Friday, September 30, 2005
Advance Indiana doesn't like to venture into gossip, but this one is just a little too hard to pass up. Ever since Renee Zellweger filed for an annulment from short-term husband and country music heartthrob, Kenny Chesney, on the grounds of fraud, internet gossip sites have been afflutter with speculation over how Chesney had allegedly deceived Zellweger. For whatever reason, much speculation has centered around his self-described best friend and Indianapolis Colts quarterback, Peyton Manning, who is reported to be giving advice to Chesney in his time of need. Deadspin has its own take on the "hysterical" notion of it all, which it categorizes as "Complete Random Rumor From Gossip Newsletter That Knows Nothing About American Sports". What do you think? Peyton is a married man by the way.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
As soon as speculation began this week that the Texas grand jury might indict DeLay, word quickly circulated that DeLay did not want House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, a Missouri congressman, to succeed him. Blunt climbed to his coveted leadership position after serving just three terms in the House, and DeLay reportedly feared that the ambitious Blunt would not want to relinquish the House Majority Leader's position upon assuming it, if DeLay is ultimately acquitted of the charges in Texas. Not surprisingly, when the announcement of the indictment came down at mid-day today, the Associated Press and other major media outlets reported that, according to "GOP congressional officials" House Speaker Dennis Hastert would recommend that House Rules Committee Chairman, David Dreier of California, would be tapped to take DeLay's leadership position.
When word came that Dreier would become House Majority Leader, several D.C.-based blogsites, including blogactive.com, americablog.blogspot.com and rawstory.com began posting stories that Republicans were naming a gay man to its top leadership position. All three of these blogsites had previously participated in the outing of Dreier as a gay man earlier this summer. One of the sites ran a headline "Gay U.S. Rep. David Dreier is Speaker Hastert's Pick for Majority Leader As DeLay Is Forced To Step Aside Over Indictment." According to the reports, Dreier has had a long-term relationship with his male chief of staff, Brad Smith, one of the hightest paid staffers on Capitol Hill.
Perhaps in reaction to the bloggers, but no doubt a rebuff of Hastert's and DeLay's choice, the House GOP members instead chose Roy Blunt for the leadership spot. Oddly, according to a Reuters report, Blunt will be required to share the leadership positions responsibilities with Dreier. "It was not immediately clear how Blunt, who had had been the third ranking Republican member of the House, would share duties with Dreier, the chairman of the House Rules Committee," Reuters said.
Dreier, who remains closeted, has voted against virtually every gay rights-related measure since he's been in Congress, notwithstanding the reports of his being gay. Dreier did oppose the constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriages though. His fellow colleagues only had to think the rumors were true to choose Blunt over him. Americablog.blogspot.com reported that "the gay issue is what influenced the decision." Now that Dreier knows first-hand what it is like to be discriminated against because of perceived sexual orientation, maybe he won't vote against every gay civil rights measure which comes before the House.
While Blunt was the next-highest ranking Republican behind DeLay and may appear to be a logical successor to DeLay, he himself has been the center of several ethical controversies during his short tenure at House Majority Whip, which one would think would give pause to members of the GOP caucus. Just three days ago, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics named Blunt as one of the "13 most corrupt members of Congress," a list which also included DeLay and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who now stands accused of insider trading ala Martha Stewart. Just two years ago within hours of assuming his position as Majority Whip, Blunt attempted a highly questionable legislative amendment to the homeland security legislation aimed at benefitting tobacco giant, Philip Morris according to the Washington Post. The Post reported: "The provision would have made it harder to sell tobacco products over the Internet and would have cracked down on the sale of contraband cigarettes, two practices that cut into Philip Morris' profits. Blunt has received large campaign donations from Philip Morris, his son works for the company in Missouri and the House member has a close personal relationship with a Washington lobbyist for the firm."
As soon as Speaker Hastert learned of Blunt's amendment, he had it pulled from the bill. The Post cited a high-ranking GOP member as saying "some GOP members worried at the time that it would be 'embarrassing' to the party and its new whip if details of the effort were made public." When asked by the Post why he offered such a contentious amendment that had never gone through committee or been previously voted on in the House, the tin-eared Blunt said, "It's good policy." The Post, again citing Republican sources, suggested Blunt pushed the amendment "because of his personal relationship with Philip Morris lobbyist Abigail Perlman" with whom Blunt spends considerable time.
The fact that House GOP members would ignore their own elected Speaker Dennis Hastert and choose over Dreier the badly tarnished Blunt to take the indicted DeLay's spot demonstrates just how anti-gay the House Republican caucus is. They would clearly rather endure potentially more damaging disclosures of political corruption from the newly installed Blunt than have to deal with the possible disclosure that their leader is a gay man. That kind of thinking will only further insure electoral defeat in next year's mid-term elections, which is already taking shape because of growing public disapproval over the party's perceived mishandling of the war in Iraq, the federal budget deficit and domestic matters in general.
Prior to the indictment, DeLay had already been reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee no fewer than three times while serving as Majority Leader. Numerous other high ranking members of Congress are under ethical clouds as well with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist becoming the latest. Republicans in D.C. are seemingly turning a complete blind eye towards behavior they so vociferously condemned when the Democrats were in the majority, such as that of former Democratic House Majority Leader Jim Wright, also a Texan, who Republicans helped pressure into resigning for his ethical lapses. Republicans in Washington had better start cleaning house soon, or the voters are certain to sweep them out of control just as they did the Democrats in 1994.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Under the plan announced by FEMA, churches will be eligible for federal reimbursement "if they operated emergency shelters, food distribution centers or medical facilities at the request of state or local governments in the three states that have declared emergencies -- Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama." In those cases, "a wide range of costs would be available for reimbursement, including labor costs incurred in excess of normal operations, rent for the facility and delivery of essential needs like food and water," FEMA spokesman Eugene Kinerney said in an e-mail according to the Post.
