Saturday, March 31, 2012

Koch Brothers, Chamber of Commerce Face Possible Campaign Donation Disclosure After Ruling

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On Friday evening, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a ruling that could begin the process of revealing the identities of secret donors to groups connected to Karl Rove and the Koch brothers.

The court ruled in Van Hollen v. Federal Election Commission that the FEC rules that restricted campaign donor disclosure are not valid and must be changed to provide for disclosure.

"We are very happy to see the judge got it right," says Paul Ryan, a lawyer for the Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance watchdog that was a part of the team challenging the FEC rules.

Those rules state that donors to groups spending money on "electioneering communications," or advertisements that do not specifically call to elect or defeat a candidate, must only be disclosed if they specifically earmarked their donation to that particular expenditure. Since few, if any, donors to these groups ever earmark their donation for a specific election expense there was no disclosure.
That FEC rule came in the wake of the 2007 Supreme Court ruling in Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC. That ruling overturned a ban, instituted by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, regarding direct corporate and union contributions to electioneering communications.

Friday's court ruling could reverse a trend started by the FEC rules, and aggravated by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, that led to an explosion in undisclosed contributions to electoral efforts. The percentage of independent spending that went undisclosed jumped from 1 percent in 2006 to 43.8 percent in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Advertisements falling under the rubric of "electioneering communications" include those run against President Barack Obama by the American Energy Alliance and Americans for Prosperity, both non-profits linked to the Koch brothers. All ads run by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are classified as "electioneering communications." The ruling would require for the first time that contributions to these groups, and many more, be disclosed.
Crossroads GPS, a non-profit linked to Karl Rove, has run millions of electioneering communications against Obama and Democratic senators this election cycle without disclosing any of their donors.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) challenged these FEC rules in 2011, arguing that the rules preventing disclosure were an unlawful interpretation of the plain language of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, which mandated disclosure of these donors. Therefore, he said, they should be tossed out by the court.

"This is good news for our democracy and for voters - this victory will compel the FEC to require enhanced disclosures of the funders of campaign-related advertisements," Van Hollen said in a statement.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson stated Friday in her ruling that, "there is no question that the regulation promulgated by the FEC directly contravenes the Congressional goal of increasing transparency and disclosure in electioneering communications."

"In sum, the Court finds that Congress spoke plainly, that Congress did not delegate authority to the FEC to narrow the disclosure requirement through agency rulemaking, and that a change in the reach of the statute brought about by a Supreme Court ruling did not render plain language, which is broad enough to cover the new circumstances, to be ambiguous," the ruling continued. "The agency cannot unilaterally decide to take on a quintessentially legislative function; if sound policy suggests that the statute needs tailoring in the wake of WRTL or Citizens United, it is up to Congress to do it."

Fred Wertheimer, the president of campaign finance watchdog group Democracy 21 and another one of the lawyers representing Van Hollen, said in a statement, "Now it is the FEC’s turn to act. Democracy 21 calls on the FEC to conduct an immediate rulemaking procedure. The FEC must get new rules in place promptly to ensure that outside spenders making electioneering communications disclose the donors funding these campaign related expenditures."

While the ruling unambiguously states that the FEC's rules on electioneering communications are in contravention of congressional intent and should be invalidated, the next step remains murky.
"If this ruling stood and this was the end of it, we'd have much more disclosure," explained University of California-Irvine law professor Rick Hasen. "I don't think that this is going to be the end of it."

On his Election Law Blog, Hasen laid out five possibilities of what could transpire in the wake of this decision, including the FEC immediately writing new, appropriate rules or an appeal from the FEC, prolonging the court challenge. The FEC requires four votes from its six commissioners to appeal a decision.

"This is a good day for those who want to shine light on who's funding our elections," Hasen said. "These things are years in the making. People who think that this is going to solve all the problems immediately are probably going to be disappointed."

The efforts by the Van Hollen team will also continue, according to the statement from Wertheimer. He explained that the legal team will now consult on "a potential second lawsuit challenging the FEC disclosure regulations that have gutted the contribution disclosure requirements for outside groups making independent expenditures."

Independent expenditures are election expenses that do call for the election or defeat of a candidate. This type of spending is what corporations and unions were freed to spend money on in the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.

The Koch Brothers Want to Buy the White House

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By Matthew Rothschild

This is what plutocracy looks like.

At the end of January, in California, the Koch Brothers held one of their semi-annual gatherings of super-rich rightwingers.

The goal: Defeat Obama.

The means to attain that goal: Unlimited cash.

Permission to spend that cash: Granted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United case two years ago.

And so Charles Koch pledged to spend $40 million, according to the Huffington Post.

And Brother David pledged $20 million.

And the assorted other fat cats rounded the number up to $100 million.

Among them, Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino owner who paid for the iron lung that’s kept Newt Gingrich’s primary campaign alive. But Adelson isn’t picky. Looks like he’ll have no qualms about throwing in with Romney if and when Gingrich bows out ungracefully.

So here you have a tiny circle of some of the richest people in America conspiring essentially to buy the White House.

And the Supreme Court says that’s fine.


It’s totally unfair and undemocratic to give the wealthiest Americans such a huge voice in our supposed democracy. Why should they be able to shell out $100 million to try to elect a candidate of their choice whereas most Americans can’t afford to spend even $100?

We’re supposed to have one person, one vote in this country, but the Citizens United decision has put the mock in democracy.

And the only way to un-mock it is to amend the Constitution and state, once and for all, that money is not speech, that a corporation is not a person, and that it is altogether reasonable and proper to limit what can be spent on electioneering.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “After Florida, Romney Poses Threat to Obama."

Sunday, March 25, 2012

How Paul Ryan sold his plan

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By: Jake Sherman

The Paul Ryan budget was a political disaster last year for Republicans. This year the GOP had a much more methodical, careful rollout.

The party polled on Medicare in 50 battleground districts. It vetted the plan with a dozen conservative groups. It reached out to rank-and-file lawmakers and asked them what they needed to support the sweeping conservative spending plan. Ryan briefed the Republican presidential candidates and won a quick public endorsement of the plan from Mitt Romney.

And perhaps most important, the GOP learned how to use the right poll-tested words.

(Also in POLITICO: Paul Ryan: Budget plan a choice in ‘two futures’)

On the day before the budget rollout, top Republicans gathered in Speaker John Boehner’s smoky Capitol conference room with National Republican Congressional Committee officials and went over key phrases. Call the Medicare reform “bipartisan,” they were told. Frame it as helping to “fix Medicare and keep it from going bankrupt.” Be sure to point out that Americans 55 or older would not be affected. And say it gives seniors the choice of “staying in the current Medicare system or using the new one.”

Using this phrasing, 46 percent in an internal GOP poll — conducted in January — would support the Republican argument that Medicare is going bankrupt, Republicans were giving them a choice and the GOP is trying to preserve the program. The Democratic argument that Republicans were ending Medicare registered at 37 percent.

The precise, strategic sales job of the Ryan budget is a far cry from last year’s clunky rollout, and a sign that Republicans have learned some lessons in political strategy on the divisive issues underlying the Ryan vision.

Last year, they were blindsided by the backlash to the Wisconsin Republican’s plan. It was immediately framed by Democrats as ending Medicare, crushing Medicaid while keeping taxes low for the rich. Ryan, who was being pitched as a presidential prospect for the party, receded as his plan came under attack from all sides.

The 2012 plan is — simply put — to not talk about the plan too much.

