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Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) held up a bill that would create a free, searchable database of government contracts and grants because he was worried about the proposal's price tag, his spokesman told me this afternoon. Its cost has been estimated at $15 million.

Stevens' office has asked Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), the sponsor of the bill, for "a cost-benefit analysis to make sure this does not create an extra layer of unnecessary bureaucracy,” spokesman Aaron Saunders said. The Senator “wanted to make sure that this wasn’t going to be a huge cost to the taxpayer and that it achieves the goal which the bill is meant to achieve.”

Saunders added that Stevens' hold was not "secret," and that he would back the bill if the analysis shows that "it achieves its goal and it achieves its goal well."

But Sen. Coburn's spokesman John Hart questioned Stevens' motive. "The only reason to oppose this bill is if he has something to hide," Hart said.

Hart said that Stevens, who's on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, failed to attend any hearings on the bill, an assertion backed up by vote tallies. "If he had concerns, he should have addressed them in regular order rather than blocking something that will benefit millions of taxpayers," Hart said. He added that after Stevens' office raised the concerns, Coburn's office requested a meeting, but never got one.

The Congressional Budget Office has calculated that Coburn's proposal would cost "$4 million in 2007 and about $15 million [total] over the 2007-2011 period." By comparison, Stevens -- who's been called the "King of Pork" by one government watchdog -- was recently publicly lambasted for his appropriation of more than $200 million for the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere," which would link Ketchikan, Alaska (population 8,900) with its airport on Gravina Island (population 50).

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A spokesman for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) just confirmed his boss was the man behind the secret hold on the Coburn/Obama spending database bill, which has captivated a segment of the political blogging community in recent days.

"Sen. Stevens does have a hold on the bill," said the spokesman, who would only speak on the condition he not be named. He added that Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) office was notified of the hold after it was placed. So Coburn's comments two weeks ago may have been duly informed.

So why does Stevens say he placed the hold? Why did it take this long for him to say so? And will he lift it?

We'll have more soon...

In a recent directive to its employees, the National Security Agency explains that "the media," in its opinion, includes bloggers.

The document defines "media" as "any print, electronic, or broadcast outlet (including blogs) where information is made available to the general public."

The NSA directive orders the secretive agency's 45,000 employees to report "unauthorized media disclosures" of classified information. That is, leaks.

It raises an interesting question: do bloggers enjoy the reporter's privilege of protecting their sources in court?

In a landmark case from 2004, Apple computer argued that bloggers aren't journalists because they aren't professional, and therefore aren't protected by "shield laws." Such statutes keep law enforcement from forcing reporters to reveal confidential sources. The company lost the original ruling -- and lost on appeal this May.

NSA's point of view appears to bolster bloggers' standing as journalists. If anybody who can disseminate information -- that is, receive and broadcast a leak -- is a member of the media, then that means us bloggers are in the club. "I thnk that's becoming increasingly obvious," Kurt Opsahl, a blogging-rights expert and counsel to the California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, told me. "There's no principled way to distinguish between the various media."

(Courtesy dickarmitage.blogspot.com. No, just kidding. via Secrecy News)

Update: An earlier version of this post cited an article on the case of Josh Wolf, a California blogger currently in prison for refusing to turn over videotapes to a federal grand jury. However, at the federal level, California's shield law did not apply; federal prosecutors did not take a stance on Wolf's reporter status. Jurt Opsahl, a blogging-rights expert and counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told me he is not aware of a case in which the federal government has asserted bloggers are not journalists.

Scalia Discloses 24 Expense-Paid Trips "Justice Antonin Scalia was the Supreme Court's most frequent traveler last year with 24 expense-paid trips that took him as far as Ireland, Italy, Turkey and Australia. Law schools and legal groups paid for most of Scalia's travel, although Italian heritage organizations, media giant Time Warner Inc., the Roman Catholic Diocese of Louisiana and the Julliard School also covered some trips." (AP)

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Twelve days ago, at a town meeting in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) accused Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) of obstructing his porkbuster-database bill with an anonymous hold.

That's according to an Aug. 18 article in the Fort Smith (Ark.) Times Record:

One of the senators most criticized for his personal projects, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has a hold of his own on Coburn’s bill to make public the spending patterns of the government. Called the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, the legislation calls for the creation of a database open to the public where citizens can track government spending.

“He’s the only senator blocking it,” Coburn said of Stevens.


Coburn's office was not available for comment this evening.

The article has gone largely unnoticed in recent days, as hundreds of bloggers and blog-readers (at TPMm and elsewhere) have called Senate offices in an effort to determine who placed the "secret" hold on Coburn's bill. The piece does not turn up in a Nexis search, although it is in Google.

Stevens has been the odds-on favorite since the hunt for the Holder Who Dare Not Speak His Name began.

But did he really do it? Well, he had a motive: As the paper and others have noted, Stevens and Coburn have clashed before -- in particular over Stevens' now-legendary "bridge to nowhere." Coburn attempted (and failed) to block the $233 million boondoggle. And revenge certainly fits the senior Alaskan's m.o. "Stevens can play rough," the Seattle Times noted in June. "Despite denials from his staff, he retaliates - and doesn't mind waiting years to do so."

Stevens' office has so far refused to comment on the hold. Ninety-five other senators have confirmed they were not responsible.

