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- 08/15/12--07:30: _Outside spending he...
- 08/15/12--07:30: _State laws vary wid...
- 08/15/12--07:30: _Slideshow: Felons f...
- 08/15/12--07:30: _Video: Voting right...
- 08/15/12--07:30: _Daily Disclosure: A...
- 08/15/12--07:30: _FACT CHECK: Attack ...
- 08/15/12--07:30: _Former governor win...
- 08/15/12--07:30: _Student ID cards fa...
- 08/15/12--07:30: _Voting turns into f...
- 08/15/12--07:30: _Daily Disclosure: R...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _OPINION: Real-world...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Daily Disclosure: R...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Chamber of Commerce...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Senators suggest ne...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Outside groups spen...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Daily Disclosure: M...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Report: States deal...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Akin wins Missouri ...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Policing the politi...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Daily Disclosure: A...
- 08/15/12--07:30: Outside spending helps make Wisconsin Senate primary a tossup
- 08/15/12--07:30: State laws vary widely on voting rights for felons
- 08/15/12--07:30: Slideshow: Felons face uphill fight to regain voting rights
- 08/15/12--07:30: Video: Voting rights denied
- 08/15/12--07:30: Daily Disclosure: AFL-CIO targets Romney, Ryan and Nevada’s Heller
- The Republican National Committee reported spending $3.7 million on anti-President Barack Obama ads on Saturday.
- Restore Our Future’s ad “Another Month,” which debuted yesterday, hammers Obama on the economy and for making “shameful” and “dishonest” attacks on Romney, who is backed by the super PAC. It is part of a $10.5 million ad buy in 11 states beginning today and running for seven days. Factcheck.org said the ad “twists [Obama’s] words way out of context.”
- A new super PAC called Defend Paul Ryan, was launched to respond to “Radical Left” attacks against vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, the conservative blog Breitbart.com reported. The super PAC is led by former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.
- Liberal super PAC Friends of Democracy reported spending $116,000 on web ads opposing Republican Reps. Raymond “Chip” Cravaack of Minnesota, Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, Charles Bass of New Hampshire and Dan Lungren of California. This adds to their $585,000 ad campaign reported Monday in the Daily Disclosure. The super PAC is financially backed by Jonathan Soros, son of liberal financier George Soros.
- “Really Out of Touch” from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund attacks Romney and Ryan on their positions on women’s health and Planned Parenthood.
- Four new super PACs based in New York City registered with J. Bailey Morgan as treasurer: Restore American Labor Force, Americans for Prison Reform, Peaceful Americans Against War, Violence and Gun Proliferation and Americans for Affordable Housing and Assisting the Shelterless. Morgan runs Global Advertising Services, a corporate promotional advertising company, and he is the treasurer of at least two other super PACs, as well. He did not immediately respond to request for comment.
- 08/15/12--07:30: FACT CHECK: Attack ad backs off its harshest claim
- 08/15/12--07:30: Former governor wins GOP Senate nod in Wisconsin
- 08/15/12--07:30: Student ID cards far from sure ticket to the voting booth
- 08/15/12--07:30: Voting turns into frustrating ordeal for college student
- 08/15/12--07:30: Daily Disclosure: Republicans say Americans bummed out by Obama
- The Republican National Committee also released “Not Working” an ad that focuses on a quote from Obama: “We tried our plan and it worked.” This line has been the focus of several independent advertisements, including one from pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future. But as FactCheck.org found, the quote “twists Obama’s words way out of context.” Obama was not referring to his economic recovery plan, as the ads imply, but rather he was contrasting the Democrats’ approach to taxes (á la former President Bill Clinton) and the Republicans’ (á la former President George W. Bush).
- The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is wasting no time going after staunch conservative Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., who won the GOP primary for a U.S. Senate seat Aug. 7. The DSCC spent $512,000 on ad production and airtime for a yet-to-be released spot. Akin faces vulnerable Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in November in the Missouri contest.
- Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century released a new ad online called “Romney's Cayman Daydreaming,” which shows a 60 Minutes interview with Romney and Ryan. While Ryan discusses eliminating offshore tax shelters, the ad has an animated dream bubble above Romney’s head showing shots of the Cayman Islands while calypso music plays over the interview.
- The 60 Plus Association, the conservatives’ answer to AARP, began a series of ads, starring Pat Boone, in Ohio, Florida and Montana. There are three versions of the ad, each targeting a different Democratic senator: Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Bill Nelson in Florida and Jon Tester in Montana.
- The Service Employees International Union released an anti-Romney, Spanish-language ad called “Mitt Romney: Past, Present and Future.”
- Twenty-five super PACs associated with humane treatment for horses, were established by treasurer Julie Caramante, FEC records show. Each super PAC represents a different state. The super PACs join seven other horse association super PACs registered by Caramante last week. Caramante is an animal cruelty investigator, and Politico reported that the super PACs will oppose horse slaughter.
- 08/20/12--08:58: OPINION: Real-world health insurance math doesn't add up
- “Calendar” attacks the spending record of Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. The ad says Heinrich has “given Washington more money to waste.” He is opposed by Republican Heather Wilson for the Senate seat.
- “Hiding” targets North Dakota senatorial candidate Heidi Heitkamp for her support of the Affordable Care Act. Heitkamp is running against Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D, for an open seat.
- And “Investigation” attacks Rep. Shelley Berkley, D.-Nev., highlighting an ethics investigation into whether the congresswoman used her position to help her husband. Berkley is running against Republican incumbent Sen. Dean Heller.
- The Now or Never PAC, a super PAC backing former state treasurer Sarah Steelman in the three-way, closely watched GOP U.S. Senate primary in Missouri, reported spending $253,000 on ads opposing businessman John Brunner.
- Brunner’s campaign got a boost from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country’s largest business association, which spent $140,000 on new ads. “Leadership II” cost $48,000 and supports Brunner and “Mirror” cost $93,000 and opposes Steelman and Missouri’s Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
- The Conservative Majority Fund, a super PAC, spent $504,000 on ad production, air time and voter phone calls opposing Obama.
- Club for Growth Action spent big in Wisconsin, dropping nearly $441,000 to support former Rep. Mark Neumann’s Senate bid — and to oppose former Gov. Tommy Thompson and Eric Hovde. Majority PAC also got in the game, spending nearly $102,000 on ads opposing Thompson, Hovde, Berg of North Dakota and George Allen, who is running for Senate in Virginia.
- The Emergency Committee for Israel spent nearly $107,000 on TV advertising buys and production supporting Mitt Romney.
- 08/20/12--08:58: Chamber of Commerce "Mirror Images"
- 08/20/12--08:58: Senators suggest new penalties in Chinese helicopter probe
- 08/20/12--08:58: Outside groups spend $2.2 million in Missouri Senate race
- 08/20/12--08:58: Daily Disclosure: Man links wife's cancer death to Bain buyout
- Today’s Michigan primary has attracted the interest of outside spending groups, though not much cash. Prosperity for Michigan spent $17,000 on ads supporting lawyer and former Reagan administration official Clark Durant. The National Tax Limitation Committee Political Action Committee spent more than $2,700 on a pro-Rep. Fred Upton (R) phone bank. The super PAC Concerned American Voters spent upwards of $13,000 on phone bank-related expenses supporting Republican congressional candidate Kerry Bentivolio, a teacher and former automobile-design engineer.
- Our Country Deserves Better PAC (also known as the Tea Party Express) spent $81,000 on TV and radio advertising supporting former Rep. Mark Neumann in his run for Senate in Wisconsin. Neumann is running against former Gov. Tommy Thompson and Eric Hovde in the state’s Aug. 14 GOP primary.
- In the New Mexico Senate race, NRDC Action Fund Inc. reported spending $130,000 on two ads opposing Republican Heather Wilson: “Who’s Wilson With?” and “We’re All Paying for It.” NRDC is part of a coalition of environmental groups working to elect Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich; the League of Conservation Voters began running the same ads in June.
- The Republican Majority Campaign spent $150,000 on phone calls and mail opposing President Obama.
- The Mayors Against Illegal Guns Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, spent more than $132,000 on media buys, production and licensing for “Demand A Plan,” an anti-Romney, pro-Obama ad that aired Sunday during the Olympics and political programs. The expenditure was largely backed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
- 08/20/12--08:58: Report: States deal with more female offenders
- 08/20/12--08:58: Akin wins Missouri Senate primary, Dems get their wish
- 08/20/12--08:58: Policing the politicians; state ethics commissions lack muscle
Women VOTE!, the super PAC affiliated with EMILY’s List, released an ad Tuesday supporting Democrat Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut, who is running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The ad is part of a $370,000 expenditure that also takes aim at Wisconsin Republican Senate candidates Tommy Thompson and Eric Hovde and supports Democrat Tarryl Clark, who is running for the U.S. House in Minnesota.
- Super PAC New Directions for America spent $140,000 on a media buy supporting public relations executive Dan Roberti, a Democrat who is running for Congress in Connecticut.
- The Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, as the Democratic Party there is called, has made two buys supporting Democrat Rick Nolan, a businessman and former U.S. Representative who is running for Congress again. The buys total more than $135,000.
- The League of Conservation Voters began a $120,000 campaign Tuesday targeting Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. The ad attacks Heller’s voting history and the contributions he’s received from the oil industry.
Senate Conservatives Action, the super PAC spin-off of the leadership PAC of Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., reported spending $115,000 Tuesday on ads that will support Republican Mark Neumann in his bid for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin.
- The politically active nonprofit Americans for Job Security spent nearly $650,000 on “Says and Does,” an attack ad aimed at businessman Eric Hovde, who is also running in the Republican Senate primary in Wisconsin. Among other barbs, the ad claims Hovde “was against bank bailouts but invested in banks that got billions.” Hovde heads an asset management firm and a private equity firm.
