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
Beto vs. Democrats: Texas Lawmaker Frequently Voted to Help Trump and GOP
Co-published by The Guardian and Newsweek
How Beto O’Rourke, a potential Democratic candidate for president, has undermined his own party’s efforts to halt the GOP agenda.
A rising Democratic star has voted for GOP bills that Trump critics say have aided big banks, undercut the fight against climate change and supported the president’s anti-immigrant agenda.
Following Beto O’Rourke’s spirited run for the U.S. Senate, powerful voices in the Democratic Party establishment have touted the outgoing Texas congressman as a 2020 presidential candidate who, as the party’s standard-bearer, would offer a vision of America contrasting against that of Republicans. However, a Capital & Main review of congressional votes shows that even as O’Rourke has represented one of the most Democratic congressional districts in the entire country, he has in many instances undermined his own party’s efforts to halt the GOP agenda, frequently voting against the majority of House Democrats in support of Republican bills and Trump administration positions.
Capital & Main reviewed the 167 votes O’Rourke has cast in opposition to the majority of his own party in the House during his six-year tenure in Congress. Many of those votes were not progressive dissents alongside other left-leaning lawmakers but were instead votes to help pass Republican-sponsored legislation. In many cases, Democratic lawmakers said that those measures were designed to help corporate interests dismantle Obama administration programs and regulations.
O’Rourke’s votes for Republican tax, trade, health care, crime- and immigration-related legislation underscore his membership in the pro-business New Democrat Coalition.
Amid persistently high economic inequality and a climate change crisis, O’Rourke has voted for GOP bills that his fellow Democratic lawmakers said reinforced Republicans’ tax agenda, chipped away at the Affordable Care Act, weakened Wall Street regulations, boosted the fossil fuel industry and bolstered Trump’s immigration policy. Consumer, environmental, public health and civil rights organizations have cast legislation backed by O’Rourke as aiding big banks, undermining the fight against climate change and supporting Trump’s anti-immigrant program. During the previous administration, President Barack Obama’s White House issued statements slamming two GOP bills backed by the 46-year-old Democratic legislator.
O’Rourke’s votes for Republican tax, trade, health care, criminal justice and immigration-related legislation not only defied his national party, but also at times put him at odds even with a majority of Texas Democratic lawmakers in Congress. Such votes underscore his membership in the New Democrat Coalition, the faction of House Democrats most closely aligned with business interests.
O’Rourke did not respond to Capital & Main’s questions about his votes.
The possibility of an O’Rourke presidential candidacy has been boosted in recent weeks by former Obama aides and fundraisers, as well as by Third Way — a finance-industry funded think tank that previously made headlines deriding Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. He has also been lauded by former Hillary Clinton aide Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress — a Democratic think tank whose officials recently slammed Republican tax and immigration legislation that O’Rourke voted for. Much of the party elite’s support for an O’Rourke candidacy has not mentioned his policy record or agenda.
In the last two years, O’Rourke was among the top fifth of all lawmakers voting against the majority of his party. FiveThirtyEight has calculated that in that same time period, O’Rourke has voted for the Trump administration position on legislation roughly 30 percent of the time. The website said that is above what analysts predict would come from a legislator representing a district as Democratic as O’Rourke’s. For comparison, O’Rourke’s congressional district votes more Democratic than most districts in Massachusetts, according to the Cook Political Report.
Each vote reviewed below was one in which O’Rourke broke from the majority of legislators in his own party.
Since its creation in 2010, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been under relentless assault by Republicans, who have sought to help the financial industry limit its authority. At times, they have found an ally in O’Rourke.
Echoing the GOP’s line of attack on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Texas Democrat faulted the agency for a “lack of openness.”
In one instance, the Texas Democrat helped the GOP challenge the agency’s efforts to combat discriminatory lending practices. At issue was a 2013 CFPB bulletin asserting its “authority to pursue auto lenders whose policies harm consumers through unlawful discrimination.” The agency said, “Research indicates that markup practices may lead to African Americans and Hispanics being charged higher markups than other, similarly situated, white consumers.”
The move — and a subsequent CFPB enforcement action against a major auto lender — sent a shockwave through the financial industry. Republicans issued a report criticizing the rule, and in 2015 introduced legislation to repeal it. Civil rights groups such as the NAACP opposed the GOP measure and House Democrats said it was designed to halt “recent actions to root out discriminatory practices among auto lenders.”
Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, a former chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said in a congressional floor speech that the Republican legislation would limit regulators’ “ability to protect consumers from racial discrimination in the auto lending market and give auto dealers a leg up in charging higher interest rates.” The Obama White House issued an official statement of administration policy, saying it strongly opposed the Republican bill, because the CFPB guidance at issue would “ensure customers are not charged disproportionately higher prices for auto loans because of their race, color, religion or other characteristics that should have no bearing on loan decisions.”
O’Rourke nonetheless officially co-sponsored the bill and voted for it. Echoing the GOP’s line of attack on the CFPB, the Democrat faulted the agency for a “lack of openness,” which he asserted had created “uncertainty, criticism of the CFPB’s conclusions, and has made loans more expensive to borrowers.” While O’Rourke later voted against using the Congressional Review Act to kill the CFPB’s regulation, the original bill he voted for set the stage for the GOP to repeal it under Trump.
Also in 2015, O’Rourke voted for a separate Republican bill that Democratic legislators said was designed to delay a CFPB regulation and weaken lending disclosure protections for home mortgage borrowers. California Rep. Maxine Waters, the senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, said the bill would make it harder for consumers to sue lenders when they have been misled, which represented “a drastic departure from current law” under the longstanding Truth In Lending Act.
The Obama administration agreed, issuing a veto threat declaring that the GOP bill aimed to “unnecessarily delay implementation of important consumer protections designed to eradicate opaque lending practices that contribute to risky mortgages, hurt homeowners by removing the private right of action for violations, and undercut the Nation’s financial stability.”
A day after that veto threat, the bill passed with the support of O’Rourke, who said, “I believe it is a practical, short-term compromise that will provide long-term benefits to consumers in the United States.” He argued that the GOP legislation would allow regulators to “continue working with banks to ensure that they are ready to fully comply with the law” and was designed to guarantee that “consumers applying for home mortgages are given all the information they need.”
In addition to votes on CFPB-related issues, O’Rourke has also occasionally sided with Republicans on food labeling laws.
