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Preview: Reason Magazine - Topics > Corruption


All articles with the "Corruption" tag.

Published: Fri, 15 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2017 03:17:42 -0500


Less Regulation Means Less Opportunity for Government Corruption

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 16:00:00 -0500

The federal indictment of a former Massachusetts state senator, Brian Joyce, gave some headline writers an opportunity to focus on the comic element of his alleged scheme. The Democratic politician pleaded not guilty. He was charged in part with having accepted 504 pounds of free coffee from a franchise widely identified as Dunkin' Donuts. With Saturday Night Live already memorably mocking that company's seductiveness for a certain element of lowbrow New England culture, it's tempting to react to the Joyce news with a certain Boston cynicism—"at least it wasn't Stahhbucks"—and move on. But there are some serious points here, too. It will be interesting to see whether the federal effort to make "honest services fraud" charges stick against Joyce are any more successful here than were so-far failed efforts by zealous prosecutors to criminalize sketchy but maybe not actually criminal behavior by the Republican governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell; by the Democratic Speaker of the New York legislature, Sheldon Silver; and by the Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate, Dean Skelos. In all three of those federal cases against state-level politicians, judges eventually defined honest services fraud differently than prosecutors did, and dismissed the convictions. The Supreme Court's 8-0 opinion in McDonnell v. United States was emphatic on the point: "conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf, and include them in events all the time. The basic compact underlying representative government assumes that public officials will hear from their constituents and act appropriately on their concerns…The Government's position could cast a pall of potential prosecution over these relationships." The opinion, by Chief Justice Roberts, warned that if the prosecutors prevailed, "officials might wonder whether they could respond to even the most commonplace requests for assistance, and citizens with legitimate concerns might shrink from participating in democratic discourse. This concern is substantial." The honest services fraud issue is just one part of the story here, though. Reading the indictment—which includes charges of racketeering, extortion, money laundering, defrauding the IRS, and bribery—it's hard to miss the fact that a lot of the alleged corruption involves government interference with free markets. The "nationally branded coffee and pastry fast-food business" had an interest in state laws governing the relations between franchise holders and parent companies, and in "tip-pooling" legislation about how employees split tips. The indictment also discusses Joyce's involvement in allegedly "exerting pressure on and advising" members of a town planning board whose approval a developer needed to subdivide a piece of land. The indictment also features a company "interested in promoting property-assessed-clean-energy 'PACE' legislation in Massachusetts. PACE was an alternative energy financing program that required state legislation because its funding was derived from issuing bonds that were secured by increased property tax assessments." If state and local government just let restaurants do what they want with their tip money, let landowners do what they want with their property, and let people who want solar panels or windmills on their property pay for them themselves, there would be less opportunity for corruption. Smaller government, in other words, in addition to whatever other virtues it has, has the possibility to be more honest government. And larger government—more involvement of politicians in regulating or subsidizing or licensing the economy—has the potential to be more dishonest government. It provides more opportunities for crooked politicians to shake down businessmen, and more opportunities for crooked businessmen to try to buy political influence. Whether that is what happened in Joyce's case will be for a jury or perhaps eventually appellate judges to decide. Prosecutors, the press, and voters can try to weed out dishonest[...]

Inept and Corrupt Border Patrol Does Not Need More Money: New at Reason

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 08:01:00 -0500

Donald Trump will demand money for more border patrol agents in December when Congress takes up the appropriation bill to fund the government.(image) But] a new study by Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute finds that the agency is riddled with severe discipline and corruption problems. Till it fixes it, Congress shouldn't even think of acquiescing to Trump's demand.

He notes:

From 2006 through 2016, Border Patrol agents had the highest termination rate of any large federal law enforcement agency. On the whole, they were 2.2 times as likely to be terminated for discipline or performance as federal law enforcement officers in general and 49 percent more likely than Customs officers, 54 percent more likely than guards at the Bureau of Prisons, six times as likely as Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, 7.1 times as likely as Drug Enforcement Administration agents, and 12.9 times as likely as Secret Service agents.

