Mueller passes 3 cases of Illegal Foreign Lobbying to NY prosecutors
Special counsel Robert Mueller referred three foreign lobbying investigations on to New York persecutors.
The trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort started this week. He is charged with financial fraud after hiding millions of dollars that he received from his lobbying work for Ukrainian politicians. Three lobbyists he worked with are also in the news after special counsel Robert Mueller uncovered their role in the foreign lobbying with Ukraine. However, given the jurisdiction of his investigation, he has passed the three cases on to New York prosecutors to further investigate. The three under scrutiny are:
- Gregory Craig, Obama’s former White House counsel, now at the firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
- Former U.S. Representative Vin Weber (R-MN), working for Mercury Public Affairs
- Tony Podesta, founder of the Podesta Group and brother to Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta.
Manafort worked on behalf of then-Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who had strong ties to Russia. He then hired the three lobbying firms listed above to provide assistance, with each receiving more than $1.1 million for their work with Manafort. The problem these cases allege is that none of the men registered as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires anyone lobbying on behalf of a foreign entity to inform the Justice Department. Filing as a foreign agent also requires more stringent disclosure forms, whereas the lobbying documents required by Congress are far less in depth and allow for murkier information to be made public.
The Podesta Group collapsed late last year, partially for its involvement with Manafort. Meanwhile, another lawyer at Gregory Craig’s firm has already pled guilty for perjury in another aspect of Mueller’s investigation.
The Bottom Line: The Foreign Agents Registration Act went into effect in 1938, with the intention of monitoring and restricting foreign influence in our government. However, enforcement has been lax, with Justice Department allowing “voluntary compliance.” That means that many lobbyists either register very late or don’t register at all. It’s time we start enforcing the campaign finance laws we do have, while strengthening and instituting stronger ones to keep our elections transparent and hold candidates, lobbyists, and elected officials accountable.
A Liberal Dark Money Group Pours Millions into GOP Attack Ads
A liberal dark money group is funneling millions of dollars to battle Republicans in midterm races across the country.
Nearly $2 billion has been raised for House and Senate races across the country this election cycle, and reports are already showing the drastic influence of dark money in these campaigns. Yet, while the Democratic party is running on an anti-dark-money platform, some democratic candidates are hugely benefitting from this secretive funding.
A dark money group called the Sixteen Thirty Fund is the parent organization for several local nonprofits, like Floridians for a Fair Shake and Michigan Families for Prosperity. It acts as a “fiscal sponsor,” funneling millions of dollars to these different local organizations so they can run ads on liberal tax policy and healthcare messaging points. So far, the group has spent $4.6 million just on TV ads, running 6,885 ads since January 1st. This number exceeds some of the largest nonprofit advertisers in politics, including the US Chamber of Commerce.
The Sixteen Thirty Fund isn’t your run-of-the-mill dark money group. Here’s how it works: Sixteen Thirty is the “fiscal sponsor” for countless local groups across the country, and as a result, the local groups don’t file their own tax returns. Instead, the Sixteen Thirty Fund files one massive tax document for all of them, completely obscuring who donated, how much money went to each project, and how that money was spent.
One of the most high-profile projects that the Sixteen Thirty Fund runs is Demand Justice, an organization that has already pledged $5 million to stop Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation.
The Bottom Line: Millions of dollars from anonymous donors are spent every election cycle to influence voters, and the people deserve to know what special interests are behind these increasingly expensive campaigns.
Judge Rules Arizona Legislature Tried to Mislead the People
A county judge ruled on Monday that the state legislature was trying to mislead the public with incomplete ballot language regarding the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
In 1998, the voters passed the Citizens Clean Elections Act, which created a nonpartisan commission tasked with educating voters, building a public campaign finance system, enforcing campaign finance laws, and more. It was a huge win for election reform, and for twenty years, provided Arizona voters with unprecedented transparency.
Now, the Arizona legislature is coming after the commission with a confusing ballot question this November. The initiative proposes that publicly funded candidates should be barred from buying services from political parties, and that the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council would have veto power over new commission rules, drastically slashing the commission’s power.
The problem is, the Arizona legislature submitted a misleading summary of their ballot question that would be sent to 3.6 million voters across the state. Lawmakers didn’t fully explain that the measure not only strengthened regulations on publicly funded candidates, but also stripped power from the Clean Elections Commission.
The Clean Elections Commission took the Arizona Legislative Council to court in late June over the misleading wording, and on Monday, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Commission. The Justice is requiring the Legislative Council to reword the “impartial” summary before it can be sent to voters.
The Bottom Line: Voters cannot make informed decisions if there are lawmakers actively trying to mislead them. Systems like the Citizens Clean Elections Commission exist to stop these breaches of transparency.
Michigan Supreme Court Upholds the People’s Right to Vote
Michigan is one of the worst gerrymandered states in the country, and a coalition of Michigan voters is fighting to put an end to that corrupt legacy.
For months, Voters Not Politicians, a nonpartisan group of Michiganders, collected over 425,000 signatures to put an anti-gerrymandering initiative on the November ballot. The reform is simple: create an independent redistricting commission that will end partisan influence in drawing district lines.
The problem? Special interests who benefit from the misshapen, gerrymandered districts don’t like it. A dark money group backed by a foreign corporation started pouring money into a lawsuit that would block the initiative from the ballot, and they appealed the case all the way up to the Michigan Supreme Court. However, in a late night ruling Tuesday, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled on the side of the people and rejected the dark money suit.
During the high-profile court case, press unearthed emails between party leaders discussing how to draw district lines and maintain their political dominance. Robert LaBrant, one of the consultants working with the officials, said in an email, “We’ve spent a lot of time providing options to ensure we have a solid 9-5 delegation in 2012 and beyond.” Rich Studley, president of the group backing the suit against the people, has since responded saying, “Would I say that we participated in a gerrymandering effort? No. Have we been involved in discussions every 10 years about redistricting? Yes.” He doesn’t seem to realize they are the same thing. Studley’s group, and those affiliated, have also given about $336,000 to the political campaigns of Michigan Supreme Court Justices over the last 20 years.
The court’s ruling means that the people will have the chance to vote in November on the country’s most impactful anti-gerrymandering initiative.
The Bottom Line: It is wrong for a dark money group to try and silence 7 million voices. The people deserve to vote, and now they can.
That’s all for this week, folks. If you have a corruption story you’d like to see covered here, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org