Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Most Americans say the rich don't pay enough taxes

Original Link: http://news.yahoo.com/most-americans-rich-dont-pay-enough-taxes-160833705.html


As the income gap between rich and poor widens, a majority of Americans say the growing divide is bad for the country and believe that wealthy people are paying too little in taxes, according to a new survey.
The poll released Monday by the Pew Research Center points to a particular challenge for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whose party's policies are viewed by a wide majority as favoring the rich over the middle class and poor.

The poll found that many Americans believe rich people to be intelligent and hardworking but also greedy and less honest than the average American. Nearly six in 10, or 58 percent, say the rich don't pay enough in taxes, while 26 percent believe the rich pay their fair share and 8 percent say they pay too much.

Even among those who describe themselves as "upper class" or "upper middle class," more than half — or 52 percent — said upper-income Americans don't pay enough in taxes; only 10 percent said they paid too much. This upper tier was more likely to say they are more financially secure now than 10 years ago — 62 percent, compared to 44 percent for those who identified themselves as middle class and 29 percent for the lower class. They are less likely to report problems in paying rent or mortgage, losing a job, paying for medical care or other bills and cutting back on household expenses.

The findings come at the start of this week's Republican National Convention and as both Romney and President Barack Obama seek to appeal to a broad swath of financially struggling voters who identify as middle class. Romney supports an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for everyone including the wealthiest 2 percent, and says his policies will benefit the middle class by boosting the economy and creating jobs.

"The fact that Romney may be viewed as wealthy doesn't necessarily pose problems for his candidacy," said Kim Parker, associate director of Pew Social & Demographic Trends, noting that people see the wealthy as having both positive and negative attributes. "The challenge for Romney lies more in the fact that large majorities say if he is elected president, his policies would likely benefit the wealthy."

The results reinforce a tide of recent economic data showing a widening economic divide. America's middle class has been shrinking in the stagnant economy and poverty is now approaching 1960s highs, while wealth concentrates at the top. A separate Pew survey earlier this year found that tensions between the rich and poor were increasing and at their most intense level in nearly a quarter-century.

In fact, well-off people do shoulder a big share of the tax burden. Though households earning over $1 million annually comprise just 0.3 percent of all taxpayers, they pay 20 percent of all federal taxes the government is projected to collect this year, according to the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan group that studies tax policy. The figures included income, payroll and estate taxes. In contrast, households earning $50,000 to $75,000 a year accounted for 12 percent of taxpayers and contributed 9 percent of federal taxes, the center's data showed. Some 46 percent of households pay no federal income tax at all, although they do pay payroll, excise and other taxes.

The American income tax system has long been designed to be progressive, meaning higher earners are expected to pay a greater share of their income than those making less.

In this year's tax battle in Washington, Obama wants to let the current top rate of 35 percent for high earners rise to 39.6 percent next year. Congressional Republicans would reduce the top rate to 25 percent, while Romney would reduce it to 28 percent. Romney and GOP lawmakers have said they would eliminate some deductions to pay for the rate reductions, but have not specified which ones.
According to Pew's latest findings, about 63 percent of Americans say the GOP favors the rich over the middle class and poor, and 71 percent say Romney's election would be good for wealthy people. A smaller share, 20 percent, says the same about the Democratic Party. More Americans — 60 percent — say if Obama is re-elected his policies will benefit the poor, while half say they'll help the middle class and 37 percent say they'll boost the wealthy.

"The Great Recession was not an equal opportunity disemployer," said Sheldon Danziger, a public policy professor at the University of Michigan who describes the gap between rich and poor as the widest in decades. "College graduates, whites and middle-aged workers had fewer and shorter layoffs than high school graduates, blacks, Hispanics and younger workers. And, only a small percentage of the rich work in the hardest-hit industries, like construction and manufacturing."

About 65 percent of Americans say the gap between rich and poor has gotten wider in the past decade, while 20 percent believe it has stayed the same and 7 percent say the gap has gotten smaller. Separately, 57 percent say a widening income gap is a bad thing for society; just 3 percent say it is a good thing.

Asked to estimate how much a family of four would need to earn to be considered wealthy in their area, the median amount given by survey respondents was $150,000. For middle class, the median amount was $70,000.

Many Americans see rich people as more likely to be intelligent (43 percent) and hardworking (42 percent) than average Americans. But the rich are also seen as more likely to be greedy (55 percent). Thirty-four percent of those surveyed say the rich are less likely to be honest than the average person; just 12 percent say the rich are more likely to be honest.

The Pew survey involved telephone interviews with 2,508 adults conducted from July 16 to 26. It has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

CEOs Earn More than their Firms Pay in Taxes

Original Link: http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/08/11713/ceos-earn-more-their-firms-pay-taxes

By Alex Oberley

Twenty-six U.S. companies paid their CEOs more than they paid the federal government in taxes in 2011, according to a new study from The Institute for Policy Studies.

The twenty-six top-earning CEOs noted in the study, titled The CEO Hands in Uncle Sam's Pocket, were paid an average of $20.4 million last year by companies that are profuse with profit, yet pay little or no federal taxes. The list includes well-known corporations such as AT&T, Boeing, Viacom, Motorola, Walmart, Halliburton, and Exxon Mobil. It also includes Citigroup and AIG, both of which still exist due to taxpayer bailouts.

These same firms made more than $1 billion in U.S. pre-tax income, yet received tax benefits actually netting them an average of $163 million. The twenty-six corporations discussed in the study have 537 subsidiaries in tax havens throughout the world, making up but a chunk of the $21 - $32 trillion secreted away across the globe.

According to the study's authors, the national tax code empowers this reverse-Robin Hood process. There is no limit on deductions of "performance-based" compensation, allowing high CEO pay to reduce a corporation's tax bill, triggering incentives towards "short-term compensation grabs and aggressive tax dodging," says report co-author Chuck Collins. "The more they dodge, they more they get paid."

The corollary decline in government revenue leads to cuts in critical government services and programs across the country -- budget cuts have led to the loss of 627,000 public service jobs since June of 2009, for example -- further exacerbating wealth inequality. The study notes the "four most direct tax subsidies for excessive executive pay cost taxpayers an estimated $14.4 billion per year.... That amount could also cover the annual cost of hiring 211,732 elementary-school teachers or creating 241,593 clean-energy jobs."

Additionally, fifty-seven CEOs saved over $1 million on their personal tax bills last year, trickling up from the Bush tax cuts. And the billionaire hedge fund managers who oversaw the Wall Street crash four years ago are paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries because the profit share of the investment funds they manage is taxed at only a 15 percent capital gains rate, while their secretary's wages are taxed at a much higher rate. Another convenient dodge allows executives to receive giant stock windfalls by claiming deductions at a higher rate than what they actually report in their financial statements' option value.

The full CEO Hands in Uncle Sam's Pocket study can be viewed here.

In Thrall to Sheldon Adelson

Original Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/17/opinion/in-thrall-to-sheldon-adelson.html

Three days after Paul Ryan became the presumptive Republican vice presidential candidate, he made a pilgrimage on Tuesday to the Las Vegas gambling palace of Sheldon Adelson, the casino tycoon who is spending more than any other donor to try to send Mr. Ryan and Mitt Romney to the White House. No reporters were allowed, perhaps because the campaign didn’t want them asking uncomfortable questions about the multiple federal investigations into the company behind Mr. Adelson’s wealth.       

