Daily Digest - July 21: What Young Women Voters Want

Jul 21, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Not Your Father's Electorate (Richard Heffner's Open Mind)

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Not Your Father's Electorate (Richard Heffner's Open Mind)

Roosevelt Institute Vice President of Networks Taylor Jo Isenberg discusses the issues that young female voters are focused on today, zeroing in on economic concerns like paid leave.

The FCC Wants to Let Cities Build Their Own Broadband. House Republicans Disagree. (Vox)

Timothy B. Lee draws on Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford's work to explain why municipalities should be allowed to build publicly-owned high-speed Internet networks.

The Bad Boss Tax (In These Times)

Sarah Jaffe looks at the "bad business fee" plan developing in Minnesota, which would fine employers for the de facto subsidies they receive when their workers are on public assistance.

Republicans Want to Control, Not End, the Fed (WaPo)

A GOP proposal would force the Federal Reserve to choose a mathematical rule for setting interest rates, but Matt O'Brien says that would be a hugely ineffective way to create policy.

Rep. Keith Ellison Wants to Make Union Organizing a Civil Right (MSNBC)

Ned Resnikoff reports on the Congressman's planned bill, which would allow workers to individually sue their employers for anti-union retaliation.

Part-Time Schedules, Full-Time Headaches (NYT)

Continuing his look at the problems that on-call schedules create for part-time workers, Steven Greenhouse emphasizes the near-impossibility of getting ahead without regular schedules.

The Last Hope for Extending Long-Term Unemployment Insurance May Have Just Gone Poof (MoJo)

Patrick Caldwell writes that with the GOP using a bit of budget trickery called pension smoothing to pay for highways, Democrats have to find a new option for funding long-term unemployment insurance.

New on Next New Deal

What Will the American Economy Look Like 26 Years From Today?

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter introduces a series of speculations on the future of the American economy, with a focus on changes in technology, cities, and labor.

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Money in Politics is a Local Problem, Too

Jun 30, 2014Eugenia Kim

Large donors dominate our politics even at the local level, but communities have the power to overcome them.

Large donors dominate our politics even at the local level, but communities have the power to overcome them.

Last summer, I interned for mayoral candidate Gary Holder-Winfield in New Haven, CT. New Haven is not a small town. While it’s 130,660 residents pale in comparison to New York’s 8,405,837, it is a major city in Connecticut. In New Haven, which is primarily Democratic, the real race for mayor was in the primary. In a local election with seven candidates, there are not going to be seven radically different perspectives.  Most of the candidates generally held the same values, to the point that the race was decided more on the likability of the candidates then the content of their platforms.

In trying to differentiate Gary Holder-Winfield from the field, we got in touch with voters directly. I saw him work a full day at his job and then come in to the campaign office and knock on doors for hours until after dark on weekdays, and then walk all day knocking on doors on the weekends, rain or shine. I saw him write his personal phone number on literature to give out to his community.

I also saw Holder-Winfield forced to drop out because of lack of money. He had agreed to fund his campaign through the Democracy Fund, which restricts the amount of campaign expenditures allowed, limits individual contributions to $370, and prohibits any PAC or business from donating all together. In return, the Democracy Fund matches donations up to $125,000 and provides a $19,000 grant for the primary and general elections. Ultimately, all of the candidates that ran in the mayoral election with the Democracy Fund were defeated. While the new mayor of New Haven, Toni Harp, is extremely qualified and will do well as New Haven’s next mayor, I am disappointed that the process of getting there required raising more than half a million dollars.  

Despite Holder-Winfield dropping out of the race, I was not yet completely disheartened.  But when I went to work on aldermanic campaigns, I realized that money was the largest barrier to entry in politics today. Aldermen in New Haven are the equivalent of city councilmen. They each represent particular neighborhoods in New Haven, making their concerns and constituents hyper-local. Some sitting members on the Board of Aldermen in New Haven have been there for decades without a serious challenge, in part because local interest groups have backed them financially.

By helping to run the campaigns of aldermanic candidates who wanted to run free of these local interests and maintain a campaign on very few funds, I learned what an uphill battle it was to get money out of politics even at such a local level. We backed five candidates; only one was elected. It’s sobering when paying for lawn signs is out of a campaign’s budget. It’s disheartening to see a second candidate  I worked for drop out because of funding. It’s devastating that a group of dedicated volunteers can spend weeks systematically knocking on doors and hours on phone calls with potential voters, only to have the incumbent pay for enough canvassers in the week leading up to election day to pull off the votes to win.

