# Lobbying

Report exposes "massive CEO rewards for tax dodging" (updated)

Salaries for chief executive officers of major U.S. corporations rose sharply in 2010 despite the weak national economy, and various tax-dodging strategies allowed highly profitable companies to pay little or no corporate income taxes. That’s a small taste of the distubring news from the Institute for Policy Studies’ report on Executive Excess: CEO Rewards for Tax Dodging.

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Shorter Terry Branstad: The business group made me do it

This post was supposed to be about Governor Terry Branstad interfering with the Iowa Board of Regents. News broke on Monday that the governor leaned on the Regents’ elected president and president pro-tem to resign as board officers early, so that Branstad appointees could take charge right away.

That’s inappropriate and unprecedented, but it’s not even the most outrageous Branstad power grab of the week. The governor urged Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey to resign four years before the end of his appointed term. When Godfrey declined the request, Branstad had his staff ask again for Godfrey’s resignation. When Godfrey refused, Branstad slashed his pay by a third.

When asked to explain his actions, Branstad passed the buck to the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. Details are after the jump.

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Iowa House Appropriations Committee passes first budget bill

The Iowa House Appropriations Committee passed House Study Bill 1 on January 12, by a party-line vote of 15 to 10. Republicans call the bill the “Taxpayers First Act” and claim it would save the state more than $500 million over three years, while refunding some money to taxpayers and allocating an extra $25 million for mental health services over the next 18 months. As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, the potential savings in the current budget year are far smaller. The Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate is unlikely to approve some of the big-ticket spending cuts, such as complete elimination of the voluntary preschool program for four-year-olds. The full text of the bill as introduced is here (pdf file). The Legislative Services Agency analysis of how much various provisions would cost or save is here (pdf file).

Looking through the lobbyist declarations on HSB 1, so far only Iowans for Tax Relief, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Washington-based 501(c)4 group American Principles in Action have declared support for it. The bill’s opponents include the Greater Des Moines Partnership, the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, the Iowa Association of School Boards, the Iowa chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, major labor unions (AFSCME and the Iowa State Education Association), the State Bar Association, and many organizations that advocate for public health and environmental causes. Numerous lobbyists haven’t taken a position on the bill; influential organizations still undecided include the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the League of Cities, the State Association of Counties, the Iowa Medical Society, the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce, the Iowa Chamber Alliance, and the American Association of Retired Persons.

UPDATE: The “deappropriations” bill was renamed House File 45. Click here for a bill summary.

Tone-deaf president picks corporate man Daley to run staff

The Associated Press is reporting that President Barack Obama has selected William Daley as his next chief of staff. It appears that Howie Klein is right: Obama was able to pick an even worse top staffer than Rahm Emanuel. After running the White House staff for nearly two years, Emanuel recently resigned in order to run for mayor of Chicago.

Open Secrets posted a “Revolving Door” profile on Daley showing his employment history in government and as a lobbyist. More background on why Daley’s a terrible choice can be found after the jump.

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Republican "family values" on display in Iowa Senate

Last Thursday, the Iowa Senate approved a bill that would improve the health and well-being of Iowa working mothers and their children. In addition, this bill would reduce many employers’ health care costs while lowering employee turnover and absenteeism. Unlike legislation that pits business interests against the needs of working families, this bill would be a win-win.

Nevertheless, almost the whole Republican caucus voted against Senate File 2270, which promotes workplace accommodations for employees who express breast milk.

Follow me after the jump for background on this bill and Republican opposition to it.

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Pitiful settlement reached in nursing home neglect case

What happens when you fracture your ankle and no one checks on your wound or changes your stocking for 25 days? Ruth Louden, an otherwise healthy 89-year-old, developed gangrene, leading to the amputation of her leg. Her health went downhill quickly, and she died within months. Federal officials hit the Friendship Manor nursing home in Grinnell with a fine of $112,650. But the owner, Tim Boyle, appealed the fine and has settled for $75,397.

If management had brought Friendship Manor into compliance with all regulations on patient care during the past year, reducing the fine might be justified. But according to Clark Kauffman of the Des Moines Register, another patient died last year because of an accident linked to an unsafe walkway at the facility. That’s not all:

• In November, state inspectors compiled a 45-page list of deficiencies at the home, including:

• Improper use of physical restraints.

