The 10 Best 2015 Investigative Reports on Political Money

ProPublica picks for the year’s most notable in-depth stories on campaign finance, from newsrooms around the US



The millions of dollars being spent on the presidential race by super PACs, secretive nonprofits and the candidates themselves could again make this election cycle the most expensive to date. Huge sums are also flowing into state and local races. Here, in chronological order, are ten stories from other newsrooms that got behind the cash flow to describe the latest uses and abuses of money in politics.


1. Rahm Emanuel Counts on Big Donors, With Many Getting City Hall Benefits

Chicago Tribune, January 2015

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is building "the most potent political cash machine in Chicago history" and his donors have frequently received benefits from City Hall. The investigation by John Chase, Jeff Coen and Bill Ruthhart found that Emanuel's 103 donors were responsible for $14 million (or almost half) of his fundraising haul. Almost 60 percent of those donors enjoyed benefits from city government, including contracts, permits, appointments and personal endorsements.


2. Rapper-backed Group Illustrates Blind Spot in Political Transparency

Center for Public Integrity, March 2015

Super PACs, unlike other political committees, can accept donations of unlimited size, but the identities of the donors are still supposed to be publicly disclosed. Some donors, however, have remained anonymous by donating through limited liability corporations, Michael Beckel reported. In some states, LLCs don't have to register the names of the people behind them. One of the most flagrant users of the LLC loophole was Pras Michel, a founding member of the hip-hop group the Fugees.


3. The NRA's Brazen Shell Game With Donations

Yahoo News, April 2015

By making small donations to the National Rifle Association and tracking where they ended up, Alan Berlow discovered that the gun rights group was improperly diverting money to its PAC. Organizations soliciting donations for electoral purposes are required by law to disclose that they're doing so, but the NRA didn't. "An NRA member might contribute to the organization because she admires its work on behalf of hunters2026But this same donor may vehemently oppose the candidates endorsed in federal elections."


4. For-profit Colleges Flex Political Muscle

Miami Herald, April 2015

A review of Florida campaign records since 2008 found that for-profit colleges contributed more than $1.2 million to state legislators and parties. During the same period, the legislature passed 15 laws benefiting the industry, even as it faced fraud lawsuits and government investigations. Michael Vasquez found that legislators stripped quality standards and oversight, and the state's attorney general was less aggressive than those in other states in going after schools that skirted the law.


5. The New U.S. Office Politics: Funding Your Boss's Political Causes

Reuters, May 2015

Employers are increasingly tapping their workers to help them fundraise, lobby and campaign. Michelle Conlin and Lucas Iberico Lozada found that since the Supreme Court paved the way for unlimited political spending by corporations, the number of companies enlisting their workers for political efforts rose 45 percent. Employees who comply are sometimes given perks. At BP, for example, workers who donate at least 2.5 percent of their salary to the company's PAC get choice parking spots.


6. South Carolina Politicians Use Office to Pad Pockets

Charleston Post and Courier & Center for Public Integrity, September 2015

Elected officials and candidates in South Carolina are turning their campaign accounts, reimbursements from state government and gifts from special interests into "a personal ATM," Tony Bartelme and Rachel Baye reported. Among the unusual expenditures: car repairs, male enhancement pills and paying off parking tickets. One legislator paid his own company and his father's $105,000, making up almost 80 percent of the campaign expenditures.


7. The Families Funding the 2016 Presidential Election

New York Times, October 2015

An exhaustive analysis of campaign finance records found that just 158 families, along with the companies they own or control, gave nearly half of all the money supporting Democratic and Republican 2016 presidential candidates. The donors 2014 overwhelmingly rich, white older men 2014 contributed $176 million during the early phase of the campaign. "Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign," reported Nicholas Confessore, Sarah Cohen and Karen Yourish.


8. The Koch Intelligence Agency

Politico, November 2015

Though not strictly about campaign money, Kenneth Vogel's story describes a lesser-known leg of the Koch Brothers' political network, which for years has dispensed large donations to Republican and conservative causes. He describes a secretive operation with a staff of 25, including a former CIA analyst, charged with gathering "competitive intelligence" used to thwart liberal groups. The group also sends regular "intelligence briefing" e-mails tracking the campaign work of labor unions and environmental organizations.


9. Inside the Clinton Donor Network

Washington Post, November 2015

Bill and Hillary Clinton have amassed at least $3 billion in donations to their various political campaigns and the family's charitable foundation, according to an analysis by Matea Gold, Tom Hamburger and Anu Narayanswamy. More than 336,000 individuals, corporations, unions and foreign governments have given money. At least $69 million of their political contributions came from the employees and PACs of banks, insurance companies, and securities and investment firms. Unions donated at least $21 million to support their races.


