Category Archives: Campaign finance

Recognizing Powerful Interests Running the Joint, More Than 75% of Americans Back Campaign Finance Reform

“Let’s turn opinion into action by overturning #CitizensUnited and enacting public financing of elections nationwide,” says Public Citizen in response to new Pew survey.

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 4-27-2018

New findings from the Pew Research Center reveal widespread support for campaign finance reform. (Photo: Backbone Campaign/flickr/cc)

Amidst a widely-shared recognition that the country is effectively being run by powerful special interests, a new poll out Friday shows that more than 3 out of 4 Americans now support serious campaign finance reform as a way to mitigate the corrupting influence of money in the nation’s democracy.

The results of the extensive Pew Research Center survey, released Thursday, reveal Americans “see the country falling well short in living up to” democratic ideals and values, and believe core changes are needed in the political system. Continue reading

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‘Tip of the Iceberg’: Watchdog Files Ethics Complaints Targeting 30 Lobbyists in Trump Administration

One expert estimates that “the real number of potential violations is fourfold.”

By  for CommonDreams. Published 3-26-2018

One ethics expert at Public Citizen said Monday, “These 30 apparent violations of Trump’s own ethics rules are only the tip of the iceberg.” (Photo: jackandfred/imgur)

Underscoring allegations that “ethics do not matter in the Trump administration,” a watchdog group on Monday filed complaints against 30 lobbyists whom President Donald Trump has appointed to his administration without ethics rule waivers—and experts warn this is only the “tip of the iceberg,” positing that the actual number of violations is likely much higher.

The advocacy group Public Citizen has identified at least 36 former lobbyists in the administration who are working on issues for which they recently lobbied, and only six of them have waivers from the ethics rule that Trump issued just days after taking office. Continue reading

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‘This Needs to Happen All Over America’: Applause for Candidate Who Called Out Big Oil Donors

“Why do we need campaign finance reform? This. This is why.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 2-12-2018

West Virginia House of Delegates candidate Lissa Lucas was hailed as a model for congressional candidates across the nation after she read off the names of politicians taking money from the oil and gas industry. (Photo: Facebook/Screengrab)

When West Virginia House of Delegates candidate Lissa Lucas decided to take a stand against Big Oil’s pernicious political influence last week by rattling off the names of state lawmakers receiving massive campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry, she was swiftly and forcefully silenced.

Now, her story—first reported by journalist Russell Mokhiber in a piece for Common Dreams on Sunday—has become a viral sensation and a model for those looking to challenge the stranglehold corporate cash has on the American political system.

Watch the video of the incident, which has since garnered over 133,000 views on Facebook: Continue reading

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Striving for ‘Best Plutocracy Money Can Buy,’ Koch Brothers Plan to Dump $400M in 2018 Midterms

“This is why we need to overturn the terrible Citizens United Supreme Court decision and move to public funding of elections.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 1-28-2018

Photo: YouTube

Fresh off the passage of tax legislation that could net them over a billion dollars a year in additional profits, the oil moguls Charles and David Koch have now set their sights on the 2018 midterms, during which they are reportedly planning to spend around $400 million promoting right-wing candidates and priorities.

The news came as the Kochs and others within their sprawling network of deep-pocketed donors and politicians were preparing to gather for a secretive weekend conference in Indian Wells, California. Continue reading

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We started a revolution over this once

Do you remember voting for lobbyists to decide who pays what in taxes? We don’t.

Photo: Daniel Huizinga/flickr

On Friday night, the Senate passed their version of the #GOPTaxScam. The bill, all 479 pages of it, was presented to the full Senate just hours before the vote. The vote was along party lines, with the one dissenting vote among the Republicans coming from Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

So, what was in this bill, and why did they vote on it before all the Senators could actually read through the bill? We’re glad you asked. First, what’s in it.

A lot of the bill is what you’d expect. For example:

  • The top individual rate is reduced from 39.6% to 38.5%, and the threshold at which the top rate kicks in is increased from $418,000 for a single/$480,000 for married filing jointly to $500,000/$1,000,000
  • The estate tax exemption is doubled, to $11 million for a single taxpayer and $22 million for married taxpayers.
  • The corporate rate is reduced from 35% to 20%.
  • The top rate on the income earned by owners of “flow through” businesses — S corporations and partnerships — is reduced from 39.6% to a shade below 30%.

Questions about these measure that we were forced to ask include; how is it that corporations are able to keep the tax deductions that have now been excluded from individual tax bases? Why is the corporate tax is now LOWER than the top individual rate? If corporations are people too, why is there ANY difference in these tax rates?

