Steve Beshear’s decision to appeal the court’s ruling that Kentucky must recognize gay marriages is sad but not surprising. Outside one single issue, Beshear has shown himself again and again to be a weak Democrat and a weak leader.
Maybe he’s planning a run for Senate in 2016. Maybe he’s just as useless on equal rights as he is on the environment. Maybe he’s just a useless homophobe and we should treat him like the dinosaur he is and retire him to his Ark Park.
But what I’m curious about in this story is this: What Would Andy Beshear Do?
Steve’s son, who’s known to start food fights in food pantries, is running for Jack Conway’s job… Attorney General of Kentucky.
Perhaps Steve’s decision to appeal is actually an attempt to protect his son, to swaddle Andy in a warm blanket of “not in my control” and pamper him with the soft coos of “I’ll wait to see what the court decides.”
If Kentucky appeals and the matter is settled one way or another, Andy Beshear is handed yet another political silver spoon and never has to pick a side.
But why shouldn’t he pick a side? He’s running for Attorney General.
Either Andy Beshear agrees with his father — who is quite clearly wrong — or he agrees with Jack Conway.
“Judge Heyburn’s decision does not tell a minister or a congregation what they must do, but in government, ‘equal justice under law’ is a different matter,” Conway said. “For those who disagree, I can only say that I am doing what I think is right. In the final analysis, I had to make a decision that I could be proud of — for me now, and my daughters’ judgement in the future.”
Conway made his decision, in part, with an eye toward how his children would look at him. Maybe Steve Beshear made his decision for the exact same reason.
So someone tell us… what would Andy Beshear do?
What kind of Attorney General would he be? Which side is he on? Does he agree with Conway, or his homophobic father?
And ‘letting the courts decide’ isn’t an answer.
Watch Jack Conway’s powerful statement on why appealing Judge Heyburn’s decision is wrong, and contemplate why Steve Beshear thinks discrimination is right:
Mitch McConnell does not. As we discussed, McConnell on Friday employed the exact same set of arguments against raising the minimum wage in 2014 as he did back in 1988, claiming that any increase in the minimum wage:
Would Kill Jobs.
Doesn’t really matter or really affect anyone.
May be popular in polls but regular people are morons and have no idea what they’re talking about.
You can see 2014 Mitch here and 1988 Mitch right here:
Raising the minimum wage above $3.35/hr will utterly destroy the economy!
McConnell was asked on Friday any increase to the minimum wage would be acceptable. McConnell said “No.” He claimed that any increase in the minimum wage would kill jobs, the same claim he made in 1988. He further claimed that PolitiFact, the nonpartisan factcheckers, had affirmed that his “job killing” contention was “Absolutely Right” — even though it doesn’t appear PolitiFact ever made such a ruling and despite the fact the preponderance of evidence doesn’t support McConnell’s “job killing” claim.
We suggest that the real question is not “Is any increase in the minimum wage acceptable to you, Mr. McConnell?” but is instead:
If any increase in the minimum wage kills jobs, how many jobs would be created if we lowered the minimum wage — and how much of a decrease in the minimum wage does Mr. McConnell support?
We haven’t got an answer to that question yet but while we wait, it seems like a good time for a laugh.
Some people claim that Mitch McConnell is “humorless.” That’s simply not the case. In 1985, the National Press Club hosted a diner for the Vice President of the United State, Mr. George H. W. Bush. The event was hosted by Sam Donaldson of ABC News and featured stand-up routines from several freshman legislators. While a couple of the others were definitely funnier (John Kerry made a fat joke about Ted Kennedy, John Rockefeller made a bunch of jokes about the Trilateral Commission), Mitch McConnell certainly held his own, complete with a just hilarious story about how he condescended to the waiter who’s job it was to serve him butter.
McConnell’s routine begins with Sam Donaldson asking, “What rhymes with Mitch?”
McConnell, playing the part of a hurt and confused little boy, makes his way to the podium and answers, “Is Barbara Bush here?”
She was. Sitting right next to him. The routine only went up from there. Watch:
And for all you insatiables out there still looking for a laugh, here’s comedian David Cross on the subject of the Minimum Wage:
Late last month the famous — and famously rich — venture capitalist Tom Perkins wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal in which he explained that America’s super-wealthy 1% are exactly the same as the Jews of 1930s Germany and that the progressive hoards who populate the entire rest of the 99% are Nazis.
Perkins’ letter forewarns us (or them, it’s unclear) of a precipitating “Kristallnacht” after which presumably Perkins and his fellow 1% — including Dannielle Steele, of course — will be rounded up and killed.
“I don’t think people have any idea what the 1 percent is actually contributing to America,” he said at one point.
Coming at a time when [San Francisco's] tech boom is creating widening income inequality, Perkins’ talk seemed perfectly calculated to ignite further conflict. He sneered at protests against tech shuttles, casually dismissed gentrification as “inevitable,” advocated for cutting food stamps, and condemned Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty for “unknowingly creating the destruction of lower-end families in America.”
Perkins suggested that if Germany was as awash in guns as modern day America, Hitler would’ve never existed. He lamented the persecution of the poor billionaire Koch brothers. And at one point he claimed that our American democracy could be stronger if ”You don’t get to vote unless you pay $1 in taxes…If you pay $1 million in taxes, you should get a million votes.”
Once a supporter of Democratic causes, Tom Perkins has shifted right over the past several years (like much of post-Great Recession Wall Street), giving north of $80K over the past couple cycles to Republican candidates. [link, link]
Indeed Perkins appears to have developed a powerful interest in seeing Republicans take control of the United States Senate. Over the past four years Tom Perkins has given at least $71,500.00 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee [link, link, link]:
The mission of the NRSC is, of course, to elect Republicans to the United States Senate and their ultimate goal is to win majority control of the Senate. If the NRSC were ever able to do this, Mitch McConnell, currently the Senate’s Minority Leader, would fulfill his lifelong dream and become the Senate Majority Leader.
McConnell wields tremendous power over the NRSC. His “unseen hand,” as Roll Call put it, guides the mission and focus of the NRSC.
Last August, McConnell installed Josh Holmes, his chief of staff, at the NRSC to – as POLITICO reported – “focus exclusively on the GOP leader’s reelection campaign and the national Republican effort to take back the majority next year.”
McConnell has even sought to use the NRSC’s muscle to blacklist a consulting firm that’s done work on behalf of the conservatives challenging him in the upcoming primary race [link, link, link, link].
On Wednesday, Mitch McConnell enraged conservative voters across the country — and around Kentucky — by joining a handful of other Republican Senators in voting with the Democratic majority to stop a filibuster and raise the nation’s debt limit [link, link].
His vote case, McConnell left the Senate floor, avoiding journos, and slipped out the door on his way to a party. National Review reports:
After the late-afternoon vote, McConnell headed to a meeting with senior adviser Josh Holmes. Then the two went to a National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) fundraiser at its offices on Capitol Hill. They arrived late to a room that — surprising to many, given the terrible weather — was packed with dozens of attendees. Sources say about 50 to 100 people were present and tell NRO that when the minority leader entered, he was greeted with an eruption of cheers, and that many attendees stood to applaud him.
On Friday — the first Valentine’s Day in Kentucky history where married homosexuals were considered something close to equal citizens — Mitch McConnell was in Louisville holding a press conference to address the silent violence of Adolf Hitler’s President Obama’s increasingly aggressive class warfare.
The appearance was particularly important because it offered an opportunity for McConnell to use the claim of class warfare to change the subject away from his own complicity in raising the debt limit which his ‘true conservative’ constituency believes will kill jobs right and left.
McConnell’s ‘class warfare’ argument follows the same basic beats as Mitt Romney’s, Rush Limbaugh’s and Tom Perkins’:
There is a mass of (possibly dangerous; definitely lazy) Takers feeding off the 1% Makers.
Faced with Kentucky’s successful rollout of Obamacare — the number enrolled will soon hit a quarter million, nearly half of them under the age of 35 — McConnell describes these Kentucky voters as “people signing up for something that is free.” [link]
After Alison Lundergan Grimes endorsed the idea of raising the minimum wage back in December, Joe Sonka reported that the Kentucky GOP had accused Grimes of trying to “buy some votes.”
McConnell’s campaign manager said Grimes’ support of an increased minwage is an example of “a tried-and-tested part of the liberal playbook to use the politics of class warfare.” [link]
And on Friday in Louisville, McConnell claimed that an increased minimum wage:
Would Kill Jobs.