Ryan and Republicans no longer talk about their plan as a stand-alone. They frame it as a contrast with President Barack Obama’s health care law, which they believe cuts $500 billion from Medicare. The presence of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) as a co-author of Ryan’s Medicare overhaul gives them bipartisan cover.

GOP leaders are suggesting members use props. In a presentation, the NRCC said members should try to “inoculate” themselves in a campaign season by using “credible third-party validators (mom or seniors),” according to a party document.

Above all, the Ryan budget rollout was designed to conform to a new political reality for Republicans: Changing entitlements is difficult, not popular but necessary. And even the true believers — like Ryan himself — need to build coalitions when they pitch big ideas.

To ensure the plan landed well nationally, Ryan personally reached out to presidential candidates to brief them on it. Romney endorsed the plan this week.

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) joined with the Budget Committee, Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to work over members to fit their needs on the budget. Deeper cuts to spending? Done. Replace automatic cuts to the Pentagon? Sure.

McCarthy’s team also reached out to more than a dozen outside groups to hear what they want to see in the budget — and then let them know where the committee was heading. Groups ranged from monied Republicans like Crossroads, American Action Network and FreedomWorks, to tea party groups such as Americans for Prosperity and American Conservative Union, to Washington establishments like Americans for Tax Reform, the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute.

One of the few criticisms came from the Club for Growth, but that group seems to be more the exception than the rule.

The Club for Growth Wednesday said Ryan’s budget “falls short” because it doesn’t balance the budget “for decades” and it violates the spending caps agreed to by the House and Senate.

“On balance, the Ryan budget is a disappointment for fiscal conservatives,” said former Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.), now the president of Club for Growth.

It remains to be seen whether the methodical work Republicans have gone through will pay dividends. They lost a House race in upstate New York after passing Ryan’s budget in 2011.

And Democrats still think the Ryan budget is an election-year gift that will allow them to portray Republicans as killing Medicare, cutting taxes for the rich and slashing programs that help the poor. Democrats are also expected to hit Republicans for violating an agreement on spending caps and changing Medicaid.

But Republicans expect the carping from the left. They believe that if the upstate New York race last year was a low point for the GOP, a race in Nevada last fall was a dry run for how to frame 2012 races around the budget.

In that race, Republican Mark Amodei faced Democrat Kate Marshall in a solidly Republican district. But among seniors, he was getting badly beaten.

Amodei gave up talking about the particulars of the Ryan budget. He started saying the status quo was unsustainable. He tagged Marshall as supporting Obama’s health care bill, which he said cut from Medicare. When talking about the Republican plan, he said it would “save and protect” the senior health care program.

Amodei sent out direct mail that branded him as the “the one candidate working to protect Medicare.” They enlisted his mother to star in an advertisement vouching he would protect the program.

The contrast worked.

At the beginning of the race — just a few months after Ryan’s first budget passed — 39 percent of voters thought Marshall would better “protect seniors on Medicare.” Just 26 percent thought Amodei was up for that job. By the end of the race, that number jumped to 41 percent, and Marshall’s dropped to 33. And, Amodei’s favorable ratings with voters older than 65 nearly doubled.

He is now a member of Congress.

“Here’s what I’m real comfortable telling people,” Amodei said in an interview in Washington on Wednesday. “I’ll tell you the truth about your program, and I’ll fight to save it, but in order to tell you the truth and to fight to save it, you can’t continue to do nothing. Can you fix it all in a year? Absolutely not. Can you fix it in five years? No you can’t. But you better start now.”

Top 10 Ways the Ryan Budget Hurts the Middle Class

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It Favors the Wealthy While Ending Medicare as We Know It

The latest House Republican budget plan asks low-income and middle-class Americans to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while simultaneously delivering massive tax breaks to the richest 1 percent and preserving huge giveaways to Big Oil. It’s a recipe for repeating the mistakes of the Bush administration, during which middle-class incomes stagnated and only the privileged few enjoyed enormous gains.

Each component of the new House Republican budget threatens the middle class while doing nothing to add jobs or grow our economy. It ends the guarantee of decent insurance for senior citizens, breaking Medicare’s bedrock promise. It slashes investments in education, infrastructure, and basic research, all of which are key drivers of economic growth and mobility. And it cuts taxes for those at the top, asking the middle class to pick up the tab. It’s a budget designed to benefit the top 1 percent at everyone else’s expense.

The top budget official in the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday released his latest proposal to hurt the American middle class. Here are the top 10 problems with the new budget plan introduced by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI).

1. It caters to the 1 percent.

The budget plan is deliberately vague, but it does make one thing clear: Conservatives are determined that the rich pay fewer taxes. The plan doesn’t identify any tax loopholes to close, leaving the middle class to pick up the tab for the 1 percent. Ryan’s proposed tax cuts for the rich are larger than the windfall they received from former President George W. Bush.

2. It ends Medicare as we know it.

The budget would move toward a privatization of Medicare, proposing that those currently in the health program get vouchers for private insurance. To stick with Medicare and retain access to their current doctors, many seniors would get stuck with markedly higher premium costs, and anyone new to the Medicare program could see costs rise by nearly $6,000 by 2050.

3. It eliminates the health care safety net.

The budget would cost 47 million people their health insurance benefits over the next decade. Tens of millions of people would be stripped of necessary consumer protections. And states would have to slash eligibility and benefits for Medicaid, a program that provides for the poor and disabled.

4. It increases unemployment.

The House budget seeks to balance the deficit on the backs of unemployed Americans, whose ranks would increase under the new House plan. Even though more and more Americans have been finding jobs, almost 1 in 10 Americans are still out of work.

Ryan “is wrong that deficit reduction and putting the economy on a stronger footing are opposing goals,” writes CAP Senior Economist Heather Boushey. “The federal deficit cannot be closed while our economy remains so far below full employment. Sustained high unemployment has caused revenues to fall sharply over the past two years, even as expenditures have become more necessary.”

5. It threatens our economic competitiveness.

The House budget plan slashes $871 billion from government investments in education, job training, scientific research, and transportation infrastructure over the next decade.
Government investment paves the way for business investment, and we need to catch up with global competitors. Our investment rate tumbled from 18 percent of total economic output in 2000 to 13 percent in 2011. China’s investment rate skyrocketed from 35 percent to 49 percent of GDP over the same decade.

“Investment is the cornerstone of job creation, economic growth, and long-term prosperity for middle-class families and our country as a whole,” write CAP Economist Adam Hersh and Researcher Sarah Ayres. “Investments … contribute to growth by putting new technologies to work, lowering costs for businesses, and increasing the productivity and competitiveness of American workers.”

6. It showers money on Big Oil.

The House budget would continue to shower oil companies with $40 billion in tax breaks over 10 years. This at a time when oil companies are already enjoying record profits while middle-class Americans wonder how they’ll be able to fill up their gas tanks.

7. It devastates Social Security.

The House budget would cut Social Security benefits for most recipients, while giving the wealthy a windfall. Ryan’s blueprint justifies this by painting a misleading picture of the retirement program’s financial health. In reality, this bedrock program could be shored up with minor adjustments that don’t threaten the retirement security of the middle class.

8. It shortchanges K–12 education.

The budget proposal lumps spending on education, social programs, and training into a category targeted with a 20 percent cut. That means we would see dramatic cuts in K–12 education spending, perhaps to the lowest levels in years, at a time when the country desperately needs a well-educated workforce to compete internationally.

9. It shortchanges higher education.

Colleges and universities won’t be spared either. Low-income and middle-class students, who can only afford to enroll in higher education thanks to Pell Grants, may find it harder to get financial aid: The budget proposes big cuts to the Pell Grant program.

