Archive for the ‘Campaign finance reform’ Category

by jhwygirl

Governor Brian Schweitzer had an op-ed in today’s New York Times today. I am reprinting it here in it’s entirety because (a) it’s an op-ed and (b) he’s our Governor.

Schweitzer is throwing his weight behind Stand With Montanans, a group working to ban corporate campaign spending here in Montana under Ballot Initiative 166. The national attention he can draw to this issue – transposed with Montana’s history’s role not only here in Montana, but nationally – is invaluable.

Make no mistake Montana – there are those out there here in this state (with funding from Canada and out-of-state) that are working to removal all barriers to corporate spending here in Montana. It’s a good thing that Schweitzer taking a leading role on this issue.

Mining for Influence in Montana

IN Montana’s frontier days, we learned a hard lesson about money in politics, one that’s shaped our campaign-finance laws for a century and made our political system one of the country’s most transparent.

Those laws, and our political way of life, are now being threatened by the Supreme Court — which is why I recently signed a petition for a federal constitutional amendment to ban corporate money from all elections.

Montana’s approach to campaign law began when a miner named William A. Clark came upon a massive copper vein near Butte. It was the largest deposit on earth, and overnight he became one of the wealthiest men in the world. He bought up half the state of Montana, and if he needed favors from politicians, he bought those as well.

In 1899 he decided he wanted to become a United States senator. The State Legislature appointed United States senators in those days, so Clark simply gave each corruptible state legislator $10,000 in cash, the equivalent of $250,000 today.

Clark “won” the “election,” but when the Senate learned about the bribes, it kicked him out. “I never bought a man who wasn’t for sale,” Clark complained as he headed back to Montana.

Nevertheless, this type of corruption continued until 1912, when the people of Montana approved a ballot initiative banning corporate money from campaigns (with limited exceptions). We later banned large individual donations, too. Candidates in Montana may not take more than a few hundred dollars from an individual donor per election; a state legislator can’t take more than $160. And everything must be disclosed.

These laws have nurtured a rare, pure form of democracy. There’s very little money in Montana politics. Legislators are basically volunteers: they are ranchers, teachers, carpenters and all else, who put their professions on hold to serve a 90-day session, every odd year, for $80 a day.

And since money can’t be used to gain access, public contact with politicians is expected and rarely denied. A person who wants to visit with a public official, even the governor, can pretty much just walk into the Capitol and say hello. All meetings with officials are open to the public. So are all documents — even my own handwritten notes and e-mails.

All this is in jeopardy, though, thanks to the Supreme Court and its infamous Citizens United ruling. In February the court notified the office of Montana’s commissioner of political practices, which oversees state campaigns, that until further notice, we may no longer enforce our anti-corruption statute, specifically our restriction on corporate money.

The court, which will make a formal ruling on the law soon, cited in the 2010 Citizens United case that corporations are people, too, and told us that our 110-year effort to prevent corruption in Montana had likely been unconstitutional. Who knew?

The effects of the court’s stay are already being felt here. The ink wasn’t even dry when corporate front groups started funneling lots of corporate cash into our legislative races. Many of the backers have remained anonymous by taking advantage of other loopholes in federal law.

But it’s easy to figure out who they are: every industry that wants to change the laws so that more profit can be made and more citizens can be shortchanged.

I know this because I’ve started receiving bills on my desk that have been ghostwritten by a host of industries looking to weaken state laws, including gold mining companies that want to overturn a state ban on the use of cyanide to mine gold, and developers who want to build condos right on the edge of our legendary trout streams.

In the absence of strict rules governing campaign money, these big players will eventually get what they seek. I vetoed these bills, but future governors might sign them if they have been bribed by the same type of money that is now corrupting our State Legislature.

This will mean, sadly, that the Washington model of corruption — where corporations legally bribe members of Congress by bankrolling their campaigns with so-called independent expenditures, and get whatever they need in return — will have infected Montana.

