Articles on this Page
- 01/15/15--05:28: _Center’s Medicare A...
- 01/14/15--11:06: _There are 153 presi...
- 01/15/15--12:33: _Who needs lobbyists...
- 01/16/15--07:27: _President favors ci...
- 01/16/15--05:53: _Why industry is try...
- 01/18/15--02:00: _‘Dual-status’ kids ...
- 01/18/15--09:00: _Georgia earning a n...
- 01/19/15--06:26: _U.S. Supreme Court ...
- 01/19/15--02:00: _Selling out for big...
- 01/20/15--12:36: _Leaked report says ...
- 01/20/15--15:02: _High court appears ...
- 01/21/15--02:00: _12 ways 'Citizens U...
- 01/22/15--07:00: _States continue war...
- 01/22/15--02:00: _IRS rarely audits n...
- 01/22/15--10:45: _Yellowstone spill c...
- 01/22/15--14:42: _Complaint against N...
- 01/23/15--08:14: _Standard and Poor's...
- 01/22/15--17:32: _Romney's top fundra...
- 01/23/15--09:57: _Obama's EPA breaks ...
- 01/23/15--14:26: _Thank you and farewell
- 01/14/15--11:06: There are 153 presidential candidates running
- 01/16/15--07:27: President favors cities offering broadband service
- 01/16/15--05:53: Why industry is trying to tell you how to think
- 01/18/15--02:00: ‘Dual-status’ kids endure another kind of double jeopardy
- A 2011 study based on 4,475 dual-status youths in the Seattle area titled “Doorways to Delinquency” found one in five of the youths had gone AWOL from placements at least six times and 61 percent had done so at least once. The study, published by the Pittsburgh-based National Center for Juvenile Justice, also showed 70 percent of the dual-status youth with the most serious child welfare histories reoffended within two years after the study began tracking their delinquency careers.
- The 2004 Arizona Dual Jurisdiction Study, published by the National Center for Juvenile Justice, found that 204 dual-status youth in the Phoenix area averaged about 10.3 different placements. And 90 percent of them had spent time in large group homes or residential centers, as opposed to homelike settings or foster care.
- A 2011 study funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, “Young Adult Outcomes Of Youth Exiting Dependent Or Delinquent Care In Los Angeles County,” found that among 330 dual-status youth almost two-thirds had a jail stay within four years of exit from the juvenile systems. The study also found dual-status youths were far more likely to heavily rely on public services, less likely to attain higher education and less likely to be consistently employed.
- Costs associated with dual-status youths can be staggering, especially compared with the tab for community-based intervention to help troubled youngsters. A December study by the nonprofit, Washington-based Justice Policy Institute found the average annual cost of institutional placement of one youth was nearly $149,000.
- The Washington state “Doorways: study based on residential care in the Seattle area estimated its cost at $38,000 a year, though Tuell said he believes that is low.
- 01/18/15--09:00: Georgia earning a name for justice in a new way
- 01/19/15--06:26: U.S. Supreme Court to rule on judicial campaign contributions
- 01/19/15--02:00: Selling out for big business: business as usual on Capitol Hill
- 01/20/15--12:36: Leaked report says World Bank violated own rules in Ethiopia
- 01/21/15--02:00: 12 ways 'Citizens United' has changed politics
- 01/22/15--07:00: States continue war over Obamacare
- More than 200 bills, most sponsored by Republicans, have attacked Obamacare’s foundation from different flanks. At least 25 bills seek to repeal or “nullify” it, while others would offset any fines collected from people who refuse to purchase health insurance, or otherwise limit the law’s reach. A “model” bill considered in at least 11 states would forbid state employees from enforcing any part of the law, in five states threatening those who do so with prison terms. Most didn’t pass.
- At least 85 bills would tinker with insurance exchanges set up by the states or the federal government to sell policies. Just over half would choke off funding or inhibit exchanges by cutting off their spending on marketing or advertising. Four bills would stop insurers from taking any federal subsidies paid under the law, though none passed. Overall, most of these bills measures failed to get through.
- More than 55 bills filed in about two dozen states tried to tighten oversight of “navigators,” who assist people in choosing a health plan that best fits their needs. Obamacare supporters see these bills as little more than a ruse to disrupt the law, and most did not pass. Yet six states in 2014 passed laws to tighten training standards or bar convicted felons from getting these jobs.
- At least 26 states have taken up bills that would petition Congress to let states make their own health-care financing decisions. The campaign, which critics consider a longshot, takes the view that Congress overstepped its bounds in passing Obamacare. Nine states have joined these health care compacts, data show. Nine compact bills were put forward in six states during 2013 and 2014, but only Kansas approved one, in 2014.
- While opponents hope to make headway in dismantling the law, boosters believe public acceptance of Obamacare is on the rise as more folks take advantage of its benefits. A tracking poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed a small drop in “unfavorable” views of the law over the past year, to 46 percent in the latest survey.
- More than 100 bills, most sponsored by Democrats, would expand Obamacare by covering more lower-income people under Medicaid or requiring insurers to cover new medical services. Most didn’t pass. Some two dozen bills would guarantee autism care for school-age children and others, for instance.
- 01/22/15--02:00: IRS rarely audits nonprofits for politicking
- 01/23/15--08:14: Standard and Poor's enforcement falls short
- 01/22/15--17:32: Romney's top fundraisers consider bailing
- Lanny Griffith, the chief executive of lobby firm BGR Group
- J. Steven Hart, the chairman of law and lobbying firm Williams & Jensen
- Jeff Kimbell, a lobbyist who operates his own firm
- Former Rep. Susan Molinari, now a Google lobbyist
- Molinari’s husband, former Rep. Bill Paxon, a lobbyist with law and lobby firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
- Kevin O’Neill, deputy global managing partner for public policy at the law firm Squire Patton Boggs
- Ziad Ojakli, the head lobbyist for Ford Motor Co.
- Former Rep. Vin Weber of Mercury Public Affairs
- 01/23/15--14:26: Thank you and farewell
It is perhaps easiest to quantify our financial success. Having raised more than $50 million in the last eight years, I am pleased to report that The Center for Public Integrity is supported by as many as 50 different foundations and thousands of individual citizens who value our work. Thanks to their generosity, the Center today is a stable and highly efficient nonprofit investigative news organization. Fundraising will always be a challenge, especially for general support funds, but I am leaving behind commitments of $7 million, compared to the financial deficit I faced in my first days on the job.
The 25-year-old Center for Public Integrity is a well-respected, efficiently run nonprofit institution, with a professional staff of about 50 and an experienced, 20-member Board of Directors providing fiduciary oversight and strategic guidance. The Center now meets or exceeds the nonprofit accountability and transparency standards set by the nation’s top three watchdogs, Charity Navigator, BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Guidestar Exchange. I am proud to have helped institutionalize and strengthen this valued journalistic entity, building on the original brilliant idea, or “excellent adventure,” launched by Charles Lewis in 1989 as a kind of journalistic utopia for the best investigative work with the greatest public service impact.
Our international arm, ICIJ—the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists—has been revitalized and is now backed by both domestic and international funding. ICIJ is flourishing as never before, with 185 member-journalists in 65 countries, publishing major investigations simultaneously in dozens of countries and different languages. Our work is based on significant leaks of data and documents, and has brought together the largest cross-border journalistic collaborations ever, resulting in stunning global reach and impact. ICIJ was almost moribund and without resources when I started here.
Our domestic investigative work has been focused on money and politics, the environment, national security, juvenile justice, health care, state corruption risks, financial regulation, and more. Whatever the project, however, the Center’s core operation has set a gold standard for rock solid, fact-checked and bulletproof investigations. (See related Ten Tenets below.) We have also maintained our nonpartisan, non-advocacy approach, drawing both praise and criticism from all sides of the political spectrum in almost equal measure.
Because of the depth and significance of many of the Center’s projects, their positive impact continues long after publication. For example, our year-long investigation into campus sexual assaults in 2009-10, has led to new U.S. Department of Education regulations and changed procedures at universities nationwide ever since. Our 2013 project on miners with black lung disease who were denied their just benefits has led to major changes at the Department of Labor. And our 2013-2014 international disclosures around tax havens and lack of global tax fairness are producing major reforms in the European Union and the G-20 nations.
With new investments in digital technology and staffing, the Center has moved from a largely static website in 2007 to a dynamic and colorful multimedia platform capitalizing on interactivity, data visualizations, documentary video, audio and other forms of visual journalism to bring our deep investigations to life, along with active social media and extensive distribution partnerships worldwide. We have further to go, of course, but I am pleased that our online contributions have grown with our audience and memberships, thanks to our devoted and hard-working team of digital journalists.
And, I’m pleased that the Center’s investigative work has been recognized in competitive awards competitions more than 150 times. In the last eight years, we have won 81 first place national and international awards, along with 68 more finalist recognitions and three special citations. We have won almost every major investigative award there is, from the Pulitzer Prize to the Goldsmith Prize, and from the George Polk Award to the White House Correspondents’ Association and Overseas Press Club Awards, and many, many others. I am grateful for this exceptional record as recognized by our professional peers, and even more grateful for the high quality of the work we have produced that has been so honored.
A Center for Public Integrity investigation detailing questionable spending by private Medicare plans has been awarded the prestigious Philip Meyer Journalism Award for social science reporting.
The series, Medicare Advantage Money Grab, documented how Medicare Advantage plans, created more than a decade ago to control health care spending on the elderly, have instead wasted $70 billion dollars through manipulation of a tool called “risk scores” from 2008 through 2013. The formula is supposed to pay health plans more for sicker patients and less for healthy people — but it often pays too much. Medicare Advantage plans now cover nearly 16 million seniors at an estimated cost to taxpayers of more than $150 billion last year.
The series also explained how the federal government has for years missed opportunities to corral overcharges and other billing errors tied to the abuse of risk scores. It painted a picture of the growing power of the Medicare Advantage industry and its sway over members of Congress. The series also foreshadows possible problems with the Affordable Care Act as it uses the risk score system.
The project was built from the reporting efforts of senior health care reporter Fred Schulte, an analysis of Medicare Advantage risk score data by former Center data editor David Donald and intern Erin Durkin, and interactives and visualizations by news developer Chris Zubak-Skees, who were individually cited as part of the award. The series was edited by executive editor Gordon Witkin.
The Center team spent months searching public records, including federal and state court records, and interviewing experts, health lawyers and data companies.
Judges called the series “superb” and noted that despite numerous obstacles, the Center's journalists “aptly dissected the shocking shortcomings” of the Medicare Advantage program. They noted that the explanation of the risk score system and the analysis of how it is manipulated was “particularly lucid.”
The Meyer Award honors recognizes the best uses of social science methods in journalism.
The prize is administered by the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (a joint program of Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Missouri School of Journalism) and the Knight Chair in Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University. The prize honors Philip Meyer, professor and former Knight Chair of journalism at the University of North Carolina, who pioneered the use of survey research in journalism as a reporter for Knight-Ridder newspapers.
The new Meyer award is the second for the Center's Medicare reporting efforts. The 2012 Meyer award was given to the Center's Cracking the Codes series, which documented how medical professionals had billed Medicare for more complex health care over a decade's time-adding $11 billion or more to their fees — despite little evidence elderly patients received more treatment.
“The Center for Public Integrity is extremely pleased to win the Philip Meyer Award for the second time in three years,” said Center executive director Bill Buzenberg. “This award once again demonstrates the excellent computer-assisted reporting skills of our former managing editor and CAR guru David Donald. David was part of a strong team made up of Medicare reporter Fred Schulte, digital graphic genius Chris Zubak-Skees, former CAR intern Erin Durkin, and the overall project supervisor for this series, executive editor Gordon Witkin,” added Buzenberg. “I am personally delighted by this latest IRE and NICAR recognition.”
The award will be presented at the 2015 CAR Conference in Atlanta in early March.
Congratulations to all of the winners; see the full announcement and the other place-getters here.
Hillary Clinton. Jeb Bush. Mitt Romney. Rand Paul. Chris Christie.
None of them — officially — is yet running for president. Nor are any other notable White House prospects, such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis.
But, according to Federal Election Commission records, there are no fewer than 153 people who've filed paperwork to become bona fide U.S. presidential candidates, even if, together, they amount to little more than a gaggle of gadflies, eccentrics and veritable unknowns.
Voters right now can support Democrat "President Emperor Caesar" of Cape Coral, Fla., Republican "Ole' Savior" of Minneapolis and "President Princess Khadijah M. Jacob-Fambro" of San Francisco whose party affiliation is listed as "The Revolutionary Party."
Someone named Cherunda L. Fox of Detroit went to the trouble of forming (via a handwritten document) a presidential exploratory committee.
It's quaint, really.
If the nascent 2016 presidential campaign has proven anything to date, it’s this: Potential candidates with any semblance of support have, in a post-Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission political environment, discarded the traditional playbook for early fundraising and organizing in favor of unofficial election vehicles, including those not shackled by pesky fundraising limits.
Ready for Hillary operates at once as a super PAC — a committee allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to support a candidate, so long as it doesn't directly coordinate with the candidate — and as a traditional political action committee, which may raise limited amounts of money that it can donate to candidates.
Ready for Hillary, run by longtime Clinton staffers and surrogates, had spent more than $8 million during 2014 through late November, according to its latest campaign finance disclosure.
At that point, it had more than $875,000 cash on hand, plus a $1 million loan from a Washington, D.C., bank it had taken out in October to fuel its pro-Clinton operations.
More recently, Bush, the former Florida governor, created both a "leadership PAC," which may raise limited amounts of money for certain political uses. Donors may give up to $5,000 per calendar year to leadership PACs without the money counting toward federal contribution limits that would be imposed on presidential candidate committees and exploratory committees.
Bush is also the impetus for a separate super PAC that shares the same name — "Right to Rise" — as his leadership PAC.
No, no, you say: Bush can't coordinate with a super PAC! As Romney himself warned during his 2012 presidential campaign about supportive super PAC Restore Our Future: "My goodness, if we coordinate in any way whatsoever, we go to the big house."
Except for this catch: Since Bush hasn't formally declared himself a presidential candidate, and isn't "actively exploring" a presidential bid using a conventional presidential exploratory committee, there's nothing that legally prevents him from coordinating with a super PAC that's supporting his non-candidacy.
Other would-be candidates including Paul have used pre-existing leadership PACs or even their congressional campaign committees as quasi-presidential campaign vehicles.
"Will he or won't he?" is the subject of a December fundraising solicitation send by the Rand Paul for Senate 2016 committee. While not specifically mentioning a presidential run, the message's subtext wasn't subtle.
"A big quarter for me means the sky is the limit in 2015 and beyond and will play a big role in the big decisions I have ahead of me in the coming months," Paul wrote supporters.
In Paul's case, he's considering running for president and the U.S. Senate simultaneously.
In the meantime, for those already fed up with the jockeying by big-name presidential non-candidates, it’s a safe bet that Pogo Mochello Allen-Reese, Morrison McKelvy Bonpasse or Mr. and Mrs. James McCord Sewell III would love to hear from you.
Forget lobbying. When Washington, D.C.’s biggest trade associations want to wield influence, they often put far more of their money into advertising and public relations, according to a new Center for Public Integrity investigation.
Take, for example, the American Petroleum Institute. The oil and gas industry trade group spent more than $7 million lobbying federal officials in 2012. But that sum was dwarfed by the $85.5 million it paid to four public relations and advertising firms to, in effect, lobby the American public — including $51.9 million just to global PR giant Edelman.
From 2008 through 2012, annual tax filings show, the API paid Edelman a staggering $327.4 million for advertising and public relations services, more than any other contractor.
It’s been well-publicized how much industry spends on lobbying the government, but little is known about how much money goes toward influencing the public. In an effort to find out more, Center for Public Integrity reporters examined the tax returns for trade associations that spent more than $1 million on lobbying in 2012. The IRS requires the groups to report their top five contractors.
Of $3.4 billion in contracts reported by the 144 trade groups from 2008 through 2012, more than $1.2 billion, or 37 percent, went toward advertising, public relations and marketing services, more than any other category. The second-highest total, $682.2 million, or 20 percent of the total, was directed toward legal, lobbying and government affairs.
By industry sector, the biggest clients of PR, marketing and ad services were energy and natural resources associations.
The public relations industry is on a growth tear while the number of federally registered lobbyists is actually shrinking. Public relations work, unlike lobbying, is not subject to federal disclosure rules, and PR and advertising campaigns can potentially influence a broader group of people. In addition to Edelman, among the other major players are President Barack Obama’s go-to ad agency GMMB, “issue-advocacy” firm Goddard Gunster and government policy specialists Apco Worldwide.
While not a complete accounting of spending, the analysis provides a glimpse into just how important the public relations industry is to groups seeking to influence public policy.
Big energy leads spending
Boosted by the $327.4 million-worth of contracts Edelman inked with the American Petroleum Institute — consistently the largest contracts the Center found in five years of collected data — the energy and natural resources industry outspent every other sector on advertising and public relations.
The API, Growth Energy — which represents ethanol producers — and other energy and natural resources trade groups collectively spent more than $430.5 million on PR and advertising to help burnish their image between 2008 and 2012.
