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Lee Fang

Lee Fang

Investigating the intersection of politics, lobbying and public policy at RepublicReport.org.

Does Senator Vitter Really Think Cancer Prevention Groups and Wildlife Nonprofits Are Part of a Nefarious Cabal?

Oil spill

Oil floats on the surface in Pass A Loutre near Venice, Louisiana (Reuters/Sean Gardner)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

Louisiana Senator David Vitter made headlines on conservative websites in the last few days by releasing a report called “Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.”

Below the lengthy title is a report that claims breathlessly that environmental and public health foundations are part of “a close knit network of likeminded funders, environmental activists, and government bureaucrats,” a cabal responsible for spreading “bogus propaganda disguised as science and news to spread an anti-fossil energy message to the unknowing public.”

The report goes on to list groups such as the American Lung Association and the Union of Concerned Scientists as “agenda-driven far-left elites” obsessed with using “secretive backroom deals and transfers” to hide their agenda from the public. To shine a light on these organizations, the Vitter report details annual budget numbers and board membership lists scrubbed from annual tax forms that these nonprofits, like any nonprofit, are required to publish.

Though the report scolds the nonprofits as untrustworthy and elitist, there’s virtually no information in the report that details anything they have done wrong. Rather, Vitter and his staff appear to disagree with the shared policy goals of these nonprofits, which include combatting global warming as well as reducing cancer-causing pollutants from the air and water.

If there is a conspiracy afoot, as alluded to in “Chain of Environmental Command,” perhaps Vitter himself is involved.

In 2009, Vitter co-sponsored the Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act, legislation to require several federal agencies to work together on a comprehensive plan for reducing lung cancer mortality. The American Lung Association, one of the groups targeted by the Vitter report as a purveyor of “bogus propaganda,” helped pass the legislation, which was signed into law last year.

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Or what about the RESTORE Act, which funds coastal restoration and economic recovery projects along the Gulf Coast using fines generated from the 2010 BP oil spill? The legislation was supported by the Environmental Defense Fund, the Nature Conservancy, the National Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation. All four groups were named in Vitter’s report as members of the pernicious “Club of Billionaires.” Vitter regularly boasts that he was a champion of this environmental group-backed legislation, which was signed into law in 2012.

A request to comment from Vitter’s office was not returned.

The change in tone from Vitter corresponds closely to his new perch as the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, a position he secured last year. Since 2013, Vitter has positioned himself as a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, attempting to block the confirmation of the Environmental Protection Agency administrator and going so far as to proclaim, “God bless the Koch brothers.”

Fossil fuel companies have leaned on congressional Republicans to block new environmental regulations. But with little influence within the Obama administration and without control of the Senate, lawmakers close to the industry have lashed out at public health advocates and scientists. Just as Vitter is now targeting NGOs, the GOP on the House Science Committee has begun subpoenaing scientists that have researched air pollutants, a move widely condemned by observers.

 

Read Next: America’s New Harvest of Shame

Comcast-Affiliated News Site Censored My Article About Net Neutrality Lobbying

Net Neutrality Rally

Free Press activists rallied for net neutrality on President Obama's motorcade route in Los Angeles. (Photo by Stacie Isabella Turk/Ribbonhead, Creative Commons)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

In a move that smacks off censorship, Republic Report has discovered that a telecom industry-affiliated lobbying group successfully persuaded an African-American news website to remove an article that reported critically on the groups advocating against net neutrality. The order to delete the article came from the website’s parent company, a business partner to Comcast.

Last Friday, I reported on how several civil rights groups, almost all with funding from Comcast, Verizon and other Internet service providers, recently wrote to the Federal Communication Commission in support of Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan, which would create Internet fast lanes and slow lanes, an effective death of net neutrality. That piece was syndicated with Salon and The Nation, and several outlets aggregated the article. For a short period, NewsOne, a news site geared towards the African-American community, posted the piece along with its own commentary.

Then, the NewsOne article with my reporting disappeared.

If you Google the term ‘MMTC NewsOne,’ the NewsOne article (“Civil Rights Groups Blocking Efforts To Keep Internet Fair?”) still appears in the result list, though if you click it, it’s been deleted from the web. Luckily, the Internet cache still has a copy.

According to discussions with several people at NewsOne, including an editor there, the decision to take down the article came from corporate headquarters. NewsOne editor Abena Agyeman-Fisher told Republic Report, “The company didn’t feel it was appropriate to have up and we were supposed to take it down.” NewsOne is owned by Radio One, a company with a 50.9 percent stake in a business partnership with Comcast, known as TV One.

NewsOne was also contacted by a lobbying group called the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), an organization that has gained infamy for frequently mobilizing black, Latino and Asian-American groups to advocate on behalf of telecom industry-friendly positions, including recent big media mergers. On Monday, according to an attendee at an MMTC conference, MMTC vice president Nicol Turner-Lee referred to my reporting as a “digital lynch mob.” Turner-Lee, who resigned her previous position at a nonprofit after allegations of financial impropriety, reportedly claimed that minority organizations that support Title II reclassification—the only path for effective net neutrality after a court ruling in January—are not “true civil rights leaders.”

