A bill to force more disclosure from, as the bills caption states, “..certain persons who do not meet the definition of political committee”, is causing quite a stir in The Lege. Not just intra-party, but inner party squabbles as well. Which is a plus. But in cases like this I think it’s better to err on the side of too much disclosure, as opposed to too little disclosure.
Politically active nonprofits, which are playing an increasingly important role in state elections, would no longer be able to hide the identity of their major donors under a bill making its way through the Texas Legislature.
Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, says he plans to push Senate Bill 346 through a House committee this week without any changes. Since it has already passed the Senate, the bill would go straight to Gov. Rick Perry if the full House subsequently approves the legislation without amendment.
“My intention is to get the bill out of committee exactly like it came over and take it to the floor, and fight off all amendments and then send it to the governor,” Geren said. A public hearing is set for Wednesday.
Geren and the Senate sponsor, Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, say they are targeting nonprofits organized under 501(c)(4) of the tax code, which the IRS says are supposed to be “social welfare” organizations but are allowed to engage in political activity as long as that’s not not their primary activity. The bill would trigger disclosure of donors who give more than $1,000 to a group that engages in more than $25,000 of political activity intended to influence an election. The disclosure only applies to political donations.
On the federal level, politically active groups that don’t disclose their donors, most of which are 501(c)(4) nonprofits, have had an outsized impact in recent elections, giving a whopping $300 million in the 2012 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
According to state figures compiled by Texans for Public Justice (TPJ), a liberal campaign finance watchdog group based in Austin, one politically active nonprofit, the conservative Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, spent about $350,000 in the 2012 elections, most of it in the Republican primaries. (Spending is reported, but contributions are not.)
On the left, the Texas Organizing Project, a 501(c)(4) that advocates for moderate- and low-income Texans, spent about $240,000 over the same period, TPJ figures indicate. A column in the San Antonio Express News last year also identified a 501(c)(4), South Texas Alliance For Progress, behind an effort to torpedo an initiative to fund pre-K education with a small sales tax increase.
Proponents of SB 346 say if the Legislature doesn’t require donor transparency for 501(c)(4)’s this year, elections in 2014 and beyond will be awash with secret money.
“This bill will close down a loophole that is about to become the size of the Grand Canyon,” said Fred Lewis, a lawyer and campaign finance activist who recently registered his approval of the bill during a Senate hearing.
Capitol whisperers say the bill was primarily designed to smoke out the donors behind Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, which is run by conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan.
Seliger said fellow GOP senators cited Sullivan’s opposition to the bill when they voted to undo their vote last week approving the bill.
And there certainly is no love lost between House Speaker Joe Straus and Sullivan, who has made the San Antonio Republican a frequent target of his Tea Party infused ire. The group’s largest expenditure in the last election cycle, $82,169, went to support Straus’ primary opponent Matt Beebe, according to TPJ figures.
Sullivan calls the Seliger-Geren bill an attack on the First Amendment and notes that labor unions are not covered by the legislation.
“I find it difficult to see where the state of Texas has a compelling interest in regulating the First Amendment right of non-union corporate political speakers differently than others who engage in political speech,” Sullivan said. A call to the Texas Organizing Project was not immediately returned.
Sullivan’s opposition isn’t the only hurdle for the legislation. Democrats are also expressing concerns about it and could band together in an unlikely union with their Republican counterparts to kill it.
Several Senate Democrats already joined Republicans in an attempt to “recall” the legislation back from the House after they initially voted to approve it. But the recall effort failed because the bill had already arrived in the House, which treated it like a fumbled football. Senators said they didn’t fully understand what the bill did when they approved it the first time.
One of the vote-switchers, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said he was afraid there could be “unintended consequences” from the bill and wanted a chance to more fully vet it. He held open the possibility that he could support the legislation once he got a better look at it.
After the Democrats flipped their votes, word spread that Democratic mega-donor Steve Mostyn was behind the move. Mostyn spokesman Jeff Rotkoff acknowledged that the wealthy trial lawyer had concerns about the bill but said he is not working against it.
Rotkoff said the legislation does not specifically mention 501(c)(4)’s and might require the reporting of donations from groups the sponsors weren’t intending to cover.
