Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

CNSnews.com
Dan Joseph
October 05, 2010

(CNSNews.com) – Almost 23 million American households have already had their federal taxes raised by an average of $3,900 this year, but they may not know it yet.

They could get a big surprise when they prepare their tax returns next year.

Among those subject to this already-in-place tax increase are some families making less than $50,000 per year, and virtually all married couples earning between $100,000 and $500,000 a year, according to data published by the Congressional Budget Office.

This insidious tax hike is contrary to President Barack Obama’s repeated promise not to increase taxes on any individual earning less than $200,000 a year or on any household earning less than $250,000.

This tax increase on almost 23 million people will happen if Congress does not quickly pass legislation that temporarily increases the amount of income exempt from the Alternative Minimum Tax.

The temporary reprieve passed by Congress for each of the past nine years expired on Dec. 31, 2009, and so far, Congress has not extended the AMT “fix” for 2010.

According to the CBO, an estimated 4.5 million American households were subject to the AMT in 2009, and 27.2 million are now liable to pay the AMT for the 2010 tax year unless Congress acts before Dec. 31. Under current law, at least 22.7 million American households that did not have to pay the AMT last year will have to pay it on the income they have been earning since Jan. 1 of this year.

Repealing the AMT completely and permanently would add $626 billion to the federal debt over the next ten years, according to CBO.

The AMT was enacted in 1969 and was intended to impose taxes on high-income individuals who used deductions and loopholes to reduce or eliminate their liability under the regular income tax. Because the tax has not been adjusted for inflation since then, additional families at progressively lower income levels become subject to the tax each year.

The tax especially hits married couples with children and mortgages because of the deductions and credits they are allowed under federal income tax laws. “Because of the particular tax preferences and exemptions disallowed under the AMT, that tax structure is more likely to affect married couples, large families, and taxpayers in states with high state and local taxes,” says CBO.

Past Congresses and presidents have chosen to enact protective one-year “patches” that temporarily increase the income threshold subject to the AMT thus protecting between 10 and 30 million Americans from the tax. So far this year, Congress, which adjourned last week, has failed to take action on the matter. If Congress fails to renew the “patch” before Dec. 31, according to CBO, the 27 million Americans subjected to the AMT this year will see their tax bills rise by an average of $3,900.

Of the households that will be hit with the AMT this year under current law, according to CBO, 3 percent are households making less than $50,000 a year, 35 percent are household making between $50,000 and $100,000 per years; 47 percent are households making between $100,000 and $200,000 per year; and 14 percent are households making between $200,000 and $500,000 per year.

As the law now stands, virtually all married couples in America earning between $100,000 and $500,000 will be hit with the AMT this year–on income they started earning ten months ago. “If nothing is changed this year, one in six taxpayers will be affected by the AMT, paying on average an additional $3,900 in tax, and nearly every married taxpayer with income between $100,000 and $500,000 will owe some alternative tax.”

Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, says that failure to renew the AMT patch would disproportionately hit middle-class families.

“Of the 20 to 30 million taxpayers who might get hit with AMT due to Congress’ inaction, the majority of them would be middle class,” Sepp told CNSNews.com. “The vast majority would consist of solidly middle-class taxpayers.”

Moreover, the increased tax bill would come at the worst possible time, Sepp said. “Families, especially, are experiencing low tax liabilities because they have lower incomes,” he said. “The AMT, ironically, would work in an almost contrary manner, because there would be, for example, households where one of the bread winners lost their job or had to reduce their hours, (and) would be reporting less hours, but they still may be taking the same number of exemptions and deductions for all their kids, for various other household property or operations — business that they may have. They might still be claiming the same number and types of deductions and credits, but on an even lower income.”

Jim Billimoria, spokesman for the Republican minority on the House Ways and Means Committee, told CNSNews.com that failure to renew the patch would amount to a broken promise by President Obama, who made a pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class.

“Raising taxes on millions of families during a recession with an unemployment rate stuck near 10 percent not only breaks President Obama’s tax pledge but is the wrong formula for economic growth,” Billimora said in an e-mail.

When questioned about why Congress is having such difficulty extending the AMT patch, Sepp pointed to the failure by many in the public and the media to grasp the severity of the situation.

