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 May 22, 2015 17:17 GMT

FED-YELLEN

UNDATED (AP) -- Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen says she expects the Fed to begin raising interest rates later this year -- if the job market improves and it is confident that inflation will rise closer toward its target rate.

But she cautions that the economy is still facing a number of headwinds that could stall growth.

In a speech in Rhode Island, Yellen highlighted problems such as disappointing wage growth and a significant number of people working part time who would like full time jobs. She also mentioned a weak housing recovery and global economic weakness.

But Yellen says because the Fed's interest rate moves take time to filter through the economy, she believes further improvements in the economy will likely make it prudent to start raising rates later this year.

DEM 2016-CLINTON

HAMPTON, N.H. (AP) -- Hillary Rodham Clinton says Republicans in Congress and GOP presidential hopefuls are threatening tens of thousands of small-business jobs by seeking to cut a little-known government agency that guarantees loans to help U.S. exporters.

The Democratic presidential contender said during a round-table discussion at Smuttynose Brewery in New Hampshire that Congress should renew financing for the Export-Import Bank. She argues the GOP is risking up to 164,000 jobs supported by the bank.

She says Republicans running in the 2016 campaign would rather threaten the jobs than "stand up to the tea party and talk radio."

Conservatives have sought to eliminate the Export-Import Bank, arguing it gives the government too big a role in helping some large American companies sell products overseas at the expense of others.

CONSUMER PRICES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumer prices were up slightly in April, but overall gains were held back by another decline in energy costs that offset the biggest one-month jump in medical care in eight years.

The Labor Department says consumer prices edged up 0.1 percent last month compared to March, when prices rose a modest 0.2 percent. It was the smallest monthly gain since prices fell 0.7 percent in January.

Energy costs were down 1.3 percent and food prices were unchanged, keeping inflation low.

Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy, increased 0.3 percent. It was the biggest gain in 15 months. Core inflation was driven higher by a 0.7 percent rise in medical care, reflecting a surge in hospital costs.

Inflation pressures have generally been well contained since the recession.

OIL PLATFORM FIRE

Coast Guard: Fire on Gulf oil platform; 28 workers evacuated

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Twenty-eight workers have been evacuated from an oil production platform that is on fire off Louisiana's coast.

A Coast Guard news release says the fire was reported at 2:50 a.m. Friday near Breton Island, which is close to Louisiana's southeastern coast. Production was shut down, and no injuries have been reported.

The Coast Guard reported a light sheen of oil could be seen from the air along a more than one-mile stretch of water. Also, about 4,000 barrels of crude oil is stored on the platform. Authorities are working to put out the fire and keep that oil from getting into the water.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

CALIFORNIA OIL SPILL

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Federal regulators have ordered the company whose pipeline spilled thousands of gallons of oil across a California coastline to take a series of steps before it can restart the line.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration announced a so-called corrective action against Plains All American Pipeline on Friday.

The order requires the company to remove the damaged section of pipe, test it and empty the remainder of the line.

The agency says it still does not know the cause of the leak, which spilled up to 105,000 gallons of crude into a coastal ditch Tuesday. Thousands of gallons flowed into the sea northwest of Santa Barbara.

TOBACCO-HEALTH WARNINGS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal appeals court says America's largest tobacco companies must inform consumers that cigarettes were formulated to increase addiction, but not that they lied about the dangers of smoking.

The ruling Friday from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is a partial win for cigarette makers that objected to running court-ordered advertisements that would have the companies brand themselves as liars.

The ads would have begun with a statement that the companies "deliberately deceived the American public." The ads stem from a 2006 court ruling ordering the companies to admit they had lied for decades about the dangers of smoking.

The companies called that statement overbroad and misleading.

WAL-MART-ANIMAL WELFARE

NEW YORK (AP) -- Wal-Mart, the nation's largest food retailer, is urging its thousands of U.S. suppliers to curb the use of antibiotics in farm animals and improve treatment of them.

That means asking meat producers, eggs suppliers and others to use antibiotics only for disease prevention or treatment, not to fatten their animals, a common industry practice. The guidelines also aim to get suppliers to stop using sow gestation crates and other housing that lacks sufficient space.

They're also being asked to avoid painful procedures like de-horning or castration without proper pain management.

Wal-Mart wants suppliers to provide it with an annual report and publicly report their progress on their own websites.

