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United States Politics

Did Internet Sales Tax Backers Bribe Congress? (Video) 317

Posted by Roblimo
from the money-and-politics-have-an-irresistable-attraction-for-each-other dept.
This may be a coincidence, but according to MapLight, Senators who voted last week for the bill allowing states to directly collect taxes on sales via the Internet, AKA The Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013, received 40 times as much campaign donation money (yes, that's four-oh, not just four) from businesses in favor of the bill as those who voted against it received from businesses that were against Internet sales taxes. Was this bribery? Of course not! We're not some piddly fifth-world country. But it's a prime example of how money influences politics here in the good old USA, and it's far from the only one we've seen lately. In this video, MapLight Program Director Jay Costa shares a bunch more with us, along with tips on how to spot this sort of thing and some steps we voters can take to fight against both direct and indirect influence-buying. Note that all this is totally non-partisan; the politicians with the most influence -- whether local, state or federal -- get most of the available special interest money no matter what other agenda(s) they may have. And for those who want to learn more about who is spending their dollars to influence your representatives, Jay also suggests a look at these two money-in-politics resources: FollowTheMoney.org and OpenSecrets.org.

Robin:I am Robin Miller, “Roblimo” to some of you.We are online with Jay Costa of the MapLight Foundation.And last week, Jay, is it not so that our very finest of all senates, the US Senate, did they not approve a bill to have internet sales taxes, taxes on all internet purchases?Is this true or am I imagining things?

Jay:They did. They approved a bill to basically set up a system of collecting sales tax for online purchases.And this would allow states to collect those taxes even if the company is outside of a state.This is a bill that is supported by the national brick and mortar chains that are already paying, having to pay sales tax.And it is also supported by some of the bigger online retail companies such as Amazon that will be able to incur this cost of combining the sales tax. It is opposed however by some of the smaller online retail sales companies that it is going to be hard for them to incur that cost including companies, certainly not a small company but E-bay which is a hub for smaller vendors to sell their wares online.

Robin:Now you guys did a study, and I saw the results.Is it not so that the senators who voted for taxing internet sales, did not these senators get a lot of more donations (we don’t call them bribes) or campaign donations from companies that wanted internet sales tax from the brick and mortar and all people. Did you notice that pattern?

Jay:We did.Yes and you are absolutely right.We look at senators who voted yes on the bill and they got actually 40 times as much money from interest groups that supported the bill as they got from interest groups that opposed the bill.

Robin:Not 4 times? Wait a minute

Jay:4-0-, forty times as much.That’s right.

Robin:Forty times as much? And they reacted to this apparently how?

Jay:Well at MapLight we are not in the business of saying you are absolutely right, it is not bribery, this is the money that is going into their campaign committees.And so the way that we look at it is that this is an economy of influence.You know, it costs literally millions of dollars to win a seat in the senate, at average, it costs about $10 million to win a seat in the senate.So when that’s the case, you need to turn to people who can cut you big checks if you want to win your next election.And so of course, you are going to pay attention to what the opinions of those people who can cut you big checks are.

Robin:And you are saying that the people here who did not want an internet sales tax, they just didn’t pony up enough, if they’d ponied up 50 times as much as they did, might they have won?

Jay:Well, I mean it is hard to say for sure.It would certainly be speculation.But it is definitely the case that in general those who give the money they get something in return for that.They get influence with their legislators.

Robin:Oh, my, my, my.Now how can that not be so? Wait a minute.Corporations are people now right.

Jay:Well, you know, interestingly a lot of the campaign contributions that get made don’t even come from corporate treasuries at the general level, corporations can’t give directly, they can form PACs and they can give directly, but surprisingly a lot of the contributions come from individuals.And so the real problem isn’t certainly the corporate personhood debate is a debate that is interesting and I should say it first, but there is a lot of contributions, the money in our system that is accounted for by individuals.And so influence is really conveyed by the fact that people can give big checks even though most of us are only giving a very little amount.It is only a fraction of a percentage of the American public that give anything more than $200 to politics. Yes there are some people who are cutting $2500 or $5000 checks.

Robin:What is the maximum now that an individual can give?

Jay:It is $2500 for the primary and another $2500 for the general.So in an election year it is $5000.

Robin:Okay. But what about tax or allied campaign thingies where not somebody who says Vote For Representative Joe but says Vote For the Candidate who supports slippery streets or whatever.

Jay:Right.Yes, so, PACs are subject to the same limits as individuals really in terms of direct donations but then I am sure that everybody has heard of the infamous Citizens United case that basically opened the floodgates for unlimited amounts of money to be spent by what we call super PACs and so the rule is just as long as those groups don’t give directly to the candidate they can spend as much as they want independently, even though a lot of these super PACs have as their directors former campaign staff with the candidates.

Robin:No.

Jay:Right.It is really kind of a farce that a lot of this spending is independent.But as long as they can claim it is independent, then it is unlimited, they can accept unlimited donations.

Robin:And of course, we as American voters are supposed to be stupid enough to fall for this, I gather, yeah.