In 2015, for instance, he was one of 66 Democrats who voted for a Republican bill “to repeal country of origin labeling requirements with respect to beef, pork, and chicken,” according to the bill’s text. In the legislation’s committee report, the GOP asserted that the bill was necessary to avoid retaliation from other trading partner countries. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, argued that lawmakers “should not let a few meatpacking companies use trade disputes as an excuse to gut important consumer protections and the rights of farmers in this country…our people deserve a right to know where their food is produced and where it comes from.”
The next year, Republicans brought forward a bill that Democrats said would undermine provisions in the Affordable Care Act requiring restaurants to disclose nutritional information. Public health groups such as the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association asked Democrats to oppose the bill, and O’Rourke’s fellow Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee gave a floor speech asserting that it would “reduce the likelihood that consumers will receive clear and consistent calorie information at chain food service establishments.”
O’Rourke was one of only 33 Democrats to vote for it.
During his Senate race, O’Rourke was lauded for his rhetoric about the threat of climate change. In Congress, he has questioned the safety of natural gas fracking, and he gets high ratings from the League of Conservation Voters.
O’Rourke helped Republicans vote down Democratic legislation to restrict the federal government from taking steps that could open up parts of the eastern Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling.
But while climate scientists say policymakers must halt new fossil fuel exploration, O’Rourke has pushed back against the notion that the world must decide between carbon emissions and clean energy. Instead, he has insisted that “we can reject the false choice between oil and gas and renewable energy.” Meanwhile, he has cast key votes with Republicans to boost the fossil fuel industry whose carbon emissions are at the root of the crisis.
During the legislative debate over lifting the ban, the Democrats’ committee report argued that “the extreme approach taken by this bill not only repeals current crude export restrictions, but also ensures that no export restrictions – for any reason – could be implemented or enforced in the future.” The Democratic report, authored by House Commerce Committee ranking Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., added that “the vaguely drafted provisions of the bill could have potentially vast consequences for consumers, the environment and climate change, and national security.”
That argument proved to be convincing to many Texas Democrats. On one of the votes, 5 out of 11 Texas Democratic lawmakers opposed the bill. On the other vote, seven Texas Democrats opposed the bill, with O’Rourke among only three who supported it. O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate campaign website boasts that “Beto voted to repeal the Crude Oil Export Ban to support our economy and national security.”
Passage of the O’Rourke-backed legislation was followed by a tripling of petroleum exports. With the export ban lifted, a recent report from the International Energy Agency projected that the United States will be exporting five million barrels of oil a day by 2023 — all while scientists warn of catastrophic effects of carbon emissions.
At the same time, O’Rourke helped Republicans vote down Democratic legislation to prevent drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and he backed a separate GOP bill to speed up natural gas exports, which Pallone argued would “exacerbate climate change by encouraging more fossil fuel extraction.”
He also supported GOP legislation that Democrats said was constructed to protect the utility industry. That bill was introduced the year before the recent California wildfires renewed questions about utility liability. At the time, Republicans said the measure was designed “to ensure reliable electricity service and reduce the risk of fires and fire hazards caused by inadequate vegetation management” in areas where power lines cross federal lands.
Repeating charges made by Democrats in the bill’s committee report, Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva said during the floor debate: “The bill waives liability for companies that start forest fires or cause other damage. This is nonsense and shifts an incredible burden and risk onto American taxpayers.”
O’Rourke was one of 69 Democrats to support the bill, which passed.
Immigration & Criminal Justice
In representing the border city of El Paso, O’Rourke has been an outspoken advocate for immigration reform. In recent days he has used his platform to call for public pressure on the Trump administration to shut down an immigrant detention center in Tornillo, Texas and he made headlines slamming the Trump administration’s overall immigration policy. His Senate campaign website said he wants to “pass the DREAM Act and ensure that undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children, known as ‘Dreamers,’ find a permanent home and citizenship in the U.S.” It also declared that he wants to “end the militarization of our immigration enforcement system.”
However, he was one of a group of Democrats who broke party ranks to support Republican legislation to waive requirements for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and job applicants to take polygraph tests — a proposal that was part of the Trump administration’s plan to assemble a deportation force.
Polygraph tests have been part of CBP’s efforts to confront the corruption and misconduct that have plagued the agency in recent years. A 2012 Government Accountability Office report found that between 2005 and 2012, “144 current or former CBP employees were arrested or indicted for corruption-related activities.” The report noted that CBP uses polygraph tests as part of employment background checks “to mitigate the risk of employee corruption and misconduct” — and it recommended that the agency consider expanding the tests. The report specifically noted that CBP internal affairs officials were expressing “concerns about the suitability of the officers and agents hired during [employment] surges because most of these officers and agents did not take a polygraph examination.”
In April of 2017, the Trump administration issued a memo pushing for authority to waive the polygraph tests in order to expedite the hiring of thousands of new CBP agents. Critics immediately raised red flags — the American Immigration Lawyers Association said it was a plan “to water down hiring standards.” Tom Jawetz, the Center for American Progress’ Vice President for Immigration, told Univision that “many agents brought on beforehand who had not gone through a polygraph were cooperating with cartels and subject to corruption.” James Tomsheck, the CBP’s former head of internal affairs, called the idea of waivers “preposterous” in light of what the polygraph tests had been finding.
Compared to other law-enforcement agencies, “a larger number of people failed the exam, but the admissions of the applicants who failed the exam were hair-raising,” Tomsheck told The Nation. “The most shocking, frankly terrifying, were the many applicants who admitted that they were infiltrators. That they actually worked for a drug-trafficking organization and had for some period of time. They had been directed to apply for the job solely for the purpose of feeding information back to the criminal organization they worked with.”
Two days after the Trump administration’s memo, Republicans introduced legislation to allow the polygraph tests to be waived. The bill — which did not even get a committee hearing — was authored by Arizona Republican Rep. Martha McSally, an immigration hardliner and supporter of a border wall. During the floor debate, she described the measure as a necessary step to “provide CBP with immediate relief so they are able to quickly, yet judiciously, hire officers and agents.”
Democrats adamantly objected. New Mexico Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham — the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — said “eliminating the critical polygraph requirements for certain CBP applicants only undermines our Nation’s safety, given this agency’s historic connection to organized crime, drug cartels, and corruption.” She asserted that “no other federal law enforcement agency in the country—not the FBI, DEA, ATF, or Secret Service—makes any exceptions to their polygraph exam.”
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., declared: “Anyone who votes for this bill is voting to support and implement Donald Trump’s views on immigration, his desire to militarize our southern border, and his fantasy of a mass deportation force. You cannot spin it any other way. If we want to lower the standards for screening and hiring CBP officers, eliminate checks that could help weed out candidates with criminal histories or criminal intentions, and water down the integrity of this important national security source, this bill is for you.”
