AN OPEN LETTER TO MAINE’S SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVES

Dear Senators Collins and Snowe and Representatives Michaud and Pingree,

I am writing you to express my concern that big money contributions from special interests such as corporations, political action committees, single-issue groups, lobbyists, lawyers, and unions are destroying our democracy. Our political system no longer relies on the will of “the People Alone,” as the Founding Fathers intended, but on the funders of campaigns. 1% of Americans finance almost 99% of the cost of political campaigns in America, so it’s no surprise that our government responds most to their needs.

You participate in a political system that is deeply corrupt. Your job is to legislate primarily on behalf of Mainers. The job of special interests is to get you to legislate on their behalf. This is a conflict of interest. When a Mainer contributes $25 to you, she wants to elect you to represent her in Congress. When a lobbyist or corporation contributes $50,000 to you, it wants to make sure you win so it can gain special access unavailable to the rest of us. Small contributions from Mainers just get lost in a sea of money.

How much money are we talking about? I researched campaign contribution data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, available on Open Secrets.org. Here are the top 4 out of 13 contributor categories and the amounts you have received over your careers.

For you, Senator Snowe:

Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate industries          $2,452,000.

Health related industries                                            $1,117,000.

Ideological/Single Issue groups                         $1,075,000.

Lawyers and Lobbyists                                               $846,000.

Your top contributor, at $300,000, was MBNA, Maryland-based credit card services company.

 

For you, Senator Collins:

Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate Industries             $2,436,000.

Ideological/Single Issue groups                         $1,342,000.

Health related industries                                            $1,199,000.

Lawyers and Lobbyists                                            $1,120,000.

Your top contributor, at $154,000 was also MBNA.

 

For you, Rep. Michaud:

Labor Unions                                                              $1,441,000.

Ideological/Single Issue Groups                                    $502,000.

Finance, Insurance and Real Estate Industries              $410,000.

Lawyers and Lobbyists                                                  $379,000.

Your top contributor, at $61,000 is the National Association of Credit Unions.

 

For you, Rep. Pingree:

Ideological/Single Issue Groups                                    $942,000.

Finance, Insurance and Real Estate industries               $640,000.

Lawyers and Lobbyists                                                  $521,000.

Labor Unions                                                                 $441,000.

Your top contributor, at $145,000 is Paloma Partners, an investment holding company.

None of the top contributors for any of you is headquartered in Maine. In fact, two-thirds of what you raised in your last elections came from out of state (it’s about two-fifths for Congressman Michaud). Washington DC, California, Massachusetts and New York City (Wall St) funneled the most money into Maine. A recent New York Times headline, “Democrats and Republicans Scramble for Wall St. Dollars” sums up how Wall St. money has equally captured both parties. Do you actually believe most Mainers would approve of these sources of your campaign money?

Our common sense tells us these lobbyists, corporations and other special interests intend to influence you. Our gut warns us that corporations don’t hand out free money to politicians – strings are bound to be attached. Because you keep secret the arrangements you and your funders make, it’s reasonable to conclude that their funding does come with strings or “understandings.” How can we trust the assertions you make that special interest funding does not influence you? When you depend on large sums of special interest money in order to win elections, you drive a wedge of corporate cash between yourselves and ordinary Mainers.

At the heart of the political dishonesty we see across the country today is the claim made by nearly all politicians that special interest funding influences neither their views nor their votes. This is the Big Lie used to justify and protect a system of politics run by money.

Modern history shows that once a member of Congress wins several terms in Maine, he becomes a Senator or Representative for life. The more terms you serve, the more likely it is that you will win the next election too, as you keep building connections with deep-pocketed funders. We lose our chance to fully participate in democracy when your strategy is to accumulate so much special interest money that you deter anyone wanting to make a serious run against you from even trying, much less winning. With the big funders on your side, who actually chooses you: Wall St. or Maine voters?

Only this political system could embrace the pretense that corporations are persons who have free speech rights. You have already raised far more special interest money early on in your campaigns than ever before. It looks like you are preparing to defend yourselves from an onslaught of corporate free speech attack ads by potent new Super PACs. Big money politics wants no limits. Soon, special interests will likely fund nearly 100% of campaigns and ordinary voters will realize it’s become pointless for them to continue contributing.

A barrage of attack ads aired in our living rooms is the face of politics we’re most likely to see in the months ahead. The corporate creators of these ads do not view us as citizens to be persuaded, but as “marks” to be set up by exploiting our fears. Your use of these tactics to win elections is likely to cause even more of us to turn away from politics in disgust.