The budget stresses the need to only give grants to the “truly needy.” But around 74 percent of 2010–2011 Pell Grant students either came from a family who earned or by themselves earned $30,000 a year—at most.

10. It ignores the wishes of the American people.

About two-thirds of Americans think the rich should pay higher taxes. And 70 percent believe Medicare should continue operating as it does currently.
The House budget plan ignores the will of the people, favoring the wealthy while ending Medicare as we know it. This is a budget that has no respect for the middle class’s essential role as a key driver of economic growth. It eviscerates benefits and programs that ordinary Americans depend on in order to shower even more privileges on the wealthiest few.
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GOP Budget Proposal: Faith Leaders Say It Is 'Immoral' And 'Irresponsible'

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By Annalisa Musarra Religion News Service

Faith leaders and poverty experts Wednesday (March 21) called the new House GOP budget proposal "immoral" and "irresponsible."

The budget released the previous day by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., included deep cuts to programs that would unfairly burden the poor, middle-income families and senior citizens, said the Rev. Thomas Kelly, who participated in a phone conference with the media.

"Using the deficit as an excuse to pursue a radical agenda that punishes the poor is simply dishonest and immoral," said Kelly, a Catholic priest and Ryan's constituent, on the call hosted by the Center for American Progress.

The Republican blueprint calls for cuts to Medicaid and other programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- also known as SNAP, or food stamps -- and would turn them into block grant programs, putting states in charge of tailoring them to local needs.

The cuts also aim to reduce the nation's deficit by $4.4 trillion during the next 10 years.
"There is a way to reduce the deficit and ensure that those who are struggling get the helping hand they need," said Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing at Sojourners, a progressive Christian nonprofit.
But Tad DeHaven, budget analyst at the conservative Cato Institute, said faith leaders, rather than criticize politicians such as Ryan, would do better to support efforts to send federal dollars to states, where local problems are best addressed by local people.

It's easy to demand more federal dollars "but we've had these programs for years now that are supposedly going to end poverty -- yet it still exists," he said.

Ryan's office said his plan "repairs the safety net" and is "empowering."

According to Melissa Boteach, director at Half in Ten, a campaign that works to reduce poverty, it is Obama's budget that invests in a safety net to protect the poor from falling below the poverty line, not Ryan's.

"I think that the president's budget shows that poverty reduction and deficit reduction don't have to be a mutually exclusive objective," she said. "We hope (poor families) don't fall because there won't be much to catch them there under the new House Republican plan."

Harper said the Obama budget, "while not perfect," embraces different priorities.

"It seems like his budget is more open to the things the people of faith care about than the budget that was put forward yesterday."

The unrealistic assumptions behind Paul Ryan’s budget numbers

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There’s an important disclaimer in the very first paragraph of the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of Paul Ryan’s budget plan.

The calculations presented here represent CBO’s assessment of how the specified paths would alter the trajectories of federal debt, revenues, spending, and economic output relative to the trajectories under two scenarios that CBO has analyzed previously. Those calculations do not represent a cost estimate for legislation or an analysis of the effects of any given policies. In particular, CBO has not considered whether the specified paths are consistent with the policy proposals or budget figures released today by Chairman Ryan as part of his proposed budget resolution.

Translated out of CBO-ese, what that means is that CBO hasn’t looked at whether Ryan’s budget will achieve the results Ryan says it will. Rather, it looked at what will happen assuming Ryan’s budget achieves the results that Ryan says it will.

On the third page, CBO writes, “Chairman Ryan and his staff specified rules by which revenues and spending would evolve.” They then detail what those rules were:

Ryan tells CBO to assume his tax plan will raise revenues to 19 percent of GDP and then hold them there. He tells them to assume his Medicare plan will hold cost growth in Medicare to GDP+0.5 percentage points. He tells them to assume that spending on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program won’t grow any faster than inflation. He tells them to assume that all federal spending aside from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will fall from 12.5 percent of GDP in 2011 to 3.75 percent of GDP in 2050.

It’s that last assumption, perhaps, that shows most clearly how unlikely Ryan’s specified budget path is. He’s saying that in 2050, spending on defense, on food stamps, on infrastructure, on education, on research and development, on the federal workforce, and everything other non-entitlement program combined will be less than four percentage points of GDP.

Consider that defense spending has never fallen below three percentage points of GDP, and Mitt Romney has promised to keep it above four percentage points of GDP. Ryan has not outlined a realistic goal.

Ryan isn’t alone in directing the CBO to assume some level of success for his policies. Politicians from both parties routinely specify spending limits and then brag about the results. But Ryan’s budget is unusual in the numbers of rules it specifies, and the level of success it assumes for its policies.

And the savings he touts — which, as you can see in the graph atop this post, are quite dramatic — rely on the level of success he assumes. If he can’t bring all non-entitlement spending down to 3.75 percent of GDP, and he can’t keep Medicaid to inflation, then he can’t achieve the deficit reduction he’s promising.

”If the president put out a budget with this level of detail and these kinds of assumptions,” says Michael Linden, who directs tax and budget policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, “people would be up in arms about how ridiculous it is.”

CBO Shows Ryan Budget Would Set Nation on Path to End Most of Government Other Than Social Security, Health Care, and Defense By 2050

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By Robert Greenstein

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s new budget plan specifies a long-term spending path under which, by 2050, most of the federal government aside from Social Security, health care, and defense would cease to exist, according to figures in a Congressional Budget Office analysis released today. [1]

The CBO report, prepared at Chairman Ryan’s request, shows that Ryan’s budget path would shrink federal expenditures for everything other than Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and interest payments to just 3¾ percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050. Since, as CBO notes, “spending for defense alone has not been lower than 3 percent of GDP in any year [since World War II]” and Ryan seeks a high level of defense spending — he increases defense funding by $228 billion over the next ten years above the pre-sequestration baseline — the rest of government would largely have to disappear. That includes everything from veterans’ programs to medical and scientific research, highways, education, nearly all programs for low-income families and individuals other than Medicaid, national parks, border patrols, protection of food safety and the water supply, law enforcement, and the like. (In the same vein, CBO also notes that spending for everything other than Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest “has exceeded 8 percent of GDP in every year since World War II.”[2])

In addition, CBO shows that total federal spending — includingSocial Security, interest, and health care — would fall to 16 percent of GDP by 2050 under Ryan’s budget path, a target specifically included in the Ryan budget resolution. This would be the lowest level since 1950, when Medicare, Medicaid, most federal funding for education, highways, and environmental protection, and various other significant federal activities did not exist.

The Ryan budget would start down this path immediately, with severe cuts in non-defense discretionary programs over the next ten years. It would cut funding for these programs by nearly $1.2 trillion below the austere funding caps that Congress enactedlast August (by 2021, funding would be more than 22 percent below what it would be under the cap) — and by $800 billion below the level to which non-defense discretionary funding would be shrunk if sequestration were allowed to take effect.

The Ryan Plan and Grover Norquist’s Vision

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and one of Washington’s most influential anti-tax conservatives, told National Public Radio in 2001, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” The CBO report suggests that other than for Social Security, defense, and health, Chairman Ryan has a similar vision.
Equally stunning are CBO’s findings about the impacts of the Ryan plan on programs to enable Americans to secure health-care coverage. CBO finds that the Ryan plan would cut programs to help low- and middle-income people afford health insurance — Medicaid, CHIP, and the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies to help near-poor and moderate-income families afford insurance — by more than 75 percent by 2050, with the bulk of the cuts coming from Medicaid. Spending on these programs would be slashed from between 4¼ and 4½ percent of GDP in 2050 under current policies to just 1 percent of GDP.

