President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally in Fairfax, Virginia on Friday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)President Barack Obama and the Democrats raised $181 million in September "" their largest monthly haul since he launched his reelection bid, his campaign announced Saturday."Some amazing news this morning: 1,825,813 people came together to raise $181 million for this campaign in September," the campaign said on Twitter."If you gave $5, it helped. 98% of September's contributions were $250 or less, with an average contribution of $53," it said.
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, Oct 3 (Reuters) - U.S. solar panel producers, who have already won preliminary duties on billion of dollars of solar panel imports from China, appear well positioned to win longer-term relief in coming weeks as the U.S. government makes its final decisions.
The high-profile case, which has been copied by producers in Europe and spawned threats of retaliation from Beijing, now largely turns on whether the U.S. International Trade Commission finds U.S. manufacturers have been "materially injured," or are threatened with material injury, by the imports.
"We feel we have a very strong injury case," Tim Brightbill, lead attorney for SolarWorld Americas and other U.S. producers, told Reuters ahead of an ITC hearing on Wednesday to examine the case before the panel votes in early November.
"The impact on the domestic industry has just been devastating. I think we're unfortunately up to 13 companies where there has been either a shutdown or a bankruptcy or significant work layoffs due to the Chinese imports," he said.
Even some critics of the duties, like GT Advanced Technologies President Tom Gutierrez, see little chance they won't be imposed because U.S. decision makers only consider whether U.S. producers have been harmed or threatened by the imports and not the larger impact any duties might have.
"That's the fundamental flaw in the process. ... Nothing is going to change," said Gutierrez, whose company exports high-technology equipment used in the solar manufacturing process and could be hit if China does decide to retaliate.
Gutierrez predicted that "not a single U.S. job will be created" if U.S. duties are imposed, but thousands could be lost in the installation and export sector.
The U.S. Commerce Department, which has set combined preliminary duties of roughly 35 percent on most Chinese solar panels, will make a final decision on duties on Oct. 10.
That would set the stage for the final ITC vote in early November. It is relatively rare for the ITC to reject duties but it does occur. At least four commissioners would have to change their votes from last year, when the panel voted 6-0 that there was a reasonable indication of material injury.
HIGHER DUTIES, BROADER RULING SOUGHT
U.S. producers also hope the Commerce Department will set higher duties in its final decision next week.
They were disappointed the department set preliminary countervailing duties of just 2.90 percent to 4.73 percent to offset Chinese government subsidies and anti-dumping duties of about 31 percent to offset unfairly low pricing by the main Chinese producers and exporters.
"We don't feel (the duties) adequately reflect the entire harm or the damage that's been done to the U.S. industry," said Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Americas, whose German parent company is also pushing for duties in Europe.
"If you look at the pricing collapse that's occurred over the past three years, it's (much more than what was reflected in) those initial duties that were put in place," Brinser added.
SolarWorld also wants the Commerce Department to reverse a decision that excludes from U.S. duties any Chinese solar panels made from cells manufactured outside China.
The department's preliminary stance on that issue will just encourage Chinese producers to out-source their cell production off shore to escape U.S. duties, Brinser said.
A broader order and higher anti-dumping and countervailing duties would help the U.S. industry start growing again, instead of just hanging on, he said.
However, non-manufacturing segments of the U.S. solar industry fear duties could cripple U.S. demand in the long run.
"The irony of the trade case is that at precisely the time we're making progress in reducing the price of solar, SolarWorld ... is trying to increase prices," said Kevin Lapidus, senior vice president at Sun Edison, a California-based company that installs solar panels.
Rather than try to push prices higher, the U.S. solar industry needs to find ways to further reduce costs so it can be competitive with fossil fuels, Lapidus said.
SolarWorld and other U.S. manufacturers represent only about 2 to 3 percent of U.S. solar industry jobs and are jeopardizing the future for the other 97 to 98 percent, he said.
Lapidus is a spokesman for the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, which estimates there are some 100,000 solar industry jobs in the United States, most of which are involved in the design, engineering, sales, installation and maintenance of solar systems.
WASHINGTON, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Forty-seven Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are pushing Speaker John Boehner to eliminate the wind production tax credit, a tax break that has split Republicans and drawn criticism from presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.
Democratic President Barack Obama has urged Congress to extend the credit, which dates to 1992 and has support from Republicans in states that are home to wind farms and manufacturing plants, such as Iowa and South Dakota.
The credit has other powerful proponents in big companies that buy wind energy. Heavyweights including Microsoft Corp, Sprint and Hewlett-Packard have urged renewal. The industry calls it vital to ensuring jobs, including wind turbine tower manufacturing in a broad swath of U.S. states.
Republican opposition to renewable energy tax breaks has been galvanized by anger over a failed solar project backed by the Obama administration. Republicans referred to that project, a start-up company called Solyndra, several times in the letter.
"The Obama administration has poured billions into subsidizing its favored green energy sources," reads the letter dated Sept. 21 from House Republicans to Boehner, also a Republican. "Twenty years of subsidizing wind is more than enough."
Signers of the letter include Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee, but does not include members of the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, which is led by Representative Dave Camp.
A spokesman for Boehner said the issue will be addressed after the election.
Mitt Romney, Obama's Republican rival for the presidency in elections on Nov. 6, irked some members of his party when he backed ending the subsidy earlier this year.
Prominent Senate Republicans including Charles Grassley of Iowa are big wind credit supporters and extension is included in Senate legislation still pending.
The House and Senate are expected to make a decision on the wind credit, along with a slew of breaks known as "tax extenders" and the larger issue of individual tax rates, after the elections and before the extenders expire at year's end.
The wind industry says 37,000 jobs would be lost if the tax credit expires and some big companies have already attributed layoffs to the uncertainty, including Siemens. The credit costs about $11 billion a year.
Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.
CHICAGO, Sept 21 (Reuters) - An Illinois appellate court Friday affirmed a lower court finding that the state cannot force pharmacies and pharmacists to sell emergency contraceptives - also known as "morning after pills" - if they have religious objections.
