Collecting coin

Good news for Sherrod Brown:

Large campaign contributions from a Northern Ohio businessman and his employees to U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci and U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel have prompted a federal investigation, the campaigns confirmed Monday. The probe is centered around more than $200,000 in campaign contributions from employees at the Suarez Corporation, a Canton-based direct marketing firm owned by Benjamin Suarez, a frequent financial supporter of Republican causes. The Blade reported in August that 16 of the company’s employees and some of their spouses gave maximum allowable $5,000 contributions to one or both candidates. Many of the employees had never given to federal campaigns before, lived in modest homes, and held job titles such as “copywriter.”
Mr. Mandel’s campaign also confirmed the investigation, but would not say if federal authorities had requested documents from the campaign. “The campaign is aware of the investigation and is fully cooperating,” said Travis Considine, spokesman for the Mandel campaign. “Neither the campaign nor anyone associated with it is a target of the investigation.”

Mr. Suarez, whose direct marketing firm sells items ranging from space heaters to collectible coins, is a big supporter of Republican candidates. He and his wife have contributed $40,000 to political action committees that support Mr. Renacci and Mr. Mandel. But in the current election cycle, many of his employees, including non-executive staffers, joined him in making contributions, suddenly turning Suarez Corporation into a fund-raising powerhouse. Overall, Mr. Suarez, his employees, and their spouses gave $100,000 to Mr. Mandel’s campaign and $100,250 to Mr. Renacci’s campaign.
Campaign finance experts told The Blade in August that the contributions raise questions, especially because some of the employees own modest homes and listed their occupations as “writer,” “copywriter,” or merely “marketing.” Federal campaign finance law prohibits a donor from contributing in someone else’s name, especially if it’s an attempt to get around the $5,000 giving limit. Similarly, election law prohibits a corporation from using bonuses or other methods of reimbursing employees for their contributions.
Most of the company’s employees have also refused to comment on the matter. Of the 11 employees The Blade called Monday two declined to comment and the rest did not respond to messages.Spokesmen for the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland declined to comment.

This is just an initial investigation at this point, but it is really funny to see it if you-all remember Ohio’s “coingate scandal” which had to do with investing workers comp money in rare coins and using “conduits” to get around campaign finance law and raise money for then-President Bush:

2005:

Tom Noe, whose failed rare-coin deal with the state has triggered multiple investigations and rocked Ohio’s Republican leadership, was charged yesterday with illegally funneling $45,400 to President Bush’s re-election campaign.
Gregory A. White, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, announced a three-count indictment against Mr. Noe, saying he used two dozen people as conduits to make illegal campaign contributions at a $2,000-a-seat fund-raiser in Columbus.
In doing so, Mr. Noe skirted federal campaign finance funding limits while meeting a pledge to raise $50,000 for the Oct. 30, 2003, fund-raiser. The Bush campaign later named Mr. Noe a Pioneer for raising at least $100,000 overall.

2012:

Mr. Suarez, whose direct marketing firm sells items ranging from space heaters to collectible coins, is a big supporter of Republican candidates.

What is it with Republicans, conduits, and coins?








Wednesday Evening Open Thread


(Drew Sheneman via GoComics.com)

For those who haven’t had a chance to scan comments today, commentor Yutsano made it through his (disc) surgery well enough that he’s back in the threads already. May your progress continue smoothly, Y!

And for something completely different, commentor Chyron HR had an idea:

I just realized—there is a non-zero probability of Romney picking a VP and then changing his mind afterward. How glorious would that be?

Apart from happy news & glorious speculation, what’s on the agenda for the evening?








Huge Clumsy Raptor JPMorgan Fails to Be A Tiny Nimble Insectivore

… or so I am led to believe, having read Felix Salmon’s post “Jamie Dimon’s Failure” at his Reuters blog. I do not have a good grasp of the Ferengi mindset — that’s why I read Salmon, who I count on to explain Modern High Finance in terms where I can at least hope to grasp the general outline. Obviously you should read Salmon’s whole post, but as I understand the saga so far, today’s scapegoat Ina Drew was being paid an “eight-figure salary” because her department (the Chief Investment Office) was so successful at turning the “liability” of cash deposits into gold for JPMorgan:

…With lots of deposits coming in, and little corporate demand for loans, it was easy for all that money to find its way to the Chief Investment Office, which could take any amount of liabilities (deposits are liabilities, for a bank) and turn them into assets generating billions of dollars in profits.

