Tag Archive for Citizens United

Current economy: unsustainable, unreasonable, unfair

Mind those teeth...

Mind those teeth…

To paraphrase: It is hard to drain the swamp when you are up to your waist in alligators. Much of what we try to address will not in the end be successful unless we deal with root causes. We need to beat off the alligators but this will never end unless we drain the swamp.

Income and wealth disparities have been growing at an alarming rate. Many, including some in Congress, speak out against food stamps and other assistance for the poor (Cory Gardner just voted to discontinue funding food stamps). If workers were paid a living wage, wages were not routinely stolen from workers and corporations would not trim costs by cutting workers, expecting remaining salaried workers to make up the slack, while paying hugely inappropriate salaries and bonuses to top management and board members, there would be less need for assistance.

Eventually, the huge and increasing disparity in earnings and wealth will come back to bite the corporations. Low pay results in less purchasing power for many millions. This reduces sales tax collection, also hurting local governments. Low pay leads to poverty and homelessness. It leads to discouraged portions of the populations. Unemployment among the young leads to crime.

The same people who voted down food stamps and other food assistance while funding large agriculture support tax breaks to big oil at a time when big oil is making incredible profits, while denying small incremental financial support for renewable energy, also brought us Citizens United. The same party continues, in the face of Supreme Court rulings to the contrary, with attempts to make it less likely that minorities, the elderly and some rural citizens will be able to vote (Scott Gessler continues to mislead us on the number of non-citizens voting while proposing to make it more difficult for thousands of citizens to vote.)

The Republican Party should be just as worried as the Democrat Party about Citizens United. Recently the Chinese government offered to buy a large U.S. food processing company. The press talks about worries that the Chinese will reduce food safety. The real concern is that as an owner of a U.S. corporation, the Chinese government will be able to support candidates of their choosing and influence elections and thus laws without having to disclose their hand in this misguided gift from the Bush court.

Historically the robber barons, mining companies, large manufactures, etc., mistreated employees and developed monopolies. Thanks to unions and an informed public, the worst of these abuses were stopped. Unfortunately, income and wage disparity has become a huge crisis. The very wealthy control too much of the wealth and thus power. Greed runs rampant. Every effort seems to be made to receive bigger and bigger portions of the pie at the expense of the many, first the poor and now the middle class. Even athletes and other entertainers fight for obscene salaries while educators, law enforcement and medical professions fall back in real buying power.

Gone are the days when a single salary could provide a comfortable lifestyle. It is not a bad thing that talented people can make more than an average earning, but when taken to an extreme this is not in the interest of collective society. Very high salaries come at the expense of poorly paid workers, workers who need two jobs even with a working spouse to make ends meet.

Too much money from relatively few sources influences elections in a way that defeats the concept of one person one vote. Politicians are frequently unduly influenced by large contributors and special interests group such as big oil, pharmaceuticals and the NRA. These groups spend huge amounts on lobbyists. We have legislators in Washington, D.C., who fight for weapons that the military says its doesn’t need and doesn’t want. We allow pharmaceutical companies to practice “Pay for Delay,” whereby they pay other companies to not produce and sell generics at a lower price. We pay, insurance companies pay and Medicare pays more. This also goes against the basic tenants of patent law.

This is not about a liberal agenda. This is about a better America. It is about living up to our values. It is about long-term sustainability of our economic system. Look around at the unrest in other countries. While there are several reasons for unrest, a good deal of the energy comes from disparity in wealth that leaves many with bare subsistence and little hope for anything better for them or their children.

Don’t let Big Oil determine our future

A good number of folks have inquired in recent months as to how I became a part of the local fracking issue. I have been deeply involved in this wonderful community of Longmont for more than 20 years (a Chamber member for most of those years, a longtime Rotarian, an advocate and fundraiser for many local nonprofits, and current board member of the Friends of the Longmont Senior Center).

My wife and I raised our two daughters in Longmont, having chosen to move from Houston, Texas, and avoid its extreme traffic, pollution and frantic pace. I have also owned and operated a local business for more than 10 years.

So why did “mild mannered” Michael Bellmont become involved with so contentious an issue as fracking in the city? It initially had little to do with fracking specifically or even oil and gas generally. Rather, it sprang from a deep concern around my perceptions that our culture is allowing the democratic process to be effectively bought by the highest bidder. A good example is the trend evidenced by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which gives corporations (which can always outspend individuals) the ability to donate unlimited dollars to political action committees and thus “purchase” the votes needed to further their own interests and profits.

Self-interest and profit are not in themselves good or bad. However, we all know that, without restraints, history is replete with examples of the abuse of power. In our world, power is always associated with great wealth.

