March 25, 2011- A year after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision easing campaign spending restrictions for corporations and interest groups, the Federal Election Commission has yet to issue regulations spelling out the full implications of the decision.
The commission increasingly has been paralyzed by a sometimes bitter standoff between Republicans and Democrats on the evenly divided panel. And although most of the commissioners will soon be serving in expired terms, President Obama and congressional Republicans have not been able to agree on replacements.
The court found in its Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that the First Amendment allows unfettered spending on campaigns by corporations, nonprofits and unions. Shortly after the January 2010 ruling, the commission said it would no longer enforce regulations that had been directly struck down by the court.
But the effort to write new regulations has been halted by the partisan standoff over how much interest groups must disclose about their financial backers in election spending.
March 25, 2011- Republican governor Rick Scott's push to privatize Medicaid in Florida is highly controversial—not least because the health care business Scott handed over to his wife when he took office could reap a major profit if the legislation becomes law.
Scott and Florida Republicans are currently trying to enact a sweeping Medicaid reform bill that would give HMOs and other private health care companies unprecedented control over the government health care program for the poor. Among the companies that stand to benefit from the bill is Solantic, a chain of urgent-care clinics aimed at providing emergency services to walk-in customers. The Florida governor founded Solantic in 2001, only a few years after he resigned as the CEO of hospital giant Columbia/HCA amid a massive Medicare fraud scandal. In January, he transferred his $62 million stake in Solantic to his wife, Ann Scott, a homemaker involved in various charitable organizations.
March 24, 2011- In response to the news of the Department of Justice filing charges against Doug Hampton, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Executive Director Melanie Sloan issued the following statement:
“It is an outrage that the Justice Department would choose to only prosecute Doug Hampton and not his well documented co-conspirator Senator John Ensign. The DOJ has wiped away any doubt that you really can get away with almost anything as long as you happen to be a high-ranking government official. The message from the DOJ is clear: if you work for the government, and you know your boss is engaged in wrongdoing, keep your mouth shut.
It is incumbent on the Senate Ethics Committee to show the courage that the Department of Justice so clearly lacks. Their investigation must continue. Senator Ensign should be expelled from the United States Senate.”
March 24, 2011- Federal prosecutors have charged the husband of Sen. John Ensign's (R-NV) former mistress with breaking criminal revolving-door lobbying laws.
The indictment, issued Thursday afternoon, charges Doug Hampton, a former top aide to Ensign, with seven counts of violating conflict-of-interest laws, according to a Justice Department release.
The indictment is bad news for Ensign who announced he would not seek re-election last month. Ensign has been accused of knowingly violating the one-year lobbying ban by helping Hampton set up a short-lived career on K Street. Ensign was having an affair with Doug's wife Cynthia and allegedly assisted Doug Hampton with lobbying prospects as a way of keeping the affair under wraps.
The Senate Ethics Committee last month appointed a special prosecutor to look into alleged hush money payments Ensign's parents made to Cynthia and Doug Hampton and the accusations of violating the one-year lobbying ban. In December Ensign said the Justice Department had told him he was no longer a target in the Justice Department probe, but shortly after the Ethics Committee's announcement last month, Ensign said he would retire instead of seeking re-election.
March 23, 2011- Kevin Ring, a former junior associate at convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's firm, is facing a third trial as a result of the influence-peddling scandal making him the most prosecuted figure in the high-profile corruption probe, the Associated Press reports.
The first go around resulted in a mistrial. At Ring's second trial, in November, the jury acquitted Ring on three of the charges against him, but convicted him on the remaining five.
Now the AP reports that the Justice Department is pressing forward in trying Ring yet again on two additional charges: that he obstructed justice by lying to a lawyer hired by his lobbying firm to investigate the scandal and who later turned evidence over to the FBI.
The judge in the case issued a ruling on Tuesday setting the trial date for May 24, but the AP reports she is planning to issue the verdict without a jury and plans to sentence Ring on any counts for which he stands convicted.
Open Secrets: Federal Election Commissioner Donald McGahn Criticizes 'Overreach' of Campaign Finance Regulations
March 21, 2011- It isn't too often that a top Federal Election Commission official fesses up to not enforcing campaign finance laws, but that's exactly what Donald McGahn, a Republican commissioner of the FEC, did Saturday.
