Tuesday, July 31, 2012

2 Million Women in PA Get Better Health Care

Tomorrow, August 1st, eight provisions in the Affordable Care Act kick in, making health care for women at little easier.

From the Dept of Health & Human Services:

Forty-seven million women are getting greater control over their health care and access to eight new prevention-related health care services without paying more out of their own pocket beginning Aug. 1, 2012, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced today.
Previously some insurance companies did not cover these preventive services for women at all under their health plans, while some women had to pay deductibles or copays for the care they needed to stay healthy. The new rules in the health care law requiring coverage of these services take effect at the next renewal date – on or after Aug. 1, 2012—for most health insurance plans. For the first time ever, women will have access to even more life-saving preventive care free of charge.

The eight provisions are:

·         Well-woman visits.
·         Gestational diabetes screening that helps protect pregnant women from one of the most serious pregnancy-related diseases.
·         Domestic and interpersonal violence screening and counseling.
·         FDA-approved contraceptive methods, and contraceptive education and counseling.
·         Breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling.
·         HPV DNA testing, for women 30 or older.
·         Sexually transmitted infections counseling for sexually-active women.
·         HIV screening and counseling for sexually-active women.

HHS provides state by state data, which shows over 2 million women in Pennsylvania being eligible for the new benefits.  Looking at the list of states, it looks like Pennsylvania ranks 5th behind, California, New York, Texas, and Florida.  

Chinese Chopsticks: Made in the USA

Catching up on accumulated reading material, something caught my eye in the May issue of Fast Company.  "Georgia Chopsticks," points out the entrepreneurial spirit of Korean born immigrant Jae Lee.  He found out that China doesn't have the lumber industry to provide all the disposable chopsticks China uses.  Lee started a company that makes chopsticks and exported them to China.  His chopsticks are currently less expensive than those produced in China.

SEPTA Hack-a-thon

from the inbox:

SEPTA is inviting the local tech community create new ways for riders to get transit-related information during a weekend-long “Hack-A-Thon.”

SEPTA’s in-house IT talent will meet up with private developers at Devnuts in Northern Liberties Aug. 4-5 to work on apps and other online tools that provide riders with additional options for accessing travel updates and other SEPTA-related information.

Those interested in participating can purchase tickets online through “Apps For SEPTA” at http://appsforsepta.org. Tickets are $5, to cover event costs such as food and drinks.

This is the second Hack-A-Thon to be held as part of SEPTA’s Developer Network Initiative, which was launched to build partnerships between SEPTA and local tech talent. The program kicked-off with the first Hack-A-Thon, also held at Devnuts, in October 2011.

Michael Zaleski, SEPTA’s director of emerging and specialty technology, said the first Hack-A-Thon yielded a number of successful programs utilizing SEPTA data.

"We were very impressed by the level of talent and enthusiasm,” Zaleski said. “The community has been very supportive and the response has been nothing but positive.”

Zaleski said he is looking forward to the results of the second event, and the new resources that could become available to SEPTA customers.

"These efforts increase the number of communication channels by which riders can get information," Zaleski said. "More channels means more options for riders to choose how they interact with the data.”

A panel will review applications created over the weekend, and winners will demonstrate their programs for SEPTA officials on Monday.

A full schedule for this weekend’s Hack-A-Thon is available at http://appsforsepta.org.

Upper Dublin Dems Picnic

The Upper Dublin Democratic Committee held a picnic this past weekend.  They invited people from the surrounding areas as well.  They’ve done this in the past and it tends to bring out a large enough crowd to entice candidates from statewide races.  The Upper Dublin Dems are nice people; I’ve attended their events before and they are always welcoming.   At the start of the speaker's segment, local officials, township commissioners, and school board members were recognized.  I could not write fast enough to get all their names.

 Here are some notes from the candidate’s remarks.  These are not intended to be a full representation of everything that was said, just snippets, and may not capture their intended points.  As always I apologize for any errors or misconceptions:

Rob McCord, Pennsylvania State Treasurer (up for re-election):  Shout to those in local office; local office is a thankless office.  Shout out to the organizers of the event.  Thanks all in advance for turning out to vote.  I represent suburban sensibility, the Dwight Eisenhower wing of the Democratic party.  I’m usually fairly non-partisan.   When talking with independent voters on why they should vote Democratic say “dumb wars” and “Supreme Court.”  The treasurer is a CIO.  I repaired the state college funds, the tuition account program.  The state treasurer helps students and seniors.  The McCord treasury is a profit center.  Some people say that government can’t be profitable.  The state treasurer brings in more than it costs.   Vote for Kathleen Kane for Attorney General; she would be the first woman and first Democrat in that office.   Vote for Eugene DePasquale for Auditor General.  The governor has to have the signature of either the State Treasurer or the State Auditor General on every debt issue. 

