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“A Crash Course In Congressional Mischief”: Voters Have An Entirely New Reason To Scorn Congress

After years of excoriating Congress for not legislating, Americans got a crash course Tuesday night about the mischief that can transpire when Congress actually fulfills its duties.

With both parties (for a change) committed to passing a spending bill by Thursday to avoid a government shutdown, the comprehensive legislation became a lobbyist’s delight. These omnibus last-minute bills traditionally pass Congress with virtually no debate. And since Barack Obama would never veto legislation to fund the government over minor provisions, anything small snuck into the bill is as good as inscribed into law.

Which brings us to the gem that Matea Gold of the Washington Post discovered on Page 1,599 of the 1,603-page bill. The provision — inserted in the legislation by persons unknown — would suddenly allow a married couple to give as much as $1.56 million to their political party and its committees in a two-year election cycle.

No, that isn’t a typo. Without resorting to Super PACs or taking advantage of a new loophole from the Supreme Court, couples or individuals could give roughly eight times more to their party in 2015 than they could in 2014. As election law expert Kenneth Gross told the Washington Post, “The cost of an ambassadorship just went up.”

Technically, this new giving can only go to three designated areas — convention costs, recount expenses and building funds. But while nothing is certain until regulations are written, it is a safe bet that these categories are likely to be porous. Hypothetically, funds for a new addition to the Democratic National Committee that houses the computers that contain the party’s voter files might also be used to update these registration lists. If nothing else, the parties would no longer have to take money from their general operating funds to pay for these activities.

A case can be made for strengthening the political parties in a Super PAC era. If the parties were too financially powerful in the 1990s when they were the only conduits for unregulated “soft money” contributions, now they are suffering from, in effect, being mere millionaires in a billionaire age. This is especially true as Super PACs are beginning to take on many of the traditional functions of parties like candidate recruitment, voter contact and polling.

It is worth recalling that parties are a force for responsibility and moderation in politics — since their ultimate goal is winning elections rather than enforcing an ideological agenda. Also, as ongoing organizations, the Republican and Democratic National Committees will still be around when the enthusiasms of the current generation of Super PAC donors wane or turn to art collecting and buying sports teams.

As a result, there could have been a robust public debate over the best way to fund political parties in this new electoral environment. Both Republican and Democratic party leaders — as well as the candidates themselves — should come to realize that they are the big losers when the mega-rich dominate campaigns through Super PACs.

It would have been possible to imagine bipartisan legislation in the next few years that would have traded increased legal contribution limits for enhanced disclosure of Super PAC and “dark money” spending. Or even swapped more generous giving for a functioning Federal Election Commission.

Instead Congress in its infinite wisdom decided that “dark money” legislating was a wiser solution. And blaming this one exclusively on the Republicans is probably not true, especially since the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is currently $20 million in debt.

The result is that the McCain-Feingold legislation, signed with such high hopes 12 years ago, is now as outmoded as Morse Code. And voters (or, at least, that small remnant who still care) have an entirely new reason to scorn Congress. Quite an accomplishment for a group of stealth middle-of-the-night legislators.

 

By: Walter Shapiro, Brennan Center For Justice, December 10, 2014

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Congress, Omnibus Spending Bill | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mitch McConnell’s 47 Percent Moment”: There For Millionaires And Billionaires, They Know They Can Count On Mitch

A year ago, President Obama convulsed the White House Correspondents Dinner when he responded to complaints that he wasn’t meeting enough with the Republican leaders in the Congress: “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really?” Obama asked the audience incredulously. “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”

The Kentucky senator, continuously partisan and mean spirited in public, earned the jab by leading a record number of filibusters as Senate minority leader during Obama’s tenure, forcing more than a quarter of all cloture votes in the history of the Senate since the beginning of the Republic.

