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Contributions flood contentious Alabama special election

Open Secrets - Thu, 09/21/2017 - 10:10

Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks to supporters in Montgomery. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Alabama’s special election embodies what political analysts claim is a deepening rift between the GOP’s establishment and anti-establishment factions. Money has flooded the campaigns in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff, as former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore maintains an apparent lead over interim Sen. Luther Strange.

Strange, who was appointed by former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to replace U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has the backing of President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

McConnell’s endorsement has stoked criticism that Strange, a former state attorney general, represents the Washington establishment while Moore, a relative outsider in Alabama politics, is seen as the more conservative, populist candidate.

Some have simplified the choice in Alabama’s closely watched primary as either a vote of confidence in Trump (Strange) or a message to the “swamp” (Moore). Reflecting the widespread attitude that much is at stake in the runoff, copious amounts of money is being tossed into the race as the Republican challengers prepare to face off next week.

Strange has raised $3.9 million and spent about $4.1 million as of Sept. 6, according to filings with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).

The amount raised by his campaign more than doubles the $1.7 million then-Sen. Jeff Sessions received for his 2014 Senate bid. The majority of Strange’s financing has come from PACs, which make up 28.5 percent of his contributions, and large individual donors.

Moore, on the other hand, has raised money predominantly from small and large individual donors with little to no support from PACs.

According a Sept. 6 FEC filing, Moore’s campaign has raised $1.4 million and spent $1.1 million. As far as outside spending, the Solution Fund PAC has spent $54,000 in support of Moore while the Swamp Drainers Foundation and the Madison Project have spent $85,000 and $68,000 respectively in advertising and other communication materials against Strange.

Over the summer and in the past few weeks, money has flowed quickly into the race.

As of early September, the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), a super PAC affiliated with McConnell, has thrown $733,000 into the race in support of Strange and another $2.5 million in attack ads against Moore. In the past two months, 18 of the last 20 videos on SLF’s YouTube channel have covered the Alabama Senate race with a pro-Strange stance, and SLF spent $383,000 on postage and printing in the last week alone in support of Strange. The super PAC also funded $1.8 million in assorted ads opposing Moore from late August to early September.

The Senate Leadership Fund is not the only outside group ramping up their spending in the Alabama race on the eve of the election. The National Rifle Association’s PAC has spent a little over $1 million, including $874,000 within the last two weeks, in support of Strange.

Despite less funding, Moore has received his fair share of contributions as well as support from outside groups within the past couple months. The $1.4 million Moore’s campaign raised as of early September is more than double what they had raised by the end of July – or a 204 percent increase in contributions within the last two months.

The pro-Trump Great American PAC has spent $20,000 on online voter contact over the last week in support for Moore. Its new offshoot, the Great American Alliance, bankrolled a bus tour for the upcoming weekend – a tour featuring former Alaska Republican Gov. Sarah Palin among others. The Alliance PAC also put money behind a series of pro-Moore television ads, two of which were uploaded to the PAC’s YouTube channel this week.

Meanwhile, former U.S. attorney and Democratic challenger Doug Jones awaits the victor of Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff. Endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden, Jones won the Democratic Party primary with relative ease.

Currently with $253,000 in his campaign coffers, Jones has been gaining a steady trickle of contributions and quietly preparing for the Dec. 12 general election.

The post Contributions flood contentious Alabama special election appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

Trump’s FEC pick worries watchdogs

Open Secrets - Thu, 09/14/2017 - 12:41

Trey Trainor poses with a Trump campaign sticker at the Akerman Law Firm in Austin, Texas. (Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

President Donald Trump nominated Trey Trainor, an Austin-based attorney with close ties to the Trump administration, to a seat on the Federal Election Commisssion.

The White House announced the nomination late Tuesday in a press release that quickly sparked concern from transparency advocates about Trainor’s ideology and perceived bias to any FEC inquiry of Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

Trainor, an election law specialist with a history of fighting the Texas Ethics Commission over campaign finance disclosures, is known for his deregulatory attitude toward money in politics.

The FEC consists of six presidential appointees who serve six-year terms and by law cannot include more than three members of one party. The senate must confirm appointees.

In March, former FEC chair Ann Ravel, a democrat, resigned, leaving the commission with three Republicans, one Democrat and one independent. The loss of Ravel has not affected commissioners’ ability to hold meetings or take action, an FEC spokesperson said.

Trainor would serve “the remainder of a 6-year term expiring April 30, 2023,” according to the White House, replacing Republican commissioner Matthew Peterson, who was nominated by President Trump to become a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

The nomination was panned by transparency groups, including Issue One and ReThink Media, which called for Trainor to recuse himself in any future FEC probe of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election should he receive senate approval. The FEC may be pressured into reviewing Russia’s activity, The Washington Post noted.

An unabashed Trump supporter, Trainor was featured in an Austin American-Statesman story in January flaunting Trump-Pence memorabilia.

Meet Central Texas Trump supporters heading to the inauguration https://t.co/LxBby3cxds pic.twitter.com/dUuSXYiWT5

— Austin Statesman (@statesman) January 16, 2017

Nine months later, Trainor hasn’t lost his Trumpian leanings.

He recently blocked his Twitter account from public viewing, but a number of his archived tweets collected by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine were shared by Center for Public Integrity reporters.

Trainor’s recent social media activity includes a half dozen Trump retweets and other conservative and religious endorsements, including a Federalist Society tweet about a Rand Paul interview.

ReThink called on senators to consider the implications of Trainor’s appointment. It’s unclear when the Senate Rules Committee will hold a hearing.

Issue One also urged senators “to publicly and fully vet” a nominee with such antagonism for openness and oversight in campaign finance.

“(Trainor’s) prior stances on the regulation of dark money, his clashes with the Texas Ethics Commission and support for the Texas Senate defunding the body raise serious concerns as to whether he will be fully committed to enforcing the law, or like former FEC commissioner Don McGahn, more interested in nullifying long-standing election regulations and laws,” said Meredith McGehee, Issue One’s chief of policy, programs and strategy.

In 2015, Trump told TIME magazine that he wanted more transparency in campaign financing, which doesn’t appear to be the priority of his first FEC nominee.

The post Trump’s FEC pick worries watchdogs appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

Radio Show Thursday Sept.14

Lloyd G Carter Blog - Wed, 09/13/2017 - 12:02

Dear Website visitors,  my monthly radio show on KFCF, 88.1 FM in Fresno airs this Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017 at 1 p.m..  My guest will be author Jill Jonnes who has written a new book "Urban Forests" about the history of trees in American cities and how important they are.  Very informative.  If you are not in the KFCF listening area (San Joaquin Valley) you can listen live streaming at www.kfcf.org.

 

Lloyd

 

Categories: Further Reading

Bureau of Reclamation faulted for funding Westlands lobbyist

Lloyd G Carter Blog - Mon, 09/11/2017 - 16:09

 An Interior Department agency responsible for managing water in the western United States improperly provided millions of dollars in subsidies to contractors in California, according to an inspector general's report, including to a major water district once represented by a lobbyist who is now Interior’s second highest-ranking official. 

The Bureau of Reclamation, the Interior Department's top watchdog concluded, didn't fully disclose to Congress and others the $84 million cost of its Bay Delta Conservation Plan in California. It also said the bureau couldn't provide paperwork for why the water contractors didn't have to pay back $50 million in federal funding. 

Though mentioned only once in the report, the Westlands Water District was part of the inspector general's analysis. That district, made up of more than 1,000 square miles of California farmland, was once represented by David Bernhardt, now the Interior Department's deputy secretary.  READ MORE »

Categories: Further Reading

Could this Russian-born Trump donor be the key to a cryptic Manafort note?

Open Secrets - Fri, 09/01/2017 - 11:07

Simon Kukes, former chief executive of Russian oil giant Yukos, speaks at a November 2003 news conference in Moscow. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

Yesterday, NBC News reported that notes written by Trump’s then-campaign manager Paul Manafort during a June 2016 meeting with Russians at Trump Tower included cryptic references to political contributions and the Republican National Committee.

According to the report, the notes were turned over to both House and Senate intelligence committees, as well as to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, for their respective investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016.

Who or what the note might be a reference to is still a mystery. But as far as any Russian money might be concerned, it would be illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to candidates in U.S. elections.

A Russian-born American citizen, on the other hand, could certainly make a donation, which is why one major Republican donor’s 2016 contributions merit a fresh look.

