Despite pledges, politicians fail to shed tainted donations. Surprise!

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says he’ll offset $7,000 in campaign contributions he’s received from accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein by donating an equivalent amount to anti-sex trafficking and anti-violence against women groups.

Don’t count on it.

In 2017, when multiple women went public with accusations that Harvey Weinstein had sexually harassed them, Democratic politicians, including Schumer, leaped to disassociate themselves from him. In particular, they promised to donate Weinstein’s now-tainted campaign contributions to charity.

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Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

Schumer was prominent among numerous politicians scurrying to say they would make amends. Federal Election Commission (FEC) records show that Weinstein donated $20,700 to the Friends of Schumer campaign finance committee during 2013-2017.

“Sen. Schumer is donating all of the (Weinstein) contributions to several charities supporting women,” Matt House, a spokesman for Sen. Schumer, told the Washington Post in October 2017.

weinstein 4

Harvey Weinstein

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel praised Schumer  for doing the right thing.

She was too quick in her praise.

FEC records reveal that Schumer’s campaign committee didn’t donate one thin dime to charities supporting women in 2017 or 2018.

During that same period, Schumer’s committee also received contributions from the DNC Services Corp (Democratic National Committee), to which Weinstein had donated $203,458.

There’s no evidence that Schumer’s committee re-distributed any of that money to women’s groups either.

To its apparent credit, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) said it would donate $30,000 of the funds it had received from Weinstein to three non-profits:

  • Emily’s List, a political action committee that aims to help elect pro-choice Democratic female candidates to office.
  • Emerge America, an organization that recruits, trains and provides a network to Democratic women who want to run for office, and
  • Higher Heights, a national organization working to elect Black women, influence elections and advance progressive policies.

FEC records of the DNC’s expenditures in 2017-2018 reveal that it lived up to its promise.

On Oct. 30, 2017, the DNC sent Emily’s List $10,290.15.  (The DNC also sent $5,000 to Emily’s List on May 25, 2017, but that was before the Weinstein scandal erupted.)

The DNC also sent $10,290.15 to both Emerge America and Higher Heights on Oct. 30, 2017. It sent $1250 to Higher Heights on Sept. 29.

But there was a hitch. The DNC collected $300,000 in donations from Weinstein, not $30,000. It kept the other $270,000.

Other Democratic politicians, including some who are now running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, also had received funds from Weinstein and also made a lot of promises to send the money to deserving non-profits. The announced recipients, however, were largely organizations that would launder the money right back to Democrats and their causes.

Even then, not all the politicians followed through on their commitments.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D- MA) said she’d donate $5,000 she received from Weinstein to Casa Myrna, a nonprofit group in Massachusetts. The FEC’s records on expenditures of the Elizabeth Warren Action Fund during 2017-2018 don’t show any payments to Casa Myrna.
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said she would donate $10,000 received from Weinstein to RAAIN, (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), an anti-sexual violence organization. No such donation is reported in FEC records of expenditures by Gillibrand’s 2017-2018 campaign finance committees.
  • Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) said he’d send Weinstein’s donations to the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center. According to OpenSecrets.org, Weinstein donated a total of $17,300 to Franken and his Midwest Values PAC. None of Franken’s campaign finance committees recorded on FEC.org show a donation to the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center during 2017-2018.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said she would give $5,000 she received from Weinstein to a women’s rights nonprofit, Equal Rights Advocates. FEC records on Harris’ campaign finance committees do not show such a donation during 2017-2018.
  • Bob Casey (D-PA) said he’d give $2,190 he received from Weinstein to the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. FEC records on Casey’s campaign finance committees do not show such a donation.
  • The Clinton Foundation’s website says Weinstein has donated between $100,001 – $250,000 to the Foundation. In Oct. 2017, the Foundation announced it had no plans to return Weinstein’s contributions, saying they had already been spent on charitable programs. According to the Foundation’s Form 990 report to the IRS, it had net assets of $323,470,879 at the end of 2017.

Looks like a lot of politicians’ promises are no more than empty public relations gestures.  Surprise!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not ANOTHER Grandiose Presidential Center and Foundation!

The Clinton Foundation isn’t going to be the last money-grubbing institution established by a former president. Another foundation money race is already on.

Hours before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Barak Obama posted a two-minute video on Obama.org calling on Americans to contribute to the Obama Foundation which will oversee the construction of the Barack Obama Presidential Center in Chicago.

obamas-chicago-library

The Obama Foundation will “focus on developing the next generation of citizens — and what it means to be a good citizen in the 21st century,” according to obama.org.

