Romney’s Father Released 12 Years Of Tax Returns; Revealed That He ‘Seldom’ Used Tax Loopholes

The New York Times has a swell editorial this morning reminding the public that George Romney, father of Mitt Romney, led the way in transparency in 1968 by offering not one but twelve years of tax returns.

I looked back at the news coverage in 1968, and it’s quite interesting. When he was first asked for his tax returns, George Romney balked. He explained that just “one year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show.” But he eventually relented. According to this write up by Drew Pearson, the returns showed that George Romney donated 19 percent of his income to church, 4 percent directly to charity, and most surprisingly, the returns showed that the Michigan governor “seldom took advantage of tax loopholes to escape his tax obligations.” View a screenshot below:

For Mitt Romney, who has stubbornly refused to release his tax returns (although he hinted that he may have to in the debate last night), there are many political dangers with releasing his own tax returns. His windfall profits from Bain Capital, his questionable charitable giving, and of course, his preferential tax treatment and likely use of loopholes.

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Congresswoman Judy Chu: Will She Sacrifice Her Future Political Career Over SOPA?

Congresswoman Judy Chu

Lobbyists from the copyright industry, from Hollywood to big software and big media corporations, along with some small-minded unions, are preparing to make a final push for SOPA/PROTECT-IP, the legislative power grab that threatens to destroy and censor the Internet. And sadly, the corporate media, even MSNBC, is refusing to cover the debate, for obvious reasons.

But in the grassroots, across the country, a firestorm is brewing. Anti-SOPA/PROTECT-IP activism has flooded websites like Reddit, liberal blogs like DailyKos, and even RedState’s Erick Erickson and Tea Party-types like Ali Akbar have enthusiastically joined the fray. When Congress gets back from recess next week, there will be a citizen uprising; I can guarantee it.

The New York Times reports that the original cosponsor of the bill, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) — who laughably violates copyright law on his own website — is facing unexpected anger in his home district over the effort. But what about the other cosponsors?

That’s the question for Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), a rising star in the Chinese American community and among California Democrats. In my estimation, after seeing her stellar, cross-racial victory in the special election in 2009, her savvy floor speeches, and her overall approach to lawmaking, she could be first female Chinese American U.S. Senator. I’m serious. She’s that good, and Boxer will retire after her current term, so the real opportunity is there in 2016.

Chu, however, is one of the first co-sponsors of SOPA. She signed onto the bill in late November, about a month after Smith introduced it.

Joining the effort to destroy the Internet as we know it will forever tarnish Chu’s record. If she wants Bahrain-style web censorship, that will stay with her, especially when she needs the tech and youth community to support her future campaigns. Moreover, SOPA doesn’t only smother liberty, it crushes tech innovation, the lifeblood of California’s economy. Support SOPA, and Chu bids farewell at any prospect of running statewide.

On the other hand, if Chu breaks from the bill and becomes the first bonafide SOPA sponsor to switch teams, she would become famous for all the right reasons over night. Do the right thing, congresswoman.

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On Private Call, Newt Gingrich Said His Paying Clients Could Help Craft His Health Reform Policy

Newt Gingrich poses with the Power Rangers at a press conference

On Friday night, Salon published a piece I wrote about a few webcasts hosted by Newt Gingrich, his for-profit quasi-lobbying firm, and several health IT companies. The comments headlined by Salon related to Gingrich’s private praise for much of health reform. “There are clearly things that we’d like to see continued,” he told clients.

Here’s another relevant scoop from the Salon article:

On one call, Gingrich suggested that his clients — each paying as much as $200,000 in yearly retainer fees — would have a role in crafting policy.

“There are clearly things that we’d like to see continued and we’d like to see legislation passed almost concurrently that will sustain the good parts,” said Gingrich, explaining what would happen if the bill were to be repealed. Showing his savvy at generating business, he added that he would “love the help of all of our members in identifying” which parts of reform should remain law.

I confronted Gingrich back in 2010 about his refusal to register as a federal lobbyist (watch the awkward video here). The same day, I later spoke with David Merritt, a top Gingrich aide. Here’s what Merritt told me:

At the event, CHT Vice President David Merritt told ThinkProgress that Gingrich has “flipped the trade association model really on its head” by pushing an agenda, then inviting clients who support that agenda to “sign on.” Merritt said that it is “very true” that corporate clients pay Gingrich because his agenda benefits them. However, like Gingrich, Merritt explained that Gingrich’s lobbying never benefits individual clients, thus disqualifying Gingrich as a lobbyist.

