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Profile: Ben LaBolt

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Ben LaBolt was a participant or observer in the following events:

Stung by the recent decision by Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the US government’s credit rating (see August 5, 2011) and the economic turmoil triggered by that decision in response to Republican-backed debt ceiling legislation (see May 20, 2011), US Republicans begin blaming the Obama administration for the downgrade. After the legislation passed, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) boasted that he and his fellow Republicans had gotten “98 percent” of what they wanted from the legislation (see August 1, 2011). Boehner now says, “Democrats who run Washington remain unwilling to make the tough choices required to put America on solid ground.” He quotes the S&P report in making his criticisms of Washington Democrats, failing to note that the S&P report singled out Republicans as responsible for the legislative decisions that led to the downgrade. “This decision by S&P is the latest consequence of the out-of-control spending that has taken place in Washington for decades. The spending binge has resulted in job-destroying economic uncertainty and now threatens to send destructive ripple effects across our credit markets.” Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) says the downgrade and subsequent stock market plummet “provide further evidence that President Obama’s agenda has been a disaster for our economy.” Mitt Romney (R-MA), the former governor of Massachusetts and a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, says the downgrade is “a deeply troubling indicator of our country’s decline under President Obama.” Longshot GOP candidate Jon Huntsman (R-UT) says the downgrade is due to the spreading of a “cancerous debt afflicting our nation” and calls for “new leadership in Washington” to address the ongoing crisis. Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) calls Obama “inept.” Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a House Republican who led the “tea party” fight to block the debt ceiling from being raised (and thereby triggering a government debt default—see April 30, 2011, June 26, 2011, July 13, 2011, and July 14, 2011), now blames the Obama administration and particularly US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for the debacle. Campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in Des Moines, Iowa, Bachmann says that President Obama should fire Geithner: “The president’s refusal to remove Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner shows the president has no plan to restore the AAA credit rating to the United States of America. The president is not listening to the people of this country, nor is he providing the leadership that is necessary to bring about economic recovery.… I once again, today, in Polk County, Iowa, call for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to resign immediately for the sake of our country and to return our economy to full status.” Bachmann accuses Obama of “destroying the foundations of the US economy one beam at a time.” In robocalls targeting House Democrats, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) pins the blame for the downgrade on House Democrats. One call targeting David Loebsack (D-IA) says: “… Loebsack continues to oppose a [Constitutional] Balanced Budget Amendment that would force Washington to live within its means. Loebsack and his fellow Democrats’ addiction to big government spending has led to a downgrade of America’s credit rating and a dramatic loss in the global markets that could force you to pay more for everyday expenses. While David Loebsack keeps standing in the way of real fiscal reform, middle-class families in Iowa could now see a loss in retirement savings while mortgage rates, car payments, and student loans could become even more expensive.” Democrats respond with criticisms of their own. Tim Kaine (D-VA), a Senate candidate, says that “the continuing resistance of Congressional Republicans to entertain the need for new revenue as part of a reasonable solution is a critical part of the downgrade decision.” Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) adds, “By refusing to negotiate in good faith, Republicans turned the debt-ceiling debate into a hostage crisis and last night we saw its first casualty.” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt says, “The Republican candidates would have put our economy at great risk by allowing the nation to default on its obligations.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls for a “balanced approach” to future economic decisions, which would include revenue increases such as tax hikes and the closing of tax loopholes for rich corporations as well as spending cuts. [Washington Post, 8/6/2011; Reuters, 8/6/2011; National Journal, 8/6/2011; Politico, 8/7/2011; Politico, 8/9/2011]

Entity Tags: Harry Reid, Timothy Geithner, David Loebsack, Ben LaBolt, Tim Pawlenty, Tim Kaine, Willard Mitt Romney, Obama administration, John Boehner, Jon Huntsman, Chris Coons, Ronald H. Johnson, National Republican Congressional Committee, Michele Bachmann

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

According to a Washington Post analysis, 10 percent of US billionaires have given to the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA), who seems to be securing enough primary wins to be named the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. Romney himself is a former venture capitalist worth at least $250 million. Forty-two of the US’s 412 billionaires have donated to Romney’s campaign and third-party “super PACs” (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, and November 23, 2011). President Obama has 30 billionaires on his donor list, or something over 7 percent. Romney opponents Rick Perry (R-TX) and Jon Huntsman (R-UT) have 20 and 12, respectively. The Washington Post reports: “Very wealthy donors are likely to play a greater role in this election cycle in the wake of recent court decisions that have loosened rules for campaign contributions (see January 21, 2010). That will only heighten one of the dominant narratives of the 2012 campaign: the nation’s rising income inequality and the outsize political influence of the super-wealthy.” Donors can only give $5,000 directly to candidates’ campaigns, but under the Citizens United ruling, they can give unlimited amounts to super PACs that run independent ads on behalf of, or in opposition to, candidates. “The only limit on the resources is the willingness of the donors to give,” says government professor Anthony Corrado, a former Democratic official. “It doesn’t take long to transfer $500,000 from one account to another.” Obama had a head start in raising campaign funds going into October 2010, largely because the Republican candidates were spending money against one another in primary battles. But now that Romney seems more and more assured as the Republican nominee, Republican donors are expected to focus on donating to his campaign and super PACs, and are expected to catch up to and surpass Obama and the Democrats in short order (see August 2, 2010, September 20, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, May 5, 2011, and August 4, 2011). In 2008, Obama distanced his campaign from third-party donors, and donations from those individuals and interests were relatively down. But, perhaps recognizing the advantage Republicans have in raising money from the wealthy, Obama no longer objects to those donations. Romney’s largest donor so far is hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson, who has given $1 million to Romney’s super PAC Restore Our Future (see June 23, 2011). Think Progress’s Travis Waldron notes that Paulson made millions by shorting the housing market before the mortgage collapse that sparked the global financial crisis and drove the US economy into a recession. Other billionaires supporting Romney include Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, California real estate developer Donald Bren, and developer and publisher Sam Zell. Several billionaires who used to support Romney’s primary opponent Newt Gingrich (R-GA), including casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Amway founder Richard DeVos, are expected to begin giving generously to the Romney campaign or to his super PAC. Obama’s richest donor is Len Blavatnik, a Russian-American industrialist who has also donated to Romney. Other billionaires supporting Obama include insurance magnate Peter Lewis, former Google executive Eric Schmidt, and venture capitalist John Doerr. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt downplays the billionaire contributions, saying, “Our campaign is fueled by donations from more than 1 million Americans, 98 percent of which were in amounts of $250 or less.” Corrado says that as the November elections approach, spending will only increase. “One of the things about large investors in campaigns is that they’re very interested in getting results,” he says. “And it is much easier to get a large effect in a race if you can give to directly advocate for and against a candidate.” [Washington Post, 12/1/2011; Think Progress, 12/6/2011]

