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- 05/08/13--03:09: _Controversy ensnari...
- 05/08/13--03:38: _Washington fury ove...
- 05/09/13--11:04: _Thank you for your ...
- 05/09/13--11:01: _Sheldon Adelson's a...
- 05/09/13--11:49: _Authorities in the ...
- 05/09/13--12:10: _Tax authorities mov...
- 05/09/13--17:23: _Benghazi debate spa...
- 05/10/13--11:55: _ICIJ tax havens inv...
- 05/13/13--11:04: _'Chemicals of Conce...
- 05/13/13--11:06: _OPINION: ObamaCare ...
- 05/14/13--06:58: _Join ICIJ's 'Secrec...
- 05/14/13--08:07: _IRS nonprofit divis...
- 05/14/13--15:29: _IRS employees back ...
- 05/15/13--14:35: _IRS scandal sparks ...
- 05/15/13--21:09: _Lax state rules pro...
- 05/16/13--07:31: _Judicial candidate ...
- 05/16/13--07:36: _Canada buoyed by fo...
- 05/16/13--11:46: _ADA forces judge to...
- 05/16/13--13:05: _Los Angeles school ...
- 05/17/13--03:09: _'Tea party' nonprof...
- 05/08/13--03:38: Washington fury over military sexual assaults hits the Pentagon
- 05/09/13--11:04: Thank you for your support
- 05/09/13--11:01: Sheldon Adelson's anti-cancer campaign
- 05/09/13--12:10: Tax authorities move on leaked offshore documents
- 05/09/13--17:23: Benghazi debate sparks little formal lobbying
- 05/13/13--11:04: 'Chemicals of Concern' list still wrapped in OMB red tape
- 05/13/13--11:06: OPINION: ObamaCare myths and realities
- 05/14/13--06:58: Join ICIJ's 'Secrecy for Sale' reporters for Google Hangout
- Gerard Ryle, ICIJ Director
- Marina Walker Guevara, ICIJ Deputy Director
- Michael Hudson, ICIJ Senior Editor
- Mar Cabra, ICIJ Data Research Manager and ICIJ member from Spain
- Stefan Candea, ICIJ Assistant Project Manager and ICIJ member from Romania
- Frédéric Zalac, ICIJ member from Canada and investigative reporter at Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
- 05/14/13--08:07: IRS nonprofit division overloaded, understaffed
- 05/14/13--15:29: IRS employees back Obama, Democrats
- 05/15/13--14:35: IRS scandal sparks fundraising blitz
- 05/15/13--21:09: Lax state rules provide cover for sponsors of attack ads
- In Maryland, corporations are required to alert shareholders about a company’s independent political spending;
- A “stand by your ad” provision in a 2010 Massachusetts law requires that in corporate-funded ads, the CEO appear in the spot;
- Alaska, California and North Carolina require independent expenditure groups to list their top donors in political ads.
- 05/16/13--07:31: Judicial candidate blames mystery nonprofit's attacks for defeat
- 05/16/13--07:36: Canada buoyed by former U.S. ambassador
- 05/16/13--11:46: ADA forces judge to slash jury award for disabled workers
- 05/17/13--03:09: 'Tea party' nonprofits rarely endorsed political candidates
A series of revelations and stinging media reports about Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell’s relationship with a corporate executive is bringing new attention to the state’s forgiving accountability laws—a subject highlighted last year by the State Integrity Investigation.
The root of the uproar is a $15,000 catering tab for the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter back in 2011, quietly paid by Jonnie Williams Sr., the CEO of Star Scientific, a Glen Allen, Va.-based dietary supplement company. Now the news, first reported in late March by the Washington Post, is dominating conversation in the state’s political circles and raising questions about Virginia’s liberal allowances for gifts to politicians: there is no limit.
Through a series of reports, the Post has detailed a close relationship between Williams and McDonnell’s family. Three days before the wedding, McDonnell’s wife, Maureen, flew to Florida to promote Star Scientific’s new product at a gathering of scientists and investors. Three months later, the company held its launch party for the product at the governor’s mansion. The McDonnells have also vacationed at Williams’ home, flown on his corporate jet and received more than a hundred thousand dollars to the governor’s campaign and PAC.
Published reports indicate that federal officials are interested, but the relationship may have stayed entirely within the bounds of Virginia’s ethics laws. The main question is whether McDonnell should have disclosed the $15,000 catering gift. He has said it was a present to his daughter (while Virginia officials must report any gift over $50, money given to family members is not subject to disclosure). The Post unearthed documents showing that the governor signed the catering contract and that an overpayment to the caterer was returned to Maureen McDonnell, the governor’s wife.
Whether or not the governor violated any rules or laws, the controversy says more about the laxity of Virginia’s ethics laws, according to John McGlennon, chairman of government department at the College of William & Mary.
“The ironic aspect of it is that because Virginia’s ethics regulations are so loose, relatively few people have actually run afoul of them,” McGlennon said. “They exempt so much, they don’t impose limits or really restrict the source of either contributions or gifts, that it’s pretty hard to run afoul of the law itself.”
As the State Integrity Investigation’s summary for Virginia points out, the allowance for unlimited gifts is just the beginning. The project is a state-by-state ranking of government transparency and accountability released last year by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International. Virginia is one of nine states without an ethics commission and one of four without limits on campaign contributions. In fact, Virginia’s ethics laws are among the least restrictive in the nation, a dubious distinction that helped place it 47th out of 50 states with a grade of F.
Due to the paucity of oversight, McGlennon said it’s unlikely that any government body will investigate whether McDonnell violated state laws by failing to disclose the gift for the catering bill. “There’s very little other than self-policing,” he said. “Unless you see some smoking gun, you just take people’s word for it.”
Without an ethics commission or other oversight body, the task of investigating falls to law enforcement, which rarely results in much action, he said.
Last week, the Post and the Associated Press reported that the FBI is now looking into whether McDonnell gave any special dispensation to Star Scientific or to Williams. The inquiry is an outgrowth of an investigation into some of the company’s securities transactions.
McDonnell has denied doing any favors for the company in return for the gifts.
The scandal has reached into the governor’s cabinet as well. In April, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is running for governor on the Republican ticket this year, amended his own disclosure forms to include gifts from Williams dating back to 2009. Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Vestal Kelly amended her disclosure reports to include travel gifts from Star Scientific and the South Carolina Republican Party.
McDonnell and Cuccinelli each said they would be open to tightening the state’s disclosure laws to require reporting of gifts to family members. In response to the scandal, Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for governor, has said he would propose limiting gifts to $100 per donor. The episode has led several local newspaper editorial boards, including the News Leader and The Daily Progress, to call for more robust gift rules. In an editorial last month, the Post said the lack of disclosure for gifts to family members is a “whopper” of a loophole that enables “secret cash payments” to public officials.
A storm of outrage over sexual assaults within the U.S. military struck the Pentagon with intense fury on May 7, with public expressions of regret by top military leaders about a rising number of reported assaults and blunt, quick condemnation from members of Congress and President Obama.
The tempest was stirred primarily by the Defense Department’s disclosure that 26,000 military personnel said in a recent confidential survey that they had been the victims of unwanted sexual contact in 2012, a term used to describe incidents ranging from sexually-related touching to rape.
That represents an alarming average of more than 70 episodes a day, and a 36 percent increase since 2010, when the last survey was performed. The victims amount to 6.1 percent of all active-duty women and 1.2 percent of the men in the 2.2 million member American military.
The president, when asked about the report during a press conference with the visiting South Korean president, seized the topic forcefully. “If it’s happening inside our military, then whoever carries it out is betraying the uniform that they’re wearing,” he said. “And they may consider themselves patriots, but when you engage in this kind of behavior that’s not patriotic -- it’s a crime. And we have to do everything we can to root this out.”
His voice rising, Obama said: “I have no tolerance for this. . . I expect consequences. So I don’t want just more speeches or awareness programs or training but, ultimately, folks look the other way. If we find out somebody is engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable -- prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period. It's not acceptable.”
Anger was already widespread on Capitol Hill because an Air Force lieutenant colonel who directed the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention branch was himself arrested on Sunday on charges of sexually assaulting a woman in a Virginia parking lot. That arrest followed a congressional inquiry into repeated sexual assaults of female recruits by Air Force instructors at a base in Texas, and a growing controversy over the ability of military commanders to vitiate punishments for military personnel in their units who are accused of sexual misconduct.
“This is a cultural issue, it is a leadership issue, it’s a command issue,” said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at a press conference where the report was released. He vowed to hold accountable leaders “at every level in the chain of command” for the “climate” within their units, and said “ultimately eliminating sexual harassment and sexual assault should be our goal.”
One of the report’s most troubling disclosures was that many service personnel remain afraid of reprisals for reporting sexual assaults despite recent efforts by the Pentagon officials to encourage such reports – suggesting a widespread belief that the military’s culture generally tolerates, rather than punishes such conduct.
Of the large number who reported such assaults in the survey, for example, only 3,374 made their allegations formally, a six percent increase from 2011. Forty-seven percent of the women who experienced unwanted sexual contact indicated fear of retaliation or reprisal was their reason for not formally reporting the episodes, and 43 percent said they had heard about negative repercussions for others who had gone ahead.