In 2005, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich mandated that all pharmacists and pharmacies sell "Plan B," the brand name for a drug designed to prevent pregnancy following unprotected sex or a known or suspected contraceptive failure if taken within 72 hours.
Some anti-abortion advocates object to the drugs, which work by preventing the release of an egg, preventing fertilization or stopping a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.
In 2011, an Illinois judge entered an injunction against the rule, finding no evidence that the drugs had ever been denied on religious grounds, and that the law was not neutral since it was designed to target religious objectors.
The Illinois appellate court agreed that the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act protects pharmacists' decision not to dispense the contraceptives due to their beliefs.
"This decision is a great victory for religious freedom," said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund, quoted in a statement about the decision.
Earlier this year, a federal court in Washington struck down a similar state rule, according to the Becket Fund, a non-profit law firm.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which had filed an amicus brief on behalf of the state, expressed dismay at the court's decision.
"We are dismayed that the court expressly refused to consider the interests of women who are seeking lawful prescription medication and essentially held that the religious practice of individuals trumps women's health care," said ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka. "We think the court could not be more wrong."
A spokesperson for Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was not immediately available for comment. (Reporting By Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Tim Gaynor)
* Issue has downsides for both candidates
* Prices edge up, but market still troubled
* "Like rolling rock up the hill"
By Andy Sullivan
LAS VEGAS, Sept 20 (Reuters) - If pocketbook issues are the main focus of the U.S. presidential election, President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney have remarkably little to say about a topic that directly affects most voters: the still-dismal housing market.
The two candidates battle daily over taxes, gas prices and job creation, but as they make their final pitch to voters before the Nov. 6 election, they have been largely silent on housing, which accounts for one-sixth of the economy.
"Neither one wants to explain themselves because any explanation is going to be unpleasant," said Richard K. Green, a public policy professor at the University of Southern California.
Some of the worst housing markets happen to be in key swing states, like Nevada and Florida, where Obama and Romney make frequent stops in their final two months of campaigning.
Obama can point to some progress in refinancing and foreclosure relief efforts, but even his campaign acknowledges he has not done enough.
Romney has been haunted by his remark last year that the foreclosure process should be allowed to "hit bottom," and he did not release a housing plan until earlier this month. Long on rhetoric and short on details, it calls for many of the approaches that Obama is already taking.
For both candidates, the downsides are clear. The problem is massive and dauntingly complex, and action to help struggling homeowners could stir a backlash from neighbors who have kept up with their mortgage payments.
Five years after the housing market's collapse touched off the 2007-09 recession, $7 trillion in household wealth has vanished and neighborhoods across the country are still pockmarked with boarded-up houses.
Although home prices are edging upward in many markets, they are unlikely to return to pre-bust levels for years.
HUGE DRAG ON THE ECONOMY
The stagnant housing market amounts to a massive drag on the economy as shell-shocked homeowners postpone major purchases as they try to rebuild their wealth.
One-quarter of all homeowners are effectively trapped in their houses because they owe more than their homes are worth, eliminating their ability to move to areas where they might find work. Unemployment in the construction sector stood at 11 percent in August, well above the national average.
While Obama acted boldly to stem the recession and prop up industries like banking and auto manufacturing when he took office in 2009, he has been less bold when it comes to housing.
As home values plunged and foreclosures skyrocketed, his economic team spent two years tweaking programs to modify and refinance existing mortgages that did not address the problem on a comprehensive basis.
Fewer than 2 million households have taken part in programs aimed at lowering mortgage rates or reducing monthly payments, far short of the administration's goal of 9 million.
Obama has stepped up his efforts over the past year, but regulators, mortgage lenders and Republicans in Congress have blunted many of his efforts. One plan that would have forgiven debt owed by struggling homeowners - a controversial approach that many experts say is the only way to fix the problem - was blocked by the head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency in July.
The Federal Reserve has driven home mortgage rates to record lows by injecting money into the economy through its bond-buying programs. Most economists polled by Reuters think the latest round, announced last week, will not give a substantial boost to the housing market.
U.S. home resales rose in August to their highest rate in more than two years, and groundbreaking on new homes also climbed, data on Wednesday showed, signs that a budding housing market recovery is gaining traction.
Although the worst of the crisis has passed, the market remains deeply troubled. Some 190,000 properties get a foreclosure notice each month - more than twice as many as before the crisis hit, according to RealtyTrac, a real-estate research firm. Many of those who have gotten government help have subsequently fallen behind on their payments again.
"It's kind of like rolling the rock up the hill over and over again," said RealtyTrac Vice President Daren Blomquist.
Many Obama supporters are inclined to give him a pass on the issue. They note that the housing market collapsed under his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush, and say he would doubtless be doing more if Republicans would cooperate.
"I honestly believe he's trying to help. He's trying to get money to the people who are underwater," said retiree Michele Gates at an Obama campaign event in Las Vegas last week.
In areas like Las Vegas that have been hit especially hard, Obama promises to expand his efforts if he wins re-election.
"My administration has already helped more than a million responsible homeowners refinance their mortgages and I'm running to give more like them the chance to refinance," he told a crowd of 8,000 at the city's convention center.
Elsewhere, Obama mentions the subject only in passing as he touts the achievements of his first term and lays out his agenda for a second term. In his stump speech, Obama promises to hire more teachers, boost manufacturing jobs and expand natural-gas production if he wins the election, but he makes no new promises on housing.
Campaign aides dispute the notion that Obama is avoiding the topic. They say he speaks about housing in states like Nevada and Florida where it is a concern of voters, even if he does not work it into every speech.
FEW TOOLS LEFT IN KIT
"The president is the first to say that this is an issue where there's more that needs to be done," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. Obama "is happy to put his record and the efforts he's made to improve the housing market up against Mitt Romney's any day of the week."
Romney told a Las Vegas newspaper last year that the foreclosure process should be allowed to "hit bottom" - a view shared by many market experts who say that efforts to slow the foreclosure rate only prolong the pain. Democrats say the comment shows that Romney does not care about struggling homeowners, and he has frequently had to clarify those remarks in return visits to the state.
