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Go Figure: An L.A. Times Poll’s Strange Numbers Game

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Graph: Urocyon/Wikipedia

The Los Angeles Times recently carried a report on one of its polls, the key finding of which was that the electorate is unwilling to compromise.

This article was dripping with contempt for voters, who apparently prefer things like “party orthodoxy,” want to “stick to their guns,” are “hardline” and “putting their priorities above compromise.” Their “concede nothing mentality” makes it hard for either side to “come out of its ideological corner.”

The evidence for these central findings is largely from one question (No. 59), asked only of Democrats: Would they’d prefer that Obama “compromise more with Republicans” or “stand up to Republicans”?

According to the pollster’s analysis, 60 percent of Dems want Obama to stand up, while only 33 percent want him to compromise. The problem is how the analyst got there. Voters had four choices: Compromise “somewhat or much,” and “stand-up somewhat or much;” the poll analysis aggregates the “somewhat” and “much” options to get its “total standup” versus “total compromise” result.

So here’s my question—if Obama stands up “somewhat,” would he not also, you know, be compromising somewhat (or perhaps he’s somewhat pregnant)?  In which case, more people prefer compromising to standing up.

This is a stupid question, asked dumbly, and there’s no end to the list of things wrong with it. (Okay, there is an end, but the point stands, without compromise.) The terms are loaded (is standing up ever bad, compared to, say, compromising one’s principles?). The answer is situation-dependent (compromise on issues I think are less important, stand up on issues I think are very important seems like a position many people would take; how should they answer?).

Republicans were asked different questions to get at this issue (Nos. 36 and 37). Both are about what kind of candidate Republicans want to run against Obama. The first is whether Republicans want someone they agree with or someone who can win, while the second is whether they want someone who will compromise or stand on principle.

The results are interesting. By a 13-point margin, Republicans want the a candidate who they agree with, even if that candidate can’t win, but on the second question, about whether they want someone who compromises to get things done or “stands” on principles, Republicans are essentially split, at 47-45 for “standing.”

What the Times has found, in other words, is that voters go back and forth on whether they want compromises to get half a loaf (and who doesn’t go back and forth on that), but are clear that they want their leaders to stick to their principles in their rhetoric, and not appear to be weak. A bit like a poll that discovers teenage boys like beer and girls in bikinis.

Like most media, it seems to me, both the pollster and the Times long for some sort of mythical post-partisanship scenario, and are forever condemned to be frustrated with voters and politicians for not actually living the myth. In the end, the Times sounds like Kenny Brockelstein, and that says more about them than us.

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Fossil Fuel Giant Stealthily Pumping Unregulated Cash Into Colorado Ballot Fight

Co-published by Westword
In a move that goes beyond Citizens United, Noble Energy is airing undisclosed ads against Proposition 112 — and the GOP Secretary of State says that’s A-OK.

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Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams (Photo: Jeffrey Beall)

 

Co-published by Westword

 

In a last-ditch attempt to defeat one of the most far-reaching environmental measures on the 2018 ballot, a fossil fuel giant is blanketing Colorado television with election-focused political ads that it now claims are outside the purview of all state campaign finance laws. The maneuver — which pioneers a novel way for corporations to circumvent disclosure statutes and inject money directly into elections — has been blessed by the office of Secretary of State Wayne Williams, who has led a Republican political group bankrolled by the same fossil fuel corporation that is airing the ads.

At issue is Proposition 112, a landmark measure that would force fossil fuel companies to set their drilling and fracking operations further away from hospitals, schools, child care centers and residential neighborhoods. Natural gas colossus Noble Energy and its subsidiaries have been among the most prominent opponents of the initiative, disclosing $7.1 million in contributions to Protect Colorado, the issue committee opposing the initiative.

Noble has also given $200,000 to a PAC supporting the Republican majority in the state senate, which in recent years has been a bulwark against Democratic attempts to pass stronger safety and environmental protections regarding oil and gas operations.

However, on top of those disclosed and regulated expenditures, documents reviewed by Capital & Main show that Noble has also been airing its own corporate television ads against the measure — and the company refuses to tell state campaign finance regulators any details about the ads or about the amount it is spending on the spots.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision deregulated federal campaign finance laws, the ruling preserved state statutes that require direct election expenditures to at least be disclosed. And yet, even as Noble’s ads explicitly press Coloradans to vote against the ballot measure, the company has declared that such ads are not governed by state campaign finance or disclosure laws.

Noble’s move represents a bold step even beyond Citizens United: In effect, a company that turns fracked gas into corporate profits has found a way to stealthily pipe a portion of those riches around campaign finance laws and directly into an electoral process that is supposed to empower workaday Coloradans to regulate fossil fuel development.

“It looks like a potential loophole in the law that does allow a corporation to spend unlimited amounts on influencing ballot initiatives without reporting their spending,” said Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center.

Noble could have simply spent more disclosed money through Protect Colorado — the regulated issue committee that files paperwork with the state. But with Protect Colorado already having saturated the airwaves with so much advertising — and with critics hammering the group for spending so much cash against the ballot initiative — Noble’s new unregulated ads could be a deliberate strategy to confuse voters.

“It may be that Protect Colorado, with all of its advertising, has come to the end of a happy run of having a credible brand,” election lawyer Mark Grueskin told Capital & Main. “They may want to make it look like there’s a bigger, broader political consensus about these issues, and that it’s not just all oil industry money protecting oil industry interests.”

“We Do Not Disclose Our Advertising Budgets”

Noble’s ads are explicit demands that Coloradans vote against Proposition 112 in the upcoming election.

“When you vote, we need your support to stop Proposition 112, so we can continue producing the natural gas and oil that power our daily lives,” says one of the ads.

When asked if the spots are political ads, a Noble spokesperson told Capital & Main: “No.”

That claim conflicts with FCC filings made by the TV stations airing the ads, as required by federal law.

Since the beginning of September, at least 12 Colorado TV stations have reported direct advertising from Noble in their political files, which are legally required disclosures “of all requests for broadcast time made by or on behalf of a candidate for public office.” In FCC records, the Noble advertising is listed under “Non-Candidate Issue Ads” alongside ads from PACs like Fair Maps Colorado and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The FCC records also show that Noble’s ad campaign is being managed by the same consulting and media firms that are being retained by Protect Colorado, the industry-funded committee opposing Proposition 112. Disclosure forms identify Sadler Strategic Media as Noble’s representative in placing the ads on Colorado TV stations; the California-based firm has also placed advertising for Protect Colorado. The same forms show that both Noble and Protect Colorado are represented by Pac/West Communications, an Oregon-based lobbying and public affairs firm.

Whereas state campaign finance records allow voters to see the total amount different groups are spending on elections, Noble’s move allows the company to obscure those details.

“We do not disclose our advertising budgets,” a Noble spokesperson told Capital & Main when asked about the undisclosed ads. “NBL opposes 112. NBL has the right to express its own views.”

The lack of transparency stands in contrast to Noble previously touting its alleged commitment to disclosure.

“Transparency also extends to our political activities,” wrote the company in 2017. “Noble Energy’s participation at the local, state and federal level of government is essential to our long-term success. As part of the process, we disclose our political contributions online through our Political Activity Report…Transparency has proven time and time again to play a critical role in a company’s business success.”

“This Type of Activity Is Likely Legal”

In his reelection bid, Williams, the Colorado Secretary of State, has presented himself as a tough and impartial enforcer of the state’s campaign finance and disclosure laws. However, without conducting any investigation, his office has now preemptively declared that Noble’s unregulated and undisclosed ads are permissible.

“This type of activity is likely legal,” said Williams’ spokesperson Lynn Bartels.

Williams has served as an executive committee member of the Republican Secretaries of State Committee, whose parent organization has received $500,000 from Noble Energy since 2016, according to IRS filings. During Williams’ 2018 reelection bid, that parent group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, has funneled $500,000 into a Colorado group whose mission is “to support Republican candidates for state house, state senate and statewide office,” according to state records.

In a 2016 interview with the New York Times about the overlap between secretary of state candidates’ fundraising and public policy, Williams declared: “When you are trying to raise money, you try to work with people who have an interest in the subjects.”

In this situation, Williams appears to be working to interpret Colorado laws to let GOP donors like Noble directly bankroll future election campaigns without restrictions or transparency requirements.

