Extra Extra : December 2006

Contributions might violate city ordinance

In a computer-assisted analysis of campaign contributions, Matt Stiles and Chase Davis of The Houston Chronicle found that elected officials might have accepted contributions in violation of a city ordinance. The ordinance prohibits "donations from contractors with business before the City Council." Their analysis shows that more than $30,000 was contributed by prohibited donors. ,After learning of the violations, some officials immediately returned the donations. In part, the violations are attributed to the archaic system for identifying ineligible contributors which must all be done manually.

Campaign finances flow to those in power

Jonathan D. Salant of Bloomberg News reports on the shift in corporate campaign contributions following Democratic wins in the November elections. "During the campaign, the world's second-largest maker of commercial airplanes [Boeing] backed Republican Senator Jim Talent of Missouri with a maximum $10,000 campaign contribution from its political-action committee. Just 17 days after his defeat, the PAC wrote a $5,000 check to Claire McCaskill, the Democrat who beat him." Other companies and financial institutions made similar moves with their campaign contributions having backed the defeated incumbents prior to the election.

Public money for Port of Seattle funds private profits

In a 3-part series, Ruth Teichroeb and Kristen Bolt of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer report on how the Port of Seattle officials have brokered "generous no-bid deals with a company hired to run publicly owned facilities on the central waterfront, have failed to closely monitor those contracts, and have shouldered all of the financial risk for a decade." In addition, the Port of Seattle has invested millions in luring cruise ships to the area, yet profits are not going to the port authority or King County but to a third party that manages the cruise ship terminals.

Districts culture of cheating rampant for decades

In a follow-up to an investigation by The Philadelphia Inquirer, reporters Melanie Burney and Frank Kummer found that the culture of cheating on standardized test in New Jersey's Camden school district dates back to the 1980s. Camden School Board President Philip E. Freeman "said recent internal investigations, including of allegations of grade changing in two high schools, had confirmed a 'culture inherent throughout the district that has been difficult to dissolve because it's been so deeply entrenched.'"

Millions squandered by Miami-Dade Housing Agency

In another installment to The Miami Herald's "House of Lies" investigative series, reporter Debbie Cenziper exposes the actions of the former director of the Miami-Dade Housing Agency, which squandered millions of dollars over the past five years in insider deals, mismanagement and corruption. In a follow-up story, Cenziper and reporter Scott Hiaasen report on a scathing county audit of the same housing agency and key developers who received millions of taxpayer dollars.

Law opens boardroom doors

Jill Riepenhoff and Doug Haddix of The Columbus Dispatch used U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission proxy statements to examine the boards of directors of 30 companies based in central Ohio. They found huge increases in compensation and an increase in directors serving on multiple boards since the 2002 passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Companies defend the large raises because of new requirements and potential liability under Sarbanes-Oxley, which was passed in the wake of financial scandals at Enron and WorldCom. The newspaper ran large ... Read more ...

Harvesting Cash: Working a Farm Subsidy

A on-going special report by The Washington Post looks at federal agriculture subsidies, which topped $25 billion in the last year. In the latest story, Dan Morgan, Sarah Cohen and Gilbert M. Gaul report on the influence of the dairy lobby and its ability to crush the efforts of a California dairyman who was operating successfully outside the industry's price-control system.

The Big Squeeze

Baltimore's ground rent mess

A series by Fred Schulte and June Arney of The (Baltimore) Sun reveals that an archaic law is creating problems for thousands of Baltimore residents. "Baltimore's arcane system of ground rents, widely viewed as a harmless vestige of colonial law, is increasingly being used by some investors to seize homes or extract large fees from people who often are ignorant of the loosely regulated process." They evaluated computer records from the Baltimore City Circuit court, identifying nearly 4,000 lawsuits filed by ground rent holders against homeowners since 2000. Maryland laws seem to favor the ground rent holders. Since ... Read more ...