TPM News

During the Minnesota trial this morning, the Franken legal team has continued to hammer Norm Coleman for reversing his position on counting rejected absentee ballots -- so much so that he's asking for specific envelopes to be counted that he had successfully thrown out before.

Franken lawyer David Lillehaug has been cross-examining Dakota County elections manager Kevin Boyle, using the questioning as a vehicle to make this larger point. Lillehaug reviewed a Web page that the Coleman campaign has put up, posting the names and home counties of all the thousands of rejected absentee voters for whom they're now advocating:



The page declares: "Check below to see if you are one of the thousands of Minnesotans the Franken campaign is seeking to disenfranchise."

Lillehaug then had Boyle confirm that there are ten individuals on the Dakota County list alone whose ballots were deemed by Boyle's office to have been wrongly rejected and would have been counted -- except the Coleman campaign vetoed them, under the decision by the state Supreme Court that gave the campaigns a veto over improperly-rejected absentees.

"And according to this exhibit, these are the people that Norm Coleman is suggesting the Franken campaign is seeking to disenfranchise?" Lillehaug asked rhetorically.

Read More →

Reuters reports:

Massachusetts' top securities regulator said on Wednesday that the wife of accused financial swindler Bernard Madoff took out roughly $15 million from an account managed by Cohmad Securities days before her husband was arrested and charged with securities fraud.


More as we get it...

Late Update: The Wall Street Journal has more. The information about Ruth Madoff comes from a complaint filed by the office of Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, which is probing the role of Cohmad Securities, a company co-owned by Bernie Madoff.

The complaint says Ruth Madoff withdrew the money from Cohmad.

Reports the Journal:
The complaint seeks to revoke the registration of Cohmad, a New York-based firm that has an office in Boston. The complaint says Cohmad has refused to provide information regarding its activities in Massachusetts, its relationship with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities and "Cohmad's apparent role in the transfer of moneys from Madoff Investments to Cohmad personnel."

Last night, it seemed as though the Solis nomination would get put off until after recess. It looks like there will be a Solis vote today, a labor source emails me. (Of course, Congress being Congress delays are always possible.) This comes just in time as the Service Employees International Union along with Latino, environmental and other groups will drop more than 10,000 petitions at the committee's door to advocate for Solis's confirmation. Not surprisingly they have a video along with the petition that you can see here.

Have three thoughts on all of this:

1. Solis did not help herself at the confirmation. By being hesitant on the Employee Free Choice Act and otherwise slightly Palinesque, she didn't do herself or the administration a favor. People who know Solis don't have a good explanation for her performance. Usually, she's nobody's pushover but for whatever reason she seemed weak and that gave the Republicans an in.

2. Tax woes run amok. The law of Washington scandals is that they tend to spread out until they become unwieldy and absurd. Thus the Tom Daschle failure to pay taxes on limo rides became Solis's problem when it was revealed her husband had a tax lien. At a certain point, the scandal gets defined in such a large way that everyone gets caught up in it. I can think of two other instances of this. The first was when Zoe Baird's nomination to be attorney general was derailed in 1993 because of failure to pay taxes for domestic help. A second Clinton nominee, Kimba Wood, also fell for a problem with taxes on domestic help. Janet Reno, not one to use domestic help, was the third and final nominee. Eventually the collective DC zeitgeist declared the once insurmountable problem, to not be a problem as long as you paid up and a slew of nominees were confirmed.

In 1987, Douglas Ginsburg was nominated for the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan after Robert Bork's nomination was rejected by the U.S. Senate. Ginsburg's nomination had to be withdrawn after it was revealed that he'd smoked pot as a student and as a law professor at Harvard. (Hey, it was a different time.) In the days after Ginsburg's withdrawal a slew of aspiring politicians including Al Gore, Bruce Babbitt, and others admitted their marijuana use and the once prohibitive crime of joints smoked as an adult was rendered, at most, a misdemeanor. Solis got caught up in a smaller version of that dynamic.

3. The fight over Solis is really just a precursor of the looming battle over the Employee Free Choice Act. A person with knowledge of the meeting earlier this week between AFL president John Sweeney and Vice President Joe Biden noted that they discussed EFCA and the administration's continued commitment to it. When the battle is joined--probably in late Spring--Solis's nomination will look like a skirmish.

Late Update: Solis' nomination will get a committee vote at 5pm today. The timeline for consideration by the full Senate, however, remains unclear. --e.s.

During the Bush years, Republicans displayed a particular fondness for fomenting anxiety over comparisons made between the former president's administration and the Nazi party.

But now that a Democratic president is in charge, the right-wing media has no qualms about comparing President Obama's initiatives to Nazism. Witness this morning's Washington Times editorial, which runs a photo of Hitler alongside a wildly off-base attack on the health information technology (IT) provisions in the stimulus.

Read More →

A nice moment from the hearings...

Barney Frank declares, re: bonuses:

This notion that you need some special incentive to do the right thing troubles me.


Then he asks: What is it you'd do differently if you didn't get a bonus?

