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.

Business News

Last Update on May 29, 2015 07:35 GMT

ECONOMY(equals)THE DAY AHEAD

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Commerce Department will release its report on first-quarter gross domestic product today.

A brutal winter, plunging investment by energy companies and a widening trade gap likely combined to shrink the U.S. economy at the start of the year. But the slump is expected to prove short-lived.

JPMORGAN LAYOFFS

NEW YORK (AP) -- JPMorgan Chase & Co. will cut about 5,000 jobs over the next year, as the bank closes branches and slims down its operations, The Wall Street Journal has reported, citing anonymous sources.

A representative for the New York bank declined to comment.

The job cuts will come from across the bank, but particularly from the consumer bank. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, at an investor conference this week, said that the average Chase branch would lose one employee -- mostly through attrition.

JPMorgan executives said in February that they expected to have 300 fewer branches over the next two years -- roughly 5 percent of its network -- because more customers were doing everyday banking transactions online or on their smartphones. The bank had 5,570 branches as of the first quarter.

JAPAN-ECONOMY

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan has reported that its jobless rate dropped to an 18-year low in April, but industrial production, inflation and household spending were muted as consumers kept purse strings tight.

The government said Friday that the unemployment rate was 3.3 percent in April, the lowest since April 1997, as the number of jobs to applicants rose to the highest level since 1992.

The core consumer price index, excluding volatile food prices, rose 0.4 percent, partly due to a fall in energy costs thanks to cheaper crude oil.

Aggressive monetary easing by the Bank of Japan, combined with pressures pushing the U.S. dollar higher have pulled the Japanese yen to its weakest level against the dollar since 2002. Share prices have meanwhile surged to 15-year highs. But overall growth has remained sluggish.

DENNIS HASTERT-INDICTMENT

CHICAGO (AP) -- Federal prosecutors have announced bank-related charges against former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, accusing the 73-year-old Illinois Republican of structuring the withdrawal of $952,000 in cash in order to evade the requirement that banks report cash transactions over $10,000. He's also accused of lying to the FBI.

The U.S. attorney's office in Chicago says each count of the indictment carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

According to the indictment, from 2010 to 2014, Hastert withdrew a total of approximately $1.7 million in cash from various bank accounts and provided it to a person identified only as Individual A.

The prosecutor's statement says "Hastert falsely stated that he was keeping the cash" when questioned by the FBI last December.

As speaker, Hastert pushed President George W. Bush's legislative agenda, helping pass a massive tax cut and expanding Medicare prescription drug benefits.

He retired from Congress in 2007 after eight years as speaker.

APPLE AUGMENTED

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Apple has bought a company that makes augmented-reality software, which adds information or images to real-world scenes when viewed through a special headset or even a smartphone camera.

It's the latest sign that major tech companies see big potential for products that let users view the world with extra features added by technology. Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft are all working on augmented- or virtual-reality products. Augmented reality can add hand-drawn sketches, navigational directions, historic video or computer-generated, three-dimensional images to a real-world scene. Virtual reality can make viewers feel as if they are immersed in an artificial world.

Apple on Thursday confirmed the purchase of Munich-based Metaio for an undisclosed sum but did not say what it plans to do with the technology.

GOOGLE PHOTOS

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Google is willing to store and organize all of the world's digital photos and videos for free.

The online photo service announced Thursday is the latest example of Google's desire to wrap its tentacles around virtually every part of people's lives.

Google will provide unlimited storage of all photos up to 16 megapixels and high-definition video up to 1080p.

The service, called Google Photos, will be available as an app on Android and Apple devices, and on a website, http://photos.google.com . It's a variation of the photo-management tool on Google Plus, a social networking service that has struggled to compete against Facebook since its 2011 debut.

Apple has a photo service that offers up to five gigabytes of storage for free. Yahoo's Flickr service offers one terabyte of storage for free.

OIL TRAINS-EMERGENCY ORDER

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- U.S. transportation officials are extending an order for railroads to notify states about shipments of hazardous crude oil shipments.

Emergency responders had raised worries over a new rule that did away with the requirement.

Trains hauling crude from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana have been involved in multiple fiery derailments in recent years, including a 2013 derailment that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Thursday's action revives a 2014 order for railroads to give emergency officials oil train routing and volume information to better prepare for accidents.

The Transportation Department had moved this month to replace the mandate with a rule that would require states to request the information.

Agency spokeswoman Artealia Gilliard says federal regulators "heard loud and clear" the concerns raised by emergency responders.

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