• Failure to meet a professional standard of care.

• Failure to provide incontinence care.

• Failure to prepare food under sanitary conditions.

• Failure to adhere to infection-control guidelines.

Current protocols for nursing home inspections and fines don’t appear to be compelling this facility’s managers to meet reasonable standards of care. It may be cheaper for owners to accept the occasional federal fine (after appealing to get it reduced) than to bring conditions up to par.

Iowa nursing homes have less to fear than ever from state regulators. During last year’s legislative session, lawmakers voted unanimously to eliminate “a broad range of fines against Iowa nursing homes that fail to meet minimum health and safety standards.” Friendship Manor owner Tim Boyle heads the nursing home industry’s main lobbying group, which provided a a textbook case of how to buy influence at the Iowa statehouse.

Even now, some Iowa legislators think regulators are too tough on nursing homes. What a sorry state of affairs in a state with one of the highest proportions of elderly people in the population.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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Events coming up during the next two weeks

There aren’t many political events during the second half of December, but there’s plenty going on during the next couple of weeks. Event details are after the jump. Post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you know of something I’ve left out.

If I can shake this cold I plan to attend the Culver-Judge holiday party this Saturday. Any other Bleeding Heartland readers going?

State Representative Chris Rants and Jonathan Narcisse have already started their debate series. You can view the schedule and download mp3s of the debates here.

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Iowa casinos, golf courses not fancy enough for Latham?

Representative Tom Latham has enjoyed some nice weekends on the dime of his For America’s Republican Majority PAC, I learned from a must-read piece by Jason Hancock at Iowa Independent.

A golf outing in West Virginia and a weekend getaway to Atlantic City, N.J., are just two of the trips taken this year by U.S. Rep. Tom Latham of Ames that have garnered the attention of campaign finance watchdogs.

That’s because the trips were paid for by Latham’s political action committee and touted as fundraising events, a practice that is legal but that government reform advocates contend turns the PAC into little more than a slush fund designed to skirt campaign finance law.

Go read Hancock’s piece for details on Latham’s fundraising trips to the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City and various high-end golf resorts in West Virginia and California. Latham’s PAC “raised $205,447 during the 2008 election cycle, with almost all of it coming from lobbyists, PACs and corporate leaders.”

A new report by ProPublica explains how leadership PACs function:

Legally, lawmakers are free to spend the leadership PAC money pretty much as they wish.

Lobbyists and lawmakers can — and do — use it to travel together to play golf at Pebble Beach, ride snowmobiles in Montana’s Big Sky Country and go deep-sea fishing in the Florida Keys. The lobbyists don’t pay the costs directly. They contribute to the leadership PAC, which then pays the lawmaker’s resort and travel bills.

Leadership PACs have grown steadily since they began cropping up in the 1970s. What separates them from campaign committees is that lawmakers are supposed to pass along the bulk of the money to other members of their party for their campaigns. That way, lawmakers with leadership PACs can earn their beneficiaries’ support when it comes time to divvy up committee chairmanships and other party leadership posts.

This system helps party leaders spread money to candidates with less money or tighter races. On the other hand, it also fuels the Washington money chase, allocates power in Congress based on fundraising prowess, and encourages lawmakers and lobbyists to mingle socially and recreationally as political money changes hands.

In this tough economy, couldn’t Latham encourage his corporate lobbyist buddies to golf, gamble and spread political money around in Iowa?  

In case you’re wondering whether everyone in Congress does what Latham’s been doing with his PAC, ProPublica’s report has lots more information on hundreds of leadership PACs. But Hancock notes that Iowa’s other members of Congress have used their leadership PAC money for campaign contributions and various expenses, as opposed to trips to high-end casinos and golf resorts.

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Would Fong ban cities and counties from lobbying?

Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Todd Dorman published his take on the first statewide radio ad from Republican Christian Fong. Dorman’s not buying into Fong’s promise to “end the use of taxpayer money to fund lobbyists.” He makes some excellent points:

For starters, I don’t think leaving the lobbying playing field to non-government interests only is smart. I’m not sure how the public interest is advanced by allowing, for example, a corporation to lobby for loosened pollution rules while barring state regulators from pushing the other way.

