At UC Berkeley, Robert Reich with the Mario Savio Memorial Lecture on Class Warfare in America.
This is the story of Bob the businessman.
Suppose a local businessman, let’s call him Bob, went around town raising money from the townspeople to open a car dealership. Dozens and dozens of people in town invested, putting in $1,000, $5,000, and a few putting in as much as $50,000 and $100,000. Bob raised a lot of money for his business.
After a while the investors found out Bob the Businessman was using some of their money to help his brother run for Mayor and several cousins to run for city council, and some of it to make his wife head of the Arts Council for a good salary. Then they learned that he was using some of it to fund a local organization that did nothing but push for tax breaks for . . . businesses just like Bob’s. (And to push for "deregulation" letting Bob use his company's money to do things like ... fund the organization.)
In the election his brother was elected Mayor and his cousins took over the council. Once in charge of the city, they pushed through a big contract for Bob to supply cars to the city (many of which the city didn’t even need.) The city also exempted Bob’s business from taxes, even giving it subsidies.
This all of course made the car dealership very profitable, and the investors started asking when they were going to get a dividend. But they found out that Bob’s business opened a subsidiary based at a post office box in the Cayman Islands. This Cayman Islands subsidiary had been buying cars from the manufacturer at wholesale and turning around and selling them to Bob’s parent company for just under what the dealership sells them to the public for. As a result, all the profits went to the Cayman Islands subsidiary, and Bob wasn’t bringing any of it back to distribute to the shareholders!
Next, the investors learned that Bob had been living really high on the hog, paying himself many millions of dollars.
The son of George Soros, who is also a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, will use a super PAC to hopefully put itself out of business by targeting House lawmakers who oppose campaign finance reform:
Jonathan Soros, son of a prominent liberal financier, is helping to launch an independent advocacy group with hopes of spending up to $8 million targeting House lawmakers, primarily Republicans, who oppose public matching funds for elections and other campaign finance reforms.
The new super PAC, called Friends of Democracy, will file its first disclosures with the Federal Election Commission later this month and plans to zero in on 10 to 15 House races with television ads, mailings and Web messaging, Soros and other organizers said Thursday.
Like all super PACs, Friends of Democracy will be able to raise unlimited funds from wealthy individuals, corporations or unions--precisely the kind of system that the group is fighting against.
[...] “We openly acknowledge the irony of being a super PAC trying to address money in politics,” Soros said in an interview in Washington. “But our goal is to eventually decrease the influence of this kind of group...We don’t see any other path to real legislative change.”
[h/t Karoli] We like to keep it clean here at Crooks and Liars. Is there a nice way to report that Tea Party Express in Delaware spent over $300.00 of their primary funds, presumably on behalf of Christine O'Donnell, lunching at an establishment called "Crabby Dicks"***?
***Crabby Dicks, the restaurant that promises you "free balls" (direct quote: "click here to git yer balls!") if you sign up for their mailing list, then jokes that you'll also receive emails of an "animated Obama morphing into funny animals". And THAT'S supposed to be a joke?
A group of 27 major donors is vowing to withhold campaign cash from lawmakers who stand in the way of legislation that would allow for public funding of congressional campaigns. Over their careers, the donors have contributed millions to Democratic candidates -- and, on limited occasions, Republicans or independents -- but they say they've had it. And they don't mind if it means a lack of access.
Steve Kirsch kicked in roughly $10 million to try to elect Al Gore in 2000. "It is a trade off, because there are a lot of good things you can talk to them about, but most of the time they don't do anything about it anyway. Given the choice, I'd rather have campaign finance reform than access," said Kirsch, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of Infoseek, among other companies.
The millions that the donors have given is just the beginning, and doesn't include the millions more they've funneled by organizing fundraisers or otherwise corralling contributions.
The 27 donors plan to lobby other rich folks to sign on, with a plan of passing the Fair Elections Now Act, which has 149 cosponsors, this year. The campaign's being run by Change Congress, co-founded by Lawrence Lessig and Joe Trippi, along with Common Cause and the Public Campaign Action Fund.
ChangeCongress, now that the effort is public, will be encouraging donors to pledge. Read the letter here.
