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- 07/10/15--14:05: _Australian mining c...
- 07/10/15--07:14: _Fatal Extraction: t...
- 07/13/15--07:12: _12 things to know a...
- 07/13/15--06:12: _GOP myth: Obamacare...
- 07/14/15--20:48: _A historic deal wit...
- 07/14/15--18:00: _Defense budget deci...
- 07/15/15--14:15: _Hotel industry targ...
- 07/15/15--04:58: _Airwaves auction ma...
- 07/16/15--12:48: _Presidential campai...
- 07/16/15--03:51: _House hearing, Obam...
- 07/17/15--12:28: _Republican presiden...
- 07/20/15--16:11: _Latest swing of rev...
- 07/20/15--09:11: _Senators resist the...
- 07/20/15--12:09: _Center for Public I...
- 07/21/15--02:00: _9 things to know ab...
- 07/21/15--13:44: _Fatal extraction an...
- 07/22/15--10:34: _Rick Perry finance ...
- 07/22/15--02:00: _Grad rates rising, ...
- 07/22/15--14:25: _Audit: Nuclear lab ...
- 07/28/15--11:06: _Sarah Palin's PAC, ...
- 07/10/15--07:14: Fatal Extraction: the impact of Australian mining in Africa
- 07/13/15--07:12: 12 things to know about Scott Walker
- 07/13/15--06:12: GOP myth: Obamacare is driving insurance mergers
- 07/14/15--20:48: A historic deal with Iran?
- 07/14/15--18:00: Defense budget decision-makers are big recipients of industry funds
- 07/15/15--14:15: Hotel industry targets upstart Airbnb in statehouse battles
- 07/15/15--04:58: Airwaves auction may shrink — not increase — wireless competition
- 07/16/15--12:48: Presidential campaign donors hedge bets
- 07/16/15--03:51: House hearing, Obama speech explore alternatives to incarceration
- 07/17/15--12:28: Republican presidential hopefuls: the Uber super users
- 07/20/15--09:11: Senators resist the Internet, leave voters in the dark
- Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
- Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
- John Cornyn, R-Texas
- Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.
- Diane Feinstein, D-Calif.
- Al Franken, D-Minn.
- Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
- Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.
- Angus King, I-Maine
- Pat Leahy, D-Vt.
- Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
- Gary Peters, D-Mich.
- Jack Reed, D-R.I.
- Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
- Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
- Jon Tester, D-Mont.
- Mark Warner, D-Va.
- Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
- Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
- Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
- 07/21/15--02:00: 9 things to know about John Kasich
- 07/21/15--13:44: Fatal extraction and speed-dating
- 07/22/15--10:34: Rick Perry finance chairman does super PAC two-step
- 07/22/15--02:00: Grad rates rising, but more kids living in poor neighborhoods
- 07/22/15--14:25: Audit: Nuclear lab lets safety gaps languish for years
- 07/28/15--11:06: Sarah Palin's PAC, like her TV career, on the wane
$230,250 on consultants, including $80,500 to longtime aide and PAC treasurer Timothy Crawford
$139,932 on direct mail, produced by conservative fundraising firm HSP Direct
$128,482 on postage, printing and related supplies
$82,213 on travel and accommodations, including airfare, hotels, car and SUV rentals, travel agents and taxis. The Waldorf Astoria in New York City ($4,562) and Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas ($797) were two particularly pricey hotel choices. The $3,854 SarahPAC paid a New York-based limousine company came on Feb. 19, right after Palin appeared at the staging of Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary special, where she sat in the audience next to musician Taylor Swift.
$48,000 on speech writing, mostly to Aries Petra Consulting, a small limited liability company registered in Virginia and based in Los Angeles
$37,354 on Internet fundraising through Austin, Texas-based Harris Media LLC, which works for numerous conservative politicians
Australian mining companies are linked to hundreds of deaths and injuries in Africa, which can go unreported at home.
Some of the Australian Securities Exchange-listed companies include state governments as shareholders. One company recorded 38 worker deaths over an eleven-year period.
Australia has more publicly-traded mining companies with interests in Africa – more than 150 at the end of 2014 in 33 countries – than resource rivals including Canada and China.
In Malawi, litigation continues against Paladin Africa Limited, a subsidiary of Perth-based Paladin Energy, and its subcontractor after an explosion disfigured one worker with such heat that his skin shattered when touched by rescuers. Two others died in the same incident.
Other allegations include employees in South Africa hacking a woman with a machete and Malian police killing two protesters after a mine worker reportedly asked authorities to dislodge a barricade on the road to the mine.
View our unique multimedia report, Fatal Extraction: Australian mining in Africa
An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (www.icij.org), a project of the Center for Public Integrity, in collaboration with 13 African reporters, uncovered locally-filed lawsuits, violent protests and community petitions criticizing some Australian companies.
In all, reporters counted more than 380 employees, subcontractors and community members in 13 countries who died in accidents or incidents linked to the companies since the beginning of 2004, including some who were shot to death. More were horribly disfigured or injured while working at Australian mines or during community protests against them.
The companies involved deny that they were responsible for any of the incidents.
But Tracey Davies, an attorney with the Centre for Environmental Rights in Cape Town, South Africa, says she has seen a pattern of poor behavior by Australian mining companies, a sentiment echoed by employees, villagers, tribal leaders, members of parliament and activists across Africa.
"There is a very strong perception that when Australian mining companies come here,” she said, “they take every advantage of regulatory and compliance monitoring weaknesses, and of the huge disparity in power between themselves and affected communities, and aim to get away with things they wouldn't even think of trying in Australia.”
Continue reading the story on ICIJ.org.
This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Pultizer Center for Crisis Reporting.
Australian-listed mining companies are linked to hundreds of deaths and alleged injustices which wouldn't be tolerated in better-regulated nations.
Across the continent, Australian mining companies have been implicated in deaths, cases of alleged negligence, illegal licensing, unfair dismissal, forced displacement and environmental degradation.
The stories in this report are from people across Africa, rarely heard outside their own communities.
View our unique multimedia report, Fatal Extraction: Australian mining in Africa.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is poised to join the ever-expanding field of Republican candidates running to become the next president.
Polls indicate Walker is an instant top-tier contender for the GOP nomination. And he’s certainly a tough campaigner, having prevailed in a 2012 recall election — the first governor in U.S. history to survive such a vote.
Here's more about the financial history of a man who could become the first person since Harry Truman to win the White House, but not have a college degree:
Sources: Center for Public Integrity reporting as well as the Internal Revenue Service, Fox News, Kantar Media CMAG, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the National Institute on Money in State Politics, OurAmericanRevival.com and the Washington Post.
Image sources: Gage Skidmore/Flickr, Michael Vadon/Flickr, Wispolitics.com/Flickr
Republican lawmakers and their friends in Washington’s conservative think tanks have put forth another reason Americans should hate Obamacare: it’s making the country’s biggest insurance companies gobble each other up. If the recently announced deals actually happen, they say, we’ll have fewer insurance choices.
When the CEOs of Aetna and Humana announced a few days ago that they had agreed to a deal in which Aetna will pay $37 billion for Louisville-based Humana, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky pointed the finger of blame straight at Obamacare.
"This morning’s announcement, as I predicted during the debate five years ago, is the inevitable result of Obamacare’s push toward consolidation as doctors, hospitals, and insurers merge in response to an ever-growing government," McConnell said on July 3.
Added Edmund Haislmaier of the Heritage Foundation: “The incentives are in there for consolidation. For all the talk about competition, it’s really much more about consolidating everything so the government can better manage it.”
You can’t expect McConnell and Haislmaier to pass up an opportunity to reinforce their false meme that Obamacare represents a government takeover of health care. Their sound bites undoubtedly will resonate with the GOP’s base.
The reality, though, is that Aetna’s proposed acquisition of Humana and Anthem’s $54 billion bid for Cigna—and UnitedHealthcare's reported interest in Cigna—is McConnell’s and Haislmaier’s beloved free market at work.
And in an ironic twist, the GOP’s insistence that billions of Medicare dollars must flow through private insurers is a major factor in the recent flurry of M&A announcements. It might ultimately even mean that Kentucky could lose thousands of good-paying jobs as Aetna’s executives begin laying off employees they consider redundant.
There are three big reasons for the recent spate of corporate marriage proposals in the health insurance business, and not one of them has anything to do with Obamacare.
Size matters: As I noted last week, the big five for-profit health insurers (Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, Humana and UnitedHealthcare) are the result of several deals that were consummated in the mid- to late 1990s. The consolidation occurred because the more health-plan enrollees an insurer has in a given market, the more leverage it has at the negotiating table with hospitals and physician groups. An unintended consequence of that consolidation, however, was self-defense consolidation on the provider side. Just about every city in the country has seen its hospitals combine. Hospitals have merged with each other to regain the negotiating clout they lost temporarily after consolidation in the insurance industry.
Changing demographics: The average age of Americans has been increasing for several years, primarily because of the aging Baby Boomers. Millions of Boomers are becoming eligible for Medicare every year, and the Medicare program has contributed billions of dollars in revenue and profits to the insurers that participate in the private Medicare Advantage program, which wouldn’t exist without its Republican champions in Congress. One of the main reasons Aetna wants Humana is because of Humana’s huge Medicare Advantage membership. An Anthem-Cigna deal would also give the combined company a large Medicare Advantage enrollment. Both Anthem and Cigna have bought smaller Medicare Advantage insurers in recent years to increase their presence in the program.
A shrinking employer-based health insurance market: Although the vast majority of Americans with private health insurance get their coverage through the workplace, employers no longer present insurers with growth opportunities. This is especially troublesome for Cigna and Aetna, which have long been known as companies that cater to large employers. When I left Cigna in 2008, about 85 percent of its members were enrolled in large employer-sponsored plans. In recent years, however, the only way the big insurers could increase their membership in employer-sponsored plans was to steal market share from each other or to acquire each other. As the Urban Institute noted in a report last month, enrollment in employer-sponsored plans fell 11 percent between 2000 and 2012—two years before most of the provisions of Obamacare went into effect—from 76.9 percent to 69.4 percent. Fueling the declines were the growing numbers of workers who chose to opt out of employer-sponsored coverage because of the cost and the growing numbers of employers that chose to stop offering coverage to workers’ dependents.
