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“Incorruptible?”: Trump Hates Lobbyists—Except The Ones Running His Super PAC

Donald Trump says he hates what lobbyists and super PACs are doing to our political system. According to him, his most attractive quality as a candidate—besides, obviously, his terrific looks—is his wealth, because it means Trump will never find himself beholden to anyone but Trump.

At a press conference in Dubuque, Iowa, on Tuesday evening, Trump told reporters, “I know the system better than anybody. The fact is that whether it’s Jeb, or Hillary, or any of ’em—they’re all controlled by these people! And the people that control them are the special interests, the lobbyists and the donors.”

He smiled slightly.

“You know what’s nice about me?” he asked. “I don’t need anybody’s money.”

In practice, however, the candidate seems willing to associate himself with just about anyone offering support—even if that support comes in the form of everything he hates rolled into one: a super PAC run by lobbyists.

On July 1, a pro-Trump super PAC, Make America Great Again PAC, filed with the FEC.

The organization listed on its paperwork a New York City address, which Bloomberg traced to a Midtown FedEx store. The address the PAC provided for supporters to mail their checks to was a Midtown UPS store. Calls to the group’s listed phone number went unanswered, as did an email. The treasurer who submitted the form to the FEC signed it “Les Caldwell,” short for Leslie, and Leslie refused to comment on the record to Politico, while just about every Leslie Caldwell listed in New York chose not to answer or return any of my calls.

Curiously, a closer look at the group’s filing reveals a return address not in New York City but in Colorado.

That address belongs to Jon Anderson, a lobbyist whose “practice is focused on corporate compliance and representing clients before federal, state and local government,” according to the website of his firm, Holland & Hart.

A consultant for the PAC, Mike Ciletti, also from Colorado, is also a lobbyist. He has his own group, New West Public Affairs, which he co-founded in 2009, according to his LinkedIn profile. His clients include the Community Financial Services Association, the trade association for payday lenders, which are often accused of predatory lending.

Anderson didn’t return a call, and Ciletti responded to interview requests with frustration that his activity with the PAC had placed him in the spotlight. “Personally I am waiting to see what other email addresses, phone numbers you can find to try to reach me at. Hats off to you,” he said in an email. “I am not interested in going on the record at this point, perhaps in the future. The focus should be on the candidates.”

At first glance, Make America Great Again PAC seems like it could be a so-called scam PAC, or a fake political operation intended to do nothing more than help its founders get rich. Scam PACs have been cropping up since the rise of the Tea Party. A Politico investigation in January found that of the $43 million that 33 PACs together raised in the 2014 election cycle, only $3 million was spent on candidates. The rest, well…

But Trump seemed to quash those concerns when in mid-July he attended a 200-person fundraiser organized by Make America Great Again PAC at a private home in Manhattan. “It was a combination of friends that have known Mr. Trump for years while others were meeting with him for the first time,” press-shy Ciletti told the press.

Make America Great Again PAC is one of four PACs supporting Trump’s candidacy, though it is the only one to receive his endorsement in the form of a fundraiser appearance.

It might even be said that, when you really assess the pillars of Trump’s campaign platform, he might be known as the Buddy Roemer of 2016—if Trump weren’t so bombastic and intent on incessant racial insensitivity.

To the extent that he is selling a political philosophy, it’s this: “I’m really rich.” He’s not just bragging when he says that. What he means is that the system is so broken that anyone who is not really rich is at the mercy of their financial backers. “I’m really rich” is Trump’s way of saying he is, by virtue of his terrific wealth, incorruptible.

Trump is a cynic. In his view, the only way to fix the broken process by which candidates are elected using massive sums of money funneled to them by shadow organizations and power-hungry billionaires looking to get favors in return is to evade the process altogether by supporting someone like him—someone with the capacity to be their own biggest donor, and thus to answer to no one but themselves.


By: Olivia Nuzzi, The Daily Beast, August 26, 2015

August 26, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Donald Trump, Super PAC's | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“You Work For Us Now”: Could The Koch Brothers Swallow Up The GOP?

If you’re a Republican, you surely thank the heavens for the Koch brothers, billionaires willing to spend vast sums to help Republicans get elected. But could the Kochs actually pose a serious threat to the Republican Party itself?

That’s the question raised by a fascinating new report from Jon Ward of Yahoo News on a brewing conflict between the Kochs and the Republican National Committee over voter files. While this looks like a somewhat arcane dispute over data and software, it actually gets to the heart of a transition now going on in American politics — one Republicans initiated, perhaps without quite understanding it, and one that now threatens to make their party wither on the vine.