Contacted by Republic Report, MMTC president David Honig confirmed that he reached out to NewsOne, and also stood by Turner-Lee’s comments from earlier this week. Asked about the “digital lynch mob” comment, Honig e-mailed us to say, “I stand with Dr. Turner Lee’s assessment of the various hit pieces written by you and others. She spoke in the vernacular of the movement to which she has devoted her life, and is referencing the divide and conquer tactics used for decades to undermine the civil rights movement.” Regarding the claim that no “true civil rights leaders” support reclassification, Honig replied, “she was correct. Not one of the leaders of the major national civil rights membership organizations has endorsed Title II reclassification.”

In fact, many civil rights groups and activists support reclassification and strong net neutrality protections. Reached by Republic Report, the organizations were livid about MMTC’s insults and the decision by NewsOne to retract its story.

“MMTC is not the arbiter of who is and who is not a true civil rights group,” says Jessica Gonzalez, vice president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which represents a broad coalition in support of net neutrality through reclassification. “For them to claim anyone who supports reclassification is not a true civil rights group is just laughable. We have gone to the mat for our community for decades.”

“It’s disturbing that an online news site would remove a story just because its owners and their allies might not like it,” said Joseph Torres of Free Press, the co-author of News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media. “This smacks of corporate censorship. A news organization shouldn’t be hiding the facts about the Net Neutrality debate because its corporate owners and their allies disagree with a journalist’s reporting. This is exactly why we need Net Neutrality. We don’t want to live in a world where Comcast or AT&T gets to decide which side of the story you see.”

Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, wrote to Republic Report to say, “I’m scared for our journalists, especially those that use the Internet to share their stories. When corporate or 20th century civil rights organizations silence the voices of journalists trying to simply report on the biggest first amendment issue of the 21st century, it only clarifies why we need strong rules that prevent censorship and discrimination on the Internet.” Cyril’s organization is a national organizing and training center for media rights that counts organizations such as Color of Change, Presente.org and others in its advocacy network.

NewsOne was not the only outlet lobbied by MMTC. The blog Field Negro was also contacted by MMTC’s David Honig, a longtime pro-telecom industry operative who told Field Negro that “no one disagrees about the desirability of an open Internet,” and argued that net neutrality activists are somehow equivalent to white liberals who support gentrification.

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In reality, Honig has waged a multi-year war against efforts to build an open Internet, and the groups in his network continually shift the goal posts to ensure ISPs are allowed to discriminate based on content. For instance, one of the groups that has collaborated with Honig, the Japanese American Citizens League, told the FCC in 2010 that net neutrality would “do more harm than good” and that they “remain unconvinced that there is a need for this type of regulation.” Well, in Honig’s latest letter on behalf of the Japanese American Citizens League, net neutrality is needed, but only if adopted through FCC Chairman Wheeler’s terms, which is to say, with Internet fast lanes and slow lanes.

The arguments keep changing. The only thing that stays consistent is the money and the ISP-friendly policy. Comcast, a major opponent of net neutrality, is a big sponsor of both the MMTC (which has received around $350,000) and the Japanese American Citizens League. Honig’s board of advisors includes Joe Waz, an executive who has led Comcast’s policy outreach.

Asked about the MMTC-organized civil rights group letters against net neutrality and ensuing controversy, Professor Todd Gitlin called them the “closest thing I can imagine to a political quid pro quo,” explaining, “The evidence they offer on the proposition that minorities would benefit in employment, in access, in the rejection of reclassification is nil. It’s a lot of huffing and puffing built on the gullibility of the reader.”

He added, “the fact NewsOne saw fit to delete a report that they previously posted without any claim that anything was mistaken in the report tells you something about their commitment to open discourse.”

Jeff Cohen, an associate professor of journalism at Ithaca College, also commented on the NewsOne decision. “Just as corporate cash can corrupt civil rights groups, this incident shows how corporate power can corrupt and censor the news.”

Advocates for strong net neutrality argue that the rule is necessary so ISPs do not squelch out minority viewpoints with slower speeds. ISPs, on the other hand, say they can be trusted. If just the debate around net neutrality is any guide, large media corporations seem willing to suppress unfavorable news content. “If this happens now,” says Cayden Mak, the New Media Director of 18MillionRising.org, an Asian-American advocacy group, “imagine how difficult it will be to criticize internet providers and their allies without strong Net Neutrality rules.”

Update: Turner-Lee's colleague e-mailed Republic Report to say that her resignation from the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications was unrelated to the charges, which she says were false and which NAMIC found to have no basis.

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After ‘Nation’ Investigation, DOJ May Investigate Shadow Lobbyists

US Capitol

US Congress on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC (Creative Commons)

Last February, The Nation, with support from the Investigative Fund, published a broad look into the many failures of America’s lobbying disclosure system. Among several revelations in the piece, we reported that major aspects of lobbying law have gone completely unenforced. The Department of Justice, we found, has never brought an enforcement action against an individual or firm for failing to register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The only LDA enforcement actions to date have been from individuals who do register but fall behind in their paperwork. But for the thousands of influence peddlers in Washington, DC, who go about their trade without registration and disclosure, law enforcement has turned a blind eye.