Those questions, though, aren’t going away, and neither are the ones about the judgment of Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan in drawing ever closer to a man whose business background should lead them to back away — fast. By not repudiating Mr. Adelson’s vow to spend as much as $100 million on their behalf, the two candidates seem more eager to keep the “super PAC” dollars flowing than to preserve the integrity of their campaign.
The issues swirling about Mr. Adelson’s business practices are not new and can hardly come as a surprise to the Romney campaign. Last year, his company, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, announced that it was under investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act — specifically, that it bribed Chinese officials for help in expanding its casino empire in Macau. Later, the F.B.I. became involved, and even Chinese regulators looked askance at the company’s conduct, fining it $1.6 million for violating foreign exchange rules, The Times reported on Monday.
Then there’s an unrelated investigation by the United States attorney’s office in Los Angeles into whether the Sands Corporation violated federal money-laundering laws by accepting millions from high-rolling gamblers accused of drug trafficking and embezzlement. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that federal authorities are examining whether the casino should have reported the suspicious funds to the government. Instead, the company accepted $100 million from one of the gamblers and gave him free hotel rooms, plane rides and large lines of credit.
The company has denied all allegations of improper behavior. But, since Mr. Adelson’s financial future is riding on the outcome of these federal investigations, it is legitimate to ask whether he has motivation for supporting the Republican ticket so lavishly, beyond his sharp disagreement with the Obama administration’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Mr. Adelson has certainly not hesitated to throw around his weight and wealth with Republicans before.
In 2001, when China was making a pitch to hold the Olympics, it was worried about a resolution pending in the House that would oppose the bid because of its “abominable human rights record.” To curry favor with China, Mr. Adelson called Tom DeLay, then the House majority whip — and another recipient of Mr. Adelson’s campaign generosity — and urged him to block the resolution, according to a court deposition by William Weidner, then the president of Sands. Mr. DeLay quickly promised the bill would never see the light of day, and he was true to his word.
The next day, a Chinese vice premier promised Mr. Adelson an endless line of gamblers to the Macau casino.
A careful presidential campaign would put distance between itself and a businessman like Mr. Adelson. Instead, this one is cultivating him. Mr. Romney recently met with him in Israel, and Mr. Ryan this week paid homage to him and other big donors in a private casino for high-rollers on the 36th floor of Mr. Adelson’s Venetian hotel. By allowing Mr. Adelson to have such an outsize role in their race, the candidates themselves are placing a very risky bet.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ryan Has Kept Close Ties to Wealthy Donors on the Right

Original Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/14/us/politics/paul-ryan-has-kept-close-ties-to-conservative-and-libertarian-donors.html


This month, as a handful of Republicans auditioned at town halls and on bus tours to be Mitt Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan joined a private conference call. For 20 minutes, he walked through his plan to cut government spending and bashed President Obama for weakening welfare work requirements.       
His audience: Several hundred field organizers for Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party-inspired group founded by the billionaire conservative philanthropists Charles and David Koch.
When Mr. Romney announced that Mr. Ryan would be his running mate, his campaign emphasized the congressman’s detailed knowledge of the federal budget and his chemistry with Mr. Romney.
Less well-known are Mr. Ryan’s close ties to the donors and activists who have channeled Tea Party anger into a $400 million political machine, financed by a network of conservative and libertarian donors that now rivals, and occasionally challenges, the Republican establishment behind Mr. Romney.
Mr. Ryan is one of a very few elected officials who have attended the Kochs’ biannual conferences, where wealthy donors sit in on seminars on runaway government spending and the myths of climate change.
He is on first-name terms with prominent libertarians in the financial world, including hedge fund billionaires like Cliff Asness and Paul Singer, and spent his formative years immersed in the Republican Party’s supply-side wing, working for lawmakers and conservative policy advocates like Jack Kemp.
He has appeared for years at rallies, town hall meetings, and donor briefings for groups like the Club for Growth, which spends millions to defeat Republicans deemed squishy on taxes and spending, and Americans for Prosperity, a grass-roots group focused on economic and budget issues that is now trying to channel Tea Party energy into a permanent electoral force. Its fourth chapter was founded in Mr. Ryan’s home state, Wisconsin.
Now Mr. Ryan could provide Mr. Romney with a critical political and intellectual bridge to the rising conservative counterestablishment represented by the Kochs and their allies, who are planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and deploy thousands of volunteers to defeat Mr. Obama.
Should Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan win in November, a constituency that has for years fulminated against the failure of Republicans to live up to their own principles could soon have a close — and powerful — friend in the White House.
“There’s three guys that we courted for president: Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels, and Mike Pence,” said Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a national advocacy group closely allied with the Tea Party, who worked alongside Mr. Ryan when both were staff aides on the House Budget Committee. “Up until yesterday, there was a 100 percent commitment to fire Obama. There was not a lot of enthusiasm about Romney.” Mr. Daniels is the governor of Indiana, and Mr. Pence is a congressman from Indiana.
Mr. Kibbe added, “From a Tea Party perspective, the overwhelming response on all of our networks has been extremely positive.”
Mr. Ryan’s ties to that world began with a job at Empower America, a group founded by Mr. Kemp that ran “candidate schools” for aspiring conservatives and advocated for a flat tax and lower spending. As a rank-and-file congressman during the presidency of George W. Bush, Mr. Ryan advocated for the privatization of Social Security, helping push the idea toward the Republican mainstream and cementing his reputation as a conservative intellectual.
Privately, Mr. Ryan would later say, he was also stewing over what he and other conservatives viewed as the Bush administration’s fiscal profligacy and ideological drift, including the addition of a drug benefit to Medicare and, later, a bank bailout plan, the Troubled Asset Relief Program. (Mr. Ryan voted for both.)
That dissatisfaction was shared by the Kochs, who in the middle of the last decade began organizing conferences of like-minded donors and founded Americans for Prosperity.
Mr. Ryan, who became House budget chairman in 2006, began attending and speaking at Americans for Prosperity events. In 2008, the Wisconsin chapter gave Mr. Ryan its annual “Defender of the American Dream” award. Mr. Ryan also began attending the Kochs’ annual donor seminars. Last spring, Mr. Ryan was a speaker at a “Hands Off My Health Care” rally organized by Tea Party leaders outside the Capitol, drawing enthusiastic applause.
In Congress, he emerged as a skeptic of mainstream climate change theory — opposition to which has been a top priority of Koch-affiliated activists and research groups — and a reliable vote against energy efficiency standards, including a House vote to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases.
The relationship helped Mr. Ryan’s campaign coffers as well as his career: the Koch Industries PAC has donated more than $100,000 to Mr. Ryan’s campaigns and his leadership PAC, more than has any other corporate PAC, according to a New York Times analysis of campaign records.
Mr. Ryan has also developed relationships with other people in the Koch orbit, like Mr. Asness, a libertarian-minded financier known for his open letters blasting Mr. Obama, and Kenneth Griffin, a Chicago hedge-fund executive: wealthy donors whose taste for number-crunching and policy minutiae match Mr. Ryan’s own.
Mr. Griffin and his wife, Anne, introduced Mr. Ryan to Chicago’s deep-pocketed Republican donor circle — he has raised more money there this campaign than any other city — and promoted his budget proposals, including arranging a speech last year at the Economic Club of Chicago.
But it was Mr. Ryan’s aggressive promotion of his budget plan that has cemented his place the counterestablishment’s rising star. Mr. Ryan’s plan, viewed warily in its early form by other Republican leaders on the Hill, became an organizing document for the Tea Party’s Beltway wing, particularly the dozens of Tea Party-inspired freshman lawmakers who arrived on Capitol Hill after the 2010 elections. Many of them came to rely on Mr. Ryan for counsel on whether to accept budget compromises with Mr. Obama.
Outside political groups and research organizations praised Mr. Ryan’s plan, one of the few comprehensive conservative budget proposals detailed enough to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office, as rigorous and credible.
“Paul was one of the first guys that we looked at and said, ‘Hey, that young guy could be the guy,’ ” said Tim Phillips, Americans for Prosperity’s president. “And when he put out the budget and defended it, that’s when they said, ‘He could go all the way.’ ”
Officials with several outside groups that had been skeptical of Mr. Romney in the past said that the selection of Mr. Ryan had assuaged some of their doubts.
More important, they said, Mr. Ryan would fire up their grass-roots members, some of whom had doubted Mr. Romney’s commitment to cutting the size of government. Last week, before the announcement, Americans for Prosperity announced that it had begun its largest ever ad campaign against Mr. Obama, a $25 million broadside in 11 battleground states.
And on Monday, Romney officials said that the campaign had raised millions of dollars in the wake of Mr. Ryan’s selection, not only from grass-roots small donors, but from the many big donors who rank among his fans.
Griff Palmer contributed reporting.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Original Link: http://stonezone.com/