Those corporations and other special interests that contribute to your campaigns are among an elite group that has emerged as the winners in our society and economy today. As long as big money controls Congress members and Presidents, the rest of us will never gain a seat at the table of power where the real decisions get made.

Much is rightly made of partisan gridlock in Congress. Corporations and lobbyists help achieve gridlock by disproportionately funding members of Congress who are the most partisan. Their power to block legislation further solidifies their hold on government.

I’ve heard you complain about how partisan Congress is. But you seem to act as if there’s nothing you can do about it. In fact, there’s a great deal you can do. For an inspiring example, consider Margaret Chase Smith, Maine’s greatest Senator. She knew a threat to democracy when she saw it. In 1952 she exposed Senator Joseph McCarthy as a liar. Nearly all politicians were afraid to stand up to him. He had ruined the careers of hundreds of army officers, government officials, writers and movie actors by accusing them of being Communists. Senator Smith stood up to him even though his people smeared her by calling her “Moscow Maggie.” She risked losing her career when he ran someone against her. But her own integrity and courage, as well as the wisdom of Maine voters, enabled her to survive this challenge. McCarthy and his tactics of intimidation were discredited.

Today, corruption of our political system by special interest money is an even bigger threat to democracy. You have the same choices about how to respond that Senator Margaret Chase Smith did back then. I ask you to show the same wisdom and courage she did and break big money’s hold on politics in Maine and the nation.

How? Refuse all special interest money. Accept only contributions from individual Mainers limited to a maximum of several hundred dollars. Let’s make it an election by Mainers, not a selection by outsiders. Also, support constitutional amendments that will end corporate personhood and put in place a publicly financed election system without loopholes. I’m well aware that people in positions of power rarely relinquish any aspect of their power voluntarily. However, you do have a choice.

This is a good time politically for you to risk taking this history making action. You all won last time by good margins. You are respected by many Mainers, who will embrace you all the more for standing up against special interest domination of politics. Try working together (bipartisanship) to make it happen.

If you don’t act, we will. Thomas Jefferson warned us long ago that corporations would try to use their financial power to gain control of government. It is our job now to abolish their hold on government and return to the Founding Fathers’ intent: a government of, by, and for the People.

Doug Bowen, Porter, Maine   diannes.dougb@gmail.com

 

From a full page ad to be published in the Portland Press Herald on friday, February 3, 2012, paid for by members and friends of Occupy Wall Street/Maine. For more information about Occupy Maine and its goal of freeing democracy from the corruption of money, contact them at 221-5899.

A Nest of Vultures

 

A nest of vultures.

Governor LePage Is Not Helping

The drag that state and local budget problems are contributing to the economic recovery looks dismal, as in depression economics dismal. The contribution to real GDP from states and local economies is in negative territory with the pain of cutbacks being shouldered by real people in the form of cuts to education and lay-offs of police, fire fighters, teachers, draconian cuts to the elderly, the disabled, the poor. This policy of focusing on cuts rather than raising revenues to balance state and local budgets is being done under the baseless notion that austerity and tax cuts to business will grow the economy, but the numbers, over and over and over, tell a story diametrically opposite to that “business-friendly” narrative.

The irony here is that there is nothing “business friendly” about it. Small businesses are suffering through the lack of consumer demand these policies contribute to. Laid-off workers don’t buy goods and services. Small businesses feel the brunt of this stifling of demand, laying off their workers, foregoing new investment to grow their business, purchasing less inventory. Those that benefit from the tax cuts already enacted add little to growth as the wealthy to whom these cuts go either save their windfall or invest for their own benefit. Again, the numbers show state and local contributions to real GDP are negative – putting the brakes on the economic recovery. These mythological “job-creators” are not creating jobs, and to consider this the only way to grow Maine’s economy is wrongheaded.

st_locgdp

                                                          Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

As a vocal proponent of this austerity in the face of budget shortfalls Governor LePage is more the problem than the answer. Selling our future short for the temporary gain to the wealthiest in Maine is not in the interest of the long term prosperity of our State. Repeating the meme that it is so does nothing to make it so. But the Governor seems completely innoculated against that logic. As noted previously, even the Maine Revenue Services acknowledges that fairer taxation that brings the wealthiest Mainers into line with other taxpayers would cover the DHHS shortfall.

