Rep. Duncan Hunter pleads guilty in campaign finance scandal, will resign from Congress

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

After years of denials and claims that he was the target of a political witch hunt, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) is scheduled to appear in federal court Tuesday morning to plead guilty in a sweeping campaign finance investigation.

The announcement was posted on the U.S. District Court docket Monday morning, then KUSI aired an interview with Hunter in which he said he would plead guilty to one of the 60 criminal charges against him. He suggested that he is likely to spend time in custody.

“The plea I accepted is misuse of my own campaign funds, of which I pled guilty to only one count,” Hunter told the station. “I think it’s important that people know that I did make mistakes. I did not properly monitor or account for my campaign money. I justify my plea with the understanding that I am responsible for my own campaign and my own campaign money.”

The reversal comes nearly six months after Hunter’s wife and former campaign manager, Margaret Hunter, admitted to her role in a widespread scheme that saw the couple allegedly spend more than $200,000 in campaign donations on family expenses like vacationsgas, groceriesschool lunches and oral surgery. Such spending is prohibited to prevent undue influence by contributors.ADVERTISING

Hunter did not explicitly say he would be stepping down — often an outcome in any such plea agreement — but he answered a question about what would happen to his seat in Congress.

“I’m confident that the transition will be a good one,” he told KUSI. “My office is going to remain open. We’re going to pass it off to whoever takes this seat next. I think it’s important to keep the seat a Republican seat.”

The trial, which already was pushed back twice as defense attorneys challenged various claims in the federal indictment, was scheduled to begin Jan. 22.

“Congressman Hunter has shown a blatant disregard for the law and engaged in one of the most egregious congressional spending scandals we have ever seen,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the left-leaning advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “We are glad to see Congressman Hunter will finally face the consequences of his actions. Given that he will now be a convicted criminal for abusing his office, Congressman Hunter must resign immediately.”

Read the complete article here.

Opinion: The right to vote should not fall victim to partisan battles

From today’s Chicago Sun-Times:

The right to vote is fundamental to any democracy. Protecting that right — and making it easier to exercise it — ought to be a priority across partisan lines.Instead, in states across the country — particularly in the five years since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act — it has become a pitched battle.

The basic reality is clear: Republicans, increasingly a party of older, white voters, have chosen not to reach out to Hispanics, African Americans or the young, but instead seek ways to make it harder for them to vote — or for their votes to count. Backed by right-wing think tanks, Republican state legislators and governors push a slew of measures to suppress the vote of targeted populations. These are increasingly challenged in courts and protested on the streets.

Alabama, for example, is a state that is over one-fourth African American. Yet it has had all white appellate court justices for a quarter-century. This was locked in by requiring at-large statewide elections for both appellate and Supreme Court judges instead of district elections where African American candidates would have a good chance of being elected in some areas. This practice — followed in Texas against Hispanic voters — is now being challenged in a lawsuit filed by the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP.

At-large elections are only one of the tactics tried by the Republican power structure in Alabama.

Since the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision that ended federal pre-approval of voting rights changes, Alabama has passed measures to require a photo ID to vote while seeking to close driver’s license offices disproportionately in black areas. They sought to impose a “proof of citizenship” mandate to register to vote in state and local elections. Dozens of polling places were closed, disproportionately in areas with large African American populations. Get-out-the-vote efforts were made more difficult with the passage of a ban on financial transfers from one PAC to another, an act aimed at the leading organizations working on African American turnout, which got much of their revenue from other political entities. Alabama has also begun the process of purging the voting rolls. When the state legislature passed a measure giving felons who had served their sentences the right to vote, the state government refused to do anything to inform people that their rights had been restored. Some of these measures have been stalled by judicial decisions, but the effort to constrict the vote continues.

Read the complete article here.

Diplomats accuse Trump as impeachment hits Americans’ TVs

From today’s Associated Press Online:

For the first time, the Democrats’ case for President Donald Trump’s impeachment streamed from Americans’ TVs Wednesday, including a new contention that he was overheard asking about political “investigations” that he demanded from Ukraine in trade for military aid.

