Saturday, November 27, 2010

Corporations!

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US judge rules against corporate contribution ban
Federal judge rules that banning corporate donations to political candidates is unconstitutional, because corporations have the same rights as people.
Matthew Barakat, Associated Press
Fri May 27, 2011
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A U.S. judge has ruled that the campaign finance law banning corporations from making contributions to federal candidates is unconstitutional, saying that a recent Supreme Court decision gives companies the same right to donate as individual citizens enjoy.
In a ruling issued late Thursday, U.S. District Judge James Cacheris tossed out part of an indictment against two people charged with illegally reimbursing donors to Hillary Clinton's 2006 Senate and 2008 presidential campaigns.
Cacheris says that under the Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United decision last year, corporations have the right to give to federal candidates.
The ruling from the federal judge in Virginia is the first of its kind. The Citizens United case had applied only to corporate spending on campaign activities by independent groups, such as ads run by third parties to favor one side, not to direct contributions to the candidates themselves.
Cacheris noted in his ruling that only one other court has addressed the issue in the wake of Citizens United ruling. A federal judge in Minnesota ruled the other way, allowing a state ban on corporate contributions to stand.
"(F)or better or worse, Citizens United held that there is no distinction between an individual and a corporation with respect to political speech," Cacheris wrote in his 52-page opinion. "Thus, if an individual can make direct contributions within (the law's) limits, a corporation cannot be banned from doing the same thing."
In court papers, federal prosecutors defending the law said overturning the ban on corporate contributions would ignore a century of legal precedent.
"Defendants would have the court throw out a century of jurisprudence upholding the ban on corporate political contributions, by equating expenditures — which the Court struck down in Citizens United — with contributions. This is, however, equating apples and oranges," prosecutor Mark Lytle wrote in his argument to keep the indictment intact.
In the count that was tossed out, defendants William P. Danielczyk Jr. and Eugene R. Biagi were charged with helping funnel corporate funds to the presidential campaign of Clinton, now the U.S. secretary of state. Specifically, they were charged with using money from the corporation they controlled, Galen Capital Group, to reimburse individuals who made contributions in their own names.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Alexandria, which is prosecuting the case along with the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section, said Friday that the office is reviewing the ruling. Prosecutors have the option to appeal the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.
Defense lawyers, though, said the implications of the Citizens United case are clear.
"Corporate political speech can now be regulated, only to the same extent as the speech of individuals or other speakers," Biagi's lawyer, public defender Todd Richman, wrote in court papers. "That is because Citizens United establishes that there can be no distinction between corporate and other speakers in the regulation of political speech."
Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a Washington-based group that supports campaign finance reform, said Friday that Cacheris overstepped his bounds and ignored Supreme Court rulings issued before Citizens United that explicitly upheld the ban on corporate contributions. If the Supreme Court had wanted to overturn the ban, it could have done so directly in Citizens United.
"This decision ought to be appealed, and it ought to be overturned," Wertheimer said.
University of Virginia law professor Daniel Ortiz said the ruling "pushes the outer limits of the Citizens United logic." He said he does not expect it to stand.
The Citizens United case makes a distinction, Ortiz said, between independent expenditures by corporations that are not coordinating with a federal candidate's campaign, and direct campaign contributions.
As a practical matter, Ortiz said that even if Cacheris' ruling stands, its practical effect may be negligible because corporations would be subject to the same contribution limits imposed on individuals — $2,500 per candidate per election. Cacheris himself makes a similar point in his ruling, saying in a footnote that "this finding hardly gives corporations a blank check."
On the other hand, individuals can form an unlimited number of corporations, which could create a significant loophole in the law if unchecked.
Under existing law, corporations that want to contribute directly to federal candidates must form a political action committee — 1,683 corporate PACs existed at the start of the year, according to the most recent count from the Federal Election Commission. PACs are allowed to contribute to a candidate at twice the amount of an individual — $5,000 per election instead of $2,500 — but those PACS must use segregated funds and face strict limitations on how much they can raise and from whom.
In the pending case, Danielczyk, 49, and Biagi, 76, who live in the Washington suburb of Oakton, Va., allegedly reimbursed $30,200 to eight contributors to Clinton's 2006 New York Senate campaign, and reimbursed $156,400 to 35 contributors to her 2008 presidential campaign.
Cacheris, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan who is also the brother of prominent defense lawyer Plato Cacheris, allowed most of the indictment against Danielczyk and Biagi to stand. If the government does not appeal Cacheris' ruling on the constitutionality of corporate contributions, the case is scheduled to go to trial in July.