Those fears, moreover, proved to be well-founded. Of the women who did file complaints, 31 percent indicated they experienced “social retaliation” while 26 percent said they experienced "a combination of professional retaliation, social retaliation, administrative action, and/or punishments," the report said.
Partly as a result, “it’s a vastly unreported crime,” Army Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, acknowledged to reporters. Nonetheless, both he and Hagel said they saw a bit of encouraging news in the increase in reported cases in the last year. “We have more victims coming forward for medical care and more cases [referred to the military justice system],” Patton said.
“It is clear the department still has much more work to do," said Hagel, who Obama said he had instructed “to go at this thing hard.” Hagel added, "This crime is damaging this institution….There are thousands of victims in the department, male and female, whose lives and careers have been upended, and that is unacceptable."
The assault reports were considerably higher when service personnel were asked if they had been assaulted at any point in their career, not just in 2010. In that context, 23 percent of women and 4 percent of men reported being assaulted. Active duty assignments were the most threatening, with considerably fewer episodes among women in the National Guard and reserves.
Despite the size of the problem, the report found that only 880 of the 3,288 military and civilian suspects identified in sexual assault complaints last year had been disciplined for that misconduct, with more than half being charged in a court-martial. Some of the cases were dismissed because the suspects were missing, dead, or were foreign civilians or members of foreign militaries. But in other cases, investigators did not bring the cases to a conclusion, commanders decided that evidence was lacking or the allegations were false, or punishments were meted out for nonsexual misbehavior.
The Pentagon’s report acknowledged that military authorities weren’t always prepared to handle sexual assault cases. In several cases reported by the Navy, for example, there were delays in administering rape kit tests and in one case the test was administered by a health care provider who wasn’t trained or certified in the procedure.
Hagel ordered a series of steps and reviews to increase the accountability of officers for what happens under their commands. He gave commanders until July 1 to inspect workspaces to make sure they are free of degrading materials, and he said the four military service chiefs have until Nov. 1 to recommend ways to assess officers and hold them accountable for their command climates.
Gen. Patton said that the assessments – which would include how well sexual assault prevention and victim care principles are incorporated into officers’ commands -- could become part of the evaluation process for promotions.
The Defense Department also plans to hold meetings with sexual assault victims to talk about their experiences in reporting the crimes committed against them. And it has already created an expedited system of transfers for victims of sexual assault so they can escape their tormentors. Commanders have 72 hours to approve or turn down the request, and approved 216 of 218 of these requests last year, the report said.
Speaking about the arrest on sexual assault charges May 5 of Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the service’s sexual assault prevention branch chief, Hagel said “we’re all outraged and disgusted by these very troubling allegations.” Air Force officials said they relieved Krusinski of his position as soon as they learned of the arrest; efforts to reach him for comment were not successful.
On Capitol Hill, House and Senate committees seized on the arrest as a sign of systemic problems. “While under our legal system everyone is innocent until proven guilty, this arrest speaks volumes about the status and effectiveness of DOD’s efforts to address the plague of sexual assaults in the military,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said at the opening of a hearing involving the Air Force’s leadership.
Gen. Mark Welsh, the service's chief of staff, told Levin’s panel that he and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley were "appalled" and that the Air Force has requested jurisdiction over Krusinki's case from the Arlington County police.
At the hearing, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) raised her voice at Donley, saying that the case suggested a “failing in training and understanding of what sexual assault is” within the Air Force. "This is not good enough," said Gillibrand, who has been advocating removal of sexual assault cases from the chain of command to encourage more victims to report their crimes with less fear of retribution. "I am highly concerned that so few victims feel they could ever receive justice that they won't report,” she said.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), questioned why Krusinski was chosen to lead the Air Force sexual assault prevention unit, wondering what sort of background check was conducted. “It is hard for me to believe that someone would be accused of that behavior by a complete stranger and not have anything in their file that would indicate a problem in that regard,” she told Welsh. “Have you looked at his file to determine that his file was absolutely pristine?
Welsh said he examined Krusinski's record, spoke to his supervisor, and found nothing that disqualified him for his postition.
McCaskill, perhaps speaking for all her colleagues, told Welsh, “I will be watching very carefully who is selected to replace Lt. Col. Krusinski because I think it is one of those time when you’ll be able to send a message, and I think it’s important we do it.” She already is holding up the nomination of Air Force Lt. Gen. Susan Helms to be vice commander of the U.S. Space Command while awaiting more information about Helms' decision to overturn a jury conviction in a sexual assault case.
As a result of congressional furor over a similar case, Hagel urged Congress last month to eliminate a commander's power to overturn a court martial, except for certain minor offenses, and require a written explanation for any adjustments in sentences. He reiterated at his news conference Tuesday that he wants Congress to act on his recommendations.
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As casino mogul Sheldon Adelson buoyed Republican politicians with unprecedented riches, he quietly funded warfare on a decidedly apolitical enemy: cancer.
Adelson and his wife personally fueled their little-known private foundation — The Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation— with about $4.3 million during 2011, according to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
The Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation in turn disseminated most of the money to more than a dozen hospitals, laboratories and universities for medical research into cancer, as well as inflammatory bowel disease and neural repair and rehabilitation, IRS documents indicate.
Donation recipients in 2011 include The Rockefeller University in New York ($500,000), Tel Aviv University in Israel ($457,608), Harvard Medical School ($280,328), the UCLA Foundation ($280,000) and Johns Hopkins University ($200,000).
Such money is a fraction of the more than $93 million the Adelsons bestowed on pro-Republican super PACs during 2011 and 2012, ahead of last year's national elections. Nearly half of that amount went to a pair of conservative powerhouses: American Crossroads, the super PAC co-founded by Karl Rove received $23 million, while pro-Mitt Romney super PAC Restore Our Future took in $20 million.
But Adelson's medically focused giving further illuminates the complex and diverse donation habits of the nation's top super PAC patron, whose Las Vegas Sands gambling empire has made him one of the world's most wealthy individuals.
Consider that the Adelsons also operate a much larger, separate nonprofit foundation, the Adelson Family Foundation, that's contributed $191 million to primarily pro-Israel and Jewish cultural, educational and research organizations. Most went to Birthright Israel, a charity that offers free 10-day trips to Israel to Jews between age 18 and 26.
Yet another Adelson-led 501(c)(3) charitable foundation, the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Educational Institute, funds an "extensive secular and Judaic studies curriculum" for school-aged children at the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Educational Campus in Las Vegas.
The educational foundation's latest filing with the IRS shows it raised more than $8 million from July 2011 to June 2012, although it doesn't state where the money came from. The organization reported more than $48 million in assets but more than $49 million in liabilities, leaving it about $800,000 in the red through last June, according to its IRS filing.
Meanwhile, the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Charitable Trust, which is also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, had nearly $80 million in assets through the end of 2011, IRS filings show. Most of the more than $19.4 million it spent that year went to other Adelson-controlled foundations.
But the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Charitable Trust did report giving $500,000 in 2011 to the George W. Bush Foundation, which funded the design and construction of the newly opened George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum near Dallas.
The Las Vegas-based Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Clinic for Drug Abuse Treatment & Research Inc., likewise organized as a nonprofit charity, reported about $133,000 in net assets through the end of 2011, IRS records show.
As for the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation, it's taken in about $58.9 million — mostly from the Adelsons themselves — from its formation in mid-2006 through the end of 2011. It spent about $58.5 million during the same time period, according to IRS records.
After spending more than $24.4 million in 2007, the research foundation's giving has waned, dropping to $4.2 million in 2010 before inching up in 2011.
Sheldon Adelson's office in Las Vegas directed questions to Kenneth Fasman, the foundation's chief science officer, who declined to comment on the Massachusetts-based foundation's work and finances during 2012 and 2013.
"The Adelsons prefer a relatively low profile in this area," Fasman said.
The foundation's website offers some general details on its purpose and mission.
"Instead of funding individual experiments that cautiously advance progress, we ask investigators who receive funding to interact with peers at many institutions within the context of creative and risk-taking approaches that may yield much more than the incremental progress engendered by many funding organizations," it states.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a project of the Center for Public Integrity, today acknowledged the announcement that U.S., British and Australian tax authorities are working with a gigantic cache of leaked data that may be the beginnings of one of the largest tax investigations in history.
The secret records are believed to include those obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that lay bare the individuals behind covert companies and private trusts in the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands, Singapore and other offshore hideaways.
The hoard of documents obtained by ICIJ represents the biggest stockpile of inside information about the offshore system ever gathered by a media organization.
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service said in a statement the three nations “have each acquired a substantial amount of data revealing extensive use of such entities organized in a number of jurisdictions including Singapore, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and the Cook Islands.”
It said the data “contains both the identities of the individual owners of these entities, as well as the advisors who assisted in establishing the entity structure.”
The statement said early analysis had uncovered information that may be relevant to tax administrations of other jurisdictions that they would be willing to share, at the request of other countries.
“This is part of a wider effort by the IRS and other tax administrations to pursue international tax evasion,” said IRS acting commissioner Steven T. Miller.
"Our cooperative work with the United Kingdom and Australia reflects a bigger goal of leaving no safe haven for people trying to illegally evade taxes.”
British tax authorities claim they have even more data than that unearthed by ICIJ.