Fortunately, not all churches are looking for a federal handout for their charitable efforts. "Volunteer labor is just that: volunteer," said the Rev. Robert E. Reccord, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board. "We would never ask the government to pay for it." While some churches are eager to get the federal funds, the Post reported that "[o]thers said they probably would not apply for the funds, fearing donations would dry up if the public came to believe they were receiving government handouts."
As a contributor to the Red Cross, Salvation Army and my own church for these very purposes, I find it appalling that any religious organization would expect taxpayers to reimburse them for their charitable efforts. They are already afforded tax-exempt status, and their contributions are made tax-exempt so they can carry on their charitable and religious purposes. To expect the taxpayers to reimburse them for their volunteer efforts flies in the face of their charitable existence, not to mention the apparent violation of the separation of church and state. One can only imagine the unnecessary expenses the federal government will wind up paying for the benefit of greedy churches and self-important clergy. This ought to prove to be quite a boon for the church-building industry. Jimmy Swaggart is probably already wetting his palms.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Since the Pulliam family allowed the Indianapolis Star to be sold to Gannett several years ago, conservative Republicans and Christian fundamentalists have complained that the paper has taken a distinct turn to the left under its new management. The staunchly conservative Russ Pulliam has, however, remained on at the paper in a lesser role as the paper's associate editor. In that role, he occasionally contributes columns that are always pleasing to conservatives. So when Miller began feeling the heat of an impending investigation by the paper of his questionable activities, who better a person for him to turn to for support than Russ Pulliam.
Pulliam's column in today's Indianapolis Star offers a glowing tribute to Miller entitled "Retirement isn't in his plans." Pulliam, in reflecting on Miller's 25 years at the healm of Advance America, opens with the observation that Miller could qualify for early retirement. "At 55, he's achieved his conservative political and social objectives, and this week he's celebrating the 25th anniversary of his organization, Advance America," Pulliam said. "If anyone could be credited for inventing the Religious Right in Indiana, the honor should go to him," Pulliam continued. Pulliam then asks, "So will Miller retire peacefully, with state government in reasonably conservative hands? Miller's response: "No way. My liberal friends would like for me to retire to Florida, but I'm staying in Indiana, and I'm staying in the battle for families and freedom."
Of course, if Mr. Pulliam had bothered to read Advance Indiana's reports on Miller's self-dealing, he could have answered that question for himself. As Advance Indiana has reported, Miller pocketed more than $1 million from the organization in the form of six-figure salaries, six-figure legal retainers for his law firm and other benefits paid to Miller during just the most recent period of the organization's 25-year existence. The cash cow Miller has created for himself at the expense of his tax-subsidized organization is just too good to walk away from. At least until the government decides to take a look at the efficacy of this cozy little arrangement.
Pulliam credits Miller's run against Governor Mitch Daniels in the 2004 Republican primary for "push[ing] the governor a little more to the right on some social issues such as abortion and gay marriage." He does not mention the public brawl Miller, Micah Clark and other far right Christian fringe elements have been carrying on with Daniels over his non-discrimination policy towards gays and transgendered persons in state government. Pulliam even describes Miller as a "kingmaker" of sorts "in state politics on the conservative side of the spectrum in the 1980s and 1990s", conjuring up earlier images of D.C. Stephenson playing a similar role in the Indiana Republican Party during the 1920s as the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.
Miller's biggest impact has been on the Indiana General Assembly according to Pulliam. "Give or take a few notches on the ideological spectrum, Miller's social and economic views have ample representation in state government, especially in the General Assembly," Pulliam said. "House Speaker Brian Bosma, for example, is sympathetic to Miller's views" compared to the "more moderate" Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Garton according to Pulliam. But Pulliam adds that even Garton's caucus "has shifted in recent elections to the more conservative direction represented by Miller."
While Miller may be able to muster sympathetic words in his hour of need from Russ Pulliam, the real test of his influence at the paper will be determined by whether the new management of the Indianapolis Star will carry through with their investigation of his management of Advance America and inform the public on the extent of the abuses of the organization's tax-exempt status which have made Miller a very wealthy man. Advance Indiana is betting that the Indianapolis Star will do the right thing and blow the whistle on Miller.
Friday, September 23, 2005
Senator Bayh expressed frustration that Judge Roberts had not been more forthcoming in his views during hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Bayh said, "It did not need to be this way. When I introduced Judge Roberts at his confirmation hearing, I said that I looked forward to a full and clarifying discussion of his views. Regrettably, that did not happen." Bayh complained that the confirmation process was designed to "maintain amibuity rather than resolve it." He said, "Voting to confirm a nominee to the Supreme Court must be more than an act of faith."
Advance Indiana has spoken out vocally against Roberts' confirmation as Chief Justice based upon earlier writings as a young lawyer in the Reagan Administration, which showed him to be a rigid, ideological conservative who questioned the legitimacy of the constitutional right to privacy, narrowly interpreted the Separation Clause and was dismissive of any law intended to bring equality to women and minorities. Bayh was willing to give Roberts the benefit of the doubt with respect to those writings because he was a young lawyer at the time; however, Bayh correctly noted that "when presented with the opportunity to disavow the positions in his memos, Roberts refused." Instead, Bayh said Roberts' answer was that "he was a lawyer arguing the position of the Administration."
Indiana's senior Senator Richard Lugar had already announced he intended to vote for Roberts' confirmation. With Bayh's announcement, all likely contenders for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination in the Senate will be voting against Roberts. Both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry announced their opposition earlier. The Indiana Republican Party mounted an e-mail campaign a few weeks back to pressure Senator Bayh into supporting Roberts' confirmation. Critics are likely to accuse Bayh of voting against Roberts simply to curry favor with liberal voters in anticipation of his presidential bid. But the rationale Bayh offered in support of his vote against confirmation is based upon sound and logical reasoning.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
In writing about the conference, Novak said: "I will refrain from specifically quoting panelists and audience members. But the admonition says nothing about personal conversations outside the sessions. Nor do I feel inhibited in quoting myself. Even if I am violating the spirit of secrecy rules, revealing criticism of Bush by this elite group, and the paucity of defense for him, is valuable in reflecting the president's parlous political condition." In other words, Novak is willing to discard his journalistis ethics when he feels it is necessary to aid the President in understanding the extent of dissastisfaction with him, not from liberal Democrats but, in Novak's words, from "rich, mainly Republican and presumably Bush voters in the last two presidential elections."