That summer, it became very clear to me that democracy came with a high price. This is not a call to action for my congressman or senator to advocate for campaign finance reform; I am too realistic for that request. My call to action is for people who care about their communities. Some people may not vote because they feel like their votes do not matter, and it's easy to understand why in heavily partisan national elections. However, the closest aldermanic race was won by 81 votes. Local elections are where our votes matter most, and where we are least aware of where power lies.

Money in politics has permeated the governance of local issues, so we need to start identifying the drivers of local politics. In New Haven, politics are centered on the effects of Yale University as an anchor institution. Aldermanic races are shaped by the influence of the unions partnered with Yale. We need to impress the importance of local elections and analyze the drivers of these local communities. We must identify who holds power, economically and socially in these communities, and harness that power. Locally, there is still a chance for the voices of voters over large donors.

Eugenia Kim is the Rethinking Communities Intern at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, and a member of the Rethinking Communities Brain Trust.

Image via Thinkstock

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Florida Election Shows Danger and Promise in Obamacare Debate

Mar 17, 2014Richard Kirsch

Democrats may have lost the special election for Florida's 13th congressional district, but the polling shows a path to success in 2014 with the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats may have lost the special election for Florida's 13th congressional district, but the polling shows a path to success in 2014 with the Affordable Care Act.

As pundits debate the impact of Obamacare on the special Congressional election held in Florida on March 11, a headline from a new Bloomberg national poll actually does as good as any describing what happened in the Sunshine State: “Americans Stick with Obamacare as Opposition Burns Bright.” That national finding also describes what happened in Florida, where swing voters supported the ACA, but more opponents turned out to vote.

The Bloomberg survey found the “highest level of acceptance for the law yet” in Bloomberg’s polling, with almost two out of three (64 percent) of those surveyed saying they supported either retaining the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with “small modifications” (51 percent) or as it is (13 percent).

The troubling result in the survey for the political prospects of the ACA is that the one-third (34 percent) who want to repeal the law are much more likely to vote. No news here. We’ve known that the ACA is a highly motivating issue for Republican voters, who turn out at a much higher rate in off-year elections than Democrats and independents.

The real news is in the first set of findings, the growing popularity of Obamacare outside the Republican base. These findings were confirmed in the Florida election, when Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate, pushed back against attacks on the ACA from David Jolly, the Republican candidate, and independent groups supporting him.

Jolly’s position was clear:  “I’m fighting to repeal Obamacare, right away.” So was Sink’s: “We can’t go back to insurance companies doing whatever they want. Instead of repealing the health care law, we need to keep what’s right and fix what’s wrong.”

The key part of Sink’s message was to remind voters why people wanted health care reform in the first place. As one of Sink’s TV ads said, “Jolly would go back to letting insurance companies deny coverage.” That’s an effective reminder of the huge problems Americans have had for decades, when insurance companies could deny care because of a pre-existing condition, charge people higher rates because they were sick, even charge women higher rates than men. The ACA ended all that.

As would be expected in Florida – and even more so in a special election – the candidates worked especially hard for the votes of seniors. In their ads for Jolly, the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee repeated their misleading charge from 2010, trying to scare seniors into opposing the ACA by saying that it cut $716 billion from Medicare. But unlike 2010, when Democrats did not respond to attacks on the ACA, Sink pushed back. She reminded seniors that the ACA actually provides important new Medicare benefits, including closing the infamous prescription drug “donut hole.” Sink’s ads accurately said, “His [Jolly’s] plan would even force seniors to pay thousands more for prescription drugs.”

By Election Day, voters had a clear contrast between the positions of the candidates on the ACA. It was a close election, with Jolly winning by a small margin (48.4% to 46.5%) in a district with an 11-point Republican advantage, one that has been represented by the GOP for nearly 60 years. But polling found that independent voters in the district supported the “keep and fix” position over the “repeal” position by a margin of 57% to 31%. Sink actually gained ground over Jolly during the election on the question of which candidate had a better position on the ACA.

The narrow margin is encouraging in a district with this large a Republican voter advantage, but still falls short of the turnout in 2012, when President Obama narrowly carried the district. Democrats will need to do better in November, if they are going to hold on to contested Senate races and have a chance of picking up House seats.

