Wall Street

Wall Street Giveaway in Spending Bill is Big Money Political Influence at its Worst

It’s hard to know where to begin when running down the list of harmful special interest giveaways in the omnibus spending bill narrowly passed by the House yesterday. Earlier this week, we wrote about a rider in the bill that would allow the amount of money rich donors can give to political parties to skyrocket. The legislation moving through Congress also includes a provision that would have the effect of allowing mountaintop mining companies to keep filling Appalachian streams with toxic waste. Yet another rider is a “Wall Street giveaway,” actually drafted by Citigroup’s lobbyists, that would repeal a piece of financial regulation and let banks take part in more kinds of high-risk trading deals with government backed money.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren railed against the Wall Street rider on the Senate floor:

[Americans] see a Congress that works just fine for the big guys, but it won’t lift a finger to help them. If big companies can deploy armies of lawyers and lobbyists to get the Congress to vote for special deals that benefit themselves, then we will simply confirm the view of the American people that the system is rigged.

It is, as Sen. Warren says, hard not to think that “the system is rigged” when members of Congress use a spending bill to sneak through major policy shifts that benefit wealthy political donors, Wall Street executives, and big businesses, while leaving the majority of Americans with an even weaker political voice.

This is especially true when you consider that those who voted for the rider-filled spending deal were, by and large, the members who received bigger contributions from the benefitting industries. The Washington Post compared the House spending bill votes with Center for Responsive Politics data on campaign contributions to each representative from the finance, insurance, and real estate industries. What they found is disheartening, but not surprising:

On average, members of Congress who voted yes received $322,000 from those industries. Those who voted no? $162,000.

And that doesn’t even take into account the dark money whose source is unknown to the public (but likely known by the officials who benefit from it).

It’s one more example of the influence that money can buy in our current system, where big gifts from corporate spenders pave the way for corporate political victories. When Wall Street lobbyists can literally write the laws they want, no matter the impact on ordinary Americans, it’s clear that we need serious reform to the rules governing money in politics.
 

PFAW

In Tight Race with Elizabeth Warren, Scott Brown Bucks Party to Endorse Cordray for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Last month, PFAW’s Marge Baker wrote an op-ed for The Hill suggesting a simple way that Congress can respond to the energy behind Occupy Wall Street: by finally confirming Richard Cordray to head the long-languishing Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Marge wrote:

Thanks to Republican obstructionism, the CFPB, tasked with holding big banks accountable to American consumers, has been without a leader since it was created by the Dodd-Frank Act last year. Elizabeth Warren, who conceived of the agency and oversaw its creation, would have been the natural fit to lead it, but her unapologetic work holding financial institutions accountable put her on the bad side of Congress’s GOP leadership.


In July, President Obama nominated former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray to head the agency. Cordray is a strong defender of consumers who has also earned respect from the banks he worked with in Ohio. Last week, a bipartisan group of 37 state attorney generals wrote to Congress urging his confirmation. Even Ohio’s Republican attorney general Mike DeWine, a former U.S. senator who defeated Cordray in last year’s election, has endorsed him for the job. He is a well-respected, reasonable and eminently qualified choice to lead the agency.

Cordray’s nomination would be a shoe-in if it weren’t for one thing: Republicans in Congress don’t want the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to exist at all. Unable to stop its creation, they have turned their energies to starving it. In May, 44 Republican senators sent a letter to the president saying that they would not confirm any nominee to head the CFPB unless the agency was first substantially weakened. Without a confirmed leader, the agency can’t fully start the work that it was designed to do.


While the agency is already overseeing credit companies and big banks, it can’t have its full oversight over mortgage companies and payday lenders until a head is confirmed. This situation is perfectly satisfactory to big lenders and the GOP leadership – but it’s bad for American consumers.


There is now one notable exception to the Republican blockade of Cordray’s nomination. Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who is running against CFPB architect Elizabeth Warren in what will likely be a tough reelection race, has urged his fellow GOP senators to break their filibuster of Cordray’s nomination.

Brown’s in a more precarious political position than many of his Republican colleagues, but his endorsement of Cordray is telling. Recent polls have shown that Americans are concerned about the nation’s increasing income inequality and want tougher government regulation of Wall Street. The big banks may not want the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to get up and running, but American consumers are eager for the protections that the bureau would provide. Sen. Brown has done the right thing by bucking his party to support Cordray – but by doing so he’s also acknowledging the tough spot that opponents of financial sector accountability may find themselves in in 2012.
 

PFAW

GOP Planning to Use Disaster Aid as a Bargaining Chip

Steve Benen points out that in the wake of Tuesday’s East Coast earthquake and in anticipation of the hurricane expected to hit the eastern states this weekend, House Republicans are getting ready to use disaster aid as a political bargaining chip.


Specifically, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is making it clear that the House won’t dole out disaster aid unless it is met by equal budget cuts to a clean-energy program – a kind of political bargain that’s usually off the table for urgent relief funds. Benen writes:

For all of our differences over party, ideology, and creed, we know that when disaster strikes and our neighbors face a genuine emergency, America responds. We don’t ask what’s in it for us; we don’t weigh the political considerations; we don’t pause to ponder the larger ideological implications. That’s just not how the United States is supposed to operate.

Until now.

I can’t help but wonder why Republicans don’t hesitate to finance wars without paying for them, bailout Wall Street without paying it, and offer subsidies to oil companies without paying for them, but when an American community is struck by a natural disaster, all of a sudden, the GOP is inclined to hold the funds until the party gets offsetting cuts.
 

PFAW

‘What You Talkin’ Bout, Willard?’

If you watched TV in the 1980s, you surely remember this:

The TV show Diff’rent Strokes – which featured the iconic tagline “What you talkin’ bout, Willis”? – was produced by PFAW’s founder Norman Lear.

