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“Presidential Candidates, Each Sold Separately”: The Donor Class Will Shape The Choice Of Candidates Long Before A Single Ballot Is Cast

Mark Hanna used to say, “there are two things important in politics.The first is money and I forget the second.” The next president will take the oath of office in 2017, but between now and then expect a lot of money to be spent buying the ear of the next president. The large amount of spending will be driven in part because there are presently 22 candidates vying for the two major party nominations. If Prof. Lawrence Lessig makes it official, there will be 23.

Our campaign finance laws maintain the legal fiction that there is a difference between money given directly to a candidate’s campaign and money spent on ads in support of the candidate that benefit them. Your local billionaire can still only give $5400 (or $2700 per election per candidate) to a candidate for federal office. But at the very same time the wealthy can spend an unlimited amount on ads touting their favorite candidate or trashing the object of their ire.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be mighty grateful if someone spent a million in support of me. And I’d probably be more grateful for the million spent than the $5400 given directly.

The wealthy have had the right to spend lavishly on independent ad buys since Buckley v. Valeo in 1976. But the real spending spiked after Citizens United and a case called SpeechNow with the advent of the Super PAC. According to www.opensecrets.org, in 2010 Super PACs raised $828 million and spent $609 million in the federal election.

Spending through a Super PAC, even if there is one funder ponying up 95 percent or more of the money, gives the illusion that there are groups involved—often with an appropriately Orwellian name—instead of just one random rich guy. Using Super PACs as a vehicle, in 2012 Sheldon Adelson and his wife spent $93 million, William “Bill” Koch of the Koch Brothers spent $4.8 million and Foster Friess spent $2.6 million.

And already we see billionaires lining up behind 2016 candidates in the “money primary” like they were buying so many action figures in a toy store with matching podiums, blue suits, and karate grip. Of course, like so many toys, each candidate is sold separately. And the spending has already started. As Mother Jones recently put it, “These 8 Republican Sugar Daddies Are Already Placing Their Bets on 2016.”

The other phenomenon that has happened is some are backing more than one candidate. With 5 Dems and 17 Republicans, the Center for Public Integrity, argues that “[i]t’s speed dating season for presidential campaign contributors.”

There is no rule that says a donor must only back one candidate. If they want, they can hedge their bets and back two or three. Hell, if they want, they can try to collect them all. At least ten donors are backing two or more of the Republican candidates.

Donors don’t have to be loyal to a single political party either.  Seventeen mega spenders are already backing Republican Bush and Democrat Clinton, who may end up as respectively the most popular GI Joe and American Girl doll of 2016. For example, John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, has supported both Bush and Clinton. The same is true of Richard Parsons, the former head of Time Warner, and David Stevens, the CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association.  For a full list of the seventeen Clinton/Bush supporters see here.

Now it’s not necessarily a bad thing for there to be over 20 candidates for president over a year out. It’s a big country with diverse views. But because the presidential public financing system was allowed to atrophy, each of these candidates must run in privately funded races. And this has led to the unseemly spectacles of multiple candidates flying to California for the “Koch” primary or to Las Vegas for the “Adelson” primary. The only primaries that should matter are the ones with actual voters. But the reality is the donor class is likely to shape the choice of candidates long before any Iowans caucus or a New Hampshirite cast a single ballot.

 

By: Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law, August 14, 2015

August 16, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Democracy, Mega-Donors, Politics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“21 Questions For Donald Trump”: Voters Would Learn A Lot About Trump If They Asked For Answers To These Questions

I have covered Donald Trump off and on for 27 years — including breaking the story that in 1990, when he claimed to be worth $3 billion but could not pay interest on loans coming due, his bankers put his net worth at minus $295 million. And so I have closely watched what Trump does and what government documents reveal about his conduct.

Reporters, competing Republican candidates, and voters would learn a lot about Trump if they asked for complete answers to these 21 questions.

So, Mr. Trump…

1. You call yourself an “ardent philanthropist,” but have not donated a dollar to The Donald J. Trump Foundation since 2006. You’re not even the biggest donor to the foundation, having given about $3.7 million in the previous two decades while businesses associated with Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment gave the Trump Foundation $5 million. All the money since 2006 has come from those doing business with you.