According to the Colorado State Constitution, a group is supposed to be regulated as a political committee if it has “a major purpose of supporting or opposing any ballot issue or ballot question.” State law says a “major purpose” is displayed by a group’s “production or funding, or both, of written or broadcast communications, or both, in support of or opposition to a ballot issue or ballot question.”

Though Noble is leading the opposition to the ballot measure and is broadcasting television ads against the initiative, Bartels asserted that Williams’ office believes “it is unlikely Noble Energy would be found to have a major purpose of opposing Prop 112, and therefore wouldn’t meet the requirement to register.”

“There’s been a lot of litigation about [major purpose],” Christopher Jackson, a Denver attorney who specializes in election and campaign finance law, told Capital & Main. “A lot of people have argued that means something like at least 51 percent of your funding would have to be towards this particular issue. [But] because the law says ‘a major purpose,’ that suggests that an organization can have more than one major purpose, so maybe that doesn’t have to be a requirement.”

The Campaign Legal Center’s Fischer said that while Colorado law requires certain disclosures by groups that are spending to influence candidate elections, those same requirements may not apply to ballot measures like Proposition 112.

“When a group like Americans for Prosperity spends money [on candidate elections] in Colorado, they at least have to report their expenditures, if not their donors,” said Fischer, referring to the Koch brothers’ advocacy group. “Colorado could require something similar for spending on ballot initiatives, but it doesn’t appear that it has done so.”


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Critics Say New Capitol Parks Rules Would Curb Free Speech

Co-published by Newsweek
A plan proposed by the National Park Service would nearly seal off the area surrounding the White House, with only a five-foot-wide stretch of sidewalk remaining open to the public.

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Robin Urevich

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The White House: Waiting for its moat? (Photo by Ingfbruno)

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The Trump administration is seeking to limit protests on the National Mall in Washington, DC and in nearby city parks and squares in new rules the National Park Service has proposed in the Federal Register. The parks service argues the regulations are just a routine update. But many opponents see them as an attempt to curb the rights of Americans to assemble and speak out at the very monuments that proclaim the nation’s uniqueness as a free and democratic country.

The proposed regulations’ largest impact is likely to be felt at the White House, where Americans have historically made their voices heard on national issues. The plan would nearly seal off the area surrounding the presidential residence, with only a five-foot-wide stretch of sidewalk remaining open to the public.

The suffragettes who stood in front of the White House in 1917 demanding the vote for women would have been hard-pressed to fit in the tiny space now proposed to be available to the public. More recently, the 2014 demonstration against the Keystone XL oil pipeline, where hundreds of people were arrested after locking themselves to the White House fence with plastic zip ties, would have been impossible under the proposed rules.

“The symbolic value of getting arrested on the sidewalk was very powerful for them,” Arthur Spitzer, legal co-director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, DC said of the Keystone protesters.

Some areas around the White House have already been temporarily closed to foot traffic in response to “fence jumpers” who have attempted to enter the White House grounds. The new rules would make those closures permanent, even though jump-proof fencing was recently installed.

The government’s proposals would effectively ban stages and sound systems for spontaneous demonstrations like those that erupted in response to the Trump administration’s travel ban or against the administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, because permits would be required for their use.

In an email, Brent Everitt, a National Park Service spokesman, said the new rules were proposed to address newer monuments, like the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which were built since the rules were last revised. (For the most part, the ACLU has not taken issue with those proposals.)

He argued that changes to White House rules were made in response to a request by the Secret Service. Everitt also commented that another change, a permit requirement for structures built in some Washington parks, “are in reaction to events that occurred since the last update,” namely, the Occupy protests in McPherson Square, whose makeshift buildings “created health and safety hazards for participants and for the city at large.”

Many of the government’s proposed rules would violate the Constitution, the ACLU contends in its formal comments on the changes.

“…the amendments now proposed harken back to the era in which the courts had to be called upon to protect the right to dissent in the nation’s capital,” the organization wrote, noting that some of the newly proposed regulations would also violate court orders issued in previous ACLU cases and which are currently in effect.

The ACLU is among more than 38,000 groups and individuals that have weighed in on the proposals during a 60-day comment period that ended October 15. The civil liberties group charges that the limit on protests on the sidewalk facing the White House is a “stealth proposal” because it is buried at the end of the 26-page rules document; no discussion of it is included in the Federal Register publication of why the rule is necessary.

Spitzer said the provision appears to be a response to White House annoyance with protesters.

“That’s my suspicion,” Spitzer said. “I do know that no one in the National Park Service was working on this until the Trump administration came to power.”

The administration is also requesting public comment on charging demonstrators for permits to recover government costs for large events. It has not formally proposed charging fees, but the ACLU said in its comments that doing so would amount to “charging Americans a fee to exercise their constitutional rights.” The 1963 March on Washington in which Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his I Have a Dream speech likely would have been impossible, the ACLU contended, had the government been able to recover its costs for the event.

The government is legally obligated to read and consider all public comments before its rules go into effect. But, if final regulations, such as those proposed are published, “The green light would be on for lawsuits on behalf of people who want to demonstrate,” Spitzer said.


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Richard Blum, a $100 Million UC Investment, Feinstein Campaign Donations: Business As Usual at UC?

Co-published by Splinter
In the fall of 2017, UC regents shifted $100 million worth of university endowment and pension resources into a fund founded by a business associate of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband, regent Richard Blum.

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Richard Blum and Sen. Dianne Feinstein. (Photo: Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)

Dianne Feinstein’s husband and the UC system are no strangers to controversy surrounding their investment and business practices.


 

Co-published by Splinter

University of California regents approved a nine-figure investment in a private equity fund run by a major donor to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose husband sits on the regents’ board. The investment was disclosed just as some of the private equity fund’s overseers and advisers were pumping thousands of dollars of donations into Feinstein’s campaign, according to documents reviewed by Capital & Main.

In the fall of 2017, UC regents decided to shift $100 million worth of university endowment and pension resources into the RISE fund, operated by TPG. That firm was founded by David Bonderman, who has forged extensive business relationships with Feinstein’s husband, regent Richard Blum. Over the past quarter-century, Blum served as a TPG executive, founded a fund overseeing TPG’s Asia business and partnered with TPG on numerous investment deals with his own investment fund, Blum Capital. The $100 million investment was UC’s first investment with TPG.


Securities laws require public officials to make investment decisions on the basis of merit, not personal relationships or political contributions.


Since 1992, Bonderman and his wife have donated more than $32,000 to Feinstein’s political campaigns. Additionally, donors associated with the RISE fund’s board and advisory panel have contributed more than $65,000 to Feinstein’s campaigns and political action committee. That includes $15,400 of donations in the three-week period surrounding the disclosure of UC’s investment in the RISE fund. Those donations came from Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and his wife, Lynne, as well as from Ariel Investments president Mellody Hobson. Marc Benioff and Hobson, who is married to George Lucas of Star Wars fame, sit on the RISE Fund’s Founders Board.

In general, securities laws require public officials to make investment decisions on the basis of merit, not personal relationships or political contributions. A 2010 Securities and Exchange Commission rule was explicitly designed to deter financial firms from using campaign contributions to influence investment decisions.


“The decision by the UC regents to make an investment in a fund run by a close friend and business partner of Richard Blum raises potential issues of institutional corruption.”


 

Blum argues that there is no conflict of interest.

“I’ve never heard of the RISE Fund,” he told Capital & Main. “We used to be partners with TPG. We’ve done investments together. But I have nothing to do with TPG or the RISE Fund… [The University of California investment office] never checks with me on anything.”

Blum conceded that, in addition to his business and personal relationships with Bonderman and TPG, he also knows another top TPG and RISE Fund executive, Jim Coulter, and added, “I occasionally get together with [UC Chief Investment Officer] Jagdeep [Singh Bachher] and we talk about philosophy.”

Singh Bachher is in charge of oversight and management of UC’s investment in the RISE Fund.

Capital & Main asked TPG if it had disclosed its executives’ relationships with Blum and donations to Feinstein. In a statement, TPG said that it “adheres to the strongest compliance standards and all political donations are subjected to compliance review and clearance, and in the case of federal officials are publicly disclosed through the Federal Election Commission. TPG responded in the ordinary course to due diligence questions posed by UC in connection with its investment.”

