Texas Gov. Rick Perry was heckled by activists from the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) yesterday at while speaking at a luncheon for small business owners.
Speaking at a luncheon for small business owners at the Austin Hilton, Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) was repeatedly interrupted by organized protesters angry over his opposition to expanding Medicaid coverage for poor Texans.
“There’s six million Texans that don’t have health coverage, and we need it,” said Reynaldo Gutierrez, a small business owner from Houston who was asked to leave after interrupting the governor to read a statement. “I don’t have enough money to have health insurance.”
For his part, the governor offered an olive branch.
“If you will leave here, I will invite you to the governor’s office and we will have this debate face to face. How about that?” Perry proposed after several interruptions.
“He listened to us,” offered Connie Paredes with TOP. “But he has his mind set already.”
Baby steps perhaps, just as similar closed door discussions between the House and Senate seemed to reduce some tension as the day progressed.
You can see some of it toward the end of this KVUE video.
A remarkably expensive meeting of a key legislative committee took place this week: a $22,000-plus affair at an upscale downtown Austin steakhouse for the 15-member House Calendars Committee.
That panel, which sets the daily lineup of bills for consideration in the House and thus holds life-or-death power over legislation, held its end-of-session dinner at Austin’s III Forks restaurant this past Sunday.
It cost $22,241.03 and required the use of 34 American Express cards, 11 MasterCards and 20 Visa cards. The committee chairman, state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, said there were about 140 people there, and most of them stayed for dinner.
That’s an extraordinary amount of money, as these things go, but the events themselves are common. In a tradition that stretches back as far as anyone can remember, committees in the Texas Legislature throw self-congratulatory dinners to celebrate the completion of their work.
“It’s a large gathering,” Hunter said of the Calendars dinner. “All committees do it. I don’t know how people have done it in the past. I don’t even know the amount. We invite the committee and we invite their staffs, and then we involve lobbyists and outside folks. Some of them are not lobbyists. I don’t know who paid. You can go find out.”
Not all of the 121 people at the dinner — that number is based on the number of $95 “banquets” on the check — paid for their supper. Beverages ran another $6,580, plus tax and tip. Somebody had a glass of juice for $2.75; elsewhere in the room, the restaurant was serving 24 bottles of pinot noir, 24 bottles of chardonnay, 27 bottles of cabernet and seven bottles of sauvignon blanc, each priced at between $51 and $68. Another three bottles of cabernet — a nicer one, apparently — cost $135 each. That’s on top of a long list of mixed drinks and beers. If you’re keeping count, that’s 85 bottles for 140 people.
The full tab was $18,584.55 and after a 20 percent tip was added on, the total came to $22,241.03.
That’s $183.81 per person, but only 65 guests produced their wallets. They divvied the tab evenly, most of them paying $340.07. A handful varied from that amount, with the smallest tab coming in at $338.12 and the biggest landing at $478.07. Hunter said he didn’t pay and didn’t expect the members of his committee to do so, either.
“I’ve had committee dinners since I’ve been here for seven terms,” Hunter said, speaking in characteristically clipped phrases. “Lobby pays. They follow rules. Everybody knows up front. And we even post it, so we are all in compliance.”
The calendars committee is responsible for setting the agenda on the House floor. It looks like the lobby was certainly happy with the job they did. As Lessig says, “Money buys results & erodes trust“.
Twenty-four predatory lenders are paying 82 lobbyists up to $4.4 million to kill a bill to impose consumer protections on payday and auto-title loans. A tenth of the industry’s lobbyists are former Texas lawmakers. Georgia-based auto-title lender Rod Aycox is the biggest lobby spender in Texas, which let lenders repossess the vehicles of 35,000 Texans last year.
If they’re spending that much to kill the legislation, it should make everyone wonder exactly how much money are they making preying on Texans?