“Why a policy that has so many horrendous implications for the middle class is allowed to bumble along like this until the final months of the year is unclear,” he told CNSNews.com. “This is something that we’ve had to do a lot of educational work on. Not only with the public, but with the media, because this is sort of being lumped in with the 2001 and 2003 tax rate extensions–and those affect the year 2011 for returns filed in 2012. The AMT affects 2010 returns filed next year, so in that sense it’s far more urgent and in fact the IRS probably won’t be able to retool its operations quickly enough to allow for a smooth filing season for people with AMT issues.”

Bryan Ellis, tax policy director for Americans for Tax Reform, told CNSNews.com that there may be political motives behind the failure by the Democratic majority to enact a patch.

“If the Democrats wanted to get rid of the AMT and do so without having to worry about all of the tax increases or not worrying about PAYGO, and just get rid of it, that would get 400 votes in the House,” Ellis said. “It would get the votes of virtually every Republican and virtually every Democrat.”

But a Congress that simply voted to eliminate the AMT without making equivalent spending cuts would be adding to the $626 billion to the ten-year deficit that CBO estimates as the cost of such a move.

Tenth Amendment Center
Lesley Swann
August 18, 2010

constitution

“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under that Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” – Article VI, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution

Recently I attended a gun show, where I handed out information material and answered questions on the Tenth Amendment Center.  Several people were concerned about the U.S. making a treaty that would gut the U.S. Constitution and potentially take away firearms from law abiding citizens here in the U.S.  They argued that the paragraph above from the Constitution places treaty law above the Constitution as the supreme law of the land.

Our Founders very clearly stated the conditions under which the U.S. Constitution could be amended, or changed, in Article 5.  It is quite illogical to conceive that our Founders would write such a brilliant document to be the foundation of our union, only to create a giant backdoor for foreign governments to come in and destroy the liberty we had worked so hard to achieve.   In fact, our Founders themselves said otherwise.

“The only constitutional exception to the power of making treaties is that it shall not change the Constitution…” – Alexander Hamilton

“I do not conceive that power is given to the President or the Senate to dismember the empire, or alienate any great, essential right.  I do not think the whole legislative authority to have this power.”  – James Madison

“I say the same as to the opinion of those who consider the grant of treaty-making power to be boundless.  If it is, then we have no Constitution.” – Thomas Jefferson

So, when I began re-reading this section of the Constitution I realized that they didn’t leave a backdoor, but in fact were expressly forbidding this type of maneuver in Article VI.  The answer to the riddle that confuses many people isn’t to be found in an indecipherable tome on constitutional law, but instead in simple English grammar and a little attention to detail.

In reading through the entire Constitution, you will notice that whenever the Constitution refers to itself the verbiage “this Constitution” is used.  The only exceptions to this are the President’s Oath of Office, where the phrase “the Constitution of the United States” is used, and here in the latter part of Article VI.  In every other place where you find the word Constitution written in the Constitution itself, it is preceded by the word “this” making it clear that the Constitution is referring to itself.  In the President’s Oath of Office the phrase “Constitution of the United States” makes it perfectly clear that the phrase is referring to this Constitution as well.

The Founders were very clear and precise with their use of language in the Constitution, so why do we have “the Constitution” in this case (“any Thing in THE Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding”), and “this Constitution” in all other cases where the word is written.  The simple answer is that in this case, they were not referring to the United States Constitution at all.

The humble preposition is the key to solving the intent of the Founders in this statement.  A prepositional phrase – such as of, to, or in – is a word that can modify and indicate relationships.  Prepositional phrases can also modify more than one object.  In this case, the prepositional phrase “of any State” refers to both the words“Constitution” and “Laws” that precede the phrase.  This means that the final phrase of this clause could rightly be read to mean “any Thing in the Constitution of any State or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” The Founders weren’t saying that treaties were to be supreme over the U.S. Constitution, but that they could and would take precedence over the state constitutions and laws.

It is clear with a little analysis of the details of the language and grammar used to construct this clause that our Founders were placing treaty law in its rightful place – beneath the supreme law of the land in the form of our U.S. Constitution, but above the laws and constitutions of the states.  There is no loophole that can allow international interests to trump the U.S. Constitution, but the treaty must be made in pursuance of our Constitution, just as all laws that Congress makes must be in pursuance of the Constitution.

