November, 2011 browsing by month


The Most Important Story of the Past 24 Hours

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Crack investor Mark Hanna summarizes the Bloomberg News article on Federal Reserve secret lending to banks.  Links directly to the Bloomberg article.

Notice that the lobbying expenditures of the affected banks has greatly increased.  Connection?

Trader Mark

This Bloomberg Markets piece on the action’s of the Federal Reserve, in secret, should be required reading for every American citizen.  While ‘too complex’ for the masses, what is going on in the back halls of D.C. is simply amazing.  Bloomberg has been fighting for two years through Freedom of Information acts to get to the data – thankfully some parts of our press are not completely owned and paid for by the corporatacity (yes, I’m making up words).   As with almost everything else in this country, the numbers are so large as to escape comprehension – at this point the Fed could be handing out $500 quadrillion, and it would not make that much of a difference in terms of impact to the psyche.  TBTF lives on…..

Quite a lengthy read so I encourage the full review, but some snippets:

  • The Federal Reserve and the big banks fought for more than two years to keep details of the largest bailout in U.S. history a secret. Now, the rest of the world can see what it was missing.
  • The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day.  (let’s stop there for a moment – absorb that number – the entire national GDP in a year is $14T.  In one day the banks required 1/14th of our entire national output!  Too big to fail? or bail? Certainly not the latter)
  • Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy
  • And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue.
  • Saved by the bailout, bankers lobbied against government regulations, a job made easier by the Fed, which never disclosed the details of the rescue to lawmakers even as Congress doled out more money and debated new rules aimed at preventing the next collapse.
  • A fresh narrative of the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009 emerges from 29,000 pages of Fed documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and central bank records of more than 21,000 transactions. While Fed officials say that almost all of the loans were repaid and there have been no losses, details suggest taxpayers paid a price beyond dollars as the secret funding helped preserve a broken status quo and enabled the biggest banks to grow even bigger.
  • The size of the bailout came to light after Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, won a court case against the Fed and a group of the biggest U.S. banks called Clearing House Association LLC to force lending details into the open.
  • The Fed, headed by Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, argued that revealing borrower details would create a stigma — investors and counterparties would shun firms that used the central bank as lender of last resort — and that needy institutions would be reluctant to borrow in the next crisis. Clearing House Association fought Bloomberg’s lawsuit up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the banks’ appeal in March 2011.
  • The amount of money the central bank parceled out was surprising even to Gary H. Stern, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1985 to 2009, who says he “wasn’t aware of the magnitude.” It dwarfed the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Add up guarantees and lending limits, and the Fed had committed $7.77 trillion as of March 2009 to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year.
  • “TARP at least had some strings attached,” says Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, referring to the program’s executive-pay ceiling. “With the Fed programs, there was nothing.”
  • The Fed initially released lending data in aggregate form only. Information on which banks borrowed, when, how much and at what interest rate was kept from public view.  The secrecy extended even to members of President George W. Bush’s administration who managed TARP. Top aides to Paulson weren’t privy to Fed lending details during the creation of the program that provided crisis funding to more than 700 banks, say two former senior Treasury officials who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak.
  • The Treasury Department relied on the recommendations of the Fed to decide which banks were healthy enough to get TARP money and how much, the former officials say. The six biggest U.S. banks, which received $160 billion of TARP funds, borrowed as much as $460 billion from the Fed, measured by peak daily debt calculated by Bloomberg using data obtained from the central bank. 
  • The six — JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup Inc. (C), Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and Morgan Stanley — accounted for 63 percent of the average daily debt to the Fed by all publicly traded U.S. banks, money managers and investment- services firms, the data show. By comparison, they had about half of the industry’s assets before the bailout, which lasted from August 2007 through April 2010. 
  • Judd Gregg, a former New Hampshire senator who was a lead Republican negotiator on TARP, and Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who chaired the House Financial Services Committee, both say they were kept in the dark. “We didn’t know the specifics,” says Gregg, who’s now an adviser to Goldman Sachs. (I’m laughing more at where Gregg landed rather than our Congress being in the dark – although both are laughable)  “We were aware emergency efforts were going on,” Frank says. “We didn’t know the specifics.”
  • Byron L. Dorgan, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota, says the knowledge might have helped pass legislation to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which for most of the last century separated customer deposits from the riskier practices of investment banking.  “Had people known about the hundreds of billions in loans to the biggest financial institutions, they would have demanded Congress take much more courageous actions to stop the practices that caused this near financial collapse,” says Dorgan, who retired in January.  (Dorgan is one of the few in Congress who actually seemed to be doing his job – he saw this crisis coming a decade earlier!) 
  • Instead, the Fed and its secret financing helped America’s biggest financial firms get bigger and go on to pay employees as much as they did at the height of the housing bubble.  Total assets held by the six biggest U.S. banks increased 39 percent to $9.5 trillion on Sept. 30, 2011, from $6.8 trillion on the same day in 2006, according to Fed data. (“too even bigger to fail”)
  • Lobbying expenditures by the six banks that would have been affected by the legislation rose to $29.4 million in 2010 compared with $22.1 million in 2006, the last full year before credit markets seized up — a gain of 33 percent, according to, a research group that tracks money in U.S. politics. Lobbying by the American Bankers Association, a trade organization, increased at about the same rate, reported.
  • Top officials in President Barack Obama’s administration sided with the FSF in arguing against legislative curbs on the size of banks.

