Romney’s Father Released 12 Years Of Tax Returns; Revealed That He ‘Seldom’ Used Tax Loopholes

The New York Times has a swell editorial this morning reminding the public that George Romney, father of Mitt Romney, led the way in transparency in 1968 by offering not one but twelve years of tax returns.

I looked back at the news coverage in 1968, and it’s quite interesting. When he was first asked for his tax returns, George Romney balked. He explained that just “one year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show.” But he eventually relented. According to this write up by Drew Pearson, the returns showed that George Romney donated 19 percent of his income to church, 4 percent directly to charity, and most surprisingly, the returns showed that the Michigan governor “seldom took advantage of tax loopholes to escape his tax obligations.” View a screenshot below:

For Mitt Romney, who has stubbornly refused to release his tax returns (although he hinted that he may have to in the debate last night), there are many political dangers with releasing his own tax returns. His windfall profits from Bain Capital, his questionable charitable giving, and of course, his preferential tax treatment and likely use of loopholes.


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Congresswoman Judy Chu: Will She Sacrifice Her Future Political Career Over SOPA?

Congresswoman Judy Chu

Lobbyists from the copyright industry, from Hollywood to big software and big media corporations, along with some small-minded unions, are preparing to make a final push for SOPA/PROTECT-IP, the legislative power grab that threatens to destroy and censor the Internet. And sadly, the corporate media, even MSNBC, is refusing to cover the debate, for obvious reasons.

But in the grassroots, across the country, a firestorm is brewing. Anti-SOPA/PROTECT-IP activism has flooded websites like Reddit, liberal blogs like DailyKos, and even RedState’s Erick Erickson and Tea Party-types like Ali Akbar have enthusiastically joined the fray. When Congress gets back from recess next week, there will be a citizen uprising; I can guarantee it.

The New York Times reports that the original cosponsor of the bill, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) — who laughably violates copyright law on his own website — is facing unexpected anger in his home district over the effort. But what about the other cosponsors?

That’s the question for Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), a rising star in the Chinese American community and among California Democrats. In my estimation, after seeing her stellar, cross-racial victory in the special election in 2009, her savvy floor speeches, and her overall approach to lawmaking, she could be first female Chinese American U.S. Senator. I’m serious. She’s that good, and Boxer will retire after her current term, so the real opportunity is there in 2016.

Chu, however, is one of the first co-sponsors of SOPA. She signed onto the bill in late November, about a month after Smith introduced it.

Joining the effort to destroy the Internet as we know it will forever tarnish Chu’s record. If she wants Bahrain-style web censorship, that will stay with her, especially when she needs the tech and youth community to support her future campaigns. Moreover, SOPA doesn’t only smother liberty, it crushes tech innovation, the lifeblood of California’s economy. Support SOPA, and Chu bids farewell at any prospect of running statewide.

On the other hand, if Chu breaks from the bill and becomes the first bonafide SOPA sponsor to switch teams, she would become famous for all the right reasons over night. Do the right thing, congresswoman.


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On Private Call, Newt Gingrich Said His Paying Clients Could Help Craft His Health Reform Policy

Newt Gingrich poses with the Power Rangers at a press conference

On Friday night, Salon published a piece I wrote about a few webcasts hosted by Newt Gingrich, his for-profit quasi-lobbying firm, and several health IT companies. The comments headlined by Salon related to Gingrich’s private praise for much of health reform. “There are clearly things that we’d like to see continued,” he told clients.

Here’s another relevant scoop from the Salon article:

On one call, Gingrich suggested that his clients — each paying as much as $200,000 in yearly retainer fees — would have a role in crafting policy.

“There are clearly things that we’d like to see continued and we’d like to see legislation passed almost concurrently that will sustain the good parts,” said Gingrich, explaining what would happen if the bill were to be repealed. Showing his savvy at generating business, he added that he would “love the help of all of our members in identifying” which parts of reform should remain law.