Doesn’t really matter or really affect anyone.
May be popular in polls but regular people are morons and have no idea what they’re talking about.
Asked if his opposition to the increase was dangerous because polls show overwhelming public support for the raise, McConnell responded:
My main concern is not what the polls are, but what’s the right policy. And we know for sure, this kind of minimum wage increase is going to be a job killer.
Asked if there was an appropriate level the minimum wage should be raised to — like, if $10.10 is too high, is he in favor of any increase — McConnell indicated that “he doesn’t believe there is an acceptable minimum wage increase level.” [link]
In Mitch McConnell’s Nanny State, the public does not understand its own expenses. Just because people think that if they were just paid a little bit more, they would be better able to feed their families and pay their bills, the truth is that these people — a majority of Kentucky voters — are too stupid to understand basic economics. The reality is that if they were paid even a penny more, they would all lose their jobs. Their jobs would be killed. Only Mitch McConnell’s Nanny State can stop this from happening.
And Mitch McConnell should know. Because Mitch McConnell’s been singing this exact same song for almost three decades.
Ladies & Gentlemen… Mitch McConnell, 1988:
Raising the minimum wage above $3.35/hr will utterly destroy the economy!
In the above, Sen. Mitch McConnell argues that raising the minimum wage from $3.35 an hour to $5 an hour will kill jobs no matter how popular it is with an economically ignorant public. He made literally every single argument in Louisville in 2014 against a minimum wage increase that he made a quarter century ago in Bowling Green.
Would Kills Jobs.
Doesn’t really matter or affect anyone.
May be popular in polls but regular people are morons and have no idea what they’re talking about.
Mitch McConnell has opposed increasing the minimum wage every time it’s been proposed over the course of his time in the US Senate. And even though he’s never been right about that opposition (minimum wage goes up yet somehow jobs still exist), he continues to voice the exact same opposition based on the exact same reasoning.
[Aside to the Tea Party grassroots and the True Conservatives: Even though McConnell's opposed every single minimum wage hike, he's ultimately caved and supported the wage increases. That means Mitch McConnell is an ineffective leader who claims to be concerned with conservative policy and not public opinion polls but who consistently fails to advance and protect those supposed conservative values. Put another way: "Losers go home, winners make policy."]
McConnell said, however, that increasing the minimum wage means the loss of 10,000 jobs in Kentucky. Small businesses could not afford to pay the increase and would therefore need to reduce the number of employees.
“I think we need to be creating jobs, not looking for ways to destroy them,” McConnell said. “I mentioned it was a job killer on one of the Sunday shows, and one of the factcheckers, I think it was PolitiFact, looked at it and said I was absolutely right.” [link]
McConnell claims that PolitiFact looked into his “Job Killing” argument and says they ruled he “was absolutely right.” If they did, I can’t find it.
After McConnell’s recent Sunday morning show appearance, PolitiFact did look into whether his claim that the minimum wage most often affects young people — “Mostly True,” they said… not “absolutely.” But there does not appear to be any Fact Check on McConnell’s “job killing” claim. [I've reached out to PolitiFact for clarification/comment and/or a fresh Fact Check on McConnell's "absolutely right" assertion.]
In fact, the evidence over a couple decades of studying the effects of minimum wage increases suggests no such causal relationship. When the minimum wage is raised, unemployment does not increase… and in many cases historically it’s gone down. [You can go down this hole if you'd like; BusinessWeek has a good current argument here, and there's this, this, this, this, this.]
But let’s stop for a second.
What if Mitch McConnell is absolutely right?
What if raising the minimum wage does kill jobs?
When asked about raising the minimum wage from $3.25 to $5.00 back in 1988, McConnell said any raise would kill jobs!
When asked about raising the minimum wage in 2014, McConnell said any raise would kill jobs.
“I think we need to be creating jobs, not looking for ways to destroy them,” McConnell said.
If that were true — ifraising the minimum wage destroys jobs — then what about the inverse? Mitch McConnell was opposed to raising the minimum wage in 1988. He’s been opposed each successive time the minimum wage has been raised since 1989 (when he ultimately caved and voted to raise it). Is it not then safe to assume that:
a) Tens of thousands if not millions of jobs have been destroyed.
b) Actually lowering the minimum wage would create jobs.
On Friday in Louisville, the press asked Mitch McConnell what level of minimum wage increase he might accept. Perhaps that is the wrong question.
Perhaps what we should be asking of Mitch McConnell is:
How much should we lower the Minimum Wage?
How many jobs will we create if we slash the Minimum Wage completely?
If we returned the Minimum Wage to its perfectly reasonable 1988 level which clearly never needed to changed to begin with, could we then reach full employment in America?
Or would we need to completely dismantle the minimum wage in order to truly eradicate unemployment?
On the one hand, these are idiotic questions because the founding premise (Mitch McConnell’s argument) is painfully wrong.
And on the other hand, if Mitch McConnell truly believes that any increase in the minimum wage will result in the elimination of jobs — and he must believe this because it is his recurring argument against any such raise – then would it not be the case that he believes keeping the minimum wage at its current rate will keep the nation’s employment rate stable while slashing the minimum wage would actually create jobs?
“I think we need to be creating jobs, not looking for ways to destroy them,” McConnell said.
In trying to explain his letter to the Wall Street Journal, Tom Perkins — the billionaire funder of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — laid out a series of solutions to the income inequality “problem” currently facing America:
“The 1 percent are not the problem,” Perkins said. “It’s absurd to demonize the rich for being rich, and doing what the rich do… which is getting more rich by creating opportunities for others.”
According to Perkins, the rich as a class are threatened by higher taxes and higher regulation, both of which make job creation more difficult. He argued that he believed the solution was “less [government] interference” and “lower taxes,” which again, “would let the rich do what the rich do, which is get richer.”
And, you know, create a rising tide for all the rest of us.
That message follows the typical trickle-down economics playbook that the GOP has been pushing since at least the 1980s. And yet, despite lower marginal tax rates than at any point since the Great Depression, income inequality just keeps getting worse. [link]
Lower taxes on the wealthy, less government regulation of the industries that keep them wealthy, and less ‘interference’ in how they make their money… like dictating to them how much they must pay their lowly workers.
News this morning is that Comcast is taking over Time Warner. Three years ago, Time Warner began the process of taking over Insight. If you have phone, internet or TV with Time Warner you already know that their customer service is terrible, that their billing practices are shady, that their prices are egregious, that their internet speeds are slow, and that if you try to have a semi-reasonable conversation with them about any of that they’re going to be incredibly rude and incredibly unhelpful because, hey, they can afford to do that.
What if it could be another way?
What if instead of corporations taking over and controlling your internet, a little local cooperation could achieve the same end?
As it just so happens…
By way of a little bird, we hear that Time Warner is holding a “Franchise Agreement workshop” with the Lexington Council today — 4:30PM at the Government Center in the 2nd Floor Caucus Room.
Since all the members will be there, it has to be open to the public (SEE UPDATE AT BOTTOM).
Back in 2011, Roy Cornett had an incredibly bright idea — Lexington could take over the internet.
Coming on the heels of the announcement of Louisville and Lexington’s formation of the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement (BEAM) to team up and make the Bluegrass an attractive destination for advanced manufacturing and the 21st Century economy, the two largest cities in Kentucky served by Insight can boost our stock and standing even more.
We can choose to maintain the status quo and allow out-of-state corporations to continue to control our access to the Internet, or we can rescind the franchise agreements to the copper and fiber lying in the ground around our community and treat the Internet as the piece of infrastructure essential for our future economic growth that it is.
Just as public roads fueled the industrial revolution and the highways aided interstate commerce, an open and sophisticated fiber optic network can be used to attract new businesses to the Bluegrass.
Guaranteed quality service at reasonable rates can be a very powerful tool for economic development. If costs were allowable, a joint municipal service could incentivize businesses to locate here with ultra-low or no-cost high-speed access. In the world of advanced manufacturing, that can be powerful.
There’s nothing really stopping us except motivation, coordination, interest, and big money lobbyists. The Telecoms are fighting across the country to create laws that would block municipalities from doing exactly this.
Why do Telecoms not want municipalities to take over control of the internet?
And like we wrote in 2011… if you meet someone who says the city owning the internet is “socialism” you can politely point out to them that it’s actually CAPITALISM.
