Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Did they pay up or slip the noose?

This from an August 2003 bulletin from the Social Security Administration ...

Penalty Upheld Against United Seniors Association, Inc. [aka USANext] for Misleading Advertising

Judge Denies Appeal of $554,196 Civil Monetary Penalty

On August 8, a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Appeals Board Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued a ruling upholding the imposition of a $554,196 civil monetary penalty against the United Seniors Association, Inc. (USA Inc.). The ALJ found that USA Inc. violated Section 1140 of the Social Security Act, which protects Social Security program words and symbols from being used in a misleading manner. Over the course of several years, USA Inc. mailed solicitations to senior citizens in envelopes that appeared to be from, approved, endorsed or authorized by SSA. USA Inc. targeted these solicitations to senior citizens with envelopes that included such terminology as “SOCIAL SECURITY ALERT” in prominent, red type. USA Inc. consistently refused to cooperate with OIG’s compliance efforts over the course of 5 years. Therefore, OCIG proposed the penalty, and the parties had a full evidentiary hearing in April 2003. The ALJ’s August 8th ruling found that: USA, Inc. had “deliberately contravened the law,” the $554,196 penalty was reasonable, and USA’s envelopes created a “serious threat to the ability of the Social Security Administration to communicate freely with the public.” USA Inc. has the right to appeal the ALJ’s decision to the full HHS Departmental Appeals Board.

First-class outfit that Charlie Jarvis is running<$NoAd$>.

(ed.note: Thanks to TPM Reader XM.)

Chris Matthews and Charlie <$NoAd$> Jarvis last night on Hardball ...

MATTHEWS: Who is O‘Neill Marketing?

JARVIS: O‘Neill Marketing is a list company, a list rental company.

MATTHEWS: And where are they located?

JARVIS: They‘re located in Fairfax.

MATTHEWS: Where are you located?

JARVIS: In the building where we are, yes.

MATTHEWS: How close is their office to your office?

JARVIS: Three floors.

MATTHEWS: Three floors?


MATTHEWS: And what is your connection?

JARVIS: No connection at all now. When I first came in, 2001, USA, then known as United Seniors Association, did own...

MATTHEWS: And what is O‘Neill known for, advertising firm?

JARVIS: Basically just direct mail list rentals. That‘s it. They‘re not an advertising firm.

And as long as we're on the subject of USANext, apparently a couple years ago the Social Security Administration had to get a judge to issue a cease and desist order to stop Jarvis's outfit from sending out direct mail intended to "mislead the public into believing the mail is officially sent or approved by the Social Security Administration." That's quite a badge of honor. Are they still under that court order?

Here's the question I'm curious about. In this week's congressional recess, who's holding meetings and who's not?

We note that Rep. Thaddeus McCotter's (R) spokesperson says the congressman is spending the break "catching up on paperwork."

Say what you will about Sen. Santorum (R), Archduke of Privatization, but he ain't hiding. He may be getting his head handed to him this week in Pennsylvania. But he's out there making his case to some pretty unfriendly crowds.

But which representatives and senators have simply gone into hiding? And I'd define that as either holding no public forums or holding ones with access restricted to supporters.

USA Today gives a run-down on President Bush's courtship of current and former members of the Fainthearted Faction.

A tad more on the 'membership' of the United Seniors Association (USA).

At least as far back as 2002, USA has claimed a membership of 1.5 million.

(There are numerous examples. But just for reference, see National Journal, Dec. 7, 2002 and Newsday, August 4, 2002. An example of the identical claim from the 20th of this month can be found here in the Washington Times.)

Yet if you look at their 2001 and 2002 '990s' (the public tax filing for a 501c4), they list no income from membership dues.

Specifically, on the 2002 form, look on page 3, question 3 ("Membership dues and assessments") and no number is entered. Not even a zero; it's just blank.

Yet in the 2003 filing, on the same line, question 3, they list $1,204,172.00. (The 2003 filing is the most recent available.)

So, in two successive years in which the group claimed the same number of members, revenues from membership fees went from $0 to $1.2 million.

Now, what happened there exactly?

The membership levels purportedly remained the same. So I guess we could posit that membership dues were hiked from 0 cents to, say, 75 cents per annum. But somehow that doesn't sound quite right. So what happened?

Here's one thought that might be worth pursuing.

Remember that these filings are made in the following calendar year. So the 2002 990 was prepared in 2003, and so forth. Now, one thing that happened over the period in question is that United Seniors Association's apparent lack of any real membership started getting attention in the press. In fact, the article in the Washington Monthly I cited yesterday would have appeared about two months before the 2003 990 was filed.

Wow, ahht's bold.

If you've been reading this site for any length of time you've probably noticed that we tend to save copies of pretty much everything we refer to on the web since the juiciest stuff tends to disappear pretty quickly.

But O'Neill Marketing Company came up with a switch that really hadn't occurred to us.

