The Tangled (And Impressive) Finances Of Susan Rice

I’ve long thought that John McCain and Lindsey Graham’s shrill jihad against Susan Rice over Benghazi was hyperpartisan blather. But OnEarth reports something that really does give me pause: A huge chunk of Susan Rice’s personal wealth, which is estimated at $23.5-$43.5 million dollars, is tied up in Canadian oil and energy companies. That means that she would directly benefit from a State Department decision to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

From OnEarth:

Susan Rice, the candidate believed to be favored by President Obama to become the next Secretary of State, holds significant investments in more than a dozen Canadian oil companies and banks that would stand to benefit from expansion of the North American tar sands industry and construction of the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline. If confirmed by the Senate, one of Rice’s first duties likely would be consideration, and potentially approval, of the controversial mega-project.

Rice’s financial holdings could raise questions about her status as a neutral decision maker. The current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Rice owns stock valued between $300,000 and $600,000 in TransCanada, the company seeking a federal permit to transport tar sands crude 1,700 miles to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, crossing fragile Midwest ecosystems and the largest freshwater aquifer in North America.

Beyond that, according to financial disclosure reports, about a third of Rice’s personal net worth is tied up in oil producers, pipeline operators, and related energy industries north of the 49th parallel — including companies with poor environmental and safety records on both U.S. and Canadian soil. Rice and her husband own at least $1.25 million worth of stock in four of Canada’s eight leading oil producers, as ranked by Forbes magazine. That includes Enbridge, which spilled more than a million gallons of toxic bitumen into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 — the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

Rice also has smaller stakes in several other big Canadian energy firms, as well as the country’s transportation companies and coal-fired utilities. Another 20 percent or so of her personal wealth is derived from investments in five Canadian banks. These are some of the institutions that provide loans and financial backing to TransCanada and its competitors for tar sands extraction and major infrastructure projects, such as Keystone XL and Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would stretch 700 miles from Alberta to the Canadian coast.

Obviously, if she she became Secretary Of State, her financial holdings could be sold off and put into a blind trust. So it’s inconceivable to me that she could be making a decision on Keystone while holding stocks that would make big gains from a green light.

But I guess what surprises me is the extent of her wealth, as well as the fact that it is so tied up in carbon-spewing investments. I don’t know the source of her wealth (maybe it comes from her husband or family), but it’s a reminder of the increasing connection between public service and wealth in this country. Serving in Congress or an administration is a path to riches these days. That has consequences, because it is inevitable that the public interest gets undermined–even if subconsciously–in the daily business of the country as public servants make decision after decision that affect the industries and interests that are or will become the source of their wealth. So the critical divide in America, in my view, is no longer left or right but IN (elite; wealthy; with access to power) and OUT (on the margins; with diminished representation).

While Susan Rice may be a democrat, and may hold liberal views on the environment, her portfolio defines her as a card-carrying member of the one percent. And I prefer my Cabinet secretaries to be of moderate means, with minds and motivations unclouded by the deserve to preserve or add to their wealth.

Post-Election Fun Facts: Money, Money, Money!

I don’t buy that all the SuperPac spending didn’t make a difference just because Romney lost. In any case, the money will only get smarter and find better leverage with each electoral cycle.

Which is why it’s worth a reminder of of how money played this year, and how much has changed since 2008:

1. Estimated amount of disclosed spending in the 2012 election: $6 billion

2. Amount of dark money (money with no donor disclosure) spent in the 2008 election:$70 million

Minimum amount of dark money known to have been spent on the 2012 election: $213 million

3. Amount super-PACs, dark money groups, and other outside groups spent in October: $526 million

4. Percentage of all super-PAC money from just 163 people who gave $500,000 or more: 70 percent

5. Percentage of outside spending coming from disclosed donors in 2004: 96.5 percent

Percentage in 2012: 40.5 percent

6. Amount the Koch brothers are known to have donated to candidates and parties in 2012: $411,000

Amount of dark money they have pledged to spent to defeat Barack Obama: $60 milion

7. Percentage of dark money spent on federal elections that went to electing Republicans and defeating Democrats: 80 percent

8. Percentage of the 1 million-plus ads run by the Obama and Romney campaigns and their allies between April and October that were negative: 87 percent

Lots more from Mother Jones on Dark Money here. And if it makes you want to do something about it, here’s the best place to go.

History Matters: The Cuban Missile Crisis

Fascinating review of what happened, by Dino Brugioni, the CIA Analyst who first spotted the missile sites in reconnaissance photos.

This was probably the closest the world ever came to nuclear war. Hope that remains the case.

Money and Politics


Since we are in the middle of a heated presidential campaign, we might as well have a look at where the money is coming from (click on image for full-size view).

If you don’t like what you see, then support Rootstrikers, which is doing great work to battle the flood of corrupting money into our politics.

Occupy Wall Street Datapoint Of The Day

This one comes from the Sunlight Foundation and is Reason #463 that your democracy really isn’t a democracy:

In the 2010 election cycle, 26,783 individuals (or slightly less than one in ten thousand Americans) each contributed more than $10,000 to federal political campaigns. Combined, these donors spent $774 million. That’s 24.3% of the total from individuals to politicians, parties, PACs, and independent expenditure groups. Together, they would fill only two-thirds of the 41,222 seats at Nationals Park the baseball field two miles from the U.S. Capitol. When it comes to politics, they are The One Percent of the One Percent.

