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[l] at 8/15/19 11:03am
Hickenlooper former Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the end of his presidential run Thursday, becoming the second major candidate to drop out of the still-massive Democratic primary field.

Once discussed as a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton in 2016, Hickenlooper failed to gain traction in the crowded Democratic primary field. Through the end of the second quarter, he raised just $3.1 million, and he had less than $900,000 cash on hand to keep his campaign going. He never polled higher than 2 percent, and he had little chance of qualifying for the Democratic National Committee’s presidential debate in September.

The former governor will decide in the coming months whether he plans to join a crowded Democratic primary to challenge to Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is up for reelection in 2020.

Since announcing his presidential run in March, Hickenlooper billed himself as a moderate Democrat and a pragmatic alternative to progressive candidates such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The former mayor of Denver chided Medicare for All as an ineffective way to achieve universal healthcare and championed his track record of getting things done as governor of a purple state.

But his message rarely seemed to resonate with Democratic primary voters. Hickenlooper drew small crowds in Iowa and New Hampshire and was booed at the California Democratic convention for saying “socialism is not the answer.”

His flailing campaign might have come as a surprise to the popular two-term governor of Colorado, who left office in January with a net approval rating of +19.

Hickenlooper worked with a divided state legislature for six of his eight years as governor. A former geologist and brewery owner, he oversaw the state’s marijuana legalization despite his personal opposition to the initiative. After a 2012 shooting at a movie theater in Aurora that killed 12 people, he signed legislation requiring background checks for all private gun purchases and limiting the sale of high-capacity magazines.

But the moderate pragmatism — and lack of verbal filter — that made Hickenlooper a successful politician in his home state never seemed to translate to the national stage. As one of three governors in the race, one of two Coloradoans and one of 14 white men, he never found a way to stand out.

Hickenlooper declined to say Thursday whether he intends to pursue a Senate run. Gardner is considered among the most vulnerable incumbents in 2020, with just a 40 percent approval rating in his increasingly blue home state, according to the Denver Post. The senator is the only Republican statewide elected official in Colorado.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has reportedly been recruiting Hickenlooper to challenge Gardner. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Hickenlooper also discussed a potential Senate run with fellow presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). And the Democratic advocacy group 314 Action launched a six-figure ad campaign earlier this week asking Hickenlooper to drop out of the presidential race and run for Senate instead.

A poll of Colorado voters in early August had Hickenlooper 13 points ahead of Gardner in a hypothetical matchup.

If Hickenlooper chooses to run for Senate, the tougher race might be the Democratic primary. Roughly a dozen Democrats have jumped into the primary to take on Gardner, led by former state Sen. Mike Johnston, who raised $3.4 million through the second quarter of 2019.

While Hickenlooper polls well ahead of Johnston and the other Democratic contenders, he would have significant ground to make up financially. He is allowed to transfer money left from his presidential campaign to a Senate bid, though his campaign has been low on funds over the past few months. The primary does not take place until next June.

The post The Democratic field shrinks as Hickenlooper heads back to Colorado appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: 2020 Presidential, Bernie Sanders, campaign finance, Chuck Schumer, Cory Gardner, cos2, Democratic National Committee, dnc, Elizabeth Warren, fundraising, John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet, Mike Johnston, Pres2020]

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[l] at 8/15/19 6:35am
Iowa candidate Theresa Greenfield is the top recipient of leadership PAC money among Democratic Senate candidates (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

With each election cycle, entrenched Washington lawmakers must decide which of their colleagues will get a gift in the form of campaign cash.

Nearly every member of Congress controls a leadership PAC, committees that often solicit contributions from wealthy individuals and PACs that have already given the maximum to the member’s campaign. Lawmakers frequently contribute cash from their PAC — and their campaign — to build favor with their colleagues or to boost candidates locked in a close race. 

Some lawmakers are more popular than others. And some of the top recipients don’t even have a seat in Congress –– yet. 

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The top recipient of campaign cash among Democratic Senate candidates is a pig farmer who has never held elected office. 

Iowa Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield raised a whopping $137,500 from Democrats and their leadership PACs within less than 30 days of her campaign announcement. That’s significantly more than the incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) has raised from Republicans — $105,300. 

Senate Democratic leadership announced they would back Greenfield immediately after she announced her bid to unseat Ernst. The establishment support came unusually early, leaving other Democrats weighing a bid disappointed. 

Greenfield ran for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District in 2018 but dropped out of the primary race following revelations that her campaign manager forged signatures to get her name on the ballot. But Democrats have thrown their early support behind Greenfield’s Senate bid — she received maximum $10,000 contributions from several senators’ leadership PACs, including that of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).

Such strong leadership PAC support for a challenger this early is rare — members of Congress typically prefer to give to their deeply entrenched colleagues — but not unprecedented. 

In Michigan, Republicans are hopeful John James can pull off a win against Sen. Gary Peters. James lost to Sen. Debbie Stabenow by 6 points in November, but Republicans are betting he has a better time against the lesser-known Peters. James pulled in $83,500 from Republicans, including $10,000 from the leadership PAC for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). On the other side, Peters took home $128,300 from his colleagues. 

McConnell is the top recipient of campaign cash from his fellow members, absorbing 14 maximum $10,000 contributions from his fellow senators’ leadership PACs. Both McConnell and Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), the top two recipients, will meet well-funded challengers in 2020.

Vulnerable House candidates rake in cash

Things couldn’t have gone much better for Democrats in California last November. With Democrats flipping seven Republican seats and taking complete control of the historically red Orange County, the California GOP was effectively wiped out.

It’s no surprise then, that freshman California Democrats are bringing in major campaign cash from fellow members. Reps. Katie Hill and Katie Porter received the most campaign cash from fellow members — $121,300 and $115,000 respectively — and fellow California freshmen Gil Cisneros and T.J. Cox also make the top 10. 

Each of the new faces received the maximum $10,000 from leadership PACs run by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). That includes Cisneros, a Navy veteran and lottery winner who signed a letter opposing Pelosi’s speaker bid after narrowly winning his race.

Pelosi hasn’t been as forgiving to other vulnerable freshmen who opposed her. Her leadership committee, PAC to the Future, hasn’t given to anti-Pelosi freshmen Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), Max Rose (D-N.Y.), Ben McAdams (D-Utah) and Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.). All of them face challenging toss-up races come 2020. 

Although House Republicans hope to play offense in 2020, they’ll need to defend a few seats of their own. 

Republicans were looking at Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) as a crucial member given his narrow win in 2018, and they gave him more campaign cash than any other member. But Hurd announced last week he would retire at the end of his term rather than face reelection, potentially complicating Republicans’ plans.

Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Fla.), Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), Jamie Herrera Buetler (R-Wash.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.) all received more than $100,000 from fellow Republicans. These members held onto their seats in tight races last November and will likely take on well-funded challengers in 2020. 

The post Leadership PACs place early bets on hot races appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: Leadership PACs, Anthony Brindisi, azs2, Ben McAdams, brian fitzpatrick, Don Bacon, Gary Peters, Gil Cisneros, ias2, Jamie Herrera Buetler, joe cunningham, John James, joni ernst, karl evers-hillstrom, katie hill, katie porter, kys1, leadership PAC, Lee Zeldin, Martha McSally, max rose, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, PAC to the Future, Steny Hoyer, T.J. Cox, Theresa Greenfield, Will Hurd]

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[l] at 8/14/19 9:37am
donors (Image via flickr – 401kcalculator.org)

It’s only August, but as the 2020 election season is already well underway, billionaire donors are finding themselves in demand earlier than usual.

The top 10 donors of the 2020 cycle so far have already given a combined $47 million to federal candidates, parties and groups. Most of that money — $39 million — is going to powerful super PACs and other outside groups that can solicit unlimited contributions from wealthy donors. 

As candidates on both sides of the aisle increasingly try to attract coveted small donors, wealthy individuals continue to flex their influence in the post-Citizens United landscape where independent groups spend millions on TV ads and other communications to bolster candidates in crucial races.  

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Most of the top donors from last year’s midterms are already back for more. Maine financier Donald Sussman, the fifth most prolific donor in 2018, holds the top donor spot through the first half of 2019.

One of Hillary Clinton’s top supporters in 2016, Sussman kicked off 2019 cycle by giving $2 million to each of the three biggest Democratic super PACs — House Majority PAC, Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA

Sussman has already given more than $7.5 million to Democratic candidates and groups. He gave the maximum $5,600 — $2,800 for both the primary and general elections — to nearly every vulnerable Democrat running for House and Senate. He also gave $5,600 to Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) presidential campaign. 

Richard Uihlein, founder of shipping giant Uline, and his wife Elizabeth, together hold the second place spot by giving $6.9 million to Republican candidates and groups. The Illinois billionaire gave his largest single contribution — $2.5 million — to conservative super PAC Club for Growth Action. The group has already spent more than $430,000 backing Republican Dan Bishop in North Carolina’s 9th District special election. 

The Uihleins also gave a combined $1 million to pro-Trump super PAC America First Action. Despite giving nearly $40 million last cycle, it’s the first time they’ve backed America First Action, which President Donald Trump has designated as his only “approved” super PAC among a sea of questionable groups masquerading as pro-Trump organizations.

Tom Steyer owns the unusual honor of making the top donor list while also running for president. He funneled $6.5 million to his liberal super PAC NextGen Climate Action, accounting for effectively all of the group’s cash. The California native contributed $5,600 to several House Democrats, including Golden State Reps. Karen Bass and Katie Porter

With plenty of money leftover to spend on his own presidential run, Steyer has already shelled out millions on TV and digital ads, helping him reach the 130,000 donor requirement needed to make the September debates in just over a month. 

Democratic megadonor George Soros makes the list despite giving just $14,000 to three Democratic candidates. He gave $5.1 million to a new group called Democracy PAC, which he will reportedly use as a conduit to give to other pro-Democrat organizations. 

Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, a vocal supporter of President Trump, rounds out the top five. He and his wife Billi have already given more than $1.8 million to candidates and parties, contributing more hard money than any other donor in the early 2020 cycle. Marcus retired from Home Depot more than a decade ago, but that didn’t stop social media users from pushing for a Home Depot boycott.

The Georgia couple has given to hundreds of Republican congressional candidates and shelled out the maximum combined $11,200 to Republican leaders Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Marcus gave $2 million to the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund and $500,000 to the McCarthy-linked Congressional Leadership Fund, the top-spending group during last year’s midterms. 