Matthew Barakat can be reached at _ http://twitter.com/mattbarakat
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The Left Right Paradigm is Over: Its You vs. Corporations
By Barry Ritholtz
1 November 2010
http://usawatchdog.com/democrats-vs-republicans-its-you-vs-corporations/
I love the article you are about to read because it is very much in line with some of what this site is about. USAWatchdog.com is neither “Democrat nor Republican, liberal or conservative.” I just want to connect the dots and find out what’s really going on, no matter which party is in power. Guest writer Barry Ritholtz does a great job of laying out real issues Americans need to deal with. His post centers on corporations and how they have corrupted both political parties. For example, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein gave equally to both political parties this year. Big corporations don’t care who is in power just as long as they get to call the shots. It is a foregone conclusion that the U.S. House of Representatives will change over to Republican control. The folks holding the signs that say “fire Nancy Pelosi” are going to get their wish. But when she is gone as Speaker of the House, I ask, then what? I haven’t heard Republicans (or Democrats vs Republicans for that matter) talk much about the big banks ripping off the country. What is unraveling now is the biggest financial fraud in history, but it is not a campaign discussion. I don’t think it will be addressed when the Republicans take control of the House proving, once again, both Democrats and Republicans are just one body with two heads.
Ritholtz describes himself this way, “I’m Chief Market Strategist for an institutional research firm, and the Chief Economics Commentator for an asset management firm.” I say Ritholtz is a big thinker and a regular commentator in the financial press. I have been holding this article for about a month because I thought it was more appropriate a day away from the mid-term elections. I hope this enhances your perspective. –Greg Hunter–
By Barry Ritholtz
Guest Writer for USAWatchdog.com
Every generation or so, a major secular shift takes place that shakes up the existing paradigm. It happens in industry, finance, literature, sports, manufacturing, technology, entertainment, travel, communication, etc.
I would like to discuss the paradigm shift that is occurring in politics.
For a long time, American politics has been defined by a Left/Right dynamic. It was Liberals versus Conservatives on a variety of issues. Pro-Life versus Pro-Choice, Tax Cuts vs. More Spending, Pro-War vs Peaceniks, Environmental Protections vs. Economic Growth, Pro-Union vs. Union-Free, Gay Marriage vs. Family Values, School Choice vs. Public Schools, Regulation vs. Free Markets.
The new dynamic, however, has moved past the old Left Right paradigm. We now live in an era defined by increasing Corporate influence and authority over the individual. These two “interest groups” – I can barely suppress snorting derisively over that phrase – have been on a headlong collision course for decades, which came to a head with the financial collapse and bailouts. Where there is massive concentrations of wealth and influence, there will be abuse of power. The Individual has been supplanted in the political process nearly entirely by corporate money, legislative influence, campaign contributions, even free speech rights.
This may not be a brilliant insight, but it is surely an overlooked one. It is now an Individual vs. Corporate debate – and the Humans are losing.
Consider:
• Many of the regulations that govern energy and banking sector were written by Corporations;
• The biggest influence on legislative votes is often Corporate Lobbying;
• Corporate ability to extend copyright far beyond what original protections amounts to a taking of public works for private corporate usage;
• PAC and campaign finance by Corporations has supplanted individual donations to elections;
• The individuals’ right to seek redress in court has been under attack for decades, limiting their options.
• DRM and content protection undercuts the individual’s ability to use purchased content as they see fit;
• Patent protections are continually weakened. Deep pocketed corporations can usurp inventions almost at will;
• The Supreme Court has ruled that Corporations have Free Speech rights equivalent to people; (So much for original intent!)
None of these are Democrat/Republican [1] conflicts, but rather, are corporate vs. individual issues.
For those of you who are stuck in the old Left/Right debate, you are missing the bigger picture. Consider this about the Bailouts: It was a right-winger who bailed out all of the big banks, Fannie Mae, and AIG in the first place; then his left winger successor continued to pour more money into the fire pit.
What difference did the Left/Right dynamic make? Almost none whatsoever.
How about government spending? The past two presidents are regarded as representative of the Left Right paradigm – yet they each spent excessively, sponsored unfunded tax cuts, plowed money into military adventures and ran enormous deficits. Does Left Right really make a difference when it comes to deficits and fiscal responsibility? (Apparently not).
What does it mean when we can no longer distinguish between the actions of the left and the right? If that dynamic no longer accurately distinguishes what occurs, why are so many of our policy debates framed in Left/Right terms?
In many ways, American society is increasingly less married to this dynamic: Party Affiliation continues to fall, approval of Congress is at record lows, and voter participation hovers at very low rates.
There is some pushback already taking place against the concentration of corporate power: Mainstream corporate media has been increasingly replaced with user created content – YouTube and Blogs are increasingly important to news consumers (especially younger users). Independent voters are an increasingly larger share of the US electorate. And I suspect that much of the pushback against the Elizabeth Warren’s concept of a Financial Consumer Protection Agency plays directly into this Corporate vs. Individual fight.
