Much ado about nothing: Joaquin Castro and Trump campaign contributors

Well, cry me a river.

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This past Tuesday, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D – TX), brother of Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro, posted on Twitter the names of 44 San Antonio, TX residents who have contributed the maximum allowed under federal law to President Trump’s reelection campaign.

“Their contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as ‘invaders,’ “ the tweet said.

From the firestorm of criticism that erupted, you’d think Castro paid a group of Antifa thugs to attack conservative journalist Andy Ngo.

“Democrats want to talk about inciting violence? This naming of private citizens and their employers is reckless and irresponsible,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. “He is endangering the safety of people he is supposed to be representing.”

“People should not be personally targeted for their political views, period,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was shot and during a Congressional baseball game two years ago, posted on Twitter.  “This isn’t a game. It’s dangerous, and lives are at stake. I know this firsthand.”

Seven Republican members of the House Freedom Caucus, which includes many of the more conservative House Republicans, have even called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate Castro for his Twitter post.

“Posting a target list of private citizens simply for supporting his political opponent is antithetical to our principles and serves to suppress the free speech and free association rights of Americans,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to the Ethics panel Friday.

“Joaquin Castro shared personal info on Trump donors. Despicable!,” Donald Trump Jr. said in a text message to the president’s supporters.

Cry me a river!

The fact is all the information Castro tweeted is readily available to the public.

Federal Election Commission (FEC) guidelines provide that individuals can contribute up to $2,800 to federal candidates per election, with a primary and general election counting as separate elections. That means a donor can give $5,600 combined. Cash contributions of $50 or less can be anonymous.

Once contributions add up to more than $200 during a two-year cycle to a particular candidate, campaigns are required to report the donations to the FEC. Reports must include the amount donated, the date of receipt, and the contributor’s name, address, occupation, and employer.

All that data is then posted on the FEC’s website, which can be easily accessed by me, you, Tim Murtaugh, Steve Scalise, the House Freedom Caucus,  Donald Trump Jr. and anybody else, even the Russians.

The non-partisan non-profit Center for Responsive Politics also aggregates the FEC data in multiple formats on the website Open Secrets.

So, if you want fake political news, here it is.

Lobbying for foreign interests: where are the patriots?

 

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All for a few coins.

Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security advisor, had a lucrative $530,000 lobbying contract with Inovo BV, a Netherlands-based consulting firm owned by a Turkish national.

Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s former business partner Rick Gates have pleaded not guilty to federal charges, including failing to register for lobbying they did for Viktor Yanukovych, the thoroughly corrupt former president of Ukraine, and his pro-Russian political party. A popular uprising ousted Yanukovych in 2014.

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Anti-government protesters clash with the police at the central Kiev square in the Ukraine

Thousands of Syrians were dead and Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey were hosting Syrian refugees as Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, pursued a war to new heights of brutality.

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Syrian refugees.

But the war and refugees weren’t U.S. lobbying firm Brown Lloyd James’ concern. For a fee of $5,000 a month, the firm promoted a positive image for Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma. The firm’s efforts paid off when American Vogue magazine published “A Rose in the Desert”, a fawning article about Asma, her British roots, designer fashions and good works.

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“Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies.” Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert, Vogue.

The Vogue story praised the Assads as a “wildly democratic” family-focused couple who vacationed in Europe, fostered Christianity, were at ease with American celebrities, made theirs the “safest country in the Middle East,” and wanted to give Syria a “brand essence.”

American lobbying firms and so-called think tanks have shown time and time again that they have no compunction about fronting for vile foreign donors or representing foreign countries trying to minimize criticism of their human rights abuses or advance positions potentially inimical to American interests.

 

At least 77 U.S. firms have represented 170 governmental or pseudo-governmental entities of the Soviet Union/Russia trying to influence U.S. policy since 1950, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Early this year, the Egyptian government hired Washington, D.C.-based firm Weber Shandwick and then-subsidiary Cassidy & Associates to enhance public perception of Egypt and its intelligence agency.

