Listing to Portman

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The Grand Bargain marches ever onward. Lindsey Boerma of CBS News reports:

Republicans would be willing to tender more revenue in a deal to replace the sequester, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said today on “Face the Nation,” if President Obama showed willingness to make “structural changes” to entitlement programs.

Part of Congress’s bipartisan supercommittee tasked with crafting a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion, Portman said he and his colleagues came “very close” to striking a “balanced” compromise that partnered spending cuts with revenue to replace the blind, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration before they went into effect March 1. “The problem,” he said, was that Democrats’ proposal to generate revenue fell back on tax hikes, two months after the so-called “fiscal cliff” package upped income taxes on families making more than $450,000 a year.

“We had tax reforms [in the failed plan], which helps grow the economy,” Portman said.

Portman’s statement makes the distinction between “tax reforms” — lowering corporate tax rates while removing loopholes are the reforms currently under discussion — and tax increases, and the Obama Administration has more than once signaled its desire for tax reforms as well. And “structural changes” to entitlements frequently refers to cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid effected by altering the cost-of-living formulas, another approach the Administration has said it is willing to agree to. The difficulty both parties face is getting their members and voters to embrace the betrayals of principle the eventual agreement would require.

The one obvious winner in such a deal would be large corporations, whose taxes would be cut and who could subsequently lobby to restore any loopholes temporarily suspended. Perhaps not surprisingly, Portman, a Finance Committee member and former Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under George W. Bush, takes in plenty of campaign contributions from Ohio Republican billionaire investors. Portman’s number one contributor was the Cincinnati insurance and investment company American Financial Group (AFG). Until his death in 2011, Carl Lindner, Jr. owned and ran AFG; he was one of the richest people in the world and a prominent Republican donor, with AFG giving Portman alone over a quarter million dollars. (Lindner’s ice cream company United Dairy Farmers also gave $55,000, ranking 17th.) AFG’s legal representatives, Cincinnati firm Keating Muething & Kleklamp (KMK) ranked 12th. (One of its founding partners, Charles Keating, Jr., later served several years in jail as part of the Keating Five savings and loan scandal.) “Vulture fund” Elliott Management, an investment bank dealing with “distressed debt”, ranked third on Portman’s list, giving $115,000; its founder and CEO Paul Singer is another major Republican contributor. Likewise Mercer Reynolds of investment firm Reynolds, DeWitt & Co. (18th with $54,000) was George W. Bush’s campaign finance chair.

Investment and professional service corporations outside Ohio also look kindly on Portman. These include mutual fund mammoth FMR Corp. (Fidelity) (sixth), “Big Four” banking giants Citigroup (ninth) and JPMorgan Chase (11th), insurance multinational MetLife (tenth), and Edward Jones Investments (15th). Accounting firm Ernst & Young (seventh) and the world’s largest advertising company WPP Group (14th) also made large donations.

Many of his donors come from in-state, however. Cincinnati-based purveyors of pet food and personal care products Procter & Gamble (second) plunked down $179,000 for Portman, while Cincinnati laundry company and KMK client Cintas Corp. (eighth) may well clean up the sheets, towels and uniforms manufactured and distributed by Standard Textile (16th). Cleveland-based legal practice Squire Sanders (fourth), for whom Portman worked after resigning as George W. Bush’s OMB director, gave him over $100,000. Ohio’s main corporate law firm Thomspon Hine (13th), and Ohio-based BakerHostetler (20th).

Other contributors to Portman include the third-largest company in the world, General Electric (fifth) and real estate developers North American Properties (19th).

The quality of Merkley

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Same shit, different flies. That Democrats welcome from Obama what they recoiled from under Bush has become so commonplace that it’s now a cliche. In the latest example, only two Democratic Senators (Jeff Merkley and Pat Leahy) as well as Independent Bernie Sanders declined to support the appointment to head the CIA of a man who oversaw the application of torture during the Bush Administration and was assassination czar during Obama’s tenure. In a statement following his vote against Brennan’s confirmation, Merkley wrote:

“I have deep concerns with the Obama Administration’s continuation of Bush-era policies related to warrantless wiretapping and the collection of electronic records pertaining to the activities of ordinary citizens.

