PACs Too Close To Campaigns

Political Action Committees are dominating the 2012 Presidential election season with millions of dollars from wealthy donors, unions, corporations and other outside groups funding an advertising war between the candidates.

The Supreme Court’s decision in mid-2010 in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission unleashed these so-called “super PACs” when it ruled that political spending is a form of protected speech under the 1st Amendment. That gave corporations and unions the right to spend money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections.  Despite the ruling, contributions made directly to a Federal campaign from a corporate or labor union treasury was still illegal, but the same type of funding could legally be given to a political action committee in support of a campaign or issue.

The super PAC didn’t become so super until SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission, in which it was decided that the independent expenditure political action committees could pool contributions and make expenditures in support of or opposition to a candidate provided that the expenditures were made independently of a campaign or a candidate. The organizations are required to disclose donor information on a monthly or quarterly basis, but often loopholes keep the information from surfacing until long after an election has ended.

Critics of super PACs say that the organizations are fundamentally altering the democratic process by pumping massive sums of money into mind-bending ad blitzes that end in bought-and-paid-for elections and elected officials who are certainly corporate puppets. The finance laws concerning super PACs dictate that they must operate completely independent of the candidates whom they support, but most campaign finance experts say that it is very unlikely that the candidates have nothing to do with their super PACs’ actions.

A recent article by Mother Jones reporter Andy Kroll notes some pretty cozy relationships between super PACs and the 2012 Presidential candidates they support:

Restore Our Future— Mitt Romney
Carl Forti: political director of Romney 2008 campaign
Charles Spies: CFO and counsel of Romney 2008 campaign
Larry McCarthy: media adviser of Romney 2008 campaign

 

Priorities USA Action—Barack Obama
Sean Sweeney: former Obama White House aide
Bill Burton: former White House deputy press secretary

 

Winning Our Future—Newt Gingrich
Rick Tyler: former Gingrich spokesman and aide
Becky Burkett: former chief fundraiser for Gingrich’s American Solutions for Winning the Future

 

Solutions 2012—Gingrich
Charlie Smith: former aide

 

Revolution PAC—Ron Paul
Joe Becker: chief legal counsel to Ron Paul 2008 campaign
Penny Langford Freeman: political consultant and Paul’s political director from 1998 to 2007

Winning Our Future (pro-Gingrich) super PAC director Rick Tyler recently appeared on MSNBC claiming he has no communication with Gingrich, but said he can stay in step with the campaign because of their long history together.

“I’ve been with Newt a long time and I can dance with his campaign and not coordinate, so I’m not worried about it [discussing plans with Gingrich],” Tyler said.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that Tyler had plenty of funds for his “dance” with the Gingrich campaign after casino mogul and Israel advocate Sheldon Adelson gave $5 million to the PAC. Pundits speculate that the funds were used to produce a half-hour movie, “When Mitt Romney Came To Town,” that portrayed Romney as a “predatory corporate raider” during his years at Bain capital.

In all, the most recent Federal campaign disclosures indicate that super PACs have spent more than $35 million on the 2012 Presidential race so far. According to CNN, more than half of the spending has been for political attack ads on behalf of Gingrich and Romney.

The candidates have a love-hate relationship with super PACs. The organizations allow for nasty and sometimes misleading attacks to be made against opponents without candidates having to take responsibility for the information provided; but, they also have to spend a great deal of time defending or disavowing the actions of the super PACs that support them.

During a debate prior to the South Carolina primary, Romney spoke out against the use of super PACs.

“Let people make contributions they want to make to campaigns. Let campaigns then take responsibility for their own words and not have this strange situation where we have people out there who support us, who run ads we don’t like,” he said.

The Romney supporting Restore Our Future PAC, under the control of the candidate’s former staffers, has run the majority of Romney’s television advertisements and spent $16,724, 439 on his behalf, according to PAC Track.

After the Romney PAC spent nearly $3 million attacking Gingrich in Iowa, the former House Speaker accused Romney of “buying millions in attack ads through a phony super PAC run by his former staff, paid for by his millionaire friends.”

Washington journalist Eliza Carney, said during a recent PBS appearance that she did not believe that PACs are holding up to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

“Well, it’s worth saying that there are certainly those who think these super PACs are a good thing, that they’ve enhanced speech and that there’s more competition now,” she said. “But it’s also true that the Supreme Court said, these entities will not be corrupting because it’s independent and it’s fully disclosed. And I think, arguably, neither of those premises is really being borne out by the reality of modern campaigning.”