I confronted Gingrich back in 2010 about his refusal to register as a federal lobbyist (watch the awkward video here). The same day, I later spoke with David Merritt, a top Gingrich aide. Here’s what Merritt told me:

At the event, CHT Vice President David Merritt told ThinkProgress that Gingrich has “flipped the trade association model really on its head” by pushing an agenda, then inviting clients who support that agenda to “sign on.” Merritt said that it is “very true” that corporate clients pay Gingrich because his agenda benefits them. However, like Gingrich, Merritt explained that Gingrich’s lobbying never benefits individual clients, thus disqualifying Gingrich as a lobbyist.

Well, according to these calls, Gingrich runs more of a traditional trade association. His members give him $200,000 a year, then he solicits them for ideas on which policies to push. That’s not only grossly hypocritical given Gingrich’s public smear campaign against health reform, but it’s also yet another reason the authorities should investigate Gingrich for his failure to register as a lobbyist.

For more on the calls, which I quoted in Salon, see below:

Listen to  June 2010 webcast here

Listen to the Dec. 2010 webcast here


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Obama Will Face A Third Party Challenge Financed With Secret Hedge Fund Cash. Who Is The Mystery Candidate?

Americans Elect leader Doug Schoen

As we all focus our attention to President Obama’s reelection chances and the GOP nomination circus, a quiet challenge that threatens to completely shake up the 2012 race continues to grow day by day. Americans Elect, a third party effort financed by secret donors, including some in the hedge fund industry according to Tom Friedman, is on track to gain ballot access in all fifty states. (The group is using Arno Political Consultants, a group linked to scummy GOP voter fraud efforts. Arno is currently hiring an army of signature gathers via Craigslist to put Americans Elect on the ballot. I actually encountered one in Haight Ashbury over the summer, who told me she had no idea what “Americans Elect” was all about, but handed me a pamphlet with an endorsement quote from NYT’s David Brooks.)

Who will head the Americans Elect ticket? Its a mystery. The group, which is led by an elite right of center “bipartisan” set including Fox News’ favorite “Democratic” pollster Dough Schoen, says it will allow the public to vote online to select the ticket. There’s a catch: the public can only pick from candidates chosen by Americans Elect’s “Candidate Certification Committee.” Moreover, its impossible to tell if Americans Elect will have an Internet voting system that can’t be rigged some way or another.

If Romney fizzles out by mid-summer, or the GOP nominates someone who can’t possibly win the general election, Americans Elect may become Wall Street’s Plan B to defeat Barack Obama. Here’s my idle speculation on who they might put forward:

— New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

— New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

— New York York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

— Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

— Former Governor Howard Dean.

— Former Senator Evan Bayh.

— CIA Director David Petraeus.

I really tried thinking of a member of the House who could possibly run, but came up empty. Eric Cantor would make an interesting VP candidate. Congressman Mike Pence seems pretty sure about his intention to run for governor of Indiana, sadly. Donald Trump has hinted that he’d like to run as the Americans Elect nominee, so I guess he’s worth mentioning.

I chose Dean and Bayh as example of Democrats with a track record of selling themselves for a quick buck (Dean, through his work for terrorist group MEK and other shenanigans through his law/lobbying firm; Bayh, there are endless examples). Either Democrat would drain votes from Obama and ensure a Romney or Gingrich ticket limps by in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio.


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Gingrich, The Christian Right, And How An Extramarital Affair Became A Political Asset

Newt Gingrich

The Beltway media tells itself that Newt Gingrich can’t possibly appeal to the GOP base, a group dominated by Christian conservatives, because of his history of cheating on his former wives.

The Washington Post’s left of center policy blogger Ezra Klein says he likes Newt Gingrich, who he calls a “dreamy policy wonk” he’d love to get a beer with. But Klein concedes that Gingrich can’t possibly win his party’s nomination given the man’s extramarital affairs. Although Klein’s thinking is the consensus among the pundit class, the latest New York Times/CBS poll, which finds Gingrich leading the pack in Iowa, shows that white evangelicals overwhelmingly support the former Speaker of the House.