“Steve agrees with the goal of the bill,” Rotkoff said. “But campaign finance counsel we have spoken with believes the bill could have significant unintended consequences. This is not something Steve is actively working on, but our opinion is that this bill may attempt to do the right thing in the wrong way.”
Other then these general, vague, and non-specific reasons for why this bill is “bad”, the only real concrete reason anyone has put forward for not supporting this bill comes from Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) in the Senate Journal:
Today I cast my vote in opposition to Senate Bill 346. The bill was primarily captioned to address transparency–”Relating to reporting requirements of certain persons who do not meet the definition of a political committee”–and while I am certainly a strong proponent for such open government and transparency, I had constitutional concerns on the bill. First, the bill establishes separate reporting requirements for corporations. Some corporations like labor unions are exempt, while other corporations like 501(c)(4) entitiesiare not. In 1990, the Supreme Court determined in Austinivs.iMichigan Chamber of Commerce that different restrictions on speech related to spending based upon corporate identity were constitutional. Had
SBi346 been passed while that 1990 case had still been the prevailing precedent, I believe it would have been constitutional. However, in 2010 the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens Unitedivs.iFederal Election Commission case determined that
theiFirst Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions. The court also found that the First Amendment protects associations or individuals in additional to individual speakers. Corporations, as associations of individuals, therefore have First Amendment rights. Second, SB 346 treats corporations differently from labor unions and associations in what they must report. SB 346 requires that corporations which spend less than $25,000 must report expenditures, while those corporations which spend more than $25,000 must not only report expenditures, but report their donors. Again, this is a disparate treatment not only among corporations based upon their spending levels, but corporations as they are treated in relation to labor unions and associations. The reporting requirement of donors also begs another constitutional question. In 1995, in McIntyre vs. Ohio Election Commission, the Supreme Court determined that citizens had the right to engage in anonymous political speech. Since corporations now have the same First Amendment rights as individuals to anonymous political speech, requiring the
reporting of donors strikes me as a violation of the First Amendment. For these reasons and concerns I voted against SB 346 today.
The old corporations are people and have First Amendment rights defense. Citizens United is the gift that just keeps on giving. Despite the recal the bill sailed through the House State Affairs Committee yesterday. And Committee Chair Rep. Charlie Geren thinks it is constitutional, Disclosure Bill Clears House Committee.
The bill came to the House after an unusual episode in which the Senate passed the measure 23-6 before attempting to recall it, by an equally lopsided vote, a day later. The bill, though, had already been sent to the House, where it was taken up by the House State Affairs Committee. Now, the bill must pass through the House unamended if it is to avoid returning to the Senate. The bill passed out of committee, unaltered, with a 12-0 vote. It will now go to the full House for consideration.
At Wednesday’s committee hearing, the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said that the disclosure requirements – similar to ones lawmakers are subjected to – were common sense.
“If it’s good enough for us, it should be good enough for them,” he said. “And if you’re embarrassed about where you’re getting your money, you ought to not take it.
Geren stressed that disclosure requirements had been repeatedly ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court – even in the court case that recently helped unleash a torrent of money into the American political system, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Fred Lewis, a lawyer and campaign finance activist, testified that transparency was the sole safeguard of the state’s election system.
“In Texas, we do not have public financing of campaigns, and we do not have contribution limits,” he said. “All we have is disclosure.”
The vote on the Senate recall can be found here (SCR 33), where 9 Democratic senators changed their votes, (Davis, Ellis, Garcia, Hinojosa, Rodriguez, Uresti, Watson, West, and Whitmire).
Keep in mind the bill must pass the house without amendment to avoid going back to the Senate where it would likely die. And it would still need to be signed by Gov. Perry to become law. So this bill still has a long way to go before it’s becomes law. Unfortunately this kind of nonsense will continue until we reform how political campaigns are financed.
Rootstrikers has a great FAQ on the issue of our corrupt campaign finance systems. Suffice it to say that it will be hard for real people, not corporate people, to regain control of our government until this system is fundamentally changed. And the only way it will change is if an overwhelming amount of people start working to change it.
