The whole trip — including game-reserve visits, biodiversity tours and expert briefings — was paid for by a nonprofit group called the International Conservation Caucus Foundation, which is closely linked to four lobbying organizations and a roster of corporate interests.
The caucus grew to become the second-largest in Congress and now counts about a third of the House and a fourth of the Senate among its members.
The four founding organizations stayed on as the “Advisory Council” to the ICCF, which hosts Congressional briefings, an annual gala and a yearly oyster roast “prepared by legendary South Carolina game wardens” that was attended by more than 40 Members of Congress, according to the group’s website. Its “Conservation Council” includes corporate heavyweights such as Volkswagen, Walmart, Unilever, Exxon Mobil Corp. and the American Petroleum Institute.[Emphasis added]
“Our partners play an essential role in supporting true American values in conservation by providing technical expertise, policy innovations, financial resources, information technology and general leadership and encouragement to conservation programs in other countries,” according to the foundation’s website.
A representative from Crenshaw’s office said the trip was a valuable opportunity for the Appropriations Committee member to learn about how foreign assistance is being used overseas.
“This House-Ethics-Committee-approved trip, taken at no expense to the taxpayer, provided that opportunity for programs in the regions of Botswana and South Africa. Participants gained knowledge of economic and political conditions, the education and health situation, natural resource management plans and conservation solutions that can be utilized in future decision making on Capitol Hill,” said Crenshaw’s communications director, Barbara Riley, in an email.
The offices of Carter, Chandler and Gingrey did not respond to requests for comment.[Emphasis added]
Ethics experts involved in the 2007 reform effort say trips paid for by nonprofits that maintain close links to lobbying entities were not what they had in mind when the revised rules were drafted. The proliferation of such trips has contributed to a rise in the amount spent on privately financed Congressional travel. As Roll Call has previously reported, the $1.5 million spent sending lawmakers and their family members abroad in August shattered previous monthly records, in large part due to trips paid for by the ICCF and a charitable arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee known as the American Israel Education Foundation.
“This is something that is very troubling when it comes to our travel restrictions,” Holman said. “Once you start carving out any exceptions [for nonprofits], these lobbying entities will push the envelope as hard as they can.”
Must be nice. Congressman John Carter (R-Round Rock) holds a considerable amount of stock in one of the conservation council members, Exxon Mobil Corp. As Lawrence Lessig says, “money erodes trust”.
The clue that something is very wrong is the endless list of troubles that sit on our collective plate but that never get resolved: bloated and inefficient bureaucracies; an invisible climate policy; a tax code that would embarrass Dickens; health care policies that have little to do with health; regulations designed to protect inefficiency; environmental policies that exempt the producers of the greatest environmental harms; food that is too expensive (since protected); food that is unsafe (since unregulated); a financial system that has already caused great harm, has been left unreformed, and is primed and certain to cause great harm again.
The problems are many. Too many. Our eyes get fixed upon one among them, and our passions get devoted to fixing that one. In that focus, however, we fail to see the thread that ties them all together.
We are, to steal from Thoreau, the “thousand[s] hacking at the branches of evil,” with “[n]one striking at the root.”
This book names that root. It aims to inspire “rootstrikers.” The root—?not the single cause of everything that ails us, not the one reform that would make democracy hum, but instead, the root, the thing that feeds the other ills, and the thing that we must kill first. The cure that would be generative—?the single, if impossibly difficult, intervention that would give us the chance to repair the rest.
This corruption has two elements, each of which feeds the other. The first element is bad governance, which means simply that our government doesn’t track the expressed will of the people, whether on the Left or on the Right. Instead, the government tracks a different interest, one not directly affected by votes or voters. Democracy, on this account, seems a show or a ruse; power rests elsewhere.
The second element is lost trust: when democracy seems a charade, we lose faith in its process. That doesn’t matter to some of us—?we will vote and participate regardless. But to more rational souls, the charade is a signal: spend your time elsewhere, because this game is not for real. Participation thus declines, especially among the sensible middle. Policy gets driven by the extremists at both ends.
