Another week, another full slate of corruption news out of Washington. Here’s a quick roundup of some of the items you may have missed.
DNC Chairman taps corporate lobbyists to serve as superdelegates
The lobbyists will vote on Democratic party rules, and then in 2020 they will be free to vote for a primary candidate of their choice.
Ahead of a big Democratic National Committee meeting this weekend in Las Vegas, Chairman Tom Perez has announced 75 nominees to serve as DNC members-at-large and superdelegates in the 2020 elections. According to Bloomberg Politics, three of Perez’s picks are currently registered as corporate lobbyists and at least another 10 have been registered as lobbyists in the recent past. The three current lobbyists tapped by Perez work for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Venezuelan state-owned petroleum company CITGO, and Wall Street banking giant Citigroup.
Perez is also being criticized for selecting too many “old guard” members for leadership positions at the expense of members representing the ascendent Bernie Sanders wing of the party. In several cases, members who backed Keith Ellison, Perez’s rival from the left, were removed from leadership positions, while more establishment members, were elevated to serve on powerful committees.
The bottom line: Following a contentious presidential primary and a highly contested chairman’s race, the DNC does not appear to be welcoming reformers into their pack. Adding more corporate lobbyists to serve as superdelegates is definitely not a good look.
Corporations secretly bankrolled Republican convention hideaway
A bunch of giant corporations just want politicians to be comfortable. What could possibly be wrong with that?
The Center for Public Integrity obtained records showing that 20 corporations and trade associations secretly funded a luxurious “hospitality venue” for Republican politicians attending the 2016 Republican National Convention. The venue (photos here) was located in an adjacent building to where the convention was taking place, and it gave Republican politicians a place to relax, get some food, and hold informal conversations. The special interests that funded the space, including AT&T, Comcast, Microsoft, Chevron, Anthem Inc., and more, were also given permission to use it as well, therefore, gaining special access to hold backroom conversations with politicians and lawmakers.
The money for the hospitality venue was funnelled through a shell organization called “Friends of the House 2016 LLC” that was not required to reveal its donors because it was a limited liability corporation rather than a political committee. The corporate donations were only obtained by CPI after bank records were made available due to a lawsuit filed in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.
The bottom line: Party conventions are notorious for backroom dealmaking and influence peddling, so this isn’t necessarily surprising. But it does illustrate the many ways special interests can use their power and money to influence politicians, often without any transparency.
A bipartisan bill is introduced to require funding disclosures for online ads
Senators Warner, Klobuchar, and McCain want political ads on the Internet to have the same transparency as political ads on television.
Political campaigns and outside groups spend millions on Internet ads to target voters and influence their views of politicians. Yet they don’t have to disclose their sponsorship of the ads in the same way that they do in television, radio, or print ads. It’s a major loophole in political finance laws, and in recent years it has been used by Russian organizations (and possibly other foreign entities) to secretly spend money to influence U.S. elections.
This week, three senators introduced the “Honest Ads Act” to address this loophole by requiring disclosures on online electioneering communications, requiring tech companies to maintain public files of all paid political ads on their networks, and requiring companies to make reasonable efforts to prevent foreign entities from financing political ads. This is a rare piece of bipartisan legislation around campaign financing issues, and it’s the first substantial bipartisan bill introduced as a response to the foreign interference in the 2016 elections.
The bottom line: It just makes sense for online political ads to follow the same rules as offline ads. This bill is a good step for helping voters understand the nature of the information they are seeing online, and blocking foreign interference is about as basic as it gets for maintaining the integrity of our elections.
Another defense industry executive lands at the Defense Department
The three most powerful people at DoD now come straight from the defense industry.
President Trump has selected John Rood to serve as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, the third highest ranking position at the Defense Department. Rood has worked as a senior executive at Lockheed Martin, the largest defense contractor in the world, since 2014, and before that worked at Raytheon, another top defense contractor. At the DoD, Rood will provide policy advice and assistance to the Secretary of Defense on matters affecting the military and national security.
The selection of Rood continues a trend of putting defense industry representatives in change of U.S. defense policy. “With Rood’s nomination, all three of the Pentagon’s highest leaders will have had recent positions with major defense contractors,” the Lil Sis Eyes on the Ties blog reports. “Defense Secretary James Mattis was a board member of General Dynamics, while Deputy Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan was a senior executive at Boeing.”
The bottom line: The big defense contractors have tight connections at the highest levels of the Defense Department, and with Congress preparing to increase the Defense budget, they stand to profit handsomely. The appointment of Rood is yet another example of the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about more than 50 years ago.
Checking in on the swamp
One year ago, President Trump promised to drain the swamp.
On October 17, 2016, at a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, President Trump declared that he would “drain the swamp” and “make government honest again.” The next day he issued a press release outlining the five ethics reforms he would pursue, mainly around limiting the influence of lobbyists. So has he lived up to his promise so far?
Politico and Newsweek both compared his actions to the ethics reforms he released as a candidate and found that he has fallen short of the swamp draining he promised during the campaign. “In the year since the Green Bay rally, Trump has delivered fully on just one of his five promises, signing an executive order a week after taking office that banned executive branch officials from lobbying for foreign governments and overseas political parties after they leave the administration,” Politico reports.
Trump also pledged to ban executive officials from registering as lobbyists for five years after leaving his administration, push for a similar lobbying ban for members of Congress, close lobbyists registration loopholes, and ban foreign lobbyists from fundraising in U.S. elections. So far no action has been taken on these other four pledges to drain the swamp.
The bottom line: It’s pretty typical for presidential candidates—Republicans and Democrats alike—to campaign on fighting corruption and then fall short of their rhetoric once they are in office. So far, President Trump is following that trend.
That’s it for this week. Send any corruption stories you’d like to see included in the next edition to firstname.lastname@example.org.