It was kicked off by donors Alan Hassenfeld, the former chairman of Hasbro, and Arnold Hiatt, the former head of the Stride Rite Corporation. The pair wrote to friends and colleagues, urging them to stop giving.
"We're writing with a very unusual request -- that you pledge not to give any campaign contributions to any candidate for Congress until they have committed to support public funding for congressional elections," they wrote. "Once we have a critical mass of large contributors who have signed this pledge, the partner organizations will then launch an Internet-based campaign to get others to join as well. A pilot of this program was initiated last year. Very quickly, tens of thousands committed to the pledge. ChangeCongress.org's technology will enable us to estimate the value of their pledges, and whom it hits directly. The site will also make it easy for pledgers to lobby Senators and Representatives to join the bill."
The pair said they were sad to have to take the step. "If, 15 months into the Obama Administration, we were looking at a long list of accomplishments, with a long list of probable victories coming -- as many of us dreamed last November -- then we would not be asking you to take this step. But the picture is not nearly so promising because of the power of private money in the political system. We have all been part of that system. It is time for us to take the lead to change it," they wrote.
[...] Kirsch said that the access his money buys -- and the access he could lose -- is overrated. With so many donors with so many opinions, the best they can do is nod, offer to look into it, and put a donor in touch with a staff member. "In the meeting, they say they agree completely," said Kirsch. "'Let me do more research and thinking. Thanks for bringing to my attention.' There tends not to be a lot of follow through."
I don't think I've ever watched a more enjoyable hour with Beck in all my years blogging. I have to hand it to a somewhat unbalanced Eric Massa. I was deeply concerned about him, based on the changing stories and what appeared to be angry lashing out at the White House. But Beck saw that and thought, "Jackpot!", betting his entire hour that Massa would give him the ammunition he needed to once more condemn the Maoists/Communists/Fascists/evil-doers (pick your ism) in the White House.
Talk about rolling craps.
While Beck shook his head in disbelief and repeatedly demanded in his best McCarthyite gravitas for Massa to name names, Massa refused to give the payout he was looking for. Massa admitted guilt, took responsibility and repeatedly said that the best thing for people to do was to participate in the electoral process and try to bring around campaign finance reform. Time:
Massa had come on Fox to out-Beck Glenn Beck. Armed with the very same weapons — a deep sense of victimhood, outrage at the powers that be and remarkable personal candor — the Representative delivered a dizzying confessional. [..]
Beck, who is used to controlling the gravitational force of victimhood around him, kept interrupting to point out that he was a bigger target of even greater forces than Massa. "I have two unauthorized biographies coming out against me in the spring," Beck said at one point. Minutes later, Beck went even further. "Do you realize my family is at stake?" he said. "You've got a little scandal with your children in college. I've got one for all time now, because I am not going to resign. I'm not going to back down. I have come to a place where I believe at some point the system will destroy me."
But Beck could not compete with the oddity of the sympathy card Massa kept pulling. He appeared frustrated that Massa wasn't revealing any more sinister plots afoot in the nation's capital, and he got visibly annoyed when Massa tried to take some measure of responsibility for his actions and attempted to walk back some of his more heated rhetoric against White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
And to make things worse, when Massa turned from discussing his own woes to the machinations of Washington, he offered ideas that have no place in Fox News's tightly regulated framework. Massa suggested that Beck and other Americans demand "campaign finance reform" to curb the corruption on Capitol Hill. Beck, who has called such proposals a "huge mistake," put his hand over his mouth, as if he were holding back an upset stomach. Massa, who has opposed Obama's health reform because it is not liberal enough, told Beck that he should stop calling people names like "socialist" and "communist." "You can be a progressive and be a fiscal conservative," Massa then explained, as Beck lost control of his own program.
I can't tell you how tickled I was watching Beck get more and more deflated as the hour went on, finally resulting in apologizing to his audience for wasting their time. And it was laughable when he turned the interview into a chance to promote his own victim hood while never mentioning that Beck made 23 million dollars last year.
Beck: "I believe at some point the system will destroy me."
Looks like the system is being kind to the man who describes himself as a Rodeo clown, wouldn't you say?
