Audit: Salary-Inflating CA City Steered $700K In Gov’t Money Without Approval

November 19, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

An audit of the city of Bell by California’s state controller’s office was released yesterday, and found that former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo steered more than $ 700,000 in state and federal funds “to companies and at least one City Hall insider without valid contracts, competitive bids or even getting City Council approval,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Eight Bell officials pleaded not guilty in October to using public funds to inflate their salaries for part-time elected positions. Rizzo, who was charged with 53 different counts, made nearly $ 800,000 a year. Others made up to $ 96,000 a year for their part-time jobs — 20 times the national average for a city Bell’s size.

The Times reports:

Among the companies that received state and federal tax dollars was an engineering firmed owned by the city’s former planning director, Dennis Tarango. D&J Engineering was paid nearly $ 100,000 from an oil-recycling grant even though the planning director’s company did not have a contract for the work.

The audit said the payment may be illegal and, because of Tarango’s job with the city, raises questions about a conflict of interest.

On March 8, the city will vote on whether to recall Mayor Oscar Hernandez and council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal.

Full coverage of Bell here.







TPMMuckraker

Ken Cuccinelli: Gov’t Could Force You To Buy Gym Membership

November 19, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the rising conservative star who sued the federal government over health care reform, told audience members at the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention yesterday that if the government is allowed force everyone to buy health care, forced gym memberships could be next.

“It is not about health insurance, it is about liberty,” Cuccinelli said. He said that if the government could force citizens to buy health care, a gym membership or even the forced purchase of a car could be next, since jobs are needed in Detroit.

“I own a Chevy Equinox. You don’t want to own a Chevy Equinox,” Cuccinelli said.

He also said that the government’s biggest hurdle in the suit against health care reform, which was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia known to lawyers as the “rocket docket,” was the dictionary.

“They call it the penalty in the bill, but [say] there’s nothing punitive about it,” said Cuccinelli.

He also rebuffed the idea — put forth by other members of the panel — that conservatives should be careful about how much power judges should exert, even if it is in their favor, because of concerns about judicial activism.

“Of course liberals respect judicial restraint now that the courts have given them everything they couldn’t get through the legislative process,” Cuccinelli said.









TPMMuckraker

Ken Cuccinelli: Gov’t Could Force You To Buy Gym Membership

November 19, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the rising conservative star who sued the federal government over health care reform, told audience members at the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention yesterday that if the government is allowed force everyone to buy health care, forced gym memberships could be next.

“It is not about health insurance, it is about liberty,” Cuccinelli said. He said that if the government could force citizens to buy health care, a gym membership or even the forced purchase of a car could be next, since jobs are needed in Detroit.

“I own a Chevy Equinox. You don’t want to own a Chevy Equinox,” Cuccinelli said.

He also said that the government’s biggest hurdle in the suit against health care reform, which was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia known to lawyers as the “rocket docket,” was the dictionary.

“They call it the penalty in the bill, but [say] there’s nothing punitive about it,” said Cuccinelli.

He also rebuffed the idea — put forth by other members of the panel — that conservatives should be careful about how much power judges should exert, even if it is in their favor, because of concerns about judicial activism.

“Of course liberals respect judicial restraint now that the courts have given them everything they couldn’t get through the legislative process,” Cuccinelli said.









TPMMuckraker

Rep.-elect Mike Kelly Accepts Crowley’s Challenge, Promises Not To Enroll In Govt Health Care

November 18, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Yesterday, responding to Rep.-elect Andy Harris’ (R-MD) hypocritical demand for government-sponsored benefits, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) began circulating a letter among his Democratic colleagues calling on Harris and other members of Congress who want to repeal the new health care law to forego their own government health care plans. In a letter to House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Crowley writes, “If your conference wants to deny millions of Americans affordable health care, your members should should walk that walk.”

This morning, a caller to C-SPAN’s Washington Journal asked Rep.-elect Mike Kelly (R-PA) — who also opposes the health care law — if he would be willing to give up his government-sponsored health insurance. Kelly said that he would:

KELLY: There is no reason for anybody to get anything different than anybody else. I personally have always paid for my own health care… why should my pension as a public official be any different from anyone else’s pension? Why should my health care, as a public official, be any different than anybody else’s? No, level across the board. […]

Q: So will you have a Congressional plan?

KELLY: No, I do not need. I got my own plan, I don’t need a congressional plan. I’ve taken care of myself for a long time.

