Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Decision on Montana case affirms 'Citizens United' A lower court had upheld a ban on businesses' political spending. Justices overruled that, 5-4. By Robert Barnes Washington Post

A narrowly divided Supreme Court on Monday reaffirmed its landmark 2010 decision allowing corporations to spend unlimited money on elections, deciding 5 to 4 that a state court was wrong to uphold Montana's century-old ban on political spending by businesses.
The court decision - two paragraphs issued without hearings or debate - further inflamed a national argument over the role of big money in politics, which has become a central feature of the expensive race for the White House between President Obama and Mitt Romney.
A constellation of independent groups is poised to spend $1 billion or more on the 2012 elections, much of it raised in secret from billionaires and corporations. The spending is made possible in part by the court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which found that companies and unions have a free-speech right to donate unlimited amounts for and against candidates.
This atmosphere of fevered spending had triggered hopes among critics that the court might reconsider the ruling. But Monday's decision appears to scuttle any chance of that, at least for now.
Obama spokesman Eric Schultz said the White House was "disappointed" that the court did not revisit the case.
"Citizens United mistakenly overruled long-standing cases that protected the fairness and integrity of elections," Schultz said. "Unfortunately, the court today missed an opportunity to correct that mistake."
The case involved a Montana law forbidding corporate political spending. The law dated to 1912, when the "copper kings" and other mining barons largely controlled the state's politics. Montana's high court said that, even after Citizens United, the legacy of corruption and other factors unique to Montana justified a ban on spending by corporations regulated by the state.
But the same five justices who formed the majority in Citizens United said in an unsigned opinion that Montana's arguments "either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case." The decision had the effect of overturning Montana's law.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer penned a short dissent for the four-judge minority, writing that Montana's experience "casts grave doubt on the Court's supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so."
Justice Elena Kagan - who argued the Citizens United case as Obama's solicitor general - joined Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor in the dissent. Although Breyer and Ginsburg said in February that the court should use the case to revisit Citizens United, Breyer wrote Monday that he did "not see a significant possibility of reconsideration" by the majority.
Monday's decision drew strong condemnations from activists who favor tougher limits on money in politics and fulsome praise from those opposed to such regulations.
"Citizens and the nation are not going to accept the Supreme Court-imposed campaign finance system that allows our government to be auctioned off to billionaires, millionaires, corporate funders and other special interests," said Democracy 21's Fred Wertheimer, a longtime activist who helped draft many of the nation's post-Watergate election laws.
James Bopp Jr., an attorney for the Montana plaintiffs and a key architect of national challenges to campaign finance laws, called the decision "excellent" and said it "shut the door" on reconsideration of Citizens United.
 Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine, wrote on his election law blog that the outcome of the Montana case is actually a "relative victory for campaign-finance reformers" because the five-justice majority shows no signs of budging on Citizens United.
"Taking the case would have made things so much worse," Hasen wrote.
The five justices who made up the majority in Citizens United remain on the court and have consistently held that many legislative attempts to control the influence of money in politics run afoul of constitutional guarantees of free speech.
Besides lifting the ban on corporate and union expenditures, a lower court and the FEC have interpreted the Citizens United ruling to mean that unlimited individual contributions must be allowed, clearing the way for "super PACs," fund-raising groups closely identified with candidates but technically independent.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Citizens United: Is the Supreme Court Happy Now?

Even in a political season marked by unprecedented levels of political spending, Sheldon Adelson stands alone.
In recent days, Mr. Adelson, a billionaire casino owner, and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, gave $10 million to Restore Our Future, a “super PAC” backing the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, people with knowledge of the contribution said on Wednesday, leaving the Adelsons by far the most prolific campaign donors in the country.
All told, the Adelsons have now given at least $35 million to super PACs during the 2012 campaign, not including several hundred thousand dollars worth of $2,500 contributions directly to federal candidates. That is more than twice as much as his closest competitor for the title, the billionaire industrialist Harold C. Simmons and his wife, Annette, making Mr. Adelson a uniquely powerful force in the annals of presidential politics.
With a net worth of roughly $25 billion, Mr. Adelson could afford to give far more, and seems willing to do so: In an interview with Forbes magazine this year, he suggested he would consider spending as much as $100 million on the 2012 elections.
Michael Quinn, Esq.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Scott Walker and Citizens United

The governor put together a nationwide fundraising effort and was richly rewarded. Two-thirds of the $31 million Walker raised to fight the recall came from out-of-state donors, mostly rich guys who hate unions. The gush of cash going to Walker overwhelmed Barrett’s boots-on-the-ground effort and provided more proof, if any more were needed, that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling -- eliminating limits on campaign donations -- has dramatically altered the balance of power in American politics.
The Citizens United decision does not apply to big corporations alone; it also frees unions to give as much as they want. But the fact is unions do not have ready access to money on the scale of the billionaire boys club. When just one man, casino king Sheldon Adelson, can write a couple of checks and fund Newt Gingrich’s entire presidential campaign, you know the craps table of electioneering has been tilted in favor of candidates who look after the concerns of the mega-rich.  L.A. Times, June 6, 2012
In fact, three wealthy individuals from out of state contributed more than all of the money raised by Walker's opponent Barrett.  It is at the state and local level where the full force of Citizens United will be felt.
Michael Quinn, Esq.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why is Citizens United Is Bad For Public Policy

In a story run June 6,2012, National Public Radio looked at how powerful lobbyists with lots of money to spend keep the Mortgage Interest Deduction alive.  Below are a few highlights from that story.