Fortunately, unlike in 2010, the Democratic Senate and Congressional campaign committees at least understand that they can’t run away from Obamacare. Doing so will cede independent voters to Republicans, just when those voters are becoming very supportive of the “keep and fix” message. While Democrats would prefer to keep the focus on the economic pressures being faced by American families – highlighting issues like the minimum wage – they’ll only be heard if they also engage aggressively in the fight over the ACA.

In fact, the ACA is an economic issue; just ask anyone who has lost her job and her health coverage. Or the millions of low-wage workers who can’t afford to go to the doctor, or are trying to pay back medical bills from the visit they could not put off. As millions more Americans get coverage – 11 million as of the end of February between the new exchanges, the expansion of Medicaid and young people under 26 – Democrats should incorporate the ACA into their overall economic message.

Supporters of the ACA have consistently believed that once the ACA began to be implemented, it would become more popular. We’re starting to see that shift. The challenge now will be turning that popularity into votes in November. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Daily Digest - March 3: Will New York Fight for the People's Trust?

Mar 2, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The Future is Public Financing of Elections (Times Union)

Roosevelt Institute Board Chair Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, granddaughter of FDR and Eleanor, calls on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to fight for public campaign financing in the state for the sake of trust in democracy.

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The Future is Public Financing of Elections (Times Union)

Roosevelt Institute Board Chair Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, granddaughter of FDR and Eleanor, calls on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to fight for public campaign financing in the state for the sake of trust in democracy.

IBM Fires Small-Town Workers for Wall Street Numbers. That’s the Good Part (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore ties layoffs at IBM to the company's goal of $20 earnings per share by 2015. Layoffs cut costs, an easy way to get closer to this arbitrary target.

The Real Job Killers (Robert Reich)

We could create jobs by eliminating the minimum wage, safety regulations, and such – but that wouldn't create progress, which requires safe jobs that pay well, writes Robert Reich.

College, the Great Unleveler (NYT)

Reforms to federal student aid, increased state funding for public universities, and tighter regulation of for-profit schools are all needed to maintain the American Dream of upward mobility, writes Suzanne Mettler.

Amidst Camp Tax Plan Debate, D.C. Needs to Close the Reality Gap (WaPo)

The real problem in Washington, writes E.J. Dionne, is the gap between the real-life issues that American voters worry about and the abstractions, like the deficit, that get all of Congress's focus, as in Senator Camp's tax reform plan.

The Progressives' Image Problem (Washington Monthly)

When progressives take over, as in New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration, their leadership experience is often criticized. Martin Longman says that's because managing activist groups is counted against them.

New on Next New Deal

Venezuela: The Crisis We Fuel With Our Apathy

Leslie Bull, former Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy, writes that when the American media ignores international crises, it only causes them to become more urgent.

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Citizens United for Real Civic Engagement

Jan 21, 2014Joelle Gamble

On the 4th anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, consider the ways that citizens can engage beyond campaign donations and the ballot box.

Today marks the 4th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission. The significance of this case is difficult to overstate as it gave limitless ability to mega-interest groups and corporations to spend money to convince voters to vote for or against a political candidate.

On the 4th anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, consider the ways that citizens can engage beyond campaign donations and the ballot box.

Today marks the 4th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission. The significance of this case is difficult to overstate as it gave limitless ability to mega-interest groups and corporations to spend money to convince voters to vote for or against a political candidate.

As Jeff Raines wrote for Next New Deal, the latest fights in the courts are less about individuals’ right to free speech and more heavily focused on how much monetary influence the wealthy have on our electoral processes. Even the McCutcheon v. FEC case, while concerning individual donor limits, is still centered in a debate around funding committees and other organized donor groups. While curbing the influence of Big Money on our democracy is a worthwhile fight, we sometimes lose the bigger question of how each voter shows up in said democracy in our attempts to talk about how voters as voting blocks and interest groups.

While we know that the level of power that big money gained as a result of Citizens United is poisonous to our democracy, passing meaningful national legislative changes has been an arduous yet worthwhile battle for organizers across the country. Outside of contributing our voices to national efforts to overturn Citizens United, what can those of us without direct access to Washington, D.C. do to strengthen the influence of everyday Americans in the act of governing?

