The process of tracking PAC campaign contributions for the candidates for Louisiana’s U.S. Senate race and the six congressional seats up for grabs this November is a daunting task but one which we feel is important in order that voters can cut through all the trash ads on TV and make intelligent choices for themselves.
By now Louisiana citizens have to be completely turned off both U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and challenger 6th District Rep. Bill Cassidy as the distortions, half-truths and outright lies bombard our living rooms from both camps.
Political consultant Ray Strother recently said on Baton Rouge Public Radio’s Jim Engster Show that after 200 times, listeners/viewers tend to tune out a political ad. If that is really the case, we long ago stopped listening to ads for those two.
Today, we examine the PAC contributions of 4th Congressional District incumbent Rep. John Fleming, probably one of the most narrow-minded member of Louisiana’s congressional delegation.
And as you scroll down this list, be sure to ask yourself where you fit in the overall scheme of things. Do you really matter or do you, like the rest of us, simply become an insignificant pawn as these PACs ply our elected officials with dirty money so that they can continue their quest for more power and money—at our expense?
Fleming, a doctor who apparently did not make enough money as a medical practitioner, once ran a payday loan company, an enterprise that offers short-term loans to low income families at the friendly annualized interest rate of up to 390 percent.
He even boasted that he “only” had $600,000 left over after his businesses (UPS and Subway sandwich shops) brought in $6.3 million because the remaining $5.7 million went to business expenses that included paying some 500 employees. If you don’t even allow for rent, utilities, equipment and insurance for his businesses, that would compute to only $11,400 per year per employee, which was the approximate poverty level in this country in 2010.
But try as you might, you cannot open a dialogue with Fleming on these issues. You see, he brooks no dissenting opinion on his Facebook page.
Fleming, in his four terms in office, has become notorious for blocking critical comments on his Facebook page so even if a constituent attempted to initiate a discussion about legitimate concerns, Fleming simply cuts them off. Apparently he represents only select people in the 4th District.
But he cannot block LouisianaVoice. And we invite open discussion. That is why we never block comments on our blog posts unless they are racist or otherwise offensive to any person or group. So long as the topic is about an issue, our readers have carte blanche to speak their minds, which is more than Fleming can say.
So, without further discussion, here are some of the major PAC contributors to Fleming:
BURGER KING CORP. PAC: $1,000
- Burger King’s plan to buy Canadian coffee chain Tim Horton’s and relocate over the border to reduce its U.S. tax liability isn’t going over well with some of the fast food store’s customers. Instead of the usual chatter on Burger King Facebook posts, recent updates on the company’s social media page have drawn dozens and dozens of angry comments relating to the merger and promising to boycott the company over its tax practices.
- “If you become a tax cheat you can count my family of seven as former customers,” reads one post with 97 likes. “If Burger King moves to Canada then US will boycott its restaurants,” says another that’s been liked over 700 times. The top comment on the store’s most recent post includes a promise to “never step foot in another Burger King again.”
AT&T PAC: $4,000
- AT&T is the second-largest donor to United States political campaigns, and the top American corporate donor, having contributed more than US$47.7 million since 1990, 56% and 44% of which went to Republican and Democratic recipients, respectively. Also, during the period of 1998 to 2010, the company expended US$130 million on lobbying in the United States. A key political issue for AT&T has been the question of which businesses win the right to profit by providing broadband internet access in the United States.
- Bobby Jindal rejected an $80 million federal grant for the expansion of broadband internet service in rural Louisiana even as AT&T was contributing $250,000 to the Foundation run by Jindal’s wife Supriya after Gov. Jindal signed SB- 807 into law (Act 433) in 2008 over the objections of the Louisiana Municipal and the State Police Jury associations. The bill, the Consumer Choice for Television Act removed from local and parish governments their authority and responsibility to negotiate cable franchise agreements with companies that relied largely on locally-owned public infrastructure such as utility poles. The bill also allows AT&T to sell cable television service without the necessity of obtaining local franchises.
