California Should Beat Back Asset Forfeiture

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Posted by Danil Zelenkov on Tuesday, July 21st, 2015, 3:04 PM PERMALINK


California is on the verge of fixing abusive civil asset forfeiture laws in the state. Yesterday, California Assembly Committee passed Senate Bill 443 unanimously (7-0) after passing the State Senate (38-1). The new bill has the potential to improve California’s civil asset forfeiture laws, which currently have a D in the Institute for Justice’s Scorecard, and a C+ in Freedomworks’s.

SB 443 will place much needed restrictions on law enforcement. Right now, law enforcement agencies need ‘clear and convincing evidence’ in order to seize property. The bill will alter that by requiring a criminal conviction for forfeiture to take place. The San Diego Union Tribune explains that the new law would impose “a steeper burden of proof so that agencies are less apt to view law-abiding citizens as cash cows”.

In addition, the bill provides forfeiture victims the right to a fair hearing to reclaim their lost property. If exonerated, victims will be entitled to attorneys’ fees and litigation costs compensation.

This legislation addresses the “equitable sharing program” that local law enforcement agencies can use to circumvent state laws. SB 443 will prevent federal-state collusion and will bar transfers of seized property to the federal government. This particular provision of the bill takes away the ‘profit incentive’ that current civil asset forfeiture laws provide for law enforcement agencies. State officials can still claim 80% of the proceeds when they hand them over to the federal government. In 2012 alone, federal, state and local law enforcement snatched approximately $4.2 billion in seized assets. The main opponent of SB 443, the California Association of Police Chiefs complained that the bill would “significantly reduce distribution amounts to local law enforcement.” It is clear that this police profiteering must be stopped.

Russ Caswell was one victim of the draconian civil asset forfeiture laws in the state. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in conjunction with local police seized his family-owned motel because of a handful of drug-related arrests of some motel guests. Although, Mr. Caswell had always cooperated with the authorities and was unaware of the illegal activity, local police still seized his hotel. Mr. Caswell was never convicted of a crime, but the $2 million property was too irresistible to be left alone.

Assemblyman David Hadley (R-Torrance) and Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) have taken on the crucial job of leading the charge for reforming civil asset forfeiture. The bill’s proponents feel that it is essential to uphold “a core American principle of justice that you can’t have your life, liberty or property taken away from you without due process of law.”

Americans for Tax Reform is urging California Gov. Jerry Brown to sign SB 443 into law and elevate California’s civil asset forfeiture laws on par with other states leading reforms such as New Mexico and Montana.

 

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WEBN-TV https://www.flickr.com/photos/politicalpulse/

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5 Years Later: Dodd-Frank Continues to Cripple Small Business, Kill American Jobs

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Posted by Dorothy Jetter on Tuesday, July 21st, 2015, 2:59 PM PERMALINK


In 2010, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which claims to "help consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives." In reality, Dodd-Frank and the resulting government interference have done more harm than good for American consumers by crippling small businesses and stunting job growth.  

Five years later, small businesses are struggling to comply with this complex legislation.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the United States is losing on average one community bank or credit union a day because of Dodd-Frank. American Action Forum released a study analyzing the overwhelming costs of the legislation; $24 billion in final rule costs and 61 million paperwork burden hours.

American consumers are seeing the consequences of these burdensome regulations.  For example, before Dodd Frank, 75% of banks offered free checking and in 2012, only 39% of banks continued to do so. Similarly, the minimum average balance necessary to qualify for free checking has doubled over the same time period.  Many attribute this to the bill's Durbin Amendment, which imposed price controls on the interchange fee (paid between banks for the acceptance of card based transactions) charged for debit cards.  

Additionally, a study by the International Center for Law and Economics found low income families are being hit the hardest.  The center estimates that from 2014-2017, $1 billion to $3 billion annually will be transferred from low-income households to large retailers and their shareholders as a result of the Durbin Amendment. 