How does giving away other people’s money, in what could be seen as a kickback scheme, make you a philanthropist?

2. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman successfully sued you, alleging your Trump University was an “illegal educational institution” that charged up to $35,000 for “Trump Elite” mentorships promising personal advice from you, but you never showed up and your “special” list of lenders was photocopied from Scotsman Guide, a magazine found at any bookstore.

Why did you not show up?

3. You claimed The Learning Annex paid you a $1 million speaking fee, but on Larry King Live, you acknowledged the fee was $400,000 and the rest was the promotional value.

Since you have testified under oath that your public statements inflate the value of your assets, can voters use this as a guide, so whenever you say $1, in reality it is only 40 cents? 

4. The one-page financial statement handed out at Trump Tower when you announced your candidacy says you’ve given away $102 million worth of land.

Will you supply a list of each of these gifts, with the values you assigned to them?

5. The biggest gift you have talked about appears to be an easement at the Palos Verdes, California, golf course bearing your name on land you wanted to build houses on, but that land is subject to landslides and is now the golf course driving range.

Did you or one of your businesses take a tax deduction for this land that you could not build on and do you think anyone should get a $25 million tax deduction for a similar self-serving gift?

6. Trump Tower is not a steel girder high rise, but 58 stories of concrete.

Why did you use concrete instead of traditional steel girders?

7. Trump Tower was built by S&A Concrete, whose owners were “Fat” Tony Salerno, head of the Genovese crime family, and Paul “Big Paul” Castellano, head of the Gambinos, another well-known crime family.

If you did not know of their ownership, what does that tell voters about your management skills?

8. You later used S&A Concrete on other Manhattan buildings bearing your name.

Why?

9. In demolishing the Bonwit Teller building to make way for Trump Tower, you had no labor troubles, even though only about 15 unionists worked at the site alongside 150 Polish men, most of whom entered the country illegally, lacked hard hats, and slept on the site.

How did you manage to avoid labor troubles, like picketing and strikes, and job safety inspections while using mostly non-union labor at a union worksite — without hard hats for the Polish workers?

10. A federal judge later found you conspired to cheat both the Polish workers, who were paid less than $5 an hour cash with no benefits, and the union health and welfare fund. You testified that you did not notice the Polish workers, whom the judge noted were easy to spot because they were the only ones on the work site without hard hats.

What should voters make of your failure or inability to notice 150 men demolishing a multi-story building without hard hats?

11. You sent your top lieutenant, lawyer Harvey I. Freeman, to negotiate with Ken Shapiro, the “investment banker” for Nicky Scarfo, the especially vicious killer who was Atlantic City’s mob boss, according to federal prosecutors and the New Jersey State Commission on Investigation.

Since you emphasize your negotiating skills, why didn’t you negotiate yourself?

12. You later paid a Scarfo associate twice the value of a lot, officials determined.

Since you boast that you always negotiate the best prices, why did you pay double the value of this real estate?

13. You were the first person recommended for a casino license by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Division of Gaming Enforcement, which opposed all other applicants or was neutral. Later it came out in official proceedings that you had persuaded the state to limit its investigation of your background.

Why did you ask that the investigation into your background be limited?

14. You were the target of a 1979 bribery investigation. No charges were filed, but New Jersey law mandates denial of a license to anyone omitting any salient fact from their casino application.

Why did you omit the 1979 bribery investigation?

15. The prevailing legal case on license denials involved a woman, seeking a blackjack dealer license, who failed to disclose that as a retail store clerk she had given unauthorized discounts to friends.

In light of the standard set for low-level license holders like blackjack dealers, how did you manage to keep your casino license?

16. In 1986 you wrote a letter seeking lenient sentencing for Joseph Weichselbaum, a convicted marijuana and cocaine trafficker who lived in Trump Tower and in a case that came before your older sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry of U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, who recused herself because Weichselbaum was the Trump casinos and Trump family helicopter consultant and pilot.

Why did you do business with Weichselbaum, both before and after his conviction?

