We’re deep in the heart of fall, which means two things: root vegetables are back and Congress is embroiled in end-of-year fighting. With tax debates on the horizon and the Mueller investigation in full swing, we’re here to provide you with the corruption stories you need to know. Read on for your weekly corruption rundown.
The Mueller investigation turns up the heat on lobbyists for foreign work
Paul Manafort was indicted on a number of charges, including foreign lobbying violations, and lobbyist Tony Podesta left his firm.
The political world was rocked Monday when charges were announced against three former Trump campaign officials as a result of investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort faces multiple charges, including failing to register as a foreign agent and making false and misleading statements under the foreign lobbyist registration requirements (known as FARA). Perhaps most striking, as Ken Silverstein notes in POLITICO Magazine, is that Department of Justice figures released last year reveal there have been just seven FARA prosecutions in the last 50 years – and only one conviction at trial.
Meanwhile, powerful Washington lobbyist and major Democratic donor, Tony Podesta, announced he would be leaving his firm after coming under Mueller’s investigation. Both Manafort and Podesta have been tied to work that benefited a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. It’s an open secret that lobbying is poorly regulated in Washington, Silverstein argues. “[I]f you’re going to indict and prosecute lobbyists for failing to disclose their activities,” he writes, “roughly half of Washington would be under arrest.” Experts argue these FARA charges could go a long way toward changing that practice.
The bottom line: There’s a compelling case to be made that lax enforcement not only misses major violations, but actually encourages bad behavior. We need tough, responsive lobbying regulation around the country to eliminate the culture of lawlessness in the influence industry.
179 of Trump’s executive branch nominees have conflicts of interest. That’s more than 50 percent
New analysis finds extensive industry connections for a bulk of administration nominees.
Lawyers, lobbyists, and executives: oh my! According The Daily Beast’s analysis, more than half of nominees to administration jobs that require Senate confirmation have some “notable conflict of interest.” For many, it’s past work in the industry they’re required to oversee, like Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, formerly of the Georgia Agribusiness Council. And Stephen Parente, who was nominated to serve as an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services. Shortly after his nomination, UnitedHealth, a major insurer, donated $1.2 million to “a tiny academic research center that Parente helped found and served as director over the past decade,” POLITICO reported. Other nominees – 63, to be exact – were once lobbyists, lawyers, or representatives for the industries they’re now supposed to regulate, and of the non-conflicted contingent, several nominees were onetime Trump donors or campaign workers.
The big picture: Can we finally do away with the fiction that industry-cozy former executives and lobbyists are the only people with enough issue experience to regulate the sectors they came from? If it’s not laziness, then appointments like this are borne of an actual desire to give the industry more say in its own oversight – and that’s wrong.
The Clinton campaign had extensive control over the party, a former DNC chair revealed
The party and campaign signed a powerful fundraising agreement almost a year before Clinton secured the presidential nomination.
This is a big one. As former acting Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile revealed in an excerpt from her upcoming book, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign exerted serious control over the national party starting almost a year before she secured the presidential nomination. Brazile’s account, which lends further credence to claims the DNC unfairly favored Clinton throughout the primary, describes a party wounded by management problems and desperate for cash – relief that would eventually come from the Clinton campaign. The money did not come free, however. Brazile describes uncovering an unorthodox fundraising agreement penned in August 2015 that granted the campaign substantial control over party affairs. That document, she writes, “specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised.”
Several states had lined up to link arms with the Clinton campaign as early as August 2015, the New York Times reported. State and national party committees have higher contribution limits than do individual candidates, so the joint fundraising committee allowed donors to give money to state parties that would share their cash with the Clinton campaign. A lot of cash, it seems – Brazile cites a May 2016 POLITICO article that found the state parties had kept just 1 percent of the money raised through the joint committee. While the Bernie Sanders campaign also had a joint fundraising agreement with the DNC, his campaign was not “as aggressive as the Clinton campaign in raising money through that fund” – and the campaign did not appear to have the same level of control over DNC strategy and funding.
The bottom line: While this behavior isn’t illegal, it does call into question the equality of the playing field for all candidates. Democracy depends on voters being able to choose between candidates without their party tilting the scales.
Facebook, Google, and their employees gave $1.6 million to the members of Congress who will now question them about Russia
Google and its employees have contributed to 95 percent of lawmakers on the committees.
Amid revelations that Russian interests used social media platforms to attempt to influence American elections, Google and Facebook representatives are testifying before Congress. For most of the lawmakers in the House and Senate committees who will be questioning them, this will mean facing campaign donors (or their emissaries). That’s because Facebook and its employees contributed to 40 of the 55 committee members – and the Google community gave to a whopping 52 of them since 2009. The totals are not insignificant for some members. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, for example, has collected almost $125,000 from the companies and their employees.
The bottom line: While these figures may not seem high, especially when compared to other special interests, tracking these contributions is crucial for ensuring government accountability. Transparency is one of the most important anti-corruption tools we have.
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