The most immediate answer we come to is, of course, voting.  However, new innovations at the local level are creating fresh avenues for civic participation. Practices such as participatory budgeting and participatory zoning are just a few ways in which we can flex our civic muscle outside of the voting booth. Participatory budgeting, for example, allows community members to make decisions on how to spend a pre-allotted pool of funds from an agency or government’s budget. This approach balances efficiency of outcome, by only allowing participation in a small portion of the budget, while deepening investment and engagement amongst stakeholders.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network values people-centric, policy work that engages young people in their own communities. As we articulated in our report, Government By and For Millennial America, how government engages citizens is foundational to its effectiveness as an institution. Voting and money in politics have a role to play in how much weight one individual has in government. But higher civic engagement at all levels is still important to ensuring that those elected produce results that the citizenry desires. After all, many of the nation’s local and state-level public financing laws have been implemented via legislative processes and grassroots organizing.

Thus, as we continue to hear arguments regarding who has real power under U.S. election law, core questions at play are: what does it mean to have policies and rules that are people-centric? And how can we develop a system that is outcome-oriented and empowering to as much of the population as possible? Most Americans agree that eliminating a system in which some people have a wholly distorted level of financial influence over others is a good start. But by engaging in civic processes in our local communities, we can take our political engagement one step further, and increase individual empowerment in our system.

Joelle Gamble is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Field Strategist.

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Daily Digest - January 21: Both Major Parties are a Work in Progress

Jan 21, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Independent Conservatives Growing (The Kudlow Report)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren says the GOP must consider independents' views during the primary process. Otherwise, Tea Party primary challenges against moderate incumbents will result in general election candidates whom independents will never support.

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Independent Conservatives Growing (The Kudlow Report)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren says the GOP must consider independents' views during the primary process. Otherwise, Tea Party primary challenges against moderate incumbents will result in general election candidates whom independents will never support.

Change in the Air (Harper's Magazine)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative Jeff Madrick writes about the shift in Democratic politics that led to the election of progressives like New York City's new mayor, Bill de Blasio. He considers this proof that voters are paying attention to how long many elected officials have ignored rising inequality. This article is behind a paywall.

The Sunday Show with Philip Maldari (KPFA)

Jeff Madrick discusses the rise of inequality in the U.S., with a focus on the data. He touches on unemployment, individual and household wages, part-time work, increased productivity without increased wages, and more.

Back to the Digital Drawing Board (NYT)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford argues that the circuit court ruling that eliminated the Federal Communications Commission's existing net neutrality rules offers an opportunity to declare the Internet a "common carrier," which would require equal service for all.

Class Divide on Campus: Adjunct Professors Fight for Better Pay, Benefits (NBC News)

Former Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz looks at the struggle of adjunct professors, who are paid poverty wages for jobs that require advanced degrees, and how their tenured peers have or have not been supportive of their push for changes.

Deficit Scolds Are Holding the Unemployed Hostage (NY Mag)

Jonathan Chait writes that by insisting that short-term stimulus, like extending unemployment insurance, absolutely must be offset by deficit reduction, the deficit scolds are doing far more to support gridlock than to create the political changes they want.

A Housing Relief Program with Policies That 'throw people into the grinder' (The Guardian)

David Dayen reports on the failure of one of the biggest housing relief programs in the country, Hardest-Hit, which was created in 2010 to provide foreclosure relief. The program's poor implementation has caused serious problems for homeowners seeking help.

Wall Street Group Aggressively Lobbied a Federal Agency to Thwart Eminent Domain Plans (The Nation)

Alexis Goldstein reports that Wall Street directly lobbied a key staffer at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which has since threatened legal action against localities that attempt to use eminent domain to rescue underwater homeowners.

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Story Wars: Why Personal Stories Are Shaping the Health Care Battleground

Nov 8, 2013Richard Kirsch

It's natural for negative stories about the Affordable Care Act to have the biggest impact, but media bias is obscuring the facts.

More than any other public policy issue, health care is very personal. So it is not surprising that personal stories are a central battleground for the public perception of the Affordable Care Act. And it is increasingly clear that this battle will be fought through the prisms of class and race.

It's natural for negative stories about the Affordable Care Act to have the biggest impact, but media bias is obscuring the facts.

