Thursday, June 04, 2009

Josh Skaller Goes After Bloomberg For His 400,000 Jobs Claim

Chances are if you live in New York you have received anywhere from one to a dozen pieces of campaign literature in the mail from Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Nearly all of them make the claim that if we re-elect him to a (unethically manufactured) third term then he will miraculously save or create 400,000 jobs. Even in NYC, that is a big eye-catching number. Yet so far the only jobs that have come from that number are the printers, pollsters and campaign staff of Michael Bloomberg that have been espousing the number.

I am tired of the Mayor getting away with making claims of being our city's savior while his Executive budget says the exact opposite. My fellow Democracy for New York City organizer Josh Skaller, who happens to be running for Bill de Blasio's current City Council seat is sick of Bloomberg's propaganda too:

“The truth is clear. Bloomberg’s so-called plan is glossy smoke and very expensive mirrors,” Skaller said. “He is re-selling the ideas we have all supported in the past and offering few new ones. When I join the City Council, the City will take clear and transparent actions to fix our economy by generating new ideas, creating good jobs, and becoming the center of America’s new green economy.[...]

“The Mayor’s Executive Budget cannot stretch the truth, or investors who have taken out municipal bonds can sue the City for fraud. But Bloomberg’s glossy campaign mail is bound by no such constraints - and the numbers they use represent the fuzziest math.

“According to the Executive Budget issued May 1, 2009, New York City is projected to lose 328,000 jobs between August 2008 and the third quarter of 2010. Employment will be flat until 2012. The peak period for these projected job losses? The second quarter of 2009 - also known as now. So where is the leadership that Mayor Bloomberg would like us to believe in? What is the rationale for a third term in office?

The truth is there is no rationale. Bloomberg is spending millions to drill a false sense of security in his Administration when there is no reason to feel safe (unless you are a developer or just plain rich). Whenever someone tries to confront the Mayor on the disconnect between his message and the facts, he blows a fuse.

As City Hall News reports, there are no details and no specifics for Bloomberg's claim. As I'm sure his cadre of consultants have told him, just keep drilling meaningless and empty numbers into the heads of voters and he'll coast to victory. Unfortunately for those highly paid politicos, the more we hear from people like Josh Skaller, the less people are going to believe the distortions and half-truths that come out of the Bloomberg campaign.

Sean Hannity, Master Word Manipulator

Jed Lewison over at DailyKos punches holes in Hannity's arguments about what Barack Obama did not say before they even began. It wasn't hard though, all you have to do is see what the President said, then compare it to what Hannity thought he heard.

Shelly Silver Goes Regressive On Ethics Reform

Reform is something that Albany desperately needs, yet like the end of a rainbow, it seems impossible to get to. Sure, there are some attempts at it but getting a handle on the core problems of our state government is like grasping at straws. The case in point here is Majority Leader Smith and Governor Paterson's call for an independent ethics commission. Those two leaders seem to be on board but to get anything done in our state capitol all three men in the room have to sign off, and the other one isn't willing to budge.

From The NYT Cityroom:

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver unveiled a complex proposal at the meeting that appeared to doom any chance of swift action. His plan would create three commissions charged with ethics and lobbying oversight of the executive branch and the Legislature. The governor and Senate Democrats have proposed creating a single, independent ethics and lobbying commission with jurisdiction over both branches of government.

At the heart of the differing approaches is Mr. Silver’s unwillingness to cede the Legislature’s control of its own ethics oversight. He proposed recreating the current, much-maligned Legislative Ethics Commission along the lines of the Office of Congressional Ethics in the House of Representatives.

He also proposed breaking up the integrity commission into separate commissions overseeing lobbying and ethics, reviving a structure that existed before 2007.

And of course, things were just as bad before 2007 under the old system. The reality is that Congress and the New York Legislature cannot police themselves, since they've shown time and again that the best they can do is slap each other on the wrist. Currently we have two indicted men serving in the State Senate and an unknown number of dubious characters, yet Smith does next to nothing to reprimand them, for fear of losing his majority. Speaker Silver, in the other chamber, is definitely a dubious character and knows it, that is why he isn't favoring this bill. Don't expect him to put his name on anything that would resemble real reform. The only way that would happen is with another Speaker, preferably not connected to the current one.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sen. Diaz Goes On An Ant-GLBT Tirade Against Sen. Duane

Senator Diaz showed his true inner homophobe this afternoon with an angry press release directed at Senator Duane. Duane has been claiming that he has more than enough votes to pass same-sex marriage but the anti-equality groups think he's bluffing. So Diaz picked up the baton for his side and lashed out at the westside Senator, demanding he show everyone who the "yes" votes are.

