TPM News

Allen Stanford may have been accused of orchestrating an $8 billion Ponzi scheme. But maybe things aren't all doom and gloom for his firm.

It looks like Stanford Financial is still hiring -- even in these tough economic times!

The company's Antiguan assets have been seized, but if you want to work in client services, IT, or security(!) on the island, you can still send in your resume.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the firm doesn't seem to have any openings for accountants, or lawyers.

Way back in November, when Norm Coleman was calling upon Al Franken to concede the Senate race, one of the reasons he cited was the expense. "It's up to him whether such a step is worth the tax dollars it will take to conduct," Norm said at the time, saying that he would have stepped aside if he had been in Franken's position.

But take a look at this number: Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has told Time that a new election, for which Coleman is increasingly angling, would cost $3.5-5 million -- and the state is already trying to fix a multi-billion dollar budget deficit. "It's pure fantasy, pure baloney," said Ritchie.

Also consider that at the time Coleman was saying the state had to be spared the expense of a recount, Ritchie estimated that it would cost nearly $90,000. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann just told TPM that the recount proper ultimately came in above estimates, at $120,000. This puts us in the low single-digits as a percentage of the cost of a new election.

Also, the state has to pay more after the recount proper, as a result of Coleman's lawsuit to overturn Franken's margin. In the time time since Coleman brought the election contest, the Secretary of State's office has put in another $55,000. And Gelbmann is sure that local election officials throughout the state and the courts have cumulatively had to put in far more than the total $175,000 that his own office has paid during the two periods.

Still, this doesn't sound like much compared to that price tag on a new election.

The Houston Chronicle has a takeout on Ben Barnes, the storied Texas power-broker who's been thrust back into the limelight through his work as Allen Stanford's Washington lobbyist.

Barnes -- who didn't return our call when we wanted to talk about this several weeks ago -- reveals one intriguing nugget about what he was up to on Stanford's behalf.

Reports the paper:

[O]ver the past year, [Stanford] was interested in having business taxed at the U.S. Virgin Islands tax rate rather than the U.S. rate, Barnes said. Stanford wanted legislation to promote investment in the Caribbean.

"This was not Allen Stanford's legislation. This was the U.S. Virgin Islands idea because they wanted more people to come down there, earn money there," Barnes said.

No such measure was approved either by Congress or the U.S. Treasury, he said.

It's unclear exactly what this means. Which businesses would this change have applied to? Stanford had assets in the Virgin Islands, but the major part of his business was based in Antigua.

But -- along with Stanford's opposition to efforts to crack down on offshore tax havens -- it's another small piece of evidence that goes to answer the question of what Stanford hoped to get out of his assiduous attention to American lawmakers.

Late Update: We overlooked this, but it seems that Stanford was in the process of moving his operation to the Virgin Islands. In February 2008, he announced plans to break ground on construction of the ominously titled "Stanford Financial Group global management complex," which would "serve as the head office for Stanford's operations in the Caribbean."

Lester Byrd, the Antiguan prime minister with whom Stanford had been worryingly close -- it was through Byrd that Stanford obtained his knighthood -- left office in 2004, and the Texan had chillier relations with his successor.

The Journal reports today on a Democratic math problem that we noted yesterday: the president's party simply lacks the votes to break a GOP filibuster of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), the No. 1 priority of the labor movement that's headed for its official introduction later this afternoon.

The Journal states that six senators who previously supported EFCA are now up in the air on the bill, although only four fence-sitters are named -- the exact same four we reported yesterday, Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Mark Pryor (D-AR).

The uncertainty surrounding their votes means that we're unlikely to see EFCA come up in the Senate until May or June, giving labor unions more time to lock up support and Minnesota's Al Franken more time to win his court case and get seated in the Senate.

Late Update: Here comes more proof of the Dems' uncertainty on EFCA ... Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), who had previously voted to break a GOP filibuster of the bill, told HuffPo today that he's opposed to Employee Free Choice in its current format.