Thanks to TPMm Readers MP, GC for the tips.

So here we are. Thanks to the great efforts of TPMm readers, TPMm's "Secret Hold" tally has worked its way down to six suspects.

They are: Sens. Robert Byrd (D-WV), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Ted Stevens (R-AK), and Robert Bennett (R-UT). (Our ongoing log of responses is here.)

A few notes.

-- Porkbusters has eliminated Sen. Byrd from their tally, but TPMm reader responses about Byrd conflict, and the pork-loving senior senator's spokesperson has so far declined to confirm or deny his boss' status. So Byrd stays on -- for the moment.

-- We previously had Sen. Bennett in the denial column, but Portbusters' N.Z. Bear pointed out to me that the denial ("Not that I know of") Bennett's office gave to GOP Progress' Liz Mair was equivocal. So he's been placed back into the unknown column.

-- Porkbusters still has Sens. Martinez, Rockefeller, and Carper as unknowns in their tally, but we have received denials for them, either directly or through readers. We received two separate reader accounts of getting straight denials from Martinez staffers, a reader got a denial from Rockefeller's spokeswoman, and I personally got a denial from Carper's spokesman. So they're off our unknown list. To be sure, we have requested comments from both Martinez's and Rockefeller's spokespeople. If they tell us otherwise, the senators will be bounced back on.

We've made multiple attempts to get comments from all of the remaining suspects. Only one of them, Sen. Crapo, has flatly refused to answer. We will continue to tomorrow and hope readers will join us.

And finally, a big thank you to TPMm readers from Justin and me.

The New York Times reports:

State Department investigators have concluded that Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the head of the federal agency that oversees most government broadcasts to foreign countries, improperly hired a friend on the public payroll for nearly $250,000 over two and a half years, according to a summary of their report made public this afternoon by Democratic Congressional staff members.

They also said that Mr. Tomlinson, whose job puts him in charge of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, used his government office for personal business, including running a “horse racing operation” in which he supervised a stable of thoroughbreds he named after leaders from Afghanistan, including President Hamid Karzai and the late Ahmed Shah Massoud, that have raced at tracks across the United States.


Tomlinson, you may recall, was previously the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, where he charged that public broadcasting was full of liberal bias.

At CPB, a separate probe had been started to examine his habit of hiring lobbyists and consultants without consulting with the CPB board. Last November, Tomlinson resigned before the probe's findings -- that he had broken the law -- were released.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) had called for the investigation, and has posted a summary of the findings on his Web site. Berman today called for Tomlinson's ouster.

As if the race for Tom DeLay's old seat weren't confusing enough already, what with a hyphenated Republican write-in candidate, now voters will also have the opportunity to elect a temporary representative to fill the empty seat from November through January. The elections (general and special) will take place the same day.

As a benefit of Gov. Rick Perry's move, voters will now see at least one ballot with the name of the official GOP candidate. Perry's spokesperson says they waited this long because of DeLay's legal wranglings.

The AP explains:

In the general election, Democrat Nick Lampson is the Democrat candidate, and Republicans have thrown their support behind Houston city councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs as a write-in candidate after the courts refused DeLay's efforts to remove his name from the ballot.

Because both elections are on the same day, there's a chance Lampson and Sekula-Gibbs could appear on both ballots. That means one of them could win both elections, taking over after the election and remaining in office for a two-year term starting in January.

More on Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-NH), the wealthy conservative lawmaker whose pro-energy voting record complements his energy-heavy stock portfoilio.

Now, Harper's blog reports that he's paid two of his kids -- recent high school grads -- thousands of dollars to work on his campaign:

[Bradley paid] almost $27,000 in salary and expenses to two of his children, Sebastian and Noel, who served as field coordinators for his run for Congress in 2004. Not bad for five months' work by a couple of recent high school graduates. . . .

There aren't many Congressional campaigns that hire fresh-faced kids as field coordinators; in fact, college graduates frequently have to beg their way into unpaid campaign internships. But when it comes to positions on the Bradley campaign, it clearly helps to share the candidate's genetic material.

Some senator has put a "secret hold" on the Coburn/Obama bill that would create a user-friendly, public database of all government spending. By 1:20 p.m. today, 75 senators have responded to scores of emails and phone calls from bloggers and blog readers, stating they were not the ones who placed the hold.

The situation raises some questions. Who knows the identity of the secret holder? How is the holder's identity kept secret? And why is this practice even honored?

First things first: the holder's identity is known to the holder and to either Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) or Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and possibly a leader's secretary. It could be known by others, but according to practice a hold is placed merely by telling your party's Senate leader or secretary. That's the word from Don Ritchie, associate Senate historian. (Vice President Cheney, who is also the President of the Senate, cannot place a hold on a bill, Ritchie confirmed.)

Oddly, proponents of "secret holds" believe they're not a minor quirk of Senate procedure, but actually an important part of what keeps the Senate functioning, Ritchie told me. Despite this, the practice of honoring secret holds has no basis in law. It has no basis in Senate rules. And it has no basis in Senate precedents -- a byzantine collection of many hundreds of rules developed over time by lawmakers, collected and codified by the Senate parliamentarian.

In fact, the practice was briefly banished in 1997.

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