Second, lawmakers would lose a pretty important resource. I can’t tell you how many times I saw members of a legislative committee get stuck in the complex details of a piece of legislation before turning to the audience and finding a department lobbyist who swiftly cleared up the confusion. Walling off one branch of government from another is going to slow down a process that’s already painfully slow.

Third, it really doesn’t bother me that state departments pursue legislative agendas. It’s not OK for the attorney general to lobby for tougher criminal penalties? The Department of Public Health should be barred from advocating for pandemic preparedness funding?

I agree totally, and Fong should be prepared to refute Dorman’s points if he is a serious thinker about policy, as opposed to a candidate taking cheap shots.

My only problem with Dorman’s column is that he cites this Des Moines Register report as saying that “state departments spent $1.8 million on lobbying state lawmakers” during the past year. In fact, the Register arrived at that figure by including lobbying expenses of “state agencies, municipalities, county agencies and associations where member dues are paid by taxpayers, such as the Iowa League of Cities.”

Ask anyone who has spent time at the statehouse; the League of Cities and State Association of Counties are forces to be reckoned with. It’s not hard to see why, since a lot of bills considered by the legislature affect city and county governments. I wonder whether Fong really thinks the governor should ban cities and counties from making their voices heard with state legislators.

In related news, Fong still hasn’t corrected his ad’s demonstrably false statement about the I-JOBS bonding initiative. He knows how financial markets work, and it doesn’t reflect well on him that he would mislead voters by claiming the state of Iowa is borrowing money to pay our bills.

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Analysis of Fong's first radio ad

Republican gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong is introducing himself to Iowans with a 60-second radio ad (audio here). Like Fong’s campaign website and early media interviews, this ad focuses on restoring “the Iowa dream” his family has lived.

Fong reads the script himself, beginning with a few details about his father’s life. Fong says, “After tax cuts in ’61, the U.S. was booming. Nelson Fong, a Christian in Hong Kong, was drawn by the promise of freedom to the United States in ’63.” By the way, tax rates after those 1961 cuts were still substantially higher than today’s rates, which didn’t slow down the U.S. economy during the 1960s. But I digress.

About halfway through the ad, Fong shifts from his family’s story to how he sees the American dream slipping away. Echoing the false talking point we hear from other Iowa Republicans, Fong claims, “We have a state government that borrowed almost a billion dollars to pay its bills.” Of course, the I-JOBS bonding initiative was for infrastructure projects, not for ongoing government programs. Like national credit analysts and institutional investors, Fong should understand the difference between borrowing for capital investments and borrowing to pay bills.

Fong then promises that as governor, he would “end the use of taxpayer money to fund lobbyists and veto any budget that is not balanced.”  

The first point refers to a recent Des Moines Register report showing that  government (“state agencies, municipalities, county agencies and associations where member dues are paid by taxpayers”) spent approximately $1.8 million of at least $13.7 million paid to lobby the Iowa Legislature during the past year. A lot of that expense is for state employees who answer legislators’ questions about various proposals. Republicans would be happy to let business groups spend unlimited amounts lobbying the legislature, with no opportunity for state agencies to discuss the broader implications of industry wish lists. Sounds to me like a prescription for more giveaways like Iowa’s new nursing home law.

Fong obviously doesn’t want anyone to view him as the moderate in the GOP field. This ad ends with a female voice saying, “Paid for by Iowans for Christian Fong, conservative Republican for governor.”

UPDATE: Iowa Democratic Party chair Michael Kiernan called on Fong to take down this “materially false and misleading” ad. I’ve posted Kiernan’s statement after the jump.

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The Iowa legislature can't enforce its own disclosure rules

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement on Wednesday filed an ethics complaint against the Iowa Pharmacy Association, which entertained Governor Chet Culver and numerous state legislators in February but did not disclose the reception until after journalists started asking questions five months later. State Representative Kerry Burt, who attended the event, was arrested later that night for drunk driving. From an August 5 Iowa CCI press release:

Iowa CCI’s initial research has uncovered 26 additional late-filing disclosure violations by lobbyist groups during the 2009 legislative session.  This amount represents nearly one-third of the 90 reports that were filed in 2009.

“Today we are focusing on the Iowa Pharmacy Association because its disclosure violation is the most egregious example of abuse of the law by special-interest lobbyists, particularly because they only filed after they were caught,” [Iowa CCI’s State Policy Organizing Director Adam] Mason said.

