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- 06/04/12--09:31: _OPINION: Guess who ...
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- 06/04/12--09:31: _'Stop Silicosis,' a...
- 06/04/12--09:31: _Wisconsin recall br...
- 06/12/12--23:57: _Clean Air Act case ...
- 06/12/12--23:57: _Diesel engine exhau...
- 06/12/12--23:57: _Contributions by to...
- 06/12/12--23:57: _L.A. school police,...
- 06/12/12--23:57: _Dems target indepen...
- 06/12/12--23:57: _OPINION: Insurance ...
- 06/12/12--23:57: _U.S. military admit...
- 06/12/12--23:57: _Are nuclear weapons...
- 06/12/12--23:57: _Super PACs play maj...
- 06/12/12--23:57: _Wachdog 6/7/12
- 06/12/12--23:57: _IMPACT: OSHA pares ...
- 06/12/12--23:57: _Vacuum cleaner suck...
- 06/12/12--23:57: _'The Dark Money Beh...
- 06/12/12--23:57: _Walker wins Wiscons...
- 06/12/12--23:57: _State Integrity Inv...
- 06/04/12--09:31: OPINION: Guess who would benefit from privatizing Medicare?
- 06/04/12--09:31: OSHA rules on workplace toxics stalled
- 06/04/12--09:31: NYPD school police citations draw criticism
- 06/04/12--09:31: 'Stop Silicosis,' a 1938 Dept. of Labor film
- 06/04/12--09:31: Wisconsin recall breaks record thanks to outside cash
- 06/12/12--23:57: Clean Air Act case brings $1 million penalty
- 06/12/12--23:57: Diesel engine exhaust earns 'carcinogenic' label
- 06/12/12--23:57: Dems target independent in California House race
- 06/12/12--23:57: OPINION: Insurance industry myths about the uninsured
- 06/12/12--23:57: U.S. military admits major war mistakes
- 06/12/12--23:57: Super PACs play major role in California House contests
- 06/12/12--23:57: Wachdog 6/7/12
- 06/12/12--23:57: IMPACT: OSHA pares inspection goals
- 06/12/12--23:57: Vacuum cleaner sucks $440 million from Navy
- 06/12/12--23:57: 'The Dark Money Behind the Wisconsin Recall' by Mother Jones
- 06/12/12--23:57: Walker wins Wisconsin recall election flooded with outside spending
- 06/12/12--23:57: State Integrity Investigation provides 'roadmap' for ethics reform
If you think the idea of privatizing Medicare has gone away, that the health insurance industry has thrown in the towel on one of its biggest goals, there was fresh evidence last week that you would be wrong.
As I wrote more than a year ago — when Rep. Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.) unveiled his plan to replace the Medicare system with one that would essentially be run by private insurers — Democrats would be foolish to think that Ryan couldn’t get the public to support the concept. I noted then that insurers would be investing heavily in efforts to convince people that Ryan’s plan represented the only way to save the Medicare program from insolvency.
One of the tried-and-true tactics insurers have used many times to influence public opinion is the enlistment of “third-party advocates” to disseminate industry talking points. Last week an industry friend in high places — Thomas Scully, who headed the Medicare program during much of the George W. Bush administration — weighed in on the matter. It is only a matter of time, Scully told Kaiser Health News, before politicians on both sides of the aisle endorse Ryan’s proposal of providing Medicare beneficiaries with a set amount of money every year to buy coverage from private insurers.
Scully, now senior counsel at Alston & Bird, the big law and lobbying firm that has represented some of the country’s biggest health insurers, including WellPoint and Cigna, is advocating a gradual phase-in of the Ryan plan, similar to how the recent changes in Social Security came about.
“The retirement age of Social Security is 66 now [67 for those born after 1959]. Nobody noticed because it happened one [month] at a time for 12 years,” Scully said in the interview with Kaiser Health News. “You need to do the same thing for Medicare. You need to gradually move it to a premium support model so it looks more like the Federal Employee Retirement Program. You're not limiting spending. You're putting it under some kind of a rational, non-open ended fee-for-service entitlement. That's going to have to happen.”
It was during the Bush administration that insurers persuaded lawmakers to allow them to administer the new Medicare Part D prescription drug program, which Scully noted is a kind of premium-support arrangement, with taxpayer dollars going straight to private insurers. Scully was a leading advocate of that approach, which has turned out to be, as I knew it would, a major source of new income for the companies I used to work for (Humana and Cigna) and the other insurers that participate in the Part D program.
“Premium support is Part D,” Scully said. “When we designed Medicare Advantage, [the private health plan program in Medicare] it was premium support ... That is a reasonable way to fix the Medicare program, phased in over the long term. …”
Yes, Scully also played a key role in designing the Medicare Advantage program, with a lot of input from the insurance industry. Like Part D, it has turned out to be a revenue bonanza for insurers and has contributed in no small way to the record profits many of them have posted in recent years.
One of the reasons for that is because the Bush administration and the industry’s Congressional pals rigged the program to all but guarantee impressive profits for private insurers.
To entice insurance firms to participate in the Medicare Advantage program, the federal government promised them a sizable bonus every year in the form of overpayments. And boy oh boy have those overpayments been sizable.
In 2009, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), which advises Congress, reported that those bonuses were costing Medicare (read: taxpayers) billions of dollars every year. It estimated that in 2009 alone, Medicare would pay private insurers 14 percent more per beneficiary than it would cost the government to cover those beneficiaries in traditional Medicare. Between 2004 and 2008, the overpayments totaled nearly $33 billion, according to MedPAC.
During the debate on health care reform, the Congressional Budget Office estimated those overpayments would total $157 billion over the coming decade. As a consequence of these overpayments, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), premiums for all Medicare beneficiaries, including those enrolled in traditional Medicare, are higher than they otherwise would be. Not only that, the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will become insolvent 18 months earlier than it would otherwise because of those overpayments, according to Congressional testimony by CMS’ chief actuary. That’s why, despite intense lobbying by the insurance industry, Congress inserted a provision in the Affordable Care Act to eventually phase out those overpayments. As you can imagine, the industry is lobbying Congress hard to strip that provision out of the law.
Expect to hear many other allies of the insurance industry join Scully in telling us that privatizing Medicare has to happen, that it is the only way to make sure the program will be around for future generations. As you listen to that rhetoric, remember how their bright ideas from the past have served to enrich insurers and their shareholders at the expense of the rest of us.
At 58, retired machinist Bruce Revers is tethered to his oxygen machines — a wall unit when he’s at home, a portable tank when he’s out. The simple act of walking to the curb to pick up his newspaper is a grind.
“This is a hell of a thing to live with,” Revers, of Orange, Calif., said of his worsening lung disease. “There’s nothing I can do without my air.”
His undoing was beryllium, a light and versatile metal to which he was exposed in a Southern California factory that makes high-tech ceramics for the space, defense and automotive industries. His bosses tried to keep the place clean and well-ventilated, Revers says, and he wore a respirator to shield his lungs from the fine metallic dust. Nonetheless, he was diagnosed with chronic beryllium disease in 2009.
He will not recover.
The federal standard in place to protect workers like Revers from beryllium is based on an Atomic Energy Commission calculation crafted by an industrial hygienist and a physician in the back of a taxi in 1949. For the last 12 years, an effort to update that standard has been mired in delay. A plan to address another toxic hazard — silica, a mineral that also damages the lungs — has been tied up even longer: 15 years.
The sluggishness is symptomatic of a bigger problem: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s inability to act with urgency on well-known workplace hazards.
Beryllium, used in everything from missiles to golf clubs, threatens as many as 134,000 workers in the United States, according to government estimates. Silica, pulverized and inhaled by construction workers, foundry workers and miners, threatens more than 2 million. Obsolete exposure limits, dating to the early 1970s, are on the books for both substances.
Apart from the suffocating, chronic lung ailments they cause — berylliosis and silicosis — beryllium and silica are classified as “known human carcinogens” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
“Shameful,” Dr. Cecile Rose, a physician with National Jewish Health in Denver who treats silicosis victims, said of OSHA’s silica limit.
“Woefully outdated,” her colleague, Dr. Lisa Maier, who sees Revers and other berylliosis patients, said of the beryllium cap.
Revers, who worked around beryllium from 1983 to 1995, recalls hearing warnings about the metal’s potency but said, “I didn’t really worry about it. Back then, I just cared about the job.” He learned he had berylliosis only after he had his gall bladder removed in 2009.
“I’ve gotten progressively worse,” Revers said. “I’m on oxygen 24-7.”
OSHA officials declined interview requests from the Center for Public Integrity. In a written statement, the agency said it remains “committed to protecting workers” from beryllium and silica. “However, numerous steps in the regulatory process mean OSHA cannot issue standards as quickly as it would like.”
“These days the backlash against even the simplest efforts to protect workers is withering,” said Rena Steinzor, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and president of the Center for Progressive Reform, a left-leaning think tank. “OSHA hasn’t made a serious run at regulating chemicals in the workplace in a couple of decades.”
The Government Accountability Office reported in April that it takes OSHA nearly eight years, on average, to issue a health or safety standard. After issuing 47 significant rules, covering threats as diverse as asbestos and logging, in the 1980s and ‘90s, the agency has produced only 11 since 2000, the GAO found. Some of these aren’t new rules at all but tweaks to existing rules, known as technical amendments.