As CBO explains, the magnitude of the cut in Medicaid and CHIP “means that states would need to increase their spending on these programs, make considerable cutbacks in them, or both. Cutbacks might involve reduced eligibility for Medicaid and CHIP, coverage of fewer services, lower payments to providers, or increased cost-sharing by beneficiaries — all of which would reduce access to care.”[3]

CBO also observes that the Ryan plan’s elimination of subsidies to help people with modest incomes purchase health coverage (as part of the plan’s repeal of all coverage expansions under the health reform law) means that “the number of people without health insurance would be much higher” than under current law.[4]

Leaving 65- and 66-Year-Olds Without Health Coverage

The CBO analysis states that the Ryan plan would raise the age at which people become eligible for Medicare from 65 to 67, even as it repeals the health reform law’s coverage provisions. This means 65- and 66-year-olds would have neither Medicare nor access to health insurance exchanges in which they could buy coverage at an affordable price and receive subsidies to help them secure coverage if their incomes are low. This change would put many more 65- and 66-year-olds who don’t have employer coverage into the individual insurance market, where the premiums charged to people in this age group tend to be extremely high — thereby leaving many of them uninsured. People of limited means would be affected most harshly because they would not be able to afford private coverage. In addition, many 65- and 66-year-olds with a pre-existing medical condition would not be able to purchase coverage at any price.

The Ryan plan would also replace Medicare’s guarantee of health coverage with premium-support payments to seniors (starting with new beneficiaries in 2023) that they would use to buy coverage from private insurance companies or traditional Medicare. The growth in these payments each year would be limited to the percentage increase in per capita GDP plus one-half percentage point. For more than 30 years, however, health care costs per beneficiary in the United States have risen an average of about two percentage points per year faster than GDP per capita. CBO thus projects that under the Ryan budget, federal Medicare expenditures on behalf of an average 67-year-old beneficiary would, by 2050, be 35 percent to 42 percent lower than under current law.

Under the Ryan budget, moreover, Medicare would no longer make payments to health care providers such as doctors and hospitals; it would instead provide premium-support vouchers to beneficiaries that they’d use to help buy coverage from private insurance companies or traditional Medicare. Therefore, the only way to keep Medicare cost growth within the GDP +0.5 percentage-point target would be to limit the annual increase in the government’s premium-support vouchers. That would very likely cause the vouchers to grow more slowly than health care costs — and hence purchase less coverage with each passing year. Over time, more costs would likely be pushed on to beneficiaries.


The Ryan plan would replace Medicaid with a block grant that would grow each year with inflation and U.S. population growth, or more than 3.5 percentage points less than current projected annual growth in Medicaid (which is influenced by the growing number of elderly beneficiaries as the population ages) and significantly below the cost growth that the Ryan budget would allow in Medicare. Chairman Ryan today defended the plan’s severe Medicaid cuts by claiming that “the program’s current financing structure has created rapidly rising costs that are nearly impossible to check.”[5] The claim that Medicaid’s financing structure is driving the rising costs is, however, false. Research shows that Medicaid costs substantially less per beneficiary than private insurance does (because Medicaid pays providers significantly less and has lower administrative costs) and that per-beneficiary costs have been rising more slowly in Medicaid than in the private sector for a number of years.[6] (See Figures 1 and 2.)

Proposed Rent Increase Would Further Impoverish Poorest Recipients of Federal Housing Assistance

As CBO’s analysis notes, unless states increased their Medicaid funding massively to make up for the Ryan plan’s very deep funding cuts, they would have to take such steps as cutting eligibility (leading to more uninsured low-income people), cutting covered services (leading to more underinsured low-income people), and/or cutting already-low payment rates to health care providers (likely inducing doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes to withdraw from Medicaid and thereby reducing beneficiaries’ access to care).

For example, the Urban Institute estimated that a similar Medicaid block grant proposal that Chairman Ryan included in his budget last year would lead states to drop between 14 million and 27 million people from Medicaid by 2021 (on top of the coverage losses resulting from repealing the health reform law’s Medicaid expansion).[7]

Proposed Rent Increase Would Further Impoverish Poorest Recipients of Federal Housing Assistance
[1] Congressional Budget Office, “The Long-Term Budgetary Impact of Paths for Federal Revenues and Spending Specified by Chairman Ryan,” March 2012. [2] Both quotations in this paragraph are on page 10 of the CBO report.
[3] CBO, p. 11.
[4] CBO, p. 11.
[5] Ryan is cited in Matt DoBias, “Ryan budget includes Wyden-Ryan Medicare blueprint,” Politico, March 20, 2012.
[6] Leighton Ku and Matthew Broaddus, “Public and Private Insurance: Stacking Up the Costs,” Health Affairs (web exclusive), June 24, 2008 and John Holahan et al., “Medicaid Spending Growth Over the Last Decade and the Great Recession, 2000-2009,” Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, February 2011.
[7] John Holahan, et al., “House Republican Budget Plan: State-by-State Impact of Changes in Medicaid Financing,” Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, May 2011.

CBO: Ryan policies would cut Medicare spending, increase number of uninsured

Original Link:

By Sam Baker

Medicare benefits would likely shrink under Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) latest proposal, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday.

The budget office also said the number of people without health insurance could be “much higher” under Ryan’s plan because it would repeal President Obama’s healthcare law.

Ryan’s Medicare plan would convert some of the program’s funding into subsidies for private insurance. Seniors could choose between the traditional single-payer program or a private plan.

Ryan argues consistently that healthcare spending will eventually swallow the entire economy unless Congress makes bold changes to Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats say Ryan’s plan would shift costs to seniors without doing anything to actually control those costs.
CBO said it’s possible that seniors would face higher costs under the Ryan plan, and said other possible side effects include “reduced access to health care; diminished quality of care; increased efficiency of health care delivery; less investment in new, high-cost technologies; or some combination of those outcomes.”
The budget office did not make specific projections about any of those possibilities, though it noted that some would “necessarily” be heightened under the Ryan plan because federal spending would be so much lower.

CBO emphasized that its initial analysis of Ryan’s policies is not an official cost estimate. The loose estimate was not based on firm legislative proposals, but rather on policy scenarios that Ryan’s staff asked CBO to evaluate. CBO also used Ryan’s assumptions of government revenue and spending.

CBO compared those scenarios to its own estimates for the existing Medicare program, including estimates that assume Congress will continue to avoid certain automatic Medicare cuts. By 2030, average government spending on each new Medicare enrollee would be about $2,000 less under Ryan’s plan than the status quo. In 2050, Medicare’s per-person spending would be about 42 percent lower under Ryan’s proposals.

Under the same assumptions — the existing program remains in place and Congress doesn’t let certain cuts take effect — Medicare would account for 5 percent of the gross domestic product in 2030. The Ryan plan would cut that to about 4.25 percent, CBO said.

Ryan’s new Medicare program would not take effect immediately, so its savings would grow over time as more seniors enter the new system. By 2050, according to CBO, Ryan’s plan would hold Medicare spending to 4.75 percent of GDP, compared with 7.25 percent if the existing program remains intact.

Ryan’s budget proposal also calls for deep cuts to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And it would repeal President Obama’s healthcare law, which provides subsidies to help low-income people buy private insurance.

