Morning Reads

As we continue our effort to keep you up-to-date on how money corrupts American government and politics, BillMoyers.com is pleased to publish this daily digest of money and politics news compiled and edited by Adam Smith of the non-partisan campaign finance reform group, Every Voice.


New this morning: “Democracy 21, joined by the Campaign Legal Center, today called on the Justice Department to investigate whether former Governor Jeb Bush and his associated Super PAC, the Right to Rise Super PAC, are engaged in knowing and willful violations of the campaign finance laws. The groups also requested Attorney General Loretta Lynch to exercise her statutory authority to appoint a Special Counsel to conduct the investigation and any prosecutions that the Special Counsel finds warranted.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced his bid for president yesterday, saying, “This great nation and its government belong to all of the people, and not to a handful of billionaires, their Super-PACs and their lobbyists,” that “the American political system has been totally corrupted and the foundations of American democracy are now being undermined,” and that we need “public funding of elections” and a “constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.”

In the new edition of Webster’s unabridged dictionary: “Dark money (noun): money contributed to nonprofit organizations (especially those classified as social welfare organizations and business leagues) that is used to fund political campaigns without the disclosure of the donors’ identities.”

Campaign Finance/Elections

Slate: Only voters count? –> A must-read from Rick Hasen on the Supreme Court’s decision to accept a case that could have a big impact on how district lines are drawn and who has power in politics. “The challengers are not only asking the court to revisit issues that seemed to be settled by decades-old precedent. If successful, these cases will undermine federalism by limiting states’ rights to design their own political systems.” NYT, Washington Post.

New York Times: Moguls Busily Buying Campaign Clout –> I missed this editorial from over the weekend on the “ultra-rich political donors buying a sense of power by giving unlimited money to the single-candidate super PACs that are already dominating and undermining the 2016 presidential campaign” and the need for the Empowering Citizens Act that “would ban the cynical coordination now underway with candidates’ political machines as an obvious violation of campaign law.”

Today, 99Rise is holding a national day of action urging President Obama to sign an executive order requiring contractors to disclose political contributions.

Times-Union: Legislature can still pass ethics reform this session –> New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is announcing an ethics reform package today and has this op-ed calling on Albany to stop messing around: “There are only two paths to meaningful change: fundamental reform of the system, or more investigations, arrests and prosecutions that further erode public confidence.”

Former Securities and Exchange Commission chairs have this letter to current chair Mary Jo White encouraging her to move on shareholder disclosure rule-making.

Daily Beast: The Tea Party Case Against Mega Donors –> Take Back Our Republic’s John Pudner, who managed Rep. Dave Brat’s (R-VA) upset campaign against former Rep. Eric Cantor, has this piece: “If our ultimate goal is to restore the citizens’ faith in their government, shouldn’t we also do what we can to make it easier for those same citizens to give a small contribution to the candidates of their choice?”

And the back and forth between FEC Chair Ann Ravel and Commissioner Lee Goodman continues.

Texas Tribune: House Passes Ethics Bill, Senate Showdown Likely –> With bipartisan support, “the Texas House tentatively approved a far-reaching ethics reform package that would shine light on so-called ‘dark money’ while heavily restricting undercover recordings of politicians in the state Capitol or their district offices.”

Pick up the latest issue of Washingtonian and find a big piece on Shaun McCutcheon (of McCutcheon v. FEC) and all his celebrity friends.

Congress/Admin/2016

Election Law Blog: Big GOP donors giving to new accounts Congress created to help political parties –> Via Bloomberg BNA ($), everyday people are making their voices heard under new party limits: “Big Republican donors are taking advantage of new, high-dollar limits on political party contributions established by Congress last year, with David Koch, Sheldon Adelson and Henry Kravis counted among the latest donors providing a total of more than $3.4 million in large contributions collected by GOP committees last month”

The Guardian: Here’s how much corporations paid US senators to fast-track the TPP bill –> Good analysis: “Fast-tracking the TPP, meaning its passage through Congress without having its contents available for debate or amendments, was only possible after lots of corporate money exchanged hands with senators.”

Rick Santorum will announce his presidential bid today and the Center for Public Integrity has 12 things to know. And, interestingly, his 2012 backer Foster Friess says he’ll support him but “[a]ny giving I’m doing is going to be lower-profile and less-noticed.” Dark money group on the way?

AP: Bill Clinton company shows complexity of family finances –> “While Bill Clinton’s lucrative speeches have provided the bulk of the couple’s income, earning as much as $50 million during his wife’s four-year term as secretary of state in the Obama administration, the former president has also sought to branch out into other business activities in recent years. Little is known about the exact nature and financial worth of Bill Clinton’s non-speech business interests.”

