Articles on this Page
- 01/06/14--14:50: _Stockman ditching t...
- 01/06/14--15:05: _New Fed chairwoman ...
- 01/07/14--13:49: _AT&T buoyed in lobb...
- 01/08/14--13:59: _New federal guideli...
- 01/09/14--10:40: _Montana proposes re...
- 01/09/14--11:29: _Global progress see...
- 01/10/14--09:54: _Hacking attempt dra...
- 01/13/14--03:06: _A challenging two-s...
- 01/13/14--09:05: _West Virginia chemi...
- 01/13/14--11:55: _McAuliffe takes ste...
- 01/16/14--14:51: _Spending bill: FEC ...
- 01/15/14--13:47: _Network neutrality ...
- 01/15/14--14:14: _D.C. mulls changes ...
- 01/16/14--13:36: _Afghanistan's narco...
- 01/17/14--11:34: _Top U.S. corporatio...
- 01/15/14--21:03: _Dow Chemical backed...
- 01/16/14--22:22: _Pulling back the ve...
- 01/16/14--11:26: _A small step toward...
- 01/16/14--19:42: _Cold, damp, undergr...
- 01/16/14--15:43: _Congress, FEC meet ...
- 01/06/14--14:50: Stockman ditching troubled campaign committee
- 01/06/14--15:05: New Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen in her own words
- 01/07/14--13:49: AT&T buoyed in lobbying push against spectrum auction limits
- 01/09/14--10:40: Montana proposes reforms after earning 'F' for judicial disclosure
- 01/09/14--11:29: Global progress seen in securing nuclear materials
- 01/10/14--09:54: Hacking attempt draws congressional investigation of FEC
- 01/13/14--03:06: A challenging two-step: cutting costs and covering the uninsured
- 01/13/14--11:55: McAuliffe takes step toward reform in Virginia
- 01/16/14--14:51: Spending bill: FEC budget still below 2010 levels
- 01/15/14--13:47: Network neutrality debate may be headed back to FCC
- Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable operator, spent almost $14 million during the period, the fifth-largest amount of all corporate lobbying spending, and hired 98 lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
- AT&T Inc. hired 89 lobbyists and spent $12.3 million, ranking it 11th among the top spenders.
- Verizon Communications Inc., the plaintiff in the suit against the FCC, came in at No. 17 with $10.1 million in spending, hiring 96 lobbyists.
- 01/15/14--14:14: D.C. mulls changes to judicial transparency
- 01/16/14--13:36: Afghanistan's narcotics problems grow worse
- 01/17/14--11:34: Top U.S. corporations funneled $185 million to political nonprofits
- 01/15/14--21:03: Dow Chemical backed anti-union nonprofit with $2 million donation
- 01/16/14--22:22: Pulling back the veil on corporate contributions
- 01/16/14--11:26: A small step towards food aid reform
- 01/16/14--19:42: Cold, damp, underground cheating
- 01/16/14--15:43: Congress, FEC meet about security breakdowns
Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, is ditching his existing — and troubled — campaign committee as he wages a long-shot bid to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in a Republican primary.
Federal records show Stockman on Dec. 30 registered a new committee, Steve Stockman for Senate, naming conservative lawyer Dan Backer its treasurer.
Furthermore, the old committee has amended its federal campaign finance disclosures 35 times since 2012 to correct various errors or irregularities, federal records show, including amendments attempting to explain whether it received money from a pair of Stockman's congressional staffers. Such donations aren't legal.
Then, on Dec. 20, Federal Election Commission Campaign Finance Analyst Ryan Furman informed the committee it had accepted "contributions that appear to exceed the limits" of federal law.
An article by the Houston Chronicle in November details numerous other Stockman campaign finance problems.
Backer, treasurer of the Steve Stockman for Senate committee, referred questions to Stockman's campaign staff.
In an email to the Center for Public Integrity, Stockman spokesman Donny Ferguson wrote that the two Stockman committees "are two distinct legal entities serving different purposes, with different teams and vendors involved." He continued: "It just made more sense to have separate committees so the House committee could wind down as the Senate committee winds up."
Typically, House candidates who run for Senate seats just repurpose their existing campaign committees. But there's nothing in the law that stops Stockman from starting another one.
Still, Stockman faces restrictions. Donors who've contributed the legal maximum this election cycle to Friends of Congressman Steve Stockman are prohibited by law from donating to the Steve Stockman for Senate committee, said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.
If Stockman were to raise surplus money following his Senate campaign, he could, however, legally transfer that cash to his old committee to pay down its debts, Ryan added.
"He's had a lot of campaign finance drama going on," Ryan said. "So from a PR perspective, this allows him to tell donors who might be concerned about that, 'Hey, I've got a new team. Hey, I have a clean slate. Have no fear.'"
Stockman recently announced his campaign would begin accepting bitcoins — an online currency — although the FEC in November deadlocked on whether campaign committees may do so. Backer, Stockman's treasurer, brought the bitcoin case to the FEC.
Janet Yellen was confirmed today as the first woman to lead the U.S. Federal Reserve — becoming one of the most powerful people in global finance and the top regulator in the U.S. financial system.
The Center for Public Integrity spoke to Yellen in June about her views on bank regulation and supervision. The incoming Fed chairwoman appears to be someone who will be tougher than her predecessor when it comes to financial oversight.
When it comes to monetary policy by contrast, Yellen is known as a "dove," someone who favors lowering interest rates to help boost job growth at the risk of allowing some inflation.
On Fed policy:
"I would be strongly committed to working with the FOMC to continue promoting a robust economic recovery ... I consider it imperative that we do what we can to promote a very strong recovery."
"About 36 percent of those unemployed have been unemployed for more than six months. This is a very unprecedented situation. We know that those long spells of unemployment are particularly painful for households, impose great hardships and costs on those without work, on the marriages of those who suffer these long unemployment spells and on their families."
On financial stability:
"One of our top priorities is ramping up and monitoring of the financial system as a whole to detect financial stability risks. That’s something we weren’t doing on an adequate basis before the crisis."
"We cannot rule out the possibility that monetary policy might have to do something related to financial stability ... Monetary policy could be creating financial risk, even while we’re trying to achieve other concrete goals ... We need to know what those risks are.’’
On mega-bank regulation:
"It's extremely important for our banks to have more capital, higher quality capital."
"There are further steps that we will be taking with other regulators down the line to make sure that the most systemically important institutions, those who failure would create financial distress, will be asked to hold more capital."
Yellen says believes that the 2.5 percent capital surcharge proposed for systemically important financial institutions may not be enough.
On the market benefits enjoyed by mega-banks:
"Our objective in regulation should be to put in place tough enough regulation and capital and liquidity standards that we level the playing field and make it costly. We should make it tougher for them to compete and encourage them to be smaller."
On asset bubbles:
"No one who lived through that financial crisis would ever want to risk another one that could subject the economy to what we’re painfully going through and recovering from. We have a variety of different tools that we can use if something like that were to occur."
"It's important for the Fed, hard as it is, to attempt to detect asset bubbles while they’re forming."
"I don’t see evidence at this point in major sectors of asset-price misalignment, at least at the level that would threaten financial stability."
On bank oversight:
"I absolutely believe that our supervisory responsibilities are critical and they're just as important as monetary policy. We need to take just as much time to devote to them."
The Fed is taking a “belt and suspenders” approach, Yellen said.
“We don’t want these entities to fail. We want to make them much more robust and less likely to come under pressure,” she said. ”Then if something did happen, we would have a way to deal with it that we were not able to do during the financial crisis.”
On Congress, a balanced budget and fiscal policy:
"I certainly recognize the importance of the objective of putting the U.S. deficit and debt on a sustainable path … but some of the near term reductions in spending we have seen have certainly detracted from the momentum of the economy and from demand, making it harder for the Fed to get the economy moving, making our task more difficult."
"It certainly would be helpful going forward for deficit reduction efforts to focus on the medium term while not subtracting from the impetus we need to keep a fragile economy moving forward."
"We are worried about a fragile economy and more supportive fiscal policy or one that creates less drag would be helpful."
While T-Mobile US Inc.’s purchase of airwaves this week may help it better compete with bigger wireless carriers, it also may give AT&T Inc. — already among the biggest lobbying forces in Washington — fodder for convincing regulators not to limit an upcoming spectrum auction.
The $2.4 billion T-Mobile deal to purchase valuable frequencies from Verizon Wireless announced yesterday gives AT&T another concrete example to cite in its argument against putting limits on how much spectrum it can buy in an auction scheduled for 2015: the wireless market is becoming more competitive as companies like T-Mobile buy more airwaves that allows it to build a better network, and AT&T shouldn’t be hamstrung.
That’s the point Joan Marsh, AT&T’s head of its federal regulatory office, made last month when testifying before the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee prior to T-Mobile’s airwaves purchase.
“T-Mobile has substantially bolstered its spectrum footprint,” Marsh said in written testimony. “Over the last few quarters, T-Mobile has re-emerged as a formidable competitor. … AT&T continues to believe that an open and unrestricted auction is the best way forward.”
And AT&T will have ample opportunities to make its point. The carrier typically ranks among the nation’s biggest-spending federal lobbying entities, and in 2013, had employed 85 lobbyists, including several former members of Congress. AT&T was the 10th largest lobbying spender during 2012, at about $17.5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2011, AT&T spent $20.2 million and ranked eighth.
Verizon Communications was close behind, having spent $15.2 million in 2012 and placing 15th on the top federal lobbying spenders list.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see AT&T, the second-largest wireless carrier, and Verizon spend some of that money in 2014 lobbying the FCC and Congress about how upcoming spectrum sales should be run. The agency is assembling a so-called incentive auction scheduled for 2015, in which it plans to buy airwaves from television broadcasters and then resell them to, most likely, wireless carriers. The companies say they need the frequencies to meet the growing demand for data, and streaming music and videos to smartphones and tablets.
The FCC is considering putting limits on how much spectrum AT&T and Verizon can purchase at the auction, fearing the two companies will walk away with most of the valuable frequencies, and further dominate competitors and put consumers at risk. The carriers control two-thirds of the wireless market combined, according to the latest report by Strategic Analytics.
