Senate Majority Project

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Tobin Update

Dole Lawyer Advised Convicted Jammer on RLC Biz

Yesterday, at the Tobin trial, lawyers in opening arguments Dave Butswinkas, Tobin’s lawyer in the criminal trial, said that Allen Raymond, had run the scheme by a lawyer. Earlier, it had been reported that the nervous owners of the Idaho company that made the calls, Mylo Enterprises, had “met with GOP Marketplace attorneys, who told them not to worry.”

So, who was the lawyer?

One possibility … Skadden Arps Kenneth A, Gross, who was the campaign attorney for Bob Dole in 1996.

Gross and Skadden Arps were the lawyer for Raymond at the Republican Leadership Council in 2002, so its not a stretch to imagine that he also advised Raymond on matters with his other operation … GOP Marketplace.

Gross also has consulted the national Republican Party, acting as lawyer for the NYC 2004 Convention Host Committee.

Murkowski Gets Rolled on PATRIOT Act

Republican Left Off Committee, Fails To Deliver Republicans on Compromise

In her race for Senate, Lisa Murkowski promised to use her clout and influence with a Republican majority to help Alaskans. Now its looking more and more like she doesn’t have any. First, she was excluded from the mostly Republican panel negotiating a compromise, then her pleas to the team negotiating the deal went unheeded. Republicans virtually ignored her when the latest deal was struck to reauthorize the USA PATRIOT Act.

According to the Associated Press, House and Senate negotiators worked out a agreement that "would extend for now two of the Patriot Act's most controversial provisions -- authorizing "roving wiretaps" and permitting "secret warrants for books," records and other items from businesses, hospitals and organizations such as libraries. Those two provisions would expire in four years under the deal."

In April of this year, Murkowkski said, "While we certainly recognize the need for our law enforcement community to have the necessary tools to defeat terrorism, we can not offer security at the expense of the Constitutional freedoms that are at the heart of America."

In October, after the House backed the President rather than Murkowski, she said,
I encourage the conferees to accept our version and help achieve the result that we have agreed upon here in the Senate.”

And just last month she issued another plea to Republicans
“We have worked too long and too hard to allow this conference report to eliminate the modest protections for civil liberties”

Alaska TV Stations have said that Murkowski is “leading the fight,” but where Lisa Murkowski is leading, her Republican colleagues in the majority clearly ain’t following.

This, incidentally is not the first time in recent weeks that the Republican majority has tossed aside the concerns of their Alaska

Burns & Co. Display Firm Grasp of Obvious

Biggest Recipient of Abramoff Money in Senate Says Abramoff Is A "Bad Bad Guy"

Please take exactly 50 seconds to watch this video of Sen. Conrad Burns getting the Ambramoff question in Kalispell, MT.

Here's the full quote and the story:
"This Abramoff guy is a bad, bad guy. And he's indicted, and I hope he goes to jail and we never see him again. I wish he'd never been born to be right honest with you. Because he's done a terrible, terrible thing to our Native American community."
His spokesman was not quite able to marshall a similar anger this morning:
Burns spokesman James Pendleton responded, in sarcastic incredulity, "A senator met with lobbyists? ... And he's been meeting with them for years? Well, duh."
Wonder if anybody has pointed out to Burns that if Abramoff hadn’t been born, Burns’ campaign account would be a few thousand lighter. And all the time Burns and/or his staff spent in meetings with Abramoff could have been spent at home taking care of their kids.

Is he keeping the money? Well, duh!

Coleman Poll at Lowest Level Ever

St. Cloud State University Says Minnesotans Not So Warm on Norm

A poll released today by St Cloud State University found that Colemans “feeling thermometer” among Minnesota voters was at a level of 50. Coleman’s rating slipped 2 points from last year and a net 5 points from 2003.

The current level is the lowest St. Cloud St. ever recorded for Coleman. In fact, Coleman is now eight points below the point he was in 2001 when he announced that he would challenge Paul Wellstone and even below the level he was at immediately after he lost the Minnesota gubernatorial race in 1998.

Coleman “Feeling Thermometer” 1999-2005
Mean Temperature

1999 52
2000 55
2001 58
2002 53
2003 55
2004 52
2005 50

With George W. Bush rating the lowest in the poll, at 44, maybe Coleman ought to rethink his strategy of carrying water for the Bush Administration.