The Obama Foundation will try to raise money from the public to build and help maintain the Barack Obama Presidential Center. The Foundation has already raised $7.3 million at the end of 2015. The fundraising total for 2016 hasn’t been disclosed. The Center is expected to cost $1 billion.

“We once held the office of president, as well as its occupant, in high regard,” Anthony Clark wrote in his book, The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity, and Enshrine Their Legacies. “As we have lowered our opinions of both, presidential libraries, consequently, have grown larger and more powerful—and, not incidentally, less truthful.”

Writing in Salon, Clark said presidential centers tend to be “proud, defensive, and a little self-absorbed” that eventually become theme parks with declining numbers of visitors.

With that in mind, it is discouraging to see the number of extravagant presidential centers continue to grow. Do we really need another library and recklessly large foundation funded by influence seekers and built by a legacy-hungry ex-president?

Unfortunately, each successive administration seems to think its library needs to be more grandiose than its predecessor.

The 135,000 sq. ft. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, including endowment of an Institute at Harvard for the study of politics and public affairs, cost $20.8 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $72.1 million.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs, the largest of all the presidential libraries, cost $60 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be equivalent to a little more than $130 million now.

Obama’s $1 billion project would be twice what George W. Bush raised for his library and its programs.

It would also be more than the $165 million spent on William J. Clinton’s Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Obama’s massive fundraising effort may well lead to all the same conflicts and questions associated with the Clinton Foundation.

It’s time to stop this arms race of ever-expanding presidential libraries and foundations.

Troubling questions: media donations to the Clinton Foundation

clintonfoundation

While listening to Oregon Public Broadcasting the other day I heard an interviewer mention that Public Radio International (PRI) had given money to the Clinton Foundation.

A review of the Clinton Foundation’s records reveals that PRI has, in fact, donated $10,000 – $25,000 to the Foundation. The purpose of the donation is not given.

Talk about bizarre. A major non-profit media organization that relies on donations itself, turns right around and gives some of its limited resources to another non-profit, the Clinton Foundation.

I asked PRI to explain, but they didn’t respond.

In the process of researching the issue, I learned something even more disturbing. PRI is one of dozens of media organizations that have donated to the Clinton Foundation, creating or maintaining questionable symbiotic relationships.

One of the other media donors is Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), a non-profit provider of programs to public television stations that relies on donations itself.

Media, which harp on their commitment to ethical behavior, clearly have a problem here. How can they not see it?

Last week the Clinton Foundation said it won’t accept donations from corporations or foreign entities if Hillary Clinton is elected president. A halt to accepting media donations should be adopted, too.

Other media-related donors to the Clinton Foundation include:

$1,000,000-$5,000,000

 Carlos Slim, Telecom magnate and largest shareholder of The New York Times Company

 James Murdoch, Chief Operating Officer of 21st Century Fox

 Newsman Media, Florida-based conservative media network

 Thomson Reuters, Reuters news service owner

 

$500,000-$1,000,000

 Google

 News Corporation Foundation

 

$250,000-$500,000

 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Publisher

 Richard Mellon Scaife, Owner of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

 

$100,000-$250,000

 Bloomberg Philanthropies

 Howard Stringer, Former CBS, CBS News and Sony executive

 Intermountain West Communications Company, Local television affiliate owner (formerly Sunbelt Communications)

 

$50,000-$100,000

 Bloomberg L.P.

 Discovery Communications Inc.

 Mort Zuckerman, Owner of New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report

 Time Warner Inc., Owner of CNN parent company Turner Broadcasting

George Stephanopoulos, Communications director and senior adviser for policy and strategy to President Clinton

 

$25,000-$50,000

 AOL

 HBO

 Hollywood Foreign Press Association

 Viacom

 

$10,000-$25,000

 Knight Foundation

Turner Broadcasting, Parent company of CNN

 Twitter

 

$5,000-$10,000

 Comcast, Parent company of NBCUniversal

 NBC Universal, Parent company of NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC

 Public Broadcasting Service

 

$1,000-$5,000

 Robert Allbritton, Owner of POLITICO

 

$250-$1,000

 AOL Huffington Post Media Group

 Hearst Corporation

 Judy Woodruff, PBS Newshour co-anchor and managing editor

 The Washington Post Company

 

Give the Laureate money back, Bill (Clinton)

Priorities USA Action, a major super-PAC supporting Hillary Clinton, just returned a $200,000 contribution it received illegally from a construction company with federal government contracts. The super PAC returned the money after the contribution was disclosed by the Center for Public Integrity.