For months, Republican Tommy Thompson, a former four-term Wisconsin governor, was the favorite to become the next U.S. senator from the state, filling the seat occupied by retiring Democrat Herb Kohl, and boosting GOP hopes of gaining control of Congress’ upper chamber.
But thanks to $3.4 million in spending by outside groups and an ongoing ideological divide within the Republican Party, Thompson may not even make it through Tuesday’s primary, much less win the general election.
Thompson’s main primary rivals are former Rep. Mark Neumann, the favored candidate of the increasingly influential super PAC Club for Growth Action, and businessman Eric Hovde, who has invested millions of dollars of his own money in his candidacy.
Club for Growth Action has spent $1.7 million on ads, more than any other non-candidate organization, with about $1.2 million going toward criticizing Neumann’s opponents.
As a super PAC, the organization can accept unlimited funds from corporations and individual donors and spend that money on advertising as long as it is not coordinated with candidates’ own campaigns.
“Wisconsin Republicans who support limited government have an easy choice,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola has said. “Neumann is the only candidate running for Senate in Wisconsin with a proven conservative record.”
Both Thompson, who served as Health and Human Services Secretary under President George W. Bush, and Hovde have solid conservative credentials — but not conservative enough for the anti-tax, small government-touting Club for Growth and its financial backers.
A week ago, Rep. Todd Akin won the GOP Senate primary in Missouri, beating out candidates who suffered from damaging super PAC-funded advertising. While Club for Growth was not active in that election, it has seen its preferred candidates prevail in GOP Senate primaries in Indiana and Texas, where politicians favored by the party establishment were beaten handily.
Of the $3.4 million expended by outside groups on ads in Wisconsin advocating the election or defeat of a GOP candidate, three-fourths has been spent on attack ads, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of records filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Democrats are cheering the nomination of ultra-conservative candidates by the GOP, betting that voters will prefer a more moderate choice in the Nov. 6 general election.
Ahead of Wisconsin’s GOP primary, Democratic super PACs Majority PAC and Women Vote! have both taken aim at Hovde and Thompson. The super PAC arm of Democratic-aligned EMILY’s List, Women Vote! has spent about $420,000 on ads, and Majority PAC has spent more than $370,000.
Including ads targeted at the Democratic candidate, independent groups have spent about $4.5 million in the Wisconsin Senate race. Most of the rest comes from $300,000 in support of Democratic candidate Rep. Tammy Baldwin and about $850,000 spent by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposing her candidacy.
Neumann, who served in Congress from 1995 until 1999 and also enjoys the endorsement of South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, was once kicked off the House Appropriations Committee for bucking GOP party leaders by not supporting their military spending bill. An evangelical Christian, he once said that if he were God for a day, “homosexuality wouldn't be permitted.”
Club for Growth’s traditional political action committee has also spent almost $55,000 on pro-Neumann messages, and, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, it has bundled more than $600,000 in contributions for his campaign. The financial assistance has been a tremendous help to Neumann, who has raised about $3.8 million, with more than $1.2 million coming from his personal wealth.
Thus far, Hovde has raised the most of the three candidates, more than $5.5 million, with $5.1 million coming from his own funds. Thompson has raised $3.1 million, FEC records show, with more than $630,000 coming from his own checkbook.
On Thursday, Public Policy Polling showed Hovde at 27 percent, Thompson at 25 percent and Neumann at 24 percent. Republican state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, who is also seeking to become party’s Senate nominee, received 15 percent in the PPP poll. With the poll’s 4 percent margin of error, the race is a tossup.
Hovde is a wealthy hedge fund manager whose father worked in the Reagan administration. He earned the ire of conservative activist Grover Norquist for declining to sign his pledge not to raise taxes, although the candidate says he will lower the tax rates for individuals and corporations if elected.
Hovde has gotten some last-minute help from the conservative nonprofit American Future Fund, which spent about $120,000 on a pro-Hovde ad during the final week of the race. The super PAC of the tea party-aligned FreedomWorks also spent a few thousand dollars on expenditures supporting Hovde, including online ads and yard signs.
“Our activists want to send new blood to Washington — not the recycled politicians of a bygone era,” Max Pappas, the vice president of public policy and government affairs at FreedomWorks, said in a press release.
For his part, Thompson has gotten support from a pro-business, nonprofit group called Americans for Job Security. In early August, the group launched a $650,000 TV ad buy against Hovde, as the Center for Public Integrity previously noted.
Nonprofit groups can pay for the same type of ads that super PACs run, but unlike super PACs, nonprofits are not required to publicly disclose the names of their donors.
Since leaving the Department of Health and Human Services, Thompson has sat on the boards of more than a dozen companies, mainly in the health care sector. At one of these, Thompson advocated for the use of radio frequency identification chips in humans to electronically store medical records and even pledged to be implanted with one himself (though he never did).
During the primary, Thompson has taken heat for his position on an individual health insurance mandate, a policy that he once supported but now opposes.
“If you’re going to be able to cover the uninsured, you’re going to have to have some degree of a mandate to cover the uninsured,” Thompson said at a panel in 2006, praising what Republican Mitt Romney had achieved as governor of Massachusetts. “The truth of the matter is… just like automobile insurance, you’ve got to have coverage.”
Thompson now says he wants to repeal the health care reforms signed into law by President Barack Obama, which include a mandate for individuals to have health insurance and subsidies to help Americans afford private insurance policies.
Reity O’Brien contributed to this report.
Josh and Katy Vander Kamp met in drug rehab. In the seven years since, they have been rebuilding their lives in Apache Junction, Ariz., a small town east of Phoenix.
He’s a landscaper; she’s studying for a master’s degree in addictions counseling. They have two children, a dog and a house. Their lives reveal little of their past, except that Katy can vote and Josh can’t because he’s a two-time felon.
She’s been arrested three times, but never convicted of a felony. By age 21, Josh was charged with two — for a drug-paraphernalia violation and possessing a burglary tool.
“I didn’t do anything that he didn’t do, and he’s paying for it for the rest of his life,” Katy said.
With voting laws a heated issue this election year as civil rights groups and state legislatures battle over photo ID requirements in this election year, felon disenfranchisement laws have attracted less attention despite the potential votes at stake.
A patchwork of restrictions in every state but Maine and Vermont keep about 5.85 million Americans with felony convictions off voting rolls, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based criminal justice reform advocacy group. The report also suggests that some races are hit by these laws more than others.
A felon in Maine can vote from prison using an absentee ballot, while a felon convicted of the same crime in Florida, the state with the highest percentage of disenfranchised African Americans in the nation, might never regain the right to vote — even after release.
People convicted of more than one felony in Arizona lose gun ownership and voting rights until a county court restores them. Josh Vander Kamp’s first attempt at regaining his rights failed last year.
With his wife’s help, Josh Vander Kamp applied to the county court that sentenced him in both cases. About three months later he was rejected. Vander Kamp said he’s not sure why his past is still a problem.
“It’s over and done with. I’ve put it behind me. I wish other people would put it behind them,” he said.
Laws vary widely on how felons lose their voting rights and how states restore them.
In Mississippi, 22 categories of crime result in disenfranchisement. Timber larceny is on the list; manslaughter is not. Felons who want their voting rights back must be approved by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature, and the governor can sign or veto it.
Until 2007, Maryland disenfranchised people convicted of misdemeanors involving corruption or fraud. Alabama denies the vote to anyone convicted of distributing pornography, even if it depicts consenting adults.
Pennsylvania felons can register to vote when they are released from prison. Kentucky felons must apply to the governor.
Reform advocates see voting as a symbolic key step to returning felons to communities.
“When people are punished for crimes that they’ve committed, that should not involve forfeiting their basic rights of citizenship, which is what felony disenfranchisement does,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project.
The group estimates that 75 percent of disenfranchised felons are no longer incarcerated.
Allen Jenkins, a black resident of Nashville, Tenn., was released in 1996 after serving one year for a drug charge. Jenkins, 51, still hasn’t regained his voting rights.
“I’m a U.S. citizen,” Jenkins said. “I should be able to vote for whoever I want and to give my opinion.”
Across the country, racial minorities are more likely to be barred from voting because of felony convictions, reform advocates say. Blacks made up 12.6 percent of the U.S. population in 2010, but 37.9 percent of the more than 1.5 million people in federal and state prisons, according to data from the Census and the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.
“Much of it involves the fact that law enforcement agencies have targeted low-income communities of color in particular … often to the exclusion of more well-off communities where drug use and drug selling may be more likely to take place behind closed doors or where there’s less efforts made to address drug-selling activity,” Mauer said.
In Tennessee, drug offenders were about 16 percent of the inmate population in 2010-11, according to the state Department of Correction.
Nonviolent felons in Tennessee can apply to have their voting rights restored, but the felony charge remains on their records even if their application is approved. As of July 1, one-time felons also can restore their rights by expunging the charge from their records.
Jenkins, a single father of two, has struggled financially since his conviction. He thought a clean record could help him find a job, which is why he will apply to expunge the drug conviction, he said.
“I should not be condemned over something I’ve done in the past when that past is dead,” Jenkins said.
Supporters of disenfranchisement laws said the policies preserve the integrity of the American legal system by stopping people who might choose to undermine it with their votes.
“If you are unwilling to follow the law, then you can’t demand a right to make the law for everyone else, and that’s what you’re doing when you vote,” said Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Falls Church, Va.-based Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank on issues of ethnicity and race.
Voting rights should be restored case by case, Clegg said, and only after felons can prove they’ve “turned over a new leaf.”
The governors in Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia have the last say when determining who that might be.
After taking office in January 2011, Iowa’s Republican Gov. Terry Branstad revoked the automatic restoration process established by former Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat.
Iowa’s application process has drawn complaints from the American Civil Liberties Union and felons who want to vote. Applicants must submit a criminal history, a credit report and pay all fines and court fees to regain voting rights.
David Christian, 33, owes $155,000 in restitution related to a 2008 voluntary manslaughter charge. He’s paid $941 of it in nine months. The Iowa City resident, who lives with his parents and works full-time at the family store, said it will be difficult for him to pay his debt.
