# Fraud

Question for Iowa journalists and poll-watchers

UPDATE: Nate Silver followed up here, comparing patterns in Strategic Vision poll findings to those from Quinnipac.

Strategic Vision released a number of Iowa polls during 2007, sampling Democratic and Republican would-be caucus-goers on the presidential candidates.

Did any Iowa journalist or political analyst receive cross-tabs or any details about the methodology from these polls? Does anyone remember talking to any Iowan who had been surveyed by Strategic Vision?

I’m asking because incredibly, polling experts are now questioning whether Strategic Vision has been conducting polls at all. More on that story is after the jump.  

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Local landmark will lose the Archie Brooks name

After “an emotional public hearing,” the Des Moines City Council voted 6-0 today to restore the original name of the Archie Brooks Community Center on the south side:

Brooks, a long-time councilman who was first elected in 1975, pleaded guilty of conspiracy and misappropriation of public money stemming from his role in a payroll scandal at the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium, where he once served as board chairman. He was sentenced in January to a year and a day in prison and was ordered to repay $400,000 of the nearly $2 million lost in the scandal.

Some argue Brooks’ actions not only disgraced himself, but shamed the city, while others say decades of public service outweigh any of his admitted misdeeds.

The nice facility will once again be known as the Pioneer-Columbus Community Center.

City Council member Tom Vlassis abstained from today’s vote. He was a CIETC board member when crimes occurred at the agency and has admitted that he was a “rubber stamp” for what CIETC executives wanted.

Most Des Moines residents who contacted City Council members about the matter supported taking Brooks’ name off the community center. However, listening to those who stand by Brooks even now provides a good reminder of how well patronage can work for local political bosses.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread. Bonus points if you can explain why the CIETC scandal, involving about $2 million, has generated more intense public outrage than the billions of taxpayer dollars squandered in wasteful, no-bid federal contracts every year.

I suspect this is mainly related to “agenda-setting” by local media that put CIETC on the front page for months. Perhaps some armchair psychologist in the Bleeding Heartland community knows of other reasons why certain crimes involving public money make people angrier than others.

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Review of the 2009 Iowa legislative session (good lobbyist edition)

first in a series on the legislative session that ended on April 26

Last week I planned to highlight this editorial from the Des Moines Business Record, but I didn’t get around to it. Fortunately, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement jogged my memory today by linking to the same piece on the Iowa CCI Twitter feed.

The Business Record’s unsigned editorial advises readers to check “the list of exemptions in House File 712” if you want to know who has the best lobbyists in Iowa:

After a 19-year struggle by Attorney General Tom Miller, after all of the other 49 states took care of this issue, Iowa’s citizens are being granted the right to sue anyone who defrauds them. With some exceptions:

Insurance companies. Attorneys. Financial institutions. Doctors. Veterinarians. Architects. Banks. Retailers that advertise a product with advertising prepared by a supplier. Print publications and broadcast outlets, in connection with the ads they run. Telephone companies. Cable TV providers. Public utilities. Funeral directors. Real estate agents. Charity volunteers. Physical therapists. Optometrists. Anyone whose conduct is permitted by government. And more.

With exemptions like these, who needs the phone number of a lawyer?

Here’s a hint for Democratic legislative leaders: it’s not a good sign when even a business publication is mocking you for protecting businesses at the expense of consumers.

Seriously, what public interest is served by exempting so many industries and businesses from fraud lawsuits filed by individuals? I doubt “frivolous lawsuits” are a big problem in the 49 other states that allow consumers to seek legal remedy for alleged fraud.

The Business Record notes that the bill prevents class action lawsuits from being filed unless the Attorney General’s Office approves. It quotes the bill manager, House Representative Kurt Swaim, as saying the bill will help reduce the backlog of approximately 4,000 and 5,000 fraud complaints Iowans file with the Attorney General’s Office each year.

Swaim said he wished the bill didn’t have so many exemptions. But he said it still would allow consumers to act in the areas that draw the most complaints, such as car repair, home remodeling, debt collection and mortgage brokering.

Sorry, that’s not good enough in my opinion. I know business lobbyists spent a lot of time with Democrats at the statehouse this year, but next session legislators should listen to them a bit more skeptically.

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Some Iraqi Fraud May Yet Go Punished

(I hadn't heard about this development and am pleasantly surprised. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Crossposted from Hillbilly Report. Come join the conversation on Rural America, our issues and candidates for the 2010 elections!! City-Slickers welcome too!!

We all remember the no-bid contracts we were so opposed to under the last administration. Now, it has long appeared that all the crimes committed on all levels in this fiasco will go unpunished. Although we are still far from punishing the lies and propoganda unleashed on the American people to start this war, after a court ruling hopefully at least part of the rampant fraud that will cost Americans well over a trillion dollars will be punished.  