O’Rourke opted to join Republicans in voting for the bill, which passed. In a statement after the vote, he echoed McSally’s rationale for the legislation, asserting that to address staffing shortfalls, the bill was necessary to “help speed up the hiring process and provide the CBP Commissioner additional authorities to recruit and hire quality CBP officers and Border Patrol agents.”
O’Rourke joined Republicans to pass legislation making the attempted murder of a law enforcement officer punishable by death.
During the same two-month stretch, O’Rourke also broke ranks from the majority of his party in supporting another GOP measure on law enforcement — legislation that, according to GovTrack, would “add the killing or attempted killing [of] a law enforcement officer to the list of aggravating factors in federal death penalty cases.”
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said the bill was “an unnecessary and misguided attempt to politicize the unfortunate deaths of law enforcement officers and could ultimately exacerbate existing tension between law enforcement and the communities they serve, especially African Americans.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., argued that it would change the fundamental threshold for capital punishment by “impos[ing] a death penalty for attempted murder.” He declared: “I am not aware that we have in the law, anywhere, a death penalty for an attempted crime; and here, we are establishing a death penalty for an attempt, an unsuccessful attempt.”
O’Rourke was one of 48 Democrats to join Republicans in supporting the legislation, which passed.
Regulating Wall Street
Since the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Republicans and bank lobbyists have been waging a campaign to whittle away the landmark Dodd-Frank legislation that instituted modest financial regulations designed to ward off another crisis. O’Rourke has a somewhat mixed record on financial issues, according to the financial watchdog group Americans for Financial Reform (AFR). At times he has voted with Democrats to protect existing regulations. Still, he has also frequently aided the GOP in some of its efforts, casting six votes for bills that Democrats say were designed to help bank lobbyists deregulate Wall Street.
In 2014 and 2018 O’Rourke cast votes for GOP bills that weakened the “Volcker Rule,” which aims to prevent financial firms from using depositors’ savings for their own speculative trading.
For instance, in 2014 and 2018 O’Rourke cast votes for GOP bills that included provisions weakening the so-called Volcker Rule, which aims to prevent financial firms from using depositors’ savings for their own speculative trading.
AFR sent a letter to lawmakers warning that the 2014 bill “contains a number of potentially significant deregulatory measures.” Among the most problematic provisions, said the group, were those that “would deregulate international derivatives markets”; “would greatly weaken the CFTC’s ability to protect against” inappropriate transactions; and “cut off the ability of the SEC to include needed investor protection measures as part of their regulatory efforts.” The letter warned that the bill’s “weakening of the Volcker Rule can be expected mainly to benefit large Wall Street banks that wish to find an end run around proprietary trading restrictions.”
In the debate over the 2018 bill, Democratic lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee noted that the legislation was “the latest attempt to weaken the Volcker Rule, a cornerstone of Wall Street reform enacted in the wake of the financial crisis.”
Also in 2017 and 2018:
– O’Rourke voted for GOP legislation that Democrats said would empower financial institutions to shield themselves from bank examiners. House Democrats on the Financial Services Committee described the bill as one trying to “postpone material supervisory determinations by the bank’s regulator” and “make it more likely that megabanks would be able to escape or delay accountability for egregious violations of federal laws protecting consumers and the economy.” AFR begged lawmakers to oppose it, saying: “The impact of this legislation in weakening bank supervision would be especially great at the nation’s largest banks. Its effect would be to substantially increase the risk of systemic problems, and of unfair and predatory treatment of consumers.”
– O’Rourke voted for a package of Republican bills that Democrats said would reduce independent audits of corporations, deregulate stock exchanges and restrict regulators’ ability to monitor high-frequency trading. The legislation followed a series of “flash crashes” that sent stock prices tumbling and that prompted new rules from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Less than two years before the GOP legislation, former Democratic U.S. Sen. Ted Kaufman warned that unless regulators strengthened their oversight, the economy was vulnerable to a repeat of the flash crashes. O’Rourke supported the GOP bill, even though Rep. Waters pointed out that the GOP legislation “would ease the ability of high frequency traders to manipulate the stock markets undetected [and] encourage a regulatory race-to-the-bottom at our nation’s stock exchanges.”
– O’Rourke voted for a Republican bill to permit larger number of bank holding companies to take on more debt. In a sentiment echoed by House Democrats, AFR noted that the policy would allow larger banks to “more easily acquire smaller community banks, reducing the number of independent community banks.”
O’Rourke voted for a Republican bill to weaken requirements for financial firms to inform customers that their personal information is being shared with third-party corporations.
– O’Rourke voted for a Republican bill to weaken requirements for financial firms to inform customers that their personal information is being shared with third-party corporations. The vote on the deregulatory legislation — which was backed by Wall Street lobbying groups — came only weeks after Equifax exposed millions of Americans’ personal information to hackers. Republicans argued that the bill was necessary to reduce “the regulatory burden upon, particularly, our struggling community financial institutions, our community banks, and credit unions.”
Democrats on the Financial Services Committee urged a “no” vote, arguing that the bill “would eliminate meaningful, clear disclosures to consumers about their privacy rights, including their ability to opt-out from having their information sold to unaffiliated third party companies.”
In 2015, congressional Democrats, labor unions, environmental groups and consumer organizations were frantically trying to block a Republican measure to pass Trade Promotion Authority, which provides presidents more unilateral power to negotiate trade deals, with less input from Congress.
In 2015, Beto broke ranks with unions and environmentalists by voting to pass the Trade Promotion Authority, which provides presidents more unilateral power to negotiate trade deals.
The measure — backed by a powerful corporate lobby — was particularly fraught because it was seen as a prerequisite for the Trans Pacific Partnership. That proposed 12-nation trade deal had become a source of national debate, because — among other things — it included controversial provisions to empower foreign corporations to use international tribunals to overturn local, state and federal laws.
During the floor debate, the opposition was led by Rep. Sander Levin, D-MI, who argued that a “yes” vote meant “saying ‘fine’ to giving private investors in growing numbers the ability to choose an unregulated arbitration panel instead of a well-established judicial system in order to overturn local or national health or environmental regulations.”
Rep. Nydia Velasquez, D-N.Y., similarly argued that “we are being asked to vote for an agreement that will cost jobs, undermine environmental protections, and erode workers’ rights, all in the name of so-called free trade.” The vote, she said, “comes down to a simple question: Are you going to side with Wall Street, large corporations, and their lobbyists, or will you stand with working families in your district?”
