Saturday, June 13, 2009

Changes are being made at All Things Reform- check out the new Political Activist Calendar site now!

Image representing Google Calendar as depicted...Image via CrunchBase

Things are changing here at All Things Reform. Due to the sheer number of events and awards taking place throughout the year, we will devote most of our energies to just the Political Activist Calendar. It's new address is

The Calendar is specifically suited for the average political activist and non-profit. There is a timeliness value of having a Google Calendar constantly updated online; there you will find events and awards for both your political and technology interests. Most entries are national (USA) and international in scope.

Thank you for sharing for the past three years all of the news reports from the world of government reform here at ATR. All Things Reform will remain open for its large residual value in our lists of databases and organizations in the lefhand sidebar. Remember, you can still search the blog post archives, and the Custom Google Search for reform organizations in the sidebar; the comprehensive list of blog post labels (tags) will also stay.

Again, the All Things Reform Political Activist Calendar will be constantly updated; we plan to add information to it over time as the only post on its site. Google Friends and Comments features are already in place in its sidebar to communicate and collaborate with other event goers. Now, join your family, friends and colleagues at the Political Activist Calendar!

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Landmark U.S. Supreme Court case affirms justice recusal from major supporters before their courts

U.S. Supreme Court building.Image via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
Brennan Center for Justice

Press Release – 06/08/09

For Immediate Release: Contact: Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 212-998-6289, Susan Lehman, 212-998-6318

Picture: U.S. Supreme Court Building, Washington, D.C. USA

Supreme Court Reverses Decision in Caperton v. Massey
In 5 to 4 Vote, Major Victory for the Rule of Law

New York – Today, in a major victory for the rule of law, the Supreme Court issued a decision in the landmark case of Caperton v. Massey, reversing the decision of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals by a 5 to 4 vote.

"There has been an unprecedented flood of money into judicial elections in the states," said Susan Liss, Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "And this decision makes clear that campaign contributions must not be permitted to undermine the impartiality of the courts."

"This is a major victory for the rule of law," stated James Sample, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. "The Supreme Court has reaffirmed the fundamental principle that money should not influence the courts, and that justice should not be for sale."

This landmark case brought together an unlikely set of allies who supported Caperton in his bid for an impartial tribunal. The strange bedfellows included former state Supreme Court justices, corporations like Wal-Mart and Lockheed Martin, and advocates for fair courts like the Brennan Center for Justice and the Campaign Legal Center.

"The remarkable coalition supporting Caperton's position speaks to the considerable effect the outcome will have on our judicial system—and the widely recognized need to ensure that the courts continue to dispense fair and impartial justice," Liss observed.

In Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., the Supreme Court grappled with the question whether the fundamental right to a fair hearing before a neutral arbiter required disqualification of a judge in a case where one party to litigation had given extraordinary campaign contributions to the judge while the party's case was pending. Against a backdrop of a dramatic rise of special interest spending in judicial elections nationwide, former Solicitor General Theodore Olson argued before the Supreme Court on March 3 that the Constitution's due-process clause required a West Virginia Judge to recuse himself from a lawsuit involving an executive who spent $3 million to elect the judge. Those expenditures, which came at the same time the court was considering the executive's case, were more than all other contributions to the judge's election, combined.

Emphasizing that a "fair trial in a fair tribunal is a basic requirement of due process," the Supreme Court ruled that the constitution required recusal under the circumstances of the case. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court, and was joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer. Chief Judge Roberts issued a dissenting opinion that was joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito, and Justice Scalia also filed a dissenting opinion.

Background materials on the case, including all the amicus briefs filed, can be found here. The Brennan Center's amicus brief can be found here.

For more information or to set up an interview with James Sample, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at 212-998-6289 or, Susan Lehman at 212-998-6318 or You can also contact James Sample directly at 406- 690-3947.


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Parties and contributions to congressmember-connected non-profits are unethical legislation influences

WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 26:  Sen. Edward Kenned...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
USA Today

Lobbyists unlimited in honoring lawmakers

By Fredreka Schouten and Paul Overberg, USA TODAY

Picture: U.S. Center Edward Kennedy (D-MA) speaking about healthcare.

WASHINGTON — On a mild evening last September, Citigroup lobbyists mingled with South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn at a rooftop reception — complete with miniature putting greens — as the company hosted a party to honor the third most powerful Democrat in the House and raise money for one of his favorite golf charities.