The total size of the ICIJ files, measured in gigabytes, is more than 160 times larger than the leak of U.S. State Department documents by Wikileaks in 2010.
A statement from the British tax office puts the size of the data obtained by the three tax authorities at 400 gigabytes, compared to the 260 gigabytes gathered by the ICIJ.
“The 400 gigabytes of data is still being analyzed but early results show the use of companies and trusts in a number of territories around the world including Singapore, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and the Cook Islands,” the British tax office statement said.
“The data also exposes information that may be shared with other tax administrations as part of the global fight against tax evasion.”
Last month, the ICIJ and 37 media partners began reporting on more than 2.5 million files that include the names of thousands of American, Australian and British citizens as well as families and associates of long-time despots, Wall Street swindlers, Eastern European and Indonesian billionaires, Russian corporate executives, international arms dealers and a sham-director-fronted company that the European Union has labeled as a cog in Iran’s nuclear-development program.
The files leaked to ICIJ provide facts and figures — cash transfers, incorporation dates, links between companies and individuals — that illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy and the well-connected to dodge taxes and fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations alike.
The records detail the offshore holdings of people and companies in more than 170 countries and territories.
The ICIJ publication sparked government inquiries, resignations and a new sense of urgency from European leaders to fight tax evasion. A few days after the articles ran, Europe’s five biggest economic powers— Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — announced they would begin regularly exchanging banking and tax information as a way of identifying tax dodgers and other financial wrongdoers.
Secrecy for Sale: Inside the Global Offshore Money Maze, ICIJ’s largest investigative reporting project in its 15- year history, is available at www.icij.org/offshore.
The stories released in April by the ICIJ and its partner outlets around the world are the first installment in an ongoing series. More ICIJ reports will be published throughout the year as ICIJ and its partners continue the investigation.
The files illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy to avoid taxes, fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations. The current banking crisis in Cyprus is one example of how the offshore system can impact an entire country’s financial stability.
The ICIJ worked with 86 investigative journalists from 46 countries and used data mining software and old fashioned shoe leather reporting to unveil the previously hidden but thriving world of fraud, tax dodging and political corruption.
To analyze the documents initially, ICIJ collaborated with journalists from The Guardian and the BBC in the U.K., Le Monde in France, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Norddeutscher Rundfunk in Germany, TheWashington Post, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and 31 other media partners around the world.
Among the countries included in the data are: Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela.
About the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is a global network of reporters who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories. Founded in 1997, ICIJ was launched as a project of the Center for Public Integrity to extend the Center’s style of watchdog journalism, focusing on issues that do not stop at national frontiers. With 160 members in more than 60 countries, ICIJ is dedicated to investigating cross-border crime, corruption, and the accountability of power. Backed by the Center and its computer-assisted reporting specialists, public records experts, fact-checkers and lawyers, ICIJ reporters and editors provide real-time resources and state-of-the-art tools and techniques to journalists around the world.
About the Center for Public Integrity
The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, and independent digital news organization specializing in original investigative journalism on significant public policy issues. Since 1990, the Washington, D.C.-based Center has released more than 500 investigative reports and 17 books to provide greater transparency and accountability of government and other institutions. It has received the George Polk Award and more than 50 other major journalism awards, including honors from Investigative Reporters and Editors, Online News Association, Overseas Press Club, Society of Environmental Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists.
Emily Lenzner Emily@lenznerpr.com / 202.997.7776
Maureen Higgins Mhiggins@scottcircle.com / 202.207.3662
The U.S., British and Australian authorities are working with a gigantic cache of leaked data that may be the beginnings of one of the largest tax investigations in history.
The secret records are believed to include those obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that lay bare the individuals behind covert companies and private trusts in the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands, Singapore and other offshore hideaways.
The hoard of documents obtained by ICIJ represents the biggest stockpile of inside information about the offshore system ever gathered by a media organization.
But the British tax authority claims it has even more data.
Benghazi is a non-starter for professional lobbyists.
Despite thisweek'spoliticizedfray on Capitol Hill, just two organizations have specifically lobbied the federal government about the Libyan city in the months after terrorists there killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, according to disclosure documents filed with the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Of late, the families of people killed in Libya-related terrorist attacks from the 1980s brought to bear more formalized lobbying pressure, federal records indicate.
Among lobbying groups focused on Benghazi, ACT! for America spent $60,000 from October through March lobbying Congress on a variety of issues that include support for "legislation establishing a select committee to investigate and report on the attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya," congressionaldisclosures show.
Republicans in particular have loudlycriticized the Obama administration — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, specifically — for what they consider failures to adequately protect the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. They've also accusing Democrats of hiding details about the incident. State Department official Gregory Hicks joined in the chorus of criticism while under oath before a House committee investigating the matter.
But this outrage has failed to materialize into a more formal lobbying effort, in which organizations and special interests invest big dollars to advocate for a specific action or result.
"It's surprising, but even more than that, it's disturbing," said Guy Rodgers, ACT! for America's executive director, when informed his group is all but alone in terms of formally lobbying the federal government on Benghazi-related issues.
Rodgers cites "a failure by the establishment press" to properly report on the aftermath of the killings as a major reason why more lobbies haven't pressured lawmakers through formal lobbying channels on Benghazi-related matters.
"If you're an organization, or a lobbyist paid to do things, you're looking at what people are paying attention to," Rodgers said. "The establishment press needs to start being a watchdog, not a lapdog."
ACT! for America describes itself as a "nonpartisan, non-sectarian organization whose mission is to give Americans concerned about national security, terrorism and the threat of radical Islam, a powerful, organized, informed and mobilized voice."
Virginia-based security company Triple Canopy, Inc., also noted lobbying on Benghazi among several other issues in a report covering July through September of last year when it spent $129,000 overall on federal-level lobbying.
While the firm's filing doesn't indicate whether its efforts pertained to the Benghazi attack, the company confirmed in a statement to the Center for Public Integrity that its lobbying was attack-related.
"Following last year’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, Triple Canopy took the initiative to suggest a series of security solutions to protect U.S. diplomats and others who serve overseas," the statement said, offering no details on what its suggestions involved.
Since Sept. 11, 2012, when the Benghazi attack took place, about a dozen companies and organizations have reported lobbying lawmakers and federal agencies about Libya in general, congressional disclosures show.
None their efforts, however, appear related to the events in Benghazi.
Marathon Oil, for example, lobbied the government on petroleum issues in Libya. The National Foreign Trade Council lobbied on U.S.-Libya relations. And Halliburton pressed the government on Libyan trade issues.
It appears our international investigation of offshore tax havens may have prompted government tax authorities to go public with their own data digging operations in pursuit of international tax evasion.
On Thursday, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, along with British and Australian tax authorities, jointly announced that the three nations “have each acquired a substantial amount of data revealing extensive use of such entities [tax havens] organized in a number of jurisdictions including Singapore, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and the Cook Islands.” These are roughly the same jurisdictions being investigated using a similar amount of leaked data by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the international arm of The Center for Public Integrity.
As the Guardian reported in a page one story on Friday, more than 100 of Britain's richest people have been caught hiding billions of pounds in secretive offshore havens, sparking an unprecedented global tax evasion investigation. George Osborne, the British chancellor, warned the alleged tax evaders, and a further 200 accountants and advisers accused of helping them cheat the taxman: "The message is simple: if you evade tax, we're coming after you." The IRS said in a statement, "Our cooperative work with the United Kingdom and Australia reflects a bigger goal of leaving no safe haven for people trying to illegally evade taxes.”
Drawing from a leaked trove of 2.5 million digital files, ICIJ led what may be the largest cross border journalism collaboration in history, publishing more than 30 reports in dozens of countries. The ICIJ investigation into tax havens has become a major political issue in Europe, and the results of our investigation have been cited more than 9,000 times by media organizations worldwide.
ICIJ’s investigation opens the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts and nearly 130,000 individuals and agents, exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con artists, and the mega-rich in more than 170 countries. Secrecy for Sale: Inside the Global Offshore Money Maze is ICIJ’s largest investigative reporting project in its 15-year history.
Including the Guardian and the BBC in the U.K., ICIJ has worked with 86 investigative journalists from 46 countries and used data mining software and old fashioned shoe leather reporting to unveil the previously hidden but thriving world of fraud, tax dodging and political corruption. To analyze the documents, ICIJ collaborated with journalists from Le Monde in France, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Norddeutscher Rundfunk in Germany, The Washington Post, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and 31 other media partners around the world.
Since publishing our tax haven reports, various federal agencies and foreign governments, including the IRS, have asked The Center for Public Integrity to give them the ICIJ leaked data. In each case, based on our long-standing policy, we have declined to turn over such material. “The ICIJ is not an arm of law enforcement and is not an agent of the government. We are an independent reporting organization, served by and serving our members, the global investigative journalism community and the public.”
According to the Guardian, U.K. tax authorities have had the offshore data for 3-4 years. It was leaked to authorities by a whistleblower in 2009. No reason was given for the delay in announcing their investigation of that data until now, only after ICIJ started publishing its own investigative reporting.
We expect our international investigation to continue through the next year.
Until next week,
For anyone anxious about toxic chemicals in the environment, Sunday marked a dubious milestone.