The University of California forwarded the regents’ conflict of interest policy and made no other comment. Senator Feinstein did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

“The decision by the UC regents to make an investment in a fund run by a close friend and business partner of Richard Blum raises potential issues of institutional corruption,” said Jay Youngdahl, an attorney and pension expert. “When money saved for workers’ retirement is placed into high-fee investments that benefit those close to politicians, questions need to be asked and answered. Investment funds in several states have suffered problems with similar practices.”

Blum, Bonderman and the UC system are no strangers to controversy surrounding their investment and business practices.

Blum in recent years has faced questions about his overlapping business and political interests. In 2013, he was lambasted by investigative journalist Peter Byrne when Blum’s real estate firm, CBRE, got a $118-plus million contract to sell and lease U.S. Postal Service property. In 2015, the Postal Service’s inspector general recommended that the contract be terminated. Blum was also criticized by Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times for his role in using CalPERS, the state employees’ retirement fund, to purchase the for-profit higher education firm ITT. At the same time he was investing in ITT, which has now been shut down (at a significant loss to CalPERS), Blum was voting to increase UC tuition by 32 percent.

More recently, Blum Capital was blamed by Payless ShoeSource’s creditors for bankrupting the chain to provide $350 million in dividends to Blum Capital and its business partner on the deal, Golden Gate Capital. In the Blum and Golden Gate-initiated bankruptcy, Payless closed 700 stores, laid off hundreds and sued former employees to repay for small signing and relocation bonuses the company had given out.

Similarly, the SEC fined TPG $13 million for misleading investors in December 2017. In June 2017, Bonderman resigned from Uber’s board after making a comment widely seen as offensive to women. And in 2015, TPG was sued by its former communications director, Adam Levine, who had also worked as deputy press secretary for George W. Bush. Levine claimed in legal filings that the firm “miss-billed [sic] expenses, flouted compliance rules, and gave inaccurate information about its investment team,” according to Reuters. The lawsuit was dropped later in the year, according to the firm.

Meanwhile, the UC Retirement Plan has lately been engulfed in scandal over pay-to-play allegations.

In early September, the pension trade publication Institutional Investor published a report showing that the retirement system’s chief investment officer faced “serious charges of mismanagement.” The report also highlighted allegations from an anonymous tipster with inside information that Bachher had placed $250 million in a fund run by a former UC regent, Paul Wachter, who had participated in Bachher’s hiring. The investment was opposed by other top investment staff at UC, the article said.


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Blue State/Red District

The GOP’s Uneasy California Strongholds, Part 2

We continue our series of updated summaries of Capital & Main’s “Blue State/Red District” reports, today focusing on congressional races in the Central Valley and Orange County.

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Congressional District 10

 

Josh Harder

Jeff Denham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Larry Buhl’s Pro-Trump House Votes Could Haunt Heartland Incumbent Jeff Denham

District Terrain: Central Valley.

Facts: As the Valley’s traditional ag mantra of Guns, Jesus and Water gives way to concerns about health care and immigrant rights, the Republican candidate faces an uphill battle to win reelection.

Incumbent: Jeff Denham.

Challenger:  Josh Harder.

Large Financial Backers: Bravo Ag Group, Google, Phillips 66 (Denham). Labor PACs, Democratic Party PACs, American Association for Justice (Harder).

Issues: Health care, immigration, economy/taxes.

Takeaways: In elections past, Jeff Denham has artfully navigated between ingrained rural conservatism and the needs of his low-income constituency. But now Denham finds himself squeezed between Donald Trump’s policies and his district’s increasingly stressed constituents.

Polling: Opinion surveys say the race is too close to call — but Harder is beginning to eclipse the incumbent.

Key Endorsements: California State Sheriffs’ Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Stanislaus County Farm Bureau (Denham). Modesto Bee, Latino Community Roundtable (Stanislaus County), Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (Harder).

Challenger’s Chances: If Harder maintains his momentum, the first-time candidate could topple Denham.

From Buhl’s story: “Big-box retailers and plentiful Starbucks make sections of Modesto resemble Southern California’s megalopolis. One resident quipped that his city is ‘90 minutes from everywhere you’d rather be.’” 

 

Congressional District 21

 

David Valadao

TJ Cox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Larry Buhl’s Trump May Blow Reelection Headwind at David Valadao

District Terrain: Central Valley from the outskirts of Bakersfield to the western portion of Fresno County.

Facts: Agriculture is the leading industry in this largely rural district. Nearly three-quarters of the population is Latino, and it is among the poorest districts in the state.

Incumbent: David Valadao.

Challenger: TJ Cox.

Large Financial Backers: Agricultural organizations, Chevron, Koch Industries (Valadao). Labor PACs, Democratic PACs, American Society of Anesthesiologists (Cox).

Issues: Immigration, water policies, economy.

Takeaways: While the district tends to lean left, Valadao’s willingness to break from the Republican Party on immigration issues has earned him wider support among voters.

Polling: Surveys indicate a victory for Valadao remains likely.

Key Endorsements: California Pro-Life Council, National Rifle Association, Peace Officers Research Association of California (Valadao). End Citizens United, 314 Action, American Federation of Teachers (Cox).

Challenger’s Chances: Poor.

From Buhl’s story: “Whether voters hold Valadao accountable for his repeated efforts to repeal Obamacare, and his failure to protect Dreamers, remains to be seen.”

Congressional District 45

 

Mimi Walters

Katie Porter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Judith Lewis Mernit’s The Education of Mimi Walters.

District Terrain: Inland Orange County.

Facts: There are signs that Congressional Republicans have generally fallen from favor in Orange County through their votes to substitute the Affordable Care Act with a GOP replacement.

Incumbent: Mimi Walters.

Challenger:  Katie Porter.

Large Financial Backers: Dow Chemical Company, Amazon.com, Blue Shield of California (Walters). Labor PACs, Emily’s List, End Citizens United (Porter).

Issues: Health care, immigration, taxes.

Takeaways: Polls suggest that nearly two-thirds of this traditionally Republican district’s residents disapprove of Donald Trump’s performance. To win, Mimi Walters will have to prevent that dislike from rubbing off on her.

Polling: Late polls show UC Irvine law professor Porter pulling ahead of Walters.

Key Endorsements: U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Orange County Business Council (Walters). The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Sierra Club, Stonewall Democrats (Porter).

Challenger’s Chances: A first-time candidate’s slight lead could spell the end of Republican dominance here in November.

From Lewis Mernit’s story: “Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in CA-45, a sign that at least some of its conservative voters might be more loyal to ideals of diversity and tolerance than they are to their party.”

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Blue State/Red District

The GOP’s Uneasy California Strongholds, Part 1

In February we rolled out our “Blue State/Red District” series, which found significant voter discontent expressed against Congresspeople representing previously “safe” Republican districts. This week we present updated summaries of our reports.

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Residents gather for a candidate forum in Newhall. (Photo: Steve Appleford)

Earlier this year, Capital & Main sent reporters to six congressional districts that were considered safely Republican but had favored Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Did Clinton win there because California Republicans were turned off by Donald Trump, or was something else afoot — were demographic shifts changing the political complexions of conservative bastions, or, perhaps, did constituents feel their congressional representatives were voting against their own local interests?

We also covered two red districts handily won by Trump (represented by Tom McClintock and Devin Nunes) for signs of discontent. Capital & Main rolled out the first stories February 1, before any polling had been conducted, and our reporters found significant dissatisfaction with incumbent Republicans in all these districts. Since publication, signs and polling have indicated further erosion of the GOP’s grip, which may result in an unprecedented political turnover on November 6.

During the next week we’ll present updated summaries of our original stories written by Kelly Candaele, Judith Lewis Mernit, Larry Buhl, Steve Appleford and Donnell Alexander.


 

Congressional District 25

Steve Knight

Kate Hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Steve Appleford’s Is Steve Knight Too Out of Touch to Be Reelected to the House?

District Terrain: Northern Los Angeles County’s high desert, parts of east Ventura County.

Facts: The district has long been home to aerospace giants and defense contractors, but is additionally seeing an expansion of investment in solar energy. It has also experienced an accelerating increase of its Latino population.

Incumbent: Steve Knight.

Challenger:  Katie Hill.