What happened with this junket is not illegal. But it is another thing that’s making it more difficult to fix what’s wrong.
Carter, who has represented Texas’ 31st Congressional District since 2002, offered an overview of the country’s fiscal year 2010 spending.
With the help of a PowerPoint pie chart, he told the crowd that defense and non-defense discretionary spending represent the two areas politicians are realistically able to cut at the present time.
Other segments of the economy, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, were labeled by Carter’s chart as “autopilot spending.” The congressman said these areas, totalling nearly $1.5 trillion combined, must be addressed.
As one example, Carter said he could potentially support raising to 70 the age for receiving full Social Security benefits. “We don’t have to necessarily take any people’s benefits away to start fixing Social Security, but we have to restructure it,” Carter said. “If we just keep kicking the can down the road, we are going to become Greece and there will be no one to bail us out.”
Of course, raising the retirement age to 70 is cutting people’s benefits, and Carter doesn’t seem to understand that. Those are years longer that Americans will have to go before being able to receive their Social Security benefits. Not only is it cruel and wrong but it hurts the economy.
To keep Social Security strong for another 75 years, Sanders’ legislation would apply the same payroll tax already paid by more than nine out of 10 Americans to those with incomes over $250,000 a year. [...] Under Sanders’ legislation, Social Security benefits would be untouched. The system would be fully funded by making the wealthiest Americans pay the same payroll tax already assessed on those with incomes up to $106,800 a year.
Shame on Rep. Carter for not knowing the facts about Social Security, but that’s what Republicans do. They’ve been against Social Security since it was created. But as with most of our country’s economic issues, Social Security can also be fixed if the wealthy and corporations would just start paying their fair share of taxes again.
The Williamson County Democratic Party responded to Rep. John Carter’s (R-Round Rock) incomedisclosureproblem, today saying Carter is a “victim of his own hypocrisy”. The local party is calling on Carter to:
“.. ask the House Ethics Committee to open an investigation of his own actions and immediately make public ALL financial holdings and transactions with Exxon and other financial relationships.”
Further stating that:
“The next time Rep. John Carter wants to use his floor time at the House of Representatives to launch a mean-spirited, vitriolic attack against a fellow congressman, he should first take a look in the mirror and make sure those attacks are directed at the right person.”
Rep. John Carter’s $300 thousand income disclosure problem might impair the House Republican leadership’s plan to paint Democrats as ethically challenged. The centerpiece of the plan was for Carter to lead the attack against Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY).
As recently as Monday, Politico reported that they hoped to exploit Rangel’s dilemma for “maximum political advantage.”
Convinced that Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) is on the ropes because of a tangle of ethical issues, House GOP leaders are debating whether to aggressively press for his removal as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee or try to drag out the controversy as long as possible for maximum political advantage.
House GOP leaders tapped Carter to introduce a resolution to strip Rangel of his Ways and Means Committee chairmanship on Oct. 7. Moments after Democrats defeated the resolution, Carter told Politico he wanted another chance.
Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), author of the Rangel removal resolution, said he will either offer it again “in a very short period” or offer a different resolution that is a “first cousin to the [Rangel] resolution.”
But, Carter said, “I don’t want to look like I am trying to overkill the Rangel issue.
“I don’t want to make people think that I’m some guy on some kind of witch hunt for Charlie Rangel,” he said. “I’m on a witch hunt only for stopping all this crap that goes on in Congress — and this is one example.”
Another example of “all this crap”, ironically, came Thursday from Carter himself, when he admitted that he failed to disclose nearly $300 thousand in gains from the sale of ExxonMobil stock in 2006 and 2007. Facing a stiff challenge from Temple lawyer Mary Beth Harrell, Carter’s multi-million dollar stake in Exxon became a campaign issue. By failing to follow the law, Carter was able to realize hundreds of thousands of dollars in gains without suffering the political consequences.