Well, according to these calls, Gingrich runs more of a traditional trade association. His members give him $200,000 a year, then he solicits them for ideas on which policies to push. That’s not only grossly hypocritical given Gingrich’s public smear campaign against health reform, but it’s also yet another reason the authorities should investigate Gingrich for his failure to register as a lobbyist.

For more on the calls, which I quoted in Salon, see below:

Listen to  June 2010 webcast here

Listen to the Dec. 2010 webcast here

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Obama Will Face A Third Party Challenge Financed With Secret Hedge Fund Cash. Who Is The Mystery Candidate?

Americans Elect leader Doug Schoen

As we all focus our attention to President Obama’s reelection chances and the GOP nomination circus, a quiet challenge that threatens to completely shake up the 2012 race continues to grow day by day. Americans Elect, a third party effort financed by secret donors, including some in the hedge fund industry according to Tom Friedman, is on track to gain ballot access in all fifty states. (The group is using Arno Political Consultants, a group linked to scummy GOP voter fraud efforts. Arno is currently hiring an army of signature gathers via Craigslist to put Americans Elect on the ballot. I actually encountered one in Haight Ashbury over the summer, who told me she had no idea what “Americans Elect” was all about, but handed me a pamphlet with an endorsement quote from NYT’s David Brooks.)

Who will head the Americans Elect ticket? Its a mystery. The group, which is led by an elite right of center “bipartisan” set including Fox News’ favorite “Democratic” pollster Dough Schoen, says it will allow the public to vote online to select the ticket. There’s a catch: the public can only pick from candidates chosen by Americans Elect’s “Candidate Certification Committee.” Moreover, its impossible to tell if Americans Elect will have an Internet voting system that can’t be rigged some way or another.

If Romney fizzles out by mid-summer, or the GOP nominates someone who can’t possibly win the general election, Americans Elect may become Wall Street’s Plan B to defeat Barack Obama. Here’s my idle speculation on who they might put forward:

– New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

– New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

– New York York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

– Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

– Former Governor Howard Dean.

– Former Senator Evan Bayh.

– CIA Director David Petraeus.

I really tried thinking of a member of the House who could possibly run, but came up empty. Eric Cantor would make an interesting VP candidate. Congressman Mike Pence seems pretty sure about his intention to run for governor of Indiana, sadly. Donald Trump has hinted that he’d like to run as the Americans Elect nominee, so I guess he’s worth mentioning.

I chose Dean and Bayh as example of Democrats with a track record of selling themselves for a quick buck (Dean, through his work for terrorist group MEK and other shenanigans through his law/lobbying firm; Bayh, there are endless examples). Either Democrat would drain votes from Obama and ensure a Romney or Gingrich ticket limps by in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio.

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Gingrich, The Christian Right, And How An Extramarital Affair Became A Political Asset

Newt Gingrich

The Beltway media tells itself that Newt Gingrich can’t possibly appeal to the GOP base, a group dominated by Christian conservatives, because of his history of cheating on his former wives.

The Washington Post’s left of center policy blogger Ezra Klein says he likes Newt Gingrich, who he calls a “dreamy policy wonk” he’d love to get a beer with. But Klein concedes that Gingrich can’t possibly win his party’s nomination given the man’s extramarital affairs. Although Klein’s thinking is the consensus among the pundit class, the latest New York Times/CBS poll, which finds Gingrich leading the pack in Iowa, shows that white evangelicals overwhelmingly support the former Speaker of the House.

What gives?

The answer lies in a four-pronged strategy informed by a savvy understanding of the modern Christian right. First, Gingrich turned his marriage infidelities into a chance to embrace a religious transformation. Second, he made himself a spokesman for Christian-focused historical revisionism, a trend popular with evangelicals in particular. Third, he successfully harnessed the recent wave of anti-Muslim bigotry. And finally, he placed himself deep within the religious right movement by simply buying off key leaders.

