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Julian Hattem   |   November 30, 2009    1:40 PM ET

Members of Congress are fighting the holiday blues with a vengeance, at least judging from the flamboyant fundraising events scheduled for this week.

Jammin' with John On Tuesday, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) is scheduled to be the beneficiary of a fundraiser hosted by Del Bryant, the President and CEO of music licensing corporation BMI, at the New York Friars Club. According to an invitation received by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, cost of attendance is a campaign contribution ranging from $500 to $2,000. Guests will be treated to a performance by jazz bassist Ron Carter. Conyers, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has accepted over $66,000 from the music, television, and movie industries for his current reelection campaign -- more than all but a dozen other members of the House and Senate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Tequila! Later Tuesday evening, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) is scheduled to have a tequila tasting fundraiser, where donors will be charged up to $5,000 to have a shot with the congressman. The event is hosted by a lobbyist representing a number of biotechnology firms, among others who might be attracted to Rep. Ryan, who serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services; Energy and Water Development; and the Legislative Branch. Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.) is scheduled to attend as a "Special Guest."

Bring your mom! New York congressman Mike McMahon (D) is scheduled to have a fundraiser Tuesday at a performance of Jersey Boys in downtown Washington. A pair of tickets will cost up to $1,500, but donors also get to party with the cast of the show afterward. McMahon might miss Obama's speech on the war in Afghanistan, which is scheduled to begin half an hour before the show starts. As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, though, he is scheduled to discuss the U.S. military strategy there the next day. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) is scheduled to attend as a "Special Guest."

Happy Birthday! On Thursday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is planning to host a fundraiser in honor of his 68th birthday. The party will be hosted in a credit industry-owned townhouse on Capitol Hill, and cost of attendance ranges from $250 to $500.

Arthur Delaney   |   November 30, 2009   11:13 AM ET

There's no recession special on the menu at D.C.'s hottest power lunch spots. At a time of double-digit unemployment, when one in eight Americans is on food stamps, the bistros and steakhouses that serve the Capitol crowd seem to to be doing fine -- with no reduction in business and no fewer fawning media profiles.

In September, the Washington Post offered a peek at the rich and famous powerbrokers who dine at Ristorante Tosca. On Monday, CNN visited the Palm, the Capital Grille, the Monocle, and Charlie Palmer Steak, where the executive chef boasts that every member of the House and Senate has dined at some point.

"You're going to be seen, you're going to see who else is there, and to sort of hobnob and be part of the club," said Washingtonian editor-at-large Garrett Graff. "The private rooms, the private dining is an important thing if you're holding a fundraiser or you're trying to bring together a group to try to have a private conversation."

But is it really elevated hobnobbing that brings the big spenders to these restaurants? Or is that they are the favored places for moneyed interests to quietly exchange favors among themselves and our elected representatives?

At least in part, it's the cold-hearted and nonstop quest for cash. The nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation obtains invitations to fundraisers happening at places like Charlie Palmer and the Monocle almost every single day -- and Sunlight doubts that the invites it receives constitute the majority of fundraisers happening at any given time.

Here's a sampler of upcoming fundraisers: On Tuesday, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is having lunch at Bistro Bis. On Thursday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) will have breakfast at the Monocle and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) will dine at Charlie Palmer Steak. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) will be at Capital Grille for a "financial services dinner" later this month.

Lawmakers need so much money to fund winning campaigns that more than 40 such events can take place on a single day, regardless of whether the event interferes with a hearing. The venues are already expensive, but the price of admission for a fundraiser is typically a campaign contribution ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. That's one powerful lunch!

What happens if you show up at Bistro Bis and tell the host you're there to see the senator? The host looks at a schedule and asks, "Which one?"

Tips? Email arthur@huffingtonpost.com.