With a solid pro-Big Oil voting record that included votes to keep tax loopholes open, windfall gasoline profits from being taxed, and against climate change legislation that even Pres. George W. Bush supported; the story of hundreds of thousands in gains from selling ExxonMobil stock would have been extremely damaging. The evidence suggests that Carter lied to keep his job.
On Oct. 12, after his Rangel resolution failed, Carter told Human Events reporter Seth McLaughlin, “We cannot tolerate a double standard in this country, one for the common man and another for the rich and powerful.”
Thursday Boehner began damage control. He told Roll Call that “Carter was still an appropriate point man for Republican efforts to challenge Democrats on ethics issues.” Boehner’s defense consisted of equal parts “an error that many other Members have made”, “Those forms are very confusing”, and “The ethics committee gives advice to members and frankly … their advice appeared to [be] a mistake.”
Boehner also said, “The mistake he made is similar to one made by then-Senator Obama.” He was referring to Obama’s failure to report about $2,000 in capital gains from a stock sale in 2005. So Carter’s transgression is just like Obama’s; except Carter made $298,000 more profit.
“Mr. Boehner got some bad information,” (Boehner spokesman Michael) Steel said in an e-mail. “He had no intention of disparaging the important work the Ethics Committee is doing.”
With Boehner eliding his swipe at the Ethics committee, the GOP argument in defense of Carter amounts to: everybody makes that mistake because the forms are confusing. However, if “We cannot tolerate a double standard in this country”, then the same defense applies to Charlie Rangel.
Therefore, the enduring legacy of Carter’s “mistake” is to neuter a key GOP strategy, trumpeted Oct. 14 by Politico reporter Glenn Thrush:
House Republicans — even those who have enjoyed a good personal relationship with Rangel over the years — feel they have hit political pay dirt, leveraging his woes to accuse House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of reneging on promises to “drain the swamp” of congressional corruption.
Carter said, “Either this House repairs this damage, or the American people will have to replace this House.” Perhaps voters in Texas’ 31st Congressional District can follow up on that statement next November.
Roll Call staff reporter Paul Singer applied pressure on Rep. John Carter to clarify how he could have made no profit on a 2007 stock transaction. In the space of a single day, that pressure has resulted in Carter admitting he has income disclosure problems. On Wednesday, Singer wrote:
Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) appears to have pulled off an unusual feat: selling more than $100,000 worth of Exxon Mobil Corp. stock — when it was selling at historic highs — without making a profit, according to financial disclosure forms filed by the Congressman.
Carter’s office says that the disclosure reports are accurate and that no capital gain is reported because no capital gain was made. Carter spokesman John Stone said that with stocks held over long periods of time, the wide fluctuations in the value of oil shares make it entirely plausible that Carter could have had a large sale without making a profit.
“You don’t have a story,” Stone said. “We checked with the accountant and [the forms] are correct.” [Emphasis added].
Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) acknowledged Wednesday that he failed to disclose nearly $300,000 in profits from the sale of Exxon stock in 2006 and 2007, and his office said he will file amended financial disclosure forms with the House ethics committee as soon as possible.
Singer reports that this is the second time that Carter has filed amended financial disclosure forms with the House ethics committee after Roll Call raised questions about the accuracy and completeness of his reports. One year ago, Roll Call contacted Carter’s office to ask questions about two transactions involving shares of ExxonMobil stock (XOM) Carter received from his father. Roll Call is reporting that a 2006 sale netted Carter $199,000, and the following year a second stock sale produced $97,000 in profit.
The House ethics committee requires members to disclose their personal finances to make it more difficult for Representatives to conceal potential conflicts of interest.
Among the numerous shortcomings of the House ethics enforcement mechanism is that it relies on members to file complaints against one another. Members have at times avoided raising concerns about other members’ reporting because often a member who complains about another’s disclosures finds that errors in his own numbers are subsequently brought to light.
