Taxpayers for Common Sense reports that federal prosecutors now allege Sen. Ted Stevens' turned a $5,000 real estate investment into a $129,000 profit. The full document, courtesy of Taxpayers, is here.
On his campaign Web site, John McCain laments that "wasteful special interest subsidies are not moving us toward an energy solution." In particular, McCain tees off on "subsidies, tariffs and price supports that focus exclusively on corn-based ethanol" - one of Barack Obama's favored fuels.
McCain, however, has become a vocal advocate for the oil industry, which is itself heavily subsidized despite enjoying the fruits of soaring crude prices. Doug Koplow, who's been researching energy subsidies for 20 years and is president of Earth Track, says that this "very large, very sophisticated, profitable industry" can pay its own freight. "It can pay for its own R&D. It can pay its own cleanup costs," Koplow observes. "So why are you subsidizing it at all?"
Just how big is the subsidy? It's hard to quantify with much precision, given the secrecy surrounding corporate tax returns and other barriers to transparency. Friends of the Earth took the most recent stab at it in a July report, "Big Oil, Bigger Giveaways". The environmental group calculated that the oil and gas industry will receive "more than $32.9 billion in handouts from taxpayers over the next five years." This includes "tax benefits, royalty relief [forgiveness of royalties], research and development subsidies and accounting gimmicks that benefit the oil industry."
Koplow believes the Friends of the Earth number is low because it doesn't include the cost of defending oil shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf, the cost to own and operate the stockpile of oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, or accelerated depreciation benefits, which allow companies to write off investments in pipelines, drilling equipment and other infrastructure more quickly than the stuff actually wears out. His total subsidy figure for oil and gas: $39 billion a year.
Using defense spending data from the mid-1990s (adjusted for inflation), and assuming that only about a third of this spending goes toward protecting shipping lanes, Koplow estimates the value of the defense subsidy alone at nearly $20 billion a year - not including the cost of the Iraq war.
In fairness, Koplow notes that - on a per-unit-of-energy-produced basis - oil isn't the most generously subsidized portion of the energy sector. It's eclipsed by both ethanol and nuclear power, he says. Obama has embraced the former, touting the biofuel throughout the primary campaign. "Mr. Obama is running as a reformer who is seeking to reduce the influence of special interests," Larry Rohter reported in the New York Times in June. "But like any other politician, he has powerful constituencies that help shape his views. And when it comes to domestic ethanol, almost all of which is made from corn, he also has advisers and prominent supporters with close ties to the industry . . ."
McCain, for his part, is a friend not only of big oil - he opposes new taxes on the industry, Obama favors them - but has called for the construction of 45 nuclear reactors by 2030. Critics say that no reactor will be built without massive subsidies; the Department of Energy has started down that road with a new loan guarantee program that sets aside up to $18.5 billion for nuclear construction. Here's a fact sheet on both candidates' energy policies from Reuters.
Stay tuned for more from Sunlight on the issue of government subsidies.
Earmarks have become a key issue in the August 26 GOP primary for Alaska's lone U.S. House seat. Little wonder, considering the incumbent is Don Young of Coconut Road fame. Tuesday, the local Chamber of Commerce held a forum for congressional candidates where Sean Parnell, Alaska's lieutenant governor and a challenger to Young for the nomination, called for a cleanup of the earmark process via transparency and openness. The Club for Growth, one of the most effective keepers of the low tax and small government orthodoxy within the GOP, has endorsed Parnell. Not only that, they're spending $350,000 to air throughout the state a powerful ad highlighting the Coconut Road earmark and calling Young "just another Washington politician." In 11 days Alaska Republicans will decide whether to continue or end the career of one of the top champions of the under-the-table earmark process. I wonder whether we will see more examples of this cropping up.
Hat tip: Change Congress
Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported how targets of a Senate investigation have showered Washington with campaign contributions, in an apparent attempt to buy some love and avoid sanctions. In July, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued a report alleging that two European-based banks, USB of Switzerland and LGT of Liechtenstein, served as tax havens for wealthy Americans, costing the federal treasury up to $100 billion a year.
The Post article states that officials with the banks have given more than $2 million this year, $98,000 in June alone, to congressional and presidential campaigns. USB spends close to $1 million a year on lobbying and is traditionally a big campaign giver. But so far this cycle the Swiss bank's contributions have surpassed what it gave in the whole 2006 election cycle. The Post quotes a bank spokesperson as saying the bank's giving is in no way related to the Senate investigation. The article didn't say, however, whether it was said with a straight face.
While there's much room for improvement, the 110th Congress has made a stab at providing a few rays of Sunlight into the mercenary culture of Washington. For example, in 2008, for the first time, federally registered lobbyists are required to file a new disclosure, called an LD-203, listing the contributions they make to federal candidates, among other things. Those disclosures have been released to the public, but in a form that's so garbled that contributions are double, triple, quadruple counted or more. My colleague Anupama Narayanswamy painstakingly reviewed 107,000 records, finding the 14,000 individual contributions to federal candidates, and adding up who's benefited the most from the personal checks of individual lobbyists. The headline above tells you that; read the rest here.