Eugene DePasquale, candidate for Auditor General:  I worked with then State Rep Josh Shapiro on the bill to ban texting while driving.  We should audit the Marcellus Shale industry and audit bonus depreciation.  Act 13 has just been declared unconstitutional.  I was the first legislator to put my expenses online.  The average inspection time at each Marcellus Shale site is 30 seconds.

Leslie Richards, Montgomery County Commissioner:  Thanks all, points out several people in the crowd.  Mentions floods.  I am chair of the election board – new voter ID law.  I am asked about this frequently; people are worried that they won’t be able to vote.  We have to work to register, to get people to the polls, to make sure they have the right kind of ID.  We can’t count on this being thrown out.  The law uses the term “substantial conformity” so your id must be similar to your voter registration but it doesn’t have to be an exact match.  You will be able to vote if your ID has your middle initial on it but your voter registration doesn’t. 

State Rep. Madeleine Dean (won special election in 153rd district, running to fill out the term):  I’m here to speak for Kathleen Kane, , candidate for Attorney General, who cannot be here.  Outlines Kane’s career accomplishments.  “She can handle it.”  Kane will have compassion but the Attorney General’s office is “not for the faint of heart.”  It is time for a woman and a Democrat. 

Neil Deegan, speaking for Congresswoman AllysonSchwartz:  Mention of the redrawn 13th congressional district.  There are maps to see if you live in that district now.  A lot of concern about voter ID.

Other observations – McCord threw out his own trash.  He had a staff person with him but walked a sizable distance to the trash can himself, and it looked like he separated out his recyclables.

Ron Kolla, who is running in the 152nd state house district (against incumbent Tom Murt) has been out campaigning.  He said he’s knocked on 3,000 doors.  He also said party registration in that district is evenly split, 43% to 43%. 

Ann Thornburg Weiss, Montgomery County Clerk of Courts,  was also there, as was County Treasurer JasonSalus.  Former State Rep. Rick Taylor attended as well.
I don't know who made the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, but they were delicious!!!

Thanks to the Upper Dublin Dems for hosting such a wonderful event and letting strangers wander in.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Casey, PennEnvironment Call

The evening Sen. Bob Casey participated in a teletownhall meeting sponsored by PennEnvironment to highlight Sen. Casey's stance and vote on air quality regulations, specifically mercury levels.  Adam Garber, PennEnvironment's field director moderated the call.  Another statewide environmental group, PennFuture, praised the Senator for his efforts in this endeavor as well (see the 6/20/2012 note on BusinessWire "PennFuture Applauds U.S. Sen. Bob Casey for Protecting Babies from Toxic Mercury,").  On the call Casey rattled off some statistics on the impact mercury has on pregnant women and young children, specifically intellectual development.  A fisherman from Northeastern PA was also on the call, talking about the food chain.  The senator also stressed his commitment to positive impact that new energy technologies can have on the economy.  There were mentions of wind energy and safer fracking methods. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Ice Cream Man Cometh

Continental Bank has an ice cream truck that visits various public events, office parks, and festivals, handing out free ice cream.   Jason Salus, Montgomery County treasurer, arranged for the truck to stop by the Montgomery County courthouse on Friday.  The truck handed out 500 ice cream sandwiches.

Salus (D) and District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman (R) are pictured below.  No word on whether this sense of bipartisanship extended to neopolitan or if a chocolate / vanilla dichotomy prevailed.   

Friday, July 27, 2012

Mitt Romney and Success

Watching Mitt Romney on "Piers Morgan" this evening, something he said caught my ear.  He implied that President Obama and Democrats were coming out against his success and were going after successful people.  He equated success with having a lot of money. 

I have some qualms about this.  Two points come to mind.

Is success defined as doing your job well?  Can a nurse be successful?  Are there successful teachers?  In a business environment are the administrative assistants successful?  Does one have to be a business owner to be successful?  Can someone within the bureaucracy of a medium-sized company be successful?  What about the car dealers who were forced out by the auto manufacturers a few years ago?  Are those people no longer considered successful?  Business earnings go up and down.  Is success measured at that moment or over the long haul?  If someone starts a business that does well, sells it, and starts another that fizzles is he a success or not?  The word is slippery.

