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“Two Koch’s And A Smile”: Weekend Of Secrecy For Mitt Romney And Big GOP Donors

 It’s going to be a big weekend in the world of big conservative money: Both Mitt Romney and billionaire industrialist brothers David and Charles Koch are holding hush-hush events with wealthy donors designed to keep the dollars coming in.

Romney’s three-day retreat, which is being held at the Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, is an opportunity for about 700 Romney’s biggest fundraisers to get some face time with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. (Many of them are “bundlers” – wealthy and well-connected individuals who call on their family, friends and associates to max out their contributions to Romney and the GOP – who have raised in the area of $250,000 for Romney.) Some of the biggest names in the Republican Party, and many of the top contenders to be Romney’s running mate, are also coming to Park City: CBS News has confirmed that attendees will include former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Republican strategist Karl Rove, former Reagan chief of staff James Baker, Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker.

Republican strategist Mary Matalin, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and former Utah governor Mike Leavitt are among the other big names expected to attend. The Romney campaign would not discuss who is attending the retreat, which is not open to the press. Spokespersons for two top contenders for the vice presidential slot – Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – told CBS News the politicians were invited but would not attend for scheduling reasons. CBS News has also confirmed that Olympic champion figure skater Dorothy Hamill, who participated in the Romney-run 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, will attend.

Romney was not expected to compete in terms of fundraising with President Obama, who broke records in raising nearly $750 million in the 2008 cycle. But he has largely kept pace thanks in part to his personal engagement with wealthy donors, which has come in the form of dozens of intimate meetings around the country and, as the New York Times notes, invitations to his summer home at New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee. The Romney campaign, which has garnered a reputation for aggressive and prompt engagement with potential donors, outraised the Obama campaign $78.6 million to $60 million in May.

While Romney and his Republican allies are busy cultivating donors in Utah, the Koch brothers will be in San Diego holding a convention designed to help them generate hundreds of millions of dollars to advance conservative causes. At least we think they will: The event is shrouded in secrecy, and neither representatives for Koch Industries nor a number of expected attendees contacted by CBS News would even confirm that it is taking place.

Word got out last week that it was indeed happening, when Minnesota television station owner Stanley Hubbard confirmed its existence – and San Diego location – to Politico. In an apparent attempt to head off protesters and potential infiltrators, organizers and attendees will not say exactly where the convention will be held; a San Diego alternative newspaper is holding a “Find the Koch Brothers Confab” contest in order to figure it out. (CBS News’ attempts to confirm the venue have thus far been fruitless, though we have our suspicions.) Liberals have their own version of the Koch brothers’ confab called The Democracy Alliance, where security is similarly strict; both events are awash in security personnel looking to escort uninvited guests (such as reporters) off the premises.

Organizations tied to the Koch brothers are reportedly planning to spend nearly $400 million on the 2012 campaign cycle, and their conferences are largely designed to garner contributions to the cause. Last year, Mother Jones infiltrated a Koch conference in Vail where Christie was a speaker and recorded Charles Koch thanking donors who had given more than $1 million; the list, which is here, includes more than thirty names. According to a leaked invitation, Koch conferences have attracted conservative heavy hitters such as Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, Govs. Jindal and Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Rep. Ryan, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

The semi-secrecy of the Romney retreat and extreme secrecy of the Koch conference mirror the secrecy that currently exists in the world of campaign financing. The Romney campaign, unlike the Obama campaign, refuses to disclose its bundlers, which makes it more difficult for the public to assess what his biggest donors might expect in exchange for their money. The Koch brothers funnel money into groups like Americans for Prosperity, a non-profit “social welfare organization” that does not need to disclose its donors because it is incorporated as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit with the Internal Revenue Service. (More on that here.) And while the super PACs that the Supreme Court freed up to spend unlimited amounts to influence the election do have to disclose their donors, they can simply funnel donations through 501(c)(4) groups – which in many cases are their sister organizations – effectively allowing the super PACs to get around that pesky disclosure requirement. (There is also anonymity on the other side of the spectrum: The Federal Election Commission does not require the campaigns to identify donors who give less than $200 in an election cycle.)

