Politico: Evan Bayh, Andy Card team up for U.S. Chamber

Written by admin on June 7th, 2011

Apparently Evan Bayh thinks that all the money sloshing around the system is bad until he is being paid by it.

Politico

Former Sen. Evan Bayh is adding a gig at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to his role as a Fox News commentator and his job at a law and lobbying firm.

Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, will join former George W. Bush chief of staff Andy Card on a bipartisan “road show,” in which they’re expected to “carry a bipartisan message on regulatory reform,” according to an internal memo sent from Chamber president and CEO Tom Donohue and first published by the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News on Tuesday.

The Chamber plans to officially announce Bayh’s involvement later this month as it launches the “road show,” which is in part aimed at getting Democrats to side with the Chamber in opposing what it sees as excessive regulation by the Obama administration.

“We don’t see this effort as an ‘us versus them’ issue,” spokesman Tom Collamore told iWatch News. “Having a Democrat of his stature gives the effort more heft and an important perspective.” Bayh and Card will deliver speeches, attend events and do media appearances around the country.

The Chamber job is another eye-raising role for Bayh, who decried partisanship on Capitol Hill and the corrosiveness of money in politics when he declared his intention not to run for re-election last year.

In a New York Times op-ed in February 2010, Bayh also spoke out against the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which permits corporations and other groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign ads. “The threat of unlimited amounts of negative advertising from special interest groups will only make members more beholden to their natural constituencies and more afraid of violating party orthodoxies,” Bayh wrote. The Chamber, in contrast, was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the ruling and a major spender in the 2010 election cycle.

Bayh did not immediately respond to POLITICO’s request for comment.

 

Chicago Tribune: Top lobbying banks got biggest bailouts: study

Written by admin on June 2nd, 2011

Not only did the top lobbying banks get the biggest bailouts, they also had the biggest losses.  Were they buying insurance?

Chicago Tribune

The more aggressively a bank lobbied before the financial crisis, the worse its loans performed during the economic downturn — and the more bailout dollars it received, according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research this week.

The report, titled “A Fistful of Dollars: Lobbying and the Financial Crisis,” said that banks’ lobbying efforts may be motivated by short-term profit gains, which can have devastating effects on the economy.

“Overall, our findings suggest that the political influence of the financial industry played a role in the accumulation of risks, and hence, contributed to the financial crisis,” said the report, written by three economists from the International Monetary Fund.

Data collected by the three authors — Deniz Igan, Prachi Mishra and Thierry Tressel — show that the most aggressive lobbiers in the financial industry from 2000 to 2007 also made the most toxic mortgage loans. They securitized a greater portion of debt to pass the home loans onto investors and their stock prices correlated more closely to the downturn and ensuing bailout.

The banks’ loans also suffered from higher delinquencies during the downturn.

What the economists could not determine definitively was the banks’ motivation for lobbying. If banks were looking to generate income at society’s expense, then it would make sense to curtail their lobbying.

If banks were concerned mainly about short-term profit and not thinking about the long-term consequences, then executive compensation practices should be changed, the report said. And if banks just wanted to inform lawmakers, and were overoptimistic about their prospects, it would be more difficult to suggest reforms.

BIG LOBBYING, BIG BAILOUTS

When the bubble burst, banks that spent more on lobbying received “a bigger piece of the cake” from the $700 billion bailout in the fall of 2008.

As examples, the report cites Citigroup Inc spending $3 million to lobby against the HR-1051 Predatory Lending Consumer Protection Act of 2001 as well as Bank of America Corp spending $1 million to lobby on banking and housing issues.

HR-1051 was never signed into law, nor were 93 percent of all bills promoting tighter regulation from 1999 through 2006. However, two bills that significantly reduced restrictions in the mortgage market became law, the American Homeownership and Economic Opportunity Act of 2000 and the American Dream Downpayment Act of 2003.

Citigroup and Bank of America each eventually received $45 billion worth of bailout funds, more than JPMorgan Chase & Co , Wells Fargo & Co or other large commercial banks.

Now that the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill has passed, big banks have been lobbying aggressively against restrictions they believe are too harsh. Among the top items on the industry’s lobbying agenda are stronger capital regulations, as well as a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, new rules on derivatives trading and restrictions on proprietary trading.