T-Mobile agreed to pay Verizon $2.4 billion in cash for a block of low-band frequencies, which travel through buildings and over long distances. These are the kind of airwaves T-Mobile needs to improve its network, which is considered of lower quality than competitors.
The deal also included T-Mobile giving Verizon frequencies worth $950 million that Verizon, the No. 1 wireless carrier, can use to relieve congestion on its networks in urban areas. The deals must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department. T-Mobile said it planned to buy more airwaves.
Winning praise from civil rights advocates, the U.S. Department of Education released new federal guidelines Wednesday aimed at stopping an explosion in student suspensions, expulsions and referrals to the criminal-justice system.
The ideas are a response to mounting concerns that overly punitive discipline is pushing too many low-income and minority students out of schools and toward failure rather than helping them engage academically. The Department of Education and the Department of Justice teamed up in a two-year effort to develop lists of resources and principles that educators have found effective at keeping campuses orderly without resorting to kicking out kids.
The package is intended to help schools chart new practices. Federal officials also emphasize that educators are obliged not to violate students' civil rights when punishing them. The package also provides resources for school police training and employee training in discipline techniques considered more productive than ejecting kids.
The Center for Public Integrity has reported on hot spots where high numbers of low-income Latino and black students have been subjected to lengthy expulsions from school for relatively minor infractions. Last year, the Center reported that expelled children of Latino farmworkers in California, for example, were dispatched to alternative schools so far from their homes — 20 miles, even 40 miles — that they dropped out or were told to only report to school only one day a week for a year.
The U.S. departments of Education and Justice both have civil rights offices that have stepped up investigations into complaints of disparate and harsh disciplinary practices affecting special-education students and ethnic-minority children. Complaints have included excessive suspensions of black children compared to white children accused of the same cell phone use violations.
“Everyone understands that school leaders need to have effective policies in place to make their campuses safe havens where learning can actually flourish,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in an announcement Wednesday. “Yet most exclusionary and disciplinary actions are for non-violent student behaviors, many of which once meant a phone call home.”
In his own statement, U.S Attorney General Eric Holder said: “A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct.”
The Center has also investigated school police crackdowns on children, including roundups inside schools in California and Utah conducted by police accused of targeting only black and Latino students. Lawsuits filed by civil rights lawyers accused police of violating the rights of students who had committed no infractions and were wrongly accused of gang affiliations and forced to pose for mock mug shots inside schools.
In Los Angeles, a series of Center reports showed that the L.A. Unified School Police Department — the nation’s largest school police force — was ticketing more than 10,000 students a year until recently, mostly in low-income neighborhoods. Kids were often cited for arriving tardy or for disturbing the peace. Nearly half of those court citations went to children 14 or younger. Juvenile court judges urged reforms at schools they said were too quick to involve police rather than resolving conflicts at school and through counseling.
The Center interviewed the family of a Los Angeles boy, 12, who was arrested and charged with assault after teachers asked police to respond to a fight between the boy a friend. The boy had never been in trouble before. The school later apologized, but the boy’s record will remain in police files until he is 18. L.A. Unified police announced last November that they will no longer ticket kids 12 and younger, with some exceptions.
Over the last couple of years, the Department of Education has sounded an alarm over a sharp rise in out-of-school suspensions and expulsions nationally of students, especially minority kids, as revealed by the department’s Civil Rights Data Collection. Longitudinal research, including a major study in Texas, found that suspensions were linked to academic failure and higher risk of serious legal trouble rather than improving student behavior.
The release of the new federal discipline guidelines Wednesday was met with applause from advocates who have been lobbying local school districts and state legislatures to adopt limits on school discipline practices and the role of school police.
In California, Laura Faer, statewide education rights director of Public Counsel, a public interest law firm, praised the guidelines as “groundbreaking.” She said they will send a message to schools and state lawmakers to help students succeed by requiring the use of “positive school discipline practices.”
“Far too many students of color are suspended and expelled,” said Faer, whose group is helping the San Francisco Unified School District with new policies to address an alarming rate of suspensions of black students.
At the University of California at Los Angeles’ Civil Rights Project, whose data analysis has charted sharp racial disparities in suspensions, lead researcher Dan Losen said: “This guidance represents a huge boost to the efforts of advocates across the nation, and contributes to the growing understanding that dramatic racial disparities are found most often in minor offense categories that are not justifiable.”
A statement from the American Civil Liberties Union said the guidelines “provide provide important guiding principles” when it comes to school police and “their proper role with respect to discipline. This includes improved training and a clear delineation of roles so that officers are not responsible for handling minor discipline.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has become a supporter of more training for educators on how to handle troubled students without resorting to out-of-school suspensions. But her comment suggested that schools need funding to help them adopt alternative policies. “The federal government made many positive suggestions,” she reportedly said, “but policies in a vacuum without actual resources and support will not succeed."
Montana’s highest court is proposing that state judges fill out personal financial disclosure forms — a move that follows a Center for Public Integrity investigation that gave the state a failing grade for its lack of transparency.
The Montana Supreme Court issued an order on Jan. 2 calling for all judges and judicial candidates to face the same financial disclosure requirements as other statewide officials. The order, signed by Chief Justice Mike McGrath, would bring the state in line with the American Bar Association’s model code of judicial conduct.
Montana is one of just three states nationwide that has not required its judges to file personal financial disclosures, according to the Center’s findings in its Dec. 4 Justice Obscured investigation.
The Center evaluated the disclosure rules in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and compared them with those that federal judges face. It then reviewed disclosure reports of more than 300 top judges to flag potential conflicts of interest involving their finances and caseloads.
Such disclosures help build public confidence in the judicial system by providing transparency about judges' financial ties, judicial ethics experts say.
Utah and Idaho are the only other states without disclosure rules for state judges, although Idaho has proposed adding some reporting requirements for judges.
Montana court officials had been resistant to the idea of disclosure, with court officials saying that they already had rules in place to avoid financial conflicts. After the Center's Justice Obscured investigation ran, McGrath told the Associated Press that by following a strictly enforced code of judicial conduct, the court has “moved sort of beyond mere disclosure.”
Judicial experts and local newspaper editorials, however, called for letting the public evaluate those financial ties, too.
One of the newspapers to call for such reforms, the Great Falls Tribune, is now praising the court’s proposed rule in an editorial. It called the move a “breath of fresh air.”
McGrath did not return a call for comment immediately Thursday.
The proposal now undergoes a 60-day public comment period. Then, the Supreme Court justices will hold a public meeting to discuss any input on the idea, Montana Court Administrator Beth McLaughlin said.
Nations around the globe have taken important steps over the past two years to safeguard nuclear weapons materials from potential thefts by terrorists, an expert Washington-based group concluded Jan. 8 in a comprehensive report.
The number of nations with significant stocks of those materials fell during the period from 32 to 25, the report said, largely because of a concerted effort by the United States to collect the materials or to assist in their protection or destruction.
But the ranking given by the group — a nonprofit entity known as the Nuclear Threat Initiative — to U.S. security measures slipped during the period, the report stated, partly because the government has not allowed international inspection of a former military bomb fuel plant now being used to prepare reactor wastes for burial.
The group also criticized Congress for failing to ratify two international treaties setting standards for fissile material protections and making nuclear terrorism a crime. Congress’s failure to do so, said the report’s authors, prevented the United States from receiving a better score.
The group, which is headed by former Sen. Armed Services Committee chairman Sam Nunn and devoted to curtailing the dangers posed by nuclear explosive or “fissile” materials, listed the United States as one of four countries out of 25 with stocks where security had lagged.
The other three countries were the United Kingdom, which has expanded its civilian stocks of fissile materials; Italy, where the report cited problems with widespread corruption; and South Africa, where overall physical security of such stocks is a concern. All lost a single point out of 100 possible under the NTI’s scoring system.
The rankings were made by a panel of 15 experts from around the world, who graded the countries on such categories as the physical protection of nuclear sites, international legal commitments and the sheer quantity of the nuclear materials within their borders. The experts included Russia’s Anatoly Diakov, a professor at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Tatsujiro Suzuki, vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, and Matthew Bunn, professor at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
The report was issued as the United States and others prepare for the third international nuclear security summit in the Netherlands in March. The summits were launched in 2010 by President Obama to highlight the dangers from fissile materials and the need to secure them more carefully.
Among the 25 states with stocks of nuclear explosive materials, the United States tied for 11th place with the United Kingdom in its security measures.
The index was created by NTI with the Economist Intelligence Unit, a global risk analysis company, which consulted 15 experts from 14 countries — including Argentina, Australia, China, France, India, Japan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.
Australia ranked first in the NTI’s index with 92 points out of 100, partly by ratifying the treaty to criminalize nuclear terror. North Korea, scoring low in 12 of the 19 categories, came in last, with just 30 points. That country recently “has also taken new steps necessary to produce new weapons-usable nuclear materials,” the report said, which may affect its score in future rankings.
Page Stoutland, a former Energy Department official who is the vice president for nuclear materials security at NTI, said that the United States lost points partly because it has not placed a facility called H-Canyon, a Cold War-era factory for producing bomb fuel at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, on a list of sites of sites open to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
A major NTI goal is to build world support for expanding the IAEA’s authority to monitor and enforce protections for fissile materials.“There’s got to be a permanent mechanism put into place here, and that’s the heart of our recommendations,” Nunn said. “You’ve got to have standards, you’ve got to have best practices and you’ve got to have peer review. And you’ve got to have an agency that has the authority and the mandate and the budget to deal with this problem on a continuing basis.”
Savannah River is no longer engaged in weapons work, and is being used to separate fissile materials from domestic and foreign research reactor wastes, in order to prepare them for disposal, according to the Department of Energy.
As part of its effort to press other governments to enhance the security of their fissile materials and the transparency of their holdings, the U.S. government since the Johnson administration has declared that certain civilian nuclear sites are “eligible” for international inspections. But H-Canyon has never been one of them, a former White House official said.
Another site at Savannah River called K Area that stores several tons of surplus weapons plutonium has been under IAEA safeguards for the past ten years, according to Tom Clements, a nuclear expert at Friends of the Earth.
The Austrian-based agency monitors the plutonium, he said, using video and tamper alarms that feed signals to the agency’s Vienna headquarters. He said he was told about the arrangement by a Department of Energy official.
