Tag: Big

Civil society gears up for big funds squeeze

A recent set of changes to India’s foreign donation laws, however, has put hundreds of small NGOs like Arpan in a spot. “Our work has come to a halt after the donor agency asked us not to use funds till rules (arising from the new laws) are framed,” said Renu Thakur, who heads the non-profit. “It looks like we will have to let go of some of our staff and curtail our geographic spread.”

In late September, India’s Parliament approved sweeping changes to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010. From now on, larger FCRA registered organisations are barred from transferring foreign donations to smaller non-profits (a practice known as sub-granting) who often find it difficult to access donors on their own. Also, all FCRA registered non-profits have been asked to limit their administrative expenses to 20% of donations (from the earlier norm of 50%) which is likely to force them to reduce staff as well as curtail research and policy advocacy work.

To tighten the screws further, FCRA registration can be suspended now after a summary enquiry and the period of suspension can extend up to a year (from 180 days earlier)—a provision which will give the government more time for enquiry and halt the organisation’s work for an extended period.

These changes will impact not just the availability of funds but also the very nature of philanthropic initiatives. The focus of donors may shift from rights, advocacy and research to service delivery; in a few years, foreign donors might also redirect funds to other countries, experts warn.

The restrictions on NGOs were least expected by civil society organisations that have been stretched after a gruelling past few months helping communities (like migrant workers) affected by covid-19. Also, it’s ironic since political parties can now access foreign funds through electoral bonds.

During 2018-19, Indian NGOs received 16,881 crore in foreign donations, accounting for about a fourth of the overall philanthropic spending in India. At a time when most donor funds are directed towards covid relief efforts, the amendments could squeeze the once-vibrant not-for-profit sector of funds. The crunch is also because a chunk of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds which NGOs depend on went to the PM-Cares fund, a new national corpus set up to mitigate the impact of emergencies like the ongoing pandemic.

An analysis of CSR spending outlook for 2020-21 by Sattva, a consultancy firm, shows that more than half of the annual CSR budget of Indian corporations, or about 7,863 crore, was allotted for covid relief by early July. About 68% of this allocation went to the PM-Cares fund ( 5,324 crore). “With an estimated 8,000 crore going to the PM-Cares by now, availability of domestic CSR funds for NGOs will be back to normal levels by the second quarter of 2022,” said Parul Soni, managing partner at Thinkthrough Consulting.

There’s obviously been a mixed response to the changes. Soni, for one, defends the recent amendments, saying they will bring in

Continue reading

Big Tobacco goes big in effort to quash law banning sales of flavored tobacco products

A coalition of big tobacco companies and small retailers is paying professional signature gatherers upward of $10 a name in an attempt put the brakes on the statewide law barring brick-and-mortar stores from selling menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products.



Suresh Raina standing in front of a store: Employee Majid Abbas (left) helps a customer buy flavored tobacco at City Smoke and Vape Shop in San Francisco in 2017.


© Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle 2017

Employee Majid Abbas (left) helps a customer buy flavored tobacco at City Smoke and Vape Shop in San Francisco in 2017.


With the Nov. 30 deadline approaching for submitting signatures to qualify the measure for the 2022 ballot, the high-dollar effort has become an interesting blend of California politics and potentially huge business profits, with a dash of coronavirus shutdown tossed in for good measure.

Loading...

Load Error

At issue: SB793, authored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in August. Stores that break the ban on selling flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes would face a $250 fine per violation.

Tobacco interests wasted no time filing the paperwork to put the law before voters in a referendum. They need 623,212 validated signatures to make the ballot.

“The law goes too far and is unfair. Particularly since lawmakers exempted hookah, expensive cigars and flavored pipe tobacco,” said Beth Miller, spokeswoman for the California Coalition for Fairness, the group seeking to repeal the ban.

“It will hurt small businesses and take jobs from licensed retailers who do sell tobacco products,” while still allowing for online sales, Miller said. “If the past is any indication, it will also lead to an underground market that could increase the access for minors.”

Hill dismissed the pro-tobacco arguments as a smokescreen.

“The goal is to keep kids from starting to smoke,” Hill said. “What 15-year-old is going to buy a $12.50 cigar or pipe tobacco? That’s ridiculous.”

