April 5th, 2011
Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel
By: Daniel Bice
Just in his mid-20s, Brian Deschane has no college degree, very little management experience and two drunken-driving convictions.
Yet he has landed an $81,500-per-year job in Gov. Scott Walker’s administration overseeing environmental and regulatory matters and dozens of employees at the Department of Commerce. Even though Walker says the state is broke and public employees are overpaid, Deschane already has earned a promotion and a 26% pay raise in just two months with the state.
How did Deschane score his plum assignment with the Walker team?
It’s all in the family.
His father is Jerry Deschane, executive vice president and longtime lobbyist for the Madison-based Wisconsin Builders Association, which bet big on Walker during last year’s governor’s race.
The group’s political action committee gave $29,000 to Walker and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, last year, making it one of the top five PAC donors to the governor’s successful campaign. Even more impressive, members of the trade group funneled more than $92,000 through its conduit to Walker’s campaign over the past two years.
Total donations: $121,652.
That’s big-time backing from the homebuilders.
The younger Deschane didn’t respond to questions about his job.
But his father said he doesn’t think his group’s financial support of the first-term Republican helped his son in his job search.
“He got the position himself,” said Jerry Deschane, who returned to the trade group in September after a hiatus during which he worked as an independent lobbyist for many groups, including the builders association. “I didn’t get it for him.”
One Walker critic isn’t buying it.
State Rep. Brett Hulsey called Deschane’s appointment another case of the new administration using state jobs to repay various industries.
Hulsey said he was unimpressed with the younger Deschane’s résumé, including his lack of environmental or management experience.
“It doesn’t look like he’s ever had a real job,” the Madison Democrat said.
Hulsey noted that the recently approved law that made collective bargaining changes converts 37 top agency attorneys, communications officials and legislative liaisons from civil service positions to jobs appointed by the governor.
“This is an example of the quality of candidates you’re going to get,” said Hulsey, owner of the consulting firm Better Environmental Services.
According to his résumé, Deschane, 27, attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for two years, worked for two Republican lawmakers – then-Sens. David Zien and Cathy Stepp, now the natural resources secretary – and helped run a legislative and a losing congressional campaign. He held part-time posts with the Wisconsin Builders Association and the Wisconsin Business Council until being named to his first state gig earlier this year.
Deschane’s father said that during the gubernatorial contest he might have reminded Keith Gilkes, Walker’s campaign manager and now chief of staff, that his son “was out there and available.”
“I put in good words for every one of my children in their jobs,” said the elder Deschane. “But that would be the extent of it.”
David Carlson, spokesman for the Department of Regulation and Licensing, confirmed that Gilkes recommended Deschane for an interview with the agency. Deschane’s name does not appear on a list of job applicants with Walker’s transition team, but the governor’s office confirmed that Gilkes interviewed Deschane for a state job in December.
A month later, Secretary David Ross, a Walker cabinet member, named Deschane the bureau director of board services, a job that paid $64,728 a year.
Not long after, lawmakers approved the governor’s plan to convert the Department of Commerce to a public-private hybrid in charge of attracting and retaining businesses, with its regulatory and environmental functions being moved to other agencies.
Commerce Secretary Paul Jadin then appointed Deschane to his new post there to oversee the changes.
“It was felt that he would be helpful in working through the transition issues,” said Commerce Department spokesman Tony Hozeny.
The move meant a pay raise of more than $16,500 a year for Deschane, even though he had put in only a couple of months with the state.
Deschane’s father said his group doesn’t lobby or work with his son’s division, which deals primarily with regulating underground storage tanks and petroleum tanks and products. Hozeny said the younger Deschane will be expected to abide by state ethics rules in dealing with family members.
A spokesman for the governor said Walker’s team was aware of Deschane’s two drunken-driving convictions, the most recent of which occurred in 2008.
“We . . . felt he had changed his habits and that these past incidents would in no way affect his performance at this job,” said Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie.
Deschane’s father acknowledged that his son had made “foolish” decisions in the past, but he argued that the Walker administration was influenced by the younger Deschane’s strong résumé.
“He’s a bright young man,” the father said.
Michael McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and a regular critic of Walker, said he’s not surprised officials claim the builders association’s contributions had no impact on the hiring. No politician concedes being influenced by campaign donations, McCabe said.
But he said it’s hard to reach any other conclusion in this case.
“It has all the markings of political patronage,” McCabe said.
