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    Private Medicare Advantage plans treating the elderly have over-billed the government by billions of dollars, but rarely been forced to repay the money or face other consequences for their actions, according to a new Congressional audit.

    In a sharply critical report made public Monday, the Government Accountability Office called for “fundamental improvements” to curb overbilling by the health plans, which are paid more than $160 billion annually. The privately run plans, an alternative to traditional fee-for-service Medicare,  have proven popular with seniors and have enrolled more than 17 million people. The plans, which were the subject of a Center for Public Integrity investigation, also enjoy strong support in Congress.

    GAO took aim at Medicare’s primary tactic for recouping overcharges, a secretive, and lengthy, audit process called Risk Adjustment Data Validation, or RADV. Unlike many other anti-fraud programs, RADV has cost the government way more than it has returned to the treasury.

    The GAO said that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, has spent about $117 million on these audits, but so far has recouped just $14 million. CMS officials counter that the mere threat of RADVaudits has caused health plans to voluntarily return approximately $650 million in overpayments – and that upcoming audits will recover tens of millions more.

    “As the MA (Medicare Advantage) program continues to grow, safeguarding the program from loss is critical,” the GAO report said. The report did not name any of the health plans studied.

    The GAO launched its audit in October 2014 in the wake of the Center for Public Integrity’s “Medicare Advantage Money Grab” series. The articles documented nearly $70 billion in “improper” payments to health plans — mostly inflated fees from overstating patients’ health risks — from 2008 through 2013 alone. 

    The Center’s investigation traced the overpayments to abuse of a billing formula called a risk score, which pays higher rates for sicker patients and less for people in good health. Since 2004, however, the risk score formula has largely operated as an honor system, despite criticism that many health plans have overstated how sick some patients are to boost their revenues. That practice is known in medical circles as “upcoding.”

    In addition, CMS records released to the Center for Public Integrity through a court order in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit show that over-billing has wasted tax dollars almost since risk scores were introduced in 2004. One confidential review of 2005 payments determined that nearly a third of patients enrolled in 22 health plans weren’t as sick as was claimed. The audit projected overpayments of $4.2 billion as a result. Other CMS documents reveal that officials dubbed these health plans “high-flyers,” but did little to reel them in, while RADV audits dragged on for years without reaching conclusions.

    Medicare officials have quietly conducted these audits since 2008. But they have never imposed stiff financial penalties even as evidence built up that billing errors were deeply rooted and wasting tax dollars at an alarming clip.

    GAO in its report noted that CMS has failed to target health plans with “known improper payment risk,” thus allowing the worst performers to escape the net. The GAO also criticized the agency for allowing audits and appeals to drag on for years. Some audits of 2007 payments to health plans are still under appeal, for instance.

    In response to the GAO report, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s trade organization, said that an “unconfirmed diagnosis” in an audit doesn’t necessarily mean that the person doesn’t have the disease.

    And in recent public comments, the trade group has criticized the RADV audit review process as not yet complete or “fully tested,” to assure that it is “stable and reliable.”

    David Lipschuz, an attorney with the Center for Medicare Advocacy, said his advocacy group was “troubled” by the extent of the improper payments to Medicare Advantage plans and the government’s “lack of progress on recouping and deterring such payments.”

    In an emailed statement, he added: “We hope that policymakers who protect MA (Medicare Advantage) profit at all costs, while at the same time often proposing to shift more costs on to the majority of beneficiaries in traditional Medicare, take heed of this GAO report and ensure that the recommendations are implemented.”

    GAO reviewers said that CMS is stepping up the RADV audits, but added that much more needs to be done. GAO noted that officials expect the upcoming audits to recover $370 million, but that’s just three percent of the total estimated annual overpayment.

    CMS officials said they have begun auditing Medicare Advantage payments from 2011 and 2012 and have set a goal to have all Medicare Advantage contracts audited yearly.

    “HHS is strongly committed to program integrity in the Medicare Advantage (MA) program and takes seriously our responsibility to protect taxpayer dollars by identifying and correcting improper payments,” the agency said.

    While federal audits have struggled for years to stamp out these overcharges, at least a half-dozen whistleblowers have filed lawsuits accusing Medicare Advantage plans of ripping off the government.

    In the most recent Medicare Advantage whistleblower case to surface, South Florida doctor Mario M. Baez alleges that insurance giant Humana Inc. knew of billing fraud at some South Florida clinics but did little to stop it. Baez argues that inflating risk scores not only wastes taxpayer dollars but also can harm patients. The suit, which was unsealed in late February, is pending. Humana has declined to comment on it.

    Carol Berman, of West Palm Beach, Fla., speaks with pedestrians about the need for policymakers to protect Medicare Advantage benefits during the Coalition for Medicare Choices' Medicare Advantage Food Truck stop on North Capitol Street in Washington on Monday, March 9, 2015.Fred Schultehttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/fred-schultehttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/09/19660/auditors-feds-failed-rein-billions-over-billing-medicare-advantage

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    To conduct its analysis, the Center for Public Integrity combined these data sets:

    • The Federal Communication Commission’s Form 477 Broadband Deployment Data, as of June 30, 2015, the latest available;
    • 2010 U.S. Census population data at the census block level, which is the most recent publicly available; 
    • 2010-2014 5-year American Community Survey income and demographic data at the census block group level;
    • U.S. Agriculture Department rural-urban continuum codes at the county level.

    The Center used the FCC’s definition of broadband, a download speed of 25 megabits per second and higher, to determine if broadband was offered by consumer providers in each census block group.

    Income for Census block groups were divided into quintiles based on median household income and the number of households in each census block group. The five census block group quintiles are: 

    1) Below $34,783

    2) From $34,783 to $46,875

    3) From $46,876 to $60,223

    4) From $60,224 to $80,694

    5) Greater than $80,694

    The Center’s analysis represents 99.5 percent of the population as measured by the Census Bureau in 2010. It includes 96.9 percent of all census blocks from 2010 and 99.1 percent of census block groups in the 2014 5-year American Community Survey. The Center did not include census block groups with no reported median income.

    Goochland County broadbandBen Wiederhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/ben-wiederhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/12/19676/how-center-public-integrity-measured-internet-inequality

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    May 12, 2016: This story has been corrected.

    GOOCHLAND COUNTY, Virginia — Ever since Curtis Brown Jr. got his first Star Wars toy as a toddler, he has been fascinated by action figures. So much so that he has built a business customizing action figures for clients worldwide. But what could be a lucrative career has turned into an exercise in futility that traps Brown and his family in poverty.

    That’s because Brown struggles every day with miserable Internet service. The only choice where he currently lives is an $80-a-month satellite connection. It’s slow and comes with such a low data cap that he exceeds it within a week or two. So Brown’s business comes to a halt. He can’t afford to buy more data. He can’t use his smartphone because the service is so bad he has to go outside to get a signal, and it’s too cumbersome to update the many websites he uses to conduct his business.

    The constant interruptions limit Brown to about $400 a month in profit. Even with his wife Ashley’s income from an administrative job with the state’s education department, Brown and his three stepchildren have to rely on help from relatives and food stamps to make ends meet. Brown would move if he could, but houses with fast Internet connections are in areas where the rent is too expensive.

    An isolated case? Not at all. An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that even though Internet access has improved in recent years, families in poor areas are almost five times more likely not to have access to high-speed broadband than the most affluent American households. That means no access to online jobs, and no access to health care advice, education, government services and banking — everything needed to be a full participant in today’s society. This harsh reality has led to a new kind of segregation.

    “Internet access,” says James Lane, superintendent of Goochland County Public Schools, “is the civil rights issue of our time.”

    A rope ladder

    Brown sells his custom action figures — Gamorrean Guards, Luke Skywalkers and Skeletors — out of his living room in a compact one-story brick house at the end of a dirt driveway just off Stokes Station Road in the western part of Goochland County. The neighborhood is about 20 miles west of the tony suburbs and manicured golf courses adjacent to Richmond — but it is worlds away. Next door to the Browns: an abandoned trailer home with broken windows and rusted siding.

    Nearly every house in the area has a satellite dish bolted on the roof or perched on a pole in the yard. A satellite connection, like the one Brown gets from HughesNet, is the only option for Internet here. But it is expensive and does not provide what the federal government defines as “advanced telecommunications capability” or high-speed broadband, a download speed of 25 megabits per second or higher. That’s the speed both the feds and application developers say is the minimum needed to support both the numerous devices in a household today and the future applications that will create digitally interconnected homes and businesses.

    Other Internet connections like DSL — offered by companies such as AT&T Inc., CenturyLink Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. — rely on telephone lines but typically don’t offer broadband speeds. Americans can get Internet on their smart phones, but the faster connections on those phones aren’t widely available and come with data caps that most people use up quickly. Cable and fiber connections, those offered by Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc. and Verizon’s fiber-optic cable service mostly in cities, offer the faster speeds. But they aren’t available everywhere either — especially in low-income areas.

    It’s that sort of fast cable or fiber connection that Brown says he needs to earn thousands of dollars more a month like he used to when he lived in another part of the county that had a fast connection — before a family matter caused financial difficulties and he had to move.

    “It would be like when you are in a hole, it would be that nice rope ladder being lowered down to you so you can get yourself out,” Brown said. “That’s exactly what it would feel like for us.”

    For now, though, that ladder lies just out of reach, less than five miles away on River Road, one of the main thoroughfares that roughly follows the James River, which flows east to and through Richmond. That’s where Comcast, the high-speed broadband provider for much of Goochland County, ends its high-speed Internet service. It also happens to be almost exactly where the median household income drops by more than a third and the poverty rate triples, according to the Center’s analysis.

    That’s not the only place Comcast ends service at the doorstep of this low-income area. The same happens on Riddles Bridges Road just another two miles away. And again farther north on Forest Grove Road, where Comcast serves neighborhoods with $300,000-plus homes: service stops a few thousand feet before the line where poor neighborhoods start — such as a low-income black community a little more than a mile away. Here Internet access “is nonexistent,” said a young resident who declined to give his name. “It’s primitive out here.”

    Internet providers say they don’t consider demographic data such as income levels and poverty rates when deciding where to hook up neighborhoods. Who gets a wired Internet connection and who doesn’t is one mostly based on population density, they say. Areas like where the Browns live are too sparsely populated for telecommunications companies to make a return on the high cost of wiring rural neighborhoods, they say. Comcast officials add that they are following a specific franchise agreement the company negotiated with Goochland County officials, which requires them to lay cable down streets only where there are 30 houses per mile.

    Even so, it’s hard for Manuel Alvarez, a county supervisor who represents the district where the Browns live, to look at where Internet service ends and not wonder if Comcast purposefully avoids providing broadband to Goochland County’s poor. 

    “I can't believe that they wouldn't look at people's ability to pay before they run cable,” said Alvarez, who won a seat on the board in 2011 running on a platform to improve Internet access countywide. “I do believe that they run cable where they will get their money back.”

    Not even a choice

    Nationwide, families in neighborhoods with median household incomes below $34,800 — the lowest fifth of neighborhoods nationally — are five times more likely not to have access to broadband than households in areas with a median income above $80,700 — the top fifth, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. The Center, which analyzed Federal Communications Commission and Census Bureau data, specifically looked at households that didn’t have access to wired broadband, which is fast Internet service that is readily available, as opposed to adoption, when a household has access to service and can choose to purchase it or not.

    In Houston, high-speed Internet service becomes patchy between Interstate-69 and the Westpark Tollway, skipping clusters of apartment complexes where the median household income is less than $30,000 a year. Wealthier neighborhoods to the north, south and west enjoy more consistent coverage. Low-income residents in an area in East Cleveland don’t have access while wealthy areas just two miles away to the south do, according to the Center’s analysis. And in San Bernardino, California, people living in areas that have the lowest fifth of household income are about three times as likely to lack access to broadband as families living in areas where the household income is in the top fifth.

    In all, in excess of 30 million Americans, more than half in areas with a median household income below $47,000 a year, do not have access to broadband, according to the Center’s analysis. That means difficulty streaming video or downloading or posting large files such as graphics and photographs, as Brown experiences. If more than one person in a household is online, interruptions can occur. And these families won’t be able to take advantage of future applications, such as home health care apps, that may require fast speeds to work properly.

    The Center’s findings closely match the FCC’s conclusion in its Broadband Progress Report, released in January. (The Center used more recent data that was released after the agency published its findings.) The FCC’s report was the basis for a commission ruling the same month that Internet providers weren’t deploying broadband in a reasonable and timely fashion, as required by law, opening up the possibility the agency may impose regulations to require providers to upgrade and expand their networks faster.

    Compounding difficulties

    Many broadband experts and analysts say the real explanation for the difference in Internet access between the rich and poor is that providers can’t afford to wire rural areas, which have a larger proportion of low-income families than urban areas. Wiring rural areas is expensive, and providers can’t get enough return on investment because there are too few households to support the cost. Low-income households also tend to sign up for Internet service at less than half the rate of wealthier families, with the high cost of broadband connections the primary deterrent, according to the Pew Research Center. The providers are businesses, after all, goes the argument, and those businesses have the right to make money, and choose where to do business based on whether they can make a profit there or not. Last year, Comcast earned almost $12 billion in net operating income on its cable communications business.

    The Center found that even controlling for population density, the rural poor are still in excess of one-and-a-half times as likely to lack high-speed broadband as rural wealthy families. Even in urban areas where 94 percent of households have access, low-income families are three times as likely to lack access as the wealthiest urban families, the Center found.

    Tanisha Fletcher is one of the nearly 7 percent of city residents who don’t have access. Fletcher, 36, is a resident of Juniper Gardens, one of the oldest public housing projects in Kansas City, Kansas. Time Warner Cable provides service for the buildings all around her block, but not for her apartment building, according to the FCC broadband database. Fletcher, 36, has to rely on a wireless connection that she said freezes so often that “it might as well be non-existent.”

    Even though Fletcher earns just $1,100 a month as the office manager at Connecting for Good, a nonprofit that works with Internet providers to connect low-income areas, she said she would be willing to pay $20 or more a month for a connection so she could finish her college degree and stay in touch with family and friends.

    “We kind of get looked over here, and I don’t really know why that it is,” Fletcher said. “It makes us feel like the cable company and the city just don’t care about us.”

    Time Warner Cable did not respond to a request for comment.

    The FCC maintains that disproportionate access between low- and high-income Americans is a top concern. The FCC said policies directed toward improving access in rural areas, like its rural healthcare fund, and a fund to connect schools and libraries are aimed at reducing the wealthy-poor divide. The FCC additionally says it imposes conditions in mergers between telecommunications companies that typically require a purchasing company to provide better access to the poor, such as with AT&T’s purchase of satellite provider DirectTV last year. And the FCC also has acted to reduce barriers to broadband expansion into unserved areas, as it did in preempting two state laws that prevented cities from expanding municipal-owned Internet networks, arguing the statutes limited broadband’s reach to rural areas and the poor.

    But not explicitly focusing on the digital divide between the wealthy and the poor can have significant adverse circumstances, said Sharon Strover, director of the Technology and Information Policy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, who studies broadband’s impact on economic growth. .

    In a 2013 study, Strover and her co-authors found that poverty rates in areas with a high-speed connection were significantly lower than those that didn’t have broadband. Median incomes also were higher in counties where adoption rates were above average.

    “I think some of the difficulties that lower-income folks have now will just be compounded” if they don’t have access to high-speed broadband, Strover said.

    The digital dividing line

    In Goochland, county leaders and residents are well aware that broadband access ends at the same place where incomes drop, and the poverty rate and percentage of minorities increase.