It’s not clear how much of the total went into the bank accounts of the PR and advertising firms and how much was passed on to media companies. Edelman declined to comment with Center reporters for this story. Edelman likely left some of the work for the API to its Blue Advertising subsidiary, which offers media planning and placement in its services and discloses work for the oil giant on its website.
Other top energy and natural resources interests included the National Fisheries Institute, which represents seafood harvesters, wholesalers and retailers, and the National Biodiesel Board, whose members take recycled cooking oil and animal fats and turn them into fuel.
Business associations — led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — represented the second largest industry category, together paying PR and advertising firms at least $214.9 million from 2008 through 2012. The U.S. Chamber, the nation’s biggest lobby and a prolific spender on political ads, paid $173.5 million to its top advertising firms during the five-year period.
In 2010 and 2012, all five of the trade group’s top contractors were advertising agencies.
The U.S. Chamber paid Republican media-buying firm National Media Research, Planning & Placement more than $60.8 million for advertising services in 2009 alone. National Media, based in Northern Virginia, researches voter demographics and behaviors and places ads in key media markets.
Another top advertising contractor for the U.S. Chamber was Revolution Agency, which the trade group paid more than $38.2 million from 2010 through 2012.
Revolution is a Northern Virginia-based advocacy firm that possesses the “Creativity of Madison Avenue” and the “Strategic Discipline of a Political Campaign,” according to its website. Its partners all formerly worked as staffers or consultants for Republican lawmakers, and the firm’s clients have included business groups and the telecommunications industry.
The agency was behind a public affairs campaign targeting the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency birthed out of the 2008 financial crisis. The campaign on behalf of the U.S. Chamber included a TV ad that attacked the proposed bureau as a “massive new federal agency that will create more layers of regulation and bureaucracy.”
The finance, insurance and real estate sector ranked third in contracts with advertising and PR agencies, paying $184.5 million to contractors, including favorites the Most Organization, a West Coast advertising agency, and Locust Street Group, a “grassroots” advocacy firm. The sector was led by the National Association of Realtors and America’s Health Insurance Plans.
The Most Organization, based in Orange County, California, earned more than $116.7 million from 2010 through 2012 for its work to promote the National Association of Realtors in a national advertising campaign.
Fourth in PR spending based on top contracts was the food and beverage industry, which paid out $104.5 million from 2008-2012. Big spenders included the American Beverage Association, which has been shelling out millions to try and keep cities and states from taxing sugary drinks.
Rounding out the top five industries for PR and advertising spending was communications and electronics, led by CTIA — The Wireless Association, which represents telecommunications companies like AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Co. Also in that category: the Software Alliance.
Steve Barrett, editor-in-chief of trade magazine PR Week, says it’s clear why trade associations rely so heavily on PR and advertising.
“They certainly want to influence the general public,” he says, “because the general public will then influence the politicians, the lawmakers or the regulators in that particular industry.”
Edelman leads PR firms
The Center for Public Integrity’s analysis includes the top five contractors for each trade association. Annual totals need to be at least $100,000 to be reported. The Center for Public Integrity looked only at trade associations that spent more than $1 million on lobbying in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. [See Methodology.]
Edelman’s lucrative contracts with the American Petroleum Institute helped the PR giant earn $346.8 million, significantly more money from top trade associations than any other advertising or public relations firm, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis. But the oil industry trade group wasn’t the firm’s only client.
Others included the Business Roundtable ($9.9 million), a group of CEOs who advocate for business-friendly policies, the Software Alliance ($2.5 million) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association ($1.8 million).
The food-industry trade group paid Edelman more than $1 million in 2011 for work related to its campaign to put select nutrition facts on labels — a move that some health experts criticized as a way to head off the Food and Drug Administration’s effort to require more comprehensive labeling.
The firm’s Washington office has a staff of 225, which includes “former journalists, campaign veterans, political speechwriters, White House staffers and legislative aides,” according to the firm’s website. Among them: Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser to Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign; former White House deputy press secretary Jamie Smith; and former Sens. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
Edelman is known for its at-times controversial tactics. In 2006, the firm was forced to apologize for creating a misleading grassroots campaign for Wal-Mart. To polish the company’s reputation, the agency had created “Working Families for Wal-Mart,” for which a couple drove across the country blogging positive accounts of the retail giant’s employees and customers — initially without disclosing that they were compensated. The campaign, which launched amid bad press about the company’s employment practices, sought to portray Wal-Mart workers as happy middle-class families.
More recently, leaked documents revealed Edelman’s aggressive plans to attack opponents of a pipeline being developed by TransCanada Corp. Within days of the leak, TransCanada announced that it was severing ties with Edelman.
In both cases, according to reports and leaked documents, Edelman maintained the same three-step approach: promote positive messages, respond to criticism and pressure opposition groups.
Michael Bush, a spokesman for the firm, declined to comment for this story. In an email, he wrote, “We do not talk about the work we do for clients.”
Public relations and advertising agencies boast of their communications savvy, but firms contacted for this story were mum. Some, like Edelman, declined to comment, while others did not return repeated phone calls and emails seeking comment.
Most trade associations also did not respond to the Center for Public Integrity’s inquiries.
Lisa Graves, executive director of liberal watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy, which operates the website PRWatch.org, says trade associations are designed to be a “shield and a sword” for their corporate members.
“It’s important for people to know more about how the trade associations operate and which PR operations they’re funding,” she says, “because those nonprofit entities are extremely powerful special interests in Washington, D.C.”
‘Turning the tide’
Communications firm GMMB ranked second behind Edelman. The agency, which has offices in Washington, D.C., and Seattle, brought in $123.5 million from contracts with five different associations in the beverage, communications, transportation and business industries from 2008 through 2012.
Known most prominently for its political work on behalf of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns — GMMB’s leadership team includes Obama’s campaign advisor Jim Margolis — the firm has created ad blitzes for trade groups including CTIA and the American Beverage Association, whose members include Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.
From 2009 through 2012, the wireless association paid GMMB $40.5 million to produce ads, including one TV spot with the message that “wireless is freedom.” The beverage association, which teamed up with GMMB on a 2012 ad campaign to promote new prominently displayed calorie labels, paid the firm more than $55.2 million.
The Most Organization and National Media Research, Planning and Placement were the third- and fourth-highest paid contractors for advertising and public relations services. Goddard Claussen (now Goddard Gunster) came in fifth, followed by Revolution Agency, which was sixth, thanks mostly to its work for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s data analysis.
Apco Worldwide, which ranked seventh, earned $42.9 million from trade associations. The Washington, D.C.-based firm is known for its work for the tobacco and health care industries. Mike Tuffin, a managing director in the firm’s Washington office, joined Apco in 2012 after serving as executive vice president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group that represents health insurers.
On behalf of AHIP, the agency created front group Health Care America to attack filmmaker Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary Sicko, which demonized American health insurers, according to Wendell Potter, a former industry-executive-turned-whistleblower. (Disclosure: Potter is a regular columnist for the Center for Public Integrity.)
In the two years before Congress passed health care reform in 2010, Apco won at least two contracts with AHIP, totaling more than $5 million.
Ogilvy & Mather came in just behind Apco, earning nearly $41 million from four trade associations during the five-year period reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity. But the firm, a subsidiary of communications giant WPP, earned almost all of its money from the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical companies.
The American Chemistry Council paid Ogilvy more than $15 million in 2008 alone. That year, the firm led a couple of PR and advertising campaigns on behalf of the trade group, including one that discouraged Americans from supporting a ban on products containing phthalates, a group of chemicals found in plastics and suspected of causing changes in hormone levels, birth defects and other health effects.
The firm earned awards for the phthalates campaign, which it dubbed “From Toxic to Truthful: Turning the Tide on Phthalates.” Even though Congress eventually banned the use of certain types of phthalates in children’s toys, the firm patted itself on the back for helping to “neutralize negative coverage” and bring “a noticeable shift in the public mood.”
FleishmanHillard ranked ninth, according to the Center’s analysis. Its public relations and advertising clients included the American Petroleum Institute ($27.6 million) and CropLife America ($1.5 million), which represents the manufacturers of pesticides and agricultural chemicals.
The firm, which describes itself as being driven by “the power of true,” has consistently ranked within the top three of the world’s highest-paid public relations companies for the past five years, according to the World PR Report published by the Holmes Report. Its D.C. office is led by Kris Balderston, a former State Department official and deputy assistant to former President Bill Clinton.
Keeping the players straight in the advertising and public relations game is no easy task due to a series of massive mergers that have taken place over the past decade or so. GMMB, for example, is actually a subsidiary of FleishmanHillard, which is owned by the giant advertising and communications holding company Omnicom Media Group, based in New York City.
But most of the subsidiaries function under their own names.
Locust Street Group rounds out the top 10 firms for PR and advertising services. The Washington, D.C.-based agency earned $23.6 million in trade group money from 2008 through 2012, almost all of which came from America’s Health Insurance Plans. It’s unclear what exactly the agency did on the insurance group’s behalf — the firm’s founder, David Barnhart, declined to answer questions for this story — but Locust Street Group’s website says it builds “boots on the ground” coalitions and creates social media campaigns to help influence lawmakers.
“D.C. may have K Street with tons of lobbyists,” the firm’s slogan says, “but small towns all over America have a Locust Street.”
High stakes, big reward
For public relations agencies, landing a contract with a large trade association is a big deal.
“The stakes are high, and the competition is intense,” says Larry Parnell, director of George Washington University’s master’s program in strategic public relations. “But as you can see, winning one of these things is very lucrative.”
It’s difficult to draw sweeping conclusions from the data analyzed by the Center. Trade groups often vaguely describe the services their top contractors provide as “professional fees” or “consulting.” Many firms offer a wide range of services, at times making it unclear exactly what kind of work was done on the industry associations’ behalf.
Because the Center for Public Integrity only reviewed the most politically active trade associations, the data didn’t include some industry groups that fell below the $1 million lobbying threshold but still spent heavily on public relations and advertising.
But the contractor information provides an inside look at the way trade associations use PR and advertising to ply the American mind. Trade groups determined to fight regulations and boost profits of their members have spent heavily to influence how the public perceives policies that affect everything from the air we breathe to the beverages we drink.
The strategy, public relations experts say, is not designed to replace lobbying so much as it is to enhance it.
“You can leverage [public relations work] so your lobbying is to a finer point,” says Parnell, noting that lobbyists can better influence lawmakers by showing them polling gathered by “grassroots” PR campaigns. “It provides air cover.”
“People and organizations are getting increasingly sophisticated with their communications strategies. They are more multi-dimensional,” adds Anne Kolton, vice president of communications for the American Chemistry Council. “With any advocacy [effort], the key is to create an echo chamber so people hear your message in numerous venues.”
There are some advantages to putting millions into PR rather than lobbying. For example, a trade association may be pushing a particular policy that is not so popular with the public. As long as it doesn’t directly contact a government official, it need not report who it has hired to do the PR work. Lobbying firms generally must report how much they are paid, who their clients are and what subject areas they are working on.
PR agencies may further obfuscate their role by creating so-called “front groups” that appear to be grassroots organizations, in an effort to push their clients’ messages. It is often difficult to discern who is behind these manufactured entities, though sometimes information can trickle through.
For example, the tax form for the National Mining Association showed that it paid $4 million to Weber Merritt, a Northern Virginia public affairs firm, as an independent contractor. The services were listed as “Count on Coal” in 2012, according to IRS filings.
Count on Coal calls itself a "grassroots organization" that educates people on coal-powered electricity. Its social media and online petitions, which criticize government proposals to cut carbon emissions, all omit ties to the mining association.
While this type of “grassroots” mobilization is increasingly driven by an industry or paid consultants, it is only one piece of the growing demand for communications professionals, who specialize in everything from crisis management to social media advocacy.
In 2013, the global public relations industry grew 11 percent over the previous year to $12.5 billion, according to trade journal The Holmes Report.
The steady rise in public relations worldwide spending has been accompanied by an overall drop in lobbying spending, beyond the trade group sector.
Lobbying expenditures peaked in 2010, when special interests spent $3.6 billion on lobbying federal lawmakers. Since then, they have declined steadily, falling to $3.2 billion in 2013, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The total number of registered lobbyists has also dropped.
Some say the change indicates a shift toward so-called “soft lobbying,” a strategy that enables industry groups and unions to influence public policy not only with public relations, but through think tanks, nonprofit organizations and grassroots groups that aren’t subject to federal disclosure rules.
The golden age for PR has coincided with the decline of mainstream journalism, especially newspapers, which have suffered from plummeting ad revenue that has necessitated layoffs in newsrooms across the country.
Today, not only are PR professionals outnumbering journalists by a ratio of 4.6 to 1, but the salary gap between the two occupations has grown to almost $20,000 per year, according to the Pew Research Center. The widening employment and income disparities have left journalists underpaid, overworked and increasingly unable to undertake independent, in-depth reporting.
Rick Edmonds, a writer for the Poynter Institute who covers the business of journalism, says the shift has been particularly evident in the coverage of science and health news. Many news organizations that once reported extensively on those issues no longer have the resources to cover them adequately, and special interests have filled the void.
“A great deal of science and health news is coming from the PR side,” Edmonds says.
For trade associations like the American Petroleum Institute, that’s part of the larger public relations strategy that makes lobbying federal lawmakers a lot easier.
“If we’re concerned about a particular member [of Congress], we will educate that constituency and encourage people to weigh in with their elected official,” Jack Gerard, the American Petroleum Institute’s president and CEO, told The Washington Post in a 2012 interview explaining the mentality behind the trade group’s PR offensive. “Congress is a lagging indicator. Congress is responsive to the American people. That’s why a well-educated electorate is a key to sound policy.”
The gradual shift from a focus on traditional lobbying toward greater use of the “outside game of politics,” or communications like PR, has been going on for at least a decade, close observers say, but is now accelerating with advances in technology, social media and digital strategies, says Doug Pinkham, president of the Public Affairs Council, an association of public affairs professionals who specialize in corporate PR, lobbying and grassroots advocacy.
Not all of the trade associations reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity spent more money on top contracts for public relations and advertising than on those for lobbying and legal services. But the data appear to support broader trends in the so-called “influence industry.”
“In the world we live in now,” says Pinkham, “if you have an issue that is visual and has a compelling narrative, we’re better off spending more resources on trying to educate the public” than relying on traditional lobbying.
Troubled industries turn to PR
The trade associations that rely most on PR and advertising campaigns are usually those representing industries facing the heaviest regulation and the most public contempt, says Edward Walker, a sociology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of the book Grassroots for Hire.
And the campaigns are often tied to specific public policy crises. As Walker says, they usually launch “when industries really feel threatened that they might actually lose a policy battle.”
Over the last few years, both the American Petroleum Institute and the American Beverage Association have used PR campaigns to defend their respective industries during heated debates over issues like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and proposed taxes on sugary drinks.
At the outset of 2012, the American Petroleum Institute announced a “Vote4Energy” campaign to promote the industry in a contentious election year. Its social media endorsed the idea that domestic oil production would bring jobs, revenue and national security.
With Edelman’s help, the American Petroleum Institute also organized a speech and panel discussion targeting “key influencers” in attendance, including think tanks, government officials and the media. Online groups also emerged, like “Energy Tomorrow,” which hosts a blog by Mark Green, a journalist-turned-industry-blogger.
In addition to Edelman’s work, the petroleum group paid FleishmanHillard $22.8 million in 2012 for advertising to promote hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to skeptical citizens. TV advertisements targeted a half-dozen shale gas-producing states, including Pennsylvania, Texas and North Dakota, emphasizing small-town reliance on energy and downplaying environmental impacts, as part of its Energy from Shale campaign.
Few industries have felt more threatened in recent years than soda makers.
Since 2009, the makers of sugary beverages have found themselves under attack from government officials and public health advocates who have blamed soft drinks for the nation’s expanding waistlines and have favored taxing popular sweetened beverages.
The American Beverage Association has fought back — vigorously — with the help of Goddard Gunster, a Washington, D.C.-based firm famous for creating the “Harry and Louise” ad campaign that helped bury President Clinton’s health care reform proposal in 1993 and 1994.
Goddard has produced anti-tax ads and created front groups in cities and states considering soda taxes. In 2012, the firm helped the association defeat two soda-tax ballot measures in Richmond and El Monte, California — campaigns that preceded its 2014 ballot-box battles in San Francisco, where voters rejected a soda-tax measure, and Berkeley, where a sugary-drink tax passed.
Jenny Wang, a public health worker and mother of two girls, recalls how the beverage industry flooded Richmond with anti-tax ads, buying up the town’s billboards and hiring residents to deliver mailers door-to-door.
“We didn’t have the manpower to fight against all of that messaging,” says Wang, a former Richmond resident who supported the soda tax. “They were so pervasive and so persuasive.”
John Dunbar contributed to this report.
President Barack Obama wants cities and towns to be able to offer high speed Internet service to their residents. Now the nation’s top telecommunications regulator may help that goal along.
The Federal Communications Commission said it will vote next month on requests by two southern cities, Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina, asking it to override state laws restricting the ability of local governments to provide broadband access.