And of course the man whose negligence of regulation at the head of the NY Fed…. was promoted for his ‘good works’ for the banks or as Blankfein would say he was ‘doing God’s work’.

  • On May 4, 2010, Geithner visited Kaufman in his Capitol Hill office. As president of the New York Fed in 2007 and 2008, Geithner helped design and run the central bank’s lending programs. The New York Fed supervised four of the six biggest U.S. banks and, during the credit crunch, put together a daily confidential report on Wall Street’s financial condition. 
  • At the meeting with Kaufman, Geithner argued that the issue of limiting bank size was too complex for Congress and that people who know the markets should handle these decisions, Kaufman says.   In the end, Geithner had his way. The Brown-Kaufman proposal to limit the size of banks was defeated, 60 to 31
  • Lobbyists for the big banks made the winning case that forcing them to break up was “punishing success,” Brown says. 

Much more in the story….

Bloomberg: Harvard Law’s Lessig Says Smash Washington’s Culture of Money

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

As Sen. Dick Durbin noted about Capitol Hill in 2009, the banks “frankly own the place.”  But Senator Durbin wouldn’t say it to us when we tried to interview him.

“What’s striking is how little it costs for a private interest to subvert the public will.  The really big money is in campaign finance. Politicians are constantly dialing for dollars with the tacit understanding that the generous will be rewarded.”  Laurence Lessig


Most attention-getting political corruption stories are small bore, like a Louisiana congressman stuffing $90,000 in bribes in his freezer or super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff wringing favors from members of Congress with a skybox and 18 holes at St. Andrews.

What’s striking is how little it costs for a private interest to subvert the public will.

The really big money is in campaign finance. Politicians are constantly dialing for dollars with the tacit understanding that the generous will be rewarded. One of the many charms of “Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It,” a new book from Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig, is its sympathy for the people involved.

“What if Washington is not filled with evil souls trying to steal from the republic?” Lessig writes, wondering if politicians are merely “good people working in a corrupted system.”

How intriguing to think that former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich isn’t a bad person. Who knows what deal I might make with the devil if every four years I needed to raise millions to keep my job?

With lawyerly precision, Lessig parses the problem. Did you know that most members of Congress spend two to three years raising money before they run for office — and about three days every week after?  And if you think it’s one party’s problem, think again.

Covering Their Bets

Donors cross-pollinate to cover their bets. They can’t be sure who’s going to be in charge of how deep they can build their oil rigs or which member of Congress might be the one to move an exception to Dodd-Frank out of committee.