Watch it:

The Congressional health care system — the Federal Employees’ Health Plan (FEHBP) — is very similar to the Exchanges established in the Affordable Care Act. Like federal employees, beginning in 2014, many Americans will be able to choose coverage from a series of private options competing for their business within a new health care market place — the state-based exchange.

Kelly, however, will not have that choice of enrolling in an FEHBP plan by 2014 and could have coverage that is “the same as everyone else’s.” Under a Republican amendment to the Affordable Care Act, “the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available” to Members of Congress and congressional staff” are “health plans that are I) created under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act); or (II) offered through an Exchange established under this Act.”

Wonk Room

Dems pressure GOP on gov’t health care

November 17, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

CBS News reports:

A group of House Democrats has released a letter to Republican congressional leaders calling on them to announce which of their members will be forgoing their congressional benefit health insurance (which is subsidized by the government) in light of their party’s opposition to health care reform overhaul legislation.

"If your conference wants to deny millions of Americans affordable health care, your members should walk that walk," four Democrats write in the letter, which is addressed to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican leader John Boehner. "You cannot enroll in the very kind of coverage that you want for yourselves, and then turn around and deny it to Americans who don’t happen to be Members of Congress."





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Ben Smith’s Blog

Pawlenty wants last call on gov’t spending

November 14, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

In a New Hampshire Union Leader op-ed, outgoing Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty compares Congress to an open-bar wedding:

[M]ost of us have attended weddings, some with open bars, and some with cash bars. Behavior predictably is different depending on whether people are drinking for "free" or not. Guests presented with options at a cash bar typically will pause and think about what they would like to consume, how much they would like to consume, and how much it will cost. The money they spend is their own, and they tend, for the most part, to make reasonable and rational choices. Now consider an open bar. Guests tend to consume almost endlessly (we’ve all seen it), with no regard for cost, much less the volume of consumption. People at an open bar are more likely to embarrass themselves, not to mention bankrupt the father of the bride.

Washington, D.C., has essentially become an open bar affair: Congress hands out "free stuff" without concern for the bill. We’ve seen bailouts for big banks and car companies, "cash for clunkers," and mortgages for all. The Democrats passed a "stimulus" that only made the deficit bigger, while they did nothing to reform entitlement programs

In a great country song, Garth Brooks sings, "long neck bottle, let go of my hand." The current mess we’re in is not someone else’s fault. The solution is in our hands.





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Ben Smith’s Blog

Cindy McCain: ‘Our Gov’t Treats The LGBT Community Like Second Class Citizens’ (VIDEO)

November 12, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Cindy McCain, the wife of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), joined a number of celebrity supporters of the NoH8 Campaign — originally designed to protest the passage of Proposition 8, California’s anti-same sex marriage amendment — in participating in a public service announcement about the bullying LGBT people face.

Ironically, her husband is currently at the center of the battle to prevent Democrats from repealing the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy (despite the results of the Pentagon’s study that shows it would have little effect) during the upcoming lame duck session of Congress.

Cindy McCain and the other celebrities appearing in the PSA say unequivocally that government policies like DADT, the inability for same sex couples to marry and, in some states, the restrictions same sex couples face in adopting all contribute to a culture in which the intolerance, hatred and mockery of LGBT people remains acceptable.

Watch the PSA below:







TPMMuckraker

Cindy McCain: ‘Our Gov’t Treats The LGBT Community Like Second Class Citizens’ (VIDEO)

November 12, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Cindy McCain, the wife of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), joined a number of celebrity supporters of the NoH8 Campaign — originally designed to protest the passage of Proposition 8, California’s anti-same sex marriage amendment — in participating in a public service announcement about the bullying LGBT people face.

Ironically, her husband is currently at the center of the battle to prevent Democrats from repealing the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy (despite the results of the Pentagon’s study that shows it would have little effect) during the upcoming lame duck session of Congress.

Cindy McCain and the other celebrities appearing in the PSA say unequivocally that government policies like DADT, the inability for same sex couples to marry and, in some states, the restrictions same sex couples face in adopting all contribute to a culture in which the intolerance, hatred and mockery of LGBT people remains acceptable.