Despite the easy narrative of political hypocrisy, the knee-jerk charge hurled in political debates, many evangelicals find stories of redemption far more compelling than those of picture perfect personal lives. The tale of personal crisis and redemption before God has propelled other Republican stalwarts. Think George Bush or Tom DeLay, hard partying alcoholics who became born again and were warmly embraced by Christian conservatives.

Gingrich publicly acknowledged his extramarital sin to then-Focus on the Family leader James Dobson in 2007. Dobson asked if the rumors were true, that Gingrich pursued the Clinton impeachment while carrying on with an affair with a young congressional aide (now Gingrich’s third wife, Callista). “There’s certainly times when I’ve fallen short of God’s standards,” he confessed during the on air interview. “Do you understand the word repentance?” barked Dobson. Gingrich, demurring from his know-it-all style, replied that he had begged “God to receive forgiveness and to receive mercy.”

The thought of Gingrich kneeling down and asking for God’s mercy might seem comical to political observers. After all, Gingrich is known for unapologetic political hits and jetting around in private planes, not humility. For evangelicals, however, a man asking to be absolved from his sins is perhaps the most humanizing story possible.

Newt Gingrich poses with the Power Rangers at a press conference

Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Santorum tout themselves and their families as the embodiment of wholesome Christian values. But deep inside, do GOP voters really want a flawless ideal? What sets Gingrich apart is his tale of falling into darkness and seeking the light of God, something that might actually make him more appealing to traditional Christian voters. As Richard Land, a powerful Southern Baptist, put it recently in an open-letter to Gingrich, “Evangelicals are a forgiving people, who having experienced redemption and forgiveness in their own spiritual lives, are most often willing to extend it to others who ask for it.”

Gingrich has focused on his story of redemption in interviews with the Christian press. He told Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody that he sought “not God’s understanding, but God’s forgiveness” as he explored his bid for the presidency.

It would be a mistake to attribute Gingrich’s rise in the polls solely to his ability to turn his extramarital affair into an asset. Gingrich, once known for science fiction-influenced policy proposals, has weaved modern Christian conservative crusades into his political identity.

“It is a lie to teach American history as though this is a secular nation in which God did not reappear, again and again and again for every generation,” said Gingrich to a recent meeting of far right pastors. Since Gingrich’s heavily publicized mea culpa in 2007, he has set out to rebrand himself as a culture warrior against the “secular machine,” as he calls it, that seeks to censor the Christian underpinnings of America’s founding fathers. He has produced two movies and one book that argues that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson envisioned America as a Christian nation.

Gingrich attached himself to the Christian historical revisionist movement, led by crackpot historians like David Barton and popularized by radio blowhard Glenn Beck, shortly before the birth of the anti-Obama Tea Party. The Tea Party’s interest in a far right conception of America’s founding has made Gingrich’s “Rediscovering God in America” series a hit among grassroots conservatives over the last three years.

Promoting the series has also given Gingrich an opportunity to travel the country addressing large congregations. “We are in a period when we are surrounded by paganism, and paganism is on offense,” Newt Gingrich warned at an event with militant Christian right leader Lou Engle and Mike Huckabee two years ago.

Such rhetoric is extreme, but does not come close to matching Gingrich’s recent vitriol towards Muslims and Muslim Americans.

Earlier this year, Gingrich compared Muslims to the Nazis and Communists, saying he would have the “guts” to administer a loyalty oath to Muslims seeking jobs in his administration. Last year, he managed to insert himself into headlines by leading the charge against a planned Muslim community center a few blocks from Ground Zero. Supporters of the community center, Gingrich said, were “apologists for Sharia” who are “very hostile to our civilization.”

Poll after poll has shown that evangelicals largely hold hostile views of Islam. Although Gingrich has made efforts to reach out to minorities in the past, particularly Latino voters, his new found demagoguery against Muslim Americans appears to be rooted in political expediency.

Taken together, Gingrich’s unflinching attacks on Muslims, his vocal opposition to the separation of church and state, and his quest for personal redemption might seem like enough to earn the endorsement of Christian right power brokers in early primary states. But a look below the surface reveals a more simple reality.

In 2009, veteran Gingrich aide Rick Tyler set up a group ostensibly designed to unite religious conservatives with supply side right-wingers. Rather than training a new army of activists, as Tyler had promised, the new organization served as a conduit for Gingrich to buy off the Christian right.

