When Uranium Energy Corp. sought permission to launch a large-scale mining project in Goliad County, Texas, it seemed as if the Environmental Protection Agency would stand in its way.
To get the ore out of the ground, the company needed a permit to pollute a pristine supply of underground drinking water in an area already parched by drought.
Further, EPA scientists feared that radioactive contaminants would flow from the mining site into water wells used by nearby homes. Uranium Energy said the pollution would remain contained, but resisted doing the advanced scientific testing and modeling the government asked for to prove it.
The plan appeared to be dead on arrival until late 2011, when Uranium Energy hired Heather Podesta, a lobbyist and prolific Democratic fundraiser whose pull with the Obama administration prompted The Washington Post to name her the Capitol's latest "It girl."
Podesta -- the sister-in-law of John Podesta, who co-chaired President Obama's transition team -- appealed directly to the EPA's second in command, Bob Perciasepe, pressing the agency's highest-level administrators to get directly involved and bring the agency's local staff in Texas back to the table to reconsider their position, according to emails obtained by ProPublica through the Freedom of Information Act.
By the end of 2012, the EPA reversed its position in Goliad, approving an exemption allowing Uranium Energy to pollute the aquifer, though in a somewhat smaller area than was originally proposed.
Lawrence O'Donnell condemned NRA president Wayne LaPierre on Friday for his press conference about the Newtown massacre in a special edition of his MSNBC show, "The Last Word."
O'Donnell doesn't usually work on Fridays, but he made a special exception for LaPierre. The gun lobbyist called for armed police officers in every school. To say his comments were widely criticized wouldbeanunderstatement.
O'Donnell called LaPierre a "lobbyist for mass murderers," and blasted him for trying to score cheap points with NRA members during his press conference by making a point to note that the media had gotten a fact wrong about the power of the gun shooter Adam Lanza used.
“Is there really something to quibble about in how powerful a bullet is when it is heading toward a six-year-old at the speed of 3200 feet per second," asks O'Donnell. "What kind of desperate, cornered rat would dare to mention that the Sandy Hook shooter could have used a more powerful bullet? Could have what? Done more damage? Made the bodies of six-year-olds even more difficult to identify?"
All of O'Donnell's comments were spot on, and I'm just going to give you the full text of the rest of his remarks, and I give him extra kudos for getting through his commentary without a single word that needed bleeped!
"So today, the NRA announced that it has a solution. Complete solution to gun violence in America, mass murders in America. Their solution is the national school shield program, a police officer with a gun in every school.
Now, he didn`t announce a national movie theater shield program with a police officer in every movie theater in America. Wayne LaPierre has in fact never spoken one word about 6-year-old Veronica Moser Sullivan, who was murdered in that movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, along with 11 other people, and 58 wounded, 58.
All of that, death and savagery was delivered from an ammunition delivery system so big it isn`t called a magazine. It`s called a drum. It holds 100 rounds.
Wayne LaPierre is the lobbyist who made it possible for the mass murderer in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater to be able to shoot and kill and wound so many people without reloading even once.
A dark money nonprofit group that has run more than $1 million in ads in the Ohio race for U.S. Senate told the IRS last year it did not plan to spend any money to influence elections when it applied for recognition of its tax-exempt status.
ProPublica first reported on the group, the Government Integrity Fund, after information from television station political ad files became available online (see our Free the Files project), showing extensive spending by the Fund.
The group's filings with the IRS illustrate how "social welfare" nonprofits, also known as 501(c)(4)s, are playing an aggressive role in this election, pouring tens of millions of dollars into races around the country, while taking advantage of the donor anonymity their tax status provides.
The Fund applied for IRS recognition last December and received the IRS' approval less than two months later.
Question 15 on the application asks, "Has the organization spent or does it plan to spend any money attempting to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of any person to any Federal, state, or local public office or to an office in a political organization?"
Much hinges on this: Under the tax code, social welfare nonprofits may not have political campaign activity as their primary purpose, though exactly what that means is a subject of much debate.
Fund chairman Tom Norris, who signed the Fund's application, checked the "No" box on Question 15.
