Category Archives: campaign finance reform

News From a Fire House Sprinkles on the Republican Finance Committee

April 3, 2017:  Republican Party issues the following announcement

“I am delighted to announce the addition of these longtime friends of the Party and supporters of this administration to our Finance leadership team,” said Chairwoman McDaniel. “Elliott Broidy, Michael Cohen, and Louis DeJoy will serve as National Deputy Finance Chairmen, and Brian Ballard, Bob Grand, Gordon Sondland, Geoff Verhoff, and Ron Weiser will serve as Regional Vice-Chairmen. Together this team will employ their extraordinary talent and understanding of Americans across the country to maintain and build uponF our unprecedented fundraising success.”

January, 2018:  Former casino owner Steve Wynn, steps down from the RNC finance committee as reports of sexual harassment hit the headlines. [Politico] Wynn has since resigned as casino company CEO (March 22, 2018), has settled a six year legal battle with his ex-wife (WSJ), and has asked to be removed as a “qualifier” from the list of key employees required to undergo background checks by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. [BostonH]  However, Wynn’s donations to a Trump super-PAC aren’t going to be returned:

“Wynn gave $500,000 to America First Action Super PAC on Jan. 23, just days before the first reports of his alleged harassment of women were published, according to first-quarter financial data from the Federal Election Commission. CNBC asked the group whether it has any intention of returning the contribution following the stories of Wynn’s alleged misconduct.

“We’re not returning the donation,” a spokeswoman for America First said.” [CNBC]

Thus, the next time a member of the GOP sputters about Democrats accepting money from a potentially dubious source, the appropriate response is, “Steve Wynn.” Chicago Cubs owner, Todd Ricketts, became the new RNC Finance Chair. [CNBC]

April 13, 2018: Another shoe drops — on Elliott Broidy.

“A major donor with close ties to the White House resigned on Friday as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee after the revelation that he had agreed to pay $1.6 million to a former Playboy model who became pregnant during an affair.” [NYT]

Mr. Broidy comes with a bit of a “past,”

In 2009, Broidy pleaded guilty to committing a felony by giving nearly $1 million in illegal gifts to state officials in order to secure a lucrative deal with New York’s public pension fund for his then-firm Markstone Capital Partners.

Broidy avoided jail time by blowing the whistle on the same people who accepted his bribes. He admitted to ponying up $75,000 for an all-expanses paid luxury trip to Jerusalem, which included first-class tickets, luxury hotel suites, a helicopter tour, and a personal driver for New York State’s comptroller and his family. [TWrap] [WSJ] {Markstone Capital, NYT}

His appeals worked such that Reuters reported in 2012:

Los Angeles money manager Elliott Broidy was spared jail time and a felony conviction on Monday for his role in a “pay to play” scheme at the New York state pension fund.

Justice Lewis Bart Stone reduced Broidy’s felony to a misdemeanor and sentenced him to a conditional discharge.

Mr. Broidy had a busy social calendar entertaining those who sought access to the White House, including the following:

Mr. Broidy offered tickets to V.I.P. inauguration events, including a candlelight dinner attended by Mr. Trump, to a Congolese strongman accused of funding a lavish lifestyle with public resources. He helped arrange a meeting with Republican senators and offered a trip to Mar-a-Lago, the president’s private Florida resort, for an Angolan politician. And he arranged an invitation to a party at Mr. Trump’s Washington hotel for a Romanian parliamentarian facing corruption charges, who posted a photograph with the president on Facebook. [NYT]

The “past became prologue” when he used the services of yet another RNC Finance Committee member to clean up — dare we say “fix” — his issues with the Playmate and her pregnancy. Therefore, the correct response to any Republican who wishes to discuss “family values,” is… “Elliott Broidy.”

April 13, 2018:  Who helped arrange the $1.6 million payout to the Broidy’s ex-mistress? Another RNC Finance Committee member Michael Cohen. [CNN]  Mr. Cohen has drawn the attention of the prosecutors in the SDNY, complete with a highly publicized raid.

“The longtime attorney for President Donald Trump’s real-estate empire, Michael Cohen, went to federal court on Monday in a bid to block federal prosecutors from reading documents and other materials that were seized from Cohen’s home in a sweeping raid. The porn star Stormy Daniels, whom Cohen allegedly paid off to protect Trump, was there to watch. And the hearing was presided over by Judge Kimba Wood, who ordered Cohen to reveal the name of a client he’d tried to keep secret: the Fox News host Sean Hannity.” [Atlantic]

The paragraph above sums up the Trumpian swamp which is looking more like a sink-hole with every passing day.  Thus, the appropriate reply to Republican assertions of “transparency and accountability” is “Michael Cohen.”

Meanwhile, will the last member of the Republican National Finance Committee please turn out the lights and lock the door?

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Filed under campaign finance reform, campaign funds, corruption, Nevada politics, Politics, RNC, Steve Wynn

Council of Conservative Citizens and the Problem of Money in Nevada Politics

Earl Holt NV On August 21, 2010 the Friends of Sharron Angle received a $500.00 donation from one Earl Holt, Longview, Texas.  There was another donation from the same source on October 12, 2010, also for $500.00.  However, pouring money into Mrs. Angle’s failed campaign wasn’t Earl Holt’s only interest in Nevada.  On September 30, 2012 the Heller for Senate received $500.00 from the generous Mr. Holt. [LVSun]

Mr. Holt and his organization have come under scrutiny since the Charleston church massacre as the probable source of inspiration for the killer.  From the Associated Press, the Guardian, and Politico. And, now Senator Heller has announced he will give his prize money from Holt to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund. [LVRJ]

The donation is good news indeed, the bad news is that the $500 from Holt’s Hate Band has been in Senator Heller’s account from September 30, 2012 until June 22, 2015 without notice on the part of Heller’s own staff.

