Archive for January, 2018

Tech Spending in 2017

Thursday, January 25th, 2018 by Allison Rosenstock

According to Bloomberg Politics, “Google outspent its tech rivals in lobbying in 2017, as Facebook Inc., Inc. and Apple Inc. set company records for the year, federal disclosures show.” The increase in tech lobbying has faced a fair amount of backlash, however, the tech companies are attempting to capitalize on “a tax overhaul and regulatory rollback in President Donald Trump’s first year in office.”

Although companies are upping their lobbying spending for financial gain, lawmakers continue to scrutinize “the companies over questions including Russia’s use of their platforms to try to influence the 2016 election, the disclosures show.” Facebook, Google, and Twitter all acknowledge that their users were exposed to Russian ads, fake news reports and “fraudulent social media posts.” The three companies testified in front of Congress in October, and have pledged to improve their “content screening techniques before the 2018 midterm elections.” During the fourth quarter of 2017, “Google also beat our all other companies, spending more than $4.6 million, although some trade groups and think tanks spent significantly more during the period.” Amazon spent $13 million in 2017, and more than $3.3 million in the fourth quarter. Amazon also faced criticism from President Trump because their owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns the Washington Post.

Another significant issue for internet tech companies in 2017 and 2018 is net neutrality. Google opposed the bill, whereas Comcast and AT&T lobbied in favor of the Federal Communications Commission’s rescinding of open internet rules. At the same time, AT&T was battling for its merger with Time Warner Inc. AT&T also fought for Trump’s tax bill and spent more than $3.6 million.

Tech companies also lobbied on immigration and taxes. “Apple spent more than $7 million during the year.”

Shutdown or no Shutdown

Thursday, January 18th, 2018 by Allison Rosenstock

To avoid a looming government shutdown, the GOP is using the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as a bargaining tool. The one-month package House GOP leaders are proposing includes “six more years of funding for CHIP while delaying the implementation of several Obamacare taxes,” according to Politico. However, there is no long-term funding in the bill for community health centers. The National Association of Community Health Centers said, “Congress’ inability to respond to the health care center funding cliff has unnecessarily destabilized the health center network, and has jeopardized care for the 27 million Americans who rely on them for high quality, affordable care.”

Therefore, to avoid the blame for no funding for CHIP, Republicans are using the lack of funding to preemptively blame Democrats. Two GOP senators have said they will vote no on the spending bill and the “number of Democrats saying they’ll vote no has been rising by the hour,” according to The Hill. For now, the GOP stands firmly on the side of securing the border, whereas the Democrats want more funding for DACA. With 12 senators still undecided, the possibility of a shutdown is still looming.

If the spending bill, which would keep the government open until February 16th, does not pass through the senate, the government will shut down and midnight on Friday. Some GOP senators, including Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul, do not want to pass another stopgap bill, like the one passed in December, because they do not want to waste more taxpayer money. Sen. Mike Rounds (S.D.) said, “he would oppose the House bill in its ‘current form’ adding: ‘It’s a matter of defense and it’s a matter of trying to make sure in the future the message is ‘let’s get our work down on time.’” It is unclear how Sen. Jeff Flake and Sen. Mike Lee will vote.

The Return of Earmarks?

Thursday, January 11th, 2018 by Allison Rosenstock

On Tuesday, according to the Washington Post, President Trump fully endorsed earmarks as a “lubricant to grease the gears of government.” Trump himself said that “a lot of the pros are saying that, if you want to get along and if you want this country really rolling again, you have to look at [earmarks].”

However, the days of earmarks were not as great as Trump thinks they were. For example, “former Congressman Randy Cunningham literally had a ‘bribe menu’ that told defense contractors exactly how much they could pay for him to deliver earmarks to their businesses.” The ‘menu’ included things like a yacht and prostitutes. Further, in 2005, Congress earmarked $223 million to build a “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska. In 2007, Nancy Pelosi “imposed a one-year moratorium on earmarks when she became speaker.” Then in 2011, John Boehner banned them altogether.

While President Trump alluded to the past abuses on earmarks, he said, “we have to put better controls because it got a little bit out of hand, but maybe that brings people together.” Conservative groups are furious with the president’s statements. It appears that Trump is not aware of the previous disasters caused by earmarks including the incidents with Jack Abramoff, Bob Ney, Jack Murtha and Ted Stevens. There is general concern brewing that the President lacks the basic historical knowledge to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

The only action on the earmarks issue so far is that the House Rules Committee will hold two hearings next week on ending the moratorium. The chairman, Rep. Pete Sessions, “said he thinks it can be done in a ‘transparent and meritorious’ way.” Senator Jeff Flake, on the other hand, played a key role in killing earmarks and thinks it is not a good idea to bring them back. Killing earmarks was one of Sen. Flake’s proudest political achievements. However, he realizes that “his brand of principled conservatism is falling out of favor in the Republican Party.” Many Democrats believe running on an anti-earmark platform in 2018 could boost their popularity.

The Campaign Finance Loophole that’s Often Overlooked: Governors Associations

Thursday, January 4th, 2018 by Allison Rosenstock

While companies can’t donate large amounts of money to candidates in many states, they can donate unlimited sums to governors associations. Therefore, “in October 2014, the Republican Governors Association needed help in Maryland, where the gubernatorial race was tight. So it called Mountaire, Corp., one of America’s largest suppliers of chicken products,” according to The Wall Street Journal. In exchange for help on impending environmental regulations in Maryland, Mountaire agreed to donate $500,000 for an ad campaign for then-candidate Larry Hogan. When he was inaugurated, Governor Hogan “blocked the proposal opposed by the poultry industry.”

Companies have found a campaign finance loophole because now they can donate an unlimited amount to a Governors association by merely claiming they have an interest in the matter. Both the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) and the Republican Governors Association (RGA) have “tallys” to help keep tabs on how much money a particular governor brings to the association to then allocate the money in the future.

Why are companies donating to the RGA or DGA instead of to a super PAC or another outside group that supports candidates? Those donations to super PACs and other organizations, which are also not limited, are usually disclosed. However, if a company donates to the RGA or DGA, the money is labeled as coming from the RGA/DGA when it gets to the candidate. Multiple “former RGA and DGA officials described the practice of guiding donations as an open secret.”

The RGA claims that a Florida power company “didn’t give to the RGA to ‘circumvent’ Florida state limits on contributions or to ‘support Gov. Scott’…as RGA does not earmark any contributions for any race or candidate.” This could mean a number of things for campaign finance and the transparency of the current system.