ParadisePapers show Trump Commerce Secretary Has Ties to Putin Cronies

From today’s Slate Magazine by Daniel Politi:

Looks like it’s Panama Papers Part Two. The non-profit International Consortium of Investigative Journalists began publishing on Sunday what it is calling the Paradise Papers. More than a year after the organization’s network of journalists around the world shook up politicians in several countries with leaked data on offshore havens, another trove of documents taken from a Bahamas-based firm promises to expose how companies and the wealthy use complicated structures to skirt taxes. Most of the more than 13.4 million documents, which were analyzed by a group of more than 380 journalists in 67 countries, are from Bermudan law firm Appleby.

Among the most explosive revelations so far involves news that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross shares business interests with close allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which he failed to fully disclose during confirmation hearings. The documents show Ross continues to have a significant interest in a shipping firm that has a Russian energy company as one of its main clients. The owners of that company include Putin’s son-in-law and an oligarch under U.S. sanctions. The stake in the firm is held in Cayman Islands, just like much of the commerce secretary’s massive wealth that has been estimated at more than $2 billion.

The Commerce Department is not disputing the allegations. Ross “recuses himself from any matters focused on transoceanic shipping vessels, but has been generally supportive of the administration’s sanctions of Russian and Venezuelan entities,” a spokesman said. “He works closely with Commerce Department ethics officials to ensure the highest ethical standards.”

Lawmakers who were part of Ross’ confirmation hearings say they feel duped. During the process, Ross was asked about his ties to Russia and his investment in another shipping company, but Navigator never came up. Sen. Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut told NBC News that the general impression was that Ross had gotten rid of his stakes in Navigator, and they didn’t know about the firm’s ties to Russia. “I am astonished and appalled because I feel misled,” Blumenthal said. “Our committee was misled, the American people were misled by the concealment of those companies.” Ethics experts say that even if there is nothing illegal about the arrangement, it still raises several ethical questions because one of the lead voices in the administration’s trade policy could make money from business with Russia.

Read the entire article here.

Behind Trump’s Climate Policy Change? Oil Lobbyists and GOP Lackeys

The data is self-evident. Conservative politicians in the GOP don’t believe the science of climate change because they take the most money from oil and energy lobbyists. Notice they hedged their bets by donating significant amounts to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign?

However, Clinton would almost certainly have upheld the climate accord, since she helped pave the way for an international consensus of countries to reduce their carbon emissions during her tenure as Secretary of State.

Top 20 recipients of oil and energy money from lobbyists and industry executives. This is why Trump and the GOP do not support common sense climate legislation and oppose environmental protections for American citizens and future generations.

Disturbing statistics on WI recall vote

Like support for Prop 8, a supermajority of contributions in the WI recall election came from out-of-state donors.

$63.5 million: The minimum amount spent by both sides in the recall

70 percent: How much more expensive the governor’s recall election is than the state’s second-most expensive race (the 2010 gubernatorial campaign)

$30.5 million: Amount raised by Walker to fight off the recall effort

$3.9 million: Amount raised by his challenger, Tom Barrett, the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee

About 2/3: Proportion of Walker’s donations that have come from donors outside Wisconsin

About 1/4: Proportion of Barrett’s donations that have come from donors outside Wisconsin

Unlimited: Maximum individual donation Walker may accept under state law

$10,000: Maximum individual donation Barrett may accept under state law

$16.3 million: Amount spent by pro-Walker independent expenditure groups, which have invested $22 million in the Wisconsin recall

Some of the biggest contributions and expenditures in support of Walker:

$510,000 to Walker from Diane Hendricks, Wisconsin’s richest businesswoman and a member of Charles and David Koch’s million-dollar donor club

$490,000 to Walker from Bob Perry, a Houston homebuilder who with his wife has spent more than $8 million on the 2012 elections

$260,000 to Walker from David Humphreys, a member of the Kochs’ million-dollar donor club

$250,000 to Walker from former Amway CEO Dick DeVos of Michigan, a member of the Kochs’ million-dollar donor club

$250,000 to Walker from Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who with his wife has spent more than $25 million on the 2012 elections

$100,000 to Walker from Wyoming investor Foster Friess, a member of the Kochs’ million-dollar donor club

$100,000 to Walker from New York billionaire Louis Bacon, a media-shy hedge-fund trader

$100,000 to Walker from Dallas oil and gas billionaire Trevor Rees-Jones

$6.5 million on ads spent by Americans for Prosperity, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and the anti-labor Center for Union Facts

$4 million on ads spent by the Republican Governors Association‘s Right Direction Wisconsin PAC; only about $7,000 was raised in-state. The RGA got $1 million from David Koch in February. It’s also received $500,000 from the US Chamber of Commerce

Walker survives recall election by outspending his challenger 7-to-1

It’s another disappointing day for “free-and-fair” elections in America.

In his bid to retain office, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin outspent Democratic challenger Tom Barrett 7-to-1. Despite fallacious Republican rhetoric about states’ rights, Walker won the recall election with the help of millions of dollars from out-of-state and corporate campaign contributions.