Hillary’s husband, Bill, should follow Priorities’ example and give up the $16.5 million he collected from Laureate Education Inc., a for-profit company with a sketchy record. Returning the money would also be consistent with Hillary’s condemnation of underperforming and deceptive for-profit education institutions.

Selling out as a corporate shill has rarely been so lucrative as it has been for ex-president Bill Clinton.

In 2010, he signed on to become an “Honorary Chancellor” for Laureate International Universities, part of Baltimore, MD-based Laureate Education Inc.

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Former President Bill Clinton speaking as honorary Chancellor at Laureate Education

Laureate has 86 schools serving about 1 million students online and on physical campuses in 28 countries across the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

bill-hillary-clinton-laureate

In return for serving as a front man for the privately held company, Clinton collected $16.5 million between 2010 and 2014. Laureate also has donated between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation.

While Clinton worked for Laureate, he and the company consistently refused to say how much he was being paid, but an analysis of the Clinton’s tax returns revealed the numbers.

In the statement released with their tax returns, Hillary Clinton said of their financial success, “…we owe it to the opportunities America provides.” That’s one way to look at it.

Laureate aggressively marketed its relationship with Bill Clinton and it paid off.

New York Magazine described Bill Clinton as the “face” of Laureate. When Laureate secured approval to build a new for-profit university, Torrens University Australia, in Adelaide, South Australia (where for-profits are called “private” institutions), the headline in The Australian newspaper read: “First private university in 24 years led by Clinton.”

Bill Clinton resigned his Honorary Chancellor position at Laureate in April 2015.

If he’d done his homework before hooking up with Laureate, he’d have found a lot of reasons not to sign on (aside from avoiding blatant money-grubbing).

As New York Magazine put it, “While some of the company’s schools are highly ranked, others have been accused of low admissions and academic standards, “turbocharging enrollment” to boost revenues, and deceptiveness about tuition costs — the same troubling practices that caused the Obama administration to try to stanch the flow of federal-student-loan dollars to for-profit schools in the United States.”

So, Bill, a little advice. Rid yourself of this stain by returning the $16.5 million to Laureate or (preferably) donate it to a worthy education program (Not the Clinton Foundation). It’s the right thing to do.

 

 

 

Will you vote for Hillary… or for a woman?

Alex Conant, Marco Rubio’s communications director during his presidential race, recently sat down with the Huffington Post to discuss the campaign.

Conant: “Look, I think what we saw last night (June 7) is what we’re going to see from the Clinton campaign every day from now until November. Which is, they’re going to make this election a referendum on whether or not you want a woman in the White House. Not whether or not you want Hillary Clinton in the White House. I think that’s her only message.

Huffington Post: Do you think it plays?

Conant: It’s better than asking people to vote for Hillary.

hillaryFirstFemalePres

 

This illuminating conversation took place the day after the California and New Jersey primaries, when Clinton picked up enough delegates to become the presumptive nominee after focusing heavily on being the first female candidate of a major political party.

In sync with Conant’s observation, Hillary triumphantly claimed the Democratic nomination, focusing on the “first woman” theme.

“Thanks to you, we’ve reached a milestone, the first time in our nation’s history that a woman will be a major party’s nominee,” she announced to applause at a campaign event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Responding in lockstep, media across the country announced Hillary’s victories with stories emphasizing that she would be the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination:

Clinton claims milestone as first female major-party nominee, wins California primary. Los Angeles Times

Hillary Clinton’s historic moment. Hillary Clinton — former first lady, former U.S. senator, and former secretary of state — has become the first woman to capture a major-party nomination for president. CNN

‘History made’: Clinton claims nomination. Hillary Clinton triumphantly claimed the Democratic nomination for president on Tuesday, calling for party unity to stop Donald Trump as she became the first woman in U.S. history to lead a major-party ticket. Politico

Hillary Clinton becomes first female presidential nominee from a major party after securing enough delegates. Daily News.

Following the party line, when Oprah Winfrey endorsed Hillary for President on June 7 (Wow! That was a surprise), she highlighted that it is time for voters to elect the nation’s first female president.