Large Financial Backers: Alliance Coal, National Automobile Dealers Association, United Services Automobile Association (Knight). Labor PACs, American Association for Justice, Planned Parenthood (Hill).

Issues: Affordable health care, taxes (including the state’s new gas tax), immigration.

Takeaways: Knight, a second-generation district congressman, may not be able to overcome the 25th’s anti-Trump sentiments.

Polling: Late polling shows political rookie Hill pulling ahead.

Key Endorsements: Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Right to Life Committee (Knight). NARAL Pro-Choice America, Emily’s List, Sierra Club (Hill).

Challenger’s Chances: Very good.

From Appleford’s story: “Economic progress has been accompanied by growing homelessness, which once barely existed here.”

Congressional District 48

Dana Rohrabacher

Harley Rouda

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Judith Lewis Mernit’s The Great Awakening of CA-48

District Terrain: Coastal Orange County.

Facts: Clinton won this affluent district in 2016. Incumbent Dana Rohrabacher cultivates the image of a pot-smoking surfer, but Trump is very unpopular in CA 48.

Incumbent: Dana Rohrabacher.

Challenger: Harley Rouda.

Large Financial Backers: GOP and conservative PACs, General Atomics, Scotts Miracle-Gro (Rohrabacher). Labor PACs, Mortgage Bankers Association, National Association of Home Builders (Rouda).

Issues: Health care, the economy, immigration.

Takeaways: Rohrabacher, a former Reagan speechwriter, is fighting for his political life against a novice opponent.

Polling: U.C. Berkeley, Siena College and Monmouth University all call this a virtual tie – but with a slight edge going to Rouda.

Key Endorsements: National Rifle Association, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste PAC (Rohrabacher). Human Rights Campaign, Sierra Club, California Labor Federation (Rouda).

Challenger’s Chances: Rouda has pulled slightly ahead in recent polling.

From Lewis Mernit’s story: “People in coastal Orange County mostly want to be left alone, to not have government taking away their money or policing their behavior.”

Congressional District 49

Diane Harkey

Mike Levin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Kelly Candaele’s The Dream Coast Under Pressure    

District Terrain: Northern coastal areas of San Diego County, a portion of southern Orange County.

Facts: The district has changed hands between parties several times over the last 25 years.

Incumbent: None. Its GOP representative, Darrell Issa, barely won in 2016 and decided not to run this year. The Republican candidate is Diane Harkey; Mike Levin is her Democratic opponent.

Large Financial Backers: Edison International, Occidental Petroleum and Watson Pharmaceuticals (Harkey). Labor unions, American Association for Justice, Progressive Action PAC (Levin).

Issues: Gun laws, health care, immigration.

Takeaways: The district’s traditional loyalty to the GOP, because of its support for military spending, may be eroding from fears of shrinking housing affordability and a revulsion over Trump’s immigration policies.

Polling: Latest surveys show Levin beginning to walk away with the seat.

Key Endorsements: Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Susan B. Anthony List, San Diego Patriots (Harkey). San Diego Union-Tribune, League of Conservation Voters, Everytown for Gun Safety (Levin).

Challenger’s Chances: Good and getting better.

From Candaele’s story: “The 49th District is where changing demographics and Trumpism’s existential jolt have exposed political fissures that have yet to be re-aligned.”

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The Lies That Should Have Sunk Kavanaugh

Co-published by Newsweek
“Is he threatening the Democrats?” asks former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman about Brett Kavanaugh. “Is he threatening people who oppose his nomination? We don’t need a Supreme Court justice who is going to use his position to get revenge.”

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Bill Raden

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Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Co-published by Newsweek

 

Only the shaken confidence in Brett Kavanaugh by three senators stands in the way, Saturday, of the Supreme Court nominee’s lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court. Republicans Jeff Flake and Lisa Murkowski, and Democrat Joe Manchin, will have little more on which to base their votes than the words of Kavanaugh himself versus those of his various accusers.

Below are six of the main lies Kavanaugh is accused of telling under oath, followed by a discussion with three legal experts on his behavior. The feature ends with a list of 13 other alleged lies, with thanks to GQ, the New York Times, Vox, the Washington Post, and Current Affairs.

1. May 9, 2006, SJC nomination hearing to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, response to Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), again about his knowledge of the “Memogate” emails.

“I’m not aware of the memos, I never saw such memos that I think you’re referring to. I mean, I don’t know what the universe of memos might be, but I do know that I never received any memos and was not aware of any such memos.”

Distance from the Truth: Kavanaugh made the denial under oath multiple times to committee members. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), however, recently posted confidential emails on Twitter that he says were in Kavanaugh’s possession, proving his previous denials are, Leahy wrote, “just FALSE!”

2. May 9, 2006, SJC hearing on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, response to Senator Durbin (D-Ill.) about the judicial nomination of William Haynes, the Pentagon’s director of torture policy during the George W. Bush administration.

“I was not involved and am not involved in the questions about the rules governing detention of combatants or—and so I do not have the involvement with that.”

Distance from the Truth: Kavanaugh has since been doubly implicated, both in significant involvement with Haynes’ judicial confirmation for Bush and in having a hand in Bush detention and interrogation policies. Newly discovered emails from 2002 prove the former, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) charged last month, and “show that Kavanaugh played a substantial role in the decision to nominate Haynes.”

3. September 27, 2018, Senate Judiciary Hearing, on explaining partying activities during the summer of 1982.

I never attended a gathering like the one Dr. Ford describes in her allegation.”

Distance from the Truth: Both Kavanaugh’s later testimony and his personal calendars detail attending parties throughout the period of the alleged assault, uncannily similar to the one Christine Blasey Ford describes.

4. April 27, 2004, SJC confirmation hearing of Kavanaugh to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, response to Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT) on whether as Associate White House Counsel he had direct knowledge of Memogate memos stolen from Democrats on the Judiciary Committee and leaked to the White House.

“No. Again, I was not aware of that matter in any way whatsoever until I learned it in the media.”

Distance from the Truth: Kavanaugh made the denial under oath multiple times to committee members. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), however, recently posted confidential emails on Twitter that he says were in Kavanaugh’s possession, proving his previous denials are, Leahy wrote, “just FALSE!”

5. September 27, 2018, Senate Judiciary Hearing, denying a New York Times report that “Renate alumnius” [sic] on his yearbook page was a sexual boast.

“That yearbook reference was clumsily intended to show affection, and that she was one of us…It was not related to sex.”

Distance from the Truth: Sean Hagan and three other former Georgetown Prep students counter that the reference was intended as degrading, albeit unsubstantiated. “So angry. So disgusted. So sad. Integrity? Character? Honesty?” Hagan posted on Facebook after the testimony.

6. September 27, 2018, SJC hearing, response to Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) about whether he “drank so much that you didn’t remember what happened.”

“But I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out… Passed out would be—no, but I’ve gone to sleep, but—but I’ve never blacked out.”

Distance from the Truth: Former Yale freshman roommate James Roche: “I saw him both what I would consider blackout drunk, and also dealing with the repercussions of that in the morning.”

 

Capital & Main asked congressional committee veterans and a former federal prosecutor to examine Kavanaugh’s September 27 testimony, as well as additional statements flagged by journalists as probable Kavanaugh mistruths. They were asked if the nominee’s character, temperament and credibility under fire warrant his elevation to the Supreme Court.

Former assistant U.S. attorney Nick Akerman

“[Kavanaugh] came out with an opening statement that basically tried to take away the committee’s ability to really cross examine him,” says trial lawyer and former assistant U.S. attorney Nick Akerman. “Because, I think, he realized that if he left himself open to being questioned by committee members and open-ended cross examination, he’d wind up getting himself into trouble — exactly as he did.”

Akerman cut his prosecutorial teeth in the 1970s with the Watergate Special Prosecution Force under Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski. Any kind of “he said, she said” equivalence between Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh during the hearings, Akerman argues, quickly foundered on the wealth of persuasive detail in Blasey Ford’s account that was made even more compelling when it dovetailed with the personal calendar that Kavanaugh introduced as supposedly exculpatory evidence.

