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 November 30, 2015 18:18 GMT


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Slightly more Americans signed contracts to buy homes in October, in a modest rebound that suggests the real estate market has crested.

The National Association of Realtors says its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index rose 0.2 percent to 107.7 last month. The index has increased 3.9 percent over the past 12 months.

Healthy job gains and low mortgage rates boosted sales for much of the year, but rising home values and limited inventories have limited further growth in the closing months of 2015.

The number of signed contracts advanced in the Northeast and West, while dipping in the Midwest and South.

Pending sales are a barometer of future purchases. A lag of a month or two usually exists between a contract and a completed sale.


NEW YORK (AP) -- Retailers are rolling out online deals today, the so-called "Cyber Monday."

But since shoppers these days are online all the time anyway, the shopping holiday is losing some of its luster. Still, today is expected to be the biggest online shopping day ever, with estimates that it will rack up over $3 billion in sales.

The head of the National Retail Federation, Matthew Shay, says, "It's no longer about one day but a season of digital deals."

Online shopping is taking its toll on brick-and-mortar shopping. Frenzied crowds seemed to be a thing of the past on Black Friday -- the busy shopping day after Thanksgiving. According to preliminary numbers from the research firm ShopperTrak, sales fell to $10.4 billion this year, down from $11.6 billion in 2014.

But as online shopping grows more popular on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, that's causing less of a frenzy on Cyber Monday, too.

Retailers have been touting online deals since the beginning of November. And they no longer wait for Monday to roll out Cyber Monday deals, either. Amazon started "Lighting Deals" on Saturday and Wal-Mart beginning all of its Cyber offers on 8 p.m. on Sunday.


NEW YORK (AP) -- Amazon is providing new details on its Prime Air drone delivery program. But the timeline is still unclear.

The retailer says Prime Air will one day deliver packages up to 5 pounds in 30 minutes or less using small drones.

The drones will fly under 400 feet and weigh less than 55 pounds, according to details posted on its website Sunday. It says it will use technology and automation to operate safely.

Amazon says the program will start once government regulations are in place to support it. It has development centers in the U.S., the U.K. and Israel.

The FAA currently bans commercial drone flights except for a few dozen companies that have been granted waivers. It has granted Amazon approval to fly drones for research.


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal Reserve officials have moved to prevent the central bank from bailing out failing companies, a power it exercised during the 2008 financial crisis.

The Fed governors voted 5-0 Monday to downsize the Fed's emergency lending powers.

Only broad lending programs designed to revive frozen markets -- not loans to individual firms -- will be allowed. The Fed spent about $2 trillion on such a program to ease a credit crunch during the financial meltdown, aiming to spark lending to consumers and small businesses.

The 2010 law enacted by Congress overhauling financial regulation required the Fed to impose the restraints. Lawmakers of both parties had objected to the Fed's emergency aid to several big Wall Street banks and insurance giant American International Group.


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The International Monetary Fund says the Chinese yuan will join a basket of the world's leading currencies.

The IMF announced that the yuan "met all existing criteria" to be included with the U.S. dollar, euro, Japanese yen and the British pound as one of the currencies used for the global organization's Special Drawing Rights, which is used as the standard for dealing with its 188 member governments.

China is the world's second largest economy. Currency traders and economists say the move should encourage the government in Beijing to deliver on promises to make the yuan "freely tradable" and to open up its financial system.

The IMF's decision is set to take effect in October 2016.


PARIS (AP) -- President Barack Obama says the private sector needs to have a seat at the table as the world's governments attempt to curb global warming.

He says that governments will set the targets that nations will try to reach, but it will be scientists, private sector investors and workers who will largely determine whether those goals are met.

Obama's remarks come as part of an event in which at least 19 governments and 28 investors were announcing billions of dollars toward researching and developing clean energy technology.

Obama says Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is correct in noting that improving energy efficiency will only help nations get part of the way toward reaching their targets. New inventions and technology will also be required.

He calls the partnership one of the most significant private-public partnerships even forged to accelerate energy innovation.

Washington Times