Let the Solar In

Investing in solar and other renewable resources provides certainty and security regarding the cost of electricity, and intense competition within the solar industry continues to drive down the upfront cost of solar installations. Legislators can help develop these in-state resources while creating diverse, local jobs and improving South Carolina’s economy by passing H.3346. The Solar Energy Investment Tax Credit, by Rep. Dwight Loftis, provides a state tax credit of 35% to any taxpayer installing a residential or commercial solar energy system. In doing so, the bill elevates South Carolina’s sola r tax credit to be on par with that of North Carolina and Georgia, ensuring our state’s regional competitiveness. It also helps homeowners and companies invest in South Carolina’s abundant renewable energy resources while reducing dependence on imported fuels. We look to the Senate Finance Committee to support H.3346, recognizing that clean energy fuels new investments and local jobs.


Lobby Team Tuesday

Because the House is at recess until next week, there will be no lobby team this week. Join us Tuesday, April 17th when the SC Wildlife Federation and Camo Coalition come to the State House. The SCWF promotes effective habitat conservation and respect for outdoor traditions through statewide leadership, education, advocacy and partnerships. For more information on participating in weekly Lobby Teams visit the CVSC website or send an email to debbie@cvsc.org.

The 2012 Annual Conservation Lobby Day will be Tuesday, May 1st. Join hundreds of conservation community members at the State House as we gather to encourage support of the Common Agenda priorities! If you’d like to participate send an email to vanessa@thesoutherngreenie.com.


In the House

Alcoholic Beverage Container (ABC) Recycling (S.461, Sen. Ray Cleary) SUPPORT
S.461 creates a program for hotel, restaurant and bar owners to implement recycling in the next two years for plastic, corrugated cardboard, aluminum and glass. Businesses are exempt from the recycling program if they cannot afford to recycle, and liquor permits cannot be revoked for failure to comply. This bill needs a hearing in the Agriculture Subcommittee (Rep. David Hiott- Chair, Bill Crosby, Chandra Dillard and Chris Murphy). Email Chairman Nelson Hardwick to ask him to support common sense recycling.

Abandoned Buildings Revitalization Act (H.4802, Rep. James Smith/ S.1330, Sen. Creighton Coleman) SUPPORT
This legislation is in response to the hundreds of abandoned buildings that are blighting many communities all over South Carolina. H.4802 would create a 25% state income tax credit applied to the rehabilitation of a building that has been abandoned for at least five years, that will be utilized for commerce and that will have at least $500,000 invested. The full Ways and Means Committee gave this bill a favorable report two weeks ago. It will be considered by the full House when it returns from furlough the week of April 17th.

Local Food in Schools (H.4200, Rep. Nelson Hardwick) SUPPORT
H.4200 requires the Department of Agriculture to create and maintain a program to encourage schools to serve locally grown, minimally processed farm foods. The full Agriculture Committee gave this bill a favorable report two weeks ago and the full House will consider the bill upon its return the week of April 17th.

Property and Firefighter Protection Bill (H.4082, Rep. Ted Vick/S.1348, Sen. John Land) SUPPORT
This legislation would transfer 7% of taxes already being collected on insurance premiums that currently go into the state’s General Fund to the Forestry Commission to protect property, firefighters, the public, and grow the forest industry. This is not a new tax, and will not take funds from other organizations which currently receive direct funding from insurance taxes and fees. H.4082 has been assigned to the House Ways and Means Committee and S.1348 has been assigned to the Senate Banking and Finance Committee.


In the Senate

Polluter Bill (H.4654, Rep. Nelson Hardwick/S.1126, Sen. Harvey Peeler) OPPOSE unless amended
A recent Supreme Court ruling affirmed protections for all of our state’s waters, including Carolina Bays and wetlands, and the right of citizens to sue against harm to themselves or their property from pollution. H.4654 passed the House in an 85-22 vote in March, and two weeks ago the Senate Medical Affairs Committee (Sen. Harvey Peeler- Chair, John Courson, Dave Thomas, Wes Hayes, Darrell Jackson, Michael Fair, Brad Hutto, Ralph Anderson, Clementa Pinckney, Danny Verdin, Ray Cleary, Kevin Bryant, Joel Lourie, Shane Martin, Floyd Nicholson and John Scott), unanimously voted to again carry over debate on S.1126. They will continue their discussion Thursday, April 12 at 9:30 am in Gressette Room 209. We encourage Senators to adopt the conservation amendment to clarify standing for citizens’ suits. This is a major 2012 Conservation Common Agenda priority. Email your Senator today to ask him to stand up for citizens’ rights.

Conservation Bank Sunset Extension (S.48, Sen. Glenn McConnell/H.3083, Rep. Mike Pitts) SUPPORT
Originally slated to end, or sunset, in 2013, these bills extend the life of the Conservation Bank. H.3083 will be considered by the full Senate this week. This is a major 2012 Common Agenda priority.

Solar Tax Credit Bill (H.3346, Rep. Dwight Loftis)
SUPPORT
This bill establishes a 35% state tax credit for the installation of solar energy equipment for both residential and commercial purposes placed in service in taxable years after 2010. This legislation not only promotes renewable energy; it encourages solar installations and creates new jobs. H.3346 passed the House in a 100-10 vote last year, and will be considered by the Finance Sales and Income Taxation Subcommittee (Sen. Billy O’Dell- Chair, Dick Elliott, Mike Fair, Harvey Peeler and Glenn Reese) Thursday, April 12 at 2:00 pm in Gressette Room 207.

Commercial Center Retrofit Act (H.3604, Rep. James Smith) SUPPORT
This concurrent resolution encourages local governments to adopt ordinances allowing shopping malls to be redeveloped into “dense, walkable, mixed-use town centers.” The House adopted H.3604 last year and the full Judiciary Committee (Sen. Larry Martin -Chair, Robert Ford, Luke Rankin, Brad Hutto, Jake Knotts, Gerald Malloy, Vincent Sheheen, Chip Campsen, Ray Cleary, JoeI Lourie, Kent Williams, Paul Campbell, Shane Massey, Lee Bright, Creighton Coleman, Tom Davis, Shane Martin, Floyd Nicholson, Mike Rose, John Scott, Phillip Shoopman and Greg Gregory) will consider it Tuesday, April 10 at 3:00 pm in Gressette Room 308.

