Michigan Campaign Finance Records Broken in 2008

Michigan Campaign Finance Network

Even as Michigan’s economy continued its downward spiral, many campaign finance records were broken in 2008 according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network’s 2008 Citizen’s Guide to Michigan Campaign Finance.

The organization reports that campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 7th and 9th Congressional Districts both exceeded $9 million. Statewide races also exceed records, with the campaign for an open Michigan Supreme Court seat costing more $7.5 million. In races for the State House, spending was up 12.6% from 2006. A record was set for individual spending with Lisa Brown’s campaign for the 39th District exceeding $930,000. Spending by political action committees (PACs) was up by more than 500%.

According to Michigan Campaign Finance Network chair Rich Robinson, this highlights the problems with campaign finance in Michigan. In a news release accompanying the release of the guide, Robinson says there is a correlation between spending and electoral success and that the spending generally dictates the policy agenda in the state.

Along with an accounting of the spending, the guide also looks at many of the problems with Michigan’s campaign financing regulations. The report points out that much of the spending on the Supreme Court race was “off the books” as it focused on “issues” rather than specific candidates, thereby avoiding regulation. Similarly, candidates do not file campaign finance reports frequently enough according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, which recommends a regulatory change that would require reports to be filed quarterly. There are also no limits on contributions to political action committees.

Overall, the guide is essential reading for anyone interested in both campaign finance reform and the role of campaign spending in state politics.

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Headlines: Ex-Prisoner: Guantanamo Got Worse Under Obama; Judge Rules Franken Winner of Minnesota Senate Race

Democracy Now Headlines: Ex-Prisoner: Guantanamo Got Worse Under Obama; Judge Rules Franken Winner of Minnesota Senate Race

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

North Korea to Quit Six-Party Nuclear Talks

North Korea said today it will boycott six-party nuclear disarmament talks and restore its program to make weapons-grade plutonium. The threat was issued hours after the UN Security Council condemned North Korea’s long-range rocket launch from April 5. A North Korean official said, “We will never again take part in such talks and will not be bound by any agreement reached at the talks.”

Obama Partially Lifts Cuba Travel Restrictions; Embargo Remains

President Barack Obama has directed his administration to allow unlimited travel and money transfers by Cuban Americans to family in Cuba, but Obama has refused to lift the nearly fifty-year-old trade embargo on the island. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced the new Cuban policy.

Robert Gibbs: “Today, President Obama has directed that a series of steps be taken to reach out to the Cuban people to support their desire to enjoy basic human rights and to freely determine their country’s future. The President has directed the Secretaries of State, Treasury and Commerce to carry out the actions necessary to lift all restrictions on the ability of individuals to visit family members in Cuba and to send them remittances.”

The Obama administration has also lifted a ban on US telecommunications companies reaching out to Cuba.

Dan Restrepo, special assistant to the President: “We want to increase flow of information among Cubans and between Cubans and the outside world. And one of the ways we can do that, under US–existing United States law back to the Cuban Democracy Act, is to allow US telecommunications companies to seek to provide services on the island.”

The Obama administration announced the policy change days before Obama heads to Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas.

Report: Spanish Prosecutors to Indict Bush Admin Officials

Spanish prosecutors have reportedly decided to press forward with a criminal investigation targeting former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five top associates over their role in the torture of five Spanish citizens held at Guantanamo. This according to a report by attorney and writer Scott Horton on the website TheDailyBeast.com. An official announcement has not been made yet. The other former Bush administration officials facing indictment are former Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay Bybee, Pentagon official Douglas Feith, Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff David Addington, and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes. Scott Horton also reports Spanish prosecutors will ask that Judge Baltasar Garzon step aside, because he presided over efforts to bring terrorism charges against the five Spaniards previously held at Guantanamo. Garzon is the Spanish judge who ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998.

Mortars Fired at Plane Carrying US Congressman in Somalia

Somali militants fired mortars Monday at a plane carrying Congressman Donald Payne of New Jersey as he was leaving Mogadishu. No one was injured in the attack. Payne was the first senior US politician to visit the Somali capital in years. The mortars were fired just hours after a pirate leader threatened retaliation against the United States for killing his men during an operation to rescue a kidnapped US captain.

