The Center for Media and Democracy's Executive Director Lisa Graves appeared at "The People's Summit," a public affairs event held in Washington, D.C. January 21 to discuss the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The landmark ruling, which is one year old this month, was achieved on a divided 5-4 vote and overturned a century of previous court rulings that held that corporate political donations can, and should be regulated. The decision effectively equated money with speech, and protects corporate speech the same way the law protects individual speech. Other panelists discussing the impact of the law included Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for Policy and Program Planning for People for the American Way, Douglas Clopp, Deputy Director for Programs for Common Cause, and Craig Holman, Legislative Representative for Public Citizen's Congress Watch. The panel session, which was broadcast on CSPAN, was held to highlight the effects of money in politics and the rise of corporate power in our democracy. Video of the 1 hour, 17 minute panel discussion is available here.
A new report issued by the Office of Special Counsel says George W. Bush's Office of Political Affairs routinely violated the Hatch Act, a federal law that prohibits using federal dollars to pay for political activities and bars federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity. Senior staff members of Bush's Office of Political Affairs, run by Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, routinely violated the law by organizing political briefings for Republican employees at federal agencies where they sought the employees' help to get Republicans elected to Congress. The report (pdf) says "These briefings created an environment aimed at assisting Republican candidates, constituting political activity within the meaning of the Hatch Act." The briefings discussed the importance of the 'GOP ground game,' the 'Republican Offensive' and the 'Republican Defense.' " The report also found that the Bush White House improperly used federal funds to pay for travel for political purposes, classifying it instead as official government business.
One Year after Citizens United: Lessons from 2010 and Implications for 2012 (Public Forum / Panel Discussion)
Thursday, January 20, 2011, 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Capitol Visitors Center, Congressional Meeting Room North (Room 268)
Amy Walter, Political Director, ABC News (moderator)
Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Michael Boos, Vice President and General Counsel, Citizens United
Cleta Mitchell, Partner, Foley & Lardner LLP
Spencer Overton, Professor of Law, The George Washington University School of Law
Classified State Department cables published by Wikileaks show high-up U.S. government officials have entertained and obliged special requests from foreign heads of state to help close big deals for Boeing. In 2006, a senior Commerce Department official hand-delivered a personal letter from George W. Bush to the office of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, urging the king to complete a deal with Boeing for 43 airliners, including some for the king's family fleet. The cable shows that as part of the deal, the King wanted his personal jet "to have all the technology that his friend, President Bush, had on Air Force One." Once he had his high-tech plane, the King said, "God willing," he would "make a decision that will 'please you very much.' " The U.S. obligingly authorized an upgrade in King Abdullah's plane. In other instances, Bangladesh's prime minister, Sheik Hasina Wazed, sought landing rights at Kennedy International Airport, and the Turkish government asked for assurances that one of their astronauts could join a future NASA space flight. U.S. diplomats served as marketing agents for Boeing by using State Department visits as bargaining chips and offering deals to foreign heads of state and commercial executives with the power to purchase airplanes from Boeing.
(Part two of a two-part series)
In the first part of this series, the Center for Media and Democracy reported how the 2009 coup d'etat that toppled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was successfully maintained not through the use of force, but through the power of lobbying and spin. That tale, whose details were revealed through Wikileaks' publication of diplomatic cables and research into lobbying activities, had some echoes of the role PR played in an earlier "regime change" in the region. Here is the story of how the Chiquita banana company successfully used PR spin to help topple Guatemala's left-leaning government in 1954, and how they may have done it again in Honduras, 2009.
Last week, the Senate refused to approve the DREAM Act, a bill that would have offered a path to citizenship for children brought into the country illegally if they attend college or serve in the military. Opponents stated that no immigration reform will happen without first "securing" the 1,951 mile U.S. border with Mexico. America's current approach to border security is wasteful and ineffective, and "securing the border" will never be achieved until we redefine our approach to, and definition of, border security. With many in Washington expressing concern about fiscal responsibility, reining in the billions wasted annually on current border security policies should really be a priority. But America's xenophobic preoccupation with an "invasion" by brown-skinned "illegals" may keep us pursuing an expensive and unreasonable approach to border security.
Part one of a two-part article. (Go to part two).
Wikileaks recently published documents suggesting that PR spin helped determine the final outcome of the June 2009 Honduran coup. At the same time that a July 2009 diplomatic cable from the U.S. Ambassador in Honduras to top government officials confirmed that the Honduran president's removal was illegal, professional lobbyists and political communicators were beginning a PR blitz, eventually managing to manipulate America into believing the coup was a constitutional act.
When I testified before Congress last year, I told lawmakers that if they passed a health care reform bill with an individual mandate but no public option, they might as well call their bill the "Health Insurance Profit Protection and Enhancement Act." Well, of course, that is exactly what Congress did, but they didn't change the name of the new law as I suggested. I was as upset as anyone that the public option was stripped out, but I nevertheless later said that Congress should still pass the bill because of the protections it contained against common predatory practices by insurers, like canceling breast cancer patients' insurance in the midst of treatment and refusing to sell coverage at any price to people with pre-existing conditions. The bill also expands Medicaid to encompass several million Americans who cannot afford to buy overpriced and often inadequate health insurance.
We hear it everywhere this election season. Candidates, ads and TV pundits say we have "too much big government!" Virtually any attempt to regulate or tax any industry is a government intrusion into our lives. Candidates say they want less government. What's up with this ubiquitous, anti-government theme?
The "Government intrusion" argument is a powerful propaganda theme that has been around for a long time, and one that big businesses often use to manipulate public opinion. As with so many other corporate-derived propaganda tools, the anti-government theme originated largely with the tobacco industry, which has relied on it for decades to get its way in public policy.
Earlier this week I asked you to send thank-you notes to one of America's biggest health insurers for helping to shed light on an important policy matter. If you did, thank you, but please don't put your good stationery away just yet. You need to write yet another note of gratitude -- this time to our state insurance commissioners. This morning they did the right thing for consumers when they refused to cave in to intense pressure from the profit-obsessed insurance industry to gut an important provision of the health care reform law.