Cops are increasingly looking and acting more like soldiers. How are they paying for all this militarized equipment? One source of funding is particularly disconcerting for Americans’ constitutional rights: equitable sharing.
Under this federal forfeiture program, local and state law enforcement can seize—and keep—cash, cars and other property they suspect have links to crime. Yet the taken property overwhelmingly came from people who have done nothing wrong. According to a new investigation by The Washington Post, the government never charged property owners with a crime in 81 percent of equitable sharing cases. Since 2008, 5,400 police departments and task forces have spent $2.5 billion in federally forfeited property.
These off-budget funds are a driving force behind the militarization of America’s police forces, giving rise to “warrior cops.” A Georgia town of 8,000 people spent nearly $80,000 on weapons and protective gear, including 27 M-4 rifles. Another department in Georgia purchased an eight-ton BearCat armored personnel carrier for $227,000. Police in Prince George’s County, Md. obtained a “mobile command bus” worth $1.2 million. Nationwide, police have spent over $175 millionin equitable sharing funds on weaponry.
While these procurements are helping transform Officer Friendly into G.I. Joe, other police purchases uncovered by the Post were more lavish. Or just plain ridiculous. To paint kids’ faces at an Easter party, police in Reminderville, Ohio hired “Sparkles the Clown” for $225. One Texas sheriff’s department spent $637 on a coffee maker, and over $5,000 on “banquets, luncheons and fundraisers” and expenses for the “Smokin Pigs Cooking Team.” The Sheriff’s Office in Mesa County, Colo. paid over $8,400 to send 20 lawyers to a conference at a ski resort in 2009. Agencies around the country have bought dozens of “new and used sports and luxury cars, including at least 15 Mercedes, a dozen Mustangs, a handful of BMWs and two Corvettes.”
Other police and prosecutors have infamously used forfeiture funds to buy Hawaiian vacations and a margarita machine. Or as John Oliver put it, “They were literally using this money as their own personal slush fund.”
Meanwhile, more altruistic causes are getting short shrift. Less than one percent of all equitable sharing funds, or about $20 million, has funded “community-based programs.” According to the Justice Department, these programs can include “a drug treatment facility, job skills program, or a youth program with drug and crime prevention education.” Yet even this paltry figure may be inflated: Hiring Sparkles the Clown was listed as a “community-based program.”
Moreover, there is an appalling lack of oversight and accountability. The Department of Justice has only been able to audit 25 out of the 5,400 police departments and task forces that partake in equitable sharing. While the Justice Department’s guidelines admonish that “agencies should not ‘spend it before you get it’ or budget anticipated receipts,” that hasn’t stopped 100 departments and task forces from receiving the equivalent of at least 20 percent of their budgets from equitable sharing. For one Maryland police department, asset forfeiture is used both “in tight budget periods, and even in times of budget surpluses.”
The weak safeguards don’t stop there. In callous disregard for federalism, police can routinely evade state restrictions and cash in through civil forfeiture, so long as they collaborate with a federal agency. For instance, Missouri and North Carolina are two of just eight states that ban law enforcement from keeping any forfeiture proceeds, according to the Institute for Justice’s report, “Policing for Profit.” But these laws don’t apply to property seized under equitable sharing. So if local and state law enforcement partner with an agency like the DEA, they can take property under federal law, and keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds.
In Missouri, instead of padding police budgets, any revenue generated from forfeiting property is supposed to fund public schools. But equitable sharing completely undermines that arrangement. In 2010, the Missouri State Auditor reported that of $5.7 million seized that year, “less than $26,000 went to Missouri public schools.” In contrast, over $4.2 million was transferred to a federal agency through equitable sharing, and then funneled back to local law enforcement.
Similarly, North Carolina is the only state in the country that essentially does not have civil forfeiture, instead requiring a criminal conviction before the government can take someone’s property. Yet law enforcement still spent over $90 million in federally forfeited assets since 2008. In fact, according to The Washington Post, North Carolina and Missouri are the seventh and tenth largest spenders of equitable sharing funds respectively.
Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Tim Walberg haveintroduced new legislation that would either end or curb equitable sharing, thereby stemming the flow of military-grade equipment onto our nation’s streets. As local police departments continue to metastasize into paramilitary units, civil forfeiture reform is vital to reverse this disturbing trend.Read More
DUNDEE, Mich. — A Dundee High School special assembly last week promoted an upcoming student trip to the nation’s capital, featured a congressman as keynote speaker, and celebrated George Washington with the dedication of a portrait of the first president that came from his Mount Vernon estate.
About a dozen students will spend the week before Thanksgiving in Washington catching the sights and learning how government works, said history teacher Paul Walters, who will accompany them.
The assembly kicked off with a performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by the school choir, with piano accompaniment by music teacher Haley Sulisz, that earned applause from the audience in the school gym.
Mr. Walters then explained Project Close Up, a national nonprofit program that helps finance field trips to Washington. The students, he said, “get out of school for a week, but it’s not a vacation.”
Jon Vogt, another history teacher, who wore a George Washington T-shirt, spoke more about the project, and the choir launched into “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”
Seniors Holly Harnica and Kaitlin Symanns then recalled their experiences on the field trip to D.C. last year. Holly said she would remember the trip all her life and recalled visiting the Supreme Court. But the most memorable part, she said, was interacting with students from around the country.
Mr. Vogt then spoke of Mount Vernon and George Washington, telling the students “there’s no one who exemplifies American history” more than the first president. Mr. Vogt promised a box of candy to students who could explain five points from Washington’s Farewell Address, delivered in 1796.
The extemporaneous keynote address was given by U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R., Tipton). He described the 7th Congressional District, which he represents and which includes Monroe County, as “the gateway to Pure Michigan” and a place of rich history, including the War of 1812. He told the students they were as American as George Washington was, “as American as anyone who came before you,” and that this status carried responsibilities.
Then the portrait of George Washington was unveiled. Mount Vernon also donated an American flag that flew over the estate.To read the original article, click here.
Did you know you don’t actually need to be charged with a crime for the government to seize your financial and property assets?
Under U.S. law, it can take only the suspicion of a crime to turn lives upside down and seize the property of innocent citizens.
The civil asset forfeiture law allows government agencies like the IRS or the Department of Justice to confiscate anyone’s property without obtaining criminal charges against them.
Originally intended to seize the assets of money launderers and drug dealers, the law’s low requirement threshold has allowed government agencies to incorrectly identify someone as a possible suspect in a crime take their assets. It can take more than a year for an innocent person who has had their business, property or finances seized to be cleared of wrongdoing, during which time they can lose everything, said Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), who is working to reform the law.
Walberg has introduced the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, which would require the government to show proof that an individual was involved in criminal wrongdoing before it can seize property. Currently before the House Judiciary Committee, the legislation has several cosponsors but may have difficulty passing both the House and Senate.
Wednesday’s new episode of TheBlaze TV’s For the Record, “Seized,” will reveal how thousands of people have become innocent victims of the government’s forfeiture law and what they are doing to fight back.
“This has a tremendous negative impact on our freedoms and the ability to carry on our government the way it’s been established according to the Constitution,” Walberg said. “That’s not what government should be, in the place of being a fearmonger, a producer of fear in the peoples’ lives and ultimately, using their power to extract resources for their own benefit.”
David B. Smith, an asset forfeiture attorney based in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside the nation’s capital, told TheBlaze that many small-business owners become targets of the government because they don’t have a full understanding of the law. He said many small-business owners draw the attention of the IRS when they inadvertently engage in “structuring,” a banking tactic often used by money launderers.
Structuring is when someone makes deposits or withdrawals of less $10,000 to avoid having the bank file a currency transaction report with the IRS or the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Business owners, however, have told Smith they believed they were following the law when they made deposits or withdrawals of less than $10,000.