A cutting edge urban region that unlocks the power of the internet — increasing up and down speeds that, in most communities, the cable companies keep choked off — would create a powerful incentive for businesses to locate in the Bluegrass. The move would not negatively affect businesses at large, just one large business.
And it wouldn’t even shut that business down — ComcastTimeWarnerInsight could continue providing its terrible service, just now it would have some serious competition.
Even more serious if Louisville and Lexington teamed up to create a Silicon Alley/Research Triangle super region where the internet was as fast as the horses we race… call it THOROUGHBRED ALLEY. You want business startups? That’s how you do it. You want tech businesses to build here? That’s how you do it.
“Franchise Agreement workshop”
with the Lexington Council today
4:30PM at the Government Center
in the 2nd Floor Caucus Room.
Be there. Or be on hold with Time Warner customer service waiting fifteen minutes for them to finally get on the line and tell you how stupid you are for asking for something faster, cheaper, smarter, better… just more.
A very helpful birdy tells us:
This workshop today is not being held by Time Warner for the Council. The Council called this workshop which will be dedicated to receiving as much information as possible from our representatives who work with the franchise. Of course the public has a right to know this meeting is taking place which is why it was advertised by public notice a few days ago. However, there is a great deal of information to be presented and a limited amount of time to do so meaning it is unlikely that the Council will have time to allow the public to speak.
This clarification is much appreciated. The meeting is open but you probably can’t speak. That doesn’t mean don’t go… the more feedback Council gets from the community the better, of course (and from feedback we’re getting, they do seem to want to do something). So help them along! (You may also have a chance to speak at 6pm-er afterwards, and of course if you go you can find out how to follow along the process more closely).
If you look at the year-end campaign finance report from Congressman Garland H. Barr IV, the United States Representative of Kentucky’s 6th District, several items will pop out at you.
Garland — or “Andy” as we colloquialize him (see also: “dumb down”) — has $900,032 on hand. In the fourth quarter he raised $278,604, less than the each of the previous three. About 10% of that came from political committees.
Alpha Natural Resources gave Barr $5,000 (putting their yearly total at $10,000) and another big coal outfit, Alliance Coal, gave $3,000 (also putting their total for the year at $10,000).
Mitch McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee gave Garland $5,000 — again, putting the YTD at $10,000.
John Boehner’s Freedom Project wrote Andy one $5,000 check on November 6th and another $5,000 check on December 29th.
And then there’s $1,090.96 from something called the “Committee To Protect Prosperity And Free Enterprise.” On the year, the “Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise” gave the Andy Barr for Congress campaign $42,808.96.
But what — or who — is the Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise? And why the interest in Kentucky’s 6th District Congressman, Garland H. Barr IV?
The Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise was created on June 27th, 2013 as a “Joint Fundraising Representative.” [PDF]
“This committee collects contributions, pays fundraising expenses and disburses net proceeds for two or more political committees/organizations, at least one of which is an authorized committee of a federal candidate.”
The Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise represented six Republican congressional campaigns. They were: Andy Barr for Congress; Michael Grimm for Congress; Duffy for Congress; Fitzpatrick for Congress; Gary Miller for Congress; and Rothfus for Congress.
The Committee collected money from contributors, subtracted fees for vendors and divvied the rest out equally to participating campaigns.
This is all in the past tense because the Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise no longer exists.
On January 30th, 2014 the Committee filed its “Termination Report” with the FEC, just seven months after its founding [PDF]. Apparently Prosperity and Free Enterprise no longer needed protecting.
Still, in its very brief existence, the Committee was able to dole out $40,000+ to six different Republican congressmen. So where’d that money come from and why, if they were having such great success, did they disband so quickly?
The Committee’s “Custodian of Records” was Campaign Financial Services and their Treasurer was Brenda Pejovich.
Campaign Financial Services manages fundraising services for Republican campaigns. It’s run by Paul Ritacco. Paul and his wife — a former top aide to Karen Hughes in the Bush White House — have a scholarship fund [link] at The Fund for American Studies. TFAS was founded in 1967 by William F. Buckley and other conservatives “in response to the political and social upheaval of the 1960s” and was aimed at “college students [who] needed a balanced perspective on political and economic institutions” because “the counterculture and many of the youth movements of the 1960s not only rejected the American political tradition, but also actively worked to undermine and subvert the ideas and principles on which America was built.” [link]
If you’ll recall, the 1960s saw the rise of the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Rights movement, the creation of Medicare and various other totally terrifying threats to the founding principles of America, such as Rock n’ Roll.
The Fund for American Studies (TFAS) seeks to create a brighter, more prosperous future by preparing young people for leadership and teaching them the ideas of freedom and a free-market economy. [link]
But back to the Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise, the group that gave $42,000 to Andy Barr.
The Treasurer, Brenda Pejovich, runs an eponymous consulting firm in Dallas and sits on the board of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank whose members gave over $1.5 million dollars to Texas Gov. Rick Perry from 2001 to 2010.
In 2010, Perry named Pejovich to the University of Texas Board of Regents [link]. (Pejovich had personally given $38,000.) Last year Pejovich found herself in an awkward position before the Texas House Committee on Transparency in State Operations as lawmakers tried to discern the power the Texas Public Policy Foundation might hold over Gov. Perry and the state’s higher education policy. (In an email to Pejovich and others, Perry sympathized with his Board of Regents for being “hammered by charlatans and peacocks” and compared their fight, graphically, to the Battle of Bulge.) [link]
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, where Pejovich sits on the Board, is part of the State Policy Network. The State Policy Network is one of the central conservative forces behind the GOP’s ongoing war on labor and regulations (see Wisconsin, Michigan, etc). As Mother Jones reported in 2011 [link]:
Conceived by the same conservative ideologues who helped found the Heritage Foundation, the State Policy Network (SPN) is a little-known umbrella group with deep ties to the national conservative movement. Its mission is simple: to back a constellation of state-level think tanks loosely modeled after Heritage that promote free-market principles and rail against unions, regulation, and tax increases. By blasting out policy recommendations and shaping lawmakers’ positions through briefings and private meetings, these think tanks cultivate cozy relationships with GOP politicians.
The SPN affiliate in Kentucky is the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, whose Board Members include Tom Dupree Jr. and Warren Rogers [link]. Dupree Jr. has given Barr $4,000 since the 2010 race (his father, Dupree Sr., has given Barr $18,000) [link, and year end report] while Rogers and his wife have given Barr almost $14,000. [link].
But neither Dupree nor Rogers gave money to the very short lived yet highly lucrative Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise.
In fact, of the $42,000 The Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise funneled to Garland H. Barr IV, not one cent of it came from anyone in Kentucky, let alone from anyone in the 6th District Andy is supposed to represent.
In the 3rd Quarter they raised $287,407. All but thirteen donors came from Texas; over 80% of the total haul of the Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise came from the Lone Star state. And all of it came between July 2nd and September 28th. In the second — and final — filing of the Committee’s existence, covering the 4th Quarter of 2013, they took in just $4,800.
Barr’s $42,000 comes primarily from donors who primarily live in Texas. Some came from PACs, most came from individuals. Among the donors there is a heavy presence of Pay Day Lenders — Online Lenders Alliance PAC, Ace Cash Express, Cash America, the family behind Cash Now Arkansas.
There’s also a heavy presence of mortgage related businesses. Eric Green runs Real Time Resolutions, “one of the largest mortgage specialty servicers and mortgage consulting firms in the U.S., collecting and servicing mortgage loans and performing mortgage related consulting, evaluation, scoring and component related services for many national institutions and investment banks.” [link] James Frappier’s BDF Law Group is involved in mortgage and loan collection and litigation [link].
There are banks and investment and insurance firms. These include Compass Banc PAC and BOK Financial Corporation PAC. Clint Carlson runs Carlson Capital, an asset management firm that manages over $7 Billion in funds. Randall Goss is the head of US Risk Insurance; Billy Don Henry runs insurance giant MHBT and William McIntyre, who gave $15,000, runs Americas Contractors Insurance (and has helped fund the Texas Public Policy Foundation [pdf]). The good folks at Clarity Services, a Florida based credit bureau that tracks consumer financial and credit transactions, gave over $14,000 — Tim Ranney, the head of Clarity, gave $12,000; and also penned this interesting counter-take on Pay Day Lending and the consumer-as-victim storyline.