This says something about money in politics and Republican money more specifically.

Given the massive costs of running a statewide campaign, especially in the top echelon races, it’s comprehensible that individual donations of relatively small amounts wouldn’t be cross checked for provenance.  However, it’s not like the Council of Conservative Citizens is an unknown group. 

“The Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) is the modern reincarnation of the old White Citizens Councils, which were formed in the 1950s and 1960s to battle school desegregation in the South. Among other things, its Statement of Principles says that it “oppose[s] all efforts to mix the races of mankind.” Created in 1985 from the mailing lists of its predecessor organization, the CCC, which initially tried to project a “mainstream” image, has evolved into a crudely white supremacist group…” [SPLC]

Flags As the Republican Party has been co-opted or at least significantly  influenced by the ultra-conservative Tea Party membership, the origins of money are ever more likely to come from organizations which have dubious racial and ethnic agendas – i.e. white supremacists.

Our second “given” is that it is always easier to beg forgiveness than to ask  permission.  Several prominent members of the Republican Party have donated CCC money to charity in the last week, all presumably because the tainted nature of the origins came to light.  Granted this is speculation, but what IF by some miracle the killer in Charleston had not acted on his evil ideation? What if the basis for the hate wasn’t the propaganda of the white supremacist’s associations?  Would those donations still be available to the politicians to buy air time and advertising?

In an era of Dark Money, Big Money, PAC money, and questionable non-profit money – here’s some unsolicited advice:

Well coordinated campaigns have good lines of internal communication.  Policy advocates and specialists should know where the money’s coming from, and the finance specialists should be aware of the image the candidate wants to project.   If a candidate doesn’t wish to be guilty by association with white supremacist groups then that needs to be conveyed to the finance directors with an admonishment to screen donations which appear questionable.

Bluntly speaking, Citizens United, while beneficial to Republican candidates in terms of corporate donations, may have made it harder for individual campaigns to discern the ultimate origins of campaign donations, which when discovered could prove embarrassing – or career ending.  We have a current example – Rep. Scalise, his speech to a David Duke related organization, and Duke’s threat to reveal his connections to other politicians. [HuffPo]

When in doubt – there’s always Google?

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Filed under Angle, campaign finance reform, campaign funds, Heller, Nevada politics, Politics, racism

History, Nostalgia, and the Right Wing Call to Repeal the 17th Amendment

Don't Tea Bag On Me Flag There’s a difference between history and nostalgia, and nowhere does this appear in more stark contrast than in the musings of radical conservative columnists.   We don’t have to burrow through the ideological muddle of Justice Scalia’s mind to find examples, we can simply pick up a copy of the Elko Daily Free Press and find one of their columnists opining about repealing the 17th Amendment.

The 17th Amendment calls for the direct election of U.S. Senators, removing the power of the state legislatures to appoint them to office.  By the ultra-conservative lights, however dim, this is the source of all evil, the font from which the liquefaction of Federalism flows.  The first clue that this argument is based on nostalgia not history are the citations from authority – such as George Mason and James Madison.  The Senate shall be, in their 18th century view, the bulwark of state’s rights, and the state’s rights will be protected by the state legislatures.  It just didn’t work out that way.

A system designed in the late 18th century to preserve a fragile union, with an eye toward the southern states’ inclination to maintain their “Peculiar Institution,” devolved into a license for corruption by 1913.  Author David Gans explains:

“Election of Senators by state legislatures was a disaster. Far from being “good politics” or “good constitutional design,” the system led to rampant and blatant corruption, letting corporations and other moneyed interests effectively buy U.S. Senators, and tied state legislatures up in numerous, lengthy deadlocks over whom to send to Washington, leaving those bodies with far less time to devote to the job of enacting the laws their states needed for the welfare of the people. These ills made the case for bringing the election of Senators in line with the Constitution’s fundamental values of protecting democracy and securing the right to vote to all Americans a very strong one. Once the Senate relented and approved the Seventeenth Amendment, the States ratified the Amendment in less than eleven months.”

That last sentence is important – far from being an imposition of the national government, the approval of the direct election of Senators came from the state legislatures themselves, and in only eleven months.  Something must have been going very wrong.

Here are a couple of examples which may serve to demonstrate why the state legislatures were none too impressed with the 18th century system:

“ In 1899, the Montana legislature sent William Clark to the U.S. Senate after he personally contributed $140,000 to the legislators of Montana.  A decade later, the Illinois legislature elected William Lorimer – known as the “blond boss” – to the Senate after bribes offered to state legislators helped break a deadlock in the state legislature.  Clark ultimately resigned his seat; Lorimer was expelled by the Senate after the Chicago Tribune unearthed the critical facts.” [USCon.Org]

If we are worried about the influence of money in politics in the wake of the Citizens United decision, imagine how much more money might be effectively expended by very-special-interest in state races in order to buy-in a Senator?  Nostalgia tells us that the legislative appointment of Senators would allow the flowering of originalist federalism; history tells us that there’s a reason why only 11% of Americans like the repeal idea. [HuffPo]

There are two other considerations, the first being the concept of counter-balance.  Big Money has greater influence in smaller elections, like those for state legislatures.  Secondly, there’s the problem of stalemates and this did turn into a political reality in the early 20th century:

“A deadlock delayed the selection of New York’s senators in the First Congress, and the phenomenon became more and more common as time wore on. Between 1891 and 1905—a period of only 14 years—there were 45 deadlocked senatorial elections in 20 different states!” [Const.org

Obviously, while the legislature is deadlocked the state is under-represented in Congress.  It’s one thing to embrace the bucolic nostalgia for a simpler time and country, and quite another to face the historical fact that money + small political bodies = big problems.

