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Crony capitalism exposed

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By Marc A. Thiessen,
Published: November 14

Insider trading is illegal — except for members of Congress. A Wall Street executive who buys or sells stock based on insider information would face a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation and quite possibly a federal prosecutor. But senators and congressmen are free to legally trade stock based on nonpublic information they have obtained through their official positions as elected officials — and they do so on a regular basis.

On Sunday night, CBS News’ “60 Minutes” looked into this form of “lawful graft.” The “60 Minutes” story exposed, among others, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for participating in a lucrative initial public offering from Visa in 2008 that was not available to the general public, just as a troublesome piece of legislation that would have hurt credit card companies began making its way through the House (the bill never made it to the floor). And it showed how during the 2008 financial crisis, Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) — then-ranking Republican on the House Financial Services Committee — aggressively bought stock options based on apocalyptic briefings he had received the day before from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson.

The report was based on an explosive new book by Peter Schweizer that will hit stores on Tuesday. It’s called “Throw Them All Out: How Politicians and Their Friends Get Rich off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism That Would Send the Rest of Us to Prison.” (Full disclosure: Schweizer is a close friend, a former White House colleague and my business partner in a speechwriting firm, Oval Office Writers.

The “60 Minutes” story only scratches the surface of what Schweizer has uncovered. For example, Bachus was not the only member of Congress trading on nonpublic information during the financial crisis. On Sept. 16, 2008, Schweizer writes, Paulson and Bernanke held a “terrifying” closed-door meeting with congressional leaders. “The next day Congressman Jim Moran, Democrat of Virginia, a member of the Appropriations Committee, dumped his shares in ninety different companies . . . [his] most active trading day of the year.”

Rep. Shelley Capito (R-W.Va.) and her husband “dumped between $100,000 and $250,000 in Citigroup stock the day after the briefing,” Schweizer writes, and “at least ten U.S. senators, including John Kerry, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Dick Durbin, traded stock or mutual funds related to the financial industry the following day.” Durbin, Schweizer says, “attended that September 16 briefing with Paulson and Bernanke. He sold off $73,715 in stock funds the next day. Following the next terrifying closed-door briefing, on September 18, he dumped another $42,000 in stock. By doing so, Durbin joined some colleagues in saving themselves from the sizable losses that less-connected investors would experience.” Some members even made gains on their trades, at a time when ordinary Americans without insider knowledge were seeing their life savings evaporate.

Schweizer also documents numerous examples of how members of Congress of both parties — including Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and former House speaker Dennis Hastert — have used federal earmarks to enhance the value of their own real estate holdings. They have done so, Schweizer shows, by extending a light-rail mass transit line near their property, expanding an airport, cleaning up a nearby shoreline, building roads and bridges, and beautifying land and neighborhoods nearby — in each case “substantially increasing values and the net worth of our elected officials, courtesy of taxpayer money.”

Perhaps the most disturbing revelations come from Schweizer’s investigation into the Obama Energy Department and its infamous “green energy” loan guarantee and grant programs, a program Schweizer calls “the greatest — and most expensive — example of crony capitalism in American history.” The scandal surrounding Solyndra — the now-bankrupt, Obama-connected solar power company that received a federally guaranteed loan of $573 million — is well known. But Solyndra, Schweizer says, is only the tip of the iceberg. According to his research, at least 10 members of President Obama’s campaign finance committee and more than a dozen of his campaign bundlers were big winners in getting tax dollars from these programs. One chart in the book details how the 10 finance committee members collectively raised $457,834, and were in turn approved for grants or loans of nearly $11.4 billion — quite a return on their investment.

In the loan-guarantee program alone, Schweizer writes, “$16.4 billion of the $20.5 billion in loans granted went to companies either run by or primarily owned by Obama financial backers — individuals who were bundlers, members of Obama’s National Finance Committee, or large donors to the Democratic Party.” That is a staggering 71 percent of the loan money.

Schweizer cites example after example of companies that received grants or loans and documents their financial connections to the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party. And he shows how “the [Energy] department’s loan and grant programs are run by partisans who were responsible for raising money during the Obama campaign from the same people who later came to seek government loans and grants.”

There is much, much more, which means that when Schweizer’s book hits stores Tuesday, heads in Washington are going to explode.

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Corruption And Election Tricks Are Adding To The U.S.’ Energy Troubles

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James Taylor, Contributor

The Obama administration pulled off a rare trifecta this past week, demonstrating in three separate energy decisions how corruption and election manipulation are killing jobs and restricting the nation’s energy supply, but paying political dividends to our sitting president.

The first example of the administration putting its own political interests ahead of the interests of the nation occurred last Friday, when it announced that it would decline to make a decision on a proposed pipeline to carry oil from western Canada to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast. The Keystone XL pipeline would put Americans to work building the pipeline, would create additional jobs along the Gulf Coast where the oil would be refined.