In a statement to ProPublica, the Fund said that "legally, the concept of ‘influencing elections' has been narrowly defined" and that "throughout its existence, [the Fund] has regularly consulted with experienced tax counsel to ensure it is in full compliance with the federal tax laws." (See the full statement.) Norris, a Columbus lobbyist, did not respond to calls.
Ads paid for by the Fund, which ran through the summer, praised Republican Josh Mandel and attacked Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. One spot features Mandel telling a veterans group, "I think this campaign is all about the past versus the future." A voiceover chimes in: "Josh Mandel served our country with two tours in Iraq. Now he's fighting for taxpayers, fighting for our future."
There are several reasons groups may prefer answering "No" to Question 15. Those answering "Yes" are instructed to explain in detail and list the amounts to be spent, which can lead to scrutiny that slows down the IRS approval process, tax experts say.
"Checking yes is a yellow flag for the IRS, which likely would cause the IRS to refer the application to an agent for consideration and follow-up questions," said Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, an expert in nonprofit tax law at the University of Notre Dame law school. "There could be donors saying, ‘I'm not comfortable giving to you until I know you are a 501(c)(4) and my identity is protected. So I want that IRS [approval] letter.'"
The Fund's IRS application did provide other clues about its intentions. In one section of the form, the Fund said its budget for 2011 was $78,000. It then projected a budget of $6.7 million for 2012, an election year, before going back down to $50,000 for 2013, a nonelection year.
Mayer said the IRS typically wouldn't scrutinize a group's spending until it files a tax return — and in the case of the Fund, the return covering 2012 could be filed as late as November 2013. If the IRS found that the Fund was improperly taking advantage of its status as a social welfare group, it could impose a fine and make the group operate as a political organization that does have to report donors.
The group's application for IRS recognition was signed under penalty of perjury, but Mayer said it was rare for the agency to pursue charges against an applicant for lying.
The IRS did not respond to a request for comment.
The Fund's application for tax-exempt status also sheds a bit more light on who is running the group. It names four men as board members, including Norris. Another of the board members, Jeffrey L. Dean, referred questions to Jonathan Petrea, who was campaign manager and district director for Mandel when he ran for the state legislature.
Petrea told ProPublica he had no official role in the Fund, but helped Norris find potential board members.
"I was just doing a guy a favor by putting him in touch with people who might be interested," Petrea said.
Norris and the Mandel campaign did not respond to questions about Petrea's relationship to the Fund or the candidate.
Petrea was also previously Ohio grassroots director for Americans for Prosperity, a conservative 501(c)(4) backed by the Koch brothers, and has recently done work for Energy Citizens, a group advocating oil and gas development.
The Fund's ads have been off the air since Sept. 6, according to the Brown campaign. (After that date, certain types of ad spending had to be reported to the Federal Election Commission.)
The group's attorney, William Todd, said he doesn't know about its plans "for future education efforts."
In May, a previously unknown group started pouring money into Ohio's U.S. Senate race, considered one of the most important in the country and currently the nation's most expensive. The group, the Government Integrity Fund, has spent over $1 million so far on TV ads bashing Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown and praising his Republican opponent, Josh Mandel.
Like many other such non-profit groups that are playing a dominant role in this year's elections, the Government Integrity Fund is shrouded in mystery. It isn't required to reveal donors, nor has it answered questions about who runs the group. The Fund's barebones website lists no contact information beyond a P.O. Box.
The only name listed on incorporation papers for the group is a Columbus lawyer, William Todd, who told ProPublica, "I really have no role in their affairs." (In June, Todd also declined to respond to questions from a Huffington Post reporter, citing attorney-client privilege.)
But previously unreported documents filed with an Ohio television station pull back the curtain a bit: the Government Integrity Fund is run by a state lobbyist who in turn employs a former top Mandel staffer.
The lobbyist, Tom Norris, is listed as the Government Integrity Fund's chairman and treasurer. Norris owns an Ohio lobbying firm, Cap Square Solutions, and last year hired a top Mandel aide, Joel Riter, to work at the firm.
