Report falsely claims Obama rewarding bundlers with jobs, contracts

Yesterday the web site iWatchnews, a project of the Center for Public Integrity, released a scathing report on the number of bundlers for the 2008 Obama campaign that have subsequently been appointed to administration positions.

Titled Obama rewards big bundlers with jobs, commissions, stimulus money, government contracts, and more, the report begins:

Telecom executive Donald H. Gips raised a big bundle of cash to help finance his friend Barack Obama’s run for the presidency.

Gips, a vice president of Colorado-based Level 3 Communications LLC, delivered more than $500,000 in contributions for the Obama war chest, while two fellow senior company executives collected at least $150,000 more.

After the election, Gips was put in charge of hiring in the Obama White House, helping to place loyalists and fundraisers in many key positions. Then in mid-2009, the new president named him ambassador to South Africa. Level 3 Communications, in which Gips retained stock, meanwhile received millions of dollars of government stimulus contracts for broadband projects in six states-though Gips said he was “completely unaware” of the stimulus money.

More than two years after President Obama took office vowing to banish “special interests” from his administration, nearly 200 of his biggest donors have landed plum government jobs and advisory posts, won federal contracts worth millions of dollars for their business interests or attended numerous elite White House meetings and social events, an investigation by iWatch News has found.

Pretty scandalous, isn’t it?

Except upon reading the full report, and applying a little common sense it becomes pretty clear that the Obama administration is being unfairly smeared by the accusation that they’re simply handing out government jobs and contracts as a reward for their top fundraisers.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, Money in Politics

San Francisco blogger badly misunderstands Citizens United, campaign finance, and First Amendment

Yesterday evening (late afternoon on the West Coast) Matt Smith of SF Weekly posted a blog post concerning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that shows just how badly the ruling’s opponents misunderstand the decision, as well as just how badly many so-called ‘reformers’ misunderstand campaign finance law in general.

U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United Ruling Cost S.F. $290,000

The U.S. Supreme Court’s crappy Citizens United ruling, which allowed unlimited corporate funding of independent political advertising, just cost San Francisco $290,000.

That Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling, it turns out, affected the outcome of a 2007 San Francisco case that the City Attorney’s Office today proposed to settle for $290,000…

The Committee on Jobs fund in 2007 sued to strike down a local ordinance limiting expenditures by local political committees. At the heart of the case was the issue of whether independent committees are able to corrupt candidates by getting quid pro quo payback in exchange for helping winning office.

According to Tara Malloy, associate counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, the Citizens United ruling established as a matter of law that independent expenditures don’t lead to corruption, and that therefore there’s no reason to limit them.

This is just plain wrong.

Filed Under: Blog, California

Common Cause caught faking benefits of ‘clean elections’ in Connecticut

Self-styled ‘reform’ group Common Cause today is excitedly pushing the story that because Connecticut adopted a system of tax-financed political campaigns, legislation they favor was able to pass the Connecticut General Assembly. From their release:

Lobbyists lose to Connecticut ‘Clean Elections’

As noted in the New York Times: “In a year when conservative politics have dominated even traditionally Democratic states like New Jersey and New York, Connecticut is closing out its most activist, liberal legislative session in memory…”

  • Connecticut has passed a sweeping energy bill that modernizes the state’s energy regulatory structure, and will lower electricity rates for consumers, and help expand the Clean Energy fund and provide rebates that encourage energy efficiency, solar energy and electric vehicles.
  • In addition, CT is the first state to mandate paid sick leave for businesses with more than 50 workers

Though the New York Times article suggests these bills have passed because of democratic majorities in the House and Senate and a democratically-elected governor, Rep. Robert Godfrey said, “If there was ever an illustration of the loss of influence of lobbyists, this is it.”

Credit the Citizens’ Election Commission. Gov. Dan Malloy and  100 percent of other statewide officeholders ran under Connecticut’s public financing program. And 74 percent of the General Assembly – Democrats and Republicans – ran clean. For those of us who lobby at the Capitol, it is clear that legislators are not worrying about campaign money they need to raise from business lobbyists who represent clients that do not like these reforms. And at Common Cause, we are proud of helping to enact, protect and defend this landmark good government reform.

So apparently it wasn’t “lobbyists” that lost, only lobbyists for interests that Rep. Robert Godfrey and the folks at Common Cause don’t agree with.

But looking at the actual votes cast, it’s clear that the ‘clean elections’ program in Connecticut, known as the Citizens Election Program (CEP), was irrelevant to how and why legislators voted.