Predictably, environmental activist groups argued against the pipeline, asserting that we should be weaning ourselves off of oil rather than taking steps to make it more available and affordable. They also argued that the production of this particular oil, recovered from oil sands, imposed more environmental damage than oil produced from conventional deposits. China has nevertheless made it clear that if the United States chooses not to purchase the oil, it will, so a U.S. decision not to purchase the oil will do nothing to alleviate oil sands production, even if environmental activist claims against the process are to be believed.

After reviewing the proposal for several months, the Obama administration was scheduled to announce a decision this fall. Instead, the Administration announced last Friday it would wait until after the 2012 elections to decide.

All the facts have been studied and a decision is ripe for the making. So the question is, why the delay? The reason is obvious; a decision on the pipeline might hurt the president’s reelection campaign. Approve the pipeline and anger the president’s liberal base when he most needs its support. Scuttle the pipeline and Republicans have more ammunition to support their claims that the Obama administration is restricting energy supplies and killing jobs.

A major consequence of the Administration playing political games with the timing of its pipeline decision is that Canada could well decide not to wait around indefinitely for a fickle president to determine whether his personal political career is advanced by approving the pipeline. China will take the oil today and will be more than happy to sign a long-term contract for it. Friendship aside, the smart economic move is to secure a buyer when one can, and friendship only goes so far when billions of dollars of sales are at stake – especially when friendship appears to be only a one-way street right now as Obama unnecessarily leaves the Canadians hanging.

Moreover, the president’s political gamesmanship is keeping domestic oil prices high, and killing jobs. Even if the president announces a year from now that he will approve the pipeline (and even if the Canadians are still waiting around for our decision a year from now), the president will have needlessly prolonged unemployment. If approving the pipeline is the right thing to do, there is no reason other than political self-interest not to give the approval now.

The second example of the Obama administration putting its own political interests ahead of the interests of the nation came to light yesterday, when it was revealed that the Administration pressured Solyndra executives to delay layoffs that were planned for October 2010 until after the November 2010 midterm elections.

Solyndra was preparing to make necessary job cuts in light of its difficulty generating revenue. Rather than allow the company to immediately make a decision that would maximize its chances to eventually balance its books, Obama administration officials used their leverage to push Solyndra to delay necessary cost-saving measures. Delaying necessary cost-saving measures would harm the financial viability of the taxpayer supported company but would avoid an embarrassing news story for the president and his political allies on the eve of an election.

Solyndra indeed held off announcing its job cuts. On the morning after the 2010 midterm elections, Solyndra announced it would lay off 190 workers and close one of its factories. The Obama Energy Department rewarded it by thereafter giving the floundering company millions more taxpayer dollars even though its ultimate fate was by then readily apparent.

Again, as was the case with the Administration’s Keystone XL pipeline decision, the only reason for it to delay was for the president to gain a transitory political advantage. If layoffs needed to be made and a factory needed to be closed to improve the prospects of Solyndra’s survival, delaying such necessary action merely placed the company further at risk of going bankrupt. Despite the fact that these were taxpayer dollars with which the Obama administration was playing politics, it indeed chose to pressure Solyndra to delay implementing action that would have improved the chances of its survival.

Solyndra gave in to the Administration’s pressure and predictably went bankrupt soon thereafter. Solyndra executives will be bailed out in bankruptcy court (especially with taxpayer funded federal loan guarantees backing them up) and the Administration successfully avoided an embarrassing news story on the eve of the 2010 midterm elections. The only losers were the remaining 300 million Americans left on the financial hook for such corrupt political gamesmanship.

The third example of the Obama administration putting its own political interests ahead of the interests of the nation also came to light this week with advance excerpts of a book written by Peter Schweizer exposing how the Administration is abusing federal energy loan programs to pay off political donors. According to Schweizer, over 80 percent of the billions of dollars distributed under the federal stimulus 1705 Loan Program “went to companies either run by or primarily owned by Obama financial backers—individuals who were bundlers, members of Obama’s National Finance Committee, or large donors to the Democratic Party. The grant and guaranteed-loan recipients were early backers of Obama before he ran for president, people who continued to give to his campaigns and exclusively to the Democratic Party in the years leading up to 2008.”

“Indeed, at least 10 members of Obama’s finance committee and more than a dozen of his campaign bundlers were big winners in getting your money,” Schweizer added. “At the same time, several politicians who supported Obama managed to strike gold by launching alternative-energy companies and obtaining grants.”

Under normal circumstances there would be a hefty political price to pay for deliberately obstructing an economically necessary pipeline merely for personal political gain, pressuring a company to make financial decisions that make the company more likely to take hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars with it into bankruptcy, and using federal stimulus dollars to pay off political donors rather than maximize job creation. But government interfering with energy markets is now the rule rather than the exception, and where there is excess government power there is invariably government corruption. As our nation suffers an unnecessary and self-inflicted energy crisis, government corruption of the energy market has apparently become the “new normal.”

James M. Taylor is senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

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