Political MoJo

Is Montana More Corrupt Than Miami?

| Wed Jul. 9, 2014 12:44 PM EDT

For such a sparsely populated state, Montana has managed to generate some outsize headlines lately. There's the GOP Senate candidate who made news by suggesting that creationism should be taught in public schools. Then there's Missoula's reputation as the "rape capital" of the world, thanks to, among other things, serious allegations of sexual assault committed by University of Montana football players. And continuing that theme, there's also the Justice Department's investigation of the Missoula County Attorney's office alleging that prosecutors had been systematically discriminating against female sexual-abuse victims.

Now comes new data showing that Montana is leading the country in public corruption prosecutions, suggesting that the state's reputation for graft (dating back to the days of the Copper Kings) hasn't changed much. Clocking in with 18 active cases, the federal judicial district of Montana has had more public corruption prosecutions in 2014 than those in South Florida, Southern California, and even New Jersey, according to data crunched by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

How is it that such a small state has so many prosecutions? "Why prosecutors do what they do is a mystery," says TRAC's David Burnham. But the prosecutors in Montana have a good explanation: They've recently organized a major crackdown on corruption on American Indian reservations, of which the state has seven. 

A recent AP investigation concluded that, nationally, tribal governments are five times more likely to have "material weaknesses" in their administration that make corruption possible, and reporters for years have been sounding alarms that federal prosecutors have largely turned a blind eye to these problems. Montana decided to change that trend, at a time when millions in additional federal dollars have flowed into tribal governments thanks to the federal stimulus package enacted after the financial collapse in 2008.

In 2011, the US Attorney's office launched a task force, dubbed the Guardians Project, with the FBI, the IRS, and inspectors general of various federal agencies, to target corruption on American Indian reservations. The results have been telling: In 2012, Montana had only one official corruption prosecution, but by August of last year, the Guardians Project had netted 25 indictments against people who'd allegedly done all sorts of devious things to keep federal money from reaching those it was supposed to help.

Prosecutors promised there would be more to come, and there have been. Just last month, four members of the Blackfeet tribe were sentenced to prison for involvement in a scheme to steal federal mental-health and substance abuse treatment funds from a $9 million contract. More than $225,000 intended for the program ended up being spent on travel and gambling, among other things.

Six people have pleaded guilty to embezzling federal dollars from a $361 million pipeline project designed to bring freshwater to the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. Another seven people from the Crow reservation were indicted for stealing at least a half-million dollars from the tribe in a double-billing scheme operated out of the tribe's historic preservation office. One of the people convicted in the scheme allowed a coal company to take a backhoe to a 2,000-year-old sacred bison burial site. The corruption investigations have already ensnared a former state representative and Chippewa Cree tribe official, Tony Belcourt, who in April pleaded guilty to bribery, theft, and tax-evasion charges related to the water project, as well as construction of a multimillion-dollar clinic.

Overall, though, Montana itself probably isn't more scandal-plagued than New Jersey or Miami. Montana's US attorney has just taken a harder line on prosecuting the abuses on its reservations, and all those cases have added up to boost Montana to the top of the rankings in terms of public corruption prosecutions. "These figures from Syracuse reflect only a portion of our effort," US Attorney Mike Cotter said in a statement Tuesday. "Many of the public corruption indictments brought in Montana were initiated before last October. Relatively speaking, Montana is a small office; a David among Goliaths. But the Guardians have done truly remarkable work. Their efforts have unearthed widespread criminal activity and flagrant abuses of trust with regard to federal programs and grants designed to provide for the common good of our Indian communities."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 9, 2014

Wed Jul. 9, 2014 11:31 AM EDT

The 173rd Airborne Brigade Paratroopers participate in a ceremonial rotation of forces in Latvia. (US Army National Guard Photo by Spc. Cassandra Simonton, 116th Public Affairs Detachment)

This Is the Democratic Plan to Reverse the Hobby Lobby Decision

| Wed Jul. 9, 2014 11:02 AM EDT

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised "to do something" about the Supreme Court's recent Hobby Lobby decision. Now two members of his caucus say they are preparing a bill that would reverse some of the controversial aspects of last week's decision.

Take it away, TPM:

The legislation will be sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO). According to a summary reviewed by TPM, it prohibits employers from refusing to provide health services, including contraception, to their employees if required by federal law. It clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the basis for the Supreme Court's ruling against the mandate, and all other federal laws don't permit businesses to opt out of the Obamacare requirement.
...

This bill will restore the original legal guarantee that women have access to contraceptive coverage through their employment-based insurance plans and will protect coverage of other health services from employer objections as well, according to the summary.

This is all well and good, but unfortunately this bill will never survive a cloture vote in the Senate; even if it did, it would be dead on arrival in the House of Representatives. The only way that Hobby Lobby stands even a chance of being overturned legislatively is if John Boehner is forced to hand over the Speaker's gavel to a Democrat. That's probably something someone at the DCCC should remind people of as we head into the midterms.

Here's How Obama Wants to Spend $3.7 Billion on the Child Migrant Crisis

| Tue Jul. 8, 2014 3:01 PM EDT

On Tuesday, President Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations to address the rapidly growing number of unaccompanied Central American children attempting to enter the United States. The Border Patrol apprehended 38,833 unaccompanied kids in fiscal year 2013, and it already has caught more than 52,000 in fiscal 2014.

The requested appropriations include:

  • $1.8 billion to the HHS's Administration for Children and Families: to provide more stable, cost-effective arrangements and medical care for unaccompanied children.
  • $1.1 billion to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): for the detention, prosecution, and removal of undocumented families, as well as transportation costs for unaccompanied children.
  • $432 million to Customs and Border Protection: for operational costs, an expanded Border Enforcement Security Task Force, and increased air surveillance in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.
  • $295 million to the State Department's (and other international programs') Economic Support Fund: for the repatriation and reintegration of deported migrants, and to address the root causes of migration in Central America.
  • $62 million to the Department of Justice: for additional immigration judges and legal representation for the children.