Keeping score with money is also a little difficult.  Must the money be made honestly?  Are bank robbers or drug dealers successful?  If someone makes a lot of money but spends more, are they successful?  Must the money be flaunted?  Oseola McCarty was an Alabama washerwoman who lived simply.  I doubt anyone would have called her successful but when she died in 1999 she left $150,000 to the University of Alabama.

If you limit the use of success to Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mitt Romney, and their financial peers, you have a very small group of successful people.  What words would you use to describe everyone else?  

SEPTA Wins Award

SEPTA has won an impressive award:

SEPTA today was honored by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) with the 2012 “Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award” for efforts to enhance service, efficiencies and overall effectiveness.

APTA, which has more than 1,500 member organizations, awards the honor annually to agencies that demonstrate leadership and help advance public transportation. SEPTA was singled out for recognition by APTA in a category that includes dozens of North America’s major transit operators.

Ridership is at a 23 year high.

As a regular SEPTA rider, let me say I agree with the APTA -- the service is good, the conductors and pleasant and efficient, for the most part the other riders are nice people to share a seat with.  It's a fantastic way to begin and end the work day.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Solution Looking for a Problem

Nick Wing has a good entry at the Huffington Post, "Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Trial Set Today as State Concedes It Has no Proof of In-Person Voter Fraud."  It starts:

Defendants in a case against one of the nation's strictest voter ID laws in Pennsylvania made a major concession to plaintiffs this week, just days ahead of the start of the trial over the measure.

In a stipulation agreement signed earlier this month, state officials conceded that they had no evidence of prior in-person voter fraud, or even any reason to believe that such crimes would occur with more frequency if a voter ID law wasn't in effect.

That's a major point to concede -- that there's no evidence.  If this were really a problem surely there would be some evidence.  I know one of the City Commissioners in Philadelphia has one possibility -- two voters with different forms of the same name, voting in two different polling places, using fictitious addresses.  But even if this does turn out to be voter fraud there's no reason to believe that person doesn't have an id for each name and address.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Boy Scout Issue

For those  who have not been following the recent history of the Boy Scouts, one likely reason for their intransigence on the issue of sexual orientation, is the influence of the Mormon Church.

As Ross Armstrong explains on The Daily Ross, the Latter-day Saints register (and pay registration fees) for all age appropriate boys to join the Boy Scouts, whether the boys are actually active or not.  The Boy Scouts is the defacto youth organization for the church.  That's a lot of money going in to the national scouting organization and into the councils in areas with a large Mormon population.  Boy Scouts has a page on it's website that explains some of that relationship, notice the large number of packs and troop registered via the Mormons.  The Boy Scouts list of chartered organizations (groups that provide meeting spaces, etc) lists the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the largest of the religious chartering organizations; note also that nearly 70% of the charting organizations are faith based. 

Boinboing has a heartbreaking post, showing letters written with deep regret by Eagle Scouts, returning their Eagle Scout medal to the national Boy Scout organization.  This is in protest of BAS's continuing discrimination of LGBT scouts and leaders.  Some of these men mention they earned the Vigil rank in the Order of the Arrow; far fewer scouts earn OA Vigil rank than Eagle Scout.  If someone has reached Vigil they are serious scouters, the elite of scouting elite.

I didn't grow up in a scouting family but as an adult one way I engage with my community is as a Boy Scout badge counselor.  In Girl Scouts the troop leader decides whether a scout has earned a badge, but in Boy Scouts an official counselor for that particular badge has to sign off on it.  I don't sign my name on the blue card unless I think the scout has completed all the requirements for the badge, and have, when needed, told a boy he needs to do or redo something before he's done.  One summer another badge counselor talked me into offering a badge class for her son's troop; she was offering a class and we alternated weeks.  The boys were polite and willing to work. 

I'm of mixed views on being a badge counselor, though.  On one hand, I disagree with the national BSA policy and don't want to be perceived as supporting it.  On the other, the Trail to Eagle provides an experience that isn't really available to boys and young men anywhere else.  It's a valuable journey and everyone I know who has earned Eagle Scout is proud to have done so, and many who didn't who wished they had.   The boys are unwitting and unwilling pawns of the national organization's discrimination.  BSA has a vague "don't ask don't tell" policy but it is awful to ask people to pretend to be something they aren't.