“The standard-setting process at OSHA is broken,” Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said at a hearing on the GAO audit.
It takes OSHA twice as long as the Department of Transportation and five times as long as the Securities and Exchange Commission to put out a rule, Harkin said. “The Reagan administration issued new [worker health and safety] rules at a rate four times faster than the current administration,” he said.
To be sure, OSHA has hurdles to clear. Court decisions in industry lawsuits say the agency must prove significant risk before adopting costly rules. The White House Office of Management and Budget often serves as a bottleneck; the silica rule, for example, can’t be formally proposed until it’s extricated from OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, where it’s been under review for more than 15 months instead of the 90 days allowed by executive order. Given industry objections, it stands little chance of being dislodged before the presidential election.
The beryllium rule has yet to make it to OMB.
The day of the Harkin hearing, four workers, eight worker advocates and seven relatives of people killed on the job had a one-hour meeting with Cass Sunstein, director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and other White House officials. The visitors’ aim was to put a human face on the sterile process of rulemaking.
It seemed to work. One OMB staffer started crying after hearing the family members’ stories, several attendees said. Sunstein shook the hand of Alan White, a 47-year-old foundry worker from Buffalo, N.Y., who suffers from silicosis. “He said, ‘I’m so sorry,’ ” White recounted a few days later.
Still, no one expects the process to change anytime soon. Chuck Gordon, a lawyer who retired from the Department of Labor in 2008 after spending 32 years in the solicitor’s office, believes OSHA isn’t pushing hard enough.
“People say OMB holds things up, and sometimes they do, but the fact is you can fight OMB,” Gordon said. “We did it all the time in the Reagan and Clinton years. We’d negotiate and make a few compromises, but we’d often win on the major issues. You can put pressure on them if the assistant secretary [of labor for occupational safety and health] is willing to take them on.”
An OMB spokeswoman did not respond to interview requests.
Crackdowns on silica and beryllium could cost the affected industries hundreds of millions of dollars. Companies would have to pay for respirators, health screenings, exposure assessments and dust-control equipment.
But the price of inaction on these and other workplace toxics is staggering. A recent study put the cost of fatal and non-fatal workplace illnesses in the U.S. at $58 billion for a single year.
The human costs are higher still. Each year, an estimated 50,000 people die from occupational diseases. That’s roughly 10 times the number of workers who die from traumatic injuries. More than 400,000 people a year get sick from on-the-job exposures.
“The government — of course they’re going to drag their feet,” Revers said. “That’s a given.”
It’s worse than Revers knows. In 1978 alone, OSHA issued standards for six workplace poisons: benzene, arsenic, cotton dust, lead, a pesticide known as DBCP and acrylonitrile, an industrial chemical. In 1989 the agency ambitiously sought to update exposure limits for 428 air contaminants at once, only to have a court strike down the rule three years later.
Alan White’s pique was aroused recently when he viewed, on YouTube, a 1938 Labor Department film called “Stop Silicosis.” The grainy, black-and-white video features Frances Perkins, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, who says silicosis can be prevented if safety measures are “conscientiously adopted.” It shows how dust from tools like jackhammers — “widow-makers” — can be controlled with water.
The film was made in the wake of the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel disaster, in which hundreds of mostly African-American workers died of silicosis in short order after drilling through silica-laden rock near Gauley Bridge, W.Va.
White hadn’t heard about Hawk’s Nest when he took a job as a general helper at the Buffalo foundry in 1995. He was happy to have the work; a single parent, he’d been laid off from a food packaging plant the year before and had been on public assistance for nine months.
The foundry, where molten copper and brass are poured into molds, was full of dust. Silica was routinely knocked loose from brick furnace linings and other equipment; clouds of it hung in the air. Dust masks were available but the workers almost never used them. “You didn’t wear masks,” White said. “You either took the heat and the dust, or you didn’t work there.”
He took it for 16 years. He took it even after he grew short of breath and a doctor told him an X-ray showed “something fuzzy” in his lungs. He didn’t want to forego wages that once reached $92,000 a year with overtime.
In 2011, White reluctantly absorbed a pay cut and transferred to a less dusty part of the plant. Asked why he stays at all, he replied, “I have two mortgages.”
Easily winded and unable to exercise, White, a new grandfather, won’t get better. The best he can hope for is a gradual loss of lung function, as opposed to the rapid deterioration experienced by the Hawk’s Nest workers. “I’m going to do my best to refrain from getting mad,” he said, knowing now that his disease was probably preventable.
White attended the Senate hearing in April and put a written statement into the record. “If there were better OSHA rules for silica,” he wrote, “I may not be sick today.”
Silicosis is hardly a new phenomenon. It was documented by the Greeks and the Romans centuries ago. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH, warned in 1974 that the silica exposure limit was too high and recommended that sandblasting, which can lead to prodigious silica exposures, be banned.
Industry demurred. A group calling itself the Silica Safety Association formed in Houston; its purpose, according to internal documents, was to prevent a “crippling restriction” on sandblasting, used in the petrochemical industry to treat storage tanks and other equipment prior to painting.
No ban was imposed. In fact, OSHA made no attempt to adjust its silica regulations until 1997, when it floated an “advance notice of proposed rulemaking” that would cut the exposure limit in half and require that controls such as water be used to quell dust. This triggered more objections from industry, which maintained that silicosis was no longer a significant threat to American workers.
The proposal stayed within the Labor Department until February 2011, when it was sent to OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. It was the subject of nine meetings there last year, seven of which included representatives of industry groups. Two included labor or public health officials.
In a statement to the Center for Public Integrity, OSHA called silica “one of the most pervasive hazards found in the workplace” and said it “anticipates that the proposed rule will be published soon.”
In April, NIOSH researchers reported that almost half the air samples they took in 2010 and 2011 at 11 oil and natural gas drilling sites that used hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, exceeded the current — lenient — silica limit. The drillers pump sand, which is virtually 100 percent silica, along with fluids, into dense shale formations to create fissures and get at oil or gas deposits. Dust ensues.
Industry isn’t giving in. In a statement, the American Chemistry Council called a new silica rule “unnecessary,” saying it “could threaten tens of thousands of jobs. We believe the right approach is to improve enforcement and ensure that the current standard is met, not to cut the standard in half.”
The National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association concurred, saying “the scientific evidence is clear that the existing [exposure limit] is protective of health.”
Not true, says Dr. Kathleen Kreiss, a physician with the NIOSH Division of Respiratory Disease Studies. The new limit OSHA is considering — 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air, half of what’s allowed now — has itself been shown “not to be protective over a lifetime of exposure,” Kreiss said in an interview.
While the number of silicosis cases has declined in recent decades, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2008 that between 3,600 and 7,300 cases still occur each year. The decline has been less pronounced among workers 15 to 44 years old, suggesting that “intense overexposures” to silica are still occurring, the CDC said.
“Now, it seems like the highest exposures are in construction,” said Pam Susi, a program director with the union-affiliated Center for Construction Research and Training. Many contractors still don’t use water or exhaust systems to suppress silica-rich dust, Susi said.
Tom Ward sees this firsthand.
Ward, 43, of Woodhaven, Mich., became a union bricklayer 22 years ago and a training director for his local in 2010. At construction sites throughout Michigan he sees workers cutting or grinding masonry and concrete with no respiratory protection and no engineered controls, generating huge dust clouds. The dust could be knocked down with water or sucked up with vacuums, Ward said, but almost no one bothers.
Ward, whose father died of silicosis at 39 after sandblasting for several years, fears he’ll contract the disease. “It’s my generation that’s going to come down with it,” he said. “There will be a surge in it among masons in this country.”
Silicosis isn’t the only worry. Dr. Ian Greaves, a physician and professor of public health at Temple University, said recent studies show that even modest silica exposures heighten the risk of lung cancer. “It appears that any degree of lung fibrosis increases the risk,” Greaves said.
‘Try to breathe through a straw’
Glenn Bell, 64, was diagnosed with chronic beryllium disease in 1993 after working 25 years as a machinist at the Department of Energy’s Y-12 nuclear weapons production plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn. He’d developed breathing problems in the 1980s but was treated as an asthmatic for years before getting the correct diagnosis.
Having berylliosis, Bell said recently, is “like being on a roller coaster. On a good day I still have quite a bit of difficulty breathing. A bad day would be when my breathing gets a lot worse. As a friend of mine described it, go outside in cold weather and run around your house eight times, as fast as you can. Then try to breathe through a straw.”
Recognizing beryllium’s extreme toxicity, even in tiny doses, the DOE in 1999 lowered the exposure limit for government and contract workers by 90 percent.
OSHA didn’t force private-sector employers to do the same, despite ample evidence that its exposure ceiling was too high and was making workers sick.
“Today the federal government finds itself in the somewhat embarrassing position of explaining why the employees of DOE and its contractors are now protected by a workplace rule ten times more restrictive than the one covering workers in the private sector,” former DOE assistant secretary David Michaels, then with George Washington University, wrote in his 2008 book about corporate influence on science, Doubt is Their Product..