More than any other public policy issue, health care is very personal. So it is not surprising that personal stories are a central battleground for the public perception of the Affordable Care Act. And it is increasingly clear that this battle will be fought through the prisms of class and race.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) would not have become law if it were not for the willingness of survivors of the nation’s health care mess – people who had lost loved ones, fought to get care after an insurance company denial, faced crippling medical costs – to tell their stories to members of Congress and the press. Many members of Congress voted for the bill, despite the political risk, because they were moved by personal encounters with constituents with compelling stories. Many of the most effective spokespeople during the legislative battle over the law were people whose lives and livelihoods had been threatened by our defective health coverage system.

Now that the central part of the Affordable Care Act is finally being implemented, however painfully and slowly, personal stories are again becoming the focus of debate. The stories that the press has focused on recently have been mostly negative, largely because of three press biases. The first is that “if it bleeds, it leads.” Negative news gets people’s attention, raising people’s fears, a phenomenon with strong physiological and psychological roots that extends well beyond the news. Advocates for passage of the law used that to our advantage when we were chronicling insurance company abuses, but in the new terrain of the law’s implementation, it’s a handicap. Coverage of people successfully getting affordable coverage is not as compelling as that of someone who says she is being forced to pay higher premiums after being told she is losing her existing coverage.

The second press bias is to take people at their word and not actually investigate them, particularly when they make good news. We have seen a lot of this in the coverage of people who have received letters from insurance companies telling them they are being forced into higher-priced plans.

Take Deborah Cavallaro, a real-estate agent in suburban Los Angeles, who’s been on NBC Nightly News and Fox. Ms. Cavallaro is losing her current plan, which only covers two doctors visits a year and has a $5,000 deductible. She complained, “I’d be paying more for the exchange plans than I am currently paying,” after an insurance broker told her she would have to pay $478 a month compared to the $293 she now pays. But with a little research, Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times found that after her income-based subsidy, Cavallaro would pay only $33 a month more for a plan which covers all her doctors visits and has a $2,000 deductible.

Cavallaro is typical of many of the people represented in the negative stories being run, in that she is white, suburban, and has a middle-class job. Reporters like Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic have explored the shoddy media coverage of other stories whose subjects are similar to Cavallaro.

Which brings us to the third media bias, focusing on the white middle class. This is a general bias when it comes to the press, particularly when not reporting on government services or crime. In this case, it is a bias that will accentuate the problems with the Affordable Care Act and downplay its benefits to millions. As Cohn points out in another piece, there are some people who will pay more for comparable insurance plans under the new law. This is the small minority of people in the individual insurance market who, because they have been in good health and have enough income to buy insurance, have been able to find decent coverage at a price they can afford. Their good health has shielded them from big premium hikes or losing their coverage altogether, which will happen when they have a serious illness.

One of the few good news stories I found that focused on someone who will benefit from losing her coverage was about Gail Roach, an African-American woman from Pittsburgh. Ms. Roach is a retired school district employee who will save $500 a month after receiving her subsidy. A diabetes sufferer, she’s been forced to pay a big premium because of her health condition.

The ACA’s biggest beneficiaries are low- and moderate-income people, including poor people who have been denied Medicaid and people who work at low-wage jobs that don’t provide health coverage, who will now get big enough subsidies in the exchanges to afford coverage.  

In fact, the biggest group benefiting from enrolling in coverage under the Affordable Care Act are people who are eligible for Medicaid. In Washington State, for example, where the exchanges are working well, there have been 42,605 Medicaid enrollees, compared to 6,390 who have signed up for the exchanges.  A New York Times article on how navigators are helping people to enroll in Kentucky tells the story of several people thrilled to be enrolled in Medicaid.

The Times article also reveals the bias against people who are on public programs like Medicaid by recounting the story of one "well-dressed woman" in Kentucky:

She had learned that she would be eligible for Medicaid under the new law, but she was unwilling to enroll because of what she saw as a stigma attached to the program. A substitute teacher, she wanted to know whether she could afford full-priced private exchange plans. “I don’t want to be a freeloader,” said the woman, who asked to be identified only by her middle name, Kay, because she said she was embarrassed about qualifying for Medicaid. “I believe in paying our way in life.”

There may be a promising ending to Kay’s story. Kay did sign up for Medicaid, saying that she would pay for routine doctor visits herself but have Medicaid as a fall-back if she really got sick. Will the experience of finally getting health coverage change Kay’s views? Will she now be more secure, freed finally from the worries of huge medical debt if she gets seriously ill?

