Articles on this Page
- 01/31/13--07:01: _Georgia speaker wan...
- 01/31/13--10:38: _Disgraced ex-Rep. E...
- 01/31/13--09:06: _Opponents of coal i...
- 01/31/13--12:00: _More waste found in...
- 01/31/13--13:38: _Center's 'State Int...
- 01/31/13--13:25: _Green Party awash i...
- 01/31/13--14:29: _Gabrielle Giffords'...
- 02/01/13--07:59: _Filings reveal prev...
- 02/01/13--05:23: _ATF's struggle to c...
- 02/01/13--07:44: _RGA, DGA reap riche...
- 02/01/13--13:32: _Democratic super PA...
- 02/01/13--13:37: _Which super PACs st...
- 02/02/13--05:27: _Rival Super Bowl te...
- 02/02/13--13:14: _Pfizer spinoff Zoet...
- 02/04/13--03:00: _OPINION: favors for...
- 02/04/13--09:11: _Super Bowl ad cost ...
- 02/04/13--14:59: _Senate lobbying dat...
- 02/04/13--14:23: _Support our crowd-f...
- 02/05/13--07:18: _Hillary Clinton's p...
- 02/05/13--07:54: _Why 2013 matters: c...
- 01/31/13--07:01: Georgia speaker wants new ethics rules - with a twist
- 01/31/13--09:06: Opponents of coal influence elections anonymously
- 01/31/13--12:00: More waste found in Afghanistan as US heads for the exit
- 01/31/13--13:25: Green Party awash in red ink?
- 01/31/13--14:29: Gabrielle Giffords' PAC attracts little interest
- 02/01/13--07:59: Filings reveal previously unknown Romney bundlers
- Robert Smith of Venable LLP, who raised $50,000 for Romney over the past six months;
- Lance Leggitt of Baker Donelson, who raised $24,825;
- Thomas Worrall of Whitmer & Worrall, LLC, who raised $21,000;
- Peter Rich of Rich Feuer Anderson, who raised $20,000; and
- Adam W. Salerno of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who raised $17,530
- 02/01/13--05:23: ATF's struggle to close down firearms dealers
- 02/01/13--07:44: RGA, DGA reap riches from corporate donors
- 02/01/13--13:32: Democratic super PACs start year with cash advantage
- 02/01/13--13:37: Which super PACs started 2013 with the most cash?
- 02/02/13--05:27: Rival Super Bowl team owners allies on political field
- 02/02/13--13:14: Pfizer spinoff Zoetis forms political committee
- 02/04/13--03:00: OPINION: favors for special interests
- 02/04/13--09:11: Super Bowl ad cost Mayors Against Illegal Guns $100,000
- 02/04/13--14:59: Senate lobbying data revamp causing problems for data watchdogs
- 02/04/13--14:23: Support our crowd-funded project and actor John Cusack will match it
- 02/05/13--07:18: Hillary Clinton's presidential committee officially history
- 02/05/13--07:54: Why 2013 matters: covering money in politics during the off-season
Georgia’s House Speaker says the ethics reforms he’s proposed this week could bring about a major shift toward cleaner government in the Peach State. But reform groups believe the initiatives may just represent politics as usual.
Speaker David Ralston introduced a bill that would ban gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers and restore the state ethics commission’s rule making authority, which the legislature stripped years ago. But the bill would also broaden the definition of who is a lobbyist to ensnare citizen volunteers, a move that has infuriated both liberal and conservative open-government advocates.
The bill requires nearly anyone who tries to influence a public official to register as a lobbyist, a step that requires hundreds of dollars in annual fees and as well as regular reporting of activities. It excludes constituents who make appeals to their own representatives. William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said the language could theoretically include someone who posts a petition on a Facebook page, and that the definition’s constitutionality is questionable at best.
“I think it’s an old political trick with a poison pill,” Perry said. “You put forth this law that sounds great and makes you look tough on ethics laws and you put in something that no one will vote for.”
Ralston could not immediately be reached for comment.
The central piece of Ralston’s bill is a measure that would ban most lobbyist gifts to individual members of the legislature. Currently, Georgia is one of the few states to have no limit on such spending. The state Senate passed a rule earlier this month that enacted a $100 cap on each gift, and lawmakers have introduced bills that would put the cap into law. Ralston criticized the Senate rule as a “gimmick” and promised to go further.
“It’s going to be a different way of doing business around here,” Ralston told the Atlanta Journal Constitution after announcing his bill on January 29.
But critics say Ralston’s bill contains many of the same loopholes as the Senate rule. It would allow lobbyists to pay travel costs if they invite lawmakers to a conference. It also allows lobbyists to give to committees and subcommittees, which can consist of as few as one lawmaker. “You could appoint every legislator to a subcommittee of one and it basically takes the ban away,” Perry said.
Ralston’s bill would also restore rule-making authority to the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, the state’s ethics oversight body. The legislature removed this authority in 2009, and one result is that the agency has been unable to collect many late filing fees.
The Speaker filed a separate bill that would require additional campaign finance disclosures. But that measure would also effectively roll back some advances made in recent years on improving transparency of campaign finances in local elections, Perry claimed.
Georgia ranked last among 50 states in the State Integrity Investigation, a review of government accountability and transparency. The state’s poor showing contributed to a growing reform movement last year. Ralston’s proposals are just two of many ethics bills expected to be introduced this session, which opened January 14.
Perry said his group plans to present the State Integrity Investigations findings to a House panel today to press for amendments to Ralston’s bills. He said it is unlikely the Senate would pass the bills as they are currently written.
Former Rep. Eric Massa, D-N.Y., who resigned from Congress nearly three years ago amid accusations he groped colleagues and cohabited with junior-level male staff members, continues to cut his wife a monthly check from his campaign account, a new Federal Election Commission disclosure indicates.
Beverly Massa received a monthly payment of $692 in October, November and December for "accounting services," according to the Massa for Congress committee's latest report, filed this morning. She is listed in documents as the committee's treasurer.