You'll remember that last night we noted that O'Neill shared space with the Republican astroturf 'seniors' organization, USANext/United Seniors Association. Both were located at 3900 Jermantown Road, Fairfax, Virginia.

USA listed Suite 450; OMC listed Suite 450A.

But apparently last night was a pretty serious all-nighter for the folks at O'Neill. Because, as of today, they're located not in Suite 450A but (downstairs?) in Suite 300.

Here's Google's version of their 'about' page as it appeared prior to today with the old address and here's new one with the new address.

Late Update: As quite a few TPM Readers have now pointed out, Suite 300 turns out to be an awfully popular place. In fact, as you can see here, there seem to be enough businesses operating out of that suite that suite 300 might need its own trade organization or PAC. Is suite 300 the mailroom?

Did Charlie Jarvis fib today on Judy Woodruff's <$NoAd$>show?

Here's how the interview started...

WOODRUFF: First of all, Charlie Jarvis, USA Next, funded by whom?

CHARLIE JARVIS, CHAIRMAN, USA NEXT: We receive our funds from our base of 1.5 million individuals. Also we aggressively go after the support of very strong pro-free market businesses, business groups, associations, we're pretty aggressive about looking for free market supporters.

Unfortunately, Woodruff didn't follow up, and the answer stood.

But is it true?

A May 2004 article in The Washington Monthly says that though ...

USA claims a nationwide network of more than one million activists ... [it] listed zero income from membership dues in its most recent available tax return (emphasis added).

Given the date of the article, presumably the reference is to the 2002 return. And the MO certainly could have changed since then. But I'd say the ball's in Charlie's court.

Earlier this evening we brought you the news that Craig's List had a listing, purportedly on behalf of the Social Security Administration's Office of Communications, asking for partipants for a series of focus groups on selling privatization.

As a slew of readers have now informed us, the ad has just been pulled.

Needless to say, we made a copy.

Late Update: The ad is still up in the Philly Craigslist.

Rep. Harold Ford (D) of Tennessee is insisting again that his position on Social Security is being misunderstood or distorted. And this time, I think he's right.

Yesterday Knight Ridder ran a story on former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's plan to create individual investment accounts for children at birth, each of which the government would endow with $2,000. O'Neill says this is a way to deal with what he calls Social Security's unfunded liabilities. And, according to Knight Ridder, he "says his approach would eliminate the need for Social Security and Medicare."

In other words, O'Neill's a phase-out man, if one with a different sort of plan than the president's.

Later on in the article, the author writes that Ford last year introduced "a bill that amounts to a scaled-down version of O'Neill's proposal." And from that many have drawn the not-unreasonable assumption that Ford is trying to hop back on the phase-out bandwagon.

But the connection which is at least implied in the article is false.

The bill being referenced is that so-called ASPIRE act, which is similar in key ways to O'Neill's idea. The difference, however, is that it is meant to be in addition to Social Security, not a substitute for it. It doesn't take any money out of Social Security and isn't intended to replace it.

This afternoon, Ford put out a statement in which he said his ASPIRE Act would create a new savings vehicle for middle class families while ...

at the same time preserving Social Security and Medicare. Any assertions to the contrary are just wrong. ASPIRE would not be subsidized by Social Security, nor would it replace Social Security, despite the rhetoric of those who say it would. Those of us who support creating savings and investment vehicles for hard working Americans should not link those efforts with President Bush's plans to privatize Social Security. Any effort to link the funding of aspire to replacing Social Security or diverting funds from Social Security or Medicare to fund ASPIRE is not true.

In recent days, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has urged the creation of private accounts that would replace Social Security. His proposal is very different than President Bush's plan, but equally wrong in that he seeks to end Social Security as we know it. In short, the ASPIRE Act is very different than what former Secretary O'Neill is proposing. In our zeal to oppose President Bush and his Social Security privatization plan, let us be careful to not oppose savings and investment vehicles that will supplement Social Security, not destroy it.

It may look like Ford's just trying to distance himself from O'Neill's phase-out scheme now that he's now taking fire. But it seems pretty clear to me that this was just a bum rap from the beginning. ASPIRE does have bipartisan support. But it's not a phase-out bill. And Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D) and Sen. Jon Corzine (D) were co-sponsors too.

As you might imagine, we've got our eyes on every former member of the Faction to spy out any signs of recidivist Faintheartedness. But this isn't it.

From Craig's List .<$NoAd$>..

The Social Security Administration Communications Division is organizing a series of focus groups to solicit feedback from the public on preliminary marketing/communications materials, particularly those related to the privatization or partial privatization of Social Security.

Participants will be compensated $175 upon the completion of a 20-minute individual interview and a 45-minute group interview with other participants.

Applicants for the focus group must be U.S. citizens over the age of 18. Additionally, they must flexible with scheduling, comfortable providing honest feedback, and capable of asserting their opinions even if they contradict those of other participants.

For more information about the opportunity or to request an application, please respond to this post.


Has SSA really authorized this?