Meet Mr. Kukes

Born in the Soviet Union, Simon Grigorievich Kukes emigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s. He spent time in academia in the Houston area and also worked for some oil and gas companies. By the 1990s, he was back in Russia where, in 2003, he became the head of Yukos Corp., a now-defunct oil company once owned by the Russian government. In ascending to the position, Kukes replaced the wealthiest man in Russia, a Putin foe named Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was charged with fraud and sentenced to 10 years in prison in what Forbes described as “Vladimir Putin’s most notorious power grab.”

Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Simon Kukes in 2000. (Photo: Kremlin.ru)

Kukes only lasted a year at Yukos. Afterward, he bounced from oil company to oil company. Eventually, he landed back in Houston for a job at Nafta Consulting, which focuses on “creating cross border opportunities between companies in the U.S. and Russia,” according to the company’s website.

And Kukes, it seems, is no stranger to greasing a few palms to influence officials. CIA documents released in 2003 claim that “Kukes said that he bribed local officials,” an accusation which he has denied. Despite his possible willingness to use money to sway officials and being a U.S. citizen since the 1970s, Kukes had no history of political contributions before 2016. That changed, in a big way, when Donald Trump ran for president.

Timing is everything

In early March 2016, Kukes gave $2,700 – the maximum amount possible – to Donald Trump’s primary campaign. Then in late June, Kukes began a veritable flood of contributions, largely to a joint fundraising committee called Trump Victory, whose primary beneficiaries included not only Trump’s campaign but the Republican National Committee and a handful of other state-level GOP committees.

All told, Kukes contributed $283,283 during the 2016 cycle. More than 99 percent came after the Trump Tower meeting in June.

The timing is important because between Kukes’ initial donation in March and the deluge of contributions from June to September, two critical things had happened. First, in early May, Trump won the Indiana Republican primary and became his party’s presumptive nominee. Second, on June 9, the fateful meeting between Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and a group of Russians took place in Trump Tower.

The meeting had been set up by an entertainment publicist named Rob Goldstone as a part of the Russian government’s “support for Mr. Trump,” according to an email to Donald Trump Jr.

In the email, Goldstone told Trump Jr. that the Russian attendees at the meeting would provide information that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” While Trump Jr. has maintained that nothing came of the meeting, this is where Manafort apparently jotted the note about a political contribution and the RNC. Two weeks later, Simon Kukes – who happens to be the former owner of a $1.7 million condo in Trump Parc – began contributing tens of thousands of dollars to Trump and the Republican Party.

Whether or not Kukes’ decision to give more than a quarter of a million dollars to Trump and the Republican Party is related to the notes Manafort jotted down that day is unclear. The OpenSecrets Blog has reached out to Kukes but had not received a response by the time of publication.

What is clear, however, is Kukes isn’t bashful about his financial support for President Trump or his connections to the Russian oil and gas industry. The “In the News” section of Nafta’s website includes a link to the OpenSecrets Blog’s previous reporting about Kukes’ contributions, which seemingly welcomes the publicity.

The post Could this Russian-born Trump donor be the key to a cryptic Manafort note? appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

Sitting Members of Congress to face more, better-funded challengers in 2018

Open Secrets - Thu, 08/31/2017 - 11:35

Congressional Steel Caucus member, Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 14, 2016, during a hearing on the State of the U.S. steel industry with testimony from industry executives and labor representatives. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Despite near-record levels of unpopularity, the membership of the 115th Congress is nearly identical to that of the 114th Congress. Of members seeking reelection,  97% of House members and just under 90% of Senators were re-elected. While it is far too soon to speculate on whether these re-election rates will change in 2018, early signs in 2017 point to many incumbents facing better funded challengers than they have seen in years.

As Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute discussed in July, 212 incumbents are facing a challenger who has filed a financial report with the Federal Election Commission.  While this number still represents fewer than half of all incumbents, it is much higher than at a similar point in 2013, when only 95 incumbents had a challenger lined up. Facing a challenger with even a small amount of fundraising at this point in the cycle is an indicator of a tough re-election bid, although in 2013 these early challengers had no more success at taking down incumbents than people who entered the race later did.   

So far, this cycle more closely resembles the 2010 midterms, when the Democratic majority in Congress faced far more early challengers than did Republicans, than 2014, when the two parties were roughly equal. However, the absolute number of challengers in 2017 is much higher than at the same point in 2009, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Total number of incumbents facing early challengers, by party


The Republicans, given their control of the presidency, should expect midterm losses. And, based on the challengers lining up, Republicans appear to be at a disadvantage. Republicans face fewer challengers, proportionally, from their own party than do Democrats, but they also face far more opposite-party challengers. Most Democratic incumbents have no challenger at all.

Figure 2: Challengers and Incumbents who have filed with FEC, by party, 2017

Of course, even though these challengers may be off to a good head start, merely raising or spending $5,000 is nothing compared to the whopping $5.8 million  an incumbent Senator has raised thus far this cycle, or even the $469,000 raised by an average House incumbent. 82 challengers have raised more than $50,000, making them “strong” challengers for this point in the cycle – although $50,000 is not anywhere near enough to run a successful campaign.  Some of these better-financed challengers may face off against incumbents who have run all-but-unopposed for many years.

Three incumbents who won with token or no opposition in 2016 are facing challengers who have raised more than $50,000. Democratic Rep. Daniel Lipinski (IL-03) ran unopposed in the 2016 general and with only token opposition in the primary – his district, on Chicago’s south side, is heavily Democratic — but his primary challenger this cycle has outraised him in donations from individual donors.  Marie Newman has raised $120,812 from individuals, with $32,542 coming from donors giving less than $200. This might seem like a good sign for Newman, but Lipinski – like many incumbents – enters this re-election bid with a hefty war chest.  

The other two candidates who ran with no or token opposition in 2016 were Frederica Wilson (FL-24) and Adam Kinzinger (IL-16). Wilson, a Democrat, did see a challenger in her 2016 primary but ran unopposed in the general, and is facing Republican Louis Sola this cycle in a heavily Democratic district. He has outraised her so far, but Wilson, like Lipinski, has a significant advantage  — she has four times as much cash on hand as Sola.

Kinzinger represents a solidly Republican district and had no challenger in his 2016 primary election or the general election.  This year, three Democrats have already filed financial reports. The best funded of these is Neill Mohammed, who has raised over $73,000, still just a fraction of the nearly $470,000 Kinzinger has raised.  And, continuing the theme, Kinzinger carried over a sizeable war chest from past cycles.

Lipinski, Wilson and Kinzinger are typical in having large cash-on-hand advantages over their challengers. Incumbents, on average, have $1,016,345 on hand as of mid-year 2017. Challengers, in comparison, have $89,870. These numbers vary depending on the type of race — Senate incumbents have significantly more money ($4 million)  than do House incumbents ($784 thousand).

Another huge advantage for incumbents is fundraising from PACs. Incumbents have raised an average of $286,077 from PACs this cycle while challengers have raised an average of $5,538. In fact, of the current 414 challengers, only 81 have received any money from PACs. Candidates challenging vulnerable Senators have raised much more than average (many of them are sitting House members, so they have the benefit of their own war chests), but even in the case of the competitive Indiana Senate race incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly has received more than twice as much money from PACs as his two GOP challengers — combined.

While this year’s crop of early challengers is much larger than in the past, most have an uphill battle in fundraising. Eight, however, have outraised the incumbent they’re challenging, all but one of whom are Republicans being outraised by Democrats or Republican primary challengers (the exception being Rep. Frederica Wilson, discussed earlier). This is a slight uptick over previous midterms, but only very slight. In 2009, by late August only six incumbents had been outraised by challengers, and in 2013 that number was only five.

Challengers also do relatively well with small donors. 71 incumbents are facing at least one challenger who has outraised the incumbent in money from small donors. This isn’t quite half of all incumbents who are facing challengers, but it is significantly higher than the last midterm: Only 18 incumbents were being outraised in small donor fundraising by challengers at this point in 2013. Of those 18, only 12 returned to office in 2015 – far fewer than the 95% reelection rate from that cycle would suggest.  But, of the six who didn’t return, only one was actually defeated in an election.

2009 was a different story.  In that cycle, partisan control of Congress switched from the Democrats to the Republicans – largely driven by the Tea Party movement — and by the end of August, 36 incumbents had been outraised among small donors by at least one of their challengers. Of those 36, only 16 returned to Congress the following year.  11 lost in either the general or the primary, and the others either died or dropped out of the race.  

All data for this piece was last updated on August 25th.  

 

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Categories: Further Reading

Trump bucks ethics norm with book recommendation

Open Secrets - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 10:25

President Trump on Sunday suggested late-summer reading for his 37 million Twitter followers in a tweet that could get anyone else in his office fired.

The book, “Cop Under Fire,” was written by Milwaukee County Sheriff and Trump campaign supporter David Clarke, Jr., who had pinned a link to the book’s Amazon page on his Twitter profile in February.

