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June 23, 2007

The Center For Promise and Opportunity

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

As Greg Sargent has pointed out, the front-page NYT piece attacking John Edwards' nonprofit, the Center for Promise and Opportunity, turned down the opportunity to interview any of the nonprofit's beneficiaries.  I want to thank Ezra for noting that the CPO has been "an extraordinarily effective anti-poverty center" -- "If you care about poverty, this seems like $1.3 million well spent."  But just so the gap in the space-time continuum opened by Leslie Wayne's terrible reporting can be closed, I'd like to point out some of the beneficiaries. 

Nolahappyend_3 One of the major programs run out of the CPO sent 700 students down to New Orleans to repair houses devastated by Hurricane Katrina.  That's the program that these students were involved with.  The house they were repairing belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Savage, the elderly folks just right of the middle.  That's John Edwards in the back.


June 23, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Isn't easier to say "Vote for Edwards 2008!"

;)

Posted by: Jason | Jun 23, 2007 6:07:37 PM

Yeah, but I feel like I should mix it up a little sometimes.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jun 23, 2007 6:11:20 PM

Here's the problem. In 2004, politicians learned with the swiftboating of Kerry that once a lie is introduced into the public it takes on a life of its own. This was somewhat understood with the whole Saddam is behind 9/11 truism that many Americans still believe. It was brought home just how effective a lie can be at replacing the truth with the swiftboating. That's what this is. A swiftboating. You are thinking you are going to convince people with facts. I don't think you will. The only good thing is that they tried this too early over the summer when no one but political junkies are really paying attention. Otherwise, this would have legts- not because it's true. But because it's repeated by people who don't care whether it's true. They only care that it's effective.

Posted by: akaison | Jun 23, 2007 6:52:04 PM

This isn't a swiftboating. There are probably no lies in the story. The insinuations aren't friendly, but they aren't severe either.

It's good to know that the center is doing good work, but there's no particular reason the author of the article should have talked to beneficiaries. She wasn't questioning whether the center does good work, but how the work was mixed with politics and was useful in avoiding reporting of donors and such.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jun 23, 2007 8:40:56 PM

Riiiiight. Sanpete - you know- you are kind of sad.

Posted by: akaison | Jun 23, 2007 9:46:58 PM

Sanpete I couldnt have said it better myself

Posted by: Phil | Jun 23, 2007 9:47:41 PM

What Phil you can't say that you believe inuendo better than sanpete? I am surprised. I think it takes a great deal of talented to do that. I had once thought Bush supporters were singular in their ability to make shit up ,a nd believe it , but apparently Phil feels he's not up to snuff with the ability. Phil, I think you do yourself a disservice. You seem perfectly capable of it.

Posted by: akaison | Jun 23, 2007 10:06:26 PM

Hey, Phil and Sanpete:

Here's a challenge. Since you claim the article isn't based on inuendo, and proves what the reporter claims it proves, let's give you too smart guys a challenge (it's easy enough):

Give us a succint- as in short phrase list of all of the things that prove that the foundation (not charity) didn't do what it was set up to do? Can you do that?

Anticipating Sanpete's reply- yes sanpete- since you are asserting that the article is right, and that we are wrong for saying that it's not- the very least you can do is point out how that's is true. If you are unable to do that we both know why.

Posted by: akaison | Jun 23, 2007 10:13:19 PM

Hey, Phil and Sanpete:

Here's a challenge. Since you claim the article isn't based on inuendo, and proves what the reporter claims it proves, let's give you too smart guys a challenge (it's easy enough):

Give us a succint- as in short phrase list of all of the things that prove that the foundation (not charity) didn't do what it was set up to do? Can you do that?

Anticipating Sanpete's reply- yes sanpete- since you are asserting that the article is right, and that we are wrong for saying that it's not- the very least you can do is point out how that's is true. If you are unable to do that we both know why.

Posted by: akaison | Jun 23, 2007 10:13:24 PM

Give us a succint- as in short phrase list of all of the things that prove that the foundation (not charity) didn't do what it was set up to do?

The article makes no such claim.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jun 23, 2007 10:23:12 PM

Give us a succint list of what you say it claims then Sanpete

Posted by: akaison | Jun 23, 2007 10:27:59 PM

while giving us that list- also provide the proof that it provides of the clams

Posted by: akaison | Jun 23, 2007 10:28:25 PM

I am not going to by the way get in this game with you anymore of playing I say, you say. Prove what you say or you are a bullshit artist.

