Who Attends the Koch Brothers’ Conferences?

Billionaires Charles and David Koch are holding one of their infamous political retreats this weekend in Rancho Mirage, CA, inspiring a coalition of liberal groups to mount protests outside the event. Common Cause, the principal organizer, is calling the event “Uncloaking the Kochs,” to “counter an exclusive gathering of corporate billionaires.”

David Koch.

Who are these corporate billionaires? Last year, Think Progress got its hands on the attendee list and put it online. It has since been uploaded to LittleSis. Many of the same folks will probably show up this year.

What are the corporate, social, and political ties that bind the Koch network participants? Some common links can be seen in the interlocks and giving tabs, but there is much more to dig up.

Analysts: Consider shedding light on the contours of the Koch network by building out the profiles of some past attendees. (and if you aren’t an analyst, go here to sign up).

Update: Here is a giant wall of pictures of the Koch conference attendees.

Libertarian Elites to “Dethrone” Obama’s New Corporate BFF

Not many people know that General Electric has been a huge beneficiary of recent bank bailouts via its financial subsidiary GE Capital, which would be America’s eighth largest bank measured by total assets. Regulators changed banking rules to guarantee $340 billion in GE Capital debt, and the bank received $16 billion in cheap emergency loans from the Federal Reserve, according to Fed data released in December. All the while GE’s CEO, Jeff Immelt, was on the board of the NY Fed (along with another former GE executive) and a member of Obama’s economic advisory board. The conflicts of interest are obvious and, as one Fed historian put it to the NY Times, “ugly”.

Immelt and Obama walking in a GE factory in Schenectady, NY
Immelt and Obama talking business in a GE factory

After $40 million in lobbying last year, more than any other company, the returns on GE’s political investments are still flowing. Immelt was with Obama in India a few months ago when he negotiated a $10 billion export deal benefitting GE, and Obama stood at a GE plant in New York as he named Immelt to lead his new economic advisory council, which looks like it will focus on making America’s laws, taxes, and labor force even more business-friendly.

Interestingly, the deep conflicts surrounding Obama’s promotion of Immelt have provoked the strongest criticism from libertarian think tank FreedomWorks, which has close ties to the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. The Kochs are energy moguls notorious for their financing of dozens of free-market political forces, from free-market think tanks to Tea Party affiliates. Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article about the Koch brothers shows how their influence through political and nonprofit financing is both unequalled and self-interested. The Kochs are fiercely opposed to bank bailouts, economic stimulus, and climate regulation. Immelt has been a high-profile supporter of all of these — perhaps because they’ve profited GE — and GE’s campaign contributions have leaned Democratic in recent years. That’s probably why he’s so close to Obama, and why the Koch brothers and groups like FreedomWorks want him to go away.

FreedomWorks and the NCPPR, another free-market think tank, have launched a campaign to “dethrone” Immelt from GE, calling him the “king of crony capitalism”, and are running ads attacking Immelt’s conflicts of interest as a blatant sign of corruption. “It’s time to break up the unethical romance between government and big business,” said FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe in a statement. “For too long, corporate elites have lobbied to profit from the size and growth of government at the expense of hard-working Americans.”

FreedomWorks has it wrong. It’s not the size and growth of government that ensured minimal financial regulations and generous bailouts for well-connected banks like GE Capital, it’s the size and growth of finance and its influence over government. Relative to expanding financial markets, regulations and regulatory bodies are not growing, they’re shrinking. Still, FreedomWorks can apparently exploit anger about Obama’s dirty dancing with bailed-out corporate elites to rally support for further dismantling of government oversight and regulation.

The beast of corporate power is feeding off its own corruption.

Who is the Committee to Save New York?

In a prelude to the looming budget battle, a shadowy group going by the name of the “Committee to Save New York” has started coordinating with the Cuomo administration to promote the dawning of a new era of “fiscal sanity” in New York State. The group has amassed a $10 million war chest to run ads in support of a fiscal reform agenda heavy on budget cuts. One ad has already gone on the air touting Cuomo’s approach to the state’s budget problems.

Who, exactly, is behind the Committee to Save New York? To find out, LittleSis’s Cuomo Watch research group will be investigating over the course of the next month. The Committee has refused to disclose its donor list, but it has released its board list, and we have already added that info to the Committee’s page on LittleSis. We will be using that and other public record information to shed light on who, exactly, is behind these efforts, and what their true agendas and interests are.

Continue reading Who is the Committee to Save New York?

Evidence of an American Plutocracy: The Larry Summers Story

“So here is the evidence for an American plutocracy of a narrow and discrete but hardly harmless sort. Wall Street seduced the economics profession not through overt corruption, but by aligning the incentives of economists with its own. It was very easy for academic economists to move from universities to central banks to hedge funds — a tightly knit world in which everyone shared the same views about the self-regulating and beneficial effects of open capital markets. The alliance was enormously profitable for everyone: The academics got big consulting fees, and Wall Street got legitimacy. And it has kept the system going despite the enormous policy failures it has generated, not to exclude the recent crisis.”
—Francis Fukuyama, The American Interest, January 2011

Larry Summers’ path to the Obama administration, and his record within it, are symptomatic of a new American plutocracy, and his new job at Harvard will keep the gears of corruption greased.