Entity Tags: Dan Snyder, Sam Zell, Sheldon Adelson, Washington Post, Willard Mitt Romney, Anthony J. Corrado Jr., 2012 Obama presidential election campaign, Ben LaBolt, Restore Our Future, Richard DeVos, Newt Gingrich, James Richard (“Rick”) Perry, Eric Schmidt, Donald Bren, Peter Lewis, Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), John Paulson, Barack Obama, Len Blavatnik, Jon Huntsman, John Doerr

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accuses President Obama and Congressional Democrats of subverting the constitutional guarantees of free speech by trying to restrict political campaign contributions, and says Democrats are using “mob” tactics against their critics. McConnell, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, says that the White House has shown “an alarming willingness itself to use the powers of government to silence” political speech of groups with which it disagrees. “It is critically important for all conservatives—and indeed all Americans—to stand up and unite in defense of the freedom to organize around the causes we believe in, and against any effort that would constrain our ability to do so,” he says. McConnell is referring to Democrats’ push for the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance bill that would force disclosure of the identities of campaign donors that was defeated by a Republican filibuster in 2010 (see July 26-27, 2010) and is being brought up again. The DISCLOSE Act would affect both corporations and unions. Corporate spending in elections tends to favor Republicans, while union spending tends to favor Democrats. McConnell says the act would require “government-compelled disclosure of contributions to all grass-roots groups, which is far more dangerous than its proponents are willing to admit. This is nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third-party allies.… The courts have said that Congress doesn’t have the authority to muzzle political speech. So the president himself will seek to go around it by attempting to change the First Amendment.” McConnell cites the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as one government agency “persecuting” Republican-allied groups, saying, “Earlier this year, dozens of tea party-affiliated groups across the country learned what it was like to draw the attention of the speech police when they received a lengthy questionnaire from the IRS demanding attendance lists, meeting transcripts, and donor information.” The IRS has denied targeting groups based on their political views. IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman says the information requirements stemmed from the tea party groups’ applications for nonprofit status, which triggered automatic IRS review procedures. “There’s many safeguards built in so this has nothing to do with election cycles and politics,” Shulman said before a House Appropriations subcommittee. “This notion that we’re targeting anyone is off.” McConnell says of Obama, “Not only did his campaign publish a list of eight private citizens it regards as enemies—an actual old-school enemies list—it recently doubled down on the effort when some began to call these thuggish tactics into question.” McConnell is referring to an Obama campaign “truth team” document that publicized information about eight wealthy Republican donors. “The tactics I’m describing extend well beyond the campaign headquarters in Chicago. To an extent not seen since the Nixon administration, they extend deep into the administration itself.” McConnell cites the example of Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot, the national finance co-chair of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, who was “smeared” as being “a bitter opponent” of gay rights by the Obama campaign. [Bloomberg, 6/15/2012; New York Times, 6/15/2012] VanderSloot is an outspoken opponent of gay rights, though he has hotly denied advocating such positions and often threatens lawsuits against those reporting his positions (see February 17-21, 2012). [Salon, 2/17/2012; KIFI Local News 8, 3/1/2012] The New York Times calls McConnell’s remarks “incendiary.” Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a campaign-finance reform advocacy group, says McConnell “doesn’t have a constitutional or policy leg to stand on.” Democrats note that McConnell has failed to criticize organized efforts by the Romney campaign to heckle and disrupt campaign press conferences, nor has he criticized tea party efforts to disrupt and shout down Democrats during town hall meetings around the country. Wertheimer says McConnell is using his fiery rhetoric to, in the Times’s phrasing, “run interference for the secret donors pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the US Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads.” Obama campaign spokesperson Ben LaBolt says, “Senator McConnell has been running a cover-up operation for the special interest donors attempting to buy the election for the GOP in order to promote their agendas over the national interest.” [Bloomberg, 6/15/2012; New York Times, 6/15/2012]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Ben LaBolt, Douglas H. Shulman, Internal Revenue Service, Frank VanderSloot, US Congress, Fred Wertheimer, Mitch McConnell, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

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