Archive for the ‘Open Government’ Category


WikiLeaks is under attack from powerful government and corporate officials and entities. The attacks are an assault not only on WikiLeaks, but on freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of the Internet.

Of greatest concern are the efforts to deny WikiLeaks access to the Internet and to financial services. We do not know of publicly available evidence that these efforts — which include reported denial of service attacks on WikiLeaks websites from unknown sources, terminated service agreements from companies like Amazon and PayPal, and shuttered bank accounts around the world — have been coordinated by the U.S. government, though many suspect this to be the case. Public Citizen has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests that we hope will reveal more about the government’s response.

What we do know is that the actions of powerful corporations to sever commercial relations with WikiLeaks occur in the shadow of what major media outlets have called a government declaration of war against WikiLeaks. Amazon reportedly decided to stop providing computing services to WikiLeaks after contact from the office of U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). PayPal says it cut service to WikiLeaks in response to statements from the U.S. State Department.

Whether or not coordinated, Public Citizen condemns the unconstrained and unaccountable actions by corporations and the government to deny a disfavored website, nongovernmental organization or journalist enterprise access to the Internet and financial services. (more…)

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A meager $293? That’s the average weekly unemployment check collected by the 15 million Americans looking for work right now. Or $293 million? That’s what outside groups funded primarily by corporations and the very wealthy spent on the 2010 elections.

$75 billion? That’s the windfall coming to people who are already rich if the Bush tax cuts are extended. $145 billion? That’s the record amount Wall Street is paying in bonuses this year.

Trillions? In the wake of the financial crisis, that’s what We, the People provided in bailouts, loans and other supports to save Big Business from its own greed and irresponsibility.

At Public Citizen, our mission is to counteract the policies that cause numbers like these. We can defeat corporate power. But we need your help.

Please contribute $10, $20, $35 or whatever you can today.

Contribute $100 or more and get a free DVD from a selection of popular progressive films!

Corporations just elected their dream Congress. It’s going to take all of us doing everything we can, together, to prevent Congress from rolling back our health and safety protections and showering gifts on their corporate patrons—and to win new public interest initiatives.

Public Citizen will be leading the fight against corporate power in the new Congress, a Congress that will be less critical of corporate America’s agenda than any we’ve ever seen.

The critical first step is making sure we can hit the ground running when Congress returns to Washington in January. That’s why I’m writing now to ask for your help to raise $150,000 by the end of 2010.

Your contribution of $10, $20, $35 or whatever you can afford will be put to work immediately building on our important achievements in 2010 and growing our movement against runaway corporate power.

For four decades, Public Citizen members have stood together to face down corporate power.

I need you to stand with me today.

Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen.

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the anti-regulation mega lobby that plans to spend tens of millions of dollars to support corporate candidates in the coming election, has been accused of tax fraud, according to a complaint filed with the IRS on Friday.

The complaint alleges that the Chamber abused the tax-exempt status of its 501(c)(3) charitable organization, the National Chamber Foundation (NCF), by directing NCF funds to the Chamber for prohibited political activities. Further, the complaint alleges, the NCF money was originally a donation from the Starr Foundation, another 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entity led by the former chair of A.I.G., Maurice Greenberg. The complaint charges that the A.I.G.-affiliated Starr Foundation donated $18 million to the NCF, which was then “loaned” to the Chamber for non-charitable purposes, such as training staff and lobbying for legislation that would benefit A.I.G.

The complaint was filed by U.S. Chamber Watch, whose mission is to “promote greater transparency and accountability in American political processes by shedding light on the funding and practices of the largest special interest lobbyist in America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.” The complaint requests that the IRS assess the proper taxes on NCF and the Starr Foundation for the $18 million in expenditures, and revoke the NCF’s tax-exempt status. You can view U.S. Chamber Watch’s complaint here.

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Thirty-five years ago, a Washington, D.C. grand jury took the extraordinary measure of flying out to California to hear testimony from a witness on matters related to the infamous Watergate break-in and cover-up. The witness was on the stand for 11 hours over the course of two days. And to this day, no one outside the few people who were there knows exactly what former President Richard Nixon said.

Now, Wisconsin historian Stanley Kutler, author of Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes and The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon, is suing to have the transcript of Nixon’s testimony released. Public Citizen, which is representing Kutler and four historical associations, petitioned Monday morning on Kutler’s behalf in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Years ago, Public Citizen teamed with Kutler to win release of the Watergate tapes, the secret recordings Nixon had made in the oval office.

Allison Zieve, director of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, said:

“Although Watergate and all that word has come to represent has been extensively studied and debated, President Nixon’s knowledge of the events and role in the cover-up remains a subject of speculation for historians, journalists, and others. After 35 years, the reasons for releasing Mr. Nixon’s sworn testimony far outweigh any grounds for keeping sealed this important piece of history.”

While bits and pieces of what Nixon talked about have leaked out or been alluded to in news reports, little is known about what was said those two days in San Clemente other than that the disgraced president answered questions about the infamous 18.5-minutes gap in the tape recording of his conversation with H.R. Haldeman three days after the Watergate break-in and the extent of his involvement in altering transcripts of tape recordings that were turned over to the House Judiciary Committee during its impeachment inquiry, among other issues.