It would be difficult to determine exactly how much each candidate spent to buy a single vote due to lax and convoluted campaign finance laws. However, here are some facts that can help form a rough estimate.

TOTAL EXPENDITURES:

1. Walker spent about $32 million total in the 2012 recall election, the supermajority of it coming from outside the state by special interests including wealthy individual donors, special interest groups, and SuperPACs. This figure represents almost twice as much as both Walker and Barrett spent together in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

2. Roughly 38 percent of Walker’s individual donations came from WI residents.

For example, the Republican Governors Association alone used independent expenditure and phony issue ad groups, spending an estimated $5 million to sponsor numerous TV ads that claimed voting for Barrett’s would lead to higher taxes and lost jobs.

3. By contrast, Barrett spent about $5 million in this election much of it coming from middle class donors and labor unions representing state workers, teachers, police, and firefighters.

4. Roughly 74 percent of Barrett’s individual donations came from WI residents.

TOTAL VOTES:

1. Walker took 53.1 percent of the vote with 1,334,450 ballots.

2. Barrett took 46.3 percent of the vote with 1,162,785 ballots.

3. The difference is 171,665 ballots.

PRICE POINTS:

1. Walker and his out-of-state supporters effectively paid $23.97 per vote.

2. Barrett and his supporters paid $4.35 per vote, about five times less than Walker.

This is American democracy at its finest in the Age of Money and Propaganda. If political commentators are wondering why Walker is the first governor in American history to survive a recall vote, the answer is clear. He spent more money—most of it coming from people who are not even his constituents.

Instead of reconciling themselves to the inevitable, and going along for the sake of getting along, WI voters would be in their right mind to revolt against state government, which apparently no longer represents them, either by demanding legislation to end campaign contributions from out-of-state contributors, or by storming the state capitol in Madison with pitchforks and torches.

House passes anemic STOCK Act, corruption is business as usual

 

Last week, Congress passed a much-weakened version of the STOCK Act banning insider trading by its members and their staffers. The law was significantly weakened by failing to place curbs on “political intelligence,” as well as failing to provide new clean-government rules for oversight of the financial dealings of Congressional members.

The legislation makes clear that lawmakers and key staffers are bound by the insider trading laws, but members of Congress are already bound by the laws of the United States so it is unclear what the purpose of this legislation is—except perhaps to promulgate convoluted language so they may continue to practice questionable financial dealings without much oversight. For example, the House version of the bill bars lawmakers from participating in IPOs, but whether this provision will remain in the conference version of the bill, which is reconciled between the Senate and House, remains to be seen.

Further proof that the law is anemic and intended to protect corruption in Congress can be found in two provisions that were cut at the last minute. One provision found in the Senate version requiring members and staffers who collect and trade so-called political intelligence—information from government that can move markets and stock prices—to register just like lobbyists was eliminated by House Republicans. Their version of the bill also cut a provision that cracks down on officials who are guilty of taking actions on the job to benefit themselves financially.

The STOCK Act represents an attempt by House Republicans to take the teeth out of the Senate version of the bill, and thereby preserve the political and financial corruption that have become hallmarks of Congress. The revisions even led Republican sponsors of the Senate version to criticize members of their own party. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called the changes “astonishing and extremely disappointing.”

Super PAC’s fund American elections

America’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United ranges from public outrage visible in the Occupy Wall Street movement to barely concealed glee among wealthy donors who seek to influence the outcome of elections with an avalanche of dollars.

Recent data compiled by the NYT from Federal Elections Commission (FEC) records reveal the following:  A supermajority of the millions is spent on wealthy or conservative candidates with financial ties to the financial and energy industries. Much of the money provided by individual donors is helping individual candidates win primaries that should be decided by intelligence, experience, believability, and integrity (virtues which few if any of the Republicans possess all together).

1. Restore Our Future—Mitt Romney’s PAC—$36.8 million total with 10 individuals contributing more than $1 million each. Most of this money has been spent on ads attacking Newt Gingrich.

Super PAC spent $38 million criticizing Gingrich to make this mediocre candidate appear more appealing.

2. American Crossroads — No known candidate ties. Spent $20 million on ads attacking President Obama before the general election has started.

3. Winning Our Future—Newt Gingrich’s PAC—$13.1 million with 2 individuals contributing $5 million each and 1 individual contributing $1 million by a PAC the candidate funded.

4. Make Us Great Again—Rick Perry’s PAC—$5.5 million spent on a candidate who is literally more stupid than that other governor turned president, George W. Bush.

5. Priorities USA Action—President Obama’s PAC—$4.5 million spent on a sitting President who has been in office three years trying to fix the problems caused by a decade of deregulation. Super PAC support of the President during the general election will likely increase significantly.

More to follow from a political system that permits private individuals to finance candidates without much public oversight. If money is free speech, then some people have more speech than others! So much the worse for the democratic principle “one person, one vote.”