The Center for Public Integrity first reported on the requests in July. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler appears amenable to the requests.
Now Obama has weighed in. In a speech in Cedar Falls, Iowa, this week the president said he intends to help promote municipal broadband in areas that are underserved by the major telecommunications companies.
“If there are state laws in place that prohibit or restrict these community- based broadband efforts,” Obama said, “we should do everything we can to push back against those old laws.”
The change won’t happen without a fight.
Telecommunications giants including Comcast, AT&T and Time Warner Cable have spent millions of dollars to lobby state legislatures, influence state elections and buy research to try to stop the spread of public Internet services that often offer faster speeds at cheaper rates. AT&T alone spent more than $250,000 on lobbying in Tennessee alone last year, the Center for Public Integrity reported in August.
The Center’s report illustrated how municipal broadband service, especially in rural communities, can help boost businesses and create jobs. It contrasted the experience of Tullahoma, Tennessee, which has a strong publicly-owned broadband network, with Fayetteville, North Carolina, which was thwarted from allowing its residents to tap into the city’s gigabit broadband network by state law.
Tullahoma’s job market has thrived, while Fayetteville’s has stagnated in recent years.
There are currently 20 states that have laws restricting the ability of municipalities to offer Internet service.
Obama intends to make the case for allowing cities and towns to decide for themselves whether to build out municipal broadband networks in his State of the Union address on January 20.
The nation’s most politically active trade associations appear to be more interested in lobbying the public than they are in lobbying lawmakers.
That’s the main takeaway from a new Center investigation by Erin Quinn and Chris Young.
Trade groups like the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent more than $1.2 billion on contractors for advertising, public relations and marketing services from 2008 to 2012. That dwarfs what they spent on top lobbying contracts.
Erin Quinn and Chris Young spent more than six months investigating this story and joined us for this podcast discussion.
Chris and Erin, isn’t this what trade associations are supposed to do?
Erin Quinn: This is what they’re supposed to do, we expect this. Trade groups are designed to advocate for policies that benefit their member companies. They play a major role in shaping public policy in the United States.
Chris Young: But when most Americans think about the power trade groups wield, they think mainly about the work they do lobbying members of Congress. Much less attention is paid to how they use public relations and advertising to directly influence the public. So our investigation found that trade associations’ favorite top contractors were often PR and advertising agencies.
Not lobbying firms.
CY: Not lobbying firms, exactly. And that runs counter to what most people would think, when you look at the data.
How is public relations more effective than lobbying when it comes to influencing public opinion?
CY: For one thing, PR and advertising fly under the radar. So unlike lobbying, they are not necessarily subject to the same federal disclosure rules that lobbyists have to abide by.
EQ: So let’s say for example, a trade group is pushing for a specific piece of legislation that might not be so popular with the public. During the campaign for that, if there is no contact with a government official, they do not have to report who they hired to do that work. But on the other hand, lobbying firms report how much money they were paid, who their clients are, and what subject areas they cover in their work.
CY: And aside from that, PR and advertising campaigns have a much broader impact. So they are typically much more expensive than lobbying contracts, but they have the potential to influence millions of Americans, who can then put pressure on lawmakers. Lobbyists’ influence, on the other hand, tends to be more limited in scope.
So going to the public can be a better strategy than paying lobbyists?
EQ: Going to the public definitely acts as an effective complement to the lobbying. Public relations influences people to care about a topic and take action on it, whether that action is engaging in a letter-writing campaign, or calling your congressman or even starting some sort of group in support of it. This raises the profile of an issue. So that by the time the lobbying occurs, the lawmaker has probably already heard the arguments and they’re already familiar with the topic at hand.
CY: And even beyond what Erin was just saying, these PR and advertising campaigns help refine industry’s lobbying efforts. One public relations expert actually told us that it “provides air cover” for lobbyists. What he means by that is that lobbyists’ job becomes a lot easier if they can point to polling numbers that were influenced by a successful PR or advertising campaign. So it’s a tool in the tool belt for a lobbyist to go in with that. So it’s not necessarily that public relations is replacing lobbying so much as it is that it’s enhancing it.
So are you talking about ads you see on the subway? What are some recent examples of these kind of campaigns?
CY: The work that PR and advertising agencies do for these trade groups takes many different forms. Trade groups can hire firms to produce ads -- they can be print ads, they can be online, they can be on television. They can also conduct so-called “grassroots” campaigns that are designed to rally the public around a particular issue.
EQ: And we say “so-called grassroots” because it’s not necessarily true grassroots that is driven by everyday people. But it’s rather manufactured to look that way.
CY: So to give an example that some Americans, many Americans might be familiar with, the American Beverage Association over the past few years has been waging soda-tax fights across the country. With the help of PR firm Goddard Gunster, formerly Goddard Claussen, the trade association has created “front groups”, they’ve bought millions of dollars worth of ads in cities considering taxes on sugary drinks to try to fight them.
EQ: And by front groups we mean organizations that are posing as an independent third party when really it’s backed by some sort of special interest.
CY: That battle that I mentioned with the beverage taxes from the American Beverage Association, it played out most recently in California, in San Francisco and Berkeley, both those cities were asking voters whether they favored or opposed taxes on sugary drinks. On Election Day, voters in San Francisco rejected a soda-tax ballot measure, but a similar tax ended up passing in Berkeley.
EQ: Another example that wasn’t necessarily focussed around a piece of legislation was a campaign that the American Petroleum Institute took on during the last presidential election. There were really contentious debates at the time around things like the Keystone XL Pipeline and how to deal with climate change. And the energy industry really wanted to make sure that they were represented well in those debates.
And so API along with their PR counsel Edelman created online groups called Energy Citizens and had an advertising campaign called “Vote For Energy”, and it was really a chance for oil and gas to polish its reputation before the election.
Why did you both feel this was something important to investigate? Why does industry PR spending matter to voters?
EQ: The industries that we’re dealing with have major implications for public policy. And these are really high profile issues so it’s important for voters to know who is crafting the debates around these issues, and where the messages that they see are coming from.
CY: And sometimes it can be hard for the public to know where these messages really are coming from. Erin can tell us a little bit more about an interesting example we found of a seemingly independent group created by the National Mining Association. Why don’t you tell us a little about "Count on Coal", Erin ...
EQ: So "Count on Coal" is a group that claims to be this independent, citizen-driven grassroots campaign but people who come across their website or see their advertisements or their Facebook page can’t immediately tell who’s really behind the effort. "Count on Coal" is actually the product of a multi-million dollar contract between the National Mining Association and its PR firm.
And how did you figure that out?
EQ: We actually found this on a tax return in what was maybe an accidental disclosure, where the National Mining Association in their 2012 tax return, listed under their top contractors the name of their PR firm which was Weber Merritt Strategies, and instead of listing the services, whether it was PR or communications, they actually wrote the name of the group, “Count on Coal”. So we knew this was manufactured by the PR firm and the National Mining Association.
And it wasn’t a small contract, it was worth $4 million
So the grassroots coalition was actually an arm of the National Mining Association?
EQ: Exactly, it was not citizen-driven.
So if industry groups aren’t using lobbying as much to influence public policy, how else are they doing it?
CY: So this is something that has been reported over the past few years. Media reports have noted that there has been a gradual decline in the amount of money special interests are putting into their lobbying efforts, and there has also been a drop in the total number of registered lobbyists.
So some observers who are watching this say this trend is likely the result of a shift toward so-called “soft-lobbying.” And that’s where trade groups and unions influence public policy through the use of academic think tanks, through nonprofit organizations, grassroots groups, all that aren’t subject to federal disclosure rules. These are all different ways to shape public policy without drawing too much scrutiny.
Were you surprised by anything you found?
EQ: What we found most surprising I think was the sheer size of the contract between the American Petroleum Institute and their PR firm Edelman. It was the largest contract for each of the five years that we looked at. And the relationship totaled more than $327 million in five years. Other contracts we looked at didn’t even come close to this.
CY: It was also interesting to see how the list of top contractors for some trade associations were sometimes dominated by PR and advertising firms. So for example in 2010 and 2012 -- both election years -- all five of the top contractors for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were advertising agencies.
EQ: And the American Chemistry Council was another example of a group that relied pretty heavily on public relations.
CY: That’s right. In 2008, for example, the American Chemistry Council spent nearly $35 million on public relations services. All of their top contracts that year were for public relations.
During that year, they had a few different PR campaigns, but one was led by Ogilvy & Mather and they helped defend the industry from bad press related to a group of chemicals that are found in plastics. These chemicals were suspected of causing a variety of health problems. The firm won a number of awards and praise for making the situation less problematic for the American Chemistry Council.
Sounds like a job well done.
CY: Yeah I guess so.
Not all industries are represented in your story, is that right? What’s missing, and why?
CY: That’s true. So we wanted to focus our analysis on the most politically active trade associations. So the trade groups that are really moving public policy.
So we only included the trade groups that spent at least $1 million on lobbying in 2012, and that’s according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. A total of 144 trade associations met that $1 million threshold, and these are the groups again that are most heavily involved in shaping public policy.
So how did you dig up all of these numbers?
EQ: After we narrowed down our universe to the politically active trade associations that Chris just mentioned, our next step was to dig up their annual tax filings. These are publicly available, and on the documents they list their top 5 contractors who did some sort of outside work for them. And they list the names of the firms that they hired, the type of work that they did, and the cost of the contract for the given year.
CY: And we collected and analyzed that data for all of these associations over a 5 year period. Our data starts in 2008. We started there because 2008 was the first year that trade groups were required to publicly report their top contractors. And the data runs through 2012, which is the most recent year for which data is available for pretty much every group. So there was a lot of data entry involved in this project as you can imagine.
EQ: And when we finished the data entry, we were able to analyze based on the services that were done by the firms or the industries that the trade groups came from.
Were you surprised that nobody wanted to talk to you on the record?
CY: Not necessarily. It is a bit ironic, that a lot of these PR firms wouldn’t talk, especially considering that these are highly skilled communicators who … these firms often boast about their communications savvy. But these relationships between trade associations and PR and advertising firms are sensitive in many cases, and the contracts are very lucrative. So there’s a lot at stake here. And because these campaigns often deal with controversial issues, it’s no surprise that trade groups and PR firms might want to keep quiet about their work.
EQ: This is something I actually asked a PR expert about and he told me that often public relations is not about communicating something, but rather about not communicating something.
So this story is part of your ongoing investigation that you call the Misinformation Industry. Tell me a bit about that.
CY: Sure, this is a relatively new project at the Center for Public Integrity and it’s part of our “Consider the Source” team. It’s intended to shed light on Washington’s political messaging industry essentially. So we’ll be taking a comprehensive look at how special interest groups gain public support for their political agendas, and sometimes that’s using misleading tactics like front groups like we talked about.
EQ: Next up we’ll be looking at how this kind of work affects the food supply in this country.
This story was reported by Gary Gately for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.
She was born to an incarcerated mother. She was repeatedly abused by relatives with whom she spent much of her early life.
By the time she turned 10, she had been sexually abused by an older brother, a pimp, who forced her into prostitution.
She didn’t last long at foster homes and ended up living in group homes in the Northern California area. She ran away from placements dozens of times and continued prostituting herself.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Alicia — whose real name is being withheld to conceal her identity — repeatedly landed in juvenile detention on solicitation or related charges.
But for most of her young life, the people responsible for helping her — in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems — hardly spoke to one another, much less coordinated services, because of the longstanding gulf between the two systems.
Alicia, now 18 and expected to be in jail through mid-January on prostitution and robbery charges, could be a poster child for kids known as “dual-status youth” — those involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
Their cases typically present enormous challenges: Many of the children are chronic runaways who have suffered from severe physical or emotional abuse, neglect and abandonment. And they typically come from troubled homes often beset by domestic violence, substance abuse and mental illness.
It’s hard to say how many children become entangled in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, partly because of the historical bureaucratic divides between the two systems.
Juvenile courts in the United States handled an estimated 1.2 million cases in which the youth was charged with a delinquency offense during 2011, according to the Pittsburgh-based, nonprofit National Center for Juvenile Justice, which collects and reports on juvenile court activity for the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. And the federal Children’s Bureau reported 3.8 million children in 2012 were the subjects of at least one report of abuse and neglect; for 686,000 children the maltreatment was substantiated.
Conservatively, tens of thousands of children a year are simultaneously involved in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. (Depending on the locale, these children are known by such terms as crossover, dual-jacketed, dual-involvement, dual-status supervision or dual-jurisdiction youths.)
More problems, complex needs
Research has shown dual-status youth are more likely to have higher detention rates, higher recidivism, more frequent placement changes, substantial behavioral health problems and poorer school performance than children not involved in both systems, according to a 2014 report by the Boston-based Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps at the RFK National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice. The center has conducted extensive research on dual-status youth.
“It’s about tragic outcomes for a very disadvantaged set of youth,” said John Tuell, executive director of the RFK Center.
“It’s a very difficult, difficult, challenging, often recalcitrant population of youth who come into the system that holds them accountable for their behavior — often without understanding the developmental aspects of that behavior.”
Like other experts, Tuell notes childhood trauma, often associated with abuse or neglect, can have far-reaching impacts on youths.
Among them: difficulty developing a strong, healthy attachment to a caregiver, problems with authority figures like teachers or police, lack of impulse control and violent responses to some situations.
The complex needs of dual-status youth underscore the importance of the juvenile justice and other child-serving systems to work together. Historically, they have not, not by any stretch.
Slow change, new reforms
That’s starting to change, albeit slowly.
Five states (Delaware, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont) now centralize administration of child welfare and juvenile justice systems to better coordinate services between the systems. Two additional states (Tennessee and Wyoming) integrate all facets except juvenile probation, and other states integrate juvenile justice and child welfare services within separate divisions of umbrella agencies.
And on a smaller scale, dozens of jurisdictions nationwide have undertaken reform efforts funded by nonprofits, in some cases with backing from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
The RFK Center has worked with 13 jurisdictions on efforts designed to reduce the gap between the two systems and better serve dual-status youths.
Neha Desai, an attorney who serves as policy adviser for the fledgling Dually Involved Youth Initiative in Santa Clara County, said it has helped bridge the divide between the juvenile justice and child welfare systems there.
“Probation officers and social workers have never, ever worked together before — because it was a combative relationship, and now it’s a collaborative one — or in many situations, there was just no communication,” Desai said.
Now, probation officers and social workers sit side by side in the new Family Resource Center in San Jose, Calif., which is adorned with photographs of activists like Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez. The center has resources for youth in foster care (or formerly in foster care), including healthcare workshops and assistance with housing, job applications and legal matters.
The social workers and probation officers work closely on dual-status kids’ cases to ensure they’re getting the help they need, which often results in providing “trauma-informed” care rather than simply punishing them when they have been victims of abuse or neglect.
How might that play out? Desai points to the example of a dual-status youth who had been sexually abused and later became ensnared in the juvenile justice system after continually running away from placements:
“What happened with this youth, and with so many youth who fall into this, is the child welfare worker feels like there’s nothing for this kid: ‘We have placed her over and over again. She runs from every placement. She’s involved in dangerous activities, and we can’t protect her, and she’s going to get killed out on the streets and she needs to have the intervention of the juvenile justice system in order to keep her safe.’
“The juvenile justice system says, ‘Are you kidding me? This is absolutely not a youth that belongs in the juvenile justice system. That would be criminalizing a kid for being a victim. I mean, they’re being sexually exploited, and you’re saying that they need to be detained in order to keep them safe, but that’s punishing them for being a victim.’”
Desai notes juvenile justice system adjudication can bring “collateral consequences” that can hurt a youth’s ability to get a job, housing or financial aid for higher education, for example, and says progressive juvenile justice systems do everything they can to keep kids out of the system when practical.
Often, she said: “The systems can’t agree so there’s this constant finger-pointing: ‘No, this is your kid.’ ‘No, this is your kid.’ There is an all-out fight between both systems for literally years and court hearing after court hearing where they can’t come to an agreement” on which system the youth should be in as part of a joint recommendation to present to the court, as required by California law.
“Meanwhile,” she said, “the kid is on the run or in and out of detention, out of school, being retraumatized over and over again, and neither system can figure out what to do.”
Complexities and costs
Despite a dearth of national data on dual-status youth, studies from several jurisdictions illustrate the daunting challenges these cases present:
The complexities and potential costs of dealing with dual-status kids notwithstanding, success stories show how breaking down barriers between the juvenile justice and child welfare systems can make all the difference in a child’s life.
Consider, for example, the case of a 14-year-old in Omaha, Neb. After the latest of many fights, this one on a school bus in fall 2013, he was ticketed by a school resource officer, and his case ended up before the Douglas County attorney.
The youth, whose name is being withheld to conceal his identity, had been severely abused by his mother, abandoned when he was 3 and placed in four or five foster homes by his teens. He had been arrested repeatedly on assault charges and failed to comply with probation requirements. In short, his prospects appeared dim.
“This kid’s an angry kid, which you understand when you hear about the circumstances of his life,” said Nicholas Juliano, the co-chair of Youth Impact! of Douglas County, a public-private organization shepherding the county’s dual-status reform.