The recent frenetic proliferation of the newer, “unconventional” fracking into densely populated communities like Longmont is a clear incarnation of the abuse of such power. I am personally not an advocate of “banning fracking” generally. Though it grieves me, we were all born into an unfortunate dependence on fossil fuels.

Both sides of this issue agree that oil and gas drilling, including “fracking,” is a heavy industrial operation. Interestingly, not a single other industrial activity is allowed in proximity to homes and schools in this city, and would, in fact, be illegal. Why does the oil and gas industry enjoy a special privilege that none others do? Why are their dangerous industrial operations that belong far from a healthy community like ours not only allowed, but actually forced upon us under current regulations?

Twenty-eight oil and gas companies (including Halliburton and Chevron) that are all based outside of Colorado have contributed almost $500,000 to defeat Question 300, which only prohibits fracking and its toxic waste disposal from within city limits.

Do you believe they have your and your family’s health in mind? Do you believe they care about the protection of your property? Do they have a stake in the quality of the air we and our children will be breathing for decades to come? The desire for profit is not inherently good or bad, but it can never be justified if it is elevated over the health and well-being of human beings.

If we are willing to believe the expensive, bullying, high cost, full-page ads designed to strike fear in us using fabricated, inflated projections of a lawsuit, then we will have once again fallen prey to being bought and paid for by wealthy corporations. Do not let them “buy” your vote. Tell them, “We, our children, and our health are not for sale.” Join me in voting “yes” on Question 300. Let us exercise our constitutional right to health, safety and protection of property. I can honestly say that “mild mannered” Michael Bellmont will be very glad when Nov. 7 rolls around. It will be good to return to pre-fracking days!

Occupy Movement demands fundamental change

Skeptics of the Occupy movement ask what they’re really protesting about and what they’re trying to accomplish. Most of the Occupy movement grievances are a byproduct of a dysfunctional system. I understand that changing the political system is like moving a mountain with a shovel; there are just too many people who benefit from the system, including politicians.

Politicians are part of the 1 percent. Do we honestly expect them to fundamentally change the political structure that they so greatly benefit from? To replace the old guard with the new is just changing who the beneficiaries are and doesn’t correct the fundamental problem.

This is not to say that politicians at all levels are complicit, but most have no incentive to change the rules. They are playing the game with the cards that are dealt and they have become proficient at it. And it becomes more and more difficult to not conform to the prevailing ideology of the fraternity as politicians attempt to move up in the political hierarchy. They may have started out with high aspirations, but most eventually succumb to the system that rewards patronage over public service.

The Occupy participants have many grievances, all of which are important, but the big picture must remain the principle objective. That objective, to me, is to change the economic/political system so it reflects the needs of the majority. You can’t have social justice without economic justice, and groups like Citizens United control the politicians who make the economic rules that govern our lives. The political system is unwilling and unable to protect the economic and social rights of the majority. The Occupy movement is attempting to bring fairness and justice to a system that is corrupt and economically rigged to benefit the few.

This is not an indictment of business or the free market. It is not asking for equal outcomes, only equal opportunities. It is not asking for a redistribution of wealth, but a stop to the obscene growth of wealth by the 1 percent. The 99 percent actually includes businesses that can’t compete against the “Walmarts” of the world. The movement should be appealing to many segments of society: small business, labor, veterans, seniors and minorities. The Occupy movement is trying to convey an idea that we are all together, with different but important stakes. With few exceptions we are all threatened by present circumstances.

To expect the present system to deliver reform that will meet the needs of the 99 percent is ludicrous. It is up to the Occupy movement to insist on fundamental change, and not just cosmetic appeasement, first through raising awareness and then demanding that we conduct political business in a different way. Rhetoric will no longer do; significant changes are required. We must address the central problem, which is the political system itself. We should demand nothing less than a complete publicly funded system. This would level the playing field and let politicians concentrate on substantive issues and ideas rather than raising money. This would solve most of the Occupy movement’s concerns and stop the necessity to always vote for the lesser of two evils.

Fundamental change can feel uncomfortable, unfamiliar, scary, risky and painful, but the alternative is complete dominance by those who have little regard for the well-being of ordinary citizens. Our political system must be required to represent the general public and not just narrow special interest groups. We need a political system with transparency. When greed and money become the sole criteria for success; the public is in great peril. The path we are going down will only get worse and we are running out of time. For more information about the Occupy movement, visit OccupyLongmont.blogspot.com.

WTP: “…as slippery an organization as one finds in modern politics.”

Everything has a price - but should it?In a ruling on Friday, December 30th, the Montana Supreme Court issued a rebuke against Citizens United that leaves most “human persons” loudly cheering.  Citizens United refers to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2010  wherein the activist Roberts’ Court decreed corporations had constitutional rights to directly spend money on ‘independent expenditures’ in campaigns.  That ruling effectively codified a doctrine of “corporate personhood.”

