Category Archives: Quiet Names

Unshackle Update: NY Lt. Gov. Duffy quietly interviewed to be Rochester Business Alliance president

Last week the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported that New York Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy had applied for a job with the Rochester Business Alliance (RBA), a local chamber of commerce and business lobbying group. Duffy confirmed in an interview with the Democrat & Chronicle that on October 5th he had interviewed for the group’s executive director position, which is currently held by Sandra Parker, co-founder of Unshackle Upstate, a business organization that has lobbied heavily for fracking in addition to pushing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s economic agenda, and former owner of the lake house that Duffy purchased below market value in May.

Duffy’s interview came less than two weeks after we reported on ties between the Cuomo administration and Unshackle Upstate: Both Parker and the group’s other co-founder, Andrew Rudnick, served on the board of Cuomo-coordinated Committee to Save New York; both co-founders are appointees to Cuomo’s regional economic development councils; and other three other Unshackle Upstate leaders have been appointed by the Governor to various economic development positions.

Continue reading Unshackle Update: NY Lt. Gov. Duffy quietly interviewed to be Rochester Business Alliance president

Opponents of minimum wage increase in NYS tap a notorious tobacco lobbyist

Opponents of the proposed minimum wage increase in New York State have tapped a notorious tobacco and fast food lobbyist to help them make their case. One of Berman’s industry front groups, the Employment Policies Institute, published an op-ed in the Buffalo News last week that argued that an increase in the minimum wage would lead to job losses. I have an op-ed in today’s Buffalo News that puts that op-ed in proper context:
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Super PAC Watch: Romney Mystery Donors Include Prominent Predatory Loan Execs

Among the recent large donors to Mitt Romney’s Super PAC Restore Our Future are still more corporations “not easily connected to a specific executive or even business,” Nicholas Confessore writes in a February 20 New York Times blog post. LittleSis has found that two of these new Romney backers, neither of whom the Times looked at in depth, derive their wealth from predatory, high-interest lending practices such as car title and payday loans. Both have drawn scrutiny for aggressively pursuing repayment, and both have records of making targeted political contributions to protect the laws that allow them to collect triple-digit interest from their mostly poor customers.

Continue reading Super PAC Watch: Romney Mystery Donors Include Prominent Predatory Loan Execs

US subsidiary AIG to pay $100 million in bonuses

The Washington Post is reporting that AIG is set to pay $100 million in employee bonuses today:

American International Group plans Wednesday to pay another round of employee bonuses, worth about $100 million, said several people familiar with the matter, a year after similar payments at the bailed-out insurance giant infuriated many Americans and inflamed Washington.

The US government owns 80% of AIG. Lots of figures and percentages appear in the Washington Post article, but that one doesn’t. And while pay czar Ken Feinberg’s name appears throughout the piece — he seems to have played some role in approving these bonuses — the names of the three trustees charged with overseeing the government’s 80% stake are nowhere to be found. Search for their names on Google News, and you find no recent articles mentioning the trustees in the context of this decision. Did they not play a role in this decision?

Continue reading US subsidiary AIG to pay $100 million in bonuses

Landrieu phone squad: the Boustany connection

The four conservative activists arrested for tampering with the phones of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu earlier this week have been linked to the Pelican Institute, a conservative New Orleans think tank. Pelican is a relatively new organization, but it appears to have strong ties to members of the state’s Republican elite, most notably Representative Charles Boustany.

Though only one of the tamperers is from Louisiana, Pelican appears to have been the group’s home base there. The apparent ringleader, James O’Keefe — also the activist behind last September’s ACORN videotape — spoke at a Pelican Institute luncheon last week. Another one of the four, Robert Flanagan, is a paid blogger for Pelican (Flanagan is the son of the acting US attorney in Shreveport, Bill Flanagan). Pelican’s founder, Kevin Kane, blogs at BigGovernment, the site where O’Keefe first posted the ACORN video.

