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.
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).”
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
A nice stiff fine would be nice, or even better, take away their FCC license…
Submerged Danger Object
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.”
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.
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).
Making The Same Mistakes
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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”. )
Another entry in the stadium boondoggle file – an already-overstuffed folder full of corporate welfare for the 1%. They get to own the teams, act like big shots, but we the taxpayers get to pay the debts.
A recent audit of the city-state stadium authority’s books revealed that for the first time, hotel tax revenues are not yielding the amount needed to pay off the debt that the agency took on 10 years ago to rebuild Soldier Field.
The shortfall means that Chicago’s bottom line, which is already sagging, will take yet another hit, because the city is required to come up with the money under the Soldier Field deal.
Officials for the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority said Thursday that the shortfall would not be as bad as it was first feared and should not be repeated next year. Still, one of Mr. Emanuel’s new appointees to the authority’s board looked at the debt service payments due in the next 20 years and expressed concern that the problem could get far worse, even if tourism revived and hotel tax revenues rose again.
“The city has to begin to plan for some significant outlays,” said Jim Reynolds, an investment manager and new member of the board, who was attending his first agency board meeting since Mr. Emanuel replaced the three hold-over mayoral appointees on the seven-member panel.
Thursday’s meeting took place in the agency’s offices at U.S. Cellular Field, built on the South Side more than 20 years ago to keep the White Sox from moving to Florida. State lawmakers created the I.S.F.A. to guide the ballpark’s $150 million construction and then to operate the facility.
The new fiscal problem for City Hall, however, stems from the Soldier Field deal and represents another time bomb that Mr. Emanuel inherited from Mayor Richard M. Daley. To keep the Bears in Chicago, Mr. Daley pushed successfully for the authority to issue almost $400 million in bonds for the $606 million Soldier Field renovation.
and Mayor Emanuel isn’t so happy about the mess the Daley Gang left behind:
The $1.1 million shortfall was disclosed in an independent audit obtained by the Tribune through a records request. The firm, , declined comment.
Earlier in the day, Emanuel said that Chicago taxpayers should not be treated like cash machines to help cover renovations at the two sports facilities. He said he wants a healthy Chicago sports industry to add the city’s quality of life, but it should not come at taxpayer expense.
“I don’t want the taxpayers of the city of Chicago to be treated as if they’re just an ATM machine; they’re not,” he said at an unrelated news conference.
The mayor recently replaced three members of the authority’s board with veterans of the financial services industry and said he “gave them clear instructions” about what role he wanted them to play.
“You’re not there for yourself, you’re not there socially, you’re there as the voice of the taxpayers of the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said.
whether or not there was an extra $1,000,000 the City of Chicago was liable for or not, this year, we still covered most of the costs of both Soldier Field and U.S. Cellular Field, and pay at least $5,000,000 every year, and sometimes more:
This was the first time the tax revenue fell short since 2001, when a new law allowed the authority to issue bonds for renovations at Soldier Field – changes that at the time officials like then-Mayor Richard Daley and others said were needed to keep the Bears in Chicago.
At the time, the agency provided more than $400 million toward the $600 million project, which included some money for work at U.S. Cellular Field. The ISFA increased its debt, but the city agreed to cough up the extra money if hotel tax revenue fell short. Soldier Field reopened in 2003, but cost overruns made the total for the entire project about $690 million. A Tribune analysis showed the public portion was actually about $432 million.
The $1.1 million transfer was disclosed in an October independent audit that the Tribune obtained via a public records request. This goes beyond the annual $5 million subsidy the city provides already.
…More recently, the agency has come under scrutiny for its deal with the White Sox. The Tribune and WGN-TV reported last month that the authority picked up the $7 million tab to build a restaurant outside the stadium but allowed the team to keep the profits.
For two decades now, Major League Baseball has funded its rise from corporate slacker to gilded cash cow on the backs of taxpayers bullied into building new stadiums. It’s a marvel the government took so long to sniff out the rot that emanates from these deals, though not much of a surprise that the Miami Marlins were the target when they did.
