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The House is on the verge of taking up a mortgage aid proposal that would, for the first time, allow judges to modify the terms of primary mortgages for individuals facing bankruptcy -- a reform known as the "cram-down."

The bankruptcy law change is backed by the Obama administration as well as Citigroup (which is increasingly looking like a ward of the Obama administration). But the American Bankers Association, the Mortgage Bankers Association, and other K Street players are no fans of the cram-downs plan.

In a letter sent today to every House member, a group of financial lobbying giants urges Congress to reject the cram-downs bill. Lobbyists are especially concerned about language in the bill "provid[ing] that even minor violations of the Truth-in-Lending Act (TILA) could result in a home equity loan or even a mortgage being disallowed in bankruptcy."

You read that right: K Street is asking Congress to permit lenders to get away with minor violations of the TILA, a 40-year-old law that was passed to protect consumers from banks that hide punitive terms in the fine print of loans.

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This could get awkward for some Democratic lawmakers.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), the small-government scourge of Congressional earmarkers, has introduced a resolution that proposes launching an ethics investigation into the connection between earmarks and campaign contributions, reports Congressional Quarterly.

Meanwhile, the House is about to vote on an omnibus spending bill that not only contains thousands of earmarks, but some for clients of the PMA Group. That's the DC-area lobbying firm that's in the process of disintegrating, amid reports that it was raided by the FBI last month as part of an investigation into its political contributions.

Which lawmakers sponsored those earmarks? CQ reports:

Flake's office released a compilation of eight earmarks worth $7.7 million in the bill. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group, sent out the same list and identified the individual sponsors of the earmarks as Reps. Peter J. Visclosky of Indiana, Tim Ryan of Ohio, John B. Larson of Connecticut, Brad Sherman and Jane Harman of California, Stephen F. Lynch of Massachusetts and Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri. Reps. Mike Doyle and Jason Altmire , both of Pennsylvania, were identified as cosponsors of one earmark.

All but one of those earmarks is in the section of the bill written by the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, which is headed by [Rep. Pete] Visclosky.


Several of those members, including Doyle, Ryan, Larsen, Altmire, and Sherman, are among the top recipients of PMA's campaign cash.

Since reports of the FBI raid on PMA, attention has largely focused on Visclosky and on Rep. John Murtha, both of whom have received large amount of money from the firm and sponsored numerous earmarks on behalf of its clients. PMA was founded by a former top Murtha aide, and a former chief of staff to Visclosky lobbied is a PMA lobbyist.

Because Flake's resolution qualifies as "privileged", lawmakers may have to vote on it as early as today.







Flake's office released a compilation of eight earmarks worth $7.7 million in the bill. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group, sent out the same list and identified the individual sponsors of the earmarks as Reps. Peter J. Visclosky of Indiana, Tim Ryan of Ohio, John B. Larson of Connecticut, Brad Sherman and Jane Harman of California, Stephen F. Lynch of Massachusetts and Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri. Reps. Mike Doyle and Jason Altmire , both of Pennsylvania, were identified as cosponsors of one earmark.

All but one of those earmarks is in the section of the bill written by the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, which is headed by Visclosky.

Senator David Vitter (R-LA), whose career became mired in controversy back in 2007 when he became implicated in the D.C. Madam prostitution ring, is now calling upon Roland Burris to resign.

That's right. Vitter is challenging someone else's ethics and fitness to serve in the Senate.

In an interview with The Hill, Vitter dismissed any idea that his own personal scandals made him a hypocrite for calling upon Burris to quit. "I honestly don't know anybody who would compare these situations," he told The Hill on Tuesday. "They are dramatically different."

There are differences, obviously. Burris' scandal involves being metaphorically in bed with somebody.

It's clear by this point that Allen Stanford put a lot of energy into wooing members of Congress. He was a prodigious political giver over the last decade, and even seems to have paid for some lucky lawmakers to soak up the sun in Antigua.

But few people, we're guessing, would choose to hang out with John Sweeney, Katherine Harris and co. just for fun. So what did Stanford want in return?

Over at TPMDC, Elana provided part of the answer in two posts that explain how Stanford's firm helped fight an effort to crack down on international money laundering during the late Clinton years, as well as how, shortly after, he met with Martin Frost, at the time the chair of the House Democratic caucus (and to whose political groups Stanford was contributing soft money), in a bid to convince Frost to oppose anti-money laundering initiatives.

But that was hardly the last congressional effort to deal with the problems of offshore business operations. In February 2007, Sen. Carl Levin, joined by then-senators Norm Coleman and Barack Obama, introduced the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, which would have closed offshore tax loopholes and forced companies to disclose far more information about their operations.

