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Money and Democracy: Cashing in on debt ceiling, Colbert asks YOU, Chamber hates sunshine and both parties love loopholes

"Public Citizen Money and Democracy Update"Stunning Statistics of the Week:

  • $350,000: The amount of money raised by Democratic bundler and lobbyist Anthony Podesta in the first six months of the year
  • $320,000: The amount raised for Democratic candidates by Podesta’s wife, Heather, in the same time period
  • $167,800: The amount raised by Patrick Durkin, the next-highest lobbyist bundler of the year, for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign
  • $144,100: The amount raised by Republican bundler T. Martin Fiorentino Jr.
  • $130,000: The amount raised so far this year by Michael Graham for the National Republican Senatorial Committee

More support for Obama’s proposed executive order

More than 60 House Democrats sent a letter this week to President Barack Obama, asking him to issue an executive order that would make companies vying for government contracts disclose their political contributions. “Political expenditures are already well-known to those that make them and to the officials who benefit,” the letter said. “With disclosure, the public will have access to this information as well, allowing them to judge whether contracts were awarded based on merit.” The executive order would help to mitigate the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which gave corporations the go-ahead to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.

Not everyone wants disclosure…

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent warnings to members of Congress letting them know that voting to shine light on government contractors’ campaign contributions will negatively affect their legislative scorecards. The Chamber, along with many House Republicans, says it believes the executive order is a way to silence political opponents.

Disclosure also feared in state elections

A conservative legal group this week asked a federal court to overturn portions of Florida’s campaign finance laws, wiping out key disclosure requirements. The Institute for Justice – financed in part by the politically active billionaires, the Koch Brothers – is representing three Sarasota-area activists who want the court to block state campaign finance laws from being applied to citizen activists looking to run ads on ballot issues.

If you love numbers, you’ll love this …

If you love numbers and you just can’t get enough of the 2010 midterms, The Center for Responsive Politics has a website for you. You can learn which candidates spent the most (and least) money overall on their election bids, who spent the most of their own personal money and much more. Here’s one interesting fact: Michele Bachmann spent the most of any House candidate on her campaign ($11.6 million).

Lawmakers agree: Fundraising on debt ceiling is profitable

While Congress can’t seem to reach a consensus on a plan to raise the debt ceiling, there is something lawmakers agree on: They need money. From fiscal-minded policymakers to party committees, everyone is trying to fundraise off the debate.

Nonprofits challenge independent groups’ nonprofit status

Troubled by the way independent groups are spending freely in our elections, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 decided to take action. They filed a petition this week with the Internal Revenue Service requesting that the agency develop better regulations for political expenditures allowed by 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups, which do not have to disclose their donors. The existing regulation allowing (c)(4)s to make substantial political expenditures, they said, violates the Internal Revenue Code’s requirement that (c)(4)s be operated exclusively for social welfare purposes. Furthermore, they said many existing 501(c)(4) groups don’t meet the standards to qualify as nonprofits because their missions seem to be overtly political.

Both parties milk new fundraising loophole

We’ve mentioned before how the Federal Election Commission has allowed political candidates to fundraise for independent groups, as long as they only ask donors for a maximum of $5,000. But since these independent Super PACs can raise unlimited funds, the line is fuzzy about how much the groups elicit from fundraising events featuring candidates. Now, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are taking advantage of this loophole, the Center for Public Integrity reports.

Citizens United, the group, gives Bachmann a boost

Citizens United – the organization that successfully took its challenge of campaign finance law to the U.S. Supreme Court – has released a movie about former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). However, movie posters feature just Bachmann. The group also launched a $75,000 ad campaign in Iowa and will have a booth at the Ames straw poll. Is this an attempt to boost the Minnesotan’s presidential bid?

House committee staffer receiving lobbying shop severance packages

Seems as though a staffer for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has been getting paid by his former employer – a lobbying outfit with interests overseen by the committee – while on the committee’s payroll. Peter Warren signed not one, but two severance agreements with his former employer, the Education Finance Council. The first, in 2009, was labeled “severance agreement” in disclosure forms; the second, in 2010, was labeled “supplemental to severance agreement.” The nifty thing is, the terms of severance agreements need not be disclosed. The lending companies represented by Warren’s former lobbying shop will be subject to regulation by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is in turn overseen by the committee for which Warren works.

Tweeters rage against Citizens United, other grievances

Responding to a blogger’s call, the Twittersphere was deluged this week with people airing grievances against the government using the hashtag #F—YouWashington (since changed to #FYW). Many were angry about the power wielded by corporations over lawmakers. Some sample tweets: “For Tightening Our Belts So That a Billionaire Can Get Another Tax Break They Don’t Need,” “for allowing Citizens United to stand, and for Super-PACs,” and “for keeping the American Dream alive for just 1% of the population and funding it with the other 99%.”

Taxpayers finance corruption-laden organization

Remember last week when we told you about the American Legislative Exchange Council, where corporations pay a $25,000 membership fee and then sit down with lawmakers to hash out legislation? Well, in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Kansas, taxpayer dollars are being used to fund state lawmakers’ memberships. In Pennsylvania alone, taxpayers footed a $50,000 bill to cater a 2007 ALEC event.

Colbert’s Super PAC should stand for democracy

Last night, Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert asked his viewers to let him know what they stood for, so that he could figure out what his Super PAC should stand for. Click here to tell him that you stand for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United v. FEC because you believe www.democracyisforpeople.org.

Stay tuned for 8.11.11 . . . really, we swear this time it IS coming! Email us at engage (at) citizen.org if you know of a celebrity or nonprofit with a large social media following and we will loop you into our game plan.