The Daily Muck

Legal Fight in Florida’s 13th Could Stretch Into 2007
“The number of Nov. 7 House general elections in which the winner has not been firmly established has dwindled to four. But at least one of these, the controversy-plagued contest for the open seat in Florida’s 13th District, is unlikely to be decided for weeks — and even has the potential to kick off the Democratic-controlled 110th Congress in January with a dispute over whether to seat the certified winner.

“That candidate is Republican Vern Buchanan: The Florida secretary of state’s office yesterday certified the wealthy car dealer as the victor, by a margin of 369 votes, over Democrat Christine Jennings, a former bank president.

“Jennings immediately filed a lawsuit in Leon County, which is well north of the 13th District but includes the state capital of Tallahassee. The crux of Jennings’ complaint — which demands that a new election be called — is that there were more than 18,000 “undervotes” in Sarasota County, the district’s largest jurisdiction and the source of Jennings’ greatest electoral strength.” (CQ Politics)ACLU Wants Congressional Probe of Pentagon Monitoring
“The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday called for a congressional investigation into a Department of Defense counterterrorism effort that monitored antiwar groups.

“At least two Senate committees have already looked into the matter but would be willing to examine it further, according to Democratic aides for those panels. All six congressional oversight committees have received briefings from the Pentagon in the past, according to the Department of Defense.” (CQ) (sub. req.)

Area Activists Spied on
“Sacramento peace protesters were targeted by a widespread domestic spying operation in which the Pentagon monitored anti-war groups across the country, newly released government documents show. . . .

“George Main, president of the Sacramento Veterans for Peace, was [at a rally monitored by government officials] that rainy day in 2004. He said Tuesday that he was aware then that the federal government had targeted and monitored his group — actions that he called illegal. . . .

“He speaks from personal experience, he said. In the late 1970s, he was part of the Army’s domestic spying operation.

“‘One of the things I did was spy on Americans,’ he said. ‘I objected to it at the time, but I did what I was told. It was wrong. I’m upset that they’re doing it to me, but I know it happens.'” (SacBee)

U.S. Asks to Reinstate Terror Charge
“Federal prosecutors have asked an appeals court to reinstate a key terrorism charge against alleged al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla, contending a judge erred in finding that it duplicated other counts in the same indictment.

“Padilla and two co-defendants are charged with being part of a North American support cell that provided money, supplies and recruits to Islamic extremists worldwide. Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was held for 3 1/2 years without charge as an “enemy combatant,” originally accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a U.S. city.” (AP)

Report Finds DHS Lax on Contracting Procedures
“Private consultants hired by the Department of Homeland Security have found widespread problems with its contracting operation, including nearly three dozen contract files that could not be located.

“Files that could be found often lacked basic documentation required under federal rules, such as evidence that the department negotiated the best prices for taxpayers, according to a copy of the consultants’ report obtained by The Washington Post.” (WaPo)

Schwarzenegger Aides Land Plum Jobs
“Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed or assigned dozens of staff members this year to high-paying jobs elsewhere in state government — some of them to six-figure posts he once said were a waste of taxpayer money and should be eliminated.

“An Associated Press investigation of Schwarzenegger’s staff turnover after last year’s disastrous special election revealed that he moved 40 people to other state positions, and at least half of them saw their salaries increase, some by more than $30,000 a year.

“Schwarzenegger also gave six former staffers jobs with state boards and commissions he previously tried to dismantle.” (AP)

THe GOP’s Dirty Deeds of 2006
“Before the 2006 midterm election, you couldn’t escape the predictions of Election Day disaster: voting machine meltdowns, interminable lines, endless recounts. But ultimately, none of that came to fruition — or at least not on the scale imagined by some — and so the issue has been all but dropped by the chattering classes, who seem to have declared election chicanery a dead issue in this country.

“But while this year might not have included any repeats of Palm Beach County or Ohio, that doesn’t mean dirt wasn’t going down. This November there were some old-school dirty tricks that had nothing to do with voting machines or secretaries of state. An unscientific sample seems to show that most were the product of a party that was desperate for something, anything, that would help it protect its doomed congressional majorities. Most of this year’s murky dealings took place in those tightly contested races — from the battle for Virginia’s Senate seat to House races in Illinois, New York and Connecticut — that were crucial to control of Congress. (Salon)

GAO Sees Risk in Classification
“The Justice Department’s classification program, which determines what information could reasonably be expected to damage the country’s national security if disclosed publicly, is at risk because of a lack of adequate staffing, according to a government report.

