Archive for the ‘corruption’ tag
Continuing the story of a country and its corrupt institutions…
[U.S. District Judge William Pauley] has revived a securities fraud lawsuit accusing Bank of America Corp Chief Executive Brian Moynihan, his predecessor Kenneth Lewis, and others of misleading shareholders about the risk the bank might have to buy back large amounts of soured mortgages.…
But Pauley said the new allegations in an amended lawsuit “plausibly establish fraudulent conduct and a culpable state of mind as to all executive defendants” for allegedly concealing the buyback potential when certifying the bank’s financials.
The shareholders alleged they had been misled into buying shares of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America in 2009 and 2010.
They claimed that Bank of America knew at the time it faced capital shortfalls and large mortgage buybacks, and that recordkeeping in Merscorp Inc’s private Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems registry was so poor that it would not be able to legally foreclose on thousands of delinquent mortgages.
Mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and several large banks had established MERS in 1995 to circumvent the often unwieldy process of transferring ownership of mortgages and recording changes with county clerks.
(click here to continue reading Bank of America CEO, ex-CEO must face mortgage disclosures lawsuit – chicagotribune.com.)
So you’ve probably never heard of the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems. Or if you have, you wish you hadn’t.
You’ve heard the name Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems or “MERS” mentioned in relation to the foreclosure problems in the residential real estate market.
But what is MERS?
It is the company created and owned by all of the big banks to process title to property in the U.S. Approximately 60% of the nation’s residential mortgages are recorded in the name of MERS.
MERS is a shell corporation with no employees, but thousands of officers.
Matt Taibbi adds, in his customary style:
The idea behind MERS was to wipe away centuries of legal tradition that mandated the physical transfer of loan notes and ownership information. Whereas lenders once were required to physically register with county clerk offices every time a mortgage loan was extended or re-sold, MERS provided an “electronic registry” of mortgage notes where all such transfers were recorded in the wiry brain of a giant computer instead of on paper.
Instead of the individual banks or lenders registering with the counties each time a loan was sold or re-sold, MERS would handle the initial registration and then become the “nominal” note-holder. Then, each time the note was passed on, MERS would record the transaction in its computer — but no matter who the actual owner of the note was, MERS would remain the legally registered assignee of the note.
Imagine, say, a family of twelve, two elderly parents in Iowa and ten adult children scattered in different states all over the country. Mom and Dad on the farm own one Ford F-150 that they owe $300 a month on. Every month, the truck gets passed to a different family member, who in turn becomes responsible for the monthly payment. But no matter who has the car and whose turn it is to come up with the $300, the truck stays in Dad’s name and the money, in the end, comes to Ford Finance via Dad’s checking account.
Looking at this as an individual and unique case, you wouldn’t think there was much that was inherently wrong with this setup. Obviously the family arrangement violates the spirit of many laws and procedures — vehicle registration (from month to month, the true owner of the car is hidden from the state), credit application (Pops technically committed credit fraud if he got the car loan in his own name knowing the children would actually be paying), and taxes/fees (the state misses out on its registration fees every month, when the car is informally “sold” from child to child without the nominal paperwork fees being paid to the DMV of the state in question). But again, looking at this as an individual case, not many people would say any of these “violations” were major moral transgressions, if they were really moral transgressions at all. After all, this is family!
But once you take this setup and institutionalize it, and employ it everywhere on a vast scale, it becomes seriously problematic. This is particularly true if, say, Pop begins allowing his kids to “rent” the car out to non-family members, so long as they kick a small fee upstairs. Say it’s March and Pop gives the truck to son Jimmy in Toledo; in April Jimmy gives the truck to his buddy Rick in Akron, charging the $300 payment plus a $20 convenience fee. May: Jimmy gives the car to his girlfriend Trudy in Phoenix, telling her to wire $300 plus another $20 back to Pops in Iowa; she in turn lends the car to her occasional lesbian love interest Madison, who begins renting the car on a day-to-day basis in Tuba City as part of her family’s Painted Desert Resort and Tourism business, etc. etc. And she’s now kicking the fees back to Iowa.
Within a year Pop is buying fifty vehicles an hour and shuttling cars to new customers all over the country, collecting millions in fees every day; he becomes a billion-dollar corporate fixture, hiring the entire local Elks club to come with him to work as support staff.
So now, to take this already absurdly overwrought metaphor one final painful step further, there is a string of grisly homicides being committed on highways across America. Witnesses spot that original F-150 truck and the license plates at each of the murder scenes, but when cops come looking for the truck owner, they find old Pop in a wheelchair in Iowa, alibied on the night of every crime by forty-five fellow members of the Dubuque Elks. They drag Pop into the station to question him, but he won’t give up which of his boys did the crimes — hell, he doesn’t know, anyway.
This, roughly, is what MERS is. The functional effect of MERS is to create an obfuscatory wall between the homeowner and the actual owner of his mortgage loan. The problem with MERS is a paradox at the heart of the “ownership” question. On the one hand, MERS is the legal assignee of a lot of these mortgage notes. On the other hand, it’s not the “real” owner of the notes, in any way that could ever help you, or the state, or the investors in mortgage-backed securities.
(click here to continue reading An Extremely Long Metaphor to Explain Mortgage Chaos | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone.)
