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Montana race, now complicated, sets spending record for House contests in state

Open Secrets - Thu, 05/25/2017 - 13:02

GOP technology entrepreneur Greg Gianforte’s chances of winning a House election likely didn’t improve when assault charges were filed against him Wednesday. Gianforte, his opponent Rob Quist (D) and outside spending groups have made this Montana special election the most expensive battle for a House seat in the state’s history. (AP Photo/Matt Volz, File)

The cost of the House special election race in Montana — where voters are going to the polls today — is officially record-breaking.

It’s unclear how Wednesday’s misdemeanor assault charges against the Republican candidate, Greg Gianforte, will affect the outcome, particularly since a large number of voters cast their ballots before today. It’s very clear, though, that this race has been a magnet for donors: Gianforte, a wealthy software entrepreneur, and his Democratic opponent Rob Quist, a folk singer, together raised $6.7 million through May 5, and another almost $900,000 from then through May 22.

Spending by the candidates stood at $5.2 million as of May 5, the date on the most recent reports of their expenditures.

And outside spending in the race has soared to $7.2 million, with $1.4 million of that coming in just the nine days between May 17-25. Combined with the somewhat dated candidate spending figure, that brings the cost of this faceoff to a minimum of $12.4 million, more than has been spent on any House race in the state going back at least as far as 1990.

While a vast majority of Quist’s individual contributions have been $200 and under, Gianforte has mostly seen larger individual contributions of $2,000 plus. Hidden in Gianforte’s 48-hour contribution notices, which list all contributions of $1,000 or more, is a $500,000 donation he made to himself. That’s on top of an earlier $1 million loan he made to his campaign. Quist has not made any contributions to his campaign, save the $140 he reported before April.

Republican party committees and super PACs have continued to dominate the outside spending in this special election to replace now-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The top three outside spenders in the election — the Congressional Leadership Fund, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican National Committee — all have Republican ties; together they spent $5.6 million backing Gianforte. Pro-Quist outside spending groups altogether have spent less than $1 million.

The Democratic candidate recruited the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for one of his campaign events in mid-May, drawing thousands to the rally. In the 2016 primary election, Montana voted for Sanders over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

During one of his rallies, Gianforte was accompanied by Donald Trump, Jr. and Vice President Mike Pence. In his previous unsuccessful bid for Montana governor in 2016, Gianforte distanced himself from Donald Trump. But since Trump won the election in November, and was especially popular in Montana, Gianforte has aligned himself more closely to the president.

Like other special elections, the one in Montana has been viewed as a referendum on Trump. However, Gianforte’s recent arrest for assault muddies the waters. Late on Wednesday night, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs tweeted he had been “body slammed” by Gianforte after asking him a question about the Republican health care plan. Audio of the incident was later released in which Gianforte can be heard yelling at Jacobs to “get the hell out of here.” The GOP candidate was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault after Jacobs reported the incident to authorities, and a Fox News crew that witnessed the altercation corroborated Jacobs’ allegations.

Some state newspapers immediately withdrew their endorsements of Gianforte, but about 37 percent of Montana’s registered voters had already committed to one or the other candidate, having sent their ballots in early. The polls will close at 10 p.m. Eastern time.

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Categories: Further Reading

Next election still 18 months away, but it’s never too early to collect cash from colleagues

Open Secrets - Thu, 05/25/2017 - 12:14

Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller collected more cash from his colleagues in the first three months of the 2018 cycle than any other incumbent who’s considered vulnerable. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Even with the 2018 midterm elections still 18 months away, both Republicans and Democrats are making moves to strengthen their most vulnerable incumbents.

One way they’re doing it: By contributing through their candidate committees and leadership PACs. Already, more than $3 million changed hands this way in the first three months of 2017 — nearly $2.6 million in the House and $769,000 in the Senate.

These are the 2018 candidates who are the top recipients of funds from their colleagues:

All of these candidates in some way have been pinpointed as vulnerable. In the House, all eight of the Republicans listed above are “Round One” targets for the Dems, and are also in the Patriot Program, organized by the National Republican Congressional Committee to support candidates facing particularly challenging elections. The two Democrats have been added to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s similar Frontline Program.

Currently the GOP holds the majority in the House by a wide margin — 241 seats to the Democrats’ 194. Thirty-four seats in the Senate will be on the ballot. But the president’s party usually loses seats in Congress in the midterm elections.

To gain a majority in the Senate, the Democrats will have to cling to its 25 seats that are up for re-election and fight for three more. (Two of the 25 are held by Independents who caucus with the Democrats.) Republicans, meanwhile, have their eyes on a 60-seat supermajority so they can block Democratic filibusters (that’s if filibuster rules still exist by 2019). To get there, they would need eight more seats and couldn’t lose any of their nine incumbents up for re-election.

While the Democrats’ goal in the Senate might be gettable, winning the House would be a reach, said Laurel Harbridge Yong, an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University. That’s partly due to a “bad map,” she noted: Where people live across the country and how they’re divided up into House districts in general leans more in favor of Republicans, she said, and that’s not just from gerrymandering; it also has to do with the fact that a lot of Democratic voters are concentrated in cities, rather than spread out in rural areas like GOP voters often are.

“The tricky thing is what are the Republicans going to accomplish between now and the election?” Harbridge Yong said. “If they aren’t able to get a lot done due to in-party fighting, the Democrats can say, ‘you had control and you didn’t do anything.'”

The most vulnerable candidates in the upcoming election, Harbridge Yong said, are the people whose partisanship doesn’t align with how their state voted in the 2016 presidential election.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), the lawmaker who has received the most funding so far from his colleagues, is looking at what’s expected to be one of the most difficult races in 2018. He is the only Republican senator up for re-election in a state that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. This makes him one of the primary targets for the Democrats, who are desperately reaching for the Senate majority.

Twelve different politicians have contributed to Heller’s campaign so far to give him his $79,000 total. His top four supporters are Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who each gave $10,000 through their separate leadership PACs — $5,000 for the primary and the same for the general election.

On the flip side, 10 Democratic senators, including Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), are up for re-election in states Donald Trump won.

The top donor to his colleagues, naturally enough, is a member of the leadership. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has given a cool $564,000 to his fellow House members. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has given $317,000, including $112,000 to the eight GOP House candidates on our list of top recipients; he contributed $10,000 to each of the eight through his Majority Committee PAC, and they all got another $4,000 each from the Californian’s campaign committee.

On the Democratic side, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has provided her flock with $279,000 from her leadership PAC, PAC to the Future, and her candidate committee, including $28,000 to the Democrats who are among the top 10 recipients. Like McCarthy with his Republicans, Pelosi gave $10,000 to each of those candidates through her PAC, and through her campaign committee she gave another $4,000 each.

Among senators, Tim Kaine (D-Va.) has been the most generous, redistributing $97,500 from his leadership PAC, including $20,000 to those on our leader board.

While leadership PACs can give $5,000 per election, candidate committees can only give $2,000 (so $4,000 for the primary and general together). McCarthy, Pelosi and several other believers in early money have already maxed out what they can give directly to some of their colleagues for 2018.

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Categories: Further Reading

Add another to the list of former Trump campaign staffers lobbying for foreign clients

Open Secrets - Wed, 05/24/2017 - 10:38

Former Trump spokeswoman Healy Baumgardener-Nardone now represents the government of Malaysia. (Source: Healy Baumgardner-Nardone Facebook page)

Former Trump campaign officials haven’t exactly been bashful about cashing in on their ties to the president in the lobbying sphere. Take Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager. Shortly after the election, he cofounded a lobbying and consulting firm, Avenue Strategies, boasting to domestic and foreign clients of his administration ties. He left the firm in early May, after news outlets reported he failed to register as a lobbyist even as he was pitching face time with the president to clients.

Now, another name on the Trump campaign’s payroll, Healy Baumgardner-Nardone, who was a communications adviser and spokeswoman, will be representing a foreign client, the government of Malaysia.

According to a Department of Justice filing, 45 Group, a project under Baumgardner’s firm, Mona Lisa Communications, will represent the government of Malaysia with “government relations and public relations services.” (Yeah, we know that didn’t clear anything up.)

CRP’s Foreign Lobby Watch shows the only other Malaysian activity in 2017 coming from an “export promotion agency” pushing Malaysian rubber for car parts. But the nation has had an image problem, what with questions about its human rights record and corruption scandals. Two large firms, APCO and Quinn Gillespie & Associates (the latter of which has disbanded) have represented Malaysia in the past to “promote positive U.S./Malaysia relations” and create public relations strategies.

Many of Trump’s big policy pushes impact the small southeast Asian nation. Malaysia was one of the 12 nations included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which Trump withdrew from via executive order on his third day in office. And the president’s immigration order troubled politicians in Malaysia, where 60 percent of the population is Muslim.

Trump signed an additional executive order at the end of March aimed at punishing “trade cheaters,” requiring the Secretary of Commerce to publish a report next month that calls out countries with which the U.S. has significant trade deficits. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross singled out Malaysia as one of those, as well Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Canada and others.

Baumgardner’s group received $250,000 on May 9, which also included “business consulting services for activities that are not governed by FARA.”

Baumgardner worked for the Trump campaign from January to September 2016. She also held government posts in the George W. Bush administration, serving as the press secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy from 2008 to 2009 and as a press representative for the White House from 2002 to 2007. She also was deputy communications director for former N.Y. Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign.

While her social media profile highlights her work for Trump (she writes of being “one of the first national television surrogates” for the candidate), she quit in September, reportedly in a dispute about the campaign’s direction in Florida.

This is far from the first instance of former Trump campaign workers-turned-lobbyists drumming up foreign clients. Barry Bennett, who was a senior adviser to the campaign, cofounded Avenue Strategies and remained there after Lewandowski left; Avenue has inked contracts with the Northern Mariana Islands and the Venezuelan government-owned oil company CITGO, the latter of which is paying Avenue $25,000 per month. Sonoran Policy Group (SPG), which employs three former Trump staffers including Stuart Jolly, a national field director for the campaign, has managed to snag New Zealand, the Czech Republic and — just last week, immediately before Trump visited the country — the Saudi Interior Ministry. Brian Lanza, a deputy communications director for the campaign, is at Mercury, which this year has signed the Embassy of Qatar, the European Center for a Modern Ukraine, and the Japanese embassy.

The post Add another to the list of former Trump campaign staffers lobbying for foreign clients appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

It’s not over: The FEC is on the job with messy 2016 reporting by Trump campaign and JFCs

Open Secrets - Fri, 05/19/2017 - 14:44

President Trump may be more concerned about Special Counsel Robert Mueller digging around, but the FEC’s on his case too. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

We’ll stipulate that President Trump’s problems with the Federal Election Commission don’t rise to the highest tier of his concerns these days, not by a long shot. In his hierarchy of hazards, newly appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller must loom rather large, while he might think of the FEC staff as a lowly mosquito — if he thinks of it at all.

Much like the mosquito, though, the agency’s Reports Analysis Division finds any vulnerabilities, and is very hard to get rid of.

Illegal corporate contributions, donations over the $2,700-per-election limit, anonymous gifts, double-counting, totals that should match but don’t. FEC analysts have kept the questions coming in a steady flow of letters to Brad Crate, treasurer of the campaign and of two joint fundraising committees (JFCs) Trump formed, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee and Trump Victory.

More than six months after the election, the campaign and the JFCs are still answering questions from the agency, filing amended reports and making refunds.

Take the campaign’s September monthly report, covering Aug. 1-31, 2016. It has gone through four iterations. The first version, filed by the Sept. 20 deadline, was 25,625 pages long. But when it was amended for the first time — eight days after the election, and after an FEC request for more information — it came it at more than twice that length. The original report had failed to correctly identify hundreds of contributions that were routed to the campaign through the two JFCs.

Many of those contributions were illegal — for instance, they were made by LLCs that were ineligible to donate to candidates or parties. The same report was amended twice more, including this week, about nine months after the donations came in.

In fact, a week ago (May 12), the Trump campaign filed more than 189,000 pages of amended FEC reports — five reports in all, covering the months of July and September and including the post-general (Oct. 20-Nov. 28) and year-end (Nov. 29-Dec.31) periods.

That included fixes prompted by a 53-page list sent by the FEC in April of possibly “excessive, prohibited and impermissible” contributions in his 2016 year-end report.

Trump’s original filing for the month of September was 11,764 pages. Its amended report, issued after another lengthy missive from the FEC? 16,951 pages.

The campaign and JFCs had vetting systems in place to screen contributions and make sure they were legal, according to responses Crates sent to the FEC. But experts say that while it’s normal for some questionable donations to slip through the cracks, Trump’s operation was like a sieve, only leakier.

“It appears they didn’t try to fix [the reports] until they started getting letters from the FEC,” said Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer at Akerman LLP.

Kappel noted that the Trump committee reported barely any debt throughout the campaign — but after Election Day, began soliciting contributions for “debt retirement.”

Then, as soon as he was inaugurated, Trump formally filed to run for re-election in the 2020 election. His campaign committee’s next report redesignated tens of thousands of donations that had been given for debt retirement for the 2020 race instead — after a complaint had been filed by a watchdog group.

Other problems: One donor was allowed to contribute a total of $18,400 for Trump’s general election campaign over several months. The limit is $2,700. In March, the campaign admitted that it counted the same contributions from 14 different donors three times.

And we’ve previously reported on a 253-page letter the agency sent Trump’s campaign in January questioning large numbers of contributions on its post-general (Oct. 20-Nov. 28) report, as well as missives sent to his joint fundraising committees around the same time saying the committee had accepted anonymous contributions over the $50 limit for such gifts.