Trump shared the Amazon link during a weekend of Hurricane Harvey-related tweets.

A great book by a great guy, highly recommended! https://t.co/3jbDDN8YmJ

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017

Under federal ethics regulations, executive branch employees are prohibited from using their position “to endorse any product, service or enterprise …” The president and vice president are exempt, however.

While technically legal, the tweet was criticized by government ethics groups as the latest in a string of rule-bending behavior by the Trump administration.

In February, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform wrote a letter to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) accusing Kellyanne Conway of violating federal ethics laws after she promoted Ivanka Trump’s fashion line on Fox News. OGE advised action against Conway, but the request was rebuffed by the Office of the White House Counsel.

“This is only the latest unfortunate example of President Trump disregarding the ethical norms that help ensure that public officials are working for the public rather than for private interests,” Brendan Fischer, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center, wrote in an email.

“And when coupled with some of the president’s other recent acts — the pardon of Joe Arpaio, for example — there is a sense that one of the administration’s top priorities is to use the power of government to reward those individuals and special interests who’ve ingratiated themselves with the president.”

During the 2016 campaign, Clarke was part of a cross-country bus tour campaigning for Trump. The tour was sponsored by the Great America PAC, the leading PAC supporting Trump on the campaign. Clarke was also briefly in the running for a job as assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security.

Clarke’s Twitter profile features multiple photos of Trump flashing a thumb’s up.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics criticized Trump’s endorsement as well, accusing the president of using his official account “for an advertisement to benefit a major campaign supporter.”

Clarke’s book isn’t the only one on Trump’s recommended list. He’s also promoted two by conservative author Nick Adams.

Nick Adams, “Retaking America” “Best things of this presidency aren’t reported about. Convinced this will be perhaps best presidency ever.”

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 25, 2017

Nick Adams new book, Green Card Warrior, is a must read. The merit-based system is the way to go. Canada, Australia! @foxandfriends

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 3, 2017

 

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Categories: Further Reading

Dark money, super PAC spending surges ahead of 2018 midterms

Open Secrets - Fri, 08/25/2017 - 13:58

Outside groups, such as super PACs and their more secretive brethren politically active nonprofits, spent more money during the first eight months of the 2018 election cycle than over the same period in any previous cycle.

Outside groups have spent nearly $48 million as of August 24 – or more than double the $20.7 million the groups spent at this point during the 2016 presidential elections and the $18 million doled out at this point in 2014, the last midterm cycle.

The record $48 million should be considered the minimum total, however, given the FEC doesn’t require groups to disclose spending on ads discussing issues and those mentioning candidates for office outside of the agency’s reporting windows (30 days before a primary election; 60 days before a general election).

Some of the usual suspects are fueling the record spending. Super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited contributions from wealthy donors, contributed $22.3 million – nearly doubling the $11.8 million they had spent at this point in 2014.

Similarly, the $7.4 million spent by politically active nonprofits is nearly four times the roughly $2 million spent by those groups at this point in 2014.

Except in rare circumstances, these nonprofits – which include 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations and 501(c)(6) trade associations – do not have to disclose their donors to the public, which is why they are often referred to as “dark money” groups. And while they’re not supposed to have politics as their primary purpose, these groups face little oversight from the IRS or the FEC, making it easy for them to circumvent limits on political activity.

While most politically active nonprofits spend directly from their 501(c) treasuries on politically charged ads, they also contribute significantly to a select few super PACs, such as Americans United for Values.

Taking into account direct 501(c) spending and the spending of super PACs funded by nondisclosing groups, dark money for the 2018 midterms has reached $8.5 million so far. This continues the trend of large, early expenditures fueled by secret donors.

Conservative groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Trump’s campaign offshoot, America First Policies, make up nearly 80 percent of dark money spending reported to the FEC this cycle. Only two liberal groups – Planned Parenthood and Patriot Majority USA – rank among the top 10 in dark money spending so far, according to FEC reporting data processed by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Political parties – the traditional sources of campaign financing – are driving the unprecedented arms race in outside spending as well.

Parties have spent $15.8 million so far this cycle, which is more than seven times the money spent at this point in 2014. Republican Party groups – which had to fight off tougher-than-expected competition in special elections in Montana and Georgia – have spent $10.4 million, or about double the $5.4 million by Democrats.

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Categories: Further Reading

The gender gap in campaign contributions continues into 2018

Open Secrets - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 15:33

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pose with the members team before the Congressional Women’s Softball game. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Historically, men have made the vast majority of campaign contributions to candidates, but women–whose campaign cash favors Democrats in general, and Democratic women in particular–saw a boost in 2016, when they gave in record numbers to Hillary Clinton.

Despite the infusion of cash from female donors in 2016, men still dominated the list of the top 100 overall donors, taking up all but 19 spots on the list, as of August. The top 10 male donors alone gave $155.4 million–much more than the $96.8 million given by the top 100 women combined. 

Female candidates tend to benefit most from contributions from women, and thus far in 2018, the trend shows no sign of waning.

Looking at campaign contributions, an analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows that eight of the top ten politicians with the highest percentage of itemized contributions from women–that is, donations of $200 or more–are, themselves, women.

Politician Candidate Gender From Women From Men % Fem Katherine Clark (D-Mass) Female $90,699 $39,693 69.6% Lisa Mandelblatt (D-NJ) Female $81,618 $42,007 66.0% Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill) Female $213,953 $111,039 65.8% Kamala D Harris (D-Calif) Female $285,382 $153,214 65.1% Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) Female $2,180,446 $1,317,530 62.3% Alison Friedman (D-Va) Female $232,639 $147,558 61.2% Yolie Flores (D-Calif) Female $88,150 $59,564 59.7% John Lewis (D-Ga) Male $127,652 $89,055 58.9% Jeff Merkley (D-Ore) Male $166,568 $117,540 58.6% Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) Female $1,389,944 $1,019,526 57.7%

Three of the women on the list–Harris, Gillibrand and Warren–have been discussed as 2020 presidential candidates. All of the top recipients are Democrats and only two are from southern states. Even the highest recipient by percentage received over 30% of her contributions from men. 

The list of top recipients by lowest percentage contributions from women is also distinctive and, unsurprisingly, entirely male.

Politician Candidate Gender From Women From Men % Fem Roger Wicker (R-Miss) Male $13,580 $199,265 6.4% Lindsey Graham (R-SC) Male $8,850 $122,716 6.7% Chris Collins (R-NY) Male $16,886 $170,956 9.0% Clay Higgins (R-La) Male $11,107 $110,400 9.1% Don Norcross (D-NJ) Male $33,850 $327,350 9.4% Dan Donovan (R-NY) Male $10,951 $104,801 9.5% Doug Collins (R-Ga) Male $11,550 $104,150 10.0% Patrick McHenry (R-NC) Male $55,800 $495,750 10.1% Lou Correa (D-Calif) Male $11,852 $102,148 10.4% Mike D Rogers (R-Ala) Male $13,600 $114,550 10.6%

Eight of the ten are Republicans, and six of the ten are from Southern states. The percentages are much more lopsided with the recipients typically getting 90% or more of contributions from men.

Updated – 10:41am 8/18/17

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Categories: Further Reading

Crowded field of Alabama candidates fight for open seat in Senate

Open Secrets - Mon, 08/14/2017 - 06:27

GOP candidate for U.S. Senate Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., speaks with a supporter after the U.S. Senate candidate forum (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Nineteen candidates are contesting tomorrow’s primary for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old seat as U.S. Senator for Alabama, but few have made an impression on Alabamians.

Current Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) is miles ahead in terms of money raised. Strange, formerly the state’s Attorney General, was appointed to the Senate in February by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who has since resigned in scandal. As of July 26, Strange has raised more than $3.2 million for his campaign — six times the amount of his closest competitor. Two-thirds (almost $2.2 million) of Strange’s total campaign funds have come from large individual contributions, and nearly all the rest ($916,000) has come from PACs. With such a large pool of donations, Strange has been able to spend more than $2.2 million, with most of that money going toward ads.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who currently serves Alabama’s 5th District in the House of Representatives, has raised the next highest amount with a total of about $540,000. Brooks has also received a majority of his funds from large individual contributions. Since he already had a campaign account to draw on, Brooks has been able to spend almost double what he has raised, with a disbursement total of nearly $940,000.

Another frontrunner, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, raised just under $460,000 as of three weeks ago. Moore, a favorite of Alabama’s evangelical voters, was suspended from his position as chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court in May 2016 after refusing to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage. Moore has had the most success with small donors, but still received 65 percent of his money from large individual donors. Unlike Brooks and Strange, he reports receiving no contributions from PACs. So far, he has spent roughly $286,000 while campaigning for senator.

