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- 10/05/15--11:12: _Center for Public I...
- 10/05/15--12:31: _Journalism funders ...
- 10/06/15--19:22: _Center reporting on...
- 10/08/15--06:12: _Is pro-Bush super P...
- 10/07/15--10:25: _Recipe for journali...
- 10/08/15--08:51: _Corporations improv...
- 10/08/15--02:00: _6 things to know ab...
- 10/09/15--11:07: _Hillary Clinton dom...
- 10/09/15--02:00: _EPA draft plan woul...
- 10/09/15--08:13: _DOE says Congress i...
- 10/09/15--12:55: _Redistricting, Obam...
- 10/12/15--10:47: _Split-second flash ...
- 10/14/15--02:00: _Virginia moves forw...
- 10/15/15--05:01: _CPI, Al Jazeera Ame...
- 10/15/15--02:00: _Ad blitz tries to p...
- 10/16/15--01:16: _See how much the 20...
- 10/16/15--08:09: _Small-dollar donors...
- 10/19/15--08:00: _Investigative journ...
- 10/20/15--02:00: _Why Joe Trippi thin...
- 10/20/15--06:57: _Anger can be a moti...
- 10/05/15--11:12: Center for Public Integrity sues FEC for security study
- 10/05/15--12:31: Journalism funders look for impact
- “Presumptive renewal is not a good thing” said Ford Foundation program officer Barbara Raab. She talked strongly of grantees who assume they will get renewed and therefore either don’t pitch well or don’t understand why a foundation might have shifted its area of interest away from them – through no fault of the grantees. She urged grantees to “plan for the possibility that there is not going to be a renewal”.
- Some Foundations are starting to support for-profit news organizations, Gates Foundation and The Guardian developing country coverage for example. Lauren Pabst from the MacArthur Foundation said they wouldn’t fund a for-profit group but they would introduce a funded non-profit or project to a for-profit for a collaboration. Jennifer Preston of the Knight Foundation noted that Knight had funded a mobile content lab at The Guardian on the basis that the UK publisher had "demonstrated incredible capability and capacity for innovation and for change” and would share the findings from the mobile newsroom lab with the rest of the industry.
- Tom Glaisyer of the Democracy Fund talked about the trust grantors and grantees place in each other and the way that can become a partnership where DF recognizes: “If you get in the door it means you have a good idea. We have far more good ideas than we can possibly fund.” Then they need a frank and open conversation. "No one is ever the perfect grantee,” he said, so be open about your problems and hopes and performance of projects.
- Molly de Aguiar from the Dodge Foundation echoed that: “We can’t help you if you don’t know what the challenges are. I really appreciate and value it.”
- All of the panel shook their heads in horror at the idea they ever asked for influence or approval over journalism produced by their non-profit grantees. Barbara Raab urged grantees to be clear about those boundaries and not jeopardize their integrity: “You have much more to risk than the foundation has.”
- 10/06/15--19:22: Center reporting on judiciary and juveniles wins awards
- 10/08/15--06:12: Is pro-Bush super PAC obscuring spending?
- 10/08/15--02:00: 6 things to know about the 2015 elections
- 10/09/15--11:07: Hillary Clinton dominating presidential race’s TV ad war
- 10/09/15--02:00: EPA draft plan would perpetuate environmental racism, critics say
- 10/09/15--08:13: DOE says Congress is wasting funds on a South Carolina nuclear plant
- 10/12/15--10:47: Split-second flash of a gun still resonates 52 years later
- 10/14/15--02:00: Virginia moves forward on school discipline reforms
- 10/15/15--05:01: CPI, Al Jazeera America join forces on political coverage
- 10/15/15--02:00: Ad blitz tries to persuade Ohio voters to legalize marijuana
- 10/16/15--01:16: See how much the 2016 presidential candidates have raised so far
- 10/16/15--08:09: Small-dollar donors power insurgent candidates from both parties
- 10/19/15--08:00: Investigative journalism as a force for civil society
- 10/20/15--02:00: Why Joe Trippi thinks Bernie Sanders won’t win in 2016
- 10/20/15--06:57: Anger can be a motivation in journalism
For the second time in three months, the Center for Public Integrity has filed a federal lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission for refusing to release documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
In July, Center for Public Integrity senior political reporter Dave Levinthal filed a FOIA request seeking a study the agency commissioned to detail the decay in the security and management of its computer systems and networks.
The taxpayer-funded study, which cost $199,500 to produce, followed Center for Public Integrity reporting that revealed how Chinese hackers successfully infiltrated the FEC’s computer systems in October 2013.
The 44-page document — known within the FEC as the “NIST study” — also provides recommendations on how to fix the FEC’s problems and bring its computer systems in line with specific National Institute of Standards and Technology computer security protocols.
In mid-August, the FEC initially refused the Center for Public Integrity’s request for a copy.
The Center for Public Integrity immediately appealed the decision of the agency, which is responsible for enforcing and regulating the nation’s election laws and providing timely public disclosure of fundraising and spending by thousands of federal political candidates and committees.
The FEC's commissioners— in 5-1 vote conducted during a closed-door meeting in late September — then rejected the Center for Public Integrity’s appeal. In doing so, the FEC cited the “deliberative process privilege” in federal law, which is designed to “prevent injury to the quality of agency decisions.”
Chairwoman Ann Ravel voted to release the study. Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen, along with commissioners Ellen Weintraub, Steven Walther, Caroline Hunter and Lee Goodman, voted to withhold it.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will now consider the question of whether the FEC should release the study, either in part or in full.
"The fact that the FEC denied us access to the entire report, and declined even to release a redacted version, is outrageous," said John Dunbar, deputy executive editor and overseer of political coverage with the Center for Public Integrity. "Again, we are chagrined to have to go to court to access information that should be publicly available."
In a separate matter, the Center for Public Integrity sued the FEC during July after waiting nearly a year for the agency to release information requested under FOIA pertaining to commissioners’ work schedules. The FEC has since released some of the requested documents but not all, and the Center for Public Integrity’s lawsuit remains pending in U.S. District Court.
This story was co-published with Poynter.
Funders say what they need/want/wish for
Several of the biggest funders of non-profit journalism ran a session at the Online News Association last week on what they look for in grantees and where they think the industry is going. [Full disclosure that several of them are funders of the Center.]
Snippets I found interesting and thought shareable with this audience include:
Bots to automate reporting tasks
Rachel Baye, a Money & Politics reporter at the Center noted a session she was in on: "how to build bots to automate aspects of reporting. For example, you could build a bot to scrape Health and Human Services' website every time new data appears. Another example given during the session was a bot that alerts you when a court makes a ruling in a case you're interested in. This second example was created using IFTTT and a feed from Pacer, which seems simple enough that those in the Center with little to no coding background (like me) could build it. It also would have a lot of applicability to our reporting, since stalking a specific court case is something I know I've done in the past. The session has recorded audio, in case anyone wants to hear what I heard.
Jared Bennett, our web editor and author of this week’s excellent piece on hedge funds getting favored treatment in clearing housing stock lost in the mortgage crisis, noted a session about how to innovate in political coverage:
The best session I've been to so far was about covering politics in non-traditional ways. To sum it up, the idea was to stop thinking about coverage as something that results in a news article, but rather a cross-platform campaign. The NPR station in LA KPCC covered the mayoral election using a campaign called "#makealcare" where they picked 1 actual, living breathing Los Angeles resident who wasn't planning on voting and used their coverage to convince him why voting matters. It provided focus for the coverage and also allowed citizens to get involved. The outgoing Mayor even made a video convincing Al to vote. Here's the hashtag: https://twitter.com/search?q=%23makealcare&src=typd
I thought it was great, a clear example of how A. we should personalize our stories and B. news needs to live on every platform, Twitter, Snapchat and the rest don't exist just to send clicks back to our site.
Further on Jared’s story, I want to call out the work he put in to it since his day job is web editor. The story was also immensely helped by powerful visual applications by Yue Qiu and Chris Zubak-Skees. John Dunbar was also a big help to Jared in giving him a forensic edit to draw the strongest elements from a complex subject.
Soles fellow connects Pope to politics
The Center has a new fellow in the Soles grant founded by Chuck Lewis which we are proud to continue. This year’s fellow Cady Zuvich had a valuable spot piece on how a Catholic Super PAC was laying low during the Pope’s visit.
I welcome any feedback on this note.
The American Judges Association has honored two separate Center investigations with awards for excellence in reporting on the legal system.
The Center received the National American Gavel Award for Distinguished Reporting about the Judiciary, particularly for “Juris Imprudence,” a project that uncovered 26 examples since 2010 of appeals court judges ruling on cases in which they had a financial conflict of interest. Reporters and editors on the project included Chris Young, Reity O’Brien, Kytja Weir, Henry Kerali and John Dunbar.
A number of cases were reopened following the “Juris Imprudence” project, and prior reporting by the Center on state Supreme Courts also led to Montana judges having to disclose details about their personal financial ties.
The Center also received the 2015 Regional American Gavel Award for Distinguished Reporting about the Judiciary. The review committee specifically highlighted juvenile justice reporter Susan Ferriss’ “Juvenile Injustice” project, which revealed how special-needs kids in Knox County, Tenn. juvenile court were shackled and sent to jail in connection with the “status offense” of truancy—with no legal counsel appointed to guide them in proceedings.
A lawyer featured in the story testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year. Senate investigators spoke to others in the story as well, and the piece was included in the Judiciary Committee’s record of critical material. Senators on the Judiciary Committee ultimately voted to tighten up legal loopholes that allowed status offenders to be jailed. The legislation, the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, is still awaiting full congressional approval, but has significant bipartisan support. In Tennessee, a new project is launching in Knox to ensure that volunteer lawyers can offer representation to truants at court.
The American Judges Association was originally founded as the National Association of Municipal Judges in 1959 at Colorado Springs, Colo. The American Gavel Award for Distinguished Reporting about the Judiciary was created to recognize the highest standards of reporting about courts and the justice system, and recognizes legal journalism at its best.
Super PACs are supposed to be both transparent and independent from the politicians they are supporting.
The super PAC’s biggest single vendor this year through June is a mysterious limited liability company, LKJ, LLC, whose owners are hidden behind the state of Delaware’s opaque registration laws. The company doesn’t appear to have a website or a physical office.
It’s only known address: a Washington, D.C., post office box — one it shares with a company run by Heather Larrison, the national finance director for Bush’s official presidential campaign.
The company’s Delaware origin makes it impossible to determine whether a chief Bush lieutenant is embedded in — and profiting from — the cash-flush tangle of entities created to boost his bid.
The arrangement is also a prime example, in the post-Citizens United era of politics, of how the borders separating presidential campaigns and super PACs can be simultaneously porous and difficult to penetrate.
Right to Rise USA, the Bush campaign and Larrison all refused to answer, or did not respond to, questions from the Center for Public Integrity.
Paying LLCs is legal, but opacity “clearly violates the purpose of the [regulations], which is to have true transparency,” said Trevor Potter, the former general counsel to Republican Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who is the founder of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group.
Potter said use of LLCs in this way also becomes a greater issue “in the modern world of super PACs supporting single candidates, because you have an obvious coordination question and you don’t have the information you would need to address it.”
Under the law, super PACs can support candidates, but can’t coordinate their expenditures with them.
