In the era of the 24-hour news cycle, it can be hard to keep up. Never fear: RepresentUs has you covered, at least on the corruption front. These are the top stories you may have missed this week from around the nation.
A Manhattan DA decided not to charge Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein’s lawyer gave him $10k a few months later.
Attorney David Boies has represented Weinstein since 2005 and has given $55,000 to DA Cyrus Vance since 2008.
More than a dozen women have come forward with claims that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had sexually assaulted or harassed them over the course of a period stretching back to the mid-1990s, the New York Times and the New Yorker reported. In 2015, one of those women, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, worked with police in a sting that recorded Weinstein attempting to coerce Gutierrez to join him in his hotel room. Weinstein was never charged, however, as Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance decided the evidence was not strong enough for a conviction. In recent weeks, however, it has come to light that one of Weinstein’s longtime lawyers, David Boies, donated $10,000 to Vance a few months after the DA decided not to go forward with the case. Boies, who was reportedly not representing Weinstein in the matter, has been one of Vance’s longtime political donors, having contributed $55,000 to his campaigns since 2008. His sons and legal partners have also been generous with the DA, together giving more than $100,000 to Vance.
The bottom line: It’s always going to look suspicious when prosecutors decide not to charge a donor’s client. Pay-to-play laws should be expanded to prevent the corruption that can arise from these kinds of contributions.
Want to raise millions? Meet with mega-donors while considering running for office.
Prospective Senate candidates are diving into deep pockets before they officially register their campaigns.
Super PACs can raise and spend as much money as they want to influence elections, so long as they don’t coordinate with candidates. That’s exactly why some would-be candidates are fundraising while holding off on officially entering their races. As a new POLITICO story highlights, multimillion-dollar pledges to independent advocacy groups from well-heeled donors have boosted several prospective Republican candidates eyeing 2018 Senate races. For those considering a run, the relationship provides a serious boost toward competitiveness. For those giving the money, the relationship creates a receptive ear for policy concerns and a means of showing support before campaign finance restrictions kick in. It’s the same strategy Jeb Bush used in early 2015 to raise millions for a supposedly independent super PAC before he officially entered the presidential race.
The bottom line: Welcome to the new campaign finance landscape. Stories like these show just how easy it is to get around the farcical “independence” of super PACs that allows those groups to raise unlimited sums of money.
In New Mexico, campaign contributors rewarded with pension fund investments
Donors to Gov. Martinez-aligned groups saw the state invest $2.2 billion in their firms and interests
We often don’t think about how states invest pension fund money, but as the International Business Times and MapLight found, it’s worth a closer look. According to their analysis, donors who gave a combined $2 million to groups aligned with New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez received more than $2.2 billion in state investments. That’s billion, with a b. The boards making the investments in question are “in part overseen by Martinez, her appointees or both,” the article notes, though officials claim the investments are not made for political purposes. In many cases, investment firms and banks like J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Fidelity contributed to groups that then gave money to support Gov. Martinez, like the Republican Governors Association or the state Republican Party. Martinez has since called for an end to elected officials sitting on the state investment council.
The bottom line: That’s quite a return on investment. Stronger pay-to-play enforcement is needed to make sure campaign contributors are not privileged with lucrative state investments.
It’s not “can I do it?,” it’s “should I do it?,” new ethics chief advises administration officials
Office of Government Ethics head David J. Apol reprimanded officials after revelations of improper behavior.
Remember all those Cabinet officials who’ve come under fire for chartering private or military travel at public expense? The new acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, David J. Apol, does. In a letter to administration leaders, Apol highlighted the importance of maintaining ethical standards of conduct in official business, including a call to move from a “can I do it?” mentality to one of “should I do it?” Many of the recommendations involve building a culture of ethics in each agency, though Apol pointedly notes he is “deeply concerned that the actions of some in Government leadership have harmed perceptions about the importance of ethics and what conduct is, and is not, permissible.” As we’ve discussed in the past, the Office of Government Ethics has at times taken on an adversarial role in the administration, with former chief Walter Schaub having left the job in July over concerns with the government’s adherence to ethics.
The bottom line: While these recommendations seem obvious, this letter shows the importance of having independent watchdogs in government tasked with advising and investigating ethics abuses.
California and New Mexico lead the fight against dark money with disclosure requirements
The new law and rules will force independent spenders to reveal their top donors.
Straight from the Department of Very Good News: there are two anti-corruption wins to celebrate in the states this week! In California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the Disclose Act, an innovative new disclosure measure that comes into being after several years of hard work by reform advocates in the state. The law will require groups making independent expenditures in state ballot campaigns to track and reveal their top contributors on the body of their advertisements, cutting through the shadowy pass-through organizations some donors use to hide their money. Rules also took effect in New Mexico this week that will force groups endorsing candidates or ballot measures to reveal their funding sources after they spend a certain amount of money. The transparency requirements get even stricter as the election approaches, in an effort to give voters more information about the people and organizations influencing the races.
The bottom line: Disclosure is one of the most important weapons against dark money, and these measures will help Californians and New Mexicans better track the interests spending money on elections in their states. Bravo!
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.