The proposals that Ryan asked CBO to analyze would cut spending on those three programs in half over the next 10 years. Federal spending would fall by more than 75 percent by 2050.

CBO said it’s hard to predict how states would respond to Ryan’s proposals for Medicaid, which would determine how many people the program would cover. But the number of uninsured would be “much higher” without the subsidies in Obama’s healthcare law, according to CBO’s analysis.

Ryan’s budget: It’s not about Medicare cuts

Original Link:


(Data: CBO; Graph: Ezra Klein)
From reading the coverage, I get the sense that people think Ryan’s budget works something like this: It lowers taxes, cuts the deficit and pays for all that by cutting deep into Medicare. That’s wrong.

Perhaps the simplest way to understand what’s going on in Paul Ryan’s budget, and whether it’s plausible, is to look at page 13 of the Congressional Budget Office’s summary of the Ryan plan (pdf). That’s where the CBO lists Ryan’s assumptions about how future budgets would differ under his proposal and under an alternative, high-deficit scenario. That lets us see where, exactly, Ryan’s presumed savings are. And they’re not, for the most part, in Medicare.

In 2030, spending on Medicare is .75 percent of GDP lower than in the alternative fiscal scenario. In fact, Ryan and the Obama administration have proposed the same rate of growth for Medicare: GDP + 0.5 percent.

It’s Medicaid and other health spending, which includes the Affordable Care Act, where Ryan really brings down the hammer: That category falls by 1.25 percent of GDP. So Ryan’s cuts to health care for the poor are almost twice the size of his cuts to health care for the old.

And then there’s the “everything else” category, which includes defense spending, infrastructure, education and training, farm subsidies, income supports, veteran’s benefits, retraining, basic research, the federal workforce and much, much more. And this category of spending falls by 2.5 percent of GDP.

That’s a lot of numbers. But it’s also clarifying. The big cut here isn’t to health care for old people, though that gets the headlines. It’s to health care for poorer Americans. The biggest category of cuts is “everything else,” which shrinks to implausibly low levels, and Ryan, to my knowledge, has never detailed, even in broad strokes, how he gets it that low. But since he’s opposed to further defense cuts — he in fact raises spending on defense in the next 10 years — it seems inevitable that the non-defense side of “everything else” would have to shrink considerably, and that means cutting quite a bit from income supports and veterans’ benefits and infrastructure.

Then there’s the whole question of where Ryan gets the $6.2 trillion he’ll need to fill the hole in his tax plan.

So if you take Ryan at his word, and you assume his policies will work exactly as he hopes, what you get is a plan that lowers taxes and lowers the deficits mostly by cutting health-care subsidies and income supports for the poor, and only then by cutting Medicare.

Big Government' Isn't the Problem, Big Money Is

Original Link:

By Robert Reich

Conservatives love to rail against “big government.” But the surge of cynicism engulfing the nation isn’t about government’s size. It flows from a growing perception that government doesn’t work for average people but for big business, Wall Street and the very rich—who, in effect, have bought it. In a recent Pew poll, 77 percent of respondents said too much power is in the hands of a few rich people and corporations.

That view is understandable. Wall Street got bailed out by taxpayers, but one out of every three homeowners with a mortgage is underwater, caught in the tsunami caused by the Street’s excesses. The bailout wasn’t conditioned on the banks helping these homeowners, and subsequent help has been meager. The recent settlement of claims against the banks is tiny compared with how much homeowners have lost. Millions of people are losing their homes or simply walking away from mortgage payments they can no longer afford.

Homeowners can’t use bankruptcy to reorganize their mortgage loans because the banks have engineered laws to prohibit this. Banks have also made it extremely difficult for young people to use bankruptcy to reorganize their student loans. Yet corporations routinely use bankruptcy to renege on contracts. American Airlines, which is in bankruptcy, plans to fire 13,000 people—
16 percent of its workforce—while cutting back health benefits for current employees. It also intended to terminate its underfunded pension plans, until the government agency charged with picking up the tab screamed so loudly that American backed off and proposed to freeze the plans.

Not a day goes by without Republicans decrying the budget deficit. But its biggest driver is Big Money’s corruption of Washington. One of the federal budget’s largest and fastest-growing programs is Medicare, whose costs would be far lower if drug companies reduced their prices. It hasn’t happened because Big Pharma won’t allow it. Medicare’s administrative costs are only 3 percent, far below the 10 percent average of private insurers. So it would be logical to tame rising healthcare costs by allowing any family to opt in. That was the idea behind the “public option.” But health insurers stopped it in its tracks.

The other big budget expense is defense. The US spends more on its military than China, Russia, Britain, France, Japan and Germany combined. The “basic” military budget (the annual cost of paying troops and buying planes, ships and tanks—not including the costs of actually fighting wars) keeps growing. With the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the cost of fighting wars is projected to drop—but the base budget is scheduled to rise. It’s already about 25 percent higher than it was a decade ago, adjusted for inflation. One big reason is that it’s almost impossible to terminate large military contracts. Defense contractors have cultivated sponsors on Capitol Hill and located their facilities in politically important districts. Lockheed, Raytheon and others have made national defense America’s biggest jobs program.

“Big government” isn’t the problem. The problem is the Big Money that’s taking over government. Government is doing fewer of the things most of us want it to do—providing good public schools and affordable access to college, improving infrastructure, maintaining safety nets and protecting the public from dangers—and more of the things big corporations, Wall Street and wealthy plutocrats want it to do.

Some conservatives argue that we wouldn’t have to worry about this if we had a smaller government to begin with, because big government attracts Big Money. On ABC’s This Week a few months ago, Congressman Paul Ryan told me that “if the power and money are going to be here in Washington…that’s where the powerful are going to go to influence it.” Ryan has it upside down. A smaller government that’s still dominated by money would continue to do the bidding of Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, oil companies, agribusiness, big insurance, military contractors and rich individuals. It just wouldn’t do anything else.

Millionaires and billionaires aren’t donating to politicians out of generosity. They consider these expenditures to be investments, and they expect a good return on them. Experts say the 2012 elections are likely to be the priciest ever, costing an estimated $6 billion. “It is far worse than it has ever been,” says Senator John McCain. And all restraints on spending are off now that the Supreme Court has determined that money is “speech” and corporations are “people.”

I don’t know where the Occupy movement is heading, but I do know there’s more grassroots energy for progressive change than I’ve seen in decades. The question is how to channel it into a sustainable movement. If you believe as I do that Obama and the Democrats didn’t push hard enough in the president’s first term for the things we believe in, we must push harder next term.

We also must engage with people who may disagree. Reach across to independents, even to Republicans and self-styled Tea Partiers. Find people who are open to arguments and ideas, regardless of the label they apply to themselves. We must also get out of our issue cocoons. It’s fine to fight against climate change, or to push for gay rights or a single-payer health system. But we can’t be so mesmerized by any single issue that we fail to take on the stuff that makes it harder for average Americans to be heard on these issues and more: the growing concentration of income, wealth and political power at the top; the increasing clout of global corporations and Wall Street; and the corruption of our democracy.

Don’t focus solely on Washington or entirely on elections. Corporate campaigns—consumer boycotts of companies behind the largest political contributions, media attention to those that award top executives the fattest compensation packages while laying off the most workers—can play an important role. And when candidates are the targets, don’t wait for them to emerge with agendas and policy positions. Take an active role in creating those agendas—and get candidates to run on them.

