Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Published:

Campaign cash: Supreme Court loosens the reins on wealthy political contributors in 5-4 ruling

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court's conservative majority voted Wednesday to free wealthy donors to give to as many political candidates and campaigns as they want, further loosening the reins on giving by big contributors as the 2014 campaign moves into high gear.

It was a fresh declaration by the 5-4 majority that many limits on big-money contributions violate the givers' constitutional free-speech rights, continuing a steady erosion of the restrictions under Chief Justice John Roberts. The biggest of those rulings was the 2010 decision in the Citizens United case that lifted restrictions on independent spending by corporations and labor unions.

Wednesday's ruling voided the overall federal limit on individuals' contributions -- $123,200 in 2013 and 2014 -- and may have more symbolic than substantive importance in a world in which millions in unlimited donations from liberal and conservative spenders already are playing a major role in campaigns.

The ruling will allow the wealthiest contributors to pour millions of dollars into candidate and party coffers, although those contributions will be subject to disclosure under federal law, unlike much of the big money that independent groups spend on attack ads.

The early beneficiaries could be the political parties, which have lost influence amid the rise of independent spending, and challengers who may have been cut off from getting money from wealthy contributors who previously hit the cap that the court invalidated Wednesday.

___

Court ruling will let big donors give more, may help establishment in both parties

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court ruling Wednesday erasing a long-standing limit on campaign donations will allow a small number of very wealthy donors to give even more than is currently the case, according to students of the complex campaign finance system, and could strengthen the establishment in both parties.

While Republicans cheered the ruling on philosophical grounds and Democrats criticized it, there was a general agreement that the decision itself was unlikely to benefit one party over another.

"This is not a decision that advantages one party over the other. It advantages wealthy people over everybody else," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

On a 5-4 ruling, the court struck down a limitation on the amount any donor may give to candidates, committees and political action committees combined.

Only 646 out of millions of donors in the election cycle of 2011-2012 gave the now-defunct legal maximum, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. For the current election cycle, the limit is $123,200, broken down as $48,600 to all candidates combined and $74,600 to all party committees and political action committees in total.

___

AP Interview: Ukraine's ousted leader says he was wrong to invite Russian troops into Crimea

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (AP) -- Defensive and at times tearful, Ukraine's ousted president conceded Wednesday that he made a mistake when he invited Russian troops into Crimea and vowed to try to negotiate with Vladimir Putin to get the coveted Black Sea peninsula back.

"Crimea is a tragedy, a major tragedy," Viktor Yanukovych told The Associated Press in his first interview since fleeing to Russia in February, following monthslong protests focused on corruption and his decision to seek closer ties to Russia instead of the European Union.

Putin said last month that Yanukovych had asked Russia to send its troops to Crimea to protect its people -- a request seen as treason by many Ukrainians. Russian troops quickly overran Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority, taking over government and military facilities on the pretext of protecting Russians.

Asked about the move, Yanukovych said he made a mistake.

"I was wrong," he told the AP and Russia's state NTV television, speaking in Russian. "I acted on my emotions."

___

Officials say 1 killed, 14 injured in Fort Hood shooting; base reports shooter believed dead

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) -- One person was killed and 14 injured in a shooting Wednesday at Fort Hood, and officials at the base said the shooter is believed to be dead.

The details about the number of people hurt came from two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the information by name.

Fort Hood said in a statement posted online that its Directorate of Emergency Services had an initial report that the shooter was dead, but that the report was unconfirmed. Additional details were not immediately available.

A U.S. law enforcement official said reports circulating within the Justice Department indicate the shooter died of what appears to be a self-inflicted wound. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is still ongoing.

The Army said on its official Twitter feed that the Texas Army post was still on lockdown. Injured people were being treated at the post's Carl R. Darnall Medical Center and other local hospitals.

___

Former CIA official insists politics played no role in changes to Benghazi talking points

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The CIA's former deputy director said Wednesday he deleted references to terrorism warnings from widely disputed talking points on the deadly 2012 Benghazi attack to avoid the spy agency's gloating at the expense of the State Department.

Mike Morell faced more than three hours of questioning from the House Intelligence committee in a rare open session that examined who changed the talking points --and why -- in the politically-charged aftermath of the deadly Sept. 11 assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya.

Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed in two separate attacks over a chaotic period of several hours. Multiple independent and congressional investigations have largely faulted the State Department for inadequate security at the mission.

Morell, a 33-year veteran of the agency who has served six Republican and Democratic presidents, insisted that politics had no bearing on the revisions to the talking points and said he was under no pressure to protect either President Barack Obama or then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"I never allowed politics to influence what I said or did. Never," he said.

___

Magnitude 8.2 quake kills only 6 in Chile; experts credit hard-won experience, and luck

IQUIQUE, Chile (AP) -- Hard-won expertise and a big dose of luck helped Chile escape its latest magnitude-8.2 earthquake with surprisingly little damage and death.

