This week Whitney revealed that many of the firms hired to infiltrate nonprofit organizations on behalf of corporations have their own revolving door of former government intelligence personel from CIA, NSA, DOJ, and more. These firms were identified in an exhaustive Center for Corporate Policy report, Spooky Business, which included a particular story about a group of these firms that referred to themselves as “Team Themis.” As CCP reported, Team Themis, led by HBGary Federal, a computer security firm, sent a proposal to Hunton & Williams law firm with an outline to infiltrate the nonprofit critics of its client, the US Chamber of Commerce. The array of unethical actions proposed by Team Themis is truly outstanding; infiltrate the nonprofit with a fake insider, wage electronic warfare, investigate staff and their families, and utilize former US military and intelligence staff to carry out operations.
How much does such a comprehensive strategy cost? According to CCP, Team Themis’ proposal came with a price tag of $200,000 per month for initial research and $2 million monthly for a full campaign.
Back in August we set up a Shadow Gov Working Group on LittleSis, inspired by Obama’s Open Government Working Group established in 2009 and his administration’s hot pursuit of Edward Snowden, who worked for NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. The research group investigates corporations that tend to profit from the privatization of government, first focusing on Booz Allen. Gin’s analysis of a $6 billion corporation that relies on government for 99% of its revenue but doesn’t hire lobbyists is definitely worth a read.
The Albany Times-Union reported last week on the New York State Education Department’s “shadow government:” a think tank advising the Board of Regents and Commissioner John B. King on educational policy, but funded entirely by private foundations.
Unlike Booz Allen, the Regents Research Fund is a nonprofit organization that doesn’t receive taxpayer funding. Its staff (called “fellows”) are meant as supplemental advisors to the Education Department’s public officials, not replacing any public sector positions. Critics say the fellows may be more concerned with the education reform agenda of their sponsors than what’s best for New York schools, and not subject to public accountability. In 2011, for example, the Board of Regents adopted the fellows’ recommendation about the role of test scores in teacher evaluations over those of a task force made up by 63 educators from around the state.
One of the fellows told the Times-Union: “There aren’t a whole lot of us out there with this training and experience.” I wondered what she meant. There are more than 200,000 teachers, not to mention principals and other administrators, in New York State alone. What kind of experience was she referring to? Who are these extraordinary fellows?
There are plenty of predatory industries out there, but some have achieved extraordinary efficiencies in how they convert human misery to pure profit. The private prison industry is a good example. The abuses of private prison companies like Corrections Corp and the GEO Group have been well-documented, as have the skewed incentives that drive the industry: more prisoners means more demand for prison beds, which means more profit. Following from that, there is significant evidence that these companies buy influence and rig policy reforms in ways that send more people to private prisons.
Unlike some predatory industries, private prison companies also seem to have a fairly bad reputation, which is possibly why CCA puts things like this on the front page of its website:
Monday New York Times journalist and This Town author Mark Leibovich tweeted:
For those who have been spared the tawdry details of This Town, Kurt Bardella was California Rep Darrell Issa’s top press aide until it was discovered that he was secretly forwarding his communications with journalists to Leibovich for material for Leibovich’s upcoming book This Town. Outrage from the press and congressional staff over breaches of confidentiality led to Bardella’s firing.
Since our last Eyes on the Ties roundup we’ve continued to cover a wide spectrum of news and events with original research using the LittleSis database. Topping this roundup once again is J.P. Morgan, which sealed it’s $13 billion dollar
bargain settlement deal with the Department of Justice. You may recall Kevin’s post on the thin line that separated the DOJ and JPM at the negotiating table, which revealed that the primary DOJ negotiator, Tony West, represented Washington Mutual when he was a partner at Morrison & Foerster. The media took little notice of this conflict of interest, and even a New York Times article, which offered a glowing bio of Tony West’s career, failed to mention his time representing WaMu. Kevin responded to the article’s omission with more questions about West’s career and his role with WaMu. Unfortunately they remain unanswered.
