Campaign Finance Reform

Tough Days For Trump Continue

I pointed out here that Trump’s campaign is sending solicitation emails to members of Parliament.

But it is worse than that:

Members of parliament in Australia, Iceland, Denmark, and Finland have all received the emails, according to news reports and tweets from the politicians.

For example…

The Trump campaign has also asked members of parliament in Iceland for campaign contributions, according to Icelandic media. At least three Icelandic members of parliament have received a Trump fundraising email, according to the Iceland Monitor. A couple members of parliament told the Morgublaðið newspaper that they had received emails, according to a report in Iceland Magazine.

Guess what? That’s illegal.

So there’s that.

And then there is the possibility that Trump is lying about his contributions to his campaign.  Back on June 23rd, on the heels of the Trump campaign’s catastrophic and humiliating May FEC report, he grandly announced that he was forgiving the debt and that he would file the relevant paperwork with the FEC that day.

When Donald Trump said last Thursday he was forgiving over $45 million in personal loans he made to his campaign, the announcement drew plenty of coverage. Many even reported Trump’s statement as if the deal was done.

But it’s not.

A week later, NBC News has learned the FEC has posted no record of Trump converting his loans to donations. The Trump Campaign has also declined requests to share the legal paperwork required to execute the transaction, though they suggest it has been submitted.

Last week, campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks said Trump was submitting formal paperwork forgiving the loan on Thursday, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Reached by NBC this week, she said the paperwork “will be filed with the next regularly scheduled FEC report,” and declined to provide any documentation.

The delay could matter, because until Trump formally forgives the loans, he maintains the legal option to use new donations to reimburse himself. (He can do so until August, under federal law.)

So there’s that.

And that Trumpian behavior — saying he will do a noble thing with this money and then not doing it — is coming back to haunt Trump in other ways:

Trump has a long-standing habit of promising to give to charity. But Trump’s follow-through on those promises was middling — even at the beginning, in his early days as a national celebrity.

In the 1980s, Trump pledged to give away royalties from his first book to fight AIDS and multiple sclerosis. But he gave less to those causes than he did to his older daughter’s ballet school.

In recent years, Trump’s ­follow-through on his promises has been seemingly nonexistent.

The Post contacted 188 charities searching for evidence of personal gifts from Trump in the period between 2008 and this May. The Post sought out charities that had some link to Trump, either because he had given them his foundation’s money, appeared at their charity galas or praised them publicly.

The search turned up just one donation in that period — a 2009 gift of between $5,000 and $9,999 to the Police Athletic League of New York City.

And then there is his campaign which still isn’t staffed:

Nearly everyone can agree that Donald Trump’s path to the White House goes through Pennsylvania.

But local party leaders in some of the state’s most pivotal counties say there’s been almost no outreach from his campaign so far, and there’s scant evidence of any Trump-driven ground organization. What infrastructure is in place lags behind the Democratic coordinated campaign on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

And then there’s this – eavesdropping on private persons’ phone calls:

At Mar-a-Lago, the Palm Beach resort he runs as a club for paying guests and celebrities, Donald Trump had a telephone console installed in his bedroom that acted like a switchboard, connecting to every phone extension on the estate, according to six former workers. Several of them said he used that console to eavesdrop on calls involving staff.

Trump’s spokeswoman Hope Hicks responded to written questions with one sentence: “This is totally and completely untrue.”

The managing director of Mar-a-Lago, Bernd Lembcke, did not respond to emails. Reached by phone, he said he referred the email query to Trump’s headquarters and said, “I have no knowledge of what you wrote.”

At the 126-room Mar-a-Lago mansion, Trump keeps an apartment set aside for himself and his family, and rents the rest out to guests and members.

BuzzFeed News spoke with six former employees familiar with the phone system at the estate.

Four of them — speaking on condition of anonymity because they signed nondisclosure agreements — said that Trump listened in on phone calls at the club during the mid-2000s. They did not know if he eavesdropped more recently.

They said he listened in on calls between club employees or, in some cases, between staff and guests. None of them knew of Trump eavesdropping on guests or members talking on private calls with people who were not employees of Mar-a-Lago. They also said that Trump could eavesdrop only on calls made on the club’s landlines and not on calls made from guests’ cell phones.

Each of these four sources said they personally saw the telephone console, which some referred to as a switchboard, in Trump’s bedroom.

None of the four supports Trump’s bid for president. All said they enjoyed their time working at Mar-a-Lago.

And then the polls… oh my God the polls.

First you have predictor extraordinaire saying that as it stands today, Trump has a 20% chance of winning.