Energy agency officials in Washington did not immediately respond Thursday to requests for comment.
Scott Sagan, a member of the NTI’s panel of experts who has served as a consultant to the Defense Department and U.S. weapons laboratories, said that the government keeps some non-weapons facilities off of the list of sites eligible for IAEA inspections out of security concerns.
“The U.S. government faces a tradeoff often when it has facilities that are involved in sensitive technology,” he said. “For the sake of nonproliferation and nuclear security, we want to show transparency and be open to safeguards. But in order to protect sensitive information we sometimes make an exception to our rule of transparency.”
Besides complaining about the inspections, NTI officials also expressed concern about the fate of two treaties — the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.
Congress has been debating legislation needed to implement the treaties since the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. But the implementing bill has been stalled in part by political discord over whether to authorize the death penalty in nuclear terror cases.
NTI President Joan Rohlfing, a former senior Energy Department official, on Wednesday called for action on the legislation. “Despite a 2010 commitment,” she told reporters, “Congress has still not passed legislation to complete the ratification of two critical treaties designed to protect against a terrorist with a nuclear weapon. Clearly, we are still lacking a global will to tackle this challenge with the urgency it deserves.”
Thomas Moore, a former senior adviser on arms control issues at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Obama administration failed to push hard enough for passage of the implementing bill.
“The administration really has put itself out on a limb both domestically and internationally with these two treaties, and the only reason is what I would call their failed legislative strategy,” he said.
Jonathan Lalley, assistant press secretary for national security at the White House, said in a statement that the administration has been working for two years with key Congressional staff and committees to pass the legislation.
“We call on Congress to complete the process so that the United States can fully exercise its influence to bring these critical nuclear security commitments into force around the world, and raise global standards for securing weapons-usable nuclear material,” Lalley said.
At a news conference, Nunn pointed out that seven countries had removed all or most of their stocks of highly-enriched uranium and plutonium since NTI released its first report on the topic in 2012. The countries were Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico, Sweden, Ukraine and Vietnam.
But he said inadequate security for fissile materials still represents a grave threat. “We know that terrorists are seeking materials,” said Nunn, who in the 1990s worked with then-Sen. Richard Lugar to establish programs that dismantled and locked up Soviet nuclear weapons.
“We know that information about building a nuclear weapon, even though a crude weapon, is widely available,” Nunn said. “We understand the consequences of a detonation – hundreds of thousands of dead and injured, disruptions to global commerce and confidence, long-term environmental and public health consequences" and probably much reduced civil liberties.
Nunn cited statements by leaders of the International Atomic Energy Agency that “a large percentage” of the dangerous nuclear material it recovers has never been reported missing, and some of the material reported missing is never found. A nuclear explosive device, he said, could be fashioned from a piece of highly-enriched uranium that could fit in a five-pound bag of sugar, or a piece of plutonium the size of a grapefruit.
In total, four states have increased their stocks of nuclear explosives since 2012, the report noted. Japan and the United Kingdom added to their civilian stocks, while India and Pakistan have increased both their civilian and military stocks.
The NTI report found that Pakistan improved its nuclear weapons-related security the most of any of the nuclear weapons states. The report cited the country’s efforts to “update its nuclear security regulations and to implement nuclear security best practices,” without providing details.
Pakistan nonetheless still ranked fourth from the bottom of the rankings.
Two congressional leaders — one Republican and one Democrat — are calling for investigations into Federal Election Commission computer security and operational breakdowns that the Center for Public Integrity detailed in a recent report.
The report revealed that Chinese hackers crashed the FEC's computer information technology systems in October just as the federal government shut down, and that the agency is suffering from chronic staffing shortages. A subsequent audit the FEC commissioned revealed a variety of other security issues.
"The revelations that FEC IT systems were compromised raises serious concerns," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Government Operations Subcommittee which oversees federal IT matters. "I am working with my staff and the staff of the full House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate the extent of the breaches, and I intend to conduct a full and thorough review of the vulnerabilities of FEC systems which should raise concerns for all federal elected officials."
The ranking member of the Committee on House Administration, Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., says he, too, wants his committee to conduct an oversight hearing on FEC operations — something he described as "long overdue."
"I want to know that they have the resources available to protect sensitive information," Brady said. "More broadly, I want to know that they have the resources and personnel needed to do the job at hand."
Republican Lee Goodman, the FEC's newly elected chairman, has pledged to work in concert with Democratic Vice Chairwoman Ann Ravel to swiftly address the agency's IT needs, including hiring security specialists and diverting funding to bolstering its systems. Ravel says she plans to work closely with Goodman.
It is a marked change in tone for the agency's leaders. Former Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, and Vice Chairman Don McGahn, a Republican, rarely spoke to one another. When they did last year, it often came in the form of protracted, and public arguments during commission meetings.
Brady praised the initial efforts of Goodman and Ravel. But he stressed that Congress, which has often paid the FEC scant attention, needs to focus more on the bipartisan agency, which has also experienced historically high levels of inaction in recent years — largely the product of ideological battles among commissioners.
"In recent years, FEC action has decreased significantly, mostly the result of partisan gridlock," Brady said. "We cannot afford to continue down that path. The evolving landscape of campaign funding only makes things worse. Campaign funding is getting more complex and it is up to the FEC to guide candidates and keep them within the bounds of the law."
A spokeswoman for Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., chairwoman of the Committee on House Administration, declined to comment on the FEC's troubles or on whether the committee plans any investigation.
Leaders of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee — chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kansas — did not respond to questions this week. The Senate Rules and Administration Committee's jurisdiction includes FEC oversight.
The White House, too, has repeatedly refused to comment on the FEC's problems. Obama spokesman Eric Schultz told the Center this month it will "get a response when we have one."
A valid criticism of the Affordable Care Act is that it doesn’t do enough to control health care costs. While there are a number of the law’s provisions that should help — such as the requirement that Medicare reduce payments to hospitals that have a high rate of readmissions — the major focus of the ACA was reducing the number of uninsured Americans by establishing new guidelines for how health insurance companies operate.
That was the same focus of the bill former governor Mitt Romney signed into law in Massachusetts in 2006, which is why there are so many similarities between “Romneycare” and “Obamacare.” Both, for example, sought to increase coverage by expanding Medicaid for low-income individuals and families, by prohibiting insurers from using health status when pricing policies, and by offering tax credits to help moderate income people buy insurance. Both also include an “individual mandate” — a requirement that most folks must enroll in a health plan or pay a penalty.
Lawmakers in both Massachusetts and Washington came to the conclusion that expanding coverage and attacking health care costs could not be done in a single piece of legislation. Bill and Hillary Clinton tried unsuccessfully to do it in the early 1990s. What happened then was that all of health care’s special interests — insurers, doctors, hospitals, drug companies and medical device makers — teamed up to kill the Clinton plan.
The lesson learned: sweeping reform was not politically feasible because of the political power of the entrenched special interests. Reform would have to be at least a two-step process, with the first step being to reduce the number of uninsured.
Both Romney and Obama adopted what was essentially a divide and begin-to-conquer strategy. Both were able to get their reform bills passed in large part by deferring action on addressing what my former insurance industry colleagues refer to as the “true drivers of health care costs.”
The problem is that the current political environment in Washington makes it unlikely that more reforms can be enacted anytime soon. As long as Republicans remained determined to gut the Affordable Care Act, Democrats won’t give them an opening by even allowing amendments to the law. And trying to find bipartisan support for any new proposals to reduce health care costs would be a fool’s errand.
But all is not lost. Progress can be made to control health care costs. And once again, Massachusetts might be able to lead the way, although a few other states are also setting their sights on ways to rein in medical spending.
But first, the bad news.
A report released last week by the Massachusetts’ Health Policy Commission said health care costs are higher in the Bay State than anywhere else and that more than one-third of what residents spend may be wasteful.
The good news: Massachusetts lawmakers at least had the foresight in 2012 to establish the Commission and to try to get a handle on costs. The law set targets for spending growth and establishes penalties on health care providers that exceed them.
Last week’s report found some relatively low-hanging fruit that could be picked to reduce spending. Among those steps: reducing unnecessary hospital readmissions and visits to the emergency room when a visit to a clinic or a primary care physician would be more effective.
The report also suggests improvements that could be undertaken to achieve the commission’s goals, ranging from making the cost and quality of care more transparent to changing how providers are paid to reward more efficient care.
As happened when Romneycare was passed in 2006, the eyes of policymakers in other states will be on Massachusetts in the coming years to see how the state’s cost-control efforts turn out.
On the heels of the Massachusetts report came another one last week suggesting actions all states should consider to reduce health care spending. That work, by the bipartisan State Health Care Cost Containment Commission (organized by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center) examines how the governors and legislators “can transform the current health-care system into one that is more integrated, coordinated, patient-centered and cost-effective.”
In the coming weeks, I will be looking at what the states are actually doing to begin implementing the commission’s recommendations. I’ll start with Massachusetts, where numerous promising efforts already are underway.
If we finally can figure out how to reduce health care spending, it will be in the state capitals and private sector where the work just might get done, not Washington.
Among the authorities responding to the massive chemical spill near Charleston, W.Va., which has left hundreds of thousands without water, is the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, whose investigative backlog was detailed in a Center for Public Integrity probe last year.
Last week’s spill of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a chemical used in processing coal, into the Elk River adds an urgent new case to the federal agency’s workload. The CSB is akin to the National Transportation Safety Board — an independent federal board whose inquiries are intended to unmask systemic breakdowns, paving the way for reform.
Yet the CSB has been dogged by long-running delays that have frustrated Congress, residents and even former board members.
The Center’s report, published last April, revealed how investigations into fatal accidents remain open, sometimes for years, amid what critics cite as a sluggish investigative pace. One former board member called the agency “grossly mismanaged.”
The number of board accident reports, case studies and safety bulletins fell precipitously since 2006, the Center found. The board’s executives said the agency was stretched thin, forced to decide which of the hundreds of “high-consequence” accidents that take place in the U.S. each year merit its attention. Agency representatives say the board is underfunded and must struggle to respond to requests — many of them from Congress — for investigations.
Even before the West Virginia chemical spill, a steady stream of serious accidents kept the small agency busy, from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 to the fire at Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, Calif., in 2012 and the explosion at West Fertilizer in Texas last April.