The Omaha reform effort emphasizes sharing data between the juvenile justice and child welfare systems and bringing together representatives of both systems, along with parents or foster parents and, in this case, school officials, to improve prospects for crossover youths.
Thus, the county attorney, the boy’s foster father, social workers, school staff and a probation officer who had worked with the youth came together with an eye toward finding a solution that would keep him from being prosecuted for fighting.
The result: a written agreement that the youth would avoid fighting, attend school regularly, return to therapy for anger management and attend a program designed to help him resist the temptation to join a gang.
The agreement specified the assault charge would be dropped if the boy — an African-American, like a heavily disproportionate share of dual-status kids — complied with all requirements by the end of the 2013-14 school year.
He did. Now, he’s doing well in school and has a good shot at going to college.
Of course, some foster parents become unwilling to stand by their kids when they get caught up in the juvenile justice system, says Joseph P. Ryan, an associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and an expert on child welfare and the juvenile justice system.
“The big challenge for a lot of foster kids is keeping them out of the juvenile justice system and keeping them at least in shallow end,” Ryan said. “On the juvenile justice side, that’s in-home probation. But for these kids, a lot of times, foster parents don’t want that. They didn’t sign up to work with kids who were involved with the justice system. They signed up to work with kids involved with abuse and neglect cases.”
Pointing to research he did in metropolitan Los Angeles in 2008, Ryan said children with open child welfare cases are more likely to get pushed deeper into the juvenile justice system than other kids.
He also found that dual-status kids were more likely to be sentenced to group homes, youth detention camp or a juvenile detention facility and less likely to receive probation than those with no child welfare history.
“Such environments increase the likelihood of associating with deviant peer groups and reinforcing antisocial attitudes, values, and beliefs,” wrote coauthor Denise C. Herz of California State University, Los Angeles. “Moreover, youth leaving these programs are at an increased risk of recidivism and of entering the adult correctional system.”
Involvement in the child welfare system also tends to cast doubt in juvenile court judges’ mind about the likelihood a youth can be rehabilitated, Ryan said.
Judges see patterns
Robert Anderson, a juvenile court judge in DuPage County, Ill., just outside Chicago, strives to keep an open mind about dual-status youths, but acknowledges a disheartening pattern.
“There’s a real different dynamic in my experience in these cases … first, they come with a kind of a unique set of challenges because typically there isn’t a lot of family support,” Anderson said. “There may be no family support of any kind.
“I couldn’t give you statistics on this, but my experience has been that in a first-time delinquency case, if a child walks in with two parents¸ statistically, the odds of me seeing them after this case go way down. They walk in with one parent, it’s a higher probability that I’ll see them several times, either for probation violations or new offenses, and if they walk in with no parents, which would mean the dually involved cases for the most part, they’re generally real troubled kids.
“They’ve faced a lot of rejection in their lives. They don’t have family out there that’s saying we love you, we’re here for you. And they’re in residential placements, and the quality of residential placements can vary as well. So they’re hit with a lot of challenges and typically they’ve experienced a lot of trauma.”
Still, in a career in which he has worked as an assistant state’s attorney for DuPage County, a private attorney, a juvenile court judge and a criminal court judge, Anderson said he prefers the juvenile bench.
“When I became a judge, I asked to be assigned to juvenile court, and I found it to be the most gratifying court call, even though it has many challenges,” Anderson said. “Every day you’ve got the chance to change the future. Every day you’ve got that chance to do so in a real positive way.
“It’s a very difficult life for these kids, and part of what I think our system does is tries to give them hope, tries to show them that even if the past has been bad, the future can be better.”
Anderson works closely with Kathy McNamara, a senior probation officer for juveniles in DuPage County who has supervised dual-status youths for 16 years.
The judge — and others in juvenile justice circles — say McNamara, by turns, takes on roles including surrogate mother, big sister and cheerleader to her young charges.
After boys in a group home complained about the bland institutional food, she helped them cook a more appetizing dish out of ground turkey, served with a sauce and side dishes of a vegetable and rice or pasta.
She also baked brownies with girls and showed them how to balance a checkbook.
Perhaps most important, she gives her time, undivided attention and gently dispensed wisdom to the youngsters she calls “my kids.”
In what can be the overwhelmingly sad story of largely invisible dual-status youths who often get lost between the cracks of bureaucracies, unsung heroes like McNamara and ambitious reforms across the country give John Tuell hope.
The firm belief that we can — and must — do better by dual-status kids has been a major focus of Tuell’s work for more than a decade. Tuell, who also served at OJJDP from 1997 to 2001, knows first-hand of what he speaks:
He worked from 1979 to 1997 in the Fairfax County, Va., Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court as a field probation supervisor, intake officer and administrator of a 22-bed residential treatment facility for serious and chronic juvenile offenders.
“We’re making terrific inroads,” Tuell said. “... What we have to do in this work and what we stress in our efforts at RFK now is a balance of accountability and an understanding of the behavior and the causes for that behavior that we think gives us a better long-term chance for accountability while also perhaps interrupting any further involvement in the system.”
Many dual-status children end up in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems because they’re being raised by teenage parents, said Melissa Sickmund, director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice.
Contrary to public perception, the overwhelming majority of child maltreatment cases center on neglect allegations, not physical and sexual abuse, Sickmund said.
“You have a lot of kids that have kids, and no one has told them how to be a parent,” she said. “They can barely take care of themselves, let alone someone else. Just think of 15-year-old kids. They want to go out with their friends. They may leave children alone unsupervised. They may make unwise decisions. They may not be able to have the wherewithal to feed themselves, house themselves, all this stuff that adults do.”
Compounding matters, many of them abuse drugs, Sickmund said, adding, “I will hazard a guess that it’s a fair statement to say drug addicts do not make very good parents.”
The challenges of dual-status cases also play out in northern Minnesota’s rural Beltrami County, with a population of 46,000, one-fifth of them Native Americans.
The county, afflicted with high rates of addiction, poverty and other social ills, began working with dual-status youths in September as part of a reform effort for which it received guidance from the RFK and Georgetown centers.
“So we are starting to recognize that we don’t want to hit these kids with a double whammy — like, ‘You were dealt a bad hand and you’re already at risk, and now we’re going to push you into court and that’s going increase your risk too,’” said Elizabeth Raile, intervention program specialist for Beltrami County.
Raile recalled a teenage girl whose father came home drunk and hit her mother with an iron skillet, knocking her unconscious. The girl’s 3-year-old brother sopped up some of the mother’s blood with a dishtowel. The girl was taken into custody for being a runaway and for drug use, Raile said.
“In my head, I’m thinking, ‘This kid has been witness to a horrible and terrible thing, and we’re criminalizing a girl who doesn’t know how to cope,’” Raile said.
And in Outagamie County in northeast Wisconsin, another RFK Center dual-status reform site, Melissa Blom, manager of the Children, Youth and Families Division of the Department of Health and Human Services, also said it’s time to view dual-status cases differently.
“We work with them in our traditional child-protection way, keeping them safe, monitoring them, but are we really getting at the core of helping and healing from their traumatic scars?” Blom said. “The piece we really need to start focusing on is what they’re doing with all this trauma. How are they coping?”
She said such intervention came too late for Brandon, a Native American youth whose last name is being withheld to protect his identity.
He is one of five children whose biological mother had tried to kill her abusive partner by driving a car into a brick wall when Brandon was about 6. His father took custody, then lost it after he began beating the child.
Brandon then lived with an uncle, who gave up on him after the youth stole a truck and a gun from his uncle’s home and landed in juvenile prison at age 14.
“The painful part was I could see the writing on the wall,” Blom said. “Brandon has a huge hole in his heart.”
Of dual-status kids whose brains are altered by trauma, she said: “We owe it to them to start focusing on healing them rather than punishing them. I don’t think people in America know what maltreatment is, don’t know the face behind it. It’s getting people to understand cumulatively what’s happened to them over many years.”
Hurst, the senior research associate at the National Center for Juvenile Justice, alluded to the book “The Catcher in the Rye” in speaking about dual-status youths.
“Can we stop that trajectory?” he said. “Can we do a better job? Can we keep them from kind of falling off of a cliff into a less-than-bright future?”
This story was reported by Virginia Lynne Anderson for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.
COVINGTON, Ga. — On a bright, fall day — the kind of day that kids love to be outdoors in, riding a bike, playing ball — a 15-year-old walked into a juvenile courtroom in Newton County for a hearing, wearing a dark blue jumpsuit, handcuffs and a look of fear on his face.
He had been picked up for riding a bicycle under the influence in next-door Rockdale County a day or two before and placed in detention.
Had Judge Lisa Mantz not known about the teen’s home difficulties, she might have sent him back to his foster mother’s home.
He’s faced some very hard obstacles. His father is in prison. His mother is absent for unknown reasons, and he hasn’t seen her in years.
Because Mantz and the Newton County juvenile justice team make it a matter of protocol to find out whether a youth has been in protective custody or has an open case with the Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFACS), Mantz knew in this case not to send the boy home.
“The foster mom has a meth problem,” Mantz explained after a wrenching hearing. “He wouldn’t be safe going back into that environment.”
Newton County is one of four sites in the nation chosen by the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps to serve as a demonstration project — to show how the juvenile justice court can work with DFCS, other children-serving agencies and the community to identify dual status youth and get them the help they need.
While this young person’s case resulted in his being kept in detention, the collaborative efforts of the Newton County Juvenile Court and DFACS play out in different ways in different cases. The goal is to keep dual status youth out of detention and to instead get them and their families the help they need to stay out of detention.
Using an initiative that recognizes that most juvenile offenders are dually involved in the child welfare system, Newton County is changing its strategy for working with youth in the juvenile justice system.
Previously, the county might have looked at a youth’s juvenile record without ever examining his or her involvement in the child welfare system. Now the county’s first step is to learn whether a young person has an open file with the Department of Family and Children Services. A separate intake form is created, and, within three days, DFCS returns information to the court that shows whether a youth is dually involved.
Newton County began tracking the young people charged with offenses in June 2013 to learn how many were dually involved. So far, more than half — 54 percent — of youth fitting the juvenile justice criteria have been identified as dually involved, according to records from Newton County’s research analyst.
“These youth-serving systems must be working together,” said the Action Corps’ John Tuell, who co-wrote a technical assistance workbook to help juvenile courts work more collaboratively with youth-serving agencies. Tuell credits the leadership of Chief Juvenile Judge Sherri Roberts as well as Mantz and research analyst Diana Summers.
‘“They’re not only identifying these kids, they’re trying these kids,” he said. “This enables them to serve them better, design more targeted programs” and, ultimately, to keep youth out of detention centers when they instead need mental health treatment, family support or both.
“The first response used to be, ‘They need to be locked up,’ ” Mantz said, referring to youth who had been arrested. “Now, it’s how do we de-escalate.”
Often, Mantz and Roberts are able to keep a child in the home rather than out — and to help the parent or parents learn better parenting skills so that they and their child can live together happily.
“It’s about prevention, taking those kids with their first foot in the door, and saying, ‘Family, let’s get some skills. This is manageable. Let’s don’t go any deeper,’ ” Roberts said.
Roberts, a Newton County native, has especially strong ties to the community. For her, this is a dream job. After working in the financial services industry — she has an MBA in addition to her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Georgia — she practiced law for several years in Kentucky. While she liked her work, she wanted something more fulfilling, something that would help youth in particular. And, she wanted to come home.
She was thrilled to return to Covington, the county seat. Because she has many friends and professional connections in the county, she is able to turn to them for support, and even for financial backing for special projects, such as the Community Help Fund, which is used to help families and children’s groups with one-time financial help.
Roberts and Mantz are totally committed to the goal of identifying dual status youth and making sure they get the help they need. In part because of Roberts’ numbers background — that MBA came in handy as a juvenile judge — she knew that a research analyst would be key in tracking the cases, their dispositions and how they are referred.
Toward that end, Roberts hired Summers as research analyst for the court. Having hard numbers not only helps Roberts and Mantz as they track cases, but helps get community buy-in.
For example, the court is able to show that more than three-quarters of all dually involved youth were not involved in any pro-social programming. Data also showed that more than one-third of dually involved youth are not attending school. Such information is crucial, the judges say, to help them get help for youth and families — and to educate the community that prevention is far better than detention.
“The ultimate goal is to stop the problem before it gets worse, but first, there has to be a recognition that abuse and neglect are behind most of these offenses,” Roberts said. “Juvenile justice cases escalate so quickly, and they don’t need to. We know that therapeutic intervention can work. We know that ‘scared straight’ does not work. So one of the first goals is to make sure the community understands this, too.”
When Newton first began its pilot project in 2013, Roberts admits there was some resistance.
“People said, ‘Oh, great, there’ll be a crime wave,’ ” she said.
There hasn’t been. Instead, there have been programs throughout the community aimed at reaching at-risk youth before there is any involvement in the juvenile justice system.
For example, because Roberts and Mantz started seeing more girls coming through the system — and Summers’ numbers backed that up — Roberts started a class for girls at risk, giving them an opportunity to connect with other girls, to gain mentoring from women in the community and to come together and talk. Roberts holds a tea at her house, and the girls get dressed up and have a chance to be social in a positive environment.
“At the end of the day, our job is just common sense,” Roberts said. “We just try to use good parenting principles ourselves. We’re both very careful in what we say, we acknowledge success, and we try to support the family however we can.”
And even in the difficult cases where a child must be taken from the home, the goal is still to empower the parent.
“Usually, what’s happened is that the balance of power is out of control,” Roberts said. “And we try to let them know they can still be a good parent. It’s amazing to see sometimes when that parent who’s been struggling just gets a little bit of support and respite.”
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday in a case that could undo state laws around the country that limit judicial candidates from asking potential donors for campaign contributions.
The Florida case, Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, stems from a 6-year-old ethics violation in a county court race that predated the high court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which, along with a handful of other rulings, have upended many traditional limits on money in politics.
Unlike federal judges, who are appointed to lifetime tenure by the president, voters in Florida and 38 other states elect judges. Thirty of those states limit judicial candidates’ ability to personally raise money for their campaigns. Instead, “the ask” must come from a separate campaign committee, a system designed to insulate judges from bias toward the lawyers and litigants who donate — or choose not to — and then come before them in court.
At the heart of the case is the 2009 campaign of Lanell Williams-Yulee, who signed a mass-mailed letter asking for contributions as she sought a Hillsborough County trial court judgeship. The Florida Supreme Court disciplined her with a public reprimand and a $1,860 fine after The Florida Bar argued that her letter violated the state judiciary’s personal solicitation ban. Now, Williams-Yulee brings the case to the U.S. Supreme Court to argue the ban infringed on her free speech.
If the court rules in favor of Williams-Yulee, her disciplinary record with The Florida Bar will be wiped clean, according to her attorney Ernest Myers. Yet the court’s decision may be more far-reaching: if it finds the Florida ban unconstitutional, Myers said, the bans in states with similar rules will likely be invalidated.
“It’s a blanket prohibition on speech, including some speech which is fairly innocuous and probably doesn’t rise to the level of the concerns that were the reasons it was put in place to begin with,” Myers said.
Proponents of the ban fear such a ruling could mean judicial candidates in Florida and 29 other states may find themselves directly asking the lawyers and corporate executives who appear before them in court for cash ahead of each election cycle.
Williams-Yulee’s fundraising letter failed to yield any contributions. She also lost the election, and never sat on the bench, making the case an imperfect test of whether asking for campaign contributions threatens a judge’s impartiality.
So, why did the court even take the case?
Six lower federal circuit courts and four state courts are split on the constitutionality of such bans. Williams-Yulee’s opponent, The Florida Bar, even urged the court to accept the case and resolve this clash.
The high court’s recent campaign finance decisions suggest that Williams-Yulee could win inside the marble-columned, frescoed walls of One First Street, making it even easier for judicial candidates around the country to pad their campaign coffers.
Judicial elections — once sleepy contests removed from the blood sport of politicking — have become multi-million dollar contests in recent election cycles.
State supreme court candidates attracted at least $18 million in contributions during the 2014 election cycle, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of available state data collected by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Candidates for state high courts spent at least $5.2 million on television ads, with Michigan candidate Richard Bernstein spending an estimated $1.3 million for his successful election campaign, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis of data from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.
The Florida rule in question only narrowly limits candidates’ speech, according to Matthew Menendez, a lawyer for the Brennan Center for Justice, a think tank that filed a brief supporting the ban. Judicial candidates may still discuss their credentials and legal philosophy and send thank-you notes to donors, he said.
“The only thing a judge can’t say is ‘Please give me money,’” Menendez said.
But in a friend-of-the-court brief, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote that “campaign speech by candidates for judicial office, like campaign speech by candidates for other offices, is entitled to the highest degree of First Amendment protection.”
Such a view was underscored by Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in the 2002 ruling on The Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, which allowed judicial candidates to publicly share their opinions on controversial legal and political matters.
Justice Anthony Kennedy will likely be the swing vote in this case, said Tracey George, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School who studies the effect of campaign contributions on judicial decision-making. Though the court’s decision is likely months away, she predicts Kennedy will join the four conservative justices — Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito — to find the Florida code unconstitutional.
