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“Gaming Election Laws”: Donald Trump’s Right That The Game Is Rigged—For Him To Make Money By Running

Win or lose, Donald Trump appears poised to come out ahead financially from his run for the White House thanks to campaign finance laws that, as he has pointed out, were not written with candidates of great wealth in mind.

Those laws let Trump shift many of his lifestyle costs to his campaign and earn a tidy profit, as we shall see.

The commercialization of the presidency is a modern development. When Harry S. Truman left the White House he had to live on his $112 a month (about $1,120 a month in today’s money) World War I army pension.

The big money for former presidents started with Gerald Ford, the only appointee to that post who turned his 29 months in office into a lucrative post-White House career making public appearances. Ronald Reagan upped the ante by collecting $2 million for speeches in Japan alone after he left the White House, plus much more money from other speeches and book royalties.

The full potential of the entrepreneurial ex-president, though, came when Bill Clinton left the White House. Together with his wife, Hillary, who hopes to be the next president, the couple raked in more than $153 million in speaking fees alone. She made $21 million from 91 speeches—with most of the money coming from Wall Street firms.

But Trump has figured out how to profit not by becoming president but merely by declaring himself a candidate—fulfilling his own prediction from 16 years ago, when he was running as the candidate of the tiny Reform Party, and told Fortune magazine: “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.”

At the time, Trump had a deal with Tony Robbins, the traveling motivational speaker, to deliver 10 speeches for $1 million. Trump coordinated his campaign stops with the speeches, boasting that this meant he was “making a lot of money” from flying his 1969 model Boeing 727 to campaign events.

He may be making lots more money this time. Here’s how: Federal law builds in a profit for a candidate who owns his own aircraft by requiring them to charge the campaign charter rates, which include a profit.

Most candidates hire planes, services, and equipment as needed during a campaign, giving them an incentive to get the lowest price so they have more money free to spend on television commercials, consultants, and get-out-the-vote drives.

But someone who must bear the ongoing cost of a private jet and helicopter, or a building, has an incentive to shift as much of the costs as possible to the campaign.

The same is true for shifting to the campaign the salaries and fringe benefits paid to bodyguards, which Trump has employed for at least 30 years.

If enough donations come in from supporters, Trump’s campaign can relieve Trump of much of the multimillion-dollar annual costs of his Boeing 757-200 jet—complete with gold-plated seatbelts, dining room, two bedrooms, and shower—and Sikorsky S-76 helicopter.

Trump claims he paid $100 million in 2011 for his 1991 model plane. At the time, aircraft brokers listed such planes for about $20 million, although they were outfitted for commercial airline service. Current prices are in the neighborhood of $10 million.

By putting that astronomical value on his plane, he can justify—assuming he’s put that number in his tax returns, which he’s yet to release, and not just his public bragging—a much higher charter rate, one that’s now paid to Trump by the Trump campaign.

All told, Trump’s Federal Election Commission spending reports show payments of $3.2 million to Trump Air Group (TAG), the Florida firm that operates his aircraft. That is almost 10 percent of the $33.4 million the campaign spent through February.

For comparison, Hillary Clinton, who has traveled much more extensively on the campaign trail, has spent about $2.5 million chartering jets. That is less than 2 percent of the $129 million her campaign has reported spending.

Donations have covered about 29 percent of Trump’s roughly $12,500 per day in aircraft costs. The rest is in the form of loans Trump made to the campaign, which may eventually be paid off with future donations.

Federal law says candidates who own their own aircraft must charge their campaign “the fair market value of the normal and usual charter fare or rental charge for a comparable plane of comparable size.”

Data from Boeing, analyzed by flight companies, suggests operating costs in the range of $8,000 to $9,000 per flight-hour when jet fuel prices were double current levels.

Charles Williams, editor of a British website which analyzes airline industry costs, and several charter operators put the hourly operating costs of a 757-200 in that range with charter flights starting at about $14,000 an hour. The chief sales agent for one charter firm told me that charges for blinged-out 757 like Trump’s could be as much as $30,000 per flight-hour.

Williams said the charter fees Trump charges the campaign, after a back of the envelope analysis using the limited data available from the campaign, seem reasonable.

So each hour Trump flies his jet to and from campaign events he both relieves himself of part of the burden of the plane’s fixed costs and turns a profit of several thousand dollars.

The law’s reference to “a comparable plane of comparable size” also suggests that Trump can charge a much higher than typical price for a Boeing 757 because he asserts it is the most fancily decked out private aircraft of its kind.

That’s right: He’s found the alchemist’s recipe for turning glitz into cash.

The campaign has also rented space in Trump Tower and rooms from Trump-branded hotels—both of which can legally charge rates that include a normal profit.

America would benefit from politicians as public servants and not from a campaign of presidency for profit.