Massa's campaign account contained more than $62,000 as of Dec. 31, the report states. But aside from the payments to Massa's wife, the committee's only other payments in late 2012 went toward low-dollar legal fees, taxes and payroll services.
Beverly Massa used to receive even more compensation from the committee: Politiconoted last year that Massa once paid his wife about double what he does now.
The ex-congressman, who formally resigned in March 2010, was once popular among union interests and Democratic leadership political action committees, which together donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign committee during his brief political career.
Why is 2013 an important year for campaign finance? Dave Levinthal and Michael Beckel will answer that, and many other questions about the money-in-politics world in a live chat on Monday, Feb. 4, at 1 p.m. ET.
Deep in the heart of coal country, New Power PAC touts candidates who support clean energy.
While the Kentucky-based super PAC has registered with the Federal Election Commission like other super PACs, it's unlike most of its brethren in that its only activity during the 2012 election cycle was at the state-level.
It's also unlike many of its counterparts in that the only donor it has revealed is a group called Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a "social welfare" nonprofit group organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code and, therefore, not required to reveal its funding sources.
More than 99 percent of the nearly $47,000 New Power PAC raised during the 2012 election cycle came from this related nonprofit, documents filed with the FEC indicate. State and federal records show the group paid for advertising online, in newspapers and on the radio in seven state-level legislative races.
Steve Boyce, who served as the chairman of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth during 2011 and 2012, says this lack of disclosure isn't for nefarious reasons.
Boyce said that his organization, which reported about $550,000 in revenue to the Internal Revenue Service in 2011, relies on "grassroots giving" and that the average household donation is "pretty modest," somewhere between $100 and $150.
"I wish there were more people who needed to be disclosed," Boyce told the Center for Public Integrity.
The group, he said, has focused its fundraising energies on raising money for the nonprofit, not the super PAC.
"There was some hope in the beginning that [New Power PAC] might expand the philanthropic pie," Boyce said. "So far, we're not seeing evidence of that."
In addition to environmental issues, Boyce said that Kentuckians for the Commonwealth also supports tax reform and voting rights — and may even wade into campaign finance reform. The U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, he said, "is really a mistake."
Why is 2013 an important year for campaign finance? Dave Levinthal and Michael Beckel will answer that, and many other questions about the money-in-politics world in a live chat on Monday, Feb. 4, at 1 p.m. ET.
When U.S. defense department auditors arrived at the large new Imam Sahib Border Police Company headquarters in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province last fall, they discovered just a dozen men, only half of them in uniform, and two-thirds of the compound’s green masonry buildings unoccupied and apparently empty.
The facility, completed two months earlier at a cost to the United States of $7.3 million, was designed to provide a base for 175 border police to help provide security along Afghanistan’s rugged frontier with Tajikistan, an infiltration route for militants and perhaps the most important transit corridor for Afghan heroin headed to Russia.
But according to the latest report by John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, inspectors found a nearly deserted compound. All but three of the 12 buildings were locked, and no one had keys. The inspectors wrote that they were forced to judge construction quality by peering through the windows.
The findings echoed those in a July 2012 inspection of four other Afghan Border Police facilities in Nangarhar Province, bordering Pakistan, where many buildings were empty or used for something other than what they were designed for – one structure housing a well doubled as a chicken coop. “It is difficult to consider a project as wanted and needed if its intended recipients are not using it or are using it for an unplanned purpose,” the report notes.
As the U.S. approaches the December 2014 deadline for withdrawing most of its 71,000 troops, Washington is trying to beef up Afghanistan’s security forces with training, equipment and bases like Imam Sahib. The U.S. has spent almost $90 billion on Afghanistan reconstruction, more than on rebuilding any other nation.
But Sopko, in a recent speech at the Stimson Center, said too much of the U.S. effort has been marked by poor planning, poor quality assurance, poor security, and corruption. In his report, he wrote that the United States and NATO allies should work harder to focus their remaining reconstruction efforts on projects that the Afghans need and want, and also have the money, training and political will to maintain.
In addition to the deserted border control post, for example, SIGAR auditors discovered that the sprawling $17.7 million Kunduz police headquarters, a collection of 37 separate buildings located in the heart of the busy provincial capital, included poor welding, unstable soils, and collapsing buildings.
SIGAR also noted that the headquarters wasn’t prepared to handle the 625 or so police officials expected to work and, in some cases, live there. The compound, the report said, has a single diesel generator to provide power, and the base is not connected to the local electrical grid. Neither were there plans to train Afghans to maintain the equipment. The SIGAR report said that because of these and the project’s other problems, the U.S. investment in the compound “may be at risk.”
The special inspector general has also warned that the shrinking American military presence is already making it more difficult to visit remote reconstruction projects for audits and inspections, complicating efforts to fight waste and abuse in the sprawling U.S. aid program. And he said the problem could get worse.
SIGAR said it asked the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to check the location of 227 USAID-funded roads, schools, clinics, hospitals and public buildings on a list that included their geographic coordinates. But the agency, which analyzes spy satellite data, was unable to find about twenty percent those structures. The U.S. Agency for International Development and other agencies rely on the list to track development efforts.
The United States and some of its allies have pledged to shore up the Afghan government with $4.1 billion a year in aid after 2014. Secretary of Defense-nominee Chuck Hagel remarked during his Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 31, however, that he has been astounded by the billions of dollars in aid funds already lost to waste, fraud, abuse and corruption in the region. He promised to produce a new study for Congress about how the Pentagon’s efforts have gone awry, explaining that “we owe it to the people of this country who pay the bills.”
"Where is the accountability?" Hagel asked, adding that this is an issue that the Pentagon needs to take a closer look at. He added that much of the blame stemmed from overloading military personnel with too much nation-building responsibility during wars, promising that this would be "sorted through" if he is confirmed.