Such a ruling would be an additional incremental push by the court’s majority toward campaign finance deregulation, George said. The decisions in the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC cases expanded freedoms for donors to give to candidates, parties and outside groups in elections.
Ed Whelan, a former clerk to Justice Scalia and director of the conservative Ethics & Public Policy Center, said it’s possible that the court could leave the First Amendment question unresolved yet decide that Williams-Yulee did not actually violate Florida’s ban. The mass mailing was a decidedly impersonal solicitation and did not yield contributions, let alone the quid pro quo exchanges that judicial campaign donations may invite.
It’s also possible the court could dismiss the case entirely, Whelan said. However, he noted, the court takes on cases “to resolve these grander issues, not to engage in error correction.”
In coming weeks, we can expect the Republican-controlled Congress to push two Obamacare bills that would hike profits for some businesses. What we can’t expect, from either Republicans or Democrats, unfortunately, is any effort to help families, even those with insurance, to stay out of bankruptcy court because of mounting medical bills.
Another inevitable attempt to repeal the whole law won’t go anywhere because there are still enough Democrats in the Senate to block it. But the bills to assist businesses—especially those that make generous campaign contributions—just might reach the President’s desk.
One of those measures would redefine a full-time worker under Obamacare’s employer mandate provision from someone who works 30 hours a week to one who works 40 hours weekly. The other piece of legislation would repeal the 2.3 percent tax on medical devices that helps pay for expanding coverage to the previously uninsured.
Republicans and some Democrats contend that both bills are intended to restore jobs they claim have been lost or will be lost as a result of those Obamacare provisions.
The law currently requires employers with 50 or more workers to provide health insurance to most of their full-time employees. The mandate will go into effect this year for employers with 100 or more workers and next year for employers with 50 or more. It does not apply to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
The reason drafters of the reform law set the threshold at 30 hours a week was to bring more people into coverage. Changing it to 40 hours would mean that many folks would likely lose their health insurance.
The tradeoffs are complicated, but ultimately, people needing insurance are a loser. The Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that changing the definition to 40 hours a week would reduce the number of people receiving employment-based coverage by about a million. But it would increase the number of people getting coverage through Medicaid or the health insurance exchanges by between 500,000 to 1 million. And about half a million would likely return to being uninsured.
Shifting that many people to the taxpayer-financed Medicaid program or to the exchanges, where most would be eligible for federal subsidies, would increase the budget deficit by nearly $74 billion between now and 2024, both the CBO and JCT say.
Repealing the tax on medical devices would also be a bad deal for just about everybody—except, of course the companies that make the devices. Big companies like Johnson & Johnson and GE would benefit, as would some smaller companies. And now that millions more of us have health insurance because of Obamacare, more of us can now afford the equipment these firms make. They are big Obamacare winners. But the medical device companies want to keep all that new revenue they’re getting.
The industry and its friends in Congress—which even includes liberals like Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (there are a lot of medical device makers in both of their states)—want us to believe that the tax will cost as many as 43,000 jobs.
The Congressional Research Service says that’s bogus, that the tax will result in few if any job losses. But if the tax is repealed, the government will have to find $30 billion somewhere else or scale back coverage, which would put many of us back into the ranks of the uninsured.
I can understand why Republicans want to help those businesses avoid an Obamacare tax. But you’d think that Franken and Warren and their fellow Democrats would consider introducing legislation to help their constituents avoid financial ruin if they get sick.
Obamacare appears to be helping—the Commonwealth Fund reported last week that the number of Americans who went without the care they needed because of cost declined last year for the first time since 2003. But millions of Americans are still struggling to make ends meet because of medical bills.
The Commonwealth Fund also recently reported that the cost of health insurance is still increasing at a faster clip than wages. That means people are still having to devote an increasingly larger share of their paychecks to health insurance, despite Obamacare.
One area that’s taking a hit is savings. Family budgets for most folks are so tight they can’t sock much money away in a savings account. As Bankrate.com reported earlier this month, “If someone encounters a significant, unexpected expense outside his or her budget, such as an emergency room visit or a car repair, only 38 percent of respondents say they could cover it with cash they have on hand in a savings account or checking account.”
Older Americans are especially vulnerable. Bankrate.com’s survey found that 1 in 5 Americans 50 and older listed medical expenses as their largest expense outside of food and shelter.
The problem is that most of those folks don’t—can’t—contribute much, if anything to political campaigns. Certainly not like Johnson & Johnson and GE. So don’t hold your breath waiting for Congress to do anything to give families some relief when businesses are demanding special consideration.
Wendell Potter is the author of Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans and Obamacare: What’s in It for Me? What Everyone Needs to Know About the Affordable Care Act.
The World Bank repeatedly violated its own rules while funding a development initiative in Ethiopia that has been dogged by complaints that it sponsored forced evictions of thousands of indigenous people, according to a leaked report by a watchdog panel at the bank.
The report, which was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, examines a health and education initiative that was buoyed by nearly $2 billion in World Bank funding over the last decade.
Members of the indigenous Anuak people in Ethiopia’s Gambella province charged that Ethiopian authorities used some of the bank’s money to support a massive forced relocation program and that soldiers beat, raped and killed Anuak who refused to abandon their homes. The bank continued funding the health and education initiative for years after the allegations emerged.
The report by the World Bank’s internal Inspection Panel found that there was an “operational link” between the World Bank-funded program and the Ethiopian government’s relocation push, which was known as “villagization.”
By failing to acknowledge this link and take action to protect affected communities, the bank violated its own policies on project appraisal, risk assessment, financial analysis and protection of indigenous peoples, the panel’s report concludes.
The Ethiopia case is one of several recent World Bank-financed projects that have drawn fire from activist groups for allegedly funding human rights violations. These projects include a loan to a palm oil producer in Honduras whose security guards have been accused by human rights advocates of killing dozens of peasants involved in a land rights dispute with the company, and a conservation program by the Kenyan government that members of the Sengwer people say was used as tool for pushing them out of their ancestral forests.
The U.S. Supreme Court appeared to be divided on Tuesday over whether elected judges should be allowed to directly solicit campaign contributions in the latest campaign finance case to come before the high court.
Central to the case, Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, is the question of whether Florida’s ban on judicial candidates from personally soliciting contributions is a lawful infringement on their free speech rights. If the court strikes down the ban, the decision could upend similar limits in 29 other states.
Proponents of the ban argue it protects the judiciary against quid pro quo exchanges between judges and the lawyers and litigants who donate to their campaigns, then appear before them in court.
Critics suggest that in the 39 states that elect judges, judicial candidates should be given the same free speech protections as candidates for legislative and executive offices where such personal pleas for assistance are standard.
The case stems from the 2009 campaign of Lanell Williams-Yulee, who signed a mass-mailed letter asking for contributions as she sought a county court judgeship. The Florida Supreme Court disciplined her with a reprimand and fine after The Florida Bar argued that her letter violated the state judiciary’s personal solicitation ban.
A majority of the justices seemed to agree that personal solicitations from judges and judicial candidates had a greater impact than financial requests from a separate campaign committee — an argument that may favor limiting what judges can do.
“When the judge says, ‘Can you please [give money to my campaign]?’ the answer is yes,” Justice Stephen Breyer said. “And if it’s the campaign manager, perhaps the answer is ‘no.’”
Representing Williams-Yulee, Andrew Pincus argued Florida’s ban amounted to hairsplitting. Thank-you notes from judges to donors, for example, are permissible.
“Once Florida says thank-you notes are okay, it can’t ban solicitations,” said Pincus.
However Breyer appeared to disagree. Writing a thank-you note, Breyer said, did not “put pressure” on an individual to the same degree as the initial ask for funding.
Pincus argued that Florida’s $1,000 contribution limit to candidates is an adequate protection against the type of corruption that could result from a judge directly asking a donor for money.
On the other side, Barry Richard, arguing for The Florida Bar, said that the Florida ban provides a vital block to the “direct link that threatens quid pro quo corruption,” coercion and judicial impartiality.
Richard said the law did not significantly impede judicial candidates’ First Amendment rights. The only speech restriction judicial candidates face, Richard said, was that the law says: “You can’t say to me, ‘Give me money.’”
Justices Breyer, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg appeared sympathetic to the state’s efforts to insulate judicial candidates from the influence-peddling faced by candidates for legislative and executive offices.
Justices Samuel Alito, John Roberts and Antonin Scalia appeared sympathetic to the First Amendment arguments presented on behalf of Williams-Yulee. Justice Clarence Thomas, a member of the court’s more conservative-leaning bloc, did not ask any questions during oral arguments.
Roberts said that The Florida Bar was “under a great burden” to make its case without compromising the First Amendment.
Scalia also suggested that if lawyers were among the largest donors to judicial candidates that didn’t necessarily show corruption. Lawyers’ tendency to give in judicial races could show that “lawyers care more about electing good judges than the average citizen.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who could become the swing vote, also appeared to support that side.
Though at one point in the proceedings, Kennedy challenged Pincus for conceding to Ginsburg that a rule banning face-to-face solicitations — a more specific prohibition than the Florida code in question — would be valid under the First Amendment.
“It seems to me when you make the initial concession, you have a real problem in determining how to make this not over- or under-inclusive.”
A decision is not expected until spring at the earliest.
Michael Beckel contributed to this story.
Five years ago today, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled corporations and unions could spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against political candidates.
The court declared that spending by labor unions and companies — including certain types of nonprofit corporations — did “not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” so long as it was not done in concert or coordination with a political candidate’s own campaign.
While it is still illegal for corporations and labor unions to give money directly to candidates for federal office, that ruling, known as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, has dramatically reshaped the political landscape for federal and state elections.
Among the most significant developments: a surge of political “dark money” — secret cash that opaque nonprofit organizations funnel into U.S. elections. Such groups do not publicly disclose their donors.
Here are a dozen stories from the Center for Public Integrity that illuminate how Citizens United has changed politics.
An oft-forgotten footnote to the Citizens United decision is that it all began with a low-budget film about Democrat Hillary Clinton. Now, if Clinton decides to run for president in 2016, she may become its beneficiary-in-chief, poised to cash in like no other political candidate has before. Keep reading
Much criticism has been lobbed at the federal system for failing to adequately identify who is spending money to influence campaigns. But a study by the National Institute on Money in State Politics found that 35 states had independent spending disclosure laws that are less stringent than the federal rules. Keep reading
The Internal Revenue Service is one of the cops on the beat for the growing constellation of big-spending, politically driven nonprofits. But the tax agency’s nonprofit division has been grappling with a decimated staff and limited resources. This malaise has allowed organizations waiting for IRS approval to continue to spend freely on elections while keeping the names of their donors secret. Keep reading
The Citizens United ruling in 2010 did not, as some warned, unleash a flood of corporate money directly into elections. But since then, scores of blue-chip U.S. companies have quietly bankrolled politically active nonprofits — to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Keep reading
When six-term GOP incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah faced the prospect of a mutiny from conservative activists, his allies within the pharmaceutical industry stepped in to help defend him. Documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity show that PhRMA, the drug lobby’s main trade group, gave $750,000 in 2011 to Freedom Path, a “social welfare” nonprofit that spent big to help Hatch win another term. That sum amounted to nearly 90 percent of Freedom Path’s revenue that year. Keep reading
A million-dollar donation in 2012 by a Canadian-owned corporation to a pro-Mitt Romney super PAC sparked legal concerns and opened up the Citizens United decision to new criticism. The law says that foreign nationals are prohibited from “directly or indirectly” contributing money to influence U.S. elections. But campaign finance law is not as clear for U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies as it is for individuals. Keep reading
Ads from nonprofit group Montana Growth Network said Ed Sheehy, a candidate for the state’s Supreme Court, had an “activist agenda” for his defense of Tyler Michael Miller, the so-called “Christmas Day Killer” who murdered his girlfriend and her 15-year-old daughter. Sheehy said the ads were “misrepresenting” what he did as a public defender. Not only did that make him furious, but so did the fact that the Montana Growth Network wasn’t required to disclose how much it spent on most of its ads — let alone who was funding them. Keep reading
More than three dozen nonprofit groups collectively spent an estimated $25 million buying TV ads in state-level elections in 2014 while keeping their donors secret, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG, an ad tracking service. And these groups’ donors were often more successful than other political advertisers that did name their funders. Keep reading
The Republican Party, boosted by billionaires and corporate backers, has frequently been painted as the biggest beneficiary of the Citizens United decision. But during 2012, Democrats flipped the script in several states. Ultimately, pro-Democratic groups, many of them associated with labor unions, outspent their Republican counterparts in these state-level elections. Keep reading
The first generation of super PACs operated as shadow party committees. Next came candidate-specific super PACs, like those in 2012 that aided President Barack Obama and his GOP rival, Mitt Romney. The 2014 election cycle brought on the newest iteration: the single-issue vanity super PAC — a group backed by a lone, wealthy donor focusing on an issue of national significance, such as climate change or gun violence. Keep reading
In his re-election bid, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was aided by a “social welfare” nonprofit called the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition. Advised by one of McConnell’s former top aides, the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition spent more than $14 million — and accounted for about one of every 7 TV ads in McConnell’s race. Critics called it a “dark money” group that “operates almost entirely for the private benefit and political advancement of a single well-financed candidate,” although officials with the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition have maintained it followed the law. Keep reading
Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ann Ravel — a left-leaning Democrat and campaign finance reformer — says she'll fight to out people behind secretive political cash, regardless of party. “It’s not a partisan question for me” she told the Center for Public Integrity. As she leads the FEC in 2015, expect her to evangelize her gospel of transparency to outside-the-Beltway folks who aren’t election lawyers or political practitioners. Keep reading
Oklahoma State Rep. Mike Ritze is a foot soldier—one of hundreds— in a passionate war over the Affordable Care Act that is reigniting as state legislatures convene across the country.
The Republican lawmaker, a family doctor, has stood behind three anti-Obamacare bills supported by conservative groups in Oklahoma and other states. None has made it into law, but Ritze plans to pick up the fight in the 2015 legislative session that convenes in the Sooner state next month.
“We need to do everything we can to try and reverse this,” said Ritze, who practices in Broken Arrow. “We can make it harder to enforce if the states get together…to attack it on all fronts.”
In Washington, there’s been little consensus on modifying the health reform law—short of repeated votes in the House to kill or cripple it. That might change as Republicans take control of the House and Senate, though what fixes, if any, Congress might prescribe—and whether any can get a signature from the President— aren’t clear.
But in state capitals around the country, from Albany and Columbia to Austin and Sacramento, lawmakers have been mulling over hundreds of proposals that reflect a myriad of starkly different views on Obamacare as settled law.
A Center for Public Integrity review found that more than 700 Obamacare-related bills were filed in the states during 2014 or carried over from 2013 in states where legislatures allow that. Five states, California, Hawaii, Illinois, New York and Washington, saw 50 or more health bills each, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, or NCSL.
“The number of bills is remarkable,” said Richard Cauchi, a NCSL health legislation expert.
It’s not yet clear how many will be reconsidered in 2015 — many states are just kicking off their legislative sessions— but few expect any substantial retreat from the battlefront.
“There are definitely strong opposing opinions on the topic of the Affordable Care Act,” said Cauchi.
A bit of everything
Some bills seek to “nullify” the law or find creative ways to hinder its enforcement, while others are perennial filings inspired by tea party activists and other early foes of Obamacare, such as the John Birch Society, a review by the Center for Public Integrity found.
Dozens of anti-Obamacare bills appear to take their cues from a handful of activist groups – some well financed at least partly by big corporate donors and others run on shoestring budgets.
On the flip side, scores of bills to bulk up Obamacare have also landed in state hoppers, especially last year. Most would either expand eligibility for Medicaid, the health care plan for low-income people funded by states and the federal government, or require insurers to cover more medical services than the Affordable Care Act currently requires.
NCSL data show that to date pro-Obamacare forces have had the upper hand in bills actually signed into law. In all, more than 75 Obamacare-related bills were signed into law in 2014. About 50 moved the law forward, mostly by expanding Medicaid, while the rest appeared to impede the reach of Obamacare. Lawmakers in New York, for instance, extended insurance benefits to veteran horse racing jockeys in the state, while Tennessee and Georgia prohibited Medicaid from growing in size.
But the tide may be shifting. Conservative groups which have tried to peck away at the law say they feel energized by Republican gains in state legislatures in 2014 mid-term elections. Republicans now control 69 of 99 chambers in the states, according to the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee.
“Everyone has focused on the gains in (Washington), but there were quite a few gains at the state legislative level by the GOP,” said Curtis Ellis, a spokesman for Competitive Governance Action, a Texas group campaigning to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.
Style and substance
Harvard University sociologist Theda Skocpol, a supporter of the law, said that some of the anti-Obamacare bills are “largely symbolic” and stand little chance of passage, but that others can put significant pressure on state governments.
Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 to help pay for health care coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. But the law leaves some key decisions on how to do so – such as what benefits to offer and how they should be marketed – partly up to the states.
State lawmakers also are awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision over the legality of subsidies paid in states which did not set up their own exchanges. A ruling in the case, King v. Burwell, is due this summer and could radically shake up insurance markets.
That would no doubt result in a new flood of proposals. But state lawmakers haven’t been shy about weighing in to date.
