This Town grows: The unique and all too usual story of Kurt Bardella

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.

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A small watchdog research team committed itself to regular blog posts on the powers that be. You will not believe what happened next.

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.

Continue reading A small watchdog research team committed itself to regular blog posts on the powers that be. You will not believe what happened next.

LittleSis pro-tip: Make a list, check it twice

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.

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Paul Tudor Jones and American public education

Forbes’s December “special philanthropy issue” features Paul Tudor Jones, among others, and his efforts fighting poverty in NYC. The glowing article about Jones poses a question with its title–“Can hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones save America’s public education system?”–that the magazine’s cover had already answered: ”Entrepreneurs Can Save the World.” I found the article via Diane Ravitch’s blog, where commenters found a significant omission in the magazine’s lengthy profile of Jones.

Do you remember the ouster of University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan by the school’s board last year? Probably you do, since it was covered by such well-known publications as the New York Times, Washington Post, and more. The UVA Board of Visitors, led by Helen Dragas, voted Sullivan out without warning, citing “philosophical differences.” As opposition grew from faculty, students and alumni, she was reinstated by the board less than two weeks later.  So where does Paul Tudor Jones come in?

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Tax breaks sweeten JPMorgan’s record-setting settlement with DOJ

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.”

Sound familiar?
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DOJ-JPMorgan settlement was negotiated by former WaMu attorney

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.

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SUNY kickback controversy prompts changes in presidential pay scheme

Last week, the Albany Times-Union reported that the board of trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY) system unanimously approved a proposal to reform the current compensation structure for the Chancellor, campus presidents, and senior SUNY officials. The reforms, proposed by Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, were presumably prompted by a recent scandal at SUNY Upstate Medical University where several top administrators, including the president and a senior vice president, were being paid by two companies that received millions of dollars in business from the school.

Zimpher’s proposal would require that executive pay come only from state sources and that outside income be vetted for conflicts of interest by New York’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics. Under the current regime, SUNY campus presidents and other high-level administrators are paid a portion of their salary by SUNY, an agency of the State of New York, with top-ups from various private not-for-profits affiliated with SUNY, such as the SUNY Research Foundation or one of the campus-specific foundations.

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Who’s who at Cuomo’s Buffalo fundraiser

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.

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Geithner does the Rubin Shuffle

The cooling-off period is over for former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who is joining the private equity firm Warburg Pincus as president and managing director. Geithner had initially joined the Council on Foreign Relations as a senior fellow after leaving the Treasury Department early this year. He had taken several plum speaking engagements at Wall Street firms (including a $100,000 gig at the Warburg Pincus annual meeting), but had not yet fully cashed in. Warburg Pincus, one of the largest private equity firms in the country, provides the perks of Wall Street without the baggage associated with bailout symbols like Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.

Geithner’s trajectory, from administration post to temporary think tank fellowship to Wall Street roost, is not uncommon for high-level officials. The waiting period blunts the negative media attention associated with moving directly to Wall Street while allowing some time to negotiate the best deal possible. Most reporters do not seem to understand this playbook, and so it works well for Geithner & co. CJR’s Ryan Chittum has taken the New York Times to task for treating the Geithner move like it was unexpected, and not preordained, and quotes an earlier piece he wrote describing the playbook:

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Stink Tanks Exposed

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.

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