Bloomberg: GE, Seeking New Engine and NBC Deal, Was Top Spender

Written by admin on January 24th, 2011

Bloomberg reports on the biggest spenders of lobbying dollars.

Bloomberg

General Electric Co. spent more on government lobbying than any other company in 2010 as it continued to fight for funding for an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and sought federal approval to merge its NBC Universal subsidiary with Comcast Corp.

Lobbying expenses for Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE totaled $39.3 million last year, up 49 percent from 2009, when the company spent $26.4 million, filings show.

“We are a diverse company with broad interests,” said Helaine Klasky, a spokeswoman for GE, when asked to comment on the spending.

President Barack Obama visited a GE plant in Schenectady, New York, today. The company’s chief executive officer, Jeffrey Immelt, has been chosen by Obama to replace former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker as head of the administration’s outside panel of economic advisers.

GE is urging Congress to fund an alternative engine for the Joint Strike Fighter. The primary engine is built by United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney unit, and the U.S. Defense Department has said that a second engine, built by GE and Rolls- Royce Group Plc, isn’t needed. Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said today that the president continues to oppose funding for the engine.

Merger Approved

NBC Universal’s merger with Philadelphia-based Comcast was approved earlier this month by the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Justice Department. Under the deal, Comcast will own 51 percent of a joint venture. GE acquired the NBC network in 1986 when it bought RCA Corp.

GE is the world’s biggest provider of jet engines, power- plant turbines, medical imaging machines and locomotives. It also provides financial services.

Businesses and groups that lobby the federal government are required to file quarterly reports with the House and the Senate.

Ranking second in lobbying expenditures among companies last year was FedEx Corp., which spent $25.6 million. That was up 56 percent from the $16.4 million spent by the Memphis, Tennessee-based company in 2009.

FedEx opposes legislation pushed by some Democratic lawmakers that would make it easier for its workers to unionize. The measure stalled in Congress during the 2009-10 session.

“FedEx has long recognized the importance of playing an active role in the political process,” said Maury Lane, a FedEx spokesman. He said most of the spending was spent on an educational campaign against the legislation.

UPS Expenditures

United Parcel Service Inc., a FedEx rival that supports the legislation, spent $5.6 million on lobbying in 2010. That was down 33 percent from the $8.4 million Atlanta-based UPS spent in 2009.

UPS has said that the unionization proposal, which also is backed by the Teamsters, would even the playing field with UPS’s workforce. UPS is the biggest employer of Teamsters, with about 240,000 workers. The Teamsters have been trying to organize FedEx ground workers for years.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest U.S. lobby group for business interests, and its legal reform affiliate spent $131.5 million in lobbying last year, more than any other entity. The Chamber spent $144.2 million in 2009, the highest yearly lobbying expense ever reported.

The chamber unsuccessfully fought Obama-backed legislation that overhauled the U.S. health-care system, in part by expanding coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans. The chamber also opposed new regulations for the financial industry that were enacted following the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression.

 

Opinion: Citizens United 1 Year Later — Unleash the Corruption

Written by admin on January 23rd, 2011

On the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Citizen’s United, here is a view from Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center.

Meredith McGehee

While a donor who gave the maximum contributions of about $5,000 will get his call returned, imagine what spending $2 million on ads hammering an opponent will buy? It is simply human nature that the candidate is going to feel an understandable sense of gratitude to the big donor.

As a result, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in the Citizens United case — which extended this independent expenditure exemption to corporations and labor unions — is based on the complete fiction that an independent expenditure is necessarily less corrupting than a direct contribution. The magnitude of corporate treasury funds is a game changer.

Kennedy’s profound disconnect with the real world was underscored by his misinformed belief that current disclosure laws would provide an adequate brake on possible resulting corruption. But corporations can now evade disclosure of their political spending by simply laundering their money through trade associations and 501(c)(4) groups, thus avoiding public exposure and possible backlash.

As long as the fiction of independent expenditures persists and the illogic of Citizens United remains unchanged, our country is in for a long and dubious period equivalent to the robber-baron politics of the late 19th century.


 

Sunlight Foundation: Citizens United Anniversary: Its Effects on Campaign Spending and Lobbying

Written by admin on January 22nd, 2011

The Sunlight Foundation reports on the 2010 Midterm Elections spending

Common Dreams

The ruling paved the way for outside groups to partake in unregulated and often-anonymous campaign ad spending, and unleashed an unprecedented wave of outside spending in the mid-term elections. In response, the Sunlight Foundation created the “Follow the Unlimited Money” tool to shine a light on the spending information that was reported to the FEC.