For years, Republicans have been fighting to empower people like the Kochs and increase their political power, and now the Kochs may end up swallowing the Republican Party itself.

This current dispute is about whether Republican candidates for office will use the RNC’s voter file to target their campaign activities, or whether they’ll use a system created by the Kochs’ political operation. According to Ward, the RNC sees the Koch’s system as a real threat, and things are getting ugly:

Since then, relations between the two sides have soured, turning into what one Republican operative described as “all-out war.” Interviews with more than three dozen people, including top decision-makers in both camps, have revealed that the Kochs’ i360 platform for managing voter contacts — which is viewed by many as a superior, easier-to-use interface than what’s on offer from the RNC — is becoming increasingly popular among Republican campaigns.

The RNC is now openly arguing, however, that the Kochs’ political operation is trying to control the Republican Party’s master voter file, and to gain influence over — some even say control of — the GOP.

“I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how,” said Katie Walsh, the RNC’s chief of staff.

There’s a pretty rich irony in hearing an RNC spokesperson complain about the influence of unaccountable rich people on politics. That’s because the power the Kochs (and other mega-donors) are building is a direct consequence of everything Republicans have advocated for years. They’re the ones who filed lawsuits to try to weaken campaign finance laws. They’re the ones who celebrated when those lawsuits succeeded. They’re the ones who rush to exploit every new loophole so the most amount of money can be spent with the least amount of accountability. They’re the ones who say that money equals speech, and liberty demands that the wealthy be able to spend all they want on campaigns.

But it’s possible that party leaders may not have predicted just how serious and involved the Kochs would become in their political activities.

This reminds me of something you’ve probably seen in a half-dozen movies about the mafia. A struggling business owner comes to the don and begs for a loan — he knows his business will succeed, he just needs some help getting through a rough patch. The don agrees, and the business owner is happy to have the don’s nephew come work for him while he puts the loan to good use. Then more of the don’s people keep coming, and before he knows it, the place is full of made guys. Eventually he complains to the don’s lieutenant. “This is my business!” he says. “You don’t seem to understand,” replies the lieutenant. “You work for us now.” (No, I’m not drawing a moral equivalence between the Koch brothers and mobsters.)

The model followed by most billionaires in the Kochs’ position is basically to just throw money at existing operatives and institutions to fund a bunch of TV ads, which is what they did when they first started. But as time has gone on, the Kochs have gotten smarter and smarter. They’ve invested in building a grassroots network through Americans for Prosperity, which is labor-intensive and time-consuming, but can ultimately yield results that advertising can’t. They’ve successfully created this data operation, which is supposedly superior to the RNC’s. They are obviously not content to just make big donations and let other people decide how the money gets spent.

Some other mega-donors are trying to do something similar, but none of them, on the right or the left, is doing it with the scale and success that the Kochs are. And if they want, they can go much bigger. The Kochs’ combined wealth is over $80 billion; so far they’ve barely dipped into the ocean of their resources.

We shouldn’t overstate things — the Republican Party is a long way from beginning to wither away. The RNC still raises plenty of money, its local affiliates still make up the default avenue through which rank-and-file conservatives all over the country can participate in politics, and it still has the ability to do things like sanction presidential primary debates and thus set their rules (though if the Kochs decided to hold their own series of debates, I’m pretty sure the candidates would come). But there is a dangerous future on the horizon, one in which the party still carries symbolic value, but not much practical influence.

It’s too early to tell whether that will occur, or whether it would be good or bad for conservatives in the long run if it did occur. On one hand, the party argues, quite reasonably, that while someone like the Kochs might lose interest and pack up shop one day, the party will always be there trying to elect Republicans, so it makes sense for them to be the locus of organizing, spending, and coordination. On the other hand, Republicans succeeded in creating something like a free market in political organization, where any new entrant with the means can come in and try to win market share.

In other words, the party fought to give the Kochs as much influence in politics as they were willing and able to take, and the Kochs took them up on it with so much enthusiasm that they now threaten to supplant the party. Maybe a party that lauds the wealthy for their smarts and entrepreneurial spirit should have seen that coming.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, June 11, 2015

June 14, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Koch Brothers, Republican National Committee | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Romney As Republican Comfort Food”: He Talks A Great Donor Game, But Doesn’t Strike The Grassroots As Authentic

It’s way too early to tell who is going to run, who is able to run and who will win from running for president in 2016. But if prognosticators didn’t try to take a stab at it, then those of us in the politics business would be pushing the unemployment rate up another percentage point.

