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A great catch on Stanford by Lindsay Renick Mayer of the Center for Responsive Politics.

To summarize: The cycle during which the Stanford Financial Group gave the most in political contributions was 2001-2002. That may have been because, at that time, Congress was debating the Financial Services Antifraud Network Act, which, according to CRP, would have "created a computer network linking the databases of state and federal banking, securities and insurance regulators to curb financial fraud."

That bill ended up passing the House, but not the Senate. And according to lobbying reports, says Renick Mayer, Stanford Financial Group lobbied on the bill. (It's not hard to guess their position.)

During that same cycle, Renick Mayer continues, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee took in more than $800,000 from the firm. At the time, the DSCC was chaired by Florida Democratic senator Bill Nelson. And Nelson is the current member of Congress who has received more campaign cash from Stanford and its employees than any other, raking in $45,900.

Leaving Nelson aside, could that 2002 bill to combat financial fraud, which died in the Senate after lobbying from Stanford, have helped authorities uncover the firm's alleged fraud much sooner? Seems worth asking...

As the Los Angeles Times' report yesterday observing liberals' frustration with President Obama echoes elsewhere in the mainstream media, it's worth noting that some groups on the left are maintaining a healthy independence from the administration.

One good example: Obama announced today that he will send upwards of 10,000 troops to Afghanistan before the conclusion of his internal strategy review on the state of the so-called "forgotten war" in South Asia.

Former Maine Democratic congressman Tom Andrews, now the chair of the Win Without War coalition, thoughtfully asked Obama today to consider whether adding more troops amounts to "digging an even bigger hole" in Afghanistan despite diplomatic urging to reconsider a military escalation. Here's Andrews' statement in full (followed by Obama's statement on the troop increase):

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The much-touted website,, is up and running. I got some (somewhat deserved) grief for dissing the site, designed to track stimulus spending, when President Obama first mentioned it. The site was blank, reflecting the fact that the stimulus bill had yet to pass. My point, which I didn't articulate very well, is why waste the valuable, president-touted real estate with a blank page when you could use it to promote the bill before it becomes a lens into how the money is spent after the bill becomes law. That said, it's up and running now and meeting mixed reviews. Nancy Scola at techPresident has a take on what's working and what's not on the site.

The larger question of transparency in government and whether technology can bring a real change is being pursued by a lot of smart people including Ellen Miller at the Sunlight Foundation, Micah Sifry at techPresident, and Craig Newmark of Craigslist fame. Will be following all of this in the coming weeks because it's so essential to Obama's promises of changing Washington.

The number of lawmakers who may have taken trips to Antigua and Barbuda backed by alleged billion-dollar fraudster Allen Stanford just keeps getting bigger.

According to congressional travel disclosure reports posted on the Legistorm website, between 2003 and 2005 several members of Congress or their aides took trips to the island nation that were financed by the Inter-American Economic Council.

Among the lawmakers current or former: Bob Ney (R-OH), Pete Sessions (R-TX), Max Sandlin (D-TX), Donald Payne (D-NJ), John Sweeney (R-NY), Phil Crane (R-IL), and Gregory Meeks (D-NY).

Aides to Ney, Sessions, Sandlin, and Tom DeLay (R-TX) also soaked up the Antiguan sun.

Stanford is closely tied to the IAEC. In 2006, he received the organization's "Excellence in Leadership" Award. A press release put out by the group declared that Stanford "has strongly supported the work that the IAEC is doing in Latin America and the Caribbean."

There's no firm evidence that Stanford paid for all these lawmakers' trips. But he certainly seems to have been a major financial backer and ally of the outfit that did.

We've called the IAEC to ask about its ties to Stanford and will let you know what we find out.

If you read the major news media's reporting this week on the executive compensation limits that were included in today's newly-signed stimulus law, you'd think the pay caps were one of those sneaky, dark-of-night maneuvers on the part of Senate Democrats.

The Chicago Tribune says the compensation rules were "inserted at the last minute" into the stimulus. USA Today goes with "thrown in at the last minute," while CBS News makes the dramatic claim that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) "slipped in [the] little-noticed provision."

Incredible! If only it were true. Dodd's CEO pay limits were added to the Senate's stimulus plan by voice vote, with no objection from either party, more than 10 days ago.

It was only the fact that the pay caps survived an attempt to slice them from the bill that was at all unexpected. Two other strong proposals to limit compensation at bailed-out banks were yanked from the stimulus at the last minute -- not added.

In fact, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), the House Financial Services Committee member who first blew the whistle on the attempts to scrap the pay caps, reminded Fox Business Channel of the truth during a weekend interview. We've got the video for you after the jump.

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Last May, buried in a long Bloomberg report about Stanford's tussles with Stanford University over his claim to be descended from the school's founder, was this nugget:

Members of the House Caribbean Caucus take annual trips to the region on Stanford's jets. Lawmakers are required to reimburse companies at a first-class commercial rate, which is often a fraction of the actual cost.

The House Caribbean Caucus? We don't mind telling you, we weren't even aware of its existence.

But according to this announcement from the Inter-American Economic Council, which appears to be from circa 2005, it has some pretty interesting co-chairs:

Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caribbean Caucus Congressman Donald Payne (D-NJ), Congressman Robert Ney (R-OH), Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX), Congressman Tom Feeney (R-FL), Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY), Congressman John Sweeney (R-NY), Congressman Mel Watt (D-NC), Congressman Phil English (R-PA), Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH) Congresswomen Donna Christensen (D-VI), and Congresswoman Diane Watson (D-CA).

