Oh look: free breakfast and baloney from oil industry shills:

Consumer Group to host South Dakota Pipeline Safety Breakfast

Industry experts to converge in Pierre, South Dakota to discuss critical safety issues surrounding the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline

Pierre, SDConsumer Energy Alliance (CEA), an organization that advocates for energy consumers, will host a briefing to inform South Dakota legislators and staff about important pipeline safety issues surrounding the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 8:30 a.m. CT. Breakfast will be provided for attendees.

  • What: South Dakota Pipeline Safety Breakfast hosted by CEA
  • When: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 from 8:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m. CT
  • Where: South Dakota Education Association Auditorium, 411 East Capitol Avenue, Pierre, South Dakota
  • Who: Moderator: Michael Whatley, CEA Executive Vice President; Brigham McCown, former administrator of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA); Andrew Black, President and CEO of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines
  • RSVP: Credentialed media should RSVP to Kristin Marcell at kristin@smartmarkusa.com or 215-504-4272.

Credentialed media—in other words, no bloggers or other amateurs allowed. (Say, where does one get an official journalist's license in South Dakota, anyway?)

The Consumer Energy Alliance is a front group for tar sands oil companies. The "moderator" for the January 27 Pierre event, Washington D.C. Lobbyist Michael Whatley, created the CEA to wage an astroturfy public-relations campaign against clean-fuel standards. Whatley has used CEA to create what his own e-mails call an "Echo Chamber" of industry press releases to promote Keystone XL since fall 2011. Brigham McCown is a Bush recount lawyer who got his PHMSA gig through cronyism, not pipeline safety expertise. Andrew Black's job is to lobby for pipelines on behalf of his organization's members, which include Keystone XL builder TransCanada. His degree is in economics and his experience is in media relations and politics, not engineering.

But hey, they're serving breakfast. Mmmm.

Update 07:43 CDT: If Whatley really wants to "moderate" a discussion, he should invite energy consumer Rick Weiland to expand on the thesis he offers in Sunday's Sioux Falls paper that Keystone XL simply feeds oil-industry greed.

16 comments

Just when the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology needs strong female leadership to get more women's bathrooms in the geology department, the feds come bothering Mines president Heather Wilson with more concerns about her consulting and lobbying activities prior to her work in South Dakota.

Mr. Kurtz noted press a couple weeks ago on Wilson's involvement in what a Department of Energy Inspector General's investigation determined was the illegal use of federal money to lobby for an extension of no-bid federal contracts at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Wilson represented New Mexico's 1st District, including most of Albuquerque, in the U.S. House from 1998 to 2009.

The DOEIG report says Wilson's company, Heather Wilson LLC, consulted for Sandia. The report says SNL's consultants helped develop a plan "to influence members of Congress and Federal officials to prevent the need for a competitive process as a means to achieve the desired contract extension."

Wilson denies any involvement with illegal lobbying. She says the reports findings do not name her specifically. Technically, she's right: the report itself mentions Wilson and "Heather Wilson LLC" (why do I feel a Joop Bollen moment coming on?) in the background paragraph, but her name does not appear in the findings section. However, the background paragraph uses this language:

Prompted by an Office of Inspector General inspection report on Concerns with Consulting Contract Administration at Various Department Sites (DOE/IG-0889, June 2013), the NNSA's Sandia Field Office conducted a preliminary review of documentation from 2009 through 2011 regarding consultant activities between Heather Wilson, LLC (the principal of which is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives) and SNL. On March 27, 2013, the Sandia Field Office alleged that SNL impermissibly attempted to influence an extension to the Sandia Corporation contract and engaged Ms. Wilson in these activities [Gregory H. Friedman, Inspector General, "INFORMATION: Special Inquiry on 'Alleged Attempts by Sandia National Laboratories to Influence Congress and Federal Officials on a Contract Extension'," Memorandum to the Secretary, Department of Energy, 2014.11.07].