Absent from the top 10 list are the top donors of the 2018 cycle — Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Sheldon and Miriam Adelson gave $466,900 to Republican candidates and parties through the first half of 2019, but they haven’t delved into the world of unlimited spending groups yet. The two gave the maximum $11,200 to several senators up for reelection in 2020, including Susan Collins (R-Maine), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and McConnell. 

Bloomberg has only contributed to a handful of New England candidates, giving $5,600 to Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.). But he also reported in-kind contributions to his super PAC Independence USA totaling less than $10,000 for “project management,” indicating he still has his sights set on 2020. Independence USA spent $38 million backing Democrats in 2018 and had one of the best success rates among outside groups. 

Bloomberg’s team floated the possibility that he could spend more than $500 million to defeat Trump in 2020. In June, Bloomberg announced he would spend the same massive figure on a campaign meant to encourage clean energy. 

Which presidential candidates are megadonors backing?

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is the most popular 2020 Democrat popular with top 100 donors, receiving $42,100. Despite writing off private fundraisers with wealthy donors, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) comes in second with more than $41,000. 

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg also pulled in more than $41,000 from these top donors, including large gifts from Indiana megadonor Deborah Simon and James Murdoch, son of conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch. 

Some megadonors chose to share the wealth among presidential candidates. Walt Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and his wife Marilyn together gave $5,600 to a whopping 14 Democratic presidential candidates. California physician Karla Jurvetson contributed to four other presidential candidates — Sens. Warren, Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Jurvetson reportedly helped Warren pay for access to the Democratic National Committee voter file with a $100,000 contribution to the DNC. 

Booker ($36,339) and Harris ($29,900) found success with these wealthy donors. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) each received $25,200. 

Trump is the top recipient of megadonor money, taking home more than $130,000. Trump has courted millionaire and billionaire donors himself by headlining lavish fundraisers, including one in the Hamptons Friday where he reportedly raised $12 million in one day. Trump’s wealthy donors give to his joint fundraising committee Trump Victory, which then transfers the money to the Trump campaign and various accounts within the Republican National Committee

Nearly two-dozen donors have already given more than $300,000 to Trump Victory. Those large contributions have gotten some top donors in trouble. Marvel Entertainment chairman Isaac Perlmutter was criticized for making a maximum $360,600 contribution, while some are boycotting companies owned by Stephen Ross over the billionaire’s Hamptons fundraiser for Trump. Ross contributes to members of both parties — he gave $5,600 each to Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). 

Trump’s big-dollar fundraisers have helped power the RNC — it currently has $43 million cash on hand compared to the DNC’s $9 million. The fundraisers also boost the Trump Organization’s bottom line. Trump Victory reported spending nearly $345,000 at the Trump-owned Mar-a-Lago through the first half of 2019.

The post Which donors are giving the most ahead of 2020? appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: Campaign finance, Citizens United, contributions, donald sussman, donors, Elizabeth Warren, fec, George Soros, Jay Inslee, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, karl evers-hillstrom, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, political, Pres2020, Richard Uihlein, Sheldon Adelson, Super Pac, tom steyer, Top Donors]

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[l] at 8/13/19 1:41pm
North Carolina Dan McCready, Democratic candidate for North Carolina’s 9th District, talks with voters at his campaign office (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

One month before the special election in the 9th Congressional District of North Carolina, outside groups are spending millions as both parties look for a symbolic victory during an off year.

Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop will face off against Democrat Dan McCready, a businessman and Marine veteran who ran for the seat in 2018 only to see the results thrown out over allegations of election fraud by his opponent’s campaign.

McCready has outraised Bishop $3.2 million to $1.2 million. But outside spending in the race favors the Republican from South Charlotte. McCready has received some outside backing from liberal groups, but not as much as he did during his last go-round.

So far, PACs, super PACs and nonprofit groups supporting McCready or Bishop have spent a total of $3.2 million, with pledges to dole out millions more before the Sept. 10 election.

Leading the charge is the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has dropped $1.1 million on the race so far. All of that funding has gone toward TV ads attacking McCready, citing his connections to lobbyists and his support for tax breaks for renewable energy initiatives. McCready founded an investment fund for solar energy in 2013.

The NRCC has reserved a total of $2.6 million in air time leading up to the election, according to Politico.

Two conservative super PACs — the Congressional Leadership Fund and Club for Growth Action — have also thrown their support behind Bishop, spending a combined $1.3 million on the race. Both those groups have sponsored independent canvassing for the Republican nominee in addition to running ads.

McCready’s biggest outside support has come from the Environmental Defense Action Fund and its super PAC, EDF Action Votes, which have spent a combined $586,000 backing the Democrat. The Marine veteran also has the support of the “dark money” group VoteVets Action Fund, which has spent $227,000 so far.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which spent more than $1 million supporting McCready during the 2018 cycle, has yet to wade into the election with independent expenditures this year. The Washington Post reported last week that the DCCC said in a memo to Democratic lawmakers that it is committed to supporting McCready.

The liberal 501(c)(4) Patriot Majority USA also spent nearly $1 million supporting McCready during the 2018 cycle but has yet to spend on his behalf this time around.

Outside spending in North Carolina’s 9th District totaled nearly $8 million during the last election cycle.

With the Democratic Party now holding a 38-seat majority, the partisan affiliation of the seat will have little legislative impact. But the outcome of the special election in North Carolina will still carry symbolic weight as a test of whether Democrats’ midterm success was a one-time occurrence or a fundamental shift that will carry into 2020.

The 9th District has been represented by a Republican since 1963, though its boundaries were modified in 2016 when the state’s maps were thrown out over racial gerrymandering. The Cook Partisan Voting Index rates the district as R+9, and President Donald Trump won there by 12 points in 2016.

During the 2018 primary, pastor Mark Harris knocked off incumbent Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger, who had served three terms. Harris appeared to beat out McCready by about 900 votes last November, but the North Carolina Board of Elections refused to certify the results after an independent contractor hired by the Harris campaign allegedly collected absentee ballots illegally with the intention of tampering with them. Eight people have been indicted in relation to the case, though Harris was not among them. The pastor said in February he would not run again, citing health issues.

A second special election will take place on the same day in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, which has been without a representative since Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) died on Feb. 10. Trump carried the district by nearly 23 points in 2016, and Jones did not face an opponent during the 2018 general election.

This time around, former mayor of Greenville, N.C., Allen West is running as a Democrat. State Rep. Greg Murphy is the Republican nominee after edging out pediatrician Joan Perry in the primary runoff. 
Murphy’s eventual primary victory came despite more than $1 million in spending by conservative women’s groups supporting Perry. Only 13 Republican women currently serve in the House.

The post Outside money pours into North Carolina ahead of special election appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: Campaign finance, Club for Growth Action, Congressional Leadership Fund, Dan Bishop, Dan McCready, dccc, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, EDF Action Votes, Environmental Defense Action Fund, Greg Murphy, Jessica Piper, Joan Perry, National Republican Congressional Committee, NC03, NC09, nrcc, patriot majority USA, robert pittenger, VoteVets.org Action Fund]

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[l] at 8/13/19 9:59am
Zelensky Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Ukraine’s election of comedian-turned-politician Volodymyr Zelensky in the country’s recent presidential race has ushered in a new era of Ukrainian foreign influence and lobbying operations targeting the U.S.

The nearly decade-long efforts of former Ukrainian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko to influence the U.S. government appear to be ending. Meanwhile, a mysterious lawyer is bankrolling lobbyists on Zelensky’s behalf –– but not necessarily with the president’s blessing.

Operating in the shadows for nearly a decade, an opaque network of shell companies, offshore accounts and other secretive entities funneled millions of dollars into lobbying campaigns and foreign influence operations centered around Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko gained international attention as the subject of a controversial report and influence campaign orchestrated by former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates along with lobbying powerhouse Skadden Arps. The operation was uncovered in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling surrounding the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Investigations led to Skadden’s retroactive FARA registration, a $4.6 million settlement for failure to register with DOJ, and the indictment of former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig for alleged false statements related to lobbying work after he left the administration.

As she ran for president of Ukraine in 2019, Tymoshenko’s foreign influence and lobbying presence in the U.S. gained momentum. 

But just months after Tymoshenko lost in the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election and Zelensky was voted into office, all the firms with disclosed influence operations and lobbying work for shell companies or individuals tied to Tymoshenko officially terminated their contracts. 

“The work has completed,” former Congressman Jim Slattery (D-Kan.), a partner at Wiley Rein LLP who has represented Tymoshenko’s interests for a number of years, told OpenSecrets.

A longtime advocate of Tymoshenko’s interests through a range of government relations and legal services, Wiley Rein terminated its arrangements with firms and individuals linked to Tymoshenko on July 30, according to lobbying disclosures and FARA records obtained using OpenSecrets’ Foreign Lobby Watch tool.

The firm represented Tymoshenko’s interests since at least 2011, when her husband Oleksandr  Tymoshenko was seeking U.S. support for her to be released from prison on corruption charges.

CHART: https://public.flourish.studio/visualisation/583702/

Over the years, Wiley Rein raked in millions in lucrative lobbying contracts through Tymoshenko’s husband as well as the Trident Foundation and Aveiro LP, entities investigations have found to be little more than shell companies created for the express purpose of advocating for Tymoshenko.

The Livingston Group, a lobbying firm run by former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), also terminated its contract with another Tymoshenko-linked entity called Innovative Technology & Business Consulting LLC or ITBC LLC on July 31. 

Weeks after the Maryland-based shell company’s 2018 incorporation, ITBC hired Livingston for lobbying and governmental affairs work related to Ukraine. The secretive limited-liability company’s ties to Tymoshenko were revealed months later, in July 2018, when the Livingston Group distributed a letter discussing her planned trip to the U.S. ahead of President Trump’s meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The severance may not be as straightforward as lobbying disclosures and FARA records make it appear, however, since Tymoshenko-linked entities have broken off contracts with firms multiple times before only to have a new shell company crop up and ink new lucrative contracts days later. 

During the leadup to Ukraine’s presidential election, Tymoshenko vehemently denied any role in influence operations targeting the U.S. on her behalf, accusing the lobbyists and foreign agents of orchestrating a disinformation campaign against her. In March, however, Wiley Rein filed an amendment with the Justice Department admitting Tymoshenko was the principal beneficiary of the firm’s work for another mysterious shell company called Aveiro LP. 

Shortly after the Ukrainian election, Tymoshenko’s ties to lobbyists and foreign agents she fought to distance herself from became even more apparent. 