In this election cycle, the Republicans appear to have a significant advantage when it comes to outside group spending – though because 501(c)(4)s and related organizations only have to file with the IRS once per year, it’s impossible to know exactly how much money is flowing into the system. The Obama campaign, which says it expects to be outspent overall, estimated Wednesday that Romney, the Republican National Committee and the outside groups will spend $1.225 billion on ads alone before November.

Meanwhile, Romney and Mr. Obama continue to spend much of their time traveling the country to attend fundraisers, many of them closed to the press. CBS News’ Mark Knoller reported earlier this month that the president has participated in 160 fundraisers since filing for re-election last April, and he has a number scheduled for next week; Romney, whose campaign frequently holds fundraisers it doesn’t let the media know about, plans to follow his weekend retreat with his big donors in Utah by heading to Phoenix, Arizona for another fundraiser on Monday.

By: Brian Montopoli, Senior Political Writer, CBSNews Political Hotsheet, June 22, 2012

June 22, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Humanity Hanging In The Balance”: Healthcare And Justice Scalia’s Broken Moral Compass

The Supreme Court’s highly anticipated ruling on Obama’s healthcare reforms could come any day now. Whatever the verdict, expect much ado about the hotly debated role of broccoli in healthcare and arcane explanations of the Commerce Clause that is at the center of the legal case against the individual mandate. But buried deep in hearings filled with legalese and judicial sparring was a short exchange that illuminates an American ideal that truly hangs in the balance with this decision—the idea that in a civilized society, we do not sit idly by and watch our neighbors die.

The specific back-and-forth in question occurred on the third day of the hearings between Justice Antonin Scalia and Solicitor General Donald Verilli, the administration official charged with defending the law in court. It went like this:

GENERAL VERRILLI: No. It’s because you’re going—in the health care market, you’re going into the market without the ability to pay for what you get, getting the health care service anyway as a result of the social norms that allow—that—to which we’ve obligated ourselves so that people get health care.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, don’t obligate yourself to that. Why—you know?

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, I can’t imagine that that—that the Commerce Clause would —would forbid Congress from taking into account this deeply embedded social norm.

JUSTICE SCALIA: You—you could do it.

If you are not a frequent watcher of the Court and therefore not fluent in the cadences of judicial banter, this short, seemingly banal interchange in an exhaustive debate may not have even registered. The “deeply embedded social norm” that Verilli refers to—in fact seems confused that he has to explain to Justice Scalia—is the norm that dictates that people will step in to aid others who are ailing or in danger of death.

Scalia’s statement that “you could do it [defy these norms]” eerily evoked the appalling moment at the September 2011 Republican presidential debate when the audience wildly applauded Wolf Blitzer’s stunned probing of whether candidate Ron Paul would allow a 30-year-old uninsured man in a healthcare emergency to die. “Yes!” shouted unashamed audience members, turning a presidential debate into something reminiscent of the Roman Colosseum. When Justice Scalia argued against the social norms that Verilli was presuming sacrosanct, he was essentially saying, “Let him die!”

While we’ve grown to expect this kind of mob mentality from a radical right wing whipped up in a Tea Party frenzy, this bizarre display of indifference from a Supreme Court Justice breaks new ground in an evolving culture that seems to prize resistance to any and all government over the compassion that is the essence of civilized society. The right screams often and loudly that President Obama has declared war on the Judeo-Christian underpinnings they hold as American as apple pie. But in fact, it is Justice Scalia, from his exalted perch, who appears intent on vacating the Golden Rule and undermining the parable of the Good Samaritan, both core to Christian theology.

Dahlia Lithwick hit the proverbial nail on the head in her description of Justice Scalia when she wrote in Slate in 2003:

Scalia doesn’t come into oral argument all secretive and sphinxlike, feigning indecision on the nuances of the case before him. He comes in like a medieval knight, girded for battle. He knows what the law is. He knows what the opinion should say. And he uses the hour allocated for argument to bludgeon his brethren into agreement.