Small business institutions, and the jobs that go along with them, have also been shrinking in the era of Dodd-Frank. Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) compared Dodd-Frank to "Obamacare for our economy."  Hensarling reasons, "Dodd-Frank has left us with fewer choices, higher costs and less freedom."  Small business institutions simply cannot afford to comply with these rules. Community banks and credit unions are increasingly forced to close as a result of ever worsening regulations and compliance costs.

In a recent study, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government suggests lawmakers work to identify, "what regulatory conflicts are unnecessarily harming community banks, to ensure better coordination and to reduce unintended consequences stemming from conflicting regulatory objectives.”  The same study concluded that Dodd-Frank accelerated the decline of America’s community banks.

In 2010, as an alternative to Dodd-Frank, House Republicans introduced the Consumer Protection and Regulatory Enhancement Act Rather than sweeping government overhaul, this legislation sought to reform the financial regulatory system through market-based solutions and without taxpayer funded bailouts.  After enduring five years of oppressive Dodd-Frank policies, the time has come to revisit these proposed alternatives.  ​

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Nancy Pelosi https://www.flickr.com/photos/speakerpelosi/

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New Report Confirms Federal Government Failed to Monitor Billions in Obamacare Funds

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Posted by Alexander Hendrie on Tuesday, July 21st, 2015, 1:00 PM PERMALINK


The federal government failed to track billions of dollars in grants given to states to create Obamacare exchanges according to a report by Reason Magazine’s Peter Suderman.  As a result, neither the federal government nor the states are able to say how much of the $2.78 billion in Medicaid matching funds were improperly used to construct state exchanges. In addition, the report finds these states have yet to complete an alarmingly high list of functions associated their exchange websites.

These findings appear in a July 2015 draft report compiled by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) and obtained by Reason.

As Suderman notes, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) did not require states to track funding to exchange marketplaces with any specificity. As a result “ [CMS] is not in a position to account for all federal funds that went toward the establishment and support of marketplace IT systems.” Instead, CMS requires states to categorize funding in five vague categories: IT contracts, IT consultants, IT personnel, IT equipment, and IT supplies. 

Despite this freedom and over $5.4 billion in grants from the federal government, state exchanges encountered numerous complications in setting up. In fact, as the report notes, only one state based exchange has completed “development of hub services functions such as verifying an individual’s identity and citizenship, and retrieving tax information for evaluating taxpayer eligibility for insurance affordability program.”

Even worse, several state exchanges have already failed, and many face financial difficulties now that grant money is all but exhausted and states are required to finance without federal assistance.

In Hawaii, the exchange received $205 million in grant money, but was unable to become financially sustainable upon launch due to a lack of potential enrollees. Most embarrassingly, the exchange enrolled zero individuals during a special enrollment period.

As bad as Hawaii was, Oregon’s exchange is undoubtedly the poster child for government waste. The state received $305 million in federal funding but had failed to complete a workable exchange months after launch date.

The disaster prompted then-Gov. Kitzhaber to place a trusted campaign consultant, known as the “Princess of Darkness” in charge of the exchange, despite her having no IT or healthcare background. When the exchange was dismantled, it was officially because it was unworkable and unsalvageable. However, reports emerging since suggest that the princess dismantle the exchange solely based on assisting the governor’s reelection campaign.

It remains unclear how much of the millions in funds can be recovered from these failed exchanges, or whether the federal government has any contingency plan should more states return to the federal system. But given the revelations that millions more could have been improperly spent on constructing exchanges and key functionality remains unfinished, it is clear that stronger controls are needed immediately. 

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stephen gilliss

1) Horrific abuse of taxpayer dollars and 2) Seemingly criminal behavior by politicians to avoid accountability. Except for purposes of national security, all government transactions should be 100% transparent.


Taxpayers Demand Obamacare Money Sent to Failed State Websites Be Returned

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Posted by Alexander Hendrie on Tuesday, July 21st, 2015, 8:00 AM PERMALINK


When Hawaii’s Obamacare exchange began experiencing financial difficulties earlier this year, the federal government stepped in and froze what remained of the $205 million in grant money given to Hawaii Health Connector. But in Oregon, none of the $305 million federal funds has been recovered since the exchange was abolished. This discrepancy raises questions on just how and when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) conducts oversight over the grants it has given to states. Given what happened in Oregon, when does the federal government ask states for the money back?

