This compendium is meant to assist your own knowledge base and give everyone a basic, even starting point. The idea of the Citizens Congress is for idea sharing, discourse, and developing a national strategy that we can all get behind. Not a series of lectures per se.
Some articles and reports were too long to include in their original full form. In those cases we gave the authors’ summations and/or a link to the full report. It would be too lengthy to catalog all of the state initiatives as well.
Zephyr Teachout on Sheldon Silver, Corruption and New York Politics
The New York Times By ZEPHYR TEACHOUT
Albany is reeling, but fighting the kind of corruption that plagues not only New York State but the whole nation isn’t just about getting cuffs on the right guy. As with the recent conviction of the former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell for receiving improper gifts and loans, a fixation on plain graft misses the more pernicious poison that has entered our system.
Corruption exists when institutions and officials charged with serving the public serve their own ends. Under current law, campaign contributions are illegal if there is an explicit quid pro quo, and legal if there isn’t. But legal campaign contributions can be as bad as bribes in creating obligations. The corruption that hides in plain sight is the real threat to our democracy.
Think of campaign contributions as the gateway drug to bribes. In our private financing system, candidates are trained to respond to campaign cash and serve donors’ interests. Politicians are expected to spend half their time talking to funders and to keep them happy. Given this context, it’s not hard to see how a bribery charge can feel like a technical argument instead of a moral one.
The legal shades into the illegal. The real estate developers represented by the law firm that allegedly shuttled payments to Mr. Silver for fake legal services were also major campaign contributors. One developer mentioned in the charges gave more than $10 million to political campaigns in the past decade, including $200,000 to Mr. Silver and his political action committees.
The structure of private campaign finance has essentially pre-corrupted our politicians, so that they can’t even recognize explicit bribery because it feels the same as what they do every day. When you spend a lifetime serving campaign donors, it may seem easy to serve them when they come with an outright bribe, because it doesn’t seem that different.
Mr. Silver retained such tight control over budgets and lawmaking in Albany that his staffers were regarded as more powerful than most elected representatives. As a Democrat who cares about education, I can’t say that I loved seeing Mr. Silver, a great public school advocate, in handcuffs. For others, there’s glee in seeing the perp walk. But one high-profile indictment does not represent the dawn of a new democracy.
We should take this moment to pursue fundamental reform. We must reconstitute what it means to run for office and to serve in office. We need to ban outside income for elected officials. Transparency alone is not enough; it doesn’t solve the problem of creating outside dependencies. New York lawmakers can’t carry water for two masters when in office.
There’s one last thing we should do: ban corporate spending and limit total campaign spending. Last week not only saw Mr. Silver in handcuffs, it also marked the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United ruling, in which the Supreme Court decided that outside corporate spending was in no way corrupting. We will have to revisit that decision, but we don’t need to wait for the court to act.
Corruption is about greed and private interests put ahead of the public good. Whether influence is bought through a bribe, outside spending, outside income or campaign contributions, the public suffers in the same way. Until we move past scandals toward structural change, our democracy will suffer, too.
January 21 marks the fifth anniversary of the “Citizens United” ruling. That’s five years of corporations and outside groups spending unlimited amounts on elections. Five years of super PACs and shadowy nonprofits. Five years of diluting voters’ voices with growing sums of cash.
We’re marking the fifth anniversary by joining with our national partners, including our friends at Every Voice, to deliver 5 million signatures against the ruling to the Senate on January 21st.
“We, the undersigned, urge the Senate to repeal the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling with a constitutional amendment that allows local, state, and federal governments to place commonsense limits on campaign contributions. We support political reform that places everyday Americans, not billionaire and corporate donors, at the center of our democracy.“
WASHINGTON — For all the anger among progressives about a Wall Street bailout provision that made its way into the just-passed $1.1 trillion government spending bill, there’s been little attention on the person who put it in there.
Meet Congressman Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas).
Yoder, a second-term congressman whose largest contributors are in the finance industry, introduced the provision last summer. It was literally written by Citigroup executives, but Yoder took their language and rolled it into an amendment to a spending bill in a House subcommittee meeting. It got swept into the year-end spending package because it “was within the scope of negotiations” on it, according to an Appropriations Committee aide.