“I have concerns about policies that allow the administration to strip due process rights from Americans it chooses to deem enemy combatants. Those lost rights constitute core constitutional values, including the requirement to show cause for detaining a citizen, the right to a public trial, and the right to confront those who bear evidence against you.

“I am also deeply concerned about the implications of the administration’s policy on drone strikes. And I am troubled that so much of the legal justification for these policies remains secret, preventing Congress, let alone the American people, from weighing the trade-offs.”

Previously I’ve written about Rand Paul, who led a filibuster against Brennan with the aid of Mike Lee, as well as summarizing the donors to Merkley’s fellow Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who joined in Paul’s filibuster but voted to confirm Brennan anyway. Today I’ll look at Merkley himself.

Merkley’s largest donor, giving him over $78,000 since 2008, is JStreetPAC, a political action committee favoring a peaceful resolution to the Palestine-Israel conflict. His second largest is the arms control non-profit the Council for a Livable World, which gave him $56,000. In addition, he has attracted significant contributions from several other left-leaning issue-based organizations, including MoveOn.org (sixth), the League of Conservation Voters (eighth). Democratic politico Steve Westly‘s clean-tech venture capital firm the Westly Group (13th) also invested in Merkley, who is chair of the Subcommittee on Green Jobs and the New Economy.

The Oregon Senator receives a great deal of money from in-state sources, including workers from the State of Oregon (third) and Portland/Hillsboro’s Oregon Health & Science University (fourth), the state’s largest private employer, Intel (fifth) in Hillsboro, and Portland-area footwear giant Nike (17th). Lawyers and law firms also gave heavily to Merkley; he received lots of attention from the largest law firm in Oregon, Portland’s Stoel Rives (seventh), trial lawyers Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossman (11th), and Portland litigation and securities firm Stoll Berne (16th).

Unions move big bucks into Merkley’s corner. Among his major supporters are the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (ninth); the country’s largest federation of unions, the AFL-CIO (tenth); the American Nurses Association (12th); the Teamsters Union (18th); and tying for 20th with $15,000 apiece: the Communications Workers of America, the Ironworkers Union, the Operating Engineers Union, and the Painters and Allied Trades Union.

Merkley also received donations from real estate services firm Newmark Knight Frank (14th), hedge fund investors D. E. Shaw & Co. (15th), and gigantoid media conglomerate Time Warner (19th).

A Mike Lee story

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Kiss goodbye to another bit of the Bill of Rights. After thirteen hours of delay, the shredding of the US Constitution resumed today, with only a few Senators — mainly Tea Party Republicans — having briefly stood in its way. Torture and assassination supporter John Brennan was just confirmed 63-34 with only three members of the Democratic caucus (Merkley, Leahy and Sanders) opposing him. The delay occurred because, as Kevin Gosztola of FireDogLake wrote yesterday:

The nomination of John Brennan to the position of CIA director is currently being held up by a filibuster being led by Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. He has been joined by Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah and even Democratic Senator Ron Wyden to ask “questions” of him as he filibusters.

Much of the motivation for standing on the Senate floor for the past hours has to do with the fact that Attorney General Eric Holder has declined to say outright that targeting and killing a US citizen suspected of plotting a terrorist attack on US soil, who did not pose an imminent threat, would be illegal. Paul submitted three letters and finally on March 5 Holder gave him an answer. However, it did not rule out the use of drone strikes and say this would be unconstitutional.

I’ve previously given an overview of the major contributors to Paul and Wyden. Today I’ll look at who has given money to Lee, who joined the Senate in 2010.

Several major donors to the Utah Senator have ties to Mitt Romney, 2012 Republican presidential candidate and a former Utah resident. Lee’s top donor by far, giving nearly $75,000, was APX Alarm (now Vivint), a Provo-based home security firm; its president is Alex Dunn, Mitt Romney’s former chief of staff. Murray Energy (third), an Ohio coal mining corporation run by prominent Romney supporter Robert E. Murray, fueled Lee’s campaign with $24,000, as did Provo dietary supplement sellers Nu Skin Enterprises (fourth).