Interestingly, Obamacare appears to have halted this erosion. Membership in employer-sponsored plans has remained stable over the past couple of years, according to the Urban Institute researchers.
So the next time you hear a politician or pundit claim that Obamacare is to blame for the dwindling number of big for-profit insurers, know that they either don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re trying to mislead you. More than likely it’s some of both.
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.
VIENNA, Austria – Weary diplomats finally delivered an agreement on curbing Iran’s nuclear programs July 14 after 20 months of talks in this graceful European city, surrounded by blissfully oblivious tourists on their summer holidays.
Although the talks seemed on the verge of collapse two days earlier, the negotiators produced a 128-page agreement that supporters said will deny Iran a nuclear arsenal and critics said will at best defer the day the country will have one.
The United States, five other countries, and the European Union struck the bargain with the Islamic Republic after years of tension and rancor over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But it is not clear that it will mark the end of those tensions, as the agreement – which calls for the cessation in coming months of some punishing economic sanctions — sparked criticism from some of Iran’s neighbors, including Israel.
The painstakingly negotiated deal is the product of the efforts of both diplomats and engineers, combining the genteel language of treaties – it says for example that the purpose was to “ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful” – with the specifications of a technical paper.
It states, for example, the exact number of machines that Iran will be allowed to use to turn natural uranium into civilian nuclear reactor fuel at a key site — 5,060. It also lists in a voluminous index hundreds of Iranian companies scheduled to be exempted from sanctions under the deal.
The text warns that the provisions of the agreement are a unique, one-time-only deal with Iran, and “should not be considered as setting precedents for any other state.” But it nonetheless will amount to an international recognition – in an expected vote by the United Nations Security Council – that Iran has the right to produce nuclear materials that have aroused security concerns.
The White House website on Tuesday boasted that the pact was “a historic deal that will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” blocking all of Iran’s potential pathways to the bomb. But the deal was always intended to buy time rather than prevent any possibility of Iran ever achieving a capability to make a nuclear weapon, because the latter goal was seen as unrealistic.
The unspoken hope is that during the 10 to 15 year life of the agreement, the United States and other nations can settle at least some of their differences with Tehran. U.S. officials have said they don’t expect the current Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 75 years old and medically infirm, to be in power when the deal’s terms end. They also have said that Iran will lose some of its technical skills during the period of the agreement, while U.S. military capabilities and its knowledge of the Iranian program will both increase.
The Obama administration strenuously sought the pact, promising it would increase the amount of time Iran would need to make enough nuclear explosive material to build a single bomb from three months to one year. But some critics say that the deal would still give Iran a window to repudiate the agreement and race to the bomb, possibly before the rest of the world could react effectively.
At a press conference yesterday at the United Nations’ compound in eastern Vienna, Yukiya Amano, who is charged with implementing the deal as director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was peppered with questions from journalists asking if Iran could be trusted. While not directly answering these questions, he said he was “very pleased” with the deal.
Amano said Iran had agreed to help settle a major source of tension between Iran and the IAEA, by promising to answer outstanding questions about its past suspected nuclear weapons-related research. A report based on those answers is expected December 15.
Asked whether the IAEA had determined independently that the deal would expand the time Iran would need to build a bomb to one year, Amano said the “concept” of a break out was not an issue his agency was tasked to address. His mission, he said, was to “detect the diversion or misuse of nuclear material. So we are going to work on that basis.”
The deal would ban nuclear weapons research by Iran as well as the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons through the reprocessing of spent nuclear reactor fuel. It would also cut the total number of Iran’s centrifuges – which are used to enrich key isotopes of weapons-usable uranium — by two-thirds and require that Iran export or transform such uranium into fuel.
An underlying presumption is that to fashion a bomb, Iran would need to produce at least 55 pounds of uranium enriched to 90 percent, compared to the 3.67 enrichment level it has agreed to maintain. But some academic experts have challenged the administration’s claim.
The critics have said that Iran in theory – and in a desperate, risky move — could kick out the weapons inspectors, re-install more than 1,000 mothballed centrifuges, quickly enrich some uranium and, perhaps, build a weapon in three months. A 1995 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council concluded that even a country with moderate technical ability could build as powerful a bomb using just 15.5 pounds of highly-enriched uranium.
Gary Samore, President Obama’s former senior advisor on weapons of mass destruction and now the head of research at the Belfer Center think tank at Harvard, said in an email Tuesday, however, that Iran would need longer than a few weeks or months to rebuild and reinstall the centrifuges.
He noted that once Iran’s stocks of more highly-enriched uranium are converted to reactor fuel, it cannot be easily turned back into weapons fuel, and that Iran or any other nuclear novice would likely require more uranium than the NRDC estimated to make a small, sophisticated bomb.
Samore wrote that he still believes that the deal reaches the White House’s goal of a one-year delay in any sprint to build a bomb and that the estimate was based on the advice of experts at the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons laboratories, where Iran’s nuclear program has been tracked and studied for decades.
But he hedged a little on the timing. “Iran might be able to reduce one year by a few months by improving performance of [a particular centrifuge type know as] IR-1, reinstalling centrifuges, etc.” Samore wrote, “but it’s still too long to be a practical threat” because the IAEA would detect that diversion from the agreement immediately.
U.S. officials have said that as a result, the most likely path for a "breakout" from the agreement would be covert, and that the deal signed this week contains adequate assurances that IAEA inspectors will be able to visit anyplace in Iran that looks suspicious, albeit in some cases with a delay of more than three weeks.
Still, no one is claiming that the deal will automatically mean the end to fears about the scope of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. President Obama himself conceded in an interview with National Public Radio in March that after most restrictions expired in 13 to 15 years Iran would have “advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.”
But the president also defended the deal, which at the time had not been completely negotiated. “Keep in mind, though, currently, the breakout times are only about two to three months, by our intelligence estimates,” he said. “So essentially, we’re purchasing for 13, 14, 15 years assurances that the breakout is at least a year…that – that if they decided to break the deal kick out the inspectors, break the seals and go for a bomb, we’d have over a year to respond.”
National security managing editor R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this article from Washington.
Congress has approved a defense policy bill that the president has signed each of the past 6 years, but this year, it’s struggling. The House and Senate disagree over many of its provisions, including the financing and direction of individual military programs within an overall budget exceeding $600 billion.
As a result, the resolution of these disputes in the next few weeks will fall to a relatively small group in Washington – just 48 lawmakers. And as it turns out, the group is remarkably beholden to the private defense companies whose profits depend on their decisions.
The lawmakers sit on what’s known as a conference committee, whose deliberations -- but not decisions -- are secret. It’s tasked with forging a version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 that both chambers will approve. And, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity, those particular lawmakers from 2003 through 2014 got four times as much defense industry funding for their elections and leadership committees, in total, as the members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees who were not appointed as conferees.
Over this period, the 48 conferees received a total of $20.6 million in inflation-adjusted dollars from the political action committees affiliated with the top 75 defense contractors and from their employees, according to the Center’s analysis, or an average of $430,049 apiece. The 41 members of the Armed Services committees who weren't appointed conferees received roughly $5.2 million in the same period, or an average of $126,465 apiece. The large contractors who donated included such firms as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and Booz Allen Hamilton.
One reason the conferees got more is that they tend to be more senior lawmakers, and academic studies show that lawmakers tend to attract more funding from the industries whose fate they influence as their seniority increases.
The 32 House members appointed as conferees include 27 Republicans and Democrats drawn from the most senior of that chamber's 63 Armed Services members. The nine Republican Senate conferees include the seven most senior of the 14 GOP Armed Services members. Only among the Senate Democrats on the conference panel is there a mostly even split by seniority, with three of the most junior members serving alongside four of the top ranking Democrats.
In several studies of the committee system, Randall Kroszner at the University of Chicago and Thomas Stratmann at George Mason University concluded that as lawmakers gain committee seniority they are more likely to receive higher contributions from corporate-financed political action committees and to receive more frequent contributions from the same donors. Other studies have shown that members who give more of their campaign funds back to their parties are more likely to secure coveted committee assignments.
On the House side, more than half of those named to the conference committee have served on Armed Services for at least a decade. That includes the chairman and a leader of the conference committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, who collected a total of $933,415 from the largest 75 contractors, according to the Center’s analysis. That made him the highest overall recipient of contractor funds among all of the 89 members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
Taking money from the industry that lawmakers help oversee is not a partisan issue on the House Armed Services committee. The ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, has collected $857,726. Other conferees include Republican subcommittee chairmen Reps. Mike Rogers of Alabama ($764,323), Rob Wittman ($649,969) and Randy Forbes ($618,184), both of Virginia; and ranking Democratic subcommittee members Reps. Joe Courtney of Connecticut ($632,151) and Jim Langevin of Rhode Island ($618,084).
The conferees from Senate Armed Services include the panel's chairman, Sen. John McCain ($694,508) and its ranking member, Sen. Jack Reed ($788,351). Among the other Senate conferees are all ten of the subcommittee chairmen and ranking members, including Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida ($884,968), who is the second-highest overall recipient of contractor funds after Rep. Thornberry, and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. ($811,111).
Also on the conference committee, although not a subcommittee chairman, is Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla. ($808,789). Inhofe, the former ranking member on Senate Armed Services, could have contested McCain for the chairmanship when the Republicans regained control of the Senate, but opted instead to chair the Environment and Public Works committee.
