campaign finance

The Pruitt Watch (Peat Fire)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of 'Lucifer', by Franz von Stuck, 1890.

While the idea of a rioting dumpster fire experienced brief vogue among media commentators trying to describe the Donald Trump presidency, the slowburning, filthy corruption of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt seems to describe something akin to a peat fire. The lede from the New York Times:

Since moving to Washington, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has attracted the attention of federal investigators because of his unusual association with lobbyists, including his rental of a condominium last year owned by the wife of a lobbyist with business before the E.P.A.

As a state senator in Oklahoma 15 years ago, Mr. Pruitt went even further: He bought a home in the state capital with a registered lobbyist who was pushing for changes to the state’s workers’ compensation rules—changes that Mr. Pruitt championed in the legislature.

And as with the condominium rental in Washington, Mr. Pruitt never publicly disclosed his financial relationship with the lobbyist, who, like Mr. Pruitt, lived in the home when in Oklahoma City on business.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, on Capitol Hill, 26 April 2018, in Washington D.C. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)But if for some reason the Pruitt Watch seems frustrating, or even verges toward incomprehensible, perhaps the striking report from The Atlantic suggests a flashpoint:

As Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt faces a seemingly endless stream of scandal, his team is scrambling to divert the spotlight to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. And the White House isn’t happy about it.:

In the last week, a member of Pruitt’s press team, Michael Abboud, has been shopping negative stories about Zinke to multiple outlets, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the efforts, as well as correspondence reviewed by The Atlantic.

“This did not happen, and it’s categorically false,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.

To the other, an unnamed White House official claiming knowledge of the situation explained: “Absolutely nothing Scott Pruitt did would surprise me.” And, yes, that last might as well include, the prospect of the EPA Administrator simply persisting and enduring, though the article did not.

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Trump Trumping Trump

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President Donald Trump attends a Generation Next forum at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., 22 March 2018. (Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters)

The thing is, it’s just not supposed to be this easy:

First, prosecutors have suggested that while Michael Cohen is an attorney, his work with Trump hasn’t strictly been in a legal capacity. The president seemed eager to bolster this point this morning, emphasizing repeatedly that Cohen is principally “a businessman.”

Second, the official line from Trump World has been that the president had nothing to do with the Stormy Daniels controversy. He wasn’t involved in the pre-election hush-money payoff, the argument went, and the president is completely in the dark when it comes to the whole sordid affair.

Trump suggested this morning that this narrative is false, making clear that Cohen represented him in the “deal” with the porn star, and asserting that he knows campaign funds weren’t used to buy Daniels’ silence.

And third, Trump is apparently of the opinion that if campaign funds didn’t finance the hush money, then there was nothing wrong with the payoff. That’s not even close to being true. In fact, there are all kinds of lingering questions about in-kind contributions and possible fraud that have nothing to do with whether campaign funds were used or not.

Michael Avenatti was apparently delighted to see Trump blurt out all of this useful information on national television this morning, describing the president’s on-air comments as “another gift from the heavens in this case.”

(Benen)

The part boggling all sensibility is how casually President Trump and his clownish cohort go about hurting themselves.

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Image notes: President Donald Trump attends a Generation Next forum at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., 22 March 2018. (Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters)

Benen, Steve. “Daniels’ lawyer: Trump’s new comments are a ‘gift from the heavens'”. msnbc. 26 April 2018.

Murder Less Foul

A Gadsden flag flies at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, on Jan. 10, 2016. (Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

“The Tea Party movement is pretty much dead now, but it didn’t die a natural death. It was murdered—and it was an inside job. In a half decade, the spontaneous uprising that shook official Washington degenerated into a form of pyramid scheme that transferred tens of millions of dollars from rural, poorer Southerners and Midwesterners to bicoastal political operatives.”

Paul H. Jossey

Campaign finance attorney Paul H. Jossey confesses to a murder of sorts―

Greedy super PACs drained the movement with endless pleas for money to support “conservative” candidates—while instead using the money to enrich themselves. I should know. I worked for one of them.