10. Behind the Clinton Campaign: Dark Money Allies

Sunlight Foundation, December 2015

The Sunlight Foundation breaks down the dark money nonprofits and super PACs backing Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. At the center of network is David Brock, a Clinton enemy-turned-ally who runs a number of groups that directly support Clinton or donate to groups that do. All are headquartered at the same Washington, D.C., address, reported Libby Watson and Melissa Yeager.


P.S.: We can't let you go without mentioning a couple of ProPublica's stories, too:


Super PAC Men: How Political Consultants Took a Texas Oilman on a Wild Ride

More than ever, wealthy donors are shunning established political groups and deciding to go it alone with their own super PACs. That strategy brings donors more control, but it also comes with risks. In one cautionary tale, a reclusive 89-year-old Texas oilman with little political experience launched one of the nation's highest-spending conservative super PACs. But much of his millions ended up going to entities run by the group's consultants or their close associates. The super PAC imploded as principals traded allegations of self-dealing, faked campaign events and a plot to siphon the PAC's money to a reality TV show.


Hacked Sony Emails Reveal Behind-the-Scenes Political Dealings in L.A.

Super PACs are not just tools for political influence on the federal level. E-mails stolen by hackers from Sony Pictures Entertainment revealed just that, showing how corporations can spend unlimited sums to influence local politics and advance their executives' pet projects. They showed that Sony's CEO courted a local Los Angeles politician, directing $25,000 to a PAC he founded. The politician then cast a crucial vote in favor of directing $125 million of public funding to a museum whose directors included the Sony CEO.


Related stories: Check out all ProPublica's work on politics and government at The Breakdown.


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Quantum Physics and Indian Philosophy
Future science of medicine should be holistic and not reductionist
The science of yoga does not fit into the Western paradigm of reductionist science. However, the recent quantum physics of holism can, and does, fit into it eminently. In fact, quantum physics has come very close to the ancient Indian philosophy of the Sankhya school. German physicist, Hans-Peter Durr, who enunciated the a-duality principle in quantum physics, feels that he is just playing the second fiddle to the ancient Indian sages who have recognised a-duality in the form of advaita (non-duality or unity in duality).
“Many scientists do not seek to find the relationships between parts. Instead, they dissect things into smaller and smaller units. This way of perceiving the world has been called ‘Newtonianism’ or ‘reductionism’. All things exist in relationship to other things. Many scientists attempt to disconnect from these relationships and prefer to observe the world from a mechanistic viewpoint instead,” writes Jon Burras in his classic paper, The Myths of Science.
Reductionism, a core of Western science, loses sight of the wood while counting the trees. Bits need not make the whole; that apart, bits do not understand, or make the researcher understand, the inter-connectedness of the whole which is the real thing. Like what Dr Durr says, one can comprehend much more than what one could grasp with the five senses and reductionism.
Yoga research must be ‘outcomes research’ only, and not reductionist—studying surrogate end-points like blood pressure (BP), heart rate, blood sugar estimations, etc. It should aim at research in long-term holistic outcomes. Yes, such research does not get funds easily and getting it published is very difficult. That does not mean that we repeat the same bad Western science research to claim that yoga is scientific. Science is just there to understand nature and not there to teach nature a lesson or two. Today, the whole of Western science is trying to alter the natural world as it is concentrated only on making money. 
The human body is not built with organs put together. We are derived from one single nucleated cell generously donated to us by our ancestors, the germs, who ruled this world for the first two billion years. That single cell, the zygote, which is a fusion of ovum and spermatozoa, simply divides to make the 120 trillion colonies of interdependent cells that make up the human body. Of course, we also have 10 times that number of germ cells incorporated into that colony. They are mainly responsible for our immune system functioning at its best!
Consciousness, that energy which flows as waves and is not seen or felt as particles, has not been comprehended by many scientists even today. The father of quantum physics, Max Planck, however, had realised that “consciousness is fundamental; even matter gets derived from consciousness.” Visualising and trying to correct and deviation from the normal is thus possible. This takes us closer to spirituality (not religion), where the essence is sharing and caring for oneself and others. 
Future science of medicine should be holistic, and not reductionist, as the human body works like a closed system in systems biology. It is a self-correcting system and does not need intervention for every minor deviation from the normal. Such interventions in modern medicine result in misery for the hapless patient. We must learn to intervene only in the unlikely event of the body’s immune system failing to correct the problem in a reasonable time span to lessen our burden on humanity. Recently, and I keep on repeating it, when interventional cardiologists were away in conferences, mortality in their intensive care units (ICUs) fell significantly, showing thereby that, given enough leeway, many deviations might self-correct. Long live mankind on this planet! 
(Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS.)