The Koch Brothers Get Their Man

I've waited a few days to lay out my analysis of the selection of Paul Ryan for the VP slot on the Romney ticket. Unlike politicos like Dick Morris who bad-mouths the selection privately and shills for it publicly, I'll tell you what I really think. My sources tell me David Koch played a key role in Ryan's selection and that Koch's wife Julia had been quietly lobbying for Ryan. The selection was cemented at the July 22nd fundraiser Koch held for Romney at the former's sumptuous Hamptons estate.

Koch pledged $100 million more to C-4 and Super PAC efforts for Romney for Ryan's selection.

The upside of Ryan's selection is clear. Romney, distrusted by party conservatives, won't have to worry about his right flank or the base throughout the fall as John McCain did, theoretically leaving Romney free to seek independent swing voters in the middle. The downside is Ryan may be so tattooed by the Democrats for his "extreme" positions that Romney's ability to win these votes may be limited. The shift of the debate from jobs and the economy to entitlement funding is not beneficial to the Republicans as it will allow the campaign to play out on the Democrats strong suit issue.

Meanwhile the idea of Ryan as a radical is laughable. Ryan put forth a budget proposal which did nothing to curtail Social Security and military spending. His famous budget allows the deficit to continue to grow. Ryan has worked almost his entire adult life (the last twenty years) cashing a government check in D.C. Ryan supported the auto and bank bailouts, voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008 and for increasing the debt ceiling in 2011. Ryan voted for the Iraq War resolution in 2002, keeping troops in Iraq indefinitely, against withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Balkans in 1999 and for the authorization for use of military force against Afghanistan in 2001. He also voted for the re-authorization of the Patriot Act in 2006 and 2011 and for the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 which allows the federal government to arrest and incarcerate a US citizen without bail, charges or a trial.

The idea of Paul Ryan as a libertarian is a joke. Ryan is a big government, Washington DC Republican who votes to fund foreign interventionism and the erosion of our civil liberties. Ryan began his political career as an acolyte of one of my heroes, Rep. Jack Kemp. Yet Ryan has wandered far from Kemp's genuine concern about the poor and disadvantaged. Ryan has become more of a faux deficit hawk and less of a pro-growth proponent.

Then there is the question of Ryan's clothes. I'm not sure if he gets his threads from the Salvation Army or the Goodwill. His suits are too large as are his dress shirts. He appears to be wearing a plastic belt. The Romney team should enlist supply-side guru Larry Kudlow to coach Ryan, not on economics but on how to dress. Shortly after his selection, Ryan headed to Las Vegas to kiss the ring of Las Vegas Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. Problem is Adelson keeps his ring in his back pocket!

GOP Consultant: Koch Brothers Bought Ryan’s Nomination With $100 Million Promise

Original Link: http://www.nationalmemo.com/gop-consultant-koch-brothers-bought-ryans-nomination-with-100-million-promise/

By Joe Conason

Veteran Republican political consultant, unrepentant dirty trickster, and recently reborn libertarian Roger Stone yesterday published a startling accusation against Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney on his personal website, The Stone Zone. According to Stone, the billionaire Koch brothers purchased the Republican vice presidential nomination for Ryan from Romney in late July by promising to fork over an additional $100 million toward “independent expenditure” campaigning for the GOP ticket.

Any such transaction would represent a serious violation of federal election laws and perhaps other statutes, aside from the ethical and character implications for all concerned. Although Stone is not the most reputable figure, to put it mildly, he has been a Republican insider, with access to the party’s top figures, over four decades. His credentials date back to Nixon’s Committee to Reelect The President and continue through the Reagan White House, the hard-fought Bush campaigns, and the Florida fiasco in 2000, when he masterminded the “Brooks Brothers riot” that shut down the Bush-Gore recount in Miami-Dade. Peruse his site and you’ll see his greatest hits and the attention he has drawn from major publications.

I’ve known Roger personally for years and always considered him intelligent and amusing; also extremely dangerous and even erratic. Sometimes I’ve been surprised by how much he knows about the inner-most workings of his party – even when he is clearly persona non grata among the current power elite.

Here is how Stone led his latest post, headlined “The Paul Ryan Selection, “which also delivers an amusing swipe at a certain Fox News analyst:
I’ve waited a few days to lay out my analysis of the selection of Paul Ryan for the VP slot on the Romney ticket. Unlike politicos like Dick Morris who badmouths the selection privately and shills for it publicly, I’ll tell you what I really think. My sources tell me David Koch played a key role in Ryan’s selection and that Koch’s wife Julia had been quietly lobbying for Ryan. The selection was cemented at the July 22nd fundraiser Koch held for Romney at the former’s sumptuous Hamptons estate. Koch pledged $100 million more to C-4 and Super PAC efforts for Romney [in exchange] for Ryan’s selection.
When he mentions “C-4,” of course, Stone is referring to the tax-exempt non-profit groups recognized by the IRS under section 501-C-4 of federal tax law – such as Americans For Prosperity, a group largely backed by the Koch brothers that has so far spent nearly $20 million on this year’s campaign. The C-4 groups, including another known as Crossroads GPS run by Karl Rove, need not disclose their rich donors, while Super PACs do. This year, the right-wing C-4s are outspending all the SuperPACS combined, as Pro Publica reported recently.

As a declared supporter of Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, Stone is grinding a sizeable ax, as always. He goes on to denigrate the idea that Ryan is a libertarian, despite his declared idolatry of the late Ayn Rand. Not much more can be said about Stone’s stark allegations, unless more evidence emerges to confirm them. But there is nevertheless a ring of candor in Stone’s story, tying the plutocratic Kochs to the plutocratic ticket of Romney-Ryan.

What he has written amounts to a gleeful felony indictment of everyone involved. Will any of them demand a retraction or even issue a denial?

Romney's Veep Pick: Paul Ryan, Koch Ally and 'Right-Wing Social Engineer'

Original Link: http://www.alternet.org/hot-news-views/romneys-veep-pick-paul-ryan-koch-ally-and-right-wing-social-engineer

By Adele M. Stan

In making the risky choice of picking Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney seals the deal on the Koch brothers' takeover of the Republican Party.

It's official: The Republican Party is now officially a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers' political enterprise. How else to explain Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's pick of Rep. Paul Ryan, Wis., as his running mate. Yes, that Paul Ryan -- chairman of the House Budget Committee and author of the infamous Ryan roadmap budget plan, which promises to turn Medicare into a privatized voucher system, and yank health care from millions of children whose parents happen to be poor. And that's just the beginning. In addition to a raft of cuts, the Ryan plan would end the Earned Income Tax Credit, which millions of parents count on.

It's a plan that even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich deemed too "radical." Asked by NBC's David Gregory to respond to Ryan's proposal, Gingrich famously said (video): "I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate." (Of course that was before Gingrich walked back those remarks, apparently reminded by some savvy operative that he might not want to anger the Kochs, to whom Ryan, 42, is something of a youthful ward, having been the beneficiary of years of support from the Koch-founded Americans For Prosperity.)

