Well-known corporate chiefs funded illegal “dark money” contributions to groups in the Koch brothers’ political network involved in Thursday’s record campaign finance settlement in California, according to settlement documents.
Members of the Fisher family, founders of the Gap clothing chain, plowed more than $8 million into the dark money campaign to defeat Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax increase, Proposition 30, and to support the anti-union Proposition 32, in the 2012 elections, according to partially redacted documents supplied by Americans for Job Security, a group that handled contributions that figured in Thursday’s settlement.
Those documents also show that Charles Schwab, founder of Charles Schwab Corp., donated $6.4 million through Americans for Job Security. Philanthropist Eli Broad, who publicly backed Brown’s tax increase proposition, made a $500,000 contribution, according to the documents. Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson and his wife gave a combined $500,000. Crossroads GPS, the dark money nonprofit founded by Karl Rove, chipped in $2 million.
Requests for comment from Broad, Schwab and the Fisher family were not immediately returned. The documents show millions more in contributions from dozens of donors.
The donors were revealed in the documents after California’s Fair Political Practices Commission announced a record $1 million settlement in its investigation into how $11 million in dark money made its way through a network of conservative nonprofits linked to the billionaire Koch brothers and into the coffers of the Small Business Action Committee. The investigation revealed an additional $4.04 million in dark money funneled to the California Future Fund to spend on the ballot initiative campaigns.
Donors to Americans for Job Security were not supposed to be disclosed under the settlement with the Fair Political Practices Commission, according to a statement from the nonprofit group.
“The California state authorities have determined that the conduct of Americans for Job Security was consistent with California law and did not require disclosure of our members,” Americans for Job Security president Stephen DeMaura said. “We are gratified by these conclusions and agree with them. We cooperated in the investigation by producing documents and providing witness testimony, without disclosing the identities of our members. Americans for Job Security is committed to protecting the First Amendment rights of its members.”
A redacted list of donors to Americans for Job Security’s campaign on the California ballot initiatives was disclosed. Though the list had black lines drawn through some entries, it nevertheless provided easily viewable information revealing identities of the group’s biggest donors.
The contributions were orchestrated by California political consultant Tony Russo to help big donors hide their identities when supporting his campaign against Proposition 30 and for Proposition 32. Those who wanted their contributions to be disclosed could give to the Small Business Action Committee, the group directly running the campaigns for the ballot initiatives. Those who did not want publicity were directed to give to Americans for Job Security, which planned an advertising campaign on the two ballot initiatives.
“Americans for Job Security is prepared to launch an issue advocacy effort to educate Californians about the tough issue facing the state and the choices Californians have to make in connection with the path forward,” a says a fundraising letter from Americans for Job Security released by the Fair Political Practices Commission.
The letter goes on to explain a $25 million fundraising target and says, “Funds for issue advocacy are not limited nor reportable.”
The Americans for Job Security issue campaign did not spend all of its money before the deadline for California’s disclosure period for issue advertising. The group sought to unload that money through a network of conservative groups run by political operatives connected to the Koch brothers.
Americans for Job Security sent $15.04 million from its issue advocacy campaign to the Center to Protect Patient Rights. That group, run by Koch operative Sean Noble, sent $11 million to Americans for Responsible Leadership and $4.04 million to American Future Fund. Americans for Responsible Leadership then gave that $11 million contribution to the Small Business Action Committee and the American Future Fund gave the $4.04 million to the California Future Fund.
The contributions were spotted by Common Cause California, which reported them to the Fair Political Practices Commission.
“This case highlights the nationwide scourge of dark money nonprofit networks hiding the identities of their contributors,” Ann Ravel, chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission. said at a press conference announcing the $1 million settlement on Thursday.
The commission levied the $1 million fine against the Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Responsible Leadership. There was no penalty against Americans for Job Security.
Solar power and keg stands have one thing in common: Wal-Mart wants to profit from them.
