Tag Archives: campaign finance

Breadcrumbs: Notes on Russian donations to American politicians

Dallas Morning News: December 15, 2017

“McConnell surely knew as a participant in high level intelligence briefings in 2016 that our electoral process was under attack by the Russians. Two weeks after the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint statement in October 2016 that the Russian government had directed the effort to interfere in our electoral process, McConnell’s PAC accepted a $1 million donation from Blavatnik’s AI-Altep Holdings. The PAC took another $1 million from Blavatnik’s AI-Altep Holdings on March 30, 2017, just 10 days after former FBI Director James Comey publicly testified before the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s interference in the election.”

I’m poking around into the FEC reports for 2016, and some reports from 2017.  This really isn’t a “blog post” in the standard sense.  It’s more like a log of information from the poking.

I just find it interesting that McConnell accepted the Blavatnik donation AFTER he’d been briefed on Russian interference.

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Rep. Mark Amodei and the GOP Big Bank Pacification Program

Amodei 3Nevada Congressman Mark Amodei (R-NV2) is pleased with the Republican version of the House Financial Services Committee and Appropriations Committee 2015 version of a budget for the Department of Justice, the SEC, and the Department of the Treasury.   The Big Banks and Wall Street Players are pleased with it too.  They should be, part of the bill is straight out of the Financial Sector Playbook, one being implemented by Eugene Scalia’s law firm to gut the Dodd Frank Act for financial regulation.   A little background is in order.

The Back Story

The recovery from the latest Recession has been impressive, but perhaps not what it could have been had not some Austerianism crept into the mixture.  Public sector employment (teachers, social worker, firefighters, law enforcement….) is trailing or declining in some areas. Private sector employment has done well.

The Department of Labor issued its “employment situation report” six days ago, in which we discovered 288,000 jobs were created, and the unemployment rate is now 6.1%.  [DoL]

Private Sector Job Growth

About the same time, the St. Louis Federal Reserve tracked corporate profits (after tax) currently at $1,906.8 billion. [FRED] The graph looks like this:

Corporate ProfitsThe data points indicate a recovery for the private sector which took a pounding during the Recession but have bounced back quite nicely. Even during the Recession, corporate profits did not fall below levels seen during the period from 1980 to 2000.

The good news is, obviously, that the economy has generated private sector jobs in positive territory for the last 52 months, which should be tempered by watching corporate activities very closely — given the propensity of the financial sector to create booms/busts of increasingly volatile proportions.  There is also the no-so-small question of corporate hoarding. (A matter for another day.)

What’s happened since those days, not so long ago, when ‘irrational exuberance for asset classes and insane valuations” ran amok an crashed the U.S. economy?  When Wall Street creates new vocabulary like “Quantum Entanglement Trading,” some ears need to perk up.  The argument that faster trading combined with new technologies is nothing new under the Sun is perfectly plausible, what is less comprehensible are terms like Dark Pools, upon which some light cast upon Barclay’s transactions is less than pleasing. [BusWeek]

Even less pleasing was the moment when Goldman Sachs “lost control” of its Dark Pool, and Goldman “lost oversight of what was happening in their dark pool and it ended up that a number of people had trades settled at less than best national price.” [Forbes]

The Dodd Frank Act was supposed to rein in some of these excesses, and to give investors more power to insure they were trading “at the best national price.” It was also supposed to put the brakes on some of the more egregious activities in derivative trading.  The Wall Street boys figured out a way around that too:

“…traders have recently forged a path around these so-called margin requirements in order to allow them to harvest larger profits via larger bets: They are repackaging some derivatives known as swaps into another financial product known as futures. Futures are less stringently regulated, meaning investors can stake out larger positions while reserving smaller amounts of cash.” [HuffPo]

The GOP Big Bank Pacification Program

What do we know so far?  First, that the private sector recovery could be stronger (especially if we’d ever decide to DO something about our crumbling infrastructure and backlog of maintenance). Secondly, that Wall Street will be Wall Street, and with the advent of the financialists new ways to generate ‘wealth’ will be created even if these don’t actually add up to any real expansion of manufacturing or commercial activities.  On the corporate side there’s the stock buy back strategy which can be combined with the offshore parking ploy; on the financial end there’s the newly discovered joys of playing in dark pools and renaming your Swaps as Futures. What could possibly go wrong?