FAVORITE CAUSES: A sampling of Congress members

MORE: Special-interest money helped pay for lawmakers' portraits

Health insurers and hospitals, meanwhile, are donating millions to help build an institute in Boston to celebrate the career of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who is attempting to overhaul the nation's health care system.

Despite a ban on gifts to lawmakers and limits on campaign contributions, lobbyists and groups that employ them can spend unlimited money to honor members of Congress or donate to non-profits connected to them or their relatives. The public — until now — had little insight into the scope of this largely hidden world of special-interest influence.

Under ethics rules passed in 2007, lobbyists for the first time last year had to report any payment made for an event or to a group connected to a lawmaker and other top federal officials.

USA TODAY undertook the first comprehensive analysis of the lobbying reports and found 2,759 payments, totaling $35.8 million, were made in 2008. The money went to honor 534 current and former lawmakers, almost 250 other federal officials and more than 100 groups, many of which count lawmakers among their members.

The total cost is roughly equivalent to what the U.S. government spends to operate Yellowstone National Park each year.

Most of the money — about $28 million — went to non-profit groups, some with direct ties to members of Congress. In two cases, USA TODAY found, the donations to non-profits associated with a member of Congress came in response to a personal appeal for funds from the lawmaker.

"It's another example of the many pockets of a politician's coat," says Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group. The spending amounts to an "end-run" around campaign-finance laws "that are designed to limit the appearance of undue influence," she says.

The money came from companies, trade associations and labor groups that lobby Congress and the government on a range of issues, from seeking a share of last year's $700 billion financial bailout package to trying to shape the debate on climate change.

The donations cover various activities — from a golf tournament that raises money for a lawmaker's non-profit to gifts to the alma mater of a powerful House committee chairman.

"You can still have a gala or something or the other for a charity and earn some favor with members of Congress, which is what the gift ban was put in place to avoid," says Dan Danner, CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business and a veteran Washington lobbyist.

The spending demonstrates the subtle ways that special-interest groups try to sway lawmakers, without making "something as crass as a payoff," says Kenneth Gross, a former Federal Election Commission official.

He credits Congress for mandating the disclosure of the gifts and giving the public another view of the relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers.


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"Accountability," by David Weller

Government debt isn't like, personal... right?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Democratic Congressional candidate Adriel Hampton is strongly for reform, Government 2.0

I just had the pleasure of interviewing Adriel Hampton- he is running a reform candidacy for the upcoming 2009 Special Election for U.S. Congress, CA-10 (a San Francisco area district). A Democrat, he is presently running a "insurgent campaign"- and it has been close to the people; in addition to government reform issues, he has been working for greater "Gov 2.0". Adriel can be reached at his campaign web site.

ATR: Welcome, and thank you for your valuable time in answering a few questions on your 'reform' candidacy for U.S. Congress, and on your work in social media.

ATR: As you know, All Things Reform follows the latest happenings in the world of government reform (and a bit of poetry!); including 'Government 2.0', what could you bring to Washington on these issues?

Adriel: David, I can say unequivocally that I am the candidate in the CA-10 race who understands the promise of Gov 2.0 for really moving our government and our economy forward. I am running because of my strong concern that our political elite is greatly out of touch with the economic and cultural realities of everyday folks in the San Francisco East Bay, and I believe that reform under the 2.0 rubric is essential to making our government people-focused again. I believe wide-scale tech-based and cultural reforms in government - along with single-payer or public option health care, which I strongly support - will help revolutionize our economy and our politics.

ATR: What current reform legislation in Congress is most important to you and why?

Adriel: Health care reform is the single most important legislation in Congress right now, and we must have a public option in the final product. Guaranteed health care for all will allow the transformation of our economy from one tied to a dying industrial base into an America fueled by small business and innovation (and smooth the transition from autos and heavy infrastructure to a "green" economy). I support HR 676, although I am open to private options in addition to single-payer - anyone who pays their taxes for the national safety net should also be able to deal with specialty insurance if desired. I am also very interested in HR 1207, and support more Congressional oversight of the Federal Reserve.

ATR: I follow your multiple accounts on Twitter right now for your Special Election campaign... how do you use the service, and what other social networking services do you use thus far? Why do you feel they are very important in a congressional campaign for office?