That’s why, in the event we don’t win in the court, I’m also supporting a federal constitutional amendment that would enshrine the right of a state to ban corporate money from political campaigns. I’m hoping the rest of Montana will join me — indeed, the petition will be presented to voters in November.

It’s not much, but it’s a start. If other states get into the act, maybe we can start a prairie fire that will burn all the way to Washington. In the meantime, we will see whether the court decides to blow the stink of Washington into Montana, or whether we can preserve our fresh mountain air.

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by jhwygirl

Just a quick hit on this one: I’m sure everyone’s heard the news earlier this week that President Obama has blessed his very own Super Pac, something he had rejected in the past.

Of course, he’s still cleaner, somehow. This, from Jay Carney, White House spokesperson:

He said Obama still refuses lobbyist and PAC money in his campaign account, “which distinguishes him from any of his potential … general-election opponents.”

Who’s out calming the bankers? Montana’s very own Jim Messina headed to Wall Street on Tuesday to let them know who Obama doesn’t have a problem with:

At the members-only Core Club in Manhattan, Messina provided a campaign briefing last night for some of the president’s top donors, including Ralph Schlosstein, chief executive officer at Evercore Partners Inc., and his wife, Jane Hartley, co-founder of the economic and political advisory firm Observatory Group LLC; Eric Mindich, founder of Eton Park Capital Management LP; and Ron Blaylock, co-founder of GenNx360 Capital Partners…..

In response to a question, Messina told the group of Wall Street donors that the president plans to run against Romney, not the industry that made the former governor of Massachusetts millions, according to one of the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.

Does this cause me some burn? You betcha. Messina – Obama’s campaign manager – justifies his actions by saying “We can’t allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm.”

Well..there’s certainly an element of truth to what he says – but it’s also a two-wrongs-make-a-right defense, imo. I don’t know that it makes it OK.

At the very least, it’s a trench on a high hill that has now been ceded by Obama.

by Pete Talbot

Hey! Since corporations can now give unlimited amounts to federal campaigns, why not allow political parties the same latitude? At least that’s the Republican Party’s take on the recent Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court.

Special interests don’t have enough influence in national elections and policy, the GOP’s thinking goes. Now, not just corporations, but political parties can raise and spend unlimited dollars on federal campaigns. That is, if the Supremes rule in favor of the GOP request, and there’s no reason to think they won’t.

It’s called ‘soft money’ and the Republicans want to raise and spend big bucks to, “help elect GOP candidates to state offices, finance congressional redistricting efforts following the 2010 census, and fund lobbying efforts on federal legislation.”

As the AP reports, Democrats have opposed the Republican effort, even though they, too, would be allowed to collect unlimited contributions.

This is going to make for one long, sickening political season. You can now look forward to even bigger campaign war chests and more independent expenditures on TV, radio, direct mail, et al. Look for even more lobbying on behalf of corporations and parties, too, which is almost impossible to fathom.


by Pete Talbot

By giving corporations the same rights as citizens, the U.S. Supreme Court guarantees a less-than-level playing field in upcoming elections. A majority on the court (this would be mainly your Reagan/Bush/Bush appointees) overturned much of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance act.

Here’s the story, and how each justice voted.

Of course, labor unions have also contributed vast sums to candidates and campaigns but weren’t happy with the ruling. SEIU denounced the court decision, saying it opened the door for corporations to outspend unions:

“I don’t think working people would ever have as much to spend as corporations. For us, being able to spend a few extra dollars isn’t worth allowing decisions to be made from boardrooms instead of the polling booth,” said union spokeswoman Lori Lodes.

In my inbox this morning was a timely request from David Sirota. He called the SCOTUS decision a “a radical ruling that threatens the most basic fundamentals of American democracy.” I agree. And Sirota offers up a petition to amend the Constitution to declare that corporations are NOT people. Please sign it.




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