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The wealthiest White House is rife with conflicts, and more news from 3/3/17

April 4, 2017 | Adam Smith

Trump White House staff have billions in assets, according to Washington Post analysis: “The disclosures showed that Trump’s top aides have generated millions of dollars from Wall Street, Hollywood, real estate and the media, holding a slew of investments that intensify the administration’s challenge in navigating potential intersections between officials’ personal finances and their policymaking roles.”

New York Times on Ivanka and Jared: “But the financial disclosure report released late Friday for Mr. Kushner, which shows that he and his wife still benefit financially from a real estate and investment empire worth as much as $740 million, makes clear that this most powerful Washington couple is walking on perilous legal and ethical ground, according to several prominent experts on the subject.” But, importantly, “the disclosure form makes it difficult to determine exactly where those mines might be situated.”

Norm Eisen, Richard Painter, and Virginia Canter for USA Today: ” But Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have so many potential conflicts of interest that if they abide by ethics laws and past White House practices, they won’t be able to advise the president on three of his top priorities: Trade, tax reform and Wall Street deregulation.”

Painter tells ABC News: “It’s an ethics nightmare.”

And this from the Times on the political work of these aides: the disclisures “offer a hint of how an explosion in spending has expanded the lucrative array of private political work in Washington, enriching even the anti-establishment activists and operatives who sided with Mr. Trump.”

Some other details that stand out:

Neil Gorsuch’s troubling record on money in politics and concern that he’d give wealthy special interests more power in politics if confirmed is one reason Senators continue to oppose his nomination. “With Judge Gorsuch on the bench, I am deeply concerned that dark money will continue to drown out the voices and votes of citizens,” Sen. Jon Tester said in a statement yesterday. “And, according to Judge Gorsuch’s opinion in Riddle v. Hickenlooper, he believes campaign contributions deserve First Amendment protections. Montanans know: money is not speech.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill offered a similar sentiment in her statement: “I cannot and will not support a nominee that allows dark and dirty anonymous money to continue to flood unchecked into our elections.”

In Senate Democrats’ weekly address, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said, “Judge Gorsuch needed to convince me he would not join the posse of Republican appointees that has relentlessly stretched the law to benefit Republican partisans and corporations at the expense of everyone else.  He needed to convince me he would stand up to real threats to our democracy like dark money.  Over and over again during his hearing, he dodged and ducked and failed.”

Seven of the eight sitting justices all earned more than 60 votes during their confirmations. Will Gorsuch be able to clear that bar?

Campaign Finance/Election Law

Politico: Why Republicans Can’t Find the Big Voter Fraud Conspiracy
TL;DR: Because there isn’t one.

The Hill: Shaun McCutcheon misstates his case for Judge Neil Gorsuch
End Citizens United’s Tiffany Muller has this piece responding to an oped by Shaun McCutcheon about Neil Gorsuch: “We can’t accept the Gorsuch-McCutcheon approach to campaign finance. It’s time to get Big Money out of politics and fix our elections. To do so, we must reject Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court.”

Congress/Administration

Mother Jones: Clean Up Aisle Trump
Andy Kroll has this profile of Trump White House Counsel Don McGahn, looking at the years he spent breaking the FEC among other things. Every Voice’s David Donnelly: “He ushered in a strategic approach to gridlocking that agency.”

Politico: Former Trump staffers hunt for foreign lobbying work
The least surprising news today: “Some of President Donald Trump’s former campaign hands are rushing to sign lucrative deals with foreign clients, shrugging off their own pledges to avoid foreign lobbying and the president’s vow to ‘drain the swamp.'”

OpenSecrets: Richest billionaires are also top political spenders
“Of the world’s 100 richest billionaires, 36 are U.S. citizens and thus eligible to donate to candidates and other political committees here. OpenSecrets Blog found that 30 of those actually did so, contributing a total of $184.4 million — with 58 percent going to Republican efforts.”

