Chart: State-level PAC contributions

Uncontrolled and untrackable corporate campaign contributions distort state-level races as much, if not more, than federal races.

U.S. companies have found a loophole in state campaign-finance rules by funneling donations aimed at helping candidates through the [Republican Governors Association, or RGA, a Republican fundraising PAC] and its Democratic counterpart, according to multiple former officials. Donors can’t earmark money for a particular candidate. Instead, they can simply—and legally—tell the groups they have “an interest” in a race or are making a donation “at the request” of a gubernatorial candidate, these officials say.

An internal tracking system, sometimes called the “tally,” allows the [Democratic Governors Association, DGA] to keep tabs on how much individual governors raise for the association from companies and other donors, which later helps it figure out how to allocate the money, former DGA officials said. The RGA has a similar system, former RGA officials say.

Multiple former RGA and DGA officials described the practice of guiding donations as an open secret. The available public data hint at a pattern, too. Over the past decade, 42 S&P 500 index companies gave donations of $100,000 or more to the RGA or DGA. Donations by 19 of those companies were followed by an RGA or DGA expenditure of the same or greater amount within a month in a state where the company has operations, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks campaign donations.


Chart - Corp Contributions to Party Governor Associates - 2017-12-30

Source: WSJ 12/30/17.




Externality: Food poisoning

A reasonable, but perhaps not accurate, assumption of US consumers is that they food they are eating will not make them sick.  Yet, every year, about 15% of the US population gets sick from food they eat.

About 48 million Americans get sick from food-borne diseases each year, according to the agency. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

A radical free marketeer would say “caveat emptor” – let the buyer beware. But in the age of industrial agriculture and a high societal reliance on prepared foods, such ideological purity is not realistic.  Consumers cannot tot around a food testing lab to every meal they eat or every grocery store they visit.  We rely on a combination of the merchant and our government to protect us from food that makes us ill. This is because, the cost of that Chipotle burrito or that head of lettuce does not capture the true cost of giving perfect information to the consumer about the safety of the food they are about to consume. That is why we need regulations.

Externality: Leaf Blowers

For anyone living in a deciduous forested suburb, leaf blowers are a godsend for whomever has fall yard cleanup duty (family members or lawn care service employees). But 2-stroke, gas powered leaf blowers’ convenience must be weighed against its true costs.  The apparent costs are the price paid for the power tool at the local hardware store. But that sticker prices (apparent costs) disguise the true total cost of the devices manufacture and use.  Transparent costs (hidden from the consumer in the form of artificially low sticker prices) are the cost of pollution these devices admit.  These transparent costs are externalities.


Which raises an interesting question: How much pollution does a leaf blower emit?

The short answer is more than a car, a truck or any other modern passenger vehicle.

But because vehicles outnumber the nation’s 12 million leaf blowers by about 224 million, they still beat out the dirtier engines in total emissions.

“These small engines are notoriously high polluters. But because there are fewer of them compared to cars and trucks, they don’t emit as much total pollution,” said John Volckens, a professor of mechanical engineering at Colorado State University.

The California Environmental Protection Agency estimated that operating a commercial leaf blower for one hour would emit more pollution than driving a 2016 Toyota Camry for about 1,100 miles.

Overall, EPA figures show that the small nonroad spark-ignition engines contribute 1% of nitrogen oxides to total U.S. emissions, compared with 16% contributed by passenger cars; 2% of volatile organic compounds, compared with 3%; 15% of carbon monoxide, compared with 29%; and 1% of particulate matter, the same amount as passenger cars. The data, which is the latest available, are from 2014.

The pollutants contribute to a variety of health problems and cause smog, acid rain and other environmental hazards.

Hogs at the Trough…


Some sadly business-as-usual quotes from a Times article on the behind the scenes efforts of Washington lobbyists around the Republican 2017 tax bill.


In all, more than half of the 11,000 registered lobbyists in Washington reported working on tax-related issues through the first nine months of the year, according to a report released this month by the nonprofit group Public Citizen.

No matter how convincing the policy analysis or how steady the constituent pressure, though, personal and financial connections to policymakers remained among the most important currency on K Street during the tax debate, as has been the case in legislative battles for decades.

Fund-raisers held by members of the conference committee during the tax reform debate were hot tickets for tax lobbyists, who eagerly forked over a few hundred — or even a few thousand — dollars for face time with lawmakers who controlled the fate of valued loopholes.

Mr. Portman has held fund-raisers in recent weeks, and has another one scheduled for next week at the fashionable Charlie Palmer Steak restaurant across the street from the Capitol. Attendees are being asked to donate $1,000 each through their political action committees or $250 in personal funds, according to an invitation, which bills the event as a “birthday breakfast” for Mr. Portman, whose birthday is the day before the event.

A Republican who attended a fund-raiser late last month for another member of the conference committee, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, said several lobbyists asked the senator about tax reform. Mr. Cornyn kept his responses vague, telling attendees that he was hopeful that the process could be completed before Christmas.

Source: NYTimes 12/16/17.