Members of the conference committee are slated to hold their deliberations behind closed doors, as they usually do, so it will be hard for outsiders to see which lawmakers are carrying the most water for their donors. The timing and locations for those meetings is also a secret. "Meetings happen in a variety of locations," Claude Chafin, Thornberry's committee spokesman, told the Center. Asked about the schedule, he said, "The conference meetings are closed. We do not release a public schedule of meetings."
During the drafting stage, the House Armed Services committee held its deliberations in public, while the Senate committee worked behind closed doors. That prompted a protest from the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group, which argued that — with more than half a trillion dollars at stake and national security policies dependent on the vote — American taxpayers deserved to see how the bill was crafted.
"I don't want to say that just because something is held behind closed doors there's impropriety," said POGO public policy associate Elizabeth Hempowicz, "but why not hold it in open session?"
The bottom line, though, is that when the select group of lawmakers meets to hash out their differences, they’ll have campaign wallets stuffed more fully with industry contributions than many other members. How much will those contributions influence their decisions? We’ll know by the end of summer. In a June 19 interview with Stars and Stripes, McCain said he's "totally convinced we can get the bill back out of conference in July."
It's still unclear, however, whether the deliberations will be for naught. Obama has threatened to veto the legislation for adding almost $40 billion to a special Overseas Contingency Operations war account, in order to fund basic military operations. The fund is exempt from mandatory budget caps, unlike other military programs.
While the annual National Defense Authorization Act helps decide key defense policies and sets budget ceilings, spending will be set by the appropriations bills. Democrats, in sync with the administration, have vowed to block the appropriations bills if they use the wartime account while continuing to cap domestic spending.
*The Center calculated campaign contributions in 2014 dollars from the top 75 defense contractors, as ranked in fiscal 2013, using campaign data compiled by The Center for Responsive Politics as well as data from the Federal Election Commission.
July 15, 2015: This story has been corrected.
One Airbnb host allegedly tripled the price of his condo without warning, nearly ruining a family’s trip to Austin to see a Formula One race. Another, in Cleveland, is accused of badgering his guests with sexist commentary. Other hosts reportedly misled prospective Airbnb guests with false promises of wheelchair accessibility in their New York City apartments.
These horror stories may be real, but the organization that is highlighting them on its website is not what it seems. Neighbors for Overnight Oversight— the purported “coalition of concerned neighbors” that provides talking points and a tool for writing letters to the editor — is in fact a creation of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a century-old trade group that represents giant hotel chains such as Hilton and Marriott.
“When businesses face major threats that could potentially harm their whole industry, these kinds of ‘grassroots’ campaigns start to happen in a pretty serious way,” said Edward Walker, a University of California, Los Angeles sociology professor who studies corporate influence over the political process.
This public relations tactic is but one symptom of the new rough-and-tumble politics afflicting the traditional hospitality industry, which has been threatened by the explosive growth of short-term rental sites such as Airbnb, HomeAway and Flipkey. Many of these short-term rentals are operating in an unregulated limbo of questionable legality. They often aren't required to pay occupancy taxes and surcharges or follow the safety and sanitary regulations that apply to hotels. The industry wants them to play by the same rules.
Now the dueling industries are jumping into the politics of cities and states: flooding elections with cash, lobbying and, at times, even manufacturing what looks like grassroots support.
At least 60 bills have been introduced in 23 states this year that would determine whether homeowners seeking to rent out spare rooms or unoccupied homes are hotels in disguise — and should be taxed and regulated as such. Dozens more are being contemplated at the city or county level.
Neighbors for Overnight Oversight is just one part of the hotel industry’s strategy to convince lawmakers that they should regulate Airbnb and its counterparts with the same tax, safety and zoning regulations required of traditional hotels and inns. The American Hotel & Lodging Association has affiliates registered to lobby legislatures in 42 states this year, and the hotel industry together contributed at least $11 million to 2014 state political races, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of state and Internal Revenue Service records.
To be sure, leveling the regulatory playing field with Airbnb is just one of the hotel industry’s varied policy goals. Hotels regularly lobby federal and state governments on immigration reform, labor laws, tax incentives and even U.S.-Cuba travel restrictions.
Airbnb, which has been leading the charge for short-term rental firms, has countered the hospitality industry’s old-order political power with its own arsenal. The Airbnb of 2008 — when two of its young co-founders helped pay the rent by charging convention-goers for air mattress accommodations in their San Francisco apartment — has swelled to a $24 billion valuation with tech-savvy investors such as actor Ashton Kutcher, according to company reports. It collects a service fee of 6 to 12 percent each time a traveler books one of the 1.2 million properties listed in nearly every state and 34,000 cities in 190 countries worldwide.
Airbnb, its executives and venture capital funders gave at least $920,000 to campaigns and political groups active in 2014 state elections, according to IRS records and data collected by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. It has been lobbying in at least four states but has also relied on the lobbyists for The Travel Technology Association, a trade group based in Washington, D.C., whose members include Airbnb, Priceline and Trip Advisor. The group has lobbyists in at least 20 states.
The challenge for both sides is that lodging and sales taxes, permit requirements and zoning rules vary widely across municipalities and states, according to David Hantman, Airbnb’s head of global public policy. He said the company is focused on changing laws it believes are unfair.
“You can’t do it in all 34,000 cities at once,” Hantman said.
There’s more at stake than dueling business models. Cities, states and counties say they’re losing out on hotel-tax revenue when Airbnb hosts don’t pay. And they worry some low-income housing may be lost to out-of-town visitors. Small innkeepers have seen their profits fall as they lose business to Airbnb. Yet many homeowners and renters are happy to be able to supplement their incomes by hosting overnight guests for a fee.
David Chiu’s City Hall office was a seven-minute ride from Airbnb headquarters in downtown San Francisco. According to city lobbying records, it was a well-worn path.
Chiu was president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, the governing body tasked with crafting legislation to bring Airbnb and other home-sharing services into compliance with city codes. According to city ethics commission records, Airbnb lobbyists visited Chiu’s office more than 50 times between February 2012 and October 2014.
In that same period, a consultant working on Chiu’s Democratic campaign to represent the city in California’s General Assembly had been hired by Airbnb to launch an online campaign to ensure new short-term rental regulations weren’t too harsh.
Meanwhile, Chiu’s legislative bid was receiving indirect support from top Airbnb investors Reid Hoffman and Ron Conway, who contributed $685,000 to a political group that attacked Chiu’s opponent David Campos, a fellow Democrat on the city board.
Just before the election, the Board of Supervisors passed Chiu’s bill, which legalized most Airbnb-style home-sharing in San Francisco and diluted some of the elements that affordable housing advocates had pushed for — such as more stringent zoning provisions and a ban on listing mother-in-law apartments.
A citizens group filed a complaint in October with the San Francisco Ethics Commission saying Chiu failed to disclose the alleged conflict of interest between his legislative campaign and his work on the city board. John St. Croix, the commission’s executive director, declined to comment. But Cynthia Crews, president of the group that filed the complaint, said the commission chose not to investigate it.
Judson True, Chiu’s chief of staff who also worked for the Democrat as a legislative aide in City Hall, said the complaint was dismissed in December.
“It was filed right before an election,” True said. “The timing speaks for itself.”
Chiu won his state assembly election. He now sits on the assembly’s local government committee, where a bill that would deregulate online short-term rental companies across the state is currently under review.
Airbnb’s contributions went far beyond Chiu. The company, its executives and top funders donated more than $189,000 directly to 2014 candidates for state-level office in California, its home state.
A seat at the table
Building good will among state attorneys general — who can enforce regulations — has also become a standard bit of tradecraft for corporations.
Airbnb founders Brian Chesky and Nathan Blecharczyk, for example, donated $13,700 to the 2014 re-election of California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Chesky was one of 13 tech executives to host a fundraiser for Harris at Airbnb’s luxe downtown San Francisco offices.
Airbnb also donated $15,000 to both the Republican Attorneys General Association and the Democratic Attorneys General Association, two national groups that raise and spend money to put candidates with favorable political ideology in the states’ top law enforcement posts.
Contributing to them ahead of the 2014 elections bought Airbnb a seat at the negotiating table, Hantman, Airbnb’s global public policy chief, told the Center for Public Integrity.
“We can educate attorneys general, policymakers, third parties,” he said. “There’s a lot of misinformation.”
For its part, the hotel industry cumulatively gave at least $134,000 to the attorneys general groups — part of the more than $4.8 million that it contributed to similar national organizations that boost gubernatorial and state legislative candidates in 2014.
In New York City, where Airbnb has faced the strongest opposition from regulators and affordable housing advocates, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a report last fall finding that 72 percent of units rented through Airbnb were functioning like illegal hotels by ignoring zoning laws such as setting up in residential-only buildings. He pledged to crack down on them with local regulators.
In a statement, Schneiderman said New York’s regulatory efforts were aimed to “ensure that, as online marketplaces revolutionize the way we live, laws designed to promote safety and quality-of-life are not forsaken under the pretext of innovation.”
Troy Flanagan, vice president of state and local affairs for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said most hoteliers and innkeepers do not take issue with single-room listings when the host is present. The “entire place” rentals, which were the focus of Schneiderman’s report, most acutely threaten traditional hotels and create “horror story” conditions when unruly guests go unwatched.
Airbnb called the New York report misleading and countered that its hosts’ income and tourist spending injected $1.15 billion into New York City’s economy. Airbnb encourages its hosts to comply with relevant city, state and federal rental laws and provides them up to $1 million in coverage for household damage. However the onus to follow safety and zoning rules is on the individual hosts, not Airbnb, according to the company’s website.
When Schneiderman released the report, he was running for re-election. The Democrat, who won handily in November, received more than $100,000 from hotel executives and labor unions representing hospitality workers. One of the top donors was Jonathan Tisch, chairman of Loews Hotels, who gave more than $31,000 to Schneiderman’s $10.2 million campaign, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Schneiderman’s press secretary Matt Mittenthal said the release of the report was not influenced by the hotel industry contributions, nor was it timed to correspond with the election, noting that the attorney general’s investigation of Airbnb began in mid-2013.
