Graham backers

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Will Lindsey Graham (R-SC) continue his support of immigration reform? Or will he reverse himself on that as he did on climate change legislation? His opposition to the nominations of Chuck Hagel and John Brennan, which he reiterated today, may offer a few clues. Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake of the Washington Post comment:

While there’s no doubt that Graham does genuinely believe that the administration has not been forthcoming regarding what actually happened in Benghazi, there’s also more going here that better explains — and contextualizes — his approach to the Hagel and Brennan confirmations.

Remember that Graham is up for reelection in 2014 and has been, for the better part of his first term, someone whom conservatives have viewed skeptically — particularly regarding his support for comprehensive immigration reform (Lindsey Graham-nesty!) and his comments on climate change.

He changed his tune on climate change years ago, however. Senator Graham, who has long had a close relationship with the coal sector, switched sides in 2010 to oppose a climate change bill he helped write that would have capped carbon emissions, recanting:

“I think they’ve oversold this stuff, quite frankly. I think they’ve been alarmist and the science is in question,” Graham told reporters. “The whole movement has taken a giant step backward.”

And speaking of energy industries, he’s quite cozy with nuclear companies too, as Josh Israel reported last May:

A Graham spokesman reiterated Graham’s longstanding support for the nuclear industry — noting that he’s been called “the #1 pro-nuclear member” of the Senate — but did not address the industry’s campaign contributions. “Senator Graham has long pushed for a renaissance in nuclear energy. We are ecstatic that the NRC go-ahead was finally secured,” Graham’s communications director told ThinkProgress. SCANA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ties between these donations and the Senator’s efforts on the company’s behalf.

Indeed, SCANA, a Cayce, South Carolina, public utility holding company, is Graham’s largest contributor, giving just under $170,000; EnergySolutions, a nuclear waste disposal company with a site in Barnwell County, ranks fourth. Other major donors invested in energy production and distribution include the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (tenth); Atlanta-based, coal-burning providers of electricity Southern Company (11th); telecom and energy corporation IDT (12th); Carolinas energy producers Duke Energy (17th); and mining, construction and energy firm Washington Group International (20th).

Several of the top contributors to the Judiciary Committee member are South Carolina law firms; the legal sector has given him nearly three million bucks over his career, making them his single largest source of funding. His second largest individual donor is Columbia’s law and lobbying firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, while Spartanburg litigators Harrison, White, Smith & Coggins comes in 15th and trial lawyers’ lobby the American Association for Justice 18th. Other local donors are Spartanburg plastics/textile corporation Milliken & Company (fifth) and Columbia shopping center developers Edens & Avant (14th).

Further significant contributors to Graham include health insurance giant Blue Cross Blue Shield (third); engineering and construction firm Fluor Corporation (sixth); mega-media conglomerate Time Warner (seventh); telecom corporation BellSouth (eighth), which services South Carolina among other states; firearms advocates the National Rifle Association (ninth); defense contractors Lockheed Martin (13th); the sixth-largest firm in the US, multinational General Electric (16th); and telecom behemoth AT&T (19th).

More open immigration laws are popular with many business leaders, who see new immigrants as lower-wage employees and prefer hiring them legally. Stricter laws are generally favored by Graham’s voters, however, who see new workers as competitors for jobs. As the Republican primary in South Carolina approaches, it will be interesting to watch his position on immigration reform evolve.

Portrait of a Leahy

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To prevent Patrick Leahy from wanting the drone memos released, perhaps the Obama Administration should just have copyrighted them. Over the years, the longtime Vermont Senator and new President pro-tempore of the Senate has frequently fought for government transparency but against widespread Internet dissemination of pirated information.

In May 2011, for example, Leahy sponsored PIPA (the Protect IP Act), a bill that aimed to fight copyright infringement by censoring the Internet (blocking domain names.) PIPA was supported by nearly every film, TV, music and other media trade association; it was opposed by almost the entire Internet. After massive online protest, including a January 18, 2012, blackout of Wikipedia, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed a vote on the legislation. Leahy responded:

But the day will come when the Senators who forced this move will look back and realize they made a knee-jerk reaction to a monumental problem. Somewhere in China today, in Russia today, and in many other countries that do not respect American intellectual property, criminals who do nothing but peddle in counterfeit products and stolen American content are smugly watching how the United States Senate decided it was not even worth debating how to stop the overseas criminals from draining our economy.