Obama Pushes Lobbyists Off Federal Advisory Boards

Nico Pitney   |   November 27, 2009    9:26 AM ET

In a little-noticed blog post published on the White House website in September, President Obama's special counsel for ethics and government reform Norm Eisen announced that the administration no longer wanted federally-registered lobbyists appointed to agency advisory boards and commissions.

These appointees to boards and commissions, which are made by agencies and not the President, advise the federal government on a variety of policy areas. Keeping these advisory boards free of individuals who currently are registered federal lobbyists represents a dramatic change in the way business is done in Washington.


As has been reported, the President has made a commitment to close the revolving door that has in the past allowed lobbyists and others to move to and from full-time federal government service. In furtherance of this commitment, the President issued Executive Order 13490, which bars anyone appointed by the President who has been a federally-registered lobbyist within the past two years from working on particular matters or in the specific areas in which they lobbied or from serving in agencies they had lobbied. The aspiration we are announcing today builds on this commitment. While the letter of the President's Executive Order on Ethics does not apply to federally-registered lobbyists appointed by agency or department heads, the spirit does and we have conveyed that to the agencies who are responsible for these appointments.

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that the move "may turn out to be the most far-reaching lobbying rule change so far from President Obama," resulting in "hundreds, if not thousands, of lobbyists" being ejected from federal advisory panels.

Not surprisingly, lobby groups, corporations, and other K Street influencers are up in arms.

The reaction from the lobbying community has been swift and overwhelmingly negative. Some of the loudest criticism has come from the Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITACs), a collection of more than a dozen panels that provide policy advice and technical assistance to the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade Representative. The ITACs, whose roughly 400 members include at least 130 lobbyists, officials say, have taken the lead in attacking the White House policy as misguided and harmful to U.S. business interests; a letter to Obama from committee chairs last month included executives from Boeing, IBM, Harley-Davidson and International Paper.


"This action will severely undermine the utility of the advisory committee process," the letter read. ". . . The characteristics that make many Advisors valuable to the Administration [are] the same characteristics that are being used to artificially disqualify them from participation in the Committee system."

Read the full Washington Post story here. You can read Norm Eisen's full letter responding to lobbyists' critiques of the decision here.

How Tom Daschle Lobbies In Secret: Influence Laundering

Arthur Delaney   |   November 25, 2009    7:20 AM ET

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle will soon move from one big lobbying firm to another even bigger lobbying firm. It's a career boost for a first-rate K Street powerbroker -- just don't call him a lobbyist.

Lobbyists, after all, are required to register with Congress and file quarterly reports disclosing their actions on behalf of clients. The South Dakota Democrat, like a growing number of people in his line of work, has made sure he doesn't have to do that.

"I've not made a call nor made a visit since I left the Senate on behalf of a client. And I don't have any expectation that I'll do that in the future," Daschle told the New York Times recently.

By claiming that he never picks up the phone on his clients' behalf, Daschle is not legally obliged to declare himself a lobbyist, even if all his work for those clients falls under the general definition of "lobbying activity." That means he can keep his clients' identities and how much they pay him entirely secret.

At the Huffington Post, we've coined a new phrase for this tactic: influence laundering.

In December, Daschle starts his new job as a "senior policy advisor" at DLA Piper, a massive law and lobbying firm that represents a range of corporate and foreign government clients. He has said he plans to focus less on health care, his main issue since losing his 2004 re-election bid, and more on international issues.

Even if Daschle refrains from directly contacting former colleagues on his clients' behalf, however, that doesn't mean DLA's lobbying clients won't receive the full benefit of his contacts and expertise, and that those assets can't be used to influence legislation.

For instance: clients of Alston & Bird, the firm Daschle joined in 2005, said this summer that Daschle sometimes advised them "indirectly" through the firm's registered lobbyists. So whatever news Daschle picked up on his many visits to the Hill or to the White House he could pass on to a client by telling one of his colleagues at Alston.