Here are highlights reported by “Follow the Unlimited Money” during the 2010 mid-term elections:

Total outside spending …………………………………… $454,697,852.52

Money spent opposing candidates ……………………$300,750,179.26

Money spent supporting candidates ………………..…$77,772,653.97

Total supporting Republicans and opposing Democrats  $197,398,622.13

Total supporting Democrats and opposing Republicans… $181,124,211.10

The Colorado Senate race was the most expensive in the midterm elections with $32.78 million spent.

The Michigan 7th district was the most expensive House race with $8.55 million spent.

American Crossroads led committees intending to accept unlimited contribution amounts, with $21.55 million in outside spending, nearly four times the amount from the next highest spender.

The Democratic Congressional and Senate campaign committees (DCCC and DSCC) spent a combined total of $104.46 million on independent expenditures compared to $72.14 million spent by their Republican counterparts.

 

Minnesota Independent: MCCL sues to stop campaign finance disclosures

Written by admin on January 20th, 2011

The next test case working its way up to the Supreme Court is underway in Minnesota where the same legal team behind the Citizen’s United court case is pursuing a strategy to gut disclosure of campaign contributions

Minnesota Independent

MCCL has hired James Bopp, Jr., as the attorney in its appeal. Bopp was the architect behind the Citizens United case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws banning corporations from making independent expenditures in political campaigns was unconstitutional, but that laws requiring disclosure were vital to democracy. Bopp has filed suit against states across the county on behalf of anti-gay, anti-abortion and tea party groups to overturn laws that require disclosure of political spending and reporting of donors.

Bopp argued that the reporting process for corporations who make political expenditures is “burdensome and onerous” and groups that want to spend money in political campaigning should only have to file a one time, one page report. The case was heard on Thursday.

“MCCL, in order to make an independent expenditure, must create a fund in order to do that. It’s called a political fund,” said Bopp. “It has every of the attributes that Citizens United identified as a PAC which is onerous and burdensome in contrast to what they approved which was a one time, one page report. Why go through all this? Why?!”

Gilbert, in his testimony, answered that such transparency is important to an informed citizenry, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its decision.

We think in a very convoluted way, plaintiffs are attempting to gut the disclosure requirements of Minnesota law so that they can make independent expenditures without disclosing the very information to the public that Citizens United found to be essential,” Solicitor General Gilbert told the court on Thursday.

 

Columbus Dispatch: Lobbyists count on campaign donations

Written by admin on January 19th, 2011

Ohio is a key influence state for those politicians with national aspirations.  Here’s a look at how campaign contributions are working on a state level.

Columbus Dispatch

It’s not the $200,000-plus lobbyists shelled out in the past two years to influence Ohio legislators that’s so bad, a new study contends.

It’s the almost $740,000 in campaign contributions.

But wait, there’s more!

The study “Lobbyists – Affluence & Influence,” conducted by the nonpartisan watchdog group Ohio Citizen Action, found:

“There are more than 90 lobbying firms active in Ohio. Together these firms contributed $138,235 to statewide and legislative candidates. Contract lobbyists associated with these firms contributed an additional $776,287. Law firms that specialize in government relations contributed $1,047,661, and contract lobbyists associated with these firms contributed an additional $383,854.

“All together these ‘hired guns’ contributed $2,346,037.

“What rules the day are not the gifts. What rules the day are campaign contributions,” said Catherine Turcer, director of Citizen Action’s money-in-politics project – who readily acknowledges that she herself is a registered lobbyist.

While such giving likely cannot be stopped, Turcer said she would like to see a ban on hiring lobbyists to raise money for a candidate and on lobbyists hosting a fundraiser.

She also sees a problem with a lack of transparency.

The state only tracks the “wining and dining” outlays by lobbyists. Getting their campaign contributions requires plugging in their names and firms individually in the secretary of state’s database – an undertaking that took Citizen Action two months.

“No matter what, we want to be able to follow the money,” Turcer said. “We want a process that’s open.”

The study found that the top 50 lobbyists together attended 725 candidate fundraisers in 2009-10, contributing a combined total of almost $500,000. Twenty-two lobbyists took in at least a dozen fundraisers. One, independent lobbyist Sean Dunn, hit 54.

Lobbyists do well at picking legislative winners. Of the $398,000 given to House candidates for last year’s election, $358,000 went to those who eventually prevailed, researchers discovered. Of $96,000 for Senate hopefuls, about $75,000 wound up in the pockets of the victors’ campaigns.

 

Providence Journal: Director Francis Megahy’s Op Ed

Written by admin on January 14th, 2011

Francis’ piece ran at the end of December.