    The wealthy area starts in the eastern part of the county, which abuts some of the most luxurious Richmond suburbs, where the median income is above $100,000 a year. Million dollar-plus estates with waterfront views sit close by to the exclusive private Kinloch Golf Club, with its Tudor-style clubhouse. Capital One Financial Corp., the eighth-largest U.S. bank, operates a sprawling 316-acre business campusabout a five-minute drive away. Residents here have a choice of buying Internet service from Comcast or Verizon, with speeds reaching as high as 500 Mbps, among some of the fastest available nationwide.

    But travel west and cross the halfway point of the county — past the recently built Goochland High School and just beyond Dogtown Road — and broadband mostly stops. No longer can you get Comcast’s fastest connection of 150 Mbps, and Verizon’s fastest speed drops from the 500 Mbps in the east to a sluggish 3 Mbps, to eventually no service at all. For sure, the county is more rural here, making it more costly for providers to lay cable or fiber, acknowledges Lane, the school superintendent.

    At the same time, he says, “We know that in our community the fiber stops right at the moment where our low-income students are living.”

    And the effects, he says, are profound. Three years ago, the school system began giving a laptop or iPad to each student. Teachers incorporate the devices into classroom exercises; in one recent class students searched the Internet to find requirements for their chosen careers. Teachers also would like to assign homework that requires accessing online resources when students leave school. But because many students have no broadband at home, the school has implemented a rule that teachers can’t assign homework that depends on the Internet. Even so, students without Internet are falling behind, Lane said.

    “The kids who have access are learning anytime, anywhere they want to,” said Lane, who will become the superintendent of schools for neighboring Chesterfield County in July. “But the kids who don't have access at home, basically their learning stops at the moment they leave the school house.”

    Like Cody Ware. A 12-year-old fifth-grader at Goochland’s Byrd Elementary School who likes science, Cody said the lack of Internet makes him nervous because he is afraid he may miss an assignment. “If I forget to take a picture of my homework on the iPad, then I can't do it on the iPad later that night because I don't have it,” he said. “And then I have to explain to my teachers why I didn't have it.”=

    Cody’s mother, Crystal, 38, said the family can’t afford to move to the part of the county with broadband access, even though it’s just a couple miles away. She recently had to make the hour-long, round-trip drive to the closest library so her son could download a study guide for an upcoming science test.

    “A lot of people say, well life is unfair, but I feel like there's a difference between unfair and the necessity of it,” Ware said.

    ‘Bent on regulating’

    The FCC has the authority to determine if providers are deploying Internet service in a “reasonable and timely fashion,” as outlined in the 1996 Telecommunications Act. When the agency sees barriers to deployment, it has argued it can act in the public interest, as it did when it preempted the state laws barring cities from expanding their networks.

    But the market for Internet service remains close to a monopoly in many places, and at best a duopoly in most areas. About 75 percent Americans have only one or two choices for providers, according to the FCC. And many providers tend to avoid competition that could lead to expansion of the networks, according to an earlier Center investigation.

    When the FCC ruled that broadband wasn’t being deployed fast enough, it reported that “deployment, competition, and adoption [are] concepts that we continue to recognize are tightly linked.” But Internet providers such as AT&T and Verizon argued the opposite. They said the FCC’s own reporting showed the percentage of Americans without wired broadband access dropped from 28 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2014.

    AT&T said in a filing that the FCC was “ignoring that this percentage was declining rapidly.” Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, one of two Republicans on the five-member commission, voted against the FCC’s finding that broadband was not being deployed fast enough. He said the FCC’s report “continues to show steady progress in connecting unserved Americans” and that “apparently no amount of progress will ever be good enough for a Commission that is bent on regulating broadband at all cost.”

    Verizon claimed in a filing that the FCC should include wireless access in its assessment of broadband access, arguing the failure to incorporate “all broadband options that are available to and used by consumers was a persistent flaw in methodology.”

    But the FCC also ruled in January that satellite and wireless connections were not a substitute for wired connections.

    And back in Goochland County, most folks seem to agree. Superintendent Lane called O’Rielly’s assertion “ridiculous” and said Verizon’s claim that wireless should be considered in the broadband-access calculations isn’t feasible.

    “Do you think that you could do your entire job on your cell phone?” asked Lane. “Because I can tell you that most people would say that you cannot.”

    Comcast officials said they do not use Census Bureau income or poverty data to determine where the company lays cable. Comcast conducts periodic surveys of the county to check where they need to provide service. Officials also said the company’s program to provide low-cost Internet connections is aimed at increasing adoption, although it doesn’t improve access to broadband. By serving urban areas, “arguably we provide service to more families in poverty or near poverty,” a Comcast official said. “We want to service as many people as possible.”

    In Goochland County, similar to other areas, the company is obligated to follow a franchise agreement it negotiated with the county in 2011. These agreements, which number in the thousands nationwide, are typically renegotiated every several years. In Goochland County, that is a time when residents fill up the room where the board of supervisors meet to complain about lack of service, Alvarez said, but local boards typically don’t have a lot of power to negotiate expanded service into areas that are high-cost, which frequently also means low-income.

    AT&T and Verizon, as well as Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink and Charter Communications Inc., didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for Cox Communications Inc., which provides service in more than a dozen states from Rhode Island to California, said in an email that “100% of the residents in the markets we serve have access to Internet service if they choose it” and that the company follows agreements negotiated with local governments.

    The cost of access

    In many areas where Comcast runs cable, residents don’t have broadband access. Under its agreement, Comcast isn’t obligated to run a line from the street down a homeowner’s or renter’s driveway if the house sits more than 150 feet off the road.

    The provision keeps even wealthier Goochland residents from getting connected. When Alvarez, the county supervisor, moved in 2004 to a Goochland neighborhood where many of the homes are valued at more than $500,000, he didn’t have fixed Internet, even though a cable ran down the road a few hundred feet from his driveway in the Mill Forest subdivision. Alvarez said local Comcast officials told him it would cost $2,300 to run a cable to his house and $250,000 to wire the entire neighborhood of more than 120 homes. Eventually, Comcast came down to $47,000 for the subdivision, or about $450 a house, Alvarez said. Most of the neighborhood residents paid the fee to get connected.

    Alvarez, whose district he says includes “houses with dirt floors to houses with marble floors,” said Comcast and other providers should pay to connect homes where lines are readily available because the companies will eventually recoup their costs. He says the lack of Internet is also hurting job growth in the western part of the county, as businesses can’t get the fast speeds needed to compete in the modern economy.

    What it all means, Alvarez asserts, is that high-speed Internet is really a “must have” in today’s world, not a luxury. The Internet is becoming a utility that is as much of a necessity as electricity, and that means the federal government may have to regulate it as one, he said.

    “Then you can push for more coverage,” Alvarez said. Otherwise, he says, “Everybody who doesn't have high-speed Internet is going to fall behind.”

    A lifeline?

    Last month the FCC passed reforms to a program that officials said should encourage providers to expand broadband to low-income areas. In a party-line vote, the agency voted 3-2 to expand the Lifeline program, which previously had subsidized the cost of cell phones for low-income individuals, to include fixed Internet service. Eligible participants can receive a $9.25 a month discount off their fixed broadband bill, paid for by the FCC. Officials hope the $2.25 billion program, funded by the existing universal service tax on customers’ Internet bills, will create a market in poor areas that Internet providers will want to reach.

    FCC officials note that the agency’s $4 billion-a-year “high-cost” universal service program also includes subsidies to encourage wiring areas underserved by providers. The $1.7 billion Connect America Fund requires providers who accept money to offer a speed of at least 10 Mbps download as well as follow other requirements. But not all providers have accepted the cash. Verizon was offered $29 million in federal funds to expand service in Virginia, including about $265,000 in Goochland, but it didn’t take the money, according to the FCC. Other providers did, such as CenturyLink. Verizon didn’t respond to requests for comment.

    But some are skeptical of how much these programs will help. It is unlikely Lifeline will provide a big enough incentive to providers to upgrade networks or to expand wired service to poor areas.

    Lifeline’s individual subsidy “is unlikely to make a dent in the under-supply of broadband in sparsely populated rural areas,” said Richard Bennett, who studies technology policy at the American Enterprise Institute, in an email. “Solutions to the extreme rural coverage dilemma are more likely to come from advances in technology and investment by public-private partnerships to bring new technologies … to market.”

    Bennett said wireless broadband companies such as Bluebird Broadband, which offers service with no data caps, are likely one option for low-income households going forward. Bluebird Broadband, which services Northwest Louisiana and neighboring parts of Texas, offers a 20 Mbps package for about $89 a month, including a $9 router rental fee. That’s still more costly than most wired connections with faster speeds.

    In Virginia, Last Mile Broadband LLC has begun to deploy an advanced wireless LTE technology to serve portions of Hanover County, just north of Goochland, that it says is faster and more reliable than current wireless technology. The company plans to cover Goochland County by the end of 2017. The company will offer speeds of 10 Mbps at about $80 a month, after a $199 fee to install equipment on a customer’s home, without any data caps.

    “We’re going where no other company serves,” said Keith McMichael, Last Mile’s chief operating officer, who grew up in the area. “We’re trying to solve everyone’s problem. Low income or high income, everyone gets it the same way.”

    But the cost may still be out of reach for low-income families, and the service doesn’t include TV or phone, requiring families to pay for a TV or satellite package with another company. Most providers that offer a wired broadband connection of 25 Mbps or more charge less per month and include phone and TV. Besides, the wireless companies are still in startup mode and have yet to spend the money to expand coverage.

    Back in Goochland, Brown, the toy maker, says he can’t wait much longer.

    “Our kids need this,” Brown said. “If wealthy people have better access, they're going to have more opportunities, which will increase their potential for wealth. While if you are in poverty and you have reduced access, you're going to basically fall further behind.”

    Correction, May 12, 2016, 4:22 p.m.: An earlier version of this article identified Ashley Brown as working for the Goochland County department of education. She works for the Virginia Department of Education.

    Allan Holmeshttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/allan-holmesEleanor Bell Foxhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/eleanor-bell-foxBen Wiederhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/ben-wiederChris Zubak-Skeeshttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/chris-zubak-skeeshttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/12/19659/rich-people-have-access-high-speed-internet-many-poor-people-still-dont

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    Eerie sounds. Thudding piano notes. Rapid-fire clips of Donald Trump making disparaging remarks about women.

    This minute-long takedown looks like a political ad. It sounds like a political ad. But according to the pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC sponsoring it, this is not an ad. It’s simply a “Web video” — and one exempt from the kinds of public disclosures applied to paid political communications broadcast over the airwaves.

    So, what’s this “Web video” doing on television?

    The stinging anti-Trump attack, created by pro-Clinton hybrid super PAC Correct the Record, aired nationally numerous times this week on network news programs, including those on Fox News and CNN. It even earned “breaking news” billing on “CNN Tonight with Don Lemon,” garnering a 20-minute dissection by Lemon, chief political correspondent Dana Bash and various political pundits.

    What’s notable about this anti-Trump Web video — indistinguishable in production quality from the hundreds of thousands of political ads blanketing U.S. airwaves — is that Correct the Record is getting its airtime for free via these news programs, instead of paying to air them during commercial breaks. Correct the Record therefore avoids the five-figure costs typical to reserve such an ad spot.

    Earning free media time is something Trump himself has mastered better than any other presidential candidate.

    The ad’s sponsor

    Correct the Record came to life as a super PAC one year ago after breaking off from American Bridge 21st Century, a liberal super PAC founded in 2010 to elevate Democrats and disgrace Republicans.

    So far, the Clinton campaign has used Correct the Record as its main outsourcer of negativity — often the role taken on by super PACs, which may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.

    Yet Correct the Record is different.

    That’s because Correct the Record, which is directly coordinating efforts with the Clinton campaign, strictly posts its political ads on its own website and through the social media accounts it operates. It doesn’t pay to place ads on TV or online, as most super PACs do.

    Because of this, the super PAC says it falls under a Federal Election Commission “Internet exemption” rule that allows for some online political activity, such as content generated by bloggers and grassroots political activists, to be exempt from regulation — including rules against coordination with campaigns.

    This doesn’t sit well with Paul S. Ryan, deputy executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan election reform group.

    Ryan calls Correct the Record’s activities “illegal” and a “charade.”

    “This is so far removed from the Internet exemption meant for volunteers and bloggers,” Ryan said. “The notion that these activities are exempt is absurd.”

    The Clinton campaign and Correct the Record did not return calls requesting comment.

    Who’s behind it?

    The mastermind behind Correct the Record is David Brock, a former Clinton critic who’s now a staunch ally. During the 1990s, Brock, then a conservative author and journalist, made a career out of tearing apart liberal politicians — including the Clintons.

    He later disavowed his conservatism to become a born-again liberal. He apologized for writing a book attacking Anita Hill, who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

    Brock used “virtually every derogatory and often contradictory allegation I had collected on Hill” in a bid to make her look “little bit nutty and a little bit slutty,” according to an excerpt from his book, “Blinded by the Right.”

    Brock advises or leads several pro-Clinton organizations, including super PAC behemoth Priorities USA Action.

    Brock tapped longtime Democratic Party operative Brad Woodhouse to lead Correct the Record’s day-to-day operations. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, is its chairwoman. Longtime Bill Clinton adviser James Carville is a board member.

    Money in

    Priorities USA Action and Correct the Record are working together, too: FEC records show that Priorities USA Action gave Correct the Record $1 million in December. The Clinton campaign has also transferred about $275,000 to Correct the Record.

    Since last year, Correct the Record has raked in more than $5 million. That’s significant money compared to what some super PACs raise, but a relatively small haul when one considers sister super PAC Priorities USA Action has raised more than $67 million.

    Still, Correct the Record has pulled in numerous six-figure donations. A top donor, Henry Laufer, a vice president at investment management firm Renaissance Technologies, gave the super PAC $500,000 in February. Laufer has also contributed $1.5 million to Priorities USA Action.

    Money out

    Correct the Record is not reporting any of its online videos as “independent expenditures.” Such filings, made with the FEC, disclose the precise date and cost of a specific ad buy and identify the candidate the ad is supporting or attacking.

    Instead, existing campaign finance filings offer fewer details on Correct the Record’s anti-Trump spending. For example, they indicate that during the first three months of 2016, Correct the Record spent more than $87,000 on “video consulting.” It also spent about $300,000 on payroll and entered April with about $621,000 in reserve, according to FEC disclosures.

    If Correct the Record were paying rates for ad spots on national networks, they’d be paying well into the tens of thousands of dollars.

    Data from the Internet Archive’s Political TV Ad Archive indicates that the anti-Trump video aired on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC a total of 18 times— without cost to Correct the Record. Monday’s “CNN Tonight with Don Lemon” alone played Correct the Record’s anti-Trump ad three times within 30 minutes during the show.

    Candidates and campaigns typically have paid upward of $25,000 for spots aired on commercial breaks on CNN and Fox News, according to various reports. Candidates’ own campaigns are charged lower rates for TV spots, per Federal Communications Commission rules.

    Why it matters

    Correct the Record intends, by its own assertions, “to defend Hillary Clinton from baseless attacks.”

    Yet the super PAC plays offense as much as it does defense. As a rapid response task force, Correct the Record has slammed a variety of Clinton foes: Trump, Sen. Bernie Sanders, even Clinton haters on Reddit.

    As Clinton marches toward the general election, Correct the Record may become a bigger player, even as it pushes campaign finance law boundaries.

    And while Clinton is testing the limits of FEC regulation, she is simultaneously calling for campaign finance reform.

    “We have to end the flood of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political system, and drowning out the voices of too many everyday Americans,” Clinton said when announcing her platform to limit money in politics. “Our democracy should be about expanding the franchise, not charging an entrance fee.”