President Obama, at a joint appearance with Aghan president Hamid Karzai at the White House on Jan. 11 that previewed the American withdrawal, said, “Have we achieved everything that some might have imagined us achieving in the best of scenarios? Probably not. You know, this is a human enterprise, and, you know, you fall short of the ideal. Did we achieve our central goal? And have we been able, I think, to shape a strong relationship with a responsible Afghan government that is willing to cooperate with us to make sure that it is not a launching pad for future attacks against the United States? We have achieved that goal. We're in the process of achieving that goal.”
But Sopko is still concerned specifically about what will happen to U.S.-built projects after NATO troops withdraw if the Kabul government doesn’t try to maintain what the U.S. and others have built.
A 2011 SIGAR report found that $44.6 million in asphalt roads in Laghman Province were “at risk” because there was no program to maintain them, for example. The report said there are “real concerns that Afghanistan will simply lack the fiscal, operational, and technical capacity to provide for security and other basic government functions, much less to maintain and operate the hundreds of programs and projectsthat the United States and other donors have established there.”
The Center for Public Integrity’s groundbreaking State Integrity Investigation has been named a finalist for the prestigious Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting. The award, given by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, recognizes journalism that “promotes more effective and ethical conduct of government, the making of public policy, or the practice of politics by disclosing excessive secrecy, impropriety and mismanagement, or instances of particularly commendable government performance.”
The State Integrity Investigation, a collaboration of the Center, Global Integrity and Public Radio International, was a data-driven analysis of transparency and accountability in all 50 states, which resulted in a ranking of all 50, accompanied by both an overall letter grade and a numerical score. Accompanying stories, one for each state, told the stories behind the numbers, providing detail, context and analysis. The award judges said the project was a “wonderful blueprint for reporters all over the country to do the enterprising stories on government” that the Goldsmith Prizes seek to encourage.
The other finalists are entries from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, and two separate entries from the New York Times. The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony at the Kennedy School on March 5.
If you're to believe the Green Party of the United States' latest campaign finance disclosure, the party is mired in financial crisis, carrying nearly $36,000 in debt and a negative cash balance of more than $58,000.
Not exactly a solid foundation for establishing yourself as a legit alternative to Republicans and Democrats.
But wait, the Green Party says: its financial situation isn't quite so bleak.
Errors in the party's previous reports to the Federal Election Commission are to blame, and in actuality, it's in the black by about $10,000, party official Brian Bittner tells the Center for Public Integrity.
"We are preparing to file several amendments over the next few weeks to correct those errors," Bittner said. "We do have to continue filing timely reports even while we are working to amend them."
To be sure, the Green Party has never been cash rich. At the end of 2004, the Green Party reported nearly $46,000 cash on hand, while at the end of 2008, it reported more than $33,000 in debt and deficits.
Green Party activists' tepid financial support for their own party committee doesn't mean they're turning to other political vehicles, such as super PACs, to boost their electoral prospects, either.
David Cobb, who was the Green Party’s presidential nominee in 2004, told the Center for Public Integrity last year that super PACs were being used to “drown out” the voices of ordinary citizens, and Jill Stein, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, pushed for publicly financed elections — a system that she, unlike President Barack Obama or Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, participated in last year.
Stein placed fourth in the election with about 470,000 votes nationwide, well behind Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, who captured nearly 1.3 million votes. In contrast, Obama won nearly 66 million popular votes.
Why is 2013 an important year for campaign finance? Dave Levinthal and Michael Beckel will answer that, and many other questions about the money-in-politics world in a live chat on Monday, Feb. 4, at 1 p.m. ET.
A political action committee former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., created last summer has attracted little interest from donors, a new campaign finance filing indicates.
Gabby PAC headed into 2013 with just more than $8,000 in its account, having raised only $250 between Nov. 27 and Dec. 31, according to documents filed this afternoon with the Federal Election Commission.
Its spending likewise proved modest, with several thousand dollars in airline tickets accounting for its most notable expenses.
Gabby PAC officiallyformed in August, with Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, suggesting at the time that it would serve as a vehicle for promoting solar energy, veterans affairs and border issues when not making donations to like-minded politicians. It raised about $29,000 on the year.
Giffords formed Gabby PAC — a traditional PAC that may raise up to $5,000 a year from individuals — months before the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
In its aftermath, Giffords, who continues to recover from a gunshot wound to the head sustained during a 2011 mass shooting at a community meeting, formed a gun control-focused super PAC she's calling Americans for Responsible Solutions.
Liberal super donor Steve Mostyn is serving as Americans for Responsible Solutions' treasurer, and along with his wife, Amber, promised to seed it with $1 million. The super PAC is also slated to have a nonprofit sister organization.
Sixty-nine lobbyists collectively raised more than $17.3 million for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign during the 2012 election cycle, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records, including new reports filed tonight.
Six federally registered lobbyists bundled more than $1 million for Romney's election efforts, the Center's analysis found, with Bill Graves of the American Trucking Association raising the most at nearly $1.8 million.
Other top bundlers included David Beightol of Dutko Grayling ($1.6 million), Dirk Van Dongen of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors ($1.4 million), Bill Simmons of Dutko Grayling ($1.3 million), Patrick J. Durkin of Barclays ($1.1 million) and Robert T. Grand of Barnes & Thornburg LLP ($1 million).
The money the nearly six-dozen lobbyist-bundlers raised not only benefited the official campaign committee of the former Massachusetts governor but also the Romney Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that split its receipts between Romney, the Republican National Committee and several other GOP groups.
Tonight's newly filed documents reveal the names of five individuals who have not previously been reported to the FEC as bundlers.
Bundlers are elite political fundraisers who turn to relatives, friends and business associates to raise large sums and then deliver the funds in a “bundle” to the candidate. They are often rewarded for their efforts with perks and special access.
Romney, unlike President Barack Obama, did not voluntarily release a list of major bundlers. But because of a 2007 law passed in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, all federal candidates are required to report information about the lobbyists who bundle money for their campaigns.
Obama himself did not accept contributions from registered lobbyists, nor did any lobbyists bundle money for his campaign, although some individuals with ties to the influence industry did.