Now head of OSHA, Michaels declined to talk about beryllium, which is used to make cell phones, scientific equipment, airplane brakes and many other products. Not everyone blames him for the rulemaking snag. “He’s tried hard to make changes,” said Steinzor, of the University of Maryland. Citing OMB’s glacial review pace, she said: “He’s been shut down by the White House.”
OSHA acknowledged in a statement that its existing regulations “may not be adequate to prevent the occurrence of chronic beryllium disease.” The agency said it is “hopeful” it can push through a beryllium rule mirroring the one adopted by the DOE 13 years ago.
Such a rule has the backing of both the United Steelworkers union, which represents several thousand beryllium-exposed workers, and Ohio-based Materion Brush, the nation’s only producer of pure beryllium. Known until recently as Brush Wellman, the company for years denied that beryllium posed any significant risk and fought OSHA’s attempts to tighten the standard in the late 1970s.
Now, even Materion Brush agrees that the standard is too weak. “We are hopeful OSHA’s proposed standard will reflect the collective expertise of organized labor and the beryllium industry,” the company said in a statement.
“Beryllium is no longer controversial,” said Gordon, the retired Labor Department lawyer. “If you move quickly, industry will become more cooperative because they see you moving forward. You get into the rhythm of doing things as opposed to not doing things.”
Previously undisclosed school police records from New York City are raising new concerns about students getting heavily ticketed for vague allegations of disorderly conduct.
More than 70 percent of court summonses issued to New York City school students between January and the end of March this year were for disruptive behavior, according to a new analysis released by the American Civil Liberties Union of New York this week.
“The high percentage of disorderly conduct charges — a catchall category that could encompass all kinds of typical misbehavior — indicates that NYPD officers are getting involved in non-criminal disciplinary incidents,” said Udi Ofer, the ACLU New York’s advocacy director, in a statement. The NYPD took control of school safety in 1998. Armed officers are assigned to patrol schools, along with thousands of school safety officers who are unarmed but have the authority to search and arrest students.
The ACLU’s concerns mirror a burgeoning nationwide debate over the proper role of school police, and whether officers are intervening too often in matters that used to be settled in school without handcuffs or court citations.
For example, newly released data analyzed by the Center for Public Integrity showed that school police in Los Angeles have been issuing thousands of court citations each year to students, including 11 and 12-year-olds, for disturbing-the-peace offenses, including scuffles at school.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is scrutinizing those citations in the Los Angeles Unified School District as part of a review of discipline-policy changes that the district was required to submit to the federal office.
The ACLU’s analysis in New York found that school police officers issued court citations to 555 students between January and March of this year, and arrested 327 students. Sixty-four percent of arrests were of black students, who are only 31 percent of enrollment, prompting the ACLU to question if school police are harsher with ethnic-minority students.
An ethnic breakdown for citations was not available.
The data analyzed by the ACLU are the third round of school-related numbers that New York City police are now obliged to release under the city’s Student Safety Act, which was approved in 2011. Public outcry over allegations of abusive police behavior in public schools has led to controversy over the role of officers.
After analyzing two previous rounds of figures released by police, the ACLU called for an audit of incidents at school that led to police involvement. The group is also urging a look into how students who’ve been cited or arrested subsequently fare in school.
In response to the ACLU’s stance, New York police issued a statement earlier this year defending the force’s record in schools and crediting officers with cutting the rate of felonies committed in schools to 801 last year compared to 1,577 in 2001, more than a decade ago. The ACLU “talks about arrests in schools but, conveniently, not crimes.” NYPC Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said in a statement. The cut in felonies, Brown said, is due to the “good work of dedicated school safety officers and police officers.”
The ACLU is also suing the New York City schools and police on behalf of students claiming excessive force, handcuffing and being arrested or locked in seclusion by school safety officers. One of the plaintiffs was arrested by a school officer when she was in 6th grade; she was searched, handcuffed and fingerprinted at a police precinct, according to the 2010 lawsuit, which is still pending.
The 6th grade girl and a classmate, who was also arrested, had drawn lines on their desks in a game and were about to erase them when an officer intervened and accused them of doing graffiti, according to the suit.
As part of a look into Los Angeles’ citations, the Center interviewed the parents of a Los Angeles 7th grade student who was arrested and ordered to appear in full delinquency court after a first-time scuffle at his school. He was handcuffed, taken from school and booked at a police station despite his father’s urging that school administrators handle the incident as a discipline matter.
More than 40 percent of these citations issued in Los Angeles over the last three years were to students 14 and younger. Juvenile judges in Los Angeles are now questioning the wisdom of summoning students to court for low-level offenses; a growing amount of research is showing that putting kids into the criminal-justice system actually increases their risk of getting into trouble and dropping out of school.
The Center found that the rate of citations issued by Los Angeles school police to students 18 and younger was about 30 a day, based on a full calendar year. That surpasses the citation rate in New York City students of about six per day, also based on a full calendar.
With more than 1 million students, New York City’s district is the nation’s largest school district. Los Angeles’ is the second largest with about 670,000 pupils.
A 1938 Dept. of Labor film
Tuesday’s recall election of Republican Gov. Scott Walker is the most expensive in Wisconsin history. More than $63.5 million has been spent by candidates and independent groups, the overwhelming majority underwritten by out-of-state sources.
The record spending total was made possible thanks to the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision — which had the effect of invalidating Wisconsin’s century-old ban on independent expenditures by corporations and unions — and a state law that allows unlimited contributions to the incumbent in recall elections.
The amount spent since November 2011 trounces the state’s previous record of $37.4 million, set during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
The election has become a national referendum on the future of public sector unions, which have been a major force within the Democratic Party for decades.
In the first of two debates, Walker vowed to “stand up and take on the powerful special interests,” suggesting that national unions have propped up his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
While Barrett has received about 26 percent of his $4 million in campaign donations from outside the Badger State, Walker has drawn nearly two-thirds of his $30.5 million contributions from out of state, according to campaign filings released May 29. Walker has outraised Barrett 7 ½ to 1 since late 2011, though Barrett didn’t enter the race until late March.
“It’s big time,” said Mike McCabe, director of the campaign finance watchdog Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which compiled the numbers. “We have a level of outside interference in this election that the state has never been seen before.”
Union money pours in
Campaign contributions tell only part of the story. National unions have kept Barrett’s campaign alive by funding outside groups dedicated to defeating Walker.
More than a year since Walker limited collective bargaining rights for most public employees, the nation’s three largest public unions — the National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — have channeled at least $2 million from their treasuries and super PACs to two Wisconsin-based independent expenditure groups.
The American Federation of Teachers, United Food and Commercial Workers, Teamsters and the United Autoworkers have also dipped into their D.C. treasuries for the Wisconsin recall.
The unions, however, have struggled to keep up with Walker’s deep-pocketed, anti-union friends. They include the Republican Governors Association, which received a $1 million contribution from conservative billionaire David Koch in February, and billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson.
On March 7, the NEA, the nation’s largest union, transferred $3 million to its super PAC, the NEA Advocacy Fund. A week later, that super PAC sent $500,000 to the We Are Wisconsin Political Fund, a state-based independent expenditure group headed by the state AFL-CIO’s president. The fund has spent the money on direct mail, phone banking, canvassing and support for other pro-recall groups in the state.
With access to unlimited corporate and union dollars, independent expenditure groups in Wisconsin may advocate for or against an opponent, but must disclose their donors and spending to the state’s Government Accountability Board.
In early April, the SEIU sent two contributions totaling $500,000 to the We are Wisconsin PAC, which makes direct donations to candidates and parties.
The NEA and SEIU declined to comment for this story.
Union funds ground game
A third public sector union based in Washington, D.C., AFSCME, has set up a special account for the Wisconsin battles, which also include recall votes for four GOP state senators. Much of that money has gone to staff a vast, union-funded network of dozens of field offices in the state.
Two weeks before the primary, the national union wrote a $500,000 check to bolster We are Wisconsin, which has paid for union staff from Alaska to Massachusetts to boost the ground game.
“This election is going to boil down to a turnout game,” said AFSCME national spokesman Chris Fleming.
Labor unions had heavily favored former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk to challenge Walker.
“Let’s face it, I wasn’t their first choice,” said Barrett in May. AFSCME, a major Falk funder, criticized Barrett during the Democratic primary for trying to wring concessions from Milwaukee public employees.
But when Falk lost to Barrett in the May 8 Democratic primary, national unions quickly shifted their support to Barrett — who lost to Walker by 5 points in 2010.
We are Wisconsin and a second group, the Greater Wisconsin Committee, saw an infusion of union cash for Barrett’s second attempt in May. We are Wisconsin got another $500,000 from the NEA’ Advocacy Fund on May 7 — making for a cool million from the teachers union super PAC in under two months.
The American Federation of Teachers also chipped in $350,000 in May.
We are Wisconsin has spread its wealth too, sending $1.3 million in May to Greater Wisconsin, a one-stop political shop comprised of a 527, a (c)4, a PAC, and an independent expenditure fund.
In late May, Greater Wisconsin took a $500,000 donation from AFSCME and $900,000 more from the Democratic Governors Association to fuel a final online, radio, and TV ad push in the week ahead of the vote.
Walker’s campaign did not return calls for comment, but the governor called Greater Wisconsin “a front group for all the union money coming in.”