"I'm not enforcing the law as Congress passed it," McGahn boasted regarding the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, commonly known as McCain-Feingold after its chief congressional sponsors, in a keynote speech at a symposium at the University of Virginia Law School. "I plead guilty as charged."
McGahn's admission of "guilt," however, came with a catch: He argued that it wasn't his job to enforce this law as Congress passed it.
Instead, he said, the commission's job was to enforce the law as it's been upheld by the judicial branch of government.
"In a close call, the tie goes to the speaker, not the regulator," he continued. "The court has said certain [portions of McCain-Feingold] are unconstitutional."
March 21, 2011- On January 21, 2010, the US Supreme Court handed over what little was left of this nation's pretensions to democracy on a silver platter to the Big Banks and the US Chamber of Commerce. The case was titled Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission and the Court's decision removed all limits on corporate campaign contributions. Elections are now a sham proceeding at every level of the US government. The vast majority of the American people who no longer participate in the electoral charade are the smartest among us. The willfully ignorant and delusional still cling desperately to their faux-alternative Democratic politician or their Tea Party Republican politician with the tin-foil hat.
The Big Banks are running the show. It's the Big Banks headed by Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase and the six of those that made so much money last year that the banking industry as a whole turned a handsome profit. Goldman Sachs, the top campaign contributor to Barack Obama, decided that he rather than John McCain would take over for George W. Bush in January 2009 and also dictated that there would be essentially no changes in the direction of the United States. And the transformation has been seamless.
March 1, 2011- A pair of political action committees organized by GOP strategist Karl Rove and demonized by Democrats said Tuesday it plans to raise $120 million ahead of the 2012 elections to help make President Barack Obama a one-term leader and elect Republicans.
American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS told supporters they look to raise the massive sum to combat unions, which spent a combined $400 million to help elect Obama and Democrats in 2008. With eyes on Wisconsin and Republican Gov. Scott Walker's showdown there with Democrats over union rights, the conservative committees hope to attract donors and attention early. [Read 10 things you didn't know about Scott Walker. ]
"These resources will fund advocacy efforts to compete with the torrent of outside money from unions and left-leaning groups," said Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for the effort. "Our first fundraising goal in 2010 was $52 million, but we ended up raising $71 million. There's more time to raise money, there's more at stake and we have a proven brand now. We've spoken with all of our donors — they're sticking with us, and most plan to come in at a significantly higher level than last time." [See who donates money to your member of Congress.]
March 18, 2011- Two years ago, the phrase “citizens united” conjured empowering images. For those unfamiliar with the Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling that stripped away what little was protecting the American people from having democracy co-opted underneath their feet, the phrase probably still does. The truth is that the ruling could more accurately be conveyed by the phrase, “special interests united.”
Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel turned to Craig Holman of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch for insights on his piece published today entitled, “Citizens United not enough for right.” In the article Vogel writes,
"Not satisfied by the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that opened the floodgates to corporate-sponsored election ads, conservative opponents of campaign finance regulations have opened up a series of new legal fronts in their effort to eliminate the remaining laws restricting the flow of money into politics."
March 16, 2011- The House and Senate Ethics Committees are supposed to be the two panels in Congress that operate, to the best of their ability, in a nonpartisan way. At least, that's what they say.
There are plenty of internal committee rules stating that all staff must be non-partisan and abide by rules barring them from engaging in political or partisan activity of any kind. But there is little proof, as TPM has discovered, that anyone is enforcing these rules.
As TPM reported earlier this week, partisan sniping on the panel has undermined any stated ability for the panel to operate in a nonpartisan manner. Republicans on the Natural Resources Committee, led by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), have decided to take in an attorney Democrats on the panel suspended last year amid accusations that she bungled -- or alternatively -- aggressively pursued the case against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) to the Democrats' chagrin.
The ongoing tensions and partisan jabs were on public display earlier this week when a private letter, in which Ethics Committee Chairman Jo Bonner (R-AL) accused his Democratic predecessor, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA), of breaking House rules by trying to fire the two attorneys who worked on the Waters case, was leaked to the Washington Post.