Jay:You are right. And the thing is I think a lot of the American public actually know that this is going on.And it is the reason that they are growing disenchanted with our government.You see these polls come out that Congress is less popular than a cockroach, or whatever, slightly more popular than headlights.This is the reason why.And so this is the reason why that we really need to do something about this problem first before all of the other ones.You talk about taxes and internet privacy, and bank regulations, any problem that you see exists, that you see that exists, at the root of it is the problem of money in politics.You know the reason that Congress isn’t making progress on any of the important issues in the sense that they are handcuffed by their addiction of fundraising.

Robin:Okay, now obviously in a minute I am going to ask you what we can do about this.But first I have another question.

Jay:Sure.

Robin:Are there any other egregious examples you have of money in politics beside the recent internet sales tax thing? Name a few.

Jay:Sure I would be happy to.So I think we all remember the big bank bailout, from a few years ago, the crash of 2008.The too big to fail bailout.And so a lot of that problem stemmed from this whole derivative trading, right, that was going.And some would argue that the deregulation of the derivatives market that might stop. Well, it turns out there is a bill several actually a suite of bills passing through Congress currently under consideration that would once again deregulate the derivatives market. And to a lot of people who audit through the financial____8:02this is mindboggling, at how are we doing this just a few years after the crash.

Well it turns out that it passed the committee, so it has to be considered, strangely enough, the agricultural committee first and it passed through that committee and whenit did so, the committee members voting yes on the bill, received seven times as much from the big four banks who own over 90 percent of the derivatives value in the market.So clearly these are the banks that are going to profit from this sort of deregulation. And they have given most of the committee members, committee members turn around and vote yes.

Now another example:There is a bill that, those using the internet probably have heard a lot about CISPA, an online privacy bill.Basically the question is: How much information is going to be shared among online companies, and how much of that information is going to be shared with the government, and sort of which branch, which ‘agency’ I guess is the best word, within the government will be kind of the conduit of that information.

So there is a lot of fierce debate about who that should be, how much information should be shared, and a lot of online privacy advocates really are concerned about this bill.Well, it turns out that the bill has a few new cosponsors, 36 to be exact, and those cosponsors have received 38 times as much money from interests supporting CISPA as they have from interests that oppose it.

Robin:Okay, wait, wait, wait. And the important one that we need to knock right out of the way here: Now I am going to lay a suspicion on you, and you can say yes or no: I suspect that this has nothing to do with the political party.I suspect that the ones chosen to get these big donations are chosen sheerly by their influence, like committee memberships or isn’t partisan.

Jay:It is a great question.You know the answer is both.Committee memberships are huge huge factors in fundraising. Interest groups know very well that committee members that govern and regulate the areas in which they do business are the ones who hold the most power, over the business that they do.And so they absolutely target committee members, especially committee chairs with an immense amount of campaign contributions.

Now the parties are a factor though.Parties are very important in the fundraising ecosystem.You actually have structurally a system where a lot of fundraising is done jointly between candidates and their parties. So the limit that a candidate can receive from an individual contributor is only $5000 but then if he joins in a fundraiser with his party, it goes up to $40,000 and the party will take $35,000 of that but then it will get funneled back into grafts, spending on his campaign, if it is a competitive one, or other campaigns that their competitor who will then____11:19the party and so how good of a fundraiser a member of Congress is really translates into their power, and their position within their party.

So you are absolutely right, that party plays a role, and even though it plays a role its role is not distinct from the fundraising that that also playsa role; in a lot of ways these two things are inextricably intertwined.

Robin:Okay, but the real question there is:Does one party get the money and the other one not?It is just isn’t all for Republicans, I don’t think, but rather whichever party is dominant gets the money, or whichever one has the most committee people or whatever, so it is not Republicans versus Democrats but some of each, depending on who is driving the talk.

Jay:That’s absolutely right. And you know, it differs from case to case.But most of the time, both parties are really taking a large chunk of money.In the internet sales tax in terms of the senate, on average the Democrats got more - around $650,000 on average from interest groups that support, Republicans got almost $500,000.So yes, Democrats got more, but they are both taking a lot of money from the interest groups that support.

Robin:Oh my, my, my, so those fringe parties, the greens, the libertarians and all, who talk about the Demopublicans are they maybe kind of sort of right?

Jay:Well, certainly yes, you do see the majority of the fundraising is happening within the two party structure.Yes.

Robin:Okay, now the big question and the closing clincher blow off climax:What could we do about this, if anything?

Jay:That’s a great question.And the answer is, I actually have a few answers for you.

Robin:Yay!

Jay:We have a situation here is the lowest hanging fruit that I can possibly provide for you.We have a Federal Elections Commission right now which is the agency that is supposed to be overseeing our elections and things such as campaign finance, where every single member is serving on an expired term.Every single member is now termed out. But they are still serving.So that gives you an idea of how this issue is being prioritized in the government right now.All that needs to happen is for new members of the FEC to be appointed, and confirmed by Congress, seems like business as usual but it seems to be excessively hard for them to do this.