What gives?

The answer lies in a four-pronged strategy informed by a savvy understanding of the modern Christian right. First, Gingrich turned his marriage infidelities into a chance to embrace a religious transformation. Second, he made himself a spokesman for Christian-focused historical revisionism, a trend popular with evangelicals in particular. Third, he successfully harnessed the recent wave of anti-Muslim bigotry. And finally, he placed himself deep within the religious right movement by simply buying off key leaders.

Despite the easy narrative of political hypocrisy, the knee-jerk charge hurled in political debates, many evangelicals find stories of redemption far more compelling than those of picture perfect personal lives. The tale of personal crisis and redemption before God has propelled other Republican stalwarts. Think George Bush or Tom DeLay, hard partying alcoholics who became born again and were warmly embraced by Christian conservatives.

Gingrich publicly acknowledged his extramarital sin to then-Focus on the Family leader James Dobson in 2007. Dobson asked if the rumors were true, that Gingrich pursued the Clinton impeachment while carrying on with an affair with a young congressional aide (now Gingrich’s third wife, Callista). “There’s certainly times when I’ve fallen short of God’s standards,” he confessed during the on air interview. “Do you understand the word repentance?” barked Dobson. Gingrich, demurring from his know-it-all style, replied that he had begged “God to receive forgiveness and to receive mercy.”

The thought of Gingrich kneeling down and asking for God’s mercy might seem comical to political observers. After all, Gingrich is known for unapologetic political hits and jetting around in private planes, not humility. For evangelicals, however, a man asking to be absolved from his sins is perhaps the most humanizing story possible.

Newt Gingrich poses with the Power Rangers at a press conference

Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Santorum tout themselves and their families as the embodiment of wholesome Christian values. But deep inside, do GOP voters really want a flawless ideal? What sets Gingrich apart is his tale of falling into darkness and seeking the light of God, something that might actually make him more appealing to traditional Christian voters. As Richard Land, a powerful Southern Baptist, put it recently in an open-letter to Gingrich, “Evangelicals are a forgiving people, who having experienced redemption and forgiveness in their own spiritual lives, are most often willing to extend it to others who ask for it.”

Gingrich has focused on his story of redemption in interviews with the Christian press. He told Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody that he sought “not God’s understanding, but God’s forgiveness” as he explored his bid for the presidency.

It would be a mistake to attribute Gingrich’s rise in the polls solely to his ability to turn his extramarital affair into an asset. Gingrich, once known for science fiction-influenced policy proposals, has weaved modern Christian conservative crusades into his political identity.

“It is a lie to teach American history as though this is a secular nation in which God did not reappear, again and again and again for every generation,” said Gingrich to a recent meeting of far right pastors. Since Gingrich’s heavily publicized mea culpa in 2007, he has set out to rebrand himself as a culture warrior against the “secular machine,” as he calls it, that seeks to censor the Christian underpinnings of America’s founding fathers. He has produced two movies and one book that argues that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson envisioned America as a Christian nation.

Gingrich attached himself to the Christian historical revisionist movement, led by crackpot historians like David Barton and popularized by radio blowhard Glenn Beck, shortly before the birth of the anti-Obama Tea Party. The Tea Party’s interest in a far right conception of America’s founding has made Gingrich’s “Rediscovering God in America” series a hit among grassroots conservatives over the last three years.

Promoting the series has also given Gingrich an opportunity to travel the country addressing large congregations. “We are in a period when we are surrounded by paganism, and paganism is on offense,” Newt Gingrich warned at an event with militant Christian right leader Lou Engle and Mike Huckabee two years ago.

Such rhetoric is extreme, but does not come close to matching Gingrich’s recent vitriol towards Muslims and Muslim Americans.

