The quality of Merkley

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Same shit, different flies. That Democrats welcome from Obama what they recoiled from under Bush has become so commonplace that it’s now a cliche. In the latest example, only two Democratic Senators (Jeff Merkley and Pat Leahy) as well as Independent Bernie Sanders declined to support the appointment to head the CIA of a man who oversaw the application of torture during the Bush Administration and was assassination czar during Obama’s tenure. In a statement following his vote against Brennan’s confirmation, Merkley wrote:

“I have deep concerns with the Obama Administration’s continuation of Bush-era policies related to warrantless wiretapping and the collection of electronic records pertaining to the activities of ordinary citizens.

“I have concerns about policies that allow the administration to strip due process rights from Americans it chooses to deem enemy combatants. Those lost rights constitute core constitutional values, including the requirement to show cause for detaining a citizen, the right to a public trial, and the right to confront those who bear evidence against you.

“I am also deeply concerned about the implications of the administration’s policy on drone strikes. And I am troubled that so much of the legal justification for these policies remains secret, preventing Congress, let alone the American people, from weighing the trade-offs.”

Previously I’ve written about Rand Paul, who led a filibuster against Brennan with the aid of Mike Lee, as well as summarizing the donors to Merkley’s fellow Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who joined in Paul’s filibuster but voted to confirm Brennan anyway. Today I’ll look at Merkley himself.

Merkley’s largest donor, giving him over $78,000 since 2008, is JStreetPAC, a political action committee favoring a peaceful resolution to the Palestine-Israel conflict. His second largest is the arms control non-profit the Council for a Livable World, which gave him $56,000. In addition, he has attracted significant contributions from several other left-leaning issue-based organizations, including MoveOn.org (sixth), the League of Conservation Voters (eighth). Democratic politico Steve Westly‘s clean-tech venture capital firm the Westly Group (13th) also invested in Merkley, who is chair of the Subcommittee on Green Jobs and the New Economy.

The Oregon Senator receives a great deal of money from in-state sources, including workers from the State of Oregon (third) and Portland/Hillsboro’s Oregon Health & Science University (fourth), the state’s largest private employer, Intel (fifth) in Hillsboro, and Portland-area footwear giant Nike (17th). Lawyers and law firms also gave heavily to Merkley; he received lots of attention from the largest law firm in Oregon, Portland’s Stoel Rives (seventh), trial lawyers Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossman (11th), and Portland litigation and securities firm Stoll Berne (16th).

Unions move big bucks into Merkley’s corner. Among his major supporters are the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (ninth); the country’s largest federation of unions, the AFL-CIO (tenth); the American Nurses Association (12th); the Teamsters Union (18th); and tying for 20th with $15,000 apiece: the Communications Workers of America, the Ironworkers Union, the Operating Engineers Union, and the Painters and Allied Trades Union.

Merkley also received donations from real estate services firm Newmark Knight Frank (14th), hedge fund investors D. E. Shaw & Co. (15th), and gigantoid media conglomerate Time Warner (19th).

Dollars for Udall

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Should John Brennan expect the Spanish Inquisition? At the Senate hearing scheduled for Thursday, February 7, Mark Udall (D-Colorado) can be expected to grill the nominee about his past support for torture, as Brennan seeks to be confirmed as Director of the CIA. A preliminary meeting between the two men did not go well, writes Denver reporter Eli Stokols:

“I was deeply disappointed today during my meeting with John Brennan,” Udall said. “A few weeks ago, I had asked that he be prepared to discuss at today’s meeting the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s comprehensive study on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program.

“Not only was he not prepared to discuss the important findings, but he hadn’t reviewed the report at all,” Udall continued.

“Brennan promised today to review the findings before the Intelligence Committee’s confirmation hearing next Thursday. I intend to hold him to that promise, and I hope Mr. Brennan will be more forthcoming in his testimony next week.

Yesterday I looked at the list of top contributors to Carl Levin, who was also at that meeting; today I’ll look at fellow Senate Armed Services Committee member Mark Udall.

The legal industry gives more to Udall than any other group. A few individual firms placed among his top twenty contributors, such as his biggest donor, Denver’s real estate lawyers Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which gave the Senator just over $100,000 since 1998. DC-based legal/lobbying powerhouse Patton Boggs, which has an office in Denver, ranked fifth, and Denver’s corporate lawyers Holland & Hart came in sixth. Trial lawyer lobbying group the American Association for Justice ranked eighth.