- Bill Leahy, representing AT&T, sits on the Private Enterprise Board of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
EMPLOYEES OF NORTHROP GRUMMAN PAC: $9,000
- From 1990-2002, Northrop Grumman contributed $8.5 million to federal campaigns. The company gave more than $1 million to federal candidates in 2005-2006 election cycle, compared to $10,612,837 given by all defense contractors in the same cycle. This donation amount was only behind that of General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin in the defense industry. Former Northrop Grumman Electronics Systems chief James Roche served as Secretary of the Air Force for two years under George W. Bush. Roche was eventually nominated to head the Army, but was forced to withdraw his nomination among accusations of mismanaging a contract with Boeing and of failing to properly handle the Air Force sexual assault scandals of 2003. At least seven former officials, consultants, or shareholders of Northrop Grumman” have held posts in the Bush administration.
- Northrop Grumman has had to deal with multiple scandals during its history. In 1995, Robert Ferro, an employee for TRW, a company acquired by Northrop Grumman, discovered that satellite components manufactured for the U.S. Air Force (USAF) were faulty and likely to fail in operation. TRW allegedly suppressed Ferro’s report of the problem and hid the information from the Air Force, even after a satellite in space equipped with the faulty components experienced serious anomalies. Ferro later sued Northrop Grumman in federal court under the federal whistle-blower law. On April 2, 2009 Northrop Grumman agreed to pay $325 million to settle the suit. Ferro was awarded $48.8 million of the settlement.
- The company was sued in 1999 for allegedly knowingly giving the Navy defective aircraft. This suit seeks $210 million in damages and is ongoing. Then in 2003, the company was sued for allegedly overcharging the U.S. government for space projects in the 1990s. Northrop Grumman paid $111.2 million to settle that suit out of court.
- In 2010, Virginia’s computer operations experienced a week-long computer outage. Northrop Grumman operated these systems under a $2.4 billion contract. As a result, as many as 45,000 citizens could not renew their driver’s licenses prior to their expiration. Computer systems for 26 of the state’s 89 agencies were affected and some data may have been permanently lost.
COMCAST CORP.: $2,000
- Comcast has the seventh largest lobbying budget of any individual company or organization in the United States. Comcast employs multiple former U.S. Congressmen as lobbyists. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which has multiple Comcast executives on its board, also represents Comcast and other cable companies as the fifth largest lobbying organization in the United States, spending $19.8 million in 2013. Comcast’s PAC, the Comcast Corporation and NBCUniversal Political Action Committee, is among the largest PACs in the US, raising about $3.7 million from 2011-2012 for the campaigns of various candidates for federal office. Comcast is also a major backer of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association Political Action Committee, which raised $2.6 million from 2011-2012.
- Comcast also backs lobbying and PACs on a regional level, backing organizations such as the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association and the Broadband Communications Association of Washington PAC. Comcast and other cable companies have lobbied state governments to pass legislation restricting or banning individual cities from offering public broadband service. Municipal broadband restrictions of varying scope have been passed in a total of 20 States.
CHESAPEAKE ENERGY CORP. PAC: $2,500
- Former Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon borrowed as much as $1.1 billion against his stake in thousands of company wells. The loans, which had been undisclosed to shareholders, were used to fund McClendon’s operating costs for the Founders Well Participation Program, which offers him a chance to invest in a 2.5 percent interest in every well the company drills. McClendon in turn used the 2.5 percent stakes as collateral on those same loans. Analysts, academics and attorneys who reviewed the loan documents stated the structure raised the potential for conflicts of interest and raised questions on the corporate governance and business ethics of Chesapeake Energy’s senior management. The company disagreed that this is a conflict of interest or a violation of business ethics and issued a detailed statement.
- Current CEO Doug Lawler is responsible for laying off over 800 employees—roughly 16 percent of the workforce—within a few months of taking the position. He released several directors and executives within two months of taking power. Shortly after the executive positions were cut, Lawler released waves of employees over the course of a few months. All of the layoffs culminated on Oct. 8, 2013 when Lawler released a staggering 800 employees nationwide, 640 of which were from the corporate office in Oklahoma City.[
- On June 5, 2014, the state of Michigan filed felony fraud and racketeering charges against Chesapeake Energy, alleging that the company canceled hundreds of land leases on false pretenses after it sought to obtain oil and gas rights. Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette claimed that the company “obtained uncompensated land options from these landowners by false pretenses, and prevented competitors from leasing the land.” Chesapeake Energy disputed all charges.