The sad part is that Beck DID waste his viewers' time, but not in the way that he thought. He was so blinded by his hatred of the administration, so focused on his witch hunts that he completely missed that he had an exclusive interview with a former congressperson who resigned due to a litany of ever changing reasons and his inability to get past the all-encompassing need to raise money as a politician and his frustration with campaign financing. The rest of the media will focus on the salacious details of his ethics investigation and miss it too.
But Massa is 100% right. The best way to end corruption in DC is campaign finance reform, and that's an area that all of us, from the nuttiest tea-bagger to the dirtiest liberal hippie can support. But Beck didn't want to hear about real problems or real ways to make things better in this country.
The Colbert Report last night featured one of the most subversive and brutally honest half-hours of television in recent memory. It's a sad commentary that it takes a comedy program to provide more news and information on one of the most critical subjects in American politics that anywhere else in our broken media and political landscape, but I'll take this argument wherever I can get it.
Colbert spent two full segments of his show focusing on the Citizens United Supreme Court case, which could - and probably will - lead to deregulating the entire campaign finance process, allowing corporations to give unlimited money to any candidate of their choosing. This severe step backwards with enormous implications has been barely discussed in any traditional media setting, but Colbert went after it vigorously, discussing the consequences and even the flawed legal rationale, a true third rail of American politics, corporate personhood.
Colbert explained that the 1886 case (Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad) that conferred 14th Amendment equal protection rights onto corporations wasn't even in the original ruling. But when the Chief Justice made an off-hand comment that the Court wouldn't hear an argument on whether the 14th Amendment applied to these corporations (saying, "We are all of the opinion that it does"), the court reporter wrote it into the ruling opinion, and the precedent has held ever since. And that reporter of the Supreme Court didn't only have ties to the railroad barons, he used to run one.
These are subjects you just never hear about in the American media, precisely because the American media is owned by giant multinational corporations, who benefit from the corporate personhood rule and would stand to benefit more from deregulating elections so they could use their "speech" to buy candidates and fund their own with unlimited resources. And despite being on a Viacom-owned network, Colbert says, skewering the immorality and psychopathology of the corporation, "Corporations are legally people... they do everything people do, except breathe, die, and go to jail for dumping 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River."
There's some backstory to that remark. Colbert actually worked with Robert Smigel on the "TV Funhouse" bits from Saturday Night Live (he's one-half of the Ambiguously Gay Duo), including the infamous episode from March 1998, Conspiracy Theory Rock. Here are some of the actual lyrics (remember this aired, albeit one time, on NBC, whose parent company is General Electric):
It's a media-opoly
The whole media is controlled by a few corporations
thanks to deregulation by the FCC.
You mean Disney, Fox, WestingHouse, and good ol GE?
They own networks from CBS to CNBC.
They can use them to say whatever they please,
and put down the opinions of any one who disagrees.
Or stuff about PCB's.
What are PCB's?
They come from power plants built by WestingHouse and GE.
They can give you lots of cancer that can hurt your body,
but on network TV, you rarely hear anything bad about the nuclear industry [...]
But the bigshots don't care.
They're all sitting pretty.
Thanks to corporate welfare.
What's that now?
They get billions in subsidies
from the government.
It's supposed to create jobs,
but that's not how it's spent.
They pulled this cartoon from the rerun broadcasts and it never aired again.
Colbert didn't just provide this lesson in corporate control of government in his "The Word" segment, but then had Jeffrey Toobin on to explain how the expected Supreme Court ruling would impact elections:
COLBERT: If this goes through, if they decide in favor of the corporations here, what's going to happen to elections?
TOOBIN: Well, they will be essentially deregulated. Corporations will be allowed to give money, corporations will be allowed to broadcast programs that are in favor of one side or another, it'll basically be no more rules about what corporations can do in political campaigns.
COLBERT: Now when I ran for President in 2008, as the Hail to the Cheese Doritos Stephen Colbert campaign for President, I was told that I actually couldn't do that, that I was breaking federal election law by being sponsored by that corporation. But if this goes through, if this court case, if they win, does that mean that I retroactively won the election?
TOOBIN: I don't think it means that.
COLBERT: But could you do that? Could I actually just wear a NASCAR suit and just have logos all over me and run for President as the sort of Gatorade Thirst for Justice campaign for President?