Law firms edged out business services as Lee’s biggest industry. Huge corporate law firm Sidley Austin (second) contributed $28,000; mergers and acquisitions specialists Sullivan & Cromwell ranked sixth and bankruptcy law firm Pachulski Stang Ziehl & Jones 11th.

Many of Lee’s big donors came from his home state of Utah. Payday loan company Tosh Inc. (Check City) (fifth), has its headquarters in Provo. Herbal supplement manufacturers Basic Research (seventh) work out of Salt Lake City, as does billboard company Reagan Outdoor Advertising (eighth). Online marketing business Omniture (tenth), acquired by software multinational Adobe, was moved from Orem to Lehi. Draper professional services firm NPEC (12th-19th) gave $10,000, while Saint George energy company Paydirt Capital, Salt Lake City’s Perry Homes, and Centerville investment advisors Wealth Navigation (20th-23rd) all donated $9,600.

Other significant contributors to Lee include the world’s largest software company, Microsoft (ninth). $10,000 donations came in from lobbying groups the American Bankers Association, the Credit Union National Association, and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors; and political action committees OrrinPAC, representing Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, former Senator Jim DeMint’s Tea Party Senate Conservatives Fund, and the pro-Israel Citizens Organized. Pharmacy services company Medco Health Solutions gave $10,000 too, while venture capital firm Northgate Capital (20th-23rd) gave $9,600.

Calling Collins

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Start shopping for cat food — the austerity crowd in Washington DC is gathering to cut the benefits you’ve already paid for. As Richard Cowan and Steve Holland of Reuters reported yesterday:

Gene Sperling, the White House senior economic official, said on the CNN program “State of the Union” on Sunday that Obama was contacting to lawmakers to talk about compromises that could include reforms to both the tax code and entitlement programs, which include Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare health care for the elderly and disabled.

***

An aide to Collins, a moderate, told Reuters that she spoke to Obama on Monday afternoon and they talked about “the need for a bipartisan agreement on several critical issues,” such as how to rein in the $16.7 trillion U.S. debt and the sequestration cuts.

Since Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) is being wooed by the White House in an effort to punish the poor even further, it seems like a good time to examine who her major donors have been. It’s perhaps not surprising that many of them are wealthy investors and corporations.

Collins’s top donor was credit card colossus MBNA, which was acquired by Bank of America in 2006. Other investment banks/financial services firms contributing to the Maine Republican include “vulture fund” Elliott Management (eighth) and Goldman Sachs (11th), as well as accounting mainstay Ernst & Young (20th).

Military aerospace contractors drop plenty of money into the campaigns of the Northeastern Republican, who sits on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. She’s received money from General Dynamics (second), Raytheon (ninth), and the Hartford, CT, based United Technologies Corporation (14th).

Collins, who was lobbied heavily from all sides on Obamacare, also received lots of attention from medical industry donors. These included health insurance behemoth Blue Cross Blue Shield (fourth); physicians’ group the American Medical Association (15th); Groton, CT, pharmaceutical megabusiness Pfizer (16th); health care trade group the American Hospital Association (17th); and Hartford, CT, managed health care corporation Aetna (19th).

Other major donors to Collins include The Wish List (third), a political action committee devoted to electing pro-choice Republican women in the Senate and House; worldwide hoteliers Marriott (sixth); telecom player Verizon (seventh); international law firm Blank Rome (seventh); massive media conglomerate Time Warner (tenth); the largest pulp and paper company in the world, International Paper (12th); package delivery corporation the United Parcel Service (UPS) (13th); and mailing and shipping company Pitney Bowes (18th).

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Side note: There is no family relation (that I know of) between me and former Maine Representative Tom Allen, Collins’s Democratic opponent for the Senate in 2008.

What about Bob Menendez?

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If Israel pulls the trigger, will the US supply the bullets? As bipartisan support in Washington ramps up for war with Iran, Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, is leading the charge. Jamal Abdi of the National Iranian American Council reports:

New legislation introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) calls for the U.S. to provide military, economic, and diplomatic support for Israel should its government decide to launch military strikes on Iran. The measure would effectively signal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can decide not just whether to enter Israel into war with Iran, but whether the United States enters such a war. It comes as tentative diplomatic progress was reported from negotiations involving the U.S. and Iran.

