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Democratic women running more, giving more money heading into 2018

Open Secrets - Fri, 11/17/2017 - 12:07

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has the highest percentage of contributions from women among candidates running this cycle (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

While historically men have dominated campaign finance contributions, women have been an important source of money for some candidates — female Democrats in particular.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton got 52 percent of her individual contributions from women while Trump received only 29 percent of his individual donations from women.

Since 2000, Democratic women running in House races have received the highest percentage of campaign contributions from women — 39.7 percent per cycle on average — while Republican men have drawn the lowest percentage from women (23.7 percent).

So far in the 2018 election cycle, the disparity has only increased.

Percentage of contributions from women to House candidates since 2000

Cycle Democratic Women Democratic Men Republican Women Republican Men 2018 44.2% 35.2% 27.7% 23.2% 2016 40.3% 29.1% 28.6% 24.1% 2014 39.2% 27.5% 28.4% 23.3% 2012 38.9% 27.5% 28.5% 23.6% 2010 36.9% 25.7% 29.2% 24.5% 2008 37.8% 26.3% 27.5% 23.3% 2006 40.2% 27.5% 26.1% 23.5% 2004 39.4% 26.1% 27.1% 22.2% 2002 39.5% 25.7% 29.5% 24.4% 2000 41.0% 25.4% 27.5% 24.5%

The current cycle follows a predictable pattern with important twists: There is an increase in both the number of Democratic women running for House seats and financial support from female donors to Democratic candidates overall. Republican House candidates meanwhile have seen a slight decline in the percentage of contributions from women.

Also this cycle, nine Senate candidates — all of whom are either Democrats or caucus with Democrats — have received the majority of their individual contributions from women. In the 2008 cycle, only one Senate candidate — Democrat Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer of Minnesota — received a majority of their contributions from women.

House candidates who have raised itemized individual contributions

Cycle Democratic Women Democratic Men Republican Women Republican Men 2018 266 538 50 380 2016 187 472 102 658 2014 176 450 96 678 2012 191 563 104 767 2010 146 499 128 967 2008 162 524 61 590 2006 153 523 66 506 2004 120 444 77 555 2002 125 458 61 588 2000 113 429 62 547

A record number of Democratic women are running for House seats along with 538  Democratic men. Among Democratic candidates, about 33 percent are women.

In contrast, fewer Republican women are running and raising money in House races than usual this cycle.

While women tend to favor female candidates — particularly Democratic women — there is a noticeable split based on occupation. Women who identify as homemakers favor Republicans and conservative outside groups while other female donors lean left. This split has become more pronounced in the current cycle, driven by a shift from non-homemakers to the left.

*Partisan preference of female donors (Homemakers vs. non-Homemakers)

Cycle Homemakers Non-Homemakers 2018 30% 72% 2016 35% 66% 2014 29% 59% 2012 29% 55% 2010 41% 61% 2008 44% 69% 2006 43% 61% 2004 39% 62% 2002 38% 54% 2000 39% 49%

*Data reflects the percentage of contributions going either to Democratic candidates, party committees and leadership PACs or liberal outside groups.

Campaign contributions as previously noted remain male dominated, but the percentage of overall contributions from female homemakers has fluctuated dramatically in time. The percentage from other women has remained more constant.

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 effectively reduced campaign contribution limits by eliminating soft money. In the cycle it first took effect, the percentage from female homemakers jumped from 2 percent to 7 percent.

More recently, the percentage from female homemakers has slowly declined in the wake of the Citizens United decision (2010) and the McCutcheon decision (2014.) Both court rulings effectively raised the limits for campaign contributions.

Percentage of individual contributions from women

Cycle Homemakers Non-Homemakers 2018 3% 27% 2016 3% 26% 2014 5% 20% 2012 6% 23% 2010 6% 20% 2008 6% 25% 2006 7% 20% 2004 7% 22% 2002 2% 22% 2000 2% 24%

What we are seeing in the 2018 cycle thus far is a surge in both Democratic women running for office and female financial support for Democratic candidates. Female donors (excluding homemakers) are contributing to House Democrats at above-average rates and favoring Democrats regardless of gender.  

For whatever reason, the historical tendency of women to contribute to Democrats and run as Democrats has intensified this cycle. While it is still early in the cycle, it is possible that the 2018 election will turn out to be a Year of the Democratic Women.

Read more about gender in the 2018 cycle here

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Categories: Further Reading

McConnell-allied nonprofit received millions from Rove-linked group in 2016; neither disclosed donors

Open Secrets - Fri, 11/17/2017 - 07:43

One of the most active political organizations in the 2016 election cycle wasn’t a political organization at all. It was a nonprofit allied with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that received all of its money from anonymous donors and hardly reported any of its political spending to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Known as One Nation, it drew from a war chest that swelled with seven- and eight-figure checks from a few secret donors and spent tens of millions of dollars not on employees — it has none — or social welfare programs — it didn’t really have those either — but on expensive ad campaigns to help Republicans keep their majority in the Senate.

Form 990 annual tax filings obtained by The Center for Responsive Politics show that One Nation spent nearly $73 million in 2015 and 2016, and at least $40 million was spent assisting Republicans’ successful campaign to hold their majority in the Senate.

Social welfare organizations, such as One Nation, are supposed to have social welfare as their primary purpose — hence the name “social welfare organization” — but the IRS has never defined what “primary purpose” actually means. As a result, it is generally interpreted to be less than 50 percent of overall spending. One Nation’s $40 million of election-related spending could put it well over the 50 percent mark, at a minimum, potentially jeopardizing its tax-exempt status, if the IRS decides to scrutinize the group’s activities.

The only known donor to One Nation, according to a separate tax return obtained by The Center for Responsive Politics, was Crossroads GPS, another social welfare organization that is run by the same people who run One Nation and which, like One Nation, doesn’t have to disclose its donors.

Ground support for Senate Republicans

The number of ads One Nation bought for 2016 Senate elections ranked 27th on a list of top 50 outside groups over a cumulative 16-year period, according to a joint report published last year by the Wesleyan Media Project and CRP. That is, in a single year, One Nation beat out groups that had been buying ads for years, even decades, including super PACs, which exist solely for political purposes.

In addition to its direct ad buys, One Nation also channeled $21.7 million into the coffers of the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), making it the biggest donor to the super PAC. SLF shares an office and staff with One Nation.

In addition to its TV ads and super PAC contributions, the group’s then-spokesman Ian Prior told CRP in an email last year that what the group didn’t spend on issue ads and direct political ads — a balance more than $11.6 million — went toward “non-television issue advocacy.” He didn’t clarify what that was specifically.

Non-broadcast ads — whether they are mailers or digital ads on the internet — generally don’t have to be reported to the FEC, unless they make direct appeals to support or oppose candidates, meaning that One Nation could have sent “issue” mailers or bought digital ads close to any election without reporting the spending. For example, in September and October, when the FEC’s reporting window had opened, One Nation was still adding positive issue ads, cheering on Senator Burr and others, but none of the ads were reported to the FEC — either because they were only meant for Youtube, and therefore cost nothing to place, or they were part of a costly digital ad campaign that the FEC simply doesn’t require groups like One Nation to report.

“With all due respect to what Ian [Prior] has said, the 990 statements speak for themselves,” Chris Pack, the group’s new spokesman, said in an email when asked about the totals Prior provided. “They are filed by calendar year. Those have been submitted as fact.”

Asked if One Nation disputed the amounts Prior provided last year, Pack reiterated that “the 990 forms, which are broken down by year, speak for themselves.”

In its 990, One Nation only counted its direct political appeals — the $3.4 million it reported to the FEC — and its SLF donations as political spending, arriving at a total of $25.1 million in “political campaign activity expenditures.”

The IRS is unlikely to challenge that narrative in any way, since the agency rarely takes the time to conduct a thorough audit of a particular group’s finances. Furthermore, since One Nation is not actually a new group, but an old group that was taken over by new people, the IRS has already approved its application for tax-exempt status.

If the IRS did audit One Nation’s activities, it would find that One Nation spent tens of millions on “grassroots advocacy” in states with tight Senate races during periods when such ads did not have to be reported to the FEC, and that the subjects of those ads, or their opponents, often became the targets of direct appeals for support or opposition once the FEC’s reporting window opened. It’s a strategy many “dark money” groups use to maximize political impact while reporting as little spending as possible.

For example, One Nation began running ads supporting Missouri Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) as far back as October of 2015. But once the FEC’s reporting window opened, One Nation began directly challenging Democrats, including Blunt’s opponent Jason Kander (D-Mo.), who was hit with $478,342 in negative ads in the final weeks of the election. Blunt went on to win re-election.

Another notable discrepancy is that Prior wasn’t even including One Nation’s super PAC donations as part of the group’s political activity. Since a super PAC is, by definition, a political entity, the contributions would likely raise One Nation’s potential political spending to over $61 million, which was more than 80 percent of the group’s overall spending over two years.

Lots of money, no disclosure

In 2016, One Nation got most of its money from 13 anonymous donors giving more than $1 million. Three of those donors gave more than $10 million. The largest was $18.2 million. This is building off the previous year when the group received 61 percent of its funding from just four anonymous donors giving $1 million or more.

The identity of the second largest donor, who gave $11.9 million, is revealed in another tax return obtained by The Center for Responsive Politics. The source was Crossroads GPS, the once-powerful political behemoth whose creation was spearheaded by Karl Rove. The donation accounted for nearly 74 percent of Crossroads GPS’ spending in 2016.

Steven Law, president of Crossroads GPS, is also president of One Nation, and the treasurer of both organizations is Caleb Crosby.

Law and Crosby also run the Senate Leadership Fund, and all three groups operate out of the same office.