From The Daily Politics:

"If Senator Tom Duane has the necessary Senate votes to pass the homosexual marriage bill in New York State, then he should release the names of those Senators who are supporting the bill. If not, he should shut up.

"If any member of the State Senate is so ashamed to have their names released or to release their own names for this or for any pending legislation, then they clearly feel ashamed of their position."

"If any Senators are unwilling to release their names prior to voting for the homosexual marriage bill, they are sending a clear message to the gay community and to the whole State of New York that these Senators are unwilling to let the public know and that they are ashamed to be publicly associated with the gay community."

"Any Senator who commits himself or herself to something, should be man or woman enough to take a stand and stand by his or her convictions. If they give their word to support something that they are ashamed of, then that is a hypocrisy, and could be interpreted as not wanting to be associated with the matter."

"It is a disgrace that Senator Duane is playing this mind game with his colleagues and with the public. If Senator Duane has the votes, he should release the names. If not, then he should be ashamed of himself.”

Thompson Decries Mayor Bloomberg's Child Care Credit Slash

Michael Bloomberg may not like to be "political" in his official Mayoral press conferences, but that isn't stopping Comptroller Thompson from taking shots at the current Mayor for cutting child care credits with the official city seal on his podium.

Grandeau Slams Public Integrity Commission For Not Doing Their Job

When David Grandeau sees the corruption at the ethics commission, he sees "the

Yankees' Lonn Trost Claims Poverty To Hide Documents

The New York Yankees have been, are and most likely will continue to be baseball's richest team with enough cash to buy an unending stream of talent. Money has never been an issue for Steinbrenner's team and with billions in public aid (whether the public knew about it or not) the Yanks cut costs on their new stadium. Yet when Assemblyman Brodsky questioned Lonn Trost about the communiques surrounding the deals made with city and state officials, Trost complains that it would be too expensive to get everything together.

From The Times-Union:

Lonn Trost, chief operating officer of the New York Yankees, dug in, so to speak, under questioning from state Assemblyman Richard Brodsky. The ball club itself was in Cleveland on Monday. The New York action took place in state Supreme Court in Albany.

Mr. Trost went for the bottom line, uttering the figure $5.5 million. That, he says, would be the cost of gathering all the documents Mr. Brodsky is trying to obtain about the publicly subsidized construction of the new Yankee Stadium.

More casual fans, less intensely interested in the inside baseball of stadium construction and other off-the-field arcanum, can be forgiven for wondering of Mr. Trost: Your point, sir?

There should be no point, because mentioning $5.5 million is nothing to that ballclub. With a team payroll of $201.5 million dollars (not to mention the front office or those that work in the stadium), providing those emails to Brodsky and the people he represents should not be a problem. Then when you factor in the billion(s) that the Yankees took from the taxpayers, we as New Yorkers have every right to see exactly how the deal was done.

Olbermann And Huffington Discuss Cheney's Backtracking

Arianna joins Keith as they talk about Cheney's latest statements concerning torture and interrogations. Cheney has been busy talking quite a lot and the commentators believe, as I do, that the ex-V.P.'s remarks are a sign of revisionist history and possibly even a way to justify his actions before a war crimes tribunal. Of course that tribunal is a ways off, but the court of world public opinion is now open.

Smith Only Wants One Job For Legislators

Limiting outside jobs for Albany's top pols? Now that is something I can get behind Malcolm Smith on. The Majority Leader told reporters this yesterday at a press conference along with wanting those that do to disclose what they do and how much they make from it. It almost sounded too good to be true.

From PolitickerNY:

"I believe, at this point in time, the paradigm needs to shift on how state government manages its members," Smith said after speaking at a luncheon. "There are enough circumstances and cases where it's gotten us in trouble, and it'd be better for everybody if we make sure that there's enough clarity in what we do and how we do it so we can be more focused on the business of the state."

