Archive for September, 2010
In tooling around the web, I’ve noticed a few folks suggest that John Boehner and Lisbeth Lyons have denied what I reported on the 23rd: that they are, or were, engaged in an affair. In fact, I spoke to one relatively highly placed reporter in the legacy media that asked me what I made of their denials. That a DC media pro could be so credulous was particularly discouraging. So I thought I’d share my take on the non-denial denials.
Maybe it is because I was trained as a lawyer that I recognize Orwellian double-talk when I see it. Let’s look at the so-called denials.
First up: Lisbeth Lyons.
The only quote I’ve found so far came from the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post. This is what she told Page 6:
“As you can imagine, I was stunned by such a question. I found it to be highly insulting, particularly as a female political professional, as well as unfounded. Beyond that, I have no further comment on the matter.”
First of all, at the top-level, does anyone not read this and wonder what PR shop put that statement together? Does any real human being talk that way?
Let’s unpack the statement a little further. There’s actually very little of substance there; the only word could possibly be construed as a denial is “unfounded.”
It’s funny. The last time I heard anyone use the word “unfounded” was when I asked George Allen if he had “spit on or otherwise abused his first wife”. He trotted her out to issue a statement saying that my question was “unfounded”.
So, what does the dictionary yield as the definition of “unfounded”?
1. Not based on fact or sound evidence; groundless. See Synonyms at baseless.
2. Not yet established.
As you can see, “untrue” is not part of that definition. In fact, no “real person” uses the term unfounded, but it is a term of art for defense lawyers. Essentially, it means the evidence isn’t there to prove the case. It has nothing at all to do with whether or not the accusation is true.
Moreover, using the word “unfounded” allows Lyons to later claim that she was using the second meaning of the term (after the truth is born out). I guess she doesn’t want to be known as a liar and a home-wrecker.
Now let’s have a look at Boehner’s statement. Whoops! He hasn’t made a statement, has he? No, he hasn’t.
Instead, what folks claiming he’s denied the affair are hanging their hats on is the statement made by an anonymous spokesman. The spokesman is a commonly deployed tool of DC political pros: by routing statements through a Communications shop, the principal never has to lie for themselves.
Anyway, here’s the statement from Boehner’s camp:
This is bullshit. The American people oppose Washington Democrats’ job killing, so their desperate liberal allies are resorting to outright lies. It’s low, and it’s dirty.
“This is bullshit” is ambiguous. Hell, I might think it’s bullshit if someone calls me out in public for having an affair, but that has no bearing on whether or not I was actually having an affair. It’d be “bullshit” because in my mind, it’s not very nice to expose my philandering. Moreover, the spokesman says “desperate liberal allies are resorting to outright lies”. OK, I’m sure some are, but how about a specific denial of this affair? It would be really simple for Boehner to say that he had not slept with Lyons, or for that matter, any other woman that is not his wife.
So that’s where we are. Ambiguous double-talk from both principals. No firm denials from either. One should wonder why.
Another thing: With regards to Ms. Lyons in particular, if she is so concerned about her professional reputation, wouldn’t she want to clear her name? Why not sue me?
Let me answer that question: it is because she knows that the truth is an absolute defense against any libel or slander lawsuit. Moreover, a lawsuit would invite a discovery process: I’d be able to depose Ms. Lyons, Mr. Boehner, the Capitol Police detail charged with his protection and anyone else with information that is relevant to the truth of the matter at hand (including my source). A lawsuit is the last thing Boehner would want.
Finally: aside from the hypocrisy, another reason this story is important is that Ms. Lyons is a lobbyist for the printing industry. Soon, we’ll be taking a look at what actions Boehner and the Republican caucus has taken on their behalf.
It was Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) who told abstinence education advocate Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) that he had to resign from Congress after having an affair with a staffer. It was also Boehner that told members of his caucus that they had to stop using the “party house” to entertain young Republican female lobbyists.
While everyone knows that John Boehner enjoys the good life of luxury travel and golf junkets, many are convinced that enjoys a mistress, too.
I began hearing this from several sources last month with increasing amounts of detail, including the name of the lobbyists Boehner is supposedly having a relationship with – Lisbeth Lyons, Vice President for Government Affairs for the American Printers Association.
I decided I’d look into the story, but I hadn’t decided how to pose the question directly to Boehner. Last night, I learned the location of the House Republican Leadership’s “Pledge to America,” event.