Earlier this year, Gingrich compared Muslims to the Nazis and Communists, saying he would have the “guts” to administer a loyalty oath to Muslims seeking jobs in his administration. Last year, he managed to insert himself into headlines by leading the charge against a planned Muslim community center a few blocks from Ground Zero. Supporters of the community center, Gingrich said, were “apologists for Sharia” who are “very hostile to our civilization.”

Poll after poll has shown that evangelicals largely hold hostile views of Islam. Although Gingrich has made efforts to reach out to minorities in the past, particularly Latino voters, his new found demagoguery against Muslim Americans appears to be rooted in political expediency.

Taken together, Gingrich’s unflinching attacks on Muslims, his vocal opposition to the separation of church and state, and his quest for personal redemption might seem like enough to earn the endorsement of Christian right power brokers in early primary states. But a look below the surface reveals a more simple reality.

In 2009, veteran Gingrich aide Rick Tyler set up a group ostensibly designed to unite religious conservatives with supply side right-wingers. Rather than training a new army of activists, as Tyler had promised, the new organization served as a conduit for Gingrich to buy off the Christian right.

The group funneled $200,000 to the virulently anti-gay American Family Association, $25,000 to the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, as well as hundreds of thousands in “seed money” to an effort set up by Bob vander Plaats, a religious right huckster who controls a large grassroots network of Christian voters in Iowa. In last two months of the presidential primary, all three recipients of Gingrich money have lavished praise on the candidate to the press.

The primary is certainly not a lock yet with four weeks of tough campaigning before the first caucus. Although he still struggles in New Hampshire polls, Gingrich has an ace up his sleeve in the heavily evangelical states of Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida.

Posted originally on Nation of Change.

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Glenn Ivey’s Law Firm Fighting President Obama’s New Lobbying Rules

Glenn Ivey is currently a partner at Venable, a corporate lobbying/law firm. Above, a screenshot from the website.

Glenn Ivey is currently a partner at Venable, a corporate lobbying/law firm. Above, a screenshot from the website.

Lobbyists rule DC, and one of the ways they do it is by offering an array of free food, vacations, and travel through invitations to convention and trade association meetings. At ThinkProgess, I wrote about this dynamic a few times. Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-NC), for instance, traveled to a resort in Florida to attend a trade association hosted by the loan shark lobby (Payday lenders are organized via something called the Community Financial Services Association). Not too long after he got back to DC, he started an inquisition against Elizabeth Warren, when the consumer advocate was still in the running to head the CFPB. The loan sharks showered McHenry with campaign donations and a free vacation, and he went to work attacking their would-be regulator.

Well, President Obama has at least made an attempt to crack down on this sort of influence peddling. He can’t do much about McHenry’s attendance to these sorts of things (Congressmen use a loophole allowing them to reimburse trade associations using campaign funds). But Obama did propose a new rule banning federal employees from attending such lobbyist-hosted conferences for free.

As the The Hill’s Kevin Bogardus reports today, a number of lobbies are fighting the new rules. I took a look at the list of lobbyists submitting comments begging the administration to change its mind. Venable, the law/lobbying firm that employs Glenn Ivey, has a letter fighting Obama’s proposed gift rules.

In the letter, Ivey’s colleagues, Ron Jacobs and Ed Wilson, claim that trade association events — the ones that often feature free getaways to the Bahamas, rounds of golf, and fancy resorts — “facilitate meetings between subject matter experts and federal officials to discuss policy and share perspectives, as well as to educate their members.” The Venable attorneys swipe Obama’s rules as “arbitrary and capricious.”

View a copy below:

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Larry Lessig On The Daily Show

Larry Lessig

Larry Lessig appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night to promote his book and talk about the problem of money in politics.

It was a good talk, and for fans of Lessig, it was an abridged version of the PowerPoint presentation he’s given across across the country.

Lessig’s points about campaign contributions are worth listening to, as well as his solution.