Scalia, ever the showman, joked during the March hearings that having to read the entire healthcare law in order to rule on it would amount to cruel and unusual punishment, prohibited by the Constitution. At the same time, he displayed an egregious ignorance regarding which provisions in the bill actually passed. And on the final morning of arguments, Scalia laid his cards on the table when he argued that stripping out the individual mandate would cause the whole law to topple.

The mandate, more descriptively titled the “free-rider clause,” fines uninsured individuals who expect taxpayer-supported emergency services to cover calamities that befall them. It is also the component of the reform that allows insurance companies to affordably cover those with pre-existing conditions. Cutting the mandate, Scalia mused, cuts the heart out of the entire reform and would almost certainly kick the whole matter back to a gridlocked Congress, while millions of lives hang in the balance.

A recent Pew poll shows that approximately 83 percent of Americans are affiliated with an organized faith, be it a form of Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, Hinduism or Buddhism. A whopping 78.4 percent of us fall somewhere in the Christian camp. Yet, it is core Christian values that are currently on trial at the Supreme Court.

Perhaps this emotional dissonance is what drives a new poll from the New York Times that shows that only 44 percent of Americans approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing. Once a venerated institution that seemed immune to the partisan squabbles of the other branches of government, the Court has consistently displayed its corporate and right-wing allegiances in decisions that span from 2000’s Bush v Gore when it picked our president and irrevocably altered the course of history (Scalia later told Americans to “get over it!” when asked about the decision) to the 2009 Citizens United decision, the impact of which is being felt acutely this election season. Now, 75 percent of Americans say that the Justices’ political preferences motivate their decision making on the bench.

When healthcare reform passed in 2010, the United States ranked dead last among similar countries in a study comparing cost and quality of healthcare. America consistently spends twice as much for lesser care than its industrialized allies. While the Affordable Care Act left some of the best solutions on the table, it offers real hope to the one in four American adults that go without healthcare each year due to job transitions or other circumstances. So many of our neighbors live in terror that a single unexpected calamity will drive their family into bankruptcy spurred by emergency medical bills. Now, when the verdict comes in, those fellow Americans can add a new fear to their list: that a Conservative Catholic Supreme Court Justice will lead the charge to let them die.

By: Ilyse Hogue, The Nation, June 18, 2012

June 22, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Reform | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“About As Screwed As You Can Get”: The Uninsured Continue To Annoy Us With Their Pain

There are a lot of reasons why the United States is the only advanced democracy that does not guarantee basic medical services to all its citizens. One reason is that the convoluted construction of the U.S. health-care system has made it hard to fix the dysfunctional elements without threatening to change existing arrangements for people who profit from the status quo, or at least fear change. (That’s why both Presidents Obama and Clinton have tried so hard to convince Americans with health insurance they could keep what they have.)

Another reason is that people without health insurance are politically weak. They lack political organization, and many, reports Alec MacGillis, lack even the awareness that there was this big health-care law that gives them help:

As Robin Layman, a mother of two who has major health troubles but no insurance, arrived at a free clinic here, she had a big personal stake in the Supreme Court’s imminent decision on the new national health care law.

Not that she realized that. “What new law?” she said. “I’ve not heard anything about that.”

The circumstances of MacGillis’s story itself tell you something else about the weakness of the uninsured: Their cause is slightly disreputable. MacGillis straightforwardly and without advocacy examines up-close the conditions of the uninsured and their level of awareness, or lack thereof, of the Affordable Care Act. MacGillis reported the story for Kaiser Health News, and offered it to the Washington Post, which planned to run it on its front page but decided against it.

It is certainly true that a story examining the plight of the uninsured, and one that notes that they would stand to gain from a law subsidizing their health insurance, would tend to make readers think more favorably of such a law. But that is not the sort of objection a newspaper normally considers fatal. It all depends on whose plight we’re talking about. The complaints of business leaders who want more favorable regulatory and fiscal policies have received blanket coverage. Even when such complaints have a strong partisan tilt, beliefs like “we need less regulation” or “we must focus on reducing the deficit” carry a presumption of public-spiritedness.

The uninsured are in such bad political shape that even describing their physical suffering in a political context is considered dangerously partisan. That’s about as screwed as you can get.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intel, June 18, 2012

June 22, 2012 Posted by | Health Care | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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