“Decisions on which cases we choose to investigate are made solely on the merits of each case,” Mittenthal said.
Meanwhile, a New York Assembly bill pending in the housing committee would require Airbnb hosts in New York City to pay relevant taxes, in addition to $5,500 for a permit from the city. The city could audit, inspect and levy up to $2,000 in fees to any hosts not in compliance with safety and insurance standards.
The Hotel Association of New York City has spent at least $60,000 so far this year to lobby state and city lawmakers and cites the bill as a priority in state lobbying records.
Assemblyman Keith Wright, who first introduced the bill in 2013 and chairs the housing committee where the bill has been pending since January, said the rentals were “quite a concern among certain neighborhoods in our city.”
Tisch, the hotel magnate, was a top donor to Wright’s 2014 campaign, which raised about $328,000 in total, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Tisch gave $4,100 to Wright, though the assemblyman said “there is no nexus, there is no connection” between his sponsored legislation and the campaign support from Tisch.
Wright, a Democrat who represents Harlem, said he has been friends with Tisch for 35 years, since they met as Tufts University students in the mid-1970s.
Through a spokesman, Tisch declined to comment on his political giving.
'They all die a quick death'
While state and local officials worry about taxes and regulations, small innkeepers are just trying to stay afloat.
The Inn at the Rostay has been a popular spot for more than 17 years, sitting just a five-mile drive from the Sunday River Ski resort in Bethel, Maine.
Airbnb now lists more than 120 properties in the same tiny town.
The inn’s owner Kathy Thrall has initiated and pushed for three different bills in the Maine Legislature that would require the short-term rentals to follow the same rules that apply to her inn.
“They are running a business,” Thrall said of her new competition. “They’re renting by the day, by the week, the month, so I see no difference between what they do and what I do.”
But all three bills she supported failed. “They all die a quick death,” Thrall said.
The most recent legislation would have required residents who rent their homes for less than a week to collect lodging taxes and obtain the same licenses as Thrall.
The Maine Innkeepers Association, which is affiliated with the American Hotel & Lodging Association, helped Thrall push the bill. But The Travel Technology Association hired Josh Tardy, a former Republican minority leader of the Maine House of Representatives, to lobby against it.
The Maine bill died in April after an aide to Republican Gov. Paul LePage, an outspoken critic of government intervention in business, suggested that the governor would veto any additional regulation of the lodging industry in the state that bears “Vacationland” on its license plates, according to news reports.
For his part, LePage did not appear to receive any donations from Airbnb or its executives but reported receiving $22,500 from the lodging and tourism industry out of more than $2 million raised for his re-election campaign last year, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. LePage did not respond to Center for Public Integrity requests for comment.
Unlike their Maine counterparts, the North Carolina legislature did pass a bill that requires Airbnb to collect county occupancy taxes in several parts of the state, including the state capital of Raleigh.
But the legislation passed in May was actually a partial victory for Airbnb — the culmination of a five-month public relations campaign to dissuade Raleigh from banning short-term rentals, which violated zoning restrictions in several neighborhoods.
To “reframe public opinion,” Airbnb hired a public relations and lobbying firm called Targeted Persuasion. Airbnb had used a similar strategy in New York to do on-the-ground canvassing via Peers, a company it launched that works as a hub for sharing economy participants.
In Raleigh, Targeted Persuasion ran an online petition and email campaign, then recruited speakers such as Airbnb host Gregg Stebben to testify at public meetings.
Stebben, a magazine editor who covers the technology sector, and his wife listed the “granny unit” of their Five Points house on Airbnb in September and were surprised by the demand for short-term lodging in their neighborhood. They expected to make a few hundred dollars per month.
“It was really just a lifestyle choice for us,” said Stebben. “It’s now paying our mortgage.”
In January, Targeted Persuasion also hosted what it called a “town hall” discussion related to short-term rental regulation. Within the exposed brick walls of The Architect restaurant in downtown Raleigh, more than 175 Raleigh residents, city council members and Airbnb representatives gathered over craft beer and cocktails to discuss the company’s regulatory challenges.
Firms like Targeted Persuasion are better equipped to launch “grassroots” campaigns than their corporate clients, according to Walker, the UCLA sociology professor.
“They know how to buy the lists of the people they can target. They know who’s most likely to say 'Yes.' They know how to do it at scale,” he said. “At the same time, the company has a certain amount of plausible deniability about it, too.”
When the state legislature passed the more friendly law, Targeted Persuasion trumpeted the success it had for Airbnb.
“The grassroots campaign worked as designed,” says the firm’s website.
Though the legislation was meant to level the playing field for traditional lodging, it came too late for some, including Doris Jurkiewicz.
Until recently, her six-bedroom Oakwood Inn in historic Raleigh was quite busy attracting the parents of North Carolina State University students, maintaining a 65 percent occupancy rate at its peak, Jurkiewicz said. (The industry average for hotels is 62.2 percent, according to the hotel industry trade group.)
But now more than 500 private rooms and homes in Raleigh are available to rent through Airbnb, some priced as low as $45 per night. Rooms at Jurkiewicz’s inn cost between $129 and $189, in part to cover the costs of getting a business license, meeting fire codes and obtaining a required special use permit — all things an Airbnb host isn’t required to do.
“I couldn’t lower my prices to compete with them, because I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills,” Jurkiewicz said. “They’ve basically destroyed my dream.”
This spring, after a particularly weak winter, Jurkiewicz and her husband, Gary, decided to close the inn, the last bed and breakfast in Raleigh.
This story was co-published with Mashable.
Correction, July 15 2015, 5:12 p.m.: An earlier version of this story reported incorrect information about Airbnb host Gregg Stebben’s relationship with public relations and lobbying firm Targeted Persuasion. Stebben said he was not trained by the firm before his testimony.
When the federal government auctions off a huge swath of airwaves early next year, it aims to give wireless carriers more capacity and also increase competition in an industry that is now firmly in the grips of AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc.
It will likely deliver on the first goal, but analysts suspect it won’t on the second.
On July 16, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on exactly how the auction for so-called low-band spectrum will play out. The airwaves, in the 600 megahertz range, are highly coveted because they travel long distances and penetrate buildings, characteristics needed to build a nearly seamless nationwide wireless network.
AT&T and Verizon, the nation’s two largest carriers, already own 73 percent of low-band spectrum, so they provide much more coverage than Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile Inc., which own a negligible amount. More coverage has allowed AT&T and Verizon to sign up about two-thirds of all wireless customers nationwide.
Sprint and T-Mobile say they need more low-band spectrum to better compete, and the upcoming auction, scheduled for the first quarter of 2016, may be their last chance for decades to get a big chunk of it at one time. That’s why they asked the FCC to create a reserve of spectrum that only they and other smaller carriers can bid on.
AT&T and Verizon said no limits should be placed on the auction.
The four companies spent tens of millions of dollars trying to convince Congress and the FCC to see things their way. They paid not only for traditional lobbying but also for academic studies, Astroturf public relations campaigns and opinion articles by hired experts to influence lawmakers, regulators and the public, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. AT&T and Verizon vastly outspent their smaller rivals.
The rules the FCC will consider Thursday set aside 30 megahertz that can only be bid on by carriers that don’t have a dominant presence in any given market.
That typically will rule out AT&T and Verizon from bidding on most of the airwaves in the reserve — but not all. The reserve represents 42 percent of the 70 megahertz of low-band spectrum many analysts expect will become available. The auction, however, depends on television stations agreeing to sell spectrum they hold licenses for, and more could be available if a larger number of broadcasters choose to sell.
Some analysts say the 30 megahertz reserve may not be enough to ensure more competition.
“Ideally it should be more,” William Ho, principal analyst at 556 Ventures in Reston, Virginia, said in an interview.
The spectrum comes from frequencies currently controlled by television broadcasters, which are voluntarily selling their licenses.
If the buying power of AT&T and Verizon is limited too much, Ho said, broadcasters may avoid selling their spectrum because they believe they won’t get a premium price. That would depress the amount of money the FCC collects from the auction.
Harold Feld, a senior vice president at Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group in Washington that supported a larger reserve, said the set aside “isn’t aggressive enough.”
Feld said carriers need to buy spectrum in 20 megahertz chunks in a market to support the amount of traffic traveling on their advanced networks. A 30 megahertz reserve will therefore only help T-Mobile or Sprint, not both. With AT&T and Verizon likely being able to purchase 20 megahertz blocks of non-reserved spectrum, the auction may end up benefiting just three carriers. The FCC and the Justice Department, when it blocked AT&T’s purchase of T-Mobile in 2011, said it takes at least four companies to keep the wireless industry minimally competitive.
The smaller carriers won’t be able to match AT&T’s and Verizon’s buying power for the remaining spectrum, analysts predict.
“We have had a strong commitment to having four-firm competition, which is why we have done things like keeping T-Mobile and Sprint from merging,” Feld said in an interview. “But these [auction] rules actually support just three-firm competition, not four. Why?”
The Justice Department, in an FCC filing last month, lobbied the FCC to set aside more spectrum for small carriers. The FCC should “give considerable weight in determining the amount of spectrum included in the reserve to protecting and promoting competition,” wrote William Baer, assistant attorney general for the department’s Antitrust Division.
The Justice Department also said it is concerned that AT&T and Verizon will buy up spectrum even if it has no intention of using it just to keep it out of the hands of Sprint and T-Mobile, and reduce competition.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler defended the reserve last month, calling it “a revolutionary decision” that the agency has never before committed to.
“The important thing is that it exists,” Wheeler said. “That there exists, for the first time, a set aside, a reserve, to make sure that there is the capacity for a quality of competition among wireless carriers. That’s the key point.”
In the end, the question of how large a reserve there should be will become moot if the FCC can convince a large number of broadcasters to sell their airwaves, especially in the largest markets, said Reed Hundt, FCC chairman in the Clinton administration. He believes more than 70 megahertz will be available.
