October 20, 2012
You know, a minute ago, we, you and I, just spent 2.2 million dollars. And, I didn’t want to do it. But that is the cost of military spending, 2.2 million dollars a minute.
Our military Department of Defense, War, Veterans Affairs, and Nuclear Weapons programs cost 60% of the budget.
Health and Human Services 6%
Department of Homeland Security 4%
Housing and Urban Development 3%
Environmental Protection Agency 1%
Other Miscellaneous Programs 4.5%
These figures are based on the federal discretionary budget sent to congress for 2013.
Kind of puts things in perspective. Reducing the military budget is the best legacy we can leave our kids.
A quote from President Eisenhower:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron
I’m remembering that Romney wants to increase military spending over the amount requested by the Department of Defense. I find that incredibly upsetting.
Check out the One Minute For Peace Organization if you agree.
October 17, 2012
I should never watch the debates. It drives home the imperfections of our system . It frustrates me that I don’t have a real command of what our government does except in a general way. In years past, I’ve never found such steady use of fact checkers to be a necessity. During this campaign, you can’t do without them if you expect to be informed. The one I use most is:
It is from the respected Annenberg Public Policy Center.
We, the 99% may not know exactly what is going on in the halls of congress, but, you can count on the 1% to have the resources to know what goes on in the halls of congress.
Obama certainly did a better job at the debates, but he had to use the same tactics that Romney introduced in the first debate. Interrupting, talking over his opponent and the moderator, ignoring the time limits and leaving civility behind, as did Joe Biden in the vice-presidential debates. I guess this signals a new low for debates to follow. Am I the only one who would like to see a return to civility?
Romney continually hammered on jobs as the cure-all for the economy, and rightly so. He just doesn’t make a credible plan for how he will create those jobs. His numbers don’t add up. But we do know he will take away my tax deductions. Now he says I can personally take $2,500 in tax deductions, period. But nobody will have to pay taxes on their dividends and capital gains. The 1% hold the mega portfolios and stand to gain huge benefits from that plan. That leaves out most of the middle class who don’t have grand portfolios.
Obama and Romney were both weak on the immigration question and gun control. Romney allowed the National Rifle Association to meet with sportsmen and they agreed on their principles of gun control for Massachusetts. Basically, whatever you want, guys! Obama says enforce the laws we have on gun control. That would help, but it doesn’t happen. Maybe it is a state thing?
Obama has suggested amnesty for immigrants who have been here and worked and contributed to social security. And, to make it easier for immigrants to come here legally. That is not a very popular idea among most people.
Romney wants businesses to police immigrants with a green card. Unfortunately, green cards are easily manufactured and are useless. Businesses depend on immigrant workers to do the jobs they can’t hire anyone else to do. In Alabama, farmers have lost crops because they could not hire anyone to harvest them when they instituted new immigration laws. The new laws basically legalized racial profiling by police and teachers.
The first fact checker says Romney has more Pinocchios in his rhetoric. (And, once and for all, I wish people would quit sending me emails claiming Obama allows Illegal Immigrants to collect social security. It isn’t’ true.)
The town hall questions were good ones, but, not one question on climate change, or the environment. For climate change deniers, maybe they should look at islands in Fiji, the Solomons, Tuvalu, where water threatens to flood them out of existence. In Kiribati, 102,000 people have been evacuated to a nearby Island because of climate change flooding.
There was a passing reference to green jobs and energy. I did learn that both Obama and Romney are heavily supportive of oil and coal. What a disappointment. Drilling in the Antarctic? Maybe they should both take a trip north and see what is happening there and study how unsafe the off shore drilling rigs are. Study how much oil companies spend on safety and clean-up capabilities. Obama sites oil independence as a way to transition to green energy at home and has supported that technology in a big way. I don’t like it, but I understand that you can’t overnight turn us into a green energy nation. Even so, I hated hearing them brag about pipelines and drilling. (No mention of fracking.) Romney equally supports that idea as far as I could tell.
I don’t choose to spend my time being a fact checker on everything our government does. But, the truth be told, government is far too complex for an ordinary person to really keep up with everything that affects us. And this year, with corporations flooding the airwaves with distorted and misleading ads, it seems our only defense.
For a sample of what a Romney President might be like check this site:
There are many Fact checkers out there on every subject. Fact Checking, the new business driving our economy? Fact Checkers R Us!