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Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi

Since Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi took office as president, the internal intelligence agency, Amn al-Watany, has lived up to its reputation for harassing veteran activists, worker organizations, professional unions and what remains of the student activist movement, according to World Politics Review, which analyzes critical global trends. Prominent dissidents—including iconic figures from the 2011 uprisings, such as the leaders of the April 6 Youth Movement—continue to be held in prisons or are subject to surveillance and control by the state security forces.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) governs registration of agents for foreign interests. In its 2017 FARA filings, BLJ Worldwide said it represents the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) a non-profit based in Hong Kong that describes itself as engaging in promoting relations and facilitating exchanges between China and the United States.

According to the filing, BLJ was very busy promoting China’s interests in the first half of 2017. The firm supported trips to China by reporters from all these U.S. media outlets: Slate; Quartz NFR; The Daily Beast; NBC News; Bloomberg; Businessweek; The New Yorker; The Des Moines Register; the Grand Rapids Free Press; the Chicago Tribune; and Independent Journal Review.

BLJ also hosted a dinner for representatives from CNN, Financial Times, the Economist, Associated Press, Bloomberg and CNBC.

AL-Monitor, which analyzes the trends shaping the future of the Middle East, won the 2017 Online Journalism Award for Explanatory Reporting for a series on how the Gulf States have been throwing money left and right in an effort to undercut Qatar in the eyes of President Donald Trump and undo Obama’s fledgling reconciliation with Iran.

According to Maplight, a non-profit which works to reveal the influence of money in politics, lobbyists for foreign interests gave more than $4.5 million to federal lawmakers and candidates during the 2016 election. Foreign lobbyists and their firms’ political action committees were also responsible for packaging a total of $5.9 million in donations for candidates and party committees, through an influence-enhancing tactic known as “bundling.”

Because the donations come from foreign governments’ U.S.-based lobbyists, they effectively circumvent American laws designed to bar direct foreign donations, Maplight reported. Under federal law, foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to any federal, state, or local campaigns, or political parties. But foreign governments frequently hire U.S. citizens to represent their interests, and those people face no such contribution ban.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, thinks he has a way to address all this. He wants to strengthen FARA. To that end, he has introduced legislation that would substantially increase FARA disclosure requirements.

But in my view the issue isn’t just disclosure. It’s also the willingness of American businesses to put the interests of foreign powers over those of the United States.

As citizens of the United States we should respect others and try to understand different viewpoints, but that doesn’t mean American lobbyists should take foreign money to advance the influence of foreign thugs and undermine U.S. interests.

Have they no shame?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Path to Riches: Ron Wyden’s Journey

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), an outspoken critic of the Republican tax reform plan for including gifts to the wealthy, is one of the wealthy himself. A review of his finances shows he has done darn well in his 36-year Congressional career.

When he first ran for the House of Representatives in 1980 at the age of 31, he had been earning a modest living teaching gerontology and serving as co-director of the Oregon chapter of the Gray Panthers, a senior advocacy group.

He served in the House from 1981 to 1996, then won a seat in the Senate, where he has served since 1996. In other words, he has spent almost his entire his adult life in Congress.

By 2005, Wyden’s net worth was estimated at $4,929,507 by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a non-profit, nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C., that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy.

That same year, he married Nancy Bass, a wealthy co-owner of the well-known Strand Book Store in New York City.

By 2010, CRP estimated Wyden’s net worth at $6,847,018.

By 2015, Wyden was the 18th wealthiest Senator, with an estimated net worth of $13,070,041, according to the CRP.

When members of Congress file their annual personal financial reports, they’re allowed to list the value of their assets and liabilities in broad ranges,” according to CRP. “In practical terms, that obscures exactly how much each member of Congress is worth. And the larger the value of the asset, the broader the allowable range.

To account for those ranges, CRP’s researchers establish a minimum and maximum net worth, and then use the average as an estimated net worth for each member of Congress.”

