CAMPAIGN FINANCE — Corporate-Sponsored Government
August 11, 2010, 3:00am

Corporate-Sponsored Government

In an activist 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down a decades-long ban on the use of corporate money in elections with its ruling in the Citizens United case in January, opening the floodgates to unlimited, anonymous spending on political campaigns by corporations, unions, and advocacy organizations. Reactions were swift, as many voices joined the dissenting justices in expressing concern that the ruling “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation.” Lawmakers quickly set to work on a bill, unveiled in April with bipartisan support, designed to mitigate the negative effects of the Supreme Court decision. The legislation — called the DISCLOSE (Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections) Act — seeks to secure transparency in the electoral process through provisions holding corporations to a number of disclosure rules. President Obama called it the “toughest-ever disclosure requirements for election-related spending by big oil corporations, Wall Street and other special interests…trying to buy representation in our government.” The Sunlight Foundation, a government watchdog group, said the bill would “shine a powerful light on…corporate political expenditures.” However, corporate lobbyists and many leading Republicans, who cheered the Citizens United decision as a victory for First Amendment rights, called the DISCLOSE Act an attack, as U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue put it, on “constitutionally protected speech.” However, as Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent, “While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Indeed, new polling from shows that 77 percent of voters in 18 battleground congressional districts and 4 battleground states think that “corporate election spending is an attempt to bribe politicians;” only 19 percent consider it free speech. And 79 percent believe it’s important that a candidate commit to reducing the influence of corporations over elections.

TARGET TARGETED: Last month, news broke that the retailer Target had taken advantage of the Citizens United ruling, donating $150,000, more than the company had given all year to federal campaigns and causes, to help Minnesota GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who wants to cut waiters’ minimum wage and opposes same-sex marriage. The donation, given to MN Forward, a Republican-leaning political action committee (PAC) in Minnesota, was only made known when existing campaign finance laws required the PAC to file financial reports. Target has come under fire from progressive and gay rights organizations for its support of Emmer. The company, “one of the largest sponsors of LGBT events around Minnesota each year,” has been viewed by LGBT groups in the past “as progressive on gay issues.” Twin Cities Pride, an LGBT organization in Minneapolis/St. Paul, is now “reviewing its partnership with Target” in light of its political action. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed petitions boycotting the company until it stops spending money on elections. Feeling the pressure, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel apologized to his employees earlier this week. “While I firmly believe that a business climate conducive to growth is critical to our future,” Steinhafel said, “I realize our decision affected many of you in a way I did not anticipate, and for that I am genuinely sorry.” The backlash against Target may quell other corporations’ forays into political spending. “Publicly traded companies have always had a difficult time engaging in partisan politics. In this case, Target has shown that a retail company can be particularly subject to controversy and pressure. It will have the impact of discouraging some companies from political involvement,” former Minnesota Republican congressman Vin Weber said. Consumers and employees only held Target accountable because their donation was disclosed under campaign finance laws. The incident thus highlights the importance of legislation like the DISCLOSE Act that seeks to prevent anonymous unhampered spending.

IN THE SHADOWS: Already, other political and industry groups have begun raising huge sums of money because of the Citizens United ruling. Former Bush adviser Karl Rove recently helped form a “shadow RNC” called American Crossroads to help Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections. After a dismal first month of fundraising, the group raised $8.5 million “from an even split of individuals and corporations.” Rove credited the success to the Supreme Court decision. “What we’ve essentially said, is if you’ve maxed out the to senatorial committee, the congressional committee or the RNC and would like to do more,” Rove said. “Under the Citizens United decisions, you can give money to the American Crossroads 527.” The Supreme Court’s ruling has also bolstered industry. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that “several major coal companies hope to use newly loosened campaign-finance laws to pool their money and defeat Democratic congressional candidates they consider ‘anti-coal.'” The companies are forming a 527 group that will allow them to hide their activities until after the midterm elections. In a letter to other coal companies, Roger Nicholson, senior vice president and general counsel at International Coal Group, wrote, “With the recent Supreme Court ruling, we are in a position to be able to take corporate positions that were not previously available in allowing our voices to be heard.” Sadly, their voices have long encouraged deregulation. The results have been tragedies at coal mines including the 2006 Sago Mine explosion that killed 12 people.

FAILING TO DISCLOSE: Anthony J. Corrado Jr., a political science professor and expert on money in politics, told the Los Angeles Times last week, “What we are seeing is that major businesses and industries are taking advantage of the recent court ruling and favorable political environment. They are already committing substantially more money than they have in any previous election cycles.” The DISCLOSE Act that just stalled in Congress due to Republican obstruction would have helped to lessen the negative impact of increased spending by making it much more transparent. Yet, even Republicans who used to champion transparency and accountability failed to support the DISCLOSE Act reforms. For years, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pushed legislation that would expand campaign finance disclosure, but then called the DISCLOSE Act a “transparent effort to rig the fall election” as he led his party en masse to filibuster the bill. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who used to speak out against “big money special interests” and co-sponsored the McCain-Feingold act, a campaign finance bill that banned soft money contributions from corporations and unions while requiring greater disclosure, voted against the DISCLOSE Act. Although there are some reports that the bill will be reintroduced in September. Perhaps common sense and accountability will prevail and the bill, free of carveouts, will find some bipartisan support.