That may be changing.

According to a story posted on Friday by The Hill, “the Office of Congressional Ethics has for the first time accused an entity of lobbying Congress illegally. The complaint has been referred to the Justice Department, which enforces the Lobbying Disclosure Act, but few other details are available.”

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Notably, the first law firm to receive notice of this referral was Covington & Burling, Attorney General Eric Holder’s previous employer. Covington’s Robert Kelner wrote:

For several years, we have been warning clients and others that it was only a matter of time before we would see criminal referrals against lobbyists who fail to register under the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act (“LDA”). Until now, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has focused exclusively—and rarely—on bringing cases against registered lobbyists who fail to timely file reports. This week, however, the Office of Congressional Ethics (“OCE”) of the U.S. House of Representatives mentioned in its quarterly report that during the second quarter of this year, “OCE voted to refer one entity to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for failure to register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.” This is big news.

It’s not clear yet which “shadow lobbyist” is being targeted for investigation. But just the fact that the DOJ is finally taking a look into this problem, which includes prominent members of both parties, is indeed big news.

 

Read Next: George Zornick on the bill that could make union organizing a civil right

Disgraced Coal Baron Don Blankenship Rebrands As A Libertarian Activist

Coal processing plant

Coal processing plant in West Virginia (Jim Young/Reuters)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org.

Among visitors to Freedom Fest, a libertarian convention in Las Vegas, you might miss the aging Don Blankenship amid other middle-aged attendees and a swarm of college students in three-piece suits. Blankenship, wearing a bowling shirt and tan slacks, moves from panel to panel carrying a tote bag filled with free schwag—of which there was a lot to choose from, including this “water bottle” from the Charles Koch Institute—like anyone else. The former CEO of Massey Energy became the most feared man in West Virginia for his ruthless control over his mines and for busting unions throughout Appalachia. Now, he might be the most hated, after a 2010 blast at his company’s Upper Big Branch mine killed twenty-nine workers in one of the worst mining disasters in American history.

Blankenship, who retired from Massey after the tragedy at UBB, is now a political activist, and he’s in Nevada for several reasons. For one thing, he was there to attend the Heartland Institute’s conference on global warming denial, which preceded Freedom Fest. And in any case, he now resides in Sin City for tax purposes.

It’s the first time Blankenship has attended either event, he tells me, but he’s eager to gather intellectual fodder for a movie he’s creating on the US economy. “I’m basically looking for information and fresh ideas,” Blankenship says. “We’re in a reg-cecession,” he explains, which is a term he created for “a recession caused by excessive regulation, including many based on global warming.”

At the height of his power, shortly before the blast, Blankenship was already a powerful political player and served on the board of the US Chamber of Commerce, arguably the most influential business lobbying group in the world. After the mine tragedy, the Chamber and other coal-connected political groups successfully defeated congressional efforts to update the laws governing mine safety. Republic Report obtained a financial disclosure form that shows that under Blankenship his coal company donated $100,000 to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank that penned an op-ed after the mine collapse to warn against letting the tragedy be used by “anti-mining activists” for new regulations.

“Most people excuse their lack of involvement in politics as politics being dirty and politics causing problems,” says Blankenship, “but the only way to have good government is to have better candidates and elect better people and it’s why we have $17 trillion in debt and an economy that’s declining.”

Blankenship concedes that he is not as active in the political realm as he used to be, though he still gives an occasional phone call to his former colleagues. “I’ve spoken to the US Chamber and I’ve spoken to the coal associations. You can not just immediately have your hand out to compromise, you’ve got to have belief and you have to stand up for what’s right, not what’s politically correct.”

After listening to Blankenship’s short diatribe against the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, I asked Blankenship what should be done about these environmental groups. “You’ve got to fight them at every step,” he replies. “The environmental movement isn’t a great cause, it’s a great business.”

To Blankenship, the EPA’s coal power plant regulations and the mine safety crowd all represent the same ideology. “The actual UBB explosion was partially the result of the war on coal,” he says.

A minute later, after mentioning that he is going to be late to meet his date for lunch, he makes the connection even more explicit. “UBB is just another example of how willing the far left is to outright lie and of course when I was CEO of Massey I was coached to say ‘untruthful,’ but really it’s a lie. The reason you know they will lie about the science of global warming is because they lied about the very science of UBB. Their willingness to lie about that solidifies in my mind their willingness to lie about the science of global warming.”

Over the last year, Blankenship has tried to clear his name over the UBB mine disaster. He created a short video and has told almost any reporter willing to listen that the disaster was a freak accident relating to the buildup of natural gas. Reports from workers and subsequent investigations have made clear that Massey Energy’s mines had skirted safety rules and were infamous for allowing a dangerous build-up of methane and other flammable gas. A study from the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University showed that Massey’s corner-cutting had led to the worst safety record of any coal mining company for ten years prior to the disaster.

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Blankenship continues to expound on his worldview. “Here’s where I get into answers that are very unpopular.” A wry grin creeps Blankenship’s otherwise expressionless face. “You’re basically seeing, well, I don’t want to use the word, but the way I describe fascism is the control of people’s lives by the combined efforts of big business and big government.” He rattles off several examples: GE’s getting sweetheart deals from the Obama administration, the bank bailouts, Warren Buffet. Publicly traded companies are increasingly making their money overseas, so they don’t have to comply with domestic regulations, Blankenship says. That’s why they support the Obama administration.

