Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett
image by Hunter Kahn
Pennsylvania’s Office of General Counsel “serves as the Governor’s in-house legal counsel,” providing the executive branch with “expert, responsive and cost-effective legal services … for the benefit of the public.” In addition to the 498 attorneys employed by the state, the handling of legal business is frequently outsourced to outside counsel. Last year, the total bill for private law firms – footed by the taxpayers – amounted to a whopping $32.7 million in 2013 and $100 million over three years, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Outside counsel, it has been pointed out, is an insider’s game. A comparison between the firms used as outside counsel last year and their contributions to Corbett’s gubernatorial campaign of 2010 makes for interesting reading. Read the rest of this item here.
Suffering from lung cancer? Here’s a Tylenol and some warm compresses. Are your intestines escaping? Not to worry; here’s some K-Y Jelly to shove them back in.
Between 2008 and 2013, Corizon Health – the country’s largest prison health care provider – was sued 660 times for malpractice. But Governor Rick Scott’s administration failed to take note of this history when it awarded Corizon a $1.2 billion contract in 2011.
Now an investigation by The Palm Beach Post reveals that Florida inmates have been dying in droves since the state privatized prison health care. Read the rest of this item here.
Ideological slogans often trump facts when it comes to the outsourcing of public services. When independent studies are commissioned, the conclusions are often disregarded. In some cases, however, there seems to be solid research supporting the cost-efficiency of privatization. Such was the case in Michigan – at least at first glance.
In April 2013, Simon Hakim and Erwin Blackstone published a paper based on their study, “Cost Analysis of Public and Contractor-Operated Prisons.” The results were staggering. Not only would private (or “contractor operated”) prisons generate savings of up to 58 percent, but they would also help alleviate overcrowding “without sacrificing the quality of the services.”
Republican attorney general candidate Brad Schimel has taken some heat when it comes to his firm conviction that a prosecutor’s job is to defend the laws on the books, whether that be a gay marriage ban or an old time interracial marriage ban. But when it comes to Wisconsin’s John Doe statute, which has been successfully used to convict both Democrats and Republicans of criminal corruption in office, he is ready to make some changes.
Schimel spoke at length with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board recently and suggested that he would work to change Wisconsin’s John Doe statute to give politicians more protections than average citizens. Wisconsin’s John Doe process is similar to that of a grand jury, but the legal proceedings take place behind closed doors in front of a judge, and a strict gag order is in place to prevent those involved from talking to the press. Read the rest of this item here.
Wisconsin candidates can now coordinate with "dark money" nonprofits that accept secret, unlimited donations and run sham "issue ads," under a ruling from the same federal judge who blocked the criminal coordination investigation into Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker earlier this year.
If the decision from Judge Rudolph Randa is upheld, some candidates elected this November will know exactly who bankrolled their campaign -- but the public will be left in the dark.
The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed earlier this month by Citizens for Responsible Government, a group tied to Wisconsin Club for Growth, against the Government Accountability Board and Milwaukee's District Attorney, John Chisholm. Judge Randa issued his order before the GAB and Chisholm had even spoken with the attorney assigned to represent them. Read the rest of this item here.
Voter ID is “a mere fig leaf for efforts to disenfranchise voters likely to vote for the political party that does not control the state government,” federal appellate Judge Richard Posner wrote in a scorching dissent published October 10.
“As there is no evidence that voter-impersonation fraud is a problem, how can the fact that the Legislature says it’s a problem turn it into one" that could justify voter ID restrictions, Posner asked.
"If the Wisconsin Legislature says witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials?” Read the rest of this item here.
With only weeks left in the election, the U.S. Supreme Court put a halt to the implementation of voter ID in Wisconsin for this election cycle.
Voting rights advocates were jubilant, “This is wonderful news and a victory for voters in Wisconsin,” said Andrea Kaminsky, executive director of Wisconsin's League of Women Voters.