Other than his Strand assets, Wyden’s 10 largest assets held for investment or the production of income were:

Asset                                                                 Minimum Value           Maximum Value

   
Edith Wyden Trust FBO Ronald L Wyden Trust [Amended Report] Brokerage, IRA, 401k $500,001 $1,000,000
DFA US Large Company I [Amended Report] Mutual Fund $500,001 $1,000,000
Oregon College Savings Plan Age 5-8 Age Based Port [Amended Report] Brokerage, IRA, 401k $200,002 $500,000
Oregon College Savings Plan [Amended Report] Brokerage, IRA, 401k $200,002 $500,000
Merrill Lynch Deposit Program [Amended Report] Cash/Money Market/Savings/Checking $250,001 $500,000
Fidelity Investment Cash Brokerage Account [Amended Report] Brokerage, IRA, 401k $250,001 $500,000
American Funds Europacific Growth Fund [Amended Report] Mutual Fund $250,001 $500,000
US Senate FCU Money Market Account [Amended Report] Cash/Money Market/Savings/Checking $100,001 $250,000
US Savings Bond Series [Amended Report] Government Bond $100,001 $250,000
TIAA/CREF IRA Cash Accounts [Amended Report] Cash/Money Market/Savings/Checking $100,001 $250,000

 

Source: OpenSecrets.org

 

 

 

Lake Oswego man a big player in charter school movement

 

The News & Observer newspaper of Raleigh, North Carolina, recently ran a comprehensive story about Bryan’s actions with respect to charter schools and conservative groups:

A rich donor’s money backed NC’s charter takeover law, and his school network expands

BY LYNN BONNER, JANE STANCILL AND DAVID RAYNOR, OCTOBER 09, 2017 10:00 AM

Politicians are laundering Harvey Weinstein’s filthy lucre

Disingenuous – “Not candid or sincere; giving a false appearance of simple frankness”

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) Democrat of New York, is shocked, shocked to find that Harvey Weinstein is a serial sexual harasser of women (And even more egregious, the New Yorker reported today that three women had told a writer there that Weinstein raped them). So shocked is Schumer that he’s going to show his purity by getting rid of the money Weinstein has given to him over the years.

“Sen. Schumer is donating all of the contributions to several charities supporting women,” Matt House, a spokesman for the Democratic leader told the Washington Post.

Other Democrats have gotten religion, too. Lawmakers who have said they will be donating Weinstein’s contributions include: Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

No word yet from dozen of other Democrats who have gleefully taken Harvey Weinstein’s money over the years. The Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit, nonpartisan research group that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy, has a record of those donations.

According to the Center, recipients of Weinstein’s money include the Democratic Party of Oregon, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and such Democratic luminaries as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and even, in an odd twist, the Midwest Values PAC. Weinstein has also made donations to the Clinton Foundation. The Foundation’s website  says Weinstein gave $100,001 to $250,000 through June 2017.

Weinstein has also served as a bundler, collecting contributions from other wealthy donors. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he was a bundler for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, raising millions for both.

But here’s the rub.

The contrite Democrats are being more than a little disingenuous.

Many of the Democrats who say they will be re-gifting Weinstein’s contributions plan to give the money to organizations that support Democrats. In other words, the money’s going to be laundered through liberal groups right back to Democrats and their causes.

The Democratic National Committee, for example, has said it will give some of Weinstein’s donations to Emily’s List, Emerge America and Higher Heights. Emily’s List’s entire focus is on electing more pro-choice Democratic women. Emerge America’s focus is on increasing the number of Democratic women leaders in public office. Higher Heights works to elect Black women, a primary constituency of the Democratic Party (94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016).

Chuck Schumer has said he’ll donate Weinstein’s money to women’s rights groups. You can safely bet that means liberal women’s rights groups that support the Democrats’ agenda, not the National Pro-Life Alliance or The Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative think tank.

Most money laundering is dangerous because it can lead to a criminal investigation. But don’t count on any of the Democrats caught in Harvey Weinstein’s web to face such consequences. They’re politicians. They’re protected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wall St: embedded like a tick in politics

For all the talk about Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street, she’s hardly the only presidential candidate Wall Street is investing in.

No matter who wins the Democratic and Republican nominations and the November election, the securities and investment industry will be embedded like a tick in Washington.

occupy-wall-street-political-cartoon-lobbyistsThe industry is one of the top interest groups supporting members of the 113th Congress so far during the 2015-2016 election cycle, with $157,708,874 in contributions that have been spread on both sides of the aisle like honey.