FARA records revealed that foreign agents on the payroll of the Livingston Group accompanied Tymoshenko during her December 2018 trip to U.S. Capitol. One prominent revolving door foreign agent working for Livingston Group, former Rep. Bob McEwen (R-Ohio), introduced her to former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani recently faced media scrutiny for suspected foreign “shadow lobbying” operations and joined President Trump’s personal legal team in the heat of Mueller’s investigation. OpenSecrets confirmed that Livingston himself joined Tymoshenko at meetings with multiple members of Congress, including House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).
Now, months later, both firms have severed their ties with the Tymoshenko-linked shell companies and individuals. 

A new era of Ukrainian foreign influence

A new Ukrainian foreign influence operation has already begun targeting Washington, D.C. But this time, instead of Tymoshenko, the efforts appear to support Zelensky.

After surviving the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election, Zelensky’s own foreign influence operation kicked off.

The firm behind that influence operation was Signal Group Consulting, a fully-owned subsidiary of Washington law firm Wiley Rein, revealed in FARA disclosures. Although both firms have represented a handful of other foreign interests over the years, all of the activities reported in FARA records filed directly by Wiley Rein were later revealed to benefit Tymoshenko.

Signal Group was hired on behalf of Zelensky through a contract with a low-profile U.S. lawyer named Marcus Cohen, according to FARA registration records obtained by OpenSecrets. Like Tymoshenko, Zelensky vehemently denied any involvement in the lobbying and influence operations purporting to support him.

Cohen’s address listed in the FARA filing matches that of a shopping mall in Kiev and has also been listed in contact information for the Zelensky campaign on its official website.

A delegation of Zelensky campaign officials and supporters visited Washington, D.C., in April, according to recent FARA records obtained by OpenSecrets and first reported on by Voice of America. Signal Group disclosed meetings with the White House, National Security Council and U.S. State Department as well as think tanks such as the libertarian Cato Institute and conservative Heritage Foundation.

The delegation paid $1,912 to “BLT Steak” according to FARA filings. Cohen and “around a dozen unknown others” dined with the delegation at the BLT Prime Trump International Hotel, RFE/RL confirmed. Trump’s business entanglements, especially his D.C. hotel just blocks from the White House, are under scrutiny for opening new secret avenues for foreign actors to curry favor with the U.S. government.

Signal Group was paid nearly $70,000 through mid-2019 for services and reimbursements related to its operations for Zelensky commencing in April, according to the FARA records.

“I paid for it,” Cohen said in an interview with RFE/RL claiming that Zelensky had no role in the operation. Cohen told RFE/RL that he bankrolled the operation “out of good will” after a brief meeting with Zelensky in Kyiv during his presidential campaign but declined to elaborate on how he came about the large sum of money.

Now that Zelensky is president of Ukraine, some efforts to further his interests in the U.S. may continue outside the purview of FARA due to an exemption covering diplomacy. Zelensky retorted when confronted with claims of covert lobbying and influence operations, “I am my own lobbyist.”

Zelensky and Trump remain in ongoing negotiations about a potential White House visit in the near future. 

Multiple attempts to contact Marcus Cohen, Signal Group Consulting and the Livingston Group were unsuccessful. 

The post Ukrainian election shakes up foreign influence operations targeting the US appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: Anna Massoglia, Cato Institute, dark money, Donald Trump, foreign influence, foreign lobby watch, foreign lobbying, Greg Craig, Gregory Craig, Heritage Foundation, investigation, LLCs, lobbying, Marcus Cohen, National Security Council, offshore accounts, Paul Manafort, reid champlin, Rick Gates, shell companies, Signal Group Consulting, skadden, Trump businesses, Trump International Hotel, Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, White House, Yulia Tymoshenko]

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[l] at 8/12/19 1:24pm
(ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

A group of major drugmakers, insurance companies and private hospitals staunchly opposes Medicare for All and other healthcare plans proposed by 2020 Democrats. And it is spending big on ads in August to tell Americans why.

The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future — whose members include Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America and the Federation of American Hospitals — is spending more than $200,000 on TV ads this month, according to an analysis of Federal Communications Commission filings available in OpenSecrets’ political ad database.

PAHCF has also spent hundreds of thousands on Google and Facebook ads over the past few months. The ads criticize both Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) Medicare for All plan and more moderate alternatives, such as a former Vice President Joe Biden’s proposed public option that would continue to allow for private insurance.

About half of the currently identified TV ads are running in Iowa, with the remainder targeting the Richmond, Va., market. The Facebook ads, which appear on the pages “Partnership for America’s Health Care Future” and “My Care, My Choice,” have mostly targeted voters in swing states, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona, as well as early primary states.

“The politicians may call it Medicare for All, Medicare buy-in or the public option,” says one ad that aired on CNN during the presidential debates at the end of July. “But they mean the same thing. Higher taxes or higher premiums, lower quality care.”

The majority of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including all those who are consistently polling above 2 percent, support expanding some form of government-run healthcare. Such an expansion would likely require tax increases, though candidates say their plans would bring down premiums and decrease overall healthcare costs for the average American.

The July debates, however, brought out some of the differences between the candidates’ proposals. Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have both called for single-payer healthcare, which would eliminate private insurance. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg has advocated for a system that would allow individuals to buy into Medicare or private insurance depending on their preferences.

On the debate stage, Biden, the only one out of the five leading candidates to support a public option, clashed with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Harris, who stumbled over healthcare early in her campaign, has proposed a long transition toward a Medicare for All system that still leaves room for private insurance.

The PAHCF, however, opposes such a revamp in favor of building on the Affordable Care Act, which was written a decade ago amid intense lobbying by the healthcare industry. Earlier drafts of the ACA included a public option, but it was dropped from the final bill.

In an op-ed published in The Hill earlier this year, the PAHCF’s executive director, Lauren Crawford Shafer, suggested expanding Medicaid in the states that have not already done so and increasing federal subsidies for low-income Americans. An overhaul of the healthcare system, she argued, would have unintended consequences for both healthcare providers and patients.

“Whether it’s called Medicare for All, Medicare buy-in or single payer, such proposals would dramatically reduce the amounts paid to doctors and hospitals, resulting in health care providers being forced to limit the care they provide,” Crawford Shaver wrote.

Currently, private insurers pay hospitals more than Medicare does for the same medical services. The differences can be jarring — for some procedures, private insurance pays more than double what Medicare does, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office last year.

That means that hospitals are likely to lose out if more people switch from private health insurance to Medicare. Some groups have expressed concern that declining revenues would force providers to lay off employees and eliminate lower-paid services, or shut down hospitals in some rural areas entirely.

Several hospital-affiliated groups, including the Federation of American Hospitals and the American Hospital Association, are among the PAHCF’s 44 disclosed members.

Listed as a 501(c)(4) organization in IRS filings, the PAHCF is not required to disclose its funders and does not do so voluntarily. It received a $300,000 grant from the American College of Radiology Association, a 501(c)(6) trade association for medical professionals, sometime between July 2017 and June 2018.

Little else is known about the PAHCF, which launched in 2018. In addition to Crawford Shafer — a partner at Forbes Tate who worked on issues relating to the ACA at the Department of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama — FCC filings name Paula Thresher as an executive. The group’s listed address is a co-working space in Washington, D.C.

The post Healthcare giants attack 2020 Democrats’ healthcare plans with Iowa ad blitz appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: 2020 Presidential, aca, Affordable Care Act, American Hospital Association, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Federation of American Hospitals, Jessica Piper, Joe Biden, Medicare for All, obamacare, Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, Pete Buttigieg, Pres2020, public option]

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[l] at 8/9/19 12:08pm
Anti-Trump Billionaire Tom Steyer 2020 Tom Steyer (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

In the month since Tom Steyer jumped into the Democratic presidential field with a promise to spend $100 million on his own campaign, the billionaire activist and former hedge fund manager has made his name known across early primary states with millions in ad buys.

But it remains to be seen whether Steyer, a major Democratic donor who made headlines in recent years for his calls to impeach President Donald Trump, can convert name recognition into a spot on the Democratic debate stage in September and a viable campaign in the long run.

The Steyer campaign has spent more than $7 million on TV and digital ads during its first month, according to data provided by social media companies and an analysis of Federal Communications Commission filings available in the OpenSecrets political ad database.

OpenSecrets identified more than $3.7 million in TV ad buys on more than 12,000 spots across the first four primary states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Steyer began running ads on July 10, the day after his campaign launched.

The TV spots touch on Steyer’s business acumen, philanthropic work and activism on climate change, as well as his efforts to oust Trump.

“Donald Trump failed as a businessman,” Steyer says in one ad, citing a New York Times investigation into the president’s business losses during the late 1980s. “I started a tiny investment business and over 27 years grew it successfully to $36 billion.”

The ad blitz appears to have worked on some voters. Steyer, who is visiting Iowa for the first time on Friday, has already hit at least 2 percent in three qualifying polls, just one short of the polling requirement for the September debates. That puts him ahead of several more conventional candidates, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Govs. Jay Inslee, Steve Bullock and John Hickenlooper.

Of the three polls in which Tom Steyer has achieved at least 2 percent, two were conducted in Iowa while one was conducted in South Carolina. He has yet to hit 2 percent in any national polls.

Still elusive for Steyer is the requirement of 130,000 unique donors, the Democratic National Committee’s marker of grassroots support. Campaigns have until Aug. 28 to reach the threshold. The Steyer campaign has not said how many donors it has so far.

To attract new donors, Steyer’s digital ads target voters across the country and ask for contributions of just $1. During its first month, the campaign spent about $3.5 million on digital ads: $2.6 million on Facebook, nearly $700,000 on Google and more than $200,000 on Twitter. These totals are unprecedented, even as presidential candidates across the board have increased digital spending in order to attract small-dollar donors.

Steyer’s digital campaign presence builds off his activism through political groups he previously funded out of his own pocket, such as NextGen Climate Action and Need to Impeach, a super PAC targeting his now-opponent Donald Trump.

Prior to Steyer’s official announcement of his candidacy in July, Need to Impeach spent more than $4.4 million on ads promoting the “Tom Steyer” Facebook page, which is now used by his campaign. After Steyer threw his hat in the ring, ads on the page switched from being paid for by Need to Impeach or his personal funds to being paid for by his 2020 campaign.

Steyer’s 458,000 likes on Facebook already put him ahead of many better-known candidates including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. And big spending on digital ads allows the billionaire activist to continue to grow his audience. His campaign’s digital ad spending totals during its first month are more than double those of any other Democrat during the same period.

When comparing total spending on digital advertising, Steyer trails only the three candidates who are leading most polls: former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Warren and Sanders officially launched their campaigns in February, while Biden declared in April.