Beau Fournet and David Haley, both of HBK Investments, gave $15,000 each. HBK is an arbitrage risk hedge fund, investing in things like CDOs and bank debt… something that got it burned in 2007/8 but they’ve since, thankfully, bounced back [link].
Andy Beal, on the other, hand never gets burned. The guy’s a total character (loves poker, hangs with Steve Wynn and George W. Bush) and his Beal Bank has made a name for itself by buying up troubled assets after Enron, 9/11 and the 2008 financial collapse [link, link, link]. He gave $31,200 to the Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise.
The list goes on (including $15K from the grandson of oil tycoon HL Hunt) but there is a general pattern. With few exceptions the donors to the Committee hail from Texas, and the predominant feature among them is a usual connection to the financial services industry. Shared interests of these groups would likely include payday lending, “consumer protection,” and general banking regulation at large.
Andy Barr sits on the House Financial Services Committee. As the New York Times noted last August, Barr has no real experience with the intricacies of Wall Street, yet there he is providing oversight of the nation’s sprawling banking industry… at the same time he pockets their cash.
Mr. Barr, 40, a first-time elected official, has raised nearly as much money this year from political action committees run by major banks, credit unions and insurance companies as longtime lawmakers like Speaker John A. Boehner and other party leaders.
The flood of financial industry cash — $150,000 in political action committee donations to Mr. Barr in just six months — is hardly an accident.
That article came out August 11th, before the bulk of the fundraising action at the Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise had even begun. But recall, Andy Barr was not the only recipient of the Committee’s money. The Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise — which has no web presence — was a ‘Joint Committee.’ It represented the fundraising interests of six Congressmen: Andy Barr (R-KY), Michael Grimm (R-NY), Sean Duffy (R-WI), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Gary Miller (R-CA) and Keith Rothfus (R-PA).
What do these six Republicans have in common? If you answered ‘threatening to throw a reporter off a balcony and break him in half like a little boy,’ you’re wrong. (That’s just Rep. Grimm. So far.)
If you answered that all six sit on the House Financial Services Committee, then you are correct [link]. And five of the six, including Barr, sit on the Financial Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. (Only Miller is missing) [link].
So… did treasurer Brenda Pejovich, the Rick Perry ally and board member at the conservative Texas Public Policy Institute, pull this whole Committee together — a valiant effort to connect six Republican Congressmen from more northern climes with a cash spigot of mostly Texan financial interests? The Committee’s documents only indicate the Treasurer and the Custodian of Records (Campaign Financial Services), not necessarily the braintrust behind the group.
And why was it created for what basically amounted to a two month fundraising binge and then as quickly as it got started, shuttered?
The only other evident clue is in the disbursements. The Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise gave roughtly $42,000 to each of its six candidates, but also $18,000 to a woman named Bunni Pounds. Pounds was paid out on September 20th for “Fundraising Consulting.” The Committee took only six more contributions after that date, about $10,000 additional in all.
Bunni Pounds lives in Garland, TX. Among other things, she’s a musician, a sort of Christian rock Ani DiFranco:
She is also the campaign manager for Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling [link]. And Brenda Pejovich routinely serves as Treasurer of Hensarling’s fundraising committees. [link, link]
In office since 2003, Hensarling represents the 5th District of Texas, and counts former Senator Phil Gramm as his mentor. Hensarling is a conservative (strong record against abortion, gay marriage, and flag burning) and voted against the 2008 bailout and the succeeding TARP program. From 2011 to 2013, he was the fourth ranking Republican in the House, serving as Chair of the Republican Conference (he beat out Michelle Bachman for the honor).
And Hensarling is the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee — the same committee on which all six of the “Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise” Congressman sit.
Last September, Hensarling took five of those six Congressmen to Dallas. They took this picture with the head of the National Association of Credit Services Organizations, Doug Parker. [link]
Garland H. Barr IV started from the bottom, now the whole team here.
Parker, pictured in the center standing next to Garland H. Barr IV, wrote a $1,000 check to the Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise on September 3rd. The visit falls right at the heart of the Committee’s fundraising activities and on the 5th of September, the Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise records receipts and disbursements for email blast services, lodging, transportation, gifts and mementos and postage to “Friends of Jeb Hensarling,” the campaign committee of Rep. Hensarling which is run by Bunni Pounds.
In a flurry of press reports last spring and early summer, Jeb Hensarling laid out his new path forward for Republican Party regarding financial regulation — which is to say, peeling back consumer protections and banking reforms. The plan, which includes “unwinding” government’s role in Fannie and Freddie Mac, supposedly struck fear in the heart of Wall Street [link]. Yet Hensarling’s top six industry donors have been and remain, in order, 1) Commercial Banks, 2) Insurance; 3) Real Estate; 4) Securities & Investments; 5) Misc. Finance; 6) Finance/Credit Companies [link].
In fact, Hensarling has received more money from the Financial/Insurance/Real Estate industry than any other Member of Congress except the two men who run (or try to) the House majority, John Boehner and Eric Cantor [link].
If Hensarling is striking fear in the heart of the financial industry, that’s a funny way of showing it.
Hensarling recently found a good way to pay this all forward, giving $1 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee. [link]
“Today we have a set of policies that caused taxpayers to have to shell out $187 billion in bailouts for Fannie and Freddie,” Hensarling argues. “Today the federal government has what is known as a virtual monopoly of the housing finance system. That has to change.”
But why are we in this predicament, the curious might ask.
As mentioned above, Hensarling is an acolyte of former Texas Senator Phil Gramm.
Phil Gramm was the key architect of the 1999 law that dismantled the Wall Street regulations instituted after the Great Depression, laws that had been created to keep the Great Depression from ever happening again.
Gramm changed the fiscal rules, allowing banks and investment firms to join forces, among other great ideas. This led to wild debt trading and free enterprise lending to create more debt to create (something like) more money. In short, Gramm’s deregulations were at the center of creating the financial collapse that lead to the government bailouts that Hensarling is now trying to use as justification to repeat the type of deregulations Gramm created that created this whole mess.
Hensarling watched Gramm’s failure up close, yet somehow cannot understand it. Worse, he seems determined to repeat it by again undoing what meagre reforms the US government has so far managed to enact. And now Hensarling is ushering the young Republicans on his House Financial Services Committee into his mixed up economic worldview.
The Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise was around for only a few months — just as quickly as it had appeared, it vanished — but its lessons, presumably, are lasting.
For the bankers, investors and lenders who gave money… they’re expecting a return on their investment.
For the congressmen, like our own young, impressionable Mr. Andy Barr, who took that money… they’re hoping for re-election so they can provide that return on the investment.
And for Rep. Hensarling who now has six little helpers sitting beneath him…. he’s helped them, now they’ll help him.
In his first race for Congress over a decade ago, Jeb Hensarling was asked by a voter if he was “pro-business.”
“No,” Jeb said, ”I’m not pro-business. I’m pro-free enterprise.”
Being “pro-free enterprise” is like being “pro-jobs,” “pro-happiness” or “pro-America” — it’s a great thing to be, but the question is what you mean.
In Hensarling’s case, he means dismantling consumer protections and giving over free rein — yet again — to the payday lenders, mortgage brokers, rogue bankers and financial destructors who believe wealth is created by piling up debt upon unpayable debt as though the money will still magically be there when there’s no one left to pay it. That’s not an enterprise, it’s not free, and it very clearly does not work.
So: Where does that leave Congressman Andy Barr?
From here, it looks like Andy’s splitting his time between Wall Street and Texas. It’s possible his heart is still in the Bluegrass, but it is obvious Andy Barr’s brain is somewhere else.
The other day we noted the “massive slide” in Mitch McConnell’s lead over Matt Bevin in the Republican primary, with poll after poll showing McConnell locked in neck-and-neck race with Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes — and Bevin perhaps in a better position to defeat her.
We also noted that McConnell, through his Bluegrass Committee PAC, has doled out $1,000 checks to almost half the Republican State Senators and almost all of the Republican State Representatives. That’s an effective way to try to control your political fate — the campaign finance patronage means allies in local communities to help turn out the vote. It’s one of McConnell’s big advantages in his race against Bevin, even as Bevin finds himself getting serious help (and serious money) from national conservative and Tea Party groups like FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots.
