While the Sunday talk shows were preoccupied with the supposed threat to the US posed by an estimated 30,000 armed Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria, the pundits virtually ignored the more than 300,000 people who showed up in New York City for the People’s Climate March (9/21) to demand attention to the threat climate change poses to the world.

Meet the Press, Face the Nation, State of the Union and Fox News Sunday ignored the event, which was touted by participants as “the largest mobilization against climate change in the history of the planet,” Timothy Johnson noted at MediaMatters.com (9/21). Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, briefly mentioned the march on ABC’s This Week, while arguing that national security concerns surrounding climate change are not receiving adequate attention.

MSNBC.com reported that “participants include dyed-in-the-wool environmental activists, but also elected officials, union members, nationwide community organizing groups, LGBT groups, members of indigenous communities, students, clergy members, scientists, private citizens, and a plethora of other concerned parties” representing 1,400 partner organizations.

The New York march was one of 2,700 events held across more than 150 countries in anticipation of the climate summit at the UN (9/23). UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon joined marchers during the 9/21 event in New York, saying at a news conference, “I will link arms with those marching for climate action.”

The New York City march, which was “by far the largest climate-related protest in history,” received front-page attention in the New York Times and in leading newspapers around the globe. But the Wall Street Journal, headquartered a few blocks from the march, did not include their story on the action on the front page — it was buried in the local section. Moreover, Denise Robbins noted at MediaMatters.org (9/22), the paper criticized the march and cast doubt on the state of climate science, providing ammunition for critics to argue against climate action in the days ahead. 

The day before the march, Robbins noted, the Journal published an op-ed headlined “Climate Science Is Not Settled,” which cast doubt on the influence of human activities on global warming and argued for more debate about climate science’s “uncertainties.” Steven Koonin, former chief scientist of BP, claimed that the “climate has always changed and always will” to downplay the influence of human activities on climate change — a favorite Fox talking point that is as inherently misleading as asserting that just because people have died naturally they can’t be murdered.

The op-ed’s flaws were broken down in a lengthy post from ClimateScienceWatch.org (9/20). It explained that Koonin’s extensive discussion about uncertainty ignores what those uncertainties actually entail, writing that the range of uncertainties will result in outcomes “from bad to worse.” The London Guardian’s Dana Nuccitelli expanded that even the best case scenario will result in severe impacts, including “widespread coral mortality, hundreds of millions of people at risk of increased water stress, more damage from droughts and heat waves and floods, up to 30% of global species at risk for extinction, and declined global food production.”

Moreover, Koonin’s assertion that the “impact today of human activity appears to be comparable to the intrinsic, natural variability of the climate system itself” is false, according to Nuccitelli, as scientists have determined that human impacts have been the dominant cause of global warming since 1950.

Many experts say that the “uncertainties” around climate science are not an excuse for inaction, but rather should be looked at with a risk management perspective — an apt description, as many top insurance companies are incorporating climate change into their long-term strategies and calling for climate action. Koonin himself admitted this, but only after discussing uncertainties for the bulk of the piece. According to a study from the University of Oxford, focusing on what uncertainties remain on the basic premise of manmade global warming — as Koonin did — can denigrate public understanding of climate science and the need for action.

CARBON TAX GAINS BACKING. US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) welcomed growing support among businesses for a tax on carbon emissions that cause global warming as the United Nations hosted a one-day summit on climate change.

The World Bank said (9/22) that 73 nations and some 1,000 companies will join forces to push for policies setting a price on carbon emissions to encourage a shift to cleaner energy technologies.

“It is extremely important that international support is building to put a price on carbon emissions that cause global warming,” said Sanders, a member of both the Senate environment and energy committees and the sponsor of legislation to tax carbon. “The bad news is that Republicans in Congress – most of whom have ignored the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is a major threat to our planet –continue to block legislation to address the planetary crisis.”

Sanders’ bill, cosponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), the environment committee chairman, would place a tax on carbon and methane pollution and use the revenue to lower consumers’ bills for new, cleaner sources of energy.

The UN General Assembly heard from President Barack Obama as the world body began to lay a foundation for a new global treaty to reverse the rise of heat-trapping gases.

“As one of the 400,000 people who marched through the streets of New York City on Monday in the People’s Climate March, I appreciate President Obama’s call for the United States to be a leader on climate change. The president can and should do more, but the actions he announced today – like new agreements to reduce methane pollution – are important steps toward tackling the planetary crisis of global warming,” Sanders said.