Today, many state exchanges are struggling to pay the upkeep costs associated with their exchanges and in the future may move to the federally run healthcare.gov. This begs the question – how prepared is HHS for the very real possibility of another state abandoning their exchange? What criteria will a state be held to when deciding if they can move to the federal exchange? How much of the funds will be the federal government recoup? Based on the differing outcomes of the failed Hawaii and Oregon exchanges it would appear HHS is making things up as they go along.

According to a report by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Hawaii Health Connector had spent over $130 million of the $205 million in grants it had been given. The remaining $70 million was seized by HHS at the start of the year when problems began emerging within the exchange.

Hawaii Health Connector had hoped to pay for ongoing costs through a two percent fee on premiums. This turned out to be woefully inadequate and they then asked the state legislature to provide millions in bailout funds. When Hawaii’s legislature refused, the exchange had no choice but to shut down.

As this was playing out, HHS was restricting Hawaii Health Connector’s access to any federal funds remaining given it was expected that Hawaii would begin transition to healthcare.gov, a process it began last month.

This stands in stark contrast to the Oregon debacle, where $305 million in federal funds was spent building a failed exchange. When the exchange began to run smoothly months later, it appears that then-Governor Kitzhaber’s political consultants pulled the plug to assist the Governor’s reelection campaign.

In the months and years leading up to the launch deadline, there were repeated warnings from Oregon’s quality control contractor that the exchange was on the wrong path. In fact, according to a report by KATU.com, nearly every major problem that plagued Cover Oregon was foretold. But despite these warnings, grant money continued to flow freely.

With problem after problem emerging with state exchanges, taxpayers could find themselves billions of dollars in the red because of mismanagement. In this scenario what kind of contingency plan does HHS have?

 

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American Life League

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Simpson-Bowles Would Have Failed to Fix Budget Problems

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Posted by Alexander Hendrie on Monday, July 20th, 2015, 3:00 PM PERMALINK


CBO budget numbers confirm that the Simpson-Bowles budget proposed by some members of Congress would not have reined in the nation’s spending problem as its supporters claimed. The proposal that was adopted in its place, the Budget Control Act (BCA) succeeded in reducing spending at far greater levels than Simpson-Bowles would have.

President Obama commissioned the “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform” led by co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. In late 2010, the commission released its budget blueprint, often described as the Simpson-Bowles budget.

Ultimately, the proposal was ignored by Congress because it was a $3.3 trillion tax increase, and did not adequately address the nation’s spending problem. Instead, the Republican controlled Congress chose to pass the BCA, which implemented annual spending caps to limit the growth of spending. This was enforced by across the board sequesters on federal spending and helped direct the federal budget towards a pathway of responsible spending.

The Simpson-Bowles Budget proposed reducing federal debt and spending by raising taxes. At the time, the commission’s own forecast predicted a $1 trillion tax increase over 10 years, but in hindsight the plan would have raised taxes $3.264 trillion over 10 years. Under Simpson Bowles, taxes would currently be 19.3 percentage of GDP and a projected 20.6 percentage of GDP by 2020. But under current law, taxes have been kept at a far lower 17.7 percent of GDP and will reach just 18.1 percent of GDP – 2.5 percent lower than Simpson-Bowles, or $435 billion less in taxes.


Simpson-Bowles proposed a trade-off: tax increases for spending cuts. But based on CBO statistics, the BCA-imposed spending restraint has done everything Simpson-Bowles promised and more, all without radically increasing taxes on American families. According to CBO, spending as a percentage of GDP currently sits at 20.4 percent, far lower than the 21.6 percent that Simpson-Bowles touted.


Even though Simpson-Bowles would have been an abject failure, some politicians continue to support the framework. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a candidate for President of the United States recently called on Congress to pass the budget plan during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In reality, the high taxes that Simpson-Bowles called for were never needed and would have raised the tax burden on American families and businesses to near-record high levels. 