That mobilization of conservative grassroots activists could spell trouble for McConnell. And if so, could McConnell’s patronage of down ticket Republicans turn an asset for their own Republican challengers?
To find out, I’ve been reaching out to Republicans in the State Representative and State Senate races to take their temperature on the question.
In the 32nd District State House race, McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee gave a $1,000 check to Rep. Julie Raque Adams… but then Raque Adams announced she was running for State Senate, leaving this seat open. It is now a race between Shellie May, a Jefferson County Republican Party Chair, and failed 2011 Tea Party gubernatorial candidate Phil Moffett.
I asked Moffett what he thought of the McConnell/Bevin race and what shadow, if any, it might cast over his race.
“I don’t see it influencing my state House race because the races are on completely different levels,” Moffett replied. “Voters in my district are interested in things like traffic improvement, noise abatement, maybe a few state tax issues – hardly U.S. Senate topics.”
Moffett’s 2011 race for Governor was supposed to be demonstrate the muscle of the Tea Party but ultimately fizzled out. It’s interesting that in this race for the State House Moffett is taking a pass on putting the race in a larger context but, of course, his job isn’t to care about McConnell (or Bevin, or for that matter the Tea Party), it’s noise abatement and traffic — and it will be interesting to see how the race shakes out.
In the 89th District House race, things are a bit different. The incumbent Republican, Marie Rader, received $1,000 from McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee.
Marie Rader for State Representative
PO Box 323
Mc Kee, Kentucky 404470323
Two other Republicans are running against Ms. Rader – Gerardo Serrano and Michael Bryant. CN|2 pegged this race as one of the Top 10 Primaries in the state to watch:
Rep. Marie Rader, R-McKee, has drawn a primary challenge in four of the last five elections in the 89th District, which covers Jackson County, southern Madison County and northern Laurel County. She has won the nomination with at least 55 percent of the vote each time. But the district has changed. The 89th lost Owsley County, where Rader fared well. And it picked up precincts in southern Madison County. She faces two primary opponents: Gerardo Serrano, who like Rader hails from Jackson County, and Michael Bryant of London.
So with Rep. Rader taking $1,000 from McConnell and the shape of her district changing, how are Bryant and Serrano viewing their chances and the landscape of the Primary with the larger US Senate battle brewing?
I asked and both Bryant and Serrano were good enough to answer. First up, Mr. Bryant:
MICHAEL BRYANT: Regarding the Bluegrass Committee’s contribution to Marie Rader’s campaign, I have no expectation that her contributors will all equally support my bid for the KY House. You ask, “Does that factor into your campaign?” Yes. That is $1000 that she will spend to run against me. But we are very confident that folks in the 89th District are willing to invest in the positive change they say they’re ready for and that they believe we can bring to the job.
Regarding the U.S. Senate race here, thanks for your confidence that either of the top Republican candidates might need or want our support. At this time, neither have reached out for our endorsement.
Bryant’s response was a good one, careful but playful. It was marked with smiley faced emoticons — sometimes that can seem obnoxious, sometimes it seems crazy but in this case, and how Bryant used them (there were three in full), they were actually pretty humorous. And you can’t help but appreciate that. There’s some good nature behind the Bryant campaign.
Mr. Serrano, on the other hand, is leaving no doubt where he stands and if the Bevin campaign continues to pick up steam, Mr. Serrano may be in a good position to benefit come Primary time:
GERARDO SERRANO: Mitch McConnell supporting my opponent was expected. She is part of the establishment. She is going to need every dime because I intend to win this race… I do support Matt Bevin and from what I saw in the current polling Matt is doing well.
As far as a struggle between the parties, I think the people of both political parties are tired of the same kind of unresponsive leadership. I meet people everyday from both parties and everyone seems to feel the same. The 89th district is a wonderful area to live but a lot remains to be done. The recent arrests in Jackson County serve as a reminder that cronyism is still running strong in Southeastern Kentucky which also contributes to the high unemployment rate. That is why I decided to run. The 89th District can’t continue on the course it is heading, I believe we need a new direction for our area and our party.
If you can’t help but enjoy Bryant’s good nature, you can’t help but respect Serrano’s straight-forward drive.
Rader, the Republican incumbent, has taken Mitch’s moolah, and now she’s facing a new district against two motivated Republican opponents. There are plenty of ways the race could shake down, but Bevin keeps tightening the score on Mitch, that $1,000 end up being more trouble than it’s worth. It’s just one more dynamic to watch as the Republican Primary ramps up and groups like FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots continue to target McConnell for removal.
We’ve asked several other Republicans for comment on their particular races and many of them have indicated their comment is forthcoming, so we’ll update as we get ‘em.
A poll out last week put Mitch McConnell up just 1% over his Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes — 45% to 44%. Mitch’s disapproval rating is 51% overall, 24% among Republicans and 54% disapproval among Independents.
Two weeks earlier, the national Republican Party was tweeting about Mitch’s “massive lead” over his Republican primary challenger Matt Bevin — 53% to 31%.
But that 22% “massive lead” is less massive when you consider that just a few months ago Team Mitch had the race against Bevin at 59% to 20%. It’s still a lead but it’s a diminishing one which indicates a “massive swing” among Republicans in Kentucky toward Matt Bevin. The two polls, both touted by Mitch and his allies, show Bevin has very nearly slashed McConnell’s lead in half.
The rose-colored reading from McConnell and the GOP establishment comes, conveniently, at a time when rose-colored readings are desperately needed by McConnell and the GOP establishment.
It came two weeks after the Senate Conservative Fund dumped $1,000,0000 into the Bevin campaign against McConnell. And it came one just one week before FreedomWorks — the powerful Tea Party/conservative group — endorsed Matt Bevin in the Republican primary, pledging to drop at least an additional half million dollars into the Bevin campaign.
Yet another poll, out yesterday from Republican-pollsters at Rasmussen, has the McConnell/Grimes race deadlocked at 42%. That’s bad news for McConnell but not as bad as the other news in the Rasmussen poll — if Mitch loses the primary and voters were picking between Bevin and Grimes, Bevin would win 40% to 34%. Mitch appears to be the weaker, less electable Republican candidate.
The money from the Senate Conservative Fund and FreedomWorks is no small potatoes. As the New York Times reported Sunday, the balance of power in Right Wing fundraising is shifting markedly. The conservative groups outraised conventional Republican fundraising efforts last year behind a growing perception that Mitch McConnell and Karl Rove are ideological and tactical failures:
Groups representing the party establishment, like Karl Rove’s Crossroads, are struggling to bring in the level of cash they raised in 2012, when Crossroads spent more than $300 million in a failed effort to defeat President Obama and retake the Senate, leaving donors grumbling that their dollars had been wasted.
Meanwhile, insurgent conservative groups like the Tea Party Patriots — emboldened by activists’ fury over compromises that Republican leaders have struck with Democrats on federal spending — now have formidable amounts of cash to augment their grass-roots muscle.
For their part, Tea Party Patriots announced Monday that they were forming a Super PAC to target races were an approved conservative could oust a sitting — and stagnant — Republican:
“We are currently huddling with activists on the ground in South Carolina looking for an alternative to Senator Lindsay Graham, and in Kentucky, where many have lost faith in the Senate Minority Leader,” [Jenny Beth Martin, the group’s president] said in a statement. “We will be expanding the mission into the Mississippi, Nebraska, Louisiana, Arkansas and North Carolina Senate races shortly.”
While McConnell and his folks crow about a “massive lead” it is clear they are beginning to worry about a “massive uprising.”
McConnell’s own Super PAC — the ironically named “Kentuckians for Strong Leadership” — took in $1.2 million in the back half of 2013, but not one penny of it came from Kentuckians. Instead, Mitch is being forced out of Kentucky to strum up big money from two dozen donors including a Florida investor, a Chicago hedge fund manager, a media mogul and a fancy DC lawyer.
Under assault from conservatives across the country, McConnell must find a tourniquet before all his support bleeds out. To that end, Mitch is flailing about — opportunistically seeking to shove himself front and center on environmental deregulation while at the same time disingenuously (and rather belatedly) putting on a Tea Party beard and going after Obama for using the IRS to crush far right political groups. Which is hilarious since the supposedly crushed Tea Party groups Mitch is (finally) defending are the very ones that are raising massive amounts of cash to defeat him.
The consummate DC insider must now figure out how to prove to the voters of Kentucky that he actually cares about them. Although “prove” may be too strong a word.