And one might well say Daschle indirectly lobbied his former colleagues when he promoted home health care during a panel on Capitol Hill in July. The National Association for Home Care and Hospice, an Alston client since 2003, has paid the firm $230,000 so far this year.

"We can provide low-cost good quality access in part through home healthcare. Home health is by far the most effective way to start producing wellness promotion and primary care," Daschle said during a roundtable discussion hosted by the American Association for Homecare, for which he earned a speaking fee. The association was an Alston client that paid the firm $280,000 from 2004 to 2006, according to disclosure forms filed with Congress.

A spokesman from the American Association for Homecare told HuffPost that since it terminated its lobbying relationship with Alston, the group has had no relationship with the firm or with Daschle except for the July event.

The benefits of Daschle's association with the Alston probably spilled over into the lobbying arena. Alston's lobbying revenue, much of it from health-industry clients, nearly tripled the year Daschle joined the firm.

And behind closed doors, who knows what happens? The Government Accountability Office audited lobbying firms last year to check the accuracy of their disclosures. The GAO found that while most firms could back up income statements, only 35 percent could provide written documentation of who acted as a lobbyist for a particular client.

In August, Daschle faced a wave of criticism after Business Week detailed his work for UnitedHealth Group, one of the largest insurers in the country.

Reporters Chad Terhune and Keith Epstein wrote that Daschle "advised UnitedHealth in 2007 and 2008 and resumed that role this year. Daschle personally advocates a government-run competitor to private insurers. But he sells his expertise to UnitedHealth, which opposes any such public insurance plan. Among the services Daschle offers are tips on the personalities and policy proclivities of members of Congress he has known for decades."

Daschle told the magazine that the folks at UnitedHealth "just want a description of the lay of the land, an assessment of circumstances as they appear to be as health reform unfolds."

Congressional disclosure forms contain no information about Daschle's relationship with UnitedHealth. The company is not a lobbying client of Alston & Bird's.

Other former politicians have found their way to non-lobbyist gigs at DLA Piper, including senators like Mel Martinez and George Mitchell, who, like Daschle, is a former Senate majority leader. In January, the Obama administration appointed Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East.

At the beginning of the Obama presidency, Daschle, too, seemed destined to be the top health-reform adviser in the White House -- and secretary of Health and Human Service to boot. But his nomination crashed and burned when it came out that he hadn't paid more than $140,000 in taxes over three years on a luxury car and driver. But many observers were even more unsettled by how blatantly Daschle cashed in after leaving office, earning $5 million in just four years, much of it from the health industry.

Neverthless, Daschle remains one of Obama's mentors, visiting the White House 11 times in the first six months of this year, according to recently-released visitor logs.

Another unregistered lobbyist who spent a significant amount of time at the White House has been accused of breaking the rules. This month, conservative groups asked the Justice Department to investigate whether labor boss Andy Stern, who visited the White House 22 times and Tweeted about fundraising activities, was acting as a lobbyist. But a spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal that Stern spent less than 20 percent of his time contacting government officials -- below the legal threshold for whether a person must register.

Daschle's work fits squarely within the legal definition of "lobbying activity," which includes "preparation and planning activities, research and other background work that is intended, at the time it is performed, for use in contacts, and coordination with the lobbying activities of others."

But a person must register as a lobbyist only if he spends more than 20 percent of his time for a client on lobbying activity and makes more than one "lobbying contact" seeking to influence legislation, rulemaking, grant-awarding, or a nomination on behalf of the client.

Craig Holman, a lobbyist with Public Citizen, tells HuffPost that while Daschle may not be violating the letter of the law, he's certainly violating its spirit.

"He gets paid a fortune, he spends more than 20 percent of his time on lobbying activities and he's regularly meeting with covered government officials," Holman told the Huffington Post. "That guy is just flouting the law."

Julian Hattem contributed to this report.

Correction: This article originally reported that the American Association for Homecare remained an Alston & Bird client after the firm reported the relationship terminated in 2007. The group has not been an Alston client since then.