And when Norman heard that Mitt Romney – whose first name is actually Willard – was running for president, it rang a bell.

In a piece in Variety this week, Norman asks Willard Mitt Romney exactly what he is talking about:

"What You Talkin' Bout, Willard?"

By Norman Lear

I don't have to explain that line to Americans who grew up watching one of our production company's sitcoms, "Diff'rent Strokes", which ran for eight seasons between 1978 and 1986 and for years after in syndication. Any one who knows the show will recall this signature phrase repeated by the young Gary Coleman to his older brother when stupefied and maddened by something his brother just said, "What you talkin' bout, Willis?"

I know some people think Willard Mitt Romney is the only responsible adult
i n that implausible field of presidential hopefuls, but often he will say
 something so surprising and disingenuous in this seemingly endless campaign, 
I find myself thinking, 'What you talkin' bout, Willard?

Absent a profanity, I don't know a better reaction to Romney's declaration 
that "corporations are people." Of course he'd be correct if the people
 he's referring to are the billionaire Koch brothers. Or if they are the 
people who are setting up phony corporations for the purpose of supporting
 Willard Mitt Romney's candidacy with million dollar gifts, and they could of 
course include the Kochs.

"What you talkin' bout, Willard?" leaps to mind at the thought of the natty
 Harvard-educated Wall Street executive and former Massachusetts governor 
railing against "eastern elites" at the last Republican National Convention. And it aches to be shouted out when I am reminded that Willard Mitt Romney, 
seeking someone to head his legal team, chose a man whose reactionary views
 about the U.S. Constitution led to a bi-partisan Senate vote to keep him off 
the Supreme Court, Robert Bork.

Willard's embrace of Bork, despite his angry rants since then, such as those
 calling for active government censorship of popular culture, is clearly 
meant to signal far-right activists that they can count on more Supreme
 Court Justices in the mold of Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito, who are all
 energetically working to make Romney's assertion that "corporations are 
people" a legal reality.

What are you talkin' bout, Willard?

 

PFAW

No New Taxes! (Except for the Poor and Middle Class)

You might remember, if you haven’t forced it from your memory, that a few weeks ago Congress participated in some nerve-wracking brinksmanship over a routine but necessary raising of the debt ceiling, risking a disastrous default and ultimately causing the first downgrade of U.S. credit in history.

The reason for that debacle was that that Republicans in Congress were looking for leverage to pursue drastic cuts in government services while refusing any and all revenue increases as per the no-exceptions “no new taxes” pledge the majority of them have signed at the bequest of Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist.

Well, it turns out the GOP’s “no new taxes” pledge might actually have an exception – when it comes to raising taxes on the working poor. Last December, Congress approved President Obama’s request for a temporary reduction of the payroll tax paid by working people with the lowest incomes. The cuts are now set to expire, and unlike George W. Bush’s incredibly costly tax cuts on the wealthy, the GOP is happy to see this tax relief for the poor and middle class go.

Slate’s David Weigel writes that the push to make low-income people pay more taxes while shielding the wealthy and corporations from new tax burdens is part of a changing tax orthodoxy in the GOP, with leaders like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry advocating for pressing new income taxes on people – largely the elderly and the working poor – who are currently exempted from them:


This isn't a new theory. In 2002 and 2003, long before it got Huntsman in the room, the Wall Street Journal editorialized that poor people who didn't pay income taxes were "lucky duckies." The poor slob with a low income and child tax credit would get a small or nonexistent tax bill, not one that would "get his or her blood boiling with tax rage." The problem here wasn't that the poor slob wasn't paying any taxes; the problem was that his meager tax bill failed to foment enough anger to reduce taxes on other people. Tax cuts for the rich—tax cuts for anyone, really, but the Journal has always been concerned about tax cuts for the rich—require a broad base of outrage.


Republican politicians didn't make this argument—until the Obama era. What changed? For decades, the "lucky ducky" number, the percentage of Americans that pay no taxes, never rose above 30 percent. The Bush tax cuts pushed it over 30 percent, but not too far over. Then, in 2008 and 2009, the economy collapsed. The government responded with, among other things, new tax deductions.


The result: The percentage of people paying no income taxes spiked up to 47 percent and stayed there. When the Tea Party started rallying in 2009, it wasn't protesting higher taxes, because federal income taxes were lower, with more loopholes. It was protesting the perception that productive Americans were shelling out for an ever-expanding class of moochers. And Republicans have taken the Tea Party's lead.


Of course, the increase in taxes on the working poor and the middle class that is currently on the table might not exactly follow the letter of the Americans for Tax Reform anti-tax pledge that the majority of GOP members of Congress have signed. But does it not count when it’s the incomes of the poor and the middle class that are at stake? The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has put in an asked Norquist’s group if the payroll tax increase violates the pledge, but hasn’t heard back from them.
 

PFAW

Darrell Issa's Two Hats

Rep. Darrell Issa’s ties to big business run deep, and as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, Issa has functioned quite efficiently as an arm of a Wall Street lobbying shop. He has demanded that government regulators back off from applying new rules to Goldman Sachs, and he has fought tooth-and-nail to deny the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and its yet-unconfirmed director Rich Cordray, any significant means to protect the public from fraud and abuse by the financial industry.

It’s (unfortunately) expected that members of Congress will take pains to protect their favored constituencies, but Issa has taken the overlap of money and politics to a new extreme. Issa’s deep ties to Wall Street are not a figment of his distant past – to this day he is so deeply beholden to Wall Street’s interest that it is difficult at times to discern which hat he is wearing – his investment tycoon hat or his chairman-of-one-of-the-most-powerful-committees-in-Congress-responsible-for-holding-corporations-and-the-government-accountable hat.