Posted by: akaison | Jun 23, 2007 10:29:09 PM

akaison: the reporter did not say that the CPO did not do what it was set up to do. She said that it did other things, and did enough of them to call into question a requirement for a 501(c)(4), that its primary function be to serve the public good, where that is defined to exclude support for a political campaign.

If you read the federal filing for the Center (available on Guidestar), in 2005 it spent about 42% of its funds on management and fundraising, 11% on Opportunity Rocks (though less than a third of that is listed as spent on 'college tour'; I suspect the rest is management, salaries, etc.), 6% on seminars and retreats with national security experts, and 42% on what it calls 'Exploration of new ideas'. Personally, I think Opportunity Rocks is completely legit, and the retreats and seminars on foreign policy and Iraq much less so. But the big item is 'Exploration of new ideas',, and without knowing exactly what that means, it's hard to evaluate the extent to which the CPO focussed on its actual stated mission.

Posted by: hilzoy | Jun 23, 2007 10:38:08 PM

Akaison, read the article yourself, and then if you find some problem with what I said, point it out.

Good info, hilzoy. "Exploration of new ideas" is an odd category for such a large part of the budget.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jun 23, 2007 10:46:06 PM

hilzoy- how does that compare to other foundations and charities? Do you know? By the way- i do know the answer to that question.

teh article also says more than this by the way. but I will play along for a bit.

Sanpete, I am not going to play he say, I say. List out how the article proves everything it says. Hilzoy is already playing selecting parsing of what it said, but I know you are good at that game so and I expect 50 comments later to still have no proof of anything you are saying here. To cut to the chase, I am asking you to list out all the claims that the article makes and show us proof provided by the article.

Posted by: akaison | Jun 23, 2007 10:48:48 PM

by the way some choice snippets that are conveniently left out by hil and sanpete and phil. Interesting that they would ignore this. But, I will remain silent on that.

"John Edwards ended 2004 with a problem: how to keep alive his public profile without the benefit of a presidential campaign that could finance his travels and pay for his political staff."


That's almost at the very begining. What's almost the very the next line?

"Mr. Edwards, who reported this year that he had assets of nearly $30 million, came up with a novel solution, creating a nonprofit organization with the stated mission of fighting poverty. "

I know most of you aren't stupid (well I am not sure about Sanpete). So I know you know placement of paragraphs indicates meaning. We are expecting some pretty nefarious stuff based on that lead in because why may I ask is his assets a factor in an article on his charity or foundation? Did any of you think he was poor? I know, I know. It's all innocent. And we are all (including some Republicans mind you) sychophants to John Edwards.

Here's another choice snippet:

"Because the organization is not required to disclose its donors — and the campaign declined to do so — it is not clear whether those who gave money to it did so understanding that they were supporting Mr. Edwards’s political viability as much or more than they were giving money to combat poverty."

I got a question for the reporter- if it's not clear, why didn't you ask?

Here's another:

"The money paid Mr. Edwards’s expenses while he walked picket lines and met with Wall Street executives. He gave speeches, hired consultants, attacked the Bush administration and developed an online following. He led minimum-wage initiatives in five states, went frequently to Iowa, and appeared on television programs. He traveled to China, India, Brussels, Uganda and Russia, and met with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and his likely successor, Gordon Brown, at 10 Downing Street."

Another question for the reporter- what happened at these meetings? Since you bring it up, I would like to know. Wouldn' an open mind want to know? Again- strange because people who are unbiased are saying there is no reason why they should have asked Edwards or interviewed people or talked to them. Again, Interesting.

Here's another choice snippet:

" These two committees each allowed donors to give more than the $2,300 per person limit in a presidential primary or general election, and, in some cases, to give in unlimited amounts."

This raises another question for the reporter, but apparently no one here by the name of Sanpete. That question is-

What did the committees do? Did they promote the issues they were meant to promote or did they solely promote John Edwards. If so, did you prove that's all they did? I mean Senator Clinton and Obama, and for that matter the GOP'ers running did much of the same in other capacities. What exactly is unique about this? It seems the front page article is reporting that people who run organizations can maybe also benefit from it. Well duh, I didn't know that. Really? Why the need to tell us that? What again is unique enough to desire front page treatment? Slow news day with the Iraqi war going on and trouble in the middle east?

Posted by: akaison | Jun 23, 2007 11:08:54 PM

by the way some choice snippets that are conveniently left out by hil and sanpete and phil. Interesting that they would ignore this. But, I will remain silent on that.

"John Edwards ended 2004 with a problem: how to keep alive his public profile without the benefit of a presidential campaign that could finance his travels and pay for his political staff."


That's almost at the very begining. What's almost the very the next line?