CREW Files FEC Complaint Over Landrieu's $25,300 'Donation' To The U.S. Treasury

Arthur Delaney   |   November 20, 2009   12:17 PM ET

The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has filed a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commision over a mysterious $25,300 "donation" to the U.S. Treasury by Senator Mary Landrieu's campaign committee. The Louisiana Democrat's campaign made no announcement when it donated the funds in August 2008.

"We all know politicians don't give up campaign contributions -- much less $25,000 -- without a very good reason," said CREW executive director Melanie Sloan in a statement. "It appears Sen. Landrieu's reason may have been to avoid a scandal or, even worse, a federal investigation into some of her contributions."

Marc Elias, a lawyer for Landrieu's campaign, wrote in an e-mail to the Huffington Post: "This is a silly complaint. Unfortunately FEC rules don't prevent frivolous complaints; nonetheless, it will ultimately be dismissed."

CREW first noticed the donation and wondered if it had something to do with an ongoing inquiry by the Senate Ethics Committee. The committee was investigating whether Landrieu violated Senate rules when she sought $2 million in earmarks for a company whose executives donated $30,000 to her campaign.

Elias emphatically told the Huffington Post last week that the donated funds had nothing to do with the investigation. But that was all he would say.

"When questioned about the expenditure by the press," the complaint says, "a lawyer for the campaign refused to explain why the campaign disgorged the funds to the Treasury, stating only the contributors 'are private citizens who in most instances may not have done anything wrong.'"

The complaint cites regulations that forbid campaigns from donating dirty money to the Treasury unless the contributor is under criminal investigation, indictment, or has been convicted. By not giving the $25,300 back to whoever contributed it, CREW says Landrieu's campaign broke the law.

Last week, almost two years after CREW filed its complaint over the $2 million earmark, the ethics committee cleared Landrieu of wrongdoing.

Landrieu's campaign will have 15 days to respond to the complaint after the FEC provides its formal notification.

Click here for a PDF of CREW's complaint.

HuffPost readers: Want to scan through Landrieu campaign's contributors and look for people who've been convicted or indicted? Click here for the FEC data. Send tips to arthur@huffingtonpost.com.

DNC Raises $11.5 Million In October, Outpacing RNC

Sam Stein   |   November 19, 2009    3:54 PM ET

The Democratic National Committee raised $11.5 million during the month of October, a party source tells the Huffington Post.

The haul, the source says, is a monthly record for a non-presidential election year since restrictions on campaign fundraising went into effect under the McCain-Feingold Act.

The DNC still finds itself $4.4 million in debt. But the committee is gaining ground on its Republican counterpart. The Republican National Committee reportedly took in $8.79 million in October (up from the $8.74 it raised in September.

As of now, the DNC has $12.3 million cash on hand to the RNC's $11.2 million. They have raised $66.3 million so far in 2009 to the RNC's $69.2 million.


Audit The Fed Effort Wins Support From An Unusual Coalition

Arthur Delaney   |   November 19, 2009    7:38 AM ET

An unusual coalition of progressive economists, labor leaders, and bloggers has decided to fight back against a congressional amendment that would allow the Federal Reserve to continue operating in secrecy.

In a Thursday letter to the House Financial Services Committee, economists like Dean Baker and Rob Johnson, author Naomi Klein, and such labor luminaries as the AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka and the SEIU's Andy Stern, urged committee members to shoot down an amendment by Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) that would essentially allow the Fed to keep the lights off while it throws money around.

Watt's amendment, which could see a House vote today, is a direct attack against a separate measure by Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Alan Grayson (D-Fla.). That measure, known as the "Audit the Fed" bill, has been gaining momentum in Congress for months.

"A vote for the Watt amendment is a vote for more secret bailouts," the letter says.