Now, many political bookies, however prematurely, have made Republicans favorites to win the Senate majority. What will McConnell do if he must go from opposition to governing? Last week, the Nation Magazine, which I edit, along with Lauren Windsor of the Undercurrent, released an audiotape of McConnell’s revealing remarks to a private June strategy session of deep-pocket Republican billionaire donors, convened by the Koch brothers.

Introduced by the general counsel of Koch Industries, McConnell begins by paying tribute to his patrons, thanking the Koch brothers personally “for the important work you’re doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you . . . rallying, uh, to the cause.”

So what is the cause? Putting Americans to work? Rebuilding the middle class? Unleashing free market answers to catastrophic climate change?

No, McConnell can’t seem to get himself to address a positive agenda. He envisions only more obstruction. If he is majority leader, he promises, “we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage . . . extending unemployment . . . the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse.”

With Republican majorities, McConnell tells the fat cats, “We own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And . . . we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or do that”

So what parts of government would McConnell starve of funds? Although many Republicans are campaigning as faux populists against crony capitalism, McConnell doesn’t suggest that he’ll cut subsidies to Big Oil or the lard-filled budgets of the Pentagon. No, McConnell pledges to his millionaire funders “We’re going to go after them on health care, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board [inaudible].”

For all his posturing about Obama’s dictatorial usurpations, McConnell reassures the millionaires that “we now have, I think, the most free and open system we’ve had in modern times.” Why? Because in the Citizens United decision, the conservatives on the Supreme Court overturned established precedents to give corporations the right to spend unlimited funds in elections. This is a victory for “open discourse,” McConnell argues, making clear just how he expects the corporations to make their opinions known:

“The Supreme Court allowed all of you to participate in the process in a variety of different ways. You can give to the candidate of your choice. You can give to Americans for Prosperity, or something else, a variety of different ways to push back against the party of government.” (Americans for Prosperity is the right-wing Koch funded political vehicle that has been called the “third-largest political party in the United States.”)

For McConnell, the court’s decision to unleash corporate contributions helped heal the pain from what he described as the “worst day of my political life.” Not the 9/11 terrorist bombings or the disastrous vote to invade Iraq. No, according to McConnell, the worst day of his political life was when a Republican congress passed and George W. Bush signed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms, that put some limits of big money in our politics.

Mitch McConnell is surely a man for these times. Big money dominates our politics and corrupts our politicians (including, most recently, McConnell’s campaign manager, who resigned because of his possible involvement in bribing an Iowa state legislator to change his support from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul in the 2012 Iowa Republican presidential primary). Legislators like McConnell openly serve “the private sector,” currying their donations while serving their interests.

As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said while campaigning for Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell’s underdog challenger: “Mitch McConnell is there for millionaires and billionaires. He is not there for people who are working hard playing by the rules and trying to build a future for themselves.”

Voters aren’t stupid. Given his views and his record, it is not surprising that McConnell is one of the most vulnerable of Republican incumbents, with Grimes running only a few points behind him. Nor is it surprising that more than $100 million may end up being spent on the race, making it one the most expensive contests in Senate history. Millionaires know they can count on McConnell.

McConnell ended his talk by repeating the Republican mantra against taxes and regulation, arguing, “If we want to get the country going again, we need to quit doing what we’ve been doing. Was it Einstein that [sic] said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result?” Let’s hope the voters of Kentucky come to the same conclusion about reelecting a senator who represents donors far better than voters.

 

By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 3, 2014

September 5, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Mitch Mc Connell, Plutocrats | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mitch McConnell Has Your Back”: Conservative Billionaires Oppressed By Liberal Thugs

Fear not, billionaire super PAC and 501(c)(4) funders. You may feel oppressed, you may fear the pitchforks and torches of the unwashed masses gathering at the gate of your manse, you may wake in the night in a cold sweat and bellow to your footman, “Dare I give Paul Ryan $10 million for his 2016 presidential race, lest some bearded plebian pen a vicious blog post aimed at my very heart?” If nothing else, Mitch McConnell has your back.