I was able to catch up with Boehner just as he was leaving the event. His silence (which does not equal an admission, of course) in the face of the repeated question does not, it seem to me, to be one you’d expect from a happily married man confronted with an accusation of being unfaithful. Note the complete lack of outrage at being asked about allegations that are unfounded or untrue. There wasn’t even a simple “no,” to put the issue to rest.
Here’s the video. You be the judge of his response:
So far as I’m concerned, if someone asked me if I was cheating on my wife, it would be very easy for me to simply say, “Absolutely not. No truth to that whatsoever.” John Boehner couldn’t bring himself to mouth those words.
Of course, he didn’t admit to the affair either, so I decided to take the next step. I called Lisbeth Lyons for comment. Hers to is not the reaction I’d expect of someone who had was hearing an unfounded personal allegation like this. Here’s the audio:
Again, there isn’t any reaction I’d expect, such as calling me crazy, threatening to sue, or saying “absolutely not.”
Simply put, that wouldn’t be the natural response given by any woman that I know that wasn’t sleeping with the most powerful Republican in Washington.
The bottom line is this: At an event John Boehner offered numerous pledges to America, he wouldn’t comment on whether or not he was keeping a fundamental pledge he made to his wife. John Boehner forced Mark Souder to resign for adultery. Shouldn’t he at least have to say what the truth is?
Oddly enough, Mr. Inglis is the only Republican to have co-sponsored Mike Thompsons’ PACE amendment (see the post below). Sane things like this – sponsoring an amendment that would have the effect of reducing the country’s reliance on foreign oil, dirty coal and other fossil fuels – is enough to run afoul of the hard right. Rush Limbaugh and his ilk took Inglis’ scalp with glee.
The PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program is simple and brilliant: Cities borrow money using their credit and then make that money available to homeowners who, in turn, use it to install solar systems and other green technologies. The money given to homeowners is paid back by special assessments on their property taxes.
By all accounts, the PACE program is remarkably successful: It’s been adopted by 23 states and the District of Columbia. It creates jobs, lowers utility bills for homeowners, cuts pollution and easily transfers to new homeowners when homes change hands.
It also holds promise for enabling the rapid scaling of home solar panel installation across America, which lags far behind Germany, the world’s solar leader, despite the fact that Germany has the sunshine equivalent of Alaska. PACE could make an enormous contribution to cleaning up America’s energy supply. And that created some enemies for the PACE program.
Utility companies saw a future hit to their bottom lines; so did the coal industry, which supplies 50 percent of fuel we now use in this country. Their reaction? Sic their lobbyists on any politician that’d take their dirty money and help them tank the PACE program.
The issue came to a head this year when the country’s biggest lenders decided to change their rules in the middle of the game. To the extreme surprise and dismay of the environmental and solar energy communities, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, ostensibly private corporations, but nonetheless two of the largest recipients of government (taxpayer) largesse, decided that homeowner participants in the PACE program were in default on their mortgages (as if Fannie and Freddie needed even more foreclosures on their hands). Moreover, so long as existing PACE liens persist, Fannie and Freddie will not allow homeowners to refinance their mortgages. The legal terrain is murky, but the nut of the argument is that because the PACE liens assume a higher priority than mortgage notes, Fannie and Freddie are unjustifiably put at risk and must take steps to protect themselves.
After Fannie and Freddie changed their rules, Congress and the White House got involved. Several rounds of negotiation followed. According to Cliff Staton, a Vice President at Renewable Funding, Fannie and Freddie were ultimately offered a full government guarantee against any loss whatsoever from PACE liens.
Fannie and Freddie declined; they broke off negotiations and walked away from the table.
Nobody knows why. After all, Fannie and Freddie were in a pretty strong position. They could have taken the deal and claimed its precedential value: thereafter, any superior liens would require the full faith and credit of the United States for Fannie and Freddie to accept them. That would have been a huge win for them. Instead, they picked up their ball and went home without another word.
Given how important the PACE program is to the fate of America’s clean energy future, it seems important to identify who specifically is responsible PACE’s imperiled state. As the first step toward that endeavor (more investigations and reports are in the pipeline), I pursued a tip I received from a long-time environmentalist that the utility and coal lobbies had received cover from a solar finance company, SunRun, described by an industry source as a “rogue” player in the otherwise tightly knit solar industry.
