Oil pipeline company spends heavily on Cuomo-tied lobbying firm

PAI’s most recent report showed how companies behind major New York State natural gas infrastructure projects have been increasing lobbying expenditures and contracting with firms tied to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s family and administration.

This trend is not confined to the natural gas sector: at least one oil infrastructure company is employing the same tactic.

According to filings with New York’s Joint Committee on Public Ethics (JCOPE), Pilgrim Transportation of New York, the company behind the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline, spent a total of $216,250 on lobbying from 2013 through 2015. If it goes forward, the Pilgrim Pipeline will transport gasoline and other petroleum products from New York to New Jersey

Pilgrim’s annual lobbying spending has accelerated rapidly; the company spent more than twice as much in 2015 – $146,500 – as it did in 2014 – $62,250, and is on pace to spend $174,000 in 2016.

More than two thirds of Pilgrim’s total lobbying expenditures have been with the Cuomo-tied firm Bolton-St. Johns.

From PAI’s report “Natural gas infrastructure lobby ramps up spending in New York State:”

Bolton’s top lobbyist, Giorgio DeRosa, is the father of Cuomo’s Chief of Staff Melissa DeRosa and wife of one-time Cuomo patronage chief Maureen DeRosa. Giorgio DeRosa lobbied against the fracking moratorium for the Pipe Trades Association and American Petroleum Institute, and lobbied for Bluestone Gas around its Broome County pipeline. The most recent lobbying disclosure for Bolton show DeRosa was still lobbying for API. He has personally given $10,000 to Cuomo’s campaigns, and given $14,018.94 to his Bolton St. Johns political action committee, BOLT-PAC, which donated $12,000 to the governor.

Another key lobbyist at Bolton St. John’s, Emily Giske, has given $6,250 to Cuomo’s campaigns and volunteered to coordinate floor operations during Cuomo’s campaign for attorney general. She joined DeRosa on the team lobbying on behalf of API in the most recent lobbying cycle for which there are filings.

Bolton St. Johns has donated $42,500 to the governor.

Bolton-St. Johns’ ties to Governor Cuomo can be seen in the map below.

The real estate developer behind Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan

Since announcing his $41 billion affordable housing plan in 2014, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has encountered fierce resistance from grassroots housing advocates, who have pointed out that the plan would displace thousands of low-income families and spur gentrification in neighborhoods targeted for rezoning.

Until very recently, that opposition was also matched by the city’s 59 community boards and five borough presidents, which near unanimously struck down rezoning proposals that composed the wider housing plan. But last week the City Council’s land use committee, satisfied with amendments to the plan that partially expand the number of affordable units, voted 15-2 for its approval. Some advocates have celebrated the changes; others noted that thousands of low-income New Yorkers would still be left out of the deal. The full City Council body is expected to vote on the mayor’s plan this week.

Rarely mentioned amid the political jostling are the names of the developers pushing the plan forward. Here’s one: Ron Moelis of L+M Development. In terms of financial and personal ties to the de Blasio administration, Moelis stands out among his peers as the affordable housing developer behind de Blasio’s plan.

Continue reading The real estate developer behind Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan

The payday loan family behind Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s deregulatory zeal

The payday loan industry has a new friend in Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee. Wasserman Schultz is co-sponsoring a piece of legislation – ironically titled the “Consumer Protection and Choice Act” – which would delay and eventually block new regulations sought by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Why is Rep. Wasserman Schultz going to bat for an industry that is bleeding her constituency dry to the tune of $280 million per year? One possibility: Florida’s leading family of payday loan profiteers is a major donor to Wasserman Schultz, and shelled out a series of large contributions to her campaign last June. Perhaps she is repaying the favor.

For Florida-based Amscot Financial, predatory lending is a family business. CEO Ian MacKechnie – who is worth millions – has said that he “sympathizes with his hard-luck customers” and that he wants to “feel like we’re offering valuable services at reasonable prices.”

MacKechnie does not exactly bring a strong ethical record to this work, however. In the 1990s, Amscot Financial pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and agreed to end its insurance business after regulators found that it was tricking customers into buying unnecessary financial products.

MacKechnie runs the business with his wife and two sons, but this is hardly a mom and pop operation. Amscot currently has 235 payday lending locations across Florida, and MacKechnie said he wanted to be the “Walmart of financial service” in a 2009 interview.

