Tag Archive: Citizens United


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 the Intercept:

Unofficial _Sources

Sep. 24 2015, 1:57 p.m.

The Supreme Court, in its Citizens United decision, ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts in elections. Now politicians in Kentucky are claiming they have a Constitutional right to receive gifts from lobbyists.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Republican Kentucky state Sen. John Schickel, along with two Libertarian political candidates, are suing to overturn state ethics laws, claiming that the campaign contribution limit of $1,000 and a ban on gifts from lobbyists and their employers are a violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

 

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The Supreme Court reinterpreted the law about how money from corporations and unions could be spent on campaigns. Super PACs and other outside groups made possible by the court’s decision spent nearly $1 billion on advertising in federal races. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Citizens United decision led to spending blitz in 2012

By Reity O’BrienemailAndrea Fulleremail

6:00 am, January 16, 2013 Updated: 9:58 am, January 16, 2013

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The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashed nearly $1 billion in new political spending in the 2012 election, with media outlets and a small number of political consulting firms raking in the bulk of the proceeds.

Spending records released by the Federal Election Commission show that throughout the 2012 election, corporations, unions and individuals that could take advantage of the high court’s ruling were responsible for about $933 million of the estimated $6 billion spent during the contest.

Nearly two-thirds of the new money — about $611 million — went to 10 political consulting firms, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis. All but one of the top 10 recipients bought advertising in various media markets on behalf of super PACs and nonprofits. Eighty-nine percent of the expenditures made to the top 10 went to spots attacking candidates, the data show.

“For some in the industry, it has been a definite boon,” said Dale Emmons, president of the American Association of Political Consultants. “This election appears to have set a new benchmark on the amount of money that could be spent, because there were no limits on what could be spent.”

The 2010 Citizens United decision and a lower-court ruling allowed unlimited donations to super PACs and nonprofits, independent groups that used the funds primarily to fund ad campaigns.

Media buyers keep only a fraction of the total spending — usually 15 percent, according to Federal Communications Commission records, with the rest going to media outlets.

The winners

The top recipient of independent spending among media buyers was Mentzer Media Services, the Towson, Md.-based media placement firm run by longtime GOP consultant Bruce Mentzer.

Mentzer attracted nearly $204 million from conservative super PACs and other outside groups. In a tough year for Republicans, only 26 percent of the candidates who were supposed to benefit from the ads won their races, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis.

The firm was the preferred vendor for the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, which paid Mentzer nearly $132 million to purchase air time in presidential battleground states.

A Mentzer employee who answered the phone declined to comment on the firm’s involvement in the 2012 election.

Second was Crossroads Media, which was paid about $163 million to buy media time for conservative super PACs and nonprofits in 2012. The firm is run by Michael Dubke, the former president of Americans for Job Security — a pro-Republican nonprofit and one of Crossroads’ top clients.

 

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Politics, Legislation and Economy News

Politics  :  Special Interests – Corruption – Hypocrisy

Canadian-owned firm’s mega-donation to super PAC raises ‘legal red flags’

Pro-Romney group received $1 million from foreign-owned company

By Michael Beckel

email

Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Republican Mitt Romney’s run for president, received a $1 million donation in mid-August from reinsurance company OdysseyRe of Connecticut, a “wholly-owned subsidiary” of Canadian insurance and investment management giant Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited.

Fairfax Financial’s founder is Indian-born V. Prem Watsa. Watsa serves as CEO and chairman and owns or controls 45 percent of the company’s shares. He is also the chairman of the board of OdysseyRe, the American subsidiary.

The law says that any foreign national is prohibited from “directly or indirectly” contributing money to influence U.S. elections. That means no campaign donations, no donations to super PACs and no funding of political advertisements.

But campaign finance law is not as clear for U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies as it is for individuals.

Most of the regulations on political spending by subsidiaries of foreign companies were written before corporations were legally allowed to fund political advertisements or donate to super PACs. And Republican members of the Federal Election Commission have thwarted the implementation of new rules regarding the practice.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., is among those concerned about foreign-controlled corporations “exploiting loopholes in existing law” to influence U.S. elections. He calls the practice a “direct threat to our democracy.”

“You can bet that wholly owned subsidiaries of foreign commercial entities have an agenda when they spend millions to sway the outcome of an election,” Whitehouse told the Center for Public Integrity in a statement. “And you can bet that agenda is not promoting the interests of middle-class American voters.”