This emerging and growing political scandal raises new questions about the ability of the House and Senate Ethics Committees to accurately monitor and regulate these types of events.

In 2005, state lawmakers voted to strip oversight powers from the nonpartisan State Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board and task the House and Senate Ethics Committees with oversight responsibilities.  Since then, the number of reported filings have gone down, as has the reported amount of money spent at lobbying events.

I called Mason today with more questions and learned that Iowa CCI filed the complaint with the secretary of the Iowa Senate and the chief clerk of the Iowa House. According to Mason, the Iowa House and Senate Ethics Committees cannot investigate this kind of disclosure violation in the absence of a complaint filed by a third party.

The trouble is, no third party would typically be in a position to set this process in motion. If not for Burt’s bad judgment and bad luck, the public would never have known that the Iowa Pharmacy Association wined and dined policy-makers in February. Iowa CCI has been comparing the disclosure reports filed against the social calendar for legislators from the 2009 session, but Mason told me that not all details about entertainment offered to state legislators are available to the public. Some industry groups provide free travel, food or drinks to lawmakers when the legislature is out of session.

More disturbing, no one on the House or Senate Ethics Committees seems to be taking responsibility for enforcing the disclosure rules. In April, Senate Ethics Committee Vice Chairman Dick Dearden admitted that no one checks the reception disclosures against the legislators’ social calendar. The Des Moines Register reported at the time that Dearden “does not recall any organization ever being punished for not filing reception disclosures properly.”

Legislators should stop pretending to care about money in politics and start addressing real problems with our current system of campaign finance and lobbying. A good start would be to give oversight powers back to the State Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

I’ve posted Iowa CCI’s full press release after the jump.

UPDATE: Forgot to link to Jason Hancock’s piece on this subject at Iowa Independent.

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Pharmacy group didn't disclose reception for governor, lawmakers

Groups that throw receptions for Iowa legislators are supposed to file a disclosure report within five business days of the event, but the Iowa Pharmacy Association filed paperwork for its February 10 reception only this week. Why now? Journalists have been asking about the event that preceded State Representative Kerry Burt’s drunk driving arrest around 2 am on February 11. Burt told an Ankeny police officer that he’d been drinking with the governor that evening.

I agree with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement; the Iowa Pharmacy Association’s disclosure violation once again demonstrates the need for campaign finance reform. I’ve posted a press release from Iowa CCI after the jump. Excerpt:

Several years ago, state lawmakers voted to strip oversight powers from the nonpartisan State Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board and task the House and Senate Ethics Committees with oversight responsibilities.  Since then, the number of reported filings have gone down, as has the amount of money spent at lobbying events.

“What other profession in the state is allowed to regulate themselves,” asks Ed Rethman, Iowa CCI member from West Des Moines.  “Are doctors allowed to license themselves?”

The Des Moines Register reported in April that many interest groups are providing free food and drink to legislators without properly disclosing how much they spend on these events. Usually, the public never finds out about these events, because no one gets arrested afterwards.

Wining and dining legislators is only one of many ways to buy influence at the Iowa statehouse. Many interest groups hire expensive lobbyists. Some pay legislators’ expenses for out of state trips. Then there’s good old-fashioned contributions to political parties and campaign funds, which are unlimited in Iowa. These methods bury a lot of good ideas and get some bad ideas signed into law.

Meanwhile, what passes for campaign finance reform in the Iowa legislature is a joke.

Any suggestions for making progress on this issue are welcome in this thread.  

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Some things still run smoothly in Washington

Such as the revolving door between Congress and corporate lobbyists:

The nation’s largest insurers, hospitals and medical groups have hired more than 350 former government staff members and retired members of Congress in hopes of influencing their old bosses and colleagues, according to an analysis of lobbying disclosures and other records. […]

Nearly half of the insiders previously worked for the key committees and lawmakers, including  Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and  Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), debating whether to adopt a public insurance option opposed by major industry groups. At least 10 others have been members of Congress, such as former House majority leaders Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) and Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), both of whom represent a New Jersey pharmaceutical firm.