But knowing that Crossroads GPS was the source of one of One Nation’s largest grants does little to help us understand what prominent corporation or wealthy individual might have provided the funds, because Crossroads GPS, like One Nation, does not have to disclose donors.

Crossroads GPS received most of its funding in 2016 from just three donors: Two who gave $5 million and one who gave $2 million.

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Categories: Further Reading

Republican female candidates face fundraising hurdles going into 2018

Open Secrets - Thu, 11/16/2017 - 13:34

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

As we reported earlier this fall, members of the 115th Congress are likely to face far more — and better funded — challengers than in previous cycles. In particular, Democrats are fielding an unusually high number of challengers. But, despite political action committees from both parties attempting to boost involvement in politics by women, this year’s batch of early challengers has no more women, proportionally, than the current Congress. This is particularly true for Democrats: Of the 481 Democratic challengers who have filed financial reports, 164 are women — just around 34 percent. Currently, 33 percent of the Democratic members of Congress are women. Fourteen percent of Republican challengers are female, an increase over the 9 percent of female Republicans in Congress.

These counts do not tell the whole story. Democratic female challengers and Democratic women running in open seats are doing at least as well as male candidates in the same kinds of races.  Republican women, however, face significant and severe fundraising deficits.

Average net receipts as of 9/30 by female and male challengers in House elections  MaleFemale Democrat$127,348 (305)$118,037 (160) Republican$69,238 (101)$14,907 (19)

While Democratic female challengers have raised about 93 percent of what Democratic male challengers have raised, Republican female challengers have only raised 22 percent of what Republican men have raised. This is almost certainly related to the races these candidates are running in — only 3 Republican women are running as challengers in competitive House races as identified by Cook Political, compared to 75 Democratic women running in competitive races.  Competitive races will generally see more spending overall.

In races for open House seats, Republican women fare better. They raise, on average, about the same amount that their male counterparts have raised, while female Democrats raise about 160 percent of male Democrats.

Average net receipts as of 9/30 by female and male candidates in open House seats  Male Female Democrat$115,354 (65)$192,701 (27) Republican$174,967 (50)$174,249 (12)

The sources of funds vary depending on the candidate’s gender and party as well. In general, Democrats this cycle are getting more money as a percentage of their total fundraising haul from individual donors than Republicans, although the difference is not large. Republican women challengers or those running in open seats take in more money from small donors than do their male counterparts, but both male and female Republicans take in 64 percent of their total fundraising haul from individual donors. Democratic women in the same races take in 83 percent of their money from individual donors, while Democratic men take 77 percent from individual donors.

Percentages of total fundraising, challenger and open seat candidates  Large Donors (>$199)Small Donors (<$200)Candidate money Female Republican47%17%32% Male Republican52%12%34% Female Democrat54%29%14% Male Democrat51%26%24%
Percentages of total fundraising, incumbents  Large Donors (>200)
Small Donors (<200)PACs Female Republican41%9%43% Male Republican40%5%50% Female Democrat40%11%46% Male Democrat40%7%52%

For challengers and candidates in open seats, regardless of gender, very little money comes from PACs — and most of that goes to candidates in open seats. This is not so for incumbents, who receive the plurality of their campaign contributions through PAC donations regardless of party or gender. However, while male incumbents of both parties receive over 50 percent of their campaign donations from PACs, female incumbents receive less than 50 percent from PACs — and Republican women get even less than Democrats. Although the differences are small, female incumbents generally get more of their campaign cash from individuals, while men get more from PACs.

Read more about gender in the 2018 cycle here

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Categories: Further Reading

Audit shows NRA spending surged $100 million amidst pro-Trump push in 2016

Open Secrets - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 16:26

The logo of the National Rifle Association  (Photo credit Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images)

The National Rifle Association’s overall spending surged by more than $100 million in 2016, surpassing any previous annual NRA spending totals on record, according to an audit obtained by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The explosion in spending came as the NRA poured unprecedented amounts of money into efforts to deliver Donald Trump the White House and help Republicans hold both houses of Congress.

The audit filed with the state of North Carolina shows that the NRA’s total expenditures exploded to more than $419 million, up from $312 million the prior year.

The jump is even more stark when compared to its spending during the previous two presidential elections in 2012 and 2008, when their outlays topped out at $261 million and $204 million, respectively, according to similar audits.These spending totals include all of the NRA’s operations in 2016, from law enforcement programs and hunter services to education and training.

The main driver of the growth in spending, however, came from two program areas: legislative programs and public affairs, which together accounted for about $75 million in the overall growth. The two program areas are not defined in the financial audit, nor do they have a standard definition in accounting practices, but they likely include the NRA’s historic political spending in the 2016 elections.

Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show that the PAC and nonprofit arms of the NRA spent a combined $54.4 million in the 2016 elections. Most of that spending, $35.2 million, was channeled through the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), the powerful lobbying arm of the NRA.

As a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, the NRA-ILA does not have to disclose the donors who fueled its record spending. And in 2016 elections alone, this “dark money”  arm of the NRA spent as much as it had in every election going back to 1992, combined.

The NRA did not respond to questions from the Center for Responsive Politics by time of publication.

Republicans in the House and Senate rode into power in 2016 on a wave of NRA money, and career NRA support for some members members of the 115th Congress now reach well into the seven-figure range.

But no politician benefited more from the NRA’s 2016 spending binge than President Donald Trump. The NRA spent over $30 million in support of Trump’s candidacy — or more than its combined spending in all races during the 2008 and 2012 presidential election cycles, which include 45 Senate and 145 House races.

As president, Trump has promised to be a champion for the NRA. In April, he told a gathering of gun rights advocates that the “eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.”

And while mass shootings in Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs and Tehama County grabbed the nation’s attention, the administration has shied away from discussing measures that might anger the NRA.

On the revenue side of the equation, the growth was far more modest, going from just under $343 million in 2015 to $375 million in 2016. That growth had little to do with dues paid by NRA members, which actually dropped by more than $2 million. Rather, most of the growth was fueled by $31 million in non-dues contributions.

As a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, the NRA can receive unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations without disclosing those donors to the public, so there is no full accounting of who contributed to the organization or how much. But gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson, Beretta and Sturm, Ruger & Co — which profit from the NRA’s message — have publicly announced large donations to the NRA in the past, according to CNN.

This information is coming out now because nonprofit organizations like the NRA file tax returns and other information long after the end of their fiscal year–which, in the case of the NRA, is a calendar year. This lag between the date the spending takes place and the date it’s actually reported to the IRS is why audits and other filings are often the first glimpse into a group’s financials.

While audits do use different accounting standards than annual form 990s filed with the IRS, the totals do generally track with one another over time.

The finances reported in the audit are not only a testament to the power the NRA wields in Washington but also to the comparative advantage it holds over its analogues in the gun control arena, where groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Americans for Responsible Solutions measure their finances in the millions and tens of millions and where their spending in elections is bested more than 18 times over by the NRA.

In 2017, the NRA is not laying low. With a sympathetic Congress and an administration keen to support them, the NRA has already spent more on lobbying in the first three quarters of this year than it has spent in any full year in the past.

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Categories: Further Reading

Congolese factions lobbying for U.S. intervention

Open Secrets - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 14:41

Moise Katumbi, DR Congo’s prominent opposition politician. (Photo credit Fabrice Cofferini/AFP/Getty Images)

In April, one of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s most powerful opposition leaders requested Secretary Rex Tillerson’s support for his return from exile in a letter sent through a prominent Washington lobbying firm.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld submitted the letter on behalf of Moise Katumbi, the leading opposition candidate in the Congo’s long-delayed presidential election. Katumbi fled the country last year to escape criminal charges that he claims were politically motivated and orchestrated by his rival, longtime president Joseph Kabila.

Kabila has held office since 2001, surpassing the two-term limit he is subject to under the constitution. The Congolese government had scheduled an election for November 2016, which was later delayed until 2019.

Since 2016, Kabila’s government and its opposition have shelled out roughly $9 million combined on U.S. lobbying, according to contracts filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

The Congolese government has spent about $7.4 million on U.S. lobbying, in part for support in improving the country’s electoral infrastructure. Lobbyists paid to represent Congo’s interests include firms associated with former lawmakers Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.); the wife of former CIA director and Trump advisor James Woolsey; and former Donald Trump staffer Adnan Jalil.

Katumbi has spent almost $670,000 of the opposition’s roughly $1.8 million in lobbying expenses, with the biggest contract going to Akin Gump. In addition to coordinating the Tillerson letter, Akin Gump and a subcontractor lobbied the State Department, the United Nations and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Katumbi’s behalf, according to FARA filings.

It is unclear how effective the two factions’ lobbying will be in directing U.S. policy toward the Congo, however, which appears to be a relatively low priority for the State Department, according to Jason Stearns, director of New York University’s Congo Research Group.

In an October visit to the Congo, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley told Kabila that failure to hold elections in 2018 would cost him U.S. support for the electoral process, without providing specifics.

What is clear, however, is the economic potential of Congo’s mineral-rich territory.

A civil war beginning in the 1990s has produced ongoing violence concentrated in the eastern Congo. Last month, Trump extended an executive order declaring a national emergency with respect to the Congo, which President George W. Bush had first signed in 2006.

Foreign interests in Congo have become increasingly corporate following the government’s privatization of its mining assets between 2004 and 2006.

In 2013, mining represented between 60 and 80 percent of the country’s foreign direct investment, which amounted to over $7 billion between 2005 and 2010, according to a report by Oxford Policy Management, an international research and consulting firm.

Included in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 was a rule intended to prevent Congolese armed groups from benefiting from mining sales by requiring American companies to disclose the origin of tantalum, tin, gold, and tungsten used in their products.

Business groups opposed the rule, arguing that it forced companies to disclose politically charged information and that the costs of compliance were too high.