Of the 16 states that fail to regulate predatory lenders, Texas is by far the fattest bonanza. The predatory lenders who have given $4 million to Texas politicians in recent years are spending up to $4.4 million on lobbyists this session to keep the staggering profits flowing. The cowing,legislative deference that this money commands has sparked unusually blunt statements about lawmakers selling themselves to special interests.
Apologizing in early April for the modesty of the reforms he initially proposed, powerful Senator John Carona confessed that Texas legislators work for the special interests that pay their bills. “This is the only version that will pass this session,” Carona said. “I am convinced the industry has given as far as it intends to go.”
This month Texas House members will decide whom they most represent. Is it the more than 35,000 Texans who had their vehicles repoed bypredatory lenders last year? Or is it the two dozen, mostly out-of-state predatory PACs and executives who gave current House members more than $1.3 million?
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.
What has become clear regarding passage of any payday lending regulation this session, is that what can pass is what the industry will allow The Lege to pass. It’s pretty easy to see why when looking at all the money the industry has spread around, Payday-Funded Pols Push Tepid Loan Reforms.
Advocates trying to reform Texas’ runaway predatory lenders have been hamstrung by the awkward degree to which this industry finances political campaigns.
Loan sharks have invested almost $4 million in Texas’ past two elections. Public officials recently doubled their industry indebtedness, jumping from $1.1 million in 2008 to $2.3 million in 2012. During that period, out-of-state predatory lenders ramped up their share of the industry’s Texas campaign expenditures to 27percent.
The Texas Senate approved a bill to regulate short-term lenders on Monday night, a milestone some thought the chamber wouldn’t reach after a personal and divisive floor fight on Thursday.
But with the measure’s author, state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, calling the highly altered bill an “ugly baby,” it remains to be seen whether the measure is viable enough to get through the House.
The bill passed with versions of the six amendments Carona brought with him to the floor last week, but seven other amendments got tacked onto the bill, including one from state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, that would bring payday lenders back under the control of existing small-loan regulations.
That provision is similar to one in a bill state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, introduced, which was lauded by consumer advocates but has long been seen as politically troublesome.
Carona’s point seems to be that it’s better to get something, because soon the payday lenders will own The Lege completely.
If lawmakers are forced to wait to address the issue until next session, “this industry will be so much wealthier, so much more politically powerful that you won’t be able to say no,” he said. “You won’t be able to hold the line.”
But [Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth] said that the lending industry, which has spent millions of dollars in political contributions and lobbying expenses on the issue, will likely ratchet up the pressure as the debate shifts to the House.
“They’re going over to the House and try to kill it,” she said. Davis told senators there are 3,500 payday and auto title storefronts in Texas, more than the number of “Whataburgers and McDonalds combined.”
Critics have accused lenders of subjecting consumers to steep interest and fees forcing them into continued debt. Industry officials say lenders are performing a valuable service to borrowers in need of cash, including the elderly and the working poor, but have said they welcome reasonable legislation to provide a “safety net” for those who chronically fall behind in repaying their loans.
Carona has said his bill is designed to break the cycle of debt for consumers who are forced to pay steep fees of or recurring loans. Under the bill, multiple-payment payday loans and auto title loans may not extend beyond 180 days and cannot be refinanced.
It would require a limited number of extensions of credit and a “cooling-off” period in which the borrower has to be without debt to any of the lenders.
It would be great if our elected leaders would actually pass a payday lending bill that is best for the people of Texas and not their campaign accounts.
New polling shows older Americans overwhelmingly resisting President Obama’s effort to pare back cost-of-living adjustments for seniors, veterans and the disabled as part of his budget overture to the GOP.
Nearly 70% of those age 50 and older oppose lowering the annual inflation adjustment, including robust majorities of Republican, Democratic and independent voters, according to a survey by an independent firm released Monday by the AARP, the powerful seniors lobby.
Seventy-eight percent oppose applying the reduction to veterans’ benefits.