Sounds pretty fucked up to me. But then I’m not an expert.
and from Shah Gilani:
In order to easily buy and sell mortgages between themselves so that these loans might be repackaged, securitized and then sold to investors as mortgage-backed securities, banks and other lenders needed a quick way to “trade” individual mortgages. They created a company called Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS). This group includes Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), GMAC LLC (NYSE: GMA), Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC), Washington Mutual (now owned by JPMorgan Chase), the United Guaranty Corp. unit of American International Group Inc. (NYSE: AIG), Fannie Mae (OTC: FNMA), Freddie Mac (OTC: FMCC), mortgage-servicing companies and other similarly interested members.
You may not realize it, but at your home-purchase “closing,” you sign a document that appoints MERS as the “nominee” for the lender that granted you a mortgage. That gives the nominee the right to flip your mortgage to any other bank or lender it chooses. That’s how banks move mortgages around to package them into different securities.
But that brings us to the crux of the controversy: Every time there’s change on the title (a change occurs when the nominee switches the lender on your title out for another), local governments require that a new title be recorded. Of course, those governments – the county or municipality that you live in – also charge a “recording fee.” MERS also charges a fee, but it’s a lot less than government recording fees.
Here’s the problem. In creating MERS, these institutions actually changed the land-title system that this country – for much of its history – has relied upon to determine legal ownership status of land titleholders.
Not only did the lenders sidestep (read that to mean avoid) paying billions of dollars in fees to local governments, they paid themselves from the fees that MERS collected.
MERS is facing class-action lawsuits and civil racketeering suits around the country and their members are being individually named in all these suits. One suit alleges that MERS owes California a potential $60 billion to $120 billion in unpaid land-recording fees.
If suits against MERS and all its members are successful, unpaid recording fees and fines (that can be as much as $10,000 per incident) would make every one of them insolvent.
And you wonder what the Federal Reserve meant when it warned of “potential negative shocks?”
The bottom line for investors is that until all these issues are cleaned up (which might take years, or even decades) – or until there’s perhaps some sort of legislative clarity that eases uncertainty – investors face the threat of a severe “correction” in any or all of the markets that have risen on the hope that the long-hoped-for U.S. recovery is finally taking hold.
(click here to continue reading What You Don’t Know about “Mortgagegate” Could Crush the U.S. Banking System – Money Morning.)
For the second time in history, federal regulators have accused an American state of securities fraud, finding that Illinois misled investors about the condition of its public pension system from 2005 to 2009. In announcing a settlement with the state on Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Illinois of claiming that it had been properly funding public workers’ retirement plans when it had not. In particular, it cited the period from 2005 to 2009, when Illinois also issued $2.2 billion in bonds.
S.E.C. Accuses Illinois of Securities Fraud
Whenever I hear a bloviator utter the phrase, “Chicago-style politics”, I stop listening to what they are trying to say. Richard J Daley died in 1976, and so did his “style” of politics. Richard M Daley’s style did not depend upon the same ruthlessness, nor does Barack Obama demonstrate any of the same traits. Seriously, read a book about him, like “Boss” or something by Mike Royko.
Not that facts get in the way of political campaigns…
With Chicagoan Barack Obama in the White House and his hometown famed for cutthroat politics, it was perhaps inevitable that rivals would seize on guilt by geography to try to discredit him.
The city’s latest star turn as villain to Republicans began in recent days as Mitt Romney, Obama’s all-but-certain challenger in November, fumed while Democrats intensified attacks on his finances, tax returns and record as a private equity manager.
“Chicago-style politics at its worst,” the former Massachusetts governor and Bain Capital founder declared in a refrain quickly picked up by his campaign surrogates.
Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, accused the Obama campaign of using “classic Chicago-style politics” to try to splatter mud over Romney’s credentials.
To Rove, the attacks on Romney were “gutter politics of the worst Chicago sort.”
Former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu took it further: “Can you imagine coming out of Chicago politics, where ‘politician’ and ‘felon’ are synonymous? You’ve got two governors in prison today,” he told CNBC, conflating the misdeeds of Chicago Democrat Rod R. Blagojevich with those of downstate Republican George Ryan.
Dennis Goldford, an expert on presidential politics at Drake University in Des Moines, said the Republican imagery was an attempt to insinuate that Obama is a disciple of a throwback big-city political organization built on muscle and seediness.
“It strikes me as odd, because Obama was really not part of that old-style Chicago machine,” Goldford said, adding that the strategy seems geared toward swaying older voters who remember lore about the Richard J. Daley era in Chicago.
“But for college students, history is yesterday,” he said.
Politically, there’s less risk for Republicans in ripping Chicago than virtually anywhere else in the country. The city votes reliably Democratic, and Chicagoans have been known to take a perverse pride in their city’s tough-guy political reputation.
Even Obama has played it up in the past. During his 2008 run for president, he quoted from the movie “The Untouchables,” in which Sean Connery describes the “Chicago Way”: “He pulls a knife, you pull a gun.”
And without question, Chicago has seen a goodly share of high- and low-profile officials and operatives shipped off to prison over the decades, and Republicans would like to prod voters into thinking that some of that dirt surely must have rubbed off on Obama.
But political wrongdoing knows few geographic bounds. On a per-capita basis, North Dakota endured more than twice as many federal corruption convictions as Illinois over the last decade, according to Justice Department data. And politicians don’t complain about North Dakota-style corruption.
Chicago may be in the cross hairs of conservative political stereotyping because of Obama, but the city has company.