Other politicians and public figures also believe that super PACs have hurt the democratic process and are acting in protest to the organizations. Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown, who is up for re-election this year, has made an agreement with his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren, to fight the influence of PACs in their race. According to U.S. News, the candidates have agreed to pay a penalty of half the amount of money an outside group pays to run TV or Internet ads against the other candidate. The money will be given to charity, and the two have asked broadcasters to support them in their efforts to curtail PAC influence.

Comedian and faux conservative talk show host Stephen Colbert has long been critical of unenforceable super PAC rules. Colbert created his own PAC in 2011 called Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow and has used it to launch off-the-wall satirical pseudo-political ads, including one that advised Iowa voters to write in Rick Perry as their Presidential choice, but to spell his name “Parry,” with an “A” for America.

Colbert pointed out the ridiculousness of assuming candidates have no contact with their super PACs in a recent episode of The Colbert Report when he signed his PAC over to fellow comedian Jon Stewart and renamed it The Definitely not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert Super PAC so that he could “explore running for President of The United States of South Carolina.”  Stewart then assured the audience that there was no way the two could “work out a series of Morse-code blinks to convey information with each other” concerning the PAC. Below is a video of Colbert’s super PAC transfer episode:

Romney, Gingrich Launch 99 Percent Attacks On One Another

For the past several weeks, Presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have been engaged in a “who made more doing what” debate that one might concede plays right into the philosophy of the 99 percent.

Gingrich has consistently and vehemently attacked Romney for his lucrative tenure at Bain Capital, the investment firm involved in saving companies such as Staples and Sports Authority but also in laying off workers at companies it did not save. The former House Speaker, who released his tax returns right before the South Carolina primary, also attacked Romney for failing to do the same.

“The country deserves accountability and transparency,” Gingrich said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “I’m going to try to set the example to provide the leadership to do the right thing.”

Romney bowed to the political pressure and released his tax returns this week, which reveal he is indeed part of the 1 percent. The documents indicate that the candidate paid $6.2 million in taxes on about $42.5 million in income for 2010 and 2011, according to MSNBC.

Now, Romney has issued a statement raising questions about the relationship that Gingrich had with housing giant Freddie Mac and offering a $1.6 million reward for more information.  Gingrich released only one year’s contract; Romney wants to know more.

Gail Gitcho, Romney communications director, said:

Newt Gingrich’s Freddie Mac contract raises more questions than answers. His secrecy about his lobbying for Freddie Mac is troubling. No amount of bluster will hide the fact that Newt had his hand in Freddie Mac to the tune of $25,000 a month. The bursting housing bubble helped lead to the current economic crisis and Newt Gingrich has his fingerprints all over it. His shifting explanations amount to a shell game with the truth. Speaker Gingrich needs to fully disclose his work as a lobbyist for Freddie Mac.

According to Reuters, the efforts of the two candidates to make one another appear as fat-cat crony capitalists are playing into the hands of the Barack Obama campaign, which has plans to use Bain-fodder to attack Romney.

Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) released a statement earlier this month chiding Republicans who attack Republicans for embracing free-market ideas and capitalism, playing the same game as the left:

I am disturbed by recent developments in the Presidential race. These attacks, using the class warfare language of the far left and the demagoguery of Chicago politics, go against the core of our political philosophy. Republicans are proud of hard work and success. We encourage job creators. We applaud success in capitalism.

Republican Insider: Gingrich Regularly Criticized Reagan

Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has often said that he had fond recollections of working with the Administration of President Ronald Reagan, but Republican insiders are now taking the candidate to task over his claims.

Elliott Abrams, who served as assistant secretary of state in the Reagan Administration, has called Gingrich’s claims like, “I worked with President Reagan to change things in Washington,” and “we helped defeat the Soviet empire,” and “I helped lead the effort to defeat Communism in the Congress” misleading at best.

In a feature published by the National Review, Abrams writes:

As a new member of Congress in the Reagan years — and I was an assistant secretary of state — Mr. Gingrich voted with the president regularly, but equally often spewed insulting rhetoric at Reagan, his top aides, and his policies to defeat Communism. Gingrich was voluble and certain in predicting that Reagan’s policies would fail, and in all of this he was dead wrong.