Obama will propose the inflation adjustment tweak in his 2014 budget, which will be formally unveiled Wednesday, as he tries to broker a deficit-cutting deal with Republicans who have favored the move. The proposal will likely be discussed as Obama courts GOP senators at dinner this week.
It sort of puts into perspective arguments about why politicians need just a little more public help to support things like serious gun control or climate mitigation, doesn’t it?
The fact is that politicians on both sides are often willing to support very unpopular stuff that does damage to the economy. The bottom line, though, is that it can’t hurt rich people or big corporations. As long as it it’s grandma taking the hit, who cares?
In other words the only people that are for it are those who will not be hurt by it’s effects. Instead of discussing cutting Social Security we should instead be talking about Social Security’s needed expansion.
HUFFINGTON: But they haven’t even introduced a plan. You know George you can’t say that the Congress wouldn’t pass it, they wouldn’t –
KRUGMAN: If I could interrupt this debate for a second and respond. The administration, they have a difficult choice to make. Do they talk about what they should be doing? Or do they talk, do they position themselves? In fact, nothing is going to happen.
And what they chose to do is not to talk about what they should be doing. They chose to do, if you like, a halfway cut between what we should be doing and what’s actually going to happen, which is nothing at all.
HUFFINGTON: You’re basically saying that it’s okay for the administration to simply position themselves –
KRUGMAN: I’m not so sure that’s a good idea
HUFFINGTON: instead of trying to do something for the real crisis?
KRUGMAN: I’ve talked to them. They understand this right? I’ll say a word on their behalf. They understand that we should be doing more stimulus, we should not be doing all this austerity –
They know it’s a loser and yet they persist. That’s nothing I or most Democrats voted for in 2012. There is a potential “right” way for chained CPI to be done, but there are so many caveats that it could never be done right in our current political system.
Once upon a time, there was a place called Lesterland. Now Lesterland looks a lot like the United States. Like the United States, it has about 311 million people, and of that 311 million people, it turns out 144,000 are called Lester. If Matt’s in the audience, I just borrowed that, I’ll return it in a second, this character from your series. So 144,000 are called Lester, which means about .05 percent is named Lester. Now, Lesters in Lesterland have this extraordinary power. There are two elections every election cycle in Lesterland. One is called the general election. The other is called the Lester election. And in the general election, it’s the citizens who get to vote, but in the Lester election, it’s the Lesters who get to vote. And here’s the trick. In order to run in the general election, you must do extremely well in the Lester election. You don’t necessarily have to win, but you must do extremely well. [Emphasis added]
The Republican Party of Texas and three state politicians who control the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) collected $5.3million in political money from donors affiliated with $307 million in Enterprise Fund grants.
An analysis of 106 Enterprise Fund awardees finds that political committees, executives or investors associated with 38 state-funded projects contributed $3.6 million since 2000 to Governor Rick Perry, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus—the very officials who oversee TEF. TEF-linked contributors gave almost $1.7million more to the Republican Party of Texas
With a budget that passed the House last week that is far from what’s needed, this shows who is really benefitting from our current political system – the Texas Lesters.
An issue that’s making some headway in The Lege is a change in how Texas regulates the craft beer industry. This week a series of bills that would modernize (to say the leaset) those regulations go a hearing in a Senate Committee. Via Open The Taps, Legislative Update: Senate Hearing Recap.
Tuesday, March 5th, 2013, The Senate Committee on Business and Commerce held a hearing, the first step in the lawmaking process (see our previous post here for an overview on the steps), and one of our board members, Leslie, was able to attend and testify in favor of SB 515-518. You can download the video of the hearing here (you will also need to have RealPlayer to view).
The room was packed with local brewers, lobbyists, the Beer Alliance of Texas, The Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, Texas Bar & Night Club Alliance, Licensed Beverage Distributors, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Anheuser-Busch and even some non-industry groups such as the Texas Association of Manufacturers, Texas Consumer Coalition, Texas Retailers Association, and Texas Association of Business, to name more than few. You can see the full list of witnesses, both testifying and not,here.
