For a variety of reasons, but often because the established policy-making process has been unresponsive to citizens’ desires, proposed laws are put on election ballots for direct voter approval. This occurs both at the state and the local levels. In 2018, there were many such ballot measures on a great variety of topics from election reforms to energy and financial regulations to health care and financial matters to ethics and criminal justice issues to marijuana legalization to abortion and government administrative issues.

In the 2018 election, voters in 37 states decided 155 statewide ballot measures. Of those where a final result is available, 107 were approved and 47 were defeated. Of the 64 citizen-initiated measures, 32 were approved and 32 were defeated, for a 50% approval rate. For the 89 ballot measures initiated by legislative action or a commission, about 82 percent were approved. [1]

A number of these ballot measures addressed issues related to elections. To reduce gerrymandering, four states’ voters approved ballot initiatives that establish independent redistricting commissions to draw lines for congressional and state legislative districts after the 2020 Census. In Missouri, voters approved the establishment of the first ever state demographer position and enacted some unique competitiveness and partisan fairness criteria for state legislative districts. Ohio voters approved a ballot measure back in June that created a new redistricting system requiring super-majority, bi-partisan votes to approve new congressional districts. [2]

Automatic voter registration was approved through ballot measures in two states and two states’ voters approved same day registration. In Florida, a ballot measure passed that will restore voting rights to roughly 1.4 million citizens who have completed their sentences for felony convictions. Six states and more than a dozen local jurisdictions passed ballot measures strengthening ethics laws, requiring greater disclosure of campaign contributions, or regulating money in politics. [3] On the downside for access to voting, two states approved ballot measures establishing voter ID requirements.

Voters in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah approved ballot measures expanding Medicaid eligibility, a state option under the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Some Republican Governors and legislatures have opposed this expansion of Medicaid simply because it was part of Obamacare, even though it was very low cost to the states and would have provided health insurance to tens of thousands of low-income residents. A ballot measure to extend Montana’s Medicaid expansion beyond June 2019 failed, although the legislature and Governor could still extend it. Recreational marijuana sales were legalized in Michigan and Missouri but defeated in North Dakota, while medical marijuana was approved in Utah.

Some of these ballot measure had large amounts of money spent on campaigns for and against them. In general, state laws do not restrict spending on ballot questions, so where corporate interests are at issue, corporations often spend large amounts of money on ballot measure campaigns. For example, a California ballot measure to limit dialysis clinic’s revenue had over $130 million spent on it, of which $110 million was spent in opposition to the measure, which failed. A California local rent control measure had over $100 million spent on it, three-quarters in opposition, and it failed. An energy market-related measure in Nevada had almost $100 million spent on it, with two-thirds in opposition, and it failed. In Arizona, an energy market-related measure with over $50 million in spending failed with 57% spent in opposition.

Among the 10 ballot measures in 2018 with the most spending (all had over $30 million in spending), the side spending more money won in every case.

So, although the results varied, there were a number of distinctly progressive ballot measures that were approved as part of the 2018 election. In several cases, they were approved by margins of over 60% even when the state’s partisan candidates’ races were very close. This was true, for example, for Florida’s restoration of voting rights to those with felony convictions and in Michigan for voting and redistricting reform.

In my next post, I will share some thoughts on policy issues that should be high on the House Democrats’ agenda when they take over control in January.

[1]      Ballotpedia, retrieved 11/23/18, “2018 election analysis: Notable ballot measure results,” (

[2]      Rapoport, M., 11/9/18, “Tuesday’s verdict on voter suppression and gerrymandering,” The American Prospect (

[3]      Weiser, W., & Weiner, D. I., 11/9/18, “Voters are hungry for democracy reform,” Brennan Center for Justice (



The dominant narrative of the 2018 election from our mainstream (corporate) media had congealed even before the polls on the west coast had closed. As it turns out, their narrative was wrong.

