Many voters went to sleep in Wisconsin and thought they woke up in Florida on Friday after a “Republican activist” county clerk announced that she discovered an extra 14,315 votes in a hotly contested Supreme Court race. Not surprisingly, the votes went to the conservative candidate giving incumbent justice David Prosser a 7,500 lead over challenger Joanne Kloppenburg. Oddly, 7500 was the exact number of votes Prosser needed to avoid a statewide recount.
The Supreme Court race has garnered national attention as a proxy vote on Governor Scott Walker’s radical proposal to end collective bargaining in the state and cut a billion dollars from public schools.
Long Time Republican Apparatchik
The county clerk in question is long-time Republican apparatchik Kathy Nickolaus. Nickolaus got her start in GOP politics in 1995 when the Republican Speaker of the Assembly was – that’s right – David Prosser. She worked for Prosser’s Republican Assembly Caucus, one of four GOP and Democratic legislative groups that were shut down following a criminal investigation for illegal campaign activity on state time.
Nickolaus first came to public attention in 2001 when she was granted immunity from criminal prosecution in exchange for testimony against her bosses at the Assembly Caucus. The case resulted in unprecedented convictions of Democratic and Republican legislators on felony counts of misconduct in office and arranging for illegal campaign contributions. Both Democratic and Republican leaders were sentenced to jail time.
In the caucus, Nickolaus was the person who ran the numbers, creating databases for illegal donations, partisan mailings and the like. When she escaped criminal prosecution, she hightailed it to Waukesha where she ran for county clerk in the conservative county in 2002.
She later botched a 2006 vote and stirred controversy by placing the entire voting system on her own personal computer. Prompting the County Corporation Counsel to charge: “If she wants to keep everything secret, she probably can.”
On Thursday of this week, she called a press conference to announce the new vote totals that put Prosser over the top and blamed “human error.” She claimed that the canvass was a “open and transparent” process, yet she found the error at noon on Wednesday and sat on the information for 29 hours, not even telling top election officials at the Government Accountability Board. According to election observers, the issue of 14,315 additional votes from Brookfield was never discussed at the canvass. But, this information somehow made its way to right wing bloggers before her press conference.
Wisconsin Citizen Action has demanded that federal prosecutors step in, confiscate her computer and start an investigation. “In the current political climate in Wisconsin, only an investigation by a U.S. Attorney can be seen by all citizens of the state as independent and above politics,” said Robert Kraig.
The Kloppenburg campaign has demanded “a full explanation of how and why these 14,315 votes from an entire city were missed.” As part of the search for that explanation, the campaign plans to file open records requests for relevant documents.
Meanwhile, both Kloppenburg and Prosser have lawyered-up. Kloppenburg is being represented by Marc Elias, the attorney who handled Al Franken’s U.S. Senate recount fight in Minnesota. Prosser is being represented by Ben Ginsberg, who served as national counsel to former President George W. Bush’s campaigns in 2000 and 2004 and was central to the 2000 Florida recount.
Lessons from Bush v. Gore Florida Recount
The Florida 2000 recount is on the mind of many Wisconsin voters. The big lesson from the nightmarish “hanging-chads” recount “is that you need a total statewide recount. If you only recount select counties the perception is you are only selecting counties that favor you,” says Jay Heck, the head of Wisconsin Common Cause.
Heck issued a statement on Friday:
The incredible and almost unbelievable events of the last two days with regard to the reporting of votes in the City of Brookfield in Waukesha County in Tuesday’s election for the State Supreme Court warrant a full investigation by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Department of Justice and the District Attorney of Waukesha County. Furthermore, the Government Accountability should authorize and supervise a statewide recount of all ballots cast in Tuesday’s elections and such a recount should be funded by the State of Wisconsin.
Why so many parties? Because this is the same constellation of offices that investigated the 2002 caucus scandal, giving voters more confidence that the manner was being handled appropriately and in a bipartisan fashion.
If Wisconsin is not to irreparably harm its reputation as a functional and relatively noncorrupt state, many Cheeseheads believe that a statewide recount is a necessity.
By: Mary Bottari, Center for Media and Democracy, April 9, 2011
Matt Yglesias offered a helpful reminder this morning about leverage.
Details on the appropriations deal are still hard to come by, but you don’t need the details to know that substantial short-term cuts in domestic discretionary spending will hurt the poor while harming macroeconomic performance. The problem with not agreeing to the deal, of course, is that a government shutdown would also hurt the poor while harming macroeconomic performance.