SunRun has pioneered solar financing that competes with PACE’s lower-cost model. If a homeowner can get money from their local community, they do not need a for-profit enterprise like SunRun to finance their solar installations.
After Fannie and Freddie stopped negotiating, Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) decided to resolve the problem with a legislative fix. He and 48 co-sponsors introduced a bill that, if passed, ensures that homeowners with mortgages held by Fannie and Freddie will be able to participate in PACE without having to worry about losing their homes or their ability to refinance.
That’s where it seems SunRun got involved. From SunRun’s perspective as a for-profit finance company for solar equipment, PACE is a competitive threat. SunRun must have been smiling the grin of a Cheshire cat when Fannie and Freddie ended negotiations, effectively neutering the PACE program. Rep. Thompson’s amendment had to have hit them like a bucket of cold water. Suddenly, a threat they thought had been removed re-emerged. If the Thompson’s bill passes without amendment, SunRun will be forced to compete with PACE again.
According to an email circulating in solar circles that was sent by Adam Browning, the founder of The Vote Solar Initiative, SunRun attempted to hobble Thompson’s efforts to save PACE. At its core, amendment language SunRun authored would delay the effect of Thompson’s bill until SunRun’s business model is accommodated in each respective state. Browning, a widely respected and long-time solar advocate, points out that state legislatures and local governments are not known for acting quickly. According to Browning, the best-case scenario under the SunRun amendment is that the Thompson fix will be long delayed. The worst-case scenario will see homeowners permanently denied relief because their local governments simply will not move the necessary legislation at all.
SunRun has to know this. Their legal and government affairs team is led by Holly Gordon, a former Stanford University law professor. At a recent solar energy conference, I asked Ms. Gordon if SunRun has been working to undermine PACE. Suffice to say she didn’t appreciate the question:
SunRun’s management team could, like many solar companies, see it as in their interest to promote to shared interest of the solar industry. Instead they are said to be acting to subvert that shared interest in order to benefit themselves in the short run. Eliminating or weakening the competition – in this case PACE – is just business.
As the solar industry matures it will become critical for the solar industry to maintain one of its strongest assets: its relatively tight cohesion and shared mission to keep solar’s scaling potential strong.
The solar community remains small, but it is growing rapidly. As it grows, those in it for all the right reasons should spend some time thinking about how they are going to keep rogue actors from undercutting the industry.
For now, sunlight (of a different sort) and public shame may be the best medicine.
UPDATE, Friday Sep 17, 3:08 EST As this story goes to press, I note that Eric Wesoff at GreenTechMedia has a response from SunRun that he posted today. The key graf:
“SunRun supports consumer choice and knows including third-party owners in PACE can reduce loan and lien amounts by more than 30 percent for the same solar facility, while providing reduced risk and greater customer service for homeowners. Nevertheless, we will withdraw this proposed amendment because industry infighting over the proper PACE strategy has become a distraction to operating our business and delivering on our mission.”
One can speculate that SunRun’s response may have had something to do with the video included in this post, but since the email exchange is undated, nothing should be assumed. When I reached Edward Fenster, SunRun’s CEO, just a few minutes ago, he declined substantive comment, saying he did not have time to speak right then. He directed me to what I’m guessing is his PR department, but I had called at noon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the person I reached was at lunch. At any rate, I will update this post again with any response from SunRun.
In the meantime, I contacted an industry insider who spoke on background because of business considerations. According to this person, the damage done by SunRun is toothpaste that cannot be put back in the tube. He welcomes the fact that they are withdrawing the amendment, but laments that PACE is already hobbled. Intentionally or not, this person says, SunRun’s advocacy aligned perfectly with that of the utility and coal industry and amounted to SunRun running interference on their behalf. That cannot be taken back. The insider concludes, “The thought that a solar company would undermine the PACE program is very disturbing.”
That’s what Beck and Palin called it.
But they are sure relying on a pretty, ahem, interesting bunch to do it, huh? Funny. At one point in the production, Beck declared that he just knew (he was crying when he said it), he just KNEW… He knew that somewhere in the crowd was this country’s next George Washington.
God help us. There may not have been a neo-George Washington in this crowd, but there were plenty of voters. And every one of their votes counts just as much as yours does.
God help us.