Report scrutinizes Tom Miller's campaign contributions

Kevin McNellis of the National Institute on Money in State Politics published a report yesterday on Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s 2010 campaign fundraising. The report connects Miller’s contributions from out-of-state law firms and people in the finance, insurance, and real estate sector with the nationwide foreclosure investigation Miller has been leading since October. Miller objects that the report “is false or misleading from the start to the finish.” More details and context are after the jump.

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Tom Miller's foreclosure settlement draws fire

Since last October, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has been leading a national foreclosure working group involving attorneys general from all 50 states. The group was supposed to investigate “robosigning” and other abuses that led to many wrongful foreclosures. Last week the five largest mortgage servicers in the U.S. received a proposed settlement from Miller’s group, and the American Banker posted the settlement terms here (27-page pdf file). Financial penalties will be determined later; $20 billion seems to be the most likely figure, and it’s not clear how that money will be used.

Miller described the settlement offer as an attempt to “change a dysfunctional system” and “reach an agreement good for banks and good for homeowners.” Many observers charge the deal would do little to correct abuses by mortgage lenders and contains nothing to compensate victims of past misconduct. More details and analysis are after the jump.

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Miller speaks about nationwide foreclosure investigation

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller spoke out this week about changes attorneys general and bank regulators will seek in order to resolve major problems in the banking and mortgage servicing industry. Miller has led the national mortgage foreclosure working group since October. He discussed the investigation and possible terms of a settlement in a recent Des Moines Register interview and in a December 14 meeting with advocates for reform to reduce foreclosures and compensate homeowners.

Miller’s remarks suggest the settlement will focus on ending all “robo-signing” practices, increasing the number of loan modifications and reducing principal to help keep people in their homes. The investigation may lead to criminal prosecutions as well. More details are after the jump.

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We're number 32! We're number 32!

On Oprah Magazine’s new list of “100 Things That Are Getting Better”:

Legalizing gay marriage in 2009 + producing artisanal charcuterie (try La Quercia’s organic prosciutto) + University of Iowa football landing among the top 25 college teams for the fifth time this decade + ranking second on MainStreet.com‘s Happiness Index = one seriously happening Hawkeye State.

That’s an odd set of data points, but then, the whole list is rather eclectic. Iowa ranks just behind “Our reputation around the world,” “The Beatles” and “Undersea exploration” and just ahead of “Surgery,” “Wind power” and “Dental visits.”

I didn’t realize Oprah was on record supporting marriage equality, but good for her. I don’t eat prosciutto, but I’ve heard good things about La Quercia. (Oprah neglected to acknowledge Iowa’s outstanding artisan cheeses.)

Iowa ranked second on MainStreet.com’s Happiness Index because of the 50 states plus Washington, DC, we had the fourth-lowest rate of non-mortgage debt as a percentage of annual income, the fifth-lowest unemployment rate, and the sixteenth-lowest foreclosure rate. Only Nebraska scored better overall.

Now, nobody tell Oprah about our lousy water quality.  

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Iowa gets good marks in report on state budget problems

Iowa has relatively good money-management practices and is among the states “least like California” in terms of budget problems, according to a report released yesterday by the Pew Center on the States.

In the report, Pew’s researchers identified factors that have contributed significantly to California’s difficulties, then determined the degree to which other states are experiencing the same challenges. These factors are: (1) loss of state revenues; (2) the relative size of budget gaps; (3) increasing joblessness; (4) high foreclosure rates; (5) legal obstacles to balanced budgets-specifically, a supermajority requirement for tax increases or budget bills and (6) poor money-management practices.

Pew scored all 50 states using the best available data as of July 31, 2009. The snapshot captures an important juncture: the first and second quarters of 2009, the pressure point for governors and legislatures in the throes of crafting their budgets for fiscal year 2010 (which began on July 1 in all but four states).

Click here to view a map showing which states are most and least like California. On that page you’ll also find links to download the full report, its methodology, and a 50-state scorecard (pdf file).