If you wonder why there’s no action on climate issues, look at the donations of the polluting coal and oil companies; no single-payer insurance, look to the coffers of the private insurance industry; weak re-regulation of Wall Street firms that ran wild when deregulated, look at the millions given to Congress from the financial-services sector.

No wonder the big givers, not the taxpayers, got bailed out. They got in the door to plead their case. As Sen. Dick Durbin noted about Capitol Hill in 2009, the banks “frankly own the place.”

Lessig’s indictment precedes Occupy Wall Street, which has grown rapidly as more citizens conclude that they’re screwed in a game that’s rigged and there’s not a damn thing to do about it but take to the streets. What’s the chance any of them could get in to see their elected representative? My guess: zero. If you want an appointment, you’d better have paid in advance.

Constituent Wednesdays

Congressional staffers look at who gave what to whom before most folks get in the door. Those who don’t pay are the ones on the steps of the Capitol smiling for a group photo on constituent Wednesdays.

Lessig still believes in the goodness of his old friend Barack Obama, whom he actively supported in 2008, but goes after his administration as “too conventional” to attack corruption in the way his campaign promised. He finds Democrats so beholden to private interests that it’s hard to tell them apart from Republicans.

After proving how sick our political process is, Lessig proposes smashing the campaign finance system — yes, the three deadliest words in politics. Don’t give up on him, though. He offers something that gets around the ever-present barrier to reform: the debilitating Supreme Court decision that equates protected speech with money, giving Constitutional protection to the disease that’s killing us.

Grant and Franklin

Lessig borrows from three states — Arizona, Maine and Connecticut — that fund candidates through small-dollar contributions only, and which have seen their elections become much more competitive. He improves on that with what he calls the Grant and Franklin Project.

He assumes that every voter produces at least $50 in revenue to the Treasury annually (in income, gas, tobacco and airfare taxes paid) and that a bill with Ulysses S. Grant on its face should be returned to the voter in the form of a voucher to be spent on one or more candidates of his choosing. A citizen could add money from his own pocket up to a Ben Franklin $100 bill.

Once a candidate accepted a Grant or Franklin, he or she could no longer take large contributions. It gives citizens, who would otherwise be out on the steps of the Capitol looking in, a stake in the game and just possibly a seat at the table.

At a cost of about $6 billion per election, it wouldn’t be cheap. But given that the Cato Institute estimates the federal government spends more than $90 billion a year on payback to donors — “subsidies and regulatory protections that lawmakers confer on certain businesses and industries” — it’s a bargain at 10 times the price.

MSNBC: Lobbying firm’s memo spells out plan to undermine Occupy Wall Street

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

A well-known Washington lobbying firm with links to the financial industry has proposed an $850,000 plan to take on Occupy Wall Street and politicians who might express sympathy for the protests, according to a memo obtained by the MSNBC program “Up w/ Chris Hayes.”


The proposal was written on the letterhead of the lobbying firm Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford and addressed to one of CLGC’s clients, the American Bankers Association.

CLGC’s memo proposes that the ABA pay CLGC $850,000 to conduct “opposition research” on Occupy Wall Street in order to construct “negative narratives” about the protests and allied politicians. The memo also asserts that Democratic victories in 2012 would be detrimental for Wall Street and targets specific races in which it says Wall Street would benefit by electing Republicans instead.

According to the memo, if Democrats embrace OWS, “This would mean more than just short-term political discomfort for Wall Street. … It has the potential to have very long-lasting political, policy and financial impacts on the companies in the center of the bullseye.”

The memo also suggests that Democratic victories in 2012 should not be the ABA’s biggest concern. “… (T)he bigger concern,” the memo says, “should be that Republicans will no longer defend Wall Street companies.”

Two of the memo’s authors, partners Sam Geduldig and Jay Cranford, previously worked for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Geduldig joined CLGC before Boehner became speaker;  Cranford joined CLGC this year after serving as the speaker’s assistant for policy. A third partner, Steve Clark, is reportedly “tight” with Boehner, according to a story by Roll Call that CLGC features on its website. 