The secrecy could also add to the mounting questions donors have about whether money is being spent efficiently to boost Bush, who has languished in the polls, despite touting his muscular organization and superior fundraising.
Trend in secrecy?
Many businesses are LLCs, but in some cases, LLCs paid by campaigns appeared to have been set up for purposes that include obscuring the vendors’ identities or creating legal separation between a campaign and super PAC.
“Some LLC contributions raised questions in prior cycles, and now we’re seeing more LLC disclosures on the expenditure side,” said Kenneth Gross, head of the political law practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
For instance, during the 2012 election, the campaign of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney spent tens of millions of dollars through LLCs that were essentially set up to serve as general contractors, accepting payment from the campaign and, in turn, paying other vendors.
This effectively concealed the identities of some vendors, as well as exactly how much they were paid, making it impossible to tell who reaped the benefits of the campaign’s largesse.
In another case, a polling company, Public Opinion Strategies, worked for Romney’s campaign. But at the same time, other members of the same company reportedly worked through an LLC so they could legally perform polls for Restore Our Future, the super PAC that spent more than $142 million backing Romney’s candidacy.
That was necessary because super PACs and campaign committees are prohibited from working together in some key respects, though the legal definition of coordination is narrow, painfully technical and frequently misunderstood. Enforcement is rare.
Super PACs sprang up as an indirect result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed corporations, unions and other special interests to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to directly advocate for and against political candidates.
A decision in a lower court case, SpeechNow.org v. FEC, cited Citizens United as a precedent in ruling contribution limits are unconstitutional when applied to groups that make independent expenditures. That led to the creation of super PACs — independent groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts, but can’t coordinate their spending with candidates.
If a candidate and a super PAC were free to work together, it would amount to a gutting of contribution limits put in place to avoid corruption.
Campaigns and super PACs are legally permitted to share vendors, though in many cases firewalls and other measures are required to be in place.
Neil Newhouse, a co-founder and partner at Public Opinion Strategies who was Romney’s lead pollster, is reportedly working for Right to Rise USA. One of the LLCs on Right to Rise’s expenditure reports, R2R Research LLC, uses the address of property he owns, according to Virginia property records.
It’s impossible to tell whether R2R Research LLC was created to allow for an arrangement similar to that used by the Romney campaign and super PAC in 2012, or for other reasons. Newhouse did not respond to an email requesting comment.
The Campaign Legal Center, Potter’s group, has in the past unsuccessfully urged the FEC to require political committees to itemize payments of more than $200 made to “sub-vendors,” so the ultimate recipient of money is clear, but the FEC has not done so.
Pushing the limits
Until Bush officially declared himself a candidate, which he did on June 15, Right to Rise USA played host to Bush’s campaign-in-waiting, paying a series of staffers and vendors who ultimately took roles with the official campaign, including the firm of Bush’s campaign manager, Danny Diaz.
The Larrison Group was also among those receiving payments from Right to Rise USA during that period, taking in roughly $145,000 for purposes including rent and finance consulting. In addition, at least one other individual who received payments from Right to Rise USA appears to be a Larrison Group employee.
The super PAC’s payments to the Larrison Group — described as being made for purposes including finance consulting, travel, rent, furniture, and equipment purchase — overlapped in time with the payments to LKJ, LLC, which were described as finance consulting.
Right to Rise USA paid LKJ, LLC roughly $620,000 during the first half of the year, more than 11 percent of the super PAC’s total expenditures, with the most recent payment listed as being made on June 2, less than two weeks before Bush officially announced his bid.
The super PAC doesn’t have to file reports disclosing its expenditures beyond June 30 until next year.
LKJ, LLC also received roughly $95,000 in payments from Bush’s leadership PAC, which is called Right to Rise PAC, Inc. The connection between the Larrison Group and LKJ, LLC isn’t readily apparent.
LKJ, LLC’s Delaware incorporation paperwork, filed in February, gives no information about its ownership.
But Right to Rise USA listed the LLC’s address as a post office box in Washington — the same post office box number used by the Larrison Group. The two companies were listed on the campaign finance records as using different ZIP codes.
But a Center for Public Integrity investigation confirmed both ZIP codes direct mail to the same post office box, housed at a post office in the city’s upscale Georgetown neighborhood.
Several campaign finance lawyers said they typically advise against candidate committees and super PACs backing those candidates sharing vendors unless the situation is unavoidable, for the sake of appearances, if nothing else. Still, they all stressed that the practice is legal when appropriate measures, such as firewalls, are in place.
There are other connections between the Bush campaign and Right to Rise USA.
Independent expenditure reports filed by Right to Rise USA show it paid Redwave Communications, an Iowa-based company owned by David Kochel, a senior strategist for the Bush campaign, as recently as August.
Redwave Communications did not respond to a request for comment. The Bush campaign did not respond to a request for an on the record comment for this story, but has repeatedly said the campaign “complies with all federal campaign finance laws and regulations and requires the same of its consultants.”
Ties that bind?
In addition, another LLC formed this year, Digital Core Campaign LLC, has taken in payments from the Bush campaign, the Right to Rise super PAC and the Right to Rise leadership PAC that together total nearly $696,000.
Digital Core Campaign LLC’s registered agent and manager is Andrew Barkett, a former Facebook engineer and chief technology officer to the Republican National Committee.
Barkett said he alone owns the company, which he said he set up in order to market his services to political clients. He confirmed that so far, his only federal political clients have been the Bush campaign, the Right to Rise super PAC and the Right to Rise leadership PAC, but he said the company is bidding on other work.
In addition, he said that Digital Core Campaign LLC is now working only for the Right to Rise super PAC, not the campaign or leadership PAC, though he did not rule out doing additional work for the campaign or leadership PAC in the future.
The company has 11 employees, some of whom are contractors, he said. He added it has put in place required internal procedures such as audits, firewalls and systems to make sure nothing is improperly shared between customers.
“We are certainly not an entity tasked with sharing all data between” entities backing Bush, he said. “We don’t do that.”
In another example of shared vendors, three fundraisers who over the summer parted ways with the Bush operation had raised money for both the super PAC and the campaign committee, the campaign confirmed to Bloomberg in September, saying there was FEC precedent for fundraising consultants to have multiple clients.
At the time, Bloomberg reported that Right to Rise USA spokesman Paul Lindsay had declined to say whether anyone else was consulting for both the super PAC and the campaign.
The Campaign Legal Center is among the watchdog groups that have questioned whether fundraisers can work for both a campaign and a super PAC supporting the candidate.
In a 2014 complaint with the FEC, the group argued the practice is prohibited by campaign finance law prohibiting candidates and their agents from soliciting contributions above the amount individuals can give to a campaign committee.
The matter is still pending before the frequently deadlocked commission, which Potter said has left a gap by failing to squarely address the question.
“This is another example of why this FEC gridlock is gutting the laws,” Potter said. “If they’re not going to resolve these issues, nobody knows what is permitted or not, and thus the practice becomes to go ahead and use common vendors and then to try and hide it through obfuscation.”
This story was co-published with TIME.
When Johns Hopkins Medicine disclosed last week that it had terminated its discredited black lung unit, those of us who had a role in the Center for Public Integrity’s Pulitzer-winning 2013 series, “Breathless and Burdened,” felt no small amount of satisfaction.
The project, conceived and flawlessly executed by reporter Chris Hamby, now with BuzzFeed, represents the best of what some might call old-school investigative journalism. It yielded immediate results: activities within the Johns Hopkins black lung unit were suspended two days after a Center-ABC News report showed that it essentially was an appendage of the coal industry, its doctors blaming even obvious cases of black lung on anything but coal dust.
The U.S. Department of Labor set about revising its policies to ensure that miners’ claims weren’t being denied on the basis of discredited medical information. Legislation to reform the federal benefits system was introduced.
Most important, sick miners and their families felt that they finally were being heard. When Illene Barr, whose husband, Junior, died of black lung in October 2011, learned that Hopkins had shuttered its black lung unit, she was elated. The unit, led by Dr. Paul Wheeler, had twice opined that Junior Barr’s lung problems had been caused either by tuberculosis or a disease called histoplasmosis, triggered by a fungus found in bird and bat droppings. An autopsy revealed that Barr did, in fact, have black lung; only then was his wife awarded benefits.
“I think it’s wonderful, the work you all have done,” Ms. Barr said by telephone from her home in Sophia, West Virginia. “That’s what’s been needed. It’s a good shot in the arm for the miners.”
Her lawyer, John Cline, who has represented countless black lung victims, said the impact of the Center’s series has been “huge. The Department of Labor has worked its tail off to try to address these problems and provide remedies. I know that the system is working more fairly now than it was before. I think there are significantly fewer miners who are losing their claims because they are being misled or just overwhelmed with legal tactics.”
Having been a journalist 37 years, I could go on and on about the value of old-fashioned, grind-it-out investigative reporting and powerful storytelling. But let’s hear from reporter Hamby instead.
“There are probably just a handful of news outlets in the country where a reporter could do a project like this,” Hamby, on assignment abroad for BuzzFeed, wrote in an email to me earlier this week. “It takes great patience and support from editors, along with guidance and a far-sighted view of what the project could be and what it would take to get there. That means recognizing that there’s no template for a good story.
“You can’t do this type of story by phone or email. You have to go to miners’ homes in the southern West Virginia coalfields, spend time in rural health clinics, visit the labs of researchers on the front lines monitoring the disease. You also can’t do this type of story quickly. You have to figure out the key questions, then figure out how to answer them. For the first installment of the project, the story on the withholding of key medical evidence by lawyers, I needed to figure out what had happened in specific cases. That meant acquiring copies of voluminous case files – hundreds of thousands of pages in all – and reading and logging them. For the second installment, on the Johns Hopkins program to read X-rays, I needed to determine exactly what the leader of the unit’s record was. That meant reading through thousands of legal decisions and creating a spreadsheet detailing the reading of about 3,400 films. For a few months, I did almost nothing but that, which is an incredible luxury not afforded many reporters.”
Hamby said he was gratified to see the Labor Department reforms and the Black Lung Benefits Act of 2015. But “the thing that matters most to me is when I hear from miners or their family members,” he wrote. “I’ve gotten to shake the hands of men who won their claims after previously being denied. Just last week…I heard from the daughter of a miner who had died of black lung. Her father had meant the world to her and made her the woman she was today, she said. The stories, she said, had given voice to those like her father who long had suffered in silence.”
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Each episode of the political drama “House of Cards” drips with secretive shenanigans and shady government dealings.
It’s apropos, then, that Netflix, the hit show’s distributor, is itself a black box, according to a new study on corporate political transparency by the nonpartisan Center for Political Accountability and the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
Netflix joins other household names including clothier Ralph Lauren Corp., financial firm Charles Schwab Corp., Monster Beverage Corp., Urban Outfitters Inc. and Warren Buffett holding company Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in scoring a goose egg on the annual study's 70-point scale measuring companies’ political disclosure practices and published accountability policies.
The study, which for the first time ranked all companies listed on the S&P 500 stock index, also gives low marks to the likes of retailer Nordstrom Inc., travel booker Expedia Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., Whole Foods Market Inc. and toy maker Mattel Inc., creator of “Barbie.”