Hill said the coalition had another reason for launching the referendum — profit.

If the referendum qualifies, the law, which is slated to go into effect in January, would be suspended until voters have their say in the November 2022 general election. And no matter what the outcome of the vote, the tobacco industry and retailers would get two more years of in-store sales until after the election.

Getting the signatures of the required registered voters by the November deadline, however, is not coming cheap.

The Coalition for Fairness estimates that it will need about 900,000 signatures to ensure it has enough verified signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Like most groups that place initiatives on the ballot, the Coalition for Fairness is using professional signature gatherers, those people you see carrying clipboards with petitions hawking various ballot measures outside of stores, farmers’ markets and other places people gather — or used to gather before the pandemic.

But getting people to stop and sign a petition is not easy these days. And with a pressing deadline, the price per signature has gone from $3 to $4 to as high as $10 per name. Miller said she did not have the exact figure, but

Continue reading

Gov. Murphy Signs 8 NJ Bills Into Law, Big COVID-19 Testing Step

NEW JERSEY – Gov. Phil Murphy has signed eight bills into law, creating a big testing expansion for New Jersey now that cases have been on the rise.

Murphy has signed legislation sponsored by Senators Vin Gopal and Linda Greenstein that authorizes pharmacists to order and administer tests for COVID-19 and COVID-19 antibodies.

The law comes as Murphy also announced that New Jersey will double its testing capacity after the Trump administration promised to supply the Garden State with millions of additional coronavirus tests. Read more: Gov. Murphy: NJ Gets 2.6M More Tests That Could Be ‘Game Changer’

The testing expansion recognizes “the vital importance of rapid, accurate and widely available testing to the ongoing battle to limit the spread of the coronavirus,” lawmakers said.

The testing expansion also comes as New Jersey has had its highest daily case numbers in months. Murphy said expanding the state’s testing capacity has had something to do with it, but some areas of the state also have had outbreaks. Read more: Gov. Murphy: NJ May Stop Reopenings If COVID-19 Cases Keep Rising

The number of cases rose to 209,342 on Tuesday, and 14,360 confirmed deaths have been reported. Gov. Murphy announced 651 new coronavirus cases and nine more deaths. Read more: NJ Coronavirus Updates: Here’s What You Need To Know

Murphy also signed several bills that make his tax hikes in the revised 2020-21 budget officially the law of the land. Read more: 4 New NJ Tax Hikes Take Effect: Millionaires, Gas Tax

Under the testing bill, S-2436, a pharmacist would be required to ensure compliance with all state and federal requirements concerning a positive test for COVID-19.

“New Jersey’s pharmacists serve on the frontlines of every health care challenge facing our state, and they are well-positioned to expand COVID-19 testing capabilities at this critical time,” said Gopal, D-Monmouth. “Pharmacists are uniquely suited to aid in this fight and to help mitigate the spread of disease. They are trusted healthcare professionals who have long established relationships with their patients, with other health care professionals and within their communities.”

Pharmacists would also be required, in the event of a positive test, to advise the patient on next steps, including practicing self-isolation and potentially seeking further treatment.

“Over these months of the coronavirus pandemic, rapid, reliable testing has emerged as a key component in fighting back against COVID-19,” said Greenstein, D-Mercer/Middlesex. “In New Jersey, we are proud to enlist our many skilled, capable and compassionate pharmacists in this fight.”

Also, Murphy signed SJR92, which designates September of each year as “Safe Haven Awareness Month” in New Jersey.

“Safe haven sites are designated in communities across this state so that new moms and dads can surrender their babies safely and anonymously,” said Murphy. “I am proud to sign this legislation to bring awareness to the Safe Haven Act and thank my legislative partners and the Department of Children and Families for their work on this critical issue.”

For more information about Safe Haven, go

Continue reading

Uber, Lyft spend big in California to oppose even costlier gig-worker law

By Tina Bellon

(Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc and Lyft Inc together are spending nearly $100 million on a November California ballot initiative to overturn a state law that would compel them to classify drivers as employees.

That sum looks less huge, however, than the potential costs of complying with the existing law, according to a Reuters analysis.

The two ride-hailing companies would each face more than $392 million in annual payroll taxes and workers’ compensation costs even if they drastically cut the number of drivers on their platforms, a Reuters calculation showed.