“In a 50-page report yesterday, the Government Accountability Office said the department’s classification-management program needs to assess its ‘optimum’ manpower requirements, develop a strategy to meet them, and then implement internal controls ‘to ensure proper use of sensitive but unclassified designations.'” (Washington Times)

State Asks Lobbying Firm to Prove They Can Work With Democrat-Controlled Congress
“Two state-paid lobbying firms under fire for their Republican-leaning work have been asked to show what strategy and staff changes they will make to build bridges with the new Democrat-controlled Congress, the governor’s office said.

“In a letter to the Federalist Group and Cassidy & Associates, Office of State-Federal Relations Executive Director Ed Perez asked that each firm be ready to present an ‘in-depth analysis’ of their strategy and contacts with the new Democratic leadership and committee chairmen and to offer ‘any team alterations within your firm that would assist (the office).’

“The request reflects not only the changed political atmosphere on Capitol Hill but also the partisan bent that Texas’ lobbyists pursued under former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.” (Austin American-Statesman)

Democrats Unlikely to Block Gates Nomination
“When Robert Gates testifies before a Senate panel in two weeks, Democrats will voice their opposition to administration war policies and gauge Gates’ willingness to change them. But they probably won’t stand in his way to becoming the next defense secretary.” (WaPo)

HHS Nominee Has Prescribed Birth Control
“Despite his work for a Christian pregnancy counseling group that opposes contraception, the physician who yesterday began overseeing federal family-planning programs has prescribed birth control for his patients, a Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman said.” (WaPo)

Policy Holder Sues State Farm for Post-Katrina Payout
“Thomas McIntosh’s case was shown on our 20/20 report, which detailed allegations that State Farm supervisors in many cases demanded that Hurricane Katrina damage reports be buried or replaced or changed so that the company would not have to fully pay policyholders’ claims in Mississippi….

“After learning that we planned to mention McIntosh’s case in our report, State Farm asked him to meet with two attorneys representing the company. McIntosh says the attorneys presented him with what they called two ‘confidential’ versions of an engineering report on his home dated Oct. 20, 2005. These reports indicated that the damage to the McIntosh home was largely caused by water, which was not covered in his insurance policy. McIntosh says, as a result, he was only paid about $36,000 on his claim despite suffering losses of over $1 million.

“After viewing the engineering reports, McIntosh signed a statement written by the attorneys, acknowledging that he was ‘satisfied’ and had ‘no dispute with State Farm over any insurance issues relating to the adjustment or payment of any claims by State Farm.’…

“However, after his meeting with the State Farm attorneys, ABC News contacted McIntosh and made him aware of an earlier, pre-existing engineering report on his home. This report, dated Oct. 12, concluded that “the interior damage of the structure is primarily the result of the failure of the windows, wall and doors due to the wind.” Wind damage is covered under State Farm policies.

“A copy of the first report also included the image of an attached “Post-it” note that read: ‘Put in wind file – do not pay bill – do not discuss.’ State Farm has told ABC that despite an extensive search of its files, it cannot find any record of McIntosh’s first engineering report.” (The Blotter)

Whistleblowers Bring Govt. Payback
“Whistle-blowers tipped off the government to $1.3 billion worth of fraud cases over the past year, largely at hospitals or other health care providers, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

“In all, the department recovered $3.1 billion in settlements — what prosecutors said was a record amount — from individuals and companies during the 2006 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.” (AP)

Guv Says She Didn’t Know She Was Helping Pals
“Phoenix New Times and the East Valley Tribune are reporting that recently re-elected Gov. Janet Napolitano allowed two political pals to take over Arizona’s student-loan business and later vetoed legislation that would have opened the system to competitors.

“The two Napolitano supporters are Pat Cantelme, the former head of the United Phoenix Firefighters Association, and Billy Shields, the current head of that union. The firefighters union is one of the most aggressive and politically active in the state. “Although the group is charged with making student loans, not one of its officers is involved with higher education, college financial aid, or even bonds,” Sarah Fenske of New Times writes. Cantelme is a co-owner of Professional Medical Transport, an ambulance company that last year won Scottsdale’s contract. Shields was in the news recently as co-chairman of the controversial Arizona 9-11 Memorial Commission.” (Plugged In [AZ Central])

Bush Prepares Good News in Case Baker-Hamilton Presents Bad
“The Pentagon is drafting its own new options for winning in Iraq, in part, to give President Bush counterproposals to fall back on in case the Iraq Study Group comes up with ideas he does not like, defense officials say.

“The defense officials said they do not want the Iraq Study Group’s options to go unchallenged in case it proposes items that Mr. Bush does not like, such as a timetable for removing troops.” (Washington Times)