Leahy is on the subcommittee overseeing the Department of Commerce, which among other duties regulates patents and trademarks. This may explain his interest in media piracy as well as the wealth of contributions he takes in from media corporations. The Senator’s top donor, which has given a sixth of a million dollars since 1989, is Time Warner, the second-largest media conglomerate by revenue in the world. The largest one, the Walt Disney Company, ranked second on the Senator’s list with just over $150,000. Other contributors include French mass media firm Vivendi (sixth), which bought up Seagram’s (17th); the world’s fourth-largest media conglomerate Viacom (tenth) and its associated movie theater corporation National Amusements (15th); and humongous cable company and net neutrality foe Comcast (14th). Also involved in battles over copyrights and net neutrality are donors such as TechNet (fourth), which lobbies Congress on behalf of digital technology corporations; the world’s largest software company, Microsoft (ninth); Japanese electronics multinational Sony (18th).

The Department of Commerce regulates much more than media copyrights — patents and trade are also in its purview. That and his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee may be reasons that other Leahy donors include class action lawsuit kings Girardi & Keese (third) and Peter G. Angelos (fifth); multinational law firm DLA Piper (eighth), which has had former US Senators George Mitchell (D-Maine) and Tom Daschle (D-S. Dak.) on its staff; law firm and Metabolife lobbyists Patton Boggs (12th); international law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (13th); patent trolls Intellectual Ventures (16th); and former K Street lobbying firm Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman (20th).

Rounding out Leahy’s top twenty donors are massive multinational conglomerate General Electric (seventh), with its headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut; defense and aerospace giant General Dynamics (11th); union insurers the American Income Life Insurance Company (19th).

Next week the Judiciary Committee takes up immigration reform, of which Leahy is a proponent. He and three of his Senate colleagues leaked their position last Wednesday:

“Our laws mandate detention or deportation for many people, denying them access to a hearing before a judge, without guaranteeing legal counsel for those who cannot afford it,” states the letter, which was provided early to HuffPost. “Immigration enforcement measures frequently target minority and immigrant communities through impermissible racial profiling that instills fear and distrust of law enforcement and makes communities less safe. Our system is not fair.”

Raising McCain’s funds

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Cheap labor means big profits for capitalists. In his book Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration, Jeffrey Kaye writes:

The pursuit of business-friendly immigration policies has been a priority for companies that have come to rely on immigrant work forces…. The immigration laws they favor would have the effect of providing a cheap disposable compliant labor force by authorizing additional work visas. They would like the current illegal workforce legalized and, beyond gathering paperwork and consulting computer records, employers do not want to be held responsible for hiring immigration workers with the wrong identification documents….

And few Senators are as beloved by investors as John McCain of Arizona; ten of McCain’s top dozen career donors are financial firms. Leading the pack is Merrill Lynch, the world’s largest brokerage, now an extension of Bank of America, which separately was his eleventh largest donor. Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, two of the other Big Four US banks, rank second and third in contributions to the Senator. Goldman Sachs (fifth) and Morgan Stanley (sixth) each provided McCain with roughly a third of a million dollars since 1989, while Swiss banks UBS AG (eighth) and Credit Suisse (tenth) pitched him about a quarter million apiece. Wachovia, which has since merged into Wells Fargo, ranked 12th with just over $200,000.

Humongous multinationals AT&T (his fourth largest contributor), FedEx (13th), PricewaterhouseCoopers (14th), and General Electric (18th) all tossed him money, as did one-time telecommunications giant Qwest (19th). Members of the US Government (seventh) have donated over a quarter million dollars, and those of the US Army (15th) gave the ranking member of the Committee on Armed Services just under $200,000. Pinnacle West Capital (ninth), Arizona’s largest electric utility, has given McCain $223,000 over the years.

Global law firms Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher (16th), Blank Rome (17th), and Greenberg Traurig (20th) fill out his top-twenty list. Securities and investment groups and the legal industry are two of McCain’s three largest overall contributors. (By far, retired people make up his biggest donor base, giving him more than $37 million over his political career.)

As a new immigration bill moves through Congress, it should not be surprising that two of its foremost proponents, Republican McCain and Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, count financial firms as major sources of their campaign funds. Enthusiastic backing by big business means bipartisan support among the establishment in Congress. Writes Daniel Strauss in The Hill:

Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) both predicted that immigration reform legislation would ultimately win significant support among both Democrats and Republicans — and pass the Senate and then the House.

“I think it could take three, four weeks,” Schumer said Wednesday at an event sponsored by Politico.