Frist Do No Harm

Sen. Frist's Sweetheart Deal for Drug Companies is For the Birds

In a speech to reporters at the National Press Club, Senator Bill Frist announced his six-point plan to help the nation cope with an avian flu outbreak. During the speech, Frist placed fear in his audience, proclaiming:
“Think of a fast-moving, highly contagious disease that wipes out 50 million people. Half a million in the U.S. The killer pandemic claims more victims in 24 weeks, than HIV-AIDS has claimed in 24 years. In the United States -- the most developed nation in the world -- bodies pile up in the streets. There aren't enough morticians to bury the dead. Nor are there enough doctors and nurses to tend to the sick."
Scary stuff. A situation that definitely calls for a six-point plan. And today Frist’s outlined measures he says would increase availability of flu vaccine and streamline the process of research and development.

But what if it was side effects of a vaccine that was responsible for making people sick? That’s different according to Frist and friends. Today, Frist talked of “balanced, sensible liability protection” But his idea of balanced and sensible is to remove virtually all incentives for responsible drug production. His SB 1873 completely shields companies making drugs in response to public health emergencies, unless the Secretary of Health and Human Services (rather than an impartial court or jury) determined that the company acted with “willful misconduct.” [Sec 319F-3]

The drug makers would agree: According to PhRMA chief Billy Tauzin today, “Liability reform is a critically important part of this plan. It’s clear that the nation’s liability system is broken.”

One problem with this is that Congress supposedly already fixed that problem when they passed class action reform. Last we heard, the GOP Congress protected pharmaceutical companies by designing a bill that shifts many class action suits from state courts to backlogged federal courts. (Lawsuits against companies, due to side affects of a vaccine would almost certainly be handled as a class action.) That measure was supposed to lead to more research and development and broader manufacturing of vaccines.

At the end of the day, Frist’s vaccine plan cure might actually end up being worse than the disease. Drug manufacturers would have no potential liability except in the most extreme circumstances and therefore no economic incentive to fully test and protect against side effects that could cause even more serious illness or deaths, especially in vulnerable populations like children and the elderly.

Frist, a doctor, is familiar with the side effects of vaccines, and has himself cautioned against requiring vaccination against smallpox or anthrax because of the hundreds or even thousands of deaths that could result.

For example, In 2001, when Frist was asked about reinstating routine smallpox vaccinations, he said nationwide inoculations would result in an estimated 400 deaths from the vaccine’s side effects. He told Tim Russert on Meet the Press that,

“About 25 out of every 100,000 people have a side effect to the vaccination itself. Probably 600 to 2,000 people would die just from the vaccine itself.” [NBC Meet the Press, 10/14/2001]
And after the U.S. Capitol was hit with an anthrax attack, Frist again cautioned against the vaccines saying,
There are very real and potentially serious side effects from the [anthrax] vaccine and anyone who elects to receive the vaccine needs to be made aware of that,' said Frist. 'I do not recommend widespread inoculation for people with the vaccine in the Hart Building,'" [, 12/18/2001]
Despite the very real danger of side effects from vaccines, Frist’s bird flu plan envisions widespread vaccination of Americans in a short time period with even less protection against side effects than are currently in place for either the smallpox or anthrax vaccines Frist cautioned against.

But wait, there’s more.

Frist’s plan also creates a new agency, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency, with oversight authority over the nation’s bird-flu and bioterrorism preparedness. Frist would give the agency the unprecedented protection of complete exemption from the Freedom of Information Act. Thus people could not even know whether the vaccines developed under the Frist plan would have a chance of hurting them. As Barbara Loe Fisher, president of the National Vaccine Information Center summed up:
Without public scrutiny or the ability to take the companies to court, ``these drugs are going to be developed in secret, and if there are deaths and injuries, they're going to be covered up,'' she said. ``And there will be no way to hold anybody accountable.''
Now that’s scary.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Republican Voter Suppression Trial Update – Day 1

Republican Lawyers May Have Approved Plan

Yesterday in Manchester, NH, the trial of James Tobin opened. Tobin is accused of conspiring to stop New Hampshire residents from voting in the 2002 election that resulted in the election of John Sununu. At trial, prosecutors argued and witnesses testified that several state Republican leaders were uncomfortable with the idea and that Tobin helped facilitate the plan after no one else would help. In addition, Tobin’s lawyer opened the door to the possibility that other Republican lawyers may have approved the plan. Arguing that Tobin was not connected to the scheme that has already sent two top-tier Republican operatives to jail, the attorney said, “that Raymond [the consultant hired to make the calls] has stated he ran the plan by a lawyer.”