Let’s not even get started on Trump’s inaugural committee; its FEC filing was shot through with mysterious and incorrect information, as we, Huffington Post and others discovered. The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the agency about the report, saying the inaugural committee had shown “reckless disregard” for the law.

The errors in that report were “obvious and avoidable,” noted the Campaign Legal Center’s Brendan Fischer. “It appears they didn’t engage in even the minimal level of diligence.” Overall, Fischer said, the campaign finance reports filed by the Trump network have contained “an exceptional number of errors.”

Other FEC letters to Make America Great Again, the JFC, have questioned the accuracy of year-to-date total contributions it listed for individual donors and pointed out that it appeared to be accepting contributions from foreign nationals, which the group only refunded in April.

Kappel noted that he campaign’s reporting problems appeared to begin around the time the JFCs started up in mid-2016 and began allocating some of the funds they raised to the campaign, apparently without proper controls. Make America Great Again “is one of the worst JFCs I’ve seen, if not the worst,” in terms of reporting deficiencies, he said.

It’s not that Trump didn’t have people knowledgeable about the nuts and bolts of campaign finance law around him. Crate, who had been CFO of 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign, was treasurer of the Trump campaign and both JFCs; he runs a company that specializes in this kind of work. And the campaign’s general counsel was former FEC Chairman Don McGahn; he is now White House counsel.

Crate did not return our call requesting comment.

The degree to which this all will affect Trump’s totals and those of the JFCs isn’t yet clear, since more amendments are due to be filed. In December, in response to a number of FEC letters, the campaign refunded more than $725,000 in illegal contributions.

But in any case, Trump apparently had enough money to win, even though he raised less than other recent major-party candidates and put less of his own money into his campaign than he’d promised. In no small part, his victory was due to all the free attention he received from TV news and the like that one company valued at more than $6 billion.

Besides the mysterious degree of sloppiness shown by Trump’s operation in its FEC filings, there’s another lesson in the tussle between his organizations and the FEC: Whatever we and others may say about the FEC’s general failure to operate as a campaign finance enforcement agency (and there’s a heap of evidence for that argument), its Reports Analysis Division — which reviews every report that comes in the door and follows up with detailed questions about things that don’t look right — is definitely on the job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Further Reading

In Montana, strong fundraising by Quist, but more outside help for Gianforte. Also, guns.

Open Secrets - Thu, 05/18/2017 - 09:51

Democrat Rob Quist just before successfully bagging a TV set in a recent ad. Quist is up against Republican Greg Gianforte in Montana’s May 25 special election to fill its at-large House seat.

Shots have been fired in the campaign leading up to Montana’s May 25 special election. Literally.

Both Republican candidate Greg Gianforte and Democratic candidate Rob Quist have aired ads in which they load a rifle and obliterate a computer and a TV screen, respectively. In his ad, Gianforte accuses Quist of wanting to create a national gun registry on a “big government computer, making it easier for federal bureaucrats to grab your guns.” Gianforte blasts away at a computer screen, saying, “Some folks just don’t get it. Our Second Amendment rights are not up for negotiation.”

Quist speaks out against a separate attack ad from Gianforte in his spot. “I won’t stand by while a billionaire from New Jersey attacks my Montana values,” Quist says before firing at a TV screen.

Gianforte and Quist, along with Libertarian Mark Wicks, are running to fill Montana’s at-large congressional seat in the special election, which was called after former Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) became secretary of Interior in President Donald Trump’s cabinet. Montana skipped a primary election, instead asking party leaders to nominate candidates.

Quist, a folk musician with no political background, has been leaning on his Montana roots to give him an edge over Gianforte, a software entrepreneur who is originally from New Jersey. Gianforte’s political experience is limited to an unsuccessful 2016 gubernatorial campaign.

Jeffrey Greene, a political science professor at the University of Montana, said Gianforte has the advantage considering he lost only narrowly to the state’s Democratic incumbent, Gov. Steve Bullock, last year; that race helped him develop name recognition that Quist lacks.

“Democrats have had trouble coming up with strong candidates for the state’s lone seat on the House for a long time,” Greene said. “This election will likely not be different.”

A Democrat hasn’t represented Montana’s congressional district since 1997, when Pat Williams held the seat. In fact, the state has sent a Democrat to the House just five times in its history, including the brief period when Montana had two seats instead of one.

Still, the GOP is leaving little to chance as Trump’s popularity sinks lower every week. The top three outside spenders in the election — the Congressional Leadership Fund, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican National Committee — had collectively shelled out more than $4.7 million in independent expenditures as of May 17 to oppose Quist and advocate for Gianforte.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC, has led the spending with outlays of nearly $2.3 million. Some of the group’s most generous contributions in the last month, according to FEC data, have come from the American Action Network, a politically active nonprofit that doesn’t have to disclose its donors; RAI Services Co., a subsidiary of tobacco conglomerate Reynolds American; and Steven A. Cohen, the founder of Point72 Asset Management. Together they’ve given the super PAC almost $3 million in contributions.

Groups backing Quist have spent a fraction in comparison; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has outspent the others at $340,000. Other PACs on Quist’s side are the Progressive Turnout Project and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which had made independent expenditures totaling just under $200,000 and about $120,000, respectively, through May 15.

Of the two candidates, Quist has been the more successful fundraiser — though not at first. From the start of 2017 until the end of March, he brought in about $900,000. In the same period, Gianforte raised roughly $1.6 million. From the beginning of April to May 5, however, Quist raised about $2.4 million, according to the FEC, while funds reeled in by Gianforte stayed about the same at approximately $1.8 million.

Two things make Quist’s haul somewhat more impressive: Gianforte’s total includes a $1 million loan from the candidate; and Quist does not accept money from lobbyists or corporate PACs, unlike Gianforte.

In 2016, Democrats criticized Gianforte for spending about $5 million of his own money in his campaign for governor.

Since May 5, Quist has received just over $61,000 in donations of $1,000 or more from his supporters, according to reports he’s filed with the FEC. Gianforte has brought in $95,300 in contributions of that size since then.

There is currently no FEC data for Libertarian candidate Wicks.

The Montana special election is one of several such races being held this year to pick replacements for House members who have joined the administration — and will be the first general election. It’s also an early signal of whether the Democrats can hope to win the 24 additional seats they’d need to regain control of the House by the time votes are counted in November 2018.

The Trump factor, of course, could play big. In his 2016 gubernatorial campaign, Gianforte distanced himself from the Republican presidential nominee, but after Trump won and was especially favored in Montana, Gianforte aligned himself more closely with the incoming commander in chief. Donald Trump, Jr., and Vice President Mike Pence have made appearances at campaign events for Gianforte in the past week — even as events in Washington played against Trump: his firing of FBI Director James Comey; the revelations that he shared highly sensitive information with Russian officials and that he’d asked Comey to stop investigating former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn; and the appointment by the Justice Department of an independent counsel to continue the investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Meanwhile, Quist is taking the populist route: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is scheduled to campaign for Quist at a rally this weekend. In the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries, Sanders won Montana over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In the GOP’s favor, Greene, the University of Montana professor, said he suspects voter turnout will be light next week, as it often is for special elections with only one race at issue. And that will most likely help Gianforte, he said, since Republicans tend to have higher voter turnout rates regardless of the election.

Update, May 18: Republican candidate Greg Gianforte has received $95,300 in contributions of $1,000 or more since May 5. We have updated the text of the story to reflect that.

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Categories: Further Reading

Trucking, railroad industries wrestle with each other as technology bears down on both

Open Secrets - Wed, 05/17/2017 - 12:09

A double-trailer truck of the sort that much of the trucking industry would like to be able to use nationwide. The railroads aren’t big fans. (Photo: Joseph Madden via Wikimedia Commons)

Uber service for pallets of lumber, crates of fruit and boxes of bolts? Last week, the company’s embattled CEO Travis Kalanick tweeted an image of an “Uber Freight” truck, a product of the company’s still-gestating foray into the trucking industry. Amazon, reportedly, is also working on an app that will connect truckers and shippers — and other companies are in the on-demand freight fray, too, all wanting a piece of the trucking pie. No wonder: In 2015, the industry amassed a record $726 billion in gross revenues, moving 10.5 billion tons of freight.

Disruptors are everywhere in the current economy, but the trucking industry also continues to contend with one of its timeless enemies: Railroads. The two have long vied for shares of the freight economy and fought pitched policy battles in Washington to create favorable conditions for their interests.

Railroads, too, are staring down the barrel of changing technology. With automated railway systems proliferating around the world, the future increasingly seems to be one without drivers and conductors.

Some on Capitol Hill are eager to prevent, or at least stall, that possibility. In January, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced the Safe Freight Act, a bill intended to mandate that a crew of at least two people — one locomotive engineer and one conductor — operates trains at all times. The bill has received the support of unions like the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers; transportation unions have given Young nearly $860,000 in contributions over the course of his career, his third-greatest source of donations. The Federal Railroad Administration has also recommended two-person crew requirements, but various railroad operators, including Union Pacific, and the industry’s main trade group, the Association of American Railroads (AAR), have opposed such a plan

Proponents of two-person crew requirements claim the policy would enhance safety; detractors counter that there is no proof of that (though nobody has much experience running freight trains without engineers and conductors). And in September 2016, AAR pointed out what the rail group views as an inconsistency between government policies, saying that “While the [US] Department of Transportation is throwing its full support behind development of autonomous vehicles as a way to improve safety on our roadways, it is backing a rule-making for the rail industry that goes in the opposite direction and would freeze rail productivity.”

Meanwhile, other issues that run through the nation’s capital preoccupy the industries: For instance, consolidation in the trucking market brought Knight Transportation and Swift Transportation together in April in a merger valued at $6 billion, but the deal must be approved by federal antitrust regulators.

Then there’s President Donald Trump‘s possible openness to raising the gas tax, which he voiced earlier this month in an interview with Bloomberg. Since then, he’s been radio silent on the topic (and hasn’t delivered a promised plan for overhauling the nation’s infrastructure) — although plenty of others have weighed in on whether the levy on each gallon of gas should be hiked.

The tax functions as the main source of revenue for the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for transportation projects such as road development but hasn’t been raised since 1993. As a result, domestic infrastructure continues to degrade and the trust fund continually flirts with insolvency — not ideal for an industry reliant on good roads.

The American Trucking Associations, the industry’s largest trade group, has lobbied on fuel taxes every year since 2008. But while the industry thoroughly tilts Republican (at least 60 percent of the contributions it has given to candidates and parties have gone to the GOP since the 1992 cycle), groups that are similarly conservative, like Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, are against it — a classic divide between ideology and concrete self interest.

Overall, trucking put more than $9.1 million into lobbying in 2016. Railroads, on the other hand, rang up a bill of more than $26 million, although that industry’s lobbying outlays have consistently decreased each year since 2012, when it spent over $46 million.

Among the trucking industry’s myriad lobbying concerns are fuel efficiency, homeland security, regulations on how long truckers can drive without a break and the transportation of hazardous materials. Railroads are invested in some of the same issues, as well as some more specific to their own industry, such as tamping down congressional concern over fiery accidents involving trains pulling tankers of crude.

Another perpetual issue: The drive (sorry) by the trucking industry to put longer freight trailers on the highway. Currently, the trailers on freight trucks can be as long as 53 feet, but the industry wants to switch over to twin 33-foot trailers, for a total of 66 feet of storage. The change, the industry claims, would boost both efficiency and safety, since fewer trucks would be on the road. Attempts to include language in the Transportation Department’s budget along those lines have come up short, but trucking interests keep trying.

The rail industry is, surely, all for safety, but it claims that twin 33-foot trailers would in fact be less safe. It also would prefer that trucking didn’t become too efficient. AAR has lobbied on truck size and/or weight issues every year since 2010, and both rail and trucking have paid to have law enforcement officers lobby Congress on the issue, sometimes leaving those officers in the dark about who’s covering the costs of their trips to D.C. And in one case, the vice chairman of the National Troopers Coalition spoke of the dangers of longer trucks — without disclosing that he was on the payroll of a railroad industry-funded group. In 2015, a trucking industry group cited a report confirming the increased safety of twin 33-foot trailers, but did not mention that members of the industry had funded said report.

Both industries supplement their lobbying with a well-oiled system of campaign contributions. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) has made out especially well, having received a combined $837,000 from the trucking and railroad industries since 2007. He happens to be chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Top recipients of campaign contributions from trucking and railroad industries, 2007-2016

Only one Democrat cracked the top five recipients of railroad money; none made it into the ranks of trucking’s favorites.

If a lawmaker is especially lucky, more than just campaign contributions might come their way. Last Wednesday, as per Politico reporting, AAR and GoRail, a freight rail advocacy group, held their first Railroad Achievement Awards, during which they recognized Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) for their friendship to the industry. But while awards and ceremonies are nice, cash can be nicer. Thune has received nearly $555,000 from the railroad industry over the course of his career, and Nelson almost $344,000.

Researcher Doug Weber contributed to this post.

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Categories: Further Reading

Super PACs gearing up for 2018

Open Secrets - Thu, 05/11/2017 - 09:00

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke already has a super PAC supporting him to run for Congress, though he has not expressed interest in running. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Is it 2018 already? Hard to believe it’s only been six months since the last election judging by the number of super PACs that have cropped up so far.

Through May 10, more than 140 groups that can spend unlimited amounts of money in elections independently from candidates have appeared since Jan. 1 of 2017, about 17 more than the previous presidential election cycle saw through the same date.