In 2014, a lawsuit filed by U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, which represent electronics producers like Dell, IBM and Verizon, resulted in the limitation of the rule’s disclosure demands.

The Congolese government warned that suspending the rule could escalate conflict among armed groups, which made an estimated $185 million annually from mineral mining prior to the rule and lost ownership of 67 percent of tantalum, tin and tungsten mines in the four years following it.

An amendment added to the House spending bill passed in September prohibited any funding to enforce the disclosure rule.

Congo’s mining sector had the potential to generate up to $2.7 billion annually through 2017, according to a 2008 World Bank estimate.

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Categories: Further Reading

DoD, military donors aid Democrats

Open Secrets - Fri, 11/10/2017 - 12:45

The Pentagon (Via Department of Defense)

Department of Defense employees have given a greater percentage of their donations to Democrats so far this election cycle than they did under any Republican administration since at least George H.W. Bush’s presidency.

CRP’s political donation data covers each year beginning in 1989 — the first year of the elder Bush’s presidency — and comes from FEC filings, which include a donor’s self-identified occupation and employer.

From January through September, DoD employees donated about $127,000 to political candidates. About 65 percent of the contributions, or roughly $83,000, went to Democrats. Republicans received about $43,000, or 34 percent. The remaining went to third-party candidates.

From 1989 to 2008, DoD employees gave 65 percent of their donations to GOP candidates in cycles when a Republican was in the White House. During the first three quarters of the 2018 cycle, that number is virtually flipped in the Democrats’ favor.

So far this cycle, military service members have contributed around $425,000 to candidates, PACs and outside spending groups. From 1999 through 2016, military personnel donated more to Democrats only once — in 2016 — and are doing so again early in this cycle.

In 2016, about 56 percent of military members’ donations supported Democratic candidates. That number has increased to 60 percent this cycle, with Democrats benefitting from $253,000 in contributions to $161,000 for Republicans.

Democratic candidates also have received more combined direct contributions than Republican candidates from those currently in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines (about $162,000 and $110,000 to each party, respectively) this cycle.

Army members’ donations had the greatest partisan difference, with Democratic candidates receiving about $61,000 in direct contributions versus $40,000 to Republicans. Air Force donations are the least partisan, with about $32,000 supporting Democrats and $30,000 for Republicans.

Retired Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine service members have contributed more to Republican candidates (about $17,000) than Democrats (about $14,000) so far.

Retired Marine Corps members’ donations had the greatest partisan difference, with Republicans receiving roughly $5,000 more than Democrats.

Four of the top five candidate recipients of donations from military members this cycle are running for House seats.

Republican Steve Ferrara of Arizona, a former Navy medical officer, was the top recipient with about $24,000 in contributions. Amy McGrath, a Kentucky Democrat and former Marine Corps pilot, received $15,000 followed by President Donald Trump ($13,000). Republican Jarrin Jackson of Oklahoma received $12,000, and Democrat Max Rose of New York received $9,000. Trump was the only non-veteran among the top five recipients.

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Categories: Further Reading

Radio show today, November 9, 2017

Lloyd G Carter Blog - Thu, 11/09/2017 - 11:05

​Dear website visitors,

​    My monthly radio show airs today, November 9, 2017, at 1 p.m. on KFCF, 88.1 FM or live streaming at  My guest today is water treatment expert Lisa Farman who is searching for an economical method to remove selenium from waste water.  She is also an expert on selenium removal, which is causing problems for western San Joaquin Valley farming.  Tune in.

​   Lloyd


Categories: Further Reading

Flynn’s lobbying subject of probe

Open Secrets - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 13:35

Michael Flynn at a White House briefing in February 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Michael Flynn’s failure to disclose to the Justice Department his lobbying on behalf of a Turkish businessman may carry legal consequences for the former national security advisor.

NBC News reported this week that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is investigating Flynn for failing to register as a foreign agent in connection with a lucrative lobbying contract with Inovo BV, a Netherlands-based consulting firm owned by a Turkish national.

In August 2016, Flynn’s firm, Flynn Intel Group, entered into a contract with Inovo but did not notify DOJ of the agreement until March 2017. Flynn received $530,000 for the work.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires Americans representing foreign entities to identify their clients to the Department of Justice within ten days of signing a contract and before starting work.

The Center for Responsive Politics collects and stores FARA filings in a searchable database in our Foreign Lobby Watch.

Foreign Lobby Watch |

Flynn’s lobbying work for Inovo was generally pro-Turkish government in its message.

It included the hiring of a film crew to produce a pro-government documentary, according to The Wall Street Journal

The film was never published.

Flynn’s lawyer maintains that Flynn’s work for Inovo was not subject to FARA because Inovo’s owner is not a Turkish government official and Flynn submitted the FARA filings voluntarily. Flynn closed his firm in November.

A subcontractor assisting Flynn’s firm disclosed in March that its work included preparation for a public relations campaign about charter schools linked to followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish religious and political leader currently exiled in the U.S.

Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, considers Gulen to be a political rival and blames Gulen for instigating a failed 2016 coup.

Former CIA director James Woolsey told The Wall Street Journal in March that he had witnessed Flynn and Turkish officials discussing a plan to forcibly return Gulen to Turkey.

Last month, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s former business partner Rick Gates pleaded not guilty to federal charges, including failing to register under FARA.

The FARA charge stems from lobbying Manafort and Gates undertook for Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine, and his pro-Russian political party. A popular uprising, partly motivated by Yanukovych’s alignment with Moscow, ousted him in 2014.

According to anonymous sources familiar with the investigation who spoke with NBC News for their story, Mueller’s team has enough evidence to charge Flynn under FARA as well.

In May, the House Oversight Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md), told reporters that documents indicated Flynn had lied on his national security clearance form regarding a 2015 trip to Russia.

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Categories: Further Reading

Democrat outspends favorite in Utah special election

Open Secrets - Mon, 11/06/2017 - 15:52

Dr. Kathie Allen
(image via Twitter)

Democrat Kathie Allen slightly outraised and outspent her Republican opponent in Utah’s special election for the congressional seat vacated by Jason Chaffetz.

Allen raised and spent more than $800,000 for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District seat, a reliably conservative district that last chose a Democrat in 1994. Her opponent, Republican John Curtis, raised about $740,000 and spent roughly $650,000.

The district is just southeast of Salt Lake City in a mostly rural region of the state aside from Provo, Utah’s third largest city and home of Brigham Young University. Curtis is the mayor of Provo.

About 79 percent of Allen’s funding came from individual donations of $200 or less. Small donations accounted for about 5 percent of Curtis’ funding. Another 65 percent came from large donations – or those exceeding $200 – while PAC contributions accounted for about 20 percent.

A Republican has held the district for 21 consecutive years through mostly landslide victories, and a recent Dan Jones poll had Curtis with a 46 percent to 19 percent lead over Allen, a physician with no previous political experience.

That might explain why Curtis’s campaign spent less than any other Republican in a special election this year.

The last Democrat to win the district was Bill Orton, who held the seat from 1990 to 1994. He was defeated in 1996 by Republican Chris Cannon.

Cannon was reelected five times before losing to Chaffetz in the 2008 Republican primary. Last year, Chaffetz earned a fifth term with 73 percent of the vote. He retired in June and joined Fox News.

Democrats have outraised and outspent their Republican opponent in three of the four special elections featuring opposing party candidates held so far, including the historically expensive Georgia’s 6th District race. (A Republican did not run in the special election for California’s 34th District).

Tuesday’s election is the sixth of seven special elections held or scheduled this year. In December, Republican Roy Moore will face Democrat Doug Jones in a Senate special election in Alabama.

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Categories: Further Reading

How much influence does Bannon wield among big donors?

Open Secrets - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 09:31

Steve Bannon at a September campaign rally for Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Alabama Roy Moore (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

One of the most expensive elections this year has been the ongoing Alabama Senate special election. The GOP runoff saw two candidates, Roy Moore and interim senator Luther Strange, run head to head. Their differing sources of support — Moore’s grassroots, rural base plus the backing of a few key billionaires, in contrast with the support Strange received from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — exemplified the widening rift within the Republican Party.

The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to McConnell, pumped nearly $2.1 million into supporting Strange and spent over $4.4 million on ads opposing Moore.

At the same time, other groups like the Proven Conservative PAC, the Solution Fund and Senate Conservatives Action altogether spent a little more than $1.1 million in support of Moore.

In the wake of Moore’s win in September’s runoff, Stephen Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist and current executive chairman of Breitbart News, has said he intends to challenge every Republican incumbent other than Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the 2018 midterm elections. Declaring “a season of war” on the GOP establishment, Bannon has made it his mission to oust McConnell from his role as Senate majority leader.

Bannon, who has connections to big donors as well as a large following on Breitbart (which received an average of 76 million views per month over the past six months), appears a formidable adversary for the GOP establishment.

Whether Bannon’s perceived clout will translate to dollars for candidates he’s openly supported may be another story.

In the Alabama primary, Bannon endorsed Moore, the controversial conservative judge, on August 28. By that date, around $130,000 in outside money had already been spent in support of Moore. The conservative outside groups Solution Fund and Conservative Majority PAC were responsible for about half of this.

Since Bannon’s endorsement of Moore, outside groups have spent nearly $976,000 in his favor. How much of that is due to Bannon’s influence is unclear.

However, the nonprofit Great America Alliance did spend over $100,000 in support of Moore after August 28. This group, which is tied to the Great America PAC Carey committee, a hybrid PAC/super PAC that also spent $25,000 in Moore’s favor, is overseen by Bannon protégé Andy Surabian. According to the Washington Post, Surabian is now a senior advisor for Great America Alliance. He was installed as advisor by Bannon on September 6 — just a week before the nonprofit’s first expenditure in support of Moore.