Romney's stance is not as simplistic as Democrats would suggest. He has expressed support for refinancing assistance and said lenders should not be allowed to peddle exotic loans that were widespread before the crash.
His housing plan, released earlier this month, calls for selling off vacant homes owned by the government, helping troubled homeowners avoid foreclosure, streamlining regulations and reforming the government-owned finance companies that underpin much of the mortgage market.
The plan contains few details and echoes many approaches already under way. When pressed for specifics, Romney points to programs that Obama has put in place.
"There's a federal program that helps people refinance homes and receive lower interest rates," he told an NBC affiliate in Reno, Nevada, in July. "That's already there for folks."
Like Obama, he has not made housing part of his stump speech. Critics say his silence on the issue undercuts his claim that he is the best candidate to fix the economy.
No matter who wins the White House in November, the problem is not likely to go away soon. E conomists say any rise in home values is likely to be modest as long as wages stay flat.
Millions of mortgages remain at risk of foreclosure, and consumers who struggled to pay their bills during the recession are less likely to qualify for a mortgage in the years to come. Efforts to boost the market, from loosened monetary policy to tax credits for new buyers, may have run their course.
"I don't think either side has good ideas that are going to be catchy," said Robert Van Order, a professor of finance and economics at George Washington University. "There aren't that many tools left in the kit."
Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.
By Steve Holland
BELMONT, Mass., Sept 15 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama on Saturday of standing by while a looming budgetary calamity unfolds in Washington as he sought to regain his footing after a tough week on the campaign trail.
Romney leaped into the debate over the "fiscal cliff," the potential for an end-of-the-year uproar when some $109 billion in across-the-board spending cuts kick in unless Obama and Congress reach a deficit-reduction deal to avert them. Bush-era tax cuts also expire at year's end.
The Washington debate mirrors the campaign battle between Obama and Romney. Democrats want to make up the shortfall by increasing taxes on wealthy Americans while Republicans favor spending cuts.
"Political gridlock threatens to plunge us back into recession, but instead of seeking bipartisan solutions, President Obama is passively allowing us to go over a fiscal cliff," Romney said in his weekly podcast.
The White House said in releasing a breakdown of the cuts on Friday that it was congressional Republicans who are standing in the way of a deal because they refuse to accept a more balanced approach.
The White House and Congress, Democrats and Republicans, including Romney's vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, agreed on the automatic cuts under an August 2011 deal.
Romney, who has vowed to build up the U.S. military if elected on Nov. 6, has singled out for criticism the $54 billion in defense cuts that would kick in at year's end. He says this is no time to shrink the Pentagon's budget.
"What kind of commander-in-chief forces Americans to choose between massive tax hikes that will undermine the economy and massive cuts to our military that will undermine national security?" said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
Romney is ending a rough week during which he fell behind Obama in the polls and came under criticism from Democrats and some Republicans for making a campaign issue of the deaths of four Americans killed by Muslim protesters at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
The candidate took the day off on the campaign trail on Saturday. He spent part of the afternoon watching one of his grandson's soccer games. Romney travels to Colorado and California on Sunday.
WASHINGTON, Sept 13 (Reuters) - U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admits she made a mistake during remarks in February that investigators say violated a federal law restricting the political activities of government employees.
Sebelius, who is spearheading the implementation of President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law, warned at a meeting of the Human Rights Campaign that progress made on gay and lesbian rights under Obama could be "wiped out in a heartbeat" if the president was not reelected in November.
She also called for the election of a Democratic governor in North Carolina. Human Rights Campaign represents people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
"Secretary Sebelius violated the Hatch Act by making extemporaneous political remarks," investigators with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel concluded in a report that referred the case to the president for "appropriate action."
The findings are unlikely to lead to disciplinary action against Sebelius but could provide fodder for Republicans, who vehemently oppose the Democratic Party's embrace of homosexual rights issues, including gay marriage. Obama's Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, has vowed to overturn the president's policies, including the health reform law known as "Obamacare."
"The report correctly states that I have acknowledged that the statements that you have identified were a mistake," Sebelius said in a Sept. 7 letter to the Office of Special Counsel, which investigates alleged violations of the Hatch Act.
The Hatch Act prohibits most federal employees from engaging in political activity while on duty. But those nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate are allowed to do so in a personal capacity if taxpayers do not bear the costs.
Sebelius, a former Democratic governor of Kansas, was appointed by Obama, confirmed by the Senate and sworn into office in April 2009.
A White House official would not say whether the president would take action, but added that Sebelius had acted quickly to rectify the situation and had not been accused of such violations before.
According to investigators, the Department of Health and Human Services promptly reclassified the event as a political activity and reimbursed the U.S. Treasury for the expense.
A department official said the Democratic National Committee had paid a $2,500 reimbursement for the cost of the trip.
"This error was immediately acknowledged by the secretary, promptly corrected, and no taxpayer dollars were misused," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement. (Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)
WASHINGTON, Sept 10 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama's re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee raised more than $114 million in August, filling up its coffers for an expensive fall against well-funded Republican rival Mitt Romney.
The Democratic incumbent broadened his donor base with more than 317,000 donors who had never given money before, said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina in a statement.
"The key to fighting back against the special interests writing limitless checks to support Mitt Romney is growing our donor base, and we did substantially in the month of August," Messina said. "That is a critical downpayment on the organization we are building across the country -- the largest grassroots campaign in history."
BOSTON, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney raised more than $111 million in August, according to a statement issued by his campaign, maintaining an overwhelming cash advantage over President Barack Obama.
With less than two months to go before the Nov. 6 presidential election, Romney maintained his streak of fundraising dominance as his campaign, the Republican National Committee and state Republican parties reported that together they have about $168.5 million in cash at their disposal.
While Obama shattered every fundraising record in 2008 after becoming the first presidential candidate to opt out of a federal matching funds system, Romney has significantly outpaced the president in his bid for the White House this year.
After raising $101 million in July, Romney and the joint Victory Fund he shares with the Republican National Committee already enjoyed a $60 million cash-on-hand advantage over Obama.
The president's campaign has also burned through money faster than the Republican candidate, spending $58.5 million in July, with about two-thirds of that going to advertising.