By Tea Party understanding, the loss of Federalism (or the demise of States’ Rights – a term which has acquired a tainted meaning in the wake of the modern civil rights movement) has created such evils as the New Deal,  Motor Voter Laws, No Child Left Behind, and Medicaid.   Controversial as those laws may be, the Tea Party seems to have no problem with such incursions into States Rights as the Hyde Amendment, the rejection of state campaign funding reforms, or the efforts of major energy companies to defeat state’s efforts to control air and water pollution.   In short, the modern advocates of repeal are often highly selective in terms of the list of evils the loss of States’ Rights has engendered.

What might be alarming is that the fringe Right has some critical allies.  ALEC once gave serious consideration to supporting model legislation to repeal the 17th Amendment, and then dropped its advocacy in the face of significant opposition. [HuffPo]  There are still bastions of support.  Still those who would trade the nostalgia of yesteryear for the reality of 21st century America – and give yet more power to the corporate interests who have the money to go for the glory.

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Filed under campaign finance reform, Congress, conservatism, Constitution

Money Watch: Who’s playing in the Georgia Senate race?

campaign money There is a negative ad campaign being launched in Georgia against the candidacy of Democrat Michelle Nunn from the “End Spending” super PAC, the brain child of the former CEO of TD Ameritrade.  The group describes itself as an “independent 501(4)c” which is roughly analogous to describing the wheels as independent of the bicycle.

Open Secrets offers a more exact description:

“Ending Spending is a conservative 501(c)4 group that focuses on federal spending and the national debt. The group originally targeted earmarks, but broadened its message to include balancing the federal budget and paying down the national debt. The group was founded by Joe Ricketts, the former CEO of TD Ameritrade and a known conservative backer. Brian Baker, the current president of Ending Spending, was an adviser to former Sens. Robert Dole and Richard Shelby. The group does not disclose its donors, and its money goes towards electioneering expenses.”

The Washington Post reported that as of August 1, 2014 ES Action Fund had ladled $345,000 for air time in August. The Nunn campaign made a $331,000 ad buy.  And where might all the the ES Action Fund money come from, even if the donors aren’t published the New York Times ferreted out some from the 2012 campaign, and the names ought not to be any surprise.

First, of course, there’s Mr. Ricketts who put $11.7 million in the pot in 2012, and then to absolutely no one’s surprise the next two names on the list are Nevada’s own Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who each donated a half million each in the 2012 cycle.   [NYT] It shouldn’t come as any more of a surprise to find the name of Linda McMahon on a 2014 donor listing. [CPI]  Given the generosity of its donors, and their deep pockets, state elections aren’t off the table, the organization has already ventured into state elections in the Wisconsin recall, and  the 2012 Nebraska Senate race. 

Thus, when the end of the ad says – brought to you by the ES Action Fund, be advised this is the old GOP/Koch/Adelson Gang showering ultra conservative candidates and causes with thousands of reasons to vote in favor of more breaks for millionaires and billionaires.

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Filed under campaign finance reform, campaign funds, Politics

Forests and Trees

forestThe current hyper-partisan environment in Washington, D.C. appears to be both a result and function of the Village Press which has confused incidents and policy to such an extent that it is difficult to separate the scandals du jour from the policy reforms which might mitigate the possibilities of future foul ups.

Case in point: Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi.   As long as the D.C. press continues to focus on the construction of talking points in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack on a diplomatic outpost seeking an elusive, and very likely non-existent connection to political machinations in campaign season, we’ll not get around to addressing some very real problems which make our diplomatic missions less safe.

There is another way to frame this information issue:  As long as the D.C. press corps is intent on categorizing all policy decisions and governmental activity in political terms we won’t get deeply enough into the policy implications.  This framing is easy, requires very little if any policy expertise, and can be deftly constructed to create a platform for hyperbole. The focus may sell newspapers and advertising but it’s not very helpful when looking for ways to solve real problems.

It might be interesting to know how many of the commentators and pundits who have graced us on the Sunday morning jabberwocky sessions have read the 39 page report from the State Department’s independent review panel.  (pdf)  Those who have will be familiar with the following sample of recommendations for action made by the independent review panel.

The Department must strengthen security for personnel and platforms beyond traditional reliance on host government security support in high risk, high threat posts.

The Board recommends that the Department re-examine DS organization and management with a particular emphasis on span of control for security policy planning for all overseas U.S. diplomatic facilities.

Regional bureaus should have augmented support within the bureau on security matters, to include a senior DS officer to
report to the regional Assistant Secretary.

The Department should develop minimum security standards for occupancy of temporary facilities in high risk, high threat environments, and seek greater flexibility for the use of Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) sources of funding so that they can be rapidly made available for security upgrades at such facilities.

The Board supports the State Department’s initiative to request additional Marines and expand the Marine Security Guard (MSG) Program – as well as corresponding requirements for staffing and funding.

The Board strongly endorses the Department’s request for increased DS personnel for high – and critical – threat posts and for additional Mobile Security Deployment teams, as well as an increase in DS domestic staffing in support of such action.

Perhaps instead of endlessly opining on the subject of how the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency disputed the crafting of information to be made available to the public at large (including interested parties in Libya) we might take a moment to ask:

# What actions have the Department of State and other governmental agencies taken to reduce our reliance on host nation security forces for the protection of diplomatic outposts?