Over the weekend the Texas Tribune had a article regarding our part-time legislature, A Part-Time Legislature, but in Whose Interest? Much of their article has to do with the issue that there’s little transparency and even less punishment when legislators make questionable decisions regarding how they make their living.
Wonderfully, it turns out, for many of those elected. Paid a pittance by taxpayers for their official state duties, lawmakers need to make a living elsewhere, and the prestige and influence of their elective office often helps them do it.
But with a conflict disclosure system rife with holes, virtually toothless ethics laws often left to the interpretation of the lawmakers they are supposed to regulate, and a Legislature historically unwilling to make itself more transparent, the reality is Texans know exceedingly little about who or what influences the people elected to represent them. They have no way to differentiate between lawmakers motivated entirely by the interests of their constituents and those in it for their own enrichment.
“Ostensibly, there is a defined level of disclosure and an agreed code of conduct,” said Jack Gullahorn, a Texas ethics expert who represents the state’s trade association for lobbyists. “But in general, either the sanctions aren’t there or the provisions aren’t clear enough to give people that don’t want to play by the rules any incentive to avoid the consequences for their actions.”
Over the coming months, The Texas Tribune will look at these lawmakers and the ethics rules that govern them, addressing issues like conflicts of interest and breaches in public accountability.
In other words is a legislator beholden to their constituents of to those who pay them a salary to live on? It definitely makes for a murky existence. In the comments Gritsforbreakfast makes a solid point in the comments of the Tribune article. That the “part time” nature of the legislature, (meeting 140 days every two years), is not responsible for this. But there are two aspects of the part time/full time discussion. One is the discussion of how often the legislature should meet, annual or biennial sessions. And the other, whether they are paid a full time or a part time wage.
A big part of the problem is that being a legislator means needing to take a six-month leave of absence from your job every other year, for which you get paid all of $7,200. It’s not particularly conducive to holding a regular job, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people who want to hire you. It’s just that these are often people and organizations with interests in particular legislation, and they want to hire you for your expertise as a legislator. As you might imagine, that can be a problem, especially since the rules of financial disclosure for legislators allows them a fair bit of leeway in describing how they earn their money. To me, the answer is to recognize that being a legislator is a fulltime job regardless of how much the Lege is actually in session, and pay legislators a salary that recognizes this. Once you do that, you can very strictly limit the amount of things for which they can be paid outside of their legislative duties, and ensure there are sufficient punishments for breaking those rules. I don’t expect anything like this to happen any time soon, but until then I don’t think we have much grounds to complain about what these folks do, or think they have to do, to earn a living.
And the compensation issue is the bigger issue, as far as conflict of interest and corruption issues are concerned, then how much time they spend in session.
While legislators do make more than the $7,200 annual salary it’s still not a lot of money. While these two reasons are why many believe in the citizen legislator myth, it is also exactly why very few citizens can actually run for and serve in the legislature in modern day Texas. The word citizen, as used in this context infers the common person. But in reality only those who are independently wealthy or whose job allows them the time off for the legislative session can afford to run for, and serve, in the legislature. While the lore of a part-time “citizen legislature” that meets every other year to blunt the effects of carpetbaggers makes a great tale, it is today little more than that.
But as the twenty-first century unfolds, the Legislature remains a curious combination of old-style politics, nineteenth century institutional design, and the realities of a state with 22 million people, many of whom live in or near some of the largest urban areas in the country.
That “curious combination” is now, quite possibly, causing more problems than it’s worth. There are several recent stories swirling around the Texas Legislature that point out structural weaknesses in how we fund it. Tales of “ghost workers”, spouses being paid with campaign funds, and legislators using campaign funds to pay off credit cards, are more the norm these days, than is the myth of the legislator coming for 140 days every two years and going back to the farm, ranch of general store. More often than not it’s the lawyer, insurance man, or consultant that can afford to be a legislator.
Although the regular session is still 140 days, there are many more special sessions these days and much more work to be done between sessions (interim). In the interim now there are many committee hearings that do the work, as set out by the leaders of both houses, that needs to be done to get ready for the next regular session. Often times these hearings are held not just in Austin, but all over the state, and over a span of many months. Again this schedule is not very conducive for a “citizen” working at a 40 hr./week or more job, 5 days a week, with a couple of weeks vacation a year.