“I don’t think Kavanaugh realized what he was doing,” Akerman says. “I mean, the fact that he tried to keep [the possible party date] to a weekend as opposed to a weekday during the summer is a bit ridiculous. There’s just enough little details in there that when you start adding them up all point towards him lying. This is somebody who should not be on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman

When Akerman was building cases against all the president’s men, Elizabeth Holtzman was holding Richard Nixon accountable for his abuses of executive power and for flouting the Constitution. As a first-term congresswoman from New York City serving on the House Judiciary Committee, she cast key impeachment votes against Nixon. Like Akerman, Holtzman also notes the contradictions around Kavanaugh’s interpretation of the calendar in his testimony, but what really stands out to her is how loosely, she says, Kavanaugh plays with facts.

“First of all, there was no left-wing conspiracy,” she says. “If you listen to Dr. Blasey Ford, you know that she was a very reluctant witness, and this was not an effort to undo a conservative appointment; it was to let people know about what he had done. … His claim that there was no corroboration also wasn’t true. Because there is corroborative testimony — testimony that she gave about her therapist, that she told the therapist, that she told her husband; there may be other people that she told.”

Kristine Lucas, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Kristine Lucius, executive vice president of policy for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which opposes the nomination, has been through her share of confirmation fights. But her experience as the legal and policy adviser to the former Senate Judiciary Committee chair, Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont, did not prepare her for what played out at last week’s hearing.

“What we saw in Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony was someone belligerent and vindictive, and threatening and partisan,” Lucius says. “Even setting aside the significant sexual assault allegations, I have real concerns about how the Supreme Court will be viewed if he is confirmed.”

Holtzman also expresses concern on this point.

“He said, ‘What comes around, goes around’ — and that’s a kind of a threat,” Holtzman says. “Is he threatening the people that support Dr. Blasey Ford? Is he threatening the Democrats? Is he threatening people who oppose his nomination? Who is he threatening? We don’t need a Supreme Court justice who is going to use his position to get revenge.”

Lucius recalls past confirmation fights from her time with the Judiciary Committee, when past drug use or a sexual allegation would sometimes surface in her background briefings of a nominee for committee members. What never seemed to emerge was a consistent standard of concern by senators. It was at such moments that she saw confirmation votes as a “decency test” for each individual member.

“This is 100 percent on the shoulders of the senators,” says Lucius. “They are deciding what the standard is going to be for the highest court in the land. And that has as much to do with their institutional role as [it does] their own moral compass.”

Ten More Times Kavanaugh May Have Lied Under Oath

 

1. September 5, 2018, Day 2 of Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, explaining a dissent that compared the majority’s upholding of a DC ban on assault weapons “to a ban on a category of speech.”

Under Oath:

“I grew up in a city plagued by gun violence and gang violence and drug violence.”

Distance from the Truth: Kavanaugh grew up as an only child in Bethesda, Maryland, one of the country’s most elite communities, whose homicide rate was 2.1 deaths per 100,000 from 2009 to 2015.

2. September 27, 2018, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, explaining to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) what “boofed” means in Kavanaugh’s yearbook entry, “Judge — have you boofed yet?”

Under Oath:

“That refers to flatulence. We were 16.”

Distance from the Truth: “Anal sex,” insisted Georgetown Prep classmates of the slang’s meaning, interviewed prior to Kavanaugh’s testimony. None had ever heard it referring to flatulence.

3. September 27, 2018, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, to Senator Whitehouse’s question of what “Devil’s Triangle” on Kavanaugh’s yearbook page referred to.

Under Oath:

“Drinking game.”

Distance from the Truth: For most people, this is teen argot for group sex between two men and one woman.

“The explanation of Devil’s triangle does not hold water for me,” said William Fishburne, who managed the Georgetown Prep football team while Kavanaugh was a senior, to the New York Times.

4. September 27, 2018, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, to Senator Whitehouse’s question about another Kavanaugh’ yearbook entry: “Beach Week Ralph Club — Biggest Contributor.”

Under Oath:

“I’m known to have a weak stomach.”

Distance from the Truth: Beach Week was a party week for Georgetown Prep kids. Yale roommate James Roche recalls Kavanaugh “frequently drinking excessively and becoming incoherently drunk”; roommate Kit Winter remembers “a lot of vomit in the bathroom. No one ever cleaned it up. It was disgusting. It wasn’t incidental. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, this weekend someone puked in the bathroom.’ People were constantly puking in the bathroom. Constantly.”

5. September 27, 2018, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, to Republican staff counsel Rachel Mitchell, on whether he consumed alcohol in high school.

Under Oath:

“I liked beer. Still like beer. We drank beer. The drinking age, as I noted, was 18, so the seniors were legal. Senior year in high school, people were legal to drink, and we — yeah, we drank beer, and I said sometimes, sometimes probably had too many beers.”

Distance from the Truth: Technically correct … for Maryland; not so for Kavanaugh. In July of 1982, seven months before he turned 18, the state raised the legal drinking age for beer and wine from 18 to 21. Those who were 18 or older at the time were “grandfathered” in, so they could continue to drink legally. Those like Kavanaugh, who didn’t turn 18 until the following February, had to continue illegally.

6. September 27, 2018, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, on his recollections of Christine Blasey Ford.

Under Oath:

“She and I did not travel in the same social circles.”

Distance from the Truth: During the spring and summer of 1982, Ford testified she was dating a friend of Kavanaugh’s nicknamed “Squi,” who appears more than a dozen times on Kavanaugh’s calendar of social events.

7. September 27, 2018, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, commenting on the veracity of Ford’s testimony.

Under Oath:

“Dr. Ford’s allegation is not merely uncorroborated, it is refuted by the very people she says were there, including by a longtime friend of hers.”

Distance from the Truth: Ford identified four people, including Kavanaugh, at the party; the other three participants only said they had no memory of the gathering, and one, Leland Ingham Keyser, told the Washington Post that she believes Dr. Ford’s account.”

8. September 27, 2018, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing

Under Oath:

“The event described by Dr. Ford presumably happened on a weekend because I believed everyone worked and had jobs in the summers. And in any event, a drunken early evening event of the kind she describes presumably happened on a weekend. … If the party described by Dr. Ford happened in the summer of 1982 on a weekend night, my calendar shows all but definitively that I was not there.”

Distance from the Truth: Ford never said when the alleged incident occurred. It’s also not the case that Kavanaugh’s social circle restricted its drinking to weekends in the summer. Judge, Kavanaugh’s friend, wrote in a book about his battle with sobriety that he would often show up to work either hungover or still intoxicated from the night before.

9. September 27, 2018, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing

Under Oath:

“The calendars show a few weekday gatherings at friends’ houses after a workout or just to meet up and have some beers. But none of those gatherings included the group of people that Dr. Ford has identified. And as my calendars show, I was very precise about listing who was there. Very precise.”

Distance from the Truth: One calendar entry is a near-perfect match to the party described in Ford’s testimony. On July 1, Kavanaugh, Mark Judge, Patrick Smyth and the boy Ford says she was going out with were headed to a friend’s house for “skis” — or beer, as Kavanaugh explained in his testimony.

10. September 10, 2018, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, responding to written questions about direct knowledge of sexual harassment by federal judge Alex Kozinski.

Under Oath:

“I do not remember any such comments.”

Distance from the Truth: Kozinski’s infamous private server containing pornographic photos and his inappropriate conduct were an open secret in the legal community, particularly the circles that included Kavanaugh, who maintained a close relationship with the jurist. Ex-clerk Heidi Bond wrote that “having clerked in his chambers, I do not know how it would be possible to forget something as pervasive as Kozinski’s famously sexual sense of humor or his gag list.”

Kavanaugh’s Misleading Statements
in Fox News Interview

 

September 23, 2018, Fox News interview, on his high school years.

Not Under Oath:

“I went to an all-boys Catholic high school, a Jesuit high school, where I was focused on academics and athletics, going to church every Sunday at Little Flower, working on my service projects, and friendship, friendship with my fellow classmates and friendship with girls from the local all-girls Catholic schools.”

Distance from the Truth: A far cry from the Keg City Club Treasurer — “100 Kegs or Bust” — listed on his Georgetown Prep yearbook page, or with what is described in Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk, high school friend Mark Judge’s memoir.

September 23, 2018, Fox News interview, responding to Debbie Ramirez’s New Yorker claim that a drunk Kavanaugh exposed himself to her in a room of people at Yale.