Safer Bike Routes (S.1375, Sen. Chip Campsen)
SUPPORT
State law currently restricts the use of anything but an automobile on “controlled-access roadways-” for example the James Island Connector in Charleston. S.1375 provides exceptions for bicyclists and pedestrians to use these roadways if deemed appropriate by the municipality—particularly if the roadway is the safest available route. A Senate Transportation Subcommittee (Sen. Chip Campsen- Chair, Yancey McGill, Gerald Malloy, Ray Cleary, Vincent Sheheen, Paul Campbell and Lee Bright) will discuss this bill Wednesday, April 11 at 10:00 am in Gressette Room 308.

Plug-in Hybrid Bill (H.3059, Rep. Jim Merrill) SUPPORT
H.3059 would extend an existing state income tax credit of $2,000 for highway-speed, plug-in vehicles. The tax credit has an annual impact cap of $500,000 and is provided on a first-come, first- served, basis. Within three years, over a dozen hybrid models are expected to be available, providing economic, national security, and environmental benefits. This bill passed the House in a 64-40 vote last year, and is on the Senate calendar where Sen. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg has placed an objection on the bill.

Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (H.4703, Rep. Mike Pitts) MONITOR
H.4703 is a concurrent resolution to affirm the state’s authority in determining appropriate activities and uses of the state’s water resources. Amendment language was added by stakeholders to recognize the critical role of states in federal ocean planning, including the gathering of coastal and marine spatial data. H.4703 was adopted unanimously by the House two weeks ago and sent to the Senate Agriculture Committee for consideration.

Provided by Debbie Parker of Conservation Voters of South Carolina

Ron Paul Is Really Serious About Transparency

by Kim Barker ProPublica

This story was co-published with Yahoo! News.

He may be in last place when it comes to delegates, but when it comes to filing expense reports with the FEC, Ron Paul beats everyone.

His campaign’s hyper-vigilance is notable, verging on fanatical.

Every bank fee, every 22 cents at a FedEx, every $1 toll on the Florida turnpike, every $5.09 pit stop at any Starbucks anywhere, every doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts and Dough Nutz — it’s all right there, itemized in the Paul campaign’s copious expenditure reports. In 160 instances so far, the campaign has reported purchases costing a single dollar or less.

Last week, ProPublica examined the spending of the five presidential candidates and the major super PACs, identifying their 200 top payees.  But as part of digging into the more than $306 million spent through February, it was impossible to avoid the other end of the spectrum: The small bucks, if you will.

The Paul campaign tracks every cent like no other, which Paul campaign officials say is deliberate.

“We take the trust our donors place in us very seriously and are deeply committed to transparency and accuracy in our reporting,” wrote Paul’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, in an email response to ProPublica.

Deeply, indeed.

Under Federal Election Commission rules, campaigns only have to disclose expenditures of more than $200 per election cycle to an individual or a vendor. And, for most campaigns, that’s mostly how it works. Sure, there’s the odd $1 rental car expense for Mitt Romney’s campaign, a few $5 bank fees for Newt Gingrich, and the inexplicable one-cent expense reported by Rick Santorum to the Stoney Creek Inn in Johnston, Iowa. But generally, they don’t sweat the small stuff.

By and large, neither does President Barack Obama’s campaign, which explains on its reports that it specifies travel reimbursements totaling over $500 to any individual and payments to vendors that exceed $200 for the election cycle, but otherwise doesn’t itemize.

That just won’t do for the Paul campaign. A similar thoroughness seems to extend to one of the super PACs supporting him, Endorse Liberty. Super PACs, like other outside spending groups, are supposed to file reports of independent expenditures—TV ads or phone calls or direct mail on behalf of or against a candidate—within a day or two, depending on the time in the election cycle. But Endorse Liberty files all expense within 48 hours, including the $71.92 spent at Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant on Feb. 13 and the 8 cents paid to Google for online advertising on Feb. 27.

Paul’s expenditures show what it’s like to run for president and life on the trail.  It’s a journey through gas stations and fast-food joints in towns like Romeoville, Ill., Sugar Land, Texas, and Correctionville, Iowa. There’s a kind of poetry to the purchases, which range from the austere ($59.50 for meals at the Puritan Backroom), to the whimsical ($28.43 for a meal at The Peddler’s Daughter) to the downright depressing ($26.72 for catering from Little Caesars pizza in Colorado on New Year’s Day).

Like Paul himself, the campaign staffers often seem to value thrift. On Oct. 18, for instance, someone spent $1.09 for office equipment at the Dollar Tree in Baton Rouge. Eight days later, someone else spent $1 at a Salvation Army on Sheep Davis Road in New Hampshire for event supplies.

Staffers often ate cheap, spending $1.39 for a meal at the Circle K in El Dorado, Kan., on Sept. 27, $1.27 at the Kwik Star in Charles City, Iowa, on Dec. 9, and 99 cents at the Conoco in Moses Lake, Wash., on Feb. 20. Well, maybe they weren’t meals.

“We actually don’t have any food here,” said Chris Chase, the manager of that Conoco, who didn’t recall anyone from the Paul campaign and actually had never heard of the Paul campaign. “We’ve got some candies. Suckers are under $1. We’ve got some protein bars for 99 cents, some Planters peanuts for 59 cents.”

There were a few splurges: For example, the $26,690.01 listed for staying at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nev.

Though exhaustive, the Paul campaign’s record of purchases sometimes left us wanting to know even more. How is it possible to stop 119 times at the same Kum & Go gas station in Ankeny, Iowa? And what office supply was possibly downloaded for $1.07 on iTunes on Nov. 25?