San Francisco, home of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and a hotbed of liberal causes, is often referred to in sneering tones on the campaign trail. Boston and its environs get picked on as a nest of effete intellectuals, even by Romney — who holds two Harvard degrees, served as Massachusetts governor and maintains his official voting address there. The spin is that if Romney can govern successfully in Massachusetts, he can do so anywhere.
Still, bashing Chicago has developed into something of a reflex among partisan finger-pointers. Some hail from parts of the country with less than pristine political reputations themselves.
In Louisiana, a City Council candidate from suburban New Orleans in March accused a rival of stealing a political consultant, and said that such “Chicago-style tactics will backfire,” according to media reports.
(click here to continue reading On campaign trail, Chicago’s a popular villain – latimes.com.)
We’ve discussed1 which state is the most corrupt, and by most measures, Illinois isn’t even in the top2 ten, despite what is frequently shouted on television. And yes, even though Illinois has had several governors sent to prison, Illinois still isn’t the worst.
The stories go on and on. Open records laws with hundreds of exemptions. Crucial budgeting decisions made behind closed doors by a handful of power brokers. “Citizen” lawmakers voting on bills that would benefit them directly. Scores of legislators turning into lobbyists seemingly overnight. Disclosure laws without much disclosure. Ethics panels that haven’t met in years.
State officials make lofty promises when it comes to ethics in government. They tout the transparency of legislative processes, accessibility of records, and the openness of public meetings. But these efforts often fall short of providing any real transparency or legitimate hope of rooting out corruption.
That’s the depressing bottom line that emerges from the State Integrity Investigation, a first-of-its-kind, data-driven assessment of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms in all 50 states. Not a single state — not one — earned an A grade from the months-long probe. Only five states earned a B grade: New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California, and Nebraska. Nineteen states got C’s and 18 received D’s. Eight states earned failing grades of 59 or below from the project, which is a collaboration of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.
The F’s went to Michigan, North Dakota, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Georgia.
(click here to continue reading State Integrity Investigation overview: 50 states and no winners – State Integrity Investigation.)Footnotes:
Dan Froomkin reports:
Two Democratic congressmen are investigating whether the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s tenacious attack on a key anti-bribery statute has less to do with high-minded economic principles and more to do with the fact that nearly one in four board members of the Chamber’s “legal reform” arm represents a company that has been caught up in a bribery investigation itself.
Top Walmart executives sit on the board of the Chamber’s well-funded Institute for Legal Reform — a connection that became considerably more newsworthy after The New York Times reported last month that a vast bribery inquiry involving Walmart’s Mexico subsidiary had been hushed up by top executives in the company’s Arkansas headquarters.
The Institute for Legal Reform has been leading a powerful and unprecedented lobbying campaign to persuade Congress to rewrite key provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a 35-year-old statute that criminalizes bribes to foreign officials, on the grounds that prosecutors have been enforcing it too aggressively.
In a letter (PDF) to the Chamber released Tuesday, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — the ranking Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, respectively — describe how committee staff looked through the institute’s tax filings and found that 14 of the group’s 55 board members between 2007 and 2010 “were affiliated with companies that were reportedly under investigation for violations or had settled allegations that they violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”
Among those companies: Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.
That 14-out-of-55 figure may even be an understatement, the lawmakers write, as privately held companies aren’t required to report potential violations or investigations. For instance, Koch Industries has had a representative on the institute’s board since 2007, the congressmen note, and has reportedly engaged in bribery abroad.
(click here to continue reading Dems Ask U.S. Chamber If Firms That Bribed Are Behind Its Push To Weaken Anti-Bribery Law.)
In May 2008, a unit of Koch Industries Inc., one of the world’s largest privately held companies, sent Ludmila Egorova-Farines, its newly hired compliance officer and ethics manager, to investigate the management of a subsidiary in Arles in southern France. In less than a week, she discovered that the company had paid bribes to win contracts. “I uncovered the practices within a few days,” Egorova- Farines says. “They were not hidden at all.”
She immediately notified her supervisors in the U.S. A week later, Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Industries dispatched an investigative team to look into her findings, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its November issue. By September of that year, the researchers had found evidence of improper payments to secure contracts in six countries dating back to 2002, authorized by the business director of the company’s Koch-Glitsch affiliate in France. “Those activities constitute violations of criminal law,” Koch Industries wrote in a Dec. 8, 2008, letter giving details of its findings. The letter was made public in a civil court ruling in France in September 2010; the document has never before been reported by the media.
Egorova-Farines wasn’t rewarded for bringing the illicit payments to the company’s attention. Her superiors removed her from the inquiry in August 2008 and fired her in June 2009, calling her incompetent, even after Koch’s investigators substantiated her findings. She sued Koch-Glitsch in France for wrongful termination.
(click here to continue reading Koch Brothers Flout Law Getting Richer With Secret Iran Sales – Bloomberg.)
and from FireDogLake:
After reading the New York Time’s excellent reporting on Wal-Mart’s pervasive bribery of foreign officials (Mexico in this case, but it’s hardly isolated to them), I remembered reading stories last year, including this excellent piece by Dan Froomkin, about how the Chamber of Commerce and major corporations were quietly but persistently lobbying Congress to water down the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).
The FCPA, passed in cooperation with over 30 countries concerned about corruption of their own officials, as well as foreign corporations, made it a crime for US corporations to launder money and bride foreign officials. But earlier this year the Chamber and it’s mega-corporate lobbyists complained the Act was too stringent, too broad, and too vague. The underlying message, however, was that everybody does it and it’s just not fair to hamstring American companies trying to compete in a global market. And besides, enforcing it used up too many resources that our Justice Department and FBI should be using on more egregious conduct, . . . like prosecuting banks and mortgage services for massive fraud.