The bill listed 34 jurisdictions as probable locations for U.S. tax evasion -- one of which was Antigua and Barbuda, the Caribbean island nation where Stanford's sprawling financial empire was headquartered.

Although the measure was not primarily intended to root out large-scale frauds like the one Stanford is now accused of orchestrating, it likely would nonetheless have done so, as a "nice side benefit", according to Robert McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice, simply because it would have given US authorities access to far more information about offshore businesses.

What happened to the bill? Levin's office told us it came under the jurisdiction of the Senate Finance committee, which appears never to have brought it to a vote.

Since 2000, Finance chair Max Baucus has received $1000 from Stanford's firm, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And Chuck Schumer has taken $17,000, more than all but sitting five members of Congress*.

During 2007, Stanford paid $500,000 to Ben Barnes' firm to lobby the Senate on a range of issues, including "lobbying issues related to banking" according to Senate lobbying disclosure records.

It's worth clarifying: Stanford is hardly the only businessman who'd potentially have had a lot to lose from efforts to crack down on offshore tax loopholes. Numerous Fortune 500 companies have offshore operations that could help them avoid paying US taxes, a recent GAO report found. And "fair tax" advocates tell TPMmuckraker that a broad range range of corporate interests has, over the last decade, been involved in preserving such loopholes. So even if Stanford's influence with lawmakers was a factor here, it's not as if he would have been working alone.

A spokesman for the Senate Finance committee pledged to provide TPMmuckraker with more information about the circumstances under which Levin's bill died. We'll update with anything else we learn.

* This sentence has been edited from an earlier version which referred to the contributions from Stanford received by Bill Nelson, a current finance committee member. Nelson did not join the committee until January of this year -- after the period in question.

It turns out that Norm Coleman is still a member in good standing of the Senate Republican Conference -- in fact, it just so happens that he attended today's party lunch meeting on the Hill, and was also there for Inauguration Week.

What makes this remarkable is that Coleman isn't actually a member of the United States Senate anymore. Remember that his term expired this past January 3, and Minnesota has been without a Senator because of his lawsuit bottling up Al Franken's amazingly-narrow win.

"He's always welcome," Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) told TPMDC, adding that "we still think he has a very good opportunity" to win.

It's unclear whether Alexander has actually been watching the trial, which has seen some key rulings lately going against Coleman's position, diminishing the likelihood of a Coleman victory. In fact, the Coleman camp's press operation has taken to openly attacking the court's rulings.

We will say this: The fact that Coleman doesn't actually have a vote probably makes Jon Kyl's whip operation a lot easier.

Several members of Congress are choosing to donate political contributions from accused fraudster Allen Stanford to charity -- with the notable holdouts being Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who has hung onto 4/5 of his Stanford cash, and Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX).

But the Dallas Morning News reports that lawmakers may not have a choice in the matter anymore, now that the court-appointed receiver who's managing Stanford's assets has asked both the Republican and Democratic campaign committees to give back all the cash. From the Dallas report:

Ralph S. Janvey, who was appointed by the U.S. District Court in Dallas to take control of Stanford's assets, asked Democratic and Republican national political committees on Monday to return donations from Allen Stanford and his company's political action committee.

Stanford, his employees and his corporate PAC gave $250,125 to the NRCC since 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Stanford entities gave the most to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee - $965,500, according to the center.


Janvey's request does not appear to have been sent to individual members of Congress (yet), but the Dallas paper adds that Sessions has already donated $2,000 to charity to offset his Stanford cash, and is considering getting rid of the rest of the $40,000-plus he received.

Late Update: As the AP reported last night, Janvey's letters seeking a political-cash refund are "highly unusual." The practice is common with charitable donations given by individuals before their assets are frozen, but rarely occurs with campaign donations. Here's how Janvey put his request:

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For those of you who think that conservatives are Luddites and only liberals have really mastered the tools of the digital age, listen to what happened to me on Friday.

Sick as a dog, I was lying in bed around 6 PM with my BlackBerry watching the chat on Twitter. I'd been following Newt Gingrich for awhile and I noticed he'd been chatting with Michael P. Leahy, the founder of something called Top Conservatives on Twitter.

As I lay sneezing and wheezing, Leahy was, before my eyes, using Twitter to organize dozens of rallies across the country to protest the economic policies of the Obama administration all under the heading of a National Chicago Tea Party. The reference to the Windy City is, of course, a homage to Rick Santelli's cri de coeur. Leahy notes that other conservatives had been toying with the idea of a tea party, pre Santelli, including Michelle Malkin, Glenn Reynolds and the Managing Editor of the American Spectator J. Peter Freire. But it was Santelli's screed combined with Twitter that brought it all together so quickly.

The speed with which Leahy found people to sponsor events, design a logo,even come up with Revolutionary War reenactors was startling.