In case anyone should miss the point that Ryan is a very Kochy guy, Romney did his big reveal of running-mate Ryan this morning aboard the U.S.S. Wisconsin, a decommisioned ship docked in the all-important swing state of Virginia. However important Virginia is to the electoral math, Wisconsin is a highly symbolic icon for the Tea Party. It's not only Ryan's home state; it's the poster state of right-wing triumph, the place where Gov. Scott Walker successfully fended off a recall attempt made by progressives in response to a bill he rammed through the state legislature that all but ended collective bargaining for the state's public employees. Much of the credit for Wisconsin's right turn goes to Americans For Prosperity, which boasts a particularly aggressive Wisconsin chapter, which began building a network of activists there in 2005.

Ryan's association with the group goes back almost that far. In 2008, he was granted the Wisconsin AFP chapter's "Defending the American Dream" award, handed to him by a young county executive who served as emcee for those festivities -- a guy named Scott Walker. Since then, he has made countless appearances on the group's behalf, at anti-health-care reform rallies on Capitol Hill, on conference town halls across the country and at Americans For Prosperity and Americans For Prosperity Foundation events. (Just enter Ryan's name into the search engine on the Amerians For Prosperity Web site, and you'll come up with eight pages of citations.) In fact, Ryan was due to speak at last week's conference sponsored by the AFP Foundation in Washington, D.C., forcing increased speculation about his running-mate prospects when he failed to show.

For Romney, the pluses in picking Ryan are these: the Tea Partiers, who are less than wild about Mittens, really love them some Paul Ryan -- as does David Koch, who will be seated as a Romney delegate at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Koch and his brother, Charles -- the mbillionaire owners of Koch Industries, the second largest privately held corporation in the U.S. -- are major donors, not only to political candidates, but to a range of right-wing think tanks and groups. In the post-Citizens United world, those donations add up to millions in political advertisements by all manner of non-profit groups. Already, Americans For Prosperity has made a $27 million air-time buy for running anti-Obama ads.

Romney already owes some of his success in the primary season to Koch's favorite politicians in Wisconsin. Remember Rick Santorum? Right-wing base types -- Christian evangelicals and Tea Partiers -- just loved him. He was giving Romney a whole lotta agita during the primaries -- first stealing Romney's reported win in the Iowa caucuses back from the Mittster in a recount, and nearly besting Romney in Michigan, where Romney grew up.

In the weeks leading up to the Wisconsin primary, Santorum was running double-digits ahead of Romney. But then Paul Ryan endorsed Romney, and so did the Koch-bought U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.

 When Ryan began campaigning with Romney in the final days of the campaign, the crowds at Romney events seemed to swell. While conventional wisdom holds that endorsements don't amount to a hill of beans, conventional wisdom had an epic #FAIL on Wisconsin's primary night, when 60 percent of those responding in exit polls said that Romney's endorsers influenced their vote. (Romney also won the endorsements of a number of Americans For Prosperity-backed state legislators.)
But Romney's Ryan pick is not without its minuses, the largest one being running with a guy who has promised to end Medicare and replace it with something else entirely that could wind up costing seniors big-time. Don't be fooled by the fact that Ryan calls his voucher-health-care system for seniors "Medicare". That's just a trick -- like an employer who promises you dental coverage that amounts to a coupon for a discount on a visit to your favorite dentist. As Raw Story's Sahil Kahur noted last year, under Ryan's Not-Medicare "Medicare" plan, seniors would pay significantly more for their health care, according to an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office:
Specifically, by 2030, seniors under the GOP’s transformed program would pay 68 percent of what they’d pay in the private market — up from 25 percent in the status quo scenario.
Of course, photos of the children who would lose health care under the Ryan plan would probably not play well for Romney, either. Democracy Corps, the polling outfit run by Stan Greenberg and James Carville, found Ryan budget to be a drag on Romney's prospects for moving swing voters into his column. (Greenberg refers to the key Obama coalition of unmarried women, youth, and minority voters as the "Rising American Electorate.) From their latest memo, issued in July:
The Ryan budget’s impact on the most vulnerable is powerful among key swing voters, including unmarried women, who shifted a net 10 points toward Obama, the Rising American Electorate (net 3-point shift), and independents (net 9-point shift). Even conservatives were swayed, shifting a net 13 points toward Obama.
Among those who heard an even split of facts about the Ryan budget – including ones about cuts to programs aimed to help mostly lower and working class families – the shift is even more pronounced. With this group of voters, Obama leads Romney by 9 points, 52 to 43 percent, the largest margin of any of the groups in our experiment. It’s clear that focusing on what the Ryan budget does to the most vulnerable Americans can pay dividends for Obama.
Looks like the Koch brothers are going to have to throw a whole lot of money at this thing to make it work for them. But we know they've got plenty of that.

Two Dark Money Groups Outspending All Super PACs Combined

Original Link: http://www.propublica.org/article/two-dark-money-groups-outspending-all-super-pacs-combined

By Kim Barker

Two conservative nonprofits, Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity, have poured almost $60 million into TV ads to influence the presidential race so far, outgunning all super PACs put together, new spending estimates show.
These nonprofits, also known as 501(c)(4)s or c4s for their section of the tax code, don't have to disclose their donors [1] to the public.

The two nonprofits had outspent each of the other types of outside spending groups in this election cycle, including political parties, unions, trade associations and political action committees, a ProPublica analysis of data provided by Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, or CMAG [2], found.

Super PACs, which do have to report their donors, spent an estimated $55.7 million on TV ads mentioning a presidential candidate, CMAG data shows. Parties spent $22.5 million.

Crossroads GPS, or Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, is the brainchild of GOP strategist Karl Rove, and spent an estimated $41.7 million. Americans for Prosperity, credited with helping launch the Tea Party movement, is backed in part by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, and spent an estimated $18.2 million.

Campaign-finance reform advocates say the spending by the two organizations highlights the role anonymous money is playing in this election, which will be the most expensive in history.

"First of all, it shows how much desire there is for secrecy among huge donors who want to be able to spend money to influence this election without leaving any fingerprints," said Fred Wertheimer, who runs Democracy 21, a watchdog group. "Secondly, it shows that so far, there is an enormous advantage being played in this election by just two groups that are exercising undue influence in the elections."

In an email, Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for Crossroads GPS, defended the group's work. Wertheimer's concern reflected partisan bias, he charged.

"Liberal partisans are attacking conservative nonprofits for doing the same things that environmentalist groups, anti war groups, and labor groups have been doing for years without a single complaint," Collegio wrote.

Americans for Prosperity did not respond to a phone call or an email.
Conservative social-welfare nonprofits have spent about $70 million on TV ads in the election cycle so far, compared to just $1.6 million by liberal groups, CMAG data shows.
The totals spent are based on data collected by Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, or CMAG. The totals reflect estimates of expenditures on broadcast TV ads and differ from totals reported to the Federal Election Commission.
The totals spent are based on data collected by Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, or CMAG. The totals reflect estimates of expenditures on broadcast TV ads and differ from totals reported to the Federal Election Commission.
ProPublica's analysis of CMAG data is part of an ongoing investigation looking at the growing influence of 501(c)(4) groups on the 2012 election.
The data reflects spending on ads mentioning a candidate for president this election cycle, including President Barack Obama, his Republican challenger Mitt Romney and former candidates such as Newt Gingrich. Most c4 groups didn't start spending until after the Republican primaries, however.