Given the egregiously corrupt practices reportedly carried out by senior and/or the highest officials at Wal-Mart, I assume the Chamber of Commerce and other representatives of America’s corporate elite will now publicly shame the corporate heads of Wal-Mart, demand they be purged to protect the good name of the business community, and devise some means to rebate ill-gotten profits to the Mexican people.
With equal probability, I’m also expecting the United States Attorney General to announce a real, comprehensive investigation of Wal-Mart — because they just read about this — and all other reports of corporate bribery in violation of the Corrupt Foreign Practices Act. Because if they don’t, they’re just part of the coverup and they, too, should be purged. And I want a pony, too.
(click here to continue reading Will Chamber of Commerce Call for Wal-Mart Corrupters to Be Purged? | FDL News Desk.)
Eric Zorn lists a few of the problems Richard Daley left for his successor. There are others that could be added, such as the Silver Shovel investigations, or even the continued abuse of TIF monies for real estate developers, but that’s a post for another time, as these ten are pretty devastating when you consider the bad place the City of Chicago is in because of Daley.
Wednesday marks the anniversary of Mayor Rahm Emanuel tagging in for Daley, yet even at this chronological distance, the former mayor continues to be a looming baleful presence in the news, more a subject for fury than nostalgia.
Consider, in no particular order, these 10 things:
1. Recent revelations that Daley took advantage of obscure provisions in the law not only to avoid more than $400,000 in pension contributions but also to boost his retirement pay to $183,778 a year.
2. News that the dreaded privatization of parking meters in 2008 was worse than we thought: Chicago Parking Meters LLC, which has been cheerfully jacking up rates since buying 75-year rights to meter revenue for $1.15 billion, is billing the city $14 million for the offense of taking meters out of service for repairs and other street closings, and pursuing an additional $13.5 million claim related to parking for the disabled.
3. Headlines announcing that Daley, who quickly burned through most of that $1.15 billion parking-meter payout in an effort to conceal a structural deficit in city finances, was hired by Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, the law firm that — wait for it! — billed the city $663,000 for helping negotiate the parking-meter deal.
(click here to continue reading Change of Subject: Daley, a year later— No thanks for the memories.)
and this might be the worst:
5. The ever-growing realization that toward the end of his 22 years in office, Daley was frantically moving money around and playing budget tricks instead of taking on the painful job of resetting priorities to restore the city to fiscal health. “That set of choices has been avoided over the past decade,” said Emanuel one year ago of the $636 million budget shortfall he inherited.
“We cannot ignore these problems a day longer,” he said.
“Because of the appalling lack of stewardship by you-know-who,” he did not say.
Mayor Daley did some good things for the city, I won’t deny it, but at what cost? Is having a sparkling downtown worth all the corruption and crony capitalism?
If there were justice in this world, Rupert Murdoch would have long ago been stripped of his media empire, and forced to rot in a dungeon. But since money and power trump justice 99 times out of a 100, Rupert Murdoch can continue smiling, and thumbing his nose at the law.
David Carr writes, in part:
There are many reasons Rupert Murdoch has avoided any serious consequences from the scandal despite hundreds of British citizens having had their phones hacked, dozens or more being bribed in law enforcement and several dozen more of his employees having been arrested.
…Mr. Murdoch also remains mostly unscathed because much of News Corporation’s business and most of its profits lie here in the United States, where the scandal is viewed as something happening on a distant island.
There have been reports of corporate misdeeds in America, including computer hacking at its News America Marketing division, but other than some faint rumbles in Washington about further investigations, it’s been mostly smoke, no fire.
…But the primary reason Mr. Murdoch has not been held to account is that the board of News Corporation has no independence, little influence and no stomach for confronting its chairman.
Like many media companies (including the one I work for), News Corporation has a two-tiered stock setup that gives the family control of the voting shares. The current board includes family members and several senior executives; the independent slots are filled by a host of familiars.
Viet Dinh, a former Bush administration official, is godfather to Lachlan K. Murdoch’s son. Roderick Eddington was deputy chairman of a division of the company in the late 1990s. Andrew S. B. Knight and Arthur M. Siskind are both former senior executives, and John L. Thornton, the former Goldman Sachs president, served as an adviser to News Corporation on several major deals.
The board also includes Natalie Bancroft, a trained opera singer who made a great deal of money when her family sold Dow Jones, which included The Wall Street Journal, to Mr. Murdoch in 2007, and José Maria Aznar, a former prime minister of Spain, who is a friend of Mr. Murdoch’s.
Being a board member of News Corporation is not a bad gig; it pays over $200,000 a year and requires lifting nothing heavier than a rubber stamp. The directors apparently haven’t asked why the company maintained its “rogue reporter” defense after it became clear that “rogue enterprise” was a more apt description. They appeared to sit silently by while Mr. Murdoch and his son James waited for law enforcement officials to finally ferret out employees of the company’s British newspaper division who were accused of engaging in criminal conduct.
Still, the board may regret being quite so quick to throw its full support behind Mr. Murdoch and the current management. The parliamentary report, as scathing as it was, is only the first of many dominoes expected to fall in the next few weeks and months. Ofcom, the British broadcasting regulator, is assessing whether News Corporation should be allowed to continue to hold its stake in British Sky Broadcasting. For its part, BSkyB was quick to get out the 10-foot pole, reminding everyone that the two companies are separate even though News Corporation owns a 39 percent stake.