Late Late Update: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) offered a rosier prediction to reporters after today's party luncheon, predicting that "frankly, [the votes are] there" to break a GOP filibuster of EFCA. As Reid put it:

Now, remember, these are procedural votes. These are not votes on the substance of the bill. There may be somebody who simply -- they don't believe it's right to hold up legislation like this. And so I think getting 60 votes on the procedural aspects of it, I think, it certainly doable. And then we'll look and see if we can get enough votes to pass it. I, certainly, think we can.

The Hill reports that Michael Steele has gone into damage-control mode -- canceling interviews, possibly getting to work on actually hiring staffers, and holding a conference call to apologize to RNC members for his recent gaffes:

Following a series of misstatements that have resulted in criticism from both inside and outside the GOP, Steele canceled a number of interviews scheduled for this week, including one with The Hill, ostensibly to focus on hiring several senior staffers.

As part of his damage-control efforts, Steele participated in a Friday conference call with members of the RNC, where he apologized and sought to reassure them that he would refocus on the task at hand, according to several people who participated in the call.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner paid a visit to House Democrats last night for a wide-ranging talk that didn't include any requests for more financial bailout money, but did come with a plea for patience as the Obama administration attempts to stabilize the economy.

"We're doing more in weeks than other countries do in years," Geithner told Democrats, according to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). In a post-meeting interview with ABC, Cummings was addressed the critics that have been decidedly unenthused* with Geithner's performance thus far:

Read More →

The Texas Senate will decide today whether voters should be required to present photo identification at the polls. Texas Republicans argue that this is a necessary step to protect against voter fraud, but have produced little evidence that such fraud is a significant problem. Democrats criticize the measure, which will have an undue impact on minorities and the elderly, both key Democratic constituencies. Laws requiring photo identification at the polls have been approved in seven states, but State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) said that its only an effort by Republicans to scare off "enough eligible elderly, disabled, blacks and Hispanics to stay in power four more years, plain and simple." (

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a letter Monday that he would continue to seek information on bonuses that Merrill Lynch paid to its employees. In a recent interview, Bank of America's CEO Ken Lewis refused to reveal information about these bonuses. But Cuomo maintains that as a recipient of bailout funds, B of A is obligated to disclose how they spent taxpayer money. Refusal to do so, he said, "fuels distrust and cynicism at a most sensitive time." (New York Times)

Documents released by a group of California Democrats indicate that they received thousands of dollars worth of gifts from lobbyists the day after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared California's fiscal emergency last December. Lobbyists for lawyers, firefighters and carpenters hosted a two-day retreat to influence lawmakers on California's budget passed in February. The lobbyists also paid for international travel, tickets to sporting events, and tens of thousands of dollars in restaurant tabs. The L.A. Times reports that each of the lobbyists' goals was represented in the budget. (L.A. Times)

Read More →

Omnibus Could Pass Today The Senate is expected to vote today on the omnibus spending bill, with the Democratic leadership claiming they now have enough crossover Republican support -- and assurances from some wavering Democrats -- to cross the 60-vote threshold. Notably, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said that Treasury officials have compromised on proposed changes to Cuba policy.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama is speaking at 9:45 a.m. ET to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's 19th Annual Legislative Conference. At 3:30 p.m. he will be meeting with the New Democrat Coalition, the caucus of centrist Democrats in Congress. Then at 5:30 p.m. ET he will meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Biden Meeting With NATO, European Leaders Vice President Biden has been spending the day in Brussels, Belgium, meeting with NATO and European leaders. He met at 4 a.m. ET with Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer; at 4:30 a.m. ET he met with a NATO session; and at 7:20 a.m. ET he and de Hoop Scheffer held a press conference. At 8:35 a.m. he met with members of the European Union; at 10:05 a.m. ET he will meet with Belgian Prime Minister Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy; and at 11:05 a.m. he will meet with the Non-NATO International Security Assistance Force.

Dean Challenges GOP: "Be My Guest" And Filibuster Health Care In an interview with the Washington Times, Howard Dean warned Republicans that serious political backlash will await if they block President Obama's health care plan: "They called Medicare socialized medicine. If they want to filibuster this to death, be my guest and let's see how they do in 2010." He also had this to say about the Rush Limbaugh controversies: "You expect people to have fun, and it was fun, but enough is enough. The reason it's fun is because it's true."