Trump Wants More Money for Corrupt Border Patrol

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 08:00:00 -0500

President Donald Trump doesn't just want to build a wall along the southern border, he also wants Congress to hire 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents—a 25% increase—to patrol it. However, Border Patrol suffers from worse discipline, performance, and corruption problems than any other federal law enforcement agency, my study for the Cato Institute found. Congress should fix those problems before even considering any new request for more agents. Stories of Border Patrol misconduct and corruption have dribbled into the press for years. They range from ordinary corruption to brutal crimes. On the ordinary side, Border Patrol agents Raul and Fidel Villarreal were convicted of smuggling in around 1,000 illegal immigrants in exchange for $1 million. On the brutal side, Border Patrol agent Esteban Manzanares kidnapped, assaulted, and raped three illegal immigrant women he apprehended while on the job in 2014. There are many other cases just like those, but the full extent of the problem is very unclear. Are these just a few bad apples? Or is it "conservative to estimate" that 5 percent of the Border Patrol force, adding up to about 1,000 agents, is corrupt, as James Tomsheck said after he was removed as head of one of the internal affairs departments that oversaw Border Patrol in 2014. Government reports offer confusing, contradictory, and incomplete answers. According to evidence released under the Freedom of Information Act, 158 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees were convicted or charged with corruption from 2005 to 2016. The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found 358 corruption or misconduct convictions, but it doesn't distinguish between government employees and civilians who conspired with them. CBP further complicates this mess by distinguishing between "mission-compromising" convictions, which include drug and immigrant smuggling, and "non-mission-compromising" ones, which include sexually assaulting detainees and murder. Not only are records of corruption and misconduct poorly reported but the government can't even agree on the definition of what constitutes a complaint. CBP even shifted the definition and reporting system for "complaints" in a way that reduced the number of those filed against Border Patrol officers. That's why Government Accountability Office (GAO) watchdogs recorded thousands more complaints made against sub-components of CBP than CBP itself records against the entire agency, which just strains credulity. A new Cato Institute study analyzed Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data on the number of terminations for disciplinary and performance reasons by agency and occupation – data that includes (but is not limited to) those fired for corruption. This data is more reliable because the agency actually records the reasons for why an agent left or was fired, something neither the CBP nor Border Patrol does. From 2006 through 2016, Border Patrol agents had the highest termination rate of any large federal law enforcement agency. On the whole, they were 2.2 times as likely to be terminated for discipline or performance as federal law enforcement officers in general and 49 percent more likely than Customs officers, 54 percent more likely than guards at the Bureau of Prisons, six times as likely as Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, 7.1 times as likely as Drug Enforcement Administration agents, and 12.9 times as likely as Secret Service agents. Two explanations are generally offered for Border Patrol's relatively high termination rate. One, that its internal affairs department is just better at providing effective oversight and firing troublemakers. But this is laughable given that the oversight at Border Patrol deteriorated precipitously after 9/11. Congress disbanded the old Immigration and Naturalization Service that housed Border Patrol after it approved student visas for two 9/11 hijackers about six months after they flew jet liners into the World Trade Center. Congress then created the Departmen[...]

Chicago's Chronic Police Corruption Leads to Its First 'Mass Exoneration'

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 11:50:00 -0500

(image) Guess which city's police department is so corrupt that prosecutors this week performed what they're calling the county's first "mass exoneration" of men framed for drug crimes?

It's Chicago, of course. Cook County prosecutors have just tossed out the convictions of 15 men framed by a pack of police led by Sgt. Ronald Watts. Watts was accused of running a drug and protection racket with his fellow officers and was eventually convicted and sent to prison for taking money from a drug courier who was actually an undercover FBI officer.

There may be more to come. According to defense attorneys with the University of Chicago's Exoneration Project, Watts was involved in nearly 500 convictions, all of which are now considered suspect.

As for the rest of Watts' crew, Chicago Police announced Thursday night that seven other police officers have been put on desk duty while their behavior is investigated. Asked why they're still on the force, a city official said they hadn't been convicted of a crime. Via the Chicago Tribune:

Asked earlier Thursday why several officers tied to Watts' corrupt crew were still on the force, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson noted none had been convicted of a crime — unlike Watts.

"They have due process and rights just like any citizen in this country," he told reporters after his speech to the City Club of Chicago. "… But we just can't arbitrarily take the job away from people."

Apparently, it was even a struggle to get the police to take them off the street during the investigation. Earlier Thursday, the city was adopting a "wait and see" attitude, but they had changed their mind by the evening.

In the private sector, employers don't have to wait for somebody to be convicted of a crime to cut ties with them. It's not "arbitrarily" taking a job away to fire a police officer who is deemed to be dangerous or incompetent or corrupt, even if he or she has not been convicted of an actual crime.

The Tribune notes that the exonerations will now allow the 15 men to file wrongful conviction lawsuits against the city. Chicago has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements for police misconduct. Two police officers who were blackballed while attempting to expose Watts' misconduct themselves earned a $2 million settlement in a lawsuit.

Chicago has a serious police misconduct problem. Chicago also has a serious budget crisis that they're trying to tax and fine their way out of (and failing). It's not "arbitrary" to dump out bad cops that are costing the city millions due to their bad behavior. It, in fact, may be necessary to keep the city solvent.