Thai Protesters End Siege of Prime Minister’s Office

In Thailand, anti-government protesters have ended a three-week siege of the prime minister’s office, one day after at least two people were killed in large protests in Bangkok. The protesters decided to leave the government building after Thai troops surrounded them. Earlier, an army spokesman had said troops were ready to move against the protesters, who had been encamped around the prime minister’s office since March 26.

NATO Air Strike Kills Six Civilians in Afghanistan

Afghan officials say six civilians were killed Monday in an overnight NATO air strike in Kunar province near the Pakistan border. The dead reportedly included a three-year-old girl and ten-year-old boy. Officials said sixteen other civilians were injured in the strike. Last week, five people, including a seven-day-old baby, died during a US-led operation in southeastern Khost province. US forces initially said they had killed four insurgents but later acknowledged the dead were civilians defending their home.

Iraqi Government Cracks Down on Media Organizations

In Baghdad, the Iraqi military is attempting to shut down two media organizations for allegedly misquoting officials. A top Iraqi military spokesperson said he was filing a lawsuit seeking to close the Baghdad office of Al-Hayat, one of the most prominent newspapers in the Arab world, as well as the satellite signal of the TV channel Al Sharqiya. The Iraqi military has criticized local, Arab and international news media for recent reports about arrests of members of the Sunni Awakening Councils.

NYT: US May Drop Key Condition for Talks with Iran

The New York Times is reporting the Obama administration and its European allies are preparing proposals that would allow Iran to continue enriching uranium for some period during negotiations to press Iran to open up its nuclear program to wide-ranging inspection. This would be a sharp break from the approach taken by the Bush administration, which had demanded that Iran halt its enrichment activities, at least briefly, to initiate negotiations. Administration officials said the long-term goal remains the suspension of Iran’s enrichment program.

Obama Appears Set to Boycott UN Racism Conference

The Washington Post reports the Obama administration appears to be standing by its decision to boycott the World Conference Against Racism next week in Geneva, despite efforts to focus and tone down language in a draft conference document critical of Israel. Israel and several Jewish advocacy groups have urged the United States and other nations not to take part in the conference. But a number of other groups, including TransAfrica and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, are urging the Obama administration to participate in the conference. Imani Countess of TransAfrica said, “For President Bush not to participate, that would have been expected. For Barack Obama’s administration not to participate sends a disappointing signal. It says these issues are not important.”

Ex-Gitmo Prisoner: Conditions Worsened at Jail Under Obama

A former prisoner at Guantanamo said conditions worsened at the prison after President Obama took office. Binyam Mohamed made the comment in an interview posted on the CagePrisoners.com website.

Binyam Mohamed: “They started implementing rules, degrading rules, where they pushed most of us to actually go on hunger strikes. And if you look at the records, before the new administration took over, there was only about ten to twenty people who were on hunger strike, and right after the new administration took over, it went all the way to forty-something on tube feeding and another hundred just on hunger strike.”

Binyam Mohamed was released from Guantanamo in late February after seven years in US custody. Mohamed says he was repeatedly tortured while being held at a secret CIA prison and at Guantanamo.

100 Ex-Gov’t Staffers Working as Bank Lobbyists on Bailouts

Mother Jones magazine is reporting top bailout recipients have dispatched more than 100 past congressional staffers and ex-government officials to shape the bailouts to their liking. One of Citigroup’s top lobbyists, Jimmy Ryan, is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s former chief counsel. Goldman Sachs has more than thirty ex-government officials registered to lobby on its behalf, including former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt. In addition, ex-staffers for at least ten members of the Senate Finance Committee have lobbied lawmakers on behalf of big financial firms receiving billions of dollars of government assistance.

Goldman Sachs Reports $1.6 Billion 1st Quarter Profit

This comes as Goldman Sachs reports it made over $1.6 billion in the first three months of the year. Last week, Wells Fargo says it expects to report record first-quarter earnings of $3 billion. Both companies have received tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts. Goldman Sachs said it plans to raise $5 billion in stock to help it pay back government bailout funds in part to free itself from government-imposed restrictions on executive compensation.

Exxon Mobil CEO Receives 10% Raise

In other business news, Exxon Mobil announced Monday its CEO Rex Tillerson received a ten percent raise in 2008, even though the company’s stock price dropped 15 percent. Tillerson received a compensation package valued at nearly $24 million.