Numerous unions give generously to the Democratic Senator, making up almost half his top twenty. The Teamsters, one of the largest unions in the world, have donated $64,000 to Udall making them his seventh biggest contributor. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ranked ninth; the United Food and Commercial Workers Union tenth; the Service Employees International Union eleventh; AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 13th; the United Auto Workers 14th; the Communication Workers of America 18th; and the Air Line Pilots Association, the Carpenters and Joiners Union, and the United Steelworkers all tied for 20th, pitching in $45,000 apiece.

Other top donors to the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks include environmental groups such as the League of Conservation Voters, Udall’s second largest contributor with just under $100,000, and the Sierra Club (12th), with half that amount; internet service provider Level 3 Communications (third) of Broomfield, Colorado; the University of Colorado (fourth); employee-owned engineering and construction firm CH2M Hill (15th) and satellite TV corporation Dish Network (16th), both of Meridian. The Credit Union National Association (17th) and multinational media conglomerate Time Warner (19th) round out Udall’s list.

Udall’s refusal to “look forward, not backward” on torture is commendable, particularly given his colleagues’ acquiescence in the cover-up. On budget matters, however, he becomes a typical DC Democrat, advocating a bipartisan budget plan like Bowles-Simspon:

There should be no higher priority for this Congress than crafting a balanced, comprehensive and bipartisan deficit-reduction plan along the lines of Simpson-Bowles. To do anything short of a longterm grand bargain is unacceptable and only sets us back into the old ruts of impasse that created the problem in the first place. Coloradans deserve better.

To be sure, we will have our disagreements along the way. Both sides will have to make hard choices about seemingly sacred programs or uncompromising pledges. But true sacrifice and compromise are the only ways we, the Congress, and we, the people, can confront our budget challenges and turn this heavy yoke into an opportunity.

Only a politician who looks on voters as cattle would see a yoke as an opportunity — at least for the drivers.

Levin’s bread

carl levin press conference
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Got some time to kill? Drone assassination czar and torture proponent John Brennan will appear Thursday, February 7, before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as it considers his nomination for Director of the CIA. Among his interrogators will be Senator Carl Levin, an advocate of decreasing government secrecy but a supporter of indefinite detention even of US citizens. Human Rights First reports that a dozen former interrogators have written a letter requesting that Levin and other members question Brennan specifically about torture:

We know from experience that torture is unreliable, unlawful and un-American. But, does Mr. Brennan?

In 2007, Mr. Brennan said on The Early Show that approximately one-third of the 100 terrorism suspects held by the CIA were subject by CIA officers to “enhanced interrogation tactics,” which is a euphemism for torture. In the same interview, he claimed that information gotten through enhanced interrogation “has saved lives.”

Mr. Brennan was Deputy Executive Director of the CIA from 2001-2003 when the Bush administration adopted torture as an interrogation tactic. What role did Mr. Brennan play in the development, review or approval of what he has called “enhanced interrogation?”

In preparation for the hearing, as well as for the budget battles of the coming month, I decided to look at Levin’s top donors. Automobile companies lead in donating money to the Michigan Senator’s numerous campaigns. Detroit multinational General Motors was his top donor with $120,800, just ahead of Dearborn-based Ford. DaimlerChrysler came in fourth with just under $80,000. (Daimler sold Chrysler in 2007.) The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee also receives contributions from defense contractors General Dynamics (seventh) and Lockheed Martin (18th).

Unions feature prominently in Levin’s top twenty list. Teachers’ union the National Education Association ranks 13th with $43,000, followed by the construction workers’ Laborers’ Union (14th) and the Sheet Metal Workers’ International (15th). AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, came in 19th; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ranked 20th.

Political action committees advocating close support of Israel by the US make up Levin’s second largest source of campaign funds. These include individual organizations such as the Join Action Committee for Political Affairs (12th) and The Washington PAC (16th). The legal industry is his largest financial pool, with donors such as Michigan business law firm Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn (sixth), multinational legal giant DLA Piper (tenth), and trial lawyers’ lobby the American Association for Justice (17th).

Health insurance behemoth Blue Cross Blue Shield (third) gave Levin just under $100,000. Security firm Guardsmark ranked fifth and real estate developers Forest City Enterprises eighth. Detroit utility DTE Energy (ninth) and Jackson-based utility CMS Energy (eleventh) notably made billions from 2008-2010 and spent millions to lobby Congress, then paid no income taxes, actually receiving millions back in rebates.

Absent from this list are financial firms such as JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, whose practices Levin’s committee has been investigating for some time. Although the Senator has received half a million over his career from securities and investment corporations, they don’t make an appearance on his top twenty list of donors.