Also, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced that it plans to divest itself of fossil-fuel stocks as part of a $50 bln divestment campaign involving 800 global investors, including religious groups, healthcare organizations, cities and universities, the Guardian reported (9/22).

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund over the years has been a big supporter of environmental causes, including to campaign groups opposed to fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline, which made for an awkward fit at times with its continued investment in oil and gas. The family plans to first divest from tar sands commitments, but the move to renewable energy also makes good business sense.

“John D Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, moved America out of whale oil and into petroleum,” Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, said in a statement. “We are quite convinced that if he were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy.”

REPUBLICAN SENATE COULD CRIPPLE OBAMA. The current Congress is on track to be the least productive in modern history, as just 142 bills had become law from January 2013 through this past July (compared with 906 passed by the “Do-Nothing Congress” in 1947-48 and 151 passed at the same point by the last Congress in 2011-12). But even those measly results happened with Democrats in nominal control of the Senate and interested in cooperating with the White House. If Republicans pick up six seats in the Senate, and put Chuck Grassley in charge of reviewing judicial nominations, President Obama will look back on the 113th Congress as the good old days.

Senate seats up for grabs in November (11/4) include 33 whose terms come up in regular elections and three special elections. Of those, 21 seats are now held by Democrats and 15 by Republicans. With Democrats now holding a working majority of 55 senators, including two independents, against 45 Republicans, the GOP needs six more seats to gain the majority. (In case the Senate is split 50-50, Dems would keep control with Vice President Joe Biden’s vote.)

Handicappers expect Republicans to pick up at least three seats where Democratic incumbents have retired in Montana and are retiring in South Dakota and West Virginia. The best shots for Republicans are in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire and North Carolina. Democrats hope to unseat Republicans in Georgia, Kansas, and possibly even oust Republican leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.

Republicans expect to hold onto the House majority, due to gerrymandering after the 2010 census and voter suppression efforts designed to keep down minority and low-income voter turnout, so little in the way of legislation is likely to make it through both houses anyway, but Mitch McConnell has said if Republican control Congress they would try to restrict the President’s regulatory authority in spending bills and a Republican-ruled Senate likely would severely hamper the President’s ability to name judges as well as administrative department heads.

Ranking Republican members of Senate committees, who likely would take over as chairs in case the majority switched and work to cripple President Obama during his final two years in office. They include Thad Cochran (MS) at Agriculture (though he might bid for Appropriations); Richard Shelby (AL) at Appropriations (though he might bid for Banking); Jim Inhofe (OK) at Armed Services (though John McCain could make a bid for the chair); Mike Crapo (ID) at Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Jeff Sessions (AL) at Budget; John Thune (SD) at Commerce, Science and Transportation; Lisa Murkowski (AK) at Energy and Natural Resources; David Vitter (LA) at Environment and Public Works (though Jim Inhofe might make a bid for it); Orrin Hatch (UT) at Finance; Bob Corker (TN) at Foreign Relations; Lamar Alexander (TN) at Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Sen. Mike Enzi (WY) at Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (though Ron Johnson, WI, reportedly is eyeing the post); Chuck Grassley (IA) at Judiciary; Pat Roberts, if he wins re-election in Kansas, at Rules and Administration, though he might bid for chairman of Agriculture if Thad Cochran takes Appropriations; Jim Risch (ID) at Small Business and Entrepreneurship; and Richard Burr (NC) at Veterans’ Affairs.

David Leonhardt noted in the New York Times (9/23) that Republicans were aggressive in blocking Obama’s nominees to district courts, resulting in 16% failing to be confirmed, even with the Democratic majority in the Senate. Georbe W. Bush’s comparable failure rate was only 11%.

In response, Democrats eliminated the filibuster last year for judicial nominees, allowing a simple majority of senators to confirm federal judges, which has helped Obama put judges on the bench. But it also has further polarized the process, and Leonhardt noted that a Republican-run Senate might simply refuse to fill judicial openings. And if a Supreme Court justice were to resign or die unexpectely in the next two years, Leonhardt noted, “the Obama nominee who could win confirmation from a Republican Senate would be quite different from the kind of nominee a Democratic Senate would confirm.”

In conclusion, Leonhardt noted, “With six weeks to go, the Republicans have taken leads over Democratic incumbents in Arkansas and Louisiana, while Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina, another Democratic incumbent, is in better shape. The four tossups are in Alaska, Colorado, Iowa and — surprisingly enough — Kansas. The Democrats would need positive results in three of those four, along with North Carolina, to keep control.”