It's a conundrum.     

Friday, July 20, 2012

Obama Statement on Colorado Shooting

from the inbox:


As a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence perpetrated on July 20, 2012, in Aurora, Colorado, by the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, July 25, 2012. I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.


Gerber Elects Not to Run

State Rep. Mike Gerber, (D-148) announced today that he will finish out his current term but won't run for re-election in November.  Gerber's statement is available on his legislative website.  Gerber is returning to the private sector.  His district is in Montgomery County, includes all or parts of Lower Merion, Plymouth, Upper Dublin, Whitemarsh, Whitpin, Conshohocken, and Narbeth.  No word yet on who will be the new Democratic candidate.  PoliticsPA has a long story on this.

Drucker Endorsements

Paul Drucker, Democratic candidate to regain the 157th state house district, received several endorsements this week.  The organizations are:

  • Conservation Votes of PA
  • Clean Water Action
  • Sierra Club

from the press release:
“For those who value clean air, safe drinking water, and natural open spaces, Paul Drucker is the clear choice in the 157th district,” said Josh McNeil, Executive Director of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania. “As State Representative, Drucker consistently voted to protect the health of the people of Pennsylvania, to promote clean energy jobs, and to protect crucial open spaces.  Representative Warren Kampf has shown different priorities, supporting Governor Corbett’s efforts to slash funding for environmental protections while handing millions in tax breaks to massive oil and gas companies.”

In a statement to the campaign, Bill Brainerd, Political Co-chair of the Southeastern PA Sierra Club said, “Paul's bill encouraging green school construction and his vigorous support for a severance tax on natural gas show he is a friend of the environment. The $1,000,000 in state funding he secured for a solar array atop the Paoli Superfund site puts to good use an otherwise untouchable site.”

Russel Brady, Eastern PA Director for Clean Water Action also pointed to Drucker’s strong record and forward-thinking approach as reasons for his organization’s endorsement of Drucker."Southeast Pennsylvanians already pay too high a price for environmental negligence. Between air pollution and waterways that can't handle the dirty rainwater we force into them, we need representation that will take the long view. We call on our Clean Water Action members to vote for Paul Drucker. He understands that we can grow the economy in ways that don't force taxpayers to pay the bill later for pollution and degradation that could have been prevented with some forward thinking."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

SEPTA Riders Contribute to Philabundance

SEPTA's annual "Stop Hunger at Your Station" food drive for 2012 was a clear demonstration of the civic inolvement of SEPTA's riders and employees.  They contributed 19 tons of food for Philabundance this year, up from 17.8 tons in 2011. 


Book Review: A Nation of Wusses, by Ed Rendell

The full title of Gov. Rendell’s book is A Nation ofWusses:  How America’s Leaders Lost theGuts to Make Us Great (Wiley, 20120.

This is not a tell all.  The governor clearly has another book (or two or more) in him.  This is not an autobiography but a series of vignettes and philosophical essays.  He touches very briefly on his childhood, and losing his father as a teen but otherwise skips to his first run for Philadelphia District Attorney.  He mentions his son and estranged wife in passing but doesn’t talk about them in depth.  

Rendell doesn’t dish on his colleagues.  Bob Brady is mentioned once, teaching Bill Clinton how to lean forward when eating a cheesesteak so he won’t drip on his suit and stain it.  There are no mention of Chaka Fattah or any other Philadelphia area congressional representatives.   

Emmet Fitzpatrick, who followed Arlen Specter in the Philly DA’s office, is mentioned, Mike Fitzpatrick, 8th district conference isn’t.  George Schwartz, one time Philadelphia City Councilman is mentioned, Allyson Schwartz, current 13th district congressional representative, is not.  No mention of Vince Fumo or John Perzel.  Michael Nutter and John Street each get a few mentions.

He does tell a few stories.  My favorite chapter is the one on rescuing orphans from Haiti after the earthquake in 2010.  Rendell gives some behind the scenes details, including he and his wife acting as flight attendants, going up and down the makeshift aisles in the plane, delivering the juice boxes and toys they brought with them.

Al Gore didn’t take kindly to Rendell’s suggestion they involve Bill Clinton in Gore’s presidential campaign more.   Gore chewed him out personally and then Gore’s staff uninvited Rendell and his wife from their Christmas party.  Since the Rendell’s hadn’t been invited in the first place it was not a hardship to be uninvited. 