We should demand, for example, that the marginal income tax on the top 1 percent return to what it was before 1981—at least 70 percent; that a transactions tax be imposed on all Wall Street deals; that distressed homeowners be allowed to reorganize their mortgages under bankruptcy; that Medicare be available to all; that the basic military budget be cut by at least 25 percent over the next decade; that the Glass-Steagall Act be resurrected and Wall Street’s biggest banks be broken up; and that all political contributions be disclosed, public financing be made available to candidates in general elections and a constitutional amendment be enacted to reverse Citizens United.

Tell incumbents you’ll work your heart out to get them re-elected on condition they campaign on such an agenda. If and when they’re elected, keep up the heat and the support. Too many of us think political activism begins a few months before election day and ends when winners are announced.
The day after election day is the real beginning. Newly elected officials must know that we will continue to mobilize support for a progressive agenda, reward them for pushing it and hold them accountable in the next election cycle if they don’t. We will even go so far as to run candidates against them in their next primary—candidates who will run on that agenda.

Progressives must take back our economy and our democracy from a regressive right backed by a plutocracy that has taken over both. The stakes are especially high. It will not be easy to accomplish. But it must be done. And it is within your power—our power—to do it.

“Social Security is Broke”—and Other Corporate Scare Tactics

Original Link:


For years, corporations have been peddling myths to rally us behind their interests. Here are three things everyone “knows,” and why they're wrong.       

Winston Churchill reportedly said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on.” That was before corporations had perfected the art of public relations, investing millions of dollars in PR campaigns to advance their commercial and political interests.
The fact is, there are a number of things most people know are true—except they’re not. That’s the result of well-planned, well-funded, long-term propaganda campaigns designed to make people believe things that are against their own best interests.
One relatively new example is the climate denial industry, which is funded by some of the richest corporations and CEOs on the planet to protect their profits from regulations that would address climate change. Although it’s one of the biggest threats we have ever faced, an increasing number of Americans believe there is widespread disagreement in the scientific community about climate change.
But that’s not true—there is actually widespread scientific agreement on climate, and a few dissenters, most paid in some way by the oil industry. Millions of dollars have been spent to create the appearance of disagreement, including deployment of so-called experts and even TV meteorologists to repeat talking points favored by big oil.

In the past year, the Internet and social media have brought together social movements across the globe, and there are signs that, in this new information age, people are breaking through the fog of corporate disinformation. But some of the “facts” have been repeated for so many years that a lot of people still think they are true.

“Social Security is Broke”

The Cass City Chronicle (Jan. 22, 1976)
For more than 30 years, opponents of Social Security have peddled this lie.
The roots of the efforts to attack Social Security run deep in the far right. They include CEOs such as Fred Koch, who promoted the John Birch Society’s red-scare-era smears that such New Deal reforms were “socialist” or “communist.” In the 1970s, Fred’s sons, Charles and David, inherited his billions—and his ideas. Charles began funding think tanks to develop arguments for dismantling Social Security.

David ran for vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket with a platform that included privatizing Social Security. Since then he’s spent millions on groups to push disinformation about Social Security and promote an array of sophisticated corporate propaganda. The donations of Koch Industries and others to groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that promote claims that Social Security is going broke have paid off. Also, as detailed in SourceWatch, billionaire Peter Peterson has pledged a billion dollars to attacking Social Security. And, guess what? Almost all the current crop of GOP presidential candidates have called Social Security a scam.

How far do the tentacles of the Kochtopus reach? Follow the money with this collection of 13 short films.

The truth is that Social Security wasn’t broke in 1976, and it’s not broke today. According to trusted actuaries, in about 25 years Social Security could face a shortfall—a gap that would allow it to pay most but not all of the earned benefits—unless it’s fixed.

One easy solution is to apply Social Security taxes to all earned income. Under the current system, any wages over the first $106,800 are exempt from Social Security withholding. If we close this loophole soon, the potential shortfall would be solved. Only about 6 percent of Americans earn that much, and removing this exemption would help ensure that the other 94 percent have the protection of this basic social safety net for decades to come.

Tort Reform “Creates Jobs”

—Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, ALEC alum

The first controversial bill Gov. Walker signed into law last year wasn’t his union-busting effort but a “tort reform” package he claimed would “create jobs.” This omnibus bill, which included
numerous items that echo “model” bills from the ALEC bill factory, was rushed through so fast most folks barely had time to read it. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce immediately applauded the bill and so did ALEC. Such legislation is on the wish list of the global corporations funding these groups and many politicians.

Tort reform is a made-up phrase that really means changing the rules for Americans killed or injured by corporations or other defendants. It’s been making its way through states across the country based on claims that it will create jobs, protect access to medical care, and bring down insurance rates.
But legal changes like those in Wisconsin make it harder for Americans to hold a company or careless physician responsible for all the damages caused by their negligence. Such changes make it harder for juries to punish companies to help deter egregious and deadly corporate acts.

Such bills are often pushed based on claims that corporations fear getting “unfairly” sued. But changes like those in Wisconsin have nothing to do with frivolous lawsuits. Caps on damages, for example, apply only after a jury of American citizens has heard the facts and found the company was responsible for the harm.

Plus, there is no conclusive evidence that these changes to the law create jobs. In Wisconsin, for example, Walker claimed his tort reforms and other changes would create 250,000 new private-sector jobs, but the state ended last year with five months in a row of job losses.

The reality is that surveys of local businesses about what would lead them to hire more people reveal that the answer is more sales, not less litigation. In Wisconsin, for example, in a survey of state businesses about what would improve business, tort reform was dead last.

Tort reform is just more of the race to the bottom, pitting state against state to protect their citizens the least. The reality is that ALEC and the U.S. Chamber are bankrolled by global corporations trying to pay American workers the least, provide workers the fewest rights and benefits, and compensate as little as possible for consumers who are injured.

Lives and livelihoods are the real costs of tort reform, which is being sold through calculated corporate disinformation.

We Need the Keystone XL Pipeline for Our “Jobs and National Security”

—Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute

The richest industry on the planet is putting money behind claims that controversial energy projects, from natural gas fracking to the Keystone XL pipeline, are essential to our national security. Americans are vulnerable to such claims as gas prices rise in response to another round of saber-rattling in the Middle East.

People have been bombarded with corporate-backed claims that national security demands immediate approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline connecting the Alberta, Canada, tar sands to the Gulf Coast in Texas. But the claims are misleading.

First, the crude oil from the dirty tar sands extraction process comes from Canada, not the United States, so the oil does not belong to the American people. The oil is not Canada’s either. Rights to it have been sold to multinational companies whose interest is the highest price.

How people power stopped the pipeline.

Second, take a look at the map of the proposed pipeline. Its target is the refinery world of Port Arthur, Texas, which is focused on exporting oil via the Gulf of Mexico. Refiners in Texas on board to process tar sands crude include Royal Dutch Shell, the Saudi government, and the French oil company Total. A Texas company, Valero, which operates in a “Foreign Trade Zone” in Port Arthur, which limits customs duties, has pitched investors on exporting the diesel from tar sands crude while importing gas to America.

Don’t believe the corporate propaganda on jobs either. In an earlier phase of the pipeline in South Dakota, almost 90 percent of the 2,500 jobs were filled by workers not from that state, and most of the jobs were low-wage and temporary, according to testimony from TransCanada, the pipeline’s developer.

To Tell the Truth …

These are just a few examples. If you want to find out more on these issues and corporate PR techniques, check out our research and resources at,, and

Despite the gloomy picture of the success of some of these propaganda campaigns, there is hope. The Keystone XL pipeline looked like a done deal. But demonstrations at the White House led by that resulted in 1,253 arrests, combined with citizen outcry in the heartland states the pipeline would cross, resulted in denial of the permit to build. The day after the Obama administration announced that decision, a group of politicians held a press conference. You guessed it: They said that stopping the pipeline threatened jobs and national security.