On Day One of extraordinary public U.S. House hearings — only the fourth formal impeachment effort in U.S. history — career diplomats testified in the open after weeks of closed-door interviews aimed at removing the nation’s 45th president.

The account they delivered was a striking though complicated one that Democrats say reveals a president abusing his office, and the power of American foreign policy, for personal political gain.

“The matter is as simple and as terrible as that,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, as he opened the daylong hearing. “Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency itself.”

Career diplomat William Taylor, the charge d’affaires in Kyiv, offered new testimony that Trump was overheard asking on the phone about “the investigations” of Democrats that he wanted Ukraine to pursue that are central to the impeachment inquiry.

Trump said he was too busy to watch on Wednesday and denied having the phone call. “First I’ve heard of it,” he said when asked.

All day, the diplomats testified about how an ambassador was fired, the new Ukraine government was confused and they discovered an “irregular channel” — a shadow U.S. foreign policy orchestrated by the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, that raised alarms in diplomatic and national security circles.

The hearing, playing out on live television and in the partisan silos of social media, provided the nation and the world a close-up look at the investigation.

At its core, the inquiry stems from Trump’s July 25 phone call when he asked Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, for “a favor.”

Trump wanted the Ukraine government to investigate Democrats’ activities in the 2016 election and his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden — all while the administration was withholding military aid for the Eastern European ally that is confronting an aggressive neighbor, Russia.

Read the complete article here.

GOP Blocks Voting Rights Bill Requiring Candidates to Disclose Tax Returns

From today’s Newsweek Online:

Republican senators have blocked an effort by Democrats to vote on a voting rights and election ethics bill.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) blocked a request that the For the People Act of 2019 be voted on Wednesday. Democratic Sens. Tom Udall (N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) launched the latest attempt to bring the bill to the senate floor.

“The For the People Act repairs our broken campaign finance system, opens up the ballot box to all Americans, and lays waste to the corruption in Washington,” said Udall. “These are all reforms that the American people support. Why won’t the Senate Majority Leader let us vote on them?”

The bill was introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) in January. It passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 234–193 in March. The bill has been repeatedly blocked by Senate Republicans since then.

One of the bill’s many provisions attempts to increase voter participation by making Election Day a federal holiday. Another provision is aimed at eliminating so-called “dark money” from campaign funds by requiring that super PACs and other organizations disclose the identity of their donors.

Merkley claimed that the failure to pass the bill was symptomatic of a “corrupt system” and that the senate was controlled by “powerful special interests.” After blocking the bill, Blunt countered that the bill represents an overreach of power that would allow the federal government to take control away from states.

One of the bill’s major hurdles for Republicans is an ethics provision that would require candidates for president and vice president to disclose the last 10 years of their income tax returns. President Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to disclose his tax returns, and is currently embroiled in a legal fight to keep the information secret.

Read the complete article here.

The Student Vote Is Surging, And So Are Efforts to Suppress It In Key States

From today’s New York Times:

At Austin Community College, civics is an unwritten part of the curriculum — so much so that for years the school has tapped its own funds to set up temporary early-voting sites on nine of its 11 campuses.

No more, however. This spring, the Texas Legislature outlawed polling places that did not stay open for the entire 12-day early-voting period. When the state’s elections take place in three weeks, those nine sites — which logged many of the nearly 14,000 ballots that full-time students cast last year — will be shuttered. So will six campus polling places at colleges in Fort Worth, two in Brownsville, on the Mexico border, and other polling places at schools statewide.

“It was a beautiful thing, a lot of people out there in those long lines,” said Grant Loveless, a 20-year-old majoring in psychology and political science who voted last November at a campus in central Austin. “It would hurt a lot of students if you take those polling places away.”

The story at Austin Community College is but one example of a political drama playing out nationwide: After decades of treating elections as an afterthought, college students have begun voting in force.

Their turnout in the 2018 midterms — 40.3 percent of 10 million students tracked by Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education — was more than double the rate in the 2014 midterms, easily exceeding an already robust increase in national turnout. Energized by issues like climate change and the Trump presidency, students have suddenly emerged as a potentially crucial voting bloc in the 2020 general election.