But on balance, most of the nation’s largest corporations are showing “sustained, concrete progress” toward volunteering more information about how they interact with governments, politicians and campaigns, the study asserts.
Tech giant Microsoft Corp., power generator Exelon Corp., computer chip maker Intel Corp. and wireless technology outfit Qualcomm all ranked within the disclosure index’s top 20 companies.
Shipper United Parcel Service Inc., confectioner The Hershey Co., bank JPMorgan Chase & Co., tobacco conglomerate Altria Group Inc. and eBay Inc. also ranked highly.
In between the extremes? The Walt Disney Co. (44 points), Facebook Inc. (37), Exxon Mobil Corp. (35), Amazon.com Inc. (25) and Google (23), posted mediocre scores. Among media giants, News Corp. (34) and CBS Corp. (8), underwhelmed.
The Center for Political Accountability/Zicklin index’s 24 categories award points to companies that, for example, voluntarily disclose contributions to certain nonprofit groups, publish policies that govern political expenditures from its corporate treasury and reveal money spent to influence state-level ballot initiatives.
Such disclosures generally exceed what’s required of corporations by law, such as regularly filing disclosure reports about a political action committee or congressional lobbying activity.
But federal law does not compel companies to publicly reveal whether they’re pumping cash into a “social welfare” nonprofit organization that, in turn, advocates for the election of, say, Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton as the nation’s next president.
Nor does it mandate companies publicize whether they give money to politically active trade associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which routinely endorses and promotes a slate of congressional candidates.
Officials at several companies that do reveal much more about their politicking than is legally required generally say it’s good business to do so.
CSX’s score of 68 out of 70 — tied for 1st place — reflects the train and transportation company’s “commitment to transparent reporting, corporate social responsibility and accountability to its shareholders,” spokeswoman Melanie Cost said.
A Center for Public Integrity investigation last year showed that CSX is among dozens of the nation’s large corporations that voluntarily discloses payments made to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other trade or political groups.
Becton, Dickinson and Co., a medical supplies firm, and Noble Energy Inc., also earned 68 points.
Calling the Center for Political Accountability/Zicklin transparency index “highly credible,” Monsanto spokeswoman Charla Lord expressed pride in the agribusiness company’s ranking increasing from within the top fifth of all companies in 2014 to within top 10 companies overall — it received 66 points.
Lee Anderson, spokesman for food company General Mills, which scored a 65, made no apologies for his company involving itself in public policy debates.
“But at the same time, we strive to be transparent. It’s the right thing to do,” Anderson said.
An official at coffee company Keurig Green Mountain Inc., which scored 8 out of 70 possible points, said the company “will continue to consider” how it discloses its political activity.
“Although we note there is no current legal obligation to make any such disclosure, we consistently review our disclosures and policies,” spokeswoman Suzanne DuLong said.
Representatives for Netflix, along with those at several other companies that posted low scores, did not return requests for comment.
The Center for Political Accountability/Zicklin index has itself a prominent detractor in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest trade group.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce officials, who have long criticized the index as unfair to business, argue the push for corporate disclosure isn’t coming from typical corporate investors in the name of good corporate governance.
“Rather, disclosure is a tool employed by activist investors — in coordination with CPA and other ideologically aligned parties — to generate information about a company’s lobbying and political activities that can then be used by those same activist investors to harass and pressure the company into disengaging from political debates,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes said. “We don’t think this is good for businesses or, ultimately, the millions of investors who do not share the activists’ extreme and narrowly focused political agenda.”
Nonsense, said Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability.
“There is strong momentum for corporate disclosure because more and more corporations see it as good policy,” Freed said. “Companies ask us all the time, ‘How can we improve our score?’ Together, they keep getting more transparent every year we do this.”
This story was co-published with Al Jazeera America.
Though much attention is focused on the presidential election more than a year away, seven states have major elections in 2015.
The Center for Public Integrity is tracking the political TV ads that are shaping those races.
More than $28 million has been spent to air ads so far. Here’s where some of that money went:
Sources: Center for Public Integrity analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data through Oct. 5; U.S. Census/Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey.
Democratic presidential candidates will enjoy some free face time Tuesday in Las Vegas for their first nationally televised debate, but tenuous frontrunner Hillary Clinton has already spent considerable time on the airwaves, thanks to her prodigious advertising budget.
The Clinton campaign has bought and aired nearly 5,500 TV ads this year through Monday targeting voters in the early presidential caucus and primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from Kantar Media/CMAG, an advertising tracking firm.
Such a number accounts for nearly one in four TV ads aired so far during the 2016 presidential race by any source, Democrat or Republican.
That includes any of nearly two-dozen other presidential candidates, political parties and political action committees. It also includes big-dollar super PACs and nonprofit groups, which thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for political candidates.
Measured another way: Clinton’s campaign has aired more TV ads than the campaigns of Republicans Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio — combined.
Consider that Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — so far Clinton’s main Democratic primary rival who has of late risen in polls, especially in New Hampshire— has yet to air a single TV ad while drawing huge crowds to campaign events.
Nor have the campaigns of Clinton’s other Democratic challengers who will debate her on Tuesday: former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia — although a super PAC backing O’Malley, called Generation Forward PAC, has aired a few dozen ads in Iowa.
Clinton certainly doesn’t need TV ads to help in the name recognition department: A Gallup poll this summer concluded, unsurprisingly, that Democratic voters are almost universally familiar with her. On the Republican side, only Donald Trump challenges the Clinton name’s ubiquity.
Clinton’s problem? Many people just don’t like her. Gallup in September placed her overall favorability rating at 41 — the lowest it’s been since the early 1990s, when she had just moved into the White House as first lady.
A number of factors explain why.
Clinton has endured massive fallout from her use of a private email server as secretary of state. She’s faced lingering questions about her actions before and after the killing of Amb. Christopher Stevens and three associates in Benghazi, Libya. She’s gone weeks at a time without conducting unscripted interviews, feeding concerns that she’s unshakably secretive.
Each Clinton TV spot until this week largely focused on Clinton herself, generally casting the former U.S. senator and secretary as decisive and visionary, Kantar Media/CMAG data indicates.
Many ads tout her work on health care matters, student debt, equal pay and other perceived concerns of people Clinton has called“everyday Americans.”
One ad features her new granddaughter.
“You should not have to be the grandchild of a former president to know you can make it in America,” Clinton says in the spot as upbeat music plays. “That will be my mission as president: to make sure I do everything I can, every single day, to knock down the barriers, to open up the doors, so that every child has a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential.”
Save for a few vague swipes at unnamed Republicans, not one Clinton-sponsored ad through Monday pilloried Sanders, or chided Trump, or contrasted Clinton’s political or governmental records with those of Republican candidates such Bush or Sen. Marco Rubio.
There’s some evidence Clinton’s Hillary-first advertising strategy has helped her earn prospective voters’ admiration as she attempts to re- re- re- reintroduce herself to a body politic already well-acquainted with her decades-long political career.
While Clinton’s net favorability rating among Democrats declined throughout August and much of September, it’s ticked upward of late and most recently stands at 53 percent.
“She’s the least-known best-known figure in America, and she’s trying to stop the bleeding at this point,” said John Carroll, a Boston University mass media professor who specializes in political messaging. “She’s also trying to prove to the public that she’s not a hologram, that she has dimension.”
The Clinton campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Clinton hasn’t completely received a free pass when it comes to opponents’ paid media, and her road ahead is about to become more crowded.
Democratic presidential candidate Larry Lessig, a Harvard University professor who’s largely running on one issue — campaign reform — went up this week with a TV ad that attacks not Clinton or Sanders, but Rubio. It doesn’t appear Lessig, who entered the presidential race last month, will qualify for Tuesday’s Democratic debate.
Meanwhile, a political committee urging Vice President Joe Biden to run for the Democratic nomination has also invested six-figure amounts this month into TV ads.
Generation Forward PAC, the pro-O’Malley super PAC, has spent about $156,000 TV ads, digital ads, mailers, T-shirts and other messages designed to boost O’Malley, according to its filings with the Federal Election Commission. Additionally, the Baltimore Sun reports it will be spending $215,000 on a new ad buy.
Republican groups have spent about $2 million to date on non-TV messages opposing Clinton, such as digital ads and emails, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
Going forward, expect Clinton to smack back. She this week aired an ad that attacked a Republican by name. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who tied a Republican-led committee investigating Clinton’s actions in the Benghazi massacre to her declining poll numbers.
Clinton’s campaign had raised about $48 million as of June 30, while Sanders’ campaign had collected about $15 million. Both Clinton and Sanders pulled in about $25 million between July and September, their campaigns have announced.
Official campaign finance filings for all candidates must be submitted to the FEC on Thursday, two days after the Democratic debate.
This story was co-published with TIME.
While touting the importance of environmental justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pushing a draft “framework” for tackling the problem that lacks substance, residents of polluted communities, advocates and agency employees say.
Last week, the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice released more than 600 public comments filed by environmental groups, trade associations, academics and citizens on what it calls the “EJ 2020 Action Agenda,” a proposed plan for advancing environmental justice over the next five years. The little-noticed release included commentary from activists, industry representatives, state regulators and city officials, among others. They are seeking to influence the EPA as it finalizes the plan next year.
EJ 2020 is meant to build on Plan EJ 2014, which the EPA says “laid a foundation for integrating environmental justice in all [agency] programs.” That plan produced guidelines on public participation in the permitting process, for instance, and prompted EPA officials to create the EJSCREEN— a mapping tool that enables regulators to overlay demographic and environmental data to target low-income and minority communities that may be unduly burdened by pollution.
Under the latest plan, which amounts to a fleshed-out table of contents, EPA officials will focus on three overarching goals: integrating environmental justice into enforcement, rulemaking and permitting efforts; increasing collaboration with communities and states; and producing “outcomes that matter to overburdened communities.”
Residents of such communities and advocates give the EPA credit for soliciting feedback. But they fault the agency for continuing a longstanding pattern of putting process over substance. Rather than confront disparities, they say, the EPA’s plan focuses on symbolic steps — opening more processes, or creating more tools — which do little to change environmental conditions on the ground.
“Environmental justice has got to be real,” said Marianne Engelman Lado, a senior attorney at the public-interest law firm Earthjustice, which submitted 42 pages’ worth of comments on behalf of 47 environmental and community groups. Engelman Lado called the EPA’s goals “admirable,” but said they have translated into “very little” for disadvantaged communities so far.
While admittedly bare bones, the framework gives some sense of what the EPA considers crucial for combating environmental injustice, sources say. Many say the biggest omission is EJ 2020’s divorce from Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The federal law — which prohibits racial discrimination, and serves as the foundation for the EPA’s mandate on environmental justice — is relegated to a single bullet point under the heading, “Related efforts.” The reference notes the EPA’s civil-rights office is currently developing “a long-term, comprehensive” strategic plan.
In August, the Center for Public Integrity published a seven-part series, “Environmental Justice, Denied,” examining how the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights has failed to enforce Title VI and frustrated communities across the country. The agency’s civil-rights office has dismissed nine out of every 10 community claims alleging environmental discrimination, the Center found. In its 23-year history of processing such claims, the office has never once issued a formal finding of a Title VI violation.
After the series ran, the EPA announced that its civil-rights office would begin publishing annual progress reports. Last month, the office released its draft strategic plan, which pledges to conduct more aggressive compliance reviews for recipients of EPA funding — mainly, cities and states — as well as other reforms.