The group’s support for Moore hasn’t abated. Two weeks ago, the nonprofit came out with their first attack ad against Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate who will be running against Moore in December.

Another case in which an increase in independent expenditures followed Bannon’s endorsement is in Wisconsin.

Just a couple weeks after the Republican runoff in Alabama, Bannon endorsed Kevin Nicholson, a businessman who will likely run for the GOP nomination for the Wisconsin Senate race. Before Bannon’s endorsement, Nicholson was already getting some support from outside spenders.

The Americas PAC — a pro-Trump super PAC that spent approximately $349,000 against Hillary Clinton in 2016 — spent $223,000 for Nicholson in the month of September alone. Records show that Republican mega-donor Richard Uihlein donated $250,000 to the Americas PAC in September.

After Bannon’s endorsement in October, the conservative Solutions for Wisconsin super PAC that’s bankrolled by Uihlein spent an additional $209,000 in support of Nicholson. And last week, Restoration PAC, another super PAC that has received nearly all of its money from Solutions for Wisconsin, spent $637,000 to support Nicholson.

But in most cases, Bannon’s support hasn’t seemed to amount to much just yet.

Around the same time Bannon endorsed Nicholson, Bannon announced his support for Kelli Ward, a candidate running in the Republican primary for an Arizona Senate seat. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) became a target of President Trump after delivering scathing critiques of this administration. Flake, who would have run against Ward next year, revealed last week that he will not run for reelection.

Before Bannon’s announcement on October 17, the Great America PAC spent $20,000 on her behalf. Since the date of his endorsement, however, there has been no outside spending in support of Ward.

In Montana, Bannon endorsed Montana State Auditor Matt Rosendale on October 19, while the Surabian-managed Great America Alliance expressed support for Rosendale a week earlier. Since Bannon’s endorsement though, no super PAC or other outside spender has spent money on Rosendale’s behalf.

Similarly, Bannon and the Great America Alliance endorsed Attorney General Patrick Morrisey for the West Virginia Senate race on September 28 and October 11, respectively. However, Morrisey has also not seen any ad support from outside spenders, only verbal expressions of support.

Candidate Race Bannon Expresses Support On Roy Moore Senate (Alabama) August 28, 2017 Patrick Morrisey Senate (West Virginia) September 28, 2017 Kevin Nicholson Senate (Wisconsin) October 16, 2017 Kelli Ward Senate (Arizona) October 17, 2017 Matt Rosendale Senate (Montana) October 19, 2017

Some of the anti-establishment candidates planning to run for Senate positions have not yet gained explicit endorsement from Bannon but have been endorsed by the Great America Alliance. On October 11, the nonprofit endorsed Marsha Blackburn, who plans to run for the seat Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) will vacate next year. Blackburn has not yet received any support from outside spenders.

While not an outside spender in this particular case, it is worth noting that the Great America Alliance’s affiliate Carey committee, the Great America PAC, has contributed $5,000 directly to Blackburn’s official campaign.

Bannon has not officially declared his support for Chris McDaniel, a member of the Mississippi State Senate who is eyeing a run against GOP incumbent Sen. Roger Wicker. But Bannon has been a long-time supporter of McDaniel. McDaniel, a Tea Party-backed politician who is vocal on Twitter about his disdain for the current GOP congress, is reportedly being pushed to run by Bannon.

Robert Mercer, a wealthy hedge-fund manager who was crucial to Trump’s election success in 2016 and has ties to Bannon, has donated $50,000 to Remember Mississippi, a conservative super PAC. The name “Remember Mississippi” is shorthand for the belief among conservative activists that McDaniel had a Senate seat stolen from him in 2014 when he ran against Republican incumbent Thad Cochran. But the transaction was made in June and no other outside spenders have demonstrated support for McDaniel since.

The total amount that has been spent by super PACs and other outside spenders on behalf of the candidates that Bannon has given either implicit or explicit support for is barely a dent in the $46.5 million spent by non-party outside groups so far this cycle.

Nevertheless, the battle for campaign cash between the two GOP factions has barely begun, and Bannon’s influence may not be apparent just yet.

The post How much influence does Bannon wield among big donors? appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

Congress holds hearings on online political ads

Open Secrets - Tue, 10/31/2017 - 12:56

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Mark Warner, D-Va., conduct a news conference on the Honest Ads Act (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Representatives from Twitter, Facebook and Google are expected to testify this week at three congressional hearings on the influence of social media in the 2016 election.

Today’s hearing before the Senate judiciary committee and tomorrow’s hearings before the Senate and House intelligence committees follow the introduction of the Honest Ads Act, which would require companies, such as Twitter, Facebook and Google, to maintain a public database of online political ads as well as a disclaimer identifying each ad’s sponsor. 

The Senate bill was introduced by Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). A companion bill was introduced by Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Mike Coffman (D-Colo.) in the House.

The bills were filed two weeks after Facebook reported about 470 accounts likely operating from Russia had spent about $100,000 on roughly 3,000 ads from June 2015 to May 2017.

According to CRP data, all but three members of the three committees have received contributions from Alphabet Inc (Google’s parent company), Facebook and Twitter since 2015. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) received the most from the three companies, with over $124,000 in donations.

Since 2015, Alphabet alone has contributed around $100,000 to Wyden, the most to any committee member. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is Facebook’s greatest recipient with over $50,000, while Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has received $3,000 from Twitter, the most to any committee member. Harris also has received the most from the internet industry overall with over $200,000 in contributions since 2015.

Judiciary chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) received about $60,000 from the three companies, while Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) received about $35,000 and House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. David Nunes (R-Calif.) received roughly $22,000.

Last week, current and former representatives of print, online and broadcast media as well as two nonprofits testified on the House bill before the House Subcommittee on Information Technology.

Allen Dickerson, the legal director for the Institute for Free Speech, said he opposed adding online political ads to existing regulations on electioneering communications on the pretext of preventing foreign intervention, which Congress can regulate separately.

The Institute for Free Speech (IFS) — known as the Center for Competitive Politics until last week — generally opposes campaign finance transparency on First Amendment grounds. The organization represented the plaintiffs in v. FEC, which helped give rise to super PACs. In February, the group unsuccessfully represented a think tank that wanted to shield the identities of its ad donors.

IFS has also advocated for anonymous spending beyond the context of ads. In 2010, the organization (then the Center for Competitive Politics) spent $40,500 lobbying on “general campaign finance issues” including in opposition to the DISCLOSE Act, which would have expanded reporting and disclosure requirements around political ad spending.

All five Democrats and three of the seven Republicans on the subcommittee participated in last week’s hearing. The Republicans were Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.), Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) and chairman Rep. William Hurd (R-Texas). Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) was present but left the dias during opening testimony.

Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Steve Russell (R-Okla.) and Greg Gianforte (R-Mo.) did not attend the meeting. Mitchell left the two-hour meeting immediately after directing rapid-fire questions at David Chavern, the representative for the News Media Alliance, a news industry organization.

According to CRP data, Issa has received more than $95,000 from the internet industry since 2015. Farenthold has received over $39,000 from the industry, which has also donated more than $65,000 to Hurd and over $10,500 to Amash.

Connolly has received the most from the internet industry among subcommittee Democrats since 2015, with over $42,000 in donations. Raskin has received over $13,500 while Krishnamoorthi has received over $10,000. Robin Kelly (D-IL.) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) have combined to receive more than $10,000.

On the day of the hearing, Twitter announced a new ad transparency policy that will include public access to the identity of buyers, costs and targeted demographics of electioneering ads. Three days later, Facebook announced its own transparency plans, with similar visibility into current and historical political ad spending.

The internet became a key election battleground with Barack Obama’s unprecedented use of digital advertising in his 2008 presidential campaign, but online political ads are not yet subject to the same disclosure requirements as broadcast ads.

Correction: An earlier version of the story stated Rep. Justin Amash did not attend last week’s hearing of the House Subcommittee on Information Technology. Amash, a member of the subcommittee, left the dias during opening testimony but did attend. 

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Categories: Further Reading

Alabama Special Election – A Shot for Democrats?

Open Secrets - Fri, 10/27/2017 - 07:29

BIRMINGHAM, AL – APRIL 13: Former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones (Photo by Brian Schoenhals/Getty Images)

Polls suggest Alabama’s special election may be the closest U.S. Senate race in the two decades that Republicans have dominated both of the state’s Senate seats.

Republicans claimed both seats for the first time in the modern party’s history with Jeff Sessions’ election in 1996, and have not ceded them since.

In December, Republican Roy Moore will face Democrat Doug Jones for the seat vacated by Sessions after he was confirmed attorney general.

Moore, a former chief justice of the state supreme court, defeated interim senator Luther Strange in a late-September Republican primary. Jones is a former U.S. attorney in Alabama.

Polling since the Republican primary shows Jones trailing Moore by 6 to 11 percentage points in the special election to decide who holds Sessions’ vacated seat until the 2020 election.

An Opinion Savvy poll in late September commissioned by Decision Desk HQ showed Jones trailing Moore by about 6 points with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 points.

A poll sponsored by the Alabama-based Raycom News Network had Jones 11 points behind while another by JMC Analytics showed Jones trailing 8 points. Both polls had margins of error between 2 to 4 points.

Even an 11-point loss by Jones would make the special election the closest Senate race since 1996, when Sessions beat Democrat Roger Bedford by 7 percentage pointsThe next closest was Sessions’ reelection when he defeated Democrat Susan D. Parker by roughly 19 points. Since then, no Democrat challenger has come closer than 27 points in races for either Senate seats.

A recent much-discussed Fox News poll put Jones neck-and-neck with Moore. The poll included far more respondents than are likely to vote, however, putting the results in question, reported. Yet the race remains unexpectedly close in a state Trump won by 28 percentage points in the general election.

