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How oil and gas firms gained influence and transformed North Dakota

July 23, 2014 Comments off

How oil and gas firms gained influence and transformed North Dakota
Source: Center for Public Integrity

Oil development has transformed this state to the point where it’s hard to find a place or person that hasn’t been touched by the boom. Energy companies have drilled more than 8,000 wells into western North Dakota’s rugged prairie since the beginning of 2010, quadrupling the state’s oil production. From July 2011 through June 2013, the state collected $4 billion in oil taxes, and is expecting a $1 billion surplus for the current biennium, not including an oil-funded sovereign wealth fund that will approach a balance of $3 billion. North Dakota is in the uncommon position of facing a labor shortage, spurring a state-run campaign to attract workers, paid for in part by Hess Corp.

In addition to the tax revenue they’ve brought, the oil companies have showered the state with additional money — new millions for universities, museums, hospitals and other charitable causes. They’ve also given hundreds of thousands to politicians, making the sector the largest single source of those contributions. The oil industry is the top contributor to Gov. Jack Dalrymple, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and gave money in all but 10 of the 75 legislative races held in 2012.

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Medicare Advantage Money Grab

June 24, 2014 Comments off

Medicare Advantage Money Grab
Source: Center for Public Integrity

Congress created private Medicare Advantage health plans 11 years ago to help control health care spending on the elderly. But a Center for Public Integrity investigation found that billions of tax dollars are wasted every year through manipulation of a Medicare payment tool called a “risk score.” The formula is supposed to pay health plans more for sicker patients and less for healthy people, but often it pays too much. The government has for years missed opportunities to corral tens of billions of dollars in overcharges and other billing errors tied to abuse of risk scores. Meanwhile, the growing power of the Medicare Advantage industry has muzzled many critics in Congress, and turned others into cheerleaders for the program.

Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings of China’s Elite

January 22, 2014 Comments off

Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings of China’s Elite
Source: Center for Public Integrity (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists)

Close relatives of China’s top leaders have held secretive offshore companies in tax havens that helped shroud the Communist elite’s wealth, a leaked cache of documents reveals.

The confidential files include details of a real estate company co-owned by current President Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law and British Virgin Islands companies set up by former Premier Wen Jiabao’s son and also by his son-in-law.

Nearly 22,000 offshore clients with addresses in mainland China and Hong Kong appear in the files obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Among them are some of China’s most powerful men and women — including at least 15 of China’s richest, members of the National People’s Congress and executives from state-owned companies entangled in corruption scandals.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, UBS and other Western banks and accounting firms play a key role as middlemen in helping Chinese clients set up trusts and companies in the British Virgin Islands, Samoa and other offshore centers usually associated with hidden wealth, the records show. For instance, Swiss financial giant Credit Suisse helped Wen Jiabao’s son create his BVI company while his father was leading the country.

By the numbers: a 2013 money-in-politics index

December 28, 2013 Comments off

By the numbers: a 2013 money-in-politics index
Source: Center for Public Integrity

Number of bills passed by Congress this year that have been signed into law: 58

Number of bills passed in 1948, the year President Harry Truman* assailed the “Do-Nothing Congress”: 511

Number of minutes Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spent reading Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” during a 21-hour talk-a-thon in September: 5 ½

Number of hours per day the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recommends embattled freshmen spend fundraising: 4

Amount of campaign cash all members of Congress have reported raising so far in 2013: $403,952,012

Corruption risk huge for state governments

March 19, 2012 Comments off

Corruption risk huge for state governmentsSource: Center for Public Integrity

Open records laws with hundreds of exemptions. Budget decisions made behind closed doors. Ethics panels that haven’t met in years.

Those are among the examples of corruption risk we found in the State Integrity Investigation, an unprecedented examination of America’s state capitals. The bottom line? Not a single state earned an A grade in the year-long investigation. Half the states earned D’s or F’s. Find out what your state is doing right and wrong.

Click on a state to see its corruption risk report.

Who bankrolls the Super Congress?

August 26, 2011 Comments off

Who bankrolls the Super Congress?
Source: Center for Public Integrity

The Super Congress has its work cut out: Twelve lawmakers have been tapped to identify more than $1 trillion in spending cuts in an autumn marathon never before seen in Washington.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas will co-chair the committee, with a backup chorus of lawmakers representing the full political spectrum.

Every member of the Super Congress comes with a history of political patrons and connections with special interests. The Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News has produced an in-depth look at their involvement with the gears that make Washington work, often to the consternation of the public and government watchdogs.

The committee must come up with $1.5 trillion or more in budget savings over the coming decade, enough to match increases in the government’s ability to borrow enough money to pay its bills through the beginning of 2013. It requires a bipartisan majority of at least seven of the committee’s 12 members to recommend legislation to be presented to the whole Congress for an up-or-down vote by Dec. 23. The select panel has until the day before Thanksgiving to complete its deliberations.

There are powerful incentives for the Super Congress to reach agreement. Perhaps most important, if it fails to produce deficit savings of at least $1.2 trillion, or if the House or Senate votes down its recommendations, severe across-the-board spending cuts would trigger automatically. Additional pressure comes from the Standard & Poor’s downgrading of the U.S. government’s credit rating.

As with any group of senators and representatives, the members of the Super Congress bring to the table their own set of political activities. These include PAC contributions from special interests; the revolving door of staff in and out of the private sector; the lawmakers’ own PACs that dole out donations to favored people running for office. Click on the names below for individual profiles.

A more likely nuclear nightmare

May 14, 2011 Comments off

A more likely nuclear nightmare; Despite tsunami and earthquakes, nuclear power’s more probable threat — recurring fires — goes unchecked
Source: Center for Public Integrity

The safety plan for any nuclear power plant reads like a doomsday book. Earthquakes, floods, airplane crashes, mass evacuations, terrorist attacks, hurricanes, tornadoes — all are disaster scenarios deemed a risk to reactor safety. The most likely threat, however, involves none of these headline cataclysms.

Fires regularly occur at the 104 U.S. nuclear plants nearly 10 times a year on average. About half the accidents that threaten reactor cores begin with fires that can start from a short circuit in an electric cable, a spark that ignites the oil in a pump, or an explosion in a transformer. Even a small fire could trigger a chain of events that threatens a meltdown, and some have come close.

Just a year ago, a South Carolina nuclear plant suffered two fires in a single day — ironically on the 31st anniversary of the nation’s worst nuclear accident at Three Mile Island . The seven-hour crisis escaped much national notice even though it left half the plant without adequate power or a reliable supply of cooling water for its reactors, a situation worsened by workers’ unfamiliarity with the proper safety response.

Despite growing concerns, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission hardly ever issues serious penalties for fires, preferring instead for voluntary compliance and slaps on the wrist, a review by iWatch News found. The South Carolina plant, for instance, received low-level written citations that carried no penalty after the March 2010 fires.

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