Milton and Catherine Hershey signed the deed of trust establishing the Milton Hershey School as an orphanage in 1909, funding it with revenue from the famous candy company. Since then, the school has officially been dedicated to “the purpose of nurturing and educating children in need.” Because its founder gave MHS Trust a controlling interest in the Hershey Company, today it boasts a massive $8.5 billion in assets and also owns Hershey Entertainment & Resorts (operating hotels and an amusement park). In keeping with its mission, the Milton Hershey School serves about 1,800 students from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade, who study in state-of-the-art school buildings in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
What the charity also does, of late, is shovel money and favors to a coterie of prominent Pennsylvania Republicans. MHS’s alleged wrongdoing is pervasive and well documented, but thanks to the GOP’s grip on power in the state—most crucially its iron lock on the attorney general’s office—the charity has never been effectively called to account. With the first real possibility of the attorney general’s office shifting to the Democrats since it became an elected position thirty-two years ago, all this may change come November.
For a sense of MHS’s alleged misdeeds and the culture of impunity surrounding the charity, consider how, in 2006, board members of the school allowed the trust fund to purchase a failing luxury golf course called Wren Dale. The $12 million investment was two to three times the appraised value of the course and bailed out as many as fifty prominent local businessmen and doctors—including a former Hershey Company CEO who also sat on the MHS board. These investors stood to lose tens of thousands of dollars if the course closed. With the purchase, the investors turned their potential losses into profits of between $15,000 and $100,000. MHS’s board then sank another $5 million into a swanky, Scottish-themed clubhouse for the money-losing course, all paid for by the charity. The charity explained the purchase as necessary to create a “buffer” between MHS students and the community, and later claimed the land was for future MHS expansion.
By the fall of 2010, mounting questions and a probing Philadelphia Inquirer  series pressured then–Attorney General Tom Corbett, now the state’s Republican governor, to launch an investigation. Since then, the attorney general’s office has confirmed only that an investigation is ongoing, without releasing any further information about its progress. “Normally, an investigation like this would never take that long,” said Randall Roth, a charitable trust and legal ethics expert at the University of Hawaii, who has written extensively on a parallel case in Hawaii involving the Bishops Estate trust. “It’s very surprising that it’s taking longer than two years.”
The ties between the charity and state Republicans go way back. In 2002, when Republican D. Michael Fisher was Pennsylvania’s attorney general, reform advocates (including myself) were pushing for an investigation of the charity. As Fisher’s subordinates were sitting down for a key Hershey meeting, Fisher was reportedly at Hotel Hershey—wholly owned by the charity—passing the hat among executives associated with Hershey for contributions to his gubernatorial campaign.
If you’re aware of the GOP’s unprecedented effort to stop eligible voters from casting a ballot this November, you should probably thank Ari Berman, contributing writer at The Nation and the author of Herding Donkeys:The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics.
For more than a year, Berman has been waging a one-man war on the GOP’s voter suppression efforts. In this Q and A with The National Memo, he explains how this coordinated effort to deny the vote to core members of Obama’s winning coalition from 2008 could still swing the 2012 election, despite some recent victories in federal court.
Even if the laws aren’t particularly effective in stopping voting, could they still affect turnout?
Nate Silver has found that voter ID laws can reduce turnout by two to three percent among registered voters, which is certainly more than enough to swing a close election. He projects that Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, for example, will reduce voter turnout by 2.4 percent and provide a net 1.2 swing to a Republican candidate. That may not be enough to shift the presidential election, given Obama’s 8-point lead in the state, but it could influence the outcome in other races, particularly down-ballot. The scary thing is that we won’t know the impact of these laws until after the election — at which point it will be too late to do anything about it. At the very least, we’re looking at a lot of confusion and possible chaos on Election Day in important battleground states.
Is there any sign these efforts will let up if they fail in 2012?
No chance. Until Republicans recruit candidates who can win over a younger and more diverse electorate, they will continue to pass laws to shape an electorate in their favor. Six Republican Attorneys General are also attempting to challenge the Constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a very important provision that forces parts or all of 16 states with a history of discrimination to clear voting changes with the federal government or a federal court in Washington, before the Supreme Court. If Republicans succeed in overturning or significantly weakening Section 5, it will be a huge setback for voting rights — equivalent, in some ways, to what the Citizens United decision did to campaign-finance reform. Hopefully the Supreme Court won’t let that happen. In lieu of the laws passed since 2010, we should be strengthening the Voting Rights Act, not weakening it.
Since 2010, Republicans have changed the voting rules by demanding proof of citizenship to register to vote, restricting voter registration drives, curtailing early voting days, passing government-issued photo ID laws, disenfranchising ex-felons and purging the voter rolls. All of these steps reduce voter turnout.
It’s tough to pick the most egregious law, because there are so many, but the most disturbing tactic, to me, is disenfranchising ex-felons. Florida and Iowa did this following the 2010 election, essentially telling a specific group of people that after they served their time and paid their debt to society, they still cannot get their voting rights back unless they wait seven years (in Florida) or specifically petition the governor (in Iowa). That’s un-American to me.
The voter purges are also very alarming, because once you’re removed from the voting rolls your only option would be to cast a provisional ballot, which there’s no guarantee will be counted. In Florida in 2000, 12,000 registered voters — 41 percent of them African-American — were wrongly identified as felons and kicked off the voting rolls. That voter purge could have very well cost Al Gore the election.
BREAKING VIA AP: “A federal court has ruled against a Texas law that would require voters to present photo IDs to election officials before being allowed to cast ballots in November. A three-judge panel in Washington ruled Thursday that the law imposes “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor” and noted that racial minorities in Texas are more likely to live in poverty.”
The laser-like Republican focus on jobs continues:Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is floating legislation that would name most U.S. coastal waters after former President Ronald Reagan.
Issa reintroduced his bill Wednesday to rename the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which generally extends from three miles to 200 miles offshore, as the Ronald Wilson Reagan Exclusive Economic Zone.
To be fair, we’re not talking about renaming all the oceans after Ronald Reagan. Just any parts of them within 200 miles of America, in honor of the guy who first said “yeah, all that over there? That’s ours.”
While creating at least several jobs in the lucrative map-printing sector of the economy, this otherwise seems a rather pointless little exercise. For one thing, I thought true conservatives hated Ronald Reagan now, but it turns out that while they now hate most of what he said and did, they still like putting his name on things.
Reagan was a godawful President.
h/t: Hunter at Daily Kos
Republicans are beyond useless. They lie about wanting to help the economy, when all they want to do is defund Planned Parenthood, NPR, PBS, AmeriCorps, and name things after Ronald Reagan.
If they were proposing ideas to help the economy, and their ideas were bad, then at least the ideas could be improved upon. But they have no intention of doing ANYTHING to improve our country.
Recall All Republicans 2012.
America: But what about jobs?
Republicans: LOL NOPE