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How many good causes will suffer for the failures of the SEC?

By now you have surely read about Bernard Madoff and his $50 billion Ponzi scheme. For background, here’s a collection of New York Times articles on the scandal.

The Securities Exchange Commission is conducting an internal investigation to find out why Madoff’s criminal enterprise went undetected for so long. It’s already obvious that this was a massive regulatory failure.

The SEC was warned about Madoff:

The SEC had the authority to investigate Madoff’s investment business, which managed billions of dollars for wealthy investors and philanthropies. Financial analysts raised concerns about Madoff’s practices repeatedly over the past decade, including a 1999 letter to the SEC that accused Madoff of running a Ponzi scheme. But the agency did not conduct even a routine examination of the investment business until last week.

No one knows yet how many people were involved in helping Madoff conceal his fraud. And while Madoff’s operation was particularly massive, no one knows how many other fraudulent investment firms are out there, because the SEC lacks the resources to enforce compliance with financial securities laws.

Those who had invested with Madoff have lost the entire value of their accounts, and they are not the only victims of his crimes. In fact, Madoff may have indirectly harmed more victims than any other white-collar criminal in history. His clients included many non-profit organizations and charitable foundations, some of which have already ceased operations. Numerous Jewish non-profits have been hit hard, but the fallout will extend far beyond the Jewish community. The Picower Foundation alone gave out tens of millions of dollars in grants every year. Within months, the education, human rights and arts non-profits that relied on those funds are likely to be in financial crisis.

The JEHT Foundation was much smaller than the Picower Foundation but “was a leading supporter of civil rights causes, including groups working to expand voting rights in the South.” Its outgoing president noted when announcing plans to shut down operations that

The issues the Foundation addressed received very limited philanthropic support and the loss of the foundation’s funding and leadership will cause significant pain and disruption of the work for many dedicated people and organizations. The Foundation’s programs have met with significant success in recent years – promoting change in these critical areas in partnership with government and the non-profit sector. Hopefully others will look closely at this work and consider supporting it going forward.

We can hope that others will step in to support the worthy causes whose funders were defrauded by Madoff, but that is extremely unlikely. Just about every grant-making foundation has suffered a significant decline in assets this year because of the stock market’s slide. Individuals of great wealth have also seen their net worth shrink. Non-profit organizations were already bracing for a difficult fundraising year in 2009. The Madoff scandal makes it even more likely that many non-profits will not survive this downturn.

Consider them casualties of “small government” at the SEC, and remember what happened to them the next time conservatives whine about big, bad regulators.  

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Cunningham gets seven years for CIETC-related crimes (updated)

Ramona Cunningham was sentenced to seven years in prison for her part in misappropriating $1.5 million in federal funds while she headed the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium (CIETC). Others involved in the fraud at CIETC will be sentenced later this month or next year, but presumably Cunningham will do the most time in prison, having been the central figure in the scandal.

The prison sentence seems fair; misusing funds meant for job training programs is a serious crime. I’m sure many people will say Cunningham should be punished more harshly, though. The hatred of her is out of proportion to the crimes at CIETC.

Speaking of crime and punishment, Glenn Greenwald wrote a good post contrasting the media’s exhaustive coverage of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s alleged crimes with the near-total silence about the Senate Armed Services Committee’s recent finding:

The bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report issued on Thursday — which documents that “former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior U.S. officials share much of the blame for detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba” and “that Rumsfeld’s actions were ‘a direct cause of detainee abuse’ at Guantanamo and ‘influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques … in Afghanistan and Iraq’” — raises an obvious and glaring question:  how can it possibly be justified that the low-level Army personnel carrying out these policies at Abu Ghraib have been charged, convicted and imprisoned, while the high-level political officials and lawyers who directed and authorized these same policies remain free of any risk of prosecution?  

Great question.

UPDATE: CIETC’s former chief accountant Karen Tesdell got sentenced to two years on Tuesday for looking the other way as her colleagues misappropriated money.

Marc Hansen’s latest column reviews the arguments Cunningham’s attorney Bill Kutmus used during the sentencing hearing. He said his client wasn’t the ringleader and should not be punished more harshly than John Bargman (CIETC’s former chief operating officer, who will be sentenced next year). He also said Cunningham was a victim of sexism, and that U.S. prosecutors had treated her unfairly.

I agree that misogyny was driving a lot of the intense hatred of Cunningham. But I have some advice for her: next time you decide to commit a bunch of federal crimes, strike a plea bargain like Bargman did if you don’t want to do serious prison time.

Look at Mitchell Wade. He bribed a member of Congress with more than $1.8 million and just got sentenced to only 30 months in prison, because he cooperated with prosecutors.  