Saurabh Banerjee

9 months ago

Renaissance of Indian philosophy in the light of modern science and technology is the only hope we have to avoid human kind from self destructing.

Saurabh Banerjee

9 months ago

Renaissance of Indian philosophy in the light of modern science and technology is the only hope we have to avoid human kind from self destructing.

Narendra Doshi

10 months ago

Let more & more Aam Aadmi remember this in their own interest.Well said by you,Dr. Hegde Sir,time and again.

shailesh kulkarni

10 months ago

Professor, your article reminds me of the opening sholka from Ishopanishad.

ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदम् पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते |
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ||
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ||

The immense depth and deep understanding from this one sholka is too profound.


Narendra Doshi

In Reply to shailesh kulkarni 10 months ago

Dear Shaileshji,
Pl translate/give summary interpretation for wider appreciation.tks.

MG Warrier

In Reply to Narendra Doshi 10 months ago

Om Puurnnam-Adah Puurnnam-Idam Puurnnaat-Purnnam-Udacyate
Puurnnashya Puurnnam-Aadaaya Puurnnam-Eva-Avashissyate ||
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

1: Om, That is Full, This also is Full, From Fullness comes that Fullness,
2: Taking Fullness from Fullness, Fullness Indeed Remains.
3: Om Peace, Peace, Peace.

Narendra Doshi

In Reply to MG Warrier 10 months ago

tks Mr Warriorji.

Disabled have divine ability, government scheme in Guinness records: Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said physically challenged people have a "divine ability" and urged people to change the way to address them. He also said the government's "Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme" has received a place in the Guinness World Records as the largest such scheme.
The action plan of 'Start-up India, Stand-up India' will be launched on January 16, Modi said, as he greeted the nation on Christmas and New Year.
Addressing the public in his last monthly radio address "Mann Ki Baat" for 2015, Modi said: "Start-up India, Stand-up India has brought new opportunity for the youth of our country. Be it manufacturing, service sector or agriculture, this new initiative will bring in new ideas, new ways, and new innovations." 
"The action plan of 'Start-up India, Stand-up India' will be launched on January 16. A blueprint will be presented on that day," he said while extending his "greetings for Christmas and New Year to every citizen of India".
Modi urged the public to change the way physically challenged people are addressed. 
"We often address the physically challenged people as handicapped, disabled and specially-abled. But sometimes, when we get introduced to them, we get to know that they are endowed with 'extra power' which can't be seen with bare eyes," he said.
"Then this idea came to my mind: why don't we use the term 'Divyang' (divine body) instead of 'Viklang' for the physically challenged people?"
Modi said they are endowed with an ability which is divine. "Normal people like us are not gifted with such powers."
On the government's "Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme", he said it has received a place in the record book as the largest direct benefit transfer scheme.
"It gives me immense pleasure to announce that the Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme has recently found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records and it has been implemented successfully."
As of now, already Rs.40,000 crore has been transferred to the accounts of the beneficiaries through different schemes, he said.
"I believe about 35-40 schemes are being integrated with the direct benefit transfer scheme."
Observing that there has been little discussion over fundamental duties in the country, Modi invited people's views on it by the Republic Day.
"There is a lot of discussion on fundamental rights and there should be. But there is very little discussion on fundamental duties. Our Constitution gives importance to duties as well."
He called on schools and colleges to hold essay-writing and poetry competitions on the topic "duties" before January 26. 
Modi asked people to express their views on duties on the '' portal, so that he could learn what they think.
He also said that before Republic Day, people should take on the task of cleaning up the statues of various personalities located in various cities, towns and villages.
He also sought ideas from the youth about the 'National Youth Festival' that will commence on January 12, marking the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda.
In his bid to reach out to the people, Modi invited people to connect with him by downloading the 'Narendra Modi App'.
On cleanliness, he stressed the need to pay attention to tourist spots.
"We must ensure cleanliness at tourist places," Modi said citing a letter by Ganesh V. Sawaleshwarkar from Pune.
He said Ganesh raised a vital point on the importance of cleanliness at tourist places and pilgrimage sites.
Modi welcomed Ganesh's suggestion, saying clean tourist spots will contribute to building a better image of India in the world. He said many foreigners come to visit the country during the festival season.
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article. 


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