Dozen Megadonors Gave $3.4 Billion, One in Every 13 Dollars, Since 2009

From today’s New York Times:

A dozen megadonors and their spouses contributed a combined $3.4 billion to federal candidates and political groups since 2009, accounting for nearly one out of every 13 dollars raised, according to a new report.

The report, produced by Issue One, a nonpartisan group that seeks to reduce the influence of money in politics, shows the top 12 donors split equally between six Democrats and six Republicans. The list includes multiple Wall Street billionaires and investors, a Facebook co-founder, a shipping magnate and the heir to a family fortune dating back to the Gilded Age.

The study quantifies the intensifying concentration and increasing role of the super rich in American politics following the loosening of restrictions on political spending by the U.S. Supreme Court more than a decade ago.

“This is a stark illustration of our broken campaign finance system,” said Nick Penniman, the founder and chief executive of Issue One. “Today, a handful of megadonors wield outsized influence in our politics.” Mr. Penniman called on Congress “to pass sweeping reforms to create a democracy that works for everyone.”

The growing influence of multimillion-dollar megadonors has been accompanied by another, competing trend: a surge of small online donations to politicians of both parties. Those contributions — in $5, $10 and $25 increments — have given Democrats and Republicans an alternate source of money beyond the super rich.

Still, the study found that the top 100 ZIP codes for political giving in the United States, which hold less than 1 percent of the total population, accounted for roughly 20 percent of the $45 billion that federal candidates and political groups raised between January 2009 and December 2020. The study used data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which compiles figures from the Federal Election Commission.

Some of the top ZIP codes for giving weren’t even populated by any people at all; instead, they were primarily associated with skyscrapers and post office boxes that were used as business addresses by the wealthy.

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Trump pressures GA election official to ‘find’ winning votes in taped call

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

President Trump demanded that Georgia’s top election official help him “find” enough votes to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state, according to a phone recording made public Sunday that pointed to a brazen new chapter in the president’s attempt to overturn his election defeat.

In an hour-long phone call Saturday, reported Sunday by the Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Trump cajoled, flattered and implicitly threatened Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, marshaling elaborate conspiracy theories to support his claim that he had won a state that Biden carried by almost 12,000 votes.

Raffensperger, a Republican, rejected the president’s blunt overtures, telling him: “The data that you have is wrong,” according to the audio recording. The Journal-Constitution said the authenticity of the recording was confirmed by two people involved in the conversation.

Legal experts and some Democrats suggested the president’s actions may have violated the law. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate Democratic whip, issued a strongly worded statement urging a criminal investigation, saying Trump sought to “intimidate an elected official into deliberately changing and misrepresenting” a legally counted vote. Law professors, including Stanford’s Nate Persily, tweeted out relevant sections of Georgia’s election code.

Two months after the election, and almost three weeks after the electoral college certified Biden’s victory by a 306-232 margin, Trump is backing expected challenges to the results by congressional Republicans in a joint session of Congress on Wednesday that typically is ceremonial in nature. Scores of Republican House members and at least a dozen GOP senators have signaled support for the effort, which could result in hours of debate before each chamber is expected to reject the protest.

Republican plans to contest the election have generated scorn from establishment GOP figures, including Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. On Sunday, seven conservative Republican House members issued an unusual joint statement announcing their opposition to the challenge, warning that congressional action “would amount to stealing power from the people and the states.”

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Trump says Roger Stone has ‘very good chance of exoneration’ after sentencing

From today’s NBC News Online:

President Donald Trump said his former adviser Roger Stone has “a very good chance of exoneration,” hours after the GOP operative was sentenced to 40 months behind bars for obstructing a congressional investigation of Russia’s 2016 presidential election meddling.

“I’m following this very closely, and I want to see it play out to its fullest, because Roger has a very good chance of exoneration, in my opinion,” Trump said Thursday in a speech in Las Vegas, where he also blasted the jury forewoman in Stone’s criminal trial.

“It’s my strong opinion that the forewoman for the jury is totally tainted,” Trump said, calling the woman “an anti-Trump person” with “a horrible social media account.”