For example:

  • While Issa fought to block the SEC investigation of Goldman Sachs, he quietly bought $600,000 worth of Goldman Sachs bonds.
  • While Issa was accusing the Treasury of a “cover-up” in their role in Bank of America’s purchase of Merrill Lynch, he didn’t mention that he had completed transactions with Merrill Lynch totaling $1 billion over the last decade.
  • Many of Issa’s staffers epitomize the K-Street ‘revolving door.’

But the most troubling symptom of Issa's rapid swapping of hats is that the American people suffer when the Oversight committee fails to do its job  outcomes of investigations are pre-determined. When the committee -- at Issa’s direction -- investigated the FCIC for finding the “wrong” causes of the financial crisis, Issa simply cancelled the hearing when the investigation turned up examples of wrongdoing by Republicans. In other words, anything that, in the words of Issa's spokesman, “doesn’t fit the narrative,” was thrown out and what could have been an important investigation was postponed indefinitely.

As more and more examples of Issa’s eagerness to put corporations before people and Wall Street before Main Street rise to the surface, the American people will surely demand that those charged with making sure everyone plays by rules do so themselves.

PFAW

Republican Obstructionism Knows No Bounds

We’ve seen Republican Obstructionism at work against our federal judicial system, as Sen. Mitch McConnell and his cohorts have blocked many exceptionally-qualified, mainstream jurists from receiving an up-or-down vote in the Senate and many more have been needlessly delayed. But his recent comments regarding the fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which still is without a director, unequivocally shows that his priority is to prevent President Obama from building a functioning government that serves the American people. Unfortunately, this means handicapping the CFPB – which was created to help protect Americans from the types of financial abuse by Wall Street that caused the Great Recession and is toothless without a director – just to score political points and curry favor from the financial industry.

Raw Story reports:

President Barack Obama has decided to nominate Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) instead of Elizabeth Warren, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) doesn’t care. He says Republicans still plan to block the nomination.
“I would remind [President Obama] that Senate Republicans still aren’t interested approving anyone to the position until the president agrees to make this massive government bureaucracy more accountable and transparent to the American people,” McConnell announced on the Senate floor Monday.

By making the agency “more accountable and transparent,” Sen. McConnell and other Republicans mean replacing the director with a board of directors and making it easier for other agencies to overrule the CFPB’s actions – in other words, providing more opportunities for the financial industry to insulate itself from oversight and regulation.

It’s pretty easy to see how the Obstructionist agenda might not be in the best interest of the American people.

PFAW

Warren faces Issa one more time before launch of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Elizabeth Warren appeared before the House Oversight Committee yet one more time on Wednesday – her third trip to the Committee – in advance of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) launch next week. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street and Consumer Protection Act, signed into law in nearly one year ago, called for the creation of the CFPB as a way to ensure consumer protection from fraudulent and abusive practices by banks, mortgage companies, lending agencies, and other services and products.

As the lead architect of the agency’s creation, Warren faced relentless questioning from the panels’ Republican members, who probed her about issues including the bureau employee salaries, the agency’s budget, and her views on parts of the Dodd-Frank Act. Instead of finding ways to support an agency tasked, by Congress, with the mission of protecting American consumers from fraud and abuse, it seemed instead that the Republicans were looking for ways to undermine Professor Warren and the work of the upcoming agency.

There is a place for serious oversight for any government agency, but it is clear the Republicans are not interested in oversight, but rather in bringing down the agency before it even gets off the ground.

The CFPB is essential for protecting the financial security, stability, and wellbeing of both American families and the nation’s economy. Indeed, insufficient financial regulations and lack of consumer protections led to the recent financial meltdown that has so devastated our economy and created such hardship for working families.

Chairman Issa has already shown that he is not serious about looking out for the financial interests of the American people. He refuses to issue subpoenas to many of the banks that are behind the foreclosure crisis, abruptly halted an investigation of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission despite legitimate evidence of wrongful malfeasance by some of its members, and continues to attack the work of Elizabeth Warren and the Congressionally mandated agency she has been so instrumental and committed to building.

Congressman Jim Cooper put it best during the hearing when he expressed his disappointment in the committee. He admonished its members for constantly sticking to partisan talking points instead of truly focusing on the heart of the issues and doing what is right for the American people.

While Chairman Issa said he joined Representative Cooper in sharing this important message, let’s see if his actions speak louder than his words.

PFAW

Pawlenty Brags about Former Minnesota Government Shutdown; Hopes we Forget his Role in the Current One

Former Minnesota governor and GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty is trying to deflect criticism of his role in Minnesota’s current government shutdown by touting is role in a previous one.

Pawlenty’s out with a new TV ad that claims he “won” a 2005 shutdown that closed the state government for eight days, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $4.68 million per day. Pawlenty’s choice to brag about the shutdown and claim victory is interesting. Pawlenty’s beef with Democratic legislators was that they wanted to raise taxes on the wealthy in order to keep the state’s health services intact – Pawlenty and Republicans in the legislature wanted to cut 27,000 people off the state's health care plan.  In the end, the two sides agreed to raise the state’s cigarette taxes in order to preserve essential social services and prevent the wealthy from paying more income taxes. This is the fight that Pawlenty claims he “won.”

The ad is part of a large effort by the Pawlenty campaign to whitewash his fiscal record as governor. While Pawlenty likes to claim that he left the state with a budget surplus, that surplus was largely just on paper. As the Wall Street Journal has reported, Pawlenty’s deferred payments and fuzzy math helped to make the state’s budget situation look a lot better than it was…laying the groundwork for the current deficit.