McConnell knows the power of Kentucky’s grassroots Republicans all too well. Three years ago his hand-picked US Senate candidate, Trey Grayson, was crushed by Rand Paul in the Republican Primary. A stinging rebuke of McConnell’s DC way of doing business and a possible foreshadowing of Mitch’s current re-election predicament.
Mitch McConnell isn’t just now figuring all this out. He’s been doomsday prepping for years. Mitch brought on Ron and Rand Paul ally Jesse Benton to run his campaign and cozy up to these Tea Party types. Even after Benton was caught on tape dissing his boss, Mitch – a famously cold-blooded campaigner — couldn’t bring himself to fire his insubordinate campaign manager. McConnell must put up with Benton and Rand Paul and do their bidding because if Mitch loses them, he loses what conservative boehnerfides he still has.
“Between you and me, I’m sort of holdin’ my nose for two years because what we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in ’16, so that’s my long vision.” — Jesse Benton, Team Mitch campaign manager.
With Rand Paul’s conservative allies increasingly lining up against McConnell it is more important than ever that Mitch keep Rand on board — as the Bevin opposition grows, so too will Rand’s isolation and things might get dicey. After all, if Rand’s long vision is also set on 2016, then his alliance with McConnell loses its luster if Mitch can’t guard his own yard.
Perhaps that’s why on December 11th, 2013, Mitch McConnell’s wife, the Honorable Elaine Chao, wrote a check for Rand Paul’s Victory Committee:
HON. ELAINE L. CHAO
P.O. BOX 1118
WASHINGTON, DC 200131118
Team Rand is not the only group McConnell must keep happy.
Mitch is a power player and after thirty years in the US Senate, he weilds that power and influence mightily. Being on Mitch’s good side is helpful; being on his bad side is not. McConnell has his own political action group, the Bluegrass Committee.
In all, McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee wrote $1,000 checks for fourteen of the twenty-four sitting Republican State Senators (and an additional $1,000 check for a Republican candidate for State Senate).
In the State House, McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee sent out forty-five $1,000 checks to sitting State Reps and Republican candidates. The Kentucky State House currently has 100 members — forty-four of them are Republicans.
(Aside from one check to a group in DC, the Bluegrass Committee focused the brunt of its monetary energy on state-level races.)
This network is a powerful part of McConnell’s strength. While Bevin may end up with a formidable grassroots presence thanks to the outside groups helping him — FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots both have large email networks, in addition to their monied power — McConnell’s “stewardship” of the state Republican party infrastructure gives him a foothold in Kentucky’s counties, nooks and crannies. From Paducah to Pikeville, as they say.
So long as the recipients of McConnell’s largesse remain supportive of Team Mitch, McConnell’s campaign can feel confidant they have a groundwork for local support in each of these legislative districts. The local legislator should deliver votes to McConnell.
Of course — that too might get tricky. If Bevin’s support continues to rise, and McConnell’s lead continues to experience this “massive slide,” these State Reps and State Senators may find their own voters turning on them. If they’re seen as too close to the not-conservative-enough perpetual Senate Minority Leader, no amount of political patronage (or arm twisting) may be enough to keep them, too, from jumping ship.
Undoubtedly, these will be pressure points FreedomWorks, the Tea Party Patriots and the Senate Conservative Fund will focus upon — if they can get grassroots supporters to break through McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee firewall, they may just find the tender little Mitch that hides beneath that protective shell.
Last week, Alison Lundergan Grimes unveiled a plan for Kentucky, re: jobs, the economy and stuff, but House Speaker Greg Stumbo upstaged her by saying that Grimes’ candidacy was like the liberation of France in World War II.
Mitch McConnell’s crackpot campaign team seized on the least offensive part of this and claimed Team Grimes was calling kooky grampaw Mitch a Nazi.
(The obviously more offensive part of Stumbo’s claim — or dare I say, only offensive part — was that it suggests the voters of Kentucky either are incompetent occupied French citizens too spineless to fight for themselves or they are Nazi collaborators… but I guess Team Mitch didn’t think Kentuckians were smart enough to understand that one.)
Less than a year ago McConnell and his campaign team were caught on a secret recording making fun of people who suffer from depression. They deflected attention then by calling the recording a “gestapo style” attack [LINK].
With all this bandying about of ol’ Hitler, it’s hard not to wish for a higher level of dialogue in a United States Senate race where the incumbent, McConnell, holds the most powerful position of the minority party in the upper house of the legislative branch of the United States government, but wishes are for children. This Senate race is for adults only. 18 and over.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, some evidence to the contrary, was not written from the perspective of Mitch McConnell.
It might surprise you to learn this Nazishaming is a diversion. Mitch played the Nazi card to divert attention from Grimes’ jobs speech and in turn, Grimes sent out an email blast which — rather than mention details of that jobs plan — lamented Mitch’s gestapo-style attacks on her campaign and asked the dear reader for money. Poo-tee-weet. So it goes.
(If you were wondering, Kentucky is unlikely to elect a Nazi to the United States Senate this year. Maybe some other year, but doesn’t look like this one. Although if you live in Pulaski County, you are being cordially invited to join the KKK.)
Let’s move on.
In a really great article out last night, the Herald Leader’s Sam Youngman cornered Grimes on the issue of global warming and her support for Big Coal. Grimes has repeatedly told Kentucky voters that she’s the “real Pro-Coal candidate in this race” and she’s constantly railing against Obama’s coal-killing regulations, even going so far as to promise she’ll do more to demolish EPA regulations than has McConnell.
Sam got the results you’d probably imagine: Grimes is walking a tightrope everyone already knows she’s walking.
Which tightrope is up for debate… the easy narrative is that she’s secretly an environmentalist and truly hates coal with the power of a thousand power plants, and that’s pretty much the takeaway from both the article and the McConnell campaign. It ends:
“She will, no matter what she says between now and the election, inevitably be tied to the anti-coal forces,” McConnell told reporters in Lexington on Friday. “People who have been contributing to her campaign are hostile to coal. Vocally, aggressively hostile to coal.
“I think it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that those who are supporting her think she’s one of them. So look at who’s supporting her, and reach your own conclusions.”
There’s an inversion theory out there, too, a flip-flopped understanding of the tightrope, but who would it help to understand that? Let’s just accept for now that Mitch is right. And if he is…
The tail end of Mitch’s quote, in lesser hands perhaps, would be a campaign ad tomorrow.
“I think it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that those who are supporting her think she’s one of them. So look at who’s supporting her, and reach your own conclusions.”
Last week we noted that one of the heads of Freedom Industries, that fabulous outfit in West Virginia that dumped chemicals in a river cutting off clean water to over 300,000 people, had given $5,000 to Mitch McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee PAC. [LINK]
We also pointed out that J. Clifford Forrest, the “Manager” of Freedom Industries, has given $2,500 to McConnell’s 2014 re-election fund. [LINK]
To borrow a quote:
So look at who’s supporting him, and reach your own conclusions.
And as we noted before, on the day of the leak in West Virginia — at the very same time the scope of the leak was first coming into focus — Mitch McConnell was at the White House accepting a government handout for Eastern Kentucky while simultaneously blasting the government for what he likes to call “The War on Coal” and all the hardship that “war” has brought on the people of Appalachia. (Neverminding that a war generally has two sides, and claiming the American government is on the bad one is a Jane Fonda-style tactic, and that while coal executives and their legislators have thrived over the past hundred years the people of the region remain the poorest in America.)
McConnell and fellow Kentucky Senator Rand Paul also used the opportunity to talk up their idea for “Economic Freedom Zones” [LINK]. In again admittedly lesser hands, McConnell pushing his anti-regulation and anti-government “Freedom Zones” while accepting a handout from the federal government at the same time a company called “Freedom Industries” — whose execs have contributed to Mitch’s own causes — is pumping chemicals into the drinking water of Appalachia might seem like a confluence toward weakness.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his colleague Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced a bill they call the “Economic Freedom Zones Act of 2013.” Among other things, the bill would exempt polluters in high-poverty regions from complying with (and would bar the U.S. EPA from enforcing) water pollution permitting requirements under Clean Water Act section 402. (Adding insult to injury, the two politicians are billing this proposal as an anti-poverty measure.)