For a graphic on potential price hikes click here: https://tmsnrt.rs/3isaZ1q

Using a recently published Cornell University driver pay study in Seattle as a basis, Reuters calculated that each full-time driver would cost the company, on average, an additional $7,700. That includes roughly $4,560 in annual employer-based California and federal payroll taxes and some $3,140 in annual workers’ compensation insurance, which is mandated in California.

The companies say they would need to significantly hike prices to offset at least some of those additional costs, which in turn would likely cause a decrease in consumer demand, but cushion the blow of the added costs to the bottom line.

Uber and Lyft have also said they could abandon the California market – an economy that would rank fifth in the world if the state were a sovereign nation. Other U.S. states have said they plan to follow California’s lead and pass similar laws.

A “yes” vote on California’s Proposition 22 gives Uber and Lyft what they seek, which is to overturn the state’s gig-worker law, known as AB5, which took effect in January. Uber and Lyft have insisted the law does not apply to them, sparking a legal battle.

The tussle over classification of workers highlights the political and business risks facing Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other companies that have built businesses on workers who are not classified as employees eligible for health coverage, unemployment insurance or other benefits.

Under the company-sponsored ballot measure, so-called gig workers would receive some benefits, including minimum pay, healthcare subsidies and accident insurance, but remain independent contractors not entitled to more substantial employee benefits.

POLITICAL FIGHT

The question of whether gig workers should be treated as employees has become a national issue in U.S. politics.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, have both voiced their strong support for California’s labor law and directly called on voters to reject the companies’ ballot proposal that would weaken it.

The campaign of U.S. President Donald Trump has not directly weighed in on the ballot measure, but the administration’s Labor Department in September published proposed rules that would standardize legal definitions across the country and provide more room for companies to maintain independent contractors. U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia criticized AB5 in an opinion piece published on Sept. 22.

California represents 9% – or roughly $1.63 billion in all of 2019 – of Uber’s global rides and food delivery

Continue reading

Uber, Lyft spend big in California to oppose even costlier gig worker law

By Tina Bellon



a close up of a sign: A sign marks a rendezvous location for Lyft and Uber users at San Diego State University in San Diego


© Reuters/Mike Blake
A sign marks a rendezvous location for Lyft and Uber users at San Diego State University in San Diego

(Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc and Lyft Inc together are spending nearly $100 million on a November California ballot initiative to overturn a state law that would compel them to classify drivers as employees.

That sum looks less huge, however, than the potential costs of complying with the existing law, according to a Reuters analysis.

The two ride-hailing companies would each face more than $392 million in annual payroll taxes and workers’ compensation costs even if they drastically cut the number of drivers on their platforms, a Reuters calculation showed.

Using a recently published Cornell University driver pay study in Seattle as a basis, Reuters calculated that each full-time driver would cost the company, on average, an additional $7,700. That includes roughly $4,560 in annual employer-based California and federal payroll taxes and some $3,140 in annual workers’ compensation insurance, which is mandated in California.

The companies say they would need to significantly hike prices to offset at least some of those additional costs, which in turn would likely cause a decrease in consumer demand, but cushion the blow of the added costs to the bottom line.

Uber and Lyft have also said they could abandon the California market – an economy that would rank fifth in the world if the state were a sovereign nation. Other U.S. states have said they plan to follow California’s lead and pass similar laws.

A “yes” vote on California’s Proposition 22 gives Uber and Lyft what they seek, which is to overturn the state’s gig worker law, known as AB5, which took effect in January. Uber and Lyft have insisted the law does not apply to them, sparking a legal battle.

The tussle over classification of workers highlights the political and business risks facing Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and numerous other companies that have built businesses on workers who are not classified as employees eligible for health coverage, unemployment insurance or other benefits.

Under the company-sponsored ballot measure, gig workers would receive some benefits, including minimum pay, healthcare subsidies and accident insurance, but remain independent contractors not entitled to more substantial employee benefits.

POLITICAL FIGHT

The question of whether so-called gig workers should be treated as employees has become a national issue in U.S. politics.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, have both voiced their strong support for California’s labor law and directly called on voters to reject the companies’ ballot proposal that would weaken it.