Republicans view the combination of Obama's high cash burn rate and polls that show a tight race as evidence that they have withstood the advertising onslaught Obama's campaign launched early in the year.
"This race is a dead heat, even after they have spent over $100 million attacking Mitt Romney with negative ads," one senior Romney adviser said Sunday.
Romney is also now free to spend the millions of dollars he raised during his primary campaign.
Legally, Romney was barred from spending money he raised before he formally accepted the Republican nomination, which he did in Tampa more than a week ago.
The day after Obama accepted his party's nomination for president at the Democratic convention in North Carolina, the Romney campaign demonstrated it was ready to start spending some of that money in a homestretch assault on Obama.
Republicans seized on a disappointing jobs report on Friday morning, announcing they bought ad time in the key swing states Obama won in 2008 but are now in play.
Romney, on the air in the key states of Iowa, Virginia, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and North Carolina, was set to expand his advertising to Wisconsin on Monday.
"What we very deliberately did, we held our powder and we knew these jobs numbers were going to be a big moment," said one Romney adviser. "And we loaded up to come back on Friday, and we've gone up in a big way."
While Romney spent much of the summer fundraising, senior adviser Kevin Madden indicated that the Republican candidate would shift his focus to spending time with voters down the homestretch.
"We'll continue to do some fundraising throughout this month, but I think we're in that critical phase where we're trying to put our emphasis on voter contact and having the governor do more retail campaigning," Madden said.
SEMINOLE, Florida (Reuters) - President Barack Obama kicked off a two-day bus tour of the key election battleground state of Florida on Saturday with former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who endorsed Obama's 2008 rival John McCain but has since left the Republican Party.
Trying to build on the momentum of this week's Democratic National Convention and overcome another tough jobs report, Obama is spending the weekend canvassing a state that he and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, both want to win in order to achieve victory in the November 6 U.S. election.
The Democratic incumbent hopes Crist, a once popular Republican governor, will help Obama appeal to political independents, who are likely to determine the victor in the state.
"We have a leader with a cool head, and his name is President Barack Obama," Crist told the crowd of some 11,000 at an outdoor rally.
"He is working hard for the middle class. He is working hard for Florida," Crist said.
Crist campaigned for Republican presidential nominee McCain in 2008 but left the Republican Party in 2010 when polling suggested he would lose the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate to Marco Rubio, a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement. Crist ran as an independent and Rubio won in a three-way race.
Crist embraced Obama - literally - as the president campaigned for his economic stimulus bill in 2009, giving him a big hug that was videotaped and replayed endlessly. It reinforced Republican suspicions that Crist was not a true conservative.
Obama, with sleeves rolled up and no tie, embraced Crist again on Saturday after his remarks.
"I want to thank Charlie Crist for his introduction, for his support, for showing that the values that we're fighting for are not Democratic values or Republican values, they are American values," Obama said.
'ROMNEY DON'T CARE'
Obama has traveled to Florida 10 times so far this year, according to his campaign. Obama used his stop on Saturday to criticize Romney and his running mate, congressman Paul Ryan, for their opposition to his 2010 healthcare law and proposals to reform Medicare, the popular government health insurance program for the elderly.
"By the way, Florida, you should know I will never turn Medicare into a voucher system," he said. "No American should have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies."
Ryan proposed a plan two years ago that would transform Medicare into a program in which recipients would use vouchers to buy private insurance.
Romney has also pledged to repeal the healthcare law often called "Obamacare." Obama told the crowd the former Massachusetts governor's plan should be called "Romney don't care" and joked that Republicans believed tax cuts were so important they could help a person's love life.
Romney's campaign kept up the heat on the president over his economic record. Government data on Friday showed that U.S. employers added a lower-than-expected 96,000 jobs in August.
"After a disastrous convention week and a widely panned speech that was short on specifics, President Obama delivered more empty promises and false attacks today in Florida," said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams.
"As yesterday's dismal jobs report showed - and as President Obama admitted - job creation in America isn't good enough, yet he didn't lay out any new ideas for getting our economy back on track."
Brian Olinger, 40, who attended the president's rally, said Crist could help Obama in Florida. "Even though I was a Democrat, he did some good things for teachers and other people when he was governor," he said.
(Twitter: @jeffmason1; Additional reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by Will Dunham)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Social networking sites play a modest role in influencing most U.S. users' political views, with the biggest impact among Democrats, a survey showed on Tuesday.
The poll by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project comes as Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are using Facebook Inc pages and other social media as campaign tools ahead of the November election.
"For most of those who use the sites, political material is just a small portion of what they post and what they read. And the impact of their use of the sites is modest, at best," Lee Rainie, director of the Pew project, said in a statement.
Thirty-six percent of social networking site users say they are "very important" or "somewhat important" to them in keeping up with political news, the survey showed.
The sites are "very important" or "somewhat important" to 26 percent of site users in recruiting people to get involved in political issues that matter to them.
A quarter of the site users say they are "very important" or "somewhat important" for discussing or debating political issues, the poll showed.
Twenty-five percent of users say the sites are "very important" or "somewhat important" in finding other people who share their views about important political issues.
In each case, Democrats are more likely than Republicans or independents to say the sites are important.
A third of Democrats and liberals who use social networking sites say their activities on the sites have led them to become more active, compared with 24 percent of site-using Republicans and independents.
The survey found that 84 percent of site users say they have posted little or nothing related to politics in their recent status updates, comments and links.
The telephone survey was conducted from January 20 to February 19 among 1,407 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Todd Eastham)
By Steve Holland
LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Aug 23 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will lay out policies on Thursday aimed at achieving North American energy independence by 2020 by pursuing a sharp increase in production of oil and natural gas on federal lands and off the U.S. coast.
Romney is to unveil his plan at a truck and supply business in Hobbs, New Mexico, as he seeks to draw a sharp contrast between his energy policies and those of President Barack Obama and detail in part how he would rekindle job growth in the United States.
His emphasis on the economy amounts to an effort to return the campaign to the central issue Romney believes is most critical in the Nov. 6 election and the key to a victory for him.
