D.C.-based groups spent big in special elections

Source: The Center for Public Integrity

Nearly three-quarters of spending comes from capital region


Carpetbagging super PACs and nonprofit groups are dominating this year’s special congressional elections in a potential foreshadowing of the 2014 midterms, where even the sleepiest locales aren’t immune from out-of-state, cash-flush special interests.

Take Massachusetts’ U.S. Senate election, which last month propelled veteran Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., to Congress’ upper chamber — and attracted millions of dollars in outside spending from political groups based in California, New York and Florida.

Organizations in Illinois, meanwhile, spent precisely zero dollars to advocate for or against several candidates who vied early this year to replace ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., while outfits from everywhere but collectively burned through more than $2 million.

South Carolina? The biggest players backing or bashing eventual House seat winner Republican Mark Sanford, or his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, weren’t from Columbia or Charleston, but Washington, D.C.

So far this year, just 4 percent of the $12.4 million spent by political groups or party entities on congressional races came from groups based within the state where they’re doing their spending, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal independent expenditure data indicates.

Spending by outside groups has become a pivotal element in elections thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed super PACs, unions and certain nonprofits to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against political candidates.

Washington, D.C., is far and away the biggest source of funding. In all, groups with headquarters in the nation’s capital account this year for about two-thirds of independent expenditures on congressional races. That figure jumps to nearly 72 percent when factoring in organizations from New York City and the D.C. suburbs.

Even homegrown groups usually outsource their work: only three-tenths of a percent of independent expenditures come from in-state groups that also used in-state vendors to produce or manage their advertisements and communications, the Center’s analysis shows.

To illustrate the point, in most cases, state lines are irrelevant when it comes to those who pay for independent ads, those who produce them and even where they air. And it's not as if states that hosted special elections aren't home to political consultants.

For example, Independent Women’s Voice,  a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, paid Illinois firm Victory Media Group to generate $130,000 worth of television advertisements and telemarketing calls primarily slamming Colbert Busch in South Carolina.

Freestone Communications of Missouri — a state that hosted a special election in June — got $64,250 worth of business from the League of Conservation Voters in Washington, D.C., to make phone calls on behalf of Markey in Massachusetts.

And Progressive U.S.A. Voters of Denver paid Grassroots Voter Outreach of Boston more than $21,000 for canvassing services in Illinois’ District 2 Democratic congressional primary.
Most of it targeted Democrat Debbie Halvorson, who lost badly to fellow Democrat and former state Rep. Robin Kelly, the general election’s eventual winner.

Super PACs and nonprofits played a prominent, and sometimes dominant role in many 2012 congressional races, often injecting hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars of advertising into the elections and sometimes spending more than the candidates themselves.
This flood of outside cash doesn’t sit well with Tim Buckley of the Massachusetts Republican Party, which is one of just three non-candidate committees active in special elections this year that are both based in the state in which they were active and hired in-state help for their advocacy.

Local consultants know their turf better than outsiders and better parse the political intricacies of a state such as Massachusetts, which while strongly Democratic has still elected plenty of Republicans, Buckley argued.

The party paid Campaign Homebank LLC of Boston more than $31,000 for telemarketing services promoting GOP Senate nominee Gabriel Gomez, who lost last month to Markey. It also hired a separate, Virginia-based firm for similar work, paying it about $143,000.

But some outside groups defend their activity as necessary, even healthy, given that congressional candidates hold sway on issues of national interest that reach far behind district boundaries or state lines.

The New York City-based 501(c)(4) nonprofit Action Fund, which advocates for fighting climate change, made nearly $50,000 worth of independent expenditures in Massachusetts’ special Senate election Democratic primary, supporting Markey over Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.

Since the Democratic nominees disagreed about the hot button issue of the Keystone XL Pipeline project, the group threw its support behind Markey for rejecting the pipeline, Action Fund Media Campaigner Daniel Kessler explained.

