Entries in Politics (6)


Rep. Dingell: 'Refusal to Compromise' One of Biggest Changes in 57 Years

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Speaking this morning on This Week, Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan — who is poised to become the longest serving member of Congress on June 7 — bemoaned Washington partisanship, saying a “refusal to compromise” is one of the biggest changes he has seen over his more than 57-year career in Congress when asked about the issue by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.

“Lack of collegiality. Refusal to compromise. An absolute reluctance to work together. And I think a total loss of the understanding of the traditions,” Dingell said.

“Today, members are so busy getting re-elected, spend so little time there, there’s so much pressure on them from outside to be partisan and to fight, not to do the things that we’re supposed to, such as compromising and working together,” Dingell said. “And compromise has gotten, George, to be a dirty word. And this is a great shame. The founding fathers intended something quite different.”

Dingell, who has cast over 25,000 votes over the course of his career in Congress, said his most important vote was for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was a vote that almost cost him his job, he said.

“The one of which …I’m most proud and which I think was the most important was the vote I cast on the ’64 civil rights bill that allowed citizens to vote. You remember the country was being torn apart by the denial to our people the right to vote and happily that began a process that cured it so that a black American citizen is now sitting in the White House,” Dingell said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


IRS Has Long History of Political Dirty Tricks

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- If you think the IRS's targeting of Americans for their political views is something new, think again.

Historians, tax lawyers, civil libertarians and past victims of abuse say the practice goes back to the Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy and FDR adminstrations, all of which reportedly used the agency as a weapon against political enemies.

"We need to be careful, here," cautions David Schuyler, professor of American Studies at Franklin & Marshall and editor of the book Power to Destroy: The Political Uses of the IRS from Kennedy to Nixon, written by his now-deceased fellow Franklin & Marshall professor, John Andrew.

"Nobody has shown that Obama had anything to do with this. We do not know if that's true or not. That's one of the mysteries that undoubtedly will come to light," he told ABC News.

The current controversy involves IRS employees targeting Tea Party and other conservative groups for audits and scrutiny. The agency has maintained that low-level employees took it upon themselves to do this. An internal report by the agency's Inspector General cited "ineffective management" as the cause.

If, however, it were to be established that some link existed between the Obama administration and what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has referred to as the IRS's "thuggish abuse of power," it wouldn't be the worst -- only the most recent -- example of an administration using the tax service to engage in what Nixon's enemies branded "dirty tricks."

Andrew's book, says Schuyler, "documents that Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon were complicit, to varying degrees, in using the IRS for political purposes. And it didn't end there. John had enough material to take it up through the 1970s and '80s. That's all in our college archives."

During the Clinton administration, Paula Jones, who had filed a sexual-harassment suit against President Clinton, alleged she was being audited by the IRS because of it.

Targets of the IRS during the Kennedy administration, according to Andrew and Schuyler, included such groups as the conservative John Birch Society. Former editor of the Washington Post Ben Bradlee in his 1976 book Conversations With Kennedy, wrote that Kennedy had shared with him confidential information from the tax returns of rich conservatives H.L. Hunt and J. Paul Getty.

The 1974 Senate Watergate Report confirmed that the Nixon administration and sought to use the IRS to make life miserable for a wide spectrum of political enemies, including Senators George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie.

Whistleblower John Dean produced memos confirming that the Nixon administration had even considered using the IRS to go after such small game as the producer of Millhouse: A White Comedy, a satiric film making fun of Nixon.

Travis Watkins, an attorney with offices in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., who specializes in tax resolution cases said: "In other words, fighting with the IRS." He represents individuals and businesses at odds with the IRS and subject to its audits and investigations.

Watkins tells ABC News it takes very little for a citizen to earn the Service's political enmity. He cites the case of two clients -- "African-American pastors targeted for being outspoken conservative folks." For reasons best known to them, the pastors sent to the IRS "informational DVDs" they had made that were critical of the administration and of the IRS. The DVDs, he says, were "essentially about black America, and how the IRS is part of an evil regime."

His clients, in return, received audits.

A lot of pain can be inflicted, he points out, under the guise of auditing. The IRS demands in-person meetings; it subjects the persons being audited to "a paperwork blizzard." Once an audit starts, he says, the IRS wants to look into "all kinds of things," not just income and deductions.