Mass. State Trooper Suing After Commanders Made Him Edit Report About Judge's Daughters

Wed, 08 Nov 2017 14:55:00 -0500

(image) Massachusetts State Trooper Ryan Sceviour is suing his superiors with the State Police, including Supt. Richard D. McKeon, alleging they ordered him to alter a police report involving the daughter of a judge in a DUI and drug incident.

The state police aren't disputing Sceviour's central claim, arguing the order to change the report was appropriate.

Sceviour arrived at the scene of a crash Oct. 16 on I-190 in Worcester. Behind the wheel he reported he found Alli Bibaud, daughter of Timothy Bibaud, who presides over drug cases for the Dudley District Court, reeking of alcohol with a "heroin kit" in the car, according to the Boston Globe.

Sceviour's report said Bibaud told him she had traded sex for drugs and that she was the daughter of a judge who would kill her if he found out. Bibaud allegedly offered to have sex with Sceviour for more lenient treatment.

A state trooper called Sceviour on his day off two days later and told him to report to barracks in Holden, 90 miles away, where he was ordered to alter his police report. In his suit, Sceviour alleges he was reprimanded for including Bibaud's statements in his report.

A police spokesperson responded to that by insisting, as WBUR reports, that a reprimand was not "technically discipline."

"The revision consisted of removal of what the Colonel and senior commanders felt was a sensationalistic and inflammatory directly-quoted statement that made no contribution to proving the elements of the crimes with which she was charged." a police spokesperson told the Globe.

Whether Bibaud's comments belong in the report is an open question. Between 2009 and 2014, nearly 1,000 officers in the U.S. were fired for sex crimes or sexual misconduct. It's not hard to imagine how neglecting to report an offer of sex for leniency could backfire.

More importantly, the lack of any effort to ensure that "sensationalistic and inflammatory" statements by other suspects don't appear in police reports suggests the state police was more interested in protecting Bibaud's father than the privacy of all people arrested by state police.

Sceviour's lawsuit suggests a lack of any substantive mechanism for whistleblowing, either within the state police agency itself, or elsewhere in state government. Sceviour claims the actions of his commanders and McKeon, caused "damage to his reputation, have negatively impacted his employment, and have caused him severe emotional distress."

Remember that next time police insist a bad actor within their ranks has been reprimanded.

This incident illustrates the toxicity of a law enforcement and criminal justice culture largely aligned to protect and perpetuate itself, as well as the urgency of substantive police reform and its nexus with limiting the size and power of government. It starts with the ability to hold police officers, their superiors, and other government officials accountable in systematic ways.

Real whistleblower protections, transparency in criminal justice processes, and zero tolerance for misconduct and other inappropriate behavior (and the role back in the privileges and immunities cops and other actors are afforded by law and contract) are policies lawmakers at local levels of government can deploy to transform the police agencies that are supposed to work for the same people that elect those lawmakers.

Feds Keeping Homeland Secure with Fake Sex-Trafficking Busts

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 15:00:00 -0400

As America debates how to handle terrorist attacks like the one in New York City yesterday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI are busy helping small-town police arrest people for prostitution and marijuana. In Louisiana this week, the FBI helped arrest—and publicly ridicule—57 men who responded to fake (adult) prostitution ads. Meanwhile in North Carolina, DHS has pitched in to help round-up people with small amounts of marijuana or cocaine on them. Local media described the DHS efforts as a "human trafficking case." But the only offenses any suspects were arrested for were drug possession, driving with a revoked license, and parole violations—all state-level offenses, and mostly misdemeanors. The stunt—which the Burlington Times-News describes as a "covert investigative/outreach operation focusing on human trafficking"—took place Monday with assistance from the Alamance County Sheriff's Office, the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation, North Carolina Alcohol Enforcement, police officers from three local departments, and a group called Alamance for Freedom. About 30 law enforcement personnel were involved, according to the sheriff's office. What this alliance did was just an old-fashioned prostitution sting, with undercover detectives luring sex workers to appointments with a "customer" and cops pouncing when they arrive. It yielded no human-trafficking arrests, no children were found, and no victims of sex trafficking were rescued. Nonetheless, police still found cause to arrest some of the people they lured to their "secure location." Two women, ages 22 and 46, were charged with possession of cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia; the younger woman was also booked for driving with a revoked license. A 22-year-old and a 31-year-old were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Two other individuals were arrested as well, both for probation violations. CBS North Carolina reported it as "a human trafficking ring" bust. Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson has been using human trafficking for a while now to garner good PR for his department—which certainly needs it. In 2012, Johnson was the subject of a Department of Justice lawsuit for allegedly targeting Latinos. North Carolinans compare Johnson to disgraced Arizonan Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Just last week, Johnson settled with a former deputy for $600,000 in a lawsuit alleging that the deputy was fired in retaliation for his testimony against the sheriff in the federal civil rights case. In addition, Alamance County has paid more than $400,000 over the past three years in lawsuits from former staff. But as long as Johnson slaps "human-trafficking bust" on his shenanigans, he doesn't need to actually catch any traffickers, or any illicit sex at all, to trigger hero headlines from local press. At least Johnson's motivations here make sense, even if they don't make him commendable. But why are we, week after week, wasting federal resources on enforcing small-town misdemeanor vice laws?[...]