The 80-page Montana ruling against a suit brought by Western Tradition Partnership attacked the thinking behind the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, the impact of big money in political culture, and the premise that corporations deserve the same political speech rights as citizens.

The Montana Court’s ruling asserted that the Citizens United decision did not remove all bans on corporate speech. “The Supreme Court held that laws that burden political speech are subject to strict scrutiny, which requires the government to prove that the law furthers a compelling state interest and is narrowly tailored to that interest,” the court said.  The ruling details the history of 1912 state law banning direct corporate spending on electoral campaigns and provides explanations of sufficiently compelling state interests to merit sustaining the century-old law.

“Organizations like WTP that act as a conduit for anonymously spending by others represent a threat to the political marketplace,” wrote Mike McGrath, Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court, for the majority. “Clearly the impact of unlimited corporate donations creates a dominating impact on the political process and inevitably minimizes the impact of individual citizens.”

Steven Rosenfeld, in reporting on the ruling, stated “the lead group that sued to overturn the Montana ban on direct corporate spending in campaigns followed a very deliberate course of clashing with virtually every aspect of Montana campaign finance law. The lawyers behind the litigation believe that they should face no limits or accountability for any political fund-raising or spending.”

The court noted that Western Tradition Partnership’s lawyers claimed that it should be allowed to spend freely because the group would have to disclose that activity under Montana law when the same group, using another name, actually had sued the state to overturn those very disclosure laws.  WTP is also involved in a third suit challenging the state’s campaign spending disclosure law.

Rosenfeld’s description of Western Tradition Partnership (now known as American Tradition Partnership) as a political organization that  is “as slippery an organization as one finds in modern politics” leaves no doubt about its ethics and modus operandi and is solidly supported by its history, practices and assertions.

Western Tradition Partnership sued to overturn the 1912 Montana Corrupt Practices Act, an irony not lost on those who have experienced the corrupt political practices of the organization up close and personal.  WTP first surfaced in Longmont, Colorado, when it frivolously sued the city over its Fair Campaign Practices Act, represented by Scott Gessler, now Colorado’s Secretary of State.  In Longmont’s 2009 election, WTP was responsible for abhorrent political practices that it had debuted in Montana and for which it was held responsible by the Montana Political Practices Commission.  WTP returned again in the 2011 election to once again elect council members who would advance their agenda.

The Montana Supreme Court’s ruling quoted a fund-raising brochure that said, “If you decide to support this program, no politician, no bureaucrat, and no radical environmentalist will ever know you made this program possible.”  A visit to its website will reveal the hatred for all things environmental (“Gang Green”) and the absolutism in the advancement of extraction industry property rights.  The organization’s Executive Director and website writer Donald aka Donny Ferguson has never met a lie he didn’t love.  If the only information you had available was that which is presented on www.americantradition.org, you would have perceptions that have no bearing whatsoever on reality.

“We take note that Western Tradition appears to be engaged in a multi-front attack on both contribution restrictions and the transparency that accompanies campaign disclosure requirements,” the Court said.  Its previous attorney of record, Gessler, is now engaged in a multi-front attack on contribution restrictions and transparency from his position as Colorado’s Secretary of State.

The court added in a footnote that the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices called the group a “sham” because it failed to register with the state, and refused to disclose the sources of its funds or its spending—as required by law.

Even the dissenting opinion lambasted the Citizens United ruling notwithstanding its contention that the Montana Court was bound by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.

Justice James C. Nelson wrote, “And, to be absolutely clear, I do not agree with it [Citizens United]. For starters, the notion that corporations are disadvantaged in the political realm is unbelievable. Indeed, it has astounded most Americans. The truth is that corporations wield enormous power in Congress and in state legislatures. It is hard to tell where government ends and corporate America begins: the transition is seamless and overlapping.”

“In the real world of politics,” he wrote, “the “quid pro quo” of both direct contributions to candidates and independent expenditures on their behalf is loyalty. And, in practical effect, experience teaches us that money corrupts, and enough of it corrupts absolutely.”

In assaulting the very notion of corporate personhood, Nelson stated, “I find the concept entirely offensive. Corporations are artificial creatures of law. As such, they should enjoy only those powers—not constitutional rights, but legislatively-conferred powers—that are concomitant with their legitimate function, that being limited liability investment vehicles for business. Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people—human beings—to share fundamental natural rights with soulless creations of government. Worse still, while corporations and human beings share many of the same rights under the law, they clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency, and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins. Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons.”