He said the forewoman is a “very dominant person” who likely convinced other jurors to follow her lead. “How can you have a jury pool tainted so badly?” Trump asked.

Lawyers for Stone, 67, had filed a motion asking for a new trial. Stone’s supporters have said it’s based on comments made by the jury forewoman, Tomeka Hart.

Hart ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2012, a fact she disclosed during jury selection. Asked by Judge Jackson if she could fairly evaluate the evidence during the trial, she said yes, and Stone’s lawyers did not seek to have her removed from the jury pool.

The judge who presided over the trial, Amy Berman Jackson, pointedly praised jurors for their “integrity” at Stone’s sentencing.

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Op-Ed: The Acquittal Will Come Back to Haunt Trump and His Enablers

From today’s New York Times:

The vote to acquit President Trump was a dark day for the Senate. Uninterested in hearing from witnesses (and likely scared by what they would say), uncritical of outrageous legal arguments made by the president’s lawyers and apparently unconcerned about the damage Mr. Trump has done to the integrity of America’s elections, a majority of senators insisted on looking the other way and letting him off the hook for a classic impeachable offense: abuse of public office for private gain.

But while the Senate got it wrong, the American people learned what’s right. This impeachment was about much more than the final vote of 100 senators. It was a process, and that process yielded a public education of extraordinary value. While the Senate may emerge from the process weakened, the American people, on the whole, emerge from it strengthened by a sharpened sense of what’s right and what’s wrong for an American president; of what it means for a political party to show moral courage; of what it looks like when dedicated public servants speak truth no matter the consequences; and of the importance of whistle-blowers for ensuring accountability.

The past few months have shown Americans a president who abused the public trust for his personal benefit. Before this process, we suspect, few Americans had dwelled on the question of when it crosses the line for a president to exploit for private political gain the tools of national power placed in his or her hands.

But impeachment has forced Americans to confront it — a question, it turns out, that was central to the framers’ decision to include impeachment in our Constitution. And Americans overwhelmingly reject what Mr. Trump did, with 75 percent saying in December that his Ukraine extortion scheme was wrong (a view that even some Republican senators have endorsed). That’s huge: For all that divides Americans today, this is a dominant consensus on what it means to abuse public office and distort American democracy.

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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.”

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Trump Is Urged to Fire Kellyanne Conway for Hatch Act Violations

From today’s New York Times:

An independent government agency recommended on Thursday that President Trump fire Kellyanne Conway, his White House counselor, for repeated violations of an ethics law barring partisan politics from the federal workplace.

In a letter accompanying a report to Mr. Trump, the agency called Ms. Conway a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in campaign politics at work, saying that her flagrant defiance of the law justified her dismissal from the White House.

“As a highly visible member of the administration, Ms. Conway’s violations, if left unpunished, send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions,” said the letter to the president, signed by Henry J. Kerner, the head of the agency. “Her actions erode the principal foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law.”

The agency, called the Office of Special Counsel, enforces the Hatch Act and is not related to Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel who investigated Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Despite its official mission, the office has no power to force Ms. Conway’s dismissal, and the White House quickly made clear that Mr. Trump would not follow its suggestion.

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Interior nominee David Bernhardt’s ethics problems aren’t going away

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

President Trump’s pick to the lead the Interior Department heads for a confirmation vote as early as Thursday, with his career as a lobbyist raising ethical and legal concerns and doubts about his independence from the energy and water industry groups he long represented.

Acting Secretary David Bernhardt spent about eight years as a partner in Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, one of the nation’s top-grossing law and lobbying firms, according to public rankings. There he represented energy, mining and Western water interests that deal with the Interior Department, including two California entities, Westlands Water District — the nation’s largest irrigation district — and Cadiz Inc.

Bernhardt’s firm sued the department four times on Westlands’ behalf. He personally argued one appeals case challenging federal endangered species protections for imperiled salmon. He did legal work for Cadiz, which wants to build a water pipeline on a railroad right of way that crosses federal land in the California desert.

