Weekly News 8/10/12

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Campaigns on California ballot measures raise $150 million from the LA Times

Influence Industry: Scotts Miracle-Gro goes out on a limb with political donation from the Washington Post

250 Years of Campaigns, Cash, and Corruption from Mother Jones

How Secret Foreign Money Could Infiltrate US Elections from Mother Jones

John Larson: ‘Put Elections Back in the Hands of Ordinary Americans’ from the Southington Patch

Guess Who’s Profiting Most From Super PACs? from Rolling Stone

Election 2012: The myth of the small donor from Politico


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It’s In The Air

Have you noticed how many people are talking about money in politics?

Just yesterday, I heard Diane Rehm discussing the issue with her guests.  They framed money in politics as a central facet in a widespread loss of confidence in government.  In the New York Times, commentary on Jonathan Soros’ Super PAC to end Super PACs (that’s a whole other blog post) and more.

It seems that every other day I hear discussion or mention of campaign finance issues I never heard a couple years ago.  The issue is gaining ground in the public arena.

Look at what New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said about his goal to reform the state’s campaign finance system:

“The challenge with campaign finance is it’s not high enough on the priority list for the people,” Cuomo said in the Capitol’s Red Room. “The legislators aren’t hearing enough about it. … To get something done, for me, in this town, I need to leave this town, wage a whole education effort and get the issue up to the top of the list.”

Cuomo’s comment really struck me.  We can’t enact campaign finance reform without educating the people about the problems and solutions.  We know this, of course, but sometimes we forget to join the conversation and spread the word when the opportunity presents itself.  Call in to radio shows.  Share newspaper articles online.  Ask questions of candidates and elected officials.  Talk to friends and family.  These little things matter tremendously.

The momentum is building, and we are the ones who will keep it going.

Read more about Cuomo: http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Cuomo-turns-to-campaign-finance-3697696.php#ixzz210fLPtSS

By Cody Meador.  Cody is President of Clean Elections Texas and a ninth grade English teacher in Dallas.  She has been involved in campaign finance reform efforts since organizing for Democracy Matters in college.

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Meet Our Summer 2012 Interns

My name is Nelson Turk, and I’m a junior at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. I’m an American citizen who has lived overseas (primarily) in Asia most of my life. My mother is Thai, so I am fluent in Thai, while my first language is English. While living in Shanghai, I began taking Mandarin lessons, until graduating from high school with a total of 4+ years of Mandarin. I chose to attend SMU based on the Business and Economics programs and the swim team (division 1). With Clean Elections Texas I hope to learn as much as possible about implementing change and learning how to use current government institutions for a fairer election process.

My name is Jenna Hernandez and I’m so ecstatic to be working with Clean Elections Texas. I am working towards a degree in Government at University of Texas at Austin. I hope to help raise public awareness about Clean Elections and why they’re important, and to utilize and expand my skills in research. In my off time I enjoy cooking, DIY projects, and seeing my friends and family.

My name is Emily Fankell and I’m a senior at the University of Notre Dame studying political science and anthropology, although I am living in Austin for the summer. After graduation, I would like to work in the non-profit sector, having been inspired by the passion and commitment of those who work to make a difference in society.  I’m excited to work with Clean Elections not only as a welcome distraction to my thesis, but to understand more about our political system and contribute to the fair elections movement, as well as experience first-hand the efficacy of an active citizenry.

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What Montana Means For Us

On Monday, June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to overturn a long-standing Montana law banning independent corporate expenditures for or against electoral candidates.  The case is called American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock.  Now, corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of money in support or opposition of a candidate in Montana.  Essentially, federal standards set in place by the Citizens United case will now apply to Montana.

This case has several implications for the future.  For those of us working to reduce the corrosive effects of money in politics, it precipitates challenges as well as opportunities.

Since corporations and unions can spend any amount of money independent of candidates, they will have the ability to dominate the public conversation during campaigns and dictate the priority of specific issues for candidates.  Although this is a blow for limiting special interest influence of elections, it will undoubtedly heighten the public awareness of and concern regarding this issue.

Additionally, the ruling strengthens the argument for a constitutional amendment to remedy the damage done by the Citizens United decision since it is now clear that the Court will not change course.  Leaders from Public Citizen and Free Speech for People have posited that the Montana ruling will help push us toward an amendment.

With the Supreme Court set on the side of deregulating money spent on elections, and with an uncertain future of new elected officials from local races to the White House, the sense of urgency for the movement to amend the constitution is immense.  In moments like these, it is easy to become frustrated and question the value of activism.  However, it is also in moments like these that we can become the most impassioned and motivated to work harder.  We must use the developments in Montana to our advantage and raise public awareness about the corrosion of justice as well as the feasible solutions.