# What actions have been taken to better coordinate the agencies and departments responsible for developing and implementing plans for outpost security in high risk environments?

# If we are using temporary facilities in high risk areas what contingency plans are now in place to reduce the probability of attack.  Granted, we shouldn’t announce our security plans to the entire world, but it would be nice to know that the Department of State and other agencies are coordinating their efforts to plan for the use of temporary facilities and to mitigate threats.

# Where were the Marines?  The quick answer is: In Tripoli.  The important question isn’t why weren’t they dispatched to the scene immediately?  Quick answer: The were guarding the permanent embassy in Libya. The long answer is another question:  What is the appropriate kind of staffing for diplomatic security?

“Approximately 90 percent of U.S. diplomatic security personnel are private contractors, according to Deborah Avant, a scholar with a doctorate from the University of California San Diego who oversees The Private Security Monitor, an independent research project on government contracting.”  [UTSanDiego]

Do we want to increase funding for the expansion of the Marine Security Guard (MSG) Program? Or, do we want to rely on privately contracted security personnel?   If we mix the two, what percentage should be military personnel? Corporate security personnel?  Contractors from the host nation?  No, this kind of discussion doesn’t make for rousing ratings, but it would be far more informative than bickering about who edited talking points for Sunday morning consumption.

# The independent review panel urged the State Department to “increased DS personnel for high – and critical – threat posts and for additional Mobile Security Deployment teams, as well as an increase in DS domestic staffing in support of such action.”

“The State Department is asking Congress for more than $1.3 billion to boost security, out of contingency funds once allocated for Iraq: $553 million for additional Marine security guards, $130 million for civilian diplomatic security personnel and $691 million for installation improvements, officials told The New York Times.” [UTSanDiego]

The request has been made, now we need to know how much of this recommendation has be implemented, or is in the process of implementation?  Perhaps we could even find out how Marine Corps plans to get 1,000 more guards trained and available for diplomatic security duty?  Do they have the funding necessary to make all posts as secure as reasonably possible? Or, are current funding levels sufficient to meet some needs but not others?

The recommendations mentioned above are only a handful, and not representative of the entire report, but they are illustrative of the kinds of questions we should be discussing as a civil society with legitimate concerns for the safety of our diplomatic endeavors.  So long as the Villagers are content to air the political rendition of the Bickersons we’ll not likely hear much about the policy changes necessary to improve diplomatic security.

Case in Point:  The Tax Man Cometh.  The Internal Revenue Service faced a veritable flood of requests for 501 c(3) and 501 (c) 4 status (tax exempt) in recent years.  There were no less than 2,744 501 (c) 4 applications in 2012:

Compare that to 1,777 applications in 2011 and 1,741 in 2010, federal records show. Not since 2002, when officials processed 2,402 applications, have so many been received.

Meanwhile, Exempt Organizations Division staffing slid from 910 employees during fiscal year 2009 to 876 during fiscal year 2012, agency personnel documents indicate.

In 2010, IRS officials projected exempt division staffing at 942 employees. But IRS officials cut the number to 900 after the agency began slashing its budget in response to fiscal woes affecting most corners of the federal government.  [CPI]

Thus we have a decreasing number of people handling a 56% increase in the number of applications in a single year — and what do people tend to do when an agency is short handed?  They make short cuts.  In this instance some not very good ones.   We can quibble endlessly about who did what to whom? However, questions like is the “targeting” of right wing groups comparable to IRS investigations of Green Peace or the NAACP?” aren’t very constructive.   There are two policy points in this controversy, each less well covered in our media than would be good for us.

# Who should be making decisions about the application of campaign finance laws?  There are some legitimate lines of inquiry here:

“For the I.R.S.’s bipartisan legion of critics, the agency’s record has underscored its contradictory and seemingly confused response to the fastest-growing corner in the world of unlimited political spending: tax-exempt groups that have paid for at least half a billion dollars in campaign ads during the last two election cycles.

The I.R.S. has done little to regulate a flood of political spending by larger groups — like Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, co-founded by Mr. Rove, and Priorities USA, with close ties to President Obama — as well as Republican leaders in Congress and other elected officials. And an agency that is supposed to stay as far away from partisan politics as possible has been left in charge — almost by accident — of regulating a huge amount of election spending.”  [NYT]

Given the amount and sources of political funding in this country, it hardly seems rational to leave the determination of regulation to an agency tasked with revenue collection.  Perhaps we ought to be using this latest “scandal” as a starting point toward rationalizing our campaign finance structure?  We can see the agency struggling with how to deal with groups that announced their intention to “improve our general welfare,” but whose main object was to funnel campaign funds.   How was the agency to determine what was political and lobbying and what was “advocacy?”  Would a political, as contrasted with a social welfare, organization necessarily be involved with limited or expanding government, or with educating people about the Constitution?  [ABC pdf]  Should the term “party” in the title of the group be an acceptable flag identifying the applicant as a political rather than a social welfare or educational organization?   There is appropriate indignation from both sides of the political aisle about the shorthand methodology of the IRS, but that still leaves us wondering — Who is in charge of implementing campaign finance regulation in this country?

# Is the Internal Revenue Service appropriately staffed to allow that agency to meet citizens’ needs in a timely and accurate fashion?  Do we really believe that cutting staff from 942 to 900 will mean there are enough people to review the increasing number of applications for tax exempt status?  Is the agency so understaffed that there is a temptation to ignore the Big Players while smaller organizations get more scrutiny?

Case in Point: Pressing the Press.  The Department of Justice used FISA warrants to obtain information from 20 telephone lines related to reporting by the Associated Press.