Before he has to go, he reminds me that his movie on regulation will come out on Labor Day. Its argument, he claims will even sell with union workers, who have been duped by their bosses into supporting anti-mining politicians like Obama and Joe Biden.

Who would better lead our country?

“I love Ted Cruz’s courage with the Obamacare filibuster,” he says. “I don’t like Rand Paul as much as father Ron Paul. Like what Rubio’s been saying. Ben Carson.” If he had his druthers, who would he pick for the White House? “I’d reincarnate Ronald Reagan.”

With that, he smiled for the second time in the conference, waddled into his seat and disappeared into a crowd of other libertarian activists.

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Leading Civil Rights Group Just Sold Out on Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality Protest

Net Neutrality protest (Courtesy: Flickr user Steve Rhodes, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org.

Last Friday, just before the Federal Communication Commission closed its comment period for its upcoming rule on “network neutrality,” a massive coalition of Asian, Latino and black civil rights groups filed letters arguing that regulators should lay off of Internet Service Providers regarding Title II reclassification and accept FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s original plan. In other words, something close to half of the entire civil rights establishment just sold out the Internet.

The civil rights groups letters argue that Title II reclassification of broadband services as a public utility—the only path forward for real net neutrality after a federal court ruling in January—would somehow “harm communities of color.” The groups wrote to the FCC to tell them that “we do not believe that the door to Title II should be opened.” Simply put, these groups, many of which claim to carry the mantle of Martin Luther King Jr., are saying that Comcast and Verizon should be able to create Internet slow lanes and fast lanes, and such a change would magically improve the lives of non-white Americans.

The filings reveal a who’s who of civil rights groups willing to shill on behalf of the telecom industry. One filing lists prominent civil rights groups NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Urban League, the National Council on Black Civil Participation and the National Action Network. The other features the Council of Korean Americans, the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Black Farmers Association, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, OCA, Asian Pacific American Advocates, the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Coalition and many more.

Of course, the groups listed on these filings do not speak for all communities of color on telecom policy, and there are civil rights groups out there that actually support net neutrality, including Color of Change and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Joseph Torres with Free Press told Vice that communities of color believe a free and open Internet is essential in the digital age, especially when most non-whites do not own radio stations, broadcast outlets or other forms of mass media. “Protecting real net neutrality is critical for people of color because an open Internet gives us the opportunity to speak for ourselves without having to ask corporate gatekeepers for permission,” Torres says.

A number of K Street consultants have helped make this epic sell-out possible.

The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) coordinated many of the participants in the anti–net neutrality filings sent to the FCC last week. Last year, the Center for Public Integrity published an investigation of MMTC, showing that the group has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from Verizon, Comcast, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and other telecom sources while reliably peddling the pro-telecom industry positions. For instance, the group attacked the Obama administration’s first attempt at net neutrality, while celebrating the proposed (and eventually successful) merger between Comcast and NBC.

Martin Chavez, the former mayor of Albuquerque, now works with a group called the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP) to corral Latino civil rights groups into opposing net neutrality. Last month, Chavez hosted a net neutrality event on Capitol Hill to call on legislators to oppose Title II reclassification. As Time recently reported, Chavez is on the staff of one of Verizon’s lobbying firms, the Ibarra Strategy Group.

“HTTP is nothing more than an industry front-group that is at best misinformed and at worst intentionally distorting facts as it actively opposes efforts to better serve the communications needs of Latinos,” says Alex Nogales of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which strongly supports net neutrality. His group has filed its own letter to the FCC.

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Still, telecom cash has become a vital source of funding for cash-starved nonprofits. OCA, the Asian-American civil rights nonprofit formerly known as the Organization of Chinese Americans, counts Comcast as a major donor and sponsor for its events and galas. Not only did OCA go on to sign the anti–net neutrality letter last Friday, the group wrote a similar filing to the FCC in 2010, claiming absurdly that Asian-American entrepreneurs would benefit from having ISPs able to discriminate based on content. Similarly, League of United Latin American Citizens, better known simply as LULAC, has been a dependable ally of the telecom industry while partnering with Comcast for a $5 million civic engagement campaign. Here’s a picture of LULAC proudly accepting a jumbo-sized check from AT&T.

As Vice first reported, telecoms are desperate for third-party approval, and have even resorted to fabricating community support for their anti–net neutrality lobbying campaign.

Perhaps the bigger picture here is how so many of the old civil rights establishments have become comfortable with trading endorsements for cash. Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and other telecom companies have donated, either directly or through a company foundation, to nearly every group listed on the anti–net neutrality letters filed last week. We saw a similar dynamic play out with Walmart when the retailer handed out cash to civil rights groups in order to buy support for opening stores in urban areas.

Times have changed. Just as Martin Luther King Jr.’s children have embarrassingly descended into fighting bitterly over what’s left of his estate, the civil rights groups formed to advance Dr. King’s legacy seem willing to sell out their own members for a buck.