Among the trends:
Improving the odds
Oklahoma legislator Ritze, 66, whose three bills to stymie the health care law have failed thus far, is hoping things will change in the 2015 session that opens in February.
The doctor, who said he has delivered more than 2,000 babies in nearly four decades of small-town practice, opposes Obamacare as “socialized medicine.” He argues it will prompt “rationing” of health care and wants to find ways to nullify the law.
Ritze, who likened his efforts to a military strategy, also has taken aim at some obscure pieces of the health reform law, such as a provision allowing social workers to make home visits to new or expectant parents.
“It’s a tremendous overreach by the federal government to come into your home,” he said. Ritze sought to ban the practice in Oklahoma after hearing of it through the John Birch Society, an early foe of Obamacare.
Similar bills to stop “involuntary” home visits have turned up in at least six other states, but none has succeeded.
“Obamacare forces Americans to buy products and services they may not want, has the potential to be used against parents via home visitations, and stands in between doctors and their patients,” Bill Hahn, a spokesman for the John Birch Society, said by email.
One high-profile group fighting Obamacare in statehouses is the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which flexes its muscle with model bills on issues ranging from environmental regulation to the minimum wage.
The “free-market” group, says it works to “advance limited government” through partnerships with state lawmakers and the private sector. It has declined to name its funders, though news accounts have cited some major corporations and a foundation run by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.
ALEC favors a “Health Care Freedom Act” which, among other things, would suspend the business licenses of insurers that accept “any remuneration, credit or subsidy” paid under the Affordable Care Act. The measure was introduced in Kansas, Missouri and Ohio, but didn’t pass.
ALEC also wants to shield state residents from the law’s reach. Though none succeeded, bills in five states read: “no law or rule shall compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in any health care system.” ALEC has tried to insert that phrasing into state statutes as far back as 2010.
ALEC also wants to require that state Attorneys General “preserve the rights and property of the residents of the state” by pushing back against the health care law in court. At least 16 such bills have been filed in 11 states, typically requiring the attorney general to defend citizens subjected to fines or “harmed” in any way by the law, among other things. ALEC-themed bills to nix Medicaid expansions have been introduced in at least nine states. Most didn’t pass.
ALEC spokeswoman Molly Fuhs said the group’s board, which includes 24 state legislators, kicks around ideas for model legislation and passes them on. She said ALEC members “feel strongly” about health care and are “looking for best ways to deal with it.” ALEC has a foil in the State Innovation Exchange, which says it helps advance “progressive legislation” in the states. The group has yet to write its own model bills, according to executive director Nick Rathod. He expects to be playing defense over the next few years to stop “rollbacks” of Obamacare in the states and predicts an “all-out assault” on the law from Republicans.
“They see an opportunity. If it were them I would be taking the opportunity, Rathod said.”
The Council of State Governments also offers up “suggested” state legislation, such as a bill to permit residents of one state to buy polices from out-of-state insurers. A dozen bills to do that have been considered, but just three passed.
Not all the activist groups in the fray are easily pigeonholed, or appear to be deep-pocketed.
The Tenth Amendment Center has found sponsors in at least 14 states for its “model” bill which argues that Obamacare “interferes” with the right of the people “to regulate health care as they see fit.” The law should be “nullified” under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to founder Michael Boldin.
Nullification drives are often derided as unconstitutional given the supremacy of federal over state law, but Boldin thinks the tide is turning.
“A lot of people seem to think if the feds do something there’s no way to stop it. This is absolutely absurd,” said Boldin, who said he runs the 10th Amendment Center from the living room of his Los Angeles apartment.
Though he concedes detractors label his group as “crazies,” he points to marijuana as an issue that has split state and federal governments much as he would like to see happen with Obamacare.
While federal law makes pot illegal, a handful of states are debating, or have moved ahead with, bills to legalize the weed or tax and regulate its sale for medicinal use.
Boldin said adversaries are coming at the health reform law from “multiple directions,” with a range of tactics such as discouraging state insurance officials from enforcing key provisions, or by extending tax credits to cover any fines levied against people who refuse to buy insurance.
Along these lines, ten bills filed in five states would outlaw spending on advertising or marketing by the exchanges. “That would pull the rug out from under it,” Boldin said.
Not so fast, argues Claire McAndrew of Families USA, a staunch advocate of the law. She said state bills “wildly out of compliance” with federal law can’t stand court scrutiny and may amount to “grandstanding” by opponents. In one case, a federal district court in January 2014 struck down a Missouri law tightening standards on navigators, though the state is appealing.
Harvard sociologist Skocpol said restricting the exchanges may compel federal officials to sue to enforce their will, which in turn might make it harder for the law to take hold.
“It’s true that without any cooperation from the states, it’s very hard for ordinary citizens to find out what their options are,” Skocpol said.
A bill in Georgia, which did not pass, would have made it a felony punishable by a minimum of a $1,000 fine to five years in prison for any state employees found guilty of cooperating with the law. A similar bill cleared the South Carolina House in 2014, but with the criminal penalties removed.
Some legislators want their colleagues to get a taste of their own medicine by demanding that they shop for their own coverage on the exchanges.
Illinois Rep. Darlene J. Senger, a Republican and licensed financial advisor from Naperville, in May introduced a bill to make her fellow politicians “live by the same set of rules that they impose upon those they claim to represent.” Similar bills have been advanced in Oregon, Kentucky and California.
The Health Care Compact Alliance attacks Obamacare from yet another flank. The Compact is a project of Competitive Governance Action, which argues that problems “should be solved by the smallest, least centralized, most local authority that may effectively address the matter.”
The compact argues the federal government has “preempted state laws with respect to health care, and placed increasing strain on state budgets, impairing other responsibilities such as education, infrastructure and public safety.”
States that join these compacts would seek to “suspend by legislation the operation of all federal laws, rules, regulations and orders regarding health care.”
The compact concept got a boost when Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed enabling legislation in April of 2014. Brownback, a Republican, said at the time that the compact “could play an important role in preserving and enhancing Medicare for Kansas seniors.”
Congress must give up its authority over Medicare for the compacts to have any impact. Critics predict disastrous results should that occur, however. Larry Weigel, of Kansans to Preserve Medicare, said the compacts would create a “wild west of for-profit competition” in state health insurance markets. “Nobody I talked to, not one person, wants Kansas to take over Medicare,” he said. “What Medicare people want is less confusion and less choice.”
The Health Care Compact Alliance was co-founded by Texas mega builder Leo Linbeck III.
Ellis, the Texas group’s spokesman, wouldn’t identify where its money comes from, except to say that none was from “any individual or organization” in the health care or insurance industry.
“We are very engaged with grassroots activists,” Ellis said, adding his group is “organized and professional people who have experience in political issues campaigns for decades.”
One issue squarely in the sights of critics: the navigator program, which helps people shop for insurance coverage. In September 2014, federal health officials announced $60 million in navigator grants. The Los Angeles Times reported in January 2014 that California’s exchange had allowed 31 people with criminal records to serve as enrollment counselors. An exchange official defended the hires, telling the newspaper they had “rehabilitated themselves.”
Led by the conservative group ALEC, critics contend navigators aren’t screened to make sure they can be trusted with private medical and financial information gathered to assist people in picking a health plan.
Lawmakers in six states tightened oversight of the navigators, but these bills failed in more than 20 others.
In June, Louisiana ordered criminal background checks for navigators to “avoid substantial risk to the health, safety and welfare of the people of this state.” By contrast a bill pushed by six California Republicans to bar anyone convicted of a “felony
crime of dishonesty or breach of trust” failed to gain traction there. The Center for Public Integrity reported in 2013 that critics in some states have seen these bills as an attempt by insurance agents to smother competition. Many bills to crack down on navigators exempt insurance agents.
Ritze’s bill, which did not pass in Oklahoma, requires navigators to take a written examination. He said his bill could be “perceived” as stifling competition, but denied that was the intent.
“It’s a simple thing to make sure they are licensed and take training. That’s where that came from,” Ritze said. “A lot of these people are not fully trained and they gave bad advice.”
The attacks from the right have not deterred proponents from pressing ahead with their own measures.
Most of these bills add benefits under Medicaid or insurance policies. The NCSL database logged 27 bills in nine states that would guarantee coverage for autism spectrum disorder, or study the idea of doing so. Bills to do that were signed into law in four states.
Many of those measures follow model legislation scripted by Autism Speaks, a research and advocacy group founded in 2005 by the grandparents of a child with autism. It was launched with a $25 million donation from a friend of the couple, Bob and Suzanne Wright.
Since then, Autism Speaks has mushroomed into a forceful advocate energized by more than $68 million made from sponsored events and donations in 2013. More than a dozen companies, foundations and individuals gave at least $1 million that year, according to the group’s 2013 annual report. As its influence has spread, however, Autism Speaks also has come in for its share of criticism.
Lorri Unumb, the group’s vice president for state government affairs, said it works to ensure autism treatment is deemed an “essential” benefit. While Obamacare defines behavioral care as essential, federal officials have given states some leeway to define the full scope of these benefits.
While Autism Speaks employs some professional lobbyists, it relies primarily on families of children with autism to press its case. “It has been parent driven in all of the states,” she said.
“We’re primarily a science organization. The advocacy effort is a very small piece of our overall operation,” Unumb said.
Separate bills in the states seek to guarantee insurance coverage for other medical and mental health care, such as chemotherapy and substance abuse.
Though many bills add more people to the insurance rolls or take concrete steps to advance the Affodable Care Act’s impact, others are resolutions that simply express the will of the legislature. For instance, Illinois State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford, a Democrat from Chicago, believes Obamacare doesn’t go far enough in covering millions of uninsured Americans. He backed a resolution urging Congress to include undocumented immigrants.
It didn’t pass.
How much has been spent on lobbying and campaign contributions by Obamacare combatants—and which side will prevail—is anybody’s guess. Denise Roth Barber, managing director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics in Helena, Montana, said “we know it (Obamacare) is “being debated extensively at the state level.” But she added: “nobody is able to parse out how much is spent on this or that bill.” She said states are “light years” away from being able to do so.
Predictions on the fate of Obamacare in the states also varies widely.
Some observers predict ideological opposition will crumble in the face of mounting pressure from the business community, including hospitals and insurers, which stand to profit from Medicaid expansions.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health policy issues, keeps a running tally that shows 28 states have agreed to enlarge Medicaid, some several years ago. These expansions are “under pretty active discussion” in seven others, said Kaiser official Robin Rudowitz.
She said that the federal government’s decision to pick up much of the tab gives wavering states an “incentive” to be thinking about moving forward with Obamacare “sooner rather than later.” The law commits the feds to pay all of the costs of expanded Medicaid eligibility through 2016, slowly scaling down to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond.
“There’s a lot of federal money on the table,” she said.
McAndrew, of Families USA, said lawmakers on both sides may find some common ground. She cited consumer protections, such as requiring that insurance companies give patients accurate, up-to-date lists of the doctors and hospitals on their rolls.
“We could see some progress,” she said. “It’s not all gloom and doom.”
When Republicans won control of the U.S. Senate in November, they could thank dozens of conservative "dark money" nonprofit groups for spending nearly $130 million to boost their preferred candidates or bash their political enemies.
Those nonprofit groups, including many that enjoy a preferred tax status because they purport to be focused on “social welfare,” are barred from engaging in electoral politics as their primary activity.
But the Internal Revenue Service, which is charged with policing the groups, almost never audits them to see if they’re spending too much money on politics, according to new information obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.
The IRS told the Center for Public Integrity that it has only begun auditing 26 organizations specifically for political activity since 2010. That represents a tiny fraction of the more than 1 million nonprofits regulated by the agency.
More than 100 nonprofit groups have directly involved themselves in elections during recent years, some spending into the tens of millions of dollars. The rest — largely charities that are generally prohibited from campaigning for politicians — are seldom monitored to ensure they follow federal law.
The situation leaves the groups largely free to operate like political committees without fear of reprisal.
Their involvement in politics, meanwhile, has accelerated since 2010, when the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commissiondecision ushered in unprecedented election spending by nonprofit organizations that don’t disclose their donors.
Such groups spent more than $336 million during the 2012 cycle alone compared to about $17 million during the 2006 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The lack of IRS oversight and enforcement stems from a confluence of factors — fewer employees are devoted to nonprofits at a time when the number of “dark money” groups applying for tax exempt status has skyrocketed, and the agency meantime has failed to clarify the rules surrounding political activity.
Internal IRS documents also show declines in the number of IRS employees investigating nonprofit groups and the number of employees who approve organizations’ application for nonprofit status, which allows the groups to avoid paying certain taxes.
“The IRS is not doing its job,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told the Center for Public Integrity. “There have been not only some obvious abuses of the tax exemption by some of these so-called social welfare groups, but I think some pretty flagrant ones.”
Help is not on the way. President Barack Obama last month signed into law a bill that chops the IRS’ annual budget by $345.6 million— reducing agency funding to 2008 levels.
It’s a decision IRS Commissioner John Koskinen says will result in hiring freezes and further job losses.
“The number of taxpayers keeps going up and the resources are down,” he said in an interview. “We are leaving billions of dollars uncollected because we do not have enough” employees.
The new information about the IRS’ internal resources comes in the agency’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed in December 2013 by the Center for Public Integrity.
It follows an investigation the Center for Public Integrity published in July that found Congress has systematically weakened the IRS’ exempt organizations division in recent years, leading to the IRS all but quitting its regulation of politically active nonprofit groups.
The agency’s enforcement capabilities were further degraded because of political fallout from some employees’ decisions to delay approval of conservative groups’ applications for nonprofit status.
“The aftershocks from the political targeting scandal certainly don't facilitate prompt solutions,” said Mark Everson, a former IRS commissioner appointed by President George W. Bush. “I would imagine there is a real slowdown getting issues resolved because there is a tendency on the part of employees to make sure they aren't causing new problems.”
Cheryl Chasin, who worked for 32 years until 2010 in the IRS’ exempt organizations division, which oversees nonprofits, went further: “Anybody who at this point stuck their neck out [by delving into political spending] … would be slapped so hard and so fast they would bounce.”
Politically active nonprofits are simply “not afraid of the IRS or anybody else on this matter,” said Paul Streckfus, a former exempt organizations division employee who now edits a trade journal focusing on nonprofits. “Anything goes as far as spending” by these groups.
Politically active nonprofits include 501(c)(4) “social welfare” groups, 501(c)(5) labor unions and 501(c)(6) trade groups.
It’s not that investigators can’t look at the issue: Auditors are empowered to probe groups for suspected political transgressions during the course of other audits, an agency spokesman said. The number of those audits, however, isn’t tracked.
The number of employees responsible for investigating nonprofits in the IRS exempt organizations division has dropped 9 percent from fiscal year 2010 through fiscal year 2013 — from 538 to 489.
There has also been a 16 percent decline in “determinations” employees — workers who process applications for nonprofit status. Their numbers fell from 297 in fiscal year 2009 to 248 in fiscal year 2013.
Meanwhile, applications for “social welfare” nonprofit status — the status obtained by many of the nation’s most politically active groups — increased by more than 17 percent, from 1,922 in fiscal year 2009 to 2,253 in fiscal year 2013.
The agency as a whole lost 13,000 employees in the past four years and has dealt with hefty budget cuts in recent years, and the exempt organizations division hasn’t been spared — even as its leaders “review how to most effectively use its staff,” said Bruce I. Friedland, an IRS spokesman.
Friedland also noted that the IRS has attempted to reduce the backlog of tax-exemption applications by, among other things, bringing in employees from another division to help.
A roster provided by the IRS of tax exempt and government entities division employees from 2001 to 2013 indicates support services for workers has also taken a blow.
For example, the 20 “employee development” positions in 2001 fell to three in 2013, plus four human resources positions.
Several IRS employees said the change was likely part of the overall decrease in training they encountered over the years. This, in turn, contributed to the uncertainty about how to handle applications for nonprofit status by a new wave of political groups.
“Practitioners [such as nonprofit tax attorneys] are saying they’re seeing a reduction in the quality of the work coming out of the IRS. A lot can be traced to that training budget being slashed,” said Streckfus, who worked for the IRS for six years during the 1970s.
Critics, including some Republican lawmakers, say the IRS shouldn’t get more money. Instead, they argue, it should tighten its belt further.
They also note some IRS employees still on the job are earning more money.
Indeed, the average salary in the tax exempt and government entities division, which includes the exempt organizations division, increased more than 52 percent — at a higher rate than inflation or average U.S. wages — during the past 13 years, according to the roster of division employees provided to the Center for Public Integrity.
The IRS, as a government agency, must compete with the private sector for workers. But other reasons for the average wage increase are unclear because titles of positions in the division have changed in many cases and full position titles were not provided for some years.
What is clear: There were some steep pay jumps for specialized positions. For instance, the lowest paid actuary in 2001 was paid $41,010. That number more than doubled to $103,872 in 2013. Promotions and changes in pay grades are contributing factors.
In 2001, there were seven budget analysts earning $61,283 on average. In 2013, there were three earning $107,829 on average, or 76 percent more. Having fewer employees doing that work saved the IRS about $105,500.