Kaminsky and other advocates had challenged Wisconsin’s voter ID law in the courts. Voter ID laws swept the nation after President Obama was elected in 2008 with huge voter turnout in black communities and on college campuses. The American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC) and its member politicians helped spread the voter suppression laws, but ALEC subsequently attempted to distance itself from its model Voter ID Act. Read the rest of this item here.
Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., Occidental Petroleum, International Paper, and Overstock.com are the latest corporations to say they have left the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) after a wave of technology companies led by Google and Facebook announced their departures in September.
A recent Rolling Stone article documenting Koch Industries' "lucrative blend of pollution, speculation, law-bending and self-righteousness" over the last few decades has sparked a string of personal attacks on the reporter, Tim Dickinson, by "KochFacts.com" and a point-by-point rebuttal from Rolling Stone.
The Rolling Stone article details the polluting activities, regulatory violations and penalties, and extractive goals of a privately-held company with larger annual revenues than IBM, Honda, or Hewlett-Packard. A company whose predecessor was founded on the design of a "near carbon copy" of another company's breakthrough piece of equipment with "only tiny, unpatentable tweaks" and sold equipment and technology to Stalin's Soviet Union, and which in its current iteration did business with Iran "every single chance they had" between when President George W. Bush branded it a member of the "Axis of Evil" in 2007. Read the rest of this item here.
A tactic used by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to evade state public records laws has popped up in Florida, prompting a lawsuit against the Orange County mayor for allegedly using an internet dropbox to dodge transparency surrounding the county's latest effort to thwart paid sick day legislation.
Organize Now, with assistance from the Florida First Amendment Foundation, filed a lawsuit last month against Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, alleging her office has used the cloud-based file sharing service Dropbox to undermine the Sunshine State's sunshine laws. Organize Now's Executive Director Stephanie Porta suspects that Mayor Jacobs not only deleted public records, but also may have given non-county employees -- like lobbyists -- access to files that were kept hidden from the public.
The increasing use of technology like Dropbox pose new issues for open government. Read the rest of this item here.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's refusal to defend the Government Accountability Board in a federal lawsuit challenging the investigation into Governor Scott Walker and his allies is a reversal of his office's earlier position, could have grave implications for openness in the state, and undermines the GAB's role in enforcing the state's campaign finance laws. It isn't the first time that Van Hollen has put politics above government transparency.
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There’s a lot of money at stake in Ohio charter schools, which as a group will receive almost $900 million in 2014. Charters get about $7,200 per student in taxpayer funding, compared to about $3,500 per student in traditional public schools.
On paper, Ohio’s charter schools are operated by non-profit organizations whose governing boards hire management companies to operate the schools. The boards are supposed to have a strong oversight role and have the power to fire charter operators if they don’t measure up.
When he was elected in 2010, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback began to slash core government services and privatize the rest. His austerity politics resulted in the state being downgraded by S&P in August 2014, and his privatization initiatives have also drawn criticism, causing one leading Republican to state, “I had hoped that it wouldn’t be as extreme as it’s been … what we didn’t know was that Sam would use this state as crash test dummies for his own fiscal experiments.”
Kids receiving child support payments from absent parents would be among Brownback’s first crash test dummies. Read the rest of this item here.
Around the world, private firms have been given “carte blanche rights to mine local groundwater supplies at the expense of local populations, say experts.” In 1997, Swiss food giant Nestlé signed a contract with the privately- owned water services provider in Fryeburg, Maine, to buy freshwater in bulk for its Poland Spring brand of bottled water. Fearing that large-scale commercial water exploitation would lead to groundwater depletion and the Saco River drying up, the town of Fryeburg enacted a Land Use Ordinance that required that any company pumping more than 10,000 gallons of water a day get approval from the planning board. With a constant stream of litigation and appeals, however, Fryeburg Water Co. was able to buy time while continuing its moneymaking sideline business without interruption. Read the rest of this item here.
