a few large corporations, and in the first part of our GRITtv Digs investigation, Harry Hanbury starts to open up the Chamber’s secrets for you.
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We hope you enjoy this issue of Public Citizen’s e-newsletter about the intersection of money and politics. This is part of the campaign we developed following the disastrous Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts supporting or attacking political candidates. We’ll update you regularly with select news stories and blog posts, legislative developments and ways to get involved.
Reports that two Supreme Court Justices have attended seminars sponsored by the energy giant and conservative bankroller Koch Industries has sparked a mild debate over judicial ethics.
On Tuesday evening, the New York Times reported that an upcoming meeting in Palm Springs of “a secretive network of Republican donors” that was being organized by Koch Industries, “the longtime underwriter of libertarian causes.”
Buried in the third to last graph was a note that previous guests at such meetings included Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, two of the more conservative members of the bench. [Read more]