And now we come back to the point wherein Representative Amodei tells us how pleased he is with the House Financial Services Committee rendition of an FY 2015 budget providing for those departments and agencies which regulate financial behavior in this country.

Here’s Representative Amodei’s gush over the budget provisions for the Security and Exchange Commission:

“Included in the bill is $1.4 billion for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which is $50 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $300 million below the President’s budget request. The increase in funds is targeted specifically toward critical information technology initiatives. (1) The legislation also includes a prohibition on the SEC spending any money out of its “reserve fund” – essentially a slush fund for the SEC to use without any congressional oversight.  In addition, the legislation contains requirements for the (2) Administration to report to Congress on the cost and regulatory burdens of the Dodd-Frank Act, and a (3) prohibition on funding to require political donation information in SEC filings.”  (numbering, emphasis added)

Let us Parse: (1) What’s so wrong about that SEC Reserve Fund?  It was established in the Dodd Frank Act:

“The Dodd-Frank Act established a Reserve Fund for the SEC and gives the agency authority to use the Fund for expenses that are necessary to carry out the agency’s functions. Each year, starting with FY 2012, the SEC is required to deposit into the Fund up to $50 million a year in registration fees, while the remainder is deposited into the Treasury as general revenue. The balance of the Fund cannot exceed $100 million.” [SEC pdf]

And what will the Reserve Fund be used to do? We know that most of the FY 2013 Reserve Fund money went to upgrade EDGAR and other information technology, and then there was the remainder:

“The remainder of the Reserve Fund in FY 2013 will be used on a number of IT projects, including development of Market Oversight and Watch Systems that will provide the SEC with automated analytical tools to review and analyze market events, complex trading patterns, and relationships; development of fraud analysis and fraud prediction analytical models; and deployment of natural speech, text, and word search tools to assist our fraud detection efforts. Additionally, the SEC plans to develop analytical environment, databases, and intake systems for market data, mathematical algorithms, and financial data.” [SEC pdf]

Then the SEC added another project in its FY 2014 budget justification, the Consolidated Audit Trail.

 “The SEC plans to invest Reserve Fund dollars to develop the SEC’s ability to intake CAT data and store it in the EDW, as well as to develop analytical tools and a single software platform that will allow the SEC to identify patterns, trends, and anomalies in the CAT data. The tools and platform will allow seamless searches of data sets to examine activity to reveal suspicious behavior in securities-related activities and quickly trace the origin.” [SEC pdf]

But what happened to these plans to monitor the financial markets with an eye toward reducing the instances of fraud and abuse?

H.R. 3547, the omnibus 2014 spending bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last week, contains more bad news for the SEC than just the meager 2% increase it provides for the SEC’s budget. A provision in the new law quietly strips away half of a $50,000,000 Reserve Fund that the SEC uses to improve its technology resources.” [Securities Docket]

Not too put too fine a point to it, but — the Congress of the United States found a way to defund the very activities of the SEC which might allow the agency to technologically keep up with the high frequency traders, the dark pools, and the latest Wall Street tech.  That should keep the Big Banks Pacified?

The Big Banks ought to be especially pleased by the label  “slush fund” attached by Representative Amodei to their funds to improve the technological capacity of the agency.  If Representative Amodei is displeased with the “lack of Congressional oversight” over the expenditures in the SEC Reserve Fund, then he may have missed the two documents readily available online wherein the SEC described for Congress precisely what they wanted the Reserve Fund to implement. See: SEC FY 2014 Budget Justification (pdf) the executive summary of the Reserve Fund is on page 10, and the SEC FY 2013 Budget Justification (pdf), the executive summary of the Reserve Fund is on page 9.

Why would anyone, facing the increasing speed and technicality of modern financial market operations, want to call the funds allocated to assist in the improvement of oversight and fraud detection a “slush fund?”  Perhaps because they don’t want the SEC to keep up with the Big Banks, high flying hedge funds, and wealth management groups?