 

 

CBS News: Senators rail at big pharma’s secretive lobbying

Written by admin on May 31st, 2011

Despite his protestations, Senator Baucus has accepted over $1 million dollars in campaign contributions from Pharma and health professional during the past 6 years.

CBS News

Lovenox earned its maker – the French company Sanofi – more than $2 billion per year. So when the FDA began considering a cheaper, generic version of the costly drug in 2007, Sanofi sprang into action to try and slow the process.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) called Sanofi’s actions “an outrage,” adding that “frankly we’ve got to find ways to stop it.”

Sen. Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee, which issued a report this week accusing Sanofi of “paying off doctors to lobby the FDA against generics.”

According to the report, the Society for Hospital Medicine received more than $2.6 million over 3 years from Sanofi for sponsorship and conferences. Sanofi urged them to send letters to the FDA questioning the safety of generics.

In an internal email, an executive at the society admitted it “has no history of making similar comments to the FDA” and lacked “the expertise and knowledge” to weigh in on the matter.

But the society sent two letters anyway. Warning in one, “an untested generic substitution…is not in our patients’ best interest”

Baucus said of the incident: “I think if the FDA receives letter recommendations from the medical companies, from doctors, they should have a disclosure requirement. That is, tell us Mr. Doctor, tell us Mr. Medical Association, are you bought and sold?”

Sanofi paid $2.3 million to the North American Thrombosis Foundation, which also wrote to the FDA to warn of the “potential for unanticipated adverse events” from generic drugs.

 

Bloomberg Businessweek: Lobbyists Mobilize to Preserve Tax Breaks

Written by admin on May 22nd, 2011

Everyone wants to cut the deficit, but not in a way that would affect their tax breaks!  Lobbyists everywhere are rejoicing.

Bloomberg Businessweek

U.S. lawmakers in both parties are seriously weighing proposals that could shave from $4 trillion to $6 trillion from the U.S. budget over the next decade. For America’s lobbying class, that’s the equivalent of a Category 5 storm warning. So the pinstripe brigade representing interest groups as diverse as ethanol producers, defense contractors, and hospital chains has descended on the nation’s capital in recent weeks to ensure their tax breaks and subsidies are spared. Some 2,000 real estate agents parachuted into Washington the week of May 8 to defend the tax deduction homeowners receive on mortgage interest. Thousands of farmers who want to forestall cuts in agriculture subsidies have also been buttonholing their representatives. “I can’t remember anything close to this,” says Howard Marlowe, president of the American League of Lobbyists in Alexandria, Va., who during three decades as a Washington lobbyist has seen his share of budget battles.

One lobbyist making the rounds is Bob Livingston. He represents Raytheon (RTN) and Northrop Grumman (NOC), two defense contractors that have raised their deflector shields hoping to repel cuts to defense programs dear to them.

In Livingston’s earlier incarnation as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the Louisiana Republican helped negotiate the landmark bipartisan budget agreement of 1997. That deal aimed to cut $204 billion over five years and was negotiated when the national debt was $5.4 trillion. Today, America’s tab is approaching the statutory limit of $14.3 trillion, putting the U.S. at risk of default. “The earlier debate didn’t have nearly the same impact as the discussion today,” says Livingston. “The difference is the magnitude of the problem.”

Linked to a vote to raise the debt limit, negotiations on a bipartisan budget pact are getting started between Republicans who want to overhaul Medicare and Medicaid while cutting hundreds of programs and an Administration seeking smaller spending cuts and tax increases. At the same time, the bipartisan “Gang of Six” senators is trying to craft an overarching debt reduction proposal, even after one member—Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)—quit the group on May 17.

While a final deficit reduction plan may be months away, Washington’s lobbying horde is wasting no time. Growth Energy, a group representing ethanol producers, is battling proposals to end the 45 cents-a-gallon tax credit for makers of the fuel, which last year cost the government about $6 billion. If the program is cut, ethanol producers have a fallback position: They want a new tax break to encourage use of vehicles that operate on corn-based fuel and the so-called flex-fuel pumps they need. “We can’t have that go away until we have another form of access in the market,” says Chris Thorne, a spokesman for Growth Energy.