We asked, but the campaign offered no response. Sadly, we may never know. (Update: Thanks to Twitter, we can report that the Kum & Go is less than a half-mile from Paul’s Iowa headquarters.)

 

Cake INTERVIEW

CCP’s Fr. Jones shoots the breeze with John McCrea of Cake about phonetic momentum, solar power, aural equivalents of deforestation, and of course- Lana Del Rey.





FR: So where did the band name Cake come from?

JM: It was chosen mostly for it’s phonetic power. It just has a lot of phonetic momentum. It’s a four-letter word but without all the other baggage. Do you know what I mean? It’s very abrupt sounding. It looks good on a poster. I used to make all of our posters in the early years and there’s nothing like a four-letter word just sort of juxtaposed with some sort of two-dimensional iconic graphic beneath it to confuse people and generate curiosity. In the back of my mind, I thought, “Marie Antoinette” but we were more thinking about “cake” as a verb than as a noun- as if you were to find some dried banana caked on your corduroy trousers.

FR: Dried banana on corduroy trousers. That actually sounds like a Cake lyric.

JM: Right. Or mud caked on your shoe sort of thing. Or layers of culture or whatever.

FR: How did you guys first get together?

JM: Probably pretty typically. All the musicians existed separately in this music scene of Sacaramento, California. We were in a lot of different kinds of bands and it sort of coalesced around songs. I was actually performing solo acoustic for a while in the area. I just thought that I had these parts and wanted to add a guitar, bass guitar. Finally, we found a good drummer and then lastly, I guess we had some melodies we thought that we could put on a second electric guitar or keyboard or some other horn. Eventually, we settled on trumpet because we wanted to avoid the heroic sound of the lead guitar that has been dominating for decades in the United States of America and the trumpet seemed like a good alternative- long notes without all the bombast and self-importance of the searing lead guitar aesthetic.

FR: You guys hit it big way back in the 90s. The music scene has changed a lot since then. Can you remember the moment where you knew Cake had gone to the next level?

JM: It was like putting a frog in lukewarm water and slowly raising the temperature. It happened without our noticing. It happened while we were touring on the road in a broken-down Dodge van that was catching on fire all the time. There wasn’t some red carpet, it was really gradual. Here and there, suspicious events would happen where we would hear our song on the radio or there would be some famous actor that liked our band and wanted to meet us. But it was just so gradual. I don’t know if there was ever a sense of explosion and I think that may have preserved our mental health to a certain degree as well.

FR: Currently, a popular thing to do is to group music into genres and subgenres- everything’s post. You have post-rock, post-dubstep. How would you categorize the sound of Cake? Even in the 90s, a lot of people my age were drawn to it because of that aesthetic you mentioned. It sounded so much different than anything at the time.

JM: Well, if I were a music journalist I would feel more compelled to figure out what we are. I understand that it may be frustrating because there’s not a whole cultural scene around what we’re doing. There’s not a unified aesthetic consensus and there’s not even really an aesthetic consensus within the confines of even one of our albums. There’s a lot of different kinds of songs. I can empathize with that frustration. If there’s any sort of overarching statement about our music, it doesn’t have to do with our being part of a tribe or movement. I think that’s maybe been helpful to our longevity. When something reaches a critical mass, there’s sort of a gut reaction in America to throw it out. Since we’re not part of a scene, I think we’ve been allowed to live longer than most bands. But if there is an overarching way I can describe us, it’s a “less is more” approach. It’s not about inclusion so much, but it’s about the things we exclude. A lot of bands, during the time of our inception, were about turning the volume up to 11. We just wondered “how is sheer quantity in any way subversive or rebellious to the status quo in the United States of America?” It’s not necessarily about rebellion. It’s about being able to tell one band or song from the other. At the time, there was a lot of big, dumb rock happening, a new type of wide load music. It was different from the wide load music of five years previous, but the same type of approach- creating music that is the aural equivalent of deforestation. It was just sort of about being muscular. Not literally muscular, but the music was just slabs of guitar and to me that was a cultural gesture that was both unintelligible and unsustainable to itself. So I thought, “You know what? We need to turn this shit down.” And hopefully that’s a truly novel approach.

FR: How would you say the music of Cake has developed? From the early 90s to now, what’s the biggest difference?

JM: Initially, our music was a hostile and reactionary gesture towards what was going on at the time. Now, maybe that’s less the case and maybe we’ve gotten a little louder than we used to be. We’re not really making that same statement but we’ve kept our “less is more” approach to a certain degree in how we arrange our songs and write our music. It’s still not about volume so much. I wouldn’t really call that intentional development. I would call it a slight change of attitude. I don’t subscribe to the idea that a band needs to develop in a conventional narrative. I guess what I could say is that, as a band, we have all grown into our separate roles and there’s a lot more confidence coming from each player. This recent album, Showroom of Compassion, I think it’s a step forward in that confidence and ease of working together and creating song arrangements. It used to be the task of one or two people to write these songs. But now, various members of the band are a lot more confident in participating in that process.

FR: One of your biggest hits was a cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” from Fashion Nugget. How did you reach this decision? Were you big disco fans?

JM: I always loved that song. Even though it was a disco song, I thought it had a well-written melody. A lot of people just assumed, especially in the Baby Boomer generation, that the whole thing was a sarcastic joke. Actually, we really liked that song. I think a lot of people assumed it had to be a joke because of the whole “disco sucks” movement and all the white, male anger towards all things disco- which is understandable. I think it’s natural to be threatened by such a massive, pop cultural movement that isn’t about white, male power, a guitar, or some other phallic symbol. It was really just an earnest appreciation for the melody of the song. It was a very atypically hopeful song for a band like us to play.

FR: Can you tell me a little about your solar studio?