Today, McConnell takes to the pages of The Washington Post to defend the right of America’s millionaires and billionaires to pour their funds into campaigns while remaining anonymous. Those with long memories may recall that when the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law was being debated, McConnell and others said that the answer to the problem of money and politics was disclosure: Let the wealthy give as much as they want, but disclose contributions quickly, and with everything out in the open we could forestall the possibility of corruption. But with McCain-Feingold safely struck down and Citizens United inaugurating a new dawn of American liberty, disclosure is now McConnell’s enemy:

These tactics are straight out of the left-wing playbook: Expose your opponents to public view, release the liberal thugs and hope the public pressure or unwanted attention scares them from supporting causes you oppose. This is what the administration has done through federal agencies such as the FCC and the FEC, and it’s what proponents of the Disclose Act plan to do with donor and member lists.

The fearsome “liberal thugs” notwithstanding, this gets to the heart of democracy’s messiness. You can have a political system where everyone is unfailingly polite to each other, or you can have a system where people are free to express their views, but you can’t have both. By choosing to have a democracy, we make a series of bargains. We enshrine freedom of religion, even though we know that means people who believe in idiotic faiths (i.e. those different from our own) will be able to practice them, too. We create a system of due process, even though that means guilty people, even monstrous people, will be given fair trials with at least the possibility of getting off. And we defend freedom of speech, knowing that that means we’ll have to tolerate the voicing of abhorrent ideas, not to mention Two and a Half Men and the career of will.i.am.

And if our election rules will allow the Sheldon Adelsons of the world to put millions behind their favorite candidate—something which, by the way, residents of most of the world’s democracies find beyond absurd—it isn’t too much to ask that if you choose to use your enormous wealth to attempt to shift the outcome of elections, if nothing else the public should know who you are. That way we’ll know whom our elected officials are indebted to. And yes, there is a price to pay for that participation: people might say you’re wrong, or even call you a jerk. Money is speech, you say? Well freedom of speech means the right to say whatever you want, not the right to be immune from criticism. It’s amazing how often conservatives can’t see the difference.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 23, 2013

May 24, 2013 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Democracy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Truth Be Told”: How John Roberts Started This Spending Madness

Related to Joe Ricketts and SuperPACs and all this is of course the Supreme Court decision that made it all possible, Citizens United. It’s worth remembering how we got here.

Jeff Toobin’s piece in this week’s New Yorker is a total revelation. The CU decision, it turns out, didn’t just happen. You know–a case goes through the appellate layers, the Supremes decide there’s an interesting question in it, they grant certiorari, and they hear the case. That’s our assumption, and it’s what usually happens.

Well, it’s not what happened here. It’s technically a bit complicated, but what happened is that the Court heard the case a first time, when the petitioner (Citizens United, represented by Ted Olson) was seeking only a very narrow decision saying that McCain-Feingold spending and disclosure limits should not apply to a political ad/movie that was being offered on a pay-per-view basis. They planned on showing an anti-Hillary ad on that basis, so that’s all they were interested in.

That’s what CU wanted. But through the course of the questioning and the opinion-writing, which Toobin explains in lucid detail (see especially page 5 of his article), it became clear to all involved that the conservative faction–led in this case by Anthony Kennedy–could use the case as a wedge to make a much more sweeping decision. And in stepped John Roberts.

To make a long story short, Roberts held back the decision and rescheduled the case for the next year, This enabled the conservative majority to expand dramatically the scope of the majority opinion. And he sped it up, put it on the calendar for September, not the usual first week of October, in order (Toobin suggests) that the decision would be more likely to have an impact on the 2010 elections.

The important thing to remember here: Roberts is the guy who said at his confirmation hearings that he’d go slow and be highly respectful of precedent. But here, he engineered the Court’s calendar and procedure specifically to turn a narrow case that few people would even have paid attention to into a sweeping decision that changes American politics and undoes a century of jurisprudence.

And that is how we got these SuperPACs. Really an amazing and important story.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 18, 2012

May 19, 2012 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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