Strange, Brooks and Moore espouse similar policies but differ in their branding. With support from his colleagues in the Senate, Strange has become the establishment candidate, raking in nearly all the PAC money. Brooks also has a Washington flavor to his campaign because of his experience in the House, but portrays himself as the conservative alternative to Strange. Moore, the only frontrunner who has not worked on the Hill, has had an anti-Washington theme to his campaign.

The three Republicans have also fought to prove who is most loyal to President Donald Trump. Ultimately, Strange received Trump’s endorsement. Strange has also been the favorite of Mitch McConnell’s super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, which has spent more than $2.7 million in support of Strange and against Brooks and Moore.

A majority of the SLF’s spending has been dedicated to attack ads. Over the past month, SLF has produced 10 ads related to the Alabama special election, according to its YouTube account. Seven of these ads have been attacking Brooks, capitalizing on clips of him saying “you can’t trust Trump with anything he says” and that people who voted for Trump will regret it. The two ads targeting Moore were focused on his six-figure salary as chief justice. The 10th, and most recent, ad is a six-second clip about Trump’s endorsement of Strange.

Brooks has defended himself against these SLF ads, saying he does support Trump and even donated $2,500 “to help President Trump Win.” However, this is slightly misleading, as Brooks’ leadership PAC donated to the Republican Party of Alabama, not Trump’s campaign. According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Donor Lookup database, Brooks also made a $5,000 donation to the state GOP from his own pocket.

Of the other 16 candidates, only three have raised over $100,000, and seven haven’t even filed an FEC report. One of the seven unsuccessful fundraisers is Mary Maxwell, a Republican who moved from Australia to Alabama just to campaign for the open Senate seat. Despite living internationally for the last 40 years, Maxwell meets all of the requirements to run: She is at least 30 years old, she is a U.S. citizen, and she has lived in Alabama for at least one day.

It has been 20 years since Alabama last had a Democratic senator, and Trump won the state last November by almost 30 points. As a result, the focus in this election has rarely strayed from the Republican candidates. Even though a Democratic victory is a long shot, Soren Jordan, an assistant professor of political science at Auburn University, said the lack of interest from the national Democratic Party is still “pretty astonishing.”

As with Democrat Jon Ossoff’s expensive, ultimately unsuccessful, campaign in the Georgia 6 special election earlier this summer, Jordan said he expected the Democratic Party to also pick a favorite in the Alabama election. But they have yet to do so, and without national support, the Democratic candidates have struggled to keep up.

“This [election] is really the last gauge for either party before the 2018 season really heats up,” Jordan said. “But Democrats don’t really seem to be treating it that way, allowing a field of (admittedly long-shot) candidates to run through the primary with little cohesion or direction.”

The top fundraiser for the Democrats in the Alabama Senate race is former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones with less than $288,000. Jones was recently endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden. The other four Democratic candidates who have raised money are even farther behind, each with totals under $30,000. One of those candidates, however, has led Jones in several polls thanks to name recognition: Robert Kennedy Jr., who is unrelated to the more famous Kennedy family.

The Democratic and Republican primaries on Aug. 15 will trim down this long list of candidates. If no candidate for a party receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two from that party will take part in a September run-off election to determine the nominees for the general in December.

Jordan said it is highly unlikely any candidate will garner more than 50 percent. Moore was at 35 percent support in a poll by the Trafalgar Group on Aug. 11, with 17 percent still undecided, according to The Hill. Strange was well behind at 23 percent, with Brooks still in the running at 20 percent.

If Moore and Brooks are able to freeze Strange out of the run-off, the senator would become a lame duck. “If Strange isn’t up in the general, or even in the run-off, he becomes a potential target for Senate Democrats looking to build bipartisan solutions to health care, tax reform, and a host of other policy issues,” Jordan said.

Turnout for the primary elections on Tuesday is not expected to be high. Without a presidential election on the ballot to boost interest, the primaries will most likely see about 20 to 25 percent of voters participate, according to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill. An ordinary primary in Alabama tends to have 30 to 32 percent voter participation.

The post Crowded field of Alabama candidates fight for open seat in Senate appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

RADIO SHOW TODAY

Lloyd G Carter Blog - Thu, 08/10/2017 - 11:01

Website visitors,

 My monthly radio show will be held TODAY at 1 p.m. at KFCF radio, 88.1 FM and will focus on the proposed Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River upstream from Friant dam.  My guests include Ron Goode of the Mono Indian Tribe, geologist Shannon Lodge and Shannon's mother, Anita Lodge.  Their family has been living in the Temperance Flat area for five generations. If you are out of radio range, the show streams live at kfcf.org.

 

Lloyd

 

Categories: Further Reading

The politics behind your college and how you pay for it

Open Secrets - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 07:01

Chris Radburn/PA Wire URN:32119189

With the end of summer fast approaching comes another year of rising college tuition costs and looming student loans.

College tuition has increased over the past several decades, but in the last 10 years the average cost of tuition for four-year public colleges and universities has grown at a lower rate than previous decades. Still, the price tag for college is not cheap. For the average four-year public institution, tuition can cost about $9,650, according to College Board. The average tuition total for private non-profit institutions is more than triple that at $33,480.

These high tuition costs have inevitably led to more students taking out loans in order to afford their education. Across the United States, there are more than 44 million student loan borrowers who have accrued approximately $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, according to Forbes.

The student loan industry is a major player in money in politics, but was not as active in 2016 as it has been in the past. For the 2016 election cycle, student loan companies gave just over $982,000 in contributions to federal candidates, parties and outside groups. The industry reported more than $1 million in contributions for both the 2014 and 2012 cycles.

Roughly three-quarters of the industry’s contributions for 2016 went to Republican candidates and parties. The student loan industry has allocated more of its contributions to Republicans than Democrats in every cycle since 1996.

The top three student loan companies making campaign contributions in 2016 were College Loan Corp with $668,000 donated, Navient Corp with almost $283,000, and NelNet Inc with just under $168,000. All three companies gave the majority of their contributions to Republican and conservative candidates and parties.

Student loan companies are even more active in the lobbying world, spending more than $4.4 million on lobbying efforts in 2016. The top lobbying client by far in 2016 was Navient Corp with more than $2 million spent. Other major lobbying spenders for the industry last year were NelNet Inc and SLM Corp with $620,000 and $570,000, respectively.

Last year these companies mainly lobbied on issues related to student loans, particularly federal credit programs, student borrowing and loan servicing, IRS private debt collection and Title IV of the Higher Education Act, which aims to make grants and other benefits available to eligible students seeking post-secondary education. So far in 2017, student loan companies have spent roughly $3.6 million on lobbying.

Student loan companies aren’t the only ones getting political — colleges and universities are, too. For the 2016 election cycle, the education industry had a record-high contribution total of almost $81 million. Nearly all of this money is donated by school employees, such as professors, since most non-profit educational institutions do not have political action committees. Of the contributions to political candidates and parties, Democrats received 86 percent — the most significant liberal lean in the industry’s history. Since 1990, the education industry has never given less than 58 percent of its contributions to Democrats, with an overall average of 77 percent going to the left.

The higher education institutions with affiliates who gave the most money during the 2016 election were the University of California system (roughly $4.4 million), Stanford University (almost $2.3 million) and Harvard University (more than $1.6 million). Every university among the sector’s top 20 donors made at least 83 percent of its contributions to Democrats.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton received the most money from the education industry in 2016 by far, with a total of approximately $23.7 million. Her primary challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) came in second with almost $5.5 million, while her general election opponent Donald Trump was further down the list of top recipients at No. 8, with a total of about $778,000.

In recent years, the education industry’s lobbying spending has been on a downward slope, and 2016 was no exception. The industry’s lobbying total was about $74.4 million — over $3.6 million less than its 2015 total and $35 million short of the industry’s record-high lobbying total from 2010.

Last year, the biggest lobbying clients in the education industry were the Association of American Medical Colleges (more than $2.8 million), Apollo Education Group (about $1.4 million) and the education-related subsidiaries of Warburg Pincus (just over $1.1 million). The top education-related issues these groups focused on included cuts to graduate and professional student loan benefits, global health learning opportunities, financial aid (including Pell Grants), campus sexual assault and post 9/11 G.I. bill benefits.

The post The politics behind your college and how you pay for it appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

Quality over quantity: Lobbying expenses continue to rise, but with fewer lobbyists

Open Secrets - Tue, 08/01/2017 - 09:00

Capitol Hill, July 31, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

For the past five years — with the exception of a dip in 2016 — spending on lobbying in the first six months has been steadily increasing.