The federal agents who visited Scott Taylor’s rural Pennsylvania gun shop in early January 2010 — to conduct the store’s first inspection in more than three decades — found thousands of violations of firearm sales laws.
Taylor couldn’t properly account for more than 3,000 guns he had bought or sold during the previous three years, according to agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. These and other violations led ATF to revoke his license to sell guns in November 2011. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Far from it.
Taylor blamed the infractions on his poor health and a computer crash that wiped out his business records. The gun shop, located in the basement of his Biglerville, Pa., home, remains open 14 months later while Taylor appeals the ATF action in federal court. Taylor had no comment. His lawyer, Scott L. Braum, said the violations have been corrected and “no rational person would expect them to reoccur in the future.”
A controversial process
The ATF case against Taylor’s Trading Post — one of a dozen reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity — offers a rare look inside the federal government’s contentious and, some critics say, weak-kneed, procedure for policing gun dealers nationwide.
Some dealers don’t see an ATF inspector for eight years or more. By law, ATF can inspect dealers once a year only and may revoke a license only when it believes the dealer “willfully” violated gun control laws. Some revoked dealers have handed their business off to a relative, or stayed open while their cases lumbered through the courts. Others have converted their inventory to a “personal” collection, which they can then sell without doing background checks of prospective buyers.
As the Obama administration presses for stricter gun controls in response to the killings of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., last December, ATF’s oversight of the gun industry — particularly its secretive dealer inspection and revocation process — faces criticism from all quarters.
The process often drags on for years after ATF inspectors discover what they consider serious violations of firearms sales laws. Dealers notified of ATF’s intent to revoke their license are entitled to an informal hearing to contest the action. Senior ATF officials review the recommendations of the hearing officer before making a final agency decision. Dealers can appeal that decision in federal courts, and ATF often doesn’t oppose allowing the dealer to remain open pending the outcome of the court appeal.
Gun control advocates argue that the program has been crippled by inadequate funding and congressional meddling and that as a result ATF can’t assure the public that gun dealers are doing their best to keep weapons out of the wrong hands. They argue that the laws favor dealers over public safety and that ATF has too few inspectors to do its job properly.
One group favoring tighter gun controls meeting at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore in January recommended that ATF be “required to provide adequate resources” for more inspections and “develop a range of sanctions for gun dealers who violate gun sales or other laws.”
Becca Knox, director of research for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, added in an email that federal law “handcuffs” ATF by “barring it from conducting more than one spot inspection a year for gun dealers, or from requiring store inventories.”
By contrast, some gun-rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, have blasted ATF oversight as arbitrary and unfair — and are lobbying to make it harder for ATF to drive dealers out of business.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry’s trade association, also questions whether dealers accused of misdeeds are afforded due process in ATF revocation hearings. But the trade group stresses that it tries to work with ATF to keep dealers on the right side of the law.
“We want retailers to stay in business and assist law enforcement,” said Lawrence Keane, the foundation’s senior vice president and general counsel. He said “the vast majority of licensees take that responsibility seriously.”
ATF spokesman Mike Campbell in Washington defended the inspection process, saying, “I think ATF is doing the best job they possibly can with the resources and priorities that we have set to reduce violent crime.”
Federal law obligates licensed dealers to record all transactions so that guns connected to a crime can be traced. This means that dealers must faithfully log all “acquisitions and dispositions” by manufacturer, model, serial number, caliber and the date they bought and sold the gun and to whom.
Gun dealers, from local pawnshops to big-box retailers such as Walmart, also must submit buyers’ names for background checks to confirm they aren’t felons or other prohibited buyers, like those who have been declared mentally ill by a judge. Records must be kept on file for 20 years and be available for inspection, even if ATF agents seldom drop by to check.
An uneven record
ATF’s track record in making sure dealers follow the law is difficult to assess, because its inspection and disciplinary actions occur almost entirely behind closed doors. ATF had licensed some 65,000 firearms dealers as of fiscal 2011, when it conducted 13,159 “compliance” inspections. ATF doesn’t release detailed inspection findings for each dealer
, but says about half were “in full compliance.” The most common violations are failures to record gun transactions properly. The ATF revoked 71 dealers’ licenses in 2011, but what these dealers did to warrant that penalty isn’t disclosed either. The allegations usually surface only after a dealer decides to fight the revocation in federal court, where pleadings are public record.
The dozen revocation cases reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity were all filed in, or decided by, federal courts since January 2010. Most of the dealers who sued to keep operating had been cited repeatedly for violations that could impact public safety.
One Wichita, Kan., dealer admitted selling a gun to a man who answered “yes” when the dealer asked him if he’d ever been convicted of a crime of domestic violence, among other violations. A Tennessee pawnshop had sold guns to 16 people despite “reason to believe” (from their answers to a questionnaire) that they were prohibited from buying them. A Wisconsin pawnbroker with a history of infractions allegedly sold two rifles to a “straw buyer.” A straw buyer is a person with a clean record who makes a purchase on behalf of someone who is legally prohibited from doing so.
Federal judges sided with the ATF in all three of these cases. But each case took three years or more from the discovery of the violations until the court ruled. All three dealers were repeat offenders who had been warned after previous inspections that further violations could cost them their licenses. For instance, ATF cited the Wisconsin dealer in 2004 for seven instances of selling a firearm to persons who “had indicated they were prohibited from purchasing firearms,” according to court records. In March 2007, ATF inspectors returned and found two similar cases as well as the rifle sales to straw buyers. The results of the 2007 inspection prompted the revocation order.
For the most part, dealers who take the ATF to court don’t dispute that the violations occurred. Rather, they argue that most infractions were paperwork errors or oversights, not “willful” violations that warrant revocation of a license. Three dealers cited ill health to partly explain why they fell behind in their paperwork and should be given a second chance. One Maine dealer cited by ATF for repeatedly failing to keep and locate sales records cited multiple infirmities, including ADHD, which he said made it “extremely difficult to focus and stay on task.” He lost his license.