538today

The latest polls are overwhelming for Clinton….

latestpolls today

… except for one outlying Rasmussen poll.  Apparently, they are continuing their streak of being wrong and GOP-biased.

And there’s all kinds of other knocks out there.  Like the fact that Trump ties are made in China.

Or the constant exposure of his lies by Politifact.

pantsonfire

And on and on and on — another bullshit “university” before Trump University that was just as fraudulent.    Large GOP donors openly NON-endorsing Trump.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce openly saying that Trump’s policies will start a trade war and cause loss of millions of jobs, inflation, etc.  The revelation that Hillary Clinton spent $20 million in advertising this past month compared to Trump’s….. zero dollars.  How nobody wants to speak at his convention.

These are DAILY hits on Trump.

But there’s more.  Believe it or not, I actually listened to Trump’s speech in Bangor, Maine yesterday and I found it perplexing.

First of all, why Maine?  He’s not going to take Maine.

Secondly, 70% of the speech was whining.  Seriously.  Whining about one particular brief second of a Clinton ad which supposedly showed him golfing in Turnberry Scotland (never mind that Clinton nor that ad said anything about Trump golfing in Turnberry Scotland).  Whining about how the GOP candidates he beat were not adhering to the GOP “pledge” to support the GOP nominee (never mind that Trump did the same thing 3 months ago).  Whining about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce saying how terrible he was (Rule No One from The West Wing — don’t keep on repeating what your critics say; it only cements the criticism).

When he finally got to some substance, he read from his prepared bullet points about trade.  That was about 50 minutes and 30 seconds into a 85 minute speech

As you can see, the crowd gets pretty subdued as he says things like:

I’m going tell our NAFTA partners that I intend to immediately renegotiate the terms of that agreement to get a better deal for our workers. And I don’t mean just a little bit better, I mean a lot better. If they do not agree to a renegotiation, then I will submit notice under Article 2205 of the NAFTA agreement that America intends to withdraw from the deal.

Can I hear it for Article 2205???? Whoop-whoop!!

Then he did the wall shtick and then out the door.

It was the same red meat we’ve seen a thousand times but now with 15 minutes of dry policy read from a script.  This cannot actually be his plan for winning.

20 percent chance, Nate?  Hey, I get how everyone needs to hedge their bets because this is an odd election.  But I can’t believe it is that high.  Not with all the dings Trump and his campaign take on a daily basis.

UPDATE:  Trump is speaking in Manchester NH right now.  The crowds?

CmOZgQSWMAA6NUN

Trump Forgives Loans To His Campaign

Reuters reports:

Donald Trump has forgiven $50 million in loans he made to his campaign, a top staffer said on Thursday, signaling to donors that future contributions will be used to fight Democrat Hillary Clinton and not to repay himself.

The announcement that Trump will not seek reimbursement, made by his campaign finance chief in a CNBC interview, came amid concerns from his backers that he will not be able to adequately fund his White House bid.

“(Trump) loaned $50 million to the campaign. He’s now forgiven that loan. So that is a contribution” by Trump, Steve Mnuchin said, referring to a series of loans made over the past year.

“(Trump) has also said he will contribute significantly more money,” said Mnuchin, the top fundraiser for Trump’s campaign.

He also told CNBC that the presumptive Republican nominee has seen a strong uptick in fundraising in the last week.

Mnuchin said Trump raised about $10 million in conjunction with the Republican Party at fundraising events this week. Trump also raised another $6 million through online donations, Mnuchin said, following the wealthy New York businessman’s first attempt to appeal to supporters to contribute to his campaign.

I would check the fine print.  I suspect there is a piece of paper somewhere that would allow Trump — perhaps through a complicated series of transactions — to get his money back.  Wait.

Welcome To The Post-Citizens United World

Ready for this?

In the early presidential fundraising returns, half the $388 million contributed so far came from fewer than 400 families, with 62 donors giving at least $1 million. As the Huffington Post’s Paul Blumenthal put it, “For the first time in more than a century, the majority of funding for a presidential election is coming in six-figure or larger checks from corporations and the wealthiest Americans.”

Breaking: SCOTUS Makes The Money-In-Politics Problem Worse

Further loosening the reins on the role of money in politics, the U.S. Supreme Court today struck down restrictions on the grand total that any person can contribute to all federal candidates for office.

Today's decision left intact the cap of $2,600 per election that a contributor to give to any single candidate for federal office, but it invalidated the separate limit on how much can be contributed to all federal candidates put together — $48,600. 