Providence Journal

Now that the election is over, we may expect that our elected members are hard at work dealing with the many issues raised during the campaign, but the only certainty is that they are hard at work raising money for their next campaign. Members spend up to 40 percent of their time fund-raising; that’s 40 percent of their time they are not doing the work we elected them to do.

A major topic of the 2010 mid-term election conversation was the flood of money released into the political process by unknown donors as a result of the Supreme Court’s January Citizens United decision, giving corporations the same right to spend money on elections as individuals.

This disturbing development almost certainly affected the outcome of several races. But more disturbing is the assumption that before the court’s decision, all was well with our electoral process and that if we can somehow circumvent the decision, all will be well again.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

It was obvious before the Citizens United decision that our democracy was broken. But now, that decision is going to be used as a smokescreen to avoid making the only change which counts – divorcing lobbying from campaign funding. If that change was made, this decision would be irrelevant.

We need to know the sources of the money which the Chamber and Karl Rove poured into the 2010 mid-terms, so that’s why there is so much discussion right now about “transparency”. But transparency is also a distraction. Before the Supreme Court’s decision, there was plenty of transparency. Did it previously stop special interest money pouring into members’ campaign funds? It did not. Did we hear an outcry before Citizens United that members’ votes were, in effect, for sale? We did not.

Inside the Beltway, there’s a cozy pretense that, yes, members do take campaign money from corporations, but that doesn’t influence their votes. Really? With the transparency we already have – which enables us to correlate individual members’ receipt of campaign finance with their votes – we know that, for example, in the House vote in July on the new regulations for the financial services industry, members who voted against the bill – as Wall Street wanted – received 41 percent more campaign money from Wall Street, than senators voting in favor of it. So much for transparency as a restraint on special interests’ power over our elected representatives.

The amount of money spent by lobbyists more than doubled in the past decade, from $1.44 billion to $3.49 billion. Research done by Maplight.org has shown that the overwhelming majority of campaign contributions for all 435 Members of the House came not from voters, but from outside their districts – most of it from K Street lobbyists.

Lobbyists are now so powerful, wielding their corporate checkbooks, that they are even able get specific clauses, favoring their clients, inserted into the actual legislation.

The value of our right to vote, the defining principle of any democratic system, has been steadily eroded until voters now have little chance against special interests.

Equally corrupting, the dominance of lobbying and its links to campaigns has opened up an entirely new career path for members: from the people’s representative – to the corporations’ representative. Since the beginning of 2009, the financial services sector hired 70 former members of Congress as lobbyists, including two former Senate majority leaders, Trent Lott and Bob Dole, two former House majority leaders, Dick Gephardt and Dick Armey, plus the former House speaker, Dennis Hastert.

It’s virtually impossible to get elected in the current system with campaign contributions from voters – all candidates must take money from lobbyists. The pressure to raise money is irresistible; on any new Members’ first day in Congress, they will meet their caucus and be told the date of their first fund-raiser. It will be the next day!

This is a bi-partisan issue, corrupting all members equally. Many of them dislike this situation, indeed, many lobbyists dislike it. But members are the only ones who can vote to change the system, and currently they have no incentive to do so.

Some D.C. insiders assert that special interests can’t compete with voters’ interests. Well, they certainly can, and they do, and indeed, they frequently outweigh them – because voters don’t know what’s going on in D.C. or in their state capitals. We’ve all seen how easy it is to convince voters of falsehoods for which there isn’t a shred of evidence: for example, that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. Similarly, a 30 second commercial can effectively distort a member’s voting record; although the record of their voting history is readily available, most voters will be unfamiliar with it.

We need a grass-roots movement like the Tea Party to inform voters of what goes on in Washington, to arouse their indignation and indeed, anger. We need a national debate to re-think election campaigns and face the fact that public funding is the only barrier to prevent the very process of voting itself from drifting into an irrelevant ritual.

This will be a very hard sell. We will be battling expediency all the way. After all, Barack Obama always declared that he was in favor of public funding, but he dealt the very concept of public funding a blow in 2008 when he rejected it for his presidential campaign. He knew that he could out-raise John McCain, but most of his funding came from corporations.

Did the Founding Fathers really intend the First Amendment as a license for special interests to buy members’ votes, bend the Congress to its will, and marginalize voters? I don’t think so.

Francis Megahy is the director of the feature length documentary “The Best Government Money Can Buy,” which has just been released nationwide on DVD by Cinema Libre Studio

 

Washington Post: Big business is back in business

Written by admin on January 13th, 2011

The Washington Post illustrates the revolving door in Washington politics with this story.