It has been three years since the “chemicals of concern” list landed at the White House Office of Management and Budget. The list, which the Environmental Protection Agency wants to put out for public comment, includes bisphenol A, a chemical used in polycarbonate plastic water bottles and other products; eight phthalates, which are used in flexible plastics; and certain flame-retardant compounds called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs.
The EPA wants to highlight these chemicals because “they may present an unreasonable risk to human health and/or the environment,” the agency says.
But any such listing must first be vetted by the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, OIRA.
The EPA proposal arrived at OIRA on May 12, 2010. There it remains — a symbol, some say, of a broken regulatory system.
“It’s far past time for the OMB to conclude its review of the EPA’s proposal to list chemicals of concern,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said in a statement to the Center for Public Integrity. “Americans deserve access to information about the chemicals found in products throughout their homes that might pose a risk to their health.”
In a statement, OMB spokesman Ari Isaacman Astles wrote, “The Administration is committed to chemical safety and when it comes to complex safety rules, it is critical that we get them right.”
An EPA spokeswoman said only that the agency’s list, which has been challenged by companies such as ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical, “remains in interagency review.”
By executive order, OIRA is supposed to review proposed rules within 90 days of receiving them, with the possibility of a single, 30-day extension. That’s four months, maximum.
Why has the chemicals of concern list been at OIRA for three years? No one is saying.
Yet in a draft of an upcoming law review article, former EPA official Lisa Heinzerling, a law professor at Georgetown University, offers some clues.
Heinzerling lays some blame on recently departed OIRA director Cass Sunstein, now teaching at Harvard Law School. In his new book, “Simpler: The Future of Government,” Sunstein makes clear “how much power he wielded” at OIRA — with the authority to make sure that some rules " ‘never saw the light of day, ’ ” Heinzerling writes.
Sunstein did not respond to an invitation to comment. President Obama has nominated Howard Shelanski, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Economics and a former law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to replace him at OIRA.
Problems at the office have become entrenched, Heinzerling argues.
“Many outside observers believe that there is in fact a deadline for OIRA review,” she writes. “Not only is there no deadline for OIRA review, but OIRA itself controls the agency’s ‘requests’ for extensions. In this way, it comes to pass that rules can remain at OIRA for years.”
EPA rules seem to draw extra scrutiny. “EPA receives more sustained attention from OIRA than any other federal agency,” Heinzerling writes. Fifteen of the 22 EPA rules under review have been at OIRA for more than a year.
What’s so threatening about the chemicals of concern list?
The American Chemistry Council, a trade group, did not respond to requests for comment.
In a statement to the Center last year, however, the group said, “We are concerned that EPA is creating a list of 'chemicals of concern' for potential regulatory action, without establishing consistent, transparent criteria by which these chemicals are selected. ... It is OMB’s job to closely review the proposed action and consider any negative economic impact; we appreciate that officials are taking the time they need to fully study the matter.
“Failure to fully review such agency proposals undermines public and private sector confidence in the regulatory process and can seriously harm American innovation and jobs.”
Richard Denison, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, said publication of the list would not restrict commerce and is within the EPA’s authority.
“OIRA has deprived the public of the right to even comment by refusing to allow EPA to issue the proposed rule,” Denison said. “The debate is being squelched by an office that doesn’t have any real scientific expertise and certainly shouldn’t have the ability to override the authority that Congress gave EPA.”
The House of Representatives is expected to vote for the 40th time this week to repeal ObamaCare, not because anyone believes the 40th time will be the charm, but because the exercise will enable Republican freshmen to vote for repeal and brag about it during their campaigns next year.
Those lawmakers probably won’t tell their constituents that two of the most important provisions of the law they profess to hate were actually Republican ideas the Democrats embraced in hopes of getting bipartisan support for reform. The first such provision is the requirement that all Americans not covered by a public plan like Medicare or Medicaid must buy coverage from a private insurance company. The second provision: establishment of state health insurance marketplaces (called exchanges in the law) where private insurers compete online for customers.
One of the first states to set up such a marketplace was Utah, among the reddest of states, which had its exchange up and running months before ObamaCare was enacted. Starting this fall, Americans everywhere will be able to shop in Utah-like marketplaces for coverage effective January 1, the date the GOP-inspired requirement to have health insurance kicks in.
The reason Republicans once liked health insurance exchanges is that in theory they will facilitate choice and competition, which should bring down the cost of coverage. If the exchanges work as planned — and as ObamaCare stipulates — consumers will be able to make apples to apples comparisons among health plans and pick the one that seems to offer the best value.
Based on news out of Oregon last week, there is reason to believe that the theory is holding up and that consumers will indeed benefit from price transparency that until now had never been available to the layman.
Health insurers in Oregon were required to tell the state last week how much they planned to charge for the policies they would sell this coming fall on “Cover Oregon,” the name of the state’s exchange.
As reported in the Oregonian, when the state insurance department published the insurers’ proposed rates in a chart, some of companies that had planned to charge the highest rates wasted no time in saying said they had made a serious mistake and would quickly revise their offerings with lower rates.
The charts were made available online Thursday. Within 24 hours at least two insurers asked for a do-over, according to the newspaper. One of the companies promising to resubmit new rates was Family Care Health Plans, which had said it would charge $422 a month to cover a 40-year-old non-smoker in Portland, two and a half times as much as another insurer said it would charge for the exact same policy.
Another insurance company, Providence Health Plan, said that, oops, it had made a mistake in its cost projections and would reduce its planned rates by 15 percent. A spokesman for Family Care blamed its sky-high rates on overly pessimistic underwriters and said that, upon reflection (and after seeing what competitors planned to charge) it would cut its rates even more than 15 percent.
For years, insurance companies have been able to charge essentially whatever they wanted because there has been no organized marketplace for individuals and small business and no requirement that insurers provide information in a way that would enable us to make truly informed decisions. One of the most popular provisions of ObamaCare changes that by requiring insurance carriers to provide plan descriptions in a standardized format and in language we can understand. They also have to tell us how much our monthly premiums will be and provide examples of how much we’ll have to pay out of our own pockets if we get sick — or pregnant.
ObamaCare critics have charged that the rates insurers will be charging on the exchanges will be much higher than what insurers charge today because of other consumer protections in the law, such as the one that makes it unlawful for insurance companies to refuse to sell someone a policy because of a pre-existing condition.
While it’s possible that some people will have to pay more — especially those with low-benefit, high-deductible plans that are soon to be abolished — most folks who have to buy coverage without an employer’s help will likely pay less, thanks to income-based tax credits that will be available for the first time. As the Oregonian noted, at least half the people who buy coverage on the state’s exchange will qualify for a tax credit. And they’ll be able to determine quickly how much the tax credit will reduce their premiums simply by providing income information on the exchange website.
Americans in every state can look forward to these GOP-inspired consumer benefits and protections and the very real possibility of lower premiums, assuming ObamaCare goes forward. Which, of course, it won’t if House Republicans’ 40th attempt to repeal ObamaCare does indeed prove to be the charm.
A little over a month ago, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) rolled out a massive piece of the 'Secrecy for Sale' investigation into offshore tax havens. Since then, the project has made waves in France, Germany, Canada, Mongolia, Sweden, Finland, The Netherlands, India, Venezuela and The Phillipines, to name (more than) a few. Stories using ICIJ's 260GB data trove ran in 47 countries, and thanks to the hard work of more than 90 journalists, the work has been cited close to 10,000 times worldwide. Just last week, tax authorities in Great Britain, the U.S. and Australia announced they are working together to investigate their own cache of offshore tax data for potential wrongdoing. That collaboration could be the beginning of the biggest tax probe in history.
On Tuesday, May 14 at 11:00am ET, six journalists from ICIJ will answer your questions on this groundbreaking investigative project in a live Google Hangout hosted by Wendell Cochran, senior editor at the Investigative Reporting Workshop and former board member of Investigative Reporters and Editors.
The discussion will include:
You can watch the hangout live, or submit a question, here.
The IRS’ Exempt Organizations Division, which finds itself at the scandal’s epicenter, processed significantly more tax exemption applications in fiscal year 2012 by so-called 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations — 2,774 — than it has since at least the late 1990s, according to an analysis of IRS records by the Center for Public Integrity.
Compare that to 1,777 applications in 2011 and 1,741 in 2010, federal records show. Not since 2002, when officials processed 2,402 applications, have so many been received.
Meanwhile, Exempt Organizations Division staffing slid from 910 employees during fiscal year 2009 to 876 during fiscal year 2012, agency personnel documents indicate.
In 2010, IRS officials projected exempt division staffing at 942 employees. But IRS officials cut the number to 900 after the agency began slashing its budget in response to fiscal woes affecting most corners of the federal government.
The agency said this weekend that a heavy workload prompted bureaucrats to “centralize” the “influx of advocacy applications” and, in the name of efficiency, scrutinize groups that contained more common phrases such as “tea party” in them.
“That was wrong, that was absolutely incorrect, insensitive and inappropriate — that’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lois Lerner, IRS exempt organizations director, said Friday. “We don’t select for review because they have a particular name.”
Lerner, who denied the targeting was politically motivated, added that about 75 groups with words such as “tea party” or “patriot” received extra scrutiny but none had its tax-exempt status revoked.