Not Under Oath:

“If such a thing had happened, it would’ve been the talk of campus. The women I knew in college and the men I knew in college said that it’s inconceivable that I could’ve done such a thing.”

Distance from the Truth: Yale classmate Richard Oh and another anonymous student remember hearing about the incident at the time. Yale roommate James Roche found it entirely plausible that Kavanaugh exposed himself to Ramirez.


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Justice John Paul Stevens’ Supreme Judgment Against Kavanaugh

The former U.S. Supreme Court Justice said he had thought Brett Kavanaugh to be “a fine federal judge and should [have] been confirmed, [but] his performance during the hearings changed my mind.”

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John Paul Stevens photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens told an audience Thursday afternoon that he once was a strong supporter of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but no longer believes Kavanaugh should become a Supreme Court justice. The 98-year-old Stevens expressed his view to a packed room at a Unitarian Universalist church in Boca Raton, Florida.

“I thought he had the qualifications to sit on the Supreme Court and should be confirmed if he was ever selected, but I’ve changed my views for reasons that have no relationship to his intellectual ability or his record as a federal judge,” Stevens said. “He’s a fine federal judge and should [have] been confirmed, [but] his performance during the hearings changed my mind.”

Stevens said he agreed with news and legal commentators who have suggested that Kavanaugh had demonstrated potential bias and alienated too many people who might come before the court, such that “he would not be able to perform his full responsibilities. I think there’s merit in that criticism … Senators should really pay attention to it for the good of the court.”

Stevens said he was once such a strong admirer of Kavanaugh that “I have a picture of him in my book.” He was referring to his 2014 work, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution. In it, Stevens criticizes the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Stevens famously wrote the dissent in that case, an opus that was some 90 pages.

Stevens’ book describes an opinion written by Judge Kavanaugh on the same matter.

“The issue in the case was whether a Canadian citizen and a citizen of Israel living in New York temporarily could make expenditures in elections that were going on at the time,” he told the Boca Raton audience. “Following Citizens United, they brought a proceeding in federal court asking for an injunction against enforcing the statute that prohibits expenditures by foreign citizens in American elections, and Judge Kavanaugh wrote the opinion upholding the statute…. I thought that was a very persuasive opinion. And one of the cases that he cited in that opinion was my dissent on Citizens United, which showed the fact he was a very good judge and had very good taste.”

The event moderator, Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino, asked if there were similarities between the confirmations of Kavanaugh and Justice Clarence Thomas, since they are both polarizing figures. Stevens said that, ultimately, there was nothing that would have disqualified Thomas. Stevens added that although he frequently disagreed with Thomas on cases, “As a person, I’m very fond of him. He’s a very decent, likable person. You cannot help but like Clarence Thomas – which I don’t think necessarily would be true of this particular [judge].”

(Audio from the event is attached below)
 
 

 
 


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Wall Street Pumping Cash Through Loophole in Anti-Corruption Rule

Co-published by Westword
Colorado gubernatorial nominee Walker Stapleton gets bankrolled by dark money and financial donors — as he oversees state investments.

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Walker Stapleton photo by Jeffrey Beall

Co-published by Westword

If you are a Wall Street executive looking to land a lucrative contract to manage Colorado retirees’ pension money, a federal anti-corruption rule is designed to deter you from trying to use campaign cash to influence state officials who oversee those investment decisions. Despite that regulation, however, Republican Treasurer Walker Stapleton’s gubernatorial campaign is being boosted by a political group partially sponsored by financial firms that receive giant investments from the pension fund Stapleton helps run, according to documents reviewed by Capital & Main.

During Stapleton’s tenure as a trustee of the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), four real estate investment firms have been given contracts to manage more than $1 billion of Colorado state employees’ retirement savings. During the 2018 election cycle, donors from those firms have delivered more than $492,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which has been blanketing Colorado with ads supporting Stapleton’s candidacy.

In addition, members of a Denver law firm that is registered to lobby at the federal level for another major PERA money manager have collectively given almost $20,000 to Stapleton’s campaign and to a Colorado-based super PAC whose stated mission is to promote Stapleton’s gubernatorial bid. That is on top of a separate $2.2 million worth of anonymous dark money that has flooded into super PACs supporting Stapleton — cash whose source is impossible to trace.

Stapleton’s campaign did not respond to Capital & Main’s questions about the investments and donations.

While Stapleton and his political apparatus have been vacuuming in money from fossil fuel donors and other corporate interests with business before the state, the financial industry donations stand out because they are potentially governed by the Securities and Exchange Commission’s 2010 “pay to play” rule.

Passed in the wake of major pension corruption scandals across the country, the rule is designed to penalize financial firms that direct campaign contributions to public officials who have the power to steer state investments to donors’ financial firms. It is meant to deter such campaign cash from helping those officials — and includes broad anti-circumvention provisions aimed at preventing donors from routing contributions through third-party groups that then support the election campaigns of those public officials.

Stapleton is covered by the rule because as treasurer he is a member of PERA’s board of trustees. He serves on the board’s investment committee, which directly oversees the pension system’s investments — and as a recent Capital & Main investigation revealed, PERA fees paid out to Wall Street firms have skyrocketed during Stapleton’s tenure.

If Stapleton is elected governor, he will leave the pension fund’s board but will appoint three members of PERA’s board, potentially giving him even more influence over which financial firms get pension investments — just after a campaign that has seen Stapleton and Colorado-based super PACs supporting him rake in more than $422,000 from donors in the financial industry, according to state records and data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Ethics expert Craig Holman told Capital & Main that “there has been a slow but steady rise of Wall Street firms seeking an end-run around the SEC pay-to-play rules by giving to outside groups, such as RGA or super PACs, and allowing these outside groups to spend their money promoting the public official responsible for awarding contracts to Wall Street.”

He added: “Laundering campaign money through third parties can be even more corrupting than direct contributions to the candidates, given that third-party donations and spending on behalf of the same candidates have no limits.”

In response to Capital & Main’s open records requests, PERA officials have blocked the release of all details of fees paid to the investment firms in question.

In an emailed statement, PERA spokesperson Luc Hatlestad wrote that PERA includes “language in our management agreements that require the manager to agree to not provide gifts, money, property, etc. with the intention of influencing or appearing to influence the conduct of any PERA staff member or Trustee.”

On the question of whether Stapleton is involved in real estate investment decisions that could enrich campaign donors, Hatlestad added: “The PERA Board is responsible for setting the strategic asset allocation of the PERA funds and has delegated the decisions on specific funds and individual securities to PERA’s investment staff. Therefore, PERA Board members do not have involvement in choosing specific investments.”

However, a PERA newsletter sent out this week made clear that as a trustee, Stapleton is given access to secret granular information about each real estate investment.

“The PERA Board receives information on each Real Estate fund investment made and has the ability to access property-level information as desired,” the newsletter said. “This information, while not publicly available, allows Trustees to have detailed information on the holdings within the portfolio. Fund disclosures made to the Board by staff include a fund overview, investment strategy, a summary of key investment personnel, historical investment performance, and fees.”

The RGA did not respond to Capital & Main’s questions, but RGA spokesman Jon Thompson has previously asserted the organization’s “anti-earmarking policy and other compliance policies ensure that candidates to whom the RGA contributes do not receive prohibited funds.”

“The Modern Campaign-Finance Loophole”

Management of PERA, a public pension fund on which one in 10 Coloradans rely as a replacement for Social Security, has been a top issue for Stapleton during his two terms as state treasurer, and he has been a frequent vocal critic of the system’s long-term financial outlook. A former investment banker and director of acquisitions at Lamar Companies, a commercial real estate firm, Stapleton has frequently touted his experience as a real estate investor.

The SEC rule bars financial firms from earning fees from state pension funds if their executives direct campaign donations to public officials who can influence the funds’ investments. The rule was created to try to make sure investments are made on the basis of merit, not political influence. It applies not only to donations made to a public official before an investment is initiated, but also to donations when investments are in a state’s portfolio — the idea being that donations should not influence public officials’ ongoing decisions to expand or terminate those investments.

“Elected officials who allow political contributions to play a role in the management of these assets and who use these assets to reward contributors violate the public trust,” SEC officials wrote in the rule’s preamble.