Back in Biglerville
Taylor, the Pennsylvania dealer, said he was struggling at age 60 with diabetes and simply “overwhelmed” trying to keep up. He couldn’t produce a registry to fully account for 3,732 guns in his inventory when ATF agents inspected his shop Jan. 4, 2010 — his first inspection in more than 30 years, court records show.
After working for months to unsnarl his paperwork, agents concluded that 168 firearms were “missing.” Taylor couldn’t locate sales and acquisitions records for 2007, 2008 and 2009, either, a period when he sold or disposed of 2,856 firearms, according to court records.
In his defense, Taylor said he began entering sales data into a computer in 2004, only to see it crash and wipe out his records. At an ATF hearing in Harrisburg in August 2011, Taylor was apologetic and promised to turn things around. But he met with little sympathy from the agency.
“He didn’t stop selling guns. He continued to sell guns. In fact, he sold thousands of guns and he bought thousands of guns, but he stopped keeping records of the acquisition and disposition of those firearms despite knowing that the law required him to keep those records,” ATF attorney Kevin White argued, according to a hearing transcript.
Taylor sued in January 2012 to keep his license. He lost the first round in late December, when a federal magistrate recommended a judgment for ATF. The magistrate noted that more than 100 firearms acquired by Taylor had “disappeared without a trace,” which, he said, “presents significant potential concerns for public safety.” But Taylor’s lawyer said he is challenging the magistrate’s decision.
Taylor said he remains open and his website advertises “a full line of gunning and shooting accessories and gunsmithing to the general public.”
ATF has long faced criticism that its inspection program isn’t tough enough. In July 2004, the Justice Department inspector general reported that most dealers were being inspected “infrequently or not at all.” The report said that without regular inspections ATF “cannot effectively monitor” whether dealers are following the law. The report recommended that inspections be done at least once every three years, but the agency has not been able to meet that goal. Spokesman Campbell said ATF hopes to visit dealers once every five years.
In fiscal 2011, ATF had 776 investigators in its inspection branch.
Though ATF revoked just 71 dealers that year, about 12 percent of the more than 10,000 inspected dealers were issued “warning letters,” which indicates serious violations whose recurrence could prompt revocation.
The sloppy record keeping by some dealers may well have helped put guns on the streets. In 2007, when ATF agents reviewed about one of 10 dealers, they found 30,000 guns missing. During fiscal 2011 inspections, ATF identified nearly 177,500 “unaccounted for” firearms, which could not be located either in inventory or in sales records. The agency worked with dealers and eventually was able to account for all but 18,500 of the firearms, which the agency called a “significant threat” to public safety.
ATF critics see other major gaps in the oversight program, such as loopholes allowing some dealers to stay in business even after their licenses are revoked and they lose their court appeals.
An investigative report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in December 2010 identified more than 50 stores in 20 states in which a revoked dealer was able to turn operations over to a relative or friend, for example.
In addition, dealers who exhaust all appeals can as a last resort convert their stock to a personal collection, which they can sell privately. U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-R.I., has filed a bill to end this “fire sale loophole.”
“Closing the fire sale loophole is a commonsense first step Congress should undertake in order to prevent guns from getting in the hands of criminals and the seriously mentally ill,” Cicilline said in a statement.” It’s not at all clear, though, how much support the bill has in Congress.
Some in the gun industry remain deeply suspicious of ATF and strongly oppose granting it more power. They argue that petty violations can result in dealers’ undeservedly facing a revocation hearing and that ATF needs to follow proper legal procedures to protect dealers’ rights.
Christopher M. Chiafullo, a New York attorney whose firm defends gun dealers at revocation hearings, calls the process “wildly one-sided” and argues that it “makes a mockery of the legal system.” He said dealers cited for violations aren’t given a chance to settle or accept probation, only revocation. Their only recourse, he said, is to file suit in federal court to overturn a decision by ATF, but these cases are often unsuccessful.
The Justice Department in February of 2012 published draft regulations that it hoped would clarify the inspection program by guaranteeing dealers the right to submit “facts, arguments, offers of settlement, or proposals of adjustment for review and consideration.”
The Justice Department is expected to act on the regulation, which the NRA has soundly criticized, in June.
Christopher A. Conte, the NRA’s legislative counsel, in a May 3, 2012, letter to ATF said that the current system for revoking the licenses of dealers is “directly contrary to what Congress intended for these hearings.”
He argued that dealers are entitled to “formal proceedings where the agency has the burden of proof, where the evidence offered must be reliable, probative, and substantial, and where the applicant may present evidence and conduct cross-examination of the agency’s witnesses.”
In the past, the NRA has unsuccessfully supported congressional bills that would rewrite the licensing law so that ATF could levy fines and other penalties short of revocation. The NRA argues that changes in the law are necessary to prevent what it says are “all-too-common situations” in which ATF has revoked a dealer’s license for “insignificant technical violations.”
The dust has barely settled on the 2012 election but the corporation-fueled fundraising engines of the Republican and Democratic governors associations continue to churn.
Between late November and the end of December, the Republican Governors Association pulled in nearly $2.7 million, while the Democratic Governors Association collected $910,000, documents filed Thursday with the Internal Revenue Service indicate.
Aiding the Republicans with their significant post-election haul were several large pharmaceutical companies.
Among the other notable donors?
Range Resources Corporation, a large natural gas company that has been involved with fracking the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, gave $250,000 to the RGA, as did health insurance company Aetna.
Meanwhile, the Florida Power and Light and Comcast each donated $125,000 to the RGA, while Publix Super Markets and the BNSF Railway Company each gave $100,000.
In addition to Pfizer, only three other companies have made six-figure contributions to the DGA since late November: Aetna-subsidiary Schaller Anderson, which gave $250,000; computer technology company Oracle, which donated $100,000; and Virginia-based Maximus, a government contractor that provides services to health and human services agencies, which also donated $100,000.
This year, Republicans are defending their holds on the governors' mansions in both New Jersey and Virginia. And in 2014, Republicans are slated to defend 22 seats, while Democrats are poised to defend 14.
