Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

What can you do if you want to help stamp money out of politics? Well, Ben Cohen, the Ben from Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, has an idea: stamp money.

The founder of one of the biggest ice cream brands in the country is teaming up with Public Citizen, Move to Amend and People for the American Way to garner support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend unlimited money to influence elections, and related cases.

To raise awareness, Ben & Jerry’s are calling on concerned citizens to stamp dollar bills with slogans such as “corporations are not people” and “not to be used for buying elections.” These stamps are being sold at cost at the Stamp Stampede website (

“It’s some monetary jujitsu – using money to get money out of politics,” Cohen told the USA Today.

The Stamp Stampede calculates that every bill will be seen by approximately 875 people in its lifetime. If 100 people stamped 10 bills every day, the entire population of the United States would have seen the message at least once within a year. Activists are being encouraged to stamp as many bills as they can to exercise their right to free speech and raise awareness of the dangers of corporate money in politics.

Cohen has consulted with his lawyer and assures activists that stamping dollar bills is legal. The First Amendment protects the stamps because they are political messages that don’t damage the bills or render them unusable.

You can get more involved with Public Citizen’s efforts for a constitutional amendment at


Money plays too large of a role in elections. To compete in an increasingly money-driven system, candidates spend their days “dialing for dollars” and meeting with interests that can bankroll their campaigns. The recent Supreme Court case Citizens United only makes matters worse, allowing organizations to spend vast sums of money in the dark of night. The public is losing faith in our campaign finance system and rightfully so.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights took a step in the right direction Tuesday morning. Led by Senator Durbin, the subcommittee held a hearing on The Fair Elections Now Act, which would offer a new system for financing campaigns. The Fair Elections Now Act would allow candidates who value grassroots rather than corporate support, to accept matching public funds with small private donations. As a result, there would be increased transparency and accountability for our elected officials, who would respond to voters’ interests instead of deep-pocketed donors’.

Much of the hearing focused on the impact Citizens United has had on elections. Public Citizen’s recent report, “12 Months After” confirms that the damage is clear. Corporate expenditures are at an all-time high, corporate lobbyists wield influence like none other, and transparency is on the decline.

Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, the Brennan’s Center Monica Youn, and Tea-Party election attorney Cleta Mitchell testified before the subcommittee.

Simpson presented a real-world view of electioneering to the committee. He offered a grim picture of the current system, as our elected representatives spend too much of their time “begging” for money. He said legislators hate this aspect of their job, but they continue to do it because it’s necessary to win. However, as a result, America suffers. Simpson ardently voiced his support for changing the current scheme so our elected officials can do what really matters: meeting with other legislators, debating bills on the floor, and offering solutions to our nation’s problems.

Youn spoke of how our campaign finance system allows for “Godiva Chocolate” organizations to thrive. They are “Godiva Chocolate” because they are rich, dark, and we have no idea what’s inside them. Under the current regime, sophisticated and shadowy organizations commit what amounts to legal money laundering. They direct vast amounts of money for their political causes, with no accountability. What Youn was referring to is becoming clearer with every election cycle. We’ve all seen the commercials, “Paid for by Americans for mom and apple pie,” but we don’t know who “mom and apple pie” really are.

Mitchell didn’t see an issue with any of this. She believes our election system works just fine. She even said that it was part of elected officials’ jobs to fundraise, just like it’s her job as an attorney to seek clients. However, unlike attorneys, our elected officials should not spend their time selling out to the highest bidder.

Senator Franken, who was nonplussed at her testimony, asked her how it’s acceptable that corporations can spend large amounts of money in campaigns, without disclosing it to their shareholders. She dodged the question, saying Franken was “confused.” They tussled for a few minutes when Mitchell, seemingly triumphant said, “We just had a confuse-off.” To which Franken retorted, “Yes, and I won.”

Just as Durbin and Franken challenged the status quo in the hearing today, we must continue to demand that our elected officials are responsive to the people, not other interests. The Fair Elections Now Act is a good start.

This week hasn’t been only about celebrating Joan Claybrook’s incredible legacy. There’s been plenty of work calling out the pharmaceutical industry, advocating against forced arbitration and acting as a government watchdog. Check out these highlights of Public Citizen’s recent news coverage.

An AP story picked up by the New York Times advises consumers to look out for the snake oil salesmen looking to take advantage of your swine flu fears. Public Citizen’s acting director Dr. Sidney Wolfe, weighs in. Dr. Wolfe also had a thing or two to say in a Bloombern News story about Eli Lilli and Co. selling a drug (Zyprexa) for seniors with dementia even though it had no evidence it would help.

National Public Radio produced an excellent piece on forced arbitration. The piece highlights the harrowing story of Jamie Leigh Jones (video here) who was brutally raped while working as a Halliburton contractor in Iraq but remains unable to hold the company accountable. David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, discusses the issue.

Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, discusses the need for more rigorous government ethics reform in a Washington Independent piece about conflicts of interest in military funding, noting “that the difference between the limits on congressional travel and those affecting executive branch officials represents ‘a gaping chasm.'”

For a guy who’s under investigation for money-in-politics corruption, Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) is doing a pretty good job by stepping away from his leadership post.  

Washington Post dishes the details; Public Citizen’s lobbying and ethics expert Craig Holman sums up the issue:

Visclosky’s ties to PMA Group – a lobbying firm under federal investigation for an alleged contributions-for-earmarks scheme – run uncomfortably deep. He has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from PMA Group employees and has been responsible for helping direct tens of millions of dollars worth of special spending projects to PMA clients. This relationship, coupled with the fact that Visclosky’s former chief of staff helped run the lobbying firm, has rightly drawn close scrutiny from the Department of Justice, resulting in subpoenas of both Visclosky’s congressional and campaign offices in an ongoing criminal investigation of the PMA Group.

According to Holman, the next thing Visclosky should do is relinquish his chairmanship of the House Energy and Water subcommittee until the Department of Justice has finished its investigation. Not that he has to do this — but it would certainly give the public an added boost of confidence in our federal government if even potentially corrupt Representatives are crafting the nation’s laws.

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