October 14, 2012
It is a mad campaign swirling around us and it is hard not to get caught up in the whirlwind. Speaking of mad, I recently read that people who study serial killers have made credible comparisons to people who run for office. They share many of the same traits. How many times have we heard someone say, “Ya gotta be crazy to run for President.” I am chuckling, folks, but then Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and other monsters pop into my head. I’ll be glad when the election is over and we can all get back to some semblance of normal life, whatever that is.
I find it unbelievable that a man can get elected to public office and claim slavery is a blessing in disguise. “The following link is too funny/scary not to pass on.”
October 13, 2012
The White House has called on federal agencies and departments to improve the ability of government scientists to openly discuss their research and findings with media, policy makers, and the public. Some agencies, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation, have put forward policies that encourage such communication.
Government scientists should be able to alert the public when their research indicates a potential public health, safety, or environmental hazard.
Strange that we should NEED such a call to listen to science. Our whole world of inventions and weaponry , space travel and architecture, astronomy, road design, medicine, comfortable furnishings, computers, fabrics, mailing materials, machinery, building safe structures, growing more food per acre, improvements in glass, car safety, new technologies be it a bicycle or a car medical device have been invented or strengthened by scientific testing and investigation. We live every day with the things science has made possible. We, as a country, used to lead the way in scientific discoveries and investigation. Now we are #17 in the world. Such a long fall from dominance.
How did we turn into a society that denies the overwhelming evidence of climate change? It has hurt us as a country financially and in leadership around the world.
Part of it stems from the conflicted discoveries that appear to undermine religion. Red states with high numbers of fundamental religions, are where most climate deniers and anti science attitudes come from. Yet, many scientists believe in God and have religious beliefs.
The truth and nature of the world, which includes people, is a factual, solid place, not changed by science, but understood by science. However, people are more comfortable in their own beliefs and somehow feel it affects their self esteem if what they have believed for most of their life is challenged.
Uneducated people regard scientists as some elite, arrogant class of know-it-alls that live off the taxpayers and deserve trashing. In fact scientists don’t make a lot of money. They have houses, a salary and spend into the private economy and pay taxes just like everyone else unless they work within a mega corporation where they can make better money. Where they buy houses, buy into the private economy and pay taxes like everyone else.
Scientists provide the infrastructure for great companies to succeed and compete. They are necessary to our capitalistic economy. And suspicions that they are liberals with an agenda to sway the public in some sort of conspiracy would take thousands and thousands of scientists to agree to a shady plan. It is unreal, untrue and unfortunate for all of us that such anti-scientific attitudes have been promoted and enhanced by politicians for their own gain. It is up to each of us to confront that attitude when we see it if we want to be the America we grew up with.
October 12, 2012
The debates have everyone atwitter, Biden smiled and chuckled too much, Ryan hesitated too long before answering a question he clearly didn’t expect about abortion, yatta ta yatta ta yatta. I guess the pundits have to earn their money someway, but not one of them mentioned the most telling line from Biden:
The next president will pick two jurists to serve on the United States Supreme Court. If the Romney ticket wins, you can expect a conservative court to be even more conservative. I think having such an unbalanced court is a disaster as in their recent decision giving corporations the same rights as a human. That is something to think about.
Ryan avoids answering the direct question, what is their plan to bring 12 million higher-paying jobs to Americans. He says they will do it, but he can’t explain how. Biden says the way to get back to work is to let the Bush tax cuts expire and level the playing field for middle class Americans. Help out where needed just like the banks were helped. Working people PAY taxes.
It makes me nervous to watch the debates. I don’t watch the horrible ads I hear about. But, we have so much to lose and be concerned about if our leaders fail us. If there was only some way we could be guaranteed what we hear is honest, and hear plans to solve problems that are clear and concise. This campaign has given the fact checkers a lot of business. There are more, and more fact checkers needed. We should require our congressional leaders to take ethics classes before they take their oath. I would just once like to see a fact checker at a debate slap one of them across the knuckles with a ruler when he or she lies. And, I’d just once like to hear an ad that says, “This message has passed the fact checker for truthfulness.”
(I didn’t hear from the pundits that there was a proliferation of lies at this debate like the Presidential debate.)
