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“He Needs To Walk His Talk”: Tax Transparency; Jane Sanders Claims Returns Released In ‘Every Election’

A basic rule of politics is that when you have a problem, get it all out and put it behind you. The worst response is to dither and then shoot yourself in the foot.

With the Bernie Sanders campaign, we are seeing the candidate repeatedly shoot himself in the foot over what would be a non-issue, if only he had forthrightly answered a question that has dogged him since last summer.

Where are your tax returns?

It’s a question that goes not just to Sanders but also to all the other politicians who want us to trust them in the most powerful office in the world but want to hide their finances and tax strategies. That includes Donald Trump, whose tax returns I will be shocked if we ever see; and Republicans Ted Cruz and John Kasich, who like Sanders have only released the summary form 1040 and not their complete returns, as I recently noted here.

Last summer, NPR and the Washington Post asked Sanders for his tax returns, a question the senator had to know would be raised because releasing them has been standard practice for presidential aspirants since Watergate, when America had an unindicted tax criminal in the Oval Office and a confessed tax felon a heartbeat from the presidency.

Sanders had made available only his and wife Jane’s 2014 Form 1040, a summary lacking crucial details about their sources of income, deductions, and tax strategy.

In late March I asked for Sanders’ complete tax returns back to 2007, when he became senator. What I got back was a dissembling statement from his campaign spokesman, followed by silence when I sent follow-up questions via email.

Now this story has taken a very troubling turn, one that raises serious questions about the Senator’s judgment and his wife’s veracity.

On Bloomberg TV’s With All Due Respect last Mondayhost Mark Halperin asked Jane Sanders when she would disclose the couple’s tax returns. In her reply, she claimed “every election we released them.”

My diligent reporting has failed to turn up any indication that her statement is true.

I made extensive telephone calls, interviewed a former Sanders election opponent, thoroughly searched Google, the Internet archive known as the “Wayback Machine,” the Nexis database, Newspapers.com, and files of Vermont’s largest newspaper, the Burlington Free Press. I called veteran Vermont political reporters and operatives.

Except for one reporter who said he had a vague recollection that perhaps, some years ago, he may have seen a partial Sanders tax return, nothing I learned lends any credence to what Jane Sanders claimed.

Halperin asked a series of questions trying to pin down Ms. Sanders, who said she prepares the couple’s tax returns using the TurboTax computer program. She indicated a vague awareness that their taxes had been sought during the prior two weeks by, she suggested, the Hillary Clinton campaign.

But I was the one doing the requesting. I clearly identified myself as a journalist. I have no connection to the Clinton campaign and, for the record, am registered to vote in Republican primaries. (I have also written favorably about Sanders’ economic proposals and appeared as a guest on his radio show.)

While Halperin pressed Ms. Sanders repeatedly, she pleaded for time to find and release their pre-2014 tax returns. She promised without reservation that the returns would be released, adding, “Well, sure, I will have to go back and find them — we haven’t been home for a month.”

Halperin asked if she would release full returns, not just Form 1040.

“Sure, no problem,” she replied.

When?

“I would say well, when they are due I would expect them to come out,” she said.

Halperin asked how many years of returns would be released, noting Hillary Clinton has released eight years. (Actually all of the returns filed by her and her husband dating back to 1992 are available at taxhistory.org).

That was when Jane Sanders said: “Every election we have released them…we did when he ran for election, yeah. I’ll release this year’s as soon as they’re due… and can I have time to go home to retrieve the older ones?

Just how Mrs. Sanders would prepare the 2015 tax return by the April 18 deadline, but not have access to a prior year return, is an interesting question that Halperin did not ask.

Had those returns been released in 2012, 2006, and in Sanders’ earlier races, it would be reasonable to expect that there would be at least passing mention of them in Vermont news reports.

Furthermore, the candidate would be able to point me or anyone else inquiring to a staffer, a political operative, a friend, or someone who had kept a copy of his returns or even just remembers seeing a copy.

Richard Tarrant, a successful medical software entrepreneur who ran against Sanders in 2006, told me that had he ever seen either the form 1040 or the complete tax return of Bernie and Jane Sanders, he would have reviewed the document carefully to learn all he could about their finances — and whether the tax return showed any political vulnerabilities in that race. Tarrant, who had a big interest in seeking the Sanders’ returns, said he never saw one.

Michael Briggs, chief press spokesperson for the Sanders campaign, did not respond to questions I submitted in writing.

The silence from Briggs is itself troubling, since his employer is campaigning as Mr. Transparency.

Now there may well be nothing of consequence in the Sanders tax returns. But that is not the issue. Sanders is giving aid to those politicians who want to end the practice of disclosing tax returns, while marketing himself as a politician untainted by big donations and lobbyists.

He needs to walk his talk.