Rendell takes some shots at the press, but also mentions some occasions where he manipulated the media.  He also references Buzz Bissingers book, A Prayer for the City, about Rendell’s early years as Mayor of Philadelphia. 

The governor does tout some of his governmental successes, and rightfully so.  For example he talks about his state budgets and budgetary priorities that helped public education.  As Mayor of Philadelphia he re-negotiated city worker’s contracts and re-negotiated office space leases.  Rendell writes as he speaks, bluntly, and doesn’t mince words. 

In some chapters he lists problems or solutions, mostly in government.   Again, he gives these opinions in a straight-forward fashion.  He says people respect elected officials who will explain and problem and proposed solutions in an honest fashion. 

This is a quick read but a good read.  I recommend it.  For a sampling, check out the excerpts at Philadelphia Magazine.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Strader Endorsed by Women's Campaign Fund

from the inbox:

A national organization which identifies candidates who are running for elective office and have demonstrated leadership experience working to improve the lives of women has thrown their endorsement to Aryanna Strader, the Democratic running in Pennsylvania's 16th congressional district.

The Women's Campaign Fund began in 1974 as a non-partisan national network designed to advocate for women's parity in public office. Pennsylvania currently ranks as one of the lowest in terms of women in elected office and with the endorsement of Aryanna Strader, the WCF is aiming to change that.

"WCF is honored to stand with Aryanna Strader in her bid to represent Pennsylvania's 16th congressional district," said Siobhan Bennett, President/CEO of the Women's Campaign Fund. "As a decorated veteran, small business owner, and strong advocate for women, Strader is uniquely qualified to represent her constituents' needs and values on Capitol Hill."

While Strader only began her campaign five months ago, completely as a grassroots powered operation, today's endorsement by the WCF is another demonstration that she has built up an organization that is gaining the attention and support of state and national organizations such as the PA AFL-CIO.

"Having all the support of the Women's Campaign Fund behind our mission to win the 16th congressional seat sends a strong message to all working families and I can't thank them enough," said Strader. "If we are ever going to ensure that all Pennsylvania families are able to earn a good living, send their children to college and retire without worry, then we need to first ensure that both women and men are treated fairly in every aspect of our communities. I have worked extremely hard to serve my country, get an
education, raise my children and run a small business and I want to make sure the next generation of women leaders has an opportunity to achieve that as well."

Aryanna Strader is an Iraq War veteran who joined the U.S. Army two months after the attacks of 9/11, a small business owner in the high-tech industry and the mother of two children; running for Congress in Pennsylvania's 16th district which includes parts of Berks, Chester and Lancaster Counties. For more information about her campaign, please visit her web site at www.straderforcongress.org

Transportation and Air Quality Summit in Philly

modified press release:

Northern Transportation and Air Quality Summit
August 7 - 8, 2012

A cutting-edge transportation and air quality conference is coming to the Philadelphia region this summer, courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and DVRPC.
Scheduled for August 7 - 8 at the Loews Hotel in Philadelphia, the Northern Transportation and Air Quality Summit (NTAQS) will bring together stakeholders to discuss the current and upcoming regulatory environment, new technologies, and current practices. The content is geared toward practitioners in the northern and Mid-Atlantic states who are involved with public agencies at all levels. A host of speakers from the national and regional levels will present on key topics, best practices, and latest information vital to transportation, planning, and air quality professionals.

PCN on Penn State Cover Up

from the inbox:

Pulitzer Prize-nominated investigative journalist, Bill Moushey, and forty-four year veteran newspaper journalist, Bob Dvorchak, will sit down with the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) to discuss their book “Game Over,” which investigates claims of a possible cover-up by Penn State officials in order to protect the university’s football program and its legacy. This special edition of “PA Books” is slated to air statewide on Thursday, July 19 beginning at 6:00 p.m. An encore presentation has been scheduled to air on Sunday, July 22 at 6:00 p.m.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NewsWorks Story on Political Donations

NewsWorks has an interesting story on "Cutting tariffs for political donors" by Emma Jacobs highlighting the activities and comments of some of our local Congressional representatives.  It's interesting reading.

