April 13, 2011- Democrats are launching a new outside group designed to combat the independent conservative organizations that pumped tens of millions of dollars into the 2010 election and helped to sweep House Republicans into the majority.
House Majority PAC will focus exclusively on House races and will be headed by Ali Lapp, who served as campaign director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2006 election cycle under then-Chairman Rahm Emanuel.
“The House Majority PAC is committed to building a long-term organization that can take on the Republican outside groups in the battle for the House Majority,” Lapp said in a statement. “Our objective is to help the Democrats win back the House.”
The group will operate as a “super PAC” — which means the group must disclose its donors, under Federal Election Commission rules, but can accept unlimited contributions.
The organization did not specify how much it planned to spend on races, but said its goal was to keep pace with the well-funded GOP outside groups over an extended period of time.
April 11, 2011- The 2010 midterm elections were the first of a new era, one in which campaign finance rules no longer limit the amount of money special interests can raise and spend on political advertising.
In the wake of the Supreme Court's dramatic Citizens United ruling in January 2010, much of the initial attention was focused on the possibility that corporations -- suddenly freed from key restrictions -- would start to spend enormous amounts of money directly from their treasuries on political advertising.
But that didn't happen. Ahead of last November's election, only three companies spent a total of $54,500 that way, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).
Instead, it turns out the big money is flowing into third-party organizations first.
As long as they operate independently of political candidates, Super PACs, a new kind of political action committee legalized last year, can accept unlimited donations -- and they did so in the 2010 election cycle, to the tune of a whopping $65 million. Corporate treasury money accounted for about $15.5 million of that; the rest was individual donations, the CRP estimates.
April 11, 2011- A major donor to Gov. Scott Walker was charged Monday with funneling more than $60,000 in illegal campaign contributions through his railroad employees during the last election.
William Gardner, president and chief executive officer of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co., has agreed to plead guilty to two felony counts - one for exceeding the campaign contribution limits and a second for giving company and personal funds to others so they could make political donations. Individuals can give no more than $10,000 to gubernatorial candidates.
Under the deal, prosecutors are asking that Gardner be sentenced to two years' probation.
"Because he was cooperative and accepted responsibility at the outset - providing much of the evidence against himself - we are not recommending jail time," said Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf, who investigates election and campaign matters.
Although Milwaukee prosecutors handled the case, the charges were filed in Washington County, where Gardner lives. Each of the two felony counts carries a maximum penalty of 3 ½ years of combined prison and extended supervision and a $10,000 fine.
Gardner issued a statement Monday acknowledging his mistakes.
He greased the wheels for the symbol of GOP corruption, now he works for the leader of the new majority
April 5, 2011- John Boehner is so obviously a favor-trading tool of monied interests -- this is the man, it must never be forgotten, who literally handed out tobacco company checks on the floor of the House -- that sometimes it hardly seems noteworthy when he again proves that he is nothing but a puppet of well-heeled lobbyists. But we must guard against cynicism and always take opportunities to remind the nation that Speaker Boehner is a corrupt tangerine.
So documentarian Alex Gibney writes today of Boehner's recently hired policy director, Brett Loper. Before joining team Boehner, Loper was, naturally, a medical device lobbyist, whose job was to protect the profits of the medical device industry at the expense of, among other things, the federal deficit. And before that, he worked for the gloriously amoral Tom DeLay.
April 5, 2011- Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against the Fiesta Bowl for violating campaign finance law by reimbursing Fiesta Bowl executives and their spouses for campaign contributions to Arizona politicians. Former Fiesta Bowl President and Chief Executive Officer John H. Junker was fired last week for his role in the scandal and the ensuing cover-up.
“The question here isn’t whether anyone broke the law -- independent investigators already found violations – it is whether the FEC will do anything about it,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “When FEC Commissioner Donald McGahn openly brags about not enforcing the law, Americans can’t have confidence that even those who flagrantly and deliberately violate our campaign finance laws will be held accountable.”
Prior to joining the FEC, Mr. McGahn once served as a top campaign finance lawyer to disgraced former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX). In March, McGahn publicly expressed his contempt for election laws, admitting during a keynote speech at a symposium at the University of Virginia Law School to “not enforcing the law as Congress passed it.”