No poll so far has Jones winning the seat, but the potential for a competitive race reflects a general Democratic resurgence ahead of the 2018 midterms.

Alabama elected its last Democratic senator, Richard Shelby, in 1992, but Shelby switched parties in 1994 and won as a Republican four years later. Alabama’s last Democratic presidential pick was Jimmy Carter in 1976. Southern Democrats began transitioning toward the Republican party following the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

Moore also is ahead in fundraising: As of Sept. 30, Moore had raised $2.5 million to Jones’ $1.6 million. 

Jones received about 55 percent of his funding from large individual contributions and about 42 percent from small contributions, while Moore’s funding includes about 59 percent from large individual contributions and about 40 percent from small donations ($200 or less).

Moore, a political outsider opposed by the mainstream GOP in the September primary, recently formed a new joint fundraising committee with Republican party committees, which is expected to bring an influx of new money, Politico reported.

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Categories: Further Reading

Unusually large number of incumbents facing challengers

Open Secrets - Tue, 10/24/2017 - 06:49

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI) leave following a press event to discuss the GOP plans for tax reform.  (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Earlier this summer, OpenSecrets Blog reported that members of the 115th Congress are facing more — and better-funded — challengers at this early point in the election cycle.  Third quarter campaign filings indicate that this trend is continuing.  So far, 267 members of Congress face challengers. While this is still fewer than the 441 members of Congress seeking re-election, it represents an uptick from the number of challengers by this point in 2013 (148) or even 2009 (208).  

See the data here.

Of those 267 members, Republican incumbents are far more likely to be facing early challengers. 72% of Republican incumbents already have a challenger lined up, while only 41% of Democrats have challengers.  However, those Democrats who have early challengers are more likely than Republicans to be facing a member of their own party.  39% of the Democrats with challengers have primary challenges, while only 23% of Republicans do.

Democratic challengers have also, on average, raised more money than have Republican challengers.  The average Democratic challenger in a House race has raised $127,000, which is more than twice as much as the $62,000 raised by the average House Republican challenger.

Challengers are generally vastly underfunded compared to incumbents, and this year’s group, while larger in number, is no exception.   The average House challenger has raised approximately $111,000 – but the typical House incumbent has raised $655,000 if they have an incumbent. However, there are some exceptions. 14 incumbents (12 Republicans and 2 Democrats) have raised less money than at least one of their challengers. 42 incumbents have raised less from individual donors than at least one of their opponents (6 Democrats, 36 Republicans), and a whopping 99 incumbents (13 Democrats, 86 Republicans) – 37% of incumbents who have challengers — are being outraised by their opponent in small donations, or donations of less than $200.

A better funded challenger may have a higher likelihood of taking down an established incumbent, but so far Cook Political has only identified 81 House races as “competitive,” rather than safely Republican or Democratic.  Of those 81 races, 6 have incumbents who are being outraised by their challenger (all are Republicans being outraised by a Democratic challenger) so far in 2017. 20 races see Republican incumbents facing challengers who have outraised them with individual donors, and 32 incumbents in competitive races are facing challengers who have outraised them with small donors. Senate incumbents, nearly without exception, are faring better than their challengers – but Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) are being outraised by challengers with small donors. Only Manchin is seen as vulnerable.  Note that Cook only analyzes whether the seat will change parties, not whether the incumbent could lose to a primary opponent.

See the data here

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Categories: Further Reading

Lobbying spending hits historic lows

Open Secrets - Mon, 10/23/2017 - 14:21

K Street sign at 15th and K in Washington. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Washington lobbying groups spent less money and reported fewer lobbyists during the third quarter of 2017 than in any quarter since at least 2008, when Center for Responsive Politics began tracking the totals.

Congress spent the summer considering Obamacare repeal, a tax overhaul and immigration reform, yet controversy failed to inspire an expected uptick in Washington lobbying.

From July 1 to September 30, companies and organizations spent about $754 million on lobbying, a quarterly low. There were also 9,200 registered lobbyists, or about 800 fewer than the previous three-month period.

Third-quarter lobbying is typically the slowest quarter in Washington as legislators leave for August recess, but the decline in both spending and registered lobbyists was dramatic even for the slow months.

Despite the third-quarter dip, however, 2017 spending is on pace to pass 2016 totals due to an influx of spending during the first six months of the year. Overall, the lobbying world has spent about $2.43 billion this year compared to $2.38 billion at the same point in 2016.

More than 8,500 companies, municipalities, trade associations and other organizations have reported federal lobbying this year – from less than $5,000 by the city of Murfreesboro, Tennessee to $58 million by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the perennial top spender.

So far this year, the top 20 lobbying groups have spent about $310 million of the $2.43 billion total.

The Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Realtors, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the American Medical Association were the top spenders in the third-quarter as well as 2017 overall so far.

Click here to download chart

While overall spending declined, a few companies dipped deeper in their pocketbooks during the third quarter. New Shipper Bond Petitioners Coalition, for example, spent $550,000 last quarter after $340,000 in the first half of 2017 for lobbying activity related to “enforcement of antidumping duty orders and collection of duties secured by ‘new shipper’ customs bonds.”

Less spending on lobbying means less work to go around for professional lobbyists. However, despite the sluggish third-quarter, the top lobbying firms continued to get plenty of work.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld was the top lobbying firm in the third quarter with $9.2 million in billings, bringing its total to $28.5 million reported in 2017 so far.  

Other notable firms include Roberti Global, which reported taking in $1.6 million in the third quarter after reporting about $2 million in the first six months. That was the largest quarterly increase by any firm.

Among industries, pharmaceuticals and health products spent $62.2 million, the most by any industry.  The insurance ($38.1 million) and electronics manufacturing and equipment ($35.5 million) industries were the second and third highest spenders.

Turning from industries to broader economic sectors, third-quarter spending in 2017 compared to 2016 varied widely. The communications and electronics sector increased its spending more than $6 million over last year’s third quarter, while the financial, insurance and real estate sector cut spending by more than $10 million.

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Categories: Further Reading

The politics of your clothes

Open Secrets - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 14:22

A clearance clothing rack at T.J.Maxx in Miami. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)

Designers are renowned for their bold political statements – from Tommy Hilfiger’s use of white bandanas on the runway this year to fashion designer Tracy Reese’s advocacy for Planned Parenthood.

However, many clothing brands and manufacturers choose a more subtle route by speaking with their wallets.

During the 2016 election cycle, the clothing manufacturing industry spent $6.8 million on political candidates. Cintas Corp. ($1.3 million), Global Brands Group ($799,070), Calvin Klein Studio ($501,000) and Vera Wang ($393,000) were the biggest spenders.

Historically, the industry has split its money evenly between Republican and Democratic candidates.

In the 2012 cycle, Republicans garnered 53 percent of the industry’s contributions versus 46 percent for Democrats. For the 2014 midterms, the industry gave the two parties nearly an equal share of its total contributions.

The 2016 election cycle was a break from the general trend, as 73 percent of the industry’s donations supported liberal candidates and three of the top four donors contributed exclusively to Democrats.

While the clothing industry’s support for the parties is typically evenly split, most clothing companies are noticeably partisan. Often, companies give 100 percent of their overall contributions to one party or the other.

In the 2016 cycle, 12 of the top 20 contributors gave entirely to one party — 11 for Democrats; one for Republicans. And of the top 20 contributors, each company gave at least 70 percent of its contributions to one party. Only Guess? Inc. was the exception.

Delving into specific company examples further showcases this partisanship.

Designer Diane von Furstenberg and her husband, media executive Barry Diller, have bundled more than $2.6 million for the Democratic Party since the 1990s. In 2016, she individually contributed $346,000 combined toward the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Democratic Party and Democratic-affiliated PACs.

One hundred percent of the $389,000 spent by Vera Wang and employees affiliated with Wang was also given to Democrats last election cycle, with Wang giving the Clinton campaign $5,400 – the combined maximum an individual can contribute to a candidate for both primary and general elections.  

The same degree of partisanship could be said of clothing industries who are supportive of Republican Party candidates or committees. In 2016, the Miami-based Perry Ellis International donated nearly exclusively to the Republicans.

Cintas, a large manufacturer of corporate uniforms among other products, was the largest contributor in the 2016 cycle. Of the $1.3 million spent by Cintas, 92 percent of it went to Republican candidates. Over the last five years, former CEO Richard Farmer has donated $328,000 to various Republican Party committees while current CEO Scott Farmer has added $151,000, according to FEC filings.

So far in the 2018 cycle, contributions by clothing manufacturers continue to be partisan, with nearly all of the top 20 contributors donating solely to one party or the other.

However, some non-designer-wear companies, such as Columbia Sportswear and The Hampshire Group, appear to be less notably partisan. Columbia Sportswear gave nearly $47,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee and $33,000 to the DNC Services Corp in 2016.

The Hampshire Group, a men’s clothing manufacturing company that filed for bankruptcy in 2016, was historically a staunch Democratic Party supporter but has so far donated only to Republicans in the 2018 election cycle.

Hampshire’s former director Stevan K. Hill, who has donated the majority of the company’s contributions, said the Republican Party’s economic policies were the major reason for his shift in political support.

“Frankly, their regulations are better for small businesses, especially with the potential NAFTA renegotiations,” Hill said.

Contributions by Guess? Inc. have also become increasingly divided, with 42 percent of its $61,000 contributions going to Democrats and 58 percent to Republicans in the 2016 election cycle. But like the Hampshire Group, Guess’ contributions have not always leaned Republican. Until 2010, nearly all of the company’s contributions went to members of the Democratic Party or the party itself (with the exception of the 2004 election). In 2012, however, Guess gave nearly equal amounts to both parties, and in 2014, all contributions went to the Republican Party. This shift may be attributed to the change in the donation habits of Guess cofounders Maurice and Paul Marciano, who have in recent years donated increasingly to Republican candidates and Republican Party committees.