The letter notes that during the financial crisis of the past two years, the Fed's role has shifted from simply setting monetary policy via interest rates to rapidly acquiring "a wide variety of private assets and extend[ing] massive secret bailouts to major financial institutions."

Among those bailouts, critics argue, was the Fed's funneling of cash to AIG counterparties. Earlier this week, a government watchdog issued a blistering report that blamed the Federal Reserve for withholding details of its massive rescue of AIG last fall. In particular, the report blamed the Federal Reserve for paying for botching its private negotiations regarding the price AIG's rapidly souring derivatives investments, a secret move that cost taxpayers at least $13 billion.

Watt's office on Wednesday circulated a letter from what it called a "political cross section of prominent economists" who supported the amendment. All but one of those economists are currently or have previously been on the Fed payroll.

The committee will take up the Watt amendment on Thursday.

Here's the letter:

November 18, 2009

House Financial Services Committee
2129 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Frank, Ranking Member Bachus, and Members of the Committee,

During the past two years, the Federal Reserve dramatically changed its operating procedures. Instead of simply setting interest rates to influence macroeconomic conditions, it rapidly acquired a wide variety of private assets and extended massive secret bailouts to major financial institutions.

There are still many questions about the Fed's behavior in these new activities, including potential cronyism and favoritism in its distribution of many trillions of dollars. As the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Assets Relief Program recently wrote about their bailout of AIG, the Fed's "strategy to pursue concessions from counterparties offered little opportunity for success, even in light of the willingness of one counterparty to agree to concessions."

The Federal Reserve balance sheet expanded to more than $2 trillion, along with implied and explicit backstops to Wall Street firms that could cost even more. Who received the money? Against what collateral? On what terms and conditions? The only way to find out is through a complete audit of the Federal Reserve. That's why we support the Paul-Grayson amendment requiring a complete audit.

The Watt amendment does not repeal the existing provisions that prohibit a GAO audit of the Federal Reserve. In fact, it adds entirely new additional categories of restrictions. Instead of opening up the Fed's secretive activities to public inspection, the Watt amendment cloaks it in further secrecy.

A vote for the Watt amendment is a vote for more secret bailouts. We urge you to support Paul-Grayson instead.

Sincerely,

Dean Baker, Economist, Center for Economic Policy Research
William Black, Professor of Economics and Law
Tyler Durden, Blogger, Zero Hedge
Thomas Ferguson, Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts, Boston
James K. Galbraith, Economist, University of Texas
Leo Gerard, President, United Steelworkers Union
Jane Hamsher, Blogger, Firedoglake.com
Rob Johnson, Economist
Naomi Klein, Author, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine
Yves Smith, Blogger, Naked Capitalism
Andrew Stern, President, SEIU
Richard Trumka, President, AFL-CIO
L. Randall Wray, Professor of Economics, Center for Full Employment and Price Stability

How Retired Military Officers Make Bank As Pentagon 'Mentors'

Arthur Delaney   |   November 18, 2009   12:10 PM ET

The revolving door is spinning rapidly for retired admirals and generals, more than 125 of whom have been re-hired by the Pentagon to serve as "senior mentors" despite financial ties to companies seeking contracts from the Defense Department, according to an investigation by USA Today.

Participants in mentorship programs for various defense agencies are hired as independent contractors, thereby dodging ethics and disclosure requirements that apply to government employees:

Julian Hattem   |   November 16, 2009    1:00 PM ET

Tickets to this Sunday's grudge match between the NFL's Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys can be had on Craigslist for less than $200. But for $2,000, you can enjoy the game while whispering in the ear of Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex) in a Cowboy Stadium suite.

Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.) charged even more for sports-fan donors who joined him at yesterday's Redskins home game at Fed Ex Field. Admission to that fundraiser, which benefited the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' Political Action Committee, cost $2,500, according to the invitation obtained by the Sunlight Foundation. (Dan Snyder would be proud.)