Steyer’s spending on TV advertising, meanwhile, far outpaces other Democratic candidates, who have generally focused on building their ground games in early primary states rather than running TV ads.

Among the top five candidates in terms of polling, only Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has run TV ads so far. Her campaign’s first ad, a 1-minute spot titled “3 a.m. agenda,” hit the airwaves in Iowa this week.

Gillibrand, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) have also devoted resources to TV ads. Gabbard has passed the donor threshold to qualify for September but still needs three more polls. Delaney and Gillibrand have yet to reach either benchmark.

While some candidates might be forced to drop out if they do not qualify for the September debate stage, Tom Steyer has plenty of resources to continue running ads and pick up new donors. The DNC will host another debate in October.

The post Tom Steyer spends more than $7 million on ads in first month, hammers early primary states appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: 2020 Presidential, democratic debate, Democratic debates, Democratic National Committee, digital ads, digital advertising, dnc, Donald Trump, Facebook ads, google ads, iowa, Jessica Piper, Need to Impeach, nevada, New Hampshire primaries, NextGen Climate Action, Pres2020, South Carolina primary, tom steyer, TV ads, Twitter ads]

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[l] at 8/8/19 9:54am
bars and restaurants D.C.’s bars and restaurants make millions in spending from political campaigns (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, especially in Washington where a hosted lunch date or happy hour is liable to turn into a plea for contributions to a political party or campaign.

Using public data from the Federal Elections Commission, OpenSecrets ranked the top recipients of campaign expenditures for events in Washington, D.C., and surrounding suburbs for both parties and picked out the top 10 restaurants, bars and hotels for each.

Candidates and committees spent more than $12 million wining and dining at 17 venues, each of the party’s top 10, in the D.C. metro area’s eateries during the 2018 campaign cycle.

Of the $12 million expensed from the two parties’ favorite food and drink vendors, Republicans spent about $8.8 million compared to $3.4 million by Democrats. While both parties swim in D.C.’s culinary swamp, there are some venues that tend to host more of one party.

The data used in this map comprises all expenditures from Virginia, Maryland and D.C.. All properties of the hotels chains, Marriott, Four Seasons and Hilton include expenditures at all locations and not just those reflected on the map. Map created by Vaughn Golden, OpenSecrets.

Democrats exclusively spent $687,000 at the, technically non-affiliated, National Democratic Club. Democrats also almost exclusively tend to wine and dine at Bistro Bis, a French restaurant only a few blocks north of the Capitol. They spent just over $419,000 there during the 2018 cycle including about $26,000 from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) alone. Only one Republican, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), was among the top 20 payors to Bistro Bis. 

Republicans tend to spend their campaign cash — $3.5 million of it in fact — at the Capitol Hill Club just across the street from the Democrats’ joint. The “Republicans only” private club also isn’t technically affiliated with the GOP, but it does have a long history of hosting fundraisers and other events since its founding in 1950.

Some other establishments aren’t newcomers to hosting D.C.’s political campaign fundraisers, such as the Capital Grille on Pennsylvania Avenue, a Republican hot-spot.

However, one newcomer unsurprisingly ascended to rank as the No. 3 vendor receiving Republican campaign expenditures. Despite opening just two months before the 2016 election, the Trump International in the Old Post Office Pavilion, the distinctive castle-like namesake property of President Donald Trump’s company on Pennsylvania Avenue collected just over $1 million from campaign funds during the 2018 cycle.

The bitter party squabbles don’t extend into every D.C. eatery though — there were a few common gastro-bipartisan vendors in the top tens of both parties. Sen. Roger Wicker’s (R-Miss.) campaign spent $60,535, more than any other campaign, at Charlie Palmer Steak, during the 2018 cycle. The Mississippi senator might peer over his prime rib and spot House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) digging into some crab cakes. Hoyer’s Joint Fundraising Committee was the third-highest payor to Charlie Palmer, second only to the DCCC, Marriott International properties and Acqua Al 2, an Italian restaurant, were also among the top 10 vendors for both Republicans and Democrats. Expenditures at these three vendors accounted for $2.9 million, 24 percent, of the top D.C. restaurant expenditures.

The post What are DC’s top eateries according to campaign spending? appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: Campaign finance, acqua al 2, bars, bars and restaurants, bistro bis, campaign expenditures, campaign spending, Capitol Hill Club, charlie palmer steak, D.C., dccc, Dean Heller, Debbie Stabenow, Drain the swamp, national democratic club, Roger Wicker, Steny Hoyer, Trump International Hotel]

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[l] at 8/7/19 2:18pm
Special counsel Robert Mueller. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A Kuwaiti defense contractor that plead guilty to stealing U.S. government funds is assembling a team of lobbyists and foreign influence operatives from high-profile, and sometimes controversial, firms.

Agility Public Warehousing recently inked contracts with three firms to represent its interests through lobbying and foreign influence campaigns, the first time the Kuwaiti defense contractor has been listed as a foreign principal under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. All of the firms have connections to people indicted or convicted as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.

Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, which made headlines for a fine exceeding $4.6 million for failing to disclose its role in former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s controversial influence campaigns in Ukraine, was the first firm to register as a foreign agent of Agility.

Within days, Agility inked two more contracts: one with law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and another with SGR LLC, a lobbying firm subpoenaed by Mueller over its role in covert influence operations orchestrated by former National Security Council advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn later admitted making false statements related to secretly acting as a foreign agent in a Turkish influence campaign.

Despite years of controversy surrounding defense contracts and legal battles, these are Agility’s first appearances as a foreign principal in FARA filings, which are made available through OpenSecrets’ Foreign Lobby Watch tool.

The Kuwaiti contractor agreed to pay a $95 million fine and gave up $249 million in payments for military contracts after pleading guilty in 2017 to defrauding the federal government. It continued to be awarded lucrative government contracts as the case proceeded, however. 

More recently, Agility faced defamation allegations over a pair of letters the contractor’s employees sent to U.S. government agencies under the pseudonym “Scott Wilson” accusing a rival contractor of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

A Pennsylvania appeals court ruled in July that the letters could not serve as a basis for defamation claims because they were expressions of opinion protected by the First Amendment even though the truthfulness of the accusations has been brought into serious question. 

The letters accused a rival government contractor of violating U.S. sanctions over its ties to an Iranian shipping company. After the company filed a lawsuit against Agility and “John Doe,” Agility admitted that its employees wrote the Wilson letters, acting within the scope of their employment. 

It appears the controversy over the letters is the motivation behind the foreign influence campaign and lobbying contracts.

SGR will provide government and public relations services to Agility, “including outreach to media and government officials, in connection with potential litigation regarding defamation allegations,” according to its registration materials. Services will also include “advice on lobbying and public relations issues related to the representation, and lobbying,” according to Quinn Emmanuel. Both Skadden and Quinn Emmanuel have preexisting relationships providing legal services to Agility. 

SGR inked a $30,000-per-month deal with Agility, but the cost of Skadden and Quinn Emmanuel’s lobbying and foreign influence campaigns for Agility isn’t clear. 

In its registration materials, Skadden says the firm has “received legal fees and reimbursement from Agility solely in connection with legal services” and it has “not yet received any compensation in connection with the activities prompting this registration.” Quinn Emmanuel’s services agreement provides some details on the firm’s billing structure, but little information on the financial arrangement or cost of public relations and lobbying services to be provided to Agility. 

SGR and Quinn Emmanuel also registered separately as foreign agents of Bader El-Jeaan, a senior partner with Kuwait-based law firm Meysan Partners. He serves as an outside counsel for Agility. Quinn Emmanuel is providing joint legal representation to El-Jeaan and Agility, according to the firm’s FARA records. 

Although Skadden and SGR are Agility’s first two foreign agents disclosed to the Justice Department, the defense contractor has previously paid other firms to lobby based on filings under the domestic-focused Lobbying Disclosure Act

Agility’s influence operations are bolstered by Venable LLP, a firm it paid $70,000 in the first half of this year, according to filings under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The firm reported lobbying on “government contracting and related issues” as well as the National Defense Authorization Act.

In the past, the Kuwaiti government has also helped facilitate some of the influence operations for Agility, which originated as a Kuwait state-owned entity. 

In a 2009 letter, the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister asked then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to intervene with the Justice Department and help nix a criminal fraud case against Agility “in consideration of the special relations between our two friendly countries.”

Kuwait’s government has donated between $5 million and $10 million to the Clinton Foundation, some of the foreign donations to the foundation that raised issues for then-candidate Hillary Clinton the 2016 presidential campaign.

Recovering from Mueller mess

Agility is Skadden’s first new FARA client registration with the Justice Department in over a decade outside of retroactive disclosures revealing its role in a controversial influence operation, and leading to a $4.6 million fine. 

The influence operations quietly orchestrated by Skadden, former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign deputy chair Richard Gates attempted to legitimize Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko’s imprisonment after it led to international condemnation of her political rival, former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych.

Skadden’s FARA filings identify Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk as the third-party it understood was funding the controversial report on Tymoshenko.

As part of the February settlement, Skadden agreed to cooperate with an ongoing probe into one of the foreign agents implicated in the scheme, former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig. Craig is scheduled for trial next week on a criminal charge related to withholding material facts from the Justice Department in a case accusing him of failing to register as a foreign agent of the Ukrainian government for his role in the 2012 influence operation. 

Former Skadden associate and Dutch national Alex van der Zwaan was the first person sentenced in Mueller’s investigation back in 2017. He plead guilty to lying to federal agents about his September 2016 interactions with Gates, who was indicted by a D.C. federal grand jury along with Manafort.

The third firm that signed on to Agility’s foreign influence operation, SGR LLC, was also caught up in Mueller’s investigation. Mueller subpoenaed SGR after the Flynn Intel Group’s retroactive FARA registration revealed that the now-defunct Flynn firm paid $40,000 to SGR for foreign influence operations.

SGR’s work for Flynn Intel Group included outreach to government officials and other public relations work. Flynn commissioned a Monopoly-style graphic called “Gulenopoly” from SGR that appeared in a 2017 op-ed. That piece initially ran without any disclaimers about the author, a foreign agent working for lobbying powerhouse Mercury Public Affairs. Mercury is one of the three firms enlisted by Manafort for his controversial Ukraine work, along with Skadden and the Podesta Group.

Following Flynn Intel Group’s retroactive FARA registration with the Justice Department, SGR registered as a foreign agent of Inovo BV, a Dutch company with links to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Inovo is owned by Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman accused of conspiracy with Flynn’s partner, who was indicted for secretly acting as foreign agent for a Turkish influence campaign.

