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“How Much ‘Free Speech’ Can You Buy?”: Citizens United Produced A Platinum Class Of Mega-Donors And Corporate Super PACs

In today’s so-called “democratic” election process, Big Money doesn’t talk, it roars — usually drowning out the people’s voice.

Bizarrely, the Supreme Court decreed in its 2010 Citizens United ruling that money is a form of “free speech.” Thus, declared the learned justices, people and corporations are henceforth allowed to spend unlimited sums of their money to “speak” in election campaigns. But wait — if political speech is measured by money then by definition speech is not free. It can be bought, thereby giving the most speech to the few with the most money. That’s plutocracy, not democracy.

Sure enough, in the first six months of this presidential election cycle, more than half of the record-setting $300 million given to the various candidates came from only 358 mega-rich families and the corporations they control. The top 158 of them totaled $176 million in political spending, meaning that, on average, each one of them bought more than a million dollars’ worth of “free” speech.

Nearly all of their money is backing Republican presidential hopefuls who promise: (1) to cut taxes on the rich; (2) cut regulations that protect us from corporate pollution and other abuses of the common good; and (3) to cut Social Security, food stamps and other safety-net programs that we un-rich people need. The great majority of Americans adamantly oppose all of those cuts — but none of us has a million bucks to buy an equivalent amount of political “free” speech.

It’s not just cuts to taxes, regulations and some good public programs that are endangered by the Court’s ridiculous ruling, but democracy itself. That’s why a new poll by Bloomberg Politics found that 78 percent of the American people — including 80 percent of Republicans — want to overturn Citizens United. But those 358 families, corporations and Big Money politicos will have none of it. In fact, America’s inane, Big Money politics have become so prevalent in this election cycle that — believe it or not — candidates have found a need for yet another campaign consultant.

Already, candidates are walled off from people, reality and any honesty about themselves by a battalion of highly specialized consultants controlling everything from stances to hairstyle. But now comes a whole new category of staff to add to the menagerie: “donor maintenance manager.”

The Supreme Court’s malevolent Citizens United decision has produced an insidious platinum class of mega-donors and corporate super PACs, each pumping $500,000, $5 million, $50 million — or even more — into campaigns. These elites are not silent donors, but boisterous, very special interests who are playing in the new, Court-created political money game for their own gain. Having paid to play, they feel entitled to tell candidates what to say and do, what to support and oppose. A Jeb Bush insider confirms that mega-donors have this attitude: “Donors consider a contribution like, ‘Well, wait, I just invested in you. Now I need to have my say; you need to answer to me.’”

Thus, campaigns are assigning donor maintenance managers to be personal concierges to meet every need and whim of these special ones. This subservience institutionalizes the plutocratic corruption of our democratic elections, allowing a handful of super-rich interests to buy positions of overbearing influence directly inside campaigns.

Donors at the million-dollar-and-up level are expecting much more than a tote bag for their “generous gifts” of “free speech.” Of course, candidates piously proclaim, “I’m not for sale.” But politicians are just the delivery service. The actual products being bought through the Supreme Court’s Money-O-Rama political bazaar are our government’s policies, tax breaks and other goodies — as well as the integrity of America’s democratic process. To help fight the injustice of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and get Big Money out of our political system, go to www.FreeSpeechForPeople.org.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, October 28, 2015

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Citizens United, Corporations, Democracy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Ted Cruz’s Imagined America”: A Detour Between His Biographical And Ideological Sections Into The Late Eighteenth Century

I just slogged through Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign announcement speech, and have to say it’s a formula composition: a combination of a Cruz family biography and a by-the-numbers recitation of conservative policy positions. To give it the requisite “lift,” the candidate and/or his brain trust chose a rather hackneyed “imagine” construction, and applied it mechanically to both parts of the speech:

Imagine a teenage boy, not much younger than many of you here today, growing up in Cuba. Jet black hair, skinny as a rail.

Involved in student council, and yet Cuba was not at a peaceful time. The dictator, Batista, was corrupt, he was oppressive. And this teenage boy joins a revolution. He joins a revolution against Batista, he begins fighting with other teenagers to free Cuba from the dictator. This boy at age 17 finds himself thrown in prison, finds himself tortured, beaten. And then at age 18, he flees Cuba, he comes to America.

Imagine for a second the hope that was in his heart as he rode that ferry boat across to Key West, and got on a Greyhound bus to head to Austin, Texas to begin working, washing dishes, making 50 cents an hour, coming to the one land on earth that has welcomed so many millions.

You get the idea.

