They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

PBS should have disclosed that a "conservative commentator" on a political talk show was a senior appointee in the Bush administration, according to three prominent media ethics experts.

Gary Hill, chair of the ethics committee for the Society of Professional Journalists, said that if the facts of the situation are as we've reported them, then "disclosure would have been the proper course." Hill is also director of investigations for KSTP-TV in Minnesota, an ABC affiliate.

Karen Czarnecki, the woman at the center of the controversy, has been a senior appointee at the Labor Department since 2001. She has repeatedly appeared on the PBS show "To the Contrary" as a "conservative commentator." Her federal appointment has never been mentioned on the show -- even when she was discussing labor issues, including Bush administration policy.

Czarnecki's appointed post at Labor "was an important credential that should have been shared with the viewers. . . especially in light of the fact that the discussion sometimes covered labor issues," Hill told me.

PBS and the show's host have defended their practice of using Czarnecki without disclosing her day job. According to show host Bonnie Erbe, the administration required that Czarnecki's position not be disclosed as a condition of her appearing on the show.

"There's no grey area in terms of disclosure," said Jane Kirtley, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at Univ. of Minnesota. "There's nothing wrong with having someone who's working for the government on as a commentator," she said. "You just have to disclose that."

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Federal prosecutors working the Jack Abramoff case are continuing to piece together their case against Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH).

Neil Volz, Ney's former chief of staff who went to work for Abramoff, pled guilty in June for conspiring to bribe Ney, among other charges, and agreed to tell prosecutors everything he knew. A meeting to set his sentencing date had been scheduled for August 10th -- last week.

But prosecutors and Volz's lawyers have agreed to defer the meeting, so Volz can keep talking. As they wrote in a joint motion, "Mr. Volz has been cooperating with government agents and prosecutors. The government anticipates that Mr. Volz’s cooperation will continue for the foreseeable future."

The judge agreed to postpone the status conference to November 2nd. In the meantime, Volz will be working with prosecutors to help them build their case against Ney and possibly other lawmakers.

Texas Republicans are scrambling to choose their party's "official" write-in candidate to oppose Democrat Nick Lampson's congressional run. Because Tom DeLay withdrew late from the race for Texas' 22nd district seat, Republicans are barred from officially nominating a candidate and placing his or her name on the ballot.

At least three GOPers have thrown their hats in the ring, and the local Republican leadership is scheduled to meet Thursday to make the call. One, perceived frontrunner David Wallace -- also mayor of DeLay's (former?) hometown of Sugar Land -- says he's running no matter what party says.

Last week, Wallace's spokesman called the Republicans' powwow a "non-binding mock election." Harsh, no? But since then he's juiced up his rhetoric even further. Here's Wallace in today's New York Times:

[Wallace] disparaged the meeting, saying “that may have worked in Moscow,” and vowed to keep running even if it meant two Republican write-in candidates.


Although Wallace has raised the most money and claims the support of many local big-wigs, there is apparently some resistance to Wallace's push in the party. For one, the Texas Republican Chairwoman is "no friend of his campaign," he told the Times.

At least two other Republicans have expressed interest in running for the seat. One of them is Dr. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a dermatologist and Houston City Council member. She told me that unlike Wallace, she'd bow out if local Republicans tapped another candidate.

Forget "Macaca"; What Does "Xybernaut" Mean? (Hint: Trouble) Before his first Senate term began in 2000, George "Let's Welcome Macaca" Allen (R-VA) sat on the board of a curious high-tech startup called Xybernaut. While Allen was on Capitol Hill, the company imploded -- audits revealed the books were a mess, and the company was in the hole for many millions of dollars. Probes and/or suits have been launched by the SEC, the IRS, and Justice Department prosecutors; investors are suing. Its key execs, backers, even its financial underwriter have come under scrutiny, mostly for hijinks (including nonpayment of taxes) they committed while Allen was supposed to have been overseeing the operation -- and while his law firm billed over $300,000 in work for the company. (American Prospect)

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Every year, lawmakers secretly jam thousands of provisions into appropriations bills to spend billions of taxpayer dollars without any oversight.

Now, the Washington, D.C.-based Sunlight Foundation has joined groups from across the political spectrum (Citizens Against Government Waste, Porkbusters.com, Human Events Online, Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation, and the Examiner Newspapers) to work with the public to achieve an unprecedented feat: learning the sponsor of each and every earmark in a fat appropriations bill.

The bill, currently pending before Congress, contains over 1,800 earmarks, amounting to $503 million. Their site has a handy map to show where all the money will go.

A member of Congress is responsible for each and every one of them. So they're asking readers to call up their reps and get an answer.

Check it out. And lend a hand.

Update: This post has been updated with some corrections.

So it continues.

As part of their ongoing challenge of the signatures gathered for Green Senate candidate Carl Romanelli, the Pennsylvania Democrats are analyzing them for fraud. And William J. Ries, a forensic document examiner working for them, has found that a petition signed by John Michael Glick, a Santorum staffer (of duck costume fame), has four "questionable" signatures.

The signatures belong to family members of another fellow staffer, Julianne George, Santorum’s Deputy Director of Coalitions. You can see a side by side comparison of the signatures here.

“The writing expert’s findings raise serious questions, not only about the illegal financing of the petition drive paid for by Santorum backers but how he authorizes the use of campaign staff for apparent fraud," Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman T.J. Rooney said.

Democrats say that more than 69,000 of the approximately 100,000 signatures gathered by Santorum staffers and JSM, Inc., a private company hired by the Greens with Republican money, are fraudulent.

Vice President Dick Cheney has hired a lawyer to defend him against the Valerie Plame/Joseph Wilson civil suit, court documents reveal.

The lawyer, Emmet T. Flood of Williams & Connolly, certainly has White House experience: he was a member of former president Bill Clinton's impeachment defense team. Despite that, he appears to be a reliable Republican: a check of campaign donor records shows he has given solely to GOP candidates.

Cheney is being sued for unspecified damages by former CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, for revealing her identity and profession.

Outed CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, have swapped lawyers in their suit against three Bush administration officials. The non-profit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, headed by former Justice Department prosecutor Melanie Sloan, is now representing the couple, according to a news release from the group.

Plame and Wilson are suing White House adviser Karl Rove, vice president Dick Cheney and former Cheney chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby for unspecified damages for revealing Plame's identity.

Yesterday afternoon I spoke with Bonnie Erbe, whose political discussion show has featured a senior Bush-appointed official without identifying her job for the administration.

Erbe said she sees nothing wrong with the arrangement, even when the official -- Karen Czarnecki, a top aide to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao -- discussed policies and issues on which she worked.

"She's appearing independently and her opinions haven't changed at all," Erbe told me. "She's always been a pretty conservative commentator. That's why we used her, we want all views expressed."

The reason the show has not disclosed Czarnecki's day job, Erbe said, was because the government asked her not to. "Those are the terms on which she could continue to appear," the host said, explaining that Czarnecki had appeared on her show for several years before she took the government position. "The only terms on which we could keep her was to not identify her as a Bush person."

It looks like the Republicans' gambit to get a Green candidate on the ballot in Pennsylvania is succeeding, by pulling votes from the Democratic candidate -- though not enough (yet) to throw the race to the GOP.

According to a new Quinnipiac University poll, with the Green, Democrat Bob Casey leads Rick Santorum 45 percent to 39 percent; Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli picks up 5 percent. In a two-way race, Casey leads 47 percent to 40 percent.

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