Yulia Tymoshenko Warned Us About Paul Manafort Years Ago

Tue, 31 Oct 2017 06:48:00 -0400

Yulia Tymoshenko warned us about Paul Manafort years ago. In a civil complaint, the former Ukrainian prime minister accused Manafort—who would go on to chair Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign—of conspiring with Ukrainian and Russian partners to launder dirty money through "a labyrinth of shell companies" in the U.S. These companies, it claims, "were solely used for purposes of furthering the unlawful objectives" of people like Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian businessman indicted in 2009 for U.S. racketeering and money laundering, and Russian crime boss Semyon Mogilevich, who made the FBI's "Most Wanted" list for suspected fraud, racketeering, and money laundering. Documents filed in the civil action reveal many similar allegations to those Manafort and Gates are now facing at the hands of U.S. Department of Justice special prosecutor Robert Mueller. On Monday, a federal grand jury indicted the former Trump-campaign chairman and Rick Gates, a Manafort business associate, for conspiracy to launder money, making false statements, failing to register as an agent of foreign principal, and failing to file reports on foreign bank accounts. (For a detailed breakdown of the charges, see Popehat.) They pleaded not guilty Monday afternoon. The DOJ indictment accuses Manafort and Gates of "extensive lobbying" in the U.S. on behalf of Ukrainian interests and "in connection with the roll out of a report concerning the Tymoshenko trial commissioned by the Government of Ukraine." Manafort and Gates paid $4 million to law firm Skadden Arps to monitor and report on the Tymoshenko proceedings, ostensibly on behalf of an "independent" European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (which they had helped set up), the indictment says. And it claims that "between at least 2006 and 2015, Manafort and Gates acted as unregistered agents of the Government of Ukraine, the Party of Regions (a Ukrainian political party whose leader Victor Yanukovych was President from 2010 to 2014), Yanukovych, and the Opposition Bloc (a successor to the Party of Regions that formed in 2014 when Yanukovych fled to Russia), generating "tens of millions of dollars in income as a result" and "launder[ing] the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts." The work was done through Davis Manafort Partners (DMP), which Manafort co-founded in 2005, and DMP International (DMI), founded in Manafort and his wife Kathleen in 2011. Rick Gates worked for both entities Through these agencies, Manafort and Gates helped propel Viktor Yanukovych to the Ukrainian presidency and oversaw a "watchdog" report on the prosecution of his opposition. Tymoshenko, who served as prime minster from 2007 through 2010, was not just an enemy of Tanukovych's but also of Firtash and Mogilevich. In an agreement with Russia, she helped cut Firtash's company out as a profitable middleman in natural-gas deals between the two countries. Tymoshenko's suit against Firtash and unnamed Yanukovych officials was first filed in U.S. court in April 2011, when Yanukovych was still president. Later amended complaints were eventually filed—the second in November 2014, after Yanukovych had been forced to flee Ukraine amid protests over his administration's corruption and thuggery—and also named Manafort and his partners at CMZ Ventures. The suit accused Manafort, Firtash, and the other defendants of financing politically motivated and "unlawful investigations and prosecutions of Tymoshenko" and her associates through secret payments to Yanukovich and others in his administration or control. Their money-laundering and shell-company scheme "was the proximate cause of Tymoshenko's damages, since it provided the necessary funds to make the unlawful payments to the Ukraine prosecutors and other corrupt administration officials," the complaint alleges. Documents show that in December 2008, Manafort met with Fi[...]