CMAG develops its estimates based on regular surveys of TV stations of what they charge, plus discussions with media buyers about what they're paying. The analysis for ProPublica includes data through Aug. 8.
Its totals differ from actual spending reported to the Federal Election Commission in several ways. CMAG's numbers reflect expenditures on broadcast TV ads, but not on ads aired on local cable or radio. They also exclude robo-calls and mailers that some groups must report to election officials. In some cases, however, CMAG's estimates include TV ads that social-welfare nonprofits do not have to report to the FEC because of their content or the time frame [3] in which they ran.

After the Supreme Court's Citizens United [4] decision in January 2010, which paved the way for unlimited corporate and union spending on federal elections, many predicted that super PACs would become the biggest vehicle for outside spending. Hundreds of super PACs soon sprang up, some of which paired up with c4s.

But it's the sidekicks, the c4s, that have proved more muscular. Rove's super PAC, American Crossroads, has spent an estimated $6.6 million on broadcast TV ads mentioning a candidate for president, CMAG data shows. Crossroads GPS has spent more than six times as much.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Embracing Sheldon Adelson

Original Link: http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/06/embracing-sheldon-adelson/


There are two things that set Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign apart: his caution and his secretiveness.

The presumptive Republican nominee refuses to release his pre-2010 tax returns, will not identify his major fundraisers and bundlers and wiped all computer records of staff emails clean at the end of his term as governor of Massachusetts in 2006.

Romney’s rationale is that material like this could be used by the Obama campaign to discredit him. In an interview published a few weeks ago, Romney told National Review:
In the political environment that exists today, the opposition research of the Obama campaign is looking for anything they can use to distract from the failure of the president to reignite our economy. And I’m simply not enthusiastic about giving them hundreds or thousands of more pages to pick through, distort, and lie about.
So what was this ever-so-guarded, moralistic (“I want to clean up the moral pollution on TV and the Internet”) politician doing at a $50,000-a-couple fundraiser in Jerusalem with Sheldon G. Adelson — proprietor of one of the largest, if not the largest, gambling and casino operations in the world — seated in the honored position at his side?

Adelson and his company are under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice on allegations of foreign bribery. In addition, the United States Attorney’s office in Los Angeles is investigating whether Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corporation failed to alert authorities to millions of dollars transferred to casinos in violation of money-laundering laws, the Wall Street Journal reported on August 4.

In its 2011 Annual Report, the Sands Corp., of which Adelson is chairman and C.E.O., disclosed that
On Feb. 9, 2011, L.V.S.C. received a subpoena from the S.E.C. requesting that we produce documents relating to our compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. We have also been advised by the Department of Justice that it is conducting a similar investigation. Any violation of the F.C.P.A. could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition.
Adelson and other officials of the Sands Corp. have denied they have done anything wrong.
There is a succinct answer to the question of why Romney would take the risk of closely associating himself with the immensely controversial Adelson: 10 million dollars — the amount Adelson and his wife have contributed to the super Pac supporting Romney, Restore Our Future.

The Adelsons are the largest donors to the Romney PAC. They have providing just over 12 percent of the $82.2 million Restore Our Future has raised so far. Romney’s personal wealth is an estimated $250 million, but the former governor is determined not to self-finance his quest for the presidency.
Adelson’s cash is more than enough to persuade Romney to swallow his pride and embrace the man who, earlier in the campaign, spent millions on a different candidate. It was Adelson who financed Newt Gingrich’s populist attack ads, which portrayed Romney, the former C.E.O. of Bain Capital, as a “predatory capitalist.” The Adelson-financed attacks were instrumental in bringing about Romney’s defeat in the South Carolina primary in January and they laid the groundwork for the attacks Obama is subjecting Romney to now.

The source of Adelson’s huge campaign contributions would appear to create a conflict with Romney’s Mormon convictions. The official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints states: “The Church opposes gambling in any form, including government-sponsored lotteries.”

What Mormons Believe, an unofficial web site explicating the positions of the Church declares:
The Mormon Church has always opposed gambling in every form, including government-sponsored lotteries. Mormon prophets and leaders have counseled the members over time, to avoid gambling of any type. Doing so, leads one away from righteousness and into the hands of Satan. The Mormon belief is that it is an addictive behavior and leads only to destructive habits and practices. It undermines the value of work and motivates one to think that they can get something for nothing. In time, the gambler will deny themselves, as well as their family the basic needs of life. They will oft times steal from others to finance their addiction, which in turn leads to stealing, robbery, etc.
Adelson is number eight on the Forbes 400, a list of the 400 richest people in America, with a fortune of $21.5 billion amassed largely through an international collection of gambling venues.

Romney has been fortunate that the reporting on the inquiries into Adelson’s finances by the S.E.C. and the Justice Department has been limited in scope. Most coverage of Adelson’s contributions has not included any reference to either of these investigations.

Much of the most interesting reporting on the investigations has been done by ProPublica, working jointly with “Frontline” and the Investigative Reporting Program of the University of California at Berkeley.

The majority of the allegations against Adelson emerged in connection with an ongoing wrongful dismissal lawsuit against Sands filed in 2010 by Steven Jacobs, former C.E.O. of Sands China. Emails and other documents posted by ProPublica on July 16 raised questions about the role of Leonel Alves, a legislator and lawyer in Macau who was hired as an outside counsel to Las Vegas Sands.

These emails revealed concerns among Adelson’s legal advisers that a large payment for legal services to Alves would set off warning bells in the sections of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department that watch out for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The anti-bribery provisions of the F.C.P.A., according to the Department of Justice, “make it unlawful for a U.S. person, and certain foreign issuers of securities, to make a corrupt payment to a foreign official for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person.” Alves is a member of the local Macau legislature, serves on a 10-member council that advises Macau’s chief executive, and is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which advises the government of China.

In a Sept. 30, 2009 email, Alves wrote to Jacobs that at the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China “someone high ranking in Beijing approached me before the official dinner and invited me 2 handle issues related to the Venetian’s projects in Macau.” Alves wrote Jacobs, “There is an amount to be agreed by Mr. Adelson to settle the 2 issues. The amount to be paid to resolve the serviced apartments issue will be paid to a mutually accepted escrow agent and delivered to the gentleman upon official approval in the Official Gazette authorizing the sale of the serviced apartment.”

On Dec. 10, 2009, in another email to Jacobs, Alves wrote that he was returning to Beijing the next day and “will have chance to talk with my friends there.” Alves warned, however, that “what they request is extremely expensive (US300 m, which includes closing the Taiwanese case).”
It is not clear from the email what was done about the request for $300 million.

In a separate matter, Jacobs, in a March 11, 2010 email to Al Gonzalez, who was then general counsel at Las Vegas Sands, said that he had told Alves that a bill for services at three times the normal rate could not be paid in full because “we were worried that there could be F.C.P.A. issues related to this.” Roughly three weeks later, Jacobs wrote, “I was instructed by SGA [Adelson’s initials] and MAL [Michael A. Leven, president of Las Vegas Sands] to pay and close out the matter,” ProPublica, Frontline and Berkeley investigators disclosed.

The next day, March 12, 2010, Gonzalez wrote back to Jacobs: “You know from various conversations we’ve had and emails we’ve exchanged that I did not believe it appropriate to pay LA [Leonel Alves] three times his normal rates,” before adding, “I wish you would have advised me so I could have intervened.”