    Despite decrying how big money influences politics, few presidential candidates have benefited from the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision as much as Clinton has, according to a Center for Public Integrity report.

    This story was co-published with TIME.

    CNN repeatedly aired an anti-Donald Trump video created by pro-HillaryClinton super PAC Correct the Record, which avoided paying to run the video as a political advertisement.Cady Zuvichhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/cady-zuvichhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/12/19677/news-media-give-free-ride-anti-donald-trump-video

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    The length of a civil rights investigation — even one lasting a decade or more — is up to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s  discretion, no matter how “lamentable” the delay may be, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

    In a decision issued Wednesday, the appellate court sided with a lower court ruling that affirmed the EPA’s  settlement of a 1999 complaint, filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, alleging that Latino schoolchildren in California were being disproportionately impacted by pesticide-spraying. The children’s parents filed a lawsuit asking that the settlement be overturned because it took the EPA 12 years to resolve the case and the agency had failed to consider circumstances that had changed during that period.

    The appellate court said its hands were tied because the EPA has the discretion to decide when to investigate and how long an investigation should take.

    “This case centers not around the effects of EPA’s delay, but rather around EPA’s interpretation of its own enforcement duties under Title VI, a matter committed to its discretion by law,” the court said. It continued: “While the EPA’s delay is lamentable, plaintiffs can no longer claim a judicially redressable harm resulting from it.”

    The EPA referred requests for comment to the Department of Justice. A spokesman said the department had no comment.

    Brent Newell, legal director for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, one of three groups that filed the complaint, said he “respectfully disagrees” with the court’s decision and worries what it might mean going forward. The Center for Public Integrity reported last year that the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights almost never issued a finding on behalf of complainants in environmental discrimination cases.

    “This outcome, if it stands, raises the importance of EPA reform even higher because the enforcement of the Civil Rights Act shouldn’t be at an agency’s total discretion,” Newell said. “EPA has shown through its history that it abuses that discretion.”

    The original complaint against the California Department of Pesticide Regulation sat dormant for more than a decade. Environmental advocates decried the settlement reached in 2011, saying it offered inadequate protections for the children.  CRPE issued a report last month that examined EPA emails and memos generated during the investigation. The report concluded that the communications showed the “institutional barriers” that kept the agency from enforcing civil-rights law.

    EPA regulations give the agency five days to acknowledge receipt of a civil rights complaint and 20 days to decide if it will do an investigation.  The investigation itself should take no more than 180 days, barring special circumstances. In its ruling Wednesday, the appellate court said those regulations are “at most, a set of procedural guidelines,” and not subject to judicial review. Implicit in the EPA’s discretion to decide whether and when to accept cases, the court said, is the “lesser power to determine the scope of the investigation in the event the complaint is accepted.”

    In December, the agency issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that would eliminate the deadlines in order to give the agency more flexibility with complaints.

    Workers pick strawberries in the fields next to Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, California.Talia Bufordhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/talia-bufordhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/12/19681/court-decision-gives-epa-latitude-decide-length-civil-rights-investigations

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    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the discretion to decide the scope of a civil rights investigation and whether to broker a settlement, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

    In a decision issued Wednesday, the appellate court sided with a lower court ruling that affirmed the EPA’s  settlement of a 1999 complaint, filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, alleging that Latino schoolchildren in California were being disproportionately impacted by pesticide-spraying. The children’s parents filed a lawsuit asking that the settlement be overturned because it took the EPA 12 years to resolve the case and the agency had failed to consider circumstances that had changed during that period.

    The plaintiffs argued that the EPA's pattern of delay in enforcing civil rights law amounted to an adbication of duty that warranted judicial action. In a decision that did not set a precedent, the appellate court said the EPA had acted in the California case, despite what it called a "lamentable" delay.

    “This case centers not around the effects of EPA’s delay, but rather around EPA’s interpretation of its own enforcement duties under Title VI, a matter committed to its discretion by law,” the court said. It continued: “While the EPA’s delay is lamentable, plaintiffs can no longer claim a judicially redressable harm resulting from it.”

    The EPA referred requests for comment to the Department of Justice. A spokesman said the department had no comment.

    Brent Newell, legal director for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, one of three groups that filed the complaint, said he “respectfully disagrees” with the court’s decision and worries what it might mean going forward. The Center for Public Integrity reported last year that the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights almost never issued a finding on behalf of complainants in environmental discrimination cases.

    “This outcome, if it stands, raises the importance of EPA reform even higher because the enforcement of the Civil Rights Act shouldn’t be at an agency’s total discretion,” Newell said. “EPA has shown through its history that it abuses that discretion.”

    The original complaint against the California Department of Pesticide Regulation sat dormant for more than a decade. Environmental advocates decried the settlement reached in 2011, saying it offered inadequate protections for the children.  CRPE issued a report last month that examined EPA emails and memos generated during the investigation. The report concluded that the communications showed the “institutional barriers” that kept the agency from enforcing civil-rights law.

    EPA regulations give the agency five days to acknowledge receipt of a civil rights complaint and 20 days to decide if it will do an investigation.  The investigation itself should take no more than 180 days, barring special circumstances. In its ruling Wednesday, the appellate court said those regulations are “at most, a set of procedural guidelines,” and not subject to judicial review. Implicit in the EPA’s discretion to decide whether and when to accept cases, the court said, is the “lesser power to determine the scope of the investigation in the event the complaint is accepted.”

    In December, the agency issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that would eliminate the deadlines in order to give the agency more flexibility with complaints.

    Workers pick strawberries in the fields next to Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, California.Talia Bufordhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/talia-bufordhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/12/19681/epa-discretion-settled-civil-rights-case-not-subject-review-court-rules

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    U.S. states Nevada, Wyoming and Delaware are facing growing pressure to address their lack of corporate transparency, as the United States and the international community continue to respond to fallout from the Panama Papers.

    At a London anti-corruption summit on Thursday, representatives from the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the Isle of Man warned that the “hypocrisy” of the U.S. was hurting the global push for greater financial transparency.

    The summit, hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron and attended by leaders and high-ranking officials from around the world, has drawn increased public attention after the Panama Papers investigation by ICIJ, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 media partners revealed new details about how the world’s rich and powerful use and sometimes abuse secrecy jurisdictions and tax havens.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry compared the threat posed by corruption to the threat posed by terrorism, and urged attendees to work together in the fight for transparency.

    “Corruption, writ large, is as much of an enemy, because it destroys nation states, as some of the extremists we are fighting or the other challenges we face,” he said.

    But the U.S. came under fire from some of the smaller jurisdictions at the conference for not doing enough to combat financial opacity at home.

    Cayman Islands premier Alden McLaughlin warned that if the U.S. and other larger jurisdictions didn’t comply with stricter rules being imposed on the rest of the world, then “all the shady business is going to migrate to Delaware, Wyoming, Panama, you name it.”

    “It is time to put behind us the shades of hypocrisy that have been part and parcel of global discussion of this issue for years and years. So long as countries with real commitments on the world stage continue to focus on jurisdictions that are smaller in size while ignoring the larger jurisdictions, the results will be continued failure,” he said.

    The U.S. states of Wyoming and Nevada both came under closer scrutiny from within the United States earlier in the week, when Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to the secretaries of state for the two states, demanding more information about how the companies revealed in the Panama Papers are regulated.

    "I have become increasingly concerned about the use of anonymous shell companies as vehicles for terrorists financing, tax evasion, and fraud targeting major government programs," Wyden wrote.

    The senator’s letters were one of a number of responses from global authorities and governments following the publication of Panama Papers data and continued investigation from ICIJ’s partners:

    - The UK, Nigeria, Kenya, France, the Netherlands and Afghanistan have agreed to set up central registers of beneficial ownership of companies that would be open to the public to search.

    - UK Prime Minister David Cameron introduced a new corporate money-laundering offence aimed at forcing companies to take more responsibility for employees’ actions.

    - The government of Japan will propose an action plan for combating graft at the next Group of Seven economic summit later in May.

    - Wealthy international investors may start to sell off their luxury London homes after new anti-corruption rules are introduced, a leading real estate agent warned.

    - Panama gave in to international pressure and joined about 100 countries in an agreement to share financial information automatically to tackle tax evasion, according to the OECD.

    - Pakistan’s government has been asked by the country’s Supreme Court to legislate a special law to empower a commission of inquiry to look into the Panama Papers revelations.

    - Mexico has widened a tax evasion probe by requiring banks to hand over names of local clients with transactions in tax havens.

    - Indonesia’s tax office announced that it would launch an investigation into 272 Indonesians whose names are mentioned in the Panama Papers.

    - A group of leading economists and influential advisors to policymakers signed an open letter to world leaders asserting that tax havens “serve no useful purpose” and calling for new global cooperation to increase financial transparency.

    - Canadian investigators are analyzing the files and have committed to lay criminal charges should any wrongdoing be found.

    - Sri Lanka has set up a panel to probe its nationals mentioned in the Panama Papers, as part of a broader bid to clean up corruption in the country.

    - Vietnam’s tax authority has formed an inspection team to look into the Vietnamese names and companies revealed in the Panama Papers data, and is also renewing focus on policing transfer pricing and tax avoidance by corporations.

    - Iceland president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson announced he would withdraw from his re-election campaign(), after it was revealed that his wife’s family had significant offshore holdings.

    - More prominent public figures have been linked to companies mentioned in the Panama Papers, including Australia’s current prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, Guatemalan politician Harold Caballeros, and British film star Emma Watson.

    Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, left, sits beside U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as they listen to a panel at the Anti-Corruption Summit in London, Thursday, May 12, 2016. David Cameron has gathered leaders, civil-society groups and representatives of banks and financial institutions at Thursday's conference with the goal of producing a strong global declaration against financial wrongdoing.Hamish Boland-Rudderhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/hamish-boland-rudderhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/13/19683/caymans-bermuda-lash-out-us-hypocrisy-during-anti-corruption-summit

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    In October 2014, then-Federal Election Commission Vice Chairwoman Ann Ravel did what she often does: speak her mind about political campaign issues.

    “A re-examination of the Commission's approach to the Internet and other emerging technologies is long overdue,” Ravel, a Democrat, wrote in lamenting a deadlocked commission vote over whether an Ohio-based business group must include disclaimers on political ads it posted for free on YouTube.com.

    But Ravel’s statement — just finding it on the FEC’s website in no small feat — didn’t disappear into the Internet’s bowels as bureaucratic missives often do.

    Instead, in a sign of how toxic American politics have become, it spawned unbridled ugliness, including death threats that have drawn the attention of law enforcement.

    “Die, fascist, die!” one anonymous person wrote to Ravel in an email reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.

    “Hope you have a heart attack,” read another email.

    “Go fall down about ten flights of stairs,” yet another person wrote.

    Other threats, while less overt, are equally disquieting.

    “Best to be careful what you ask for. You will more than likely find the ‘Nazi’ scenario showing its ugly head,” one wrote to Ravel, who is Jewish.

    “Keep it up, and the pitchforks will come out and then you and your ilk will have no place to hide and the People will have their justice,” promised another.

    Ravel’s recent vote to sanction conservative filmmaker Joel Gilbert for alleged violations of federal election laws — the FEC deadlocked on the matter— have prompted a new round of hate mailers to, in recent weeks, call her a “communist c---sucking b----” and wish her “the worst for you and yours.”

    “Heil Hitler” is how one writer last month concluded a screed emailed to Ravel at her FEC email account.

    Such vitriol and vulgarity, while commonplace for high-profile politicians such as Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, were previously unknown to federal election regulators who many congressional representatives — to say nothing of average Americans — couldn’t identify by name or face.

    While FEC commissioners of late often clash along ideological lines and bicker among themselves, several current and former FEC commissioners interviewed said they’ve never once experienced hate-filled communications of the sort Ravel has received.

    “I don’t recall a debate ever going off the rails into personal attacks … this is extremely harsh rhetoric and incredibly inflammatory stuff,” said Michael Toner, a Republican FEC commissioner who served from 2002 to 2007 and presided over the commission as chairman during 2006, when the six-member body last overhauled regulations addressing political communications on the Internet.

    “It reflects a coarsening of the thinking process for some people — lack of a filter, lack of civility,” said Scott Thomas, a Democratic FEC commissioner from 1986 to 2006 and three-time chairman. “A lot of people now seem to be going off the edge.”

    Law enforcement is taking the threats against Ravel seriously.

    In late 2014, Edward Holder, the FEC’s acting deputy staff director for management and administration, contacted the Federal Protective Service in response to threats against Ravel.

    The service, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that protects federal facilities, then interviewed Ravel, FEC spokeswoman Judith Ingram confirmed. Ravel also confirmed she received extra security protection during a public forum in 2015.

    The Federal Protective Service “doesn't comment on possible threats against government officials,” said spokesman Scott McConnell in declining to answer questions. It’s unclear whether the service is actively investigating the most recent messages Ravel received.

    What initially prompted the torrent of messages targeting Ravel appears to be an Oct. 25, 2014, banner headline on the Drudge Report: “DEMS ON FEC MOVE TO REGULATE DRUDGE.” (Editors at the website did not return requests for comment.)

    The Drudge Report headline linked to a Washington Examiner article that reported on Ravel’s comments about the FEC revisiting Internet regulations.

    The story also quotes then-FEC Chairman Lee Goodman, a Republican who warned that Ravel’s interest in stronger Internet regulations could lead to bloggers and politically active news outlets facing new rules.

    “I told you this was coming,” Goodman said.

    Goodman underscored his concerns about Internet regulation soon afterward during a pair of Fox News interviews.

    “I can’t imagine a regulatory regime reaching deep into the Internet,” he told host Tucker Carlson.

    “It’s really a specter of a government review board … the government needs to know when to leave well enough alone,” he later told host Steve Doocy.

    Ravel, who in 2015 followed Goodman as FEC chairman, told the Center for Public Integrity that she believes Goodman’s comments contributed to the threats against her.

    “He was arguing that I was trying to squelch free speech — I wasn’t — and it put me in an awkward position,” said Ravel, who since joining the FEC in late 2013 has routinelyadvocated for stronger election rules and enforcement and sometimes antagonized her Republican colleagues whom she’s accused of failing to enforce certain election laws.

    “I feel very strongly about the First Amendment and the rights of the press,” Ravel said. “My point is that the Internet has advanced greatly since 2006, and the FEC’s rules about it are, potentially, obsolete. Our role is to talk about them.”

    Goodman’s office said the commissioner wasn’t available to be interviewed. But Goodman emailed a statement disavowing threats against her.

    “Unfortunately, too many people believe that the way to counter speech with which they disagree is to censor or threaten the speaker,” Goodman wrote. “The appropriate way to challenge an idea one disagrees with is to debate the idea on the merits. Commissioner Ravel's formidable voice on regulatory issues should not be diminished by inappropriate threats or censorship."

    Current FEC Chairman Matthew Petersen, a Republican, called for civility, saying there is “no place in these debates for threats of violence or things of that nature.”

    The messages Ravel has received, Petersen added, are “beyond the pale.”

    Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, who acknowledged receiving “a few” strongly worded emails of her own in recent months, declined to otherwise comment. Commissioners Steven Walther, an independent, also declined to comment, while Caroline Hunter, a Republican, did not return interview requests.

    The 2006 Internet communication regulations the FEC approved in a unanimous vote left most online political messaging unregulated. Only paid political ads published online became subject to similar rules governing traditional political messages, such as those that appear on television or radio.

    Since then, the FEC has generally addressed digital and Internet political communications and transactions on a case-by-case basis.

    In 2010, for example, Google asked the FEC whether it could sell “AdWords” text ad space to political candidates and committees without requiring them to include disclaimers. The commission, in a 4-2 vote, determined that Google could generally avoid running disclaimers.

