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“Trump Needs Billionaires, And They Know It”: Selling The American People To The Highest Bidder

Did you hear the shocking news? Unlikely presidential candidate Donald Trump announced last week that he would be fundraising in a big way to pay for the rest of his campaign.

Trump’s new finance committee, chaired by CEO of Dune Capital Management Steven Mnuchin and including, recently, Anthony Scaramucci of SkyBridge Capital, will work with and reach out to the same hedge fund manager types that Trump used to call “paper pushers” who are “getting away with murder.”

Who could have guessed: Trump’s claims that he would self-fund his campaign, in order to avoid the corruptive influence of big donors, were complete lies.

Scaramucci, to be fair, is a little more Trump’s speed than your average paper pusher: in addition to managing a hedge fund, he hosts a show on Fox Business and wrote the book Goodbye Gordon Gekko: How to Find Your Fortune Without Losing Your Soul, which I assume Trump thought was ironic.

Mnuchin, for his part, is known in Hollywood for quietly taking $50 million out of Relativity, a failing entertainment company, right before it went bankrupt.

Trump deserves credit, at least, for finding fundraisers in his own image.

The campaign also established a joint fundraising agreement with the Republican Party, so that Trump can fundraise for them — he likely won’t, given his distaste for helping others — and they can funnel him money from their large network of billionaire donors, all of whom are focused on making sure Donald doesn’t repeat the mistake he made on Sunday, when he let slip that rich people should pay more taxes.

By Monday, New Trump had it all figured out: he didn’t mean that the rich would pay more — that would be unthinkable for a Republican nominee with his kind of fundraising operation. Rather, he would simply bump the top marginal rate on his own plan up a few points, still a dramatic tax cut.

“Well, sure it’s a change. I’m allowed to change,” he told George Stephanopolous. “You need flexibility, George, whether it’s a tax plan where you’re going to — where you know you’re going to negotiate. But we’re going to come up with something.”

Trump’s tax plan, which would add trillions upon trillions of dollars to the debt with a huge tax break for the rich, has largely flown under the radar since he proposed it last September, aside from the usual mainstream economists saying it was insane.

But Trump’s off-hand comments about the rich were a mistake Mnuchin and Scaramucci likely knew they couldn’t let stand, if Trump wanted the support of the billionaires that used to constitute the GOP’s ideological base, until he reminded rank-and-file voters that America’s trade policies had screwed them.

And we’re only talking about taxes, an issue that even the most, ahem, inexperienced presidential nominee can fake. If billionaire pressure can reverse Trump’s tax rhetoric in 24 hours, what will billionaire GOP kingmaker Sheldon Adelson’s money do to Trump’s pledge to be “sort of a neutral guy,” in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Hint: Last Wednesday, Trump announced suddenly that Israelis “have to keep moving forward” building illegal settlements in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank, a huge obstacle to any kind of negotiations, if you ask Palestinians.

The next day, Adelson — who Trump had previously accused of trying to “mold” Marco Rubio into “his perfect little puppet” — said Trump would be “good for Israel.”

Now, the billionaires are lining up around the block, trying to impress upon Donald the urgency of their pet causes while he’s still gullible enough to simply give them what they want.

Who’s the puppet now?

This election season’s refreshing discussion of money in politics, however coarse it has been, has brought back a saying from the ‘60s, sometimes attributed to Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn and sometimes to Lyndon Johnson. It’s about lobbyists:

“If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women, take their money and then vote against them you’ve got no business being up here.”

Bernie Sanders doesn’t want big donors’ help.

Hillary Clinton — like most candidates for office — does want their help, and claims she can still vote against them.

Donald Trump, building up a fundraising infrastructure on-the-fly, is plainly asking for their help in exchange for his vote.

In fact, if you want a rare glimpse at how money can change politicians’ stances on the issues — especially politicians without much experience on the issues — now is a great time to start tracking how and when Trump changes his mind about things.

It won’t be pretty. But Donald is desperate: he needs hundreds of millions of dollars, probably more, to become a viable presidential candidate. And for him, this is all one big deal. As long as he comes out on top, he’ll sell the American people to the highest bidder.