JM: Speaking about a lack of hope, we wanted to convert our studio to solar power for a long time but we were never home very much. We decided to take a little time off and maybe find a way out of our record deal with Columbia so we had some time to think. We had just gotten back from Germany which is actually the number one producer of solar electricity in the world and just about every time we’ve gone to Germany, it’s been cloudy and rainy. So hailing from California, it seemed shameful for us not to do what we could to make the conversion to solar. It ended up being really easy. And now as the value of recorded music descends into the toilet, we still get a check in the mail every so often from the publically-owned utility in Sacramento, California. So that helps us buy sandwiches.

FR: On the note of recorded music going into the toilet, it’s available in a variety of forms now. You have the digital downloads, vinyl, CDs, even cassettes are attempting a modest comeback. Is there any form you enjoy listening to the most? Is there any form you think Cake sounds best on?

JM: Speaking of the frog being lowered into boiling water and slowly turning the temperature up, when things happen slowly, maybe they go unnoticed. But when you compare the quality of an old vinyl album with the sound quality of a MP3 file, the difference in sound quality is jarring. That said, it’s exciting to fit so much music into such a small space. But I still have my turntable set up in the living room with a lot of albums that I listen to. I listen to albums on CD as well and I do think the portability of MP3 files is valuable- so when I’m on the road, I’ll probably listen to that. But in terms of quality, with most genres that I listen to, vinyl sounds the best. There are some genres, like techno and various forms and offshoots of electronic music, that I think may sound just fine on MP3 and more digital forms. But if I had my choice, in terms of rock music or big band music or old country music or early 70s soul and R&B, those all sound best on vinyl.


FR: The music industry has changed a lot in the past decade. From Napster to iTunes to Spotify, where do you see it going in the next ten years?

JM: Well, for musicians, I think it looks pretty bleak in terms of feeding yourself with music. Spotify, Pandora, and all these other things, the amount they pay musicians for their work is very paltry. The other alternatives are a pretty giant step down from what the evil record companies were doing- they were definitely stealing money from musicians in the 70s, 80s and 90s. But I think it’s gotten more difficult to sustain life in terms of paying for food and rent with music. It’s gotten easier though in terms of there not being this conventional gatekeeper. It is now easier to be noticed like putting a video up on YouTube and getting a million hits. But it’s also harder to get people to remember a few months later. It’s like, “What was that video we watched? There was a dog in it or something? What band was that?” We’re using the warp drive in a way or whatever it’s called in Star Trek or Star Wars when the ship goes really fast.


FR: Hyperdrive.

JM: Right, the hyperdrive. All the stars blend together. It’s a challenge. As far as music being more than a hobby and someone being supported by the community, America’s never been all that supportive of the arts compared to some other countries so this isn’t really surprising. I’ll put it this way- a lot of companies like Google are making lots of money from information being free, they like to talk about how there are other avenues for income. But in the music world, that would mean just touring constantly. I’ve been touring for about twenty years and I can’t do that any longer. So for me, I can see the end of the road ahead where I may go to dental school or something to figure out another way to earn a living. I actually know a lot of bands and artists who are checking out because, if you can do math and can project the precipitous decline, the outcome is pretty clear. I mean, it’s cool if you’re twenty and you love to tour. I think it’s a great thing what’s happening now with people having such an array of music at their fingertips instantaneously. It’s such a great time for exploration.

FR: Do you have any thoughts on Lana Del Rey?

JM: I remember some musicians I know sort of kvetching about her wondering why they put her on Saturday Night Live. But I don’t really watch Saturday Night Live. I just can’t watch that show anymore.

FR: Yeah. It’s really gone downhill.

JM: Always savor the decline.

Will Glenn McConnell go after Nikki Haley’s job?

By Will Moredock

There is a deep sense of anxiety around the Statehouse these days as people in high places get ready for the next shoe to drop. The first shoe, of course, was the resignation of Lt. Gov. Ken Ard three weeks ago, when he pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws. After much squirming and sweating, Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell stepped up to the job he had always said he did not want but that the state constitution directed that he must fill.

Then came the next surprise. If it wasn’t exactly a shoe drop, maybe it was a sock. Lt. Gov. McConnell announced — to the surprise of many, including me — that he intended to fill out the full term of the state’s No. 2 job and would not be resigning to run for his old Senate seat again in November.

Almost immediately, speculation began to bubble — and my e-mail inbox began to fill — with the question: Does McConnell intend to run for governor against Nikki Haley in 2014?

There are compelling reasons why he would, not the least of which is the fact that he and Haley apparently don’t like each other very much. Last year, he took her to court to stop her from calling the General Assembly back for a special session, and he is still fighting to reverse the decision of the Haley-appointed Department of Health and Environmental Control board to allow the State of Georgia to dredge the Savannah River.

Replacing Haley would be sweet revenge, the speculation goes, and since McConnell has already lost the job he most loved and the job that was infinitely more powerful than the lieutenant governor’s ceremonial role, why not shoot for the top?

He could have it if he wanted it. McConnell is one of the most popular politicians in the state — both in the Legislature and on the street. Haley, by contrast, has made several stunning missteps and overreaches, and her popularity has plummeted.

Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who came close to beating Haley in the gubernatorial race two years ago, seems ready to run again. He would have an excellent chance of knocking her off in a rematch, but McConnell would be a hero to the GOP if he removed the threat of a Democratic win by defeating Haley in the GOP primary. With the exception of U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, nobody — Democrat or Republican — could defeat Glenn McConnell in a statewide election.

This is the scenario I have heard described in recent days, and it sounds plausible enough. Some people even thought the next shoe was about to drop — specifically, that Haley would be the next to take the perp walk from the Statehouse.

John Rainey, a longtime Republican activist and former chairman of the state Board of Economic Advisers, had brought a suit against the governor, accusing her of a host of improprieties and illegalities relating to lobbying and private jobs she held while a member of the state House of Representatives.

“Haley exploited her public office for personal financial gain by trading on her influence and office to benefit corporations that were paying her money,” the lawsuit alleged.

Rainey did not get a chance to prove his case. His complaint was dismissed last week.