The campaign of U.S. President Donald Trump has not directly weighed in on the ballot measure, but the administration’s Labor Department in September published proposed rules that would standardize legal definitions across the country and provide more room for companies to maintain independent contractors. U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia criticized AB5 in an opinion piece published on Sept. 22.

California represents 9% – or roughly $1.63 billion

Continue reading

Big Law Firms Prosper Despite Covid-Impaired Economy

Lawyers at large law firms aren’t worried, as many Americans are, about job security while the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend everyday life. Some of them are even collecting extra bonuses.

Many large law firms have excelled financially this year, even as some clients in sectors ranging from hospitality to retail have suffered. The most elite firms say they are on track for a record year, thanks to hot practice areas like restructuring and public-offerings work, and many are doling out extra money to lawyers this fall.

Firm leaders and consultants attribute the stability to lawyers’ ability to easily work from home, business that comes from a range of industries and practice areas, and a major reduction in travel expenses.

“It’s like building bridges in wartime—you prefer a different environment,” said Robert Hays, the Atlanta-based chairman of King & Spalding LLP. “But we’ve built the bridge. So in terms of the business of the firm, we’re doing quite well.”

Robert Hays, the chairman of King & Spalding LLP.



Photo:

King & Spalding LLP

At 125 firms surveyed by Wells Fargo Private Bank’s legal specialty group, revenue rose an average of 6.4% in the first half of the year, compared with a year earlier. With demand roughly the same from last year, according to Wells Fargo, the boost stemmed from annual hourly-rate increases and momentum from a lucrative 2019. Net income, measured as the difference between revenue and expenses, rose 25.6% from a year ago.

The legal industry braced for the worst when the spread of the novel coronavirus sent much of the country into a shutdown this spring. Dozens of large firms cut salaries or furloughed staff while hoarding cash. Firm leaders say they wanted to avoid the deep cuts to lawyers and staff that were made following the 2008 financial crisis, moves that led to problems years later when law firms didn’t have enough lawyers at certain experience levels to work on assignments.

As spring turned to summer this year, firms realized their lawyers were still busy. One by one, firms that implemented austerity measures have reversed them in recent weeks.

STAY INFORMED

Get a coronavirus briefing six days a week, and a weekly Health newsletter once the crisis abates: Sign up here.

New York’s Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP took several measures in late March, completely halting distributions to partners and cutting other lawyer and staff pay by between 10% and 25%. By August, everyone’s pay was restored. “People understood,” said managing partner Patrick Quinn. “And the firm really pulled together.” Other firms also asked partners to make the biggest financial sacrifice.

Not all law firm jobs have been safe. Some furloughs have turned into layoffs, particularly for staff roles sidelined while everyone is working remotely. Legal blog Above the Law has tracked cuts at a few dozen firms, including Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, Baker McKenzie and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.

Cleary said the decision reflected a review of staff functions that predates

Continue reading

Palantir IPO reinvigorates debate over Big Tech-military relationship

  • Palantir’s IPO is reinvigorating debate over Big Tech’s role as a partner of US military and government agencies.
  • Big Tech faces increasing stakeholder pressure to adjudicate the ethics of such projects.

Big data software contractor Palantir held its direct-listing IPO this week, raising funds at a valuation of around $21 billion, while also spurring renewed scrutiny over the relationship between Silicon Valley and the US military and government agencies.

US law enforcement information requests to amazon

Palantir’s IPO reinvigorates debate over Big Tech-military relationship.

Business Insider Intelligence


In a letter to the SEC filed in September and released this week, Congressional Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Jesús García called for greater transparency from Palantir before it went public. Ocasio-Cortez and García asserted that Palantir should disclose to shareholders any “contract[s] with foreign governments known to engage in corrupt practices and human rights violations.”

They also expressed concern over Palatir’s project with the US Department of Health and Human Services, noting that the public does not know what privacy safeguards (if any) are in place for the health data to which Palantir has access. 

Palantir claims that Silicon Valley has an obligation to serve the interests of the US government and its allies, even when doing so raises ethical challenges. In the company’s S-1 filing, Palantir says it only works with governments whose positions are consistent with the company’s mission to support Western liberal democracy and its strategic allies, adding, “we embrace the complexity that comes from working in areas where the stakes are often very high and the choices may be imperfect.”