Union leaders say the opposition to Walker is home grown.
“I would tell Walker to look in his backyard,” says Fleming of AFSCME. “There were people from Eau Claire and Waukesha and Green Bay, putting together the largest demonstrations at the Capitol since the Vietnam War.”
‘Outrageous, wrong and legal’
Walker, meanwhile, has benefitted from the state’s election finance rules that allowed his campaign to raise unlimited contributions from individuals after recall petitions were filed in November 2011. His challengers could take no more than $10,000 from individuals.
Through April, Walker’s top three donors combined gave more than challenger Barrett’s campaign had raised overall. Four of Walker’s top seven donors are out-of-state billionaires, including AmWay founder and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos, and casino magnate Adelson, who each gave $250,000.
Adelson has given $26.5 million to super PACs in the 2012 election — most of it to Winning Our Future, a pro-Newt Gingrich group — making him the most prolific super PAC contributor so far, according to a Center for Public Integrity report. Though he is known primarily for his support of Israel, Adelson also has an extensive history of bitter disputes with unions who want to organize at his exclusively non-union casinos.
When Citizens United came down, it didn’t just nullify Wisconsin’s 1905 ban on corporate campaign cash, it also plunged much of the state’s campaign finance reporting into darkness.
“Because corporate and labor expenditures were previously illegal, there were no disclosure laws to regulate their spending,” said McCabe. “There’s been a precipitous drop off in transparency.”
Since Citizens United, Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board requires independent expenditure groups to register as so-called “1.91 groups,” named for the state rule that created them. Of the more than $63 million spent in the race, $22 million has come from these groups — $16.3 million of it from Walker supporters — according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Similar to federal super PACs, 1.91 groups can raise and spend unlimited corporate or union dollars and urge voters to support or oppose a candidate. Also, like federal super PACs, they must report their donors — except when they can avoid it.
The Republican Governors Association has spent roughly $4 million on campaign ads through its Right Direction Wisconsin PAC since April 23. But because the RGA’s PAC is based out-of-state, it only has to disclose to state regulators its donations coming from inside Wisconsin, a glaring loophole.
Of its most recent $4 million outlay, the RGA raised only a little over $7,000 from inside the state.
The RGA does have to report donors to the IRS, and its 2012 first quarter filing reveals a $500,000 donation from the Chamber of Commerce and a $1 million February contribution from Koch.
McCabe says the 1.91 groups that are based in-state, like We Are Wisconsin and Greater Wisconsin, also have ways around disclosure rules. The nonprofit arms of these organizations don’t have to disclose donors, and can funnel unlimited money from undisclosed sources into independent expenditure funds — making the source of a lot of campaign cash “nearly impossible to track.”
For example, Greater Wisconsin transferred $191,000 from its political fund to its independent expenditure fund in early May. The money would be spent on ads supporting Barrett or opposing Walker. Because its political fund does not have to report donors to the state, no one knows who paid for the ads — an end-around the state’s disclosure rules that parallels campaign financing tricks at the federal level.
Then there are issue ad groups which raise and spend unlimited funds, and do not register or disclose their spending. However, they are barred from urging voters to support or oppose a candidate.
The Campaign for Wisconsin Democracy gathers purchasing data from media outlets, and estimates about $8.5 million in issue ads have been bought during the recall.
The right-wing groups Americans for Prosperity and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, known as “Wisconsin’s Business Voice,” and the anti-union Center for Union Facts have made roughly 75 percent of those purchases. Greater Wisconsin has spent about $2 million, according to McCabe.
Despite the record fundraising numbers and the unprecedented degree of outside influence, neither Walker’s haul from out-of-state billionaires, nor the national union cash infusion breaks campaign finance law.
In total, outside spending made by independent expenditure groups and Issue ad organizations, totals $30.5 million in the recall election — well over half of which has been contributed by undisclosed sources, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
“All the spending is outrageous and wrong, but it’s also legal,” says McCabe.
Capital versus people
Wisconsin is ground zero in a national fight for unions, which have supported state-based legal and ballot campaigns to overturn laws restricting collective bargaining and automatic dues check offs — as they have in Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona and Michigan.
McCabe says the unions better bank on a ground game, because they can’t compete long-term with corporations.
“I always thought it was foolhardy to play a capital-intensive game when the unions have people, and their adversaries have capital,” he says. “They just can’t keep up.”
The intense spending by outside groups has made a lot of Wisconsinites feel powerless.
Elena Barham is a West Madison High School senior who helped form the Students for Wisconsin PAC. So far, the group has raised about $30 from T-shirt sales.
“Our goal is not money-based,” said Barham, whose group has focused on voter registration among young voters. “It’s about showing that a grassroots effort could have an impact.”
Barham’s PAC produced a Web ad critical of Walker’s cuts to education and is canvassing in pivotal Dane County — where Barrett needs to win big to have a chance.
At school, Barham has the difficult task of rallying enthusiasm.
“High school kids see all this big money and say, ‘I don’t have a million dollars,’” she said. “It’s hard to convince people of their political efficacy — it’s discouraging.”
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The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a $1 million fine against a global plastics producer for alleged Clean Air Act violations at its plants in two small, polluted communities seven hours apart in Alabama and Indiana.
The civil penalty against SABIC Innovative Plastics, announced May 31, targets leak detection and repair failings that resulted in hundreds of tons of hazardous air pollutant releases every year, the federal agency said.
SABIC, a global producer of polymers and thermoplastics, is a top employer in the two towns involved: Burkville, a rural community best known for hosting Alabama’s annual Okra Festival, and Mount Vernon, a town of just under 6,700 nestled in the southernmost tip of Indiana.
The EPA’s 15-count complaint said SABIC skirted Clean Air Act rules on monitoring and repairing equipment leaks, complying with chemical plant regulations and reporting known violations. SABIC agreed to the penalty to settle the case.
The Mount Vernon plant recently won several environmental awards. In 2011, the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable recognized it with a Most Valuable Pollution Prevention award. This April, the plant won three Responsible Care Energy Efficiency Awards from the American Chemistry Council.
SABIC said in a news release at the time that such recognition demonstrates its commitment to “minimize environmental impact while strengthening operational excellence.”
Now, SABIC must reform its monitoring practices, replace valves, reengineer emission controls and invest in an environmental project to control hazardous air emissions. The upgrades will cost the company $5.3 million, the EPA said, and reduce air emissions by up to 137 tons per year.
The EPA has brought several other recent Clean Air Act cases. Last November, for instance, Dow Chemical in Midland, Mich., agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle charges of clean-air, clean-water and solid-waste violations.
“Communities near large industrial facilities depend on EPA to protect public health and the environment by enforcing our nation’s environmental laws,” said Cynthia Giles, an EPA assistant administrator, in a statement.
Yet some locals question the significance of the EPA’s civil penalty.
“One million dollars between two plants isn’t much,” said Mike Callis, a cow, soybean and vegetable farmer who lives two miles from the Alabama plant. “These big corporations just pay the fines and keep on ticking.”
And, activists say, the environmental challenges add another hurdle for low-income communities like Burkville.
“When you’re poor, you’re so busy surviving. You have different priorities than people who are not poor,” said Barbara Evans, former organizing coordinator at WildLaw, an environmental law firm that closed from lack of funding. “It’s hard to say to people, ‘Are you worried about clean air?’ ”
The SABIC plant in Burkville has been fined before for environmental violations, paying a $60,000 clean air penalty in 2010. Federal records show its released chemicals decreased to less than 100,000 pounds of on-site releases annually for 2007 through 2009, then increased to 283,673 pounds in 2010.
SABIC Innovative Plastics was formed in 2007 when General Electric sold GE Plastics to Saudi Arabia’s largest public company, SABIC, for $11 billion. Its Mount Vernon location was founded in 1960 as GE’s first plastics facility and remains SABIC’s largest plastics plant in the U.S.
SABIC said it is committed to “100 percent compliance” with state and federal regulations.
According to a company statement, EPA compliance audits begun in 2005 had found “concerns” at two SABIC sites. The company “immediately began to address the concerns,” the company said, working to “ensure full compliance going forward.”
Under the EPA’s Clean Air Act Stationary Source Compliance Monitoring Strategy, any facility identified as a “major source” of air pollutants should receive a full compliance evaluation every two years. An EPA statement said these audits and most “day-to-day enforcement” are delegated to state and local authorities. The federal agency steps in “when addressing complex cases” or “when states fail to take necessary action,” the EPA told the Center for Public Integrity.
The EPA initiated its State Review Framework system in 2004 to assess state enforcement of federal clean air, clean water and solid waste laws.
Indiana’s first round of framework reviews in 2005 returned 35 records of inconsistency with national standards, including failure to identify high production pollution sources, neglecting to report enforcement history in monitoring reports, and unjustified reductions of penalties.
John Blair, a photojournalist and president of environmental activist group Valley Watch, has been fighting industrial pollution in Indiana since the early 1990s, when the plant belonged to GE.
In 1999, GE’s Mount Vernon plant ranked as the fourth-highest toxic chemical release source in Indiana, reporting 2.5 million pounds of on-site releases. From 2006 on, releases were considerably lower, about 1.5 million pounds per year, until a 2010 increase to 2.2 million pounds of on-site chemical releases.