The hirings are part of a record-breaking influence campaign by the health-care industry, which is spending more than $1.4 million a day on lobbying in the current fight, according to disclosure records. And even in a city where lobbying is a part of life, the scale of the effort has drawn attention. For example, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) doubled its spending to nearly $7 million in the first quarter of 2009, followed by Pfizer, with more than $6 million.

So corporate groups are spending $1.4 million a day on lobbying to block a real public health insurance option, which most Americans want.

That’s on top of the millions of dollars the same corporate groups have donated directly to Congressional campaigns. Iowa’s Senator Chuck Grassley has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the industries with the most at stake in health care reform.

Members of Congress claim lobbyists and campaign money don’t shape their opinions, but Grassley should know better. He understands that big money from pharmaceutical companies can influence the conclusions of medical researchers–why not elected officials?

Nate Silver has found strong evidence that special-interest money affects Democratic senators’ support for the public option in health care reform.

By the way, I wasn’t too cheered by Senator Chuck Schumer’s promise over the weekend that the health care bill will contain a public option. The current draft in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions excludes lots of people from choosing the public option over their current health insurance. That will limit competition for the private insurers that have near-monopolies in many markets.

Back in 2003 all the Democratic presidential candidates talked a good game on health care. Now Dick “this is a moral issue” Gephardt is lobbying for a pharmaceutical company. I’ll stand with Howard Dean and hope that John Edwards was wrong about the system being rigged because corporations have too much power in Washington.

Final note: Moveon.org is organizing health care rallies this Thursday, July 9, at senators’ offices in their home states. Sign up here to attend a rally near you.

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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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How to win friends and influence state legislators

The first “funnel” deadline passed at the end of last week, leaving most of the bills introduced in the Iowa legislature dead for this session. Summaries of notable bills that did and did not make it through the funnel can be found here and here.

Bills that have been approved by a full committee remain alive for the 2009 session, and Iowa House and Senate leaders can still introduce new measures. Also, amendments affecting various programs could be attached to appropriations bills that won’t be finalized until next month.

That means advocates should be informed and ready to help persuade legislators in the weeks to come. I’ve posted some ideas on how to accomplish that after the jump, and I’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments.

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Life in the minority isn't much fun

This one is hot off Senator Chuck Grassley’s Twitter feed:

Attention Ia legislative business lobbyists:I visit w many Repbli can REPs and Sntors. Don’t take ur frends 4granted.U spend all time w Dem

Part of me is laughing to learn that statehouse Republicans are bent out of shape because the business lobbyists aren’t courting them.

Part of me is crying because nothing good can come of business lobbyists spending “all time” with statehouse Democrats.

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New level of scrutiny reveals more problems with Daschle

Update: On February 3 Daschle withdrew his nomination for secretary of Health and Human Services. It looks like he won’t be the “health care czar” in the White House either.

When Barack Obama announced plans to nominate Tom Daschle to run the Department of Health and Human Services, I agreed with Ezra Klein that the choice signaled Obama’s commitment to get comprehensive health care reform through Congress. I knew that Daschle’s wife was a longtime lobbyist, and that Daschle was not nearly as liberal as the right-wingers made him out to be. But we all know that the Senate will be the biggest obstacle to any good health care plan. Daschle knows that body’s procedures and the majority of its members extremely well.

The choice isn’t looking so good today.

Not paying taxes on the use of someone else’s limousine looks bad, but as we saw last week with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, failure to fully meet one’s tax obligations no longer seems to be a barrier to serving in the cabinet. (By the way, Daschle knew about this problem last summer but didn’t tell Obama’s vetting team.)

Many people might honestly not realize that if they use someone else’s car, they need to report the value of that service as taxable income. But what is Daschle’s excuse for overstating his tax-deductible charitable gifts and not reporting more than $83,000 in consulting income? If Bill Richardson was asked to step aside because of an investigation that hasn’t even proven wrongdoing, then Daschle should not get a pass for not paying his taxes.

As is so often the case in politics, though, what’s legal can be even more disturbing. From Politico:

Daschle made nearly $5.3 million in the last two years, records released Friday show, including $220,000 he received for giving speeches, many of them to outfits that stand to gain or lose millions of dollars from the work he would do once confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services.

For instance, the Health Industry Distributors Association plunked down $14,000 to land the former Senate Democratic leader in March 2008. The association, which represents medical products distributors, boasts on its website that Daschle met with it after he was nominated to discuss “the impact an Obama administration will have on the industry.”