“I will be disenfranchised for the foreseeable future, maybe a few decades, because I can’t pay restitution,” he said.
Christian, who is on parole until May 2013, filed to have his rights restored though he knew he was ineligible. His rejection letter came in the mail June 25.
He registered to vote when he was 18, and last voted during the 2008 presidential election while he was a pretrial detainee. Christian said he feels like a second-class citizen now.
“I want to be able to have a voice,” Christian said.
Branstad has approved the only 10 applications that crossed his desk between December 2011 and May 15, according to Larry Johnson, deputy legal counsel for the Iowa Governor’s Office. Johnson said three other applications were returned because they were incomplete.
Felons in Florida must apply to the state Board of Executive Clemency — Gov. Rick Scott and his three-person Cabinet — after they have completed their sentences, paid restitution and waited five or seven years, depending on the offense.
Scott tightened the state’s policy in March 2011 and has approved dramatically fewer applications than his predecessors, Republican Govs. Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush, who both streamlined the process.
Between 2011 and early July, 188 felons regained their rights, according to the Florida Parole Commission. But a backlog of 21,197 applications as of July 1 means Florida felons who have completed their sentences could wait a decade or more for a decision.
Humberto Aguilar, a Cuban-born Miami resident who applied in 2005, is still waiting.
Aguilar, an attorney for drug smugglers in the 1980s, was indicted for tax evasion and drug crimes. He fled and was a fugitive in Europe before being extradited to face the charges.
He returned to South Florida as a parolee in 2000. After working at hotels and a non-profit, Aguilar became a money-laundering consultant.
It’s been about seven years since he applied to become a “whole human being again.”
“If you cannot participate in the everyday political life of this country, you are like an 1840s slave. You have no rights,” Aguilar said.
Unlike Branstad and Scott, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has made voting rights restoration easier. He campaigned on a promise to process applications within three months, but completes the work in 60 days. Under former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine, restoration could take up to one year.
McDonnell has restored the rights of about 3,000 Virginians during his first two years in office, signing off on nearly nine of every 10 applications. Kaine approved a record 4,402 applications over four years. McDonnell is on track to surpass that number.
Richard W. Walker, 54, regained his rights under McDonnell after a 2004 drug conviction. The prospect of getting his rights back inspired him to beat a 40-year addiction, Walker said.
While in rehabilitation in 2007, Walker met McDonnell, then Virginia’s attorney general. Walker said McDonnell promised to personally hand his application to Kaine.
“I knew at that time I was done with drugs and alcohol,” Walker said.
McDonnell restored Walker’s rights in April, and in December, Walker will mark five years of sobriety. He now heads Bridging the Gap in Virginia, a nonprofit that helps felons readjust to society.
Felon disenfranchisement has an impact on the national political debate, said Christopher Uggen, a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota and the lead researcher for The Sentencing Project report.
“Whether it’s welfare reform or whether it is progressive taxation or whether it is the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, each of those issues is going to be decided without the voices of six million people who are disproportionately poor, disproportionately persons of color,” Uggen said.
The 1985 Supreme Court decision in Hunter v. Underwood held that Alabama’s felon disenfranchisement law was intended to remove blacks and poor whites from voter rolls, and established a high bar for suits that allege racial discrimination, said Louis Seidman, a Georgetown University professor of constitutional law.
“In this particular case it was much easier because these people just got up ... on the floor of the legislature and said, ‘This is a way to prevent blacks from voting,’ and nobody who is around today is that unsubtle,” Seidman said.
Legislation that would create a national standard also has failed in Congress. Democrats introduced the Voter Empowerment Act of 2012, which proposes sweeping changes in how federal elections are conducted and would let felons who are out of prison vote in federal elections.
In 2011, President Barack Obama said the Department of Justice has the “capacity and the obligation” to monitor states’ felon-disenfranchisement laws to make sure they are not “purposely exclusionary.”
“One of the strengths of America has always been that this is a land of second chances,” Obama said.
But states’ rights advocates disagree.
“The 14th Amendment of the Constitution makes it very clear that states have the ability to remove the voting rights of individuals who have been convicted of rebellion or other crime,” said Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C., conservative public policy research institute.
Meanwhile, these laws can change rapidly, through an executive order as in Iowa — or the process could take longer.
Rhode Island voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 to give parolees and probationers voting rights.
Felon volunteers and their advocates spent about two years door-knocking, lobbying and campaigning to “change hearts and minds,” said Sol Rodriguez, executive director of OpenDoors, a Providence, R.I., nonprofit that provides re-entry services for felons and led the voting rights effort.
The voting rights of 17,606 Rhode Islanders were restored and 6,330 of them registered to vote by the 2008 general election, according to OpenDoors.
When Jaleeza Oliver, 20, was released in May, she went to OpenDoors to sign up for services. When asked if she’d like to register to vote, Oliver said yes.
“It makes me feel I’m more part of the community rather than being rejected because of a record,” she said.
Andrea Rumbaugh, Jeremy Knop, Alissa Skelton and Michael Ciaglo contributed to this article.
Maryann Batlle was an Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation Fellow this summer at News21.
American Public Media’s Public Insight Network contributed to this article.
Hear these individuals tell their story at votingrights.news21.com.
Workers’ Voice, the super PAC of the AFL-CIO, is going on the offensive this week with a series of direct mail and online advertisements attacking presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
The new ads, which focus on Medicare, coal and worker safety, mark the union-backed super PAC’s entry into the presidential race.
The mailer, published online by Politico, targets coal miners in Ohio. It highlights the growing risk of black lung disease and Republican efforts to block regulations that would increase worker protections.
The ad will be distributed to 100,000 mailboxes and is intended to counter Romney’s campaign appearance at a coal facility in Ohio later in the week.
In addition to Romney and Ryan, the online ad, to be displayed on the website of the Las Vegas Sun, strikes at Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who was appointed to replace John Ensign and is in a contested race to keep his job. It claims the “Romney-Ryan-Heller plan” will “double seniors’ costs, raise the retirement age and throw seniors into an Rx donut hole.”
CNN reported the online ads cost around $50,000. Romney has yet to endorse Ryan’s sweeping plan to overhaul Medicare.
No response from the Republicans yet.
Workers’ Voice receives its primary financial support, not surprisingly, from unions, both directly from union treasuries as well as from union political action committees.
Top donors (counting both direct treasury and PAC contributions) include the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers, UNITE HERE (representing women in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, and airport industries), and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Before these ads published, Workers’ Voice only reported independent campaign spending had been $2,400 in support of Rep. Mark Crtiz, R-Penn., in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary which, thanks to redistricting, pitted him against another incumbent for the House seat.
However, Workers’ Voice has spent much more than a few thousand dollars on advertising, just not on ads urging a yes or no vote for a candidate. The Sunlight Foundation reports Workers’ Voice has already spent around $7 million.
The expenditures include a $500,000 online ad buy to energize progressive activists against Romney, the Huffington Post reported in May, and a $50,000 Olympics-themed mailer sent to 250,000 mailboxes in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin at the start of the Olympics, Politco reported.
Workers’ Voice had $1.9 million on hand at the end of June, according to its monthly FEC report.
In other outside spending news:
New super PACs: Secretive Politics in Sugarland, Texas, American Crosswords in Washington, D.C., The Foundation for Innovation, Research and Education in Jacksonville, Fla., Progressive Independent Committee in Franklin, Tenn.
After yanking an ad with a false claim off the air in North Dakota, Crossroads GPS is back with an amended version that is technically accurate, but still grossly misleading.
Despite a torrent of negative attacks, former four-term Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson won the state’s Republican U.S. Senate primary for the open seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl Tuesday.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Thompson caputred 34 percent of the vote while wealthy hedge fund manager Eric Hovde, who himself was hurt by a misleading ad in the final week of the contest, received 31 percent of the vote. Former Rep. Mark Neumann wsa third with 23 percent. Both candidates enjoyed pockets of support among tea party activists. State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald was fourth with 12.4 percent.
Roughly $3.4 million was spent by super PACs, nonprofits and other independent groups advocating for the election or defeat of Senate candidates. About three-fourths went to harsh attacks, mainly focused on Thompson and Hovde, whose poll numbers surged toward the end of the race.
An anti-Hovde, $650,000 attack ad paid for by the nonprofit group Americans for Job Security may have helped Thompson. Hovde called the ad "patently false" and threatened legal action. The group altered the ad, called "Says and Does," after the protest. The group's nonprofit status means it is not required to reveal its donors.
Thompson’s victory came despite being outraised by his opponents.
Over the course of the campaign, Thompson raised about $3.1 million, including $500,000 of his own money during the final two weeks of the race. Meanwhile, Neumann raised about $3.8 million and Hovde raised more than $5.5 million, nearly all of it from his own pocket.
Thompson, who served as President George W. Bush’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, was backed by GOP leaders including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. But Neumann and Hovde challenged his conservative credentials.
Neumann was the favorite of the anti-tax Club for Growth and influential Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), while Hovde, a political neophyte, won the backing of former House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks group.
The super PAC Club for Growth Action alone outspent all other non-campaign groups in the hotly contested race, pouring $1.6 million into ads supporting Neumann and attacking his opponents. Just over $900,000 of those independent expenditures were made in the two weeks leading up to the election.
“The amount of outside money is striking, especially the Club for Growth’s support for Neumann,” said Charles Franklin, a visiting professor of law and public policy at the Marquette University Law School who oversees the school’s polling.
Thompson’s win bucks a national trend in which candidates favored by the party establishment have been defeated by more conservative challengers. Republican in-fighting earlier this year contributed to the loss of establishment contenders in U.S. Senate races in Indiana, Texas, Nebraska and Missouri.
In the November general election, Thompson will face Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who has already been subjected to negative ads.