“The organization was not told the reason for the seizure. But the timing and the specific journalistic targets strongly suggested they are related to a continuing government investigation into the leaking of information a year ago about the Central Intelligence Agency’s disruption of a Yemen-based terrorist plot to bomb an airliner.” [NYT]

We need to tread carefully here.  In 2008 Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act, in the wake of revelations about the NSA warrantless wiretaps during the Bush Administration.   This would be the self-same H.R. 6304 about which the ACLU raised significant objections.     The bill passed with a 293 to 129 vote in the House of Representatives on June 20, 2008 [roll call 437] and by a vote of 69 to 28 in the Senate on July 9th.  [roll call 168]  There were 188 House Republicans who voted for the bill and 105 Democrats voting in favor.  128 Democrats voted against it, while only 1 Republican (Rep. Johnson, IL) voted “no.”   All 28 “no” votes in the U.S. Senate were cast by Democrats.

While the Associated Press may characterize the the intrusion in angry terms:

“Gary Pruitt, the president and chief executive of The A.P., called the seizure, a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into its news gathering activities.

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters,” he wrote. “These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the news gathering activities undertaken by The A.P. during a two-month period, provide a road map to A.P.’s news gathering operations, and disclose information about A.P.’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.” [NYT]

The Associated Press ought not get a free pass in this instance because (1) we don’t know if it was “massive,” — we actually don’t know much of anything because that’s how the FISA Law was written,  (2) we don’t know if it was “overbroad” either because that’s how the FISA Law was drafted, and (3) we don’t know if AP’s “sources and methods” were compromised — and we probably aren’t going to find out because in the wake of various acts of terrorism the majority of members of the 110th Congress were pleased to enact ‘reformed’ measures to allow for this kind of surveillance in cases of national security (in this instance a CIA operation).   If the Associated Press naively thought it was somehow immune to the provisions of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 because a press pass is as good as a law-proof vest, then they’ve been sorely disabused of their optimism.

Some caution should be exercised when we call for a No-Holds Barred approach to “fighting the War on Terror” in the name of national security, because while it may appear to be a grand idea when the target is a potential or alleged terrorist or someone associated with a potential or alleged terrorist —  it’s a whole different ball game when the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 is applied to you.

The discussion in this instance needs to be more broadly focused — not on whether or not the AP is an aggrieved party or if CIA operational methods and sources were compromised by reporting — but on whether we may finally be ready to take a serious look at the objections to H.R. 6304 which were raised by the ACLU and other civil rights organizations when the law was being considered.

Simply bouncing from one “scandal” to the next in order to boost ratings and sell print isn’t going to serve the American public any better now than it did when we followed Whitewater into nothingness.   With each major incident there is a choice to be made — either follow popular titillation with the shallow aspects of a scandal, or take a more measured long term view which addresses serious questions about which we should demand serious answers.  It’s the difference between be able to discern good wood from pulp.

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Filed under campaign finance reform, civil liberties, Foreign Policy

Chart of the Day: The GOP Spaghetti Bowl

Amazing what large chunks of unregulated campaign money can do for a primary season?

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Filed under campaign finance reform, campaign funds, Republicans

Friday Roundup: New, Views, Bits, and Pieces

Don’t Leave Home Without It — a person might need to charge his Nevada inauguration expenses on it — Sandoval charged expenses on American Express. [LVSun] Great way to “itemize” without itemizing. Renown Nevada lobbyist Harvey Whittemore is under investigation for funneling campaign contributions. [RGJ]

Nevada casinos made  modest revenue gains in 2011. [NNB] Good news for state revenues. While in some other states there are some strange tax proposals being discussed. [CTJ] There’s also some good news for the western states from Brookings West’s 3rd quarter report. (pdf)

Contrary to all the rhetoric about an “entitlement society” 90% of federal benefits go to the elderly, the disabled, and to working families. [CBPP] There’s even a chart for this:

Worried that the Toxic Emissions rules will detract from job growth? Don’t be.

“Taking into account the new data from the regulatory impact analysis (RIA) of the final rule (EPA 2011b), this issue brief finds that the conclusions of the earlier report, based on the RIA of the proposed rule (EPA 2011a), largely stand: The toxics rule will lead to modest job growth in the near term and have no measurable job impact in the longer term.” [full report at EPI]

Meanwhile back at the housing mess… “Despite record low mortgage rates subprime borrowers are still getting screwed,” [Business Insider]  Ben Walsh explains why the CNBC rant about the mortgage foreclosure settlement was dead wrong, in “Five Reasons…

Careful with the causation.  The situation in Greece is a mess.  Stock prices dropped today when the consumer confidence report showed a downward tick AND there’s some not very good news about the situation in Greece.  [Bloomberg] [Reuters] Here’s an easy prediction: Should the Greeks choose to default on their indebtedness, Wall Street will take a bath. If Wall Street takes a bath, then the charge will be made from some quarters that “Obama’s economic policies have failed.”  Easy. Now. The Administration is responsible for DOMESTIC economic policy, while what happens in the Eurozone depends on the Europeans.  That the Wall Street Wizards waded into those waters isn’t the fault of American politicians, American workers, or American voters.

The Greek Mess may take years to resolve. [Bloomberg]  Four senior Greek members of the government have resigned, further complicating the problems. [BBC] And, the Greek problems continue unabated. [BBC]  There is an excellent background piece from the BBC on how the bankers and the Greek government worked a little magic to make their debt disappear before Greece joined the European Union.  The Germans are demanding Greeks take quick action. [DerSpiegel]  Stayed tuned to this topic.

