Category Archives: Unplugging Power

What Makes Someone a Bubble Baron?

The Bubble Barons investigation launched last week by AlterNet and has gotten off to a fast start, with over 250 citizen journalists signed up to track down information on the 67 bubble barons we’ve identified. In less than a week, the research group has made over 500 edits to the LittleSis database, building out data on everything from the family ties of Dennis Washington to the investments and donations of Stephen Schwarzman. More than 30 analysts have participated in research trainings.

You can follow the group’s progress at the Bubble Baron research page, which shows recent edits to bubble barons’ profiles, basic information and updates for the group, and notes from Bubble Baron analysts.

For those of you who haven’t signed up, it’s still not too late to get involved: click here to sign up for the Bubble Barons investigation.

What does it take for someone to be deemed a bubble baron? I used three main criteria when creating the list, drawing on Forbes’ lists of the 400 wealthiest Americans: Continue reading What Makes Someone a Bubble Baron?

New Investigation: Exposing the Bubble Barons

Today, in partnership with AlterNet, we are launching a new investigation of the class of American super-rich we’ve deemed the Bubble Barons, “a select group of American multi-billionaires who saw astronomic gains in wealth during the housing bubble, and who so far have evaded all accountability in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.” Read the full AlterNet article introducing the project.

We’ve identified 67 bubble barons to target with our investigation. Drawing from Forbes’ lists of the wealthiest Americans for the past ten years, we selected individuals who were worth $2 billion or more (multi-billionaires); whose business activities are mainly in the real estate and finance sectors; and who saw significant gains in net worth over the past ten years (50% or more). Who are they? How have they made their money? Where have they invested it? How have they spent it? Who are their spouses, their friends, their closest business partners?

Join the Bubble Barons research group to help find out!

Continue reading New Investigation: Exposing the Bubble Barons

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

Did Baucus’s romantic trip to Dubai cost taxpayers billions?

News broke this morning that Senator Max Baucus had recommended his girlfriend for a US attorney job. Earlier this year, Baucus nominated Melodee Hanes, his state director and girlfriend, for the post, along with two others. He later withdrew her name.

During her time in Baucus’s office, Hanes collected plenty of taxpayer money at the Senator’s discretion.

But that wasn’t the only benefit Hanes received at public expense: Baucus and his staffer-girlfriend took a taxpayer-funded trip to Dubai and Vietnam in December 2008, according to Congressional disclosure reports.

Continue reading Did Baucus’s romantic trip to Dubai cost taxpayers billions?

Following the Chamber money trail, part 1

The data is in — as promised, we’ve compiled comprehensive political giving info for every US Chamber of Commerce board member using OpenSecrets campaign contribution data.

Current Chamber board members have given over $6 million in campaign contributions since 1992, an average of over $50,000 per director. Roughly 85% of these funds went to Republicans.*

The biggest political donor on the Chamber’s board is George Argyros, the billionaire former ambassador to Spain and much-maligned past owner of the Seattle Mariners. Argyros has given close to $1 million to politicians over the years, with about 99% of it going to Republicans.

Continue reading Following the Chamber money trail, part 1

Who rules the Chamber?

In the hopes of predicting the next defector from the Chamber of Commerce (following the high-profile lead of Apple), we’ve compiled comprehensive political giving info on the business lobby’s 100+ board members.  By analyzing the political ties among the directors, we figured we’d be able to get an idea of who really rules the Chamber — and who is next to leave.

Priscilla and sundin pitched in to assemble the data, drawn from Open Secrets’ stash.  Some interesting patterns emerged, and we built a fascinating data set.  But I don’t think we’re ready to make any predictions, just yet.

In order to get a better sense of how the Chamber works, we need more eyes and better data.  So I’ve started a new research group focused on the Chamber  — join up if you’re interested in figuring out who really rules the Chamber of Commerce.  It’s also linked from the front page.

Continue reading Who rules the Chamber?

Democrats still fighting for public option

Sen. Chris Dodd says he and key Democratic leaders in the Senate haven’t given up on a public option yet. (Reuters)

Health insurance CEOs are firing back against the Senate Finance Committee‘s health bill, saying it will cost them more in the long run. (WSJ)

White House aides David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel are calling out the latest round of Wall Street executive bonuses. (NYT)

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski from Alaska has indicated she may back a “cap and trade” climate change bill. (Reuters)

Raj Rajaratnam, the hedge fund manager arrested last week in the U.S.’s largest insider trading case, may have given money to fund Tamil Tiger rebels. (Reuters)

Intel Inside? Let’s Try ‘Inside Intel’ Instead.

Lobbyists Groups Hired in 2009 ($80,000 or more):

Board of Directors: Noteworthy Members:


Top Five Government Contracts in 2009:

NNDB Visualization

Intel Map
Intel Map

Wells Fargo, Wachovia, and the Vulcan Three

Last October, in a stunning turn of events at the height of the Wall Street crisis, Wachovia backed out of a deal with Citigroup and agreed to a $15 billion merger with Wells Fargo — the biggest bank merger ever. The Charlotte-based Wachovia had recently collapsed under the weight of its own mortgage portfolio and Citi had come to the rescue, offering a rock bottom $1/share that Wachovia accepted in order to avoid bankruptcy. A few days later, Wells Fargo swooped down with an offer worth seven times as much, and Wachovia gladly accepted.

The Wells Fargo deal confused most observers, infuriated Citigroup, resulted in weeks of intense legal wrangling, and ultimately went through. It was an odd marriage, pairing a Charlotte-based bank that had financed the sun belt’s housing bubble with a San Francisco-based bank that had largely avoided it.

How did the two banks come together? What was the real story behind this deal?

As it turns out, a Birmingham, Alabama-based construction aggregate supply company appears to have played a key role in this merger. Last week, I blogged about this bizarre discovery (part of our research project) without offering too much detail. Today I’ll make my case.

Continue reading Wells Fargo, Wachovia, and the Vulcan Three

Tonawanda Coke and the fight for clean air

Matthew and I have always been very excited about the potential of LittleSis as a research tool and platform for activists. It’s a big reason we built it: we wanted to put a cutting-edge research tool in the hands of people who were challenging power. Journalists working to monitor centers of power, but also organizers aiming to influence policy and win concessions from “the powers that be.”

Erin Heaney — the special projects coordinator for LittleSis until last month — is doing just that, as the new executive director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York. The Clean Air Coalition is engaged in an epic fight with Tonawanda Coke, which has been found to be emitting dangerous levels of benzene into the air — as much as 75 times the appropriate levels, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Many members of the coalition have cancer or other serious illnesses due to the toxic levels of benzene in the air.

Continue reading Tonawanda Coke and the fight for clean air