And they are quite an interesting bunch. Scour the FEC reports and you find new groups such as Deplorables Nation, Impeach Trump, National Committee Against Athletic Servitude, and our personal favorite, No Permanent Enemies No Permanent Friends Only Permanent Interests. We don’t know much about these entities besides their names, addresses and treasurers, as they don’t have to report their donations and expenditures (unless they air ads explicitly advocating for or against a candidate) until July, and not again until 2018. And almost 40 of the groups list P.O. boxes as their addresses, which doesn’t exactly give us a clearer picture. The most groups hail from D.C. (16), California (16), New York (14) and North Carolina (13).

“This is of critical importance and perhaps one of the biggest factors eroding campaign finance contribution limits,” said Craig Holman with Public Citizen. “Many single candidate super PACs are probably set up by the candidate’s own staff or supporters or family for that matter, so these are means for candidates and political parties to get around the limits, and they can take unlimited amounts of contributions.”

Last election, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) was able to solicit nearly $100 million for the super PAC Right to Rise, because he did so before officially announcing he was running for president, working around laws prohibiting coordination. The earlier it was formed, and the longer he put off his declaration of candidacy, the longer the super PAC could work with Bush’s team and fill the group’s coffers.

We haven’t found any such blatant ties among this year’s crop of super PACs, but there are some familiar names. Main Voters’ treasurer is Seth Tanner, an alum of the teams of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), former Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), and its custodian of records is Amy Pritchard, a political strategist and DNC alum. America First Action, Inc. lists Charles Gantt as the custodian of records, who was the Chief Financial Officer of Trump for America, Inc. Lab 736’s treasurer, Kate Gage, is a former Obama policy adviser. Time to Act PAC’s treasurer is Tommi Pryor, head of a digital marketing company whose clients include Republicans running for Congress or state offices.

One group is dedicated to a candidate who hasn’t declared he will run for Congress: Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. Clarke was in the news last year as a possible Trump appointee to the Department of Homeland Security (or even a replacement for FBI Director James Comey), and as the man overseeing a county jail where four inmates died in custody.  A committee with a P.O. Box in Pinehurst, North Carolina is urging the sheriff to run against Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc) in 2018, and has already raised more than $300,000 from almost 6,000 donors, according to the group’s chairman, Jack Daly, former Republican counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. (For comparison, Baldwin has $2.5 million cash on hand as of March 31.) The cast of characters on the group’s advisory board includes Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman, Nick Searcy, who plays a U.S. Marshal in the TV show “Justified,” and Robert Davi, an actor and singer who played an FBI agent in “Die Hard.”

Formed a week after the 2016 election, Ohio Freedom Fund is already backing that state’s Republican Treasurer Josh Mandel for his battle against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) next year, and is obscuring its donors. The AP found a majority of the funds came from a nonprofit named Citizens for a Working America, which is not required to disclose who funded it. We know that it is led by Joel Riter, a former aide to Mandel.

Change for Ohio District Two doesn’t know who it wants to replace Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R), just that it wants him out. “While the opposing candidate is not yet known, we did not want to wait for that candidate to have our voices heard,” said founder Emily Cobbs in an email. “This is truly about Brad not being the right Representative for Ohio District 2 and we are going to do everything in our power Repeal and Replace Wenstrup from now until November of 2018.”

Another group, Deal Her Out, already has a website calling users to “Dump Elizabeth Warren,” written on the side of a dumpster.

Finally, if you think it’s too early to be raising money for 2018, tell that to the groups already preparing for 2020.

The Center for Public Integrity found that two groups backing Trump for his bid for a second term, Great America PAC and Committee to Defend the President (formerly Stop Hillary PAC), have already spent $1.32 million. Last year, these two hybrid “Carey committees” (half regular PAC that can make campaign contributions, half super PAC) spent $26 million, mostly on Trump’s behalf.

At least two new groups are also looking forward three years: Draft Mo for President 2020 and California 2020, the latter saying it was too early to share its plans. Filmmaker Harry Knapp of Newbury Park, California and his two daughters, ages 22 and 24, “were fired up” after the election, so they started Draft Mo, which stands for Michelle Obama. Knapp, who had sold a piece of art to one of the super PACs supporting Hillary Clinton, was familiar with how the groups operated.

“We started talking about how folks effect change and what was interesting to us was that anyone can start a super PAC and become a part of the process, and that seemed like a powerful proposition to us,” Knapp said. “We all felt that Michelle, although she declared she isn’t running, was worth the effort to start a groundswell for her and her causes.”

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Categories: Further Reading

The power of one

Open Secrets - Mon, 05/08/2017 - 09:28

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer pushed the environmental interests industry into seventh place in 2014 and 2016, among all industries. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli,File)

As hot an issue as the environment has been in recent years, there’s never been much money in it for politicians. People who work for environmental advocacy groups, for instance, tend not to have a lot of extra scratch to contribute to candidates and parties, and political action committees in the field are generally modestly funded.

So why, after never having cracked the Center for Responsive Politics‘ 50 top-giving industries and interest groups, have environmental interests suddenly shot into seventh place in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles?

The answer is one Supreme Court decision plus one man. The decision, of course, is Citizens United, the 2010 ruling that allows corporations, unions and individuals to spend unlimited amounts to advocate for a candidate’s election or defeat as long as that spending isn’t coordinated with the candidate.

The man is Tom Steyer, billionaire environmentalist and hedge fund manager.

Take a look at the following chart:

Industry rank among all other industries

Propelling the rise of environmental interests was the fact that Steyer contributed 85 percent of that interest group’s contributions, or $73.9 million, in the 2014 cycle and 78 percent, or $87 million, in 2016.

Casinos and gambling make up another industry whose rankings have soared, from 36th in 2008 to 18th in 2016 (and it was as high as 10th in 2012). That’s due to the political engagement of Las Vegas Sands casino owner Sheldon Adelman. Adelson accounted for 62 percent, or $43.6 million, of the contributions from the industry in the 206 cycle.

This is part of a trend of relatively few large donors dominating campaign contributions since the Citizens United decision. On average, the top individual donor for an industry accounted for 10 percent of the contributions from that industry in the 2016 cycle, a higher percentage than ever before.

Top individuals donors dominate their industries

Prior to 2002, when the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was passed, individuals, corporations and unions could make unlimited contributions to the political parties, called “soft money.” During that period, the top individual donors in each industry averaged as much as nearly 4 percent of contributions from that industry. After that law took effect, the top donors’ share dropped below 1 percent.

In the wake of Citizens United, there was a dramatic increase in contributions from the top donors in each industry, well beyond the levels of the soft money era. In 2016, for the first time individuals accounted for half or more of the contributions from five interest groups or industries that gave more than $1 million.

Leaving aside consideration of industries, the shift that has allowed a small group of political donors to account for a larger and larger share of the contributions total has been dramatic.

Post Citizens United, the top donors’ share of contributions jumps from a fraction of a percent in 2008 to close to one-fifth of contributions in the 2016 cycle. Furthermore, these individual donors have much more control of their money than they did in the soft money era: Rather than simply handing it over to the Democratic or Republican parties, they can direct it to groups benefiting particular candidates. In the second decade of the 21st century, the biggest individual donors have assumed a far greater role in elections than we’ve seen in generations.

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Categories: Further Reading

Beyond the NEA budget: The political side of art

Open Secrets - Mon, 05/08/2017 - 06:08

The late Roy Lichtenstein, whose work “The Ring (Engagement)” is pictured, was a Democratic donor, though not as prolific as his widow. Dorothy Lichtenstein gave $1.2 million to Democratic and liberal candidates and committees in the 2016 election cycle. (Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)

The Recording Academy’s high-wattage GRAMMYs on the Hill event in early April honored Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) for their commitment to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) — an agency that President Donald Trump‘s administration has proposed cutting.

Still, stars like country singers Keith Urban and Wynonna Judd, both of whom performed that night, don’t rely on the NEA for their survival; they were there, in part, to underscore the central role of the endowment in the artistic endeavors of nonprofits, museums, schools, local governments and other noncommercial organizations. Among last fall’s grantees: The city of Los Angeles, which received $50,000 for an exhibition about Latin American art and architecture; Step Afrika! of Washington, D.C., awarded $10,000 to support its Black History Month tour; and the Cuyahoga Community College Foundation in Cleveland, which won two grants, including $20,000 for an educational jazz festival.

Without much of a presence on the Hill, such community-centric organizations rely largely on advocates in the broader arts universe, like the Recording Academy, which spent $162,000 lobbying last year, and Americans for the Arts, a group that spent $160,000 lobbying on issues like arts education and creative arts therapy access for veterans.

In the first quarter of 2017, Americans for the Arts ramped up, spending $90,000 on lobbying — more than half its outlays for all of 2016. Funding for NEA and its companion group, the National Endowment for the Humanities, was the first concern it listed on its lobbying report.

Another concern listed by the group: tax deductions for charitable contributions, which, as of last month, some in the Trump administration reportedly were considering capping as part of a tax reform proposal.

That could be a matter of life and death for arts groups, which rely heavily on donations. In 2012, for example, the NEA reported that nonprofit performing arts groups and museums received nearly 45 percent of their revenue from government and private sector contributions. Almost all of that, however, came from individuals, foundations and corporations; less than 7 percent of total revenue came from the government at any level.

Then why is the NEA so significant for these groups?

For one, the endowment helps make up for the geographically disproportionate nature of charitable giving, said Elizabeth Auclair, an NEA spokesperson, in an email. Rural areas receive only 5.5 percent of philanthropic dollars, she explained.

The second reason: Government grants can catalyze private giving by legitimizing a project. “Research shows that even a low level of public funding can stimulate private giving,” wrote Auclair. NEA’s funding must be matched by money from other sources, and “when a nonprofit receives an NEA award, it provides the credibility for other funders to step up.”

In fiscal year 2016, NEA grants resulted in $500 million in matching support, Auclair noted.

Art is for everyone, but its money leans left

When it comes to campaign contributions, the kinds of arts organizations that might receive a small NEA grant are unlikely to be rife with high-earning employees capable of donating large sums of money to politicians. Still, some of the bigger groups and arts institutions do make a mark. Americans for the Arts has a PAC (a rarity in the art world), and between that and gifts from its leadership and staff, the organization gave nearly $143,000 in contributions last cycle, 84 percent of which went to Democrats. The group’s top recipient after presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ($10,711) was Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), co-chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus. She received $10,000, and her co-chair, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), received $3,500.

Overall, Democrats get the lion’s share of contributions from arts organizations, perhaps because they seem more willing to publicly associate themselves with the cause. Although the Recording Academy honored one senator from each party (Maine Republican Collins and New Mexico Democrat Udall) with its political Grammys, about 79 percent of the 160 members of the Congressional Arts Caucus are Democrats.

In the 2016 cycle, individuals associated with the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Association of Museums all gave 99 percent or more of their contributions to Democrats. In fact, Natural History has given all of its contributions of more than $200 to Democrats since at least 1994. The level of the gifts varies widely between groups: The museum association gave $1,600, Natural History gave more than $27,800, and the Met gave a relatively whopping $282,000 ($20,000 from Joanne Lyman, who used to manage jewelry reproduction for the museum; about $50,000 from Laurel Britton, head of strategy; and nearly $161,000 from Annette de la Renta, a board member.)

Private art galleries skew no less Democratic.

Over the course of the past four election cycles, seven galleries (selected for their prominence and because they employ active political donors) gave less than $1 million combined. Two of them, Gagosian Gallery and Pace Gallery, accounted for more than half that total. (We didn’t include Christie’s and Sotheby’s, as their business dealings extend beyond those of a traditional gallery.)

Most of the money from Gagosian and Pace came from their respective owners. In the 2016 cycle, Larry Gagosian gave about $86,400 (almost all of Gagosian Gallery’s contributions) to candidates, party committees and other groups, and Arnold and Mildred Glimcher of Pace Gallery gave more than $186,000. Gagosian made six gifts, and only one went to a Republican; all 159 of the Glimcher couple’s gifts went to Democratic candidates and groups.

In addition to gallery owners and employees, some of the artists on display are donors as well. Multimedia artists Carol Brown Goldberg and Pamela Joseph have contributed more than $1 million and nearly $233,000, respectively, since 2008 — all to Democratic and liberal candidates and groups. And remember the iconic “Hope” poster from President Barack Obama‘s 2008 campaign? Shepard Fairey, its designer, gave $17,700 to the DNC that cycle. (He also sent $2,300 Obama’s way.)

Before his death in 1997, pop artist Roy Lichtenstein was a reliable Democratic donor. His contributions pale next to those of his widow, though: Dorothy Lichtenstein, president of the foundation that bears his name, made more than $1.2 million in contributions in the 2016 cycle. Planned Parenthood Votes, a super PAC, received $900,000 of that, another $100,200 benefited the DNC Services Corp. and other gifts went to various Democratic party committees, candidates and PACs.

Regardless of the arts universe’s progressive leanings, lawmakers of both parties might find reason to get behind the NEA; its data shows it awards 40 percent of its grantmaking budget directly to states, and, in fiscal year 2016, it recommended grants in every congressional district in the country. At a cost equal to approximately 0.004 percent of the federal budget, that kind of local aid could be difficult even for Congress’ most hardened small-government advocates to make a stink about.

On April 7, 11 House Republicans — along with many of their Democratic peers — signed a letter not only standing by the NEA, but also seeking a roughly 5 percent increase in its funding. The letter went to Reps. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, which handles the NEA and NEH’s budgets.