 

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Filed under campaign finance reform, campaign funds, ecology, Foreclosures, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, Sandoval

Coffee and the Papers: Righthaven to Right Wing

** Steve Green continues his excellent reporting on the Righthaven shakedown game, and Righthaven’s status as the “little friend” of Stephens Media LLC.   Those who haven’t been following this story might want to avail themselves of the Vegas Inc archives on the subject, especially the article concerning the interest taken in Righthaven by the Bar Association.

** The Las Vegas Sun reports State Senator Michael Roberson may be in the best position to assume the mantle of Campaigner In Chief in the drive for GOP control of the State Senate.   Roberson collected an impressive total of $309,025 for his own campaign, including contributions from former Senate candidate Sharron Angle.  [NVSoS]

** New requirements for campaign finance reporting will come into effect for the 2012 elections, among them (1) electronic filing, (2) financial reports due four days before the start of early voting, and (3) “All ads, billboards and radio spots that cost more than $100 now must identify who paid for them.”  [Nevada Appeal] (via Carson Now)

** The 76th Session of the Assembled Wisdom left Nevada counties holding the $$ bag for rural child protective services, developmental services for children, youth parole activities, and welfare emergency assistance. [Nevada Appeal] It probably doesn’t say much for the Silver State that we chiseled out a few compromises in the budget process which protected Big Box retailers and the highly profitable mining industry at the expense of programs for children and the indigent.

** New Tech firm may set up shop in Pahrump?   “After 15 months of courtship, a Pahrump economic development official says a company that builds state-of-the-art wind turbines is opening up shop here.  Pahrump Community Business and Development Services Manager Al Balloqui says Wind Sail Receptors Inc. plans to purchase a 15,000-square-foot facility in Pahrump, with intentions of expanding it to more than 45,000 square feet.”  [full story at Pahrump Valley Times]

** This is part of the answer as to why we have those “onerous” and “burdensome” regulations on businesses:  “The National Transportation Safety Board said Sunday that the trucking company whose vehicle hit an Amtrak train Friday had been involved in 19 random roadside inspections since 2010, leading to seven violations and one vehicle being taken out of service.” [RenoGJ] It still isn’t known why the truck smashed through the crossing gates.  More information at the Silver Pinyon Journal.

** Conservative candidates for the 2nd Congressional District seat vacated by Dean Heller met voters in Elko at an event sponsored by the Tea Party and TRUNC.  [EDFP full story]  None one seems happy about giving tax breaks to corporations which ship American jobs overseas.  Mark Amodei, as is becoming more noticeable by the day, remains vague:  “We are distinctly non-competitive in the world market,” Amodei said. “Jobs are a healthy indicator of what’s going on in the private sector.”   The comment might leave a person with the impression that American workers should be pleased to have jobs paying $0.25 per hour? To be “competitive?”

** The numbers indicate an uphill battle for Democratic candidate Kate Marshall in Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District. [ The Nevada View]

** At least one other member of the Nevada blogosphere is as annoyed with the “Great Battle of the Century” coverage of the Democratic side of the Nevada Senate race as yours truly.  Enough said — the hypocrisy is palpable, the coverage overblown, and the controversy does little more than add substance to the “Democrats In Disarray” motif.

** Of the GOP side of the debt ceiling negotiations, Steve Benen observesThis, in and of itself, tells us quite a bit about the current state of the Republican Party. On the issues hierarchy, the GOP obsession with taxes is so dominant, military spending Republicans used to consider sacrosanct is now open to cuts — just as long as the cuts are used as a tradeoff to prevent even a penny in tax increases.”    (emphasis added)  Now, should we translate this as saying  it is more important to protect tax havens, tax loopholes, tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas, and subsidies for Big Oil than it is to fully fund Pentagon requests — long a tenet of Republican faith?

** Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) makes a stirring defense of tax breaks and subsidies for Big Oil.  There’s just one problem with it — it’s just about fact free. [Think Progress]Video available at Crooks and Liars.

** Perrspectives lists 10 things the Republican Party doesn’t want you to know about the federal debt, one of which is that the Ryan Budget would require repeated increases in the debt ceiling.

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Filed under campaign finance reform, Nevada legislature, Republicans, Rural Nevada

>Ensign, GOP Senators, Continue Filibuster of Campaign Fund Disclosure Act

>You can’t say Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) didn’t try. He brought the DISCLOSE Act to the Senate Floor, and the Republican minority continued their filibuster of the bill intended to prohibit foreign corporations from seeking to influence American elections with coffers of cash from undisclosed donors to U.S. candidates and issue groups. [roll call 240]

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reiterated his talking points (1) the bill would inhibit “free speech,” and (2) it’s designed to rig elections in favor of Democrats. The second point is exceedingly difficult to fathom. S. 3628, the DISCLOSE Act, is relatively simple, and a direct response to the Citizens United decision. The Republicans refused to allow an up or down vote.

What The Bill Would Do

The Congressional Research Service summarizes the content of the bill as follows:

“Amends the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA) to prohibit: (1) independent expenditures and payments for electioneering communications by government contractors if the value of the contract is at least $10 million; and (2) recipients of assistance under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA) from making any contribution to any political party, committee, or candidate for public office, or to any person for any political purpose or use, or from making any independent expenditure or disbursing any funds for an electioneering communication.

Applies the ban on contributions and expenditures by foreign nationals to foreign-controlled domestic corporations.

Requires the highest ranking official of a corporation, before making any contribution, donation, expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication in connection with a federal election, to file a certification with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), if this has not been done already, that the corporation is not prohibited from carrying out such activity.