(click here to continue reading The Cozy Compliance of the News Corp. Board – NYTimes.com.)
A public company in name only, in other words. A true public company would have to do what was best for shareholders, and a public company’s Board of Directors is supposed to lead a corporation down the Straight and Narrow. Instead, News Corporation smiles at corruption, blinks at lawlessness, and counts profit.
More of Daley’s sad legacy…
The parking meter company took in more than $80 million from meters across Chicago in 2011, according to documents it filed this week with city officials.
Chicago Parking Meters’ financial performance last year slightly exceeded projections of Wall Street analysts, who have rated the company a smart investment, said Matthew Hobby, an analyst with the Standard & Poor’s ratings agency.
For $1.15 billion, paid upfront, the City Council approved a plan championed by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2008 that privatized Chicago’s 36,000 meters for 75 years. In a deal that was widely criticized for selling taxpayers short, Chicago Parking Meters was given the right to keep all meter revenues until 2084. Drivers have since seen sharp increases in parking rates under the deal.
After leaving office a year ago, Daley, along with his former corporation counsel and two top press aides, went to work for Katten Muchin Rosenmann LLP, the law firm that handled the parking meter deal for the city.
Since the meter deal took effect, city officials have paid the parking meter company more than $2 million in what they call “true-up adjustments” to make up for parking spaces taken out of service.
The amount billed for those adjustments skyrocketed in the first nine months of the 2011 budget year, to $14 million — a sum Emanuel is refusing to pay. The company hasn’t submitted its claim for the last three months of the year yet.
In an April 5 letter to Chicago Parking Meters chief executive officer Dennis Pedrelli, Emanuel’s chief financial officer, Lois Scott, blasted the way the company calculated those adjustments for last year, calling its invoices “legally and factually erroneous.”
Scott said that, under the parking meter deal, City Hall should be determining how much money Chicago Parking Meters is owed for those out-of-service meters — something the Daley administration had allowed the company to do.
(click here to continue reading Chicago parking meter company wants more money; mayor balks – Chicago Sun-Times.)
Wow! That would be great news. Not Thelonious Monk dancing (YouTube) great, but close…
For years, the IRS has done little or nothing to check the rise of overtly political groups that claim a special tax-exempt status in order to funnel secret money into election-related advertising.
But in a sign that the agency may be waking from its slumber, the IRS has sent detailed questionnaires to several Tea Party organizations — and possibly other political groups — to determine if they truly qualify for the 501(c)(4) designation intended for groups whose exclusive purpose is to promote social welfare.
Should any group currently calling itself a 501(c)(4) have its designation denied or revoked, tax experts said the consequences could be severe, including fines of 35 percent or more of the money they raised in secret.
And the groups might have to make donors’ names public.
The tax code requires 501(c)(4) groups to be operated “exclusively” for social welfare purposes — which does not include intervention in political campaigns. The IRS has allowed the groups to engage in political activity as long as it was not their primary purpose. But for many of these groups, it’s hard to see what other purpose they could possibly have. It’s also hard to see why a political group would file under section 501(c)(4) instead of under Section 527 — the part of the tax code explicitly designed for political groups including PACs and super PACs — other than to hide its donors. Like the C4s, the 527 groups are allowed to raise unlimited funds and pay no taxes. They just have to disclose who donates money.
Reform groups have been pressuring the IRS to enforce its rules for months. In February, a group of Democratic senators sent a letter to the IRS, which stated: “It is contrary to the letter and spirit of the statute for political organizations formed primarily to advocate for a political candidate or to run attack ads against other candidates to take advantage of section 501(c)(4).”
(click here to continue reading IRS May Make Political Groups Pay Dearly for Keeping Donors Secret — And Out Them.)
That is exactly why – hiding their donors from public scrutiny. The IRS shouldn’t drag their feet, but do this now, before the 2012 election…
Fresh allegations increase likelihood of News Corp being prosecuted under Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
As always, waiting with bated breath for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to be prosecuted. Murdoch needs to go to jail, his company needs to lose its license to broadcast over the public airwaves, and his empire should be broken apart.
This week, Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers told the Leveson inquiry, which is investigating the state of the British press following the phone-hacking scandal, that there was a “culture of illegal payments” at the Sun to a “network of corrupted officials”.
The Sun and its former sister paper, the News of the World, are owned by News International, a wholly owned subsidiary of News Corp, the US media gaint that owns Fox, the Wall Street Journal and a controlling stake in Sky, among other assets.
“This is obviously a very significant development with regards to the likelihood of a US prosecution,” said Mark MacDougall, partner in the Washington office of the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and a former federal prosecutor. “If the British authorities are articulating a pattern, a defined scheme, to bribe officials, that is a very big deal.”
The latest allegations significantly increase the likelihood of an FCPA action, said Mike Koehler, professor of business law at Butler University and author of the FCPA Professor blog.
“Last July, when we first started talking about this, there was one newspaper, the News of the World, and one category of foreign official, the police. Now we have another newspaper and a much broader category of foreign officials,” said Koehler.
“The evidence seems to suggest that there was a recognition that these payments may have been illegal and the notion that there were attempts to disguise the nature of these payments,” said Koehler. These elements would fall under the remit of the FCPA.
The original investigation centered on payment to police officers, and there had been some argument that the police did not fit the FCPA’s definition of “foreign government officials”.