 

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Fossil Fuel Lobbyists Could Choose the Next House Majority Whip

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Eggborough Power Station emissions, October 2007 (John Giles/PA Wire URN:7165395)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

Eric Cantor’s surprise defeat in the Republican primary, and subsequent decision to step down as majority leader, has set off a scramble within his party. The current whip, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), is widely perceived as the next majority leader, while Representative Peter Roskam (R-IL), Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) are rounding up votes to take McCarthy’s place as whip.

Though there are negligible policy differences between the candidates, particularly on energy issues, one candidate is particularly close to the fossil fuel lobby: Steve Scalise, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of likeminded conservative members, who represents an area of the Gulf Coast with a large concentration of offshore oil jobs.

A number of former Scalise staffers are now employed as lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry. Megan Bel, Scalise’s former legislative director, now works for the National Ocean Industries Association, a trade group for offshore oil drilling companies. Stephen Bell, Scalise’s longtime spokesperson, joined the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association—a group that represents largely coal-fire power plants and has lobbied aggressively against the EPA’s new carbon rules—in April.

Scalise has cultivated political support from Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute, and Halliburton as part of the Republican Study Committee’s business outreach effort, according to a report in Politico. Notably, a Republican Study Committee outreach meeting with lobbyists occurred in the office of Shockey Scofield Solutions, Koch’s lobbying firm registered to defeat new carbon tax proposals.

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Politico Influence also reports that Scalise counts several lobbyists among his inner circle. Jim McCrery, who held the same Louisiana district seat in Congress before retiring, is close to Scalise and now represents Koch Industries and Hess Corporation, among other clients. Rhod Shaw, another lobbyist reportedly close to Scalise, works at a firm that represents nearly a dozen fossil fuel interests, including BP, the coal-dependent utility company Duke Energy, and Murphy Oil.

Will the fossil fuel lobby leverage its considerable pull within the House GOP to ensure Scalise has enough votes to become House majority whip? The Wall Street Journal reports that McCarthy dropped previous support for wind energy tax credits as he moved to run for majority leader—a move perceived as a bid to build support among oil and coal interest groups.

Leadership elections, which are conducted by a secret ballot, are scheduled for June 19.

 

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Eric Cantor’s Opponent Beat Him by Calling Out GOP Corruption

Eric Cantor

House minority leader John Boehner of Ohio, left, listens as Representative Eric Cantor, R-VA, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

“All of the investment banks, up in New York and DC, they should have gone to jail.”

That isn’t a quote from an Occupy Wall Street protester or Senator Elizabeth Warren. That’s a common campaign slogan repeated by Dave Brat, the Virginia college professor who scored one of the biggest political upsets in over a century by defeating majority leader Eric Cantor in the Republican primary last night.

The national media is buzzing about Brat’s victory, but for all of the wrong reasons.

Did the Tea Party swoop in and help Brat, as many in the Democratic Party are suggesting? Actually, The Wall Street Journal reports no major Tea Party or anti-establishment GOP group spent funds to defeat Cantor. Did Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, lose because of his religion, as some have suggested? There’s no evidence so far of anti-Semitism during the campaign. Was Cantor caught flatfooted? Nope; Cantor’s campaign spent close to $1 million on the race and several outside advocacy groups, including the National Rifle Association, the National Realtors Association and the American Chemistry Council (a chemical industry lobbying association) came in and poured money into the district to defeat Brat. The New York Times claims that Brat focused his campaign primarily on immigration reform. Brat certainly made immigration a visible topic in his race, but Republic Report listened to several hours of Brat stump speeches and radio appearances, and that issue came up far than less what Brat called the main problem in government: corruption and cronyism.

Brat told Internet radio host Flint Engelman that the “number- one plank” in his campaign is “free markets.” Brat went on to explain, “Eric Cantor and the Republican leadership do not know what a free market is at all, and the clearest evidence of that is the financial crisis … When I say free markets, I mean no favoritism to K Street lobbyists.” Banks like Goldman Sachs were not fined for their role in the financial crisis—rather, they were rewarded with bailouts, Brat has said.

Brat, who has identified with maverick GOP lawmakers like Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, spent much of the campaign slamming both parties for being in the pocket of “Wall Street crooks” and DC insiders. The folks who caused the financial crisis, Brat says, “went onto Obama’s rolodex, the Republican leadership, Eric’s rolodex.”

During several campaign appearances, Brat says what upset him the most about Cantor was his role in gutting the last attempt at congressional ethics reform. “If you want to find out the smoking gun in this campaign,” Brat told Engelman, “just go Google and type the STOCK Act and CNN and Eric Cantor.” (On Twitter, Brat has praised the conservative author Peter Schweizer, whose work on congressional corruption forced lawmakers into action on the STOCK Act.)

The STOCK Act, a bill to crack down on insider trading, was significantly watered down by Cantor in early 2012. The lawmaker took out provisions that would have forced Wall Street “political intelligence” firms to register as traditional lobbyists would, and removed a section of the bill to empower prosecutors to go after public officials who illegally trade on insider knowledge. And Brat may be right to charge that Cantor’s moves on the STOCK Act were motivated by self-interest. Cantor played a leading role in blocking legislation to fix the foreclosure crisis while his wife and his stock portfolio were deeply invested in mortgage banks.

