The quality of Merkley

jeff merkley picture

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 (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).


ron wyden picture

Can the President kill you just for looking at him funny? As the Senate Intelligence Committee prepares to take up the nomination of John Brennan for Director of the CIA tomorrow (February 7), NBC News has published a “white paper” the Department of Justice gave to Congress justifying the assassination of US citizens by the executive branch without judicial review. However, as Marcy Wheeler points out:

[It is] not the actual legal memos used to authorize the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and who knows who else. As Michael Isikoff notes in his story, the Senators whose job it is to oversee the Executive Branch — even the ones on the Senate Intelligence Committee that are supposed to be read into covert operations — are still demanding the memos, for at least the 12th time. The release of this white paper must not serve to take pressure off of the White House to release the actual memos.

And further:

Ron Wyden, who has gotten this white paper, still keeps asking this question.

“Is the legal basis for the intelligence community’s lethal counterterrorism operations the 2001 Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or the President’s Commander-in-Chief authority?”

With Wyden likely to appear more often in the spotlight in days to come, I decided to look at who has funded his campaigns, through the website (Recent articles have focused on fellow Intelligence Committee members Mark Udall, Carl Levin, and chairperson Dianne Feinstein.

The Oregon Senator’s top donor is sports apparel multinational Nike, headquartered in Beaverton, near Portland; it has contributed over $74,000 to him since 1989. Intel, which is the state’s largest employer with its facility in Hillsboro, gave nearly $54,000, putting it fifth on the Senator’s list. The Oregon Health & Science University, with campuses and hospitals in both Portland and Hillsboro, comes in eleventh.

The legal industry represents Wyden’s biggest source of donations. The world’s largest law firm, DLA Piper, ranked second with $64,000, and the trial lawyers’ lobby the American Association for Justice came in third. Both unions and business groups contribute heavily to Wyden as well. The Teamsters rank sixth, teachers’ union the National Education Association ninth, and the United Transportation Union 15th. On the other hand, the National Association of Realtors ranks 14th, and the National Automobile Dealers Association 16th.

The health care industry (his second largest source of funds) has a particular interest in the Senator, who has a seat on the Special Committee on Aging and oversees Medicare, Social Security, and nursing home conditions, among other issues. Nursing home trade group the American Health Care Association ranks seventh, the hospital administrators’ American Hospital Association 12th, Blue Cross Blue Shield 17th, and nursing home group Manor Care 18th.

The Big Four accounting firms feature often in the top twenty list of contributors to the Senate Finance Committee and Taxation and IRS Oversight Subcommittee member. Deloitte ranks eighth with $50,000, PriceWaterhouseCoopers tenth, and Ernst & Young 20th. Professional organization the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants came in 19th.

Rounding out the list are telecom supremo AT&T (fourth) and the National Jewish Democratic Council (13th).

Wyden’s close ties with the health care and insurance industries may explain some of his corporate-friendly proposals to change the US health insurance system. When advocating the Healthy Americans Act he co-sponsored in 2009, an alternative to Obamacare that would have even further enshrined the private insurance market into law, he pooh-poohed single-payer systems and even the public option:

“A lot of the people who are for a public option want a single-payer system, and they haven’t minced any words about it. Bless their hearts, extra points for honesty. But that’s not where I am.”

Likewise, in 2011Wyden teamed up with Paul Ryan and proposed partially privatizing Medicare.