It's a question Frank had been previewing all week. He throws it open to any of the CEOs.

Morgan Stanley's John Mack is the only one brave enough to hazard an answer. But all he brief historical digression about how the bonus system became established at investment banks.

But Mack acknowledges:
Without question, given the risks we take today, and the size of our bonuses ... all that has to be looked at again.


Frank's conclusion:
So if there were no bonuses, we'd still get our money's worth.


Sounds about right.

During an interview with TPMDC yesterday, a senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee delivered troubling news: His party could remove the Senate's strong executive pay limits from the stimulus bill in an attempt to keep the measure's costs down.

"The plan is to take out the executive compensation provisions ... and blame the Republicans for setting out the level [of $800 billion]" for the final version of the stimulus, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) told me.

The Senate's limits on compensation for executives receiving government bailout money -- a welcome sign after President Obama's CEO pay caps were revealed to be riddled with loopholes -- were scored as a $10 billion money-loser by the Congressional Budget Office. Because of pressure to limit the size of the stimulus in order to retain GOP senators' support, Sherman's prediction about the executive pay caps is looking likely to come true.

But why would Democrats want to send such a bizarre signal about their commitment to reining in corporate excess? When MoveOn.org has gotten more than 300,000 signatures on a petition calling for even stronger salary caps at bailed-out companies, why would Congress want to water down its proposed pay limits?

Read More →

The Huffington Post has obtained audio of a conference call last week on which the co-president of Morgan Stanley, James Gorman, tells financial advisers at his firm and Citigroup's Smith Barney that they will be receiving "very generous" retention payments, and urging them not to call them bonuses.

The two firms are about to merge.

Gorman tells the advisers:

There will be a retention award. Please do not call it a bonus. It is not a bonus. It is an award. And it recognizes the importance of keeping our team in place as we go through this integration.


Gorman continues:
I think I can hear you clapping from here in New York," Gorman joked during the call, after announcing that the payments would be linked to '08 performance. "You should be clapping because frankly that is a very generous and thoughtful decision that we have made. We spent a lot of time kicking this around. We could easily have done it from the point of closing, which is obviously going to be somewhere in the latter half of this year or around the middle of the year. But we just decided... that it was right thing to do, to give you that certainty that it would be based off '08. '09 is a very difficult year... So that degree of anxiety, which many, many of you have emailed me about... is now off the table.


Huffington Post adds: The payments, Gorman said, will be calculated based on performance numbers from 2008 instead of 2009, when the merger is expected to be completed. That decision virtually guarantees an increase in the size of the awards. While 2008 was challenging for the firms -- Morgan Stanley's client assets in fee-based accounts dropped 25 percent in the fourth quarter, and a round of lay-offs is expected -- 2009 is expected to be substantially weaker.

As I type this, I can hear Morgan Stanley's CEO John Mack bragging to Congress about the measures his firm has taken to rein in excessive compensation.

As we said, Barney Frank's committee has posted the CEOs' prepared statements on its website.

We're watching the hearings, which just began, but feel free to look through what the prepared remarks and send us anything good...

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts may recuse himself from an upcoming ruling. Pharmaceuticals giant Wyeth was charged with negligence in a tort case related to the loss of a patient's arm that was argued before the court last November, and is also the acquisition target of Pfizer, a company in which Chief Justice Roberts owns stock. The court decision would likely affect the value of Wyeth and therefore Pfizer's value as well. Justice Roberts' decision will likely set the precedent for these types of conflicts of interest. (law.com)

In a federal corruption trial yesterday, former Pennsylvania state Sen. Vincent Fumo (D) defended a secret $17 million gift from a utility company to a charity run by his aides, arguing that it benefitted consumers. The charity's main operations involve street cleaning and economic development work in Fumo's district. Prosecutors allege that Fumo embezzled more than $1 million from the charity using its vehicles and credit cards. (Associated Press)

A well-known anti-tobacco attorney pleaded guilty yesterday to mail fraud in a case that involved the attempted bribery of a judge. Richard Scruggs, the brother-in-law of former Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), tried to get a county circuit judge to rule in his favor by telling him he could get him appointed to the federal bench with Lott's help. Lott himself has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the matter. (Associated Press)

Read More →

The CEOs of the eight banks that received the most bailout money are about to testify before the House Financial Services committee, starting any minute. But the committee has already posted the CEOs' prepared statements on its website.

Here are some highlights:

Bank of America's Ken Lewis will say that executive pay and bonuses are intended "to grow our business, enhance profitability and generate returns for investors." That includes "the investors that are the focus of this hearing: U.S. taxpayers."

Citigroup's Vikram Pandit will say that he "removed the people responsible for Citi's financial distress."

JP Morgan Chase's Jamie Dimon will advocate a new bank regulatory system, which would include a "systemic risk regulator."

On compensation, Dimon will say:

Our employees worked harder than ever and performed admirably for the company and for clients under enormously challenging conditions in 2008. I believe the compensation we paid them was appropriate.


We'll be blogging the hearings as they happen, so stay tuned...

LiveWire