A month later, in April of 2010, Gonzalez resigned as general counsel to Sands. On July 23, Sands fired Jacobs as C.E.O. of Sands China, and soon the battleground shifted to the courts.
Ron Reese, Sands vice president for public relations, declined to comment, but pointed me to stories of past denials of wrongdoing by company officials, including Adelson. On March 28, Adelson declared in a speech in Macau that the Jacobs suit “is pure threatening, blackmailing and extortion. That is what it is all about.” Speaking at the J.P. Morgan Gaming, Lodging, Restaurant & Leisure Management Access Forum, Adelson said:
When the smoke clears, I am 1,000 percent positive that there won’t be any fire below it. What they will find is a foundation of lies and fabrications that were designed for the sole purpose of trying to make a settlement for a lot more money than what he [Jacobs] felt he was entitled to.
The Adelson-Jacobs feud turned up hotly-disputed allegations even more out of sync with Romney’s religious and moral convictions after Jacobs filed a request for documents charging that Adelson had initiated a “prostitution strategy” to draw customers to the Macau facilities. The Jacobs filing read:
As background, shortly after my arrival to Macau in May 2009, I launched “Operation Clean Sweep,” designed to rid the casino floor of loan sharks and prostitution. This project was met with concern as L.V.S.C. Senior Executives informed me that the prior prostitution strategy has been personally approved by Adelson.
Adelson denied the allegation, telling Forbes: “Would I jeopardize being the 7th richest man in the US and the 14th or 15th richest person in the world to push prostitution? For what? I’m already the most profitable company in consumer services ever. What do I have to win?”

By July 20, the situation got even messier. Adelson sued Jacobs in Florida for defamation for making statements that “impugn Mr. Adelson’s integrity and harm his reputation.” In addition, Adelson threatened to sue the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for issuing press releases linking Adelson’s contributions to “Chinese prostitution money.”

On August 2, the D.C.C.C. backtracked, publicly declaring “In press statements issued on June 29 and July 2, 2012, the D.C.C.C. made unsubstantiated allegations that attacked Sheldon Adelson, a supporter of the opposing party.” The D.C.C.C. said, “This was wrong. The statements were untrue and unfair, and we retract them.”

On the legal front, Nevada District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez will hold a hearing on August 30 to determine whether Las Vegas Sands Corp withheld key documents in Jacobs’ wrongful termination case.

It would be interesting to know what Romney has to say about Adelson’s gambling business and his difficulties with the S.E.C., the Justice Department and the D.C.C.C., but Romney’s campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The toughest charges leveled against Romney as a politician have been distinctly personal: that he lacks authenticity; that he is “a phony”; that “there are two Mitt Romneys”; that he is duplicitous; that he is a hypocrite and a flip-flopper, even on the most serious issues.

Romney is currently polling ahead of Obama on a number of key questions. Voters prefer Romney’s approach to the deficit (51-41), jobs (50-44) and taxes (49-45). But when it comes to questions of character, Obama crushes Romney: on likability (60-30); on understanding the problems faced in voters’ daily lives (50-39); and on honesty and trustworthiness, two issues that go to the heart of Romney’s problems, Obama holds an 8 point advantage (47-39).

Perhaps the least effective tools with which to address this liability are the caution and secretiveness that have become Romney’s trademarks. At a minimum, Romney could tell us how he reconciles the values he says he stands for with the basis on which Adelson’s fortune is built.

Top 15 super PAC donors through June

Original Link: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57482105/top-10-super-pac-donors-through-june/

By Phil Hirschkorn

1. Sheldon Adelson. Total: $37.5 million
Adelson is CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Adelson and his wife, Miriam, gave the pro-Romney Restore Our Future $10 million in June. During the primary campaign, the Adelsons and their children bet heavily on Newt Gingrich, giving the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future $21.5 million; $5 million was refunded in May. The Adelsons are also steering funds to congressional races. They gave $5 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, which supports Republican candidates for the House of Representatives; $5 million to the YG Action Fund, which supports conservative "young guns" running for office; and $1 million to the Freedom PAC, which supports Florida congressman Connie Mack's run for the U.S. Senate.
2. Harold Simmons/Contran. Total: $17.2 million
Simmons is CEO of Dallas-based holding company Contran Corp. and publicly-traded Valhi.
Simmons and his wife, Annette, and his company, Contran, gave $12 million to the pro-Republican American Crossroads; $1.2 million to the pro-Rick Santorum Red White and Blue Fund; $1.1 million each the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future and to Super PACs supporting Rick Perry; and $800,000 to the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future. He also gave $1 million to the Texas Conservatives Fund, established to promote the U.S. Senate candidacy of Republican David Dewhurst, in Texas.
3. Bob Perry. Total: $12.7 million
Perry is a Houston-based homebuilder and president of Perry Homes.

Perry gave $6.75 million to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future. He also gave $4.5 million to American Crossroads, $1 million to the Congressional leadership Funds, focused on electing Republicans to Congress; $300,000 to the Texas Conservatives Fund; and $100,000 to the pro-Perry Make Us Great Again.
4 . Peter Thiel. Total: $3.7 million
Thiel is CEO of Clarium Capital Management, in Palo Alto, CA.
Thiel gave $2.6 million to the pro-Ron Paul Endorse Liberty and $135,000 to the pro-Paul Revolution PAC. He also gave $1 million to Club For Growth Action, which promotes the campaigns of economic conservatives.
5. Fred Eychaner. Total: $3.25 million.
Eychaner is the president and CEO of Chicago-based Newsweb Corp., which prints newspapers and owns radio stations.
Eychaner gave $1.5 million to the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action, $800,000 to the pro-Senate Democrats Majority PAC, and $750,000 to the pro-Democratic House Majority PAC. He also gave $200,000 to the America Votes Action Fund, which promotes progressive causes.
6. William Koch. Total: $3 million
Koch is the founder and CEO of Oxbow Carbon, a Florida energy company.
Koch and his companies gave $3 million to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future.
7. John Childs. Total: $2.625 million.
Childs is the CEO of the Florida investment firm J.W. Childs Associates.
Childs gave $1 million to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future and $1.125 million to Club For Growth Action, which advocates for economic conservatives. He also gave $500,000 to the pro-Republican American Crossroads.
8. Jerry Perenchio. Total: $2.6 million
Perenchio, from Los Angeles, is the former owner of Univision Spanish language television and chairs the investment firm Chartwell Partners.
Perenchio gave $2 million to American Crossroads, $500,000 to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future, and $100,000 to the pro-Jon Huntsman Our Destiny.
9. Foster Friess. Total: $2.35 million
Friess is a Wyoming-based founder of the investment firm Friess Associates.
Friess gave $2.1 million to the pro-Rick Santorum Red White and Blue Fund. After Santorum quit the race, Friess gave $100,000 to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future. He also gave $100,000 to FreedomWorks for America, which focuses on grassroots action for economic conservatives; and $50,000 to Leaders for Families, a socially conservative group that was active in Iowa caucuses.
10 (tie). Amy Goldman. Total: $2.25 million
Goldman is an heir to a New York real estate fortune, a philanthropist, and gardening author.
Goldman gave $1.25 million to pro-Obama super PACS -- $1 million to Priorities USA Action and $250,000 to American Bridge 21st.
10 (tie). William Dore. Total: $2.25 million
Dore is President of Dore Energy Corporation, in Louisiana.
Dore gave $2.25 million to the pro-Rick Santorum Red White and Blue Fund.
12. Jon Huntsman, Sr. Total: $2.2 million
Huntsman is CEO of Huntsman Corporation, in Utah, and the father of former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.
Huntsman gave $2.2 million to Our Destiny, the Super PAC that supported his son's candidacy.
13. Robert Rowling. Total: $2.03 million
Rowling is president of TRT Holdings, a Texas firm which owns Omni Hotels and Gold's Gyms.
Rowling and his company gave $2 million to American Crossroads and $35,000 to Texas Conservatives Fund.
14. (tie) Irwin Jacobs. Total: $2.1 million.
Jacobs is the founding chairman and CEO emeritus of San Diego-based Qualcomm, a provider of wireless technology services.
Jacobs gave $2 million to the pro-Obama Priorities USA Acton and $100,000 to the pro-Obama American Bridge 21st Century.
14. (tie) Jeffrey Katzenberg. Total $2.1 million
Katzenberg is CEO of DreamWorks Animation, in California.
Katzenberg gave $2 million to the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action and $100,000 to the pro-Senate Democrats Majority PAC.
15. Robert Rowling. Total: $2.03 million
Rowling is president of TRT Holdings, a Texas firm which owns Omni Hotels and Gold's Gyms.
Rowling and his company gave $2 million to American Crossroads and $35,000 to Texas Conservatives Fund.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Taxpayer-Funded Breaks For Top CEOs Could Pay For 211,000 Elementary School Teachers

Original Link: http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/08/16/698481/taxpayer-funded-breaks-teachers-ceos/

By Adam Peck

A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies notes that tax breaks enjoyed by 26 of the most highly-compensated chief executive officers in the U.S. could have instead been spent to hire an estimated 211,000 elementary school teachers.