TPMMuckraker has found that Pelican “enjoys a prominent voice in Louisiana political circles.” A close look at its board of directors helps explain why this is the case.

Continue reading Landrieu phone squad: the Boustany connection

Bernanke lobbyist authored Enron/Cheney energy plan

The same lobbyist that sold Washington on Enron is now touting Ben Bernanke. According to Politico, former Enron lobbyist Linda Robertson has been managing Bernanke’s confirmation effort on behalf of the Federal Reserve — coaching him through the process in much the same way she coached Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling through the Washington influence game.

Robertson played a key role in some of Enron’s most scandalous moments in the year prior to its collapse. For starters, she was at the center of negotiations involving the highly secretive energy task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.  A review of Enron email shows that Robertson guided Lay through pivotal meetings with Cheney and other officials, and actually authored the Enron memo and talking points that were later integrated into Cheney’s controversial energy plan.

Continue reading Bernanke lobbyist authored Enron/Cheney energy plan

How to Profile Investors on LittleSis

In response to a couple of questions I’ve received from analysts lately, I wanted to provide a simple set of instructions for profiling investors on LittleSis.

Why Profile Investors?

When prominent investors such as John Paulson make investment decisions, it can have a large impact on the public perception of a given industry.  For example: a recent article on demonstrated that his investment in the CBG sparked a 15% share increase on June 11th.  Moreover, shareholders with a significant stake in a company often gain the right to give input on key business decisions.

How to Track Investments:

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Who works for AHIP?

The healthcare reform fight is heating up on Capitol Hill, pitting the health insurance industry, big pharma, the docs, the hospitals, the medical tech industry, and the biotech industry against…well, I’m not exactly sure. A very scary coalition of uninsured people, the middle class, unions, and liberal think tanks? Perhaps the lines are not so clearly drawn, as the AMA has been unclear about its position on the public option (a government health insurance plan).

One group that is clear in its opposition to the most significant reforms on the table is America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). Led by Karen Ignagni, AHIP is the main lobby for the health insurance industry. According to the Globe, Ignagni has been doing a decent job of convincing people that her lobby is not pure evil. She has also paid off quite a few politicians, says the Center for Responsive Politics in a recent blog post.

There’s no question who AHIP works for, though there’s some question as to who works for AHIP. Yesterday, noticing that Ignagni and the AHIP board had been added to LittleSis, but no other staff, I tried to find out who the key staffers at AHIP are, other than Ignagni.

Continue reading Who works for AHIP?

Who is Michael Froman?

The dominant analysis of Obama’s historic fundraising effort is that small donors carried the day. His campaign certainly inspired record-smashing levels of small donor support, but the feel-good story of Obama lifted to victory by a $5 army obscures the crucial role that traditional fundraising mechanisms and networks played in Obama’s campaign.

After all, Obama took in more money from Wall Street in the first quarter of 2007 than any other presidential candidate, an early boost from high finance that is often overlooked. This paved the way for consistently high Wall Street fundraising numbers. How did this come to pass?

Continue reading Who is Michael Froman?

Who is Mort Downey?

LittleSis brings transparency to the quiet names: people who are not necessarily officeholders, who may not be very well-known, but who exert significant influence over the policymaking process. They make decisions and advocate for policies that affect our lives in profound ways, but we are not well-equipped to hold them accountable or understand their sphere of influence. From time to time, we’ll use this space to give special attention to one of these individuals.

Today’s “quiet name” is Mort Downey. I picked Downey, a former Deputy Secretary of Transportation and recently a member of the Obama Transition, because I believe his career trajectory, influence, and policy outlook shed light on the rationale behind the low levels of public transit funding in the stimulus.

Some background on the stimulus: House Transportation Committee Chair James Oberstar wanted $17 billion in public transit funding in the stimulus package, but by the time the House bill was presented, it had been slashed to $9 billion. The White House was behind the cuts, and Oberstar and Larry Summers reportedly engaged in a shouting match. Congressman Peter DeFazio later called out Summers for being anti-infrastructure. $3 billion of the cuts were eventually restored.