Minn. Judges Rule Franken Winner of Senate Race

In Minnesota, Al Franken has moved one step closer to becoming a US senator. On Monday, a three-judge panel ruled that Franken had received 312 more votes than incumbent Norm Coleman on Election Day, five months ago. The court rejected Coleman’s central argument that the election and its aftermath were fraught with systemic errors that made the results invalid. But the legal battle in Minnesota is not over. Coleman has vowed to appeal Monday’s ruling.

Time Warner Criticized for Proposed New Internet Fees

Democratic Congressman Eric Massa of New York is drafting legislation to prohibit internet providers from charging subscribers based on the amount of data they download. Massa made the announcement days after Time Warner Cable said it was moving forward with plans to cap broadband speeds and charge $150 a month for unlimited broadband downloads.

VA Official Confiscates Reporter’s Equipment

The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched an investigation into why a government official confiscated a reporter’s recording equipment last week and ordered the reporter to leave a VA hospital in Washington, D.C. David Schultz of public radio station WAMU was at the hospital during a town hall meeting last week. While he was conducting an interview with a veteran, hospital public affairs officer Gloria Hairston stopped the interview and confiscated the sound card from Schultz’s digital recorder. The VA later returned the sound card, and Schultz broadcast part of the interaction on WAMU.

Gloria Hairston: “I can’t allow you to use this.”

David Schultz: “I’m going to use this.”

Hairston: “He can’t talk anymore. That’s it. I can’t do it, sir. You can’t do it.”

Schultz: “You have a right to talk if you want to talk.”

Veteran: “Who are you? I’m just saying–just tell me who you are and why.”

Hairston: “I’m Gloria Hairston, public affairs here at the medical center.”

Veteran: “And why are you telling me that I have to keep my mouth shut? See, that’s the problem.”

Hairston: “No, I didn’t say that you have to keep your mouth shut. You don’t have to keep your mouth shut.”

Veteran: “Well, then why are you telling me I can’t do this interview?”

Pro-Pesticide Group Criticizes First Lady’s Organic Garden

And First Lady Michelle Obama is coming under criticism from a pro-pesticide industry group for deciding to plant an organic garden at the White House. The Mid America CropLife Association recently wrote to the First Lady to urge her to consider using pesticides, or what they call “crop protection products.” One official with the pro-pesticide group said, “While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made [us] shudder.” Mid America CropLife represents agribusinesses like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and DuPont.

Voting Reforms Needed in Michigan

Michigan Voting Reforms

The Michigan Election Coalition has released its post-election report and is calling for changes in the way Michigan conductions its elections.

The report–which looks at problems on Election Day and in the lead-up to the election–says that many voters continue to face intimidation, harassment, and other barriers when they attempt to vote.

To curtail these problems, the Coalition says that the state should adopt no-reason absentee voting, early voting, and update Michigan’s registration laws. According to the report, Michigan’s registration laws are confusing and often serve to disenfranchise otherwise eligible voters. Strict residency requirements and dropping voter registration after a voter fails to vote in two consecutive federal elections lead to disenfranchisement.

On Election Day, the Coalition reported problems with:

  • Registration Issues – Many citizens registered to vote but were not in the poll books, nor could they be found on the Qualified Voter File (QVF). Many others showed up at the wrong location or were informed when trying to cast their votes that they were removed from the voter rolls for inactivity.
  • Student Voting Issues – Many student voters had problems with their registration showing that they were registered for their “home” address and were told that they had to return home to vote.
  • Long Lines – Understaffed polling locations as well as problems with voting machines and staff contributed to long lines.
  • Malfunctioning Voting Machines – There were many complaints concerning either broken tabulators or jammed ballots in malfunctioning tabulators throughout the state of Michigan on Election Day.
  • Disability Accessibility – Many polling places failed to adequately accommodate voters with accessibility issues.
  • Inadequate Resources for Poll Workers – Several voters complained that poll workers were not adequately trained and/or lacked the resources to help them.

Michigan Lobbyists Spend over $34 Million in 2008

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Spending by Lansing lobbyists seeking to influence politics rose by 6% in the last election, reaching a record of $34,075,809.

At the top of the list were six multi-client firms. These firms are not required to disclose spending or their client lists:

“While multi-client firms report their overall spending and name their list of active clients, they are not required to report how much they spent in representing their individual clients. Therefore, what is disclosed gives a limited picture of what was spent by whom, and for what issues.”