While some well-meaning (and not-so-well-meaning) politicians may claim that they can legislate via treaty, this clearly was not the intent of our Founders.  Will this knowledge stop those who would seek to take our freedoms from shredding the Constitution by attempting to pass such treaties?  Probably not.  But we can rest firm in the knowledge that our Founders did not give the Federal government the power to usurp the Constitution by treaty, and that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, not treaty law.  More importantly, we can use this knowledge as intellectual firepower to stop the enemies of liberty and the Second Amendment from doing so.

Lesley Swann is the state coordinator for the Tennessee Tenth Amendment Center and founder of the East Tennessee 10th Amendment Group. She is a native of Anderson County, Tennessee.

Activist Post
August 31, 2010

Rights are Privileges (Freedom is Slavery): The primary duty of all public officials is to protect the rights of citizens as defined in the Constitution, where they shall not make or enforce any laws that violate those rights.  In fact, the “checks and balances” were put in place to assure that rights of citizens are not being trampled by one branch of the government. After 9-11, President Bush and other public officials proclaimed that their most important job was protecting the safety of the American people, which basically put an end to our rights coming first.

If the corporate-government fear campaign fails to scare the rights away from citizens, they try to convince the public that rights are now privileges and charge a fee or a tax for the “right” to engage in a certain activity.

Here are a few recent examples where rights are eroding into privileges:

  • Air travel has become a privilege since 9-11.  We must now forfeit all rights to our physical being by submitting to naked body scanners that emit unhealthy levels of radiation, or open-palm invasive frisking.  Everyone is assumed to be guilty until thoroughly cavity checked for explosives.
  • Free-speech Blogging on the Internet is now the target of taxes and licensing fees — the trial financial assault before free speech is ultimately killed with the end of net neutrality. Philadelphia is seeking a blog tax, while South Carolina has attempted to require all controversial speech groups to register, of course with a fee attached.
  • Food rights may be disappearing faster than any other rights.  Armed raids on raw milk producers and the proposed senate bill S.510 that seeks to essentially criminalize local food are the pinnacle of corporate-government tyranny.
  • Rights to use Rainwater is becoming illegal or being taxed by the overlords who control mother nature and the slaves who dare to use her resources.  Your basic right to nature’s sustenance is now a taxable privilege in the land of the free.
  • Gun rights are under continued pressure by the government and the media to make us believe it is a privilege to own guns.
  • Capital rights, or the freedom to spend or invest our own money, are now under assault with capital controls.
  • Property rights erode every time property taxes are jacked up because the Fed creates inflation.  We own less and less of our property each day the dollar devalues. Property rights also erode as more strict zoning regulations continually pass.

The Ministry of Truth

Posted: July 20, 2010 in Internet, Law, Politics, Technology

Campaign for Liberty
Philip Giraldi
July 19, 2010

The Ministry of Truth was how George Orwell described the mechanism used by government to control information in his seminal novel 1984. A recent trip to Europe has convinced me that the governments of the world have been rocked by the power of the internet and are seeking to gain control of it so that they will have a virtual monopoly on information that the public is able to access. In Italy, Germany, and Britain the anonymous internet that most Americans are still familiar with is slowly being modified. If one goes into an internet café it is now legally required in most countries in the European Union to present a government issued form of identification. When I used an internet connection at a Venice hotel, my passport was demanded as a precondition and the inner page, containing all my personal information, was scanned and a copy made for the Ministry of the Interior — which controls the police force. The copy is retained and linked to the transaction. For home computers, the IP address of the service used is similarly recorded for identification purposes. All records of each and every internet usage, to include credit information and keystrokes that register everything that is written or sent, is accessible to the government authorities on demand, not through the action of a court or an independent authority. That means that there is de facto no right to privacy and a government bureaucrat decides what can and cannot be “reviewed” by the authorities. Currently, the records are maintained for a period of six months but there is a drive to make the retention period even longer.