He said he favors "very liberal" disclosures. Currently, the Legislative Ethics Commission releases disclosure forms that show outside employment, but do not detail income received. State Senator Daniel Squadron is poised to introduce two bills, his aide John Raskin told me, which would mandate more disclosure for legislators and create an independent government watchdog.

Smith went on to say that he has closed down his real estate business and receives no outside income.

An independent government watchdog? Can my ears be deceiving me?

Well, that of course is merely talk at this point in time, but I'm glad to hear the Majority Leader is focusing on the business of the government and not the sour real estate market. Especially with this narrowly divided Senate, Smith has had his hands full trying to get his caucus to vote for legislation, sometimes succeeding and other times not.

Smith mentioned that there is a conflict of interest when it comes to outside jobs. Of course that is obvious to those that watch the state legislature, but I wonder if Shelly Silver heard Smith's sound advice.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

NPO Developers Should Pay The Prevailing Wage

Apparently there is a little fight going on up in Albany over whether developers who build non-profit housing should pay their workers what they're worth. Developers argue that paying a union wage is bad for their costs, the rents of future low-income tenants and they even claim minority construction workers won't be able to do the building because unions don't like them. They also claim that there'll be less affordable housing units available. There seem to be plenty of marks against a bill mandating public works labor be at a union rate, but this is a matter of principle.

From The NY Times:

Under state law, laborers on public works projects must be paid the prevailing wage, which varies according to the trade and location. The proposed legislation would expand the definition of public works to include all government-subsidized building projects by for-profit and nonprofit developers. Most workers who build subsidized low-cost housing in New York City are not currently required to be paid the prevailing wage. Projects receiving federal subsidies are required to pay it, under federal law.[...]

The New York State Building and Construction Trades Council of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., an influential labor group that represents the state’s major construction unions, has been pushing lawmakers to expand the prevailing-wage requirements for years.

“Is the cost of construction higher? Yes it is,” said Edward J. Malloy, president of the group. “But I think we deliver a better product, on time and in budget.”

On time and in budget are just two bonuses, not to mention the fact that more construction workers will be paid a healthy hourly rate. The fact of the matter is, these jobs are propelled by government subsidies. When the Federal government is paying for it, union wages are paid. Now it is time for the state to do the same thing. The state legislature should encourage higher wages in this arena just as it does in other arenas.

Ed Schultz Talks Obama At Take Back America Conference

Many progressive stars and activists alike are attending this week's Take Back America Conference. One of them, radio host and recent MSNBC addition Ed Schultz sat down with "the Real News network" to talk all things Obama:

Cheney Admits No Iraq-Al Qaeda Link, Sorta

Dick Cheney has been a busy talker these past few weeks, and to continue the trend, he had no short supply of comments yesterday. Apart from the pro-gay marriage statement, there was also a mention of the supposed link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Back before the war the Bush Administration and Cheney specifically made heavy use of a purported connection between Hussein and the terrorists that attacked us as a rationale to go to war with Iraq. Several years later, he has finally begun to acquiesce on that point, just a little bit.

From Bloomberg:

June 1 (Bloomberg) -- Former Vice President Dick Cheney disavowed intelligence he once cited to suggest that then-Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein collaborated with al-Qaeda to stage the Sept. 11 attacks.

Cheney said today that information by the Central Intelligence Agency of collaboration between Iraq and al-Qaeda on Sept. 11 “turned out not to be true.” Still, Cheney said a longstanding relationship existed between Hussein and terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, that justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“I thought it was strong at the time and I still feel so today,” Cheney said at a National Press Club lunch in Washington. “There was a relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq that stretched back 10 years. That’s not something I made up.” Citing 2002 Senate testimony by George Tenet, then the CIA director, he said, “We know for a fact that Saddam Hussein was a state sponsor of terrorism."

We also know for a fact, that Dick was using false intelligence to make claims that were simply not true. We knew it then, he knew it then, but only now is he beginning to admit that there was no smoking gun, even if he still tries to push that there was a valid reason to invade and occupy Iraq.

Santa Has Nothing On The NY City Council

Once a year, depending on whether you were naughty or nice, Santa comes to bestow presents on millions of children. His red suit is always clean and the reindeer are strong enough for the long haul, but he's never given us a campaign finance statement to show how he pays for it all. Down here in New York however, a paper trail exists for many City Council members that show that their "gifting" to special interest groups is rewarded with campaign contributions.