And then later, this:

Imagine innovation thriving on the Internet as government regulators and tax collectors are kept at bay and more and more opportunity is created.

Imagine America finally becoming energy self-sufficient as millions and millions of high-paying jobs are created.

All this imagining gets very labored and tedious–particularly since Cruz takes a detour between his biographical and ideological sections into the late eighteenth century and the Holy Founders charged by God with forever limiting government (a staple of Con-Con revisionist history).

But in a way it’s appropriate, too, since Cruz is the self-designated champion for those who really don’t like America as it is and prefer an imagined version where the Calvin Coolidge administration is the wave of the future. He really, really wants these people to look to him as their first-choice candidate amidst a host of rivals, and he spares no rhetorical expense–and no opportunity cost in terms of appealing to anyone else–to make his pitch.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 23, 2015

March 24, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP Presidential Candidates, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Influence Peddling”: Scott Brown Backed Letter For Top Legislative Priority Of Compounding Pharmacy Industry

Senator Scott Brown joined 10 other senators in sending a July letter to the US Drug Enforcement Administration advocating a top legislative priority of the compounding pharmacy industry, which is under scrutiny following a deadly meningitis outbreak.

The July 24 letter did not directly relate to the injectable steroids that have been blamed for 14 deaths and at least 185 sicknesses nationwide. But it addressed an issue central to that controversy: how these lightly regulated pharmacies can deliver their drugs and who can receive them.

The firm at the center of the meningitis outbreak, the New England Compounding Center, was sending drugs in bulk to doctors, a move that Governor Deval Patrick said has misled regulators. Compounding pharmacies are supposed to mix medications for an individual patient, based on a prescription from a doctor. But some have acted like drug companies, shipping thousands of doses to clinics and doctors’ offices, a practice Massachusetts officials say may violate state regulations.

Gregory Conigliaro, a co-owner of the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, and his wife threw a fund-raising event for Brown six weeks after the letter was written, at their home in Southborough. Brown’s campaign said he has received about $10,000 from the firm’s executives and relatives, which he donated to charity this week after the outbreak, which was traced to New England Compounding Center on Oct. 4. The senator is in a tight reelection battle against Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

For years, compounding pharmacies have delivered controlled substances, in bulk, to clinics, veterinarians, and other health facilities for use there, according to two specialists in the field. But in recent years, the DEA has interpreted federal law as requiring those pharmacies to deliver the drugs to ­patients whose names are on the prescription, or to owners, in the case of animals. The DEA argues that it is not a change in interpretation, enforcement, or policy and that agents pursue leads about violations when­ever they are known.

The industry position, echoed by Brown Friday, argues that the DEA’s interpretation creates a paramount safety concern. Industry officials say that medical professionals are in a better position to protect the drugs, which include strong opiates, from misuse or ­improper environmental conditions. Many must be injected by physicians and are sensitive to heat and light.

“As you know, they sometimes fall into the wrong hands,” Brown said Friday during an event in Dorchester, where he received endorsements from a coalition of police unions. “I was advocating getting it to the doctors, which I don’t think loosens regulations.”

But changing or clarifying DEA enforcement policy is also important to helping the industry avoid a legal gray area that could jeopardize its business, said Jesse C. Vivian, professor of pharmacy practice at Wayne State University in Detroit and the general counsel for the Michigan Pharmacists Association. Vivian and others say enforce­ment is now selective, meaning compounding pharmacies are at risk if DEA agents choose to crack down on them.

“What they’re really looking for is to legitimize what in fact they’re doing right now,” said Vivian, who is not involved in the industry’s lobbying effort, but believes the DEA is treating the industry unfairly.

The letter to the DEA’s top official, Michele M. Leonhart, was signed by a bipartisan group of senators. When a smaller group of senators signed a similar letter in 2011, Brown did not lend his support.

The July letter implores the DEA to open what is known as a rule-making process, which would allow the agency to take public input on whether it is ­interpreting current law correctly.

“DEA’s lack of action is a source of serious concern for us, our constituents, and the regulated community,’’ wrote the senators, including Brown.

“It is difficult to argue that controlled substances are more safely maintained by family members or animal owners than they are by trained, ­licensed, regulated doctors who would administer those substances only to legitimate ­patients,” it continued.

Brown emphasized Friday that the type of drugs covered by the letter are different from the steroids involved in the meningitis outbreak, and he once again urged a full investigation of the outbreak. He said that the Food and Drug Administration, not the DEA, oversees the safety of drugs at the center of the meningitis problem.