Read the Center probe in full: As critics press for action, Chemical Safety Board investigations languish
No more Rolexes. No more all-expenses-paid holidays. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe put an end to some of these lavish shows of political affection on Saturday, his first day in office, signing an executive order that bars the governor and executive branch employees from accepting gifts worth more than $100.
The move came in the wake of poor grades from the State Integrity Investigation and a protracted scandal that plagued McAuliffe’s predecessor, Republican former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. McDonnell is under investigation by federal authorities in connection with a series of gifts he and his family received from a Virginia business executive.
The executive order completed a promise Democrat McAuliffe made during his gubernatorial campaign, which played out in the shadow of the McDonnell scandal. The order applies to executive branch employees and their families only, and excludes the state attorney general, lieutenant governor and staff of a few commissions. It also creates an ethics commission that will investigate complaints under the order and issue recommendations for whether an employee should be disciplined, a decision that will be left to department chiefs.
Longtime political analyst Bob Holsworth said the move marks a clear break from the previous administration. “McAuliffe has made a pretty clear statement about where he stands,” Holsworth said, “but what it doesn’t do is it doesn’t tell us what we’re going to go through in the legislature.”
Virginia has some of the weakest ethics laws in the nation. Politicians can accepts gifts of unlimited value, are not subject to oversight by an ethics committee and are free to raise vast sums of money under a porous regime of campaign finance laws. The combination earned Virginia a grade of F from the State Integrity Investigation, a state-by-state ranking of ethics and accountability laws released in March 2012 by the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity.
The McDonnell scandal intensified pressure on Virginia’s politicians to enact reforms. Last week, the House majority and minority leaders, M. Kirkland Cox, a Republican, and David J. Toscano, a Democrat, announced a bipartisan deal that, if passed, would enact a limit of $250 on gifts from individuals to legislators and executive branch officials, and create an ethics commission as well. The deal would not address the state’s campaign finance laws, however, and the ethics commission as proposed would only have advisory powers, rendering it, “wan, weak and all but worthless,” according to a January 8 editorial by the Washington Post.
In his inaugural address, McAuliffe applauded legislative efforts to address ethics and called on lawmakers to pass “the strongest possible new ethics rules to hold all Virginia elected officials to the highest of standards,” according to his prepared address.
In a written statement, majority leader Cox said the governor has expressed support for the bipartisan legislative deal and that he looks forward to working with him to enact ethics reforms.
Holsworth said the bipartisan deal would merely be a first step, and would not address many aspects of the state’s troubled political ethics, including a cozy relationship between lobbyists and lawmakers. Lobbyists would continue to be able to fund lawmakers’ trips, for example.
McDonnell has not been charged with a crime, but in December the Post reported that federal prosecutors were prepared to do so before deciding to hold off. McDonnell and his family received tens of thousands of dollars in gifts from the owner of a dietary supplement company. Many of those gifts went undisclosed. Virginia officials must disclose all gifts over $50, but their family members aren’t required to do so.
The Federal Election Commission gets a small year-over-year raise in Congress' new 2014 spending bill, but funding for the beleaguered agency still falls short of what it received four years ago, according to federal budget records.
The FEC is due about $65.8 million this year, $700,000 less than the $66.5 million it received during the 2010 fiscal year. Last year, its budget was pegged at about $63 million thanks in large part to across-the-board federal spending cuts.
The new agency budget — 31-word line item tucked on page 509 of the 1,582-page federal budget document — also stipulates that the FEC may only use up to $5,000 of its allotment toward "reception and representation expenses."
The meager budget increase comes as the FEC, which enforces and administers the nation's federal election laws, is enduring one of the most difficult periods in its 39-year history.
Officials there are trying to fix multiple computer security problems, including infiltration by Chinese hackers and the breach of a commissioner's computer account, while grappling with a chronic staffing shortage that's caused huge backlogs in enforcement cases and disclosure reports. The Center for Public Integrity chronicled these and other problems in a recent investigative report.
Leaders of two congressional committees — one a Republican, one a Democrat — last week called for hearings and investigations into the FEC and its troubles.
Lee Goodman, the FEC's newly installed chairman and a Republican appointee, today said Congress' budget for the FEC "will allow the commission to address its most pressing priorities," including bolstering its computer security.
Goodman said he will "need a little more time to consider" whether the budget will allow him to work on the agency's longer term problems.
Prior to Goodman's installation in October, the FEC had already formally asked Congress and the Obama administration's Office of Management and Budget for $68 million for the next fiscal year, in 2015.
In its request, the FEC argued that recent funding reductions have had “a significant negative impact on the human capital management and daily operations of the agency."
The request continued: “Further reductions… will be detrimental to the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission and provide adequate services to the American public.”
In 2005, 385 people worked at the FEC. By late last year, just 338 people worked at the agency, which ended 2013 with 2.2 million pages worth of campaign finance disclosure reports not reviewed for errors, anomalies and completeness.
That's a 22-week backlog, Goodman estimated at the time.
Despite reports to the contrary, the debate over network neutrality is far from over.
On Tuesday, an appeals court overturned rules that bar broadband providers from blocking or slowing Internet traffic. But the court also suggested that the Federal Communications Commission can take another shot at the issue by reconsidering how it regulates the Internet.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the FCC doesn’t have the authority to require broadband providers to treat online content equally — leaving them free to manipulate online traffic or charge companies such as Netflix Inc. a premium for faster delivery.
If the FCC decides to take up the issue again, it will face some of the most formidable lobbyists in town.
Three Internet service providers were among the top 20 lobbying spenders in the first nine months of 2013. Combined they hired more than 350 lobbyists, 14 of whom were former members of Congress.
Also among the top lobbying spenders is the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which includes Comcast and Time Warner Cable Inc. as members. NCTA spent $13.3 million in the first nine months of 2013, ranking it ninth among the top spending lobbyists, according to CRP. The association, which opposed the net neutrality rules, hired 73 lobbyists, three of whom were former members of Congress.
Add in another $5.8 million from Time Warner Cable, the second-largest cable company in the nation, and the total from these broadband providers and their association surpassed $55 million in the first nine months of 2013. That’s about as much as the top health and pharmaceutical industries spent on lobbying combined.
The FCC’s options include an appeal — which agency Chairman Tom Wheeler said the commission was considering — in addition to rethinking the way it approaches broadband regulation.
One alternative includes classifying broadband providers as telecommunications services, a designation that would allow the agency to regulate Internet providers much like telephone companies. Such a move could lead to stricter regulations and stand a better chance of holding up in court.
But the FCC abandoned that idea months before passing the net neutrality rules in December 2010, choosing a less controversial but more legally suspect definition of broadband as an information service.
A move to regulate ISPs as telecommunications services would certainly invite political pressure from members of Congress and unleash millions of dollars more from the telecommunications and cable companies, a fight Wheeler, formerly head of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association and the high spending NCTA, may not want to take on.
As for Verizon, the company said in a statement that it was still “committed to an open Internet.”
“One thing is for sure: today’s decision will not change consumers’ ability to access and use the Internet as they do now,” the company said. “Verizon has been and remains committed to the open Internet that provides consumers with competitive choices and unblocked access to lawful websites and content when, where, and how they want.”
A District of Columbia judicial oversight commission could soon recommend changes that would force District judges to reveal more details about their personal finances.
The D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure’s potential recommendations follow a Center for Public Integrity investigation that ranks the financial disclosure requirements for D.C. judges among the worst in the nation.
But reforms may not come quickly, if at all: Any commission recommendation would require congressional approval, according to the commission and other D.C. officials.
At this juncture, discussions among members of the Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure “are still very preliminary,” said Cathaee Hudgins, the body’s executive director.
But during its monthly meeting on Jan. 8, the commission “had a very lengthy discussion” about the District’s financial disclosure requirements, Hudgins confirmed.
Hudgins said the commission will continue its discussion about D.C.’s financial disclosure requirements at its February meeting. So for now, she said, “we’re not going to start knocking on doors in Congress.”
Indeed, any changes recommended by the Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure must be enacted by Congress, as the D.C. City Council does not have the authority to act on changes proposed by the commission, council officials confirmed.
Judges who preside over cases for the District of Columbia Courts get paid by the federal government. But when it comes to publicly disclosing how they invest their paychecks, D.C. judges aren’t held to the same standard as their counterparts on the federal bench.
Federal judges’ disclosures are fairly extensive. The reports filed by D.C. judges? Not so much.
The Center for Public Integrity gave the District an “F” for its poor judicial disclosure law and ranked it tied for 47th among state high courts nationwide.
Only three states — Montana, Idaho and Utah — scored worse. That’s because those states don’t require judges to publicly report any information about their personal finances. (In light of the Center’s report, however, Montana’s Supreme Court recently issued an order requiring judges to file the same financial disclosures as other statewide officials.)
The District scored so poorly because the vast majority of the personal financial information that judges report to the Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure is kept hidden from the public. Only two of the disclosure form’s 10 sections — “Business and Charitable Affiliations” and “Honorarium” — are open for public inspection. The rest, including non-judicial income, investments and gifts, is kept confidential and only reviewed internally by the Commission, an agency in charge of disciplining judges.
Financial reports filed by federal judges, including U.S. Supreme Court justices, publicly disclose everything from non-judicial income and investments to gifts and reimbursements. Some states require similar levels of public disclosure.
In a phone interview, Hudgins told the Center for Public Integrity that the Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, whose meetings are closed to the public, specifically discussed how D.C.’s financial disclosure requirements compared to those in California and Maryland, states whose disclosure rules scored the highest marks in the Center for Public Integrity’s report.
She said commissioners were “surprised” to learn that California, Maryland and other states made public every section of their financial disclosure reports, including sections where judges disclose investments and liabilities.
“We didn’t realize that the whole reports were public,” Hudgins said.
If D.C. released the entirety of its judges’ financial interest reports, the District would earn 65 points instead of 15 out of 100 possible points. That would raise its grade from an “F” to a “D” and — even with that mediocre score — rank it among the top five states for judicial disclosure, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s grading system.
Two months after taking office in 2009, President Obama gave a televised address that laid out sweeping goals for U.S. financial, military, and technical assistance to Afghanistan, including developing an economy there “that isn’t dominated by illicit drugs.”