Alptekin sits on the board of the Turkish government-linked Turkey-US Business Council. In 2018, both the Turkish government and business council signed a contract with Mercury Public Affairs. In 2018, Mercury inked new contracts with both the Turkey-US Business Council and the Turkish government.

Quinn Emmanuel was not as embroiled in the Mueller investigation as SGR or Skadden, but did represent Trump’s former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White House Counsel Don McGahn in the Mueller investigation. The firm also represented former White House strategist Steve Bannon as he prepared for testimony in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

Contracting controversy follows Agility 

Agility is not without its own controversies. Following a multi-year Justice Department criminal investigation, the company was indicted in 2009 for defrauding the government by inflating the cost of providing food to American troops throughout the Middle East during the height of the Iraq War. 

Federal prosecutors accused Agility of double-charging for some logistics costs, submitting false invoices and knowingly inflating the actual cost of food it bought for the Pentagon. 

In 2017, Agility plead guilty to a criminal misdemeanor offense of defrauding the U.S. military in relation to a single $551 invoice. As part of a global settlement, Agility agreed to pay $95 million in cash to settle all civil fraud claims, forgo $249 million in additional payments under its military food contracts and plead guilty to a criminal misdemeanor for theft of government funds.

Agility was barred from bidding on new contracts during the course of the case against it. But the suspension was lifted in return for its 2017 guilty plea. 

Despite the suspension as the case proceeded, Agility continued to do business with the U.S. federal government following the allegations and has even been awarded new contracts thanks to a little-known waiver system that extended its government contracts.

Agility, which touts an array of former senior Pentagon officials on its board, accounted for 15 of the 21 waivers listed on the U.S. General Services Administration’s website over the past decade, 71 percent of the total waivers issued by the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense’s combat logistics support agency. The determination of what constitutes a compelling reason for a waiver is largely subjective, with Congress traditionally deferring to military procurement officials’ judgment on the necessity of a contract extension.

One of Agility’s contracts with the Department of Defense’s combat logistics support agency was extended four times in 2010 for a total award of at least $63 million. Another was extended twice, but the U.S. government doesn’t disclose how much Agility was awarded in that case. None of the Army’s waivers for Agility reveal how much the defense contractor cost U.S.  taxpayers.

After Agility settled its fraud case in May 2017, it sought new logistics contracts with the U.S. military. In July 2018, the Pentagon awarded the company a $62.4 million contract to provide aviation fuel to support military operations in Guam. Agility, the lone bidder on the project, began shipping the gas in late August.Agility has had at least four instances of misconduct since 1995, racking up more than $101.6 million in penalties, according to the Project of Government Oversight’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database.

The post Embattled Kuwaiti defense contractor building foreign influence operation with firms tied to Mueller probe appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: Foreign Lobbying, Agility Public Warehousing, Anna Massoglia, clinton foundation, defense contractors, Defense Department, defense industry, Don McGahn, Donald Trump, Erdogan, fara, flynn intel group, foreign agents, Foreign Agents Registration Act, foreign influence, foreign interference, foreign lobby watch, foreign lobbying, fraud, Government Contractors, Greg Craig, Hillary Clinton, House Intelligence Committee, Inovo BV, iran, iraq, kuwait, lobbying, Mercury Public Affairs, Michael Flynn, Middle East, Mueller report, Obama White House, Paul Manafort, pentagon, Podesta Group, Quinn Emanuel, Reince Priebus, Revolving Door, Rick Gates, Robert Mueller, Skadden Arps, Special Counsel, Ukraine, Venable LLP, Viktor Pinchuk, Viktor Yanukovych, waivers, Yulia Tymoshenko]

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[l] at 8/6/19 3:16pm
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) is one of nine House Republicans to retire rather than seek reelection in 2020. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Nine Republicans in the House of Representatives have already announced they will retire rather than seek reelection in 2020, opening up a handful of competitive seats in suburban districts across the country.

The trend portends a number of expensive House races as Republicans fight to hold onto suburban districts that have turned purple under President Donald Trump’s tenure and Democrats look to field serious candidates in conservative districts.

The latest Republican to announce a retirement was Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas), whose district spans the outskirts of Dallas and Fort Worth. The former mayor of Carrollton, Texas, went most of his career without facing a serious electoral challenge. From his first congressional race in 2004 through the 2016 cycle, none of Marchant’s opponents raised more than $24,000, and he won every race by at least 15 points.

During the 2018 midterm cycle, however, Democratic nominee Jan McDowell broke that trend. She raised $108,671 and finished just 3 points behind Marchant, even though the Republican incumbent outspent her by a ratio of 11-to-1.

McDowell has declared her intention to run again, and her strong performance may attract support from the Democratic establishment this time around. Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee, which never had to give Marchant money nor spend on his behalf, might end up tapping into its own funds to support the eventual Republican nominee.

“We will do everything in our power to keep (McDowell) from getting anywhere near Congress,” said Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), chairman of the NRCC, in a statement on Marchant’s retirement. “Simply put, this is a Republican seat and will remain a Republican seat in 2020.” 

Two other Texas Republicans in competitive districts, Reps. Will Hurd and Pete Olson, also decided not to seek reelection.

Hurd narrowly beat out Army veteran Gina Ortiz Jones in an expensive race in 2018. Jones outraised Hurd, $6.2 million to $5.1 million, but the incumbent Republican got a boost from outside spending. The NRCC and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC closely tied to House Republican leaders, together spent more than $4 million attacking Jones.

The largest outside spender supportive of Jones was the Emily’s List-affiliated super PAC Women Vote, which spent $1.5 million on her behalf. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent comparatively less to support Jones, dishing out $220,000 in independent expenditures on her behalf.

Jones plans to run again in 2020 and has already raised more than $500,000. With Hurd’s retirement potentially tilting the purple district in her favor, conservative groups will likely have to up their spending in order to keep the seat in Republican hands.

Olson had an easier time than Hurd during last year’s midterm cycle but will be stepping down nonetheless. The Republican incumbent won the 22nd Congressional District, which includes the suburbs south of Houston, by 5 points in 2018.

Still, that election was Olson’s first competitive race since he won the seat in 2008. Both the Republican incumbent and his Democratic opponent, former diplomat Sri Kulkarni, raised about $1.5 million during their campaigns. Outside spending was not a significant factor in the race.

In a statement on Olson’s retirement, DCCC spokesperson Avery Jaffe said the organization will continue to invest in Texas. The organization opened an office in the state in April.

Kulkarni, who is running again, has already raised more than $400,000. It’s not yet clear who the Republican nominee will be, as Olson only announced his retirement two weeks ago.

A fourth competitive — and expensive — race is likely to take place in the suburbs of Atlanta, where Rep. Rob Woodall is stepping down after edging out Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux by just 433 votes in 2018, the closest margin of any congressional race that year.

Bourdeaux outraised Woodall during that election cycle, garnering $2.9 million to the incumbent’s $1.2 million. She was further aided by outside spending, with more than $1 million in support coming from the Independence USA PAC, a super PAC affiliated with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The group has traditionally backed both Democratic and Republican candidates, though it exclusively supported Democrats during the 2018 cycle.

Woodall won without the aid of outside spending. But the eventual Republican nominee to succeed him won’t have the advantage of incumbency.

There has been no shortage of candidates lining up to take Woodall’s place. Five candidates vying for the district’s Republican nomination have already raised at least $100,000, though three of the five have done so largely through self-financing.

Bourdeaux is also running again, and has already raised more than $500,000. She is not the only potential Democratic candidate, however. Six Democrats have declared to run, including progressive activist Nabilah Islam, who has raised more than $200,000.

In total, the dozen candidates who have filed to run for Woodall’s seat have cumulatively raised more than $2.7 million. The primary will take place in May.

The remaining House Republicans who are retiring — Reps. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), Martha Roby (R-Ala.), Mike Conaway (R-Texas), Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah) — reside in districts considered safely Republican. It is unclear who the nominee for either party will be in each of their districts.

The nine Republican retirements come on the heels of the party’s 33-seat loss in 2018. Eight of those losses came in districts where Republican incumbents retired and were replaced by moderate Democrats. Fifteen other Republicans retired but were replaced by members of their own party.

Only two House Democrats have announced their retirements so far: Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), whose district went for Hillary Clinton by 89 points in 2016, and Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), whose D+1 district will likely be a target for Republicans in 2020.

The post Slew of GOP retirements set up spending showdown in 2020 appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: Campaign finance, al02, campaign finance, dccc, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, GA07, IA02, IN05, Jessica Piper, MI10, National Republican Congressional Committee, nrcc, ny15, outside spending, super-PACs, TX11, TX22, tx23, tx24, UT01]

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[l] at 8/6/19 10:37am
Republican senators Joni Ernst, David Perdue and Thom Tillis are among nearly a dozen senators targeted by a multi-million dollar “dark money” ad campaign. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A secretive “dark money” group, which claims to represent doctors and patients, engaged in a TV advertising blitz totaling at least $2.3 million from late July through mid-August. Its ads urge vulnerable senators to reject surprise medical bills legislation that would cap the amount of money hospitals and physicians can charge out-of-network patients. 

Doctor Patient Unity, an obscure group that doesn’t list its members or disclose its funding, was incorporated in Virginia on July 23. Just a few days later, it ran its first TV ads during CNN’s broadcast of the Democratic presidential debate, a preview of the multi-million dollar ad blitz that would soon follow. 

The TV ads, which aired in nearly a dozen states, key in on one of America’s top healthcare issues: unexpected medical bills. The answer, the group says, is not a government-imposed limit on the amount of money health care providers can charge to some out-of-network patients — a proposal that appears primed to pass the Senate. 

“Rate setting would only serve insurance companies who are already making record profits, and hurt those who really matter … patients … us,” the ad says, before urging viewers to call their state’s U.S. senator who happens to be up for reelection in 2020. 

The expensive ad push comes as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle refine legislation to clamp down on unexpected medical bills, where out-of-network patients are hit with exorbitant costs because the physician or hospital does not have a contract with the patient’s insurer. These unexpected bills, which can be hefty enough to bankrupt some Americans, often result from emergency room visits or ambulance rides. 

Capitol Hill’s recent interest in the issue has sparked a lobbying and public relations war between providers and insurers. Hospital and physician trade groups are opposed to the same kind of “rate setting” mentioned in the ad as a giveaway to insurers, while insurers are eager to accuse providers of charging too much for emergency room visits. 

Doctor Patient Unity targeted at least 11 senators, all of whom face tough reelection battles in 2020, with ads in their respective home states, according to OpenSecrets ad data and FCC records. Because such contracts are filed sporadically throughout the year by broadcasters, the data represents only filings submitted to the FCC through the present date and could change as new documents are processed.