Adriel: In addition to Twitter, I use Facebook and LinkedIn. I have a number of other accounts as well, but mainly as placeholders for the content from Twitter. I was heavily immersed in social networking for community building and activism before the opportunity came to run for an open Congressional seat, and I've tried not to change my style too much. I believe that the openness of social networking, especially the anarchic/democratic nature of Twitter, represents the style of leadership, transparency and collaboration I want to see in government (Rep. John Culberson is a good example of keeping that style, from a conservative viewpoint, while in office). In addition to modeling reform and opening up more as a person, Twitter (and to a lesser extent, Facebook) has helped me to recruit a number of very talented volunteers locally and from around the country, and to have debates on issues in advance of in-the-flesh-life. Social networking has helped me be a better-prepared candidate. And let me just say, zero-cost communications is changing everything.

ATR: It's interesting that you note in your campaign as your being an "insurgent" congressional candidate. You are running as a major party candidate in the Democratic Party; why do you fashion your campaign in this manner? How does your campaign compare to all of your competitors in this and in other respects?

Adriel: If I was the only Democrat in a heavily Democratic district, I certainly would not be the insurgent! However, I am running against a field of well-known professional politicians, including my Lt. Governor, a State Senator, and my Assemblywoman (I was the first to announce my intentions). I am the Democratic candidate who lives in below-market-rate housing (for moderate income families only), is pro-peace, anti-Drug War, pro-EFCA and anti-Taft-Hartley, and I am running my own campaign. All of my opponents, in addition to their careers as Sacramento politicians, are running heavily managed campaigns. I'm about reaching people directly and bringing back "government of the people, by the people, for the people."
Running in a field of professional politicians also makes it difficult to raise money, so I'm asking folks who agree with what I'm trying to do to pitch in $5-20 at ActBlue.

ATR: Thanks again for your interesting, modern campaign's insights. Good luck, and i look forward to following you on Twitter and elsewhere!

Adriel: Thank you!

Adriel Hampton is a journalist, Gov 2.0 and new media strategist, public servant, and licensed private investigator. He is running for U.S. Congress in the 2009 special election for California's 10th District. He has pledged to vote against funding for expansion of the Iraq and Afghan wars.

David Weller
All Things Reform

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Friday, June 05, 2009

"The Environment," by David Weller

oil leaks onto land
roils the royalty owners,
spoiling monthly checks

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

'Good Government' non-profit coalitions watchdog the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 28:  U.S. Treasury Secret...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
Coalition for an Accountable Recovery and STAR Coalition

Picture: U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

The Coalition for an Accountable Recovery was formed to promote accountability policies for both government agencies and companies that contract with or benefit from recovery spending. Seizing 21st technology tools and precedents from states and cities, taxpayers deserve transparency and accountability in all new recovery efforts.


STAR Coalition is a network of groups working at the state and local levels to ensure that the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is transparent, accountable, fair and effective.

We want stimulus spending to address vital social needs and benefit those most harmed by the failed economic policies of the past.

We believe that active civic engagement-enabled by full transparency-is the only way to achieve true accountability.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

President Obama broadens and hones lobbying restrictions for Economic Stimulus funds

U.S.Image via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
Democracy 21

Democracy 21 Press Release, June 1, 2009,

Democracy 21 applauds the steps taken by the Obama Administration on Friday, May 29, 2008 to revise the lobbying rules it established on March 20, 2009 to govern the distribution of stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act).

The revisions carry forward the President’s stated goals of challenging special interest influence in Washington and increasing government transparency, combining public disclosure with the power of the Internet to quickly provide information to citizens.

The revised rules both broaden and narrow the coverage of it March 20 lobbying rules regarding stimulus funds. The revisions expand the coverage of the prohibition on oral communications by registered lobbyists about stimulus funds to apply to communications from all persons, not just registered lobbyists. They also focus the application of the prohibition on oral communications on the key period after competitive grant applications have been submitted and before grants have been awarded.

During this competitive bidding stage all communications initiated by anyone other than an agency official must be submitted in writing and will be posted on the Internet.

The revised rules serve to expand the information that will be provided to the public on the Internet about efforts to influence decisions about competitive grant applications submitted for stimulus funds.

At the same time, the revised rules narrow the original restriction on oral communications about stimulus funds to cover the period when competitive grant applications are under consideration.

The Obama Administration’s lobbying rules for the distribution of funds under the Recovery Act are precedent setting transparency reforms and open the door to similar kinds of rules be adopted for other activities conducted by the Executive Branch.

The initial Executive Branch lobbying rules for the stimulus package adopted on March 20, 2009 were intended to help "ensure the responsible distribution of funds for the Act's purposes and to provide public transparency and accountability of expenditures."