Carter has been the point man for Republicans seeking to strip Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) of his gavel because of an ongoing ethics committee investigation of his finances. Rangel has admitted to making myriad errors on his financial disclosure forms over the years, failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of assets and income.
By our reckoning, Carter is oh-for-two on accurately reporting his Exxon stock transactions. One might not describe that as “making myriad errors”, but the size of the two mistakes, $300,000, is roughly equivalent to all the gains Carter is accusing Rangel of omitting. That doesn’t excuse Rangel or vindicate him. However, it does show that Carter is afflicted with a degree of blindness to his own transgressions. Otherwise, he might have taken a less visible role in trying to bring Rangel down.
This lack of self-awareness explains a lot about John Carter. It leads to a superiority complex that permeates his staff. Look at the initial belligerent rebuttals offered by Carter spokesman John Stone Wednesday. There was no apology offered Thursday for the misinformation delivered the day before. Carter, through Stone, did at least thank Roll Call for their efforts.
After investigating the matter more thoroughly Wednesday, spokesman John Stone said in an e-mail, “Congressman Carter thanks Roll Call for bringing this to his attention, and for reporting that he did accurately report the sales of his stock, just not the amount of the sales….
One can only hope Carter will be humbled by this, but it is not likely to come to pass. Carter’s attacks on Rangel aim to paint all Democrats as corrupt. Ultimately, the Republicans hope to use Rangel to their political advantage in 2010. It would be highly surprising if this incident altered those plans at all.
One can almost hear the justifications being discussed in the back rooms on Capitol Hill right now. Republicans will claim that Carter’s were errors of omission, and that they involve personal financial dealings that are entirely separate from his official duties as a United States Representative. They’ll argue that Rangel is a crook, peddling influence.
However, when one looks at Carter’s solid pro-API voting record, his ethical lapses hint at deception. In 2006, when Carter was pocketing $199,000 in profit, he was voting against rolling back $5 billion in oil industry tax breaks. In 2007, when he was depositing another $97,000 in gains, he was in the minority voting against legislation to address climate change (HR3221 and HR6).
Carter and the Republicans will keep trying to shift the focus on Rangel’s ethical challenges, but there’s a clear record of Carter voting his own personal financial best interest, then mistakenly failing to properly disclose the gains. Such behavior is reprehensible and reflects poorly on the office he holds. The question is when voters in Texas’ 31st Congressional District will correct the repeated mistake of electing this hypocrite to represent us.
[Read EOW's previous reporting on Carter's Exxon-Mobil stock HERE and HERE].
On July 27, we reported that Rep. John Carter (R-TX31) was complaining to conservative media about Democrats on the Franking Commission forcing him to change some of the words in a proposed constituent communication for which his staff was requesting taxpayer funds to disseminate. As the story made its way to mainstream media, questions about the accuracy of his claims resulted. KBTX reporter Steve Fullhart revealed that it was the commission’s Republican staff that ordered the changes to Carter’s communication opposing health care reform.
Tuesday, a spokesperson for the chairwoman of the Franking Commission, Rep. Susan Davis (D-California), told News 3 it was not staff of the Democratic commission members that asked for the change, but rather, Republicans.
KBTX then contacted Carter’s office for more information. Fulhart reported that “a spokesperson for Congressman Carter said Carter’s office had not heard it was Republican staff that had called for the changes in his phone message.”
Rep. John Carter, since his party moved to the minority in the House of Representatives in 2006, has used his constituent communications and special orders to describe the Democratic majority and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as oppressive. His efforts to play the victim in this instance have been shown to be without merit. Congratulations to KBTX and Steve Fullhart for exposing this lie.
At various times over the past three years, most households in Rep. John Carter’s 31st Congressional District have received taxpayer-paid missives from the Round Rock Republican featuring his rants decrying alleged wastes of taxpayer money. A few get the irony, and now even the House of Representative’s non-partisan Franking Commission, which polices members’ taxpayer-paid constituent communications for political bias, has decided Carter has gone too far.