And, no one mentioned Republican Senator Larry Pressler’s endorsement of President Obama, and the positive things the Obama Administration has done for veterans.
Yesterday, I proudly endorsed President Obama.
As a combat veteran of two tours of Vietnam with 22 years of service as a Republican member of the U.S. House and Senate, the choice was not easy.
But it is clear: President Obama recognizes that our sacred trust with those who serve starts when they take their oath, and never ends.
That’s why he’s enacted tax credits to spur businesses to hire unemployed veterans and wounded warriors. He implemented and improved the post-9/11 GI Bill, the largest investment in veterans education since the original GI Bill more than 60 years ago. He’s proposing a Veterans Jobs Corps that would help put returning service members to work as police officers, firefighters, and first responders.
President Obama ended the war in Iraq, and has a plan to responsibly end the war in Afghanistan. He’s laid out a clear plan that would reduce the deficit and prevent the mandatory arbitrary military spending cuts that no one wants.
And something that hits close to home: President Obama secured the largest increase in VA investments in decades, so veterans get the care and benefits they earned, like treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury. As someone with service-related PTSD, I meet with younger veterans weekly to help them through the treatment and transition. It makes a difference for them knowing their president has their back.
And let me be clear: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would be disastrous for America’s service members, veterans, and military families.
When you fail to mention an ongoing war in accepting your party’s nomination to be president, or veterans in a so-called jobs plan, the public praise rings hollow.
Mitt Romney has time and again failed the test to be commander-in-chief of our nation’s military. When he politicized the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other brave Americans in Libya, he demonstrated that he lacks the required resolve and steadiness. He sowed division between “us” and “them” when he wrote off 47 percent of Americans, including any veteran collecting disability like myself. He has still failed to outline any plan to end the war in Afghanistan or bring our troops home.
He has not proven himself fit to serve as commander-in-chief of this nation.
Now, that is clear and concise.
September 25, 2012
Fall is in the air, there is no mistaking it, the cooler nights; waking up in the dark instead of those sunny mornings. Brrr! There is something else in the air as well, politics. It’s become so ugly I know people who refuse to listen or to vote. I’m tired of the two-party system where you often have to hold your nose to vote. And, now the mega-bucks with attack ads on both sides filling the airwaves. Money that could so easily be spent on positive change. There are good things about politics, though. A local man, Tom Pratt, wholesome, positive, experienced and dedicated to excellence in education is running for School Board. He meets voters at a neighbors house. Now, that’s democracy you can identify with and get behind.
And, Alex Milward, a young high school student who put on a fundraising dinner for Obama as his senior project. I attended the dinner, and I find my values more in line with the Democratic Party. But, this was such a wholesome event because this young man did it to encourage discourse in our local community. He learned skills like project management, financial tracking, sales and marketing, and public speaking to name a few. Hard work, too.
It was nice to meet neighbors at the event. The local caterer, I have no idea what Jenny Baxter’s political affiliation is, because it doesn’t matter in small town Murphys. Likewise the local musicians who played for the event.
We are all citizens in this soup together. All morning, I emailed to friends and acquaintances something we can all get behind, Public Citizen, if you haven’t heard. Public Citizen is a non-partisan group attempting to return our campaign laws to the sanity of former years. They are working hard to overturn Citizens United Vs. Federal Election Commission. Here is an excerpt from their letter:
A recent survey by the Associated Press and the National Constitution Center shows that 83% of Americans think there should be limits on how much money corporations can give to the outside groups that run so many of the dirty campaign ads polluting our airwaves.
It’s not about political parties: 85% of Democrats, 81% of Republicans and 78% of Independents support limiting corporate influence in elections.
And it’s not about income groups: Among people with household incomes over $100,000, the number actually goes up to 90%.
Overwhelmingly, We the People — across political and income spectrums — want corporations out of politics.
Yet a staggering amount of money is being spent by corporations (on behalf of candidates from both major parties, it must be said) seemingly bent on taking us back to the age of the Robber Barons.
With the problem so stark, with people so unified, Public Citizen has an unprecedented opportunity to capitalize on all the momentum we’ve built together to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
This election is one of the most impactful and divisive of our time. I’m guessing you’re getting, and responding to, emails from candidates soliciting your support.
Public Citizen is proudly nonpartisan. We won’t tell you which candidates to support with your vote or your dollars.