 

By: David Cay Johnston, The Daily Beast, April 19, 2016

April 20, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Finance Laws, Donald Trump, Presidential Elections, Tax Returns | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Force The Senate To Do Its Job”: Obama Can Appoint Merrick Garland To The Supreme Court If The Senate Does Nothing

On Nov. 12, 1975, while I was serving as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Justice William O. Douglas resigned. On Nov. 28, President Gerald R. Ford nominated John Paul Stevens for the vacant seat. Nineteen days after receiving the nomination, the Senate voted 98 to 0 to confirm the president’s choice. Two days later, I had the pleasure of seeing Ford present Stevens to the court for his swearing-in. The business of the court continued unabated. There were no 4-to-4 decisions that term.

Today, the system seems to be broken. Both parties are at fault, seemingly locked in a death spiral to outdo the other in outrageous behavior. Now, the Senate has simply refused to consider President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, dozens of nominations to federal judgeships and executive offices are pending before the Senate, many for more than a year. Our system prides itself on its checks and balances, but there seems to be no balance to the Senate’s refusal to perform its constitutional duty.

The Constitution glories in its ambiguities, however, and it is possible to read its language to deny the Senate the right to pocket veto the president’s nominations. Start with the appointments clause of the Constitution. It provides that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States.” Note that the president has two powers: the power to “nominate” and the separate power to “appoint.” In between the nomination and the appointment, the president must seek the “Advice and Consent of the Senate.” What does that mean, and what happens when the Senate does nothing?

In most respects, the meaning of the “Advice and Consent” clause is obvious. The Senate can always grant or withhold consent by voting on the nominee. The narrower question, starkly presented by the Garland nomination, is what to make of things when the Senate simply fails to perform its constitutional duty.

It is altogether proper to view a decision by the Senate not to act as a waiver of its right to provide advice and consent. A waiver is an intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege. As the Supreme Court has said, “ ‘No procedural principle is more familiar to this Court than that a constitutional right,’ or a right of any other sort, ‘may be forfeited in criminal as well as civil cases by the failure to make timely assertion of the right before a tribunal having jurisdiction to determine it.’ ”

It is in full accord with traditional notions of waiver to say that the Senate, having been given a reasonable opportunity to provide advice and consent to the president with respect to the nomination of Garland, and having failed to do so, can fairly be deemed to have waived its right.

Here’s how that would work. The president has nominated Garland and submitted his nomination to the Senate. The president should advise the Senate that he will deem its failure to act by a specified reasonable date in the future to constitute a deliberate waiver of its right to give advice and consent. What date? The historical average between nomination and confirmation is 25 days; the longest wait has been 125 days. That suggests that 90 days is a perfectly reasonable amount of time for the Senate to consider Garland’s nomination. If the Senate fails to act by the assigned date, Obama could conclude that it has waived its right to participate in the process, and he could exercise his appointment power by naming Garland to the Supreme Court.

Presumably the Senate would then bring suit challenging the appointment. This should not be viewed as a constitutional crisis but rather as a healthy dispute between the president and the Senate about the meaning of the Constitution. This kind of thing has happened before. In 1932, the Supreme Court ruled that the Senate did not have the power to rescind a confirmation vote after the nominee had already taken office. More recently, the court determined that recess appointments by the president were no longer proper because the Senate no longer took recesses.

It would break the logjam in our system to have this dispute decided by the Supreme Court (presumably with Garland recusing himself). We could restore a sensible system of government if it were accepted that the Senate has an obligation to act on nominations in a reasonable period of time. The threat that the president could proceed with an appointment if the Senate failed to do so would force the Senate to do its job — providing its advice and consent on a timely basis so that our government can function.

 

By: Gregory L. Diskant, Senior Partner at the law firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, Member of the National Governing Board of Common Cause; Opinion Pages, The Washington Post, April8, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | Merrick Garland, Senate Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“A Tantalizing Option”: The Vice-Presidential Nomination Could Be A Key Bargaining Chip At A Contested Convention

In examining the many possibilities of a “contested” or “open” Republican convention without a locked-down nominee, it makes sense to look at the last time this happened: the 1976 Republican convention, where President Gerald Ford had a plurality but not a firm majority of delegates in his camp when the festivities began, in Kansas City. Today’s Reagan-worshiping Republicans should take particular note of how Ronnie (or, more specifically, his Svengali, the veteran political consultant John Sears) decided to deal with the situation: using the vice-presidential nomination to attract uncommitted delegates and force a rules showdown.

Keep in mind that prior to 1976 the ancient tradition in major-party politics was that vice-presidential choices were made at the convention itself, usually after the presidential balloting. But Reagan announced about three weeks before the confab that if he were nominated his running mate would be Pennsylvania senator Richard Schweiker. This shocked the political world, since Schweiker was, on most issues, one of the most liberal Republicans in the Senate (with a then-recent 100 percent rating from the AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education, among other indicators toxic to conservatives). But more to the point, there was a bloc of uncommitted delegates in the Keystone State that Sears thought the maneuver might pull across the line, perhaps even bringing with them some delegates previously committed to Ford.