Tom Fox, a Houston-based lawyer who specialises in FCPA cases and anti-corruption law, said Akers’s allegations that payments had been made to “police, military, government, prison and health and others” had destroyed that argument.
“Speaking of a culture of corruption is really bad,” said Fox. “There are two main types of FCPA case. In the first, a company has policies in place but fails to detect corruption. The second is far worse. And that’s when there is a programme in place and you ignore it.”
(click here to continue reading News Corp: threat of US legal action raised in light of ‘illegal payment’ claim | Media | guardian.co.uk.)
Any corporation that donates money to the anti-planet, anti-humanity hateful organization the Heartland Institute, is on my shite list. There is no excuse to support them.
Along with tobacco giants Altria and Reynolds America, and drug firms GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Eli Lilley, major corporations have given over $1.1m in the past two years to the institute, and are planning to give another $705,000 this year.
Some of the companies included on Heartland’s list of donors were surprising. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft Corporation, has vigorously promoted clean energy in a number of speeches, and his charitable foundation works on helping farmers in the developing world, who will be badly affected by climate change.
But Heartland claims in a fundraising document to have received $59,908 from Microsoft in 2011.
A spokeswoman for GSK said the $50,000 the company donated in the last two years was for a healthcare initiative. She could not comment on whether GSK would be working with Heartland in the future.
General Motors Foundation, which is committed to social responsibility, has also made modest donations to Heartland, contributing $15,000 in 2010 and 2011.
Diageo, the drinks company which owns Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker and Baileys, said its funding of Heartland was now under review. It gave $10,000 over the last two years, according to the leaked papers, and was projected to give another $10,000 this year.
(click here to continue reading Climate science attack machine took donations from major corporations | Environment | The Guardian.)
I don’t buy the excuse that some of what the Heartland Institute does is ok, and is worthy of corporate sponsorship. I wouldn’t excuse a crack dealer who happened to purchase neighborhood kids a pair of shoes either – the main business is still selling crack, just like the Heartland Institute’s main business is denying climate change.
Some other corporate sponsors I recognize, and now despise:
- Anheuser-Busch Companies
- Bayer Corporation
- Eli Lilly
- Farmers’ Insurance (Zurich)
- Marathon Petroleum
- Nationwide Insurance
- Nucor Corp.
- PepsiCo, Inc.
- State Farm
- Time Warner Cable
- and of course, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Let’s hope by this summer, or even autumn, the House Corrupt of Rupert Murdoch begins to fall. Just in time for the 2012 election, and Fox News’ ramp up of lies, damn lies, and false statistics…
Nick Davies reports:
On Saturday morning, the police arrested four journalists who have worked for Rupert Murdoch. For a while, it looked as though these were yet more arrests of people related to the News of the World but then it became clear that this was something much more significant.
This may be the moment when the scandal that closed the NoW finally started to pose a potential threat to at least one of Murdoch’s three other UK newspaper titles: the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times.
The four men arrested on Saturday are not linked to the NoW. They come from the Sun, from the top of the tree – the current head of news and his crime editor, the former managing editor and deputy editor.
Nothing is certain. No one has been convicted of anything. The four who were arrested on Saturday – like the 25 others before them – have not even been charged with any offence. But behind the scenes, something very significant has changed at News International.
Under enormous legal and political pressure, Murdoch has ordered that the police be given everything they need. Whereas Scotland Yard began their inquiry a year ago with nothing much more than the heap of scruffy paperwork seized from the NoW’s private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, Murdoch’s Management and Standards Committee has now handed them what may be the largest cache of evidence ever gathered by a police operation in this country, including the material that led to Saturday’s arrests.
They have access to a mass of internal paperwork – invoices, reporters’ expense claims, accounts, bank records, phone records. And technicians have retrieved an enormous reservoir of material from News International’s central computer servers, including one particularly vast collection that may yet prove to be the stick that breaks the media mogul’s back. It is known as Data Pool 3.
(click here to continue reading Mysteries of Data Pool 3 give Rupert Murdoch a whole new headache | Media | The Guardian.)
and D.D. Guttenplan adds:
The US Department of Justice, on its website, helpfully offers links to the text of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in fifteen languages, from Arabic to Urdu. The English version is sixteen pages long, and probably ought to be in Rupert Murdoch’s iPad so he can skim through it during his flight this week from New York to London, where the British branch of his media empire made more headlines on Saturday.
…But as the Guardian’s Nick Davies, the reporter who broke the hacking scandal this summer, explained last week, what makes this handover particularly dangerous for the Murdochs is that this data, “which was apparently deliberately deleted from News International’s servers,” might also “yield evidence of attempts to destroy evidence the high court and police were seeking.” Destroying such evidence, or perverting the course of justice, as it’s known here, is a felony in Britain. But it is also a crime under the FCPA—§ 78m (b) 5, which states: “No person shall knowingly circumvent or knowingly fail to implement a system of internal accounting controls or knowingly falsify any book, record, or account.”
Although Davies’s reporting exploded the “rogue reporter” defense, until now the Murdochs have just about managed to maintain plausible deniability for themselves. But the traditional prosecution strategy of picking off the guilty underlings and then flipping them up the corporate ladder has gotten uncomfortably close to James Murdoch—and that was before the company started throwing employees off the train, which is how even longtime Murdoch minions like Trevor Kavanagh, the Sun’s former political editor, see this weekend’s arrests.