Filed Under: Blog, Connecticut, Maine

How campaign finance laws benefit incumbents and insiders

Bill Maurer, an attorney who runs the Washington chapter of the Institute for Justice, has an excellent op-ed today in the News-Tribune of Tacoma, Washington. He details how Washington state’s absurdly-low contribution limits to recall campaign committees are hindering a grassroots effort to remove an elected official accused of wrongdoing.

Campaign finance laws thwart grass-roots recall efforts

According to self-proclaimed campaign finance “reformers,” the government-imposed restrictions on political speech and participation that they seek are supposed to improve democracy, give the “little guy” a voice and make politics less corrupt.

But the reality of what they achieve demonstrates something much more troubling: Incumbents are protected from challengers, significant barriers to grass-roots activism are erected, and political insiders rule the field and employ these laws to harass and silence newcomers on the political scene. Rather than promote good government, they are usually a barrier to it.

Indeed, right now Washington’s campaign finance laws are one of the principle obstacles in the effort to recall Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam.

Filed Under: Blog, Completed Case, Farris v. Seabrook Other Links, Litigation Blog/Press Releases, Washington

Corporate contribution ban struck down

First Amendment advocates got an unexpected but welcome present heading into the Memorial Day weekend, as a federal judge in Virginia struck down the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates. Ken Vogel of Politico reports:

A federal court in Alexandria, Va. on Thursday struck down a federal ban on corporate campaign contributions, in a case with potentially dramatic ramifications for a campaign finance regulatory system under siege by legal and regulatory attacks.

The ruling, from the U.S. District Court for Eastern Virginia, piggybacked on a January 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that allowed corporations to spend money on ads supporting or opposing candidates.

Citizens United stopped short of allowing corporations to give directly to candidates, but it did find that corporations are entitled to free speech rights.

District Judge James Cacheris ruled that, based on Citizens United, corporations should be allowed to contribute directly to candidates’ campaigns.”If human beings can make direct campaign contributions … and if, in Citizens United’s interpretation … corporations and human beings are entitled to equal political speech rights, then corporations must also be able to contribute within (the federal) limits,” Cacheris wrote in a 52-page decision.

The ruling came in a criminal case brought by the U.S. government against two men – William Danielczyk, Jr. and Eugene Biagi – alleging they skirted campaign contribution limits by reimbursing their employees for $186,600 in contributions to Hillary Clinton’s campaigns for Senate in 2006 and president in 2008.

You can read the full decision here.

We’ll have more analysis and commentary in the coming days, but for now we at CCP will enjoy our Memorial Day weekend happy to see that the First Amendment continues to advance while campaign finance regulations that inhibit robust political debate continue to fall out of favor with the courts.

Filed Under: Blog

Column laments privacy, demands more disclosure

National Journal pundit Eliza Newlin Carney wrote over the weekend on the subject of disclosure, and demonstrated pretty conclusively that she really doesn’t understand why anyone might not share her enthusiasm for ripping away the right of citizens to privately support organizations and causes.

To begin with, the article attempts to pin the ‘hypocrite’ label on opponents of overreaching disclosure, noting that disclosure was “Once a bipartisan touchstone…” and “Not too long ago, Republicans on Capitol Hill championed deregulation coupled with disclosure as the solution to the campaign finance mess.”

 But times have changed, and advocates of disclosure today have moved beyond election-related spending to insist on disclosure of a wide range of spending with only the barest of connections to politics. Today’s disclosure demands would instead bring to public light dues paid to professional and trade associations as well as donations to private social welfare organizations that are not intended for campaign spending.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act

New York City politicians try to silence corporate speech

Earlier this year Allison Hayward blogged about New York City politicians using their pension funds to work with the so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ community to push corporations into agreeing to surrender or at least sharply curtail their First Amendment rights recognized in Citizens United. One of the companies identified as a target of this attack was Sprint Nextel.

On Wednesday the Comptroller of New York City John Liu put out a press release touting a vote of Sprint Nextel’s shareholders addressing the company’s political spending:

New York City Comptroller John C. Liu announced a victory for NYC pensioners and institutional investors in the effort to increase corporate disclosures of political donations. Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) released vote totals this week that show 53% of votes at its annual shareholder meeting support the New York City Pension Funds’ proposal for transparency on its political contributions. It is one of the largest majorities ever recorded on the issue.

But this was not a vote about transparency or good corporate governance, it was about silencing political voices that politicians like Liu would prefer not be heard.