But we’re doing critical work that we can’t just put on hold until after Election Day.
We have to prepare now so that we’re at maximum strength to make the most of the opportunities — and respond to the challenges — we’re going to face once the election results are in.
We simply can’t afford to ease off. Not for a month. Not for a day. Not for one moment.
I know not everyone can or will contribute to any of these political groups. But, just be aware they are out there and can use your financial help if you are so minded.
September 9, 2012
Yesterday, I wrote disparaging comments about our elected officials claiming they get retirement for life and free medical care. And, I bought into that same email information that they do not pay into social security like the rest of us do. A reader, Jim, pointed out to me in a message following yesterday’s blog, that my information was wrong. He pointed me to an article by Phil Scott published in the respected AARP Newsletter about congressional salaries and benefits. Like so many of you, when money rules over good sense, I get cynical and hastily toss off bad news like a righteous knight bent on correcting wrongs.
To correct this error, Scott’s article follows. It just isn’t as bad as I believed it to be, and I should have checked.
And, yesterday, I couldn’t remember granddaddy Bush’s name, and the website from which the information came seemed to have disappeared or I couldn’t find it. The Bush’s and Nixon’s were distant cousins and I got this message on Facebook from William:
William wrote: “Prescott Bush was vice president of Brown Brothers Harriman bank when it was siezed under the “Trading With The Enemy” act. That is why Bush hated Roosevelt so thoroughly. That is a large part of why the Republicans are still trying to undo the Roosevelt legacy. Following World War II, the Republicans established a “Committee of 400″ to start seeking candidates to run against New Deal Democrats. Prescott Bush was the chairman of the committee that selected Richard Nixon to run against Jerry Voorhis in 1946. The Dulles brothers law firm represented Brown Brothers Harriman bank in their case against the government to retrieve their siezed assets. I served in an intelligence division of Strategic Air Command under the Eisenhower/Nixon administration. Nixon was Ike’s vice president. John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State. Allen Dulles was director of the CIA. Prescott Bush was Ike’s golfing partner, all around political advisor, and ‘handler.’ That gang had Ike surrounded on duty and off duty.”
I thank you both, Jim and Wililam for refreshing my information.
Read Phil Scotts article below:
Tales of extravagant congressional pensions abound on websites and in e-mail chains.
Not exactly true. Congressional retirement and health care benefits are far less lavish than critics claim.
For the most part, benefits for Congress are similar to those of any federal employee, although there are differences.
Nearly all Congress members are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System. The FERS retirement plan has three parts:
Social Security. Members of Congress have Social Security taxes withheld from their pay like other workers, and are eligible for retirement benefits beginning at age 62.
Before 1984, members of Congress were covered by the old Civil Service Retirement System and were not required to pay into Social Security — nor could they get a Social Security benefit. But at present, all members of Congress must pay into Social Security, including nearly 50 currently serving members who were first elected before 1984.
A pension benefit. People on the federal payroll, including members of Congress, receive a traditional “defined benefit” pension, something that is available to only a small percentage of private-sector workers.
According to the Congressional Research Service, in October 2006 the average annual pension for a retired member of Congress who served under FERS was $35,952, compared with the current $174,000 salary for active members.
(Members of Congress won’t be affected by President Obama’s proposal for a pay freeze for federal employees — Congress sets its own pay scales separately, and in 2009 and 2010 voted to forgo its usually automatic annual pay increases.)
A member who leaves office before serving five years because of an election defeat or resignation is not eligible for a pension. And any member who is convicted of a crime such as bribery, fraud, racketeering or perjury for acts committed after September 2007 is ineligible.
But, on grounds that working in Congress means uncertain job security, elected members and their staffs receive a larger retirement benefit from FERS for each year of service than other federal employees. They also become eligible for a retirement annuity at a younger age and with fewer years of service.
In return, they contribute a higher percentage of their pay to participate in FERS — 1.3 percent instead of 0.8 percent for most workers. As in the private sector, the bulk of the retirement benefit’s cost is picked up by the employer, in this case, the U.S. government.
Members of Congress can begin drawing their full pension at age 62 if they have completed five years of service, at age 50 with 20 years’ service, or at any age with 25 years’ service. They can collect a reduced pension with 10 years of service at ages 55 to 57, depending on their birth year.