CITIZENS UNITED POLITICAL VICTORY FUND: $5,000
- The Citizens United ruling, released in January 2010, tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.
- That ultimately led to the creation of the super PACs, which act as shadow political parties. They accept unlimited donations from billionaires, corporations and unions and use it to buy advertising, most of it negative.
CHEVRON PAC: $1,000
- In 2003 a class action lawsuit against Chevron was filed in Ecuadorian court for $28 billion by indigenous residents, who accused Texaco of making residents ill and damaging forests and rivers by discharging 18 billion US gallons of formation water into the Amazon. Chevron claimed that the 1998 agreements with the Ecuadorian Government exempted the company from any liabilities.
- In 2011, Ecuadorian residents were awarded $8.6 billion, based on claims of loss of crops and farm animals as well as increased local cancer rates. The plaintiffs said this would not be enough to make up for the damage caused by the oil company. The award was later revised to $19 billion on appeals, which was then appealed again to the Ecuadorean National Court of Justice.
- Chevron described the lawsuit as an “extortion scheme” and refused to pay the fine.
- Chevron’s activities at its century-old Richmond refinery have been the subject of ongoing controversy. The project generated over 11 million pounds of toxic materials and caused more than 304 accidents. The Richmond refinery paid $540,000 in 1998 for illegally bypassing waste water treatments and failing to notify the public about toxic releases. Overall, Chevron is listed as potentially liable for 95 Superfund sites, with funds set aside by the EPA for clean-up.
- Chevron’s operations in Africa have also been criticized as environmentally unsound. In 2002, Angola became the first country in Africa ever to levy a fine on a major multinational corporation operating within its borders, when it demanded $2 million in compensation for oil spills allegedly caused by Chevron.
- On October 16, 2003, Chevron U.S.A. settled a charge under the Clean Air Act, which reduced harmful air emissions by about 10,000 tons a year. In San Francisco, Chevron was ordered to spend almost $275 million to install and utilize innovative technology to reduce nitrogen and sulfur dioxide emissions at its refineries. In 2000, after violating the Clean Air Act at an offline loading terminal in El Segundo, California, Chevron paid, a $6 million penalty as well as $1 million for environmental improvement projects.
GENERAL ELECTRIC CO. PAC: $1,000
- According to the New York Times story, GE reported U.S. profits of $5.1 billion in 2010 (and $14.2 billion worldwide). “Its American tax bill?” asked the Times. “None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion,” an amount GE balanced out against other tax obligations. The company accomplished this, the story said, due to “an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.”
- Earlier this year, GE filed suit seeking a $658 million federal tax refund. That sum represents the $439 million in taxes and $219 million in interest GE coughed up in 2010 after Internal Revenue Service auditors disallowed a $2.2 billion loss it claimed from the 2003 sale of a small subsidiary, ERC Life Reinsurance Corp., to Scottish Re Group for $151 million.
HOME DEPOT PAC: $2,000
- The Home Depot was embroiled in whistleblower litigation. In July 2005, former employee Michael Davis filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Home Depot, alleging that his discharge was in retaliation for refusing to make unwarranted backcharges against vendors. Davis alleges that the Home Depot forced its employees to meet a set quota of backcharges to cover damaged or defective merchandise, forcing employees to make chargebacks to vendors for merchandise that was undamaged and not defective.
- Home Depot has settled the dispute in 2008. In the settlement, Home Depot changed some of its corporate governance provisions. Home Depot also agreed to pay the plaintiff’s counsel $6 million in cash and $8.5 million in common stock.
HONEYWELL PAC: $4,000
- The EPA says that no corporation has been linked to a greater number of Superfund toxic waste sites than has Honeywell. Honeywell ranks 44th among U.S. corporations causing air pollution. The firm released more than 9.4 million pounds of toxins per year into the air. In 2001, Honeywell agreed to pay $150,000 in civil penalties and to perform $772,000 worth of reparations for environmental violations.