The unprecedented rules were established as a sixty-day pilot project, providing the Administration with the opportunity to review how the rules were working and to make appropriate adjustments. The revised rules announced on May 29, 2009 followed the expiration of the trial period and build on the lobbying rules adopted in March.

The original lobbying rules required Executive Branch departments and agencies to publicly post all written communications received from registered lobbyists concerning the commitment, obligation, or expenditure of funds under the Recovery Act for particular projects, applications, or applicants. These provisions continue in effect.

The rules also prohibited oral comminucations from registered lobbyists to Executive Branch officials concerning particular projects, applications, or applicants for funding under the Recovery Act, but allowed them in the case of communications to discuss general Recovery Act policies. In such cases where oral communications were allowed, the Executive Branch official receiving the communication was required to expeditiously post a summary of the communication received from the registered lobbyist by the deparment or agency involved. These rules have been both expanded in terms of the people being covered and narrowed in terms of the period to which they apply.

# # #

Capital Bits and Pieces Vol. VII, No. 53 Released: Monday, June 1, 2009

Contact: Kristen Hagan

For the latest reform news and to access previous reports, releases, and analysis from Democracy 21, visit .

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A proportional voting system (Proportional Representation) arguably improves the makeup of the U.S. House and the Voting Rights Act

This ballot design, used in cumulative voting,...Image via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.

The FairVote Reformer, May, 2009
Picture: A cumulative voting ballot.

Proportional voting systems have found their way into national discussions surrounding ways to improve the makeup of the U.S. House and the Voting Rights Act. The New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen spotlighted cumulative voting as a potentially helpful voting system for racial minorities, while prominent blogger Matthew Yglesias cited multiple-member districts elected via choice voting (also called the single transferable vote) as a means to reduce polarization in Congress. A Los Angeles Times editorial noted that a "cutting edge" proposal for proportional representation is in the growing call for a state constitutional convention in California - you can see more about proportional voting's place in California debate at the New America Foundation website.

Internationally, proportional voting failed to reach the 60% winning threshold in British Columbia, but is gaining strong support in the British parliament in tandem with instant runoff voting, and forms of proportional voting will be used by every European nation in next month's elections to the European parliament. The Philippines has made strong moves toward proportional voting, while Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is advocating for a major restructuring of his country's government, modeling it after South Africa's parliamentary system with proportional voting for its National Assembly.

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Amend the US Constitution to require that, when vacancies occur, senators be elected by the people instead of the Governor

Russ Feingold, U.S. Senator from Wisconsin.Image via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.

By David Segal
Published May 14th 2009 in Baltimore Sun
Picture: U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI).

Where are they now?

Just three months ago, America was introduced to four newly appointed Senators - two of whom had never even run for office. They've receded from the fore of our consciousness over the months since, but they're still out there, doing the business of the people who elected the people who appointed them.

Senators Russ Feingold and John McCainare pushing an amendment to the Constitution to require that senators be elected by the people whom they are meant to represent. The 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, removed the appointment of senators from the purview of state legislatures, mandating popular elections, excepting for gubernatorial appointments when vacancies occur. It's time to close this loophole - and Maryland's Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who sits on the Constitution subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee - can play a critical role in doing so.

Americans were rightfully dismayed by the political jockeying, and in some cases apparent outright corruption, that swirled around their ascension during the fall and winter. Now the appointees are laser-focused on consolidating the power that was handed to them. But their low popular support yields diminished legitimacy, making it harder to be taken seriously by their colleagues and to work effectively on behalf of their constituents.

So who could oppose electing our senators? Several so-called conservatives have lined up against the proposal - and some even against the 17th Amendment itself: They assert that state governments should decide how senators should be selected.

States can indeed take action right now, but despite this winter's mass outcry, legislation requiring that Senate vacancies be filled by special election has been introduced in just a handful of states this year, and it's already clear that only a few of these bills stand a chance of passing.

What happened in Annapolis this year illustrates why: Del. Saqib Ali introduced legislation to require special elections, but to avoid stepping on the toes of the powerful, it was written to not take effect until 2015 - when Gov. Martin O'Malley will presumably have left office. Even so, the proposal went nowhere.

States in which the legislature is dominated by the same party as the governor - especially those with relatively stable political dynamics - are unlikely to perceive an urgency to act on the Senate vacancy issue; the party that rules the legislature is hesitant to strip authority from a governor of the same party.