So that’s number one. Number two is increased disclosure.You know, we have things like Disclose Act being considered. Here in California, it is currently being considered. It has been considered in Congress several times now and has failed, but basically it would require that political ads show who their top funders are.You know, this is vital specific information. These ads do influence people’s decisions at the ballot box. Voters deserve to know who is paying to influence their decisions.

Robin:Yeah, what do you mean by who – I mean I live in Florida and we have lots of vote against the people who want to grab your guns,___14:40by the committee for wonderful America, or some nonsense name.

Jay:Right, exactly. So that’s the key, it is getting beyond these nonsense names to who are the three entities that are really funding that committee with the nonsense name. Once that it is Amazon, or E-bay or companies or organizations that people know and understand I think it makes a lot clearer to people who the real speaker behind that message is.

Robin:Go ahead and tell me.I am going to ask you the big last question:You don’t have to wait up, and I won’t ask it, you can answer it when you get to it, namely, how do we make these things happen?

Jay:Right.So this is a good sort of segway to the third one and what I think is probably the most exciting is that we need a system of small dollar donations, it is a system that has actually been implemented at the state level in several states quite successfully, in Arizona, in Maine, in Connecticut, this is a system that is being debated right now in New York state, and essentially what it does is it gives candidates who say I am not going to accept donations above $200 or $100, (it varies from state to state) but the idea is the same.

If they do that, and for every small dollar amount that they raise, they get matched by a pool of money essentially, and what this does, is allows candidates to run on the public interest, they are running on issues that voters care about rather than issues that donors care about which is what is currently the status quo.And so on a state by state basis, we can implement systems like this and slowly chip away at the problem until our broken Congress is forced to catch up.

Robin:How do we do that?

Jay:Well, again, so right now there is a bill being considered in the New York State Assembly that would put this type of system into place.And New York is one of the most populous states, it would be a huge huge win for the people of America setting a great precedent for how a system like this can work on a large scale, so you know, a very easy thing everybody could use if you have you know somebody in New York, give them a call and tell them about this bill that’s being considered and how it could really revolutionize democracy.

Robin:So what you are saying is:If you are a Slashdot reader and you are in New York, you can maybe do something positive here?

Jay:Absolutely, give a call to the members of the state assembly state senate, tell them that it is an important bill to move through, and hopefully other states will follow suit, if you do it with other states, it is absolutely a bill that could be or similar bills could be considered and passed at state level.

Robin:Okay, we can help.Any other suggestions on positive moves we can make?I will shout here with our little ten dollar contributions and all.

Jay: Sure, I think those are sort of the big three policy-wise, but on a daily basis, I think the most important thing is taking the information that is out there on sites like MapLIght.org, Center for Responsive Politics, the National Institute of Money in State Politics, whose website is www.followthemoney.org , visit these websites, find out who is funding your representatives and how that is influencing their decisions and hold them accountable.This is the promise of the transparency movement that is making this kind of information available to the people; now the people have to take that information and really use it to make sure that their representatives are representing the public and not special interests.

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Did Internet Sales Tax Backers Bribe Congress? (Video)

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  • by gameboyhippo (827141) on Monday May 13, 2013 @04:54PM (#43714113) Journal

    Is it bribery or do companies donate more money to politicians that agree with their policies?

    • Re:Is it bribery? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Monday May 13, 2013 @05:00PM (#43714173)

      Is it bribery or do companies donate more money to politicians that will agree with their policies?

      FTFY

      [ BTW, The answer to both is "yes". ]

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gameboyhippo (827141)

        No, you didn't fix that. What I was asking is if I were a Scientologist and voted for politicians who wants to turn Kansas City into a Scientology theocracy, is it a bribe if I donate to him? He didn't change his position. He was already committed to said position.

        • Re:Is it bribery? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by BasilBrush (643681) on Monday May 13, 2013 @06:12PM (#43714877)

          Yes of course it's bribery. The only way to stop it is to make contributing to campaigns as illegal as accepting brown paper enveloped stuffed with cash.

          • Re:Is it bribery? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by newcastlejon (1483695) on Monday May 13, 2013 @07:21PM (#43715341)

            Would you also include independent candidates in this? If so, where do you draw the line?

            If you ban campaign contributions entirely (which I would probably support) you would also have to limit the amount of money a candidate is allowed to spend on campaigning, so that the richest candidate doesn't win just because they can afford the best PR. That limit would have to be either very low, so that pretty much anyone could be a candidate, or the state would have to pay. Neither of these seems feasible.

            Bribery, to me, is more about paying someone to do something they shouldn't do, or that person demanding payment to do what they ought to. This might include letting a parking ticket slide, voting against the wishes of those one is supposed to represent or blowing some rich old geezer (I imagine).

            I don't see a problem in supporting the campaign of a candidate whom I believe will do a good job of representing me, though I deplore the need to do so. However, when a business does the same, that's quite different; governments should serve people, not legal fictions. I'd be very much in favour of banning all but private donations, and open to the idea of limiting those severely.

            • by ultranova (717540)

              That limit would have to be either very low, so that pretty much anyone could be a candidate, or the state would have to pay. Neither of these seems feasible.