Brown referred inquiries about who asked him to sign the DEA letter to his campaign, which has declined to comment on that question. But Brown said there was absolutely no connection between his signing the letter and his fund-raising from industry officials.

“It’s a tragedy, and for anyone to try and politicize it is just wrong,” he said. “I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of fundraisers. There’s absolutely no connection. That’s the old spaghetti-­on-the-wall-trick, see what sticks.”

His campaign has said he would donate the $10,000 that came from company executives to the Meningitis Foundation of America.

The compounding pharmacy industry’s lobby, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, lists the delivery issue raised in the letter as the first of three legislative priorities on its website. In June, a month before the letter was written, members of the organization descended on Capitol Hill to make their case, according to the website, seeking face-to-face visits with lawmakers. A spokesman for the organization did not respond to two calls and an e-mail requesting comment.

The DEA says it has no latitude in changing its enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act, which governs how drugs can be delivered, unless Congress acts.

“We have to enforce the law the way it’s written,” spokeswoman Barbara Carreno said.

 

By:Noah Bierman and Frank Phillips, The Boston Globe, October 12, 2012

October 15, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“CEO vs Politician”: Romney’s Claim That Shrinking The Government Help’s Americans Isn’t Rational

It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.” — Mitt Romney

Chief Executive Magazine annually surveys CEOs about the best and worst American states for doing business.

America’s CEOs consider: Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Indiana the Five Best for Business States (BfB); and Michigan, Massachusetts, Illinois, New York and California the Five Worst for Business States (WfB). The survey’s rankings have been stable over long periods. Massachusetts, for example, has been known as a high tax, heavily-regulated state for at least the last forty years.

According to the survey, America’s BfB have what America’s CEOs want — smaller government, low taxes and business-friendly regulations. The BfB clearly have lower taxes and smaller government with an average per capita state tax of $1,843, compared to the WfB at $2,520. So, let’s examine whether smaller government is better for Americans.

CEOs, paradoxically, prefer to live and work in the high tax, heavily-regulated WfB. Of the Fortune 500 companies, 165 are headquartered in the WfB, while only about 100 are headquartered in the BfB. Among America’s 50 fastest growing corporations, about twice as many have headquarters in the WfB, as in the BfB. Even CEO Romney selected Massachusetts (ranked 47th on the survey) for Bain Capital’s headquarters, and it’s where he’s lived (on and off) for the last 30ish years.

The State Human Development Index ranks American states on well-being and opportunity for their residents (rank 1 is best). On this Index, the WfB are better places to live (average rank 13) compared to the BfB (average rank 36). Metrics such as: household income, life expectancy, infant mortality, and educational opportunity demonstrate that the BfB — are worse for people.

WfB median household incomes are much higher ($57,000 in the WfB vs. $47,000 in the BfB). Further, people live longer and have lower infant mortality rates in the WfB, compared to the BfB. The WfB average rank (rank 1 is best) is 14 for life expectancy and 15 for infant mortality, while comparable BfB ranks are respectively 31 and 36. In highway fatalities, WfB are safer (average rank 8) compared to BfB (average rank 31).

In higher education, the WfB (as a percent of their college-age population) graduate 50 percent more students with advanced degrees than the BfB. Also, the WfB have 23 of our nation’s top universities, compared to the BfB’s four.

No wonder CEOs choose to live, and establish growth companies in, the so-called Worst for Business states.

Mitt Romney’s shibboleth that shrinking government helps the American people — isn’t based on any rational analysis of costs and benefits. Government isn’t a parasite destroying the American economy. Government is the provider of public goods (infrastructure, education, police, safety standards, etc.) that the private sector can’t or won’t provide. If citizens select lower taxes, smaller government and less regulation, they’ll get: less infrastructure, fewer police, teachers and inspectors, resulting in worse outcomes.

This isn’t a universal defense of every government employee or program. Nor am I claiming that bigger government is always better government. Government programs should be evaluated, and terminated (or restructured), if they aren’t efficiently serving taxpayer needs.

Throughout my career (in the Bloomberg administration, at the World Economic Forum and its Davos conferences, and at McKinsey), I’ve had the honor of working with some of the world’s leading CEOs, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs (such as, my co-judges for NYCBigApps).

I found these business leaders incredibly talented at what they did. However, business expertise conveyed no automatic insights on public policy.

My old boss, NYC Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (who made a highly successful transition from private to public sector), emphasized that the public sector must make investments the private sector won’t risk making. Consider President Obama’s successful public sector rescue of the auto industry vs. the private sector approach, which would have left millions more unemployed.

