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 September 15, 2014 17:41 GMT

WALL STREET

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks are mixed in midday trading on Wall Street as investors wait for the Federal Reserve's two-day policy meeting that starts tomorrow. The Fed is nearing the end of its bond-buying stimulus program, and investors will be looking for clues about when the central bank will start raising interest rates.

In Europe, investors fretted about Scotland's upcoming independence referendum, which could shake up U.K. financial markets.

A weak report on U.S. manufacturing also weighed on the stock market.

Molson Coors jumped 8 percent amid reports of merger activity among brewing companies.

INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. manufacturing output declined in August for the first time in seven months, reflecting a sharp fall in production at auto plants.

The Federal Reserve says output at manufacturing plants fell 0.4 percent in August after a 0.7 percent rise in July. Total industrial production was down 0.1 percent in August, also the first setback for the overall figure since January. Output was up in mining and utility production but these gains were not enough to offset the decline in manufacturing.

Output of motor vehicles and parts dropped 7.6 percent after a 9.3 percent increase in July. The reversal was not viewed as worrisome. The July figure was boosted because many plants did not shut down as they normally do to retool for new models. That made August look weaker.

WORLD ECONOMY

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- A major international organization has cut its growth forecast for the countries that use the euro and says the troubled currency union needs even more stimulus from the central bank and governments.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a think tank dealing with the world's developed countries, cut its forecast for the eurozone this year to 0.8 percent from 1.2 percent in its May assessment.

The Paris-based OECD also cut its growth forecasts for the U.S. and several other large economies.

The OECD said Monday the European Central Bank needs to do more to help growth in the eurozone, including large-scale bond purchases, to expand the amount of money in the financial system -- a move known as quantitative easing.

DETROIT BANKRUPTCY

DETROIT (AP) -- The city of Detroit says it has ironed out details of a settlement with a major opponent in its bankruptcy case.

The disclosure was made Monday as a judge resumed the trial after a three-day break. The timeout allowed Detroit and bond insurer Syncora to finish a deal announced last week.

Another bond insurer, Financial Guaranty Insurance, says it needs more time to craft strategy after the Syncora settlement, but Judge Steven Rhodes declined to stop the trial.

The judge is hearing evidence to decide whether Detroit's overall bankruptcy plan is fair to creditors and feasible in the years ahead. The trial started Sept. 2.

Thousands of retirees would see a 4.5 percent cut in their pension.

GENERAL MOTORS-IGNITION SWITCH DEATHS

DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors' compensation expert in cases involving faulty ignition switches has determined that 19 wrongful death claims are eligible for payments from the company.

Attorney Kenneth Feinberg has received 125 death claims due to the faulty switches in older-model small cars such as the Chevrolet Cobalt. He says in a report issued Monday that the rest remain under review or require further documentation.

GM hired Feinberg to compensate victims of crashes caused by the switches. GM has blamed the switches for at least 13 deaths, but lawmakers have put the death toll closer to 100.

Feinberg also has received 320 claims for compensation due to injuries. Of those, 12 have been deemed eligible for payments so far.

The switches can slip out of the run position, causing engines to stall.

FORD-FIESTA INVESTIGATION

DETROIT (AP) -- U.S. safety regulators are investigating complaints that the doors won't latch properly on some Ford Fiesta subcompact cars.

The probe announced Monday by covers about 205,000 Fiestas from the 2011 through 2013 model years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it has received 61 complaints about the doors. Some said the latches wouldn't catch. A dozen said a door opened while the cars were being driven. The agency says one person was hurt when a door rebounded after an attempt to close it.

Investigators will analyze how often the problem happens to see if a recall is needed.

Ford says owners with door latch problems should contact their dealer.

APPLE-PRE-ORDERS

NEW YORK (AP) -- Apple says it had more than 4 million pre-orders of its new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in 24 hours, exceeding its initial pre-order supply.

The company says the phones will be delivered to customers starting Friday and throughout September, but many won't be delivered until October.

Phones will be available on a walk-in basis beginning Friday at Apple retail stores. Both phones will also be available beginning Friday from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and other carriers and other authorized Apple resellers.

The new phones were announced last week and have larger screens, faster performance, and come equipped with Apple Pay, a contactless payment service. They start at $199 at most wireless providers with a two-year contact.

MICROSOFT-MINECRAFT

NEW YORK (AP) -- Microsoft will acquire the maker of the popular game Minecraft for $2.5 billion.

The technology company said it will buy Stockholm-based game maker Mojang. Minecraft, which lets users build in and explore a virtual world, has been downloaded 100 million times on PC alone since its launch in 2009. It is the most popular online game on Xbox, and the top paid app for Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating system in the U.S.

The deal is expected to close in late 2014. Microsoft expects the acquisition to be break-even in fiscal 2015.

Microsoft is primarily known for business software like Word and Outlook. But this acquisition will help Microsoft expand its gaming division which also includes game franchises such as the "Halo" shooter game and "Forza" racing game.

LEAKY GAS WELLS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A new study says that the drilling procedure called fracking didn't cause much-publicized cases of tainted water, blaming contamination on leaky natural gas wells instead.

The study finds that eight hydraulically fractured wells in Pennsylvania and Texas leaked gas because the piping and cement seals in the wells themselves weren't working properly.

The process of pumping highly pressurized chemicals and water underground to get valuable natural gas trapped in shale has become highly charged as contamination complaints initially surged.

Ohio State University geochemist Thomas Darrah and colleagues used certain elements to trace where the leaks came from. He said finding them in the wells rather than the fracking process, means contamination is more preventable and fixable.

The study is published in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

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