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Billionaire Sheldon Adelson holds the First In The Nation presidential primary

sheldon_adelson2Looks like New Hampshire is losing our “first-in-the-nation-Presidential-primary” status.

According to press reports, the FIRST “primary” for the 2016 Presidential campaign is being held this weekend in Las Vegas

…as each of the likely GOP candidates gets interviewed by moneyman Sheldon Adelson.

“Certainly the ‘Sheldon Primary’ is an important primary for any Republican running for president,” said Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush.

Reportedly, this weekend’s events include a poker tournament, a Scotch “tasting”, and a VIP dinner “hosted by the Adelsons in the private airplane hangar where Adelson keeps his fleet.”  In-between those events, “Adelson is scheduled to hold casual one-on-one chats — over coffee, at dinner or in his private office — with the prospective candidates.”

A senior strategist who has advised past GOP nominees said the 2016 hopefuls ‘are just falling at his feet.’

So… if Billionaire mogul Sheldon Adelson gets first crack at vetting the presidential candidates… where does that leave regular Republicans, here in the Granite State?

Money, Politics and Overturning Citizens United

For as long as I can remember, the amount of money involved in politics has been an issue.  Even before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, there was ‘soft money’ for campaigns from the political parties.

However, the landmark decision in Citizens United didn’t just change the rules of the game – it fundamentally changed the game.

Citizens United gave individuals the ability to donate unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns.  The ruling also gave corporations the same rights as people, therefor allowing corporations to donate unlimited funds.  The worst part of the Citizens United ruling is how it allowed donors to remain essentially anonymous.  Billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson could literally donate a billion dollars without anyone knowing.  This would be true if they did not tell everyone they did it.

We all agree that money is power in politics.  In political campaigns, money is everything – that is why the day after each election, they start begging for money for the next election. Money allows you to buy airtime on TV and radio.  Money allows candidates to send out post cards to every person in their district (my friends at the USPS thank you for that, by the way).  Without money, candidates cannot even get their names out there to the people. Money is everything in a campaign.

Once again, we are at the point where we need to reform our political contribution system.  The money in politics is giving more weight to the corporations and lobbying groups than the actual people that candidates are elected to represent.  Take the recent Senate vote on common sense gun reforms and universal background checks.  Many of the Senators who opposed background checks are also in tight with the NRA, who is a massive lobbying group for the gun manufacturers.  Even though between 80-90% of Americans believe that we should have universal background checks on all gun sales, 46 US Senators voted it down.  Why? Because they do not want to lose the financial backing, or face the wrath of the uber-rich NRA.

We must fix this system, or our democracy will completely fall apart.  This is why New Hampshire Legislators have introduced HCR2. HCR2 is a resolution urging US Congress to amend the US Constitution to overturn Citizens United.  Simple, right?

In a recent UNH poll, 72% of Granite Staters believed this we should overturn Citizens United.  This is 72% of all Granite Staters – Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike.

“These numbers make it clear that the political will exists to reclaim democracy from corporate and special interest spending – in New Hampshire and around the country,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president of People For the American Way. “Voters across the state are speaking out to insist that our democracy is truly of, by and for the people.”

UNH Poll supporting overturning citizens united

So why haven’t you heard about this resolution? Because it has no chance of even being debated in the NH Senate right now.  Recently Senate President Peter Bragdon changed the rules of the Senate to say that a ‘super majority’ would be required before the Senate would even consider House resolutions.  If this sounds vaguely familiar and highly dysfunctional, think: US Senate Filibuster on a smaller scale. This change means that the NH Senate is not even going to discuss the resolution.

“New Hampshire voters, like most Americans, are fed up with the Citizens United anything-goes approach to money in politics. Six in 10 New Hampshire Republicans, nearly three out of four independents, and nearly eight in 10 Democrats support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. That’s why 10 Republican Representatives joined Democrats in passing HCR2 at the state House last month, and why the state Senate should now also heed the will of the voters,” said Peter Schurman, campaign director at Free Speech For People.

These Senators are elected to represent us. When the people overwhelmingly agree that this needs to change, something should change.  The Senate should stop hiding behind this arbitrary parliamentary rule.  Bring the resolution to the floor and let’s discuss it.

Jonah Minkoff-Zern, senior organizer of Democracy Is For People at Public Citizen sums it up perfectly:

“The only question is: Are the politicians ready to follow the will of the people, rather than the giant campaign spenders?”

 

Sheldon Adelson: One Man’s Influence Over America’s Politics

Remember Sheldon Adelson, our poster child for dividend tax reform?

“As CEOs receive more of their compensation in stock, they have a bigger personal stake in decisions about what to do with corporate profits.  Should the company reinvest profits by expanding operations and hiring new employees? Or pay profits out to shareholders as dividends?   Implement a long-term growth strategy?  Or loot the company for as much immediate payout as possible?  When top executives own millions of shares, they have a huge personal stake in that decision.”