In late July, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — a pro-business trade group and one of the most active political spenders — unleashed ads critical of Baldwin, totaling nearly $850,000.
Overall, outside groups have spent a combined $4.5 million on the Wisconsin U.S. Senate race — a figure that will continue to climb during the next three months as it remains a top target for both parties.
To date, independent groups have spent more than $300,000 on ads supportive of Baldwin. On Tuesday, a pro-lesbian super PAC called “LPAC” also pledged to spend at least $100,000 on “strong TV ads” during the general election.
Thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and a lower-court ruling, nonprofits, such as the Chamber and Americans for Job Security, as well as super PACs, may accept unlimited funds from corporations, unions and individual donors and spend that money on advertising attacking or supporting candidates as long as they aren't coordinated with the candidate.
Tuesday’s GOP primary was largely overshadowed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s weekend announcement that Rep. Paul Ryan — another Wisconsinite — would be his running mate.
“The Ryan announcement took the Senate race completely off the front pages and the television news,” said Franklin, of Marquette University. “I’m sure all three campaigns wish Romney had waited for Wednesday.”
John Dunbar contributed to this report.
Update (Aug. 15, 9:31 a.m.): This story was updated to include final vote percentages.
Morehouse College students can use their ID cards to buy food and school supplies, use computer labs and get books from the library, but they can’t use ID from the historic Atlanta school to vote. A few miles away, Georgia State University students use their ID in the same way, but their cards allow them to vote.
Across the country, college students are facing new questions about their voting rights. In some states, communities are debating whether students can vote as state residents or vote absentee from their hometowns. In others, legislators have debated whether student IDs can be used at the polls.
In Georgia, the debate started with the state’s voter ID law, which accepts student IDs from state colleges but not private institutions such as Morehouse.
College students, who led a record turnout among 18- to 24-year-old voters in 2008, could play a major role in this November’s elections, but their impact could be blunted by states’ voter ID requirements.
In Georgia, for example, legislators have rejected student IDs from private schools, saying the lack of uniformity among school IDs would be a burden for poll workers. There are 198 accredited postsecondary schools in Georgia, including beauty academies and music institutes, according to the National Center of Education Statistics.
Even many ID cards from public colleges are rejected under some state laws, because the cards do not include addresses, issuance and expiration dates.
In Wisconsin, some colleges paid for new, state-acceptable student IDs while others charged students for new IDs.
Groups that advocate on behalf of young voters say restrictions against school IDs could drive down student turnout.
“They’re another one of these suppression laws that affects disabled, older and younger voters on equal levels, but the older population is in the habit of voting,” said Sarah Stern, a spokeswoman for national advocacy group the League of Young Voters.
Georgia state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, a Democrat, has introduced three bills since 2008 to accept IDs from all accredited schools, rather than just public schools. All three bills failed.
Morgan got the idea in 2008 from one of her office interns. Aubrey Patterson, who also worked as a poll worker in Chatham County, told Morgan that in the 2008 elections, he saw private college and university students told that they could not use their school IDs at the polls.
“There was a lot of frustration from students attending private schools,” said Patterson, a Morehouse alumnus who is now a graduate student at Georgia State.
Accepting student IDs makes voting more convenient, Patterson said, because many students don’t have driver’s licenses and don’t have a reason to carry another form of ID.
“Some students don’t carry around too much money and stuff like that,” Patterson said. “The card is almost like an ATM.”
Jared Thomas, spokesman for Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, said Kemp supported Morgan’s bill and worked with her on it.
Thomas said he didn’t believe Morgan’s bill would be difficult for the secretary of state’s office to implement, and that they would support similar bills in the future. Thomas said he thought the law was clear about its ID requirements, even without adding private school IDs.
“It’s very clear right now that if you’re at UGA (the University of Georgia), it’s a state-issued ID, and if you’re at Emory (University) or Mercer (University), it’s private and would not count by any stretch as state-issued ID,” Thomas said.
On a national scale, voter ID laws could have a significant impact on student voters in the November elections. Stern said college students were one of the demographics targeted by voter ID laws because students are likely to vote for Democrats.
“It definitely will affect turnout,” Stern said. “And people know that. It’s a concerted, partisan strategy.”
President Barack Obama won two-thirds of the vote among 18- to 24-year-olds in 2008, according to exit polls. That was the only age group to significantly increase turnout over 2004.
Mahen Gunaratna, an Obama campaign spokesman, said the campaign was making young voters a priority again this year and that voter ID laws worked against turnout.
Arizona state Rep. Martin Quezada, an Obama campaign surrogate, said young voters were just as important now as they were four years ago.
“The youth vote is critical after the 2008 election,” he said. “It’s a different group of 18- to 24-year-olds now, but they have the same reasons to be excited.”
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s campaign did not respond to requests for an interview. Regardless of whether student IDs are accepted, voter ID laws might put young voters at a disadvantage.
A 2005 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute study found that white, black and Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds in the state were less likely to have a driver’s license than the general voting population. The study found that 78 percent of black men in Wisconsin in that age group did not have a valid driver’s license.
Despite the obstacles they present, voter ID laws haven’t received much opposition from students. A poll by the nonprofit Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, which advocates on behalf of environmental and social issues, found that most Minnesota college students support that state’s proposed voter ID amendment, even though the majority of them do not have the necessary identification.
Some states, such as Georgia and Indiana, accept student IDs from public schools because they are issued by the government. Others, such as Kansas, accept student IDs from all accredited schools. And some, like Wisconsin, might exclude many public and private universities by requiring dates when the cards were issued and when they expire. The University of Wisconsin system, with more than 181,000 students enrolled, did not include that information on student IDs when the bill passed.
Wisconsin’s voter ID law has been blocked twice in court, but the state would have some of the strictest ID requirements in the country if injunctions are lifted.
After the law was passed, the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire provided new, optional student IDs including the necessary information. To offset the cost of the new IDs, the university will charge $2 for each, a cost that Democratic state Rep. Gary Hebl calls unconstitutional.
“It’s a poll tax, obviously,” Hebl said. “The purpose of the card is to vote with it.”
And Hebl said the low cost of the IDs didn’t make a difference.
“To charge people to vote is unconstitutional,” he said. “If it costs a nickel, it’s unconstitutional; $2 could be the difference between buying a loaf of bread or voting.”
Paydon Miller, president of the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire Student Democrats, said that although the cost for the new student IDs is low, it is wrong to make students “jump through hoops.”
“We are placing a burden on the student body that doesn’t exist for other people,” Miller said.
In Texas, student IDs might be rejected at the polls while gun permits are accepted, depending on a lawsuit over the state’s voter ID law. Texas’ law passed the legislature but has been blocked by the Department of Justice. If the state wins against the Justice Department, no student IDs from public or private schools would be accepted at the polls.
Natalie Butler, a 2012 graduate and former student government president of the University of Texas–Austin, said the law would have a negative effect on students. She is particularly worried about local elections in Austin, where student turnout rates already are low.
“If we’re going to make it even harder for students to impact city politics, that’s a huge problem,” she said.
In addition to restrictions on using school IDs, students face challenges based on residency. Out-of-state students must choose which state they want to vote in — their home state, where they may have to file an absentee ballot, or at school, where they face scrutiny from local residents.
In New Hampshire, Republican state Rep. Gregory Sorg tried last year to bar college students from voting in the state unless they lived there before enrolling. And state House Speaker William O’Brien, a Republican, received national attention when he mentioned voting restrictions that would affect students, such as same-day voter registration, and then attacked how he presumed students would vote.
“Voting as a liberal, that’s what kids do,” he was recorded saying at a New Hampshire Tea Party event. “They lack the life experience and they just vote their feelings.”
Sorg’s bill, which did not pass, included provisions that would have let students prove their state residence if they really planned to stay there, but Sorg said most college students live on an isolated campus and have no community ties.
“It distorts the way a community is run,” Sorg said. “Transients could descend on a community and take it over.”
In Maine, state Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster accused 206 out-of-state college students of committing voter fraud. That prompted Secretary of State Charlie Summers to investigate.
Summers, also a Republican, found no cases of voter fraud or double voting, but he mailed letters to all the students, asking them to either cancel their registration in Maine or apply for a state driver’s licenses.
Despite these challenges to out-of-state students, Stern said the League of Young Voters encourages college students to vote in the state where they go to school because the process of receiving an absentee ballot is so complicated.
“The likelihood of students registering at their parent’s house and then correctly filling out the application for an absentee ballot is low,” Stern said.
Lizzie Chen, Alia Conley, Emily Nohr and Alex Remington of News21 contributed to this article.
Jack Fitzpatrick was a Hearst Foundations Fellow this summer for News21.
ELON, N.C. — With just a couple of weeks to go until the North Carolina primary, I was fired up and eager to vote. Amendment One was on the ballot. If passed, it would amend the state constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman. The issue polarized the state, and many students, myself included, were motivated to register to vote in our college communities rather than requesting absentee ballots from our home states.
After weeks of watching local organizations duke it out with lawn signs, billboards and YouTube videos, it was time. Just to be sure everything was set, I logged on to the state board of elections website and plugged in my name.
The system couldn’t find me.
There must have been a mistake. I clearly remembered registering to vote, and wondered if my name had been misspelled in the system. It wouldn’t be the first time. But searches for the usual misspellings didn’t find anything, either. I worried.
The error was mine. I had listed my apartment address, but neglected to include my mailing address on the registration form. Because my off-campus residence did not receive mail, two attempts to send me a voter registration card had failed.
Anyone can register and vote on the same day during the one-stop voting period. Photo ID isn’t necessary, but proof of address, a lease or phone bill, is required. Because I was subletting and didn’t have my name on a lease, I had zero acceptable documents to prove my Alamance County residency. I was devastated that I might not vote.
On two occasions, I spent nearly half an hour on the phone with the county board of elections. Ultimately, I was referred to a state elections specialist and spent another half-hour on the phone. For the third time, I was read a long list of acceptable documents, none of which resolved my problem.