Chicago Alderman Who Told Businessman to 'Come Back To Me On Your Knees' Sued for Abuse of Power

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 14:30:00 -0400

Chicago Alderman Proco Joe Moreno wanted to help a business that had contributed to his campaign coffers. So he told Brian Strauss, a firefighter and property owner, to rent his building to the business or suffer the consequences. When Strauss refused to comply, Moreno made good on his threats, downzoning Strauss's building and scuttling multiple attempts to sell the property. Strauss is now suing, arguing that Moreno's abuses of his aldermanic powers violate Strauss' rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. According to Strauss's suit, Moreno's threats and eventual downzoning "were completely out of character with both the zoning and actual uses of the neighborhood," "were proposed in bad faith," and "were done for personal rather than a public interest". Strauss's trouble began in late 2015, when he tried to evict the Double Door Music Hall from a Wicker Park property his family had owned since the '60s. (The eviction was prompted by several lease violations.) Moreno, who had received more than $7,500 in campaign donations from Double Door's management, requested that Strauss let the business stay on. Strauss declined and began looking for another tenant. Then Moreno's gloves came off. "I'm tired of hearing about the sympathy of you and your family," the alderman reportedly told Strauss and his attorney at one meeting. "Double Door is going to be in that building, there will never be another tenant in there, there will never be another sign on that building." Over the coming months, Moreno—in meetings brokered and attended by staffers for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel—tried to get Strauss to sell his building to Double Door for $7 million, despite its market value of nearly $10 million. When that failed, the alderman started introducing downzoning proposals for Strauss's property that would have made it off limits for most business uses. In June 2017, Moreno even tried to reclassify the building as a residential unit, which would prohibit practically all commercial uses. That failed, but in September the city council did pass a downzoning ordinance, which prevents Strauss from converting his property to a general restaurant, a bar, or even, ironically, its previous use as concert venue. In a very public, and very disturbing, encounter with Strauss, Moreno made clear his zoning changes were all about extracting concessions. "You can come back to me on your knees, which is going to happen," he raged. "It's gonna be an empty building with no income for you or your family." Other officials went along with this under the longstanding practice of "aldermanic privilege," which basically means that other aldermen don't interfere with their colleagues' zoning and regulatory practices in their own wards. Moreno's actions have taken their toll on Strauss's attempts to sell the building. Three sales have now fallen through, with developers citing the downzoning proposals as reasons for walking away. Strauss is now asking for $9.6 million in damages from those lost sales, saying that Moreno's "extreme and outrageous" conduct amounts to a taking of his property without due process of law. As Reason's Eric Boehm noted when this story surfaced in May, Moreno is not a big fan of property rights. He previously tried to prevent a Chick-Fil-A from opening in his ward because of the owners' views on gay marriage, and also attempted to block the construction of a Wal-Mart because it wasn't "a perfect fit for the area." Said Boehm: The rule of law requires that government officials have their authority held in check, specifically to prevent abuses like the ones that Chicago's civic system seems to encourage. Moreno is free to believe that Chick-fil-A's executives are wrong about gay marriage, and he's free to dislike shopping at Wal-Mart. He should not be able to use his position of authority to block those businesses from operating in his wa[...]

Nearly 300 Baltimore Criminal Cases Dropped Over Police Misconduct

Fri, 29 Sep 2017 12:35:00 -0400

(image) Baltimore prosecutors are dropping hundreds of cases due to several separate claims of misconduct by police there.

There are two separate misconduct and corruption issues at play. In one case, eight police officers are being indicted of federal racketeering and fraud charges. They're accused of detaining and robbing Baltimore residents and filing for false overtime. As a result of those charges, prosecutors have dropped 109 cases.

The second crop involves officers being caught faking body camera footage, either planting evidence of crimes or at least "reenacting" the discovery of evidence and getting caught. The revelation that Baltimore police were abusing their body cameras became a national story, and no wonder: The notion that the cameras can be used to fabricate evidence turns on its head the idea that they would protect against police misconduct.

Baltimore has uncovered three cases of police staging evidence discoveries, and this led to the dismissal of 169 other cases involving those officers.

Hundreds more cases may be dropped by the end of all this, according to CNN. Prosecutors say these two types of misconduct have impacted in some way more than 850 cases. A leading public defender in Baltimore thinks those numbers may be too low.

Complicating matters is some additional body camera footage released in August connected to one of the evidence complaints. The additional footage, released by police, does appear to show that the officer ultimately did not plant evidence on the scene. Rather, he found the evidence, realized his body camera wasn't on, turned his body camera on, then sort of recreated discovering the evidence. This was all captured by another officer's body camera.

Nevertheless, police, prosecutors, and the public should see this behavior as a problem. Body cameras have been promoted as a tool of transparency, a way of making sure that police are behaving professionally and of determining whether incidents involving the use of force were appropriate.

It's bad enough that police across the country are attempting to conceal body camera footage from public view. If the footage itself is not considered trustworthy by the public, that's certainly not going to help police departments build better ties with their communities.

