GM HEARINGS

A good place not to be, if you’re government

Star Tribune reporting on the congressional hearings regarding the GM debacle included the following:

• During the hearings, questions were asked about whether the company disclosed the ignition switch defect to the Obama administration before the 2009 bankruptcy bailout that left U.S. taxpayers owning 60 percent of GM’s stock.

• The government sold off the last of its GM stock in 2013, before the various recalls were announced.

The U.S. taxpayers’ bailout of General Motors was primarily designed to underwrite UAW union jobs and pension benefits. “Captain Obvious” has a couple of questions:

• Before paying for 60 percent of GM’s stock on behalf of U.S. taxpayers, did the Obama administration conduct a proper due diligence?

• Is there any curiosity about the Obama administration’s clairvoyant 2013 selloff of GM stock?

• Might all of this represent the potential consequences of government and business as “bedmates”?

Pardon my cynicism, but …

Gene Delaune, New Brighton

 

CAMPAIGN FINANCE

A vast conspiracy with surprising perpetrators

OK, let me see if I have this right: The U.S. Supreme Court has compromised free and fair elections by unleashing the über-rich to spill even more of their ill-gotten lucre to buy candidates; the Koch brothers are flooding the media with filthy corporate money to brainwash a gullible public, and (as one recent letter writer noted) politicians will soon be appearing with corporate logos on their lapels.

I was about to panic, but then I referenced the website of the Center for Responsive Politics. It turns out that of the top 20 political donors in the United States, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 13, 15 and 20 are groups that give almost exclusively to Democrats. Those evil corporations so sparsely represented at the top of the list? They pretty much split their donations between both parties, with a mild Republican bias. Koch Industries? No. 46.

Hmmm. I’m a critic of so-called corporate welfare in the tax code and trade protection, but contrary to media hype, I’d bet that the (assumed) corrupting influence of corporate donors is the least of our worries. It’s not corporations that are trying to turn this country into a left- or right-wing fantasyland.

Jon Brusven, Minnetonka

• • •

Maybe it’s just me, but when politicians like U.S. Sen. Al Franken complain that the lifting of limits on campaign contributions will drown out the voice of low- and middle-class donors in a sea of corporate giving, all I can hear is: “Our convictions and loyalties are up for grabs to the highest bidder. And if you don’t contribute to our campaign funds, good luck at being represented at all.”

Dewey Roth, Rosemount

• • •

An April 1 article states that Caterpillar avoided $2.4 billion in U.S. taxes by shifting profits to Switzerland. Caterpillar responds by stating that it follows tax laws and pays what it owes. I’m sure the company is correct, as somewhere in the multimillion-word tax code it can find a way to justify its actions.

An April 3 article reports that a Supreme Court majority voted to allow big political contributors to give unlimited amounts to candidates based on the right to free speech.

Big contributions give donors ready access to the attention of members of Congress, who want the contributions to keep coming. Then, when a business asks for tax relief through still another loophole, a bill is introduced and often passes.

How can buying legislation of this type be right? Let us have a 600-page tax code with tight rules that can’t be exploited to one’s advantage.

Larry Werner, Hill City, Minn.

• • •

Despite the disturbing impact of the McCutcheon decision on federal campaign spending, there are concrete steps we can take right now to shine a light on the dark money spent in Minnesota elections.

A bill pending in the Legislature would require political action committees and other independent spenders to identify themselves as the authors of campaign ads and literature and to file disclosure reports with the Campaign Finance Board, even when their ads don’t use the “magic words of advocacy,” such as “vote for” or “defeat.”

These are modest disclosure requirements currently in place in 25 other states and for federal elections.

Disclosure improves public discourse. When the organization behind an ad or a piece of campaign literature has to disclose, it is less likely to engage in negative campaigning and mudslinging. Citizens can better evaluate the truth of an ad when they know who is behind it.

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly expressed its support for disclosure as a means of fighting corruption. Minnesota should take the simple step of improving its outdated disclosure laws.

Sherri Knuth, St. Paul

 

NATIONAL POPULAR VOTE

Avoid the weeds; look at the practical picture

Using Frank Bures’ logic (“By electoral math, NPV is a loser for Minnesota,” April 4), where political influence is determined by the likelihood of being the deciding vote in an election, Minnesotans currently have more political clout than Floridians or Ohioans, who live in a state with a larger population. This is absurd, and false. The probability of being the single deciding vote in an election with millions of voters is infinitesimally small, almost beyond reckoning, regardless of whether the election is national or statewide. Political influence is measured by the degree of attention paid to the priorities of a state’s residents, not by hypothetical single-deciding-vote elections without historical precedent. And by that measure, Minnesota and other small states with a distinct party tilt lag far behind, a problem the National Popular Vote initiative would rectify.

William Stancil, Minneapolis

 

FORT HOOD SHOOTING

Gun restrictions with a glaring loophole?

Regarding the new Fort Hood shooting, a  New York Times article on April 4 in the Star Tribune stated that “[t]he carrying of privately owned weapons on Army installations is prohibited unless authorized by the senior commander.” In the next paragraph, a Defense Department spokesman is quoted as saying: “There is no requirement to declare a weapon.” The quotes seem to be in conflict. The writers of the article made no attempt to explain this apparent inconsistency. Am I missing something, or is the Army missing something — like a right hand that knows what the left hand is doing?

Jim Bartos, Brooklyn Park