The narrative goes something like this: there was no blue wave for Democrats; Trump and the Republicans won the election. Furthermore, there was no progressive shift among voters, because even where Democrats won, it was moderates who won; progressive Democrats, like Beto O’Rourke in Texas, lost.

In an attempt to correct the narrative and provide updates on the many races that were not determined by the end of election night coverage, CNN did a novel thing: it held a night of programming a full week after the election that it called “Election Night in America Continued.”

Because of the expansion of mail-in ballots, absentee voting, and early voting, as well as the new use of ranked choice voting in Maine and some very close races, final results have taken longer to tabulate than in the past. A week and a half after the election, two US Senate seats are still up in the air (Florida and Mississippi), as are seven US House seats and two governorships (Florida and Georgia). [1]

The inaccurate story of Democrats losing the election was based on early results from the east coast. Democrats lost a US House seat in Kentucky that had received a lot of attention only because of a scrappy fight in a long-shot race by a woman combat veteran with some advertising that went viral on social media. Democrats also lost a high-visibility US Senate race in Indiana early in the evening. Close races for Governor in Georgia and Florida, and a close Senate race in Florida, all of which are still counting votes but which some pundits prematurely called Republican wins, fueled the Democrats-are-losing story.

Beto O’Rourke’s close loss in the Texas US Senate race, which had received so much attention only because it was so amazing that this race was anywhere near close in deep red Texas, cemented the narrative that the Democrats were losing.

The premature claims of Republican wins are now being used to fuel Republicans’ and Trump’s demand that vote counting stop with claims that these elections are being “stolen.” These false claims are dangerous as they undermine voters’ faith in our democracy and in our voting systems, as well as the commitment to accurately count every vote.

However, as more votes are counted and more results are finalized, especially from the west coast, the blue wave for Democrats is becoming clearer and larger. The Democrats flipped at least 38 seats in the US House. They will have at least 30 more seats than the Republicans. In the US Senate, the Democrats were defending ten seats in states that Trump won but lost only three of them. Meanwhile, Democrats won two Senate seats from Republicans (Arizona and Nevada). [2]

Furthermore, without the gerrymandering and voter suppression done by Republicans, Democrats would likely have won at least a dozen more seats in the US House. For example, in North Carolina, Democratic candidates for the US House got 50% of the overall vote, but only 3 out of 13 seats. With fairly drawn districts, the Democrats would have gotten 3 or 4 more seats in North Carolina alone.

With votes still being counted, it seems certain that in the overall popular vote for US House candidates, Democrats will have at least 7% more votes than Republicans. This would make the 2018 blue wave bigger than the Republicans’ waves in 2010 (President Obama’s first mid-term election) and in 1994 (President Clinton’s first mid-term election). [3]

The mainstream (corporate) media and others who fear a resurgence of progressive values and policies (such as universal health insurance, a $15 minimum wage, and free public higher education) have inaccurately characterized the Democrats’ successes as coming from moderates. They claim that where Democrats ran progressive candidates, they lost. However, to make this argument, they have had to define as moderates many candidates who support progressive policies. [4] For example, of the 60 new incoming Democratic House members, 45 have publicly supported expanding Medicare (including 20 who support Medicare for All), 42 have publicly supported increasing the minimum wage, 49 support campaign finance reform, 48 support reducing prescription drug prices, and 41 support unions.

Overall, 65% of new House members support expanding Medicare or Social Security, while 82% rejected corporate PAC money for their campaigns and / or support campaign finance reform. (Even before the election, the House’s Expand Social Security Caucus had 150 members and the Medicare for All Caucus had over 70 members.) [5]

The Democratic blue wave was also clearly present in state election results. Democrats picked up at least seven governorships (with Florida and Georgia still undecided), three Attorneys General, 50 state Senate seats, and 200 state House seats. There are now 14 states where Democrats hold the governorship and control of both houses of the legislature, up from 8. Republicans hold similar control in 21 states, down from 26. In fourteen states, the parties share control of state government. [6]

Even in deep red Texas, where O’Rourke lost the US Senate race, Democrats picked up two US House seats, two state Senate seats, 11 seats in the state House, and four appeals court judges. In addition, a slate of 17 black women was swept into offices in Harris County. [7]

So, although Democrats and progressives did not win everything they tried for, there was a strong blue wave for Democrats and it had a strong progressive tint to it.