Scanning the scorecard, I noticed that only one state has a better score overall than Iowa. The size of Iowa’s budget gap (as a percentage of total spending) ranks 15th. Only three states had a smaller change in the unemployment rate than Iowa. Only seven states had a lower foreclosure rate. We were among eight states that received a B+ grade for money-management practices (only five states received an A or A- in that category).

Republicans can complain about so-called fiscal mismanagement by Governor Chet Culver and the Democratic-controlled legislature, but compared to many other states, Iowa is weathering this challenging economy well.

Commenting on the Pew report yesterday, Mark Zandi of Moodys.com called for additional federal stimulus funding to support state budgets in fiscal year 2011: “In the past six decades, state and local governments have never seen the kind of tax-revenue collapse they are now experiencing, Mr. Zandi said.”

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Republican sleazy tactics roundup

It’s hard to keep up with the Republican sleaze this week.

Michigan Republicans are planning to use foreclosure lists to suppress the vote in African-American neighborhoods:

The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County Michigan, a key swing county in a key swing state, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in the upcoming election as part of the state GOP’s effort to challenge some voters on Election Day.

“We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses,” party chairman James Carabelli told Michigan Messenger in a telephone interview earlier this week. He said the local party wanted to make sure that proper electoral procedures were followed.

[…]

One expert questioned the legality of the tactic.

“You can’t challenge people without a factual basis for doing so,” said J. Gerald Hebert, a former voting rights litigator for the U.S. Justice Department who now runs the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington D.C.-based public-interest law firm. “I don’t think a foreclosure notice is sufficient basis for a challenge, because people often remain in their homes after foreclosure begins and sometimes are able to negotiate and refinance.”

As for the practice of challenging the right to vote of foreclosed property owners, Hebert called it, “mean-spirited.”

Republicans in Columbus, Ohio may be planning to use the same tactic.

Speaking of Ohio, Marc Ambinder reports that push-polling against Obama appears to have started there as well as in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Don’t imagine that it’s only state-level GOP operatives taking the low road. John McCain’s latest television commercials on education accuse Obama of wanting to teach kindergartners about sex before they learn to read. David Sirota correctly points out that the law in question (on age-appropriate comprehensive sex education) called for protecting small children against child molesters by teaching them about inappropriate touching. If anything I think kindergarten is a little late to start teaching children about “good” and “bad” touches. This knowledge makes kids safer from sex predators.

In other news of the week, Republican spinmeisters are trying to gin up a scandal over Obama’s use of the phrase “lipstick on a pig.” Their fake outrage is even more hypocritical than it appears at first glance.

Also, CBS forced the McCain campaign to take down a “misleading” web ad.

Feel free to post a comment about anything I’ve left out.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that Sarah “I put the plane on eBay” Palin charged Alaska taxpayers for her family’s personal travel.

In addition, Palin’s ethics adviser urged the governor to apologize for “overreaching” in her desire for revenge against the Alaska state trooper who used to be her brother-in-law.

Newsweek cites court documents showing that the judge in the divorce case

was disturbed by the alleged attacks by Palin and her family members on Wooten’s behavior and character. “Disparaging will not be tolerated-it is a form of child abuse,” the judge told a settlement hearing in October 2005, according to typed notes of the proceedings.

I can’t remember who said it first, but I absolutely agree that in light of “troopergate” we need to worry about how a potential Vice President or President Palin would use the FBI against her personal as well as her political enemies.

Meanwhile, a whistleblower who worked for Cindy McCain during the 1990s asserts that John McCain

used his Senate staff and resources to cover up Cindy’s drug use, and potentially to prevent the Drug Enforcement Agency from investigating his wife’s theft of illegal prescription drugs.

Snud has a lot more detail on those allegations here

Abuse of power to cover up personal wrongdoing? Sounds like George Bush to me.

SECOND UPDATE: Naughty, naughty. The Wall Street Journal scrubbed the end of an article pointing out that while McCain criticizes earmarks, Palin requested more earmarked dollars per capita than any other governor.

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