And the infection of this idea is not just a disease confined to the Blaine House. Senator Snowe has been a vocal proponent of a federal balanced budget amendment, the very thing that has hog-tied state governments creating this scenario of cutting benefits that serve the interest of all people, the 100%, although primarily the middle and lower income families while cutting the taxes on the wealthiest, not because it is good policy but because it is what they demand and have the resources to get. This Congress is, after all, the best that money can buy…

Paul Krugman puts this problem of destructive austerity from state and local budget cuts while failing to raise sufficient revenues more starkly:

It’s hard to overstate just how wrong all this is. We have a situation in which resources are sitting idle looking for uses — massive unemployment of workers, especially construction workers, capital so bereft of good investment opportunities that it’s available to the federal government at negative real interest rates. Never mind multipliers and all that (although they exist too); this is a time when government investment should be pushed very hard. Instead, it’s being slashed.

What an utter disaster.

On Breaking the Power of the 1%

Advocates of non-violent resistance and change in our society look to the labor and farm struggles of Sweden and Norway in the 1920’s and 1930’s for inspiration. George Lakey, visiting professor at Swarthmore College,  published an essay recently on the Waging NonViolence website, cross-posted on Common Dreams, How the Swedes and Norwegians Broke the Power of the 1%. Neither Sweden nor Norway are without their own problems but both have largely avoided the catastrophe much of the rest of the world has suffered at the hands of predatory, crony capitalism by providing their citizens with strong safety nets and a thriving middle class, the hallmarks of stable societies (see).

The #1 Source of US Oil: Alberta Tar Sands, and They May Be Coming to Maine

A new posting to the Video page, Dirty Oil, is the story of the Alberta, Canada tar sands project, currently the largest industrial project on the planet, strip-mining boreal forest for bitumen at an unprecedented scale. An area the size of Florida holds what is being advertised as the world’s largest potential oil reserve. This land area will potentially be clear cut, the top soil removed, the bitumen (oil sands) extracted by strip mining techniques, the oil extracted from the sands emitting three times the CO2 into the atmosphere as conventional oil extraction, requiring many barrels of water per one barrel of oil to harvest the crude. The title of the film, Dirty Oil, understates the problem. The Canadian government stands to make $70 bil by 2020, the Province of Alberta about $40 bil.

Some of the Alberta tar sands oil is planned to be diverted to eastern Canada, flowing into the Portland-Montreal Pipeline, reversing the current direction of flow in the pipeline, to be shipped to markets. Opposition to the XL pipeline has temporarily been halted, but the shovels and trucks pulling the bitumen out of the ground has only increased over the past decade… This oil will go somewhere…

Dirty Oil, and a companion film, H2Oil, tell the story of this gargantuan project, the people directly affected, the costs to our global environment, the lax regulation, dishonesty, professional assassinations occurring along the way.

Another Manufactured Budget Crisis; And the Fix…

Maine Governor Paul LePage’s proposal to drop 65,000 needy Mainers from MaineCare, Maine’s Medicaid program, to close a supposed budget deficit has even seasoned legislators looking hard at which programs to trim and which belts can be tightened, even more than they have already been over the past decade. After granting roughly 600 of Maine’s wealthiest a tax cut that totals about $122 million over the next few years, it is hard to understand what exactly the Governor has in mind. It certainly isn’t raising revenues from the most likely source of revenue that even Congress is contemplating at the Federal level… taxes on the wealthiest, who currently enjoy the lowest tax rates they have enjoyed in decades (see below). But here in Maine, even the Governor’s own staff at the Maine Revenue Services* agrees, making the tax code in Maine fairer would alleviate the budget “crisis.” As Representative Seth Berry puts it: “simply requiring the wealthiest 1% to pay the average effective state and local rate would balance the budget.” He goes on to say that if federal tax offsets were included the revenue generated would cover the budget shortfall and protect those MaineCare recipients the Governor is threatening to close schools over if the budget funding their care is not slashed.

Read Rep. Berry’s entire post here on his blog, BerryBlog.

*”According to MRS, Maine’s wealthiest 1% now pays an average effective state and local tax rate that is 14% lower than the statewide average. Accounting for federal offsets, the gap grows to 22%.  The wealthiest 1% includes only 6700 tax filers, each making an annual average of $750,786 AGI.
Restoring tax fairness does not mean Maine’s wealthiest 1% can’t use existing deductions, credits, and other loopholes to bring down their tax liability.  They can do so, just so long as they don’t go below what the rest of us pay.”

New Video additions

Check out the new video page for links to some thought provoking films and lectures.