The Times’ Senate forecasting model on 9/23 gave the Republicans a 57% chance of victory. “That’s a real advantage, but it’s not a large one,” he wrote. “To put it in terms of baseball, another subject that will occupy much of the next six weeks: The Democrats, for all their troubles, still have a better chance of keeping the Senate than even today’s best hitters have of reaching base.”

OBAMA FIGHTS TAX ‘INVERSIONS’ WITH RULES. After Congress failed to take action to address corporate tax “inversions,” by which US-based multinational corporations can save on their taxes by moving their nominal headquarters overseas, the Treasury Department announced (9/22) that it will take steps to curb the practice by issuing new rules to limit the ability of US multinationals to access their foreign subsidiaries’ earnings without paying US taxes on them.

Suzy Khimm of MSNBC reported that the administration also made it more difficult for companies to conduct inversions in the first place: After an inversion, the previous owners of the US. multinational would have to own less than 80% of the new multinational, among other changes announced on 9/22. The new rules “apply to deals closed today or after today,” the Treasury said in a statement.

Steve Benen noted at The MaddowBlog, “As one might expect, congressional Democrats are delighted and congressional Republicans aren’t, but the underlying question remains the same: just how much effect will these actions have in the absence of legal changes approved by Congress?”

The basic idea behind the scheme, Benen noted, is pretty straightforward: a large company based in the US purchases a small company abroad. To lower its tax bill, the American company says the new, larger company actually exists in the foreign country, which just so happens to have a lower corporate tax rate.

“As a rule, we’re not talking about companies picking up and physically relocating; it’s all just paperwork to reduce tax bills. All of this can be infuriating to the public, but it’s also legally permissible.”

That won’t change, necessarily, under the new moves announced by the Obama administration yesterday – inversions will still occur and still be legal. But as Danielle Kurtzleben noted at Vox.com, the idea is to “make it more difficult for companies to undertake inversions,” while also making it tougher “to enjoy the benefits of those arrangements.”

As part of the policy, companies will find it tougher “to reap the tax benefits of an inversion through creative methods like tax deferral and so-called “hopscotch loans,” in which a foreign subsidiary of the US company gives its profits in the form of a loan to the newly created, inverted company. The loan skips the US and therefore avoids US taxes on those dividends.”

Citizens for Tax Fairness, a leading opponent of inversions, called the administration’s move “a very important first step in removing a major incentive for corporations ... to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI.) has introduced the Stop Corporate Inversions Act of 2014 and Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) has introduced a companion bill in the House. But Republicans are obstructing efforts to fix the problem, demanding instead that we give in to the extortion, Dave Johnson wrote at Campaign for America’s Future (OurFuture.org, 9/23).

House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman blasted the administration’s executive order, saying, “Under President Obama, the United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. The answer is to simplify and reform our broken tax code to bring jobs home.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, also placed the blame on America’s tax system, which he said “is broken to the point that it’s putting our nation at a competitive disadvantage around the globe. That Treasury has opted to move forward with guidance to curb the recent uptick in corporate inversions only further underscores this monumental challenge.”

OBAMACARE CRITICS LOSE ANOTHER TALKING POINT. More health insurers are signing on to participate in the Affordable Care Act, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said at the Brookings Institution in Washington (9/23).

The number of companies offering plans on the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchange marketplaces for 2015 will jump to 248, a 25% increase over this year, in the 44 states where numbers are available.

The increase in participating companies discredits a line of attack against the 4-year-old health care law that said it would crush competition.

UnitedHealth Group, one of the largest insurers in the country, plans to sell coverage on exchanges in more than 20 states for 2015 after sitting out this year in many states where it offered other plans. The firm will join other big players including WellPoint, which sold more exchange plans than any other insurance carrier; Humana; and Aetna, along with numerous state-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans. Some major insurance companies continue to avoid the exchanges, however. Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the leading insurer in Iowa and South Dakota, is staying out of the exchanges in those states for the second year of enrollment.

Health insurance premiums tend to be lower in markets where multiple plans compete than in locales where one or two companies dominate. Although full information about premium prices on the Obamacare exchanges next year isn’t yet available, the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates the average rise will be 8.2%. That is similar to or smaller than price hikes in the years before Obamacare, and rate increases and decreases will vary greatly across the country.

Open enrollment on the health insurance exchanges begins 11/15 and runs through 2/15/15.