17. Your first major deal was converting the decrepit Commodore Hotel next to Grand Central Station into a Grand Hyatt. Mayor Abe Beame, a close ally of your father Fred, gave you the first-ever property tax abatement on a New York City hotel, worth at least $400 million over 40 years.

Since you boast that you are a self-made billionaire, how do you rationalize soliciting and accepting $400 million of welfare from the taxpayers?

18. You say that your experience as a manager will allow you to run the federal government much better than President Obama or Hilary Clinton. On Fortune Magazine’s 1999 list of the 496 most admired companies, your casino company ranked at the bottom – worst or almost worst in management, use of assets, employee talent, long-term investment value, and social responsibility. Your casino company later went bankrupt.

Why should voters believe your claims that you are a competent manager?

19. Your Trump Plaza casino was fined $200,000 for discriminating against women and minority blackjack dealers to curry favor with gambler Robert Libutti, who lost $12 million, and who insisted he never asked that blacks and women be replaced.

Why should we believe you “love” what you call “the blacks” and the enterprise you seek to lead would not discriminate again in the future if doing so appeared to be lucrative?

20. Public records (cited in my book Temples of Chance) show that as your career took off, you legally reported a negative income and paid no income taxes as summarized below:

1975
Income: $76,210
Tax Paid: $18,714

1976
Income: $24,594
Tax Paid: $10,832

1977
Income: $118,530
Tax Paid: $42,386

1978
Income: ($406,379)
Tax Paid: $0

1979
Income: ($3,443,560)
Tax Paid: $0

Will you release your tax returns? And if not, why not?

21. In your first bestselling book, The Art of the Deal, you told how you had not gotten much work done on your first casino, so you had crews dig and fill holes to create a show. You said one director of your partner, Holiday Inns, asked what was going on. “This was difficult for me to answer, but fortunately this board member was more curious than he was skeptical,” you wrote.

Given your admission that you used deception to hide your failure to accomplish the work, why should we believe you now?

 

By: David Cay Johnson, The National Memo, July 10, 2015

 

July 11, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Politics | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Donald Show”: Let The Lunacy Begin; The Loopy Side Of American Politics

Oh, joy! Oh, goody! Oh, happy day! For those of us who love the loopy side of American politics, our dream of some serious loco for 2016 has arrived: Donnie Trump in the race! For president. Of the United States. No, really!

“Wow,” exclaimed a beaming Donald Trump as he stepped onstage, basking in the cheers of a throng that had assembled for his launch into the 2016 presidential race. “That is some group of people,” he gushed. “Thousands.”

He announced his candidacy from — where else? — Trump Tower, the luxury skyscraper on tony Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The celebrity billionaire, who has splashed the Trump brand on casinos, hotels, resorts, condos, neckties, and even steaks, now wants to put it on the Republican Party. Indeed, The Donald declared that he should be our president because, “We need somebody that can take the brand of the United States and make it great again.” There you go — the U.S. is a brand, like a Big Mac, the Nike swoosh or Vidal Sassoon hair spray.

As for qualifications, Trump brandished his wealth, exclaiming that only someone “really rich” has what it takes to be America’s CEO. This view that one’s net worth is the measure of one’s worthiness squares with an earlier self-assessment by Donnie: “Let me tell you, I’m a really smart guy.”

Of course, smart is as smart does, so what does Mr. Smartypants propose to do as president? He claims he has “a foolproof way of winning the war with ISIS,” the barbaric terrorists marauding through Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Excellent! What is his plan? It’s a secret, he says, “I don’t want the enemy to know what I’m doing.”

The announcement was a showbiz extravaganza. Literally. The crowd was there to cheer the self-promoting hypester who wants to be president — but not necessarily to support him. That’s because some of these over-the-top enthusiasts were actors! Yes, hired at $50 a pop to do a three-hour performance as Donnie’s “crowd.” An outfit named Extra Mile Casting had been retained to puff up the audience: “We are looking to cast people for the event to wear T-shirts and carry signs and help cheer him,” said Extra Mile in an email to its list of actors who work as extras in films, TV shows, ads, etc. When The Donald Show was done, the actors were seen dumping their signs in the trash and going on to their next showbiz gig.