This week, the group began openly lobbying him, sending him a letter urging him to rescind a rule requiring competitive bidding of Medicare contracts.

Another organization, America’s Health Insurance Plans, paid $20,000 for a Daschle speaking appearance in February 2007. It represents health insurance companies, which under Obama’s plan would be barred from denying coverage on the basis of health or age.

There was a $12,000 talk to GE Healthcare in August, a $20,000 lecture in January to Premier, Inc., a health care consulting firm, and a pair of $18,000 speeches this year to different hospital systems, among other paid appearances before health care groups.

The speaking fees were detailed in a financial disclosure statement released Friday, which showed that Daschle pulled down a total of more than $500,000 from the speaking circuit in the last two years, and $5.3 million in overall income.

These speaking engagements are legal, but it is an unacceptable conflict of interest for Daschle to have taken that much money from groups with a major financial stake in health care reform.

At Daily Kos nyceve examines one of those paid speeches and tells you why you should care: As UnitedHealth subsidiary Ingenix defrauded Americans, Daschle was its 2008 keynote speaker.

A lot of liberal bloggers are now calling for Obama to withdraw Daschle’s nomination and appoint Howard Dean to run HHS instead. As much as I like Dean, I do not think he’s the person to shepherd health care reform through Congress. But I agree that Obama needs to find a replacement for Daschle–the sooner, the better.

If Obama stands by Daschle, I suspect the Senate insiders’ club would confirm him, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Speaking of stalled confirmations, Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming appears to be the Republican who is holding up Hilda Solis’s nomination for Secretary of Labor. This is purely ideological, based on Solis’ support for the Employee Free Choice Act. Solis has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Will Obama stand behind his choice for this cabinet position? The president expressed support for organized labor on Friday while signing executive orders to boost labor unions.  

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When horsetrading goes one step too far

I supported the Culver administration’s efforts to expand the bottle bill, even though I disagreed with some aspects of the bill the governor submitted to the legislature this year.

That said, this story from the Sunday Des Moines Register was troubling:

Word came from the lieutenant governor: If gambling lobbyists didn’t help deliver the bottle bill, they were likely to see the death of a much-coveted bill that would provide a financial advantage for casinos.

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering in the Legislature illustrates the political capital Gov. Chet Culver’s administration was willing to spend on the bottle bill – even if it caused lobbyists angst.

Some gambling lobbyists said it would be awkward, and possibly unethical, to lobby for a bill in which their clients either had no stake or had conflicting interests, and they declined to do it.


Lt. Gov. Patty Judge is unapologetic about asking gambling lobbyists for their help with the bottle bill, even though it caused turmoil in the rotunda. “I talked to a lot of people about that and asked for their help, and I will sure admit that,” Judge said. “I asked anybody within my earshot to help me with the bottle bill.”

She said she did not consider her request to the gambling lobbyists an ultimatum.

Judge’s spokesman, Troy Price, said: “There was never a ‘You do this or else.’ That was never issued.”

If this article is accurate, then what Judge did does not sit well with me.

We all know that “you pass my bill and I’ll pass yours” is a normal way of conducting business in any legislature. I don’t like drawing lobbyists into this practice, though. They should not weigh in on issues that have no bearing on their clients.

In fairness to Judge or anyone else in the Culver administration who may have been on board with this strategy, it’s clear that Iowa legislative leaders are not going to expand the bottle bill just because it’s the right thing to do. (For more on why adding a deposit to more types of beverage containers would be good for the environment, check out the website of the Container Recycling Institute.)

It’s also clear that the broad bipartisan public support for expanding the bottle bill is not enough to overcome the resistance from the grocery and bottling industries.

It says a lot about our Democratic leadership in the legislature if Judge or others thought the only way to counteract the influence of certain industry lobbyists was to enlist other lobbyists to support the bottle bill.

Democrats should be willing to expand recycling programs without needing that kind of a push.