Buzzfeed: The Most Important Republican Donor That You Don’t Know Is Married To One You Do –> Some good stuff in this profile of Dr. Miriam Adelson, Sheldon’s wife: “Those who deal regularly with the Adelsons treat Miriam with as much deference as Sheldon, and crave her approval just as much.”

Boston Globe: Opponent calls for federal investigation into Frank Guinta –> “The only announced candidate to challenge US Representative Frank Guinta in New Hampshire wants federal officials to pursue criminal charges following the Republican’s recent admission that he broke campaign finance laws.” And Sen. Kelly Ayotte says he should resign.

The Star-Ledger talked to Fordham Professor (and our board member) Zephyr Teachout about the Sen. Bob Menendez indictment: “This is about specific favors, so you can really sink your teeth into it and prosecute it. That’s important to have these kind of prosecutions, because it highlights one of the pathologies in our current legal system, which is that you can prosecute the less systemic and more earmark related instances of corruption.”

Washington Post: The Koch brothers try to rein in the GOP presidential clown show –> Paul Waldman’s latest: “By saying they’re going to support several candidates in the primaries, the Kochs are pledging to accelerate the winnowing process, by which the race’s chaff can be sloughed off and the focus can stay on the serious contenders.”

Center for Responsive Politics: Lawmakers who traveled to Azerbaijan urged action benefiting state oil company that funded trip –> Oops: “Several lawmakers caught up in an investigation of their participation in a lavish overseas trip introduced legislation that would benefit the alleged host of their spring 2013 junket – the state-owned Azerbaijani oil company. Additionally, these lawmakers — and others on the trip — have received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from a network of individuals with close ties to two nonprofit organizations to which the oil company allegedly funneled money to pay for the trip.”

WSJ: Charter to DC: We’re No Comcast –> More on the news that Charter wants to buy Time Warner: “The deal will be the first test of this magnitude for Charter’s modest DC lobbying operation headed by executive vice president of government affairs Catherine Bohigian. She was hired from Cablevision Systems Corp. two years ago by Mr. Rutledge to start and staff Charter’s DC office from scratch — right about when Charter began courting TWC.”

Times-Picayune: Mary Landrieu takes job at Washington lobbying firm –> “Former Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, is joining the Washington lobbying firm Van Ness Feldman, the firm will announce later Tuesday (May 26).” The Intercept reports the firm’s website lists TransCanada as a client (Landrieu was a big supporter of Keystone). And according to POLITICO Influence, Kay Hagan and Mark Udall are the only losing 2014 Senators still “on the market.”

Quote of the week, from a Sen. Rob Portman donor: “If I call him on an issue or send him a note, I swear to God he responds to me quicker than my wife.”

Wisconsin State Journal: Son of Scott Walker’s former campaign chairman appointed to UW Board of Regents –> Potential presidential candidate Scott Walker hit a real trifecta with his new University of Wisconsin Board of Regents appointment: son (nepotism) of his former campaign chairman (donor) who is president of the Bradley Foundation (ties to John Doe investigation).

Cleveland Plain-Dealer: Rep. Jim Renacci fined for delayed campaign reports –> “The Federal Election Commission has ordered Rep. Jim Renacci’s re-election campaign to pay a $5,425 fine for failing to promptly report several donations it got last year.”

The Hill: Club for Growth releases ad supporting liberal firebrand Grayson –> The Club for Growth “announced Tuesday it will release a 30-second ad to run on MSNBC and other outlets across Florida supporting liberal Rep. Alan Grayson’s (D-FL) opposition to the Export-Import Bank, while calling out Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL) for supporting the institution.”

Other/States

Livingston Daily: Unlimited contributions taint our democracy –> Editorial in Michigan: “Let’s be absolutely clear: Accepting political donations from special interests isn’t illegal, and it’s not wrong. They’re a fundamental part of our political system. But secretive contributions, and regulations and maneuvers that allow for unlimited contributions, taint our democracy.”

AP: Arkansas AG rejects language for campaign finance issue –> “Arkansas’ attorney general has rejected language for a proposed initiated act on campaign financing that would go before voters next year.”

Washington Post: Conservative group paying Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign $85,000 –> “A political group accused of misleading conservatives will pay tens of thousands of dollars to former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II under a settlement reached this month.”

To read more go to everyvoice.org.


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Adam Smith is the communications director at Every Voice. He has worked in money-in-politics advocacy since 2006, managing or advising communications efforts for policy and field campaigns in Congress and states across the country. As communications director, he manages media relations and oversees the research and digital teams. Follow him on Twitter: @asmith83.

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