Novak complained that a panel on stem cell research did not have balance because it consisted of medical scientists hostile to the Bush Administration's position. Novak wrote: "In the absence of any disagreement, I took the floor to suggest there are scientists and bioethicists with dissenting views and that it was not productive to demean opposing views as based on 'religious dogma.' The response was peeved criticism of my intervention and certainly no support."
On the issue of the Administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, Novak wrote: "I do not see myself as a defender of the Bush presidency, and I am sure the White House does not regard me as such. But as a member of the second panel consisting of journalists, I felt constrained to argue against implications that Hurricane Katrina should cause Bush to rediscover race and poverty." Seemingly contradicting himself as a defender of the Administration, Novak said, "After the first two panels, I feared I was the odd man . . . [b]ut during a break, one of the president's closest friends -- who had remained silent -- thanked me profusely for my comments." No doubt the President's close friend was Karl Rove, who Novak conceded was in attendance at the conference, but attributed U.S News & World Report for reporting his attendance.
You will recall that Novak created a national firestorm and spawned an independent counsel investigation of President Bush's administration when he outed covered CIA operative Valerie Plame in a column he wrote to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, a critic of the Administration's claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove is widely believed to have been Novak's source for his column. Novak has refused to publicly reveal the identity of his source. Curiously, he was able to work out some sort of deal with the independent counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald, which allowed him to avoid jail, while New York Times reporter Judith Miller has spent her entire summer in jail on a contempt of court charge for refusing to identitify a source for a story she never wrote.
Somebody else in attendance at the conference apparently didn't much like what Karl Rove had to say at the conference and leaked his comments to The Huffington Post, which reported that Rove said the following which the journalists in attendance were not allowed to report:
- On Katrina: The only mistake we made with Katrina was not overriding the local government...
- On The Anti-War Movement: Cindy Sheehan is a clown. There is no real anti-war movement. No serious politician, with anything to do with anything, would show his face at an anti-war rally...
- On Bush's Low Poll Numbers: We have not been good at explaining the success in Iraq. Polls go up and down and don't mean anything...
- On Iraq: There has been a big difference in the region. Iraq will transform the Middle East...
- On Judy Miller And Plamegate: Judy Miller is in jail for reasons I don't really understand...
- On Joe Wilson: Joe Wilson and I attend the same church but Joe goes to the wacky mass...
In concluding his column, Novak worried that "[i]t would be a shame if Rove returned to Washington without informing Bush how erstwhile friends have turned against him." Judging by Rove's comments at the conference, he sounds too out of touch to be of much assistance to the President at this point. Novak commented that the conference sponsor had told him that they had never experienced such open hostility at past conferences towards a Republican president. In so doing, Novak conceded "this was my first and, after this column, probably my last." He is probably right about that.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Rep. Pence told the Washington Times that conservative House Republicans are "furious over passage last week of a bill that included an amendment expanding federal hate-crimes protections." "House conservatives barraged me with their frustration and concern over this bill," said Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, the Republican Study Commission chairman. "Our guys are starting to spoil for a fight after this bill." Pence continued, "First, we have $50 billion in new spending for Hurricane Katrina relief, with no offsets in other spending . . . Next thing, our side lets this hate-crimes amendment get into a children's protection bill because we let it come to the floor on an open rule -- a vehicle made for liberals to use."
Rep. Pence told the Washington Times that "House Republicans voted to pass the child-safety bill -- it sailed through on a 371-52 vote -- with the Conyers hate-crimes amendment attached because they wanted the children's protection portion and thought the Conyers amendment would not survive joint House-Senate conference reworking of the bill." "I voted for [the measure] thinking it would be fixed in conference," Mr. Pence said. "I hope it will, but there are rumblings that the Senate may take the bill as is and pass it and send it to the president, which would be very frustrating to a lot of us."
Advance Indiana thinks that Rep. Pence protests too much about homosexuals. Pence joined Rep. David Dreier and Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California in voting against the hate crimes amendment. Earlier this year, a D.C. area blogsite, blogactive.com, outed David Dreier and Duke Cunningham as gay men. The blogsite alleged that Dreier had carried on a long-term relationship with his male chief of staff, who is one of the highest paid staffers on Capitol Hill according to the bloggers, and that Cunningham had admitted to a gay rights lobbyist that he had been in love with another man.
Advance Indiana thinks Rep. Pence should chill out. Worse things could happen than making a statement against beating someone or killing them just because they are gay. As a fiscal conservative Advance Indiana's editor, Gary R. Welsh, would like Mr. Pence to focus on finding a solution to bringing the worst federal budget crisis in the history of our country under control. Pence's inadvertent vote in favor of the hate crimes legislation is the least of his and his House Republican colleagues' concerns.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
According to Tully's account, the 12-page questionnaire contained "as much sex, crime and intrigue as an episode of 'Desperate Housewives'". Its cover warned that the questionnaire was "Confidential" and for "internal use only" Tully reported. Among the personal questions asked were:
- Have you ever had an affair?
- Have you ever had children out of wedlock?
- Have you ever been late with a child support payment?
- Have you ever been divorced?
- Have you ever had a restraining order placed on you?
Of course, Speaker Bosma does not just want to learn the deepest and darkest secrets about his party's potential candidates. He tossed in a few of the public policy issues that Christian fundamentalists want to impose on candidates like a litmus test, including gambling and gay marriage, which Tully suggests are "aimed at weeding out candidates".
The questionnaire assures political candidates that these questions were not just dreamed up: "Each of these questions is being asked because of a previous campaign experience. According to the GOP committee's executive director, Tully reported that he said the forms weren't meant to exclude candidates. "The goal," Gentry said, "is to help candidates understand all of the issues that can come up in a campaign."