Wilson is the only consultant so named in the report, and this paragraph states clearly that Sandia engaged Wilson in impermissible activities. IG Friedman tells the press that Wilson was "deeply, deeply involved" in these impermissible activities. The Inspector General attaches to the report a response from National Nuclear Security Administration chief Frank Klotz, who says that Sandia repaid the NNSA $226K for fees paid to Wilson for previous questionable lobbying activities. Klotz assures the DOEIG that NNSA is reviewing Sandia's use of consulting fees in the current matter.

Board of Regents chairman Dean Krogman says that Wilson has the Regents' "full support," although he tells the Rapid City Journal he wasn't aware of the new DOEIG report.

You know, Chairman Krogman, you wouldn't have to make precarious statements like that if your university presidents weren't holding down second jobs in corporate America.

19 comments

South Dakotans Against Common Core are crediting Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) with being "the first in South Dakota to expose this leviathan called Common Core." Rep. Bolin was certainly an early opponent, challenging the November 2010 adoption of Common Core with his 2011 House Bill 1153 to block history standards that didn't exist then and don't exist now. I don't know if challenging something that didn't exist counts as "exposing a leviathan" (though it certainly prefigures much of the paranoia we hear from current Common Core opponents). But I invite eager readers to submit evidence supporting or refuting the notion that Rep. Bolin was the first South Dakotan to attack Common Core.

Rep. Bolin will have some anti-Common Core company in Pierre this week. He's inviting his comrades (hee hee!) to a Stop Common Core Day at the Capitol on Wednesday, January 29! They'll be buttonholing legislators all day long from 7:45 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., lobbying with a wide variety of inconsistent arguments to save education from... well... from something.

Snark aside, I love Stop Common Core Day, because they are trying to teach their participants how to lobby effectively. Here's some of the advice they post from Mark Chase at the Family Policy Council (there: don't say that I never say anything nice about my theocrat yahoo neighbors):

4. The ones you want to engage in conversation are the ones who say that they don’t know much about it, or that they have not formed an opinion either way, and there are many of these. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT attempt to dialogue with a senator or representative who tells you that they are for Common Core. YOU WILL NOT CHANGE THEIR MINDS!! What you risk, because you are so passionately opposed to Common Core, is getting into a futile argument, and we must avoid this at all costs. Arguments will only damage our efforts [Mark Chase, Family Policy Council, "Lobbying 101," Facebook post for South Dakotans Against Common Core, 2014.01.26].

Translation: Legislators, if you're busy, decide before Wednesday whether you support Common Core or not. Indecision only invites long conversations!

6. ...it would be very helpful if you predetermine what you would like a senator or representative to know about Common Core and prepare your talking points accordingly. What would be EXTREMELY helpful would be physical examples of what the implementation of Common Core through the curriculum looks like. This is time is for “Show and Tell!” Let them hear your story and give them solid reasons to oppose it [Chase, 2014.01.26].

Prepare, be specific, provide real examples—that's great debate-coach advice!

7. If you find the emotions of frustration/anger rising inside you, TAKE A BREAK! Leave the building, go downstairs to the cafeteria, or find a quiet place in the capital where you can regroup or reflect with another person. Emotions run high at the capital and it is incumbent upon us to keep them in check [Chase, 2014.01.26].

Good advice for the Legislature, the dinner table, the blog comment section, pretty much everywhere else.

9. Finally, keep a smile on your face and enjoy your time. You will most certainly make an impact!!! [Chase, 2014.01.26].

It's politics. It's policy. It's serious and important. But it's also democracy, and you're doing it, in the greatest temple to the popular will in South Dakota. How can you not have a smile on your face?

15 comments

In his five-point plan to reform Washington D.C., GOP Senate candidate Larry Rhoden proposes banning former members of Congress from lobbying.

Such a ban would have denied both Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and John Thune their first out-House paychecks. Larry Pressler has lobbied. As Mr. Montgomery notes, nearly half of former Congresspeople go to work as lobbyists, up from just 3% forty years ago.

