Friday, April 30, 2010

Congress Can't Be Trusted To Regulate Congress-- Especially When It Comes To Money Flowing In Their Direction

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It's cool that Feingold, Schumer, Wyden, Bayh is-- yeah, yeah, I'm being a wiseguy-- introducing The Disclose Act in the Senate while the even less trustworthy conglomerate Van Hollen, Castle, Jones, Brady introduces the same legislation in the House. (At least the House guys found a couple Republicans; the senators tried and failed with portends poorly for effective reform.)

The bills are an attempt to address the runaway activist Supreme Court's over-the-top, narrow corporate ruling called Citizens United and the senators and congressmen worked with the Obama administration on the bill. Since everyone concerned is in business-- if not bed-- with the crooked corporations they have licensed to own the government, the whole thing is a tad awkward. But short of shooting the entire corporate-governing elite and starting over again fresh, this is probably the best we can expect. Since the Republicans are already opposing it, there must be a preponderence of beneficial effects in it.

The 4 senators announced it-- in what passes for staged Beltway drama-- from the steps of the Supreme Court. Of course, no one called out Alito, Roberts, Thomas and Scalia for being entirely owned subsidiaries of Corporate America. Here's some of the stuff the offices of the senators sent out:
The lawmakers said their goal is for the Senate to pass the new measure by July 4 so the law can take effect in time for the 2010 midterm elections.

The legislation is a response to the Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case last January. That decision overturned a decades-old law banning political expenditures by corporate interests. The new Senate legislation would partly restore those limits – by barring foreign-controlled corporations, government contractors and companies that have received government assistance from making political expenditures-- and also require corporations, unions, and other organizations that make political expenditures to disclose their donors and stand by their ads.

The legislation is dubbed the “Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections” Act, or The DISCLOSE Act.

Senator Schumer said: “At a time when the public's fears about the influence of special interests were already high, the Court’s decision stacks the deck against the average American even more. Our bill will follow the money. In cases where corporations try to mask their activities through shadow groups, we drill down so that ultimate funder of the expenditure is disclosed. If we don’t act quickly to confront this ruling, we will have let the Supreme Court predetermine the outcome of next November’s elections. It won’t be Republicans or Democrats; it will be Corporate America and other special interests.”

...Senator Franken said: “Citizens United was an incredible act of judicial activism. It turned back a century of federal law, and it nullified Minnesota’s twenty-year-old ban on corporate spending in elections. The DISCLOSE Act will make sure that voters and shareholders know who is funding election advertising. My provisions make sure that American-based subsidiaries controlled by foreign companies or governments won’t ever spend money on Minnesota or federal elections. Minnesota’s elections should be controlled by Minnesotans.”

Under the senators’ proposal, the heads of any organization sponsoring an ad-- including corporate CEOs-- would be required to appear during the ad, as is currently required of candidates for federal office. In cases where special interests funnel their money into shell groups, the top five organizations that have donated to the group would have to be identified on screen during any ad sponsored by that group. The CEO of the group’s top funder for that particular advertisement would also be required to appear on screen to deliver a “stand by your ad” disclaimer.
 
Also, the bill would effectively require, for the first time, all corporations and advocacy groups that make political expenditures to establish easy-to-track campaign accounts. All donations to these accounts that exceed $1,000-- as well as all expenditures funded through these accounts-- would be reported within 24 hours to the Federal Election Commission once the money is spent, as well as to the public on the organization’s website, and to company shareholders in their corporate filing statements. If a company or organization did not wish to establish these transparent accounts, it would be required to disclose all its donors, not just those whose contributions are earmarked for political activities.
 
The legislation will also strengthen a candidate’s ability to respond to corporate attack ads by ensuring they can purchase air time at the lowest possible rate in the same media markets where these attacks ads are airing. The bill would also make sure that private corporations don’t coordinate their political activities with candidates.

Is this stuff important? Most people think so. Yesterday The Progressive published a piece by Ruth Conniff that proves how important-- and how urgent-- it is... and perhaps how inadequate the legislation is, especially if this is the starting point from which the crooks like McConnell, McCain, McClintock, McHenry, McCaul, McCotter, McMorris, McKeon, McCarthy and McDuck will begin the whittling down process-- or what they call compromise-- to remove anything that could actually be remotely beneficial before they vote against it... leaving the happy, smiley, retarded Democrats with another shitty bill they will try to use to show how accomplished they are.
Of all the devious tricks practiced by the financial industry-- hidden fees, usurious interest rates, and incomprehensible contracts that take advantage of consumers-- the campaign strategy for 2010 has to rank right up there.
As the banks begin pouring cash into Congressional elections, they are targeting members of Congress who support consumer protections that could cut into their bottom line.

But here is the kicker: Opponents of financial reform are tarring members of Congress who want to regulate the banks as tools of Wall Street. This Orwellian tactic is designed to confuse voters. In effect, the banks are running against themselves. Look for lots of ads that tie reform legislation to “bailouts,” “fat cats,” “Wall Street,” and “lobbyists.”