Despite a few companies’ bipartisan leanings, the industry as a whole remains strikingly partisan, and their strong stance on politics is a reminder that our choice of clothing can be a political statement.

Corrections: A previous version of this article wrote that “American Apparel also appears to have been a supporter of both parties as its PAC has donated predominantly to Republicans, while its CEO Dov Charney has donated to Democratic Party candidates.” Dov Charney is actually the former CEO of American Apparel. And the American Apparel Inc. PAC is the PAC for a separate apparel manufacturing company based in Alabama that is not affiliated with the American Apparel clothing company headquartered in California. Global Brands Group also spent $799,070 during the 2016 election cycle, not $799 million, as previously written. We regret these errors.

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Categories: Further Reading

Speaker Ryan’s challenger receives $1 million boost

Open Secrets - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 15:25

PASADENA, CA – JULY 30: Randy Bryce on July 30, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Politicon)

Democrat Randy Bryce raised more than twice as much money in the third quarter than in the first six months of 2017 as he mounts a long-shot bid to upend House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in 2018.

Bryce’s campaign raised a little over $1 million from July 1 to Sept. 30 after collecting about $433,000 during the first six months of 2017, according to his October filing with the Federal Elections Commission.

Bryce’s total of nearly $1.5 million places him 31st among House candidates in contributions received so far in the 2018 cycle.

Ryan, who has held Wisconsin’s 1st District since 1998, had raised $6.3 million as of June 30 and $8.6 million as of Sept. 30, according to his October filing.

While Ryan outraised Bryce nearly 6-to-1 during the first six months of the 2018 cycle, Bryce narrowed the margin to roughly 2-to-1 during the third quarter as Ryan collected $2.3 million. Only the most prolific House campaigns break the $1 million barrier in a quarter; for comparison, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) raised $956,000.

Ryan, however, had a major head start. Because he began the cycle with money left over from previous cycles, Ryan has more than 10 times as much cash on hand as Bryce ($10.4 million versus just over $1 million.) Still, Bryce’s treasury is bigger than any other non-incumbent running for a House seat, excluding self-funding candidates.

Ryan defends his seat against Bryce in a solidly Republican district in what is considered a non-competitive race, according to the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voter Index.

The House race is not considered one of the 81 competitive House races in the 2018 election, according to Cook Political Report. Wisconsin’s 1st District scores an “R+5” on its Partisan Voter Index, meaning the Republican presidential candidates outperformed the national average by five points in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections.

The number of “solid seats” for House Republicans has declined from 203 in May to 180 in October, according to Cook’s index, while the number of Republicans now in “toss up” districts has risen from two to nine. Republicans still hold a perceived edge overall, however, as 228 House seats are either safely or leaning Republican versus 192 for Democrats, according to Cook.

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Categories: Further Reading

OpenSecrets releases new 2015 personal financial data:  Senators get richer; others not so much

Open Secrets - Fri, 10/13/2017 - 14:47

Rep. Daryl Issa (R-CA) on April 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. He is the wealthiest member of Congress (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

The majority of Congress are still millionaires, but Senators increased their net worth in 2015 at a far greater rate than Congress as a whole.

In 2015, the median net worth of Senate Republicans rose 13 percent from $2.9 million to $3.3 million, according to personal financial disclosure data filed by congressional members and reviewed by CRP researchers.

Over the same period, the median net worth of the Senate Democratic Caucus, on the other hand, rose 9 percent – still far greater than the 4.5 percent increase in combined net worth of U.S. households and nonprofits in 2015, according to a report this year from the Federal Reserve.

In 2015, more than 70 percent of Senators were millionaires, meaning most never needed to worry about the pressures that most middle-class American face – from securing gainful employment to saving for unforeseen financial shocks.  At at a time when Congress is considering changes to the tax code and healthcare legislation, this disparity calls into question their ability to adequately represent their constituents.   

In the House, median net worth of members increased only about 1 percent, from $860,000 in 2014 to $875,000 in 2015.

Millionaire club

In 2015, three Senate Republicans at least doubled their wealth in a single calendar year.

The list includes Sens. Mike Rounds of South Dakota (up 490 percent); Roger Wicker of Mississippi (326 percent); and Thad Cochran of Mississippi (124 percent); according the personal financial disclosures filed with the Senate.

Rounds was worth an estimated $2.7 million in 2014 and $16.2 million a year later, mostly due to his wife selling her real estate and insurance company. Wicker sold his stake in his timber company. Cochran remarried into wealth.

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

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

Explore our data on congressional wealth, debt and investments at

Wealthiest politicians

In 2014 and 2015, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was again the wealthiest member of Congress. Issa, who made his fortune in the car alarm business, had an estimated net worth of about $330 million in 2015.

At least six other lawmakers had an estimated net worth in excess of $100 million as well. That included House Democrats Jared Polis of Colorado ($314 million), John Delaney of Maryland ($233 million) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California ($101 million) as well as House Republicans Dave Trott of Michigan ($177 million) and Vernon Buchanan of Florida ($116 million).

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner (D), whose estimated net worth of $238 million in 2015 was roughly one-quarter of the combined wealth of his 99 colleagues, was both the wealthiest senator and third wealthiest member of Congress in 2015. Democrats Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut ($81.7 million) and Dianne Feinstein of California ($79 million) were the year’s next wealthiest senators.

The least wealthy member of Congress in 2015 was again Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), who reported an estimated net worth of negative $24 million, “up” from $25 million in net liabilities in 2014. Valadao’s disclosures and previous interviews with CRP indicate his debt is tied to loans for his family’s dairy farm.

The second “poorest” member of Congress was Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a United Methodist pastor and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Despite the growth in the number of congressional millionaires, total net worth of members — the value of all their assets minus liabilities — declined from $4.5 billion in 2014 to $4.2 billion in 2015.

Expect More Data to Come

While the scope of this report is limited to 2015, CRP is continuing to update the personal finances section with the more current 2016 data that was filed by members of Congress this summer.  We currently have some 2016 data and are working to process the remaining filings for those members who filed for extensions and submitted later in the year.  Follow us on Twitter to be the first to hear about future updates.

Researcher Alex Baumgart contributed to this story.

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Categories: Further Reading

Qatar Spent Nearly $5 Million on U.S. Influence Campaigns Following its Isolation by Saudi Coalition

Open Secrets - Fri, 10/13/2017 - 09:12

The Doha, Qatar skyline as seen from my Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Jakarta. (Via GettyImages)

Qatar has hired seven American lobbying firms and spent nearly $5 million on U.S. lobbying and media campaigns in an effort to fight its isolation by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and others in June.

The Saudi-led coalition began its economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar on June 5 after the country’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, allegedly praised Iran, criticized President Trump and threatened to withdraw Qatari ambassadors from several Arab states.

Qatar claimed the comments, which aired on Qatari news outlets, were planted by foreign hackers. American intelligence officials identified the UAE as the source of the statements and cyberattack, The Washington Post reported.

The long-range causes of the split include tension between Qatar and the isolating states over the former’s alleged ties to terrorism, relations with Iran and support of foreign Muslim Brotherhood branches. The isolating governments consider domestic Muslim Brotherhood branches to be a threat to their legitimacy, and three have designated it a terrorist organization.

Two days after the boycott, Qatar turned to Washington: First, they hired Ashcroft Law Firm, cofounded by former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, and then a second law firm — McDermott, Will & Emory — three weeks later. In late August, Qatar hired a third D.C. law firm, Stonington Strategies, then a fourth, Nelson Mullins, in September.

Corey Lewandowski (R) greets guest at an Afternoon Tea hosted by the British Embassy (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

Last summer, it also hired Avenue Strategies Global, former Trump campaign manager Corey Leandowski’s lobbying firm, according to Politico. Art Estopinan, recently hired as a partner at Avenue Strategies Global and one of the lobbyists for Qatar, was formerly Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-Fla.) chief of staff. He also previously represented the Puerto Rico Private Sector Coalition.

Qatar has also turned to advertising firms, including the Washington, D.C.-based Audience Partners Worldwide.

Most recently, Qatar’s communications office hired the PR and lobbying firm BlueFront Strategies to create what would be the country’s most ambitious media campaign denouncing the isolation. The campaign was designed to target the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly in September.

BlueFront’s services for Qatar from Sept. 12 to Oct. 1 overlapped with the UN’s meeting. In total, the firm’s compensation for the campaign was $100,000.

Since June, Qatar has spent around $4.7 million on new contracts for U.S. influence campaigns. Between 2012 and June 2017, the country spent around $6.5 million on new contracts.

The above information comes from the Center for Responsive Politics’ Foreign Lobby Watch database, which curates the public forms companies representing foreign powers must file with the Department of Justice under the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

The isolation caused some economic disruption in Qatar. It ended trade across the Saudi Arabia-Qatar border, the route Qatar had used to import around 40 percent of its food. Qatar’s shipping costs temporarily spiked tenfold, and air travel routes were disrupted, as Qatar’s national airline was forced to cancel 18 regional flights.

In addition to economic losses, Trump’s skepticism about the Iran nuclear agreement may also have prompted Qatar’s attempts to control the narrative about its isolation. Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s disapproval of Qatar’s relationship with Iran was central to the schism, as Saudi Arabia is engaged in proxy conflicts with Iran. If Trump were to use an exit from the deal to make Iran a pariah, it could impact Qatar’s standing with the U.S., too.

Qatar’s anti-isolation campaign aimed to “educate the United Nations General Assembly regarding the need to lift the blockade imposed on Qatar by certain other countries in the Middle East,” according to the contract BlueFront registered under FARA. It follows a botched phone call Trump arranged between the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim in an attempt to mediate the crisis. Instead, the call prompted Saudi Arabia to suspend dialogue with Qatar.

