32 posts categorized "Corporate Speech"

One approach to Citizens United

There's some interesting disclosure in Microsoft's 2012 proxy statement, about how the company spends money to influence election campaigns and public policy.

US Capitol

That's not quite right. More precisely, the proxy disclosure is about how the company will not take advantage of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision to influence elections with dollars that can't be traced back to Microsoft.

"Microsoft recognizes the increasing interest of U.S. public company shareholders in establishing greater transparency about corporate political contributions. Microsoft discloses its political contributions to support candidates and ballot measures as well as how certain of our trade association membership dues are used for political activities. As part of our commitment to transparency, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case in 2010, Microsoft amended its Principles Guiding Microsoft Participation in the Political Process in the United States to clarify that Microsoft will not make independent political expenditures or electioneering communications as are now permitted after the court’s decision. The policy is available at www.microsoft.com/politicalengagement."

When you follow the link, you get additional information about Microsoft's campaign contributions and lobbying efforts, including a chart which shows that lobbying expenditures at the state level have risen to almost match those at the federal level.

2016 is just around the corner . . .

A recent piece in the Bits blog, about Google powering up to lobby in DC, made me visit the FEC website to poke around for what kind of campaign contributions Google's PAC might be making.

Pictured below is a detail from a "SCHEDULE B (FEC Form 3X) ITEMIZED DISBURSEMENTS" filed by Google Inc. NetPAC.

Screen shot 2012-04-23 at 9.21.40 PM

Now what's Rob Portman doing, in 2012, raising money to fight off a primary challenger to his Senate re-election in 2016? Hadn't he better be acting like he'd be running for re-election as Vice President in 2016? Might Google be going out of its way to get Portman's attention now?

Gotta admit that Google appears to be transparent about its politicking. It's sad, though, isn't it - something like a triumph of the intransigent - to think that Google is playing the same game as the telecom companies and the banks.

Why the Tech Community's SOPA Revolt Feels "Pre-Occupy" - And Why That's a Shame

Don't hold your breath, but it just may be that the politics of turning SOPA into a law have turned.

Leaders in the tech community raised an alarm; an effective counter-SOPA campaign was launched; Congress-people were counter-lobbied; GoDaddy the clueless poster child was punished; the cynical grab for power by the cable media conglomarate was exposed and, possibly, neutralized.

So far, so good.

But there's an aspect to revolt against SOPA that troubles me.

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The strategy and tactics of the campaign seem drawn entirely from an era that pre-dates #OccupyWallStreet.

I'm having trouble explaining what I'm intuiting, but this analysis from a November 2011 article by Alexis Madrigal in the Atlantic, "A Guide to the Occupy Wall Street API," helps:

"The idea that our politics are not up to the serious tasks we face in fixing our economy and society has become widespread. Instead of pointing that out, as many have, Occupy Wall Street simply ignored mainstream politics. As the press clamored for position papers and lists of demands, OWS responded by paying no attention. There were two messages in that relative silence: 1) your media is inadequate to convey the scale of changes necessary and 2) your politics are inadequate to make the scale of changes necessary."

Why is it particularly important that the tech community "get" the fundamental #Occupy critique - a meta-critique of a system so appallingly corrupt it sells out even the appearance of reasoned policy making - and internalize it in its own nascent political awareness and activism?

Because the tech community understands information and it understands transparency. The former is its stock-in-trade and the latter is a cultural value associated with entrepreneurialism.

If the tech community could turn its attention, not to issue-advocacy in the same way that game is played by entrenched corporate interests, but instead to disintermediating payola politics, we might make it possible to hold legislators accountable, to incentivize them to make policy in a manner that leverages available knowledge and serves the common interest.

I'm not saying there should be a political party that speaks for the tech community. I am saying there should not be an imitation of the tired politics of lawyers, lobbyists and campaign contributions to match what the forces of darkness and complacency shovel out. More than that, I am suggesting that the tech community is positioned better than most to topple the current, corporatist shadow of democracy that would shame our nation's founders.

The alternative, for sure, is to just get smarter at understanding how the Congress of today works, organize within that system, establish outposts on K Street, perpetuate the corrupt system and get used to paying the indirect tax of campaign contributions, year after year after year.

Flickr photo by Magnus D.

Cable Industry Payments to SOPA Sponsors

Political action committees (PACs) for two cable companies, Comcast and Time-Warner, together with a PAC for the cable industry trade association headed by a former Chairman of the FCC, the NCTA, have contributed an aggregate $134,500 so far to the 2012 reelection campaigns of the sponsor and the 31 co-sponsors of SOPA.

In fact, of the 32 members of the House of Representatives signing on to sponsor SOPA, only two did not receive any current election cycle contribution from any of the Comcast, Time-Warner, or NCTA PACs. (The two are Representative Mark Amodei and Representative Peter King.) Most of the SOPA sponsors received 2012 campaign contributions from at least two of the three PACs. Seven sponsors received current election cycle contributions from all three PACs.

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Not surprising: SOPA originating sponsor Representative Lamar Smith, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, received contributions from all three PACs. Somewhat surprising: Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz received more from these three PACs than Smith ($17,500 for Schultz, to Smith's $15,000).

Details are on this Google Doc spreadsheet.

Here's my methodology.