And, as economist Dean Baker points out, for all the hostile rhetoric over the years, Social Security is undamaged so far, although this guaranteed pension is difficult to live on alone, since it has not been fully funded by including all wages in withholding over the years.

We’re up against big, rich opponents. But at least if you know the truth, the next time you hear someone say, “Social Security is broke,” you can say, “No it’s not.” And even explain why.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

US election 2012: Mitt Romney Super-pac donors revealed

Original Link:


Mitt Romney's overwhelming financial firepower and his strong links to Wall Street were revealed today as the Super-pac supporting his campaign disclosed its donor lists for the first time.

Restore our Future, the pro-Romney group that funded the most vicious attacks against Newt Gingrich in Florida, was shown to be by far the largest of the shadowy committees which are playing such a pivotal role in this year's election.
Of the $31 million the group raised last year, $5 million came from just five New York business donors who contributed $1 million each.
Two more million dollar donations were made by two companies in Mormon-heavy Utah - Eli Publishing and F8 LLC. The two firms share an address, donated on the same day and appear to exist only on paper, with no employees or substantial business.

Following a Supreme Court ruling last year, Super-pacs were allowed to raise unlimited sums of money and spend it freely attacking or promoting candidates on the condition that the groups do not coordinate directly with any campaign.

Also on the list of corporate millionaires contributing to Restore Our Future, was William Koch, the brother of David and Charles Koch, whose millions have helped fund the Tea Party movement as well as a constellation of conservative think thanks and advocacy groups. Mr Koch contributed $250,000, while Oxbow Carbon, the energy firm he runs, put in a further $750,000.

Mr Romney also received $1 million in two donations from Bob Perry, a Texan property mogul who bankrolled the 'Swift Boat' attacks against John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee. The repeated assaults and distortions on Mr Kerry's record in the Vietnam War were credited with helping George W. Bush win re-election.

As well as contributions from donors at Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, Mr Romney racked up nearly $1.4 million from five former colleagues at Bain Capital, the private equity company he ran in the 1990s. The firm's managing director, Steven Barnes donated $125,000, a sum matched by his wife, Deborah.

"This data is showing that big money is really at play behind the Super-pacs," Liz Bartolomeo of the Sunlight Foundation, a transparency group, told the Daily Telegraph. "These bodies are not being funded by small donors like we saw in 2008 - it's the big money players that are trying to use cash to influence the election."

The filings with the Federal Election Commission showed the the relative paucity of Mr Gingrich's Super-pac, Winning Our Future. Compared to nearly 300 donations for Mr Romney's committee, the pro-Gingrich group recorded only 17 throughout 2011, of which only half were for more than a $1,000.

Of the $2 million raised last year, half came from relatives of Sheldon Adelson, a casino mogul who has been almost single-handedly keeping the former Speaker's presidential hopes alive.

His wife's two adult daughters by a previous marriage, Sivan Ochshorn and Yasmin Lukatz, gave $750,000 dollars to the Gingrich Super-pac, while Mrs Lukatz's husband, Oren, gave a further $250,000.

But the sum is dwarfed by the reported $10 million reportedly donated directly by Mr Adelson and his wife in the last four weeks. Those donations are expected to appear in next month's filing reports.

How SuperPACs Are 'Gaming' The 2012 Campaign

Original Link:

Journalist Joe Hagan says the upcoming election will be "the ugliest campaign ever." He details how superPACs have changed the election game, bringing an unprecedented flood of outside money to fund opposition research and negative ads.

If you thought the 2008 election cycle was full of negative ads, just wait until 2012's campaign gets fully under way.

The upcoming presidential campaign, says journalist Joe Hagan, is expected to "be the most negative in the history of American politics."

Hagan says a big factor in what he calls the "tsunami of slime" is the emergence of superPACs. They're political action committees closely associated with particular candidates, and often run by friends and former staffers of the candidates they support. But unlike candidates' committees, whose contributions are limited by federal law, superPACs can take donations of any size. Hagan says the unprecedented flood of cash is allowing superPACs to hire armies of opposition researchers and ad-makers who will be busy planning attack ads from now until November.

"You've got so much new outside money coming in as a result of the creation of the superPACs," he says. "More money means more advertising, and that is how a lot of this money gets spent."
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, $215 million was spent by outside groups in the 2008 election. That number is expected to more than triple in the 2012 election cycle.

"The amounts of money that are just in the two superPACs representing conservative issues — Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers' superPAC; and American Crossroads, the one that was co-founded by Karl Rove, have both promised to raise upwards of $400 million. Just those guys," he says. "So it's going to be much, much bigger than [2008]."

'Essentially Mini-Campaigns'

In January 2010, the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling lifted restrictions on how much money corporations, unions and individuals could spend on political ads. But corporations and unions cannot give money directly to a presidential committee. Instead, they give money to a superPAC.
Hagan writes that the superPACs are "effectively mini-campaigns, employing more pollsters, more researchers and more ad-makers for the purpose of going negative against the opposition ... The rise of the superPACs has completely reinvented the dynamics of negative campaigning, removing the consequences of factual inaccuracy by allowing the candidate a veneer of deniability, while multiplying a campaign's effective manpower."

SuperPACs are not legally connected to a candidate, but Hagan says there's a lot of what he calls "gaming" taking place behind the scenes.

"The superPACs are being headed up by former staffers of those candidates — very recently former — so they're just basically walking away from Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney's groups and going over to head these other groups," he says. "Now they're not legally supposed to have any communications with each other whatsoever. They're all very paranoid about this because it can lead to jail time. However, as former staffers, obviously they know the candidate and the candidate's strategy, and it's only a very tissue-thin distinction between them being separate from the campaign and a part of it."

Last July, Mitt Romney spoke at a fundraiser for the biggest superPAC supporting him, Restore Our Future. Romney did not directly ask for contributions for the superPAC, but checks were collected shortly after he left.

"It's a joke," says Hagan. "Lawyers have been involved in deeply vetting all of this stuff, and they know exactly what they can do and exactly what they can't do. We're in uncharted territory here. And all of the consultants I talked to are a part of either a superPAC or a part of the campaign proper. They all talk about this. But they've all sat down with lawyers and know what they can and can't do — so they've figured out how they can basically coordinate without coordinating."

Hagan says the media has become a vehicle for superPACs to communicate with candidates.
"You'll read three stories a day with the consultants from the campaigns being quoted over and over and over either as blind quotes or on the record, and all that the PAC has to do is read these stories and see exactly [what the campaign] is intending to do and exactly what the message is that they're trying to get across," he says. "These backstage stories have become interlocutors to communicate between the campaigns and the superPACs ... These stories aren't read by anybody but Beltway junkies, so it's a perfect, easy way to do it."

On opposition researchers at superPACs

"The superPACs, in many ways, have displaced a lot of work that the Democratic National Committee or the Republican National Committee used to be doing. Those people are doing it also, but these people are doing it with much more money. So they can afford to hire more people, do more digging, get more advertising, [buy more] air time. And if Mitt Romney wants to do a certain attack on Newt Gingrich and say that he is grandiose, the superPAC supporting Mitt Romney — Restore Our Future — can begin to go through its opposition research archives, slap together a bunch of ads and air them in Florida."

