By Samantha Igo
Here’s your weekly roundup of the important political corruption stories we’ve been tracking.
Net Neutrality Ends after Three Year Lobbying Campaign by Telecom Companies
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed net neutrality this week after telecom companies spent $190 million to lobby the Commission and politicians.
On Monday, the long-fought battle for net neutrality ended as the FCC officially repealed its protections. Net neutrality, established in 2015, meant that Internet service providers couldn’t charge extra fees for things like faster internet speeds while intentionally blocking certain traffic.
This win for Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and their trade associations comes after spending $190 million in lobbying the FCC over the past three years and $16.3 million in donations to members of Congress or those running for office. These companies also provided financial support to organizations that publicly opposed net neutrality. One significant example of this involved an academic paper that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai promoted as evidence against net neutrality. It was never disclosed that the research had been secretly backed by an AT&T trade group that would greatly profit from its findings.
The Bottom Line: No company should be able to buy policy that directly benefits them.
Energy Company Provides High Level EPA & DOE Officials with Pre-Written Executive Orders
Last summer, a coal executive presented pre-written executive orders to high level Department of Energy (DOE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials to repeal energy regulations and bail out his company.
Last Wednesday, leaked documents revealed that coal executive Bob Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, orchestrated a secret meeting with high level officials in the DOE. The meeting aimed to guide the Administration into complying with a four-page action plan the energy company had drafted. Some of the key points included:
- halting regulations for coal-fired power plants,
- cutting the staff of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in half, and
- invoking Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act, a law reserved to aid energy companies in times of emergency or war.
In March of 2017, Murray also presented Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, and EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, with six pre-written executive orders for President Trump to sign, five of which aim to deregulate the coal industry, and the last to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. Three months later, the United States controversially withdrew from the Accord. While President Trump did not sign any of the executive orders provided, the other five reflect some of the EPA policy changes that have already been made, such as loosening regulations on steam electric power plants and disposing of coal ash.
These demands came as Murray Energy faced debts of $148 million due at the end of 2017 and a big-time customer, FirstEnergy solutions, filed for bankruptcy. While President Trump did not sign any of the executive orders, he ordered the Energy Secretary on June 1st to stop more energy plants from closing by tapping into Section 202(c)—as recommended by Murray. The order, however, may be halted by members of the Federal Energy Regulation Committee who believe this is a misuse of the law.
The Bottom Line: Legislation should be left to legislators—not struggling CEO’s.
Montana Governor Leads on Campaign Finance Reform with New Executive Order
Montana took big strides against dark money last Friday when Gov. Steve Bullock signed an executive order requiring state government contractors to report political contributions.
Last week, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock signed an unprecedented executive order that demands state government contractors to report their political contributions. The order even tackles elusive “dark money” organizations, or groups that receive unlimited donations to influence elections—all without having to disclose their donors.
Now, companies that have government contracts over $25,000 for services or $50,000 for goods as well as over $2,500 in political spending must disclose their previous two years worth of contributions. This law is particularly significant in the wake of the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United ruling which made limitless corporate spending in elections legal and caused an exponential increase in dark money influence.
Just this week, dark money has been in the news for influencing a Maine House primary, a South Carolina House race, and the 2016 Ohio Senate election. This executive order is a huge win for demanding campaign finance reform, and the governor is optimistic that other states will follow.
The Bottom Line: When massive political contributions remain nameless, elections cannot be free, fair, or transparent.
Ranked Choice Voting Sets a New Precedent in Maine
In Tuesday’s primary elections, Maine protected Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) and became the first state to use RCV in their elections.
Maine had a historic win late Tuesday night when the people voted to protect Ranked Choice Voting and became the first state to use the new voting method. After RCV had been introduced to the legislature several times over the last decade, Mainers finally passed it in 2016 with the second largest vote margin in the state’s history of ballot measures. Soon after, politicians overturned the vote suddenly in a late night special session.
Months later, a grassroots coalition gathered more than 80,000 petition signatures in just 88 days to put RCV back on the ballot this year with a rarely used “People’s Veto.” On Tuesday night, Mainers had the final word and decided RCV was here to stay.
But what is Ranked Choice Voting? It’s a system that allows voters to rank candidates, ending the toxic reasoning that forced voters to pick the “lesser of two evils.” If no candidate receives the majority of first choice votes, the candidate with the least amount of votes is removed. If that candidate was your first choice, your vote then counts for who you ranked second, and so on. This new method breaks the two-party duopoly by encouraging voters to support third-party candidates without worrying about splitting the vote. It also means that winning candidates get the support from the majority of voters.
An article from the New York Times’ Editorial Board highlights how RCV is a total game changer in electoral reform, especially in bringing civility and true representation back to politics—and Maine has set the precedent for demanding this change.
The Bottom Line: Maine just put a new era of voter reform into motion with Ranked Choice Voting.