Anger at the so-called Monsanto Protection Act — a biotech rider that protects genetically modified seeds from litigation in the face of health risks — has been directed at numerous parties in Congress and the White House for allowing the provision to be voted and signed into law. But the party responsible for anonymously introducing the rider into the broad, unrelated spending bill had not been identified until now.
As Mother Jones’ Tom Philpott notes, the senator responsible is Missouri Republican Roy Blunt — famed friend of Big Agrigulture on Capitol Hill. Blunt even told Politico’s David Rogers that he “worked with” Monsanto to craft the rider (rendering the moniker “Monsanto Protection Act” all the more appropriate). Philpott notes:
The admission shines a light on Blunt’s ties to Monsanto, whose office is located in the senator’s home state. According to OpenSecrets, Monsanto first started contributing to Blunt back in 2008, when it handed him $10,000. At that point, Blunt was serving in the House of Representatives. In 2010, when Blunt successfully ran for the Senate, Monsanto upped its contribution to $44,250. And in 2012, the GMO seed/pesticide giant enriched Blunt’s campaign war chest by $64,250.
… The senator’s blunt, so to speak, admission that he stuck a rider into an unrelated bill at the behest of a major campaign donor is consistent with the tenor of his political career. While serving as House whip under the famously lobbyist-friendly former House Majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) during the Bush II administration, Blunt built a formidable political machine by transforming lobbying cash into industry-accomodating legislation. In a blistering 2006 report, Public Citizen declared Blunt “a legislative leader who not only has surrendered his office to the imperative of moneyed interests, but who has also done so with disturbing zeal and efficiency.”
By: Natasha Lennard, Salon, April 5, 2013
“Conservative Shakedown Scam?”: Karl Rove And His “Enemies” Are Engaged In An Implicit Back-Scratching Agreement
I’ve been pretty conspicuous in arguing that the war of words between Karl Rove and Tea Folk over the former’s announcement of a project to stop crazy people from winning major Republican primaries in 2014 did not represent any genuine “struggle for the soul of the Republican Party,” since it’s all about strategy and tactics, not actual ideology, where everyone involved agrees Maintaining Conservative Principles is the eternal North Star.
But still, I’ve shared the puzzlement of most everybody over Rove’s motivations in picking this loud fight, however superficial it ultimately proves to be.
At the Daily Beast, Michelle Cottle has an answer that’s pretty compelling if you understand that for Rove politics is always, always, always about fundraising, his original gig.
Post-election, big Republican donors have been demanding answers as a condition of future support for various groups—and players in the money game report that there has been barking, profanity, and not-so-veiled threats. “I do think you had a lot of donors saying, ‘You have to demonstrate you learned the lessons of the last campaign,’” says the Romney adviser. “Then they want to see measurable results toward that end. ‘What are you doing to make sure you’re not spending money the same old way?’ ”
Rove’s donors were no exception to this trend, meaning he needed to do something to unruffle their feathers. Fast. “This is all about the donors,” says another veteran strategist. And what better way to make a statement to donors than to formulate a brand-new strategy and splash it across the front page of the paper of record? Message: lessons learned. Course correction set. “This is a follow-the-shiny-ball strategy,” the strategist argues. “It’s smart to get donors focused on the future, focused on a new mission right away as opposed to waiting.”
This gambit, moreover, Cottle explains, ensured that Rove would be the center of attention, on Fox and in every other conservative venue, if only to explain and defend himself, at a time when he might otherwise finally be dismissed as yesterday’s news, just like his former boss W.
Now deliberately provoking the ire of the dominant faction of the conservative movement and of the GOP is not the most conventional way to keep oneself in the power loop. But Rove is nothing if not a devious SOB. This is the guy who figured out back in the 1990s that state judicial races were the ideal lever for producing a political realignment in the South because they would split off business leaders from the Democratic donor base while reducing the power and diverting the resources of the pro-Democratic trial lawyers. He’s the master of such two- and three-cushion shots, invariably revolving around money.
But Cottle suggests Rove isn’t the only one playing money games:
Rove isn’t the only one poised to benefit from this spectacle. Even as he pokes purists in an apparent effort to jumpstart his 2014 money machine, the purists are looking to fill their coffers by poking back. “They need their shiny ball strategy too,” observes the veteran strategist. “Everybody is trying to raise money.” And just like Rove, these groups play rough—at times a little too rough. Last week the Tea Party Patriots had to issue an apology for a help-us-fight-Karl-Rove fundraising plea that included a Photoshopped image of their target dressed as an SS officer. (An outside vendor took responsibility for the pic.)