But the CIO does much more than just provide profits for JP Morgan. In contrast to the bank’s lending book, the CIO is nimble. Loans, as a rule, have to be held to maturity: that’s the essence of relationship banking. Investments, by contrast, can be sold at any time. Of course, an investment which can be sold at any time has another name: it’s a trade. Thus did the CIO become home to big traders, making huge bets and huge bonuses.

In the past couple of years, of course, that raised its own set of problems: how could this group of traders possibly be Volcker-compliant? The answer lay in Drew’s love of crises: her incredibly valuable ability to prevent losses and even make profits when the world is falling apart. In that sense, the CIO was one big hedge, and in a narrower sense the CIO was the go-to office whenever JP Morgan saw a risk which needed hedging….

So, basically, Drew and her subordinates were very, very good — and for a long time also very, very lucky — at swapping chips from red to black and black to red one jump ahead of the other players on the roulette wheel that is today’s global financial market. And maybe some of those chips were bought with dollars that were, or should’ve been, marked NOT FOR USE IN THE CASINO, but as long as the CIO stayed lucky the fish wouldn’t notice the float until those dollars had been replaced. It was an excellent living, while JPMorgan was just one of many market raptors bulking up in the rich capitalist jungles of the Bush-era global finance bubble.
Read more








Durbin-Brown hearing on voting rights in Cleveland

I went to a field hearing on voting rights yesterday in Cleveland. The issue in Ohio right now is early voting. Here’s the background. Republicans passed a law with additional restrictions and barriers to voting in 2011. Ohio already has a voter ID law, these are brand new (and quite creative) barriers. Democrats, unions, and civil rights groups collected enough signatures to put that law up to a “citizen veto” which has the effect of putting the law on hold in Ohio. Success! But wait: Republicans now are attempting to repeal their own law, making the ballet issue we worked so hard on null and void, and replace it with another law restricting voter access to the polls. So that’s where we are.

This is immediately prior to hearing, the two gentlemen seated at the center of this photo are the GOP witnesses and I was sitting where a juror would sit when I took the picture:

Senators Durbin and Brown held the hearing, and I listened to five witnesses, three on the access side and two on the restrictions side. Both Democrats and Republicans are given an opportunity to provide written testimony and witnesses. Republicans sent only two witnesses for their side.

The AA ministers and local civil rights leaders were seated in the jury box tiered above and beside the counsel tables where the witnesses sat. That pleased me to no end, because advocates for restricting voter access are so rarely on defense and they’re never, ever faced with the actual people these laws harm. I’d wager it’s a lot easier to promote arbitrary and ridiculous voting restrictions from the plush confines and safe distance of the Fox News studio or the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal than it is selling that nonsense while local community leaders in Cleveland are sitting 12 feet away, looking at you. Explain to that 70 year old minister up there why you believe the members of his church are committing felony voter fraud on the Sunday before an election without a shred of proof. You go ahead. I’ll watch.

Here’s our four:

The Honorable Marcia L. Fudge
United States Representative
State of Ohio

Carrie L. Davis
Executive Director
League of Women Voters of Ohio/Education Fund
Columbus, OH

Gregory T. Moore
Campaign Director
Fair Elections Ohio
Cleveland, OH

Daniel Tokaji
Professor of Law
The Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law
Columbus, OH

And here’s their two:

David Arrendondo
Director of International Student Services
Lorain County Community College

Dale Fellows
Republican State Central Committeeman
Lake County Republican Party, Executive Committee Member

Mr. Arrendondo went first on their side, and I smiled when he started with “voting is a privilege” because that’s crazy making to voting rights advocates. Voting is a right, not a privilege, and invoking the now-standard misleading and inaccurate conservative “privilege” frame takes those of us on the access side to full adrenaline red alert. The law professor sat straight up in his chair when he heard “privilege” probably just dying to rebut on that. I sympathize. Anyway. My feeling on that first GOP witness was that he’s unreachable. No facts on voting will ever get through. He made a passionate case for Sunday voting (which is what they do in Mexico, he said) until Durbin reminded him that he was there to oppose Sunday voting in the US, because that’s the issue: early voting on Sunday. He’s FOR Sunday voting in Mexico and AGAINST Sunday voting in the US. Okay. Next witness.

Dale Fellows, the second Republican, was different. He started out with what I thought was a solid attempt to defend changing the law on early voting, but as the hearing went on, and he responded to the questions of Durbin and Brown he seemed less and less interested in defending the broader national Republican position on voting rights. He said there were parts of the new law that he didn’t agree with, and he looked toward the jury box when he stated his own personal commitment to voting rights. I’m wondering if his approach was different for two reasons: first, he was once on a county board of elections, so has a real working knowledge of voting process on the ground, and, second, it is harder to accuse people of fraud when they are sitting in front of you.