Critics see the Title VI footnote in the EJ 2020 framework as just another sign that EPA officials still do not take the agency’s civil-rights office seriously. When the agency released its Plan EJ 2014, officials overlooked the civil-rights law, sparking similar criticisms. Eventually, the EPA issued a supplement dedicated to civil rights.
‘Same old story’
The EPA told the Center this week it agrees with commenters who are pushing for additional details and measurable goals in the final EJ 2020 plan.
“The draft framework was intended to seek comment on the outline, understanding that much more work will be done to focus attention and assure that we can be held accountable for progress,” an agency spokesman wrote in an email. “Next steps include developing implementation plans that include deadlines, milestones, and measures.”
Beyond demanding more details, commenters offered another suggestion for the framework: incorporate additional ways to collaborate with community groups and local governments to ensure that environmental-justice efforts work as intended on the ground. Still others called for the EPA to expand green infrastructure and access to parks and open space in low-income and minority neighborhoods.
For people like Naeema Muhammad, of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, whose members live in predominantly African-American and low-income neighborhoods near hog farms, sewage fields, and dumps, EJ 2020 must contain “something” to show the EPA will achieve environmental justice before citizens believe it. She and fellow residents have long testified before EPA officials, and hosted tours of areas burdened, again and again, by what she calls “dirty industries.” Already, they have heard the agency promise to address environmental discrimination.
“We’re tired of telling the same old story . . . and nothing changes,” she said, echoing the sentiments of residents from Texas, Missouri, California and Oregon, whose comments expressed frustration over the EPA’s environmental justice efforts to date.
“It’s like crying wolf,” Muhammad said, noting that the EPA, in its draft EJ 2020 plan, does not mention the word ‘racism.’ “If they cannot recognize environmental racism for what it is,” she said, “they can’t promote change.”
About a quarter of all commenters called for the EPA to incorporate Title VI compliance and enforcement into the EJ 2020 framework, as well as “all aspects of agency operations.”
Even some inside the agency agree. According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a whistleblower group for public servants, EPA employees who have worked on issues involving environmental justice and civil rights asked the group to file comments on their behalf, echoing the criticisms surrounding Title VI enforcement. The employees “chose to use PEER as a channel for venting frustrations they have tried unsuccessfully to resolve internally,” the group’s director, Jeff Ruch, told the Center.
In its comments, PEER blasted EJ 2020 for “continu[ing] and, in fact, worsen[ing] core flaws that have weakened and marginalized EPA’s environmental justice program,” including separating the agency’s environmental-justice efforts from civil rights law.
“At EPA civil rights has fallen off the environmental justice table,” the group wrote.
In an email to the Center, Ruch argued that EPA officials have failed to veto or block a single pollution permit of any kind on environmental-justice grounds. Nor has the agency taken any enforcement action because a facility’s permit violations have caused disproportionate impacts on communities of color.
“For EPA to move beyond empty rhetoric, it has to begin taking [such] concrete identifiable actions,” Ruch wrote.
Few industry comments
In response to the criticisms, the EPA spokesman pointed to the civil-rights strategic plan, which, in his words, “chart[s] our course over the next five years and invigorates EPA’s civil rights mission.” He added that the civil-rights plan — “with implementation details, deliverables, deadlines, etc.” — is open for public comment.
Not everyone is urging the EPA to use civil-rights law to achieve environmental justice. Few industry representatives commented on EJ 2020, let alone mentioned the law. The lone industry voice invoking Title VI — the Business Network for Environmental Justice, a coalition of companies and trade groups based at the National Association of Manufacturers — advocated against its enforcement.
In its comments, the BNEJ said the EPA has implemented an “overreaching interpretation” of the civil-rights law over the past 15 years — even though the agency’s own record shows it rarely takes action in Title VI cases.
Other industry representatives, such as the Texas Pipeline Association, offered the standard industry arguments against changes to the status quo — no new regulations, no new permit requirements, no “undue burden on the regulated community.”
“The federal rules that are already in place are more than sufficient to ensure environmental protection for all citizens,” the association wrote.
Some, meanwhile, want the EPA to expand its environmental-justice initiatives beyond traditional definitions. Paul Wright, who heads the Human Rights Defense Council, a national prisoners’ rights group, believes the agency should include the plight of inmates — most of whom are poor and people of color — in its environmental-justice strategy. Prisons are often built on toxic waste dumps or abandoned coal mines, he said.
“This is just another example of a [plan] that has promise,” said Wright, whose comments were co-signed by 91 social justice and prisoners’ rights groups nationwide, adding that prisoners and their surrounding neighbors are “being ignored and viewed as expendable.”
Others, like Virginia Ruiz of Farmworker Justice, want EPA officials to crack down on pesticides — mandating warning labels in Spanish, for instance, or reaching out to farmworkers about exposures. “I’d be pleasantly surprised,” said Ruiz, who directs the group’s health initiatives, if the EPA’s final framework included any recognition of farmworkers as a unique environmental justice community.
“We bring it up year after year,” Ruiz said, “but don’t see a lot of progress.”
The EPA’s public comment period on the draft EJ 2020 plan officially ended on July 14. Agency employees are incorporating the comments into the final plan, expected to be released in early 2016.
A senior Energy Department official, in a burst of candor this week, said that the hundreds of millions of dollars Congress plans to spend next year on a controversial project meant to get rid of Cold War-era nuclear explosive materials would be wasted.
The Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina - also known as MOX – is meant to convert excess plutonium from retired military weapons into fuel for civilian reactors. It has cost nearly $5 billion to date – well over initial estimates, and will miss its projected 2018 opening date by many years, if it is actually completed.
Officials in Washington are debating its future, largely due to sticker shock at recent official estimates that the total cost could reach nearly $50 billion. But if Congress in coming weeks – as expected -- approves a spending bill that keeps existing government projects going through the end of this year, the MOX project will keep eating up funds at its current annual rate of $345 million.
The troubled project was designed to fulfill a diplomatic promise to Russia to eliminate 34 metric tons of weapon- grade plutonium. But some lawmakers at a hearing Wednesday, Oct. 7, of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces expressed new regrets.
“The subject of this hearing is a horror story for the American taxpayer,” Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, said.
MOX has been plagued by contractor management failures, delays, and performance problems that required work to be redone. But South Carolina’s influential congressional delegation has repeatedly beat back efforts to pursue a cheaper alternative.
Recent studies ordered by the Energy Department determined MOX, over the lifespan of its mission, might need $1 billion annually, funds the department does not have. Diluting the plutonium and burying it at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico – known as WIPP – could cut that cost by half or more. That path is tangled, however, because the repository has not been accepting waste since February 2014, due to a series of accidents there.
Cooper pointed to the Energy Department’s studies that said dilution and burial of the surplus plutonium would be “better and cheaper” than continuing to spend money on MOX. “But Congress being Congress,” he said, “there is a lot of inertia and there are some folks who may prefer what is now the worse and more expensive and slower option, which is the one we’ve been fooling with all these years.”
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Nebraska, an outspoken critic of MOX who serves on the House Appropriations Committee and joined other lawmakers at the Oct. 7 hearing, noted the swelling cost estimates for the project, and said it’s time for Congress to decide whether further spending on MOX holds any value.
“Appropriating $345 million a year: What does that buy?” Fortenberry asked John MacWilliams, an associate deputy secretary of the Energy Department who has spent the past few years analyzing the department’s cost overrun problems, particularly on large construction projects.
“Nothing,” MacWilliams said.
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Elections aren’t just about choosing who wins the White House next year. Seven states face major elections in 2015.
Voters will be asked to choose governors and other top officials in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi. They will decide the make-up of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the legislatures in Virginia and New Jersey.
Those officials will then shape the future of those states.
BATON ROUGE, La. — These days, Henry Montgomery, 69, is known as the man of few words who works in a gym at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
Josh Carter, 70, worked next to Montgomery for years, cleaning a prison gym after games, but he knows little about his friend. “He is an easygoing fellow,” Carter said. “But he never said anything about himself.”
Montgomery’s attorney from a half-century ago believes that’s an enduring sign of developmental delays. Montgomery was a “slow learner,” with an IQ in the low 70s, said the attorney, Johnnie Jones, now 95. He still remembers the day in 1963 when Montgomery, then 17, was picked up for the murder of a deputy just outside Baton Rouge.
Though Angola holds more than 4,000 lifers, few inmates have served as long as Montgomery. He has been there nearly 50 years, with no hope of release since his appeal became final in 1970. On the other side of the prison, inmate carpenters make caskets for lifers like him.
But Tuesday, Henry Montgomery will be propelled into the national spotlight when the U.S. Supreme Court hears his case, Montgomery v. Louisiana.
Justices will decide whether to offer the hope of parole to prisoners automatically sentenced to life in prison for crimes they committed before they turned 18. The ruling will impact between 1,300 and 2,100 prisoners like Montgomery nationwide. (The range is wide because most prison systems don’t track prisoners who were juveniles at the time of their offense and because some prisoners have been recently released in individual court decisions that are difficult to track.)
The U.S. Supreme Court took up Montgomery’s case to resolve vastly differing state interpretations of its landmark 2012 ruling, Miller v. Alabama, which banned automatic life-without-parole sentences for youth.
“Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile,” the justices wrote, “precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.”
Citing Eighth Amendment prohibitions on excessive punishment, the justices struck down laws mandating life sentences without parole for juveniles in 28 states and in the federal court system.
In some states, the ruling cleared the way for some prisoners with life sentences to be freed. But states disagreed on whether the ruling applied just to new cases or to prisoners who had already received mandatory life sentences as juveniles.
Courts in 12 states have applied the Miller ruling retroactively: Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming. Courts have ruled otherwise in seven states: Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and Pennsylvania.
A few states have dealt with the confusion legislatively, passing laws offering parole review after defendants have served a certain number of years, ranging from 25 years in North Carolina and Washington to 35 in Delaware.
The U.S. Department of Justice instructed federal prisons to identify prisoners affected by the Miller ruling and it has also weighed in on Montgomery case, saying the Supreme Court’s Miller decision should indeed be retroactive.
Back in Louisiana, Montgomery appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after the state supreme court shot down his plea for resentencing.
The argument for Montgomery: young criminals can change
The U.S. Supreme Court is not concerned with Montgomery’s guilt or innocence. Rather, his lawyers are asking the court to resolve what they claim is his “unconstitutional confinement.” Because of the Miller decision, they argue, Montgomery and others convicted of murder as juveniles were imprisoned under a now-unconstitutional legal structure.
Among those arguing against applying the Miller decision retroactively: the state of Louisiana, which contends that its prosecutors would have to reconstruct hopelessly old cases, like the one against Montgomery in the 1963 shooting death of Charles Hurt, a sheriff’s deputy.
In his case, the state argues that the court would have to determine “whether Montgomery’s youth should have impacted the sentence he received for a crime he committed a half-century ago ... in a case where, as far as counsel can tell, virtually everyone involved … is dead.”
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III, one of the authors of the state's argument, believes the case against retroactivity is strong. "If the court opens the door on this, when is any case ever finalized?" he asks.