As much as 120 megahertz could go up for sale, he said, which will give T-Mobile and Sprint the opportunity to buy more spectrum. With that much spectrum on the market, AT&T and Verizon likely will find it hard to buy it all up, Hundt said in an interview.
“There are a number ways the FCC can get to that number,” he said “At that point, the problem disappears.”
This story was co-published with TIME.
It’s speed dating season for presidential campaign contributors.
More than 1,000 donors — including some of the nation’s most prominent political benefactors — are hedging their bets by spreading contributions among multiple White House hopefuls, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of new campaign finance disclosures and interviews with top fundraisers.
Most double-donors have divided their loyalties among the 2016 presidential race’s legion of Republicans — a field 15 candidates strong and still growing.
Meanwhile, a few liberal contributors are backing both Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and one of her four primary challengers. A handful are even donating to Democrats and Republicans, the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis of contributions for the three months ending June 30 indicates.
Equally notable as most presidential candidates on Wednesday filed their first campaign cash disclosures: About half of the nation’s top 100 political donors during the past six years — as identified by the Center for Responsive Politics — haven’t yet donated to any of them, suggesting they haven’t settled on a favorite as yet.
Super contributors still keeping their checkbooks closed when presidential candidates come calling include the likes of conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, as well as hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, TD Ameritrade founder J. Joe Ricketts and coal executive Joe Craft.
These megadonors are not only capable of helping presidential candidates’ own committees with modest contributions, but can also pour millions of dollars into super PACs and outside groups supporting their chosen candidates.
Such giving — legal thanks largely to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision five years ago in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission— can almost single-handedly shift the contours of a presidential race.
So far, the amounts volunteered by outside groups, like super PACs and nonprofits — at least on the Republican side — have dwarfed amounts raised by candidate committees.
Donations to outside groups are unlimited while a contribution to a candidate is capped at $2,700 per election, creating an even greater incentive for campaigns to lock in wealthy activists’ support.
“People are still on the sidelines,” confirmed Gaylord Hughey, a longtime Republican donor and fundraiser in east Texas who is currently raising money for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
The nation’s top 100 political donors reflect that: Twenty-four of them have invested early money in any GOP presidential candidates, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis.
Of them, 10 have financially supported more than one.
Robert McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans, has even donated to three: Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida.
Meanwhile, about two dozen of the 100 have already donated to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
They include Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, philanthropist Alida Rockefeller Messinger, Texas trial lawyer Amber Mostyn and entertainment mogul Haim Saban.
One — David desJardins, a software engineer who was an early Google employee — has donated to Democrat Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor running against Clinton.
So many choices
Donors spreading wealth to multiple candidates offer varying reasons for their approach to Election 2016.
Take New York City venture capitalist Ken Abramowitz, a staunch Mitt Romney supporter in 2012 who’s already contributed to six Republican candidates this election cycle — Bush, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Rubio, Cruz, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
“I’m right now in the learning phase and I’m trying to learn about the candidates, learn about their thinking, their capabilities of being president,” he said.
Abramowitz said his contributions were all made so he could attend events with the candidates, as he tries to gauge where they fall on issues he cares about: growing the economy, and protecting both the country and “the culture of America.” He mentally grades them on those issues.
“Eventually, I can’t speak for everyone else, but I’ll just guess, we’ll all find one or two candidates that we, so to speak, fall in love with,” Abramowitz said. “A very small minority of people will fall in love at this early stage.”
Diet company founder Jenny Craig of California has fattened the campaign accounts of Bush, Rubio and Cruz.
Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam Adelson, donated to Graham as well as a fundraising committee benefiting Rubio’s U.S. Senate campaign, which Rubio converted into a presidential campaign.
Dallas investment banker-turned-alcohol distributor Sheldon Stein showered Bush, Cruz, Perry and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania with thousands of dollars.
And former World Wrestling Entertainment executive and also-ran U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon of Connecticut split donations between Bush and Fiorina. "She has not formally endorsed any one candidate at this time," said Kate Duffy, a McMahon spokeswoman.
Mica Mosbacher, a Texas fundraiser for Cruz, said in an e-mail that she knows contributors who have donated to multiple candidates and also has talked to some “fence sitters,” though she said Cruz often wins over donors when he talks to them in person.
“Others have said to me that they committed to someone else but Ted is their number two choice so his message is resonating,” she wrote. “And it’s still early.”
More than 50 donors crossed party lines when contributing to multiple presidential candidates.
Nily Falic, a pro-Israel businesswoman from Florida whose family made its millions running duty-free stores, also straddled party lines, donating to Clinton, Rubio and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The Falics also helped bankroll the recent re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Kevin O’Connor, who oversees governmental and political affairs for the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the union has so far contributed to Bush, Clinton, O’Malley and former Virginia U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat. The union also plans to send a check to another Democrat in Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, he said.
“We’re just kind of, if you will, helping our friends out,” he said, citing the union’s positive relationships with all those candidates during their previous stints in office. “There are a number of people in the race that have earned our respect and, to some extent, our support financially, and that’s reflected in what we’re doing in these donations.”
The union will go through its endorsement process and make a decision on its formal endorsement sometime between August and October, he said.
Strictly on the Democratic side, Hollywood honcho David Geffen wrote checks to Clinton and Sanders.
Generating big money early
There are 480 days until Election Day 2016 rolls around, but it doesn’t feel that way on the presidential fundraising circuit.
Before campaign fundraising books closed on June 30, the candidates sent out dozens of desperate fundraising emails with subject lines like “Friend, this is it” and “Last Chance!”
Their goal: to post the highest possible fundraising number for the quarter, the first time most of them were required to file a campaign disclosure report.
The reports, which were due by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, show some clear winners and losers.
Clinton posted by far the biggest haul of hard money— $47.5 million. She also spent the largest amount, $18.7 million, though she still had the most cash on hand, with $28.9 million.
Celebrities dotted her disclosure, from Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (employer: self-employed; occupation: entrepreneur) to actors Ben Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio, who all gave the maximum $2,700 allowed toward the primary.
Sanders, a self-described social Democrat, came in second in the cash race with about $15.2 million. Strikingly, more than three-quarters of Sanders’ contributions this quarter came from small-dollar donors who gave $200 or less, compared to about 17 percent of Clinton’s.
Bush came third, with $11.4 million, though the super PAC supporting him has reportedly raised more than $100 million to support his candidacy. Prominent donors to his campaign include hedge fund titan Daniel Loeb and oil and gas billionaire Trevor Rees-Jones. Bush also received at least 56 contributions totaling nearly $150,000 from people who listed investment banking giant Goldman Sachs as their employer.
He was followed by Cruz, with $10 million.
But the campaign committee hauls of Bush and Cruz — and those of several other Republican candidates — were dwarfed by fundraising totals for nominally independent political committees supporting them.
At least five Republican candidates — Fiorina, Bush, Rubio, Perry and Cruz — are backed by super PACs and nonprofits that have reportedly raised millions more than the campaigns themselves.
The outside groups are already picking up the tab for ads and organizing costs in early states. Super PACs aren’t required to reveal their finances until July 31, while nonprofit organizations that support candidates are generally allowed to keep their donors secret.
Candidates technically are not permitted to coordinate with outside groups such as super PACs, although many are pushing the boundaries.
For instance, before officially announcing his candidacy last month, Bush fundraised for Right to Rise, the super PAC supporting him, and it will engage in core functions such as campaign advertising.
Clinton is working directly with Correct the Record, a super PAC that provides it with opposition research but does not advertise. A super PAC supporting Fiorina has publicized her endorsements and answered questions from the press.
“There will be a lot more money spent by super PACs than by the campaigns” this time, said Charlie Black, a longtime Republican lobbyist and fundraiser who is currently neutral in the primary.
“Hard money” raised directly by campaigns does have its advantages despite federal laws limiting how much of it candidates may raise.
The candidates pay lower rates for television ad time, for instance, and have more control over how money is spent.
“If I were running a campaign, I would hate that I can’t control my own campaign, my own message,” Black said.
From April 1 to June 30, presidential candidates collectively reported raising more than $120 million through their campaigns, even though several of them didn’t formally announce until a few weeks ago.
Still, that’s only a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars the super PACs and nonprofits supporting them have so far voluntarily disclosed raising — and some of those groups have not yet said how much money they’ve taken in.
Donors writing multimillion-dollar checks to those outside groups, though, may be dancing with more than one date.
Hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer is one example.
That’s a pretty substantial investment in Cruz. Campaign finance filings yesterday, though, show he and his family also contributed to Fiorina.
This story was co-published with TIME.
Harsh and unequal treatment of minors in the juvenile justice system came under scrutiny Wednesday during a congressional hearing on incarceration in America.
The hearing before the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform took place as bipartisan momentum builds to negotiate sentencing reforms and other measures aimed at creating a fairer, smarter, more cost-effective criminal-justice system. The session took place a day after President Obama delivered a speech encouraging Congress to pursue reforms rolling back mass incarceration for low-level offenses. The president also urged changes to address a so-called school-to-prison pipeline affecting mostly lower-income and struggling communities.
“If you are a parent, you know that there are times where boys and girls are going to act out in school. And the question is: Are we letting principals and parents deal with one set of kids and we call the police on another set of kids? That's not the right thing to do,” Obama said during a speech Tuesday before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s annual convention in Philadelphia.
At the hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday, lawmakers heard testimony from Liz Ryan, a long-time juvenile justice reform advocate who recently founded the Youth First! Initiative. The Washington, D.C.-based group wants to end the jailing of minors for lower-level offenses and roll back laws requiring 16-year-olds to be tried as adults.
Ryan started her testimony by recounting the tragic jailing—and eventual suicide—of 16-year-old Kaylief Browder, an African-American boy from the Bronx who was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack in 2010. He was automatically charged as an adult under New York State law. Browder’s family could not afford $3,000 in bail, so he was held at New York City’s Rikers Island pending trial. He was assigned a public defender, yet ended up languishing in the notorious jail for three years of harrowing abuse—before he was even called to trial.