American Tradition Partnership says that it is a “no-compromise” organization.  And for once it has told the truth.  It is likely to appeal this ruling all the way back to the U.S. Supreme Court.  We can only hope that if that happens, the Supreme Court will have second thoughts about their disastrous ruling in Citizens United.

SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Who’s behind the ‘information attacks’ on climate scientists?

Editor’s Note:  Free Range Longmont is pleased to be able to reproduce this in depth investigative report and expose on American Tradition Institute/American Tradition Partnership/Western Tradition Partnership.  The report details the vast network of funding by interrelated businesses and think tanks who are determined to manipulate public perceptions of the environmental and economic threats of climate change.   

We are also honored to have been able to contribute to the extensive research performed by the Institute of Southern Studies (ISS).  ISS has been in existence since 1970 and has established a national reputation as an essential resource for grassroots activists, community leaders, scholars, policy makers and others working to bring lasting social and economic change to the region.


This article is reproduced in its entirety from the website for The Institute for Southern Studies.

This week, in a courtroom in Prince William County, Virginia, a hearing will take place that could have implications for the privacy rights of scientists at colleges and universities across the country.

It’s part of a lawsuit brought by the American Tradition Institute, a free-market think tank that wants the public to believe human-caused global warming is a scientific fraud. Filed against the University of Virginia, the suit seeks emails and other documents related to former professor Michael Mann, an award-winning climate scientist who has become a focus of the climate-denial movement because of his research documenting the recent spike in earth’s temperature.

By suing the university, the American Tradition Institute wants to make public Mann’s correspondence in an effort to find out whether he manipulated data to receive government grants, a violation of the state’s Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.

But a Facing South investigation has found that the Colorado-based American Tradition Institute is part of a broader network of groups with close ties to energy interests that have long fought greenhouse gas regulation. Our investigation also finds that ATI has connections with the Koch brothers, Art Pope and other conservative donors seeking to expand their political influence.

‘A Hostile Environment’

Michael MannThe controversy involving ATI began in January, when the group submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to U.Va. seeking documents connected to Mann (photo at left), who now directs the Earth System Science Center at Penn State. After the school was slow to produce the materials, ATI along with Virginia Del. Robert Marshall (R), another global-warming skeptic, filed a lawsuit in May seeking to expedite the documents’ release. This week’s hearing will consider Mann’s motion to intervene in the case in order to protect privacy interests he does not think will be adequately protected by the other parties.

A physicist and climatologist with advanced degrees from Berkeley and Yale, Mann’s research contributed to the “hockey stick graph,” which shows a sharp rise in the earth’s temperature in recent years. He was also among those caught up in the so-called “Climategate” controversy, involving emails hacked from a British university that climate skeptics claimed showed global warming was a fraud. Multiple investigations by Penn State, the National Science Foundation’s Inspector General, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and British parliament have cleared Mann and others of misconduct and determined that the content of the emails in no way changed the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring as a result of human activity.

Despite those exonerations, however, Mann became the target of a separate ongoing investigation launched last year by Virginia Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a global-warming skeptic who issued civil subpoenas for Mann’s emails and other documents. A Virginia judge dismissed the investigation, but Cuccinelli — who previously challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that greenhouse gas pollution endangers public health — is now appealing that decision to the Supreme Court of Virginia. ATI is seeking the same documents as Cuccinelli.

ATI’s lawsuit has been widely condemned by science, academic and civil liberties groups, who describe it as a politically motivated intrusion into academic freedom. The board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said that such legal challenges “have created a hostile environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and ideas.” Earlier this year, public-interest groups including the American Association of University Professors sent a letter to the U.Va. president noting that the Virginia public documents statute expressly exempts scholarly data of a proprietary nature that has not yet been publicly released, published, copyrighted or patented.

“While we need freedom of information laws to hold public officials accountable, the law has exemptions for good reason,” said Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, one of the letter’s signatories. “Scientists should be able to challenge other scientists’ ideas and discuss their preliminary thinking before their analyses are complete and published.”

But ATI has fired back against the scientists and academics, accusing them of taking part in a conspiracy to mislead and defraud the public.

“Once again these self-interested groups — who hope to protect their billions of dollars in government funding of dubious, unsupportable research — accuse ATI of ‘harassment and intimidation’ of scientists,” ATI Executive Director Paul Chesser said in a statement. “It shows how blind they are to the fact that ATI has acted in the interest of sound, verifiable science and for the protection of the hard-earned money that taxpayers are forced to relinquish for such research.”

ATI’s Western roots

American Tradition InstituteThe American Tradition Institute’s foray into the Virginia case marks the expansion of a controversial group already known for its fierce advocacy on behalf of oil, gas and coal interests in Western states.