“Alleged violations of the Ethics Code … are exclusively within the subject matter jurisdiction of the State Ethics Commission or the Legislative Ethics Committees, not the circuit court,” a Richland County judge ruled.

Nothing was settled, and the charges still hang over Haley’s head. There are now rumors that the FBI is looking into her finances. Closer to home, Haley’s case is before the House ethics committee. If they find cause to pass it to the attorney general’s office (and they would almost have to), then Haley is toast. Attorney General Alan Wilson would make short work of her. He has already brought down a corrupt lieutenant governor. Now he could do the same with a corrupt governor. In the process, he would set himself up as a giant slayer and clean-government crusader. How far he could ride that pony remains to be seen.

How close are we to Haley’s ouster? We probably won’t see it coming until it happens. We didn’t know that the end was so close for Ken Ard. On March 8, he was presiding over the state Senate on a quiet Thursday afternoon. The next morning he wrote his resignation letter to Gov. Haley, went down to the courthouse, and fell on his sword. Could it come that quickly for Haley? If it does, guess who the next governor will be. That’s another job McConnell said he had no interest in, but it has a lot more power and perks than the one he now holds.

This state never ceases to amaze me.

Three Things We Don’t Know About Obama’s Massive Voter Database

by Lois Beckett ProPublica

President Obama’s re-election campaign is reportedly building a massive database of information about potential supporters.

The database seems to bring together information about supporters gathered from all branches of the campaign — everything from an individual’s donation records to volunteer activity to online interactions with the campaign — aimed at allowing the campaign to personalize every interaction with potential supporters.

Earlier this month, we built an interactive graphic showing how different Obama supporters received different variations of the same email — one way that the campaign may be using data to personalize messages.

We can’t describe the Obama campaign’s database with certainty because the campaign won’t talk about it. Citing concerns about letting Republicans learn its tactics, the campaign declined our request for comment — as it has with other outlets — about what data the campaign collects and what it’s doing with the data. The campaign did emphasize that, regardless of what information it gathers, it has never sold voter data or shared its voter database with other candidates.

Here’s a guide to what we know — and don’t know — about the information Obama is collecting about voters.

1. What information is the campaign collecting about individual supporters?

We know only some of the data it’s collecting, but it is clearly collecting a lot.

The Obama campaign has hired a corporate data-mining expert, Rayid Ghani, to serve as its “chief scientist.” Ghani has previously researched how to use a retailer’s record of customer purchases to predict what a particular customer will buy during a given shopping trip — the same kind of data crunching that Target has apparently used to predict whether shoppers are pregnant. The campaign is continuing to hire “analytics engineers” and other data experts.

Some of the most important data that campaigns need are already public. State voter files include voters’ names, addresses and voting histories. Campaigns don’t know whom you voted for. But they know when you voted, when you didn’t and, in some states, your race and party registration.

The Obama campaign website asks supporters for basic information, starting with your email address and ZIP code. If you sign up for an account on the site or register as a volunteer, you may also be asked for your mailing address, phone number and occupation.

But the campaign’s privacy policy says the campaign has the right to gather far more — information about how you use the campaign website, such as what you click on and which pages you view; data about how you interact with campaign email messages; and personal information you submit as part of blog comments, interactive forums or contests and games on the campaign’s websites.

Logging on to BarackObama.com using Facebook gives the campaign permission to access your name, profile picture, gender, networks, list of friends and any other information you have made public.

How much information is the campaign tracking and connecting back to you? The campaign won’t give an overarching answer to that.

That doesn’t mean it is tracking everything. For instance, the campaign website features an interactive graphic that allows users to see how the health-care reform law might benefit them. To do so, users click through several options, selecting whether they have private health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or no insurance at all, how many people are in their families, and what their annual household incomes are.

According to the campaign’s privacy policy, the campaign may track how individual users interact with the campaign website. But the campaign said that none of the information entered into the health-care interactive site was linked back to individual supporters.

It’s worth noting that, as many websites do, the campaign also works with third-party ad vendors that use web cookies to track your browsing online. This enables them to serve you ads on different sites — and to target their ads based on the sites you visit.

2. What will happen to all this personal information once the campaign is over?

It’s hard to know.

According to the privacy policy, the campaign reserves the right to share the personal information it collects “with candidates, organizations, groups or causes that we believe have similar political viewpoints, principles or objectives.”

The campaign wouldn’t comment about any future plans but said its track record demonstrated its approach to privacy protection.

After the 2008 election, Obama’s list of 13 million email addresses was not given to other candidates or used by the White House. Obama launched “Organizing for America,” a Democratic National Committee outreach program that drew on Obama’s wide network of supporters to generate support for the president’s agenda.

“This campaign has always and will continue to be an organization that respects and takes care to protect information that people share with us,” spokeswoman Katie Hogan said.

But the privacy policy shows the campaign is reserving the right to share its increasingly rich database. And some experts are wondering what Obama will do with it once the campaign ends.

“As a voter, I would feel a lot more comfortable if campaigns gave voters the option of whether or not they could pass their information on to other groups,” said Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Forum and TechPresident, a site focusing on how technology affects politics.

From a voter’s perspective, “the fact that I gave the Obama campaign $10 for six months, or emailed the campaign 10 times, may not be information that I want anyone else to know,” Rasiej said.

Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said she’s “never heard anyone complain” about Obama’s 2008 campaign giving away personal information.

“The success of the Obama campaign in 2008 in getting millions of people to log on to their website to give personal information and volunteer and do all sorts of things for the campaign hinged on trust,” she said. “People did not believe that that information was going to go anywhere.”

Any choice to share supporters’ information should take their preferences into account, Coney said. A campaign could easily create a checklist of politicians and organizations, allowing users to grant permission to share with some groups and not with others.

3. Is there any way to erase yourself from the campaign’s database?

As far as we can tell, no.

President Obama’s “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights,” released last month, says that consumers’ right to control their personal data “includes a right to withdraw consent to use personal data that the company controls.”