The economic debate has to a certain extent been sidelined in recent days by controversial remarks about rape by a Senate Republican candidate in Missouri, Todd Akin, who Romney has denounced.
Romney's energy policies are heavily tilted toward increased production of carbon-based resources, oil, gas and coal, that environmentalists blame for global warming. He is outlining the policy two days after going over some of the details with executives from the oil industry who contributed to his campaign at fund-raising events in Texas.
Republicans are eager to make greater use of the U.S. energy supply to increase jobs for Americans suffering amid an 8.3 percent unemployment rate. They would curtail some federal regulations to permit more production.
Romney is to predict that a full-blown energy plan will create 3 million jobs in energy sectors and other areas, part of an ambitious effort to create 12 million jobs during a Romney presidency.
"I want every American who wants a good job to be able to have one," Romney told Republicans at a fund-raising event in Little Rock on Wednesday.
The centerpiece of Romney's energy plan is to permit individual states to manage energy development on federal lands within their borders, according to a "white paper" released by the campaign and a briefing for reporters by senior aides in advance of the speech.
Currently the federal government controls development on these lands, and Romney's aides said that under Obama, this has led to a sharp reduction in exploration over the past year.
Letting states issue permits for exploration on federal lands would speed up the process, Romney will argue.
Romney would also open up areas off the East Coast to oil exploration, and in particular would reverse Obama's decision to suspend development off the coast of Virginia following the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
He would establish a five-year offshore leasing plan that would open new areas for development beginning with those off the coast of Virginia and the Carolinas.
A North American energy partnership with Canada and Mexico would also be sought and Romney would allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas, which has been delayed by the Obama administration.
"I'm going to take advantage of our energy resources: Oil, coal, gas, nuclear, renewables, wind, solar. North America will be energy independent by the last year of my second term," he said.
The plan makes little mention of climate change or greenhouse gases. Romney policy adviser Oren Cass said Romney supports green energy and government spending on energy research, but opposes loan guarantees for green companies.
A tax credit for the wind industry expires at the end of this year. Obama supports an extension of it while Romney opposes it even though it could hurt him with voters in Iowa and Colorado. Cass said the wind industry has lost 10,000 jobs and growth has slowed.
"Gov. Romney is focused on actually setting the wind industry up to be a competitive, innovative industry that can succeed on its own two feet, like so many other successful and profitable industries in the country," he said.
By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES, Aug 17 (Reuters) - A medical marijuana trade group and 11 patients sued the city of Los Angeles on Friday, seeking to block enforcement of an ordinance that would shut down most of the city's storefront pot dispensaries in three weeks.
The lawsuit, which says users are protected by California's 1996 legalization of medical marijuana and the U.S. Constitution, seeks an immediate injunction to keep Los Angeles officials from shuttering dispensaries starting on Sept. 6.
The plaintiffs also hope to ultimately overturn the ban in Los Angeles, home to more pot shops than any other U.S. city, in litigation that marks the latest battle in a chaotic fight over medical marijuana that has sometimes pitted federal, state and local officials against each other.
"The medical marijuana center of the globe is L.A. just as much as the movie capital of the globe is L.A.," said Marc O'Hara, executive director of Patient Care Alliance, which filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court. "There are more dispensaries here than in the rest of the country."
City officials estimate there are some 750 registered dispensaries in Los Angeles and as many as 200 more without proper registration.
The Los Angeles City Council voted 14-0 in July to close down storefront medical marijuana shops in what Councilman Jose Huizar, who introduced the measure, called a "gentle ban" because it allowed for the drug to be cultivated and shared by groups of three patients or caregivers.
"Relief is coming in the form of having a more focused and intense crackdown on these dispensaries that cause problems in our neighborhoods," Huizar said at the time. Earlier this month authorities sent letters to store owners telling them to close by Sept. 6 or face fines and jail time.
State rules governing the distribution of medical marijuana remain fuzzy and judges and appeals courts have issued sometimes conflicting rulings on municipal attempts at regulation.
Huizar said in response to the lawsuit that a recent California appeals court decision had sided with Los Angeles over its efforts to rein in pot shops and was confident the "gentle ban" provided sufficient access to medical marijuana.
Patient Care attorney Arthur Hodge said the Los Angeles' ordinance amounted to an outright ban because it was impractical for groups of three people or less to cultivate medical-grade marijuana.
California became the first U.S. state to decriminalize medical marijuana in 1996 and was followed by 16 other states and the District of Columbia.
The law has caused friction with the federal government, which classifies cannabis as an illegal narcotic and makes no exemption for medicinal uses. Federal authorities under the Obama administration have sought to crack down on dispensaries in California and elsewhere in the U.S. West.
Hodge said he hoped for more clarity on the issue from the California Supreme Court, which he believes may take up the issue early next year.
"I hope that the Supreme Court comes down on our side and we can return to a compassionate approach," he said. "There shouldn't be a collective on every corner. I'm the first to say that. But this is an overreaction. It's throwing the baby out with the bath water." (Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Dan Grebler, Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)
LONDON, Aug 19 (Reuters) - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange used the balcony of Ecuador's London embassy on Sunday to berate the United States for threatening freedom of expression and called on U.S. President Barack Obama to end what he called a witch-hunt against WikiLeaks.
Speaking from the balcony of the embassy, where he is staying to avoid arrest by British police who want to extradite him to Sweden, Assange said the United States risked shunting the world into an era of journalistic oppression.
"As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of all of our societies," Assange said, dressed in a maroon tie and blue shirt. "I ask President Obama to do the right thing: the United States must renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks," he said in a 10-minute speech which he ended with two thumbs up to the world's media.
* Tearful homecoming in Wisconsin
* Romney shows flash of anger at Obama
* Ryan's stance on Medicare could hurt vote among seniors
By Steve Holland and Sam Youngman
WAUKESHA, Wisc., Aug 12 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan home to a tearful welcome in Wisconsin on Sunday in a celebratory event that produced a flash of anger from Romney over what he considers dishonest campaigning by President Barack Obama.
Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman elevated to Romney's No. 2 on Saturday, wiped away tears and choked up as he and Romney made a dramatic entrance on stage in front of a crowd of around 8,000 to the theme song of the movie, "Air Force One."
Clearly reveling in the moment as the native son come home, Ryan told them: "I'm a Wisconsinite through and through."
"My veins run with cheese, bratwurst, a little Spotted Cow ... and some Millers," he said to laughter. "I like to hunt here, I like to fish here, to snowmobile here. I even think ice fishing is interesting."
The Nov. 6 election is more than two months away, but Sunday's rally had the intensity of a typical late-October campaign event. It showed how Romney's selection of the Wisconsin congressman as his running mate has injected new energy into a campaign that had struggled to move beyond Democrats' efforts to cast Romney as a wealthy former private equity executive who cannot relate to middle-class Americans.
Romney hopes the enthusiasm produced by the No. 2 pick will generate a spark that will help him erase a lead Obama has produced in recent polls of voters.
"What a homecoming for a terrific guy," Romney told the Waukesha crowd. "I guess you think I made the right decision, the right choice? I know I did."
When a heckler tried to disrupt the event, Romney unleashed frustrations at the Obama campaign over a television ad produced by a pro-Obama group that all but suggested Romney shared some of the blame for the death of the wife of a steelworker, who lost his job and health insurance when Romney's Bain Capital bought the company.
The ad has been roundly condemned by independent fact-checkers, but the Obama campaign has not called for the ad to be pulled. While the Romney campaign has engaged in negative tactics as well, his aides felt the ad crossed a line.
"There's no question but if you follow the campaign of Barack Obama, he's going to do everything in his power to make this the lowest, meanest negative campaign in history. We're not going to let that happen. This is going to be a campaign about ideas about the future of America," Romney said angrily.
"Mr. President, take your campaign out of the gutter," he said. "Let's talk about the real issues that America faces."
Romney, 65, seemed relieved to have a sidekick to end what he has called the "two against one" dynamic of the race, with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on one side and Romney on the other.
"It's a far more compelling dynamic than just being out there on my own," Romney told reporters late Saturday.
But it also was evident that Romney's selection of Ryan - who is known for his sweeping budget plan to reduce government spending and debt by trimming taxes and revamping Medicare and other social programs - is going to raise a series of hurdles for his campaign as it sprints toward Election Day.
In choosing Ryan, Romney is all but attaching himself to Ryan's controversial budget plan, which has been blasted by Democrats who say it would dismantle popular social programs that help the elderly and the poor.
Ryan's selection also suggested that Romney is tackling a prickly task during an intense, nasty and likely close race for the White House. He is asking Americans to consider tough questions about the future of Medicare, the government-backed health insurance program for the elderly, and a range of other government programs.
During an interview that Romney and Ryan gave to CBS's Bob Schieffer on "60 Minutes" on Sunday, Ryan responded to criticism of his Medicare plan by noting that it would apply only to those younger than 55.
"My mom is a Medicare senior in Florida," Ryan said. "Our point is, we need to preserve their benefits, because government made promises to them that they've organized their retirements around. In order to make sure we can do that, you must reform it for those of us who are younger. And we think these reforms are good reforms."
Romney and Ryan will now head off in different directions, Romney to resume bus tour in Florida and Ryan goes to Iowa on Monday.
SEEKING A NATIONAL DEBATE?
In previous elections, candidates who have started a not-so-popular conversation with American voters have run into problems.
In 1984, for example, Democrat Walter Mondale emphasized the need for higher taxes and was swamped at the ballot box as voters re-elected Republican Ronald Reagan.
If Romney's campaign wants to foster a national debate over social programs and government entitlements, the big challenge will be doing so under the white-hot glow of the final weeks of a presidential campaign that so far has been defined by sound-bite messaging and out-of-context attacks by both sides.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus cast Romney's campaign as the one being honest with Americans about the nation's fiscal future and said Obama's team is more interested in attacking Romney.
Selecting Ryan shows that Romney "has the leadership and courage to present to the American people a real contrast and a real debate that the American people deserve," Priebus said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Even so, Romney's campaign stressed that the presumptive Republican nominee would propose his own fiscal plan, suggesting it did not want the former Massachusetts governor to be tied to everything in Ryan's budget.
"The thing you have to remember about these campaigns is that Governor Romney is at the top of the ticket, and that Governor Romney's vision for the country is something that congressman Ryan supports," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said.
DEMOCRATS TAKE AIM
Democrats' efforts to cast Ryan - and, by extension, Romney - as a threat to Medicare could be key in the election.
Ryan's plan calls for an end to the guaranteed benefit in Medicare and replaces it with a system that would give vouchers to recipients to pay for health insurance.
The risk in such a plan is that if healthcare costs rise faster than the value of the vouchers, seniors would have to pay the difference.
Obama's senior campaign adviser David Axelrod said on "Meet the Press" that the Medicare changes supported by Ryan would send the healthcare program, which polls indicate most Americans do not want changed, into a "death spiral."
Independent groups that typically support Democrats have been more dramatic in their criticism.
Romney rejected the notion that Ryan's plan would kill Medicare.
Ryan "has a plan ... to make sure we can save Medicare," Romney said. "And guess what, he's one of two sponsors - and guess what, the other is a leading Democrat," a reference to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.
Wyden, however, disagreed with Romney's characterization of his work on the Medicare issue, saying that he has voted against Medicare changes proposed in Ryan's budget.
Wyden told The Huffington Post that he merely had worked on a "policy paper" with Ryan that was designed to "start a conversation about how Democrats and Republicans might work together to uphold the Medicare guarantee."
By Sam Youngman
Wolfeboro, New Hampshire Aug 6 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's most bitter rival for his party's nomination has agreed to speak at the nominating convention in Tampa, Florida, later this month.
Rick Santorum, the former presidential candidate who lobbed harsh criticism at Romney during some bitter primary contests, will join a host of other big-name Republicans as headline speakers, according to Republican sources.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will also speak at the convention, along with Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and Tea Party hero and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Paul spent much of the year campaigning against Romney on behalf of his father, Texas Congressman Ron Paul.