And while there are fewer employees in the division overall, 2,011 in 2013 compared to 2.202 in 2001, it has managed to add positions in certain departments.
Chief among them: communications.
In 2013, the IRS employed 16 public affairs and customer outreach employees in its tax exempt division and paid them a total of $1.9 million.
In 2001, the division employed two public affairs employees and no customer outreach employees. The two workers together earned less than $133,000 total, IRS personnel data indicates.
The IRS declined to comment on the increase in communications positions.
“At the risk of sounding snarky, where were these people when EO was going to hell in a hand basket because it could not process exemption applications timely?” Marv Friedlander, a former chief of the exempt organization division’s technical branch, wrote in an email.
Streckfus, editor of a trade publication called EO Tax Journal, said he has dealt with the exempt organization division’s public affairs officers and they simply sent him to the national media relations office when he had questions. He takes a dim view of their usefulness, saying “they had the greatest jobs: they sat on their rear ends and collected a paycheck.”
Getting rid of some “superfluous” positions would help ensure there are “as many people as possible actually working cases, auditing individuals or reviewing applications,” Streckfus said.
Some former employees have criticized the IRS’s shift in resources to “customer service,” starting about 15 years ago, and poked fun at the idea of calling regulated nonprofits “customers.”
But others say the IRS — and those regulated by it — would benefit from improved outreach.
It helps make up for the diminished “cop-on-the-beat effect that forces compliance,” Friedlander said, adding that it would have been better if it was easier to measure whether customer outreach worked.
Either way, the exempt organization division’s customer education and outreach unit was moved this fall to another part of the IRS, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.
The tax exempt and government entities division’s salary levels reflect the Office of Personnel Management’s broader federal pay scale, which rose by more than 42 percent from 2001 to 2014 in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area, where a “substantial share” of division employees work, said Friedland, the IRS spokesman.
The division and the entire agency “are continually evaluating processes and strategy to operate with declining staff and resources,” he said.
The IRS is also working on rewriting its rules to define political activity and say how much is allowed for certain nonprofits. The rules may not be finalized until after the 2016 presidential election.
Until there are new rules, Streckfus said, it’s unlikely the IRS will do much to regulate nonprofit political activity: “Anything goes in the interim.”
Chasin said she’s skeptical the regulations will make much of a difference without a change in Congress’ attitude: “I can’t blame [regulators] for keeping their heads down under the current circumstances. Until Congress changes its mind on this issue, there will be no regulation.”
Since members of Congress often benefit from nonprofit political spending, they aren’t eager to tackle it.
Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., said Congress has so far blown its opportunity to improve the IRS “by ensuring the law is written properly to let [agency employees] do their jobs efficiently and effectively.”
“The not-for-profit laws are very clear, that nonprofits must operate exclusively outside the political realm,” he wrote in a statement.
Darrell Issa, R-Calif., former chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, and many of his Republican colleagues disagree with that.
All types of political speech by 501(c)(4) groups should count as “social welfare,” according to a report by Issa’s committee. “The IRS simply should not be in the business of regulating political speech. Other federal regulators — namely, the Federal Election Commission — exist to regulate political campaigns and election activities,” the report states.
Since Congress probably won’t give the IRS more funding, the agency “should clearly articulate what it can and cannot do to handle ... various workload levels, and then let the politicians … decide how many resources the IRS should be given,” said Larry Gibbs, a former IRS commissioner who served under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
Friedlander said other potential fixes include having the IRS do a major audit of nonprofit political activity similar to the Political Activities Compliance Initiative investigations it did for 501(c)(3) charitable groups. The investigations, following the 2004 and 2006 elections, found more than 70 percent of groups selected for audits engaged in prohibited political activity.
The IRS could also recommend that Congress force groups to require quarterly reporting of political expenses and authorize the agency to freeze assets and charge fines if needed.
Benzene, a cancer-causing ingredient in crude oil that has killed countless workers and contaminated communities around the United States, is back in the news.
Authorities found the chemical at elevated levels in a municipal drinking water system downstream of an oil spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River. The 50,000-gallon spill on January 17 occurred as a result of a pipeline break. More than 5,000 residents of Glendive, Montana, have been warned not to drink or cook with city water until the benzene levels subside.
The Center for Public Integrity reported in December that the petrochemical industry spent at least $36 million on a decade-long research project that critics say – and internal documents indicate – was designed to play down cancer risks posed by benzene and fend off lawsuits and regulation. Results of the industry-funded study, conducted in Shanghai, China, have seeped into the scientific literature and, ultimately, the courts.
Last May, in a sign that officials still consider benzene a public health hazard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule that would protect an estimated 5 million Americans – not including those with occupational exposures – from what the agency says are heightened cancer risks from benzene and 68 other carcinogens sent into the air by the nation’s 149 oil refineries.
The rule would require refiners to monitor for benzene, in particular, along plant fence lines. Aimed at curbing “fugitive” emissions from equipment leaks and similar releases, it would set a fence line limit for benzene of 3 parts per billion — a fraction of the 10 ppb the agency recommends as the maximum chronic exposure level for the chemical.
New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a mythic figure in Empire State politics, was arrested Thursday on corruption charges, accused by federal authorities of accepting millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks over more than a decade.
The case is just the latest and highest profile in a recent string of cases against New York officials. Lawmakers have been accused of falsifying expense reports and have been convicted of accepting bribes from a carnival manager. One recurring issue, which the Center detailed in a 2013 report, has been the use of nonprofit groups to direct state money to friends and family.
The charges against Silver, a Democrat, involve millions of dollars in alleged kickbacks that the lawmaker reported as outside income, highlighting an area of concern raised in the Center’s 2012 State Integrity Investigation, a data-driven ranking of state government transparency and accountability conducted in partnership with Global Integrity and Public Radio International. New York received an overall grade of D, and the report found the state’s conflicts of interest rules for the legislature to be largely ineffective, noting that asset disclosure forms were rarely audited.
Silver, who has been speaker for 21 years, turned himself in to authorities in Manhattan Thursday morning. “As today’s charges make clear, the show-me-the-money culture of Albany has been perpetuated and promoted at the very top of the political food chain,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Silver’s office declined a Center request for comment, but his attorneys Joel Cohen and Steven Molo issued a statement, saying they were “disappointed that the prosecutors have chosen to proceed with these meritless criminal charges.” The statement went on to say that “Mr. Silver looks forward to responding to them — in court — and ultimately his full exoneration.”
Silver has claimed his outside income is from services for clients that have no business before the state. The complaint filed in federal court challenges that claim, accusing Silver of receiving nearly $4 million since 2002 from two firms through “corrupt use of his official position.” The money included $3.2 million in referral fees for asbestos cases that prosecutors say Silver did not actually make, and nearly $700,000 in fees for steering two real estate developers to an unnamed law firm run by a former employee of Silver.
One of the unnamed developers has contributed more than $10 million to state politicians and committees since 2005, including $200,000 to Silver and a committee he controls, making it the largest donor in the state for the period, according to the complaint. That developer, who reportedly owns more than $1 billion in properties, receives tax abatements and subsidies under an affordable housing program and has lobbied Silver and the legislature on the program and related legislation.
The investigation was helped along by documents obtained from a now-defunct panel that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had appointed to dig into corruption in the legislature. The panel had issued a stinging rebuke of the legislature in December 2013, singling out outside income as one of several areas ripe for corruption.
Cuomo disbanded the panel last year after he won a package of reform measures from the legislature. Many good-government advocates criticized the reforms as weak, however, and they’ve expressed concerns that Cuomo dismantled the panel once it started investigating many of the state’s most powerful players, including some of his political supporters. After its demise, Bharara’s office sought to continue the panel’s work. Thursday’s complaint against Silver cites documents obtained as part of that probe. Silver was charged with five counts, each of which carries a maximum 20-year sentence.
The Securities and Exchange Commission hit credit rating giant Standard & Poor's with $77 million in fines and a one-year ban from rating certain commercial mortgage products on Wednesday for misleading investors. The agency used the announcement as an opportunity to reiterate the agency's commitment to fixing the credit rating industry that played a large role in the financial meltdown.
“These enforcement actions, our first-ever against a major ratings firm, reflect our commitment to aggressively policing the integrity and transparency of the credit ratings process,” Andrew J. Ceresney, director of the SEC Enforcement Division said in a statement.
But as the Center for Public Integrity reported last year, the credit rating industry has managed to avoid major reforms despite being implicated in the financial crisis of 2008. Credit rating companies gave toxic mortgages triple-A credit ratings, a symptom of an industry dominated by two companies, S&P and Moody’s, who critics say put increasing market share and profit above giving accurate ratings.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., praised the SEC’s enforcement action but said he remains concerned about the industry. “This settlement shows that, even after the crisis has passed, ratings agencies still haven’t stopped loosening their standards to chase the business of big banks,” Franken said in a statement on Thursday. “Enforcement won’t be enough.”
The Center found that, as of 2014, the biggest credit raters are as powerful as ever. State pension funds and other giant investors still require ratings from those same companies. Industry reforms built into 2010’s Dodd-Frank financial reform law have either failed or been ignored. The SEC even promised not to enforce part of the law that would make credit raters liable for bad ratings.
Among other infractions, SEC found that ratings of commercial mortgage-backed securities issued by S&P in 2011 mislead investors by using a different methodology than what the company disclosed publicly. The company has accepted the ban and close to $77 million in fines, but neither confirmed nor denied regulators’ findings. The company did agree to improve its internal controls environment, according to the SEC.
It will take hundreds of millions of dollars to win the White House in 2016, and by that measure, Republican Mitt Romney is off to a rough start.
The 2012 Republican nominee is struggling to secure the financial backing even of those who were his staunchest supporters.
The Center for Public Integrity in recent days attempted to contact roughly 90 top Romney fundraisers from his most recent presidential run, including every federal lobbyist who helped him raise $30,000 or more.
The vast majority willing to speak on the record say they haven’t decided whom to support in 2016. Almost all say they are wrestling with conflicting loyalties to Romney, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and other potential Republican hopefuls such as Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, as well as Govs. Mike Pence of Indiana, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Chris Christie of New Jersey.
If Romney hopes to win the nomination, he will have to work overtime to reconstitute the fundraising network that fueled his most recent White House bid and beat back potential competitors. Bush, in particular, is already trying to poach key Romney supporters who have the potential to raise, or “bundle,” millions of dollars for the candidate they ultimately decide to support.
To wit: Bush spent Tuesday afternoon courting some of Washington’s most powerful lobbyist-donors — including many top Romney 2012 fundraisers — around a dark-wood oval table in the bare-walled conference room at the offices of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors.
No food was served, but the presidency was on the table.
Bush provided fundraising-related material to those who wanted it. The material included fundraising tiers for his two recently formed political vehicles — a leadership political action committee and a super PAC. A person who was at the event said the top tier reached $500,000.
“Obviously, I’m biased, I’m supporting Gov. Bush, but I think if you were to talk to folks other than me that were in attendance they would say that he was impressive,” said Dirk Van Dongen, the president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, who organized the meetings.
Van Dongen, who raised more than $1.4 million for Romney’s campaign in 2012, said he is supporting Bush this time because of “a long-standing commitment.”
The meeting also provided Bush a chance to convince potential bundlers he could run a strong campaign. Multiple attendees say he did that, although several said they left the gathering still uncommitted.
At least one attendee said he was extremely impressed by Bush but added it’s difficult to raise large sums of money for someone who is not yet a declared candidate.
Bush spoke about his background in key national issues such as education and immigration reform and referred graciously to potential opponents, including Romney, while making the case that he could best connect with the electorate, according to two people who were there.
Representatives for Bush and Romney could not be reached for comment Thursday.
During the 2012 election cycle, Romney spent $104 million through the end of May, the period when he was working to clinch the nomination, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finance data.
Romney’s own campaign committee raised $446 million during the full 2012 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and President Barack Obama’s campaign committee raised $715 million for his successful re-election. To pull in such massive amounts of money — which doesn’t include party, super PAC or nonprofit cash — candidates need bundlers.
Romney does have some committed backers.
“I’ve been a strong supporter since day one of Mitt’s efforts, and I have made it clear that I wouldn’t ... commit to any other candidate until Mitt decided what he wanted to do for 2016,” said Mark Baker, a Montana lawyer who was Romney’s Montana finance chairman in both 2008 and 2012 and bundled nearly $500,000 for the 2012 campaign.
Baker said he’s heard from members of Romney’s “inner circle” about the possibility for another run and has been reaching out to other donors in an attempt to hold support steady.
“People have contacted me, and I’ve contacted others,” he said, adding that he hasn’t yet organized any events. “Generally, there’s a lot of support for Mitt. A lot of folks who were supportive in 2012 certainly feel that we would be in a much better place as a nation had Mitt been elected president. I think there’s a lot of excitement about the potential that that could happen in 2016.”
Another high-profile bundler, lobbyist Bill Simmons of Dutko Grayling, told USA Today he would back another Romney run. He raised nearly $1.3 million in 2012.
Many other former Romney supporters, however, aren’t on board — at least not yet.
In interviews this month with the Center for Public Integrity, several ticked off long personal histories with both Bush and Romney. A few confirmed they’ve committed to other potential presidential candidates. Others signaled they’re still deciding.
Take Wayne Berman, a former lobbyist who is now a senior adviser for global government affairs at private equity company Blackstone Group. He raised nearly $500,000 for Romney in 2012 but now confirms he’s backing Rubio.
Texas developer Harlan Crow, a major donor in 2012 to Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC, is also still on the sidelines.
Robert Grand, the Indianapolis-based managing partner of Barnes & Thornburg, raised more than $1 million for Romney during the 2012 cycle. He is also uncommitted, and confirmed in an email that he is waiting to see if Pence, the governor of Indiana, becomes a candidate.
Annie Presley, the national deputy finance director for George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, raised $53,000 for Romney during the 2012 cycle. She said she hasn’t heard from any candidates yet but likely will when they work their way around to her home state, Missouri. She is still uncommitted, and said she is impressed by both Bush and Romney.
“Either of them would make excellent presidents,” she said, but mused aloud about the possibility of a run by California businesswoman and former U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina.
Van D. Hipp Jr., chairman of consulting firm American Defense International and a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said he thinks the array of choices “shows the strength of the Republican field.” He served on Romney’s finance team in 2012 but hasn’t committed to Romney in 2016.
“I’ve got several friends looking at it mighty strong. I think the world of Romney,” Hipp said, while noting his ties to other prospective candidates, including Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former New York Gov. George Pataki.
Add Graham, the U.S. senator from South Carolina, to Hipp’s mix, too.
“I’ve talked with some folks in South Carolina this past week who said they had gotten phone calls [from Graham] telling them, quote, to keep their powder dry,” he said. Hipp says he personally hasn’t yet heard from Graham, but added, "we go back a long ways and he’s a good friend of mine.”
Someone who has been in touch with Graham: David Wilkins, who leads the public policy and international law group at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough.
Wilkins bundled $87,000 for Romney in 2012. He was the state chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004 and was an ambassador to Canada under President George W. Bush. “I have great admiration and respect for Gov. Bush, but until Lindsey makes a decision, a lot of us are — we’re for Lindsey Graham,” Wilkins said.
Despite modestly describing himself as “way down the totem pole” of fundraising, Wilkins acknowledged he’d heard from people representing multiple candidates, including Bush.
Christie, the New Jersey governor, has also scored former Romney fundraisers: billionaire Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone is one of them, according to news reports, as is Dallas investor Ray Washburne, who reportedly stepped down as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee to headline Christie’s bid.
’I want to hear everyone out’
Gaylord T. Hughey Jr., a prominent campaign cash bundler from Texas, said he has heard from and met with “several” potential presidential candidates or their representatives.
None have yet won his support.
Hughey explained he’s looking for a candidate with “integrity and vision and policy positions that a majority of the voters can agree with … electability is obviously there but you also have to have a man of character and vision and principle that can be elected. I want to hear everyone out before I commit my time and resources to supporting an individual candidate.”
Hughey bundled more than $350,000 for Romney’s 2012 campaign. He also raised money for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another possible 2016 presidential candidate, when Perry ran for president during the 2012 election cycle. Furthermore, he raised more than $200,000 for Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, during his 2004 campaign.
Hughey has also contributed to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is also reportedly eyeing a presidential run.
Asked about the number of potential candidates with Texas ties, Hughey said, wryly: “They all have Texas ties to the degree they want to raise campaign funds.”
David Beightol, a lobbyist who attended the meeting with Bush, raised nearly $1.6 million for Romney’s 2012 campaign, the second-highest amount on the lobbyist bundler list.
“I’ve got a really difficult decision” between Romney and Bush, Beightol said.
Beightol said he has not yet heard from Romney’s team. As for Bush’s organization: “The work ethics and the team that he’s building is the most aggressive that I’ve ever seen at this stage.”
Others agreed the race was getting underway early.
“I don’t think any of these guys have gotten into serious fundraising yet,” said Ken Kies, a lobbyist with Federal Policy Group who raised nearly $73,000 for Romney. “They are at a relatively early stage. Having said that, I think things will pick up fairly soon.”
Kies says he remains uncommitted.