From The NY Daily News:

- City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) earmarked $150,000 for the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, whose board chairman raised at least $10,900 for her abortive mayoral campaign.

- City Councilmen Bill de Blasio and David Yassky, both Brooklyn Democrats, were co-sponsors of $145,000 for the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy for the past two fiscal years. Board members and the nonprofit's director raised $16,150 for de Blasio and $22,700 for Yassky in the same period.

- City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin (D-Manhattan) sponsored $15,000 for the private Gillen Brewer School on the upper East Side. Members of the school’s board contributed or raised $11,875 for her campaign.

- Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Brooklyn) collected 758 contributions for his $157,392 campaign fund - 23 came from employees of 12 organizations that raked in $113,000 in tax dollars he sponsored.

- Councilman John Liu (D-Queens) sponsored or co-sponsored $37,500 in Council funds for the Chinese-American Planning Council. He picked up $9,713 in checks from employees, board members and their spouses (up to $20,213 with matching funds).

It all adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from groups that got millions in taxpayer cash - more than $200,000 in contributions, or up to $467,000 with public matching dollars.

And those are just a few examples of this, as the Daily News calls it, being Santa with tips. Of course, none of the legislators mentioned would ever admit to engaging in quid pro quo, but every one of their advisers can quickly claim it is all legal. The fact that it is legal is the problem and especially that this activity is encouraged. Currently led by Christine Quinn, the ability to hand out and push other Council members for lulus is a tremendous exercise of power (not to mention the whole slush fund thing). She is supposed to be the example for the other fifty members and her actions dictate a less than reputable manner of behavior. So it shouldn't be too surprising that so many Council members think it is acceptable to play Santa while accepting handouts from the same people they give funding to.

Olbermann Calls Out O'Reilly And Fox News For Inciting Domestic Terrorism

Keith Olbermann was on point last night with his commentary about the death of George Tiller and Bill O'Reilly's culpability in the affair. O'Reilly crusaded against the doctor for several years, with highly inflammatory rhetoric. It at the very least had a partial influence on the alleged assassain, Scott Roeder. Yet O'Reilly failed to take any responsibility or show remorse, so Olbermann has an idea (towards the end of the clip) on what to do about Bill O and the entire Fox News network.

Newsflash: Congressman Sees Money's Role In Politics

Yes, it is shocking, unbelievable and horrific all rolled into one. Congress is controlled by the onslaught of money, especially from those that have so much of it, the banks. O.K. so it has been going on for decades (and a couple of centuries) and it really isn't news. The only difference as of late is how much more influence banks have and the lengths they go to satisfy their greed. With more than eighteen years in Congress, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) knows what is going on, and has vowed to do something about it.

From RawStory:

“The banks run the place,” Peterson told the New York Times in Monday’s editions. “I will tell you what the problem is — they give three times more money than the next biggest group. It’s huge the amount of money they put into politics.”

Peterson has introduced a bill to regulate derivatives trading — the pesky financial instruments that nearly brought down the US financial system. Derivatives involve writing insurance on various complex financial transactions, such as providing insurance to investors in the event of massive defaults on home mortgages.

But he says that Republicans have watered down his bill. He wants derivatives trading to take place on public exchanges — much like the New York Stock Exchange — rather than through private clearinghouses, which are managed by banks.

So in the end, nothing much is going to come from this. It was a good idea, but there were simply too many competing interests and the Republicans (and probably some conservative Dems) that tinkered with the bill so it does next to nothing.

Monday, June 01, 2009

He Is Who He Is

Michael Bloomberg is who he is. The quote, "I am who I am." was in the context of him being Mayor for some time now, and that he believes the people of the city generally know him and that losing his temper is just something he does. Yet the Mayor, for all his talk, is trying to hide who he is and will do just about anything to present an image that may differ when tens of millions of dollars isn't trying to distort it.

His ads blanket the airwaves of the city. His mailers clutter millions of mailboxes on a weekly basis. The Internet ads are everywhere an NYC net surfer goes. And of course he's the Mayor, so he gets tons of free publicity that only an incumbent can enjoy. And it all leads to one thing, that Bloomberg makes sure every single voter knows that he's running for re-election and no one else. Let's face it, there is no way that Thompson can spend the cash to get a Bloomberg-style "message" out to everyone that casts a ballot in November.

