“The Lord Works In Mysterious Ways”: FEC Investigation Into Michele Bachmann’s Election Campaign Now Focusing On Marcus
In 2011, Michele Bachmann claimed God spoke to her and told her to run for president. Apparently, the Lord works in mysterious ways. The Minnesota Congresswoman’s presidential campaign was a disaster on the inside even more than on the outside, as evidenced by all the ethics investigations she’s facing. Now Marcus Bachmann, the Congresswoman’s husband, is the subject of a Federal Elections Commission investigation, according to the New York Times.
“The latest is a federal inquiry into whether an outside ‘super PAC’ improperly coordinated strategy with Mrs. Bachmann’s campaign staff, including her husband, in violation of election laws,” the Times reports
In a complaint to the F.E.C. in February, Peter Waldron, a Florida Republican operative hired to enlist evangelical Iowa pastors, described overhearing the president of the super PAC ask Brett O’Donnell, a senior campaign adviser, about radio and TV stations.
In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Waldron said Mr. O’Donnell had replied, “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Election law prohibits substantial coordination, though not all contacts, between campaigns and super PACS, Mr. Ryan said.
Mr. Waldron, who calls himself a whistle-blower, also disclosed an e-mail from Mr. Bachmann describing a phone call Mr. Bachmann made to a donor asking for $7,000. In the e-mail, Mr. Bachmann wrote that the donor had agreed to give the money through the super PAC. He concluded: “Praise the Lord!! Thank you Peter for your servant leadership.”
Mr. Ryan said the call appeared to violate a rule against campaign staff members raising more than $5,000 for a super PAC.
Even the Times notes Waldron “has a controversial past,” and adds:
In 2006 he was jailed briefly in Uganda for possession of assault rifles, according to news reports. In the 1990s he led a Florida youth charity that received more than $600,000 in state and local grants before it collapsed amid questions about its effectiveness, according to The St. Petersburg Times, now The Tampa Bay Times.
But there’s so much more.
Waldron, who one year before the 2012 elections announced that the Holy Ghost had told him Michele Bachmann is the one for president, just published a new book, Bachmannistan: Behind The Lines, that claims Rep. Bachmann fired a staffer who had seven children, and another on the way, on Christmas eve.
Christian family values?
By: David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement, September 6, 2013
Promise not to laugh?
An ethics bill was passed last week in Tallahassee.
It’s no joke. The Florida Legislature unanimously approved a law designed to clean up its own sketchy act, and that of elected officials all over the state.
Gov. Rick Scott says he’s “reviewing” the bill. To veto it would be an act of profound cluelessness, but remember who we’re talking about.
The ethics legislation is significant because the concept of enforcing ethical behavior is so foreign to Florida politics. Decades of well-publicized misdeeds and flagrant conflicts of interest have failed to make a moral dent.
A few years ago, lawmakers went through the motions of establishing something called a Commission on Ethics. Most Floridians were unaware of its existence, for good reason. It was a total sham.
The panel could place monetary fines on elected officials for ethical violations, but it wasn’t empowered to collect those fines, which on paper have surpassed $1 million over the last 10 years. Nobody had to pay, so nobody took the commission seriously.
This year things changed. Senate president Don Gaetz announced that ethics reform was a top priority. His bill flew through the Senate on the very first day of the Legislative session.
The House sent it back, after some tweaking by Speaker Will Weatherford, and the new version was adopted without a dissenting vote by the full Legislature.
If Scott signs the bill into law, the Commission on Ethics will actually be able to collect the fines it imposes on wayward officeholders — even garnish their wages, if necessary.
Among other provisions, lawmakers would be banned from voting on any bills that might enhance their own personal finances. While in office, they wouldn’t be allowed to accept any government job. Once out of office, they’d be prohibited from lobbying state agencies for two years.
Such restrictions seem rather basic, even tame, until you consider that we’re basically starting from scratch. In Florida, the bar for sleazoid antics has been set very high.