The underlying goal was likely to target powerful decision-makers attending the General Assembly, including Trump. The campaign coincided with Sheikh Tamim’s speech and his meeting with the president at the UN on Sept. 19.

After the campaign, the U.S. military halted some exercises in several Gulf countries, according to CBS News. Qatar hosts Al Udeid air base, the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command.

Qatar’s campaign

Outlines BlueFront submitted under FARA show plans for ads across multiple platforms. Each ad contains a statement noting that Qatar’s government communications office paid for it, or a link to the campaign’s website where this statement is displayed.

This video was scheduled to be shown in an estimated 50 slots spread across Fox News, Fox Business, CNN, Headline News, CNBC, and MSNBC: 

In 2015, Fortune estimated that a single 30-second ad slot on CNN would cost about $5,000.

The outlines show ads destined for print and online display in The New York Times, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the New York Post, and Politico.

They include designs for social media messaging, including an @LiftTheBlockade Twitter account and a Snapchat geofilter targeting the United Nations Headquarters, the Intercontinental Barclay and St. Regis hotels, the Financial District and the Times Square/Midtown areas, and John F. Kennedy Airport.

Last, they show plans for YouTube ads, Google Search ad results, and mobile truck billboards.

The claims

“We will defend our independence,” full-page ads for publication in The Washington Post and the New York Post state in bold. Below is a quote from the Washington Post article reporting that American officials had identified UAE hackers as being behind the crisis.

The campaign’s references to “independence” may reflect Qatar’s interpretation of conflicts between it and Saudi Arabia as amounting to battles for the smaller nation’s sovereignty. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, sees Qatar’s refusal to fall in line as a liability in its rivalry with Iran. This historic tension has spiked since the beginning of Arab Spring in December 2010, with Qatar supporting the revolutions, and specifically Muslim Brotherhood branches taking part in them, and Saudi Arabia opposing the movements.

The campaign materials also portray Qatar’s isolation specifically as an attack on domestic reforms. Openness to reform holds important political capital for Gulf monarchies, as countries like Saudi Arabia have sought to confront their leaders’ public images as regressive, aged rulers governing young populations. The campaign further frames the mobility restrictions that resulted from Qatar’s isolation as human rights violations.

Foremost, it stressed Qatar’s role as an ally to the U.S. in fighting terrorism, identifying Qatar as the only Gulf country to have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on terrorism with the US. Memoranda of understanding are not legally binding.

The portrayal of Qatar as an ally against terrorism seems to be a response to the heightened controversy the boycott has created surrounding its relationship with U.S.-designated “terrorist” groups.

At various points, Qatar has provided a platform for Muslim Brotherhood members, housed exiled Hamas leaders, and, until 2013, hosted an office of the Afghan Taliban.

Despite the isolating countries’ fervor in calling out Qatar’s terrorist links, they too have manipulated armed groups for strategic gain. In 2014, the UAE — perhaps the most vocal critic of Qatar’s Muslim Brotherhood ties — violated UN-backed sanctions by sending military aircraft to anti-Islamist militias in Libya, and carried out bombings in support of those forces.

Funding flowing to designated terrorist groups from private citizens has posed a problem in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar alike.

One week following CRP’s initial request, the Qatari ambassador to the United States had not commented on the campaign.

BlueFront Strategies

BlueFront Strategies was founded by Sara Fagen, a former strategist for George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign and White House political director during his second term. In 2011, the advocacy firm DDC Public Affairs acquired BlueFront. Bluefront is the latest firm to contract with Qatar.

The BlueFront employees who registered under FARA to work on Qatar’s campaign also work for DDC. One, DDC’s Senior Vice President of Client Relations, formerly served as a director in Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

According to CRP’s political expenditures data, BlueFront was a notable recipient of campaign spending during the 2012 election cycle, receiving almost $350,000 from three PACs. Two – Freedom First PAC and the National Rifle Association’s PAC – have donated almost exclusively to Republican federal candidates.

Anti-Qatar campaign

Qatar’s isolation prompted a competition between it and the isolating countries in the sphere of American public relations. In July, a Saudi-owned firm, the Saudi American Public Relations Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), created an anti-Qatar media campaign for Bahrain, as Al Jazeera reported.

Its centerpiece is The Qatar Insider, a website claiming to offer “the truth about Qatar’s funding, activities and support for terrorist and extreme Islamist groups.” Designed like a news website, it reposts stories that could be construed to cast Qatar in a bad light.

The Arabic version of the website reposts articles from Saudi, Emirati, and Egyptian newspapers.

CRP captured the following ad linked to The Qatar Insider when it ran in Politico, The Hill, and on NBC:

Bahrain’s ambassador to the U.S. was not available to comment on the campaign. Reem Daffa, SAPRAC’s vice president and executive director, was not reachable by phone.

GCC states’ participation in U.S. lobbying is heavily skewed. In mid-July — about a month after the split — Saudi Arabia had contracts with 22 American lobbying firms, the UAE had 10, and Bahrain and Egypt had three and two respectively, according to The Hill. In contrast, Omani entities have not registered any contracts with U.S. firms in the past five years. Kuwait has registered one.

The expensive media campaigns states on both sides of the isolation issue have purchased contrast starkly with the harsh consequences for locals who would criticize those states’ positions. The UAE has established an up-to-fifteen year sentence for those criticizing the blockade in the press, social media, or in speech. Bahrain has established an up-to-five year sentence, and Saudi Arabia announced that it could consider such expression a cybercrime.

Qatar has revoked the citizenship of two tribe leaders and over fifty of their family members in retaliation for their positions on the crisis, Al Arabiya reported.

The post Qatar Spent Nearly $5 Million on U.S. Influence Campaigns Following its Isolation by Saudi Coalition appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

Why some campaign contributions get returned

Open Secrets - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 12:27

NEW YORK, NY: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and producer Harvey Weinstein attend the TIME 100 Gala (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for TIME)

It’s been a big week for politicians refunding tainted campaign donations.

First, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. returned a $32,000 contribution from Donald Trump’s personal attorney Marc Kasowitz, who made the donation in 2013 after Vance decided not to pursue a fraud investigation against Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr.

Now, at least a dozen Democrats have refunded or donated to charity contributions from media mogul Harvey Weinstein following a New York Times story alleging decades of sexual harassment.

Refunds of campaign contributions are not rare, and most are not particularly scandalous. Losing campaigns often give back their leftover funds, although they are not legally obligated to. Some campaigns offer to refund supporters who have a change of heart, as former Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) did for his irate Republican backers when he switched parties in 2009, but that’s not required, either.

Campaigns regularly issue refunds of contributions they can’t legally accept, such as donations from people who have already given the legal limit, an issue that plagued Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign. Some entities, such as federal contractors, are not permitted to make any contributions, which is why the pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC Priorities USA had to refund $200,000 to a construction company last June. Campaigns with millions of individual donors, such as Barack Obama’s or Bernie Sanders’, have to work hard to stay top of these issues and are in a constant state of back-and-forth with the Federal Election Commission.

Occasionally, legally dubious contributions are not simply innocent mistakes by donors but concerted efforts to hide the source. Last year, the OpenSecrets Blog partnered with The Boston Globe‘s Spotlight team to uncover a scheme by a Boston law firm to reimburse partners for their political donations, primarily to Democrats. Thornton Law Firm claimed that the arrangement was legal, but Massachusetts regulators disagreed. At least 30 candidates, including Hillary Clinton, subsequently either refunded the donations or forwarded them to the U.S. Treasury.

The juiciest campaign finance scandals involve contributions from foreign nationals. In 1997, The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Brian Duffy revealed that the Justice Department was investigating an effort by the People’s Republic of China to funnel contributions to President Bill Clinton’s reelection effort. Clinton had to return $640,000 (from his legal defense fund) that traced back to the head of a weapons company owned by the Chinese military, and the Democratic National Committee refunded $100,000 to a Chinese-American fundraiser who confessed to receiving the money from a lieutenant colonel in the People’s Liberation Army. Last year, the FEC prodded Donald Trump’s campaign to return several contributions from foreigners.

Contributions from fraudsters are another headache for campaigns and a major source of refunds.

When victims of financier Robert Allen Stanford’s Ponzi scheme tried to recover $1.6 million of his campaign contributions, they had to take five party committees to court to get them to cough it up. The refunds included about $1 million from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and about $260,000 from the National Republican Congressional Committee. However, many of Stanford’s contributions were too small to be worth suing over, including $4,600 given to Barack Obama, who never returned the money. Recipients of donations from an even more notorious source — Bernie Madoff — were quicker to donate to a victims’ fund. And in 2004, New Jersey Democrats gave to charity a fraction of the contributions they had received from real estate developer Charles Kushner, who had donated money in the names of his partnerships without authorization. Kushner subsequently served 14 months in prison but was a free man by 2015, when he and his wife made a $100,000 contribution to a super PAC supporting Donald Trump … the father-in-law of Kushner’s son Jared.

Campaigns that purport to uphold a higher standard end up needing to return more contributions than most. Barack Obama’s campaign, for example, made it a point of pride not to accept contributions from registered lobbyists; consequently, it had to issue refunds to five lobbyist donors following an OpenSecrets Blog investigation.

Finally, there are contributions, such as Weinstein’s, which are legal but politically toxic.

If a controversial donation comes to light, politicians have to weigh their need for money against the bad press they would suffer by keeping it. In 2015, for example, three Republican presidential candidates returned contributions from the president of a white supremacist organization that was cited in the manifesto of the perpetrator of the Charleston church shooting. In contrast, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) not only kept $1 million from a venture capitalist accused of sexual abuse but even gave him a seat on stage at his inauguration. The presidential campaign and super PAC of Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), on the other hand, returned $250,000 to the same donor.