The Supreme Court signaled Monday that it could overturn decades-old laws on how money is spent on federal elections, raising the stakes in a case about a scathing documentary about Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The high court was expected to release a decision on the Citizens United movie as part of its end-of-the-term wrap up, but in an unusual move the justices said they will hear arguments in the case again in a special session Sept. 9.
In advance of the rare session, the court told the lawyers in the case to focus their arguments on whether its earlier decisions banning certain political speech by corporations, and the corporate and union spending on television advertising during campaigns, should be overturned.
Advocates on both sides said the decision on this case will likely shape federal elections for years to come.
"At stake in the Citizens United case now is whether the Supreme Court is going to take the radical step of striking down the 60-year old ban on corporate expenditures and open the flood gates to immense amounts of corporate wealth being used to directly influence federal campaigns," said Fred Wertheimer, president of the Democracy 21 group...read on...
The justices considered a case this term about an election-year documentary made by opponents of Hillary Clinton. The issue was whether the film could air in the 60 days before an election, a period during which the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law imposes particularly strict limits on election-related communication. The case would have been easy to resolve on narrow grounds. Instead, the court declared that on Sept. 9 it would hear arguments on whether Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce — an important campaign finance precedent from 1990 — and parts of a more recent case should be overruled.
The feverish pace is also disturbing. The court has ordered that the arguments take place even before the new term starts. The parties, and interested citizens who want to submit friend-of-the-court briefs, will have only a short time to parse enormously complicated issues.
The most troubling part of the court’s action is the brave new world of politics it could usher in. Auto companies that receive multibillion-dollar bailouts could spend vast sums to re-elect the same officials who hand them the money. If Exxon Mobil or Wal-Mart wants something from a member of Congress, it could threaten to spend as much as it takes to defeat him or her in the next election. It is a nightmare vision, but based on how the justices have come down in past cases, there may well be five votes for it to prevail.
Do you expect anything less from the Roberts Court?
We read that you have chosen to accept President Obama's ban on fundraising from PACs and lobbyists, but only for June 18 -- the day he headlines a fundraiser for you.
This isn’t just hypocritical -- it defies common sense that you'd think the public would believe this was a principled stand against special-interest influence.
For 364 days a year, your rules would allow members of Congress to leave a hearing about regulating Wall Street and then walk straight to the DSCC and DCCC offices to “dial for dollars” from Wall Street lobbyists who want more bailout money and less accountability to taxpayers. Most Americans would find that conflict of interest repulsive.
We call on you to ban PAC and lobbyist contributions 365 days a year, just as President Obama did.
This is actually the least you could do to take on special-interest influence.
Will the DSCC and DCCC reject donations from executives of bailout recipients such as AIG, the way you did for Enron? Will you require candidates you support to publicly endorse the real solution to special-interest influence: public funding of congressional elections?
The public is tired of political gamesmanship. Please recognize that your “one day of reform” is absurd on its face and, if left standing, an embarrassment to your organizations. We urge you to announce a 365-day ban of PAC and lobbyist contributions – at a minimum.
Campaign contributions from oil industry executives to Sen. John McCain rose dramatically in the last half of June, after the senator from Arizona made a high-profile split with environmentalists and reversed his opposition to the federal ban on offshore drilling.
Oil and gas industry executives and employees donated $1.1 million to McCain last month -- three-quarters of which came after his June 16 speech calling for an end to the ban -- compared with $116,000 in March, $283,000 in April and $208,000 in May.
McCain said the policy reversal came as a response to rising voter anger over soaring energy prices. At the time, about three-quarters of voters responding to a Washington Post-ABC News poll said prices at the pump were causing them financial hardship, the highest in surveys this decade.[..]
McCain delivered the speech before heading to Texas for a series of fundraisers with energy industry executives, and the day after the speech he raised $1.3 million at a private luncheon and reception at the San Antonio Country Club, according to local news accounts.
"The timing was significant," said David Donnelly, the national campaigns director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, a nonpartisan campaign finance reform group that conducted the analysis of McCain's oil industry contributions. "This is a case study of how a candidate can change a policy position in the interest of raising money."