Riter's role in the Government Integrity Fund, if any, is not clear. The former Mandel aide declined to say whether he is involved with the group that is chaired by his current boss and running ads in support of his former boss.
"I can't talk to you about this," he told ProPublica. "I'm not going to comment on any kind of involvement I have with anyone."
Norris did not respond to requests for comment, nor did the Mandel campaign.
The documents identifying Norris as the chairman of the Fund are public because of a Federal Communications Commission rule requiring TV stations to keep detailed records about political advertisers. The files can be valuable, offering a look at exactly who is spending and how much. Until recently, the documents were only available by physically traveling to stations. ProPublica's Free the Files project has spotlighted the issue and this summer the FCC passed a rule requiring the stations in the nation's top markets to upload the files to agovernment website.
The documents were filed with a Cincinnati NBC affiliate, WLWT, one of the stations the group has been advertising on. Here is a Fund ad that attacks Senator Brown for purportedly turning his back on his younger, more honorable self. "Young Sherrod Brown was independent of Wall Street," the announcer says. "Today Sherrod Brown takes big money from those same corporate interests."
The Associated Press reported last month that outside groups have spent $15 million supporting Mandel compared to about $3 million on the Democratic side.
We still don't know who is putting up the money for the Government Integrity Fund's ads because the group is a non-profit "social welfare" group, which don't have to release donor information or register with the Federal Election Commission. Such groups are supposed to be "primarily" engaged in promoting social welfare but they have been flooding the airwaves with political ads in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United case and decisions by regulatory decisions.
Besides identifying Norris as the chairman of the group, the form filed with the TV station shows that the Government Integrity Fund has an office at 208 East State Street, a few blocks from the state house in Columbus. Riter, the former Mandel aide, also has an office in the building.
Asked about his office at 208 East State Street, Riter said: "Whatever office Government Integrity Fund has is not mine."
Outside groups are not allowed to coordinate with campaigns, but it is common for politicians' former aides to be involved with such groups.
Riter first worked as an aide to Mandel during the candidate's stint in the Ohio legislature. Riter then became field director for Mandel's campaign for state treasurer, joining the treasurer's office as constituent and executive agency liaison after Mandel won the race. Riter left his state job in the treasurer's office after six months to become a lobbyist at Cap Square in 2011. According to state records, the firm lobbies for a range of interests, including the Ohio Ready Mixed Concrete Association and medical device companies.
Riter was featured in a Dayton Daily News article earlier this year investigating Mandel's practice of hiring former campaign workers for state jobs. (That piece led a Democratic legislator to file an ethics complaint against Riter, who has contested the charges.)
The Fund was created in May 2011 and an affiliated super PAC, the Government Integrity Fund Action Network, registered with the Federal Election Commission two months later.
The super PAC, which does have to report its donors, has not been active and raised just $10,500 through the end of June, all but $500 from New York financier and benefactor of conservative causes Roger Hertog. Hertog also gave $5,000 directly to Mandel's campaign last year. Hertog declined to comment.
Brown campaign spokesman Justin Barasky said that the Government Integrity Fund is the fourth largest outside group on the Republican side in Ohio, behind such national outfits as the Karl Rove-affiliated Crossroads GPS. "We don't know anything else about them," he said. "They are the only secretly funded group that is based here."
When Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, was discovered to have raked in millions of dollars from the super lobbyist — and eventually convicted felon — Jack Abramoff, Reed wound up in political purgatory. But outraged by the election of Barack Obama, and responding to what he describes as God’s call (via Sean Hannity), Reed returned to start the Faith and Freedom Coalition with the aim of toppling Barack Obama from the White House.
This week, Moyers & Company tracks Reed’s rise, fall, and return: does it signal a new revolution, or an old racket?
Key Senate Staffer on Military Issues Got Big Payout From Lockheed Martin
by Justin Elliott ProPublica, July 26, 2012, 5 p.m.
Lockheed Martin has big business in Washington, with Defense Department contracts representing more than half of the company's $46.5 billion in net sales last year. And now, Lockheed has a former top lobbyist in a key position on Capitol Hill overseeing the company.