“For a year during his stay at Rikers, he was placed in solitary confinement,” Ryan said. In 2013, charges were dropped against Browder, and he was released. He committed suicide last month.
“Like Kalief Browder, who was detained for taking a backpack,” Ryan told lawmakers, “most youth who are detained or incarcerated in the justice system do not pose a serious threat to public safety.”
In fact, she testified, “according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Justice, three quarters of the youth incarcerated in the juvenile justice system are locked up for offenses that pose little to no threat to public safety such as probation violations, status offenses [like running away and truancy], property and public order offenses, and drug offenses.”
Ryan told lawmakers that only one in four youth in juvenile prisons and other out-of-home confinement had committed any of the crimes considered the most serious and violent, such as aggravated assault, robbery, rape or homicide.
“The abuse of youth in these facilities,” Ryan added, “is well documented in news reports, lawsuits, studies and from incarcerated youth themselves.”
Treatment in isolation, with family ties severed, is often ineffective, Ryan added, and kids in jails are exposed to serious criminal behavior and end up committing more offenses later in life. Research shows that black and Latino kids are arrested and prosecuted in greater proportion than white peers accused of similar offenses, and are diverted from jail less often than white kids.
Lawmakers asked at what point during criminal-justice procedures—during arrests or in court—did evidence of bias appear to be strongest. “There are disparities in every step of the process,” Ryan replied.
“Simply put,” she said, “we have two justice systems: One for white people with means, and another for people of color who do not.”
This year, the Center for Public Integrity analyzed national education data showing that black, Latino and special needs students across the country are disproportionately referred to law enforcement agencies from their schools, mostly for minor infractions.
Additional data obtained from a sampling of local police departments in Virginia—which led other states in referrals—showed that black students are disproportionately arrested at school and sent to court mostly for allegations of disorderly conduct and simple assault, including middle-school fights.
Last fall, as the Center investigation recounted, Kayleb Moon-Robinson, a sixth grader diagnosed as autistic, was charged with disorderly conduct for kicking a trash can at his Lynchburg, Va., middle school. He was later arrested and charged again for felony assault on a police officer after he struggled to break free from the officer; the officer had grabbed Kayleb after the 11-year-old walked out of class without permission and was wandering the hall.
Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, has asked members of his cabinet to investigate referrals of students to law enforcement at schools in his state and examine possible reforms to cut the numbers.
In 2014, another Center investigation revealed that accused Tennessee truants had been shackled and jailed after appearing in juvenile court with no legal defense to represent them.
A number of the jailed students had mental-health and learning problems that had not been diagnosed or addressed with appropriate programs inside schools. At a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this year, a lawyer who later represented some of these Tennessee students testified that the minors had been jailed in violation of requirements states must follow to obtain federal funds for juvenile-justice programs.
This story was co-published with PRI.
Air Force One is Jeb Bush's dream ride.
In the meantime, he's content bolstering his tech cred — and needling Democratic presidential rival and "sharing economy" skeptic Hillary Clinton — by publicly embracing Uber.
Bush's actions go beyond a much-ballyhooed Uber hailing stunt he performed Thursday. The former Florida governor's presidential campaign booked 67 Uber rides from the controversial transportation booking company that cost nearly $1,400, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of newly released campaign spending records covering activity through June 30.
Fellow Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul even did Bush a few bucks better, with his campaign reporting $1,428 worth of Uber trips through June.
Clinton's campaign, in contrast, spent just $219 on four Uber rides, disclosures show. The campaigns of fellow Democratic candidates — Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley — didn't spent a dime on Uber, opting for more traditional transportation modes.
Clinton on Monday swiped at the lightly regulated "sharing" industry that includes Uber and short-term travel rental firm Airbnb, saying its growth is "raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future."
Her warnings come as a California judge on Wednesday recommended that Uber be fined $7.3 million and suspended from operating in the state for violating laws. Uber, which in recent months has aggressively lobbied Capitol Hill and statehouses nationwide for favorable rules and regulations, has also endured negativeattention over how safe its service really is.
Bush and Paul, for their parts, have touted Uber as a wildly innovative company that provides a low-cost, reliable service and sparks job opportunities.
The presidential candidate spending on Uber trips doesn't amount to much when cast against the tens of millions of dollars that the 20 major Republican and Democratic presidential candidates have already collectively spent on an election that's more than 15 months away.
But it indicates that some presidential campaigns are readily embracing new technologies — regardless of how tried and tested they are — that might make their sprawling operations run more efficiently.
Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign spent $1,168, according to federal filings. Sen. Marco Rubio's campaign spent $626. Even Donald Trump's operation spent $280 on Uber despite its candidate's penchant for private jets and limousines.
While Republican presidential candidates are more Uber-friendly than their Democratic presidential counterparts, liberal political interests in general are more likely to be Uber super users, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal campaign spending.
Consider that no political committee spent more on Uber rides during 2013 and 2014 — nearly $17,000 — than that of Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis.
Moore was closely followed by Emily's List, a political committee that advocates for Democratic women who support abortion rights, including Clinton.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democratic National Committee and American Bridge 21st Century, a liberal super PAC, also spent more than most.
This story was co-published with the Huffington Post.
Washington’s notorious revolving door was in full swing again last week as the health insurance industry snagged another top federal official to help it get what it wants out of lawmakers and regulators.
America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s biggest lobbying and PR group, announced Wednesday that its new president, starting next month, will be none other than Marilyn Tavenner, who served as the chief administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services from 2013 until she stepped down in February.
Tavenner’s appointment comes just a few months after the industry recruited former Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, a Pennsylvania Democrat, to head its newest front group, the Better Medicare Alliance.
These two hires tell us all we need to know about where insurance companies see their pot of gold in the not-too-distant future. Some insurers, in fact, have already discovered that taxpayer-supplied pot of gold and want to make doubly sure that nobody in Washington dares take it away.
The pot of gold is the Medicare Advantage program, which over the past several years has become an increasingly important revenue stream for the country’s insurers, especially the big for-profit corporations. As I wrote last week, one of the main reasons behind the recently announced consolidation in the insurance industry—Aetna offering $37 billion for Humana and Anthem bidding $54 billion for Cigna—is the desire of the acquiring companies to boost their presence in the privately-run Medicare business.
I’ll have to admit, the Tavenner announcement caught me a little off guard. But after thinking about it for a couple of minutes, I realized it made perfect sense. It probably has been in the works for months, maybe even before she left CMS or at least since May, when AHIP’s longtime CEO, Karen Ignagni, said she was leaving to become CEO of EmblemHealth, a New York insurance company.
This Washington version of musical chairs should have been clear from the way lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle warmed up to Tavenner when President Obama nominated her to lead CMS, which oversees a budget that is inching toward a trillion dollars a year. The Senate vote to confirm Tavenner on May 15, 2013 was 91-7, an indication that AHIP had told its friends on Capitol Hill that insurers liked her.
A big chunk of that federal money is now flowing through the insurance industry, so much so that many companies have become dependent on it to sustain their profits. The efforts by some of those companies to recruit Medicare eligible Americans into their privately operated (but publicly financed) Medicare Advantage programs have been wildly successful. As many as one in three of the country’s senior (65 and older) and disabled citizens are now enrolled in a private plan.
By far the largest Medicare Advantage insurers are UnitedHealthcare, Humana, Kaiser Permanente and Aetna. More than half of all the 16.6 million Medicare Advantage enrollees as of Dec. 1 last year were in plans administered by one of those four companies, all but Kaiser of which are investor-owned. Just two companies—UnitedHealthcare and Humana—controlled 37 percent of the market. If the Aetna-Humana deal is approved by regulators, at least 44 percent of the market will be controlled by two companies.
While Humana has operated private Medicare plans for more than two decades, its competitors are relatively new to the business. I can recall my former CEO at Cigna, Ed Hanway, turning his nose up at Medicare money as recently as the mid-2000s. He told investors he didn’t see the government as a reliable partner because of the changes that can occur in the Medicare Advantage program’s funding, depending on who is in the White House. CEOs’ attitudes began to change, however, as they watched Humana’s bottom line swell along with its Medicare membership.
Aetna’s CEO Mark Bertolini has even startled some investors by predicting both the death of health insurers are we know them and the growing involvement of government in health care—and saying he’s cool with that. Indeed, when he and Humana CEO Bruce D. Broussard announced their companies’ plans to become one, they said that 56 percent of the combined company’s revenues will come from government-related business—Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE, which provides health benefits to military personnel. If the Anthem-Cigna deal goes through, that combined company will also have a hefty percentage of revenues coming from the government.
It was often said that one of the reasons Ignagni had such a successful tenure at AHIP was her ability to see where the puck was going—in other words, to focus more on where health care was heading than where it was at the moment. By selecting Tavenner as her successor, it seems as if she taught her board well. I’m certain that at the top of Tavenner’s new job description is the objective of keeping the government money tap flowing.
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.
Democrats Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Kamala Harris of California did something last week that no other non-incumbent U.S. Senate candidates did: They electronically filed copies of their campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission.
In a throwback to the age of typewriters and snail mail, Senate candidate must still, by law, submit their official campaign finance reports on paper.
A bipartisan bill — known as the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act— would force Senate candidates to file digitally, just as presidential candidates, U.S. House candidates and political action committees have done for nearly a generation.
Paper campaign finance records are more difficult to analyze and aren’t readily available to the public for days after being filed. Digital records are publicly accessible and easily searchable from the moment they’re submitted to FEC officials.
But until the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act bill (or one like) is adopted, Senate candidates who opt to e-file remain a rarity — even as campaigns have made digital tools, from social media such as Facebook and Snapchat to complex analytics software, cornerstones of their political efforts.