In my next posts, I will provide an overview of the results of the many ballot initiatives that were voted on and then share some thoughts on policy changes that should be high on the House Democrats’ agenda.

[1]      Ballotpedia, retrieved 11/15/128, “Election results, 2018,”,_2018

[2]      Walsh, J., 11/13/18, “Yes, there was a big blue wave last week,” The Nation (

[3]      Yglesias, M., 11/13/18, “Democrats’ blue wave was much larger than early takes suggested,” Vox (

[4]      Walsh, J., 11/13/18, see above

[5]      Green, A., 11/15/18, “The midterms prove it: Progressive ideas are now mainstream,” The Washington Post

[6]      Ballotpedia, see above

[7]      Yglesias, M., 11/13/18, see above


The term vulture capitalism is used to refer to financial manipulation techniques used to extract profits from companies without regard to their health or survival. [1] Workers, consumers, suppliers, and the communities where a company is based, as well as taxpayers, typically end up getting the short end of the stick while the vulture capitalists realize significant financial gains. In previous posts, I outlined the vulture capitalist business model and highlighted several examples of vulture capitalism in action.

Vulture capitalism is allowed and facilitated by existing laws and regulations. These need to be changed to restrict private financial gain at the expense of our society and economy. Vulture capitalism is like pollution, it harms the public good while private interests benefit.

Here are some steps that should be taken to rein in vulture capitalism:

  • Reduce the amount of debt (i.e., loans) a company is allowed to have. Pass laws setting limits or institute bank regulations limiting lending to companies with high levels of debt.
  • Limit the payment of dividends to vulture capitalists in the period right after they buy a company. Dividends could be banned for two years after the acquisition of a company, which is what Europe does.
  • Require increased transparency from vulture capitalists, including the disclosure of all fees and expenses they charge to companies they control, as well as the share of profits they take.
  • Stop the favorable tax treatment of the income of vulture capitalists (aka the carried interest loophole). Currently, their income is taxed at only 15% while other high-income individuals typically pay 35% to 40%. Vulture capitalists’ income should simply be treated the same way as everyone else’s earned income.
  • Reduce the tax benefit of companies’ large interest payments by reducing the deductibility of interest expenses when debt exceeds a certain level. (Note: The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act took a step in this direction by limiting the deductibility of interest when calculating corporate income tax. Businesses with revenues over $25 million are only able to deduct interest expenses of up to 30 percent of adjusted taxable income. This targets the biggest leveraged buyout deals and was included in the tax bill because it raises $253 billion in government revenue over ten years.) [2]
  • End the favorable tax treatment of commercial real estate ownership so that sale / lease back deals are not profitable.
  • Make stock buybacks, which artificially boost the price of a stock, illegal, as they were before 1982, especially if borrowed money is used to pay for them.
  • Treat vulture capitalists as owners of companies (which they are) instead of passive investors (which is how they are typically treated in court today). This would make them liable for unsafe working conditions and illegal treatment of workers, such as wage theft. They could also be held responsible for worker retraining and pension liabilities, for example, instead of being able to avoid these responsibilities when they put companies through bankruptcy.
  • Establish strict rules about conflicts of interest for vulture capitalists, so they can’t engage in self-dealing that enriches them while the company they own is stripped of assets and stability. Prohibit them from being both a shareholder (e.g., owner) and a creditor who has made loans to the company. Prohibit them from buying assets sold by the company. Prohibit them from keeping or reacquiring control of the company after it has gone through bankruptcy.
  • Change bankruptcy laws so that lenders to a company are not the first ones to get paid in a bankruptcy. Workers (and their pension benefits), suppliers and other business partners, and even communities that are harmed should not have to wait in line behind those who have loaned a company money, which usually means they get nothing in a vulture capitalism bankruptcy. The priority for paying lenders first in bankruptcy provides too great an incentive to provide big loans to companies for leveraged buyouts, dividend payouts, and acquisitions of other companies.
  • Give workers voting representation (or increased representation) on the Board of Directors of a company in return for concessions workers make in pay, benefits, working conditions, or workforce levels. This would reflect the fact that the workers have made a major investment in the viability of the company. In Europe, it is routine for workers to have voting representation on companies’ Boards. A strong argument can be made that US companies would be more equitably run if this were the case here.