―and while the Politico article from the lawyer who made a living fleecing tricornered tinfoils is a laborious but insightful read, the one thing nobody gets to do is pretend surprise.

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Image note: Infamy ― A Gadsden flag flies at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, on Jan. 10, 2016. (Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

Jossey, Paul H. “How We Killed the Tea Party”. Politico. 14 August 2016.

Speculation on Murmur and Buzz (HRC Horizon Remix)

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks to the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church during their annual convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 8 July 2016. (Photo: Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

And yet this is all about me. Should I apologize, or can we just admit that’s an inherent aspect of this valence of the blogosphere?

Because the truth is that the great “candidate” post is something you always want to get around to but somehow gets put off because any starting point leads to seemingly daunting prospects.. Whether it’s Ezra Klein’s article about how, “It’s time to admit Hillary Clinton is an extraordinarily talented politician”―and it’s a very good article, but still you want to argue about what do you mean “it’s time”?―or perhaps reminding my Sanders-supporting neighbors why he’s endorsing Hillary Clinton, it’s actually a really big pitch; there’s a lot going on.

But the post need not be some grandiose presentation; nor is that a repudiation of the basic idea of pitching the campaign.

Let’s try it this way: Steve Benen considers the murmur and buzz around Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential shortlist, mainly reports that the leading contenders are Tom Vilsack, presently Secretary of Agriculture and formerly governor of Iowa; and Tim Kaine, presently the junior U.S. Senator from Virginia, previously serving as that state’s governor, and in between managing an overlapping gig as chairman of the Democratic National Committee:

Clinton seemed to tilt her hand a bit on Monday during an interview with Charlie Rose, which included the presumptive Democratic nominee emphasizing “experience” as the key factor. “I am afflicted with the responsibility gene,” she added.

The interview turned into a sort of word-association game. Asked about Kaine and his self-professed “boring” personality, Clinton said, “And I love that about him. I mean, he’s never lost an election. He was a world-class mayor, governor and senator, and is one of the most highly respected senators I know.”

Asked about Hickenlooper, Clinton said, “First class.” Asked about Warren, she added, “Amazing. I mean, what she has done in relatively few years to put the agenda of inequality front and center is something that I think we should all be grateful for.”

Sanders supporters, of course, will be disappointed; I would in turn suggest that hope is not yet lost. While it is true that on this occasion I can read the conventional wisdom as well as any other, it is similarly true that this is a year in which I presume the conventional wisdom unstable. To wit, while it is unlikely, Hillary Clinton is perfectly capable of turning the screw in order to mean the manner, relative dimension, and quality of experience, thus turning to the essential newcomer, Elizabeth Warren.

Yeah, it could happen.

(cough!)

(ahem!)

But there is a hidden gem, there.

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The Donald Trump Show (Rulz)

Real estate mogul Donald Trump announces his bid for the presidency in the 2016 presidential race during an event at the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York City on 16 June 2015. Trump, one of America's most flamboyant and outspoken billionaires, threw his hat into the race Tuesday for the White House, promising to make America great again. The 69-year-old long-shot candidate ridiculed the country's current crop of politicians and vowed to take on the growing might of China in a speech launching his run for the presidency in 2016. "I am officially running for Prsident of the United States and we are going to make our country great again," he said from a podium bedecked in US flags at Trump Tower on New York's Fifth Avenue. The tycoon strode out to the strains of "Rockin' in the Free World" by Canadian singer Neil Young after being introduced by his daughter Ivanka. His announcement follows years of speculation that the man known to millions as the bouffant-haired host of American reality TV game show "The Apprentice" would one day enter politics. Trump identifies himself as a Republican, and has supported Republican candidates in the past. But in this announcement speech he did not say explicitly if he was running for the party's nomination or as an independent. (Photo credit: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty)

This is not something we should find surprising:

Donald Trump’s campaign is still soliciting illegal donations from foreign individuals―including members of foreign governments at their official email addresses―weeks after the campaign was put on notice by watchdog groups.