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In today’s WaPo, columnist E.J. Dionne says that the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which gave corporations the green light to spend unlimited funds in elections, was either “the most Machiavellian in American history or the most naive” decision the high court has made.

In Citizens United, the court’s “5 to 4 conservative majority broke with decades of precedent and said Congress had no right to ban corporate or labor union spending to influence the outcome of elections,” Dionne said. “The decision is Machiavellian if (more…)

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A daily look at news from the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal that caught our eye:

Climate and environment:

  • Lenders step away from environmental risks (NYT)
  • Report: Climate science panel needs change at top (WP)
  • Climate panel faces heat (WSJ)
  • Judge rejects Cuccinelli’s probe of U.Va. (WP)
  • Linking academic, private, public ideas on energy (WP)
  • Dark clouds boost natural gas (WSJ)
  • An unlikely general in climate-change war (WSJ)

Health and safety:

  • Companies race to develop drugs to reduce blood-clotting problems (NYT)
  • ‘Dear Dr.: I plan to sue you for malpractice’ (WP)
  • Will virtual medicine soon go viral? (WP)
  • Separating your Zantac from your Zyrtec (WP)
  • Be skeptical of health-care credit cards (WP)
  • Using implanted telescope, people with macular degeneration regain some sight (WP)
  • Coming soon: Theaters, airplanes to post calories (WSJ)
  • The jewelry prescription (WSJ)
  • Researchers beaming at light’s medical uses (WSJ)
  • Salmonella is no danger to vaccines (WSJ)

Congressional ethics and money in politics:

  • House travel stipends probed (WSJ)
  • Campaign cash: Who’s spending the most on the midterms (WP)


  • Obama poised to loosen rules on export of technology (WP)

Financial Reform:

  • TARP and the continuing problem of toxic assets (WSJ opinion)

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Stunning Statistics of the Week:

Amount the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent on lobbying in 2009: $120 million

Amount Chamber spent daily to defeat health care reform in the weeks before its passage: $800,000

Amount Chamber plans to spend to influence the fall congressional elections: $50 million

Senate Republicans block DISCLOSE Act; Public Citizen urges reconsideration

Last week in the U.S. Senate, partisan politics prevailed over the public interest as all (more…)

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The Washington Post reports that BP is claiming a $10 billion tax credit because of damages suffered due to the oil spill. How can this happen? That’s American tax code for ya.

Under current law, companies can take a tax credit on up to 35% of their losses. It explains why a company such as GE paid no U.S. income tax in 2009 after reporting $408M in losses.

If BP gets this tax credit, the company will receive from the government half of the money it has promised to set aside in an escrow fund.

Let’s examine the reasons for such a counter-intuitive tax law. According to the Washington Post:

Policymakers crafted the tax code this way so that companies can spread their profits and losses over more than just a calendar year. Let’s say a company earns $100 billion one year and pays the U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent, or $35 billion. The next year, the economy goes south, and the company loses $100 billion. Over those two years, the company earned zero dollars, but it still paid $35 billion in taxes.

Here’s a better (and likely more accurate) explanation: Congress wrote the tax code this way because (more…)

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Five justices on the U.S. Supreme Court – none of whom ever ran for election or served in elective office – reversed a century of political tradition and decades of legal precedents when they ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations may spend unlimited amounts of money to promote or attack candidates in local, state and federal elections. This disastrous decision will both increase the premium on campaign dollars and the role of the wealthy in determining who gets elected to office. It vastly enhances the power of well-funded corporate lobbyists in extracting policy concessions from members of Congress and the executive branch.

The DISCLOSE Act (S. 3295), sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), is an important first response to this ruling. The legislation would close a gaping loophole in the campaign finance disclosure system. Under existing law, groups that pay for electioneering communications need not disclose their major donors. Most corporations will launder their political expenditures through innocuous sounding groups, such as Americans for Job Security, and thus hide their political activity. The DISCLOSE Act for the first time would require these outside groups to identify their major donors of $1,000 or more who are funding the campaign ads, and that identifying information would be posted on the Internet for all to see.

For the DISCLOSE Act to take effect in time for the 2010 general election, when a lot of this new political spending is expected to swamp the airwaves, it must be approved by the U.S. Senate before the August recess. For that to happen, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) filibuster to prevent a vote on the bill must be broken.

Public Citizen strongly encourages senators of all parties to stand up for opening the books on money in politics. The quality of our elections and the integrity of our government rides on this vote for the DISCLOSE Act.

Call your Senators and tell them to vote for more transparency in government: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm


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Usually, standing ovations at the Netroots Nation conference are given to keynote speakers in the cavernous hall where everyone converges to hear people like Elizabeth Warren and MSNBC host Ed Schultz.

But a panel discussion this morning on the U.S. Supreme Court’s  Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision drew hoots and hollers of support as well as two standing ovations from an energized audience.

Public Citizen President Robert Weissman shared the stage with U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson and Donna Edwards; Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and program at People for the American Way; and Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. Weissman and Baker unveiled a new campaign launched by both organizations to urge candidates for Congress to pledge to support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling if they are elected.

The prime question, Weissman said, is “whether Goldman Sachs and Exxon have the right to buy elections. ” The Supreme Court , he explained, answered yes.


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