The excuses being given for the increasing government intervention into the internet are essentially two: first, that the anonymity of the internet has permitted criminal behavior, fraud, pornography, and libel. Second is the security argument, that managing the internet is an integral part of the “global war on terror” in that it is used by terrorists to plan their attacks requiring governments to control those who use it. The United States government takes the latter argument one step farther, claiming that the internet itself is a vulnerable “natural asset” that could be seized or damaged by terrorists and must be protected, making the case for a massive $100 billion program of cyberwarfare. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) argues that “violent Islamist extremists” rely on the internet to communicate and recruit and he has introduced a bill in the Senate that will empower the president to “kill” the internet in case of a national emergency.

But all of the arguments for intervention are essentially themselves fraudulent and are in reality being exploited by those who favor big government and state control. The anonymity and low cost nature of the internet means that it can be used to express views that are unpopular or unconventional, which is its strength. It is sometimes used for criminal behavior because it is a mechanism, not because there is something intrinsic in it that makes it a choice of wrongdoers. Before it existed, fraud was carried out through the postal service and over the telephone. Pornography circulated freely by other means. As for the security argument, the tiny number of actual terrorists who use the internet do so because it is there and it is accessible. If it did not exist, they would find other ways to communicate, just as they did in pre-internet days. In fact, intelligence sources report that internet use by terrorists is rare because of persistent government monitoring of the websites.

The real reason for controlling the internet is to restrict access to information, something every government seeks to do. If the American Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and Senator Lieberman have their way, new cybersecurity laws will enable Obama’s administration to take control of the internet in the event of a national crisis. How that national crisis might be defined would be up to the White House but there have been some precedents that suggest that the response would hardly be respectful of the Bill of Rights. Many countries already monitor and censor the internet on a regular basis, forbidding access to numerous sites that they consider to be subversive or immoral. During recent unrest, the governments of both Iran and China effectively shut down the internet by taking control of or blocking servers. Combined with switching off of cell phone transmitters, the steps proved effective in isolating dissidents. Could it happen here? Undoubtedly. Once the laws are in place a terrorist incident or something that could be plausibly described in those terms would be all that is needed to have government officials issue the order to bring the internet to a halt.

But the ability to control the internet technically is only part of the story. Laws are being passed that criminalize expressing one’s views on the internet, including both “hate crime” legislation and broadly drafted laws that make it a crime to support what the government describes loosely as terrorism in any way shape or form. Regular extra-legal government intrusion in the private lives of citizens is already a reality, particularly in the so-called Western Democracies that have the necessary technology and tech-savvy manpower to tap phones and invade computers. In Europe, draconian anti-terrorism laws enable security agencies to monitor phone calls and e-mails, in many cases without any judicial oversight. In Britain, the monitoring includes access to detailed internet records that are available for inspection by no less that 653 government agencies, most of which have nothing whatsoever to do with security or intelligence, all without any judicial review. In the United States, the Pentagon recently sought an internet and news “instant response capability” which it dubbed the Office of Strategic Influence and it has also seeded a number of retired military analysts into the major news networks to provide a pro-government slant on the war news. The State Department is also in the game, tasking young officers to engage presumed radicals in debate on their websites while the growing use of national security letters means that private communications sent through the internet can be accessed by Federal law enforcement agencies. The Patriot Act created national security letter does not require judicial oversight. More than 35,000 were issued by the FBI last year and the recipient of a letter commits a felony if he or she reveals the receipt of the document. In a recent case involving an internet provider in Philadelphia, a national security letter demanded all details of internet messages sent on a certain date, to include account information on clients with social security numbers and credit card references.

The danger is real. Most Americans who are critical of the actions of their own government rely on the internet for information that is uncensored and often provocative, including sites like Campaign for Liberty. As this article was being written, a story broke reporting that WordPress host Blogetery had been shut down by United States authorities along with all 73,000 Blogetery-hosted blogs. The company’s ISP is claiming that it had to terminate Blogetery’s account immediately after being ordered to do so by law enforcement officials “due to material hosted on the server.” The extreme response implies a possible presumed terrorist connection, but it is important to note that no one was charged with any actual offense, revealing that the government can close down sites based only on suspicion. It is also likely only a matter of time before Obama’s internet warfare teams surface either at the Defense Department or at State. Deliberately overloading and attacking the internet to damage its credibility, witness the numerous sites that have been “hacked” and have had to cease or restrict their activities. But the moves afoot to create a legal framework to completely shut the internet down and thereby control the “message” are far more dangerous. American citizens who are concerned about maintaining their few remaining liberties should sound the alarm and tell the politicians that we don’t need more government abridgement of our First Amendment rights.