I urge you to ask your elected officials to take action to stop vulture capitalism. It undermines our economy and society, contributes to economic inequality, and does substantial harm to workers, suppliers, consumers, communities, and taxpayers. The only people who benefit are the greedy vulture capitalists.

[1]      Wikipedia, retrieved 10/24/18, “Vulture capitalist,”

[2]      Dayen, D., 3/20/18, “Private equity: Looting ‘R’ us,” The American Prospect (


The term vulture capitalism refers to techniques of financial manipulation (aka financial engineering) used to extract profits from companies without regard to the health or survival of the companies. [1] Workers, consumers, suppliers, and the communities where a company is based, as well as taxpayers in general, typically end up getting the short end of the stick while the vulture capitalists realize significant financial gains. In my previous post, I outlined the vulture capitalist business model.

Recent examples of vulture capitalism include the bankruptcies of Sears, Toys R Us, the Hostess confectionery company (maker of Twinkies), and seven grocery store chains.

The bankruptcy of Sears is a classic case of vulture capitalism. In addition, there are conflicts of interest and self-dealing by the vulture capitalist that are even worse than usual. The vulture capitalist who bought Sears is Eddie Lampert. He is a hedge fund operator and used his ESL Investments fund (ESL) as a partner in the deal. He and ESL bought Sears in 2005 and he installed himself as CEO and board chairman. Lampert became Sears’ largest shareholder (31%) and ESL owned another 18%. What is unusual is that Lampert’s ESL and a related fund are also the biggest lenders to Sears, having loaned it roughly $3 billion. Sears was paying roughly $250 million per year in interest to these Lampert-affiliated entities. Also unusual is Lampert’s claim on Sears’ real estate. In 2015, Lampert, as Sears’ CEO, sold many of Sears’ real estate holdings for $2.7 billion in a sale / leaseback deal to a real estate investment trust that is 43.5% owned by ESL and where Lampert is the chairman. Sears has paid roughly $400 million to this REIT in rent and other payments since 2015. Therefore, Sears was paying Lampert and his affiliated funds over $600 million per year in interest and rent, while he served as Sears’ CEO and board chairman. [2]

In 2014, Lampert, as Sears CEO, sold the Land’s End clothing brand to a consortium that was two-thirds controlled by his ESL fund. In 2016, he sold Sears’ Craftsman tool brand to pay down debt that was largely held by him and his funds. He has proposed selling of other Sears assets and has made bids himself to buy some of them. Sears’ other stockholders have already won a $40 million settlement over Lampert’s self-dealing and selling of assets at bargain prices to entities in which Lampert holds a large stake. As Sears’ largest lenders, Lampert and affiliated entities are in position to control whatever entity and assets may emerge from the bankruptcy process, in what may be the ultimate conflict of interest in this story filled with such conflicts. [3]

Over the last decade, 175,000 workers at Sears and its subsidiary Kmart have lost their jobs and another 68,000 jobs are at risk due to the recent bankruptcy filing.