"Mr. Edwards, who reported this year that he had assets of nearly $30 million, came up with a novel solution, creating a nonprofit organization with the stated mission of fighting poverty. "

I know most of you aren't stupid (well I am not sure about Sanpete). So I know you know placement of paragraphs indicates meaning. We are expecting some pretty nefarious stuff based on that lead in because why may I ask is his assets a factor in an article on his charity or foundation? Did any of you think he was poor? I know, I know. It's all innocent. And we are all (including some Republicans mind you) sychophants to John Edwards.

Here's another choice snippet:

"Because the organization is not required to disclose its donors — and the campaign declined to do so — it is not clear whether those who gave money to it did so understanding that they were supporting Mr. Edwards’s political viability as much or more than they were giving money to combat poverty."

I got a question for the reporter- if it's not clear, why didn't you ask?

Here's another:

"The money paid Mr. Edwards’s expenses while he walked picket lines and met with Wall Street executives. He gave speeches, hired consultants, attacked the Bush administration and developed an online following. He led minimum-wage initiatives in five states, went frequently to Iowa, and appeared on television programs. He traveled to China, India, Brussels, Uganda and Russia, and met with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and his likely successor, Gordon Brown, at 10 Downing Street."

Another question for the reporter- what happened at these meetings? Since you bring it up, I would like to know. Wouldn' an open mind want to know? Again- strange because people who are unbiased are saying there is no reason why they should have asked Edwards or interviewed people or talked to them. Again, Interesting.

Here's another choice snippet:

" These two committees each allowed donors to give more than the $2,300 per person limit in a presidential primary or general election, and, in some cases, to give in unlimited amounts."

This raises another question for the reporter, but apparently no one here by the name of Sanpete. That question is-

What did the committees do? Did they promote the issues they were meant to promote or did they solely promote John Edwards. If so, did you prove that's all they did? I mean Senator Clinton and Obama, and for that matter the GOP'ers running did much of the same in other capacities. What exactly is unique about this? It seems the front page article is reporting that people who run organizations can maybe also benefit from it. Well duh, I didn't know that. Really? Why the need to tell us that? What again is unique enough to desire front page treatment? Slow news day with the Iraqi war going on and trouble in the middle east?

Posted by: akaison | Jun 23, 2007 11:09:04 PM

akaison: I am not sticking up for the way the article is written. I was trying to respond to your request that someone prove that the CPO didn't do what it was supposed to do by saying: (a) the article did not say that, nor was that its point, and (b) given the info in the article and on the federal filing, there's some question about whether the CPO did, in fact, meet the requirements for a 501(c)(4).

Posted by: hilzoy | Jun 23, 2007 11:45:46 PM

why may I ask is his assets a factor in an article on his charity or foundation?

Good question. I suspect it was intended to put the need for a foundation to support Edwards' activities into context and to raise the question whether he really needed a charitable foundation to pay.

if it's not clear, why didn't you ask?

Ask whom? The donor list isn't available.

what happened at these meetings?

It's possible that some of them had something to do with poverty reduction, maybe they all did. The point the author is making is that they also were helping Edwards advance his personal political goals.

What did the committees do? Did they promote the issues they were meant to promote or did they solely promote John Edwards. If so, did you prove that's all they did? I mean Senator Clinton and Obama, and for that matter the GOP'ers running did much of the same in other capacities. What exactly is unique about this?

According to the article, the political committees mostly "paid for travel and other activities that helped Mr. Edwards maintain his profile." There is no suggestion of anything wrong with those committees, which are for political purposes. They and the non-political foundations shared the same address, and the suggestion is that they may have been serving complementary purposes:

“It’s a permanent campaign,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit group based in Washington. “It’s about shaking every money tree possible and finding every means to finance a permanent campaign. It’s like having different checking accounts, with different rules, and the goal of keeping your name and agenda in the public eye.”

It seems the front page article is reporting that people who run organizations can maybe also benefit from it. ... What again is unique enough to desire front page treatment?

The point is that Edwards may have been taking advantage of the rules in an ethically and possibly even legally questionable way:

But it was his use of a tax-exempt organization to finance his travel and employ people connected to his past and current campaigns that went beyond what most other prospective candidates have done before pursuing national office. And according to experts on nonprofit foundations, Mr. Edwards pushed at the boundaries of how far such organizations can venture into the political realm. Such entities, which are regulated under Section 501C-4 of the tax code, can engage in advocacy but cannot make partisan political activities their primary purpose without risking loss of their tax-exempt status.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jun 23, 2007 11:46:18 PM

But the big item is 'Exploration of new ideas', and without knowing exactly what that means, it's hard to evaluate the extent to which the CPO focussed on its actual stated mission.