The chemicals include highly corrosive phenol and ethylbenzene, which can damage the liver, kidney and central nervous system.
“People in the medical community know we have this problem, but don’t want to stand up and do anything about it,” Blair said. “It’s just tradition to let business do what they want in Indiana.”
Diesel engine exhaust is “carcinogenic to humans,” an international health body declared Tuesday, bolstering the findings of a controversial study published recently in the United States.
After a weeklong meeting of experts in Lyon, France, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, said there is “sufficient evidence that exposure [to diesel exhaust] is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer.” IARC also found “limited evidence” that diesel is linked to a heightened risk of bladder cancer.
IARC previously had classified the fumes — emitted from trucks, trains, ships, buses, mining equipment and other sources — as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
The IARC finding is consistent with a study of 12,000 U.S. miners published earlier this year by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. That study, publication of which was held up for years by mining industry litigation, found that the lung cancer risk for non-smoking, heavily exposed miners was seven times higher than it was for those exposed to low doses. Some industry-funded scientists have questioned the study’s conclusions.
Both the IARC and the U.S. studies have implications for the general public — especially people who live near ports, highways and rail yards — as well as workers.
In a statement Tuesday, the Diesel Technology Forum, an industry group, said that emissions of two contaminants in diesel exhaust — nitrogen oxides and particulates — from trucks and buses in the U.S. have been reduced by 99 percent as a result of new technologies and cleaner fuels.
“Air pollution is a critically important health issue and the diesel industry takes clean air concerns very seriously,” the group said. “Diesel engine and equipment makers, fuel refiners and emission control technology manufacturers have invested billions of dollars in research in an ongoing effort to develop and deploy technologies and strategies that reduce emissions to meet the increasingly diverse and stringent clean air standards in all nations throughout the world.”
In its own press release, IARC said the experts who considered the latest science on diesel have given regulators “a valuable evidence-base on which to consider environmental standards for diesel exhaust emissions.”
IARC acknowledged the new technologies and stricter diesel standards adopted in Europe and North America over the past two decades. “However,” it said, “while the amount of particulates and chemicals are reduced with these changes, it is not yet clear how the quantitative and qualitative changes may translate into altered health effects…”
Andrea Hricko, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California who has warned for years of diesel’s hazards, said in an email that the IARC decision is “a call to action” for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Environmental Protection Agency “to regulate diesel exposures of workers and environmental exposures for the public.
"We need to further reduce diesel emissions from ships, locomotives, trucks, construction and yard equipment to protect public health," Hricko said. "And it is time for the involved industry sectors to accept the unanimous IARC decision that diesel engine exhaust causes cancer and spend their energies on reducing exposures instead of fighting the scientific evidence as they have been doing for decades.”
Campaign contributions by top 10 nuclear weapons contractors to key members of Congress, 2012 election cycle and career
In the wake of critical news reports, Los Angeles school police and administrators have agreed to rethink enforcement tactics that have led to thousands of court citations yearly for young students in low-income, mostly minority neighborhoods.
The Center for Public Integrity and the Los Angeles-based Labor-Community Strategy Center each performed their own analysis recently of previously unreleased citation records obtained from the Los Angeles Unified School District Police Department, the nation’s largest school police force. The Center found that between 2009 and the end of 2011, Los Angeles school police officers issued more than 33,500 tickets to students 18 and younger, with more than 40 percent handed out to kids 14 and 10 years old. That was an average of about 30 tickets a day. A large portion of the tickets for younger children were for disturbing the peace, which can include a physical fight or using threatening or disruptive language.
Some parents and concerned juvenile-justice judges have questioned whether it’s appropriate for such minor indiscretions to be handled by police, rather than school authorities.
Arguing that heavy police ticketing of children is counterproductive, Manuel Criollo of the Labor Community Strategy Center said his group has met twice with L.A. Unified School Police Chief Steven Zipperman and Michelle King, a deputy district superintendent. A third meeting is expected to take place this month.
Criollo said Zipperman was surprised at revelations that children as young as 7 and 8 have been given court summonses, many of which include monetary penalties. Police and administrators agreed to discuss alternatives to ticketing for tardiness, disturbing the peace and “possession” offenses, which can include possession of cigarettes, lighters or magic markers that could be used for graffiti, Criollo said.
A spokesperson for L.A. Unified said in a statement that “LASPD is committed to reviewing the data and analyzing incident types in which alternative strategies can be feasibly developed, especially in areas such as truancy.”
During the week of June 18, the spokesperson also said, Los Angeles school police, “collaborating with other district offices and divisions, will begin to develop a timeline for working on identifying alternative strategies . . . Considering we are the largest school district in the state and second largest in the country, developing this timeline will take time and diligence. “
The Center’s analysis also showed that citations to middle-school students were highly concentrated in Los Angeles’ most heavily Latino and African-American neighborhoods. Los Angeles public radio station KPCC created a map and also produced a report on the citations in collaboration with the Center.
In response to revelations about the volume of citations, district officials and police had previously maintained that court appearances would help students learn that fighting and other unlawful behavior would not be tolerated as adults.
“I’m not hearing them saying that now,” Criollo said.
A growing number of educational experts contend that introducing students to the criminal-justice system for low-level offenses actually pushes many away from school and increases the possibility of their dropping out. The areas where student ticketing is heaviest corresponds to neighborhoods where Los Angeles’ dropout rates have been highest. Criollo and others who want reforms suggested that a heavier police presence in lower-income neighborhoods leads to unequal police involvement in school life.
After an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the Los Angeles district agreed last year to take steps to reduce the district’s relatively high suspension rates of African-American students. As part of its review of Los Angeles’ ongoing reforms in discipline policy, the civil rights office is also reviewing the district’s history of court citations.
Criollo said it’s hard to tell from records released so far how many tickets originate with school administrators deciding to involve police in a school matter and how many are the result of officers’ own decisions to issue citations.
Groups hoping to help Democrats pick up a House seat in November have spent more than $1 million aimed at boosting their favorite candidate and knocking off an independent challenger.
The race is for California’s 26th Congressional District in the suburbs of Los Angeles. The candidate that has attracted all the attention is Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent Linda Parks, a Ventura County supervisor and former mayor of Thousand Oaks.
She is on the ballot with Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, Republican California state Sen. Tony Strickland and several other candidates.
The unusual ballot mix is thanks to a measure passed by California voters in 2010 that pits all candidates against each other regardless of party in the primary. The “jungle primary” or “top-two primary” will put the top two vote getters in the general election in November.
It is also a hotly contested race because it’s an open seat. Incumbent GOP Rep. Elton Gallegly announced in January that he would not seek re-election. Democrats view it as one of their best pick-up opportunities — assuming they have a candidate on the ballot in November.
Parks, who has helped pass two local campaign finance laws in her career, says she doesn’t want to be beholden to special interests, and she blames the Democratic Party, which has put her in its sights, for the negative tone of the race.
“We haven’t had the Democratic Party resort to smear campaigns and lying in our county before,” she said.
Parks says she only takes contributions from individuals, unlike her opponents who have each relied on political action committees for about 20 percent to 25 percent of their funds.
Parks’ candidacy has spurred an onslaught of mailers, TV ads and phone calls from Democratic groups and their allies.
Records show four outside groups, including two super PACs, have collectively spent more than $1 million on independent expenditures to help Brownley.
The two pro-Brownley super PACs in the race are the “House Majority PAC,” whose primary purpose is to “win back the House majority for Democrats,” and “Women Vote,” a project of EMILY’s List, which works to elect Democratic women supportive of abortion rights.
House Majority PAC alone is responsible for two-thirds of the money spent by outside groups in the race, shelling out more than $712,000 on independent expenditures that have either supported Brownley or attacked Parks.
Women Vote, meanwhile, has spent about $100,000 on pro-Brownley mailings. And two nonprofit, “social welfare” groups organized under section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code — the League of Conservation Voters and the California League of Conservation Voters — have each spent roughly the same amount on advertisements touting Brownley.
Herbert Gooch, a professor of political science at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, says the outside assistance has been “crucial” for Brownley.
“It’s an unusual situation,” Gooch said. “Parks has a lot of local ID.”
Just one super PAC has been actively supporting Parks, a group called “icPurple, Inc.,” which was launched in April under the name “Independent Leaders.”
icPurple has spent more than $52,000 on TV and online ads praising Parks, one of which features kids arguing about whether to paint their tree house red or blue. In the end, one kid decides to blend the paints together and paint the tree house purple instead.
“Sometimes it takes an independent leader to get us back on track,” the ad says. “If you’re tired of partisan politics, vote Linda Parks for Congress. She’s not a Democrat. She’s not a Republican. She’s an American.”
According to the Associated Press, Ted Waitt, the billionaire philanthropist and co-founder of computer manufacturer Gateway, has provided $300,000 in seed money for the new super PAC, which has also endorsed independent Chad Condit in California’s 10th Congressional District and former Maine Gov. Angus King, who is running for the U.S. Senate as an independent.
For her part, Parks says she would prefer to win without assistance from super PACs.
“I don’t support super PACs,” she said. “I don’t think I need that help.”
Yet Gooch, of California Lutheran University, says that super PACs may be the only way for Parks to be competitive in the fall, should she finish ahead of Brownley Tuesday.
