Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In-session fundraiser: Not a loop hole "in theory"

Though legislators are barred from raising money during the legislative session, Democratic legislators took a break from last night's budget debate to attend a fundraiser at Democratic Party headquarters in Raleigh.

It was an "thank you" event for legislators who are "underpaid and over worked," state party director Andrew Whalen said. A chance for ordinary folks to pay $50 a head (the cheapest event the part hosts all year, he said) to mingle with legislators while they're in town for the session.

But The News & Observer reports that lobbyists were invited to the event.

Shocking, I know.

Funds raised go to the party's bottom line, but nothing in state law bars the party from then donating to legislators. Whalen acknowledged, in a phone call last night, that the money could end up with legislators "in theory." But he said the plan is to use it for day-to-day party operations.

He said between 50 and 100 attendees were expected.

"I don't think it's a loophole at all," Whalen said. "This is not fundraising by the legislators."

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission

You have to wonder whether Congress will overhaul its overhaul of financial regulations when the commission it assigned to study the matter issues its final report, due by Dec. 15 of this year.

From The FCIC:
In the wake of the most significant financial crisis since the Great Depression, the President signed into law on May 20, 2009, the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009, creating the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. The Commission was established to "examine the causes, domestic and global, of the current financial and economic crisis in the United States."

The 10 members of the bi-partisan Commission, prominent private citizens with significant experience in banking, market regulation, taxation, finance, economics, housing, and consumer protection, were appointed by Congress on July 15, 2009.
I like that the word "crisis" is in the name, but it took nearly two months to appoint people to this thing. The group has issued at least 7 reports so far, though, and say they will accept your comments here.

Wednesday update: Former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt was in Raleigh today to push for more public funding and regulatory changes as part of his role with this group.

Gephardt is also a lobbyist / consultant for Goldman Sachs. There was little time for off-topic questions, but Gephardt said he thinks Congress did a good job with its overhaul of financial regulations, though there may be more changes after the crisis commission files its final report.

"A good first cut at this and there may be other additions," he said.

Bit of a hand talker.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

T. Boone: "We don't need a moratorium"

Billionaire oilman become new-energy pitch man T. Boone Pickens was on CNN last night. He called for an end to the deep water drilling moratorium, a position that got a big boost yesterday.

Said Pickens: "We know what we're doing, the industry does."

He also said there are 34 deep water drilling rigs in U.S. waters. You can get an idea of where they are from these maps.

Pickens also called for more long-range planning.

"Its incredible to me that we've gone 40 years without an energy plan," he said.

Question 1: Is Gen. McChrystal right?

As fascinated as I am by the possibility that the president of the United States may fire his top field general today, I'm pretty sure that's not the most important question in the wake of Rolling Stone's article.

I think I'd start with "Is National Security Adviser Jim Jones "a 'clown' who remains 'stuck in 1985?'" and work from there.

Update: Obama has chosen Gen. David Petraeus to replace McChrystal.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Billboards are up in North Carolina from a group advocating "complete religious freedom" and, possibly, removing "under God" from the pledge of allegiance.

A poll from NBC 17 in Raleigh:
Should "Under God" be removed from Pledge Of Allegiance?

Image: N.C. Secular.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pitts on Afghanistan: "Best I can tell, it's all uphill"

Does it seem like everyone who has been to Afghanistan, or has studied its history, doesn't predict a U.S. "victory" there?

Byron Pitts spoke this evening in Apex, N.C., a hometown for him. He was excellent, as you'd expect a 60 minutes correspondent to be.

He's written a book, Step out on Nothing, and the title refers to stepping out on faith for others, as Mr. Pitts said many have done for him.

Pitts has been several times to Afghanistan and was asked whether he thought the United States could win its war there. He noted that IED's, the most effective weapon against our military, cost about $10 to make.

"I've never seen a child play a game in Afghanistan. ..." he said. "The only thing I ever saw children do is throw rocks at women who didn't have men in their lives."

Neither Pitts nor the question-asker defined victory in Afghanistan, but Mr. Pitts was not optimistic.

"How do you defeat an enemy who's not afraid to die? ..." he said. "Best I can tell it's all uphill."