Since 2001, Washington has committed a total of roughly $10 billion to its ambitious counternarcotics effort in that country. But mostly due to reversals in the last two years, all that spending appears to have had little enduring impact, and Afghanistan’s prospects for finding its fiscal footing outside the drug trade are now slim, an independent federal auditor told the Senate’s Caucus on International Narcotics Control on Jan. 15.
“The situation in Afghanistan is dire with little prospect for improvement in 2014 or beyond,” Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko told the caucus, recounting “the opinion of almost everyone I spoke with” about the growing role of narcotics in the country’s economy during a November visit there.
In blunt testimony to the caucus chaired by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Sopko cited statistics that cast an unflattering light on the costly U.S. effort, which is now winding down as the Obama administration prepares to pull additional troops from the country.
From 2012 to 2013, the value of Afghanistan’s narcotics trade increased 50 percent, and it now accounts for 15 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Poppy cultivation has reached record levels, with acreage now three times the level in 2002 and equivalent to plantings on land 12 times the size of the District of Columbia. Opium production alone increased nearly 50 percent in the last year. More than five percent of the Afghan populace is now addicted to opiates. Moreover, half of the existing poppy fields are now located in Helmand Province, the principal locus of the U.S. miltary’s “surge” during Obama’s first term.
This grim news is a boon to the Taliban, which is now drawing at least $155 million a year from narcotics-related activities, and investing the funds in insurgency, according to United Nations estimates. “The Taliban is involved in taxing opium poppy farmers; operating processing laboratories; moving narcotics; taxing narcotics transporters ... [and] providing security to poppy fields, drug labs, and opium bazaars,” Drug Enforcement Administration chief of operations James L. Capra said in written testimony to the caucus.
Sopko warned that this booming narcotics trade is undermining the country’s stability, threatening the health of its people, eroding the rule of law, and adding further to official corruption — essentially threatening much of what the United States has tried to accomplish there over the past decade, at a total cost of more than $70 billion and 2,300 U.S. military deaths.
Afghanistan now produces more than 80 percent of the world's opium. But the Obama administration seems uninterested in shifting course. Its spending on the Pentagon’s office of counternarcotics for work in Afghanistan is slated to decline by 20 percent this year, and in-country staffing by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Homeland Security is dropping by half.
The military airlift and protection that DEA officers need to operate are mostly evaporating, Capra and other witnesses acknowledged. A special Afghan air unit, created with nearly a billion dollars in U.S. funding, only has a quarter of the personnel it needs, and few pilots rated to fly with the night vision goggles considered essential to counternarcotics raids. Total Afghan drug seizures in the first nine months of last year amounted to 121 metric tons, compared with an estimated 5,500 tons of opium alone produced over the entire 12 months.
The DEA’s anguish is palpable.
Capra said the military drawdown and staffing decreases will "significantly impact the scope of DEA's operations." While the Afghanistan government is still not capable of doing what its foreign partners have done to combat narcotics, specialized Afghan units have acquired important capabilities “at great cost,” after “years of great sacrifice by DEA personnel and an enormous expenditure of U.S. government resources," he said. The erosion of this capability, he added, “puts at risk the U.S. strategic objective of achieving a stable and secure Afghanistan.”
Erin Logan, the Defense Department’s principal director for counternarcotics and global threats, similarly was not optimistic. In her written testimony, she said “the drawdowns in U.S. and coalition military forces will likely lead to increased drug production and corresponding instability in Afghanistan and the region.”
Sopko was particularly critical in his testimony of the fact that – despite Obama’s lofty words in 2009 — counternarcotics has been a steadily declining priority for the administration’s policy appointees. The boots-on-the ground experts he spoke to during his visit all “told me that they are very worried that the United States and its coalition partners are not sufficiently focused on counternarcotics,” he said.
The Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, an independent analysis group funded by aid donors in Kabul, seconded that view in report last September. “Policymakers,” it said, “seem to have lost all appetite for talking about the production and trade of opium.”
The official U.S. disdain may stem partly from the sheer magnitude of the task and the endemic obstacles to its achievement in one of the poorest nations on earth, where poppy-growing has long been a cultural and financial mainstay. As William Brownfield, the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics, cautioned in his written testimony for the hearing, “there is no silver bullet” to solve the narcotics problem, which surged amid chaotic conditions after the US intervention.
But the Obama administration seems aware — without specifically acknowledging it — that its vaunted “whole of government” approach to the problem, adopted in 2010 and meant to cultivate good governance practices and enhance counterinsurgency efforts in lieu of outright poppy eradication, hasn’t yet turned the corner on the drug trade and isn’t likely to anytime soon.
That approach was formulated after a 2009 visit to Afghanistan by the Pentagon’s policy chief Michelle Flournoy, who warned Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that only a more integrated and comprehensive civilian-military aid program would work. Counternarcotics, she said in a memo to Gates that he quotes in his new book, “Duty,” was only one of four “competing — and often conflicting — campaigns” during the Bush years.
There is some evidence that the surge — the addition of 21,000 U.S. troops and increased development investments at the beginning of Obama’s first term — made a difference. In Helmand, poppy cultivation declined by nearly 40 percent from 2008 to 2011, a circumstance attributed by experts mostly to the heightened foreign presence, Sopko said.
But by 2012, Gates had become convinced, he states in his book, that counternarcotics was a specialized mission that should be reexamined in light of declining resources. A U.S. troop pullout that began in 2011 accelerated in 2012, roughly the period when international experts and the Defense Department itself said the narcotics market expanded again.
Since then, Sopko testified, seizures of both narcotics and illicit chemicals have declined and counter-drug operations have dropped by nearly a third. He suggested that soon, DEA agents will be confined to Kabul, and decried what he called the administration’s decision to cut DEA personnel arbitrarily and then tailor its strategy to the number of agents remaining, rather than pick a proven strategy first and then decide how many to retain.
“No one at the [U.S.] Embassy could convincingly explain to me how the U.S. government counternarcotics efforts are making a meaningful impact,” Sopko said, adding that he was surprised to learn that little effort had been made over the past decade to examine carefully what worked and what didn’t among the Western programs. How can the program succeed with fewer personnel if it has failed up to now?, he asked. He raised the possibility that Afghanistan will become a “narco-criminal state” if a more sound strategy is not pursued.
Sen. Feinstein told the witnesses that “there is little good news” and cautioned that the grim statistics will be ignored “at our peril.” She also said “we’re looking for ideas,” and urged in particular that the DEA find a way to collaborate with its counterparts in Russia and Iran, where a significant portion of Afghanistan’s heroin moves.
The task of defending the administration’s policies fell mostly to Brownfield, who cautioned that counter-drug strategies can take years to bear fruit, and said “I do not share” the pessimism expressed by so many others. He said that while he cannot promise success this year or next year, the United States and its partners have put in place “a sustainable and adaptable” program to keep building the Afghanistan government’s ability to handle its drug problems.
I wish, he added, that it was a simple matter of writing up a strategy and having a checklist.
This article was co-published with Foreign Policy.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in 2010 did not, as some warned, unleash a flood of corporate money directly into elections.
But since then, scores of blue-chip U.S. companies quietly bankrolled politically active nonprofits to the tune of at least $185 million in roughly a single year, according to a new Center for Public Integrity investigation.
Ranking among the biggest donors are energy giant Exelon Corp., health insurer WellPoint Inc. and technology titan Microsoft Corp.
The millions of dollars in corporate expenditures highlighted by the Center for Public Integrity’s research flowed to more than 1,000 politically active nonprofits, from major trade associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to pro-business alliances such as the Fix the Debt Coalition.
Many such trade associations and so-called “social welfare” groups have released a tsunami of political ads since the Citizens United decision.
These funds have been dubbed “dark money” because nonprofits organized under sections 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) of the U.S. tax code need not publicly disclose the sources of their funding — unlike candidates, political parties and super PACs.
The Center for Public Integrity illuminated the flow of money by combing through voluntary disclosures filed by the 300 largest public companies in the United States, as ranked by Fortune magazine, most of which covered calendar year 2012.
Shadowy spending has targeted elections at all levels, from the White House to Congress to state party committees. The extent of financial involvement from major corporations has been unclear, as there has been only a scant paper trail to examine.
According to the Center for Public Integrity’s seven-month analysis, roughly 84 percent of the $185 million in self-reported funds flowed to trade associations, including major political players like the Chamber, America's Health Insurance Plans and the American Petroleum Institute.
Meanwhile, about 13 percent went to social welfare nonprofits such as the Democratic-aligned Third Way think tank and the Republican Main Street Partnership.
And about 3 percent was doled out to other entities such as the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the National Conference of State Legislators, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council.
The analysis found that roughly one-third of the Fortune 300 companies voluntarily disclosed dues payments, grants or contributions to trade associations and other politically engaged nonprofits. Dozens of other large firms, meanwhile, reported affiliations with such groups without getting into the financial details.
Some of the nation’s largest companies — including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., ExxonMobil Corp. and AT&T Inc. — do not voluntarily disclose their political spending.
But what voluntary transparency does exist heartens disclosure supporters.
“Companies increasingly see disclosure as good governance,” said Bruce Freed, the president of the Center for Political Accountability, which advocates for greater corporate self-reporting and each year grades major U.S. companies on their policies and practices.
“There is a premium on transparency,” Freed continued. “Openness on this is in their self-interest.”
Chamber backers revealed
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a vocal opponent of more robust corporate disclosure, was the most frequently identified beneficiary of this money, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s research.
The Chamber received funds from at least 62 of the nation’s largest 300 companies, totaling nearly $11 million, according to the voluntary disclosures. The Chamber does not itself reveal its members or their financial contributions, although it does name the business executives who sit on its senior management committee and board of directors.
In 2012, the Chamber reported spending more than $32 million on political advertisements to the Federal Election Commission, most of which urged viewers to vote against congressional Democrats.
Such overt political engagement has continued this election cycle.
In recent months, the Chamber has released a flurry of ads praising Republicans in Congress, ranging from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, a veteran lawmaker who has been targeted for defeat by conservative groups such as the Club for Growth, which accuses him of being a “liberal Republican.”