This gets us back to the personal politics of health care and how they will impact the political debate. Kay’s U.S. senator, Mitch McConnell, who is up for re-election, has already dismissed the success of Kentucky’s launch of the ACA by saying, “Well, 85 percent of the people who’ve signed up in Kentucky have signed up for Medicaid. That’s free health care.” Will Kay want to vote for a guy who will take away her newly found health security?

The next big political test for Obamacare will be whether it is a defining issue in the 2014 elections. That will depend both on the reality of people’s experiences and what people learn about the law from the media, which will largely be shaped by personal stories. Since the law will have no noticeable impact on the coverage of 85 percent of Americans, Obamacare should not be a big election issue. But we know that opponents will use every negative story to keep the issue alive.

The most important task for supporters of the law will be to make sure that it does realize its promise of better coverage for millions of people. The more people who get enrolled and find, like Kay, Gail Roach, and even Deborah Cavallaro, that it is good for their health and their pocketbook, the better. Then supporters must forcefully fight to tell the personal stories of their success, even if it is boring, good news, often about struggling working families. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Corporate Political Spending Disclosure

Oct 30, 2013

Download the paper (PDF) by Susan Holmberg

This report provides a generalized cost-benefit analysis of a potential rule promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that would require public corporations to disclose corporate political spending.

Download the paper (PDF) by Susan Holmberg

This report provides a generalized cost-benefit analysis of a potential rule promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that would require public corporations to disclose corporate political spending. Existing evidence on both the dynamics of corporate political spending and the costs and benefits of SEC mandatory disclosure in general, as well as the use of agency theory, an economic framework that highlights the asymmetric interests and knowledge between corporate managers and shareholders, indicate that the range of potential benefits of corporate political spending disclosure – to shareholders and the market – vastly outweigh the possible costs of compliance to public corporations. 

Key Findings: 

  • Shareholders are becoming increasingly concerned with corporate spending for political purposes. The lack of information available to the public about such spending puts shareholders and the public at enormous economic risk.
  • The costs of requiring the disclosure of corporate political spending would be nominal. For a politically active company to file accurate IRS returns, it must already keep track of its political spending. A new rule requiring disclosure would merely make this internal accounting of corporate political spending available for the investing public.
  • Research also suggests that corporate political spending is not proprietary information and that requiring disclosure will not be a larger burden for smaller firms.
  • The benefits of mandatory disclosure of corporate political spending would be substantial. It would diminish the monitoring costs for shareholders, create better economic incentives for corporate executives, and generate positive externalities for companies that are already in compliance, and provide potential investors with key information for making rational investment decisions.

Read "A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Corporate Political Spending Disclosure," by Roosevelt Institute Director of Research Susan Holmberg.

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Daily Digest - October 24: Campaign Finance Meets PRISM

Oct 24, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Who Buys the Spies? The Hidden Corporate Cash Behind America’s Out-of-Control National Surveillance State (Next New Deal)

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Who Buys the Spies? The Hidden Corporate Cash Behind America’s Out-of-Control National Surveillance State (Next New Deal)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Tom Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen write about the connection between the surveillance state and campaign finance that they found in their recent study of campaign contributions in 2012.

  • Roosevelt Take: Read the working paper from their study, "Party Competition and Industrial Structure in the 2012 Elections," here.

Low-Wage Workers are Fighting for More Than Just Money (AJAM)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal argues that wage theft, scheduling, and a lack of time and resources to challenge mistreatment are just as important as money to low-wage workers who are organizing. Those things all add up to serious limits on economic mobility.

Defying Koch Cash and D.C. Gridlock, Airport Town Will Vote on a $15 Minimum Wage (Salon)

Josh Eidelson reports that in SeaTac, Washington, residents will soon vote on whether or not to raise their minimum wage far above any other in the country. He thinks that they've got a pretty good shot at success.

One-Third of Americans See a Lifetime of Work (MSNBC)

Emma Margolin reports on a study conducted by Wells Fargo, which found that 37 percent of Americans anticipate working until they physically cannot. When the bills are too high to save for retirement too, working until death seems like the only option.