And here’s a photo from outside the Freedom Industries chemical plant, taken last week [LINK]:
As you may well know at this point, earlier this week Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy. One of the keys to dealing with any scandal is to compartmentalize it, create distance between players and, if you will, muddy the water. To that end, Freedom Industries has been painted as a sort of low tech outlier organization in the larger coal industry, a place run by amateurs, as if they’re a bunch of dipshit cowboys in some cowboyless universe. Which may be true — but what would that make all the other cowboys?
After almost a week of silence, Freedom Industries piped up to blame their chemical leak on a frozen pipe above their property… which means, they say, the whole thing was the water company’s fault [LINK]. This excuse doesn’t explain why when investigators responded to the chemical plant on the morning of the leak they were met by a Freedom executive who declared there was absolutely no problem at the plant only to then discover that in fact there was a problem — a massive chemical leak — which the Freedom workers were attempting to plug with a single cinder block, having failed to alert anyone at all to the problem at hand. [That insane part of this story was reported by Ken Ward Jr. who should get a Pulitzer for his work not just on this chemical leak but on the coal industry as a whole over the years, read it here.]
To be fair to Freedom Industries, West Virginia American Water did fill up its water tanks with contaminated water many days after the spill and then drive around distributing the contaminated water to citizens who were miffed as to why the supposedly safe water American Water was giving them smelled and looked exactly the same as the contaminated water coming out of their pipes [LINK]. West Virginia American Water is division of the massive private utility corporation American Water which also owns the water of central Kentucky via Kentucky American Water. American Water has admitted in corporate filings to raising water rates in its markets to offset increased conservation by its customers — because you’re using less water, they’re going to charge you more [LINK]. Mitch McConnell’s taken around $6,000 from American Water in the last few years, at least [LINK].
In Friday’s Washington Post, there’s a interesting look at Freedom Industries, its bankruptcy and Mr. Forrest [LINK]. It starts out:
It took just one week for Pennsylvania coal mining executive Cliff Forrest, the new owner of Freedom Industries, to discover that one of the six-decade-old storage tanks he had acquired Dec. 31 was leaking a toxic chemical into the Elk River that supplies water to about 300,000 West Virginians.
And it continues:
Freedom Industries has bought and stored chemicals from the likes of Eastman Chemical, an international $12 billion business, and Georgia Pacific Chemicals, a unit of the Koch brothers’ Georgia Pacific, a global paper product giants. Then Freedom Industries sells to companies such as Alpha Natural Resources, one of the country’s biggest coal producers. More than 100 plants in West Virginia use froth flotation.
Forrest, through another firm he owns, paid roughly $20 million to acquire Freedom Industries and orchestrate its Dec. 31 merger with four tiny distribution, blending and storage firms that act as middle men between big chemical and big coal companies, according to a person close to the company but not authorized to speak for it. He added that Forrest just “had the misfortune of buying a plant just before all hell broke loose.”
The article goes on and has many other good details — many of them attributed to the same mysteriously unnamed source close to Freedom Industries [LINK].
The West Virginia Gazette has even more details on Freedom, its takeover and its bankruptcy. [LINK]
The company Forrest purchased had not paid federal taxes for most of the past decade — owing $2.5M.
It owed another $3.6M to its various creditors.
It had two liens from the West Virginia Bureau of Employment Programs for failure to pay its Unemployment Compensation Insurance.
And it was delinquent since last October on its county property taxes — an amount Freedom paid in full, about $93,000, on January 10th, the day after the spill.
Either Forrest showed up a week before “all hell broke loose” and bought a company sight unseen — never kicking the tires, taking a tour of its facilities, inspecting its background or its financials — or he was familiar with all these details and bought Freedom Industries anyway after some period of inspection and investigation.
Forrest is the head of Rosebud Mining, the 21st largest coal producer in the nation [LINK], hardly the neophyte the WaPo anonymous source close to Freedom Industries describes.
And what about this other notion — that Freedom Inudstries were just a ‘middle man’ type business, the wannabe Han Solo’s who catfished one of America’s most powerful industries and simply ran trades inbetween larger entities, all of them ignorant of the incompetence they were dealing with?
Eastman Chemical, the makers of the chemical Freedom Industries dumped into the Elk River, have given Mitch McConnell nearly $30,000 over just the past few years [LINK]. Every year, Eastman Chemical spends heavily to block and undo environmental protections [LINK]. Oh, and they have no real idea how toxic their chemical is and all the estimates on what’s safe to consume are based off just one small study [LINK].
So look at who’s supporting him, and reach your own conclusions.
Eastman sold its mystery unregulated chemical to Freedom Industries. Freedom in turn sold it to Alpha Natural Resources.
The company that bought Freedom Inudstries is called “Chemstream.” Chemstream is owned by Rosebud’s J. Clifford Forrest. The letter sent by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to Freedom Industries the day after the chemical leak was CC’d to David McCombie of Chemstream [LINK]. McCombie is Chemstream’s President and a Rosebud guy, according to the Pennsylvania Coal Association’s member directory, and Chemstream’s General Manager is Jeffery Kukura [LINK], an executive at Alpha Natural Resources [LINK] — one of the key purchasers of the chemicals Freedom Industries “stored” in those tanks on the Elk River.
Alpha Natural Resources is the company that subsumed Massey Energy, the company whose focus on production over safety lead to the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia in which 29 people died [LINK]. Alpha’s purchase was criticized by some who thought it would help shield Massey from the fallout of Big Branch and by plenty of others who thought it odd Alpha chose to keep key Massey execs, like Baxter F. Phillips who was President of Massey at the time of Big Branch, on the Alpha payroll [LINK]. Baxter has given $1,000 to Kentucky’s 6th District Republican congressman Garland Barr IV [LINK] while Alpha Natural Resources has given Mitch McConnell about $20,000 over the past half decade [LINK].
So look at who’s supporting him, and reach your own conclusions.
The point in all this is not that there was some grand conspiracy by Mitch McConnell supporters to dose the drinking water of 300,000 people in West Virginia’s capital or some other Goebbels-style innuendo. That would be idiotic.
Freedom didn’t intentionally dump chemicals in the water, they just didn’t put much value in ensuring it wouldn’t happen (or in paying taxes to the government that’s now busting ass to cover their mess). And they and their business partners all share shoddy environmental track records and the other thing they share is an interest in electing politicians who’d like to see the EPA crippled and this already under-regulated industry further de-regulated. Thus you have Mitch McConnell, and people like him.
The point is that while some might try to distance Freedom Industries from the coal industry at large, they are actually quite entrenched in that industry. [See Jeff Biggers good explanation of this distancing-vs-intertwinedness here.]
Freedom Industries’ Christmas Message, Coal People Magazine, December 2013. Click here for PDF.
It’s easy to imagine the Freedom Industries team as a Three Stooges sort of comedy troupe — the one guy has cocaine arrests, the other guy bombed at his press conference, and then there’s the unnamed one who supposedly didn’t know his workers were plugging a massive chemical leak with a single cinder block. But they’re actually quite mainstream — or were.
Last spring the Freedom Industries team were in downtown Lexington at the annual Coal Processing Exhibition & Conference — or Coal Prep. They were in booth 820 [LINK].
On the first day of Coal Prep 2013, the Kentucky Coal Assocation, a/k/a Friends of Coal, sponsored a “day of education.” [LINK]
At 11AM, for example, the Freedom Industries folks might have enjoyed taking in a fabulous panel discussion on “Federal and State Official’s Viewpoints of the Regulatory Assault on Appalachian / Illinois Coal Basins.” The conversation was moderatated by Mitch McConnell’s “Energy Policy Advisor.”
It should also be noted that later in the day, at 3:30PM, Alison Lundergan Grimes’ former law firm got the starring role at the panel discussion entitled: “Examination of Environmental Activist Groups and Their Effect on the Domestic Energy Market.”
Hear about the ramifications environmental activist groups have on the domestic energy market. Their current actions, whether in litigation or public discourse, continue to drive up costs for consumers thus creating more uncertainty for everyone in the U.S.
Did you know Environmental Activist Groups were responsible for the epically low cost of natural gas that is ruining the coal market?
Did you also know Environmental Activist Groups were responsible for the scientific and economic fact that it’s insanely more expensive to mine what’s left in Appalachia than it is to mine coal out west and that’s why coal companies are moving their resources there?
So much to learn.