The state’s contention is supported by Deputy Hurt’s daughter, Becky Wilson, who filed a brief along with the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers. Wilson was 9 years old in November 1963, when her father was fatally shot in a park near Baton Rouge. Making Miller retroactive would “deprive surviving family members of the finality that they have had for years,” Wilson and her group wrote.
But petitions filed on behalf of Montgomery argue that the people who committed these crimes have changed and are now worthy of one specific form of mercy: a parole hearing.
One group of unlikely allies from Louisiana submitted an amicus brief. Pascal Calogero, a former state supreme court chief justice, wrote a joint petition with criminologist Burk Foster, former Angola warden John Whitley and the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights.
Despite disparate experiences, the four parties shared a common understanding, they wrote: “They all have observed juvenile offenders, convicted even of the most serious crimes, processed through one of the most historically difficult systems of justice, and housed under the most violent, hostile, and hopeless conditions, who can and do find the spark of rehabilitation, and who can and do grow and develop to the point where they could be welcomed back into society.”
The Miller decision is premised on a similar sentiment, that life without parole was “at odds with a child’s capacity for change.”
As a young prisoner, Montgomery made choices that can be seen in the man he is today, said Calvin Duncan, a former Angola inmate who was held for 28 years for a crime he didn’t commit and lived in the same dorm as Montgomery at one point. “He was no trouble,” said Duncan, who doesn’t remember Montgomery ever getting a disciplinary write-up.
After observing Montgomery, Duncan concluded that he was “impressive.” After all, by the time Duncan made it to Angola in the late 1980s, Montgomery’s chances at an appeal had been dead for nearly two decades. “The law said that he was going to die in prison,” Duncan said. “Despite that, he did positive things, helping to coach the young guys, and working at the gym.”
Angola officials don’t allow reporters to talk with prisoners about cases, but Montgomery’s cousin Diane Coleman approached him on behalf of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange during a recent visit. He told her that he had been advised by his attorneys not to comment.
He might not have said much anyway, said his aunt Janie Smith, 88, who typically visits him once a month with Coleman, her daughter.Yet Coleman and the rest of her family don’t equate Montgomery’s taciturn nature with a lack of intelligence because he comes from a long line of understated people.
Smith remembers Montgomery as a mild-mannered teenager who was raised by her parents until his arrest. She hates to see him in Angola, and she hopes that the Supreme Court hearing could lead to his release. “I keep praying for him,” she said. “I pray that God will open a door for him.”
Coleman, who is now 60, started visiting Montgomery almost 40 years ago. Before that, no one in the family was able to, she said. Their grandparents, who raised Montgomery, were elderly. His mother was autistic and unable to visit him on her own, she said. “They basically swept him under the rug.”
Though Angola’s rules allowed visits only from immediate family, Coleman was allowed to begin seeing him close to 10 years after he’d arrived, when prison officials looked through their records and found that no one else had come.
Coleman said her cousin has always been generous with his advice. Over the years, he has become a hero of sorts to her, she said. “Despite all that he’s been through, he is always cheerful and smiling.”
A shooting, and a roundup
Coleman was in grade school when her cousin, whom she calls by his last name, was arrested. She’s heard about that day all her life. First, deputies came to the house and roughed up her uncle, Wendell Smith.
“They beat him right in the presence of my grandmother,” she said. “The next thing that the family knew, they were getting Montgomery.” Like school friends who grew up with him, she also occasionally refers to him by his nickname, Wolf Man, given to him because of his oversized incisors.
Hurt had been killed in a park the day before Montgomery was arrested. Montgomery’s lawyers consistently argued that Montgomery, who was skipping school that day, became terrified and killed Hurt as the deputy frisked him.
Others aren’t sure Montgomery did it. After all, it was the early 1960s and police were often heavy-handed in working-class, African-American communities. Before it was annexed by Baton Rouge 40 years ago, Scotlandville, where the murder was committed, was the largest majority-black town in Louisiana, a place where boys grew up hearing stories of innocent men who were picked up for random crimes and sent to prison.
To neighbors, a guy like Montgomery, who had known cognitive impairments, seemed like an easy scapegoat, someone who might be prone to confess.
Stories from that day don’t shed any light on Hurt’s shooting in the park, but they do help to place the crime in the context of the time.
One of the tragic ironies of the case is that, according to his daughter’s brief, Hurt had been assigned to Scotlandville because he was considered racially fair-minded. As his daughter wrote, “Hurt was different … because the Louisiana of the 1960s did not generally think that way.” He chose to work with the juvenile division and started a Junior Deputy program for boys from Scotlandville.
As a result, Hurt was familiar with the part of Scotlandville where he was killed. Outside the park’s entrance, some of the roads meander and feel almost rural. Many of the streets are named for birds — Cardinal, Grebe, Osprey, Cormorant, Sparrow, Goose. Its narrow streets are lined with large trees and modest homes, dotted with a few churches, auto shops, a liquor store and an American Legion hall.
Yet the area felt like a war zone after Hurt was killed. Nearly 300 deputies and police officers from neighboring parishes came to set up roadblocks and make mass arrests. Black men and teens were detained all across Scotlandville that afternoon.
Seven of the arrested men located by the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange say they remember that day clearly, even 52 years later.
“Long as you were black, they were picking you up,” said Louis Walker, now 70, then a recent high school graduate who was arrested as he walked out his door on his way to look for work. That matches with the memory of Joe Louis Bowie, now 73. He was getting off the bus from New Orleans when deputies nabbed him. “Young, old, crippled, crazy, they were picking them up,” he said.
A Baton Rouge Morning Advocate story described the wide-ranging search. “Every Negro fitting the general description of the suspect, thought to be tall and slender, was apprehended.” Though bloodhounds were brought in, they didn’t pick up a scent, the newspaper reported.
Isaiah Henry, then a 29-year-old military veteran, was arrested as he and five classmates drove home from Southern University, which sits on a curve of the Mississippi River across the railroad tracks from the park.
“What I saw: a lot of white officers and a lot of black people being questioned,” said Henry, now a retired math teacher. He recalled that he and his fellow students called Ulysses S. Jones, the university’s now-legendary dean, who came down to headquarters,talked to the sheriff and got them released.
There was no outrage about the roundup, Henry said. “I guess at that time it was just a part of life.”
Even today, if Morris Scott, 78, sees flashing lights and police cars lined up, he will not stop to ask what happened.
The day Hurt was killed, Scott was headed to work not far from his house on Oriole Street. He always walked past a cab stand on Scotland Avenue, where he’d often stop to jaw with his friend, a cabbie. That day, they heard all sorts of sirens a few blocks away. Scott hopped into his friend’s taxi for a three-block drive to Anna T. Jordan Park, the scene of the crime.
A sheriff’s deputy had just been killed, a neighbor told Scott as several dozen people watched a crowd of white police officers search bushes and high weeds in the park. Then the officers moved toward the park entrance and trained their guns on the crowd, fingers on the triggers, Scott said. “They said, ‘Don’t nobody move.’ ”
It was the biggest manhunt ever seen in Scotlandville, said Scott and the other men, now elderly. The jail log for that day includes the handwritten names, ages and addresses of 60 men from 12 to 59 years old. In the column where a suspect’s crime was typically recorded, deputies simply wrote “investigation.” The Morning Advocate reported that the men were “booked for investigation and jailed,” then fed peanut butter, jelly and ham sandwiches for supper, and kept overnight.
Scott says he was taken to the sheriff’s office in a paddy wagon with 30 people. “We were sitting three high, one on top of each other,” he said, estimating that the police rounded up a few hundred people that day. Henry too thought the actual numbers were much higher than the 60 recorded in the jail log. He asked to hear all the names on the jail list, then said that of his group of six men, his was the only name recorded.
While most were released early the next morning, some were kept longer. Clyde Robvais, who was 16 at the time, is listed in the jail log as a “material witness.” Though he didn’t know about that notation at the time, the deputies’ perceptions became obvious: for the next 10 days, he was kept in jail and repeatedly asked if he’d witnessed anything. After he didn’t show up for his after-school dishwashing job, he was fired, he said, though he quickly landed another position.
Consequences were more weighty for Wilbert Forrest, 23, then a Southern University student, who was taken into custody the same day as Montgomery. Deputies told him that he looked like someone who had shot a policeman, he said. He was held more than two weeks, though he was transferred after about a week to neighboring Port Allen on a trumped-up charge — shooting at cows, he said — that was eventually dropped.
Forrest was forced to withdraw from classes because he’d missed too much time. “I lost that semester,” he said.
Emmanuel Cannon, who was 18, was walking home to lunch from Scotlandville High School when deputies stopped him. They walked him to Jordan Street, where they searched his family’s house, then handcuffed him and put him on the ground, he said. He spent the night in jail; his parents came to get him in the morning.
Soon afterward, he heard that his schoolmate, Montgomery, had been arrested. That never made sense to him.
“Later on in life, it hit me,” Cannon said. “That could’ve been me. They could’ve locked me up in jail for the rest of my life.”
‘Wolf Man’ goes on trial
The larger context — the racially segregated world that Montgomery lived in, along with his limited intellect and tough childhood — can’t be separated from his legal case, said Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center, who is acting as co-counsel for Montgomery before the Supreme Court.
That’s the entire premise of the Supreme Court’s earlier Miller ruling, she said. Since the decision, no juvenile can face life in prison without parole unless a judge holds a hearing to examine how his youth and individual circumstances may have affected his actions.
“Context is important,” Levick said. “Montgomery’s case illustrates the type of miscarriage of justice that the court wanted to avoid in issuing its Miller decision.”
The day Montgomery was arrested, detectives took a newspaper photographer from the Morning Advocate along with them as Montgomery showed them the shed behind his grandparents’ house and pointed to the small .22-caliber pistol he’d hidden in the rafters. Montgomery also took detectives to the park and re-enacted the crime, the newspaper reported.
That same day, the detectives taped his confession. No need to inform him of his “right to remain silent” beforehand, because the U.S. Supreme Court’s Miranda decision wouldn’t be rendered for three more years.
The following day, the headline in the Morning Advocate read, “Negro admits panic slaying of BR deputy: revolver and cartridges are recovered.”
The same day, the newspaper reported that Montgomery told detectives he had skipped out of his 10th-grade classes to take a nap in the park. There, he ran into Hurt, who had walked behind the recreation center to “break up ‘hooky-playing’ in the area,” according to the newspaper.
Johnnie Jones, Montgomery’s former lawyer, remembered what he’d heard. Hurt was patting down Montgomery from the waist down in case he had a knife or gun. But Montgomery had put his gun in the breast pocket of his jacket, Jones said.
“So while the police was patting him down from his waist to his shoe top, Henry had a Saturday night special, a little gun, under his arm,” Jones said. “He panicked and shot the officer.”
The landmark Gideon U.S. Supreme Court decision had come down eight months earlier, finding that defendants have a fundamental right to counsel. So the judge appointed two lawyers for the 17-year-old: Jones and Murphy Bell. They defended him for the next six years, through two trials, after a higher court overturned the first verdict.
Both attorneys were well-known for their civil rights work, defending activists in sit-ins and other protests and desegregating schools, parks and even amusement parks. The two lawyers were devoted to the Montgomery case even though they were unpaid; the court didn’t yet pay appointed lawyers, Jones said.
