Tag Archives: political contributions

Money And Trust

A number of people who regularly comment on this blog have repeatedly expressed contempt for the very wealthy CEOs who exercise disproportionate power in our current political environment. I share their disapproval of the systemic flaws that facilitate that influence, but I am unwilling to throw all rich people into the “deplorable” basket.

Just like all minority groups–blacks, Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ folks–the rich are a mixed lot, so I was interested to see a MarketWatch report that looked at personal political contributions by the nation’s CEOs. 

Let me concede right now that the observation I’m about to share is probably unfair. But I’ll share it anyway: the corporate executives that I have previously thought to be honorable have been giving to Democrats during this election cycle. Those who’ve been demonstrably less-than-upright tend to be found in the “donating to Republicans” column.

Warren Buffett gave 100% of his donations to Democrats; Timothy Sloan–who heads up scandal-ridden Wells Fargo–gave to Republicans.

Tim Cook of Apple made only one contribution, to a Democratic candidate for Congress. Jamie Diamond of JPMorgan also made only one contribution–to Orrin Hatch.

I am compelled to admit that the totals donated do tend to support the previously-referenced expressions of contempt for America’s plutocrats. These particular CEOs gave 2,632,234 to Democrats, and a whopping 7,438,781 to Trump’s GOP.

MarketWatch’s analysis found that among the CEOs who did contribute to party-affiliated committees, nearly all leaned heavily blue or red, with few donating equally to the two main parties. More than 84% of the 261 CEOs who contributed to partisan committees donated 70% or more of their money to one party or the other. And about 100 of the CEOs spent above the median amount and contributed 75% of their money to one party.

The behavior of these executives when they are spending their own money is interesting, because corporate PACs mostly spread their money around, presumably in an effort to buy influence on both sides of the political aisle. The study by MarketWatch found that executives within the “corporate elite” tend to donate their personal funds based on ideology rather than strategy.

The chart accompanying the article is interesting. I am not familiar with most of the corporations listed, but I have a very good impression of Salesforce, a company which has become one of Indianapolis’ best corporate citizens since locating here a few years ago. And I’ve upgraded my impression of Netflix…

In the 2018 election cycle, two Silicon Valley bosses — Netflix Inc.’s NFLX, +2.43% Reed Hastings and Salesforce.com Inc.CRM, +1.46% co-CEO Marc Benioff — stand out for contributing only to individual Democratic candidates’ committees or groups tied to the Democratic Party, as shown in our chart, which is based on itemized filings with the Federal Election Commission. Hastings donated $571,600, making him the biggest spender among partisan outliers who favor Democrats, while Benioff gave $188,900. The chart shows the CEOs who were both the most partisan in their outlays and contributed the most money overall (more than $90,000 in partisan donations). Netflix and Salesforce declined to comment.

“A lot of the immigration concerns that tech companies have are going to push them in the direction of supporting Democrats,” said Sarah Bryner, research director for the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign-finance watchdog. “They’re worried about their employee base.” Tech companies, which often employ highly skilled newcomers to the U.S., have voiced opposition to the GOP’s efforts to restrict immigration.

Or maybe they are just appalled by Trump and his takeover of the GOP.

As I say, probably not a totally fair analysis of this particular data. But interesting.



It Just Goes On And On

This time, it’s Rick Perry. (Mr. “Oops”)

Watching the Trump Administration cabinet reminds me of going to the three-ring circus when I was a girl: it was impossible to watch what was happening in all three of the rings at the same time. And there were lots of clowns.

The New Yorker has turned its attention to Rick Perry, who has always struck me as one of the clowns. 

On March 29, 2017, Robert Murray, the founder and owner of one of the country’s largest coal companies, was ushered into a conference room at the Department of Energy’s headquarters, in Washington, D.C., for a meeting with Secretary Rick Perry. When Perry arrived, a few moments later, he immediately gave Murray a hug. To Simon Edelman, the Department’s chief creative officer, who was on hand to photograph the event, the greeting came as a surprise. At the time, Edelman did not know that Murray’s political-action committee and employees had donated more than a hundred thousand dollars to Perry’s Presidential campaign, in 2012, and almost as much to Donald Trump’s, in 2016.

At one point in the meeting, as Edelman recalls, Murray handed Perry a document titled  “Action Plan for reliable and low cost electricity in America and to assist in the survival of our Country’s coal industry.” Edelman snapped a closeup.