Supposedly, the Obama team’s single most important calculus when determining what made it into the stimulus package was whether projects were “shovel-ready” – projects that can get underway quickly and provide a short-term boost to the economy. But according to many respected economists, including Dean Baker and James K Galbraith, the stimulus package doesn’t do near what it could in terms of funding shovel-ready mass transit projects. In other words, shovel-readiness is not an adequate explanation for the low levels of funding.

The name Mortimer Downey caught my eye because he offered up this bogus explanation to defend the Obama team’s cuts in an interview with ShovelWatch, a stimulus tracking project spearheaded by The Takeaway, WNYC, and ProPublica:

“You have to be realistic about how fast and where money can be spent,” said Downey, who no longer has a formal role in the Obama team. “Some of the things in the transportation and infrastructure proposal are great long-term proposals,” but, Downey said, they can’t get started quickly enough. He noted the Obama administration will release a budget this year, and there will be a new transportation appropriations bill. “I don’t think you can reach an overall conclusion about how well transit is faring until we see all those things. Otherwise it would be a rush to judgment.”

Downey is a well-respected transportation expert. He has impressive credentials: Assistant Secretary of Transportation under Carter, CFO and Executive Director of the MTA in the 1980s, Deputy Secretary of Transportation under Clinton. He was an Obama Transition team lead for the review of the Department of Transportation. You can see it all on his LittleSis profile. Recently, the Washington Post mentioned him as a candidate for Transportation Secretary, calling him the potential “wise man” pick.

But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the wise man doesn’t wield his substantial influence on behalf of the public interest.

Who does he speak for? Since leaving the Clinton administration, Downey has worked as a self-employed transportation consultant at Mort Downey Consulting, and as President and then chairman of PB Consult, a transportation consulting subsidiary of the engineering giant Parsons Brinckerhoff. PB Consult advises clients in various transportation markets on a whole range of strategic issues: project planning, finance, public-private partnerships, regulatory issues, and so on.

PB Consult’s core business appears to be infrastructure privatization. Two of the three deals featured on the front page of the company’s website involve the privatization of transportation infrastructure – two toll roads, in fact: the A25 Québec and the Northwest Parkway Toll Road in Colorado. The third deal appears to be another Wall Street boondoggle, involving the purchase of port container terminals by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

This is what the sage’s firm is proud of?

PB Consult is also a member of the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships. “Public-private partnership” is apparently the accepted industry term for infrastructure privatization (I’m guessing it plays better with the public).

Downey has established himself as a cheerleader for infrastructure privatization in recent years. In 2007 he penned an opinion piece for Traffic World, an industry magazine, titled A Role for Public-Private Partnerships. Downey argued that private collaboration was the best way forward for the nation’s transportation infrastructure, given the funding crisis:

Facing this staggering shortfall in funding, traditional approaches have been increasingly augmented by partnerships of private groups with public agencies, which during the last five years have begun pumping larger amounts of money into the system.

There are many forms of PPPs and ways for the public and private sectors to collaborate as partners to leverage scarce public resources and expedite needed transportation projects, while protecting and promoting public interests.

The argument is smooth and innocuous-sounding, and it’s easy to see why he is a high-paid spokesperson and lobbyist for Wall Street’s infrastructure privatization effort.

He also appears to be something of a spokesperson for the Obama administration, and his transition role indicates that he is well-regarded by the Obama team, even if he did not get the Transportation post.

Anyway, his argument in Traffic World begs the question: if funding shortfalls are “staggering,” why wouldn’t Downey see the need for more transit funding in the stimulus bill?

More on the way, but if you’re interested in the pitfalls surrounding privatization, particularly with respect to transparency, check out this Progressive States Network report.