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Here’s how Republicans in Congress are now trying to poison our democracy

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- Commentary

Last week Senate Republicans passed a tax bill that hands massive tax breaks to corporations and the rich at the expense of low-income and middle-class Americans. Written behind closed doors with the help of 6,000 lobbyists and rammed through before anyone could read it, the bill offers Christmas presents for special interests, like eliminating a tax that private jet owners have fought the federal government over and tax breaks hedge-fund managers living in the Virgin Islands. And it sets the stage for a sweeping attack on the New Deal and Great Society reforms of the past century that built America’s middle class.

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But as bad as that is, things could get even worse.

Waiting in the wings on Capitol Hill are proposed GOP spending bills that would help the wealthy winners in this year’s epic tax rewrite lock in their power.

Republicans have hidden “policy riders” in the fine print of those bills that will further open the floodgates to big money in politics — while making darn sure we can’t find out where it’s coming from. That’s a surefire way to guarantee that the special interests and billionaires bankrolling federal elections get to increase their influence in Washington without any annoying scrutiny from voters.

Republican leaders aren’t taking any chances.

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One Senate appropriations rider prohibits the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from developing rules that would require corporations to disclose their political spending to shareholders. Politicians drunk on dark money are especially worried about that prospect, because more than 1.2 million of us have submitted comments to the SEC — the most in the agency’s history — calling for a corporate disclosure rule. That includes a host of government reform organizations, a bipartisan group of former SEC chairs and commissioners, five state treasurers, the founder of Vanguard and investment professionals representing nearly $700 billion in assets.

Even the conservative majority of the US Supreme Court seems to agree. When they unleashed corporate political spending in Citizens United, Justice Kennedy wrote for the court that prompt online disclosure would enable shareholders to “determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interests in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called money interests.” That transparency, Kennedy said, would “enable the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

McConnell, Ryan & Co. are making certain that doesn’t happen on their watch.

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Another GOP ghost rider ensures we can’t find out when federal contractors slide some money across the table to help out their political patrons.

“None of the funds made available under this or any other act may be used to recommend or require any entity submitting an offer for a federal contract to disclose” any payments for independent expenditures or electioneering communications, says one obscure provision in the Senate bill.

With more than $400 billion in federal contracts on the table each year, Republicans clearly want to keep the cash bar open — invitation only.

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Yet another rider closes the door on any moves by the IRS to develop rules to deal with the rampant misuse of nonprofit “social welfare” groups since Citizens United to pour hundreds of millions into election spending while hiding donors’ identities.

Meanwhile, the GOP’s Senate appropriations bill would let loose a new torrent of soft money and create an end-run around the McCain-Feingold campaign reforms passed in 2002. A rider tucked away in the measure would gut existing rules and allow political parties to spend unlimited funds on campaign ads coordinated with candidates, just so long as the candidates don’t control or direct those efforts.

Combine that with the radical repeal of the long-standing prohibition on electioneering by churches and charities hidden in the House tax overhaul bill and we have all the makings of a major escalation in the political spending arms race come 2018.

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House Republicans want to eviscerate the “Johnson Amendment,” introduced by then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson in 1954, which makes sure that tax-deductible donations to churches and charities can’t be used for electioneering. That common-sense notion was uncontroversial at the time. But the religious and corporate right have been pushing for its repeal since the Supreme Court blessed corporate campaign cash in 2010, and President Trump promised religious leaders in February that he would “totally destroy” it.

Now they have set the stage to do just that. The House tax bill carries watered down language, but the end result won’t differ much from full repeal. A religious leader will be able to make political endorsements or attacks from the pulpit and in church communications, and then candidates, parties, super PACs and dark money groups can convert those statements into unlimited paid media and micro-targeting campaigns.

Good luck figuring out who bankrolls those ads.

Let’s face it, if sunshine is the best medicine for a democracy, the GOP’s campaign finance riders are pure poison.

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This article was originally published at BillMoyers.com


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Trump is openly colluding with Ukraine to smear Biden

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President Donald Trump is defending his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, one that recent media reports suggest may have been made in order to dig up dirt about one of Trump's likeliest and strongest opponents in the 2020 election, former Vice President Joe Biden.

This article first appeared on Salon.

"The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, want to stay as far away as possible from the Joe Biden demand that the Ukrainian Government fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son, or they won’t get a very large amount of U.S. money, so they fabricate a story about me and a perfectly fine and routine conversation I had with the new President of the Ukraine," Trump tweeted on Saturday. "Nothing was said that was in any way wrong, but Biden’s demand, on the other hand, was a complete and total disaster. The Fake News knows this but doesn’t want to report!"

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It’s ‘Clinton Cash’ all over again as the media blow the Trump whistleblower story

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Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.

We would praise the reporters who revealed the content of a whistle-blower’s complaint that the Trump regime has refused to turn over to Congress as the law requires. But it appears that the outlines of the story were already known in DC political circles. Two weeks before the whistleblower story broke, The Washington Post ran an editorial noting that Donald Trump was withholding $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, and that while “some suspect Mr. Trump is once again catering to Mr. Putin, who is dedicated to undermining Ukrainian democracy and independence,… the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force [Ukrainian president Volodymyr] Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden." The authors added, "Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.”

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The new Rambo movie is essentially a MAGA fever dream of bigotry

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"Rambo: Last Blood," the latest in the long-running franchise about a traumatized war veteran (Sylvester Stallone) turned on-demand badass, is less an escapist action movie and more a dramatized manifestation of the most notorious sentences from Donald Trump's presidential campaign announcement speech: "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." Even for a series that has always been shaped by a right wing worldview, the only reason for this latest sequel to exist — besides generating profits from die-hard Stallone fans — is to validate MAGA-world bigotries about Mexicans.This article first appeared in Salon.

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