Jeff Sigmund, an ABA spokesperson, confirmed that the association got the memo. “Our Government Relations staff did receive the proposal – it was unsolicited and we chose not to act on it in any way,” he said in a statement to “Up.”

CLGC did not return calls seeking comment.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel declined to comment on the memo. But he responded to its characterization of Republicans as defenders of Wall Street by saying, “My understanding is that President Obama is the single largest recipient of donations from Wall Street.”

On “Up” Saturday, Obama campaign adviser Anita Dunn responded by saying that the majority of the president’s re-election campaign is fueled by small donors. She rejected the suggestion that the president himself is too close to Wall Street, saying “If that’s the case, why were tough financial reforms passed over party line Republican opposition?”

The CLGC memo raises another issue that it says should be of concern to the financial industry — that OWS might find common cause with the Tea Party. “Well-known Wall Street companies stand at the nexus of where OWS protestors and the Tea Party overlap on angered populism,” the memo says. “…This combination has the potential to be explosive later in the year when media reports cover the next round of bonuses and contrast it with stories of millions of Americans making do with less this holiday season.”

The memo outlines a 60-day plan to conduct surveys and research on OWS and its supporters so that Wall Street companies will be prepared to conduct a media campaign in response to OWS. Wall Street companies “likely will not be the best spokespeople for their own cause,” according to the memo.  “A big challenge is to demonstrate that these companies still have political strength and that making them a political target will carry a severe political cost.”  

Part of the plan CLGC proposes is to do “statewide surveys in at least eight states that are shaping up to be the most important of the 2012 cycle.”

Specific races listed in the memo are U.S. Senate races in Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Mexico and Nevada as well as the gubernatorial race in North Carolina.

The memo indicates that CLGC would research who has contributed financial backing to OWS, noting that, “Media reports have speculated about associations with George Soros and others.”

“It will be vital,” the memo says, “to understand who is funding it and what their backgrounds and motives are. If we can show that they have the same cynical motivation as a political opponent it will undermine their credibility in a profound way.”

New York Times: Major Ad Blitz for Huntsman in New Hampshire, by Group Backed by His Father

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Do you believe that Gov. Huntsman’s father would really be independent of his son’s campaign?

Providing perhaps a last-chance boost to the flagging presidential hopes of former Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. of Utah, an outside group that is supported by his father, a billionaire chemical executive, and other wealthy backers plans a major advertising campaign on his behalf in New Hampshire starting on Tuesday.

New York Times

Television stations and rival Republican campaigns reported that the group, the “super PAC” Our Destiny, is buying up hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advertising time in what is in effect a last-ditch effort to help raise Mr. Huntsman’s standing in New Hampshire.

The move is the result of an emotionally fraught, behind-the-scenes drama over whether Mr. Huntsman’s father, the founder of Huntsman Chemicals, Jon M. Huntsman Sr., will come to the rescue of his son’s financially depleted campaign by dumping millions more into the PAC so it can do what Mr. Huntsman’s team cannot afford to: deluge the airwaves with advertisements calling attention to a candidacy his team still believes can catch fire, if it only had the money to light it.

While the Our Destiny PAC now has enough cash to kick off a substantial initial advertising campaign, Mr. Huntsman’s father has not yet committed the much larger amount that strategists believe is necessary to make the governor a truly viable contender in the Republican contest, according to several people privy to the thinking of both the campaign and the group but who would speak only on condition of anonymity.

The advertising campaign is centered upon a 60-second spot in which two men and a woman lament the state of the country, the lack of a candidate “we can trust as a conservative” and, after Mr. Huntsman’s credentials flash on the screen, wonder “why haven’t we heard of this guy?”

Rival groups that track political spending said that as of Sunday, the group had committed to spend up to $750,000 on the advertisements.  A strategist with the group, Brian Nick, would say only that the advertising campaign would be “substantial” but of uncertain duration.

The length of the campaign — the start of which was first reported Monday by The Washington Post — will depend largely on how much more money Mr. Huntsman’s father may put into the group.