Future of the News

Posted: July 19, 2010 in Law, Politics, Tax, US News

American Thinker
Jeffrey Folks
July 16, 2010

It’s a frightening thought: government takeover of the media. But having tightened their grip on health care, financial services, and energy, it’s only logical that the Democrats should turn their attention to the media.

Discussions underway at the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission point toward a dangerous new effort to regulate what Americans read and hear. The takeover under discussion would apply across the board to print media, radio and television, and the internet. The result of proposed regulations would be nothing less than an end to free speech in America.

Under the proposed changes, government would have the right to impose taxes on selected media (including internet service providers and internet sites) and redistribute funds to traditional liberal news media. Government could impose a fairness doctrine on the internet as well as on radio — thus forcing conservative media to “balance” their programming by including liberal commentary. Government would also be granted a wide range of options for subsidizing liberal media, including perpetual grants of taxpayer money to left-leaning publications like the New York Times and to increase funding for “progressive” media such as National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System. No wonder the Nation magazine has lavished praise on the FTC and FCC proposals: Based on its longstanding liberal bias, the Nation might qualify for a generous handout.

In its recently published “staff discussion,” the FTC maintains that big-city newspapers and other traditional media (such as old-line network television) have seen their revenues declining and that, as a result, there have been “significant losses of news coverage.” Since news coverage serves a “public good,” it is up to the government to perpetuate these traditional media.

Nowhere in its extensive discussion does the FTC consider the possibility that old-line media are failing because they are simply out of touch with the American people. The mainstream television news outlets are clinging to a liberal ideology that is as irrelevant as Lyndon Baines Johnson, but they refuse to change. Who wants to hear Brian Williams’s endless reports on “Making a Difference” when those reports routinely bash capitalism in favor of community organizing? Who wants to listen to more of the media’s underhanded propaganda pieces carefully timed to support “progressive” legislation like Obamacare and cap and trade? Who wants to watch their biased exposés taking on religious leaders, big business, and the American military?

The FTC seems to believe that serious news reporting cannot exist without government subsidies. Why is it that Fox News and the Wall Street Journal have flourished while traditional networks and the New York Times have fallen off a cliff? Fox News and the Journal are doing just fine — as are thousands of conservative websites and radio stations — without government intervention. Government’s contention that news reporting is in decline is simply preposterous: Americans are more engaged and better-informed than ever before. Perhaps that is what worries Obama’s regulators.

Now Obama is out to force the public to listen to outfits like MSNBC, whether they want to or not. The FTC and FCC proposals are convoluted and numerous, but the net effect is to subsidize liberal news while taxing and restricting conservative media. This dangerous censorship is disguised as a well-intentioned program to “save the news.” In fact, it is little different from the sort of limitation of free speech that is practiced in every totalitarian dictatorship.

Those who fear a government takeover of the media need only recall the name of Joseph Paul Goebbels. As Joachim C. Fest’s 1973 biography of Adolf Hitler attests, it was Goebbels’s manipulation of media that brought Hitler to power and secured his control over Germany right up to the end of the regime. It was Goebbels who organized the candlelight processions, mass meetings, national radio broadcasts (over the objection of independent station owners), and eventual seizure of all print and electronic media.

Like the proposals coming out of staff discussions at the FTC and FCC, Hitler’s seizure of the media was carried out on the assumption that the news is a “public good.” At the center of the Nazi appeal, Fest points out, was a “perverted moral energy” (Fest 391), and at every step, Hitler presented himself as a moral leader. Hitler did not impose his rule on Germany; rather, a majority of the German people willingly embraced fascism because it promised national revitalization. Following Germany’s humiliating defeat in WWI and its punishment under the Versailles Treaty, Hitler portrayed national socialism as a moral imperative demanding the allegiance of every right-thinking citizen. Those who opposed his plans for “fixing” Germany were attacked as obstructionists.

