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AG Lori Swanson sues San Diego ‘robo-signer’

AFTERNOON EDITION ALSO: Pawlenty fundraising plans; state deficit is nation’s seventh worst; legislative scorecard; Bachmann analysis; clergy abuse settlement; and more.
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You are forgiven if you wonder if there was/is any part of the mortgage/debt industry that isn’t being gamed. The latest under Minnesota AG Lori Swanson’s gun is a crowd called Encore Capital out of San Diego. Jessica Silver-Greenburg of the Wall Street Journal reports: “Swanson said the San Diego company used phony, sloppy and fraudulent documents in Minnesota courts ‘in order to obtain judgments against or extract payments from mostly unrepresented citizens, some of whom had no knowledge of any alleged debt.’ The attorney general didn’t say how many times Encore or subsidiary Midland Funding LLC allegedly used improper documentation as part of the company’s debt-collection efforts. Since 2008, Encore had filed more than 15,000 lawsuits against Minnesota borrowers, Ms. Swanson said. Encore officials couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Monday.” One of the robo-signers involved has already admitted signing “200 to 400” affidavits a day.

The AP story says: “Midland and Encore paid less than $2 billion to acquire more than $54.7 billion in debts from credit-card companies and other businesses, Swanson said. The companies then began pursuing the debtors for collection, but crossed the line when they used heavy-handed tactics that frequently targeted the wrong people, she said. For example, they aggressively hounded people who had similar names or addresses as the real debtors, or people who already paid their debts, the legal filing said. To speed up the collection process, Midland filed thousands of lawsuits even though the actions were based on supporting affidavits that company employees acknowledged filing without first verifying the information in them, Swanson said. Midland then passed off the documents as alleged proof of the bad debts, she said.”

On the Washington Post’s “The Fix” blog, Chris Cillizza zeroes in on the mother’s milk of Tim Pawlenty’s nascent presidential campaign: “Pawlenty will unveil a 16-person fundraising team today, as he prepares for the gargantuan task of raising the tens of millions of dollars he’ll likely need to win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. The finance operation will be overseen by Brian Haley, who is currently serving as national finance director for Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC and previously held that same title for Sen. John McCain’s leadership political action committee. Katie McBreen will be Haley’s deputy, coming off a successful stint as finance director for Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran’s 2010 campaign. McBreen previously worked for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential bid.”

Sarah Laskow, writing on The American Prospect’s “Tapped” blog, notes Pawlenty’s particular interest in fund-raising in Arizona: “Arizonans’ total political giving (to presidential and congressional candidates and to PACs) just about doubled from 2004 to 2008. And although the amount of money in politics in this country is growing, it’s not growing that fast. Plus, most of the money McCain raised ($5.1 million out of that $6.85 million) came from Phoenix, one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country. I’m guessing Pawlenty’s team thinks that it can raise a significant amount of money in Arizona.” Heck, there’s good money to be made off of all those sixth month-and-a-day Minnesota snowbirds down there.

And while we’ve got our former governor on our mind, Don Davis, Forum Communications’ guy, writes: “[T]he deficit Dayton and Minnesota lawmakers must fix this year is worse than all states but California, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Texas, a report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities shows. … The report does not paint a pretty national picture: ‘2012 is shaping up as states’ most difficult budget year on record. … While states are anticipating significant shortfalls in the coming year, their options for addressing those shortfalls are dwindling.’ Federal assistance [stimulus money] that helped states deal with the recession for the past couple of years is drying up and tax collections are not rising fast enough to make up the difference. A stronger Republican presence in state capitols is fighting efforts to raise taxes.”

On a completely different topic, Davis files again: “A year ago, 20 counties were flooded. This year, state officials say 40 to 50 counties in most parts of the state are likely to see floods. Deputy Director Wade Setter of Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management said that new this year is ‘the scope and magnitude of this event.’ The emergency center opened Thursday as floodwaters are beginning to flow into some southern Minnesota communities. It will remain open with up to 150 people from 40 state, federal and private agencies until all floodwaters recede.”

If you need a scorecard to check up on where this year’s Legislature is with its biggest business, other than voter fraud and IDs I mean, the AP’s Brian Bakst has one up today. It’s not what I’d call encouraging.

Susan Milligan posts a short item from U.S. News’ “Politics” blog, riffing on the distance women have traveled in politics, from Geraldine Ferraro to Michele Bachmann. At one point, she asks: “A political commentator remarked during the 2008 presidential primary that Hillary Clinton would not have gotten as far as she has had it not been for her husband. That rightly offended a lot of people, but there’s a truth to it: while supremely qualified and utterly brilliant, Clinton would have faced difficulty getting the media attention and serious consideration given to male candidates who have nowhere near Clinton’s abilities and smarts. The female candidates whose names are being bandied about for 2012 have questionable credentials for the White House; that’s true. But previous presidential campaigns are filled with unimpressive or inexperienced male candidates. Should Michele Bachmann’s campaign be taken any less seriously than one by Donald Trump? When so relatively few women run for office, there’s a tendency — perhaps even more so on the part of activist  women — to demand more of the female candidates, since they are thrust into the role of historic symbol. Bachmann is in many ways a troubling candidate, having made bizarre statements about President Obama and lacking any kind of foreign policy credentials. But it’s some kind of progress when women rush into the field with the same hubris men have.” The operative phrase there is … “some kind.”

Katrina Trinko, writing for The National Review Online, likes Bachmann’s chances in Iowa … a lot. The home-schooling social conservative has no downside in the GOP race as she sees it: “Neither should Bachmann be written off as the social-conservative candidate; she’s also proven her appeal to more fiscally oriented voters. Edward Failor, president of Iowans for Tax Relief, says that Bachmann’s January speech to his group drew ‘a really solid turnout’ of 300, with about 30 to 40 percent of them newcomers to the group. ‘She has “it,” ” says Failor, talking about Bachmann’s appeal. ‘Whatever “it” is, however you define it, that draws people, and that’s a real big benefit for her.’ Ultimately, in what promises to be a crowded GOP 2012 field, personality, not policy, may be key. ‘Because most of these candidates are probably going to be somewhat similar on the issues, I think caucus-goers will be looking for people that are pretty vocal, adamant about trying [to] push back against the march toward socialism if they’re elected,’ says Steve Scheffler, president of Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.” You know, if this keeps up, I may give up stopping for lunch and gas in Des Moines on my runs down to Kansas City.

It’s been another good payday for Jeff Anderson. Stribbers Paul Walsh and Rose French report: “Anderson declined to say how much money his clients received as part of the settlement, emphasizing that the case has always been more about exposing the names of clergy being accused. At least 17 monks who had ‘credible allegations of sexual abuse, exploitation or misconduct brought against them’ were listed in a letter being sent to the St. John’s community by its abbot, John Klassen. The letter, a part of the settlement, was made public by Anderson during a news conference at his St. Paul offices and also will be posted by St. John’s on its website, he said.”

Walsh gets all the good ones. He also writes:A pickup truck with a frosted-over windshield rear-ended a Hopkins police car making a traffic stop Monday morning, slightly injuring the two officers in their vehicle, authorities said. The crash happened about 8 a.m. on Excelsior Boulevard, a block east of Blake Road, according to police. Donis Miguel Angel Valenzuela, 34, was driving on a revoked license, said Police Sgt. Michael Glassberg. Damage to the squad car, whose emergency lights were operating at the time, was estimated at about $10,000.”