And therein lies the thorny political and personal matter for Mr. Huntsman, according to several people briefed on the situation.

Though Mr. Huntsman has clearly made his own name as the governor of Utah and, most recently, as the ambassador to China for President Obama, he has grown up in the long shadow of his father, one of the richest men in the country and an entrepreneur behind iconic items of Americana: He invented the McDonald’s clamshell Big Mac packages and helped create the first plastic egg cartons.

Governor Huntsman made it clear early this year that he did not think he could be a viable presidential contender if he did not raise money on his own, telling reporters, “Unless you can raise it legitimately, you’re not going to win.”

As he has struggled to do so, his aides and supporters have placed increasing hope that Mr. Huntsman’s father would shovel enough money into Our Destiny — which includes the former Huntsman campaign strategists Fred Davis and Mr. Nick — to run an advertising blitz that can start now and carry Mr. Huntsman into the New Hampshire primary in mid-January. Unlike Mr. Huntsman’s political campaign, the outside group can accept unlimited donations from wealthy individuals and corporations to promote his candidacy as long as it does not coordinate its effort with his strategists.

Mr. Huntsman has been loath to ask his father to up his commitment to the outside group, several people familiar with the situation said. His father, on the other hand, they said, has been unwilling to do so without being asked, especially given the uncertainty of whether the investment would make a huge difference.

Supporters close to Our Destiny said they believed the new advertising campaign could prove something of a test that, should it help Mr. Huntsman in the New Hampshire polls, could persuade his father and other wealthy donors to contribute more.

Mr. Huntsman’s campaign would not comment on the super PAC and his father did not return phone messages.

Maplight: Contribution Profile of Members of the Deficit ‘Super Committee – updated

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Our friends at MapLight have conducted an analysis of campaign contributions to the 12 members of Congress appointed to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. The members of the so-called “Super Committee” are Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), and Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.)


Top 10 Industry Contributors to Super Committee Members (PACs and Employees)

Industry Total
Lawyers/Law Firms $31,848,570
Securities & Investment $11,612,206
Health Professionals $9,655,188
Democratic/Liberal $9,647,264
Real Estate $8,993,150
Education $8,594,210
Misc. Business $7,916,271
Business Services $6,659,449
Women’s Issues $6,396,728
Insurance $6,043,095

Top 10 Organization Contributors (PACs and Employees) to Super Committee Members
NOTE: The Club for Growth’s and EMILY’s List’s totals also include contributions from their members.

Organization Total
Club for Growth* $1,009,884
Microsoft $822,350
University of California $652,935
Goldman Sachs $605,684
EMILY’s List* $594,883
Citigroup $584,831
JPMorgan Chase $533,128
UBS $451,280
Akin Gump $435,254
Morgan Stanley $393,779

Methodology: MapLight analysis of campaign contributions from Jan. 1, 2001 – Jun. 30, 2011 to the 12 members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. Campaign contributions and industry classifications established by the Center for Responsive Politics (

* Campaign contributions listed for the Club for Growth and EMILY’s List include contributions from the organization’s PAC, its employees and members.

  • To download a spreadsheet featuring an analysis of contributions from the top industries contributing to Super Committee members (that generated the tables below) click here.
  • To download a spreadsheet featuring an analysis of contributions from the top PACs contributing to Super Committee members (not including employee contributions) click here.

Washington Post: How lobbyists make government regulations more burdensome

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

One of the chief complaints you hear about Obama’s Wall Street reform law is that it imposes hugely complex, burdensome regulations on businesses. But why did that happen? It’s partly because industry lobbyists have pushed so hard to carve out exemptions in the law.

Washington Post

That’s what happened with the Volcker Rule, which intends to prevent banks from trading for their own benefit, rather than their customers’. The rule originally started out a 10-page provision that has ballooned to nearly 300 pages with scores of exemptions in place, as some supporters of the reform pointed out at an event on Wednesday.