This angle reinforces the broader reality that a lot of the rightward lurch in the GOP over the last two decades is ultimately about money: Republican pols have mainstreamed the violent and extremist language so often associated with direct-mail fundraising appeals in the past–even in intra-party dustups. It would not be surprising if Rove and his “enemies” are engaged in an implicit back-scratching agreement designed to fill everyone’s coffers, and distract attention from the disaster of 2012.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 25, 2013
Members of Congress don’t know anything about “the issues” and they spend all their time fundraising, according to both a new Huffington Post story and “an easy inference to make after observing Congress for almost any length of time.”
The HuffPo’s Ryan Grim and Sabrina Siddiqui obtained a PowerPoint presentation given to incoming Democratic freshmen legislators by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the DCCC’s recommended schedule for House members includes four hours spent on the phone begging rich people for money and one hour spent begging rich person for money in person. This is the daily schedule.
As Kevin Drum notes, this leaves no time for studying or homework. Members rarely know much about anything, policy-wise. An unnamed member confirmed to HuffPo that these guys basically are exactly as ill-informed as you feared:
One member of Congress said that the fundraising takes up so much time that members don’t even have time to become experts on bills they sponsor. “One thing that’s always been striking to me is even the members playing a leading role on specific issues actually could not talk about the issues,” said the member, who didn’t want to be quoted by name. “They didn’t have enough knowledge on their own issues to talk about them at length. I’m probably guilty of that.” He recalled one meeting early in his career, where he brought several members together to try to hash out a compromise, just as he had done earlier as a state legislator.
“Staff members were all twitching at the discussion, because their principals were saying things that were just flat-wrong or uninformed or wondering aloud about what the industry practices really were,” he recalled. “The staff members of course had a pretty good idea. … The members were sitting around the table having a remarkably uninformed and unproductive discussion.”
This, as much as anything else, is why our Congress is both dysfunctional — legislators have no clue what they’re voting for or against most of the time — and so attentive to the priorities of the very wealthy.
Newt Gingrich completely dismantled the internal institutions that used to provide Congress with objective information and research, both because that information frequently contradicted conservative dogma and because he knew that doing so would force Congress to rely on outside (ideological) organizations for information, which would strengthen the corporate-funded policy shops and think tanks that powered the conservative movement. Now nearly everything Congress “knows” about policy comes directly from self-interested, industry-funded groups. Simultaneously, as Lorelei Kelly recently wrote, congressional staff began shrinking, which means expertise was, once again, outsourced — now, increasingly, lobbyists perform the educational function that well-versed staffers used to.
So: the constituents members of Congress have the most direct contact with, and the ones they see themselves as reliant upon to remain in office, are the ones who have the ability to write massive checks. And the people the members talk to to understand the issues are either think tank ideologues or paid representatives of industry or both.
The result is Congress as it’s been since the second Clinton term: Hundreds of dim bulbs, a couple of brilliant-but-evil guys, and a handful of dedicated and intelligent people who frequently do weird and inexplicable things like “voting for the horrible 2005 bankruptcy bill.”
The annoying thing is that the solutions to these problems are incredible simple: public financing of elections and huge increases in congressional staff budgets. But you might notice that both of those solutions involve spending more money on the government, making them non-starters in our age of bipartisan agreement that government spending is unseemly.
The alternative to constant fundraising by the members is for outside groups to take care of it for them, which is a model conservatives already sort of practice. In their “Behind the Caucus” column on Rep. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas freshman who will vote against raising the debt ceiling because he explicitly wants the United States to default, Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei explain that Cotton won his primary because the ultra-conservative Club for Growth simply sent Cotton “a FedEx envelope full of checks that he didn’t ask for.” And that certainly saves some time. Allen and VandeHeil also note that Cotton, and his peers, explain why we are probably about to induce a recession for no reason:
Many in the media — us included — often underestimate just how conservative and how impervious to criticism and leadership browbeating these members are when appraising the chances for change in the next two years.
Hey, Mike and Jim, that’s what we’ve been saying for a while now. We’re screwed, because the people who spent thousands getting Cotton elected are the ones explaining the issues to him and his dumber peers.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, January 9, 2013
While the National Rifle Association has been making headlines in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. last week, its nonprofit affiliate has been flying under the radar.
The NRA Institute for Legislative Action is a conservative 501(c)(4) group that is not required to disclose its donors, but the Center for Responsive Politics dug up a six-figure contribution from a similar tax-exempt group.
In its investigation into shadow money groups, the Center uncovered a $600,000 donation to the NRA’s nonprofit from Crossroads GPS — the 501(c)(4) associated with Karl Rove and his super PAC, American Crossroads. In the 2012 election cycle, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action spent $7.4 million on independent expenditures, bringing the overall total spent by NRA-affiliated groups to $17.6 million.