The American Tradition Institute was launched in Colorado in February 2009 as the nonprofit Western Tradition Institute, changing its name to ATI last year.  WTI, in turn, was a spinoff of the Western Tradition Partnership (WTP) — a 501(c)(4) political advocacy group backed by energy interests.

“They are offshoots from the same poisoned roots,” said Peter Fontaine, the attorney representing Michael Mann in the ATI lawsuit.

WTP, which has since changed its name to American Tradition Partnership (logo above), describes itself as a “no-compromise grassroots organization dedicated to fighting the radical environmentalist agenda.” It was first registered as a Colorado nonprofit in 2008 by Scott Shires, a Republican operative with a checkered past: He was fined over $7,000 for campaign finance violations in Colorado, pleaded guilty in a scheme to fraudulently obtain federal grants for developing alternative fuels, and was tied to an illegal gambling ring. WTP was active on behalf of oil and gas industry interests in the 2008 commissioners race in Garfield County, a center of Colorado’s energy industry.

Last year, the then-Western Tradition Partnership also backed a Colorado ballot initiative that would have allowed voters to opt out of the state’s renewable energy standard, which requires 30 percent of the electricity produced by investor-owned utilities to come from renewable sources by 2030. WTP missed the filing deadline to put the measure on the ballot, but ATI is picking up the slack: The group has sued Colorado over the standard, and is targeting similar renewable energy promotion programs in Delaware, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico and Ohio.

The groups have not only been fighting on behalf of the energy industry: They’ve also been targeting laws that restrict corporate money in elections and that require disclosure of contributions. In 2009, Western Tradition Partnership sued the city of Longmont, Colo. over their local Fair Campaign Practices Act. The city eventually settled the suit and agreed to drop requirements that political donors have their identities disclosed on campaign advertisements.

And in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, WTP successfully challenged the constitutionality of the Montana Corrupt Practices Act of 1912, which prohibited independent expenditures by corporations to influence political campaigns — a law originally aimed at powerful mining and railroad interests in the state.

But even while it has fought to weaken election laws, WTP has at times run afoul of them. A decision issued last year by the Montana Commission of Political Practices found that the organization had broken state campaign laws by failing to register as a political committee or properly report its donors and spending. The investigation discovered that the group had solicited unlimited contributions to support pro-mining, pro-logging and pro-development candidates in Montana and avoided disclosing the contributions by passing them along to a sham political action committee that in turn ran attack ads against Democrats.

As Commissioner Dennis Unsworth said in his decision, the group’s wrongdoing “raises the specter of corruption of the electoral process.”

A window into the climate-denial industry

Paul ChesserIn the Western Tradition Partnership’s Winter 2010 newsletter, the group announced that it changed its name to the American Tradition Partnership. It also reported in an article datelined North Carolina that it had launched the American Tradition Institute, a think tank that would be “battling radical environmentalist junk science head on.”

The group would be led by Paul Chesser, who they described as a “noted climate scholar.” In fact, Chesser (photo at left) is not a scientist but has long worked in what environmental advocates call the “climate denial machine”: a network of organizations, many backed by energy interests, that work to create doubt about the science of human-caused global warming.

According to his bio, Chesser grew up in Rhode Island and worked as an accountant in Los Angeles. He launched his reporting career in North Carolina, where he edited two weekly conservative Christian newspapers, The Raleigh World and The Triad World. Now defunct, the papers were owned by World Newspaper Publishing, whose stated purpose is to “bring journalism informed by a distinctly Christian worldview to major cities across America.”

From there, Chesser moved to the John Locke Foundation (JLF), a free-market think tank based in Raleigh, N.C. that has been a leading voice of climate denial in North Carolina. The Locke Foundation decries what it calls “global warming alarmism” and promotes the views of global warming skeptics like Patrick Michaels, who left the climatologist’s office at the University of Virginia in 2007 over controversy about his funding sources and fringe views.

The Locke Foundation was founded and is largely funded by Art Pope, a North Carolina millionaire and leading conservative benefactor. As a national director of the free-market advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, Pope has close ties to the Koch brothers, the billionaire owners of the Kansas-based Koch Industries oil and chemical conglomerate and leading funders of global warming denial efforts. The Koch Family Foundations have also contributed at least $70,000 to the Locke Foundation.

It was at the Locke Foundation that Chesser began his crusade against the growing scientific consensus about climate change. He served as an editor of Carolina Journal, the group’s monthly newspaper that relentlessly attacks the science of global warming in its climate coverage. While there he also began working with Climate Strategies Watch, an initiative that sought to discredit the Center for Climate Strategies, a nonprofit group that helps states figure out ways to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

Climate Strategies Watch was a joint project of the Locke Foundation and the Heartland Institute, a corporate-backed think tank in Chicago where Chesser also served as a special correspondent. Heartland has received at least $676,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998. Between 1997 and 2008, they also received $30,000 from foundations connected to the Kochs and another $50,000 from Pope’s family foundation. One of Heartland’s government-relations advisors also served as Exxon’s senior environmental advisor.

