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 March 05, 2015 18:48 GMT

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to the highest level since May, though the level of applications remains at a level consistent with steady hiring.

The Labor Department says weekly applications rose 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 320,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased 10,250 to 304,750, a six-week high.

The number of applications tends to reflect the pace of U.S. layoffs. The four-week average has remained near or below 300,000 since September, a historically low level that typically signals healthy job gains.

There are some signs that heavy snow and unseasonably cold weather have played a role in increasing the number of layoffs. Several states said two weeks ago that applications had risen because of bad weather.

PRODUCTIVITY

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. worker productivity was even weaker than first thought from October through December while labor costs rose at a faster rate.

The Commerce Department says that productivity declined at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter, weaker than the 1.8 percent drop that was estimated a month ago. Labor costs rose at a 4.1 percent rate, faster than the 2.7 percent increase first estimated.

Weaker productivity and higher labor costs could spell inflation troubles for the economy. But analysts say that the changes in the fourth quarter are temporary and not an indication that inflation is about to be a problem.

FACTORY ORDERS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Orders to U.S. factories fell again in January but a key investment category showed a gain.

The Commerce Department says orders to factories edged down 0.2 percent in January following declines of 3.5 percent in December and 1.7 percent in November.

In an encouraging sign, orders in a category viewed as a proxy for business investment showed an increase of 0.5 percent in January following declines of 0.5 percent in both December and November.

MORTGAGE RATES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average long-term mortgage rates have fallen for the first time in four weeks and remain near historic lows reached in May 2013.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac says the national average for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.75 percent from 3.80 percent last week.

The rate for a 15-year mortgage, popular with homeowners who refinance, fell to 3.03 percent from 3.07 percent last week.

A year ago, the average 30-year mortgage stood at 4.28 percent and the 15-year mortgage at 3.32 percent. Mortgage rates have remained low even though the Federal Reserve in October ended its monthly bond purchases, which were meant to hold down long-term rates.

EXXON MOBIL-SETTLEMENT

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- New Jersey has announced a settlement with Exxon Mobil that it says is the largest environmental settlement in state history, even though it is far less than the state initially sought.

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said in a statement Thursday the $225 million settlement over refinery sites in Linden and Bayonne is separate from Exxon Mobil's obligation to clean up the sites.

The settlement has been criticized by Democratic lawmakers who note that the state initially sought $8.9 billion in damages. A judge found the company liable but no damage amount had been determined.

Last month the two sides told the judge to delay his ruling because a settlement was imminent.

The case was brought in 2004 and charged that Exxon's petroleum refining plants contaminated the land and water.

OFFSHORE DRILLING-SEISMIC

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Marine scientists are raising concerns about the Obama administration's decision to move ahead on use of seismic air guns in the Atlantic Ocean for oil and gas exploration.

Seventy-five scientists from around the globe on Thursday sent a letter to President Barack Obama saying the use of the guns, which create canonlike air blasts underwater, represents a "significant threat to marine life throughout the region."

The air blasts fire every 10-12 seconds for weeks or months at a time, which can harm marine mammals that rely on hearing to survive.

Nine permits are before the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which must also be approved by NOAA Fisheries before being finalized.

The government says no seismic applications will be approved without measures meant to mitigate harm to marine life.

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