In the end, most of the Pennsylvania delegation was unmoved, and the ploy probably cost Reagan a shot at winning over a closely divided Mississippi delegation that was voting as a bloc via a unit rule (it annoyed Reagan partisan Jesse Helms so grievously he briefly toyed with an effort to draft New York senator James Buckley as a dark-horse alternative to both Reagan and Ford). But Team Reagan also used the vice-presidency as the basis for a rules challenge that tested Ford’s grip on the convention: a motion to require all candidates to disclose their preferred running mates prior to the presidential balloting. The idea here was that any name he came up with might alienate some Ford delegates (his earlier choice of Nelson Rockefeller as the actual vice-president offended conservatives greatly; Rocky had to disclaim interest in renomination in 1976 to avoid becoming a huge handicap in the primaries). That, too, failed, and demonstrated that Ford had the nomination in hand once and for all.

But the precedent of using a preemptive vice-presidential choice to help win a presidential nomination has lingered in the air as a tantalizing option ever since. And if it were ever going to happen again, this could be the year.

Let’s say Donald Trump is in Ford’s position of leading with a plurality but not quite a majority of delegates, and Cruz is in Reagan’s position of playing catch-up, going into Cleveland — not at all a remote possibility. There would be a pool of “unbound” delegates from an assortment of states, mostly in the West, where state parties have deliberately chosen to keep their options open. If either candidate thought a particular ticket would attract a critical mass of such delegates, would he hesitate to make it? Probably not. More generally, at a time when nervous Republicans will be extremely worried about party unity, purported “unity tickets” will be all the rage. Promising one could be the way Trump nails down the last few delegates he needs for the nomination, or, alternatively, could be the path to a Cruz nomination on a second ballot when most of the delegates become unbound. For those who believe party elites can get away with nominating someone other than Trump or Cruz in Cleveland, a proposed “unity ticket” that would poll well among both Republicans and general-election voters is an absolute must. Moreover, something exactly like the Reagan-Schweiker rules challenge in 1976 to force disclosure of running-mate preferences could happen again in Cleveland, since the presidential candidates will not control all of “their” delegates on procedural matters like convention rules.

Even if Donald Trump nails down a majority of delegates on June 7 with a solid showing in California and New Jersey, naming a running mate whose characteristics show a conciliatory attitude toward the rest of the GOP could be just what the doctor ordered to head off some party coup to deny him the nomination, via a rules change or some other devilish device. Being able to cite chapter and verse from the Gospel of Ronald Reagan as precedent would make a preemptive choice that much more likely. And there will always be some opportunist like Schweiker willing to be used as a key to pick the nomination lock. You can count on it.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, March 24, 2016

March 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Convention, GOP Vice Presidential Nominee | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Absolutely Unpresidential”: The Extremism On Display At The GOP Debate Would Have Horrified Anyone Who’s Actually Been President

I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat after the last Republican debate. I had a vision of President Ronald Reagan sitting in the front row at his library watching the debate. Alongside him were fellow Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Gerald Ford and even Richard Nixon.

Very quickly the blood drained from their faces. They began to fidget, to shift awkwardly in their chairs. They began to look around for the exits. These men who had led our nation, made difficult decisions and participated in politics their entire lives were appalled at what was going on before them.

Sure, they were shocked at the nastiness and vitriol among the candidates – this was way over the top. Sure, they were amazed that the front-runner was one Donald Trump, who belonged on “Entertainment Tonight,” not a presidential debate. Sure, they understood that how the candidates were behaving was counter to everything they knew about getting elected in America.

But my guess is what really frosted these men was that the substance of what most of these candidates were saying was so unreasonable, so off base, so totally devoid of reality, that it was downright scary.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and others, saying they would tear up the Iran agreement on day one of his presidency, thereby ensuring that no foreign leader would trust the U.S. to keep its word in the future. Former CEO Carly Fiorina stating flatly she would not ever talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin. No negotiating, no contact, nada. That would surprise Reagan and the others who always talked to our enemies and kept the lines of communications open – from the Soviet Union to “Red” China.

And how about blanket threats, with Fiorina’s phone call to the “Supreme Leader” of Iran that we will throw out the agreement and “move money around the global financial system.” Trump showed no knowledge of foreign policy and simply said he would hire great advisers – where are they now, the ones he watches on cable TV? And then there was the suggestion that we deport 11 million people because “the good ones will come back.” And, of course, there was the fight about who was the worst CEO or who could attack Planned Parenthood with the most vengeance.

The sheer level of ignorance, lack of preparation and categorical, extreme statements on critical policy matters was astounding. My guess is that these former presidents, had they been present, would have truly wondered what had happened to their country and the quality of the candidates running for the highest office in the land.

