Poor President Obama. Confronted with an economic catastrophe when he took office, he made a decision – well documented here and here, for example – to save the financial industry from its own misdeeds, foregoing the opportunity to obtain from the Wall Street CEOs any kind of quid pro quo for beleaguered taxpayers and homeowners. And what does he get in return?
Wall Street contributions to the President’s re-election campaign are down 68%, reports the New York Times.
There’s also been a drop in financial support from some of those who were all-in to elect him in 2008. Some big-name progressive donors, dismayed by the President’s inability to hold the line on everything from foreclosures to a public health care option (which likely would have survived the Supreme Court’s widely expected invalidation of the health care reform law), are sitting this one out – at least for the moment.
Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come for the President, courtesy of the same Supreme Court. Freed from campaign spending restrictions by the court’s ruling in Citizens United, the highly-skilled right wing corporate apparatus is aiming to raise $500 million in “super PAC” money to beat Obama. Pro-Romney super PACs have already out-raised those supporting the President by a factor of eight.
This comes as no surprise to those familiar with the way big business behaves in public.
If corporations are people, as the Republican majority on the Supreme Court says, then the defining trait of the modern corporate personality is ingratitude. When all the federal bailout programs are totaled up (including indirect assistance like being able to borrow taxpayer money at super-low interest rates), Wall Street and many other firms got somewhere around $14 trillion in financial aid from Washington.
Had that money been put in the hands of the American people, it could have paid off every mortgage, credit card and car loan in the United States.
Like President Obama, we are still waiting for our thank you note from corporate America.
Instead, we get surging credit card interest rates, skyrocketing gas prices, outrageous health insurance premium increases and, adding insult to those injuries, the imposition of undisclosed inflated fees by cell phone, airline and other companies for the dishonest purpose of charging hapless consumers more than the advertised price.
Hence the need for parental supervision of corporate persons, also known as "regulation."
Corporate money had already eroded the democratic process under the patchwork of campaign finance laws that pre-dated Citizens United. Our report, “Sold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America” (PDF) gets right to the bottom line. Between 1998 and 2008, Wall Street invested $5 billion in Washington, a combination of money for lobbying and campaign contributions that won deregulation and other policy decisions that enabled the Money Industry to do as it pleased. The ensuing orgy of unbridled speculation came to a halt in 2008 when the big banks threatened to shut down the system unless they got trillions of dollars in loans, tax breaks and other taxpayer bailouts.
But by deregulating corporate money in Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court has empowered a crime wave of corporate influence peddling that will dwarf anything this country has ever seen.
Take, for example, Sacramento – California's integrity-free zone.
$ A half-decade-long battle to force health insurance companies to open their books and prove they need rate increases was crushed by industry lobbyists, forcing angry consumers to mount a ballot measure of their own.
$ A package of bills backed by the state’s Attorney General to prevent banks from abusing the home foreclosure process – dubbed the “Homeowners Bill of Rights” – has been blocked by the banking industry, which spent over $70 million on lobbyists and lawmakers in California between 2007 and 2011.
$ A bill that will deregulate telephone service, sponsored by the state’s two biggest phone companies, AT&T and Verizon, is sailing through the state legislature, much as electricity deregulation did in 1998 – to disastrous consequences for California taxpayers.
Once upon a time, average citizens might have had a voice in these policy debates. Now that corporate America is locked and loaded, we don't stand a chance.
No Lobbyist Left Behind
If we forced CNN commentators to wear the names of their clients on their sleeves like NASCAR drivers we might have a deeper, more honest debate over what’s going on in Washington.
Unless you live under a rock without any form of media, it’s hard to miss the nonstop frenzy over dumb comments made by CNN commentator Hilary Rosen about Ann Romney.
Rosen said Romney never worked a day in her life, which made her unqualified to comment on the economy. Republicans then attacked Rosen as another in a long line of Democratic elitists who have no respect for women who work in the home.
When she comments on CNN, the network labels Rosen a “Democratic strategist,” though they don’t disclose any particular strategy that she’s come up with.
CNN doesn’t mention her work representing many high-profile clients in Washington, D.C. with interests across a wide range of issues. Her firm, SKDKnickerbocker is filled with former government employees cashing in on their contacts on behalf of their corporate clients. The firm, which includes President Obama’s former communications director Anita Dunn as managing director, isn’t required to disclose clients because it doesn’t acknowledge that what it does is lobbying. In Washington-speak the firm is “political consulting and public relations firm.”
Last year, Bloomberg Business week reported that the firm coordinated an army of lobbyists unleashed by a coalition led by Google, Apple and Cisco pushing for a tax holiday.
The Republic Report compiled a partial list of clients, including big railroads, agricultural interests, PepsiCo and General Mills and for-profit education companies.
In addition, the Washington Free Beacon reported that Dunn pitched SKDKnickerbocker’s services as part of a team that offered to restore hedge funds’ sullied reputations, though apparently nobody swung.
Rosen’s poke at Ann Romney may have stirred up media frenzy, offering just the excuse for a jive revival of jive working mom v. stay-at-home brawl that sheds no light and offers no insight to anybody.
It’s also not the kind of controversy that’s likely to upset Rosen’s clients, who will recognize it for the sideshow it is compared to their free-flowing access to the White House. It’s more likely that it will provide Rosen with an opportunity for some good-natured self-deprecating humor to grease her way as she makes the rounds through the corridors of power.
The Obama administration has made a big deal about how it holds itself to a higher standard by not taking money from lobbyists. But that doesn’t mean lobbyists don’t have a strong presence in the White House, as the New York Times reported Saturday. “Many of the president’s biggest donors, while not lobbyists, took lobbyists with them to the White House, while others performed essentially the same function on their visits,” the Times reported.
Several years ago, GOOD magazine came up with the idea of making politicians wear suits with the names of their biggest contributors, like NASCAR drivers advertise their sponsors. Politicians have been reluctant to embrace the idea. They’re perfectly happy to keep us focused on the sideshow provided by Rosen and those like her, who babble phony nonsense on TV but profit from their access to the real game off-screen.