The IRS could not be reached for comment Monday.
For Washington, D.C.,-based attorney Dan Backer, who represents two tea party-affiliated organizations, blaming such actions on staffing cuts and increased workload is a “lame excuse” that the IRS should stop using.
“They could have hired new employees, they could have reallocated employees, they could have done a lot of things, the not doing of which doesn't suddenly make it OK for them to engage in viewpoint discrimination,” said Backer, who said he is considering suing the IRS. “At worst, their staffing woes maybe justifies a growing backlog, not discriminating against those whose viewpoints they disagree with.”
IRS records show that applications of the most common nonprofit organizations — 501(c)(3) educational nonprofits, private foundations, charities and the like — have dropped this decade after reaching a high of more than 85,000 in fiscal 2007. Generally, this type of nonprofit entity must remain apolitical.
As for 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations, such as the tea party groups in question, they may engage in politics so long as it isn’t their primary purpose.
During the 2012 election cycle, however, numerous 501(c)(4) organizations — most of them conservative, a few left-leaning and all endowed with new spending powers thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision — together spent tens of millions of dollars overtly advocating for or against political candidates.
And unlike super PACs, which may also raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, they’re not required to reveal their donors
Democrats primarily cried foul, accusing groups such as the Karl Rove-backed Crossroads GPS and Koch brothers-supported Americans for Prosperity of violating their tax-exempt status.
But the IRS has taken no definitive action against these or other nonprofit groups, and several campaign finance reform advocates have opined that this latest incident will further stymie their effort to convince the IRS to crack down on nonprofit groups they consider overridingly political.
As for tea party-named nonprofit groups, for all the attention now on them, they generally played bit roles during the 2012 election.
Of the more than 40 organizations that identified themselves as tea party-related in IRS documents, just one — the National Tea Party Group of California — reported assets of more than $100,000 in its most recent publicly available financial filing.
Karen Gries, an appointee to the IRS Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities, says she expects her committee will discuss the matter when it meets later this year.
In the meantime, Gries praised the overall performance of Lerner, the exempt organizations director, while expressing concern about her department’s ability to do its job.
“They are asked to do more with less resources,” said Gries, a principal at with accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen LLP. “The EO group operates very lean.”
President Barack Obama collected more than $110,000 from employees of the Internal Revenue Service during his 2008 and 2012 campaigns — significantly more money than any other contemporary political candidate, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission filings maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics.
The donations were split roughly evenly between Obama's two presidential bids.
Ahead of the 2012 election, IRS employees collectively gave Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney about $25,000 — less than half the amount received by Obama. For his part, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the GOP's presidential nominee in 2008, collected only about $6,000 from IRS employees.
The IRS has become the center of attention following an apology Friday by Lois Lerner, director of the agency’s division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, for what she acknowledged was "inappropriate" targeting of conservative nonprofits for additional scrutiny since 2010. Obama himself said on Monday that offenders in the agency needed to be held "fully accountable."
On Tuesday, a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said the IRS used "inappropriate criteria" when reviewing organizations seeking tax-exemption.
During the past two decades, individual employees of the agency have collectively increased their political giving, which has overwhelming benefited Democrats and liberal-leaning organizations.
Overall, rank-and-file IRS employees donated more than $840,000 to federal candidates and committees from 1989 to 2012, according to the Center's analysis. Democrats and liberal-leaning organizations received about two-thirds of this sum.
While GOP-aligned groups and candidates received the remainder, during some election cycles, such as the 2002 midterms and the 2010 midterms, Republicans and conservative-leaning organizations achieved near-parity.
The Democrats' 2004 presidential nominee, John Kerry, who is now serving as secretary of state, ranked second behind Obama and ahead of Romney among candidates to benefit from the financial largesse of IRS employees, collecting about $31,000 during his failed presidential bid.
The top organizational beneficiary of money from IRS employees is the National Treasury Employees Union, which accounted for more than $102,000 in donations. The labor union has historically supported Democratic candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Both the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee have also received notable support from IRS employees, with each collecting about $45,000 over the years.
All federal employees, including those who work for the IRS, are bound by the Hatch Act, a law passed in 1939 with the intent of curbing partisan power abuses by civil servants.
The Hatch Act generally bans federal employees from engaging in political activity while on the job, including soliciting funds for candidates. But political activities during personal time that do not use government resources, such as donating or volunteering for a campaign, are typically allowed.
Federal campaign finance law requires all individuals who donate more than $200 to a political group or candidate to list their employer and occupation. These filings may understate the donations of individuals who give less than the reporting threshold or who do not clearly identify the IRS as their employer.
Nonprofits organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code haveflourished in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’sCitizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in 2010, which lifted restrictions on the types of political advertising in which these groups could engage.
During the IRS’s 2012 fiscal year alone, nearly 2,800 groups sought tax-exemption under Section 501(c)(4), as the Center for Public Integrity previously reported.
This tax status permits organizations to pursue a mission of promoting "social welfare" and allows them to keep their funders secret. Groups with the primary purpose of engaging in electoral advocacy must disclosure their donors.
Reporter Ben Wieder contributed to this report.
GOP politicians and party committees this week are soliciting supporters far and wide in attempts to capitalize on conservatives' outrage over IRS officials singling out tea party and other right-leaning nonprofit groups for enhanced scrutiny.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus blasted a missive to backers Wednesday asserting that this week has been a "complete disaster for the White House," citing the IRS imbroglio, congressional hearings on Benghazi and revelations that the Department of Justice secretly seized phone records of Associated Press journalists. He also snipes at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
"Clearly he's hoping a Democrat-controlled House will let him off the hook. We can't let that happen," Priebus wrote. "Contribute $25, $50, $100, or whatever you can today to help us defend our House so we can hold President Obama and the Democrats accountable."
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote supporters through his Reclaim America PAC leadership committee to say that "if there was ever a time for conservatives to take a stand against an expanding federal government, it is now." He further noted that "the very message of the Tea Party movement has been validated" because of the IRS situation.
Then Rubio's pitch: "You can help by contributing to the Reclaim America PAC today. Your donation will ensure that we have the resources to take this fight to the highest levels possible."
The National Republican Congressional Committee, for its part, has set up a page featuring a large photo of House Speaker John Boehner with his recent quote superimposed: "My question isn't about who's going to resign — my question is who is going to jail over this scandal?"
Next to it sits a form where people are asked to submit their name, email address and ZIP code, which the NRCC reserves the right to use for future solicitation purposes. The NRCC is also spending "thousands" of dollars on threeWebadvertisements slamming the IRS and directing people to its page.
The IRS scandal is a galvanizing issue ripe for political advocacy because it "involves an institution every American has had to deal with and understands — and to make matters worse, Americans hated the IRS to begin with," NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek says. "In terms of 2014, this latest abuse of power is another indication that Democrats are going to have a hard time winning the House with Obama leading their recruitment efforts."
Among House of Representatives members fundraising off the IRS' actions is Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y.
"Targeting conservatives and Americans who believe in the Constitution is outrageous and we can't let it stand," he wrote supporters before providing a link to a donation page that states, "Help me today."
Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., took a slightly more direct approach.
"House Republicans are going to investigate the IRS' actions -- but we need a majority in the House to do it," he writes. "Please consider supporting our efforts with a contribution of $250, $100 or even $50."
Democrats haven't shied away from fundraising this week, although there's nary a mention of the IRS to be found in their financial come-ons.
Instead, they struck out at one member of their usual cast of conservative bogeymen and women.
"Scandal-ridden Republican Michele Bachmann is at it again," the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee writes today. "That's right: in the midst of a federal investigation for campaign violations, Bachmann has the nerve to spearhead the Republican effort to block Obamacare before its full implementation."
The email then asks readers to "declare your support for Obamacare" and provides a link to a political contribution page that urges individuals to "contribute $3 or more today to support President Obama's agenda!"
The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, today asked party faithful to "chip in $5 or more today and help elect Democrats who will stand up for marriage equality across the country, just like the ones in Minnesota did yesterday."
While much criticism has been lobbed at the federal system for failing to adequately identify who is spending money to influence campaigns, 35 states have independent spending disclosure laws that are less stringent than federal election law.
In fact, in 30 states it’s impossible to total how much money outside groups are spending on campaigns, information that is mostly available when it comes to federal contests.
That’s according to a new 50-state analysis by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which graded the states on disclosure requirements for super PACs, nonprofits and other outside spending groups.
Fifteen states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin — received an “A” grade, meaning the states’ laws were at least as robust as federal independent spending requirements.
New Jersey and Virginia, states where residents will be casting votes for governor and state legislature this year, were among 26 states that received a failing grade.
The others were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wyoming.
States were graded on a 100-point scale, based on how much information is provided to the public about non-candidate organizations that buy ads, often negative and misleading, just before an election. Six states — Alabama, Indiana, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota and South Carolina — didn’t garner a single point in the survey.
Independent super PACs and nonprofits intent on influencing campaigns proliferated in the wake of the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, adding about $1 billion in spending in federal races in the 2012 election cycle.
At the state level, lavish spending by outside groups often faces weaker disclosure rules than federal contests and receives far less media attention.