For example, the campaign committee and leadership PAC of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have taken in $2,244,256 while the campaign committee and leadership PAC of Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) have collected $1,342,094.

In 2015, the securities and investment industry contributed $102 million to all the candidates and their super PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In fact, the industry led all industries tracked by the Center in terms of contributions.

This continues a pattern begun in the 2012 election cycle when the securities and investment industry became the single largest source of political contributions. In that cycle, the industry was responsible for $283 million in contributions, most of it coming from individuals who work in the industries, rather than corporate PACs, according to the Center.

Considering just the current candidates, the industry was the top donor to Clinton ($17.2 million) and Rubio ($9.9 million) in 2015 when their campaign committees and super PACs are combined. In addition, the industry’s contributions represented a significant share of total contributions to Cruz ($12.2 million).

The industry was no slouch in supporting some of the candidates who have dropped out either. Ron Paul took in $4.3 million and Fiorina $2.8 million from the industry, though the industry poured the most money down the drain with Bush, contributing $34 million to his campaign.

So don’t count on popular angst about Wall Street’s role translating into diminished influence for Wall Street after the 2016 presidential election.

Just sayin’.

Hillary wants campaign finance reform….later.

Frankly, it makes me sick.

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Hillary Clinton says she wants aggressive campaign finance reform to end the stranglehold that wealthy interests have over our political system and restore a government of, by, and for the people—not just the wealthy and well-connected.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee are working arm in arm to jigger campaign finance rules to spur more donations from fat cats. Maybe they figure nobody cares.

 

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What difference at this point does it make?

In 2008, when Obama was running for president, he set in place restrictions that banned donations to the Democratic National Committee from federal lobbyists and political action committees. The Washington Post just reported that the Committee has rolled back those restrictions, opening up the floodgates for more big money to go to the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee between the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party.

The Victory Fund collects money from big donors and then distributes it to Clinton’s campaign and 33 state Democratic Party committees. According to the Post, a recent Clinton solicitation asked supporters to give up to $366,100 to the fund. Her campaign then received $2,700 of the total for the primary period, while the rest went to the DNC and 33 state party committees.

The largest donor to the Victory Fund to date is the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, which has donated $366,400. Portola Valley, CA philanthropist Laure Woods, president of the Lyme Foundation, has also donated $750,000 to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton, according to OpenSecrets.org.

In December 2015, NPR reported that Clinton can now ask donors to give nearly three-quarters of a million dollars each. Here’s how:

According to NPR, Donors who are rich — and willing — can give $5,400 to the Clinton campaign, $33,400 to the Democratic National Committee and $10,000 to each of the state parties, about $360,000 in all. A joint fundraising committee lets the donor do it all with a single check.

On Jan. 1, the contribution limits reset for the party committees, and the Hillary Victory Fund can go back to its donors for another $350,000 in party funds.

All told, a single donor can give more than $700,000 for the election. That’s a hell of  lot more than most of us could ever afford.

OpenSecrets.org recently revealed how complicated and corrupt this whole process has become. Open Secrets noted that the Hillary Victory Fund reported taking in $26.9 million during 2015 and has transferred $7.4 million to the participants as of Feb. 19, 2016. The largest single contributions to this joint effort are not $86,000 (which would have been roughly the limit had the rules not been struck down) but rather $358,400 –including $2,700 to the Clinton campaign for the primary and $2,700 for the general along with $33,400 to the DNC and as much as $320,000 to state party committees.

These contributions would seem to have improved the financial health of many state party organizations that would never have received support from many of their donors without the JFC process.

But the way the contributions were used tells another story, OpenSecrets said. Virtually none of the $1.86 million given to state parties as of mid-February2016 spent more than one night with its designated recipient. In nearly every case, all of the funds given to state parties by the Hillary Victory Fund were immediately sent to the DNC. This structure has allowed a small number of elite Democratic donors to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to the DNC for the purpose of affecting the presidential campaign.

If you are a federal lobbyist, the revised DNC rules amount to a shakedown. Donate more or your failure to do so will be remembered. If you’re a regular Joe (or Jane), you’re out of luck.