The Service Employees International Union opposes cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, which would affect about 1.1 million nurses and other health-care workers the union represents. Union members visited lawmakers’ home-state offices during the April recess, and five SEIU lobbyists have been meeting with legislators in Washington to urge them to raise taxes to close the budget gap. “We think that rich folks and American corporations have gotten off too easily in some of these proposals,” says Peter Colavito, the SEIU’s director of government relations.

Some lawmakers favor scaling back agriculture subsidies at a time when crop prices are high. The House passed a Republican budget that would cut $30 billion from agriculture programs over a decade. Farmers say they’ve already endured billions of dollars’ worth of cuts to farm programs and that the pain should be spread across additional industries. “We will give our proportionate share, but it’s time for everybody else to cough up some money,” says Chandler Goule, a National Farmers Union lobbyist.

Amid the uncertainty, some groups are taking a hands-off approach—at least for now. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers have drafted a letter to congressional leaders in both parties, urging them to raise the debt limit without suggesting specific budget-changing approaches. Businesses should refrain from fighting specific cuts because that complicates efforts to reach a budget deal, says R. Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s executive vice-president: “If everybody in the business community starts saying, ‘Yeah, raise the debt limit, but don’t touch this and don’t touch that, and don’t do this and don’t do that,’ you’ll never get to an outcome.”

The Chamber’s view stands in contrast to other business interests in Washington. After agreeing to $155 billion in Medicare and other cuts in last year’s health-care law, the hospital industry opposes further reductions in what it gets from federal health entitlement programs. About 1,000 hospital executives in April pressed their case with lawmakers, and the group is drawing on its 25 registered lobbyists to help push back on such proposals as turning Medicaid into a block grant to states. “We’ve already made some serious sacrifice and stepped up to the plate,” says Richard J. Pollack, executive vice-president of the American Hospital Assn.

For the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying has already paid off. On May 17 the Senate blocked a measure that would have repealed $21 billion in oil and gas subsidies over 10 years. API Chief Executive Officer Jack N. Gerard, who met with legislators in advance of the vote, said of the legislation: “It’s not consistent with what we need to create American jobs and produce American energy.”

The bottom line: Nurses, farmers, defense contractors, and others are fighting to protect tax breaks and programs dear to them.

 

Los Angeles Times: New GOP ‘super PAC’ tests limits of campaign finance laws

Written by admin on May 17th, 2011

James Bopp Jr., one of the lawyers who brought the watershed Citizens United case before the Supreme Court is taking his fundraising techniques to a new level

Los Angeles Times

As an independent expenditure-only committee, the group can raise unlimited funds from individuals and corporations to advocate for or against candidates.  These “super PACs” are banned from coordinating with candidates or parties.

But in a twist, Republican Super PAC will rely on candidates, elected officials and state and national parties to be the group’s fundraisers, asking them to tell donors who want to give more than the federally limited contributions to direct additional funds to the PAC. The PAC would then use the money to campaign on behalf of the candidates or parties that solicited the funds

Despite the questions that raises about the PAC’s independence, Bopp said the tactic was “perfectly legal.”

“It’s a legal outlet to raise money,” Bopp said. “Even though [candidates] cannot participate in [the PAC’s] spending of money in any way, the people that run the super PAC will use it to help advance candidates that Republicans support.”

Bopp created the PAC with two other members of the Republican National Committee, Roger Villere and Solomon Yue. They are presenting details of the project Wednesday to members of the committee, who are in Dallas for a party meeting.

Election law attorneys and campaign finance reform advocates said Bopp is treading onto legally shaky ground – a familiar position for the GOP attorney, one of the most zealous challengers of campaign finance restrictions.

A recent string of campaign finance court cases, including Citizens United, struck down parts of the landmark McCain-Feingold bill of 2002, which bans unlimited “soft money” contributions to political parties and prohibited federal officials and candidates from soliciting unrestricted funds.

The solicitation ban remains on the books, but now exists in a post-Citizens United gray zone.

Under McCain-Feingold, “a federal officeholder cannot solicit contributions in connection to federal elections unless the funds are subject to the limitations, prohibitions and reporting requirement of act,” said Lawrence Noble, former counsel to the Federal Election Commission.  “Now, contributions to independent expenditure committees are not subject to those limitations. That leaves the question of whether or not the federal officeholder is free to raise money for those committees.

