Archive for October 9, 2010
Iowa's Roxanne Conlin on Corporate Accountability
(Editor's Note: The following speech by U.S. Senate Candidate Roxanne Conlin was given on October 6, 2010 at the Iowa Democratic Party Headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa. The prepared remarks are re-printed in their entirety).
We live in a nation where leaders write laws that give corporations tax benefits for shipping our jobs overseas.
We live in a nation, where last year the top 25 hedge fund managers made on average $1 billion – the combined salary of 20,000 teachers. The teachers, however, are paying a higher tax rate.
We live in a nation, where the average CEO makes 400 times the average worker’s salary. A generation ago, the average CEO made 40 times the average worker’s salary.
We live in a nation where Senator Chuck Grassley wants to give millionaires $300 Thousand tax breaks. He says it will help improve the economy. How? That trickle-down theory just doesn’t work. We know that because we tried it and it brought us the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. From 2001 to 2007, the median wage kept dropping but the rich sure did get a lot richer
We live in a country where, unfortunately, patriotism has been hijacked by greed.
Today I’m proposing three principles that I will work for in the United States Senate.
1.Reform the system of financing political campaigns so our leaders are not dependent on corporate special interest funding to get elected.
Senator Grassley is part of the problem. He has taken more than $800,000 from Wall Street while voting to hand over $700 billion no strings attached . He then opposed regulation cracking down on the corruption that caused the meltdown .
Today, six Wall Street banks alone control assets accounting for over 60 percent of our Gross Domestic Product and Chuck Grassley would rather bail them out than reign in their behavior.
Here is another example. Grassley said the health care plan allowed the government to decide when to “Pull the plug on grandma.” After taking a Million dollars from the insurance and health care industries, he voted against health care reform . The 14,000 lobbyists strolling the halls of Congress make up the sixth largest industry contributing to his campaigns.
I have not taken a penny from a Political Action Committee or a Washington lobbyist because I will not be beholden to anyone but the citizens of Iowa. We need someone with the spine to stand up to corporate special interests and not succumb to their every wish. I will be that person.
2. Make the way lobbying is done in Washington, DC transparent so that the corrupting relationship between corporate interests and members of Congress is broken.
Last year, $3.49 billion was spent lobbying the federal government . In lobbying to keep prescription drug re-importation from Canada out of the health insurance reform bill, the pharmaceutical industry spent $267 million, the “greatest amount ever spent on lobbying efforts by a single industry for one year, ” according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Now there are more than five lobbyists working to kill clean energy legislation for every Member of Congress.
The close-ties between lobbyists and government led to no-bid contracts like those awarded to Halliburton and Blackwater. Blackwater Worldwide paid its Iraq-based security guards $1,222 per day, more than $445,000 annually as part of no bid contracts paid for by taxpayers . All this, while some soldiers families are on food stamps at home in Iowa.
The 2005 Transportation bill contained 6,000 pork projects including the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska . Iowa’s Chuck Grassley brought his staff to the floor of the Senate to congratulate them for their work on the bill.
What he failed to mention was that Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell, the lobbying firm where his wife “crafts legislative strategy ,” received more than a quarter of a million dollars in fees to secure that “Bridge to Nowhere.”
We also need lots more transparency in the lobbying practice.
For example, in June 2007, Senator Grassley introduced a bill to make publicly traded buyout firms pay their fair share in taxes . Soon after, Grassley’s former chief of staff Ken Cunningham, who had left Grassley’s office in early 2006, was hired to lobby against the bill . Within a week, Grassley was giving in to lobbyist demands that the bill’s grace period be extended and a little over a month later Grassley gave up on the bill altogether . Seven months after Grassley introduced his legislation, he announced that lobbyists had killed it, and said he didn’t support it anymore because it might make “Wall Street nervous. ”
In 2003, Senator Grassley’s wife’s lobbying firm wrote a tax credit to benefit its clients and attempted to get it passed. After the firm paid for Chuck Grassley to attend a luxurious conference in Florida , complete with golf outings and boat tours, the tax credit found its way into Grassley’s JOBS ACT and was passed . Opponents of the bill called it “an early Christmas gift to lobbyists.” F Since then, Grassley has authored bills to extend those tax credits, directly benefiting the firm that pays his wife’s salary .
Finally, we must overturn the U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Citizen’s United.
When Thomas Jefferson and the other drafters of the Declaration of Independence declared all “men” are created equal – I am certain they didn’t intend to include AIG, Goldman Sachs, or BP. However, a majority of the US Supreme Court apparently believes that corporations are just like people. I know they are not.
In 2008, BP contributed a half a million dollars to politicians through their PAC and as individuals . Imagine what they are doing this year, now that they can contribute directly to these 527s, and 501-Cs that have been created in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
Even before Citizens United, the influence of special interest money in Washington was considerable. Just last week, for Senator Grassley’s 77th birthday, corporate PACs donated $2500 each to host a birthday party fundraiser and individual lobbyists paid $1000 to host it .
Because of the Citizens United Decision, corporations can now directly finance elections. In Minnesota, Target gave $150,000 to a committee helping a right-wing candidate . If their CEO, a US citizen wanted to give him a contribution that is one thing, but to use corporate funds is another and I will support amending the Constitution, if necessary, to overturn Citizens United.
Another example is groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which has spent around $18 Million so far in this election on media buys . Nearly 75 percent of that money has come from undisclosed donors of Crossroads GPS, a 501(C)(4) “nonprofit” organization, which is not required to disclose donors publically . The head of Crossroads GPS has admitted that this confidentiality has helped the group raise money. American Crossroads is a 527 and does have to disclose donors monthly. In August, it was reported that the group took in approximately $2.6 million in total, and that a full $2.4 million — or 91 percent — came from just two billionaires and a corporation owned by a billionaire .
At a minimum, the public should know who is paying for elections and for campaign advertising. However, Senator Grassley and his Republican pals in the Senate even refused to allow debate on a bill that would have required more disclosure . Both in July and September, he refused to end a filibuster that kept the DISCLOSE bill from being debated . As a result, even international corporations will now be able to donate money to influence US elections .
This must end. That is why corporate accountability and good governance will be a top priority for me in the US Senate. Democracy is not for sale. We must insure, as Abraham Lincoln said, that” the government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish for the earth. ”