The list includes highly endangered senators in toss-up races such as Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.). Several of the senators mentioned are actively involved in legislation meant to address surprise medical bills. 

“This is kind of putting these senators, all of whom are at least somewhat vulnerable in a reelection campaign, on notice that this group is willing to run attack ads against them — potentially willing to spend millions of dollars to defeat them — if they don’t vote in the correct way on this legislation,” said Travis Ridout, professor at Washington State University and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political ads. 

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Members of Congress had hoped to address surprise medical bills before the August recess but were unable to finish the job. 

Senators are looking at the Lower Health Care Costs Act, sponsored by Senate Health Committee leaders Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), as the bipartisan solution to the problem. The legislation would set the rates at which insurers would reimburse providers for out-of-network emergency care, a proposal widely opposed by hospital and physician groups.

The bill, which sailed through the committee that Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jones currently sit on, is a top priority for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). 

Doctor Patient Unity did not respond to a request for comment regarding its funding. But the group uses similar language to some of the biggest healthcare organizations opposed to the “rate setting” introduced by a bipartisan group of senators. 

Its ads appear similar to those run by Physicians for Fair Coverage, a nonprofit that represents specialty physician companies. Specialty doctor groups, such as the well-funded American Society of Anesthesiologists and American College of Emergency Physicians, strongly oppose the “rate setting approach,” which they say would fundamentally disrupt health care delivery.  

Powerful industry groups such as the American Hospital Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges oppose the bill, while the influential American Medical Association has also urged lawmakers to go a different route.

“Arbitrary, government-dictated reimbursement would result in significant unintended consequences for patients and create a disincentive for insurers to maintain adequate provider networks, particularly in rural America,” AMA said in a statement.

Doctor Patient Unity is effectively a counterbalance to the Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing, a group publicly supported by some of the biggest insurance companies and groups, including Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who is pushing a more provider-friendly bill along with co-sponsors David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), has criticized the Alexander/Murray bill for being too friendly to the insurance industry. 

In addition to a multi-million dollar TV ad campaign, Doctor Patient Unity has also spent tens of thousands on radio ads and Facebook ads. Their Facebook ads mention numerous House members from both parties in addition to senators, urging users to contact their congressperson to “side with patients, not insurance companies.” 

In July, hospitals and doctors scored a number of wins during the markup of legislation before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including the option for doctors to appeal to an independent arbiter, a provision despised by insurers and supported by Doctor Patient Unity and providers.

The Senate appears to be the real challenge for providers, potentially explaining Doctor Patient Unity’s focus on vulnerable Republican senators.

The group ran a few ads during the CNN debates in late July, during which healthcare was a hot topic. It followed that up with a major ad blitz from August 1-7, airing ads on the largest television shows, including the first NFL preseason game. It spent far more money on ads in states represented by Perdue and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) than any others.

In most cases, Doctor Patient Unity does not disclose that it mentions senators in its FCC filings, only listing “healthcare” as its topic. The broadcast stations airing ads framed as issue advocacy often write in the senators’ names and the topic of the ad themselves. A few stations noted they could not find the group’s members on its website. 

Pictured is a registration file provided to an Iowa TV station. Doctor Patient Unity lists its address as a PO Box in Alabama.

An FCC filing for one of the group’s ad buys in Texas notes that it mentions both Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn in its ad, but only Cornyn is up for reelection in 2020. 

Doctor Patient Unity contracts with Del Cielo Media to purchase its ads. The Alexandria, Va., firm worked with nearly a dozen conservative groups during last year’s midterms, including a “dark money” group supporting Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).  

These so-called issue ads do not need to be disclosed to the Federal Election Commission as they only mention federal candidates but do not strictly advocate for or against their election. When election season draws near, these kinds of ads do need to be disclosed to the FEC as electioneering expenses.

The post Secretive front group targets vulnerable senators with $2.3 million ad blitz over surprise medical bills fight appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: Health care, ad blitz, Cory Gardner, dark money, david perdue, Doctor Patient Unity, doug jones, fcc, front group, healthcare industry, insurers, joni ernst, karl evers-hillstrom, Martha McSally, political ads, surprise medical bills, Thom Tillis, Tina Smith]

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[l] at 8/5/19 10:13am
FEC (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Center and Responsive Politics and the Campaign Legal Center have filed a petition with the Federal Election Commission to require full, transparent financial reporting of the millions of dollars that pass through national political parties’ special-purpose bank accounts.

Current FEC regulations leave the public in the dark regarding money received and spent by national party committees through these opaque special-purpose accounts. Established under a 2015 omnibus bill, these so-called “cromnibus” accounts are not required to disclose basic information, and it is nearly impossible to track all contributions to these accounts under the current reporting structure. 

Read more:

DV.load("https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6240198-CLC-and-CRP-Cromnibus-Rulemaking-Petition-August.js", { responsive: true, sidebar: false, container: "#DV-viewer-6240198-CLC-and-CRP-Cromnibus-Rulemaking-Petition-August" }); CLC and CRP Cromnibus Rulemaking Petition (August 5 2019) (PDF)
CLC and CRP Cromnibus Rulemaking Petition (August 5 2019) (Text)

The post CRP, Campaign Legal Center file petition to illuminate party ‘cromnibus’ accounts appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: Press Releases, Campaign Legal Center, Center for Responsive Politics, Cromnibus, disclosure, party committee, press release, transparency]

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[l] at 8/2/19 11:04am
Donald Trump (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

An email from President Donald Trump’s campaign on July 31 gave supporters reason to believe their political contributions would go further than they might otherwise think.

“There has NEVER been a more important time for YOU to step up,” the campaign wrote. “That’s why we will be TRIPLE-MATCHING all contributions made before 11:59 PM TONIGHT.”

The message was one of several that week in which the president’s reelection campaign promised to match supporters’ contributions. Matching — when campaigns tell donors that their contributions will be equaled or multiplied by an unknown source — has emerged as a relatively common fundraising tool among groups across the political spectrum in recent years.

In July, the Progressive Turnout Project, an organization dedicated to increasing Democratic voter turnout, bought Facebook ads saying that contributions would be five times matched. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) committee promised donors a four-times match if they chipped in during the last few days of the month.

None of the pages explained just how the matching would work.

Limited-time matching gives ideological supporters extra incentive to donate to a campaign they care about. But legal experts say it is hard to see how donation matching could happen given campaign contribution limits. And there are no accountability mechanisms to determine whether campaigns actually follow through with their promises.

“I think these promised matches are largely a marketing ploy from direct mail fundraising,” said Michael Kang, a law professor at Northwestern whose expertise includes campaign finance. “They stir up contrived urgency.”

Political campaigns have long use matching donations as a fundraising tactic. Roll Call identified several congressional campaigns, both Republican and Democratic, that said they would match donations during the last midterm cycle. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are among the politicians who have offered dollar-to-dollar matching during fundraising pleas at some point, though their promises were more limited and cited personal funds or pledges from large donors.

The potential for matching donations is restricted by campaign contribution limits. Individuals can give no more than $2,800 to a given federal campaign during the 2020 election cycle. Since primary and general elections count as separate cycles, ardent supporters can give as much as $5,600 to their preferred candidate.

“If the match is a real thing, it has to come from other donors and would be limited and disclosed as well,” Kang said. “There’s no unlimited pool of money from which a 3 or 4-to-1 match can come.”

Matching donations one-to-one would require a coordinated network of wealthy donors who had not yet given to the campaign. Triple- or quadruple-matching would require such an effort to be that much larger.

“I suppose you could get a group of 10 people to match, say, $50,000,” said Brett Kappel, an attorney with the law firm Akerman who focuses on campaign finance and political law. “But I’ve never seen it happen.”

A donor or group of donors might be able to match an upstart campaign seeking small-dollar contributions. But keeping up with national campaigns that rake in tens of thousands of dollars each day would be far more difficult. Between his campaign and joint fundraising committees, Trump raked in nearly $64 million from small-dollar donors during the first six months of 2019, an average of $350,000 per day.

Alternatively, candidates could legally match donors’ political contributions using personal funds. Both Trump and McConnell have self-funded parts of their campaigns during previous election cycles, but Federal Election Commission filings show that neither has contributed any of their own money toward their respective campaigns this time around.

Matched donations would not appear differently from other contributions in filings with the FEC, according to Corey Gladstone, media strategist at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog organization.

“Without additional details voluntarily disclosed by the campaign, it is difficult to verify whether campaigns are following through on their promises to match donations just based on FEC reports,” Gladstone said.

The Trump and the McConnell campaigns did not respond to requests for comment on how they planned to match donations and whether there was a maximum amount that would be matched. Emails from OpenSecrets were opened at least a dozen times by each campaign.

PACs and other committees have different contribution limits than campaigns. Individuals may donate up to $5,000 to a PAC each year, and there are no limits on contributions to super PACs or 527s.

The Progressive Turnout Project is a PAC with an affiliated 527. According to its ActBlue page, contributions to the PAC in excess of $5,000 go to the 527 account. Under this arrangement, a wealthy donor could promise to contribute unlimited funds to the 527 that matched contributions to the PAC without raising legal concerns. The organization declined to comment on its matching system, citing the privacy of its supporters.

The post Campaigns say they’ll match political contributions. It’s not clear how they would do that appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: Campaign finance, 527s, actblue, campaign contributions, contribution limits, Donald Trump, fec, fundraising, Jessica Piper, matching funds, Mitch McConnell, pacs, Progressive Turnout Project, super-PACs]

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[l] at 8/1/19 11:19am
Cory Booker Sen. Cory Booker (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Just a handful of wealthy donors are providing some 2020 Democrats with financial support in the form of powerful super PACs, the unlimited spending groups that have drawn ire from Democrats eyeing the nomination. 

Three well-funded super PACs have emerged to back their preferred Democratic presidential hopefuls, with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper the beneficiaries.

The super PACs have raised a combined $3.8 million from just 21 donors, arriving as Democrats increasingly assail big money and the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC that led to the creation of unlimited-spending independent groups.

Of the three, the Inslee-supporting Act Now on Climate is the only group to spend major money on independent expenditures so far. The group, which raised $2.1 million from eight donors through the first half of the year, has already spent $1.6 million on ads boosting Inslee’s bid. 

The group received $1 million from Rose Letwin, a Washington environmental activist and wife of Gordon Letwin, one of the 11 original Microsoft employees. David and Linda Cornfield, Seattle philanthropists who have funded environmental-focused films, contributed a combined $300,000. Three more Washington donors, including Zumiez founder Thomas Campion, chipped in $250,000 each.