If you need evidence for the problem, just pay attention to what’s happening in Congress. This week, Republicans forced a provision into the payroll tax cut extension that will, if enacted, kill 20,000 Americans by some estimates. Industrial lobbyists and the GOP managed to slip in language that prevents the EPA’s new life-saving mercury rules. There’s a ton of other “riders” in the bill, many of them horrible like one pushing the Keystone XL, which you can read about here. Obama has issued a veto threat, but we’ll see what happens.

Why block already watered down regulations on boilermakers, even when doing so would kill Americans and risk infant brain damage? Because doing so will open the flood of campaign cash from polluters and transnational oil companies to Republican campaign coffers. Its that simple. The media is complacent to this dynamic, dishonestly making this a duel between competing ideologies and politicians — rather than calling it what it is, an effort by a small group of companies to game a legislative fight so they don’t have to retrofit a few industrial boilers and save many lives (and create jobs!)

Here’s the clip of Lessig:

Look, Lessig does not have all the solutions. His campaign finance reform plan doesn’t touch the problem of outside political campaign groups, like 527s, 501c3s, 501c4s and SuperPACs, or the multibillion dollar public relations industry, or its sister astroturf industry, the big business-backed think tanks and corruption in academia, the K Street cocktail culture of DC or the revolving door. But Lessig provides a great start at diagnosing the ill that is destroying our republic. America’s descent into kleptocracy, into Third World status for the great majority of its inhabitants, continues every day. The more people talk about the problem, the more folks join social movements addressing the problem, the better.

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Glenn Ivey’s History As A Corporate Lobbyist, Ties To Jack Abramoff And Associates

Glenn Ivey is currently a partner at Venable, a corporate lobbying/law firm. Above, a screenshot from the website.

A band of loud OccupyDC protesters held one of its largest actions yet against the Democratic Party and big money politics last week, picketing outside of a fundraiser for the committee charged with raising cash for House Democrats. Like most events of this nature, staffers for the party and security guards locked the demonstrators out. Eventually, a congressional attendee emerged to join with the protest, Representative Donna Edwards from Maryland. She used the ‘human mic’ to denounce income inequality, and finished her remarks, “it’s time to Occupy America!”

In a post-rally interview with Edwards, the congresswoman promised to help the 99 Percent Movement fight against corporate corruption of government. But Edwards, a standout in Congress for her support of Occupy Wall Street, may lose her district to a challenge from K Street.

Edwards faces corporate lawyer-lobbyist Glenn Ivey in the Democratic primary next year. There were rumors of Ivey’s intentions to run against her in 2009. However, Ivey announced his candidacy last month, shortly after Maryland Democrats redrew Edwards’ district to include Anne Arundel County, a more conservative area.

Democratic insiders predict that Ivey will raise vast sums to defeat Edwards in the primary.

Many in the 4th Congressional District, which encompasses the suburbs directly east of the nation’s capital, only know Ivey through his last job, as the top prosecutor in Prince George’s County. As state’s attorney, Ivey, who was first elected nine years ago, attempted to crack down on the epidemic of police brutality in the county. Ivey is well-respected among the Democratic Party establishment, and maintains connections within the influential Congressional Black Caucus because of his prior work for Congressman John Conyers (D-MI).

They Ivey for Congress website triumphs the candidate’s employment history at prestigious law firms, but glosses over his career as a registered federal lobbyist. After about a decade of work on Capitol Hill, serving at one point as the chief counsel to Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), Ivey became a partner to Preston Gates & Ellis (now known as K&L Gates). His lobbying clients, which numbered as many as 19 one year, included Fortune 500 corporations, an association of insurance companies that deal with nuclear energy, as well as the Seattle Art Museum in its bid for federal money.

Ivey’s influence peddling may become a flashpoint in next year’s political election, which is shaping up to be as much about political corruption as about the economy.

A review of Ivey’s lobbying records shows that in last months of 2000, the year he joined his first corporate lobbying firm, Ivey worked on a Microsoft contract with infamous lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a handful of his associates later known as “Team Abramoff.” The $260,000 contract shows that Ivey worked on several Internet-related legislative bills for Microsoft, as well with issues regarding “competition in the software business.”