The state official told me I could cast a provisional ballot, which, by law, should be offered to all who aren’t registered to vote but think they are eligible. This was the first time I was offered a provisional ballot.
Finally, I had a breakthrough. I realized I might be able to update the address on my car registration, vote provisionally, and take the new registration to the county the following week. I spent 45 minutes on the phone with the Division of Motor Vehicles to change my address, and was late for class.
That Saturday, I spent about two hours at the early voting site at the Graham, N.C., Public Library. I told the poll worker I needed a provisional ballot and was sent to the voter registration line. I completed another voter registration form and more than half an hour later I explained my situation, again, to another poll worker. I was sent to someone else and finally was able to cast a provisional ballot.
The process was draining and frustrating. The poll workers clearly were confused; one was obviously annoyed, even hostile. Several friends were with me, and we all talked about leaving.
My boyfriend was registered to vote in another North Carolina county, and showed his on-campus address by using his iPhone, but was told he needed a document. Several other friends from his building had similar problems, and they all had to step out of the long line. One woman applied for a library card, and then each student paid to use the printer.
Three students from my apartment building — permanent residents from other North Carolina counties — went to vote and were told to return with proof of residency. They were never offered provisional ballots. Only one returned with proof in time to vote. Another was not told she needed to return during early voting, and had planned to go back on Election Day. By the time she realized this, it was too late for her to travel three hours to her hometown, where she was registered.
When my car registration finally came, only my mailing address was on the document, and I spent another half hour on the phone with the DMV.
The DMV told me that the only document with my residential address would be a history of my car’s registered addresses. To get that, I would have had to drive more than 60 miles each way to downtown Raleigh, apply and pay $1, and then show it to the Alamance County Board of Elections. I didn’t have a full day to drive around the state.
My vote was not counted.
After an onslaught of overtly negative attack ads, conservative independent spending groups have taken a new tone in their criticism of President Barack Obama — disappointment.
The Republican National Committee and the nonprofit Americans for Prosperity released ads Tuesday that highlight voters who did not get the “hope and change” from Obama they wanted.
The 60-second spot from Americans for Prosperity features a handful of voters — all 2008 Obama supporters — explaining why the president has not earned their vote in 2012.
“I think he’s a great person,” a woman named Maria says. “I don’t feel like he is the right leader for our country, though.”
“I still believe in hope and change. I just don’t think Obama’s the way to go for that,” Robin says.
AFP President Tim Phillips told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that the spot — the second in the group’s $25 million express advocacy campaign — cost about $7 million. Starting today, the ad will air in 11 swing states for one week.
The RNC’s new ad, “Hope and Change,” opens with a clip of Obama standing before a massive crowd shouting his name at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
“What if it had been your name they were chanting?” the narrator asks. “What if America had given you the power? Their hope?”
“Would you have spent trillions overhauling health care while millions were without work?”
While the narrator presents various what-if situations, apparently disappointed Americans stare into the camera.
“You do have the power — the power to make a change,” the narrator concludes.
The theme of disappointment among past Obama voters has been emphasized in recent weeks by other GOP-leaning groups. The Republican Jewish Coalition launched the “My Buyer’s Remorse” campaign at the end of July, which also highlights disillusioned Obama voters.
In that vein, Republicans have been trying to reposition GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as America’s new source of hope and change.
In other outside spending news:
Aetna’s had a lot to say lately about how business is good. The company disclosed last week that it made $458 million in profits this spring, and said it expected to make more money this year than executives previously thought possible. The firm also signaled it set aside three quarters of a billion dollars from policyholders to buy back shares of its own stock instead of paying more claims. But a few days before that, Aetna’s CEO got a real-world understanding of just how inadequate some of the company’s policies are.
And thanks to Twitter, the rest of us got a better understanding of how U.S. health insurers are able to profit so handsomely from the inadequate policies they sell, especially to students.
A significant part of Aetna’s revenues come from its student health plan business. The company contracts with many colleges across the country to provide coverage to students. Trouble is, those policies typically have low annual and lifetime limits — as was discovered recently by Arijit Guha, a 31-year-old graduate student at Arizona State University who’s been diagnosed with colon cancer. Guha was paying $400 a month for a policy that had a $300,000 lifetime limit. It didn’t take long for his care, including surgery and chemotherapy, to exceed that.
Facing a growing mountain of bills and the very real possibility of having to file for bankruptcy, Guha and his friends decided to set up a provocatively named website — poopstrong.org — and to use Twitter and other social media to raise money to pay the claims Aetna was denying.
Tweeting as Poop Strong, Guha soon drew the attention of a customer service representative at Aetna and, ultimately, the big guy himself, CEO Mark Bertolini.
Here’s an abridged version of how it went down:
Poop Strong: @Aetna’s 4th qtr profit up 73%: “it continued to benefit from low use of health care.” Helps they can ensure low use.
Aetna: @Poop_Strong We care about our members. We want you to be empowered to be healthy and make informed decisions…Please know we’re here to answer your questions and discuss your concerns.
Poop Strong: @AetnaHelp @Aetna That’s so sweet you want me to be empowered. Does [Mark Bertolini] care to empower me by paying my $118k and counting in bills?...The thing is, I’ve needed you for the last 6 mos. Not for “support” and “to discuss concerns” but to pay my bills.
Another thread by some of Poop Strong’s friends drew out Bertolini:
Bag of Moons: @mtbert You, sir, have blood on your hands. Man up & pay for @Poop_Strong’s treatment, & for others like him. You don’t need the $, they do
ItsLerama: My bud @Poop_Strong, a PhD student w Stage 4, was shamefully kicked off his insurance. @Aetna. Btw congrats on the $10.6M CEO salary @mtbert!
Mark T. Bertolini: @Its Lerama @aetna We did not kick @Poop_Strong off his insurance. We are on the phone with him now to find a solution to his financial issue.
Nhojelttil: @mtbert @ItsLerema @Aetna @Poop_Strong You did, in fact, do just that. Glad if you’re fixing it now. A little bad PR goes a long way, huh?
Mark T. Bertolini: @nhojelttil That’s not the case. His benefits did not cover anything. We paid hundreds of thousands in $ already. A call is all it takes.
Poop Strong: @mtbert @nhojelttil “A call is all it takes?” Does that mean if I call you you’ll graciously offer to pay my bills? That’d be nice….Moreover, do you think it’s morally justifiable to offer a flawed insurance product that doesn’t cover catastrophes?
Poop Strong: @mtbert @nhojelttil I will have insurance again as of mid-August not be/c you were kind enough to eliminate lifetime caps on your own…But because you were forced to do so due to the new healthcare law (which on Aug. 1 made lifetime caps unlawful for student plans). Why did you offer such shi**y plans to begin with?
Poop Strong: @mtbert @nhojelttil True or False?: I am in this situation because your company offers a crappy product.
Poop Strong: @mtbert @nhojelttil And you could do more to help if you were more interested in helping than profit-maximizing.
Mark T. Bertolini: @Poop_Strong False. Why do you think the premium was so low? Do you look at your policy limits when u buy other insurance (auto)?
Poop Strong: @mtbert Are you suggesting I had a choice in the matter? Health insurance exchanges don’t arrive until 2014.
Poop Strong: @mtbert Moreover, isn’t it morally reprehensible that you offer such a limited product? One that caps benefits so low?...One day’s salary for you is $30,000. Surely you can spare that?
As it turned out, Bertolini eventually did decide he could spare that — and more. He tweeted to Guha that Aetna would pay “every last penny” of his bills and added, “The system is broken, and I am committed to fixing it.”
So this story may have a happy ending — for Guha, at least, if his treatments are successful and Bertolini keeps his word. But what about all the other students, all the other people who can’t draw a health insurance company CEO into a conversation?
As mcpeed commented on an ABC online story about Guha: “That's great and I'm glad for this student. But what about all the other people affected by this grossly unfair policy who don't have Twitter accounts and followings? Is the CEO of Aetna going to pay for all of their treatment too? Are they still going to lobby against the Affordable Healthcare Act which outlaws lifetime caps? I expect the CEO is a nice guy... but his company policies suck.”
Pro-President Barack Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action spent nearly $1.3 million this weekend on an anti-Mitt Romney ad buy, second only to the Republican National Committee, which spent $3.8 million on anti-Obama media placements.
The groups reported the expenditures late Friday afternoon. No additional information was available Monday morning.
Crossroads GPS, the conservative nonprofit, also released a string of ads targeting candidates in competitive Senate races across the country.
The New Mexico, North Dakota and Nevada Senate races are among the most competitive in the country.
In New Mexico, Heinrich and former Rep. Wilson are running for the seat vacated by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. The contest, which has attracted more than $2.7 million in outside spending as of Friday, has focused on the candidates’ records on the environment.
Nearly all of the negative ads in the race — at least $1.5 million-worth — are from environmental groups targeting Wilson, including the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club.
In other outside spending news:
Two senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee called on Monday for the Defense Department to consider suspending or blocking its ties to a major weapons contractor that admitted illegally helping China develop a new attack helicopter.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the committee chairman, and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), its senior Republican member, asserted in an Aug. 6 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that a series of export violations by the Canadian branch of helicopter engine manufacturer Pratt and Whitney and its parent company United Technologies “may have caused significant harm to our national security.”
Although Pratt, United Technologies and another firm agreed to pay a total of $75 million in fines when they publicly admitting wrongdoing in June, Levin and McCain complained that “no individual manager or employee has been held personally accountable.” The senators said that although the State Department has restricted some licensing privileges for Pratt’s Canadian branch, “we believe that the Defense Department should itself evaluate this case for the appropriateness of contract suspension or debarment.”
