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Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee will side with the wealthy and powerful, and other news from 3/20/17

March 20, 2017 | Adam Smith

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With Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings beginning today, make sure to read Trevor Potter’s op-ed on questions he needs to be asked about strict scrutiny and contribution limits, his views on corporate contributions, and ordinary citizens’ ability to be heard in our elections. Demos’ Allie Boldt had a few recently too.

On Friday, Ari Berman wrote for The Nation about Gorsuch’s friendliness with the country’s leading –well, second now I guess–voter fraud fraudster Hans von Spakovsky: “At very least, the e-mails suggest Gorsuch was friendly with von Spakovksy. But it’s far more disturbing if Gorsuch shares Von Spakovsky’s views on voting rights. Given that we know almost nothing about Gorsuch’s views on the subject, this is something the Senate needs to press him on during confirmation hearings next week.”

Some background to remember:

  • Judge Gorsuch believes corporations are people, supports a legal standard that would end contribution limits, and has regularly sided with the wealthy and powerful against everyone else. Here’s a video version.
  • Public Citizen released this report on Friday on how wrong the Court got things in Citizens United: it “documents episodes of unregulated outside groups acting as accessories to campaigns at state and local races around the country.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has this op-ed in the Boston Globe this morning: “On the bench, his judicial decisions show a remarkable ability to shape and re-shape legal arguments in ways that benefit large corporations and disadvantage ordinary people seeking justice.”

The wealthy donors and corporate interests Gorsuch will reward if confirmed have been spending big to help him out: “By a nearly 20-to-1 margin, conservative groups have vastly outspent their liberal counterparts on television advertising on behalf of Gorsuch, according to Republican estimates of ad purchases since the end of January. ”

And in this story on Sen. Michael Bennet being “squeezed in” by the Gorsuch vote: “A key issue for Bennet is how Gorsuch would approach campaign finance law in light of Citizens United vs. FEC, the 2010 decision that helped open the floodgates for outside spending in political campaigns.”

Who’s Bob Mercer? Well, three profiles dropped last week to give you a full look at Trump’s major donor who, with his daughter, played a big role in Trump’s election, his transition, and is backing a secret money outside group to boost the administration.

  • In the New Yorker, Jane Mayer has alarming details like this: “Mercer, for his part, has argued that the Civil Rights Act, in 1964, was a major mistake. According to the onetime Renaissance employee, Mercer has asserted repeatedly that African-Americans were better off economically before the civil-rights movement.”
  • In the Washington Post on the alliance between the Mercers and Bannon: “Their alliance with Bannon provided fuel for the narrative that drove Trump’s victory: that dangerous immigrants are ruining the country and corrupt power brokers are sabotaging Washington.”
  • Over at Huffington Post: “But, after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, which significantly loosened restrictions on political spending, Rebekah decided it was time to ‘save America from becoming like socialist Europe,’ as she has put it to several people.”

Campaign Finance/Election Law

New York Times: Texas Needs a Remedial Lesson on Voting Rights
Editorial: “In Texas, which has for decades made an art of violating the voting rights of minorities, officials and lawmakers can’t seem to keep their hands clean. Now, the state may become the first to have its voting practices placed under federal oversight since the Supreme Court struck down a central part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.”

The New Mexico legislature did some great things this session: there will be an ethics reform initiative on the 2018 ballot, they passed bills to strengthen the state’s public financing program and increase campaign finance and lobbying disclosure (though it’s unclear whether Gov. Martinez will sign these), and rescinded its decades-old calls for a constitutional convention. Big congrats to our friends at Common Cause New Mexico for all their work to make state elections stronger and more accountable.

Congress/Administration

USA Today: Trump’s unprecedented war on ethics
Norm Eisen and Richard Painter have this op-ed: ” President Trump and his administration are flagrantly violating ethics laws. Unless they correct course, the consequences will be disastrous — for the president, his team and the country.”

Mar-a-Lago members keep getting their money’s worth–here’s a photo from Instagram of Sofia Vergara’s weird ex (and $2,700 Trump donor) with Vice President Mike Pence this weekend. And Trump spent time with Newsmax’s Chris Ruddy (also a Mar-a-Lago member, who recently got an Oval Office meeting).

ProPublica: Fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Said to Have Been Investigating HHS Secretary Tom Price
Wow: “Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was removed from his post by the Trump administration last week, was overseeing an investigation into stock trades made by the president’s health secretary, according to a person familiar with the office.”

Politico: Trump’s sons run the business — and keep tweeting about their dad
“The brothers – who have maintained a full travel schedule in recent months opening, exploring and promoting Trump properties from Uruguay to the Dominican Republic, Dubai and Canada – have found plenty of ways to communicate with their father and his administration.” And as one Republican lobbyist says, “I wish personally that they just kind of make it church and state…If Obama did it, my hair would be on fire.”

As Paul Ryan tries to find the votes to pass legislation to take health insurance away from millions, he ‘s also scheduled to go to Chicago this week to take $50,000 checks from donors who’ll benefit from the tax breaks for the wealthy offered in that bill. Billionaire Ken Griffin, who once said the wealthy have “insufficient influence” in politics, is a co-chair.