The result is a mishmash of rules, with some states scrambling to pass legislation in the wake of the high court decision while others show little interest in enacting any changes.
In South Carolina, for example, outside groups paid for ads attacking several state and local politicians in 2012 but were not required to report the spending.
Two federal court decisions have left the state without “any rules” related to outside groups’ spending, according to Cathy L. Hazelwood, deputy director of the state Ethics Commission.
State Sen. Wes Hayes, a Republican from Rock Hill, estimates that an anonymous group called Conservative GOP PAC, which despite its name has no apparent affiliation with the state’s Republican party, spent at least $100,000 on campaign fliers in an unsuccessful effort to unseat him.
He concedes that’s just a guess.
“I’ll never know the amount, just like I’ll never know who spent it,” Hayes says. Efforts to contact Conservative GOP PAC were unsuccessful, as the group has no office, no phone number, no website, did not file incorporation records with the state and no individuals have claimed membership in the organization.
Non-candidate, independent spending on elections can be broken into two general categories: “independent expenditures” and “electioneering.” With independent expenditures, potential voters are asked to back or oppose a candidate. With electioneering, a candidate is named, but there’s no explicit request for support or opposition.
In 25 of 50 states, electioneering advertisements are not required to be reported, according to the analysis by the National Institute.
The term “electioneering communications” came to be with the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The federal law requires such expenditures be reported, but it applies only to television and radio ads that air shortly before an election.
In a few states, however, the definition of electioneering communications is broader than at the federal level, and may include non-broadcast expenditures like direct mail and print advertising. Independent expenditures refer to all expenditures used to support or oppose a candidate, including non-advertising costs like polling and yard signs.
Points were withheld in the survey based on the level of disclosure and whether disclosure forms differentiate between independent spending and other types of campaign expenditures.
While North Dakota scored a zero, the state passed legislation this year that will beef up disclosure requirements for outside groups once the law goes into effect August 1.
The National Institute’s rankings focus solely on spending and not on donors to the groups that are doing the spending. Increasingly, “social welfare” nonprofits — currently at the center of a scandal involving the IRS — and trade associations are being used to hide donors’ identities in both federal and state races.
In New Mexico, outside political action groups spent heavily on races for the state Legislature, races that typically attract fewer than 20,000 voters. Once sleepy contests have become bruising battles fought through statewide television ads, said state Sen. Peter Wirth, a Democrat from Santa Fe.
He’s pushed a bill requiring greater disclosure by outside groups through the Senate three times (twice with unanimous approval) only to see it die in the state House after frenetic lobbying by “very powerful special interests” from both parties, he says.
“It’s bipartisan support in the open, and then behind the scenes it’s full-on bipartisan opposition,” Wirth says.
But several states have enacted disclosure requirements that go beyond federal requirements.
The National Institute’s rankings also factor whether states require independent spending groups to disclose which candidate they are targeting.
Two states, Florida and Delaware, require that spending be made public but not the targets or the purpose of the spending. The result: It’s virtually impossible to track how much was spent by outside groups trying to hurt or help a particular candidate.
Thirty-six states will elect governors in 2014. Edwin Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, said he hopes states with poor grades will strengthen their reporting requirements.
“The majority of states will elect their governors and other major statewide offices in 2014,” he said. “We think the public should know how much money is spent on these races, and by whom.”
John Dunbar contributed to this report.
For more information about money in state politics, visit www.followthemoney.org.
When Ed Sheehy looked at his mail one day last fall, he was startled to see his face staring back at him, posed alongside the notorious “Christmas Day Killer.” Sheehy, as a public defender, had represented the man a year earlier. Now Sheehy was running for a seat on the Montana Supreme Court and someone was using the double-murder to accuse him of being soft on crime.
“I was furious,” the 60-year-old Sheehy, who was born in Butte, Mont., and now resides in Missoula, told the Center for Public Integrity. “It was misrepresenting what I did and what I do as a lawyer.”
So who was behind the attack?
The mailer showed only that it was paid for by the “Montana Growth Network,” a “social welfare” nonprofit, registered under Section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code. Montana election records revealed next to nothing about the organization, which, because of its tax status, is not required to disclose its donors. The nonprofit’s website says its goal is to make Montana “more business friendly.”
Despite finishing on top in the summer’s primary election, Sheehy lost in November.
He blames the mailers and similarly themed radio ads paid for by the group for his defeat, and he is angry that it was not required to report the full extent of its spending — much less the names of those who bankrolled it.
Montana, in fact, is one of 35 states where disclosure laws for independent groups like the Montana Growth Network are less stringent than what federal election law requires, according to a new analysis by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Sheehy, the nephew of a former Montana Supreme Court justice, first faced off against attorney Elizabeth Best and Laurie McKinnon, a district judge, in a three-way, nonpartisan primary in June. The top two vote-getters advanced to the general election in November.
Ahead of the primary, the Montana Growth Network endorsed McKinnon and touted her in a mass mailing as “fair,” “honest,” “constitutional” and “the only nonpartisan choice for Supreme Court.”
The group’s mailers also focused on Sheehy’s work defending a murderer and criticized Best for pursuing a lawsuit to “seize control of the state’s atmosphere … to stop global warming.”
Sheehy, who finished first with 34.3 percent of the vote, spent $32,000 during the primary, and McKinnon, who finished second with 33.6 percent of the vote, spent about $30,000, records show. Best came in at third with 32.1 percent.
Best raised more than the other two candidates combined — $128,000, which included roughly $20,000 of her own money. She was the only candidate to advertise on television.
The Montana Growth Network spent roughly $42,000 during the primary election — more than either Sheehy or McKinnon’s own campaigns.
Outsider spends big
Best told the Center for Public Integrity that she was “stunned” by the result.
“Hearing from the candidates doesn’t matter anymore,” she said, adding that what matters is who has well-financed outside supporters to “cast candidates as something they aren’t and to tip the scales.”
McKinnon, Best said, was “running as a partisan with unlimited backing.”
The amount spent by the Montana Growth Network in the primary was required by state law to be disclosed because the mailings urged voters to support or oppose a candidate — a line the nonprofit says it didn’t cross with its subsequent activities, whose costs it did not disclose.
Ahead of the November election, one direct mail piece from the Montana Growth Network argued that under Sheehy, justice would be “beholden to a political party,” based on Sheehy’s past financial support of Democratic candidates.
Additionally, both mail and radio advertisements said that Sheehy had an “activist agenda” for his defense of Tyler Michael Miller, the so-called “Christmas Day Killer” who murdered his girlfriend and her 15-year-old daughter “in cold blood” in 2010.
While defending Miller, Sheehy had unsuccessfully sought for Montana’s death penalty process to be ruled unconstitutional because a single judge, not a jury, is allowed to assess whether “mitigating factors” exist that might rule out a death sentence.
Sheehy says he was simply “doing his job.” Miller is currently serving two life sentences after ultimately pleading guilty.
Ads tread fine line
Instead of urging people to vote against Sheehy or support McKinnon, the ads advised voters to “contact Ed Sheehy and tell him that you want an impartial Supreme Court” and to sign an online petition.
How much was spent on these advertisements is not public.
Montana media outlets reported on the anti-Sheehy radio ads, and Sheehy called on McKinnon to denounce them, which she did.
“Negative advertising has no place in a nonpartisan race,” McKinnon said in a press release at the time. “I ask for your vote based on who I am, not on negative portrayals of my opponent.”
On Election Day, McKinnon bested Sheehy by 12 percentage points.
She had also been endorsed by the Montana Chamber of Commerce and spent about $35,000 on the general election campaign. Sheehy, who had been endorsed by the Montana AFL-CIO and state’s teachers’ union, spent roughly $44,000.
Being painted as an “activist” by the Montana Growth Network, Sheehy said, was insurmountable.
“In judicial elections, that does you in,” he said.
University of Montana political science professor Jim Lopach said he was surprised by the election results.
Name didn't help
“It’s amazing that Sheehy didn’t win with name recognition he had," Lopach said, adding that McKinnon came across as the "more conservative" candidate.
One fact that is known about the Montana Growth Network is the name of its founder and treasurer — Republican state Sen. Jason Priest, who donated the legal maximum of $620 to McKinnon’s campaign.
McKinnon declined to be interviewed for this story. Priest told the Center for Public Integrity that Best and Sheehy “disqualified themselves” during the race.
“The voters made their own decision based on the information they had,” Priest said. “We told voters that you’re better off with a nonpartisan court.”
Priest said the Montana Growth Network didn’t report the spending to the state because it was “issue advocacy,” which is not required to be disclosed.
In the months since the election, the Montana Growth Network has continued to produce issue advertisements, including mailers that encouraged Montana lawmakers to reject the expansion of Medicaid coverage called for under the health care reform law signed by President Barack Obama.
Jim Murry, the Montana Political Practices Commissioner until he resigned earlier this year, told the Center for Public Integrity that “voters should be angry and upset” about the lack of transparency at the state level regarding political ads.
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in 2010, which lifted a ban on corporate spending on political ads that call for the election or defeat of federal candidates, many lawmakers have attempted to update regulations at the state level.
During its most recent legislative session, a bipartisan group of Montana lawmakers pushed for new campaign finance rules that would have required disclosure of “electioneering communications” — defined as ads run within 90 days of an election that show or mention candidates without explicitly advocating for their election or defeat.