According to the article, it was barely six months later that Perry sent a letter directing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue a new rule. The ostensible reason for the rule was “to protect the resiliency of the electric grid” from what he described as vulnerability to power disruptions. (Interestingly, barely a month before Perry sent the letter,  Perry’s own staff had issued a report concluding that “reliability is adequate today.”)

Perry’s letter instructed the Commission to emphasize “traditional baseload generation”—in other words, coal and nuclear.

Perry proposed that all coal plants in certain areas, including many that do business with Murray Energy, be required to keep a ninety-day supply of coal onsite to provide “fuel-secure” power. Edelman was alarmed: the language in Perry’s letter clearly echoed Murray’s “action plan.” ..Edelman shared his photos of the March meeting with reporters from the progressive magazine In These Times and, later, the Washington Post. The photographs were published on December 6th. The next day, Edelman was placed on leave.

Edelman has since sued Perry and the Department of Energy, and the remainder of the article analyzes the evidence and the federal laws that would seem to have been violated both by Perry’s issuance of the letter and his dismissal of Edelman. Not surprisingly, it concludes that both were wrongful.

The degree of corruption that characterizes this administration is breathtaking. Trump and his “best people” seem utterly oblivious to ethical principles, let alone the legal constraints that govern their operations. I suppose we should be grateful for their overwhelming incompetence–the bumbling that opens windows into their ethical and legal transgressions and mercifully undercuts the efficacy of their efforts to roll back regulations and initiate policies to enrich their benefactors. (Last Sunday, the New York Times had an article about Scott Pruitt’s rush to undo EPA regulations, and quoted  environmental lawyers to the effect that persistent, sloppy legal work and inattention to detail has made it much easier to challenge his efforts in court–and win.)

American citizens need to use the next two and a half years to demand a great cleansing of federal agencies. If the predicted “blue wave” materializes in November, Congress will need to initiate a thorough and bipartisan audit of compliance with government’s settled ethical obligations.

Donald Trump didn’t appear out of nowhere. This corrupt, unhinged ignoramus and his “best people” circus are the result of several decades during which plutocracy grew and voters were apathetic. It will take a sustained and determined effort to right the ship of state.

If that blue wave doesn’t materialize, the U.S. will join a list of failed democracies that is getting longer every year.

Not-So-Private Enterprise

This morning’s New York Times has a story about Mitt Romney’s campaign-trail praise for a “private” enterprise that–just coincidentally–happens to be owned by one of his largest contributors. It’s a story that could undoubtedly be written about several of the other candidates in an era when money makes the political world go around, and it wouldn’t merit much more than a sigh and a shrug if it weren’t for two things: the enterprise in question and the increasingly dishonest characterization of what constitutes “private enterprise.”

The business that Romney praises as a “cost-effective” alternative to soaring tuition rates is a for-profit college in Florida named Full Sail University. As the Times points out,

“Mr. Romney did not mention the cost of tuition at Full Sail, which runs more than 80,000, for example, for a 21-month program in ‘video game art.'”

Nor did he mention the institution’s 14% graduation rate.

In fact, there has been a growing recognition that many, if not most, for-profit colleges are royal rip-offs, promising students credentials that prove worthless in the marketplace and vastly overcharging for poor-quality instruction. In response, President Obama has proposed new regulations that would make it much more difficult for students attending such institutions to receive federal aid.

And that leads to the problem of mis-characterization. The reason so many of these for-profit colleges are lobbying so frantically against the Obama proposals is that they are “private” enterprises in name only. They depend almost entirely upon the financial aid available to students courtesy of the American taxpayer.

I’m told that for-profit colleges got their biggest boost in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the availability of the GI Bill promised quick profits to educational entrepreneurs who could best market their programs. Today, most of them would disappear without the ability to tap public funds.

We have a long history in this country of politicians extolling the virtues of those who fund their campaigns, and we have an equally long history of people railing against “socialism” and “bailouts” and “welfare” while happily sucking at the public you-know-what. (Remember Ross Perot, that apostle of private-sector “can do” attitudes who made his fortune contracting with the government?)

As the Times article points out, the for-profit college industry has “been the target of withering criticism in the last few years in the wake of federal investigations into fraudulent marketing practices, poor academic records and huge loans assumed by students ill-prepared for the expensive programs.”

Bottom line: these enterprises are not examples of private entrepreneurship. And what they are offering bears little resemblance to an education.