Monday, July 24, 2017

State Elections

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PR Firm
"So, are you are telling me non of this donation is going to reach the children?"

A Democrat Florida state lawmaker helped pass a bill that allocated $1.5 million to a nonprofit that she founded and pays her a six-figure salary and the state’s Republican governor approved it. The legislator, state Senator Lauren Book, represents south Florida’s Broward county and in 2007 she founded a charity called Lauren’s Kids to educate adults and children about sexual abuse prevention through school curricula, awareness campaigns and speaking engagements.

Book launched the south Florida-based group because her female nanny sexually abused her for years and she wants to prevent sexual abuse through education and awareness. The politician also wants to help survivors heal with guidance and support. “Armed with the knowledge that 95 percent of sexual abuse is preventable through education and awareness, Lauren has worked to turn her horrific personal experience into a vehicle to prevent childhood sexual abuse and help other survivors heal,” according to the charity’s website. Lauren’s Kids has helped advocate for the passage of nearly two dozen laws to support survivors and protect children from predators, the group’s website further claims.

It’s not just a labor of love for the Florida legislator, who got elected in 2016. As chief executive officer of her charity Book receives a generous $135,000 annual salary, according to a nonprofit investigative journalism conglomerate that broke the story about this outrageous conflict of interest. Since 2012 Lauren’s Kids has received north of $10 million in taxpayer money because the senator’s father, Ron Book, is a prominent lobbyist who happens to be the group’s chairman. In just a few years Lauren’s Kids has “become one of the Florida Legislature’s most favored private charities,” the news article states. Governor Rick Scott, who is in his second term, went along with the $1.5 million appropriation for Book’s charity when he signed Florida’s $83 billion budget recently.

As if this weren’t enraging enough, Lauren’s Kids used a chunk of the taxpayer funds it has received to pay a Tallahassee public relations firm millions of dollars, accounting for 28% of its expenses. A follow-up story by the same investigative journalism outlet reveals that the senator’s charity paid Sachs Media Group $3.1 million between 2012 and 2015 as well as a yet-to-be-disclosed amount in 2016. “Millions of taxpayer dollars flowed through the nonprofit to Sachs Media as it both promoted Lauren’s Kids and cultivated Sen. Book’s public persona as a survivor of child sex abuse,” the article states. “Critics say the domination of Lauren’s Kids by the senator and her lobbyist-father raises concerns that the work Sachs Media does is more about making her look good, not raising awareness about unreported cases of child sex abuse.” The founder of the nation’s premier charity watchdog says in the story that “nonprofit money is supposed to be used for a public benefit and not to enhance the aspirations of the charity’s officers.”

A huge lapse in Florida’s senate ethics rules allowed Book to vote for legislation that essentially enriched her. The same “loophole” let her keep the conflict from the public, the news stories point out. Here’s the broader explanation from the news outlet: “Senators are forbidden by ethics rules from voting on any matter in which they or an immediate family member would privately gain – except when it comes to votes on the annual General Appropriations Act. Abstaining senators must also disclose the nature of their interest in the matter, according to the 335-page Florida Senate Rules and Manual.” That means lawmakers can vote on issues that can benefit their profession, though it’s downright sleazy when taxpayer dollars go to an entity that the elected official actually controls and makes money from. Millions of dollars earmarked to prevent child sexual abuse going to a public relations firm is in a class of its own.

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TSA

The prevailing wisdom following the 9/11 terror attacks was that a single federal agency tasked with protecting America from national security threats would be more effective than the existing patchwork-bureaucracy. Thus, the Department of Homeland Security was established in 2002 to keep America safe from terrorism. Many conservatives at the time cautioned that limits on the new Department’s jurisdiction were needed to guard against inevitable “mission creep”; to no avail.

Nearly 15 years later, those fears have come true with a vengeance. Homeland Security has become the government’s third-largest Cabinet-level agency; with a jurisdiction expanded far beyond its original charter.

Like all successful government agencies, Homeland Security understands the basic law of bureaucratic physics – no matter how much power you have, always seek more. The latest move by the already mammoth Department is to claim jurisdiction over state elections; a move it justifies based on allegations that a couple of state voter databases were breached by foreign hackers.

A review of President Obama’s “Presidential Policy Directive” Number PPD/21 issued in 2013, which identifies 16 broad components of what this Administration considers “critical infrastructure,” makes clear just how broadly the government considers that it must be involved in every aspect of life in America at all levels. From “commercial facilities” to “critical manufacturing” and “transportation,” and from “communications” to “financial services” and “food and agriculture,” everything now is considered of sufficient importance to justify federal intervention.

Therefore, when Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said last week that “there’s a vital national interest in our election process,” and elections should be reclassified as “critical infrastructure” so as to fall within Homeland Security’s reach, it was but one more all-too-familiar example of mission creep that has driven the agency’s intrusive reach since Day 1.

That voting is a “vital national interest” is, in a sense, a truism. Not so obvious is why the federal government, after centuries of local and state elections being handled by state and local authorities, must now oversee what is indisputably a constitutional duty of the states. Despite the alarmism from Johnson and his colleagues at Homeland Security, elections are little more at risk of sabotage in the digital age than they were when ballot boxes could be stuffed with paper ballots.

One could argue as well that Uncle Sam’s using fear of fraud as a reason for considering elections to be part of America’s “critical infrastructure,” is a sham – as evidenced by the government’s opposition to any form of voter ID as a means of preventing fraud.

Some observers see this as a harbinger of federal “rigging” of elections. Of greater concern than conspiracy theories about the federal government overtly rigging elections, however, are the strings that always come attached to any offer of help from Washington. “I think it’s kind of the nose under the tent,” Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, told Politico, adding “[a]ll of a sudden [leading] to something else.”

Granting Homeland Security similar authority to that which it already enjoys in 16 other government-defined “critical infrastructure sectors,” would allow it to exercise authority over some 9,000 jurisdictions across the country involved in electoral processes. The move would be unprecedented — legally, but also in how deep its reach would penetrate into local communities.

First, it would set a slippery slope that the “threat” of an election hacking event would, in and of itself, constitute sufficient justification for the federal government to assert and exercise power it never was intended to have. Furthermore, its role in elections would be defined presumably after it asserted power over elections; leaving states with only the illusion of retaining control of their elections.

After Homeland Security sets up shop monitoring all elections, what other federal agencies will follow its “nose” into the tent? Will we see the Department of Justice claim — as it has done with local police departments – that there is a “compelling federal interest” in controlling such activities; giving it direct access to the voting booth? The possibilities for interference are endless.

Secondly, there are the sheer logistics of taking ownership of election processes. With more than 240,000 employees and a budget already exceeding $40 billion, playing election cop will only expand Homeland Security’s already huge footprint. This will add new levels of bureaucratic oversight that will make the Department even less streamlined than it is now, and more distracted to its original purpose of preventing terrorism.

Unfortunately, the affront to states’ rights that the federal power grab over elections represents appears of no concern to Big Brother’s enablers.

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