Summers rose to power under the protective wing of Wall Street and Democratic Party mogul Robert Rubin. He aggressively advanced Rubin’s program of financial deregulation and faithfully rescued his cronies when deregulation went wrong. Despite the economic catastrophes these policies have contributed to, Summers and other Rubinites have continued their political ascendancy in recent years, filling top positions in the Obama administration.

Obama’s economic program, developed almost entirely by Rubin’s proteges, has received widespread popular condemnation for bailing out Wall Street while leaving Main Street out in the cold. Summers has become a defining symbol of the latest sold-out administration within a sold-out system of government. His departure from the White House is more a reflection of this public anger than a personal career choice.

But strategic sensitivity is not change. Summers’ exit does not significantly diminish Rubin’s shadow over the White House, nor does it mark an end or pause in the vicious cycle of today’s crony capitalism. Obama has replaced Summers with a less notorious Rubinite, and the Harvard research center Summers will now direct provides a name-brand intellectual cover for, not an alternative to, the dangerously insular politics his career has thus far embodied.

Continue reading Evidence of an American Plutocracy: The Larry Summers Story

The Foreclosure Fraud Scandal Just Got Harder to Ignore

The Massachusetts Supreme Court issued a major decision against the banks on the issue of foreclosure fraud earlier today. In US Trust vs. Ibanez, the court ruled that the banks in the case did not have standing to foreclose when they failed to assign the mortgage prior to foreclosure. The case carries significant implications, as many foreclosures may be declared invalid in Massachusetts, and the ruling could influence other state courts. The decision has already sent bank stocks down.

Now that the Massachusetts Supreme Court has identified a fundamental problem with the mortgage securitization and foreclosure process, Wall Street bankers and their friends in Washington may have a harder time working hand in glove to stamp out the foreclosure fraud firestorm.

Axelrod and Bank of America public relations strategist Anne Finucane, at the height of the foreclosure fraud scandal.
Obama adviser David Axelrod and Bank of America PR strategist Anne Finucane, arm in arm at the height of the foreclosure fraud scandal.

Last October, when foreclosure fraud started capturing national headlines, the Obama administration joined the banks’ PR offensive and helped spin illegal foreclosure as a minor clerical issue. At a critical point in the process, White House adviser David Axelrod appeared on Face the Nation to say that he regretted that there was “uncertainty” in the housing market, that the administration was working closely with financial institutions, and that they hoped the issue would be resolved quickly.  He also said that the administration opposed a nationwide moratorium due to the fact that some foreclosures were valid.

At the time, Yves Smith said that the comments revealed “astonishing” priorities on the part of the Obama administration.

We do not know whether Bank of America wrote Axelrod’s talking points, but we do know that he was partying with the bank’s top public relations strategist a few days later. Axelrod attended an epilepsy research fundraiser in Boston later that week that was co-chaired by Bank of America executive Anne Finucane. The other co-chair, along with Finucane’s husband? Axelrod’s wife, Susan, a co-founder of Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy. Other prominent attendees are listed here.

In one picture from the event, David is standing next to an amused Finucane, a huge, clownish smile on his face, trademark moustache and brow in full effect, with one arm extended as if he is about to shake the hand of the photographer.

Obama’s point man on foreclosure fraud could not possibly look like a bigger corporate tool, arm in arm with Bank of America’s top public relations strategist at the height of the foreclosure fraud mess.

The “foreclosure fraud as inconsequential clerical error” argument has always been a lie, put forward by Wall Street with help from government cronies like David Axelrod. Zero Hedge calls these folks the “kleptocratic banker mafia syndicate,” and they come together at events like the Axelrod-Finucane fundraiser to further strengthen their social ties. But did they forget to invite the judge?

When the foreclosure fraud scandal hits the front pages again, and threatens to hurt powerful financial institutions — rather than just the foreclosed, unemployed, and powerless — will the syndicate keep pushing the paperwork lie?  Will Obama dispatch another Wall Street stooge to the Sunday circuit, to say that the issue needs to be resolved quickly? And will talking points matter when court cases keep piling up?

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Obama Considering Chamber of Commerce Insider for Top White House Post

The US Chamber of Commerce has done battle with the Obama administration over the course of the past two years on some significant issues, and has been described by one observer as “one of the most determined and well-funded foes of Obama’s agenda.” So the news that Obama may be tapping a Chamber insider as his chief of staff should come as a surprise to those following the food fights between the two power blocs.

Continue reading Obama Considering Chamber of Commerce Insider for Top White House Post