    Then in 2011, Facebook asked the FEC to confirm that its “small, character-limited ads” about politics are exempt from federal rules requiring disclaimers. In a 3-3 vote, the commission deadlocked on the matter.

    The FEC has also grappled with cases ranging from political donations made via text message to whether candidates and committees may accept contributions in the form of digital currency, such as Bitcoin.

    If the FEC addresses the Internet in any fashion this election year, expect it to be along these narrow lines.

    Petersen, the FEC chairman, says he “highly doubts” the FEC will reopen the lengthy Internet-related rulemaking process it undertook a decade ago. He predicted the commission would take a much “lighter touch” this year that focuses on “providing clarity, coherence and guidance” on “discreet issues” brought before the commission.

    There may also be renewed appetite on the FEC to eliminate from its regulations references to obsolete technology — yes, mentions of telegrams, typewriters and “magnetic diskettes” are still found — and otherwise update rules to reflect how campaigns do business in 2016, Petersen said.

    Ravel, of course, prefers a more aggressive approach to regulating online politicking — an approach the body isn’t likely to take anytime soon.

    So is serving on the FEC even worth it anymore to Ravel, who President Barack Obama nominated three years ago next month?

    Beyond the threats she’s received, Ravel isn’t shy about her frustrations with agency gridlock, even appearing on "The Daily Show" in November to colorfully question whether the FEC still serves a purpose.

    Ravel also maintains a home in California, shuttling back and forth from Washington, D.C., to visit her family in a commute she hardly enjoys.

    In December, when asked by the Center for Public Integrity, Ravel revealed that the White House has seemingly taken little interest in her tenure at the FEC, saying she had never met with the president and had almost “no contact with the White House.” At the time, Ravel would only say that “it’s possible” she’d continue serving through the 2016 election.

    Whether on purpose or by coincidence, White House almost immediately started paying Ravel more attention.

    Visitor logs show Ravel traveled to the White House on Jan. 20, according to a review of White House visitor logs.

    Ravel then met with Obama himself on Jan. 28 in the White House’s West Wing. Stacy Koo, the Presidential Personnel Office chief of staff, also attended the meeting, according to a visitor log entry.

    Both Ravel and the White House confirmed the meeting but declined to discuss it.

    “The President is pleased with Commissioner Ravel’s performance as an FEC commissioner,” the White House said in a statement.

    Asked again how long she planned to stay at the FEC, Ravel said she “will stay as long as I feel I can contribute.”

    In the meantime, she said she will attempt to take any additional threats in stride — as much as one can.

    “These are an attempt to be intimidating, to make me either not speak out or to make me stop doing my job,” Ravel said. “It’s creepy, a little worrisome. I’m just going to keep doing my work.”

    This story was co-published with the Daily Beast.

    Federal Election Commission Vice Chairwoman Ann RavelDave Levinthalhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/dave-levinthalhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/17/19684/death-threats-directed-elections-regulator

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    A tangle of super PACs that supported U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential bid still have more than $20 million in the bank — and must now decide whether to back Donald Trump, close shop or play politics elsewhere.

    Nearly all the remaining money is held by half a dozen loosely affiliated super PACs known as the “Keep the Promise” network, several members of which were controlled by individual megadonors and their families.

    Overall, outside groups raised $62.4 million to support Cruz, and they spent $43.3 million, according to federal disclosures.

    At least two of the groups — those spearheaded by wealthy Republican benefactors Toby Neugebauer and Robert Mercer — might support other candidates.

    Another group, Keep the Promise III, which received $15 million from the Wilks family, fracking billionaires from Texas, did not respond to questions about its plans. According to Bloomberg, the Wilks family will sit out the remainder of the presidential race.

    At least two other groups — Keep the Promise PAC, overseen by evangelical activist David Barton, and Trusted Leadership PAC, also part of the Keep the Promise network — said they’re closing down.

    “We’re just wrapping everything up, and we’re talking to the donors too and trying to work out something — if we’re going to return money or if it’s going to somewhere else,” said Kristina Hernandez, a spokeswoman for Trusted Leadership PAC.

    Trusted Leadership PAC controlled $1.1 million as of March 31, the most recent campaign finance report filed, but a new report covering its April activity is due later this week.

    Both Trusted Leadership PAC and Keep the Promise I received seven-figure contributions from businessman Richard Uihlein, a prominent GOP donor.

    Laura Barnett, a spokeswoman for Keep the Promise PAC, said that its group, too, is winding down.

    The super PAC boasted nearly $600,000 entering April, but Barnett in an e-mail said it will have “nearly nothing” after paying outstanding bills.

    If any money remains, Keep the Promise PAC will donate it to charities “that assist and advance what Senator Cruz supported and advocated,” she said, listing veterans’ groups and religious liberties groups as possible recipients.

    The Keep the Promise super PAC network model produced mixed results. It established Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas who will now seek re-electionin 2018, as a candidate with a major war chest.

    But Cruz openly expressed frustration with his inability to control how the money was spent. The Cruz campaign took to urging the super PACs to spend the millions of dollars in their coffers on the candidate’s behalf as Trump continued to pull away from a once-crowded GOP field.

    Federal Election Commission rules prohibit a candidate from coordinating certain activities with outside spending groups like super PACs.

    The approach stood in stark contrast to that of Trump, who actively discouraged super PACs. He accepted supporters’ contributions, but relied mostly on his own wealth to finance his primary campaign.

    Meanwhile, the Cruz super PAC network’s strategy wasn’t always clear, leading to questions about whether there were too many cooks in the pro-Cruz kitchen.

    Each of the Keep the Promise groups were supposed to have their own niche, said Hernandez, though there was some overlap.

    For example, Keep the Promise PAC was mainly responsible for rallies, Keep the Promise I specialized in the ground game and Keep the Promise III focused on digital outreach. Several of the groups sponsored ads.

    The groups conducted regular conference calls to coordinate with one another.

    “It probably worked better than you thought it would,” Hernandez said.

    Nevertheless, issues arose.

    For one, Neugebauer, who contributed $10 million to Keep the Promise II, proved reluctant to spend the money, despite prodding by prominent Cruz supporters. The group ended March with about $9 million still in the bank.

    Neugebauer has since endorsed businessman Donald Trump, the all-but-certain Republican nominee.

    In an email, Neugebauer said he has “not yet focused” on the future of the super PAC he controls, and did not respond to a question from the Center for Public Integrity about whether he intends to spend money to boost Trump.

    In an e-mailed statement, Kellyanne Conway, the political operative who runs Keep the Promise I, the super PAC controlled by the Mercer family, said the PAC “will continue to support candidates for federal office. All options remain open.”

    Mercer gave $13.5 million to Keep the Promise I, making him one of the 2016 election cycle’s biggest donors.

    Like several of the super PACs in the Keep the Promise network, Keep the Promise I also received some contributions from other donors, and the groups also transferred money among themselves.

    Not all the Cruz-supporting super PACs affiliated with the Keep the Promise network: Two other super PACs with remaining cash as of the end of March were Stand for Principle, which raised roughly $250,000, and Stand for Truth Inc., which raised a little more than $11 million.

    Stand for Principle is still assessing next steps, according to Maria Strollo Zack, the Georgia lobbyist and former Newt Gingrich presidential campaign staffer who controlled it.

    “We’re sitting in a situation where we’re looking at all of our options and we’ll figure out what we do next,” Zack said.

    The organizers of Stand for Truth Inc. did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment.

    This story was co-published with the Dallas Morning News.

    Former Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at the Colorado Republican State Convention, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Saturday, April 9, 2016.Carrie Levinehttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/carrie-levinehttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/18/19686/pro-ted-cruz-super-pacs-mull-options-their-millions

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    Inequality is an underlying issue in much of what we cover, whether it is the contribution tax avoidance makes to global inequality uncovered by the Panama Papers or the growing erosion of the middle class in the United States, as exposed by much of our money-in-politics-led reporting.

    Net access as a human right

    One coverage area that has enabled us to link policy to inequality is access to broadband in the United States. Rather than look at it through a purely speed or net neutrality lens, Allan Holmes has written about the social and economic implications of poor U.S broadband quality and access. 

    This week Allan launched a series – combined with an entirely new data set on the problem from Ben Wieder– showing how high-quality broadband availability mysteriously stops on the border of poorer suburbs across America. It’s a story built on reporting, a human narrative and importantly on data. The national perspective on the problem cannot be ignored if you look at the amazing national map of broadband access developed by Chris Zubak-Skees. I suspect that map, based on a new compilation of data described here by Ben, will become a definitive resource.

    The video on the story by Eleanor Bell Fox is a strong exposition of the problem in a different medium.

    Why do we care? Because, as one of the sources in the story says, access to broadband is now a necessity,  not a luxury.  “Internet access…is the civil rights issue of our time.” Huffington Post, our co-pubishing partner on the story recognized the importance of the piece with "front page" treatment.

    The Broadband project is supported by the Ford Foundation,  whose president Darren Walker last year committed the organization to more strongly work to combat inequality worldwide. There is significant international interest in this entire area of broadband access with places like Estonia declaring it a human right and the United Nations debating it.

    World Bank recognition and Panama Papers

    The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has rightly dominated these notes and the much of the world news agenda in recent weeks with the Panama Papers.

    A story which keeps on giving though is the ICIJ investigation into World Bank policies that trigger displacement of millions around the world. A project with the Huffington Post, Evicted & Abandoned, led on our side by Michael Hudson and Sasha Chavkin, won the New York Press Club “Golden Keyboard” award — a couple of weeks after it also won the Whitman Bassow award at the Overseas Press Club.

    On the Panama Papers it is worth noting that the New York Times and Washington Post are now officially inside the consortium working on the project as reported by the NiemanLab. In a note last week I commented on the release by the leaker of a manifesto for blowing the whistle on the avoidance and evasion.

    This week the ICIJ launched what amounts to phase two of the project with a vast release of the underlying structures of the “Russian doll” company structures and the people behind them. It’s a massive undertaking and another huge credit to the work of the ICIJ data team led by Mar Cabra out of Spain. Read Marina Guevara Walker’s explanation.

    Back in the USA

    Executive Editor Gordon Witkin calls out members of the team:

    Fred Schulte for a story on a GAO report that essentially confirmed Fred’s terrific Medicare Advantage stories. The pickup also underscored the power of Fred’s work, and the respect it commands in health-care world. The piece was reprinted by NPR’s SHOTS blog, and picked up by Kaiser Health News, POLITICO and STAT. Fred’s ongoing Medicare reporting also got a shout-out from the Washington Post.

    More long hours and rich, quick-turnaround work from our federal politics team—John Dunbar, Dave LevinthalCarrie Levine and Michael Beckel—with assists from Chris Zubak-Skees and Jared Bennett. They crunched numbers from Kantar Media/CMAG and The Tracking Firm to provide a preview of the spending in the Indiana primary.

    After the votes came in, they published a follow-up, which found that Ted Cruz and his allies spent about $10 per vote in Indiana (and lost), while Trump spent only about $1.50 for vote on ads in his wining effort. The story was co-published with NBC News. The piece was cited by AL.com.

    Carrie Levine had a readable piece on Trump campaign counsel Don McGahn. We co-published it with the Huffington Post, Newsweek and the Atlantic City paper.

    What we’re reading and thinking about

    Public Integrity reporter Kristen Lombardi features in a passionate piece in the Huffington Post about a new book: Catholic Women Confront Their Church. Kristen was among the first to report on the scandal of Catholic priests in Boston when she was at the Phoenix — the subject that eventually became the film Spotlight.

    I welcome feedback on this note.

    Peter Bale, CEO 
    The Center for Public Integrity,
    @peterbale

    https://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/18/19690/inequality-drives-our-journalism

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    The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today announced a $2 million general-operating grant to The Center for Public Integrity to support the Center’s groundbreaking investigative reporting work on domestic and international issues. The grant was part of a larger commitment by the MacArthur Foundation to strengthen professional nonprofit reporting, with grants of nearly $25 million to a core group of journalism non-profits.

    “General support is vital to the health of the entire non-profit news sector where growth has often been stymied by a lack of investment in efficient and modern management. This support from MacArthur will help the Center for Public Integrity in its mission to become the most modern and impactful investigative journalism organization worldwide through Public Integrity journalism and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists,” said Peter Bale, Chief Executive Officer of The Center for Public Integrity.

    “The Center for Public Integrity and its worldwide arm, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, are at the forefront of new non-profit models for journalism built on big data journalism and a new collaborative model exemplified by the Panama Papers,” Bale added.

    In announcing the grant, the MacArthur Foundation said it was helping support in-depth journalism and documentary storytelling while also supporting innovation and experimentation and building diversity in the field.

    "Independent media plays an important role in how Americans understand their community and the world, the decisions they make, and whether and how they exercise their responsibility as citizens,” said MacArthur President Julia Stasch, who announced the new commitment today at the PBS Annual Meeting. “MacArthur’s investments will strengthen and enlarge the ecosystem of independent journalism, enabling even more entrepreneurial work that makes available factual reporting, authentic stories, and diverse voices to help inform a robust public civic dialogue.”

    The Center for Public Integrity has an unrivaled record of award-winning and impactful investigative journalism.  Just this year its international reporting project, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, has completed and published a yearlong investigation into a massive leaked cache of 11.5 million financial records, known as the Panama Papers. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists helped to expose the offshore holdings of 12 current and former world leaders and revealed how associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly shuffled $2 billion through banks and shadow companies. The investigation also revealed details of offshore financial dealings of 128 more politicians and public officials around the world, leading to arrests, investigations and resignations.

    The far-reaching investigation was carried out by the ICIJ, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and about 370 journalists from more than 70 countries. ICIJ, a global network of investigative reporters who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories, is a project of the Center for Public Integrity, the Pulitzer Prize-winning organization funded by philanthropy and individuals committed to unbiased investigative journalism.

    To support our ambitious investigative projects please visit https://donate.publicintegrity.org/

    https://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/18/19691/center-public-integrity-awarded-2m-grant

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    Pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC Priorities USA Action is going after presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump in a new ad— and using his own words to do it.

    The ad features several women — and two men — who don T-shirts emblazoned with Trump’s face. The actors lip-sync several remarks in which Trump’s own voice is used, criticizing women’s appearances.

    “Does she have a good body? No. Does she have a fat a--? Absolutely,” goes one comment.

    “Does Donald Trump really speak for you?” a female narrator asks.

    Trump is no stranger to such attacks. Our Principles PAC, a Republican super PAC that unsuccessfully tried to sink Trump’s campaign, also aired a slew of ads that charged Trump with misogyny. The ads also used Trump’s own words, to no avail.

    The ad’s sponsor

    Priorities USA Action first formed in 2011 to support President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. In 2014, the group transitioned to supporting Clinton.

    Clinton, in a bid to distance herself from the super PAC, made this point during a Democratic debate hosted in February by PBS when pressed about contributions from megadonors.

    “You're referring to a super PAC that we don't coordinate with, that was set up to support President Obama, that has now decided they want to support me,” Clinton said. “They are the ones who should respond to any questions."

    One catch: Support Clinton receives from Priorities USA Action is hardly unsolicited. Clinton has previously courted megadonors to the super PAC, and husband Bill Clinton was a “special guest” for a Priorities USA Action donor event on Dec. 1.

    Priorities USA Action may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in 2010.

    Who’s behind it?

    Leading Priorities USA Action’s efforts is Guy Cecil, the political director of Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. Although he’s a Clinton alumnus, Cecil, by law, may not coordinate Priorities USA Action’s efforts directly with Clinton’s presidential campaign.