The group funneled $200,000 to the virulently anti-gay American Family Association, $25,000 to the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, as well as hundreds of thousands in “seed money” to an effort set up by Bob vander Plaats, a religious right huckster who controls a large grassroots network of Christian voters in Iowa. In last two months of the presidential primary, all three recipients of Gingrich money have lavished praise on the candidate to the press.

The primary is certainly not a lock yet with four weeks of tough campaigning before the first caucus. Although he still struggles in New Hampshire polls, Gingrich has an ace up his sleeve in the heavily evangelical states of Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida.

Posted originally on Nation of Change.

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Glenn Ivey’s Law Firm Fighting President Obama’s New Lobbying Rules

Glenn Ivey is currently a partner at Venable, a corporate lobbying/law firm. Above, a screenshot from the website.

Glenn Ivey is currently a partner at Venable, a corporate lobbying/law firm. Above, a screenshot from the website.

Lobbyists rule DC, and one of the ways they do it is by offering an array of free food, vacations, and travel through invitations to convention and trade association meetings. At ThinkProgess, I wrote about this dynamic a few times. Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-NC), for instance, traveled to a resort in Florida to attend a trade association hosted by the loan shark lobby (Payday lenders are organized via something called the Community Financial Services Association). Not too long after he got back to DC, he started an inquisition against Elizabeth Warren, when the consumer advocate was still in the running to head the CFPB. The loan sharks showered McHenry with campaign donations and a free vacation, and he went to work attacking their would-be regulator.

Well, President Obama has at least made an attempt to crack down on this sort of influence peddling. He can’t do much about McHenry’s attendance to these sorts of things (Congressmen use a loophole allowing them to reimburse trade associations using campaign funds). But Obama did propose a new rule banning federal employees from attending such lobbyist-hosted conferences for free.

As the The Hill’s Kevin Bogardus reports today, a number of lobbies are fighting the new rules. I took a look at the list of lobbyists submitting comments begging the administration to change its mind. Venable, the law/lobbying firm that employs Glenn Ivey, has a letter fighting Obama’s proposed gift rules.

In the letter, Ivey’s colleagues, Ron Jacobs and Ed Wilson, claim that trade association events — the ones that often feature free getaways to the Bahamas, rounds of golf, and fancy resorts — “facilitate meetings between subject matter experts and federal officials to discuss policy and share perspectives, as well as to educate their members.” The Venable attorneys swipe Obama’s rules as “arbitrary and capricious.”

View a copy below:

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Larry Lessig On The Daily Show

Larry Lessig

Larry Lessig appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night to promote his book and talk about the problem of money in politics.

It was a good talk, and for fans of Lessig, it was an abridged version of the PowerPoint presentation he’s given across across the country.

Lessig’s points about campaign contributions are worth listening to, as well as his solution.

If you need evidence for the problem, just pay attention to what’s happening in Congress. This week, Republicans forced a provision into the payroll tax cut extension that will, if enacted, kill 20,000 Americans by some estimates. Industrial lobbyists and the GOP managed to slip in language that prevents the EPA’s new life-saving mercury rules. There’s a ton of other “riders” in the bill, many of them horrible like one pushing the Keystone XL, which you can read about here. Obama has issued a veto threat, but we’ll see what happens.

Why block already watered down regulations on boilermakers, even when doing so would kill Americans and risk infant brain damage? Because doing so will open the flood of campaign cash from polluters and transnational oil companies to Republican campaign coffers. Its that simple. The media is complacent to this dynamic, dishonestly making this a duel between competing ideologies and politicians — rather than calling it what it is, an effort by a small group of companies to game a legislative fight so they don’t have to retrofit a few industrial boilers and save many lives (and create jobs!)

Here’s the clip of Lessig:

Look, Lessig does not have all the solutions. His campaign finance reform plan doesn’t touch the problem of outside political campaign groups, like 527s, 501c3s, 501c4s and SuperPACs, or the multibillion dollar public relations industry, or its sister astroturf industry, the big business-backed think tanks and corruption in academia, the K Street cocktail culture of DC or the revolving door. But Lessig provides a great start at diagnosing the ill that is destroying our republic. America’s descent into kleptocracy, into Third World status for the great majority of its inhabitants, continues every day. The more people talk about the problem, the more folks join social movements addressing the problem, the better.

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