Declares that nothing prohibits any domestic corporation from establishing, administering, and soliciting contributions to a separate segregated fund, so long as: (1) none of the amounts in the fund are provided by any prohibited foreign national; and (2) no such foreign national has the power to direct, dictate, or control the fund.

Declares that nothing prohibits any domestic corporation from making a contribution or donation in connection with a state or local election to the extent permitted under state or local law, so long as no such foreign national has the power to direct, dictate, or control such contribution or donation.

Declares that nothing prohibits any domestic corporation from making communications to its stockholders and executive or administrative personnel and their families or initiating nonpartisan registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns, so long as: (1) none of the amounts used to carry out such activity are provided by any such foreign national; and (2) no such foreign national has the power to direct, dictate, or control such activity.

Treats as contributions: (1) any payments by any person (except a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee, or a political committee of a political party) for coordinated communications; and (2) political party communications made on behalf of candidates if made under the control or direction of a candidate or a candidate’s authorized committee.

Defines “coordinated communication” as: (1) a publicly distributed or disseminated communication referring to a candidate or the candidate’s opponent which is made during a specified election period in cooperation, consultation, or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee, or a political committee of a political party; or (2) any communication that republishes, disseminates, or distributes, in whole or in part, any broadcast or any written, graphic, or other form of campaign material prepared by a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee, or their agents.

Repeals the prohibition against contributions by individuals age 17 or younger.

Prohibits a communication which is disseminated through the Internet from being treated as a form of general public political advertising unless the communication was placed for a fee on another person’s website.

Revises the definition of independent expenditure to mean, in part, an expenditure that, when taken as a whole, expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, or is the functional equivalent of express advocacy.

Requires any person making independent expenditures exceeding $10,000 to: (1) file a report electronically within 24 hours; and (2) file a new report electronically each time the person makes or contracts to make independent expenditures in an aggregate amount equal to or greater than $10,000 (or $1,000, if less than 20 days before an election) with respect to the same election.

Increases from 60 days to 120 days the period before a general election during which a communication shall be considered an electioneering communication.

Requires mandatory electronic filing by persons making independent expenditures or electioneering communications exceeding $10,000 at any time.

Requires corporations, labor organizations, tax-exempt charitable organizations, and political organizations other than political committees (covered organizations) to include specified additional information in reports on independent expenditures of at least $10,000, including certain actual or deemed transfers of money to other persons, but excluding amounts paid from separate segregated funds as well as amounts designated for specified campaign-related activities. Requires certain additional information in electioneering communication reports.

Sets forth special rules for the use of general treasury funds by covered organizations for campaign-related activity, including both designated and unrestricted donor payments to an organization.

Authorizes mutually agreed restrictions on the use of donated funds for campaign-related activity between a covered organization and a person who does not want his or her identity disclosed in a significant funder statement or a Top 5 Funders list.

Authorizes covered organizations to make optional use of a separate Campaign-Related Activity Account for making disbursements for campaign-related activity. Requires such an Account to be reduced by the amount of organization revenues attributable to donations or payments from a person other than the covered organization who has mutually agreed with the organization that the organization may not use the donation or payment for campaign-related activity.

Requires certain electioneering communications transmitted through radio or television to include an audio statement identifying the name of the political committee responsible.

Prescribes additional information to be included in certain radio or television electioneering communications by persons (including significant funders of campaign-related communications of a covered organization) other than a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee, or a political committee of a political party.

Prescribes a format for the individual disclosure statement. Indexes certain amounts.

Amends the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 to require registered lobbyists to report information on independent expenditures or electioneering communications of at least $1,000 to the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives.

Amends FECA to require Senate candidates to file all designations, statements, and reports directly with the FEC.

Requires covered organizations to disclose to shareholders, members, or donors information on disbursements for campaign-related activity.

Requires a covered organization that maintains an Internet site to post on it a hyperlink from its homepage to the location on the FEC website containing information required to be reported with respect to public independent expenditures, including disbursements for electioneering communications.

Authorizes judicial review of the provisions of this Act by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and on appeal by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Grants Members of Congress the right to: (1) bring an action to challenge the constitutionality of a provision of this Act; or (2) intervene in any action challenging the constitutionality of a provision of this Act, either in support of or opposition to the position of a party to the case.”

The Game Is On

Republicans are betting on the notion that the public hasn’t read the bill or even the CRS summary and can be convinced that the measure favors labor unions and left wing organizations in the run up to the mid term elections. Frankly, there wasn’t much substance to Minority Leader McConnell’s statements on the Senate floor: “McConnell, meanwhile, spent little time criticizing the specifics of the bill, instead trying to tie the Democrats’ decision to revive the DISCLOSE Act to other efforts in the Senate this week surrounding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the DREAM Act, grouping them all together as an attempt to play politics before the election. “This is a bill that’s back on the floor no other reason than our friends on the other side have decided that this week is ‘politics only week’ in the Senate,” he claimed. “That’s all this is: pure politics.” [WashInd]

A Summary Of The Summary

Here’s what the DISCLOSE Act does:

1. Prohibits contributions to federal campaigns from large firms that get government contracts. The idea here is to prevent corporations from donating funds to candidates who promise to steer lucrative government contract their way.

2. Prohibits recipients of TARP funding from making political contributions in federal elections. Once again, the idea is to prohibit campaign donations from large financial corporations which might seek another bailout from members of Congress who accepted banking industry donations.

3. Prohibits foreign corporations, or domestic corporations controlled from outside the U.S., from engaging in political activities in U.S. elections. This seems clear on the face of it.

