Transparency in campaign donations

Updated: Friday, November 22, 2013
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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - One week ago today, the Michigan Senate passed a bill that protects the identities of those people who contribute large sums of money to fund those so-called 'issue ads' that flood the airwaves leading up to elections.

Tonight, in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says it's another effort to let the wealthy and special interests funnel money secretly into the campaigns of the candidates of their choice.

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To put a slightly harder edge on it, it's a bill that allows the wealthy and special interests to buy elections without having to reveal who they are.

We know that it's largely true that whoever spends the most money on a campaign will win it.

Not always—there are exceptions. But almost always.

If this bill, Senate 661, manages to slide through the house, it'll be the crowning glory for the forces of darkness.

After years of courtroom maneuvering, Republicans four years ago convinced the Supreme Court of the United States, in a decision cynically called Citizens United, to allow corporations and special interest organizations with lots of money to give as much of it as they want to political campaigns.

No limits.

That was under the guise that corporations are people, too, and that spending big money on politics is an exercise in free speech.

And now the Michigan State Senate says money as free speech ought to be reduced to backroom whispers; that donors don't have to reveal to you, to me, or to anybody, who they are or how much they give.

There's a term for it—dark money. Are they embarrassed? Are they fearful that it might become apparent that some politicians  might get caught giving undue attention to one of those big donors?

I mean, who's going to get a political ear? Those of us who might throw a couple of hundred bucks to a candidate? Or those who toss in thousands, if not millions?

Who gets the attention?

We're not talking about the limited amount of money we give directly to a candidate.

That has to be limited and accounted for.

We're talking about money that goes to issue ads. Money spent on behalf of a candidate.

We're talking about money that is spent on ads that are inflammatory, smearing, misleading, and often inaccurate.

Ads that actually become central, if not dominant, in most campaigns. Ads over which the candidate shrugs and says he has no control.

At a time when we hear so much about the desire and need for more transparency, we instead get darkness and secrecy.

For the record, this new law was introduced in the Senate by the Majority Floor Leader, Arlan Meekhof of West Olive, just hours after Secretary of State Ruth Johnson announced that she intended to do the right thing—to require groups funding these "issue" ads to reveal who gave them the money.

He couldn't have that.

Right now, the bill is in a House committee where it will soon come up for a vote.

If it passes there we will have given up any hope for more transparency; for more accountability.

Only public pressure from those of us who don't want to turn things over to those who like to buy things will keep it from happening.

In this corner...I'm Tom Van Howe.

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Last Update on August 31, 2015 17:08 GMT

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Google is introducing an application that will connect Android smartwatches with Apple's iPhone, escalating the rivals' battle to strap their technology on people's wrists.

The move thrusts Google on to Apple's turf in an attempt to boost the lackluster sales of watches running on its Android Wear software. The program uniting the devices running on different operating systems is being released Monday in Apple's app store.

Until now, Android watches only worked with smartphones powered by Android software, just as the Apple Watch is designed to be tethered exclusively to the iPhone.

Google's new app, though, will enable the latest Android watches to link with the iPhone so people can quickly glance at their wrists for directions, fitness information and notifications about events, emails and Facebook updates.

EPIX-HULU IN-NETFLIX OUT

UNDATED (AP) -- The cable network Epix and streaming service Hulu have agreed to a multiyear, digital subscription video on demand deal, while rival Netflix has decided not to renew with Epix.

The Hulu-Epix deal starts Oct. 1 and will bring new releases from Lionsgate, MGM and Paramount to Hulu subscribers, the companies announced late Sunday.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Hulu said it involves new titles, library films and Epix original programming.

Meanwhile, Netflix said in a Sunday blog post that that many of the movies it received through its Epix agreement also were widely available at the same time through other subscription platforms. Netflix said it intends to improve its customer offerings through original films and licensing deals with movie studios.

BLUE BELL

BRENHAM, Texas (AP) -- Blue Bell ice cream is back.

Blue Bell Creameries has resumed selling its products in select locations Monday, four months after the Texas-based retailer halted sales due to listeria contamination.

Blue Bell ice cream is now available at stores in the Houston and Austin areas, including in the company's hometown of Brenham, plus parts of Alabama.

The company voluntarily recalled its products in April after they were linked to 10 listeria cases in four states, including three deaths in Kansas.

Production plants in Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama then underwent an extensive cleaning and decontamination, under the regulatory oversight of health officials.

Listeria bacteria can cause serious illness, especially in older adults, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.

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BERLIN (AP) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel is making clear she expects Greece to continue complying with its obligations to creditors after upcoming elections, and says she doesn't see any possibility of reducing interest rates on its bailout loans.

Merkel said Monday, however, that while interest rates are already very low there is "a certain room for maneuver" on when Greece must pay back debts and the level of those payments. She says she's "relatively optimistic" of finding a solution that satisfies the International Monetary Fund's demand for debt relief.

Greece is holding elections Sept. 20 after Alexis Tsipras stepped down as prime minister, seeking a stronger mandate to implement austerity measures creditors demanded in return for a new bailout.

Merkel said in Berlin: "I assume that Greece will comply with its commitments."

EUROPE-ECONOMY

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Official figures show inflation in the 19-nation eurozone was stable in August at an annual rate of 0.2 percent.

The European Union's statistics agency, Eurostat, says Monday that a large drop in energy prices made up for increases in the costs of food, alcohol and tobacco, services and industrial goods.

The inflation figures remains far below the European Central Bank's aim for a 2 percent annual rate. The central bank is pumping 60 billion euros ($68 billion) a month of new money into the financial system of the eurozone to boost inflation.

A prolonged period of low inflation or, worse, an outright drop in consumer prices, can hurt an economy by encouraging consumers to delay purchases.

GERMANY-UN-CLIMATE TALKS

STOCKHOLM (AP) -- U.N. climate talks began anew Monday in Germany, three months before world governments are supposed to adopt a landmark deal to fight global warming.

The climate pact envisioned for Paris in December will be a crucial test for the diplomatic process, which failed to deliver a strong deal six years ago in Copenhagen.

U.N. officials note things look much brighter this time around because most major economies have already presented national plans to limit their emissions of climate-warming gases after 2020, when the new deal is meant to take effect.

Still, much work remains on how to ensure that countries live up to their pledges and how to divide the responsibilities of climate action among countries in different stages of development.

EGYPT-ECONOMY

CAIRO (AP) -- Experts say the discovery of a huge natural gas field off the Egyptian coast is a major boon for the country that will help alleviate energy shortages and boost the economy.

They say that the new "supergiant" offshore field revealed a day earlier by Italy's Eni SpA and billed as the "largest-ever" found in the Mediterranean Sea could alleviate the Arab world's most populous nation's need for gas imports.

Egypt is making a gradual economic recovery from the years of chaos since a 2011 uprising toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Rolling power cuts have been a regular feature of life as the country has been ruled by the military, an Islamist president and then a military-backed government.

This summer, however, Cairo has been largely spared the power cuts.

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