As Advance Indiana has reported in numerous past posts, hypocrisy abounds when it comes to candidates proselytizing to the rest of us about their view of moral righteousness, while they privately indulge in the very sins they publicly protest. Based on past experience, Speaker Bosma has every right to know that he's not sticking his neck out in supporting a candidate with his hard-earned campaign dollars for a candidate in next year's election who cannot stand up to public scrutiny. He's simply doing the due diligence any of us would expect our financial advisor to undertake before recommending an investment to us.
But of course, we know that the true test of a good leader is to lead by example. And who better to lead by example than House Speaker Bosma. Advance Indiana challenges Speaker Bosma to demonstrate to all potential House Republican candidates that he too can withstand the public scrutiny his questionnaire indicates that they most assuredly will face if they are nominated by their party in next year's election. And to prove to them he can withstand public scrutiny, Speaker Bosma should answer all of the questions posed by his questionnaire, sign it under penalties of perjury, and make his responses available to the public. It seems only fair. He has aggressively pursued a "morally righteous" legislative agenda on behalf of Christian fundamentalist so it is all the more important that he be able to live up to the high moral standards he has personally chosen to set.
So what say you Speaker Bosma? Can you live up to the same challenge you expect your party's candidates to live up to? We look forward to hearing his response.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act embodied in the amendment approved today gives law enforcement the tools they need to enforce and prosecute hate crimes against gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans according to the Human Rights Campaign. Current federal law allows prosection for hate crimes based on race, religion, and national origin. Locally, Republican Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi has announced he will ask the Indiana General Assembly to support a proposal he intends to offer to adopt a state hate crimes law that covers a person's race, religion, sexual orientation and other bias motivations. According to statistics compiled by the Indiana State Police, 67 bias-motivated crimes were committed during 2004, a quarter of which were based on a person's sexual orientation. The percentage of hate crimes committed based on a person's sexual orientation is considerably higher in Indiana than the national average, which is 16.5%.
Once again, Indiana Republicans are turning their backs on the tradition of the Party of Lincoln in supporting civil rights for all Americans. The Indiana Republican Party should hold its head in shame that not a single member of its congressional delegation is willing to support a measure which could be interpreted as supporting gay civil rights. All of these members never miss an opportunity to sound tough on crime, but when it comes to cracking down on people who commit hate crimes because of a person's sexual orientation or sexual identity, they are nowhere to be found. The message they are sending with their votes is troubling to say the least.
Indiana's Republican Senator Richard Lugar, who has a less than stellar record on gay civil rights, has at least supported hate crimes measures like the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the past to avoid complete alienation from the GLBT community. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Senator Richard Lugar and Indiana Republican Party Chairman James Kittle need to have a serious discussion with its congressional delegation concerning the message of intolerance and bigotry these House members are projecting to Indiana's GLBT community by continuing to vote in lock-step against any measure which might be perceived as being pro-gay, lest it continue to be haunted by its embarrassing past association with the Ku Klux Klan.
Monday, September 12, 2005
The U.S. Senate opened confirmation hearings today on the appointment of Judge John Roberts not as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court to replace Sandra Day O'Connor as originally announced, but as Chief Justice to replace the late-William Rehnquist, the man for whom Roberts once worked as a law clerk. A former Hoosier, Judge Roberts was introduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee by Indiana's senior senator, Republican Richard Lugar. And sitting directly behind Roberts in the public gallery was Indianapolis attorney Peter Rusthoven, a former colleague of Roberts in the White House counsel's office under President Reagan and unsuccessful conservative Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.
President Bush's decision to elevate Roberts to the Chief Justice position upon Rehnquist's death and name another person to O'Connor's seat was a politically calculated decision. Thanks to the release of Roberts' papers from the Reagan Library and not the White House, which continues to refuse to release relevant documents on a dubious claim of attorney-client privilege, Roberts has emerged as an ideologically driven conservative based on his writings, much like his former boss, Rehnquist, and the Court's two most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
By elevating the conservative Roberts to replace the conservative Rehnquist, the ideological balance of the Court will not shift so the argument goes. Any shift in the Court's balance will be determined by Bush's next replacement for Justice O'Connor. One can rationalize giving Roberts, an imminently qualified candidate for the Supreme Court, a pass on his nomination and, instead, focus efforts to force Bush to choose a more moderate candidate to replace O'Connor. As a short-term strategy, it seems to make a lot of sense. But as a long-term strategy, it could prove disastrous.
Unlike Rehnquist, Roberts is a relatively young man at the age of 50 who could foreseeably serve as Chief Justice for thirty years or more. In that position, he sets the Court's agenda and, most importantly, decides who writes the majority opinions for the Court. From the Reagan Library papers, we have learned that Roberts dismissively called a fundamental right, the "so-called right to privacy". We learned that Roberts scoffed at efforts to provide equal treatment under the law to women and minorities. We learned that Roberts' conservative, Christian beliefs have influenced his view of the separation of church and state. As an example of the disdain he holds for his view of the Supreme Court's "activism" in the area of the Establishment Clause and the right to privacy, he supported congressional efforts to strip the Supreme Court of jurisdiction to hear cases involving fundamental rights, including prayer in school and abortion.
As a young, ideologically driven Chief Justice, he can lead the Court in overturning earlier Supreme Court precedents and scale back fundamental rights previously recognized by the Court. Instead of viewing Roberts by looking backwards at the out of touch man he is replacing, we should be looking to the future at the person he will become as our nation's most important judicial decision-maker on important matters like "what equality under the law" means to all Americans, not just some. Should the idea of Judge John Roberts as Chief Justice offer hope to those for whom "equality under the law" is still a dream? What do we know about Roberts aside from the Reagan papers?
We know that Roberts enjoyed a very comfortable childhood as the son of a steel executive. He attended a mostly-white and all male, prestigious Catholic school. He earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard in the company of predominantly privileged, overwhelmingly white students. He didn't serve in the military, which is racially and ethnically diverse. He clerked for one of the Supreme Court's most conservative jurists, who had a distinct antipathy towards the rights of minorities, women and gays throughout his academic and public career.