The Chamber is also Washington’s king of the influence game, having spent more than $100 million in 2012 lobbying on issues ranging from financial regulations to healthcare to immigration reform.
In recent years, it has also worked hard to defeat the DISCLOSE Act — legislation advanced by Democrats to require politically active nonprofits to reveal additional information about their funders.
With many activists, lawmakers and regulators clamoring for increased scrutiny of political spending by social welfare nonprofits, trade associations like the Chamber could play even larger roles in terms of dark money spending in the 2014 and 2016 elections.
The $11 million in disclosed contributions are a mere sliver of the Chamber’s $188 million in total 2012 receipts.
The top self-reporting donors to the Chamber in 2012 are: Dow Chemical Co. ($2.9 million), Chevron Corp. ($1 million), Merck & Co., Inc. ($907,500), American Electric Power Co., Inc. ($525,000) and 3M Co. ($515,500).
Yet companies likely gave much more than was able to be counted. Several companies reported only what portion of their dues payments were used for lobbying and political activities, not their total contributions.
Many also provided information only if the spending exceeded a minimum threshold, such as “at least $50,000.” Since the disclosures are voluntary, there is no reporting standard, federal or otherwise, by which they must abide.
Furthermore, 12 companies — including Best Buy Co. Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and Google Inc. — did not even disclose a range, just that they’re affiliated with the Chamber.
In all, the Center for Public Integrity identified more than two dozen politically active nonprofits that received at least $1 million from corporate donors.
Another was the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, which touts itself as a “highly aggressive” force to improve “the lawsuit climate in America and around the globe.” It received $1.6 million from five companies, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s research.
Those donors were Prudential Financial Inc. ($800,000), insurer Chubb Corp. (at least $375,000), MetLife Inc. (at least $250,000), the Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. (at least $75,000) and Deere & Co. (at least $50,000).
Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes said “labor unions, shareholder activists and anti-business policymakers have long sought to drive the voice of the business community out of the political process.”
She continued: “Activists want additional disclosure of political spending so they can target the companies for harassment and boycotts."
Exelon corporate coffers tapped
Many of the Chamber’s own members do support enhanced nonprofit contribution disclosure practices — despite the Chamber’s opposition.
One of those companies is Exelon Corp., the nation’s largest nuclear power plant operator, which contributed $250,000 to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2012, according to a company document.
Exelon reported doling out $26 million in 2012 to roughly two dozen nonprofits organized under Sec. 501(c)(6), which governs trade associations, and under Sec. 501(c)(4), so-called social welfare organizations.
The amount is the largest amount voluntarily disclosed among any of the Fortune 300 companies reviewed.
Exelon’s total revenue that year exceeded $23 billion, according to its annual report.
“Exelon intends to be a leader in corporate governance, social responsibility and corporate citizenship, and disclosure of political spending enhances our reputation for good governance and transparency,” said company spokesman Paul Adams.
In fact, the Chicago-based energy giant was one of just three Fortune 300 companies that reported giving trade associations and other politically active nonprofits more than $10 million.
The other two: health insurer WellPoint Inc., which reported giving $19 million to 15 trade associations over 2012 and 2013, and Microsoft Corp., which doled out $12.5 million to more than three dozen groups between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012 — its 2012 fiscal year.
Exelon’s largest reported contribution was the $14.4 million that it gave to support the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear power industry’s main trade association and an active force on Capitol Hill, where it has advocated for the construction of new power plants and against new energy taxes.
This sum represented more than a quarter of the Institute’s overall receipts in 2012, according to tax records.
The company also disclosed six-figure payments to two other trade groups, $6.9 million to the Edison Electric Institute and $1.2 million to the American Gas Association.
Adams said Exelon’s financial support of trade associations that “share our broad interests” gives the company “a seat at the table on trade group political activity,” adding that “we do not necessarily support every policy position taken by those organizations.”
He further noted that the Nuclear Energy Institute dues are “based on the size of a member’s nuclear assets.”
Exelon also disclosed multiple contributions to social welfare organizations, the largest of which was $290,000 given to the American Energy Alliance — a 501(c)(4) nonprofit with ties to the conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and led by former Koch Industries lobbyist Thomas Pyle.
Ahead of the 2012 presidential election, the American Energy Alliance organized a 17-state bus tour and spent more than $1 million on television ads in Virginia and Ohio urging viewers to "stand with coal" and "vote no on Obama's failing energy policy," as the Center for Public Integrity previously reported.
While Exelon’s primary energy investment is in nuclear energy, it also has owned and operated coal-fired power plants. Adams said Exelon contributed to the American Energy Alliance because it shared the company’s view that the wind production tax credit “should be allowed to expire.”
The company also made more modest contributions in 2012 to social welfare groups such as the American Action Network, whose chairman is former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and the Hispanic Leadership Alliance, which was co-founded by George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush who’s currently running for Texas land commissioner.
Adams said that Exelon’s investors “generally expect us to be engaged in political processes that affect our business” because the company is “highly regulated” and “significantly affected” by state and federal policies.
What’s the value of transparency?
In recent years, companies across diverse industries have instituted more robust disclosure requirements when it comes to payments to trade associations and contributions to other politically active organizations. Some even tout the marks they have received from the Center for Political Accountability.
“Transparency is always a priority for us,” Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokeswoman Katie Key said.
Microsoft spokesman Dan Bross echoed that sentiment, noting that his company discloses this information “because public trust in corporations depends in large part on the basic aspects of business character: integrity, values and transparency.”
“We believe it’s good business practice,” Bross added. “Being transparent about our involvement in these groups provides shareholders and customers insights about how our policy work aligns with our business goals.”
And Randy Belote, vice president for strategic communications at defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp., asserted that the company’s voluntary disclosure policy “aligns with our commitment to transparency and corporate responsibility.”
Yet while the Center for Political Accountability has documented an increasing number of companies adopting enhanced disclosure policies during the past decade, many corporations have fought back against shareholder resolutions urging more transparency.
For instance, a group of shareholders of ExxonMobil, the second-largest company in the United States, failed last year in their attempt to get the company to disclose its spending on “direct and indirect lobbying” — a phrase frequently used by shareholder activists to address payments to trade associations and membership groups in addition to what must already be reported to Congress and state-level regulators.
ExxonMobil’s board of directors argued that “detailed disclosures concerning internal deliberations on public policy issues could be competitively harmful and would be of questionable utility to shareholders.”
Similarly, the board of directors of Verizon Communications Inc. argued in 2013 that a disclosure proposal “would provide little or no value to shareholders while imposing significant administrative burdens on the company.”
Moreover, three of the largest industry trade groups in the country — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers — penned a letter last fall to business leaders urging them to reject new disclosure proposals.
“Corporations do NOT support increased political and lobbying ‘disclosure,’” read the letter, which was first reported by the Center for Public Integrity.
Such practices, the letter said, are part of a “long-term effort by political activists to limit the ability of companies to make their voices heard in the public policy arena.”
The letter was signed by U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue, Business Roundtable President John Engler and National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons.
Additionally, the Center for Competitive Politics, which favors campaign finance deregulation, last year launched a website called ProxyFacts.org.
It says it provides “the truth about corporate political spending issues” and argues that the ultimate goal of robust disclosure rules is “to remove corporations from the policy playing field altogether.”
Why the secrecy?
Businesses have an incentive to keep their political donations secret — despite the opining by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Citizens United majority opinion that prompt disclosure of corporate expenditures could be a reality “with the advent of the Internet.”
“Corporations worry about alienating their customers,” said Rick Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California, Irvine. “When customers can associate a store or company with a particular political position, they may be less likely to shop there if they disagree with that position.”
For instance, the Fix the Debt Coalition calls for dramatic reforms to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the U.S. tax code — positions that might be objectionable to some segments of the population.
The social welfare nonprofit was founded in 2012 by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming and North Carolina Democrat Erskine Bowles, who served in the Clinton administration. Scores of business executives serve on its “CEO steering committee,” “CEO Council” and “Business Leaders Council.”
During its initial year, the Fix the Debt Coalition raised more than $11 million, and its donors include rail company CSX Corp. and technology firm EMC Corp., which each gave the nonprofit $1 million in 2012, according to information on the companies’ websites.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Norfolk Southern Corp. are also donors, giving $500,000 and $400,000, respectively, in 2012.
So is Allstate Corp., although the insurer did not disclose the actual amount of its contribution.
During the first nine months of 2013, the Fix the Debt Coalition reported spending $620,000 on federal lobbying to fix “U.S. long-term debt and deficits.”
Maya MacGuineas, president of the Fix the Debt Coalition, said that while the “bulk” of the group’s funding comes from businesses, donors get “zilch” in return.
Donors are “not getting anything directly out of this,” she said. “We don’t ask them for input.”
Getting the nation’s debt on a downward path, MacGuineas added, is “really patriotic” and “a public interest issue.”
Additionally, General Electric Co. and Qualcomm Inc. each reported giving $1 million in 2012 to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the Fix the Debt Coalition’s parent organization. Organized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, it raised nearly $15 million that year.
Another corporation-funded nonprofit whose donors may face backlash from consumers is the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an industry-backed trade group that promotes the use of coal. It’s particularly unpopular among environmentalists.
It raised $43 million in 2012, according to an annual tax filing.
Voluntary corporate disclosures show that several energy and transportation companies in the Fortune 300 are among its funders, including Norfolk Southern ($835,000), American Electric Power ($503,000), CSX ($242,000), Union Pacific Corp. ($242,000), and Southern Co. (at least $50,000).
Support flows to think tanks, advocacy groups
Meanwhile, Third Way — a centrist think tank based in Washington, D.C., that counts a dozen Democratic members of Congress among its advisers — was also routinely mentioned in corporate filings.
According to the Center for Public Integrity’s research, at least 10 of the largest 300 public companies collectively gave Third Way more than $270,000 in 2012. They ranged from Hewlett-Packard Co. to Pacific Gas & Electric to Johnson & Johnson.
Two other companies — Minnesota-based Target Corp. and Tennessee-based International Paper Co. — also both disclosed financial assistance to Third Way but declined to put dollar amounts on their support.
The social welfare nonprofit, which tax records show raised $9.3 million in 2012, has recently been caught in a heated debate after two of its officers urged Democrats to avoid “economic populism” in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
The piece led Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to fire off a letter to the largest banks in the country asking them to reveal their contributions to think tanks like Third Way, whose board of trustees includes many investment bankers.