  1. I went to OpenSecrets.org and found a page there listing "TV/Movies/Music" PAC contributions to candidates for federal office for the 2012 election cycle.
  2. I then compared the top several industry PACs (listed in order of contributions) from the OpenSecrets.org site against a pdf on the House Judiciary Committee site listing private supporters of SOPA.
  3. Having identified the top PACs on OpenSecrets.org that were also listed by the Judiciary Committee as SOPA supporters, I drilled into the specific, legislator by legislator, contributions by those PACs as listed on other pages at OpenSecrets.org. (The relevant pages are identified in the Google Docs spreadsheet.)
  4. A PAC for the National Association of Broadcasters is listed as the second biggest contributer among the TV/Movies/Music PACs for the 2010 election cycle, but I did not include their contributions in the written analysis above because the National Association of Broadcasters does not show up on the Judiciary Committee pdf list of supporters of SOPA. (However, the spreadsheet has a column showing this PAC's contributions to the sponsors, which seems to match the overall pattern of the other three PACs.)

Stopping at three is just a reflection of how much time I had to flip back and forth from the OpenSecrets.org data on each PAC, and the spreadsheet listing SOPA's sponsors. It would be ideal, of course, to ferret out the financial contributions of each of the supporters listed on the Judiciary Committee pdf, or otherwise tease out patterns or aggregate contributions or surface "stealth" supporters of SOPA through use of the OpenSecrets.org (or other public) campaign contribution databases.

I don't begin to understand how contributions to entities set up to shadow but not "officially" speak for candidates might be traced, if at all.

OpenSecrets.org said the data I was looking at was based on Federal Election Commission data released on December 5, 2011. So it may not reflect additional payments being made recently to the bill's sponsors.

If you'd like to help me continue to build out the spreadsheet and/or keep it current, please say so in the comments and I'll send you a Google Docs invite to edit it.

Flickr Photo, "Auctioning off furniture at the old Canterbury Public Library building after it closed," by Christchurch City Libraries.

Who's Your Go Daddy?

Re SOPA:

The problem isn't really Go Daddy or Washington lobbyists or even the MPAA.

Candy-Sugar-Daddy-UnwrappedThe problem is the Congress.

Remember how the patent reform law passed this year addressed the problem of software patents? 

It addressed software patents by ignoring them, except that it didn't ignore them for the banking industry. Wall Street paid Charles Schumer to fix the problem for them, and he did.

I really like this comment from dclowd9901 on Hacker News:

"I think the mature thing to do, as cynical as this might sound, is to realize that the government is obscenely out of touch with its constituency, and stop going to them for help. Instead, influence the influencers.

"At the end of the day, all companies have is customers. If the customers stop utilizing their services, the companies are forced to stop pushing their anti-consumer agendas into legislation. Part of this is utilizing the Internet, as it now is, to circumvent the old ways of doing things.

"Essentially, while it is free, startups should be focusing on helping consumers circumvent traditional industries.

"We all hate banks as they are. Let's reinvent them.

"We all hate telecoms. Let's try to create startups that can compete with them.

"We all hate loan institutions. Let's disrupt the loan structure, allow people to privately invest in one another on a micro scale. Hell, it's already being done for 3rd world nations.

"We have a real opportunity to change things and make them better. Get out from under the institutionalized world we grew up in. Why not?"

I really like the comment and I love the spirit.

But I also think the "why not" is that the influencers will continue to pay the Congress to undermine innovation and stack the deck against the disrupters.

The #Occupiers have tried to make it okay to say at home what we until recently thought was only okay to say about governments in other parts of the world: that no government is legitimate unless it is democratic. It shouldn't be that radical an idea, but it probably will take some getting used to, that we have the right to insist that the government serve the common good and not influencers.

Sugar Daddy Unwrapped from Wikimedia.

Facebook & More of the Same

Not sure there can be a better sign of how wedded Facebook is to broken business models and antiquated conventions than the news that the social network online affiliate marketing company has formed a political action committee to pay cash to candidates in the 2012 elections.

This coming at the same time as #occupywallstreet is, as Dave Winer put it so well a few hours ago on his blog, "causing people to talk about things in a way they weren't before."

Screen shot 2011-10-04 at 12.37.58 AMFacebook already spends money to influence federal legislation. According to OpenSecrets.org, Facebook has spent $550,000 this year so far on professional lobbyists. (The chart is from OpenSecrets.org.)

The detail below is from one of many lobbying reports filed under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. This particular report discloses that the lobbying firm Elmendorf Ryan was paid $30,000 in the first quarter of 2011 to lobby on proposed internet privacy legislation.

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Just what everyone wants, right? Facebook weighing in on privacy legislation?

Why Aren't the Philanthrocapitalists All Over #occupywallstreet?

I'm reading a book by Michael Edwards called Small Change: Why Business Won't Save the World.

536090743_f06078593b_zEdwards has spent his career in foundations and NGOs and is outspokenly critical of philanthrocapitalism.

The book is short but I'm having to rush through it. I've had a couple busy weeks and the copy I have belongs to the library, which wants it back on Tuesday.

The writing is only two or three years old, but already seems out of synch with the times; Edwards attributes more efficacy and accountability to government than seems plausible in the current hour.

But though I'm failing to give Edwards long shrift, I can tell he is an optimist at heart. And I'd like to borrow the following sentence of his (out of context, to be sure) to express hope about what is happening in lower Manhattan as we speak:

"Rising inequality and concentrated influence are politically unsustainable, as a previous generation of business leaders found to their cost in America's Gilded Age. These trends always stimulate a counter-reaction, rooted in civil society and government, to protect democracy and the deeper values that animate popular imagination."

No room in that world view for the possibility that the plutocrats can keep the populace anesthetized and divided!

I find myself plagued with similar optimism.

Lots of hand-wringing tweeting (tweet-wringing?) about the lack of branded media attention to the protests, but I'll bet name journalists and a pundit or two who intuit something-big-is-starting will go it alone, perhaps accelerate the ascent of personal (non-corporate) journalism in the process.

Pictured: Bill Gates at the 2007 Harvard commencement, where his speech included the following: '[H]umanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries – but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity – reducing inequity is the highest human achievement." Photo by Ken Schwarz.

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