And almost as suddenly, Republican politicians around the country are throwing up roadblocks between students and voting booths.

Not coincidentally, the barriers are rising fastest in political battlegrounds and places like Texas where one-party control is eroding. Students lean strongly DemocraticIn a March poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, 45 percent of college students ages 18-24 identified as Democrats, compared to 29 percent who called themselves independents and 24 percent Republicans.

Read the complete article here.

NLRB HAS ‘SYSTEMATICALLY’ DAMAGED WORKER RIGHTS ON BEHALF OF LOBBYISTS, REPORT SAYS

From today‘s Newsweek:

President Donald Trump’s National Labor Relations Board has catered to the requests of a prominent business lobbying group and “systematically” eroded workers’ rights, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute released Wednesday.

The report says that the labor board, which is supposed to protect the interests of workers, has “elevated corporate interests above those of working men and women and have routinely betrayed the statute they are responsible for administering and enforcing.”

Trump has depicted himself as a champion of blue-collar workers. He regularly touts the monthly jobs report and the unemployment rate, which is currently at a half-century low. He promoted his 2017 bill to overhaul the tax code as a victory for workers, though an April report from the Center for Public Integrity noted corporations benefitted far more than workers did.

But the president has pushed policies that critics say contradict his claims of supporting worker right, including rebukes for efforts to cut the power of unions. Past reports from journalists and left-leaning think tanks have also challenged Trump’s self-depiction as a champion of the laboring class. The Center for American Progress wrote in August that Trump had enabled wage theft, empowered employer discrimination and threatened worker safety, and in 2018, detailed how his policies were “hurting American workers.”

EPI’s report further challenges Trump’s claims as a workers’ advocate by closely examining the functioning of the NLRB, which is comprised of three Trump appointees, one Democrat holdover and a Trump-appointed General Counsel. The report says that, during Trump’s time in office, the board has worked to undermine the intended duties of the agency.

Read the complete article here.

Federal consumer agency hires exec in complaint-ridden Pa. firm as watchdog

From today’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

So far this year, more than 1,000 student borrowers have complained to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in Washington about the practices of an obscure but powerful Pennsylvania state agency that services their loans.

Now the consumer bureau has hired a high-ranking executive from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency as the nation’s top student loan watchdog — which means that Robert G. Cameron, previously a top compliance official for the agency, will be tasked with evaluating his former employer. Millions of student borrowers know the Pennsylvania organization as FedLoan, American Education Services, or PHEAA.

Critics called Cameron’s appointment another example of the revolving door of executives and staffers between the federal student loan bureaucracy and private companies, and of the overt campaign by the Trump administration to undermine Obama-era protections for student borrowers.

“It is outrageous that an executive from the student loan company that has cheated students and taxpayers — and is at the center of every major industry scandal over the past decade — is now in charge of protecting borrowers’ rights,” Seth Frotman, the former ombudsman and now executive director of the nonprofit Student Borrower Protection Center.

Stacey Abrams’s Fight for a Fair Vote

From today’s New Yorker Magazine:

mong the many issues currently polarizing American politics—abortion, climate change, health care, immigration, gun control—one of the most consequential tends to be one of the least discussed. The American electorate, across the country, is diversifying ethnically and racially at a rapid rate. Progressives, interpreting the shift to mean that, following traditional paths, the new voters will lean Democratic, see a political landscape that is turning blue. Conservatives apparently see the same thing, because in recent years many of them have supported policies, such as voter-I.D. laws and voter-roll purges, that have disproportionately affected people of color.

The issue has become more pressing with the approach of the 2020 Presidential election. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that federal judges do not have the power to address partisan gerrymandering, even when it creates results that “reasonably seem unjust.” Last month, President Donald Trump was finally forced to abandon his effort to add, in defiance of another Court ruling, a citizenship question to the census—an idea that Thomas B. Hofeller, the late Republican strategist who promoted it, believed would aid the G.O.P. in further redistricting. But, days later, the President was telling four American women of color, all elected members of the House of Representatives, to “go back” to where they came from.