Watch the new ad:

PFAW

Americans Support Tax Increases

We know the Republican view on taxes. In Minnesota, the government has shut down over Republican refusal to raise taxes on the fewer than 8,000 people making over $1 million. On the national level, Republicans are refusing to even consider raising revenue, threatening to let the U.S. default on its debt. But what about everyday Americans? Even with the influence of the anti-tax Tea Party, Americans strongly support raising taxes in order to decrease the deficit and reduce income inequality, as 19 polls taken since the beginning of the year show. Bruce Braley has the rundown:

A June 9 Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 61 percent of people believe higher taxes will be necessary to reduce the deficit.

A June 7 Pew poll found strong support for tax increases to reduce the deficit; 67 percent of people favor raising the wage cap for Social Security taxes, 66 percent raising income tax rates on those making more than $250,000, and 62 percent favor limiting tax deductions for large corporations. A plurality of people would also limit the mortgage interest deduction.

A May 26 Lake Research poll of Colorado voters found that they support higher taxes on the rich to shore-up Social Security’s finances by a 44 percent to 25 percent margin.

A May 13 Bloomberg poll found that only one third of people believe it is possible to substantially reduce the budget deficit without higher taxes; two thirds do not.

A May 12 Ipsos/Reuters poll found that three-fifths of people would support higher taxes to reduce the deficit.

A May 4 Quinnipiac poll found that people favor raising taxes on those making more than $250,000 to reduce the deficit by a 69 percent to 28 percent margin.

An April 29 Gallup poll found that only 20 percent of people believe the budget deficit should be reduced only by cutting spending; 76 percent say that higher taxes must play a role.

An April 25 USC/Los Angeles Times poll of Californians found that by about a 2-to-1 margin voters favor raising taxes to deal with the state’s budget problems over cutting spending alone.

An April 22 New York Times/CBS News poll found that 72 percent of people favor raising taxes on the rich to reduce the deficit. It also found that 66 percent of people believe tax increases will be necessary to reduce the deficit versus 19 percent who believe spending cuts alone are sufficient.

An April 20 Washington Post/ABC News poll found that by a 2-to-1 margin people favor a combination of higher taxes and spending cuts over spending cuts alone to reduce the deficit. It also found that 72 percent of people favor raising taxes on the rich to reduce the deficit and it is far and away the most popular deficit reduction measure.

An April 20 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that by a 2-to-1 margin, people believe that the wealthy should pay more taxes than the poor or middle class. Also, 62 percent of people believe that growing inequality of wealth is a serious problem.

An April 18 McClatchy-Marist poll found that voters support higher taxes on the rich to reduce the deficit by a 2-to-1 margin, including 45 percent of self-identified Tea Party members.

An April 18 Gallup poll found that 67 percent of people do not believe that corporations pay their fair share of taxes, and 59 percent believe that the rich do not pay their fair share.

On April 1, Tulchin Research released a poll showing that voters in California overwhelmingly support higher taxes on the rich to deal with the state’s budgetary problems.

A March 15 ABC News/Washington Post poll found that only 31 percent of voters publican policy of only cutting spending to reduce the deficit; 64 percent believe higher taxes will also be necessary.

A March 2 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 81 percent of people would support a surtax on millionaires to help reduce the budget deficit, and 68 percent would support eliminating the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000.

A February 15 CBS News poll found that only 49 percent of people believe that reducing the deficit will require cuts in programs that benefit them; 41 percent do not. Also, only 37 percent of people believe that reducing the deficit will require higher taxes on them; 59 percent do not.

A January 20 CBS News/New York Times poll found that close to two-thirds of people would rather raise taxes than cut benefits for Social Security or Medicare in order to stabilize their finances. The poll also found that if taxes must be raised, 33 percent would favor a national sales tax, 32 percent would support restricting the mortgage interest deduction, 12 percent would raise the gasoline taxes, and 10 percent would tax health care benefits.

On January 3, a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll found that 61 percent of people would rather raise taxes on the rich to balance the budget than cut defense, Social Security or Medicare.

h/t Teagan Goddard

PFAW

Pandering for the Primaries, Pawlenty Tacks Right

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty officially launched his presidential campaign today in Iowa. Although he has been campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire for a couple of years now, you may not know much about him. He has low name recognition and low poll numbers, and his book Courage to Stand is not selling that well. But journalists from The New Republic and National Review think he could well be the GOP candidate. So it's worth taking a good look at his record and his far-right ideology.

Part of Pawlenty's appeal is supposed to be that he is from Minnesota, and was elected as a conservative in a bluish-purplish state. Some people wrongly assume that being from Minnesota automatically makes him some kind of moderate. In fact, Pawlenty is campaigning as a hard-core, across-the-board conservative.

He makes appeals to Religious Right voters by talking up his faith and appearing on even the most offensive radio shows, like that of the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, who is surely one of the most extreme, hateful and bigoted personalities in Christian radio. Pawlenty helped raise money for Ralph Reed's "Faith and Freedom Coalition" in Iowa. And he appointed an education commissioner who equated teaching of evolution with teaching of creationism but thought teaching sharing in kindergarten was "socialist."

Pawlenty's attacks on reproductive rights please anti-abortion advocates. A National Review Online blogger says Pawlenty "may be the strongest pro-life candidate" in 2012. As governor, Pawlenty signed legislation erecting barriers to women seeking abortions, including a required waiting period and anti-choice lecture. He has spoken at anti-choice rallies, looking forward to a day when Roe v. Wade would be overturned, saying: "We have a dream today that someday soon this will not be an anniversary of sadness, but an anniversary of justice restored."

Pawlenty has also fine-tuned his campaign and his record to be more attractive to the far-right Republican Party of the Tea Party era. He once actively supported regional action to address climate change and even filmed an environmental commercial. But now he apologizes, calls his former position "stupid," and has joined the ranks of climate change deniers. Pawlenty once voted for a gay rights bill as a state legislator, but then disavowed it and embarked on a journey that Think Progress described as "evolving homophobia." And he is a vocal supporter of the current effort to amend Minnesota's constitution to ban gay couples from getting married.