Abrams goes on to cite a number of instances when Gingrich—launching rhetorical attack after attack against Reagan—broke “The Eleventh Commandment” that the 40th President popularized: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.

Fast And Furious Investigation Continues

The first convictions in the Department of Justice’s fatally flawed Fast and Furious gunwalking scheme were made in a Federal court on Monday; the investigation into the operation continues.

Jacob Wayne Chambers and Jacob Anthony Montelongo each pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge, and Montelongo also pleaded guilty to dealing guns without a license, according to The Associated Press.

The pair admitted that they were part of a 20-person smuggling ring that trafficked guns to Mexico for the Sinaloa drug cartel.

Chambers bought 79 guns from “straw” dealers in Arizona between September 2009 and December 2009 and got paid $50 for each AK-47 and $100 for a .50-caliber rifle he sold to the cartel. Montelongo purchased 109 guns in Arizona from January 2010 to July 2010 and was paid $50 for pistols, $100 for rifles and $150 each for six .50-caliber rifles.

The two face up to five years in prison and a fine as high as $250,000 when they are sentenced in May.

The convictions come as Congressional Republicans, led by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), continue their probe into Justice Department officials’ knowledge of the operation. On Monday, Issa cried foul when Patrick Cunningham, the chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Arizona, was excused from a deposition when he refused to give more than his name and title after saying last week that he would not testify and did not have to according to the 5th Amendment.

According to Fox News, Issa speculated that Cunningham’s dodging testimony about the operation was “a major escalation of the department’s culpability” in a letter he wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder.

 Also this week, Republicans in the Arizona Legislature formed their own committee to investigate Fast and Furious. U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke was fired due to fallout surrounding the scandal, and the lawmakers hope to learn more about the impact that Fast and Furious had on their State, according to the Phoenix Business Journal.

 

Gabrielle Giffords Officially Resigns

Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was nearly killed after being shot in the head during a constituent event in January 2011, formally offered her resignation to Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday so that she may focus on her recovery.

“In public service, I found a venue for my pursuit of a strong America,” Giffords wrote in her resignation letter. “I found a way to care for others. And in the past year, I have found a value that is unbreakable even by the most vicious of attacks.”

Before resigning, Giffords voted on the final piece of legislation she presented to Congress, which would expand the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to investigate ultralight airplanes smuggling drugs from Mexico in the United States. The bill passed unanimously in the House, and the Senate has vowed to move the measure quickly.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer will set a date for a special Primary and General Election to fill Giffords’ seat. The winner in the special election will serve the remainder of Giffords’ term, which is set to expire in January 2013, according to Explorer News.

Fed: Rates To Remain Low Into 2014

The Federal Reserve issued a statement on Wednesday saying that the economy of the United States has experienced moderate growth, despite slowing global economic growth, since the central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee met last month.

The Fed says that it will keep interest rates at a record low to “foster growth” of the moderately improving economy. The rates have been kept near zero for three years and will likely not be raised until late 2014.

The Fed statement says:

To support a stronger economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at levels consistent with the dual mandate, the Committee expects to maintain a highly accommodative stance for monetary policy. In particular, the Committee decided today to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that economic conditions–including low rates of resource utilization and a subdued outlook for inflation over the medium run–are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through late 2014.

According to Financial Times, the Fed decision suggests that the Federal Open Market Committee wants to do all it can via communications policy to bolster investment before considering another round of quantitative easing, which Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has not left off the table.

The central bank says it believes that one of the biggest threats to economic growth in the United States is the European financial crisis.

 

Natural Supplement Found To Improve Skin Health

With age, many people experience a gradual breakdown of collagen and elastin, the two structural proteins that are vital to healthy-looking skin; but researchers say that with the help of a natural supplement, your skin can be rebuilt and made healthier no matter how old you are.

A study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology this month finds that Pycnogenol ®, an antioxidant extract that is found in French maritime pine trees, improved skin hydration and elasticity in women who participated in a clinical trial.

The study was conducted at the Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Dusseldorf, Germany, and examined 20 healthy 55- to 68-year-old women.  Participants were given 75 mg of Pycnogenol® every day for 12 weeks.

Skin hydration, skin elasticity and skin fatigue were examined at the beginning of the trial and after six and 12 weeks.

The study found that:

•Pycnogenol® enhanced skin elasticity by 25 percent, in addition to skin hydration by 8 percent, and was especially noticeable in women who had dry skin from the start, with an increase of 21 percent.