“Remember how casino mogul Sheldon Adelson pledged to spend $100 million on Mitt Romney’s campaign?  Wonder how he could afford it?  It was only a fraction of the amount Adelson received this year in stock dividends from his company – even though ‘Dividend payments to shareholders are not standard in the casino industry…’ “

Read the full story here.

Turns out, Adelson spent more than he pledged.  According to yesterday’s Huffington Post, Adelson spent about $150 million trying to get Mitt Romney elected.

As [President Obama’s] second term begins, Adelson’s international casino empire faces a rough road, with two federal criminal investigations into his business.

This coming week, Adelson plans to visit Washington, according to three separate GOP sources familiar with his travel schedule. While here, he’s arranged Hill meetings with at least one House GOP leader in which he is expected to discuss key issues, including possible changes to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the anti-bribery law that undergirds one federal probe into his casino network, according to a Republican attorney with knowledge of his plans.

Read more here.

Also yesterday, Politico reported

A week after Election Day, three Republican governors mentioned as 2016 presidential candidates — Bobby Jindal, John Kasich and Bob McDonnell — each stopped by the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino to meet privately with its owner Sheldon Adelson, a man who could single-handedly underwrite their White House ambitions.

Planning a presidential campaign used to mean having coffee with county party chairs in their Iowa or New Hampshire living rooms. The courting of Adelson, a full four years out from 2016, demonstrates how super PAC sugar daddies have become the new must-have feature for White House wannabes.

Read the Politico report here.

Is this what American democracy is coming to?  The personal preference of one very rich man is more important than the New Hampshire primary?

Remember, this is the same man who had tax breaks worth $2.3 billion riding on the outcome of the 2012 elections.

And whatever tax reforms Congress makes – or doesn’t make – as it resolves the fiscal cliff

…well, all those reforms could be changed again, by a new Congress and a new President, depending on the outcome of the 2014 and 2016 elections.

This is a long-term game, folks.

Please learn about and support the Saving American Democracy Amendment to the US Constitution.

 

Tax Policy: Time to go Back to the Future?

President Dwight EisenhowerRemember what it was like, back in 1952?  The nation’s unemployment rate was 3%.

Remember the days of annual raises? Back in 1952, the average family income was growing by about 5.4% a year.

Remember the days when one job was enough for a family to live on?  Back in 1952, 75% of American families had only one income.

Remember when our country had a solid middle class?  Back in 1952, CEOs were paid only 47 times as much as their average employee.  (These days, CEOs receive about 230 times what their employees earn.)

Back then, lobbying was an $8-million-a-year industry.   In 2010, lobbying reached an all-time high of $3.55 billion (even after adjusting for inflation, that’s about 46 times what corporations spent lobbying 60 years ago).

What else has changed?  Tax rates.  After all that lobbying, Congress has slashed the tax rates that apply to top-income individuals.  (The top tax rate used to be 90% — both for earned income and for dividend income.  Now, the top tax rate for wage income is 35%, while taxes on dividends are capped at 15%.  Back in 1952, corporate dividends were taxed as “income”; now they are considered “capital gains”.)

What else?  The structure of executive compensation has changed significantly, to reflect changes in the tax laws.  Back in the 1950s, most executives received salaries plus perks such as a company car.  Now, executives receive compensation “packages” that can dwarf their base salary — including “non-cash” awards of corporate stock, which takes advantage of the low capital gains tax rate.

What else has changed? As CEOs receive more of their compensation in stock, they have a bigger personal stake in decisions about what to do with corporate profits.  Should the company reinvest profits by expanding operations and hiring new employees? Or pay profits out to shareholders as dividends?   Implement a long-term growth strategy?  Or loot the company for as much immediate payout as possible?  When top executives own millions of shares, they have a huge personal stake in that decision.

Remember how casino mogul Sheldon Adelson pledged to spend $100 million on Mitt Romney’s campaign?  Wonder how he could afford it?  It was only a fraction of the amount Adelson received this year in stock dividends from his company – even though “Dividend payments to shareholders are not standard in the casino industry, as companies generally still prefer to spend cash on new growth opportunities.” (Are you wondering who made the decision to pay dividends rather than grow the business?)

That $100 million was also slightly less than what Adelson could have received – just in lower taxes on dividends – just in one year – if Mitt Romney had been elected President and had been able to implement his proposed tax policies.  (All told, Adelson could have received tax breaks totaling $2.3 billion, if Romney had been elected.)

Lots of things have changed, since 1952.  Sixty years ago, who would have dreamed that one person would try to buy a presidential election?  Or that a presidential candidate would propose tax breaks which would benefit a single campaign contributor to the tune of $2.3 billion?

Maybe it’s time to start asking whether all those tax cuts have actually benefited America’s economy?  Or have they only benefited America’s richest individuals?

Maybe it’s time to consider what effect those tax cuts have had on corporate decisions.

Maybe it’s time to consider what effect they’ve had on America’s middle class.

Maybe it’s time to stop giving CEOs tax incentives to loot their own companies.

Maybe it’s time to go back to the 90% tax on dividend income, at least for dividends paid to executives by the companies they control.

 

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