              So... What's infeasible in state paying? It's a pretty small investment for fixing the political system.

        • Re:Is it bribery? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday May 13, 2013 @06:14PM (#43714897)

          Political contributions by businesses to politicians are ALWAYS bribes. Period. Businesses expect a return on their investments. Individuals donate to candidates because they feel generally that the candidate will do the right thing in office (or sometimes because they feel their opponent will definitely do the wrong thing) Businesses on the other hand have a very narrow focus, and when they donate to a political figure it's very clear why they are doing that. They want something... and later they will make it clear what that something is. Walmart comes out in favor of some legislation... last election they gave you $50k in donations... voting against this thing they are "Strongly supporting" clearly means what to your next campaign effort? It's pretty easy to do the math.

          • by chrismcb (983081)

            last election they gave you $50k in donations... voting against this thing they are "Strongly supporting" clearly means what to your next campaign effort? It's pretty easy to do the math.

            How is that any different than an individual contribution? Other than the fact that corporations can donate larger sums of money, I don't see how it is any different. You said it yourself, an individual donates money because they feel the candidate will do the right thing in office (with "right thing" having varying definitions for different people.) So when the candidates doesn't do the "right thing" the individual will donate money to someone else next time. What is the difference?

            • Because corporations are not people. They're not even controlled by people (generally) they are controlled by the market. Whatever is most profitable (in their opinion) is what they will do. They are not supporting a candidate for the good of the country. They are supporting a candidate because it makes profitable sense. For example, a company I used to work for donated to EVERY candidate for state office in my state. They donated equally (to the penny) to both sides of every campaign. Why would they do tha

    • Re:Is it bribery? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday May 13, 2013 @05:02PM (#43714191)

      Yes, there are always two scenarios.

      1) Bribery, in effect if not in the precise definition. Politicians who would have voted against it or who had no defined position received funds in direct or implied exchange for their vote.
      2) Politicians who have a stated position received money from companies who benefit from that position. This is still distasteful in that it gives the people in control of the money a disproportionate say in government but doesn't rise to the same level of immorality.

      So you'd think it would be relatively easy to do an analysis as to which is which. Unfortunately you also have politicians shopping for donations by taking positions which they think will bring them in.

      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        2) Politicians who have a stated position received money from companies who benefit from that position. This is still distasteful in that it gives the people in control of the money a disproportionate say in government but doesn't rise to the same level of immorality.

        Whew. I'm glad to know that my donation of money to support a candidate that says he will do what I think should be done is only distasteful and somewhat immoral. I was worried that the hope and change I paid for was something I wasn't really entitled to on moral grounds.

        • Re:Is it bribery? (Score:5, Informative)

          by BasilBrush (643681) on Monday May 13, 2013 @06:17PM (#43714921)

          I paid for

          You don't seem to realise that that's the point at which you crossed the line into bribery. Politicians should be influenced by what their constituents say, not how much they can pay.

          Policy shouldn't be about what gives them the biggest pot of funds for re-election.

          • “I come in peace,” it said, adding after a long moment of further grinding, “take me to your Lizard.”

            ”It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see”

            “You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”

            “No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “not

          • by Obfuscant (592200)

            You don't seem to realise that that's the point at which you crossed the line into bribery.

            So you really do think that contributing to Obama's campaign for "hope and change" was actual bribery? That is obviously the reference I was making when talking about "hope and change". Thank God I didn't contribute, you'd probably want me to go to prison. But ok, everyone who did donate to Obama should go, I'll agree to that.

      • It also matters in how the money is spent. Money given to a politician must be spent on his election. If every penny is spent then the only thing the politician gained was the salary of the office he will hold. It is bribery if the giver builds the politician a house. It is bribery if the money is used to pay blackmail to a mistress.
        • It is bribery if the money is used to pay blackmail to a mistress.

          Even if the mistress is a paid agent of the politician's opponents, and the blackmail payment is to outbid them? Two (or is it three?) wrongs don't make a right IMO, just wondering about other people's views on using the money counteract someone else's dirty tricks/use of bribe money...

        • Re:Is it bribery? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by BasilBrush (643681) on Monday May 13, 2013 @06:24PM (#43714959)

          It also matters in how the money is spent. Money given to a politician must be spent on his election. If every penny is spent then the only thing the politician gained was the salary of the office he will hold.

          And the power he gains. A politician wants to get elected more than anything.

          If you're in the situation where politicians need big money to be reelected, and they change their policies to suit the rich people and organisations that can fund that reelection, then you're fucked.

          It's what's wrong with American politics. And it is bribery, even if it's not going into the politician's pocket, but only his reelection fund.

          What's needed is to cap funding at a fraction of the level that's allowed now. Or ideally to fund all politicians from a pot of money that's not conditional, and is at the same level for every candidate in a given race.

    • It is bribery if the money is not spent on campaigns. When a politician uses the money to buy a house, a car, vacations or clothes then it is bribery. It may also be bribery in other situations. But the above is a good bright line test.
      • This leads to a question: what happens to extra campaign money after the election? Does the guy get to keep it, or what?