“It’s not actually as onerous as some make it out to be…the complexity burden that people are complaining about is the result of lobbying for these exemptions,” said Anthony Dowd, currently chief of staff to former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker, whose original proposal gave birth to the eponymous rule. Volcker himself has repeatedly said that he’d prefer a much simpler, shorter rule, but one that better empowers regulators to enforce the principle behind the rule at their discretion. Some have taken Volcker’s criticism to mean that he’s “soured” on his own rule. But Dowd emphasizes that his boss still strongly supports the regulation but wants to undo some of the exemptions that have been made for hedge funds and private equity trading — and will submit his own recommendations shortly.

Problem is, “it’s much easier for regulators to write complex rules than simple rules,” Matthew Richardson, a financial economics professor at New York University, said at the gathering, sponsored by Americans for Financial Reform. A simpler rule would likely give regulators much broader authority, leaving them to judge whether a firm was violating the spirit of the rule. Richardson then referenced a comment that Volcker had made back in 2010, when Dodd-Frank was being deliberated: excessive risk is “like pornography: you know it when you see it.”

But empowering regulators, of course, isn’t what most critics of Dodd-Frank want either. So industry players are basically sticking with the lobbying-for-exemptions approach. In some ways, it works both ways for them: they have a chance of getting a carve-out to avoid regulation. And by making the rule more complex, that carve-out also strengthens the case of those who complain that Dodd-Frank is too onerous and are fighting to repeal it altogether.


Power to the People film series Los Angeles

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

The Best Government Money Can Buy will be the opening film presented at the power to the People Film Series this Friday in Los Angeles.

Presented by the LA Progressive, Hollywood Progressive, The Last Bookstore. and Cinema Libre Studio with support from the Levantine Cultural Center and KPFK . Special thanks to Alan Ayoub aka Pharaoh MC and the proceeds from his album, Terrorism Era.

LA Progressive


Huff Post: ‘Campaign Finance Scandal’ At FEC: Reform Groups Call For Obama To Step Up

Monday, November 7th, 2011

President Barack Obama has been criticized before for failing to live up to promises made in his 2008 campaign on such issues as pharmaceutical prices, climate change and medical marijuana. On Thursday, campaign finance reform advocates jumped in with another unfulfilled promise.

Huffington Post

Six organizations that support campaign finance regulation — Democracy 21, Campaign Legal Center, Public Citizen, Common Cause, League of Women Voters and U.S. PIRG — held a Capitol Hill press conference to urge the president to appoint new commissioners to fill the seats of five Federal Election Commission members whose terms have expired. The commissioners continue to serve until new appointees are confirmed by the Senate, even when their terms have officially expired. The groups also sent a letter to the White House.

“The FEC is itself a national campaign finance scandal,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer at the press conference. “The FEC is a dysfunctional agency that refuses to enforce the campaign finance laws. We call on Obama to nominate new commissioners.”

In recent years, the six-member commission has grown increasingly polarized and gridlocked, according to data provided by the reform groups. At least four commissioners must vote to approve a new rule. If the FEC splits 3-3, no rule is adopted. Tied votes accounted for nearly 30 percent of all rule-setting votes in 2010, up from 11 percent in 2003.

Tied votes have prevented the commission from adopting rules to govern spending and disclosure by independent groups in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling Citizens United v. FEC, which opened the door to unlimited corporate and union spending on independent election activities. The FEC has also enacted regulations that opened holes in disclosure laws. In a 2007 advisory opinion, the commission allowed independent groups running election ads to hide the identity of the donors behind the ads.

The 2007 ruling led undisclosed campaign spending by independent groups to jump from 1 percent of outside-group spending in 2006 to 25 percent in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The failure of the FEC to issue rules on disclosure by independent groups following the Citizens United decision led that number to jump to 43 percent of all independent spending.

“The Supreme Court has made our campaign finance system bad, but the FEC has made it much, much worse,” said Paul S. Ryan, counsel for the Campaign Legal Center. “The president should follow through on his promise and appoint FEC commissioners who will enforce the law.”