Overall spending for the first six months of 2017 amounts to $1.66 billion — the highest it has been since the first half of 2012, which was followed by a roughly $50 million drop in 2013.

However, while money has been pouring in, the number of lobbyists has been dwindling. Since the first quarter of this year, approximately 940 stopped lobbying, but 605 new lobbyists entered the fray. This ebb and flow brought the total number of active lobbyists for the second quarter to 9,460 — 335 less than the first quarter.

The change in lobbyist totals for the first and second quarters of 2016 was not as drastic. After the first quarter of last year, 500 lobbyists ceased activity, but 439 newcomers began their work in the second quarter so the number of lobbyists dropped by 61.

The declining number of lobbyists may be something of an illusion, though. A recent report from the Center for Responsive Politics found that almost one-third of 2016 lobbyists who were not active in the first quarter of 2017 stayed at the same company, but now work under a new title that suggests they still work to influence U.S. federal policy.

The approach to lobbying nowadays seems to be quality over quantity as fewer lobbyists are doing more work to sway federal government policy. But our research indicates a significant portion of those who are ostensibly no longer active continue to do similar work without the scrutiny of public disclosure.

Among industries, the Pharmaceuticals & Health Products industry spent the most on lobbying in the second quarter — almost $63.8 million. This total is nearly $2.7 million more than what Big Pharma spent in the second quarter of 2016.

Big Pharma’s main advocate, the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, spent the third-most among lobbying clients in the second quarter with a total of nearly $6.1 million. The group also saw a 35 percent (or almost $3.7 million) increase in its lobbying efforts for the first half of the year compared to the first half of 2016.

Another major pharmaceutical company, Novartis, also saw a significant increase in its lobbying spending for the second quarter. Novartis spent 32 percent, or roughly $1.4 million, more on lobbying for the first six months of 2017 than it did for the same time period last year.

Big Pharma’s main lobbying topics this year have been drug importation, safety and counterfeiting; pharmaceutical drug pricing and transparency; policy issues involving the Affordable Care Act, specifically regarding Medicare and Medicaid; and general domestic and international corporate tax reform.

Another growth area for lobbying is the internet industry, with ever-growing companies like Amazon.com, Facebook Inc and Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc, at the forefront of the industry’s lobbying efforts. The internet industry saw a 14 percent increase in spending for the first six months of 2017 compared to the first six months of 2016.

Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook are the top three lobbying clients in the internet industry and all also appeared in the top 40 lobbying spenders for the second quarter of 2017. Alphabet saw an 18 percent (or roughly $1.4 million) increase in lobbying efforts for the first half of the year as compared to the beginning of last year. Amazon also saw a lobbying increase of 7 percent, or $384,000, and Facebook spent 12 percent more (or $618,000) on lobbying for the first two quarters of 2017.

The biggest 2017 lobbying issues for companies within the Internet industry include data protection, privacy and security; cybersecurity; telecommunications policy; taxes; and copyright issues. One proposed piece of legislation, the Marketplace Fairness Act, has also been receiving lobbying attention; the act would allow state governments to collect sales tax from remote retailers who are not physically present in the state.

Other big tech companies like Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp in the Electronics Manufacturing & Equipment industry also saw increased lobbying efforts for the first half of 2017. While Microsoft spent nearly $4.5 million on lobbying compared to Apple’s $3.6 million, Apple saw a larger increase in its lobbying efforts at 60 percent versus Microsoft’s 9 percent increase. As a whole, the electronics industry saw a 14 percent boost in its lobbying efforts for the first half of 2017 compared to the first half of 2016.

For tech companies the most important lobbying topics in 2017 so far are domestic and international tax reform; general patent and copyright issues related to music licensing; immigration, specifically involving high skilled visas for workers; and net neutrality.

The industry that saw the largest percent difference between the first six months of 2016 and the first six months of 2017 was the marijuana industry with a 100 percent increase. The marijuana industry reported more than $450,000 in lobbying money for the first half of this year — its highest amount yet and double what it spent in the same time span for 2016.

A recent supporter of marijuana legalization and growth, Scott’s Miracle-Gro, increased its lobbying in the first half of 2017 by 250 percent compared to the first half of 2016. The company, known for its lawn and garden products, is now capitalizing on marijuana by developing new products to improve cannabis growth.

However, not all industries have been thriving this year so far. Groups lobbying on women’s issues experienced the biggest drop in lobbying money at 50 percent, spending approximately $133,000 less during the first half of 2017 than it did during the first half of 2016. The main reason for this drop is that the National Women’s Law Center has not reported any lobbying activity for the year so far.

Although there are fewer lobbying organizations focused on women’s issues than there are, say, pharmaceutical companies, some groups known for supporting women did see lobbying increases this year. Planned Parenthood, for example, had a 21 percent increase in its lobbying efforts for the first six months of 2017 compared to the first six months of 2016.

The post Quality over quantity: Lobbying expenses continue to rise, but with fewer lobbyists appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

What does the 2018 election hold for House leadership?

Open Secrets - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 08:09

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. talks with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

 

The Center will soon be updating web pages for members to include 2018 cycle data. As a preview of what’s coming, here are some preliminary numbers for House leaders Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi.

 

 

 

Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House.

Ryan is clearly popular with Wall Street – his candidate committee and leadership PAC have already raised close to $700,000 from the Securities & Investment industry so far in 2017. Likewise, three of his top five donors are part of the Securities & Investment industry. There are benefits when your party controls the whole government.

Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader

Pelosi’s top donors and industries are smaller and more diverse. In contrast to Ryan, none of her top five industries fall into the Finance/Insurance/Real Estate sector. One interest group she does have in common with Ryan – contributions from retired individuals make up her largest source of money by industry.  

The post What does the 2018 election hold for House leadership? appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

Dark money trail reveals significant influence in Colorado elections

Open Secrets - Thu, 07/27/2017 - 06:35

The dome of the Colorado Statehouse is framed between trees. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

It’s no surprise money can play an important role in winning elections, but where that money comes from is often difficult to ascertain.

One example of this “dark money” influence can be found in the results of the Colorado state House of Representatives election last year. All 65 district spots were up for grabs and in the end the Democrats remained in the majority, securing three additional seats.

Eighteen Democratic candidates in the Colorado elections received monetary support from Common Sense Values, an independent expenditure committee that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in elections. Of the candidates who were favored by this IE committee, nearly three-fourths of them won their respective elections.

The Democratic candidates who received the most support were Rep. Jeff Bridges (more than $202,000); Rep. Thomas “Tony” Exum, Sr. (nearly $190,000); and Rep. Barbara Hall McLachlan (almost $160,000). They represent Colorado’s third, 17th and 59th districts, respectively.

According to the Colorado state campaign finance disclosure website, the Common Sense Values IE committee was started in August 2016 and then terminated the following December after the election was over. In just a few short months, it raised nearly $2.6 million and spent the vast majority of that supporting or opposing candidates in the Colorado House elections, with the remainder going toward “consultant and professional services,” among other items.

So how did the Common Sense Values IE committee raise more than $2.5 million in five months? Almost all of the money — $2,558,968.03 to be exact — came from its partner organization with the same name: Common Sense Values. But since the other group is a 527 “issue advocacy” organization it needed an IE committee to be able to advocate for or against political candidates. The two groups also used each other to pass funds back and forth.

Although both the 527 organization and the IE committee were primarily state-focused during the 2016 election cycle, the IE committee did engage in limited federal activity. As a result, the IE committee did report some electioneering communications to the FEC.

Brendan Fischer, director of federal and FEC reform for the Campaign Legal Center, said it looks like the Common Sense Values 527 organization set up the IE committee as an entity it could route its electioneering communications through. He added that although the Common Sense Values IE committee may sound like a super PAC, it did not appear to register with the FEC as such.

Similar to its IE committee, the Common Sense Values 527 organization also terminated shortly after the 2016 election, although it was originally started in November 2014.

Both the 527 organization and the IE committee had the same two registered agents: Ashley Stevens and Julie Wells. According to the Colorado registered agent search, Stevens is tied to a total of 18 different independent expenditure committees and 527 committees. Of these committees, only five remain active with Stevens as the registered agent. Wells has her name associated with more than 60 committees — all of them terminated, except one of which she is no longer the active agent.

The same email and phone number are listed for both Stevens and Wells on federal and state documents for their committees. Neither Stevens nor Wells responded to requests for comment on their work as registered agents for the two Common Sense Values groups.