If you genuinely don’t care about the interests of poor people and stand to benefit electorally from weak economic growth, this gives you a very strong hand to play as a hostage taker. And John Boehner is willing to play that hand.
Right. A hostage strategy works well when the hostage taker makes it clear that killing the hostage is a perfectly viable option.
In this case, President Obama knew he was facing an unpleasant choice: accept spending cuts, which would hurt working families and undermine the economy, or allow Republicans to shut down the government, which would hurt working families and undermine the economy. As much as I really don’t like the agreement reached last night, I’m not unsympathetic to the dilemma.
But it’s worth appreciating the dynamic itself. The moment it was clear that the White House and congressional Democrats were determined to avert a shutdown, and congressional Republicans saw a shutdown as a reasonable, if not attractive, option — one that their base would celebrate — the rules of the game were already written to guarantee a discouraging result.
By some measures, Dems entered the process with the better hand. Democrats not only had the White House and the Senate majority, but polls showed the American mainstream opposed to the GOP agenda. But they also made clear that they were ready to make concessions — because they were determined to save that hostage, and Republicans didn’t much care either way.
Or as Greg Sargent put it this morning, “Republicans knew full well that the White House wouldn’t allow a government shutdown, allowing them to continue to move the spending-cut goalposts in the knowledge that Dems would follow — again ensuring that the debate unfolded on the GOP’s turf.”
The variable here would, ideally, be electoral considerations — Republicans wouldn’t kill the hostage because they’d be afraid of a voter backlash, creating a built-in incentive for the GOP to act responsibly. In theory, this gives Dems at least some leverage, too — “If you shut down the government, we’ll blame you and you’ll lose in 2012.”
So why doesn’t that work more? Probably because Republicans know that news organizations feel obligated to blame “both sides” at all times for everything, enough so that the GOP is willing to take its chances. Besides, even if they are blame, GOP officials can count on the party, the Koch Brothers, and Karl Rove to run a bunch of attack ads that will help them stay in office in anyway.
There’s increasingly an understanding that the mixture of cuts and taxes in Paul Ryan’s budget aren’t quite fair, and the underlying assumptions it uses don’t quite work. But it’s left people hungry for a budget that does work, and annoyed that Democrats haven’t provided one. “If Democrats don’t like his budget ideas, they should propose their own,” writes Fareed Zakaria. “The Democrats and Obama now have to offer a response,” warned Andrew Sullivan. “As of this evening, the Democratic policy plan consists of yelling ‘You suck!’” complained Megan McArdle.
I’ve made similar comments. And I think those comments are mostly right. Democrats need to step up on taxes, on defense and non-defense discretionary, on Social Security, and on energy. But there’s one huge, glaring exception: controlling health-care costs. There, the reality is that Democrats have a plan and Ryan doesn’t. But the perception, at this point, is just the opposite.
At the heart of Ryan’s budget are policies tying the federal government’s contribution to Medicare and Medicaid to the rate of inflation — which is far, far slower than costs in the health-care sector typically grow. He achieves those caps through cost shifting. For Medicaid, the states have to figure out how to save the money, and for Medicare, seniors will now be purchasing their own insurance plans and, in their new role as consumers, have to figure out how to save the money. It won’t work, and because it won’t work, Ryan’s savings will not materialize.
Even Ryan’s fans agree you can’t hold health-care costs down to inflation. But even if you grant that Ryan’s target is too low, his vision for reforming Medicare would like miss a more reasonabke target, too. Consider the program Ryan names as a model. He said his budget converts Medicare into “the same kind of health-care program that members of Congress enjoy.” The system he’s referring to is the Federal Employee’s Health Benefits Program, and cost growth there has not only massively outpaced inflation in recent years, but actually outpaced Medicare, too. Ryan’s numbers are so fantastic that Alice Rivlin, who originally had her name on this proposal, now opposes it.
Democrats don’t just have a proposal that offers a more plausible vision of cost control than Ryan does. They have an honest-to-goodness law. The Affordable Care Act sets more achievable targets, and offers a host of more plausible ways to reach them, than anything in Ryan’s budget. “If this is a competition betweenRyan and the Affordable Care Act on realistic approaches to curbing the growth of spending,” says Robert Reischauer, who ran the Congressional Budget Office from 1989 to 1995 and now directs the Urban Institute, “the Affordable Care Act gets five points and Ryan gets zero.”