Records show that the Republican, Tony Strickland, has raised more than $1 million — more campaign cash than any other candidate in the race. Parks has only raised about $223,000, including nearly $37,000 of her own money, while Brownley has raised about $617,000.
“Strickland is likely to steamroll her because of the money he’s raised,” Gooch predicted.
“He’s well-connected and will have as much money as he needs,” he continued. “She’d have to find some sort of super PAC.”
Jacob James, a spokesman for icPurple, would not commit to whether the group would spend money on Parks' behalf during the general election, should she finish in the top two in the primary. Folllowing the election, he said, the super PAC would be "analyzing all results and considering next steps."
Brownley’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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In 2007, a few months before I left the health insurance industry, I was tasked to write a “white paper” designed to help convince media folks and politicians that the problem of the uninsured wasn’t much of a problem after all. If demographic data was sliced just so, I was expected to write, it was easy to conclude that many of the uninsured — some 46 million at the time — were that way by choice.
I was told to point out, for example, that a significant percentage of people without coverage were in families with annual incomes of $75,000 or more. The implication: That those folks were simply shirking their responsibilities. A crucial fact that I was not to disclose, of course, was that many Americans, including wealthy ones, couldn’t buy coverage at any price because of pre-existing conditions. These are the “untouchables” as far as insurance companies were concerned. (That’s my term, not the industry’s. The underwriters prefer the term “uninsurable.”)
I also was expected to stress that most young adults — who comprise the largest segment of the uninsured — had chosen to “go naked” because they felt invincible. They simply didn’t want to pay good money for insurance because that cash could better be spent keeping the fridge stocked with Bud Light. To perpetuate that myth, we even came up with a catchy name for those twenty-somethings — the “young invincibles.”
Our message to America: Don’t feel sorry for those irresponsible bums, and by all means don’t let Congress pass any new laws that would require insurers to cover them.
Having to write that paper was one of the reasons I resigned. As the father of a couple young adults, I knew that their crowd did not consider themselves invincible. They simply did not have money left over after paying student loans and the rent to buy health insurance.
The reality is that young adults comprise not only the biggest segment of the uninsured population but also one of the heftiest segments of the unemployed population. While the overall unemployment rate rose slightly to 8.2 percent last month, the unemployment rate for 18-29 year-olds reached 12.1 percent, according to Generation Opportunity, a grassroots organizing group.
Fortunately, members of Congress did not fall for the insurance industry’s misdirection. Lawmakers included a provision in the Affordable Care Act allowing parents to keep their adult children on their family policies until they turn 26. It has become one of the most popular — and helpful — parts of the new law. As a study released Friday revealed, 6.6 million young adults — more than the entire population of my home state of Tennessee—are now insured because of that provision alone.
The Commonwealth Fund Health Insurance Tracking Survey of Young Adults found that between November 2010 and November 2011, an estimated 13.7 million people between the ages of 19 and 25 stayed on or joined their parents’ health plans and that almost half of them were able to do so because of the Affordable Care Act.
As the Commonwealth Fund noted, prior to passage of the law, most young adults were kicked off of their parents’ policies when they turned 19 unless they were enrolled as full-time college students. Those who didn’t or couldn’t continue their education past high school were out of luck. Many of the young adults who have been fortunate enough to find jobs work for employers that don’t provide benefits and don’t pay enough for entry-level workers to buy coverage on their own.
But as beneficial as the reform law has been to millions of families — mine included — it hasn’t been of help to young people who live in families with uninsured parents. The Commonwealth Fund survey found that nearly two of five young adults were without health insurance during all or part of 2011, primarily because they lived in low- and moderate-income households in which neither parent had coverage.
Further debunking the myth that young people remain uninsured by choice were some of the survey’s other findings. Of those young adults who were still uninsured last year, 60 percent said they had not gotten medical care they needed because of the cost. More than half of them reported problems paying medical bills or said they were paying off medical debts.
If the Supreme Court doesn’t invalidate the reform law this month, those young people, and those 26 and older, will be able to find more affordable coverage options through the expansion of both Medicaid and subsidies to purchase private insurance starting in 2014.
An organization that is trying to raise the awareness of coverage options that already are available to young adults (or that eventually will be) is the ironically named “Young Invincibles.” The “Friends With Benefits” page of the group’s website provides useful information and a tool kit with state-by-state information that every young adult and parent should check out.
Bottom line: Going naked is not as necessary as it used to be, thanks to ObamaCare.
When President Obama announced in Aug. 2010 the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq, he complimented the soldiers who had served there for completing “every mission they were given.” But some of military’s most senior officers, in a little-noticed report this spring, rendered a harsher account of their work that highlights repeated missteps and failures over the past decade, in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
There was a “failure to recognize, acknowledge and accurately define” the environment in which the conflicts occurred, leading to a “mismatch between forces, capabilities, missions, and goals,” says the assessment from the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. The efforts were marked by a “failure to adequately plan and resource strategic and operational” shifts from one phase of the conflicts to the next.
From the outset, U.S. forces were poorly prepared for peacekeeping and had not adequately planned for the unexepected. In the first half of the decade, “strategic leadership repeatedly failed,” and as a result, U.S. military training, policies, doctrine and equipment were ill-suited to the tasks that troops actually faced in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These self-critical conclusions appear in the first volume of a draft report titled “Decade of War” — part of a multi-volume survey of “enduring lessons” from the past ten years of conflict. When completed, “it will be used by senior leaders” to develop U.S. military forces for the future, according to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Cindy Fields, a Joint Staff spokeswoman.
Fields said the 36-page, May 2012 report remains an internal document and is not available to the public, but a copy was posted Thursday on the website of a trade publication called "Inside the Pentagon" (accessible only to regular or trial subscribers).
Its criticisms are largely familiar to anyone who closely followed the two wars’ fitful progress or who read author Thomas Ricks’ seminal, bestselling 2006 account of the U.S. military’s early failings in Iraq, bluntly titled “Fiasco.” An internal Army War College assessment in 2005 cited in Ricks’ book reaches similar conclusions.
But this new retrospective may be more significant because it was prepared by the Pentagon directorate responsible for developing military educational curricula, war-fighting doctrine, and training regimes for all the services. What the report makes clear is that senior officers have fully accepted the judgment by so many others that their prosecution of the wars — at a direct cost to the federal budget of more than a trillion dollars — was in some ways inept.
While it does not name those responsible, the assessment points fingers in unmistakable directions. It says that the early dismantling of Iraq’s security forces and firing of mid-level government officials — decisions made by Ambassador Paul Bremer with broad support in the Bush administration — crippled Iraq’s ability to govern itself and fueled the insurgency, creating social chaos that lasted for years. The task of creating a new police and military force was a “severe burden” that neither U.S. troops nor civilian agencies were prepared to undertake.
The early signs of the insurgency, the report says, were ignored. Intelligence failures were rife, with early shortages of key analysts and interpreters, remotely-piloted aircraft, and electronic eavesdroppers. What intelligence was gathered was sometimes overclassified, with the result that it failed to reach those who needed it. And units were not taught in advance what local populations were really like; instead, they depended on what the military calls “discovery learning” — otherwise known as flying by the seat of one’s pants — with lessons not systematically passed along to units rotated in as replacements.
By 2005, two years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the military side of the U.S. effort and the civilian aid side were pursuing different missions with different goals, leading to wasted expenditures and missed opportunities, the report states. And “the image of the U.S. was frequently tarnished by tactical actions that contradicted U.S. values or strategy,” ranging from the scandal at Abu Ghraib to paying inadequate heed at the outset to harmful images of civilian casualties.
The report’s toughest criticism is leveled at the mishandling and undermanning by military commanders and political officials of key “transition” moments in the two wars — such as the end of major combat operations in 2003, the renewal of Iraqi self-governance in 2004-2005, and NATO’s takeover in 2006 of military operations in Afghanistan.
“Failure to adequately plan and resource strategic and operational transitions endangered accomplishment of the overall mission” in the first half of the decade, the account says, although the military did better later. “Non-combat skills, to include civil affairs, had not been adequately rehearsed.” In Afghanistan, “the planning assumed that the chief duty” of international troops after 2006 would be reconstruction and humanitarian aid — an assumption that turned out to be grotesquely wrong.
The reason, the report says, was that military planning was based on “U.S. expectations instead of those consistent with the host nation and mission,” a nice way of describing wishful thinking rather than realism. “For example,” the report notes, “ the planned end-state for Afghanistan was envisioned to be a strong central government despite no record of such a government in its history and lack of broad popular support for that system of governance.”
Without using his name, the report says that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who directed the V Corps that assumed control in Iraq after major combat ceased, was deployed without training in reconstruction and stabilization. “His staff was not manned, equipped, nor resourced to accept these responsibilities,” the chronicle explains.
U.S. military forces were also not equipped “to combat adaptive insurgencies” in both countries, the report says. While special forces units had some of the proper skills, they poorly coordinated their operations with regular forces. They did not share routinely share intelligence, at least at the outset, and regular troops in Afghanistan complained until 2008 that the special forces’ actions often caused social disruptions that others had to contain.