An estimated 7.3 mln people were fully enrolled in private health insurance plans purchased via the exchanges as of 8/15, Burwell disclosed. In addition, millions have been added to the Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program rolls since the first Obamacare sign-up period started last October. More than 10 mln previously uninsured people have gained coverage. But 4.8 mln people who would be eligible for Medicaid if 23 states ruled by Republicans accepted the federal funds to expand the problem. Instead, those 4.8 mln remain uninsured.

But Obamacare enrollment hasn’t reached anywhere near its potential — particularly in the private market. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the Obamacare exchanges could ultimately sign up almost 29 mln people for private health insurance. (Jeffrey Young, HuffingtonPost.com, 9/23)

NO HELP FOR UNINSURED IN REPUBLICAN STATES. While the number of uninsured Americans is dropping nationwide, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, seven of the 11 large metro areas where the uninsured rate was higher than the 14.5% national average last year are located in states that refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA, Jeffrey Young reported at HuffingtonPost.com (9/22). Two of the underinsured metro areas are in Florida, three are in Texas, and the others are Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C. The metro area with the highest uninsured rate was Miami, at a staggering 25%, compared to the national low of 4% in greater Boston.

The ACA called for Medicaid benefits to be available to anyone earning up to 133% of the federal poverty level, which is about $11,500 for a single person this year. The Census Bureau reported that 26% of people with incomes in this range were uninsured last year.

To date, 23 states, mostly Southern, have refused the expansion, despite generous federal funding. When the Supreme Court upheld the ACA in 2012, the justices also ruled the Medicaid expansion was optional for states.

What makes matters worse for the people left out of the Medicaid expansion is that another part of the Obamacare law permits only people who earn at least poverty wages to get financial help paying for private health insurance — so those who earn less get nothing.

According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, those decisions not to expand the program will leave 4.8 mln people uninsured. More than 1 mln of them live in Texas, 764,000 are in Florida, 409,000 are Georgia residents and 319,000 live in North Carolina.

REPUBLICAN WOMEN SUPPORT PAY INEQUITY. When Republican senators blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act (9/15) for the fourth time since 2012, the filibuster bloc included all four female Republican senators. The law would make it easier for employees to talk about wages — and potentially help women learn whether they earn less than their male colleagues. It would also force employers to explain or justify why two similarly qualified workers earn different wages.

Women take home about 71 cents for every dollar men earn. In some industries—such as finance—women earn as little as 66% of men’s wages. Low-income women also suffer from gender-based wealth disparities. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the poverty rate for women is 13%, while only 11% of men live in poverty. Women in low-wage jobs make 13% less than men who do similar work, Nicole Pasulka noted at Takepart.com (9/16).

To overcome the filibuster, Dems needed 60 votes; they got 52, as Democrats voted in favor, but 40 Republicans voted against it, including Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME), Deb Fischer (NE) and Lisa Murkowski (AK).

Republican women in the Senate, like all Congress members except the Speaker and minority and majority leaders, are paid $174,000 a year.

SEN. McCAIN VOTES TO PRESERVE ‘WORST DECISION EVER’. A proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling and give lawmakers greater ability to prevent large donors from corrupting elections failed in the US Senate in a party-line vote (9/11). The Senate voted 54-42 for the amendment, but they needed 67 to advance the constitutional amendment. Among the 42 Republicans voting to uphold the filibuster was John McCain (R-AZ), who in the past had been an advocate of campaign finance reform.

In fact, as Josh Israel noted at ThinkProgress.org (9/11), McCain in 2010 denounced the Citizens United ruling as the Supreme Court’s “worst decision ever.” In 2012, he promised that “there will be huge scandals … because there’s too much money washing around, too much of it … we don’t know who, who contributed it, and there is too much corruption associated with that kind of money.” He blasted the Supreme Court’s view that corporations are people and denounced the Roberts Court for demonstrating “a combination of arrogance, naivete, and stupidity, the likes of which I have never seen.”

The amendment, proposed by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) would have given Congress and the states the authority to “regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections,” as long as doing so did not abridge the freedom of the press. It would have allowed them to “distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.” Like all constitutional amendments, it would have required a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate and ratification by three-fourths of the states’ legislatures.

McCain also cast the deciding vote against the DISCLOSE Act in 2010, which would have required disclosure of the major funders of political ads. He has refused to back similar legislation to require transparency for outside political spending in every Congress since, Israel noted.