The nation got a preview of the battle for the future of electoral politics last year, in Georgia’s gubernatorial race. The Republican candidate was declared the winner by a margin of less than two percentage points: fifty-five thousand votes out of nearly four million cast—a record-breaking total for a midterm election in the state. Many Georgians, though, still use the terms “won” and “lost” advisedly, not only because the Democrat never technically conceded but also because of the highly irregular nature of the contest. The Republican, Brian Kemp, was Georgia’s secretary of state, and in that role he presided over an election marred by charges of voter suppression; the Democrat, Stacey Abrams, has become the nation’s most prominent critic of that practice.

Although she has only recently come to wide attention, Abrams, a forty-five-year-old tax attorney, romance novelist, and former state representative, has been working on electoral reform—particularly on voter registration—in Georgia for some fifteen years. In that regard, some Georgians view her campaign as a success; she won more votes than any Democrat has ever won for statewide office. Georgia is representative of the nation’s demographic changes. The population is 10.5 million, and, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it was 57.5 per cent white in 2008, fell to 54.2 per cent white in 2018, and will be 53.6 per cent white next year. It will be majority-minority by 2033. Democratic leaders from red states in the South and beyond with shifting populations—they include the Presidential candidates Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Indiana, and former Representative Beto O’Rourke, of El Paso, Texas, as well as the former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, who is considering a second run for the U.S. Senate, in Mississippi—have examined Abrams’s campaign to see how they might adopt its strategies. Espy described his discussion with her as “a graduate course in politics.”

Read the complete article here.

League Of Women Voters Mark Voting Rights Laws With Vigilance

From today’s Charleston Chronicle:

The day of August 6 marked the 54th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For many the monumental civil rights event went unacknowledged. Barbara Zia, Citizen Education coordinator for the Charleston Area League of Women Voters, called the event an important one prompting a Charleston vigil August 6 at the Circular Congregational Church.

Instead of just commemorating the landmark voting rights legislation, many advocates in Charleston and around the nation are fighting to curb the voter suppression unleashed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to gut it, Zia said.

The Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision paved a path for states to pass a wave of new restrictive voting laws that disproportionately impact people of color by removing the preclearance requirements in the Voting Rights Act that applied to many states, including South Carolina. Preclearance required certain states to get federal approval before making changes in voting laws. Since the Supreme Court decision, restrictive voting laws have been passed in 20 states. Extreme gerrymandering, voter ID laws, and voter purges all infringe on Americans’ ability to exercise their right to vote, the League purports.

Despite its history of voter suppression, South Carolina has avoided much of the egregious erosion of voting rights experienced in neighboring states, Zia said. Still South Carolina struggled to defend against attacks such as picture ID requirements that could have been more detrimental without vigilance. The two-year struggle against the legislation enacted in 2013 drew the line in the sand, Zia said. The August 6 vigil served notice the League still is standing on that line, she emphasized.

Read the complete article here.

Prior to 2020 debate, MT Gov. Bullock handed victory in dark money case

From today’s ABC News Online:

Moments before Montana Gov. Steve Bullock joined other 2020 candidates on the Democratic debate on Tuesday, his team delivered news about a victory back home: the governor just won a year-long lawsuit against the Trump administration.

Bullock, whose campaign message centers on removing dark money from politics, sued the Internal Revenue Service a year ago over a rule requiring that politically-active nonprofit groups disclose to the IRS names of donors. The rule had been overturned by President Donald Trump’s administration.

A federal judge in Montana, Brian Morris, ruled on Tuesday evening that the rule would be reinstated.

According to the docket, which was provided to ABC News by the Bullock campaign, the court “holds unlawful” the rule as adopted by the IRS and said the agency “must follow the proper notice-and-comment procedures pursuant to the APA it if seeks to adopt a similar rule.”

Under the previous law, the names of donors who gave $5,000 or more in their tax returns would be disclosed to the IRS, although the IRS would redact those names when making those documents public. Such groups are commonly called “dark money” groups because they don’t disclose their donors publicly unlike other politically active groups that disclose their donors to the FEC such as super PACs.

Read the complete article here.