Thus, the latest CBS poll of potential 2016 nominees shows 6 in 10 Republican voters, or 59 percent of that bloc, want to see Romney stump on the presidential campaign trail. Jake Miller at CBS News:

Republicans have a particularly broad field of prospective candidates, and it’s seemingly growing by the day: Just last week, the 2012 GOP nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, told a room of donors in New York City that he’s seriously entertaining a 2016 bid.

Fifty-nine percent of Republicans would like to see Romney jump into the 2016 race, while only 26 percent believe he should stay out, according to the CBS News poll.

Fifty percent of Republicans would like to see former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on the campaign trail as well, while 27 percent disagree. If both Romney and Bush run, analysts expect them to wage a competitive battle for the allegiance of the Republican establishment.

A lot of observers are scratching their collective heads on Romney’s sudden phantom rise given his self-inflicting 2012 defeat and his flopped run in the 2008 GOP primary. But there are indications of a raging battle between donors and various wings of party activists: he talks a great donor game, but doesn’t necessarily strike the grassroots folks as authentic – unless you fell in love with the unrecognizably likable Mitt showcased in that post-election Netflix documentary. And, the only thing holding Bush back, at the moment, is both his brand (the last name makes everyone, regardless of political affiliation, queasy) and skepticism over his stances on key issues as they’ve changed over the past decade.

If anything, such an overwhelming response from GOP voters should not assume Romney is a great candidate. It just says Republicans are comfortable with going with what they know; even Bush with 50 percent is folks simply going with the brand they know as opposed to the truly qualified brand at the moment. The other presumptives will just have to work harder at name ID.


By: Charles Ellison, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 19, 2015

January 20, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Mitt Romney | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mitt ’16 Gets Real, Praise The Lord”: Romney Tosses A Hand Grenade Into Jeb’s Tent

Just as it appeared the political news day was winding down, along came this bombshell from WaPo’s crack political reporters Costa, Rucker and Tumulty:

Mitt Romney is moving quickly to reassemble his national political network, spending the weekend and Monday calling former aides, donors and other supporters — as well as onetime foes such as Newt Gingrich.

Romney’s message was that he is serious about making a 2016 presidential bid. He told one senior Republican he “almost certainly will” run in what would be his third campaign for the White House, this person said.

His aggressive outreach over the past three days indicates that Romney’s declaration of interest to a group of donors in New York Friday was more than the release of a trial balloon but rather was the start of a concerted push by the 2012 nominee to be an active participant in the 2016 campaign.

Over the past few days, Romney has been in touch with an array of key allies to discuss his potential 2016 campaign, according to people with knowledge of the calls. They include Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), his former vice presidential running mate; former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (R); Hewlett-Packard chief executive Meg Whitman; former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown; former Missouri senator Jim Talent; and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

I suppose you could call this a shot across Jeb Bush’s bow, though it seems a bit more like a hand grenade tossed into his tent. Check this part out:

In the conversations, Romney has said he is intent on running to the right of Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who also is working aggressively to court donors and other party establishment figures for a 2016 bid. Romney has signaled to conservatives that, should he enter the race, he shares their views on immigration and on taxes — and that he will not run from party orthodoxy.

Well, lest we forget, Mitt ran as the Movement Conservative Candidate in 2008, and was Mr. Self-Deportation and Cut-Cap-Balance n 2012. Both those campaigns were a bit more recent than Jeb’s last, in 2002. But here’s a particularly strong signal:

On New Year’s Eve, Romney welcomed Laura Ingraham, the firebrand conservative and nationally syndicated talk-radio host, to his ski home in Deer Valley, Utah. The setting was informal and came about because Ingraham was vacationing in the area. Romney prepared a light lunch for Ingraham and her family as they spent more than one hour discussing politics and policy, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

A strong signal, and a strong stomach.

Well, it will be interesting to see how Mitt handles the alleged appetite of Republicans for “populism” going into 2016; of all his personas, I don’t think he’s ever worn that one. But his candidacy, unless this is a massive head-fake, sure will complicate the already insanely crowded 2016 field. Conservatives may cheer because Mitt ’16 will make the “Establishment” lane as crowded as their own. But as he’s shown before, he’s really good at projecting himself to primary voters as the electable and well-financed version of whatever it is they want.