Third Way spokesman Sean Gibbons has dismissed accusations that the nonprofit’s work was influenced by its funders. “No one — not our donors, our political allies or our friends — tells us what to think, write or say,” he told the New York Times in December.
The Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute was another Democratic-leaning nonprofit that accepted corporate cash, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s research.
The social welfare nonprofit received $25,000 in 2012 from Entergy Corp., $20,000 from Pacific Gas & Electric, $10,000 from Intel Corp. and an unknown amount from Google.
Another was the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation, a nonprofit organized as a charity under Sec. 501(c)(3). It received $25,000 from energy company Phillips 66.
On the Republican side, seven companies in the analysis disclosed financial ties to the Republican Main Street Partnership, a pro-business group led by former GOP Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio.
The Partnership has collected more than $100,000 from Fortune 300 companies, including at least $15,000 from Hewlett-Packard, $15,000 from Intel and $25,000 from Pfizer Inc. during the 2011-2012 election cycle. The contributions from Hewlett-Packard and Intel both came in 2012.
The nonprofit, which tax records show raised $1.3 million in 2012, has actively promoted moderate Republican candidates since its formation in the early 1990s amid the “Republican revolution” led by Newt Gingrich.
Last week, Yahoo News reported that the group would drop the word “Republican” from its name and welcome moderate Democrats to join its ranks in 2014.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, a controversial think tank that allows state lawmakers, most of them Republicans, to work with businesses to craft legislation, was another conservative-leaning beneficiary identified in corporate filings.
California-based eBay Inc. paid ALEC $12,000 in 2012, while Google contributed an unspecified sum.
Furthermore, some beneficiaries listed were not nonprofits, but limited liability companies, another legal structure that has been recently gaining in popularity in some political corners.
Target and Best Buy, for instance, both disclosed financial support — of unidentified amounts — to the Alliance of Wisconsin Retailers LLC in 2012, which backs priorities favorable to the companies.
State documents show two men — Matt Phillips and Scott Stenger — are currently authorized to lobby on the Alliance’s behalf in Wisconsin, and the LLC’s legislative priorities have included advocating for a measure that requires online retailers to pay sales taxes.
‘Meant to be overwhelming’
Some corporate-funded nonprofits influence government even at local levels.
Case in point: Restoring Ohio Inc.
In 2012, this social welfare nonprofit that describes itself as supporting “free enterprise, limited government, economic growth and traditional values” launched an advertising campaign to oust Jonathan Binkley, a Republican committeeman representing Ohio’s 11th Senate District, in Toledo, on the state party’s 66-member central committee.
Such an election is typically decided by the most passionate of the party’s primary voters, not the general public.
Binkley supported the incumbent party chairman, Kevin DeWine, which put him at odds with Republican Gov. John Kasich, who wanted someone else in the job.
The little-known Restoring Ohio, which has a mailing address in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, lists its directors as longtime Kasich associates, including Don Thibaut, a lobbyist who served as a top aide to Kasich for nearly 20 years.
When contacted by the Center for Public Integrity, Eric Lycan, the group’s legal counsel, declined to answer questions about the nonprofit’s contributors citing a desire to “protect the privacy of its donors.”
When Restoring Ohio applied for tax-exempt status, it told the Internal Revenue Service that it intended to solicit funds from both individuals and businesses, including “businesses in industries that are heavily impacted by government regulations.”
It appears to have been successful. Corporate records show health insurer Aetna Inc., for one, contributed $25,000 to the group.
Media reports at the time of Binkley’s race called Restoring Ohio’s television ad blitz “unprecedented.”
An employee at WTVG, the local ABC affiliate, told the Center for Public Integrity that Restoring Ohio spent more than $11,000 on ads.
“It was meant to be overwhelming,” said Binkley, who ultimately was defeated, despite backing from the Ohio Republican Party.
He added that he isn’t happy about the Citizens United ruling or the burst of activity from a group whose “name itself is a propaganda gimmick.”
The high court’s decision, Binkley said, allowed “a gorilla into what should be a monkey fight.”
Julie Patel, Erin Quinn, Ben Wieder and Adam Wollner contributed to this report.
Correction, Jan. 17, 2:34 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that none of the $32 million the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported spending to the Federal Election Commission on advertisements urged people to vote against President Barack Obama. However, during the 2012 election cycle, the Chamber also spent millions of dollars on advertisements that were critical of Obama’s policies, including his landmark health care reform law, but none of these ads explicitly urged viewers to vote against the president.
Dow Chemical Co. steered $2 million to a Michigan “dark money” nonprofit in 2012 whose ads helped defeat a union-backed ballot measure aimed at protecting collective bargaining rights, the Center for Public Integrity has learned.
The giant chemical maker was one of several corporations that helped finance a web of so-called “social welfare” nonprofits and trade associations that are active in politics but not legally obligated to publicly identify their funders.
An examination of corporate “good governance” disclosures, however, shows several of these politically active Michigan-based nonprofits received donations from companies including health insurer Aetna Inc., Johnson & Johnson and cigarette maker Reynolds American Inc.
Ahead of the 2012 election, unions pushed for a ballot measure that would have enshrined collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. The top underwriters of the ballot measure’s opposition were the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Alliance for Business Growth.
Protecting Michigan Taxpayers — the public face of the opposition — raised about $23 million, including $6.4 million from the Michigan Chamber and $5.5 million from the Michigan Alliance for Business Growth, according to state campaign finance records.
In ads, the group blasted the union-endorsed Proposal 2 as the “Union Boss Ballot Initiative” and a “special interest power play.” Supporters of Proposal 2 countered that they faced a “movement to crush labor unions.”
Voters soundly defeated the measure.
Because the politically active nonprofits were not required to reveal their contributors, they effectively hid the identity of the donors who fueled the opposition.
Dow Chemical — one of the largest companies in Michigan — gave $2 million to the Michigan Alliance for Business Growth in 2012 and another $611,700 to the Michigan Chamber, according to records posted by the company on its website.
Tax records indicate that no other donor gave more that year to the Michigan Alliance for Business Growth.
Sara Steele, a Dow Chemical spokeswoman, declined to answer specific questions about the company’s financial support of the two groups.
Michigan lawmakers have also benefited from politically active nonprofits.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, is connected to a nonprofit called On Duty for Michigan, a nod to his campaign slogan, which raised $202,000 in 2012, according to tax records.
Corporate records show this nonprofit has received money from agriculture giant Monsanto Co. ($2,500), Aetna ($2,000) and CVS Caremark Corp. ($1,000).
Troy Cumings, executive director of the group, said On Duty for Michigan was established to assist in the transition between attorneys general in 2010, and that it engages in issue advocacy and other programming to “defray taxpayer cost.”
Cumings added that donors who contribute to the group this year will be identified, although this new disclosure policy would not affect past contributors.
Meanwhile, Kim MacMaster, the wife of GOP state Sen. Greg MacMaster, heads a social welfare nonprofit called the Fund for Michigan’s Future, which collected $5,000 from Aetna in 2012.
In September, on the heels of MacMaster’s announcement that he would run for a new, open state senate seat, the fund produced ads that thanked citizens for letting MacMaster be their "trusted voice in northern Michigan.”
Similarly, the pro-Republican Michigan Jobs and Labor Foundation raised about $630,000 in 2012, which it used for “polling and educational seminars,” among other expenditures, according to tax records.
Corporate donors to the group that year included energy company Exelon Corp. ($10,000), Aetna ($2,250), Pfizer Inc. ($2,000), Johnson & Johnson ($1,250), CVS Caremark ($1,000) and Reynolds American ($1,000), according to a Center for Public Integrity review of company records.
When the Center for Public Integrity attempted to contact the Foundation, it received this email from Steve Linder, the president and managing partner of the Sterling Corp., which is affiliated with the group: “Do not contact anyone from the Michigan Jobs and Labor Foundation again. No one will respond.”
Democratic lawmakers have also dived into the political nonprofit game.
The Michigan Quality of Life Fund was originally founded in 2001 by former Democratic state Rep. Kwame Kilpatrick — who went on to serve as mayor of Detroit and is now serving time in prison following corruption convictions — although more than a dozen Democratic leaders in the Michigan House of Representatives have been associated with the group.
The nonprofit’s current president is Democratic state Rep. Brandon Dillon. State Rep. Sam Singh serves as its vice president. And state Rep. Pam Faris also serves as a director.
The group helps Democrats by hosting trainings, “community forums” and “leadership retreats” for “community leaders, activists and students.”
In 2012, the Fund received $2,000 from Aetna and $1,000 from CVS Caremark, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of company records.
All the while, Michigan’s already weak rules requiring that outside groups report only the most basic of information about political ads have gotten even weaker.
Under legislation signed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in December, makers of so-called “issue ads” — those that mention candidates ahead of Election Day but don’t overtly call for their election or defeat — need not report their expenditures, let alone the donors who fund them.
The disclosure of such spending would usually be required in federal races.
Rich Robinson, president of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, worries that politically active nonprofits will now become even more pervasive in the state’s politics.
“The direction of the legislature is going the wrong way right now in terms of transparency and accountability in our campaigns,” he said.
The new project, which uncovered more than $185 million in contributions to trade associations and politically active nonprofits, allows the general public and members of the media alike to track the flow of corporate cash.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in 2010 allowed corporations to pay for political advocacy — or donate to intermediaries like trade associations and nonprofit groups to do the same. The companies are under no legal obligation to disclose their giving to such groups, and the nonprofits are not required to publicly identify their donors.
With this new resource, users can search by company or by nonprofit beneficiary. Profiles illuminate the cash connections uncovered by the Center for Public Integrity’s research.
To build this new database, the Center for Public Integrity reviewed the voluntary corporate disclosures covering political and lobbying expenditures for the largest 300 public companies in the United States, as ranked by Fortune magazine.
The analysis found that roughly one-third of the Fortune 300 companies voluntarily disclosed dues payments, grants or contributions to trade associations and other politically engaged nonprofits.
Dozens of other large firms, meanwhile, reported affiliations with such groups without disclosing the financial details.