In the end, the opposition was not enough — TPA passed twice by razor-thin margins. Once again O’Rourke broke ranks with House Democrats and most of the Texas Democratic delegation to cast crucial votes to pass the GOP bill.
In the aftermath, O’Rourke — who has also been a promoter of the North American Free Trade Agreement — refused to concede that his vote was a sign of support for the TPP.
“My vote for TPA is not a vote for TPP and does not give the President the authority to commit this country to TPP,” he said in a statement at the time. “In fact, if the President fails to meet the ambitious objectives defined in TPA, I will vote against TPP.”
Along with legislation to fully repeal large portions of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, Republicans have also mounted a death-by-a-thousands-cuts strategy against the landmark legislation. O’Rourke has been a supporter of improving Obamacare, expanding Medicaid and adding a public option to compete with private insurance. In three instances, though, he broke with the majority of House Democrats to help Republicans, and in one instance, he backed a GOP bill Democrats said was designed to prop up the Trump administration’s attempts to replace Obamacare.
The ACA established the Independent Payment Advisory Board to recommend ways to reduce Medicare spending. In the words of its chief proponent, former Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the board “was created to protect Medicare for seniors – by improving the quality of Medicare services and by extending the life of Medicare for years to come.”
O’Rourke defied his party and twice voted to kill the Independent Payment Advisory Board, after Sarah Palin cited it as proof that the Affordable Care Act was creating “death panels.”
According to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the language creating the board prohibited it from proposing rationing, reduced benefits, higher premiums or restricted eligibility. Despite those safeguards, Republicans led by former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin soon pointed to the board as proof that Democrats were aiming to create “death panels.” In a 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Palin asserted that the board would create “‘death panel’-like rationing” that makes “bureaucrats, not medical professionals, the ultimate arbiters of what types of treatment will (and especially will not) be reimbursed under Medicare.”
Representing Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., wrote in the bill report that the legislation was part of “Republicans’ piecemeal attempt to dismantle the health reform.”
O’Rourke defied his party and twice voted with Republicans to kill the board. He also officially co-sponsored both measures. He additionally broke with his party by voting for a separate Republican measure to require more reporting about health exchange enrollment. Pallone, the New Jersey Democrat, cast the legislation as an effort to drown federal officials in unnecessary paperwork and “impede the efforts of the administration to implement the Affordable Care Act.”
A few years later, when Republicans were pushing to replace the ACA with Trump’s American Health Care Act (AHCA), O’Rourke voted for Republican legislation to provide special tax credits for COBRA benefits — an initiative that Democrats said was part of the larger Trump scheme to kill off the ACA and eliminate protections for Americans with preexisting conditions.
“The AHCA would allow insurers to charge older Americans up to five times more than they charge younger Americans,” Neal said during the floor debate. “The tax credits in [the bill] would not make COBRA coverage any more affordable for the American people. In addition, it could potentially weaken the risk pool coverage because it would encourage older and sicker workers to remain on COBRA that could hurt small businesses. This is simply a backdoor way for States to discriminate against existing conditions.”
In 2017, O’Rourke joined his party in voting against President Donald Trump’s tax cut package, which delivered big benefits to corporations and the wealthy. His Senate campaign website cited deficit concerns about those tax cuts’ cost.
O’Rourke again broke ranks with House Democrats — and the Texas Democratic delegation — to vote for GOP tax cuts.
But that was not the end of the story for Republicans. Within months, they began pressing a new package of tax cuts that Democratic groups, such as the Center for American Progress, deemed the “Tax Scam 2.” One piece of that package was a proposal that a critical Los Angeles Times editorial said “would carve out a new tax shelter for start-up businesses.”
As Democrats sought to present a unified front against the new GOP tax cuts, O’Rourke broke ranks with House Democrats — and most of the Texas Democratic delegation — to vote for the GOP legislation. He supported the initiative, even though the Congressional Budget Office warned that the bill would expand the deficit.
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Video: Police Killings Rise Nationally
According to the Washington Post ‘s “Fatal Force” report, 995 people were shot dead by police officers in 2018.
Reviewed: A DIY Guide for “The Magicial Resistance”
A new book offers practical tips on how to organize — and cast spells — for equality and the environment.
Witchcraft Activism, A Toolkit for Magical Activism, David Salisbury. Weiser Books. Releases March 1.
Religion and politics have gone hand in hand at least from the time of Hammurabi’s Code. Though we are guaranteed separation of church and state in the United States, many a prayer has been uttered for political gain. Any and all religions make no bones about their desire to influence social events and governmental organizations using their own methods and views of the Divine, whether it’s the Catholic Workers marching for the rights of the poor, Baptist churches rallying for the right of the unborn — or witches casting spells to protect the environment.
At a time when many people feel helpless, ceremonial magic places power firmly in the hands of people who want to see positive change for the future.
While mainstream faithful said their prayers, conservative chaos magicians invoked Pepe the Frog to aid the 2016 elections. Since then, sorcerers of all stripes and more than few faithful in the Abrahamic faiths have been very publicly throwing down to counteract what they perceive as harmful acts by the current administration.
David Salisbury’s Witchcraft Activism is a smart, direct guide to incorporating activism into your witchcraft practice, or experimenting in your activism by adding a little extra whammy. An experienced, long-time activist and well-respected pagan practitioner, Salisbury lays out a guide for activism that incorporates strategy, defense, offense, victory and loss with spiritual tools and magical methods drawn from Western European folk magic traditions.
He begins with setting intention and leads us to getting off the couch and carrying out an action, be it letter writing, participating in marches, attending city council meetings or lobbying — each with certain magical additions to aid in success. Salisbury also gives results based on his actions incorporating magic and suggests a variety of means for different scenarios. Concentration, visualization and focus are stressed as tools, with the addition of sigils, herbs and incantations.
Spiritual actions range from the simple to the complex. Whether meditating before a meeting, doing a divination for suggested actions, writing out a petition and placing it under a candle or using advanced magical practices like egregores, the acts suggested by Salisbury increase dedication to our causes and shift perspective, creating space for new ideas, for relief from burnout and for refocusing on goals.
Over 1.5 million in the United States identify as Pagan or Wiccan in a 2014 Pew Research Center poll—and that’s not counting those witches, sorcerers and others who do not identify in those categories. The numbers of magical practitioners have risen steadily over the decades, perhaps because organized religions may not offer a sense of personal connection, of gnosis, or may have goals that are in opposition to participants’. At a time when many people feel helpless, witchcraft, ceremonial magic and folk/indigenous faiths place power firmly in the hands of people who want to see positive change for the future.