4. Requires Senate candidates to file campaign donation reports directly with the Federal Election Commission.

5. Does NOT prohibit political activities by domestic U.S. corporations so long as the share-holders are informed, and the CEO signs off that the share-holders have been informed, and nothing illegal has been done.

Republicans are counting on the efficacy of a “sound bite” assault on this bill. Voters will be told it “inhibits” free speech — but without much, if any, explanation. Voters will be told that the bill favors labor unions and community organizations — which it obviously does not. Voters will be told this is “an incumbent protection act.” It isn’t. The Republican Tea Party is evidently so afraid of disclosing the extent of its ties to multi-national and foreign corporations that its representatives and candidates will be perfectly willing to lie about the bill in order to defeat it?

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Filed under campaign finance reform, Ensign, McConnell, Reid

>Sharron Angle, Hillary Clinton,Campaign Finance, Citizens United: Whose Money Is In Our Politics?

>Nevada senatorial candidate Sharron Angle is walking a shaky tightrope on the issue of campaign finance reform. This statement from her campaign has been interpreted as a signal she opposed the DISCLOSE Act recently blocked by Republicans in the U.S. Senate [roll call 220]: “Sharron Angle supports the First Amendment, and I find it astonishing that Harry Reid’s priority in Washington is to attack our First Amendment at a time when his home state of Nevada leads the nation in unemployment, home foreclosures, and bankruptcies.” [WaPo] This statement begs a question: What is the connection between the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Nevada’s dismal economic situation?

The answer, of course, is that there isn’t a connection — what’s evident in the Angle campaign’s response is that she would love to change the subject from campaign finance legislation back to the economy. Now, we’ve begged another question: Why is Angle so desperate to change the subject?

The answer to our second question is relatively obvious: Angle has been endorsed by Citizens United. What is “Citizens United?”

Citizens United is a conservative political action organization founded by activist Floyd Brown in 1988, and incorporated as a 501(c) 4 tax exempt organization. Among its previous associations is a connection with Americans For Bush. [SW] Citizens United is also connected to the Swift Boat associated Donatelli Group. The organization’s president is David Bossie, who modeled his attack on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on the Swift Boat campaign against Democratic candidate John Kerry in 2004. We’re getting closer now to the reason Candidate Angle doesn’t want to talk about campaign finance reform and her endorsement from Citizens United. So, let’s take on the next question: What does David Bossie’s obsession with Hillary Clinton have to do with campaign finance regulation?

The answer lies in David Bossie’s movie, un-originally titled “Hillary: The Movie.” At this point it might be time to insert the fact that Bossie was fired from his position as the chief investigator for the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight in 1998 for “selectively editing,” and otherwise manipulating the content of the testimony of Webster Hubbell. Bossie applied his tape editing and political hit-man skills in his production of his Anti-Hillary Hit Piece.

After producing the Anti-Hillary Hit Piece, Bossie wanted to advertise it. The FEC said NO., and a federal district court agreed. “A federal court ruled that “Citizens United could not run ads for its negative film on Hillary Rodham Clinton without disclosing the ad’s donors. The group wants to release and promote ‘Hillary: The Movie’ to coincide with the dates when many states will hold primary elections, but the court found that in order for the ads to adhere to current campaign finance law, Citizens United would have to disclose who paid for the ads.” [SW] (emphasis added) Now, we’re in some sticky territory.

How did an Anti-Hillary Clinton hit piece open the door for foreign, or multinational corporations, to make anonymous donations to political campaigns?

The Citizens United Case went to the Supreme Court, which in a 5-4 decision, toppled decades of precedent to decide that a corporation — as a legal person — has the same political speech “rights” as an individual citizen. Now the doors are wide open for corporate donations to campaign advertising without any disclosure of WHO is sponsoring the commercials. [NYT] The decision is based on the notion that any “disclosure” might be an exercise in “prior restraint,” or censorship. The result is that ANY corporation or group of corporations may make donations to any political advertising effort without having to disclose its contributions.

The US Chamber of Commerce was delighted with the decision. Indeed, Candidate Angle provided a link to their statement for her supporters. [WaPo] Republicans adopted the “free speech for corporations” argument and ran with it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) even advanced the bizarre contention that the introduction of the DISCLOSE Act was somehow an attempt by Democrats to gain an unfair advantage in the 2010 mid term elections. Other Republicans followed suit.

One can certainly purchase much “free speech” with the $75 million the US Chamber of Commerce intends to spend on political advertising this campaign season. Those who don’t believe that the Citizens United decision had an impact should note (1) the Chamber’s spending plans constitute a 50% increase in what it previously planned to spend, [reuters] and (2) that the FEC has now “agreed that most of the limitations regulating independent expenditures would be dropped.” [CQP]

Now that the barn doors are wide open and campaigns can expect assistance from trade associations, manufacturer’s organizations, and the US Chamber of Commerce, in issuing candidacy and issue advertising — there are other questions Candidate Angle might want to add to her list of reasons to conduct a “Don’t Meet The Press” campaign.

(1) Does Candidate Angle support the idea that anonymous donors can spend any amount of money available to them for campaign advertising?

(2) Does Candidate Angle believe that organizations and associations, which can raise far more money than can individual donors, should be able to buy a “louder” voice during election campaigns?

(3) Does Candidate Angle support the proposition that foreign or multi-national corporations can anonymously spend money in support of candidates or issues in American elections?

I don’t personally hold out much hope we’ll get answers to these inquiries because if past practice is an indication of future performance then all we can expect is that Angle will (a) run away or (b) try to change the subject.

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Filed under Angle, campaign finance reform, Citizens United, Hillary Clinton