Pen company hopes to ink deal with Obama

Zebra F-301President Obama got more than one $5 million offer this week.

The Zebra Pen Company, based in New Jersey, sent a letter to the president Thursday offering to donate $5 million to the charity of his choice if the president will publicly disclose what kind of pen – ballpoint, gel, rollerball, etc. – and what color ink he used in filling out his college application, with “bonus points” offered for presenting the actual pen.

“Mr. President, America needs to know these very ‘important’ details,” the pen company asserted.

But to seal the deal, the company said, the president also would have to name Zebra as the official pen of the commander-in-chief, the White House and the Obama campaign, and do all future bill and treaty signings with the company’s pens.

Why do I report on this craven, self-serving tactic to manipulate politics for publicity’s sake? Because it makes just as much sense as reporting on this week’s other craven, self-serving tactic to manipulate politics for publicity’s sake.

The only difference is that Zebra pens are actually sort of useful.


CA, MI senators place wager on World Series

The U.S. Senators from California and Michigan – all Democrats – placed a friendly bet today on the outcome of the World Series showdown between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers.

California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer put up some of San Francisco’s famed Ghirardelli chocolates and a selection of award-winning California wines, while Michigan senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow put up Michigan’s Sanders chocolates and their own state’s wine assortment.

(Here I will allow myself to editorialize: Michigan wines? Really?)

Naturally, the bet – for which no dollar value was assigned – was placed with good-natured smack-talk on both sides.

Feinstein: “Giants fans are thrilled our team is headed to the World Series against Detroit. We will root, root, root for our great home team. GO Giants!!!”

Boxer: “The Giants have shown throughout the season that they never quit, and I am looking forward to a hard-fought series that ends with another victory parade down Market Street in San Francisco.”

Levin: “The Giants have shown plenty of determination in their tough road to the World Series. But they are going to more than meet their match in Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and their fabulous teammates. I plan to celebrate a Tigers victory with some tasty California treats, courtesy of Senators Boxer and Feinstein.”

Stabenow: “I know I speak for the entire state when I say I’m so proud of the Tigers for their success this year and wish them luck in the World Series. Sorry Giants fans, but with Miguel Cabrera winning baseball’s first Triple Crown in over 40 years, Prince Fielder blasting home runs and Justin Verlander dominating opposing hitters, the Tigers are going to bring the title back to Michigan!”


Swalwell denies claim of ‘pay-to-play’ in Dublin

Steven Tavares has an interesting story on the 15th Congressional District race in today’s East Bay Express:

On June 5, just hours after casting a vote for himself in the East Bay’s 15th Congressional District primary against incumbent Congressman Pete Stark, Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell voted to approve a no-bid, monopoly contract to a local garbage company while members of that firm’s upper management sat in attendance. Swalwell, however, never publicly disclosed that those four top-level employees of Amador Valley Industries were large contributors to his congressional campaign in the months before the deal. Also in attendance was a consultant for the garbage company who not only had recently donated to Swalwell, but also has a history of violating campaign finance laws.


In some cities, including Oakland, what AVI and Swalwell did would have been illegal. It’s unlawful in those cities for a prospective government contractor, such as AVI, to make donations to councilmembers’ political campaigns in the months before those councilmembers vote on the actual contract. Good government advocates throughout California have pushed hard over the years to eliminate this type of pay-to-play politics.

Dublin, however, has no such prohibition. The city allows councilmembers to take donations from government contractors and then vote to award public contracts to those companies, said Jim Bakker, Dublin’s city attorney.

“A respected regional newspaper is raising new and troubling questions about Eric Swalwell’s role in pay-to-play for municipal contracts,” Michael Terris, Stark’s campaign consultant, said today. “Swalwell has thrown a lot of mud in this campaign, but he owes voters real answers to these serious allegations. An unregistered lobbyist for garbage contractors, whose owners and employees have donated $15,000 to Swalwell’s campaign, even raises questions about Swalwell’s integrity for failing to disclose major contributions while voting on no-bid contracts.”

Eric Swalwell Swalwell campaign manager Lisa Tucker, when asked today if there was any connection between the contributions and Swalwell’s vote, replied, “Absolutely not.” She noted that the agenda item on which he voted was initiated by the city’s staff, not by any member of the council, and that the vote was 4-1, so Swalwell’s wasn’t the deciding vote.

“Every contribution Eric received was disclosed properly to the public prior to the meeting,” she said, referring to Swalwell’s mandatory campaign finance filings to the Federal Election Commission.

Asked whether Swalwell had any ethical obligation to verbally disclose the contributions before casting that vote, Tucker noted that Swalwell is an Alameda County prosecutor and insisted he “has followed every ethics and disclosure law before taking the vote. Eric is proud that his support comes from individuals, compared to 65 percent of Congressman Stark’s contributions come from PACs, including almost $200,000 from health professionals with issues before his subcommittee.”