Common Cause: Trump promotes secret money group
On an outside group trying to boost Trump and Trump boosting it in return: “Despite its name, America First Policies could open an avenue for foreign citizens and governments to influence the Trump administration without the public knowing.”

On Bill Maher, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse blamed Citizens United and the money it unleashed for Republicans giving up working together with Democrats on climate legislation.

Wall Street Journal: New York Attorney General Steps Up Scrutiny of White House
“Democrat Eric Schneiderman has hired one of the top public-corruption prosecutors under former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to focus specifically on issues involving the Trump administration. ” And, importantly: “Mr. Schneiderman’s office is expected to explore whether it has any standing to pursue cases that hinge on the Constitution’s emoluments clause, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Check out the Newt Gingrich quote in here defending the lobbyists the administration has hired to spy on agency heads as the people really “draining the swamp.”

IBTimes: Trump Administration Conflicts? Former Anthem Lobbyist To Oversee Antitrust Division: Report
“A former top lobbyist for Anthem will be the next head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, according to two reports citing officials familiar with the matter. Makan Delrahim served as one of the healthcare conglomerate’s top lobbyists working on antitrust issues as the company pushed the Justice Department to approve its controversial proposal to merge with Cigna.”

About 2,500 people showed up for Rep. Vern Buchanan’s town hall in Florida this weekend: ” Multiple questioners brought up Trump’s tax returns” and “Others in the audience slammed Trump for putting ‘fat cats’ in his Cabinet and spouting ‘lies.'”

NBC: Protesters Plan April 15 March to Pressure Trump on Tax Returns
Related: “President Donald Trump has said no one cares about his tax returns, but tens of thousands of people want to prove him wrong next month with massive protests in Washington, D.C. and around the country that organizers hope will be the biggest anti-Trump demonstrations since January’s Women’s March.”
Common Cause’s Karen Hobert Flynn: “If Donald Trump’s claims that he has nothing to hide are to be believed, then he must begin by releasing his taxes – a low presidential bar that even Richard Nixon met while he too was under IRS audit.”

Politico: Lewandowski raising money for PAC to ‘drain the swamp’
Wondering which of his corporate lobbying clients will help fund it: “Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has been boasting about his access to the president while building a lobbying business, but now Lewandowski is raising money for a super PAC that he says will boost Trump’s efforts to take on special interests.”

AP: Special Election Spending Tops $800,000 in Just 2 Weeks
“Candidates vying to replace Republican Ryan Zinke in Congress have already spend more than $800,000 in just two weeks.”

The Hill: Top GOP super PAC targets Manchin in first 2018 ad
“A super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is targeting Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in its first ad geared toward the 2018 midterm elections.”

OpenSecrets: Bob Dole, fresh from his coup with Taiwan, signs up another foreign client
Bob Dole is 93 years old and still hustling: “Former GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole has signed up another foreign client, according to a Justice Department filing made Wednesday.”

AP: Eric Holder to headline Democratic fundraiser
“Former Attorney General Eric Holder is set to headline a key fundraiser for the Democratic Party of Virginia.”

Chicago Tribune: Chaffetz’ iPhone gaffe lands him well-funded Utah challenger
Wow: “Bolstered by a Twitter shout-out from comedian Rosie O’Donnell and a mention on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC, Allen’s Crowdpac page donations spiked from about $18,000 the day Chaffetz uttered the comment to $467,000 as of Friday morning. The donations come from around the country and most are under $200, Allen said.”

Houston Chronicle: Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman blames ‘deep state’ conspiracy for arrest
LOL, can’t wait for Stockman and Dinesh D’Souza to do a road show: “Former Congressman Steve Stockman Friday blamed a ‘deep state’ shadow government conspiracy for his arrest on federal charges, saying he is innocent of allegations he conspired to divert charitable contributions to his political campaign and personal use.”

States/Other

AP: Judge receives 10 days in jail for campaign-finance offenses
“An Ohio judge is to serve 10 days in jail, give $2,065 to a food bank and undergo alcohol treatment after authorities say he improperly spent campaign funds, including more than $1,000 at an upscale restaurant to celebrate his opponent dropping out of the 2014 race.”

The Nation: Bill de Blasio Dodges Campaign Finance Charges—but Not Ethics Questions
But while being a progressive doesn’t mean turning the other cheek, it does require recognizing that the principles behind campaign finance laws are worth defending as much as our other beliefs, and that the mere appearance of impropriety can undermine the faith in government that is indispensable to the progressive program.”

Providence Journal: R.I. Gov. Raimondo goes after ‘bad actors’ with slate of reforms
“Governor Gina Raimondo is putting past lawmaker misdeeds and the power of the legislature in the spotlight again with government-reform proposals to be introduced this week. The governor proposes routine audits of campaign-finance accounts, disqualification of candidates who owe campaign fines, and arming the governor with line-item veto power over spending bills.”

Adam Smith

Adam Smith is Every Voice's communications director.