The rule has stemmed some of the flow of Wall Street money directly to candidates for state offices that have power over state and local pension systems — and the commission has periodically taken action against firms that violate the rule. Republicans have responded by attempting to overturn the rule in court.

However, in recent years, the GOP has found a way around the rule entirely. Groups like the RGA have served as what the Wall Street Journal deemed “the modern campaign-finance loophole,” using its third-party status to rake in financial industry money and then spend big to support public officials covered by the SEC rule.

While RGA officials assert that the group does not deliberately steer prohibited money around the SEC rule, the same Wall Street Journal report noted that multiple former officials of both the RGA and its Democratic counterpart, the Democratic Governors Association, “described the practice of guiding donations as an open secret.” The result: In the last election cycle, firms managing state pension cash delivered nearly $1.3 million to the RGA, which then supported the election campaigns of state officials controlling those pension funds.

Now, in 2018, the loophole is once again open — this time in Colorado.

“TIAA Does Support the Republican Governors Association”

According to campaign finance disclosures filed with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, the RGA has funneled $3.4 million to a state PAC created “to support the election of Walker Stapleton for governor.” Campaign finance disclosures and PERA records show that among the RGA’s donors are contributors from four firms that currently manage about $1.4 billion in PERA assets — roughly a third of the system’s real estate portfolio — across 24 different investments. According to a PERA document, nine of the investments in question were made after Stapleton joined the board of trustees as state treasurer in 2011.

Firms that manage PERA money and whose donors have given to the RGA in the 2018 election cycle are:

  • Crow Holdings, which gave the RGA $225,000 while managing roughly $105 million in PERA assets. Crow Holdings is run by Republican megadonor Harlan Crow.
  • TIAA, which contributed a total of $175,000 to the RGA in the 2018 election cycle, while it manages more than half a billion dollars in assets for PERA across seven different funds.
  • Prudential Financial, which gave the RGA $50,000 while its funds manage $624 million of PERA assets
  • Morgan Stanley, whose executives gave the RGA more than $42,000 while the firm manages $142 million worth of PERA investments.

TIAA and Prudential have also donated a total of $180,000 to the Democratic Governors Association, which has given $250,000 to a super PAC supporting Representative Jared Polis’ gubernatorial bid.

A TIAA spokesperson told Capital & Main: “TIAA does support the Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association and, consistent with law, we give explicit written instructions that none of these funds may be used to support or oppose any individual candidate or ballot initiative.”

The remaining three firms declined, or did not respond to, requests for comment.

Lobbyist Money and Dark Money

There is also the case of Apollo Management, which has not donated to the RGA or to Stapleton, but which employs Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP as a registered lobbying firm in Washington, DC, according to federal records. PERA has committed $330 million to four active Apollo investments. During Stapleton’s tenure, that includes an $80 million Apollo investment in 2013 and a $100 million investment commitment to a newly launched Apollo fund.

Those investments are in PERA’s portfolio as firm namesake Norman Brownstein, his wife and other Brownstein, Hyatt employees have given more than $10,000 directly to Stapleton’s campaign. Denver’s Norman Brownstein, who in 2018 was personally registered as a lobbyist for Apollo, also gave another $10,000 to Better Colorado Now — a super PAC whose stated mission is “to oppose Democrat candidates for governor and support Walker Stapleton for governor,” according to Colorado disclosure records.

The Brownstein law firm lobbies for Apollo at the same time PERA has contracted the law firm to serve as its board’s fiduciary counsel since 2011 — when Stapleton first joined PERA’s board. State records show that the law firm’s contract with PERA was renewed by the pension system’s board in March 2018, as Brownstein donors’ contributions were flowing to Stapleton.

PERA officials declined to comment on whether it is appropriate for Brownstein to serve as the pension system’s fiduciary counsel while Brownstein is simultaneously registered to lobby for a Wall Street firm managing hundreds of millions of dollars of PERA retirees’ savings.

“We require our attorneys/employees to follow state and federal laws,” Brownstein spokesperson Lara Day told Capital & Main in an email. “In addition, we provide our attorneys/employees ethics training including training on campaign finance rules.”

Day said that Brownstein has never lobbied PERA on behalf of Apollo Management.

In addition to disclosed contributions from donors linked to PERA money managers, other groups promoting Stapleton have received large infusions of anonymous dark money — which can also complicate enforcement of the SEC rule.

In September, Better Colorado Now received a $500,000 donation from the Colorado Taxpayers Advocate Fund, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that “exists to educate citizens and Colorado public officials on issues of public policy,” according to its website. The fund contributed a further $400,000 to Coloradans for Fiscal Responsibility, a separate super PAC set up “to support Walker Stapleton for Governor,” according to state records.

The Colorado Campaign for Jobs and Opportunity has received a total of $1.25 million in contributions from the Workforce Fairness Institute, a 501(c)(6) nonprofit that has spent heavily on a variety of anti-union causes, as well as a $100,000 donation from Vital for Colorado, a dark-money group created to oppose efforts to regulate fracking. The group has spent nearly all of the cash it has received on TV advertising in support of Stapleton, according to state campaign finance disclosures.

Because that cash comes from groups that do not have to disclose their donors, there is no way to know whether the money came from financial firms that have PERA investments and are covered by the SEC rule.

There is also the question of finance industry donors who do not currently manage PERA investments but who have given more than $422,000 of disclosed donations to Stapleton and Stapleton-supporting PACs. There is no way to know whether they will in the future solicit Colorado pension investments from Stapleton’s PERA appointees if he is elected governor.

“Pay-to-Play Practices Are Rarely Explicit”

To date, the SEC has not invoked provisions in the rule that bar donors from doing indirectly what they are prohibited from doing directly. Those provisions, though, remain on the books.

“Pay to play practices are rarely explicit: Participants do not typically let it be publicly known that contributions or payments are made or accepted for the purpose of influencing the selection of an adviser,” SEC officials wrote. “As it is not possible for us to anticipate all of the ways advisers and government officials may structure pay to play arrangements to attempt to evade the prohibitions of our rule, the rule includes a provision that makes it unlawful for an adviser or any of its covered associates to do anything indirectly which, if done directly, would result in a violation of the rule.”

Public Citizen’s Craig Holman said that “historically, the SEC has been quite vigilant in enforcing its pay-to-play rule, but it has yet to address this third-party loophole. The anti-circumvention clause provides the SEC with the authority to close this loophole, especially in egregious cases. The end-run by Wall Street is becoming so common these days it is well past time for the SEC to act – or risk losing the entire value of the pay-to-play rule itself.”

Last year, New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall called for the SEC to invoke the anti-circumvention provisions in an age that has seen ever-more money flow around regulations and into elections.

“We have to make sure that the campaign finance rules that are still on the books are updated to reflect these new and dangerous circumstances — to ensure that no one is able to circumvent these laws by using super PACs, dark money groups or other campaign spending vehicles,” Udall said. “The public deserves to feel confident that decisions made with public money are not being influenced by big money donors.”


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Kavanaugh Confidential: Is the Nominee Telling the Truth or White Lies?

In trying to elude his Senate interrogators by offering what appeared to be a filigree of fibs and half-truths, Brett Kavanaugh continually painted himself into corners.

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When asked about the latest woman to come forward and accuse him of sexual assault, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh shrugged off the charge this week as though he were unfairly trapped in some Kafkaesque trial. “This is ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone,” he said. “I don’t know who this is and this never happened.” End of story. Or is it?

There is something about many of Kavanaugh’s answers that doesn’t ring true. Perhaps his verbal parries, retreats and blank silences in response to Senate questioning have proven too artful for his own good. In trying to elude his Judiciary Committee interrogators by offering what appears to be a filigree of fibs and half-truths, Kavanaugh has continually painted himself into corners, which he tries to escape through petulant outbursts. Viewers of these fitful displays of temper, which exploded at yesterday’s hearings, could not be blamed for thinking Kavanaugh was no K, the protagonist of Kafka’s novel The Trial. Instead, he seems like a man who could not tell the truth if his life depended on it.

Below are statements from Kavanaugh that have been passionately rebutted by others — or, in some cases, by Kavanaugh himself. Whether he’s dissembling about his youthful love affair with alcohol, or denying knowledge of the pornographic hobbies of his mentor, former Judge Alex Kozinski, Kavanaugh emerges as a man at war with straight talk and even, at times, with his own self-image. Then again, it could be that his TV-show references are too retro. To get to the heart of his predicament, he probably should drop the Twilight Zone allusion and go for Black Mirror — it somehow seems more fitting.


