The events in Charlottesville took the national spotlight last week — but our political system kept chugging right along with the corrupt status quo.
Here are the top four corruption stories that came out while our backs were turned.
1. Guess who the FCC chose to serve on its new advisory council?
The FCC’s new advisory board is chock-full of special interests — but it’s not because local officials didn’t apply.
Earlier this year the Federal Communications Commission put out a call for local officials to serve on a new Broadband Deployment Advisory Council (BDAC) and make recommendations on how to accelerate the development of high-speed Internet service. Sixty-four state and local officials were nominated to the council based on their expertise in broadband deployment issues. Of those 64, only 2 were chosen. The rest of the 30-member council was filled with corporate executives and other representatives of the telecom industry. “More than three out of four seats on the BDAC are filled by business-friendly representatives from the biggest wireless and cable companies such as AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp., Sprint Corp., and TDS Telecom,” the Daily Beast reports. No independent researchers or consumer advocates were allowed to join the group. When this group recommends that the best way to deploy broadband is by killing net neutrality, reducing competition in the market, and letting ISPs spy on their subscribers’ browsing activities, don’t be surprised.
The bottom line: Special interests advising their regulators is like the fox guarding the hen-house. It’s a huge problem in the telecom industry, and this advisory board is just the latest example of companies like Comcast and AT&T running the show at the FCC.
2. Who should fix our infrastructure? Vice President Pence is promoting a group connected to his donor
It’s always good to know a guy.
A lobbying firm that funneled large donations to Vice President Mike Pence when he was Governor of Indiana is now trying to benefit from the administration’s infrastructure privatization plans — and it looks like it may work. According to the International Business Times, the lobbying firm Bose, McKinney & Evans LLC has given Pence more than $116,000 in campaign contributions. The firm represents an Australian company called IFM that wants to invest in US infrastructure projects. In 2015, Bose lobbied Pence in Indiana on behalf of IFM and helped them win a contract to operate the Indiana Toll Road. Since April — around the same time Bose registered to lobby in Washington for IFM — Pence has been extolling IFM’s virtues as a company that he would like to have participate the administration’s plans to sell off publicly owned roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.
The bottom line: Campaign contributions and personal relationships matter. These lobbyists have been buttering up Pence for years and it looks like they are about to cash in big now that he is the Vice President.
3. Lawmakers funded by big banks just made it harder for people to sue banks
What a coincidence!
The House of Representatives recently passed a bill that banks like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo love. It repeals a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule that guarantees consumers can join class-action lawsuits against banks if they have issues with credit cards, bank accounts, and other financial products. Banks love the bill because it makes it harder for their customers to seek redress, forcing them to go through arbitration. So, which members of Congress are behind the bill? As luck would have it, it’s the same ones who took large campaign contributions from the banks. According to campaign finance researchers at MapLight, “the commercial banking and bank holding industry has given an average of $163,554 to the measure’s sponsors since 2010 but only $39,388 to the bill’s opponents.” That’s more than four times as much banking industry money for the sponsors than for the opponents.
The bottom line: Our government is supposed to serve the interests of the American people. But big banks spend millions each year on lobbying and campaign contributions, and they’re clearly getting something in exchange.
4. The Koch network launched a lobbying campaign to influence tax reform
As Congress signals it’s getting ready to tackle tax reform, the Koch family is launching an aggressive campaign to make sure the outcomes are favorable to them.
Charles and David Koch strongly opposed Donald Trump’s run for President — but that hasn’t stopped them from benefitting from his victory. From environmental and labor regulations to the demise of the border-adjustment tax, the Kochs have already celebrated a plethora of policy victories under the new administration that come straight from the Koch family’s list of priorities. They’ve recently begun to focus to tax reform, launching a lobbying campaign for a tax bill that satisfies their policy objectives. Their recent tax reform panel featured Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House legislative director Marc Short. How have the Koch brothers managed to have so much access and influence in the administration? Because they’re becoming part of it: in the White House, Koch alumni have been hired by Trump to serve in top policy positions — the perfect place to exert influence on Congress.
The bottom line: Without strong laws to prevent lobbyists from filling the ranks of government, large lobbying interests like the Koch network are setting the legislative agenda instead of the American people.