Continuing down the money trail, it is not as clear-cut where the Common Sense Values 527 organization received its funds during the 2016 election cycle. Almost 180 different groups contributed to the organization, giving it a fundraising total of more than $3.1 million. The top five donors were Education Reform Now Advocacy ($455,000); the National Education Association (NEA) Advocacy Fund ($255,000); the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee ($200,000); the Service Employees International Union ($150,000); and America Votes ($138,750).

Two of these top contributors — Education Reform Now Advocacy and America Votes — are nonprofit 501(c) social welfare organizations, which means they do not have to disclose their donors to the public. These groups are not supposed to have politics as their primary purpose, but quite often spend heavily in elections at both the state and federal level. And because they do not have to disclose their donors, the money trail often dead ends here. There is very little way of knowing the identities of these donors, who — at least partially — supported the campaigns of several Democratic candidates running for seats in the Colorado House of Representatives.

The identities of the original donors — whether they be individuals or corporations — are almost impossible to uncover. However, research conducted by the Center for Responsive Politics has added some clarity as to where organizations like America Votes receive their money. For example, a CRP analysis of tax filings from 2014, show that two of America Votes’ largest donors were the League of Conservation Voters and Patriot Majority USA, a non-disclosing group run by Democratic operatives that has spent millions in federal elections.

Data from the Department of Labor also indicates unions heavily supported America Votes. In 2016, the nonprofit organization received almost $2.6 million from 13 different unions.

The 990 form for America Votes for the 2015-16 fiscal year was the first piece to this dark money puzzle. The tax document showed America Votes gave grants to four different Colorado-based organizations, including Common Sense Values (the 527 organization). The $138,750 Common Sense Values reported it received from America Votes was through one of these grants. America Votes’ super PAC also gave Common Sense Values an additional $46,250.

While America Votes is a national organization, it does have state-based affiliates across the country. Although Colorado is one of America Votes’ “core states,” it is still noteworthy that the national organization decided to devote so much attention to this one state, rather than any of their other 20 state affiliates. Following the money trail ultimately revealed the elections in Colorado as the likely reason committees based in the state were receiving extra attention from America Votes.

In the 2015-16 fiscal year, America Votes spent more than $8.4 million. As a 501 (c)(4) organization, America Votes is not supposed to dedicate more than 49 percent of its expenditures to political spending. Sometimes these groups can get around this requirement by reporting certain spending as “educational.” The grants given to the four Colorado-based organizations were all marked as “general support” and also reported as political spending in the Schedule C of America First’s 990. In all, America Votes gave $333,750 in grants for the 2015-16 fiscal year, bringing its political expenditure total to $1,308,352 — well under the 49 percent limit for political spending.

Put simply, the money funding these Colorado elections came from secret sources and changed hands many times before actually reaching the candidates. Nevertheless, the support seemed to help as 13 out of the 18 candidates who received money won their respective elections and now hold seats in Colorado’s House of Representatives. As for the true origins of this dark money, unless regulations around 501(c) groups change, we may never solve the donor mystery.

The post Dark money trail reveals significant influence in Colorado elections appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

Internet of Things

Lloyd G Carter Blog - Tue, 07/25/2017 - 11:15

 

The IoT and Energy Conservation

By Emma Bailey

From ancient Roman aqueducts delivering fresh water to advanced clean energy generation easing the burden of fossil fuels, technology has long been used to address the great problems facing humanity. The Internet of Things (IoT) may well represent the next evolution of this trend, leveraging the power of modern computing and connectivity to tackle some of our most difficult and pressing problems. In particular, the IoT has already demonstrated great usefulness in energy conservation and environmental protection efforts. To learn more, let's dig into how this fledgling technology may play a key role in reducing waste and promoting a more sustainable future.

Assembling an Internet of Things  READ MORE »

Categories: Further Reading

How wealthy donors fund the national party by giving to the states

Open Secrets - Mon, 07/24/2017 - 15:38

On September 30, 2016, Barry and Trudy Silverstein each gave $416,100 to the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee. The Victory Fund was a federal committee — so contribution limits supposedly apply — raising money for the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton campaign, and 38 state Democratic party committees. Each donor could write one check that included the maximum contribution to each of the participants: $5,400 directly to the Clinton campaign — $2,700 each for the primary and the general — $33,400 to the DNC and $10,000 to each of the state parties for a total of $418,800. (The Silversteins had already given to Clinton during the primary, which is why they gave less than the maximum.)

Clearly the Silversteins felt very strongly about supporting Hillary Clinton, and they weren’t alone. At least 40 individuals made single contributions of $400,000 or more, and 125 people made a donation of at least $300,000 to Hillary Victory. It may be a surprise, though, that some of this support trickled down to Democratic party committees in states where Clinton was never expected to be competitive. That included Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wyoming and West Virginia – states in which President Trump received more than 60 percent of the popular vote.

Why would the largest donors be willing to invest in states that were generally thought to be hopeless? The answer lies in the fact that party committees are permitted to make unlimited transfers of funds among themselves. That means that a state party committee in, say, Wyoming is free to transfer unlimited sums to the DNC, so long as the original source of the funds complied with federal contribution limits.

The vast majority of the money these donors gave to state parties through Hillary Victory was never intended to be spent in the states. Rather, much of it spent very little time in the state party accounts before being transferred back to the DNC. Of the $112.4 million that Hillary Victory transferred to state parties, $88.3 million–or 78.5 percent–was sent back to the DNC.

This sleight of hand to provide bigger donations to the national party has been used by Democratic presidential nominees since at least the Kerry campaign in 2004. 2016, however, was the first presidential election since the Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which declared unconstitutional the two-year cycle limit on total contributions from a single individual. Prior to that ruling, an individual could not contribute more than a set amount to all candidates, parties and PACs combined. In 2014, that limit was set at $123,200 (which was never actually enforced because McCutcheon was handed down in April of that year). Because of additional sub-limits, it would not have been possible to give the maximum contribution to the DNC and more than four state parties during the cycle.

So while some money could flow from a single individual through state parties back to the DNC in past cycles, these amounts were generally relatively small and roughly in line with the limits on giving directly to the national committee. After McCutcheon, however, the ability of an individual to circumvent the contribution limit to a national party committee was limited only by the ingenuity of fundraisers and lawyers and the willingness of other groups — in this case, state parties — to participate by giving the proceeds back to the national party.

What was the impact of the McCutcheon decision on the DNC in 2016? The details get a little complicated here because the money is moving through several accounts and committees filing separate FEC reports, and some are better at reporting than others. The Hillary Victory Fund reports how much it received from each individual donor and how much it transferred to each recipient, including the 38 state parties. We can also see how much each state party reported receiving from Hillary Victory — though it doesn’t always match what Hillary Victory says they transferred — and which specific individual donations were the source of those transfers. Then we can see how much the DNC reported receiving in lump sums from each of the state parties.

Some states transferred every dollar back to the DNC, but many kept some portion of the Victory funds, ranging from very little to as much as one third. This means we can’t say with precision how much of each individual donor’s contributions to state committees ended up in the DNC account, but we can make a back of the envelope estimate.

If the overall cycle contribution limit had not been struck down by the Supreme Court, it would have been about $126,000 in 2016. We know that 430 individuals gave more than that total directly to Hillary Victory, combining for a total of $126.7 million. This means that $72.5 million went to the joint fundraising committee in excess of the old limits. That’s about 14% of the total receipts of the Hillary Victory Fund. (Actually, this assumes that all of these folks would have given the full cycle limit to this committee and therefore been unable to give to other federal candidates or PACs, so this is a conservative estimate. It’s likely that the “loss” to the Victory fund would have been much larger.)

The impact on the DNC, though, was even greater. We know that all of these big donors gave the maximum contribution ($33,400) directly to the DNC through the joint committee. We also know that about 78 percent of the money given to state parties ended up back in the DNC coffers. We can use a little more arithmetic here to estimate how much each donor was therefore able to give to the DNC in excess of the $33,400 limit by passing the money through states.

If we look at every donor who gave Hillary Victory more than they could have given directly to the Clinton campaign and the DNC — meaning that the excess went to state committees — and take 78 percent of that excess amount (the fraction that went back to the DNC), we find that the DNC received $82.7 million over the direct contribution limits by way of this (completely legal) circumvention. That comes to 24 percent of the total receipts of the DNC during 2015-2016.

There is nothing inherently partisan about this approach, of course. These tactics are available to both parties, and the Trump campaign joined with the RNC and twenty-one state Republican committees in 2016. The number of very large donors was much smaller in this case, however. Only 122 individuals gave more than $126,000 directly to Trump Victory and they gave only $20 million more than would have been permissible before McCutcheon. While nearly all of the $29.7 million transferred to states went back to the RNC, this represents only about 9% or the RNC revenue total for the 2016 cycle.