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ATR Urges Congress to let the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) Expire

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Posted by Justin Sykes on Monday, July 20th, 2015, 2:43 PM PERMALINK


Americans for Tax Reform today sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to allow the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar energy to expire. 

Originally enacted in 2006, this 30 percent commercial and residential credit was intended to facilitate a fledgling solar industry. Yet in recent years solar has sufficiently matured and the time has come for  these taxpayer backed handouts to end.  

Congress now has a great opportunity to clean up America's tax code and begin peeling back government policies that unfairly pick winners and losers - simply by taking no action. Below is the full text of the letter: 

Dear Senators:

 On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), and millions of taxpayers nationwide, I urge you to allow the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar energy to expire. 

The ITC was never intended to be permanent but has received repeated extensions over the years. Congress is under no obligation to continue to extend temporary tax policy; simply because the ITC is law in 2015 does not justify the tax credit’s existence indefinitely. 

ATR supports allowing the ITC to expire and also urges lawmakers to oppose the inclusion of “Commence Construction” language that some are advocating for, which is a thinly veiled attempt for a backdoor extension of the credit. Allowing the ITC to continue disadvantages energy consumers by skewing America’s energy market, unfairly picking winners and losers and distorting our tax code. 

Originally introduced in 2006, the 30 percent credit for commercial and residential solar was intended to facilitate a fledging industry. Since then, the solar industry has sufficiently matured and its power generation is even mandated in a number of states.

Relying so heavily on the ITC, the solar industry has put Congress in the awkward and ill-suited position of deciding whether Americans will consume more or less solar energy. America’s energy markets are enormously complex systems, which function most efficiently without government’s distortive policies.

Burdened with political considerations, the federal government is ill-equipped to determine what source of energy Americans should use. With the federal ITC set to expire at the end of 2016, Congress has a great opportunity to cleanup America’s tax code and begin peeling back government’s distortive policies – simply by taking no action.

Sincerely,                                

Grover G. Norquist                                                    

 

 

Photo Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory 

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jimjenal

Hmmm... this would have more credibility if it called for eliminating *all* tax credits related to energy - but it doesn't. I smell an agenda here...

Cayo

Yeah, isn't this a tax increase?

PoliteLiberal

You've got to be kidding me. Only the solar energy investment credit?! What a phony.
First the legislative shenanigans in Kansas and Louisiana and now this?! How is this guy still relevant?!


Momentum is Building for Reform: Speaker Boehner Steps Up

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Friday, July 17th, 2015, 3:45 PM PERMALINK


Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) made a strong statement in favor of criminal justice reform. On July 16, the Speaker made clear that America has too many people incarcerated. People who do not necessarily belong there.

National leaders are becoming more vocal about the need to improve the justice system across the nation. Although the United States has one of the most extensive prison systems in the world, two thirds of released prisoners can expect to go back to jail. Speaker Boehner is right to call attention to our wasteful criminal system.

We are at a point where counting the number of federal crimes is close to impossible. Thanks to everything from draconian crimes to draconian sentencing our prison population has reached unacceptable levels. Moreover, the people who go through the system are more likely to return to prison that not. According to the speaker,

“We’ve got a lot of people in prison, frankly, that really… don't need to be there. It's expensive. The housed prisoners, sometimes… are in there under what I'll call flimsy reasons.”

The SAFE Justice Act, which Speaker Boehner supported in his remarks, tackles the most pressing problems facing our courts and prisons. By focusing mandatory minimums for certain offenses on the most dangerous criminals, SAFE Justice targets police resources on the most pressing offenders. The bill also reduces federal over-criminalization, and increases the use of mens rea-in order to make sure that an individual was aware of whether his or her actions are criminal.

These measures will make our streets safer, and our budgets smaller.

Americans for Tax Reform is committed to seeing a smaller, more effective government in all its forms. Leaders in Congress should apply the principles in the SAFE Justice Act to reign in the excesses of our criminal Justice system. Speaker Boehner took an important step today.

