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The state of city-run Internet

February 25, 2015 Comments off

The state of city-run Internet
Source: Center for Public Integrity

The fight against city-owned Internet networks may just be beginning.

The telecommunications giants including Comcast, AT&T and Time Warner Cable have spent millions of dollars to lobby state legislatures, influence state elections and buy research to try to stop the spread of public Internet services that often offer faster speeds at cheaper rates. AT&T alone spent more than $250,000 on lobbying in Tennessee last year, the Center for Public Integrity reported in August.

In Washington, the money has flowed even more. The top Internet providers and their trade associations spent about $88 million on 568 lobbyists to influence federal lawmakers and regulators, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That was enough to place the group in the top 12 of all lobbyists. That spending goes to lobby on all kinds of telecommunications issues, not just municipal broadband.

The Center’s report illustrated how municipal broadband service, especially in rural communities, can help boost businesses and create jobs. It contrasted the experience of Tullahoma with Fayetteville, North Carolina, which was thwarted from allowing its residents to tap into the city’s gigabit broadband network by state law.

Big business crushed ballot measures in 2014

February 10, 2015 Comments off

Big business crushed ballot measures in 2014
Source: Center for Public Integrity

Key findings:

  • More than three-quarters of the $266 million given by the top 50 donors to ballot measure groups nationwide ahead of the 2014 elections came from corporations or business trade groups.
  • Four out of every five dollars that the top contributing business groups gave to ballot measure fights went to the sides trying to defeat the proposals.
  • Totaling $88 million, health care groups gave more than any industry among the top 50 donors. Casino companies were a close second, giving nearly $60 million across the nation to 2014 ballot measure fights.
  • Five of the top 50 ballot measure contributors also gave big for elective office and were among the top 50 donors to races for state-level candidates: Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Sheldon Adelson, Michael Bloomberg, the California Democratic Party and the National Education Association teachers union.

Hate political ads? Skip morning shows

November 19, 2014 Comments off

Hate political ads? Skip morning shows
Source: Center for Public Integrity

If you hate political advertisements, some advice: Give Matt Lauer, Robin Roberts and Charlie Rose the boot.

The nation’s marquee network morning shows — “Good Morning America,” “Today” and “CBS This Morning” — attracted more U.S. Senate race-focused ads during the 2014 midterm elections than any other television programs, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data provided by tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.

The weekday version of ABC’s “Good Morning America” led all comers, with nearly 30,000 U.S. Senate-focused ads during the 2014 election cycle. “Today” and “CBS This Morning” played host to about 27,000 and 25,000 ads respectively.

Republican candidates and political parties, super PACs and nonprofit groups supporting their races aired slightly more ads than their Democratic counterparts for each show.

How oil and gas firms gained influence and transformed North Dakota

July 23, 2014 Comments off

How oil and gas firms gained influence and transformed North Dakota
Source: Center for Public Integrity

Oil development has transformed this state to the point where it’s hard to find a place or person that hasn’t been touched by the boom. Energy companies have drilled more than 8,000 wells into western North Dakota’s rugged prairie since the beginning of 2010, quadrupling the state’s oil production. From July 2011 through June 2013, the state collected $4 billion in oil taxes, and is expecting a $1 billion surplus for the current biennium, not including an oil-funded sovereign wealth fund that will approach a balance of $3 billion. North Dakota is in the uncommon position of facing a labor shortage, spurring a state-run campaign to attract workers, paid for in part by Hess Corp.

In addition to the tax revenue they’ve brought, the oil companies have showered the state with additional money — new millions for universities, museums, hospitals and other charitable causes. They’ve also given hundreds of thousands to politicians, making the sector the largest single source of those contributions. The oil industry is the top contributor to Gov. Jack Dalrymple, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and gave money in all but 10 of the 75 legislative races held in 2012.

Medicare Advantage Money Grab

June 24, 2014 Comments off

Medicare Advantage Money Grab
Source: Center for Public Integrity

Congress created private Medicare Advantage health plans 11 years ago to help control health care spending on the elderly. But a Center for Public Integrity investigation found that billions of tax dollars are wasted every year through manipulation of a Medicare payment tool called a “risk score.” The formula is supposed to pay health plans more for sicker patients and less for healthy people, but often it pays too much. The government has for years missed opportunities to corral tens of billions of dollars in overcharges and other billing errors tied to abuse of risk scores. Meanwhile, the growing power of the Medicare Advantage industry has muzzled many critics in Congress, and turned others into cheerleaders for the program.

Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings of China’s Elite

January 22, 2014 Comments off

Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings of China’s Elite
Source: Center for Public Integrity (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists)

Close relatives of China’s top leaders have held secretive offshore companies in tax havens that helped shroud the Communist elite’s wealth, a leaked cache of documents reveals.

The confidential files include details of a real estate company co-owned by current President Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law and British Virgin Islands companies set up by former Premier Wen Jiabao’s son and also by his son-in-law.

Nearly 22,000 offshore clients with addresses in mainland China and Hong Kong appear in the files obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Among them are some of China’s most powerful men and women — including at least 15 of China’s richest, members of the National People’s Congress and executives from state-owned companies entangled in corruption scandals.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, UBS and other Western banks and accounting firms play a key role as middlemen in helping Chinese clients set up trusts and companies in the British Virgin Islands, Samoa and other offshore centers usually associated with hidden wealth, the records show. For instance, Swiss financial giant Credit Suisse helped Wen Jiabao’s son create his BVI company while his father was leading the country.

By the numbers: a 2013 money-in-politics index

December 28, 2013 Comments off

By the numbers: a 2013 money-in-politics index
Source: Center for Public Integrity

Number of bills passed by Congress this year that have been signed into law: 58

Number of bills passed in 1948, the year President Harry Truman* assailed the “Do-Nothing Congress”: 511

Number of minutes Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spent reading Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” during a 21-hour talk-a-thon in September: 5 ½

Number of hours per day the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recommends embattled freshmen spend fundraising: 4

Amount of campaign cash all members of Congress have reported raising so far in 2013: $403,952,012

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