“Every claim Rep. Stark has made against Eric has resulted in him apologizing or has been debunked by a third-party media source,” she said. “This claim, by a blogger with a demonstrated bias on his blog for Rep. Stark, is an extension of Rep. Stark’s efforts to deceive voters.”

Tucker was referring to Tavares’ East Bay Citizen, where he has covered this race extensively both through news articles and pro-Stark opinion pieces.

Tavares’ story today in the Express notes that Stark in April – two months before Swalwell cast this vote – had gotten into hot water for claiming at a debate that Swalwell had accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes,” a claim he later acknowledged was unsubstantiated and for which he apologized.

Here are the AVI-related donations I’ve been able to find at a glance, some that occurred before the June 5 vote and some that occurred afterward:

  • Robert J. Molinaro, Pleasanton, president, Pleasanton Garbage Service, 9/27/11, $2,500
  • Anthony Macchiano, Pleasanton, VP, Pleasanton Garbage Service, 9/27/11, $2,500
  • Gina Cardera, Livermore, manager, Amador Valley Industries, 9/27/11, $250
  • John R. Repetto, Pleasanton, route manager, Amador Valley Industries, 9/27/11, $250
  • Gordon Galvan, Castro Valley, consultant to Amador Valley Industries, 11/30/11, $1,000
  • Gina Cardera, Livermore, manager, Amador Valley Industries, 12/30/11, $1,000
  • Carol Molinaro, Pleasanton, homemaker, 1/31/12, $250
  • Carol Molinaro, Pleasanton, homemaker, 3/21/12, $250
  • Gordon Galvan, Castro Valley, consultant to Amador Valley Industries, 3/28/12, $1,000
  • Gordon Galvan, Castro Valley, consultant to Amador Valley Industries, 5/9/12, $500
  • Carol Molinaro, Pleasanton, homemaker, 5/10/12, $250
  • Anthony Macchiano, Pleasanton, owner, M&M Land, 5/22/12, $250
  • Robert J. Molinaro, Pleasanton, president, Pleasanton Garbage Service, 6/27/12 $2,500
  • Anthony Macchiano, Pleasanton, owner, M&M Land, 6/30/12, $2,500
  • (Anthony Macchiano, Pleasanton, owner, M&M Land, 7/2012, refund $250)
  • Anthony Macchiano, Pleasanton, owner, M&M Land, 9/29/12, $250
  • The Express story also included this:

    Even a paid consultant for AVI, Gordon Galvan, who also donated to Swalwell, distanced himself from Swalwell’s failure to disclose his ties to AVI. “If he didn’t disclose it, I think that is wrong. It’s all on him,” said Galvan, who gave Swalwell the legal federal limit of $2,500 in successive years totaling $5,000. “The ethical thing to do is — I would have said, ‘These are people who have contributed to my congressional campaign and it has nothing to do with the City of Dublin or my vote.'”

    Nonetheless, Galvan, who is also a lobbyist and a former San Leandro councilman, characterized what Swalwell and AVI did as being no big deal. “It’s a dynamic that happens all the time,” said Galvan, adding that he believes Swalwell has been at a financial disadvantage during the campaign because of Stark’s political connections. “[Swalwell] can’t get PAC money because it’s a good ol’ boys’ network. If you’re a forty-year incumbent you have access to all that money. To me, that’s a lot dirtier.”

    Galvan today said he had told Tavares that if Swalwell was legally obliged to report the contributions and hadn’t, then that would be on him – but that’s not the case here.

    “I’m supporting Swalwell, so why would I say something that calls into question his ethics?” Galvan said. “It makes it sounds like I’m questioning Swalwell’s ethics or I think he did something illegal, and that’s not true at all … I didn’t say anything like that.”


    California poised to set voter registration record

    California is on track for a record-high number of registered voters, Secretary of State Debra Bowen said today.

    Yesterday was the deadline to register to vote in next month’s presidential election. Bowen said more than 679,000 Californians were added to the state’s voter rolls in the final 45 days leading up to that deadline, and that number will go up as county elections officials keep verifying the eligibility of tens of thousands more last-minute registrants.

    The last certified statewide data, as of Sept. 7, showed 17,259,680 Californians registered to vote. The record high for California – set in February 2009 – was 17,334,275 registrants, so all those from the last few weeks are sure to put the state well past that mark.

    “I must emphasize these are preliminary numbers and not the final confirmed roster of eligible voters in California because county elections officials are now hard at work verifying each and every application,” Bowen said in a news release. “After all 58 county elections officials send their registration data to my office, we will compile the certified statewide numbers and publish a final report of registered voters on November 2.”

    Of the more than 679,000 verified new voters so far, about 381,000 submitted their applications using the Secretary of State’s new online system and about 298,000 submitted paper applications.