And meanwhile if anyone out there has an old Sanders tax return, please send it to me: [email protected]

 

By: David Cay Johnston, The National Memo, April 13, 2016

April 16, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Presidential Candidates, Tax Returns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Super-Wacko-Birds”: Another Step In The Evolution Of Super-PACs As Instruments For Donor Control Of Politicians

Ted Cruz has managed to distract attention from Rand Paul’s campaign launch by letting it be known that four Super-PACs have been set up to support his own candidacy, with commitments already in for a cool $31 million. If you boil off all the chattering about the size of the contributions (not really all that much in the larger scheme of things) and the amnesia about the role Super-PACs played in 2012, two things seem to make this noteworthy: how early the money came in, and the structure of the Cruz Super-PACS, which suggest an unprecedented degree of specialization and micro-managing of Grandee dollars.

This latter dimension was explored at Bloomberg Politics (which broke the story on the Cruz Super-PACs) by Julie Bykowicz and Heidi Przybyla:

One of the constellation of committees first reported Wednesday by Bloomberg appears to be underwritten by Republican mega-donor Robert Mercer and his family. Campaign lawyers said the arrangement is unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.

“It’s something to watch,” said Jason Abel of Steptoe & Johnson, who is not involved with the super-PACs. Abel and other lawyers speculated that multiple committees, all of which are named some form of “Keep the Promise,” were created to satisfy the whims of individual donors.

“It appears that setting up multiple super-PACs would allow maximum flexibility for certain donors to push their issues,” Abel said. The Campaign Legal Center’s Paul Ryan suggested that the arrangement creates “different pots of money for donors to fund different things.”

A strategist involved with the committees, who asked not to be named because he’s not authorized to speak publicly, corroborated those theories. Each of the super-PACs—Keep the Promise and three “sub-super-PACs” dubbed Keep the Promise I, Keep the Promise II and Keep the Promise III—will be controlled by a different donor family, and will likely develop different specialities, such as data mining, television advertising and polling, the strategist said.

If that’s accurate, it means another step in the evolution of Super-PACs as instruments for donor control of politicians. The 2012 versions were organizations set up by candidates to serve as conduits for big donor dollars that didn’t just go into the hungry maw of the campaign, much less national “issue organizations,” but went directly into ads or other tangible products. It seems the Cruz Super-PACs will allow even greater targeting of dollars beyond the control of the candidate and his dollar-hungry consultants. Add in the early timing, and it’s plausible that these Super-Wacko-Birds feel they are steering rather than simply maintaining the Cruz campaign. I guess that’s how these people want to roll.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 9, 2015

April 10, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Super PAC's, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Supreme Court’s Extreme Faith”: The Menendez Case Proves The Supreme Court Was Naive About Campaign Finance Laws

No cameras are allowed inside the main Supreme Court chamber, but on Wednesday, a group of activists—for the second time this year—evaded tight security controls and snuck one in to record themselves causing disorder in the court. Their goal: Decry two of the court’s most controversial rulings on campaign finance, Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, which have paved the way for powerful donors and corporations to influence elections.

“Justices, is it not your duty to protect our right to self-government?” a protester is heard yelling in a video posted on YouTube. “Reverse McCutcheon. Overturn Citizens United. One person, one vote.” Court police escorted her out, followed by other protesters, including a man chanting, “We who believe in freedom shall not rest.”

Chief Justice John Roberts was not impressed. SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston, one of the few reporters at the scene, noted he grew impatient and later said, “Oh please,” on top of threatening contempt sanctions against the protesters.

Say what you will of the activists’ stunt or the chief’s reaction—because really, no protest in the world will ever overturn a Supreme Court precedent. But consider what Roberts himself proclaimed in McCutcheon, which turned one year old today: “Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s duties, does not give rise to quid pro quo corruption. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner influence over or access to elected officials.”

McCutcheon invalidated something very specific—the limit on the total amount a person can give to all federal candidates during a two-year election cycle—but Roberts didn’t stop there. Time and again he kept singling out blatant quid pro quo arrangements as the only thing Congress could regulate. Not so with meager attempts to “prevent corruption” or curbing “the appearance of mere influence and access.” Those things aren’t as big a deal under the Constitution. Only tit-for-tat corruption is.

Compare that to the other case the protesters targeted, 2010’s Citizens United, a ruling as grand as it was shocking for the dearth of evidence on which it rested: “We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” The court went on: “The appearance of influence or access … will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democratic order.”

But it turns out corruption, appearances, and influence-peddling are all at the crux of federal charges against New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez. He was indicted Wednesday on several counts of bribery and other offenses, stemming from an allegedly cozy relationship with Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist and longtime friend who is accused of giving lavish gifts to the senator. These included a trip to a luxury hotel in Paris, a stay at an upscale villa in the Dominican Republic, contributions to a legal-defense fund, and more than $1 million in donations to various political action groups supporting Democratic candidates—all in exchange for political favors for Melgen, his business interests, and his numerous girlfriends.