“I’m with her,” she told Nancy O’Dell of ‘Entertainment Tonight’. “It’s a seminal moment for women. What this says is that there is no ceiling. That ceiling has gone ‘boom,’ you know?”

 

It’s no secret that Hillary is a damaged and flawed candidate, so the “first woman” approach makes a lot of sense.

Her e-mail scandal may be fairly recent, but she is associated with decades of personal and political blunders and scandals that have led a high level of Clinton fatigue among the public.

“She has always been awkward and uninspiring on the stump,” a senior Democratic consultant once told the Washington Post. “Hillary has Bill’s baggage and now her own as secretary of state — without Bill’s personality, eloquence or warmth.”

The Democratic party has also known for a very long time it is confronting a serious Hillary trust gap.

In a July 2015 Quinnipiac University national poll, 57 percent of respondents said Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, one of the worst scores among all the top candidates at the time. In a subsequent Quinnipiac University poll, “liar” was the first word that came to mind more than any other in an open-ended question when voters were asked what they thought of Clinton, followed by “dishonest” and “untrustworthy”.

In a more recent Washington Post-ABC News national poll, 57 percent of people said they didn’t believe Hillary was honest and trustworthy.

But Hillary’s problems as a candidate go even deeper than that.

“Voters see her as an extraordinarily cynical, power-hungry insider,” James Poulos said in The Week magazine on Feb. 2. “She is out for herself, not out for Americans. Voters know it.”

This ties in with a wide perception that Hillary and Bill are just plain greedy, what with them hauling off $190,000 worth of china, flatware, rugs, televisions, sofas and other gifts when they moved out of the White House, taking money from all sorts of unsavory people and foreign countries for their Foundation, and charging exorbitant amounts for speeches.

David Axelrod, a political consultant for Obama, noted in his book, “Believer”, that Hillary has two other main weaknesses: she’s a polarizing rather than a “healing figure,” and she has a hard time selling herself as the “candidate of the future” given her checkered past and long political resume.

So here we are, facing the possibility Hillary will become the “first woman” president not because of, but despite, herself (and maybe because her opponent is another deeply flawed candidate).

Just goes to show that Clarence Darrow was right. “When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it,” he said.

 

 

Benefit corporations: no sure thing

Lots of progressives in Oregon are big on public affirmations of goodness. That’s why they love the idea of benefit corporations, such as Neil Kelly, Rogue Creamery, Metropolitan Group, Medolac and Good Clean Love.

But before Oregonians conclude that benefit corporations are by their nature more socially responsible businesses, think again, and do some rigorous research. The fact is, in some cases the designation is being used as little more than a way to add a patina of respectability to otherwise questionable firms.

For a truly inauthentic attempt at sincerity and goodness, look no further than Laureate Education, Inc. It announced plans earlier this year its plans to do a $1 billion initial public offering (IPO) that would make it the first publicly traded benefit corporation.

If you’ve heard of Laureate, it may be because of its connection to former president Bill Clinton. In 2010, he signed on to become an “Honorary Chancellor”, or paid shill to be more accurate, for Laureate. In return for serving as a front man for the privately held for-profit education company, Clinton collected $16.5 million between 2010 and 2014. Laureate also has donated between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation.

In its IPO prospectus, Laureate says, “we may take actions that we believe will benefit our students and the surrounding communities, even if those actions do not maximize our short- or medium-term financial results.” There’s little in its history, however, that suggests such an approach is part of the company’s DNA.

“We recognized the enormous importance that society places on education as a public good,” said Douglas L. Becker, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Laureate. “This inspired us to create a culture that combines the ‘head’ of a business enterprise with the ‘heart’ of a non-profit organization. “

With one million students studying online and on campuses at 88 institutions in 28 countries, Laureate is currently a private company, but it plans to go public. The company grew out of the K-12 tutoring company, Sylvan Learning Systems, in 2004 when Sylvan was spun off.

Laureate was taken private in a $3.8 billion deal in 2007. Investors included KKR & Co., Soros Fund Management, Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors, Citi Private Equity, Sterling Capital and others, all investors whose commitment to corporate citizenship and the public good is unclear.

Registration as a public benefit corporation is also no guarantee that the governance of a company will be friendly to shareholders.