Our major takeaways from the hearing are this:
1. There is tremendous support for SB 515-518, and we are cautiously confident that the bills will continue moving through the legislative process.
2. The Committee will vote next Tuesday (March 12th, 2013) IF the committee can come to an agreement on a different, but related bill, SB 639, which OTT does NOT support. If they can’t reach an accord, all of the bills may be pushed back to later in the session.
At this time, it’s difficult to make predictions about what will happen next week, but we will provide any updates as soon as we have them!
Considering that the current laws have been in place since the end of prohibition, they are certainly in need of updating. Here’s what I wrote on the issue of changing the beer laws in Texas last Summer, Beer and Democracy.
While beer laws in Texas are, by no means, the most important issue, this is a microcosm of what is wrong with our state government. A painfully obvious illogical law, whose time has come to be changed, is unable to be changed because of the influence of money in our political system.
This issue highlights the hypocrisy of those who run our state. They prattle on, over and over again, about “evil” regulations, keeping down small business and then, here they are, keeping a regulation in place that is overwhelmingly in favor of the big and powerful, and hurts small business. As has been written here many times before –money erodes trust.
With all due respect, the reason why this has been so difficult and so time-consuming is because there are entrenched interests at work. Big breweries and the big distributors have fought for the status quo because it’s a great deal for them, and they don’t want the competition. Thanks in part to a scaling back of their ask, a persistent grassroots campaign, and a welcome alignment with the Texas Beer Alliance, Sen. Eltife’s bills have a chance. Sen. Carona’s alternate bill is opposed by the craft brewers, the TBA, and as this AP story notes, the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Association of Manufacturers and Anheuser-Busch InBev as well. The Chron has more on what a pasting Sen. Carona’s bill took.
The thing is, the Wholesale Beer Distributors don’t need a bill to pass to win – they just need to play defense. Filing Carona’s SB 639 was an extra layer of defense, and perhaps a sign that this time they’re worried. But it’s still easier to kill bills than to pass them, and just because there’s been progress doesn’t mean there will be success. Keep letting your Rep and your Senator know that you support a genuinely free market for beer in Texas. Open the Taps presented written testimony for the Eltife bills and has a recap of the hearing, and the Rivard Report has more.
The package of bills that Sen. Eltife is pushing are better then what we currently have, but it would seem the best solution would be to treat all brewers the same. But like so many things in our politics that can’t be done until money is not the determining factor in who gets democracy.
Very similar to the successful ALEC exposed campaign, there’s a new campaign to expose the “fix the debt” campaign scam. It’s called the Pete Peterson Pyramid. And it’s described this way:
The Campaign to Fix the Debt is the latest incarnation of a decades-long effort by former Nixon man turned Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson to slash earned benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare under the guise of fixing the nation’s “debt problem.” Through this special report — and in partnership with The Nation magazine — the Center for Media and Democracy exposes the funding, the leaders, the partner groups, and phony state “chapters” of this $60 million “astroturf supergroup,” whose goal is to achieve a grand bargain on austerity by July 4, 2013.
Meet the Campaign to Fix the Debt, the billionaire-funded project that uses Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles as figureheads for a fearmongering campaign to convince Americans that the deficits the United States has run throughout its history have suddenly metastasized into “a cancer that will destroy this country from within.” It is the latest incarnation of Wall Street mogul Pete Peterson’s long campaign to get Congress and the White House to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid while providing tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.