The Thrift Savings Plan. This is a “defined contribution” plan available to all federal employees and similar to the 401(k) plans common in the private sector. There’s a difference: Whether or not the employee chooses to save anything, the government contributes 1 percent of base pay to the savings plan.
Members of Congress participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program along with about 8 million federal workers, retirees and their dependents. They are subject to the same rules and receive the same coverage. Compared with health plans offered by private employers, the FEHBP offers more choices — in fact, “the widest selection of health plans in the country,” according to the Office of Personnel Management.
Congress members are also eligible for Medicare, and pay the same 1.45 percent tax on their salary as do other workers.
A few extras
Congress members do receive some medical benefits beyond those available to regular federal workers.
For an annual payment of $503, members can receive routine care from the Office of the Attending Physician, which has facilities in the Capitol. ABC News reported last year that these services include physicals and other examinations, on-site X-rays and lab work, physical therapy and referrals to medical specialists.
In addition, current members (but not their dependents) can receive medical and emergency dental care at military hospitals and clinics. Inpatient care is covered by FEHBP insurance, but outpatient care is free if it’s performed at facilities in the national capital region, such as Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland or Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District of Columbia.
This benefit is likely the source of persistent online rumors that all medical care is free for Congress members.
Phil Scott is a New York-based journalist.
September 7, 2012
Things are far more complicated than they seem, certainly more complicated than I’m capable of imagining.
I try to buy whatever I need made in America and avoid buying stuff made in China, nearly impossible in my community. We don’t have the variety of shopping options that city people do. And, I’m a solar nut. I love it, I’m delighted that California leads the nation in solar installations and even without taking the subsidies away from big oil, solar is booming. Now, listen to this:
Solar is booming because cheap panels are coming from China. That leads to competition. Solar panels made in the USA, Germany and Japan are still available and China has forced prices down everywhere. Since we have a trade deficit with China, it is nice to see it benefit us in such a big way. American installers are doing a brisk business and we are moving toward sustainable energy because clean technology is almost as cheap as dirty fossil fuels. The US and the European Union are threatening to stifle this breakthrough. So, how?
Both the US and EU give billions in taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil and Coal. Do they turn those subsidies to clean energy? No, they are about to drive solar prices back up by putting tariffs on China and China is threatening to retaliate? Oh, let’s have a trade war. Who would benefit by hurting the burgeoning, green solar industry? The oil and coal industry, of course. I’m not saying we don’t need oil, I’m just saying we shouldn’t subsidize it anymore. Why not turn those subsidies into clean energy. The oil companies rake in billions in profits and we still subsidize them? Enough is enough.
I’d rather see them rescind the whole trade agreement than tariff solar. China has a poor human rights record and they supply us with our own stuff at cheaper prices. I read in Smithsonian Magazine where one expert claims that “Every major company in the United States has already been penetrated by China.” He also fears they have implanted logic bombs , trapdoors and Trojan horses in our electronics, l that can be activated on command like a cyber-Pearl Harbor attack. That may be fear mongering, but we certainly stand to lose our competitive edge. Our F-35 Bomber technology- important and our early American quilt patterns- irritating.
The farm industry in the U.S. has been facing declining beef and pork consumption in the U.S. Now, land grabs for grazing land are being taken over to keep beef flowing to Asian countries. Yup! They take our electronics, steal or buy our technology, and now we export our food to them.
China has a poor human rights and environmental record, and its strategy of flooding the global market with subsidised goods is annoying and costly to jobs. The best thing is not to blame China, but to aggressively entreat our leaders to subsidize US solar manufacturers with cheap loans just like China does. We should learn from their practices.
Experts predict that tariffs could cost 60,0000 US jobs. So, cheaper panels provide more work for people. Forget the tariff. It only sounds like a good answer.
NYT — “U.S. Slaps High Tariffs on Chinese Solar Panels”
Bloomberg – “U.S. Solar Tariffs On Chinese Cells May Boost Prices”
August 29, 2012
Political Conventions ain’t what they used to be. I remember them as fun events, people wore crazy hats, waved funny and serious signs, partied and smoozed and had a wonderful time. That may still happen, but the ordinary, back-home people from our communities who go may not even know about the real smoozing going on. I present for you from Public Citizen “the rest of the story:”
The Democratic and Republican national conventions — which are supposed to be publicly financed electoral events with reasonable ethics restrictions on influence-peddling by lobbyists – have turned into mostly privately financed soirees funded by corporations and lobbying firms that seek favors from the federal government. Today, less happens at the presidential nominating conventions, because the presumptive nominees are chosen in advance. Fewer people care about the conventions, as declining viewership shows. Yet more money is raised and spent at the conventions than when the conventions were major political events.