So how do we as citizens get to cut through the crap and get real access? Well in a perfect world it would be by each person having a one on one chat, but we have to settle for the press. Yet Popeye Mr. I am who I am is continuing to show his arrogance to the press and believes that inundating New Yorkers with campaign literature will be enough and that those 'pesky questions' can simply be brushed aside.

But don't take my word for it, just read the transcript of today's press conference, or last week's to make your own opinion on it.

Cheney Goes Left...On Same-Sex Marriage

When one utters the name "Dick Cheney," progressive values is not something that enters the mind. Secrecy, ignoring the rule of law, torturing people, are all connected to the former V.P. Yet on the issue of same-sex marriage he is very much in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to get married, as long as it is approved on a state-by-state basis.

General Motors Can Redeem Itself

Today the United States and the world witnessed one of the biggest bankruptcies of our time by a company that was supposed to be impermeable. General Motors has been around a hundred and one years, but today it could no longer sustain itself without going the route of Chapter 11. Rest assured, this is not the end of GM, it isn't like the Oldsmobile brand that has completely disappeared. The company has already spent money on a great PR extravaganza that promises a reinvention.

They say as much to the press:

"The General Motors board of directors authorized the filing of a Chapter 11 case with regret that this path proved necessary despite the best efforts of so many," GM Chairman Kent Kresa said in a written statement. "Today marks a new beginning for General Motors. ... The board is confident that this New GM can operate successfully in the intensely competitive U.S. market and around the world."

As it reorganizes, the fallen icon of American industry will rely on $30 billion of additional financial assistance from the Treasury Department and $9.5 billion from Canada. That's on top of about $20 billion in taxpayer money GM already has received in the form of low-interest loans.

"Our agreement with the U.S. Treasury and the governments of Canada and Ontario will create a leaner, quicker more customer and completely product-focused company, one that's more cost competitive and has a competitive balance sheet," CEO Fritz Henderson said at a news conference in New York. "This new GM will be built from the strongest parts of our business, including our best brands and products."

Of course, it didn't have to come to this. GM could have shed their arrogance decades ago to keep up with other car companies around the world. Yet they only cared about the bottom line and quick short term profits that ultimately led them to the the Chapter 11 filing that they so deserved. Now they'll have to lay off more than 21,000 workers on top of the thousands already gone and in the deal with the government, shrink the size of the company. Obama said that'll he'll let the day to day stuff be handled by GM but that might not be the best way to go. Instead, listen to someone that has filmed, covered and lived the life that GM bestowed upon Michigan. Make the company do the things that our country and world need, not just to let the executives claim to make changes on a spiffy commercial and through press releases. That change can happen now, and at this monumental (and bankrupt) time it should come quicker than ever.

Boycotting Stella D'Oro

This isn't a boycott about the taste, or some new ingredient that's going into the products at Stella D'Oro. No, the reason why I, and many activists in the New York (and possibly further out) area are not buying from them anymore is because of how the workers are being treated. A long time ago it was a great family-owned company to work for, but now that corporate America has gotten its tentacles into the Bronx bakery something has got to give before I pick up another one of their packages.

From The Huffington Post:

Stella D'oro, which was once an iconic, national, premium Italian-style biscuit brand, was also once a successful family-owned firm acquired by RJR Nabisco, then taken over by Kraft when RJR Nabisco broke up (in the wake of the disastrous KKR LBO). Stella was run into the ground by its corporate overseers, then dumped to private equity earlier this decade when Kraft began to dispose of "non-core" assets under pressure from Wall Street. Workers there have been represented by the Bakers' union since 1964.

Apparently the PE guys see the modest union contract of the older, experienced work force as a good target for their next round of pillaging. In the first round, the company disposed of its unionized route sales drivers by outsourcing distribution to a non-union company.

This time, Stella's new owners have gone directly at the workforce, ignoring the National Labor Relations Act and demanding steep wage and benefit cuts with no opportunity for the workers and their union to bargain. The National Labor Relations Board, after the usual delay and indecision issued a "refusal to bargain" complaint charging the company with violating the law. The case only went before a federal judge last week; American labor law is so broken that it may take years for justice to prevail.

Corporate mismanagement, predatory private equity, the destruction of an iconic brand and now an attempt to destroy the livelihoods of modest working families, the story at Stella D'oro pretty well sums up all that's been happening over the past two decades with the financialization of the food and manufacturing sectors generally. The workers and their union, an affiliate of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, AFL-CIO have decided they have had enough.