A citizen legislator in the 21st century would be someone who is not beholden to monied interests, lobbyists, or their employer for them to be able to continue to support themselves and their families in order to keep serving in the legislature.
One thing is clear with the current part time pay legislature is that we don’t have citizens legislators. But even worse we don’t have legislators that are responsive to their constituents – the citizens of Texas. That’s what needs to change. Pay them well, limit outside pay, and institute harsh punishments for breaking the rules, as Kuff said. This kind of reform should be given serious consideration, but it won’t until citizens demand it.
Does it really surprise anyone that the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), championed in 2007 by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has turned into an unaccountable transfer of tax payer money to his campaign donors? Via the Texas Tribune, Investigations of CPRIT’s Grants Process Are Pushed.
State lawmakers expressed concern about CPRIT’s grant process Friday after it was revealed one grant — $11 million awarded to Peloton Therapeutics — was approved without a scientific or business review.
“Serious problems have come to our attention,” Sen. Jane Nelson, F-Flower Mound, and Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, wrote in a letter to the leaders of CPRIT: Jim Mansour, the founding chairman, and Bill Gimson, the executive director. The lawmakers asked for a written description of how an $11 million grant could have been awarded without a review process.
In response to the letter, the CPRIT oversight committee is preparing a report to turn over to lawmakers. In a statement to The Dallas Morning News, a representative for CPRIT said the award to Peloton Therapeutics was ratified in 2010 after it had been “improperly” placed on the oversight committee’s agenda.
Texas voters approved the creation of CPRIT, which awards $300 million annually, in 2007 as a state constitutional amendment. Since 2010, the state has awarded more than 400 grants for a total of $755 million through the program.
Two left-leaning organizations, Texans for Public Justice and Progress Texas, say law enforcement agencies should also be involved in the investigation of CPRIT’s grant process. The groups expressed concerns that lawmakers may not fully disclose the extent of alleged impropriety at CPRIT, because many grant recipients have given large donations to Gov. Rick Perry and other Republican lawmakers.
“The taxpayers assume that this money was going to go to efforts at finding a cure for cancer,” said Glenn Smith, a board member of Progress Texas. “Instead of doing that, it appears to be just another political slush fund being given to Perry contributors.”
Josh Havens, a spokesman for the governor, said in an email that “Gov. Perry expects CPRIT to apply rigorous review standards to every decision that includes taxpayer funds.” He said the governor agrees with fellow lawmakers that a thorough investigation of CPRIT’s grant review process should be conducted and “taxpayers deserve to have the full background of this situation.”
The biotech company that bypassed normal peer reviews to win $11 million in state cancer funds had close ties to U.T Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Top donors to the Medical Center’s PAC gave $1.6 million to Texas politicians who control the state’s CPRIT cancer fund. These donors include the oil-rich Hunt-Hill clan, which has stakes in a venture capital fund that bankrolled Peloton Therapeutics. A director of that venture capital fund once filed a tax protest that personally saved Governor Perry $14,000 in local property taxes.
As far as Perry and the wing nuts are concerned government is here to service the wealthy. Just look at what’s transpired in Texas over the last 10 years since the GOP took over.
Facing a fast-brewing storm of opposition, the Texas Ethics Commission this morning abandoned a plan to take over criminal enforcement of state ethics laws from Travis County prosecutors.
Ever since former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle took on former GOP Congressman Tom Delay, the GOP in Texas has wanted to neuter the Travis County Public Integrity Unit – which is part of the Travis County DA’s office. This article by Nate Blakeslee at Burkablog from 2011 is a great primer on why the Public Integrity Unit is under attack, Sneak Attack on Public Integrity Unit?