The Security and Exchange Commission on Thursday launched guided warheads at the Marlins, requesting the team’s financial records, communications with MLB officials including commissioner Bud Selig, minutes of meetings with local government leaders and political campaign-contribution information, according to a report in the Miami Herald.
While the subpoenas issued by the SEC do not explicitly detail the purpose of the investigation, the feds’ motives are evident: They want to understand how, exactly, a group of county commissioners agreed to fund 80 percent of the Marlins new stadium, which cost more than $600 million, without ever seeing the team’s financial records – and whether bribes had anything to do with it.
The Marlins pushed the limits on exactly how much a team can hold its city hostage. They cried poverty and threatened to move unless they got a new stadium while refusing to disclose their financial records – records that were later leaked and showed a team swimming in tens of millions of dollars in profits and funneled millions more to a corporation run by team owner Jeffrey Loria. Miami-Dade County commissioners nevertheless voted 9-4 in favor of taking out loans that will cost the county $2.4 billion over 40 years to help build the stadium in Little Havana, about two miles west of the city.
A little insight into how Washington corruption works – not necessarily with a suitcase of cash, though that is implied, but rather with government officials having a cozy relationship with industry. The Obama administration is better than the prior regime, but not by much…
A State Department official provided Fourth of July party invitations, subtle coaching and cheerleading, and inside information about Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meetings to a Washington lobbyist for a Canadian company seeking permission from the department to build a pipeline that would carry crude from the oil sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
E-mails released Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the environmental group Friends of the Earth paint a picture of a sometimes warm and collaborative relationship between the lobbyist for the pipeline company, Trans-Canada, and officials in the State Department, the agency responsible for evaluating and approving the billion-dollar project.
The exchanges provide a rare glimpse into how Washington works and the access familiarity can bring. The 200 pages are the second batch of documents and e-mails released so far.
They also offer insight into the company’s strategy, not revealed publicly before. TransCanada lobbyists exchanged e-mails with State Department officials in July about their intention to drop their request to operate the Keystone XL pipeline at higher pressures than normally allowed in the United States to win political support, but then suggested they would reapply for the exception once the project had been cleared.
“You see officials who see it as their business not to be an oversight agency but as a facilitator of TransCanada’s plans,” said Damon Moglen, the director of the climate and energy project for Friends of the Earth. While the e-mails refer to multiple meetings between TransCanada officials and assistant secretaries of state, he said, such access was denied to environmentalists seeking input, who had only one group meeting at that level.
Environmental groups argue that the 1,700-mile pipeline, which could carry 700,000 barrels a day from Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Texas, would result in unacceptably high emissions and disrupt pristine ecosystems.
We have received a new round of documents from the State Department in response to our Freedom of Information Act request. These documents are deeply disturbing in that they provide definitive evidence of pro-pipeline bias and complicity at the State Department — including one “smoking gun” email (PDF) in which State Department employee Marja Verloop literally cheers “Go Paul!” for pipeline lobbyist Paul Elliott after he announces TransCanada has secured Senator Max Baucus’ support for the pipeline.
The most interesting emails in this tranche are between Elliott and Verloop, a member of the senior diplomatic staff at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, with responsibility for energy and environment issues. In one back and forth, Elliott and Verloop discuss TransCanada’s July 2010 decision to abandon its efforts to obtain special permission to pump oil through the Keystone XL at higher-than-usual pressures. The same exchange contains a reference to reassurances from the State side that the 90-day review would “delay…State’s recommendation of a presidential permit but such a delay won’t be as long as the one advocated for by the EPA.” (PDF)
The exchange indicates an understanding between the State Department and TransCanada that TransCanada would be in a position to apply for a pressure increase after getting the permit. The tacit understanding on the permit and NID timing was even relayed by Verloop to her boss, U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson, in an email where she says to him: “TransCanada is comfortable and on board.” The revelation of the understanding between State and TransCanada on the pipeline pressure issue could be unwelcome to Senator Jon Tester, who announced his support for the pipeline only after he was reassured by TransCanada’s decision to lower the pressure.
