September is here, Labor Day weekend is upon us, and the summer is coming to an end. As you soak up the heat and relax, take a minute to check out some of the top corruption stories you may have missed this week.
Public Office, Private Loans
19 representatives or senators reported taking loans from private individuals or organizations.
Want a politician to owe you one? Try giving them a loan. New analysis of financial disclosure forms found 19 members of Congress reported loans from individuals and organizations, ranging from $15,000 to $5 million. All but two of those loans are still outstanding and, in several cases, the politicians got the cash from their political supporters or friends. As the article notes, the loans provided some donors what might be construed as a workaround to campaign contribution limits, since there is no cap on the amount they can lend. And since loans are reported in wide brackets – $250,001-$500,000, for example – it’s hard to tell exactly how much the politicians owe. That’s especially true in the House, where members do not have to provide information about how much the loan was originally worth or when it will be paid off.
The bottom line: Private loans, especially loans this big, present major potential conflicts of interest for elected officials. At minimum, there should be transparent reporting available to the public about these transactions.
Sanctions Got You Nervous? Just Donate Half a Million Dollars…
New sanctions on Venezuela exempt Citgo, which has spent hundreds of thousands on political influence.
When the Trump administration drafted further economic sanctions against Venezuela this month following President Nicolas Maduro’s efforts to quiet political dissidence there, officials exempted transactions involving one company in particular: Citgo. The U.S.-based entity is a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil enterprise, but as the Daily Beast reported, the corporation has also spent significant sums of money to build its influence at the federal level. Citgo has spent $160,000 lobbying the executive branch since April on a number of issues, specifically devoting money toward pressuring the government for a sanctions carve-out. And after Trump’s election, the company splashed half a million dollars on the president-elect’s inauguration committee. We’ve written in the past about the power of inauguration committee donations. The contributions are not bound by limits on the cash that can be given to campaigns, and as such allow a person, organization, or company to very publicly kick a new a president hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The bottom line: This is how influence works in Washington. The right gifts and the right pressure really can force a desired outcome.
Pharma Goes Big (and secret) to Push for Higher Drug Prices in Ohio
Drug companies flout disclosure laws by pumping political cash through a secretive LLC
Next year, Ohioans will vote on a ballot measure that would require state agencies to buy prescription drugs at the low rate negotiated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and those who stand to lose the most money – pharmaceutical companies – aren’t happy. The ballot committee fighting the measure has raised tens of millions of dollars from a single donor, a limited liability corporation (LLC) funded by the drug companies themselves. As the International Business Times notes, however, setting up an LLC to funnel cash into a ballot committee sure seems like a good way to keep the true donors secret. While the committee is required to reveal the source of its cash, it doesn’t need to go any further than listing the LLC, which has no legal obligation to disclose its own funders. This, in essence, opens a “dark money” loophole for companies to hid their gifts.
The bottom line: Dark money erodes our democracy by denying voters information about who is trying to influence elections.
Automatic Voter Registration Comes to the Land of Lincoln
Gov. Rauner signed an automatic voter registration bill this week, making Illinois the tenth state in the country to automatically register eligible residents to vote.
Finally, some good news: Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill on Monday enacting automatic voter registration in the state after vetoing a similar measure last year. Going forward, when Illinois residents apply for or renew a driver’s license, they’ll be registered to vote, though they can always opt out. Illinois is now the tenth state in the country (plus the District of Columbia) to put AVR in place. Here’s to the next 40!
The bottom line: Automatic voter registration is a simple, commonsense reform that helps secure our elections, clean up our voter rolls, and makes sure eligible Americans have the right to participate.
That’s all for this week. Please send any stories you’d like to see included in next week’s rundown to email@example.com.