Update (Feb. 1, 4:30 p.m.): This story has been updated to include comment from Brad Martin of Fair Share Action.
Prominent super PACs are already preparing for their next act — the 2014 midterm elections — with Democratic-aligned groups leading the way.
Of the five super PACs with the most money in the bank through the end of 2012, all support Democrats, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of campaign finance reports released Thursday.
The United Auto Workers’ super PAC, launched last September, reported the most money in the bank at $8.9 million. The group spent almost $2.7 million ahead of Election Day.
Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC that backed the re-election of President Barack Obama, ranks second, ending the year with $3.7 million in the bank after spending $65 million on ads that pounded Obama’s GOP rival, Mitt Romney.
Rounding out the top five: the super PAC of the Service Employees International Union, which reported $3.2 million on hand; Fair Share Action, which reported $1.8 million; and American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic-aligned super PAC that specializes in opposition research, which reported $1.3 million.
Such cash illustrates how Democratic forces have become full-fledged participants on the post-Citizens United campaign battlefield, shedding ideological concerns about unbridled political spending to better compete with Republican foes.
Meanwhile, Republican super PACs are not expected to sit idly by.
Jonathan Collegio, the spokesman for Republican-aligned super PAC American Crossroads, said the group is “planning a vigorous effort to elect conservative candidates in the Senate and hold control of the House.”
The GOP juggernaut, co-founded by strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, raised more than $117 million during the 2012 election cycle, second only to Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential bid.
Crossroads headed into 2013 with $1.2 million in the bank, according to Federal Election Commission documents.
One of the most visible super Democratic super PACs at the start of the New Year has been House Majority PAC — which ended 2012 with $155,000 in the bank. This week the group released a promotional video featuring seven Democratic members of Congress and announced plans to target 10 GOP lawmakers it views as vulnerable.
Spokesman Andy Stone said the super PAC is focused on “crunching the numbers” to help propel Democrats back into power.
Among House Majority PAC’s targets are Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who organized the House Tea Party Caucus in 2010 and was re-elected last year with a surprisingly narrow margin of victory, and Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y.
More ideologically driven super PACs are also preparing for new electoral battles.
Club for Growth Action, the super PAC arm of the conservative Club for Growth, is redoubling its efforts to “elect fiscally conservative candidates to office in 2014,” spokesman Barney Keller said.
And Jeff Gohringer, a spokesman for the League of Conservation Voters, said the group’s super PAC would be put to work this cycle to “keep electing environmental champions and defeating climate deniers.”
It is buoyed by its success at the ballot box. According to data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, the League of Conservation Voters super PAC spent money to aid 15 Democratic candidates last year, 12 of whom won on Election Day.
The Club for Growth, too, enjoyed significant electoral victories in 2012. Its preferred candidates prevailed in GOP Senate primaries in Texas, Arizona and Indiana. While Republican Richard Mourdock, which the Club supported, lost his bid in the Hoosier State, Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Texas’ Ted Cruz are now sitting senators.
Club for Growth Action started the year with $422,000 in the bank, and the League of Conservation Voters’ super PAC reported $59,000 on hand.
Super PACs, which arose in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, are legally allowed to accept donations of any amount from individuals, unions and corporations, funds that are often used to pay for negative advertising.
In contrast, candidates, parties and traditional political action committees all have limits on how much money individuals are legally allowed to contribute.
So-called hybrid super PACs, political committees that maintain both a super PAC arm and a traditional PAC arm for making donations to candidates, are also likely to continue stepping up in 2013 and beyond.
Friends of Democracy, a hybrid PAC that seeks to reduce the influence of big money in politics, ended the year with $94,000 in the bank.
The group was co-founded by Jonathan Soros, son of billionaire investor George Soros*, David Donnelly of Public Campaign Action and Ilyse Hogue, who was named the new president of NARAL Pro-Choice America in mid-January.
Donnelly told the Center for Public Integrity that Friends of Democracy is seeking to create “state-level programs to speed the adoption of citizen-funded elections” and would be focused primarily on U.S. House races in 2014, including primary elections “when we see opportunities.”
Meanwhile, LPAC, a hybrid PAC that seeks to give lesbians “a meaningful seat at the political table,” ended 2012 with $60,000 in the bank. And Western Representation PAC, which supports fiscally conservative candidates and currently touts the Feb. 23 “Day of Resistance” gun rights rally on its website, ended 2012 with $54,000 in its reserves.
Far from a household name, Fair Share Action started spent more than $3 million on behalf of Democratic candidates in 2012.
It was funded primarily by environmental organizations, gay rights activist Tim Gill, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and its related nonprofit, the Fair Share Alliance.
Brad Martin, the super PAC's executive director, told the Center for Public Integrity that it was "too early" to predict which races the group would be involved in next, though it planned to do "good work to help good people get elected to office."
Restore Our Future, which spent more than $42 million on helping Romney win the GOP’s presidential nomination and nearly $100 million more in an unsuccessful quest to help him oust Obama, ended the year with $1.3 million in the bank. So what’s next?
“We're not discussing future plans at this point,” Carl Forti, one of Restore Our Future’s leaders, told the Center for Public Integrity.
Priorities USA Action, too, is being coy about its future, declining to answer questions.
Changes are, however, already afoot for the group: Priorities USA Action’s co-founder, former White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, recently joined public affairs firm Global Strategies Group as an executive.
*George Soros is the chairman of the Open Society Foundation, which provides funding for the Center for Public Integrity. For a list of the Center's donors, visit this page on our website.
Fresh off the first presidential election since the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, super PACs aren't expected to stay idle for long.
According to a new Center for Public Integrity analysis, only seven super PACs started 2013 with more than $1 million in the bank. But they won't have that problem for long.
Super PACs have shown an ability to raise millions of dollars in a moment’s notice, then spend it just as quickly. This makes them uniquely nimble — and powerful — political forces during any point in an election cycle.
Which groups have the most cash in reserve? The answer might surprise you.