The impetus for reform isn’t mysterious. As Republicans, Gaetz and Weatherford have seen their party stained by scandals.
Gaetz is from Okaloosa County, home to former House Speaker Ray Sansom. In 2010 Sansom resigned from the Legislature because of ethics complaints and an ongoing corruption probe.
Just two months ago, former GOP chairman Jim Greer pleaded guilty to five felonies, including grand theft and money laundering, in a case involving extravagant misuse of campaign funds and the party’s American Express cards.
Greer’s plea avoided an embarrassing trial that would have sent top Republican politicians to the witness stand. Having dodged that bullet, party leaders then had to watch their lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, abruptly resign after being linked to an Internet gambling cafe operation.
That company, Allied Veterans of the World, allegedly pocketed millions of dollars in charity funds that were supposed to be earmarked to help military veterans. It also donated gobs of money to the election campaigns of many Florida legislators, Republicans and Democrats.
Such headlines tend to produce a climate of fresh ethical awareness.
An interesting component of the new bill is the two-year ban on lobbying after leaving office. Traditionally, politicians who don’t want regular jobs become lobbyists when they return to private life.
House Speaker Weatherford’s predecessor, Dean Cannon, incorporated his own lobby firm a month before exiting the Legislature, and he hit the ground running. All perfectly legal, at the time.
Lots of other ex-House speakers and retired Senate bigshots are also lobbyists, schmoozing former colleagues on behalf of high-paying corporate and municipal clients. This revolving door ratifies the average voter’s cynical view of state government as a game fixed by insiders.
Although two years isn’t very long to wait between serving in public office and privately cashing in, any wait is better than what we’ve got now.
Ethics reform will be only as good as its enforcement, and history tells us not to have high hopes. This legislation is not without wiggle room and loopholes, including a provision for blind trusts that would allow officeholders to conceal the details of their wealth.
However, the bill at least puts some strong words on paper, and opens a pathway for prosecutors.
To help clarify the details and reduce the chances for future indictment, every elected official would be required to take annual ethics training.
You’re laughing again, right?
Sure, there’s something absurd about having to train a politician to be ethical. But, hey, if they can teach a cat to play the piano….
By: Carl Hiaason, The National Memo, April 30, 2013
The latest controversy involving Rep. Paul “Lyin’” Ryan concerns whether, in a recent interview, willfully misrepresented the time it took him to run a marathon, some 20-odd years ago. He claims it was under three hours, but apparently it was actually over four. While I do believe he’s probably deliberately lying here, rather than innocently “misremembering” (runners tell me they remember their marathon times like other people remember their SAT scores), normally I think it would be way too petty to make a big deal out of it.
However, given that: 1) for some time now, Ryan has had a reputation for playing fast and loose with the truth, a reputation that notably enhanced by his convention address, a speech that was unusually mendacious even by the standards of the contemporary G.O.P.; and 2) during the 2000 election, the Republicans, and (especially) their enablers in the mainstream media, hung Al Gore for far less (see here, for example), I think going after Paul Ryan for this is totally fair game.
Yes, it’s trivial BS. And no, I don’t by any means believe that this should be the focal point of attacks on Paul Ryan — the fact that he and his party are such ruthless champions of the immiseration of working people should be the main focus of said attacks, always.
That said, ridicule is a powerful weapon, and one which progressives should not shy away from (though sadly, some of the more misguidedly high-minded ones among us do). Besides, if you think I’m going to pass up the opportunity to crack snarky Rosie Ruiz jokes at Ryan’s expense, you are so, so wrong. Clearly!
By: Kathleen Geier, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 1, 2012
“Disclosure For Thee But Not For Me”: Romney Using Ethics Exception To Limit Disclosure Of Bain Holdings
Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, whose wealth has become a central issue in the 2012 campaign, has taken advantage of an obscure exception in federal ethics laws to avoid disclosing the nature and extent of his holdings.