Steven Davidoff Solomon, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, has pointed out that Laureate’s form of governance is especially unfriendly to shareholders. While Laureate is listing its stock as a public benefit corporation, it will also be going public with dual-class stock, which will maintain its current owners’ control over the company. This includes K.K.R. which will indirectly hold a greater than 10 percent interest in the company.

This doesn’t make sense, Solomon argues. K.K.R. is out to sell its stake at the highest price possible, not benefit other causes. So one has to wonder how strongly Laureate will even pay heed to the public benefit standard.

Then there’s the question of whether Laureate’s schools operate in the best interests of their students.

It’s 5 schools in the U.S. include: NewSchool of Architecture & Design, San Diego, CA; Santa Fe University of Art & Design, Santa Fe, NM; Kendall College, Chicago, Il; University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, St. Augustine, FL; and the online-only Walden University, Minneapolis, MN.

newschool

Consider their records on the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, an online system designed to help students, parents and advisers make better college choices.

For example, according to the Scorecard:

  • The average annual net cost of attending NewSchool is about twice the national average, only 50 percent of students return after their first year and the graduation rate after six years is only 33 percent.
  • The average annual net cost of attending Kendall College is more than twice the national average, only 57 percent of students return after their first year and the graduation rate after six years is only 45 percent.
  • At the Santa Fe University of Art & Design, only 31 percent of the students graduate within six years and only about half of those graduates subsequently earned, on average, more than those with only a high school diploma.

Laureate also operated The National Hispanic University in East San Jose, CA, but it closed in August 23, 2015. The San Jose Mercury News attributed the closure to the U.S. Department of Education reducing financial aid and online opportunities for students enrolled in programs that did not offer good prospects for employment. Other media reported that the school also failed to meet its goals in enrollment for online coursework.

It will be interesting to see how this company, that has a history of questionable payments to Bill Clinton, is $4.7 billion in debt, is burdened with high interest payments, has lost money every year since 2010 and has a habit of saddling its students with debt and low graduation rates pulls off its public benefit corporation charade.

It may be a hard lesson for a lot of true believers in benefit corporations.

Pay to Play: the Keystone XL pipeline

Jeff Koterba cartoon for February 5, 2014 "Obama Keystone Pipeline"

President Barack Obama announced today his administration’s denial of TransCanada’s permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

“It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel used by both parties rather than a serious policy matter,” Obama said.

He ought to know. It was his administration that turned it into a dollar-driven political football.

TransCanada Corp submitted an initial application to build the project to the U.S. State Department on September 19, 2008, 2605 days ago.

TransCanada knew the review process might take some time, but expected it to be generally non-controversial and to end with approval.

But nothing in ideology-riven Washington, D.C. is fast and simple anymore. Thanks to politics and the shrieking of special interest groups, the project became a pipe dream.

It’s been a hard lesson for TransCanada – and an expensive one that illustrates how lobbying and political contributions have become such a growth industry.

When TransCanada submitted its application it didn’t even have a full-time lobbyist in Washington, D.C. It took the company almost four years to open a Washington office in June 2012.

By that time environmentalist opponents had pounced, raising the issue to political and public prominence. In November 2011, for example, thousands of protestors encircled the White House and demanded that President Obama deny TransCanada’s application.

“…in just a few years, the political debate over Keystone has exploded into an entire sector of the Washington influence economy. Funded by multibillion-dollar oil companies, labor unions and ultrarich environmentalists, the fight has filtered into every crack and crevice of the nation’s capital,” Politico reported.

The Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets, says 163 clients reported lobbying on specific issues related to the Keystone XL pipeline in filings covering 2006 to the present.

Exactly how much was spent by both sides of the acrimonious conflict is unknown, but Politico guessed it was well into the tens of millions of dollars.

In 2008, TransCanada reported spending just $190,000 on lobbying, Open Secrets reported.. Since filing its application, TransCanada has spent a total of $7,160,000 just on lobbying.

That’s on top of all the political contributions to members of Congress by the oil and gas industry, much of which has been tied to the Keystone pipeline in recent years. According to Open Secrets, that totaled $23,891,355 in the 2010 election cycle, $36,756,574 in the 2012 cycle and $31,381,383 in the 2014 cycle, overwhelmingly to Republicans.

Even the Canadian government and the Clinton Foundation have gotten in on the action. In 2014, Canada’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development agency, a pipeline advocate, donated $480,000 to the Clinton Foundation in anticipation of Hillary Clinton’s run for the presidency.

What a waste. In the end, Obama did what he planned to do all along.