(2) Oh, those regulatory costs and burdens!  This has a familiar ring to it.  Here’s where Eugene Scalia, son of Antonin,  enters the picture:

“Eugene Scalia is a lawyer of extraordinary skill. In less than five years, the 50-year-old son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has become a one-man scourge to the reformers who won a hard-fought battle to pass the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act to rein in the out-of-control financial sector. So far, he’s prevailed in three of the six suits he’s filed against the law, single-handedly slowing its rollout to a snail’s pace. As of May, a little more than half of the nearly four-year-old law’s rules had been finalized and another 25 percent hadn’t even been drafted. Much of that breathing room for Wall Street is thanks to Scalia, who has deployed a hyperliteral, almost absurdist series of procedural challenges to unnerve the bureaucrats charged with giving the legislation teeth.” [MJ]

And what has the Scalia Scion done to create this successful stall ball strategy?

“Scalia’s legal challenges hinge on a simple, two-decade-old rule: Federal agencies monitoring financial markets must conduct a cost-benefit analysis whenever they write a new regulation. The idea is to weigh “efficiency, competition, and capital formation” so that businesses and investors can anticipate how their bottom line might be affected. Sounds reasonable. But by recognizing that the assumptions behind these hypothetical projections can be endlessly picked apart, Scalia has found a remarkably effective way to delay key parts of the law from going into effect.” [MJ]

So, when Representative Amodei says he wants the “Administration to report to Congress on the cost and regulatory burdens of the Dodd-Frank Act,” he’s chiming right in, cheerleading if you will, for the stall ball tactics of the Wall Street barons as practiced rather successfully  by their Scalia Scion lawyer.  That should help keep the Big Banks Pacified?

(3) And, Representative Amodei is only too pleased to help the corporations and Big Banks hide their political donations — because he doesn’t want the SEC to be able to require corporations and large banks to tell the  public and their shareholders about their political activities!

Representative Amodei gives every appearance of being a major cheerleader for Team Wall Street, and its efforts to avoid regulation, supervision, and monitoring by the Securities and Exchange Commission — no doubt he, and other Republicans in Congress, will be delighted to participate in the GOP’s Big Bank Pacification Program.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Politics, Republicans

Romney, Adelson, and the Mega-Money Mindset

Dirty money will buy you dirty politics.   Princely benefactor of ultra-right wing causes, Nevada’s own Sheldon Adelson, is the subject of a probe into whether he violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. [LVSun/ProPublica] Some of Mr. Adelson’s donations should raise eyebrows as well.

The Newt Gingrich PAC, “Winning our Future,” received two major contributions; one of $5 million, and another for $2.5 million in the first quarter of 2012. [FundRace]  The Sands CEO’s willingness to pour millions, once reported at $21.5 million, [HuffPo] down the pipe into Newt Gingrich’s book promotion tour and sometime presidential campaign should make it clear to all but the most ethically challenged that he meant it when he said his pockets were bottomless when it comes to supporting the Romney Campaign.   So, whatever is raked in from the Golden Bamboozle in Macau could easily fill the coffers of the First Financialist in Chief.

Evidently, all Mr. Romney had to do was promise to make the pilgrimage to Israel, be as hawkish about Iran as the Bush era Neo-Cons, and make statements saying President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus. [NYT] Oh, and a hug for right wing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gets bonus points.

However, failure to grant Mr. Adelson his million$ of wi$he$ reveals a less lamb-like corporate executive; an explanation from a Sands executive is illustrative: “Weidner recalled struggling to explain Adelson’s style to the Chinese, once comparing his boss to a famous emperor who became angry with China’s scholars and buried them alive with their books. “I would tell them: ‘He is brilliant. Sometimes, like the emperor, he is brutal.'”  [LVSun]

Governor Romney, apparently unwilling to be buried alive with his tax returns, has bent his knee to our Megalomaniacal Mogul.  It’s also nice to know that Mr. Adelson could be willing to spend as much as $100 million to have a Financialist occupying the White House. [HuffPo]

Governor Romney is not the only recipient of Mr. Adelson’s recent largess.  Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA7) sponsored the Young Guns PAC which limped into the campaign season with $55,ooo in the first quarter.  Getting a $5 million boost from the Adelson’s was a lifeline for Cantor’s campaign chest, from which future and current adherents to Cantor’s brand of obstructionist politics will receive donations.