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Give to good causes, but not via telemarketers

What would charitable organizations and other non-profits do without the holiday season? Many groups bring in more donations during December than during any other month of the year. Without holiday giving, meeting basic expenses would be a challenge. If you get a mailing from a group you support, I encourage you to give what you can afford.

Responding to telephone solicitations isn’t such a good idea, as Lee Rood reported in the Sunday Des Moines Register:

The Register’s examination of more than 80 professional fundraisers serving more than 500 charities – often for little-known nonprofits but sometimes for well-known charities – also shows:

– The median percentage of proceeds that wind up with a charity is about 24 percent, according to reports to Iowa’s attorney general by fundraisers that made disclosures in 2007. Just five charities received more than 75 percent of the proceeds from fundraising campaigns.

– One fundraiser, Aria Communications, reported charging nonprofits more than the company raised last year.

– Most for-profit fundraisers do not disclose how much money is given to a charity after they take their cut for fees and expenses. Although Iowa law requires such disclosure, companies fail to report the actual costs of telemarketing or direct-mail efforts and the amounts given to the charities in about four out of five cases.

– About a half-dozen fundraising companies continue to do business in Iowa even though they have been subject to cease-and-desist orders, hefty fines and multiple court actions for breaking solicitation rules or financial disclosure laws, or for deceiving would-be donors. (See related article on this page.)

– Many of the charities that benefit from the fundraising are poorly rated by watchdog groups or give a tiny fraction to the individuals or groups that solicitors claim donations will benefit.

The whole article and related sidebar are worth reading. If you want to support a group, find the organization’s address on the web or in the phone book and mail a check. That way your full donation will go to a good cause, instead of paying mostly for telemarketer fees.

Speaking of telemarketers, a funny story appeared in the Register a few days ago:

Gov. Chet Culver told Iowa school administrators a story on Monday about an experience he had with the New York Times early in his political career.

Culver, who ran for Iowa secretary of state in 1998, said shortly after he announced his candidacy, he received a telephone call from Bob Smith with the New York Times.

Culver said he was surprised a reporter from the newspaper was calling him when he hadn’t yet done an interview with The Des Moines Register or other media outlets in the state.

Culver said he asked Smith if he could call him back, and the man said yes. The governor said he was relieved because it would give him more time to prepare for an interview. He asked Smith what he wanted to talk to him about.

“This is regarding your Sunday subscription to the New York Times,” Smith told him.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the Charity Navigator website in case you want to look up a group before you donate.

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Kurt Meyer's DEEP Minnesota Roots

With only days to go before the June 3rd primary, it looks like some basic facts are finally coming out about Iowa'a 4th District congressional candidate Kurt Meyer. This past Friday, the Des Moines Register wrote about Kurt's tenuous connection to Iowa.

  1. Kurt Meyer has not filed an Iowa tax return in TEN years!
  2. Kurt Meyer officially got his Iowa driver's license on Dec. 31st, 2007.
  3. Kurt's son attends school in Minneapolis – 4 years after Kurt MOVES to Iowa.

Kurt claims he moved back to Iowa in 2004, but the facts don't back this up.

Additional evidence of Kurt's purposeful deceit is found in a number of political donations that Meyer and his wife have made over the past several years.

If Kurt moved to Iowa 4 years ago, why have 4 out of 5 political donations to political candidates and the Iowa Democratic Party list his suburban Edina, Minnesota address?

1. Most recently Kurt donated $1,000 to the IA Dem Party on Oct. 17, 2007 and Meyer's put down the address of his home the wealthy suburb of Edina, Minnesota.

What's up with that?

2. A month earlier – Sept. 18, 2007 – Kurt's wife (Paula R Meyer) made an $1,800 donation to Hillary Clinton for President and listed their St. Ansgar home as her residence.

3. In 2006 Kurt donated his first $400 to the IA Dem Party and again used his upscale suburban Edina, Minnesota address.

4. Also, in 2006, Meyer's wife donated $250 to Spencer for Congress, again listing the Edina, Minnesota.

5. Another 2006 donation from Mrs Paula R Meyers for $500 for Klobuchar for Minnesota is listed at the Edina, Minnesota address.

Why did Kurt decide to run for Congress from Iowa rather than Minnesota where his high school aged son still lives?

No Iowa taxes no residence. What is Kurt hiding?

Iowa is obviously a great place to live, but is a person who has only lived in the state for a few months in his second home qualified to represent Iowans true needs.

Kurt's entire campaign has been dishonest about his limited connection to Iowa and Iowans deserve an explanation…

Maybe Meyer should try running in Minnesota next time, these are not deceits that Iowans will take lightly in November's election. The Democratic Party would do well to heed this warning or we will be sending Tom Latham back to Congress once again.

Below is a list of donations made by Minnesotan Kurt Meyer and his wife Paula R Meyer:

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