Don’t believe in magic? Give Salisbury’s methods a try and see what happens. You may be surprised, success is your proof. Just stay away from the Goetia!
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The Tests Facing California’s New Governor
Gavin Newsom now leads the state with the nation’s biggest economy and largest population — and one riven by economic inequality. What will be his most important challenges?
Gavin Newsom inherits a state that should be any governor’s dream: A California that is the cradle of the tech revolution and brims with prosperity, a one-party state with supermajorities in both chambers for Newsom’s Democrats. But there are clouds darkening the horizon: Daily prophecies tell of coming economic storms; legislative initiatives taken on behalf of immigrants, retirement security and the stemming of global warming are increasingly thwarted by a bellicose White House. And that Democratic Party monopoly in Sacramento masks a deepening ideological fault line dividing pro-business moderates and progressives – the latter of which have largely chafed for the last 16 years under the thrifty administrations of Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and are eager to burst out with far-reaching (if pricey) legislation.
Then, there are memories of three high-riding liberal governors (Pat and Jerry Brown, and Gray Davis) whose programs or careers were derailed by resentful taxpayers. There are more recent memories, too: Of an impulsive, hard-partying San Francisco mayor whose blunted ambitions led him to spend eight years in the ceremonial wilderness of the lieutenant governor’s office. Newsom is said to have matured into a more circumspect, pragmatic politician, although some of the old doubts were fanned back to life by an unflattering New Yorker profile that appeared shortly before his landslide victory November 6.
Perhaps overriding all these auguries is the undeniable fact that despite its enviable economy, its abundance of billionaires-in-residence and laudable array of social services, California still has the highest poverty rate in the U.S., nearly half of its children live in poverty or near-poverty, and merely finding an affordable place to live has become an existential challenge for many. These and similar factors superimpose on the state another kind of fault line, that of economic inequality. Most of the new governor’s time will be spent wrangling crises that spring from this disparity. Which is why the following Capital & Main stories primarily focus on the inequality that separates so many Californians from one another.
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Betomania & Other Tales: 2018 in Review
Capital & Main looks back at the year through 10 stories.
David Sirota: How a rising Democratic star undermined his own party’s efforts to halt the GOP agenda.
Co-published by The Guardian and Newsweek
Jessica Goodheart, Bill Raden, Judith Lewis Mernit and Gabriel Thompson: California’s economy is now the fifth-largest in the world, but merely finding an affordable place to live has become an existential challenge for many.
Co-published by Newsweek
Eric Pape: At 62, Bill Ware works as many as 14 hours a day just to make ends meet. Saving for retirement simply isn’t an option.
Co-published by Fast Company
Dan Ross: PFAS compounds have been linked in humans to cancers and hormonal disruption, as well as developmental, reproductive and immune system problems.
Carol Mithers: Evoking a previously unenforced “no pet” clause is a good way for property owners to push out low-rent tenants in a gentrifying area. Frequently such evictions aren’t legal, but tenants can’t insist on rights if they don’t know they have them. And that’s where attorney Dianne Prado comes in.
Co-published by Beyond Chron
David Sirota and Chase Woodruff: Fallout from Colorado’s Amendment 74 could land on all states’ efforts to curb pollution and climate change.
Co-published by Westword
David Sirota and Andrew Perez: One of the largest donors to the Prop. 10 opposition is the private equity giant Blackstone. The move has been described as the equivalent of mutual fund executives taking money out of customers’ accounts to make political contributions.
Co-published by The Guardian and MapLight
Robin Urevich: Immigrants who use Medi-Cal, food stamps, housing assistance or Medicare prescription drug subsidies could be barred from obtaining green cards or visa extensions under a proposed rule from the Trump administration.
Co-published by American Prospect
Bill Raden: Behind six of the main lies Kavanaugh was accused of telling under oath, plus the insights of congressional committee veterans and a former federal prosecutor who have examined Kavanaugh’s September 27 testimony.
Co-published by Newsweek
Jessica Goodheart: Elon Musk’s labor intransigence could upend a decades-old social contract between employers and workers.
Co-published by Fast Company
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The Governor and the Oil Lobbyist: Report Blasts Jerry Brown’s Friendship With Lucie Gikovich
Co-Published by Fast Company
How much influence has a former Jerry Brown staffer-turned-lobbyist had over the governor?
A report calls on incoming governor Gavin Newsom to investigate a lobbyist’s efforts in California.
Co-Published by Fast Company
Lucie Gikovich, a longtime friend and former member of California Governor Jerry Brown’s staff, repeatedly lobbied his office on behalf of a group of oil and gas companies that won major concessions from the governor on important state legislation, according to a report released today by a New York-based non-profit organization.
Gikovich’s decades-long friendship with Brown has previously been reported by the Sacramento Bee, including the fact that he stays at her home while on official business in Washington, DC. But her oil and gas industry ties have not received attention prior to this report, according to report author Derek Seidman, a research analyst with the Public Accountability Initiative, which is funded by foundations and the American Federation of Teachers.
Lucie Gikovich, her business partner and firm have donated $114,500 to Brown’s campaigns over the years.
“She’s someone that Brown clearly completely trusts and yet is being extremely well paid by her clients to lobby on behalf of their interests,” said Seidman, whose report is titled The California Oil Veto: The Lobbyist Behind Governor Jerry Brown’s Concessions to Big Oil. Gikovich, who works with the D.C.-based Crane Group, has lobbied Brown’s office on behalf of corporate clients for a range of industries since 2011. Gikovich, her business partner and firm have donated $114,500 to Brown’s campaigns over the years.
For her part, Gikovich denies having an outsized influence on Brown and minimizes her role in legislation that the report says she influenced. “Governor Brown, more than anyone I know, makes up his own mind after hearing from all sides and carefully analyzing all aspects of the issues,” she wrote in an email. “He makes his decisions on the merits, regardless of his relationships with those involved.”
Evan Westrup, a spokesperson for the Governor, added a few choice words about the then-unpublished report, when it was described to him in an email. “This report is about as factual – and substantive – as a tweet from Donald Trump,” said Westrup. “The governor had no knowledge that any of these companies were her clients, but even if he did, it would’ve made no difference. On these bills – and the thousands of others that have crossed his desk – the focus has always been on what’s best for California, which is why the state’s record of climate action is unmatched in the Western world.”
Phillips 66, one of Gikovich’s clients, has paid her $937,500 in fees and retainers to lobby the governor’s office and state regulatory boards since 2012.