The Obama campaign does make it easy to unsubscribe from email, text messages or newsletters. But we couldn’t find any way to take yourself off its database — and the campaign wouldn’t comment. There’s also no apparent way to see what information the campaign is storing about you.

In a report on consumer privacy released March 26, the Federal Trade Commission called on companies to “provide consumers access to the data collected about them.”

Both the “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” and the FTC’s report are meant to serve as guidelines for future legislation regulating companies’ use of consumer data. How any laws will apply to political campaigns isn’t clear.

A White House official said the Privacy Bill of Rights “applies to how businesses handle consumers’ personal data online, and will impact all organizations using personal information collected through commercial means,” including campaigns.

Obama’s privacy policy notes that users, just as they can at any website, can disable cookies if they don’t want their browsing tracked. And to the campaign’s credit, EPIC’s Lillie Coney said, the privacy policy also includes a link to the Network Advertising Initiative, which allows users to control which digital advertisers are tracking them.

 

The War on Democracy

By Will Moredock

Was it coincidence or was it destiny? In this state, which is eternally reliving its past, the two seem indistinguishable. On the day that state Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson swore to defend South Carolina’s new Voter ID law in federal court, the General Assembly was debating a new piece of legislation that would effectively shut down voter registration drives in the state.

The bill in question — H. 4549 — would stop voter registration drives by creating burdensome regulations and stiff penalties for violations, up to $1,000. Voter registration drives are as traditional as Fourth of July parades, and they have been organized for generations by the League of Women Voters, churches, and even Scouts trying to earn their citizenship badges.

But that will likely be a thing of the past if our GOP-controled legislature prevails. The bill was pushed through the Judiciary Committee without even consulting the state Election Commission. The man doing the pushing was Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach), who is on record as telling his constituents after the 2008 election that the GOP would do whatever it could to keep Democrats from showing up again in such threatening numbers in future elections.

The solution to all those Democrats on Election Day was the Voter ID law, which requires voters to show a state-issued photo ID at the polls. The ostensible purpose of the law was to prevent voter fraud, but Republicans have not been able to present a recent case of voter fraud that would have been prevented by a photo ID. What we do know — and it is confirmed by the Election Commission and the League of Women Voters — is that the law could potentially disenfranchise up to 200,000 mostly poor and rural (re: black) voters. It will also thin out college students and the elderly, all groups who have a stronger likelihood of voting Democratic.

The U.S. Justice Department immediately struck down the Voter ID law under the review provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and Wilson went to court to defend it. The Post and Courier has since reported that this bit of litigation is going to cost our cash-strapped state up to a million dollars. Now with the General Assembly moving ahead with another voter suppression law, it looks like we will see more litigation and more unnecessary expense.

H. 4549 does not address any recognized problem. The regulations and penalties imposed by the law have the ostensible purpose of keeping the registration process clean and open, but there have been no documented cases of people being improperly registered. The sole purpose of the law seems to be scaring people away from the civic goal of registering citizens to vote. Voter registration drives in schools, churches, and shopping malls are aimed at people who normally do not vote — and perhaps have never voted. Again, this profile tends to describe both young and minority demographics, two Democratic voting blocks.

Something else the Voter ID law has in common with this new voter-suppression bill is that both came out of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing, pro-business organization created to bring Republican state legislators and business leaders together to promote their mutual interests. ALEC has championed laws supporting private education vouchers and curtailing the power of unions. One of the biggest goals ALEC has worked on is having states pass harsher sentencing laws with the purpose of putting more people in jail for longer periods. This is done at the behest of the private prison industry, a big ALEC supporter. And of course, another goal has been to get Democratic voters off the voter rolls, assuring Republican victories in state and federal elections. Florida has already passed this piece of ALEC-sponsored legislation. Now it’s South Carolina’s turn.

The tragedy, of course, is not just with this fraudulent bill and the fraudulent men and women who want to pass it. The tragedy is that this is just the latest example of our state waging war on itself. The history of this little state is the story of the dominant group trying to punish, deprive, and exclude all others. Whether it’s Jim Crow laws, the exclusion of women from the Citadel, the denial of full rights to gays and lesbians, or trumped-up laws to disenfranchise voters, it is a story that has been going on for generations. Other states take measures to punish their minorities, of course, but probably none does it more frequently, more sweepingly than South Carolina. It is this self-loathing and self-destruction that has put this state in a 19th-century downward spiral, that makes us look abhorrent and intolerant to the world, that holds us back economically and socially, and that ultimately poisons our souls.

S.C. Has Sweeping Self-Defense Law Just Like Florida’s

by Cora Currier ProPublica

“Stand Your Ground,” “Shoot First,” “Make My Day” — state laws asserting an expansive right to self-defense — have come into focus after last month’s killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

In 2005, Florida became the first state to explicitly expand a person’s right to use deadly force for self-defense. Deadly force is justified if a person is gravely threatened, in the home or “any other place where he or she has a right to be.”

Most states have long allowed the use of reasonable force, sometimes including deadly force, to protect oneself inside one’s home — the so-called Castle Doctrine. Outside the home, people generally still have a “duty to retreat” from an attacker, if possible, to avoid confrontation. In other words, if you can get away and you shoot anyway, you can be prosecuted. In Florida, there is no duty to retreat. You can “stand your ground” outside your home, too.

If self-defense is invoked in Florida, the person is immune from criminal or civil prosecution.

In the Martin case, the local police chief has said that they did not arrest the shooter, George Zimmerman, because their initial investigation supported his self-defense claim, and that they were therefore prohibited from making an arrest or prosecution. (The police report on the shooting refers to it as an “unnecessary killing to prevent unlawful act.”)

The police chief has since temporarily stepped down, after a vote of no-confidence from the city. The case is being investigated by the Department of Justice and a Florida state attorney. A grand jury will convene on April 10 to decide whether charges can be brought against Zimmerman.