As the evidence mounts that much of Murdoch’s journalism was built on illegal invasions of privacy and corrupt relationships with police, three questions remain in urgent need of answers: Why should British authorities permit an in-house News Corporation committee, regardless of how fragrant its members may be, to serve as gatekeepers of the company’s records—especially when there is abundant evidence of efforts to destroy or delete incriminating evidence? In light of the latest arrests relating to corrupt payment to government officials, and bearing in mind actor Jude Law’s claim that his phone was hacked on his arrival at JFK airport, when will the Justice Department get serious about its own investigations? (There is also the lesser question of whether we are really to believe that methods which consistently delivered tabloid gold for editors and reporters in Britain would be too sleazy to tempt the high-minded hacks at the New York Post?)
And finally, what did the Murdochs know and when did they know it? Unlikely as it might have seemed in July, we may be about to find out. As more News Corp. executives come to believe they are being sacrificed to protect Rupert’s succession plan, the probability increases that someone who knows the answer will decide to cooperate with authorities. This gives the Justice Department, in particular, enormous leverage. In 2009 Siemens paid $800 million in fines for violating the FCPA—which also provides for possible prison sentences of up to five years. Amid the steady drumbeat of revelations from London it is important to keep an eye—and ear—on Washington. That’s where you’ll hear the sound of the other shoe dropping.
(click here to continue reading When Will the Justice Department Get Serious About Murdoch? | The Nation.)
A nice stiff fine would be nice, or even better, take away their FCC license…
Lois Beckett reports:
This weekend, five more journalists from a Rupert Murdoch-owned British tabloid were arrested as part of an ongoing bribery investigation.
The arrested journalists, all from the The Sun, were later released, and have yet to be charged with any crimes. (As the Wall Street Journal explained this summer, arrests in the U.K. are often made early in a criminal investigation, and may not be followed by any charges.)
But the arrests have once again raised questions about whether Murdoch’s News Corporation might face prosecution for bribery in the U.S. under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Reuters reported last week that U.S. authorities are “stepping up investigations” into the potential bribery by Murdoch employees. An FBI spokeswoman told ProPublica, “We’re aware of the allegations and we’re looking into it.”
As we noted during the unfolding of the phone hacking scandal this summer, the U.S. has stepped up prosecutions of companies for bribery of foreign officials in recent years, and the fines for these violations can be steep. Companies can face prosecution by the Justice Department if they record bribery payments, or be pursued by the Securities and Exchange Commission for fake record-keeping if they falsify documents to conceal the bribes.
The statute of limitations on civil Foreign Corrupt Practices Act charges is five years. The New York Times reported Saturday that it was not clear when the allegations that led to the Sun arrests had taken place, “though some of those arrested have told friends that they were questioned on events from almost a decade ago.”
(click here to continue reading New Arrests in Murdoch Bribery Scandal Raise Question of U.S. Charges – ProPublica.)
I strongly support this legislation! If Citizens United gave corporations the right to speech, at the very least, citizens should know who is contributing the cash to fund political campaigns. Public companies eventually have to report such expenditures, but every corporate entity should have the strength of their convictions, and sign their name to policy they support.
Imagine if each of the vicious attack ads staining the presidential campaign had to name the five biggest donors paying for the propaganda, and end with an “I approved this ad” statement from the attack group’s chief operative.
This thin ray of sunlight is at the heart of a new House proposal to repair some of the damage done to American democracy by the Supreme Court decision allowing campaigns to be flooded with unlimited, and largely cloaked, corporate, union and other special-interest contributions.
The Disclose 2012 Act, introduced by Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, is a tighter version of the 2010 bill that was blocked in the Senate by a Republican filibuster. The new measure would require disclosure of donor names within 24 hours for contributions of $10,000 or more — making it hard for “super PACs” and other money vehicles to take advantage of loose reporting deadlines. Union and corporate leaders and others would have to own up to sponsorship in their ads, while informing shareholders and union members how their money is spent politically. Lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club would also have to disclose their campaign spending more clearly.
(click here to continue reading Sunlight on Secret Donations – NYTimes.com.)
Via Congressman Chris Van Hollen’s website, this summary:
The “DISCLOSE 2012 Act”
THIS BILL HAS 4 MAJOR REQUIREMENTS TO IMPROVE THE DISCLOSURE OF CAMPAIGN-RELATED SPENDING BY CORPORATIONS AND OUTSIDE GROUPS. IT WILL:
1. ENHANCE PUBLIC REPORTING, BY CORPORATIONS AND OTHER OUTSIDE GROUPS, OF CAMPAIGN-RELATED ACTIVITY: All corporations, unions, other outside groups, and Super PACs will have to report, to the FEC, within 24 hours of making a $10,000 campaign expenditure or financial transfer to other groups which can then be used for campaign-related activity.
2. REQUIRE CORPORATIONS AND OTHER OUTSIDE GROUPS TO STAND BY THEIR ADS: All leaders of corporations, unions, other outside groups, and Super PACs that make campaign-related Ads, will have to stand by their ads and say that he/she “approves this message,”. In addition, this bill will require the top financial contributors to be disclosed in the Television and Radio advertisements.
3. REQUIRE CORPORATIONS AND OTHER OUTSIDE GROUPS TO DISCLOSE CAMPAIGN-RELATED SPENDING TO SHAREHOLDERS AND ORGANIZATION MEMBERS: Corporations, unions, and other outside groups will have to disclose their campaign-related expenditures to their shareholders and members in their periodic and annual financial reports. This would also require these groups to make their political spending available to the public, through a hyper-link to the FEC, on their websites.