Peterson has poured an estimated half-billion dollars into schemes so unpopular, so economically unsound and so obviously self-serving that even conservative politicians run from them, as the implosion of the Simpson-Bowles commission illustrates. So Peterson has repurposed his project into what Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) Global Economy Project director Sarah Anderson calls “a Trojan horse” for “filthy rich tax-dodging hypocrites.” With a stable of CEOs, Peterson timed the launch of this new $60 million campaign to exploit the wrangling over the fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling and the sequester. Fix the Debt has signed up prominent Democrats and Republicans as spokespeople (many of whom have undisclosed financial ties to firms that lobby on deficit-related issues) and launched “astroturf” campaigns to create the fantasy that young people and seniors are concerned enough about debts and deficits to support Peterson’s austerity agenda.
Quite a few of those CEOs head firms that pay a negative tax rate, like Honeywell, GE, Boeing and Verizon. And as the Public Accountability Initiative notes, many lobby to preserve costly tax breaks for the wealthy (including the “carried interest” tax loophole that made Peterson a rich man) and to prevent a tax on Wall Street speculation. Fix the Debt–tied firms are even pushing for a “territorial tax system” that will increase the debt by $1 trillion over ten years and encourage the offshoring of American jobs. Why would supposed debt slayers favor this boondoggle? Because, IPS calculates, at least sixty-three Fix the Debt firms would divvy up a $134 billion windfall.
As Fix the Debt ramps up its campaign and seeks any opening in this period of fiscal fighting, progressives must fight back. That’s why The Nation and the Center for Media and Democracy—which collaborated on the award-winning ALEC Exposed ?project—are focusing on Peterson and his austerity project with this series of articles. Their publication coincides with the launch of an indispensable new resource on CMD’s SourceWatch.org. The goal: to expose Fix the Debt, its architects and its bankrupt economics before this cynical campaign “fixes” American fiscal policy, making the 99 percent pay to make the wealthiest 1 percent a whole lot wealthier.
The “fix the debt” campaign is just another scam to funnel taxpayer money to corporations.
The state senator who on Thursday proposed abolishing the Texas Office of Public Insurance Counsel raised $111,916 from insurance interests for his most recent campaign. The industry provided 8 percent of the $1.3 million war chest that Hancock amassed for his latest election. The Independent Insurance Agents of Texas ranked No. 12 among Hancock’scontributors.
As Lawrence Lessig says, money erodes confidence. We don’t know that Hancock is doing this because of the money, but there’s really no way to know for sure. Unless the money is taken out of the system. But the timing sure looks suspicious.
Just days after the Texas Office of Public Insurance Counsel moved to block State Farm’s 20 percent increase in homeowners insurance rates, a Dallas-area senator introduced a bill Thursday that would abolish the agency.
The measure by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, would eliminate one persistent critic of State Farm and leave residential and small business consumers without a voice on rate matters before the Texas Department of Insurance. Hancock, who represents parts of Dallas and Tarrant counties, said he was aiming to save taxpayer money.
Public Insurance Counsel Deeia Beck called on the state insurance commissioner to stop State Farm Lloyds — the company’s homeowners subsidiary — from charging the higher rates and to order refunds if the insurer refuses to cancel the premium hike.
Beck, an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry, called the rate increase “excessive, unreasonable and unfairly discriminatory” in her statement last week. On Thursday, her office was granted a March 4 hearing before a state administrative law judge on the issue.
This is a no-brainer. The federal government would cover 100% of the cost of coverage for the 2014-2015 budget cycle. The state would have to put up $50.4 million to cover half of the administrative costs of the expansion. In return, the federal aid over the next two fiscal years would be $4 billion, according to the LBB. The state in its next budget would bear just 1.2% of the cost of the expansion.
This would bring to an end a shameful era in which the state’s leaders did absolutely nothing to help people without health insurance and sent them instead to hospital emergency rooms, the most expensive care there is. This is the way the Legislature has handled health care for decades, under D’s and R’s alike. It was a hidden tax increase on property owners that pushed the cost onto local taxpayers instead of state taxpayers.
Or to put it another way, the LBB is acknowledging just how much cash would be left on the table should the state’s leadership ultimately decide against the expansion. Also, the added coverage is expected to drive down governmental health care costs at the local level as fewer people seek care in hospital emergency rooms. Uncompensated care at hospitals amounted to $3.1 billion in 2011, according to LBB figures.