The Affordable Care Act holds Medicare’s cost growth to GDP plus one percentage point, which makes a lot more sense. It’s the target Ryan’s Medicare plan originally used, back when it was called Ryan-Rivlin. But the target is not really the important part. The important part is how you achieve the target. And the Affordable Care Act actually includes reforms and new processes for future reforms that would help Medicare — and the rest of the medical system — get to where the costs can be saved, rather than just shifted.
The Affordable Care Act’s central hope is that Medicare can lead the health-care system to pay for value, cut down on overtreatment, and cut out treatments that simply don’t work. The law develops Accountable Care Organizations, in which Medicare pays one provider to coordinate all of your care successfully, rather than paying many doctors and providers to add to your care no matter the cost or outcome, as is the current practice. It also begins experimenting with bundled payments, in which Medicare pays one lump-sum for all care related to the successful treatment of a condition rather than paying for every piece of care separately. To help these reforms succeed, and to help all doctors make more cost-effective treatment decisions, the law accelerates research on which drugs and treatments are most effective, and creates and funds the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to disseminate the data.
If those initiatives work, they head over to the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which can implement cost-controlling reforms across Medicare without congressional approval — an effort to make continuous reform the default for Medicare, even if Congress is gridlocked or focused on other matters. And if they don’t work, then it’s up to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, a funded body that will be continually testing payment and practice reforms, to keep searching and experimenting, and when it hits on successful ideas, handing them to the IPAB to implement throughout the system.
The law also goes after bad and wasted care: It cuts payments to hospitals with high rates of re-admission, as that tends to signal care isn’t being delivered well, or isn’t being follow up on effectively. It cuts payments to hospitals for care related to infections caught in the hospitals. It develops new plans to help Medicare base its purchasing decisions on value, and new programs to help Medicaid move patients with chronic illnesses into systems that rely on the sort of maintenance-based care that’s been shown to successfully lower costs and improve outcomes.
I could go on, but instead, I’ll just link to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s excellent primer (pdf) on everything the law does. The bottom line is this: The Affordable Care Act is actually doing the hard work of reforming the health-care system that’s needed to make cost control possible. Ryan’s budget just makes seniors pay more for their Medicare and choose their own plans — worthy ideas, you can argue, but ideas that have been tried many times before, and that have never cut costs in the way Ryan’s budget suggests they will.
That’s why, when the Congressional Budget Office looked at Ryan’s plan, they said it would make Medicare more expensive for seniors, not less. The reason the deficit goes down is because seniors are paying 70 percent of the cost of their insurance out-of-pocket rather than 30 percent. But that’s not sustainable: We’ve just taken the government’s medical-costs problem and pushed it onto families.
No one who knows health-care policy will tell you that the Affordable Care Act does everything we need to do in exactly the way we need it done. That’s why Resichauer gave it a five, not a 10. But it does a lot of what we need to do and it sets up systems to help us continue doing what’s needed in the future.
Ryan’s proposal, by contrast, does almost none of what we need to do. It appeals to people who have an ideological take on health-care reform and believe we can make Medicare cheaper by handing it over to private insurers and telling seniors to act like consumers. It’s a plan that suggests health-care costs are about insurance, as opposed to about health care. There’s precious little evidence of that, and when added to the fact that Ryan’s targets are so low that even his allies can’t defend them, the reality is that his savings are largely an illusion.
The Affordable Care Act has taken a lot of hits. It’s not popular, and though very few of the political actors confidently attacking or advocating it can explain the many things it’s doing to try and control costs, people have very strong opinions on whether it will succeed at controlling costs. But the irony of everyone demanding Democrats come up with a vision for addressing the drivers of our deficit in the years to come is that, on the central driver of costs and the central element of Ryan’s budget, Democrats actually have something better than a vision. They have a law, and for all its flaws, their law actually makes some sense. Republicans don’t have a law, and their vision, at this point, doesn’t make any sense at all.