Seven of the top 10 super PACs with the most money in the bank are aligned with Democrats, and the super PAC with the most cash reserves at the start of January belonged to the United Auto Workers, which rolled over nearly $9 million.
Check out the full list here.
On Sunday, Stephen Bisciotti, John York and Denise DeBartolo York will be cheering for different teams to win Super Bowl XLVII. But they have a common interest in the world of money in politics.
Since 2008, Bisciotti, the owner of the Baltimore Ravens, has donated $20,000 to Gridiron-PAC, the official political action committee of the National Football League, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records.
Meanwhile, the Yorks, the main co-owners of the San Francisco 49ers, have contributed a combined $50,000 to Gridiron-PAC since 2008, records indicate.
During the 2012 election cycle alone, Gridiron-PAC raised more than $900,000 — it's most prolific cycle on record, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It's also part of an overall escalation in the NFL's political involvement, which now includes a powerful lobbying team.
In the two-year period, Gridiron-PAC doled out $804,000 to a variety of Republican and Democratic candidates, party groups and other political committees, federal records show.
The largest beneficiaries — at $30,000 a piece — were the four major party committees: the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The PAC also reported making a $10,000 donation to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and a $2,500 charitable contribtion to the Brain Injury Association of Vermont.
Neither Super Bowl team owner has (yet?) ponied up for any super PACs — although last year, the Arizona Cardinals became the first NFL team to directly donate to this kind of political group, when it gave $5,000 to the super PAC of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican. Unlike traditional PACs, like Gridiron-PAC, which may only accept contributions up to $5,000 per year from individuals, super PACs may accept contributions without limit from individuals, corporations and unions.
Zoetis Inc., which specializes in health products for pets and livestock, has created a political action committee it's calling the Zoetis Good Government Fund, according to organizational documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Meredith K. Lesher, an attorney at the Williams & Jensen law firm whose election experience includes working for Secretary of State John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, is serving as the PAC's treasurer, its filing indicates.
Zoetis Good Government Fund's federal filing states it's affiliated with the Pfizer PAC, which ranks among the most active PACs in the nation.
During the 2012 election cycle, for example, Pfizers PAC directed more than $1 million to federal-level political candidates, splitting the cash almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It also made numerous contributions in 2011 and 2012 to federal political party committees and politicians' leadership PACs.
Zoetis' stock ended Friday up nearly 20 percent from its initial offering price of $26. Forbesnoted that the company's initial public offering rased $2.2 billion, making it the largest IPO since Facebook went public.
If you wonder why we spend more money on health care than any other country but have some of the worst health outcomes, you need look no further than the halls of Congress to figure out why that is.
And you need look no further back than the recent “fiscal cliff” drama for compelling proof of how decisions are often made, not based on protecting the public’s interest and bringing costs down, but on protecting the profits of pharmaceutical companies, insurance firms and other special interests that grease the palms of our elected officials.
Drug makers have long had cozy relationships and outsized influence on lawmakers in Washington. That’s why ObamaCare barely touches that industry. Big Pharma essentially blackmailed members of Congress and the White House by threatening to bankroll a huge PR and lobbying campaign to kill health care reform if serious consideration was given to allowing Medicare officials to negotiate for lower drug prices.
We hear constantly from lawmakers about how unsustainable the Medicare “entitlement” program is, yet when they had a chance to make a difference in how much Medicare has to shell out to drug makers, they looked the other way. Taxpayers could save billions of dollars a year if Medicare didn’t have to pay so much for drugs, but drug companies have much more clout on Capitol Hill than taxpayers.
So much clout that one big drug company—Amgen—was able to get language quietly inserted in the fiscal cliff bill that will cost the Medicare program millions of dollars.
Buried deep in the legislation is language that delays long-proposed price restraints on a class of drugs used to treat kidney dialysis patients. That paragraph allows Amgen to sell one of its high-priced drugs, Sensipar, with no government controls for two more years—at a cost to the Medicare program of an estimated $500 million.
As reported first in The New York Times, this Congressional gift to Amgen, which employs 74 lobbyists in Washington, came just two weeks after the company pleaded guilty in a federal fraud case. It’s likely the public would never have been aware of the company’s windfall if its CEO hadn’t reported it right away to Wall Street investment analysts, the stakeholders most dear to publicly traded companies like Amgen and the insurance companies I used to work for.
The language apparently was inserted in the fiscal cliff bill by Amgen’s friends on the Senate Finance Committee, Democrats as well as Republicans. The company has been very generous with campaign contributions over the years to several committee members, including Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and committee chair Max Baucus (D-Mont).
Speaking of insurance companies, they, too, made out like bandits in the fiscal cliff bill.
My former colleagues rarely miss an opportunity to talk about the importance of “choice and competition” to consumers.
“Health plans are committed to working with policymakers to make coverage more affordable, promote choice and competition, and maintain a strong safety net for our nation's most vulnerable populations,” Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, said in a recent statement. Ignagni went on to make several suggestions about changes policymakers should make to ObamaCare before important consumer protections kick in on Jan. 1, 2014.
And —surprise—lawmakers took some of Ignagni’s suggestions. Language inserted in the fiscal cliff bill at the 11th hour by friends of the industry that will actually reduce “choice and competition” is all the proof we need that the $10.2 million AHIP and 11 big insurers gave to federal politicians between 2010 and 2012 is turning out to be a pretty good investment.
The truth is that the major insurers dominating the so-called marketplace have for years been systematically eliminating their smaller competitors, either by forcing them out of business or by acquiring them. There are far fewer managed care companies today than there were when I first began working for the industry in the 1980s.
In an effort to create more competition, consumer-friendly lawmakers inserted a provision in ObamaCare to make federal dollars available through loans to groups hoping to set up nonprofit co-op health plans in every state.
Insurers tried without success to get that provision stripped out of the final bill, and they have been working relentlessly since the bill was passed to get regulations written in such a way to make life more difficult for the co-ops.