“The FEC has not done anything to explain now what’s happened,” Noble added.  “We need someone to come out and interpret this.”

Bopp expressed no such uncertainty, opting not to seek an advisory opinion from the commission on the legality of his proposal.

“Money for a federal PAC is hard money. This is a federal PAC, so this is hard money,” Bopp said. “We don’t need to get permission of the FEC.”

 

Wall Street Journal: FCC’s Baker Defends Decision to Be Comcast Lobbyist

Written by admin on May 14th, 2011

Only a cynic would believe that Baker’s new job was a reward for a her vote approving her new employer’s acquisition.

Wall Street Journal

Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker defended her decision to leave the agency for a lobbying job at Comcast Corp. Friday, saying she has complied with ethics laws.

Ms. Baker announced earlier this week that she’ll leave the FCC to work as a lobbyist for Comcast Corp. The move was sharply criticized by some government watchdog groups because in January, Ms. Baker was among four FCC commissioners who approved Comcast’s acquisition of control of NBC Universal from General Electric Co.

In a written statement, Ms. Baker said she had planned to seek re-nomination to the agency until late spring, but changed her mind after the Comcast/NBC job became available “in mid-April.”

“Not once in my entire tenure as a Commissioner had anyone at Comcast or NBCUniversal approached me about potential employment,” she said. “I have not only complied with the legal and ethical laws, but I also have gone further. I have not participated or voted any item, not just those related to Comcast or NBCUniversal, since entering discussions about an offer of potential employment.”

Since Ms. Baker signed the Obama administration’s ethics pledge, she would be barred from lobbying the agency and its officials throughout the rest of his administration. However, she could begin lobbying Congress immediately.

 

New York Times: I.R.S. Moves to Tax Gifts to Groups Active in Politics

Written by admin on May 13th, 2011

The IRS signals that the loophole exploited by 501 4(c) charities to contribute anonymously to political campaigns may become more costly.

New York Times

Big donors like David H. Koch and George Soros could owe taxes on their millions of dollars in contributions to nonprofit advocacy groups that are playing an increasing role in American politics.

Invoking a provision that had rarely, if ever, been enforced, the Internal Revenue Service said it had sent letters to five donors, who were not identified, informing them that their contributions may be subject to gift taxes depending on whether the donations exceeded limits under the tax laws.

These advocacy groups have been drawing more scrutiny, from President Obama as well as others, as they have proliferated and funneled vast sums of money in support of campaigns and causes, without having to publicly disclose their donors.

During the midterm cycle, for example, groups like Crossroads GPS, which has ties to the Republican strategist Karl Rove, and Americans for Prosperity, backed by Mr. Koch and his brother Charles, were heavily involved in politicking, spurring campaign finance watchdogs to complain that they were flouting election and nonprofit laws.

Spokesmen for the Koch brothers and for Mr. Soros would not comment as to whether they had paid gift taxes on these types of donations, or whether they had received letters from the I.R.S.

 

New York Times: Democrats, Seduced by Secret Dollars

Written by admin on May 10th, 2011

The Democrats are embracing the siren call of undisclosed campaign spending.

New York Times

Last year several pro-Republican advocacy groups degraded the Congressional elections by spending at least $138 million in secret donations on advertisements. The public did not know which lobbying interests gave money, or how much, or what they would demand in return. But the donations became a significant factor in the Republican gains in the House and the Senate.

Now several prominent Democrats are abandoning the high ground and have decided to raise millions of their own secret dollars. They have promised they will again try to pass a law preventing this secrecy if they win. (They were stymied in an earlier attempt by a Republican Senate filibuster.) Whatever they gain in money, they stand to lose far more by giving up principles that President Obama and party leaders once claimed to cherish.

Bill Burton, who until February was Mr. Obama’s deputy press secretary, said last week that he would help lead a group called Priorities USA, which will raise unlimited money from undisclosed sources to aid in the president’s re-election campaign. The initial money will come from the Service Employees International Union and Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood producer, but more will inevitably begin to flow in from other unions and wealthy Democrats.