Fake Scandal: 'DeVos Uses Private Jet for Work-Related Travel'

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 15:17:00 -0400

Today The Hill published a story about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and then tweeted it out. Here's the tweet: DeVos uses private jet for work-related travel — The Hill (@thehill) September 21, 2017 I get it; stories about government officials abusing the public funds for travel are hot right now. After all, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was just caught trying to snag a military jet for his European honeymoon. And Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price is in trouble for chartering five flights last week alone. Rightly so. But wait! Clicking on the Hill story yields some highly relevant info: Education Department Press Secretary Liz Hill told the Associated Press on Thursday that DeVos travels completely on her own dime, accepting no government reimbursement for flights or other expenses. Of course government officials have special needs, but they are too often used to justify status-oriented extravagance. In Mnuchin's case, the request for a government jet was initially claimed as a necessity for a member of the National Security Council. But as The New York Times dryly explained: "Treasury officials withdrew the request after finding an alternative way to communicate about government matters securely." As for Price, an HHS spokesman said "when commercial aircraft cannot reasonably accommodate travel requirements, charter aircraft can be used for official travel." Which sounds sort of OK-ish until you realize one of those flights was from D.C. to Philadelphia. As Politico noted when it broke the story: On one leg of the trip—a sprint from Dulles International Airport to Philadelphia International Airport, a distance of 135 miles—there was a commercial flight that departed at roughly the same time: Price's charter left Dulles at 8:27 a.m., and a United Airlines flight departed for Philadelphia at 8:22 a.m., according to airport records.... In addition, Amtrak ran four trains starting at 7 a.m. that left Washington's Union Station and arrived at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station no later than 9:58 a.m. The least-expensive ticket, on the 7:25 a.m. train, costs $72 when booked in advance. It is just a 125-mile drive from HHS headquarters in downtown Washington to the Mirmont Treatment Center outside of Philadelphia, where Price spoke. Google Maps estimates the drive as about 2½ hours. A one-way trip was estimated by travel planners to be about $30 in gasoline per SUV plus no more than $16 in tolls. DeVos is lucky enough to be a very rich woman. But you needn't be wealthy to be a good steward of taxpayer money—luckily, domestic and international commercial flights are numerous, reliable, and relatively cheap (though not as numerous, reliable, and relatively cheap as they could be—read all about it in the next issue of Reason). Chartered jets from D.C. Philly are absurd, but so is trying to lump DeVos in with Price and Mnuchin. After all, as The Hill reported: During her time in office...DeVos has charged travel expenses to the government just once: $184 to the Department of Education for round-trip Amtrak ticket between D.C. and Philadelphia. [...]

Brickbat: It Takes a Thief

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Former LaSalle County, Illinois, state attorney Brian Towne has been charged with perjury and official misconduct. The charges include having investigators from his office stop cars on Interstate 80, seizing cash and vehicles from alleged drug dealers in those cars and spending at least some of those proceeds for his personal use.

California May Have Just Made It Easier for Cities to Hike Taxes

Tue, 29 Aug 2017 12:30:00 -0400

A decision this week by California's Supreme Court might make it easier for local governments to levy taxes. Note the use of the word "might." A 5-2 opinion by the state's Supreme Court yesterday throws the rules for ballot initiatives into confusion, suggesting initiatives put forth by private parties may require only a majority vote to pass, rather than the two-thirds California law required for decades for both private and city-led proposals. It's not entirely clear how far-reaching the court's ruling is. But if the broadest interpretation is applied, the potential impacts are obvious and huge: Suddenly it's a whole lot easier for private interests to get tax increases and new fees passed to take money from others for their own pet interests. Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, is already preparing for the worst, telling the San Diego Union-Tribune, "This is a significant decision that will lead to unbridled collusion between local governments and special interest groups." The state Supreme Court case involves a ballot initiative introduced by California Cannabis Coalition, a medical marijuana group, in Upland. The group asked that the city's ban on dispensaries be repealed. That sounds good, right? But it also introduced a permitting process and significant license and inspection fees. Protectionism via fees—that's bad! Upland determined those fees triggered the two-thirds requirement. The marijuana group challenged that requirement in court. It's worth noting the ballot initiative failed to get even majority support, but the court decided to consider the underlying claim that these types of ballot initiatives should not be held to the two-thirds requirement. There is a sense in the majority decision that because these ballot initiatives originate from "the people" rather than city governments, they should not be subject to the tougher threshold. But, of course, "the people" do not regularly embark on massive quests to raise their neighbors' taxes. "Citizen" initiatives that increase taxes or introduce fees are frequently introduced and pushed by those who would stand to benefit from the revenue that's brought in. They're no more neutral or "democratic" than those proposed by city leaders. The most glaring example is that of publicly financed professional sports stadiums, the example news outlets point out when considering the possible consequences of this ruling. San Diego citizens were asked to vote to raise taxes just last fall to build a new stadium for the Chargers. They said no. Often, city leaders and the private interests are on the same side in these kinds of cases. City leaders try to sell stadiums to citizens as economic development while sports team owners pocket the subsidies. These tax initiatives are not the result of some group of football fans organizing at tailgate parties. It's cronyism. With the right marketing, this court ruling actually makes local corruption easier. It's also very easy to imagine public employee union groups using this mechanism to try to raise taxes and fees to fund their growing pension debt. Democratic State Sen. Scott Wiener says the change will make it easier for cities to more easily fund local schools and transportation needs. What we really see is that tax increases go right into the pension money pit and don't actually fund improvements at all. Judge Leondra R. Kruger noted in her dissent essentially that a tax doesn't become more pure or democratic simply because it was levied via a voter initiative. It's still taking money from citizens and giving it to the city: "A tax passed by voter initiative, no less than a tax passed by vote of the city council, is a tax of the local government, to be collected by the local government, to raise revenu[...]

