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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump’s seven words: Who you gonna believe?

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It’s not easy being right.

The Washington Post reported on Dec. 6 that, “The Trump administration has informed multiple divisions within the Department of Health and Human Services that they should avoid using certain words or phrases in official documents being drafted for next year’s budget.”

According to the Post, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were told seven words or phrases were prohibited in budget documents: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

I’ve no doubt the two reporters who wrote the Post’s story, Lena H. Sun and Juliet Eipperin, were roundly celebrated for the scoop by their colleagues in the newsroom. It’s also likely that the Post was pleased to see its story picked up by multiple other major and minor newspaper, television and social media outlets.

I thought it was fascinating, too, partly because it tied in with all the current discussion about the misuse of words and the 1984 parallels.

“We’re becoming Venezuela, where doctors are warned not to diagnose a patient as suffering from ‘malnutrition’, likely because it would highlight the widespread hunger in the country where, according to a horrific story in the New York Times, starving children are regularly brought to hospital emergency rooms,” I wrote in a post on my blog.

But was the Washington Post’s story true?

On Dec. 18, National Review, a conservative publication said emphatically, “No”.

In a story titled, “No, HHS Did Not ‘Ban Words’,” Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs, a quarterly journal of essays on domestic policy and politics, forcefully challenged the Post’s version of events.

Levin, after talking with some HHS officials, argued that the budget office at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent divisions of the department a style guide to use in their budget-proposal language and “congressional justification” documents for the coming year. That style guide set out some words to be avoided, Levin said, because they are frequently misused or regularly overused in departmental documents. “The style guide does not prohibit the use of these terms, but it says they should be used only when alternatives (which it proposes in some cases) cannot be,” Levin wrote.

Why avoid certain terms? “The common practice of substituting the term “vulnerable” for “poor”, for example, has a long history of annoying some Republicans on Capitol Hill, and presumably that accounts for the instruction to avoid it in congressional-justification documents,” Levin said. In other words, he said, it wasn’t that retrograde Republicans in the Trump administration ordered career CDC officials not to use these terms but that career CDC officials assumed retrograde Republicans would be triggered by such words and, in an effort to avoid having such Republicans cut their budgets, reasoned they might be best avoided.”

“If all of that is correct… it does make for an interesting story,” Levin said. “But it’s not nearly as interesting as the Washington Post made it seem, and it doesn’t point to quite the same lessons either. In fact, it probably tells us more about the attitudes and assumptions of the career officials in various HHS offices than about the political appointees of the administration they are now supposed to be working for.”

So, slightly modifying the Ghostbusters line, “Who you gonna believe?”

With all the attention being given to so-called “fake news,” it’s becoming harder to know what’s true and what’s not. Sure, there are carefully planted tweets and Facebook posts that are clearly false, items posted not to inform but to sway public opinion. But what about all the stories by so-called legitimate media sources that, when closely examined, seem to some to be more an effort to advance an ideological agenda

The Post and the New York Times, for example, have come under fire from critics arguing that they are increasingly functioning as public relations arms of the Democratic National Committee. Equally, Fox News is routinely accused of just the opposite.

“Since its 1996 launch, Fox has become a central hub of the conservative movement’s well-oiled media machine,” says FAIR, a group that criticizes media bias from a progressive viewpoint. “Together with the GOP organization and its satellite think tanks and advocacy groups, this network of fiercely partisan outlets—such as the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and conservative talk-radio shows like Rush Limbaugh’s—forms a highly effective right-wing echo chamber.”

Perhaps we are just returning to the beginning.

The first newspaper produced in North America was Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick, published on September 25, 1690, by Boston printer Benjamin Harris. The colonial government objected to Harris’s negative tone regarding British rule and the newspaper was banned after one issue.

Subsequent newspapers printed during the colonial period were highly opinionated, generally arguing one political point of view or aggressively pushing the ideas of whatever party subsidized the paper.

Mitchell Stephens, a New York University journalism professor and the author of History of News, said the purpose of newspapers “changed to the political and polemical after 1765—around the time of the Stamp Act-as tensions snowballed.”

 

“As the century began, the fledgling colonial press tested its wings,” James Breig, a newspaper editor, wrote in the Colonial Williamsburg Journal. “A bolder journalism opened on the eve of the Revolution. And, as the century closed with the birth of the United States, a rancorously partisan and rambunctious press emerged.”

It looks like it’s back.

Clinton, Trump and the housing crisis: a different perspective

Hillary Clinton and her surrogates think they have found something to damage Donald Trump, statements he has made about opportunities to profit from a housing market crash.

But have they? A deeper look suggests Trump was prescient in his analysis of the housing market.

Ten years ago Trump was recorded saying, “I sort of hope that (a housing market crash) happens because then, people like me would go in and buy” and “If there is a bubble burst, as they call it, you know you can make a lot of money.”

