To try and transform their image among the American public, tobacco companies have been trying to keep much of their lobbying and political donations out of view. The companies now channel campaign donations and lobbying expenses through harder-to-track organizations connected to the candidates they favor, like leadership PACs and 527 groups. Contributions directly to candidates and the committees that support them have decreased by more than $6 million between the 2002 and 2010 election cycles. "One thing the tobacco industry has done is stay out of the public view and disguise its efforts in politics," said Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco and director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. The two highest-ranking Republican leaders in the House of Representatives -- Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) -- are top recipients of tobacco industry money. In the 2010 election cycle, Boehner took almost $50,000 from tobacco interests, and Cantor took $27,850. Boehner, a smoker, voted against the Food and Drug Administration's regulation of tobacco, calling it a "boneheaded idea." Cantor voted in favor of the bill. Altria Group, one of Cantor's biggest campaign contributors, is the parent company of cigarette maker Philip Morris -- the tobacco company that planned and helped draft the regulation, and thus the only company that supported it.
In another win for well-connected right-wing interests, Wisconsin Rep. Robin Vos (R-63) squeezed a last-minute provision into the budget on Friday, June 3 that moves Wisconsin towards re-introducing bail bondsmen (and bounty hunters) to the state, a corruptive practice that has been prohibited since 1979. Like much of the dairy state’s recent legislative activity, this latest effort is smudged with the fingerprints of the American Legislative Exchange Council and well-funded lobbying interests.
Americans for Prosperity North Carolina is running deceptive robo-calls in predominantly African-American voting districts in North Carolina to try and drum up support for House Bill 810, a measure that loosens regulations on payday lenders and that is backed by financial interests. In the call, a woman identifies herself as "Joan with Americans for Prosperity North Carolina." "Joan" then tells call recipients they can "help create local jobs by supporting hometown lenders" by contacting Democratic House Representative Winkie Wilkins and asking him to support HB 810. "Joan" says the HB 810 will help "hometown lenders" and increase access to credit for "small businesses and families." The call does not mention that the bill raises the amount of interest lenders can charge on small loans from 25 to 36 percent, and provides for new fees and other measures that increase lender profits. The Center for Responsible Lending finds that the additional interest would cost North Carolina consumers between $50 million and $70 million, and that two thirds of that amount would accrue to CitiFinancial and American General, two big financial companies that have already received federal bailout money.
After Exxon Mobil posted first-quarter 2011 profits of $10.7 billion -- $6.3 billion more than it earned last year by this time -- the company put out a defensive statement arguing that it is not to blame for gasoline exceeding $4 around the country. Instead, the company blamed skyrocketing gas and oil prices on the U.S. government, saying Exxon makes about seven cents on a gallon of gasoline, while state and federal governments collect 40 to 60 center a gallon in taxes. Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry's lobbying group, spun his industry's record income as a positive, saying high oil company profits signal a stronger U.S. economy. Gerard said Americans "should be proud" of a high-earning oil industry, since it supports millions of jobs and provides income for retirees in the form of profits paid on shares in people's retirement accounts. Exxon vice president Ken Cohen portrayed the push to eliminate $4 billion in government subsidies for the industry as an attempt to raise taxes on the industry, saying the subsidies help keep jobs from being exported to other countries.
One of the reasons I wanted to return to journalism after a long career as an insurance company PR man was to keep an eye on the implementation of the new health reform law. Many journalists who covered the reform debate have moved on, and some consider the writing of regulations to implement the legislation boring and of little interest to the public.
But insurance company lobbyists know the media are not paying much attention. And so they are able to influence what the regulations actually look like -- and how the law will be enforced -- with little scrutiny, much less awareness.
Rumors have been circulating about a little-known initiative to subject Wisconsin local governments to "stress tests" and other new constraints. Many believe the proposal resembles the "martial law" bill that was recently passed in Michigan, which allows the state government to dissolve local governments in a "fiscal emergency," and worry that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker or his friends in the legislature could be cooking up a similar plan.
Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare would accelerate a trend started several years ago by corporate CEOs and their political allies to shift ever-increasing amounts of risk from Big Business and the government to workers and retirees.
If enacted, the Ryan plan would represent a windfall of unprecedented proportions for insurance corporations and other businesses.
For millions of average Americans, many of whom already are finding it impossible to save for retirement, it would represent financial calamity. The nation's middle class would pay dearly for Ryan's proposed shredding of the social safety net that Medicare currently provides.
The disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant hasn't stopped some U.S. legislators from insisting U.S. nuclear power plants are completely safe, but that support may be based less on facts than on financial influence. Between 1998 and 2010, the nuclear industry invested over $46 million in lobbying, about $18 million of which came from the industry's trade group, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). In addition to simply giving money to legislators who deal with energy legislation, the NEI has also employed congressional staffers and bestowed awards upon members of Congress. Senate Energy Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), still supports nuclear energy, saying Japan's nuclear plant disaster hasn't altered opinions much on Capitol Hill -- but Bingaman has taken generous donations from people and institutions with vested interests in nuclear power. Over his career, Bingaman has accepted over $49,000 from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the place where the atomic bomb was invented. The country's largest owner and operator of nuclear power plants, the Exelon Corporation, has given Bingaman over $38,000, and in 2006 the Nuclear Energy Institute gave him a leadership award. Similarly, House Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas) has taken over $31,000 in donations from the Nuclear Energy Institute, and was graced with the same award from the NEI. Barton, who recently toured the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant located about 80 miles southwest of Dallas, insisted to the Dallas Morning News that American nuclear plants are 100 percent safe.
For some, when the going gets tough, the tough gas up the custom-painted luxury motorcoach.
So it is with the Wisconsin branch of the Koch-backed group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), whose four-day, ten-city bus PR event across Wisconsin to support controversial Governor Scott Walker started in Kenosha March 3 and concluded in Madison on March 7 -- but not at the Capitol, where the bus would have been surrounded by the tens of thousands of people gathered to oppose Walker's union-crushing "budget repair" bill. Instead, AFP ended its tour at the Alliant Energy Center, where protesters against Walker's radical proposals who were outside in the cold easily outnumber the pro-Walker crowd in inside the rented space.
And so it went with AFP's "Stand with Walker" Wisconsin road show. At every stop, the AFP PR gambit was met by some supporters, but it was also greeted often by an equal or a substantially greater numbers of opponents. A little-watched YouTube video of AFP's stop at Serb Hall on March 3, 2011 shows a group of about a dozen Scott Walker supporters, and a sidewalk packed with what appears to be about several hundred demonstrators against the governor's extreme proposals.
According to its newly-minted website, the Advocates "are dedicated to supporting the University of Wisconsin-Madison ... [and] will promote greater accountability through enhanced autonomy for this unique institution." This lobbying effort is similar to efforts afoot in other states to use state budget issues to privatize public higher education institutions and put more assets and power at the disposal of powerful corporate interests.
The lobby shop's PR description closely mirrors the title of the Wisconsin Public Research Institute's December 2010 report titled, "Making the University of Wisconsin More Accountable Through Greater Autonomy." WPRI is heavily funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a right-wing neo-conservative think tank.