Freedom Industries didn’t make headlines at the 2013 Coal Prep but they sure did five years earlier. At the 2008 Coal Prep, Freedom was proud to announce a partnership with Georgia-Pacific [LINK]:
With coal in short supply worldwide, obtaining maximum quality and yield from coal preparation plants is vital to feeding high global demand and capitalizing on higher coal prices. With this in mind, Georgia-Pacific Chemicals LLC is unveiling its new patent-pending Talon(TM) Mining Reagents product line in conjunction with its distributor, Freedom Industries (booth 423), at the Coal Prep 2008 Exhibition and Conference, held April 29-May 1 in Lexington, KY.
“Georgia-Pacific Chemicals is committed to the development of products and expertise that help its customers obtain higher efficiencies from their mining processes,” said Dennis Kennedy, commercial manager of mining chemicals. “At Coal Prep 2008, we are pleased to introduce our innovative line of mining reagents. Our Talon depressants selectively target the gangue while our Talon collectors selectively target the ore during the coal flotation process. The use of our reagents can improve yields which can result in an increase in plant profits.”
Not that it much matters, but Dennis Kennedy was formerly with Freedom Industries (here, here), is now at Georgia-Pacific (here), and sits on the board of the University of Kentucky’s Mining Engineering Foundation (here, here, here).
More to the point, Georgia-Pacific’s association with Freedom Industries continued from 2008 on as recent new reports have laid out. Georgia-Pacific is a giant paper company with a pock-marked environmental record of its own [LINK]. It is owned by Koch Industries. Koch Industries is operated by the Koch Brothers. If you don’t know about the Kochs you can check out this great new movie they’re starring in that will be in theaters this Spring:
What was that Mitch McMantra again?
So look at who’s supporting him, and reach your own conclusions.
The Koch Brothers and Koch Industries have given Mitch McConnell something like $140,000 over the years [LINK].
Just a taste to get you hooked.
And meanwhile… a recent headline from ThinkProgress:
Federal and state investigators learned Tuesday that an additional chemical that wasn’t previously identified was in the tank that leaked Jan. 9 at the Freedom Industries tank farm, just upstream from West Virginia American Water’s regional drinking water intake.
On Thursday in Charleston, West Virginia a chemical spill contaminated the water of the state capital and the Kanawha Valley, affecting 300,000 people.
The West Virginia Department of Emergency Management warned West Virginians not to drink, bathe or even boil the water. The only thing they said it was good for was flushing commodes and putting out fires.
The company is called Freedom Industries. They make products for the coal industry — the chemical that poured into the state’s drinking water is used to clean coal once it’s been extracted from the earth.
The spill happened Thursday and at first Freedom Industries claimed it was but a minor issue.
On Thursday in Washington, DC — at the same time the severity of the spill was first becoming clear — Kentucky Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul went to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama as he announced his new “Promise Zones” initiative.
Obama’s “Promise Zones” partner the federal government with local communities and businesses to “create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety.”
Among the first five zones is Southeastern Kentucky — and that’s why McConnell and Paul were at the White House… to graciously accept this handout from the federal government being crammed down the throats of the good people of rural Kentucky.
While simultaneously accepting this help from Obama, Mitch McConnell could not help but add this caveat [LINK]:
“There is no doubt that Eastern Kentucky is a region that has suffered enormous hardship in recent years – much of it unfortunately, related to the very same administration’s ‘war’ on coal families.”
The “War on Coal” is a fabrication, of course — one even Eastern Kentucky congressman Hal Rogers seems to be abandoning [LINK] — created by the coal industry and the Republican Party to mask the true reasons for what is a very real exacerbation of hardship in Eastern Kentucky (and West Virginia).
They blame Obama and government safety regulations for wrecking a coal industry which is actually being wrecked by the very low price of natural gas and the much lower cost of extracting coal in other parts of the country.
The “War on Coal” is also a strained metaphor. If Mitch McConnell believes the United States Government has declared a “War on Coal” what does that make the coal companies?
In the “War on Drugs” those who fight the US Government are called “Cartels.” In the “War on Terror” those forces that resist the US Government are called “Insurgents.”
Is West Virginia’s Freedom Industries an insurgent group committing acts of war in retaliation against the United States Government’s undeclared but supposedly real war?
Perhaps only Mitch McConnell could answer that question.
The reality is much simpler. Federal safety regulations are necessary to protect people from reckless behavior by a toxic industry. And obviously the government isn’t allocating enough resources to inspections
Mitch McConnell has made opposition to the EPA a central plank in his re-election campaign. McConnell has sought repeatedly to undermine its authority to protect citizens and has proposed bills to, among other things, gut the Clean Water Act.
Last Summer the GOP-led House passed a bill to slash EPA funding by 34% [LINK]. Over the past two preceding years, Congress has cut the EPA’s budget 18% — without accounting for additional sequestration cuts — effectively “kneecapping” the EPA’s ability to enforce its enforcement abilities [LINK].
All this gets us back, in a roundabout sort of way, to Freedom Industries, the company responsible for what the tyrannical Obama administration has declared a “disaster.”
Not much is known about Freedom Industries. One of their executives has evaded federal taxes and plead guilty to selling 10 ounces of cocaine. Another, Denny Farrell, is the organizer of the associated company, Etowah River Terminal. [LINK]
Etowah River Terminal’s website features photographs of the Freedom Industries site where the spill occurred [LINK].
On the site’s about page it states:
The facility complies with all Federal, State, and local requirements for both air and water quality. In addition, Etowah River Terminal works closely with and is approved to receive maritime vessels from the U.S. Coast Guard.
All operations and management personnel from the former Pennzoil facility were retained by Etowah River Terminal. The same conscientious, safety-first, operating procedures are used by Etowah River Terminal employees.
Mr. Farrell has supported Republican causes in the past:
One of Mr. Farrell’s partner in Etowah River Terminal is William Tis [LINK]. Mr. Tis runs Accretion Technologies, a Pennsylvania subsidiary of Freedom Industries [LINK].
Ahead of Mitch McConnell’s last re-election campaign, Mr. Tis gave $5,000 to Bluegrass Committee PAC.
Mitch McConnell established Bluegrass Committee in 1989 and uses the funds deposited there to cultivate his continued hold on power over the Republican Party [LINK, LINK].
And the man listed as “Manager” for Freedom Industries is J. Clifford Forrest [LINK]. Mr. Forrest — or “James” — is the head of Rosebud Mining, a Pennsylvania company. He’s a heavy funder of Republican candidates and in November 2012 gave $2,500 to Mitch McConnell’s 2014 re-election effort [LINK]:
There’s that old saying, “Freedom isn’t Free.” For Freedom Industries, the “war on coal” costs money and for Mitch McConnell, the “war on coal” earns him money.
Just a month ago, McConnell took to the Senate floor to (again) declare his “War on the War on Coal,” blasting the EPA, claiming that Appalachia is “being ravaged by the EPA’s excessive, overly burdensome regulations on coal.” [LINK]
As for McConnell’s opponent in the upcoming election, Alison Lundergan Grimes, she’s campaigning across the state of Kentucky telling voters: “I am the pro-coal candidate and at the end of this I will be the pro-coal senator.” [LINK]
And according to an op-ed she wrote and published about a month ago [LINK], the real problem with Mitch McConnell is that he hasn’t done enough to protect the coal industry from “burdensome and unnecessary regulations.”
Regardless of Mitch McConnell’s empty claims, the difficulties that beset coal are not simply the result of the regulatory work of one political faction or party. After all, it was President Richard Nixon who got the Environmental Protection Agency created and the federal Clean Air Act enacted in 1970, and it was President George H.W. Bush who pressed successfully to toughen the Clean Air Act in 1990, amendments which Mitch McConnell supported. I will oppose burdensome and unnecessary regulations….”
To understand more about what’s going on in West Virginia, and how its affecting people there, watch this excellent 36 hour recap:
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth does great work. If you’re a lapsed member, a person who wants to be a member, a person with a good heart or already a member — now’s a great time to keep KFTC powering forward. They are shaping Kentucky’s future and they could use your help to do it. If not them, think about who will.
You can DONATE by clicking on this awesome green button:
Or you can get more personal and support one of KFTC’s amazing legion of PowerBuilders — You can go to this page and click through the KFTC members to read their personal stories, find out why KFTC is important to them and then you can support one (or two) of them.
Some of them — like Beth Bissmeyer — have already hit their goals, while others are working hard to hit their marks, like: