The protesters challenging the big banks and the super-rich won a dramatic victory in Los Angeles on Thursday, as I describe below. OneWest Bank, the biggest bank based in Southern California, and Fannie Mae, stopped their foreclosure and eviction against Rose Gudiel, a working class homeowner, in response to a brilliantly executed protest movement by community and union activists.
The question facing the activists is this: Is the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon a moment of protest or a movement for sustained change? Will Rose Gudiel become the Rosa Parks of a new economic justice movement?
As I write in The Nation (in the October 24 issue, now on-line), “If the Occupy Wall Street activists join forces with the unions and community groups, they could catalyze a massive nationwide movement to resist foreclosures and block evictions. They could also put pressure on local and state lawmakers to pass tougher legislation. And they could inject the foreclosure crisis — and the banking industry’s culpability for the recession — into the presidential and Congressional elections.”
It appears that this convergence of Occupy Wall Street (which has now spread to dozens of cities) and the unions and community organizing groups — that have been working for years to spark a movement like this — may be happening. They now face the dilemma confronted by the American Left for years: Can they bring together visionary calls for radical change with specific demands for immediate reform?
Today, participating in a rally and march in downtown LA, cosponsored by Occupy LA and union/community/faith coalition led by ACCE and SEIU, that attracted several thousand people, Gudiel announced the following:
“I’d like to announce that the bank called me today to arrange a meeting, to discuss a modification proposal from Fannie Mae. I have also learned that my eviction has been canceled. We are very happy that they have finally come to the table, and I hope they are serious about negotiating a reasonable modification, which is what I have been requesting for over two years. And I hope that they will change their policies to stop taking the homes the thousands of hardworking families facing preventable foreclosure. Thank you.”
• Imagine 25, 50, 100, 500, or 1000 homeowners like Rose Gudiel, facing foreclosure — victims of banking abuses and economic crisis throughout greater Los Angeles — following Gudiel’s example!
• Imagine the Occupy Wall Street activists and their counterparts in LA, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and elsewhere linking arms with members of community groups and unions to block evictions all over the country!
• Imagine, as they join forces to stop banks and sheriffs from evicting the victims of Wall Street-induced recession, that the combined forces of the union/community groups and the Occupy Wall Street activists showed up at the homes and offices of Republican Senators and House members, demanding that they pass Obama’s jobs bill, confirm Richard Cordray (Obama’s nominee to head the Consumer Protection Finance Bureau, whom the GOP is opposing), and toughen regulations on banks.
• Imagine if these same folks worked to push Congress to pass a recent proposal by the National Labor Relations Board that would make it easier for workers to organize unions, and which is being ferociously opposed by the US Chamber of Commerce, the Koch brothers, and the National Association of Manufacturers, as Gordon Lafer writes about in the current (October 10) issue of The Nation.
• Imagine if the Occupy Wall Street activists and their counterparts got involved in the grunt work (voter registration, phone banking, door-knocking) required to help elect Elizabeth Warren to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts as well as helped elect other liberal and progressive Democrats, including President Obama, next November.
A scenario like the one described in the bullet points above is possible. Many activists and analysts, like the Washington Post‘s Harold Meyerson, are exploring these ideas.
In the past week alone, the Occupy Wall Street crusade has not only spread to dozens of cities and (after being ignored for several weeks) generated increasingly respectful media coverage, but it has now won the support of the labor movement, MoveOn, key members of Congress, the Los Angeles City Council, and others. After being grilled by Sen. Bernie Sanders two days ago, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke reluctantly expressed his agreement with the grievances of the Occupy Wall Street folks. This is a great example of why it is important to have strong allies like Sanders in Congress.
Meyerson and many others are wondering how to keep the momentum going so that the spark lit by the Occupy Wall Street activists doesn’t fizzle out. Eventually, the mainstream media will grow tired of covering daily demonstrations and marches in the streets of major cities (and all but the hard core of activists will grow tired of camping out and marching) unless the Occupy Wall Street campaign begins to make specific demands that can help win specific victories.
Protest and civil disobedience — like the sit-down strikes at auto factories in the 1930s and the lunch counter sit-ins in the 1960s — succeed when its participants and its sympathizers are fighting for something specific, and their victories become stepping-stones to more and more bold, radical reforms.
The best thing that could happen to the Occupy Wall Street activists in NYC and elsewhere is to join forces with homeowners fighting foreclosures and evictions. During the Depression, radicals organized rural farmers and urban tenants to resist foreclosures and evictions by banks, sheriffs, judges, and landlords. Progressives within FDR’s inner circle — like Henry Wallace and Frances Perkins — along with progressives and liberals in Congress used this upsurge of radical protest to push for New Deal legislation that helped farmers, workers, and the unemployed.
If this idea seems far-fetched in the current political climate, take a look at what has happened in Los Angeles in the past week. Today activists there won an important, heartening victory by using protest and civil disobedience to stop a bank from foreclosing and evicting on a working-class family victimized by greedy banks and the economic crisis.
Rose Gudiel, who juggles two jobs and lives with her parents and brother in a working-class suburb of Los Angeles, has become the public face of a burgeoning crusade to defend homeowners from unfair evictions. The 35-year old Gudiel belongs to the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE, a group formed after the collapse of ACORN in California) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), organizations that have led the fight for bank reform in California. Their protests are rooted in the specific grievances of their mostly low-income and working-class members, who have been laid off, ripped off and evicted by banks engaged in predatory lending.
ACCE, SEIU and other California unions and community groups have been mobilizing homeowners since the beginning of the economic crisis. They’ve organized meetings with bank officials to try to get them to modify loans rather than foreclose on homeowners. When negotiations break down, the activists have resorted to protests and civil disobedience to draw attention to abusive practices and the banks’ failure to deal with homeowners in good faith.
Two years ago the Gudiel family missed one mortgage payment after her brother was killed and the family lost his income and Rose, a state government employee, lost some income because of state furloughs due to the state’s fiscal crisis. The family quickly recovered and wanted to resume making its mortgage payments, but OneWest Bank quickly began foreclosure proceedings rather than help modify the family’s mortgage.
Facing the possibility of eviction. Gudiel, her neighbors, co-workers and supporters from the ACCE and SEIU last week began a round-the-clock vigil at her house. They pledged to risk arrest if the LA County sheriff tried to evict them from her home after Fannie Mae and OneWest Bank issued a foreclosure notice. Gudiel’s story caught the imagination of the local news media Gudiel and her allies showed remarkable courage and defiance, as indicated in this video.
On Tuesday of this week, ACCE, SEIU, and other supporters protested at the $26 million Bel Air mansion of Steve Mnuchin, the CEO of OneWest Bank, based in Pasadena. I wrote about the disparity between Mnuchin’s wealth and Gudiel’s plight in Huffington Post three days ago. Mnuchin’s bank claimed that it no longer owned Gudiel’s mortgage but was simply servicing it on behalf of Fannie Mae.
So on Wednesday, ACCE, SEIU and Gudiel and other supporters occupied the Fannie Mae office in Pasadena. Gudiel and six others were arrested.
All this protest and publicity put LA County Sheriff Lee Baca in a bind. He obviously did not want to have to evict Gudiel and her family, including her disabled mother and her father (a warehouse worker). The prospect of his deputies hauling off Gudiel’s wheelchair-bound mother to jail didn’t sit well with the county’s top law enforcer. So he stalled for time, contacted OneWest and Fannie Mae, hoping these giant institutions would do the right thing and modify Gudiel’s mortgage so her family could stay in their home.
Now it appears that the Gudiel family will get their house back — and they owe their victory to the solidarity shown by their friends and neighbors, the months of hard work of ACCE, SEIU and their allies (particularly ACCE organizer Peter Kuhns), and the shifting political climate triggered by the new Occupy Wall Street activists.
In between marches and protests, I encourage the Occupy Wall Street folks to read Cohen’s book, Nothing to Fear. Here’s what they’ll learn:
When FDR was elected in November 1932, and even after he took office in March 1933, his ideas about what to do were very unclear. He promised Americans a “new deal” but he had very few specifics. In fact, FDR was in many ways a cautious, even conservative, politician. The one clear idea he had in mind when he took office was to cut the federal budget, and the person he hired to do that job was his budget director, a conservative Congressman from Arizona named Lewis Douglas. He was also, initially, reluctant to use the power of government to regulate business practices, to create jobs, to support union organizing, or to support struggling farmers.
Cohen describes a ongoing battle that went on for FDR’s heart and mind. It was a battle that went on inside the White House and outside the White House.
Inside the White House, it was a battle between FDR’s progressives advisors and cabinet members like Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, Harry Hopkins, Henry Wallace, and Rexford Tugwell and more moderate and even conservative advisors.
Outside the White House, it was a battle between grassroots organizations and business groups. The grassroots groups included labor unions, community organizing groups, and organized small family farmers, including a radical group called the National Farmers Union. The business groups included banks, manufacturers, the real estate industry, and corporate farmers. These business groups were split between right-wing reactionary business leaders and more moderate groups — and even a handful of liberal business leaders — who recognized the need for reform.
FDR, as well as members of Congress, were influenced by the rising tide of protest taking place all over America. The nation was three years into the Depression — 1932 — before there were large-scale protest. It had been simmering under the surface. But at first, people were afraid, paralyzed, blamed themselves, felt ashamed, not sure what to do — or if there was anything to do at all.
Workers, and farmers, and community groups were organizing people, but it didn’t surface publicly until those feelings of shame, fear and paralysis were pushed aside.
Cohen tells a story that is pretty scary, but which also reveals the depths of desperation that many Americans felt at the time.
Almost half of all Americans made their living directly or indirectly from agriculture. Between 1929 and 1932, when FDR took office, farm income had fallen by two-thirds. Farm foreclosures were happening at a record pace. Farming communities were emptying out, as family farmers and sharecroppers abandoned the land looking for jobs elsewhere, like the situation portrayed in Steinbeck’s novel, and the film, The Grapes of Wrath.
As Cohen recounts:
Farmers who stayed on the land were responding to their bleak circumstances with extreme politics and lawlessness. In January (1932), in Pilger, Nebraska, a crowd of hundreds had shown up to disrupt a foreclosure sale. At a foreclosure sale the same month in Le Mars, Iowa, a crowd had dragged a lawyer from New York Life Insurance Company down the courthouse steps. His life in danger, the lawyer… telegraphed his employer and asked for permission to bid the full amount the farmer was asking.
“In May 1932, 2000 farmers descended on the state fairgrounds in Des Moines to form the Farmers’ Holiday Association.” The group urged farmers to declare a “holiday” from farming, under the slogan, “Stay at Home – Buy Nothing – Sell Nothing.” In effect, they were urging farmers to go on strike – to withhold their corn, beef, pork, and milk, until the government addressed their problems. They threatened to call a national farmers strike if Congress did not provide farmers with “legislative justice.
In Sioux City Iowa, farmers put wooden planks with nails on the highways to block agricultural deliveries. In Nebraska, one group of farmers showed up at a foreclosure sale and saw to it that every item that had been seized from a farmer’s widow sold for 5 cents, leaving the bank with a total settlement of just $5.35. This tactics quickly spread throughout the farm belt.
Perhaps the most scary example of farmers’ anger boiling over took place on April 27, 1932 in Le Mars, Iowa. There, a group of farmers “pulled Judge Charles Bradley off the bench while he was hearing foreclosure cases. They carried him out of the courthouse and, when he refused to swear not to sign any more foreclosures, threw him into a farm truck and drove him to the outskirts of town. The mob pulled down his pants and put a noose around his neck. The farmers stopped short of a lynching…and simply left him dazed by the side of the road.”
Farmers were becoming more radicalized by the day. Edward O’Neal, president of the Farm Bureau Federation, warned Congress that ‘unless something is done for the American farmer we will have a revolution in this country within less than twelve months.’
According to Cohen, these protests by farmers, “increased the sense of urgency in Washington.” Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace and progressive Democrats in Congress kept FDR aware of these protests, which helped them out-maneuver their more moderate colleagues. This combination of outside protest and inside maneuvering soon led to passage of the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act that “radically changed the economics of farming.”
This same dynamic played out in the big cities, among veterans, tenants, among the unemployed, and among workers. In the spring and summer of 1932, protest erupted among veterans of World War One, many of them out of work and hungry. More than 20,000 of them from across the country joined a Bonus Army march on Washington. The veterans were holding government bonus certificates for their military service, which were due more than a dozen years in the future. They demanded that Congress pay off on them now, when they desperately needed the money. Most of them camped across the Potomac River from the Capitol on Anacostia Flats, in make-shift huts.
The bill to pay off on the bonus passed the House, but was defeated in the Senate, and some veterans, discouraged, left. Most stayed — some encamped in government buildings near the Capitol, the rest on Anacostia Flats. President Hoover ordered the army to evict them. They used horses, tear gas, and machine guns. This led to a bloody scene, and two veterans were killed.
But the Bonus Army didn’t give up, especially after FDR was elected. They returned to Washington to lobby “for an immediate payment of their bonuses and to protest the keep cuts” that FDR was making to their benefits as part of his budget-cutting plan.
FDR wanted to avoid another bloody riot with veterans that had hurt Hoover’s reputation. In contrast to Hoover, FDR invited the Bonus Marchers to camp at a nearby army fort and provided them with meals, medical care and entertainment by the Navy band. One of FDR’s progressive aides suggested that Eleanor Roosevelt go visit the veterans, and she spent time with them, listening to their complaints. One of the veterans said: “Hoover sent the Army. Roosevelt sent his wife.”
More importantly, FDR acted to respond to their protests. He didn’t restore their army bonuses, but he did issue an executive order setting aside 25,000 places for veterans in the Civilian Conservation Corps, the first of the New Deal public works programs.
In the 1930s, America was primarily a nation of renters, and during the Depression, there were huge waves of evictions, because they didn’t have the income to pay rent. Utility companies shut off electricity and heat.
As Howard Zinn recounts in A People’s History of the United States, a renter in New York City wrote a letter to Congressman Fiorello LaGuardia, a progressive politician who represented a poor district in Harlem:
You know my condition is bad… It is now nearly seven months I am out of work. I hope you will try to do something for me.. .. I have four children who are in need of clothes and food.. .. My daughter who is eight is very ill and not recovering. My rent is due two months and I am afraid of being put out.
Many tenants went beyond these pleas for help. In many big cities, when word spread that a family was being evicted, Often a crowd would gather — sometimes 10 people, sometimes a few hundred people. The police would remove the furniture from the house, put it out in the street, and the crowd would bring the furniture back. This happened so often that some police officers would refuse to evict or arrest people. These actions were organized by radicals – Communists and Socialists — but they attracted a large following of people who weren’t radicals but were desperate, angry, and willing to take action.
These protests set the stage for the New Deal’s public housing programs, the first time that the federal government provided subsidies to create affordable housing.
In January 1933, several hundred jobless surrounded a restaurant just off Union Square in New York demanding they be fed without charge. In Seattle in February 1933, about 5,000 unemployed people occupied the County-City Building demanding jobs or relief. These and similar protests around the country set the stage for the nation’s first cash assistance program for struggling families.
Through the 1930s, workers engaged in massive and illegal strikes and sit-down protests in factories throughout the country. A million and a half workers in different industries went on strike in 1934, including longshoremen, teamsters, factory workers, and retail clerks. In San Francisco, 130,000 workers joined a general strike.
In Michigan — where workers had taken over a number of auto plants — a sympathetic governor, Democrat Frank Murphy, refused to allow the National Guard to eject the protestors even after they had defied an injunction to evacuate the factories. His mediating role helped end the strike on terms that provided a victory for the workers and their union.
President Roosevelt soon recognized that his ability to push New Deal legislation through Congress depended on the pressure generated by protestors. As the protests escalated throughout the country, Roosevelt became more vocal, using his bully pulpit to lash out at big business for their greed and selfishness. He used his speeches, and his “fireside chats” on the radio, to explain his New Deal agenda and to encourage people to contact their congress members to promote workers’ rights and to. Labor organizers felt confident in proclaiming, “FDR wants you to join the union.”
With Roosevelt setting the tone, with his progressive aides like Frances Perkins and Henry Wallace maneuvering within the administration, and with allies like Senator Robert Wagner maneuvering in Congress, labor protests helped win legislation guaranteeing workers’ right to organize, the minimum wage, and the 40-hour week.
The economic and political conditions in America right now aren’t the same as in the Depression, but the protests of the past few weeks indicate that Americans are angry and frustrated.
The Tea Party doesn’t have the answers to address these deep-rooted problems. Perhaps the Occupy Wall Street moment will turn into a progressive movement like America witnessed in the Depression.
Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
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.
Congressional District 10
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
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
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.”
Copyright Capital & Main
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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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.”
“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?”
“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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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
“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
“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.
“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.
Copyright Capital & Main
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.”
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)
Copyright Capital & Main
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.
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.”
Copyright Capital & Main
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.
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.’”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Copyright Capital & Main
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.
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.”
Copyright Capital & Main
NY Pension Chief Cashes in on Natural Gas
Co-published by WNYC and Sludge
Revolving Doors: New York state’s chief investment officer invested millions of retirement dollars in a fossil fuel company – and then joined the company’s board the same week she retired.
New York State’s former top pension investment officer was appointed to the board of a natural gas conglomerate after the pension system bought up the company’s bonds, rejected demands to divest from fossil fuels and supported multimillion-dollar pay packages for the company’s executives after the firm’s stock price had dropped.
The CIO job — appointed by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli — is considered one of the world’s most powerful financial positions, directing $207 billion of investments for a system responsible for safeguarding the retirement savings of more than a million current and former state employees and their beneficiaries. Fuller will be granted $275,000 worth of salary and company stock every year for the part-time position serving on Williams’ board.
The move comes during an increasingly bitter policy debate between the comptroller’s office and environmental groups over whether the pension fund should divest itself from fossil fuel companies that contribute to climate change. In correspondence with DiNapoli over the last two months, major environmental groups have asked whether Fuller’s new position is a reward for her and DiNapoli’s ongoing opposition to selling off the fund’s fossil fuel holdings.
As September’s Climate Week commences in New York, those same pro-divestment groups on Monday sent a letter to the state ethics commission requesting a formal investigation of a comptroller’s office that has already seen one leader sent to prison in an influence-peddling scandal, and another bond investment official recently convicted on bribery charges.
“Ms. Fuller’s appointment calls into question the integrity of the management of the New York State Common Retirement Funds by New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli,” wrote 30 groups to state ethics officials. “It is outrageous to us that a person can one day be CIO of the New York state pension funds and the next day take a well-compensated appointment as a board member of the corporation into which she oversaw – or even directed – large investments while helping to shield the company from an adverse divestment decision by the funds.”
DiNapoli’s office says they’ve already reviewed the matter and found nothing wrong. In an August letter to environmental groups, his counsel, Nancy Groenwegen, wrote: “We are not aware of any facts to support a conclusion that Ms. Fuller’s post-[Common Retirement Fund] appointment as an independent director on the Williams board creates a conflict of interest, nor are we aware of any decision under the State’s ethics laws by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics or its predecessor agencies that would prohibit her from accepting such an appointment.”
The controversy combines ongoing concerns about Albany corruption with the simmering debate over whether Democrats like DiNapoli are following through on their promises to do all they can to combat climate change. While DiNapoli escaped a primary challenge in his current reelection bid, environmental groups furious with his opposition to divestment are now pressuring him as he heads into a general election campaign against Republican investment banker Jonathan Trichter.
“This creates red flags because the CIO job is the most powerful appointed financial position in the state of New York,” said former Deputy New York Comptroller Thomas Sanzillo, who served under DiNapoli. “There needs to be an independent review because there is a perception of a conflict of interest.”
The decision to launch an investigation will be up to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which is largely comprised of commissioners appointed by a governor who himself has ties to Williams. Capital & Main previously reported that a Cuomo-led political group raked in $100,000 from Williams earlier this year, and Cuomo’s own re-election campaign this year is run by a registered lobbyist for Williams who is on leave from her firm. At the same time, Williams is asking the Cuomo administration to approve a controversial pipeline that environmentalists say threatens the state’s waterways.
Comptroller’s Office Cites Internal Review
As comptroller, DiNapoli serves as the sole trustee of the state’s pension system. He appointed Fuller CIO in 2012. During Fuller’s six-year tenure in that $365,000-a-year job, the pension fund more than doubled its total stock and bond holdings in Williams. New York’s state pension fund is now one of Williams’ 100 largest institutional shareholders, according to Nasdaq records.
Last year, as a major shareholder, the pension system voted to support an executive compensation program that paid the company’s top officials $62 million between 2014 and 2016 — a period that saw the firm’s stock price plummet nearly 20 percent. This year, nine days after Fuller left her state job, the comptroller’s office voted against the company’s executive compensation program.
Under Fuller, the pension system in early 2015 added $110 million worth of Williams bonds to the state’s portfolio. That same year, Moody’s changed Williams’ financial outlook to “negative” in a report warning that its bonds could be particularly risky investments.
The company and its affiliates, wrote Moody’s, were “weakly positioned for their respective [bond] ratings owing to their high financial leverage and the execution risk on growth projects.”
The specific bonds New York purchased were downgraded in 2016, but have since returned to investment grade, according to the comptroller’s office.
DiNapoli, a former assemblyman from Long Island, took over the office in 2007 following the resignation of then-Comptroller Alan Hevesi in a fraud scandal. Later, Hevesi also pleaded guilty in a pay-to-play scandal in which he steered $250 million of pension fund investments to a private equity fund after receiving nearly $1 million in gifts from the founder of the fund.
In 2009, DiNapoli issued an executive order that created a new code of conduct for the comptroller’s office. It established wide-reaching policies governing conflicts of interest and financial transparency. In 2016, those policies were lauded by an outside contractor that was hired by the comptroller’s office to review its ethics rules. However, DiNapoli’s updated code of conduct still did not place any limitations on the type of employment investment officers can seek after leaving the comptroller’s office or any other post-employment ethics guidelines.
While environmental groups are calling for an independent investigation of Fuller’s move, the comptroller’s office says it has already conducted its own internal review, according to the letter from DiNapoli’s counsel.
In the lead-up to Fuller announcing her plan to retire from her government job, Fuller was told of an ethics advisory that requires state officials to recuse themselves from matters involving companies offering them post-government employment, and to wait 30 days from the recusal before discussing that employment.
Fuller told the comptroller’s office “that the company had no matters pending” before the pension fund, and DiNapoli’s office said it “confirmed that there were no investment matters involving the Williams Companies pending during the relevant time frame of May-July 2018.”
During that time, however, state officials had the ongoing power to buy or sell the pension fund’s holdings in Williams — and the pension fund considered resolutions for Williams’ May 10th shareholder meeting. Additionally, Williams was also at that time asking for input from the pension fund and other stockholders on a proposed merger and financial reorganization of the company.