Inslee has said he welcomed support from the super PAC, given that his campaign is focused on aggressively combating climate change. 

“They want to defeat climate change, and this is something I’ve been very passionate about for decades,” Inslee told the Associated Press. “So, no, I won’t be condemning any organization that’s trying to defeat climate change.”

But the group’s ads, which aired during the July Democratic debates, operated much like those from a typical single-candidate super PAC, directly attacking Inslee’s primary opponents for not making climate change a top priority. 

The pro-Booker Dream United, a super PAC founded by one of Booker’s Stanford classmates, has reported spending only $9,960 supporting Booker so far. But with a $1.1 million fundraising haul from just three donors, the group has plenty of money to play with.

San Francisco philanthropist and Democratic activist Susan Sandler accounted for $1 million of the super PAC’s total haul. New York investor Ravenel B. Curry gave $100,000 and Kirkland & Ellis attorney Eunu Chun gave $25,000. 

Booker echoed many of his fellow 2020 Democrats when he told supporters he would reject support from super PACs. But Dream United’s founder, civil rights lawyer Steve Phillips, said he would recruit donors to support Booker’s bid anyway. 

Super PACs are supposed to be independent groups acting separately from candidate committees, so Democratic presidential contenders can’t shut them down regardless of whether they oppose them. The lack of control over outside spending leaves the candidates’ no-super PAC pledges with little sway. 

Still, mountains of evidence suggest the most powerful super PACs are not independent whatsoever, but rather arms of the major parties and major candidates. Each of the top four biggest spending super PACs in last year’s midterms are directly tied to members of leadership in their respective parties. 

Likewise, the pro-Hickenlooper super PAC appears to have at least some connection with the campaign. The New York Times reported that Hickenlooper’s campaign manager was originally involved with Shared Purpose, which raised $575,000 from 10 donors through the first half of the year.

Several of the group’s top donors are executives at Colorado media firm Liberty Media, where Hickenlooper’s wife, Robin Pringle Hickenlooper, works as senior vice president of corporate development. Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei gave $100,000 as did Michael Fries, CEO of the company’s London-based parent company Liberty Global.

Billionaire Christy Walton, one of the heirs to the Walmart fortune and one of the richest Americans, was the group’s top donor, contributing $200,000. Walton gives to both parties and to the Libertarian party. Her biggest single contribution was $250,000 to a super PAC in support of 2016 Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. 

Shared Purpose hasn’t made independent expenditures so far and wasn’t revealed until it filed with the Federal Election Committee Wednesday. 

These super PACs might not have enough money to shake the foundation of the presidential race, but their sources of income are at odds with most 2020 Democrats’ fundraising focus on attracting small donors and rejecting big money. 

Democrats blasted the 5-4 Citizens United ruling in 2010 and continue to push for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision, but the party’s opposition hasn’t stopped it from using super PACs and “dark money” groups to win elections. Democrats have argued they cannot compete with Republicans without fighting fire with fire

Excluding party committees, liberal outside groups spent more money — $523 million to $515 million — than their conservative counterparts during the 2018 midterms. That marked the first time Democrats received more outside support than Republicans since Citizens United.

The post Some 2020 Democrats are getting help from big money super PACs, even if they don’t want it appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: 2020 Presidential, Super PACs, 2020 Democrats, Act Now on Climate, Citizens United, Cory Booker, Dream United, Jay Inslee, John Hickenlooper, karl evers-hillstrom, Pres2020, presidential, Rose Letwin, Shared Purpose, Super Pac]

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[l] at 7/31/19 2:35pm
Paul Manafort Donald Trump, Paul Manafort, and Ivanka Trump at the Republican Convention in 2016 (Brooks Kraft/ Getty Images)

Less than three years after spending $21 million to support President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, Rebuilding America Now, a super PAC with deep ties to disgraced former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, appears to be all but finished.

Federal Election Commission filings seem to reveal a group on the verge of extinction, a far cry from the mighty organization that led then-candidate Trump to reconsider his vocal opposition to super PACs. The group’s decline comes on the heels of allegations of improper spending and illegal coordination with the Trump campaign, as well as a high-profile investigation into alleged foreign straw donors.

Rebuilding America Now didn’t receive any contributions from donors during the first half of 2019 and spent much of its remaining cash on legal expenses, according to FEC filings. The super PAC sent nearly $15,000 to the Denver law firm where its former treasurer works and more than $100,000 to Foley & Lardner, LLP, the Washington, D.C., law firm that initially helped run the group. 

In June 2016, Manafort directed his associates Laurance Gay and Ken McKay, top fundraisers for the Trump campaign, to launch the super PAC. He noted it could raise unlimited sums as an unofficial arm of the campaign, and it did exactly that.

With billionaire Trump ally Tom Barrack spearheading fundraising efforts, the organization raised $22.6 million in just six months, trailing only the Sheldon Adelson-backed Future45 in fundraising among pro-Trump super PACs.

In October 2016, the Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint alleging the super PAC illegally coordinated with the Trump campaign by hiring Trump associates McKay and Gay less than 120 days after the pair left the Trump campaign. Federal law requires a four-month cooling-off period before a former campaign worker may join a super PAC, though the deadlocked FEC has not reprimanded the group.

Following its big win in 2016, the Rebuilding America Now began burning through leftover cash, most of which went to Manafort’s associates and Manafort himself. Gay, the godfather to one of Manafort’s daughters, raked in more than $800,000 during the 2018 election cycle alone.

In January 2019, federal prosecutors alleged that Manafort lied about the source of a $125,000 wire transfer he received in 2017 to pay down debt, thus violating his plea deal. An extensive investigation from CNBC found that the payment was routed through Rebuilding America Now and its campaign consultant Multi Media Services Corp. 

Nearly all of the super PAC’s 2019 revenue came from a $213,021 refund from the Alexandria, Va., company, which is run by Manafort associate and Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio. The group reported having $142,435 in the bank as of June 30.

Rebuilding America Now received massive contributions from top political spenders Bernard Marcus, Vince and Linda McMahon, and Geoffrey Palmer. Collectively, they contributed more than $16 million, or more than two-thirds of the organization’s lifetime earnings.

But the group’s sources of funding also came under scrutiny. Federal prosecutors reportedly probed whether the group accepted aid from foreign nationals as part of its ongoing investigation into Trump’s inaugural fund. The investigation looked at whether Qatari, Saudi Arabian and Emirati nationals funneled funds through straw donors to aid the group’s efforts to elect Trump.

Barrack served as Trump’s inaugural committee chairman, overseeing a record-shattering fundraising drive of $107 million. Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee released a report Monday detailing communications between Barrack and Middle Eastern nationals that indicate Barrack was working to push Trump toward policies friendly to his associates’ interests. This includes running speech transcripts by Emirati and Saudi allies for revisions and advocating for nuclear transfers to Saudi Arabia.

It’s unlikely Rebuilding America Now will be back in 2020. As Gay tried to justify his enormous expenses following the 2016 election, the group said it had plans for the 2018 midterms but didn’t report any independent expenditures during the entire cycle. The group’s latest Twitter post came in October 2018 and its latest Facebook post was in April.

With 2020 rapidly approaching, Trump is sticking with the McMahon-run super PAC America First Action as his only “official” outside group, blurring the lines between between independent spending groups and candidate campaigns. 

The post Manafort-linked pro-Trump super PAC nearly out of cash appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: Super PACs, 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump, karl evers-hillstrom, Manafort, Paul Manafort, pro-Trump, rebuilding america now, reid champlin, Super Pac, Tom Barrack]

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[l] at 7/31/19 11:56am
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, left, walks with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A powerful Republican super PAC received nearly half of its contributions during the first half of 2019 from a dark money group that shares its Washington, D.C., office.

The Congressional Leadership Fund raised $7.6 million during the first two quarters of 2019, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. More than $3.5 million of that total came from the American Action Network, a conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofit established in 2010.

The super PAC, which is closely tied to Republican leadership in the House, spent $138 million during last year’s midterms as it unsuccessfully attempted to help Republicans retain control of the lower chamber. American Action Network gave $26.5 million to the CLF during the 2018 cycle as dark money groups connected to both major parties funneled millions into super PACs.

Other donors to the CLF so far in 2019 include hedge fund managers Kenneth Griffin and Paul Singer, who each gave $1 million. The group also received $500,000 from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and $500,200 from Cherna Moskowitz, the wife of the late gaming magnate Irving Moskowitz. Oil giant Valero gave $250,000, while a subsidiary of private prison contractor GEO Group chipped in $100,000.

The super PAC’s spending during the first half of the year includes $128,266 on independent expenditures, most of which went toward attack ads on Democratic House freshmen in swing districts.

The group is also targeting Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate in the special election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. The Charlotte Observer reported Wednesday that the CLF has since made an additional $1.2 million in ad reservations against McCready, who faces Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop in the September election.

Although American Action Network does not disclose its donors, Issue One used nonprofit filings and corporate disclosures to find that the group took $12 million from Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, along with large contributions from publicly-traded corporations, since 2009.

Despite being the top spender in 2018, CLF found itself on the wrong end of a Democratic wave, with just 31 percent of its general election spending backing winning candidates. Only the National Republican Congressional Committee had a worse success rate among major parties or party-aligned groups.

As super PACs tend to live and die by the megadonor, it remains to be seen whether CLF’s midterm performance will scare away the biggest donors. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson bankrolled the group during the 2018 midterms, giving a colossal $55 million in total. The billionaire Las Vegas couple hasn’t given to CLF so far, nor had they at this point in 2017.

With the launch of the GOP’s fundraising service, WinRed, CLF said it would evaluate Republican candidates’ small donor fundraising when considering whether to back them. Like most super PACs, the group hasn’t attracted small donors itself, raising just $457 from donors giving $200 or less during the first six months of the year. Instead, the group utilizes big fundraisers, including one where it spent $165,000 on tickets and catering for an event hosted at the Atlanta Falcons’ stadium in January, according to FEC filings.

The post Top Republican super PAC gets 2020 head start with ‘dark money’ appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: Campaign finance, 501(c)(4), American Action Network, Congressional Leadership Fund, Dan McCready, dark money, GEO Group, house of representatives, megadonors, Miriam Adelson, NC09, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, phrma, Sheldon Adelson, super-PACs]

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[l] at 7/31/19 8:13am
Steve Bullock Governor of Montana Steve Bullock (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Just before Montana Gov. Steve Bullock took to the bright lights of the Democratic debate stage Tuesday, he scored a victory in federal court against the Trump administration that could affect influential “dark money” groups.