Buried in the four-inch stack of amendments to the house budget bill is a subtly crafted ambush on the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office. This is the outfit that investigates corruption cases involving public officials, the most famous of which in recent memory was Ronnie Earle’s dogged pursuit of Tom Delay in the TRMPAC case. Earle has moved on, but Republicans haven’t forgiven or forgotten. This session, Arlington Republican Bill Zedler filed a bill (HB 1928) seeking to move the unit out of the Travis County D.A.’s office and into the Attorney General’s office, which is to say, out of Democratic control and into Republican-held territory.
As Blakeslee goes on to point out the Public Integrity Unit does more than just oversee the conduct of public officials.
The Public Integrity Unit doesn’t just do public corruption investigations—it also prosecutes insurance fraud and tax fraud, including on sales of gasoline and tobacco. In the last 4 years, the unit has recovered over $8 million in restitution. With no funding, those investigations would cease, too. In other words, Zedler wouldn’t just be screwing the men and women of the Public Integrity Unit, he’d be screwing the taxpayers of Texas…
The Texas Ethics Commission, long criticized for its lax enforcement of public officials, is considering a plan to take over all ethics enforcement from the Travis County district attorney’s office, which has a long history of prosecuting errant state officeholders.
The eight-member Ethics Commission, meeting Thursday in Austin, is scheduled to consider a recommendation “transplanting certain existing investigative and prosecutorial authority and budget from the Travis County Public Integrity Unit to the Texas Ethics Commission.”
“Only the authority and budget relating to the conduct of public officials elected and appointed should be so reassigned,” the recommendation states. “Many of the existing personnel staffing these functions would come across as seamlessly as possible.”
But the reality is the Texas Ethics Commission would be extremely unlikely to do the kind of bipartisan enforcement the Public Integrity Unit is know for. When Democrats still had power in Texas Ronnie Earle prosecuted them as well. But removing this power from the Public Integrity Unit would essentially free-up public officials in Texas to do as they please, with little worry of recourse.
Noting that watchdog groups were hoping for ramped-up enforcement by the Ethics Commission, not a takeover of the county’s Public Integrity Unit that has prosecuted the only criminal violations, he added: “This is a dream turned into a nightmare.”
Fred Lewis, a former assistant attorney general and advocate who is considered one of the state’s foremost experts on the Ethics Commission, was more blunt: “This agency is not only toothless, it’s gumless. You can’t get any more ineffectual than they’ve been.”
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said she hadn’t been contacted about the proposal and wasn’t sure that the proposed transfer of enforcement duties is legal.
“I oppose it,” she said. “It gives authority to a branch of government where it doesn’t belong. … The law places jurisdiction with me for offenses that occur in my county. I think we’ve been fair and balanced in the way we’ve handled these cases in the past.”
The Travis County Public Integrity Unit has long been the only true enforcement arm over the corruption of public officials in Texas. It’s easy to see that if the only entity known for holding public officials accountable is disarmed it will become a free-for-all in Texas. This coupled with Citizens United the pubic’s voice will be drowned out even more than it already is in Texas politics.
A lack of enforcement on this issue makes public corruption more likely, not less. But that’s what will happen if we let the foxes guard the hen house. Instead of this we should be trying to make it harder for public officials to get away with their ethics violation.
Of course the title to this post references a quote from The Godfather II. (Quick side note, didn’t know the “The Godfather Wiki” existed). As the reports are showing the only people that profited from Perry’s campaign were the political consultants and political elite of Texas, How Rick Perry’s money machine went flat.
No clearer evidence of Rick Perry’s campaign collapsing than his latest finance report, which shows that after a dazzling first quarter of fundraising ($17.2 million) the Texas governor’s money-raising went south. Perry raised $2.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2011 as he approached the Iowa caucuses in early January. The report shows that after Perry’s “Oops” moment in the November 9 debate, his financial support began disappearing.
Also, there are debts reported — included $42,900 to the New Hampshire consulting company of his long-time political guru Dave Carney, who was effectively shoved aside in December after Perry’s disastrous presidential bid went into the tank.