Former Lockheed vice president Ann Elise Sauer was hired by Sen. John McCain in February as the top Republican staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The revolving door swings regularly in Washington, but the size of the compensation package Sauer received from Lockheed when she left the company is notable. A financial disclosure form shows the defense giant gave Sauer $1.6 million in compensation around the time she took a buyout in January 2011.
At the moment, the stakes for Lockheed in Washington are even higher than usual, with the company leading the military contracting industry's charge to convince Congress to avoid a $492 billion, 9-year cut in military spending set to be triggered in January.
Lockheed CEO Robert Stevens was on the Hill this month warning that the company would have to lay off 10,000 employees if Congress does not make a deal. "Most tragically, we feel we will be unable to provide the equipment and support needed by our military forces," Stevens told the House.
As staff director for the minority on the Senate committee, Sauer has an important role in the battle over the possible military budget cuts. The committee regularly makes decisions that determine the fate of Lockheed's business.
There is no law barring lobbyists from entering public service on Capitol Hill. But Ben Freeman, national security investigator at the Project on Government Oversight who wrote about Sauer Thursday, says that the presence of a former Lockheed executive in a key position overseeing the company is cause for concern.
"Some of the biggest issues in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee right now deal directly with Lockheed Martin programs," Freeman says. "These are big-dollar programs that are going through some troubles and need some oversight."
One example is Lockheed's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which has been plagued by cost overruns and other problems.
Brian Rogers, a spokesman for McCain, said in a statement that the senator made an "unsolicited offer of employment" to Sauer and that she accepted the offer "on a stop-gap, temporary one-year basis."
"When Ms. Sauer accepted Senator McCain's offer to lead his Armed Services Committee staff, she did so at her own financial detriment, as she was required to liquidate all remaining Lockheed stock and options in compliance with Senate Ethics Committee guidelines," Rogers said. (See the full statement.)
Sauer, who has spent much of her career on Capitol Hill in various capacities, is a specialist on the federal budget. She spent 23 years as a Senate staffer, including 14 years with the armed services committee, and a stint as McCain's legislative director. She left Capitol Hill to join Lockheed in 2000. (Sauer did not respond to a request for comment.)
Sauer spent a decade at the company, rising to be Lockheed's Washington-based vice president for acquisition policy, logistics, and budget. For most of the time, she was a registered lobbyist who lobbied in the Senate and elsewhere, according to disclosure filings.
"She was the corporation's federal budget expert," according to her bio posted on the site of the group Women in Defense, "responsible for tracking and analyzing the federal budget, both defense and non-defense. At various times, she was responsible for managing the corporation's senior-level interfaces with senior Executive and Legislative Branch officials on a wide array of programs and policy issues."
She briefly started a military consulting firm specializing in "federal budget and fiscal policy information and insights." Sauer's financial disclosure, which is required of senior congressional staffers, lists $55,000 in consulting fees paid by another defense giant, BAE Systems.
Her financial disclosure forms show her final payments from Lockheed included $660,000 in salary and bonus, $769,000 in deferred compensation, and $232,000 in "retired pay."
Rogers, the McCain spokesman, said that Sauer's compensation was made up of pay from the buyout program, "normal annual incentive compensation" and "significant deferred compensation."
Lockheed declined to comment.
Sauer's case has a precedent. Last year, the House Armed Services Committee hired Thomas MacKenzie, a Northrop Grumman lobbyist who received a large bonus from the company before starting his job on the Hill.
Jack Abramoff, a former lobbyist imprisoned for his role in a wide-ranging Washington corruption scandal, has appeared as a pundit on CNN. The BBC asks "Why have US television networks turned into comeback springboards for disgraced public figures?"
Excellent question, and nice to hear that others wonder the same thing.
On Thursday, Abramoff joined presenter Soledad O'Brien, New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza and others to analyse the recent US Supreme Court decision ratifying President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law.
Introducing Abramoff, O'Brien acknowledged he had spent more than three years in federal prison - then plugged his new book.
She questioned him about the impact of the healthcare decision on the lobbying profession and how lobbyists would seek to influence Congress on the matter.