Smith, who helped draft the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 and other federal and state forfeiture laws, said the banks don’t warn customers that they will be targeted by the government if they make these types of deposits.
“There are federal judges who don’t know it’s illegal. There are loads of lawyers who don’t know it’s illegal, even criminal defense lawyers, because very few people handle these types of cases,” Smith said.
But it’s not just seizing people’s assets without proper cause that’s a concern. According to the Institute of Justice, a civil liberties law firm and government watchdog group, allegations of overreach by law enforcement have included using forfeiture funds to purchase unnecessary and often outlandish items, including:
• In Georgia, a district attorney’s used forfeiture funds to buy steak, booze and to see CeeLo Green in Concert.
• In Texas, a district attorney used $500 dollars of seized forfeiture funds to buy tequila, rum and a margarita machine to throw a party.
• Another Texas district attorney spent $27,000 to attend a conference in Hawaii.
• A Georgia sheriff’s office spent $90,000 on a Dodge Viper for its D.A.R.E. program.
But it’s what law enforcement officials themselves say that reveals how dependent the agencies have become on forfeiture funds. At a Columbia, Missouri, Citizens Police Review Board in November 2012, Police Chief Ken Burton explained in detail how his department uses the forfeiture funds, saying there are no real limitations on what the departments can buy.
“We usually base it on something that would be nice to have,” Burton. “We usually base it on something that would be nice to have that we can’t get in the budget for. We try not to use it for things that we need to depend on … it’s kinda like ‘Pennies from Heaven’ to get you a toy or something that you need is the way we typically look at it.”
WASHINGTON, D.C.– Rep. Walberg was named a “Guardian of Small Business” by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) for his voting record on behalf of America’s small-business owners in the 113th Congress.
NFIB President and CEO Dan Danner praised Rep. Walberg for “standing up for small business.” In presenting the group’s coveted Guardian of Small Business Award, Danner said, “Small-business owners are very politically active – paying close attention to how their lawmakers vote on key business issues and stand by those who stand for them.”
“The record shows that Rep.Walberg is a true champion of small business, supporting the votes that matter in the 113th Congress,” said Danner. “This award reflects our members’ appreciation for supporting the NFIB pro-growth agenda for small business.
Rep. Walberg released the following statement after receiving the award:
“With small businesses creating and employing more than 50 percent of the workforce, I am honored to be recognized with an award that champions their success. I will continue to support efforts which create jobs and give small businesses the tools they need to grow and expand.”
NFIB’s “How Congress Voted,” which serves as a report card for members of Congress, was also unveiled this week. The report presents key small-business votes and voting percentages for each lawmaker. Those voting favorably on key small-business issues at least 70 percent of the time during the 113th Congress are eligible for the Guardian award.Read More
Washington, D.C. – Today, Rep. Walberg voted in favor of H.R. 2, the American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act, and H.R. 4, the Jobs for America Act. H.R. 2 is a comprehensive package of energy bills already passed by the House and awaiting a Senate vote that would expand energy production and lower energy costs. H.R. 4 is a single jobs package of bills that includes legislation to reduce federal regulations, lower taxes and equip job-creators with the tools they need to succeed.
“American families and American businesses are struggling under excessive federal regulations, high energy costs and burdensome taxes. We can’t afford to wait any longer to address these issues. I’m proud to support these pieces of legislation that reaffirm our commitment to an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy and creating jobs for a healthy economy,” said Rep. Walberg following the vote.Read More
The House on Tuesday passed legislation that would make it easier to discipline and fire senior executives across the federal government.
The Senior Executive Service Accountability Act (H.R. 5169) would make the federal government’s top career officials eligible for one- to 14-day suspensions without pay, and expand the criteria that could be used to justify firing them. Currently, members of the SES can only be suspended for more than 14 days, or fired. Those who are suspended continue to receive pay, must receive 30 days’ advance notice of a proposed suspension, have the right to reply, and the right to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Agencies can issue a reprimand in lieu of a suspension for lesser offenses.