Wertheimer pointed out that candidate Obama stated in 2007, “As president, I will appoint nominees to the commission who are committed to enforcing our nation’s election laws.”

“President Obama has failed to meet his public commitment,” Wertheimer said. “[He] can no longer sit on the sidelines as the FEC scandal continues to grow.”

Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen, explained that the current FEC gridlock stems from the opposition to campaign finance laws by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The FEC is a bipartisan commission with three Democratic and three Republican members. McConnell, as the Republican leader in the Senate, is accorded the privilege of picking the Republican commissioners.

“[McConnell] has figured out that the way he can [block campaign finance law] is by appointing people to the FEC who will not enforce the law,” Holman said.

Holman further argued that the president should end the deference given to the leaders of the Senate in appointing commissioners and should himself name all five nominees for the seats held by commissioners serving expired terms. “I’d ask the president to fix this and go back to the constitutional process,” Holman said.

Even if Obama were to submit five nominees to the Senate for confirmation, McConnell could still stand in the way if those appointments were not to his liking.

“That’s a battle that has to be fought out. You just can’t sit here and let a national scandal grow and grow and grow,” Wertheimer said. “The American people should know that the Senate and Sen. McConnell will not let this national scandal be solved.”


Politico: Abramoff: How to end corruption

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff joins the chorus calling for campaign finance and lobbying reform.  Better late than never.


Abramoff, who was convicted for his involvement in a massive corruption scheme in which he pleaded guilty to cheating Indian tribes out of tens of millions of dollars in lobbying fees and bribing lawmakers and staffers with lavish gifts, writes that he had “an epiphany” in prison.

POLITICO obtained an advanced copy the autobiography, “Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist,” set to be released on Nov. 7.

In the 3½ years he spent at Cumberland Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md., Abramoff says he paced the track at the medium security prison day after day, “consumed” by the problem of how government can be cleaned up.

One of the conclusions he draws is to entirely eliminate any campaign contributions by lobbyists, those bidding for federal contracts and anyone else who stands to benefit financially from public funds.

Lobbyists should not only be banned from making campaign donations, but they should also not be allowed to give gifts, he argues.

“Instead of limiting the amount of money a lobbyist may spend on wining and dining congressional members and staff, eliminate it entirely,” says Abramoff, himself guilty of once having lavished contributions, meals, event tickets, travel, golf and jobs on federal officials. “No finger food, no snacks, no hot dogs. Nothing.”

The ex-lobbyist also proposes eliminating the “lure of post-public service lobbying employment,” suggesting anyone who served in Congress or as a congressional aide should be “barred for life” from lobbying the government.

“That may seem harsh — and it is,” he says, but nonetheless adds, “If you choose public service, choose it to serve the public, not your bank account. When you’re done serving, go home. Get a real job.”

Other Washington reforms Abramoff suggests include eliminating “bringing home the bacon” — ending pork projects in members’ districts — and applying all federal laws enacted by Congress to Congress itself, which he argues is too often exempt from “a myriad of strictures they blithely place on all the rest of us.”

“The conclusions I came to in prison will not be popular with my former colleagues in the lobbying world, or with the Congress. I might dream, but I am no dreamer,” he writes.

In the book’s “Where are they now?” appendix, Abramoff writes of the senator: “He continued to milk the scandal he helped ignite, even interjecting into his speech that night [when he accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president in St. Paul in September 2008] the self-congratulatory encomium, ‘I’ve fought lobbyists who stole from Indian tribes.’”

Abramoff, perhaps in an effort to garner some sympathy, begins his book with a prologue that takes readers through what the ex-lobbyist calls his “death march” to a congressional hearing on Sept. 29, 2004, recalling his entry into the Hart Senate Office building on Capitol Hill — “the torture chamber of American politics.”

“I stared at the senators through the sea of paparazzi crouched on the floor between the senatorial presidium and my chair at the witness table,” Abramoff writes. “Most of these legislators had taken thousands of dollars from my clients and firms, and now they were sitting as impartial judges against me. Washington hypocrisy at its best.