 

By: Matt Shuham, The National Memo, May 10, 2016

May 11, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Donald Trump, GOP Campaign Donors | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Billionaires Try To Buy The Supreme Court”: Hiding Behind Tax Laws To Avoid Revealing Their Identities

“Let the people decide” is the refrain of Republicans opposed to holding hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland, but they’re being bankrolled by an anonymous collection of billionaires—1 percenters so cowardly that they’re hiding behind tax laws to avoid revealing their identities.

Case in point: the “Judicial Crisis Network,” the right-wing front organization doing ad buys across the country to oppose Judge Garland getting a hearing. JCN is one of many 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations on the right and the left, and C4s don’t have to disclose their donors.That is the major reason that political spending by C4s increased more than 8,000 percent between 2004 and 2012.

That doesn’t mean we don’t know anything about C4’s like JCN, however. Thanks to a 2015 investigation by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, we do know it was started in 2005 (as the “Judicial Confirmation network” meant to promote Bush’s judicial appointees) by a group of arch-conservatives including Ann Corkery. Corkery isn’t listed on the JCN’s website, perhaps because the group doesn’t want “the people” to know she is also member of the far-right, literally self-flagellating Catholic order Opus Dei; a former director of Bill Donohue’s ultra-right Catholic League; and a board member of Hobby Lobby’s law firm, The Becket Fund, although her bio has been removed from Becket’s website too.

Conveniently, Corkery also directs JCN’s leading funder, the Wellspring Committee.

Who funds the Wellspring Committee? Well, here’s where things get interesting.

Turns out, Wellspring was founded in 2008 by none other than the infamous Charles and David Koch, together with their political Svengali, Richard Fink. According to Kenneth Vogel, author of the book Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp, Wellspring raised $10 million from attendees at the Kochs’ donor seminars, right after it was founded.

How much and from whom we don’t know.

And that’s precisely the point. Indeed, so secretive is the Wellspring Committee that Jane Mayer’s masterful 449-page tome on the Kochs, Scaifes, and other mega-donors doesn’t even mention it. One insider told Vogel, “Wellspring would never have put their name on anything.”

And these are the people saying “let the people decide.”

From the beginning, Wellspring was set up as a dark-money conduit, effectively laundering billionaire donations so no one would have to be accountable for them. Wellspring donated $7.8 million in 2008, for example, in part to other Koch-funded fronts like Americans for Prosperity.

But Wellspring was different in one key respect. Unlike most of the libertarian “Kochtopus”—which would eventually fund the Astroturf Tea Party movement—Wellspring worked closely with the Republican establishment. Corkery herself was a co-chair of the National Women for Mitt Finance Committee. The operations were initially run by Rick Wiley, a former Republican National Committee official. Wellspring also coordinated with Republican mega-donors, including Sheldon Adelson’s Freedom’s Watch.

The marriage didn’t last long, though. After the 2008 election loss, the Koch brothers turned back to their roots, funding front groups like Americans for Prosperity and Center to Protect Patient Rights to oppose Obamacare and the Tea Party movement to oppose mainstream Republicans.

From 2008 to 2011, Wellspring raised $24 million but not one donor’s name is known. (There are rumors that its funders now include the Templeton Foundation and hedge fund mogul Paul Singer, both contacts of Corkery’s.) Intriguingly, however, 10 of Wellspring’s grantees (in the period 2008-11) also received money from the Koch-funded Center to Protect Patient Rights, and Wellspring works with consultants who used to work with Koch Industries.

Whoever is paying for it, we do know that Wellspring is giving JCN $7 million a year, the lion’s share of that group’s budget, and that Corkery’s husband Neil is JCN’s treasurer. JCN, in turn, announced a $3 million campaign to oppose any Supreme Court confirmation hearings—just the latest of its big spends on judicial battles across the country.

In other words, the leading opponents of Judge Garland’s confirmation aren’t citizens concerned about democracy, but a front organization started by a secretive religious extremist and funded by anonymous members of the Koch brothers’ network. Let the people decide, indeed.

Oh, and by the way, C4s like Wellspring and JCN can only spend up to 49.9 percent of their expenditures on politics: the rest is supposed to promote “social welfare.” But since a judicial campaign isn’t technically a political campaign, these expenditures actually count as Wellspring’s non-political “social welfare” expenses. Because of course this has nothing to do with politics.