Reducing the wages of these workers for the next five years is nothing short of corporate greed at its worst. Thankfully, the long-time employees aren't taking this lying down and neither is the area where the factory operates. Just this weekend another huge outpouring of community support was shown for the workers' plight. For far too long corporate America has taken advantage of workers across the country and it is time to stand up against them, whether it be at a bakery or not.

What's The Matter With Kansas? The Assassination Of George Tiller For One

Here we have a clip from an upcoming movie, "What's the Matter with Kansas" based on the book with the same title by Thomas Frank. Kansas used to be a center for populist activity, but has been turned into a land with religious intolerance that helps foment the brutal violence like what we saw yesterday when Dr. George Tiller was assassinated inside his church.

Atlantic Yards Continues To Be A Debacle

This past Friday state lawmakers tried to have a discussion about the controversial Atlantic Yards development. Ratner's supporters however, decided that they'd rather create a ruckus than anything that resembled a civil discourse. However, there were a few important things to note and Atlantic Yards Report gleams the information.

From AY Report:

  • the Independent Budget Office (IBO), recalculating its 2005 cost-benefit analysis, concluded the arena would be a money-loser
  • the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is willing to compromise with Forest City Ratner on the timetable (and perhaps the total) for the $100 million owed, as well as the quality of the new Vanderbilt Yard
  • neither the state nor the city have updated their analysis of new revenue--already deeply flawed, because it excludes costs--to acknowledge current conditions
  • that the New York City Housing Development Corporation is waiting for Forest City Ratner and ACORN (which is in hock to the developer) renegotiate the configuration of the affordable housing
  • the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) likely will produce a revision of the Modified General Project Plan (GPP) in the next month or two, which will trigger a new public hearing
Basically the government agencies involved do not have their act together and that they are willing to bend as far as possible to make Ratner happy. Claims of eminent domain that would actually benefit the community and the common good was false and the degree of that falsity is still undetermined. And then there are the unanswered questions posed by Atlantic Yards Report, which only seem to reinforce the bad things we have learned above, such as:
  • how long the project might take
  • when construction might begin
  • when affordable housing might begin
  • whether there are enough bonds for affordable housing
  • how the per-unit cost of affordable housing compares to other projects
  • whether architect Frank Gehry is on the project
  • whether officials realized FCR decided to seek more subsidies well before the economic downturn
  • why the ESDC lets private companies benefit from naming rights to public buildings
The entire post is well worth your time and is a great snap shot of the current mess in and around the Atlantic Yards. It shows how our local and state government (along with certain non-profits) have failed the community so that they could appease a rich developer so that they can get their dirty hands in the cookie jar.

Daily News Finds The City Council Colored With Money

As if we needed yet another reason for Clean Money, Clean Elections, the NY Daily News has highlighted the problem of money in politics at the level of the New York City Hall. The article won't surprise you, might not even shock you, but it is disappointing to anyone and everyone that believes those we elect to public office should make decisions based on what is best for their constituents and not just their campaign donors. Unfortunately, that is just not the case for many City Council members.

From The NY Daily News:

Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo got $33,500 from employees of a developer building a 600-unit apartment complex and shopping center in the Bronx.

Thirty-eight of the 51 Council members got some campaign cash from nonprofits to which they steered millions of dollars in taxpayer funding. The News found contributions of at least $200,000 from nonprofit employees and some board members in the last four years.

Nearly all the donations are legal, but special-interest donors often skirt the law by bundling checks from a company or corporation to raise more money. It is illegal for the bundler to repay the “donors” because that would mask the source of the funds.

Veteran lobbyist George Arzt and his colleagues at George Arzt Communications have given more than $23,000 to 17 Council members since 2005. He concedes that as long as people believe they need to contribute to have influence, the money will flow — and some pols will take advantage.

“There are elected officials who, believe it or not, will hand you [an invitation to] a fund-raiser when you leave their office [after a lobbying visit],” Arzt said. “I’m genuinely embarrassed when that happens."

After an extended blogging break, I'm back at keyboard ready to type. Though I'll probably post less in the coming months, I've felt less connected to the news I've read over the last three weeks so it is something I'll keep at.