If you have a mortgage on your home, you can deduct the interest from your taxes. It's a popular, well-entrenched policy. But according to one policy adviser to a U.S. senator, "the mortgage-interest deduction, from a purely policy perspective ... makes no sense."
It's a view that's supported by a mountain of academic research: The mortgage-interest tax deduction benefits the rich more than the poor, has little effect on home ownership and isn't even really a bargain for homeowners because it raises home prices.
So do policy advisers tell members of Congress to fight the mortgage-interest tax deduction?
"If you're relatively green in Washington, I suppose that happens. And I suppose you're laughed at," said the adviser, who preferred not to give his name for fear of losing his job. "The mortgage-interest deduction is a sacred cow."
Everyone in Washington, D.C., knows that there are many powerful forces making sure that no one ever suggests getting rid of the mortgage-interest deduction. Jimmy Williams, a former lobbyist for the National Association of Realtors, was one of those forces.
"If I were at the Realtors right now, I'd declare war" on anyone who tried to get rid of the deduction, Williams says.
He would run ads, encourage Realtors across the country to make phone calls and give money to the most powerful legislators in Washington. "And then you sit back and just say, 'You really want to go down this path? That's just not a really smart way to run for re-election.' "
Jamie Gregory, who currently lobbies for the Realtors, says if you got rid of the deduction tomorrow, home prices would fall all over the country, which would destabilize the economy. And besides, he says, the biggest lobby in favor of the deduction is homeowners.
"For middle-class Americans, either doing away or limiting the mortgage-interest deduction is going to be a tax increase," he says.
People who have bought a house assuming they'll get a break on their taxes each year want that tax break. They might not be able to afford the house they're in without it.
Of course, you could phase out the deduction out over time, making it apply only to future homebuyers. Who knows what solutions smart policy staffers in D.C. could come up with — if they weren't afraid of being laughed at for being so naive?
Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.Description: http://www.google-analytics.com/__utm.gif?utmac=UA-5828686-4&utmdt=Why+Does+The+Mortgage-Interest+Tax+Deduction+Still+Exist%3F&utme=8(APIKey)9(MDA2Mjc5MzcwMDEyODc3ODU1ODgyZGI5MA001)

Michael Quinn, Esq.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Citizens United Back At U.S. Supreme Court

Three Montana corporations sued to bring the state into conformity with Citizens United by overturning a 100-year-old state law, passed when copper and other corporations supposedly held sway, that bans all corporate political spending. The state’s Supreme Court refused to do this, citing Montana’s supposedly unique susceptibility to corporate domination — an idea amusingly discordant with the three corporations’ failure even to persuade the state court to acknowledge the supremacy of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Source: Washington Post. georgewill@washpost.com
Michael Quinn, Esq.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Connecticut 47th of 50 States in Discipline of Doctors

Health Department defends discipline of doctors
Updated: Friday, 25 May 2012, 1:30 PM EDT
Published : Friday, 25 May 2012, 1:30 PM EDT
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A spokesman for the state Department of Public Health is defending how Connecticut punishes doctors after a study by a consumer advocacy group showed the state has one of the lowest physician discipline rates in the country.
William Gerrish  told the Journal Inquirer that last week's report by Public Citizen focused only on a narrow slice of information about serious disciplinary actions and ignored the wide variety of sanctions imposed by the state Medical Examining Board including reprimands, censures and fines.
Public Citizen said Connecticut ranked 47th out of 50 states and Washington, D.C., in taking serious actions against doctors including license suspension and revocation.
The study said Connecticut took less than two serious actions per 1,000 doctors, when the national rate was about three per 1,000.
Information from: Journal Inquirer

Friday, May 25, 2012

JAMA Finds a Relationship Between Patient Mortality and Nurse Staffing Levels

Hospitals with high patient to nurse ratios experience a higher mortality rate among surgical patients according to the Journal of the American Medical Society.  Below are results of a study conducted by JAMA.

After adjusting for patient and hospital characteristics (size, teaching status, and technology), each additional patient per nurse was associated with a 7% (odds ratio [OR], 1.07; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.03-1.12) increase in the likelihood of dying within 30 days of admission and a 7% (OR, 1.07; 95% CI, 1.02-1.11) increase in the odds of failure-to-rescue. After adjusting for nurse and hospital characteristics, each additional patient per nurse was associated with a 23% (OR, 1.23; 95% CI, 1.13-1.34) increase in the odds of burnout and a 15% (OR, 1.15; 95% CI, 1.07-1.25) increase in the odds of job dissatisfaction.
Conclusions  In hospitals with high patient-to-nurse ratios, surgical patients experience higher risk-adjusted 30-day mortality and failure-to-rescue rates, and nurses are more likely to experience burnout and job dissatisfaction.
For the complete study go to:  http://jama.jamanetwork.com
Michael Quinn, Esq.