The Morning Advocate covered the first trial extensively. Right from the start, his lawyers entered a plea of innocent by reason of insanity and called attention to his developmental disabilities. They described his “low mentality” and “weak-mindedness” and implied that he was paranoid and easily provoked. They argued that press accounts using his Wolf Man nickname had prejudiced jurors into thinking that Montgomery was a “character with a vicious nature.”
Yet his attorneys never said he didn’t murder Hurt. From that perspective, prosecutors appeared to have an airtight case. The audio of his confession was played for the jury, which also visited the park and the shed where Montgomery said he hid the gun.
In arguments that mirror some of the defenses of vulnerable youth made four decades later in the Miller case, Jones argued that Montgomery’s intellectual deficits — “the mentality of a three-year-old” — made it difficult to prove intent to kill. In other words, Montgomery may have killed Hurt, but it was a rash act, a mistake.
Still, District Attorney Sargent Pitcher was resolute in his closing arguments in the first trial. “If you bring in anything but a capital verdict, you’ll be jeopardizing the life of every law enforcement officer in this parish,” he told the jurors. Jurors ultimately agreed with him.
After a nine-day trial — unusually long for a black defendant during that era — 12 white male jurors deliberated for a day and a half. They came back with a guilty ruling and a death sentence.
Montgomery’s lawyers appealed the death sentence, citing a few dozen errors, including the lack of black jurors, a prosecutor who described the lawyers with racial epithets and other prejudicial factors outside the courtroom.
Two years later, the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Montgomery, partly based on Klan cross-burnings that had been threatened before the start of the trial and partly because the trial had begun on what the city had declared “Charles Hurt Day,” meant to raise money for the victim’s widow and his young children.
The atmosphere denied Montgomery a fair trial, the court wrote. “No one could reasonably say that the verdict and the sentence were lawfully obtained.”
The second trial received less publicity. By that time, five years after Montgomery had originally stepped into the courtroom, the mood seemed calmer.
Montgomery’s lawyers fought, unsuccessfully, to bar his confession on the basis of the Miranda decision. The district attorney did not push the death penalty. The trial took only a day and a half; the jury deliberated for about 90 minutes and found Montgomery guilty of first-degree murder.
He was given a mandatory sentence of life without possibility of parole and sent to Angola.
Life sentences for youth aren’t uncommon in some counties
Even if the Supreme Court rules that Montgomery should have an opportunity for parole, the door will likely open slowly, if at all. A judge with jurisdiction over his case could change his sentence or set him free. Or the state legislature could grant parole hearings for prisoners like him after a certain amount of time served.
At each point, Montgomery could be released. Or not.
For youths convicted of murder since 2012, life sentences are still possible, but they can no longer be mandatory. As a result, the Supreme Court justices wrote in Miller, the sentences would likely be “uncommon.”
That’s true — in most jurisdictions. Recently, the Phillips Black Project, named for a nonprofit law firm, published a study showing that nine states are historically responsible for imposing 80 percent of juvenile life-without-parole sentences: California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
That has continued despite the Miller decision. Over the past three years, the report found, a handful of counties — including Orleans and East Baton Rouge in Louisiana — have been responsible for a share of such sentences “widely disproportionate from their population.”
Moore, the district attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish, acknowledged that the Montgomery case was tried during a well-documented period of racial strife. "It was a completely different time for the entire community," he said. Yet he stands behind the decision to pursue life-without-parole sentences for juveniles in his parish. Since the Miller decision, four juveniles convicted of murder have faced such sentences, he said. "In three of four cases, the court found that life was appropriate," Moore said.
Moore is a caerful reader familiar with new findings on adolescent brain development, which show that the brain is still developing well into adulthood. "I'm all for keeping kids out of the system," Moore said, noting that he scrutinizes each case individually to decide whether juvenile defendants should be kept in juvenile court or tried as adults, where life without possibility of parole is still an option.
"None of these cases are easy," Moore said. "But some wave their hands and say, 'You must try me as an adult'." And in those cases, Moore said, he will continue to pursue life sentences, if that's the outcome that best serves public safety.
Because of Miller, sentencing is now a two-step process: Juveniles who face life-without-parole sentences must have a sentencing hearing that puts their youth into context by examining brain development, history of hardships and home life. Similar hearings have been commonplace in death penalty cases since the 1970s.
Nothing like that existed in 1964 when Montgomery first faced trial. Yet, in their closing arguments, his lawyers presented similar justifications to explain, for instance, their client’s confession.
“What else could you expect that child to say, with the type of mind he has?” Jones asked. “From his very birth, this child has been ‘off.’”
Sure, Montgomery was 6 feet tall and — as press accounts had noted — he had even worn a “slight mustache” at times, Jones said.
“He looked like a man,” Jones told jurors, but his intellectual capacity didn’t match his physical maturity. “The size doesn’t make the man. The mind makes the man.”
Then Bell began his final arguments. He, too, foreshadowed the Miller decision as he described how his client lacked an intent to kill. Instead, Montgomery’s reaction was impulsive, Bell argued. “He merely panicked. He was scared and he had a gun in his hand, so he fired.”
This story is the product of a collaboration between the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, a national nonprofit news outlet; The Lens, a nonprofit newsroom serving New Orleans; and the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, independent investigative news outlet.
In response to troubling revelations of harsh school discipline for seemingly minor indiscretions, Virginia officials have begun an effort to retrain educators and school cops statewide and craft a new “template” for school-police agreements limiting police intervention in behavior problems.
In April, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe in April asked members of his cabinet to recommend action after a Center for Public Integrity investigation found that Virginia schools were collectively referring students to law enforcement at nearly triple the national rate—based on an analysis of U.S. Department of Education data collected nationally from schools.
The Center also examined individual cases and local Virginia police records in concluding that thousands of students—many of them in middle school—were sent into the criminal justice system by school police on charges of disorderly conduct, assault and resisting arrest.
The charges stemmed from behavior like kicking trash cans, yelling, using foul language, getting into schoolyard fights and attempting to break free from police officers who grabbed them. Last fall, an autistic sixth grader, Kayleb Moon-Robinson, was wrestled to the floor at his Lynchburg school, handcuffed and arrested for disorderly conduct and felony assault on a police officer. Kayleb had struggled with a school resource officer who grabbed him after the 11-year-old left class without permission.
“We agree this is a significant issue here in Virginia,” Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton told the Center in a recent interview that also included Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian J. Moran.
“The law enforcement referrals are clearly excessive,” Holton said, and “the gaps, the disproportionate impact on minorities and (special-needs students with) disabilities is unacceptable.”
Kayleb is both African-American and autistic, with high-functioning academic capabilities.
The Center review of federal and local data showed that black students and children with special needs, particularly, were disproportionately referred to police. Police intervention often resulted in arrests and appearances before juvenile probation officers or judges who imposed consequences that included mandatory community service and juvenile detention if kids violated any probation terms.
A new direction
Holton and Moran said parts of an initiative they now call “Classrooms, not Courtrooms” were already getting underway when the Center report was published. But Moran said that the Center’s findings about the charges levied against kids and Virginia’s high rate of referrals to law enforcement “brought a lot of focus and, frankly, momentum” to hasten reforms.
A public defender in eastern Virginia told the Center that she had middle-school clients slapped with multiple charges for disruptive behavior at school. A 12-year-old girl who got involved in a fight, for example, was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstruction of justice—for clenching her fist at a school cop.
The new cabinet-level effort aims to decrease out-of-school student suspensions of students as well as arrests and entry into the court system.
The initiative, Holton said, involves organizing federally-funded training to schools in “positive behavioral” techniques that research shows are effective at improving children’s conduct and engagement at school, if “faithfully implemented.”
Holton and Moran also said that Virginia public-safety officials will be organizing joint training for school administrators and school police officers so both groups are aware of the dangers of criminalizing kids unnecessarily and know what their responsibilities are—including using counseling and other alternatives to having kids arrested and prosecuted.
“The problem here is not a kid walking in (to schools) with a gun,” Holton, a former juvenile judge and defender, said. “The numbers are being driven up by disorderly conduct.”
Moran, a former prosecutor and Virginia legislator, said he’s strongly in support of keeping kids out of the criminal justice system with school-based alternatives as well as community-based services.
“Once a kid gets into that (criminal justice) system,” Moran said, “you can get a judge on a bad day, you can get a prosecutor on a bad day, you can get an incompetent attorney. Once you’re in the system, the likelihood you’re going to stay in that system is great.”
Kayleb, the autistic child, has appeared in court multiple times and his case is still pending. He has been told he could be sent into detention if he gets into more trouble.
A troubling history
Virginia mother Joyce Lofty of Amherst, Virginia, recently contacted the Center to discuss her special-needs son, now 18 and in private high school, and his history of being accused of crimes at school.
The African-American student has had periodic trouble with public schools in her area ever since he was in elementary school, she said. In the fall of 2006, school and police records show, Lofty’s son was only 9 years old and in 4th grade when he was charged with assault and battery on a special-needs aide.
“Student displayed physical aggression towards a day treatment staff member by grabbing her around the wrist,” a school report says. “When told by office personnel to stop beating his fist on the table” the child said “hush your mouth.”
Lofty told the Center her son had been struggling to keep some markers he was first allowed to keep and then told to relinquish. “He didn’t understand what was going on in court. What child does at that age?” Lofty said.
Lofty said the judge put her son on probation for a year. The experience, she said, had a deeply debilitating impact on a boy already wrestling with special needs, and he later had to go to court again.
Amherst school officials did not respond to a request for comment. Local media in Virginia, however, recently reported that in 2014 a confidential discrimination complaint was filed with federal education officials about an Amherst student charged with assault. Officials with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigated, and on Sept. 15, Amherst school officials signed an agreement to “examine the root cause of any racial disparity in the discipline of students” and take corrective action. The agreement requires a “comprehensive review” of school resource officers and every incident in recent school years when officers became involved in disciplinary problems.
Amherst County Public Schools superintendent Steven Nichols told the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg last month that he’s “taking a very positive approach” and “taking this seriously, to look at how we discipline children across the board.”
In response to Joyce Lofty’s story about her 4th grade son in Amherst, Holton, the state education secretary, called the prosecution of a 9-year-old “crazy.”
Following the Center report last April, representatives with the Virginia PTA and the Virginia Legal Aid Justice Center urged the state to pursue mandatory training for school police and agreements, or memoranda of understanding, between school districts and police.
Moran, the state public safety secretary, said he supports pursuing reforms through persuasion because police departments are not resisting overtures for retraining. Holton said she and Moran will use their positions as a “bully pulpit” to urge schools and police to embrace reforms. They also have influence over state budgets that could lead schools to adopt reforms, she said.
Moran noted that some police departments have already enacted their own changes, including the Henrico County Police Department, which serves a populated region around Richmond.
Henrico Police Chief Douglas Middleton, Moran said, is now helping design and spread reforms for police departments statewide. As the Center reported, Middleton in July adopted new department guidelines for officers working in schools, as well as a new 40-hour training requirement emphasizing that police are not to get involved in routine matters of school discipline.
Holton said her department has already documented some “good news” reflected in data the state collects for its own measurement of discipline problems, violence and crime in schools.
The state collection includes a category known as “offenses reported to law enforcement,” Holton said. She said that while the category’s definition is not the same as the federal data category counting “referrals to law enforcement,” it does provide a window into trends. She said the most recent collection of state data, released in August, was for the 2013-2014 school year and showed a 14 percent decrease in reported offenses statewide in two years.