    Fact-checking new ads in CA9 McNerney-Gill race

    Here’s the latest ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee attacking Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton:

    The bill to which this ad refers is HR 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which passed the House approved June 26, 2009 on a 219-212 vote; the bill later died in the U.S. Senate. The bill proposed a cap-and-trade system in which the government would limit the total amount of greenhouse gases that could be emitted nationally.

    The bill did not impose an “energy tax” directly on Americans. Some opponents claimed it would raise energy costs, but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded the cost would be negligible for most and some poorer households would actually gain:

    (T)he net annual economy-wide cost of the cap-and-trade program in 2020 would be $22 billion—or about $175 per household. That figure includes the cost of restructuring the production and use of energy and of payments made to foreign entities under the program, but it does not include the economic benefits and other benefits of the reduction in GHG emissions and the associated slowing of climate change. CBO could not determine the incidence of certain pieces (including both costs and benefits) that represent, on net, about 8 percent of the total. For the remaining portion of the net cost, households in the lowest income quintile would see an average net benefit of about $40 in 2020, while households in the highest income quintile would see a net cost of $245. Added costs for households in the second lowest quintile would be about $40 that year; in the middle quintile, about $235; and in the fourth quintile, about $340. Overall net costs would average 0.2 percent of households’ after-tax income.

    The American Petroleum Institute had estimated the bill would raise gas prices by 77 cents per gallon, but the Environmental Protection Agency estimated the increases in gas prices would amount to less than 2 cents per year over the next two decades.

    Among many other provisions, the bill included a low-income energy tax credit program to offset any impact of higher energy prices; an energy rebate to reach families who don’t make enough to file tax returns; and a $4-billion, one-year program providing vouchers for the purchase or lease of a new car or truck to those who trade in an eligible vehicle for one that’s more fuel efficient.

    The bill was widely supported by environmental organizations, but actually split the business community somewhat: Supporters included General Electric, Dow Chemical, Pacific Gas and Electric, Ford Motor Co. and DuPont, while opponents included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

    Here’s the latest ad that McNerney is running against his Republican challenger, Ricky Gill:

    “Ricky Gill never held a full-time job.” – Gill has held various summer jobs and internships, but has had no full-time job other than being a partner in his parents’ farming and RV park businesses, where his duties have been unclear. Gill graduated from law school in May, but hasn’t taken the California State Bar exam and so can’t practice law yet.

    “He has an allowance from his parents.” – Gill’s personal financial disclosure says he received $10,000 in salary in 2010 (while in law school) from CVR Management of Lodi, a company registered to two of his brothers, not his parents. I’m pretty sure it was the California Democratic Party which first called this “an allowance.”

    “Gill Family: $40,000 in unpaid taxes and liens” – The McNerney campaign provided me a 27-page PDF of lien records (summary pages 1 and 2) culled from the Sacramento and San Joaquin county recorders’ offices, detailing various liens from 1985 through 2011 for state and county taxes, delinquent utility charges, and contractors’ services.

    “Gill Family: $165,000 in taxpayer-funded subsidies” – McNerney’s campaign provided this breakdown:

  • Gill-Chabra Farms: $43,531, including $35,892 in disaster subsidies in 2004-2005 and $7,639 in commodity subsidies from 1996 through 2001
  • Jasbir Gill: $19,314 in disaster subsidies in 2004
  • Jasbir Gill Family LP: $36,997 in disaster subsidies in 2005
  • Gill Vineyards LLC: $65,465 in 2001 in disaster subsidies
  • Gill’s campaign spokesman told the Associated Press earlier this year that the disaster subsidies were to offset crop problems affecting the family’s wine grapes.

    “Jerry McNerney: Opposed $350 billion bailout”As I reported here a month ago, he opposed it after it had already happened, essentially a completely symbolic vote. But he had voted for the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) in the first place, as had 91 House Republicans including now-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

    UPDATE @ 2:12 P.M.: Gill’s campaign notes that I didn’t fact-check McNerney’s description of himself as “a real small businessman;” his financial disclosures indicate he resigned as CEO of Hawt Power in 2006, and mentioned no income from any business in 2011.


    Dianne Feinstein launches campaign ad

    U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s re-election campaign is airing a television ad – not that it really needs to.

    The campaign says the ad will be airing in all of California’s major media markets.

    That requires the kind of moolah that Feinstein’s Republican challenger, Elizabeth Emken of Danville, just doesn’t seem to have. That’s not to say Emken hasn’t been giving the campaign her best effort, but this just isn’t a race that any national or state political experts have ever believed would be competitive.

    And, by just about any measure, it’s not. Real Clear Politics’ average of four polls taken since early September shows Feinstein leading by almost 24 percentage points; over at the New York Times, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog gives Feinstein a 100 percent chance of winning, and projects she’ll get about 60 percent of the vote.