Pawlenty doesn't even support legal protections short of marriage, like those that could be provided by civil unions. He went so far as to sign an Orwellian letter defending the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and other anti-gay groups against criticism that they were promoting hate.

Pawlenty appears at Tea Party events and appeals to Tea Partiers with his opposition to health care reform. He denounces "Obamacare" as unconstitutional and one of the worst pieces of legislation in the history of the country. He compares the health care reform law to drug dealing and has joined legal efforts to prevent it from being implemented. In 2006, Pawlenty, in what opponents called election-year politics, pushed a wide array of proposals to crack down on immigration. Last year, he advocated amending the Constitution to deny citizenship to the American-born children of undocumented immigrants. Speaking to a Hispanic Republican group in January, he fudged his position, but said, "We can't have wide swaths of the country nodding or winking or looking the other way to broad violations of the law," rhetoric that echoes the "anti-amnesty" language used by opponents of comprehensive immigration reform.

And Pawlenty works hard to appeal to the economic and corporate right. He wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal last December slamming government employees and decrying a "silent coup, an inside job engineered by self-interested politicians and fueled by campaign contributions." The nonpartisan PolitiFact rated the column and its claims about government workers "Pants on Fire" -- its most-lying "Truth-o-meter" rating.

Pawlenty's self-portrait doesn't always mesh with reality. He rails against the "immoral debt" and touts his record as a governor of holding the line on growth in government. But in fact, as governor, he used short-term budget tricks that "left the state with a $5-billion projected deficit, one of the highest in the nation as a percentage of the state's general fund." He railed against the Obama administration's stimulus bill but then asked for $236 million from it.

He portrays himself as an anti-tax champion, but that's not how many Minnesotans experienced him. A state revenue department study in 2009 found that Minnesotans earning less than $129,879 saw their tax rates increase under Pawlenty. "Don't let anyone tell you Governor Pawlenty didn't raise taxes," said Sen. Al Franken. "It's about whom he raised them on. He raised them on lower- and middle-income families all across the state in order to pay for our kids' education."

Pawlenty promises right-wing groups that as president he will appoint "strict constructionist" judges -- code for judges with an 18th-century view of Americans' rights and interests. Last year he bypassed his state's Commission on Judicial Selection to appoint to a judgeship an attorney with strong Religious Right connections who served as counsel for the Minnesota Family Council in an anti-gay marriage case.

Back in 2008, when Pawlenty was frequently mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate, he was criticized for being too boring on television, maybe a bit too "Minnesota nice." So the 2012 Pawlenty has learned how to make himself sufficiently aggressive for the GOP zeitgeist. In speeches at conservative conferences, Pawlenty denigrates President Obama, accusing him of appeasing the nation's enemies. In his campaign launch message, Pawlenty said President Obama lacks both understanding of the nation's problems and the courage to address them.

While these may all be traits that will help Pawlenty win the Republican nomination, it's hard for me to imagine that a majority of American voters would agree that what we really need in the White House is a trash-talking, flip-flopping, science-denying, abortion-criminalizing, gay-rights-bashing, Religious Right-embracing politician who is so eager to get elected that he'll promise the far right just about anything. He even faked a southern accent when speaking to conservatives in Iowa, provoking well-deserved mockery back in Minnesota.

Pawlenty's backers are convinced that his polling numbers are low only because Americans haven't gotten to know him yet. But as Nate Silver noted back in November, Pawlenty was not that popular among those who know him best of all:

... a survey of Republican primary voters in Minnesota -- where Mr. Pawlenty is the governor and where his name recognition is near-universal -- showed him getting only 19 percent of the Republican primary vote there (although this was good for a nominal first place with Ms. Palin placing at 18 percent). Mr. Pawlenty's approval rating in Minnesota is also a tepid 47 percent.

Cross posted on The Huffington Post

PFAW

Issa Deregulates While the Troops Get Evicted

“Support our troops!” rings the familiar battle cry of many Republicans in Congress. However, a new post by Courage Campaign calls attention to how, when talking about supporting the troops, they sometimes do not (literally) put their money where their mouths are.

Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says he supports helping America’s soldiers obtain a good loan for housing:

In the 110th Congress, I supported H.R. 551, the “Home Ownership for America’s Veterans Act of 2007.” This bill will allow veterans entering the military after 1977 to participate in the Cal-Vet home loan program. The Cal-Vet program offers below market interest rate and little to no money down on home loans for qualified veterans purchasing a home in California. Currently, military before 1977 are afforded this opportunity. This benefit should be extended to our many members of the armed forces entering after this date.

 Unfortunately, the economic recession caused by Wall Street recklessness has hit military families disproportionately hard, and thousands of military families are losing their homes. If there was ever an appropriate target for an investigation, these bigwig bankers would be it.

The trouble is that the financial sector supplies plenty of campaign cash to Mr. Issa, so it is unlikely that we will see any meaningful oversight or reform in this arena any time soon, at least not while the Chairman prioritizes deregulation for the benefit of his corporate backers over all else.

Meanwhile, the troops are losing their homes.

PFAW

Tea Party Bemoans “Government-Corporate Cronyism” … Really???

Tea Party groups have been busy protesting companies that support eco-friendly and other progressive policies or help Democrats … they’ve even been protesting GE, NOT because the company exploits loopholes and tax credits to avoid paying any U.S. taxes, but because GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt works with the Obama administration chairing its Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

“Jeff Immelt is the face of government-corporate cronyism in America today,” commented Russ Walker, vice president of political and grassroots campaigns for the Tea Party “astroturf” group FreedomWorks.

