It’s been a crazy week! Elections, the Paradise Papers, tax reform, and President Trump’s Asia trip. It can be hard to keep up. That’s why we’re here to give you the rundown on all the corruption related stories that you may have missed.
Lobbyists start their engines as the Republican tax plan comes into view.
Members of Congress describe working on the bill in secret to avoid special interest pressure.
Ever wonder how special interests work in practice? As POLITICO reported this week, congressional Republicans kept their tax plan under wraps for as long as possible for fear of pressure from interest groups – and the fleet of lobbyists they employ. The proposed legislation, aimed at reforming the nation’s tax code and cutting rates for businesses and individuals, features changes to a number of tax deductions and credits. Since each of those exemptions benefits some group of people or companies, tinkering with any amplifies the risk of (well-funded) blowback. Now that the plan has been released, interest groups and their lobbyists have studied it carefully, searching for potential windfalls and drawbacks. As one Republican representative put it: “We’ve just finished the opening ceremonies of the lobbyist Olympics.”
The bottom line: In Washington, nobody moves faster than lobbyists. This is a sobering reminder of the power and influence special interests have in our political system.
Remember that Clinton-DNC joint-fundraising committee? Thank the Supreme Court for that.
In a 2014 decision, the court threw out aggregate fundraising limits, enabling deep-pocket donors to contribute considerably more money.
Before 2014, people contributing money to candidates in federal races faced limits on how much they could give to one campaign and to all federal campaigns in a given election cycle. When the caps were challenged, the Supreme Court found the aggregate limits unconstitutional. The problem with that decision, Mic noted, is that the aggregate limits served as a constraint on joint fundraising agreements, in which campaigns and state and national parties raise funds together and spend the money however they see fit. Since the total cap on federal contributions was removed, joint fundraising operations have enabled donors to essentially evade individual contribution limits. As we discussed last week, that’s exactly what Hillary Clinton’s campaign did in linking with the state and national Democratic parties, thereby allowing contributors to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to the shared committee. That shared committee then sent the vast majority of the cash to the Clinton campaign. If the aggregate limits were still in place, those joint fundraising committees would be able to raise far less money.
The bottom line: Contribution limits exist to prevent undue influence in the electoral system and control the flood of money into politics. Joint fundraising committees offer a real workaround to these limits, and need reform.
Bet these casino committees didn’t gamble on $500,000 in fines for campaign finance violations
The penalties are the largest the Maine Ethics Commission has ever assessed.
The enforcers showed up in Maine, big time. Last Friday, the Maine Ethics Commission levied $500,000 in fines on four ballot committees for campaign finance reporting violations related to their efforts to pass a casino measure in the state. After a multi-month investigation, the commission found the committees had not properly disclosed the sources of its $4.5 million in funding, much of which came not from real estate developer Lisa Scott, but from investors and companies close to her brother, the gambling entrepreneur Shawn Scott. And not all of the money was domestic – one contributor was a Japanese executive of a Cambodian business. While the fines are record-breaking, the commission actually voted to reduce them from the multi-million dollar total they could have assessed.
The bottom line: Three cheers for effective enforcement! It is one of the most important ways to deter accountability violations.
Seattle’s innovative democracy vouchers will remain after an unsuccessful legal challenge
A judge upheld the new Democracy Voucher Program in Seattle, which were used extensively in the city’s municipal elections this year.
Here’s some more good news to round off the rundown. Seattle’s first-of-a-kind democracy vouchers, which allow city voters to give $100 to qualified candidates of their choosing, is not a violation of residents’ First Amendment rights, a judge ruled late last week. By giving Seattleites’ the opportunity to donate four $25 vouchers to city campaigns, the program aims to increase political participation and reduce candidates’ need to seek out large sums of cash to stay competitive. The vouchers, which were implemented for the first time in some races this year, have proven popular. All four of the candidates in the two eligible city council races qualified for the program, and the winners collected $300,000 and more than $213,000 in vouchers over the course of their campaigns.
The bottom line: By allowing candidates to spend more time with voters and less time hunting down donation checks, democracy vouchers represent a welcome step forward in the campaign finance arena.
Thanks for reading. If you see a story you’d like to see highlighted in next week’s corruption rundown, feel free to send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.