On the first, the practical working knowledge part, county boards of election members are NOT usually rabid partisans, in my experience. The joke is that the the best result for a county board of elections member is LANDSLIDE! (for either side) because that means there’s no contentious dispute and recount. But I also wonder if he seemed more sympathetic to our position because sitting in a room in Cleveland faced with ordinary local people who are on the other side really is different than promoting the voter fraud stuff seated around a pundit table on television or writing some editorial page screed about “voter fraud”. The people seated in the jury box are real people, they’re respected local leaders in Cleveland, and they are dead serious about what they believe is an attempt by Republicans to disenfranchise their communities. It’s personal.








Meandering to the bottom

The one and only conservative plan for health care is “buy insurance across state lines”. We’re all familiar with this idea, because the other way to describe it is “deregulate and then we’re all Alabama” and it’s the one and only conservative solution to every national problem. Deregulate, race to the bottom.

Let’s go to the laboratory of the states and see how it’s going:

A new law that allows Georgians to buy health insurance plans approved by other states was envisioned as free-market solution that would lower prices and increase choices.
So far, the law has failed to produce results: Not a single insurer is offering a policy under the new law. “Nobody has even asked to be approved to sell across state lines,” Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said. “We’re dumbfounded. We are absolutely dumbfounded.”
Insurance companies are regulated by states. Historically, that has meant that Georgia consumers could only buy health plans that meet state requirements from companies licensed by the Georgia Department of Insurance.
Many conservative policymakers say a more open insurance market free from individual state regulations could add competition to the private market for health plans, used mostly by people who can’t get insurance at work. But the experience so far in Georgia has some wondering whether the concept is the answer after all.

The writer is far too coy here with that “conservative policymakers.” Mitt Romney, candidate for President of the United States, says this, or did, at the moment this article was posted:

Selling insurance across state lines is popular in the Republican Party and so Romney included it in his plan. But its appeal to conservatives has always been baffling. Allowing insurance to be sold across state lines is sort of the bizarro-world approach to one-size-fits-all federal regulation. In the federal example, everyone has to abide by a single national standard. That may not be ideal, but at least every state has a say in the regulations. In the across-state-lines plan, everyone has to abide by whichever state has the lowest standards. And California doesn’t have a say in Mississippi’s regulations.

I don’t think it’s “baffling” at all. Deregulate, race to the bottom. When do conservatives veer from this script?

Hudgens, a conservative Republican who strongly supports free-market ideas, said he expected policies sold in states such as Alabama, which have fewer requirements for health plans, to be offered in Georgia after enactment of the law.
“I’m really surprised because it was such a bumper sticker issue by Republicans saying if we could get across state line selling, we could reduce the cost of health care,” he said.

Truth-telling! Deregulate, Alabama. That was the plan. How did this guy get past the censor? Shun him, immediately.

Many consumer advocates opposed the change, saying it would result in families losing protections to make sure plans contain crucial benefits. Over the years, Georgia legislators have created a significant list of required benefits such as coverage for mammograms and prostate cancer screenings and a ban on “drive-by deliveries” by requiring insurers to pay for 48-hour hospital stays for new mothers and their babies.
Under the new law, health plans approved under the rules of other states could be sold in Georgia, even if they don’t meet Georgia requirements.
In theory, the law would allow a Georgia-registered insurer to scour the nation and find a bare-bones plan to offer private market customers in Georgia — presumably at a cheaper price.
Because the law still requires Georgia licensing and oversight, it does not create a completely free-market scenario. It essentially just allows insurers licensed in Georgia to get around the state’s benefit mandates.

Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said Georgia’s new law didn’t go far enough.
“Georgia should be telling consumers that any health insurance carrier in any state can market themselves to you and we will deem their out of state license to be a Georgia license and incorporate all the terms of that out of state license in a contract so it could be enforced in a Georgia court,” Cannon said.

The libertarian idea didn’t fail, Georgia failed libertarians. If we’d all just stop demanding an overnight stay in a hospital when we have a baby and accept a “drive by delivery” (I cannot even imagine what that entails, but they had to fix it through regulation, so it must have happened) libertarians would be happy, and this theory would work.

Critics say that under such a free market scenario Georgia elected officials would cede their responsibility to protect Georgia consumers to regulators in another states. They say bypassing state regulations could lead to a race to the bottom and leave many consumers without needed benefits — and leave taxpayers and better-insured residents ultimately picking up the tab for some treatments.