The Adelson’s have also funneled $5 million into the Boehner/Cantor Congressional Leadership Fund. [LVSun]  The Adelson money now mingles with donations from AFLAC PAC, AT&T, the Koch Brothers, Home Depot, Valero, and the Nuclear Energy Institute in the CLF. [OS]

The Mega-Money Mindset

There’s a legalistic mindset at play in the political money games.  Only the ultra-rich have the resources to work at the edges of the legal system.  Consider for a moment Governor Romney’s carefully phrased comments about his income taxes:  “I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more. I don’t think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes.” [WaPo]

Governor Romney paid “all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more.”  This is more easily accomplished with a battalion of accountants and tax law professionals generally unavailable to members of the American middle class.   Most people fill in the blanks on the EZ form, put a stamp on it, and mail it in, with a “what the heck, it’s as close as I can get” mentality.   A mind-set unfamiliar to the top 1% of the top 1%.

Compare this philosophical bent to Mr. Adelson’s comments on campaign finance:  “I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections,” he said. “But as long as it’s doable, I’m going to do it.” [Forbes]

Governor Romney is going to take every deduction, every dodge, and every tax haven possible because he will do only what is legally required of him. Mr. Adelson will attempt to influence elections because it is legally “do-able.”   There is no internal moral compass directing their actions; only external restraints.

In one case there is no perception that parking money in off-shore accounts in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, or in Swiss banks, isn’t “right” or might be held ethically questionable for someone who is running for the presidency of the United States.

In the other case there is a man worth approximately $25 billion, who in the absence of any external legal restraints on his donations will seek to buy an election — or multiple elections — if it’s black letter legal.  Mr. Adelson has admitted it’s the wrong thing to do, but if it advances his personal interests and it’s isn’t strictly illegal, then there is no internal restraint on his actions.

Morality Matters

Morality “refers to a code of conduct that applies to all who can understand it and can govern their behavior by it. In the normative sense, morality should never be overridden, that is, no one should ever violate a moral prohibition or requirement for non-moral considerations.” [Plato/Stanford]

The very definition of morality requires internal controls, or the application of moral principles by self-governing individuals who are capable of understanding the accepted code of conduct.  In the realm of campaign and personal finance, it seems neither Governor Romney, nor Mr. Adelson, wishes to apply generally accepted codes of conduct as part of their own self-governance.  Governor Romney will seek every edge he can pertaining to his taxes, while Mr. Adelson will do anything not explicitly forbidden — even though their actions give every appearance of dodgy behavior from a public morality perspective.

Small wonder neither man is fond of any restraints on their financial empires.  For such men “freedom” equates to a lack of legal restrictions on their actions.  They are not “free” as long as the rest of society restricts their behavior.  Thus, Mr. Romney calls for the repeal of the Dodd Frank Act regulating the financial sector.  It impinges on his “freedom.”  Mr. Adelson would rather the Justice Department not look too closely at his operations in Macau. That would impinge on his “freedom.”

Therefore, former Governor Romney may, indeed, not understand the commotion about his opportunistic flipping and flopping on issues like women’s rights, or abortion, or global climate change, or support for the policies of the Reagan Administration, [Politifact] and leave the electorate holding the view that he is a hollow man without fundamental political principles.  If all one’s principles are a function of external control, then it’s no wonder the former Massachusetts Governor is a “well lubricated weather vane” revolving as the wind direction changes.

Perhaps neither would understand:

Then, when the clouds are off the soul, When thou dost bask in Nature’s eye, Ask, how she view’d thy self-control, Thy struggling, task’d morality — Nature, whose free, light, cheerful air, Oft made thee, in thy gloom, despair.”  — Matthew Arnold.

——-

For an insightful piece on the issue, from a different perspective, read “Pay no attention to the billionaire behind the curtain”  Las Vegas City Life, July 6, 2012.

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Filed under 2012 election, Adelson, Cantor, Romney

Who Donates To Political Campaigns? The One Percent of the One Percent

Open Secrets compiles the answer for us in this page, and the results are interesting.  Only 0.23% of Americans donate over $200 to a political campaign but they have plenty of clout.

Those who gave more than $200 constitute 66.3% of the donations ($1,297,842,396 to date.)  The under $200 donors sent $658,241,181 to candidates to date.