    Its board members include Jim Messina, a former Obama campaign manager; Emily’s List President Stephanie Schirock, and David Brock, mastermind behind several Clinton-friendly groups, including Priorities USA Action’s sister super PAC Correct the Record.

    In December, Priorities USA Action gave $1 million to Correct the Record, which using a loophole in federal law, is coordinating its messaging efforts with the Clinton campaign.

    Money in

    More than $67 million.

    That’s how much Priorities USA Action has raised so far this election cycle, making it one of the most cash-rich presidential super PACs of 2016.

    It’s certainly more than what super PACs have raised for Clinton’s Democratic primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, as well as Trump. Both Sanders and Trump have generally disavowed any super PACs supporting them.

    Like Sanders and Trump, Clinton has lambasted big money’s role in politics. But Clinton’s reformist rhetoric hasn’t stopped a network of pro-Clinton super PACs and nonprofits from accepting so-called “dark money”— cash that’s difficult or impossible to trace to a root source.

    For example, Priorities USA Action in June received $1 million from Fair Share Action, a super PAC which received contributions from only two entities: Fair Share Inc. and Environment America. As tax-exempt, “social welfare” nonprofit organizations, Fair Share Inc. and Environment America are not required to disclose their donors.

    Neither organization voluntarily discloses their donors, either, despite Fair Share Inc. actively campaigning to push big money out of politics.

    Priorities USA Action also received a six-figure contribution from Suffolk Construction Company Inc., a Boston-based construction firm that has been awarded by the federal government more than $168 million worth of contracts, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation.

    A mystery organization by the name of Raemar Crest LLC donated $10,000 to Priorities USA Action in February. Virtually nothing is known about the people behind Raemar Crest LLC, as the entity is registered in Delaware, a state that requires organizations to very little information about their operations, investors and leaders.

    Other top donors to Priorities USA Action include megadonor and billionaire George Soros ($7 million), financier Donald Sussman ($4 million) and Cheryl and Haim Saban ($8 million together).

    (The Center for Public Integrity receives funding from the Open Society Foundations, which Soros funds. A complete list of Center for Public Integrity funders is found here.)

    Money out

    The new Trump ad is apparently part of Priorities USA Action’s massive ad buy, announced this week. The super PAC said it has reserved $96 million worth of advertising time. The TV ads are slated to air in swing states Ohio, Florida, Nevada and Virginia.

    The $96 million figure doesn’t include the roughly $5 million the super PAC has already spent on radio and digital advertising, according to federal records.

    Though most of Priorities USA Action’s previous advertising has been upbeat, displaying Clinton in a positive light, the super PAC has also attacked Trump, as well as former Republican presidential contenders Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

    Why it matters

    The ad blitz by Priorities USA Action is just the first wave in what will almost assuredly be the most expensive general election ever.

    That translates to more and more political ads dominating the airwaves, even in a year when political advertising is increasingly migrating to digital platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Pandora.

    Meanwhile, opponent Trump is considering whether to extend his blessing to supportive super PACs, despite his stated disdain for them. Even if Trump continues to disavow super PACs, such political committees may decide to support Trump anyway, since they may legally operate without his authorization.

    In a related matter, Trump has struck a deal with the Republican National Committee to create a joint fundraising committee in which donors can contribute as much as $449,400.

    Cady Zuvichhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/cady-zuvichhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/19/19699/dark-money-billionaires-behind-anti-donald-trump-ad-barrage

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    May 19, 2016: This story has been updated.

    Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday became the latest state leader to sign contentious legislation restricting civil asset forfeiture — the process that allows police to seize and keep property suspected of being connected to illegal activity, without having to convict, or even charge, the owner with a crime.

    Hogan’s signature represents a reversal for the Republican governor, who vetoed a bill on the same subject last year after buckling to pressure from high-profile law enforcement groups. The legislature promptly overrode his veto to pass that measure and then introduced additional changes this year that limit involvement in a federal program and require authorities to annually disclose what has been seized.

    The measure signed in Annapolis was one of some 50 bills floated in at least 22 states this year proposing to limit civil asset forfeiture. Nine states passed some form of reform laws, while similar measures failed in another six, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of the legislation. Seven states still have 11 bills pending.

    Widespread civil forfeiture emerged from the drug war of the 1980s, and has been the source of controversy since. The back and forth is part of a fresh round of battles being waged in statehouses nationwide amid a federal stalemate on possible changes — though a new congressional bill was introduced Thursday

    Those struggles are proving to be especially bitter because both backers and opponents of asset forfeiture represent influential constituencies used to getting their way in state capitals: Powerful local police groups and prosecutors are trying to preserve the lucrative cash-cow procedures that help them fight crime, while a potent national coalition of liberals and libertarians is decrying civil forfeiture as policing for profit that rides roughshod over individual rights.

    Much of the legislation has emerged from a grouping of strange political bedfellows: conservative giants such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Charles Koch Institute, the Institute for Justice and the Cato Institute, plus traditionally liberal players such as Common Cause, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Drug Policy Alliance.

    Together these organizations have distributed various forms of “model” legislation to lawmakers that would bar asset forfeiture in civil, rather than criminal, proceedings. The odds are stacked against property owners in civil forfeiture, because they must provide their own attorneys and the government has a lower burden of proof than in criminal cases.

    The allies want criminal convictions to be the threshold for whether assets can be forfeited, public disclosure of what’s been taken and the creation of general funds to hold the forfeited goods, rather than accounts funneled directly to law enforcement agencies.  The measures are also attempting to limit so-called equitable sharing, through which federal authorities and local police agencies divvy up the seized booty, which can range from cars and cash to bridal gowns.

    “We are disregarding individuals’ property rights, which are sacrosanct for a reason,” said Dick Carpenter, the director of strategic research at the Institute for Justice, which has led the charge against the forfeiture laws. “At what cost do we justify a nominal benefit?”

    But law enforcement groups have fiercely pushed back against the proposed changes, writing letters, testifying before committees and furiously lobbying— tactics that pushed Hogan and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead to veto similar legislation last year, stalled bills in other states or weakened proposed legislative language. Fourteen forfeiture bills were introduced in Texas last year, but only one watered down measure passed, requiring the state attorney general to post public information online.

    This year, many bills died in the face of fiery rhetoric: Oklahoma and Utah officials warned that their states would be taken over by savvy drug lords because cops wouldn't have the resources to fight them.

    "We all felt that the bill was detrimental to law enforcement and took away tools to curb criminal activity," said Gary Giles, the chief of police in Orem, Utah, and a representative of the Utah County Law Enforcement Executives Association. "It is a solution looking for a problem."

    Cops say the funds help pay for important tools, such as money for drug buys in sting operations, equipment, weapons and police training programs. Significant cash is at stake even when not counting money shared with the feds: Utah collected about $11.3 million in its forfeiture funds over 10 years, while California kept $29 million in forfeitures in 2015. However, the total take in many places is obscured by poor reporting requirements. Thirty-six states don’t require agencies to post forfeiture reports online, and many don’t have a single agency that aggregates all state data.

    This new round of statehouse struggles arose as Congress faltered on federal bills to end sharing between federal and local authorities and to require a higher burden of proof before seizing property. But a bipartisan group of congressional leaders, including Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., became more vocal in recent weeks about a controversial seizure from a Christian rock band called Klo & Kweh Music Team in Oklahoma. During a traffic stop for a broken tail light, deputies seized $53,000 in donations meant for a Thai orphanage and Christian school in Myanmar because a band member gave “inconsistent stories” about the money’s origin, according to a deputy sheriff’s affidavit. 

    “Unless Congress takes action, state efforts to stop civil forfeiture abuse mean very little,” Issa wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed

    National law enforcement groups including the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association of Police Organizations have spoken out against such federal legislation.

    “There are many areas on which I expect there may be broad agreement — preventing abuse, increased transparency,” Chuck Canterbury, the Fraternal Order of Police national president, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in April 2015. “However, we must remember that the purpose of this program is to combat and deter crime by ensuring criminal assets are shared with state and local agencies to benefit the community.”

    Where did forfeiture come from?

    U.S. civil forfeiture originated from 17th century British maritime law that normally applied to piracy or customs matters. The government sought an avenue to take and keep ships and cargo regardless of guilt, as trials were difficult when the owners were overseas or not in the country’s jurisdiction. So, officials created a process that charged the property itself — as opposed to a person — with a crime. (This is why proceedings are sometimes brought against an item, such as The State of Oklahoma v. $53,234 Cash in the case of Klo & Kweh Music Team, the Christian rock band.)

    As the war on drugs raged, Congress in 1970 gave police the power to keep vehicles transporting narcotics and expanded the law a decade later to include cash. In 1984, Congress created the Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund, replacing the government’s general fund as the destination for the goods.

    States began passing similar laws modeled after this federal legislation, opening the doors for local law enforcement to keep seized goods and cash.  The programs quickly grew popular.  

    But in 2010, the nonprofit law firm Institute for Justice released its first “Policing for Profit” report, which argued that civil forfeiture laws in most states created a dangerous profit motive for police. The New Yorker and then The Washington Post published investigations highlighting cases of abuse.

    Lee McGrath, the Institute for Justice’s legislative counsel, has proven to be a fervent and effective crusader — traveling all over the country from his Minnesota home for the past six years, armed with model legislation, a John Oliver video, copies of IJ’s pivotal report and a well-worn spiel to lawmakers. He has had a hand in at least 23 states’ legislative pushes.

    “When cops, sheriffs and prosecutors can raise money themselves and have it supplement the budget, they are combining the purse and the sword and are violating the separation of powers." McGrath said.

    His firm represents people fighting forfeiture claims pro bono but may receive attorney’s fees in some states if an owner wins in court. More than 8,000 donors and foundations fund the libertarian group based in Arlington, Virginia, including the Coors Foundation, billionaire industrialist David Koch and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. (The Arnold Foundation is a donor to the Center for Public Integrity.) (Update, May 20, 2016, 11:35 a.m.: The number of donors giving to Institute for Justice has been updated above from "more than 100.")

    What’s unusual is how this group is working with so many partners on the other side of the political spectrum. McGrath said the collaboration with groups such as the ACLU occurred as they each started working on individual cases, outraged by the abuses of police power.

    The advocates’ biggest win came in April 2015 when New Mexico banned civil asset forfeiture entirely and required greater transparency for criminal forfeiture, in which conviction of a person is required before property can be kept. Proceeds must now go into a general fund, and agencies are effectively banned from sharing property with the federal government.  

    The Land of Enchantment is now among 10 states that require a criminal conviction, including California, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon and Vermont.  Six of these states passed the measures in the last two years.

    Tensions run high

    In other states, such as Utah and Oklahoma, the fight continues with striking intensity. Four bills died in Oklahoma this year, despite recent scandals involving forfeiture. An assistant district attorney paid part of his student loan with $5,000 of forfeiture funds, according to state audits, while another lived in a house seized during a drug raid without paying rent, instead of selling the house and placing the proceeds in the county fund. The only bill that made it to Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, which she signed, allows owners to recoup attorney’s fees if they win in court.

    Stephen Mills, the police chief in Apache, Oklahoma (pop. 1,429), is among those who sought changes.  

    In 2010, Mills loaned his blue Ford F-250 to an employee to pick up supplies for the ranch he owned and operated. The worker stole some wire from an oil field, and Grady County Sheriff’s deputies arrested the worker and seized the truck.

    Mills, who was chief of an Army narcotics task force at the time, thought they were holding his vehicle in evidence. He spent the next four months calling twice a week, arguing with the department as deputies told him he could not prove his innocence.

    “I knew under the law I would eventually get it back, but I couldn't believe they were making it so difficult,” Mills said. “It was all about them keeping the truck instead of doing the right thing.”

    Mills went to his local newspaper, The Chickasha Express-Star, which called the district attorney. A few hours later, Mills’ lawyer called him to say he could pick up his truck.

    Mills testified in favor of new limits in Oklahoma last September, but the process became a circus. Quarreling lawmakers held two concurrent hearings on forfeiture 100 miles apart, with mostly law enforcement officials testifying in opposition to policy change at the Tulsa Police Academy, as pro-reform advocates ripped forfeiture apart at the statehouse in Oklahoma City.

    Then on an episode of the Pat Campbell Show on KFAQ-AM radio last November, Eric Dalgleish, then a major at the Tulsa Police Department, pushed the narrative that ultimately helped kill four bills.

    “What it will do is enhance the drug trafficking organizations,” Dalgleish said. “They are politically savvy. They are political activists. If you think they’re not watching this and deciding what state to set up business in, we’re being naïve and we’re being ignorant.”

    In Utah, local prosecutors have repeatedly squared off against a local libertarian think tank, with both sides having a hand in crafting legislation. Tensions have run high since voters passed a referendum in 2000 that, among other things, banned police from reaping the proceeds of forfeited property and ended equitable sharing with federal agencies.

    Thirteen years later, a 50-page bill that its sponsors said would only combine disparate parts of forfeiture law passed without much discussion. The law additionally made it optional for a court to award attorney’s fees to an innocent owner and limited the amount to 20 percent of the seized property’s value.

    "Cleanup and changes were necessary because the law wasn't working,” said Assistant Attorney General Wade Farraway.

    After learning about the consequences of the law, the libertarian Libertas Institute publicized the changes and wrote a bill to eliminate the provisions, which legislators essentially adopted and passed the following year.

    But the fight wasn’t over. This year local prosecutors successfully fought a bill to strengthen owner protections after testifying in hearings and participating in closed door meetings with legislators.

    "You can see the history of the people of Utah resisting this and then the very political and very powerful special interest of law enforcement coming in and getting it back on the books," said Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, raising his voice during a Senate hearing on the failed bill this session.

    ‘The optics don’t look good’

    The most common point of disagreement in many statehouses is who should get the forfeited property. Seven states and the District of Columbia don’t allow police and prosecutors direct access to the seized goods. Lawmakers in other states who want the legislature to dole out the forfeited property have been met with intense resistance from coalitions of police and prosecutors.

    This debate raged even in New Hampshire this winter, a state that made only about $185,000 in forfeitures from July 2011 to June 2013, not including cash from the feds.  

    "This is a very small amount of money, a decimal-wise percentage of their funds, but the Association of Chiefs of Police are fighting tooth and nail on this," said New Hampshire Republican Rep. Michael Sylvia. "They tell us it’s not about the money, but it's all about the money. It's a conflicting message."

    A bill to move money to a general fund passed both chambers. But New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, said she will veto it to preserve funds for local law enforcement’s drug-fighting efforts amid the deadly opioid epidemic that has struck the Granite State.

    To address the conflict in Delaware, state Sen. Colin Bonini, a Republican who is running for governor, said he was determined to beef up police budgets, even though his proposed legislation moves forfeited property to a general fund. The bill is currently stuck in committee.

    “I don’t think police have misused that money,” Bonini said. “But the optics don’t look good, like ‘I’m gonna take your stuff and go spend it.’ The least we could do is make a transparent system that gives them money through regular budgetary procedures.”

    Even some cops involved in seizing property are uncomfortable with the process.  

    “During budget sessions, city administrators would attempt to plan our budget around seizures, prioritizing this funding stream in an attempt to cut the overall public safety budget and save money,” said Diane Goldstein, who ran the Redondo Beach Police Department’s forfeiture program in California. She said lawmakers must step in to “prevent the conflict of interest that arises when police have a budgetary stake in forfeited property.”

    ‘We watered down that bill’

    Maryland’s forfeiture bill was one of just six bills Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed out of the 400-plus sent to his desk in 2015. Instead of rerouting forfeiture funds and placing a $300 minimum value on property that could be forfeited, Hogan said he would follow the advice of the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association, the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association. And he created a commission to review forfeiture laws.