He worked in the Reagan administration in the White House counsel's office and the Solicitor General's office with mostly white, conservative attorneys like himself. He helped prepare Sandra Day O'Connor for her confirmation hearings, but when some of his colleagues would later suggest O'Connor as the replacement for the retiring Chief Justice Burger, making her the first female Chief Justice, he quickly put down the suggestion, instead favoring his mentor, Rehnquist. Little wonder Justice O'Connor openly expressed her disappointment when learning that Bush had initially chosen him to replace her. Perhaps she knows Roberts too well.
He worked as a partner at one of the nation's largest and most prestigious law firms in Washington, D.C., Hogan & Hartson, where he primarily represented large corporate interests in appellate cases before our federal courts, including the Supreme Court. He assisted candidate Bush's legal team in the Bush-Gore election dispute. And he just took a seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last year, where he has written very few opinions, leaving little for us to interpret.
Is there any reason to believe that the unsympathetic view towards women and minorities and his narrow view of the separation of church and state he held as an associate counsel and assistant solicitor general are any different today? If Rehnquist is any guide, the answer is an emphatic no. Are those the views you want reflected in our nation's highest judge for the next three decades? For those thinking about giving Roberts a pass on his nomination, Advance Indiana says: Think Again!
Thursday, September 08, 2005
The California legislature became the first legislature in the nation to approve legislation re-defining its marriage law to include same sex relationships. But before the ink was even dry on the enrolled act, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped into his famed role as "The Terminator" and announced his intention to veto it. In explaining his decision, Governor Schwarzenegger acted like a politician practicing "business as usual" politics instead of the stand-up, straight-talking leader Californians elected in its recall election to replace former Governor Gray Davies.
When Schwarzenegger set out on his unlikely campaign for governor two years ago as a Republican in a heavily Democratic state, he distinguished himself as a fiscal conservative and a social moderate with very pro-civil rights views in the tradition of the Party of Lincoln. In so doing, he won the support of middle-of-the-road voters, as well as the state's more conservative voters. He faced down the legislature on a number of issues early in his administration making it clear that it was not "business as usual." His efforts to balance the worse budget deficit in the state's history have earned him high marks.
On the issue of gay rights, both as a candidate and as governor, Schwarzenegger has been unabashed about his view that gays and lesbians are entitled to equal treatment under the law. In fact, his press office restated that view in announcing his decision to veto California's gay marriage legislation: "In Governor Schwarzenegger's personal life and work in public service, he has considered no undertaking to be more noble than the cause of civil rights. He believes that gay couples are entitled to full protection under the law and should not be discriminated against based upon their relationship. He is proud that California provides the most rigorous protections in the nation for domestic partners."
If that is how Governor Schwarzenegger truly feels, then why would he veto the gay marriage legislation? Pure politics. Rather than take the heat from voters who oppose gay marriage, Governor Schwarzenegger chose to punt the decision to the California Supreme Court. A voter-led initiative adopted five years ago in California banned same sex marriages. A lower court ruled earlier this year that the ban on same sex marriages violates the California constitution. Judge Richard Kramer found that the ban violated the "basic human right to marry a person of one's choice," and that "no rational purpose exists for limiting marriage in this state to opposite-sex partners." California's attorney general, Democrat Bill Lockyer, has appealed Kramer's decision. A final ruling from the California Supreme Court is not expected until sometime next year.
Many court observers in California believe that the California Supreme Court will likely overturn the state law banning same sex marriages, thereby paving the road for California to become the second state to legalize gay marriages after Massachusetts. Two years ago Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriages when its supreme court invalidated the state's marriage law, which limited marriage to heterosexual couples.
By vetoing California's gay marriage legislation, Schwarzenegger believes he can have it both ways. He makes far-right conservatives happy by vetoing gay marriages, knowing that before the next election the California Supreme Court will likely strike down California's law. The legislature will then pass the same legislation it passed this year, and Schwarzenegger will sign it into law. The crazies on the right will understand he has no choice and still vote for him, and the gay community will be content that California law is now on their side and forgive Schwarzenegger's earlier veto.
Schwarzenegger's decision to veto this measure may turn out to be the "play of the year" in the game of politics, but it unmistakably defines Schwarzenegger as just another crass politician rather than the stand-up leader he promised to be. He proves that he would rather lose his principles and win, than stand by his principles and lose.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Earlier this year Advance Indiana reported extensively on apparent abuses of tax-exempt status by Eric Miller’s Advance America organization. Our analysis of Advance America’s tax returns uncovered self-dealing by Miller in the form of excessive salary and six-figure legal retainers for his law firm, in addition to other benefits. The reporting showed that the organization attributed just a small fraction of its expenditures for lobbying purposes, even though the organization engages in extensive lobbying-related activities at the state and local level. And the reporting also questioned the group’s claim that it is a non-partisan organization given its promotion of only conservative, Republican officials and candidates, including Miller himself, who unsuccessfully opposed Governor Mitch Daniels in the 2004 Indiana Republican primary. Advance Indiana can now report that abuse of non-profit status is not unique to Advance America. Curt Smith and the Indiana Family Institute (“IFI”) give Eric Miller and Advance America (“AA”) a real run for their money.
Like AA, IFI is organized as a non-profit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization under the Internal Revenue Code. This means that contributions made by persons to the organization are tax-deductible, and that income related to the organization’s tax-exempt purpose are not subject to taxation. IFI’s stated tax-exempt purpose is to “provide educational material to thousands of individuals, churches and organizations on issues that impact the family.” According to the organization’s website, one of its stated missions is to “preserve pro-family policy already within State Government and push for additional policies that will strengthen Indiana families.”
Though the IFI has an annual budget less than half that of AA, Curt Smith as president has commanded an annual salary as high as $110,000 in one recent year. Smith, who is a part-time executive of the organization, is employed by a major Indianapolis law firm, Sommer & Barnard, P.C., as Director of Public Affairs and Policy Development. In that position, he is registered to lobby on behalf of a number of the firm’s clients, including IFI, at both the federal and state level according to publicly available lobby registration records.