For its part, Williams said Fuller’s appointment to the company’s board had nothing to do with decisions at the pension fund.
“Ms. Fuller came to the company’s attention through a third-party recruitment firm that was engaged to assist the company in replacing a retiring director,” said Williams spokesperson Keith Isbell. “She did not meet with any members of the company’s board or management until after the May 2018 announcement of her retirement from the NYS Common Retirement Fund.”
Isbell said Fuller will not be expected to interact with the New York state pension fund in her role on Williams’ board. Both Fuller and DiNapoli declined interview requests for this story.
A Larger Debate Over Divestment
The battle over Fuller’s move underscores not only ongoing concerns about the revolving door between business and government in Albany, but also environmentalists’ demands for investors across the globe to sell off their holdings in fossil fuel companies. Already, institutions representing more than $6 trillion of capital have committed to divest, and in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio and city Comptroller Scott Stringer have supported divestment and announced new investments in renewable energy.
More than six percent — or roughly $13 billion — of New York’s state pension fund is in fossil fuel-related investments, according to a report by the activist group Fossil Free. While DiNapoli was running for reelection the year before the state bought Williams’ bonds, he said he would consider following environmental groups’ demands to divest the fund from fossil fuel companies.
However, DiNapoli has since refused to divest, even as New York City pension funds divest and state legislators and the governor have demanded the state follow suit. In 2016 — less than two years before being appointed to Williams’ board — Fuller led the fight against legislation that would require divestment. She argued that shareholders should instead engage with companies to show them that climate change is a significant risk to their business model.
“We do actively engage our portfolio companies, but we’re patient,” Fuller said at an October 2016 roundtable hosted by state senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman at Baruch College. “So if we think a particular issue requires our attention we will engage the company, write a letter, propose resolutions, vote against board members. And if we are not successful the first time we keep coming back. That approach has borne fruit for us. Some people don’t believe in engagement, but I can tell you the proof is what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
To support this assertion, the comptroller’s office has touted DiNapoli-led shareholder resolutions prompting fossil fuel companies to more thoroughly disclose environmental information. Those include a resolution that led to an agreement with Cabot Oil and Gas requiring the company to disclose its policies on using toxic chemicals for fracking; a resolution compelling ExxonMobil to conduct a study of its impact on climate change; and resolutions prompting DTE Energy, Dominion Energy and Southwestern Energy to detail how they would comply with the 2015 Paris Agreement that committed nations across the globe to carbon emission reductions.
Groups like 350.org counter that the most powerful way to reduce fossil fuel development and reduce carbon emissions is for large institutions to divest from oil and gas companies, thereby denying them investment capital.
“Engagement with the fossil fuel producers isn’t working – they’re determined to stick to their business model,” 350.org founder Bill McKibben said in 2015, when New York lawmakers first introduced legislation that would require the pension fund to divest its fossil fuel holdings.
With DiNapoli still opposing divestment three years later, McKibben in May 2018 authored a Rolling Stone magazine essay that said: “Because of (DiNapoli’s) high-profile insistence on ‘engagement’ with the industry, he’s become a stand-in for a thousand other political ‘leaders’ who can’t quite summon the nerve necessary to break with the fossil-fuel industry, even when science and economics are making it clear where the future must lie. It’s so much easier to keep doing what you’ve always done – but at this point inertia is the planet’s most powerful enemy, and DiNapoli is threatening to become inertia’s avatar.”
DiNapoli Touts Work on Climate Change, But Critic Says He’s Being “Used.”
DiNapoli has continued to stake out a public profile as a crusader against climate change. He has said he views climate change as a “material risk for our portfolio” and his office has shifted some of the pension fund’s investments into companies that reduce their carbon footprint. Earlier this month, the pension fund was praised by the Asset Owners Disclosure Project for its work addressing climate risk.
“I continue to speak out when the Fund’s portfolio companies fail to take the steps necessary to adapt to the changing world,” DiNapoli said at the time. “Those of us who are working to make the Paris Agreement a reality may take separate avenues, but we share a common goal — to help build the growing low carbon economy. I am proud that the Fund is part of that worldwide effort.”
The office does not appear to have used that kind of leverage against Williams during Fuller’s tenure. And more generally, some of the fund’s highest profile moves against the industry have not always generated significant results. For example, after DiNapoli made headlines forging the deal with ExxonMobil to publish a study on how climate change could affect its future business, the company used the study to simply reiterate its commitment to a business based on fossil fuel profits.
Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry has aggressively used DiNapoli to deflect increasing pressure from the divestment movement. In just the last year, the Independent Petroleum Association of America published five separate blog posts and two newspaper essays citing DiNapoli’s opposition to divestment — and embrace of shareholder engagement — as a reason other public officials across the country should reject environmentalists’ demands.
“With the retirement money of New York’s working families on the line, let’s hope that the State Legislature supports Comptroller DiNapoli and pushes back against fossil fuel divestment,” said one of the association’s essays.
“DiNapoli as the sole person in charge of the pension fund’s investment strategy has made it clear that he has no plans to divest,” said another. “Let’s hope the fiduciaries of other pensions across the country follow suit.”
Sanzillo, the former deputy comptroller, said it all adds up to “a rather sophisticated game” in which DiNapoli has become a shield for the industry.
“Why has DiNapoli allowed himself to be used by the industry as their poster child for responsible shareholder engagement?” he asked. “The industry has basically said [DiNapoli] is the greatest thing in the world, and the reason they said that is because he pulled punches on the shareholder work and he is not being forceful….It looks cynical. It looks like he was saying he was pressuring the companies, and then he backed off, and that’s a game that cynical shareholders do play, and there’s something wrong here.”
DiNapoli has rejected suggestions that his anti-divestment strategy is a deliberate defense of the oil and gas industry. Instead, he has asserted that ownership stakes in fossil fuel companies give him necessary leverage over those firms, and he has also insisted that he is fulfilling his fiduciary obligations to generate the largest possible investment returns for pensioners.
“The New York State Common Retirement Fund and the State Comptroller are not being used by anyone,” said DiNapoli’s spokesperson, Jennifer Freeman. “The State Comptroller, as the trustee of the (pension fund), is acting as a prudent investor, committed to ensuring the New York State and Local Retirement System is able to pay retirement income to state and local workers. The Fund’s interest is in protecting its long-term value so public workers have peace of mind that their retirement funds are growing and the cost to taxpayers is minimized.”
In 2017, a study from the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees found that the state could forfeit up to $2.8 billion of investment returns if it divests from fossil fuels.
But those projections — and DiNapoli’s underlying argument — have been questioned.
A May report by Corporate Knights found that New York’s pension fund would have generated an additional $15 billion of returns had it sold off its fossil fuel holdings and reinvested them in renewable energy. A July report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found that in the past three to five years, “Global stock indexes without fossil fuel holdings have outperformed otherwise identical indexes that include fossil fuel companies.”
“Investors with long-term horizons should avoid oil and chemical stocks on investment grounds. They face a sustained headwind,” wrote Jeremy Grantham, the legendary asset manager who co-founded the investment firm GMO. “Ethical arguments for divestments are simply not necessary. They are a pure bonus.”
Critics of the oil and gas industry have asserted that corporations are not properly accounting for their exposure to climate-related losses. Last week, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced legislation that would require more climate-related disclosures. At the same time, a new book by journalist Bethany McLean finds that natural gas investments are on shakier financial footing than their quarterly financial reports suggest.
Sanzillo said that if New York state’s pension fund embraces divestment, it can play a pivotal role in the climate change fight because of its sheer size.
“This is the third-largest fund in the United States,” he said. “If the comptroller tells his money managers that we need a portfolio that is fossil-free, every large money manager in the world will have to adapt.
“It tells JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and all the other major financial advisers that this is the product institutional investors want, and you better come up with it, or you aren’t going to have customers any more,” Sanzillo said.
This story was produced in partnership with WNYC public radio and Sludge, which covers money in politics.
Rick Scott Invested in the Same Financial Firms As Florida’s Pension System
Co-published by MapLight
For most of his time in office, Florida’s governor has shielded his investments from public view. A new disclosure shows Rick Scott and his wife have invested at least $18 million in financial firms managing money for the state’s pension system that he oversees.
Former SEC Lawyer: “There needs to be an investigation into whether the state is subsidizing Rick Scott’s personal returns.”
Co-published by MapLight
Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his wife have invested at least $18 million in three financial firms managing money for the state’s pension system that Scott oversees — a situation that intertwines the governor’s personal finances with his responsibility for supervising state employees’ retirement savings.
The investments were first divulged in a federal financial disclosure form that Scott filed as part of his U.S. Senate campaign in July. For most of his time in office, Scott has shielded his investments from public view, and only reported their overall value in his blind trust.
The terms of Scott’s investments remain undisclosed. The firms’ own corporate documents say they can give certain investors special preferences not afforded to other investors — and experts have in recent years argued that hedge funds, private equity firms, and other “alternative investments” are giving such preferences to elite investors. One former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney told MapLight and Capital & Main that Scott must disclose whether he is being given such preferences.
Critics have raised questions about how blind the Scott family trusts really are.
Florida ethics laws are supposed to prohibit state officials from entering into contractual relationships with companies that do business with their agencies. However, after Scott became governor in 2011, state ethics officials said he and his family members could put their assets into a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest and still maintain their investments in companies operating in Florida.
Critics have raised questions about how blind the Scott family trusts really are. Scott placed one of his longtime business associates in charge of managing his blind trust. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Scott’s blind trust has invested with a private equity firm tied to a high-speed rail project in Florida. The trust also had an indirect interest in a cancer treatment company that received tax breaks from Scott’s administration.
“The question is whether Rick Scott is being allowed to invest on better terms than the state pension fund.”
“When Governor Scott was elected, he put all of his assets in a blind trust, which is managed by an independent financial professional who decides what assets are bought, sold or changed,” said Scott campaign spokesperson Lauren Schenone. “The rules of the blind trust prevent any specific assets or the value of those assets within the trust from being disclosed to the governor, and those requirements have always been followed.”
Scott is one of three state officials who serve as trustees for the Florida State Board of Administration, which manages a $160 billion fund for roughly 400,000 retirees. Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis oversee lucrative state investment deals granted to cash-hungry Wall Street firms.
The three firms that have received $325 million worth of Florida pension investments have allowed the Scott family’s blind trusts to simultaneously invest their personal fortunes in these funds. Scott’s investments in the funds did not appear in a 2014 disclosure itemizing his holdings. His campaign did not say when the investments were made.
“There are no ethics rules that prohibit or limit a trustee from investing in funds also invested in by the SBA,” said SBA spokesperson John Kuczwanski, though he added that trustees are subject to Florida’s general code of ethics. Kuczwanski said that the governor has no involvement in specific pension investment decisions.
Don Hinkle, a Democratic lawyer, filed a lawsuit last year alleging that the governor has failed to comply with the state’s blind trust and financial disclosure laws. He said he was surprised by the news that Scott had invested in the same firms as the Florida pension system.
“I would think that he would have avoided investments where the state of Florida’s money is propping his up,” Hinkle told MapLight and Capital & Main.
In 2011, a few months after Scott became governor, the SBA committed $150 million to Highline Capital Partners, a New York-based hedge fund. Scott’s financial disclosure shows that his family’s trusts have invested at least $4 million in the same Highline fund as the state.