Details about when the speakers will take the stage have not been released.
After winning the Iowa caucuses, Santorum emerged as an unlikely but persistent burr in Romney's side, warning that the Republican Party would make a mistake by picking the former Massachusetts governor.
Because of that, some senior Romney advisers argued against giving Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, a speaking slot at the convention, fearing he might go off-message and reprise some of his criticisms from the primaries.
Santorum announced he was suspending his campaign on April 10, clearing the way for Romney to begin campaigning in earnest against President Barack Obama.
Jeb Bush will not be joined by his brother, former President George W. Bush, who announced recently he will not attend the convention.
Romney will likely address the convention on Thursday, Aug. 30 in a primetime address where he will formally accept the Republican nomination.
Speculation remains rampant over who Romney will choose to join him on the ticket as his running mate.
On Monday, the Republican candidate laughed off a question about whether he was meeting with potential candidates Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, or Senator Rob Portman of Ohio while spending some time off at his lake house in Wolfeboro, N.H.
By Michael Peltier
TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Aug 1 (Reuters) - More than 13,000 ex-felons may be eligible to vote in Florida but don't know it because the notices the parole board mailed to them were returned as undeliverable, the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday.
The civil rights group raised the concern after analyzing more than 17,000 names of ex-felons who had their voting rights automatically restored by the Florida Parole Commission.
The list was obtained under the state's public records law and included ex-felons whose Restoration of Civil Rights certificates were returned undelivered to the parole commission.
Florida is one of a minority of U.S. states that does not automatically restore civil rights once a felon has completed a sentence.
The certificates were sent between 2007 and March 2011 under a short-lived policy that automatically restored civil rights to nonviolent offenders.
The policy was repealed in March 2011 by Florida Governor Rick Scott and a newly elected Florida Cabinet, which voted to make it more difficult for ex-felons to get their civil rights back.
After reviewing 17,604 names of those who had their rights restored, the ACLU said it found 13,517 who were not registered to vote.
The Republican governor has been aggressively pursuing efforts to purge the state's voter rolls of non-citizens and others who are ineligible to cast ballots. Last month, Florida gained access to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security database to search for non-citizens in its voter rolls.
Critics have charged that the Republican-led efforts disenfranchise legitimate voters and unfairly target groups likely to vote for Democratic Party candidates.
"The spirit of American democracy lives first and foremost in our precious right to vote and choose our leaders," Howard Simon, executive director of ACLU of Florida, said in a statement. "But here in Florida, Governor Scott has done nearly everything in his power to make voting more difficult, from blocking countless citizens from voting, to neglecting the rights of those who can."
Florida parole officials say they have followed protocol in attempting to notify qualified ex-felons that their rights have been restored. In most cases, forwarding addresses were not provided or were incorrect.
In some cases, the agency made "multiple attempts" to make contact, but to no avail, said Tammy Salmon, a parole commission administrative assistant. In addition, the commission's website allows viewers to search to see if an ex-offender's rights have been restored.
"We are going above and beyond to try to reach these folks," Salmon said. (Editing by Jane Sutton)
With the fervor of anti-Keystone XL protests in the past year, is the American people's relationship with the proposed pipeline like a relationship gone bad? "Laying the pipe" metaphors aside, a new video from the Post Carbon Institute featuring a grating lover and a towel-clad girl suggets it is time for people to say, "We quit you Keystone, XL."
Since it rose to prominence last year, the proposed oil pipeline has drawn sharp criticism from environmentalists. Yet it has also remained a talking point for legislators who believe its construction would create jobs and lower gasoline prices.
Earlier this month, Nebraska environmental regulators released a report showing that a rearranged route for the pipeline through the Cornhusker State avoids the Sandhills prairies, but "still crosses areas of fragile, sandy soil," reported AP. The proposed route is reportedly in proximity to "unconfined aquifers" and land that could erode.
At the end of June, Congress passed a transportation bill that left out approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. House members had previously passed measures calling for Keystone XL's approval four separate times.
As Keystone XL's friends in the video say, "Plenty of fish in the sea, brah." After the woman "dumps" Keystone XL, a man portraying Canadian-based pipeline operator Enbridge says, "Whatever man, forget her. The girls up north [are] way easier."
Enbridge currently plans to build the Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia, to carry tar sands bitumen to the Pacific coast. In May, Canada's Conservative government sought to use a budget bill to "restrict who can appear before regulatory panels to those deemed directly affected by the proposals and those with relevant expertise," reported Reuters.
Last week, an Enbridge pipeline in Wisconsin leaked over 1,000 barrels of oil into a field. Although the minor spill was contained, it still raised questions about pipeline safety. Reuters reports that U.S. Representative Ed Markey, the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement, "Enbridge is fast becoming to the Midwest what BP was to the Gulf of Mexico, posing troubling risks to the environment."
* Some 1,200 barrels spill from pipeline in Wisconsin
* Spill is two years after another major Enbridge spill
* Canadian company already battling safety concerns on its line
By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, July 28 (Reuters) - The U.S. pipeline safety agency launched an investigation on Saturday into an oil spill in Wisconsin on Enbridge Inc's network that forced the partial shutdown of a main artery carrying light sweet Canadian crude to Chicago-area refineries.
Enbridge's 318,000 barrel per day Line 14 pipeline, part of the Lakehead system, was shut after an estimated 1,200 barrels of oil were leaked. This happened almost two years to the day after another major spill in a different section of the line, in Michigan.
Enbridge Energy Partners said on Friday there was not yet a time frame for when flows would resume, and the cause of the spill had not yet been determined.
"(The U.S. Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) is investigating the cause of the Enbridge crude oil pipeline failure in Wisconsin," spokesman Damon Hill said in an email on Saturday, adding that an inspector had been sent to the location of the pipeline failure.
Line 14 is one of four lines that ship mainly Canadian crude via Lakehead, a 2.5 million bpd network that is the principal route for Canadian exports.
The news will not help Enbridge build public trust in its network, which has come under scrutiny following several high-profile incidents, including a spill in Alberta last month and the massive leak in Michigan two years ago.