Chesser was soon fully immersed in the climate-denial network. He became an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative think tank heavily funded by the Scaife Foundations, which are controlled by the family that owns Gulf Oil. He blogged for the Cooler Heads Coalition, an industry front group led by the Competitive Enterprise Institute — a fierce opponent of greenhouse gas regulation that has taken over $2 million from ExxonMobil as well as funding from the American Petroleum Institute, Texaco and the Koch, Scaife and Pope foundations. (ATI’s director of litigation, Christopher Horner, is a CEI fellow.)

Now at the American Tradition Institute, Chesser again finds himself speaking for a group largely bankrolled by fossil fuel interests. According to its most recent filing with the IRS, ATI last year received $40,000 from its sister group ATP, which in turn is supported by oil, gas and coal interests. It received another $5,000 from the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a Virginia-based think tank that since 1998 has received over $1 million in funding from Exxon Mobil; between 1997 and 2008, Atlas also received $122,300 from the Koch foundations and $735,000 from the Pope foundation.

But ATI’s biggest funder is Montana businessman Doug Lair and his Lair Family Foundation; they contributed $5,000 and $135,000 respectively to the group last year — over 75 percent of its total income.

Lair’s fortune comes from Lair Petroleum, the family business that was sold in 1989 to William Koch, the lesser-known brother of Charles and David Koch. As recently as 2010, Lair Petroleum was listed as Lair’s employer in state campaign finance reports, although now he’s also an investor in commercial and agricultural real estate.

Along with the American Tradition Partnership, Lair and another Montana resident recently filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Montana campaign finance laws, arguing that limits on donation amounts and corporate contributions are impermissible under the First Amendment — a suit similar to others filed by the group. The plaintiffs are represented by James Bopp Jr., a prominent conservative attorney who worked as a legal adviser to the group behind the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that successfully challenged strictures on corporate money in elections.

“The Supreme Court has ruled that corporate political speech is protected by the First Amendment, and you cannot ban political speech just because the speaker is a corporation,” said Bopp.

A chilling trend for academic freedom

David SchnareThe hearing on the American Tradition Institute’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the University of Virginia seeking Michael Mann’s records is set for Tuesday, Nov. 1 before Judge Gaylord Finch in Prince William County Court. The hearing was postponed from September after Finch said he wanted to allow more time for arguments because of the case’s significance.

“If it wasn’t clear before, it should now be clear to everybody,” David Schnare (photo at right), pro bono director of ATI’s Environmental Law Center, said at the time. “This is an extremely important case, and we appreciate Judge Finch’s careful attention to detail as we proceed.”

Critics say the case not only symbolizes the industry attack on climate science but is part of a growing trend of using public information requests to target academics for political reasons.

Earlier this year, the Republican Party of Wisconsin filed a records request seeking materials from University of Wisconsin history professor William Cronon after he criticized Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s push for legislation to weaken public-sector unions. Soon after, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy — a free-market think tank based in Michigan — submitted Freedom of Information Act requests seeking materials related to the Wisconsin union battle from labor studies faculty at the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State.

In the Cronon case, the University of Wisconsin’s Faculty Senate passed a resolution arguing that open records laws are abused when they become partisan tools. “What was begun as a classic notion of sunshine being the best disinfectant has turned into a law that’s used as a weapon to target not government officials and offices but individual public employees,” said professor Howard Schweber, one of the political scientists who helped craft the resolution.

In the end, the university released some Cronon emails but withheld others, including exchanges with students protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and what it considered private exchanges among scholars. In the Wayne State case, the think tank’s action led the university to take down some pages of its Labor Studies Center’s website and investigate whether they had violated state campaign finance laws.

The American Tradition Institute is also using open records law to target another prominent and award-winning climate scientist: James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. In January, ATI filed a federal FOIA request with NASA seeking information on how Hansen “has complied with applicable federal ethics and financial disclosure laws and regulations, and NASA Rules of Behavior.” An outspoken advocate for limiting greenhouse gas pollution, Hansen has long been a target of global-warming skeptics for his research and activism. ATI has sued NASA for withholding documents over concerns about Hansen’s privacy rights.

Peter FontaineIn the upcoming hearing on the U.Va. case, Mann’s attorney, Peter Fontaine (photo at left), told Facing South that he will argue his client should be permitted to intervene in the ATI lawsuit because of his personal interest in protecting his private email correspondence with other scientists — what Fontaine calls the “raw materials of scholarship” that lead to finished science.