•Pycnogenol® decreased skin fatigue considerably.

•Pycnogenol® reduced skin wrinkles by 3 percent and increased skin smoothness by 6 percent.

Pycnogenol® is a natural plant extract originating from the bark of the maritime pine that grows along the coast of southwest France and is found to contain a unique combination of procyanidins, bioflavonoids and organic acids. The extract is available in more than 700 dietary supplements, multivitamins and health products worldwide.

Bin Laden SEAL Team Rescues Hostages In Somalia

The same Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden rescued two hostages, one of whom is an American citizen, from kidnappers in Somalia in a raid Tuesday night.

American Jessica Buchanan, 32, and a 60-year-old Dane, Poul Thisted, were kidnapped by “heavily armed common criminals” while working with a Danish demining group near Galcayo, Somalia, on Oct. 25, according to a statement from Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.

The Associated Press said that the team landed by helicopter near the compound where the two were held and approached the compound under heavy gunfire. Several of the kidnappers were reportedly killed; there was no word that any members of the SEAL team were wounded at the time of this report.

“This successful hostage rescue, undertaken in a hostile environment, is a testament to the superb skills of courageous service members who risked their lives to save others,” Panetta said in the statement. “I applaud their efforts, and I am pleased that Ms. Buchanan and Mr. Thisted were not harmed during the operation.”

President Barack Obama said in a statement, the mission is “yet another message to the world that the United States of America will stand strongly against any threats to our people.”

Study: 1 In 5 Pregnancies Aborted

The global rate of abortions, which began declining in the 1990s, has stopped declining, according to a new study published in The Lancet.

The study was conducted using the World Health Organization’s definition of safe and unsafe abortion. Safe abortion estimates were based largely on official statistics and nationally representative surveys. Unsafe abortion estimates were based primarily on information from published studies, hospital records and surveys of women.

Globally, abortions fell from 35 per 1,000 women in 1995 to 29 per 1,000 by 2003 and have remained steady since.

Worldwide, the study found that 49 percent of abortions were unsafe in 2008, compared to 44 percent in 1995. About one out of every five pregnancies in the world ended in abortion in 2008. According to the study, abortion rates are lower in regions where more women live under liberal abortion laws. Some experts say that the decrease is related to more access to information and other options in those regions where abortion laws are more liberal.

“The substantial decline in the abortion rate observed earlier has stalled, and the proportion of all abortions that are unsafe has increased. Restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates,” the study says.

The abortion issue will take center stage for Americans during the Feb. 5 Super Bowl due to a comment by blogger Sophia Brugato who encouraged supporters of abortion rights to donate to the cause each time renowned Christian and Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow scored in a game last month.

“How can I support a guy that’s openly anti-choice?” she wrote. “This is the same man that used the Super Bowl to a) build his reputation and brand as the saintliest saint of an athlete that ever lived, and b) raise money for an anti-choice organization that would deny the right to abortion to millions of women that need it. Yuck.”

Her actions prompted longshot Presidential candidate Randall Terry, who in January 2011 put his name on the Democratic ticket in several States, to attempt to air graphic anti-abortion ads when the Patriots and the Giants face off in the Super Bowl, according to CNN.

 “She was raising money to kill babies, and we’re raising money to save them. Fight fire with fire,” he said.

Passwords And The 5th Amendment

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Blackburn ruled this week that a Colorado woman must give authorities the password to her personal computer so that police can view the files on it, according to CNET.

Ramona Fricosu has until Feb. 21 to comply with the order. The judge said Fricosu’s defense — the 5th Amendment’s right against self-incrimination — did not apply in the case. She is charged with bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Rather than being protected against self-incrimination because the password is in her own mind, prosecutors have treated the situation as if she had a key to a safe containing stolen goods.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties organization, filed a brief on Fricosu’s behalf. The organization argued that Fricosu should not be compelled to give up her password because it would violate her 5th Amendment right, and there was no immunity “offered for loss of this protection.”

Federal prosecutors argued that if Fricosu was not ordered to allow prosecutors to access her computer it would result in a “concession to her and potential criminals (be it in child exploitation, national security, terrorism, financial crimes or drug trafficking cases) that encrypting all inculpatory digital evidence will serve to defeat the efforts of law enforcement officers to obtain such evidence through judicially authorized search warrants, and thus make their prosecution impossible.”