New campaign finance data shows House and Senate candidates are on pace to spend a record $2 billion by next Tuesday’s midterm election. A new report from the Public Campaign Action Fund estimates House candidates could end up spending $1.5 billion — with most of the money being spent on the ninety races seen as still in play. Senate candidates are on pace to spend $550 million. In addition, outside groups are expected to end up spending over $400 million, much of it raised from secret donors.
This election cycle has also seen a handful of millionaire candidates spend record amounts of their own money on campaigns. In California, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, has spent $141 million of her own fortune on the race. In Florida, former healthcare executive Rick Scott has spent just over $60 million in personal and family money in his gubernatorial bid. And in Connecticut, Republican Linda McMahon has spent $41 million of her own money in her bid to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd. Politico reports McMahon has spent about $37 per voter, compared with $16 for Whitman and $12 for Scott.
The watchdog group Transparency International says the United States is no longer in its top twenty list of least corrupt nations. The US fell from nineteenth to twenty-second in the organization’s corruption perception index in part due to political funding disputes, the subprime mortgage crisis and the disclosure of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. This marks the first time the United States has dropped out of the top twenty. Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore were rated as the world’s least corrupt nations. Somalia, Burma, Afghanistan and Iraq were listed as the most corrupt.
Newly released government income data show that average wages and total wages declined for all income brackets last year — except at the very top, where they leaped dramatically. The financial writer David Cay Johnston has revealed that the average income for Americans in the highest income bracket — those earning more than $50 million a year — increased fivefold, to an average income of just over $500 million. Johnston writes, "These 74 people made as much as the 19 million lowest-paid people in America, who constitute one in every eight workers."
The latest government statistics also show that millions of unemployed workers didn’t earn any money last year. One out of every thirty-four Americans who earned wages in 2008 went all of 2009 without earning a single dollar.
In news from Guantánamo, a Canadian citizen who has been detained by the US since he was fifteen years old has pleaded guilty to five war crimes charges. As part of a plea deal, Omar Khadr will serve a reduced sentence, much of it in Canada. Khadr was detained eight years ago in Afghanistan. Human rights groups have condemned the Bush and Obama administrations’ handling of the Khadr case. Khadr’s trial was set to be the first under the Obama administration’s revised military commissions system. It also would have been the first war crimes tribunal anywhere since World War II to prosecute someone for acts allegedly committed as a juvenile. Khadr’s defense attorney Dennis Edney said a plea deal was the only way to get Khadr out of Guantánamo Bay.
Dennis Edney: "We looked at the circumstances, and it’s our clear opinion that Mr. Khadr is an innocent man, and Mr. Khadr was put into a hellish conflict, where he continues to remain in this hell hole that has a record, internationally, of abuse, where he is prepared to subject himself to a process that’s not legal or go home."
The military tribunal’s chief prosecutor, Navy Captain John Murphy, dismissed claims by human rights groups that Khadr should be seen as a victim.
Capt. John Murphy: "And Omar Khadr, over and over again, repeated, 'Yes, that is correct. I did that. I am a murderer. I am an al-Qaeda terrorist.' What you saw puts a lie to the longstanding argument by some that Omar Khadr is a victim. He’s not. He’s a murderer, and he is convicted by the strength of his own words."
An Iraqi court has sentenced former foreign minister Tariq Aziz to death for his role in war crimes committed when he was a top aide to Saddam Hussein. The charges against Aziz are related to a crackdown on an uprising led by Shia Muslim parties in the early 1990s. For years, Tariq Aziz was the public face of the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein.
The Wall Street Journal reports the US is pushing to expand a secret CIA effort to target militants inside Pakistan. In recent weeks, the Obama administration has asked Pakistan to allow additional CIA officers, including CIA paramilitary forces, to enter the country. The US has never publicly said how many CIA personnel are in Pakistan, but the Journal reports the number has grown substantially in recent years. The CIA has also recently intensified drone strikes in Pakistan
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has confirmed that both the Iranian and US governments have given his office bags of money that he could spend with no oversight. The secret payments became an issue on Sunday when the New York Times published an article exposing how Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan pays off members of Karzai’s government. On Monday, Karzai addressed the Iranian payments. He said, “This is something I have also discussed in Camp David with President Bush. This is nothing hidden. The US is doing the same thing, [supplying] cash to some of our offices." In Washington, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley accused Iran of helping to destabilize the region.
P.J. Crowley: "We will let the government of Afghanistan speak to how they spend the financial assistance received from other countries, but we remain skeptical of Iran’s motives, given its history of playing a destabilizing role with its neighbors. We hope that Iran will take responsibility to play a constructive role in the future of Afghanistan."
The Guardian newspaper reports the British military has been training interrogators in techniques that include threats, sensory deprivation and enforced nakedness in an apparent breach of the Geneva Conventions. The newspaper obtained secret British training materials that tell interrogators they should aim to provoke humiliation, insecurity, disorientation, exhaustion, anxiety and fear in the prisoners they are questioning. The 1949 Geneva Conventions prohibit any "physical or moral coercion," in particular any coercion employed to obtain information.
In election news, Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota is facing political attacks over his Islamic faith. Over the weekend, the Tea Party Nation sent out an email listing reasons why Ellison should be voted out of office. One of the reasons listed read: "He is the only Muslim member of congress." The Tea Party also alleges that Ellison "helped congress send millions of tax to terrorists in Gaza." No proof of the claim is offered. In 2006, Ellison became the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, but he is no longer the only Muslim in Congress. Congressman André Carson of Indiana was elected in 2008, becoming the second Muslim in Congress.
In Louisiana, questions have arisen over reports that large amounts of oil from the BP spill were spotted last week floating toward marshes on the Mississippi River delta. On Friday, the Times-Picayune newspaper first published photos of what was believed to be oil. But since then, the Coast Guard and some scientists have said the substance may be algae, not oil. Local fishermen and women have dismissed the Coast Guard’s claims. Cindy Cruikshank told the Times-Picayune, "It was brown; it was sticky; it smelled like the oil you drain from your car; and it took my husband, Bill, and friends a long time to scrub it off our boat."
Meanwhile, BP’s new CEO Bob Dudley has accused the news media and some of BP’s competitors of exaggerating the severity of the BP oil spill, the largest in US history. Dudley said Monday, “[There was] a great rush to judgment by a fair number of observers before the full facts could possibly be known."
Minnesota Public Radio has obtained the FBI record of the late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who died in a plane crash eight years ago this week. The records show the FBI first tracked Wellstone in 1970 after he was arrested at an anti-Vietnam War protest. The records might also raise new questions about the plane crash that killed Wellstone, his wife, his daughter and three staffers. The National Transportation Safety Board determined the crash was caused by pilot error, but the FBI documents reveal for the first time that specific criminal leads were pursued by investigators. Part of the FBI probe focused on problems with the plane’s de-icing equipment. A caller from Florida said members of the American Trucking Association had planned to disconnect the plane’s de-icing equipment because they were upset with Wellstone’s efforts to expose organized crime in the trucking industry. The FBI files also reveal that Wellstone’s St. Paul office received a threatening postcard the day before the plane crash.