In its settlement with the Justice Department and the State Department, Pratt and United Technologies acknowledged that Pratt knowingly sent critical software to China for use with a military attack helicopter, the Z10, because it hoped to win a lucrative contract for a civilian version. “We find the crime to which P&WC [Pratt & Whitney Canada] pleaded guilty enormously troubling,” the two senators said.
United Technologies, headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut, was the ninth largest U.S. defense contractor in 2010. Since July 2006, when the company filed statements about the software exports to China that it admitted this year were incorrect, the Pentagon has awarded it more than $1.67 billion in contracts, according to an article the Center published about the case in July. One of Pratt’s major contracts with the department now is to supply jet engines for the troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, the most expensive military program in history.
U.S. Attorney for Connecticut David Fein, who directed the government's effort, said at the time of the settlement that it marked “one of the largest resolutions of export violations with a major defense contractor in the Justice Department’s history.” Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco, who spoke with Fein, said Pratt had compromised “U.S. national security for the sake of profits and then lie[d] about it to the government.”
After closely examining company procedures and internal records, the government found United Technologies responsible for 576 violations of the State Department’s export rules. U.S. military exports to China have been embargoed by the department since 1989.
The senators said in their letter that “the widespread nature of these violations by just this one major defense contractor raises the possibility of systemic deficiencies with the oversight and enforcement of federal export controls.” They asked both secretaries to explain what their departments are doing to ensure better compliance.
Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said the department had not seen the letter as of Monday afternoon and had no immediate comment. A United Technologies spokesman did not immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail requesting comment. The company has previously said it is taking steps to improve oversight, including assigning more specially-trained personnel to review its export-related actions.
Super PACs and nonprofits have spent more than $2.2 million in the race for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in Missouri, with nearly 90 percent of the total going toward negative ads, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis.
Businessman John Brunner and former state treasurer Sarah Steelman have been savaged by ads paid for by deep-pocketed outside-spending groups, while Rep. Todd Akin has been spared — no doubt improving his chances for victory in Tuesday’s primary.
Not a cent has been reported on attacks against Akin, who was outperforming Steelman and was nipping at the heels of frontrunner Brunner in the most recent poll, which was released Sunday. It showed Brunner earning 35 percent of the vote, followed by Akin with 30 percent and Steelman with 25 percent.
If Akin proves victorious, he will be following in the footsteps of Nebraska Republican Deb Fischer, who won the GOP nomination for Senate after her two better-known competitors and their allies pummeled each other during the primary.
Akin has benefited from high-profile endorsements from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and Phyllis Schlafly, the founder and president of the Eagle Forum, a conservative advocacy group.
The winner of Tuesday’s GOP primary will challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who has been on the receiving end of numerous attack ads paid for by groups such as conservative nonprofit Crossroads GPS, which was co-founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is supporting Brunner.
The Democratic super PAC Majority PAC, which supports McCaskill, has spent $1.1 million on ads opposing Brunner, clearly signaling it would prefer to face one of the other candidates. It has spent an additional $867,000 on ads touting McCaskill.
In late July, the Chamber attacked both McCaskill and Steelman in a 30-second spot as “birds of a feather” and “two peas in a pod.” The ad accuses them of not doing enough for Missouri businesses.
McCaskill has been rated as one of the most moderate senators by the National Journal. Steelman was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, has advocated for the repeal of the President Barack Obama’s signature health care law and calls the Humane Society a “radical special interest group.”
In other ads — which the Chamber has not been required to report to the Federal Election Commission — viewers have not been explicitly encouraged to vote against McCaskill, but rather have been told to call and tell her to “stop attacking free enterprise” or to “repeal Obamacare,” a law that the Chamber argues will “kill jobs.”
The Chamber’s anti-McCaskill, anti-Steelman double-whammy cost nearly $700,000, records show.
The wealthy Brunner, the former CEO of his family’s health products company, is personally responsible for nearly $7.6 million of the $8.3 million that his campaign has raised. Steelman, meanwhile, has raised about $1.9 million, with $800,000 of it coming from her own funds. Akin has raised about $2.3 million.
A poll in late July had shown Steelman as the main competition to Brunner, despite Brunner’s fundraising advantage.
Steelman was aided in the home stretch of the campaign by Palin, who was the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee. Palin praised Steelman for being “an economist who defends our tax dollars like a momma grizzly defends her cubs” in a July 30 advertisement.
Steelman has gotten a big boost from the Now or Never PAC, a super PAC that has raised a considerable amount of money from a relatively small number of donors. The group has spent about $700,000 on the race, mostly on attack ads targeting Brunner.
The super PAC’s top donors are Stanley Herzog, who runs a Missouri-based highway and railroad construction company ($250,000), retired financial executive and income tax opponent Rex Sinquefield ($100,000) and Maxine Steelman, the candidate’s mother-in-law ($50,000).
Other donors include truck dealership Peterbilt of Springfield, Inc., the campaign committee of Missouri state Rep. Caleb Jones and a political action committee connected to Missouri House Speaker Steven Tilley, which have all given $25,000. Tilley is Steelman's campaign chairman.
Among the top donors to the pro-McCaskill Majority PAC are Democratic super donor Fred Eychaner, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
When including all outside spending for the Missouri Senate race, including funds used for anti-McCaskill ads, outside groups have spent more than $3.7 million. The total consists of so-called “independent expenditures,” spending that is reported to the FEC and can be used to pay for ads that expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a federal candidate.
Super PACs were created in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling and a lower court decision. They can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, unions and businesses, but are prohibited from coordinating their expenditures with the candidates they seek to aid.
The Chamber, as a nonprofit, is not required to publicly reveal its donors.
Reity O’Brien and John Dunbar contributed to this report.
Today, Priorities USA Action, a pro-President Barack Obama super PAC, released “Understands.” The minute-long ad takes aim at presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, condemning his actions when he was chairman and CEO of Bain Capital and linking the private equity firm's buyout of a steel company to a woman's death from cancer.
The ad features a former employee of a Bain-owned steel mill who says his wife put off visiting a doctor when she became ill because his family lost their health insurance following the closure of the plant where he worked. When the man’s wife finally went to the hospital, he says, it was too late — she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and died 22 days later.
“I don’t think Mitt Romney realizes what he’s done to anyone,” he says. “And furthermore I do not think that Mitt Romney is concerned.”
Priorities USA Action reported spending almost $1.3 million on an anti-Romney television advertising buy in its most recent independent expenditure report to the Federal Election Commission. It is not certain whether or not the expenditure is tied directly to the ad.
Romney's campaign said "President Obama’s allies continue to use discredited and dishonest attacks in a contemptible effort to conceal the administration’s deplorable economic record," in response to the ad.
In other outside spending news:
Violent juvenile crime has fallen over the last decade — good news — but the numbers of American girls getting into trouble have continued to increase, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“Girls now represent 15 percent of those held in juvenile facilities and as much as 34 percent in some states,” the survey by the nonpartisan Denver- and Washington, D.C.-based group found. Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Minnesota, Oregon and New Mexico have passed laws that require “gender-specific” rehabilitation programs or plans for programs for this growing female population.
The number of girls accused of offenses has been on the rise for three decades, according to U.S. Department of Justice reports. For example, the arrest rate of girls for simple, or minor, assault in 2003 was more than triple the rate in 1980.
The NCSL report also takes a look at state trends to address “disproportionate minority contact” with the juvenile justice system at all its levels. “Various explanations have emerged for the disproportionate treatment of (ethnic minority) minors, ranging from jurisdictional issues, certain police practices and pervasive crime in some urban areas,” the report states.
In 2008, according to the report, Iowa became the first state to require a “minority impact statement” for each proposal in the state to alter juvenile sentencing, parole and probation. Connecticut followed with similar requirements. In 2010, Maryland scrutinized law-enforcement in schools, adopting a law to require “cultural competency training” for all law-enforcement officers assigned to public schools.
This year, the Center for Public Integrity also looked into school-police policies, reporting that the Los Angeles Unified School District Police —the nation’s largest school force — issued more than 33,500 tickets to mostly low-income, Latino and black students from 2009 through 2011. More than 40 percent of tickets issued in Los Angeles went to students between 10 and 14 years old for minor offenses.
Southern California public radio station KPCC prepared a map showing that tickets fell heavily on inner-city, lower-income schools. Los Angeles Unified School Police Chief Stephen Zipperman is now working on reforms to lower ticketing and refer more students to counseling.
The National Conference of State Legislatures’ report also surveys states’ policies for trying minors as adults or juveniles. In recent years, some states have moved away from the trend of trying ever-younger offenders as adults. Connecticut, Rhode Island, Missouri and Mississippi are the states that took steps to increase the age limits for keeping minors in juvenile court.
Ten states set the age for juvenile jurisdiction at 16. North Carolina and New York automatically try any minor over 16 in the adult system.
Rep. Todd Akin, a six-term lawmaker and evangelical Christian with the support of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, won a hotly contested Republican U.S. Senate primary in Missouri, meaning he will face incumbent Claire McCaskill, a Democrat the GOP considers beatable.
Unlike his two main opponents, Akin was spared from millions of dollars worth of attack ads paid for by outside groups. Super PACs and politically active nonprofits targeted former state treasurer Sarah Steelman, who was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and millionaire businessman John Brunner.
With all precincts reporting, Akin won 36 percent of the vote, Brunner finished second with 30 percent and Steelman was a close third at 29.2 percent, according to the Missouri Secretary of State's offfice. Steelman called Akin to concede a little after 10 p.m., according to news reports.
Brunner, a self-funder who enjoyed favorable advertising paid for by the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was the target of more than $1.1 million in attack ads paid for by Majority PAC, the main super PAC focused on helping Democrats retain control of the Senate.
Similarly, McCaskill’s own campaign ran ads against all three Republican candidates. Notably, her advertisements targeting Akin called him “Missouri’s true conservative,” which may have helped the underfunded congressman. The move prompted political observers to note that Akin may be McCaskill's preferred November rival.
