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.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Trump-Related Business Do I Boycott Now?

 

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Decisions. Decisions.

It used to be that if the presidential candidate you favored lost the election you sulked a bit, regretfully tore your candidate’s sticker off your car bumper and moved on.

Now you’re expected to scream in dismay, post diatribes on every possible social media channel and boycott a mind boggling array of businesses that have even the slightest connection with the winner and his or her family.

So here we are, politics intruding in every aspect of our lives. All this foolishness, this symbolic act of frustration, is really getting out of hand.

Shannon Cuoulter, the 45-year-old owner of a small marketing firm in the San Francisco Bay area, is a key instigator in all this. In October 2016, she found herself increasingly upset with Donald Trump’s comments about, and behavior toward, women. Deciding to take action, she first created a #fashionnotfascism hashtag and urged people via Twitter to avoid stores that carried Ivanka Trump’s clothing and accessories.

Later changing her campaign hashtag to #GrabYourWallet, she created a website with a spreadsheet people could use to avoid transgressing businesses. The spreadsheet starts with a short list of the “Top 10 Companies We’re Boycotting.”

The list includes 9 retailers that sell Trump family products (Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Dillards, Zappos, Amazon, Hudson Bay, TJ Maxx, Lord & Taylor and Bed, Bath & Beyond) and one retailer where a board member contributed to the Trump campaign (LL Bean). “LL Bean: official winter clothing of the New Reich,” one critic tweeted.

But Cuoulter doesn’t stop there.

The spreadsheet goes on to list 46 more companies to boycott, including:

  • Trump-owned, branded, or operated businesses, including Trump hotels and Trump golf courses
  • More retailers that sell Trump family products, including Overstock.com, Ross, and Walmart
  • Companies that advertise on Celebrity Apprentice (Donald Trump is Executive Producer)
  • Companies with CEOs who raised funds for Trump and or a Trump PAC, including LendingTree and New Balance.
  • And Yuengling Beer. GrabYourWallet says Yuengling should be boycotted because its founder donated to Trump’s campaign. But the founder, David G. Yuengling, died in 1877. Presumably, the donor was the company’s current president, Richard Yuengling.

With such a wide net, GrabYour Wallet goes through some convoluted explanations for why the list isn’t even longer.

The website includes a lengthy explanation, for example, for why Facebook is not included on the boycott list:

“Given its massive international user base and high levels of daily engagement, the ways in which Facebook contributed to the distribution of propaganda / fake news during the election is of serious concern in our democracy and in the world. That Trump surrogate Peter Thiel is on the board of Facebook doesn’t help matters much. After extensive discussions w/ Grab Your Wallet participants, Facebook is NOT being placed on the boycott list at this time for several reasons: (1) it’s a vital tool for self-organizing, particularly Pantsuit Nation & its local chapters (2) Mark Zuckerberg has made formal statements acknowledging the problem of propaganda & fake news on the Facebook platform as well as a committment (sic) to addressing / fixing it, although these statements did not represent as strong a committment (sic) as we would have liked to have seen and (3) the media category (which is what FB is, a media outlet) is the one we are most conservative about adding new companies to the list b/c of the importance of free expression.”

Whew!

Other sites urging shoppers not to buy Trump-related products include Boycott Trump (with little or no explanation of why particular companies are targeted), and the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, which offers an app that allows users to identify over 250 companies and people to boycott because they’re directly connected to Trump. “Make Trump and his allies pay, literally, for their hateful rhetoric and regressive policies,” the app promotion says.

Some companies have encountered boycott threats just for executives making positive statements about Trump. After Under Armour CEO and Chairman Kevin Plank made some favorable comments to CNBC about Trump’s impact on business, boycott threats popped up all over Twitter.   “Businesses who stand up for this madness will be starved out one by one. ,” said one tweet.

Then there are the calls to boycott the United States itself because of Trump’s actions.

The new target of the academic boycott movement is the United States. According to Inside Higher Ed, at least 3,000 academics from around the world have signed on to a call to to boycott international academic conferences held in the United States in solidarity with those affected by Trump’s executive order barring entry by nationals of seven countries.

Frankly, this whole exercise in condemnation is as arbitrary as can be.

The boycott of LL Bean, for example, is justified on the basis that Linda Bean, an heiress to the Bean fortune, a member of LL Bean’s board and one of 50 family members involved in the business, made donations to Trump’s campaign.

If mere donations to Trump’s campaign from some odd associates with a business are to be the justification for corporate boycotts,  potential targets are legion. Just review the Federal Election Commission’s data on campaign contributors and you will likely find that somebody at just about every major company in America contributed to Trump’s campaign or said something complimentary about him.

All this is poisoning and polarizing public debate, exacerbating division, undermining relationships, and inserting politics into daily life to an unsettling degree,

And if you think about it, the way things are going the boycott Trump folks are going to be insisting that you stop buying anything online or in brick-and-mortar stores, and that you make your own beer in the basement.

My thinking? This is all getting out of hand. It’s time to boycott boycotts.