Foreign members of parliament from the United Kingdom and Australia confirmed to The Hill that they received fundraising solicitations from the Trump campaign as recently as July 12―two weeks after a widely publicized FEC complaint issued on June 29 by non-partisan watchdogs Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center.

(Swan and Neidig)

Or, rather, we might simply say it sounds about right.

Because even if we somehow might set aside, just for a moment, the magnitude of the Donald Trump spectacle―you know, the whole denial and disbelief part―there remains a question of just how Donald Trump’s exponential boorishness and pointed disdain for general decency should surprise us.

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Image note: Donald Trump announces his candidacy for the Republican 2016 presidential nomination at Trump Tower in New York City, 16 June 2015. (Photo credit: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty)

Swan, Jonathan and Harper Neidig. “Trump campaign solicits illegal foreign donations despite warnings”. The Hill. 16 July 2016.

The Beltway Way (Moneygoround Mix)

Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL15). (Detail of photo by David Banks/Bloomberg)

We get a glimpse into the Beltway moneygoround; Curtis Tate looks into Congressional PAC spending:

The leadership political action committee affiliated with Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois has splurged on Napa Valley wine tours, Miami Beach luxury hotels and Washington Nationals baseball tickets worth tens of thousands of dollars over the past four years, federal campaign disclosures show.

The nine-term Republican represents a coal-producing region of southern Illinois and frequently speaks in defense of fossil fuels as a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. But earlier this year, his John S Fund PAC put down a deposit for a fundraising event at a California spa hotel that’s powered by solar panels.

PACs are lightly regulated entities that members of Congress typically use as fundraising tools for their party, but not for their own campaigns.

The McClatchy report notes Rep. Shimkus (R-IL15) is not uncommon: “Most senior lawmakers with PACs spend at least some of the money on perks their salaries don’t cover”, Tate explains. Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics calls the PACs “a nice little piggybank to have”, explaining, “There are so few restrictions on how you can use it.”

The thing is that the story really is just a glimpse; the whole thing sounds sordid but in this framework it is a matter of aesthetics versus law, and the question of how to make these things work just right is pretty much as complicated as any other question of freedom versus civilized society as a suicide pact. That is to say, good luck electing a Congress that will get rid of the things; the Supreme Court is pretty much a wildcard, though we can easily guess it would be something of a stretch to imagine the judiciary banning these practices outright. And, really, just how badly will society and its political institutions fail at not being undignified if we hold a big sit-down in the public discourse and parse out the details of what is or isn’t acceptable?

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The Pine Tree Problem

Gov. Paul LePage speaks at the Maine Republican Convention, Saturday, April 26, 2014, in Bangor, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

“That’s like giving my wife my checkbook. I’m telling you, it’s giving your wife your checkbook. Go spend.”

Gov. Paul LePage (R-ME)

This is, in truth, a difficult question to express according to diverse pathways, and any number of priority assertions clamor for attention.

But as Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Tea Party Republican already facing a grotesque array of scandals for his spectacularly curious behavior―threatening to bomb newspapers, using state government as a weapon against schools, failing to understand how the state government he runs actually works, that sort of thing―decides to publicly attack women―including his own wife, Ann LePage―in order to sound witty about the proposition of public election financing, I suppose it is, in fact, the original question that pushes through the noise: Remind us again, please, Maine: Why did you elect Mr. LePage? And why did you re-elect him?

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Image note: Gov. Paul LePage speaks at the Maine Republican Convention, Saturday, April 26, 2014, in Bangor, Maine. (Detail of photo by Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Benen, Steve. “Maine’s LePage: ‘That’s like giving my wife my checkbook'”. msnbc. 27 October 2015.

The Best Blurb Ever

Detail of cartoon by Brian McFadden, 24 December 2014, via Daily Kos Comics.Okay, not really, but, you know, we needed an excuse.

The image is a detail from Brian McFadden’s look at holiday cinema, via Daily Kos Comics.