Weekly Audit: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing--The Myth of Fiscal Conservatism

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Fashionable pundits like to say that the Republican Party has shifted its focus from “social conservatism” (e.g., banning abortion, shoving gays back in the closet, teaching school children that humans and dinosaurs once walked the earth hand-in-claw) to fiscal conservatism (e.g., tax cuts for the rich, slashing social programs). But is that really true? Tim Murphy ofMother Jones argues that the old culture war issues never really went away. Rather, the Republicans have simply rephrased their social agenda in fiscal terms.

For example, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) is quite upfront about the fact that he hates Planned Parenthood because the group is the nation’s leading abortion provider. Yet, he seeks to de-fund the Planned Parenthood and the entire Title X Family Planning Program in the name of balancing the budget. Never mind that the federal money only goes toward birth control, not abortion, and research shows that every dollar spent on birth control saves $4 in Medicaid costs alone.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly surveys the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls in Iowa and agrees that reports of the death of the culture war have been greatly exaggerated.

But the key takeaway here is that fiscal issues have largely been relegated to afterthought status. That’s just not what these right-wing activists — the ones who’ll largely dictate the outcome of the caucuses — are focused on. Indeed, even Ron Paul, after pandering to a home-school crowd last week, conceded, “I haven’t been asked too much about fiscal issues.”

Budget cuts

Sarah Babbage writes in TAPPED that Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress seem poised to grant an additional $20 billion in spending cuts for FY 2011, in addition to the $10 billion in cuts they’ve already pledged for this fiscal year. Babbage notes that, after weeks of negotiations, we’re right back to the $30 billion in cuts the GOP initially demanded. She warns that these cuts will have a trivial impact on the $1.6 trillion deficit, but they could have a devastating effect on the fragile economy.

Taxes for thee, but not GE

General Electric raked in $14.2 billion in profits last year, $5.1 billion of which came from the United States, yet the company paid $0 in U.S. income tax, Tara Lohan notes in AlterNet. Despite its healthy bottom line, and its sweet tax situation, GE is asking 15,000 unionized U.S. workers to make major concessions at the bargaining table. GE wants union members to give up defined benefit pension programs in exchange for defined contribution programs.

As we discussed last week in The Audit, defined benefit plans guarantee that a retiree will get a set percentage of her working salary for the rest of her life; defined contribution plans pay the worker a share of the revenue from a pool of investments. As the fine print always says, investments can decrease in value. So, if the stock market crashes the day before you retire, you’re out of luck.

Generation Debt

Higher education is supposed to be a stepping stone to a better standard of living, but with unemployment hovering around 10%, many college graduates are struggling to find jobs to pay their student loans. Aliya Karim argues in Campus Progress that the government should compel colleges and universities to be more transparent about the realities of student loan debt:

The government should require colleges to provide information about graduation rates, college costs, and financial aid packages on college websites, enrollment forms, and guidebooks. This information should be easy to find and understand. Without such information available to them, students may not be aware that their future college has a graduation rate lower than 20 percent or that its graduates face close to $30,000 in debt.

The government has a lot of leverage over public and private schools because so much student debt is guaranteed by taxpayers. Greater transparency will enable students to make more informed choices, and give colleges with low graduation rates a greater incentive to clean up their act.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The MulchThe Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Campaign Cash: Why Conservative Attack Ads Won’t Stop After Election Day

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Today is the first election in American history in which corporations have been allowed to spend their own money to buy political favors. This legalized corruption comes courtesy of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which injected massive amounts of corporate cash and unprecedented levels of secrecy into American politics.

And all of this crazy corporate spending will not be restricted to elections. That’s right. As Jesse Zwick reports for The Washington Independent, two front-groups founded by GOP strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie plan to keep running ads attacking Democrats well after the elections are over.

As Zwick emphasizes, this is actually a way to help keep one of the organizations, known as American Crossroads GPS from breaking the law. Many groups that spend money on elections register as 501(c)(4) organizations, which must devote no more than half of their activity to political operations. In return for limiting their political activity—advocacy or condemnation of specific candidates—they don’t have to disclose who their donors are. So groups like American Crossroads GPS plan to run “issue ads” focusing on the budget deficit and immigration reform this fall to balance out the ads directed at specific candidates that they’ve already run.

Under the Citizens United ruling, so long as corporations or wealthy elites launder their political expenditures through a front-group, they can give as much as they want without ever being held publicly accountable. But the high court’s decision also allows these front-groups to keep their actual expenditures secret as well. It’s not just that we don’t know who is funding them—in many cases, we also don’t really know what they’re funding.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s foreign dues

The secrecy surrounding anonymous donors may very well extend to foreign corporations. As Harry Hanbury emphasizes in this video for GRITtv, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—a lobbying front-group for the largest American corporations—is facing heavy scrutiny over is foreign contributions. Nearly $900,000 in annual dues to the Chamber come from foreign firms, and the Chamber aggressively courts foreign donors who might benefit from weak U.S. laws—particularly environmental laws. The Chamber insists that it’s playing by the rules, but Hanbury catches them lying twice about the nature of the group’s foreign funding.

California’s environmental laws for sale

Corporations aren’t just targeting federal elections to influence public policy. As Tara Lohan explains for AlterNet, big oil companies have financed a campaign to repeal California’s carbon emission reduction law. Two major polluters—Valero and Tesoro—have spent a combined $7 million boosting the repeal, while Koch Industries—a major Tea Party funder—has kicked in about $1 million as well. A full 70 percent of the $10.7 million that has been spent to bolster the anti-environment ballot initiative has come from out-of-state sources.

Even the Tea Party’s worried

When the Tea Party Patriots received an anonymous $1 million donation for get-out-the-vote efforts, left-wing bloggers weren’t the only people upset about it. As Stephanie Mencimer reports for Mother Jones, some of the Tea Party Patriots’ own members were nervous: Who was funding this operation, and where was the money going?

We’ll probably never know, because the Tea Party Patriots aren’t legally obligated report their donors or expenses. The group has only disclosed $15,000 worth of expenditures of the $1 million donation, $10,000 of which was re-granted to another organization run by the father of Tea Party Patriots leader Mark Meckler. The remainder is anybody’s guess.

But wait, there’s more!

  • Writing for In These Times, Sam Ross-Brown highlights a potential legislative solution to some of these campaign finance shenanigans. The Fair Elections Now Act would limit individual campaign contributions to $100, and match them by a factor of four-to-one, increasing the spending power of ordinary citizens and helping to level the distorted playing field created by Citizens United.
  • Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones details who got hit the hardest this election season in the final push leading up to Election Day: Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) got some of the biggest expenditures. This year also smashed previous campaign expenditures, coming in at $443 million.
  • Suzy Khimm reports on voter intimidation tactics for Mother Jones from a McDonald’s fast food franchise  in Ohio’s 16th district. Employees were told to vote for Republicans or their wages would go down. McDonald’s may have been emboldened by Citizens United even though such tactics are still clearly illegal.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the mid-term elections and campaign financing by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit The Media Consortium for more articles on these issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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