In late July, it looked like Steelman was gaining steam against her rivals. That’s when Palin, the Republican’s 2008 vice presidential nominee, endorsed her. And that’s also when a super PAC sprang into action on her behalf.
During the final two weeks of the race, a pro-Steelman super PAC called Now or Never PAC spent about $700,000 on ads in the race, mostly attacking Brunner.
Now or Never’s top donors include Stanley Herzog, who runs a highway and railroad construction company, who gave $250,000; retired financial executive and income tax opponent Rex Sinquefield, who gave $100,000; and Maxine Steelman, the candidate’s mother-in-law, who gave $50,000.
Steelman was boosted by the political action committee of the Tea Party Express, which invested about $76,000 on television and radio ads backing her candidacy. But she was fervently criticized in ads sponsored by the Chamber, which spent nearly $700,000 on a last-minute spot that argued Steelman and McCaskill were “two peas in a pod.”
Overall, outside groups spent more than $2.2 million during the GOP primary advocating for or against one of the Republican candidates. Nearly 90 percent of the total went to negative advertising, as the Center for Public Integrity previously reported.
The former CEO of his family’s health products company, Brunner is worth between $25.5 million and $103 million, according to the St. Louis-Post Dispatch.
He contributed nearly $7.6 million of his own money to his campaign, more than 90 percent of the $8.3 million that his campaign raised, all to no avail. Meanwhile, Akin raised about $2.3 million, and Steelman raised about $1.9 million, with $800,000 of it coming from her own pocket.
For her part, McCaskill had about $3.5 million in the bank as of her most recent campaign finance filing in mid-July.
The Missouri Senate race also marks the second recent occasion in which a contentious three-way race saw a surprise victor on Election Day. In May, Republican Deb Fischer won the Nebraska GOP Senate primary after her two main rivals and their allies spent millions attacking each other.
Update (Aug. 8, 1:45 p.m.): This story was updated to include the final vote percentages.
The North Carolina Ethics Commission has received more than 300 ethics complaints since its establishment in 2006 — but it has initiated just 18 investigations through 2010.
The Tennessee Ethics Commission, also established in 2006, has yet to find anyone guilty of an ethics violation. It has heard five complaints in five years — and thrown all of them out.
The Pennsylvania Ethics Commission takes in between 400 and 600 complaints each year. But severe budget cuts have left the panel with only five full-time investigators to handle the workload.
And last year, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission had its full-time support staff reduced from two people to one.
“It’s just me,” said Jane Feldman, the Colorado commission’s executive director. Feldman said she currently has an annual budget of $224,000 but — unlike commissions in many other states — no investigators or lawyers to initiate real enforcement.
“I don’t think we’re a dirty state. I think we’re a pretty clean state,” Feldman said. “But I think there are cases, especially conflicts of interest issues, where since we don’t have an investigator we don’t follow up.”
Such tales are far from unusual. Some 41 states have government bodies that oversee and enforce state ethics laws. But an examination by the Center for Public Integrity reveals that many of them do little more than provide a false sense of security. In fact, the State Integrity Investigation — a first-of-its-kind probe of accountability in state government — gave grades of either D or F to 28 of those state ethics panels.
The problems and challenges are many. In some states, it boils down to a question of resources — short-staffed agencies with dwindling budgets, outdated, crumbling technology and an increasing workload. Other agencies face restrictions in the law; they can only investigate a complaint if the complainant is willing to be named, or if a majority of commissioners, who may be divided along party lines, agree to pursue a case.
Beyond those obstacles, though, is a more basic and troubling common thread; many of these state ethics watchdogs sport no real teeth. According to the State Integrity Investigation, state ethics commissions remain woefully ill-equipped to properly investigate complaints and dole out punishment.
That’s partly because an inherent conflict stands at the core of the mission: the ethics agency commonly is tasked with policing the same government officials who control its funding, resources and regulatory power.
“The people who it’s policing are the people who give it power,” said Craig McDonald, director of the nonprofit watchdog group Texans for Public Justice. “It has to be independent, or it doesn’t work so well.”
The Ethics Enforcement Gap
Hawaii created the first ethics commission in 1968, but the real spike in the number of state commissions occurred in the 1970s, as the post-Watergate era gave rise to ethics legislation across the country. Several panels — like those in Tennessee and North Carolina — have been established just in recent years, almost always in response to specific government scandals. Only nine states do not have any sort of government agency overseeing and enforcing state ethics laws. Those states — Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming — implement ethics rules through various government agencies, like the attorney general’s office or the secretary of state’s.
Among those states that do have ethics panels, some are clearly making an honest go of it. The Texas Ethics Commission, charged with overseeing campaign finance and lobbying reports, is one of the larger agencies of its kind, with an annual budget of approximately $2 million and 32 full-time employees. According to its latest biennial report covering 2009 and 2010, the commission issued 13 advisory opinions for the two-year period. It assessed more than 2,000 civil penalties for late filings of financial disclosure statements or campaign finance reports but then waived more than half of those.
But it’s not perfect. On the State Integrity Investigation, the commission received a 77 percent — a grade of C+ — for ethics enforcement. The scorecard cited its notorious lack of teeth and a complaint-driven process that discourages robust, independent investigations. On a question about the commission’s ability to initiate investigations, the state received zero points.
Robert Smith, chair of the political science department at Kennesaw State University and a leading researcher on the subject, asserts that “the simple existence of ethics commissions is rather important.” The way Smith sees it, merely having an ethics commission sends a message. “We have an office with the right to police, protect and preserve the notion of integrity,” he says. “We have a public integrity mechanism in place.”
Smith noted that the panels are able to take definitive action — issue fines, write advisory opinions, subpoena documents — that may deter politicians from abusing power. Indeed, ethics commissions in 36 states have the ability to independently initiate investigations. In 37 states, commissions can impose penalties for violations. Twenty-eight states boast commissions that have jurisdiction over all three branches of government, rather than fragmenting enforcement power in separate agencies.
But many of the panels seem hesitant to exercise those powers. Twenty-two states received failing grades from the State Integrity Investigation for their ethics commission — or lack of one. Only two states, New Jersey and Connecticut, earned A grades in this category.
“If [ethics commissions] had more funding, more tools, more enforcement power, or just provided more education,” Smith said, “I think these bodies would be more effective than maybe they are being portrayed.”
In Alaska, members of the Personnel Board, which investigates complaints against the governor, are all appointed by the governor. In Michigan, members of the state’s Board of Ethics typically include former elected officials; currently, a former assistant attorney general and two former legislators sit on the seven-member panel.
In Indiana, members of the ethics commission are appointed by the governor, who also appoints the state’s inspector general. According to the State Integrity Investigation, this creates inevitable “blind spots.” In 2010, the commission waived the state’s revolving door statute to allow the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission’s general counsel to join Duke Energy, soon after he made several rulings at IURC that would benefit the energy company. The waiver drew immediate criticism and questions about whether the commission is too lenient.
“No way in hell that should have been given a pass,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director of the Indiana chapter of Common Cause, referring to the Duke Energy scandal. She said it has become common practice for government officials to go before the ethics commission to seek waivers from a certain ethics rule, which the commission tends to “rubber stamp.” A 2010 review by the Indiana Business Journal found that the commission had not once — out of 27 post-employment ethics rulings — prohibited a state official from taking a private-sector job and only three times required a one-year “cooling-off” period.
“There’s a tendency for [the ethics commission] to want to avoid controversy,” Vaughn said. “You don’t want to bring the glare of an ethics scandal to the chief executive who appointed you.”
The question of political independence is one that has plagued most ethics commissions, and few states have found solutions. In the State Integrity Investigation, only eight states achieved perfect 100 scores for having a commission that maintains protection from political interference.
“The best type is one that can work without fear of entanglement of political influence,” said Smith of Kennesaw State, who noted that most enforcement agencies have a commission or board in place appointed by government officials. “Why should politics be even part of that process in the first place if you really want a mechanism that is going to make objective opinions?”
The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, for example, is comprised of six former judges appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The governor must choose from a list of candidates developed by a separate nomination panel made up of retired judges.
In Pennylvania, former Rep. Curt Schroder (R-Chester County) sponsored a bill last year to establish a Public Integrity Commission, an independent agency that would have the ability to uncover and investigate cases of corruption at all levels of government. And, to promote political independence, the commissioners would be nominated by a committee made up of law school deans, district attorneys and good government advocates. The governor would select seven members from that list, who then would be approved by the Senate. No more than three commissioners would be from the same political party.
The bill never made it out of committee.
“[The legislature] didn’t want anything to do with this,” said Tim Potts, president of the good government organization Democracy Rising PA , who noted that the current Pennsylvania Ethics Commission is controlled by the governor and legislative leaders. The board consists of seven members: three appointed by the governor, and one each by the president pro tempore of the Senate, the Senate majority leader, the Senate minority leader, and the House speaker.
“They are not eager to have independent people investigating them,” Potts said.
John Contino, executive director of Pennsylvania’s current State Ethics Commission, which would be replaced by the Public Integrity Commission under Schroder’s plan, said the proposed structure is unnecessary.
“There’s never been an op-ed piece, an allegation or any reason to say that [the current ethics commission] is not independent,“ he said. “It’s been nonpartisan all these years.”
But Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, said the concerns of partisanship with the ethics commission are “valid.” He supported Schroder’s bill, in hopes that, besides establishing independence, it would “put a little more teeth in the state ethics law.”
Policing the Powerful: No Teeth, No Bite
The Texas Ethics Commission consists of eight board members: four appointed by the governor, two by the lieutenant governor and two by the House speaker. In order for the agency to pursue an investigation, six out of the eight board members must agree, which, according to Texas attorney and good government advocate Fred Lewis, makes for a dysfunctional body that is rarely proactive about investigations.
Instead, the commission is completely driven by outside complaints, which must be filed by a Texas resident and cannot be anonymous. Executive director David Reisman said the commission must investigate every sworn complaint — and it gets plenty. Last year, more than 370 complaints were filed with the commission.