“For the most part, people aren’t going to go above and beyond what they have to do by law,” said Adam Smith, the communications director of the advocacy group Every Voice, which supports e-filing. “It makes absolutely no sense that the Senate doesn’t file electronically.”
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has, in the past, been blamed for blocking the e-filing legislation, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act has some degree of bipartisan support, and one-fifth of incumbent senators also voluntarily file copies of these reports electronically, according to a review of filings by the Center for Public Integrity.
As of today, 20 incumbent senators had joined Feingold and Harris in e-filing copies of their most recent campaign finance reports or said they were in the process of doing so. That number has increased in recent years, although it has barely budged since last year.
Documents covering the second quarter of 2015 were required to be submitted to government regulators last week — with a postmark deadline of Wednesday.
The e-filing senators were:
For his part, Feingold — who championed campaign finance reform during his previous time in the Senate and co-sponsored the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — told the Center for Public Integrity that electronic filing of campaign finance reports is “long overdue.”
“Electronic filing makes our electoral system more transparent, saves taxpayers $500,000 per year and just makes common sense,” Feingold said in an emailed statement. “Both the House and the President now file electronically, and it’s time the Senate joined them.”
That sentiment was echoed by Harris campaign spokesman Nathan Click.
“With so many Californians disillusioned by the state of political discourse and the presence of big money in our political system, it’s one small way to show voters what is fueling our campaign,” Click said.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., paper filings for only 59 of the current 100 senators had been processed and made available for public viewing as of this morning.
Paperwork for the rest is expected to be processed within about a week — although the data-entry work to fully process and make public all the transactions contained in the filings will take several additional weeks to complete.
The Center for Public Integrity today filed a federal lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission — an agency that exists to enforce and administer the nation’s campaign finance laws — for failing to release documents requested last year under the Freedom of Information Act.
Last August, Center for Public Integrity senior political reporter Dave Levinthal filed a FOIA request asking the FEC to provide “any and all scheduling documents and/or records” for the FEC’s six commissioners covering a period from Oct. 21, 2013, to Aug. 14, 2014.
The request specifically asked for “calendars, schedules, emails and itineraries that list or account for commissioners’ meetings, whereabouts or travels when conducting government business or traveling to/from engagements or duties involving government business.”
FEC officials last year indicated to the Center for Public Integrity that they’d release the requested documents before 2015 began.
But it wasn’t until May 19, 2015, that the FEC produced an initial “interim response” to the Center for Public Integrity’s original request. This interim response included the office schedule of just one of the six FEC commissioners — current FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel, who in 2014 served as the agency’s vice chairwoman.
Office schedules or related communications for commissioners Lee Goodman, Caroline Hunter, Matthew Petersen, Steven Walther and Ellen Weintraub were not included, and to date, have not been released. The FEC has not explained why, although it has confirmed that it possesses additional documents responsive to the Center for Public Integrity's FOIA request.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to file a lawsuit to obtain what should be publicly available information,” said Deputy Executive Editor John Dunbar, who oversees the Center for Public Integrity’s political coverage. “But we could see no other option.”
The Center for Public Integrity is one of the country's oldest and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organizations and winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.
Republican John Kasich has held many political titles, and he hopes that president of the United States will be his next.
Supporters tout his conservative credentials and executive experience in the Buckeye State — one of the most hotly contested swing states in recent presidential elections.
Here’s more about Kasich’s political and financial background:
Sources: Center for Public Integrity reporting, as well as the Cincinnati Enquirer, Center for Responsive Politics, Federal Election Commission, Kantar Media/CMAG, Wikipedia.
Image sources: Jim Cole/AP, Skip Peterson/AP, Jim Cole/AP
Shining a light on an untold crisis
A superb piece of storytelling — from field reporting by Will Fitzgibbon and Eleanor Bell— to development and execution by Chris Zubak-Skees on Kimberley Porteous’ digital team — is having great impact on our sites and across our partners and the industry.
“Fatal Extraction” the catchily named and compelling story of the troubling legacy of Australian, not Chinese, mining investment in several African countries, looks like it will be our most-read story from the Center and ICIJ team this year. It also marks an important step in our innovation on storytelling methods and bringing together the capabilities of the ICIJ network and Public Integrity. There are some important lessons in it for ways to tell longer stories: long-form journalism by other means. More pieces in the series here.
Please try the new format and we would welcome your feedback.
A lot comes together in this piece.
Will was a Graeme Wood fellow, supported by our former board member and Australian activist investor.
Eleanor is an award-winning video journalist and this is a good example of our video strategy of focusing on set pieces which bring stories to life and allow the voices of the characters to tell their own stories in a way we know people like to consume.
Kimberley, our chief digital officer, has personally steered the entire project through production, categorizing it as our first “6” in the Richter-like scale she has coined for projects of high complexity. Hamish Boland-Rudder delivered the ICIJ package online, intern Suzy Gashi did heavy-lifting on graphics and video. Cecile Schillis-Gallego, shortly to move to Paris for the ICIJ, did the data work and editor Martha Hamilton was also the story editor. It couldn’t have happened without fact checking leader Peter Smith and our lawyer Mike Rothberg.
The ICIJ, led by Gerard Ryle, has 13 partners in Africa publishing the story which stands to be a great way to break in to that market and expand our engagement with journalists and audiences there.
Speed-dating donors and Uber-loving candidates
Money and politics has always been and will remain at the heart of the Center. Much of the political team stayed into the small hours overnight on July 15 to deliver a package on the presidential candidates’ first disclosures. It had a catchy intro for sure with "It’s speed dating season for presidential campaign contributors” but the essence of course is in the data and analysis delivered by all those on the byline on that story, Carrie Levine, Michael Beckel, Ben Wieder, Dave Levinthal and Alexander Cohen.
Here is a sample of the data which pretty obviously sets out the stall behind Hillary Clinton and the rest.
This is the meat and drink of the Center: timely, fast and beautifully illustrated in a competitive field.
On the subject of nice intros, Dave Levinthal had a cute one today on Jeb Bush and his enthusiasm for Uber, something he shares with Rand Paul: "Air Force One is Jeb Bush's dream ride. In the meantime, he's content bolstering his tech cred — and needling Democratic presidential rival and "sharing economy" skeptic Hillary Clinton — by publicly embracing Uber.”
Gordon Witkin also calls out Alexander Cohen and Jeff Smith for their analysis of how members of a key group in Senate which arbitrates on defense spending just happen to be in the pocket of defense companies.
Also from the National Security beat, Doug Birch used the Vienna byline on his way to another story to put us on point for an analysis of the Iran nuclear deal.
I’m also a little late in mentioning the clever States piece by Liz Essley Whyte, who joined us on staff this week after a fellowship, on the marijuana promoters backing law changes to help their own industry, learning fast.
What we’re reading
National Security editor Jeff Smith and I were talking this week about the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in the Bosnian war when he and I were in somewhat different places for previous employers. I thought this take in Foreign Policy was good on the consequences and our Advisory Council member and my former CNN colleague Christiane Amanpour remembered it here.
Perry’s campaign raised $1.14 million between the former Texas governor’s June 4 announcement and the end of June — about 1/10th of what fellow Republican Jeb Bush reported raising in about half that time.
Federal records show Warren hasn’t even donated to Perry’s campaign.
But Warren is helping Perry in another, major way — and galloping through a legal minefield to do it.
The Dallas billionaire ploughed $6 million into a coalition of super PACs — such groups may raise unlimited amounts of money — that are supporting Perry’s bid.
Warren’s contribution illustrates how closely some presidential campaigns and advisers are working with the theoretically “independent” groups that exist to promote their candidate of choice.
Consider that today, the pro-Perry Opportunity and Freedom PAC super PAC is holding a forum at a Washington, D.C. hotel to discuss “the role of conservatives in leading America to a new era of prosperity.”
The roundtable discussion will be followed by remarks from a special guest — none other than Perry, the candidate it’s backing.
While candidates and their campaigns are not permitted to coordinate directly with super PACs, the legal meaning of “coordination” is both ill-defined and technical.
Presidential candidates are exploiting squishy coordination regulations to capitalize on supportive groups with unlimited fundraising potential. For example, Bush, along with other presidential candidates including Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina and Scott Walker, have this year joined Perry in forging intimate relationships with super PACs supporting their political ambitions.
The situation leaves room, in other words, for wealthy political benefactors like Warren to play significant roles in the operations of presidential campaigns and super PACs alike.
Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer at law firm Akerman LLP, who has advised many campaigns, said Warren’s activities look “problematic,” if short of illegal.
“If they use extreme caution, it is possible for someone involved in the campaign to make a contribution to the associated super PAC. They just can’t discuss … plans, programs, activities and needs,” Kappel said.
“Even though he has a title with the campaign, if the campaign keeps him out of strategic planning and other decision making with regards to spending money, I think they’re going to be OK,” said Kenneth Gross, head of the political law practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.
Warren declined to be interviewed, and Jeff Miller, Perry’s campaign manager, requested a reporter email him and then did not respond.
But Austin Barbour, senior adviser to the three related pro-Perry super PACs at the receiving end of Warren’s contributions, said he understands the federal rules restricting coordination between candidate committees and super PACs.
Barbour has taken steps, he said, to ensure no one crosses into verboten territory.
“I am not going to put … myself, him, or the campaign in a position like that,” said Barbour, an experienced political fundraiser who raised money for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the 2012 election cycle. “Absolutely not.”
Barbour said the super PAC specifically warned Warren about the coordination rules, to make sure he understood he couldn’t discuss strategy with the campaign.
Warren was not deeply immersed in strategic decisions for either the campaign or the super PAC, Barbour added.
Barbour, however, has previously said he and Perry’s allies created multiple super PACs in the first place because high-dollar donors want to have more of a voice in the individual groups’ activities.
“Every donor is going to have specific ideas about how they want us to operate but none of them are going to get into the minutiae,” Barbour said, adding that he and Warren have “probably talked two or three times ” this year.