- In 2003, a federal judge in New Jersey ordered the company to perform an estimated $400 million environmental remediation of chromium waste, citing “a substantial risk of imminent damage to public health and safety and imminent and severe damage to the environment.” In the same year, Honeywell paid $3.6 million to avoid a federal trial regarding its responsibility for trichloroethylene contamination in Illinois. In 2004, the State of New York announced that it would require Honeywell to complete an estimated $448 million cleanup of more than 165,000 pounds of mercury and other toxic waste dumped into Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, N.Y.
EXXON MOBIL CORP. PAC: $2,500
- ExxonMobil has been accused of paying to fuel disinformation about and denial of anthropogenic global warming.
- ExxonMobil has drawn criticism from scientists, science organizations and the environmental lobby for funding organizations critical of the Kyoto Protocol and seeking to undermine public opinion about the scientific conclusion that global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Mother Jones Magazine said the company channeled more than $8 million to 40 different organizations that have employed disinformation campaigns including “skeptic propaganda masquerading as journalism” to influence opinion of the public and of political leaders about global warming and that the company was a member of one of the first such groups, the Global Climate Coalition, founded in 1989. According to The Guardian, ExxonMobil has funded, among other groups, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, Heartland Institute, Congress on Racial Equality, TechCentralStation.com, and International Policy Network. ExxonMobil’s support for these organizations has drawn criticism from the Royal Society, the academy of sciences of the United Kingdom. The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report in 2007 accusing ExxonMobil of spending $16 million, between 1998 and 2005, towards 43 advocacy organizations which dispute the impact of global warming. The report argued that ExxonMobil used disinformation tactics similar to those used by the tobacco industry in its denials of the link between lung cancer and smoking, saying that the company used “many of the same organizations and personnel to cloud the scientific understanding of climate change and delay action on the issue.” These charges are consistent with a purported 1998 internal ExxonMobil strategy memo, posted by the environmental group Environmental Defense, stating:
“Victory will be achieved when
- Average citizens [and the media] ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the conventional wisdom;
- Industry senior leadership understands uncertainties in climate science, making them stronger ambassadors to those who shape climate policy;
- Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extant science appear out of touch with reality.”
- In 2003, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that J. Bryan Williams, a former senior executive of Mobil Oil Corp., had been sentenced to three years and ten months in prison on charges of evading income taxes on more than $7 million in unreported income, including a $2 million kickback he received in connection with Mobil’s oil business in Kazakhstan. Documents filed with the court said Williams’ unreported income included millions of dollars in kickbacks from governments, persons, and other entities with whom Williams conducted business while employed by Mobil. In addition to his sentence, Williams must pay a fine of $25,000 and more than $3.5 million in restitution to the IRS, in addition to penalties and interest.
LOCKHEED MARTIN EMPLOYEES’ PAC: $6,000
- Lockheed Martin is active in many aspects of government contracting. It received $36 billion in government contracts in 2008 alone, more than any company in history. It now does work for more than two dozen government agencies from the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s involved in surveillance and information processing for the CIA, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the National Security Agency (NSA), The Pentagon, the Census Bureau and the Postal Service.”
- Lockheed is listed as the largest US government contractor and “ranks third for number of incidents, and twenty-first for size of settlements on the ‘contractor misconduct’ database maintained by the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-DC-based watchdog group.” Since 1995, the company has agreed to pay $606 million to settle 59 instances of misconduct.
- The company’s 2010 lobbying expenditure by the third quarter was $9.9 million (2009 total: $13.7 million).
- Through its political action committee (PAC), the company provides low levels of financial support to candidates who advocate national defense and relevant business issues. It was “the top contributor to the House Armed Services Committee chairman, Republican Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, giving more than $50,000 in the most recent election cycle. It also topped the list of donors to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee before his death in 2012.
- Lockheed Martin Employees Political Action Committee is one of the 50 largest in the country, according to FEC data. With contributions from 3,000 employees, it donates $500,000 a year to about 260 House and Senate candidates. That compares with $515,000 from General Dynamics’ political action committee and $122,850 from BAE Systems North America, the center’s data showed.
- In March 2013, Maryland State Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola cosponsored a resolution which would give Lockheed Martin tax rebate worth millions of dollars, related to hotel taxes paid at their CLE facility in Bethesda, MD, even while he was allegedly dating Lockheed Martin’s lobbyist. This was after Montgomery County Council refused to pass a similar resolution.