The SBA also committed $100 million in 2015 to a hedge fund managed by Canyon Capital Advisors, a Los Angeles-based firm created by veterans of the notorious investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert, which was driven into bankruptcy as a result of illegal and unethical trading practices. Scott and his family have invested at least $12 million in Canyon funds, according to his financial disclosure.
Before Scott became governor, the SBA invested $75 million with VSS, a New York-based private equity firm that was launched by a co-founder of Psychology Today. Scott and his wife, Ann, have invested more than $2.2 million in another VSS fund. A spokesperson for VSS said the firm doesn’t comment on its investors.
“Alternative investment funds have the ability to offer every investor different fees at a different rate of return, so the question is whether Rick Scott is being allowed to invest on better terms than the state pension fund,” said former SEC attorney Edward Siedle, whose Florida-based firm conducts forensic investigations of state pension systems.
“If you give one investor an advantage, another investor has to be disadvantaged,” Siedle said. “That means there needs to be an investigation into whether the state is actually subsidizing Rick Scott’s personal returns and whether the governor enjoys advantages that are harming the retirees.”
Schenone, Scott’s spokesperson, said that his blind trust has “been upheld multiple times by the State Commission on Ethics and the court system. Governor Scott has also followed the requirements of all state and federal financial filings.”
She noted that former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and Scott’s 2010 Democratic opponent Alex Sink had also used blind trusts, although Scott’s campaign attacked Sink for hers at the time.
“Blind trusts sound good but can run afoul of state laws requiring public officials to disclose their personal finances,” a Scott campaign ad said in 2010. “[But] simply moving large amounts of money into a blind trust does not magically erase the knowledge of what you own.”
This piece was reported by Andrew Perez of MapLight and David Sirota of Capital & Main, and published in partnership with the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
Cuomo Kept Fossil Fuel Pipeline Alive, Then Hired Pipeline’s Lobbyist to Run Reelection Bid
Co-published by WNYC New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration delayed — rather than blocked — a fracked-gas pipeline project just before Cuomo hired Maggie Moran, a registered lobbyist for the pipeline’s parent company, to run his reelection campaign.
Despite questions about special interests and revolving doors, Cuomo decided to hire a registered lobbyist to run his campaign.
Co-published by WNYC
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo hired a lobbyist for a natural-gas pipeline company to run his re-election campaign at the same time his administration was throwing a potential lifeline to the company’s controversial New Jersey-New York pipeline project.
Less than three months before the administration postponed a decision on the project, the fossil fuel company in question also donated $100,000 to a Democratic Party governors’ organization that supports Cuomo, government records show.
Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi asserted that there was no link between the lobbying, the donations and the administration’s pipeline decisions.
“Protecting New Yorkers and our environment are this administration’s top priorities, which is why decisions on individual projects are made at the agency level by career public servants who conduct a rigorous review of the facts and the science,” Azzopardi said.
The company — Transco, a subsidiary of The Williams Companies, a Tulsa-based fossil fuel conglomerate — has been seeking permission from Cuomo administration regulators since June of 2017. The project is a 23-mile natural gas pipeline from Old Bridge, New Jersey to Rockaway, New York.
Cuomo touts his environmental record but has also declined to reject fossil fuel industry campaign cash.
As residential customers seek to switch from heating oil to natural gas, Williams has argued that the pipeline expansion is necessary to “help ensure that reliable gas supplies are available to support these conversions.” The company says the project will displace about 900,000 barrels of heating oil a year and reduce CO2 emissions in New York City and Long Island.
Critics say the location of the pipeline puts the waters and shores of Lower New York Bay at risk of contamination and other environmental damage, and that it will continue the region’s reliance on fossil fuels, thereby setting back the fight against climate change.
Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) temporarily denied a water quality certification for the pipeline in April. But the ruling also allowed the company to re-submit the proposal for approval “without prejudice” — a maneuver that keeps the embattled project alive. The company submitted a new application in May — and Cuomo has declined to answer questions about whether or not he agrees with Stringer that the proposal should be blocked.
Amid the intensifying battle over the pipeline, Williams hired lobbying firm Kivvit to advocate for its interests in Albany last fall, according to state ethics records. Among the lobbyists registered to represent Williams is Maggie Moran, a well-known operative who advised his gubernatorial campaign in 2010.
In June, while she was registered as a pipeline lobbyist, Cuomo hired her to take the reigns of this year’s campaign. Moran took over two months after Joe Percoco, who ran both of Cuomo’s previous campaigns, was convicted on federal corruption charges — one of several corruption scandals that have dogged the Cuomo administration in recent months. She took a leave of absence from Kivvit when she joined the campaign, a spokesman says.
In the last few years, Cuomo’s administration has faced multiple corruption scandals, fueling critics’ assertions that he is too close to Albany influence peddlers.
State records show that Moran, who declined an interview request, began lobbying on behalf of Williams in September 2017 — three months after Williams first submitted its pipeline proposal to Cuomo administration regulators. Those records also show that Moran’s lobbying has been specifically targeted at the executive branch that Cuomo heads. Kivvit’s website says Moran “oversees all aspects of Kivvit’s day-to-day operations” and Kivvit has continued to lobby for Williams in 2018. Kivvit’s managing director is former Cuomo communications director Rich Bamberger.
As Cuomo administration regulators were reviewing the pipeline, Williams made two donations totaling $100,000 to the Democratic Governors Association, which lists Cuomo as a member of its leadership team and which has provided the campaign with polling research.
Internal Revenue Service records show that in February, one $50,000 donation came from Williams Companies and another $50,000 contribution came from the “Williams Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company” — which is the overseer of the pipeline project before Cuomo’s administration. The New York Times on Friday reported that in that same month, Cuomo traveled to a Washington, D.C. DGA event on a chartered plane — and the association paid $10,725 for his trip.