Wal-Mart is facing pressure from shoppers who want to know more about how their food is produced.

EARNS-DEERE

MOLINE, Ill. (AP) -- Solid sales of its construction equipment offset a global agricultural slowdown for Deere, the company said Friday. It also raised its outlook for the year.

The Moline, Illinois, company said its second-quarter earnings fell 30 percent to $690.5 million, compared with $981 million last year, but it was still better than Wall Street had expected.

Deere said sales of farming equipment fell 25 percent from a year ago to $5.77 billion in the second quarter, while sales of construction and forestry equipment rose 2 percent to $1.63 billion. Deere's financing unit, which gives loans to customers to buy equipment, also improved, with revenue rising 14 percent to $653 million.

Profit for 2015 is now expected to be around $1.9 billion, the company said, up slightly from the $1.8 billion it had projected earlier this year.

FRISCH'S BIG BOY-SALE

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Frisch's Big Boy restaurants are being sold to a private equity fund, ending family ownership of the Cincinnati-based chain that dates to its first drive-thru in 1939.

Frisch's Restaurants Inc. says NRD Partners I will buy all outstanding shares for $34 each, or some $175 million. Frisch's shares closed Thursday at $28.12.

The regional chain with the iconic Big Boy mascot owns some 95 family restaurants in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Its website states it has another 26 operated in the region by licensees.

CEO Craig Maier and marketing Vice President Karen Maier will retire, but continue as franchisees.

The deal is expected to close by the end of September.

Frisch's last month reported $47 million in revenue for its fiscal third quarter, with 45 cents earnings per share.

EXPEDIA-SALE

NEW YORK (AP) -- Expedia is selling its majority stake in eLong, a Chinese travel service, to a group of businesses based in China for roughly $671 million.

The news sent shares of the online travel company up more than 5 percent in early trading Friday.

Bellevue, Washington-based Expedia said before the U.S. markets opened that it had sold its 62.4 percent share in eLong to a group that includes Ctrip.com International Ltd., Keystone Lodgings Holdings Ltd., Plateno Group Ltd. and Luxuriant Holdings Ltd.

ELong had reportedly been a drag on Expedia's earnings. The company said the transaction closed Friday.

Expedia's stock was up $5.62 to $111.45 early Friday, after rising as high as $115 earlier in the session.

VANGUARD NATURAL RESOURCES-EAGLE ROCK

HOUSTON (AP) -- Vanguard Natural Resources LLC will acquire Eagle Rock Energy Partners LP in a $474 million deal.

The agreement was announced Thursday by the Houston-based companies.

Vanguard Natural Resources will also assume $140 million of debt from Eagle Rock Energy Partners, which will become a wholly owned indirect subsidiary.

The agreement requires approval of the boards of both companies.

Vanguard Natural Resources deals in acquisition, production and development of oil and natural gas properties. The company has operations in Texas, Wyoming, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Montana, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Dakota.

Eagle Rock Energy Partners is also involved with oil and natural gas properties.

EUROPE-GREECE BAILOUT

RIGA, Latvia (AP) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel (AHN'-geh-lah MEHR'-kuhl) says after talks with her Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras (TSEE'-prahs) that there is still "a whole lot left to be done" to avoid a financial meltdown in Athens.

Merkel and French President Francois Hollande (frahn-SWAH' oh-LAWND') spoke for some two hours with Tsipras at the Eastern Partnership summit and the German leader said Friday that "very, very intensive work is still needed."

The three met to pave the way for a special eurozone meeting of finance ministers late this month or early June.

The meeting came a day after a leading official from Tsipras' party said that Greece will not be able to repay a loan to the International Monetary Fund early next month unless a deal is reached with its creditors to unblock bailout funds.

EUROPE-ECONOMY

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- European Central Bank head Mario Draghi (DRAHG'-ee) says governments that share the euro currency shouldn't wait for better times to push through reforms that would boost sluggish growth.

Draghi said tough measures to clear away bureaucracy and make hiring and firing more flexible are needed quickly to energize the economy.

He rejected arguments that looser hiring and firing rules only work over the long term and could hurt the hesitant recovery that is taking hold. He said that "the sooner they take place, the better."

Draghi spoke Friday at an ECB conference in Sintra, Portugal, where economists are discussing ways to lower unemployment. The jobless rate is 11.3 percent for the 19 European Union member countries that use the euro, and 50 percent for young people in Spain and Greece.

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