Big Banks Rule

Dan Petegorsky

Two pieces of stunning news this morning:

Goldman Sachs reported record 2009 profits of $13.4 billion

The U.S. Supreme Court says corporations now have unlimited rights to influence elections.

Let’s see – unimaginable profits plus unrestricted ability to spend on elections. I wonder how that’ll turn out?

Here’s what the court said: “That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy.” Our course not. Why would they?

Because a key Senate leader said (even before this) that the banks "own the place?” Nah.

Because even without this ruling the financial industry spent $344 million in lobbying from Jan-Sept. 2009? Nah.

Because they fielded 1,500 lobbyists to defeat attempts to rein them in, including 70 former members of Congress? Nah, no cause to lose faith.

Given the activist bent of the right wing majority on the Court, we can only expect worse to follow. And, of course, this won’t affect state elections here in Oregon because we’re one of the few states that have no restrictions. We do, though, at least in Portland, have a public financing system that allows candidates without the backing of big money to run for office – and Public Campaign and Common Cause are championing a bill to implement such a system nationally (the Fair Elections Act).

As well, national groups are pushing a bill that would require a shareholder vote on corporate political expenditures.

So – how’s your faith doing?

UPDATE:
Obama proposes new limits on big bank risky trading
Commercial banks could be prohibited from owning hedge funds, buyout shops

UPDATE 2:

New report just out today: Financial Sector Investments In Congress and the Senate Banking Committee

Comments

  • Darth Spadea (unverified)
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    Do Unions have member votes on corporate political expenditures?

  • Boats (unverified)
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    Do Unions have member votes on corporate political expenditures?

    Oh no you didn't. . . .

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    They have votes on endorsements.

  • JonB (unverified)
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    I got a blog post up about the Citizens United decision. http://bit.ly/4n2JBN Plus, you can see our press release at http://bit.ly/7nz5dy on this issue.

    It's really stunning. First, the idea that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as real people is anathema to the principles this nation was founded on.

    Second, the idea that there's no corrupting influence if a corporation buys millions of dollars in ads to support a candidate?

    Please, what kind of dream world do these Justices live in?

    and these are the ones who talk about "judicial activism". Where does it say in the Constitution that corporations=people?

  • Darth Spadea (unverified)
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    My question was sincere. I am not, nor ever have been a union member. If unions are required to put political expenditures to a vote of members, then I think it is only fair to follow your suggestion to require the same of corporations (vote of stockholders).

    Endorsements are different than expenditures, especially since we are talking about campaign finance.

    I am not sure I love all the money being flooded in either way. I dilutes my contributions as an individual. But we should treat unions and corporations exactly the same in this space.

    Both unions and corporations are not individuals, but organizations that can act as an entity.

  • Darth Spadea (unverified)
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    Sorry, should say "neither corporations or unions are individuals"

  • Observer (unverified)
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    Wow. Add to this Brown's victory in MA and subsequent Democrat clusterfuck and... yeah, a bit low on faith right now.

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    The good news is that this all seems to have awakened the President from his lethargy, and just in the last couple of days he has come out much more vigorously to move on reining in the banks: in his proposals announced this morning to curb their size and scope; his earlier proposal to tax the banks to repay the bailout benefits; and his firm statement that creation of an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency is non-negotiable.

  • Ed Bickford (unverified)
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    "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

    The Supreme court in essence has replaced 'People of the U.S.' with 'Corporations of wherever' as the arbiters of our Constitution and our fate. We need reclaim our Constitution! Sign the petition at http://www.movetoamend.org/

  • Greg D. (unverified)
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    Every incumbent politician in the US Congress is probably dancing a jig today. I don't see the Supreme Court decision as necessarily benefiting either party, but as benefiting incumbents who have traditionally been in a position to trade votes for campaign donations.

    I am not a constitutional scholar but this decision does not seem all that shocking to me. The "entity theory" has been around for a long time. I don't like the control that big money has gained over this country and the world. I would like to see the Dems work to tighten up the IRS Code to make certain that corporations are not able to deduct or otherwise take tax advantages for their own political activity while individuals cannot do the same thing. I don't think that sort of legislative tinkering would be inconsistent with today's decision.

  • Janice Thompson (unverified)
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    Key components of Common Cause Oregon's statement focus on Portland and Oregon angles:

    Common Cause Oregon applauds Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, and David Wu for signing on as co-sponsors of the Fair Elections Now Act and urges others in Oregon’s Congressional delegation to support this critical legislation.

    Portland is a national leader, having already adopted public campaign financing. Due to Voter-Owned Elections, spending has been reduced in city elections and the importance of grassroots campaigns has increased. In 2008, Commissioner Amanda Fritz was elected using Portland’s reform program, becoming only the seventh woman to serve on the City Council.

    Oregon has no limits on the source or size of contributions to independent electoral spending and is less affected by the Citizens United case than most other states. Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision does not overturn limits on contributions directly to federal candidates. Oregon does not have such limits and reform steps on that topic are not affected by this federal decision. “Oregonians should not think that reform in our state isn’t possible because of this U.S. Supreme Court decision,” said Janice Thompson, executive director of Common Cause Oregon. “There are Oregon constitutional concerns that our state Supreme Court has signaled in a recent decision that it may reconsider, so campaign finance reform is not dead in Oregon.”

  • Buckman Res (unverified)
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    ”...at least in Portland, have a public financing system that allows candidates without the backing of big money to run for office.”

    That great system was promoted by Tom “I’m irrelevant” Potter who was instrumental, along with other arrogant politicians, in shoving public financing down our throats without our approval.