Prior to joining Sommer & Barnard, Smith had worked as a legislative aide to former Indiana Senator Dan Coats and U.S. Representative John Hostettler in Washington. He returned to Indiana to work for a conservative think-tank, the Hudson Institute, where he served as Vice President and CEO. Smith became IFI’s President in late 2001 and began lobbying at Sommer & Barnard in 2002. Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana (“AFAI”), held Smith’s position as president of IFI before he joined AFAI.
According to IFI’s tax returns, Smith was hired in at a base salary of $100,000 in 2001, which was increased to $110,000 in 2002. In 2003, the organization reduced Smith’s annual salary to $76,000 for what it reported was for just 20 hours of work per week on behalf of the organization. Smith’s salary, even as a part-time president, is unusually high for an organization with an annual budget well below a half million dollars and above the average pay for non-profits heads of similar-sized organizations.
In tax years 2001 through 2003, the organization reported expenses of $300,000, $405,000 and $415,000, respectively. Its expenses actually exceeded its income by $31,000 in 2001, and by nearly $10,000 in 2002. At least 60 percent of the IFI’s expenses were attributed to salaries and employee benefits during the reporting period. Remarkably, IFI’s tax returns attribute on average only about 10 percent of its costs to administrative expenses, notwithstanding Smith’s excessive pay. IFI claims that about 70% of its costs are for program services, and the remaining 15 percent of its costs are for fundraising-related expenses.
Astonishingly, IFI claims that it had zero lobbying expenses during each of these three tax years, which seems at odds with its own stated mission of preserving and pushing for pro-family policies in state government. Curt Smith and the IFI have been quite visible in lobbying the legislature on hot-button social issues for a number of years. The organization registered to lobby the Indiana General Assembly during Clark’s reign of the IFI in the late 1990s and in 2004 and 2005 under Smith, but it did not register to lobby during the tax years 2001-2003. Smith, however, has been a registered lobbyist in the State of Indiana for Sommer & Barnard since 2002, the year following his arrival at IFI. Smith drew his $110,000 annual salary at the same time he was employed as a lobbyist at Sommer & Barnard.
IFI’s tax returns for 2004 are not yet publicly available. The law firm which employees Smith registered to lobby the Indiana General Assembly on behalf of IFI during the 2004 and 2005 legislative sessions. IFI reported lobbying expenditures of $3,712.60 and $2,124.04, respectively, during the past two legislative sessions. During this period, Smith and IFI lobbied the General Assembly extensively for passage of SJR 7, a constitutional amendment to bar recognition of same sex marriages and civil unions. Smith has also called on Governor Mitch Daniels to rescind his EEO policy because it bars discrimination against state employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or sexual identity.
IFI has not disclosed how much it pays Sommer & Barnard to lobby on its behalf. Federal tax returns require only that non-profits disclose payments to independent contractors of $50,000 or more per year, and IFI's most recent tax returns were not available for purposes of this analysis. Not all payments made by employer lobbyists like IFI to its compensated lobbyists are reportable under Indiana’s Lobby Law; however, lobbying expenditures for federal income tax reporting purposes are defined more broadly than Indiana’s Lobby Law. IFI’s reporting of zero lobbying expenditures during the 2001-2003 tax period is simply not credible given the organization’s well-recognized role in lobbying the legislature on social policy concerns.
IFI’s employment of Sommer & Barnard as its registered lobbyist raises serious conflict of interest concerns. Advance Indiana reported the fact that AA pays Eric Miller’s law firm an annual six-figure retainer fee to perform legal work, in addition to the excessive pay he received as the organization’s executive director. Unlike Miller, Smith is a non- attorney, employee and not a partner of the law firm retained by IFI. Nonetheless, Smith’s compensation as an employee could be related to the payments made by IFI to Sommer & Barnard. As IFI’s President, it is inappropriate for Smith to engage his employer in any lucrative contract, even if approved by the organization’s board of directors. How can Smith serve two masters?
It should also be observed that the public policy positions of IFI are sometimes at odds with the public policy positions of the clients of Smith’s employer. IFI has consistently opposed an expansion of gaming in Indiana because of its sometimes detrimental impact on the families of problem gamblers and associated crime. Sommer & Barnard has in the past lobbied on behalf of the Cook Group in Bloomington for the newly-approved riverboat casino in French Lick. While Smith did not personally lobby for the French Lick casino, his colleagues did and were most assuredly well-compensated for their work.
According to federal lobbying reports, Smith is registered to lobby for a variety of interests, including the Southern Indiana Business Alliance, Inc., First Internet Bank of Indiana, Rose-Hulman, Vincennes University Foundation, Semafore Pharmaceuticals and St. Francis Hospital. It is not a difficult reach to believe that at least some of IFI’s public policy positions are at odds with the other clients Smith is representing in lobbying matters.
Some of these businesses, for example, oppose discrimination of persons on the basis of their sexual orientation, while IFI and Smith openly advocate such discrimination based upon fundamentalist Christian beliefs. The City of Indianapolis has in the past retained Sommer & Barnard for lobbying purposes, and its EEO policy specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or sexual identity. Semafore Pharmaceuticals is an innovative, Indianapolis-based bio-technology company which develops drug therapies for treating cancer and immune-related disorders. Generally speaking, companies like Semafore would benefit from federally-supported embryonic stem cell research. Smith and the IFI oppose embryonic stem cell research. In fact, Smith and IFI have invited the controversial Dr. James Dobson to speak at its fall dinner next month. Dobson has compared embryonic stem cell research to the Nazi medical experiments conducted on Jews in the concentration camps during World War II.