In the race for commercial solar power, Wal-Mart is killing it. The company now has almost twice as much capacity as second-place Costco. A better comparison: Wal-Mart is converting more sun into energy than 38 U.S. states.
Enlarge image Wal-Mart Now Has More Solar Than 38 U.S. States; Drink!
Solar panels on the Wal-Mart in Foothill Ranch, California. Courtesy Wal-Mart
America’s Power Machine
In the beer department, Wal-Mart recently decided alcohol was good business and vowed to double sales by 2016. The result: 500 reps from the alcohol industry converged on the Sam’s Club auditorium in Bentonville, Arkansas, for an “adult beverages summit” focused on Wal-Mart. “It’s even selling it in garden centers,” Bloomberg News’s Renee Dudley wrote in August.
If small business is the heart of the U.S. economy, Wal-Mart is the gluteus maximus — the power muscle. The company redefines global supply chains and crunches cost reductions in just about every area it touches. More than 80 publicly traded companies rely on Wal-Mart for 10 percent or more of their annual revenue, according to Bloomberg data. With solar, will Wal-Mart have the same industry-focusing presence its had with booze?
“When we find something that works — like solar — we go big with it,” the company’s website proclaims.
Wal-Mart doesn’t do many installations itself; that’s not its business. And when companies tout their solar street cred, it’s not always because they’re plugging panels in themselves. Most of the projects are done through what are called power-purchase agreements, where developers install, own and operate the systems. Wal-Mart simply locks in cheap long-term rates to buy back the electricity. Rooftop solar can provide more than 30 percent of a store’s electricity needs.
After a 40 percent surge in installations through the second quarter, Wal-Mart now has 89 megawatts of capacity, according to a report last week by the Solar Energy Industries Association. That’s roughly enough to power 22,250 U.S. homes.
Source: Solar Energy Industries Association
Source: Solar Energy Industries Association
Even Wal-Mart has a lot more room to grow. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, green power accounts for just 4 percent of the company’s electricity use. IKEA, the world’s biggest home-furnishings retailer, is taking solar a step further. The Swedish company plans to begin selling solar-panel systems in its U.K. stores next year, with a standard 3.36-kilowatt system costing $9,200.
For companies that took a look at solar a few years ago and passed, it may be time to look again. Prices of panels have fallen 60 percent just since 2011, and the average price of an installed solar project has dropped 30 percent, according to industry data.
It’s still early days for solar. Wal-Mart produces more solar energy today than the entire country did in 1987, when Starship released the hit single, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” I’m not sure what exactly that says about Wal-Mart or the U.S. or 1980s pop music — apart from showing that the landscape today is positively futuristic by comparison.
Buying solar and selling beer are two very different businesses. But when giants like Wal-Mart and Costco throw their weight into either, you can bet on a cheap buzz. I’ll drink to that.
Those of us who are retired know it’s hard to live on a fixed income, especially since low interest rates have squeezed extra income from savings accounts down to a trickle. The alternative is to lower our expenses. No one wants to give up the things they enjoy, whether it’s a membership to a fitness club, a trip to the mall or a warm home in winter. But sometimes we’re paying for things we don’t really use. Here are seven ideas for saving money without feeling any pain:
1. Insurance. Have you ever joked that you’re worth more dead than alive? Then maybe you don’t need life insurance, especially if your kids are grown up. Also, check the deductibles on your auto and home policies. You can save by increasing your deductible from $250 to $1,000. And if your kids are no longer driving your car, the chances of getting in an accident are diminished. If your car is over five years old, consider going without collision insurance. Since you’re no longer commuting, maybe you can sell off an extra car as well.
2. Food. Do you find yourself scraping vegetables into the garbage, or throwing out moldy bags of unidentifiable leftovers from the back of the refrigerator? Approximately 25 percent of the food we purchase goes to waste, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The answer? Serve smaller portions. Store leftovers efficiently and keep them in the front of the icebox. Eat leftovers for lunch, or put leftovers on the menu for dinner. Also, resist the call of bottled water, and turn to the kitchen faucet.