Joseph Antunovich, president of Antunovich Associates, the designer of the project, said the area west of Halsted Street is “very emerging.” Over the past 10 to 15 years, he said, it has been developed into a desirable area.
Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th, said the area’s silent majority has supported the project, called Gateway to the West Loop, because it would create more than 200 construction jobs immediately and more jobs when the retail stores and the hotel open.
The developer, CD-EB/EP Retail JV, is asking the city for $7 million in tax increment financing to help pay for the first phase of the project, estimated to cost about $41.8 million.
The outlay needs approval from the City Council, though that is likely with Burnett’s endorsement. There is no financing in place for the second phase of the project, which includes the hotel.
Sy Taxman, one of the developers, said he is in conversations with two companies interested in developing a corporate hotel at the site. But, he said, construction isn’t expected to start until the first phase is substantially completed.
After a year without new hotel developments downtown, there are at least three on the way, and the city is likely to see more, said Adam McGaughy, executive vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, a unit of the Chicago-based real estate firm with the same name.
My point is the same: why does this developer need tax payer funding to build in such a “desirable area”? Slush funds, in other words, for 200 temporary construction jobs, plus a few minimum wage jobs afterwords. I’d rather the $7,000,000 be spent on repairing water mains, sewers, potholes, teachers, firemen, yadda yadda, and not to help make profits for building developers, and yield campaign contributions to Walter Burnett, Jr.
Michael Wolff of Adweek has been a follower of the Rupert Murdoch News Corporation for a long time, even written a book1 about Murdoch a while ago (before the current, seemingly ever-escalating scandal). Mr. Wolff is not surprised that the FBI and the DOJ are considering pursuing RICO statute investigations into News Corp.
In my biography of Rupert Murdoch, I referred to News Corporation as Mafia-like, provoking the annoyance of my publisher’s libel lawyers. I explained to them that I did not mean to suggest this was an organized crime family, but instead was using “mafia” as a metaphor to imply that News Corp. saw itself as a state within a state, and that the company was built on a basic notion of extended family bonds and loyalty.
But just because it’s a metaphor doesn’t mean it isn’t the real thing, too.Well-sourced information coming out of the Department of Justice and the FBI suggests a debate is going on that could result in the recently launched investigations of News Corp. falling under the RICO statutes.
RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, establishes a way to prosecute the leaders of organizations—and strike at the organizations themselves—for crimes company leaders may not have directly committed, but which were otherwise countenanced by the organization. Any two of a series of crimes that can be proven to have occurred within a 10-year period by members of the organization can establish a pattern of racketeering and result in draconian remedies. In 1990, following the indictment of Michael Milken for insider trading, Drexel Burnham Lambert, the firm that employed him, collapsed in the face of a RICO investigation.
Right Turn Ahead
Michael Wolff continues with some more details about the criminal culture of News Corporation, and Rupert Murdoch:
As it happens, much of this pattern of conduct at News Corp. has long been hiding in plain site. How the company has gotten away with such behavior is, in fact, a subtext of the investigations that are now unfolding.
Partly, the company has escaped legal scrutiny because this is a boys-will-be-boys sort of story. News Corp.’s by-any-means aggressiveness has become so much a part of its identity that it seemed almost redundant to find fault with it. Everybody knew but nobody—for both reasons of fear and profit—did anything about it; hence its behavior has become, however unpleasant, accepted.
And partly, it’s because the fundamental currency of the company has always been reward and punishment. Both the New York Post and Fox News maintain enemy lists. Almost anyone who has directly crossed these organizations, or who has made trouble for their parent company, will have felt the sting here. That sting involves regular taunting and, often, lies—Obama is a Muslim. (Or, if not outright lies, radical remakes of reality.)
Threats pervade the company’s basic view of the world. “We have stuff on him,” Murdoch would mutter about various individuals who I mentioned during my interviews with him. “We have pictures.”