CBS: This Texas Democrat thinks he can beat Ted Cruz using Bernie Sanders’ playbook
Interesting nugget in this story on Beto O’Rourke’s Senate campaign announcement: “But O’Rourke, who once played in a rock band and lived in Brooklyn, plans to take on Cruz directly on the issue of money in politics” and O’Rourke has pledged not to take PAC money from wealthy donors, instead focusing on grassroots small-dollar fundraising.”

ProPublica: Trump Can Pull Money From His Businesses Whenever He Wants — Without Ever Telling Us
Worth remembering this news comes as Eric Trump admitted he’ll be giving regular reports to his dad about the business: “A small phrase buried deep in a set of recently released letters between the Trump Organization and the government shows just how little separation there actually is. Trump can draw money from his more than 400 businesses, at any time, without disclosing it.”

Roll Call: GOP Lobbyists Launch New Shop as High-Profile Firm Fades
“The once high-profile K Street shop QGA Public Affairs is restructuring with the departure of Democratic founder Jack Quinn, and some of its marquee lobbyists are planning to open a new venture.”

ProPublica: Tom Price Intervened on Rule That Would Hurt Drug Profits, the Same Day He Acquired Drug Stock
Wow: “On the same day the stockbroker for then-Georgia Congressman Tom Price bought him up to $90,000 of stock in six pharmaceutical companies last year, Price arranged to call a top U.S. health official, seeking to scuttle a controversial rule that could have hurt the firms’ profits and driven down their share prices, records obtained by ProPublica show.”

Bloomberg: Billionaire Feinberg Might Keep Cerberus Stake in New Trump Role
Cerberus is a large US Army contractor: “Stephen Feinberg, the billionaire under consideration for a national security role in the Trump administration, is seeking to keep his stake in his $30 billion investment firm, according to two people with knowledge of his preparations.”

USA Today: Treasury’s Mnuchin admits he broke ethics rule in ‘Lego Batman’ promo
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin wrote a letter to the Office of Government Ethics on Friday to urge people to see a movie he produced.

New York Times: Pick your favorite ethics offender
Editorial: Trump “has created an anything-goes culture in which some aides and advisers are openly working to bend government policy to serve their personal interests. In other cases, the potential for corruption is less obvious but no less dangerous. Here are some of the most egregious offenders.”

And in case you were worried, Trump did not end his streak of spending part of his weekend profiting off the presidency by visiting one of his properties.

Politico: Trump aide accused of Hatch Act violation after urging Amash primary challenge
The White House’s decision to scrap ethics training continues to produce dividends: “A senior adviser to President Donald Trump on Saturday urged a primary challenge against a House Freedom Caucus member, prompting charges that he may have violated federal law against using his official position to sway an election campaign.”

Washington Post: Growing array of pro-Trump groups could train cross-hairs on GOP lawmakers
“President Trump’s attacks on conservative members of his own party come as his allies beef up an array of groups to promote his agenda, amassing firepower that could end up being trained on fellow Republicans.”

Center for Public Integrity: James O’Keefe III: political committee created in his name is ‘fraudulent’
Haha: “James O’Keefe III, a conservative activist known for using false identities to produce undercover videos targeting liberals, says someone is fraudulently using his name to create a political action committee.”

The Hill: Watchdog groups ask ethics group to investigate Nunes
CREW and Democracy 21 “Two political watchdog organizations are asking the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to investigate whether the actions of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) violate the House ethics rules.”

States/Other

Missouri Times: New contribution limits affect fundraising quarter ending
Missouri voters approved an initiative last November to set contribution limits in Missouri and we’re about to see its impact.

Press of Atlantic City: Super PAC attacks Small in Atlantic City mayoral race
Well this is gross: “The PAC, called ‘Our Atlantic City,’ recently posted pictures and videos on Facebook trying to tie Small to an alleged heroin trafficker.”

Adam Smith

Adam Smith is Every Voice's communications director.