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“Listening To The Radicals”: The GOP’s Future, Move Right And Move White

It’s an eternal verity of American politics: the Republicans are the party of big business. Democrats since Franklin Roosevelt have sneered it as a putdown, to which many Republicans respond with no shame, yes, we are, the business of America is business. And business, in Washington, means chiefly the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, the two beefiest business lobbies in the city. But funny thing—the chamber and NAM support the Senate immigration bill that the House Republicans are going to kill. In addition, some prominent evangelical groups are pro-reform, too. Which makes me wonder: if the Republicans are no longer listening to these people, then to whom precisely are they listening, and what does that tell us about what kind of party this is becoming?

The chamber, NAM, and the evangelical groups have been in on the immigration discussions from the start. A great deal of the hard work here was done by congressional negotiators in conjunction with the chamber and the AFL-CIO, working through different categories of workers (high-skill, low-skill, guest) and arriving at language and numbers that suited all the interests at the table. Each of these groups has done the kind of outreach to its members that is vital in the case of big and controversial legislation like this. The Evangelical Immigration Table, a project of World Relief (which is an arm of the National Association of Evangelicals), persuaded pastors across the country to support reform.

There was a time in this country when the linked arms of those three groups would unquestionably have been joined by most Republicans on Capitol Hill. But that was long ago. Now the GOP is a different animal altogether.

And so the Chamber of Commerce—the Chamber of Commerce!—is a bunch of sell-outs. This isn’t the first time, by the way, that the chamber and the GOP have been at odds. The chamber has long supported substantial public spending on infrastructure. You might have thought that the fact that the chamber was for it would bring Republicans along. But these Republicans don’t listen to the chamber.

Instead, they are listening to the Tea Party. Back in 2010, the press tried to tell you that Tea Party people just cared about economics, but that’s dead wrong. As Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson showed in their book The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, immigration is a huge issue to Tea Partiers, and along precisely the immigrants-are-freeloaders lines you’d expect. Remember when Mitt Romney’s attack on Rick Perry over immigration worked so well? This is why.

And more disturbingly they’re listening to the likes of Peter Brimelow and Steve Sailer, two crackpot haters of nonwhite immigrants who’ve been at it for a couple of decades now. Now I can’t say for sure of course how many Republicans are reading their unhinged website, where one contributor recently dismissed the Evangelical Immigration Table as “Soros-funded,” an imprecation that in right-wing circles is about as ominous as you get and is meant to be read as “can’t be trusted.” But I can say this: the defeat in the House of immigration reform, on the explicit political grounds that “we” (the GOP) don’t “need” Latinos and can win in the future by just riling up the white vote—which is in fact the argument now—represents a mainstreaming of Brimelow and Sailer that would have been totally unimaginable a decade ago.

Business groups, like everyone I talk to who is pro-reform, hold out hope. But it’s a shaky kind of hope, as evidenced by one conversation I had yesterday with a source close to business groups. This person thought the odds of success in the House were “about 30 to 70.” Later in the conversation, he termed himself “optimistic.” If that counts as optimism, that tells us something. The key thing, this person said of the House Republicans, is “just getting them in the room” with senators in a conference committee.

He did correctly identify the hard part. But getting to the conference stage means that the House has to have passed its own bill, and one containing a path to citizenship that isn’t strewn with poison pills that make it impossible for the other side to support. And that’s the huge if.

What we are watching here is absolutely historic. The process by which the GOP has gone from “we must get right with Latinos” to “who needs ’em” has been … well, not quite astonishing. Depressingly unsurprising, actually. But amazing all the same. If immigration is killed for the reasons stated, then the Republican Party has consciously made the decision to become a quasi-nationalist party. They’ll probably never sink to the level of a Le Pen or a Haider (I added that “probably” upon re-reading; you never quite know with these people). But they will have killed immigration reform twice in six years, opposing not just the usual suspects like La Raza but America’s top corporate interest groups. And they will have staked out their bet for their future: move right and move white. And this will be the year it all took hold.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 3, 2013

July 7, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The IRS And The Real Scandal”: Enabling America’s Financial Elite To Further Entrench Their Wealth And Power

“This systematic abuse cannot be fixed with just one resignation, or two,” said David Camp, the Republican chairman of the House tax-writing committee, at an oversight hearing Friday morning dealing with the IRS. “This is not a personnel problem. This is a problem of the IRS being too large, too intrusive, too abusive.”

David Camp has it wrong. There has been a “systematic” abuse of power, but it’s not what Camp has in mind. The real scandal is that:

The IRS has interpreted our tax laws to allow big corporations and wealthy individuals to make unlimited secret campaign donations through sham political fronts called “social welfare organizations,” like Karl Rove’s “Crossroads,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and “Priorites USA.”

This campaign money has been used to bribe Congress to keep in place tax loopholes like the “carried interest” rule that allows the managers of hedge funds and private equity funds to treat their income as capital gains, subject only to low capital gains taxes rather than ordinary income taxes, and other loopholes that allow CEOs to get special tax treatment on giant compensation packages that now average $10 million a year.

Despite a growing number of billionaires and multi-millionaires using every tax dodge imaginable – laundering their money through phantom corporations and tax havens — the IRS’s budget has been cut by 17 percent since 2002, adjusted for inflation. To manage the $594.5 million in additional cuts required by the sequester, the agency will furlough each of its more than 89,000 employees for at least five days this year.