And now, those lawmakers, along with the arts community, seem to be getting what they want — for the time being, at least. Last week, Congress agreed on a budget that calls for a $2 million increase in the NEA’s funding, which would raise the agency’s budget to what it had requested for fiscal year 2017 more than a year ago.

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Categories: Further Reading

Biggest share of inaugural funding came from Wall Street

Open Secrets - Thu, 05/04/2017 - 09:15

President Donald Trump got help to fund his inauguration largely from Wall Street, the oil and mining industries and real estate. (Rex Features via AP Images)

For someone who repeatedly berated Wall Street during his campaign, President Trump received a lot of inauguration help from its inhabitants. The securities and investment industry contributed the greatest chunk to Trump’s inaugural festivities, $14.3 million, or about 13 percent of all donations. To compare, Obama received $4.6 million from Wall Street in 2009 and $3 million in 2013.

Not that Trump has made it easy to calculate where the money came from. The required listing of donors the inaugural committee filed with the FEC in April was riddled with false names, and two campaign finance groups filed a complaint earlier this week saying he violated federal law by not collecting basic accurate info. (The committee said it would amend the report.) And while Obama’s reports were both filed electronically, Trump’s team submitted a paper filing that was hand delivered to the FEC, making it much more difficult to process the data. Thanks in part to a crowdsourcing effort and parsing started by Huffington Post, and further analysis by our own research staff, we can now share donor data such as historic giving patterns, where they’re from and affiliated industries. To explore the data yourself, click here.

After Wall Street, Trump was most popular with industries linked to his business empire, with real estate ($9 million), casinos/gambling ($7.8 million from just 11 donors, most of which came from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson) and recreation ($7.2 million) following Wall Street. The latter two did not appear on Obama’s top 10 lists at all.

The oil and gas and mining industries combined for 10 percent of the committee’s total haul, with just 60 donors giving $10.7 million. Companies such as Murray Energy ($300,000), Consol Energy ($150,000) and Exxon Mobil ($500,000) are seeing their investments pay off: Trump is already weakening or killing regulations to which the industry has objected.

His inaugural committee was also popular with the tobacco industry, earned $1 million from Reynolds through a subsidiary, while Altria pitched in $500,000 and Benett Lebow, chairman of Vector Group, gave $300,000. And private prisons, which are hoping to get rich amid Trump’s immigration crackdown, showed their loyalty as well: CCA of Tennessee, or CoreCivic, and GEO Corrections Holding each gave $250,000.

Newcomers and old hands

Almost one-quarter of the around 830 givers wrote their first political checks ever (at the federal level) for Trump’s welcome party. In all, they contributed $2 million to the inauguration. Most of the first-timers (about 100 of them) gave $600 or less.

But other new faces chipped in generously, like Bennie Kante of Sapulpa, Okla. ($250,000), chief strategist for the cosmetics giant SeneGence International. Brad Keltner of Rembert, S.C., gave $250,000; he’s a regional partner of Modern Woodmen of America and a principal of American Pastime Sports Marketing Agency. Kenneth and Sherrilyn Fischer — who are erroneously listed on Trump’s report as Kenneth Sherrilyn — of Fischer Investments gave $200,000.

Timothy Kasbe, who gave $150,000, has been the chief information officer with Reliance Industries, Sears, and Intrexon, as well as COO for Gloria Jeans, a Russian firm. We know less about David Durrant, who gave $100,000 and is listed at a nonexistent address in Anaheim, Calif.

The rest of the donors, collectively, have made quite the impression in the political sphere, giving a total of $595 million to politicians, parties and outside groups since 1989.

But some were late to the Trump train. These donors gave almost $58 million to other presidential candidates — more than twice as much as the $28 million they gave Trump and the various outside groups supporting him during the election. Some portion of them also gave across the aisle, with $13.9 million going to Democrats and liberal groups. Most donations actually came from liberal states such as New York and California, just like Obama’s donors in 2009.

Organizations — companies like AT&T ($2 million) and Dow Chemical ($1 million) — pitched in $51 million. The companies that supported the inauguaral have doled out $26.7 million to outside groups (mostly super PACs) since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision led to the creation of such vessels to accept unlimited corporate, union and other types of contributions. (Almost all of it — $25.1 million — went to conservative groups.)

At least 10 donors are or have been registered lobbyists: Ron Wahid with RJI Capital ($100,000), Lisa Barry of Chevron Corp ($12,500), Michael Klein of M Klein & Co. ($2,500), David Winstead of Winco LLC ($1,000), Adrian Plesha of Promia Inc. ($800), David Tamasi of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications ($500), Jeffrey Strunk of Forbes-Tate ($400), Mitchell Vakerics of Prime Policy Group ($400), Diana Waterman of Coldwell Banker Waterman Realty ($200) and Joanne Young of Kirstein & Young ($200).

Alex Baumgart contributed to this post. 

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Categories: Further Reading

Big tobacco in 2017: Full steam ahead

Open Secrets - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 13:21

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., ended the 2016 cycle at No. 10 among the tobacco industry’s top recipients of campaign contributions. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

This week, the Justice Department moved to delay enforcement of rules the FDA finalized a year ago dealing with tobacco products like e-cigarettes, cigars and hookah tobacco.

It’s been a busy time for big tobacco, as the victory came on the heels of a defeat for vaping (e-cigarette) companies: Sunday night’s omnibus budget bill reportedly did not include the proposed Cole-Bishop Amendment, which would have eased FDA regulations on e-cigarettes.

“Congress delivered a victory for kids and public health by rejecting the Cole-Bishop Amendment and other proposals to weaken FDA oversight of e-cigarettes and cigars,” wrote Becky Wexler, a spokesperson for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in an emailed statement. But Justice’s move for a delay in the rules’ enforcement, she wrote, is potentially dangerous. “The FDA made an overwhelming case for why these products need to be regulated when it issued its final rule last year, and no new facts have emerged to change that.”

Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) have also introduced a stand-alone bill, the FDA Deeming Authority Clarification Act of 2017, with the same aims as the amendment. Arguing for the bill, Bishop and Cole have repeated a common talking point of proponents of vaping: That it helps wean smokers off cigarettes.

Unmentioned was the fact that Cole ended the 2016 cycle at No. 10 among the tobacco industry‘s top recipients of campaign contributions, having raked in more than $33,000. Bishop received about half that, $16,000.

Big tobacco’s favorite candidate of 2016 was, by far, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). As a longtime senator from the nation’s top tobacco-producing state, Burr has been a reliable industry ally and has reaped the benefits; over the course of his two-decade career spanning both the House and the Senate, the tobacco industry has given him more than $689,000.

Top recipients of contributions from the tobacco industry, 2016 cycle

Nine of the industry’s top 10 congressional recipients in the 2016 cycle were Republicans — and 83 percent of its contributions to candidates and party committees went to the GOP. In fact, the majority of tobacco contributions have consistently gone to Republicans since 1992. Favored Democrats have tended to be those from tobacco country, like Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner — they received about $31,000 and $26,900 in the 2016 cycle, respectively — who both represent Virginia, a premier tobacco-producing state.

Big Tobacco was only modestly on-board with the Trump campaign. Altria Group and Reynolds American, the nation’s largest and second-largest producers of tobacco products, together gave the campaign less than $4,000. They must have had a change of heart after Election Day, though. For Trump’s January inauguration, Reynolds donated a cool $1 million through a subsidiary, while Altria coughed up $500,000.

And the industry has other ties to the new administration: Prior to serving as acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil division, Chad Readler represented R.J. Renyolds while working at the law firm Jones Day; and FDA boss Scott Gottlieb used to be on the board of Kure, a vaping company.

Perhaps sensing opportunity, the industry stepped up its lobbying efforts in the first quarter of 2017, spending more than $4.9 million, up about 9.3 percent from the same period in 2016. Altria has already poured $2.3 million into lobbying, and Philip Morris nearly $1.3 million. Both companies have e-cigarette outfits in addition to their more traditional fare; Altria has lobbied on Cole and Bishop’s bill, and Philip Morris on “modified risk” tobacco products — an FDA designation, rooted in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, that could benefit the marketing of vaping offerings, but has yet to be granted to any products. The industry’s lobbying outlays have been relatively modest since it spent nearly $73 million in 1998, the year the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was entered. As part of the massive settlement, which regulated how cigarettes are sold and marketed, top cigarette manufacturers agreed to pay 46 states in connection to the costs of treating tobacco-related illnesses.

The era of vaping, like the settlement, has called the tobacco industry’s reputation into question. In 2015, the CDC revealed some startling findings: From 2013 to 2014, e-cigarette use by middle and high school students tripled, and hookah smoking approximately doubled. Kids are smoking both e-cigarettes and hookah at increased rates — though the degree to which that is tied to the availability of flavors like gummy bears is difficult to prove definitively.

Still, if ever there was a time for the industry to feel optimistic about getting some relief in Washington, this would seem to be it, with control of both Congress and the White House in GOP hands. The Justice Department’s stalling of FDA tobacco product regulations may be a sign of more good things to come — as far as big tobacco is concerned.

“[O]ur hope is that the Trump administration dismantles this rule, as it is utterly unworkable in its current form,” wrote Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, which describes itself as a public health advocacy group, in an emailed statement. He added that it was unclear whether the measure was being re-evaluated or the administration was simply understaffed and needed more time.

But lest vaping supporters feel doubtful about their chances on the Hill, there’s another piece of legislation on the table (along with Cole and Bishop’s bill). Last week, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) introduced the Cigarette Smoking Reduction and Electronic Vapor Alternatives Act of 2017, a bill that would relax the FDA’s approval process for e-cigarettes.

Hunter received more than $16,500 from tobacco PACs in the 2016 cycle.

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Categories: Further Reading

Two (at most) secret donors funded 93% of pro-Rubio nonprofit

Open Secrets - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 07:56

A politically active nonprofit that supported Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) failed 2016 presidential bid raised nearly $22 million in two years, 93 percent of which came from either one or two anonymous donors, tax documents obtained by the Center for Responsive Politics show.

Conservative Solutions Project, a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization with no employees or volunteers that isn’t supposed to be primarily political, spent millions of dollars on ads, research and polling to boost the Florida senator’s candidacy, but it appears to have done little or no social welfare — unless one counts portraying Rubio as a champion on taxes and foreign policy as being a public good. That raises questions of whether CSP crossed a legal line by acting mainly as a political group — and also whether it existed to benefit a single person, violating the IRS’ “private benefit” rule.

The bulk of CSP’s revenues were derived from two anonymous donations — a $13.5 million contribution shown in its first full-year tax filing, and another $7 million contribution in its most recent filing. But because CSP, as a social welfare organization, is not required to publicly disclose the identities of its donors, it isn’t clear if the two contributions came from a single source — an individual, a corporation or some other entity — or two. This lack of donor disclosure is the reason politically active nonprofits are often referred to as “dark money” groups.

CSP did not respond to phone calls or emails with a detailed list of questions about its funders and activities.

The Rubio shadow campaign

CSP was formed in January 2014, nearly a year after a pro-Rubio super PAC with almost exactly the same name came into being. Through the first half of 2015, it kept a low profile, its biggest expenditure being a $1.4 million payment for “research & polling” to a firm called Optimus Consulting, which at the time was also being paid by Rubio’s leadership PAC, Reclaim America PAC.

The 283-page Optimus report, entitled The American Electorate, was a rich trove of voter demographic data and policy polling in early primary states. In other words, it was just the kind of thing a presidential campaign and its allied groups would find extremely useful. But because campaigns aren’t allowed to coordinate with outside groups, CSP — which was completely unknown at the time — quietly put the report online at an address the general public wasn’t likely to stumble upon; since most of the people who worked for CSP also worked for other political groups backing Rubio, however, there seemed little doubt it would find its way into the right hands.

As the presidential primaries went into full swing, Rubio’s own campaign began paying Optimus Consulting, and would remain the company’s largest client in 2016, at $1.3 million, according to FEC data — twice as much as the firm’s next biggest client, the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Optimus wasn’t the only beneficiary of the $13 million in anonymous funding CSP had at its disposal in its first year. A handful of people with close ties to Rubio and his other political organizations were paid either directly or through firms they’re closely associated with, underscoring the complicated but unmistakable connections between the social welfare group and the rest of Rubio’s political galaxy.

CSP’s most recent 990 tax form shows that payments to many of the same people continued in 2016. And none more than Patrick Shortridge, who earned a salary of $125,000 for 30 hours of work per week last year — a generous sum that was doubled by a payment to PCS Consulting, of which Shortridge is the sole owner. That money came on top of the $127,500 Shortridge and his firm were paid in 2015.

Shortridge is the only CSP board member to take a direct salary from the group, but the firms of other board members also did well. Parlay Political, a consulting firm where CSP board member Joel McEhlannon is managing partner, received a total of $187,000 from CSP over two years. In another instance, a firm called J. Warren Tomkins Inc. was paid $150,000, in addition to both the $137,500 it was paid the prior year and the $245,048 it was paid by the pro-Rubio super PAC through the end of 2016. The company’s owner and namesake, Tomkins, is a seasoned political operative In South Carolina — an important early primary state in the presidential nominating process — and another CSP board member.

When asked in 2015 about the ties between Rubio allies and CSP, the group’s spokesman Jeff Sadosky didn’t deny them. “Absolutely, the two groups are related,” Sadosky said of CSP and the Rubio super PAC in an interview with National Journal. “But they are separate and distinct entities. One is focused on supporting Marco Rubio’s potential presidential campaign, and one is focused on issue education.”