When Bernhardt was confirmed as deputy secretary in 2017, he had to sign the administration’s ethics pledge and recuse himself from participating in “particular matters” involving more than two dozen former clients. Some of the recusals were effective for two years, others for one. In the last year, he has helped put policies in place that benefit businesses he once represented as a lobbyist.

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Corruption: Cohen’s Testimony Opens New Phase of Turbulence for Trump

From today’s New York Times:

A small group of Republican strategists opposed to President Trump, branding themselves Defending Democracy Together, quietly conducted polling and focus groups last fall to gauge whether the president was vulnerable to a primary challenge in 2020. Assembling a presentation for sympathetic political donors, they listed points of weakness for Mr. Trump such as “tweeting/temperament” and “criminality/corruption.”

The group concluded that Mr. Trump’s scandals were not yet badly damaging him with Republican-leaning voters: “Even relatively high information voters aren’t paying particularly close attention to day-to-day scandals,” the presentation stated. But it added that there was “room to educate voters” on the subject.

Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, may have begun that education on Wednesday.

With Mr. Cohen’s appearance before a House committee, the public airing of ethical transgressions by Mr. Trump reached a new phase, one that may be harder to ignore for friends and foes alike. The spectacle of Mr. Trump’s onetime enforcer denouncing him in televised proceedings, detailing a catalog of alleged cruelty and crimes, signaled the pressure the president’s already strained coalition could feel in the coming months as Congress scrutinizes him and the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III completes his investigation.

Republicans still find it difficult to imagine that Mr. Trump’s electoral base would ever desert him, though they acknowledge that bond may soon be tested as never before. Mr. Trump’s core supporters — numbering about two in five American voters, polls suggest — have stayed with him through revelations of financial and sexual impropriety, painful electoral setbacks and the longest government shutdown in history.

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Trump’s Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Faces Increased Ethics Scrutiny

From today’s New York Times:

Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the Interior Department and a key figure in President Trump’s push to roll back environmental regulations and ramp up oil drilling, is facing increased scrutiny amid federal investigations into allegations that he abused travel spending and maintained close ties with industries he oversees.

The criticism escalated sharply after reports this week that the Interior Department’s inspector general had referred one of the inquiries to the Justice Department, a potential prelude to a criminal investigation.

T​he​​ investigations have raised questions about Mr. Zinke’s oversight of the Interior Department, where he is essentially the largest land manager in the United States. He has authority over the nation’s 300 million acres of public lands as well as vast waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr. Zinke faces at least a half-dozen ethics investigations. At least nine other inquiries into alleged ethics violations have been closed, in some cases because Mr. Zinke was cleared, in others because of a lack of cooperation with investigators.

While it is not known which ​inquiry​ has been referred to the Justice Department, a person familiar with the matter, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said it was most likely one examining a Montana land deal that involved an organization run by Mr. Zinke’s wife​ and a development group backed by the chairman of Halliburton, which is one of the nation’s largest companies involved in drilling for oil and gas on public lands.

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Trump pardons Dinesh D’Souza on felony campaign contribution violation

From today’s CNBC “Politics” site:

Conservative commentator and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza revealed on Friday what he said President Donald Trump told him about why he was getting a pardon.

On Fox News, D’Souza said he didn’t know he was going to get it. “I was just in my office working away. And an operator came on the line and said, ‘Is this Dinesh D’Souza?’ Yes. ‘Hold the line for the president of the United States.’ And there was Trump.”

He said Trump said: “”You’ve been a great voice for freedom. I’ve got to tell you man to man, you’ve been screwed.’ He goes, ‘I’ve been looking at the case. I knew from the beginning that it was fishy.'”

D’Souza, who was convicted in 2014 of making an illegal campaign contribution, said, “[Trump] said upon reviewing it, he felt a great injustice had been done. And using his power, he was going to rectify it, sort of clear the slate. And he said he just wanted me to be out there and be a bigger voice than ever defending the principles that I believe in.”

A day earlier, Trump announced on Twitter his decision to pardon D’Souza, an outspoken critic of Democratic former President Barack Obama. D’Souza was prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, an Obama appointee who was later fired by Trump.

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