Just weeks ago, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board delivered a scathing report of Enbridge's handling of the July 2010 rupture of its Line 6B near Marshall, Michigan, which led to more than 20,000 barrels of crude leaking into the Kalamazoo River.
The NTSB said it found a complete breakdown of company safety measures, and that Enbridge employees performed like "Keystone Kops" trying to contain it. The rupture went undetected for 17 hours.
U.S. pipeline regulators fined it $3.7 million for the spill, their largest ever penalty.
The incidents have caused furor just as the company seeks approval for its C$6 billion Northern Gateway pipeline to Canada's West Coast from Alberta amid staunch opposition from environmental groups and native communities that warn against oil spills on land and in coastal waters.
Enbridge said Line 14 was a 24-inch diameter pipe that was installed in 1998, making it a relatively new line.
In most cases, smaller pipeline leaks can be repaired quickly allowing operations to resume pumping, although regulators may require significant work if they find any cause for alarm. Following the leak two years ago, the line was shut for over two months.
No injury was reported on Friday at the line, which is near Grand Marsh, Wisconsin, Enbridge said.
By Nicole Neroulias
SEATTLE, July 20 (Reuters) - A U.S. district judge heard arguments on Friday on whether to block a tough Washington state law requiring advertising sites to verify the age of people depicted in sex ads following a challenge by Backpage.com.
The law, passed unanimously by Washington lawmakers in February, makes it a felony to knowingly publish ads featuring children or teens under age 18. Such actions would be punishable by up to five years in prison and $10,000 fine per violation.
"Our state is a hotbed for the recruitment, transportation and sale of human beings," said Dan Sytman, spokesman for the state attorney general's office. "That awareness, and a strong desire to protect kids from being exploited, spurred action."
Backpage.com, which publishes most of the adult-services Internet ads in the United States, challenged the law, arguing that it violates the U.S. Constitution, is too broad, vague and unenforceable, and would make it harder for police to investigate sex crimes by driving underage prostitution underground.
"It's an ill-conceived and misguided law that is likely to lead to perverse results," Backpage.com's attorney James C. Grant said. "It could actually lead to an increase in sex trafficking, not a decrease."
District Judge Ricardo Martinez temporarily blocked the law's enforcement last month, and will decide next week whether to issue a preliminary injunction.
A hearing on a similar law in Tennessee is due in August. Both cases are being watched closely by other states considering similar legislation, including New York and New Jersey.
"Many states would like to do more to protect kids from being sold for sex online," Sytman said.
Backpage.com is part of Village Voice Media, which also owns The Seattle Weekly, L.A. Weekly and Village Voice. The Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library, has joined its lawsuit, although state officials insist the law doesn't apply to automated archives, or to sites like Facebook and Twitter that may unknowingly host ads for underage prostitutes.
Online prostitution advertising generated at least $3.1 million in revenue in February, on five U.S. websites, an increase of 9.8 percent from a year earlier, according to interactive media and classified advertising consultant AIM Group. Nearly 80 percent of the revenue was attributed to Backpage.com, AIM said in a report published March 22. (Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)
July 20 (Reuters) - Surviving the deadly movie theater shooting in a Denver suburb was one momentous event that Jamie Rohrs and Patricia Legarreta shared on Friday - the other came afterward when they got engaged to be married at the hospital.
The couple were in a theater in Aurora, Colorado, watching a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" with Legarreta's 4-year-old daughter and their infant son on Friday when the gunman opened fire and chaos ensued.
Later, reunited and with the whole family safe, Rohrs proposed to Legarreta, who suffered a minor bullet wound, CNN said.
"He just looked at me and he said, 'I know this is not the time and place, but will you marry me?' And I said, 'Yes,'" Legarreta told CNN host Piers Morgan, discussing her fiance's impromptu proposal.
"Going through 10 minutes of thinking he was dead and I would never see him again, you never want that feeling again," she added.
Police have identified the suspected gunman as James Eagan Holmes, 24. He is accused of opening fire in the crowded theater at a mall in Aurora, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others. Police said 30 people remained hospitalized on Friday evening, 11 of them in critical condition.
"There was a moment where the shooting stopped and I saw people running and at that moment I just grabbed the baby and I just grabbed my daughter and got her out as fast as I could. ... I was just thinking we've just got to get out. I just got to get out the doors and if I just fall dead, just get my kid out of here," Legarreta told CNN.
Rohrs said he lost his 4-month-old son, Ethan, in the darkness and chaos of the theater, but got out himself. Then, once outside, he could not initially find Legarreta.
"I got to my truck and I drove across the mall," Rohrs added. "I'm going to call 911 and trying to call Patricia and it's just ringing, and every time it rings I'm like they're dead, they're dead, your whole family is dead."
"I couldn't think. I got a phone call from a Colorado number and I answered it and thank God it was Patricia," he added. (Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)
WASHINGTON, July 14 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department is building criminal cases against several financial institutions and their employees related to the manipulation of interest rates, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
Citing government officials close to the case who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Times said traders at Barclays Plc were among the individuals against whom Justice was building cases. Authorities expect to file charges against at least one bank later this year, the newspaper reported.
Investigators in Washington and London last month struck a $450 million settlement with Barclays in a rate-rigging case, but the deal does not shield Barclays employees from criminal prosecution. The criminal and civil investigations have focused on how banks set the London interbank offered rate, or Libor.
Libor is used to determine borrowing casts for trillions of dollars in financial products, including mortgages, credit cards and student loans. The Times said cities, states and municipalities in the United States were also trying to determine whether they suffered loses due to rate manipulation and some had filed suit.
With the prospect of possible criminal charges, several financial institutions, including at least two European firms, are scrambling to arrange deals with the government, the Times reported, citing lawyers close to the case.
Given the broad scope of the Libor case and the number of institutions thought to be involved, the investigations could provide authorities with a "signature moment" to hold big banks accountable for misdeeds during the financial crisis, which hit global markets from late 2007, the newspaper said.
Still, the investigation is unusually complex, could continue for years and end in settlements rather than indictments, the Times said, citing officials close to the case.