Similarly, the Post and Fox News heap praise and favors on partisans, who in turn do them favors (the police, in New York as well as London, receive and return the favors). This reward and punishment has translated into substantial political power, both in terms of regulatory advantages and, too, in the ability of the company to shield itself from the kind of scrutiny that it has taken a perfect storm of events to have it now receive.
Then, too, as one of the largest media organizations, it has insured a hands-off attitude (if not policy) from other media organizations—those which have business with it, or whose executives want to protect their prospects of working for it, or that extend courtesies in the hope they will be extended back. There’s also the money. Ultimately, if you have the goods or the savvy with which to damage the company, you get paid off. In London, that’s how News Corp. thought it could contain the hacking scandal, with big cash payments to and confidentiality agreements with the hacking victims.
Juan-Pablo Valez of the New York Times adds this bit of detail to the Chicago TIF story that we’ve been complaining about for a while1
But many people remain unswayed. They point out that much of the TIF money was diverted from public schools, parks, libraries and other taxing districts and was instead put into accounts that Mr. Daley controlled and kept shrouded in secrecy.
“The findings do nothing to dissuade what had been my longstanding concerns, which were transparency in the process,” said John Fritchey, a Cook County commissioner.
Mr. Fritchey, a North Side Democrat, irked Mr. Daley last year when, as a state representative, he introduced legislation that would have funneled TIF money directly to the Chicago Public Schools.
Mr. Fritchey and other elected officials in Chicago have said that hundreds of millions of dollars are sitting in the accounts of scores of TIF districts, even after Mr. Daley tapped the TIF account last year to help balance the city’s 2011 budget.
“There is no question that several good projects came to be through the use of TIF funds,” Mr. Fritchey said. “The bigger question is, Is the city getting its money’s worth out of that investment? It’s a troubling prospect to give millions of taxpayer dollars to projects that are also generating millions in developer fees.”
Mr. Daley vigorously championed the use of TIF. By the end of his tenure in May, city officials had established more than 160 TIF districts that covered about one-third of Chicago. In total, the districts capture about $500 million a year, city and Cook County documents show.
The amount is equal to about one-sixth of the city’s annual core budget, although under Mr. Daley the money was not tracked or approved as part of the budgeting process, and his administration provided only a vague accounting of its TIF activities.
If 33% of the city is located in a TIF development zone, doesn’t it effectively defeat the purpose of tax? Especially when so much of the money gets funneled to politically connected developers? Perhaps in addition to adding more transparency to the process, before a project gets funded, the voters of the district should get to vote directly on the decision. Ha.
Now, as aides to Mayor Rahm Emanuel review the city’s use of TIF amid the backdrop of severe budget shortfalls, an analysis by the Chicago News Cooperative shows that TIF spending was allocated almost evenly between public works and subsidies for private interests.
The examination of city TIF records for the last eight years of Mr. Daley’s tenure reveals that his administration spent about $1.7 billion in TIF money toward public and private endeavors. While about $700 million was spent to the benefit of private interests, roughly $865 million went to public projects like school construction, street repairs and Chicago Transit Authority stations and tracks. Another $1 billion paid off bonds issued to finance public and private projects, for a total outlay of almost $3 billion, the city records show…
Developers received $505 million in subsidies, just over 30 percent of the total TIF money spent by Mr. Daley. Those payments included $5.4 million to United Airlines to move its headquarters to Willis Tower, $13.7 million for the insurance giant CNA to renovate its South Loop headquarters and $8.5 million to help renovate the Carbide and Carbon building to house the Hard Rock Hotel on Michigan Avenue.
The city also spent more than $200 million buying properties, razing vacant buildings and cleaning up toxic land, mostly for the benefit of private developments. Another $90 million, or 5 percent of total spending, was used for program administration, consulting and legal services, and for job training for businesses in select districts.
Carbon and Carbide Building blues
Giving taxpayer money to asshole corporations like CNA and United Airlines (and potentially the thuggish Ayn Randians at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange) really irks me. What do they need my cash contributions for? I’d rather divert my tax dollars back to schools (even though I don’t have children), roads, bike lanes, water mains, yadda yadda…