In conclusion, Advance Indiana’s analysis of IFI’s tax returns and lobbying activities raise some of the same concerns our analysis of AA’s tax returns and lobbying activities raised. IFI is paying Smith excessively for a part-time position. Smith is engaging in self-dealing by employing the very law firm where he is employed to lobby on behalf of IFI. Based upon the tax returns analyzed, it does not appear that IFI is fairly reporting expenditures it makes for lobbying purposes, as is required by Internal Revenue Code regulations. Its own stated mission is to preserve and push for pro-family policies in state government, and that necessarily requires some lobbying activities. Yet, IFI reports zero lobbying expenditures during the 2001-2003 tax period, and it reports paltry expenditures during the past two years to lobby the legislature when its extensive lobbying activities were apparent to any objective, State House observer.
Like AA, IFI promotes, to the exclusion of all others, conservative, Republican officials and candidates who support the IFI's fundamentalist Christian agenda. As a tax-exempt organization, IFI is prohibited from engaging in partisan politics. Its events always feature only conservative Republican candidates. It prepares voter guides just like AA to contrast the legislative voting records and positions of legislators and candidates who support their extreme conservative positions with those who do not support their narrow views. And it disseminates these voter guides through its network of conservative churches and individuals to influence elections.
As a publicly-subsidized organization, Smith and the IFI are accountable to the public. Like AA, Smith and IFI should be investigated by the Internal Revenue Service to determine whether IFI should be permitted to retain its tax-exempt status, and whether Smith should be personally subject to a financial penalty if IFI is found to have under-reported its actual lobbying expenditures or impermissibly engaged in partisan politics. Further, mainstream media organizations should start doing their jobs and begin investigating the gross abuses of non-profit organizations like AA and IFI. The public deserves a full accounting of their practices if we are to be expected to continue subsidizing their activities.
Monday, September 05, 2005
A little more than two weeks ago, I attended my legal fraternity's convention in New Orleans, which was held at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the heart of the French Quarter on Bourbon Street. Welcoming my fraternity to the Big Easy, was New Orleans young and ambitious reformed-minded Mayor, Ray Nagin. In many ways, Nagin is an unlikely person to be mayor of New Orleans. He was a successful business executive-owner of Cox Broadcasting before being elected mayor at the age of 45 with no prior political experience. He was an outsider who abhored the good ole boy system that had ruled the city for decades. In his first term he vowed to improve government services and fight the city's corrupt political system. To that end he has fired hundreds of city workers and sent scores of corrupt city officials to prison. A very self-confident, if not cocky, individual, he has made his share of enemies in the city by ending the business as usual mindset that has guided a bloated and ineffectual bureacracy for so long. As the mayor faced the greatest challenge of his life in leading the city through the disaster, he was handicapped by the deeply divided city, including many disgruntled public servants.
While welcoming tourists to a city is tantamount to a community that depends so much on tourism for its economic vitality, Mayor Nagin was quick to warn his friendly visitors not to stray from the safe confines of the French Quarter, ever mindful of the city's high crime rate. Nearly 70 percent of the city's population is African-American, and it is one of the nation's poorest cities. This is a side of the city few tourists ever see. The gulf between the haves and have nots could not be more pronounced than it is in New Orleans. The role the racial and economic divide of this city had in what unfolded during the hurricane disaster cannot be understated.
Flash forward to Saturday, August 27, 2005. Hurricane Katrina had just reached hurricane status the evening before as it reached the shores of Florida's east coast on the southern edge of Ft. Lauderdale and by Saturday morning had reached the warm gulf waters moving in a southwestern direction just north of Key West, Florida. Hurricane experts immediately began projecting an eventual northward path that would take the storm anywhere from the hard hit Floridia panhandle to the Louisiana coast near New Orleans. I remember watching television coverage of the storm's strengthening during the day on Saturday and wondering why no evacuation orders were being issued for New Orleans. I've known for many years that New Orleans sits in a bowl below sea level, protected by a series of canals and levees constructed by the Army Corp of Engineers. With nearly a half million in the city and over a million in the metropolitan area, it would take time to evacuate such a large population with limited routes out of the city. It had long been predicted by many experts that a direct hit would have a devastating impact on the city, killing tens of thousands and flooding the entire city for months.
As Katrina revved her engines, most went about their daily business. Television news broadcasts showed the French Quarter alive with party revelers and few residents making preparations for the storm. Then something happened that has never happened before. Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center personally telephoned Mayor Nagin to express his concern that the danger facing New Orleans from the approaching storm had never been greater and the potential for a direct hit from a Category 5 hurricane was increasingly becoming apparent. Mayfield urged Mayor Nagin to order an immediate evacuation. Remarkably, Mayor Nagin waited more than 10 hours after speaking to Mayfield before heeding his warning and ordering an evacuation of the city late Sunday morning, August 28, 2005. The evacuation order came less than 20 hours before the city would begin feeling the effects of the approaching deadly storm.
Even more troubling than the late hour call for the evacuation was the complete lack of a plan for evacuating the areas' one million plus residents. The city's limited routes out of the city quickly became a slow moving procession westward and northward. For those lacking transportation out of the city, including the city's large poor population, people with special needs and out-of-town tourists, who were stranded when airlines unconscionably cancelled all flights out of Armstrong airport on Sunday, many had no choice but to stay behind and face the storm. No city buses or other forms of public transportation were available to these people. This after countless numbers of studies and hundreds of millions invested by federal, state and local government for emergency preparedness. The only public shelter made available to those with no opportunity to leave the city was the Superdome, which experts said could withstand 150-mile an hour winds. More than 10,000 persons made their way to the Superdome on Sunday, not knowing that the city had made no advance preparations for housing and feeding them in this confined setting with inadequate security to maintain order.
Another important pre-storm note to make. Governor Kathleen Blanco made no effort to call up Louisiana National Guard troops to either assist in the evacuation of the city's residents prior to the storm or in the search, rescue and policing effort in the first days following the storm's impact. She had that power. There were troops available to aid in the evacuation and the search and rescue effort--they are not all in Iraq as had been falsely reported in the days after the storm hit. Blanco's failure to activate those troops in advance or immediately after the storm hit would play an important role in the break-down in the search and rescue efforts in New Orleans. Likewise, federal authorities did not make preparations for the use of military personnnel under its control to aid in either pre or post-storm efforts. Given the economic and national security importance of keeping the Port of Orleans up and running, it is simply unacceptable that so little pre-planning had been done by federal, state and local authorities for a dire situation everyone knew was unavoidable. The public has invested billions in the past for this very effort, and we now know that those funds were completely misspent with the worst of tragic outcomes, causing needless loss of life.