Then, there’s the “Why are these items in a tax bill, anyways?” parts. These include:

  • A provision that explicitly allows parents to use tax-free college savings plans, known as 529s, for a “child in utero.” This is essentially a personhood bill, setting a precedent for the legal definition of life beginning at conception.
  • The bill repeals the Johnson Amendment, which bans non-profit groups from engaging in political activism. This would mean that churches and the like could actively engage in elections without disclosing individual donors; think of it as Citizens United on steroids. This serves the purpose of blurring the lines between the separation of church and state, allowing the churches to donate and promote individual candidates in local and national elections, all while cloaked under the donation secrecy this provision allows.
  • Eliminating the individual mandate of the ACA. While this actually does deal with taxes (the fine for not being insured is paid as part of your taxes), removing the mandate means that younger and healthier people won’t buy insurance until they need it. These are the people who currently offset the cost of providing healthcare to the older and sicker people. Without this in place, premiums will rise dramatically more than the anticipated 10% over the next 10 years.
  • A provision that would open part of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, to oil and gas exploration. While this would raise revenue, it only amounts to $2 billion over the next ten years, at the cost of almost assuredly ruining the local environment and ecosystem. Additionally, it is worded in such a way that it is actually ILLEGAL to not drill, forcing Alaska to accept ANY drilling permits and fields desired.

Of course, the individual tax cuts are set to expire, meaning that the middle class will see a tax increase. And, what’s going to pay for these? The GOP mantra’s always been that tax cuts pay for themselves, but others, such as Marco Rubio, have already admitted that the tax reform is part one of a two-step process designed to defund and eventually dismantle Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security; the very programs designed to help the elderly, disabled and poorest members of American society.

Now obviously, a lot of these proposals don’t sit well with the electorate. So, why the rush to pass it? The GOP needs a victory. Even with controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, this administration’s been notably inept in getting meaningful things accomplished. Furthermore, the GOP donor class has stated that the campaign money will dry up if they don’t get the tax cuts they want.

Photo: Represent.US

So, who came up with most of the amendments? Lobbyists. Out of the 11,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, more than 6,000 said that they worked on taxes this year. That works out to 11 lobbyists for each member of Congress. Do you remember electing lobbyists to write our laws? We sure don’t.

We still have a chance to stop this. The House and Senate bills now go to a conference committee. The bill that comes out of that will need to be passed by both houses. The healthcare fiasco this summer proves that if we’re loud and persistent enough, our message gets through. And, with the bill only having 37% approval before the vote, there’s enough of us to make the message get through.

And what if it doesn’t? The last time that the GOP had won control of both houses and the presidency before 2016 was 1928. The new tax bill looks even more extreme than the policies put into place by the Republicans after the 1928 election. Does anybody remember what happened in 1929?

Another annoying historical factoid that you may wish to remember at a time like this: 244 years ago, a group of people decided that they weren’t going to pay taxes without proper representation, and what became known as the Boston Tea Party took place. This in turn led to a revolution, and the founding of this country.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

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How the tax package could blur the separation of church and politics

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If a House provision gets enacted, churches will be able to endorse – not just pray for – political candidates. Andrew Cline/Shutterstock.com

Susan Anderson, Elon University

The tax package pending in Congress includes a provision that would leave churches and other nonprofits, which by law must be nonpartisan, suddenly free to engage in political speech.

This measure, currently only in the House version of the bill, could potentially change charitable life as we know it.

As an accounting professor who teaches nonprofit taxation, I believe that this significant change deserves vigorous public debate and is too big to bury in tax legislation. Continue reading

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Lindsey Graham Latest Republican to Admit GOP Tax Plan Is All About Keeping ‘Financial Contributions’ of Donors Flowing

“Republicans are literally out here warning each other that their big donors will stop writing checks if they don’t do their bidding.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-9-2017

As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) has made a similar remark, complaining that his donors are pressuring him to pass enormous tax cuts or “don’t ever call me again.” (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday became the latest Republican to admit the GOP is trying to ram through massive tax cuts for the rich to satisfy its wealthy donors, telling a journalist that if the party’s tax push fails, “the financial contributions will stop.”

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As Tech Giants Threaten Democracy, Calls Grow for New Anti-Monopoly Movement

“It is time for citizens in America and all over the world to stand up to the bullies in our society, the monopolists.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-1-2017

“Americans are fed up with monopolies rigging our economy and politics,” said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). (Photo: takomabibelot/Flickr/cc)

A major Washington-based think tank’s decision to fire a prominent Google critic earlier this week brought to the surface the massive and “disturbing” influence large tech companies have on political debate in the U.S., leading many analysts and lawmakers to call for the creation of an anti-monopoly movement to take on the threat consolidated corporate power poses to the democratic process.

As Brian Fund and Hamza Shaban note in an analysis for the Washington Post, “funding of think tanks is just one way Silicon Valley is expanding its influence in Washington.” Tech giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple are also “regularly setting records in their spending on lobbying and are pushing as many as 100 issues—or more—every year.” Continue reading

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How Much to Buy a Congressional Vote? New Research Seeks Answer

Looking at Democrats who stopped supporting banking rules, authors conclude: ‘Substantial numbers of legislators sell out the public interest in exchange for political money’

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 5-3-2017

Campaign finance reform advocates protest outside the Capitol building in Washington D.C., 2011. (Photo: takomabibelot/cc/flickr

While it is conventional wisdom that money influences politics, researchers released a report Tuesday aiming to answer the longstanding question of exactly how much political spending it takes to sway a Congressional vote.