The unprecedented measure is being unveiled as part of the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference this weekend in Washington, DC, that will bring thousands of the group’s supporters to push the measure on Capitol Hill. The group will also support a new sanctions bill in the House that could authorize the U.S. to sanction companies, including in Europe and Asia, for any commercial dealings with Iran. That measure has raised concerns about further exacerbating medicine shortages impacting the people of Iran.

The Graham resolution is framed as a non-binding measure aimed at encouraging the President to implement and escalate sanctions on Iran. But the final clause “urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.”

The bill will likely please one of Menendez’s largest donors, NORPAC (ninth), which advocates for foreign aid to Israel and sanctions on Iran, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia. NORPAC — the North Jersey Political Action Committee — acts as the campaign arm of AIPAC, which lobbies for and against legislation. Marsha Cohen of Lobe Log describes them this way:

Although the two organizations have remained separate and distinct, there’s been an overlap of talking points, priorities and modus operandi. NORPAC’s leaders describe it as a “single issue” organization, dedicated exclusively to promulgating the passage of Israel-related legislation, of which anti-Iran sanctions have become an integral part.

So who else gives money to Menendez? According to OpenSecrets.org, the two top industries donating to Menendez are law and real estate, with many of the individual contributors coming from in-state. The New Jersey Senator’s top donor, contributing nearly $300,000 to his campaigns since 1992, is corporate law firm Lowenstein Sandler, which originated in Newark and now has its headquarters in Roseland. Teaneck’s general service firm DeCotiis, FitzPatrick & Cole ranked second with $172,000. International partnership Greenberg Traurig (fifth) gave $141,000, while Secaucus real estate law and litigation experts Waters McPherson McNeill (17th) put in $83,500. Hackensack contractors J. Fletcher Creamer & Son (seventh) added $120,000.

Financial companies deposit plenty of funds into Menedez’s accounts. These include multinational investment bank Goldman Sachs (third), insurance giant Prudential Financial (fourth), and Swiss banking titan UBS (12th). In addition, the Senator receives backing from some of the country’s largest unions: the AFL-CIO-affiliated Laborers International Union (14th), the Teamsters (15th), and government workers’ union AFSCME (20th).

Quite a few of his major contributors, aside from the law firms mentioned above, originate in or are New Jersey-based. These include Newark gas and electric utility Public Service Enterprise Group (eighth) and Hackensack’s United Water (18th); the Spanish Broadcasting System (tenth), founded in Newark; Maher Terminals (11th), which ships from the Port of New York and New Jersey; and pharmaceutical corporation Schering-Plough (19th), based in Kenilworth.

Other big Menendez donors are telecom players Verizon (sixth) and AT&T (16th) and military suppliers Applied Companies (13th).

Jim Inhofe

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The axe is about to fall in Washington DC, and as tomorrow’s budget sequester rapidly approaches, many Senators are looking for agreement on a way to soften its impact. Laura Litvan and Brian Faler of Bloomberg report:

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma will introduce this week a measure that would let military service chiefs move around funds within the Pentagon’s budget this fiscal year, according to his spokeswoman, Donelle Harder.

Beginning March 1, the government faces $85 billion in across-the-board cuts over seven months — half of it from defense — unless President Barack Obama and Congress agree on an alternative.

“It buys time for a better fix” for the cuts, Harder said of Inhofe’s proposal. Lawmakers in his party are seeking an elusive consensus on how to deal with the reductions, known as sequestration.

Inhofe’s measure, to be co-sponsored by Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, also would provide flexibility this fiscal year to domestic agencies facing cuts.
Inhofe’s proposal faces opposition from Republicans on the defense panel, including Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. They back an alternative introduced by Ayotte that would delay sequestration for one year by requiring a 10 percent reduction in federal personnel through attrition and a pay freeze for lawmakers.

With Inhofe in the news this week, I decided to look at some of his major campaign contributors using OpenSecrets.org.