As Hurricane Katrina approached Saturday night, hurricane forecasters began predicting a path that would take the storm to the east of New Orleans, seemingly sparing the city from the brunt of the storm we were told. But would it? Hurricane experts at Lousiana State University didn't think so. They prepared a flood prediction report over the weekend prior to the storm making landfall that showed a worst case scenario even if the storm skirted to the east of the city, which is exactly what happened. The winds from the back-side of a storm as powerful as Katrina would be enough to overrun the city' northside levees along Lake Pontchartrain. The experts at LSU quickly e-mailed their findings to Mayor Nagin, Governor Blanco, FEMA and state and local emergency response agencies, warning of the likely catastrophic flooding of the city based upon its projected path, more than 24 hours before the storm hit!
So as the storm ripped through eastern New Orleans and the southern Mississippi coast on the morning of Monday, August 29, 2005, no one in a position of power at the federal, state or local level with the ability to act seemed to comprehend the impending doom the area faced. I was amazed by the early reports after the eye of the hurricane moved north and east of New Orleans. The city had been spared the brunt of the storm we were told--there was only limited flooding in the city's far eastern neighborhoods, which also happened to be where some of the city's poorest residents resided. The touristy French Quarter was has high and dry, with limited wind damage, and that seemed to be all that needed to be known. Reporters on the scene seemed to remain in place, making little effort to scout the city and learn for themselves the extent of the damage. Fox News had a reporter showing rising water on I-10, but she knew nothing about why it was rising. There were no warnings that people who had stayed behind needed to evacuate their homes immediately to avoid the rising waters. If there had been a warning, how would it have been made. The city was completely without power and most people who remained behind were in a communications blackhole.
Dissatisfied with the national news coverage, I stumbled upon WWLTV.com, the website for a local CBS affiliate in New Orleans. The station had re-located to the LSU campus soon after the storm hit due to rising waters at its broadcast location near the French Quarter, and had begun broadcasting live on the internet. The station was in the midst of a live state of the city report from Mayor Nagin--a report that could not have been more stunning. Yes, two levees had been breached and more than 80 percent of the city would seen be underwater, including the Superdome and the city's two airports.
I would also learn to my amazement from a WWL-TV report that the only evacuation center at the Superdome and the neighboring convention center was one of the lowest sites in the city. WWL-TV had reporters throughout the city and provided from the air images reporting on the devastation, all absent in the national reporting. A WWL-TV blogsite reporting up to minute developments online in the aftermath of the storm were breathtaking. Slowly, thousands of refugees began making their way to the Superdome and elevated highways in seach of assistance. The worst case scenarior had indeed happened if you were listening to WWL-TV, but if you were listening to national broadcasts, you would not learn it until well into the day on Tuesday, an utter failure on the part of our nation's largest news broadcasters.
Watching the WWL-TV broacast, you could see Mayor Nagin's complete frustration building. Efforts to begin repairing the breach in the levees was to have started on Tuesday. By Tuesday night, a storm-tired Nagin would complain that there were too many chiefs--someone had forgotten to send the helicopters needed for the effort to fix the levee breaches. Governor Blanco in public appearances seemed to allow her human emotions to take over and left public doubts about her ability to lead during a time of crisis. There was no one like Mayor Guiliani who so ably rose to the occasion of leading New Yorkers and the nation to an extent through the 9-11 attacks.
WWL-TV now reported that the levee breaches had now grown from relatively small breaks to several block-long breaks, meaning that the repair effort would take much more time than earlier anticipated. Worse yet, complete lawlessness had taken over many parts of the city, including the tony French Quarter section. Police and firefighters had to choose between search and rescue and policing, most chose the former. A few chose to join the looters and forget their public safety responsibilities entirely to the detriment of the very citizens they were sworn to serve. By week's end, at least two would commit suicide, while dozens of others turned in their badges in complete frustration.
Conditions at the Superdome and convention center became unthinkable. The squalid conditions evacuees were expected to live in were a national disgrace. A lack of security, food, water and health care, led to a complete break down in order. Several shootings occurred, including several which resulted in death. Women were being raped, children were being molested, people were dying from a lack of health care, and dead bodies were stacking up with no place to go. Thousands more remained stranded on their roofs or in their flooded homes throughout the city with faint hope of being rescued for days.
As word spread throughout the world of the events in New Orleans, the United States' venerable reputation for providing for its own people and helping the needy throughout the world became tattered. After four long days of needless suffering, federal help in the form of military troops and equipment finally arrived, but only after a near-complete breakdown by Mayor Nagin as he swore and cried on live TV begging someone to help. Finally, after four long days, much-needed federal troops would arrive to help restore order and aid in the evacuation efforts.
The airlift of evacuees and the life-saving rescues by our men and women in uniform were a welcome relief. It gave us hope that we were still a nation of good and great people with a unique ability to achieve greater things than any nation before us. As I write, word has come that the Army Corp of Engineers has succeeded in reparing the breached levees. The now-toxic waters are finally receding. But for the people of New Orleans, the extent of the human toll is still being counted. Many expect the death toll to be in the tens of thousands. It will be at least 9 months before the city's residents will be able to return to a partially re-opened city.
A storm of the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina cannot be stopped--it is afterall an act of nature, or an Act of God, whichever you prefer. But the loss of life suffered in New Orleans was completely avoidable with adequate planning and preparation. The taxpayers of the United States, Louisiana and New Orleans have been funding these efforts for decades to avoid this very scenario. It seems to me that officials at all levels of government must share in the blame, but for now, let's focus on what has do be done to restore this devasted community and life-line for our nation's economy.