Despite their efforts, 24 groups survived the application process and were awarded the start-up loans. Up to 40 other groups were in the process of applying when the friends of the industry got language slipped into the fiscal cliff bill to eliminate all future loans. This means that people in more than half the country will not be able to enroll in a nonprofit co-op come Jan. 1.
Yes, crony capitalism is alive and well in Washington. We’re all paying a high price for it.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns paid a hefty price Sunday to air an advertisement during the Super Bowl that specifically targeted a Washington, D.C., audience.
The nonprofit, headed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Tom Menino, paid $100,000 to run the spot on CBS affiliate WUSA-TV, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of documentsfiled by the station to comply with Federal Communications Commission requirements.
Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told the Center for Public Integrity that his organization targeted Washington's media market because "that's where the people who make decisions are."
The new ad featured a montage of children set to the song "America, the Beautiful," along with 1999 congressional testimony by Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association's current executive vice president and CEO.
"The NRA once supported background checks," the child narrating the ad says, before a clip plays of LaPierre saying that "mandatory, instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show" are "reasonable." The NRA has since reversed its stance on that proposal.
Ahead of last year's Super Bowl, when the New York Giants were pitted against the New England Patriots, Mayors Against Illegal Guns also sponsored an ad. That message featured Bloomberg and Menino touting their citie's NFL teams as well as the need for "common sense reforms" to "keep guns out of the hands of criminals."
Bloomberg and Menino launched Mayors Against Illegal Guns in 2007, and the coalition now has more than 800 members, including mayors on both sides of the partisan divide.
Historically, the NRA has devoted significantly more resources to lobbying and political efforts than Mayors Against Illegal Guns or other gun control advocates.
A weekend revamp of the U.S. Senate Lobbying Disclose Act database has caused previosly active hyperlinks to hundreds of thousands of lobbying disclosure documents to stop functioning.
Users attempting to access old versions of federal lobbying documents, such as client registrations and quarterly disclosures, receive an error message that reads, "We're sorry, that filing cannot be displayed."
Most notably affected are third-party watchdog websites such as OpenSecrets.org that compile and analyze lobbying data and, at the moment, still link to old versions of primary source lobbying documents.
Most lobbying documents appear to be displaying correctly when searching directly through the U.S. Senate database.
A Senate Office of Public Records office wasn't immediately available for comment, although a staffer not authorized to speak on the record confirmed that the office has switched from using PDF documents to documents formatted in HTML. The goal is to make the display of lobbying disclosure information more complete and consistent — sometimes a problem with previous documents, the staffer said.
The Senate's IT staff is looking into how to best address the linking issue and is in contact with organizations that still link to the old versions of Senate lobbying documents, the staffer said. They hope to resolve the issue quickly.
In the meantime, the staffer added that anyone wanting to view lobbying documents should for now search through the Senate's website.
(Update, 5:54 p.m.: OpenSecrets.org's lobbying database now features updated links to Senate lobbying documents, fixing the dead link problem. The Senate's own revamped database, however, continues to have some bugs. While most lobbying documents are displaying without issue, others are returning "filing not available" messages. A Senate official says the Senate is aware of the issue and working to fix it.)
The Center for Public Integrity is one three organizations that will benefit from the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s latest crowd-funding campaign in support of public-interest journalism. If you donate to this fund today, actor and Foundation board member John Cusack will match your gift up to $10,000 over the next two weeks. You can designate whether your gift goes to the Center, the Bureau of Investigative Reporting or Truthout.
The Center’s investigation will dig deeply into Pentagon spending. We’ll examine the causes that have led to the biggest defense budget in the world, including billions of dollars wasted as U.S. forces prepare to leave Afghanistan. We’ll detail what’s gone wrong in some of the Defense Department's most troubled and costly projects like theF-35 fighter jet and the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships, look at the explosion of military entitlements, and map how top defense contractors in Washington regularly finance the election of campaigns of the lawmakers who oversee orcontrol their budgets.
“With the help of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, we can bring more attention and funding to our investigative work,” said Bill Buzenberg, The Center’s Executive Director.
The Center for Public Integrity, one of the oldest nonprofit journalism institutions in the country, is supported almost entirely through foundation grants and gifts from individuals.
This is the second crowd-funding campaign for the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Its first, which ended earlier this month, earned $196,000 in six weeks, and went to support four independent media outlets: The National Security Archive, MuckRock News, The UpTake, and WikiLeaks.
You can donate to this campaign through the Freedom of the Press Foundation website.
As calls mount for Hillary Clinton to consider a presidential bid in 2016, the newly retired secretary of state tonight quietly disbanded her 2008 campaign organization, Hillary Clinton for President, new documents filed with the Federal Election Commission indicate.
The committee termination filing follows Clinton recently paying off her final 2008 presidential campaign debts — in part with some help from President Barack Obama, the renting of supporters' personal information and a bit of gimmickry.
Clinton's campaign debt at one point exceeded $20 million, but by December, she had cleared her final obligations and actually ran a small surplus going into 2013, according to Hillary Clinton for President's year-end campaign finance report, while it released late last month.
Even into January, the committee continued earning income from renting the personal information of its supporters to a political consulting firm, New York-based Lake Group Media, according to its termination filing.
Hillary Clinton for President on Jan. 31 transferred much of its surplus — $102,797 — to Friends of Hillary, the still-technically-active campaign committee Clinton used while she served in the U.S. Senate, documents show.
While Clinton may have shut down her 2008 presidential campaign committee, a pair of super PACs have formed in recent weeks intent on convincing her to again run for the White House in 2016. Clinton herself also has a new website.
Clinton has downplayed the possibility of another presidential bid, saying last week she's "not inclined." But she has not ruled one out.
With Election 2012 behind us, and Elections 2014 and 2016 still a long way off, you may be wondering what is left to say about money in politics. Consider the Source reporters Dave Levinthal and Michael Beckel will answer that, and any other campaign finance-related questions you may have in a live chat February 4, at 1:00pm ET. In the meantime, please feel free to leave your question in the comments section below, and visit Dave and Michael's new money-in-politics blog, Primary Source.