Marco Rubio 101 

If you were to look through Federal Election Commission data trying to find any political spending by a group called Conservative Solutions Project, you’d come up empty. While the super PAC arm filed FEC reports showing it spent $55.4 million from November 2015 to March 2016, CSP itself reported no outlays whatsoever.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t active. In fact, it was so busy in the early days of the campaign that by Dec. 9, 2015, it had spent more than $8 million to run 4,882 ads favoring Rubio. For comparison, Rubio’s own campaign and his allied super PAC, combined, had only run 1,714 ads up to that point, according to a Wesleyan Media Project report published in partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics.

One of the only ads run by CSP that mentioned another candidate ended showing Rubio front and center with bold “Support Marco Rubio” text

None of the CSP ads were mentioned to the FEC, though, because they were all framed as the kind of “issue education” that Sadosky was talking about. Yes, they were were airing in early primary states and yes, they cast Marco Rubio’s positions on taxes and national security in the most flattering possible light. But they ran far enough ahead of the election — in this case, more than 60 days before a primary — that, under FEC rules, they didn’t have to be reported.

CSP’s single largest payment was $13.1 million — 64 percent of the group’s spending since its founding — to Target Enterprises for “media placement.” Target’s purchase of the air time for CSP is shown in the Center for Responsive Politics’ Federal Communications Commission ad data.

Other disbursements by the group are harder to track. For example, it spent $2.2 million on direct mail and telemarketing, but there is no way to track such outlays if they weren’t used to call explicitly for the election or defeat of a candidate. News reports show that one mailer in Iowa featuring a blue-eyed baby promised Rubio would defund Planned Parenthood, while another in New Hampshire tied Rubio’s primary opponents, Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), to Edward Snowden, the former government contractor who leaked thousands of classified National Security Agency documents, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who was vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. CSP won a Pollie Award for that one from the American Association of Political Consultants.

Target Enterprises and the firms that directed CSP’s direct mail and telemarketing operations — On the Mark Direct and Bask Digital Media — were paid $53.7 million by CSP’s super PAC arm for the same services.

In all, Conservative Solutions Projects’ payments to companies linked to its Rubio advocacy come out to $15.6 million, which accounts for 76 percent of the group’s combined spending from its founding in 2014 through the end of its last tax filing in mid-2016. That total doesn’t include the $1.4 million paid to Optimus Consulting for research and polling, or the payments to board members and their firms.

This overwhelming spending on services that benefited Rubio’s campaign could easily look, to an average citizen, like excessive politicking on the part of a social welfare organization. But an analysis of the legal merits of that argument, even if the IRS were to investigate (a rare event), could well get bogged down in murky definitions and go back and forth for years — as similar disputes have. History shows that groups rarely lose their tax-exempt status.

Congress isn’t helping to sharpen the picture. In the omnibus spending bill passed this week, lawmakers extended a ban on the IRS advancing any so-called “bright line” rules for measuring a nonprofit’s political activities.

But even if the IRS didn’t go after CSP for spending the majority of its resources for overtly political purposes, it could decide that most of the nonprofit’s spending had gone for an array of services that benefited a single person, Rubio, and thus violated another requirement — that nonprofits benefit the broader public.

Philip Hackney, former chief counsel of the IRS division overseeing exempt organizations who now teaches law at Louisiana State University, says that if the IRS could show that CSP “was exclusively or primarily benefiting Rubio” through its focus on him and his policy positions, then the agency might have grounds to revoke the group’s tax-exempt status “without having to go the political route.”

Marcus Owens, former head of the IRS exempt organizations division, agreed, saying that if the IRS looked into CSP, it “would probably say there’s an overwhelming private benefit to its activities” as well as possible campaign intervention “depending on if the messages got close to ‘vote for’ or ‘vote against'” in substance.

Working in CSP’s favor, though, is that the odds of it being audited at all are about as good as those of a Shetland pony running away with Saturday’s Kentucky Derby — and that’s been no secret to the group or its lawyers. “[T]he IRS doesn’t have the capacity to do a lot of audits of any kind right now,” noted Owens, due to chronic and deliberate underfunding; that stands little chance of changing under President Trump and the Republicans controlling Congress, who have been at odds with the agency for years.

Meanwhile, CSP lies quiet, save an occasional tweet. There’s always another election cycle to consider.

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Categories: Further Reading

Nonprofits backing Trump have deep, swampy ties

Open Secrets - Tue, 05/02/2017 - 06:00

Todd Ricketts and other Ricketts family members have been key players in dark money groups for years. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Outside groups mobilizing in support of President Trump have already spent tens of millions on his behalf—and may never have to reveal where they got the money.

Trump’s unprecedented move to register as a candidate for the 2020 presidential election on his first day in office blurs the line between groups spending in support of the president’s agenda and those supporting his re-election. Unlike their forerunner, Organizing for Action, which did not exist as a 501(c)(4) until after President Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012, political nonprofits have been active since the onset of President Trump’s first term as he’s taken on the roles of both candidate and president.

Groups like the 45 Committee that were established during the 2016 election have spent multiple millions of dollars on ad campaigns during Trump’s first 100 days in office. Trump’s supporters also include new names like Great America Alliance and Making America Great, whose operations and funding sources are still largely opaque though they’ve spent plenty backing Trump; they will not have to file reports with the IRS until next year, and even then won’t have to publicly name their donors — just some of the benefits of the 501(c) tax status.

The nonprofits have publicly jostled to be the Trumpian counterpart to Obama’s OFA; but these groups have much more in common with each other—and the “swamp” of political insiders his campaign promised to “drain”—than initially meets the eye.

For instance, despite holding itself out as a “new” nonprofit launched to support President Trump’s agenda, records show Great America Alliance is actually a refurbished 501(c)(4) that has been around since 2013. An IRS Exempt Organizations Division official confirmed that Great America Alliance was once known as the American Dream Initiative (ADI), a politically active nonprofit with a history of spending undisclosed “dark money” in politics under the guise of issue advocacy.

A page from Rove’s playbook

Great America Alliance is not the first politically active nonprofit crafted from the carcass of another group. Notably, the operatives behind dark money behemoth Crossroads GPS appropriated an existing 501(c)(4) and rebranded it: It’s now One Nation. Tax lawyers have speculated that this strategy can expedite the IRS approval process for tax-exempt status, which took Crossroads GPS over five years.

ADI’s Form 990 from 2014 shows the group paid over $500,000—more than 83% of its total spending in 2014, though it’s supposed to spend less than half its funds on political activities—to OnMessage Inc. for “media buy and production” of an ad attacking a candidate for Texas attorney general that ran just before a runoff election in that race. OnMessage was paid by over 40 political campaigns, outside groups, and party committees supporting conservative candidates or agendas in each of the last three election cycles. However, only two other nonprofit organizations in the Center for Responsive Politics’ comprehensive database of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, 501(c)(5) labor unions, and 501(c)(6) trade groups filing tax returns with the IRS in recent years reported paying OnMessage Inc: the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee in 2011 and American Future Fund in 2010, which also came under scrutiny for skirting restrictions on political spending.

ADI reported no political activity to the IRS in 2014 and only an unusual $1 political contribution the following year to “Grassroots Victory” with an address at the same location as ADI itself. In 2016, the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed both a federal criminal complaint and an IRS complaint against ADI and 10 other “social welfare” groups; CREW called for the FBI to investigate whether the groups violated their nonprofit status by acting as political organizations or significantly underreporting their political activity.

After the Texas attorney general race in 2014, ADI appeared to go dormant. Then it got a fresh coat of paint in 2016 for its quiet rollout as Great America Alliance.

Fresh faces, new scandals

In late January 2017, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced their “newly-formed” political nonprofit devoted to promoting President Donald Trump’s agenda: Great America Alliance. Two Republican political operatives who are now in charge of the group, Ed Rollins and Eric Beach, as well as its executive director, Dan Backer, also ran a super PAC supporting Trump in the 2016 presidential race called Great America PAC.  Great America PAC raised and spent millions in the last election cycle—but also became embroiled in several controversies.

The super PAC mistakenly published emails and cell phone numbers of hundreds of donors, became caught up in a fundraising scandal for attempting to funnel money from a foreign donor into the U.S. presidential election, and parted ways with a political operative convicted of falsifying campaign records in a prior election. Blasted as a “big-league scam,” Great America PAC was accused by many of being a scam PAC. Nevertheless, the group raised over $28 million during the 2016 cycle and spent over $26 million. Great America PAC paid more than $4 million to Beach’s firm, Frontline Strategies and Media, making the PAC the firm’s top-paying client that cycle.

In 2014, ADI reported raising $600,000 from a fundraising campaign using in-person solicitation conducted by Frontline. The same year, ADI received $250,000 from Judicial Crisis Network and $350,000 from Wellspring. Frontline Strategy’s $600,000 fundraising push—which matches the total amount donated by the Wellspring and Judicial Crisis Network—accounts for more than 90% of ADI’s revenue of $652,829 in 2014.

Secret swamp connections

Great America Alliance is in good company with other 501(c)(4) nonprofits mobilizing for Trump’s agenda that also have financial ties to “dark money” groups that have gained notoriety over the years. Wellspring has bankrolled other groups with deep connections to the Trump administration as well, funneling $750,000 to 45 Committee and $100,000 to “AR2 Inc.,” the 501(c)(4) arm of the GOP “America Rising” network of opposition research groups. Although the groups appear to be disjointed and often even in competition with each other, the network of politically active nonprofits supporting Trump’s agenda share common vendors, staff, consultants, and funding sources.

Much of this can be traced to two influential families of mega-donors: the Ricketts and the Mercers. Beyond just the money they bring to the table, members of each family have taken strategic roles in nonprofits as well as firms those groups hire.

Todd Ricketts, who recently withdrew from consideration to be deputy secretary of Commerce due to the difficulty of disentangling himself from his business interests, has been a key player in “dark money” operations for years. In 2012, he took over a 501(c)(4) nonprofit called Ending Spending as well as its super PAC arm, ESA Fund, formerly Ending Spending Action Fund, which were started by his father and fellow mega-donor Joe Ricketts. The super PAC spent more than $15 million in the 2016 cycle, and Ending Spending itself reported spending over $2.6 million. Because Ending Spending ran “issue” ads that most of the time need not be reported to the FEC despite being almost indistinguishable from direct advocacy, the total amount spent remains unknown but is likely much higher. Its donors may never be known.

The Ricketts also helmed the 45Committee and Future45, which spent over $40 million in the 2016 election. 45Committee, another 501(c)(4), has continued spending to praise Trump’s nominees and policies, and has invested in other federal races. The family’s flip to support Trump has been startling: During his campaign, Trump threatened to expose the Ricketts’ family secrets after Joe and Marlene Ricketts gave more than $5.5 million to Our Principles PAC, which opposed Trump.

Unlike the Ricketts, the Mercers kept a lower profile—until recently. Robert Mercer and his wife Diane are in the top 20 individual donors at the federal political level, which the Ricketts are as well. However, the Mercers’ contribution patterns are more line with their reported rejection of the GOP establishment.

Although the Mercers originally spent millions backing Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, when Cruz suspended his campaign they quickly directed their super PAC to support Trump, becoming among the first major donors on the “Trump train.” Ultimately they spent around $20 million on behalf of Trump. The Mercers also leveraged the power of Cambridge Analytica, a firm that uses secret psychological methods to more effectively influence voters, to help the Republican nominee. The Mercers are investors in the firm.

After the election, Robert Mercer’s daughter Rebekah joined forces with top Trump campaign advisers to form America First Policies. But a power struggle followed the emergence of more pro-Trump nonprofit groups in the unstable ecosystem, leading Rebekah Mercer to leave America First Policies for another new pro-Trump nonprofit called Making America Great. There she joins ally David Bossie, whom she helped elevate to become Trump’s deputy campaign manager last year.

As alliances continue to shift between factions, this tangled web of groups churning money from secret donors into the pockets of consultants doesn’t appear to be draining the swamp. Seems more like everyone’s dived in.

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Categories: Further Reading

Where are they now? Lucrative lobbying gigs, other jobs landed by newly-former lawmakers

Open Secrets - Mon, 05/01/2017 - 07:00

Former Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), pictured here in 2014, is a defender of ex-lawmakers who become lobbyists. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

“I think that American people should know that the members of Congress are underpaid,” said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) in April 2014, having recently announced his retirement from the House.

To be fair, he was discussing the results of an annual House vote on adjusting lawmaker pay: Each year, Congress can give itself a raise to keep up with rising costs of living, but — with lawmakers wary of casting a vote that could so obviously be used against them in a campaign — it has voted against doing so since increasing the salary of rank-and-file lawmakers from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009.

Luckily for Moran and others exiting Capitol Hill, there’s money to be made with government credentials. In early 2014, the Sunlight Foundation estimated that while lobbyists made a median of nearly $180,000 in lobbying revenue in 2012, the median for lobbyists with government experience was $300,000. No doubt aware of his earning potential, Moran went on to lobby for McDermott, Will and Emery. Among his clients in 2016 was Boeing Co., which contributed $156,000 to his campaign committee over the course of his career, making the company his third-biggest donor.

Also keen on representing Boeing is former Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who lost his re-election bid to Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) last November. Kirk has said that he’s considering opening up a lobbying shop, and that he’s “already talked to Boeing.” And why not, when Boeing spent more than $17 million lobbying in 2016, with its average lobbying contract worth nearly $172,000?