 

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Grover Norquist Show: Hillary Clinton’s War on the Future

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Posted by Emma Boone on Friday, July 17th, 2015, 3:16 PM PERMALINK


In his latest podcast president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, tackles Hillary Clinton’s war on Uber, the sharing economy and her overall “war on the future.” Clinton’s latest speech on her economic policy made it clear to all that she wishes to make it difficult for people to be entrepreneurs and independent contractors- never mind that doing so would take over 100,000 jobs away from Americans and this would clearly be a return to the past for America. Tune in to find out how the sharing economy and new technological advances irritate presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

 

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Americans for Tax Reform Supports Tax Relief for Innocent Convicts

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Posted by Danil Zelenkov on Friday, July 17th, 2015, 11:11 AM PERMALINK


Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) issued a letter of support for a new bill introduced by Congressman Sam Johnson (R-Texas), HR 3086. The bill would prevent the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from collecting taxes on the financial reimbursement to wrongfully incarcerated individuals when they leave prison. HR 3086 would end the tax on compensation and provide fair taxation and legal justice.

Since 2000, 263 people have been found innocent using new DNA techniques. Though they were already made to pay a price regardless of their innocence, they are made to pay an additional price on the reparations they receive to the same government that locked them away by mistake.

Moreover, the proposed reforms bolster the credibility of our justice system. If wrongful convictions can be expected to happen, then subsequent recompense should also be expected. The nation does itself no favors by this tax penalty in the court of public opinion.

ATR urges legislators in the House and the Senate as well as grassroots activists to support this common-sense reform. Innocent people released from prison already paid a heavy price. Taxing them is no proper way to say “We’re sorry”. 

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11 of 12 Fake Applicants Get Through Healthcare.gov Obamacare Website

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Posted by Alexander Hendrie on Wednesday, July 15th, 2015, 4:03 PM PERMALINK


The federally run ObamaCare website Healthcare.gov does not properly verify the eligibility of applicants before allowing them to enroll and receive subsidies according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). As a result, 11 of 12 fake applicants that GAO enrolled on the exchange received coverage for the entire 2014 season despite using fraudulent documents, or in some cases no documentation at all. In total the healthcare.gov paid $30,000 in Obamacare credits to these 11 fake applicants. 

GAO preformed 18 undercover tests to assess the strength of Obamacare enrollment controls. Of the 18 tests, 12 were phone or online applicants and 6 were scenarios designed to test income-verification controls.

Of the 12 applicants, GAO intentionally provided fictitious documents for nine applicants and provided no documentation for three applicants. As the report states, GAO produced a wide range of factious documents to test the depth of fraud protections:

“Our tests included fictitious applicants who provided invalid Social Security identities, noncitizens claiming to be lawfully present in the United States, and applicants who did not provide Social Security numbers. As appropriate, in our applications for coverage and subsidies, we used publicly available information to construct our scenarios. We also used publicly available hardware, software, and materials to produce counterfeit or fictitious documents, which we submitted, as appropriate for our testing, when instructed to do so.”

But as the report states, this did not stop healthcare.gov from enrolling 11 of 12 applicants and granting them subsidies:

“Although our documentation was fictitious, and in some cases we submitted none, or only some, of the documentation we were directed to send, we retained our coverage for all 11 applicants through the end of the 2014 coverage year.”

As of April 2015, healthcare.gov had flagged seven of the 11 applicants as having a document inconsistency that remained unresolved. However, subsidies had continued because any Obamacare enrollee was allowed to keep coverage if they demonstrated a “good faith effort.” As the report states, this was defined very broadly:

“Under the policy, the officials told us, the submission of a single document served as evidence of a good faith effort by the applicant to resolve all inconsistencies, and therefore extended the resolution period through the end of 2014.”

While this explains how some of the 11 fake applicants kept their coverage, healthcare.gov was unable to account for the fake enrollees that did not submit any documentation. GAO found that this could be explained by a flaw in the system which showed an individual had not enrolled in a plan when they had done so:

“We found instances in which records we reviewed showed that applicants had not enrolled in a plan, when they actually had done so. Contractor officials told us that in such cases, they did not terminate the plans or subsidies because the applicants were shown as not enrolled.”

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