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Ex-lobbyists in government, donor guides Trump’s policy & scores $60M, and other news for 5/24/17

May 24, 2017 | Laura Friedenbach

In a letter sent to President Trump, Democrats in Congress accused the White House of intentionally withholding information and purposefully ignoring requests from Democrats for information including on ethics waivers allowing ex-lobbyists into the administration and the investigation into Russia’s interference in our elections.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer: “The fact that they just turn their back on oversight is part of a deeper syndrome, which is no respect for separation of powers, no respect for how the Constitution set up our government. It’s going to hurt the country, and it’s going to hurt them”

The watchdog group American Oversight is suing the federal government in order to make public the ethics waivers given to ex-lobbyists allowing them to work in the Trump administration despite the President’s executive order supposedly banning lobbyists.

Under the Obama administration, waivers were posted online and made clearly public. The Trump administration has refused to do so saying “there’s no reason whatsoever” and is refusing to allow the Office of Government Ethics to review the waivers.

Richard Painter, President Bush’s ethics lawyer, told Business Insider that it’s not enough to simply say they are legally in the right, “What’s a rationale that is not a legal argument? I haven’t heard it.” … “So was there any good policy reason not to share waivers with the Office of Government Ethics?”

Painter points out that the administration could decide to revise it’s ethics order and keep the waivers confidential, BUT they “still should be shared by the Office of Government Ethics”. As Painter explains, “it is critical to OGE’s function … that it knows what’s going on in the agencies, including in the White House, with regards to ethics compliances and waivers…It’s clearly within OGE’s statutory mandate to gather this information. So, what is the reason for withholding it? There’s no reason whatsoever for trying to keep the ethics waivers secret from the Office of Government Ethics. There’s no justification for that. So I don’t know why they’re doing it.”

Campaign Finance/Election Law

Exciting: The FEC website has been in beta for months and now it has officially launched with some helpful new tools for tracking money in politics.

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United has a new report out that Every Voice helped with on the “other NRA” — the National Restaurant Association — and their influence on the Trump administration. One of the policy solutions ROC recommends is passing legislation like the Government By the People Act: “This would make our elected officials more accountable to their constituents rather than trade lobbies like the NRA, and would allow for public policy that benefits workers, not just CEOs and their big-money trade groups.” Full report.

Roll Call: Supreme Court Affirms Ban on ‘Soft Money’ in Campaigns
There are many take aways from Monday’s Supreme Court decision including as Every Voice’s David Donnelly says, that Gorsuch “is way out of the mainstream. He’s very extreme when it comes to reviewing these questions about who has power in American politics”Bloomberg BNA

Chicago Sun Times: Pass Fair Elections Act to fix broken Illinois
Common Cause’s Brian Gladstein has this great letter to the editor: “What we can do is to pass reforms that will provide an alternative to unlimited campaign spending, limit special interest control in Springfield, and allow people from communities across Illinois to run for office. It is time for our politicians to start listening to the needs of their constituents, and not just the whims of their political donors.”

Kansas City Star: Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens jumps to the defense of dark money
“As his nonprofit organization continues to draw criticism from both Republicans and Democrats, Gov. Eric Greitens is speaking out in defense of keeping secret his donors’ identities, comparing it to the right to cast a secret ballot.” which is just laughable since as attorney Chuck Hatfield points out “The thing about secret voting is we all only get one vote each”

The Take with Sue O’Connell: Corporate Money and Politics
Jeff Clements of American Promise talks about the campaign to overturn the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision.

In this letter to the editor in Wisconsin, a reader says she wants to “give the voters in Wisconsin an opportunity to voice their opinion and say they want big money out of politics.”

Congress/Administration

Bloomberg: Icahn Guides Trump’s Policy and Scores $60 Million
Being a big donor has it’s perks in the Trump administration, like becoming a “special regulatory advisor” so you can help your business profit: “Government work has paid off handsomely for billionaire Carl Icahn. CVR Energy Inc., his oil refining company, saved about $60 million in the first quarter because of expectations that the federal government will ease a regulation involving renewable fuels, securities filings show.”

The New Yorker: Michael Flynn and the Trump Administration’s Lobbyist Secrets
“This week, there have already been reminders of how much the upholding of government ethics relies on access to open information—and of how little Donald Trump’s Administration cares about either.”

The Intercept: Cable Industry Lobbyists Write Republican Talking Points on Net Neutrality
It’s not a sign that you are acting in the interests of the people, instead of your big donors and corporate lobbyists, when you’re defending your stance with talking points written by the industry that will benefit.

Bloomberg: Mnuchin’s Recruiting Tool: Titles That Don’t Need Senate Confirmation
Speaking of wealthy business interests having too much influence in government: “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is trying to fill a leadership vacuum in his department by increasingly recruiting financial industry executives for senior positions that come with a perk: a title that doesn’t require Senate confirmation.”

Colorado Statesman: Shuttering the revolving door, Bennet bill would institute lifetime lobbying ban for lawmakers
“Bennet wants to buck the trend with new legislation introduced in the Senate last week that would ban members of Congress from ever becoming lobbyists. He has garnered support from co-sponsors U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Al Franken, D-Minn.”

Texas Monitor: Lawmakers ride in luxury on donor funds
“State Sen. Craig Estes doesn’t mess around when it comes to being transported around the state.The Republican from Wichita Falls has spent $317,000 on private planes, including fueling and in-kind contributions from a wealthy political benefactor, since 2007.”

The Hill: House Dems spend $2M more on Ossoff in Ga. House election
“The House Democrats’ campaign arm is pouring another $2 million into Georgia’s House special election, bringing its total spending to nearly $5 million four weeks before the election.”

States/Other

Sun Journal: Senate backs more cash for Maine Clean Election Fund
Good news: “State senators agreed Tuesday to pump another $4.7 million into the Maine Clean Election Fund to ensure there will be enough next year to cover legislative and gubernatorial candidates who choose to participate in the program.”

Crain’s Chicago Business: Public finance campaign bill picks up momentum
“A proposal to begin a limited system of public financing of races for state office has quietly picked up some momentum in Springfield.”

Connecticut Mirror: Campaign finance, minimum wage bills in the mix despite budget crush
To watch: “For weeks, legislative leaders have said a vote on a campaign finance reform package would be coming.”

Laura Friedenbach

Laura is Every Voice's Deputy Communications Director