Washington Post

There was a festive atmosphere at U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters Tuesday morning as the corporate lobby delivered its annual “State of American Business” address.

Margaret Spellings, the former Bush Cabinet officer who cashed out and joined the business group, made the introductions, telling members that despite “the worst economic climate since the Great Depression,” the chamber had scored a “number of legislative victories, tremendous success in the elections and another strong year of fundraising.”

Thanks to the chamber, Spellings boasted, “the American business community always has a seat at the table.”

A seat? Business has just about all the seats at the table – and more on back order.

Fifteen million Americans are out of work, thanks in part to reckless Wall Street activities. Yet corporate profits are at record highs, companies are sitting on vast amounts of cash, and, after a tough two years, business interests are again atop the Washington power structure.

This return of corporate power comes in part because the revolving door between government influence and corporate paydays has begun to turn anew. Even President Obama has submitted to its centrifugal force. His new White House chief of staff, William Daley, comes directly from J.P. Morgan Chase. Daley scored that lucrative gig after serving as commerce secretary during Bill Clinton’s second term.

As Daley came in through the revolving door, OMB Director Peter Orszag had just gone out. He cashed out to become a vice chairman of Citigroup, where his government expertise should be worth seven figures annually. One of Orszag’s partners on Obama’s economics team, Larry Summers, is returning to Harvard – but that won’t stop him from delivering the keynote address to the Global Hedge Fund Summit in Bermuda.

The thrill of cashing out has been endorsed by Obama himself. Explaining press secretary Robert Gibbs’s decision to depart, the president told the New York Times: “He’s had a six-year stretch now where basically he’s been going 24/7 with relatively modest pay.” The poor Gibbs, who had been earning a “modest” $172,200 a year, is now contemplating making much more than that representing corporate clients.

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, corporate interests are becoming increasingly brazen. Lobbyists have snagged key staff jobs in the new GOP House leadership and chief-of-staff positions in many new lawmakers’ offices. On the day John Boehner was elected speaker last week, lobbyists were literally strutting their stuff on the House floor.

Bob Livingston, the former Republican congressman, was buttonholing members; he’s the head of a lobbying firm that advertises Livingston as “the only practicing former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.” Also on the floor, Marty Russo, the longtime Democratic congressman who had just stepped down as head of the lobbying giant Cassidy and Associates, shook Boehner’s hand.

A House Republican source says Livingston left when informed that, as a registered lobbyist, he was not allowed to be on the House floor.

Such behavior by lobbyists – both registered lobbyists and unregistered corporate “advisers” – has become more common. At last year’s State of the Union address, Post congressional correspondent Paul Kane observed, on the House floor, former members Mike Ferguson, who runs a lobbying firm, and Jim Greenwood, CEO of the biotech lobby. Kane has also spotted former senator Bill Cohen, who runs a big lobbying and consulting firm, on the Senate floor; former representative Sherry Boehlert, now a lobbyist, in the Speaker’s Lobby off the House floor; and lawmaker-turned-lobbyist Al Wynn entertaining clients in the members’ dining room.

The Center for Responsive Politics has identified more than 340 former members of Congress, and 3,665 former staffers, in lobbying or related fields. The few rules to slow the revolving door do little, both because of the routine granting of waivers and because of loose registration requirements for lobbying.

All of this gave the business lobby much to celebrate as chamber members discussed the State of American Business over mini-muffins and banana bread Tuesday morning. Tom Donohue, the chamber’s white-maned CEO, hailed the “new tone coming from the White House” since the elections – which the chamber influenced by spending tens of millions of dollars from donors kept anonymous, Donohue explained, so opponents couldn’t “demagogue them.” Donohue said he’s “absolutely convinced” that the new business-friendly White House will move his way on regulation and trade.

A reporter asked Donohue for a suggestion of what corporate America, with its record profits, should do to put people back to work. “I got to think about this for a minute,” Donohue said, then added: “I think the most important thing to tell a company is to return a reasonable return to their investors.”

 

USA Today: Two ex-senators join major lobbying firm

Written by admin on January 12th, 2011

USA Today reports on the latest revolving door Senators.   Both former Senators are barred from lobbying for two years but will be able to advise clients in the interim.

USA Today

Republican Robert Bennett and Democrat Byron Dorgan are joining Arent Fox LLP, which lobbies on a host of issues including health care, trade, and technology and financial policy.

Dorgan, who retired from his North Dakota Senate seat after 18 years, will be co-chairman of the firm’s government relations practice. Bennett, who lost his nomination to a fourth term in Utah because of the Tea Party movement, will be a senior advisor in the law firm’s Los Angeles office.