April 5, 2011- Remember John Boehner, the avatar of change? Take a look at a recent hire and decide whether his calls for "deficit reduction" are a smokescreen for more corporate welfare and government corruption.
In December, Boehner hired Brett Loper to be his policy director. At the time, articles focused on Loper's previous job as a lobbyist for the Advanced Medical Technology, where Loper vigorously resisted attempts to reduce the deficit by fighting cuts in fees to his clients proposed by the Obama administration.
That is part of the story.
But missing from the pieces about Loper have been his connection to the Abramoff scandal and knowledge of how to use government money to "influence" legislators.
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a photo of Loper (far right), basking in the tropical sun of the Marianas Islands, with Michael Scanlon (center), Jack Abramoff's partner in crime.
What is Loper doing in the Marianas?
Does the Supreme Court care more about free speech for the wealthy than about political corruption?
March 25, 2011- Imagine you want to run for office, say for a seat in the state legislature, and you are deciding whether to opt into a voluntary public financing system: accepting a pot of money from the government in exchange for giving up the right to raise funds from private individuals. If you opt in, you would be free from the burdens of fundraising, and the chances of corruption (or the appearance of corruption) would be minimized because you wouldn't be dependent on others to fund your campaign. But there's a danger: What if your opponent, or an outside group, is determined to spend lots of money against you? To deal with this problem, states like Arizona give you additional matching funds, to a point, to make it viable for publicly financed candidates like you to compete.
Campaign finances should be more regularly reported.
March 28, 2011- Gov. Mark Dayton pledged to release his campaign finance reports more frequently last week as part of his push toward requiring more consistent financial campaign reporting. He has also proposed needed legislation to make political donations more transparent during non-election years.
Minnesota law currently requires financial campaign activity to be reported only during an election year, leaving a 13-month gap between the last reporting period of one election year and the first month of the following election period.
However, candidates spend and receive money during this non-reporting period. It does not make sense to require reporting only half of the time when politicians are spending and receiving money all the time.
Elected officials make important fiscal decisions, such as setting state budgets, during this off-election year. Unreported donations from special interest groups could influence budget priorities without Minnesotans ever knowing.
The proposed law requires any political campaign, candidate or committee that spends or receives more than $5,000 in one year to file quarterly reports with the Campaign Finance Board.
March 27, 2011- Doug Hampton, newly indicted on conflict-of-interest charges, all but handed a clear case to federal prosecutors in revealing he had conducted business as a Senate lobbyist within weeks of leaving a Capitol Hill job, according to attorneys following the case.
Hampton's aim was to draw attention to Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., his former boss and close friend-turned-foe, who he said was complicit in a scheme to evade federal lobbying restrictions.
But an indictment filed Thursday in Washington targeted only Hampton, 48, a former Las Vegas resident and a central figure in the long-running Ensign scandal, on seven counts of breaking the law.
"It's the old adage that before you start throwing stones, you better make sure your own affairs are in order," said Douglas McNabb, a veteran Washington defense lawyer. "By lashing out, he drew attention to what he wanted, but it also drew attention to what he didn't want, and that was for the FBI to look at him."
But as Hampton, a top aide to Ensign until the senator slept with his wife, faces prosecution, some attorneys ask: Why not Ensign also, or members of his staff who were on the receiving end of Hampton emails seeking help for lobbying clients named in the indictment?
February 24, 2011- The American Petroleum Institute, the largest oil and gas industry trade group, will start backing political candidates this year as the U.S. considers repealing $46 billion in subsidies and imposing pollution rules.
The group, whose members include Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp., would make donations separately from industry executives and employees, who gave $27.6 million mostly to Republican candidates for Congress last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. API has paid for advertising on policy issues and to lobby on legislation.
“This is adding one more tool to our toolkit,” said Martin Durbin, API’s executive vice president for government affairs, in an interview. “At the end of the day, our mission is trying to influence the policy debate.”
The Obama administration is proposing to end tax breaks for energy companies and to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, actions the API says will cost jobs and cut domestic production as fuel costs rise.
Durbin declined to say how much the Washington-based group hoped to donate. API spent $7.3 million to lobby Congress and the White House last year, ranking seventh behind six oil-and- gas companies, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.