"Currently," Watkins says, referring to the most recent IRS scandal, "people are shocked and talking about their loss of confidence. But is has always been this way. The IRS has a storied history of being bulldogs.

"It has a history of blaming low-level employees for these intrusive behaviors. But with Nixon and FDR, it was clearly direction from the top: FDR used it to look into Huey Long; he used it to look back into the Hoover administration."

Various laws prohibit the IRS and other government agencies from singling out a group for special scrutiny because of its politics, according to the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School. That would violate, for example, the Hatch Act, which prohibits civil servants from engaging in partisan political activity during the performance of their jobs and 18 USC Section 241, which makes it unlawful for two or more persons to agree together to intimidate a person in the free exercise of any right secured to him/her by the Constitution or the laws of the United States.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Number of Americans Without Religious Affiliation on the Rise

George Doyle/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Nearly 20 percent of Americans do not identify with any particular religion, according to a new poll. The number is much higher among younger Americans, according to the survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

For the first time less than half of Americans – 48 percent – consider themselves to be Protestant. One third of Americans under 30 do not identify with a religion. Pew calls them “nones.”

In 1972, only 7 percent of Americans did not identify with a religion, according to Pew.

The number of Christians has fallen by 5 percent, according to the survey. Those affiliated with “other religions” has risen by more than 2 percent. And the number not identifying with a particular religion has gone up more than 4 percent since 2007.

Those without a specific religion are not necessarily nonbelievers. In fact most of them do believe in a higher power of some kind. About 30 percent of the “nones” are “absolutely certain” there is a God or universal spirit. Seven percent of the U.S. population and 27 percent of those not affiliated with a religion believe there is no God or universal spirit.

The number of Americans who attend church “seldom or never” has climbed from 25 percent in a 2003 Pew survey to 29 percent today.

All this paints an interesting picture of American religious life, and according to the survey, could have political consequences. “Nones” seem to favor Democrats.

Here is a passage from Pew’s report:
With their rising numbers, the religiously unaffiliated are an increasingly important segment of the electorate. In the 2008 presidential election, they voted as heavily for Barack Obama as white evangelical Protestants did for John McCain. More than six-in-ten religiously unaffiliated registered voters are Democrats (39%) or lean toward the Democratic Party (24%). They are about twice as likely to describe themselves as political liberals than as conservatives, and solid majorities support legal abortion (72%) and same-sex marriage (73%). In the last five years, the unaffiliated have risen from 17% to 24% of all registered voters who are Democrats or lean Democratic.

Democrats may do better among those not identifying with religion, but it is still quite difficult to be an elected official in the United States as an atheist. A Pew study in 2011 found that 61 percent of Americans would be less likely to support a candidate that didn’t believe in God. Only 46 percent would be less likely to support a candidate that had an extramarital affair.

There is only one member of Congress who considers himself an atheist – Rep. Pete Stark of California.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


FCC Requires Local TV Stations to Disclose Political Ads

Ingram Publishing(WASHINGTON) -- Local TV stations will be required to post information on the political ads they run, including rates, to a public database, the Federal Communications Commission ruled Friday.

How will this work? The FCC will host an online database making available information about political ads running on local affiliates of the four major TV networks in the top 50 markets, according to the FCC. The database will be available 30 days after the Office of Management and Budget approves the new policy.

“The new rule covers about 60 percent of all expected 2012 political advertising on local spot TV, where the vast majority of televised political ads air. The remaining 40 percent will occur in smaller media markets and thus remain offline this year, disclosed in the public files made available at stations,” the Kantar Media Group’s CMAG ad-tracking service wrote in an executive summary of Friday’s ruling.

The newly public information is notoriously difficult to access. Local TV affiliates already make it publicly available, but only in paper copies at the stations themselves. For years, reporters and watchdog groups have had to travel to TV stations and examine records in person when seeking detailed information.

Broadcasters opposed the ruling, citing costs of disclosure and competition with other media forms. Television stations under federal law are required to offer political candidates the lowest available advertising rates.

The FCC is made up of three commissioners, two of which were appointed by President Obama. Robert McDowell, the lone Republican appointee who was originally appointed by George W. Bush and reappointed by Obama in 2009, dissented from the decision.

Broadcasters will have to disclose the rates they charge for political ads, which are often lower than the rates charged to other advertisers. CMAG speculated that this was a major reason broadcasters opposed the move.

The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington had called for the online disclosure.

The FCC’s move will give the public a far more granular picture of where and how political money is being spent.

Currently, it’s very difficult to tell when and how political campaigns are spending money on advertisements. Outside groups–including super PACs and 501(c)4s–are subject to greater transparency. Those groups disclose ad spending to the FEC within 48 hours of purchasing air time, and the FEC reports it online almost immediately.

Campaigns, however, only disclose spending once a month -- meaning that candidates themselves largely evade scrutiny on how much they’re spending at any given time. By the time the public finds out, the data is already a month old. Still, with this new FCC ruling, that will change.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Trayvon Martin Case: Lawmakers React to Zimmerman Charges

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- For more than a month, a vocal contingent of members of Congress have repeatedly called for justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin. They’ve spoken out on the House floor, held news conferences and organized rallies to support the Florida teen’s family. Wednesday night, numerous lawmakers rejoiced at the news that the shooter, George Zimmerman, has been charged with second-degree murder in the teen’s death. Here is a compilation of some of the congressional reaction:

“It took 45 days, but finally, second-degree murder charges have been filed against the man who killed their son. That George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin is not in dispute. But letting him enjoy his freedom for 45 days was unconscionable,” Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., wrote in a statement. “Now, the American justice system will take its course.”

“State Attorney Angela Corey’s decision to file charges against George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin is a positive first step towards some closure on this tragedy,” Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., noted, adding that she believed there was sufficient evidence for an arrest. “There can be no happy ending in this story, but people need to believe that the system works fairly for everyone and this development is a good sign.”

“This is a step in the right direction towards restoring the public’s confidence in our system of justice. This also sends a clear message that shootings of unarmed individuals will be taken seriously,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, stated. “I am glad that wheels of justice have started to turn and I trust the right decision, as determined by a court of law, on the proper punishment for Mr. Zimmerman will be made. Now members of the legislatures, both state and federal, need to ensure that these laws are not used to cover the misdeeds of those who strike a person dead in the streets.”

“I, like many others, thought that an arrest based upon probable cause was not unreasonable,” Texas Democratic Rep. Al Green wrote in a statement. “Mr. Zimmerman now deserves a fair trial. I look forward to a just verdict after a review of the evidence.”

“The arrest of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin and the charges to be brought against him show that our criminal justice system is functioning,” Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., stated. “In this case, as in all others, the defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence, and it is important too that we let this case proceed in due course through the court system.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


One Year Before Election, 19 States Still Without Final District Maps

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The 2012 election is now less than a year away, but the congressional battle lines have yet to be drawn in some states.

Nineteen states are still entrenched in redistricting battles, as Democrats and Republicans duke it out in state legislatures, independent commissions and state and federal courts for district maps that could give them an edge in the next decade’s elections.

But despite Republicans’ having control of most state legislatures after the 2010 elections, neither party is expected to pick up significantly more seats because of the newly-drawn district lines that are mandated every decade to reflect shifting populations in the Census.

“It’s really, you could say, surprising because almost two-thirds of state legislatures are controlled by Republicans, but so far it looks like a wash,” said Steve Bickerstaff, a redistricting expert and adjunct professor at the University of Texas Law School.

But both parties are still claiming victory when it comes to redistricting.

“Far from being blown out as the Republicans announced, we have exceeded expectations on redistricting,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Israel of New York said last week.

Republican State Leadership Committee consultant Tom Hofeller said the GOP could still come out on top as the final 40 percent of states finalize their maps.

Political parties have to toe a fine line when redrawing the district maps, Bickerstaff said. They can either create a few districts that are staunchly supportive, or a greater number of districts that lean less definitively in their favor.

He argued that redistricting is not as important as some people make it out to be because there are limits to how much influence one party can wield over the process.

At least four states’ maps are already caught up in court challenges, which is common during the redistricting process.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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