'We As Legislators Can’t Keep ICE From Lying' About Being Local Cops

Fri, 25 Aug 2017 12:22:00 -0400

Why would a family of undocumented immigrants allow federal agents without a warrant to search their house? Because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents misidentify themselves as local police. "We have repeatedly seen ICE go to people's homes and coerce people to authorize entry under the mistaken belief that [the agents] are police," Michael Kaufman, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California, tells Governing magazine. The practice doesn't just threaten those in the U.S. illegally. "It undermines public safety in these communities if people feel like they might be getting tricked," Kaufman says. Los Angeles authorities worry ICE will undermine decades of work the city has done to convince undocumented immigrants that cooperating with police on criminal matters won't lead to their detention and deportation. California recently passed a law (AB 1440) to try to thwart this practice, stipulating that ICE agents in California are "not allowed to refer to themselves as a police officer." But it's a toothless endeavor—states and municipalities don't have the authority to dictate what federal law enforcement officers can and cannot do. (Kaufman says the new legislation was meant to send "a message" to the feds.) California isn't the only place upset about ICE's tactices. From Governing: In March, city officials in Hartford, Conn., sharply rebuked ICE agents for wearing uniforms that only said 'POLICE' while trying to lure a woman to a public safety building so they could detain her. The Southern Poverty Law Center accused ICE of deceiving Atlanta residents by stating they were police officers searching for a criminal and for sometimes even showing them photos of a random black man they said was their suspect. While it is legal for ICE agents to identify themselves as police, the practice becomes illegal once it leads to an unlawful search of a person's home or car. In Texas, lawyers successfully argued that ICE agents violated a woman's constitutional protections when they identified themselves as police and showed her photos of a stranger to coerce her into letting them into her home. ICE has defended the practice by saying that "police" is a general term for law enforcement agents and that it is necessary to convey ICE agents' status to non-English speakers. It's a weak defense. If ICE agents' real concern was simply to convey their authority, why not identify themselves as "immigration police"? Why identify as police when talking to people who clearly understand English? Why the pretense of chasing a criminal suspect? Alas, there's little anyone outside the federal government can do about the subterfuge. As California Assemblymember Ash Kalra told Governing: "It's unfortunate, but we as legislators can't keep ICE from lying. If they want to misrepresent themselves, they can do that." U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D–N.Y.) has proposed federal legislation "to prohibit immigration officers or agents of the Department of Homeland Security, including officers and agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, from wearing clothing, accessories, or other items bearing the word 'police' while performing duties under the immigration laws." The bill has attracted 19 co-sponsors (all Democrats), but it has gone nowhere since it was introduced in April.[...]