One thing’s clear, most of his money in the third quarter went to air an avalanche of TV spots in Iowa and South Carolina, much of it targeting rival Mitt Romney . More than $5.5 million went to Paint Creek Productions, a campaign company that produced the aired the commercials. Perry’s long-time media chief, David Weeks of Austin, collected another $152,000 for overseeing the governor’s presidential media effort. While the Perry effort is considered by many to be one of the worst-run political campaigns in memory, the managers, advisers and consultants all did well. Consultant, who’s worked both as a lobbyist and Perry’s chief of staff, Ray Sullivan and communications chief collected more than $40,000 during the period. He struggled in the early going when calls from reporters largely went unreturned and Perry’s political message was muddled. Campaign manager Deirdre Delisi, the policy adviser, was paid about $7,900 a month, campaign manager Rob Johnson and speech writer Eric Bearse pocketed about $7,500 a month. Spokesman Mark Miner was paid about $7,400 a month.
Dave Carney, who launched a campaign that the Perry team hoped would mirror past gubernatorial races in which aides tried to keep the governor largely away from the media, was paid more than $58,000 during the last quarter (plus the money still owed his company). A campaign shakeup in November brought in former George W. Bush campaign adviser Joe Allbaugh, who was paid $63,000 in November and December to try and right the foundering campaign. Although the Perry campaign was reluctant to talk about whether it was doing polling to determine how to shape its campaign message, the report shows that Perry pollster Mike Baselice was paid $293,000 during the quarter for polling.
His “goose was cooked” from the moment he said “Oops”, but the consultant money train just kept on rolling. And they made money. And all of us poor saps that pay taxes in Texas we’re stuck with the tab, Governor OOPS Owes Texas $2.7 Million. Jason Embry has more.
This report from Legistorm, on the record amounts private interests spent last year on trips for members of Congress and their staffs in 2011, is a microcosm of what’s wrong with Congress and our government(s). This is one area of Congress, it seems, where there is broad bipartisan agreement.
Private interests spent a record amount to send members of Congress and their staff on trips on 2011, and the individual trips were longer and costlier than ever before.
There were 1,600 privately funded congressional trips in 2011, worth a total of more than $5.8 million, the largest amount since ethics reforms were enacted in 2007 in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal. The total amount is the highest since 2005, when a record 4,917 trips were taken totaling $9.9 million. The record for money spent came in 2004, when 4,780 trips cost nearly $10.4 million.
And Congressman John Carter (R-Round Rock) is stands out in the report.
The most expensive trip in 2011 was sponsored by the International Conservation Caucus Foundation, which paid $30,708 to send Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) and his wife to South Africa and Botswana for meetings on conservation and natural resource management.
Jock Friedly, president of Legistorm, the public interest group that compiled the report, says that all told, those trips cost $5.8 million last year. “When these private interests are taking members of Congress and their staff on these trips, they are definitely showing only one side of the story.”
Friedly says it violates the spirit of reforms made in 2007, after Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff got caught bribing officials with lavish trips. Now, lobbyists are banned from paying for extended travel. But groups that don’t lobby can still fund trips.
“Whether that’s overseas in Afghanistan, or if that’s overseas seeing some new technology that’s going to help us, they should be involved in it,” said Jim Clarke, senior vice president of public policy at the Center for Association Leadership. Clarke represents many groups that pay for congressional travel.
The Aspen Institute – which sponsored the Puerto Rico forum, and has spent half a million dollars on congressional trips to Vienna, Canada, and Barcelona – told CBS News it educates members of Congress, helps build relationships and civil discourse, and accepts no corporate or special interest funding. But unlike the Aspen Institute, foundations and other groups that do have corporate and lobbyist ties are paying for some trips.
“Lobbyists founded the foundation. They sit on the board of the foundation. But because the foundation itself does not lobby,” Friedly said, “it’s allowed.”
Is that a distinction without a difference?
“It could be to some people, yes.” Friedly said
As an example, Friedly points to the group that broke the all-time record for spending in a single year: The American Israel Education Foundation, which paid $2 million for 145 trips to Israel. They don’t lobby, but they share offices, a phone number and public relations person with a giant lobby called The American Israel Public Affairs Committee. When CBS News asked them about all those trips, the foundation said no government money funds the congressional trips, and diverse views are presents.
When confronted with the fact that groups that lobby and corporations are setting up foundations that in turn pay for congressional travel — a situation critics say skirts the intent of the rules — Clarke said, “I’m not going to defend that practice.”