The law was challenged by the Republican Party and an Alabama businessman, Shaun McCutcheon, who argued that the contribution ceilings were an unconstitutional restriction on his free expression.

"It's about freedom of speech and your right to spend your money on as many candidates as you choose. It's a basic freedom," McCutcheon said in bringing the challenge.

Supporters of what's known as the aggregate contribution limit said its purpose was to help prevent corruption. Without it, warned Fred Wertheimer, a longtime proponent of federal regulation of contributions, "you will establish a system of legalized bribery like we used to have before the Watergate scandals."

Under the aggregate limits, an individual could donate a maximum of $48,600 to all candidates for federal office plus another $74,600 to national political parties, state and local political parties, and political action committees — a grand contribution total of $123,200 per election.

House Speaker John Boehner hailed the decision, saying "freedom of speech is being upheld."

Bachmann’s Ethic Troubles Get Worse

Last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) participated in a press conference about Medicaid reimbursement, but reporters had some questions about the right-wing congresswoman's ethics troubles. Instead of responding, Bachmann literally ran away, while some aides "physically blocked reporters" to keep them at bay, and other aides were seen "pushing reporters out of the way as Bachmann left the room."

It would seem that Bachmann and her team are concerned about something. Or in this case, perhaps more than one thing.

Yesterday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that congressional ethics investigators continue to examine whether Bachmann improperly used campaign funds. What's more, two former staffers for the Republican lawmaker suggested that the ethics review "has widened beyond initial allegations that Bachmann improperly mixed funds between her campaign and her independent political organization."

Today, another Minneapolis Star Tribune report highlights a separate ethics issue for Bachmann.

GOP operative Andy Parrish, a former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, is expected to tell an Iowa Senate ethics panel that her 2012 presidential campaign made improper payments to its state chairman.

Having maintained a public silence so far, Parrish referred questions Wednesday to his attorney, John Gilmore, who said his client will corroborate allegations from another former Bachmann aide, Peter Waldron.

Waldron, a Florida pastor, claims that the campaign hid payments to Iowa Sen. Kent Sorenson, in violation of Iowa Senate ethics rules that bar members from receiving pay from presidential campaigns.

Parrish, who had not previously been identified, will reportedly provide an affidavit bolstering Waldron's accusations.

The story can get a little convoluted — Bachmann allegedly paid a Republican state lawmaker $7,500 a month, funneling the money through a business owned by a Bachmann fundraiser — but it's serious enough to do lasting damage to the congresswoman's career.

Where Have You Gone, JPS?

Even though he retired from the bench, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, 92, is still giving it good.  He's an outspoken critic of Citizens United, saying yesterday:

"If the First Amendment does not protect the right of a graduate of Harvard Law School to spend his own money to support the candidate of his choice simply because his Canadian citizenship deprives him of the right to participate in our elections, the fact that corporations may be owned or controlled by Canadians — indeed, in my judgment, the fact that corporations have no right to vote — should give Congress the power to exclude them from direct participation in the electoral process" 

The speech Stevens gave yesterday is a good read (PDF)

Three Ways That Wall Street Occupies Washington, DC

From Think Progress:

1. Wall Street Occupies Washington With Massive Campaign Contributions: On Nov. 12, 1999 President Bill Clinton signed into law the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, a Depression-era law that created a firewall between commercial and investment banking. Repealing this law was one of the top legislative goals of the financial industry. In the 1998 election cycle, commercial banks spent $18 million on congressional campaign contributions, with 65 percent going to Republicans and 35 percent going to Democrats. Securities and investment firms donated over $40 million. The mega-bank Citibank spent $1,954,191 during that cycle, and it was soon able to merge with Travelers Group as a result of the repeal of banking regulations. Between 2008 and 2010, when new financial regulations were being written following the financial crisis, the finance, insurance, and real estate industries spent $317 million in federal campaign contributions, with $73 million of that coming from Political Action Committees (PACs). The hold of campaign contributions is starkly bipartisan. As Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) explained to Real Clear Politics in an interview last year, he couldn’t get a vote on a windfall profits tax on bonuses at bailed out banks due to campaign contributors. “I couldn’t even get a vote,” Webb explained. “And it wasn’t because of the Republicans. I mean they obviously weren’t going to vote for it. But I got so much froth from Democrats saying that any vote like that was going to screw up fundraising.”