The Tea Party needs to look in the mirror.

Overwhelmingly, it’s Tea Party Republicans who push the tax policies that allow GE to not pay its fair share of taxes … it’s Tea Party Republicans who want to bust up labor unions at the behest of the Koch brothers … it’s Tea Party Republicans who want to continue billions in subsidies for oil companies … and it’s Tea Party Republicans who oppose all regulation of corporate polluters, Big Insurance, Wall Street and every other sector of corporate America.

Now, there are certainly too many corporate-friendly Democrats … too many Blue Dogs and so-called moderates who are willing to put the interests of corporations over the interests of We the People. But let’s not be fooled by the Tea Party’s co-opting of rhetoric aimed at holding corporations accountable. The only accountability the Right wants for corporations is for when the occasional executive strays from the pack and is caught making nice with Democrats.

PFAW

Supreme Court Seems Likely to Throw Out Global Warming Case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a high-profile global-warming case: American Electric Power v. Connecticut. At issue is whether and how courts can hold corporate polluters accountable for the planetary climate damage they are causing.

Several states have sued power producers on the basis that they are creating a public nuisance. Instead of being tied to a specific federal statute or regulation, their claim is based on the common law of nuisance, which has been part of our legal system for centuries. (Common law is law developed over time by the courts in the absence of specific legislation or executive rules.) The Second Circuit ruled that the lawsuit could proceed on this theory, and the power companies appealed. However, as the Wall Street Journals reports:

The Supreme Court appeared deeply skeptical Tuesday about allowing states to sue electric utilities to force cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Both conservative and liberal justices questioned whether a federal judge could deal with the complex issue of global warming, a topic they suggested is better left to Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency.

An additional factor arising since the lawsuit began several years ago is a change in the EPA’s stance. When the lawsuit began, the EPA claimed it lacked the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Now, having been corrected by the Supreme Court, the agency is deciding whether to adopt rules affecting facilities like the ones at issue in this case. Such regulations would, if adopted, trump the common law.

Why let the lawsuit go forward, when "the agency is engaged in it right now?" said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The lawyer representing the states acknowledged that the case was before the high court at a "peculiar moment," but said the court should block the lawsuit only if the EPA actually issues regulations. ...

Lawyers for the companies and the administration focused on the enormity of the climate change issue to argue against the lawsuit.

"You have never heard a case like this before," Neal Katyal, the acting U.S. Solicitor General, said. The term global warming, Katyal said, "tells you all you need to know."

The Justices seem likely to rule that the legislative and executive branches should address the issues raised in this case. That will serve the interests of giant corporations with a financial stake in the status quo, who, due to Citizens United, have an undue and growing influence over who populates those branches.

PFAW

‘Odd Alliance’ Between the Tea Party and the Corporate Lobby? Maybe, But It’s Nothing New

The New York Times today reports on what it calls the “odd alliance” between populist-seeming Tea Party groups and corporate lobbyists. The paper’s investigation into a Tea Party group’s all-out campaign to boost the profits of an Indonesian paper company is illuminating, but it shouldn’t be surprising. Since its start, the Tea Party movement has been tied to, and financially supported by, giant corporate interests. In January, PFAW’s Jamie Raskin wrote about the corporate agenda behind many of the Tea Party’s legislative priorities:

The 2010 congressional elections should have been centered, at least in the domestic sphere, on three freshly minted corporate catastrophes made possible by industry regulatory capture and systematic deregulation: the subprime mortgage crisis that caused a multi-trillion dollar collapse on Wall Street and the destruction of millions of peoples’ jobs, incomes, pensions and housing security; the BP oil spill, which wrecked an entire regional ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico and registered as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history; and the collapse of the Massey Coal corporation mines in West Virginia that killed 25 mine workers after the company had been cited dozens of times for unaddressed regulatory violations.

In the wake of these disasters, the Tea Party skillfully mobilized public anxiety about the direction of American politics but turned it against President Obama’s efforts to deal with the mounting crises of the society. Tea Party activists drew Hitler mustaches on photographs of the president and decried health care reform, which they called “Obamacare” and described as a totalitarian plot. They railed against President Obama’s efforts to get BP to set up a $20 billion fund to pay the victims of the British company’s recklessness and unlawful conduct: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a Tea Party hero, denounced Obama’s “redistribution of wealth fund” and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) apologized to BP for being “subjected” to “a 20 billion dollar shakedown” by the president. And, in the debate over financial reform, the Tea Party joined other conservative Republicans in seeking to give Wall Street a free pass for the appalling predatory actions and crimes that brought our economy to its knees. Today, many Republicans, flush with Wall Street money, are calling for a severe dilution or outright repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act and have placed a bull’s-eye target on the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the entity charged with protecting the public against fraudulent and deceptive financial practices.

PFAW

Does Holding Banks Accountable Count as “Terrorism”? Glenn Beck Thinks it Does.

This weekend, the New York Times told the story of a man named Charlie Engle who is in jail for being sold a bad loan. Engle did commit a crime by signing a so-called “liar loan,” in which he falsely stated his income to get a mortgage. But what is shocking is who got off scot-free: the financial executives who convinced millions of Americans like Engle to sign similar loans, helping to bring the economy to its knees.

I thought of this story when reading about the new campaign being waged by Fox News demagogue Glenn Beck to get a man who is trying to hold big banks accountable for their actions charged with “domestic terrorism.”

Stephen Lerner is a prominent figure in the labor movement. A former executive at the SEIU, he designed the Justice for Janitors organization, which has secured workers’ rights and living wages for thousands of janitors across the country. Recently, Lerner echoed the frustration of many in saying that big banks got off scot-free after their reckless lending procedures forced millions of Americans out of their homes and caused a major financial crisis. And he proposed a solution. Ezra Klein summarizes:

Like a lot of people, he feels the financial system got off too easy in the crisis. They created the mess, but unlike the millions of foreclosed homeowners and newly unemployed workers, they’ve come out mostly unscathed. It’s still very, very good to be a banker in this country. It’s not good at all to be underwater on your house. And he’s got a plan for changing that.