In states where power is shared by Democratsand Republicans, the parties have competing interests that complicate the vacancy issue, hurting chances of passage. Indeed, passage is likely only in states with the most unusual of political dynamics: a legislature controlled by a super-majority of one party but a governor of the opposite political affiliation.

Rhode Island, where I live, is the exception that proves this rule: Democrats hold 90 percent of legislative seats and the governor is a relatively unpopular Republican. Versions of Senate vacancy legislation need to be reconciled after having already passed the House and Senate; a likely gubernatorial veto would be easily overridden. (Governors have no role in ratifying constitutional amendments, so the threat of vetoes would be removed under Mr. Feingold's proposal.)

A national movement, and national branding of the push as a "good government" effort, would lessen the appearance that action or inaction by a given legislature would serve as a referendum on any particular governor or on any particular appointed senator. Passage by only 38 states would, once and for all, put an end to this vestige of the oligarchical politics of a century gone by.

The basic legitimacy of our system of governance requires that senators be chosen by the people. Senator Cardin should use his privileged position to aggressively push Senator Feingold's amendment.

David Segal is an analyst for Takoma Park-based FairVote and a Rhode Island state representative. His e-mail is

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Research with DataFerrett, a free data mining and extraction tool developed by the U.S. Census Bureau

Logo of the American Community Survey, a proje...Image via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
FGI- Free Government Information

Submitted by justgrimes on Sat, 2009-05-30

DataFerrett (Federated Electronic Research, Review, Extraction, and Tabulation Tool) is a free data mining and extraction tool developed by the U.S. Census Bureau that allows users to search, browse, combine, tabulate, recode, and analyze statistical data from a network of online data libraries. The DataFerret software can be downloaded from the website or ran in the browser via a java applet.

Some material to read before getting started:
DataFerret Brochure
Getting Starting with DataFerrett Tour
DataFerret User Guide

Available data sets included:

  • American Community Survey (ACS)
    American Housing Survey (AHS)
    Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)
    Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES)
    County Business Patterns (CBP)
    Current Population Survey (CPS)
    Decennial Census of Population and Housing
    Harvard-MIT Data Center Collection
    Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA)
    Local Employment Dynamics (LED)
    National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS)
    National Center for Health Statistics Mortality (MORT)
    National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HANES)
    National Health Interview Survey (NHIS)
    National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS)
    National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife (FHWAR)
    Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE)
    Social Security Administration (SSA)
    Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)
    Survey of Program Dynamics (SPD)

DataFerret is a wonderful tool for exploring and analyzing data. Enjoy!

(found via Open Access News)

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Taxpayers are getting less back than promised from economic bailout, with inadequate transparency with the program

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 9:  (L-R) Former Freddie...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
TCS- Taxpayers for Common Sense

Volume XIV No. 22: May 29, 2009
Picture: Former CEOs of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before Congress.

Cha-Ching! That’s the sound you’ve heard over the last several months as about 600 companies walked away from the federal cash register, their pockets stuffed with wads of cash. We’ve never been too thrilled with how the economic bailout has been implemented, but now, eight months in, more problems are emerging. Taxpayers are getting less back than promised, transparency has barely increased and the program seems to be turning into a revolving loan fund without Congressional scrutiny.

Since the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was created in the fall, about $600 billion has been committed to supporting the financial sector, leaving about $100 billion to go. Throw in the money promised to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the price tag hits $1.1 trillion. And we’re not even counting the Fed’s commitment to shore up financial institutions.

Most of the TARP money is going to banks through the Capital Purchase Program (CPP), under which banks receive money in exchange for preferred stock, theoretically enabling them to maintain or increase lending.

As more and more eyes scrutinize the way the bailout dollars are being used, many concerns arise. First, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that Treasury paid $356 billion more to banks than the value of assets received in exchange – a 51% subsidy rate.

Treasury recently completed a series of “stress tests” on 19 of the country’s largest banks to determine whether TARP was indeed helping them avoiding shutting down. While Treasury’s view of the test results was optimistic, the banks could lose $599 billion by the end of 2010 under the worst case scenario. Also, Treasury is requiring 10 of the banks to raise billions in additional capital to shore up their balance sheets. But by requiring banks to bolster their capital cushions, some banks may reduce lending – the opposite of the Bailout’s goal. And for those banks unable to meet the capital goals, Uncle Sam may become their owner.