Former Kansas Gov. Bill Graves, now the president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, said he, too, has deep ties to both Bush and Romney.
Graves raised nearly $1.8 million for Romney in 2012, the highest amount on the list of lobbyist bundlers disclosed by the campaign. He also met with Bush on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
He originally met Jeb Bush while working on former President George H.W. Bush’s 1980 campaign, which Graves describes as his “first political endeavor.”
Graves said he has heard from both the Bush and Romney camps and is still uncommitted.
“Those are two very fine public officials that we think have great executive skills and great potential to be great leaders of our country,” Graves said, adding that both would likely draw some support from the trucking industry.
He added that he doubts he’ll be wooed by candidates other than Romney or Bush, given his long relationships with both of them.
Along with Graves, other lobbyists who met with Bush on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., include:
Most did not return calls for comment, although multiple attendees confirmed their attendance. Weber, a co-chair of Romney’s 2012 campaign, recently told Bloomberg Politics he was “not happy” with Romney’s re-emergence as a potential 2016 candidate, but added that he’s still uncommitted.
Several people contacted said they weren’t yet prepared to discuss whether they had committed to a candidate. Some suggested they didn’t want to hurt potential candidates’ feelings. Others had no comment at all.
Austin Barbour, a prominent political operative in Mississippi and nephew of prominent lobbyist and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, was a member of Romney’s 2012 strategy and national finance teams. He also bundled more than $210,000 for Romney.
Barbour declined to comment when contacted last week about who he’s supporting in 2016.
But when told his official firm biography referred to his status with Romney’s campaign in the present tense, he immediately said the biography needed to be updated.
In his first inaugural address, between promising to fix the economy and lower the cost of health care, President Barack Obama made this pledge:
"We'll restore science to its rightful place."
It might sound arcane as a presidential priority, but it was a big deal at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Political interference from the Bush White House had delayed or derailed dozens of the EPA's findings on potential health risks posed by toxic chemicals.
Some of those findings applied to chemicals to which all of us are exposed. Formaldehyde is in our kitchen cabinets and carpet. Arsenic is in our drinking water and rice. EPA scientists had determined that both of these carcinogens were more deadly than previously thought. Yet, officially, the agency remains unable to say so or to do anything about it.
On her first day on the job, Lisa Jackson, the new EPA administrator, sent employees a memo echoing the president's promise to divorce politics from science. The agency has said it needs to assess 50 chemicals a year to do its job properly. Yet in the Bush years it was averaging only five assessments a year. Jackson quickly rolled out a plan to break through the logjam.
The plan seemed easily achievable. It required no congressional approval and involved tweaking the inner workings of bureaucracy. Republicans never passed any legislation to block it.
Yet the Obama administration's plan has been a failure. In the past three years, the EPA has assessed fewer chemicals than ever. Last year, it completed only one assessment. Today, the agency has even embraced measures sought by the chemical industry that have led to endless delays.
“Of late, the administration has displayed a disturbing tendency to retreat in the face of a blistering and self-serving industry campaign to stifle this vital program once and for all,” said Rena Steinzor, a University of Maryland law professor who closely follows the EPA’s chemical assessment program.
The story of how this happened is a lesson in how Washington works.
There are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market today. You might think that the government tests each chemical to assure that it's safe. But in the United States, unlike the European Union, chemicals are assumed to pose no health risk unless the EPA proves otherwise. This task is left to a small program within the EPA called the Integrated Risk Information System, or IRIS.
It may not be the sexiest job at the EPA. But the agency needs IRIS's scientific research to regulate chemicals. Without the science, there cannot be new regulations.
During the Bush years, the chemical industry had allies within the White House. Starting in 2004, EPA scientists had to submit drafts of their scientific assessments to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for review. There, most assessments languished or died, according to an investigation by the Government Accountability Office in 2008.
Jackson announced she was wresting control of chemical assessments from the White House. In addition, she wanted to drastically cut the time spent on each one. The few reports that were getting published were taking an average of seven years to complete. She vowed to complete them in less than two years.
Yet, almost immediately, the chemical industry found ways to thwart Jackson's plan with the help of Republicans in Congress. Although the GOP didn’t control either chamber in Obama's first two years, Republican lawmakers still found ways to delay science at the EPA.
For example, the Senate has a gentleman’s agreement that a single lawmaker can stall a president’s political appointments. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana did just that in 2009. He put a "hold" on a key EPA appointee until the agency agreed to get a second opinion on its formaldehyde assessment.
Formaldehyde is commonly thought of as an embalming fluid. But it's widely used in building materials, automobiles and even no-iron shirts. According to the National Academy of Sciences, we are all exposed to formaldehyde every day.
EPA scientists began evaluating the chemical in 1998 and determined that it was linked to nasal cancers and leukemia. They were not alone. In 2006, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classified formaldehyde as a known carcinogen. In 2011, the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did the same.
Yet, the formaldehyde industry, with its political muscle, challenges these findings. "The scientific literature is clear that there is no increased health risk from low-level exposures normally found in home or work environments," says a statement from the American Chemistry Council, a trade association and lobby group for the chemical industry.
One of formaldehyde's makers, Georgia-Pacific, is owned by Koch Industries, run by billionaires Charles and David Koch, two of the largest political donors in recent years.
To unblock the appointee, who would oversee the IRIS program, the EPA agreed to have the National Academy of Sciences review its formaldehyde draft. The academy, a fraternity of leading scientists, is the nation's premier scientific advisor.
But the panel of scientists assembled by the academy in 2011 didn't focus on whether the EPA was right about the science. Instead, it criticized the formaldehyde draft for being confusing and made suggestions on how to make future IRIS reports clearer. The chemical industry pounced on this.
When Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives in 2010, they could exert control over the EPA with spending bills. Even with gridlock in Washington, Congress has to pass such bills if it wants to keep the government open. This allows leaders of the appropriations committees to insert language anonymously for pet projects and special interests.
Last year, the Center for Public Integrity revealed that Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, inserted language to block the IRIS assessment of arsenic. Arsenic is commonly found in drinking water. EPA scientists were going to say in the assessment that for every 100,000 people who drank the allowable limit of arsenic every day, 730 would eventually get lung or bladder cancer from it.
But mining, power and pesticide companies all have a financial stake in arsenic. The EPA had an agreement with two pesticide companies to take a weed killer containing arsenic off the market because of the dangers. But the agreement was conditioned on the EPA completing its scientific assessment.
"I have to say that I'm not a lobbyist. I'm a scientist. When the EPA [reached its conclusion]… we found that there's a lot of flawed science in it. We had to get some help," said Michal Eldan, vice president of one of the pesticide companies, Luxembourg-Pamol. The other is Drexel Chemical Co.
The pesticide companies lobbied Simpson to stop an EPA ban of their products. In 2011, Simpson used his position on the appropriations committee to instruct the EPA to seek a new review from the National Academy. At that point, the EPA had been working on its assessment for seven years. As a result of Simpson's delay, the EPA couldn't enforce its ban and the herbicide remains on the market.
William Ruckelshaus, who ran the EPA for presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, said getting the National Academy to review the agency's scientific findings is a common delay tactic used by industry. He sharply criticized it for endangering public health.
"Anytime that a scientific group or the EPA or any other agencies that has regulatory authorities over these kinds of chemicals finds something wrong it ought to be immediately published," Ruckelshaus said. "To the extent that that’s delayed or stalled in some way it’s really unconscionable — particularly if it’s done on behalf of the industry that manufactures the chemical and they have economic benefit associated with it."
The formaldehyde industry used the same delay tactic as the pesticide companies and at the same time. They even used the same lobbyist: former EPA official Charlie Grizzle.
Leveraging the National Academy’s criticisms about the clarity of the formaldehyde assessment, Grizzle and others got language inserted that delayed all 47 chemical assessments in progress. Here's how they did it: They instructed the EPA to adopt the academy’s recommendations and explain to Congress how it was going to implement them for ongoing and new assessments.
In an interview, Grizzle acknowledged he was involved in lobbying for the changes. Asked whether this forced the EPA to redo all of its assessments, he said, "I don't know."
For each chemical, EPA scientists start by reviewing hundreds of published scientific articles. Until now, they have relied on their expert opinions to decide which studies are the most reliable. But the National Academy recommended the EPA create a system – like a scorecard – to determine how much weight to give each study. EPA scientists complain that scoring hundreds of studies can be difficult and time-consuming.
Bernard Goldstein, an EPA official during the Reagan administration and the former dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, said it's not clear that the National Academy's suggestions will produce better assessments. There’s little scientific dispute that some chemicals are toxic. The EPA may be spending much more time to arrive at the same conclusion as it would have before. The suggestions "could actually prolong the process and contribute to the problem that process was taking too long because you would need additional scientific analyses," Goldstein said.
Jonathan Samet, who chaired the National Academy panel on formaldehyde, defended its suggestions, saying a scorecard approach "has really become best practices in science."
But Samet, who also chairs the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California, said, "We were quite clear that neither the formaldehyde or other assessments should be stopped or greatly delayed while changes were made to the process. There are too many important agents being evaluated and too many stakeholders awaiting results."
Ironically, the National Academy released its own assessment of formaldehyde last year. It agreed with the EPA's findings that formaldehyde is a known carcinogen linked to leukemia. The EPA formaldehyde assessment is still mired in delays, 17 years after work on it began.
Fans of Ken Olden
The Obama administration could have resisted political pressure from the chemical industry and House Republicans. The language instructing the EPA to seek second opinions from the National Academy was not in the spending bill itself. That language was put instead into a document attached to the bill to explain Congress's intent.
When shown the language, Charles Fox, who served as an EPA official during the Clinton administration, said, "This is what we consider advisory language. The agency is not obligated to implement that language in the report but is, for lack of better word, strongly encouraged to do so."
Lisa Jackson left the EPA in February 2013 and went to work for Apple. She did not respond to requests for an interview. Neither did her replacement as EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy.
In July 2012, Dr. Kenneth Olden took charge of the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, which oversees IRIS. While a director at the National Institutes of Health, Olden raised eyebrows by collaborating with the American Chemistry Council to fund scientific research. Olden has embraced the procedural changes sought by the National Academy of Sciences. In doing so, he has won praise from the chemical industry and Republicans.
Appearing before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology last July, Olden was lauded by Republican congressmen who are usually critical of the EPA.
"I had some folks who care very much about what is done here, and they actually said nice things about you, Dr. Olden," said Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona. "You have no idea how rare it is to hear nice things about anyone around here."
Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia has called for the elimination of the EPA. But at the hearing, he said, “Dr. Olden has been a refreshing ambassador for the IRIS program and I applaud his commitment to an open and transparent IRIS process that includes early communication and increased opportunities for meaningful stakeholder input.”
Michael Walls, a lobbyist for the American Chemistry Council, testified, “You can count me among the fans of Ken Olden.”
In a case of role reversal, it was a Democrat on the committee who challenged Olden. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon said that the EPA’s focus “on building a better relationship with industry has had the effect of crippling IRIS rather than putting the EPA on the path to streamline production of IRIS entries.”
Currying favor with Republicans may have saved IRIS from threatened budget cuts. In the most recent spending bill, Congress cut the EPA’s budget by $60 million. But it spared the IRIS program.
One of the biggest changes Olden has made is to hold public meetings every two months to get input on ongoing chemical assessments. An analysis by the Center for Public Integrity found that those meetings are dominated by speakers paid by the chemical industry. Since the meetings began, 85 percent of the speakers have been industry-funded scientists.
At the first public meeting in 2012, Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund said, "It may seem strange to hear this from a representative of the public interest community, but what IRIS needs is fewer, not more, opportunities for ‘public’ input... More opportunities for input not only require more time, they also result in a process that virtually ensures the input received by EPA is imbalanced and badly skewed toward the regulated community."
Jennifer Sass, a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, regularly attends public meetings on chemicals. She said it's not unusual for her to be the only scientist there not paid by industry.
"There’s a lot less scientists and community members that have the resources and have the interest and have the time to travel and take the time,” she said. “Whereas, the industry people are getting paid; every hour they are there, that’s a paid hour for them."
That leads to biased meetings, Sass said.
"I have never seen the chemical industry say, ‘Oh, wow! It looks from all of these data and the public literature like we had better start being safer with this chemical.’ They, in my experience, have always defended their chemical, tried to show that it’s safer, or less toxic, than what independent studies show."
At the most recent public meeting, Nancy Beck, a scientist at the American Chemistry Council, asked an IRIS scientist to present more information from all the studies the EPA reviewed.
“I know it’s a lot of work in the beginning,” Beck said about the scorecard approach.
IRIS scientist Catherine Gibbons replied, “I think it’s an extremely laborious process.”
Beck declined a request for an interview.
Olden himself acknowledged that the views at the meetings are not balanced. In October, he announced plans to bring in more independent scientists. Two weeks later, at a public hearing on hexavalent chromium, a chemical whose carcinogenic effects have been publicly debated since the film Erin Brockovich, every non-EPA speaker on the agenda was paid by industry.
Obama did not mention scientific integrity in his second inaugural address. Nor has he spoken about it lately. On its website, the IRIS program has removed Lisa Jackson's plan to take politics out of the process and replaced it with a new plan to address the concerns pressed by the chemical industry and House Republicans.
After months of requests for an interview, the EPA made Olden available to a Center reporter for 10 minutes by phone. He defended his emphasis on improving the quality of assessments rather than on Jackson’s promise to increase the quantity.
"You can’t hold me accountable for what happened years ago," Olden said. "I was brought in in July 2012 to address the issues that had been raised by GAO and the NAS report, and we are addressing those as rapidly as possible."
Olden had no explanation for why the EPA didn't resist pressure from Congress to delay assessments, saying that wasn't his decision.
"It more or less dealt with a policy issue in the regulatory arena that we don’t in fact deal with. That’s my position."
When asked if that decision was made higher up within the EPA, Olden said, "I stick with my answer."
He acknowledged that he gets pressure from the chemical industry but said, "We get pressures from lots of quarters, and to be balanced, you should point that out... But our commitment is to stick with the science. And you’ve never had any evidence that we’ve deviated from that during my tenure as director of this program, and you won’t find any evidence of that."
Asked why IRIS isn't producing more chemical assessments, Olden said, "We are doing as much as humanly possible. I think the agency is pleased, and I think the scientific community is pleased. I feel good about what we’ve done.
In his 2 ½ -year tenure, the EPA has published only four chemical assessments.
The University of Maryland’s Steinzor, an expert in scientific integrity, testified before Congress that the changes the EPA is making to IRIS are misguided.
"EPA's political appointees seem to harbor the naïve idea that this process will placate its critics,” she said. “Instead, endless jawboning has left the agency vulnerable to cynical exploitation. In sum, let us not lose sight of what is really at stake, the priceless notion that the water we drink and the air we breathe ought to be clean and healthy."
After eight years as Executive Director of the Center for Public Integrity, I am incredibly proud of the award-winning investigative work and the robust journalism institution I will leave behind when I step down this week.
In a digital era of tremendous disruption, the Center has not only weathered upheaval in the industry, but excelled with our own distinct brand of long-form investigative journalism based on data and documents. This signature work has brought about the largest audiences in our history, amazing impact from our reports and the widest distribution ever via hundreds of publishing partners worldwide.
I have nothing but praise and appreciation for the hard-working staff — our teams of dedicated reporters and editors, who daily make a reality of the Center’s central mission —To serve democracy by revealing abuses of power, corruption and betrayal of public trust by powerful public and private institutions, using the tools of investigative journalism.
Looking back over these years, I’d like to cite seven specific accomplishments from which I’ve derived enormous satisfaction:
I leave with deep appreciation for the opportunity I have had to lead this irreplaceable investigative institution at a critical time in its history. I know that our watchdog work in transparency and accountability is essential for democracy to thrive. I believe we have been a force for fairness and safety in the public interest in a society where citizens are too often at a disadvantage against the powerful and sometimes hidden special interests and lobbies.
As for myself, it’s time to step back and reflect on my career in journalism, both as a reporter and as a news manager, leading newsrooms for the last 24 years at the Center as well as at NPR, and MPR/American Public Media.
I am delighted to have a period of transition and a chance to do research and write for the next four months at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School. After that, I may consult with public radio stations and combine that work with more investigative journalism. I will be exploring all such possibilities in the year ahead. I will also be keeping an outsider’s eye on how I might be able help the new leadership at the Center for Public Integrity, so it will continue to succeed as it changes and adapts over the next 25 years.
Finally, I don’t think I can find any better words of admonition on my departure than those of Chuck Lewis when he wrote in his own farewell and thank you to the Center Staff in 2004:
“The Center must always maintain courageous, fearless ‘edginess’ and a willingness to expose abuses of power, from Presidents to multibillion dollar corporations. But edgy and compelling must also always accompany fair and accurate reporting at the Center for Public Integrity, and nothing beneath this standard should ever be published. There is no such thing as too careful when it comes to information gathering…”
“The stakes,” he wrote then, “are very, very high just as the opportunities to create high impact national and international journalism are extraordinary. Don’t ever let the bastards get you down or intimidate you. But also, don’t ever, in any way, enable them to diminish your credibility as a truth-teller.”
Thank you all.