In the newspaper business, a vulture capitalist hedge fund, Alden Global Capital (AGC), has aggressively pulled cash and other assets out of newspaper companies while radically cutting staff (i.e., costs) and loading debt on the companies. AGC owns the Denver Post and hundreds of other newspapers through Digital First Media (DFM). AGC took control of DFM in 2011 and since then has eliminated two-thirds of the staff at the newspapers. Meanwhile, AGC has pulled $241 million in cash and millions more in real estate from the newspapers. It has loaded the newspapers up with $200 million in debt and “borrowed” almost $250 million from the workers’ pension funds. [4]

Earlier this year, 70-year-old Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy and closed all its U.S. stores with 33,000 people losing their jobs. In 2005, it was bought by vulture capitalists Bain Capital, KKR, and Vornado Realty Trust. They loaded up the chain with $6.6 billion in debt, extracted windfall profits, and then filed for bankruptcy. Forty percent of all retail chain bankruptcies between January 2015 and April 2017 were by companies owned by vulture capitalists. Sixty-one percent of all retail job losses over this period were due to vulture capitalism. [5]

You may remember the 2012 bankruptcy of the Hostess confectionery company, which made Twinkies. The company had filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and its unions agreed to massive pay and benefit cuts worth at least $150 million annually in an attempt to help the company survive. A vulture capitalist fund, Ripplewood Holdings, bought the bankrupt company for $130 million, saddling it with debt approaching $1 billion. Ripplewood installed new management who received big pay checks as the company struggled – CEO Brian J. Driscoll had his pay tripled to $2.55 million before he was pushed out after failing to turn the company around. The next CEO got a pay raise as the company was again headed for bankruptcy and while it was demanding 30 percent salary and benefit cuts from its employees. The company had also stopped contributing to the union’s pension fund, ignoring its obligations under collective bargaining agreements. Nonetheless, it filed for bankruptcy, eliminated 18,000 jobs, and asked the bankruptcy judge to permit it to pay executives $1.75 million in bonuses to oversee the dissolution of the company. [6] [7]

Since 2015, seven major grocery store chains, including A&P, have filed for bankruptcy. All seven bankruptcies were driven by vulture capitalists. More than 125,000 workers’ jobs are at-risk as a result. The case of Southeastern Grocers is a classic example of vulture capitalism. It was owned by Lone Star Funds, whose billionaire owner, John Grayken, renounced his US citizenship to avoid taxes. Lone Star sold $145 million of the company’s real estate – stores and a distribution center – that the company then had to pay rent to use in a classic sale / leaseback vulture capital deal. Between 2011 and 2018, Lone Star received $980 million in dividends, much of it paid for by loans that cost Southeastern Grocers tens of millions of dollars a year in interest. By March 2018, when the company filed for bankruptcy its debt was $1.1 billion. [8]

By way of comparison, Kroger, a conventionally owned company that is one of the largest supermarket chains in the country, whose stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, is doing just fine. It has low debt and, because of low interest and rent expenses, can afford to invest roughly $3 billion per year in its facilities and operations. It is also investing in its workers through workforce development, increased pay and benefits, and pension benefits. These are things vulture capital-owned competitors are unable to do due to the interest and rent expenses foisted on them.

These are just a few examples among many of how vulture capitalism is hurting workers and our economy, enriching a few financial engineers, i.e., vulture capitalists, without producing any benefits for the companies, society, or anyone but themselves.

In my next post, I will identify policy changes that would rein in vulture capitalists.

[1]      Wikipedia, retrieved 10/24/18, “Vulture capitalist,”

[2]      Dayen, D., 10/17/18, “How Sears was gutted by its own CEO,” The American Prospect (

[3]      Cohan, W. D., 10/16/18, “The billionaire who led Sears into bankruptcy court,” The New York Times

[4]      Reynolds, J., 4/13/18, “Meet the vulture capitalists who savaged ‘The Denver Post’,” The Nation (

[5]      Dayen, D., 3/20/18, “Private equity: Looting ‘R’ us,” The American Prospect (

[6]      Adams, S., 11/21/12, “Why Hostess had to die,” Forbes (

[7]      Blumgart, J., 11/20/12, “Vulture capitalism – not unions – killed Twinkies,” Salon (

[8]      Appelbaum, E., & Batt, R., Fall 2018, “Private equity pillage: Grocery stores and workers at risk,” The American Prospect (