January 5th, 2010
The Huffington Post
By: Laura Bassett
In addition to raising millions of dollars a year for breast cancer research, fundraising giant Susan G. Komen for the Cure has a lesser-known mission that eats up donor funds: patrolling the waters for other charities and events around the country that use any variation of “for the cure” in their names.
So far, Komen has identified and filed legal trademark oppositions against more than a hundred of these Mom and Pop charities, including Kites for a Cure, Par for The Cure, Surfing for a Cure and Cupcakes for a Cure–and many of the organizations are too small and underfunded to hold their ground.
“It happened to my family,” said Roxanne Donovan, whose sister runs Kites for a Cure, a family kite-flying event that raises money for lung cancer research. “They came after us ferociously with a big law firm. They said they own ‘cure’ in a name and we had to stop using it, even though we were raising money for an entirely different cause.”
Donovan’s sister, Mary Ann Tighe, said the Komen foundation sent her a letter asking her to stop using the phrase “for a cure” in their title and to never use the color pink in conjunction with their fundraising. What bothered her most about the whole ordeal, she said, was that Komen forced her to spend money and time on legal fees and proceedings instead of raising funds for cancer.
“We were certainly taken aback by it,” she told HuffPost. “We have partners running these kite events around the country. What if one of them uses, say, magenta? Is that pink? I mean, where are we going with this? We just want to raise money for cancer. What we don’t want is to have our energy misplaced by having our charity partners trying to police the good work that we’re doing.”
Sue Prom, who started a small dog sledding fundraiser for breast cancer called “Mush for the Cure” in Grand Marais, Minn., said she was shocked to hear from Komen’s lawyers this summer asking that she change the name of her event or face legal proceedings.
“I had to call the trademark helpline, because I had no idea what I was doing,” said Prom, who runs the annual sled race with her husband and friend. “We pay for the expenses out of our pockets, and we’ve never personally made a dime from it. We have t-shirts, sweatshirts, domain names, posters, stationery, all with ‘Mush for the Cure’ on it. What do we do with all the materials now? How are we gonna defend ourselves? We’re not like Komen.”
Prom said she’s been running the event for six years, and the most she has raised for the National Breast Cancer Foundation is $25,000. Before the NBCF could accept the money, they warned her to file for a trademark to protect her event legally against the Komen Foundation. But now that Komen has opposed Mush’s trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Prom is looking for a pro bono lawyer to help her figure out what to do next.
“I think it’s a shame,” she said. “It’s not okay. People don’t give their money to the Komen Foundation and they don’t do their races and events so that Komen can squash any other fundraising efforts by individuals. That’s not what it’s about.”
Komen’s general counsel, Jonathan Blum, told HuffPost that the fundraising powerhouse tries to be reasonable when dealing with small charities and nonprofits, but that it has a legal duty to protect its more than 200 registered trademarks.
“It’s never our goal to shut down a nonprofit,” he said, “and we try very hard to be reasonable, but it’s still our obligation to make sure that our trademarks are used appropriately so there’s no confusion in the marketplace over where people’s money is going.”
Blum told HuffPost that legal fees comprise a “very small part” of Komen’s budget, but according to Komen’s financial statements, such costs add up to almost a million dollars a year in donor funds.
“I think it’s important that charities protect their brand, but on the other hand, I don’t think the donors’ intent in giving their money was to fund a turf war,” said Sandra Minuitti, a spokesperson for Charity Navigator. “It’s very important that Komen treads carefully and is very transparent about how they’re spending money on these legal battles.”
Michael Mercanti, an intellectual property lawyer, said he is surprised by the large number of oppositions Komen has filed against other charities–a number he would expect from a company like Toys”R”Us or McDonalds, but not a charitable fundraising organization.
“They seem to be very aggressive in policing their mark, or what they’re claiming to be their mark,” he told HuffPost. “I guess there are a lot of ways to captain a ship, but it seems like there are ways they could protect and police their trademarks and also allow other charities to coexist.”
Mercanti said filing hundreds of oppositions is not only damaging to other charities, but could also be counterproductive for Komen’s brand.
“They could actually be seen as being a bully,” he said. “They’re going to alienate some donors who don’t appreciate them stepping on smaller, worthwhile charities.”
With the help of a team of pro bono lawyers, Kites for a Cure was able to reach a settlement with Komen: They agreed to only use the phrase “for a Cure” in conjunction with the words “lung cancer” to make the distinction clear. But Tighe said they reached a settlement only after many, many months of a free legal team working long hours each day.