A few local outlets are doing useful reporting on the trial

The RNC has sent upwards of $1 million defending Tobin, and made arguments that would prevent prosecutors from determining how far up the Republican party ladder the scheme went, how widespread the practice was, and who ultimately paid for it. The first day of the trial only provided more reasons for Republicans to stop hiding behind lawyers and come clean about the level of the national party’s involvement.

Lindsay and Duke

Graham is the Top Senate Recipient of Dirty Duke Donor Money

With the indictment, plea and resignation of Duke Cunningham, there is plenty of evidence that Cunningham donor Brent Wilkes -- aka coconspirator #1 -- had more in mind than boosting his favorite candidates with his political contributions. According to the San Diego Union Tribune,
Over the past 20 years, Wilkes has devoted much of his career to developing political contacts in Washington. He and his associates have spent at least $600,000 on political contributions and $1.1 million on lobbying beyond the gifts mentioned in the Cunningham plea agreement, as they cultivated such politicians as House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis.

And since 1996, he has received at least $95 million in government contracts for the small family of firms based in his $11 million headquarters in Poway, including ADCS Inc. and Group W.
A list of money from Wilkes, his businesses and employees shows mostly House members, but one Senate candidate stands out: Sen. Lindsay Graham received $13,000 most of it from ADCS PAC for his 2002 Senate Race.

True to form, Graham served on the House Armed Services Committee and went on to serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Others include Larry Craig, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Sam Brownback. All three of these Senators serve on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Wilkes was known to have distributed cash and favors to lawmakers who were most likely to help him secure defense contracts.

A developing angle to the story was sniffed out by the Hotline who noticed the following in the San Diego Union tribune story.
According to the U-T, Wilkes also "ran a hospitality suite, with several bedrooms, in" DC -- "first in the Watergate Hotel and then" in a Capitol Hill hotel.
Come again? A "hospitality suite with several bedrooms"?
Talk about raising more questions, including:
-- Why does a lobbyist need a "hospitality suite with several bedrooms"?
-- Who uses those bedrooms and for what?

How do You Say “Toady” in Dutch?

Coleman carries water for Bush’s biggest donor

Just when you thought Sen. Norm Coleman might succeed in selling you on his moderate record, he has once again proven to be a loyal Bush foot solider. In yesterday’s Washington Post, Coleman placed himself on the record in support of the ambassadorship Roland Arnall, to the Netherlands. Arnall as many know is the founder and principal shareholder of Ameriquest, the nation’s largest sub-prime lender. Arnall has also been the President’s largest campaign contributor since 2002 (of note, according to campaign finance data, Arnall has never made a contribution to Coleman). Ameriquest has been under investigation by a number of states, including Minnesota, for their predatory lending practices. Practices which include: misrepresenting fees and costs, pressuring appraisers to inflate property values so borrowers could get bigger loans and promising customers they would receive lower interest rates and then give them higher rates anyway.

Coleman voted for Arnall, despite Minnesota’s extensive investigation into Ameriquest’s dealings, stating, “Mr. Arnall is not the subject of any investigation. His personal actions have never been called into question. His credibility and integrity were praised by members from both sides of the aisle during his hearings. For these reasons, it is inappropriate to hold up Mr. Arnall’s nomination.”

Not so fast.

Arnall’s credibility was suspect enough for GOP Senator Chuck Hagel, to say, “I do think it's important who represents this country abroad. I do think we should send people who are not under a cloud of investigation. Mr. Arnall, fairly or unfairly, finds himself in that position.

So why is Coleman helping yet another Bush crony get a prestigious job? A fair question for Minnesotans to ask.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

In Case You Frist It

Sen. Frist's Votes Found to Favor HCA Interests

Over the weekend, The Nashville Tennessean published a comprehensive review of Bill Frist’s votes in Congress which found that
“An examination of Frist's voting record over his nearly 11 years in the Senate shows a pattern of supporting bills friendly to HCA and to hospitals in general. … He's also helped HCA in less obvious ways. Several years ago, the Tennessee Republican fought a Democratic-sponsored version of a "patients' bill of rights" that would have allowed patients to sue their HMOs and collect unlimited damages.”

Recently the Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation of a sale of HCA stock Frist ordered from his “not so blind” blind trust. Frist claimed that he ordered the sale to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interests – this in his 11th year in the U.S. Senate. The sale happened to come at a time when the stock was at a high and immediately before it fell on information that would have been available to HCA insiders. In an investigation of the sale, it was revealed that the trust’s managers communicated frequently with Frist about the contents of his supposedly blind trust. In addition, while Frist claimed that he had no contact with his family on business issues, saying "I don't discuss it [HCA] with my brother at all because I want to keep absolute arm's length," Frist was a partner in a company called Bowling Avenue Partners with his brother, the chairman of HCA, which held at least $775,000 in HCA stock.