Most self-described Tea Party Republicans, including Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, have railed against Washington in a general sense without calling out the powerful—often Republican-leaning—groups that wield the most power.

Not Brat.

“Eric is running on Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable principles,” Brat told a town hall audience, later clarifying that he meant the US Chamber of Commerce, the largest lobbying trade group in the country. He also called out the American Chemistry Council for funding ads in his race with Cantor, telling a radio host that his opponent had asked his “crony capitalist friends to run more ads.” Brat repeats his mantra: “I’m not against business. I’m against big business in bed with big government.”

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Indeed, Cantor has been a close ally to top lobbyists and the financial industry. “Many lobbyists on K Street whose clients include major financial institutions consider Cantor a go-to member in leadership on policy debates, including overhauling the mortgage finance market, extending the government backstop for terrorism insurance, how Wall Street should be taxed and flood insurance,” noted Politico following Cantor’s loss last night. In 2011, Cantor was caught on video promising a group of commodity speculators that he would roll back regulations on their industry.

There are many lessons to be learned from the Cantor-Brat race. For one, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that not only did Cantor easily out raise and outspend Brat by over $5 million to around $200,000 in campaign funds, but burned through a significant amount on lavish travel and entertainment instead of election advocacy. Federal Election Commission records show Cantor’s PAC spent at least $168,637 on steakhouses, $116,668 on luxury hotels (including a $17,903 charge to the Beverly Hills Hotel & Bungalows) and nearly a quarter-million on airfare (with about $140,000 in chartered flights)—just in the last year and a half!

But on the policy issues and political ramifications of this race, it’s not easy to box Brat into a neat caricature of an anti-immigration zealot or Tea Party demagogue, or, in Time’s hasty reporting, a “shopworn conservative boilerplate.” If Brat ascends to Congress, which is quite likely given the Republican-leaning district that he’ll run in as the GOP nominee, he may actually continue taking on powerful elites in Washington.

 

Read Next: George Zornick ties Eric Cantor’s defeat to immigration reform

How Is This Corporate Flack Running for Congress As an ‘Outsider’?

Matt Miller

(Photo courtesy of Matt Miller for Congress)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

Note: An earlier version of this article contained factual errors that have since been corrected — see below.

Out of a crowded field of candidates hoping to replace retiring Representative Henry Waxman in Los Angeles, Democrat Matt Miller has attempted to distinguish himself by touting a variety of experiences. Miller’s campaign advertisement lists his various positions as a radio show host, education expert, former Clinton administration official, and business adviser. As he announced his candidacy, Miller took a leave from The Washington Post and NBC, where he was a columnist and contributor. What hasn’t been reported is his other breadwinning job: PR consultant.

Ethics forms filed by Miller to the House Clerk’s office, a standard procedure for any candidate for Congress, reveal that Miller received $239,099 from Burson-Marsteller, the influence and public relations firm, in 2013.

The ethics forms show a laundry list of other corporate clients, including American Express, General Electric, Linder & Associates, RLM Finsbury and Walmart. The New York Times’s Mark Leibovich, in his write-up of the race, described Miller as a former consultant to McKinsey & Company. The ethics forms show that Miller continued to receive a salary at the firm up until announcing his run: $295,927 in 2013 and 2014, and $318,721 in the previous year, 2012. Many of Miller’s clients continued to pay him up until he announced his candidacy, including RLM Finsbury, which bills itself as a public affairs firm that helps influence lawmakers and regulators. RLM Finsbury says Miller left the firm as he launched his campaign.

For an insider with deep ties to the lobbying community, it may seem surprising that the Los Angeles Times, in endorsing Miller, counted him as outside the flock of candidates who are “embedded members of the system.”

The many corporate consultancy gigs held by Miller may cast his policy and pundit positions into question. For instance, when Miller penned a column for the Post defending corporations that take full advantage of the tax code to dodge paying billions in corporate income taxes, he did not disclose at the time that he was being paid by GE, a company that has become a symbol of this problem. Miller has endorsed cutting entitlement programs such as Social Security. As PR Week reported, Miller’s Burson-Marsteller was retained by billionaire Pete Peterson’s Fix the Debt campaign to help advocate for spending cuts to reduce the national debt.

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Miller, in response to a query from Republic Report, says he has “always kept my editors and producers at my various outlets informed about my business activities, and have routinely made disclosures on air or in print where a reader or audience member should know of such work to avoid any conflict.” On KCRW radio, where Miller has hosted the popular show Left, Right, and Center, Miller says he has mentioned on air that he is an adviser to GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt. ”I advised on strategy, policy and communications, and helped lead work on two reports issued by McKinsey’s education practice on the achievement gap and on elevating the teaching profession in the US. At Burson, I advised clients on external communications and reputation matters, and helped with client development,” Miller says.