Rhoden challengers Mike Rounds and Stace Nelson both speak up against Rhoden's lobbying ban, though for notably different reasons. Nelson says money is exerting more undue influence than former Congresspeople:

It is not the lobbyists who carry the special interest monies to our elected officials that is the problem, but the legalized bribery and the mass amount of monies given to Congress and candidates who these special interests want to control [Rep. Stace Nelson, quoted in David Montgomery, "Rhoden Wants Ban on Lobbying by Ex-Members of Congress," Political Smokeout, 2013.12.18].

Rounds is worried about money, too... the amount of money he'd be able to make after leaving the Senate:

Mike Rounds, the Republican frontrunner, said he didn’t think the permanent ban would have a big positive impact — but said it would affect members of Congress’ “ability to earn a living after they leave Congress.” Depriving former members of Congress of a lucrative post-Congressional career, Rounds said, could make members less likely to leave office [Montgomery, 2013.12.18].

Nelson focuses on keeping power with voters; Rounds focuses on helping his people put money in their pockets. And don't forget, Mike: lobbying ban or not, we the voters retain just as much power to help any incumbent leave office.

Nelson is right that big money from corporations and other folks who never face voters at the polls is a larger problem than former Congresspeople leveraging their public positions into personal profit and undue influence on legislation. But I can see a case for saying to a retired or ousted Congressperson, "We've given you your chance to exert enormous influence over legislation; now you need to step out of the building... at least for a while."

I don't want to take away any First Amendment rights from former members of Congress. Stephanie, Larry, and others retain their right to participate in the political process, to make public speeches, to urge their Congresspeople to vote yea or nay, just like any other citizen. They retain the right to make a living. The question with a lobbying ban is whether we have the right to restrict one small class of individuals from one method of making of living, the sale of the value of a reputation, knowledge, and access to power granted by the public.

Readers, I open the question to you: is lobbying by former Congresspeople a major problem requiring reform? And does such a ban violate fundamental rights retained by former members as citizens?

16 comments

How does John Thune make his policy decisions? With tequila!

A tequila cocktail called the "sugar daddy" was on the menu at a Wednesday night fundraiser for U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, and lobbyists for Verizon Wireless and AT&T were reportedly licking their lips in anticipation.

The fundraiser, held at Del Frisco's Grille on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, allowed the two carriers to contribute to a lawmaker who is fighting Democratic plans to help Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA Inc. win airwaves at a U.S. auction in 2014, Bloomberg reports [Galen Moore, "'Sugar Daddy' Cocktails Flow as Verizon, AT&T Lobby for Airwaves," Boston Business Journal: Morning Buzz, 2013.06.13].

AT&T and Verizon, which placed over 80% of the bids at the big 2008 spectrum auction, are lobbying Republicans for their crack at the lion's share of this newly offered spectrum. Sprint and T-Mobile are lobbying Democrats to keep the bigger dogs out. The Justice Department wants to spread out spectrum to more operators. Senator Thune says a laissez-faire approach will maximize revenue for the government, but T-Mobile counters that capping the spectrum AT&T and Verizon can capture will invite more players in the auction, increase competition, and generate higher bids.

I have a tough time picking a favorite in a battle between big corporations and bigger corporations. Maybe a good stiff drink will help me find a phone and decide.

1 comment

Incoming School of Mines president and former new Mexico Congresswoman Heather Wilson doesn't care much for gay people. She also apparently doesn't care for doing the paperwork the federal government expects of contractors at its nuclear labs:

Former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson collected nearly half a million dollars in questionable payments from four federally funded nuclear labs after she left office, the Energy Department's inspector general says in a new report ["IG Report Finds 'Questionable' Payments to Former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson," AP via Fox Business, 2013.06.11].

Just what work did Wilson do for those labs? Maybe nothing... and maybe illegal lobbying:

Officials at the Nevada Test Site and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee acknowledged there "were no deliverables" associated with $30,000 the two labs paid Wilson, according to the Associated Press.

The contractors that run the labs billed the payments to the government "even though they did not receive evidence that work performed under the agreements had been completed," the report said.