To that end, Amscot consistently spends $320,000 per year on lobbying, a total of nearly $3 million over the last 10 years. Their lobbyists include Holland and Knight’s Jim Davis, a former member of the Florida House of Representatives and once included former FL Governor Charlie Crist’s Chief of Staff, Eric Eikenberg.

When it comes to politicians, Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a MacKechnie family favorite. Since 2010, Ian MacKechnie and his family have donated $9,600 to her and $38,850 to her PAC, Democrats Win Seats, placing the family among her top all-time donors.

In two days last June, not long before she co-sponsored the payday lending bill, they cut a series of checks totaling $10,200 to her and her PAC.

The MacKechnies are also fans of Dennis Ross, the lead sponsor of the bill. He has brought in $19,600 from AmScot Financial.

Click through the map below for details on these contributions.

Hedge funds may need to find another astroturf group to help them attack Puerto Rico

A hedge-fund backed front group opposing bankruptcy in Puerto Rico is in disarray. Board members of the group, the 60 Plus Association, are suing the group’s president, Amy Frederick, for secretly funneling payments to companies controlled by her husband.

Hedge funds recruited 60 Plus to form a group, Main Street Bondholders, that pretends to represent retirees opposing bankruptcy for the island. The hedge funds have been trying to prevent bankruptcy and promote austerity on the island in order to ensure higher payouts on their debt holdings. They’ve been using a range of legal and advocacy strategies to promote their agenda, which comes at a great cost to Puerto Ricans.

Continue reading Hedge funds may need to find another astroturf group to help them attack Puerto Rico

New York Times runs Michael Hayden pro-drone op-ed; fails to disclose ties to drone manufacturers

In its Sunday Review section on February 21, 2016, the New York Times ran a column titled “To Keep America Safe, Embrace Drone Warfare.” The article’s thesis is summarized in its second-last sentence: “Civilians have died, but in my firm opinion, the death toll from terrorist attacks would have been much higher if we had not taken action;” and it was written by Michael V Hayden, who directed first the National Security Agency and then the Central Intelligence Agency under George W Bush. Hayden currently serves on the board of several defense industry corporations, including drone manufacturers.

Though the Times identified Hayden’s past government positions at the end of the article, the newspaper failed to disclose Hayden’s present role on the board of Motorola Solutions, a military and defense contractor that recently made an investment in CyPhy Works, which produces unmanned aerial vehicles – drones. Motorola Solutions paid Hayden $240,125 for his service on its board in 2015.

The Times also did not mention that Hayden served, until last year, on the board of Alion Sciences, a information technology firm that serves the US military. Hayden joined Alion’s board in 2010 in a term that ended in 2015. In 2012, Alion was awarded a $24 million contract to develop the US Navy’s unmanned and automatic weapons systems. From Alion’s press release:

Alion’s NSWC PCD work includes technical engineering to increase unmanned and automated weapon systems capabilities for such tasks as the implementation of unmanned systems payloads on “commercial off the shelf” or existing non-developmental unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) with limited modifications. Under the contract, this work can include UUVs, unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

In 2014, Alion issued a notice that it was suspending its filings with the SEC because it had fewer than 300 security holders, so Hayden’s compensation from that firm is not available.

It is also noteworthy that Hayden is a principal at the Chertoff Group, a consulting firm that advises defense industry clients on how to obtain government contracts, another detail that went unmentioned in the Times.

Hayden’s positions on the boards of the defense contractors whose business he advocated for in the Times can be seen in the map below:

The Times’s failure to disclose Hayden’s ties to the industry he was advocating in its pages is the latest example of a trend of media outlets running commentary by defense experts that also have a financial stake in perpetuating warfare. PAI reported on this phenomenon – and Hayden’s involvement – in 2013 with respect to President Obama’s proposed war in Syria.

Vulture Fund Feminism

A newly-reported contract between Madeleine Albright’s consulting firm and a major Wall Street hedge fund has only been a footnote in presidential campaign coverage, but it speaks volumes about how elites in both parties find common ground above the fray of partisan bickering and gridlock that tends to dominate the news cycle.