“We thought it would be important to show that there would be electoral consequences for those that do not oppose the pipeline,” Kessler said.

Looking toward the 2014 midterm elections, early indicators suggest organizations with few geographic ties to key political battlegrounds plan to participate as much or more than ever.

Liberal 501(c)(4) nonprofit Patriot Majority USA and super PAC Senate Majority PAC — both from Washington, D.C. — have together already made more than $277,000 worth of independent expenditures against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who faces a potentially tough re-election fight.

Washington, D.C.-based super PAC Club for Growth Action’s independent expenditures have already exceeded $182,000 in opposing U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.

In opposing Pryor, Club for Growth Action has used vendors for mail production costs and television ads from a range of states including Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

It’s a practice Keller called “pretty common,” and that Club for Growth Action chose those vendors because of past experiences working together and locations.

“Do you fly to Alabama to get a mortgage?” he asked. “Do you drive to Minnesota to use to the ATM?”

Erin Quinn contributed to this report.

President Barack Obama Weekly Address July 20, 2013 (Video/Transcript)

Weekly Address
The White House
July 20, 2013
Hi, everybody.  Three years ago this weekend, we put in place tough new rules of the road for the financial sector so that irresponsible behavior on the part of the few could never again cause a crisis that harms millions of middle-class families.

As part of that reform, we set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the first-ever independent consumer watchdog with one job: to protect families from that sort of behavior. 
Two years ago, I nominated a man named Rich Cordray, a former attorney general from Ohio, to run this consumer protection bureau.  But Republicans in the Senate refused to give him a simple up-or-down vote, not because they didn’t think he was the right person for the job, but because they didn’t like the law that set up the consumer watchdog in the first place. 

So last year, I acted on my own to put him in charge – because without a director, the CFPB couldn’t use all the tools at its disposal to protect consumers from shady mortgage lenders, or unscrupulous credit reporting agencies, or predatory lenders who targeted veterans and seniors.  And I’m pleased to say that he was finally confirmed this week by a bipartisan vote.

Because of the work that’s been done at the CFPB over the past two years, today, mortgage lenders, student lenders, payday lenders, and credit reporting and debt collection agencies all face greater scrutiny.  And if they don’t play by the rules, you now have somewhere to go to get some measure of justice.  In fact, the CFPB has already addressed more than 175,000 complaints from every state.

Today, as part of the CFPB’s “Know Before You Owe” efforts, students and their parents can get a simple report with the information they need to make informed decisions before taking out student loans – and more than 700 colleges have stepped up to make this information clear and transparent.   And if you’ve noticed that some credit card forms are actually easier to understand than they used to be, that’s because of the work that Rich’s team and others in the Administration have done.

Today, veterans have the tools they need to defend against dishonest lenders and mortgage brokers who try to prey on them when they come home.  Seniors are better protected from someone who sees their homes or retirement savings as an easy target.  And thanks to the hard work of folks at the CFPB, so far six million Americans have gotten more than $400 million in refunds from companies that engaged in unscrupulous practices.  That’s money we didn’t have the power to recover before.

You know, we’ve come a long way over the past four and a half years.  Our economy’s growing.  Our businesses have created 7.2 million new jobs in the past 40 months.  We’ve locked in new safeguards to protect against another crisis and end bailouts for good.  And even though more work remains, our financial system is more fair and much more sound than it was.

We’ve still got a long way to go to restore the sense of security that too many middle-class families are still fighting to rebuild.  But if we keep moving forward with our eyes fixed on that North Star of a growing middle class, then I’m confident we’ll get to where we need to go.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

President Barack Obama Weekly Address July 13, 2013 (Video/Transcript)

Weekly Address
The White House
July 13, 2013

Hi, everybody.  Two weeks ago, a large bipartisan majority of Senators voted to pass commonsense, comprehensive immigration reform – taking an important step towards fixing our broken immigration system once and for all.

