Campaign finance

Updated: Friday, April 4, 2014
Campaign finance  story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – On Thursday the Supreme Court, in a five to four decision, opened the door to nearly unlimited political campaign contributions.

The old federal law limited a single donor to $123,000 in any given two-year election cycle. Now the high court has ruled that those same donors, in the name of free speech, can pump in as much as $3.5 million.

It’s a case called McCutchen vs the Federal Election Commission.

In this installment of Tom’s Corner, Tom Van Howe says you can score another one for the rich guys.

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This is a frightening turn of event.  What the court basically said yesterday, in furthering its notion that money and free speech go hand in hand, is that if you are very, very rich, you have the right not only to spend, but to be heard.

And if you are not rich, you also have the right to spend, but ought to know from the get go that you will very likely not be heard, that it will be highly unlikely that you’ll have the ear of the voters.

You can yell as loud as you want, but whatever you say will be drowned out by the thunderous avalanche of big money.

By virtually doing away with what remained of our election finance laws, the court has simply tipped the scales in favor of the rich, and without any balance left, any sense of civic equality is gone.

Our democratic legitimacy is in danger.

I don’t know what air the five justices breathe in their high court of chancery, but it’s different stuff than what you and I are accustomed to.

In writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said he understands that politicians who are blessed with these newfound millions will be grateful to the donors and might be compelled to please them.

But that’s okay he said, that’s not corrosive, that’s not corruption, that’s our system proudly at work.

These rich people, Roberts said “supports candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who get elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns.”

Really? A narrow, almost Boy Scoutish, ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ stamp of approval on what most of the rest of us think is all wrong about what goes on in Washington.

In other words, on the ground level, if you or I write or call a legislator with a suggestion or a complaint, we’re apt to get a form letter in response, but if one of the exalted ones makes that same phone call it’s perfectly acceptable if the legislator responds by chartering a jet to make things right.

This isn’t about free speech, it’s about who comes up with the biggest wad of cash.

Upon hearing what the court did yesterday, Senator John McCain expressed his disappointment.

“I predict again,” McCain said, “there will be major scandals. There’s too much money washing around.”

Justice Stephen Breyer, dissenting from the bench, said the ruling “eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws,” and “fails to recognize the difference between influence resting upon public opinion and influence bought by money alone.”

“Where money calls the tune,” Breyer said, “those ideas, representing the voices of the people will not be heard.”

In the weeks, months and years ahead, we’ll be hearing a lot of music that we’ll find disparagingly familiar, unpleasant music made perfectly acceptable by five members of the United States Supreme Court.

The rich guys have won another one. Can anyone say ‘plutocracy?’

In this corner, I’m Tom Van Howe.

Business News

Last Update on December 22, 2014 08:26 GMT

ECONOMY-THE WEEK AHEAD

WASHINGTON (AP) -- This is a shortened trading week with the stock and bond markets closed on Christmas Day.

However, there are some interesting government economic reports being released ahead of the holiday.

Today, the National Association of Realtors will report on how many existing homes were sold in November.

On Tuesday, the government will report on last month's new home sales, as well as November's durable goods numbers and personal income and spending for November. It will also report the third-quarter gross domestic product

This week, the government will be releasing last week's jobless claims number a day early, on Christmas Eve. Also on Wednesday, Freddie Mac will report this week's mortgage rates.

SKOREA-ECONOMY

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea has lowered its growth forecast for next weak citing the persistently weak sentiment among consumers and businesses.

The finance ministry said Monday that Asia's fourth-largest economy will expand 3.8 percent in 2015. Six months ago, it forecast 4.0 percent growth.

The downward revision, representing some improvement from 3.4 percent growth this year, shows the government's challenge in encouraging consumers to spend more and businesses to boost investment despite its expansionary policies and the central bank's two rate cuts this year.

Director-General Lee Chanwoo said the recovery in consumer spending and capital expenditure remains weaker than expected in the last two months.

Lee said consumers and businesses still have great uncertainties about next year and the last quarter's improvement in the economy stemmed mostly from the government policies.

SAFEWAY SALE-HAGGEN

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) -- The Washington state-based grocery chain Haggen Inc. plans to buy 146 Albertsons and Safeway stores in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and Arizona.

The Bellingham Herald reports the sales are required under the federal review of Safeway's sale to an investment group that owns Albertsons.

If Haggen's plans announced Friday get Federal Trade Commission approval, the Bellingham-based company would expand from 18 stores and 16 pharmacies in the Northwest to 164 stores and 106 pharmacies in the five states.

Details of the deal haven't been released.

This is the largest of several sales related to the $7.6 billion sale of Safeway to investors led by Cerberus Capital Management. Associated Food Stores is buying eight stores in Montana and Wyoming, Associated Wholesale Grocers is purchasing 12 stores in Texas, and Supervalu is buying two Albertsons stores in Everett and Woodinville, Washington.

GAS PRICES

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) -- The average price of regular gasoline nationwide has dropped another 25 cents a gallon in the past two weeks, to $2.47.

Industry analyst Trilby Lundberg said Sunday that prices will likely keep falling.

Lundberg says the average price of regular gasoline is the lowest it's been in more than five years.

She says lower crude oil prices are driving prices down, along with an abundant oil supply and the rising value of the U.S. dollar.

The highest-priced gas in the Lower 48 states was found in Long Island, New York, at $2.82 a gallon. The lowest was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at $2.06 a gallon.

California's lowest average was in Sacramento, at $2.58 a gallon.

The average price for midgrade gas in the U.S. is $2.71. For premium it's $2.87.

MINE EXPLOSION-INSPECTIONS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Deaths and injuries at the nation's coal mines have been declining since a West Virginia underground mining disaster killed 29 workers less than five years ago.

Coal mines are on pace this year to set a new low mark in mining deaths. So far in 2014 there have been 15 coal mine-related deaths, and with less than a month left in the year, the number could stay below the record 18 set in 2009.

Federal mine safety officials say increased enforcement efforts since the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010 have improved the safety at all the nation's mines. Assistant Labor Secretary Joe Main says officials focused on making coal mines safer after the West Virginia tragedy.

MIDEAST OIL

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Saudi Arabia's oil chief is dismissing allegations that his kingdom conspired to bring down oil prices in order to harm other countries and told a summit of Arab energy leaders that he was confident the market would stabilize.

The kingdom, which is dependent on oil revenues, is able to weather lower oil prices due to large reserves built up over the years. Non-OPEC member Russia and other nations like Iraq, Iran and Venezuela need prices substantially above present levels to meet budget goals and want to drive prices up.

Saudi Arabia maintains it is opposed to cutting production because of fears its market share could erode.

The price of U.S. crude has dipped below $60 a barrel, its lowest in five years. Naimi said he was certain that the oil market would recover with the improvement of the global economy.

An OPEC meeting last month failed to agree on production cuts, mainly because of Saudi opposition to curb its own exports. OPEC controls about 40 percent of the world oil market and Saudi Arabia is the cartel's largest producer.

DISH NETWORK-FOX BLACKOUT

NEW YORK (AP) -- Dish Network subscribers were unable to watch Fox News Channel and the Fox Business Network on Sunday when the channels were taken down as part of contract negotiations.

The Fox blackout is just the latest skirmish as cable and satellite TV providers fight with networks over subscription fees. Dish Network just settled disputes that led to the temporary blackout of some local CBS stations and a separate blackout related to Turner Broadcasting channels -- including Cartoon Network, CNN, Boomerang and Turner Classic Movies.

Dish has more than 14 million satellite TV customers.

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