Filed Under: Blog, Corporate Governance, Corporate Governance Press Release/In the News/Blog, Corporate Governance State, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, External Relations Sub-Pages, New York

Foreign-money bashing Center for American Progress takes foreign money

Today Politico reported two interesting stories touching on foreign money in U.S. politics. The first is a modestly embarrassing story that President Obama had thanked civil rights hero Ernie Green, who introduced him at a fundraiser last night, apparently unaware that Green was involved in illegally funneling foreign money into the 1996 campaign:

At fundraiser, Obama introduced by civil rights hero who pleaded guilty in campaign finance probe

The civil rights hero who introduced President Barack Obama at a political fund-raiser in Washington Monday night, Ernie Green, pleaded guilty in 2001 to a federal misdemeanor tax violation after becoming enmeshed in an investigation into illegal foreign money given to Democrats in the 1996 election…

President Obama of course made a big fuss about foreign money in U.S. politics after the Citizens United decision. You can read the full story here.

Far more interesting though was a story that appeared  later this afternoon in Politico:

Funding the left, from Bermuda

The Atlantic Philanthropies has emerged in recent years as a key, quiet funder of the institutional left, providing the money behind, among other groups, the health care outfit Health Care for America Now.

The organization has kept a low profile in part because its funder, duty-free shopping magnate Chuck Feeney, doesn’t appear particularly interested in pubicity. Feeney’s foundation is a giant donor in a number of regions around the world, including Northern Ireland; but he and the Atlantic Philanthropies are based in Bermuda, with the consequence that — through a quirk of tax law — they can freely finance the 501(c)4 organizations that play in politics, which American family foundations can’t do.

Bermuda is a British territory, meaning this is a foreign entity. And if we’re going to go full-on xenophobic about it, it should probably be noted that the company founded by Feeney (and therefore is the origin of the funds given away by Atlantic Philanthropies), the Duty Free Shoppers Group, was started in and retains its headquarters in Hong Kong, once upon a time a British territory and now under control of the Chinese government.

So, which U.S. based organizations do the foreign-based and foreign-funded Atlantic Philanthropies support? The foundation helpfully provides a list and a searchable database, and it turns out that the highly political Center for American Progress (CAP) and Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) received $1,653,000 in five separate grants in 2008 and 2009, most of that going to CAPAF.

CAPAF is not only a 501(c)4 organization able to run political ads, it is the home of ThinkProgress and Lee Fang, who was absolutely hysterical over allegations the politically-active US Chamber of Commerce collected some small amounts of money from foreign affiliates, falsely accusing the Chamber of illegally funneling foreign money into US elections.

Well. Glass houses, motes in eyes, etcetera etcetera.

Filed Under: Blog

Why are ‘reformers’ making donor secrecy a priority?

Jeanne Cummings of Politico has a very interesting article this morning reporting on the creation by prominent Democratic operatives of groups intended to counter Republican-friendly organizations like American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS:

Democrats with ties to the Obama White House on Friday are launching a two-pronged fundraising effort aimed at countering deep-pocketed GOP groups in 2012 – and adopting some of the same policies on unlimited, secret donations that President Barack Obama himself has long opposed, the organizers tell POLITICO.

The two groups, Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, aim to raise $100 million to defend Obama’s re-election from an expected onslaught of attack ads from similar Republican outside money organizations activated in the 2010 midterms, organizers say.

The Priorities companion committees will have one that discloses donors – and one that doesn’t, a practice Obama hammered during last year’s election cycle as undermining the democratic process.

There is nothing particularly hypocritical about the Democrats decision to create independent organizations that are able to accept unlimited contributions from individuals, unions, and corporations, taking full advantage of the First Amendment rights recognized in Citizens United (and SpeechNow.org too), even after bashing that decision and doing everything in their power to overturn, undermine, and limit that decision.

But the same can’t necessarily be said for their decision to respect the privacy of donors to their 501(c)4 group.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act

There are better ideas for transparency in federal contracting

President Obama’s effort to force federal contractors to disclose the donations made by executives and directors to private groups like the Sierra Club and National Rifle Association is supposedly about bringing transparency to the federal bidding process. According to the so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ community, this will help fight what is termed ‘pay-to-play,’ where contracts are handed out based not on merit to the lowest bidder, but instead to those making campaign contributions and independent expenditures.

There are many reasons to be skeptical of this argument, beginning with the fact that this is only the most recent attempt by ‘reformers’ to strip away the right of citizens to privately associate and support organizations that share their values. Between the DISCLOSE Act, the rejected regulations considered by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the call for the Federal Communications Commission to enact onerous disclosure standards, and the petition submitted to the FEC and lawsuit filed against the FEC by Congressman Chris Van Hollen, it seems pretty obvious that this executive order is just one more attempt to stifle political speech that some feel the American public shouldn’t hear.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act