This bill was a compromise, and neither side got everything they wanted.  But it was largely consistent with the key principles of commonsense reform that most of us in both parties have repeatedly laid out.  If passed, the Senate’s plan would build on the historic gains we’ve made in border security over the past four years with the most aggressive border security plan in our history.  It would offer a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million people who are in this country illegally – a pathway that includes paying penalties, learning English, and going to the end of the line behind everyone trying to come here legally.  And it would modernize our legal immigration system to make it more consistent with our values.

The Senate’s plan would also provide a big boost to our recovery.  And on Wednesday, we released a report detailing exactly how big a boost that would be.

The report is based on the findings of independent, nonpartisan economists and experts who concluded that, if the Senate’s plan becomes law, our economy will be 5% larger in two decades compared to the status quo.  That’s $1.4 trillion added to our economy just by fixing our immigration system.

Here in America, we’ve always been a nation of immigrants.  That’s what’s kept our workforce dynamic, our businesses on the cutting edge, and our economy the strongest in the world.   But under the current system, too many smart, hardworking immigrants are prevented from contributing to that success.

Immigration reform would make it easier for highly-skilled immigrants and those who study at our colleges and universities to start businesses and create jobs right here in America. 

Foreign companies would be more likely to invest here.  The demand for goods and services would go up – creating more jobs for American workers.  Every worker and business would be required to pay their fair share in taxes, reducing our deficit by nearly $850 billion over the next two decades.  And since a large portion of those taxes go towards retirement programs that millions of Americans depend on, Social Security would actually get stronger over the long-term – adding two years to the life of the program’s trust fund.

That’s what immigration reform would mean for our economy – but only if we act.  If we don’t do anything to fix our broken system, our workforce will continue to shrink as baby boomers retire.  We won’t benefit from highly-skilled immigrants starting businesses and creating jobs here.  American workers will have to make due with lower wages and fewer protections.  And without more immigrants and businesses paying their fair share in taxes, our deficit will be higher and programs like Social Security will be under more strain.

We’ve been debating this issue for more than a decade – ever since President Bush first proposed the broad outlines of immigration reform – and I think he gave a very good speech this past week expressing his hope that a bipartisan, comprehensive bill can become law.

If Democrats and Republicans – including President Bush and I – can agree on something, that’s a pretty good place to start.  Now the House needs to act so I can sign commonsense immigration reform into law.  And if you agree, tell your Representatives that now is the time.

Call or email or post on their Facebook walls and ask them to get this done.  Because together, we can grow our economy and keep America strong for years to come.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

Climate change: Fact or fiction? (Video)

Climate change sceptic Richard Lindzen is challenged on his view that concern about global warming is alarmist nonsense.


 Head to Head  is Al Jazeera's new forum of ideas - a gladiatorial contest tackling big issues such as faith, the economic crisis, democracy and intervention in front of an opinionated audience at the Oxford Union. 

Many believe that climate change is now a fact of life. It seems that sea levels are rising, weather patterns are changing, and glaciers are melting.

Some scientists say the earth’s climate changes constantly and naturally, but the vast majority of them believe the current rise in global temperature is man-made, and could be catastrophic for the planet.

But is all this but a case of extreme ‘climate alarmism’?
If I'm wrong, we'll know it in 50 years and can then do something.
Richard Lindzen
Professor Richard Lindzen, a professor of meteorology and atmospheric physicist at MIT, the Massachusetts’s Institute of Technology, is perhaps the world’s leading climate sceptic.
In this programme, he goes head to head with Mehdi Hasan on the myth or reality of global warming - is concern about global warming alarmist nonsense?

"If I’m wrong, we’ll know it in 50 years and can then do something," says Lindzen.

Yet not all of the opinionated audience agree, and there is robust debate at the Oxford Union.

Joining our discussion are: Myles Allen, a professor of Geosystem Science in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford and head of the Climate Dynamics Group in the University's Department of Physics. His research focuses on how human and natural influences on climate contribute to observed climate change and risks of extreme weather and in quantifying their implications for long-range climate forecasts; Mark Lynas, a British author, journalist and environmental activist who focuses on climate change. He is a contributor to New Statesman, Ecologist, Granta and Geographical magazines, The Guardian and The Observer newspapers in the UK; and David Rose, an award-winning investigative journalist, columnist and author.