OdysseyRe’s donation “raises some legal red flags,” says Paul S. Ryan, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center.

The law lays out clear rules for political action committees associated with U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies, Ryan says, but it is hazier on spending allowed in the wake of Citizens United.

“I would be very wary if I was a corporation based in the U.S., owned wholly by foreign nationals, of contributing to a federal political committee or making independent expenditures,” he said.

He faults the FEC for failing to “provide clarity and guidance in this controversial and important area of the law.”

Ellen Weintraub, the Democrat who currently serves as the FEC’s vice chair, agrees with Ryan that the commission’s leadership in this area has been lacking.

“We should make some decisions about what we think the appropriate role of these organizations is in this brave new world of corporate money in politics,” she said.

“By not addressing [these issues] in a rulemaking, we’re leaving uncertainty out there,” Weintraub continued. “And when there’s uncertainty, there’s always a risk that folks may try to use that uncertainty to their own advantage.”

Officials with OdysseyRe and Fairfax Financial maintain that no U.S. laws were broken.

Paul Rivett, Fairfax Financial’s vice president of operations, said that OdysseyRe’s Canadian parent company had “no role” in the decision to donate to Restore Our Future. Peter Lovell, general counsel of OdysseyRe, likewise said the firm’s contribution was executed by a subcommittee of the company’s board of directors comprised only of U.S. nationals.

“Neither our Canadian parent nor any other foreign nationals were part of the decision-making process to contribute to the super PAC,” Lovell said.

Watsa has been called the Canadian Warren Buffett and his companies have flourished.

On its website, Fairfax boasts that it is “results oriented” and “not political.” It reported more than $33 billion in assets and nearly $7.5 billion in revenue last year, despite a “record level of catastrophe claims.” OdysseyRe reported assets of $10.6 billion at the end of 2011.

Watsa and his company cashed in on the collapse of the U.S. housing market by investing in complex financial instruments known as derivatives, according news accounts.

Since the beginning of 2008, Fairfax Financial has spent $320,000 on lobbying in Washington, D.C., and its issues include how derivatives are regulated under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.

The company is the subject of an IRS whistleblower’s complaint, according to the New York Times, alleging that it received an unwarranted tax break of $400 million between 2003 and 2006, a claim Fairfax disputes.

The $1 million donation will likely be used for attack ads against President Barack Obama. And with less than five weeks until Election Day, $1 million is no insignificant amount. It’s enough to buy at least a week or two’s worth of ads in critical media markets. It also represents one-seventh of the money Restore Our Future collected in August.

Lovell said the company decided to donate because it favors Romney’s stance on tax policy.

OdysseyRe “operates at a significant disadvantage” compared to its peers in the reinsurance industry because of U.S. tax laws, Lovell says. Romney’s proposed changes “would help to level the playing field” for OdysseyRe against competitors “domiciled in more favorable tax jurisdictions.”

“A victory by Gov. Romney in November would be beneficial to OdysseyRe,” Lovell added.

Notably, two of OdysseyRe’s board members are also deep-pocketed Republican donors.

In May, board vice chairman Andrew Barnard donated $75,800 to the Romney Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee, and Brandon Sweitzer has donated more than $80,000 to federal candidates and political groups since 2002, federal records show, including $5,000 to Romney’s current campaign.

All of Sweitzer’s money has gone to Republicans, with the exception of $2,000 given to the PAC of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where Sweitzer also serves as a senior fellow.

Since the Citizens United decision, concerns have been raised about foreign influence on U.S. elections — a specter that in the past has plagued both Democrats and Republicans.

Scandal tainted the 1996 re-election of President Bill Clinton after Democratic Party fundraisers accepted millions of dollars from China, Korea and other foreign sources. And ahead of the 1994 election, then-chairman of the Republican National Committee Haley Barbour secured a $2 million loan from a Hong Kong businessman for a Republican group linked to the RNC.

In October of 2010, 15 Democratic senators, including Whitehouse, urged the FEC to “protect our elections from foreign influence.” Weintraub and her two fellow Democratic commissioners pushed a proposal that outlined a variety of options to keep foreign money out, but it was not adopted by the commission.