Other banks are considering getting out of the TARP game altogether, and some have already bought back their stock and warrants. Initially the public was led to believe that we might actually profit from TARP investments after the economic dust settled. But it looks like Treasury is content with taxpayers swallowing all of that $356 billion overpayment. Warrants that were part of most of the TARP deals represent the Treasury’s potential for profit. A warrant holder has the right to purchase a company’s stock, and can thus profit in the future if that stock is sold at a higher price. In one recent example Old National Bancorp bought back all of its preferred stock from Treasury and negotiated a $1.2 million buyback of its warrants. But a separate analysis put the potential value of those warrants at $6.9 million.

We agree that Treasury shouldn’t be in the business of playing the stock market. But allowing other private investors to bid on the warrants would result in a fairer valuation without increasing risks to taxpayers.

Treasury Secretary Geithner now wants to recycle the returned cash and give it to banks that are not yet participating in the program – TARP II. Sequels are rarely better. We’ve argued for months that one of the biggest problems with the first bailout was the failure of Congress and Treasury to lay out clear, measurable goals. Before recycling the dough, Congress should force Treasury to come back to the table and tell taxpayers just how we are benefitting from the money already doled out and explain TARP’s effectiveness in shoring up the economy. We can’t afford a rerun of the same mistakes.

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FEC withholding public documents on own closed enforcement actions

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 21:  U.S. President Barac...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
Campaign Legal Center

Posted May 29, 2009 by Paul S. Ryan
Picture: President Obama signs Executive Orders for open government.

Yesterday, the CLC sent two letters to the FEC concerning the Commission’s refusal to disclose documents pertaining to closed enforcement actions—documents that the FEC’s regulations and “Statement of Policy Regarding Disclosure of Closed Enforcement and Related Files” require the Commission to make public. Not only does the Commission’s withholding of these documents violate its own regulations and written policy, but also flies in the face of a commitment issued by President Obama on his first day in office to an “unprecedented level of openness in Government.”

The first letter to the Commission was a formal appeal of a decision by the FEC Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Service Center denying a CLC FOIA request for a General Counsel’s Report and the Factual and Legal Analyses written by the Commission Office of General Counsel in an connection with a complaint filed against the Romney for President Committee and one of his supporters, Kem Gardner (MUR 5937). The complaint alleged that Gardner made an illegal in-kind contribution—and that the Romney Committee accepted an illegal in-kind contribution—when Gardner paid $150,000 to charter an airplane and flew 150 people from Utah to Boston to “dial for dollars” at a Romney fundraising event. The Commission deadlocked 3-3 on whether to find reason to believe that federal law was broken and to commence an investigation, so the Commission closed the file in the matter. The Commission never made public the General Counsel’s Report or the Factual and Legal Analyses and explicitly rejected the CLC’s FOIA request for these documents.

The second letter was sent jointly by the CLC and Democracy 21, noting that in recent months, and with unprecedented frequency, the Commission has been closing enforcement actions after failing by a vote of 3-3 to pass motions related to such actions and has failed to make public General Counsel’s Reports and Factual and Legal Analyses with respect to many of these closed enforcement actions. We requested that the Commission make public all General Counsel’s Reports and Factual and Legal Analyses in closed enforcement actions.

This second, more general letter was prompted by the denial of our March FOIA request in the Romney matter. The CLC has five more similar FOIA requests pending at the FEC and the denial of our request in the Romney matter gives us little hope that the outcome will be different in our other pending requests. The six FOIA requests filed by the CLC this year pertain to only a fraction of the closed enforcement actions in which General Counsels Reports and Factual and Legal Analyses have been withheld from the public by the Commission. And, given that the Commission’s regulations and Statement of Policy require that these documents be made public, FOIA requests should not even be necessary to obtain these documents. For these reasons, we decided to make a more general appeal to the Commission with respect to the disclosure of these documents in all closed enforcement actions.

In denying our FOIA request in the Romney matter, the FOIA Service Center determined that “the agency is precluded from providing this information as it deals with predecisional documents that are covered under the deliberative process privilege under FOIA Exemption 5," citing 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5) for its position.

For the reasons detailed in our two letters to the Commission, the FOIA Service Center’s determination was erroneous with respect to the Romney matter and, to the extent this is the rationale being relied upon by the Commission to withhold documents in the other closed enforcement actions, it is similarly erroneous.

Our letters cite Supreme Court and D.C. Circuit Court precedent making clear that FOIA Exemption 5 is not mandatory. It does not preclude the Commission from providing General Counsel’s Reports and FLAs to the public but, instead, provides federal agencies with the option of asserting a privilege and withholding “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5). Even if this exemption is available under FOIA, the Commission is free as a matter of law and policy to publicly disclose General Counsel’s Reports and Factual and Legal Analyses.