Two separate codes were intended, but largely have failed, to make the nominating conventions more respectable political events. The first is the decades-old ban imposed by the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) on the use of “soft money” — funds from corporate or union treasuries or large individual contributions in excess of the legal limits — to pay for conventions. The second is the 2007 congressional ethics rules that restrict the manner in which lobbyists and lobbying organizations may host parties and offer gifts to members of Congress.
The presidential public financing system was created to replace potentially corrupting “soft money” with public money in the selection of the president, largely in response to a soft money slush fund scandal at the 1972 Republican National Convention. In May 1971, the giant International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (IT&T) pledged up to $400,000 to attract the 1972 Republican National Convention to San Diego. The company was facing several anti-trust lawsuits under the Nixon administration. Just eight days after the selection of San Diego for the Republican convention, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst agreed to an out-of-court anti-trust settlement with IT&T that the company considered very favorable. In the wake of this scandal, Congress approved a system of public financing for presidential elections, which included full public financing of the conventions, removing the potentially corrupting corporate money from the convention process.
1. The Law Regarding Convention Financing
FECA’s public financing program for the presidential nominating conventions created a system in which the parties, in exchange for accepting reasonable spending ceilings on their conventions, would receive a block grant from the federal government to pay for nearly all convention expenses. Originally, the spending ceiling and block grant was set at $2 million, to be adjusted for inflation. FECA was soon amended to increase the spending ceiling and block grant to $4 million.
The law began to unravel after a series of controversial Federal Election Commission (FEC) advisory opinions and regulations issued in the 1980s. The FEC decided to allow corporate and union soft money to help pay for the conventions through “host committees.” Originally, the FEC limited the soft money loophole for host committees and municipal funds to corporations and unions with a “local tie” to the community hosting the convention. In 2003, the FEC dismissed the requirement of a “local tie” for corporate contributions to host committees and municipal funds altogether. 
FEC Commissioner Thomas Harris back in the early 1980s saw the danger of these exemptions getting out of control. He wrote in a dissenting opinion: “By permitting corporations and unions to donate unlimited amounts of money to fund political conventions, the Commission is ignoring one of the clear concerns of 2 U.S.C. 441(b) and its predecessor statutes – that is, the fear of the influence of aggregated wealth on the political process.” 
2. The Flood of Soft Money into the Conventions
Commissioner Harris’ prediction that the host committee exception could become a gaping soft money loophole has come true with a vengeance. In 1976, both parties paid for their conventions almost exclusively with public funds, about $2 million each. In 1980 and 1984, the parties still relied mostly on public money to pay for their conventions, at slightly more than $4 million in 1980 and somewhat more than $7 million in 1984. Soft money had only begun to creep into the picture.
Then, in 1996, the use of privately financed “host committees” by the parties overwhelmed the public financing program. Both conventions received private funds amounting to nearly double the public grant.
Today, public funds make up only a modest share of the total (inflated) cost of the conventions. In 2000, for example, each party was awarded about $13.5 million to pay for its nominating convention. In reality, private sources chipped in an additional $52 million for the Democratic convention in Los Angeles and $60 million for the Republican convention in Philadelphia. In the 2004 election, the Republicans spent $101 million on their convention and the Democrats spent $72 million, all while the official public funding grant intended to pay for the conventions was $15 million. In 2008, each party was awarded $16.4 million in public grants to pay for their conventions, but total expenditures through the host committees amounted to more than $55 million for the Democratic convention and $57 million for the Republican convention. This year, each party has been given a public grant of $18.3 million, but private sources are expected to add another $37 million for the Democratic convention and $55 million for the Republican convention.