3. College tuition. Scholarships are increasingly difficult to obtain. But one way to save money is to send your children to a state university rather than a private college. According to many experts, there is no advantage to a good, but second-rate private college over a state university when it comes to landing a job or gaining admittance to graduate school. If your children insist on a private education, have them apply to several schools to see which ones will offer them the most money.
4. Vacation. When you’re retired, you’re flexible. Fly mid-week when air fares are cheaper, and go on vacation during the shoulder season when rates are lower. Many Florida vacation spots offer discounts until the season heats up at Christmas. Take advantage of destinations close to home, and save on airline tickets and car rentals. Use some of the savings to pay for a nicer hotel. Or check out websites offering alternative accommodations, such as Airbnb or Cyber Rentals. And don’t forget, you can always go visit the kids.
5. In your community. You already pay taxes to support your library, so instead of buying a book or DVD, go borrow one. Many communities offer adult education classes, ranging from foreign languages to ballroom dancing. Don’t hesitate to get a senior discount at the movies or state park, or an America the Beautiful senior pass for national parks. You don’t have to be at the office from 9 to 5 every day, so go out to lunch instead of dinner to get the same benefit at a lower cost. Play golf on weekdays instead of weekends for a lower rate.
6. Go green. Those of us who grew up in the 1970s learned how to turn off the lights and dial down the heat. But maybe we forgot during the energy glut of the 1980s and 90s. So remember, sometimes you can open a window instead of turning on the air conditioning. Change your light bulbs to energy-efficient bulbs. And remember, according to government figures, it costs 40 to 50 cents per mile to drive your car. So maybe you can downsize your gas-guzzling SUV to a gas-sipping hybrid. But even with your old jalopy, you can save on gas and wear-and-tear by sticking to the speed limit and batching your trips.
7. Now you’re the boss. You used to pay for the premium cable package, because the kids insisted on it. Maybe you don’t need that anymore. Downgrade your cellphone service if you don’t use the minutes. Cancel your membership to the swim club if you’re not using it. Look through your credit card bill. What are you paying for that you no longer use? Now is the time to cancel the charges that are there for your kids, and focus on the activities that are important to you.
Forget about horsepower: In the EU, people now favor pedal power. Last year, bikes outsold new cars in nearly every European nation for the first time since World War II. And though bike sales are up, it’s not just Europe’s environmentally-minded, bike-friendly ethos that should get the credit: Europe’s car sales took a big hit during its Great Recession, which was longer and more painful the the U.S. downturn.
• Most Americans do most of their investing through mutual funds, retirement accounts or other intermediaries. But the institutions that handle your investments have been plagued for years by the predations of high-frequency traders, who manipulate prices with technical hacks that sometimes come down to gaming the very laws of physics. And when high-frequency traders profit, the rest of us lose. Until now: Our friends at Quartz report that a new market named IEX is launching Friday, run by a group of ultra-clever Wall Streeters whom IEX CEO Brad Katsuyama jokingly describes as the Navy SEALs of the trading world. Its goal: To change the game and hobble the high-frequency traders.
• By now, everyone knows the popular wisdom that Microsoft (MSFT) is past its prime, a technology giant slowly fading into decline. But don’t tell that to its accountants: Microsoft turned in a significantly better than expected quarterly earnings report Thursday, sending the stock up 5 percent in after-hours trading. And what propelled its rising profits? Strong sales of its boring old Office and server software to businesses.
Millions of Americans are trying to get health care through the glitch-ridden Healthcare.gov site, and as we all know, most are failing. While the tech cavalry rides (we hope) to the rescue, the Department of Health and Human Services has apologized for the mess in a blog post, but the most interesting part of that post has to be the user comments. Take, for example, the elderly couple who were told by the website that they were ineligible for insurance because they were in jail. (Spoiler alert: They’ve never even been arrested.)