The Montana state Senate passed the bill in March on a 29-21 vote, but it died in committee in the Montana House of Representatives. A motion in April to bring it to the House floor without committee approval received majority support but fell six votes short of the three-fifths required.
Secret spending in judicial elections concerns Adam Skaggs, senior counsel at the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice, which advocates for fair and impartial courts.
“There are real concerns that judges will be partial to the individuals or the interest groups that are responsible for putting them on the bench,” he said. “The power of the judiciary depends on its reputation.”
For more information about money in state politics, visit the National Institute on Money in State Politics online at www.followthemoney.org.
Since U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins moved back home from Ottawa in 2009, he’s reclaimed his role as liaison between the U.S. and its northern neighbor.
But this time, Wilkins — the Bush Administration’s top diplomat in Canada from 2005 to 2009 — is working for the Great White North, lobbying the U.S. federal government on behalf of Canadian business and government entities.
And last week, Wilkins parlayed his former ambassadorship into a job lobbying Congress on behalf of the Toronto-based Investment Industry Association of Canada, according to reports filed with the U.S. Senate.
Does Wilkins’ latest circuit through the international revolving door create conflict of interest or the appearance of one? No, Wilkins told the Center for Public Integrity, saying he “respectfully disagreed” with such a notion.
“As U.S. ambassador, I advocated for the U.S.-Canada relationship,” Wilkins said. “I do the same thing today, but in the private sector.”
The South Carolina native has lobbied on behalf of handful of Canadian interests since 2009, when he joined the Washington-based firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP as partner and chair of the public policy and international law practice group.
Last year, the provincial government of Saskatchewan spent $400,000 to hire Wilkins and his associates to advocate for province’s energy exports and cross-border food safety. That same year, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers spent $240,000 for Nelson Mullins to lobby Capitol Hill regarding Canada’s oil sands industry, records indicate.
Additionally, Wilkins has sat on the board of the Toronto Island-based Porter Airlines since April 2009, according to a Financial Post report.
Wilkins is not the only former U.S. diplomat to represent a foreign entity on Capitol Hill.
Jim Blanchard, an ambassador to Canada during the Clinton administration, advocated for the Forest Products Association of Canada in in 2009.
The Republic of India hired Robert Blackwill — a Bush Administration ambassador to India — to lobby Congress and federal agencies on the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreements, records show.
Wilkins says he has not breached any ethical standards by lobbying for Canadian industry because he has not engaged in any lobbying issue that he was “actively involved” with as ambassador.
The bulk of his pro-Canada advocacy has been devoted to facilitating meetings and lining up press opportunities when Canadian officials visit Washington, Wilkins said.
“There is no conflict of interest, because I’m not advocating on any position that I was actively involved in as a U.S. ambassador.”
The Province of Alberta had, however, hired Wilkins to lobby Congress on "issues impacting Alberta's forestry industry"— an area with which he became familiar while for a time overseeing the decades-long U.S.-Canada lumber trade dispute as ambassador.
Since 2010, Alberta has spent $480,000 for Nelson Mullins lobbying services, including those of Wilkins. Officials from the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments did not reply to requests for comment.
Wilkins said that his most recent work for a Canadian client, the Investment Industry Association of Canada, was consigned to a “one afternoon deal,” meet and greet with the association’s President and CEO Ian Russell and members of the House Financial Services Committee.
“When it came to Congress, we needed to have Nelson Mullins provide us with a little bit of help to meet the right congressional leaders,” Russell said.
During typical visits to Washington, D.C., IIAC officials meet with individual regulators in the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commissions, but this trip was focused on educating members of Congress on the association’s agenda of regulatory reform and Canada’s securities markets, he said.
Wilkins, who works out of a Greenville, S.C., office, said was not present for those meetings and said that the lobbyist registration form filed on behalf of IIAC was submitted in “an abundance of precaution” to ensure transparency in Nelson Mullins’ dealings — however limited — with Canadian trade group.
“We were not advocating for any specific law or bill,” Wilkins said of the visit. “I don’t anticipate any ongoing lobbying effort.”
An Iowa federal judge who frequently attends business-friendly judicial education conferences slashed a landmark $240 million verdict to $1.6 million for 32 mentally disabled workers who suffered abuse and discrimination at the hands of their employer.
It might appear that a pro-business judge made a predictably pro-business ruling. Turns out the judge had no choice. The 22-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act — designed to protect the rights of disabled workers — is to blame for the paltry award.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Wolle of the Southern District of Iowa ordered Henry’s Turkey Service to pay $50,000 in damages to each of the workers involved in a discrimination lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In total, the judge ruled, the company must pay the workers $1.6 million.
Wolle’s decision came two weeks after a federal jury awarded each of the workers a total of $7.5 million in damages — $240 million in all. Jurors found that Henry’s, a now-defunct Texas company, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by subjecting the disabled workers to years of unfair treatment and harassment.
The EEOC’s complaint, filed in 2011, accused Henry’s of taking advantage of the workers’ mental disabilities, paying them substandard wages — $60 to $65 per month despite working at least 35 hours per week — failing to attend to the workers’ illnesses and injuries, and subjecting them verbal and physical abuse.
The company, jurors unanimously agreed, acted with “malice or with reckless indifference” to the workers’ federal civil rights. The jury awarded each of the 32 men $5.5 million to compensate them for their pain and suffering, and another $2 million in punitive damages.
In a May 1 press release, the EEOC trumpeted the “historic verdict,” claiming that the $240 million in total damages amounted to “the largest verdict in the federal agency’s history.”
Not so fast.
As it turns out, the Americans with Disabilities Act limits the amount of damages that can be awarded to plaintiffs. That’s why Judge Wolle so drastically reduced the award.
Under the act, compensatory and punitive damages are capped at $50,000 for companies like Henry’s that employ between 14 and 101 employees.
The limit is $300,000 for companies that employ more than 500 employees.
EEOC attorney Robert Canino acknowledged the caps in a brief he filed on May 10.
The EEOC “understands that the amount of damages of $7,500,000 assessed and awarded by the jury to each of the 32 class members, while certainly an appropriate and meaningful measure of the actual harms suffered by these victims of discrimination, including but not limited to, the mental anguish, pain and suffering, and ‘loss of enjoyment of life,’ must be drastically reduced in order to come within the stringent statutory limits for recovery under” the law, he wrote.
Robert Dinerstein, an American University law professor who specializes in disability law, says the caps on damages were implemented in an effort to balance plaintiffs’ needs to be compensated for their pain and suffering without unnecessarily putting companies out of business.
Still, he says, “I think the [caps] are problematic.”
For one thing, Dinerstein says, plaintiffs are already burdened with proving to a jury that the discrimination they’re alleging is real and intentional. “It’s not as if any Tom, Dick and Harry can go to a sympathetic jury and win,” he says.
Moreover, Dinerstein says $300,000 is “chump change” for a large company employing more than 500 workers.
When companies discriminate against their disabled employees, “They should pay the piper.”
Even though the damages were significantly cut, Dinerstein says, “You still have a symbolic victory.”
That symbolic victory is also supplemented by a previous judgment ordering Henry’s to pay the workers a total of about $1.3 million in back pay.
Amid a deepening debate over appropriate school discipline, board members of the nation's second largest school district — Los Angeles Unified — took bold steps this week sure to be noticed nationally.
They voted to prohibit out-of-school suspensions of students based on "willful defiance,” a vague label, critics say, that’s become far too handy a vehicle for ejecting students rather than helping them settle down and improve academic performance. The board members also voted to implement a sweeping review and new standards for the district’s sizable police force, which has a history of aggressive ticketing of students.
The landmark provisions are contained in a “School Climate Bill of Rights” the school board adopted in a 5-2 vote on Tuesday.
Los Angeles Unified is the nation’s second largest school district, and with 300-plus police officers, it has the country’s largest school police force. It is the first school district in California to bar “willful defiance” suspensions. These suspensions — and school police citations for more serious criminal allegations — have fallen heavily on black and Latino students in neighborhoods struggling with high dropout rates.
A “willful defiance” suspension can stem from a student violating dress codes to lashing out with crude behavior or language, or refusing to be quiet or perform assigned work.
Separately, hundreds of L.A. Unified students, many of them middle-school students, have also been given school-police citations each month for engaging in physical fights or other “disturbing the peace” charges or for committing other infractions. In some cases, teachers or school administrators have requested that students receive tickets; in other cases, police officers have made the decision.
The new L.A. Unified policy aimed at curbing ticketing and arrests by school police stems from brewing controversy that the Center for Public Integrity has reported on over the last year.
The board’s new mandate strengthens existing requirements that L.A. Unified’s schools embrace other practices, including “positive behavior intervention” methods and “restorative justice” to improve student behavior and resolve disputes among students and teachers. The new order ensures that students can’t be sent home for defiance, but they can be removed from a class and kept at school.
Critics of student suspensions argue that children who act out in class are often are having trouble learning or are troubled by family crises. Kids only fall further behind and more detached from school when they languish at home for days or hit the streets unsupervised, they say.
Judith Perez, president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, said her organization supports the new policy’s goals and supports keeping kids in school. But her members are worried about how they’re going carry out their orders without more adult supervisors inside L.A. Unified’s crowded, understaffed schools.