        Something to consider... especially if the candidate gets to keep the cash.

        • This leads to a question: what happens to extra campaign money after the election? Does the guy get to keep it, or what?

          Something to consider... especially if the candidate gets to keep the cash.

          Officially, no. Other than the prohibition on personal use, there are few limitations on how it's spent though. Needless to say, they can become pretty creative. So they can start a PAC with it and put themselves in charge with a nice salary. And yes, of course it was a bribe.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Now, now, nobody puts themselves in charge of their own PAC. They don't have time for that. But their wife, brothers, sisters, cousins and top donors all have very important jobs to do and are paid top salaries to make sure they're not poached to some other PAC.

    • Re:Is it bribery? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rolfwind (528248) on Monday May 13, 2013 @05:17PM (#43714343)

      Is it bribery or do companies donate more money to politicians that agree with their policies?

      Why should companies and especially corporations be allowed to donate money? Only private citizens should have that right, and I dare say, those in or running for public office should be allowed to take from those they represent.

      Run for Senate in Pennsylvania, the law should be that they accept only from PA citizens. Running to represent district 5 in NY? Please only accept from distric 5 residents. Otherwise we have Senators from Delaware representing Hollywood's interests and not his own constituents. Joe Biden, I'm looking at you.

      • Why should companies and especially corporations be allowed to donate money? Only private citizens should have that right,

        Somehow corporations are citizens these days. Or at least when it's convenient for them. In the case of campaign donations, they have the same, or better rights than you or I. However when it comes to criminal liability, they aren't so interested in that aspect of citizenship. I think that if they have the same free speech and campaign donation rights, then they should also have the same responsibility we do when they behave criminally. The CEO, or who ever was involved in committing a crime should go to pr

      • by Qzukk (229616)

        Run for Senate in Pennsylvania, the law should be that they accept only from PA citizens. Running to represent district 5 in NY? Please only accept from distric 5 residents. Otherwise we have Senators from Delaware representing Hollywood's interests and not his own constituents. Joe Biden, I'm looking at you.

        While it's an intriguing idea it's impossible in practice. The guys in hollywood will just run the ads on their own without giving the money to the election campaign.

        • Re:Is it bribery? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by BasilBrush (643681) on Monday May 13, 2013 @06:32PM (#43715013)

          While it's an intriguing idea it's impossible in practice. The guys in hollywood will just run the ads on their own without giving the money to the election campaign.

          Impossible? It doesn't happen in Britain. I'm not sure if that's because it's banned or just something that's not done.

          It doesn't have to be allowed to happen in America either. In addition to getting rid of the bribery of politicians, your democracy would be better without PACs doing TV ads. Policies should be discussed and debated intelligently. They shouldn't be left to advertising execs to use their hucksterish advertising on it.

          Not that I'm saying that Britain has it all right either. The newspaper magnates are our greatest enemy of democracy. Rupert Murdoch in particular holds way too much sway, and he's not even British.

    • by Synerg1y (2169962)

      The venue to channel the money exists, so is it really that surprising that companies use it?

      Bribery here would be paying a politician to change their view on the internet sales tax, however that's not what's happening so the title is very leading... in a very wrong direction.

    • by Kenja (541830)
      It's not bribery, it's free speech!
    • Re:Is it bribery? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Hatta (162192) on Monday May 13, 2013 @05:33PM (#43714523) Journal

      Does it matter? Money is a corrupting influence no matter what. The only thing a Senator should concern himself with is the merit of the arguments for and against.

      Donations to public officials should be completely illegal for this reason. Fund campaigns with public money exclusively, and you'll save a lot more than you spend when you reap the benefits of good policy.

      • How do you stop someone from running their own commercials in support of a candidate without running smack dab into the first amendment?

        • by fnj (64210)

          The same way you always shred the constitution it: just pass a law that defies it. It's done all the time. Many such laws stand.

          Be careful choosing what you wish for: the best government money can buy, or a government that can't be influenced. Door number one and door number two both lead to the hell of corrupt, evil government. Either they are enriched by filthy rich contributors, or the enrich themselves.

    • Is it bribery or do companies donate more money to politicians that agree with their policies?

      In this case, and many others, probably bribery.
      On a more general note Lawence Lessig has a good amount to say about reducing corruption in American politics.
      http://www.ted.com/talks/lawrence_lessig_we_the_people_and_the_republic_we_must_reclaim.html [ted.com]
      I don't remember if he covers it in that talk but somewhere I have heard him give an example where a state(?) imposed a system that judges, when running for election, (yes judges do in some states) could only accept donations under a scheme where

      1. A) they c
    • Re:Is it bribery? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968&gmail,com> on Monday May 13, 2013 @08:13PM (#43715727) Journal

      Dude its bribery, if I tell you "I will give you a million dollars because you will vote my way" then you sure as hell ain't gonna bite the hand that feeds by voting a way you know i won't like, will you?