Warren, Barbour told the Center for Public Integrity, made his super PAC contributions in three payments.
Two payments arrived in $700,000 and $300,000 increments to the Opportunity and Freedom PAC — the dates of which he could not immediately recall — and a subsequent $5 million contribution to offshoot Opportunity and Freedom PAC I arrived in late June. The latter contribution would have come after Perry, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2012, announced his 2016 bid.
The three super PACs supporting Perry, which are related to each other and named variations on Opportunity and Freedom PAC, reportedly raised a combined $16.8 million — official filings are due to federal regulators by July 31.
More than a third of the super PAC money raised came from Warren, who’s also connected to Perry in another realm: business.
When Perry left the Texas governor’s mansion in January, he joined the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the company Warren leads as chairman and chief executive.
Another $5 million came from Dallas billionaire Darwin Deason and $4 million from a donor who has not been identified.
Opportunity and Freedom PAC doesn’t hide its Perry connections. Its co-chairmen, Ray Sullivan and Mike Toomey, are former Perry chiefs of staff.
This story was co-published with the Texas Tribune.
High school graduation rates are at a historic high and health insurance coverage for kids has improved. But the percentage of American children living in high-poverty neighborhoods is the highest since 1990, according to the 2015 “Kids Count” annual report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The Foundation, which is devoted to improving conditions for children, found that 1.7 million additional children are living in lower-income working families than during the midst of the 2008-2010 Great Recession. Much of the latest data analyzed in the report, state by state, is from 2013.
The group’s report also says that in 1990 about 11 percent of children lived in concentrated poverty areas; that percentage dropped to 9 percent in 2000, but rose again to 14 percent in 2013, an increase that quickened with the recession.
“After numerous years of depressing economic news, many positive trends signal that the economy is finally recovering from the deep recession,” says the report, which was released on Tuesday. “Nonetheless, there are warning signs that the recovery may be leaving the lowest-income families behind, disproportionately affecting workers of color and their children.”
“When very young children experience poverty,” the report adds, “particularly if that poverty is deep and persistent, they are at high risk of encountering difficulties later in life.”
Researchers also found a notable regional shift among states rated as best in overall ranking for children. Minnesota, for example, ranked first in the overall measurement followed by New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
“Minnesota’s number one ranking marks the first time in nearly a decade that a New England state did not hold the top spot for child well-being in our report,” according to the foundation. “The three lowest-ranked states were Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi.”
In 2012, the report notes, national data showed that 81 percent of high school students graduated on time, which is an “all-time high”; that was the latest year of data available for the graduation rate. More children are attending preschool today than 10 years ago, but the most recent data showed a slight drop in enrollment.
And even though the country experienced a decline in employer-sponsored health insurance coverage during a seven-year stretch, more children had medical coverage in 2013 than before the Great Recession. Without specifically identifying programs, the report attributed an increase in coverage to “public health insurance” policies that have grown over the last decade.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation has been a supporter of the Center for Public Integrity.
An obscure facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory for nine years provided vital scientific data about a critical gas used in America’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, until it was shuttered four years ago due to a raft of safety problems that have stubbornly persisted.
The Energy Department, which oversees and finances the lab’s work, has poured tens of millions of dollars into fixing the problems, but so far, the expenditures haven’t borne much fruit. The facility – known as the Weapons Engineering Tritium Facility – is “vital” to the lab’s national security mission, but it remains closed, the department’s inspector general said in a report released July 20.
In fact, Los Alamos managers have been unable – after seven years of effort – even to prepare a sound analysis of the site’s safety hazards and the steps being taken to ensure that the radioactive gas at issue does not leak or explode and harm either workers or those living nearby, according to the DOE report.
DOE Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman said in the report that poor hazard analysis has been a recurrent problem at the lab, and said weaknesses in other projects have remained unfixed from one annual evaluation to the next. The lab, he wrote, “lacked sufficient qualified staff to resolve certain safety issues.”
The purpose of the tritium facility is to refine, mix and analyze that high-hazard gas, which is used in small amounts to boost a nuclear bomb’s pulverizing force. Those who worked at the facility struggled to ensure that monitoring equipment accurately tracked oxygen levels, to avert any chance of a sudden combustion during processing, according to the report. The lab’s own assessments, dating back to 2007, warned that the oxygen monitoring system in the building was unreliable. Energy Department staff in April 2013 cited the oxygen monitoring as one of 450 issues that needed to be addressed there.
Although the lab fixed the oxygen monitoring system last year, and so far has spent $17 million to prepare a comprehensive safety plan, it hasn’t completed the task. “There had been higher safety-related priorities” at the lab, Energy Department staff told auditors.
Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, a nonprofit organization that closely monitors the lab, said the report suggests the lab’s managing contractor, Los Alamos National Security LLC – or LANS – a Bechtel-led consortium of private contractors and the University of California, has been nonchalant about safety issues.
“It’s obvious when you read this report that [preparing a] documented safety analysis, which is the sole way that DOE manages the safety of nuclear facilities, is seen by LANS as a kind of overhead or paperwork that can be repeatedly kicked down the road, under-resourced and nixed in some political sense,” Mello said.
The Inspector General’s report noted that similar safety problems have blocked operations at a separate lab facility that produces plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs. Lab leadership halted operations at that facility two years ago. Revisions to the safety analysis at the Plutonium Facility have dragged on for six years and cost nearly $10 million so far.
In all, the report said, Los Alamos lab officials failed to show they had addressed 11 percent of the 98 high-hazard concerns identified by Energy Department inspectors between January 2010 and February 2014.
Instead of acting on a November 2011 DOE directive that said the lab should review whether its training of workers who handle hazardous nuclear materials was effective, managers decided the task would be “moved out a ways,” according to the report. But they never revisited it, the report added. Similarly, the lab hadn’t completed more than a third of the 36 lower-risk directives from the department over the same four-year span.
The report said lab officials told the inspectors that the lab needs more money to fix its safety deficiencies. But Mello questioned whether giving the lab more money would change its commitment to safety. Under LANS’ contract with Energy Department, it is paid $2.2 billion annually for operating the lab and is eligible for bonuses of more than $60 million a year, according to Department of Energy records.
At Los Alamos, “safety is considered a pain in the ass, not a part of the mission,” Mello said.
A lab spokesman did not respond to messages seeking comments about the report. But the lab has published statements saying that safety is its first priority. In thick, bold letters, the lab’s website says, “We integrate safety, security, and environmental concerns into every step of our work.”
Frank Klotz, the Energy Department’s undersecretary for the National Nuclear Security Administration, said in a written response to the Inspector General that he generally agreed with Friedman’s conclusions that LANS needs to prioritize safety and learn from its past mistakes.
“Actions are already underway to address the issues,” Klotz wrote.
Klotz wrote that he expects the plutonium facility to resume full activities by late 2016, and hopes the Weapons Engineering Tritium Facility will restart its work by the end of this year.
This story was co-published with PRI.
Like her television career, Sarah Palin’s political action committee — once a veritable money machine fueling the former Republican vice presidential nominee’s ambitions — has entered the doldrums.
SarahPAC has this year depleted much of its once prodigious cash reserve, spending about a quarter-million dollars more than it raised, new filings with the Federal Election Commission indicate.
SarahPAC’s financial malaise coincides with Palin’s own star power dimming: Fox News in June declined to renew Palin’s contract as a commentator, and the Sarah Palin Channel, a subscription-based online TV feed Palin launched in 2014, is goingdark this week.
While SarahPAC’s $562,000 cash-on-hand figure is better than what most political committees could boast, it’s the PAC’s lowest total since mid-2009, the year Palin founded the operation. Since late 2009, SarahPAC has almost always carried more than $1 million on its books and never less than $800,000.
So where’d the money go?
Unlike many political action committees, very little of the $753,000 it spent from Jan. 1 to June 30 went directly to political candidates and committees.
Instead, SarahPAC’s top expenditures largely helped fortify its own existence — or help Palin personally.
Federal rules governing spending by “leadership PACs” — committees run by current or former elected officials — are notoriously permissive, with both Democrats and Republicans regularly using the cash to fund lavish travel, pricey gifts or just about any other self-indulgent expense.
Top SarahPAC expenditures include:
SarahPAC spent $25,000 on candidate contributions during the first half of 2015 — less than 4 percent of its overall expenditures.
Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas; Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.; Raul Labrador, R-Idaho; and Ted Yoho, R-Fla., are among the 43 candidates to receive SarahPAC cash so far this year, with most getting $500 — the per-election federal limit is $2,700.
Palin’s PAC has never given more than a small fraction of its income away to Republicans it supports.
Its recent pitches to potential donors, however, suggest that a contributor’s cash will be used to “fight against the liberals like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders,” or “stop the illegal invasion,” or help “defund and investigate Planned Parenthood.”
“Congress can squash a bad Iran deal and it’s time to let them know how you feel!” reads a SarahPAC email sent to supporters on July 14. “Donate $15 so we can use our influence to stop this bad deal! … Donate now to crush this BAD IRAN DEAL!”
People identifying as retirees composed the majority of SarahPAC’s major donors — those giving more than $200 — during 2015, federal records show.
But major donors aren’t the driving force behind Sarah PAC: More than three-fourths of the money it raised from January to June came from people giving $200 or less.
A primary reason? Despite her PAC’s financial decline, Palin still commands a loyal following, particularly on social media.
An avid Facebook user, 4.4 million people have “liked” her page, where she regularly posts about SarahPAC.
“YOU are the success of SarahPAC!” Palin wrote her Facebook friends on June 29. “Thanks to your support, SarahPAC has grown to become one of the strongest forces within conservative politics. Together we are working hard to support and elect conservative leaders who will fight for what's right in America!”
Crawford, SarahPAC’s treasurer, did not immediately return requests for comment about the PAC’s fundraising. The PAC did not reply to a request to its media line.
This story was co-published with Slate.