The new provision allowing for shorter suspensions gives supervisors more flexibility in disciplining senior executives. Opponents of the bill, however, believe it could lead to politically-motivated suspensions.
The final bill also includes a provision that would require SES employees put on administrative leave during the investigation and ultimately fired if the Merit Systems Protection Board sides with the agency, to pay back their salary and accrued annual leave for that period of time to the agency. In addition, the legislation would get rid of a provision in the current law which allows SES employees removed for performance and placed in a General Schedule job from retaining their SES salary.
The House passed H.R. 5169 under a suspension of the rules on Tuesday night.
H.R. 5169 would extend the initial probationary period for SES employees from one to two years. Many of the procedural hurdles that prevent agencies from immediately firing senior executives do not apply when the employees are in their probationary periods. H.R. 5169 also requires agencies to provide a written justification for each of their SES positions every two years, and give employees a written description of their job performance requirements 30 days before each evaluation period.
Senior executives now can be fired for poor performance, misconduct, or the failure to complete assigned duties within the confines of due process. H.R. 5169 would add another reason defined as “such cause as would promote the efficiency of the service.” As of September 2013, there were 7,190 career senior executives in the federal government, according to data from the Office of Personnel Management.
The Senior Executive Service Accountability Act, introduced by Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., and cosponsored by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. – significantly changes SES oversight. H.R. 5169 was inspired by Lois Lerner, the senior executive at the heart of the IRS controversy who continued to collect pay during the investigation and retired at the height of the scandal. Lerner has continued to deny any wrongdoing in the matter.
It’s not the first time, however, that lawmakers have sought to make it easier to fire top career officials who, unlike appointees, have strong job protections within the civil service system so that they can’t be fired for political reasons. In 2013, legislation circulating in both chambers would have allowed the government to put those top career employees on leave without pay for three months pending the outcome of an investigation. The legislation, which Congress did not pass, directed agencies to fire, suspend without pay, or reinstate employees at the end of the 90 days. Congress this summer passed legislation which President Obama signed into law that makes it easier for the Veterans Affairs Department to discipline and fire senior executives engaged in misconduct or wrongdoing.
The Senior Executives Association sent a Sept. 15 letter to members of the House, urging them to vote against the bill, questioning the legality of the legislation.
“Laws already exist to allow agencies to hold employees accountable – supervisors at all levels need to understand the policies and have the will to use them and political leadership needs to support their doing so,” wrote SEA President Carol Bonosaro. “Nonetheless, SEA welcomes the opportunity to engage in a serious attempt at identifying what accountability policies work, which do not and whether problems arise from the policies themselves versus implementation.”
Bonosaro emphasized that SEA understands the desire to hold employees accountability and protect taxpayer money, but “trying to do so through unnecessary – or worse, unconstitutional – policy changes is not the answer.”
Lawmakers voted on an amended version of the bill. The original version included provisions that reduced agency notification to employees of an adverse personnel action from 30 days to 15 days, and another that required SES employees who receive written notice of a pending removal from the civil service to take mandatory annual leave during which they would receive pay, but could not work. Those provisions were dropped from the bill’s final version.To read the original article, click here. Read More
Washington, D.C. – Today, Rep. Walberg voted for a package of bills to help our nation’s veterans. Among the bills passed with bipartisan support are measures to rein in out-of-control costs of three major Veterans Affairs projects, provide for a cost-of-living increase for certain disabled veterans and their dependents, and extend a number of important programs which help female veterans and homeless veterans.
“I remain committed to assisting our nation’s veterans and ensuring they have access to the benefits they deserve. Today’s legislation illustrates the House’s continued commitment to delivering on these promises while also rooting out waste and abuse within the VA,” said Rep. Walberg following the votes.