1. The Woman Question 

Kavanaugh: “Sexual assault is horrific. It is morally wrong. It is illegal. It is contrary to my religious faith.”

Dr. Blasey Ford: “Kavanaugh was on top of me while laughing with Judge, who periodically jumped onto Kavanaugh. They both laughed as Kavanaugh tried to disrobe me in their highly inebriated state. With Kavanaugh’s hand over my mouth, I feared he may inadvertently kill me.”

Julie Swetnick: “In approximately 1982, I became the victim of one of these ‘gang’ or ‘train’ rapes where Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh were present.”

Kavanaugh: “I have never sexually assaulted anyone in high school or otherwise.”

Deborah Ramirez:  “I remember a penis being in front of my face. . . . Brett was laughing. . . . Somebody yelled down the hall, ‘Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie’s face.’”

2. Zero for Conduct 

Kavanaugh, when asked by Fox anchor Martha MacCallum if he’d ever drank so much he couldn’t remember the previous night: “No, that never happened.”

Dr. Elizabeth Swisher, a former classmate: “I saw him very drunk many times and there is no way he remember[ed] everything about every night.” Swisher added that it would be “a lie [to say he] never had a blackout.”

Kavanaugh: “I drank beer with my friends, usually on weekends. Sometimes I had too many.”

James Roche, Kavanaugh’s freshman roommate: “I do remember Brett frequently drinking excessively and becoming incoherently drunk.”

3. Abortion

Kavanaugh:  “As a general proposition I understand the importance of the precedent set forth in Roe v. Wade.”

Kavanaugh as a Bush White House lawyer: “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent.”

Kavanaugh‘s dissenting opinion in Garza v. Hargan: “The Government has permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor, and refraining from facilitating abortion.”

4. The Nonpartisan Bench 

Kavanaugh: “My only loyalty is to the Constitution. I have made that clear, I am an independent judge.”

Kavanaugh in 1999, on the Supreme Court ruling against Richard Nixon’s possession of the Watergate Tapes: “That was a huge step with implications to this day that most people do not appreciate sufficiently . . . Maybe the tension of the time led to an erroneous decision.”

Kavanaugh: “I’m not going to get within three ZIP codes of a political controversy.” 

Kavanaugh: “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”

5. Judge Kozinski

Kavanaugh: “I do not remember receiving inappropriate emails of a sexual nature from Judge Kozinski.”

Heidi Bond, former Kozinski law clerk: “I do not know how it would be possible to forget something as pervasive as Kozinski’s famously sexual sense of humor or his gag list, as Kavanaugh has professed to in his hearings. Kozinski regularly regaled his clerks with jokes from his gag list, and many list members were former clerks.”


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Brett Kavanaugh and Sexual Harassment: The Two Faces of Chuck Grassley

Co-published by Newsweek
Senator Charles Grassley has raced to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, in spite of sexual assault allegations against the Supreme Court nominee. Contrast this with Grassley’s public support for victims of sexual harassment in the judicial branch during a June hearing of his committee.

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Charles Grassley photo courtesy IowaPolitics.com

Co-published by Newsweek

It’s a little peculiar to watch a C-SPAN clip from mid-June and hear the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley (R-IA), waxing sympathetic about women who came forward claiming they were sexually harassed by a federal judge.

“Being a whistleblower, or saying something’s wrong — sometimes you ruin yourself professionally,” Grassley says. “But because of these women’s bravery, we can hopefully begin to make real significant changes to these powerful imbalances that allow harassment to thrive.”

The venue was a committee hearing focused on developing a better process to address sexual harassment claims in the federal judiciary branch. More than a dozen women alleged that acts of sexual misconduct had been committed by the powerful former Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ Chief Judge, Alex Kozinski, who had resigned from the bench last December under a cloud.

Contrast the Senator’s show of sympathy at this hearing to his office’s recent treatment of the women who have come forward with accusations of sexual assault against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a Washington, DC Circuit Court judge.

The Senator has rushed ahead with the nominating process in spite of several allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. He refused to back an FBI investigation into sexual assault claims made by Christine Blasey Ford, the Palo Alto University psychology professor, that Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party in the early 1980s when they were both teenagers. Grassley gave Ford repeated ultimatums to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee and, even before the committee had an opportunity to hear her testimony, he scheduled a vote on the nominee for this coming Friday. In a tweet that was later deleted, Mike Davis, the committee’s chief counsel on nomination, wrote that he was “unfazed and determined” to see Kavanaugh confirmed.

Heidi Bond, one of the women Grassley described as brave, apparently noticed the dissonance. She sent a letter to Grassley last Saturday urging him to treat Ford with respect. “Every attack that is being leveled at Dr. Ford could be applied to me as well, and in that regard, it feels personal for me, and I suspect for many victims of harassment and assault,” wrote Bond, who left the legal profession and is now a romance novelist who goes by the pen name Courtney Milan. She asked that Grassley establish a timetable to hold an impartial investigation into Blasey’s claims.

Judge Kozinski’s alleged harassment of Bond and others – and the efforts that grew out of it to combat sexual misconduct in the judiciary – have been an important if buried footnote in the headline-grabbing hearings that have been defined by harrowing allegations of the nominee sexually assaulting as many as three women as a teenager and college student.

Kavanaugh clerked for Kozinski in the early 1990s and remained friends with him over the decades. Kozinski helped Kavanaugh secure a clerkship at the Supreme Court with Justice Anthony Kennedy, who he will replace if confirmed. Yet Kavanaugh claimed – under oath – in early September to be completely unaware of his mentor’s predilection for porn and sexually explicit jokes, in spite of the fact that it was considered an open secret, as the Intercept, Bond and others have pointed out.

The Kozinski scandal galvanized the leadership of the 30,000-employee-strong federal judiciary to take action, thanks to a group of current and former law clerks who, in a letter sent to Chief Justice John Roberts and others in December 2017, demanded reforms to the process for bringing harassment claims forward.

A group of women lawyers gathered 700 signatures in “just a matter of a few days,” in a testament to the “power of women’s informal networks,” according to Sara McDermott, a Los Angeles attorney and a member of Law Clerks for Workplace Accountability.

In response, Roberts established a Working Group, which issued a report in early June. Based on input from anonymous surveys and interviews with court employees, the Working Group determined that “inappropriate conduct, although not pervasive in the Judiciary, is not limited to a few isolated instances.”

But the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Jenny Yang, in written testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, cautioned against drawing optimistic conclusions from a small number of formal complaints, given that 70 percent of individuals experiencing harassment never report it.

She also acknowledged that the structure of the federal judiciary brings with it built-in risk factors for sexual harassment — “significant power disparities and ‘high value’ employees’ who often operate by their own rules,” and “workforces lacking diversity where men typically dominate leadership posts.”

Jaime Santos, from Law Clerks for Workplace Accountability, put it more bluntly when she testified at the June hearing that judges are “more demigods than they are employers.” Santos added that law clerks and externs from “numerous federal courts shared with us that they had felt demeaned, belittled or humiliated during their clerkships or externships. Some shared stories about being asked sexual questions during job interviews, hearing their judge or co-clerks speak about female attorneys in derogatory and objectifying terms.”

When the report emerged in June, Grassley, who is now leading the dash to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, seemed to echo the response of Law Clerks for Workplace Accountability in describing the report as overly vague, and said it “kicks the can down the road.”

For her part, McDermott said she is “glad that there is movement,” but worries that without more specifics there will not be the kind of culture change that is needed in the judiciary. She would like to see a national reporting hotline supplant a process that often requires a complainant to report to the chief judge of a circuit or district court. The courts’ leadership should require reforms of the lower courts based on best practices, she added.

“Judges are the ones who hear sexual harassment claims” in court, as well as other claims of workplace misconduct, says McDermott. “If the judiciary can’t get a handle on these sorts of workplace issues even within their own ranks, it’s hard to be sure that the judge sitting on your case is going to take these things seriously.”

“But also, I think we should be holding the judiciary to a high standard,” she added. “These are people who, [in their] job, must be fair and impartial. Historically, we have asked that they be of higher moral character than the average person.”


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