“The district needs to do more than enact a policy,” Perez said. “The first recommendation we are making is an increase in the number of assistant principals and counselors.”
A middle school, she said, can’t even get a second counselor unless it has more than 891 students. She also said that teachers’ contracts don’t allow them to supervise students pulled out of classrooms.
California, as a state, could follow Los Angeles’ lead in ending suspensions for defiance and setting limits on police involvement in discipline matters.
L.A. Unified’s policy mirrors a bill in California’s legislature that would sharply limit the ability of schools statewide to issue out-of-schools suspensions simply for defiance. During the 2011-2012 school year, state data shows, nearly half of more than 700,000 student suspensions in the state were for defiance.
Golden State legislators are considering another bill that would require all schools to set standards for the role of school police and strive to keep police out of routine disciplinary matters. Both bills have already passed through critical first committees.
“I’m a social worker by profession, and we at the Los Angeles Unified School District support the school police. But we cannot have a system that is just punitive and focuses on ‘the gotcha,’ “ L.A. Unified district board president Monica Garcia told the Center.
Garcia sponsored the “bill of rights” because she thought suspensions and aggressive use of school police in some schools was backfiring and failing to improve student behavior and achievement rates.
“What I expect to happen now is more graduation in Los Angeles,” Garcia said. She said L.A. Unified has an opportunity to show national leadership in efforts to stop a “school-to-prison pipeline.”
The board’s new policy declares that: “Studies indicate that suspension does not often result in positive behavior conditioning and furthermore can instead intensify misbehavior by increasing shame, alienation, and rejection amongst students.”
The text of the policy also says: “A study from Texas found that students are five times more likely to drop out, six times more likely to repeat a grade, and three times more likely to have contact with the juvenile-justice system if suspended.”
Garcia said that juvenile-court judges in Los Angeles also appealed to her in recent years to change practices that were leading to increasing numbers of court citations of students.
The judges said that too many students were being sent into the criminal justice system for minor offenses they felt should be handled at school, immediately, rather than with court appearances weeks or even months later.
Last year, the Center analyzed L.A. Unified’s school-police citations and produced reports in collaboration with KPCC radio in Southern California and KQED The California Report.
The analysis found that between 2009 and the end of 2011, L.A. Unified school police were issuing, at times, more than 1,000 court citations a month to students for a range of violations, including tardiness, graffiti, pot or cigarette possession and, especially, for allegations of “disturbing the peace.” The disturbing-the-peace charges stemmed from accusations of a student getting into fisticuffs, threatening to fight or using challenging language.
More than 40 percent of all tickets issued by police during this period were going to students younger than 15. And the numbers of citations issued in Los Angeles far exceeded the tickets that school police were handing out in New York City, a bigger district, the Center found.
A more recent analysis by the Center showed that tickets issued in L.A. Unified have fallen dramatically, the result of pressure from community activists, juvenile-court judges and news reports disclosing how the volume of tickets had ballooned.
But tickets that L.A. Unified school police still hand out to students for disturbing the peace, especially, remain highly concentrated in certain middle schools.
Students at Markham Middle School received more tickets during this time — 47 — than any other school in the district. Forty-one tickets were for fighting, or disturbing the peace. Students at the Watts Learning Center Charter Middle School got the next highest batch of tickets, with 13 out of 33 for fighting. Banning High School was third, with 32 tickets.
The Center’s latest analysis found that between last November and March of this year, about half of all the 1,590 tickets issued went to children 14 and younger.
More 13-year-olds — almost all of them black or Latino — received tickets than 16 or 17-year-olds. Black students, 10 percent of district enrollment, received more than 37 percent of disturbing-the-peace tickets. And 56 percent of black students cited for that infraction were between 11 and 14 years of age.
Manuel Criollo, a community organizer with the Labor-Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles, has spent several years working with students, parents, district officials and school police to embrace alternatives to police citations. Starting last summer, school police began referring ticketed students to Los Angeles County Probation Department officials, who say they’re trying to keep kids out of court and instead send as many as they can first to community-based counseling services.
But Criollo’s group has been pushing for explicit, written district policies designed to roll back ticketing even more and set strict limits on police involvement in disciplinary matters and minor offenses.
The group has long complained about “racial patterns” and unfair ticketing practices, and asserted that some police officers’ attitudes have spoiled students’ relations with law enforcement and teachers. The Labor-Community Strategy Center drew attention to and helped end early-morning sweeps that officers were doing around schools in low-income neighborhoods in recent years; officers would nab students, search them and issue tickets with hefty dollar fines to kids` who were even minutes late.
Criollo said the board’s new policy is a “strong mandate” for district officials to sit down and hammer out new police policies they promised they would do last year. “It’s the culmination of a lot of what community groups have been fighting for,” Criollo said of the policy.
The “bill of rights” adopted this week orders the district to “review and evaluate” all current school policies, practices and training “relating to the equitable treatment of students.”
It also orders the district to “review the data on the use of school-based citations and arrests and identify and remedy frequent use at individual school sites.”
L.A. Unified School Police Department Chief Steve Zipperman did not oppose the policy, and Garcia consulted with him when it was drafted. L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy publicly supported the new policy, and said it was aimed at stopping “early criminalization” of students for “frivolous” matters.
Tea party groups and other conservative nonprofits at the heart of a scandal rocking the Internal Revenue Service have, of late, largely avoided electoral politics, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of Federal Election Commission filings.
About five dozen groups with the buzzwords “tea party,” “patriot” and “9/12” in their names have been officially recognized by the IRS as "social welfare" nonprofits under Section 501(c)(4) of U.S. tax code. There are about 90,000 such organizations.
But only two of the buzzword groups reported overtly advocating for or against political candidates during 2012, or even mentioning political candidates in broadcast advertisements immediately before primary or general elections.
And one of those is, in fact, unabashedly liberal.
Both groups, which use a version of "patriot" in their names, offer contrasting perspectives into the nebulous world of politically active nonprofits.
One of these is Patriotic Veterans, Inc, a Chicago-based organization launched in 2008. Conservative political consultant Paul Caprio serves as its president.
Patriotic Veterans told the FEC that it spent $86,700 on radio ads that mentioned Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Republican House candidate Adam Kinzinger of Illinois ahead of during the 2012 election.
IRS records show automated phone calls have also been a regular expense of the group.
In 2004, Caprio worked with John O’Neill, co-author of the controversial book Unfit for Command, to design a voter-contact program aimed at veterans highlighting Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s “true record of service in Vietnam,” according to Caprio’s online biography.
An archived version of the group’s now-defunct website says its mission is “to inform voters of the positions taken by candidates and office holders on issues of interest to veterans.”
Only one other 501(c)(4) “patriot”-named nonprofit reported spending to the FEC during the 2012 election cycle: a liberal-aligned group called Patriot Majority USA.
Ahead of the 2012 election, Patriot Majority USA reported spending about $7.5 million to the FEC on political advertisements, most of them highly critical of Republicans.
Based in Washington, D.C., Patriot Majority USA was established in March 2011, after being spun-off from another operation.
The nonprofit is headed by strategist Craig Varoga, who has advised numerous Democratic candidates, including Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. In 2010, political committees that were part of the Patriot Majority network spent millions on behalf of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who won a contentious re-election battle that year.
A 2011 filing with the IRS describes the nonprofit’s primary purpose as seeking to “encourage a discussion of economic issues in the United States in order to make America stronger and promote our country’s future economic prosperity.”
When it applied for tax-exempt status, the group told the IRS that its political spending would not exceed 40 percent of its annual budget, according to documents obtained by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Patriot Majority USA has never publicly reported any of its funders.
When the FEC asked about the lack of information about donors, Patriot Majority USA’s counsel Ezra Reese said that the group, as a matter of policy, “does not accept contributions earmarked for a specific political purpose.”
Federal law only requires nonprofit groups to disclose the names of donors who earmark contributions for political advertisements — something donors rarely do.
Meanwhile, political committees — including super PACs, which, like nonprofits, are allowed to accept donations of unlimited size — are required to reveal all donors who give more than $200.
Neither Varoga nor Caprio responded to requests for comment.
Faced with an onslaught of new applications by organizations seeking tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code, IRS employees in 2010 developed a shorthand for cases they thought might merit additional scrutiny.
If words such as appeared in groups’ names, applications were flagged as potential political cases, according to a report released Tuesday by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
The rules for who can fund social welfare nonprofits’ political advocacy have been loosened in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling.
While 501(c)(4) nonprofits cannot primarily be in the business of influencing elections, they are legally allowed to call for the election or defeat of candidates. When they do, they must disclose their expenditures to the FEC — just as individuals, labor unions, business associations and corporations do.
They must also report expenditures related to ads that mention politicians shortly before an election, even if they fall short of explicitly advocating for their support or defeat.
Social welfare nonprofits — such as Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, which was co-founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove — spent hundreds of millions of dollars ahead of the 2012 election.
The inspector general’s report concluded that despite the use of “inappropriate criteria,” the IRS was “not politically biased” in its assessment of nonprofits’ applications.
In recent days, the agency’s actions have received bipartisan condemnation, and IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller resigned Wednesday.
Ben Wieder contributed to this report.