Background on bills:
Washington, D.C. — Rep. Tim Walberg is proud to announce that Dick and Cathy Caskey from North Adams have been named Angels in Adoption recipients through the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). The Caskeys have five biological children and have given 16 adopted children a loving home.
“The Angels in Adoption award could not go to a more deserving couple. Dick and Cathy Caskey feel every child deserves to be in a home where he or she is cherished and have opened their hearts to special needs children over the years that have been challenged with blindness, epilepsy, autism, cerebral palsy and other difficulties. They are truly an inspiration,” said Rep. Walberg.
The Angels in Adoption program was established in 1999 and is a public awareness campaign and provides an opportunity for all members of the U.S. Congress to honor the good work of their constituents who have enriched the lives of foster children and orphans in the United States and abroad. The Caskeys were honored at the annual CCAI awards ceremony on September 16 in Washington, D.C. with hundreds of other recipients from around the country.Read More
Washington, D.C. – Today, the House passed in H.R. 5169, the Senior Executive Service Accountability Act, legislation Rep. Walberg authored to provide greater transparency and accountability within the Senior Executive Service (SES). The Senior Executive Service is comprised of senior level employees in managerial supervisory, and policy positions in the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.
H.R.5169 would make Senior Executive Service employees subject to the same employment standards as other civil service personnel. It would streamline the process for removing members of the SES for misconduct, subject SES employees to many of the same rules for the employees they supervise, and would limit the amount of time an agency has to complete adverse action proceeding for senior leaders engaged in misconduct.“From the IRS to the VA, the American people have lost trust in the federal government to do the right thing. In many cases, these scandals have been spearheaded or continued by senior executive employees. My bill raises the level of accountability when misconduct occurs and provide greater assurances to the American taxpayer that Washington is being good stewards of their hard-earned dollars,” said Rep. Walberg following the vote. Read More
Washington, D.C. - Today, Rep. Walberg helped pass a bipartisan, bicameral agreement to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program. The CCDBG program has not been reauthorized since 1996 and S. 1086, the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act modernizes the CCDBG program and implements reforms which enhan
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Tim Walberg is currently serving his third term in Congress as the representative of south-central Michigan. The diverse constituency of Michigan’s 7th District encompasses Branch, Eaton, Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee, and Monroe Counties, along with parts of Washtenaw County. Since first taking office, Tim has hosted hundreds of coffee and town hall meetings to better understand the thoughts and concerns of the district.
Prior to his time in public office, Tim served as a pastor in Michigan and Indiana, as president of the Warren Reuther Center for Education and Community Impact, and as a division manager for Moody Bible Institute. He also served in the Michigan House of Representatives from 1983 to 1999, and is proud to bring his reputation as a principled legislator, fiscal reformer, and defender of traditional values to Washington.
In the 113th Congress, Tim serves on the House Education and the Workforce Committee as Chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee. In addition, he serves on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
He and his wife, Sue, have been married for over 39 years, and enjoy spending time outdoors and riding on their Harley. They live in Tipton, Michigan, where they raised their three children: Matthew, Heidi and Caleb.
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It was a privileged to serve on a panel about human trafficking yesterday at Monroe County Community College. We must #Endtrafficking
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I was honored to give out tributes to the honorees at the Saline Chamber of Commerce's Business Enterprise Awards. http://t.co/43QTmP8mP6
It was great to visit Mike and Julie's newly expanded business in Jackson and see these job creators continue to expand their operation despite
I recently had the privilege of speaking to the students at St. Mary Catholic Central in Monroe. I was invited by my friend Sean Jorgensen the
The President’s health care law continues to be unpopular with Americans and according to a recent poll, with doctors now too. Forty-six percent
Yesterday, I was privileged to serve on an educational panel on Human Trafficking at Monroe County Community College. I will continue my work
Meet the Servoss family from my own hometown, Tipton, who stopped by my D.C. office this week for a tour and to say hello.