The Public Accountability Initiative’s report builds on a longstanding critique of the California governor who, many environmentalists claim, has been too cozy with Big Oil interests in spite of his reputation as a national leader in combating global climate change and reducing demand for fossil fuels in the state. The report also calls on incoming governor Gavin Newsom to investigate Gikovich’s lobbying efforts in California and to “sever the state’s ties to Gikovich.”
One of Gikovich’s clients, the oil refinery operator Phillips 66, has paid her $937,500 in fees and retainers to lobby the governor’s office and various state regulatory boards since 2012. She was the Houston-based firm’s highest paid lobbyist in California, according to the report.
Gikovich served as a top aide to Brown during his first two terms as governor and he hired her as his federal lobbyist when he was mayor of Oakland, a job that earned her $780,000 from 2001 to 2007, according to the report. She also served as Brown’s press secretary during his failed 1982 run for the U.S. Senate. As governor, Brown has included her in trade delegations to China and Mexico.
Brown reportedly stayed with Gikovich in her Washington D.C. home in 2013, at the time she was lobbying on behalf of Phillips 66 and Halliburton, and other corporate clients. Such hospitality might not violate ethics laws if the stay “is related to another purpose unconnected with the lobbyist’s professional activities,” according to the state’s ethics rules at the time.
“I find it hard to believe that they would’ve not talked about any official business but no one can know for certain, of course,” says Seidman, whose report says those visits may constitute a “possible violation of ethics rules.”
The visits were “all personal, not business” and evidence of Brown’s frugality as well as his desire to visit with friends, according to Gikovich’s email.
Gikovich’s client during the battle over two bills to extend California’s landmark climate program, known as cap-and-trade, was Phillips 66, which operates oil refineries in Santa Maria and Rodeo. The package that the governor signed last year included major concessions to the oil industry and split the environmental community, with mainstream environmentalists supporting the compromise and environmental justice groups turning against it.
Gikovich said that her work on the cap-and-trade program—for which she reportedly was paid $105,000 in 2017—was mostly confined to monitoring the legislation. “There was no contact with the Governor personally on these issues,” she wrote.
In 2013, Gikovich also reported lobbying Brown’s office on behalf of Houston-based Halliburton, the oilfield services giant, on a proposed senate bill sponsored by then-Democratic State Senator Fran Pavley that regulated hydraulic fracturing—”fracking”—an oil extraction method that brings with it the risks of drinking water contamination and of inducing earthquakes, as well as air pollution.
That bill lost the support of environmentalists after the oil industry lobbied to amend it to allow fracking to continue while the process was being studied, as High Country News reported at the time. Westrup countered via email that “prior to this bill, there was no integrated, comprehensive regulatory oversight of this production stimulation method, which has been used in California for more than 30 years.”
Gikovich wrote that the Crane Group “had a small subcontract” to provide strategic advice to Halliburton and that she “never spoke even once to the Governor or staff on their issues, including fracking.”
The report also credits Gikovich with playing a key role in advocating for the Southern California Gas Company after its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility sprung a massive methane leak in 2015, causing the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents. She lobbied Brown’s office on behalf of the utility in opposition of a bill that would have granted disaster victims more latitude in litigation against the company. In an email, she said that she submitted a lengthy policy memo, but did not speak to Brown or his staff.
Brown nixed the bill, writing that “nothing has been shown to indicate that current law is insufficient to holding polluters accountable.”
“It seems pretty clear that Gikovich’s lobbying of his office correlated really closely with his veto of this,” said Seidman.
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Big Pharma Bankrolled Pro-Trump Group As Trump Pushed Pharma Tax Cut
In 2017 the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America gave $2.5 million to America First Policies Inc. — a major dark money group supporting President Donald Trump’s political and economic agenda.
The major dark money group supporting President Donald Trump’s political and economic agenda raked in millions of dollars directly from the pharmaceutical industry’s main lobbying group — at the same time Trump backed off his position on a major drug issue and promoted a tax plan that was a windfall for the industry.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America gave $2.5 million to America First Policies in 2017, according to IRS documents. America First Policies was formed by former Trump advisers in 2017 and proudly touts itself as a pro-Trump organization. The PhRMA money represented more than 10 percent of America First Policies’ revenues in 2017, according to the group’s own IRS filings.
The IRS documents were obtained by MapLight, a nonpartisan group that tracks the influence of money in politics.
While campaigning for president, Trump pledged to take action to generally reduce drug prices and to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription medications. He then appointed a former pharmaceutical executive to run the Department of Health and Human Services, and slammed the Medicare negotiation concept after a meeting with pharmaceutical executives.
“I’ll oppose anything that makes it harder for smaller, younger companies to take the risk of bringing their product to a vibrantly competitive market,” Trump said. “That includes price-fixing by the biggest dog in the market, Medicare.”
While Trump has moved to allow limited negotiation in some parts of Medicare, he has rejected the larger policy he campaigned on, leaving it out of his prescription drug proposal released earlier this year.
Trump also passed a tax cut that benefited the pharmaceutical industry, but that has not corresponded with a drop in prescription drug prices. America First Policies launched an ad campaign to promote those tax cuts, and spent the end of the 2018 campaign promoting them. PhRMA also gave $1.5 million to the American Action Network, which aired an ad campaign in support of the tax-cut legislation.
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Will New York Fund Amazon Subsidies or Student Debt Relief?
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made headlines begging Amazon to site its second headquarters in the state. Now, however, prominent Democrats in the state Senate and Assembly have slammed the idea of offering taxpayer subsidies to the retail giant.
Co-published by Splinter
Elections have consequences, and they may have particularly immediate consequences for billionaire Jeff Bezos, as newly empowered New York Democrats appear to be positioning themselves to try to block new state subsidies for Amazon, now that the online retailing titan has chosen New York City and Northern Virginia as new headquarters locations.
A day before last week’s midterm elections, when Amazon’s choice was still up in the air, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made headlines begging Amazon to site its second headquarters in the state. “I’ll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that’s what it takes,” said Cuomo, as reports surfaced about Amazon potentially moving in to Long Island City.
The next day, though, Democrats won control of the state Assembly and state Senate. Now, prominent Democrats in those chambers have slammed the idea of New York offering taxpayer subsidies to Amazon. And one lawmaker wants the legislature to decide between giving Amazon taxpayer largesse or addressing the state’s student debt crisis.
Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim announced that he will introduce legislation to slash New York’s economic development subsidies and use the money to buy up and cancel student debt — a move he said would provide a bigger boost to the state’s economy. The legislation, says Kim, would halt any Cuomo administration offer of taxpayer money to Amazon, which could reap up to $1 billion in tax incentives if it moves to Long Island City. The deal is a goodie bag for Amazon: It includes everything from a $325 million cash grant to a promise that taxpayers will help secure a helipad for Amazon executives.
“Giving Jeff Bezos hundreds of millions of dollars is an immoral waste of taxpayers’ money when it’s crystal clear that the money would create more jobs and more economic growth when it is used to relieve student debt,” said Kim, who recently published an op-ed with law professor Zephyr Teachout criticizing the Amazon deal. “Giving Amazon this type of corporate welfare is no different, if not worse, than Donald Trump giving trillions in corporate tax breaks at the federal level. There’s no correlation between healthy, sustainable job creation and corporate giveaways. If we used this money to cancel distressed student debt instead, there would be immediate positive GDP growth, job creation and impactful social-economic returns.”
New York has the most expensive set of corporate subsidy programs in the country, and a report by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research found that such subsidies “are not cost-effective, with either no statistically significant effects or large costs per job created.” Kim noted that in 2015 alone, New York gave out more than $8 billion in corporate incentives. He pointed to a recent study by the Levy Institute that found cancelling student debt would result “in an increase in real GDP [and] a decrease in the average unemployment rate.”
In New York, student debt has ballooned. A 2016 report by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office found that “the delinquency rate among New York student loan borrowers rose by more than a third over the past decade while average borrower balances in the State increased by nearly 48 percent, to $32,200.” A memo outlining Kim’s bill says the legislation would empower New York officials to “exercise their eminent domain powers to buy, cancel, and/or monetize the state’s out of control student debt,” which the memo says totals more than $82 billion.
Kim’s move followed criticism of a possible Amazon deal by Senator Michael Gianaris, who led Democrats’ successful effort to win control of the chamber, and who is expected to be in one of the Senate’s top jobs.
“Offering massive corporate welfare from scarce public resources to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world at a time of great need in our state is just wrong,” Gianaris and City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, both of whom represent Long Island City, said in a press release. “The burden should not be on the 99 percent to prove we are worthy of the one percent’s presence in our communities, but rather on Amazon to prove it would be a responsible corporate neighbor.”
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7 Takeaways from California’s Elections
Two of the biggest shockers happened in Los Angeles and Orange counties, in races that have historically drawn the most conservative voters: sheriff and district attorney.
Official voting results are weeks away from getting verified for the 2018 general election, but big, historic trends are already emerging: some old, some new, some bad — and a lot of Blue.
1. Real estate interests prove again that they’re some of the evilest people in California history
The people who helped to bring to the Golden State housing covenants, redlining, Proposition 13, the overturning of the Rumford Fair Housing Act, McMansions in canyons that always burn and so much more housing nastiness were on the wrong side of history again this election cycle. They spent at least $74 million to demonize Proposition 10—which would only allow municipalities the right to consider rent control—to the point where even renters felt it was a nefarious plot to destroy property values and bankrupt elderly landlords. Unsurprisingly, Prop. 10 lost by a nearly two-thirds majority, and real estate special-interests groups will spend even more if another such measure ever goes statewide again.
2. The Democrats’ next big battleground will be the Central Valley
Most of the Dems’ millions were spent on flipping Orange County blue, but as I wrote for the Los Angeles Times recently, the Democrats can learn a lot for 2020 by what’s happening in the Central Valley. There, Latino candidates have climbed the political ladder from school board seats to a majority of the Valley’s state Assembly and state Senate seats, flipping two of the latter with Latinas (Anna Caballero in the 12th, Melissa Hurtado in the 14th) on Tuesday. What they yet don’t have is one of the congressional seats held by the region’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: David Valadao, Jeff Denham, Kevin McCarthy and Devin Nunes, all whom won their races this time around (although Denham is still sweating his out). Expect the Dems to groom some rising stars for 2020—and expect them to mine data from the Valley about how to attract rural voters.
3. People in Southern California mistrust law enforcement more than ever before
Two of the biggest shockers happened around elected positions that have historically drawn the most conservative voters: sheriff and district attorney. In Orange County, Supervisor Todd Spitzer handily beat 20-year incumbent DA Tony Rackauckas, who has been dogged by a jailhouse snitch scandal for years. But even more surprising was the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s race, where Jim McConnell—supported by virtually the entire L.A. political class—lost to former deputy Alex Villanueva. Villanueva will be the first Democratic sheriff in more than 100 years.
4. Los Alamitos is now unofficially Southern California’s City of Hate
The tiny northwest Orange County town made news earlier this year when the city council decided to pass an ordinance protesting California’s sanctuary state law. The councilman who pushed that resolution, Warren Kusumoto, was reelected this week. But also winning a seat was former councilmember Dean Grose, who made national headlines in 2009 when he emailed a racist cartoon of a watermelon patch growing outside the Obama White House.
5. AIDS Healthcare Foundation needs to stop wasting money on propositions
The nonprofit giant spent over $23 million on the Yes on 10 battle, two years after spending $4.5 million on Proposition 60 to mandate condoms on adult films sets in California and more than $14 million on Proposition 61 to regulate prescription drugs bought by the state. Last year, it spent $5.5 million on Measure S, an anti-development ordinance in Los Angeles. All that money went to nothing, as each measure lost handily. Maybe AIDS Healthcare Foundation head Michael Weinstein should’ve spent that $47 million on services?
6. The California GOP’s last, best hope are Asians
The party has long been dead in the state, but a glimmer of hope has emerged for it in Orange County. Asian-American Republicans there now hold one congressional and state Senate seat, two state Assembly spots, three of the five chairs on the Board of Supervisors, and multiple school board and city council positions. And the new mayor of Anaheim, Orange County’s largest city, is Indian-American Harry Sidhu. Leave it to Orange County to get minorities to side with the Party of Trump!
7. With five of seven congressional seats now Democrat, this ain’t your dad’s Orange County anymore
It’s not even your Orange County. A brave new OC awaits all of us, indeed….
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Why Was Climate Change Omitted From Colorado’s Debate Over Fracking?
Co-published by Westword
The total absence of climate change discussion in Colorado’s 2018 election was striking, considering the state’s intensified floods, droughts and wildfires.
Over eight debates between gubernatorial candidates Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton, Colorado’s press corps mustered just three questions about climate change.