As a progressive political writer, all I can do is to thank a beneficent God.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 12, 2014

January 13, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who’s Buying The Midterm Elections? A Bunch Of Old White Guys”: White Men Make Up 65 Percent Of Elected Officials

This is the year of the mega-donor: just forty-two people are responsible for nearly a third of Super PAC spending in the 2014 election cycle. Super PACs, meanwhile, are outspending the national parties. The list of would-be kingmakers includes Tom Steyer, the former hedge-fund manager who’s poured out $73 million to elect environmentally friendly Democrats; Michael Bloomberg, who’s distributed upwards of $20 million on behalf of both sides; and Paul Singer, the “vulture-fund billionaire” and powerful Republican fundraiser.

Take a look at the list of top donors. They might have distinctly different political agendas, but they have one thing irrefutably in common: they’re almost exclusively old white guys. Only seven women made it into the forty-two, and not a single person of color.

One of the things highlighted in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, is how poorly America’s political leadership, from city councils to the US Senate, reflects the diversity of the country. According to data compiled by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, white men make up 65 percent of elected officials—more than twice their proportion in the general population. Only 4 percent of our political leaders are women of color. As Jelani Cobb writes in The New Yorker, the midterm elections won’t right this imbalance between demographics and political representation, no matter which party wins the Senate.

In fact, the midterms suggest that white men are gaining clout, at least behind the veil. As campaign-finance laws erode, political power is increasingly concentrated among the billionaires playing the strings of the electoral marionette—a pool that looks less diverse even than Congress. (Given the prominence of dark-money groups, it’s likely that some of the biggest individual players in the midterms are anonymous. But there’s no indication that secret donors are any more diverse than others.)

It’s shrinking, too. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of individual donors increased each election cycle. This year, the pool contracted from 817,464 individual contributors in 2010 to 666,773 as of late October, according to a new analysis from CRP. “Despite only a slight increase in the cost of the election, outside groups, which are overwhelmingly fueled by large donors, are picking up more of the tab, candidates are cutting back on their spending, and there are fewer large (over $200) individual donors contributing overall to candidates and parties,” reads the report.

Politicians should be accountable to the electorate, which is growing more diverse. But the fact that candidates are growing more dependent on a narrow group of contributors means that they may be responsive to a limited set of concerns. There are many factors blunting the political impact of demographic changes, but certainly laws that amplify a less diverse group of people’s voices over others’ in an election is one of them.

The unfettering of big money also makes it harder to elect minority candidates. “Why is it that the Congress we have right now doesn’t look anything like the rest of the country? A lot of it has to do with our campaign-finance laws and the fact that there’s so much money in the system and you need so much money to run for office,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program and the Brennan Center for Justice. “There’s no question that it makes it more difficult for people who aren’t connected to these very wealthy donors to run for office.”

Candidates raise money from people they know, Norden explained, and American social circles are deeply segregated. Three-quarters of white Americans, for example, don’t have any non-white friends. Neighborhoods remain segregated by race and class. “If you don’t have a lot of money to begin with, you’re not interacting with the people who can provide that money,” said Norden.

A number of structural changes have been proposed to right lopsided representation, many of them focused on increasing turnout among minority voters. Those suggestions are particularly salient in response to the GOP’s campaign to pass laws that make it more difficult for low-income people and people of color to vote. But turnout won’t affect the diversity of elected officials if the pool of candidates isn’t diverse to begin with. As long as the financial bar for running a viable campaign keeps rising, it’s going to be more difficult for people of color, women and low-income people to appeal for votes at all.

There’s some evidence that public campaign financing increases proportional representation. Connecticut implemented a voluntary public-financing system in 2008, which provides a fixed amount of funding to candidates who rely on small donors. A study by Demos found that the program led to a more diverse state legislature and increased Latino and female representation. Another study found that the percentage of women elected in five states with public financing was significantly higher than the national average. Unfortunately, in several states recently politicians have set to dismantling, not strengthening, public financing.

“It’s really clear that that’s a major barrier to women and people of color, in particular, that can happen on all levels, even the local level,” said Brenda Carter, director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign, about the growing power of outside money. Still, she noted that there’s been little research into the specific ways in which the influence of money in politics has a disproportionate effect on minority candidates. “Adding a race and gender lens to the money-in-politics conversation is a really important thing,” she said.


By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, October 31, 2014

November 1, 2014 Posted by | Elected Officials, Midterm Elections, White Men | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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