The conservative mouthpiece Cybercast News Service is reporting that an email Carter introduced at a press conference Thursday was rejected by the Franking Commission for use in taxpayer-funded constituent communications, such as postage and printing on official House stationery. In a message critical of proposed Democratic Healthcare reforms, Carter said “The House Democrats unveiled a government-run health care plan.” The Franking Commission asked Carter to change the phrase “government run” to “public option.”
Carter has now released the Franking Commission’s email to the press, to expose what he calls the Commission’s suppression of his freedom of speech. Carter’s misrepresentation of the Franking Commission’s duties raises familiar questions of whether the Republican representative is being dishonest or if in fact he is ignorant of the law. The Franking Commission prevents the use of taxpayer funds by Congressmen who cloak political campaigning within the confines of constituent communications. Rules and guidelines related to the franking privilege of members of Congress are provided here (PDF).
The Franking Commission interprets the rules on what pieces of mail qualify for the franking privilege. The Commission explained to Carter that his submission was not qualified, and suggested changes in language to bring it into compliance. Their actions do not limit the ability of Carter to speak his mind on proposed legislation, since he is free to say or write whatever he wants. He just can’t mail it to constituents for free. The use of taxpayer funds to disseminate his words in this case is a violation of federal law. He is free to say it, but our tax dollars should not pay for his megaphone.
Yet, Carter is playing a familiar role as victim, whining to friendly media outlets who’ll dutifully print his protestations verbatim:
“Why does the Franking Commission have the right to prevent me from freely speaking what I think my folks back home ought to hear…”
“I think that is an abridgement of free speech,” he said.
During Rep. Carter’s first four years in the House of Representatives, he was a trusted ally of disgraced Republican former Representative Tom DeLay, in the majority, and freely able to proselytize his constituents at taxpayers’ expense. Now, in his third year in the minority, he appears to be unhappy with his current office. One wonders why he continues to run for re-election if he can no longer function effectively.
UPDATE: Note well the bias of CNS News’ headline, “House Democrats Censor Republican’s Use of Term ‘Government-Run’ Health Care in Constituent Communications.” The Franking Commission is a six-member committee formed by three members of each party. The Franking Commission’s staff is in fact responsible for the suggested corrections, so the House Democrats had little or nothing to do with this action.
The economy is in a dive. Texans are losing their jobs. Lawmakers don’t know what to do yet with the state’s budget, and the governor wants state agencies to cut back.
What I’m wondering: Is anyone listening at the Texas Residential Construction Commission?
Last week, two commissioners appearing before the Senate Finance Committee proposed a pay raise for their executive director, which would boost his annual salary from the current $98,000 to as much as $125,880.
Some people don’t get it.
In a letter to TRCC Chairman Paulo Flores, Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, said the request for a raise was “wholly inappropriate ….. at a time when the commission should instead be focused on regaining public and legislative confidence.”
Like being more responsive to consumer complaints of shoddy workmanship, lawmakers said.
“This agency is really a trap for homeowners. The reality of it is it’s a failure,” said Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen.
The Legislature created the TRCC in 2003 at the behest of home builders, including mega-political donor Bob Perry of Houston, ostensibly to improve building standards while offering builders protection from customer lawsuits.
The staff of the Sunset Advisory Commission recommended last year that the agency be abolished because it was doing consumers more harm than good. But the commission, several of whose legislator-members have received significant contributions from Perry, reversed the staff and endorsed keeping the TRCC in business while strengthening consumer protections.
The governor also wants to see the TRCC continued but hasn’t yet taken a position on how it should or shouldn’t be changed, spokeswoman Allison Castle said.
You could call it the $720,000 question. That’s approximately the amount of money that Perry has given to Gov. Rick Perry during the latter’s administration.
Republican congressmen derided the massive $410 billion spending bill approved by the House of Representatives last week, but some like Houston-area Rep. Ron Paul contributed to its size.