“We were very fortunate because we had strong support from knowledgeable pro bono counsel, but it did seem like a misdirection of a lot of people’s energy,” she told HuffPost. “I don’t know what smaller organizations do without free representation.”
Sue Prom said Tighe has already put her in touch with her pro bono legal team, and she is prepared to fight for the name of her sledding event in court. The ordeal has changed her opinion of Komen.
“I used to give money to Komen all the time, but now I’m just kind of wary of them,” she said. “I’m not buying Yoplait yogurt or anything that has the word ‘Komen’ on it. They seem to have forgotten what charity is about.”
April 29, 2010
by Kirsten Cole
Organ donation has become a vital way to save lives around the world, but a vast shortage of donors continues to mean people are losing their lives while on waiting lists.
But there is a unique proposal that could change all that.
New York State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky nearly lost his daughter, Willie, at 4 years old when she needed a kidney transplant, and again 10 years later when her second kidney failed.
“We have 10,000 New Yorkers on the list today waiting for organs. We import half the organs we transplant. It is an unacceptable failed system,” Brodsky said.
To fix that, Brodsky introduced a new bill in Albany that would enroll all New Yorkers as an organ donor, unless they actually opt out of organ donation. It would be the first law of its kind in the United States.
“Overseas, 24 nations have it. Israel has it. Others have it. And it works without a lot of controversy,” Brodsky said.
Currently one of the biggest obstacles to being a donor is while 9 out of 10 are favorable to it only 1 out of 10 is signed up to be a donor.
On Wednesday, the New York Organ Donor Network honored families who’ve donated the organs of loved ones with a planting ceremony at New York Botanical Gardens. Jean Carnevale had a timely talk about organ donation with her 27-year=old son before he died in a fatal car accident.
“Michael and I had a conversation two weeks prior on the way to a family member’s funeral,” Carnevale said.
And Emily Melendez and her siblings made the choice for their 68-year-old mother.
“Although I lost my mom, she lives on in three other people,” Melendez said.
“The thing about organ donor is we have the cure right now in our hands. It’s not like trying to cure cancer,” said Elaine Berg of the Organ Donor Network.
Legal experts said if the law is passed, it will likely face challenges in court from family members or some religious groups.
“I think it’s a little heavy handed. I think we should have the right to choose that,” said Rachel Rogers of Crown Heights.
But many are hoping this law will help people to make a choice — one way or the other.
Currently, you can make your organ donation wishes known by signing the back of your driver’s license, signing up online or through a health care proxy.
November 19, 2009
by Jeanne Cummings
He may have promised to change Washington, but President Barack Obama is continuing one of its most renowned patronage traditions: bestowing prized ambassadorships on big donors.
Of the nearly 80 ambassadorship nominations or confirmations since Obama’s Inauguration, 56 percent were given to political appointees and 44 percent have gone to career diplomats, according to records kept by the American Foreign Service Association.
The latest nomination came this week, when Beatrice Wilkinson Welters was nominated to serve as ambassador to the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.
Welters, a longtime advocate for underprivileged children, and her husband, Anthony, an executive with UnitedHealth Group, generated between $200,000 and $500,000 in donations to Obama’s presidential campaign and an additional $100,000 for his Inauguration, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks political giving.
The Welters can be counted among the nearly two dozen Obama bundlers — fundraisers who together organized and solicited more than $10 million in donations during the 2008 campaign — who now are being dispatched to some of the world’s greatest cities.
Charles H. Rivkin, a Los Angeles-based children’s television executive and an $800,000 bundler, is in Paris; Alan Solomont, a Boston-based investor and $500,000 bundler, is in Madrid; Louis B. Susman, a Chicago investor and $500,000 bundler, is in London; and Don Beyer, a Virginia Volvo dealer and $745,000 bundler, is in Bern, Switzerland.
Nicole Avant, a member of a Motown family dynasty who is credited with bundling up to $800,000 for Obama, was granted the coveted and cushy ambassadorship in Nassau, Bahamas.
Beyond the bundlers, Obama’s ambassador ranks are also teeming with good, old-fashioned, loyal Democrats who have given generously to the party but weren’t ranked among his top fundraisers.