Maggots, drug smuggling, sex with inmates. As if the news were not already bad enough, shocking new allegations of a murder-for-hire plot are emerging from Michigan as the media digs deeper into that state’s failed outsourcing of prison services.
In 2013, Governor Rick Snyder invited the Philadelphia- based for-profit company Aramark to take over food services in the state’s prisons. The action was a 180-degree change in course, as the administration previously rejected all such bids on the grounds that none of the proposals would save the state money. The $570,000 Aramark spent on lobbying surely helped the company persuade the administration to change its mind.
Since Aramark took over Michigan’s $145 million food service contract – eviscerating the stable middle class jobs of some 370 public workers – one stomach churning scandal followed another. Read the full report at Outsourcing America Exposed.
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Excerpt from a longer SourceWatch article on Generation Opportunity:
Generation Opportunity (GenOp) is a non-profit 501(c)(4) organization based in Arlington, Virginia funded by Freedom Partners, a multimillion dollar Koch-tied funding vehicle. On the group's website, its describes itself as "a free-thinking, liberty-loving, national organization of young people promoting the best of Being American: opportunity, creativity and freedom." According to OpenSecrets, "[i]n the three years for which tax information is available, Generation Opportunity has raised almost 86 percent of its funds from just two Koch-linked nonprofits." In 2014, Generation opportunity has spent big money in Senate races against three Democrats: Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Mark Udall (D-CO). Mary Bottari reported on prwatch.org that, "Gen Opp spent a total of $900,000 against Udall, $825,000 against Hagan, and $550,000 against Landrieu, bringing the ad buy to $2.275 million."
2014 Election Cycle Ad Buys
”Shopping spree” ad that ran against Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado.
Generation Opportunity, a 501(c)(4) organization, has launched ad buys in several targeted Senate races in 2014, including ads against Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Mark Udall (D-CO), costing over $2 million.
The organization has launched two basic ads in multiple states. One ad, used against Landrieu and Udall, caricatures the senators. In the ad, the two are played by actors and are depicted as children in a shopping cart, who appear to be gleefully overspending on unnecessary items. The ad criticizes their votes on government spending, claiming they are footing younger generations with the bill.
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publishers of the award-winning ALECexposed.org, launched OutsourcingAmericaExposed.org, a web resource devoted to helping taxpayers identify the corporations seeking to privatize public assets and services in their communities: including their schools, roads, prisons, drinking water, court systems, and more.
CMD has unveiled corporate profiles of America’s most notorious corporations that are quietly working with state and local lawmakers to take over public services with little accountability, along with in-depth examinations of the CEOs personally profiting from this corporate coup.
"Sinquefield is one of the top right-wing political funders in the country, and the single top political spender in Missouri, where he has spent at least $31.5 million since 2006 seeking to reshape Missouri laws, legislators, and policies according to his own ideological mold," said co-author Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy/The Progressive.
"A truly impressive project based on cutting edge web technology."
—David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World and The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community.
"The troublemakers at the Center for Media and Democracy, for example, point to dozens of examples of "greenwashing," which they defined as the "unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, an industry, a government or even a non-government organization to sell a product, a policy" or rehabilitate an image. In the center's view, many enterprises labeled green don't deserve the name.
—Jack Shafer, "Green Is the New Yellow: On the excesses of 'green' journalism," Slate.
"As a journalist frequently on the receiving end of various PR campaigns, some of them based on disinformation, others front groups for undisclosed interests, [CMD's SourceWatch] is an invaluable resource."
—Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire
"Thanks for all your help. There's no way I could have done my piece on big PR and global warming without CMD [the Center for Media and Democracy] and your fabulous websites."
—Zoe Cormier, journalist, Canada
"The dearth of information on the [U.S.] government [lobbying] disclosure forms about the other business-backed coalitions comes in stark contrast to the data about them culled from media reports, websites, press releases and Internal Revenue Service documents and posted by SourceWatch, a website that tracks advocacy groups."
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