“I would say that’s up to, it seems like it is what the law allows. If that’s not what Congress’ intent is they should review their processes.”
And that’s the thing, it’s perfectly legal. Here’s the video of the CBS report on this today.
It’s an enthralling discussion. And they fully realize that this isn’t about Republican and Democrat, as both parties are knee-deep in this corruption. And there are no easy answers to this. (For a darker take on the future read this). But we must have a fundamental change in the power structure in our country.
A mystery file, unsealed after 24 years in storage at an Austin courthouse, indicates that prosecutors or investigators perpetrated a fraud to secure the murder conviction and life sentence for Michael Morton in 1987, the Innocence Project of New York alleged in a court filing Tuesday.
The file, sealed under a 1987 court order amid Morton’s appeals, was ordered open last week as part of the Innocence Project’s claim that recent DNA tests prove Morton did not kill is wife, Christine.
The file was supposed to contain all materials produced by Williamson County sheriff’s Sgt. Don Wood, now retired, as the lead investigator into Christine Morton’s murder, the Innocence Project said.
Instead, the file contained only Wood’s five-page report detailing the investigation’s first day and a one-page consent form, signed by Michael Morton, allowing his house and pickup to be searched.
The skimpy file raised the “specter of official misconduct,” the Innocence Project alleged in court papers, because it did not include recently revealed evidence that could have raised questions about Morton’s guilt, including the transcript of a taped conversation between Wood and Christine Morton’s mother 11 days after the murder. According to the typed transcript, the Mortons’ 3-year-old son indicated that he had witnessed the killing and said his father, Michael Morton, was not home at the time.
“If trial prosecutors had the transcript in their 1987 file and willfully concealed it from this court and/or the Court of Appeals, then they have committed fraud on the court of the highest order — and in the process, condemned an innocent man to prison for a quarter-century,” the Innocence Project motion reads.
Under a landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision, prosecutors and law enforcement must provide defense lawyers with evidence that is favorable to the defendant and could change the trial’s outcome.
If prosecutors knowingly withheld evidence from Lott and Morton’s lawyers, they violated their duty under the U.S. Constitution, the Innocence Project said.
And if investigators withheld evidence from prosecutors, “it is a per se violation warranting immediate post-conviction relief,” the motion said.
This is really bad. This makes Williamson County look like Hazzard County. It’s time for Michael Morton and the rest of his family to get justice. He needs to be released from jail ASAP, until this travesty of justice is sorted out.
This article doesn’t mention that the prosecutor in this case was now Williamson County District Court Jude Ken Anderson and the co-prosecutors, Mike Davis was recently hired by the Williamson County Commissioners Court with out a public vote to provide tax paid legal services to Don Higginbotham, a county court-at-law judge, who was faced sexual harassment complaints last year.
On the Wilco District Attorney website, Bradley boasts of using DNA testing and the national DNA database to convict criminals. Bradley is quoted as saying, “Without the new Texas laws that take DNA samples from convicted felons and add them to [the] national database, Mary McCallie’s family would never have known who was responsible for her death.” Apparently, when DNA testing and the national database are used to free the innocent, Bradley is no longer interested in justice.
“When an innocent person is convicted of a crime, it makes all of us less safe and delays justice. First, because the real criminal is still at large, and second, because next time the wrong person is put behind bars it could be a member of our own family,” said Williamson County Democratic Party chair Brian Hamon. “John Bradley has a record of cover up from his recent stint as Gov. Rick Perry’s pick to chair the Texas Forensic Science Commission , scuttling an investigation into flawed fire science.
In the interest of justice, Williamson County needs a new District Attorney.”
An innocent man has spent nearly 25 years in jail for a crime he did not commit, and the damage done to him and his family cannot be repaired. Justice delayed is justice denied.
My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice. -Warren E. Buffett, chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway (Stop Coddling the Super-Rich, New York Times Op-Ed, August, 14, 2011).
It’s one of the facts of politics that when the GOP starts hollering about class warfare that someone has hit a nerve. Because a couple other facts are that the GOP is the party of wealth, and the biggest sales job in the last 40 years was Reagan getting the working class to vote for the GOP and against their economic best interest.
