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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lobbying the Attorneys General

At The New York Times, Eric Lipton reports on the the people who lobby state attorneys general.  Lawyers and lobbyists seek to influence the AGs on a wide variety of issues, though few revolving-door limits or disclosure laws apply.
A result is that the routine lobbying and deal-making occur largely out of view. But the extent of the cause and effect is laid bare in The Times’s review of more than 6,000 emails obtained through open records laws in more than two dozen states, interviews with dozens of participants in cases and attendance at several conferences where corporate representatives had easy access to attorneys general.
Often, the corporate representative is a former colleague. Four months after leaving office as chief deputy attorney general in Washington State, Brian T. Moran wrote to his replacement on behalf of a client, T-Mobile, which was pressing federal officials to prevent competitors from grabbing too much of the available wireless spectrum.
...
Private lawyers also have written drafts of legal filings that attorneys general have used almost verbatim. In some cases, they have become an adjunct to the office by providing much of the legal work, including bearing the cost of litigation, in exchange for up to 20 percent of any settlement.
Money gathered through events like the one in February 2013 at the Loews hotel is flooding the political campaigns of attorneys general and flowing to party organizations that can take unlimited corporate contributions and then funnel money to individual candidates. The Republican Attorneys General Association alone has pulled in $11.7 million since January.
It is a self-perpetuating network that includes a group of former attorneys general called SAGE, or the Society of Attorneys General Emeritus, most of whom are now on retainer to corporate clients.
...

The increased focus on state attorneys general by corporate interests has a simple explanation: to guard against legal exposure, potentially in the billions of dollars, for corporations that become targets of the state investigations.
It can be traced back two decades, when more than 40 state attorneys general joined to challenge the tobacco industry, an inquiry that resulted in a historic $206 billion settlement.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Social Media, Journalism, and Politics

Ravi Somaiya reports at The New York Times:
Facebook now has a fifth of the world — about 1.3 billion people — logging on at least monthly. It drives up to 20 percent of traffic to news sites, according to figures from the analytics companySimpleReach. On mobile devices, the fastest-growing source of readers, the percentage is even higher, SimpleReach says, and continues to increase.
The social media company is increasingly becoming to the news business what Amazon is to book publishing — a behemoth that provides access to hundreds of millions of consumers and wields enormous power. About 30 percent of adults in the United States get their news on Facebook, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. The fortunes of a news site, in short, can rise or fall depending on how it performs in Facebook’s News Feed.
Though other services, like Twitter and Google News, can also exert a large influence, Facebook is at the forefront of a fundamental change in how people consume journalism. Most readers now come to it not through the print editions of newspapers and magazines or their home pages online, but through social media and search engines driven by an algorithm, a mathematical formula that predicts what users might want to read.
It is a world of fragments, filtered by code and delivered on demand. For news organizations, said Cory Haik, senior editor for digital news at The Washington Post, the shift represents “the great unbundling” of journalism. Just as the music industry has moved largely from selling albums to songs bought instantly online, publishers are increasingly reaching readers through individual pieces rather than complete editions of newspapers or magazines. A publication’s home page, said Edward Kim, a co-founder of SimpleReach, will soon be important more as an advertisement of its brand than as a destination for readers.
Pew reports:
In the growing social media space, most users encounter a mix of political views. Butconsistent conservatives are twice as likely as the typical Facebook user to see political opinions on Facebook that are mostly in line with their own views (47% vs. 23%).Consistent liberals, on average, hear a somewhat wider range of views than consistent conservatives – about a third (32%) mainly see posts in line with their own opinions.
But that doesn’t mean consistent liberals necessarily embrace contrasting views.Roughly four-in-ten consistent liberals on Facebook (44%) say they have blocked or defriended someone on social media because they disagreed with something that person posted about politics. This compares with 31% of consistent conservatives and just 26% of all Facebook users who have done the same.
NBC reports:
When it comes to politics, social media is no longer a secret weapon. On Nov. 4, more than 90 percent of the politicians vying for votes will be on Twitter and Facebook.
"The social media IQ of candidates has risen a lot since 2008," Nick Schaper, who served as director of digital media for House Speaker John Boehner from 2007 to 2011, told NBC News.