Union types are always looking for “leverage.” Leverage is what I have that gives me power over you. And Lerner thinks he’s identified the point of leverage that workers and homeowners and students have over the financial system. “What does the other side fear most?” Lerner asked. “They fear disruption, they fear uncertainty. Every article about Europe says a riot in Greece, the markets went down. The folks that control this country care about one thing: how the stock market does; how the bond market does; and what their bonus is. So I think we weed out a very simple strategy: how do we bring down the stock market, how do we bring down their bonuses, how do we interfere with their ability to, to be rich.” To do so, he wants to see a campaign of disruption and strategic default led by community-activist groups and aimed at J.P. Morgan Chase.

As Lerner sees it, once there’s leverage, once the banks are scared, there can be a settlement. What sort of settlement? Lerner gives a couple of examples in his talk. “You” — meaning banks in general, and J.P. Morgan Chase in particular — “reduce the price of our interest, since your interest rate is down; and second, you rewrite the mortgages for everybody in the community so they can stay in their homes. We could make them do that.”

You may or may not agree with the wisdom of Lerner’s idea. But would you call it “terrorism”? Glenn Beck would, and has now chosen Lerner to be the newest anchor point in his vast liberal conspiracy theory, saying that the labor leader is plotting to commit “economic terrorism" by “collaps[ing] the system.”

People For’s legal department looked into what our laws actually say about domestic terrorism and, needless to say, it's not even a close question. There’s no danger to human life involved here. And there’s certainly no effort to intimidate the civilian population or the government.

In fact, under Beck’s definition of terrorism as advocating for peaceful economic disruption, he himself should be investigated. As Media Matters has pointed out, Beck himself has more than once advocated “taking down” or “resetting” our entire financial system—a much more sweeping economic action than the targeted protests Lerner is advocating.

The corporate-funded right wing has made it clear in the last few months that they will not tolerate working people who want to take on big corporations. In Wisconsin and Ohio, teachers and police officers and other public workers have been demonized for fighting to their right to organize, while corporations continue to get massive tax breaks and hold a huge amount of sway over elections.

In their world, the millions of Americans who suffered from the financial crisis—people like Charlie Engle—are the criminals, and the people who try to organize working Americans are “terrorists.” That topsy-turvy view of justice and power is unsettling, to say the least.
 

UPDATE: Lerner responds to Beck in The Nation:

So that was it: Beck, right-wingers and Wall Street sympathizers went ballistic because they knew the ideas I talked about are far from being a secret leftist conspiracy; in fact, they’re in sync with the thinking of most Americans. In my talk, I raised a very simple yet powerful idea: that homeowners, students, citizens and workers should make the same practical decisions Wall Street and corporate CEOs make every day—they should reject bad financial deals.


PFAW

Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS Blasts Unions in Misleading Ad

A shadowy political organization founded by Karl Rove is spending $750,000 to run a nationwide ad blasting workers and their collective bargaining rights. Crossroads GPS is a pro-corporate group with a history of using misleading if not outright false claims to attack Democrats and progressive causes. The organization does not disclose its donors but NBC News found that “a substantial portion of Crossroads GPS’ money came from a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls.”

Now, the group is out with an ad trashing organized labor on cable news in light of attempts to cut the collective bargaining rights of public employees in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Idaho. Crossroads GPS asserts that public employees are overpaid, however, a study from the Economic Policy Institute shows that public workers in Wisconsin and Ohio actually “earn lower wages than comparable private sector employees.”

Crossroads GPS isn’t the only shadowy pro-corporate group to support the GOP’s war on organized labor.

Americans for Prosperity, an organization closely tied to the Koch Brothers, is vigorously supporting Republican union-busting and unfairly blames public workers for the country’s budget problems. Like Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity doesn’t disclose its donors and advocates for the agenda of corporate special interests.

As People For president Michael Keegan writes, the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United has empowered groups like Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity to secretly use corporate money to fund pro-corporate causes:

What is perhaps most troubling about the post-Citizens United flood of corporate money in politics is the free rein it has given for corporations to hide behind front groups to run misleading ads without ever being held accountable for their content. Americans for Prosperity is now employing the same tactics it used to smear health care reform in key House districts in its ad campaign against Wisconsin unions. Like in its ads falsely claiming that health care reform hurt Medicare recipients, the group's ads in Wisconsin pretend to champion populist values while pushing a decidedly anti-populist agenda. The ads seek not only to misinform voters, but to blame ordinary Americans for problems they did not cause.
PFAW

Corporate-Funded American Crossroads Prepares for Massive Spending in 2012

The twin groups founded by GOP heavyweights Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie are readying to spend $120 million to influence the 2012 elections. As reported in Citizens Blindsided, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS were handsomely funded by Wall Street and private equity moguls, energy interests, and companies owned by billionaire Republican donors. After raising a combined $71 million for the midterm elections, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS intend to spend a whopping $120 million to beat President Obama and Democratic candidates for Congress. Brody Mullins of the Wall Street Journal reports:

Two conservative groups founded last year with the help of Republicans Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie have set a goal of raising $120 million in the effort to defeat President Barack Obama, win a GOP majority in the Senate and protect the party's grip on the House in the 2012 election.



In setting their new fund-raising goal, Crossroads officials say they spoke with nearly all of their major 2010 donors, numbering in the dozens. "They have told us they are sticking with us, and most of them have said they plan to come in at a significantly higher level," said Steven Law, the president of the two Republican groups. Mr. Law said he also has found new donors.