Ful details are here. Read ’em and despair (and pledge NEVER to vote for any candidate that takes PAC or lobbying money).

Is anyone paying attention?


Buddy Roemer For President (of Occupy Wall Street)

You’ve probably never heard of him. But he is the one candidate talking about the single most important issue: the corruption and rot at the core of our politics. Until that is addressed, nothing else really matters.

Roemer finally got some air time on Morning Joe. Take a listen and see if you disagree with anything he has to say. It’s a shame the Republicans won’t let him on a debate stage. That would be something worth watching.

The Presidential Candidate Who Has It Nailed

Unfortunately, you’ve probably never heard of him. But Buddy Roemer sees things as they are. Tell me you wouldn’t love to see this guy in a presidential debate:

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Annals Of Congressional Corruption: Insider Trading

Would you be surprised to know that Congress trades on inside info? Probably not.

But Peter Schweizer wants you to know the details, and they are stunning. Here’s a primer on Schweizer and his work. Key paragraph:

It was in his Tallahassee office that Schweizer began what he thought was a promising research project: combing through congressional financial-disclosure records dating back to 2000 to see what kinds of investments legislators were making. He quickly learned that Capitol Hill has quite a few market players. He narrowed his search to a dozen or so members—the leaders of both houses, as well as members of key committees—and focused on trades that coincided with big policy initiatives of the sort that could move markets.

While examining trades made around the time of the 2003 Medicare overhaul, Schweizer experienced what he calls his “Holy crap!” moment. The legislation, which created a new prescription-drug entitlement, promised to be a huge boon to the pharmaceutical industry—and to savvy investors in the Capitol. Among those with special insight on the issue was Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the health subcommittee of the Senate’s powerful Finance Committee. Kerry is one of the wealthiest members of the Senate and heavily invested in the stock market. As the final version of the drug program neared approval—one that didn’t include limits on the price of drugs—brokers for Kerry and his wife were busy trading in Big Pharma. Schweizer found that they completed 111 stock transactions of pharmaceutical companies in 2003, 103 of which were buys.

“They were all great picks,” Schweizer notes. The Kerrys’ capital gains on the transactions were at least $500,000, and as high as $2 million (such information is necessarily imprecise, as the disclosure rules allow members to report their gains in wide ranges). It was instructive to Schweizer that Kerry didn’t try to shape legislation to benefit his portfolio; the apparent key to success was the shaping of trades that anticipated the effect of government policy.

It’s all part of a reality in which Congress is a path to wealth, or increasing wealth, which is one reason legislators so often fail to put the national interest first, and are willing to do whatever it takes to stay in their jobs.

Jack Abramoff’s Playbook On How To Buy Congress

When you want to know how to rob a bank, it’s good to listen to a bank robber. When you want to know how to buy votes in Congress, it’s good to listen to Jack Abramoff, who just published an autobiography and appeared on 60 Minutes.

Abramoff was convicted for buying influence in Congress, but his playbook on how he operated tells you all you need to know about how corrupt our system is, and why Congress consistently puts special interests above the public interest.

One of his most effective tactics, Abramoff says, was to promise Congressional staffers high paying jobs:

The movement of congressional figures to lobbying is pervasive in Washington. The Internet site LegiStorm tracks those who move from the Hill to K Street, where many lobbying firms have offices, and says there have been 493 already this year.

Abramoff said he would often get access inside congressional offices by suggesting to key staffers that they come work for him when they were finished with their congressional careers.

“Assuming the staffer had any interest in leaving Capitol Hill for K Street — and almost 90 percent of them do — I would own him and, consequentially, the entire office,” Abramoff writes. “No rules had been broken, at least not yet. No one even knew what was happening, but suddenly, every move that staffer made, he made with his future at my firm in mind. His paycheck may have been signed by the Congress, but he was already working for me.”

The Congress to K St and back connection is one of the reasons Congress has become just one more way for people to get rich. And the reason lobbying shops can pay high salaries is that they can charge high fees to corporate clients for special legislative provisions that are worth billions. Stop the money that the lobbying shops spread around Congress, which buys those legislative give-aways, and you can make K St a lot less profitable, and limit the allure of K St. and the corrupting influence the promise of a job on K St. has for the thousands who are supposed to be representing your interests in Congress.

But how to do that? Water flows downhill, and money flows into Congress, one way or another, despite every effort to write rules to regulate or limit it. That’s why the only solution–if you want a Congress that isn’t corrupted by money–is to take this simple step: do not vote for any candidate who takes lobbying and PAC money, no matter how much you might agree with their views.

It’s a demand side solution, in contrast to the failed supply side solution of trying to craft laws and regulations which in the end always have loopholes or run into constitutional problems. And if enough voters draw this line, you might get some candidates who you believe in and who are not beholden to special interest money. What would that be like?

It might seem like a radical ask. But watch this 60 Minutes segment and then see how you feel about it.