Along with Abramoff, Amy Berger and Patrick Pizzella, two lobbyists identified by the press as part of the network of Abramoff allies called “Team Abramoff,” worked with Ivey for a brief period on the Microsoft account:

Screenshot of Microsoft lobbying disclosure

A transcript of e-mails sent by Berger and Pizzella to Abramoff, including schemes on how to funnel corporate money through conservative think tanks, can be found in a Senate Finance Committee investigation.

When Abramoff left Preston Ellis & Gates for the firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, part of Abramoff’s portfolio of lobbying clients, including the Business Software Alliance and BNSF, a railroad corporation, were adopted by Ivey.

Abramoff typified some of the worst behavior on K street. He represented Indian casinos, many of which he manipulated using the threat of anti-gambling crusades from his friends in the Christian right, while privately referring to his clients as “troglodytes” and “monkeys.” Abramoff bribed members of Congress with campaign contributions, food, golfing trips to Scotland, and more. At Preston Ellis & Gates, he helped Hong Kong industrialists continue to mark products made in their Saipan-based sweat-shops, where forced prostitution and other abuses were rampant, as “Made in America.”

The Abramoff scandal plagued Congressional Republicans for years. Ivey left his lobbying gig in 2002 to run for local office in Maryland, escaping scrutiny of his ties to the “Super Lobbyist” and his crew.

Abramoff was hired by Preston Gates & Ellis in 1994 to lead the firm’s outreach to top Republicans, and left the firm a few months after Ivey was hired in late 2000.

Ivey may seek to downplay his work for Preston Ellis & Gates, but local Prince George’s County campaign finance data suggests a continued relationship well after he left the firm. Ralph Nurnberger, another Abramoff associate from his time representing sweat-shop interests, contributed $500 to Ivey’s first race for state’s attorney. One of Ivey’s most generous donors has been Emanuel Rouvelas, a lobbyist with Preston Ellis & Gates and now K&L Gates, who has given a total of $5,250.

View an Excel spreadsheet of Ivey’s campaign contributors here, compiled by The Second Alarm using Maryland public disclosures.

Ivey currently works as a partner to Venable, another major law firm with a DC office that is heavily involved in the corporate lobbying business. Although Ivey is not registered as a lobbyist, his firm currently represents a long list of businesses with interests that may clash with causes embraced by progressives, including Lockheed Martin, Maryland Blue Cross Blue Shield, ING Bank, and an industry group for financial speculators trading swaps and derivatives. As online critics of Ivey have pointed out at at the community website, Venable touts Ivey in categories like defense work on behalf of white collar crime. The same bio page also lists Ivey as available to work in “Government Affairs” and “Congressional Investigations,” activities that require lobby registration if Ivey meets the statutory threshold for contact with lawmakers.

As activists across the country have focused their frustration at the nexus of corporate money in politics, even Ivey’s current colleagues could become an issue. James Burnley, a lobbyist at the firm, serves on the board of the FreedomWorks, the polluter-backed Tea Party group responsible for trashing health reform and other issues important to progressives.

Edwards won her office in 2008 by defeating Al Wynn, a Democratic incumbent with a reputation for doing the bidding of corporate lobbyists in Congress. Asked by Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman what her victory meant, Edwards gushed that the people of her district were “saying no to the corporate special interests and yes to the public interest.” Her message was the same last week, when she stood outside the W Hotel with OccupyDC demonstrators. While Edwards faces a rough campaign against Ivey, this time she may have a movement to back her up.

Originally posted on Nation of Change.