With their treasure troves of connections and policymaking know-how, former lawmakers are hot commodities for lobbying firms. And while ex-representatives must wait one year, and ex-senators two years, before lobbying their former colleagues, that doesn’t stop them from laying the groundwork for lobbying careers.

As long as individuals don’t exceed certain thresholds based on compensation and time spent on clients, they can carry out lobbying-esque work during their cooling-off period; “strategic adviser” is a typical title for these ex-lawmakers in the early days of their new careers. That, according to Brendan Fischer, director of the Campaign Legal Center’s federal and FEC reform program, makes the mandated waiting periods “fairly easy” to get around. In addition, there’s no restriction on former senators or House members lobbying the executive branch.

Several other lawmakers who left the Hill in January have joined Kirk in exploring their options on the other side of the revolving door. Former Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) is now with Capitol Counsel, former Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) is senior counsel at King and Spalding, former Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is co-chairman of Mercury (his clients include the American Chemistry Council, the Atlantic Development Group and Cabot Corp.) and former Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) is “senior legislative advisor” at the same firm where Moran landed, McDermott, Will and Emery.

Then there’s former Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), who resigned in 2015 and is now a senior strategic advisor at lobbying powerhouse Squire Patton Boggs. He’s also on the board of Reynolds American, the nation’s second-largest tobacco company and producer of brands like Camel, Newport, Pall Mall and Kent. Boehner was big tobacco’s prime recipient of campaign contributions in the 2014 cycle, the last one in which he ran for re-election; he received more than $130,000 from the industry then.

Critics of this path for former lawmakers worry that the prospect of future employment can skew how they behave while they’re still on the public payroll.

“The prospect of a lucrative post-government career can create warped incentives while a member is still in office,” Fischer wrote in an email. “[A] current member’s position on an issue may not be motivated by what’s best for their constituents or the country, but based on what’s going to curry favor with a future employer. More broadly, the revolving door helps contribute to a permanent political class that creates distance between the people who run government and the people they are supposed to serve.”

Moran, though, explains that he was true to his values in Congress, and continues to be so in his advising role. “One of the reasons that I chose McDermott, Will and Emery has borne out, and that is that they weren’t going to ask me to work on anything that I didn’t believe in,” he said. “Those who have different points of view would probably represent a different corporation or interest, but if I talk to a member, I’m not going to ask them to do something that I don’t believe is in their interest or the interest of their constituents. And that’s why they would spend time with me, and engage in extended conversation: Because they, I hope, would trust that that would always be the case.”

As for what drew him to his new career after 24 years in Congress: “I figured that if I go with a firm I can concentrate on fewer issues, I can spend more time with my children, and I could even afford to own a home,” he said.

Lobbying might be an especially lucrative career path, but it isn’t the only line of work that awaits former lawmakers. Former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and former Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) both now work in the federal government — Coats is the director of National Intelligence, and Fleming’s the deputy assistant secretary for health technology at HHS. Former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), on the other hand, founded PAC for a Change, and is raising money to target competitive Senate races.

Outgoing lawmakers intent on staying in the public sector, like former Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), can also transition to state or local government; she’s now the public works commissioner of Macomb County, Michigan.

But for those eager to leave the government and its dealings behind, the private sector is rich with opportunity. Former Rep. Brad Ashford (D-Neb.), for example, was scooped up by Midtown Vision 2050, a development company looking to build up a portion of Omaha, Nebraska — the largest city in Ashford’s one-time district.

Alternatively, four outgoing lawmakers are headed back to school, having accepted university gigs: Former Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) and Robert Hurt (R-Va.), as well as former Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). But academia and lobbying have plenty of overlap: While Mikulski and Israel are settling into academically-oriented posts — Israel at Long Island Univeristy as chairman of the LIU Global Institute and distinguished writer in residence, and Mikulski as professor of public policy and adviser to the university’s president at Johns Hopkins University — Salmon has taken the role of vice president for government affairs at Arizona State University and Hurt will lead Liberty University’s Center for Law and Government, which aims “to influence public policy in America and to celebrate and spread conservative ideals.”

To see the full list of the 114th Congress’ outgoing members, follow this link. We’ll update the page as we learn how the former lawmakers choose to lead their post-congressional careers.

House and Senate staffers who recently gave up — by necessity or voluntarily — their congressional work-spaces are another story, and one we’ll tell soon.

Researcher Dan Auble contributed to this post.

The post Where are they now? Lucrative lobbying gigs, other jobs landed by newly-former lawmakers appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

Little outside spending but lots of self-funding in South Carolina special

Open Secrets - Fri, 04/28/2017 - 10:56

Republican Sheri Few, a candidate for an open South Carolina House seat, chastises politicians for removing Confederate memorials in her ad. (Sheri Few for Congress YouTube Channel)

While you’re not seeing much in terms of cheesy outside group ads in South Carolina’s special election, there’s no shortage of unique messaging going on in the race. Turn on the TV and you can catch one of candidate Sheri Few’s ads, in which she’s holding an AR-15 and condemning lawmakers from removing Confederate flags and monuments from public spaces.

“Weak politicians are too quick to blame a horrible tragedy on a flag, or a gun, or even free speech,” says Few, clutching a rifle in front of a stars-and-stripes backdrop. In another, she accuses two of her rivals of starting “a war on our history. Now they’re renaming streets and colleges and destroying monuments to confederate soldiers.”

Few is one of seven Republican candidates, who, along with three Democrats, are competing in the May 2 primary to fill South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District seat after Mick Mulvaney resigned to lead the Office of Management and Budget.

While the candidates have engaged in the usual scramble to bring in campaign funds — albeit in a concentrated four-month time frame — they’ve shown an uncommon willingness to put up their own money. Ralph Norman Jr. (R), a state representative and real estate developer, leads the pack with at least $614,000 raised; half of that is money he personally loaned his campaign. Democrat and Goldman Sachs senior adviser Archie Parnell ranks No. 2 with $333,000, including $180,000 he donated.

Attorney and State Guard commander Tom Mullikin (R) also lent and donated his campaign a bundle, $224,000, to reach a total of $317,000. Republican state Rep. Tommy Pope gathered $226,000, $30,000 of which he borrowed from his personal bank account. And Few loaned her effort $8,500, bringing her fundraising total to over $63,000.

“There’s not a lot of press attention to this election to spike the interest, so the candidates have to make up for it out of their own” pockets, said David Woodard, a political science professor at Clemson University and a Republican campaign consultant. “The fifth district is spread out over several counties and the crescent of Charlotte, and the problem is you can get people to give for a general but it’s very hard in a primary to get that kind of attention most of the time.”


*Includes pre-summary data through April 12, and $1,000+ donations through April 25

The only two outside players include Rampart PAC, a super PAC set up in 2016 to support former Rep. Marlin Stutzman‘s (R-Ind.) Senate bid; it has spent $12,500 on digital advertising to back former South Carolina Republican Party chairman Chad Connelly. The other, Hometown Freedom Action Network, has which spent $130,000 to produce and air ads backing Pope.

Rampart PAC reported only a handful of donations, the largest of which was $15,000 from a nonprofit called Faith Wins Action, which was incorporated in February. It lists as its address a three-bedroom house in West Columbia, South Carolina owned by Martin Andrew McKissick, who also gave $5,000 directly to the PAC. The Republican Party paid a Martin McKissick $26,000, including travel expenses, in the last election cycle, and a Drew McKissick is a Republican strategist in the state.

Hometown Freedom Action Network has not filed a full FEC report yet this year, but received $101,000 from Citizens for a Working America, which has ties to Ohio dark money groups like Government Integrity Fund and former Republican Governors Association officials like Nick Ayers. The group’s YouTube channel doesn’t yet show any South Carolina videos, but includes two ads from two years ago against Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and one promoting Don Ytterberg (R), a 2014 candidate who lost his race for a Colorado House seat. The group’s website also leaves much to be desired. (It’s fair to note that South Carolina 5 hasn’t seen much outside activity since the 2010 election when Mulvaney beat out incumbent Democrat John Spratt Jr., with the help of the National Republican Congressional Committee and Club for Growth.)

“That money looks good, but it doesn’t have as much payoff for ads because you’re spending on a very expensive market, probably Charlotte, where three-fourths of them live in North Carolina,” Woodard said. “That was a constant headache for us, putting money up for voters that can’t vote for you.”

A candidate would have to get more than 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday to avoid a runoff between the top two finishers. Woodard posits two of three Republicans — Pope, Norman, and Connelly — will make it to the June 20 runoff in the deep red district.

Outside action in the Palmetto State is dwarfed by what’s happening in Georgia, which holds its faceoff between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel on June 20, and Montana, where there’s a primary on May 25.

As we reported earlier, Georgia’s race is quite the battleground for outside groups, and features a Democratic newcomer who has raised a historic amount of money. Ossoff didn’t quite nab the required 50 percent to automatically win in the April 18 primary, so he is now up against Handel, the former Georgia secretary of state; it’s a much harder battle now that the Republican field isn’t fractured. President Trump himself was scheduled to help Handel fundraise Friday after his keynote address at the National Rifle Association convention. National party groups like the Congressional Leadership Fund and the NRCC continue to report six figure ad-buys to help keep the seat in Republican hands.

Even the Treasure State race is garnering attention from high places, with Bernie Sanders campaigning with the Democratic contender and local folk singer, Rob Quist. He’s up against Republican Greg Gianforte, a founder of a software company who ran unsuccessfully for governor, but is looking to have a much better chance in this race: Polls show him leading Quist by 15 percentage points.

The Congressional Leadership Fund ($1.6 million) and the NRCC ($324,000) have done some spending in the race (though not as much as in Georgia), while interest groups such as the National Rifle Association ($185,000) have faced off against Planned Parenthood Action Fund ($28,000 as reported to the FEC). The NRA attacked Quist and boosted Gianfort, while Planned Parenthood recently announced it launched a six-figure ad buy backing Quist.

The post Little outside spending but lots of self-funding in South Carolina special appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

Surge in LLC contributions brings more mystery about true donors

Open Secrets - Thu, 04/27/2017 - 09:38

Jeb Bush was a favorite recipient for LLC donations, with almost $6 million coming from the entities to his supporting super PAC. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Donald Trump’s inaugural committee did well by almost any standard: Doubling the previous record for cash raised to fund festivities around a new president’s swearing-in, it took in contributions from every major sector of the economy, and from donors who had steered clear of his campaign prior to the election.

The committee also received about $10.6 million — or about 10 percent of its total raised — from roughly 60 limited liability companies, or LLCs — structures often set up by small businesses that provide favorable tax treatment while also protecting their owners’ assets.

But some exist mainly to mask people’s identities.

Names of many of the inaugural LLC donors are straightforward, like Altria Client Services LLC, which clearly is affiliated with the tobacco company. Others read like a can of alphabet soup just exploded: HFNWA LLC, which gave $1 million; BV-2 LLC, $350,000; HGI DB Fund LLC, $250,000; HGIM LLC Corporate, same amount; or HJK LLC, $100,000, to name a few.

OpenSecrets Blog and other news outlets tracked down the people behind some of these using state corporate records searches and similar sources. (Franklin Haney, Gordon Sondland, Chad Guidry and his brother Shane, and H.J. Kalikow were behind that batch of five.) But the individuals who control a handful of the others on the list — like BH Group, LLC, which contributed $1 million — haven’t been nailed down.

By comparison, President Barack Obama’s 2013 inaugural committee received funds from just six LLCs, none of which had mysterious backers; they gave a total of $496,750.

And inaugural committees aren’t the only recipients of surging LLC contributions — their donations to presidential campaigns and super PACs in 2016 also spiked: About 840 of them gave roughly $21 million in the last cycle — almost double the $12 million by 109 LLCs in 2012, the first presidential race after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Who is that man behind the curtain?

Exactly what LLCs can and can’t do in the political realm depends on how they file tax returns: as corporations, or not. If not, their revenues, losses and so on are included on the personal returns of the individual or partners who own the LLC.

Corporate LLCs and LLPs (limited liability partnerships) can’t donate directly to candidates; the noncorporate kind can, as long as they report the names of the individuals responsible for the donations. The contributions count toward an individual’s giving limits ($2,700 per candidate per election, but there’s no limit on gifts to super PACs.)

But many limited liability donations are reported with no names included. “LLC donations have created this whole new realm of transparency problems,” said Brendan Fischer, federal program director at the Campaign Legal Center. “They require minimal transparency and they are easy to set up, making them an appealing vehicle for a donor that doesn’t want his name attached.”

A donation could also cross the legal line by allowing foreign or corporate funds to flow into an election.

“A foreign national or a foreign individual or an agent could easily set up an LLC in Delaware, make a contribution and if the true source is not disclosed, the public would have no way of knowing,” Fischer noted.

LLCs gave about $828,000 to presidential campaign committees in 2016 — a modest sum given that the cost of the presidential election was an estimated $2.4 billion, and 26 candidates raised $1.5 billion, but way up from the $7,500 that these organizations gave to White House campaigns in the 2012 cycle. Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) led the pack with $160,000, followed by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton with $112,000 and Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) with $110,000. Trump came in at No. 7 with $49,000. (In our analysis, we only included donations from entities with “LLC” or “LLP” in their names, which means we have certainly undercounted.)

But it is Trump’s LLC donations that have spurred the most queries from the Federal Election Commission, even though his haul from such companies was modest compared with that of other candidates. The agency wants to know whether around 140 LLC donations of $91,000 (about $52,000 of which went into Trump’s campaign committee) were legal. (This figure is larger than our count of Trump’s LLCs because it includes groups that are LLCs but don’t have those letters in their names.) In many cases, Trump didn’t report the partners’ names, as the rules require.