A consulting firm founded and led by Madeleine Albright, who recently made a colorful feminist appeal to women voters on behalf of Hillary Clinton, just landed a new contract with billionaire Paul Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management. Singer is a major backer of Marco Rubio.

On Tuesday Politico Influence reported that Elliott Management hired the former secretary of state’s firm, Albright Stonebridge, to advise on the fund’s ongoing rift with Samsung. Politico noted that Elliott had previously hired Albright Stonebridge to support its efforts to wring massive profits out of Argentina.

Continue reading Vulture Fund Feminism

Measuring “contagion” effect of political donations using LittleSis data

While the LittleSis website is a useful tool for researchers, academics, journalists, and activists to explore and map networks of powerful people and organizations, our data is available for anyone to use for free under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license. This means that anyone can use the data in our database for whatever they like, so long as they credit LittleSis and make their own content freely available as well.

Vincent Traag, a researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands, recently used the LittleSis database to track how decisions to donate to political candidates spread through social networks.

Continue reading Measuring “contagion” effect of political donations using LittleSis data

The financial industry gives Geithner some credit

Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner secured a line of credit from JPMorgan Chase, one of the too-big-to-fail recipients of bailout cash.

Geithner is looking to buy in to a new $12 billion fund at Warburg Pincus, the private equity firm where he now works. He reportedly stands to make a 20-30% return on the investment. Although he is not required to disclose the size or purpose of the credit line, a source told Bloomberg that Geithner was among several staff members to borrow money to invest in the fund.

So JPMorgan Chase, one of the banks Geithner bailed out, is about to help Geithner make loads of money.

As Huffington Post’s HuffPost Hill newsletter put it: “It’s almost like the entire Wall Street bailout was just one elaborate scheme to help him pay for heated bathroom tiles.”

We have previously noted that Geithner’s post-Treasury career has closely followed the path taken his mentor, Clinton-era Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. Both had a brief cooling-off period at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank, before taking high-paying Wall Street jobs (optics be damned). For Rubin it was Citigroup. For Geither it is Warburg Pincus, one of the largest private equity firms in the country.

Follow Geithner’s path from regulator to Wall Streeter in this map (click through for a larger version):

New investigation reveals corporate capture of air regulator in L.A. County gas leak

Following a long delay, things are moving quickly with the environmentally catastrophic methane leak at the Aliso Canyon gas facility in Los Angeles, first noticed in October 2015. After leaking about 94,000 metric tons of methane into the air—far and away the state’s biggest single contributor to global warming at the moment—11 different local, state, and federal agencies are now suing or investigating criminal charges for the company responsible, Southern California Gas (SoCalGas), including misdemeanor charges filed by L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. The California Senate also passed a moratorium that, if signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, would prevent SoCalGas from injecting gas into the leaking well as well as 18 gas storage wells at Aliso Canyon that are as old and potentially just as decrepit (there are 115 wells in total).

With so many moving parts, it could be easy to overlook the role of the Southern Coast Air Quality Management District board, the regional regulator in Southern California that has broad authority to enforce air quality standards mandated by federal and state law. However, the SCAQMD is the only government agency with direct authority to abate the air nuisance in the area surrounding the leak, which has forced thousands to leave their homes in recent months.

Continue reading New investigation reveals corporate capture of air regulator in L.A. County gas leak

Behind the scenes: The push to repeal the ban on oil exports

Since the oil exports ban was repealed on December 18th, 2015, there has been a slow trickle of news detailing the oil industry’s behind-the-scenes campaign to shape this critical policy decision. The most recent piece, from Paul Blumenthal, detailed large, direct corporate donations from oil and gas companies to the Senate Leadership Fund in the last half of 2015 when debate around the repeal was heating up.

The Senate Leadership Fund is a PAC with the mission of maintaining a Republican majority in the Senate and has ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell through its founder, Steven Law. Law is a long-time ally of McConnells and previously served as his Chief of Staff.

The newly minted Senate Majority Leader became a powerful ally in the industry campaign, calling the export ban a “relic of the 70s.”

Blumenthal’s exposé is the latest to reveal the oil industry’s multi-pronged effort to secure massive profits with the export ban repeal.

The below map (click through for a larger version) illustrates aspects of this effort:

Continue reading Behind the scenes: The push to repeal the ban on oil exports