    Undeterred, lawmakers overrode the veto in January and passed the new bill that Hogan signed Thursday. The latest bill goes even further: It blocks Maryland from sharing funds less than $50,000 with the feds and makes agencies submit an annual financial report detailing what property is seized, whether the property was returned and the outcome of any criminal charges.

    The sponsor, Republican Sen. Michael Hough, had wanted to fill the “glaring holes” they didn’t address last year in the wake of opposition from law enforcement and state's attorneys.

    “We watered down that bill,” Hough said of last year’s legislation during a February hearing on the recently signed legislation. “I started to feel that I had made a grave mistake being a part of that."

    (Update, May 19, 2016, 10:45 p.m.: Hogan spokesman Matt Clark said the governor's position this year represented a response to technical issues in last year's legislation.)

    The Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and Maryland Sheriffs’ Association did not take a position on this latest bill.

    “After the governor's veto was overridden from last year, the message from the legislature was clear,” said Karen Kruger, executive director of the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association. “It did not appear any opposition was going to have any effect this time around.”

    But Kruger said both new laws are complicated and will be difficult to implement.

    “Frankly, I think politicians have a naïve view of how the drug trade works and how civil forfeiture rids criminals of their ill-gotten gains even if there is not sufficient evidence to prove a direct crime,” she said. 

    However Maryland legislators also heard from officers opposing forfeiture. Among them: Garland Nixon, a retired officer from the Maryland Natural Resources Police, who said lawmakers shouldn’t wait for a scandal to change the law.

    “I don’t want to be in a country where we have to trust that they won’t do it,” Nixon said in a Maryland Senate hearing. “I want to be in a country where the law says they can’t do it."

    A version of this story was published by The Washington Post.

    Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, center, signed into law a measure on May 19 that limits asset forfeiture, a reversal of his stance last year when he vetoed a weaker measure because of law enforcement pressure. Here, he chats with Senate President Thomas V. Miller Jr., left, as they sign bills alongside House Speaker Michael Busch, right, during another signing ceremony in Annapolis, Maryland, April 12, the day after the closing of the 2016 legislative session.Ashley Balcerzakhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/ashley-balcerzakhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/19/19689/states-caught-tug-war-over-whether-cops-can-keep-your-stuff

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    Ninety-six aboveground, aquamarine pools around the country that hold the nuclear industry’s spent reactor fuel may not be as safe as U.S. regulators and the nuclear industry have publicly asserted, a study released May 20 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine warned.

    Citing a little-noticed study by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Academies said that if an accident or an act of terrorism at a densely-filled pool caused a leak that drains the water away from the rods, a cataclysmic release of long-lasting radiation could force the extended evacuation of nearly 3.5 million people from territory larger than the state of New Jersey. It could also cause thousands of cancer deaths from excess radiation exposure, and as much as $700 billion dollars in costs to the national economy.

    Until an earthquake and a tsunami pummeled Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan on March 11, 2011, the possibility of such a catastrophe in the more than 30 states where nuclear fuel sits in radioactive pools seemed almost unthinkable. But the Academies’ new report– their second and final study of that event – says that the operators of U.S. nuclear plants and the commission that regulates them haven’t fully grasped all the safety risks and as a result may be exposing the public to unwarranted dangers.

    “There were some important issues that were not considered,” said Joseph E. Shepherd, a professor of aeronautics and mechanical engineering at the California Institute of Technology who chaired the Academies board that conducted the study. Specifically, he was referring to the NRC’s choice not to evaluate the risk of terrorism or insider sabotage as it considered spent-fuel pool safety.

    The report’s authors called not only for a new federal estimate of the safety and financial risks of a fuel fire but for a new examination of the relative benefits of withdrawing the spent fuel rods from the pools and storing them instead in dry casks aboveground. That idea has been promoted by some nuclear physicists and engineers for three decades but furiously opposed by the struggling industry because it could cost utilities as much as $4 billion.

    The report, ordered by Congress and entitled Lessons learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety and Security of U.S. Nuclear Plants, starkly contradicts parts of a study by Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff released more than two years after the earthquake off Japan’s coast drained power and coolant from three of Fukushima’s reactors, causing a meltdown of their radioactive cores.

    In its 2014 study, the NRC staff said a major earthquake could reasonably be expected to strike an area where spent fuel is stored in a pool once in 10 million years, maybe even less often, and even then, “spent fuel pools are likely to withstand severe earthquakes without leaking.”

    The NRC staff study also rated the threat of a terrorist attack that drained one of the pools as unknowable and said as a result that it need not be considered in weighing the costs and benefits of continuing to use the storage pools. “Based on the staff’s view that security issues are effectively addressed in the existing regulatory program, they are not part of this analysis,” the NRC report said.

    But the Academies’ report, written by 17 distinguished nuclear physicists, engineers, and other scientists, said the industry and the NRC calculations were too narrow. “In fact, a spent fuel pool accident can result in large radioactive material releases, extensive land contamination, and large-scale population dislocations,” it said.

    The report said the industry and the NRC need to strengthen “their capabilities for identifying, evaluating, and managing the risks from terrorist attacks.” It said the commission, which regulates the industry, sets safety standards, and enforces compliance, should finally carry out a promise it made a decade ago to organize an independent review of the industry’s spent fuel surveillance and security measures. And it said the commission also needs to conduct a more realistic appraisal than it has so far of the health consequences of a severe nuclear accident.

    The NRC staff “did not provide the committee with a technical analysis to support its assertion that security requirements are being effectively addressed in its regulatory program,” the Academies report said.

    The NRC’s immediate response to the report was not exactly a tight embrace. “Even with the recommendations that the Academies’ board has put together, we continue to conclude that spent fuel is being stored safely and securely in the U.S.,” Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said. “Nothing in the report causes immediate concern.”

    Similarly, Steven Kraft, a senior technical advisor at the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry advocacy organization, said no policy shift was warranted because the risks associated with keeping spent fuel in pools are “teensy.” Everyone, he said, “likes to accuse us of being overly worried about money. If something has to be done, we do it. What we look at is: What’s the best use of the money? If you’re looking at extremely tiny improvements that cost a lot of money, you have to look at if it’s the best use of money.”

    The Academies’ conclusions were based in part on its view that – even though the Fukushima disaster forced the hasty evacuation of 470,000 people and the ensuing cleanup costs could reach $93 billion – a more dire economic and health catastrophe was only narrowly averted, largely due to good luck.

    In particular, according to the report, one of the spent fuel pools at the reactor site lost a significant portion of its coolant due to evaporation, when pumps bringing in a regular supply of new coolant lost power. If its highly radioactive rods had been exposed, their heat and exposure to oxygen could have caused a fire, giving radioactive materials and gases from inside and around the rods a way to escape into the environment.  The ensuing radioactive contamination might have forced long-term relocation of the population of Tokyo, 177 miles to the south.

    “Just like leaving a tea kettle on the stove,” Shepherd said, as the water surrounding the fuel rods boiled off without replenishment and the level steadily dropped.

    While the reactor rescue operation was still under way, Japanese scientists prepared an internal report on the possibility of Tokyo’s contamination for the Japanese prime minister. But its existence “was initially kept secret because of the frightening nature of the scenarios it described,” the Academies’ report said. “The content [of the report] was so shocking that we decided to treat it as if it didn’t exist,” a senior Japanese government official told the Japan Times eight months later.

    But the fuel rod pool in question was fortunately located next to another pool containing water that surrounded a reactor core, and by chance a leak developed between them in the earthquake, allowing extra coolant to spill into the most vulnerable fuel rod pool. It kept the rods just below the water’s surface.

    The reactor’s operators had no idea at the time that either the leak or the serendipitous water replenishment was occurring, because the pools in question lacked adequate monitoring systems, the Academies’ report said. They “had not planned for or been trained to respond to the conditions that existed” in the cooling pools, it said. As a result, they had to improvise, using “helicopters, fire trucks, water cannons, concrete pump trucks, and ad hoc connections” to other water supplies.

    That one of the spent fuel pools at Fukushima came so close to releasing massive amounts of radiation should be attention-grabbing, panel chairman Shepherd said. “This was a very significant event and it should serve as a wakeup call for the industry and regulators.”

    In its own analysis, the NRC has concluded dry-cask storage of spent fuel rods – which is technically feasible after the rods cool for a year or more in the pools -- is only negligibly safer than leaving waste in pools for decades, as is routinely done.

    But the Academies’ study focused on other factors that the NRC chose not to consider, such as the chance that terrorists might strike a spent-fuel pool or an insider might sabotage a pool. The report said predicting human behavior poses challenges, but more effort should have been made to understand the consequences of a deliberate attack.

    Panel member Frank von Hippel, an emeritus professor and senior research physicist at Princeton University, said that in its “deeply-flawed” cost-benefit analysis, the NRC also excluded consideration of the consequences of property contamination more than 50 miles from a radiation release, even though a broader release is clearly possible. He said the NRC further used outmoded statistical estimates for the value of a human life, did not incorporate potential tourism losses after an accident, or consider the potential costs to the economy if a major accident forced multiple reactors to be shut down.

    In an interview, von Hippel said he felt the commission had bent too easily to the nuclear industry’s lobbying against dry cask storage.

    “The agency’s decision was based on significant and thorough technical analyses which are publicly available,” Burnell, the NRC spokesman, responded. But he said the commission’s staff will review the report more carefully and deliver a formal report to the commissioners sometime during the second half of the year.

    After fueling power generation at nuclear power plants, spent highly radioactive rods cool underwater in pools like this one at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in California. A new study by a panel of experts asserts that the agency that regulates nuclear power in the U.S. hasn’t looked closely enough at the threat terrorists and saboteurs pose to spent-fuel pools. Patrick Malonehttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/patrick-maloneR. Jeffrey Smithhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/r-jeffrey-smithhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/20/19712/scientists-say-nuclear-fuel-pools-around-country-pose-safety-and-health-risks

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    During April, White House hopefuls, their supportive super PACs and other political committees raced past the $1 billion mark achieved in March, adding another $150 million or so to already historic spending totals.

    Here’s a rundown of the more telling — and curious — numbers the Center for Public Integrity found lurking in a new round of federal campaign disclosures:

    $9,659,100: Amount billionaire businessman Donald Trump raised in April, as he raced toward clinching the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. Of that sum, about 78 percent came from his own funds, including another $7.5 million in loans to his campaign. To date, Trump has now loaned his campaign more than $43 million, although the loans are loans in name only — Trump says he has no intention of recouping the cash.

    $9,403,014: What Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas still had left in his presidential campaign account, three days before he dropped out of the presidential race after Trump obliterated him in the Indiana primary. Despite this reserve, plus tens of millions of dollars more controlled by pro-Cruz super PACs, Cruz declared that his path forward had “been foreclosed.” Cruz has options for his surplus millions, including transferring it to his U.S. Senate committee — the Texan has already announced he’ll seek re-election in 2018. Cruz could also donate his stash to other political candidates, Republican party committees or even charitable outfits.

    $5,796,718: The amount of campaign cash that remains for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as of April 30. Sanders burned through roughly $38.6 million last month, spending millions on TV advertising alone. The U.S. senator from Vermont outraised his rival, Hillary Clinton, by roughly $2 million in April — showing that Sanders still has some steam left to stay in the race, even if his odds of winning the Democratic nomination are nearlynil. But Clinton’s campaign boasts $30.2 million in reserve — say nothing of the tens of millions of dollars pro-Clinton super PACs have at their disposal.

    $3.7 million: The amount donors poured into the fundraising arm of a network of pro-Cruz super PACs in April, a few weeks before Cruz's presidential bid fell apart. The largest single individual contribution to Trusted Leadership PAC in April was $1 million from Benjamin Klein, the chief executive officer of Platinum Health Care. Klein has been linked to a series of limited liability companies that had previously made contributions to super PACs backing Cruz. Republican megadonor John Childs also gave $100,000 in April, bringing his total contributions to Trusted Leadership PAC to $300,000. Additionally, the group also took in $250,000 from Amway President Richard DeVos and $75,000 from mining company Murray Energy Corp. and its PAC.

    $1,249,830: Surplus cash that Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign enjoyed going into May after its debts are subtracted from available cash. While not much of a consolation prize — Rubio unceremoniouslyquittherace on March 15 after winning just three primaries and caucuses— his presidential committee is in better shape than those of many White House also-rans, who’ve carried debt on their books for months, even years. Rubio still must settle up with several vendors who are collectively owed more than $2 million, including more than $15,000 to tiny Patrick Henry College in Virginia, where Rubio conducted a campaign event on Feb. 28.

    $898,676: What Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s defunct presidential campaign still owes creditors, which include Google, telemarketing firm FLS Connect and Jones Day, the law firm that employs Trump’s general counsel, Don McGahn.The good news? Walker has been paying down his debt bit by bit: it stood at more than $1.2 million on Dec. 31. On April 12, GOP megadonor Foster Friess even chipped in $2,700 to help Walker pay his bills. (Friess also gave New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential committee $2,700 in April to pay off its own, sizable debts.)

    $177,488: How much scratch the Trump campaign spent on hats during April.

    $105,665: What CARLY for America, a super PAC supporting businesswoman Carly Fiorina’s presidential bid, spent in April, despite Fiorina dropping out in February. Expenses included roughly $36,000 in consulting fees to group leader Stephen DeMaura and $62,500 in direct mail costs. The group reported having about $740,000 in remaining cash through April. Fiorina has said the super PAC will live on to “help conservative outsiders win in November.” But donors didn’t flock to it, even after Fiorina briefly served as Cruz’s de facto running mate in April (before he withdrew, too). How much did CARLY for America raise in April? Not a cent.

    $100,000: The amount of money Scott Bessent gave pro-John Kasich super PAC New Day for America days before Kasich, Ohio’s governor, quit his increasingly quixotic bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Who is Scott Bessent? He’s a hedge fund manager with deep professional ties to George Soros, the billionaire financier and Democratic megadonor who’s poured millions of dollars into pro-Clinton efforts this election cycle. Bessent had previously contributed $250,000 to the pro-Kasich super PAC. He has likewise given cash to a variety of other Democratic and Republican candidates and committees over the years, including $25,000 in 2013 to pro-Clinton outfit Ready for Hillary PAC. Another New Day for America donor is tied to Soros, too. Stanley Druckenmiller, who once managed money for Soros, donated $500,000 to the pro-Kasich super PAC.

    $74,866: What Rubio’s presidential committee earned in April from renting supporters’ personal information to a data broker.

    $73,368: Amount raised in April by former Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who dropped out of the race after a disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. These days, O’Malley continues to maintain a profile in his home state. While he has not endorsed in the presidential race, O’Malley did endorse Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen ahead of last month’s heated U.S. Senate primary in Maryland, in which Van Hollen prevailed. And in April, Maryland politicians accounted for about one-quarter of O’Malley’s campaign receipts. His most recent donors include the PACs of Sen. Ben Cardin, Rep. Steny Hoyer and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, as well as the campaigns of Reps. Elijah Cummings and John Sarbanes. Former Sen. Paul Sarbanes and former Baltimore Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro III — the brother of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. — also made personal contributions to O’Malley’s failed presidential campaign in April.

    $67,842: What anti-Trump Our Principles PAC had left in the bank at the end of April after saturating airwaves with attack ads for months — a tactic that proved unsuccessful in damaging The Donald. Republican megadonor Paul Singer injected the super PAC with $1 million — roughly one third of the group’s April haul  — on April 27. Cruz and Kasich dropped out of the race the following week.

    $24,255: Amount pro-Cruz Keep the Promise PAC paid to the Charlotte Motor Speedway for a mid-March rally. The guest list: Soon-to-be running mate Fiorina, conservative pundit Glenn Beck and … Cruz himself. Cruz was a regular “special guest” at Keep the Promise PAC rallies, causing some detractors — including the Trump campaign— to question whether this violated campaign finance laws, which forbid campaigns and supportive super PACs from coordinating certain efforts.