Money affects political outcomes at every level of government.  We must remember that there is a myriad of solutions that we can support.  While we remain focused on our goal of passing Clean Elections within Texas, we must also keep the possibility of a Constitutional amendment on our radar and be ready to act in support.

By Cody Meador.  Cody is President of Clean Elections Texas and a ninth grade English teacher in Dallas.  She has been involved in campaign finance reform efforts since organizing for Democracy Matters in college.

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Why We Need a Constitutional Amendment

The Gilded Age was the post-Civil War period of American economic growth, fueled by corporate wealth accumulation.
The notion of limiting or banning corporate campaign contributions arose during that era.  Many states passed such laws, fearing that the electoral process would be corrupted by money flowing to candidates, shielded by the corporate veil.  There was thus a time when we thought it was axiomatic that money corrupts, and should be limited, or at a minimum, watched closely.  The goal was an informed voter.
With Citizen’s United, freedom to speak has morphed to freedom to spend, and worst of all, that freedom is now a corporate right.
A constitutional amendment to ban all corporate political spending is imperative, and to permit full disclosure, and limits, on individual political spending, is the answer.
By Mike Holloway.  Mike grew up in a family immersed in Austin politics; educated in government and law at UT-Austin; disturbed by influence of money in politics, interested in increasing the influence of ordinary citizens on our government; says he loves America as much as those who constantly are trumpeting how much they love it.  He wants to prove it by working on clean elections.
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Let’s Have Publicly Funded Elections

Susan Cantrell Holloway writes: Kudos to Willa in Garland for her astute letter to the editor this week:

“A Tax on Politics–
President Barack Obama proposes a 28 percent corporate tax rate. I’ll support a reduction in corporate taxes if it comes with a sales tax on the purchase of politicians.

Let’s have publicly funded elections before only money is allowed to speak.

Willa Kulhavy, Garland

Enough said.

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A Democracy in Name Only

A headline caught my eye this morning: “Gay Marriage, Passed, Awaits Christie’s Veto”.   Yes, this is happening in New Jersey, not Texas.   But the same scenario repeats itself daily all over the country.  New Jersey state legislators’ votes reflect the will of the people.  Poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans do not support  conservative social issues and are tired of politicians with national office ambitions using them to distract the voters from much more critical issues like the economy, foreign policy, environment etc.  Gov. Chris Christie wants to attract money and support from anti- gay marriage groups—it’s no secret that he’ll eventually try for the White House.  So once again public will about things like gay marriage, abortion etc. gets thwarted because our entire political system is fueled by cash.

In a clean elections system, someone like Gov. Christie could be true to his moderate social conservative roots (something he’s been quite passionate about in the past).  When he campaigns next he would be free to develop a platform based on ideas we so desperately need to explore and develop.  Issues that are vital to reshaping our economy, for instance.  Not those pet projects of those extremists who are not only in the minority, but on the fringe of popular American opinion.  This craziness is driving us farther toward a top down system (those at the top of the money heap drive the agenda).   A democracy in name only.

By Susan Cantrell Holloway.  Susan is a retired lawyer and academic language therapist who now volunteers for causes that will help strengthen our democracy.

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An Appearance of Impropriety

I am a lawyer, licensed in Texas in 1977.  When in law school, I first learned of the concept of “appearance of impropriety.”  My professors indicated that attorneys are held to a higher standard of ethics than the general public.  This notion has particular application when lawyers practicing before a particular Judge have interactions with that Judge outside the courtroom.  Certainly, conferring with a Judge regarding a matter pending before that Judge, without the presence of the lawyer for the other side, is clearly inappropriate. Such conduct is known as an “ex parte” communication, a phrase meaning that it took place without the other side being present.

Beyond that is the need to avoid even the “appearance” of impropriety.  This is because those who are being judged by others must have the utmost trust in the impartiality of those who are to decide their disputes.  Without this trust, the integrity of the system is in question, and the willingness of the public to submit their disputes to judges for decision, without resorting to “self-help”, is diminished.

Campaign finance restrictions grow out of this concept, in my view.  The laws governing contributions to candidates are intended, at their core, to get at our desire that those who make our laws not be unfairly influenced by those who contribute money to their campaigns.  Since we all know that “money talks”, the issue for all voters is that the interest of the general public should not become less important than the interests of some voters with money to spend on campaigns of public officials or candidates.