However, Holton said, like the federal data, the state data did not show a decrease in reported offenses that involve minority students and students with special-needs. “We have a lot more work to do,” she said.
Holton said her department will be concentrating on identifying “outliers” among districts to contact administrators and urge them to sign up for retraining and other help.
The project will include in-depth financial profiles of the top candidates as well as investigative stories that look into the world of super PACs and political nonprofits made possible by the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The two organizations will combine the Center's veteran, award-winning money in politics team with Al Jazeera America's high-quality news production and multimedia storytelling capacity. They will also share stories on their websites throughout the 2016 election cycle.
“We’ve brought back a great Center brand, 'The Buying of the President,' to support the Center’s 2016 presidential coverage," said Center CEO Peter Bale. "It will focus on the money behind the candidates and show what it’s bought in the past and what donors stand to gain in the future.”
Bale said the agreement with Al Jazeera America was "groundbreaking" for the Center for Public Integrity.
"It shows media companies respect and are prepared to pay for specialist content and a real partnership,” he said.
The partnership kicked off with a story investigating a pro-Bernie Sanders super PAC, run by a man with a history of legal and financial troubles. The group received nearly $50,000 from actor Daniel Craig. Another story featured a teen who sought to use online retail giant Amazon.com's Associates Program to raise money to support the Democratic presidential candidate. The Center has also continued its investigation into the Chinese hackers that successfully attacked the Federal Election Commission, which was featured on the Al Jazeera website.
Heather Benton moved her family to Colorado for marijuana to alleviate her 4-year-old daughter’s seizures.
“We want to move back to Ohio, but we can’t, because her medicine is illegal there,” Benton says in a television ad playing across Ohio this fall. “It is time for marijuana reform. It is time to go home.”
The emotional ad is part of an estimated $3.1 million worth of TV advertisements aired so far that push a November ballot measure to make Ohio the first state in the nation to legalize recreational and medical marijuana at the same time. If approved, Ohio would be the fifth state to legalize recreational use of marijuana, behind Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon.
But appearing on the same ballot is an initiative to invalidate the pro-pot measure. State lawmakers put the counter-measure before voters because they say the legalization effort is an attempt to create a “marijuana monopoly.” If both measures pass, the fight would likely end up before the courts.
The fate of the legalization campaign in a bellwether, presidential swing state like Ohio may have implications for the 2016 elections.
A win “would catapult the issue further in presidential debates,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that has pushed for legalization but has not endorsed the Ohio measure.
“To have that in a major swing state in American politics, in a state that’s seen as politically conservative, I think that would have a significantly beneficial impact” on further legalization efforts, he said.
Besides the presidential election, at least five more states are expected to vote on legalizing the drug in 2016.
The dueling Ohio initiatives are not the only ballot battles across the nation this year. A total of 28 statewide measures are on ballots in nine states this year. An estimated $6.4 million has been spent to air TV ads about five of them, with the Ohio pot measure accounting for nearly half of the ad spending so far. Ballot topics range from transportation to education.
Another $3.2 million has been spent on ads about local measures, including an estimated $1.7 million from an Airbnb-backed group in San Francisco that is asking voters there to reject proposed rules limiting short-term housing rentals.
The Center for Public Integrity analyzed advertising data through Oct. 12 from media tracker Kantar Media/CMAG, a firm that monitors 211 media markets around the country. The figures do not include ads for radio, the Internet, direct mail or TV ads that air on local cable systems. The estimates do not include the cost of making the ads.
The first pro-marijuana TV messages in Ohio, which started airing Aug. 24, argued that legalization would hurt drug dealers, free up police to deal with other crimes and help sick kids such as Benton’s daughter. A newer ad combats opponents’ rallying cry that the measure would insert a monopoly into the state’s constitution.
The group pushing the measure, Responsible Ohio, is seeking a constitutional amendment that allows only 10 pot farms, which would be controlled by the investors backing its campaign.
“Like most states that legalized marijuana, it initially limits the number of growers with strict regulation,” a woman in one of the latest pro-pot ads says. “That’s a regulated industry without creating a monopoly.”
It appears no ads have run on broadcast TV advocating against legalization, according to a review of Kantar Media/CMAG data.
Opponents of the legalization measure have so far spread their messages online. They see Responsible Ohio’s newer ads as proof that the legalization measure is losing support.
“They’re starting to address the monopoly problem they have,” said Curt Steiner, campaign director for the opposition coalition. “Everything that I’m seeing tells me that they’re going to get beat. Their campaign is operating like a campaign that’s in trouble.”
A spokeswoman for Responsible Ohio said the group feels confident that the measure will pass.
An Ohio TV station earlier this week released a poll conducted by Kent State University researchers showing that 56 percent of Ohioans said they support the marijuana legalization measure.
The key question will be how many of them turn out for this particular marijuana legalization measure on Nov. 3, when the only other items up for a vote besides ballot measures are local elections.
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Grassroots givers are playing a pivotal role in shaping the 2016 presidential race, boosting insurgent candidates in both the Democratic and Republican primary contests as they challenge establishment favorites in the polls and the race for campaign cash.
Small-dollar donors who gave $200 or less accounted for about 40 percent of the approximately $144 million raised between July and September by the two dozen Republicans and Democrats running for president, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of campaign finance documents filed Thursday.
So who are the candidates raising the largest portion of their campaign funds from these people-powered fundraising machines? Those bucking their parties’ establishments and touting their desires to challenge the status quo in Washington.
A staggering 77 percent of the $26.2 million Bernie Sanders, an independent U.S. senator running as a Democrat, collected during the third quarter came from contributors giving $200 or less. The haul helped Sanders narrow the fundraising gap between his campaign and that of Democratic Party frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who raised $29.9 million during the same period.
Meanwhile, such small-dollar donors accounted for about 70 percent of the $3.9 million raised by Republican Party frontrunner Donald Trump, the billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV celebrity.
And they accounted for about 60 percent of the $20.8 million raised by Republican Ben Carson, a former neurosurgeon who collected more campaign cash during the third-quarter than any other GOP White House contender.
These outsider candidates’ small-dollar fundraising success reflects “grassroots unhappiness with the powers that be,” said Michael Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, which tracks money in politics.
“The strongest small donor campaigns are not about raising money,” Malbin added. “They’re about raising enthusiasm and getting actions.”
David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, a nonprofit that advocates for fewer campaign finance regulations, noted that small-dollar donors can add up to “serious money” over the course of a campaign.
“Dollar for dollar, small-dollar donors are worth more than big-dollar donors,” Keating said. “Those are the donors that can keep giving over and over.”
Keating added that such donors are also likely to turn out to vote for a candidate, and possibly volunteer as well.
As small-dollar conservative donors help boost the likes of Trump and Carson, the Republican Party establishment has not yet consolidated around a single choice.
Republican Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida long believed by many to be the likely nominee in 2016, raised $13.4 million during the third quarter. That brings his total haul for the year to $24.8 million — not including the more than $103 million raised by Right to Rise USA, the super PAC Bush founded and raised money for before officially launching his campaign.
Bush’s money hasn’t kept others from challenging him for supremacy among the party’s donors.
Fellow Floridian Marco Rubio, for one, has eclipsed Bush’s campaign fundraising haul, raising $25.3 million for his presidential campaign, including money he transferred from his Senate campaign and a $5.7 million take during the third quarter.
And Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, another outsider candidate, is also in the thick of it, raising $26.6 million so far this year, including $12.2 million between July and September.
All the while, many Republicans are still waiting for the field to narrow further before they pick a favored candidate, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of campaign filings and interviews with top donors and fundraisers show.
For instance, GOP megadonors such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and hedge fund manager Paul Singer remain on the sidelines of the race.
Likewise, Arkansas businessman Warren Stephens is still being courted by campaigns.
“I haven’t really settled on anybody,” he said, despite the fact that he’s donated this year to super PACs supporting the presidential bids of Walker, Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
So are Joe and Marlene Ricketts, the heads of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team. The couple was among the biggest supporters of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker before he dropped out of the GOP presidential race last month.
Only about half the nation’s top 100 political donors during the past six years — as identified by the Center for Responsive Politics— have contributed to any of the presidential candidates or efforts supporting their bids, according to an analysis of campaign finance data by the Center for Public Integrity.
That’s essentially unchanged since mid-summer, a sign few were lured off the bleachers and into the game over the past three months.
Of course, not all of the candidates in the sprawling field have successfully stirred up financial support, and several campaigns reported running dangerously low on cash.
Several candidates reported spending more money during the third quarter than they raised.
One example: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican, brought in $2.5 million but burned through $4.5 million. Paul’s campaign reported having $2.1 million in cash on hand at the end of the quarter.
In addition, 11 active candidates each had less than $1 million in cash left in the campaign till as of September 30 — although one of them is Trump, who has said he is willing to self-fund his campaign as needed.
A dwindling stash of hard campaign cash played a significant role in forcing both Walker and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry out of the Republican primary race. Their withdrawals came despite billionaire backers willing to invest millions in super PACs supporting them, showing wealthy outside groups are not enough, on their own, to save a faltering bid.
Derrick Robinson, a spokesman for ActBlue, a Democrat-aligned fundraising outfit, told the Center for Public Integrity that online technology would help engage millions of small-dollar donors, even in the age of big-money super PACs, which have no contribution limits.
“There’s no question, small-donor giving is on the rise — even as super PACs have gained in popularity,” Robinson said.
Democratic consultant Joe Trippi, who served as Howard Dean’s campaign manager in 2004 when the former Vermont governor unexpectedly surged by galvanizing the grassroots, likewise agreed that technological changes have aided politicians.
But Trippi stressed that insurgent candidates still face uphill battles.
“We scared the daylights out of the establishment, but that was about all we were able to do," Trippi said. "Both party establishments are pretty good at making sure that a candidate who isn’t of the establishment doesn’t make it.”
Ben Wieder contributed to this report.
This story was co-published with NBC News.
Spending time with investigative reporters from the ICIJ and dozens of other organizations as well as rugged individuals at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference, it’s evident how vital the role of this form of journalism has become as a force in civil society, for human rights and to hold the powerful to account everywhere.
You could also be forgiven for thinking the industry was in great shape with more than 800 people attending the event in the snow-free off-season Norwegian ski resort of Lillehammer. About a quarter of those attended on travel grants provided by the quasi-government agencies and philanthropic groups that do so much to back investigative reporting. A small percentage of those at the conference were full-time staff of major media groups but several – like The Guardian, Financial Times, USA Today and Thomson Reuters among others — continue to fund large-scale investigations.
But the brands most evident as supporters were the big philanthropic groups such as the Open Society Foundations (OSF) created by George Soros, the Ford Foundation, and Adessium, a Dutch organization. All three of those back the Center for Public Integrity and or the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Others like the Chicago-based Reva & David Logan Foundation, the Norwegian Fritt Ord were there along with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The ICIJ team played a significant role at the biannual event with dedicated sessions on the #SwissLeaks investigation into the Swiss branch of HSBC and its World Bank investigation, How to Create a Secure Leaks Platform and How to Expose a Tax Haven. In fact that doesn’t fully capture the influence the ICIJ has at the event with its staff team and members scattered through virtually every session.