Just a week later, on Friday, conservatives will gather in about 35 cities across the country to fight what they see as profligate policies that reward irresponsibility.

I spoke with Leahy this afternoon. He was at his home near Nashville. Raised in an Irish Catholic family in Oswego, New York--he tells me that he's actually third cousins with Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat--the 54-year-old went to Harvard undergrad and Stanford business school. An entrepreneur, he worked in enterprise systems and computer marketing and became a conservative in the mid 80s having grown up in a JFK-admiring home. Now he's published a few conservative tomes and devotes considerable energy to Top Conservatives on Twitter.

By now everyone knows Twitter but what's less well known is the so-called hashtag or tick tac toe symbol that often accompanies Twitter messages. It's used to identify a message so that it can be easily grouped with other like minded souls. On Sunday, for instance, I Twittered some comments about the Oscars and ended each post with "#oscars"

In the conservative world, #TCOT is the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Karl Rove uses it regularly. So does Newt. If you want to be in the conservative dialogue that's where you go. It's now the most popular hashtag on Twitter. All of this makes Leahy an important facilitator in the conservative movement.

I'm not sure what will become of these rallies. I know I don't agree with Leahy's claim that Obama is "moving us toward European socialism." I think Hank Paulson of Goldman Sachs and the Bush administration started the government interventions and any president would have continued them in this climate. And I don't really see how tax cuts and less government will get us out of this mess. But the ability to fire up a nationwide protest movement so quickly is impressive to me and should be a reminder that liberals have no monopoly on technology and innovation.

In the Minnesota trial today, lead Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg made a very frank admission: The Coleman campaign made a mistake in personally rejecting a ballot they now want opened up and counted.

This all goes back to the state Supreme Court's controversial decision for how to deal with wrongly-rejected ballots, which gave the campaigns a veto power over each individual ballot as the local officials sorted through them again back in December.

It has been repeatedly shown during this trial that the Coleman camp's newer list of ballots that they say were wrongly thrown out -- indeed, their Web page about the issue describes "the thousands of Minnesotans the Franken campaign is seeking to disenfranchise" -- includes multiple votes that their own campaign specifically vetoed before.

But now Friedberg said of one particular ballot: "We made a horrendous error by challenging it, and I assume you would agree." After some more back and forth, he added: "But just so it's to be understood, we want the ballot to be opened and counted."

As I've previously pointed out, the Republican Party's phone calls to check how people voted, and to select them for inclusion as Coleman witnesses, didn't happen until after the vetoing process. So Team Coleman was missing data at the time for how some people had voted.

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Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) really is resisting the apparent efforts by the GOP establishment to usher him into retirement rather than deal with a vulnerable incumbent. In fact, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that he's now threatening to sue the NRSC if he gets a primary challenger -- and he might even take action on a separate matter against a specific, challenger, too!

In response to rumors that the national GOP is trying to recruit a challenger, Bunning said: "I would have a suit against the (National Republican Senatorial Committee) if they did that," Bunning told reporters on Tuesday. "In their bylaws, support of the incumbents is the only reason they exist."

Bunning also raised a point against state Senate President David Williams (R), who has spoken to national leaders about mounting a campaign. It turns out, Bunning says, Williams still owes him $30,000 in campaign money that Bunning's campaign committee gave as a loan, and which was due back this past January 1. So who knows, Williams' first task if he does declare a candidacy might be to raise $30,000, to give right back to a very demanding creditor/opponent.

It's unlikely that the national party would go so far as to openly support a challenger -- but any failure to actively help out Bunning would speak volumes, and send all the messages to donors and activists that a challenger would need.

Stopped by the National Governors Association meeting yesterday.

I don't want to sound like a bad David Broder parody, but you are impressed at these things by the earnest, bipartisan tone. By the time I got there, a lot of the bigger names with presidential ambitions had cleared out leaving those who wanted to sit through the Danish Energy and Climate Minister's talk on cap-and-trade. At the conference, I spoke on camera with Hawaii's Linda Lingle, Indiana's Mitch Daniels, South Dakota's Mike Rounds, Vermont's Jim Douglas and Montana's Brian Schweitzer.

My interview with Lingle should be available later. She cited an interesting exchange with Obama over those TARP recipient junkets. My videotalks with Douglas and Rounds look like something out of Cloverfield and could lead to nausea so we won't post those but I'll sum them up later.

Meanwhile, here's Daniels. I thought it interesting that the Indiana Governor, who served as George W. Bush's Director of the Office of Management and Budget, was hopeful about Obama being able to fix entitlements and was, at first blush, supportive of the "health reform is entitlement reform" concept.



Montana's Brian Schweitzer discusses a behind-the-scenes moment at the White House with President Obama as well as why the Santelli effect isn't quite catching on in Montana.

TPMLivewire