The Tennessean story outlines several examples of activity Frist took that benefited HCA including the following:
  • An HCA subsidiary would benefit from limits on jury awards. Health Care Indemnity Inc. is one of the country's largest providers of medical malpractice insurance, with gross premiums of $382.3 million a year.
  • Bills supported by Frist have given hospitals more money for treating seniors and curbed development of physician-owned specialty hospitals that compete with HCA.
  • Frist led the opposition on the floor to the "patients' bill of rights" that would have allowed patients to sue their HMOs.
  • Frist was a leading supporter of legislation that gave hospitals an extra $25 billion in Medicare and Medicaid payments over 10 years, according to the American Hospital Association, which supported it. Last year, Medicare and Medicaid accounted for about 35% of HCA's total revenue.
  • Frist also supported an 18-month moratorium on new physician-owned specialty hospitals that would compete directly with full-service community hospitals such as those operated by HCA.

Monday, December 05, 2005

This Watchdog is Done Barking

McCain Refuses to Follow Abramoff Trail Where it Leads

Now that the Indian Affairs Committee hearing has wrapped up, its become clear that the U.S. Senate has only taken the first step. Recent revelations surrounding lawmakers like Sen. Conrad Burns and Rep. Bob Ney show that the investigation has just scratched the surface.

Despite the fact we are only facing the first down, John McCain punted yesterday on Meet the Press. He said that his committee will not look further at the issue and suggested the ethics committee, the government or the media. The problem is that McCain himself admitted that the ethics committee doesn’t work very well, and the media does not have the power of subpoena. In fact many of the discoveries the media made were based on documents and testimony that was pried loose by McCain’s Committee.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator, you said you're going to follow the money, but are you also going to investigate which legislators may have taken money and used that to influence legislation, to write into law what you're suggesting the behavior of senators, your colleagues? Are you going to investigate them?

SEN. McCAIN: The--I will not, because I'm a chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. This was brought to our--this whole thing started--was brought to us--attention by some disgruntled tribal council members in a small tribe in Louisiana, and we took it as far as we thought was our responsibility, which is where the money ends up. I'm not as--we are responsible for Indian affairs. We have an Ethics Committee. We have a government--we have other committees of Congress, but we also have a very active media.

MR. RUSSERT: Does the Ethics Committee work in all honesty?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't think the Ethics Committees are working very well. …
With Republicans in the House and Senate as well as the executive branch implicated, the odds are slim that there will be a serious look at this as long as both branches are in Republicans control. Among other things, this Congress has already dragged its feet on investigating items such as
  • Pre-war Iraq intelligence
  • The outing of a CIA agent by a top Administration official
  • Corporate and political contributors who influenced the drafting of the country’s energy policy,
  • Torture and detention at Abu Gharib and other detention centers
  • Alleged abuses and rip-offs by army contractors
With serious evidence raised that the Abramoff lobbying scandal affected votes and national policy, the American people deserve a serious, independent look into the facts.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Do YOUR Part in the War on Terror … Buy a GOP Calender!

The RNC just sent the following e-mail from Chair Ken Mehman:
I am writing today to ask you to help the Republican Party - and maybe help out your own holiday shopping while you're at it.

With the holidays here and the New Year just around the corner, the Republican National Committee is releasing the 2006 edition of our annual RNC Calendar. … By ordering the 2006 RNC Calendar with your contribution of $25, you'll help advance President Bush's second-term agenda … The stakes are high in 2006 - our party's bold agenda, victory in the war on terror, and the President's ability to nominate judges who won't legislate from the bench …
Yep, the Republican Party is hawking calendars as a way to raise money and in the process “advance … victory in the war on terror.”

It does not appear that any of the money will actually go toward helping make America safer. That job will continue to be mismanaged with your tax dollars. According to 9-11 Commission chair Tom Kean, in a report to be released tomorrow morning,

"A lot of the things we need to do really to prevent another 9/11 just simply aren't being done by the president or by the Congress.”
At any rate, you can buy a calender here, and then use it to NOT design an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq.

And shouldn’t the RNC really be avoiding the term “Holiday Shopping?” Wait until Bill O’Reiley and Dennis Hastert hear this one….