Recent Supreme Court decisions have recognized that the rights of “free speech” inure to the benefit of corporations, and also extend to the right to freely express one’s thoughts (spend money) in support of a particular candidate or position.  This notion has been used as a sword to strike down laws which attempt to provide public funding to candidates.  The idea of the current Supreme Court majority is that if a law provides that public funds are made available to candidate A, when the private funds spent by candidate B reach a certain level, then such a law is an unconstitutional restriction on the right of candidate B to spend his/her money.  Why? Because candidate B will not want candidate A to receive money for free, so candidate B will necessarily limit his/her expenditures of private money so candidate A will not get more free money.
See how this works?  Since the people with money might be less likely to spend their money on a campaign if it results in another candidate getting money for free, then this is an unfair restriction on the people with money.  In other words, the Court strikes down an attempt to limit access of candidates to money by holding that such attempt reduces the advantage of the people with money to give money to candidates.  The answer to this argument of course is: obviously it does just that.  The point of the laws restricting campaign expenditures is to STOP the flow of private money to candidates, because, as we all know, money corrupts.  At a minimum, the money flowing to candidates from private interests, WHOEVER THEY ARE, improves the chances those who write the checks will get influence over, or at a minimum, ACCESS to the candidate.

This access is the very thing such laws seek to reduce. To use a phrase not often used by lawyers, but commonly used by laymen; DUH!

Back to my original point: at a minimum, our system should be run by leaders who are not beholden to a particular donor or interest; rather, our representatives should seek to find what is in the public interest, and make laws consistent therewith.

Long ago the Supreme Court decided a free speech case, making clear that laws can limit speech in certain instances, such as when one yells fire in a crowded theater.
The idea: speech that is harmful or dangerous to the public, simply by its utterance, can be constitutionally prohibited.  Speech that in itself causes there to be a “clear and present danger” to the public can be prohibited.

Restricting the flow of money to those who make our laws is laudable, and as the loss of faith in the impartiality of our leaders so painfully shows, such restrictions would contribute to the integrity of our system.  Assuredly, the “clear and present” danger we face is that without such laws, our citizens lose faith that our government is on the “up and up”.  Once that is lost, we lose our essence, which is that the government be “of the people, by the people and for the people.”  Surely this is not really debatable, is it?

More to come re: the solution to this problem – a Constitutional amendment which will insure that laws restricting speech (spending) in political campaigns cannot be struck down as unconstitutional.

By Mike Holloway.  Mike grew up in a family immersed in Austin politics; educated in government and law at UT-Austin; disturbed by influence of money in politics, interested in increasing the influence of ordinary citizens on our government; says he loves America as much as those who constantly are trumpeting how much they love it.  He wants to prove it by working on clean elections.

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When Talking About Campaign Finance Reform

When talking about campaign finance reform, some people get concerned when the phrase, “public funding” gets brought up.  After all, they say, we need to be about saving, not spending.  The current political climate is fraught with federal or state debt rhetoric aimed at across the board spending slashes.  Watching the bottom line is important, but sometimes we have to spend to save.

Consider the case of “public funding” for clean elections.  Taxpayers are currently being fleeced because corporations make political donations and expect payback in the form of tax breaks, subsidies, no-bid and/or wasteful contracts, regulation changes, etc.  By taking away the opportunity for a  “pay to play” campaign finance system, clean elections will save the public money that currently goes to wasteful, corrupt programs.  Most Americans know that money in politics is dirty, corrupting, and causes most of the roadblocks to bipartisan problem solving we’re experiencing today.  We just can’t repair our ailing economy when so many sacred cow programs cannot be assessed honestly in the light of day due to influence peddling.  This is the source of the gridlock that is breaking our hearts, no matter who we voted for, or what side of the aisle we prefer.

By Susan Cantrell Holloway.  Susan is a retired lawyer and academic language therapist who now volunteers for causes that will help strengthen our democracy.

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Colbert and Campaign Finance

At the end of June, the Federal Election Commission voted 5-1 to allow Stephen Colbert to move forward with the creation of his Super PAC.  Through this PAC, Colbert will be able to raise and spend unlimited funds on the 2012 presidential election.  However, Viacom Corp., which owns Comedy Central, will have to report any money it gives to Colbert for political activities outside of his show on the network.  Campaign finance reformers welcomed this aspect of the decision because many people speculated that the FEC would allow Viacom to fund Colbert’s political activities without an obligation to report.  This has significant implications given the political nature of other TV personalities such as Rachel Maddow and Glenn Beck, to name a couple.

Super PACs were first created in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allowed individuals, unions and corporations the right to give unlimited amounts of money to independent organizations to campaign for or against candidates.  A Super PAC cannot give money directly to a candidate for election purposes, but it can spend unlimited money on advocating for or against a candidate independent of that candidates campaign.

In his National Journal interview, Colbert’s lawyer and former FEC Chairman, Trevor Potter, states that he is not engaging in political theater, but providing more ways for people to learn about and discuss issues of campaign finance.  He predicts that the 2012 presidential election will look something like an election with no campaign finance laws.

It is possible that the 2012 elections will create the perfect opportunity for campaign finance activists to increase awareness and excitement for reform.

By Cody Meador.  Cody is an English teacher and recent SMU graduate from Dallas.

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