Changes to the campaign finance system in the last several years have focused the attention of the media, academic researchers and political operatives on the free-for-all nature of outside groups raising and spending unlimited sums. Many have concluded that one consequence of this change has been the decline of parties in the electoral process. Since parties must comply with old contribution limits and prohibitions, it is assumed that outside groups with no such barriers have become more important, and that their influence contributes to polarization.

There are, however, reasons to wonder if the actual effects are as dramatic as they seem. The Campaign Finance Institute has shown that some of the most important outside groups are really creations of party leaders in Congress and former party officials who saw an opportunity to “spin off” new organizations with the same goals and approaches. The actual separation between these groups and the party organizations and leaders who formed them may not be very large. In addition, we have seen that the parties were able to take advantage of other rules changes to accept big donations to their own accounts. (We’re not even looking at the three “special” accounts that Congress created for the national parties to use for headquarters, legal expenses and presidential conventions which together brought an additional $40 million to the DNC in 2016.)

So, parties have become important players in the big dollar fundraising system as it has evolved in the last few years.

Even in the regulated world, a few hundred donors now account for far more of the DNC’s resources than the millions of small donors who gave less than $200 each in 2016.

So what happened to the Silversteins’ money? We know from FEC reports that $356,100 each from Barry and Trudy went to the Clinton campaign, the DNC, and thirty-two state parties. This is actually $60,000 less than they gave to Hillary Victory, and we know that at least five other state committees received transfers from Hillary Victory that were not fully documented in their FEC filings. We also know that all but three of those thirty-two state committees gave all of their Victory funds to the DNC around the time that the Silversteins donated. Thus, we can be pretty confident that the Silversteins were able to legally circumvent contribution limits that still exist, at least on paper. As a result, the gap between regulated parties and unregulated outside groups is, for better or worse, far smaller than some would have us believe.

The post How wealthy donors fund the national party by giving to the states appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

Lobbying in high gear with prospect of regulatory reform in Congress

Open Secrets - Mon, 07/24/2017 - 12:33

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, listens during a roundtable discussion in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

As part of President Trump’s promise to dismantle the regulatory state, his administration has cancelled or delayed Obama-era protections for workers and the environment. It has installed agency heads unlikely to pursue strict enforcement of existing rules. And it has allowed political appointees to oversee the rollback of rules affecting their previous employers.

Now industry groups see another opening: procedural reform in Congress that would complicate and likely hinder the rulemaking process. Two such bills have generated a flurry of lobbying activity this year.

The Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) is the sixth-most lobbied bill in the current Congress, with at least 109 clients: 23 from agribusiness, 10 from the energy sector, 9 from construction, and 7 from transportation, among others. The extent of lobbying activity is likely greater, as lobbyists’ disclosure forms often avoid disclosing specific legislation.

Ronald Levin, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, described the bill as containing many provisions—some desirable, some innocuous, and some very troubling. “It’s the troubling ones that are really driving it,” he added, with political muscle coming from the Chamber of Commerce and various industries. “They want these measures that would complicate the rulemaking process.”

The RAA passed the House during the Obama administration but died in the Senate. In January, Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) introduced a modified version of the House bill. Few doubt that President Trump would sign it if given the chance.

Under current law, independent regulatory agencies (think the Federal Reserve or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) and those under White House control follow different rulemaking requirements. The latter group must submit a cost-benefit analysis to a White House agency known as the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, or OIRA, before any major rule can take effect. That review process acts as a check on poorly planned regulation. But some liberals have called OIRA the place where “regulations go to die” for the slow pace at which it makes determinations. Independent agencies can issue rules without first getting White House approval.

The RAA would change that. Independent regulatory agencies would have to submit a cost-benefit analysis and seek approval from OIRA before issuing significant rules.

The independent agencies value their autonomy. When the RAA was percolating in Congress in 2012, heads of six independent agencies sent a letter to senators arguing that the power of executive review would give the president “unprecedented authority” to influence their rulemaking ability. Opponents of the RAA contend that Congress made these agencies independent precisely to avoid any interference or influence from the White House.

Last week, the Senate confirmed Neomi Rao to lead OIRA. As a law professor at George Mason University, she made the case that independent agency heads should be subject to removal by the president. She also founded a center on regulatory affairs at the university that benefitted from a $10 million donation by the Charles Koch Foundation last year. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed advocacy group, has lobbied for the RAA.

The RAA would also mandate trial-like hearings for economically significant rules. Agency experts would have to sit for cross-examination in what would likely be drawn-out and adversarial proceedings. The outcome would be fewer rules in areas with uncertainty, as there often is with regulation. “The concern is that uncertainty would be pounced upon at these hearings and add time and expense and delay,” said Cary Coglianese, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Program on Regulation.

Industry representatives have long argued that many federal rules lack proper evaluation and are too stringent. The Chamber of Commerce has said that more transparency and accountability are needed in the rulemaking process. But Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen, a liberal group that has lobbied against the RAA, called it “paralysis by analysis.” She added that its introduction as a bipartisan bill and its support from some moderate Democrats, like Senators Heitkamp and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), might win it enough votes to pass.

Even more worrisome to consumer and environmental advocates is the REINS Act. Introduced by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), it’s the fifteenth-most lobbied bill with at least 71 clients. REINS would subject every new regulation with an expected impact over $100 million to congressional approval. Experts predict that this would inject partisan politics into the bureaucratic process.

Coglianese suggested that REINS would impact administrators’ approach to regulation in more subtle ways as well. Already administrators weigh the possibility of judicial review when formulating rules so that they hold up in court. REINS would force administrators to not only evaluate fidelity to any given statute, but to also consider how rules will play in Congress.

That would put politics front and center in ways that could be “undesirable and even irresponsible,” he added.

The post Lobbying in high gear with prospect of regulatory reform in Congress appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

Dark money and potential foreign influence

Open Secrets - Wed, 07/19/2017 - 06:34
Testimony by Sheila Krumholz, Executive Director of the Center for Responsive Politics before the Senate Democratic Policy And Communications Committee
July 19, 2017

 

Chairwoman Stabenow, Senator Whitehouse and other Senators:

Thank you for this opportunity to submit testimony for today’s hearing regarding politically active nondisclosing nonprofits (“dark money organizations”) and the possibility of foreign funding of those activities.

The Center for Responsive Politics has been “following the money” and its effects on U.S. politics and policy for 34 years. I, myself, have been doing this work at the Center for most of those years, and I can attest to the fact that the work of unveiling the sources of money spent to shape U.S. elections has now become extremely challenging. As always, it comes down to transparency. When our laws have required transparency in campaign finance – for example, requiring disclosure of soft money to the parties in 1991 – the press, the public and groups like ours have been able to effectively investigate and track money in U.S. politics. During the late 1990s, having disclosure of this information was critical to congressional investigations, which concluded that foreigners had indeed contributed to U.S. political committees, in violation of the law. Today, the laws governing transparency of money in politics have not kept pace with other changes to our campaign finance system. In particular, the Citizens United decision threw the door wide open to unlimited contributions from unlimited and secret sources giving to supposedly independent outside groups interested in shaping electoral outcomes. We already know from past campaign finance scandals that foreign corporations, individuals and governments had the wherewithal and the willingness to try to shape U.S. elections in the past. Given this, it defies logic to think that those motivations or opportunities no longer exist – particularly since foreign donations can be given easily, legally and secretly to nonprofits that are now allowed to be highly politically active.

 

Particularly given apparent foreign interference in last year’s elections, and the wideranging and serious ramifications of such interference, Congress must act, and act quickly, to defend our democracy.

For our part, CRP’s researchers have spent countless hours delving into 990 tax forms filed by nonprofits over the past decade, trying to disentangle networks of dark money organizations, and to the degree possible, tease out the identity of their hidden funders. CRP investigators work to analyze the meager information provided in public IRS forms along with other public information about the financial activities of politically active organizations reported to the Federal Election Commission and other government entities.