Non-ICIJ stories which struck me at the event included the dogged work of the Malaysia-born English founder of Sarawak Report whose expose on a billion dollar corruption scandal connecting the Malaysian Prime Minister to a secret UAE donor has been a huge story for the Wall Street Journal. The creator of Sarawak Report Clare Rewcastle-Brown is interviewed here. I was also struck by an investigation into the downing of the Malaysian airliner MH17 over Ukraine— a tragedy misted over by diplomacy and realpolitik. I also hadn’t previously seen this in-depth look at the wealth of Vladimir Putin by a Reuters team.
Politics and obscuring reality with Super-PACS
Back in Washington the Money & Politics drives on into the murky world of the super-PAC forces behind the candidates. Carrie Levine launched a strong exclusive on the Jeb Bush (nearly used the possessive apostrophe there but of course super-PACs are independent of the candidate), Right to Rise and its skill in obscuring what it’s up to. More than 3,000 people endorsed that with a Facebook “Like”.
Dave Levinthal and Michael Beckel uncovered a strong Hillary Clinton advertising piece from the depth of Kantar CMAG advertising data the team is using the plot who’s seeing what and who’s paying for it across the nation. In the same realm and in a piece which explains well how we are using the data is this from Kytja Weir and Chris Zubak-Skees.
What we’re reading (or thinking about)
In the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell, takes a look at the phenomenon of school shootings and I have a question for you myself. Why aren’t more of them considered domestic terrorism than the act of a madman as they are usually portrayed?
It’s a slightly different angle to the question President Obama asked.
I also appreciated this collaboration on the Center for Public Integrity site between the Center and The Lens, a nonprofit newsroom in New Orleans. It’s a powerful story of justice and injustice by Katy Reckdahl.
I welcome any feedback on this note.
Democratic political consultant Joe Trippi may be best known for serving as Howard Dean’s campaign manager in 2004 when the former Vermont governor broke fundraising records during his failed presidential bid.
Dean’s ability to attract modest, yet numerous, online donations drove his financial — if not political — success.
Trippi — who has worked in politics for decades, including roles on the presidential campaigns of Democrats Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale and John Edwards, among others — recently talked with the Center for Public Integrity about the role small-dollar donors are playing in the 2016 presidential race. He also detailed changes he wants lawmakers to make to the nation’s campaign finance system.
On one hand, Trippi offers a dire forecast on the electoral fate of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who has emerged as the most serious challenger to Democratic Party front-runner Hillary Clinton. Like Dean, Sanders has unexpectedly generated most of the $41.5 million he’s already raised from grassroots givers — although Trippi doesn’t believe it will be enough to propel Sanders to the Democratic nomination.
But Trippi, like Sanders, nevertheless believes a revolution is coming to American elections: The only question is when.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Center for Public Integrity: What does it mean for the country when politicians are raising so much money from wealthy supporters rather than the grassroots?
Trippi: It’s a bad trend for the country.
Center for Public Integrity: What makes it a bad trend?
Trippi: All the things that turn people off and make them step back and throw their hands up are just spurred on by super PACs and big money. Democracy should be about the more people participating, the better.
Center for Public Integrity: What would you do instead?
Trippi: If you banned everything but $100 contributions to a candidate, I think we’d have a much stronger democracy. That’s what I would do. Unfortunately, with freedom of speech, you can’t.
Center for Public Integrity: Why do you like that idea?
Trippi: If you’ve got to put a bunch of $100 contributions together, candidates would be talking to a lot more people and having a lot less dinners with billionaires and millionaires. And only the ones who could connect to do that would be getting anywhere.
Center for Public Integrity: In the era of super PACs, what role do small-dollar donors play for campaigns?
Trippi: Look, all the established, front-runner, been-around-forever people have no problem in the current super PAC/let’s-go-speed-date-billionaires game that’s going on. But for anybody who is out there and is at zero and no one knows their name, it’s the only way to have any chance. Whatever chance we had in 2004 was because of that.
Center for Public Integrity: What stars have to align for a candidate to harness a big small-dollar donor network?
Trippi: You’ve got to have a message that is going to connect to a lot of people. You’re not trying to find one billionaire to fund you. You’re trying to find millions of people.
Center for Public Integrity: Why does the establishment like super PACs?
Trippi: None of these candidates want to go out and have to get 10 million people to give them $100. It’s easier to get one billionaire to write a $100 million check. That’s why these super PACs are important.
Center for Public Integrity: Where do you think this is all heading?
Trippi: The system we have cannot stand. All the billionaires out there should start doing some math. We’re a country of, like, 330 million people. There’s going to be a day when 20 million people connect with a candidate — and totally change America’s politics.
Center for Public Integrity: What was it like raising money from small-dollar donors in 1984 when you worked for Democrat Walter Mondale’s campaign?
Trippi: Because there was nothing called the Internet, people had to write these things called checks, stick them in these things called envelopes, lick these things called stamps, put them on the envelopes and mail them, which took days. And then the banks would put one-week holds on all the out-of-state checks. Candidates would not be able to access all that money for weeks.
Center for Public Integrity: And now?
Trippi: Now, candidates can raise millions of dollars — literally millions — within hours online.
Center for Public Integrity: How did the party establishment react when the Dean campaign raised so much money from small-dollar donors online in 2004?
Trippi: We scared the daylights out of the establishment, but that was about all we were able to do. Both party establishments are pretty good at making sure that a candidate who isn’t of the establishment doesn’t make it.
Center for Public Integrity: What about Barack Obama?
Trippi: You could argue that Obama beat the establishment in 2008, or was able to co-opt enough of them after he got enough small-dollar donations online. But — if you count him — he’s the rare exception.
In 2008, it’s three million people giving Barack Obama half a billion dollars and he wins. But after that, the Republicans did not run out and say, ‘Wow, we’ve got to create a network of three million people to compete with that $500 million machine.’ Instead, they make the super PAC thing happen.
And in 2012, the Democrats cave and say, ‘Yeah, us too,’ to super PACs. Barack Obama, who had been against super PACs and saying you can do this with people — he finally breaks down and says I was wrong, that to fight super PACs, you need to give to super PACs.
Center for Public Integrity: Why doesn’t a popular groundswell from small-dollar donors have the ability to carry more weight?
Trippi: It’s not just the money. A lot of the rules and things are set up to stop insurgent candidates.
Center for Public Integrity: What do you think would happen if Bernie Sanders beats Hillary Clinton in Iowa?
Trippi: The entire Democratic establishment would come out of the woodwork to stop Bernie Sanders from being the nominee. The establishment fervently believes that a socialist cannot be president of the United States.
A victory delayed is still a victory
Anger can be a pretty good motivation in journalism, or perhaps passion. The Pulitzer-prize-winning series on black lung disease from Jim Morris’ Environment team last year, "Breathless & Burdened" was enough to make anyone angry. To remind you, it exposed how a program at Johns Hopkins unaccountably detected lower levels of black lung in miners than others had.
It seemed to me a story from the past, the 1950s perhaps when miners struggled in difficult and dangerous conditions in Appalachian hell holes. Well, it seems they still do, based on reporting by Chris Hamby, now at BuzzFeed.
Jim’s team has stayed on top of the story and tracked the confidential, of course, investigation at Johns Hopkins. Almost by accident last week Jamie Smith Hopkins (yes, correct name) found out that the prestigious university had terminated the program after a nearly two-year-long investigation.
Let me remind you of the key finding of our investigation, that Dr. Paul Wheeler from the Johns Hopkins unit didn’t find a single case of severe black lung in 1500 cases for which he was asked an opinion. To see how nuts that was it’s worth taking a look at the x-ray data in this stunning comparison by Chris Zubak-Skees.
In the same week Jim reported how members of Congress were pushing for reform of black lung benefits based on the Center’s work.
Measuring the impact of Public Integrity’s reporting — like all investigative non-profits — is a fraught business between page views, social shares, and dissemination on other sites. But real, verifiable, action by authorities like this is hard to beat and very much in the spectrum of the “theory of change” on which major donors place us.
It doesn’t mean becoming advocates but it does mean caring about outcomes, the consequences of what we report: whether it is this black lung fiasco or the EPA’s decision to investigate its own civil rights unit recently.
Also on the policy impact front, Susan Ferriss’ indefatigable work on the subject of kids being treated like criminals at school — built in part around the case of an autistic Virginia boy called Kayleb Moon-Robinson, keeps getting closer to triggering legislative action, again because advocates and politicians are moved by our reporting. Susan reports that a bipartisan alliance has emerged in Virginia to try to tackle the way the state is criminalizing kids.
State corruption and collaboration
Collaboration is a journalistic buzz word more often honored in the breach. It was a big topic at the recently Online News Association conference #ONA15 and several of our donors and others are pushing non-profits and media groups to collaborate in order to shore up some of the decline in State and in-depth reporting given the newspaper industry crisis.
Our own International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is probably the most effective journalism collaboration in existence but the state reporting consortium led by Kytja Weir at Public Integrity is also remarkable. A great example was this series with the Post & Courier in South Carolina. With some data and reporting horsepower from the Center and the local knowledge of the Post & Courier the true Tammany Hall picture of the state legislature was exposed.
I believe our state coverage is a core competence and future strength of the Center and something major media donor foundations as well as concerned individuals keen on as they fret over the democratic deficit at state level with cuts in local media across the country. A superb example is this expensive tracker of advertising spending at the state level for the 2015 elections. It is a great indication of where the money is really going and beyond the reach of any one statehouse reporter to produce. More to come soon too from the epic State Integrity project tracking how well — or I am afraid badly – states across the nation are doing in combatting corruption and creating at state level.
Within the stories there are some gems too. Liz Essley Whyte and Ashley Balcerzak, kicked off their piece with the “must-read” introduction: "U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Republican candidate for governor of Louisiana, would like voters to forget his past connection to a notorious prostitution ring."
911 – we are where we are, not where our cell thinks we are
Allan Holmes, our long-term finance reporter and newly appointed head of the Business in Politics unit, touched a nerve with his analysis on how the wireless telecoms industry has influenced legislation on location detection of users. He showed how dangerous a problem this is with 911 calls. The chart by Chris Zubak-Skees on how the problem has gotten worse is telling and the recording he presented of one of those calls is chilling.
What we’re reading (or thinking about)
I’m writing this in London which is why it is a little late from normal delivery.
The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has a major exhibition at the Royal Academy and I was struck at the conjunction between investigative journalism and his brand of critical and revealing art often dealing with the secrecy and control of the Chinese Communist Party and its apparent fear of him personally.
For example, a current major A-Z of world artists is displayed with him under A in the English version and absent entirely in the Chinese version. An almost physically painful exhibit is SACRED, six near-shipping container-sized boxes, reproductions of the cell in which he was held for 81 days, interrogated and subjected to soul-destroying psychological tactics designed to grind down his spirit and eliminate his dignity. On the walls of the room in which the boxes sit he’s done a wallpaper with his face on the Twitter bird logo surmounted with golden surveillance cameras and handcuffs.
I found most powerful a video in which his freshly constructed art gallery and workspace – commissioned by a local authority to create a new artists’ district — was demolished and erased from the landscape by Beijing authorities before it could open.
I welcome any feedback on this note.
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