The Millennials' Failure to Launch: Searching the Jobs Report for Answers (The Guardian)

Jana Kasperkevic uses the September jobs report to figure out why Millennials are falling so far behind in this economy. The unstable economy is putting young people behind schedule, and it could effect the stability of their careers far down the road.

The Biggest Economy Killer: Our Government (NYT)

Steven Rattner argues that the continuing dysfunction in Washington is causing the most harm to our economy. The shutdown only lasted sixteen days, but seemingly permanent gridlock is something else entirely.

New on Next New Deal

Larry Klein's Lesson for the Single-Minded Economists Who Rejected Keynes

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative Jeff Madrick considers the work of the late Nobel laureate Larry Klein, and echoes his frustration with government policy that ignores fiscal stimulus.

What Kind of Problem is the ACA Rollout for Liberalism?

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal argues that Healthcare.gov's problems are based in neoliberal ideas, heavily focused on private provisioning and means testing. These are pretty conservative ideas, and these difficulties could make New Deal-style liberalism more appealing.

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Who Buys the Spies? The Hidden Corporate Cash Behind America’s Out-of-Control National Surveillance State

Oct 23, 2013Tom FergusonPaul JorgensenJie Chen

This piece was cross-posted from AlterNetThis is the first in a new series from AlterNet's New Economic Dialogue Project, edited by Lynn Parramore. 

This piece was cross-posted from AlterNetThis is the first in a new series from AlterNet's New Economic Dialogue Project, edited by Lynn Parramore. 

Long before President Obama kicked off his 2008 campaign, many Americans took it for granted that George W. Bush’s vast, sprawling national security apparatus needed to be reined in. For Democrats, many independents, and constitutional experts of various persuasions, Vice President Dick Cheney’s notorious doctrine of the "unitary executive" (which holds that the President controls the entire executive branch), was the ultimate statement of the imperial presidency. It was the royal road to easy (or no) warrants for wiretaps, sweeping assertions of the government’s right to classify information secret, and arbitrary presidential power. When Mitt Romney embraced the neoconservatives in the 2012 primaries, supporters of the President often cited the need to avoid a return to the bad old days of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld National Security State as a compelling reason for favoring his reelection. Reelect President Obama, they argued, or Big Brother might be back.

But that’s not how this movie turned out: The 2012 election proved to be a post-modern thriller, in which the main characters everyone thought they knew abruptly turned into their opposites and the plot thickened just when you thought it was over.

In early June 2013, Glen Greenwald, then of the Guardian, with an assist from journalists at The Washington Post, electrified the world with stories drawn from documents and testimony from Edward Snowden, an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton working under contract with the National Security Agency, who had fled the country. They broke the news that the U.S. government had been collecting vast amounts of information on not only foreigners, but also American citizens. And the U.S. had been doing this for years with the cooperation of virtually all the leading firms in telecommunications, software, and high tech electronics, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Verizon, and Facebook. Sometimes the government even defrays their costs.

For most election analysts, the revelations came like a bolt from the blue, despite a whole series of warning signs. These included Obama’s rapid fire decision to step up the war in Afghanistan right after he took office, the alacrity and severity with which his administration prosecuted national security whistleblowers after promising greater transparency and the administration’s sweeping claims about the government’s right to hold citizens without trial for indefinite periods. Not to mention the Justice Department’s insistence that killing American citizens without any kind of court hearing is lawful, the efforts to prosecute journalists for simply posting links to leaked documents, the overkill that attended official responses to the Occupy movement and protests at the national party conventions, or the White House claims that press freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights do not cover bloggers in an era in which everyone, including the New York Times, uses blogs.

Even now, the suggestion that the Obama administration embodies a distinctively new form of extensively privatized National Security State organically linked with the famously contentious Bush-Cheney structures takes some getting used to. In particular, many readers are likely to wonder what a bitter, partisan stalemate such as the U.S. just witnessed over raising the debt ceiling can possibly mean in a situation where Big Brother and Big Money are working hand in hand through it all.

As the storm over surveillance broke, we were completing a statistical analysis of campaign contributions in 2012, using an entirely new dataset that we constructed from the raw material provided by the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenues Service (which compiles contributions from so-called “527”s).  In light of what has transpired, our quantitative analysis of presidential election funding invites closer scrutiny, particularly of the finding that we had already settled upon as perhaps most important:  In sharp contrast to endlessly repeated claims that big business was deeply suspicious of the President, our statistical results show that a large and powerful bloc of  “industries of the future” – telecommunications, high tech, computers, and software – showed essentially equal or higher percentages of support for the President in 2012 than they did for Romney.

