Category Archives: Elected Officials

The Landscape of Local Asset Disclosure

Source: Alisha Green, Sunlight Foundation, December 9, 2013

Questions about the basic integrity of government officials can be difficult to answer with any one kind of disclosure. While disclosing information about campaign finance and lobbying are crucial steps toward answering these kinds of questions, asset disclosures help complete the picture by allowing for public oversight of basic conflicts of interest and empowering the prevention of corruption. Asset disclosures, defined broadly, include information about the financial stakes of elected or appointed officials that could impact their decision making. This data complements information about campaign finance, lobbying, legislation, rulemaking, procurement, and more to show how money might be influencing decisions made by those in government. As part of our ongoing exploration of local open data, we decided to shine a light on how this important dataset is currently shared and what steps could be taken to improve it.

State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax

Source: Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, December 5, 2013

State Policy Network co-ordinating plans across 34 US states
• Strategy to ‘release residents from government dependency’
• Revelations come amid growing scrutiny of tax-exempt charities
Read key excerpts from the SPN proposals
• Group’s plan to eliminate taxes in Maine county – read the report from the Portland Press Herald

…The strategy for the state-level organisations, which describe themselves as “free-market thinktanks”, includes proposals from six different states for cuts in public sector pensions, campaigns to reduce the wages of government workers and eliminate income taxes, school voucher schemes to counter public education, opposition to Medicaid, and a campaign against regional efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change….

Newly Uncovered Documents Expose ALEC’s Anti-Gay Past

Source: Calvin Sloan, People For The American Way, December 4, 2013

Throughout the 1980s, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — now infamous for its work on behalf of “stand your ground” laws and restrictions on voting rights — was instrumental in pushing anti-gay policies throughout the country, according to documents recently uncovered by People For the American Way and the Center For Media and Democracy.

A 1985 policy memo entitled “Homosexuals: Just Another Minority Group” sums up ALEC’s anti-gay policy positions and the false claims and outrageous stereotypes on which they were based. ALEC disseminated the memo to its public sector members, arguing that the “homosexual movement has had an impact too great and far reaching for Americans to ignore.”

Through the policy memo and its monthly newsletters, ALEC tracked local, state and federal legislation and provided its members with “research” to help them prevent advances in gay rights. However ALEC of course did not view these rights as rights; instead, ALEC asserted that the gay community was organizing “to achieve the privileges it thinks it deserves.”

ALEC facing funding crisis from donor exodus in wake of Trayvon Martin row

Source: Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, December 3, 2013

…The Guardian has learned that by Alec’s own reckoning the network has lost almost 400 state legislators from its membership over the past two years, as well as more than 60 corporations that form the core of its funding. In the first six months of this year it suffered a hole in its budget of more than a third of its projected income.

The reference to the Prodigal Son Project is just one of many revelations contained in a batch of internal Alec documents that have been obtained by the Guardian. The documents, prepared for its most recent annual board meeting in Chicago in August, cast light on the inner workings of the group.

They show that:
• Alec has set up a separate sister group called the “Jeffersonian Project” amid concerns over possible government inquiries into whether its activities constitute lobbying – which would threaten its tax-exempt status;
• the network has suffered a decline in its membership among state-based Republicans and among big corporations following the Trayvon Martin controversy;
• its income raised from conferences, membership fees and donations has fallen short, leaving the group with a potential funding crisis;
• a draft agreement prepared for the board meeting proposed that Alec’s chairs in each of the 50 states, who are drawn from senior legislators, should be required to put the interests of the organisation first, thus setting up a possible conflict of interest with the voters who elected them;
• Alec also considered extending its remit to include the gambling industry, particularly online gambling, as a possible source of new members and revenue….

The documents include:
Jeffersonian Project
Draft state chair agreement
Public affairs update
2013 “Prospects”
Lapsed corporate members
Budget shortfall in six months to 30 June 2013
Financial services companies “failed to renew”
Gambling proposal

Related:
The Pledge of Corporate Allegiance?
Source: Leo Gerard, In These Times, December 11, 2013
Leaks reveal that corporate front group ALEC may ask for loyalty oaths from legislators….

Reclaiming Democracy: A Plea for Political Entrepreneurship

Source: Lisa Witter & Catherine de Vries, Stanford Social Innovation Review, October 31, 2013

We face daunting challenges, but political institutions cannot cope; it’s time to shake up the system.

The recent shutdown of the American government uncovers not only the width of the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans, but also a much more fundamental problem facing electoral democracies around the globe.