Watch the PSA below:







TPMMuckraker

WaPo Buries, NYT Print Edition Ignores Govt. Investigation Finding Obama White House Edited BP Oil Spill Report

November 11, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

During the Bush administration, the media made much of political appointees supposedly editing and otherwise interfering with the integrity of the work of career federal government scientists, particularly on studies pertaining to global warming/climate change.

Well now the Associated Press is reporting that an inspector general's report from the Interior Department released yesterday found that the Obama White House "edited a drilling safety report in a way that made it falsely appear that scientists and experts backed the administration's six-month moratorium on new deep-water drilling." (emphasis mine)

Additionally, "Obama's energy adviser, Carol Browner, mischaracterized on national TV a government analysis about where the oil went, saying it showed most of the oil was 'gone.'"

In fact, "[t]he report said it could still be there," AP's Dina Cappiello noted.

Cappiello's story was buried on page A27 of today's Washington Post, but at least the paper covered the story. A Nexis search for "BP" mentions in the November 11 paper turned two hits from the New York Times, but neither story was about the inspector general's report.

read more

NewsBusters.org – Exposing Liberal Media Bias

Chris Christie: No. 1 U.S. Attorney In Wasting Gov’t Travel Money

November 9, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

The Justice Department Inspector General released a report yesterday showing that a select number of U.S. Attorneys sought reimbursement above government lodging rates. At the top of the worst offenders list: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who was U.S. Attorney from 2002 to 2008.

The report doesn’t identify Christie or any of the U.S. Attorneys by name. But thanks to stories that came out during his campaign against former Gov. Jon Corzine (D) in 2009, we know that the U.S. Attorney who went over the government-set reimbursement rate the most between 2007 and 2009 was none other than current New Jersey governor.

Specifics of Christie’s travel detailed in stories during the gubernatorial race last year as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request from his opponent match with the profile of a federal prosecutor dubbed “U.S. Attorney C” in the Inspector General report.

“In terms of the percentage of travel, U.S. Attorney C was the U.S. Attorney who most often exceeded the government rate without adequate justification,” the report found. “The U.S. Attorney provided insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification for 14 of 23 trips (61 percent) that exceeded the government rate.”

The fiscally conservative Republican governor was one of a “relatively small number of U.S. Attorneys” who did not comply with federal travel regulations or provide appropriate justification for his lodging costs which exceeded the government rate. He was just one of five U.S. Attorneys identified “who exhibited a noteworthy pattern of exceeding the government rate and whose travel documentation provided insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification for the higher lodging rates.”

One footnote mentions that Christie set up and had the government pay for a prearranged car service for a four-mile trip back and forth from the Boston airport at a price of $ 236 round trip. “In another example of excessive transportation costs, his car service from a London airport to his hotel in central London cost $ 562 round trip,” the report added.

Christie declined a request for an interview with the Inspector General’s office. Christie’s press secretary Michael Drewniak told the Associated Press that “the governor thoroughly addressed this issue during the campaign, and I would refer you to his remarks then.”

FireDogLake first connected the dots between the OIG report and TPMDC’s October 2009 story. Some of the details that Christie and U.S. Attorney C shared include stays at the Nine Zero Hotel in Boston and the Four Seasons on Pennsylvania Ave. in D.C.

The period in question is 2007 through 2009, a tumultuous time in the Justice Department with high turnover in no small part due to the U.S. Attorneys scandal. As a result, 208 individuals served as U.S. Attorneys from 93 districts during the time of review.

Besides Christie, the other former U.S. Attorneys mentioned in the report were not immediately identifiable. The report excluded trips by U.S. Attorneys acting in other positions for DOJ entities, and therefore likely does not include Mary Beth Buchanan, who spent more than $ 450,000 on at least 347 trips over her eight year term at U.S. Attorney.

The report also identifies a U.S. Attorney who was testifying before the Senate Judicary Committee “reservation to the University Club, which cost $ 189.50 per night, or $ 35 over the government rate.”

Obama administration officials have since implemented stricter limitations on U.S. Attorney travel. U.S. Attorneys Director H. Marshall Jarrett wrote in a memo outlining the restrictions (available here) that the revamped procedures would ensure compliance with travel policies; strengthen internal controls and oversight of U.S. Attorneys’ travel in a user-friendly process; and maintain the integrity and reputation the U.S. Attorney position.

The Inspector General found those measures were a step in the right direction but suggested further protocols to stop inappropriate travel practices.

A Review of U.S. Attorney Travel that Exceeded the Government Lodging Rate









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