“The banks are going to be huge players in the 2010 elections,” says Mary Bottari, director of the Center for Media and Democracy’s Real Economy Project and editor of the website BanksterUSA.org. In Massachusetts, she points out, the financial services industry dumped $450,000 into Scott Brown’s race for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, helping Brown to win as a crusader against Wall Street, even as he opposed such basic reforms as a tax on banks to help pay back the bailout.

In January and February she began tracking deceptive ads targeting Democrats in ten states that tie bank reform legislation to “Wall Street bailouts.”

One such television ad in Montana urges voters to contact Senator Jon Tester and tell him to oppose a “$4 trillion bailout” for Wall Street.

The ad, paid for by a group called the Committee for Truth in Politics, begins with ominous music as words appear on a black screen:

“Fat cat lobbyists. Special interests. Lining their pockets at our expense. HR 4173 already passed in the U.S. House.” Photos of House Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank flash past. More words appear: “Soon to be considered in the Senate.” Photos of Harry Reid and Chris Dodd standing beside Frank and Pelosi pop up, followed by pictures that move almost too fast to follow: Wall Street, wads of cash, a man smoking a cigar and two men in suits shaking hands in front of the White House, scenes of people out of work, the word “foreclosure” and the figure $4,000,000,000,000. Then more words appear: “The Big Bank Bailout Bill. Lobbyists and Bureaucrats. They play. We pay.” (Photos of ordinary Americans.) “More taxes. Spending. Debt.” (A beleaguered-looking citizen in reading glasses, apparently doing his taxes.) “Call Your Senators” (phone numbers for Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester). “We won’t be fooled again. EVER.”

In the wake of the financial collapse, it’s no surprise to see political ads that focus on Wall Street and bank bailouts. But wait a minute. HR 4173, also known as the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, is the House bill designed to end bank bailouts and create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Watchdog Elizabeth Warren has said she is “delighted” with the bill.

And Jon Tester, the Montana Senator who is one of the ad’s main targets, is the only Senate Democrat who voted against the Wall Street bailout and the auto industry bailout.

Tester also authored the Credit CARD Act, which includes such consumer-friendly features as a ban on interest rate hikes for customers who are less than sixty days late paying their credit card bills, and requirements that credit card companies mail out statements earlier, give more notice of fee changes, and make other important information more readily available to consumers.

“I can see why some folks with a lot of money to burn don’t want this bill to pass,” Tester says of the companion legislation to HR 4173 he has been working on in the Senate Banking Committee. “They don’t want it to pass because it finally puts referees on Wall Street.”

The financial reform legislation in the House and Senate would, besides establishing a consumer protection agency, limit the Fed’s authority to pursue future bailouts and empower the government to shut down institutions that overextend themselves through risky financial dealings.

But lately, Tester’s staff has been fielding hundreds of calls from constituents who have been contacted by phone with a recorded message from the Committee for Truth in Politics and then directly connected to Tester’s office, where they are urged to demand that the Senator vote against the “$4 trillion bank bailout.”

“Many callers were relieved-- and confused-- to learn that Wall Street reform is not a bailout,” Tester says.

And then there's that whole revolving door thing between Capitol Hill and Wall Street. 71% of all lobbyists hired in 2009 by the six largest banks have come from either Capitol Hill or the Administration. No surprises here, but the senator with the most former staffers working as lobbyists for these big banks is Max Baucus, the crooked and drunken Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Concerned about seeing their huge profits cut, six big banks are leading the charge to weaken or block new financial regulations being considered in the United States Senate. To push their cause these banks have hired 145 former government officials–congressmen, staffers and executive branch officials–to lobby on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch.

The top six bank holding companies engaged in lobbying on financial regulation include Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, these banks spent a combined total of $23.8 million lobbying Washington in 2009.

Former government officials accounted for seventy-one percent of all lobbyists hired in 2009 by these six banking companies. The company with the highest percentage of former government officials working as lobbyists is Goldman Sachs. Eighty-two percent of the lobbyists hired by Goldman Sachs previously worked in government.

The DISCLOSE Act is a baby step in the right direction-- all this fucked up, compromised, bribed Congress seems capable of. Why is it, for example, that only corporations with more than 20% foreign ownership are banned from political advertising? Why not 5%? Why not 1%? The cowardly Congress, afraid of their campaugn donors and afraid of their constituents, are, alas, much more afraid of teir campaign donors, and their ability to persuade their constituents of anything they decide to spend enough money on. They need to keep in mind this polling data from February about how Americans feel about the Citizens United decision:
• 78% believe that corporations should be limited in how much they can spend to influence elections, and 70% believe they already have too much influence over elections

• 82% support limits on electioneering by government contractors, and 87% support limits on bailout recipients

• 85% support a complete ban on electioneering by foreign corporations

• 75% believe that a publicly traded company should get shareholder approval before spending money in an election

• 69% think that the President, in the event of a Supreme Court vacancy, should nominate a Justice who supports limits on corporate spending in elections


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