"Always nice to have you," she concluded. "We appreciate it. Thank you."
What conclusion did they reach?
"The journalistic mission became secondary to using notorious names to attract audiences."
It's an interesting outsiders look at what the BBC refers to as "decline of public moral standards" in American television news. Full article here.
When it comes to the vast, corrupting influence of money in politics, historian Thomas Frank has sounded the alarm loudly and often. In “It’s a Rich Man’s World,” one of his recent essays for Harper’s Magazine, Frank writes, “Over the course of the past few decades, the power of concentrated money has subverted professions, destroyed small investors, wrecked the regulatory state, corrupted legislators en masse, and repeatedly put the economy through the wringer. Now it has come for our democracy itself.”
Bill talks with Frank about the power of concentrated money to subvert democracy.
Frank’s book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? was a best seller and his latest, Pity the Billionaire, asks how Tea Partiers and their allies can make heroes of the rich and mighty who ran us into a ditch.
BILL MOYERS: And there's more. One of Senator Johnson's former staffers is now one of JPMorgan's chief lobbyists. And the chairman's present top assistant used to be a lobbyist for a law firm that worked for JPMorgan. I mean, this wasn't a hearing. This was a reunion of the Gambino family.
THOMAS FRANK: Well, look, this is what we call in Washington the revolving door, okay. And this, if your viewers haven't heard of this they need to learn about it right away because this is how Washington D.C. works is that people go back and forth from, typically from Capitol Hill staffs to working for lobby firms or directly for these, you know, the clients of the lobby firms that have to do with the interests that they used to work on when they were on Capitol Hill.
And then they go back and lobby to their former boss, right, and convince him or her to vote one way or the other. And that's how you get ahead in lobbying is you start out working for someone on Capitol Hill, a powerful senator on a given committee. And then you go and essentially sell that expertise, sell that, you know, the fact that your friends with that guy to, you know, to a lobbying firm or to a bank or to whoever. That's totally how it works.
BILL MOYERS: It's an interlocking cartel and it's serious business. How can we claim to have a representative government when they really are representing the people who bought the campaigns and not the voters who voted for them? It's a serious question.
THOMAS FRANK: Well, there are people who, I'm going to get cynical on you here, Bill. There are people who believe that the more money we have in politics the closer we become to a democracy. They think it's better for there to be more money in politics.
Why do they think that? Because they think that the market is a democracy, that markets are democracy and that government is, when government interferes in the economy it's illegitimate by definition. And so the more money we get in there the more it allows entities like JPMorgan to defend themselves against the sort of, you know, the heavy-handed meddling of some, you know, Washington bureaucrat.
Earlier this month, MSNBC's Chris Hayes obtained a secret memo written by a lobbying firm, Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford and addressed to one of CLGC’s clients, the American Bankers Association. The author of that memo is set to co-host a fundraiser on behalf of Mitt Romney.
CLGC’s memo proposes that the ABA pay CLGC $850,000 to conduct “opposition research” on Occupy Wall Street in order to construct “negative narratives” about the protests and allied politicians. The memo also asserts that Democratic victories in 2012 would be detrimental for Wall Street and targets specific races in which it says Wall Street would benefit by electing Republicans instead.
According to the memo, if Democrats embrace OWS, “This would mean more than just short-term political discomfort for Wall Street. … It has the potential to have very long-lasting political, policy and financial impacts on the companies in the center of the bullseye.”
The memo also suggests that Democratic victories in 2012 should not be the ABA’s biggest concern. “… (T)he bigger concern,” the memo says, “should be that Republicans will no longer defend Wall Street companies.”
Politico reported Monday that Sam Geduldig of Clark, Lytle, Geduldig & Cranford will be one of many co-hosts of a Young Professionals for Mitt Romney fundraiser next month. Geduldig previously was a top adviser to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
Think Progress reports that "This year, Geduldig has lobbied on behalf of various finance industry clients, including the ABA, Financial Services Roundtable, Financial Services Forum, MasterCard, American Insurance Association, and Koch Industries (which engages in significant commodities trading activities)."