Inhofe’s top donor was Koch Industries, the Kansas multinational with interests in petroleum, chemical, fiber, finance and many other areas. Run by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, the corporation has poured billions into fighting the regulation of energy and financial derivatives; they’ve contributed nearly $100,000 to Inhofe. Likewise Murray Energy (second), a coal mining corporation run by Robert E. Murray, lobbies frequently against mining regulations; it has contributed $66,000 to global warming denier Inhofe. Inhofe has also received numerous donations from oil and gas companies such as ConocoPhillips (11th), Oklahoma City’s Devon Energy (16th), and Chevron (19th); as well as fossil fuel users like the United Parcel Service (fifth), the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (15th), the National Automobile Dealers Association (17th), and railroaders Union Pacific (20th).

Inhofe, a licensed commercial pilot who’s had run-ins with the Federal Aviation Administration, had funds dropped into his campaign from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (third) and Fort Worth, Texas, based American Airlines (fourth).

The Senator gets funds from several professional trade associations: the National Association of Realtors (sixth); the American Medical Association (eighth); the Associated General Contractors of America (12th); the National Beer Wholesalers Association (13th); and the American Bankers Association (18th).

Rounding out his top-twenty list are the National Rifle Association (seventh); telecom multinational AT&T (ninth); a business called Golden Rule Financial (tenth); and military and aerospace contractor Lockheed Martin (14th).

It’s news: Toomey

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Can you whittle with a hatchet? Billions of dollars of indiscriminate federal budget cuts are scheduled to take effect Friday, but Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey and Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe will offer a Republican alternative bill to modify the March 1 sequester. According to Robert J. Vickers of the Patriot-News:

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey will introduce legislation as soon as Wednesday to soften the harsh, congressionally mandated spending cuts slated to be applied at the end of the week.

The bill would give President Barack Obama the authority to determine how the cuts will be applied in each department, rather than the mandated across-the-board approach dictated in the so-called “sequester,” Toomey told a handful of Pennsylvania reporters in a conference call late Tuesday afternoon.

“We need to preserve the magnitude of the cuts, but almost everybody agrees we’d be better off if they were done differently,” he said. “The problem with [across-the-board cuts] is it gives no discretion to the managers or the administration to determine which of the programs has greater urgency than another.”

The proposal would also retain Congress’s ability to reject the president’s prioritization of the cuts, he added.

Since Toomey’s in the news, I decided to look at his list of top donors on OpenSecrets.org. His biggest donor by far was the conservative anti-tax 501(c)4 organization the Club for Growth, which has given its former president $860,000 since 1998, almost as much as the other nineteen of his top twenty donors combined. Toomey accepted leadership of the group following his narrow 2004 Republican primary loss to former Senator Alan Specter, which the club had backed financially. Other conservative issue groups backing him included Senator Jim DeMint’s political action committee theSenate Conservatives Fund (fifth), giving $61,500, and the billionaires at Crow Holdings (16th) and Koch Industries (20th), each giving over $30,000.

“Too big to fail” banks and hedge funds invest heavily in Toomey. Elliott Management, a “vulture fund” firm that works primarily with distressed debt investments, ranked second on the Senator’s list with $115,000, while hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors (sixth) gave $46,000. Two of the Big Four banksJPMorgan Chase (seventh) Bank of America (eighth) — deposited over $40,000 in his accounts, as did professional trade group the American Bankers Association (ninth). Pittsburgh-based hedge fund Federated Investors (15th) and financial services corporation Morgan Stanley (19th) each pitched in over $30,000.

Professional trade associations look favorably on Toomey as well. He’s received significant donations from anti-union construction group the Associated Builders and Contractors (tenth), the National Restaurant Association (12th), the National Federation of Independent Business (17th), and accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers (18th).

Other big contributors to the Pennsylvania Senator are Allentown businesses Air Products & Chemicals (third) and electric utility PPL (fourth); Mechanicsburg health care company Select Medical (11th); Philadelphia ammunition manufacturers Day & Zimmermann (13th); and Exelon (14th), an energy company with several nuclear and fossil fuel plants in Pennsylvania and other states.