In order to maintain 501(c)(4) status with the Internal Revenue Service, social welfare must be the main focus of these groups, so they cannot have more than half of their overall spending go toward politics.
According to an OpenSecrets Blog report from earlier this year, in 2010, Crossroads gave large sums to Americans for Tax Reform, National Federation of Independent Business, Center for Individual Freedom and National Right to Life. Recipients of Crossroads for the 2012 election cycle will not be available until next year when it files with the IRS.
The NRA, with its nonprofit affiliate, spent $11.4 million of the money they spent in the general election opposing Democrats and $5.9 million supporting Republicans. Within the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, about 63 percent of its $7.4 million was spent against Democrats, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Although the money trail is further clouded when one 501(c)(4) gives money to another, Crossroads GPS and the NRA Institute for Legislative Action’s goals were similar, as shown by their overlapping targeted candidates.
The NRA Institute for Legislative Action focused on 62 candidates, spending at least $100,000 on 11 of them. The most it dropped on a single candidate was the $3.2 million opposing President Barack Obama, followed by the $885,000 it spent favoring Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
In addition to Obama, other Democratic candidates the nonprofit opposed this election were Ohio Sen.-elect Sherrod Brown ($408,000), Florida Sen. Bill Nelson ($378,000) and Virginia Sen.-elect Tim Kaine ($350,000) — all of whom nevertheless won their respective races. On the other side, Republican benefactors included Sen.-elect Jeff Flake ($322,000), Wisconsin Senate candidate Tommy Thompson ($243,000) and Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel ($168,000).
By: Michelle Martinelli, OpenSecrets.org, December 17, 2012
“And The Rich Get Richer”: Massive Insurance Industry Profits For Republicans In Ryan Medicare Scheme
Insurance companies that would benefit from a Medicare privatization program supported by GOP candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and nearly every congressional Republican are filling their campaign coffers and raising questions about whom they really work for – constituents or big insurance and Wall Street donors. The privatization scheme, designed by Ryan, would end Medicare as we know it and leave seniors without protection from soaring out-of-pocket medical costs.
The insurance industry and HMOs so far in the 2012 election cycle have given at least $14 million in campaign contributions to U.S. House members who voted for the Ryan plan to privatize Medicare, according to a new report prepared by Public Campaign Action Fund and Health Care for America Now utilizing data downloaded and coded by the Center for Responsive Politics. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, has received $2.7 million from insurance interests this cycle alone. Taking the long view, members of Congress who voted for the Ryan budget collected $49.7 million in campaign contributions from the insurance industry over their careers – far more than those voting against the plan, the report said.
For the insurance industry, the political spending is an investment that could reap enormous returns. The market value of Wall Street-run health insurance companies will increase by $12 billion to $25 billion if the Republicans win the Senate and the White House, and by 2030 the industry would post $16 billion to $26 billion in increased annual profits attributable to the Medicare privatization, the report said.
“Americans want quality and guaranteed Medicare, but when we have a Congress on the auction block, they’ll put Medicare on the chopping block,” said David Donnelly, executive director of Public Campaign Action Fund. “This report allows voters to connect the dots for themselves by showing the members of Congress who voted for Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare while scooping up checks from the insurance industry that would benefit.”
“The Republican plan to privatize and voucherize Medicare would increase costs for seniors and turn the most effective and cost-efficient health insurance program over to the insurance industry,” said Ethan Rome, executive director of Health Care for America Now, the nation’s largest grassroots health care advocacy organization. “It’s disturbing, though not surprising, that the GOP is bankrolled by the insurance industry – the special interests that would reap staggering profits from this plan. When the GOP and health insurance companies win, consumers lose.”
New polling shows that seniors are extremely sensitive about the alliance between the health insurance industry and the Republican Party. More than half – 55 percent – of voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports the budget that includes the privatization scheme, according to Democracy Corps, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Public Campaign Action Fund. But that swelled to 70 percent when voters were asked if they would be less likely to vote for that candidate if he or she also took thousands in campaign donations from insurance executives, lobbyists and political action committees.
“Along with their systematic effort to undermine Medicare, the Republicans are working to repeal the Affordable Care Act and decimate Medicaid,” Rome said. “The GOP’s plan is to put seniors and their families at the mercy of the private health insurance industry without adequate coverage, without their choice of doctor and without protection from huge new out-of-pocket costs.”
“Policy in Washington is too often decided by those who give the most money at the expense of everyday Americans,” said Donnelly. “Insurance interests are pouring money into campaigns because it’s in their narrow interest to privatize Medicare and maximize profits. The problem is, Americans of all political stripes don’t have the same power and influence to shape policy. That’s why we have to hold our members of Congress accountable and it’s why we need fundamental changes to our campaign finance system.”
By: Adam Smith, Health Care For America Now, October 10, 2012