On how the media influences negative ads

"What these guys realize is that you can dig up all of this negative information, but if it's coming from a Romney press release about Gingrich, let's say, it's going to have a lot less gravity with people than if it comes out in a newspaper like The New York Times or it comes out on MSNBC or CNN. So a lot of what the opposition research is about is getting the information to reporters, getting them to report it, and putting the imprimatur of an objective outlet around it. So this is the warfare that's going on between these campaigns."

On relationships between the press and campaign strategists

"There's such a tight relationship between the political reporters and these consultants who are giving them all of this information. I think this is part of a larger trend, over the last 10 years, kind of a merging of politics and media. You have Fox News and now MSNBC, which kind of represents the left. The distinction between the messaging that is coming out of political campaigns and their superPACs and what's going on in the press is getting more and more blurred."

On tips given to the media

"They're providing them not just tips about radioactive, bad stories that could lead to the opposition being kneecapped for good, but video content and archival information that [reporters] can use in their pieces: quotes and videos and things that [the researchers] dug up. ... It's not just Deep Throat kind of information, it's a daily barrage of well-researched information."

On how social media has made this process more open

"This has always happened throughout the ages, but in the past this was much more secretive. ... All day long there's this churn going on, and the reporters have these relationships with opposition researchers — they go out for drinks with them, they learn things. This has been going on in the past, but now it's much more out in the open. There are more of those opposition researchers and maybe less of the reporters. The power, in many cases, is with these opposition researchers."

Billionaire Buddies: Adelsons Join Forces With Koch Brothers To Take Down Obama

Original Link:

By Josh Israel

In recent years, billionaire oil magnates David and Charles Koch have bankrolled the Tea Party movement, Republican candidates, and efforts to deny the existence global warming. But less noticed have been their series of twice-yearly strategy coordination meetings for wealthy right-wing donors. These secret confabs have attracted Republicans like Govs. Rick Perry (R-TX) and Rick Scott (R-FL), as well as former Fox News Channel talker Glenn Beck, Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and executives from the oil, banking, and health insurance industries.

The most recent meeting attracted two newcomers: Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. Between them, the Las Vegas casino-owner and his wife have reportedly plowed $10 million into a pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC and have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republican party committees and candidates already this cycle.

A Center for Public Integrity report suggests this may just be the beginning:
Adelson has recently indicated strong interest in backing other GOP allied groups, say fundraisers familiar with his giving. In 2010, Adelson wrote a seven figure check to Crossroads GPS, a non-profit advocacy group that doesn’t have to disclose its donors publicly which was co-founded by GOP super consultants Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie.
The story quotes unnamed fundraisers “familiar with Adelson,” the American Crossroads super PAC and the 501(c)(4) Crossroads GPS, as expecting Adelson to “pump a few million dollars more” into one of the Crossroads groups this year, to help defeat President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. They also say Adelson is also considering writing a check to the American Action Network, former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN)’s non-profit, to help preserve the Republican majority in the U.S. House.

Between the Kochs and the Adelsons, voters around the country should expect to see what voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida have seen in recent weeks: a seemingly unending stream of dishonest attack ads, paid for by billionaire-funded super PACs and tax-exempt organizations.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

In a Power Grab, the Kochs' Struggles Are Revealed

Original Link:

By (@MattNegrin)

Charles and David Koch have been demonized by Democrats as a power couple bent on buying the 2012 election for Republicans, but a rare lurch into public view shows that the Kansas oil men don't even have control of the major think tank they helped create.

The Koch brothers have spent millions since the 1970s to support that think tank, the Cato Institute, a libertarian refuge in Washington that aligns most of its views with the presidential candidate Ron Paul. The Koch brothers, though, are far more mainstream, financing a political group called Americans for Prosperity that has spent waves of cash to tear down Democratic candidates.

Now those political differences are at the center of Cato's future, and the Kochs have taken the uncharacteristic approach of suing the very influential group they funded for years, dissolving their shroud of secrecy. The lawsuit, which would effectively give the brothers control of the small group that runs Cato, was filed after a November meeting reported by The New York Times in which David Koch proposed to the group's chairman plans to merge operations. The chairman, Robert Levy, declined out of fear that the Koches would have too much control over what the think tank researches.

While the case is pending in a Kansas court, the short-term result has been a public debate over the role of Cato, and whether the mainstream Republican Koch brothers would ruin its libertarian reputation.
Charles Koch even wrote a lengthy statement explaining the lawsuit. "There is a great deal of speculation as to what direction we would take Cato if we were to be in a position to elect a majority of the board," he wrote. "Some have speculated that we would micro-manage the enterprise. Others have suggested we would turn Cato into a partisan Republican organization. These rumors are absolutely false."

The round of publicity is surprising for the Kochs not because they're unknown to the public — they've been the subject of a swarm of stories since the 2010 midterm elections in which their advocacy group backed Republican candidates — but because they both started the storm and are participating in it. That cuts against the billionaires' usual role as private power brokers and owners of their eponymous energy conglomerate in Kansas.

Even that mammoth company, Koch Industries, is secretive. Donald Haider-Markel, a politics professor at the University of Kansas, said a friend of his applied for a job there and was subject to a series of screening interviews before he was introduced even nominally to the company's philosophy.
"It's like joining a fraternity club," Haider-Markel said. "This is more, sort of, 'you'll get the book that tells you sort of the secret code only when you pass through stage five of this process.'"

The Kochs have reportedly donated $30 million to Cato since the group was founded nearly 40 years ago, but their contributions have waned, and last year they didn't give any money.

A senior policy fellow at Cato who asked not to be named to discuss the dispute said Charles Koch "hasn't been involved with Cato for years" and that "nobody's talked to him." Tensions between Koch and Cato's president, Ed Crane, have fluctuated over the years, stemming from their "bad blood" that no one can seemingly explain, the fellow said.

"This is part of a period that I think is unusual for the Koch brothers in that they've always been behind-the-scenes players in conservative Republican circles for years," Haider-Markel said. "They've sort of operated without much attention whatsoever."

Cato has been aggressive in its defense and appears to be winning in the court of public opinion, though that obviously carries no weight in an actual courtroom.

Since the Koch brothers filed their suit, Cato has pressed its case repeatedly in the press and published a webpage on its site called Save Cato. It includes links to Cato's tax forms, the Kochs' court petition, and a dozen clips in the mainstream media about the feud.

Many libertarians view Cato as the definitive hub for spreading their movement's ideas and have jumped to its defense.
"I haven't heard anybody who wasn't on Cato's side on this, because they feel like Cato's just done such a great job," said Sharon Harris, the president of Advocates for Self-Government, a libertarian group in Georgia well known for its 10-point political questionnaire. "I would not want to see anything happen to them that would water down what they're doing."

"How can Charles and David Koch, who are both devoted to classic Lockean conceptions of freedom and property, think they have a moral right to the control of Cato as of 2012?" asked the libertarian author Charles Murray. "I want to ask them, more in bewilderment more than in anger, how they can justify this lawsuit — not legally, but in terms of principles they cherish."

Cato supporters say the worst-case scenario in a Koch takeover would be a reduction in research and proposals focused on civil liberties and foreign policy, areas in which libertarians often differ from mainstream Republicans (like on gay marriage and starting wars).

The Cato fellow predicted that if the Kochs gained control, 20 percent of the senior policy staff would leave in the first month, and more than half would bolt over a couple of years, including Levy, the chairman.

"The policy people, at least folks I've spoken to, including myself, would not stay," the fellow said. "Nobody's got a non-compete clause."