We are witnessing a crisis of political representation and accountability throughout the advanced industrial world and emerging markets. Citizens are deserting the political arena. Governments are in a stalemate. Trends of low electoral turnout, increasing electoral volatility, and shrinking political party and voluntary movement membership are just some of the symptoms.

Many factors contribute to this crisis, but five different-yet-interrelated phenomena are central to it: myopia, unaccountability, complexity, the decline of political parties, and a talent deficit.

The Cost of Crisis-Driven Fiscal Policy

Source: Joel Prakken, Peter G. Peterson Foundation, October 2013

From the press release:
As Congressional leaders and the President discuss a potential temporary solution to the current fights over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling, the repeated cycle of lurching from crisis to crisis has significant costs to the U.S. economy, according to a new report released today.

The macroeconomic analysis, “The Cost of Crisis-Driven Fiscal Policy,” quantifies the negative economic impact of governing by crisis, and examines the effects of Washington’s actions — and inactions — including events such as sequestration, the government shutdown, and brinksmanship over the debt ceiling.

The report concludes that crisis-driven government and the resulting fiscal policy uncertainty has directly harmed the American economy by increasing the unemployment rate by 0.6%, or the equivalent of 900,000 jobs. …

Letter to Hillary Clinton: Let’s Talk About Poverty

Source: Fred Block and Frances Fox Piven, Dissent, Vol. 60 no. 4, Fall 2013

…The DOMA example shows that political leaders can change their positions in response to changing circumstances. So what has changed that would justify reopening the welfare debate? We suggest three things: growing concern in the United States about increasing income inequality, the clear failure of TANF to work as a safety net program at a time when wages at the bottom are falling and work has become more insecure, and the fact that effectively ending welfare has not stopped Republicans from mounting new attacks on programs that help the poor, including the working poor. All of this indicates the urgency of initiating a public discussion that challenges archaic conservative ideas about poverty….

A Bagful of Cash: How the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Orchestrated a Corporate Takeover of Government

Source: Carl Gibson, ShuttheChamber.org, July 16, 2013

From the abstract:
The US Chamber of Commerce– a 101 year-old organization formed as corporations’ first union—is the chief agent behind Congress’ kowtowing to corporate interests, the Supreme Court’s favorability to corporations in its rulings, and presidents of both parties’ insistence on accommodating the wishes of multinational corporations at the expense of working-class people all over the world. This report outlines how the Chamber first formed, their blueprint for ultimate success as revealed in the confidential Powell Memo, how that blueprint has been realized in the 40 years since its writing, and the devastating effects of that agenda on small business. Despite the US Chamber purporting to be pro-jobs, pro-small business, and pro-growth, they have consistently lobbied for policies that kill jobs, stall economic growth, and take competitive advantages away from small businesses to enrich their corporate members. The Chamber of Commerce’s unchecked power over government will only continue to worsen unless the American people build a movement to mobilize against them.

ALEC v Kids: ALEC’s Assault on Public Education

Source: Progress Florida, Better Georgia, Progress Iowa, Progress Michigan, Progress Missouri, Progress Now Nevada, Progress Texas, Alliance for a Better Utah, Progress VA, 2013

From Progress Iowa’s summary:
Read the new report detailing the damaging influence the corporate front group ALEC has on public education policy. The report, ALEC v Kids, demonstrates the growing influence ALEC holds in Iowa and across the country, including its secretive access to elected officials and the drafting of ‘model’ education policy designed to benefit ALEC’s corporate funders which compliant lawmakers pass off as their own then push into law.

Among the key findings in ALEC v Kids:

Iowa enacted ALEC’s indirect voucher policy in 2006, a tax giveaway to defund public education and instead provide tax breaks for attending private schools

ALEC is attempting to expand charter schools across the country, including in Iowa. Governor Vilsack signed legislation in 2002 establishing a pilot program of charter schools, and although this year’s legislation did not pass, ALEC and its ally Students First appear to be gearing up for renewed legislative efforts in our state.

Bridgepoint Education, a corporate member of ALEC’s education task force, operates one of their two online universities in Iowa (Ashford University in Clinton). Bridgepoint has an abysmal track record, one of the worst of any of their competitors (84.4% of students seeking an associates degree withdraw from school).

ALEC v. Kids focuses on nine states, and analyzes the disastrous effect of ALEC’s education policy. The report details examples at the state level, specifically the negative effects of ALEC policies and the coordination between ALEC and its allies. By examining the real world effects of ALEC policies and coordination across a single issue, this report examines ALEC from a unique perspective.