Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Boxer Tied to Dubious Waters Cash-for-Endorsement Scheme

Boxer Tied to Dubious Waters Cash-for-Endorsement Scheme

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chair of the Senate Ethics Committee, has paid some $30,000 since 2004 for the endorsement of embattled Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) in the context of a scheme that critics charge is unethical and amounts to Waters using her political station to benefit her family members.

According to the Washington Times, Waters “has turned political endorsements into a family business, using federal election laws to charge California candidates and political causes to include their names as her personal picks on a sample ballot, or ‘slate mailer,’ she sends to as many as 200,000 South Central Los Angeles voters.”

The slate mailer business, it turns out, is run by Waters’ daughter, Karen, via her public relations firm. Records show that Karen Waters’ firm has been paid more than $350,000 since 2004, and has billed a further $82,000 since California’s June primary, for its services in this regard.

It is a scheme that has been criticized by good governance groups including the Sunlight Foundation and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
The Sunlight Foundation, in a blog post last month, equated the scheme to Waters “selling” her endorsement and noted that the amounts of money being paid to Waters’ own campaign committee in exchange for her endorsement often exceed the federal limit applicable to campaign donations.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) meanwhile cited Waters as one of the most corrupt members of Congress in both 2005 and 2006 for operating the scheme. In both years, CREW noted that Waters’ “ethics issues stem from the exercise of [her] power to financially benefit her daughter, husband and son.” The 2005 rating placed Waters in the company of figures like former Reps. Randy “Duke” Cunningham and Bob Ney—both subsequently convicted of corruption-related offenses—and was directly connected to the operation of the political endorsement scheme.

Critics charge that Boxer has actively aided and abetted this scheme, both in the context of her 2004 and 2010 re-election campaigns.

In 2004, Boxer paid $25,000 for Waters’ endorsement. But ahead of this year’s California primary—in which Boxer faced no serious competition– and when it was well-known that Waters was under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, Boxer paid Waters $5,000 for her backing. It is this later payment that those monitoring Waters’ ethical woes say could act as an anchor tied to Boxer’s ankle, as she heads towards November.

“The amount is lower than what Boxer paid in 2004, yes,” said one Republican operative with whom we spoke. “But the Chair of the Senate Ethics Committee paying for an endorsement of an official under investigation for ethics infractions connected to her using her standing to benefit her family when that fact has been widely reported presents a major optics problem, to say the least. Ethics are already something of a surprise Achilles Heel for Boxer. Her committee let Chris Dodd off the hook, and she’s been criticized for using her repeat candidacies for the financial benefit of her family, too.” Added that operative, “This is an attack ad waiting to happen.”

Indeed, Boxer has been called out for steering about $500,000 in contributions made to her political action committee to her son’s consulting firm between 2001 and 2009. Like Waters’ scheme, this arrangement has attracted the attention of CREW, which focused on Boxer in a 2007 exposé entitled “Family Affair.” “Waters’ problems run far deeper, of course,” said the same operative. “But there are some interesting parallels here, to be sure.”

Boxer is facing what some observers say is her toughest political contest in a career that spans three decades, facing off against former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. The three-term Senator has previously said that she does not expect Democratic ethics scandals, including that of Waters, to affect the race.

Real Clear Politics’ polling average places Boxer about 4 points ahead of Fiorina, with recent SurveyUSA polling showing Fiorina ahead. The race has been rated a “toss-up” by numerous pollsters and analysts.

Teen: Security Told Me To Remove U.S. Flags


NORTHGLENN, Colo. -- A high school student in Northglenn is upset that campus security told him to remove the large American flags flying from his pickup truck because it might make others uncomfortable.

Jeremy Stoppel told 7NEWS he got a ticket at Northglenn High School last Thursday for squealing his tires. He said he deserved that ticket and deserved having his parking lot pass suspended for two weeks.

But he's upset that campus security then told him he can't fly his 3 feet by 5 feet flags in the bed of his pickup truck anymore.
"She said I should take my flags down. She said this is a school that focuses on diversity and she doesn't want anyone to feel uncomfortable," Stoppel said. "How do you suppose anyone would feel uncomfortable in America with an American flag? That's where I'm confused."

He said he started flying his flags around school last week.

"Now that I finally get to drive to school, I have a truck, that's what I want to do. I want to fly my flags. September 11th is coming up so I wanted to fly them in honor of that," said Stoppel, who said his cousin is serving in the Navy.

Stoppel and his father want an apology from that security supervisor.

"To me, she's just threatening him, hoping that she can just bully him so he'll just take 'em down and just put his tail between his legs and say, 'I'm done. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.' And that's just not gonna happen," said Dan Stoppel, Jeremy's father.

7NEWS checked and the school has no policy against flying the American flag. In fact, Northglenn High School has a U.S. flag on the flag pole in front of the school.

"I am unaware of that situation. So I need to talk to that person, see why they did that, if they did that," said Northglenn High School principal Dr. Mary Lindimore. "We have 'em in the hallways upstairs. So we promote flying of American flags."

There is a policy that bans anything that creates a safety problem or which disrupts the educational environment.