The civilian side of the Iraq effort, which Bremer ran, “often lacked the necessary expertise and resources,” operated independently, and lacked an overarching strategy — a problem the report says was not really fixed until 2007.
The report credits U.S. forces with eventually overcoming “the challenge of inadequate planning and preparation … by widespread and successful adaptation at all levels” — partly at the urging of commanders such as Gen. David Petraeus. But the assessment notes that efforts to rush newly-developed equipment to the wars impeded proper training, and caused late discovery of vulnerabilities and reliabiity or maintenance problems.
The report summarizes all of these problems in eleven “overarching lessons” to be drawn from the decade of war. But it warns that even though the U.S. military has developed what the report calls “an increasingly expeditionary mindset,” a better coordination of U.S. military and civilian efforts has yet to be mandated by “U.S. law or policy.”
Employees of private companies that produce the main pieces of the U.S. nuclear arsenal have invested more than $18 million in the election campaigns of lawmakers that oversee related federal spending, and the companies also employ more than 95 former members of Congress or Capitol Hill staff to lobby for government funding, according to a new report.
The Center for International Policy, a nonprofit group that supports the “demilitarization” of U.S. foreign policy, released the report on Wednesday to highlight what it described as the heavy influence of campaign donations and pork barrel politics on a part of the defense budget not usually associated with large profits or contractor power: nuclear arms.
As Congress deliberated this spring on nuclear weapons-related projects, including funding for the development of more modern submarines and bombers, the top 14 contractors gave nearly $3 million to the 2012 reelection campaigns of lawmakers whose support they needed for these and other projects, the report disclosed.
Half of that sum went to members of the six key committees or subcommittees that must approve all spending for nuclear arms — the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and the Energy and Water or Defense appropriations subcommittees, according to data the Center compiled from the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. The rest went to lawmakers who are active on nuclear weapons issues because they have related factories or laboratories in their states or districts.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee this year have sought to erect legislative roadblocks to further reductions in nuclear arms, and also demanded more spending for related facilities than the Obama administration sought, including $100 million in unrequested funds for a new plant that will make plutonium cores for nuclear warheads, and $374 million for a new ballistic missile-firing submarine. The House has approved those requests, but the Senate has not held a similar vote on the 2013 defense bill.
Although lawmakers say their votes are not influenced by the campaign donations they receive, and donors routinely say their contributions are meant to ensure access — not buy votes, the Center’s report said that the $18 million given by the contractors to key lawmakers over the course of their political careers makes it hard for the recipients to ignore what the companies want.
“Any effort to downsize the nation’s nuclear force is likely to be met with fierce opposition from the individuals and institutions that benefit from the nuclear status quo, including corporations involved in designing and building nuclear delivery vehicles; companies that operate nuclear warhead-related facilities; and members of Congress with nuclear weapons-related facilities or deployments,” said the report by William Hartung, who directs the Center for International Policy’s Arms and Security Project.
Other groups have documented that there is a substantial financial stake in nuclear weapons policymaking: At present, the U.S. government spends roughly $31 billion a year on its arsenal, according to a tally released on Tuesday by the Stimson Center, a nonprofit research and policy analysis group in Washington. It has also proposed to spend at least $120 billion on new warhead-carrying submarines, bombers, and missiles over the next several decades.
Ensuring steady access to such funding is vital for some of the companies whose employees made large campaign donations cited in the study — such as Lockheed or Northrop Grumman — because they draw at least 80 percent of their revenue from federal contracts. Of the 137 lobbyists hired by the top contractors, 57 are former members of Congress, 39 are former congressional staff, 16 are former defense officials and 8 are former Energy Department officials, the study said.
Although many firms work on multiple weapons and so have various reasons to curry congressional favor, some of the best-financed lawmakers are prominent advocates of sustaining and modernizing the nuclear arsenal, according to the study. They have promoted that cause through formal legislative caucuses that promote shipbuilding, submarines, and long-range strategic bombers, as well as an informal alliance of members from states where nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles are based, the report states.
These include the Shipbuilding Caucus, the Submarine Caucus, and the Long-Range Strike Caucus. The contractor-supported counterparts of these groups include the Submarine Industrial Base Council, which claims a membership of 5,000 companies; the 60,000-member Navy League; and the 100,000-member Air Force Association.
Of the top twenty Senate recipients of nuclear weapons contractor donations, seven are presently members of the members of the Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces. They have collected a total of $272,816 for their 2012 campaigns, and a total of $2.4 million since their first election. On the House side, six of the top twenty recipients are members of the Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. They have collected $558,532 for their 2012 campaigns, and $2.2 million overall.
The top single Senate recipient is Diane Feinstein (D-Cal.), who chairs the Intelligence Committee and the appropriations subcommittee that handles the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons budget; she collected $74,500 in this election cycle and $421,747 over her 20-year career, according to the report. Those figures represent only one percent of her total campaign receipts, for the current cycle and over her career.
Feinstein’s spokesman Brian Weiss did not respond to a request for comment. The report noted that she has questioned the high cost of several new facilities that the Energy Department sought to build for warhead production or processing.
House Armed Services Committee chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Cal.) is the top House recipient of funding from nuclear weapons contractors, collecting $257,750 so far in this election cycle and $809,150 over his 19-year congressional career.The funds represent nearly a fifth of all the campaign donations he has collected in this cycle, and the lifetime tally is nine percent of his lifetime campaign funding, according to data on the Center for Responsive Politics website.
McKeon’s spokesman Alissa McCurley told the Center for Public Integrity in April that “funding from special interests does not always mean something unethical is afoot. Chairman McKeon receives input from senior military leaders as part of routine Congressional oversight. Those views, along with those of Committee professional staff members, are what sets his annual priorities” on arms control and nuclear arms.
Capitol Hill records make clear that McKeon’s support for industry positions nonetheless increased as he became a more senior committee member and its donations to him spiked. Defense firms of various categories donated between seven and thirty-two times more to McKeon after he became chairman than they did beforehand, according to a November 2011 study of key House committee chairman by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonprofit group.
The CREW study further found that from 2007-2008, McKeon’s votes were aligned with defense firms about a quarter of the time, but “since January 2011, Rep. McKeon has voted on average 100 percent in agreement with the industries regulated by the Armed Services Committee.” That alignment was higher than the average for House Republicans. McCurley did not respond to an e-mail and phone call requesting comment.
Defense industry funding of the committee’s senior Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.) similarly rose substantially when he moved to that position in 2010. But Smith’s voting support for industry-backed policies has fluctuated, going from 75 percent in 2007-2008 to 33 percent from 2009-2010 and then returning to 75 percent since Jan. 2011, according to the CREW study.
Some of the top campaign recipients have parochial reasons for supporting nuclear weapons contractors: Smith’s district includes a substantial Boeing presence while McKeon’s district includes Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and Lockheed factories, as well as a major Air Force base. Feinstein has a substantial portion of the aerospace industry in her state as well as one of the three laboratories where nuclear weapons are designed.
But CREW said the sudden influx of contributions given to key members once they became chairman or second-in-rank raised overall questions “about how beholden [they] are to the industries they oversee, and whether they are independent enough to put public interest ahead of special interest.”
Data Editor David Donald contributed to this article.
Usually, if you make a political run against someone in your own party, you have just one chance any given year: the primary election. But under new rules passed by California voters in 2010, several intra-party feuds are continuing until November in the Golden State.
Tuesday was the first state-wide test of the new “jungle primary” or “top-two primary,” in which all candidates compete against each other regardless of party affiliation. Only the top two vote getters will be on the November general election ballot. In a handful of races, this means voters will see two Democrats — or two Republicans — pitted against one another.
Political scientist Bruce Cain, the executive director of the University of California Washington Center, says these intra-party fights will be “spots of white-hot intensity.”
While votes are still being counted in some regions, intra-party battles appear likely in several congressional districts, including California’s 30th and 31st Congressional Districts.
In both of these races, super PACs and other outside groups have already spent significant sums in support of their preferred candidates — and are not likely to stand down any time soon.
Thanks to redistricting in California’s 30th Congressional District, two Democratic incumbents — Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman — squared off on Tuesday and are now headed to a rematch in November.
Sherman prevailed on Tuesday by about 10 percentage points, despite more a half-million dollars being spent by a pro-Berman super PAC.
“This campaign wasn’t geared toward June,” Berman told his supporters who gathered at his campaign headquarters Tuesday night, the Jewish Journal reported. “It was geared toward November.”
The Committee to Elect an Effective Valley Congressman, which was launched in December with the primary purpose of supporting Berman, spent more than $550,000 on independent expenditures touting the veteran lawmaker who was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982.
"The committee believes that its efforts were effective at raising voter awareness regarding Congressman Berman and his contributions to the local community," said super PAC treasurer Beverly Palmer, adding that the group plans to "continue to advocate for Congressman Berman's re-election to Congress."
The bulk of the group’s funding has come from two sources, which each have given $100,000.
One contribution came from Peter Lowy, an executive at Westfield Corp., one of the world’s largest retail property groups. And the other came from venture capital firm Mapleton Investments, which is chaired by billionaire cable TV executive Marc Nathanson.