By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, April 8, 2011
On March 23, 2011 a group called Revere America issued a dire-sounding PRNewswire press release titled, “Americans Fear Loss of Freedom on Anniversary of Health Care Reform Law.” It warned that “a majority” of Americans view health care reform as “a threat to their freedom” and cited a poll by Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies to prove it. The release came well after Revere America had spent $2.5 million on attack ads in the 2010 mid-term elections to defeat Democratic candidates in two states — New York and New Hampshire — who had voted in favor of health care reform. Just prior to the mid-term elections, in the autumn of 2010, Revere America ran a a slew of false and misleading attack ads against the health care reform bill that erroneously called health reform “government-run healthcare” (a Republican and insurance industry buzz-phrase). The ads said that the new law will result in higher costs and longer waits in doctors’ offices. In another false claim aimed at inducing fear, the ads told viewers that “your right to keep your own doctor may be taken away.”
But who, or what, is Revere America? And how did it pull together enough money in less than a year to run a multi-million-dollar attack ad campaign, engage an expensive, professional polling firm and pump their message out on PRNewswire?
“Revere America”: Another Veil for a Wealthy Family
Revere America (RA) is a Delaware-based advocacy organization that sprang up in April, 2010. Like so many similar groups springing up after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, RA is set up in a way that allows it to accept corporate donations, and that keeps it from having to reveal its funders. RA’s titular head at the time of its startup was former New York Governor George Pataki. The group pushes to repeal health reform, also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which Pataki described a “horrific” and “costly bungle.” Donations to RA are not tax deductible, which would seem to make donating huge sums of money to the group less attractive to large numbers of people if it was a real grassroots group made up of ordinary people.
The Collier’s Hamilton Yacht ClubBut it turns out that Revere America is not made up of ordinary people, and its primary funder isn’t all that concerned about money. According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and other sources, Revere America’s primary funder is Parker J. Collier of Naples, Florida, the wife of Miles Collier, a wealthy Florida land baron and real estate developer. Ms. Collier has given half a million dollars to the Republican Party of Florida, $60,800 to the Republican National Committee, and gave an overall total of $1,239,014 to Republican interests — and that was just in 2009-2010.
The Collier money flowing towards Republicans and Revere America is old family money. Parker’s husband, Miles Collier, is the grandson of Barron Collier, who bought over a million acres in south Florida in the early 1900s, and after whom Collier County, Florida is named. Through their company, Collier Enterprises, the Colliers develop tony yacht, golf and members-only country clubs in southwest Florida, where the rich play, dine and sail. In recent years, Collier Enterprises has even been developing entire towns in Florida.
Influencing Elections Throughout the U.S.
The Collier’s private, members-only golf clubFor the Colliers, though, it apparently isn’t enough to have all the amenities of uber-wealth. Through Revere America, the family’s apparent political front group, the Colliers have also been using their money to influence elections throughout the rest of the country. They have financially supported far-right Republican candidates not only in New York and New Hampshire, but in many other states, including Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota), Senator Scott Brown (R-Massachusetts), and Republican Sue Lowden in her failed primary bid to gain the Senate nomination in Nevada, to name just a few. The list of Republican candidates RA funded and Democrats they worked to defeat in the 2010 election cycle numbers over 100, with some elections meriting six figure donations — amounts that far exceed what individuals can legally donate to influence an election.
The professional Republican pollster doing work for RA, Bill McInturff, conducted the message and advertisement testing for the infamous “Harry and Louise” television commercials that helped defeat the Clinton-era health care reform effort. Some of McInturf’s other clients include insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans (the health insurance industry’s lobbying group) and drug maker Pfizer — all of which have a stake in undermining health care reform.
Pataki resigned as RA’s chairman in February, 2011, citing a Florida judge’s ruling the same month that the new health reform law’s federal mandate to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional. Pataki cited this ruling, and the House of Representatives’ symbolic vote to repeal health reform, as creating a good time for him to step down, and as proof that RA had been “successfully launched.” RA’s spokesperson and president is now Florida attorney Marianne R.P. Zuk, who is listed in Florida incorporation records as an officer or director for several Collier-owned companies.
Revere America is a “grassroots group” for the uber-wealthy Collier family in the same way that Americans for Prosperity is a “grassroots” group for the uber-wealthy Koch brothers. Such groups are conduits through which the super-rich are increasingly exerting powerful influence over elections nationwide. RA is yet another group that demonstrates the growing trend in which the wealthiest Americans — in the forms of both human beings and corporations — use their money to create fake “grassroots” front groups to hide behind and influence elections across the U.S.
Be on the look out for many more such groups to crop up in the future as the richest one or two percent of U.S. citizens come under increasing pressure to pay their fair share of taxes, and as we move closer to the 2012 elections.
By: Anne Landman, Center for Media and Democracy, April 8, 2011