Whenever a voluntary filing was discovered, Center staff manually keyed in the associated data, most of which covered giving in calendar year 2012.
That means if you are interested in trade associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers or the Business Roundtable, you’ll be able see how much money they received from the major companies that reported their giving.
The same goes for certain think tanks and foundations, such as Third Way, the Republican Main Street Partnership, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Heritage Foundation and the Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute.
You can also look up the donations of companies including Microsoft Corp., Aetna Inc. and The Coca-Cola Co. Furthermore, you see which firms didn't disclose any of their giving to these politically active nonprofits.
Companies likely gave much more than was able to be counted.
Several reported only the portion of their dues payments that were used for lobbying and political activities, not their total contributions. Others provided information only if the spending exceeded a minimum threshold, such as “at least $50,000.”
Since the disclosures are voluntary, there is no reporting standard, federal or otherwise, by which they must abide.
Additionally, the Center reviewed research by the Center for Political Accountability, which advocates for greater corporate reporting and each year grades major U.S. companies on their policies and practices.
Based on these findings, corporate contributions to politically active nonprofits from roughly a dozen firms that are not among the largest 300 in the country were also added to the database.
If you see something wrong or missing in the database, or know of a company that discloses political and trade association giving but is not on our list, please contact us at email@example.com.
A federal spending bill working its way through Congress would take a step toward reforming America’s controversial food aid program, by allowing more aid to be purchased within the regions that receive it.
Last fall, a Center story detailed how special interests were fighting to preserve the U.S.’s unusual food aid system. Unlike other developed countries, which purchase most food aid near where it is delivered, the U.S. buys food from American farms, ships it on American vessels, and gives away much of the goods free of cost for humanitarian groups to distribute. Although the Government Accountability Office, a watchdog arm of Congress, has concluded that this system is “inherently inefficient” and can be harmful to farmers in recipient nations, for decades the setup has been politically untouchable.
The Center’s piece revealed how a small but determined group of shipping unions sunk efforts to reform this system last year by persuading progressive, labor-friendly Democrats to oppose any changes.
Now, a sweeping agreement on 2014 federal spending includes a small but notable step toward reshaping this system. The deal was approved yesterday by the House of Representatives and is expected to be easily approved by the Senate as well.
The spending agreement includes a provision that would allow $35 million from Food for Peace, America’s largest food aid program, to be spent procuring aid locally. The entire Food for Peace program currently must be spent on food grown and shipped from America, much of which is “monetized” by being given away free of cost for humanitarian groups to sell.
The Obama administration estimated that broadly reforming this system would allow it to reach up to 4 million more people with food aid each year for the same price. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the agency that distributes food aid, said the strict limitations in the current system forced it to choose among needy regions that could only be served by cash aid, at one point scaling back aid to Somalia due to humanitarian crisis in Syria.
The amount being shifted in the deal struck by Congress is only $35 million — a drop in the bucket of the nearly $1.5 billion Food for Peace program. But it came with a striking explanation from the Senate committee that drafted the provision.
“This represents a significant initial step in phasing out the practice of monetization over the next several years to ensure government resources are efficiently utilized,” wrote the Senate Agricultural Appropriations committee in its report on the bill.
While the report reflects the views of the Senate committee that wrote it rather than Congress as a whole, it suggests a growing appetite in Congress for reshaping the food aid system.
Blake Selzer, a senior policy advocate for the aid group CARE who has promoted food aid reform, said the changes would have a concrete impact.
“It will result in a more efficient and effective food aid program able to reach more of the world’s most vulnerable populations,” Selzer said in an email. “This flexibility will enable the U.S. to respond quickly to crisis in places like the conflict in Syria, or the natural disaster in the Philippines.”
Working in the U.S. nuclear-tipped missile force, a job that seemed vital to the country’s security during the Cold War, is an increasingly thankless and dispiriting task, as a new scandal this week has made clear.
A special Defense Science Board survey, completed in April 2013, noted that morale in the force had declined because “national leaders, past and present, [question]…the need for the nuclear capabilities.” Resources have been steadily declining; technical orders are “outdated or inaccurate”; repairs and reforms take an exceptionally long time to implement; and turnover in the security and maintenance forces has consequently been high, the report said.
Those responsible for launching nuclear-tipped missiles in some ways have the worst of it. The capsules they work in are sometimes dampened by groundwater leaks dozens of feet underground, and they are sometimes surrounded by “collapsing electrical conduits,” according to the report. Moreover, there is “a deeply rooted drive for zero risk” that to the board’s members seemed excessive.
“What has changed is the perception of negative career impacts, the slow response to concerns, and the need for tangible evidence that things are improving and will continue to improve,” the Board warned as it noted low retention rates. “If the practice continues to be that the troops compensate for manpower and skill shortfalls, operate in inferior facilities, and perform with failing support equipment, there is high risk of failure to meet the demands” of the nuclear deterrence job.
These factors might explain why the Air Force has had trouble attracting to the mission its highest flyers, so to speak. And this in turn may explain the repeated scandals related to official misconduct in the Air Force missile force within the past year.
The latest embarassment, disclosed at a Pentagon press briefing on Jan. 15, led to 34 intercontinental ballistic missile officers at Malstrom Air Force Base in Montana being stripped of their security clearances and “decertified” for ICBM launch roles. According to Gen. Mark Welsh III, the service’s chief of staff, 17 of them had cheated on a monthly test of their abilities to fulfill “their standard operational duties as a member of the missile crew.”
In short, it was not a trivial exam. Sixteen of them had each received the answers to multiple questions on the exam, via a text message, from one officer, Air Force officials said. Seventeen more were aware of the cheating but failed to blow the whistle on it, a violation of Air Force ethics rules. Their ranks ranged from second lieutenant to captain.
What’s even more problematic is that the cheating was discovered during an Air Force probe of illegal drug possession that encompassed two of the cheating missileers. Welsh said the size of the group involved in the cheating is “the largest one that we’re aware of” – amounting to 18 percent of the 190 crew members at Malmstrom, which controls 150 Minuteman III missiles.
Earlier scandals led to the dismissal of two high-ranking generals within the nuclear workforce. Vice Admiral Tim Giardina, the deputy commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, was fired in October for allegedly using counterfeit chips at an Iowa casino. Two days later, Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, who oversaw the entire ICBM force, was ousted for “inappropriate behavior” that allegedly included heavy drinking with local women during an official trip to Moscow. In May last year, 17 ICBM officers at Minot Air Force Base were relieved by their commander for violations of safety rules, mishandling codes, and inappropriate attitudes.
The new discovery of malfeasance in the nuclear force this week has put the Air Force in the ticklish position of declaring that nothing serious is really wrong but also making clear that top officials are turning over chairs to reach the site and make needed reforms.
“I am confident in the security of the force,” newly-appointed Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told reporters at the Pentagon. But she also said she rejiggered her schedule to permit a visit to two ICMB bases next week, accompanied by Welsh. The new head of the Strategic Command, which oversees all nuclear forces, “will also be visiting in the near term,” she said. “So all of us will be assessing the leadership and working with those on the ground to make sure that we have an effective ICBM force, not only right now today, but also going forward into the future.”
In total, there are 450 Minuteman III missiles deployed in four bases in Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota. The Air Force wants to modernize them over the next decade, at a cost estimated by the Congressional Budget Office at roughly $24 billion (including operation and maintenance).
When Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited the Wyoming base earlier this month to boost morale, he said that “you've… chosen a profession where there's no room for error. In what you do every day, there is no room for error, none,” Hagel told the crowd. “You're all smart, you're committed, you've got other options, but it is a purpose in your lives that partly commit you to do it. You're doing something of great importance for the world. You're doing something important for your families, for your future, for your country, and for our security.”
But Bruce Blair, a former ICBM officer who went on to lead a group called Global Zero that has advocated eliminating all ICBMs, said “I don’t know anyone who didn’t cheat on those exams, including myself. Cheating, sleeping on the job, these are all things that have been widespread for decades.”
“The job has always been the backwater of the Air Force, but there was a sense of mission during the Cold War that doesn’t exist anymore. The fact is that those missiles out in the Midwest no longer have a role to play,” Blair said.
Blair said the Air Force is “refusing to face reality with this program.” The nuclear force, he said, “is not the future.”
Federal Election Commission staff today traveled to Capitol Hill and briefed congressional officials investigating the beleaguered agency on how it intends to address recent computer security and staffing problems, officials from both government bodies confirmed.
The FEC's contingent was led by Alec Palmer, who doubles as the agency's staff and information technology director.
It wasn't immediately clear how many congressional officials participated in the meetings, although a spokesman for Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., confirmed to the Center for Public Integrity that his office participated.
Brady, along with Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., last week called for separate inquiries into the FEC's recent woes, which include an October infiltration into its computer systems by Chinese hackers. Brady is the ranking member on the Committee on House Administration, which has FEC oversight powers.
Across Washington, D.C., at today's first public FEC meeting of the year, newly installed Chairman Lee Goodman, a Republican, opened proceedings by delivering a prepared statement during which he called for several agency reforms.
Among his stated aspirations: a "new information technology system to improve the functionality and security of our IT" and a concerted effort to "rebuild the Reports Analysis Division and catch up on a backlog of disclosure report reviews." He also vowed to "enhance" the agency's website with "better, clearer access to the campaign finance data we collect."
"Looking ahead, we have work ahead of us to clarify our rules, update our regulations and reporting forms and make our enforcement procedures as fair as possible for the good citizens whose democratic activities come before us," Goodman said.
He then added that the agency's "overriding goal" must be to "avoid unnecessary deterrence" of political activity and encourage Americans to exercise their "profoundly important 1st Amendment rights."
On this point, he received almost immediate pushback from the FEC's three Democratic appointees, who generally favor stricter disclosure requirements for political actors.
To wit: Democratic commissioners disagreed with their Republican counterparts over whether to require disclaimers on political advertisements that appear on mobile phones. Mobile communications company Revolution Messaging had petitioned the FEC for an advisory opinion on the matter.
The commission appeared headed toward a 3-3 deadlock, with Republicans opposing the disclaimers and Democrats supporting them. Commissioners then decided to delay a vote until another meeting, with representatives from Revolution Messaging noting that they may tweak their request in the meantime in hope of garnering the four votes needed for the commission to take action.