That’s the definition of a win/win situation. It’s becoming more and more apparent every day that the reasons Perry and the wingnuts are against Medicaid expansion is because of ideology, spite ,and hatred of President Obama. Because it makes perfect sense for humane and budgetary reasons.
Buddy Barfield, an Austin Republican political consultant under scrutiny after up to $1.3 million disappeared from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s campaign account over the past five years, has had financial troubles since at least 2006, according to Travis County court records.
Officials with the Travis County district attorney’s office said Friday that they had begun an investigation after Dewhurst associates came to them Dec. 20 to report concerns about Barfield’s handling of the campaign’s money.
The Dewhurst campaign Dec. 21 filed 11 corrected campaign finance reports with the Texas Ethics Commission dating back to 2008, claiming that neither Dewhurst nor campaign treasurer Howard Wolf, an Austin lawyer and longtime business associate of Dewhurst’s, knew until recently of discrepancies in the reports. The corrected reports lay all the problems at the feet of Barfield.
The campaign manager for Dewhurst’s 2010 re-election campaign, according to a terse paragraph inserted into each corrected report, said Barfield had engaged in “misrepresentation of campaign balances … for his personal benefit.”
The corrected reports change only the contribution balance figures — essentially cash on hand at the end of each particular reporting period — rather than amounts of the actual political donations and campaign expenditures. Relying on actual bank account balances at various times, the new figures are $600,000 to $1.3 million lower than what the original documents reported was on hand, said Ed Shack, an election lawyer who advised the Dewhurst campaign.
Campaign officials, speaking on background because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said an accountant discovered problems in the campaign books on Dec. 4 and told Wolf, who quickly passed on the information to Dewhurst. The next day, Dewhurst, his lawyers and the accountant confronted Barfield, the campaign officials say. The campaign was facing a legal deadline, so officials filed the amended paperwork and took their complaints to the district attorney shortly before Christmas.
Buck Wood, an election law expert and a Democrat, said that regardless of what Barfield might or might not have done with the numbers, Wolf bears some responsibility because he signed and affirmed the accuracy of all campaign finance reports in the five years under review.
“Everyone should understand that if you’re going to be treasurer, you’ve got to be treasurer,” Wood said. “There’s none of this figurehead stuff. … They can’t say, ‘I didn’t check’ or ‘I didn’t know.’”
Wolf referred all questions to Johnson. Dewhurst’s government office directed questions to the campaign.
The Dewhurst campaign committee collected about $16.9 million in contributions between the beginning of 2008 and June 30 this year, the corrected reports say. During that period, the committee spent just under $18 million, the reports say, or about $1.1 million more than it collected.
However, the campaign also secured as much as $2.5 million in loans, complicating the math from 2008 on.
In the Dewhurst case, Barfield apparently had access to the committee’s bank accounts with little oversight from others. That’s not a wise practice, experts said.
“It’s inadvisable, as the Dewhurst debacle has demonstrated,” said Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University.
“Campaigns are high-pressure events,” Jillson said. “Everyone has a full plate, everyone is going a mile a minute, so you can imagine how something like that can happen.”
The difference here though is that this started in 2008 and is just now coming to light. Here’s Kuff’s take on this.
Up to a million dollars may be at issue here. I’ll keep an eye on this, as I’m sure it will be a rather unwelcome distraction for Dewhurst during the session and his upcoming primary race. To be honest, I’m a little surprised there haven’t been more such allegations. Given the huge amounts of money spent in this past election, the secrecy involved with a lot of big-dollar PACs, and the wildly varying rates that can be charged for things like TV ad buys, it’s not hard to imagine grifters of various stripe seeing lots of opportunity in this kind of work. I have a feeling Dewhurst will have some company, inside and outside Texas, any time now.