However, Palantir has received considerable pushback for its work with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in tracking undocumented people, providing field intelligence for the US military’s deployment of drones, and assisting governments in mass surveillance efforts. Palantir CEO and co-founder Alex Karp told Axios earlier this year: “Our product is used on occasion to kill people. … If you’re looking for a terrorist in the world now, you’re probably using our government product.”

Karp has also been critical in the past of US Big Tech companies that have chosen not to aid the government. Palantir elaborated on Karp’s philosophy in its S-1, in which it argues: “The engineering elite of Silicon Valley may know more than most about building software. But they do not know more about how society should be organized or what justice requires.”

In contrast to Palantir’s calls for unconditional support of the US and its allies, Big Tech companies face increasing pressure from stakeholders to adjudicate the ethics of military and law enforcement projects. Though we often think of them as consumer-facing companies, Big Tech has an extensive and ongoing history of acting as defense contractors for the US government.

In a pivotal decision, Google acquiesced to employee pressure in 2018 and decided not to renew the Project Maven defense contract through which it had helped the military use machine learning to advance drone capabilities, according to The Intercept. When later questioned about this decision during the House Judiciary Committee’s

Continue reading

Big Tech hearing gives clues on future of antitrust law

In the last of seven hearings to investigate concerns that Google parent Alphabet (GOOG, GOOGL), Facebook (FB), Amazon (AMZN) and Apple (AAPL) are operating as illegal monopolies, witnesses before the House Antitrust Subcommittee Thursday clashed on whether Congress should overhaul U.S. antitrust law.

Proposals from witnesses before the committee, including several antitrust experts, could be a clue to changes forthcoming from the committee. They ranged from introducing legislation that would break up Big Tech companies and overturn judicial precedent to increased funding for antitrust law enforcers to maintaining status quo. 

‘Quintessentially a congressional job’

Zephyr Teachout, associate professor of law at Fordham University School of Law, told the subcommittee on Thursday that Congress, not the Supreme Court, should regulate Big Tech. “It is quintessentially a congressional job to respond to this threat,” Teachout said, calling for “significant” new legislation.

NEW YORK, NY, UNITED STATES - 2018/09/13: Zephyr Teachout seen speaking on phone during her campaign for Attorney General. (Photo by Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY, UNITED STATES – 2018/09/13: Zephyr Teachout seen speaking on phone during her campaign for Attorney General. (Photo by Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Michael Kades, director of markets and competition policy for Washington Center for Equitable Growth, also called for legislative reform, arguing that the filing of one or two cases would fall short of addressing the current level of anticompetitive conduct.

“Unless Congress acts it is accepting…that antitrust laws have little power to stop or deter anticompetitive conduct,” Kades said.

When acting to regulate Big Tech, Teachout argued, Congress should limit certain large companies to a single line of business, preventing Amazon, for example, from controlling businesses for online commerce while also controlling shipping and fulfillment. The approach would similarly impact Google’s ability to control platforms that both serve and sell online advertisements.

“Amazon takes as much as 30% of every sale,” Teachout said about seller transactions on the marketplace. “This is essentially a form of private tax…and that’s really dangerous for democracy.”

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School professor Christopher Yoo disagreed with this notion, arguing that restricting companies to a single line of business would cut against a central purpose of antitrust laws: to protect consumers. Dismantling the efficiencies of Amazon’s vertical integration, he said, would lead to higher consumer prices.

More modest proposals to change antitrust law

Meanwhile, William Baer, visiting fellow for governance studies at Brookings Institution, proposed “modest” changes to antitrust laws — including altering the legal standard of proof required for the government to prevail on antitrust actions. The standard, he said, is problematic because it often dissuades the Justice Department from challenging mergers or acquisitions, such as Google’s purchase of ad platform DoubleClick in 2007 and Facebook’s acquisition of photo-sharing site Instagram in 2012.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testifies before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law during a hearing on "Online Platforms and Market Power" in the Rayburn House office Building on Capitol Hill, in Washington, U.S., July 29, 2020. Mandel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testifies before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law during a hearing on “Online Platforms and Market Power” in the Rayburn House office Building on Capitol Hill, in Washington, U.S., July 29, 2020. Mandel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS

“Many courts demand a level of proof that is often unattainable that chills enforcement and limits our ability to

Continue reading