Paul Krugman: Libertarian populism is a lie

The New York Times columnist takes on the politics of Rand Paul -- they're "bunk"!  
Source: Salon Media Group

Paul Krugman: Libertarian populism is a lie 
Paul Krugman (Credit: Reuters/Anton Golubev)
In today’s New York Times, Paul Krugman takes on the idea of “libertarian populism” — the political philosophy he says Republicans have alighted on after the “wonk” theorizing of Rep. Paul Ryan “turned out to be crude smoke and mirrors.” Libertarian populism, per Krugman, is the set of policy proposals, embodied by the likes of Sen. Rand Paul, that Republicans are hoping will turn out blue-collar white voters. The only problem? The policies don’t actually help the working class — and Krugman calls them “bunk”:

Well,as far as anyone can tell, at this point libertarian populism — as illustrated, for example, by the policy pronouncements of Senator Rand Paul — consists of advocating the same old policies, while insisting that they’re really good for the working class. Actually, they aren’t. But, in any case, it’s hard to imagine that proclaiming, yet again, the virtues of sound money and low marginal tax rates will change anyone’s mind.

Moreover, if you look at what the modern Republican Party actually stands for in practice, it’s clearly inimical to the interests of those downscale whites the party can supposedly win back. Neither a flat tax nor a return to the gold standard are actually on the table; but cuts in unemployment benefits, food stamps and Medicaid are. (To the extent that there was any substance to the Ryan plan, it mainly involved savage cuts in aid to the poor.) And while many nonwhite Americans depend on these safety-net programs, so do many less-well-off whites — the very voters libertarian populism is supposed to reach


High/Low (Video)

An emotional search for belief and identity in modern China as gamblers deal with debt and addiction.

Source:Al Jazeera
Filmmakers: Jean-Louis Schuller and Sam Blair
Gambling has long been part of life in China, but in a society increasingly divided by rich and poor, the Chinese have become obsessed with winning easy money.

And as gambling is illegal in China, so Hong Kong and Macau have become top destinations for Chinese gamblers.

In this Witness film, four gamblers who pin their hopes on games of luck and fortune, take us on an emotional search for belief and identity in money-centric modern China.

Filmmaker's View 
By Jean-Louis Schuller and Sam Blair
Jean-Louis Schuller and I became intrigued by Hong Kong’s obsession with money and wealth whilst we were making another film there.

Hong Kong is built on and bloated by banking, trade and consumer culture. We wondered how that affected the lives that we saw in the never-ending lines of tower blocks and the daily crush on the streets. We found our answer in the obsession with gambling that is endemic in the city and even more so in neighbouring Macau, which had recently overtaken Las Vegas as the casino capital of the world – discovering a deeply troubling culture of increasing speculation, addiction and debt. We were compelled to return and make a film that got beneath Hong Kong and Macau’s surface gloss and into the heart of this phenomenon.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in making the film was finding people willing to talk about their lives.

In China, “saving face” (maintaining personal reputation and honour) is incredibly important so opening up and telling the world about your problems is not the norm, quite the opposite. Obviously for documentary filmmakers this is problematic.

We started out by visiting the numerous church-based groups set up to try and counter the wave of gambling addiction. These churches, tucked away in true Hong Kong style on the 15th floor of a tower block, offered counselling and spiritual guidance to the increasing number of people who were in incredibly perilous situations after gambling away extraordinary amounts of money.

Michael, a taxi driver, was one such character. He had his quiet family life shattered as he gambled away tens of thousands of dollars by speculating on the stock exchange - in Hong Kong playing the stocks is simply another way to gamble for some. We were intrigued to find out how a modest man like Michael lost control and risked so much. We also wanted to find out what motivated him to act in this way. Michael’s recent religious conversion compelled him to open up to us and share his amazing story.