According to the report, four direct tax subsidies that corporations take advantage of to boost executive pay into the stratosphere cost taxpayers an estimated $14.4 billion per year, which is enough to hire 211,000 elementary school teachers, fund public broadcasting for more than 30 years, or provide the maximum Pell Grant to more than 2.5 million college students.

The US tax code is riddled with easily exploitable loopholes that corporations routinely employ when it comes to executive pay. A CEO’s salary is only tax deductible up to $1 million, so instead they receive other forms of compensation, like stock options or other “performance based pay,” which are exempt from the deductibility limit. That practice alone cost taxpayers $9.7 billion in 2011, says IPS:
The unlimited tax deductibility of executive pay loophole operates as a powerful subsidy for excessive compensation. The more corporations pay out in executive compensation, the less they owe in taxes. And average taxpayers wind up paying the bill. According to the Economic Policy Institute, this loophole cost American taxpayers as much as $9.7 billion in 2010.
Rewarding executives with salaries stretching into the hundreds of millions per year, and pushing the bill onto taxpayers, simply forces deeper cuts in other government services, at a time when CEO pay is already through the roof.

Monday, August 13, 2012

"Path to Prosperity?" Paul Ryan's Medicare Plan Looks Like a Path to the Poorhouse

Original Link: http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/08/11703/path-prosperity-many-senior-citizens-vp-pick-ryans-plan-would-be-path-poorhouse

By Wendell Potter

If Americans who are embracing Rep. Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" -- and that now includes Mitt Romney -- spent a few minutes reviewing a few recent research reports, they just might conclude that the Wisconsin Republican's plan to reduce the deficit might better be renamed the "Path to the Poorhouse" because of what it would mean to the Medicare program and many senior citizens.
Ryan's proposal, which will get new scrutiny now that Romney has made him his running mate, would end the current Medicare program for everyone born after 1956. It would replace Medicare with a system in which beneficiaries would receive a set amount of money from the government every year to buy coverage from private insurers. That money would go straight into insurance companies' bank accounts, which would make them far richer and even more in control of our health care system than they already are.

While the amount of money beneficiaries would receive would depend on their health status, the average 65-year-old would get $8,000 under the Ryan plan in 2022, the year it would take effect. That's the amount the current Medicare program is expected to spend on the average 65-year-old that year. After 2022, the annual increase in the "premium support" payments would be based on the consumer price index (CPI). And therein lies one of the biggest problems for anyone hoping to live long enough to enroll in Medicare and stay alive for a few years.

Last month the government reported that the consumer price index had increased 1.7 percent between June 2011 and June 2012, meaning we've been paying on average 1.7 percent more this year than last year for goods and services. The cost of medical care, however, shot up 4.3 percent -- more than two and a half times the CPI. And that was not an aberration. The cost of medical care has been rising faster than the cost of just about everything else in this country for years. That's one of the reasons why private health insurance premiums have been increasing so rapidly. That and the fact that insurance corporations have to report a big enough profit every quarter to satisfy their shareholders and Wall Street analysts.

Health insurance premiums rose nine percent in 2011 to an average of $15,073 for an employer-subsidized family plan, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Over the past 10 years, premiums have increased a "whopping" (Kaiser's word) 113 percent, much faster than wage increases and general inflation. So you can see what almost certainly would happen to Medicare beneficiaries beginning in 2022: They would have to shell out more and more money out of their own pockets every year just to cover the premiums their private insurers would charge them.

That's bad enough, but consider this: Health insurers began implementing a strategy several years ago to move all of us into high-deductible plans, meaning every one of us will soon be paying (if we're not already) thousands of dollars of our own money for medical care before our insurance company will pay a dime. Insurers adopted this strategy because they have failed miserably at controlling health care costs. If you can't control those costs, the only way you can make Wall Street-pleasing profits if you're an insurer is to keep hiking premiums and shifting more of the cost of care to policyholders.

Under the privatized Medicare program Ryan envisions, the effect of that cost-shifting strategy would be disastrous for the growing number of senior citizens who are finding that every year they have less and less money to make ends meet.

Almost half of Americans now die with virtually no financial assets, according to a recent study by economics professors at Harvard, MIT and Dartmouth. They found that 46.1 percent of Americans are now dying with less than $10,000 (19 percent die with no financial assets at all) and that many rely almost entirely on Social Security benefits for support. Not surprisingly, those people are disproportionally in poor health.

"With such low asset levels, they would have little capacity to pay for unanticipated needs such as health expenses or other financial shocks or to pay for entertainment, travel, or other activities," the professors wrote.

Those findings are not so surprising when you look at other recent measures of Americans' wealth and our ability -- actually, our inability -- to save money. The Federal Reserve reported in June that, after adjusting for inflation, median family income fell to $45,800 in 2010 from $49,600 in 2007. The recent economic crisis also took a big toll on median home equity, which fell during the same period from $110,000 to $75,000, and family net worth, which plummeted 40 percent from $126,400 to $77,300.

For the relatively wealthy Americans lucky enough to have a 401(k), most of their account balances are not nearly high enough to be of significant help when they retire. According to Fidelity Investments, the country's largest 401(k) administrator, the average account balance among its customers at the end of June was $72,800, which is down 2.4 percent from March and about the same as it was in June 2011. And balances in Health Savings Accounts are also low -- averaging just $1,494 in 2010, according to J.P. Morgan.

So one has to wonder how Messrs Ryan and Romney think making our senior citizens pay a lot more for care under a privatized Medicare program could even remotely be a Path to Prosperity for most of us. Could it be that they're not thinking -- or even caring -- about most of us but about people who, like them, have such big 401(k) accounts they'll be able to do just fine in their golden years regardless of how Medicare is structured?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Meet the 26 Billionaires Buying the 2012 Elections

Original Link: http://www.progressive.org/26_billionaires_buying_2012_elections.html

So far this year, 26 billionaires have donated more than $61 million to super PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And, that’s only what has been publically disclosed.

· This $61 million does not include about $100 million that Sheldon Adelson has said that he is willing to spend to defeat President Obama; or the $400 million that the Koch brothers have pledged to spend during the 2012 election season.

· These 26 billionaires have a combined net worth of $146 billion, which is more than the bottom 42.5 percent of American households (equal to nearly 50 million families in the United States).
(Sources: Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances published in June 2012; and the Forbes billionaire list of April 2012. Sylvia A. Allegretto, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley helped us gather the data from the Federal Reserve study to come up with these statistics.)