Judging from the furious reaction of some of the gilded-class crowd and their Republican protectors, billionaire Warren Buffett struck a nerve with his plea to Congress to “stop coddling the super-rich.” Former American Express CEO Harvey Golub and Tea Party sugar daddy Charles Koch were quick to protest respectively “the unfair way taxes are collected” and that “my business and non-profit investments are much more beneficial to societal well-being than sending more money to Washington.” Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor attacked President Obama’s “efforts to incite class warfare.”
Of course, a truism of American politics is that the side decrying the class war is the one winning it. And at a time when the federal tax burden is at its lowest in 60 years and income inequality at its highest level in 80, Republicans would still rather wave the unbloodied shirt of class warfare than ask what America’s rich and famous can do for their country.
Our circumstances are the result of decades of reforms that shifted taxes off the wealthy onto the middle-class under the pretense of “trickle-down” economics. That strategy has proven ineffective and needs to be reversed. Yet, conservative officials gnash their teeth and threaten the global economy at the mere mention of correcting those policy mistakes.
We can no longer allow a hopelessly unreasonable minority in a severely corrupted system to dictate the terms of our economy. MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan has asserted that Obama should abandon our “bought Congress” and begin a dialogue with voters to restore democracy and repair the economy.
Clearly, we can’t sit and wait for Obama to knock on our doors to chat. Our elected leadership will do what it will for as long as we allow it. Indeed, we can’t “make them” fix the economy by asking them to do it. We can only get it to happen by organizing, educating, and mobilizing people from all walks of life to fight for justice in all places where it does not exist, from our nation’s capital to our own neighborhoods.
A discovery made in researching court records has upped the ante considerably on the need to declare a man who has been in prison almost 25 years innocent of murder. The document, which has not previously been cited or published by media, also begs for a fresh and complete investigation of the Williamson County commissioners court and its attempt to protect a lawyer who was involved in that murder case, as well as commissioners court’s apparent retaliation against the county attorney who tried to confront the protection practice.
And perhaps of greatest importance, especially in light of this new document, are the motives, actions and practices of Williamson County’s present district attorney, John “Marty” Bradley.
In 1987, Michael W. Morton, a Williamson County resident, was convicted by a Williamson County jury of murdering his wife, Christine, in 1986. On August 17, 2011, after a relentless effort by The Innocence Project and Morton’s attorneys, the Austin American-Statesman, the Houston Chronicle, The Texas Tribune, and other media, including electronic media, broke the news that Morton’s attorneys had been successful in having key evidence subjected to DNA analysis, with the result that Morton now appears not to have committed the crime. Other exculpatory evidence has also been brought into play by this development in the case. During efforts on Morton’s behalf to acquire and test the evidence, John Bradley, the current district attorney in Williamson County, went to extensive efforts to keep the evidence from being released and tested.
And now, close on the heels of that initial breaking news, there is additional and significant information which has not been previously published by media. Research has turned up documentation pointing to the conclusion that Bradley apparently is not alone in the effort to sequester key evidence. The prosecution team in that 1987 trial, and one member of that team in particular (second chair), has been identified by the new documentation as being in the center of the exculpatory evidence controversy.
In an aftershock related to the person in that second chair, the controversial conflict between County Attorney Jana Duty and the Williamson County commissioners court (which is still ongoing because of grievances filed by that court against Duty with the Texas Bar Association) is shown in a new light, pointing to a conclusion which supports Duty’s actions in trying to hold members of commissioners court, and County Judge Dan Gattis in particular, accountable for alleged improprieties which include, of all people, the person in the second chair at the Morton trial as well as District Attorney John Bradley.
Additional controversy in Williamson County is ongoing in another developing and fast-moving plot in which commissioners court appears to be attempting to exact retaliation on Duty and some members of her staff for their attempts to hold members of that court accountable for their actions. And a sidebar to the perspective involves commissioner court members apparently deciding to discontinue important, safety-net, social service and human service aspects of the county’s obligation to provide for the welfare of its citizens.