Zimmerman’s lawyer said in an interview with ABC News that Zimmerman will be protected under Florida’s self-defense law.

In Florida, a homicide case can be thrown out by a judge before trial because the defendant successfully invokes self-defense. The burden is on the prosecution to disprove the claim in order to bring charges, rather than do so in the trial. The Florida state attorney leading the prosecution told ABC news that the self-defense law means it is “more difficult than a normal criminal case” to bring charges.

Florida is not alone in its expansive definition of self-defense. Twenty-four other states now allow people to stand their ground. Most of these laws were passed after Florida’s. (Some states never had a duty to retreat to begin with.)

Here’s a rundown of the states with laws mirroring the one in Florida, where there’s no duty to retreat in public places and where, in most cases, self-defense claims have some degree of immunity in court. (The specifics of what kind of immunity, and when the burden of proof lies on the prosecution, vary from state to state.)

Many of the laws were originally advocated as a way to address domestic abuse cases — how could a battered wife retreat if she was attacked in her own home? Such legislation also has been recently pushed by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups.

Click on the state to see its law.

Alabama

Arizona

Georgia

Idaho

Illinois (The law does not include a duty to retreat, which courts have interpreted as a right to expansive self-defense.)

Indiana

Kansas

Kentucky

Louisiana

Michigan

Mississippi

Montana

Nevada

New Hampshire

North Carolina

Oklahoma

Oregon (Also does not include a duty to retreat.)

South Carolina

South Dakota

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Washington (Also does not include a duty to retreat.)

West Virginia

Sources: Legal Community Against Violence; National District Attorney’s Association; Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

Correction: This post has been corrected to include New Hampshire in the list of states with laws that are similar to Florida’s.

If TV Stations Won’t Post Their Data on Political Ads, We Will

by Daniel Victor ProPublica,

Every local broadcast station has a repository of documents about political advertising that you have a legal right to see but can do so only by going to the station and asking to see “the public file.”

These paper files contain detailed data on all political ads that run on the channel, such as when they aired, who bought the time and how much they paid. It’s a transparency gold mine, allowing the public to see how campaigns and outside groups are influencing elections.

But TV executives have been fighting a Federal Communications Commission proposal to make the data accessible online. They say making the files digital would be too burdensome — it “could well take hundreds of hours for a single station,” according to comments filed with the FCC by the National Association of Broadcasters.

Others have taken their case a step further. As reported by Bloomberg Government, Jerald Fritz, senior vice president of Allbritton Communications, said in an another FCC filing that online availability “would ultimately lead to a Soviet-style standardization of the way advertising should be sold as determined by the government.” (NPR’s On the Media did an excellent segment recently on broadcasters’ opposition to the proposal.)

We tend to like the idea of public data being online. Since TV stations won’t put it online themselves, we decided to do it ourselves — and we want your help.

Working with students at the Medill journalism school at Northwestern University, we looked at five local stations in the Chicago market.

You can explore the results yourself: Here are detailed breakdowns of when the ads aired, during which programs, and how much each spot cost: Read the documents from the local affiliates of ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and CW.

Big thanks to Medill students David Tonyan, Julie O’Donoghue, Vesko Cholakov, Safiya Merchant and Gideon Resnick, who visited the stations Monday.

We intend to enlist more readers in checking their local stations as the election campaigns slog on. The general election is likely to usher in even greater spending, and such spot checks could keep an eye on how big spenders are influencing the election. If you’d like to join in, please fill out this form.

Campaigns and super PACs are required to report their spending on independent expenditures to the Federal Election Commission within a day or two, but they often just report how much they paid ad-buying firms, which can disguise how much actual ads cost and where they’re airing.

What’s more, the files could be a window into what may be otherwise undisclosed spending by “dark money” nonprofit groups that are playing an increasing role in the elections .

For our experiment, we asked our Chicago volunteers to check on spending by five super PACs that individually support Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama. There were no records of spending in Chicago by four of them, but Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC, advertised on all five stations. The super PAC paid the five stations about $800,000 in the past month.

As our PAC Track interactive chart shows, Restore Our Future has spent more than twice as much as any other PAC so far — nearly $37 million.

Medill student O’Donoghue said getting the files from the ABC station took her about half an hour, most of which was spent wrestling with the copy machine.

Tonyan, another graduate student, said he spent 15 minutes at the CW affiliate, plus a 15-minute drive.

Both said the station employees who helped them were friendly and accommodating. We encountered the same when I visited five stations in New York, Missouri and Florida. Typically, a station employee will simply show you the room where the files are kept and let you dig in.

Such visits don’t seem to happen often. A log at the New York CBS affiliate showed only six registered visitors since October 2011.

The Campaign Media Analysis Group, a unit of Kantar Media, tracks ads that have hit the airwaves and estimates what they would cost, but the company charges high rates to obtain the information. The Wesleyan Media Project publishes some CMAG data.

Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, found that $70 million in advertising had been unreported from 2000-10 in Michigan. He got that number by personally examining public files, at one point driving 14 hours for a 15-minute visit to a station.

He told the FCC: “I can testify to you, unequivocally, that the threshold of effort necessary to report this important public interest story is too high for every news organization in Michigan, except mine.”

Which is why we’re asking for your help. You can help expose spending that might otherwise remain hidden in your television market. Sign up here.

 

Why do we keep voting for the same old hucksters?

By Will Moredock

Standing before the cameras at North Charleston City Hall two weeks ago, Sen. Glenn McConnell looked like he was the one pleading guilty to ethics violations and resigning his office. Instead, the grim-faced politician was stepping up from the post of Senate president pro tempore to the office of lieutenant governor.

But, in yet another example of South Carolina’s bizarre and byzantine politics, McConnell’s move was universally regarded as a demotion for the man who was regarded as the most powerful player in state politics. As Post and Courier columnist Brian Hicks quipped, McConnell gets to bang the gavel and wear a purple robe — and do little else. It’s a big comedown for the man who used to run the state Senate like his own private circus.