      This is why we don't even have Coke VS Pepsi anymore, but Coke in a can VS Coke in a bottle, because its the same corps paying the bills behind the scenes. why do you think that despite poll after poll saying most Americans are center left that we have only a far right wing and an extreme right wing party to choose from? why do you think Obama stuck with damned near every policy that Dubya had, no matter how hated it was by the left?

      The answer is simple and was illustrated perfectly by the late great Bill Hicks over 20 years ago: "I believe the puppet on the left shares MY beliefs! Well I believe the puppet on the right has MY interests at heart....hey wait a minute, there is one guy working both puppets!". Hell Jessie Ventura said there was no difference between being a politician and being a wrestler, in both cases you don't break kayfabe and pretend to hate the other guy and once the camera quits rolling you are having lunch with the guy.

      I mean why do you think the media practically jumps through flaming hoops to keep shit like gay marriage or religion in schools or some other shit that doesn't even show up in the top ten of most polls as the talking points? Because if they talked about what has been #1 on practically every poll for ages, the economy, why people might start demanding the congress pass laws that a corp might not like. Corps don't give a rat's ass about gay marriage or school prayer so you can talk about those all day long.

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Monday May 13, 2013 @04:55PM (#43714127) Homepage Journal

    A horse of a different color is still a horse, of course of course.

  • You ask, did [the big rich corporations] bribe Senators to [make them get richer] ???

    OF COURSE THEY DID! DUH.

    This is exactly what's wrong with the size of these corporations and the corruption of our government system in the USA - the amount of influence they can buy over our "Representatives"

    • You ask, did [the big rich corporations] bribe Senators to [make them get richer] ???

      Note that many of the organizations bribing Senators were...Unions (especially government workers' union).

      Plus there were the barbers and beauticians (or the owners of the shops, anyway), though what interest they had in this I can't figure out.

      And the various governments at lower levels - I can at least understand the governments that were going to benefit bribing like mad.

  • by i kan reed (749298) on Monday May 13, 2013 @04:57PM (#43714139) Homepage Journal

    You need to fix the problems with elections themselves. Safe districts make easily manipulated legislators not just in bed with lobbyists but married to them for decades.

    Any of the following would work:
    Increasing the number of representatives in the house by a factor of ~100
    Defining a countrywide party agnostic algorithm for automatically creating districts
    Moving to proportional representation(this one would also fix the 2 party problem).

    There are lots of other approaches, I'd support yours, if it dealt with this problem. Just support some kind of fix.

    • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Monday May 13, 2013 @05:07PM (#43714239) Homepage Journal

      There are lots of other approaches, I'd support yours, if it dealt with this problem. Just support some kind of fix.

      The real problem being, of course, that the people in charge of implementing such changes are the same ones who profit from not doing so.

      That being known, how do we fix it?

    • Defining a countrywide party agnostic algorithm for automatically creating districts

      Can you say "Voting Rights Act"?

      Sure you can...

      As long as the Voting Rights Act is law, there are a great many districts (the Old South, a couple in New York, others scattered about the country) that CANNOT be changed to be "Party agnostic" without approval of the Federal Courts (effectively, the Supreme Court, since any such change WILL be appealed all the way to the Supremes).

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        What's your point? Congress is perfectly free to revoke old laws, or pass new ones that conflict with old ones to the point that it creates situations where all possible actions are illegal. Theoretically the constitution holds them somewhat in check, but that's about the only limitation on their law-making powers.

        • You're obviously unaware of what, exactly, the Voting Rights Act is...

          Hint: no Democrat, EVER, will vote for its repeal. If for no other reason than that the gerrymandering by the VRA represents guaranteed Dem votes.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No term limits. No incumbents. No exceptions.

      You can hold public office as many times as you can get elected, but never twice in a row, not even to step in for an incapacitated officeholder (e.g. the VP when the POTUS is no longer capable of carrying out his duties. If the VP was the previous POTUS, he can't be POTUS again until the end of the current term. Succession goes to the next in line until someone is found to be eligible.).

      That puts a serious crimp in cronyism, and would constantly open the door to

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        An interesting proposal, though I would suggest that for a position like VP, whose primary purpose is to be on-call to replace the president if necessary, being elgible to actually do so would be a requirement for the office. I suspect most players would still be corporate sock-puppets, and it would do nothing to close the revolving-door between congress and lobbiest organizations (might even strengthen that one), but still, it could be part of the solution.

    • But if the districts were determined by a logical algorithm, how could the politicians Gerrymander the elections? Politicians need job security too!!! /sarcasm

    • How about removeing power from the federal branch of goverment to state goverment.
    • by tomkost (944194)
      A good post with great ideas, all of which I'd support. But you have go one step further. There is an election before the general election. Not the primary election but the one where the special interests can fund the candidates they want to get elected. This means you only get to choose from pre-bought candidates. So it's hard to get a politician to vote for your fixes because the pool of potential candidates is limited to those who can get enough campaign contributions from the special interests. It'
  • other factors (Score:4, Interesting)

    by novium (1680776) on Monday May 13, 2013 @04:58PM (#43714153)

    I'm not sure this is the best example, because congresspeople would have another incentive to support the measure: all of their home town local shops will have also been calling them up (and directing their customers to do so as well) in support of it, at least I'd guess so. I've been to enough town meeting type things where there was a lot of talk about "buy local!" and such because the local businesses were being so undercut by the big internet giants (who also weren't paying sales tax). It's the kind of thing that riles up city councils everywhere.