There's no home team advantage at the townhouse owned by law and lobbying powerhouse firm Williams & Jensen: the Sunlight Foundation notices that this venue is hosting fundraisers for opposing candidates on consecutive days. GOP Senate hopeful Jane Norton is having lunch there on Monday; on Tuesday, her likely opponent, Sen. Michael Bennet (D), will be there for an evening reception.

Also this week: On Wednesday, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) has planned a lunch fundraiser at a Capitol Hill bistro, which might conflict with a 10 a.m. Armed Services Committee hearing on Defense Budget trends. Cost of attendance: up to $5,000. For the current election cycle, Sanchez has accepted $34,000 from defense electronics and aerospace corporations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

On Thursday, Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Penn.) has scheduled a lunch fundraiser with the National Automobile Dealers Association. Will Thompson also make it to part of the 11 a.m. hearing of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Rural Development, Biotechnology, Specialty Crops, and Foreign Agriculture, or the 10 a.m. Small Business Committee hearing on the oversight of the Small Business Administration?

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), ranking member of the same agriculture subcommittee, will be a "special guest" at Thompson's lunch.

Nicholas Graham   |   November 15, 2009    1:11 PM ET

The New York Times's Gretchen Morgenson points out that lobbyists have won another victory that will lead to billions in taxpayer dollars being handed over to firms that helped spur the economic crisis.

The Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009, which President Obama just signed into law, contains "a tax break that lets big companies offset losses incurred in 2008 and 2009 against profits booked as far back as 2004," Morgenson reports. (Read the full story here.)

The administration estimates that the tax breaks will be worth some $33 billion, and home builders -- who analysts say were key players in the financial crisis by building and financing too many homes -- stand to benefit enormously.

One of the more shocking elements of Morgenson's piece is just how large a rate of return these home builders got for the money they spent on lobbying for this tax break:

Securing this tax break was a top priority for home builders, lobbying records show. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that through Oct. 26 of this year, home builders paid $6 million to their lobbyists. Last year, the industry spent $8.2 million lobbying...


...Among individual companies, Lennar spent $240,000 lobbying while companies affiliated with Hovnanian Enterprises spent $222,000. Pulte Homes spent $210,000 this year.

That's some return on investment. After spending its $210,000, Pulte will receive $450 million in refunds. And Hovnanian, after spending its $222,000, will get as much as $275 million.

Even as unemployment continues to rise and the Obama administration's foreclosure plan appears to be failing, Congress and the White House are signing off on tax breaks that reward those who are partly responsible for our financial predicament.

To follow more lobbying shenanigans, check out HuffPost's LobbyBlog.

Why Did Sen. Landrieu's Campaign Donate $25,300 To The Government?

Arthur Delaney   |   November 13, 2009    6:15 PM ET

When a political campaign returns dirty donations, it usually releases a statement of some kind praising the integrity of the candidate. So why didn't the campaign of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) say anything when it donated $25,300 in campaign funds to the U.S. Treasury Department in August 2008?

Progressive watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington noticed the donation and wondered if it had something to do with an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee. In January 2008, CREW had asked the committee whether Landrieu violated Senate rules in 2001 by requesting a $2 million earmark for the Voyager Expanded Learning literacy program for D.C. public schools -- "a mere four days after receiving $30,000 in campaign contributions from company executives and their relatives."

The committee announced it had cleared Landrieu of wrongdoing on Thursday, two years after the complaint. To CREW, it seemed odd that $25,300 had been returned during the investigation.

Landrieu's campaign said CREW is barking up the wrong tree.

"It has absolutely nothing at all, whatsoever, in any way shape or form to do with the CREW ethics complaint, or Voyager, or anything like that," said Marc Elias, a lawyer for the campaign, in an interview with the Huffington Post.

So why did the campaign return that money? Elias wouldn't say.

CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said she believed Elias' statement that it had nothing to do with Voyager. But she has become even more curious about the donation.