Though documenting the claim would take us far beyond this post, we believe that the emergence of these new industries is a key factor in transforming the old National Security State into its new, even more sinister twenty-first century model. They are not the only important influence in that transformation, of course. These would include not only 9/11, but the rapid growth of the rest of the homeland security “industry,” including private prison companies and many other non-obvious players focused on data collection in particular domains, such as the vast infrastructure built out to service and support U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The policy of macroeconomic austerity, which made privatization of the old National Security State so seductively attractive to policymakers under pressure to cut government expenditures, has also played a significant role.

But the point that our findings document is perhaps most instructive of all. Many of the firms and industries at the heart of this Orwellian creation have strong ties to the Democrats. Bush and Cheney may have invented it, but national Democratic leaders are full-fledged players in this 21st century National Surveillance State and the interest group pressures that now help to sustain its defenders in Washington work just as powerfully on Democrats as on Republicans.

Over the next few weeks on AlterNet, we will explore what our data show about the 2012 election. But for now, we want to focus on the telecommunications, high tech, computers, and software industries, which contain many firms deeply involved in the surveillance programs.

We built two datasets for our research. One covers big business, meaning firms big enough to rank among the 350 largest on Fortune's lists plus members of the Forbes 400 richest Americans. The second is a much larger sample containing every firm of every size, from the smallest to the largest.

We assess support by firms and their executives (our dataset is the first to integrate contributions from both, including “independent” expenditures and, of course, Super Pacs) in two ways: We count the percentage of firms that make any contribution at all to each candidates’ campaigns (and their party’s national committee) and we track the money split between the two candidates. For more details, see the preliminary version of our full length study, available here.

In our big sample, which pretty well approximates “business as a whole,” Obama trailed far behind Romney. 41 percent of all the firms (or, thanks to the Supreme Court, their executives) contributed to Romney; only 24 percent donated to Obama. But rates of contributions from big businesses were much higher for both candidates: Just over half (56 percent) contributed to Obama, while fully 76 percent donated to Romney. Our conclusion is straightforward: the traditional view that the Republicans are the party of business finds some support, but our results suggest much stronger backing for the President within big business than any account of the election suggests.

But the really significant findings emerge when you look at particular industries. Six industries where the President ran especially strongly attracted our attention: telecoms, software, web manufacturing, electronics, and computers, plus the defense industry. His support in these industries ran far above his average levels of support either for business as a whole or the rest of big business. In fact, it equaled or exceeded the backing these firms afforded Romney.


In subsequent posts we will look at other industries in which Romney showed particularly strongly and consider the now red hot question of support by business groups for Tea Party and “main line” Republican congressional candidates. But we think this finding is the most significant of all: Firms in many of the industries directly involved in the surveillance programs were relative bastions of support for the President.

It is a sobering conclusion. At the time President Obama took office, many of his supporters expected a radical change in course on national security policy. This did not happen. For sure, limitations on some of the worst excesses were put in place, but there was no broad reversal. The secret programs of surveillance expanded and the other policies discussed above, on indefinite detention, treatment of whistleblowers, and executive prerogatives relative to Congress stayed in place or broke even more radically with tradition.

Our analysis of political money in the 2012 election shines a powerful new light on the sources of this policy continuity. We do not believe that it would be impossible to strike a reasonable balance between the demands of security and freedom that accords with traditional Fourth Amendment principles and checks abuses of government surveillance rapidly and effectively. But a system dominated by firms that want to sell all your data working with a government that seems to want to collect nearly all of it through them is unlikely to produce that.

The authors gratefully acknowledge support from the Working Group on the Political Economy of Redistribution of the Institute for New Economic Thinking for preparation of the database, but the paper represents the views of the authors, not the institutions with which they are affiliated. The entire Political Money Project database for this essay is to be freely available to the public when work on it is completed.

Thomas Ferguson is a Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow, professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and contributing editor of AlterNet. His books include "Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems" and "Right Turn: The Decline of Democrats and the Future of American Politics."

Paul Jorgensen is assistant professor of political science at University of Texas, Pan American and non-resident fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center at Harvard.

Jie Chen is university statistician at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

 

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