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Rick Perry Viciously Assaulted Christmas In 2003

Rick Perry’s ‘Christians are victims’ ad, the one he released a few days ago in which he said, “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school,” faces more deadly attacks from the Internet. Not only is the ad the most disliked video in YouTube history, but Perry seems to have disrespected Christ with this atheistic “Happy Holidays” message from his office in 2003:

Screenshot from Gov. Rick Perry's website


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Another Reason Not To Pass SOPA/PROTECT-IP: Citigroup Lawyers Now Using Digital Copyright Law To Suppress Muckraking Journalism

I really can’t understand why any progressive would support PROTECT-IP/SOPA, the sprawling Internet censorship bill advancing quickly through Congress. Here’s another reason the proposed law, which allows “the attorney general to create a blacklist of sites to be blocked by Internet service providers, search engines, payment providers and advertising networks, all without a court hearing or a trial,” should be opposed.

A leaked series of Citigroup memos about the benefit of the world turning towards economic feudalism (the so-called Plutonomy Memos), once known mostly to lefty blogs, gained some notoriety after Michael Moore featured them in his movie, Capitalism: A Love Story. Here’s the clip

As you can imagine, the memos resurfaced in the last few months with the rise of Occupy Wall Street.

But recently, Citigroup’s lawyers have sent takedown letters to blogs and websites that have featured the memos. Using the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, Citigroup’s attorneys have successfully pressured Scribd and other document sharing websites to scrub the pdf from the web (here’s an example). Just a few weeks ago, they sent a takedown request to John Schmitt’s blog, demanding that he scrub a copy of the Citigroup Plutonomy memo from his site (view a copy of the letter here, a screenshot below):

Clearly, this is a brazen abuse of copyright law to suppress legitimate journalism. The documents were already widely leaked, and the bloggers writing about them were doing so under conditions which I think most would consider “fair use.” The bareknuckle tactics by Citigroup’s attorneys show the power of the laws already on the books, like the DMCA, which allows copyright holders to demand that user-submitted content websites like Scribd and remove copyrighted material. For one thing, its not even clear if the Plutonomy Memos constitute protected copyright material. I’m obviously not a lawyer, but its hard to see the expressive value of the memos. It’s a messed up situation, where just the threat of litigation has already chilled speech, but it could get much, much worse.

If SOPA/PROTECT-IP passes, then copyright holders like Citigroup will gain the ability to shut down entire websites without a court order, a power well beyond the DMCA and other digital copyright laws. That means independent blogs, media outlets, etc., will become targets for destruction when they publish allegedly copyrighted whistleblower documents and other leaked memos. Independent media will be delisted from search engines and their domains could be blocked. SOPA/PROTECT-IP is an assault on journalism (see this breakdown by Jessica Roy at Mediabistro), but the latest moves by Citigroup only reinforce the danger.

This week, the House will begin to mark-up the bill.

Back when I worked at ThinkProgress, I repeatedly broke stories using leaked memos and other internal documents from powerful corporations. Needless to say, ThinkProgress routinely posts and links to content that could arguably be considered copyrighted material or associated with “pirate” websites (like Wikileaks or the Piratebay). If SOPA/PROTECT-IP is signed into law, it’s not too extreme to suggest that even ThinkProgress or the blog’s advertisers could fall into the crosshairs of copyright trolls.

Yet on Tuesday, the MPAA is hosting somewhat of a SOPA/PROTECT-IP-friendly event with ThinkProgress. The event is billed as a discussion on “innovation.” The MPAA, however, once fought to ban VCR’s as a terrible technological threat to the movie industry. Similarly, the RIAA under Hilary Rosen once filed a lawsuit attempting to block MP3 players from entering the US consumer market. I could go on; but, it’s worth debunking the many silly arguments of the pro-SOPA/PROTECT-IP lobby, which represents mostly Hollywood and software executives, in another post.

The MPAA chief lobbyist Chris Dodd, who last week favorably compared China’s censorship regime to the legislation he is now promoting, will be speaking at the event.

Dodd sponsored the law in 1995 that makes it virtually impossible to sue banks like Citigroup for investor fraud. I guess now he’ll explain to the world why progressives should support a law that may make it virtually impossible to report on leaked Citigroup documents.

It will be interesting to see how Dodd will justify SOPA/PROTECT-IP, a law that provides overriding IP protection at the expensive of free speech.


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