From the 10 most important mustaches of Tumblr to 23 lies you tell yourself to feel like a grown up (guilty), listicles and ranked groupings are increasingly escaping the confines of teen magazines and buzzfeed and entering the news arena. After reading Bloomberg’s recently released “Bloomberg’s Best (and worst): Highest-Paid at Companies that Lost Money in 2012: CEOs” I decided to write this post on the powerful utility of my favorite LittleSis tool, lists. Ever read one of these and wonder how these people or organizations became tethered? Surely there must be more to the story? Thats where LittleSis lists come in. The list function on LittleSis shows you the broader networks and multiple threads that bind the individuals in the list and can reveal what they’re doing on that list in the first place.
In a recent post, Kevin examined the revolving door between JPMorgan and the Department of Justice team charged with negotiating its record-breaking settlement. He concluded that the DOJ attorneys would likely be rewarded in the private sector for their roles in the JPMorgan deal, leaving democracy to foot the bill for their soft negotiations.
That same day, Reuters and other outlets put the brakes on the high-dollar induced awe, reporting that the $13 billion “record” settlement would likely be greatly diminished through some clever tax tricks that would allow JPM to write off much of its punitive payment as a “business expense.”
Turns out they were both right. New York Times’ Deal Book reported that during a conference call with shareholders on Tuesday, “Marianne Lake, JPMorgan’s chief financial officer, emphasized that $7 billion of the settlement was tax-deductible.”
The final terms of JPMorgan’s mortgage fraud settlement with the Department of Justice was announced yesterday. It is not all that it is cracked up to be, but that has not stopped reporters from touting the deal as a record settlement and the result of a tough negotiation. One particularly extreme example is the front page story in the New York Times today, which describes the supposed heroics of Tony West, the DOJ’s lead negotiator on the deal.
Tony West, according to the Times, is “a soft-spoken but imposing presence” who took an aggressive stance against JPMorgan in seeking a deal that hit its bottom line hard. In fact, the deal is not nearly as much of a hit to JPMorgan’s profits as the reporting suggests, as David Dayen writes at Salon. The large number included a previously-announced settlement with FHFA and a series of mortgage relief measures, such as requiring the bank to write new mortgages, that do not actually cut into the bank’s profits.
Who’s who at Cuomo’s Buffalo fundraiser
By Kevin Connor • Nov 19, 2013 at 15:13 EST
Andrew Cuomo is in Buffalo today for a $1000-per-head fundraiser that is expected to raise $500,000 for the governor’s war chest, which at $28 million is much, much larger than that of any other gubernatorial candidate in the country. Cuomo will be met by an anti-fracking protest.
Stink Tanks Exposed
By Kevin Connor • Nov 15, 2013 at 12:29 EST
This week the Center for Media and Democracy released a new report exposing the corporate backing and extreme right wing agenda of the State Policy Network, a coalition of state policy think tanks. The inspiration for the organization came from Ronald Reagan, who suggested to South Carolina businessman Thomas Roe that there should be organizations like the Heritage Foundation in every state. It was officially founded in 1992, and has since grown into a massive – but largely under-the-radar – policy apparatus. From the report:
The network has become a multi-million dollar empire: In 2011, the combined revenue of SPN and its member think tanks totaled $83.2 million. It has also quietly become one of the most prominent members of the national right-wing network and an essential tool for some of the richest CEOs in the world to push their right-wing agenda. In addition to its 63 member think tanks, SPN also has over 100 “associate members.”
The full report is packed with information and worth a read, covering SPN’s ties to ALEC, the Kochs, and the tobacco industry, the “litigation centers” its member groups have set up to push extreme agendas in the courts, its PR strategies, and its lobbying activities. The Guardian published a piece focusing on the fact that tech giants like Facebook and Microsoft back the network. The report is up at StinkTanks.org, a new collaboration between CMD and Progress Now.