The partisan disparity for the 2012 conventions is the result of the Democratic Party’s new policy of reining in out-of-control financing of its convention. As part of the agreement between the Democratic Party and the convention host committee, direct corporate contributions to the convention are banned, lobbyist contributions are prohibited and all other contributions are capped at $100,000. At the time of the announcement, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said, “We will make this the first convention in history that does not accept any funds from lobbyists, corporations or political action committees. This will be the first modern political convention funded by the grassroots, funded by the people.”
The self-imposed Democratic constraints on special-interest funding are expected to significantly reduce private funding for the Democratic convention — even given some of the loopholes in the policy. For example, while corporations cannot make direct contributions to the Democratic convention, they can provide in-kind products and services to the host committee to help finance the convention, which likely will be worth a substantial amount. Furthermore, with the host committee struggling to make its contractual obligation of arranging $37 million in additional private funds for the convention, the host committee has incorporated New American City Inc., a non-profit entity run by the convention host committee. New American City reportedly received funds from Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Duke Energy, calling into question the value of the pledge against accepting direct corporate contributions with this backdoor avenue in place.
Meanwhile, the Republicans have not imposed any such limits on the sources and amounts of special interest money to finance their convention.
3. What Do They Get for Their Money?
Nearly all of the private donors to the convention host committees have business pending before Congress or the White House and have made substantial campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures to press their causes. With the 2008 convention, for example, 173 organizational donors to the host committees have been identified, and all but two are corporations. These donors made more than $100 million in direct campaign contributions to federal candidates and party committees, and about $1.5 billion in lobbying expenditures between 2005 and 2008. Clearly, most companies that donate to the conventions want something from the federal government — and they are willing to pay.
Corporations and their lobbyists also purchase a great deal of one-on-one time with lawmakers at the conventions. In return for their donations to the convention host committees, corporate sponsors to the conventions are promised a variety of benefits, ranging from advertising opportunities to VIP tickets to the convention centers. Each host committee advertises numerous levels of sponsorship — the greater the contribution, the greater the access to advertising opportunities and elected officials. Additionally, the sponsorship packet offers contributors the chance to buy access to party luminaries by hosting or sponsoring events such as state delegation receptions.
So far, no data on contributions to the 2012 conventions are available. Unlike the 2008 conventions, in which the governors and mayors of the convention sites (as members of the host committees) provided early data on donors in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by the Campaign Finance Institute, the governor’s office of Florida and local offices of the cities of Tampa and Charlotte provided no similar information on donors in response to FOIA requests by Public Citizen. Each of the offices this year claimed that the host committees are private entities not under their control or jurisdiction. The governor’s office of North Carolina did not respond to our inquiry.
Host committees and municipal committees are required to file their financial disclosure reports with the FEC either 60 days following the convention or 20 days prior to the general election (Oct.15), whichever is first.
B. Party Time on the Lobbyists’ Dime? Not So Fast
One way of buying influence with lawmakers is to make soft money contributions to the convention host committees. Another is to pay for a lavish reception or party at the convention for lawmakers and party leaders. Many of the corporate donors, like AT&T, make extensive use of both tactics.
Eight years ago, the parties at the national conventions were more numerous and more pointedly set up for influence-peddling by their corporate sponsors. The Consumer Electronics Association, for example, a lobbying organization with business pending before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, hosted a luncheon at the 2004 Republican convention to honor committee members. Media companies, seeking specific legislation from Congress, hosted a $300,000 “Caribbean Beach Bash” at the 2004 Democratic convention in honor of U.S. Sen. John Breaux, a leading advocate of media interests over the years. Individual partygoers could pony up an additional $20,000 for some one-on-one time with the honoree. Though Breaux was retiring, the media lobbyists sent a clear message to his colleagues who remain: We support our friends.
New congressional ethics rules adopted in 2007 placed constraints on this type of influence-peddling at the conventions by lobbyists and lobbying organizations. The “Honest Leadership and Open Government Act” contains a sweeping set of lobbying laws and ethics rules enhancing disclosure of lobbying activity and regulating the behavior of lobbyists, lobbying organizations, members of Congress and their staffs. (For a detailed summary of the lobbying law, click here.)
The new rules ban any congressional lawmaker from participating in an event at the convention honoring that lawmaker if the event is hosted by a lobbyist or lobbying organization.