Chicago to Give Back Millions in Traffic Camera Fines

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 13:55:00 -0400

Chicago's use of red light cameras to shake every possible cent out of its citizens took a hit this week. The city has agreed to a $38.75 million settlement to end a class action suit by people who say they hadn't been given adequate notice of violations to respond to them. The Chicago Tribune reports that as many as 1.2 million people may get refunded half of what they paid to the city. The plaintiffs contend that the city didn't send second notices to people who had gotten red light tickets before declaring them guilty, as the regulations required. The suit also says the city was doubling the fines for late payments before it was supposed to. The city's response to the complaint was pretty telling: It changed the ordinance so that the city didn't have to send a second notice at all. Then, to cover their asses, Chicago lawmakers passed an ordinance giving those who had gotten tickets prior to 2015 permission to challenge them. The city took in nearly $300 million from traffic camera citations in 2015; they didn't want to give up that money without a fight. This suit was rather limited, considering the many, many problems Chicago has had with its red light and speed camera systems. The Tribune has been on top of these problems: Zolna's suit was among half a dozen cases that followed a Chicago Tribune investigation of corruption and mismanagement within the city's $600 million red light program. The series exposed a $2 million City Hall bribery scheme that brought the traffic cameras to Chicago as well as tens of thousands of tickets that were unfairly issued to drivers. The investigation found malfunctioning cameras, inconsistent enforcement and millions of dollars in tickets issued purposely by City Hall even after transportation officials knew that yellow light times were dropping below the federal minimum guidelines. Throughout the scandal, the Emanuel administration has been reluctant to issue refunds, in some cases forcing drivers to file paperwork and apply for a rehearing process some critics have called onerous. A former city official has even gone to prison for bribery over the implementation of the system. $10 million of the money that will pay for the settlement will come from the cash the city itself will get from the private red light camera company Redflex, in a completely different settlement over the bribery scandal. The Tribune previously researched what the cameras actually accomplished for drivers. The safety results turned out to be terrible. The city actually saw a 22 percent increase in rear-end crashes, and many of the cameras had been implemented in intersections with no notable history of problems with collisions. Chicago's implementation of red light cameras makes it abundantly clear—if it's not already—that the purpose of these programs is not public safety but raising money for the city by sucking it out of the pockets of its citizens. Or at least the citizens it has left. The Chicago area has been bleeding population for the past two years, losing more residents than any other major city in the country.[...]

John McCain's Cronyist 'Humanitarian' Group: Your Path to Trump's State Department

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 12:15:00 -0400

The McCain Institute—Sen. John McCain's cronyist "humanitarian" group—has proved the quite the pathway to Donald Trump's State Department. Fresh off an announcement that the president plans to tap the senator's wife (and McCain Institute figurehead) Cindy Hensley McCain as some sort of "ambassador at large for human rights," the department has appointed McCain Institute Executive Director Kurt Volker to be its special representative for Ukraine negotiations. Volker—formerly of the CIA, McCain's Senate office, the National Security Council, and NATO—is also an advisor and former managing director at the BGR Group, a D.C.-based lobbying firm and investment bank (former slogan: "The world of business has no borders"), as well as a board member for the Hungary Initiatives Foundation, a group founded by the Hungarian government to lobby for the country's interests in America. Both the BGR Group and the Hungary Initiatives Foundation have given at least $100,000 (and possibly much more) to the McCain Institute. And the Prague Freedom Foundation (PFF), which lists the BGR group as its address, is also a McCain Institute donor. PFF is ostensibly concerned with promoting independent journalism, but "U.S. international broadcasting insiders suspect that it was set up as a front" in its founder's quest "to acquire State Department properties and influence public broadcasting," according to The Daily Beast. BGR founder Ed Rogers, a major advocate of U.S. military action in Syria, is also the designated lobbyist for Raytheon—another big McCain Institute funder, as well as one of the largest U.S. defense contractors and a world leader in producing guided missiles. Raytheon is also a major beneficiary of government-surveillance tower contracts along the Arizona border, and it has recently been lobbying for the right to sell "smart bombs" to another McCain Institute funder, Saudi Arabia. In general, the institute is funded by an odd mix (for a human rights philanthropy, anyway) of shady foreign regimes, former McCain campaign advisors, and corporations—Freeport McMoran, Swift Transportation, Chevron—with interests before Senate committees that John McCain sits on. A who's who of high-profile Clinton Global Initiative donors also bankroll the McCain Institute. The Soros Foundation. Teneo. Lynn Forester and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild. A state-owned Moroccan phosphate-mining company, OCP SA, that is wreaking havoc the western Sahara. Upon the institute's launch, in 2012, Volker explicitly described it as a way to broker influence. "I don't think very many people have the same kind of access around the world that McCain has," Volker said. "When you mention his name, you do get top-tier people wanting to be associated and be helpful." Behind the scenes, McCain Institute donors and their buddies get to mingle with Volker, Sen. McCain, other sitting U.S. officials, and foreign leaders and ambassadors at private luxury retreats in the Arizona desert. The 2017 meeting included government officials from Ukraine, Singapore, Qatar, Kurdistan, Germany, Canada, the U.K., and the Trump administration, along with business executives, bankers, and lobbyists from around the world. Publicly, however, the institute tends to downplay these connections and focuses on the anti-"human trafficking" (i.e., anti-prostitution) work that Cindy and her merry band of faux-humanitarians do. Asked about a $1 million donation from the Saudis, Sen. McCain even claimed that he had "nothing to do with" his namesake institute—a claim that's patently false. (It was literally launched by McCain, and Volker, with leftover money from McCain's 2008 presidential campaign fund.) Alas, it loo[...]