Former Alabama Representative Sentenced to 33 months on Corruption Charges

Former Alabama State Rep. Oliver Robinson accepted bribes and was sentenced to 33 months in prison.

Last week, former Alabama State Representative Oliver Robinson was sentenced to 33 months in prison on charges of federal bribery, conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion. He advocated against EPA pollution cleanup efforts in exchange for lucrative contracts from the law firm Balch and Bingham. Robinson accepted $350,000 in contracts from the firm, known as one of the biggest lobbying firms in the state. In addition, two other charges against him involved his use of $17,783 in campaign funds for personal expenses.

On September 7, 2018, he pleaded guilty to seven corruption charges, and on September 27, 2018, a federal judge handed down the 33 month sentence. As part of the sentence, he promised to never run for office again, and is required to pay $660,783 in restitution.

“This case gets at the heart of public corruption in Alabama,” Robert Posey, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, said in a statement to reporters. “Well-funded special interests offer irresistible inducements to public officials. In exchange, the officials represent the interests of those who pay rather than the interests of those who vote.”

Bottom Line: Politicians should represent their constituents, not the special interests and lobbyists who bribe them.

Battle of the Richest; Gillum attracts Democratic billionaires

Andrew Gillum’s campaign has caught the attention of multiple Democratic billionaires who want to see a blue wave in the midterms and in 2020.

Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor in Florida, sat down for lunch in early May 2018 with George Soros to discuss Gillum’s plans to expand Medicare, protect the environment, and pass gun safety laws. Gillum wants to be the first African-American governor in Florida, and Democratic mega-donors, like Soros, see potential in his ability to motivate minority and progressive voters.

Florida’s notorious swing state status makes it an important battleground for liberals and conservatives, so it’s unsurprising that billionaire donors are lining up behind Gillum’s campaign. As of September 3rd, Soros had donated $1 million to pro-Gillum campaigns and over $15 million to support Democrats in 2018. Gillum’s campaign also caught the eye billionaire donor Tom Steyer, who pledged $5.2 million to his campaign last week. It’s an unusual move for Steyer, because he rarely donates to individual candidates. Even Barack Obama has thrown his support behind Gillum, endorsing his candidacy on October 1st.

Meanwhile, Gillum’s Republican rival, Ron DeSantis has already raised $19 million for his own campaign, with backers like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Florida is known as one of the most expensive states in the country for campaigning, and both candidates are raising huge sums of money for their campaigns. DeSantis and Gillum went into October tied, both in terms of money raised and in polling. The latest poll from Mason-Dixon on September 27th showed Gillum at 45% and DeSantis at 44%.

Bottom line: Campaigns should be about policies and merit, not the amount of money you can raise from billionaires and special interests.

The Secret Corruption Loophole Nobody Talks About: Leadership PACs

There’s a legal way for politicians to use donations for personal expenses – and nobody is talking about it.

Politicians in Congress are getting away with corruption, and it’s completely legal. You may have read in the last corruption roundup  about Rep. Duncan Hunter’s corruption charges. The California Representative allegedly used $250,000 of campaign funds for personal expenses. If Rep. Hunter had simply drawn the money from a different fund, say a leadership PAC, the expenses would have most likely gone unnoticed. That’s because of a campaign finance loophole: Leadership PACs.

So what is a Leadership PAC? Our friends at OpenSecrets explain:

“Leadership PACs are used to fund expenses that are ineligible to be paid by campaign committees or congressional offices. Those costs can include travel to raise a politician’s profile, for instance… Politicians often use their PACs to donate to other candidates because they are considering seeking a leadership position in Congress, a higher office, or leverage within their own party as they show off their fundraising ability.”

In the past three election cycles, an average of 45% of leadership PAC funds went to support other candidates or political committees. The rest of the money was spent on expensive personal expenditures, including stays at luxury hotels, country club fees, and lavish dinners.

These are just some of the personal expenditures filed under leadership PACS since 2013.

Under current FEC law, leaderships PACS can legally be used for personal use. However, the House Ethics rules state that the personal use ban does apply to leadership PACs, but so far the ethics committee refuses to take action. These personal expenditures currently face no opposition or limitations.

Bottom Line: Leadership PACs are a form of legal corruption. This is why we need to pass tough new laws that increase transparency, hold politicians accountable, and fix our broken elections.

Facebook Lobbies State Legislatures over Privacy and Data Regulations

Facebook faces increasing scrutiny over its mishandling of data, and lawmakers are concerned.

Several state legislatures want to pass laws regulating political ads on social media platforms, and Facebook has taken notice of the legislative efforts. Since 2016, the company has increased its state lobbying efforts by nearly 31%. It’s hard to report on exact numbers due to different disclosure requirements, but the reports that are available indicate Facebook spent at least $457,000 lobbying in 14 states this year.

Facebook’s state lobbying efforts are working: In nearly every state where the company has actively lobbied, regulatory social media legislation has stalled or died out. For example, Montana legislators introduced the Montana Biometrics Information Privacy Act last year, which aimed to regulate facial recognition technology on social media. Facebook previously had no history of lobbying in the state, but began lobbying soon after the bill was introduced. The bill is now, by all reports, dead.

The same pattern can be seen in other states Facebook lobbied in, such as Connecticut, Washington, and New York.

Facebook spends far more money lobbying the federal government than it does on state lobbying efforts.

In 2017, Facebook spent $11.5 million lobbying the federal government, in comparison to just $1.3 million lobbying the state government.

The social media giant knows federal regulation is a slow process due to Congressional gridlock, so the company is expanding its state lobbying efforts, which is proving quite effective.

Bottom line: The power of state legislation cannot be overstated. State legislation can often shape federal laws, and Facebook knows this.

About Mei Seva
Mei’s work involves researching, writing, project managing, and more. She is passionate about democracy reform and human rights work, and is excited to combine her love of advocacy and art at RepresentUs. Mei received her B.A. from Hampshire College, and her studies explored peace and conflict issues through an interdisciplinary method. Her written work has mainly focused on democratic uprisings and revolutions, with a focus on women’s participation in these movements. She is also an artist specializing in photography and videography.
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