Another Voter ID Post

Three recent newspaper articles point out three groups that will have particular difficulty getting the right kind of id to vote in November:

Women ("Woman's ordeal shows voter id pitfalls," by Bob Warner, Inquirer 7/17).  Our friends at PennDOT require a paper trail for any name change.  Most women change their name when they marry which will require a marriage license as well as a birth certificate for those who are trying to get a state photo id.  Those who change their names more than once have a more difficult task. 

The elderly (Analysis:  "ID law will most affect Philly voters over 80," by Bob Warner, Inquirer 7/17).  According to this article nearly 1 in 4 Philadelphia voters over the age of 80 don't have the right kind of id to vote this November. 

State employees ("State ID badges will need to be modified for voter identification use," by Jan Murphy, Patriot News 7/17).  State employee id badges don't have an expiration date, one of the criteria needed to be considered an acceptable form on id for the November election. 

I don't like the new Voter ID law -- it's too restrictive and there doesn't seem to be a voter fraud problem.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say the new voter id regulations won't address any extant voter fraud.  If the law is in effect this November I think the real tipping point will be when a handful of influentials get blistering phone calls from their elderly mothers who were turned away at the voting booth.  Women were willing to fight for the right to vote less than 100 years ago.  Women over 80 will be old enough to remember hearing about the marches and imprisonments of the suffragettes.  Angry old ladies are good press.  And most people with elderly mothers are not going to be happy with those phone calls.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Obama, Casey, Toomey, and the Disclose Act

Today the Senate voted on the DISCLOSE Act.  It didn't pass.  I called both Pennsylvania senators today, encouraging them to vote for it.  Sen. Toomey's office took my call, did not ask my name or any other information, and told me the senator was opposed to the bill because it interfered with First Amendment Rights.  Sen. Casey's office asked my zip code and took my message.  They did not know where the senator stood on this bill but took my email and said they would get back to me. 

If you are not familiar with this legislation, the League of Women Voters has an FAQ on it.

Here is the president's statement on the bill:

Two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that big corporations are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence American elections.  They can buy millions of dollars’ worth of TV ads with no obligation to reveal who’s actually paying for them. 
The consequences of this decision are predictable.  If we allow this practice to continue, special interests will have unprecedented influence over politicians.  It’s wrong. It’s corrosive to our democracy, and it’s a threat to our future.
Today, Republicans in the Senate had the chance to change it.  They had the opportunity to support a bill that would prevent the worst effects of the Citizens United decision and require groups or special interests who are trying to influence elections to reveal their donors so the public will know who’s funding their political ads.  This bill should have received broad, bipartisan support.
Unfortunately, Republicans chose to block it.  Instead of standing up for the American people, Republicans stood with big banks and oil companies – special interests that certainly don’t need more clout in Washington. 
I will continue to do everything I can to repair the deficit of trust between Washington and the American people.  I’m disappointed Republicans in Congress failed to take action and hold corporations and special interests accountable to the American people.

Defining Political Intelligence

Last month, on June 6th, First Street and Women in Government Relations sponsored a panel discussion on political intelligence.  It was in Washington, DC, and I didn't attend in person.  However, BusinessWire has a link to the raw footage.

There's a lot of political inside baseball in the conversation.  I didn't see the 60 Minutes story the panelist allude to but caught some of the subsequent press coverage.  My readers seem to be bright well-read people so I thought this might be of interest and assume they also will have some grasp of the issues involved.  If not, well, skip this post and come back tomorrow for a review of Ed Rendell's new book.  

As always, this is not intended to be an exact transcript but more a general overview of the comments made.  Interested readers are encouraged to watch the entire footage themselves to the nuance and details.  Fashionistas take note -- one of the panelists is wearing a really eye-catching suit.  My apologies in advance for any errors or misconceptions.  

Stephen Stesney, moderator, of First Street
Heather Podesta of Podesta + Partners
Pat Cave of the Cypress Group
Robert Walker of Wiley Rein LLP
Michael Mayhew of Integrity Research Associates

SS:  First Street and Women in Government relations invite people to talk about political intelligence, print together panel to talk about it.  Heather Podesta of Podesta+ Partners, a lobbyist and expert, Pat Cave of Cypress Grove, a practitioner, Robert Walker of Wiley Rein, a legal expert, and Michael Mayhew of Integrity Research Associations, co-author of an industry analysis.  We’ll start with general questions.

SS: What is the history of political intelligence?