The country that suffers some of the world's most powerful quakes has strict building codes, mandatory evacuations and emergency preparedness that sets a global example. But Chileans weren't satisfied Wednesday, finding much room for improvement. And experts warn that a "seismic gap" has left northern Chile overdue for a far bigger quake.

Authorities on Wednesday discovered just six reported deaths from the previous night's quake. It's possible that other people were killed in older structures made of adobe in remote communities that weren't immediately accessible, but it's still a very low toll for such a powerful shift in the undersea fault that runs along the length of South America's Pacific coast.

"How much is it luck? How much is it science? How much is it preparedness? It is a combination of all of the above. I think what we just saw here is pure luck. Mostly, it is luck that the tsunami was not bigger and that it hit a fairly isolated area of Chile," said Costas Synolakis, an engineer who directs the Tsunami Research Center at the University of Southern California.

Chile is one of the world's most seismic countries and is particularly prone to tsunamis, because of the way the Nazca tectonic plate plunges beneath the South American plate, pushing the towering Andes cordillera ever higher.

___

Suicide bombing in heavily guarded area of Afghan capital kills 6 police officers

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A suicide bombing killed six policemen at the Afghan Interior Ministry compound in one of the capital's most heavily fortified areas Wednesday, part of a recent escalation in violence in the heart of Kabul.

The bloodshed is threatening to scare voters away from the polls as Afghans worry security forces unable to guard areas previously considered safe won't be able to protect them on election day. The Taliban have launched a campaign of violence to disrupt Saturday's vote for a new president and provincial councils.

Many voters have defiantly said they would go to the polls despite the violence, but Wednesday's attack was a last straw for some.

Mohammad Ramin, an 18-year-old who has a photo store near the site of the blast, said he registered to vote for the first time last week but was too scared to go to the polls now.

"I am so disappointed, but I am not going to vote on election day because of the bad security," he said. "I don't want anybody in my family to go either."

___

Palestinians leave door open for continued talks with Israel, despite new recognition bid

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- A decision by President Mahmoud Abbas to seek further international recognition of a "state of Palestine" -- despite promises to hold off while negotiating with Israel -- has thrown into disarray the troubled U.S. mediation efforts on a peace deal. Here's a look at the possible repercussions.

WHAT EXACTLY DID ABBAS DO?

He signed letters stating the state of Palestine would join 15 international conventions and treaties. This includes the Geneva Convention on protecting civilians in conflict zones as well as covenants prohibiting torture and discrimination against women. The letters were given Wednesday to the relevant parties, including a U.N. envoy.

The Palestinians say they have the right to seek membership in 63 U.N. agencies, international conventions and treaties as a result of the General Assembly's decision in November 2012 to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state. In the vote, the General Assembly said Palestine encompasses the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem -- lands Israel captured in 1967. Israel opposed the Palestinian bid, alleging it was an attempt to bypass negotiations.

___

Man admits trespassing at Selena Gomez's home near Los Angeles; sentenced to jail, probation

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Prosecutors say a man charged with trespassing at Selena Gomez's home has been sentenced to 45 days in jail and ordered to stay away from the singer-actress.

Los Angeles district attorney's spokesman Ricardo Santiago says Che Cruz admitted trespassing at an initial court appearance Wednesday and was immediately sentenced.

Cruz was arrested Sunday in Gomez's guesthouse and was charged Wednesday with one count of misdemeanor trespassing.

Santiago says Cruz was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to stay away from Gomez and her home in Calabasas (cal-uh-BASS'-us), Calif.

Authorities say Gomez arrived home Sunday night and called security after hearing noises on the property.

___

NBA referee Bavetta extends ironman streak, works 2,633rd straight game assignment

NEW YORK (AP) -- NBA referee Dick Bavetta worked his 2,633rd consecutive game assignment Wednesday, an ironman streak even longer than the one baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. compiled.

Bavetta worked the game between the Knicks and Nets at Madison Square Garden, where he began his career in 1975, extending a streak during which he has never missed an assignment. He chalked up his streak to good health, a dedication he said all officials shared, and a fear of inconveniencing someone else if he had to take a day off.

"I tell you I don't think about it, in a sense that I guess it's a work ethic that I got from my mom and dad, and it's always been my way of thinking, that you get a fair day's wage for a fair day's work," Bavetta said before the game.

"And I can't think of any reason unless it's an act of God with weather problems and things like that, but I've been blessed by the good Lord above with good health, so that has enabled me to stay healthy over the years, and I think it's symbolic of our profession."

The 74-year-old Bavetta has worked 270 playoff games in 29 seasons, including 27 NBA Finals games, three All-Star games and the 1992 Olympics. He was honored before the game, joined on the court by NBA president of operations Rod Thorn and fellow official Tony Brothers.