2. Wall Street Occupies Washington With Its Lobbyists: One way to control what Washington lawmakers do is to give them access to exclusive funding streams that allow them to finance their campaigns. But yet another is to control the stream of information. From the deregulatory period of 1998 to 2009, the financial sector spent $3.3 billion on lobbyists. In 2007, the financial industry employed 2,996 separate lobbyists, five for every member of Congress. During the debate over financial reform last year, the industry flooded the nation’s capital with its own lobbyists. On just one issue — regulating derivatives — financial industry lobbyists outnumbered consumer group lobbyists and other pro-reform advocates by 11 to 1. In fact, by 2010, the industry had hired a whopping 1,600 former federal employees as lobbyists. Included among these lobbyists were high-ranking former public leaders like former Democratic House Majority Leader Dick Gephdart (MO) and Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff. Much of this lobbying is done through elite K Street firms that specialize in hiring government insiders. Yet there are also bank-funded front groups like the Chamber of Commerce that deploy lobbyists on behalf of the big banks.

3. Wall Street Literally Occupies Washington By Placing Its Staff In Government Positions: Shortly after Clinton signed into law the repeal of the firewall between commercial and investment banking, his Treasury Secretary andGoldman Sachs alumni Robert Rubin left the government to work for newly-formed Citigroup — whose merger was only possible thanks to the policies Rubin championed and enacted. His compensation at Citigroup topped $15 million, not including stock options. Goldman’s alumni are found across the government, including bailout architect and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Paulson’s bailout chief Neil Kashkari, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission chairman Gary Gensler. The revolving door, of course, works both ways. Obama budget director Peter Orszag joined Citigroup shortly after leaving the government. This is just a small sampling of Wall Street’s staffers who found their way into government.

People Like Class Warfare

A new Washington Post/Bloomberg poll asked Americans whether they would support or oppose a variety of ideas to reduce the budget deficit. Unppoular ideas were pretty much what you expect: raising taxes on the middle class, reducing Social Security benefits, and reducing Medicare benefits. But a couple of ideas enjoyed broader support — most of the public approves of reducing military spending and a large majority (68%) wants to see tax increases on those who make $250,000 or more per year.  Even 54% majority of GOP voters support raising taxes on the wealthy.

A chart:

I often wonder what polls GOP leaders read when they say that raising taxes on the wealthy isn't popular.

Meanwhile, we have a vote tonight on the American Jobs Act.  Most Americans support its provisions; it enjoys strong support from economists; it includes ideas from both parties; and the CBO found it will even lower the deficit over the next decade. All told, the plan would likely add about 1.9 million jobs to an economy that desperately needs them. 

And yet, it won't pass:

Democrats would need all 53 of their members to vote yes along with seven Republicans, and already three members of the Democratic caucus have said they will vote no. Sen. Joseph Manchin of West Virginia questions the effectiveness of the package, wondering whether we'll get the bang from the buck. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., both don't like the way Democratic leaders have proposed to pay for this bill with a new 5.6 percent surtax on any personal income over $1 million. They say that this is not the time to be raising taxes on anyone, including millionaires.

I guess that begs a question: "Why isn't this a time to be raising taxes on millionaires?"

The answer, of course, is "because it's an election year", and candidates – Democrats and Republicans – hope for some large contributions from the richies.

We really have to get money out of pollitics.  It's why we can't fix anything.

What Citizens United Hath Wrought

Last year's Citizens United case was, for most court watchers, one of the worst-decided case in Supreme Court history.  Worse even, some say, than Bush v Gore.  That case allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on political advocacy (but mostly corporations since they had the $$$$).

What we have now is a huge infusion of money into politics, and we have no idea where that money comes from.  The latest:

A mystery company that pumped $1 million into a political committee backing Mitt Romney has been dissolved just months after it was formed, leaving few clues as to who was behind one of the biggest contributions yet of the 2012 presidential campaign.

The existence of the million-dollar donation — as gleaned from campaign and corporate records obtained by NBC News — provides a vivid example of how secret campaign cash is being funneled in ever more circuitous ways into the political system.

The company, W Spann LLC, was formed in March by a Boston lawyer who specializes in estate tax planning for "high net worth individuals," according to corporate records and the lawyer's bio on her firm's website. 

Who owned W Spann LLC? We don't know. What kind of business did it do? We don't know. Did it even have an office? We don't know.

What we do know is that W Spam LLC came into quiet existence, threw $1 million at a Super PAC backing the Romney campaign, and then quietly dissolved, never to be heard from again.

Ben Smith adds, "This is more or less how money moves around Russian politics. For all we know the Delaware corporation is owned by another corporation, registered in the Cayman Islands, with its directors another set of anonymous lawyers. Its money could come from, say, the government of Pakistan, which has recently shown an interest in illegal contributions to American pols."