“If this information is disclosed and allowed to be cherry-picked, distorted and mischaracterized, it will result in a terrible chilling of the rights of scientists to exchange their ideas,” said Fontaine, co-chair of Cozen O’Connor’s energy and climate change programs and an EPA air pollution enforcer in the early 1990s. “It would be a blatant violation of my client’s copyrights to his private emails, as well as his First Amendment rights and the right to academic freedom.”

Fontaine faces a formidable adversary in ATI’s Schnare, who holds advanced science degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and worked as an attorney with the Department of Justice and Virginia Attorney General before serving in the same EPA air-pollution enforcement job as Fontaine from 1999 until his retirement four months weeks ago. Schnare dismissed the idea that the lawsuit is targeting Mann or his scholarly position on climate science, and said he plans to argue that the professor should not be allowed to intervene.

“This case is about FOIA, not Mike Mann,” Schnare said. “If he had wanted to protect himself from embarrassing emails, he should not have pressed ‘send’ to begin with.”

(PHOTOS: Michael Mann by Greg Grieco via Wikipedia, Paul Chesser via John Locke Foundation website, David Schnare from ATI website, Peter Fontaine from Cozen O’Connor’s website.)

Disclosures: More not Less

In a New York Times / CBS poll 92% of Americans said it was important for the law to require campaigns and outside spending groups to disclose how much money they have raised, where it came from and how it was used. They understand the nexus between campaign money and corruption.

President Barack Obama has drafted an executive order that seeks campaign contribution disclosure by those who seek contracts with the United States Government.

Eight states, the Securities and Exchange Commission and several local jurisdictions currently restrict government contractors from making campaign contributions to those responsible for issuing government contracts. The president’s potential executive order does not prohibit contractor spending on campaigns; it would merely require disclosure.

“In order to increase transparency and accountability…every contracting department and agency shall require all entities submitting offers for federal contracts to disclose certain political contributions and expenditures that they have made within the two years prior to submission of their offer,” reads the draft order.

“This disclosure shall include:

(a) All contributions or expenditures to or on behalf of federal candidates, parties or party committees made by a bidding entity, its directors of officers, or any affiliates or subsidiaries within its control; and
(b) Any contributions made to third party entities with the intention or reasonable expectation that parties would use those contributions to make independent expenditures or electioneering communications

This disclosure shall be required whenever the aggregate amount of such contributions and expenditures made by the bidding entity, its officers and directors, and its affiliates and subsidiaries exceeds $5,000 to a given recipient during a given year.”

The disclosed date “shall be made publicly available in a centralized, searchable, sortable, downloadable and machine readable format on data.gov.”

The president’s order would be a welcome first step since the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010. It would go a long way towards eliminating the current Pay-to-Play system. Reporting on the draft executive order, president of Public Citizen Robert Weisman, states, “The pay-to-play system encourages fraud and abuses of power, prevents contracts from being awarded to businesses based on merit, wastes taxpayer dollars, and facilitates privatization and contracting out of services that otherwise could or should be provided by government agencies.”

The real solution, of course, is a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision that was made outside the issues before the Supreme Court in that case. In Citizens United, the Supreme Court established personhood for corporations in contradiction to constitutional rights intended for natural persons.

It will come as no surprise that conservative politicians and trade associations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have howled about disclosure. Having achieved their first objective to allow companies to make massive expenditures from their general treasuries to influence election outcomes, including by funneling money through front groups, the focus has turned to manufacturing false premises to prohibit campaign spending disclosure.

It is not enough that corporatocracy virtually owns our various governments. It now becomes necessary to shield that ownership from public knowledge and scrutiny.

More information on efforts to amend the constitution to prohibit corporate personhood can be found at the following sites:

http://movetoamend.org/
http://freespeechforpeople.org/
http://democracyisforpeople.org/

That’s with a “B”

Someone is making a helluva lot of money and more someones expect to make even more. And it ain’t you.

The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) estimates that $4 Billion Dollars – that’s with a “B” – will be spent on the 2010 midterm elections. The 1998 mid-tern election cost $1.61 billion. The 2002 election cost $2.18 billion and the 2006 federal midterm election cost $2.85 billion.

The 2000 Bush v Gore presidential election cycle, at $3.1 billion, cost less than the projection for this year’s mid-term. The 2004 presidential election cycle was tallied at $4.14 billion, slightly more than what CRP is predicting for the 2010 midterm cycle. However, the 2008 presidential election cycle still remains the most expensive in history at nearly $5.3 billion.