The percentage of individuals giving more than $2,500 to political campaigns?  0.04%.

There is nothing surprising about any of this considering this report from the 2010 election season:

“A Sunlight Foundation examination of data from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics reveals a growing dependence of candidates and political parties on the One Percent of the One Percent, resulting in a political system that could be disproportionately influenced by donors in a handful of wealthy enclaves. Our examination also shows that some of the heaviest hitters in the 2010 cycle were ideological givers, suggesting that the influence of the One Percent of the One Percent on federal elections may be one of the obstacles to compromise in Washington.

The One Percent of the One Percent are not average Americans. Overwhelmingly, they are corporate executives, investors, lobbyists, and lawyers. A good number appear to be highly ideological. They give to multiple candidates and to parties and independent issue groups. They tend to cluster in a limited number of metropolitan zip codes, especially in New York, Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

In the 2010 election cycle, the average One Percent of One Percenter spent $28,913, more than the median individual income of $26,364”  [The Sunlight Foundation]

And we wonder why we’re closer to having auctions for public office and not competitive elections?

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Filed under 2012 election, Politics

On Our Way To Auctions Not Elections

On July 16, 2012 at 6:08 pm (Eastern) S. 3369 was successfully filibustered by the Republican minority in the United States Senate.   Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) cast a procedural “no” on cloture to allow for a possible re-introduction; Senator Dean Heller did not cast a vote.  S. 3369 is commonly known as the Disclose Act.

The core of the legislation is simple: (emphasis added)

`(1) IN GENERAL- Any covered organization that makes campaign-related disbursements aggregating more than $10,000 in an election reporting cycle shall, not later than 24 hours after each disclosure date, file a statement with the Commission made under penalty of perjury that contains the information described in paragraph (2)–

`(A) in the case of the first statement filed under this subsection, for the period beginning on the first day of the election reporting cycle and ending on the first such disclosure date; and

`(B) in the case of any subsequent statement filed under this subsection, for the period beginning on the previous disclosure date and ending on such disclosure date.
`(2) INFORMATION DESCRIBED- The information described in this paragraph is as follows:

`(A) The name of the covered organization and the principal place of business of such organization.

`(B) The amount of each campaign-related disbursement made by such organization during the period covered by the statement of more than $1,000, and the name and address of the person to whom the disbursement was made.

`(C) In the case of a campaign-related disbursement that is not a covered transfer, the election to which the campaign-related disbursement pertains and if the disbursement is made for a public communication, the name of any candidate identified in such communication and whether such communication is in support of or in opposition to a candidate.

`(D) A certification by the chief executive officer or person who is the head of the covered organization that the campaign-related disbursement is not made in cooperation, consultation, or concert with or at the request or suggestion of a candidate, authorized committee, or agent of a candidate, political party, or agent of a political party.

`(E) If the covered organization makes campaign-related disbursements using exclusively funds in a segregated bank account consisting of funds that were paid directly to such account by persons other than the covered organization that controls the account, for each such payment to the account–

`(i) the name and address of each person who made such payment during the period covered by the statement;

`(ii) the date and amount of such payment; and

`(iii) the aggregate amount of all such payments made by the person during the period beginning on the first day of the election reporting cycle and ending on the disclosure date;

but only if such payment was made by a person who made payments to the account in an aggregate amount of $10,000 or more during the period beginning on the first day of the election reporting cycle and ending on the disclosure date.

There’s nothing all that complicated about the bill.  If an organization spends money on behalf of a candidate, the expenditure should be disclosed.  If a donor contributes more than $10,000 the donor should be disclosed.   There are NO special provisions for labor unions, there are no special provisions for the benefit of any special interest group.

And, the GOP successfully filibustered the bill., 51-44 with five not voting.   [roll call 179]

Senator Mitch McConnell, formerly an advocate of Disclosure saying it is “nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation.”  [TP] Here’s a question: If one is a legitimate critic of the government then wouldn’t one’s advocacy be a badge of honor?

It was a dark day for democracy when the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Citizens United that money = speech.  It is darker now that we can’t see where all that “speech” is coming from.

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Filed under 2012 election, McConnell, Politics, Reid

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