Soon after the Williams donations to the DGA and Cuomo’s trip to the DGA event, the DGA gave more than $20,000 to Cuomo’s campaign, according to state disclosure records.
A Cuomo campaign spokesperson, Abbey Collins, said the governor did not solicit Williams’ contribution to the DGA.
Azzopardi, the spokesman for the governor’s office, said: “At no point did the agency or the governor’s office get approached on this project by Kivvit — any suggestion otherwise would be a trip into tinfoil hat country.”
The company has given regularly to both the Democratic and Republican governors’ associations in the past.
The 2018 donations appear to be among the company’s largest ever to the DGA. The DGA has said corporate donations to the group cannot be earmarked to specific campaigns or candidates, and therefore there is no link between donations and public-policy influence.
Williams spokesperson Keith Isbell declined to discuss the company’s lobbying activities, its relationship with Moran or its donations to the DGA on the record.
“New York’s energy demands continue to grow at a startling rate,” he said. “The Northeast Supply Enhancement project is a critical step toward ensuring New York has the infrastructure in place to meet that demand with a mix of energy sources that are reliable, affordable and clean.”
In the last few years, Cuomo has faced multiple corruption scandals, fueling critics’ assertions that he is too close to Albany influence peddlers. Percoco, one of his closest aides, was convicted in March on federal corruption charges, and in July several other top Cuomo allies were found guilty of perpetrating a massive bid-rigging scheme.
Despite questions about special interests and revolving doors, Cuomo decided to hire a registered lobbyist to run his campaign amid the corruption trials. That decision follows Cuomo’s 2015 hiring of lobbyist William Mulrow to serve as his top aide in Albany.
Cuomo appointed Mulrow chairman of his reelection campaign last year, and Mulrow returned to his job at Blackstone, a Wall Street colossus that also has had fossil fuel-related business before Cuomo’s administration.
Cuomo is now facing a spirited Democratic primary challenge from actress Cynthia Nixon, who has demanded an end to pipeline approvals. During the campaign, the governor has touted his environmental record, including his formation of the U.S. Climate Alliance with other blue-state governors following the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement last year. The Cuomo administration has also rejected two other proposed pipeline projects.
But Cuomo has declined to reject fossil fuel industry campaign cash, and earlier this year affirmed his support for natural gas development — even as environmental groups continue to pressure his administration to block proposals for new gas-fired plants and pipeline projects around the state.
In the NESE pipeline fight, the Cuomo administration denied Williams’ subsidiary Transco a water quality certification, citing “potentially significant environmental impacts that raised serious concerns.”
“The construction of the project could have significant water quality impacts in New York State,” said Cuomo DEC appointee Thomas Berkman in a letter released just weeks after Nixon entered the primary race against the governor. “This includes potentially significant impacts from the resuspension of sediments and other contaminants, as well as to habitats due to the disturbance of shellfish beds and other benthic resources. In addition, the construction of the Project could potentially impact Atlantic sturgeon and other protected species.”
However, because state regulators rejected the application “without prejudice,” the state allowed Williams to resubmit its proposal in May. That has raised fears among environmental activists that Cuomo’s administration is delaying a decision on the pipeline until after next week’s gubernatorial primary and the general election in November.
According to bi-monthly reports filed with the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, Moran was registered to lobby the executive branch of New York State government on behalf of Williams as recently as May and June of this year — just as the pipeline’s water quality permit was resubmitted, and just before she joined the Cuomo campaign as manager.
Cuomo campaign spokeswoman Abbey Collins said “Maggie was not on the campaign when the decision was made by the governor’s administration.”
She said Moran’s firm handled media relations and advertising for the company but didn’t lobby the legislature or the executive branch. She said it was required to register as a lobbyist by new rules about companies that have contact with the press.
In a letter filed with state ethics regulators, an official from the Williams Companies said the conglomerate hired Moran’s firm to “engage in communications activities to the general public that spur communications to the executive and legislative branches of New York State government.”
Williams is not the only Moran client with business before Cuomo. State records show that as of June, Moran has also been registered to lobby “administrative branches of New York State government” on behalf of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which is currently negotiating with the New York Department of Health over the price of its cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi. Records show that Vertex hired Kivvit in May of this year, immediately following a state panel’s recommendation that New York’s Medicaid program impose a price cap on Orkambi.
Another of Moran’s clients at Kivvit is Tesla. The electric carmaker is the parent company of SolarCity, whose state-funded RiverBend factory is at the center of the ongoing Buffalo Billion probe. That investigation has seen Percoco convicted in federal court on three counts of bribery and fraud, and another former Cuomo aide, Todd Howe, plead guilty on similar charges.
Kivvit clients have contributed at least $544,000 to Cuomo’s campaigns since 2014, according to state campaign finance disclosures. Moran herself has donated $10,000 to Cuomo since 2015, records show.
In addition to approval from the Cuomo administration, Williams’ NESE pipeline also needs approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), whose five commissioners — four of whom are appointees of President Trump — are expected to issue a ruling on whether the project can move forward later this month.
The agency in March issued a report finding that the project “would result in some adverse environmental impacts” including “long-term impacts on air quality and noise” from a compressor station. However, the same report also asserted that most of the “impacts would be temporary and occur during construction.”
A coalition of environmental and citizens groups, Stop the Williams Pipeline, submitted more than 6,000 comments in opposition to the pipeline to the FERC during its public comment period. The group is also collecting signatures on a petition its members plan to submit to Cuomo later this year.
In announcing his opposition to the pipeline this week, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said he was concerned about the impact on many of the region’s sensitive ecosystems.
“The 23-mile pipeline would extend from New Jersey, along the Staten Island coast, past Coney Island and into the Rockaways,” he said in a statement. “Allowing the construction of the pipeline risks damage to many of New York’s most precious habitats and natural assets, including New York Harbor, Jamaica Bay, and the Rockaways’ many beaches.”
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