So the proof of wrongdoing is that the ideas being explored may have not been about the problems of domestic and international poverty ... including the problem in the US of being the only high income nation to lack universal health care, so that large numbers of poor are uncovered or poorly covered ... including riasing the minimum wage ... even though those were the policies that the campaign hit the ground with running?

The whole fricking premise is that he was stockpiling these people in a not for profit corporation recieving not-tax-exempt contributions (that is, the CPO, as opposed to the charitable CPO foundation) ... and that they came into his campaign ... and then his campaign releases a bunch of policies that fall right smack in the middle of the CPO's mission ... and there is somehow vaguely anything wrong with that ... even though the substance of the policies shows that they were indeed working on what the CPO was supposed to be working on!

I think there may be a reporter with a failure to grasp, or failure to dig enough to be aware of, the difference between "political activity" in ordinary parlance, and "political activity" in the tax code. "Lobbying" and "education" may be political as all get out, but they are separate categories, and a 501(c)(4) is allowed to do as much of them in pursuit of its mission as it wishes. "Political activity", as defined in the tax code, is restricted to members of the organization, but nobody seems to be suggesting that he engaged in "political activity" on the 501(c)(4) budget rather than the budget of the OneAmericaCommittee PAC.

Senators and Congressmen voted themselves the right to roll-over their re-election campaign funds into Presidential election funds, so that if they were to happen to have a Presidential election campaign staff up and running in the guise of a Senatorial re-election campaign staff, including all the policy advisors and political operatives that their contributors can support, then when they form their exploratory committee, the exploration can be completed at pretty much any convenient time. So having a Presidential campaign staff with a lot of people who were previously doing something else for the candidate is also certainly no novelty.

Rather, the real novelty is that Edwards formed a policy think tank to work out policies to address the multiple dimensions of a genuine fight against poverty, as his preparation for a run at the White House.

Posted by: BruceMcF | Jun 24, 2007 12:33:15 AM

nobody seems to be suggesting that he engaged in "political activity" on the 501(c)(4) budget

Actually, something like that does seem to be the suggestion of the article: "And according to experts on nonprofit foundations, Mr. Edwards pushed at the boundaries of how far such organizations can venture into the political realm."

Having staff in common between two political organizations is rather different from having staff in common between a charitable foundation and a political campaign.

I don't think there's any very strong indication, or any definite evidence at all, that what Edwards has done is illegal or an outrage against the system. It might point out yet another way the system can be gamed in potentially troubling or unseemly ways.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jun 24, 2007 1:23:31 AM

The media seems to accept words and slogans such as "compassionate conservative". However, when you help those in need your motives for doing so are suspect!

‘When I feed the poor, they call me a saint; when I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.’"-Dom Helder Camara

Posted by: jncam | Jun 24, 2007 2:34:54 AM

JOHN EDWARDS answers question about preventing Swiftboating:

My father used to say to me, "Somebody reaches out and hits you, you make sure they come back without their hand." That's exactly how we ought treat this. We ought to make them pay.

Posted by: Mary | Jun 24, 2007 5:50:32 AM

I think the point is that the article didn't help, and how Edwards responds to it may make a difference, but quite possibly won't. I think the main difference between this and the "Swift Boat" story is that there's not an organized, quasi-independent effort to derail Edwards. What there is are questions that arise from wondering just what Edwards has been doing since 2004, with a foundation designed to "raise awareness about poverty" (a mission of both stunning vagueness and curious obviousness) that seems to mostly have paid for Edwards to, well, campaign for the next round of elections. I don't know, necessarily, that there's something wrong with that, but the Times made the obvious point that it's not going to look good to some people, and it raises a number of questions. I do think Wayne went overboard in trying to make it look somehow nefarious. But yes, akaison, most charitable organizations spend less on overhead and more on their stated missions, and there's plenty of statistical evidence to answer your questions if you look. I'd also point out, for all the lovely photos of kids rebuilding homes in NOLA, that the organization's stated mission was not Katrina Recovery. And I suspect that if we compare the Edwards efforts to other Katrina oriented charities the difference might be clearer there, as well. Finally, while I tease Neil about it, I think it's great that we have someone passionately defending Edwards; I do think, though, still, that something is just not working out about his candidacy, and the article is emblematic of what's not working in his run. You can blame the writers, or you can ask what Edwards needs to do differently. I think the focus should be on the latter.

Posted by: weboy | Jun 24, 2007 7:03:50 AM

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