RW:  Political intelligence has always been with us.  It first came up legislatively in Louise Slaughter’s 2007 bill.  People really became aware of it because of the 60 Minutes story.  Is poke to one of the Hill’s senior ethics attorneys recently and he had never heard of PI until the 60 Minutes story.
HP:  I knew something was up in 2004 and 2005 when working on the asbestos bill.  People would stand in line to hold spots in hearings not for lobbyists or lawyers or unions but for hedge funds.  They didn’t care what the bill said, they just wanted to be the first to know it. 

MM:  PI has been around as long as there have been investors.  Back in the 1980s Ivan Boesky wanted to know if Standard Oil would take over Gulf Corp.  the 2004/2005 asbestos bill.  The number of firms collecting information has been growing since the 1980s, not just lobbying firms but analysis and research.

PC:  Business has been around a long time.  In 2000 [missed name, an undersecretary of the treasury] testified about ending a line of credit for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Markets cared more about banks than policy research.  Mike deserves a lot of credit for coining the term in the 2006 report.

MM:  First a definition:  1) by deliverable, what customer receives, and 2) what is collected.  Policy research,  typically central bank policy.  Their deliverable was a report.  All those other guys, PI firms, deliverable is something else, typically legislative process.  The STOCK Act talked about registering PI firms.  Saying only those talking to hedge funds, etc. doesn’t include firms doing reports.  More process than deliverables.  But there is a difference between creating an analysis and passing along information.  Important to come to terms with that.

SS:   Question for HP and PC.  What is the difference between lobbying and PI?

PC:  If fits in lobbying and disclosure act it is lobbying.  If not, then something else.  Cypress Advising is not a lobbying firm, it does advising.  Cypress Advocacy is a lobbying firm.  The contracts are clear.  Advisory doesn’t disclose non-public information.  LDA is a law that has evolved.  The letter and spirit of the LDA.  The letter & spirit of insider trading law.

HP:  Attention paid to the letter of the law not the spirit.  In DC 1 in 10 people is a lawyer.  Can parse words,  difference without a distinction.  I think it should all be disclosed.  Every 3 months I have to fill out disclosure forms and err on the side of over disclosing.  Others feel differently.

SS:  Who besides markets and Wall Street are clients?

MM:  Corporations have been subscribing to policy research for decades, for various purposes.

SS:  Question for Robert Walker.  What is the impetus behind the STOCK Act now?

RW:  An obvious locus was the 60 Minutes piece late last year and alleged fact of insider trading by members of Congress not illegal.  Broad political and cultural question – why did that story resonate with people?  So many people wanted to believe that it was true, even though existing law did cover Congress and staff.  Now it has passed and one must accept it.  Even if previous laws did apply there was confusion.  Now it is clear these laws apply to everyone.

MM:  The original STOCK Act that had PI and insider trading by congress.  Insider trading passed.  PI was what Rep. Slaughter was most interested in.  Asbestos hearings.  Many people didn’t know what was happening.  Registry didn’t happen. 

PC:  Law that confirms law.  Brought about by media stories coupled with real insider trading like Galleon.  Some companies selling access to Congress.  What you now confirm is that members of Congress have a duty, law reconfirmed.

HP:  The law had a chilling effect on the industry.  We need a compliance system.  Yes, media reports.  But industry had gotten very bold.  Industry hearing directly from politicians.  Emails, $10K to sit with Rep. So and So.  Being first to know can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Waiting for GAO / CRS reports.  Not until another “gotcha” moment, then Grassley language will fly through Congress and be signed within a month.

MM:  HP is right there is a chilling effect with some investor clients.  General counsel and compliance officers reacting, 2 reactions 1) there is an issue, we’ll fire all PI firms and 2) tried to do my diligence.  Most are struggling, just as many of you are with issue around “what is material information” when you start talking about Washington.  Many of those firms are trying to figure it out.  Confused, concerned.  Don’t exactly know what to do.

RW:  If there is another story, HP is right, the Grassley language will fly through.  Definitions are extremely broad.  Potential chilling effect huge,  beyond what is merited.  That’s why, without putting undue pressure on folks at GAO, I think the GAO study is of immense importance because we may think we know what PI is but that is a long step from regulatory language.  That report will be of immense importance.

SS:  A question from the audience –

Q:  The whole chilling effect and Grassley.  Where do you see media fitting in?