But the battle lines between the two groups have barely been drawn. I expect this fight will define American politics over the next decade.
Keynes vs Hayek? Friedman vs Krugman? Those are the wrong intellectual debates. Its you vs. Tony Hayward, BP CEO, You vs. Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs CEO. And you are losing . . .
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This short commentary was conceived not to be an exhaustive research, but rather, to stimulate debate. There are many more examples and discussions we can have about this, and I hope readers do so in comments.
But my bottom line is this: If you see the world in terms of Left & Right, you really aren’t seeing the world at all . . .
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How Corporations Own the US Congress
By Shamus Cooke
Global Research, September 15, 2010
With the November elections quickly approaching, the majority of Americans will be thinking one thing: "Who cares?” This apathy isn't due to ignorance, as some accuse. Rather, working people's disinterest in the two party system implies intelligence: millions of people understand that both the Democrats and Republicans will not represent their interests in Congress.
This begs the question: Whom does the two party system work for? The answer was recently given by the mainstream The New York Times, who gave the nation an insiders peek on how corporations "lobby" (buy) congressmen. The article explains how giant corporations — from Wall-mart to weapons manufacturers — are planning on shifting their hiring practices for lobbyists, from Democratic to Republican ex-congressmen in preparation for the Republicans gaining seats in the upcoming November elections:
"Lobbyists, political consultants and recruiters all say that the going rate for Republicans — particularly current and former House staff members — has risen significantly in just the last few weeks, with salaries beginning at $300,000 and going as high as $1million for private sector [corporate lobbyist] positions." (September 9, 2010)
Congressmen who have recently retired make the perfect lobbyists: they still have good friends in Congress, with many of these friends owing them political favors; they have connections to foreign Presidents and Kings; and they also have celebrity status that gives good PR to the corporations.
Often, these congressmen have done favors for the corporation that is now hiring them, meaning, that the corporations are rewarding the congressmen for services rendered while in office, offering them million dollar lobbyist jobs (or seats on the corporate board of directors) that requires little to no work.
The same New York Times article revealed that the pay for 13,000 lobbyists [!] currently bribing Congress is a combined $3.5 billion. It was also explained how some lobbying firms keep an equal amount of Democrats and Republicans on hand, so they can be prepared for any eventuality in the elections.
This phenomenon is more than a little un-democratic: when millions of people vote for a candidate, the outcomes are quickly manipulated and controlled before the election even happens.
Interestingly, the corporate-directed Wall Street Journal wrote a similar article in 2008, as the Democrats had begun to dominate politics in Washington:
"Washington's $3 billion lobbying industry has begun shedding Republican staffers [politicians], snapping up Democratic operatives [politicians] and entire firms, a shift that started even before Tuesday's ballots were counted and Democrat Barack Obama captured the presidency." (November 5, 2008)
This article was appropriately titled “Lobbyists Put Democrats Out Front as Winds Shift.”
The corporate money flows from party to party, so that the same goals are achieved: higher profits for corporations. The sums thrown at these politicians are mind boggling: the Associated Press reported that the corporate-orientated Chamber of Commerce spent "... nearly $190 million since Barack Obama became president in January 2009." (August 21, 2010)
These numbers explain the "deeper" differences between Democrats and Republicans — money. Each party is a machine that vies for power because this power carries with it vast sums of corporate money. The longer a party is in office and the more connections it makes, the more its net worth to corporations, the more that these rewards can be spread to the different layers of the party. There is indeed a real-life, nasty fight between the Republican and Democratic Parties to dominate this corporate money.
One "interest group" that ex-Congressmen don't work for is labor unions. Unions spend millions of dollars to help get Democrats elected, and millions more is spent trying to get their ear while they're in office.
But unions cannot out-spend the banks; and they can't offer millionaire retirement packages to retired Senators. The corporate retirement plans of Congressmen prove where their minds are while in office, and whose interests are being looked after.
Unions cannot continue to pretend that the Democrats are their "friends.” Labor has very little to show for this dysfunctional, decades-long friendship: union membership continues to shrivel as do jobs, wages and benefits for workers – a losing strategy if ever there was one.
A “lesser of two evils” approach to politics equals evil politicians for labor, no matter who wins. In fact, the lesser-evil Democrats have become increasingly evil over the years, to the point where the party as a whole is more Conservative than the Nixon-era Republicans.
The point has been reached where — in various states — Democratic governors are being endorsed by unions after promising to attack the wages and benefits of public workers!
To get out of this vicious, dead-end cycle, unions could unite their strength to form coalitions that promote independent labor candidates: 100 percent funded by labor to govern 100 percent in the interest of working people. All other roads lead back to the corporate lobbyists.
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