Still, Pitts said capturing Osama bin Laden is a worthy priority for the U.S. He said that, in his travels, he's found that most people have an affection for America, but there's an underlying belief that the country is soft.

That, "if you kill a couple of Americans, they'll walk away."

"No one's allowed to be crazy when South Carolina's around."

I looked for a companion piece on the improbable U.S. Senate primary victory of South Carolina's Alvin Greene to go with this Daily Show segment. But nothing deserved to be paired with it.
Alvin Greene Wins South Carolina Primary
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Betty White was also on this show. I feel like I must be socially, and perhaps legally, obligated to mention that.

Monday, June 14, 2010

N.C. Lucid: State treasurer can pick stocks on own

When you've got one person with sole authority to invest state funds in companies he or she chooses, does standing for election make them less likely to abuse that power, or more?

From the Carolina Journal:
The investments by the Escheat Fund have gone sour, and as legislators continue to raid the principal of the fund for scholarships, current Treasurer Janet Cowell has warned that the fund could go broke by 2012 unless the General Assembly turns down the spigot. ...

The former treasurer, who had full authority to invest the money, said was trying to spur economic development and create jobs.

Yet he invested it largely in funds connected to people who had donated about $160,000 to his campaign from 2004 to 2008.
Shocking that giving someone such singular control over $600 million could end up like this. In trying to understand how much power North Carolina's treasurer holds, I had this back and forth with Heather Franco, a spokeswoman for the office.
Franco: As a sole fiduciary, the Treasurer maintains full responsibility for investment management. However, the asset allocation for the portfolio is set forth by the General Assembly.

Me: Does that mean the treasurer picks what particular stocks / funds / etc. to invest the state's money in, but the General Assembly tells her how much she can put toward bonds versus stocks, etc?

Franco: That is accurate. The Investment Management Division serves as the investment arm for the Department of State Treasurer. This Division employs over 20 investment professionals that provide the expertise for state government investing.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

N.C. Lucid: Don East doesn't need physical notes

Whether you're in North Carolina, Georgia or any where else, I imagine, you don't have to spend much time around politicians to realize anew that you just can't leave them unsupervised.

Today in a N.C. Senate committee meeting, state Sen. Don East, R-Pilot Mountain, was pushing SB 1386. Basically this would allow an employee of any North Carolina city or county to take a job with the state and hold onto their accrued vacation and sick time.

"I can't imagine that there's any cost or much cost" to the state in this change, Sen. East told the committee.

Not five minutes later, Carl Dean, legislative liaison for the N.C. Office of State Personnel, asked the committee to shelve the bill so it could be studied.

"There would be a cost to this bill," Mr. Dean said.

Dean added that a "physical note" should be done on the bill, though presumably he meant one of these.

The bill was withdrawn. After the meeting, Sen. East acknowledged that "there's going to be some initial cost" for the state. But he said it would even out, since the policy would work both ways, forcing counties and cities that hire former state employees to let them keep their accrued time, as well.

Sen. East also said he's pursuing this change because he wants the various governments in North Carolina to have a uniform policy. It's not, he said, to appease any particular people who'd like to take a new job and take their accrued time with them.

N.C. Lucid: Lobbying violations legally a secret

From The Charlotte Observer:
State law says the public has no right to know anything about violations of N.C. lobbying rules. ...

The 2008 bill was meant to make several small, clarifying changes to the ethics and lobbying laws.

It included language that said complaints of lobbying violations and "all other records accumulated in conjunction with the investigation of these complaints shall be considered confidential records and may be released only by order of a court."
Legislators quoted in the article say this was done by accident. I haven't been here long enough to guess whether they were doing the "air quote" thing in their heads when they said this.

Friday, June 4, 2010

North Carolina lucid: Michaux

The North Carolina House of Representative's 2010-11 budget vote, taken shortly-after-midnight in a session that began about 12:01 a.m., may have just blown my mind.

"I know that some of y'all look at me some times and say I'm a slave driver. I can't be a slave driver because, you know, my folks used to be slaves, but (some chuckling) uh. So ... I'm just a budget driver."

- N.C. House Appropriations Snr. Chairman Henry Michaux from the floor, after thanking committee and subcommittee chairmen for their work on the budget. Via live audio broadcast.

Image: General Assembly of North Carolina.