PC:  There’s a fine line between what I do and what a journalist does.  I’m a registered lobbyist.  We should expand registration in a distinct way from LDA, lobbyist, lobbying firms and clients.  In PI that’s a great start.  There will be a year-long conversation with GAO.  You can register a PI form.  Should also register media.  If you market yourself as a PI provider or policy research provider you do what we do.  The media broadly distributes, no so in PI space.  You do see “Political Pro” and B-gov, CQ.  Appropriate way to distribute information.  If I talk with a policy maker I’ve disclosed that I’m a lobbyist.  Media does provide the same content – think about a Bloomberg terminal.  LDA has exceptions, such as income, and percentage of time spent on this.

HP:  When you enter office is there an understanding that you are gathering general information or information of specific interest?

PC:  It’s obvious that I’m going to sell information.  Is there a difference between a lobbyist and an investment manager?  Probably.  When you sit with a staffer of policy maker they know not to share non-public information.  Improved registry would help.

SS:  Passing of information in meetings

RW:  Back to media.  I agree that many newsgathering agencies have PI component but very wary of including them in registration.  That would have a big chilling effect, esp on confidential “leaks.”  That would be too big a price to pay.  Apart from STOCK Act both House and Senate have rules on exchange of information but patchwork and incomplete.  STOCK Act confirming existing law.  Important achievement.

HP:  I agree, there is a difference between PI and reporting.  PI hears something and calls one person, one client, reporters broadly disseminate information. 

MM:  I agree with PAT.  Journalists who distribute broadly, but there is a growing number of companies providing information to asset management industry.  If give blanket exemption supporting an unlevel playing field, what delivery, how and to whom?

PC:  Not saying all media should register.  Look at how LDA differentiates.  If pay more than $5K must register.  Most media would quality under that exemption.

SS:  Where does PI industry go from here?

PC:  Gives emphasis to compliance, need to do it to the spirit and now the letter of the law.  The industry is still new.  I would like the industry to get more mature.

RW:  GAO should be part of the conversation.  If we inform process, we’ll tell them the problem and they’ll address it.  Industry should have concerns heard.

MM:  Industry has to deal with chilling effect with some clients.  How to professionalize business.  How to protect self and clients.  This kind of information will come in the door.  What will you do?  It shouldn’t be scary that you collect non-public information.

HP:  We need to watch how folks in the industry react.  Activist role that some short sellers are playing in DC.  Short sellers going to government agencies and driving actions for sole purpose of driving down stock prices.  In terms of registration, I am a registered lobbyist, I see people out and about who aren’t talking to the same people I do.

Q:  What is material information?

RW:  Material information is something people want to know for investments.  If a committee investigates a company and public doesn’t know but a staffer leaks it, that is non-public information.  Legislation is a tough case.  Say tax legislation affection a small industry of one company would have material effect.  Key area for focusing on.  What is material information in Congressional context.  If in doubt, leave it out.

MM:  Problem with materiality is you only now it after the fact.  If one piece of information will drive investors to invest it is probably material.

Q:  Bothered by regulating flow of information from democratic organizations, the asbestos bill didn’t go anywhere.

HP:  Why not disclose it?  A lot of people made a lot of money.

RW:  Insider trading prohibitions would apply if information provided for a benefit.  If no benefit intended shouldn’t be chilled.

HP:  There are real benefits for disclosure.  Abramoff activities came to light when people started asking question about his astronomical lobbying earning.  Press started to unravel the story. 

PC:  Disclose and registration will not prevent information sharing.  If you operate in this business information comes to you.  I wasn’t working the asbestos information.  If you get source information from one source it is usually wrong.   Congress re-stated their duty.  The chilling effect is surgical; it’s good.   You  have to police yourself.  If one source bury it – usually wrong.

Q:  How is an activist investor different from a lobbyist?  What about a company making an investment decision, would the company register?

HP:  Quite extraordinary to see what happened to  for-profit proprietary schools.  Short sellers went to the Dept of Education and asked for investigation.  One went so far as to go to homeless shelters and get homeless people to say they had been approached by these schools.  Short seller, who had personal gain at hand, asked to testify and trashed the industry, shouldn’t those folks file lobbying reports?  It will always be hard to have definitions and require people to disclose. 

PC:  Hard to argue against that, I agree.  Corporations probably should register.  The Grassley Amendment sweeps up so much.  Most people come to Washington DC because money or some sort of benefit at stake.  The Grassley language can be perfected.  Points to better enforcement of LDA.  If you’re advocating for an investigation or a policy change you’re lobbying.

SS:  Thanks panelists.