Here’s your weekly roundup of the important political corruption stories we’ve been tracking.
Ex-Texas Congressman Found Guilty of 23 Felony Charges
Former Texas congressman Steve Stockman has been convicted of multiple charges including money laundering, mail and wire fraud, and violating federal election law.
Last Thursday, a federal court jury in Houston found former Texas congressman Steve Stockman guilty of all but one of the 24 felonies he was charged with last March. Stockman was convicted of funneling more than $1.25 million dollars in charitable donations from two large mega-donors to personal and campaign expenses. Prosecutors for the case are now referring to Stockman’s expenditures as a “white collar crime spree.”
According to reports, Stockman used nearly $1.25 million dollars in charitable donations on a variety of unnecessary and extravagant expenses. Among these purchases were dolphin boat rides and tours, plane tickets to Sudan, and a $50,000 “sting” outfit used to spy on political opponents in Inspector Gadget-like style. In addition, Stockman used donor funds to pay for pricey plane tickets to Egypt in the (failed) hopes of soliciting even more donations from a local cement company. Stockman also pleaded guilty to spending donor funds on still-corrupt but a bit more run-of-the-mill personal expenses like tanning salon visits, pop-up advent books designed by his brother, and a new dishwasher.
On top of these crimes, Stockman is also charged with mail/wire fraud, conspiring to make false statements, and money laundering. This verdict puts Stockman, who faces sentencing in August, at risk of spending years in federal prison. If upheld, this felony conviction strips Stockman of his eligibility to seek a position in Texas office in the future.
The Bottom Line: Thanks to lax campaign disclosure and transparency laws, state officials are often able to secretly misspend donor funds for personal expenses. As this dangerous trend continues, holding our elected officials accountable is increasingly important.
Poll Finds Nearly Two-Thirds of Young Americans are Worried About the Future of Our Democracy
This month, the Institute of Politics (IOP) at the Harvard Kennedy School is releasing results on a series of polls aimed at young people.
The Harvard Kennedy IOP’s Public Opinion Project and Youth Poll is one of America’s longest standing studies of the attitudes of young Americans towards public service and politics.
This year, the Harvard Public Opinion Project asked a series of questions to unveil what issues young Americans consider to be the most threatening to American politics and society today. Last Wednesday, the IOP released a report from the 2018 poll showing that nearly two-thirds of young Americans feel worried about the future of our democracy.
The poll found that a majority of Americans between the ages of 18 to 29 are more fearful than they are hopeful for the state of our democracy, and their reasoning spanned a variety of concerns. As IOP polling director John Della Volpe put it, “there’s a healthy debate raging on the reasons why – politicians, media, big money, political correctness, and structural barriers like racism and access to education are all contributing factors in the eyes of millennials and post-millennials.”
Regardless of their reasoning, America’s youth are increasingly aware of how broken our political system is and just how much that affects people all over the country.
The Bottom Line: Nearly two-thirds of America’s youth are concerned about the future of our political system- this should be a wake-up call to Americans of all ages that the health of our democracy is being threatened, and it is time to take action against this.
FEC Approved “Blaze it for Delegate Jill Stein” PAC
Two weeks ago, federal regulators terminated a PAC in support of former Green Party presidential candidate, Jill Stein. The PAC was created by 8th graders over a year ago.
In September, 2016, 14 year-old student Charlie Baker was given an assignment to advocate for a given presidential candidate: Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Having learned about the influence of lobbying, Charlie and his classmates quickly decided that creating a PAC would be the best way to raise awareness and metaphorical funds for Stein – so they tore out a piece of white-lined, three-hole-punched notebook paper and wrote a handwritten application to the Federal Elections Committee (FEC).
As Charlie explained, the idea behind the project was that “it is ridiculously easy to make a super PAC…we didn’t do anything with it, but the craziest thing is we could of. The FEC had absolutely no problem approving this super PAC that we wrote out on lined pieces of paper and that was formed by a bunch of 14-year-olds. There is a problem here.”
Charlie named his PAC “Blaze it for Delegate Jill Stein.” The group was approved by the FEC less than a week after the application was submitted, despite Charlie’s age and self-proclaimed title of “Supreme Trap Lord” of the PAC. Although Charlie and his classmates are not legally old enough to vote, they were able to register a PAC and could theoretically have funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into the 2016 election.
In his application to the FEC, Charlie pledged that the PAC would not use any funds, whether in-kind, direct, or through coordinated communications, to support their candidate’s campaign. Charlie held true on this promise, raising and spending zero dollars for Stein.
One year later, the FEC sent a letter of intent to terminate the PAC to Baker. If the PAC does not disclose any spendings soon (which seems unlikely given that the founder of the group is in his freshman year of high school) the committee will be permanently stripped of its standing.
The Bottom Line: If a group of 14-year-olds can create a PAC approved by the FEC, then there is no denying that the influence of money in our broken political system far outweighs that of voters opinion.
Phoenix Fights Back in Battle Over Transparency
This week, councilmembers in Phoenix, Arizona are pushing back against state lawmakers trying to eliminate campaign transparency laws.
On Tuesday, the Phoenix Sustainability, Housing, Efficiency, and Neighborhoods subcommittee unanimously voted to move forward with an anti-dark money City Charter amendment. The measure requires all independent groups and donors to be identified during city elections, similar to a recently-passed ordinance in Tempe, Arizona. Like the Tempe ordinance, this measure requires any groups spending more than $1,000 in an election cycle to disclose exactly how much they spent, where they spent it, and when.
Earlier in the week, Councilmember Kate Gallego announced that this step towards prohibiting dark money in local elections is unanimously moving forward. If the measure gathers enough signatures, the amendment will go before voters in November, and is likely to see significant support: voters in Tempe recently passed an amendment to stop dark money in local elections, with 92% supporting it.
Meanwhile, politicians in Arizona are brazenly ignoring the voice of the people. On April 5th, Governor Doug Ducey signed a pro-secrecy law that blocks the Tempe ordinance and makes it illegal for cities and counties to pass any local transparency ordinances in the future. This move to protect anonymous political spending is a direct attack on the citizen-led initiatives in Tempe and Phoenix and is a slap in the face to Arizona citizens.
The Bottom Line: Despite increasing outcry from the public, politicians are ignoring the will of the voters and protecting secret money.
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