One letter from the FEC highlighted a company with a headline-strewn past: Clean Energy Capital, LLC, which gave $1,000 to Trump’s Make America Great Again joint fundraising committee in early October. Two years earlier, it was a different agency, the SEC, that was interested in this Tuscon-based private equity fund and its CEO, Scott Brittenham, accusing them of misallocating funds. Brittenham and the fund settled the federal charges, paying roughly $2.2 million. The campaign reattributed the donation, $800 of which had been allocated to Trump’s campaign from the JFC, to Brittenham.

The campaign has fixed some of the other LLC donations flagged by the FEC, too. At least six were refunded because the campaign could not determine if they were legal or not. In some other cases, the campaign amended its FEC report to include partnership attributions. At least one query from the agency, concerning nine LLCs, is still awaiting a response, which is due by May 12.

“Our Committee has safeguards in place to ensure that all contributions are made by eligible contributors only,” wrote campaign treasurer Timothy Jost in September and November letters to the FEC.

LLC donors to Trump and his JFCs disclosed in response to FEC queries

Most of the LLC donor action was with outside spending groups. Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) led the presidential pack with $6 million in such contributions to his super PAC, Right to Rise. He was followed by a fellow Florida Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio, with $5.5 million from LLC donors to Conservative Solutions, the super PAC dedicated to electing him; and Kasich, who saw $2.2 million in LLC donations to his super PAC, New Day for America.

Trump moved up, coming in at No. 4 with his groups getting $1.6 million from LLCs.

With some of these organizations, it takes quite a bit of digging to uncover the name of the human responsible for the contribution. For instance, MMWP12, LLC gave $500,000 to pro-Kasich super PAC New Day Independent Media Committee. The Center for Public Integrity reported the entity was incorporated in Montana the day before it made the big gift, and is linked to another LLC, K2M, that lists a former Kasich staff member, Paul Johannsen, as one of its officers. Another example: The New York Times identified the true source of the $250,000 from V3 231, LLC to pro-Cruz Stand for Principal PAC: Ben Nash, the CEO of PCS Wireless. And the AP uncovered the original donor behind a half-million-dollar donation from IGX LLC in Delaware (in which three such names are registered) to Rubio’s super PAC.to be self-described investor Andrew Duncan of Brooklyn, N.Y., .

Nobody was able to top the $11 million that Restore Our Future and other groups backing then-GOP nominee Mitt Romney scooped up from LLCs in 2012 — and which also triggered hunts for the real donors.

Overall, the number of LLCs actively contributing at the federal level and the amount they gave to super PACs (including non-presidential ones) shot up in 2016, with around 850 of them doling out almost $32.2 million. That’s compared to the approximately 290 LLCs giving $8 million in 2014 for the mid-year elections, and 310 LLCs donating $22 million in 2012.

Eight super PACs, with all but one supporting Republicans, received at least $1 million from LLCs last election. After the pro-Bush Right to Rise ($6 million) and pro-Rubio Conservative Solutions PAC ($5.5 million), the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is the super PAC offshoot of the National Republican Congressional Committee and works to elect GOP House candidates, was the third runner up, harvesting $2 million from these organizations.

Trump himself is no stranger to doing business via LLCs. The Wall Street Journal estimated almost half the income listed on his financial disclosure reports (at least $304 million) came from assets held in 96 LLCs, and he owns more than 500 in all. These entities are frequently used in the real estate industry, with each project being set up as its own LLC, protecting the LLC owner from liability for debts and bringing advantageous tax treatment. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and another real estate maven, included 204 LLCs on his personal financial disclosure.

Official inaction

LLC contributions were a hot topic at the beginning of 2016, with advocacy groups filing multiple complaints with the FEC saying the corporate names were hiding the true sources of the funds. One target: Children of Israel LLC, which donated $150,000 to a super PAC supporting GOP White House contender Mike Huckabee, $400,000 to a pro-Cruz outside group and $334,000 to the Republican National Committee.

The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint against Children of Israel, alleging it was an illegal straw donor, and others against DE First Holdings, which gave $1 million to a liberal super PAC, Coalition for Progress, the day after it was incorporated, and Décor Services LLC, which gave $250,000 to a pro-Christie super PAC 16 days after it was formed. Another, IGX LLC, faced the same scrutiny after donating $500,000 to a pro-Rubio super PAC. The Associated Press reported the owner, Andrew Duncan, admitted to using the LLC to donate because “he was worried about reprisals.” The complaints are currently still pending, and the Campaign Legal Center has not heard back from the FEC.

(The Intercept reported after the complaint was filed that big donor Saul Fox was the man behind Children of Israel by analyzing an amended RNC filing.)

Separately, last month a federal court in Washington, D.C., rejected the FEC’s attempt to throw out a lawsuit by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 against the agency in connection with LLC contributions in the 2012 campaign cycle. The advocacy groups sued to force the FEC to investigate five cases involving LLC contributions to super PACs supporting RomneyObama, and a group of Republicans; the agency had dropped the cases after failing to get the requisite four commissioners to vote to move forward.

“I think this huge increase you’re seeing from one presidential election cycle to another is largely due to the deadlocks on the FEC,” said Brett Kappel, partner at Akerman LLP, “because contributors learn that if they use an LLC it’s unlikely there will be any issues with the FEC, which has to have a four vote majority to do anything.”

In addition, says another close observer, the increase may foretell the next chapter in the post-Citizens United development of campaign finance strategy.

“When super PACs first started out contributors generally consisted of individuals, so this phase two maturation is where we see more businesses like LLCs that are closely held and controlled by individuals,” said Caleb Burns, a partner at Wiley Rien. “I think this is the middle of a trend, where ultimately we will have other businesses in the not so distant future, including public companies becoming bigger players as super PAC donors.”

Researcher Alex Baumgart contributed to this post. 

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Categories: Further Reading

Fewer lobbyists, more money: What’s going on?

Open Secrets - Mon, 04/24/2017 - 14:26

Companies spent more on first-quarter lobbying this year than any year since 2012, though the number of lobbyists is down.

Before President Trump was sworn in, his rhetoric and treatment of lobbyists seemed pretty harsh. He announced lobbyists would be kicked off the transition team and registered lobbyists couldn’t work in his administration, and some lobbyists deregistered to stand a chance to serve. Then things turned, and Trump was soon letting former lobbyists serve on his temporary beachhead teams, fund his transition and inauguration, and receive waivers to allow them to join the government and work on the same issues they did in the private sector.

But that doesn’t mean his initial drain-the-swamp language didn’t send a message: From January to March, the number of registered lobbyists dropped 10.3 percent compared to 2016’s first quarter, with only 9,175 official lobbyists on record. That number has been declining in recent years, but this is the biggest drop since lobbying reports started being reported quarterly.

“The transition had a policy of not communicating with registered lobbyists and the first quarter decline is likely a result of lobbyists reading the writing on the wall and assuming the hostility demonstrated in the Obama years is going to continue in the Trump administration,” said Caleb Burns, partner at Wiley Rein LLP. But that’s not the whole story: Although the number of people trying to sweet talk government officials has declined, the amount companies spent on the practice was the largest for a first quarter since 2012, at $838.4 million.

“For the first time in the past five years, there is a lot of energy in Washington in terms of getting legislation passed,” Burns said. “Lobbying up until this quarter has been defensive, oftentimes to ensure that nothing did happen. Those registered were not working at 100 percent, but now given the general atmosphere they’re working furiously on behalf of their clients. I’ve never seen the business community this excited in the two decades I’ve been in Washington.”

The pharmaceutical and health products industry spent the most at $78 million, about $10 million more than it did during the same period in 2016 for a 14 percent increase. (PhRMA did have the biggest spending spike of the top 10 spenders.) Oil and gas interests also pumped up their spending compared to last year, pouring in $36.1 million compared to $32.4 million in 2016, or 11 percent more.

Tech saw some record-breaking numbers from big names in the industry: Facebook spent $3.2 million this quarter, more than any previous quarter since the year social media platform first registered in 2009. (For context, it spent $2.78 million during last year’s first quarter.) It reported lobbying on cybersecurity and terrorism, high-tech worker visas and free trade agreements. Apple also spent the most it has in a quarter at $1.4 million, on self-driving cars, “issues related to mobile devices and health” and government requests for data. Google (or Alphabet) spent a few hundred thousand less than last year, but still topped other tech firms at $3.5 million, lobbying on online ads, “policies on online controversial content” (fake news?) and “travel from countries of concern.”

Among the top 100 spenders, a handful stood out for some huge jumps in spending compared to last year. Chevron, for instance, upped the ante by 77 percent, spending $3.3 million compared to $1.9 million last year, disapproving of environmental rules introduced by the previous administration. (As well as “understanding requirements” for Trump’s “Buy American Hire American” order.) Teva Pharmaceutical Industries increased its spending by 115 percent, from $1.2 million to $2.7 million in 2016. It lobbied on Medicaid rebates and the proposed board adjustment tax.

And the National Rifle Association broke into seven digit spending in a single quarter for the first time, spending $2.2 million, compared to $735,000 in 2016. Not surprisingly, the NRA focused on measures having to do with guns and hunting, including some unusual ones, such as a bill to “allow the importation of polar bear parts taken legally in sports hunts in Canada.”

As for those who cut back, Duke Energy decreased spending by 43 percent compared to last year’s first quarter, spending $1.4 million. (That’s what the energy company spent the last three quarters as well, however, with last January through March being a high spending period with $2.5 million.) Pharmaceutical company Merck saw a 47 percent drop, to $1.7 million from $3.3 million last year. And spending by the National Association of Broadcasters declined by 21 percent, to $3.8 million compared with $4.7 million in the first three months of 2016.

As for the firms getting paid, Akin Gump stayed on top with $9.2 million in earnings, which was actually a 4.5 percent drop from last year’s first quarter. In fact, of the top ten earners, half brought in less money than the same time last year: Brownstein, Podesta Group, Capitol Counsel and Van Scoyoc Associates. Covington & Burling had the biggest increase, at 32 percent, and Squire Patton Boggs had a jump of 25 percent.

Senior researcher Dan Auble contributed to this report. 

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Categories: Further Reading

For many PACs, switching horses fast is just good business

Open Secrets - Mon, 04/24/2017 - 06:00

Newly minted Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) benefited most from PACs that quickly switched their allegiance after the incumbent they supported was defeated. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Business PAC donors tend to be practical. Historically they favor incumbents and try to be friendly with members of Congress. Usually, that’s a safe bet: Incumbents won 97 percent of the time in House races and 93 percent of the time in Senate elections in 2016, numbers on par with those in past elections. But incumbents lose from time to time, and when that happens, PACs often quickly switch horses.

The 2016 election was no different. In eight races, the challenger beat the incumbent and then — before the end of the year — collected contributions from PACs that had previously supported the sitting lawmaker.

Races with PACs switching allegiance between Nov. 8 and Dec. 31, 2016

New Reps. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.) were the biggest beneficiaries of this swing. Twenty-nine of incumbent Rep. Bob Dold’s PAC donors contributed to Schneider after the challenger prevailed on Nov. 8, combining to give him $84,000; Bacon received $75,000 from 27 PACs that had given to sitting Rep. Brad Ashford’s campaign.

Democrats benefited more than Republicans from these PAC recalibrations for the simple reason that Bacon was the only winning GOP challenger in either the House or Senate in 2016. Only two winning Democratic challengers failed to benefit from PAC switching: Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who didn’t take PAC money, and Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), likely because she and Republican Frank Guinta have taken turns occupying this seat every cycle for the past decade.

PACs that gave the most to winning challengers after supporting incumbents

Ten PAC donors gave $10,000 or more to winning challengers after supporting losing incumbents. In total, over 70 PAC donors switched their allegiance in at least one race after Election Day. Comcast Corp was quickest on the draw, giving $15,000 to winning challengers in five races after backing the incumbents.

Politicians come and go but their pragmatism remains constant. They need friends on Capitol Hill — preferably ones who will return their calls.

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Categories: Further Reading

PhRMA shows biggest spike in lobbying spending in first quarter of President Trump

Open Secrets - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 12:08

President Donald Trump met with representatives from PhRMA, despite previously saying drug companies ‘were getting away with murder.’ PhRMA’s lobbying spending jumped the most among the top 10 lobbying clients this quarter. (Rex Features via AP Images)

With President Trump’s 100th day looming, he’s struggled to check off some of the big initiatives on his to-do list, such as getting rid of Obamacare and overhauling the tax code. These hefty projects invite companies and other groups with something at stake to frantically lobby the government, hoping the legislation can turn in their favor.

Eight high-rollers stayed in the top 10 spenders list from last year, with some jostling among the ranks. In addition, AT&T and Novartis joined the top spenders, after being No. 11 and 22, respectively. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Realtors predictably stayed at Nos. 1 and 2, with the business federation spending $24.8 million, almost $2 million more than in the same quarter of 2016, and NAR at $10.2 million, about $2 million less than the first quarter in 2016. (NAR uses a filing method that includes its local and state lobbying, which is part of why it always ranks so high.)

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug companies’ trade group, showed the highest leap in spending by far, jumping 34.9 percent to $8.1 million from just under $6 million in the first three months of 2016. That catapulted the trade group from No. 5 a year ago to No. 3 now — and it was the biggest-spending quarter for the organization since the start of quarterly reporting in 2008.