The provision, which prompted a fiery speech by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), undoes a rule that prevents big banks from relying on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to bail them out if things go sour when they trade risky assets. The rule was put into place as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, which overhauled the financial regulatory system after the 2007-2008 financial crisis stemming from banks making extremely risky bets and losing. The government had to bail them out with taxpayer money, and Yoder’s provision paves the way for another possible bailout.
Yoder has been mum about the spending package since it passed the House. His office hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment on why he slipped the Citigroup language into it. The press statements on his website say nothing about the provision or the spending bill. There are no posts about it on his Facebook page. He’s said nothing in his Twitter feed.
But a look at the comments on Yoder’s Facebook page shows that some people, including Kansas voters, are catching on that he was the one behind the Wall Street provision. And they’re not happy.
“I have always voted for you, Congressman Yoder, but I am disappointed with your yes vote on the Omnibus bill and we, your constituents, deserve an explanation as to why,” writes Dianne Lavenburg, who lives in DeSoto, Kansas. “[P]lease clarify your involvement regarding the taxpayer bailouts for risky bank investments also included in the Omnibus bill.”
“How much did Citi donate in exchange for you inserting their requested verbiage?” asks Kevin West, who studies at Kansas State University.
“Why is there a Wall Street giveaway in the Continuing Resolution? Did you learn nothing during the last cycle of collapse and bailouts? Plain ignorance, or willful ignorance?” says Rich Reavis, who plays in a band called Rail Dog that performs around Kansas. “Did you speak out against putting that crap in the CR?”
Scott Gregory of Roeland Park, Kansas, which falls in Yoder’s district, says, “I’m sure the good folks of the 3rd District were just beating down the door to get CITI favored treatment. You are a sell-out to Wall Street lobbyists.”
Citibank maintains the rule change is good for everyone. Asked for comment on the provision being included in a must-pass bill, a company spokeswoman pointed HuffPost to a recent blog post by Ed Skyler, executive vice president for global public affairs, outlining why banks back the provision being repealed.
“Citi is strongly committed to the safety and soundness of the financial system. We also support a regulatory framework in which U.S. companies can be as competitive as possible,” Skyler writes. “This correction to the ‘swaps push-out’ provision supports both goals.”
To be clear, lawmakers in both parties supported the bank provision by voting for the spending package. Republican leaders in the House and Senate, as well as Democratic leaders in the Senate and appropriations committee chairs on both sides of the aisle, were in favor of including the provision. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the lead appropriator in the Senate, actively defended the bank language.
The vote created unusual fractures in the House, where Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) broke from Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in opposing it. The bill also led to odd alliances in the Senate, where Warren and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) found themselves united against it. The final House vote can be seen here. The Senate vote is here.
Language has been added to note that lawmakers of both parties voted for the Wall Street provision.
Great News! Another state officially calls to overturn Citizens United!
From The California Clean Money Campaign
Last week, Illinois became the third state to take decisive action against unlimited spending in political campaigns by officially calling for an Article V constitutional convention to overturn Citizens United.
Illinois follows California, which itself made an official call for an Article V convention this June when it passed AJR 1, authored by Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles).
Clean Money supporters like you played a crucial role — thousands of you emailed and called your legislators urging them to pass it! “Passage of AJR 1 may mark a turning point in our nation’s history. …if other states follow California and Vermont’s lead, we have the hope of bringing sanity back to our democracy whether Congress acts or not.”
Congratulations to Illinois legislators for their strong leadership, and major kudos to our friends at Wolf PAC and all the activists in Illinois. There’s still a long way to go, but it’s a great start
The Watergate campaign finance scandals led to a landmark law designed to limit the influence of money in politics. Forty years later, some say the scandal isn’t what’s illegal, it’s what’s legal. VIA The New York Times
Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labora and visiting professor at the UC, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, talks about the inequality of income, wealth and opportunity in the United States and asks his audience to speculate on what will happen if these trends continue.
Lawrence Lessig: We the People, and the Republic We Must Reclaim
There is a corruption at the heart of American politics, caused by the dependence of Congressional candidates on funding from the tiniest percentage of citizens. That’s the argument at the core of this blistering talk by legal scholar Lawrence Lessig. With rapid-fire visuals, he shows how the funding process weakens the Republic in the most fundamental way, and issues a rallying bipartisan cry that will resonate with many in the U.S. and beyond.
TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design — plus science, business, global issues, the arts and much more.