Another smart public sector investment is Applied Sciences NYC (Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to bring a major new engineering campus to NYC). The mayor’s team did all the work to develop Applied Sciences NYC, but won’t reap any tangible benefits — the benefits are for future generations of New Yorkers. But that’s what the public sector must do, to benefit the governed: make major, long-term investments in education, infrastructure, health and other public services.

CEO Romney’s actions, in selecting Massachusetts as his base, suggest he understands the importance of government in making America a better place. But, Politician Romney’s statements suggest otherwise.

Which Romney are we supposed to evaluate for president?

Disclosure: As the Bloomberg administration’s head of policy and strategy for economic development, I was an architect of Applied Sciences NYC.

 

By: Steven Strauss, Business Insider, July 16, 2012

July 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Knuckleheaded Assumptions”: Bad Science Around “Job-Killing Regulations”

It is a seemingly immutable law of modern Republican rhetoric that the word “regulation” can never appear unadorned by the essential adjective: “job-killing.”

As in nominee-in-waiting Mitt Romney, after winning the Illinois primary: “Day by day, job-killing regulation by job-killing regulation, bureaucrat by bureaucrat, this president is crushing the dream.”

Or House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) denouncing “the president’s job-killing regulatory agenda” last month after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new limits on coal-fired power plants.

Or Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who said during her presidential campaign that the EPA should be renamed the “Job-Killing Organization of America.”

Hating regulation is an old argument, but the phrase is a relatively new trope. A Nexis search of articles from U.S. newspapers and news services shows that the words “job-killing regulations” appeared just a handful of times in 2007 — but several hundred times in 2011.

This inflated rhetoric is often accompanied by bad science — or, perhaps more precisely, inherently inexact science badly used. Opponents of a particular regulation tout inflated projections of the regulatory body count, more often than not financed by the affected industry. Ditto, by the way, for those on the other side.

For example, when the EPA last year issued rules to limit mercury and other power-plant emissions, the industry-backed American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity estimated the regulations would trigger the loss of 1.44 million jobs.

At the same time, the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst concluded that the rules would instead create 1.46 million jobs through retrofitting old plants and switching to new sources of renewable energy.

The EPA itself came up with much more modest predictions — that the rules would create about 50,000 one-time jobs and another 9,000 additional jobs annually. All in the broader context of a rule that the agency estimated would deliver annual net benefits of between $166 billion and $407 billion from cleaner air, including avoiding as many as 51,000 premature deaths annually.

Lesson One: If you plug your cherry-picked assumptions into your preferred model, it’s easy to obtain the desired result. Lesson Two: Jobs are only part of the larger picture.

A new report from the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law attempts to bring some economic rationality to the regulatory discourse — however quixotic that might be in the current political environment, not to mention in a presidential election year.

The report is titled “The Regulatory Red Herring: The Role of Job Impact Analyses in Environmental Policy Debates.” Yet somewhat surprisingly, Michael Livermore, the institute’s executive director, does not oppose factoring job impact into the cost-benefit analysis. Rather, he argues for adopting a more sophisticated approach than the prevalent knuckleheaded assumption — my words, not his — that increased regulation inevitably results in fewer jobs.

If an employer’s costs increase as the result of a regulation, Livermore notes, that is another way of saying that the employer has to hire workers to, say, install new technology while other employers hire workers to produce the new equipment.

In a healthy economy, the cost of layoffs should be transitory, as workers quickly find new jobs. In an economy like the current one, the impact of such layoffs may be more persistent — but any new jobs created may be more significant since, in a soft labor market, otherwise unemployed workers may be hired.

Can these cross-cutting impacts be accurately measured in a dynamic economy? Perhaps more important for the current discourse, is it possible to have the jobs and regulation discussion without ignoring the inherent limitations of economic modeling?

“The jobs impact analysis is important and we should do it, but the way it’s discussed now is completely wrong,” Livermore told me.

First, he said, “we talk about the jobs impact on the one hand and the other impacts (such as health and safety improvements) on the other hand, and they’re treated as apples and oranges.” Instead, he said, “we need to integrate the jobs impact into the broader cost­benefit analysis.”

Second, Livermore said, is a failure among those doing the analyzing to disclose the assumptions and limitations of their models — and the willingness of politicians (and the media, for that matter) to treat the resulting figures as gospel rather than guesstimate.

“The real problem is the way they’re used in the political back and forth,” Livermore said. “They’re used as sledgehammers to beat up the other side.”

No surprise there. But a useful reminder at a time when the phrase job-killing has become mind-numbing.

 

By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 24, 2012

April 25, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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