As Republic Report has reported, several lobbyists and consultants working in the world of corporate advocacy have made the jump to run for Congress this year. In Virginia, we revealed that Republican candidate Ed Gillespie has been quietly consulting for oil and gas lobbying groups, while also advising firms such as AT&T and Bank of America. In North Carolina, we disclosed the many financial industry clients of Taylor Griffin, an establishment backed candidate who failed in his primary bid against Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC).

This post has been updated to correct and clarify information about the timing of Miller’s income from certain clients, in particular to clarify that Miller stopped working for the above-cited clients by the time he launched his campaign. We regret the error. Miller also says that his payments from GE and American Express related to his work advising President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. The two companies, Miller says, shared expenses for his services. After publication of this article, Miller contacted Republic Report but would not reveal the identity of his Burson-Marsteller clients.

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Pro-Keystone XL Consulting Firm May Have Violated Ethics Laws

Alberta tar sands

An aerial view of Alberta tar sands development (Chris Evans, The Pembina Institute)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org.

One of the many consulting firms retained to build support for the Keystone XL, a controversial pipeline to bring oil sands in Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, failed to disclose its activities as federal law appears to have required. Through a records request, Republic Report has found that the Alberta government hired a public relations company called Feverpress to promote the pipeline last year.

Feverpress, run by Hilary Lefebvre and David Press, was retained for $65,000. In a memo to David Manning, Alberta’s lobbyist in Washington, DC, Feverpress said they had reached out to “producers and reporters to gauge the level of interest in the Keystone issue and to introduce the premier as a spokesperson to speak on behalf of Canadian efforts to secure approval of the pipeline.” The invoice shows a payment titled “Public Relations Services Relating to Keystone Pipeline.”

The firm pledged to reach out to “bigger targets” in the media, including Charlie Rose and Piers Morgan. “We have devised a strategy to focus interest on Alberta as a contributor to the US economy and environmental sustainability, to take advantage of ongoing media interest in energy security, seasonal interest in gasoline prices, and responding to increased efforts by the environmental community to portray Keystone’s impact in a very negative way,” wrote the firm to their clients in Canada.

The final decision on the Keystone XL will be made by President Barack Obama. To influence the process, a number of interest groups that stand to gain from approval of the pipeline have conducted a multi-year promotional campaign.

Critics say approval will drastically boost carbon emissions because the pipeline will vastly accelerate high-carbon tar sands production. NASA scientist James Hansen has declared that the pipeline is a “fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.”

The Alberta government has gone to great lengths to build public support for the Keystone XL. Last year, Alberta retained consulting firms Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti to help with Keystone XL outreach among reporters and public officials. As DeSmogBlog’s Brendan DeMelle noted, both firms are led by former staffers to political leaders central to the Keystone XL approval process, including Secretary of State John Kerry.

According to her website biography, Feverpress’ Hilary Lefebvre is a former “communications official in the Hillary Clinton for President campaign.”

But Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti were reported last year as Alberta clients because both firms registered and disclosed their activities as required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Feverpress did not.

“If Feverpress was hired on behalf of the government of Alberta or any foreign political party to conduct a public relations campaign in the United States to affect public policy, Feverpress would be required to register under FARA and disclose its compensation, clients and lobbying activities,” says Craig Holman, an ethics expert with Public Citizen.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act was adopted in 1938 after reports that the Nazi government was attempting to influence American public opinion to not intervene in World War II. The law requires registration and disclosure of foreign principals attempting to influence American public policy through public relations campaigns as well as direct lobbying.

The contract with Alberta states Feverpress was brought on to devise “media strategy” regarding “the Keystone XL and oil sands development…to ensure continued and expanded market access to the US for Alberta oil sands resources.” The communications obtained by Republic Report show that Feverpress attempted to book former Alberta premiere Alison Redford on media programs including Morning Joe, Andrea Mitchell Reports, Piers Morgan Live and The Lead with Jake Tapper.

Contacted by Republic Report for comment, Kevin Armstrong, a public affairs officer with Alberta International and Intergovernmental Relations, said consultants retained by his agency register on their own under applicable laws. “We expect the companies we contract with to abide by the law,” said Armstrong.

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Feverpress could not provide a comment when reached by Republic Report.

A copy of the Feverpress contract and invoice with Alberta can be found here.

Earlier this year, Republic Report revealed that other interest groups have been working behind the scenes to promote the pipeline. In February, we reported on a group of oil refinery companies that have spent millions of dollars to finance pro-pipeline grassroots organizations and campaign ads. We also reported that a prominent economic analysis firm that had produced a report downplaying environmental concerns regarding the Keystone XL had been quietly retained by Alberta for a lucrative consulting contract.

 

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How Wall Street Money Is Driving Out the Last Populist House Republican

Walter Jones

Representative Walter Jones meets with military families in his Capitol Hill office in Washington, DC. (Reuters/Mannie Garcia)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

Congressman Walter Jones, a Republican who represents a wide swath of eastern North Carolina, might not strike you as a populist. But as a lawmaker, the veteran politician with a slow Southern drawl has become a gadfly in his own party for thumbing his nose at powerful political interests. He is the only GOP co-sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act, a measure to reveal the donors of dark-money campaign advertisements. He is among the loudest critics of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, telling an audience one that “Lyndon Johnson’s probably rotting in hell right now because of the Vietnam War, and he probably needs to move over for Dick Cheney.” And Speaker John Boehner removed Jones from the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees Wall Street. His sin? Bucking leadership and supporting many bills to further regulate the financial sector, along with serving as the last remaining House Republican to have voted for the Dodd-Frank reform package.