    Why should taxpayer funds go to candidates they may not agree with? And where is the evidence of corruption in Portland elections that warrants public financing of campaigns?

    There is none.

    Luckily Portlanders finally have a chance to vote this useless financing law out this year.

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    Janice Thompson wrote:

    Oregon has no limits on the source or size of contributions to independent electoral spending and is less affected by the Citizens United case than most other states.

    A man without hands and feet has little trouble with hangnails.

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    Buckman Res wrote:

    And where is the evidence of corruption in Portland elections that warrants public financing of campaigns?

    There is none.

    Congratulations, Buckman Res, you are qualified for a spot on SCOTUS! If you sometime have an itch to exercise your mind, however, consider the difference between the [legal definition of] corruption of a public official and the corruption of democracy.

  • JonB (unverified)
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    Think about the ramifications of the Citizen's United case on Oregon. While it won't impact state races, most corporations are concerned primarily with federal regulation. Imagine if we had another competitive US Senate race like Merkley v. Smith. We would see millions upon millions of dollars flooding in from big national corporations, often laundered through the national chamber of commerce to influence the election.

    I would note that there is one winner in all this - TV stations in swing states and congressional districts.

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    JonB wrote:

    I would note that there is one winner in all this - TV stations in swing states and congressional districts.

    Which is why we are unlikely to see much gnashing of teeth on TV over this assault on what is left of US democracy.

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    This from an email from Greg Palast:

    In today's Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court ruled that corporations should be treated the same as "natural persons", i.e. humans. Well, in that case, expect the Supreme Court to next rule that Wal-Mart can run for President.

    The ruling, which junks federal laws that now bar corporations from stuffing campaign coffers, will not, as progressives fear, cause an avalanche of corporate cash into politics. Sadly, that's already happened: we have been snowed under by tens of millions of dollars given through corporate PACs and "bundling" of individual contributions from corporate pay-rollers.

    The Court's decision is far, far more dangerous to U.S. democracy. Think: Manchurian candidates.

    I'm losing sleep over the millions - or billions - of dollars that could flood into our elections from ARAMCO, the Saudi Oil corporation's U.S. unit; or from the maker of "New Order" fashions, the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Or from Bin Laden Construction corporation. Or Bin Laden Destruction Corporation.

    Right now, corporations can give loads of loot through PACs. While this money stinks (Barack Obama took none of it), anyone can go through a PAC's federal disclosure filing and see the name of every individual who put money into it. And every contributor must be a citizen of the USA.

    But under today's Supreme Court ruling that corporations can support candidates without limit, there is nothing that stops, say, a Delaware-incorporated handmaiden of the Burmese junta from picking a Congressman or two with a cache of loot masked by a corporate alias.

  • JonB (unverified)
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    Jake, that seems to be true about the TV stations in general. I did a lot of calling around and only one station was interested. i will be on KOHD in Bend tonight talking about this.

  • Scott in Damascus (unverified)
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    Meg Whitman has contributed almost $40 million to her campaign so far. The former CEO of eBay announced Thursday that she has supplied her campaign with $20 million in new funding.

    And that is only for the primary!

    But hey, Buck Res is unconcerned - public financing is bad because nobody asked for his opinion.

    I know - let's cut out the middleman voter and just auction off elected officials on eBay to the highest bidder!!!

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    The ACLU, as usual, took a wrongheaded position on this campaign finance issue.

  • rw (unverified)
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    Dan, you have it right: stunning. I am struggling to understand which part of the phrase, "Mega-Depression PERHAPS Averted" these Charlies do not understand.

    It's an old, old story.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    Dan conviently forgets to mention that unions ended up with the same favorable results under this ruling.

    But then that wouldn't fit the mold now would it?

  • JonB (unverified)
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    Kurt, that's true, but who do you think has more money? Unions or corporations?

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    well Jon, so far the public employee unions have outspent big companies for YES votes on 66 and 67.

    I's have to say it is a push really.

  • riverat (unverified)
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    Money is not free speech but merely an amplifier of speech. The SCOTUS ruling opens the door to foreign influence of United States elections. What a travesty.

    I have signed the petition at movetoamend.org. It probably won't do much good but at least I feel a little better.

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    Kurt - you're making some pretty absurd comparisons here. You're looking at one very isolated case of a state level ballot measure, not a Federal race. What do you want to bet that just the bonus pools for a handful of the big Wall St. banks are more than the political funds of all the national unions combined?

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    An additional note: according to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2007-2008, business contributions to federal candidates and parties overwhelmed labor contributions by $1,964,870,224 to $74,773,481 - that's a factor of around 26-1. There goes your level playing field, Kurt.

    Oh - and those Wall Street bonuses? This from Bloomberg: "New York investment houses will dole out $26 billion in bonus checks by the end of March."

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    Dan, I think arguing about a level playing field is a losing strategy. Where would you draw the line? How about big corporations vs. small corporations? What is too much and what is too little? There is no way to draw that line.

    There is a much more fundamental difference between a union and a corporation--a corporation is a fiscal entity created specifically to aggregate wealth and shelter individuals from liability.

    Corporations are simply not analogous to a union.

    A union is much more analogous to an interest group. Union are restricted in their operations in many states. Union elections are overseen by the federal government (no such thing as a "privately held" union).

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Have to agree with Ed and rw.

  • Rich Corporateson (unverified)
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    I ran for governor under the motto, "I run things anyway, so you might as well vote for me."

    <h2>Can't wait for the next "election".</h2>

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