This rule expressly prohibits members of Congress from attending any convention party thrown by a lobbyist or lobbying organization where a specific member or members are identified by name and title as the honoree (including as a “special guest”), as well as events honoring a group composed solely of members, such as a congressional committee or congressional caucus. Member participation also is prohibited if the member is to receive a special benefit or opportunity that would not be available to some or all of the other participants, such as if the sponsor were to offer the member an exclusive speaking role or a very prominent ceremonial role.
This is precisely how the Senate ethics committee has interpreted the rule, issuing guidelines to that effect. The House ethics committee, however, has issued partly erroneous guidelines on this matter, which is likely to cause confusion and possibly violations of the rule at the upcoming conventions. In describing the nature of the rule, the House ethics committee has interpreted the ban on parties honoring a member as not applying to parties that honor groups of members in which no specific member is identified, such as congressional committees or caucuses. The House ethics committee has also limited application of the rule to the formal dates of the convention itself, rather than the heavy party weekends immediately before and after the convention.
Both interpretations by the House ethics committee are inappropriate and fail to honor the letter and spirit of the rule. The clear intent of the rule is to prohibit lobbyists from hosting parties honoring one, two or even 100 members, either specifically or by committee or caucus name.
Congressional gift rules also prohibit members and staff from accepting gifts from lobbyists or lobbying organizations at the conventions, except under the following circumstances:
- Reception – Members and staff may attend a reception hosted by a lobbying organization, including food and refreshment of nominal value offered other than as part of a meal, known as the “toothpick rule.”
- Widely attended event – Members and staff may accept dinner, refreshments and entertainment at a widely attended event. An event is considered widely attended when at least 25 people from outside Congress are expected to attend and the member’s attendance should be related to official duties. Free attendance does not include entertainment collateral to the event, such as a concert.
- Charity event – Members and staff may accept free attendance at a charity event, provided the primary purpose of the event is to raise funds for a legitimate charitable organization.
- Campaign fundraiser – Members and staff may accept free food, refreshments and entertainment in connection with any fundraising events sponsored by party organizations, campaign committees and other political organizations. Such fundraising events must comply with federal or state campaign finance limits and disclosure requirements.
- Convention event – Members and staff may accept food, refreshments, entertainment or other gifts offered by the convention committees, party organizations and federal, state and local governments.
Public Citizen and seven other reform organizations sent a letter to Congress last month urging all members to abide by the new ethics rules. The letter is available at http://www.citizen.org/documents/convention-letter-2012-house.pdf.
The House Ethics Committee guidance on the conventions is available at http://www.citizen.org/documents/house-convention-guidance-2012.pdf.
The Senate Ethics Committee guidance is available at http://www.citizen.org/documents/senate-convention-guidance-2012.pdf.
C. Conclusion: Lobbyists Gone Wild
Corporations and their lobbyists see the national nominating conventions as an ideal opportunity to buy access and influence with the presidential campaigns, lawmakers and party leaders. The conventions constitute a campaign media blitz for the campaigns and provide a golden opportunity for lobbyists to extend their lobbying activity off Capitol Hill.
The soft money loophole created by the FEC has derailed part of the original intent of the presidential public financing program: to remove the potentially corrupting corporate money (such as from IT&T) from the convention proceedings. The FEC should reverse its previous rulings on corporate sponsorship of host committees and municipal funds. If the FEC will not step up to the plate – and there is no indication that it will do so — then Congress must revisit this issue when it considers strengthening the presidential public financing system.
Meanwhile, corporate lobbyists will be partying, schmoozing and lobbying at the national conventions. Though new ethics rules are forcing significant adjustments in the behavior of lobbyists and lobbying organizations at the conventions, there is still confusion that could lead lawmakers to disregard the rules.
It is imperative that members of Congress and their staffs are clear on the ethics rules and approach the party scene prudently. The House ethics committee needs to revisit its guidance so as not to contribute to the confusion. And the public and press must do their best to monitor the convention festivities to ensure compliance with the rules. No one else will.
Public Citizen and the Sunlight Foundation set up a bird-dogging campaign for the 2008 conventions to crash the soirees and identify which are in violation of the ethics rules. We were able to shut down only one party sponsored by a lobbying organization out of the hundreds that took place at both conventions.
Public Citizen and the Sunlight Foundation will be repeating this bird-dogging campaign for the 2012 conventions.
So, if you think money is buying our elections? It is worse than you thought. A rule is just something to break or get around.