Inside Public Integrity

Published — September 11, 2015

James Bond exposes all that’s wrong with super-PACs


“James Bond” backs dubious Bernie Sanders super-PAC

Seldom do our stories have as much going for them as Michael Beckel’s hard-won piece on the tale of a dodgy businessman-cum-diplomat-cum-lobbyist who’s tangled with the law and his self-created super-PAC supposedly supporting Bernie Sanders. Daniel Craig, the actor who plays 007 James Bond, is apparently one of those drawn in to the web thinking he really was helping the Democratic Party presidential candidate.

The story speaks for itself but let me say that I know it has taken weeks if not months of work by Michael and his colleagues and our lawyer Mike Rothberg to get it this far. Craig wasn’t even in the frame until very recently. It’s a fun story but doesn’t it also expose just how nuts the entire system of Political Action Committees is? That’s why the story was in our wheelhouse from the start and why this 2012 story on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision still draws lots of readers and attention.

It’s worth noting that Al Jazeera America ran the story in full and the New York Times picked it up in its campaign coverage today, as did the Washington Post,Bloomberg and Huffington Post, which kindly just noted it and linked back to our site for the action. The piece is also doing the rounds on Twitter and media columnist and professional flamethrower Michael Wolff noted: “totally fascinating look at latest political hustle–can’t make this stuff up”.

As of this morning the piece has been picked up in too many places to list from Variety to Time.

“Big oil, bad air” scoops up another big award

In another category altogether, Jim Morris and the Environment team roll on, and their “Big Oil, Bad air” project exposing the unseen damage from fracking this week won the long form category of the National Association of Science Writers Science in Society Awards. It’s the fifth major industry award for a series which Jim led in partnership with Inside Climate News and the Weather Channel, another great example of our partnership strategy paying off.

The judges said the series was “an extraordinary accomplishment in team investigative science journalism targeted at a crucial energy, environment and health issue that extends well beyond the boundaries of Texas, the project’s focus. The reporters set out to get to the bottom of a corrupt regulatory system involving the fracking boom. They found no bottom.” Our communication czar Bill Gray wrote up a note explaining it all.

What do corporations get for their political donations?

Liz Essley Whyte asked that very simple question and came up with answers that should probably worry stockholders. It too is a story right in the center of what Public Integrity seeks to do.

It’s the sort of piece we can expect more as we develop a new unit in Money & Politics, led by Allan Holmes, which will look even more strongly at Business in Politics.

Do no harm falls short

The ICIJ broke more ground on its series on the failings of the World Bank to fulfill its “do no harm” mission with harrowing stories from Cambodia about ill-treatment by local authorities on projects sponsored by the World Bank.

Follow up and ongoing impact

We’ve talked often about Susan Ferriss’ work in juvenile justice and particularly her narrative on a young boy called Kayleb who personified the problem of kids being treated like criminals. She refused to let go of the story and her latest piece about the child being allowed back to school has 900 likes and the petition related to him has more than 150,000 signatures. This is an interesting intersection between our work to highlight problems and advocates who act on it.

What we’re reading

The Wall Street Journal has put a remarkable amount of effort into a world-beating exclusive investigation into hundreds of millions of dollars which turned up with the Malaysian Prime Minister and have now been traced in theory to the United Arab Emirates. It’s a textbook investigation.

The Financial Times exposed the dystopian world of major state actors recruiting hackers to conduct cyber warfare. [Link may be behind a paywall] It’s an area we’re taking a good look at to see how it might expand our National Security work.

Journalists and editors and anyone who has to write reports might love this piece from a veteran New Yorker writer about how even the most perfect piece needs a good editor. [Yes, I do appreciate the irony of me including this.]

Gordon Witkin notes the Politico 50, a colorful “advent calendar” presentation of the movers and shakers for 2016. Number One is Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and intriguingly to me as a big fan, New Yorker writer and author and surgeon Atul Gawande is number 50.

I welcome any feedback on this note.

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