Thursday, January 03, 2013

Status-quo D.C. Democrats: Rich and Corrupt

This blog is full of posts on Washington lies and on Washington wealth. Status-quo Washington is also thoroughly corrupt, as two recent stories make clear.

Timothy P. Carney, reporter at the conservative Washington Examiner, tells us how Washington lobbyists were able to pack the “fiscal cliff” bill with goodies for their corporation clients.

In the first stage last August, Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) called for mark-up of a bill that would extend existing special interest tax breaks past January 1. Former senators John Breaux (D-LA) and Trent Lott (R-MS) lobbied to insert provisions that helped General Electric and Citigroup, among others, defer U.S. taxes by moving their profits to offshore financial subsidiaries. This is how GE avoids paying U.S. corporate taxes. Breaux and Lott also inserted provisions benefitting Puerto Rico rum-making.

K Street lobbying firm Capitol Tax Partners, led by Treasury Department alumni from the Clinton administration, similarly secured credits for Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, green energy companies like GE and the American Wind Energy Association, along with Hollywood’s Motion Picture Association of America. All together, Baucus packed 50 tax credit extensions into a bill expected to go nowhere, because of opposition from House Republicans.

But then last week, the White House, according to Carney, demanded permanent extensions of the corporate tax credits. When Senate Republicans said no, "the White House insisted that the exact language" of the Baucus bill be included in the fiscal cliff deal. "They were absolutely insistent." And they won.

An earlier story, by former Chicago Tribune bureau chief Kim Barker, now with the non-partisan online investigative reporting site “ProPublica” that has recently won two Pulitzers, deals with how so-called “dark money” delivered Montana Democrat Senator Jon Tester's re-election against unfavorable odds in a state that voted for Romney.

A paper organization called Montana Hunters and Anglers, launched by liberal activists, didn't buy ads supporting Tester. Instead, it put up radio and TV commercials telling voters to elect third-party, libertarian candidate Dan Cox, the "real conservative." Records show Montana Hunters and Anglers major donors included an environmentalist group that didn't report its donors and two super PACs that in turn raised money from the same environmentalist group, similar groups and unions.

“Dark money” spending played a greater role in the Montana Senate race than almost any other, more than $51 million to win over fewer than 500,000 voters. That's twice as much as was spent when Tester was elected in 2006, and about $100 for every person who cast a vote, with almost 25% donated secretly to nonprofits.

The groups started spending money a year before either candidate put up a TV ad, defining issues and marginalizing the parties’ role. In a state where ads were cheap, more TV commercials ran in the Montana race between June and the election than in any other Senate contest nationwide.

Liberal outside groups spent $10.2 million. Liberal cash in Montana significantly outstripped the left's spending in other races elsewhere. Liberal groups set up field offices, knocked on doors, featured "Montana" in their names and put horses in their TV ads.

Tester beat Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg by a narrow margin. And the libertarian Cox, who had so little money he didn't even have to report to federal election authorities, picked up more votes than any other libertarian in a Montana competitive race.

Dark money groups’ TV ads started in March 2011, the month after Republican Rehberg announced. The Environmental Defense Action Fund attacked Rehberg for his stance on mercury emissions. The Electronic Payments Coalition praised Tester for his push to delay implementing new debit-card swipe fees.

In July 2011, three new liberal dark money groups ran ads. Patriot Majority USA criticized Republicans for planning to cut Medicare and help to seniors. The Partnership to Protect Medicare praised Tester for opposing Medicare cuts. In October, weeks after forming, the dark money side of Montana Hunters and Anglers, Montana Hunters and Anglers Action!, launched its first TV ad.

TV ads were only part of the liberal game plan. They spent on retail politics, hitting the streets and knocking on doors, setting up two offices in Montana, canvassing voters, hiring a full-time organizer, reaching out to 28,000 sporadic voters and urging them to vote early by mail. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana additionally targeted 41,000 female voters, using more than 1,500 people to knock on 28,500 doors, make 162,000 phone calls, and send out 470,000 pieces of mail.

Two postcards Montana Hunters and Anglers sent to thousands of Montanans just before the election didn't say who paid for them. One said Rehberg had wasted "hundreds of millions of our tax dollars on pork barrel projects;" the other called Rehberg "the king of pork." Both told people to vote for Cox. Cox said he didn't send them. The bulk-mail permit on the postcards came back to a Las Vegas company called PDQ Printing, a company describing itself as "Nevada's preeminent Union printer."

Ted Dick, the executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, said, "We found that face-to-face conversations toward the end were most persuasive and effective. That's the lesson we're taking forward." But Tester said the Montana race made clear that candidates will have to raise money sooner, and go up with TV ads faster.

Liberal groups in Montana were connected through Hilltop Public Solutions, a Washington Beltway consulting firm where Barrett Kaiser, a former aide to Montana Democratic senator Baucus who handled Tester's last campaign, runs the Billings office. Kaiser is also close to Jim Messina, President Barack Obama's campaign manager, who also once worked for Baucus.  Hilltop's use of Montana Hunters and Anglers to run TV ads against Rehberg meant the spots appeared to be paid for by an organization of Montana hunters, not a Washington-based conservationist group.

The conservative groups active against Tester spent heavily on TV and radio. But their ads missed their mark, irking Montanans. Conservative Crossroads GPS ran cookie-cutter ads, similar to those seen in other states. The National Republican Senatorial Committee ran an ad that appeared to show Tester with all five digits on his left hand, even though Tester is known for having lost three fingers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce misspelled Tester's first name.

Across the nation, only 14% of conservative dark money supported winners. Even though liberal groups spent less, 70% backed winning candidates. Liberal strategists are preparing to ramp for the next election.

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