Our biggest challenge was finding a young character, someone who was still gambling and was willing to be filmed. After many false starts, Wu, who ran a counselling centre for gamblers, introduced us about Ji, a young man he had started to help. And fortunately for us, he agreed to be filmed.

Ji worked in a kitchen but spent most of his restless energy gambling or talking about gambling. It seemed to be his only dream, his only idea of how to escape the limits of his life. Wu tried to reason with Ji and told him to find meaning in his life away from gambling. But for Ji, like so many others in Hong Kong and Macau, the allure of gambling is in the fantasy it offers – the chance to reach for a life tantalisingly out of reach, the opportunity to be one of the lucky few.


President Barack Obama Weekly Address July 4, 2013 (Video/Transcript)

Weekly Address
The White House
July 4, 2013
Hi everybody.  I hope you all had a safe and happy Fourth of July, filled with parades, cookouts, fireworks and family reunions.  

We celebrated at the White House with a few hundred members of the military and their families. And we took a moment amid the festivities to remember what our Independence Day is all about – what happened 237 years ago, and what it meant to the world.

On July 4th, 1776, a small band of patriots declared that we were a people created equal – free to think and worship and live as we please.  It was a declaration heard around the world – that we were no longer colonists, we were Americans, and our destiny would not be determined for us; it would be determined by us.

It was a bold and tremendously brave thing to do.  It was also nearly unthinkable.  At that time, kings and princes and emperors ruled the world.  But those patriots were certain that a better way was possible.  And to achieve it – to win their freedom – they were willing to lay it all on the line.  Their lives.  Their fortunes.  Their sacred honor.

They fought a revolution.  Few would have bet on our side to win.  But for the first of many times to come, America proved the doubters wrong.

And now, 237 years later, the United States – this improbable nation – is the greatest in the world.  A land of liberty and opportunity.  A global defender of peace and freedom.  A beacon of hope to people everywhere who cherish those ideals.

Generations of Americans made our country what it is today – farmers and teachers, engineers and laborers, entrepreneurs and elected leaders – people from all walks of life, from all parts of the world, all pulling in the same direction.

And now we, the people, must make their task our own – to live up to the words of that Declaration of Independence, and secure liberty and opportunity for our own children, and for future generations.

I want to say a special word of thanks to the men and women of our military, who have played such a vital role in the story of our nation.  You have defended us at home and abroad.  And you have fought on our nation’s behalf to make the world a better, safer place.  People in scattered corners of the world are living in peace today, free to write their own futures, because of you.  We are grateful for your service and your sacrifice, especially those still serving in harm’s way and your families here at home.

So, God bless you all.  And may God bless the United States of America.


The Power of Rights (Video)

Source:Open Society Foundations
Open society and human rights are intimately bound together: one cannot today imagine either without the other. The threats to one are threats to both. The advance of one means the advance of both. The energetic defense and enlargement of human rights diminishes exploitation, oppression, and impunity.  Free expression, critical thinking, pluralistic debate all thrive in nations rich in rights and advance open society.

The Open Society Foundations have long been, and will remain, one of the world’s leading supporters of those defending and promoting human rights.

From New Orleans to Kampala to Jakarta, the Open Society Foundations have backed efforts to establish and protect the rights of all. And that commitment to the rights of all has required special commitment to minority rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, and the rights of physically and intellectually disabled people. We have supported international and transitional justice as well as efforts to press governments to protect and champion human rights themselves.

Today, commitments to human rights are under pressure everywhere.  Even while broad social movements grab attention with demands for bread, justice, and dignity, governments of all stripes are finding excuses to weaken their resolve, to let the cause slip away. Commitments are postponed or abandoned, defenders of rights are attacked as foreign agents or worse. And within the human rights movement itself, questions are raised about the use of force in defense of rights, about the particular ideologies embedded in universal claims, about the links between prosperity and rights.