Fifty Shades of Green (pdf), published by the Roosevelt Institute, analyzes “the role political finance has played in securing the privileged positions of both high finance and big telecom” by examining how lawmakers evolved in supporting efforts to weaken the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill and net neutrality. Continue reading

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Neil Gorsuch and the First Amendment: Questions the Senate Judiciary Committee should ask

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Gorsuch meets with Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Clay Calvert, University of Florida

Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for United States Supreme Court justice nominee Neil Gorsuch are underway. The Conversation

It’s time to consider some key questions about First Amendment speech rights the senators should ask during the constitutionally mandated advice-and-consent process.

These hearings often are contentious. That was the case for Justice Clarence Thomas in the early 1990s. And they surely won’t be a cake walk this time, given Democratic anger over Republican inaction on Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016.

The First Amendment questions I’d pose to Gorsuch are critical because the man who nominated him, President Donald J. Trump, bashes the press as “the enemy of the people” yet proclaims no one loves the First Amendment more than he.

An obvious question for Judge Gorsuch is his view of the court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. That five-to-four decision divided sharply along perceived partisan lines. It affected the speech rights of corporations and unions in funding political ads shortly before elections. Committee Democrats no doubt will grill Gorsuch about Citizens United.

As the director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida, I would like to suggest at least three other timely and vital questions he should be asked about speech rights – but that I doubt he will face.

Capturing cops on camera in public

The first question I’d pose to Gorsuch involves an issue the Supreme Court has never tackled – does the First Amendment protect a person’s right to record police officers doing their jobs in public places?

It’s a vital question in light of incidents such as the April 2015 shooting in the back of unarmed African-American Walter Scott by white police officer Michael Slager in South Carolina. A video of it was captured on a smartphone by barber Feidin Santana while walking to work. It was key evidence in Slager’s murder trial – which ended with a hung jury.

Without guidance from the Supreme Court about recording cops in public venues, lower courts have had to sort it out for themselves.

Just last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concluded in Turner v. Driver that “First Amendment principles, controlling authority, and persuasive precedent demonstrate that a First Amendment right to record the police does exist, subject only to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.” That’s a positive step in terms of creating a constitutional right to record cops within the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. But just what constitutes a “reasonable” restriction is extremely vague and problematic, especially because judges usually defer to officers’ judgments.

Worse still, some courts haven’t even recognized any First Amendment right to record police.

In the case of Fields v. City of Philadelphia, now under review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, a federal judge ruled there is no First Amendment right to film police in public spaces unless the person recording does so with the intent of challenging or criticizing police actions. In brief, there is no First Amendment right to neutrally record police as a bystander or journalist in Philadelphia.

Gorsuch thus should be asked: “Do citizens have a First Amendment right to record police doing their jobs in public places and, if there is such a right, what – if any – are the specific limits on that right?”

The right to protest in public places

Trump’s presidency ushers in a new era of confrontational political activism. Protests against Trump and rallies for him are common, with some ending in arrests. Berkeley, California – home of the 1960s free speech movement – saw 10 arrests this month when pro- and anti-Trump individuals clashed.

Gorsuch should be questioned about the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and the limits on that right affecting political demonstrations on public streets, sidewalks and parks. The Supreme Court privileges such “quintessential public forums” for picketing and protests, and it carefully reviews any restrictions imposed there on speech and assembly. Would Gorsuch follow that tradition of protection?

Disturbingly, The New York Times reported earlier this month that lawmakers in more than 15 states are considering bills that would curb, to varying degrees, the right to protest. Some measures, such as Florida Senate Bill 1096, do so by requiring a special event permit be obtained before any protest on a street, thus stifling spontaneous demonstrations that might occur after a controversial executive order or a startling jury verdict.

Requiring the government to grant a permit before one can protest constitutes a prior restraint on speech. Prior restraints, the Supreme Court has repeatedly found, are presumptively unconstitutional.

Gorsuch thus should be asked: “What, if any, limits are there on the First Amendment right to engage in political speech in public spaces, including streets, sidewalks and parks?”

The right to offend

Finally, I’d ask Gorsuch for his views about the First Amendment right to offend. It’s an important topic today for three reasons.

First, protesters may use offensive language to capture attention and show the passion behind their views. The Supreme Court traditionally protects offensive political speech, as it famously did in 1971 in Cohen v. California. There it ruled in favor of Paul Robert Cohen’s First Amendment right to wear a jacket with the words “F— the Draft” in a Los Angeles courthouse hallway.

Second, some believe there’s a pall of political correctness in society, particularly in higher education. Some students may be deterred from using certain language or expressing particular viewpoints for fear they will offend others and thus be punished.

Third, the Supreme Court is set to rule in the coming months in a case called Lee v. Tam. It centers on the power of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to deny an Asian-American band called The Slants trademark registration over that name because it allegedly disparages Asians. The court heard oral argument in the case in January.

I’d thus ask Gorsuch: “When does offensive expression – in particular, offensive speech on political and social issues – lose protection under the First Amendment?”

Gorsuch already has submitted written answers to the Judiciary Committee on some issues, but not on the questions raised here. These topics – filming cops in public, protesting on streets and sidewalks, and using offensive language – seem especially relevant in a turbulent Trump era.

Clay Calvert, Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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