Under the Radar

NATIONAL SECURITY — JUST 25 AMERICANS DIED FROM TERRORISM LAST YEAR, LESS THAN TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS, FLU, OR DOG BITES: A common theme in post-9/11 politics is for public figures to exploit the fears of terrorism during their campaigns. Candidates from across the political spectrum regularly point to “increased threats from terrorists at home and abroad” as challenges they alone can confront. While combating terrorism is important and a crucial part of the country’s national security strategy, the State Department’s annual Country Reports On Terrorism, which was released late last week, shows that its importance as a leading topic of public concern may be overstated. The report found that there were just 25 Americans killed worldwide from terrorism last year, excluding military personnel. CAP blogger Matt Yglesias notes that this is less than the number of Americans killed in car crashes in Mexico in the same year. But it isn’t just foreign traffic accidents that are deadlier to Americans than terrorism. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, more than 13,000 Americans died from the common seasonal flu between January and April 2009, with “no fewer than 800 flu-related deaths” occurring each week, meaning that 32 times as many Americans died as a result of the flu in a single week during this period of 2009 than died during the entire year from terrorism. Even Americans’ canine companions pose more of a threat to their lives than terrorism., which compiles press reports of dog bite fatalities, recorded 32 reported incidents of dogs fatally killing humans last year. The State Department’s report found that 58,142 people were killed by terrorist attacks worldwide in 2009, a fraction of the three million children who died from easily preventable malnutrition and hunger a year before. Perhaps a more reasoned assessment of our priorities is needed.

Think Fast

Sen. Michael Bennet beat Andrew Romanoff in Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Senate primary yesterday, yielding “good news for President Obama” and national Democratic organizations, which heavily invested in Bennet. Also in Colorado, Tea Party favorite Ken Buck bested former lieutenant governor Jane Norton, who was “the choice of the GOP establishment.” Bike-sharing foe Dan Maes secured the GOP nod for governor.

In Connecticut, former Stamford mayor Dannel Malloy “completed a stunning comeback” yesterday and defeated former Senate candidate Ned Lamont in the Democratic race for governor. The Republican gubernatorial race in Georgia is still too close to call, with Nathan Deal holding a narrow edge over Karen Handel.

Fallout continues from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs’s attack on the “professional left” yesterday. Rep, Keith Ellison (D-MN), a leading member of the Progressive Caucus, slammed Gibbs’s remarks. “Why would he confuse legitimate critique with some sort of lack of loyalty,” Ellison said. “Isn’t this what the far right does? Punishes people who are not ideologically aligned with President Bush?”

A Congressional analysis released yesterday finds that, if the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire, taxpayers earning more than $1 million would “still receive on average a tax cut of about $6,300” compared with what they would’ve paid in 2001. The analysis also found that “less than 3 percent of filers with small-business income” are subject to the top two income tax rates.

Ben Quayle, the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle and an Arizona GOP congressional candidate, denied, then admitted, to posting on, “a website devoted to chronicling the trashy side of the Scottsdale nightclub scene.” Quayle first told Politico that he “was not involved in the site,” only to say hours later he did, in fact, post comments there.

In a 30-minute speech on the House floor yesterday, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) said he will not resign and urged the House ethics committee “to ‘expedite’ its hearing so he can defend himself.” Several representatives have called on Rangel to resign after the ethics panel announced 13 charges against him last month, including improper fundraising and use of congressional letterhead.

Tea Party groups are planning a rally this Sunday near the Mexican border in Arizona to support the state’s new harsh stance on illegal immigration and U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth, who is challenging Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in the GOP primary. Dozens of speakers will attend the event, including Hayworth and Nevada GOP U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle.

The State Department is sending Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is at the center of plans to build a Muslim community center and mosque near Ground Zero, on a trip to the Middle East. According to the State Department, “it’s Rauf’s third trip to discuss Muslim life in America and religious tolerance” and is “one of about 1,200 similar programs of sending experts overseas.”

NATO has “reached its goal of expanding the size of Afghanistan’s army and police to 240,000 three months ahead of schedule, achieving a key measurement that will be used to gauge progress in the war.” An increased number of trainers, pay raises, and improvements in the payroll system contributed to NATO reaching its goal.

And finally: After giving him a piece of her mind last month over a new tax on tanning salons, the Jersey Shore’s Snooki is now accusing President Obama of lying for saying that he doesn’t know who she is. “I know he knows who I am,” Snooki told E Online. “Why did he have to lie and say he didn’t know me?”

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Blog Watch

Republicans send out economic solutions pamphlet, forget to include solutions.

Don’t attack your friends.

American Family Association official comes out for “No More Mosques, Period.”

The American media is largely silent on Pakistan’s devastating flooding.

The rise of the unemployable underclass.

Rand Paul will not deny Aqua Buddha.

The incomprehensible Mark Kirk.

Has the Washington Post gone mad?

Daily Grill

“A lame duck session would be [Democrats’] last chance to defy the will of the public and enact the remaining items on the liberal wish list.”
— Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), 8/03/10, accusing Democrats of exploiting a future lame duck session of Congress


“We need to get done as much as we can do realistically.”
— Price, 12/02/06, advocating for the GOP passing legislation in a lame duck session