By offering a limited description of his assets, Romney has made it difficult to know precisely where his money is invested, whether it is offshore or in controversial companies, or whether those holdings could affect his policies or present any conflicts of interest.
In 48 accounts from Bain Capital, the private equity firm he founded in Boston, Romney declined on his financial disclosure forms to identify the underlying assets, including his holdings in a company that moved U.S. jobs to China and a California firm once owned by Bain that filed for bankruptcy years ago and laid off more than 1,000 workers.
Those are known only because Bain publicly disclosed them in government filings and on the Internet. But most of the underlying assets — the specific investments of Bain funds— are not known because Romney is covered by a confidentiality agreement with the company.
Several of Romney’s assets — including a large family trust valued at roughly $100 million, nine overseas holdings and 12 partnership interests— were not named initially on his disclosure forms, emerging months later when he agreed to release his tax returns.
There is no indication that Romney is violating any rules, and his advisers note that his reports have been certified by the Office of Government Ethics, which reviews the disclosures required of presidential candidates.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the disclosure “completely and accurately describes Governor Romney’s assets as required by the law.” She said Romney does not know the details of his investments since he turned them over to a trustee to manage, and that ethics officials confirmed that “everything … was reported correctly” and completely.
Several outside experts across the political spectrum, however, say Romney’s disclosure is the most opaque they have encountered, with some suggesting the filing effectively defeats the spirit of disclosure requirements.
“His approach turns the whole purpose of the ethics statute on its ear,” said Cleta Mitchell, a Republican lawyer who has represented dozens of candidates and officials in the disclosure process, including Romney’s leading challenger for the GOP nomination, Rick Santorum.
Romney’s fortune and his association with Bain are frequent topics in the presidential campaign, with opponents charging that the way he accumulated much of his wealth — through leveraged buyouts that in some cases ended in bankruptcy and layoffs — is at odds with the interests of working-class Americans.
The ties to Bain, a private firm known for its reticence, put Romney in a rare category exempting him from the transparency rules that apply to most candidates.
Like all nominees for federal office, Romney is covered by the statute that mandates disclosure of assets. But since the 2004 campaign — when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry declined to disclose some of his wife’s holdings — the Office of Government Ethics has permitted nominees and presidential candidates to postpone revealing underlying assets in investment accounts that have a legally binding confidentiality agreement.
Bain routinely asks its investors to sign such agreements.
But after a nominee is in office, the ethics agency requires that any undisclosed assets be sold as a way to meet conflict-of-interest requirements.
The implications for Romney, if elected, are uncertain because sitting presidents are not subject to the conflict-of-interest sections of the ethics law. Although still subject to the disclosure requirements, a president cannot be compelled by OGE to sell undisclosed assets, according to an OGE official. Romney’s would be the first presidency to face this circumstance, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic in an election year.
Romney does disclose underlying assets in his accounts held by financial firms other than Bain, such as Goldman Sachs. But his advisers say Bain holdings, the source of most of his wealth, are kept confidential at the request of Bain management for proprietary business reasons. Romney’s attorneys asked Bain officials to release information about the funds, but the request was denied, according to Saul.
When he talks about Bain, Romney promotes the image of a jobs generator spawning megastores such as Staples and Sports Authority , which serve as emblems of Bain’s extraordinary financial success.
But some other Bain-affiliated companies have a history of controversy. Romney is invested, for example, in DDI, a company in California once owned by Bain that filed for bankruptcy in 2003 and laid off more than 1,000 workers.
Company chief executive Mikel Williams said the firm has returned to profitability and is expanding, in part because of recent support from Bain and others.
Romney also has holdings in Sensata Technologies, a high-tech sensor control firm that has moved U.S. manufacturing jobs to China. A Sensata spokesman declined to comment.
Most of Romney’s holdings in Bain accounts are impossible to identify because of the confidentiality rules imposed by Bain, but his investments in Sensata and DDI were revealed through Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
Saul said it is unfair to link the candidate to such firms because “Governor Romney has not had any role at Bain Capital since he left over a decade ago,” and has turned over “control and overall management” of his investments to a trustee.