C-SPAN announced today that it will host a large amount of convention coverage on its web site and on other platforms, including credentialed blogger posts, special Twitter hash tags, and embeddable video from both the Democratic and Republican convention. C-SPAN's efforts will include:
-- Real-time tracking of credentialed state and national political bloggers, aggregated on the websites, to enable users to follow the latest online convention news and analysis; -- Video clips from the network's convention coverage, embeddable, to facilitate use by political bloggers and other convention watchers; -- Linkable access to the complete C-SPAN Video Library, allowing interested users to fully search all C-SPAN video content; -- Live coverage of C-SPAN television and radio networks; -- Blogger Tips and Online Convention Video Finder tools; -- Real-time feeds from Twitter users using the hash-tags #RNC08 and #DNC08
This is a huge turnaround from two years ago, when C-SPAN ordered the removal of all of their clips from YouTube, claiming copyright infringement. The copyright purge began after viewers posted the Washington Correspondents Dinner notorious routine by comedian Stephen Colbert. The clips were viewed nearly a million times before C-SPAN claimed copyright. Soon after they ordered all videos removed from other content providers, including Metavid.
It wasn't until Nancy Pelosi became Speaker and started posting YouTube videos of congressional hearings (which use C-SPAN cameras) to her blog that the controversy truly erupted. Pelosi and group of technology, right wing, and left blog activists all pressured C-SPAN to liberalize their policy. On March 7, 2007, they acquiesced, allowing for all non-commercial sharing, posting, and copying of C-SPAN videos past, present and future.
The convention announcement marks a new moment for C-SPAN as a modern Internet information provider. Once a small cable channel with a dream; now with embeddable web video, Twitter hashtags, and aggregated blog posts.
From the Open Secrets blog Capital Eye, the Federal Election Commission put out a release showing a 1.3% increase in the number of registered political action committees over the last seven months. The best part of this release by the FEC is a long chart detailing PAC registrations from 1974 to the present. I broke down this down into some cool charts below:
As Massie Ritch points out at Capital Eye, corporate PACs outpaced others, particularly labor PACs, by quite a bit. That wasn't always the case:
While the Senate struggles to pass a bill that would require them to file their campaign finance reports electronically, one office in the House of Representatives is having serious disclosure problems of their own. The office of Rep. Bill Sali consistently files campaign finance disclosures and personal financial disclosures late, with dozens of amendments and corrections. The reason: they don't know how to use computers. From the Politico:
One complaint? When the office files reports to Congress, they need to be amended. According to the Idaho Press-Tribune, the office has “filed 41 amendments to its required finance reports since 2005.” And Sali’s office files late, apparently. One of two congressmen to do so. “Like 13 days late was the last one,” snitched a spy (and a newspaper, too). “And they chalked it up to computer problems.” See here for the actual statement sent to the FCC: “I am unable to file the 2nd quarter 2008 FEC report, as FEC technical support is still attempting to fix the Sali for Congress data file. I first attempted to upload a file to the FEC site on June 6. I again tried on June 9, using the new FEC software update, without success. I then sent FEC technical support a copy of the Sali for Congress FEC file. FEC technical support is still attempting to fix the file so that it may be uploaded. I am in regular contact with FEC technical support and the FEC analyst, in an effort to resolve this matter.”
Sali's problems with computers are so acute that the Idaho Press-Statesman ran an entire editorial on his epic disclosure fail.
U.S. Rep. Bill Sali needs to get his house in order. This has nothing to do with how he votes in the House of Representatives, but how the basic everyday operations run in his office. ... The real bottom line is that it is important to file reports on time and accurately — it’s not a joke.
Disclosure is not a joke. Rep. Sali should take public disclosure more seriously and perhaps figure out a way to train his staff on computer use.
Really? Not to pick on John McCain too much, but couldn't you find someone in Atlanta to host a fundraiser who didn't receive $4 million from Jack Abramoff to run a phony religious campaign against an Indian casino that was actually organized by another Indian casino to reduce competition?
McCain headed the Senate investigation that uncovered these payments. I know he has to raise money and patch up relationships in Republican quarters that have opposed him in the past. But Ralph Reed? Really?
Even CNN was embarrassed after they let Ralph Reed appear on television to cover the New Hampshire primaries.
The guy was involved in one of the biggest corruption scandals in American history. And it isn't even history yet, the investigation is ongoing. I hear Bob Ney's getting out of jail, maybe he can host a fundraiser too.
Last week, we launched the web site - Pass223.com - to get support in the Senate for S. 223, a bill to require electronic filing of campaign finance reports. So far, there have been 338 calls to Senate offices asking senators to both support the bill and oppose the poison pill Ensign amendment. The comments coming back from our callers have been very helpful including some information on new support for the bill that we will be double checking soon. We still need your help in identifying supporters of the bill and opponents of the Ensign amendment. Please go to Pass223.com and call your senators.
One comment I'd like to pass on came from multiple callers to the office of Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. According to Mikulski's legislative aide, the senator is opposed to the Ensign amendment and would not vote for S. 223 were the amendment attached. From the comments:
He said she would oppose (vote against) the Ensign amendment, since it is an obvious poison pill effort to derail the bill, and that she would not vote for the bill if the Ensign amendment survived as part of the bill. Better to try again than allow gutted legislation to pass. - Andrew May, 08.06.08 @ 11:29 AM I pressed and he said she was councerned about the "poison pill" amendment and wouldn't vote for it were that amendment a part of it. - 08.06.08 @ 01:08 PM
These comments clearly show that the Ensign amendment is a poison pill designed to hurt the chances of passing S. 223. We need to identify more senators like Sen. Mikulski.
We still need your help in calling Senate offices. There are over 20 offices for which we have no comments. Please take the time to give your senator a call today. Go to Pass223.com.