"They understand that it's a critical component for any serious campaign now," said Schaper, currently president of social media consultancy firm Engage. "This is no longer a gimmick."
The numbers speak for themselves. When it comes to both incumbents and challengers in the midterm elections, 92 percent of them are on Twitter, a company spokesperson told NBC News.
Every single incumbent is on Facebook, along with 94 percent of their opponents, a Facebook spokesperson told NBC News. A number of politicians — including Democratic Senators Corey Booker and Mark Begich — have learned to master the art of the selfie on Instagram.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

James Madison, Ebola, and States' Rights

At yesterday's White House press briefing, a reporter asked about Ebola:
Q Doesn’t that kind of create a patchwork of policies that can confuse the public, might even encourage people to game the system, lie about what they encountered when they’ve been in West Africa when you don’t have an overarching federal policy that rules?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I mean, we were talking about this a little bit earlier, Jim -- anticipating your question. I mean, some of this is -- in some ways, you can sort of take this up with James Madison, right? We have a federal system in this country in which states are given significant authority for governing their constituents. That is certainly true when it comes to public safety and public health.
At the same time, I think that you have seen a strong working relationship between states across the country and the federal government. What we believe is important -- and I think is a view that is shared by governors and local officials across the country -- is that these kinds of policies should be driven by science and the best scientific advice that is available. We have experts at the Centers for Disease Control and at HHS that have been dealing with Ebola outbreaks for decades now. And there is a body of medical science and research that should guide the implementation of these policies, and we’re going to work closely with states and localities to do exactly that.
Indeed, James Madison wrote in Federalist 45:
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.
Earnest seemed to suggest that federalism was an obstacle or a complication.  At other times, though, progressives have found great virtue in federalism.

President Obama has even used the controversial term "states' rights."

Monday, October 27, 2014

Civil Asset Forfeiture

Shaila Dewan reports at The New York Times that the IRS has seized the assets of law-abiding citizens without even an allegation of criminal conduct. The government can keep the money, and its victims have to prove their innocence to get it back.
On Thursday, in response to questions from The New York Times, the I.R.S. announced that it would curtail the practice, focusing instead on cases where the money is believed to have been acquired illegally or seizure is deemed justified by “exceptional circumstances.”
Richard Weber, the chief of Criminal Investigation at the I.R.S., said in a written statement, “This policy update will ensure that C.I. continues to focus our limited investigative resources on identifying and investigating violations within our jurisdiction that closely align with C.I.’s mission and key priorities.” He added that making deposits under $10,000 to evade reporting requirements, called structuring, is still a crime whether the money is from legal or illegal sources. The new policy will not apply to past seizures.
The I.R.S. is one of several federal agencies that pursue such cases and then refer them to the Justice Department. The Justice Department does not track the total number of cases pursued, the amount of money seized or how many of the cases were related to other crimes, said Peter Carr, a spokesman.
But the Institute for Justice, a Washington-based public interest law firm that is seeking to reform civil forfeiture practices, analyzed structuring data from the I.R.S., which made 639 seizures in 2012, up from 114 in 2005. Only one in five was prosecuted as a criminal structuring case.
The Washington Post reports:
Police agencies have used hundreds of millions of dollars taken from Americans under federal civil forfeiture law in recent years to buy guns, armored cars and electronic surveillance gear. They have also spent money on luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles.
The details are contained in thousands of annual reports submitted by local and state agencies to the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, an initiative that allows local and state police to keep up to 80 percent of the assets they seize. The Washington Post obtained 43,000 of the reports dating from 2008 through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The documents offer a sweeping look at how police departments and drug task forces across the country are benefiting from laws that allow them to take cash and property without proving a crime has occurred. The law was meant to decimate drug organizations, but The Post found that it has been used as a routine source of funding for law enforcement at every level.
The Post also reports:
A leading House lawmaker asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday to provide an array of documents and data relating to the Justice Department’s role in tens of thousands of cash and property seizures made in recent years by state and local police under federal civil asset forfeiture laws.
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The request by Rep. F. James “Jim” Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, terrorism, homeland security and investigations, is part of an inquiry into the billions of dollars in seizures made through the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, the federal government’s largest asset forfeiture initiative.
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“The implications on civil liberties are dire,” he said in the letter to Holder. “The right to own property is a fundamental right implicitly recognized in the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. I also believe that it is a human right.”
Sensenbrenner’s request follows a Washington Post investigation that found that 61,998 cash seizures have been made on U.S. highways and elsewhere since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks without search warrants or indictments through the Equitable Sharing Program, totaling more than $2.5 billion.
The Homeland Security and Justice departments and other federal agencies received $800 million of that total; state and local authorities kept the rest.
Friday’s letter follows similar requests by Sensenbrenner for documents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In those letters, Sensenbrenner sought details about how challenges from cash and property owners are handled.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Religious Liberty and Free Speech in California Public Universities

The Los Angeles Times reports:
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship members say they just want to spread the word, to provide a welcoming space for believers and non-believers alike on college campuses that sometimes can seem cold and isolating.
But because it requires its leaders to hold Christian beliefs, the evangelical student group said, it now is fighting to preserve its religious soul and very existence.
Chapters of InterVarsity and some other Christian groups were stripped of recognition at California State University campuses this fall because they refused to sign a non-discrimination policy requiring clubs and organizations to open their memberships and leadership to all students. (Fraternities and sororities still can limit membership by gender.)

Under the so-called all-comers policy, a Republican could conceivably run for and win election to lead the Democratic club; a white undergraduate could lead the Chinese Student Assn.; a non-musician could be selected to lead the classical guitar club.