Finally, all of this, coming at a time when the Supreme Court has deemed corporations “people” under the First Amendment and when income and wealth are more concentrated at the top than they’ve been in over a hundred years, has enabled America’s financial elite to further entrench their wealth and power and thereby take over much of American democracy.

This is the real scandal and the real abuse, Congressman Camp. Your indignation over the IRS’s alleged “targeting” of conservative groups is a distraction from the main event.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, May 17, 2013

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Corporations, Internal Revenue Service | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Accidental Disclosure”: Aetna Shareholders “Dismayed” Over Company Donations To Anti-Obamacare Campaigns

A group of Aetna shareholders is challenging the health insurer for donating to the American Action Network and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — two organizations dedicated to undermining Obamacare.

Aetna donated over $7 million to the two groups during the Democrats’ effort to enact health care reform, though the contributions did not become public until this year, when the company accidentally “made the disclosure in a year-end regulatory filing with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.”

In a letter to Aetna on Monday, the shareholders claim that the company did not comply with disclosure policies or inform its investors about the donations:

We believe Aetna is not in compliance with its corporate political and lobbying disclosure policy, a policy which we negotiated and expected would be met in spirit and in letter,” read the Monday letter to Aetna CEO and President Mark Bertolini from Mercy Investment Services Inc. and the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, two Catholic groups with investments in Aetna. […]

But in their recent complaint to Aetna, the Catholic investors point to a 2007 letter of agreement in which Aetna promised shareholders that it would disclose all expenditures for lobbying and political purposes, as well as trade association payments and grass-roots spending. The Aetna policy followed a 2006 shareholder resolution calling for the company to disclose its political spending.

“We, investors, withdrew the resolution in good faith expecting that the resolution establishing oversight and transparency would be followed, revised as best practices evolved and in place for reference by the members of the committee preparing the annual reports,” read the letter. In an interview, Sister Valerie Heinonen, one of the letter’s authors, said investors were “dismayed” that the agreed-on policy had not been followed.

Aetna maintains that it intended the funds to be used for educational purposes, yet both the American Action Network and the Chamber are still fighting reform. Just days after the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the law, AAN announced a $1.2 million advertising campaign urging Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, July 14, 2012

July 15, 2012 Posted by | Health Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Post Office Box 72465”: A Pervasive Mess With An End Run Around Campaign Finance Laws

To grasp the clear and present danger that the current flood of campaign cash poses to American democracy, consider the curious case of Post Office Box 72465. It demonstrates that the explosion of super PAC spending is only the second-most troubling development of recent campaign cycles.

Box 72465, on a desert road near Phoenix, belongs to a little-known group called the Center to Protect Patient Rights. According to reports by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Los Angeles Times, the center funneled more than $55 million to 26 Republican-leaning groups during the 2010 midterm election.

Where is the money from? The Times found links to the conservative Koch brothers, yet because the center is a nonprofit corporation, it is impossible to know. Such groups must disclose how they distribute their money, not who donates to them.

This privacy makes sense in the context of ordinary nonprofits. But in the ­push-the-envelope world of modern campaigns, in which such groups spend millions of dollars on thinly disguised campaign ads, the result is an end run around the fundamental principle of campaign finance law: that voters are entitled to know who is trying to influence elections.

Even the Supreme Court understands this: Disclosure, it wrote in its otherwise appalling 2010 Citizens United ruling, “permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

Except when, as in the case of the Center to Protect Patient Rights, the identities — and motives — of those giving are hidden from public view. The center sent almost $13 million to the American Future Fund, a Des Moines-based group that ran campaigns against two dozen Democrats in 2010. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) was targeted with what the Times described as “a $2-million fusillade” of radio ads, robo-calls and mailers.

“It was almost a feeling of helplessness because there was no way to identify who the source of the funds was,” Braley said. He won by two percentage points, after a 29-point margin two years earlier.

The gusher of secret money that nearly toppled Braley promises to be even more abundant this year — and the groups behind the undisclosed cash remain determined to do whatever it takes to keep the sources hidden.

In March, ruling in a lawsuit brought by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a federal judge found that the Federal Election Commission was wrong to exempt nonprofits and other groups that run “electioneering communications” — advertising that names specific candidates within a short time before the election — from having to reveal their donors.

It says something about the FEC that the agency charged with overseeing campaign reporting would come out against disclosure.

Luckily, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson disagreed. “Congress intended to shine light on whoever was behind the communications bombarding voters immediately prior to elections,” she wrote. The federal appeals court in Washington refused to stay the ruling while an appeal was underway.

The response from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was telling: It would switch its way of influencing elections rather than reveal its donors. The chamber, which has made itself a major political player, plans to spend more than $50 million during the 2012 campaign.

At a breakfast with reporters this week, chamber officials said that, in reaction to the ruling, the organization would conduct its political spending through independent expenditures that explicitly support or oppose particular candidates.

Such is the perverse mess that is the current campaign finance law. Under the Citizens United ruling, corporations, such as the chamber, can make unlimited independent expenditures. The upshot is that advertising like the chamber’s can be even more brutal — because it won’t have to pretend to be merely “educating” voters — and just as opaque.

Meanwhile, the American Future Fund, the organization that ran ads against Braley, has brazenly asked the FEC to approve a different end run. The group contends that if its ads merely mention “the administration” or “the White House,” they would not be attacking a “clearly identified candidate” and therefore not subject to disclosure requirements.

This would be laughable — if it were not such a scary illustration of the lengths to which these groups will go to avoid letting voters know who is trying to buy their elections, and the unfortunate likelihood that they will succeed.

 

By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 31, 2012

June 2, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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