Indeed, as our letters further explain, the Commission has adopted regulations and a policy statement that require the Commission to disclose General Counsel’s Reports and Factual and Legal Analyses. This is therefore not a discretionary matter—the Commission and its staff must follow the Commission’s own regulations and policy until they are changed. The Commission’s regulations state that:

[T]he Commission shall make the following materials available for public inspection and copying: . . . Opinions of Commissioners rendered in enforcement cases, General Counsel’s Reports and non-exempt 2 U.S.C. 437g investigatory materials shall be placed on the public record of the Agency no later than 30 days from the date on which all respondents are notified that the Commission has voted to close such an enforcement file[.]

11 C.F.R. § 4.4(a) (emphasis added). Further, the Commission’s “Statement of Policy Regarding Disclosure of Closed Enforcement and Related Files” clearly states:

With respect to enforcement matters, the Commission will place the following categories of documents on the public record:

. . . .

3. General Counsel’s Reports that recommend dismissal, reason to believe, no reason to believe, no action at this time, probable cause to believe, no probable cause to believe, no further action, or acceptance of a conciliation agreement;

4. Notification of reason to believe findings (including Factual and Legal Analysis);

. . . .

The Commission is placing the foregoing categories of documents on the public record in all matters it closes on or after January 1, 2004.

68 Fed. Reg. at 70427 (emphasis added).

If the Commission would like to withhold General Counsel’s Reports and Factual and Legal Analyses under FOIA Exemption 5, it must open a rulemaking with notice and comment to change the existing regulations, and follow its procedures for amending or withdrawing the policy statement which currently governs this issue. Until then, the Commission’s existing rules and policies require such documents to be disclosed.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Federal employee travel credit card abuse "in the millions of dollars" each year

An example of street markets accepting credit ...Image via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
POGO- Project on Government Oversight
Contact: Scott Amey, 202-347-1122 or Marthena Cowart, 202-347-3958

[In a bureaucracy the size of our federal government, we can expect, during peace time and prosperity, daily small financial abuses from many of its employees. However, in the time of wars and skyrocketing national debt, credit card abuse during the George W Bush administration is shameful. -ATR]

A recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) highlights long-standing systemic weaknesses and mismanagement in federal credit card spending.

CRS’s report details abuses in the federal government travel card program that are costing the government and taxpayers “millions of dollars annually.” Travel cards are used by government officials for airline, hotel, and related travel expenses. CRS looked at Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Inspector General (IG) travel card reports, and found that:
  • Improper or unauthorized charges included $3,700 for laser eye surgery, reimbursement of nearly $10,000 for tickets that an official didn’t purchase, a first-class trip to Hawaii, and numerous upgrades to premium-class accommodations.
  • Agencies failed to recover millions of dollars in unused tickets – the Department of Defense had $100 million in unused tickets from 1997 to 2003.
  • Delinquent travel card payments prevented the government from receiving maximum potential rebates from card vendors.
  • Travel card spending increased from $4.39 million in FY 1999 to $8.28 million in FY 2008.

“A private travel agency would be out of business running this kind of operation,” declared Scott Amey, POGO’s General Counsel. “This report summarizes problems with individual transactions and, more importantly, with government agencies that aren’t safeguarding taxpayer dollars. Immediate improvements are needed, including improved oversight of all transactions, increased penalties for misuse, and enhanced processes to take full advantage of the benefits that travel cards were expected to bring.”

Legislation is pending in the Senate (S. 942) and House (H.R. 2189) that will add taxpayer protections for government travel cards and purchase cards (used for supplies and services).

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Obama's campaign and presidential Five Day Pledge for public input of bills sent to him needs clarification

WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 09:  White House Chief o...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
Sunlight Foundation

Picture: White House press secretary Robert Gibbs (R) with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Today’s Washington Times has a review of President Obama’s pledge to post legislation online before signing it, where Press Secretary Gibbs is paraphrased:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the clock starts ticking when a
link is posted to bills when they are in their final version, such as a
conference report, even if they haven’t passed Congress.
Here’s (I believe) the exchange from Friday:

Q Robert, on the signings today, I’m wondering, the President had pledged
to put bills up on the Web for five days before he signed legislation. And is
that just pretty much out the window?

MR. BURTON: It’s been five days.

MR. GIBBS: I think we posted conference reports several days in
advance. I can get you the exact days.

