Campaign finance

Updated: Friday, April 4, 2014
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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 August 22, 2014 17:58 GMT

YELLEN

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen says the Great Recession complicated the Fed's ability to assess the U.S. job market and made it harder to determine when to adjust interest rates.

Yellen's remarks to an annual Fed conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, offer no signal that she's altered her view that the economy still needs Fed support from ultra-low interest rates. The timing of a Fed rate increase remains unclear.

She notes that while the unemployment rate has steadily declined, other gauges of the job market are harder to assess and may reflect continued weakness. These include high levels of people who have been unemployed for more than six months, many people working part time who would like full-time jobs and weak pay growth.

OBAMA-CONTRACEPTION

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration will offer a new accommodation to religious nonprofits that object to covering birth control for their employees. The measure allows those groups to notify the government, rather than their insurance company, that birth control violates their religious beliefs.

The government is also extending an existing accommodation to some for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby that's currently available only to nonprofits. That accommodation requires groups to sign a form transferring responsibility for paying for birth control to their insurers or third-party administrators.

The dual decisions embrace suggestions included in recent Supreme Court rulings. But they're unlikely to go far enough to satisfy religious groups. That's because they would still make the groups complicit in a system that provides birth control through their organizations' health plans.

FITNESS DATA

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- The maker of a popular line of wearable fitness-tracking devices says it has never sold personal data to advertisers, contrary to concerns raised by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

San Francisco-based Fitbit said Friday that it has clarified its privacy policy to make it clear the company doesn't share information about its users.

Schumer raised concerns about the company's privacy policy earlier this month and called for federal rules to allow consumers to protect their data.

But the company said Friday that it's never sold private data and updated its online privacy policy to make that clear.

Schumer said Friday he hopes other manufacturers of wearable devices adopt similarly transparent rules.

Many Americans wear fitness bracelets and monitors or use mobile apps to monitor their activity.

MCDONALD'S-PRESIDENT

NEW YORK (AP) -- McDonald's has named a new president for its flagship U.S. division, marking the second change in less than two years.

The world's biggest hamburger chain says former McDonald's executive Mike Andres will replace Jeff Stratton, who is retiring, effective Oct. 15.

Stratton, 58, took over in late 2012 and replaced Jan Fields. That shakeup was made after McDonald's Corp. reported its first monthly sales drop in nearly a decade. Sales in the U.S. have remained weak ever since, with the company facing intensifying competition and changing eating habits.

McDonald's has said it's working on fixing basics, such as the speed of service and order accuracy.

Andres, 56, will report directly to CEO Don Thompson. Andres was most recently CEO of Logan's Roadhouse Inc.

DEERE-LAYOFFS

MOLINE, Ill. (AP) -- Agricultural equipment maker Deere is laying off about 460 employees indefinitely from an Iowa tractor factory as it continues to adjust to market demand.

The Moline, Illinois, company said Friday the latest round of layoffs will be effective October 20. Deere said last week that it would lay off more than 600 employees at four Midwest factories that make harvesting and other agricultural equipment due to slumping demand.

Deere & Co. is the world's biggest farm equipment supplier and employs about 67,000 people globally.

It said earlier this month that it planned to reduce agricultural equipment production for the remainder of the year.

Company shares are down 63 cents to $85.58 in early trading.

KRAFT-KEURIG

NEW YORK (AP) -- Keurig Green Mountain says it struck a deal to make Kraft's branded coffees, such as Maxwell House and Gevalia, for its single-serve brewing systems in the U.S.

The companies did not disclose financial terms of the deal.

Keurig, based in Waterbury, Vermont, makes at-home brewing machines that let people make cups of coffee one serving at a time. The company is also working on a machine that would let people make cold, carbonated drinks at home, and has partnered with Coca-Cola to let people make various Coke drinks at home.

Kraft had also announced a deal to distribute packaged McDonald's coffee to supermarkets and other retailers. That deal will mean people will also be able to make McCafe drinks with Keurig machines.

Shares of Keurig rose 9 percent to $127.79.

DYNEGY-ACQUISITION

Dynegy to spend $6.25B on power plant acquisitions

Dynegy plans to spend more than $6 billion to buy several coal and gas power generation plants from Duke Energy and Energy Capital Partners.

The Houston company says the deal will boost its presence in the Midwest and New England. Dynegy produces power that it sells through wholesale markets.

The company plans to spend $2.8 billion for Duke's assets and $3.45 billion for those of Energy Capital Partners, or ECP. It says the deal will add about 12,500 megawatts of coal and gas generation. Dynegy also expects the acquisitions to complement its existing business and add fuel diversification.

Dynegy Inc. says both deals should close by the end of next year's first quarter.

Shares of Dynegy are climbing in premarket trading.

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