Mr. Obama has long claimed to champion transparency and denounced the secret-money sluice operated by Republicans last year as a “threat to democracy.” As he said in October, “The American people deserve to know who’s trying to sway their elections, and you can’t stand by and let the special interests drown out the voices of the American people.” Last year, speaking for the administration, Mr. Burton called for a “bright light” to shine on the shadowy groups.

The White House says the president has not changed his view, but somehow he no longer seems to recognize Mr. Burton as the man who was recently a close aide. “We don’t control outside groups,” said Jay Carney, Mr. Obama’s press secretary. “These are not people working for the administration.”

Mr. Burton now says he does not like the campaign finance rules, which the Supreme Court helped create, but is unwilling to cede the advantage to the Republicans. “The laws we have are not the ones we wish we had,” he said. “But if you want to change the direction of the car, you have to have your hands on the steering wheel.”

It is true that a group founded by the Republican strategist Karl Rove has said it would raise $120 million for 2012, and another set up by the Koch brothers, conservative activists and industrialists, will raise at least $88 million. But Mr. Obama managed to raise the staggering sum of $750 million in 2008. And though he abandoned the public finance system to do it — possibly damaging it permanently — he at least disclosed all of his donors.

If the president stood up and publicly told Mr. Burton to end his effort, that would probably be the end of it. But he has not done so. The White House is clearly worried it will have trouble collecting big checks from Wall Street and other business interests for the re-election campaign, and has decided the political end justifies the unsavory means. At the very least, he and other Democratic leaders could demand that the Priorities group raise its money through an affiliate, Priorities USA Action, which can collect unlimited funds but must disclose its donors.

A political system built on secret, laundered money will inevitably lead toward an increased culture of influence and corruption. Democrats would attract more support as a principled party that refused to follow the Republicans down that dark alley.

 

Wired Influence Tracker – Maplight

Written by admin on May 7th, 2011

Here is a quick way to see how much each member of Congress is collecting in contributions courtesy of Wired and our friends at Maplight.

Wired/Maplight

  • Build your own Influence Tracker by selecting a senator or representative by clicking on .
  • See the corporate logos of the lawmaker’s top contributors, displayed in a NASCAR-style sponsor silhouette.
  • Click on the to see the lawmaker’s top contributors.
  • Then copy and paste the embed code into your own site. Read more on Wired.com.
  •  

    New York Times: Groups Form to Aid Democrats With Anonymous Money

    Written by admin on May 1st, 2011

    Democrats are forming identical fund raising groups as the Republicans; ones which will have no limits on abilities to raise and spend undisclosed contributions.  Floodgates set to open.

    New York Times

    A group including former White House officials, union leaders and one of Hollywood’s biggest producers have joined forces to start an outside effort to help President Obama and Congressional Democrats in 2012 by using the very sort of anonymous, unlimited donations from moneyed interests that the president has so deplored.

    Co-founded by the former White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton and with seed money from the Service Employees International Union and the film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, the group’s entrée into the early 2012 contest all but ensures that the presidential race will be awash in cash from undisclosed corporate and labor sources with huge stakes in Washington policy making.

    At the heart of the effort, introduced Friday morning, are two groups: Priorities USA Action, which will engage directly in electioneering backed by donors who will have to be identified but can give unlimited amounts, and Priorities USA, which will advertise about related campaign issues using money from undisclosed sources.

    The effort is modeled on the one Republicans started last year — with help from the Republican strategist Karl Rove — that attacked Democrats with a barrage of advertisements, mailings and phone calls. It was widely credited with helping the party to take control of the House and diminish the Democrats’ edge in the Senate last fall. One of those groups, Crossroads GPS, was set up under a section of the tax code that allowed its donors to remain anonymous, leading Mr. Obama to refer to such groups collectively as “a threat to democracy” for the way they had shielded corporate interests from view as they sought to sway elections.

    Democrats had eschewed the formation of such groups last year at Mr. Obama’s public urging, but after the elections in November prominent liberals vowed to form with outside groups of their own to combat the likes of Crossroads.

    Speaking aboard Air Force One on Friday, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said that the president’s views had not changed and that the administration had nothing to do with the new groups.

    “We don’t control outside groups,” Mr. Carney said. “These are not people working for the administration.”

    The Priorities USA organizers said they hoped to raise enough money to keep pace with the Crossroads groups, which have set a goal of raising $120 million for the 2012 election cycle.