A crucial aspect of Hitler’s rise to power was control of the media. During the run-up to the March 5, 1933 elections — the last truly legitimate elections to be held until after the war — Goebbels employed every means of propaganda to ensure Hitler’s success. Mass meetings, prominently reported in the print media and dramatically broadcast on radio, were planned for maximum impact. As Fest writes: “The country was inundated with appeals, slogans, parades, displays of banners” (Fest 409). Goebbels also employed his own party newspaper — Der Angriff [“The Attack”] — to full effect.

I am not suggesting that Barack Obama is Adolf Hitler. I am suggesting that like Hitler — and like Castro, Chávez, and many other radicals with grandiose ambitions — Obama intends to exert control over the media to secure his own political power. Obama is out of touch with the public, yet determined to impose his brand of socialism on the country. To succeed in this evil and undemocratic program, he must silence his opponents. And to silence his opponents, he must control the media. Thus the process now underway at the FTC and FCC.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Andrew Conte
July 7, 2010

After nearly a decade of federal tax cuts, Americans could awaken New Year’s Day with a whopper of a hangover.

Breaks covering everything from child tax credits to the death tax are set to expire that day, less than six months from now, bringing higher payments for nearly every American who pays taxes.

“We’ve never in history seen anything quite like this, where such a major portion of the tax code is set to expire on a single date and affect so many Americans all at once,” said Scott Hodge, president of The Tax Foundation, a Washington nonprofit that tracks tax policies.

Enacted in 2001 and 2003, the cuts run out unless Congress votes to extend them. President Obama proposed extending some tax breaks, for couples earning less than $250,000 a year, but lawmakers could let them all expire.

If that happens, according to The Tax Foundation’s analysis, everyone would pay more from bottom to top: Taxes for a couple with two children and a $50,000 income would more than triple to $2,825 a year, while a couple with no children earning $1 million would pay $44,000 a year more in taxes, for a total bill of $298,510.

“In that first paycheck in 2011, everyone will see a chunk missing. There will be a significant impact,” said Curtis Dubay, senior tax policy analyst for The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington policy group.

Congress might choose to extend some benefits and let those for top earners expire, said Ryan Ellis, tax policy director of Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington tax policy nonprofit group.

But if lawmakers choose to do nothing, the changes would include:

• Across-the-board income tax increases of 3 percent to 5 percent for every bracket;

• The so-called death tax on estates would return after a one-year hiatus, at 55 percent on estates over $1 million;

• Capital gains tax would rise to 20 percent from 15 percent, and dividends tax would rise to 39.6 percent from 15 percent;

• The child tax credit would be cut in half to $500 per child.

Rob Malone, 32, of Beechview didn’t expect this.

“I’m surprised,” Malone said. “Obama’s plan was not to raise taxes. He’s said many things and done the opposite.”

Lee Heckman, 51, who owns Custom Framing & Gallery on Beverly Road in Mt. Lebanon, said he’s worried about tax increases for small businesses. Two-thirds of small businesses are taxed at the top rate, which would increase to 39.6 percent from 35 percent, Americans for Tax Reform said.

“We’re already overwhelmingly overtaxed,” Heckman said.

Many of those concerned about higher taxes worry about the government’s deficit spending. The government plans to spend $1 trillion more than it brings in this year.

Tax breaks are not the problem and should be frozen in place, said Glen Meakem, managing director of Meakem Becker Venture Capital in Sewickley.

“The rate of spending today is out of control,” he said. “It’s unsustainable and … it’s going to bankrupt the country.”

One problem is that Americans don’t know how much they will have to pay — even if the news is bad, said Allan Meltzer, a political economist at Carnegie Mellon University.

Without knowing whether they’ll pay higher taxes in 2011, businesses and investors are uncertain about how to spend their money, he said.

“Someone needs to announce where we’re going and how we’re going to get there,” Meltzer said. “People won’t like to hear it, but they’re better off hearing it rather than speculating.”

Reuters
May 5, 2010

POLITICO (Washington) – While the BP oil geyser pumps millions of gallons of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico, President Barack Obama and members of Congress may have to answer for the millions in campaign contributions they’ve taken from the oil and gas giant over the years.

BP and its employees have given more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Donations come from a mix of employees and the company’s political action committees – $2.89 million flowed to campaigns from BP-related PACs and about $638,000 came from individuals.

On top of that, the oil giant has spent millions each year on lobbying — including $15.9 million last year alone — as it has tried to influence energy policy.