The further one digs into this miasma of hypocrisy, wealth, and secrecy, the more incestuous it all becomes. For example, it turns out, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, that Neil Corkery, in addition to JCN, was also “president of its allied Judicial Education Project, and executive director of a charity called the Sudan Relief Fund, all of which paid him salaries; but he also drew paychecks from at least four other organizations: the anti-gay union National Organization for Marriage, ActRight Action, the Catholic Association Foundation, and Catholic Voices. His total earnings were almost $450,000 and his weekly workload was 105 hours in the first half of 2012.” He is also linked to the C4 group called the Annual Fund, itself launched in 2010 with a $2.4 million grant from Wellspring.

Sometimes the “vast, right-wing conspiracy” isn’t really that vast.

It is, however, deeply hypocritical. If the mantra of the anti-Garland crowd is “let the people decide,” why won’t they let the people know who they are? Why the layers of obfuscation and secrecy? If the Wellspring Committee funders really care about democracy, they’ll stop hiding behind tax regulations and shell corporations, and proudly disclose who they are and what they want to do.

Unless, of course, they know the people would decide to run them out of Washington.

 

By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, March 29, 2016

March 30, 2016 Posted by | Billionaires, Koch Brothers, Merrick Garland, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Privilege, Pathology And Power”: What Happens To A Nation That Gives Ever-Growing Political Power To The Super Rich?

Wealth can be bad for your soul. That’s not just a hoary piece of folk wisdom; it’s a conclusion from serious social science, confirmed by statistical analysis and experiment. The affluent are, on average, less likely to exhibit empathy, less likely to respect norms and even laws, more likely to cheat, than those occupying lower rungs on the economic ladder.

And it’s obvious, even if we don’t have statistical confirmation, that extreme wealth can do extreme spiritual damage. Take someone whose personality might have been merely disagreeable under normal circumstances, and give him the kind of wealth that lets him surround himself with sycophants and usually get whatever he wants. It’s not hard to see how he could become almost pathologically self-regarding and unconcerned with others.

So what happens to a nation that gives ever-growing political power to the superrich?

Modern America is a society in which a growing share of income and wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small number of people, and these people have huge political influence — in the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign, around half the contributions came from fewer than 200 wealthy families. The usual concern about this march toward oligarchy is that the interests and policy preferences of the very rich are quite different from those of the population at large, and that is surely the biggest problem.

But it’s also true that those empowered by money-driven politics include a disproportionate number of spoiled egomaniacs. Which brings me to the current election cycle.

The most obvious illustration of the point I’ve been making is the man now leading the Republican field. Donald Trump would probably have been a blowhard and a bully whatever his social station. But his billions have insulated him from the external checks that limit most people’s ability to act out their narcissistic tendencies; nobody has ever been in a position to tell him, “You’re fired!” And the result is the face you keep seeing on your TV.

But Mr. Trump isn’t the only awesomely self-centered billionaire playing an outsized role in the 2016 campaign.

There have been some interesting news reports lately about Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas gambling magnate. Mr. Adelson has been involved in some fairly complex court proceedings, which revolve around claims of misconduct in his operations in Macau, including links to organized crime and prostitution. Given his business, this may not be all that surprising. What was surprising was his behavior in court, where he refused to answer routine questions and argued with the judge, Elizabeth Gonzales. That, as she rightly pointed out, isn’t something witnesses get to do.

Then Mr. Adelson bought Nevada’s largest newspaper. As the sale was being finalized, reporters at the paper were told to drop everything and start monitoring all activity of three judges, including Ms. Gonzales. And while the paper never published any results from that investigation, an attack on Judge Gonzales, with what looks like a fictitious byline, did appear in a small Connecticut newspaper owned by one of Mr. Adelson’s associates.

O.K., but why do we care? Because Mr. Adelson’s political spending has made him a huge player in Republican politics — so much so that reporters routinely talk about the “Adelson primary,” in which candidates trek to Las Vegas to pay obeisance.

Are there other cases? Yes indeed, even if the egomania doesn’t rise to Adelson levels. I find myself thinking, for example, of the hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer, another big power in the G.O.P., who published an investor’s letter declaring that inflation was running rampant — he could tell from the prices of Hamptons real estate and high-end art. Economists got some laughs out of the incident, but think of the self-absorption required to write something like that without realizing how it would sound to non-billionaires.