That may sound excessive, but it's entirely fair. Under our current system, a foreign government could conceivably set up a dummy corporation, invest heavily in Mitt Romney (or some other candidate), then dissolve the "business" and fade away.

Sound right to you?

A Not-Too-Subtle Exemption

One of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever was handed down last year: the Citizens United case, which basically said that corporations were not subject to financial limitations when they fund political candidates.  It's a bad decision because it rests on what I believe are two mistaken Constitutional interpretations:

  1. The First Amendment applies to corporations/organizations
  2. Spending money on political candidates is "speech" (and therefore protected by the First Amendment

Congress is trying now to limit the impact of the Citizens United case by requiring corporations and organizations to at least disclose their political spending.

But in order to get it passed, they've had to water it down.  For example, in the current iteration of the bill, certain organizations are exempt from campaign financial disclosure.  Specifically, the exemption on disclosure requirements would apply to organizations that have more than "1 million members, have been in existence for more than 10 years, have members in all 50 states, and raise 15 percent or less of their funds from corporations."

How many organizations fit that definition?

Only one.

The NRA.

The Golden Issue: Campaign Finance

If the Democrats were smart, they will take this issue and own it.  The issue: the recent Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, where the Supremes ruled 5-4 that corporations have the same rights as individuals when it comes to political speech and can therefore use their profits to support or oppose individual candidates. The decision appears to open the door to unlimited spending by corporations, trade groups and unions in the weeks leading up to an election, which has been explicitly banned for decades.

Obama has spoken out against it.  But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) among other Republican lawmakers have praised the ruling as a victory for free speech.  They have stated that they intend to oppose any legislation designed to gut the impact of the court's decision.

Why is this issue a good one for Democrats?  Because a huge number of people — of all political stripes — oppose the Supreme Court decision:

Our latest ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that 80 percent of Americans likewise oppose the ruling, including 65 percent who “strongly” oppose it, an unusually high intensity of sentiment.

Seventy-two percent, moreover, support the idea of a legislative workaround to try to reinstate the limits the court lifted.

The bipartisan nature of these views is striking in these largely partisan times. The court’s ruling is opposed, respectively, by 76, 81 and 85 percent of Republicans, independents and Democrats; and by 73, 85 and 86 percent of conservatives, moderates and liberals. Majorities in all these groups, ranging from 58 to 73 percent, not only oppose the ruling but feel strongly about it.

Even among people who agree at least somewhat with the Tea Party movement, which advocates less government regulation, 73 percent oppose the high court’s rejection of this particular law. Among the subset who agree strongly with the Tea Party’s positions on the issues – 14 percent of all adults – fewer but still most, 56 percent, oppose the high court in this case.

So here you have an issue where Democratic lawmakers are clearly on the side of the vast majority of Americans (including Tea Partiers!), and Republican lawmakers are staunchly opposed.  This is a great opportunity for Democrats to expose themselves as the real populists, and to expose Republicans as beholden to their corporate overlords.

By the way, for those who are wondering why I disagree with the court's ruling, I'll state it briefly.  I'm for free speech.  I believe in it, and the Constitution guarantees it.  But the Constitution and the Bill of Rights was not written for corporations and unions.  Pfizer, Inc is not an entity endowed by God with certain inalienable rights — I am, you are, but not Pfizer, or Exxon, or Bank of America, etc.

The Supreme Court lost sight of who the Bill of Rights was meant to protect.  Can the CEO of Pfizer contribute his own money to a candidate's campaign?  Certainly, as an American citizen protected by the First Amendment, he has that right.  But can he (and the rest of the Pfizer board) take corporate money (which, technically, belongs to the shareholders) and "speak" in such a manner?  No, in my view.  That's actually engaging in "compelled speech", the antithesis of free speech.

Most people instinctively recognize this.  And that's why Democrats need to put this issue front and center.

UPDATE:  Then again, this line of attack against the GOP is getting a lot of traction:

 

‘Sup With The Lack of Blogging Lately?

Oh, a show.  Work.  Life.  Burnout.  All that.

Plus, not a lot to say that is particularly insightful.

Haiti was bad, but I guess everyone knew that.

Scott Brown being elected to the U.S. Senate was bad, but not as bad as everyone made it out to be.  He's a liberal Republican from Massachusetts, which is on a par with a moderate Democrat from any other state.  He's probably to the left of many Senate Democrats, so I wouldn't sweat it out.