McConnell is to be commended for accepting this “demotion,” if not quite accepting it with grace. It was assumed by many — including this observer — that he would use his notorious parliamentary skills to sidestep the ceremonious lieutenant governor’s office.

Although there was speculation that McConnell would be running for his one-time Senate seat in November, the lieutenant governor announced last week that he will not. However, all of the drama and confusion over this change-up at the Statehouse probably means we will be voting soon on another amendment to patch our state’s woefully inadequate and ill-conceived constitution.

But enough about Glenn McConnell. This constitutional crisis was brought on by Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, who was indicted on criminal ethics charges for campaign fraud and misuse of campaign contributions for personal expenses.

The details of the scheme do not matter. What is important is that yet another public official has violated the public trust and has been forced from office. Ard is just the latest in a long and colorful tradition of scandal that would include Operation Lost Trust, a federal sting resulting in the conviction of more than 20 members of the General Assembly and other state officials on various bribery and corruption charges; Operation Abscam, another federal sting that led to the conviction of Congressman John Jenrette on bribery and corruption charges; and countless other crimes and misdemeanors leading to the downfall of lesser public figures.

This is not to say that South Carolina is the most corrupt state in the nation — not by a long shot. We cannot measure up to New Jersey, Louisiana, Illinois, and maybe a few others. But what I think makes us distinct is the level of insufferable public piety we provide as a backdrop to our public corruption.

Does any state offer more Bible-thumping, more prayers, more preaching and piety in the public forum than South Carolina? I know of none. And has this shameless behavior made us better people? Has it made our leaders wiser or more honest? The levels of violence, ignorance, poverty, disease, and other quality-of-life indexes would suggest not. And yet we continue to preach and pray and whoop and shout and expect our leaders to do the same. But the truth is that religion is the force that divides us, holds us back, and distracts us from real problems and real solutions.

Of course, most of these distractions involve sex. Right now there are several bills in the General Assembly designed to make it more difficult for women to obtain abortions. Paradoxically (or hypocritically), the same Christian elements that do not want women to have access to abortion services have fought for years to keep sex education out of schools, thus assuring that South Carolina will continue to have one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in the nation. Another bill would levy a $100 fine on teens for “sexting.” Do our legislators really have nothing better to do? There are still no state laws to protect LGBTs from discrimination in the workplace, but, in 2006, the Christian Right whipped up a great moral crusade to amend our poor old state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

Now it seems that God wants South Carolina to have a state day of prayer and Charleston Rep. Chip Limehouse has obliged him with a bill to that effect. I don’t know whether Limehouse is pandering to the Almighty or to voters when he says, “I would hope every day would be a day of prayer … and to those who object, my is, ‘Why would we not have prayer in our lives?'”

And my question to all the panderers and the preachers is: Why can’t we govern with good policy and common sense, rather than false piety and ideology? We may or may not have any less public corruption, but we will surely have more sound and wise public policy.

Senate Bill Could Roll Back Consumers’ Health Insurance Savings

by Lena Groeger ProPublica

This summer, health insurance companies may have to pay more than a billion dollars back to their own customers. The rebate requirements were introduced as part of the 2010 health-care reform law and are meant to benefit consumers. But now an insurer-supported Senate bill aims to roll back the rebate requirements.

Known as the medical loss ratio rule, it’s actually pretty simple. Under the health-care law provision, 80 to 85 cents of every dollar insurers collect in premiums must be spent on medical care or activities that improve the quality of that care. If not, they must send their customers a rebate for the difference. The goal, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, is to limit the money insurers spend on administrative costs and profit.

“It essentially ensures that consumers receive value for every dollar they spend on health care,” HHS spokesman Brian Chiglinsky told ProPublica.

Last month, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., introduced a bill that would change what costs companies can include in the 15 to 20 percent they are allotted for overhead, salaries and marketing. The bill, similar to a House bill introduced in March 2011 that has yet to come up for a vote, focuses on payments to insurance agents and brokers. Traditionally, these commissions are bundled into the administrative costs when making the final calculation. But insurance regulators have argued that fees paid to insurance agents and brokers shouldn’t count.

Such a change could mean big savings for insurance companies — and much smaller rebates for consumers.

This is the first year that companies are required to send out rebates. According to a report by state insurance commissioners, if rebates had been handed out last year, insurers would have had to pay consumers almost $2 billion. If they had carved out the broker fees, as proposed in the two current bills, consumers would have gotten only about $800 million.

Landrieu’s office did not immediately respond to our call for comment.

“[The bills] would water down the standard to a point where it becomes ineffective,” said Sondra Roberto, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit advocacy group Consumers Union. The group, which also publishes Consumer Reports, recently urged members to oppose the bill.

The rebates have gotten relatively modest attention. Only 38 percent of the public is even aware of the rule’s existence, according to a Kaiser poll.

Insurance companies have supported the two bills, claiming that the rebate rule, as it stands now, stifles jobs and actually drives up insurance premiums. A 2011 government report found that most insurance companies were, in fact, lowering their premiums to meet the requirements, as the administration had hoped.

While most insurance companies hit the 80 to 85 percent target, the few that didn’t may be required to send out rebates this year.

“Some insurance companies pay an inordinate amount, as much as 40 percent, on administration and profit and not health care,” Roberto said.

The rules on rebates differ slightly depending on whether the insurance comes from a large-group plan (employers with more than 100 employees), or a small-group or individual plan. In each case, insurance companies will be required to make all their costs publicly available so consumers can see how their premium dollars are spent.

The government granted insurance companies in seven states extra time to meet the requirements. Insurers that serve states with more rural populations, for example, tend to have higher overhead costs and cannot meet the requirement as easily, according to Eric Fader, a New York health-care lawyer. But the government decided that for all other states, enforcing the requirement wouldn’t pose any risk to the market, and that the federal government didn’t “need to coddle an inefficient insurance company,” Fader said.