Or think of the various billionaires who, a few years ago, were declaring with straight faces, and no sign of self-awareness, that President Obama was holding back the economy by suggesting that some businesspeople had misbehaved. You see, he was hurting their feelings.

Just to be clear, the biggest reason to oppose the power of money in politics is the way it lets the wealthy rig the system and distort policy priorities. And the biggest reason billionaires hate Mr. Obama is what he did to their taxes, not their feelings. The fact that some of those buying influence are also horrible people is secondary.

But it’s not trivial. Oligarchy, rule by the few, also tends to become rule by the monstrously self-centered. Narcisstocracy? Jerkigarchy? Anyway, it’s an ugly spectacle, and it’s probably going to get even uglier over the course of the year ahead.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 1, 2016

January 2, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Economic Inequality, Money in Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Is The GOP So Silent Over Pollard?”: Normally, Republicans Fall All Over Themselves Trying To Show How Much They Love Israel

Though few topics have been off-limits for the Republican presidential field this cycle, there’s one glaring issue most of them prefer to keep totally mum about: the parole of former Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.

Yesterday, former Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard was released from federal prison. When he served as a Navy intelligence analyst, the government of Israel paid him from $1,500 to $2,500 a month, per CNN, to covertly pass them classified information. After Pollard was convicted, he received a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years. He’s been called “one of the worst traitors of the 20th century.”

But he had many powerful and loyal advocates in Israel — including current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who lobbied unsuccessfully for a commutation of his sentence. And the country awarded him citizenship after his conviction. Republicans don’t often see any conflict between the goals of the Israeli government and the United States’ national security interests. But Pollard’s incarceration — and, now, the conditions of his parole —  confront them with such a conundrum.

And some powerful Republicans were Team Pollard. Ted Olson, an attorney on George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and then solicitor general during his first term, represented him before the D.C. Court of Appeals. And according to a Daily Beast report from 2012, Republican megadonor and king-maker Sheldon Adelson pushed for then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to call for the spy’s release. Romney didn’t.

Though Pollard is now free, his attorneys are challenging what they characterize as “onerous and oppressive conditions of parole.” Pollard — who “passed more secrets to a foreign power (360-plus cubic feet of paper), in the shortest amount of time, than any spy before or after him,” according to a retired Navy counterintelligence officer quoted at IntelNews.org — has to wear an ankle monitor and can’t move to Israel for at least five years.

The Daily Beast reached out to all the competitive Republican presidential campaigns (and the Democrats, too) about whether they supported Pollard’s release and thought he should be allowed to leave the U.S. for Israel. Only Ben Carson’s team provided an answer. His communications director, Doug Watts, emailed that the retired neurosurgeon is fine with what happened.

“Jonathan Pollard has done his time and therefore Dr Carson has no objection or concern with his release,” Watts said. “As for his travel restriction, Dr Carson defers to the judgement of the Parole Board.”

Huckabee’s team didn’t send an answer, but he told Israeli media outlet Arutz Sheva earlier this year that he was “delighted” by the prospect of Pollard’s release and had concerns about his health.

“[T]here’s no purpose being served by continuing to have him incarcerated and I’m delighted he’ll be finally freed and be able to go to Israel,” the former Arkansas governor added, erroneously assuming Pollard would immediately be able to leave the U.S.

Huckabee also told Arutz Sheva he hoped “that this is not sort of a bald attempt for this president to try to appease and win friends among the Israelis, believing that if he lets Jonathan Pollard go then the Israelis are bound and determined that they have to support the Iranian deal.”

Jeb Bush’s team didn’t get back to us about the former Florida governor’s stance on Pollard. His brother, though, resisted Israeli efforts to secure a commutation of the spy’s sentence. IntelNews noted that a “massive campaign was conducted behind the scenes,” including tens of thousands of phone calls to the White House from his supporters, to get him out of prison.

“Hopeful writers at Israel National News even prepared an article celebrating his release under a would-be headline ‘Jonathan Pollard is Coming Home!’” wrote Arutz Sheva on Jan. 9, 2009, on their misplaced optimism that Bush would release the spy in the final days of his presidency.

They weren’t the only ones long holding out for his release. After Pollard left prison, Netanyahu took to Twitter to celebrate.