That's something of a rogue's gallery...

Ney, of course, did jail time after pleading guilty to lying about his involvement in the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Feeney also was implicated in the Abramoff scandal, and was named one of the "20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress" in a report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Sweeney also made CREW's list, and went on an Abramoff-funded junket to the Northern Mariana islands with Tony Rudy.

Rangel is currently being investigated by the House ethics committee in connection with, among other issues, unpaid taxes on income from a Caribbean vacation home.

This story just gets more and more interesting...

Some new figures out on the surge in the number of Americans losing health insurance: 14,000 a day, according to new post at The Wonk Room . On one hand this is not surprising because the number moves up pretty much in tandem with the unemployment rate but it is surprising in another sense because COBRA law which provides for health insurance for up to 18 months after being laid off should have kept the uninsured from surging. COBRA, though, is impossibly expensive. You have to pick up your health insurance cost and what your employer was providing and this is clearly too much for most of the newly unemployed. Some good news: The stimulus package being signed today includes $87 billion in health care related spending and a big COBRA subsidy, at least for now.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) -- who shares TPMDC's affinity for Aerosmith -- was at it again yesterday during an interview with CBS. Cantor strongly suggested that he would oppose President Obama's mortgage aid plan, slated for unveiling tomorrow. Cantor slammed the $50 billion price tag as too high:

We just cannot continue to pay for the kind of things that this administration thinks that we can. So, I'm very concerned about the direction I see us going ...

Hmm, maybe Cantor should bring this up with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) GOP crew at their next bicameral mixer. The Senate Republicans have spent much of this month touting their alternative stimulus, which would have provided government subsidies for lower mortgage interest rates -- the same broad concept as Obama's plan -- at an initial cost of $121 billion.

Unless the minority wants its new talking point to be 'we voted for billions of dollars for mortgage aid before we voted against it.' At least that's better than lying about a salt marsh mouse.

So we already knew that Allen Stanford -- the Texas banker charged by the SEC today with running an $8 billion "fraud of shocking magnitude" -- had some pretty impressive political contacts with both parties.

But it looks like his relationship with one of his home-state senators, Republican John Cornyn, may have been especially cozy.

According to Cornyn's Senate disclosure reports -- posted on the site, which tracks privately financed trips by members of Congress -- the Stanford Financial Group paid for the Texas senator and an unnamed companion to take a November 2004 trip down to Antigua and Barbuda, the tiny Carribean nation where the company has its headquarters.

The three day trip is described by Legistorm as a "financial services industry fact-finding mission hosted by constituent company with substantial operations on site."

The site adds:

Sen. Cornyn discloses expenses for himself and a companion, but does not disclose the identity of the companion.

The total cost of the trip: $7,441.00

It would be hard to blame Cornyn if financial regulation wasn't the only thing on his mind while he was in Antigua. The trip occurred right after the November 2004 election, during which Cornyn was working hard for George W. Bush. And just last Sunday, the New York Times travel section described Antigua as a group of "famously paradisiacal islands that actually lives up to the hype."

The paper continued:
An array of über-luxurious resorts have cashed in on the lush surroundings, and provide their well-heeled guests with so many hedonistic diversions that many never emerge to see what lies beyond the resort gates.

Sounds like just the spot for some fact-finding!

We've told you all about Stanford's generous record of contributions to lawmakers from both sides of the aisle -- and especially to those with authority over the banking sector. The New York Times has gone further, reporting that Stanford's contributions appear to focus "particularly on legislators considering bills that would change offshore banking rules."

Cornyn this year became a member of the Senate Finance committee, though in 2004 he was not a member.

We've put in a call to Cornyn's office to ask what he learned on the "fact-finding mission" Stanford paid for -- and who his mystery companion was -- and will update with anything we learn.

Thanks to reader B.K. for the tip.

Late Update: It looks like Cornyn's spokesman was asked by the Center for Public Integrity back in 2006 about the identity of Cornyn's companion, and responded that it was Cornyn's wife.

Interestingly, CPI said the trip was "to tour the offices of trip sponsor Stanford Financial Group."

Thanks to commenter Snig for pointing that out.

I suspected last week, when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, rolled out his incomplete bank bailout plan that he did so because it was on the schedule and nothing was going to move it. Today's much lauded piece in the Washington Post confirmed my suspicion. I spoke with a former Clinton Treasury official who was amazed that the Geithner thing got dumped just at the time when Obama could have been taking a victory lap for getting the stimulus deal all but closed. (This was before the Judd Gregg withdrawal but that's another matter.)

The larger point here is the administration's deeply ingrained habit of sticking to the schedule. That instinct served them well during the campaign when they didn't respond to every idiotic event and stuck with their plan. Pressure to attack Hillary Clinton more viscerally or to sign on to the gas tax holiday? Fuggedaboutit. Stick with the plan. But the tendency to stick with the plan has it's downside as we saw with Geithner's less-than-stellar roll out. Over the weekend, David Axelrod said that the stimulus signing was long scheduled to be out of town but was there really a need to give the right ammunition for delaying the signing of a bill that Obama said was urgent? The right's point is goofy. The money couldn't have gone out the door over a federal holiday. Still, the optics aren't great.

Back to my original point, sticking to the schedule isn't always wise.