For his part, Trump gave a rambling, bumbling, almost-incoherent 40-minute rant. Citing his chief qualification for the highest office in the land, he said: “I’m really rich. …And by the way, I’m not even saying that to brag. …That’s the kind of thinking you need for this country.” And his immigration policy is simply, well, simplistic. He “would build a great wall” on the Mexican border to stop all the rapists and other criminals who, he claims, are streaming into the U.S. in droves. “And nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.” Wow, apparently he’s going to build the wall himself! Then he added a jingoistic gringosim to this Good Neighbor policy, declaring, “And I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall.”

And what’s his economic policy, you ask? It’s a whopper: “I will be the greatest jobs president God ever created,” he bellowed.

No, no, Donnie — don’t even try to blame God for creating you or your nuttiness. You truly are a self-made man, spawned from the fumes of your own gaseous ego. Yet you’re a godsend for people seeking comic relief in politics.

Such goofiness explains why Trump is starting his run for the White House with some 70 percent of voters (including more than half of Republicans) viewing him UNfavorably. But, as a brand-name celebrity, The Donald will qualify to be in the GOP’s presidential debates — so let the lunacy begin!

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, June 24, 2015

June 24, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Politics | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“What I Learned From Beau Biden”: Our Politics Of Recrimination Does A Profound Disservice To How Much All Of Us Care About Family

Between now and the 2016 election, we need to have a searching national debate over family values.

It will not be about whether we as a country are for them. We are. What’s required is a grounded and candid discussion about what those words actually mean.

Note that I did not follow the convention of putting quotation marks around family values. That punctuation is appropriate only when the phrase is defined in a narrow, partisan way, aimed at claiming that some large number of Americans don’t believe in family responsibility or love.

I will be haunted for a long time by last Saturday’s funeral for Beau Biden, the vice president’s son, who died of cancer at the age of 46. I suspect anyone who watched or listened to the eulogies feels this way, and I hope especially that staunch social conservatives give some of their attention to hearing the tributes. Beau Biden’s sister, Ashley, and his brother, Hunter, spoke with a power and an authenticity about love, devotion, and connection that said more about how irreplaceable family solidarity is than a thousand speeches or sermons.

And President Obama captured rather precisely what family is about when he described what he called “the Biden family rule.” Its components: “If you have to ask for help, it’s too late. It meant you were never alone; you don’t even have to ask, because someone is always there for you when you need them.”

I certainly don’t pretend that social conservatives who experience these eulogies will suddenly convert to liberalism or be transformed into supporters of Obama or Joe Biden. What the Biden funeral brought home is that the feelings and convictions that very nearly all of us — left, right, center, and apolitical — have about the bonds between parents and children, brothers and sisters, truly transcend our day-to-day arguments. We so often wage political war around the family that we forget how broadly shared our reverence for it is.

This helps explain the paradox of the gay marriage issue: Our opinions on it have changed in large part because of ties of family and friendship. A Pew survey released this week found that now 57 percent of Americans favor allowing same-sex marriage, while 39 percent oppose it. Just five years ago, only 42 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage, while 48 percent opposed it.

The key to this long-term shift is deeply personal. The number of Americans who know that someone they care about is gay or lesbian has skyrocketed over the decades, and risen a lot even in recent years. Pew found that the proportion of Americans who know someone who is homosexual has gone to 88 percent, from 61 percent in 1993. Among those who know many people who are gay or lesbian, 73 percent support same-sex marriage. Among those who know no gays or lesbians, 59 percent are opposed.

These numbers underscore again that so many of the issues related to family are more complicated (and less about ideology) than the angry, direct-mail style of discourse we are accustomed to on these matters would suggest.

Yet you don’t have to be right wing to worry that the family in the United States faces severe stresses and challenges. It would be genuinely useful if the 2016 campaign focused on practical measures that would help parents do their jobs.

Discussions of how policies on taxes, child care, family leave, wages, and criminal justice affect the family’s well-being (and specific proposals in each area) would be so much more constructive than polemics that cast one part of our population as immoral enemies of family life and the other as narrow-minded bigots. A politics of recrimination does a profound disservice to how much all of us care about family.