Q The conference reports?

MR. GIBBS: The conference reports that after they’ve voted on become
the gross legislation that’s delivered here that the President ultimately signs
that becomes public law.

Q So you’re — is that a finalized version of it that went out or

MR. GIBBS: Well, a conference report, as you know, is an unamendable
piece of legislation that has to be approved by both Houses, language has to be
simultaneous, it gets sent down here, and we sign it. So if a conference report
is — if something is delineated as a conference report or if there’s not a
conference committee and there’s a separate piece of legislation, if the Senate
passes a bill — if the House and Senate pass different versions of a bill and
the House agrees to accede to the Senate version, then the Senate version might
be put up before the House votes on it. Once they vote on it, both Houses have
passed identical legislation, and it comes down here.

Q So it’s effectively a finalized version. It just hasn’t –

MR. GIBBS: It’s not effectively — it legally is, yes.

Q Okay.

Compare that to this post from from January 20th:

One significant addition to reflects a campaign promise from the
President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five
days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.
The only other update from the White House has come in this post, which says:

The President remains committed to bringing more transparency to government, and in this spirit the White House will continue to publish legislation expected to
come to his desk online for public comment as it moves through Congress.
A little clarity would go a long way here. The White House will either start to fulfill campaign promise, whether it’s meaningful or not, or they won’t. The least acceptable choice, though, is to continue to redefine online, or bill.

For a clearer version of the pledge, here’s the version Politifact cites:

“Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the
public has the opportunity to review them,” Obama’s campaign Web site states .
“As president, Obama will not sign any nonemergency bill without giving the
American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House Web site for five days.”
That’s pretty clear. Posting a link from to THOMAS of a conference report that is expected to pass doesn’t cut it.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Service," by David Weller

the world is once served
when people have the right to
serve their government

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Open Government," by David Weller

the light of day makesgovernment data public,
who makes it info

Landmark affirmative vote in House committee moves climate change legislation forward

U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce of...Image via Wikipedia

Government reform orgs. deliver news on major events within their areas of expertise.
Environmental Defense Fund

[Due to the sheer gravity of current climate legislation, which in fact may be more important than our nation's financial deliberations, I have brought to your attention the climate bill's latest news. It is from EDF, a sober and experienced advocacy org. for climate policy that partners with businesses, governments and communities to find practical solutions. -ATR]

Breaking News: Historic Climate Vote. Now What?

Dear [friend],

You just changed history. Thank you.

Moments ago, the House Energy and Commerce Committee reported out a bill to reduce America's global warming pollution by 83% by 2050. This landmark vote sets the stage for full House action and provides a crucial roadmap for Senate action.

Keep the champagne on ice though -- we're a long, long way from our goal, to send a bill for President Obama's signature this year.

And to help us seize this momentum for climate action, an anonymous donor has agreed match your climate action donation dollar-for-dollar.

Please donate now to double your support for full House and Senate action this year.

This historic action comes at a critical moment. A new study from MIT warns that global warming could be "twice as severe as previous estimates indicate." (USA Today, 5/21/09)

Standing between us and ultimate victory is an army of right-wing ideologues and old school oil, coal and gas interests -- who have unleashed a torrent of fake science, scare-mongering statistics, and propaganda designed to stop climate progress in Washington.

They've made their intentions only too clear. In a leaked strategy memo, opposition leaders are urging their rank and file to unite in opposition while offering no climate alternative of their own.

And the big polluters and their well-paid lobbyists are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat this bill.

By one estimate, there are more than 2,000 paid lobbyists in Washington working to stop climate action.

We're at a make-or-break moment.

Your donation right now will go twice as far to help us ramp up our campaign efforts to continue our fight. With your support, we'll be able to target more districts, buy more ad time, and do more on-the-ground field work.

Now that the bill has made its way out of Committee, the wrangling over votes -- especially in swing districts -- begins in earnest. Our National Climate Campaign Director Steve Cochran tells me that the full House could vote on this bill within the month, giving us precious little time to ramp up.

That's why the opponents of progress are pulling out all the stops to confuse and scare the public right now. And it's why you and I must raise our voices as never before.

Please make a donation today to take advantage of our dollar-for-dollar match to support climate legislation.

Your donation will never make a bigger difference than it will today.One way or another, we are making history in 2009. Whether this becomes the year we changed America's direction or the one in which we lost one of our last great opportunities to act is up to us.

Please join me.

David Yarnold
President, Environmental Defense Action Fund

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