The contractors, which include Lockheed Martin, Bechtel and other companies, have since paid back most of the money to the government but an investigation continues. In all, the government recovered $442,877 of $464,203 paid to Wilson, the report said.

In addition, the report said that Sandia and Los Alamos appear to have improperly used Department of Energy funds to pay Wilson to lobby the federal government to expand lab funding, which is prohibited activity [Jennifer Naylor Gesick, "School of Mines President Embroiled in Controversy," Rapid City Journal, 2013.06.12].

Wilson denies the lobbying charge. But no deliverables? No evidence of work performed? Yeah, I might ask for my money back, too.

If those labs ask Wilson to refund them the money that they've refunded to the government, she'll have to work from next week Monday, her first day on the job at Mines, until about November 1, 2014, at her promised Regental annual salary of $321,260 to pay off her shady contracting.

10 comments

Republican spinster Pat Powers decries Stephanie Herseth Sandlin's work as a lobbyist, then in its next breath calls Governor Dennis Daugaard's choice of lobbyist and former GOP exec Lucas Lentsch a "great pick." Powers breathes not a word about Senator and blog sponsor John Thune's work as a lobbyist during his Congressional hiatus between 2002 and 2004.

David Newquist duly skewers the willfully sloppy journalism behind the Herseth Sandlin complaint. He finds Powers misattributed the original attack to the wrong TV station, quietly and without apology changed the citation after real journalists corrected him. The "story" turned out to come from conservative hack paper the Washington Times and known ultra-conservative windbag Shad Olson. So much for credibility.

On lobbying, reporter Bob Mercer runs interference for Lentsch and says he only lobbied for one megadairy organization. Former SDGOP chair Joel Rosenthal runs better interference, telling Powers and the party to quit whining and focus on real issues:

There are strong contrasts between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans believe in more self-reliance, Democrats in more government reliance. Under Democrat leadership budget deficits and the National Debt are exploding. Democrats want more spending and more taxes, the GOP wants spending reform. Obama care is imploding and as full enactment comes to fruition, Citizens are taking notice that the Affordable Health Care is actually the Un Affordable Health Care Act.
Yet, we hear GOP activists’ rants about Nepotism and Lobbying, i.e. Johnson, Inc. and Herseth Sandlin is a lobbyist. Is this the best the GOP can do? Whine and Complain?
Members of both parties lobby. Tom Daschle, John Thune, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and even today it’s reported the new SD Secretary of Agriculture, former Division Director at SD Ag and former Executive Director of the Republican Party recently was a lobbyist. The pols if they think it is wrong should be critical of all participants regardless of Party [Joel Rosenthal, "People Who Live in Glass Houses," South Dakota Straight Talk, 2013.04.03].

It's good to hear the GOP still has some grown-ups in the room. Now if they just had some regular blogs offering some original and philosophically consistent analysis instead of just the same old willfully deceptive spin.

6 comments

As I follow the reports on the Lakota blockade of trucks carrying 115-ton oil industry treater vessels across the Pine Ridge reservation yesterday, I see that our friends from TransCanada are taking another backdoor route to win the hearts, minds, and stomachs of South Dakota officials. The South Dakota Association of County Commissioners holds its spring workshop for commissioners and welfare officials in Pierre two weeks from tomorrow.

Dusty Johnson will kick off the show at the Pierre Ramkota with an opening address. The PUC will present a program on siting pipelines. And then at 5 p.m., our county officials will be treated to a social hosted by our friends from Calgary, TransCanada Pipeline:

South Dakota Association of County Commissions Spring 2012 Workshop Agenda, March 21, with social hosted by TransCanada Pipeline

Enjoy the pickle wraps, fellas... but don't get snookered. Remember: we have what TransCanada wants. Don't give away the farm!

Related: While the feds try to figure out who gets to issue approval for the southern leg of the Keystone XL, TransCanada says it will be ready in just a few weeks to submit plans for the revised Keystone XL route. Expect a change of just 100 to 110 miles with just 20 more miles of pipe to get around the Nebraska Sandhills, says TransCanada honcho Alex Pourbaix

10 comments

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