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Ten more reasons not to vote for John McCain

Tom Harkin has right-wing bloggers in a tizzy because he recently suggested that the military tradition in McCain’s family has given him a dangerously imbalanced worldview:

“I think one of the problems that John McCain has is that his grandfather was an admiral, his father was an admiral,” Harkin said on a conference call with Iowa Independent and other media. “He comes from a long line of just military people. I think his whole world view, his life view, has been shaped from a military viewpoint and he has a hard time of thinking beyond that. And I think he’s trapped in that, so everything is looked at sort of from his life experiences as always having been in the military and I think that can be pretty dangerous.”

I see what Harkin is getting at–McCain’s background makes him unlikely to get us out of Iraq and perhaps more likely to get us involved in other wars. Still, I don’t think this is good messaging against McCain. Americans are not going to reject his candidacy because he comes from too military of a family.

Harkin was on more solid ground when he talked about McCain’s “scary” temper. McCain has a long history of losing it that suggests he lacks the temperament to be president. This is a huge mark in Barack Obama’s favor, because Obama is much more even-tempered.

But for those who are tired of talking about McCain’s anger management problem, I offer ten more reasons not to support the GOP nominee:

1. Mr. Straight Talk can’t keep his story straight when it comes to Iraq, the economy, tax cuts or other issues. Brave New Films shows you the evidence in “The Real McCain 2”:

2. McCain has employed senior campaign workers with a history of lobbying for foreign corporations or brutal foreign regimes. In fact, the man McCain chose to run this summer’s Republican National Convention is a lobbyist whose firm represented the Burmese junta.

McCain’s campaign has fired at least six employees this month because of their lobbying ties, including his national finance co-chairman Tom Loeffler, whose firm collected millions from Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments.

Even so, McCain is still employing Senior Political Adviser Charlie Black, who has lobbied for:

   * Ahmed Chalabi, the smooth talking Iraqi exile who helped manufacture the WMD charges against Saddam Hussien that led the U.S. to invade.

   * Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, found guilty of torture, executions, disappearances, and human rights violations, who hired Black to “improve” his image in the U.S.

   * Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, who’s army massacred between 40,000 and 50,000 civilians in two years.

   * Dictator Mobuto Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), who amassed a vast personal fortune and repressed rival political parties while his country’s children starved.

   * Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi of UNITA, an ally of apartheid-era South Africa, who started a civil war which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and ordered the torture and murder of countless opponents.

   * Nigerian Dictator Ibrahim Babangida ran a one-party regime, who arrested his opponents, and murdered journalists.

3. McCain has only released two years of his own tax returns and none of his wife Cindy’s tax returns, despite a growing consensus that the public has a right to know about McCain’s personal finances.

Why should you care? Because in the past Cindy McCain had business dealings with a crook whom Senator McCain helped bail out. We need to know if similar conflicts of interest exist today.

4. McCain’s campaign has underpaid for the use of his wife’s corporate jet, even though the self-styled campaign finance reformer has backed legislation that would require candidates to pay the real costs of using corporate jets.

Even after his hypocrisy on this issue was exposed, McCain continues to use his wife’s corporate jet for campaign purposes.

5. McCain’s foreign policy in in all meaningful ways the same as George Bush’s.

6. McCain is running for president on his “vast experience,” but he keeps confusing Sunnis with Shiites, even after being corrected by his buddy Joe Lieberman.

7. McCain says a lot of the problems in the U.S. economy are just “psychological.”

8. McCain’s judicial appointments would likely be the same kind of extreme conservatives George Bush has favored:

The Senator has long touted his opposition to Roe, and has voted for every one of Bush’s judicial appointments; the rhetoric of his speech shows that he is getting his advice on the Court from the most extreme elements of the conservative movement.

9. McCain’s campaign has been bashing Obama for supposedly being willing to negotiate with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, but McCain said two years ago that the U.S. would have to engage Hamas if that group were running the Palestinian government.

10. McCain’s campaign blog misleadingly portrays the GOP candidate as a progressive, even though his voting record and stands on the issues are hard-line conservative.

For more on McCain’s record, see the Democratic National Committee’s new clearinghouse for research about him and MoveOn.org’s list of Ten Things You Should Know about John McCain.

By the way, McCain’s continuing problem with fundraising suggests that a lot of Republicans have their own reasons for not supporting the GOP nominee.

It’s incredible to think that even after a campaign that dragged on for months longer than the Republican nominating battle, the Democratic nominee is likely to have a financial edge over McCain this fall.

Feel free to post comments about other reasons not to support McCain that I’ve left out.

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