In 2007, after a Democratic presidential debate, I was approached in the spin room by Beau Biden, then Delaware’s attorney general. He wanted to talk about how well his dad performed, and his father had, indeed, done very well that night on the stage. But Beau Biden was most animated (and spoke at much greater length) when he turned to describing what an extraordinary father Joe Biden had been.

This fact about a politician certainly didn’t require anyone to vote for him. But it always helped explain to me why I feel as I do about Joe Biden and also why our discussions of family life need to recognize that love and commitment go way beyond politics. Family is too precious to let it divide us.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 10, 2015

June 11, 2015 Posted by | Beau Biden, Family Values, Politics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Tragedy Of Ben Carson”: How A Brilliant Doctor Turned Into A Right-Wing Provocateur

The Ben Carson phenomenon is a case lesson in how some really smart, impressive figures in certain fields should never talk about politics.

Carson is now an official presidential candidate, representing a subset of grassroots conservatives who enjoy being played. This is not an insignificant number of people. He is, to the horror of the people who run the Republican party, polling viably. No would-be candidate has a more dedicated corps of volunteers supporting him. Whether it’s CPAC or the First in the Nation Summit in New Hampshire, the Carson people are everywhere, handing out stickers and buttons and t-shirts and assorted other tchochkes from dusk till dawn.

But why? What is it that they like about someone who’s quite obviously trying to separate conservative movementarians from their money?

Carson’s rise to prominence among Tea Party conservatives, or whatever we’re calling that element of the GOP now, should be bizarre to everyone. It’s especially baffling, though, to people like your trusty Salon writer, who grew up in the mid-Atlantic in the 1990s. Most elementary and middle school students from Maryland were at some point assigned to read Ben Carson’s autobiography, Gifted Hands — typically ahead of a visit from the man himself. Carson was raised in Detroit, rising from abject poverty to Yale, eventually becoming the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, one of the best medical centers in the world. To children and adults alike, he was the reigning regional saint. (Along with Cal Ripken Jr., who didn’t pull off masterful feats of neurosurgery but did play in thousands of consecutive baseball games.)

Carson launched his second, lucrative career as a conservative movement celebrity at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast. This is one of those grand annual Washington events, sponsored by a Northern Virginia cult, that merits a visit from the President of the United States. Carson made President Obama sit through a chaotic 27-minute political rant against political correctness, progressive taxation, the national debt, etc., and conservative media went nuts. He went on a vapid spiel to President Obama’s face! He should run for president??

Who knew Carson would actually take them up on this? But here we are, replete with a gospel choir singing Eminem.

It’s sad that such a brilliant surgeon and role model for children has committed himself to a path of spectacular humiliation. Because that same free-flowing style he showed at the National Prayer Breakfast has been subject to diminishing returns in the last two years. The novelty is wearing off, and now he’s in a position where he makes a fool of himself just about every time his mouth opens.

The trademark of Carson’s brief political career is an all-out assault on the common literary devices of metaphor and analogy. Obamacare is slavery, and the United States under President Obama is Nazi Germany. ”I want to be clear and set the record straight: I don’t think Obamacare is worse than 9/11,” Carson found himself compelled to say at one point. He has compared criticizing police to criticizing plumbers.

He knows not one thing about foreign policy but speaks about it anyway. This produces comedy.

He recently opined that being gay is a choice and people become gay when they go to prison.

Carson says that he’s learned over the past couple of years not to “wander off into those extraneous areas that can be exploited” by the gotcha media. The problem here, as with so many other complaints about the gotcha media, is that the media simply transcribes the crazy things that he says. He might think that he has an off switch, but that’s doubtful. People who become conservative media stars become conservative media stars by saying crazy things. It’s part of their nature.

Carson’s legacy will not include a stint as President of the United States. It’s a shame that he’s decided to risk his real legacy, as a brilliant world-renowned doctor who came from nothing, by playing right-wing also-ran in a presidential contest.

 

By: Jim Newell, Salon, May 4, 2015

May 6, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Presidential Candidates, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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