CONGRESS DOESN’T FEEL STUDENT DEBT PAIN. Student debt has quadrupled in the past decade, to $1.2 tln in June, but that is not much of a concern for Republicans in Congress who have blocked a proposal to allow students to refinance their debt at discounted rates.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has 58 votes to proceed with her bill, which would allow roughly 25 mln Americans to refinance their loans at today’s lower interest rates. It also would cap undergraduate loans at interest rates below 4%. The current interest rates for federal Stafford student loans are as high as 8%, while private loan rates run higher. The bill would pay for the loss of revenue from the student loans — which was $66 bln between 2007 and 2012 — through a tax on millionaires, but Warren remains two votes short of breaking the Republican filibuster.

Mark Huelsman of *The American Prospect* looked at how much members of House and Senate committees that oversee higher education to go to college and what it costs a student to go to the same school today. He reported at Prospect.org (9/19) that when senators went to college, they paid an average of just over $11,443 in tuition and fees per year (in 2013 dollars). If they attended the exact same institutions today, they’d pay an average of $32,279. When House members went to college, they paid $8,628 in tuition and fees.

“Taken together, if each of the 63 congressmen and -women overseeing higher education went back to school today, they would pay over $1 million more in college costs, even after adjusting for inflation.”

A group born out of the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011 announced (9/17) that it had canceled nearly $4 mln in private student loans taken out by students at for-profit colleges, Alan Pyke noted at ThinkProgress (9/17). The activists spent about $100,000 to purchase student loan debt owed to Corinthian Colleges, the parent company of Everest College. The debt was ostensibly worth $3.8 mln. Once the group owned the debt, it simply voided loans. That means the debts were actually worth roughly 3 cents for every dollar that students would’ve been forced to repay. (The money came from a campaign called Rolling Jubilee, but the activists call their new effort The Debt Collective and are also known as Strike Debt.)

In 2013, the Rolling Jubilee Campaign announced it had erased almost $15 mln in outstanding medical debts at an actual cost of just $400,000, and shortly after that the focus shifted to student debt.

“Rolling Jubilee was a spark,” said Hannah Appel, a Strike Debt organizer and assistant professor at UCLA in an interview. “It’s a tactic to really change people’s ideas about what debt is, how it can work, what the potentials are around debt, that it’s not only potentially profitable to creditors but it’s also this potential platform for collective action.”

The trick for The Debt Collective (and the other groups that helped launch it) will be turning the initial thrill of canceled debts into a sustained movement. “It feels almost like a magic trick. It’s an exciting magic trick, and one that hopefully opens people’s imaginations,” Appel said. “The Debt Collective, there’s a lot that’s magical about it, but it’s not a magic trick. It doesn’t happen overnight, it really is about hard organizing over time.”

The vast majority of that $1.3 tln in student debt can’t be bought up and canceled for cents on the dollar, however, because it is guaranteed by the federal government and essentially impossible to escape through bankruptcy or any of the other borrower protections that apply to other forms of debt, Pyke noted. That’s why Debt Collective was only able to cancel $930 of Judith Linhoss’ nearly $15,000 in outstanding debt from her four terms at Everest Online, a subsidiary of Corinthian Colleges.

Debt Collective originally tried to buy debts of Sallie Mae, the primary private company that handles student lending for the government, which also issues billions of dollars in private loans to aspiring students. Like Corinthian’s private loans, Sallie Mae’s non-taxpayer lending is a more expensive financing option for students, and is sold to collectors in secondary markets. This lending is not attached to taxpayer money, and the company touted the growth in its private lending line as the primary source of its improved profit outlook in a recent investor report. “Net interest income increased 35 percent from the year-ago quarter to $144 million, as a result of a $1.8 billion increase in average private education loans outstanding,” a press release on second-quarter profits said, boasting of a 40% jump in the company’s private lending from the year before.

The group was rebuffed, said Thomas Gokey, Strike Debt and Rolling Jubilee organizer, once Sallie Mae Vice President Doug St. Peters realized they intended to void the debts.

The group’s effort to beat back those debts is getting an assist from the feds, Pyke noted. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has stepped up its oversight of for-profit schools under its power to police debt markets on behalf of borrowers, announced a half-billion-dollar lawsuit against Corinthian in September seeking to overturn illegitimate loan debts.

Organizers acknowledge that Rolling Jubilee’s tactics can only chip away at the edges of a $1.3 tln problem. Gokey and Appel each suggested that public education should be free, and pointed out that it would cost less to make public universities and community colleges tuition-free than it does to finance the current debt-financed system of higher education.