"Now there's something else out there and we don't know what it is!" she told HuffPost. "It may not be Voyager, but I believe something bad happened, and I'd sure like to know what it is... Somehow the money is tainted in some way, and when a senator has a contribution that's tainted in some way the public has a right to know what happened."

Elias said the campaign was protecting the identities of its donors.

"The concern is that these are private citizens who in most instances may not have done anything wrong," he said. "So to throw them in an article that scratches an itch that CREW has isn't fair."

Sloan's response: "Too bad. Life isn't fair."

Incidentally, D.C. public school officials did not even want the literacy program. It didn't even rank among the top three when they searched for a new system-wide program in 2005, according to the December 2007 story by the Washington Post's James Grimaldi that prompted CREW's complaint.

Grimaldi described how Congress' predilection for meddling with D.C. public schools has hurt the system:

"The Voyager story...highlights the haphazard way that curricula end up in the District's classrooms," he wrote. "For many years, educators have said that the patchwork of instructional material is one reason the city's students hover near the bottom of rankings in national test scores."

'Spokesjerk' Revolution Fails To Materialize: FreeCreditReport.com Front Man Sticks To His Guns

Arthur Delaney   |   November 13, 2009    4:18 PM ET

Andy Cobb starred in TV commercials pitching health insurance for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida -- until he had a crisis of conscience.

"In some gigs, in rare cases, you're forced to come to terms with the moral content of your commercial," he told the Huffington Post. To disassociate himself from what he now calls "the worst product in American history," Cobb wrote and starred in a short video renouncing his former employer (see below).

He also asked other pitchmen to do the same.

"It's time for change," says Cobb in the video. "That's why I'm calling on leaders of the spokesjerk industry: the FreeCreditReport.com guy, the ShamWow dude, and Senator [Ben] Nelson, recipient of big money from insurance companies, to lead us, to walk away from their cash cows and tell the American people the truth."

The Huffington Post reached out to credit-report peddler Eric Violette, star of the famous commercials airing non-stop on cable television. Violette refused to comment on Cobb's call for a spokesjerk revolution. But in an email, he had this to say:

"Does this guy really equate health insurance with cleaning cloths and credit ratings? When making the decision about health care in the US, I hope the public will see that having access to health care is much more important than cloths and credit scores."

Yes, but what about the epic dishonesty of Violette's vids, whose makers have been repeatedly sanctioned by the government for false advertising? The free credit report offered simply isn't free -- you get the report after signing up for a $14.95 monthly service. Experian, the credit bureau that owns freecreditreport.com, profits in hard times from people worried about identity theft and their credit score.

The New York Times reported last week that 9 million people are spending a total of $650 million to $700 million a year for credit reporting services, with Experian making more than twice its three biggest competitors combined.

The Federal Trade Commission, whose more than $1 million in sanctions have utterly failed to stop the ads, has been so exasperated that it even made its own parody video.

The credit card reform bill signed into law by the president will curb the ads by requiring them to include the following statement: "This is not the free credit report provided for by Federal law."

The truly free credit report is available at www.annualcreditreport.com.

ShamWow huckster Vince Shlomi could not be reached. Didn't seem to be much point in calling Sen. Ben Nelson's office. The Nebraska Democrat made the list because Cobb sees him obstructing health reform.

Cobb said he had his change of heart this year after participating in fundraisers for friends who went bankrupt and broke because they got sick -- even though they had insurance from Blue Cross.

Violette, for his part, is from Canada, where health insurance and credit reports are less of a problem.

Check out Cobb's video, which was produced by Robert Greenwald's BraveNewFilms as part of its Sick for Profit series:


Here are some of those catchy credit spots -- you've got to give Violette credit for being an appealing pitchman:


Here's the FTC's parody:

Jenna Staul   |   November 13, 2009   11:06 AM ET

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Jenna Staul   |   November 12, 2009    5:06 PM ET

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