A PhRMA spokesperson declined to discuss the surge in the group’s efforts. But after drugmakers came under harsh criticism from GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump (who said they were “getting away with murder“) as well as many in Congress in 2016 for its pricing policies, the trade group in January began spending tens of millions of dollars in a “Go Boldly” television ad campaign touting industry breakthroughs in science and indicated it would mount an extensive lobbying campaign. Its new lobbying report indicates it weighed in on a wide range of issues, including provisions dealing with intellectual property, reimportation, the drug approval process, nominations to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration, opioid abuse and more. It also showed that PhRMA had hired six new lobbyists, though several others are gone.

Once in office, Trump met with CEOs of major drug firms, as well as the CEO and six board members of PhRMA. In a statement after the meeting, CEO Stephen Ubl wrote “We need to reform existing laws and regulations that are currently preventing private companies from negotiating better deals and paying for medicines based on the value they provide to patients and our health care system.”

PhRMA, the American Medical Association and Blue Cross/Blue Shield seem to historically compete for spots three through five, and this quarter was no different, with all three focusing resources on the Obamacare overhaul, among other topics.

The American Medical Association rejected Congress’s attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act, stating the changes to Medicaid would threaten coverage and make it difficult for states to act nimbly. “And critically, we urge you to do all that is possible to ensure that those who are currently covered do not become uninsured,” wrote James Madara, the CEO of the trade group, to Congress.

Health insurance group Blue Cross also wrote to lawmakers in March that the proposed repeal-and-replace Obamacare bill could lead to huge losses in coverage by reworking Medicaid from an open-ended entitlement program, and asked to drop the “premium surcharge” for those who let their insurance lapse.

Dow Chemical increased its first quarter spending by 9.3 percent, investing $450,000 more in the first three months of 2017 than the previous year. Some of that may due to trade association dues related to lobbying, which must be reported.

But Dow has made itself heard on policy issues in recent weeks: The chemical company sent letters to three federal agencies asking the Trump administration to ignore government studies that found a family of pesticides made by Dow are harmful to critically threatened species, saying the studies are flawed. That appeal came after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt rejected a petition asking the agency to ban all uses of Dow’s chlorpyrifos pesticide, one of those critiqued in the studies. Dow also listed lobbying on its proposed $130 billion merger with DuPont, one of the world’s largest chemical companies, which faces regulatory hurdles. The possible union, announced at the end of 2015, is due to encounter close scrutiny, and a little lobbying on mergers never hurts.

And Dow is working hard on being cozy with the new administration: The company gave $1 million to help fund Trump’s inauguration, and its CEO Andrew Liveris leads a manufacturing working group in the White House. (Liveris also got the pen Trump used to sign an executive order that looked to cut back government regs.)

Surprisingly, some of the biggest stakeholders in a controversial congressional resolution that Trump signed didn’t expend more this quarter than the equivalent period last year. SJR 34 blocked a Federal Communications Commission rule that intended to ban Internet service providers from selling consumer data (like your browsing history and even sensitive info) to others. Trump overturned the rule, which had not yet taken effect, using the Congressional Review Act, which also blocks other rules on internet privacy from being issued. (Here’s more detail on how this came to be and where industry money went to those who voted for the resolution.)

ISPs such as AT&TComcast and Verizon clearly had skin in the game, but that wasn’t evident from the spending shown in their lobbying reports. AT&T (always a top lobbying spender and No. 8 in the first quarter) only spent $100,000 more in 2017’s first three months compared to the same timeframe in 2016. (Though AT&T ranked No. 11 last year this quarter, so the company did increase among the ranks.) Comcast saw no change, and Verizon actually decreased its spending, from $3.6 million to $2.9 million. All three of the companies in various ways listed internet privacy as a topic of concern.

For more on how these persuasive powerhouses have shifted their spending over the years, check out our chart below:

Senior researcher Dan Auble contributed to this report. 

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Categories: Further Reading

250 donors shelled out $100k or more for Trump’s inauguration, providing 91% of funds

Open Secrets - Wed, 04/19/2017 - 14:20

Several balls were among the events paid for by Trump’s Inaugural Committee. Here, the freshly minted president sings along to “My Way” while dancing with his wife Melania. (Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Rex Features via AP Images)

What does it take to stage a welcome-to-the-neighborhood blowout? President Trump raised $107 million for his inaugural festivities, shattering previous records. The former titleholder, Barack Obama, raised half that, $53.2 million, in 2009 — though Obama imposed far stricter limits on amounts and sources of donations.

At least 47 people or organizations gave $1 million or more to the Trump welcome wagon, and more than 250 gave $100,000 and above; those 250 provided 91 percent of the inaugural committee’s funds. Obama had 82 six-figure donors in 2013, and four that hit $1 million. To see all donors who gave more than $100,000 for this year and past inaugurations, view the data here. Small donors didn’t play much of a role in funding the party: Trump collected just $653,602 from people giving $200 or less. By contrast, in 2013 Obama collected nearly $4.6 million in such contributions. Seven-digit donors could get especially interesting perks this time around: Those giving at least $1 million could nab tickets to a “leadership luncheon” also attended by Cabinet appointees and congressional leadership, as well as a dinner with Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, and tickets to a “ladies luncheon,” where donors could meet “the ladies of the first families.”

So who anted up for the schmoozefest with the new gang at the top? Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson was most generous, giving $5 million to the inaugural committee – perhaps to atone for the paltry $5,400 he gave Trump’s effort during the campaign. Other familiar megadonors included hedge fund managers Steven Cohen, Paul Singer and Robert Mercer. Cohen and Singer gave not a cent to the Trump campaign or his supporting super PACs.  Mercer was another story: He invested more than $15.5 million in super PACs backing Trump. He and his daughter, Rebekah, had major influence behind the scenes during the campaign and continued to be big players in the early days of his administration.

Five of the million-dollar donors are NFL owners: Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots (through Kraft Group LLC), Bob McNair of the Houston Texans, Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins, Stan Kroenke of the Los Angeles Rams (and also of Arsenal, the Premier League soccer team) and Shahid Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Of those, Kraft, Kroenke and Khan hadn’t previously sent any money Trump’s way, while Snyder gave a mere $534. McNair, however, was all in, giving more than $2 million to the campaign and super PACs.

Former Iranian ambassador to the U.S. Hushang Ansary (now a U.S. citizen) gave $1 million, and his wife, Shahla, did the same, doubling the family contribution. They, too, had neglected Trump before their inaugural donations.

Corporate donors who gave $1 million included AT&T, Bank of America, Boeing, Dow Jones and QualcommAmerican Action Network, a dark money political nonprofit that’s linked to the main super PAC supporting House Republicans, also shelled out $1 million.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s alma mater, Exxon Mobil, gave $500,000 (he was CEO before being tapped for the Cabinet). A few companies gave in-kind contributions, such as Wynn Resorts, which funded the Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration, where country starts like Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood performed at the Lincoln Memorial; it was valued at $729,000. General Motors provided $500,000 worth of vehicles, while Coca Cola ($300,000) and Pepsi ($7,000 out of $257,000 given) donated food and beverages.

Other highlights: Republican megadonors Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein gave a combined $500,000 (Uihlein earlier gave $108,000 to Trump’s campaign and super PACs).

Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren forked over $250,000, having given just $3,000 to the campaign effort; but Warren received a major gift shortly after Trump took office, when the president reversed Obama and gave the go-ahead for the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project of Warren’s company.

Billionaire investor Peter Thiel, a climate change skeptic, and Carla Sands, a chiropractor who now heads her late husband’s investment firm, each gave $100,000. Sands’ earlier giving was limited to just $5,400, while Thiel gave more than $1 million to pro-Trump efforts pre-election. Still, both made their way into Trump’s administration: Sands as a controversial economic advisor and Thiel as a controversial advisor whose portfolio is indeterminate.

Private prison companies GEO Corrections Holdings Inc. and CCA of Tennessee (Corrections Corp of America, now rebranded as CoreCivic) each gave $250,000 to the cause; GEO also gave $225,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC before the election. Both companies stand to benefit from Trump’s immigration plans., and in February the Justice Department rescinded an Obama-era order to end the use of private prison contracts by the Bureau of Prisons. LLC Donations to Trump’s Inauguration

The identities of some donors are a little less clear, shrouded behind innocuous-sounding LLC names (the letters stand for “limited liability corporation”). Often, though, the people behind them are familiar, if sometimes unexpected: HFNWA LLC ($1 million) is linked to Democratic megadonor and real estate mogul Franklin Haney. Haney’s family donated $109,000 in 2016, all to Democrats. He and his wife each gave $33,400 to the DNC, while his family gave $12,800 to Hillary Clinton and $32 to Bernie Sanders.

Papa Doug Trust ($1 million) is tied to Doug Manchester, chairman of Manchester Financial Group. “Papa Doug” didn’t back Trump in 2016, though he spent more than $16,000 supporting Trump’s GOP rivals Carly Fiorina and Scott Walker.

Gordon Sondland, the chairman of Provenance Hotels and a big supporter of the extended Bush family (including former President George W.), gave $1 million to the inaugural committee through four LLCs: BV-2 LLC, Dunson Cornerstone LLC, Buena Vista Investments LLC and Dunson Investments LLC. Sondland gave $2,700 to the early favorite to capture the GOP nomination, Jeb Bush, and $22,000 to Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, last cycle, but none to Trump.

Reasons for donating through an LLC vary, but in some cases individuals are attempting to keep a low profile. That may have been the case with Palmer Luckey, the designer of virtual reality device Oculus Rift. He owns Fiendlord’s Keep LLC, which in turn owns Wings of Time LLC, which gave $100,000 to the inaugural committee. While he didn’t give to the usual pro-Trump efforts pre-election, news outlets have reported he donated $10,000 to Nimble America, a pro-Trump nonprofit that posted memes blasting other candidates. In response, virtual reality developers pulled support for Oculus, with some issuing statements condemning Luckey’s actions.

Louisiana brothers Shane and Chad Guidry are behind HGIM LLC Corporate and HGF DB Fund LLC, which each provided $250,000 to the committee. Shane is the head of Harvey Gulf International Marine, which serves offshore oil and gas companies — and, in an unusual arrangement, is also special assistant to state Attorney General Jeff Landry, making $12,000 a year for efforts that include overseeing the criminal investigations unit’s operations. Meanwhile, last year, federal agents were reported to be investigating whether kickbacks were paid by Guidry’s company in an offshore catering deal, according to local press reports; Guidry has not been accused of wrongdoing in the matter.

(Guidry’s father, Robert, however, was convicted of paying bribes to former Gov. Edwin Edwards and his family for a riverboat casino license; Robert later testified against Edwards and avoided prison time. Robert, Shane and Chad were all charged with battery in a 2001 brawl involving a rival for the casino license; Shane is now estranged from his father.)In 2016, Chad gave $1,000 and Shane $3,000 to Trump’s campaign. Jeb Bush was their favored candidate, though, receiving $5,400 directly from the Guidrys and another $22,000 in help through Right to Rise.

Other entities in this category are less mysterious: The Witkoff Group, LLC, which gave $300,000, is owned by Steven Witkoff, a New York City real estate investor and old friend of Trump’s, though he gave only $5,400 to Trump’s electoral effort.

Skybridge Capital, LLC was founded by Anthony Scaramucci; it donated $100,000 the day after he stepped down as partner. A week earlier, Trump announced he would appoint Scaramucci to the director of the White House Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs, though he eventually appointed George Sifakis instead: Scaramucci had recently sold SkyBridge Capital to HNA Group, a Chinese conglomerate that reportedly has strong ties to China’s ruling Communist Party, and clearing him of potential ethics conflicts would have taken months. Scaramucci and his wife, Deidre, gave Trump’s campaign $5,400, while pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America Now received $100,000 from them. They also gave $5,400 each to Bush and  Walker.

Pilot Travel Centers LLC’s gift of $300,000 to the committee brings the Haslam family total to at least $500,000; besides the LLC donation, James and Susan Haslam each gave $100,000. James doled out $620,000 to various candidates, party committees and outside spending groups in 2016, without a penny going to help Trump.  His father, also James, donated $888,000 in the cycle, but just $5,400 made it to Trump. The couples gave almost $100,000 to boost Bush, though, and $14,000 to help another Republican presidential candidate, Marco Rubio.

At least two members of Congress also pitched in: Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) with $300 and Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) with $1,300.

For context on Trump’s big donor appeal, the current president’s report is only 500 pages, compared to Obama’s in 2009 that came to more than 7,000 pages for donations totaling half Trump’s haul. That year, Obama set limits on who could donate, capping contributions from individuals at $50,000 (still ten times the limit they could give during the election) and banning donations from corporations, PACs, unions and lobbyists. Four years later, the president allowed corporate contributions and took away the limit for individuals, though he raised only about $43.8 million. For more on Obama’s donors, see here for 2009 and here for 2013.

Given that Trump’s inaugural festivities were relatively toned-down even though his fundraising was so successful, it’s likely that there is money left in the pot. Consider that in 2009, Obama’s $53 million was enough to cover a far busier schedule of events — 10 official balls compared to Trump’s three, for example. However, the committee is not required to report how it spent the money, how much remains or how the overage is disposed of. The committee has said it would donate the excess funds to charity, but that it has not yet chosen the lucky recipients. “The 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee will begin the winding down process of the organization,” according to a statement from the committee. “As part of this process, PIC will identify and evaluate charities that will receive contributions left from the excess monies raised. This information will be released at a later date when the organization’s books are fully closed.”

Researchers Alex Baumgart, Robert Maguire and Ben Berliner, along with reporting intern Niv Sultan, contributed to this post. 

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Categories: Further Reading

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