Groups that lose recognition can continue meeting on campus, but without free or discounted access to meeting rooms. They also are barred from participating in student fairs and can't receive funding from campus student associations.

InterVarsity students say that relegates them to second-class status, and that policies meant to protect religious thought are instead being used to silence it.

"We could easily sign off on the [non-discrimination] papers," said Long Beach music major Jasmine Kim, 22. "I don't think a non-Christian would want to be a leader in a Christian group. But it's about our integrity."
In August, Jonathan Turley wrote:
We have been following the controversy surrounding the confrontation of Feminist Studies Associate Professor Mireille Miller-Young with pro-life advocates on campus. Miller-Young led her students in attacking the pro-life display, stealing their display, and then committing battery on one of the young women. Thrin Short, 16, and her sister Joan, 21, filed complaints and Miller-Young was charged with criminal conduct including Theft From Person; Battery; and Vandalism. To the surprise of some of us, faculty and students rallied behind Miller-Young. She remains employed as a faculty member. Miller-Young initially pleaded not guilty but later entered a guilty plea with an apology. She has now been sentenced to sentenced to three years of probation, 108 hours of community service, 10 hours of anger management, $500 in restitution and a small fine. While her actions (and absence of serious university punishment) remain highly disturbing, some of the letters written on her behalf raise new questions over the commitment of University of California faculty to free speech and core academic principles. Miller-Young has been defended by faculty as the victim of a media campaign to portray her as “an Angry Black Woman” and her seemingly happy demeanor on the videotape has been dismissed as a “mask” that she wears as part of a “cultural legacy of slavery.”

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Parties and Fears of the Paranormal

Christopher Ingraham writes at The Washington Post:
The Chapman University Survey on American Fears, a comprehensive study of the fears, phobias and irrational beliefs of the American people, was just released this week and contains an interesting section on belief in the paranormal. The results are drawn from a nationally-representative sample of 2,500 American adults.
...
The Chapman authors provided me with breakdowns by party affiliation. In general, Democrats were slightly and in some cases significantly more likely than Republicans to believe in paranormal phenomena: 75.6 percent of Democrats agreed that positive thoughts could influence the physical world, compared to 68.6 percent of Republicans.
Democrats were significantly more likely than Republicans to believe in fortune telling, and about twice as likely to believe in astrology.
On the other hand, Republicans were significantly more likely to say that Satan causes most evil in the world, a reflection of the higher degree of religiosity in the Republican party.
There were no significant partisan differences on belief in Atlantis, UFOs or Bigfoot.

 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Work for Interest Group, Get Rich

Inside Higher Ed reports:
Salaries for executives at higher education trade associations rival those of top-paid college presidents.
Compensation for the leaders of these higher ed groups – which are considered nonprofits by the IRS – has climbed in recent years.
Twenty-seven of 48 association heads earned about as much or more than the median salary for a university president, which was about $400,000 in 2012-13.
The highest-paid sitting association leader is Mark Emmert of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. He earned $1.7 million from fall 2012 to fall 2013.
The second-highest-paid sitting leader, Michael Lomax, runs the United Negro College Fund. The UNCF, as it is known, supports the nation’s private historically black colleges – many of which are struggling financially – and provides scholarships for students from low-income families. Lomax earned over $1.4 million from spring 2012 to spring 2013, including $101,000 in performance-based incentives and $695,000 in retirement payouts from his previous eight years as UNCF’s leader.
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A more recent look by executive compensation firm Quatt Associates, conducted on behalf of the Secretariat members themselves in 2014, found the median compensation of its associations' CEOs was $419,000 per year.
Some of the associations are active in trying to fend off regulatory efforts, including President Obama’s plan for a college rating system and federal efforts to protect students from sexual assault. Others have lobbied for the government to increase aid to students or to institutions. Stills others’ bread and butter is simply selling tests to high school and college students, like the ACT, SAT and GRE.
Senator Chuck Grassley, who has taken a keen interest in higher education salary and benefits, said it’s been clear for a while that tax-exempt organizations tend to use the same few salary-setting firms to get salary recommendations.
Higher education is hardly unique.  In 2012, Politico reported:
Ten of the top trade association heads brought in a total of more than $37 million for the 2011 tax year, according to numbers recently compiled by CEO Update. The top earner was Edison Electric Institute’s Tom Kuhn, who reported $6.7 million in compensation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Tom Donohue made $4.9 million.
It wasn’t always this way. Bill Clinton made headlines in 2000 when movie execs reportedly offered him a multimillion-dollar deal to run the movie lobby. Nowadays, trade group chiefs can pull down 10 or 15 times the U.S. president’s $400,000 salary by working the Hill for energy, banking or other industries.

The difference now? A mix of worry and self-protectiveness on the part of top industries, at a time when Washington can have a dramatic effect on a company’s bottom line, and when even the fear of a regulatory or legislative change is enough to cause these trade groups to launch defensive action.