Sometimes the focus is on questionable contributions from committees rather than individuals. Whenever a member of congress is under investigation — for example, Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) — candidates who have received donations from the member’s leadership PAC face calls to return them. Companies involved in major scandal, such as Enron in 2001, also tend to see a flurry of contributions returned to their political action committees or forwarded to charity.

Last cycle, candidates returned over $100 million in precious individual contributions, and this cycle is shaping up the same way. While the $1.4 million that Weinstein’s family has donated since 1990 is sizable by any standard, he wasn’t among last cycle’s top 500 donors. The next time a scandal hits one of the true mega-donors, however, watch how willing politicians are to let go of the tainted cash.

The post Why some campaign contributions get returned appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

Grant to Trump: How court cases influenced campaign finance

Open Secrets - Fri, 10/06/2017 - 14:15

WASHINGTON, DC – People wait in line outside of the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford on October 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)

When Ulysses S. Grant ran for president in 1868, he benefited from large contributions from wealthy entrepreneurs, such as railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. “Never before was a candidate placed under such great obligation to men of wealth as was Grant,” one historian said of Grant’s donors’ largesse.

But if Grant was among the first presidents to receive large sums of campaign funds from rich businessmen, he was far from the last.

Money and politics in the United States have become increasingly intertwined, a relationship which reached new heights when the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money independently in support of or in opposition to a candidate. The effects of Citizens United have been pivotal, and calls to overturn the ruling continue to this day.

However, Citizens United didn’t appear out of nowhere. The ruling was only the latest in a series of important court cases that have loosened campaign finance restrictions.

‘Magic Words’

In the U.S., political contributions are considered an exercise of First Amendment rights. The reasoning behind this was that communicating ideas required spending money.

The 1976 Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo was the first case to establish this idea.

In 1975, Sen. James Buckley of New York and others filed suit in U.S. district court against the FEC and Senate secretary Francis Valeo claiming that the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act — the primary federal law regulating campaign finance — was unlawful. According to Buckley, the law’s limitations on campaign contributions and expenditures violated the First Amendment. When the law was upheld, the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court.

In Buckley, the judges ruled that contribution limits were necessary to deter corruption as candidates would feel indebted to big donors. Expenditure limitations, on the other hand, violated freedom of speech since there was no clear connection between expenditure amounts and corruption. In short, candidates could spend unrestricted amounts to advance their campaign.

The Court also deemed independent expenditures – or outside spending by groups in support of or opposition to candidates – constitutionally protected in the Buckley case so long as these expenditures were not formally coordinated with the candidate.

The idea of “express advocacy” was first formulated in the case, too. The Court defined express advocacy as communications that “advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified federal candidate” and are identifiable by eight so-called “magic words.” The words (and phrases) include “vote for,” “elect,” “cast your ballot for” and “reject.” Any ad using any one of these words would be considered “express advocacy,” according to the Court, and subject to federal campaign regulations.

Corporations have rights, too

David Barrows, of Washington, DC, holds a sign while he watches a rally calling for an end to corporate money in politics and to mark the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Corporations’ right to participate in campaigns as a legal person, which was popularized in Citizens United, is not a new concept. Lesser-known cases after Buckley paved the way for the involvement of corporations.

Two years after Buckley, several corporations including the First National Bank of Boston were barred from contributing to a Massachusetts referendum on tax policy. The corporations took issue with the Massachusetts law and appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti that corporations could contribute money to ballot proposals.

Justice Lewis Powell, who delivered the opinion of the Court, argued that corporations, along with associations and unions, have the same rights as individuals to express political views.

Attempts to reign it in

In the 1980s, court cases challenged the definition of “express advocacy” put forward by Buckley.

In FEC v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, the Supreme Court held that a communication does not have to use the so-called “magic words” to be considered express advocacy. Massachusetts Citizens for Life (MCL) had used treasury funds to create flyers encouraging people to vote “pro-life” and included the names of pro-life candidates running for office. Although MCL had not used any “magic words,” the judges ruled the ads were clearly an attempt to influence an election.

Also in the 1980s, the FEC took land developer Harvey Furgatch to court after he purchased a full-page ad in The New York Times and Boston Globe to encourage voters to prevent “four more years of incoherences, ineptness and illusion” under then-President Jimmy Carter. The case came to be known as FEC v. Furgatch. Furgatch’s defense was that the ad used none of the “magic words” listed in Buckley and remained vague enough to get a legal pass.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that speech could be express advocacy when it is “susceptible of no other reasonable interpretation” – as in this case. They ruled that implied meanings can be considered express advocacy, and therefore Furgatch’s advertisement expressly advocated the defeat of President Carter.

Despite these new limitations on independent expenditure, the ambiguous wording of these laws meant that they were ineffective regulatory tools. The lack of expenditure limits and loose regulations for outside spending created massive inflows of money into campaigns.

In response, Congress passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) in 2002 to eliminate soft money donations and more tightly regulate independently funded ads. Soft money encompasses the money donated to parties that support general political activities, such as voter registration drives.

The Act also prohibited corporations from funding electioneering communications, or broadcast advertisements mentioning a federal candidate within 30 days of a primary election and 60 days of a general election. It thereby ignored the ambiguities of the Buckley and Furgatch cases.

A year later, the Supreme Court upheld BCRA in McConnell v. FEC, determining most of BCRA’s provisions constitutional and noting the “substantial evidence to support Congress’ determination that large soft-money contributions to national political parties give rise to corruption…”

All this changed four years later in a case that a number of legal scholars believe was the stepping stone to Citizens United.

The rise of dark money

Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL), a politically active nonprofit, ran ads encouraging viewers to contact two U.S. senators during the 2004 presidential election. By running the ads, the group broke the BCRA’s rules restricting political ads funded by corporations in the 60-day period before an election. WRTL ended up suing the FEC, claiming that BCRA was unconstitutional.

In FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, the Court deemed BCRA’s prohibition on corporate electioneering communications as unconstitutional. Their reasoning was that ads crafted to focus on policy issues and implicitly advocating for or against candidates should not be considered express advocacy, and therefore cannot be regulated as such – essentially the opposite of the conclusions made in Furgatch.

As long as the ads left out the “magic words” then, a group could easily spend limitless amounts without needing to disclose their donors or report political spending to the FEC.

Wisconsin gave rise to massive spending by dark money groups like political nonprofits that are not legally obligated to disclose their contributions.

During the 2008 election cycle, the first presidential race after Wisconsin, dark money spending on presidential candidates increased from virtually zero to about $25 million. In the 2012 cycle, the amount soared to $141 million.

The Wisconsin Right to Life case is noteworthy not only for helping enable dark money spending but for demonstrating how much the composition of the Supreme Court matters, Brendan Fischer, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center, said.

In 2006, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor retired and was replaced by Samuel Alito, a conservative-leaning justice, which shifted the dynamic on the court.

“Between the McConnell case and the Wisconsin Right to Life ruling, really nothing changed in terms of the statistics or practices of campaign finance,” Fischer said. “All that changed was the makeup of the court.

“[This case] is a reminder that the ideology of the court makes a significant impact.”

Citizens United

When Citizens United v. FEC was decided in 2010, its impact did not shock people closely monitoring campaign finance.

Citizens United wasn’t surprising, Fischer said, given the court’s previous rulings, including its findings in Wisconsin Right to Life.

Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation for the watchdog group Common Cause said that the Wisconsin case did a lot of the damage often attributed to Citizens United as well as much of the damage to campaign finance laws attributed to the Supreme Court.

Wisconsin Right to Life made permissible corporate funding and created the vague legal standard that acted as a major step toward Citizens United,” Ryan said.

In Citizens United, judges used the ideas stated in previous cases to make their conclusion: As long as money is not given directly to or used in coordination with a candidate, it is not corruptive, and corporations too have the right to freedom of speech.

Given that the Court had already deemed independent expenditure from an individual as not corruptive, it was only logical to expand this argument in Citizens United to conclude that independent expenditure from a group – including a corporation that has First Amendment rights – is also not corrupt, and therefore sanctioned. Now, corporations, as well as associations and unions, were granted legal rights to use unlimited sums of money from their treasury funds to fund independent expenditure.

This line of reasoning also led to the federal Court of Appeals’ 2010 decision in v. FEC, which reinforced Citizens United and removed all contribution limits to independent expenditure-only groups. The ruling created super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited money to advocate for or against a political candidate, including donations from corporations.

The Supreme Court’s most recent major case on campaign finance, McCutcheon v. FEC, addressed direct contributions rather than outside spending. In this case, Alabama resident Shaun McCutcheon objected to the aggregate contribution limit of $123,200, the amount that individuals were allowed to donate to all federal candidates and parties combined in a single election cycle. He sued the FEC, claiming that the aggregate limit on contributions violated his First Amendment rights.

The majority of the Court agreed with McCutcheon, concluding that one individual donating to many groups does not necessarily give rise to “influence over or access to” elected officials or parties the same way that a single large contribution might. While base limits (the amount allowed to be donated to each candidate) were deemed constitutional, aggregate limits were ruled a violation of a person’s freedom of speech.

Because of these rulings, over the last half century or so, federal campaign finance has become an extremely complex system, balancing transparency and avoiding corruption with freedom of speech and political participation.

Freedom of speech is certainly winning: In 1868, Ulysses Grant’s election effort cost $150,000 – or $2.7 million in today’s money. In 2016, Donald Trump’s campaign committee and outside groups supporting him spent nearly 150 times more. Hillary Clinton’s campaign, combined with outside groups, spent nearly 300 times more.

The post Grant to Trump: How court cases influenced campaign finance appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

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