    $2,146: What the seemingly insolvent Constitution Party National Committee owed the Internal Revenue Service as of April 30, according to its latest campaign finance report. This is particularly notable, since the Constitution Party asserts the IRS is an “illicit and unconstitutional agency” that should be “abolished” — the party headquarters phone number is 1-800-2-VETO-IRS. But Constitution Party Chairman Frank Fluckiger says the reported debt is one big misunderstanding. “As far as I am aware the debt to which you refer on the FEC report is non-existent,” Fluckiger said, adding that a combination of software problems and “improper reporting” contributed to the accounting snafu. Added Constitution Party Treasurer Gerald F. Kilpatrick: “We are in discussions with the FEC as to whether this can be corrected in a future filing or if we need to amend our previous filings.”

    2020: The year in which several senators, to whom Google’s PAC donated money in April, are next up for re-election. Beneficiaries of this ultra-early cash include Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va.; Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska and Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

    $360: Contributions sent by pro-Trump Great America PAC directly to the Trump campaign. As a hybrid super PAC, Great America PAC can, like a super PAC, raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on advertising. But it may also collect limited amounts of cash to send directly to candidates, just like garden variety PACs do. Great America PAC has put out a number of low-fi ads that ask viewers to call a 1-800 number. The call eventually leads to a phone operator who asks for donations.

    $294.57: How much the Trump campaign reported spending in February at the “No 1 China” restaurant in Greenville, South Carolina. On the campaign trail, Trump has accused China of “rape” against the United States and talks incessantly about the country.

    99.99: Percentage of NextGen Climate Action’s total April income contributed by its founder Tom Steyer. Steyer, a hedge fund manager, environmentalist and Democratic megadonor, gave $7 million to NextGen last month alone, bringing his total for the election cycle to $24 million. The super PAC has so far spent about $350,000 on advertising attacking Trump and plans to spend $25 million this cycle turning out young voters.

    62: Percentage of the Sanders campaign’s $20.9 million April haul that came from small-dollar donors — those giving $200 or less. For Clinton in April, her small-dollar donor figure is about 27 percent.

    10: Number of people who in April accounted for 95 percent of the $8.56 million raised by pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA Action, which justlaunched a massive (and excoriating) advertising campaign against Trump. Several of the super PAC’s most recent bankrollers have strong ties to either Wall Street or Hollywood, including entertainment mogul Haim Saban, venture capitalist Jay Robert Pritzker and financier Herbert Sandler.

    1: Number of months this year — namely, April — when Clinton’s presidential campaign raised more money than it spent. Clinton’s campaign last month raised $25.1 million and spent $23.9 million.

    $0: How much the Twitter, Inc. #PAC gave federal political candidates in April, extending a stinginess streak for the committee, which formed in August 2013. Until last year, the PAC had never made a federal-level contribution. In November, PAC leaders told the Center for Public Integrity that the committee would soon contribute money to political campaigns, and in December, it gave $1,000 each to Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Mike Lee, R-Utah; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. But the PAC has yet, this year, to tweet cash to any politician. (For the record, people are allowed to tweet cash to politicians.)

    Chris Zubak-Skees contributed to this report

     

     

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Fort Wayne, Ind.Dave Levinthalhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/dave-levinthalCady Zuvichhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/cady-zuvichMichael Beckelhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/michael-beckelCarrie Levinehttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/carrie-levinehttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/21/19713/presidential-race-blows-past-1-billion-mark-and-other-numbers-know

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    Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump have precious little in common.

    But the two all-but-certain presidential nominees do share this: at least three-dozen campaign contributors who gave money to both of them, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of federal campaign finance filings.

    The donors compose one of the nation’s smallest political clubs, to be sure, although it has its share of notable members. They include a former U.S. ambassador to Sweden, the heiress to the National Enquirer fortune, the mother of an Ohio state senator, a professional poker player, a writer for the ABC hit television series “Castle” and a law professor who has challenged the constitutional eligibility of former Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz.

    The reasons for their double dealings vary. Some gave to both politicians after undergoing ideological conversions. Others donated because they were asked by friends or trusted associates. Some Clinton supporters just wanted Trump’s iconic “Make America Great Again” hats — even if the money they spent would aid the billionaire businessman’s presidential bid.

    While Americans may only vote for one presidential candidate come November, there’s nothing stopping them from giving money to multiple White House hopefuls. Nine of these overlapping donors contributed $2,700 — the legal maximum allowed during the primary — to both Clinton and Trump. Others gave more modest sums.

    With the primary season now nearing its end, both Clinton and Trump are also aiming to make inroads with voters who typically vote for the other party in order to prevail on Election Day in November.

    Trump is hoping his populism can win over some Democrats, while Clinton believes that Trump’s brash antics will attract some Republicans to support her candidacy.

    Both can already claim some converts.

    Changes of heart

    For instance, Victor Williams, a law professor at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., last year donated $400 to Clinton’s campaign as a “dutiful Democrat.”

    But he now says he’s “a Trump man” — and has donated $5,400 to Trump’s campaign, $2,700 toward the primary and $2,700 toward the general election.

    Another way he’s trying to help Trump: He’s been the main force behind a so-far-unsuccessful New Jersey lawsuit challenging Cruz’s eligibility to be president. Cruz’s mother was a U.S. citizen living in Canada when she gave birth to her son. (Presidents must be “natural-born citizens.”)

    In order to have legal standing for the case, Williams himself also launched a long-shot presidential bid.

    On his campaign website, Williams asserts that Clinton should be “criminally indicted” for some of her actions as secretary of state. He further argues that “we must replace the feckless, weak Barack Obama with a strong, determined 45th president.”

    “What I’m genuinely excited about is the possibility that the established political order and those elites who have been at the trough for 40, 50 years will be sent home,” Williams told the Center for Public Integrity. “It’s really now or never.”

    Then there’s Anthony Brennan, the owner of a Long Island, New York-based heating and air conditioning company. He says he regrets donating $2,700 to Clinton, whom he calls “corrupt to the core.”

    “I have no faith whatsoever that this lady can run a country,” said Brennan, explaining that he made the contribution to Clinton after being asked to give by some people with whom he does business — and before he had done any research on her.

    Campaign finance records indicate Brennan has now also contributed $244 to Trump — money that, he explained, went toward Trump gear, stickers and the 40 Trump signs he now displays in his yard.

    “The country has written off the hard-working men who are the backbone, who keep this government funded with our payroll taxes,” Brennan told the Center for Public Integrity, adding that he plans to donate up to $100,000 to pro-Trump efforts this year because “our country is in need.”

    “Finally there’s a voice for us,” he continued.

    Professional poker player Daniel “Miami Boss” Suied also likes Trump’s economic views.

    Suied, who gave Clinton’s campaign $500 last year at the behest of some Democratic Party friends in Florida, has also donated $367 to Trump’s campaign, including at least $200 in April.

    “I was a huge fan of Bill Clinton,” Suied told the Center for Public Integrity. “I like Trump now.”

    Making hats great again

    Meanwhile, New York City-based lawyer Chris DiAngelo, a self-described “Rockefeller Republican,” told the Center for Public Integrity he gave Clinton’s campaign $2,700 last June, after being asked by a friend.

    Six months later he became a Trump campaign donor because, he says, he purchased six of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hats for a New Year’s Eve party.

    A “big hit” is how DiAngelo described the headwear.

    So who will DiAngelo be supporting in November? “It’s probably either going to be Hillary or nobody,” he said. “Unless Trump does something amazing, like, I don’t know, the pope is his running mate.”

    Television writer and producer Moira Kirland— whose credits include ABC’s “Castle,” CBS’s “Madam Secretary” and the CW’s “Arrow” — is a registered Democrat who likewise became a Trump donor after buying merchandise.

    “I just wanted to wear that ‘Make America Great Again’ shirt ironically in January!” said Kirland, who is listed in campaign finance records as giving $211 to Trump and $900 to Clinton.

    A similar story played out for Adam Conner, who works for technology company Slack in Washington, D.C., and spent $533 buying Trump hats while at the same time giving $360 to Clinton’s campaign.

    “I thought they’d be good gifts and a fun collector’s item and didn’t think I’d have very long to buy them. Guess I was wrong,” Conner told The Daily Beast earlier this year.

    Reached by the Center for Public Integrity, Conner stressed that he was “a committed Democrat who will support the Democratic nominee,” even if his hat purchases helped fund Trump’s campaign.

    Giving big, saying little

    For some of the people who have given money to both Clinton and Trump, their motivations aren’t readily apparent. Nor are they particularly willing to discuss their political giving.

    For instance, campaign finance records show that Nancy Beang, the former executive director of the Society for Neuroscience, donated $2,700 to Clinton in July. She then donated $250 to Trump in January.

    Reached by phone, Beang, who was a member of the District of Columbia Women for Hillary Council during Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid, declined to comment.

    In March, Beang told The Daily Beast that she was backing Trump because she thought he would “make America great again.”

    For his part, Jeffrey Sherman, a financial advisor at J.P. Morgan Securities in Boston, gave $1,000 to Trump shortly after Trump launched his presidential bid last summer. Yet he’s also given $739 to Clinton so far this year.

    Why?

    “I’m not commenting,” Sherman told the Center for Public Integrity. “I’m the wrong guy to help you out.”

    Meanwhile, campaign finance disclosures show that Lyndon Olson — who served as the U.S. ambassador to Sweden under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001 — gave $2,700 to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign last year. But he also contributed $796 to Trump in February.

    Philanthropist Lois Pope, heiress to the National Enquirer fortune, likewise contributed $2,700 to Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid. But she’s also given Trump $423 and has attended multiple events for him this year, often sporting sequined, pro-Trump regalia.

    Then there’s lawyer Eric Yollick, who earlier this year lost a GOP primary for district judge in Texas. Yollick, who refers to himself as a “constitutional conservative” and pledged to “make our courthouse great again,” has donated $2,600 to both Trump and Clinton.

    Olson, Pope and Yollick did not respond to requests for comment.

    ‘Like buying extra lottery tickets’

    Ohio Democrat Janet Cafaro is another donor who’s given significant sums to both Clinton and Trump.

    Campaign finance records show she gave Clinton $2,700 in November and $2,700 to Trump in March.

    Who is Janet Cafaro? She’s the mother of Democratic state Sen. Capri Cafaro of Ohio and the wife of developer John “J.J.” Cafaro.

    The Cafaros, a wealthy Ohio family, have experienced both the glamorous and gritty aspects of politics.

    On one hand, they’ve hosted President Bill Clinton at their sprawling, Tudor-style mansion in Chevy Chase, Maryland. On the other hand, John Cafaro was fined in 2002 for bribing former U.S. Rep. James Traficant of Ohio, whom he testified against in court.

    Janet Cafaro could not immediately be reached for comment, but Capri Cafaro told the Center for Public Integrity she asked her mother to donate to Clinton ahead of a local event.

    “There’s no ideological reason behind their financial support for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump,” Cafaro said of her parents’ political giving. (John Cafaro, like Janet Cafaro, has also donated $2,700 to Trump.)

    Only a handful of other donors have contributed $2,700 to both Clinton and Trump.

    They include Steve Gorlin, the vice chairman of biotechnology company NantKwest; Scott Powell, the president of the Sacramento Jet Center; and Scott Shleifer of investment company Tiger Global Management, according to federal records. None could be immediately reached for comment.

    Political observers note that for some donors, backing multiple candidates can be about access and hoping to influence a politician’s agenda.

    Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, has said that “donating to multiple candidates is like buying extra lottery tickets” because “you have more chances to wind up in the winner’s circle, with all the perks of having backed the victor.”

    Ahead of the 2012 election, dozens of donors contributed to both President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics. Likewise, during the 2008 election, about two-dozen donors gave at least $2,300 to both Obama and Republican John McCain.

    To be certain, the roughly three-dozen campaign donors shared by Clinton and Trump identified by the Center for Public Integrity represent a conservative estimate as only people who give a candidate at least $200 must be publicly disclosed.

    Through April 30, Trump has raised about $10.5 million from people who each gave less than $200 and whose names have not been publicly released. Clinton, meanwhile, has raised about $40.2 million from such small-dollar donors.

    Moreover, as Trump now turns to more traditional sources of campaign cash— he’s largely been self-funding his presidential bid to date — the number of donors he shares with Clinton will likely grow.

    Undecided between Clinton and Trump

    While polls do regularly show a portion of voters still undecided between Clinton and Trump, you might not expect someone who’s opened up their wallet to support a politician to fall into that category.

    Yet that’s the case for at least one Florida man who has contributed $287 to Trump and $899 to Clinton.

    Michael Ginsberg, a Tampa-based lawyer, explained that his giving was not ideological.

    “I’ve gone to their stores and bought things,” he said, adding that he’s been collecting political memorabilia — mainly buttons — since he was a kid and has a collection that now numbers in the hundreds, if not thousands, of items.

    “I’m sort of torn between the two,” Ginsberg said of Clinton and Trump. “Both have things of interest and elements of concern.”

    Chris Zubak-Skees and Ben Wieder contributed to this report.

    This article was co-published with The Daily Beast and Newsweek.

    Professional poker player Daniel "Miami Boss" SuiedMichael Beckelhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/michael-beckelhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/26/19719/meet-people-who-have-donated-both-hillary-clinton-and-donald-trump

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    More than 70 cents of every dollar Libertarian Gary Johnson— a man who could play spoiler in battleground states in November — has spent so far in his 2016 presidential bid has gone to the consulting firm of his campaign manager, Ron Nielson, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of federal campaign finance filings.

    This has irked some Libertarians ahead of their national convention, which starts Friday in Orlando, Florida, where party activists will select their presidential and vice presidential nominees.

    “It’s extremely troubling,” said George Phillies, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Massachusetts. “We’re supposed to be fiscally prudent.”

    Johnson is a former two-term governor of New Mexico who was the party’s presidential nominee four years ago, earning about 1 percent of the vote nationally.

    Phillies calls Johnson, whose 2012 presidential campaign is still roughly $1.9 million in debt, “unacceptable.” Earlier this month, he sent a letter to his fellow Libertarian National Convention delegates urging them to support “a candidate who focuses his resources on outreach, not on paying his campaign advisors.”

    Libertarians are hoping to be a force to be reckoned with in 2016 by tapping into dissatisfaction with Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump— those parties’ all-but-certain presidential nominees.

    More than a dozen candidates are challenging Johnson for the Libertarian presidential nomination this year including technology entrepreneur John McAfee and Austin Petersen, owner of news magazine and website LibertarianRepublic.com.

    Johnson has spent about $334,000 since he launched his bid in January. By contrast, Peterson has spent about $36,000 campaigning for the Libertarian presidential nomination so far, with about one-quarter going to consultants, and McAfee has spent about $8,000, with about half going to consultants.

    Documents filed with the Federal Election Commission show Johnson campaign has paid Nielson’s Utah-based Liberty Consulting Service $239,600 for “campaign consulting services” since January.

    What exactly does that mean?

    “They’re doing a lot of services,” Johnson campaign lawyer Christina Sirois told the Center for Public Integrity. “Liberty Consulting Service provides overall campaign management services, including managing staff, advertising, research and more.”

    Sirois added that the Johnson campaign would soon file amended campaign finance reports because it erroneously listed the name of Liberty Consulting Service as “Liberty Consulting Services” in January.

    The Center for Public Integrity had raised questions about this vendor after discovering that there was no “Liberty Consulting Services” registered to do business in Utah.

    For years, transparency advocates have been calling for greater detail in how campaigns report their expenditures.