Really, the ONLY thing that really struck me as comment-worthy was last week’s ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, where the court declared that corporations and unions may spend money on political advertising that urges the election or defeat of a candidate for public office.  Obama called it one of the worst decisions in the area of public interest; conservatives praised it as a reaffirmation of the First Amendment.

Obama was, of course, right, and conservatives were wrong.  The First Amendment protections of free speech apply to individuals (as do ALL the Bill of Rights).  Remember, we recognize rights as things "endowed by our Creator" to us.  God did not contemplate that the oil lobby would have free speech rights.

I fear that decision will impact our political landscape profoundly and negatively, but there are sound arguments that disagree with me.

Anyway, I'm more-or-less back.  And maybe I'll even have a "guest" contributor soon, too.  So, stay tuned.

Smell A Rat?

Alice Rocchio lives in Flushing, Queens, a modest blue-collar suburb, with her husband, Pasquale.  She works as an office manager in Manhatten; He’s an Amtrak foreman.

They rent their home.  They drive a 2003 Buick and a 1993 Chevrolet.  The average income for their zip code is $58,069.

Nothing unusual so far, huh?

But what if I told you that the couple contributed $61,600 to the McCain campaign this year, the maximum amount allowable by law?

A little curious, you must admit.  How can a middle class couple afford to contribute that much?

Now what if I told you that neither one of them has contributed to any federal political campaign before… ever?

Okay.  Still a little curious. 

NOW…. what if I told you that Alice Rocchio is an office manager for Hess Corporation and they donated most of that money on June 24, the same day that eight other high-level Hess execs and family members (including CEO John Hess and his wife) each shelled out the same amount at a fundraiser?

Oh, and June 24?  That was a few days after McCain reversed his position on offshore drilling.

Hmmmmm….

Now, there’s nothing wrong with oil executives giving money to the oil-friendly McCain campaign.  But you can’t legally give money to someone else to give to a political campaign as a way to circumvent legal contribution limits.

Anyway, TPM blogger Greg Sargant contacted Mrs. Rocchio, who denies any wrongdoing:

I just reached Ms Rocchio and she insisted adamantly that the contributions were theirs.

"It was my option to give," she told me. "This is my favorite candidate…I fully acknowledge that [the donation] was done by myself personally, my own doing." She added that the same went for her husband.

When I pointed out that the Rocchios’ job titles seemed to jar a bit with the size of their donations, Ms. Rocchio said that no one could guess the real income levels of other people.

"No one knows what someone’s income taxes say," she told me.

Ms. Rocchio declined to say whether the contributions had been bundled by another Hess employee or who bundled them.

Okay.  Stick with that story.  It’s true… we don’t know what the Rocchio income is.  But keep in mind….

A former FEC official said that it’s possible that the Rocchios had the means to make those hefty contributions — their first reported donations to a federal campaign. But the official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, said that their donations also could trigger a complaint or otherwise catch the eyes of the agency’s enforcement staff, tasked to ensure that companies or wealthy individuals don’t illegally circumvent contribution limits by using employees or other third parties as "conduits” for cash.

My guess?  She got "her" money from her boss with an implicit (wink, wink) understanding that it should be donated.  I think the FEC is going to look into this one…..

*** UPDATE ***  WaPo reports on some other possible fundraising shennanigans by Mr. Campaign Finance Reform

More Like This Please

"Nice guy" Edwards goes on the offensive, and takes a subtle swipe at Hillary today in Hanover, NH:

Real change starts with being honest — the system in Washington is rigged and our government is broken. It’s rigged by greedy corporate powers to protect corporate profits. It’s rigged by the very wealthy to ensure they become even wealthier. At the end of the day, it’s rigged by all those who benefit from the established order of things. For them, more of the same means more money and more power. They’ll do anything they can to keep things just the way they are — not for the country, but for themselves.

Politicians who care more about their careers than their constituents go along to get elected. They make easy promises to voters instead of challenging them to take responsibility for our country. And then they compromise even those promises to keep the lobbyists happy and the contributions coming.

Instead of serving the people and the nation, too many play the parlor game of Washington — trading favors and campaign money, influencing votes and compromising legislation. It’s a game that never ends, but every American knows — it’s time to end the game.

And it’s time for the Democratic Party — the party of the people — to end it.

The choice for our party could not be more clear. We cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats, just swapping the Washington insiders of one party for the Washington insiders of the other.

The American people deserve to know that their presidency is not for sale, the Lincoln Bedroom is not for rent, and lobbyist money can no longer influence policy in the House or the Senate.