Poll: Dodd Trails By One Point A new Quinnipiac poll in Connecticut shows Chris Dodd down by one point against former GOP Rep. Rob Simmons, with a high undecided number: Simmons 43%, Dodd 42%, within the ±2.8% margin of error. Against right-wing economist/pundit Larry Kudlow, who is reportedly looking at the race, Dodd leads 46%-34%.

Shuler Not Running For Senate Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) has announced through his spokesman that he is not running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Richard Burr in 2010. Burr has proven to be a strong vote-getter in a conservative region of his state, but has also clashed with Democratic leaders and voted against the stimulus bill.

McCain Doesn't Want Obama To Fail, But Says White House Is "Lurching" In an interview with the Politico, John McCain said these are "terrible, perilous" times for the economy, and that "I don't want him [President Obama] to fail in his mission of restoring our economy." However, he also continued to criticize the administration's policies thus far: "There is no clear message. They're just sort of lurching from one crisis to another, and that's the perception the American people have."

Vogel Named DCCC Executive Director The DCCC has announced that political strategist Jon Vogel has been named as the organization's new Executive Director. Vogel previously led the DCCC's independent expenditure arm in 2008, running ad campaigns that helped pick up 24 seats, and in 2006 he served as Northeastern and Florida Regional Political Director.

So about that RNC Request-For-Proposal for a contract to redesign the committee's website...

As we told you earlier, the document's hilarious vagueness and notably short time frame, flagged by the site Tech President, among others, haven't just provoked ridicule at the apparent incompetence of Michael Steele's RNC. They've also spurred one leading conservative blogger, Red State's Erick Erickson, to angrily suggest that Steele's team has already decided to give the contract to a favored firm, and sent out the RFP merely for the sake of optics.

That got us to poking around. And there's at least one web development firm that fits the bill as being close to Steele.

That would be iWeb Strategies, a political web design company with a long list of conservative and GOP clients. In fact, one of those clients, according to the firm's website, was Steele himself, whose own now-defunct site, promoting his recent run for RNC chair, was designed by iWeb.

iWeb is run by Blaise Hazelwood, an experienced GOP consultant, who, while at the RNC, played a key role in building the vaunted Voter Vault database that helped produce the impressive GOP turnout in 2004 that carried President Bush to victory. Hazelwood also runs a voter-targeting firm called Grassroots Strategies.

During his run for RNC chair, Steele responded to a questionnaire sent out by a GOP committeman. Asked which political consultants were assisting him, he named Hazelwood, as well as Curt Anderson, who runs a consulting firm called On Message.

Anderson also has close ties to Hazelwood. According to reports, he was her boss while both were at the RNC. And iWeb also touts its design work for On Message.

It seems clear that Anderson, at least, is still helping to call the shots at the RNC. In a piece published by Politico today, Anderson defended Steele's controversial tenure at the committee, identifying himself in a bio line as a "top adviser to Chairman Steele" who "has been Steele's personal friend for 15 years."

And last week, Politico reported, amid resignations by several RNC staffers:

For now, "the fourth floor," as the RNC's executive suite is known, is being run by a pair of consultants.

So: could those two consultants be Hazelwood and Anderson? And was that embarrassing RFP a reflection of the new chairman's pre-existing desire to give the web consulting contract to Hazelwood's iWeb?

Neither the RNC nor Hazelwood responded immediately to TPMmuckraker's requests for comment.

I reported earlier today on Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl's (R-AZ) amendment to this week's 2009 spending bill, which appears to be directly inspired by a debunked internet rumor about plans to resettle Palestinian refugees in America.

Earlier today, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) gave a refreshingly candid speech urging rejection of the amendment and comparing today's everyday Palestinian citizens to his Irish ancestors, who were "hunted because they wouldn't renounce their religion" and concluding: "Thank goodness the United States had open arms for them."

A brief excerpt of Leahy's remarks is after the jump.

Read More →