Money is flowing in from a variety of sources, from contributions of under $200 from committed individuals to multi-million dollar contributions from special interests.

The Center’s findings “are largely based on fund-raising data reported to the Federal Election Commission into this month by all candidates for federal office, party committees, political action committees and federally focused 527 committees. [Their] estimate also includes independent expenditures on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts by outside political action committees and other organizations to support and oppose candidates.”

As reported on the Center’s Open Secrets.org, many of these funding entities “play a game of hide and seek,” skirting disclosure by “hiding their funders behind the iron curtain that is their tax exempt status.”

CRP reports that, “These tax-exempt groups are registered with the IRS as 501(c)(4), 501(c)(5) or 501(c)(6) entities. By law, they are prohibited from having a ‘primary purpose’ of engaging in politics. Nevertheless, a number of these groups are this election cycle spending seven- or eight-figure amounts on political messaging at the federal level.”

According to Open Secrets.org, “Identifiably conservative organizations are spending more than $2 on advertisements and other communications for every $1 liberal organizations do. While corporations are behind much of this money, many of these companies have skirted public scrutiny by laundering their cash through intermediary organizations, which often sport nondescript names and don’t immediately, if ever, reveal who funds them.”

But who contributes to them? By law, these organizations are not required to disclose their donors. In some cases, the funders’ identities are required to be reported to the IRS, but that’s as far as it goes. The IRS may know, but we won’t.

The bottom line is that the public cannot know; it can only surmise. Regulations prohibit these tax-exempt organizations from specifically saying “vote for” or “vote against.” However, you will recognize them by the message that has their dander up and their requests to call a specific candidate and demand that he or she change positions on the issue or action that has them all riled up.

This money floods the TV and radio airways and mailboxes with political messages that advance the agenda of the organization.

The more visible organizations are political action committees or IRS-designated 527 organizations , often called “super PACs.” To some degree, these political vehicles report donor information to either the Federal Election Commission or Internal Revenue Service.

Any port in a storm…

Even more worth noting than the huge sums of money being spent in this year’s election, unleashed by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, is how the money has been spent throughout this two-year cycle.

CRP reports that, “As Democrat Barack Obama entered the White House in January 2009, people and political action committees associated with the health sector that month donated about two-thirds of their federal-level contributions to his partisan brethren. The sector continued to favor Democrats for most of the year.”

Just as Democrat-led health care reform legislation began to near final passage, the trend flipped . “In each month since, health interests have donated more money to federal-level Republican candidates and committees. And in September, a preliminary analysis of campaign finance filings by the Center indicates that the health sector donated more than 60 percent of its political money to the GOP – by far, the greatest percentage of the 2010 election cycle.”

“The change of fortune in 2010 is stark. During no single month this year have Democrats received a greater percentage of campaign cash from either the broad health or finance, insurance and real estate sectors.”

“An even more extreme example of a shift away from Democrats comes from the energy sector, which in January 2009 fueled Democrats with 56 percent of its federal-level political contributions. By September, preliminary numbers indicate Republicans benefitted from 74 percent of the sector’s cash.”

These flip-flops are not accidental or capricious. These industries – healthcare, finance, energy – were using their money to shape the legislation as much to their liking as they could. However, they never intended to support the Democrats’ intentions to protect the public, the consumer and the environment. When push came to shove, they went where they always go — to Republicans.

Pimps and whores…

Until the influence of money is removed from our elections, the United States will never truly serve the needs of “the people.” Corporate money does what it always has done. It persuades the public to “buy” what it wants bought. It buys power and that power writes legislation and regulation. Sooner or later, Americans will demand that their government represent them and not corporations. The only question is: Will that happen in time to preserve the nation for its citizens, not “Citizens United”?

Congress asked to reverse Citizens United with Constitutional Amendment

Courtesy of SXC.hu

Corporations are NOT people and should not have rights

A bipartisan group of law professors and prominent attorneys, including seven former state attorneys general, issued a letter criticizing the Court’s ruling in January in Citizens United v. FEC, which equated corporate spending in elections with free speech rights, and calling on Congress to consider a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.

The diverse group of attorneys, scholars, and public servants call the Citizens United decision “a serious danger to effective self-government of, for and by the American people.” The signatories urge Congress to consider a constitutional amendment to address that danger, noting that “most of the seventeen amendments adopted since the original Bill of Rights have corrected what the American people understood were obstacles to the equal rights of all people to participate in self-government on equal terms.”

Several bills introducing constitutional amendments to overturn Citizens United are under consideration in Congress, including the Edwards-Conyers bill in the House and the Baucus bill in the Senate. In addition, resolutions calling for an amendment to be sent to the states have been introduced in several state legislatures, including California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota.

Read more