It is a time-honored tradition for ex-lawmakers to join the ranks of law firms with lobbying shops. Rules in Congress prohibit former House members from lobbying their ex-colleagues for a year and senators have a two-year waiting period.

But former members can immediately advise clients on how to maneuver the halls of Congress and influence policy before actually registering as lobbyists.

 

Washington Post: Ex-lobbyist gets 27-month prison sentence

Written by admin on January 11th, 2011

While our focus is on legal lobbying and campaign contributions, the Washington Post’s story illustrates the volume of cash flowing that tempts some to break the few laws left regulating the process.

Washington Post

A federal judge imposed the sentence on Paul Magliocchetti, who for two decades ran a top lobbying shop that worked with executives of Magliocchetti’s defense contractor clients. The defense contractors hired the lobbyist for his influence with the late Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and other key congressional players who earmarked funds for favored companies.

The business executives, Magliocchetti and his lobbying team provided millions of dollars in campaign donations over the years to House and Senate appropriators, who directed billions of dollars to the defense firms.

Magliocchetti admitted that he instructed members of his family, friends and lobbyists who worked for him to write checks out of their personal checking accounts to specific candidates for federal office and that Magliocchetti advanced funds to or reimbursed these individuals using personal and corporate funds.

“You knew what you were doing: enhancing the power and prestige of your lobbying organization,” U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III told Magliocchetti.

Before Ellis imposed his sentence, the former lobbyist said, “I know that this is not a victimless crime” and he declared that he accepted responsibility for misconduct impacting his family, friends and employees at his lobbying firm. The firm went out of business after FBI agents raided Magliocchetti’s office in November 2008.

“Paul Magliocchetti spent half of a decade gaming the system,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in a statement. “As today’s sentence makes clear, he must now pay a price.” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said Magliocchetti “carried out one of the largest federal campaign finance frauds in history,”

 

Los Angeles Times: ‘Tea party’ freshmen embrace status quo

Written by admin on January 6th, 2011

The Los Angeles Times weighs in on the incoming legislators’ rush to embrace the very things they campaigned against; lobbyists and their campaign dollars.

Los Angeles Times

The new class of Republican lawmakers who charged into office promising to shun the ways of Washington officially arrives on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. ‪But even as they publicly bash the capital’s culture, many have quietly begun to embrace it.

Several freshmen have hired lobbyists — the ultimate Washington insiders — to lead their congressional staffs. In the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s swearing-in, dozens of the newcomers joined other lawmakers in turning to lobbyists for campaign cash.‪ And on Wednesday, congressional offices will be packed with lawmakers’ relatives, friends, constituents and lobbyists, all invited to celebrate the new Congress. ‪

This picture of business-as-usual Washington clashes with the campaign rhetoric of many newcomers, some who were propelled by support from the anti-Washington “tea party” movement. It also muddles the image House Republicans hoped to project as they took the helm this week. In contrast to the public celebration thrown by Democrat Nancy Pelosi when she became speaker four years ago, incoming House Speaker John A. Boehner has tried to strike a subdued and earnest note as he takes up the gavel.

So it raised eyebrows Tuesday when several House freshmen held a fundraiser in a swanky Washington hotel. The event, organized in part by California Rep.-elect Jeff Denham (R-Atwater), stood out as the flashiest celebration of the new Congress.

It’s important. Without money, the machine doesn’t move,” said Javier Ortiz, a GOP strategist and fundraiser, about the week’s schedule of fundraisers and other events. “No one should be surprised that newly elected or long-serving members ask interested constituents and others to support their campaigns by making donations.”

Still, House leaders did not celebrate the Tuesday night fundraiser at the W hotel. Boehner declined to attend. The offices of incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip-elect Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) did not respond to requests for comments on the event, though one of the hosts said McCarthy had committed to attend.

A thumping techno beat filled the barroom lobby of the W hotel as guests entered for what was billed as a welcome party for the incoming freshman class. The fundraising event was hosted by the New Majority PAC, a committee formed in November by Denham, a former state senator from California’s Central Valley, as well as incoming GOP Reps. Steve Southerland of Florida, Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, Robert Dold of Illinois and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee. Southerland, Ellmers, Denham and DesJarlais all enjoyed tea party support.

Talking with reporters before the event, Denham said the political action committee was formed to help make the freshman class of Republicans “self-reliant so we will have all the funds we need to hold our seats.” He said the fundraiser, featuring country singer LeAnn Rimes, was held to mark “an exciting time for our nation.” He made no apologies about the $2,500-per-ticket entry fee.