When 7NEWS asked Lindimore if she could imagine any scenario in which the American flag would disrupt the educational environment, Lindimore said no.

Lindimore promised to talk to the security supervisor next week.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Audits: ICE isn't cracking down on illegal immigrant employers


Immigration inspectors poring over the hiring paperwork of a California company last summer found that 262 employees — a whopping 93 percent of the total workforce — had “suspect” documents on file.

At an Illinois service company, auditors found dubious documents for nearly 8 in 10 of its 200-plus employees.

Inspectors examining records at a Texas manufacturing firm found suspicious paperwork for more than half of the 107 employees on the payroll.

But the companies didn’t pay a penny in fines. None of the employers was led away in handcuffs. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials didn’t even issue them a formal warning, the agency’s internal records show.

Instead, they were instructed to purge their payrolls of illegal immigrants. Armed with assurances that the employees with suspect documents were fired — or, in the Texas case, “self-terminated” — the ICE auditors closed the cases.

The cases are just a few examples included in ICE’s internal records on its audit initiative, an enforcement program launched last July by Obama administration officials.

In the past, ICE had faced criticism for raiding job sites and rounding up large numbers of illegal immigrants for deportation, but not necessarily building cases against employers. With the audit initiative, ICE aims to scrutinize the hiring records of more businesses and impose what top officials describe as “tough” and “smart” employer sanctions.

But ICE audit records obtained recently through a Freedom of Information Act request show that the agency has, in many instances, failed to punish companies found to have significant numbers or high percentages of workers with questionable documents. In response to the public records request, ICE provided limited details on about 430 audit cases listed as “closed” by the agency through February.

The records show inspectors identified more than 110 companies with suspect documents, with nearly half of those having questionable paperwork for 10 or more workers.

No employers arrested

In total, the agency ordered 14 companies to pay fines of nearly $150,000, but noted no employer arrests in connection with any of the cases. ICE agents in Atlanta also reached an agreement with a manufacturing firm that had questionable records on file for 574 of its 1,187 employees. The agreement allowed the company to avoid criminal prosecution on the condition that it complies with certain ICE requirements, though ICE would not provide additional details.

ICE also has refused to disclose the names or locations of companies found through the auditing process to have hired illegal immigrants, saying the businesses have a right to “personal privacy.” The agency did, however, include the location of the ICE field office assigned to each case.

ICE officials insist the audits and the agency’s broader strategy of aggressively pursuing employers are getting results.

'You need evidence’

They point to the fact that this fiscal year the agency has ordered businesses to pay a record-setting $4.6 million in civil penalties and has arrested more than 150 employers, managers or supervisors. However, some of the arrests stem from investigations going back several years. And the fines reflect enforcement actions that date as far back as 2007, including $360,000 from the 2008 raid of a Houston rag factory and more than $536,000 from a 2007 Ohio chicken factory raid.

ICE did not have a breakdown of how much of the $4.6 million or how many of the arrests stemmed directly from the audit initiative, which began in July 2009.

Brett Dreyer, the head of ICE’s worksite enforcement unit, said that ICE attempts to determine which employers may have been duped into unintentionally accepting fraudulent documents from employees, and which ones are “turning a blind eye” to workers’ legal status.

“We look at each of these cases to see if they’re doing that, because that’s the main purpose of this program — check employers’ compliance and make sure that they’re obeying the law,” Dreyer said. “But you need evidence. You need facts. And if we don’t have that, we can’t charge them.”

Several gray areas

Immigration experts said some cases that seem egregious on the surface, like the company with 93 percent of its workers providing suspect documents, may actually have complied with the letter of the law and not be subject to penalties.

“You could have a vast majority of workers ultimately be found to be in undocumented status and yet still have a good faith employer simply because of the way the system works,” said Charles Foster, a Houston immigration attorney who specializes in employer compliance.

Foster said an employer cannot require more than a Social Security card that looks “reasonably genuine” on its face, or he risks committing an unfair employment practice.

Cost of doing business

In July 2009, ICE officials announced plans to serve 654 companies with notice of plans to audit their employment paperwork. In November, ICE announced plans to target an additional 1,000 companies.

In the two rounds of audits, inspectors examined more than 221,000 I-9 forms and identified 22,155 “suspect documents,” which can signal an employee is in the country illegally and lacks work authorization, or that the employer made a simple clerical error on the forms, ICE officials said.

But critics charge that ICE’s new strategy is soft on both illegal immigrants, who generally are not placed into deportation proceedings, and employers who can claim ignorance about fake documents and avoid penalties.

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, said the audits can be an effective part of an overall enforcement strategy, but that many employers consider them just a cost of doing business.

“They are not an effective deterrent on their own, and do nothing to bring justice in egregious cases,” Smith said.

Immigrant advocates estimated the audits, frequently referred to as “silent raids,” have cost thousands of workers their jobs. Angela Kelley, with the Center for American Progress, said the strategy appears to be more thoughtful than the worksite enforcement raids of the previous administration, but the impact is “equally as devastating.”

“You have this drip, drip, drip of I-9 enforcement audits all over the country, and it has the same effect — people don’t come to work the next day,” she said.