As If Citizens United Isn’t Enough: The Republican National Committee Wants the Whole Enchilada

Corporate contributions directly to the campaign coffers of candidates running for office is the intent of the brief filed with the Fourth Circuit federal appeals court on January 10, 2012. This filing claims that the ban enacted in 1908 is unconstitutional by virtue of recently upheld Free Speech rights relying on the Citizens United decision. Part of this strategy is to make the face of the corporate donor not that of Exxon/Mobile, Halliburton, or GE, but mom-and-pop-sized small business:

“Most corporations are not large entities waiting to flood the political system with contributions to curry influence. Most corporations are small businesses. As the Court noted in Citizens United, “more than 75% of corporations whose income is taxed under federal law have less than $1 million in receipts per year,” while “96% of the 3 million businesses that belong to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have fewer than 100 employees.” While the concept of corporate contributions evokes images of organizations like Exxon or Halliburton, with large numbers of shareholders and large corporate treasuries, the reality is that most corporations in the United States are small businesses more akin to a neighborhood store…”

Lawyers representing the Republican National Committee contend that the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates now is based on the argument that such a ban only prevents an end-run around individual donors, folks like you or me, and that is simply not a good enough reason to maintain the ban.

The efforts to disenfranchise millions of voters through the ALEC-inspired legislation introduced in 34 states in 2011 seems all part and parcel with this effort to make the individual contributions of non-corporate donors less important than those of corporate donors. It is a bald-faced endorsement of the hypothesis that corporations are persons, and as such, are more important than the individual, natural persons that eat, drink, breathe, enable corporations to exist through the agency of laws natural persons enact, to the detriment of those natural persons.

Let Mitt Show You How It’s Done: The Bain Capital Film, or, One Way the 1% do it to the Middle Class.

(Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of Barak Obama. I didn’t vote for Barak Obama, and while I may have to this November as the lesser of two evils, thanks to our broken electoral system, I would almost prefer to sit out the whole macabre, money-soaked spectacle were it not so important to participate.)

When Mitt Romney Came to Town is, as advertised, a devastating expose of the business ethic behind this major presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. But it is much more than that. Former associate of Romney’s top strategists, Jason Killian Meath, produced the film and as the very effective former ad man for George W. Bush, is much, much less a populous advocate for the middle class as he is a political opportunist who trolled among Romney’s opponent’s campaigns looking for someone, anyone, to take up this film.

The failing Gingrich campaign reportedly paid top dollar for the rights as it now disingenuously turns to strong populous rhetoric trying to present a populous message to America’s failing middle class and regain some of the campaign’s former traction. But the import of this film is more than just an attack by an opportunistic former insider,  this is a how-to film exposing the ways the 1% have put it to, and continue to put it to, the American middle class.  Mitt is just a symptom of this much larger disease.

“We don’t have middle class people no more; rich and poor, that is it.”

The 2010 Census: One in three Americans is poor, or near poor…

The Instability of Inequality by Nouriel Roubini, Or, What Is Stirring in the Working and Middle Classes around the World?

The essay, The Instability of Inequality, appeared back in October just after the beginning of the occupation of Zuccotti Park in NYC and the rapid spread of the Occupy Movement nationwide. As Chairman of Roubini Global Economics, and as Professor of Economics at the Stern School of Business, New York University Mr. Roubini often takes a global view of the day’s events, taking in the broad ranging threads of history and place that cast their influence on societies and their economies. This essay is no exception.

It has been long understood that inequality tends toward instability. Inequality in opportunity, income and wealth, corruption, unemployment and underemployment are all factors found at the root of the civil unrest that has spread across the Middle East, in Europe, and the US, much of the world in fact with students in Chile and workers in India and in China agitating against conditions that make their lives and futures increasingly tenuous.

Liberal democracies that adopt policies that make for a strong middle class and a level playing field of opportunity, while providing a strong safety net to catch those that feel the upsets of economic fluctuations have tools to maintain stable societies if there is the political will to use them. In today’s world of outsized corporate dominance of the liberal democracies that now exist unrest is increasing because the stabilizing factors are falling to the rent-seeking, profit-taking priorities of corporations. If it continues, it cannot end well.

“Any economic model that does not properly address inequality will eventually face a crisis of legitimacy. Unless the relative economic roles of the market and the state are rebalanced, the protests of 2011 will become more severe, with social and political instability eventually harming long-term economic growth and welfare.” Nouriel Roubini

This just landed in my email box as I finished this posting and relates inequality with the instability in financial markets:

http://nsc.newamerica.net/publications/policy/unequal_and_unstable

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