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At a campaign rally on Tuesday, Clinton jumped on the quotes, accusing Trump of wishing for a financial crash so he could “make some money for himself.”

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) piled on, saying in a press release that Trump “cheered on” the collapse of the housing market. The DNC also observed that the housing crash devastated minorities such as Hispanics and African-Americans (who happen to be a key part of Hillary’s base).

“Donald Trump’s lack of concern for the economic well-being of hard-working families shows that he doesn’t have the judgment and temperament to occupy the Oval Office,” wrote DNC spokesperson Luis Miranda.

But another way to look at it is Trump was being pretty smart and perceptive—and if the Clintons had been smart, they could have made some money, too (not that they needed any more).

The 2008 financial crisis was triggered to a significant degree by subprime mortgages, loans made to people with poor credit or with little documentation to back up their financial fitness. These mortgages were transformed into toxic financial products by investment specialists who made a bundle when the products were sold.

The danger these subprime mortgage products posed wasn’t foreseen by Janet Yellen, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

“While a tightening of credit to the subprime sector and foreclosures on existing properties have the potential to deepen the housing downturn, I do not consider it very likely that such developments will have a big effect on overall U.S. economic performance,” Yellen said well into the foreclosure crisis. ” I say this, in part, because these mortgages represent only a small part of the overall outstanding mortgage stock.”

Yellen went on to misread the economy, saying, “I think that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable growth with a gradual ebbing of inflation over time.”

The danger these subprime mortgage products posed also wasn’t foreseen “by the chief executives of America’s premier banks,” said a New York Times book review of the best-selling book, The Big Short. “It was not foreseen by government regulators, by Treasury officials or by the Fed. It was foreseen, however, by a handful of investors, who were aghast at the madness they saw on the Street and who used their prescience to make a fortune off the financial system’s calamitous meltdown.”   

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Trump should fire back at Hillary by pointing out that she’s made some contentious allegations her supporters might resent. For example, she laid some of the blame for the housing crisis on greedy, dishonest homeowners.

“…certainly borrowers share responsibility as well,” Clinton said in a speech at NASDAQ headquarters. “Homebuyers who paid extra fees to avoid documenting their income should have known they were getting in over their heads” and people across the country “…who were busy buying two, three, four houses to sell for a quick buck don’t deserve our sympathy.”

Nothing’s simple, is it?

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.

 

 

S—t happens, and the media go off the rails

You know what Jeb Bush was saying. I know what Jeb Bush was saying. President Obama and the Democrats know what Jeb Bush was saying. Media of all stripes know what Jeb Bush was saying.

But that hasn’t stopped the media from serving as part of an echo chamber for the manufactured outrage.

FILE - In this Sept. 30, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a campaign stop in Bedford, N.H. Potential voters who take their curiosity about presidential candidates to Google are interested in Hillary Clinton's age, Jeb Bush's height, Chris Christie's weight, Donald Trump's net worth, Carly Fiorina's marital status and Bobby Jindal's birthplace. Those were among the top questions that the Internet search engine was asked about each candidate over the past couple of months.  (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

Yesterday (Friday, Oct 2), speaking at en event in Greenville, S.C., following on the horrific shooting deaths at Umpqua Community College (UCC) in Oregon, Bush talked about how people respond to school shootings.

“We’re in a difficult time in our country and I don’t think that more government is necessarily the answer to this,” Bush said. “I think we need to reconnect ourselves with everybody else. It’s just, it’s very sad to see. But I resist the notion — and I did, I had this, this challenge as governor, because we have, look, stuff happens, there’s always a crisis and the impulse is always to do something and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”

Bush said hasty, ill-considered responses to events that lead to more government intrusion in our lives are not always the best answer to troublesome events.

He didn’t casually dismiss the Umpqua deaths with the sentiment, “Shit happens”.   He didn’t callously shrug off the UCC deaths as inconsequential.

But in today’s hyper-divisive political climate, liberal critics saw an opening. Without a second to lose, the web lit up with pejorative comments about Bush’s statement.

As CNN reported, Democrats pounced when Bush’s comments went viral.

At the White House, in what the New York Times described as a “sharp rebuke” to Bush, President Obama opined, “…the American people can decide whether they consider (mass shootings) ‘stuff happening’.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chair of the Democratic National Committee, quickly tweeted: “A message for Jeb Bush: 380 Americans have been killed in 294 mass shootings in 2015 alone. “Stuff” doesn’t just “happen.” Inaction happens.”

The liberal Mother Jones magazine described Bush’s comment as an “astonishingly callous summation of Thursday’s deadly rampage that killed 10 people and injured seven others”.

The New York Daily News said Bush, in making his comments, was “flippant” and “shrugged-off the slaughter of nine people at an Oregon community college by a gun-toting maniac”.

Exaggerated rage reigns in this political season. And to think we have more than a year of all this ahead.