Bloomberg’s money: now what?

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Democrats, eager to position themselves as the good guys in the campaign finance debate, weren’t real happy about all that Bloomberg money flowing into the primary campaign.

Bloomberg spent an estimated $500 million in just 100 days on slick TV ads, mailers, about 2400 staff spread around the country and for political-data and polling. Critics, including his Democratic primary opponents, accused him of trying to buy the nomination.

But now that Bloomberg has abandoned his campaign, will the Democrats become more accepting of his pledge to keep spending millions to help Democrats win the presidency and other races in the general election?

Bernie Sanders has said he wants to win with small dollar individual contributions. He’s also said he wouldn’t welcome Bloomberg’s big money help. Joe Biden, who has a history of decrying the role of wealthy people and special interests in elections, has been considerably more flexible in practice.

According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Open Secrets, a nonpartisan website by the Center for Responsive Politics that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy, Sanders has raised $134,069,993, about one-third of that in large contributions.

In contrast, the Biden for President committee has raised $68,281,49, about two-thirds of that in large contributions:

A pro-Biden SuperPAC, Unite the Country, has raised an additional $7,919,417 from just 163 donors, with employees of the top three donors (Masimo Corp; Blum Capital Partners; Marcus & Millichap) giving $1 million each. A Leadership PAC, American Possibilities, has donated $432,948 more.

If Bloomberg decides to follow through on his pledge to spend millions to defeat Trump, there are no limits on what he can spend. Since he’s worth an estimated $60 billion, he could be a very big player.

He would be prohibited from coordinating his spending decisions with the eventual Democratic nominee, but that is honored more in the breach than the observance. .

Biden says on his presidential campaign website that he will “reduce the corrupting influence of money in politics.”

“Biden strongly believes that we could improve our politics overnight if we flushed big money from the system and had public financing of our elections,” his website says. “Democracy works best when a big bank account or a large donor list are not prerequisites for office, and elected representatives come from all backgrounds, regardless of resources. But for too long, special interests and corporations have skewed the policy process in their favor with political contributions.”

So much for empty rhetoric.

If Biden wins the Democratic nomination, neither he nor the Democratic Party will try to stop Bloomberg from pouring his money into the campaign to defeat Trump. You can bet on it.

The Manafort Indictment: one charge is bogus

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The Department of Justice unveiled indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort today (Oct. 30).

The indictment contains 12 counts. conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.

One charge in particular intrigued me, that Manafort acted as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal under the the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), enacted in 1938 to counter Nazi propagandists and amended in 1966 to regulate political and economic lobbyists.

The fact is FARA is a paper tiger, frequently ignored and rarely enforced.

FARA requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities. There are about  2,000 foreign agents registered under the Act representing more than 100 countries.

The Center for Public Integrity released a study, “The hired guns who advocate for the world’s worst human rights abusers” – a research report that highlighted the PR firms that make the most money representing clients that violate human rights.

The study said FARA records revealed that “that the 50 countries with the worst human rights violation records have spent $168 million on American lobbyists and public relations specialists since 2010.”

The fact is, Washington, D.C. is packed with public relations professionals and lobbyists who work for foreign governments, many of them with reputations for corruption and human rights abuses.

Another fact is that the registration process under FARA  is often altogether ignored or treated as an afterthought, with many registrants filing retroactive registrations, or only supplying partial submissions.

An internal DoJ audit of the NSD’s enforcement and administration of FARA, conducted in 2016, found that only 23 percent of filings from 2013 to 2015 were filed on time—62 percent were submitted late.[6] Likewise, only 44 percent submitted their supplemental statements in a timely fashion, and 10 percent did not submit any follow-up supplemental materials.

“The Congress didn’t necessarily want to have a strong enforcement mechanism, ” said Kenneth Doyle, the Senior Editor for Bloomberg’s Money & Politics Report. ” There are principal reasons in terms of the First Amendment and not wanting to be too tough on people’s ability to petition the government, and then there are practical reasons of not wanting to be too tough on lobbyists who are important to the way that Washington works. I think they did it deliberately, saying, ‘Well, we’ll have a disclosure system, but it’s not going to have a strong enforcement mechanism and we’ll see what happens.”