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Democrats sue to force donor disclosure

WASHINGTON — Unable to stanch the flow of corporate money to Republican causes, Democrats tried a new tack Thursday by bringing a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission to force the disclosure of tens of millions of dollars in secret donations.

The lawsuit seeks to close “a major loophole” at the commission that allows private companies and nonprofit groups to operate “under a veil of anonymity” in raising money for political work, said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who brought the lawsuit along with lawyers for several liberal groups.

A surge in corporate spending on political causes — the result of a Supreme Court decision in January 2010 — became a major issue in the congressional races that year and promises to be important again in the 2012 presidential race.

Some Democrats attributed their loss of the House majority in November to the flood of largely anonymous spending by conservative groups. They have been unsuccessful in rolling back aspects of the Citizens United decision in the courts or in Congress, where Senate Republicans blocked passage last year of a measure known as the Disclose Act, which Van Hollen sponsored.

—Eric Lichtblau, The New York Times

BP agrees to pay $1 billion for start of Gulf restoration

WASHINGTON — BP will provide $1 billion for early oil spill restoration efforts in the Gulf of Mexico in a voluntary agreement with the federal government and five states, company and government officials announced Thursday.

The agreement does not absolve BP of legal liability for the explosion and spill that occurred April 20, 2010, or from the costs of any additional economic and environmental damages. The company faces fines and penalties of as much as $21 billion as a result of the disaster, the worst offshore drilling accident in U.S. history. The company could face additional penalties under a Justice Department criminal and civil investigation.

The advance payment, to be divided among the states and the two lead federal agencies overseeing restoration efforts, will be used to rebuild coastal marshes, replenish damaged beaches, conserve ocean habitat and restore barrier islands.

The $1 billion does not represent the governments’ estimate of the ultimate environmental cost of the explosion and spill.

—John M. Broder, The New York Times

Cloud-based web services fail at Amazon, disrupting sites

A widespread failure in Amazon.com’s Web services business took down many Internet sites Thursday, highlighting the risks involved when companies rely on so-called cloud computing.

The problems, which began early Thursday morning and had not been completely repaired by the end of the day, affected sites including Quora.com, Reddit.com, GroupMe.com and Scvngr.com, which all posted messages to their visitors about the issue. Most of the sites were inaccessible for hours, and others were only partly operational.

The Web companies use Amazon’s cloud-based service to serve their websites, applications and files. Amazon’s customers include start-ups like the social networking site Foursquare but also big companies like Pfizer and Nasdaq.

Amazon, which is a leader in this business, lets these companies rent space on its servers and take advantage of its big data centers and computing power. But that gives the companies little control if the servers fail.

—Claire Cain Miller, The New York Times