Co-published by Westword
It is no overstatement to say that Colorado’s Proposition 112 and Amendment 74 were two of the most significant and far-reaching climate change measures in America’s entire midterm election. But don’t blame yourself if you didn’t know that. While the initiatives sparked a pitched battle about the fossil fuel industry just as scientists were issuing a dire warning about climate change, that term — “climate change” — was largely absent from the state’s political conversation in 2018, even though some local officials say climate change could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in the near future.
While Colorado’s oil and gas industry was asserting that burning carbon-emitting fracked gas is “helping to reduce carbon emissions,” it sponsored an anonymous website attacking journalists who report on energy and climate issues.
Oil and gas corporations spent roughly $40 million to oppose 112, which would have mandated larger distances between fossil fuel extraction sites and schools, hospitals and residential neighborhoods, and likely restricted some fossil fuel development. Some of that money also went into promoting 74, which would have empowered those same oil and gas companies to sue towns that try to restrict drilling and fracking. While the industry offered a smorgasbord of arguments in its campaign — it would defund schools, it would kill jobs, etc. — those criticisms were all based on one central premise: that the setbacks measure would allegedly ban all new oil and gas exploration.
Had climate change been a central topic of conversation, that assertion could have boomeranged on the industry — proponents could have argued that an all-out ban was in fact urgently needed in light of a recent United Nations report warning of a full-fledged dystopia if new fossil fuel development is not halted. And they might have found a receptive audience: Recent polling from the University of Colorado has shown that 70 percent of Coloradans say they are at least somewhat concerned about climate change — and that survey was done before a summer of climate-change-intensified wildfires.
Even though Prop. 112 was not a total ban on fossil fuel extraction, at least a few national voices noted that it represented an important front in the climate change battle.
However, the Colorado press corps barely mentioned climate change in its coverage of the fight, and groups pushing the proposition never made climate change a central argument in their campaign.
An analysis by Media Matters found that out of 12 Colorado newspaper editorials about 112, just one — that of the Boulder Daily Camera, which endorsed the measure — even mentioned climate change. News coverage of 112 focused alternately on the health and environmental hazards highlighted by activists and industry doomsaying about its economic and budgetary implications, but reporting on fossil fuel-related carbon emissions and their contribution to climate change was almost nonexistent.
That was true not only of the fight over 112, but of the state’s wider political discourse. Over eight debates between governor-elect Jared Polis and opponent Walker Stapleton, the Colorado press corps mustered just three questions about climate change, accounting for less than 10 minutes of discussion during eight and a half hours of debate.
Meanwhile, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association was sponsoring an anonymous website attacking journalists who report on energy and climate issues. And as a backup measure to defang any potential climate arguments, the industry also ramped up its production of promotional PR asserting that burning carbon-emitting fracked gas is “helping to reduce carbon emissions,” as COGA insists. That assertion relies on the public never realizing that it’s only true in comparison to burning coal, but not actually true overall: Natural gas is a fossil fuel, so carbon is emitted when it is burned — no matter what COGA tries to insinuate.
The defeat of an explicitly climate-related ballot measure in Washington State suggests that many voters are not willing to support even modest efforts to frontally address climate change.
That context, though, is rarely noted in a political arena that has long been dominated by armies of fossil fuel lobbyists and millions of dollars of fossil fuel campaign spending. This year, much of that money was spent on ads designed to narrow the debate to one primarily about jobs and economic impact, thereby precluding 112 campaigners from broadening the conversation to one about the climate change dangers of fossil fuel extraction. Colorado Rising, the group behind Proposition 112, was boxed into making arguments only about better protecting the public health and safety of those living near fracking rigs, and to defensively insist that the measure wasn’t an actual ban.
In a media environment that was already erasing climate change from the conversation, there was no space for them to more straightforwardly argue that dramatic reductions in fossil fuel extraction are necessary to address climate change.
“What the polling is showing is that if people are really convinced that it’s an outright ban, they aren’t going to vote for it,” Colorado Rising’s Anne Lee Foster told Capital & Main when asked why climate change wasn’t a more prominent part of the campaign. “It’s not about what the actual percentage [ban] is, it’s proving that they have been blowing this out of proportion the whole time.”
At times, 112’s proponents ended up publicly asserting that the measure would not significantly reduce fossil fuel extraction at all, even as climate scientists argue that’s exactly what’s necessary.
“The oil and gas folks out there will still be able to do their thing,” said Mark Williams, a former Democratic congressional candidate, at a Longmont town hall where he promoted 112. “My concern is you have all these operators that are out there that are trying to make a quick buck, [but] Colorado does not have strong enough regulations.”
There’s no guarantee 112 would have been more successful had the proponents tried to focus the fight on climate change; the oil and gas industry’s success in defeating an explicitly climate-related ballot measure in Washington State suggests that many voters are not willing to support even modest efforts to frontally address climate change.
However, the total absence of the issue in Colorado’s 2018 election was striking, considering not only the IPCC report, but also the state’s own specific struggles with the effects of climate change. After all, leading scientists say that climate change is already intensifying Colorado’s floods, droughts and wildfires. And although COGA has demanded that “natural gas must be part of the climate change conversation,” many of those scientists disagree.
“There is more than enough carbon in the world’s already developed, operating oil, gas, and coal fields globally to exceed 2°C,” wrote a group of 26 climate scientists in a July letter to California Governor Jerry Brown, urging him to immediately halt the approval of all new oil and gas drilling. “There is simply no room in the carbon budget for any new fossil fuel extraction.”
“Absolutely no new fossil fuel developments. None,” said climate scientist Will Steffen, when asked earlier this year what the U.S. needs to do to help avoid global catastrophe. “That means no new coal mines, no new oil wells, no new gas fields, no new unconventional gas fracking. Nothing new.”
This is why even though 112 was not a total ban on fossil fuel extraction, at least a few national voices noted that its potential to somewhat reduce that extraction represented an important front in the climate change battle.
In a guest column for the Denver Post, former NASA scientist James Hansen encouraged Coloradans to vote for 112 because it would “help prevent climate change by making oil and gas harder to access.” Senator Bernie Sanders, who has called for a nationwide ban on fracking, also endorsed the measure on climate-related grounds. And toward the end of the campaign, 350.org founder Bill McKibben promoted the measure as part of his organization’s nationwide push to combat climate change.
But by that point, the industry’s PR machine was already skilled at suppressing any discussion of climate change and transforming every 112 argument into economic alarmism. An editorial in oil magnate Phil Anschutz’s Colorado Springs Gazette was emblematic: In attacking McKibben, it didn’t even bother to mention climate change, much less address his substantive argument.
Instead, its headline simply screamed, “Out-of-stater comes to kill Colorado jobs.”
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