Similarly, other shortfalls in Michigan’s lobbying law prevent further disclosure:

“A lobbyist’s spending for travel and accommodations for a public official doesn’t have to be reported unless it exceeds $700. A lobbyist’s food and beverage spending for a public official isn’t reported unless it exceeds $53 in a month or $325 for a calendar year. Gifts, such as tickets for entertainment, are not reported as long as they are less than $53 in a month.”

Overall, while the numbers show us that there are significant amounts of money being spent to influence state politics, citizens are not able to find out exactly how that process is functioning due to limits in state law.

Obameter Tracking Obama’s Campaign Promises

Obameter Measures Barack Obama's Campaign Promises

The St. Petersburg Times has launched an interesting new project that aims to keep track of how the Obama administration is fulfilling–or not fulfilling–its campaign promises.

The project–dubbed “The Obameter“–allows people to check in on the more than five-hundred promises that Obama made during the 2008 campaign. It has categorized them all by subject and provided written descriptions of what Obama promised.

It is evaluating the promises and placing them in six categories–“Promise Kept,” “Compromise,” “Promise Broken,” “Stalled,” “In The Works,” and “No Action”–based on what the administration has done. Thus far, Obama has kept 16 campaign promises, compromised on 7, and broken 2 promises, according to the project.

I don’t know the politics behind The St. Petersburg Times, but this is exactly the kind of things journalists–and the progressive left–should be doing.

ACLU Challenges Unlawful Voter Disenfranchisement in Michigan

The ACLU of Michigan Filed a Lawsuit over Unlawful Voter Disenfranchisement

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan filed a motion last week on behalf of a Michigan resident who was disenfranchised by Michigan’s unlawful voter purging program.

According to the ACLU, Lisa A. Blehm was disenfranchised because she obtained a driver’s license in Georgia. Blehm registered to vote in Michigan in 2006 but moved to Georgia temporarily in 2007 to join her husband who was stationed there temporarily as a Marine. Blehm obtained a driver’s license in Georgia but specifically declined to register to vote because she intended to return to Michigan. She returned to Michigan in June of 2008. When she tried to vote in November, she as told by a poll worker that she was not registered to vote and could not vote in the election. The poll worker failed to give her a provisional ballot.

Blehm was the victim of a statewide voter purging program that removes approximately 72,000 voters from Michigan’s voting rolls each year. The program removes Michigan voters who receive driver’s licenses in other states without issuing any kind of notice.

The ACLU contends that this violates the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993.

In October of 2008, US District Judge Stephen J. Murphy III ruled that this program did indeed violate the NVRA but the state refused to reinstate purged voters.

Author: Clinton, Palin Coverage Tainted by Gender Stereotyping

Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were the Target of Gender Stereotyping during the 2008 campaign

On Tuesday, Kathleen Hall Jamieson–a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and author of several books on politics and the media (including Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment and unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation)–spoke at Fountain Street Church in downtown Grand Rapids on the topic of women and politics in the 2008 election. Jamieson spent the majority of her talk looking at the how the two most prominent female candidates–Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin–were portrayed in the media.

Two Candidates, Two Different Ways of Portraying a Laugh

In the beginning of her talk, Jamieson asked the audience to think of a front-running candidate in fall of 2007. A candidate who had raised substantial amounts of money. A candidate who was from New York. That candidate also had an eccentric laugh. The candidate had a tendency to laugh when asked a tough question.

Jamieson–who showed video clips to backup her claim–said that this description could have fit either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Rudy Giuliani.

However, the media only made a story out of Hillary Clinton’s laugh, dubbing it a sign of “in authenticity” and a “cackle.”

Jamieson argued that this was a result of a gender stereotype and bias in the media. The reporting drew on a lexicon of dismissive language–i.e. a “cackle” that originates with female witches–that is used in a gendered way. She cites other examples such as “shrill,” “strident,” “harpee,” and “bitch”–all of which can be used to dismiss women.

Clinton Faced Pervasive Gender Stereotyping in 2008 Campaign

Kathleen Hall Jamieson argued that Hillary Clinton faced almost constant gender stereotyping in the 2008 campaign.

She shared several video examples with the audience, among them a clip in which a John McCain supporter asks McCain “How do we beat the bitch.” Jamieson explained that the referent is assumed and that there is an underlying assumption that this is appropriate. She asked the audience to consider why it was that nobody asked if it was appropriate to refer to a Senator this way and contrasted it the national discussion that followed other instances of inappropriate language use.