 

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, September 18, 2015

September 20, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Past U. S. Presidents | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Time To Come Up With A Better Plan”: The Second Coming Of Ronald Reagan Isn’t Going To Save The GOP

This weekend’s New York Times included an interesting take on what has become a well-trod and almost perfunctory topic: The GOP’s so-called Civil War.

It was a wide-ranging article, but let’s focus on the notion that what Republicans are going through right now is exactly like the reordering Republicans went through 50 years ago. Here’s an excerpt:

The moment draws comparisons to some of the biggest fights of recent Republican Party history — the 1976 clash between the insurgent faction of activists who supported Ronald Reagan for president that year and the moderate party leaders who stuck by President Gerald R. Ford, and the split between the conservative Goldwater and moderate Rockefeller factions in 1964.

Some optimistic Republicans note that both of those campaigns planted the seeds for the conservative movement’s greatest success: Reagan’s 1980 election and two terms as president.

“The business community thought the supply-siders were nuts, and the country club Republicans thought the social conservatives scary,” William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, said of those squabbles. “That all worked out O.K.” [The New York Times]

Is this an appropriate analogy for what’s going on today, or just wishful thinking?

Here’s what I like about it: This theory recognizes that politics is often cyclical. You’re rarely as good as you look when you’re winning — and never as bad as you look when you’re losing. It wasn’t that long ago that some Republicans boasted that they were on the cusp of achieving a permanent governing majority.

Consider a non-political example. The Kansas City Chiefs — who were a dismal 2-14 last year — are now the only undefeated team left in the National Football League at 7-0. No one would have predicted this at the end of last season.

Of course, it required new leadership — coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith were huge acquisitions. And while such a worst-to-first story might be difficult to replicate in politics, it’s certainly not impossible. That’s why it’s so easy to understand why disciples of Ronald Reagan — who wrote “I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead” — would gravitate to such an optimistic theory.

Unfortunately, it might not work out that way.

The temptation is to lionize the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign, but it’s important to remember he received just 38 percent of the vote. He was trounced. It would be 16 years before Ronald Reagan was elected, and during that time, America would undergo all sorts of turmoil, including Vietnam, Civil Rights protests, the Great Society, Watergate, gas lines, the Iranian hostage crisis — you name it. Conservatives who subscribe to this analogy had better hope we are closer to 1976 than to 1964. They would probably be the first to argue America cannot sustain 16 years of liberal rule. (And yes, Nixon and Ford were Republicans — but they were not Reagan conservatives, and they presided over an era in which liberalism dominated U.S. politics.)

To be sure, Reagan’s victory in 1980 was predicated on this turmoil. They took a chance on him when nothing else seemed to work, and it certainly paid huge dividends. At the risk of embracing the “great man” theory of history, let’s also not forget the fact that Reagan was sui generis. Try finding a two-term governor of California with movie star looks and inspirational ideas and rhetoric. These guys certainly don’t grow on trees.

The danger is that, instead of doing the spade work, conservatives waste their summers praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets. Between 1964 and 1980, conservatives invested a lot of time and energy into building public policy think tanks and training conservative activists how to win. In fairness to Goldwater, Reagan was greatly aided by this infrastructure (which was created by a lot of veterans of the Goldwater campaign) when he rain in 1980.

Today’s conservatives ought to embrace a similar “work as if it all depends on you/pray as if it all depends on God” mentality. But they should also accept the fact that today’s challenges are different than they were 50 years ago.

Technology is vastly different — and so are the nation’s demographics. Don’t forget, Mitt Romney won white voters by the same margins that Reagan did in 1980.

There’s another problem with this analogy. The “Civil War” taking place during the Goldwater era pitted conservatives against moderate Rockefeller Republicans. Today’s battle is different. The moderates are almost all gone. You’d be hard pressed to find a Republican who isn’t pro-life, much less one who supports ObamaCare. And so the recent internecine fight over the government shutdown was mostly about strategy and tactics. How much more ideological cleansing is possible for a movement that wants to be a governing majority?

So what should we make of the Goldwater-Reagan analogy? Conservatives ought to extract as many lessons as they can from history, but also understand the danger in assuming the world is static. It isn’t.

It’s tempting to try and fight the last war, especially if you won it. But it’s treacherous, too.

Another sports analogy: In what became a famous rant, then-Boston Celtics Coach Rick Pitino challenged fans to look to the future. “Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans,” he said. “Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parish is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they’re going to be gray and old. … And as soon as they realize that those three guys are not coming through the door, the better this town will be for all of us…”

Similarly, it might be good for conservatives to realize this: Barry Goldwater is not walking through that door. Ronald Reagan is not walking through that door…

 

By: Matt K. Lewis, The Week, October 23, 2013

October 24, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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