“The commission must consider each complaint and make a fair and consistent assessment of whether a violation occurred and a fair and consistent penalty if there is a finding of a violation,” Reisman said.
But Lewis contends that the commission rarely goes after serious violations, focusing almost exclusively on minor errors — a criticism echoed by others. The Austin American-Statesman, referring to the commission as a “toothless tiger,” editorialized in April that the agency mostly levies small fines for late filings and called for “more robust enforcement of ethics laws.”
Many state commissions are unable to proactively investigate alleged violations, either because the panel simply does not have the authority to do so in law — like in Florida — or the law requires a lofty standard for launching a probe. In North Carolina, the ethics commission can only pursue investigations if it finds “probable cause” of an ethics violation, a stronger requirement than law enforcement agencies that need only “reasonable suspicion” to pursue a case.
The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission receives between 20 and 25 written complaints each year. Many turn out to be frivolous or out of date (the incident must have occurred within the preceding 12 months). But it falls on the commission’s sole employee, executive director Feldman, to determine whether the complaint is valid.
“It’s hard for me as one person to do what I would consider a thorough investigation,” said Feldman, a former assistant district attorney. “I know what a good investigation looks like, and I just can’t do that.”
The Colorado commission came into being in 2008, when the state was hit by a faltering economy, so it did not start out with adequate resources. But even in the years since, Feldman said the General Assembly has never been especially supportive of the commission, which regulates gifts and travel from lobbyists to lawmakers.
“They find it insulting that somebody would say just because I accepted two [Colorado] Rockies tickets, it would affect my vote,” she said.
Attorney Fred Lewis said that the Texas Ethics Commission often finds itself in a tight spot, as the legislature ultimately controls its funding, resources and staff position. “They realize it’s the hand that feeds them,” he said.
Texas Ethics Commissioner Paul Hobby, who was appointed by the House speaker in December, said the commission has been involved in high-profile ethics cases.
Like this one: in 2010 Rep. Kino Flores (D-Palmview) failed to disclose income on his financial disclosure reports, which are filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, prompting an investigation by the county district attorney. Flores was convicted by a jury and sentenced to five years probation. The Ethics Commission did not act until months later when it issued a $700 fine.
Hobby concedes that the commissioners and staff must work within certain limits. “Look at the budget, look at the statute,” he said, “and tell me how it can be anything but an ankle biter.”
Increasing Workload, Inadequate Resources
The Delaware Public Integrity Commission — a two-person operation — enforces ethics rules for 48,000 people on the state level. It also oversees 50 local governments in the state. With an annual operating budget of $30,600, Janet Wright, the commission’s counsel, said that works out to “less than a penny a person.”
“I do not know any state agency that is doing their job at that amount,” she said.
The Public Integrity Commission’s responsibilities include regulating the ethics code for the executive branch, overseeing financial disclosure filings and lobbying reports, and enforcing the anti-double dipping law, which prevents state and local government employees who also hold elected positions from receiving double compensation from the state.
This year, the Delaware Legislature passed legislation that requires the creation of a new lobbyist database. It also requires lobbyists to disclose the bill number on which they are lobbying. It’s an improvement for lobbying disclosure — but Wright said it will likely create additional work, such as training some 400 lobbyists on how to use the new system, for an already strained agency.
“They did ask me, ‘Would it help if you had more people?’ It certainly would,” she said. “But we didn’t get that.”
Wright said the commission has experienced an increase in responsibility and jurisdiction every year since its creation in 1991; meanwhile, the budget has been cut repeatedly. In 2008, which was economically a bad year for the state, the panel suffered a 17 percent decrease in its operating budget, leaving it with $32,100.
Ethics commissions, like many state agencies, have in recent years often found themselves strapped for cash due to tough economic times. For smaller commissions that are already understaffed and underfunded, the cuts are especially damaging. In South Carolina, the State Ethics Commission had a budget of $725,000 in 1999; now, it’s at less than $284,000. The Oklahoma Ethics Commission only has one investigator and one attorney among its five-person staff, which, according to executive director Marilyn Hughes, is not enough. The commission has requested funding for a 10-person staff every year since 1991, but has never been larger than seven people.
“Historically, the legislature just hasn’t funded it,” Hughes said. Although the commission’s current budget is about $680,000, which is the largest it’s been in three years, that amount is still down from its highest point of $750,000 before 2008.
Hughes said there is “a lot of fear” associated with the commission’s ability to levy fines and penalties, but since it is a constitutionally-established agency, legislators can’t eliminate it entirely; instead, she said, they low-ball it.
In Colorado, critics say, the lack of resources creates a chilling effect on the complaint process itself. Feldman said when citizens file a complaint, they have to pursue it on their own, as the commission does not have a large enough staff to provide the legal support. She said she did not know of any state that places such a burden on the complainant.
The Pennsylvania Commission, admittedly a much larger agency than its counterparts in Colorado and Oklahoma, suffered a 25 percent decrease in its funding, from $2.1 million in 2007 to about $1.7 million this year. Its staff has been reduced from 25 to 18 employees.
“There are things we are doing differently,” Contino said of the budget constraints. “We can’t invest in every case anymore.” For example, he said, the commission must now take geographical location into account. If investigating an allegation requires a four-hour drive to a distant corner of the state, they may choose not to pursue the case.
Carol Carson, executive director of Connecticut’s Office of State Ethics, said it is always a challenge to maintain the resources necessary to carry out its mandate.
“A lot of that is driven by the economy,” Carson said. “But in addition to that, watchdog agencies tend to get money when there is a scandal. When things go smoothly, it looks like they have a lot of money, [so governments say] let’s take it away from them.”
Last year, Connecticut Governor Daniel Molloy consolidated nine agencies, including Carson’s office, into one umbrella organization — the Office of Governmental Accountability. The restructuring was billed as a way to streamline state government and save the state money. It also reduced Carson’s staff from 18 to 13 members; she lost one of two investigators and its only auditor.
The Office of State Ethics, created in 2005, is one of the stronger enforcement bodies in the country, responsible for the disclosure of lobbying activity and personal finances, investigating potential violations, and enforcing the ethics code. It can — and does — initiate investigations, impose penalties, and audit reports. On the State Integrity Investigation, Connecticut scored a 90 percent in the category of ethics enforcement.
But as a result of the merger, Carson said there were statute-mandated tasks that simply did not get done. The office reduced the number of audits of lobbying reports by 75 percent — it typically performs at least 40, but this year will only conduct 10.
The Sun Sets on Reform
In Texas, attorney Fred Lewis acknowledged that the weakness of the state’s ethics commission stems in part from budget problems — but, ultimately, he said, the agency has to make substantial changes to its structure to be truly effective. “If they had all the money in the world, it wouldn’t matter,” Lewis said, “unless they had the structure — an enforcement division — to do proper investigations.” Earlier this year, the Texas Ethics Commission went through “sunset review,” a process that modifies or weeds out inefficient government agencies. In a May 2012 report, Sunset Advisory Commission staff wrote that the agency “unnecessarily focuses on minor reporting infractions” and recommended an overhaul of enforcement structure.
But when it came time for the Sunset Commission, a 12-member board that consists of 10 state lawmakers and two civilians, to approve those recommendations, good government advocates claim it didn’t go far enough. The Commission adopted several of the report’s suggestions, but other demands — like finding new sources of funding, putting disclosures online, or creating an enforcement arm — were ignored.
“The failure to enact bolder reforms leaves the Ethics Commission a largely toothless observer of a political system awash in cash and flush with potential conflicts of interest,” stated a San Antonio Express-News editorial.
The sunset recommendations will be turned into legislation for the 2013 session. But Texans for Public Justice’s McDonald said he is not optimistic that any substantial changes to the Ethics Commission will be made. “The mood in the legislature is that they don’t like the Ethics Commission,” McDonald said. “They want it to go away.”
On Tuesday, the conservative nonprofit Americans for Prosperity released its first ad in a $25 million campaign aimed at defeating President Barack Obama. The spot, called “President Obama: A One-Term Proposition,” will air in nine swing states: Iowa, North Carolina, Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Florida.
“President Obama pledged to cut the deficit in half,” the new ad states. “But we've gone $5 trillion deeper in debt under his watch. It's time to hold Obama accountable for his promises.”
It closes with a clip of Obama saying, “If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”
However, Obama’s “one-term proposition” comment actually came in response to specific questions about the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The program provided struggling banks with money and is widely crediting with stabilizing the financial sector, according to ABC News. Obama did not address the deficit at the time of his TARP comments.
In a 2009 interview, NBC’s Matt Lauer asked Obama, “At some point will you say, ‘Wait a minute, we’ve spent this amount of money. We’re not seeing the results. We’ve got to change course dramatically’?”
The president replied, “Look, I’m at the start of my administration. One nice thing about the situation I find myself in is that I will be held accountable. You know, I’ve got four years. And, you know, a year from now I think people are going to see that we’re starting to make some progress. But there’s still going to be some pain out there. If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”
Americans for Prosperity is organized as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit with the Internal Revenue Service, meaning that it’s primary purpose is not electoral politics but rather the promotion of “social welfare.” It is not required to publicly reveal its donors, but IRS records show its total revenue was $22 million in 2010, up from $7 million in 2008.
Americans for Prosperity believes in “cutting taxes and government spending in order to halt the encroachment of government in the economic lives of citizens” and “removing unnecessary barriers to entrepreneurship and opportunity by sparking citizen involvement in the regulatory process,” according to its website.
The group, which bills itself as a grassroots organization and has 34 state chapters across the country, is funded by conservative industrialist billionaires Charles and David Koch. The group is a spin-off of Citizens for a Sound Economy, which the Koch brothers founded in 1984.
The Koch brothers reportedly plan to steer more than $200 million into conservative group such as Americans for Prosperity ahead of the 2012 elections.
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