Ethics office’s ‘double standard’
Under pressure, Romney recently released hundreds of pages of tax returns for 2010 and estimated returns for 2011. A comparison of those returns with his federal and state “personal financial disclosure” reports and corporate filings at the SEC revealed dozens of discrepancies – and provided a window into what might emerge if Romney revealed the assets he holds in Bain accounts.
“I don’t know what legal authority exists for the federal ethics office to allow Mitt Romney not to disclose these assets,” said Mitchell, the Republican campaign lawyer. “The statute intends for presidential candidates to publicly disclose underlying assets.”
She said she views the OGE’s exception as a “double standard” that allows very wealthy candidates to avoid disclosure because they are more likely to have their assets in accounts covered by a confidentiality agreement.
By comparison, she said, her congressional clients are required to report every asset unless they qualify for one of the few exceptions described in the law.
One indication of the lack of specificity in Romney’s disclosures is the size of his report. In 2011, it ran 27 pages, compared with 123 pages filed by Ross Perot before he announced his presidential bid in 1992 and 51 pages filed by Henry Paulson, former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, when he was nominated as Treasury secretary in 2006.
Steve Pagliuca, a current Bain managing director who sought election to the U.S. Senate in 2009, and filed a 94-page disclosure. He too was denied permission to release underlying assets in Bain accounts, according to a source familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the topic.
Romney is not the first presidential candidate to say he is unable to list underlying holdings in a private equity account. But he is the first to do so for such a large portion of his overall assets.
“I have never seen anything like this,” said Joe Sandler, a Democratic Party lawyer who has shepherded candidates and nominees through the disclosure process for 26 years. “Romney’s approach frustrates the very purpose of the ethics and disclosure laws,” he said. Sandler served as general counsel to the Democratic National Committee when Kerry ran for president.
As a senator, Kerry continues to say he cannot list assets in a Bain account held by his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, which his staff says is in compliance with Senate rules.
When he was running for president, Kerry did not list assets in Bain and half a dozen other private equity and hedge fund accounts — some valued over $1 million. A Kerry aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not part of the presidential campaign, said, “In this case, Senator Kerry wasn’t a beneficiary of Heinz family trusts, had no role in their management, and preexisting confidentiality agreements governing proprietary information were a unique issue.”
New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) does not list underlying investments in several private equity accounts his wife owns — and he provided no explanation with his disclosure report. His chief of staff, Dan Katz, said information on accounts owned by trusts connected to Lautenberg’s wife have proved unobtainable so far, but the senator has been told he is in compliance with Senate rules.
Senate Ethics Committee officials said they could not comment on individual members.
When he ran for the Senate from New Jersey in 2000, Jon Corzine, a former chief executive at Goldman, initially declined to release tax returns, citing confidentiality obligations to his firm. William Canfield III, a former Republican counsel to the Senate Ethics Committee, said at the time that the New Jersey millionaire had a special obligation to disclose, in part because of his extraordinary wealth.
“Mr. Corzine has to understand, while he retains some privacy rights, he has given up a substantial number of them in holding himself out for public office,” Canfield said at the time. Canfield has gone on to private practice and advised federal candidates, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
A spokesman for Corzine, who ultimately released his tax returns, declined to comment.
The purpose of disclosure
The 1978 Ethics in Government Act requires candidates to publicly disclose their wealth in broad ranges and to list the assets in most partnerships, trusts and pooled investment funds.
The purpose is to allow the public to identify potential conflicts of interest and the personal economic priorities of candidates and elected officials, said Fred Wertheimer, the longtime advocate who worked to enact the measure in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.
Mitchell and several other Washington campaign lawyers say they advise candidates to reveal underlying assets, divest them if they cannot be disclosed or choose not to seek public office.
“My clients have had fund managers squawk about their ‘proprietary information’ and I’ve always been told, ‘There is no choice — the law requires disclosure,’ ” Mitchell said.