    Vague terms like “campaign consulting services,” are, said Paul S. Ryan, deputy executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, “not very useful information for voters to keep tabs on how the candidates are spending the money they’re raising.”

    But, he added: “So long as the candidate is paying fair market value for the goods and services the candidate is receiving there aren’t any legal issues.”

    Earlier this week, Johnson took to Facebook to address Libertarian delegates who have been concerned about his outstanding 2012 campaign debt.

    “The key fact for you, as a Delegate, to know is that NO funds being raised for the 2016 campaign will be used to reduce the 2012 debts shown on our campaign disclosure reports,” Johnson wrote.

    On May 5, Johnson’s campaign submitted its latest proposal to settle its debt— the crux of which is to sell its list of email addresses of its supporters — and is currently waiting for the FEC to approve the plan.

    This week, Johnson also announced plans to create a joint fundraising committee, which will raise money for Johnson’s campaign as well as the Libertarian parties in 15 states.

    The 15 state parties set to benefit are Alabama, Alaska, California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming.

    This story was co-published with TIME.

    Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.Michael Beckelhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/michael-beckelhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/26/19730/libertarian-presidential-hopeful-s-spending-consultants-draws-ire

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    A liberal "dark money" group that leads national and state-based Democratic coalitions and dubs itself the “hub of the progressive community” raised $13.4 million in its most recent fiscal year, spending about 43 percent of the total on “direct or indirect campaign activities,” according to a recently released tax document, a copy of which was obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

    America Votes swapped cash with other politically active nonprofits — including a handful with ties to the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Clinton has railed against a campaign finance system that allows such organizations to exist, even as her presidential candidacy benefits from it.

    Little is known about who exactly funds America Votes.

    About 60 percent of the nonprofit's haul between July 2014 and June 2015 was provided by 11 anonymous donors who all gave at least $500,000. One undisclosed donor gave $1.3 million, according to the new tax document.

    As a rule, America Votes and fellow 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofits do not disclose their donors and are forbidden from making politics their “primary” purpose. Nonetheless, many such groups serve as vehicles for pouring millions of dollars into influencing elections, though they can’t spend the majority of their funds on politics. Such groups have proliferated since the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that opened the floodgates to high-octane, secretive election spending.

    Right-leaning groups — namely “social welfare” nonprofits formed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch — are usually the first to be criticized for funneling money through these opaque channels. But liberal groups like America Votes indulge in the use of dark money too, by building a network of organizations that work in concert to get Democrats elected.

    Still, during the 2012 election cycle, conservative dark money groups outspent liberal ones by about 8-to-1, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

    America Votes did not respond to specific questions from the Center for Public Integrity, but Sara Schreiber, managing director, issued a statement that read in part, “As per its IRS designation as an issues-based advocacy organization, America Votes is not required to publicly disclose its donors.”

    In all, America Votes granted about $3 million to almost three dozen 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofits between July 2014 and June 2015. While some of this went toward issue-based advocacy across states, a portion flowed to groups that are more overtly political.

    Some of these organizations in turn spent money directly advocating or attacking federal or state candidates in 2014. These groups include Patriot Majority USA, Vote Vets Action Fund and North Carolina Citizens for Protecting Our Schools.

    Receiving a $100,000 donation was Patriot Majority USA, a major player in 2014 U.S. Senate races in which Democrats tried unsuccessfully to retain control of the U.S. Senate. Patriot Majority USA is led by Craig Varoga, a liberal political operative tied to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

    In the same year that America Votes gave the $100,000, Patriot Majority USA spent $10.6 million on election contests — more than 95 percent of which went to attacking Republicans.

    Money from America Votes trickled down to state races too, with the group giving $200,000 to North Carolina Citizens for Protecting Our Schools, a nonprofit tied to education labor unions.

    North Carolina Citizens for Protecting Our Schools spent an estimated $679,700 on TV ads exclusively attacking Republicans running in state elections, according to a review of data compiled by Kantar Media/CMAG, a political advertising data firm. It also largely funded North Carolina Families First, which spent an estimated $1.6 million targeting Republican candidates.

    Meanwhile, Vote Vets Action Fund spent more $2 million supporting Democrats and attacking Republicans in 2014, with $476,000 going to anti-Sen. Mitch McConnell expenditures.

    Eric Schmeltzer, spokesman for Vote Vets Action Fund, said the nonprofit uses a majority of its funds for issue advocacy and does not voluntarily disclose donors “because the law does not require disclosure of people’s identities.”

    “We maintain that privacy for individuals,” Schmeltzer added.

    In 2016 so far, Vote Vets Action Fund has invested about $623,000 in the Illinois Senate race supporting Democrat Tammy Duckworth.

    The Clinton-tied nonprofits in the America Votes expansive network are no strangers to the political scene.

    The pro-Clinton outfits include the League of Conservation Voters, Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood Action Fund— organizations that spend most of their resources on issue advocacy, but dole out considerable sums for political purposes. America Votes either donated to or listed these nonprofits as partners.

    League of Conservation Voters, a nonprofit known for propping up pro-environment candidates, donated nearly $1 million to America Votes in 2014. In turn, America Votes gave a $50,000 grant to League of Conservation Voters.

    League of Conservation Voters has so far this election cycle spent $164,000 on pro-Clinton activities following a somewhat controversial Clinton endorsement over opponent Bernie Sanders— who received a higher rating by the group for his pro-environment record.

    Some of the donations are more shadowy — and complex.

    During its last fiscal year, America Votes contributed $60,000 to Fair Share Inc.

    Fair Share Inc. and Environment Inc. — listed as “partners” of America Votes on its website — donated $1 million to the pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities Action USA through a super PAC called Fair Share Action.

    Greg Speed, president of America Votes, is the listed treasurer of Priorities USA Action.

    America Votes was founded by a group of liberal operatives, including Harold Ickes, a longtime adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as EMILY’s List founder Ellen Malcolm. EMILY’s List formed a joint fundraising committee with Priorities USA Action, spending around $439,000 supporting Clinton this election cycle.

    Wendy Wendlandt, acting director for Fair Share Action and Fair Share Inc., said her groups differ from other dark money organizations.

    “It’s important to distinguish between a grassroots group like Fair Share, which is organized with a social mission and those organizations which are specifically set up to shield political donors,” Wendlandt said.

    “Until better rules are in place for controlling the influence of money in politics, no one expects one side or the other to stop playing by the current rules,” Wendlandt added. “We are using the weapons in our arsenal.”

    Greg Speed, president of America Votes.Cady Zuvichhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/cady-zuvichhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/27/19729/mystery-donors-pumped-millions-liberal-dark-money-group

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    In a groundbreaking report six years ago, a National Cancer Institute panel warned that it was time to pay closer attention to environmental causes of a disease that takes more than a half-million American lives each year.

    “[T]he true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated,” the panelists wrote in their transmittal letter to President Obama in April 2010. “With nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States, many of which are used by millions of Americans in their daily lives and are un- or understudied and largely unregulated, exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread.”

    The report’s authors said the federal law aimed at controlling such hazards, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, “may be the most egregious example of ineffective regulation of environmental contaminants.” Since the act’s passage, they noted, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had required testing of less than 1 percent of the chemicals in commerce and had banned or restricted only five. The law takes an innocent-until-proven-guilty approach – good for the criminal-justice system, not so good for industrial poisons. Chemical manufacturers have largely avoided disclosure of health and safety data on their products by hiding behind confidentiality provisions.

    This makes recent events  all the more remarkable. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation making the first substantive reforms to the 40-year-old act, known as TSCA. The bill was expected to clear the Senate, and the White House has signaled its support.

    Among other things, the measure would force the EPA to pick up its laggard pace of chemical reviews, assigning the highest priority to the substances that pose the greatest risks, such as asbestos. The EPA’s inability to ban the mineral despite its role in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans has been held up as a prime example of TSCA’s feebleness. The Center for Public Integrity has published dozens of stories exposing flaws in the regulatory system.

    The reform legislation, a product of negotiations that began in 2013, has been praised by groups like the Environmental Defense Fund, but is far from perfect. It would prohibit states like California, which have adopted standards stricter than federal ones, from putting restrictions on chemicals while they were under EPA review (though state rules already in place before April 22 of this year would stand). In fact, industry frustration with inconsistencies in those rules helped lawmakers forge the compromise that led to the bill.

    The accelerated testing by the EPA would be funded by $25 million a year in fees from the chemical industry. The Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, calls that figure inadequate, saying, “Even the best law will be meaningless if [the] EPA doesn’t have the resources needed to review the hundreds of dangerous chemicals already on the market.”

    One public-health advocate who has lived and breathed TSCA reform over the past few years is Linda Reinstein, president and co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. Reinstein, who lives near Los Angeles and has been a fixture on Capitol Hill, lost her husband, Alan, in 2006 to mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer almost always connected to asbestos exposure.

    In an email to the Center, Reinstein pointed out that asbestos continues to kill 15,000 Americans each year. “While this bill does not immediately prohibit asbestos imports,” she wrote, “it does represent a landmark step forward.”

    The need for a stronger law is beyond dispute. The acute and chronic effects of the paint-stripping solvent methylene chloride, found at any Home Depot or Lowe’s, for example, have been known for decades. A Center analysis last year found that at least 56 accidental deaths had been linked to the chemical in the United States since 1980. On top of that, methylene chloride can cause cancer. The EPA is finally getting around to doing something about it; options for a proposed rule range from clearer warning labels to an outright ban. The agency first pondered such actions 30 years ago.

    “People have died, it poses this cancer threat … and everybody knows it’s a bad chemical, and yet nobody does anything,” said Katy Wolf, director of the nonprofit Institute for Research and Technical Assistance in California. “It’s appalling and irresponsible.”

    The author of the reform bill, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a written statement that TSCA “has been broken from the very beginning. We're exposed to hundreds of chemicals in our daily lives in countless ways – from flame retardants in the dust from your sofas to formaldehyde in non-iron shirts, and from the non-stick coating on your frying pans to volatile organic compounds given off from laser printers. Some of these chemicals are known to cause cancer or serious health problems, yet there has never been a cop on the beat keeping us safe.”

    Now the EPA will be that cop. The quality of its policing remains to be seen.

    Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., center, joined by, from left, Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., Sen. David Vitter, R-La., Bonnie Lautenberg, widow of the late New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito R-W. Va., talks about bipartisan legislation to improve the federal regulation of chemicals and toxic substances, Thursday, May 19, 2016.Jim Morrishttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/jim-morrishttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/27/19735/commentary-update-toxic-substances-control-act-worthy-step-thats-long-overdue

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    Eight years ago, when America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were still raging at full force, the Pentagon’s annual budget for those conflicts amounted to $1 million for each troop who was actually fighting.  But today, even as the Obama Administration continues to wind those wars down, the newest proposed Pentagon war-fighting budget would spend $5.9 million per deployed troop, a reflection, critics say, of sleight of hand that puts unrelated spending into a budget that’s supposed to be only for waging war.

    The figures come from a new report by the Stimson Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank based in Washington D.C. The report highlights the amount of spending in the special war-fighting account that authors argue should instead be part of the basic year-to-year budgeting for the Defense Department.  

    The Obama administration has requested $58.8 billion for that war budget– the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund—in fiscal year 2017. This represents a $200 million increase from the enacted budget in 2016 even though administration plans call for 9,767 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2017, a reduction of roughly 3,500 troops from this year.

    “The gulf between troop levels and OCO-designated spending has widened significantly in recent years,” Stimson fellow Laicie Heeley and intern Anna Wheeler write in the 20-page report released May 24. OCO includes a multitude of training efforts for Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, which the Stimson authors argue “no longer require emergency funding” because the initiatives are ongoing and can be easily anticipated year after year. “The funds are actually going to a larger amount of base budget needs,” said Heeley in an interview.

    Since 2001, the Pentagon has been issued a separate check for these emergency war  funds, which a variety of critics say have become an unnecessary “slush fund” for a multitude of unrelated defense and non-defense programs;  the Overseas Contingency Operations label was inaugurated in 2009.

    OCO now supports projects such as the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) – a program developed in 2014 to prove the U.S. remained committed to Central Europe despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Crimean invasion, and the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF), which supports US Africa Command and US Central Command training programs overseas.

    OCO is not subject to the 2011 Budget Control Act that is supposed to cap the Pentagon’s spending, an annual  battle typically referred to as “sequestration.” Experts say this inevitably leads to political games.

    “The whole OCO scam has become a subterfuge that allows people to have their cake and eat it too,” Gordon Adams, a former Office of Management and Budget associate director and current professor at American University, told the Center for Public Integrity. “Everybody has decided that this is better than having a disciplined defense budget,” Adams said.

    The Center for Public Integrity reported in 2014 that many OCO programs could be delegated to the base defense budget. A 2014 GAO report found that U.S. Central Command was funded in part through the war budget, money that should have been transitioned into the base defense budget.

    In 2016, Congress added $7.7 billion to OCO as a way to redirect spending and help the base defense budget comply with the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. This year the Obama administration requested $5.2 billion in 2017 OCO funds to meet these “unfunded needs in the Pentagon’s base budget” according to defense officials quoted in the Stimson report.

    Adams says that’s just a way of getting around budget caps first enacted by the 2011 control act. Those budget caps have already been adjusted upwards by the Bipartisan Budget Acts of 2013 and of 2015.

    Some experts contend that the high price tag of the wars could also in part reflect a changing landscape. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have become equipment and technology heavy, according to this argument. Instead of personnel, the U.S. is increasingly making use of more expensive technologies.

    Defense Secretary Ash Carter stated at a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing on May 6, 2015 that the Overseas Contingency Operations funding is unstable. Carter said that the account makes it difficult for the Defense Department to plan ahead.

    “Because it doesn’t provide a stable multi-year budget horizon, this one-year approach is managerially unsound and unfairly dispiriting to our force,” Carter said at the hearing. “Our military personnel and their families deserve to know their future more than just one year at a time.”

    Last year, a Center for Public Integrity investigation found that many Senators trying to grow the OCO budget on the Hill received campaign contributions from defense contractors.

    The battle over OCO spending has continued during this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) markups.

    House Republicans, led by  Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) are currently attempting to direct $18 billion of proposed 2017 OCO war funds on base budget expenses, an action that Carter equated to “gambling with warfighting money at a time of war” at a  House Armed Services Committee hearing on April 27. Carter said that proposed redirection of the money would go to efforts that are currently a low priority for the Pentagon and would cut off funding for troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in the middle of the year.

    On May 25, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) submitted an amendment to the Senate’s version of the defense bill that would add roughly $17.8 billion to the OCO fund for aircraft, army personnel, readiness, shipbuilding, cooperative Israeli-US defense programs, and other vehicles and equipment. Heeley equates McCain’s proposal to a Christmas list. “There’s an immediacy to McCain and Thornberry’s proposals that isn’t there from the Pentagon. It’s coming from Congress.”

     Senate Armed Services committee communications director Dustin Walker countered that McCain’s proposed amendment is designed “to reverse short-sighted [military] cuts…It is a carefully crafted set of resources and capabilities that are required to give our military service members what they need to confront growing threats to our security.”

    OCO, however, was not the first choice for funding. Walker wrote that Senator McCain “would be the first to welcome lifting arbitrary defense spending caps and returning to a strategy-based, threat-driven defense budget.”

    Lauren Chadwick is a Scoville Fellow at the Center for Public Integrity.

    Soldiers with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division perform a security check on their Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles near the Kuwaiti border as part of the last U.S. military convoy to leave Iraq Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011.Lauren Chadwickhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/lauren-chadwickhttps://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/05/27/19738/costly-truth-emergency-spending-iraq-and-afghanistan

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