This was just one example of numerous sexist lenses used to cover the campaign. Jamieson said that Clinton was subject to a double-standard of evaluation. For example, MSNBC host Chris Matthews described a speech as “charming” and said that she was only a Senator because people felt bad for her. At other times, she was portrayed as a “nagging wife” and a “scolding mother.” Jamieson said that these portrayals all went back to a “residue of past discrimination” against women.

Jamieson said that gender stereotyping had a backlash before New Hampshire when after a week that including Clinton having an emotional moment on television, being confronted by protestors yelling “Iron my Shirt”, Obama saying that Clinton was “likeable enough”, and John Edwards saying Clinton wasn’t qualified–women changed their minds and voted for her.

Sarah Palin Faced Similar Treatment

When sexism and media coverage are discussed in terms of the 2008 election, much of the discussion tends to be dominated by progressives looking at the treatment of Hillary Clinton. However, Jamieson reminded the audience that Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin was subjected to similar treatment.

Like Clinton, Palin was sexualized by the media (particularly on the Internet) and made into an object of desire rather than a serious political candidate (examples would be Photoshopped images and popular references to her as a “VPILF”). Jamieson argued that this had the practical effect of removing them from the debate as candidates.

Palin was also subjected to a host of questions about whether or not she could be both a candidate and a mother, or a vice president and a mother. Obama was never asked such questions, despite the fact that he had two kids who he would be raising in the White House.

Bailout Recipients Spent $114 Million on Politicking Last Year

Financial and Automotive Firms Receiving Bailout Dollars Spent $114 Million on Lobbying and Candidates Last Year

A new report from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that recipients of federal bailout dollars spent $114 million on politicking in 2008. This includes $37 million on federal campaign contributions and $77 million on lobbying. The return on their investment was a staggering 258,449% based on the $295.2 billion that they have received as part of the government’s bailout program.

The Center for Responsive Politics writes:

“The companies giving the most to fund lawmakers’ campaigns and spending the most on lobbying efforts were also those that received the most TARP money to help them stay afloat. This includes General Motors, which spent $15 million between campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures and got $10.4 billion (more than all other companies), Bank of America (and the investment company it bought last year, Merrill Lynch), which spent $14.5 million to play politics and received $45 billion from the bailout bill; and American International Group (AIG), which spent $10.6 million and was paid out $40 billion. Citigroup was also one of the largest spenders to see a big result: between lobbying expenditures and campaign contributions, the company spent $12.5 million and got $50 billion.”

Much of the bailout money–handed out under the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)–has been distributed with limited transparency. Money is often awarded with only a single-line announcement and no explanation of why they received the money.

Top Michigan PACs Raised $41.4 Million in 2008 Election Cycle

Michigan PACs Raised $41.4 Million In 2008

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network reported today that while Michigan’s economy is in serious trouble, “the money-in-politics sector” continues to be robust.

In the 2008 election cycle, the top 150 political action committees (PACs) in Michigan raised over $41.4 million to influence legislation and elections. While the number is down 20.3% compared to the $51.9 million raised in the 2006 election cycle (which had a more state races), the amount raised is up 23.9% over the 2004 election cycle.

Michigan’s biggest PAC was once again the liberal Coalition for Progress. The PAC raised $4.2 million (91% of it came from Kalamazoo businessman John Stryker) and made contributions supporting Democrats in twelve House races.

The state’s political leaders–Governor Jennifer Granholm, Speaker Andy Dillon, Senator Mike Bishop, and Attorney Mike Cox–all raised considerable sums of money for their leadership PACs.

The Great Lakes Education Project–a PAC closely associated with West Michigan’s DeVos family–raised $451,000. $350,000 of that money came from the DeVos family.

Prince Connected Entities Funded Anti-Gay Marriage Proposition in Final Months of the Campaign

Holland Michigan's Elsa Prince Was One Of The Largest Individual Contributors To California's Anti-Gay Marriage Proposition 8

Back in 2008, we pointed out that Elsa Prince–a wealthy religious right funder from Holland, Michigan–had donated over $400,000 to California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8. Prince ended up being one of the largest contributors to the campaign, just as she was to Michigan’s anti-gay marriage initiative in 2004.

Final campaign contribution reports were released this week and do not show any further contributions to the ballot measure from Elsa Prince. However, two Prince connected entities did give money during the final months of the campaign:

Elsa Prince’s roll in funding Proposition 8 was highlighted in a television commercial aired by Californians Against Hate: