Matt mentioned that Montana's ban on corporate contributions to political campaigns was recently thrown out by Judge Jeffrey Sherlock on the basis of the SCOTUS Citizens United decision. While his post touched on the in-state provocateurs and their possible foreign backing that sought to overturn the law that protected Montana's democratic government since 1912, I thought I'd quote from this New York Times article comparing 2010's secret corporate donations - via Citizens United - to Nixon's illegal corporate-fueled slush fund:
In this year's midterm elections, there is no talk of satchels of cash from donors. Nor is there any hint of illegal actions reaching Watergate-like proportions. But the fund-raising practices that earned people convictions in Watergate - giving direct corporate money to a campaign and doing so secretly - are back in a different form in 2010.
This time around, the corporations are still giving secretly, but legally. In 1907, direct corporate donations to candidates were legally barred in a campaign finance reform push by President Theodore Roosevelt. But that law and others - the foundation for many Watergate convictions - are all but obsolete. This is why many supporters of strict campaign finance laws are wringing their hands.
Certainly, it is still illegal for corporations to contribute directly to candidates. But they now have equally potent ways to exert their influence. This election year is the first since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allows corporations for the first time to finance ads that directly support or oppose political candidates. And tax laws and loopholes have permitted a shadow campaign network of Republican-leaning nonprofit groups to collect a flood of anonymous donations and spend it widely.
If the Republicans make big gains in the House and Senate on Election Day, there is rare bipartisan consensus that they will owe part of their victory to the millions of dollars raised and spent by these nonprofit groups, much of which has come from businesses.
The groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, the American Action Network and Crossroads GPS, which is linked to the Republican strategist Karl Rove, have committed to spending well over $150 million this year. President Obama has railed against these groups as they have poured money into races in which once-secure Democrats are hanging by a thread.
But the attacks may have only helped build the groups' fund-raising muscle. Crossroads GPS and a sister organization, American Crossroads, have received more than $100,000 in small donations through the Web, when they had expected most gifts to come in big checks. And the groups' leaders have only grown more influential - far more influential than the Republican National Committee, led by Michael Steele. Evidently, the corporate donors love having a secret route to influence politics and elect Republicans without showing their hands to a Washington still controlled by the Democrats.
So much for open elections and the democratic process.
Citizens United steamrolled previous court decisions that opined corporate involvement in our electoral process was unsavory and destructive to representative government. That is, the SCOTUS - or the radical elements therein - now considers the corporation "a burnished image of the good citizen." But given the involvement of corporations in politics in the weeks and months after Citizens United, you'd have to agree with the 1990 SCOTUS majority opinion in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which "lambasted" the entry of corporations "into the political arena" because of "the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth that are accumulated with the help of the corporate form and that have little or no correlation to the public's support for the corporation's political ideas."
The US Chamber of Commerce is declaring Montana a target on banking reform. With only six small and mid-size states in the mix, we can expect to see a healthy piece of the $3 million budget headed our way no doubt.
The Hill article portrays this as potentially being about seeking some changes to the bill. Frankly, a lot of this shit is in the weeds and well outside my areas of expertise, but my sense also is that here, as in healthcare, the Chamber isn't playing to amend or fix. They're playing to kill because a small number of their members care deeply about this sector of the economy.
Wall Street is obscenely out of hand, especially for a sector of the economy that fundamentally doesn't do anything. We don't need financial innovation. We need fucking banks that work. More of those, please.
Once again the Chamber of Commerce shows that it will go to any length to put the interests of Wall Street and big banks ahead of Main Street Montana.
We've already seen the Chamber funnel millions of dollars from the insurance industry into misleading anti-health reform advertisements.
Now, rather than pushing for rules that will end the deceptive financial practices that have shuttered businesses throughout Montana and put hundreds of residents out of work, the Chamber wants to maintain the status quo -- putting us at risk for future economic calamities.
In a shrill press release issued this week, the Chamber targets the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA), insisting it will hurt the very people the agency is meant to help.
Disappointingly, the Billings Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Business Industry signed on to the statement.
The greedy, reckless behavior of big banks and Wall Street nearly brought on a second Great Depression. Montana is suffering as a result of their actions. State agencies and city governments are struggling with deficits. Small businesses are fighting to stay afloat. And working people are more fearful than ever about losing their jobs.
Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs contemplates giving its CEO and other high-ranking employees $100 million in bonuses.
We need rules that will reign in reckless behavior on Wall Street and help protect Montana consumers and small businesses.
It would be nice if the Montana Chamber took our side instead of Wall Street's.
So, the Missoula Chamber of Commerce sends out an "email blast" that promotes shopping in...Spokane, Washington, and, you know, Missoula businesses are pretty ticked off. That makes sense.
But it's this quote from Chamber President, Kim Latrielle, that pretty much explains why CoCs operate the way they do:
The Missoula Chamber does not market or recruit memberships from other communities, Latrielle said, "but more and more businesses are utilizing outside chambers to break into other local communities, counties and states."
"We don't seek out members from outside our area, but we have a policy that we don't turn membership away - membership is open to anybody who applies, has a business license and pays membership dues," she said.
The "Missoula" in the "Missoula Chamber of Commerce" is meaningless, as is the idea that the "chamber of commerce" is representative of commerce. There's no principle at the heart of the CoC. That's important to remember when you hear the CoC rage against unions, workers, and climate change.
Is the Montana Chamber of Commerce really working on behalf of Montana businesses, or is it just a mouthpiece for it's national masters? Reading Mike Dennison's story in the Lee Newspapers today, you have to wonder.
According to the article, the Montana Chamber and the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) have sent out messages to their members saying that reform proposals will raise taxes on small business and do nothing to address out-of-control medical costs.
But the opposite is true. Both the recently passed House bill and proposed legislation in the Senate would provide tax credits to businesses that provide coverage to their employees. And a health insurance exchange created by the proposals would make that coverage more affordable to small businesses. Right now, employee health insurance is flat out of reach to many businesses that would like to offer it.
In echoing the anti-reform sentiments of its national parent, the Montana Chamber appears to be placing the interest of large corporations elsewhere ahead of what's in the best interest of small businesses in Montana.
Pretty shameless, but at least people are noticing. Earlier this week the Washington Post exposed the Chamber's plan to solicit a slanted study on health care reform legislation. And today American Rights at Work launched a "Not My Chamber" Twitter protest against the group, decrying the its opposition to health care reform. Around the country, some state Chamber chapters are voicing their objections to the national organization's tactics.
The truth is, providing employees with health insurance is good for small business. It helps employers attract and retain good employees. Many Montana small businesses recognize this and are struggling to keep up with rising premiums unchecked by competition. Other small businesses would like to provide coverage, but can't afford to do so. Reform efforts will help, not hurt, these people.
Montana Communications Director
Change That Works
In case you missed it, a lot of interesting things happened this week, a lot of them deserving their own posts. But, sadly, there's only so much time in the day...
Just when you thought the issues around the Flathead Lake Boat Crash couldn't get any more asinine, they do.
James Conner has the details of that night's incident - apparently Barkus thought he was heading in the opposite direction than he actually was, and was pulling a u-turn at 45 mph in the dark in treacherous waters when he struck the lake bank. Dan Testa, too, has a good roundup of that night's events - two scotches and an unknown amount of red and white wine for Barkus. Just the thing for a chilly night out on the lake.
Now Barkus' lawyer is challenging the .16 BAC results - which, I know, is his right to do and probably a smart legal maneuver. But Barkus is also planning on finishing out his Senate term, as if nothing's happened here, as if he hadn't just boozed up and almost killed himself and four others on Flathead Lake.
The crash was a good sign he's got a problem, eh? I mean, for most of us, this would be a kind of, I dunno, a wake-up call, wouldn't it?
That's the way I'd see it if it were me. I'd be apologizing my *ss off to the friends and family of those I injured through my loathsome behavior, I'd cooperate with the authorities and plea bargain my way into a just punishment, resign my public office because of the deficiency of my character, and I'd check myself into a rehab clinic, ASAP. I mean, wouldn't most people feel some remorse, and want to repent and work to rehabilitate themselves?
Instead, Barkus is still out there, still a drunk, and, probably as soon as he's walking again, back behind the wheel. And he'll be passing laws over you. So much for personal responsibility.
* * *
As always, there's plenty of news from Hardin.
The Billings Gazette got its hands on the "memorandum of understanding" between Hardin and the APF - which it had to get by court order, apparently because it's pretty embarrassing to Hardin officials - that revealed the city did have an agreement with Hilton's company to have the APF supply Hardin with a police force for $250K. The contract toned the language down, but the memo certainly explains the Hardin Police Force decals on APF SUVs.
But the American Police Force takeover of the Hardin jail only looks dead. While Hardin put the deal with APF on hold after revelations of Michael Hilton's checkered past, a mysterious APF investor stepped forward (anonymously, of course) and noted the firm would still pursue the Hardin jail contract, only without "Captain" Michael Hilton on board.
The Baucus bill is the worst piece of healthcare legislation I've seen in 30 years. In fact, it's a $60 billion giveaway to the health insurance industry every year. It was written by healthcare lobbyists, so that's not a surprise. It's an outrage.
Chairman Baucus has put forward a bold framework for health care reform that builds on what works and improves what doesn't. [...] Baucus` bill reflects a step in the right direction on the long road toward health care reform.
Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Raul Grijalva
It is telling that Senator Baucus stood alone at today's press conference. There was no "Gang of Six," including the absence of Senator Snowe and no Democrats. Even with huge concessions to the legislation, including no public option, it not so shockingly, has not garnered any visible support. [...] I urge the Senators on the Finance Committee to replace the Baucus plan with legislation that will guarantee that quality, affordable health care that includes a strong public option. Anything less is unacceptable.
Max's hard work in putting together a bill on such a complex issue is a testament to his genuine desire to do what's best for our country. There's a long road ahead and the devil is always in the details. I'll continue to seek input directly from Montanans as Congress considers the various health care reform proposals.
Despite months of painful negotiations, the Senate Finance Committee proposal released today absolutely fails to meet the most basic health care needs of working families and it fails to meet the expectations we have set for our nation. [...] We are counting on finance committee Democrats to fix the bill and side with working families, not insurance companies.
Chamber of Commerce
Chairman Baucus has made a good faith effort to address the concerns of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and we thank him for his inclusive efforts. The business community has strongly advocated for health care reform and the Senate Finance bill is the best effort to date.
From Dan Testa's report on the Employee Free Choice Act:
But opponents of the bill counter that its main purpose is to boost membership in unions whose size, influence and reach are dwindling.
"Workers are not seeing the benefits of joining a union," Brown said. "I really feel they've lost their way; I think that's why their numbers are declining."
Brown charges that the bill could run the risk of interfering with businesses by mandating a government arbitrator settle disputes, and it could force higher wages out of small companies in an economy where profit margins are already thin. Furthermore, he added, the illusion of higher wages could be mitigated by having to pay union dues.
"It's a sneaky way, I think, of selling something that they can't sell straightforwardly, so they're doing it kind of backdoor," Brown said.
Of course the EFCA is about increasing membership in unions! That's the whole friggin' point! Remove the current worker-unfriendly barriers to unionization (that Testa elaborates on in this report), and more people join. Brown himself admitted that in an earlier Chuck Johnson report when he said, "the last report I saw from the National Labor Relations Board, they (unions) are winning two out of three elections. What do they want?" Er, they want employers to stop harassing workers who want to join a union. And imagine if penalties for harassing workers were actually punitive, and that disputes were quickly adjudicated, and the process couldn't be strung along for weeks or months. Unions would win a lot more than two out of every three elections!
Brown is somehow arguing that businesses should have the right to harass their workers and delay elections because unions are so dang popular...which is an odd argument to make, isn't it?
As for the benefits of unionization, well, ask a union worker. You'll spot them easily enough. They're the ones with decent health care benefits, vacation time, and pay...
You can see the latest opposition rhetoric from the Chamber of Commerce in Chuck Johnson's piece summing up the opposing arguments on the issue:
"Their problem is they (unions) see the numbers going down," said Webb Brown, Montana Chamber of Commerce president. "They see from a political standpoint they have an edge. They can't sell it to workers so they want to sneak it in through the back door."
Brown said the bill is intended to help unions collect more dues and donate more to union-friendly politicians.
The chamber official said he sees no problems with the present law but is open to compromise.
"The last report I saw from the National Labor Relations Board, they (unions) are winning two out of three elections," Brown said. "What do they want?"
Er...there's no doubt that unions want to expand. More union members means more leverage politically and economically. But...er...that's not a bad thing. It's not like unions don't provide a service. To wit, Johnson's piece on the unionization of pharmacy technicians and clerks in a Helena drugstore:
"Once we said the word 'union,' everything changed," Luckey said. "They started coming out with work policies we couldn't comply with. They took us into closed-door (one-on-one) sessions. We wanted to do it in a group. A corporate officer flew in. He was concerned about the money the union would take from me. I said I would be fine."
Employees voted to form a union in February 2006. Obtaining a contract took nearly nine months, Luckey said. Afterward, some employees saw their pay jump by $4 an hour.
"Before, we were just used and abused," she said. "Afterward, you could actually see them slowly start to respect us. That was probably bigger than the struggle to survive on the wages. It became a healthy environment."
I love Brown's second argument, that unions win 2 out of 3 elections to unionize workplaces, and somehow implies the system is rigged towards workers. In reality, it's the employer that has the advantages. And doesn't the fact that unions win the majority of elections, despite widespread employer intimidation, imply that workers actually want to unionize? That what unions offer is popular? Even needed? That, in our current work and legal environments, the conditions are tipped to favor owners over labor?
Yeah, Rehberg is against the bill. That's not surprising. I think there's something inherent in the character of every multi-million-dollar real estate developer that makes him want to keep the commoners in line. But, yeah, I'm a little disappointed that Tester and Baucus are backing off their support for the EFCA. Seems like maybe they're a little nervous about opposing Montana's CoC? Which doesn't make any sense, frankly. The Good Guv's had a contentious relationship with the Chamber for as long as I can remember, and his popularity is as high as ever. Listen up, Senators. If you back legislation like this - that benefits everyday Montanans over big corporations - we'll get your backs.
Here's a video from the Center for American Progress Action Center on the difficulties facing workers who want to unionize (h/t Ezra Klein):
Given the study from Matt that showed union intimidation of workers is a myth, and the hurdles unionizing workers face and lack of penalties for employers who break labor laws, you'd think the Chamber of Commerce, with its sudden interest in workers' rights, would come rushing in to suggest reforms that would free workers from intimidation and illegal anti-union tactics, right?
At noon today students and workers demonstrated at the Wells Fargo Bank on South Russell with a message aimed at the U.S. Congress.
One sign put it this way: "It's time for an economy that works for everyone."
The event was one of about 100 actions in 35 states held today and involving a total of about 10,000 people. The Missoula group gathered because they were frustrated with an economy weakened by years of corporate excess.
The Wells Fargo branch on Russell may seem innocuous enough, but the bank is part of the problem. Despite profits of about $95.8 billion over the last decade, the median wage of a Wells Fargo bank teller is only $10.21 per hour or only about $21,000 a year.
Since last fall, Wells Fargo has collected $25 billion in federal bailout funds. During that time, the bank has used some of that money -- taxpayer money -- to lobby against banking reforms, like the $690,000 spent in just three months to fight the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act, the Foreclosure Prevention Act, the Consumer Overdraft Protection Fair Practices Act, the Credit Card Fair Fee Act and legislation that would let judges modify mortgages to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.
Lately, Wells Fargo has continued its fight against the Employee Free Choice Act. The measure would make it easier for workers to bargain with employers for better wages, benefits, and working conditions by ensuring they can exercise a free choice to join together in a union without management interference or intimidation.
"Americans have had enough of an era of unchecked corporate excess," said Andy Stern, president of the 2-million member SEIU, the Service Employees International Union. "Congress needs to fix the underlying problems by ensuring workers can have a voice, health care, and a financial system that works for people, not lavish corporate lifestyles."
The nationwide protests challenge Congress to take immediate steps to rebuild an economy that works for everyone by passing:
• The Employee Free Choice Act so workers have the freedom to form unions for a voice to share in the economic progress they help create.
• Affordable, quality health care for all where everyone, including big corporations, does their share and Americans no longer have to go without quality health care or face health costs that sink a family's budget.
• Strong banking reform to make sure the financial services industry can never again bring our economy down by prioritizing huge profits and executive pay over responsible lending, or by preying on consumers, gambling with families' hard-earned money, and hiding their dealings.
(Robert Struckman writes for Montana Change That Works, a project of the Service Employees International Union.)
The Missoulian owes its readers a correction for printing this op-ed.
Here's just a few incorrect facts and misleading statements:
They do this by taking away secret ballot elections in union campaigns and replacing it with a system called "card check."
False. Nowhere in the Employee Free Choice Act are secret ballot elections taken away. The meaningful difference is simply that majority sign-up, also known as "card check," no longer needs employer approval to be used as the mechanism for unionizing at work. Webb Brown's statement here is flat-out untrue.
Also, as I've pointed out before, under the Employee Free Choice Act, employees retain the ability to request secret ballot decertification elections if they wish to no longer be unionized.
Under this system, union organizers would be able to approach workers and ask them to sign a card saying they want a union. This form of organizing leaves employees vulnerable to labor union strong-arm tactics and peer pressure.
Highly Misleading. Under the current election system, union organizers already are able to "approach workers and ask them to sign a card saying they want a union." In fact, they already have to do that to form a union. In this situation, nothing changes. In fact, the ability of union organizers to talk to other people -- or of employees to talk to their co-workers -- is and should be a protected First Amendment right. Webb Brown is grandstanding here.
Employers would be forced to reach a deal on collective bargaining agreements within 90 days of a successful union election. If no agreement is made, government arbitrators will come and make the decisions.
This isn't actually false or misleading, it is simply hilarious how opposed to binding arbitration the Chamber is in this one instance. Binding arbitration provisions of contracts are quite common as they require people to negotiate in good faith.
As an example, a family member of mine was part of a workforce that organized and unionized under current NLRB law. They waited three years for a first union contract as management dragged their feet indefinitely. Memo to Chamber: no one goes to binding arbitration provided you're being a good employer and a good corporate citizen.
One other quick note: binding arbitration also applies to any foot dragging by the union. In other words, both sides of the table have to negotiate. This isn't a one-sided thing. So I guess this is misleading, too. My bad.
In addition, employers will be subjected to higher penalties when they speak out against the union.
Completely False. This is just a load of crap. The government can't penalize businesses for free speech. The penalties that Webb Brown is upset about are penalties for intimidating employees and firing them for being pro-union -- essentially interfering with workers' right to association. I'd love to see where penalties for giving anti-union speech exist anywhere in federal law.
Labor unions cite employer intimidation as a reason to pass card check. Employers counter that labor unions often use deceit and threats in union campaigns, not to mention the many cases of union corruption. But the truth is that under the current system of private elections, workers are protected with the secret ballot that prevents their employer and the labor union from knowing how they voted.
Both false and misleading. Whoever wrote this needs to star in the sequel to Thank You for Smoking because it is a veritable artwork of smoke and mirrors. I'm honestly impressed by the deceitfulness. The idea that intimidation of employees by management and unions is any way equivalent is incredible and without evidence. By comparison, a poll of employees who worked in workplaces that had gone through unionizing campaigns found that employees reported that management was far more likely to intimidate them than the union. In elections, for example, 46% said they were intimidated by management v. only 14% of employees saying the felt intimidated by union organizers during a majority sign-up effort.
Long story short: management intimidates workers way more than unions do.
Hint: this explains why the Chamber also opposes increasing penalties for intimidating employees during union campaigns.
One of the hallmarks of modern life is a constant sense of astonishment over the disconnected-but-seamless rhetoric from the cynical far-right.
It's the same story on the Employee Free Choice Act.
The Big Business, anti-union contingent avoids a real discussion of the act by spewing a verbal loop of nonsense that the bill somehow restricts the rights of workers to the secret ballot.
Remember, this is Republican opposite land, where everything means the opposite of what they say it does. Of course, the bill does nothing to the secret ballot. Nothing at all. Yet the far-right has been able to spread this message throughout the media simply by endlessly repeating it. Check out this Web page from MediaMatters. It's insane.
And then yesterday a Politico reporter offered us all a glimpse into the ridiculously well-funded Republican machine that manufacturers this baloney.
The (anti-)ECFA campaign began in earnest in 2005, when Mike Murphy and John McLaughlin began polling aspects of the bill and settled on the worker sign-up provision as the most vulnerable.
"We developed a framing that it was really a privacy issue," said Murphy, describing what became a campaign against taking away a "secret ballot" for workers.
But such deceitful tactics have a fatal flaw. Eventually, we get wise to the deceit. That's what happened in the last election. That's what's happening now. The far-right is spending millions pushing their anti-hope, anti-change message. (Remember: they like the economy like this and won't stop, even when the rest of us live in tarpaper shacks and pay for the privilege of working.)
And yet the popularity of the Employee Free Choice Act is rising. Every week more legislators sign on as co-sponsors. The Employee Free Choice Act will allow us to get economy get back in balance.
The Gazette has an interesting editorial on John Brewer, the President of the Billings Chamber of Commerce. He's apparently been looking to do all sorts of wacky things -- like promote mill levies for schools and business improvement districts. In other words, the Billings Chamber is actually advocating for higher taxes.
This isn't too surprising for a few reasons. I don't know John Brewer. By the editorial and some comments, I take it that he's a standup guy...and sharp, too. Take a look at most of the highly performing economies in the world. You don't see extremely low tax rates. What you do see are good schools, solid public infrastructure, and a community framework for growth.
A framework for growth includes a few things -- a regulatory structure conducive to entrepreneurship, relatively easy access to capital, and some regulations that help separate wheat from the chaff.
It's all a pretty fine balance.
Now, I shouldn't pretend that Brewer and I are ideological soulmates. I have little doubt that I'm to his left. But he sure sounds like a smart businessman to me. Maybe Steve Daines should give him a call.
The Montana Chamber of Commerce is, unsurprisingly, attacking the notion of card check for unionization. They claim that card check opens the door to worker intimidation.
They should either drop the talking points or look into the facts: even in card check campaigns, workers are more subject to intimidation from their employers than from union organizers. As an example of what happens when a union campaign starts, Ezra Klein mentions the following data:
Research shows that, when threatened with a union, 30% of employers fire pro-union workers, 49% threaten to close down, 51% use bribery or favoritism to tilt the election, and 82% hire unionbusting consultants.
Jon Bennion and the folks at the Montana Chamber of Commerce have made the relatively gutsy decision to wander into the blogosphere. I'm glad they have. Institituional voices joining in democratic media is a good move both for the medium and the institution.
Most recently, the Chamber has a series of posts on chamber members' legislative views, including taxes, labor and employment issues, and the budget surplus. Now, it's quite possible to quibble with a number of items on the survey. Their budget surplus questions, for example, provide no insight to how various chamber members think the surplus should be split between cutting taxes and increasing spending -- a fairly critical question. Also, the tax questions lack enough specificity to get a real clear picture of what chamber members really believe.
Still, the overall image that emerges from the questions and their answers is that chamber members are, unsurprisingly, a relatively diverse lot in their views, although generally more conservative fiscally than the state as a whole.
Note, I'm describing them as fiscal conservatives and not as more fiscally responsible. I don't see much reason to think that they are more fiscally responsible.