Meanwhile, in California’s 31st Congressional District, the National Association of Realtors spent more than $800,000 trying to help its favored candidate, incumbent GOP Rep. Gary Miller, who, on Tuesday, prevailed over fellow Republican Bob Dutton by about 1,000 votes and nearly 2 percentage points.
Dutton’s strong performance appears to have beat Democrat Pete Aguilar by roughly the same margin — meaning Aguilar will not appear on the November ballot in a district whose voters favored President Barack Obama in 2008.
Dutton was aided by a super PAC called “Inland Empire Taxpayers for Jobs,” which spent about $70,000 on pro-Dutton mailings. Dutton’s father Ted ponied up $25,000 of the $60,000 the super PAC reported in receipts prior to the primary, including money from Ted Dutton’s consulting company.
For his part, Aguilar was backed by a super PAC called “Restoring Our Community” to the tune of about $160,000, most of which went into phone banks and canvassers. The super PAC was funded primarily by the California Credit Union League, which gave $250,000 through its PAC, and San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, which gave $75,000.
Sara Wiskerchen, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Realtors, commended Miller for “for running a great race” and said the organization “has not yet made plans regarding any possible future activity.”
Tuesday’s primaries were “just a dry run,” says Kyle Kondik, House editor at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
“The races will just continue in earnest, and that includes the spending,” he added, noting that intra-party contests can get “extremely nasty” because there aren’t many ideological differences between the candidates.
The end result, Kondik says: politicians and their super PAC allies will be fighting over “political minutiae and style.”
Elsewhere in the state, Democrat Julia Brownley finished second behind Republican Tony Strickland in California’s 26th Congressional District after Democratic groups spent more than $1 million on independent expenditures advocating for Brownley or against independent Linda Parks, who finished third.
Running from sunlight
My good friends at the Sunlight Foundation have made excellent use of a famous quote by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants."
But many a modern lawmaker seems to abhor that prescription. At the Center for Public Integrity, we've been busy tracking legislative action in the wake of our massive State Integrity Investigation—a data-driven corruption risk index for all 50 states. The good news is that so far at least six states have either enacted or introduced improved accountability measures.
But many other states have not. One of the 330 measures we looked at is an analysis of public records policies. We found that in state after state, the open records laws are riddled with exemptions and loopholes that impede the public's right to know, rather than improve upon it. What are lawmakers hiding?
Such obfuscations only limit the public's ability to know what's going on—and who is quietly benefitting. Brandeis was right; more sunlight, please.
Until next week,
Democratic groups spend $1 million to beat back independent
OSHA rules on workplace toxics stalled
Navigating exemptions to state public records laws
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Two weeks after a Center for Public Integrity story highlighted concerns about alleged quotas imposed on federal workplace safety inspectors, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has pared its inspection goal for the year.
OSHA had established a target of 42,250 inspections nationwide for fiscal year 2012, which ends Sept. 30. An OSHA spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the new goal is 41,000 inspections.
The revision was made primarily because the agency has been conducting "more complex, time consuming" inspections this year, the spokesman wrote in an email.
OSHA told the Center it sets goals, not quotas. But some former agency managers said that inspectors who fail to "make their numbers" face repercussions from their bosses.
On May 21, the Center published a story about a 2009 explosion at a U.S. Steel plant near Pittsburgh that killed Nick Revetta, a 32-year-old contract laborer. The OSHA inspector who led the accident investigation complained that he was unable to do a thorough job because of de facto quotas imposed by his supervisors. U.S. Steel, which has denied wrongdoing, was not cited in the case.
It can take a powerful enemy to damage the nuclear powered submarines that form the linchpin of the U.S. naval arsenal. The most worrisome threats are usually sub-killing torpedoes or large mines. But the subs’ designers evidently forgot to incorporate countermeasures against another threat: vacuum cleaners.
According to a news release Friday from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, it was a vacuum cleaner that caused an estimated $400 million in damages to the nuclear-powered USS Miami on May 23. The 22-year-old Miami was docked at Portsmouth as part of a dry dock repair period when the fire broke out, and over the next 12 hours it damaged crew quarters as well as command spaces and the torpedo room.
The fire did not damage the nuclear reactors, which were shut down two months earlier. “Findings indicate the fire started in a vacuum cleaner used to clean work sites at end of shift, and stored in an unoccupied space,” according the release. “Preliminary investigations indicate that the fire started with a heat source being vacuumed up and igniting the debris in the vacuum cleaner.”
In plain language: The vacuum sucked up something hot it shouldn’t have and, while sitting in a closet, ignited. It sounds like a cigarette. But a shipyard spokeswoman, Debbie White, said there is a no-smoking policy on board even while the ship is in dry dock and that it is currently unclear what the “heat source” that started the fire was.
“We have an investigation, and the investigation’s ongoing,” White said. “What exactly started the fire, we won’t know until that’s through.”
The $400 million repair estimate is likely to go up — the Navy estimates another $40 million could be needed for “secondary effects, such as disruption to other planned work across all Naval Shipyards, and the potential need to contract work to the private sector.”
The Miami is one of 42 active Los Angeles class nuclear-powered submarines. The Navy commissioned the ship in 1990 and has used it to carry out anti-submarine warfare exercises since it returned from deployment in worldwide anti-terrorism efforts in 2004. Armed with both torpedoes and Tomahawk missiles, the Miami can hold over 110 service members on board.
On its website, the Navy describes Los Angeles class subs as the “backbone” of the submarine force, a ship designed to engage enemy forces as well as carry out reconnaissance missions.
But never let it be said that Navy cannot adapt to rolling seas, or the threat posed by small suctioning motors: As a result of the fire, the shipyard has ordered that all of the industrial-strength vacuums be emptied at the end of each shift or removed from the ship.
Read the rest of the recall numbers round-up from Mother Jones.
With a 7-to-1 fundraising advantage and record turnout, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker defeated a union-led recall challenge by Democratic Mayor of Milwaukee Tom Barrett.
The Wisconsin vote captured national attention, and a flood of out-of-state money. Of the $63.5 million dollars spent, $45 million came from Walker’s campaign and supporters, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The record spending total was made possible thanks to the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision — which had the effect of invalidating Wisconsin’s century-old ban on independent expenditures by corporations and unions — and a state law that allowed unlimited contributions to the incumbent in recall elections.
Eager to repudiate Walker’s restrictions on collective bargaining for public employees, national unions focused money and manpower on the state, but struggled to keep up with the governor’s fundraising machine.
The nation’s three largest public sector unions sent at least $2 million to two outside spending groups — We are Wisconsin and Greater Wisconsin — which fought for airtime with the Republican Governors Association and the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.
In the weekend before the vote, Greater Wisconsin spent $68,000 for online ads opposing Walker, and $30,000 more for a last-minute TV blitz. The Republican Governors Association spent more, dropping $475,000 on TV ads and $50,000 on Facebook ads opposing Barrett, and $94,000 on robocalls supporting Walker.
Barrett supporters looked to close the fundraising gap by deploying a vast network of union-funded field offices. We are Wisconsin hired campaign staff for an extensive get-out-the-vote campaign. The group reported through its Twitter account that its 50,000 volunteers would “knock on 1.4 million doors & make 1.5 million calls” by the time polls closed.
The effort appeared to work in Madison — a Barrett stronghold. The city clerk projected that turnout was on pace to surpass 100 percent in the city — signaling an influx of new voters registering at the polls. In Barrett’s Milwaukee, poll workers reported running out of voter registration forms.
The state’s Government Accountability Board predicted between that 60 and 65 percent of Wisconsin’s 4.4 million eligible voters would cast ballots, which would set a nationwide record for a gubernatorial election.
A Florida research group released a report yesterday on how to improve the state’s ethics laws, using results from the State Integrity Investigation as a basis for reform. The Sunshine State ranked 18th out of 50 states in the investigation, with an overall grade of C-.
Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes integrity and exposes corruption in state government, has previously held presentations around the state to share the conclusions of the State Integrity Investigation’s corruption risk scorecard for the Sunshine State. The group’s new report, “Corruption Risk Report: Florida Ethics Laws,” identifies key policy changes — such as increasing penalties for ethics violations and creating a corruption report hotline — that could help the state move towards an A grade.
“Integrity Florida is using State Integrity Investigation results as a roadmap to focus our state-level research projects and as a scorecard to measure policy results,” the report states.
Among the reform recommendations is a multi-faceted plan to improve ethics enforcement, a category in which Florida failed on its risk scorecard, particularly by giving the ethics commission authority to self-initiate investigations.
Dan Krassner, Integrity Florida’s executive director, said the new report was timed to precede the Florida Commission on Ethics’ June 15 meeting — a meeting at which the commission will set its priorities for the 2013 legislative session. The Commission has continuously sought additional resources and greater power, and Krassner said he hopes the commission will include the authority to self-initiate investigations as part of its agenda.
Integrity Florida has also met with senior members of Governor Rick Scott’s staff, who received an advanced copy of the group’s report.
Lane Wright, press secretary for Gov. Scott, said he could not comment on specifics in the Integrity Florida report, but maintained that Florida is among the nation’s leaders in open government.
Krassner said there is a grassroots demand for ethics reform in Florida, which he expects will continue, especially through this year’s election. “Voters are making it known — in more ways than they have in the past — that corruption is a problem we can’t stand for any longer,” he said.
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