“As someone who raised his case before successive U.S. presidents many times, I longed for this day,” the prime minister said in a video the account tweeted out. “And now after three long and difficult decades, Jonathan is being released. I wish him on this first Sabbath that he’s going to spend with his family a lot of joy, a lot of happiness, a lot of peace. May these be the hallmarks of the rest of his life.”

One Israeli paper has reported that Netanyahu is lobbying for Pollard to be allowed to travel to the country before five years of parole are up. Netanyahu’s office wouldn’t confirm that report to the AP.

Though the PM is unequivocal about Pollard, one of Netanyahu’s most vocal supporters in the Senate has stayed mum. Marco Rubio, a hawkish foe of the Iran deal and long-time critic of Obama’s handling of U.S./Israeli relations, has yet to say anything about the spy’s release. A spokeswoman for his campaign told The Daily Beast that she would let us know if they have a comment.

The Conservative Solutions Project, a pro-Rubio outside group, used video of Netanyahu in an ad touting the senator that aired in cable news networks, including Fox News.

Sen. Ted Cruz’s team also didn’t reply to a query about his views on Pollard’s release and the conditions of his parole. But this past April at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Las Vegas, he expressed openness to pardoning Pollard if elected.

“Cruz said he’d keep an ‘open mind’ about the situation, but wanted to hear from U.S. intelligence agencies before deciding,” wrote Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Steve Sebelius.

It seems highly unlikely that intelligence agencies would have told President Cruz it was a good call to pardon Pollard. As IntelNews noted, then-CIA director George Tenet threatened to resign if then-President Bill Clinton had pardoned the spy. Clinton didn’t.

And conservative Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach told The Hill in July that Cruz gave him a heads-up on Pollard’s upcoming parole.

“I was told that Sen. Cruz had met with the Justice Department and other representatives from other branches of government and they said that he was going to be paroled in November,” he told the paper.

So Pollard makes life complicated for Republican candidates. No wonder then, for the most part, they’d rather talk about anything else.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, November 21, 2015

November 22, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Israel, Jonathan Pollard, Traitors | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Telling Shift In Dynamics Of GOP Politics”: Why 2016 Is Different For The GOP; The Establishment Is Divided, The Base Is Mostly United

Billions of pixels have been spilled about Trump, Fiorina, the radical extremism of the GOP base and the fecklessness of Republican establishment candidates. But while numerous ad hoc explanations exist for the bizarre way the GOP primary is playing out, the simplest story is often the most overlooked. Traditionally, hardcore movement conservatives find themselves split over who will be the anti-establishment candidate, while the establishment usually unifies early and rolls over the top of the divided opposition.

In the 2012 campaign, establishment Republicans backed Mitt Romney early. Romney never had the backing of a clear majority of Republican voters. A number of anti-Romneys collectively had a majority of the vote against him, and even as they dwindled to just Gingrich and Santorum those two continued to outpoll Romney collectively. Had either stepped aside and delivered their voters to the other, it’s conceivable that Romney could have been defeated. But Romney limped forward to the finish line and the rest is history. A similar pattern elevated John McCain from a nearly defunct candidacy to the nomination in 2008, despite widespread opposition from the most conservative GOP voters.

This year that pattern is reversed. The establishment is divided among a bevy of uninspiring choices. The leading favorite until now has been Jeb Bush, but his unimpressive campaign performance has prevented him from coalescing support despite numerous advantages. The other GOP establishment picks from Rubio to Kasich to Walker have all had their challenges as well.

Meanwhile, of course, the Tea Party right has mostly fallen in behind Donald Trump, with a side of support for Carson. Where once the far revanchist right was divided and the corporate right was unified, now the reverse is true.

That’s partly a reflection of the corruption-fueled billionaire primary in which a variety of wealthy plutocrats can dictate their own terms, backing their own preferred candidates long after they would have normally bowed out. Party leadership no longer has the control of the moneyed establishment the way it once did; the Kochs and Adelsons fund whomever they please all the way to the convention.

It’s also the product of Trump’s singularly powerful understanding of the anti-establishment right’s desire not for a traditional presidential candidate, but someone who will declare war on the sort of cultural decency they view as “political correctness.”

It’s possible, of course, that the GOP will return to form and that the establishment will mobilize around a single candidate as conservatives split. But there’s no guarantee of it. Without that, we could easily see a Donald Trump nomination and a telling shift in the dynamics of Republican politics.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 20, 2015

September 22, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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