American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS were set up under two different sections of the law and follow slightly different rules. American Crossroads is a so-called 527 organization, which must disclose its donors, while Crossroads GPS is a 501(c)4 entity that doesn't have to make public its donors.



Leaders of the two Crossroads groups say they will focus on television advertising and other election activities, which could complement the Republican National Committee's focus on rallying Republican voters and funding state parties.

Campaign-finance rules give groups such as Crossroads an advantage over the RNC. Because political parties can't raise more than $30,000 from an individual, they must spend millions of dollars to raise money from thousands of donors.

Outside groups face no such caps, so they can raise larger amounts from fewer individuals, incurring smaller fund-raising expenses in the process. American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS disclosed in an annual report sent to donors this week that they spent 96% of the money raised on campaigns.

The RNC spent about 70% of its money for the 2010 campaign on fund raising and other overhead expenses.
PFAW

More Voices Call For a Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United as Ruling’s Anniversary Approaches

Friday is the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which helped unleash massive corporate spending in the 2010 elections, and more voices have emerged to denounce the Court’s wrongheaded and extreme ruling. The decision’s impact on public policy debates became more apparent today as the House of Representatives prepares to vote to repeal the health care reform law after pro-corporate groups spent handsomely to discredit the law with bogus charges and attack Congressmen which supported reform.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, along with companies like Patagonia, Stonyfield Farms and Honest Tea, have launched Business for Democracy, “a coalition of like-minded businesses to protest a Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on corporate campaign spending in candidate elections.” The Wall Street Journal reports that “members of ‘Business for Democracy’ believe ‘the decision is inconsistent with the basic ideal of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people,’" and support a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision.

In today’s Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel discussed how the vast corporate spending to influence the midterm elections was “just an experiment” compared to how corporations plan to sway the 2012 election. But despite the push by pro-corporate groups to keep spending by businesses in elections unchecked, the efforts for legislative remedies and the push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United persevere:

According to Bill de Blasio, New York City's public advocate, Citizens United spending - that is, spending that was only made possible by the court's ruling - accounted for 15 percent of the roughly $4 billion spent on the 2010 midterm elections. Eighty-five million dollars of Citizens United money was spent on U.S. Senate races alone. Worse, 30 percent of all spending by outside groups was funded by anonymous donations, an illegal action prior to the ruling. Forty million of the dollars spent on Senate races came from sources that might never be revealed.

But as striking as these consequences might be, the 2010 election was just an experiment, the first opportunity to test the new law. In future elections, corporations and shadowy organizations will have a clearer understanding of the boundaries they are operating within, a reality that is sure to translate into more undisclosed cash. And the savvier corporate players know that the mere threat of a corporate onslaught of funding for or against a candidate is enough to win legislative favor, in effect blunting prospects for sound regulation, consumer protection and fair tax policies. As former senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), himself a victim of Citizens United spending, said, "It is going to be worse in 2012 unless we do something - much worse."

Yet even as we lament this decision, we should recognize the opportunity it presents. Justice Roberts and his allies overreached so brazenly that they have created an opening for genuine reform.



The clearest and boldest counter to the court's ruling would be a constitutional amendment stating unequivocally that corporations are not people and do not have the right to buy elections. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) introduced such an amendment to counter Citizens United during the last session of Congress and views it as the only sure way to beat back the court. "Justice Brandeis got it right," she noted last February. " 'We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.' "

Campaigns for constitutional amendments demand a great deal of patience and tenacity. But as Jamie Raskin, a Democratic Maryland state senator and professor of constitutional law at American University, notes, "American citizens have repeatedly amended the Constitution to defend democracy when the Supreme Court acts in collusion with democracy's enemies." Not only is a push for an amendment a worthy act, it also provides a unique opportunity to educate the broader public, raise the profile of this important issue and force elected officials to go on record as to where they stand. The campaign could create enormous pressure on state legislatures and Congress, prompting changes to campaign finance even before an amendment is ratified.

Success will require a coalition that transcends party. In this case, there is promising news. An August 2010 Survey USA poll found that 77 percent of all voters - including 70 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of independents - view corporate spending in elections as akin to bribery. Broad majorities favor limiting corporate control over our political lives. A coordinated effort, executed right, could unite progressives, good-government reformers and conservative libertarians in a fight to restore democracy.
PFAW

New Details on the Money Behind American Crossroads

A new Center for Responsive Politics report uncovers some more details about the money behind American Crossroads, one of the most powerful right-wing spenders in the 2010 elections.

The Karl-Rove founded group acted as a “Shadow RNC” in this year’s elections, collecting and distributing money from wealthy donors who were shying away from the embattled party committee. But it also had a brand new leg up: the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on influencing elections. A full third of American Crossroad’s $28 million in funding came from corporate donors, CRP found. And a big chunk of American Crossroad’s remaining cash—54%--came from just four wealthy donors.

And that’s just the branch of American Crossroads whose funding we know about. The group’s sister organization, Crossroads GPS, spent $17 million on elections, and according to CRP,” saw its preferred candidates win in 71 percent of the races in which it invested money.” We can’t know for sure about the sources of GPS’s funding, since it doesn’t have to report its activities to the Federal Election Commission, but we do know that it received significant funding from Wall Street bankers. Once source told Politico in October that “most of the GOP corporate money is believed to be moving through [Crossroads GPS], so that it isn’t disclosed publicly.”

Rove himself has said that the Citizens United decision made the success of American Crossroads and American Crossroads GPS possible. In turn, his groups helped to define what political spending looks like in the post-Citizens United era, where corporations and a few wealthy individuals have enormous power over elections—but rarely have to own up to it.


 UPDATE: Mother Jones has more on the Big Four donors to Crossroads.

PFAW