    • by Tokolosh (1256448)

      I don't doubt you are correct, by why don't they call their representatives to ask for a lower or zero sales tax instead?

      • I don't doubt you are correct, by why don't they call their representatives to ask for a lower or zero sales tax instead?

        ...because the interests that benefit** from that sales tax will immediately start screaming about how the lack of sales tax will starve children, make them illiterate, let your house burn down because firefighters can't be hired, etc etc. They'll of course be joined in chorus by every politician who spends that money.

        Good luck fighting that kind of hysterical response.
        Mind you, I live in Oregon, which has no sales tax (unless you buy gasoline, tobacco, or suchlike.)

        ** Note: These interests outside of gove

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      I'm not sure this is the best example, because congresspeople would have another incentive to support the measure: all of their home town local shops will have also been calling them up (and directing their customers to do so as well) in support of it, at least I'd guess so. I've been to enough town meeting type things where there was a lot of talk about "buy local!" and such because the local businesses were being so undercut by the big internet giants (who also weren't paying sales tax). It's the kind of thing that riles up city councils everywhere.

      Yeah, I think this is more a case of many, many businesses feeling that they indeed do need to support this and as an end result the lobby cash for it being fairly sizable.

      Frankly, it's been pretty ridiculous state of things you've had in USA. Oh only if I could order things from Sweden without VAT and swedes would order things from Finland without VAT - and totally without customs(I can in real life order without VAT to Finland from say, USA.. but I'll be slapped customs and VAT when I receive it, provided

  • Of course they did (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday May 13, 2013 @04:59PM (#43714169) Homepage

    Proof: The bill got passed with bipartisan support.

  • OpenSecret.org has been around for what, nearly two decades now, and the American people have shown that they are not interested. Apparently the system works, as angry as it may make a few slacktivists. Give it up already with trying to manufacture outrage.
  • by EmagGeek (574360) <gterich@@@aol...com> on Monday May 13, 2013 @05:04PM (#43714213) Journal

    It's LOBBYING. They're just expressing the free speech rights of the megacorporations they represent to influence the outcome of elections to select people who will do their bidding.

    There's a difference.

  • What I want to know is why Real Estate & Developers/Subdividers/Agents spend better than $25 Million influencing this legislation.

    It's not like anyone can save on sales tax by buying real estate over the internet....

  • 40 times (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ZombieBraintrust (1685608) on Monday May 13, 2013 @05:08PM (#43714253)
    The 40 times number is meaningless without further context. The majority of buisnesses collect sales tax. Of course those people would support removing the loop hole that prevents sales tax from being collected on internet purchases.
    • Hmm, $7 million or so just from governments, government employees, and assorted government employee unions.

      That alone is 5x as much as the other side spent.

      $28 million from real estate interests. 20x as much as the other side spent.

      $5 million from publishers of books/periodicals/magazines - not sure why this matters to them, since they get the same return selling a book online as in a B&M store.

      Local businesses and trade associations seem to pretty much cover the rest.

      Though why veterinarians h

    • The really big disparities in contributions, interestingly enough, came from the various Unions, especially public worker unions - they tended to come down on the "we want this new tax" by very large percentages (90% for, 10% against, as an example - most weren't quite that extreme, some were rather more extreme).
  • by gmuslera (3436) on Monday May 13, 2013 @05:12PM (#43714279) Homepage Journal
    At least for someone that not followed the news the last, don't know, 20 years? You mean that you never doubted all the other major laws in last years hadn't any major bribe or similar behind?
  • I'm having a hard time sorting out their methodology, but it looks as if the problem is that there just weren't any "anti-" groups opposing the measure, at least by their calculation. They totted up only $1.4 million spent by all the "anti-" groups, which is practically nothing compared to the billions spent on all of the Senate campaigns put together.

    Neither, in fact, is that $55M spent by "pro-" groups all that large. This is the problem with the "campaign fund bribery" theory. These groups are heavily co

    • by Immerman (2627577) on Monday May 13, 2013 @05:42PM (#43714637)

      Kind of hard for consumer groups to get up in arms either - after all you're already legally required to pay sales tax on everything you buy online, it's just that nobody actually does so. What would the consumer groups lobby on - the ability of citizens to break the law on a regular basis with impunity? In principle this legislation is simply moving responsibility for paying sales tax from the private citizens who aren't living up to their legal responsibility to the businesses which are profitting from their customer's illegal behavior.

    • Do note that not everyone who is offered a bribe actually does what you bribed him/her to do.

      Especially politicians, many of whom are notorious for taking money from anyone at all, and voting in fvour of the last guy to "advise" him/her on the subject.

