Here’s your weekly roundup of all the news that the powerful and corrupt would rather you didn’t know about.
The corporate contributions behind Congress’ tax overhaul
The lawmakers who drafted the tax bills have taken a shocking amount of money from corporate interests over the years.
The tax overhaul bills moving through Congress include major benefits for the corporate sector, including a permanent reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the reduction in the corporate tax rate and other business related measures in the Senate’s tax bill would save corporations $669 billion over the next ten years.
The corporate sector in the US has been posting record profits lately, so why is Congress’ bill so generous to corporations? According to research by the Center for American Progress, the 66 lawmakers that serve on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee—the committees that were in charge of writing the tax bill—have received a combined $1.5 billion in campaign contributions from corporate sources over the course of their careers. To put that in context, “senators on the Finance Committee have done enough fundraising to get contributions from at least 170 corporations and 315 corporate employees every year for their combined 360 years in office,” the report states.
The bottom line: When you look at the inputs to the system, the outputs start to make sense. Our campaign finance system relies heavily on contributions from corporations and wealthy donors, and time after time it biases politics and policymaking in favor of their interests.
The campaign to block Obama’s Supreme Court pick was financed by a single secretive mega-donor
The money was funneled through two dark-money groups so it would be incredibly difficult to trace.
When ads began blanketing the airwaves in 2016 pushing senators to block President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, it felt like a grassroots campaign. “This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats, it’s about your voice,” one of the ads stated. “You choose the next President; the next President chooses the next Justice.”
But it turns out the campaign was anything but grassroots. In fact, it appears that all of the money for the campaign came from a single individual.
Researchers at MapLight reviewed the 990s and found that the Wellspring Committee—the non-profit that provided nearly all of the funding to the group that ran the ads, the Judicial Crisis Network—received a $28.5 million contribution from an unnamed individual in 2016. Before 2016, Wellspring had never received more than $13.2 million in total contributions during a single year. Unfortunately, the Wellspring Committee doesn’t have to reveal their donors because they are registered with the IRS as a “social welfare” group and thus exempt from disclosure requirements.
The bottom line: Loopholes in the rules around political money mean we may never know who actually financed the campaign to block President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. One thing is for sure, however: when a single person can take down a Supreme Court nominee through a secretive, multi-million dollar donation to a dark-money group, the laws meant to prevent our government from being bought and sold are woefully ineffective.
Someone submitted more than a million fake anti-net neutrality comments at the FCC
Cable companies have a history of financing astroturf efforts to further their causes, so this is suspicious.
As the Federal Communications Commission gets ready to vote on repealing net neutrality rules and giving ISPs like Comcast and Verizon more power over the Internet, researchers have found that a large portion of the public comments supporting the repeal of net neutrality are in fact fake. Jeff Kao at Hackernoon analyzed the comments submitted to the FCC and discovered that at least 1.3 million of the comments were generated by someone using natural language processing techniques and submitting them via stolen identities.
When the fake comments are excluded, Kao found that 99+% of the comments submitted to the FCC were in support of keeping the net neutrality rules in place.
In 2014, a dark-money group called American Commitment was caught submitting fake comments to the FCC against net neutrality. The cable industry has a history of financing front groups like Broadband for America and the American Consumer Institute to make it look like there is strong public support for doing away with net neutrality (recent polling shows that just 18% of the population opposes the net neutrality rules). While there is no smoking gun linking this latest round of fake comments to the cable industry, the fact remains that someone has financed and executed a massive effort to fraudulently oppose a policy that is overwhelmingly popular among the general public.
The bottom line: Money flows in politics in many ways, including the financing of astroturf efforts to influence regulatory decisions.
Kochs in the White House
The libertarian billionaires have managed to have incredible influence in an administration that was supposed to be about protecting the little guy.
President Trump and the Koch brothers haven’t always been political allies. The Kochs opposed Trump’s candidacy and Trump pledged to resist their influence while on the campaign trail. “I don’t want their money or anything else from them,” Trump tweeted in reference to the Koch brothers shortly after he declared his candidacy. “Cannot influence Trump!,” he added.
But now that he’s running the White House, the Kochs and Trump seem to have patched things up. According to a new report from Public Citizen, 44 Trump administration officials have close ties to to the Koch brothers and their political organizations, including 21 who are working inside the White House or have been nominated for White House jobs.
As a result, the Koch brothers are making progress on many of the policies they have been pushing for years. Of the 16 regulatory changes the Koch-backed Freedom Partners included in their “roadmap to repeal” agenda, nine have already been achieved since Trump took office, and one—the repeal of net neutrality rules—is set to be finalized in a matter of weeks.
The bottom line: The Koch brothers have spent a fortune on building a vast political network, and their investment is paying off. Many of the regulatory changes they have already achieved through their work inside the Trump administration will directly benefit their bottom line with their work in the fossil fuels industry.
That’s all for this week, folks. If you have a corruption story you’d like to see covered here, send me an email at donnydonny [at] gmail [dot] com.