It’s time to end the game. It’s time to tell the big corporations and the lobbyists who have been running things for too long that their time is over. It’s time to challenge politicians to put the American people’s interests ahead of their own calculated political interests, to look the lobbyists in the eye and just say no.

It’s hard to diasgree with that message, and Hillary (who has said she has no problem taking special interest money) is going to have a hard time responding to this.

Law-Breaking Pastor Calls On God To Smite His Accusers

Wiley S. Drake recently used Church letterhead — and his talk show broadcast directly from his First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, CA — to endorse Mike Huckabee for president.  But some atheist jerks at Americans United for Separation of Church and State ratted him out to the IRS, who are now investigating the church’s tax-exempt status.

How did Drake — a pastor, former national Southern Baptist leader, radio talk show host, and author — respond?   Why, as any good Christian would: by imploring his congregation to pray for the immediate, painful deaths of his enemies:

Drake said Wednesday he was "simply doing what God told me to do" by targeting Americans United officials Joe Conn and Jeremy Leaming, whom he calls the "enemies of God."

"God says to pray imprecatory prayer against people who attack God’s church," he said. "The Bible says that if anybody attacks God’s people, David said this is what will happen to them. . . . Children will become orphans and wives will become widows."

Imprecatory prayers are alternately defined as praying for someone’s misfortune, or an appeal to God for justice.

"Let his days be few; and let another take his office," the prayer reads. "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."

[UPDATE:  A copy of his press release is here.]

Dude, you can’t be a religious organization and campaign and expect to maintain tax-free status!  That’s the law.  Section 501(c) of the tax code lists who is exempt from paying taxes, and it includes:

(3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation,
    organized and
operated exclusively for religious, charitable,
    scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational
    purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports
    competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the
    provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the
    prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net
    earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder
    or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is
    carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence
    legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and
    which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the
    publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on
    behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office
.

So far, God has failed to smite the people at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

UPDATE:  Eugene Volokh has more.

Supreme Court Roundup

Two seemingly contradictory cases on the First Amendment from the Supreme Court today.

On the one hand, it is permissible to regulate student speech (at a public parade) when it references drugs.  So, the First Amendment be damned.

On the other hand, the same coalition of Justices think we cannot restrict issues ads (a McCain-Feingold regulation) because that would place a burden on free speech.  So yaaaay First Amendment.

Do you get the sense that the conservative-majority judges are merely deciding the cases based on whether they like the outcome, rather than some consistent legal doctrine?

I haven’t read the cases yet, but something tells me that if the student in the first case was protesting abortions, then it would have been baaaaaaad to regulate his speech.

UPDATE:  The student speech case is interesting.  The facts are simple.  Joseph Frederick was 18 when he unveiled an 14-foot paper sign on a public sidewalk outside his Juneau, Alaska, high school in 2002.  The sign said "Bong Hits For Jesus".  Principal Deborah Morse confiscated it and suspended Frederick. He sued, saying his free speech rights were violated.

The Supreme Court said "no", his rights were not violated.  Apparently, thyey saw the message as advocating drug use, which is contrary to the school’s educational mission.  (The student said he was not advocating drug use, or indeed advocating anything.  The reason for the sign, he said, was to be absurdist and the only "message" he was conveying was his right to convey messages).

SCOTUSBlog makes this observation:

The Chief Justice’s opinion, too, indicates that the case would have come out differently if the banner had "convey[ed] any sort of political or religious message," such as that involved in "political debate over the criminalization of drug use or possession," rather than (in the Court’s view) mere "student speech celebrating illegal drug use."

Debate, political and religious messages — protected. "Celebration" of illegal activity (drug use, anyway) — no go. That’s the upshot.

So if the sign had read, "Torture Jesus Like He’s A Gitmo Detainne", it could not have been confiscated.  But since it says "Bong Hits For Jesus", the student has no First Amendment Rights.

The majority today seems to suggest that the school has an interest in promoting its viewpoint and quashing dissent…to preserve order.

Horrible, horrible decision.

Bizarre.

LATE UPDATE — "WHAT DIGBY SAYS" EDITION:

So the Supremes took a strong stand for the First Amendment today and stood up for the right of little guy corporations, aggrieved rich guys and voiceless conservative special interests to influence elections with misleading advertising. The first amendment is sacred and shouldn’t be tampered with for any reason. God bless America.

Well, not exactly. The words "bong hits for Jesus" aren’t covered because they could be construed as promoting something that some people think is bad. (At least if you are under eighteen years old.) I’m awfully impressed with the intellectual consistency of the Roberts Court so far, how about you?