During his time in the Senate and while running for president, Obama received a total of $77,051 from the oil giant and is the top recipient of BP PAC and individual money over the past 20 years, according to financial disclosure records.

In Congress, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who last week cautioned that the incident should “not be used inappropriately” to halt Obama’s push for expansion of offshore drilling, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of BP’s largesse. Her comments created some blowback, with critics complaining that she is too blasé about the impact of the disaster, even though she was among the first lawmakers to call for a federal investigation into the spill.

As the top congressional recipient in the last cycle and one of the top BP cash recipients of the past two decades, Landrieu banked almost $17,000 from the oil giant in 2008 alone and has lined her war chest with more than $28,000 in BP cash overall.

“Campaign contributions, from energy companies or from environmental groups, have absolutely no impact on Sen. Landrieu’s policy agenda or her response to this unprecedented disaster in the Gulf,” said Landrieu spokesman Aaron Saunders. “The senator is proud of the broad coalition she’s built since her first day in the Senate to address the energy and environmental challenges in Louisiana and in the nation. This disaster only makes the effort to promote and save Louisiana’s coast all that more important.”

Several BP executives have given directly to Landrieu’s campaign, including current and previous U.S. operation Presidents Lamar McKay and Robert Malone. Other donors include Margaret Hudson, BP’s America vice president, and Benjamin Cannon, federal affairs director for the U.S. branch. Donations ranged from $1,000 to $2,300 during the past campaign cycle.

Environmentalists complain that Landrieu has played down the impact of oil spills.

“I mean, just the gallons are so minuscule compared to the benefits of U.S. strength and security, the benefits of job creation and energy security,” Landrieu said at a hearing last month on offshore drilling. “So while there are risks associated with everything, I think you understand that they are quite, quite minimal.”

“They own Mary Landrieu and the rest of the Louisiana delegation,” said Greenpeace Research Director Kert Davies. “They have more money, disposable income and a fleet of dispensable lobbyists to beat the band.”

Other politicians with ties to coastal states or states with BP refineries have also reaped benefits from the fourth largest company in the world.

The top congressional recipients of BP campaign cash include Republican Rep. Don Young of the oil-intensive Alaska delegation, who has received almost as much as Obama, raking in $73,300 during his congressional tenure. Also on the list is Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), whose state has a BP refinery in Toledo and who has raked in $41,400. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has received $44,899.

“Make no mistake: BP ranks among the most powerful corporate forces in U.S. politics,” said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics. “It donates hundreds of thousands of dollars every election cycle through its employees and political action committee and is routinely a seven- or eight-figure federal lobbying powerhouse each year.”

In 2008 alone, BP gave $37,000 to members of the House Energy Committee and $106,501 to members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which deals with security issues facing the nation’s oil supply.

BP has also evolved in its corporate giving over the past decade, shifting more money to Democrats. In 2000, the company gave almost 39 percent more to Republicans than to Democrats. But by 2008, Democrats had nearly pulled even with Republicans on BP donations.

Moreover, the company has nearly tripled the amount of money it has spent on lobbying, from about $5.7 million in 1999 to $15.9 million last year, according to lobbying disclosures.

BP has bulked up its K Street team by signing some of the biggest firms in Washington, several of which employ former Hill staffers with deep-seated ties to Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico coast.

BP representation within lobby shop Alpine Group alone includes lobbyist Bob Brooks, who served as chief of staff to former Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.), and lobbyist Rebecca Hawes, a longtime counsel for former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.). Jason Schendle worked for Landrieu for nine years, according to lobbying disclosures.

Former Rep. Jim Turner, now a lobbyist for BP with Arnold & Porter, formerly represented the 2nd District of Texas, which includes a large piece of Gulf shoreline. And at DC Legislative and Regulatory Services, BP lobbyist David Marin was formerly the lead Hill staffer for Congress’s Select Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina.

“First, they are exceedingly competent. Second, they are. I know the first will help enormously in the next few weeks. I am not so sure about the second,” said Republican energy lobbyist Mike McKen na of MWR Strategies, who predicted that Landrieu would quite likely get “very wide latitude” on the oil issue. “That may not be the case with BP, whose record is a bit more spotty.”