Canfield, the former Senate ethics lawyer, will not comment on Romney’s assets. But, he said, “I always counsel my clients to err on the side of disclosure” and to note on ethics forms “the same description of assets they would disclose to the IRS.” Doing so, he said, is in keeping with the spirit of the law and prevents embarrassing questions about discrepancies.
Romney’s tax forms showed holdings in a Swiss bank account, a real estate trust and nine offshore accounts not named on the public disclosure reports. In addition, 12 Bain accounts described as “fund” investments on the disclosure were identified as “partner” investments to the IRS.
Romney’s attorneys subsequently amended the disclosure to acknowledge the Swiss bank and the real estate accounts. The other assets, Romney aides said, were too small to report or had been listed, under other names, on the public disclosure. The general explanations were accepted by government ethics reviewers as were the amendments.
“Any document with this level of complexity and detail is bound to have a few trivial inadvertent issues,” Saul said at the time.
In his disclosure reports, Romney’s lawyers noted that he retired from Bain in 1999, is now a “passive investor” and “has not had any active role with any Bain entity.”
Romney’s tax returns indicate that he and his wife received “carried interest,” a controversial form of compensation that provides a share of profits to Bain managers and is taxed at the lower capital gains rate.
Romney’s compensation from ongoing Bain deals results from a retirement agreement when he left the company in 1999 allowing him a stake in Bain’s new investment funds for a decade after.
By: Tom Hamburger, The Washington Post, April 5, 2012
A racist email sent around by Richard Cebull, the chief US district court judge in Montana, not only showed blatant disrespect for the president of the United States but also may have broken federal ethics rules. Cebull, who was appointed to the court by George W. Bush in 2001 and became chief judge in 2008, appears to have violated the US Code of Judicial Conduct on at least one count with his behavior, legal experts say.
Cebull sent the nasty email about President Obama on Feb. 20 to six of his “old buddies,” as he put it. The subject line read: “A MOM’S MEMORY.” He used his official court email account, according to the Great Falls Tribune, which first exposed the email on Wednesday. “Normally I don’t send or forward a lot of these,” he wrote, “but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.” The enclosed “joke”—suggesting that the racially mixed president is the spawn of a dog—read:
“A little boy said to his mother; ‘Mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white?’
“His mother replied, ‘Don’t even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!’”
Cebull denies he’s a racist, and says that the email wasn’t intended to be public. But on Wednesday he admitted publicly that the email was both racist and motivated by partisan politics. “The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan,” he said. “I didn’t send it as racist, although that’s what it is. I sent it out because it’s anti-Obama.”
The US Code of Judicial Conduct mandates that a judge “should personally observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the Judiciary are preserved.” It also says that a judge “should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities”—which applies to both professional and personal conduct. With regard to politics, it says judges “should refrain from partisan political activity” and “should not publicly endorse or oppose a partisan political organization or candidate.”
Where to draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate speech by judges is a complicated matter, says Jeffrey M. Shaman, a judicial ethics expert at DePaul University College of Law. But there seems to be little doubt that Cebull crossed over the line. “Offensive, racist speech such as this clearly diminishes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and therefore should be considered a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct,” Shaman told me. “Judge Cebull ought to know better, and his circulation of such a disgusting message makes one wonder if he is competent to serve as a judge.”
What might the consequences be for Cebull?
“While I certainly see why this type of joke raises serious and legitimate concerns, I am not convinced that it warrants punishment beyond the current (and justified) public criticism,” wrote George Washington University legal scholar Jonathan Turley on Thursday. “The judge is claiming that he thought he was sending this to a handful of friends. It would be akin to a bad joke at a party being repeated later.”
Turley notes that in 2009 a judicial council cleared Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th US Circuit Court of wrongdoing after an investigation into sexually explicit materials (involving farm animals) found on the judge’s personal website. But the council did officially find that Kozinski had acted with “carelessness” and was “judicially imprudent.”