Counted on those rolls are newly installed Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy, former finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee who since 1989 has personally donated nearly $1.5 million to the party; and Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Costa Rica, Anne Slaughter Andrew, an environmental attorney whose husband, Joe, is a former DNC chairman who provided a well-timed endorsement of Obama during the extended 2008 primary against then-Sen. Hillary Clinton.
For career diplomats, the selection of amateurs is always galling. “It is time to stop this spoils system and these de facto, three-year-term rentals of ambassadorships,” said Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association.
“We believe the appointment of noncareer individuals, however accomplished they may be in their own field, to lead American diplomatic missions should be exceptional and circumscribed and not the routine practice it has become over the last three or four decades,” she added.
The politicization of the diplomatic corps, which began in the 1960s, is of increasing concern to some foreign policy experts, given the rise of terrorism and the need for greater coordination between the U.S. and foreign governments on national security issues.
Diplomatic posts that may once have largely involved ceremonial appearances now can be focused on issues such as human and drug trafficking, kidnappings, war and intelligence sharing. With that worldview, “We believe America is best served by having career foreign service officers, just as we have career military officers,” Johnson said.
Obama never promised an end to the practice of ambassadorial patronage. In an appearance before his Inauguration, he said, “it would be disingenuous for me to suggest that there are not going to be some” political appointments.
But what has surprised some foreign policy experts is how traditionally Obama has defined the word “some”:
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said it is unfair to judge the Obama administration by its first wave of ambassadorial nominations, because most of the openings involve traditional political posts recently vacated by Bush administration appointees.
More career diplomatic posts, which run on staggered, three-year terms, will begin opening up in the next year or two. That should produce a second wave of nominations dominated by professional foreign service officers, he added.
August 18, 2009
New York Times
By Andrew Pollack
Scientists in Israel have demonstrated that it is possible to fabricate DNA evidence, undermining the credibility of what has been considered the gold standard of proof in criminal cases.
The scientists fabricated blood and saliva samples containing DNA from a person other than the donor of the blood and saliva. They also showed that if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile without obtaining any tissue from that person.
“You can just engineer a crime scene,” said Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper, which has been published online by the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics. “Any biology undergraduate could perform this.”
Dr. Frumkin is a founder of Nucleix, a company based in Tel Aviv that has developed a test to distinguish real DNA samples from fake ones that it hopes to sell to forensics laboratories.
The planting of fabricated DNA evidence at a crime scene is only one implication of the findings. A potential invasion of personal privacy is another.
Using some of the same techniques, it may be possible to scavenge anyone’s DNA from a discarded drinking cup or cigarette butt and turn it into a saliva sample that could be submitted to a genetic testing company that measures ancestry or the risk of getting various diseases. Celebrities might have to fear “genetic paparazzi,” said Gail H. Javitt of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University.
Tania Simoncelli, science adviser to the American Civil Liberties Union, said the findings were worrisome.
“DNA is a lot easier to plant at a crime scene than fingerprints,” she said. “We’re creating a criminal justice system that is increasingly relying on this technology.”
John M. Butler, leader of the human identity testing project at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said he was “impressed at how well they were able to fabricate the fake DNA profiles.” However, he added, “I think your average criminal wouldn’t be able to do something like that.”
The scientists fabricated DNA samples two ways. One required a real, if tiny, DNA sample, perhaps from a strand of hair or drinking cup. They amplified the tiny sample into a large quantity of DNA using a standard technique called whole genome amplification.
Of course, a drinking cup or piece of hair might itself be left at a crime scene to frame someone, but blood or saliva may be more believable.
The authors of the paper took blood from a woman and centrifuged it to remove the white cells, which contain DNA. To the remaining red cells they added DNA that had been amplified from a man’s hair.
Since red cells do not contain DNA, all of the genetic material in the blood sample was from the man. The authors sent it to a leading American forensics laboratory, which analyzed it as if it were a normal sample of a man’s blood.
The other technique relied on DNA profiles, stored in law enforcement databases as a series of numbers and letters corresponding to variations at 13 spots in a person’s genome.
From a pooled sample of many people’s DNA, the scientists cloned tiny DNA snippets representing the common variants at each spot, creating a library of such snippets. To prepare a DNA sample matching any profile, they just mixed the proper snippets together. They said that a library of 425 different DNA snippets would be enough to cover every conceivable profile.
Nucleix’s test to tell if a sample has been fabricated relies on the fact that amplified DNA — which would be used in either deception — is not methylated, meaning it lacks certain molecules that are attached to the DNA at specific points, usually to inactivate genes.