4. REQUIRE LOBBYISTS TO DISCLOSE CAMPAIGN-RELATED EXPENDITURES IN CONJUNCTION WITH THEIR LOBBYING ACTIVITIES: All Federally registered lobbyists will have to disclose their political expenditures in their Lobbying Disclosure reports in conjunction with the report of their lobbying activities.
To read the full text, click here (PDF, 29 pages).
The Sunlight Foundation blogs its support:
The bill will create robust reporting requirements for Super PACs, corporations, unions and nonprofit organizations that decide to make campaign expenditures. It will also require reporting of transfers by those groups to others making such expenditures, to prevent the money laundering that makes it easy to hide huge campaign contributions.
DISCLOSE 2012 will also require ads to contain disclaimers by the top officials of such groups, similar to the stand by your ad mandates required of candidates. In addition, shareholders and members of outside groups will be informed of campaign spending, and lobbyists will be required to report their spending on independent expenditures and electioneering communications.
When the Supreme Court decided the Citizens United case, it hung its hat on the theory that systems were in place to ensure unlimited corporate and union spending would be disclosed on the Internet. The Court was, at best, naïve. Because the Court created a whole new kind of spending, there was no disclosure system in place. (And the moribund Federal Election Commission would never be able to create such a system through a rulemaking process.) DISCLOSE 2012 creates that system of transparency and as such should receive wide support from members on both sides of the aisle.
Early primary spending has demonstrated that previously unheard of expenditures will become commonplace and overwhelm the 2012 elections. At a minimum, voters have a right to know whether the Super PAC that paid for an ad they just watched is tied to a candidate, or was funded by corporation or union with very special interests. Candidates will know who is footing the bill for ads that support their candidacy, even if such ads are technically not “coordinated” with their campaigns. With DISLOSE 2012, the voters will know too.
(click here to continue reading House Democrats Introduce DISCLOSE 2012 – Sunlight Foundation.)
Even though this bill passed the Senate, despite the obstructionism of Oklahoma’s troll, Tom Coburn, you have to wonder why these Senators voted against (or abstained) the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK Act)
“Members of Congress and their staffers have the duty to the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor today. “They may not use privileged information they get on the job to personally profit, but the perception remains that a few members of Congress are using their positions as public servants to serve themselves instead… The STOCK Act will clear up any perception that it’s acceptable for members of Congress to profit from insider trading.”
Senators Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., voted against the motion. Five senators did not vote: Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
(click here to continue reading STOCK Act advances in the Senate – Political Hotsheet – CBS News.)
Well, at least Mark Kirk had an excuse. The rest of these jokers better prepare for an opposition ad to point out their position on enriching themselves while conducting the people’s business.
This would be the best solution to the ongoing saga of billionaire sports owners ripping off their local communities, right? Too bad it isn’t a national bill…
According to a 23-year-old Florida law that has been mostly ignored, professional sports facilities built with the help of government funds are required to house the homeless on nights when no official events are taking place.
Two lawmakers have dug up that old statute, and are pushing bills that would make stadium owners return millions of taxpayer dollars if they can’t prove they’ve been operating as a haven for the homeless in the years since they began receiving checks from the government. The bill passed its first committee in the Senate on Monday with a unanimous vote.
“We have spent over $300 million supporting teams that can afford to pay a guy $7, $8, $10 million a year to throw a baseball 90 feet. I think they can pay for their own stadium,” said Sen. Michael Bennett, R-Bradenton, who is pushing the bills along with Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami. “I cannot believe that we’re going to cut money out of Medicaid and take it away from homeless and take it away from the poor and impoverished, and we’re continuing to support people who are billionaires.”
Bennett’s bill would force owners of sports facilities like the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg to refund millions of dollars and begin operating homeless shelters on off-nights. So far, the state has spent more than $270 million on constructing stadiums, with the former Dolphin Stadium receiving $37 million and AAA taking $27.5 million. It is unclear whether any of the stadiums, which receive monthly subsidies of about $166,000 each, is operating an active homeless shelter program.
(click here to continue reading Bill would enforce law turning stadiums into homeless shelters on off days – Florida – MiamiHerald.com.)
Gee. Um, no comment.
Wal-Mart said in a filing Thursday that it might have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and that it had begun an internal investigation, hired outside counsel and alerted the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The company said the investigation was a result of a voluntary internal review of its global anticorruption practices this year along with information “from other sources.”
“The company has begun an internal investigation into whether certain matters, including permitting, licensing and inspections, were in compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” Wal-Mart said in its quarterly filing to the S.E.C.
The act forbids bribing foreign officials, among other items.
Matthew J. Feeley, a lawyer with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney who works on Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases, said companies had incentives to go to the government on their own if they suspected the act had been violated in the hope of getting some type of leniency. “It’s expressly stated that they will give credit for that voluntary disclosure,” he said of the S.E.C. and Justice Department. Outcomes can include the government’s declining to take action, its asking the company to issue a press release or file a court report about the facts of the case, or its levying heavy fines and asking for a guilty plea, he said.
(click here to continue reading Wal-Mart Discloses Internal Investigation – NYTimes.com.)
(parenthetical note: why does the NYT, and so many news outlets spell Walmart with a dash? Notice the photo of a newly opened Walmart I took recently: no dash. Yet the NYT calls the corrupt company, “Wal-Mart”. )