Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser last month. Larry French/Getty Images
A controversial political-action committee aligned with Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser is being shut down amid concerns that it was feeding a pay-to-play political culture in the nation’s capital.
FreshPAC’s treasurer, Ben Soto, said in an email that the group had become “too much of a distraction for the mayor.”
Founded by supporters of the Democratic mayor, the group took advantage of a little-known campaign-finance law that allows PACs to raise unrestricted donations in non-election years.
But the group quickly came under heavy scrutiny for hauling in big donations from individuals and companies that do business with the city. WAMU documented that a dozen donors to FreshPAC were tied to more than $70 million in city contracts.
Unlike their counterparts on the national level, local superPACs and outside groups like FreshPAC aren’t being funded by wealthy donors with an ideological bent. Instead, the big spending political committees are often funded by interests who do business with the city government. Moreover, large sums of money spent in local races can often tip the scales more than money spent on national races.
It’s something cropping up across the country with similar outside spending groups that have been active this year from Philadelphia and New York City to Chicago and Nashville.
“One concern is that they are a way for people and companies that are seeking special benefits from the city government to get around campaign-finance limits and, therefore, get more access and influence,” said Robert Weschler, the director of research for City Ethics, a non-profit that advises municipalities on ethics laws.
The White House is finally standing up to Google, but at perhaps the exact wrong time.
The Department of Justice filed a brief Wednesday recommending that the US Supreme Court reject Google’s appeal in Oracle’s lawsuit against the company over its use of elements of the Java programming language. This doesn’t mean that the Supreme Court won’t hear the case. But the White House’s opposition does cast doubt on whether it will wind up on the docket.
Much has been made of Google’s close ties to the White House. Earlier this year the Wall Street Journal examined Google’s cozy relationship with regulators during the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust investigation into the company, which was settled in 2012. And advocacy group Consumer Watchdog has been calling foul for years. Both point out that Google spends an enormous amount money on lobbying, outspending competitors and similarly sized companies in other industries, and enjoys extensive access to political leaders.
But while a break with Google on other major issues, such as privacy law, might be a welcome sign of independence, this recommendation may not be in the public’s interest.
Fundamental Building Blocks
Oracle sued Google in 2010 for copying parts of the Java programming language called a “application programming interfaces,” or APIS. You can think of an API as a set of terms and commands that programmers use to tell a computer what to do. Google created its own code for actually executing those commands, but by copying Oracle’s APIs, Google made it easier for developers who already knew Java to write Android apps. Google admitted that it copied the APIs, but claimed that the APIs shouldn’t be subject to copyright, since they’re the fundamental building blocks of new programming languages, operating systems, and other technologies.
A court decision finding that APIs are copyrightable could make it much harder for software companies to create cross-compatible products, such as cloud services that can interact with Amazon’s cloud APIs, or development platforms that don’t require developers to learn an entirely new programming language. It could also embroil countless companies in lawsuits, since a huge number of products, especially open source software, depend on APIs created by other companies or individual developers. For example, UNIX-like operating systems such as Oracle Linux and Oracle Solaris depend on APIs developed originally at AT&T and subsequently by a whole host of outside contributors. The Java programming language was itself inspired by existing programming languages such as C. It’s impossible to predict how future lawsuits over APIs would shake out.
The Koch brothers’ operation intends to spend $889 million in the run-up to the 2016 elections — a historic sum that in many ways would mark Charles and David Koch and their fellow conservative megadonors as more powerful than the official Republican Party.
The figure, which more than doubles the amount spent by the Republican National Committee during the last presidential election cycle, prompted cheers from some in the GOP who are looking for all the help they can get headed into a potentially tough 2016 election landscape.
But while the leaked details seemed in part a show of defiance to Democrats, who had targeted the brothers as bogeymen, the spending goal also appeared to be a show of dominance to rival factions on the right, including the RNC.
A spokesman for the RNC did not respond to a request for comment Monday. Some Republicans, however, quietly grumbled about the continued migration of power and money from the political parties and their candidates to super-rich donors emboldened by recent court decisions loosening campaign finance restrictions.
The budget figure was shared with donors during a Monday morning session at the Koch network’s annual winter donor gathering at the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage, California, according to an attendee.
In the run-up to 2012, the RNC spent $404 million, while it dropped $188 million during last year’s midterms. To be sure, the RNC’s spending was supplemented by congressional campaign arms, but one reason the Koch operation has an edge over the traditional party apparatus like the RNC is that the Kochs and their operatives don’t have to spread cash across the entire GOP political landscape.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/01/koch-2016-spending-goal-114604.html#ixzz3Q0nQ87nC
Outspent the cable giant currently seeking approval for a merger
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images
Google’s influence is increasingly being felt in Washington, according to a corporate spending watchdog.
The search giant spent $16.83 million on federal lobbying in 2014, according to public records analyzed by public interest nonprofit Consumer Watchdog — just a little bit more than the $16.8 million spend racked up by noted big spender Comcast last year, as it sought to win approval for a planned $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable.
Google is also spending considerably more than its direct competitors, such as Microsoft, which spent $8.33 million on lobbying efforts, and Facebook, which spent $9.34 million. In fact Google’s spend was the largest of 15 tech and communications companies that Consumer Watchdog tracks, including Verizon, Time Warner Cable and IBM.
As Google continues to expand to new business ventures, such as its just-announced contribution to a $1 billion investment into SpaceX, the company must wrangle with an ever-growing list of laws and policies. The Washington Post pulled back the curtain a bit on how Google spends its lobbying dollars earlier this year, revealing that the tech giant regularly funds research at think tanks and invests in advocacy groups on both sides of the political aisle.
Current political issues that would likely be of high interest to Google include the revamping of net neutrality laws and President Obama’s new initiative to ensure that cities are able to build their own municipal broadband networks, which could lead to faster Internet for customers.
The likely 2016 candidate enlists a DC fixer who assisted banks that screwed US taxpayers to the tune of $150 billion.
Andrew Matthews/PA Wire/ZumaPress.com
After announcing he was forming a presidential exploratory committee last month, former Republican Florida Governor Jeb Bush quickly began pulling together a political operation of strategists, consultants and donors. On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that DC insider Richard Hohlt, a Republican lobbyist, has become an informal member of the Jeb Bush campaign team. But the newspaper neglected to note that Hohlt is more than your average Washington influence-peddler.
Hohlt has been a key and somewhat infamous lobbyist for the financial industry, best known for assisting the corrupt savings-and-loan banking industry three decades ago in its battle with federal regulators—at a profound cost to US taxpayers. And in 2009, following the Wall Street-driven economic demise, Citigroup enlisted him to assist its efforts in Washington.
Hohlt has worked the halls of the nation’s capital for various corporate giants, including Chevron and Altria. But he is best known for assisting the S&L gang three decades ago. He kept regulators at bay on behalf of these thrifts, which were overextended and speculating with federally insured deposits. The ensuing S&L collapse, which happened during the Reagan and (first) Bush years, helped drive the US economy into the tank, launched a series of investigations, and yielded criminal convictions. As the New York Timesreported six years ago, “Critics say that as a top lobbyist for the savings and loan industry in the 1980s, Mr. Hohlt blocked regulation of these institutions and played a pivotal role helping to prolong dubious industry practices that cost taxpayers $150 billion to clean up.” (Incidentally, an S&L run by Jeb Bush’s brother, Neil, went belly-up at a cost of $1 billion to taxpayers.)