Here is a list of the billionaires:

1. Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Las Vegas Sands Casino, is worth nearly $25 billion, making him the 14th wealthiest person in the world and the 7th richest person in America.
While median family income plummeted by nearly 40% from 2007-2010, Mr. Adelson has experienced a nearly eightfold increase in his wealth over the past three years (from $3.4 billion to $24.9 billion).
Forbes recently reported that Adelson is willing to spend a “limitless” amount of money or more than $100 million to help defeat President Obama in November.
While $100 million sounds like a lot, it equals the same percentage of Adelson’s wealth that $300 to $400 does for the typical middle class family (with a net worth of about $77,000).
Sheldon Adelson owns more wealth than the bottom 40.2% of American households or 47.2 million American families.
2. The Kochs (David, Charles, and William) are worth a combined $54 billion, according to Forbes. They have pledged to spend about $400 million during the 2012 election season.
3. Jim Walton is worth $23.7 billion. He has donated $300,000 to super PACs in 2012.
4. Harold Simmons is worth $9 billion. He has donated $15.2 million to super PACs this year.
5. Peter Thiel is worth $1.5 billion. He has donated $6.7 million to Super PACs this year.
6. Jerrold Perenchio is worth $2.3 billion. He has donated $2.6 million to super PACs this year.
7. Kenneth Griffin is worth $3 billion and he has given $2.08 million to super PACs in 2012.
8. James Simons is worth $10.7 billion and he has given $1.5 million to super Pacs this year.
9. Julian Robertson is worth $2.5 billion and he has given $1.25 million to super PACs this year.
10. Robert Rowling is worth $4.8 billion and he has given $1.1 million to super PACs.
11. John Paulson, the hedge fund manager who made his fortune betting that the sub-prime mortgage market would collapse, is worth $12.5 billion. He has donated $1 million to super PACs.
12. Richard and J.W. Marriott are worth a combined $3.1 billion and they have donated $2 million to super PACs this year.
13. James Davis is worth $1.9 billion and he has given $1 million to super PACs this year.
14. Harold Hamm is worth $11 billion and he has given $985,000 to super PACs this year.
15. Kenny Trout is worth more than $1.2 billion and he has given $900,000 to super PACs this year.
16. Louis Bacon is worth $1.4 billion and he has given $500,000 to super PACs this year.
17. Bruce Kovner is worth $4.5 billion and he has given $500,000 to super PACs this year.
18. Warren Stephens is worth $2.7 billion and he has given $500,000 to super PACs this year.
19. David Tepper is worth $5.1 billion and he has given $375,000 to super PACs this year.
20. Samuel Zell is worth $4.9 billion and he has given $270,000 to super PACs this year.
21. Leslie Wexner is worth $4.3 billion and he has given $250,000 to super PACs this year.
22. Charles Schwab is worth $3.5 billion and he has given $250,000 to super PACs this year.
23. Kelcy Warren is worth $2.3 billion and he has given $250,000 to super PACs this year.

Guess who gets value for money out of this $2bn presidential election

Original Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/07/who-gets-value-for-money-2billion-election

By  Michael Wolff

Campaign fundraising's reality is that donors large and small end up disappointed. So cui bono? The media and media buyers

What does all this money, in the most well-funded presidential race ever, buy?

There's the $750m for the president; $800m for Mitt Romney; and then there's a couple of hundred more in Super Pac funds.

What do the people putting up all this dough in politics actually get? Or maybe a better question: how do people keep falling for this?

Here are the political contributions I have made:

I have a Democratic private equity friend in Massachusetts who set out to build a political career. He was richer than me by a factor of probably 100, and yet, as reliably as the rain, he was back over and over again to ask for checks. (I'd once heard that the governor of Massachusetts could get anyone he wanted into Harvard, so I told myself I wrote these checks for my children.) But he never won – and yet, unfortunately, and on my dime, he persisted. I wrote check after check so he could run, and lose, and come back for more.

My other check was to Bill Clinton in 1992. I wanted something specific: a blurb for a book I had written. I knew a top fundraiser for the campaign who said that if I maxed out the individual contribution, he'd take my request for a blurb directly to the candidate – done deal, he said. The last time I saw him, he was putting my folded check into his wallet.

The next day, he was, tragically, killed in a plane crash. But not before having deposited my check. So, no blurb and no thank you – but, along with thousands of others, I did get my one-and-only inaugural invitation.

Sheldon Adelson has been one of the big spenders during this campaign (by some estimates, his spend may go to $100m), first for Newt Gingrich, and now for Romney, accompanying the Republican candidate and his entourage on their recent trip to Israel. This might be what Adelson wants: some big-man travel, some personal press, a sense of bully-boy insinuation into Israel-US relations, some faith-based pride. But does he get real influence?

It surely doesn't seem like a match: the self-made Jewish gambling magnate and the upper-class Mormon teetotaler. Let's be practical: what Adelson becomes, with his political investment, is a monster pain in the ass for the Romney people. Politicians spend the same amount of time raising money as they do giving the slip to the people who gave it to them. Precisely because Adelson will think he's owed big, he'll be avoided, mocked, handled, by a Romney White House (if it comes to that). Dollars to donuts, bitterness is what Adelson will get.

Still, at his age and with his $25bn, it may be something of a cheap and final public splash for him (many of the biggest campaign donors are old men). But even here, I'll bet this turns to ash: there isn't much press for donors after an election. (But, count on it, he'll keep getting called for more money.)
Do Romney's Bain supporters fair better? Or is Romney the burden they uniquely bear?

The strategy for all the private equity guys I have known – unless, like my friend, and like Mitt Romney, they want to get into politics – is to fly under the radar. Press isn't good for private equity. As President Obama is now betting, there's really no way for most people to understand the PE business – and even less of a chance that they will be sympathetic to it. So, even if Romney wins, and private equity gets a finance-friendly White House, what it has also bought with its millions of dollars in support is a vastly increased branding problem.

Still, for donors, there is the feeling of engagement in a great national contest, isn't there? Contributing a few dollars, or a few thousand dollars – or, if you have billions, its many-millions equivalent – represents a kind of interactivity. You're part of the whole. You signify. You've reached out. You matter.

It's like posting a comment on the internet. And yet, really, how many commenters seem like satisfied and mellow people? Rather, engagement of this sort seems demonstrably an activity of the angry, hostile, begrudging, and dyspeptic. My guess is that what animates an internet commenter is very similar to what compels most campaign contributors to write a check: I give because I'm mad.

Clearly, all campaign advertising strategies are guided by the premise that the negative is a stronger call to action than the positive.

Politics is the province of the unhappy and querulous; perhaps all the more so because, having paid, people feel particularly gypped. (Or having paid, they feel they are entitled to their self-expression.) The manifest disappointment many of Barack Obama's 2008 supporters feel is surely heightened by the fact that, in that great surge of small contributions, they had to pay for the privilege.

But somebody must get something valuable out of this $2bn election, besides the man who gets elected.

This is the point where the analysis of campaign financing may well go seriously astray, seeing the underlying purpose of the $2bn as buying some insidious and indirect influence, instead of looking at exactly who is pocketing the cash and hence promoting the game.

First off, there is the media. Presidential politics has become the difference between profit and loss for many television stations in battlefield states (most of them owned by major media companies). If you look at who has the largest financial interest in maintaining the hostility and partisan divide of modern politics, it is the media business. A curious conflict: the media stokes the fires of political acrimony while directly profiting from it.

And second, there are the people who buy the media. Standing between the campaign donor and the recipient, there are the people who actually spend all this money. In most instances, they get a cut of it: a percentage of the ad buy (usually between 8% and 15%) goes to them. This is the political operative business: the outside consultants attached to every campaign (at almost every level of politics), and, now as well, the Super Pacs making big media buys around the country. (In other words, the Super Pacs are now very profitable businesses.)

Karl Rove is not helping to run the American Crossroads Super Pac for free. In essence, the people who define the battleground states – the more money that's spent, the greater the contest – and who determine the tone of the campaign, and who set the budget requirements, are the people who most directly benefit from the campaign spend.

Everybody else gets much less than they expected.