I think we need to start thinking about how to deal with the new era of wingnut judicial activism. If anyone actually thought the Warren Court was activist for trying to right long standing social inequality, they haven’t seen anything until they see what John, Clarence, Nino, Sammy and Tony do to expand the rights of rich people and corporations while turning back the clock on everything else. It’s going to be a generational battle. I hope everyone realizes this.

SCOTUS News

Lot of things coming from the Supreme Court today.  I’ll combine it all here:

(1)  In Hudson v. Michigan, a recent controversial decision involving the "knock & announce" tactics of police raids, Scalia apparently "twisted the words" of an eminent criminolgist to reach his conclusion.  The criminiologist complains here.

(2)  SCOTUS announced today that it will hear a case about combat global warming, setting up what could be one of the court ‘s most important decisions on the environment.  More here:

[Environmental groups] argue that the Environmental Protection Agency is obligated to limit carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles under the federal Clean Air Act because as the primary "greenhouse" gas causing a warming of the earth, carbon dioxide is a pollutant.

The administration maintains that carbon dioxide — unlike other chemicals that must be controlled to assure healthy air — is not a pollutant under the federal clean air law, and that even if it were the EPA has discretion over whether to regulate it.

A federal appeals court sided with the administration in a sharply divided ruling.

One judge said the EPA’s refusal to regulate carbon dioxide was contrary to the clean air law; another said that even if the Clean Air Act gave the EPA authority over the heat-trapping chemical, the agency could choose not to use that authority; a third judge ruled against the suit because, he said, the plaintiffs had no standing because they hadn’t proven harm.

It seems that SCOTUS will not be called on to determine whether or not CO2 or other greenhouses gases cause global warming, but instead, to determine with the Clean Air Act (or other laws) mandate that the EPA get involved in regulating it.

The Clean Air Act (at Section 302(g)) gives the EPA power to regulate "air pollutants", defined as "any air pollution agent or combinations of such agents, including any physical, chemical, biological, radioactive …substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambiant air".

That’s a pretty broad definition, and I fail to see how it could not include CO2.

(3)  The Supreme Court had an opportunity to revisit Buckley v. Valeo, the atrocious 1976 case about political campaign contributions which stated (in so many words) that "money is speech" and therefore protected by the First Amendment.  Unfortunately, Buckley is still good law after the case announced today.  SCOTUS (in a 6-3 decision) addressed a law in the State of Vermont which attempted to address campaign financing, striking down the law as unconstitutional (PDF).

(4) SCOTUS ruled today that the death penalty statute in Kansas doesn’t violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  It was a close 5-4 decision, with Alito casting the swing vote.

(5) No decisions today on Hamden (dealing with Gitmo "enemy combatents") or the Texas redistricting case (where precinct lines were redrawn to give Republicans a leg-up).

You Call That “Reform”?!?

Hastert’s plan to reform Congress’ relation with lobbyists is kind of, well, sucky.  As WaPo notes:

According to lobbyists and ethics experts, even if Hastert’s proposal is enacted, members of Congress and their staffs could still travel the world on an interest group’s expense and eat steak on a lobbyist’s account at the priciest restaurants in Washington.

The only requirement would be that whenever a lobbyist pays the bill, he or she must also hand the lawmaker a campaign contribution. Then the transaction would be perfectly okay.

So lobbyists, if you are going to bribe a Congressman by buying him dinner in a Parisian restaurant, be sure to tip his campaign coffers as well.  Then everything’ll be hunky-dory.

How Money Hurts Politics

I’ve been swooning rather out-of-character for Barack Obama all day, which is why I find this from Matt Yglesius to be particularly disturbing:

If the [Democratic] party leaders had had their way, not only would Obama not have been delivering the keynote address at the convention, he wouldn’t be the party’s candidate for U.S. Senate at all. Plan A was to hand the nomination to Blair Hull, a millionaire who could have self-financed the race. That’s a recruiting tactic the party’s increasingly relied on since the early 1990s; as we saw last night, it can deprive the country of some of the most dynamic and committed public servants out there in exchange for bland nonentities like Herb Kohl. Money matters in politics and I wouldn’t suggest the Democrats try to ignore it, but this just brings home the need to expand the sort of fundraising success Howard Dean and John Kerry have had at the presidential level further down the ballot.

*Sigh*. There you have it: money and party politics often forces the best and the brightest to remain largely unknown or unheard of. Sometimes, I think Independents and Reformists really have the right idea . . .