Notably, Obama's letter to House Speaker John Boehner did not include a request to alter the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008. That law requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to turn over unaccompanied children from countries other than Canada and Mexico to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which temporarily houses them in shelters while it locates US-based family members or sponsors. (The kids are in removal proceedings throughout.)

Here's the full letter:

 

New Conservative Meme: Migrant Children Aren't Children

| Tue Jul. 8, 2014 11:04 AM EDT

Conservatives have found a new line of attack on the ongoing refugee crisis along the southern border: The children who are migrating en masse from Central America and crowding into detention centers are not children.

"I realize that in Barack Obama's America we now classify anyone under the age of 26 as a child eligible for their parent's healthcare insurance," writes Red State's Erick Erickson. "But I'm pretty sure a normal person would not classify these men as children." He links to this tweet:

Erickson's analysis is correct—the people in this photo are not children. The way immigration detention works is that children are separated from adults and then sorted by age and gender. This is noted in nearly every single story on the subject. Just because more than 48,000 minors have been detained crossing the border in 2014 doesn't mean adults have simply stopped coming over.

Lest you think that the administration is inventing this influx of young migrants, here is a photo of migrant children crowded into a single room. I found it on Breitbart:

You could also read my colleague Ian Gordon's wrenching story for the magazine on 17-year-old Adrián's flight from Guatemala City to the United States.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 8. 2014

Tue Jul. 8, 2014 9:51 AM EDT

Children from the Charmazi Orphanage in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania bond with US Marine Corps Officers through a community relations project. (Photo Courtesy of the US Marines.)

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Gitmo Detainees Cite Hobby Lobby in New Court Filing. Read It Here.

| Mon Jul. 7, 2014 12:27 PM EDT

In a new court filing, attorneys for two Guantanamo Bay detainees have invoked the Supreme Court's controversial decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which allowed certain corporations to ignore the Obamacare contraception mandate if their owners object to it on religious grounds. The motions, filed with a Washington, DC, district court on behalf of Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan and Emad Hassan of Yemen, ask the court to bar military officials from preventing Gitmo inmates from participating in communal prayer during Ramadan.

"Hobby Lobby makes clear that all persons—human and corporate, citizen and foreigner, resident and alien—enjoy the special religious free exercise protections of the [Religious Freedom Restoration Act]," the lawyers argue.

A spokesman for the Department of Defense told Al Jazeera America on Friday that the "Defense Department is aware of the filing," and that the "government will respond through the legal system."

Read the emergency motion for a temporary restraining order below:

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 7, 2014

Mon Jul. 7, 2014 9:24 AM EDT

US Marines celebrate a change of command ceremony in South Carolina under the American flag. (US Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Sarah Cherry)

WATCH: Now That Corporations Have Freedom of Religion, It's Time to Lay Out the Corporate Commandments [Fiore Cartoon]

| Fri Jul. 4, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

How Hobby Lobby Undermined The Very Idea of a Corporation

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 2:50 PM EDT
Justice Alito signs his oath card in the Justices Conference Room

Here's one more reason to worry about the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed the arts and crafts chain to block insurance coverage of contraception for female employees because of the owners' religious objections: It could screw up corporate law.

This gets complicated, but bear with us. Basically, what you need to know is that if you and some friends start a company that makes a lot of money, you'll be rich, but if it incurs a lot of debt and fails, you won't be left to pay its bills. The Supreme Court affirmed this arrangement in a 2001 case, Cedric Kushner Promotions vs. Don King:

linguistically speaking, the employee and the corporation are different “persons,” even where the employee is the corporation’s sole owner. After all, incorporation’s basic purpose is to create a distinct legal entity, with legal rights, obligations, powers, and privileges different from those of the natural individuals who created it, who own it, or whom it employs.

That separation is what legal and business scholars call the "corporate veil," and it's fundamental to the entire operation. Now, thanks to the Hobby Lobby case, it's in question. By letting Hobby Lobby's owners assert their personal religious rights over an entire corporation, the Supreme Court has poked a major hole in the veil. In other words, if a company is not truly separate from its owners, the owners could be made responsible for its debts and other burdens.

"If religious shareholders can do it, why can’t creditors and government regulators pierce the corporate veil in the other direction?" Burt Neuborne, a law professor at New York University, asked in an email.

That's a question raised by 44 other law professors, who filed a friends-of-the-court brief that implored the Court to reject Hobby Lobby's argument and hold the veil in place. Here's what they argued:

Allowing a corporation, through either shareholder vote or board resolution, to take on and assert the religious beliefs of its shareholders in order to avoid having to comply with a generally-applicable law with a secular purpose is fundamentally at odds with the entire concept of incorporation. Creating such an unprecedented and idiosyncratic tear in the corporate veil would also carry with it unintended consequences, many of which are not easily foreseen.

In his opinion for Hobby Lobby, Justice Samuel Alito's insisted the decision should be narrowly applied to the peculiarities of the case. But as my colleague Pat Caldwell writes, the logic of the argument is likely to invite a tide of new lawsuits, all with their own unintended consequences.

Small wonder, then, that despite congressional Republicans defending the Hobby Lobby decision as a victory for American business against the nanny state, the US Chamber of Commerce—the country's main big business lobby—was quiet on the issue. Even more telling: Despite a record tide of friends-of-the-court briefs, not one Fortune 500 weighed in on the case. In fact, as David H. Gans at Slate pointed out in March, about the only sizeable business-friendly groups that did file briefs with the court were the US Women's Chamber of Commerce and the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Both sided against Hobby Lobby.