BENGHAZI PAC SEEKS TO MINE ATTACKS FOR POLITICAL GAINS. The special Benghazi political attack committee held its first meeting (9/17), attempting to find evidence about the 2012 attacks not discovered by any of the seven previous investigations. Indeed, Josh Israel of ThinkProgress noted that a declassified version of the House Intelligence Committee’s analysis in July said that panel found “no deliberate wrongdoing by the Obama administration.” But that wasn’t enough for a House Republican leadership hoping to make gains in the upcoming midterm elections.

A spokesman for the Benghazi committee said (9/16) that it “will consider all evidence, across all jurisdictions, and produce the final, definitive accounting on behalf of Congress of what happened before, during and after the terrorist attacks on our facilities in Benghazi.” The committee was created by the House Republican majority in May, almost entirely along party lines, despite Democratic objections that it was a waste of money and that that time could better be spent focusing on matters like income inequality. Despite vows not to fundraise off of the tragedy, Israel noted, it has become a popular fundraising tool for conservatives.

SECRET GOP RECORDS REVEAL CORPORATE DONORS. America’s most prominent companies, from Aetna to Walmart, poured millions of dollars into the campaigns of Republican governors since 2008, the Republican Governors Association apparently accidentally disclosed. One document listed 17 corporate “members” of the governors association’s secretive 501(c)(4), the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee, which is allowed to shield its supporters from the public.

The trove of documents, accessed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) after an apparent coding error left them open to the public, sheds light on the secretive world of 501(c)(4) political groups, just as the battle over their future intensifies. Unlike the Republican Governors Association, the tax-exempt Republican Governors Public Policy Committee is not required to disclose anything, even as donors hit the links, rub shoulders and trade policy talk with governors and their top staff members, Jonathan Weisman reported at the New York Times (9/24).

At a policy committee symposium last year at the La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., committee members included the health insurers Aetna and WellPoint, the insurance lobby America’s Health Insurance Plans, the utility giant Southern Company, and the lobbying firms Dutko Grayling (now known as Grayling), BGR Group and Leavitt Partners.

Among the RGA documents is a 21-page schedule of the policy committee’s Carlsbad meeting last year that lists which companies attended, who represented them and what they contributed. The most elite group, known as the Statesmen, whose members donated $250,000, included Aetna; Coca-Cola; Exxon Mobil; Koch Companies Public Sector, the lobbying arm of the highly political Koch Industries; Microsoft; Pfizer; UnitedHealth Group; and Walmart. The $100,000 Cabinet level included Aflac, BlueCross BlueShield, Comcast, Hewlett-Packard, Novartis, Shell Oil, Verizon Communications and Walgreen.

One 2009 document states the benefits of a Governors Board membership, for a $50,000 annual contribution or a one-time donation of $100,000, saying it “offers the ability to bring their particular expertise to the political process while helping to support the Republican agenda.”

Board members received two tickets to “an exclusive breakfast with the Republican Governors and members of their staff”; three tickets to the Governors Forums Series, where “a group of 5-8 governors discuss the best policy practices from around the country on a particular topic”; and a D.C. Discussion Breakfast Series, among other events.

If they bump up to Cabinet Membership — $100,000 annually or a single payment of $200,000 — contributors also receive two invitations to “an exclusive Gubernatorial Dinner,” an “intimate gathering with the Republican Governors and special Republican V.I.P. guests” at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington.

Political finance experts say the practice apparently laid out in the documents is not illegal, and probably not unusual, the Times reported. The Democratic Governors Association has its own secretive 501(c)(4).

QUARTER OF AMERICANS OPEN TO SECESSION. While 45% of Scots voted to leave the United Kingdom, only a quarter of Americans are open to their states leaving the union, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found (9/19). Some 23.9% of Americans polled from 8/23 through 9/16 said they strongly supported or tended to support the idea of their state breaking away, while 53.3% of the 8,952 respondents strongly opposed or tended to oppose the notion.

Republicans were more inclined to support secession, with 29.7% favoring it, compared with 21% of Democrats.

Roy Gustafson, 61, of Camden, S.C., who lives on disability payments, told Reuters, “The state would be better off handling things on its own.”

Mark Denny, a 59-year-old Republican retiree living outside Dallas on disability payments, said he was confident the state could get by without the rest of the country. “Texas has everything we need. We have the manufacturing, we have the oil, and we don’t need them,” he said, apparently unaware of where the disabilityk checks come from.

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2014


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