Paul, of Lake Jackson, managed to insert 22 earmarks worth $96.1 million into the bill, leading the Houston delegation, according to an analysis of more than 8,500 congressionally-mandated projects in the bill by the Houston Chronicle.
The so-call “omnibus” bill, which passed the House on a 245-178 vote, with only 16 Republicans in support, was chock-full of congressmen’s pet projects for their districts.
Paul’s included repair projects to the Galveston Seawall damaged by Hurricane Ike and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
Second to Paul in the Houston delegation was Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, who tallied $63.6 million in earmarks.
Texas’ U.S. senators were active as well.
Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison led the state with 104 earmarks worth about $250 million in the House version of the bill.
Like Poe, Hutchison said she would not be doing her job if she left the funding decisions to people “who may have never visited Texas and are unaccountable” to its voters.
Her fellow Republican Texan in the Senate, John Cornyn, helped arrange at least 53 earmarks worth nearly $200 million.
Watch President Obama’s weekly address where he tells the special interests he’s ready for them.
“I realize that passing this budget won’t be easy. Because it represents real and dramatic change, it also represents a threat to the status quo in Washington. I know that the insurance industry won’t like the idea that they’ll have to bid competitively to continue offering Medicare coverage, but that’s how we’ll help preserve and protect Medicare and lower health care costs for American families. I know that banks and big student lenders won’t like the idea that we’re ending their huge taxpayer subsidies, but that’s how we’ll save taxpayers nearly $50 billion and make college more affordable. I know that oil and gas companies won’t like us ending nearly $30 billion in tax breaks, but that’s how we’ll help fund a renewable energy economy that will create new jobs and new industries. I know these steps won’t sit well with the special interests and lobbyists who are invested in the old way of doing business, and I know they’re gearing up for a fight as we speak. My message to them is this:
President Obama proposes to cut subsidies in Medicare and Medicaid to insurance and pharmaceutical companies and to use this money, along with additional tax revenue on upper income families, to finance health care reform. The subhead of the front page Washington Post article discussing this policy describes this proposal and others in the budget as an “ideological swing.”
It is not clear what ideology is being attacked. These industries used their money to hire lobbyists to get money from the government. If the Post means that President Obama is attacking the ideology that powerful corporations should be able to get taxpayer dollars then the subhead is correct. Otherwise, it has no obvious meaning.
That’s the conservative ideology of Ronald Reagan. Take from he middle class and the poor and give to the rich. That’s the epitome of trickle on down economics.
With news of Sen. Ted Stevens’ felony convictions on all seven counts, the odds of Democrats reaching 59 seats in the United States Senate have improved substantially. The following Senate races now look like probable pickup opportunities for the Democrats:
New Mexico (T. Udall)
Colorado (M. Udall)
New Hampshire (Shaheen)
North Carolina (Hagan)
Assuming Democratic leads in these races hold, Democrats will hold 57 seats. Including the two Independents (Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords) that caucus with Democrats, the Senate is potentially one vote away from a filibuster-proof majority.
Under Senate rules, forty-one Senators can prevent a cloture motion, the parliamentary procedure that shuts off debate and allows a floor vote. As long as Republicans control 41 seats, they have the potential of blocking any measure for which they unite in opposition. Republicans in the Senate employed this tactic a record 84 times in the last two years to prevent large numbers of mainstream bills from passing.
With Barack Obama leading in the polls, getting that 60th vote is perhaps the biggest question remaining in federal races this election. Where will the Democrats get that 60th seat?
There’s four races that are within striking distance. All four are in the South:
Texas (Rick Noriega)
The last poll taken in Texas (Rasmussen 10/21) put Sen. John Cornyn up by ten points, 54 to 44, over Rick Noriega. Overcoming that deficit is a tall order, but with Sen. Stevens demise, we could see an influx of late cash helping push Noriega over the top.
You can be a part of that late push. Donate time or money to help Lt. Col. Noriega become the 60th seat that opens the door to rapidly fixing the damage done to the nation by George W. Bush and “trickle-down economics”.