It is painstaking work, given the massive number of nonprofits in the U.S., so we partner with GuideStar to make sifting through the data more efficient. Unfortunately, by necessity, it is also largely forensic work, given that tax forms are filed anywhere from five to 10 and a half months after an organization’s fiscal year ends, and in some cases the filings aren’t submitted until we come looking.(1) What this means, depending on an individual group’s fiscal year, is that even if an organization is filing on time, it can be revealing financial information about its election activities that is already almost two years old. (2)

We also use, and offer on our OpenSecrets.org website, FCC records on political ad buys to examine data on broadcast ads by nonprofits, whether that spending is reported to the FEC or not. In contrast, information about spending on highly targeted political messaging on social media platforms such as Facebook remains largely secret, limiting what we can know about funders of the online political messaging that was reputed to be so highly influential in the 2016 elections. (3)

In report after report, CRP Political Nonprofits Investigator Robert Maguire and our team of researchers and reporters have documented the byzantine process and exorbitant fees demanded by politically active nonprofits claiming tax-exempt status to obtain their application materials and tax forms, and the virtual stakeouts we have had to arrange in order to do so.(4) On top of that, we’ve spent thousands of dollars and countless hours monitoring IRS documents for these groups, trying to piece together what activities they are actually engaged in when their tax forms lead to dead ends. The IRS, in contrast, may take months or years to approve an organization’s status, yet never ask the group any questions at all.(5)

If “this” is due diligence, it is neither efficient nor effective, and the IRS should be called upon to use all of the information available to it – including reports filed with the FEC – to corroborate information reported to it by nonprofits seeking tax-exempt status. The IRS should also be required to provide free, electronic information to the public on groups seeking tax breaks. Until then, if due diligence requires no stone unturned, one sometimes has to be willing to fork over $428 for a Form 1024 application(6), only to see that it contains a print out of every single page of a group’s website, along with their lease, as was the case with the 501(c)(4) nonprofit, American Bridge 21st Century, one of a number of nonprofits about which we have written that have posed challenges to gathering what is supposed to be public information on their tax-exempt financial activity.

From this work we have identified patterns that ought to be concerning to policymakers who believe that the public should be an active participant in their democracy, and that they need and deserve effective and meaningful disclosure of money in politics in order to be able to do so. We have found:

  • Politically active nonprofits that report to the IRS political spending that contradicts their FEC reports covering the same period;
  •  Entities that raise and spend tens of millions of dollars but have no employees, no volunteers, nor even a bricks-and-mortar presence, but exist only as a UPS box – raising the specter of money laundering organizations whose sole function is to act as intermediaries, obscuring money’s source and pathways;
  • Purported “social welfare” and “business league” nonprofits whose financial activity spikes in election years and then plummets in non-election years to far lower levels reflecting their pre-Citizens United activity – a pattern more typical of political campaign committees than organizations devoted to social uplift.

Why does this matter? Because if it’s difficult for an organization like the Center for Responsive Politics to follow the money, it will be unlikely that American voters will fare any better. And the identity of the messenger behind political advertising is clearly fundamental to understanding the credibility of their message.

Does knowing whether an ad on indoor clean-air rules is funded by a tobacco company change the way we absorb the message? Or whether a pro-gun rights ad is paid for by a gun manufacturer? Of course it does. Voters quite logically evaluate campaign communications differently when they have information about who is promoting the message, which is why political operatives and donors seek anonymity – to take away the ability of people to think critically about and possibly discount their message.

Unfamiliar and innocuous-sounding names used by politically active nondisclosing nonprofits may actually lead voters to find their claims to be more credible than those from organizations with which they are already familiar.(7) Studies suggest that when voters are exposed to ads from unfamiliar groups they “lean in” to listen more carefully, giving their messages more attention and value than they would if they knew who was behind the message. When voters are being bombarded with political messages but cannot accurately judge their credibility because essential information is being withheld from them, they are far more likely to make judgements based on incomplete, misleading or false information and therefore are prevented from making decisions in their own best interest. When such a situation is allowed to exist, the integrity of our democracy is in danger.

But voters are not the only ones being short changed by this system of readily available loopholes for disclosure. Other government regulators, such as those at the FEC, do not have access to important financial information in real time that would help them to investigate groups in a timely manner.(8)

At a time when there are daily headlines about foreign interference in the 2016 elections, concerns about foreign governments tampering with state-based election systems, and fake news emanating from foreign countries that microtarget American social media users, it is no longer sufficient to rely on historical norms or societal pressure to deter misbehavior in political finance.

There is evident need to better monitor foreign involvement in U.S. politics, including oversight of the paid campaigns by foreign governments to influence U.S. policies. The Foreign Agents Registration Act’s weak disclosure rules allowed Trump advisers Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort to lobby on behalf of foreign governments without disclosing that they had done so until months after the fact. One tool that can facilitate this oversight is Foreign Lobby Watch, a free, user-friendly database that CRP launched on OpenSecrets.org earlier this year, allowing people to more easily delve into these reports and to know who is selling their services to foreign governments and corporations who seek to shape U.S. policies.

President Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” Given foreign meddling in U.S. elections, lax enforcement, the rise of megadonors and secret channels through which to fund politics, it is urgent for public officials to provide the American people with a comprehensive and trustworthy means by which to verify who is bankrolling politically active nonprofits and how they shape our elections and policies.

Justice Kennedy, in writing to uphold disclosure laws as an important basis upon which Citizens United was decided, wrote, “…transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

Unfortunately, the Court’s decision was based on incomplete information. We do not have and are not guaranteed a transparent campaign finance system. We must clearly communicate this fact and rectify it, because allowing the current façade of transparency to continue will only worsen cynicism and distrust and is deeply damaging to our common goal of protecting the integrity of our democracy.

Thank you.

____________________________________________________________________________

Citations

  1. For example, when we requested returns from the Government Integrity Fund seven months after the group should have filed them, we were told that the group would file them the following week (but they took more than a month to file): https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2016/06/group-that-backed-tom-cotton-in-14-got-a-bigboost-from-club-for-growth/
  2.  For example, if a politically active nonprofit runs on a July to June fiscal year, it can spend heavily on political ads in July. Then, once it’s fiscal year ends, the following June, it has 10 and a half months to file its 990, which in most case means the group will wait until May of subsequent year (i.e. 22 months after the spending took place) to file.
  3. For example, one of the largest most politically active nonprofits in the last cycle was One Nation, run by the same political operatives that run Crossroads GPS. In October 2016, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington noted that One Nation had been posting ads on its Youtube page that did not correspond with filings that would have had to have been submitted to the FEC if they were run on television, suggesting that they were using a web-ad loophole: https://www.citizensforethics.org/big-spending-non-profit-one-nation-exploiting-onlinead-loophole/
  4. CRP’s 2015 report detailing what we had to go through to get tax documents for Rosebush Corp—a pass-through nonprofit that funded super PACs and other politically active nonprofits—details the unnecessary complexity: https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2015/01/14-months-of-runaround-more-on-how-to-obtain-or-not-publicdocuments-from-the-irs/
  5. And in some cases, when they do ask questions, they seem willing to accept almost any response. For example, a politically active nonprofit called the American Future Fund, which pursues no demonstrable social welfare beyond political activity and funding other groups that do, applied for recognition as tax exempt in 2012. Upon being asked by the IRS about reports of its possible involvement in a campaign money laundering scheme in California and millions of dollars-worth of direct candidate advocacy in federal elections, American Future Fund not only affirmed that the information the IRS was presenting was accurate but also that it did not “anticipate that its future activities will differ substantially from those it has carried on to date.” Still, the IRS approved the group’s application: https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2014/04/nonprofits-exemption-was-granted-despite-record-finebig-political-spending/
  6. “This 2,143-Page IRS Document Could Be Yours for Just $428.60 (Plus Shipping)” https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2014/07/this-2143-page-irs-document-could-be-yours-for-just-428-60-plusshipping/
  7. “Why We Should Care About Dark Money Ads.” http://mediaproject.wesleyan.edu/blog/why-we-should-careabout-dark-money-ads/
  8. The case of Carolina Rising is perhaps one of the best examples of this. Not only did the group spend virtually all of its money running positive ads about a single Senate candidate, Thom Tillis, who won his election, but the head of the nonprofit was on live TV from the Tillis victory party saying “$4.7 million. We did it.” However, the FEC deadlocked on whether to proceed with an investigation of the group partly because of the fact that the Office of General Council did not have access to Carolina Rising’s tax return, which hadn’t been filed yet, and therefore, the OGC could not have known that the group’s overall spending was barely more than what they had spent supporting Tillis: https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2016/11/fec-deadlocks-wont-investigate-dark-money-groupthat-spent-all-its-funds-on-an-election/

The post Dark money and potential foreign influence appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Categories: Further Reading

Dan Bacher to appear on my radio show

Lloyd G Carter Blog - Tue, 07/11/2017 - 19:38

Attention Website Visitors:

 

 Sacramento Environmental Reporter Dan Bacher will appear on my radio show "Down in the Valley" this Thursday (July 13) at 1 p.m. on KFCF, 88.1 FM radio. Radio range is limited to about 100 miles from Fresno but internet users worldwide can listen to the show live streaming at www.kfcf.org.

 

      Lloyd

Categories: Further Reading

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