The Republican establishment has attempted to remove Jones from office by dispatching a number of primary challengers over the years. For this cycle, a former Bush administration aide named Taylor Griffin is the party favorite to finally wipe out Jones.

Several outlets, such as Bloomberg News, have reported that Griffin’s candidacy is being heavily promoted by the financial industry. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other banks helped fuel the $114,000 fundraising haul Griffin reported in his first campaign disclosure report. Earlier this week, a Super PAC financed in part by hedge fund titan Paul Singer went on air with a negative ad against Jones.

What hasn’t been reported, however, is that Griffin himself is a longtime political consultant for the biggest predators on Wall Street.

Republic Report has obtained a disclosure report that shows that Griffin’s client list reads like a who’s who of financial interests that have preyed upon North Carolina families for short term gain.

Griffin, whose career includes a stint on the the Bush election campaign team and Treasury Department, is a co-founder of Hamilton Place Strategies, a “policy and public affairs” firm that boasts of its team of former government officials. Like many companies that work to influence policy within the Beltway on behalf of corporate interests, Hamilton Place Strategies does not register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, though it advertises its ability to shape the regulatory environment. The company, which specializes in public relations, is located a stone’s throw from K Street and the White House in a corridor of Washington favored by many influence peddlers.

Griffin touts himself as a conservative small businessman. His campaign website “About” section makes only a passing reference to his prior position with Hamilton Place Strategies, noting obliquely that he founded a “leading public policy consulting firm, quickly growing it to a business that included over 20 employees on its payroll.” Before launching his campaign in October, Griffin sold his share of the firm and moved to New Bern, a city within North Carolina’s third congressional district.

Griffin’s client list has never before been reported. But a mandatory candidate filing, disclosed by the House Clerk last week, opens a window into his business operation.

Griffin worked for Lender Processing Services Inc. (LPS), the infamous company that forged foreclosure documents on behalf of the big banks. In a practice that became known as “robo-signing,” LPS created more than “1 million fraudulently signed and notarized mortgage-related documents with property recorders’ offices throughout the United States.” Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Ally Financial allegedly used robo-signing to engage in unlawful foreclosures. The robo-signing tactics were reportedly used extensively in North Carolina.

Though Griffin revealed his LPS work on his disclosure form, he also refused to list other clients, noting that “certain confidential clients are not reported due to terms of agreement into at the time services were retained.” But public statements from his company, including from Tony Fratto, another co-founder of Hamilton Place Strategies, shows the firm has been working for Magnetar Capital, a hedge fund famous for helping helping inflate the housing bubble that led to the 2008 financial crisis.

In a Pulitzer Prize–winning article for ProPublica, reporter Jesse Eisinger revealed that Magnetar helped create “arcane mortgage-based instruments, pushed for risky things to go inside them and then bet against the investments,” a scheme that earned them hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, according to reports, Magnetar is back in the housing business, taking advantage of low prices to buy up homes and rent them out.

As part of their strategy to dupe investors, Magnetar allegedly enlisted the rating agency Standard & Poor’s to provide a high-level A-grade listing for Magnetar’s synthetic financial products. Though it’s not clear what he did for the firm, Griffin lists McGraw Hill Financial, the parent company of Standard & Poor’s, as one of his clients (the firm has been accused of engaging in other fraudulent rating schemes that led to the financial collapse).

Another Griffin client, according to his ethics form, is an interest group that is actively lobbying to hike property insurance rates on North Carolina families, including those in the Outer Bankers region Griffin hopes to represent.

Griffin works for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, a trade association for property insurers. This year, the PCIAA promoted a state property insurance hike as high as 35 percent on homeowners in North Carolina beach communities. In Washington, the PCIAA’s team of ten registered lobbyists worked to oppose the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, recently passed legislation designed to “freeze premium increases on most homes governed by flood-insurance rate maps.”

As The Charlotte Observer reported, without this legislation, some coastal families faced flood insurance rate hikes from $850 a year now to as high as $21,000.

Griffin’s campaign did not respond to Republic Report’s request for comment about his personal finances. The forms, however, have other revelations.

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Griffin has told reporters that he sold his shares in Hamilton Place Strategies, suggesting that he is no longer affiliated with the firm or in public policy consulting. However, the disclosure reports show that he has continued to earn a living from Hamilton Place Strategies—at least in excess of $5,000—and this year earned income (likely through his other consulting firm, Sulgrave Partners) from PCIAA, McGrawHill Financial, Huron Healthcare, Motorola Mobility and other clients.

In his first television advertisement that began airing this month before the May 5 primary, Griffin says that he is the “clear conservative choice for Congress.” In a spot that is clearly biographical in nature, Griffin references his consulting work for the financial sector interests thus: “I’ve also owned my own business, so I know what it means to make a budget and stick to it.” Left unsaid, the $406,000 a year he earned promoting the very worst of Wall Street.

 

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