The Democratic commissioners proposed that U.S. subsidiaries owned or controlled by foreign nationals should, at a minimum, establish a political action committee or “separate segregated fund,” with money kept in a bank account separate from the general corporate treasury. Furthermore, foreigners should be prohibited from making decisions about spending that money on political ads.

A more restrictive proposal the three commissioners floated would have banned domestic subsidiaries of foreign corporations from funding political ads if more than 20 percent of the corporation’s shares were owned by foreign nationals, or if a third of the corporation’s board of directors were foreign nationals.

All of these ideas were met with unified opposition by the three Republican commissioners on the FEC, resulting, twice, in deadlocked 3-3 votes in 2011.

None of the GOP commissioners could immediately be reached for comment, but Weintraub says she hopes the regulatory body takes the initiative to grapple with these issues.

“We shouldn’t just ignore it and let people make their own calls,” she said.

Andrea Fuller and John Dunbar contributed to this report.

Politics, Legislation and Economy News

Politics :  Government Corruption/Hypocrisy/Foreign Interests

Foreigners Avoid Restrictions on U.S. Campaign Donations by Donating Through Trade Associations

 

  All Gov.

The United States, like most countries in the world, bans political campaign donations by non-citizens. Since the Supreme Court case of Citizens United v. FEC, however, foreigners—including even foreign governments—have been able to evade the law by donating to trade associations. Unlike other campaign committees, including labor unions and Super PACs, which must disclose the names of their contributors on a monthly or quarterly basis, trade associations face no such rules, and thus are able to influence elections using corporate and foreign money. As a result, in 2010, trade associations and related issue-advocacy groups outspent Super PACs $141 million to $65 million, according to the Center for Public Integrity and the Center for Responsive Politics.

The recent political activities of the American Petroleum Institute (API) are illustrative. API has roughly 400 oil and gas company members, but a small group of executives on its board of directors make all the real decisions, including regarding political campaigns. Among the leading members of the API is Saudi Refining Inc., the wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary of Saudi Aramco, the giant oil company owned by the government of Saudi Arabia. Aramco’s CEO, Saudi citizen Tofiq Al-Gabsani, sits on API’s board, where he helps make decisions about spending on U.S. elections.

Because he is a foreign national, federal law prohibits Al-Gabsani, who is also a registered lobbyist for the Saudi government, from leading a PAC, but nothing stops him from heading a trade group that makes campaign expenditures just like a PAC. On issues like global warming, the Keystone XL pipeline, drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, government subsidies for oil companies and a host of others, the Saudi government—one of the most regressive and least democratic in the world—is able to influence U.S. elections and U.S. policies, without ever having to acknowledge doing so.

Similarly, the US Chamber of Commerce, like many large trade associations, is international in scope and has many foreign business members. Although the Chamber claims that money received from foreign source is segregated from domestic money, there is no way of knowing if that is true, because there’s no way to audit foreign corporate spending when it occurs through trade associations. “Precisely because there is no disclosure by these groups, there is no way to monitor what they’re doing,” Trevor Potter, a former FEC chairman, told The Nation.

This lack of transparency makes a mockery of Super PAC disclosure rules. “Prior to Citizens United, all federal election money could be traced back to an individual who expended it or contributed to a political committee,” said Karl Sandstrom, a former FEC commissioner now with the law firm Perkins Cole. “Once you enable artificial entities to contribute, money is no longer traceable back to identifiable individuals.” That includes foreign individuals, foreign corporations and foreign governments, all of which are spending millions to influence the 2012 elections.

-Matt Bewig

To Learn More:

Never Mind Super PACs: How Big Business Is Buying the Election (by Lee Fang, The Nation)

Petroleum Industry Claims Cutting Its Tax Breaks is “Discriminatory” (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Anonymous comments to be banned from the Internet?

Published on Jun 11, 2012 by

The Internet is known for its seductive allure of anonymity, giving the individual the encouragement to speak one’s mind. In New York, a couple of lawmakers are planning on banning unidentified comments online. Anastasia Churkina brings us more from the streets of New York.

New York wants to ban online anonymity

Published on Jun 11, 2012 by

Many Internet users love the fact that they can speak out about certain issues under the blanket of Anonymity. Being able to secretively leave remarks online may soon be a thing of the past if New York lawmakers get their way and the notion is supposed to help thwart cyber-bullying going on online.So should we have the right to say what we want on the web without disclosing our personal information? News commentator T.J. Walker joins us to help answer that question.