  • Senators who voted last week for the bill allowing states to directly collect taxes on sales via the Internet, AKA The Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013, received 40 times as much campaign donation money (yes, that's four-oh, not just four) from businesses in favor of the bill as those who voted against it received from businesses that were against Internet sales taxes. Was this bribery? Of course not!

    How many businesses in your state have significant out of state sales?

    How many people do online retailers employ in your state, how much revenues do these retailers generate for state and local government?

  • The direction of causality could easily be the opposite way around. If a candidate is known to be pro-internet-tax, then a pro-internet-tax business has reason to contribute to their campaign.

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      Yeah, but how many candidates give a flying f^ck about internet sales tax? Or copyright law? Or...or...or... What really happens is they'll take whatever position will likely net them the most campaign contributions for virtually all the marginal "causes" that won't cost them significant votes.

  • by sir_eccles (1235902) on Monday May 13, 2013 @05:20PM (#43714377)

    It should be to serve the country, passing laws for the positive benefit of the people as a whole.

    What it ends up being is trying to get re-elected because then those nice people keep dropping off envelopes stuffed with cash.

  • Is the sky blue?
    Is the Easter Bunny real?
    Do babies come from a stork?
    Is this politician lying?

  • 50 years ago this would have been a major scandal. Now it's "ho hum business as usual." This country is fucked.

    • by rahvin112 (446269)

      50 Years ago it would have happened, the only difference would have been the press would have willingly refused to report on it. There was no golden age in politics and only idiots think there ever was. Half the names we call dirty politicians are the names of former politicians from a hundred years ago that pioneered the dirty tactic named after him.

      I get really tired of you kids believing that politics is any different than it has ever been.

      Frankly sales tax is the one tax that everyone should pay without

      • It's never been fair to ask local business to pay the tax and refuse to require it of internet businesses.

        So, you think that, say, a French business should have to collect sales tax on behalf of the part of the government of the part of the Parish I live in?

        Interesting theory, that.

  • Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Monday May 13, 2013 @05:26PM (#43714435) Journal

    This statistic, as presented, proves pretty much nothing.

    Look, I'll cheerfully agree that our congresspeople are largely nicely-dressed whores who apparently will vote whichever way they're funded, but the statistics presented here are so confused as to be nearly meaningless.

    The total given by those in favor may have been 40x that given against.
    Then again, this could be (viewed objectively) simply a groundswell of opinion in favor.

    I look at my senators (both D-MN):
    Amy Klobuchar took $532,457 from those in favor, $16,298 from those opposed. ~30x as much.
    Al Franken took $858,186:$11,400 almost 90x.
    Two SOLID yes votes, as they vote mindless lockstep with their party.

    Yet Jeff Flake (R-AZ), he received $588,966 $2,800 - a staggering 200x in favor, and voted "NO".

    Mark Kirk (R-IL) $1,076,621to $28,200 or some 35x in favor, another "NO" vote.

    So it doesn't seem that the wierdly-presented statistic of how much more one guy got from one side vs the other controls which way they voted.

    I'd argue from opensecrets.org that the link between money and legislation is so obvious that it's hard to imagine that anyone could present it in a way that's NOT conclusive...like maplight managed to....

    • Yet Jeff Flake (R-AZ), he received $588,966 $2,800 - a staggering 200x in favor, and voted "NO".

      Mark Kirk (R-IL) $1,076,621to $28,200 or some 35x in favor, another "NO" vote.

      But maybe 200X got them not to start filibuster the bill? If you don't pay enough, the R will filibuster to block it; if you do pay enough, the R will not filibuster but blame the D.

  • " Was this bribery? Of course not! "

    Of course? How is it obvious that it is not bribery? I dont see anything obvious as to why it is not.

    Giving a politician money for the purpose of influencing said politicians support of legislation is corruption, fair and square.

    There are no ifs or buts, it is corruption.

    And this corruption is so widespread, and so accepted ( and even expected ), that the American people think nothing of it, and accept it as simply a part of doing politics.

    Leader of the Free World my ass.

    • by stenvar (2789879)

      I live in a first world western democracy, and here, this sort of corruption is illegal. Why is this allowed in the USA?

      Campaign contributions like this are legal in most of Europe, so chances are you're just ill-informed.

      Care to disclose where you live and where you think this sort of thing is illegal?

  • by stenvar (2789879) on Monday May 13, 2013 @05:33PM (#43714535)

    Bribery is something that's done clandestinely; this obviously wasn't.

    If you don't like it, make an issue out of it next time these people run for Congress.

  • Everything is for sale, including the laws.

  • Unless your state doesn't have any sales taxes, you are breaking the law (almost always) by buying out of state and not paying "use tax", unless you self identify and pay the use tax. (Exceptions for purchases of goods for resale and some other exceptions exist.) I'm generally against any tax.. but if people are dumb enough to enact incredible high sales tax rates (like the 8.5% we have in CA) we should at least make sure people aren't given an easy way to avoid it.
  • by msobkow (48369) on Monday May 13, 2013 @05:43PM (#43714647) Homepage Journal

    You Americans are the only country in the world that pretends outrageous "campaign contributions" aren't bribery.

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