Whether these salacious allegations stick or lead to some kind of plea deal will soon be decided; Menendez pled “not guilty” on all charges Thursday. But a sizeable contribution listed in the indictment calls into question the Supreme Court’s extreme faith that large sums of money not directly given to a candidate fail to amount to corruption.

According to prosecutors, Melgen, through his own company, contributed $600,000 to a political action committee aimed at helping Democrats retain control of the Senate. That’s all well and good under Citizens United,except Melgen allegedly earmarked the money so it went directly to the Menendez re-election campaign. That’s also kosher under campaign regulations, except the indictment alleges Menendez “sought and received” the donation—comprised of two checks for $300,000 each, sent to the super PAC in exchange for Menendez’s assistance in resolving a Medicare-related dispute. Interestingly, the indictment notes that Melgen cut one of the checks on the same day he attended an annual fundraiser Menendez hosted.

The legal process will determine the extent to which the alleged favors and contributions are related. But even if they weren’t and the case went away, the Menendez indictment undermines the Supreme Court’s facile conclusion that merely spending large sums of money—absent a clear showing of quid pro quo—isn’t enough to prove that corruption has taken hold. Or the notion that the mere appearance of influence and access to elected leaders fails to be an interest compelling enough to require strong campaign-finance laws—the kind that governs how big donors and big money behave each election cycle.

Chief Justice Roberts may not be too pleased with the recent protests and security breaches at the Supreme Court, but the Menendez case opens the door for some introspection on how recent campaign-finance rulings are reshaping who calls the shots in our democratic order.

 

By: Cristian Farias, The New Republic, April 2, 2015

April 3, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Democracy, John Roberts | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Paths To The Presidency”: John Kasich And The Road Less Taken, Because It Goes Nowhere

Last month I spent a few minutes mocking a Cleveland Plain Dealer story that suggested big donors might hunt down Ohio Gov. John Kasich as he traipsed around the Mountain West plumping for a balanced budget constitutional amendment, and beg him to become the 2016 Republican presidential nominee. I half-thought the story was the product of somebody in Kashichland funnin’ a local reporter. I mean, really, a guy as seasoned as Kasich didn’t really think that was a viable strategy for becoming Leader of the Free World, did he?

But now we have a Wall Street Journal piece from the veteran national political reporter Janet Hook reporting the same madness:

If Ohio Gov. John Kasich is thinking of running for president, he’s taking a very circuitous route. Mr. Kasich, one of several Republican governors seen as potential candidates, is spending much of this week traveling through six sparsely populated Western states to promote balancing the budget.

Fresh off his inauguration to a second term as governor, Mr. Kasich is travelling from South Dakota to Wyoming to Idaho in a tour that ends Friday. He is trying to round up support for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget — even as fiscal issues seem to be fading in Congress.

But then, after reporting that Kasich doesn’t admit this odd out-of-state travel schedule means he’s running for president, Hook cites it as one of several “paths to the presidency,” alongside those more conventional candidates are pursuing:

Mr. Kasich is part of a distinct posse of potential candidates — Republican governors that include Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and outgoing Texas Gov. Rick Perry — who are angling to use their states’ records as calling cards in a bid for national office.

Mr. Kasich is proud of Ohio’s economic turnaround, and of his 2014 re-election by more than 30 percentage points. He has been trying to espouse a new brand of compassionate conservatism, supporting an expansion of Medicaid in his first term and saying in his second inaugural address, “Somehow we have lost the beautiful sound of our neighbors’ voices. Moving beyond ourselves and trying to share in the experience of others helps us open our minds, allows us to grow as people.”

But he is pairing that big-hearted message with fiscal conservatism, his trademark issue during his 18 years in Congress when he played a lead role in crafting a 1997 deal to eliminate the federal budget deficit.

So Ohio Record (including the kryptonite-to-conservatives Medicaid expansion) plus Balanced Budget somehow equals viable candidacy. It’s not easy to understand how, mechanically, anyone would win the nomination this way, unless Hook is buying the idea big donors will track him down somewhere in the Rockies and beg him to run.

You know what I think? A lot of MSM types think Kasich ought to be the kind of candidate the Republicans nominate, and that fiscal hawkery–the only part of the Constitutional Conservative ideology they understand–could be his ticket to ride.

Beyond that, there are an awful lot of people who think the current presidential nominating process, and particularly the role of the early states, is absurd, and would love to see someone defy it. But it keeps not happening. The last two serious candidates who tried to skip the early states–Democrat Al Gore in 1988 and Rudy Giuliani in 2008 (well, he didn’t originally plan to skip the early states but shifted away from them when support was not forthcoming) went nowhere. Perhaps someone with a massive national following and special credibility with the conservative activists who view the early states as their God-given choke point on the GOP nomination could get away with starting late and elsewhere. But not John Kasich.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 23, 2015

January 24, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, John Kasich | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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