We will resist the pressures that threaten rights and urge us to compromise our commitments. At the same time, we will continually revisit, revise, and strengthen the concepts that underpin our commitments and that give rights power in the world. When people see their rights eroded in countries where those same rights have so recently had the strongest champions, what are they to do? When claiming one’s rights is said to insult one’s family, to disrespect one’s tribe, to betray one’s nation, what is one to do, what are we all to do? Are the international human rights mechanisms our best safeguards, or must we build new structures for the defense of rights? If independent media have been essential to the advance of rights, how are we to understand the existential dangers that confront journalism today? What do human rights mean for millions of desperate individuals and families beyond the protection of law, beyond the reach of any human rights defender?  These are not just theoretical questions: they pose choices with life-and-death consequences for thousands every day. Even as we continue to act in support of human rights and open society, we must face these questions and integrate our answers—however tentative—in our actions.


Blowing the whistle on Obama's America

Do the threats facing whistleblowers under Obama's presidency mean Americans know less about what their government does?


Source: Al Jazeera 
This week: A Listening Post special - Whistleblowing and the US media.
On the campaign trail four years ago, US presidential candidate Barack Obama shared his views on whistleblowers. He said: "Often the best source of information about waste, fraud and abuse in government is a government employee committed to public integrity, willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism ... should be encouraged rather than stifled."

As president, the reality has been very different. During his first term in office, six whistleblowers have been charged under the Espionage Act for allegedly mishandling classified information. That is twice as many as all previous presidents combined.

The threat facing whistleblowers has implications in many areas, including defence, intelligence and national security. And then there is the impact it is having on the US media: In a digital age, where electronic paper trails are hard to hide, journalists are no longer able to guarantee their sources' anonymity. And if the sources dry up, so do the stories and the American people are left knowing less and less about what their government is doing.

In the first half of this full edition special, we blow the whistle on President Obama's America.
Jesselyn Radack is a lawyer who worked as an ethics adviser for the US Department of Justice. In 2001, Radack revealed that the FBI questioned John Walker Lindh - 'the American Taliban' - illegally and that his so-called confession might not stand up in a court of law. Radack was heavily criticised and became the target of a Federal criminal 'leak investigation'. After a year she resigned.

In the second half of the show, Radack talks to us about the impact whistleblowing has had on US journalism and what news organisations are doing about it.

NSA Spying on American

 Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation

The US government, with assistance from major telecommunications carriers including AT&T, has engaged in a massive program of illegal dragnet surveillance of domestic communications and communications records of millions of ordinary Americans since at least 2001.

News reports in December 2005 first revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been intercepting Americans’ phone calls and Internet communications. Those news reports, combined with a USA Today story in May 2006 and the statements of several members of Congress, revealed that the NSA is also receiving wholesale copies of American's telephone and other communications records. All of these surveillance activities are in violation of the privacy safeguards established by Congress and the US Constitution.

The evidence also shows that the government did not act alone. EFF has obtained whistleblower evidence [PDF] from former AT&T technician Mark Klein showing that AT&T is cooperating with the illegal surveillance. The undisputed documents show that AT&T installed a fiberoptic splitter at its facility at 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco that makes copies of all emails web browsing and other Internet traffic to and from AT&T customers and provides those copies to the NSA. This copying includes both domestic and international Internet activities of AT&T customers. As one expert observed “this isn’t a wiretap, it’s a country-tap.”

EFF is fighting these illegal activities in the courts. Currently, EFF is representing victims of the illegal surveillance program in Jewel v. NSA, a lawsuit filed in September 2008 seeking to stop the warrantless wiretapping and hold the government and government officials officials behind the program accountable.

Previously, in Hepting v. AT&T, EFF filed the first case against a cooperating telecom for violating its customers' privacy. After Congress expressly intervened in the FISA Amendments Act to allow the Executive to require dismissal of the case, the case was ultimately dismissed by the US Supreme Court.