A federal judge in Montana overturned a new Internal Revenue Service rule that allowed some tax-exempt nonprofits, including politically active 501(c)(4) groups, to avoid reporting names and addresses of donors who gave $5,000 or more in tax returns submitted to the agency. 

The new rule, enacted by the Treasury in July 2018, was met with opposition from Democrats and groups advocating for stricter campaign finance rules. Political nonprofits are already able to keep donors hidden from the public, but Bullock argued the new rule would make it harder for Montana to crack down on illegal foreign money in its elections if the IRS didn’t have donor information on hand. 

Bullock, as well as the state of New Jersey, swiftly filed a lawsuit against the IRS, arguing the federal government violated the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to give the public enough time to offer input on the proposed rules. 

Judge Brian Morris sided with Bullock, overturning the new rule. The Barack Obama appointee said the IRS must provide a notice-and-comment procedure before adopting a similar measure. 

“Then, and only then, may the IRS act on a fully-informed basis when making potentially significant changes to federal tax law,” Morris wrote in his conclusion. 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said his agency changed the rules in part to prevent leaking of confidential donor information, which occurred in 2013 when the IRS posted unredacted tax forms revealing donors to the Republican Governors Association Public Policy Committee. Mnuchin said the IRS could still get names and addresses of donors to nonprofits during audits. 

The change was met with celebration by conservative groups, and came following lobbying from the conservative Center for Individual Freedom, which reported spending $60,000 on lobbying to support “executive action to eliminate the Schedule B.”

Senate Democrats, along with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), voted to overturn the rule in December on a near party-line vote, but the Republican-led House never held a vote. Democrats introduced new legislation this year to overturn the new rule, but it wasn’t going to get a vote in the upper chamber — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) applauded the IRS rule change saying it “protects free speech and association.”

Bullock has centered his presidential campaign around stricter campaign finance laws, arguing that dark money must be quashed before lawmakers can make real changes.

Dark money groups reported $148 million in outside spending to the FEC during the 2018 cycle, not including money spent on so-called issue ads aired before election season and other undisclosed political efforts. The groups also contributed more than $176 million to super PACs. Dark money groups have spent more than $1 billion since the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC that led to a boom in undisclosed spending. 

Foreign nationals are prohibited from making federal contributions and politically-active groups cannot use foreign funds to influence elections. The influential National Rifle Association, one of many dark money groups potentially affected by the IRS rule change, admitted taking small amounts of money from Russian nationals ahead of the 2016 election in which it spent record sums to support President Donald Trump

Politically active 501(c)(4)s are not supposed to have politics as their primary purpose, which is generally understood as a rule against spending more than half of their money on political efforts. But the rules lack clarity about how much politicking is too much and regulators are already struggling to address noncompliance by these groups. An October 2018 Inspector General report found that the IRS failed to document more than 1,000 cases in which nonprofits allegedly conducted impermissible political activity. 

The post Steve Bullock scores debate night win against Trump administration in ‘dark money’ case appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: 2020 Presidential, 501(c) groups, Brian Morris, dark money, debate, Donald Trump, Internal Revenue Service, karl evers-hillstrom, lawsuit, montana, National Rifle Association, Pres2020, Steve Bullock, Steven Mnuchin, Treasury Department, Trump administration]

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[l] at 7/31/19 6:49am
Lanny Davis (right) arrives at the House Intelligence Committee ahead of client Michael Cohen’s testimony. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

For nearly five years, Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch with alleged ties to organized crime and the Russian government, has been engaged in a fierce legal battle in Austria to beat bribery and racketeering charges and stave off extradition to the U.S.

At every step of the way, Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Bill Clinton who made headlines for providing legal representation to longtime lawyer for President Donald Trump Michael Cohen, has fought alongside him. Department of Justice documents filed in accordance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act show Davis agreed to provide both legal and media aid as a foreign agent of the Ukrainian businessman.

After decisions by both the Austrian Supreme Court and justice minister to approve Firtash’s extradition, however, the longtime arrangement has come to an end. A recent FARA disclosure filed with the Department of Justice shows that Davis and his firm, Davis, Goldberg & Galper, concluded their relationship with Firtash on July 20. 

“We are not going to comment on this matter,  except to say we continue to believe in Mr. Firtash’s innocence and his ultimate vindication. Going forward, the law firm of diGenova & Toensing will be representing Mr. Firtash, ” Davis told OpenSecrets in an email.

Davis began working with Firtash weeks after the latter’s arrest at the request of American authorities in Vienna in 2014. Firtash paid Davis’s firm a monthly fee of $80,000 to both assist in formulating a legal strategy and to correct what the oligarch viewed as falsehoods in media coverage.

Davis maintains an extensive network of media contacts, regularly communicating with journalists at the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other major outlets about his work with Firtash.

The U.S. charged Firtash with international racketeering for his role in an alleged scheme to bribe Indian officials for preferential access to titanium ore, which he intended to sell to Boeing. The Department of Justice unveiled its indictment of Firtash under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in April 2014, less than a month after his arrest in Vienna.

Firtash is notorious within Ukraine for his ties to former Ukrainian presidents, the Russian government and crime boss Semion Mogilevich. 

Firtash wielded significant sway within the administration of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, serving in multiple prominent government roles all the while funneling money from Russian gas company Gazprom to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. He was driven out following the 2014 overthrow of the Yanukovych government and has not returned to Ukraine since.

Firtash earned his billions as a close ally of Russian president Vladimar Putin, who assisted his business endeavors by giving him access to massive amounts of heavily-subsidized natural gas and extended lines of credit worth nearly $11 billion. Reports suggest Putin oversaw the sale of gas assets to Firtash with the expectation that he would use his new wealth to influence Ukrainian politics in his favor.

He also rose to power with the aid of Semion Mogilevich, the “boss of bosses” of the Russia mafia who spent six years on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list. The FBI described Mogilevich as “the most dangerous mobster in the world” and Firtash allegedly admitted to a U.S. ambassador that Mogilevich was the true power behind his ownership in gas company RosUkrEnergo.

The Guardian reported that Firtash “acknowledged that he needed, and received, permission from Mogilevich when he established various businesses.” Mogilevich challenged those reports and took legal action against The Guardian’s Luke Harding for his 2014 report on the allegations.

As co-counsel for former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, Davis was at the heart of litigation surrounding President Trump’s alleged affair with Stormy Daniels and the federal investigation into Cohen himself. Cohen is currently serving a 3-year sentence in a New York federal prison.

Note: This story has been amended to include an updated statement from Lanny Davis.

The post Ukrainian oligarch and Michael Cohen attorney Lanny Davis cut ties as extradition looms appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: Foreign Lobbying, Dmytro Firtash, extradition, fara, Foreign Agents Registration Act, Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen, reid champlin]

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[l] at 7/31/19 6:49am
Lanny Davis (right) arrives at the House Intelligence Committee ahead of client Michael Cohen’s testimony. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

For nearly five years, Dmytro Firtash, a Ukranian oligarch with alleged ties to organized crime and the Russian government, has been engaged in a fierce legal battle in Austria to beat bribery and racketeering charges and stave off extradition to the U.S.

At every step of the way, Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Bill Clinton who made headlines for providing legal representation to longtime lawyer for President Donald Trump Michael Cohen, has fought alongside him. Department of Justice documents filed in accordance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act show Davis agreed to provide both legal and media aid as a foreign agent of the Ukranian businessman.

After decisions by both the Austrian Supreme Court and justice minister to approve Firtash’s extradition, however, the longtime arrangement has come to an end. A recent FARA disclosure filed with the Department of Justice shows that Davis and his firm, Davis, Goldberg & Galper, concluded their relationship with Firtash on July 20. 

“We are not going to comment on this matter, except to say we continue to believe in Mr. Firtash’s innocence and his ultimate vindication,” Davis told OpenSecrets in an email.

Davis began working with Firtash weeks after the latter’s arrest at the request of American authorities in Vienna in 2014. Firtash paid Davis’s firm a monthly fee of $80,000 to both assist in formulating a legal strategy and to correct what the oligarch viewed as falsehoods in media coverage.

Davis maintains an extensive network of media contacts, regularly communicating with journalists at the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other major outlets about his work with Firtash.

The U.S. charged Firtash with international racketeering for his role in an alleged scheme to bribe Indian officials for preferential access to titanium ore, which he intended to sell to Boeing. The Department of Justice unveiled its indictment of Firtash under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in April 2014, less than a month after his arrest in Vienna.

Firtash is notorious within Ukraine for his ties to former Ukranian presidents, the Russian government and crime boss Semion Mogilevich. 

Firtash wielded significant sway within the administration of former Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych, serving in multiple prominent government roles all the while funneling money from Russian gas company Gazprom to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. He was driven out following the 2014 overthrow of the Yanukovych government and has not returned to Ukraine since.

Firtash earned his billions as a close ally of Russian president Vladimar Putin, who assisted his business endeavors by giving him access to massive amounts of heavily-subsidized natural gas and extended lines of credit worth nearly $11 billion. Reports suggest Putin oversaw the sale of gas assets to Firtash with the expectation that he would use his new wealth to influence Ukranian politics in his favor.

He also rose to power with the aid of Semion Mogilevich, the “boss of bosses” of the Russia mafia who spent six years on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list. The FBI described Mogilevich as “the most dangerous mobster in the world” and Firtash allegedly admitted to a U.S. ambassador that Mogilevich was the true power behind his ownership in gas company RosUkrEnergo.

The Guardian reported that Firtash “acknowledged that he needed, and received, permission from Mogilevich when he established various businesses.” Mogilevich challenged those reports and took legal action against The Guardian’s Luke Harding for his 2014 report on the allegations.

As co-counsel for former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, Davis was at the heart of litigation surrounding President Trump’s alleged affair with Stormy Daniels and the federal investigation into Cohen himself. Cohen is currently serving a 3-year sentence in a New York federal prison.

The post Ukranian oligarch and Michael Cohen attorney Lanny Davis cut ties as extradition looms appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: Foreign Lobbying, Dmytro Firtash, extradition, fara, Foreign Agents Registration Act, Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen, reid champlin]

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[l] at 7/30/19 1:03pm
Warren Former housing secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

When 20 Democrats take to the debate stage in Detroit over the next two nights, it will be, for some, the last chance at a national audience during this election cycle.

The Democratic National Committee has set a higher bar for the next round of debates in September, requiring candidates to garner at least 130,000 individual donors and hit 2 percent in at least four qualifying polls. So far, only seven candidates say they have met both criteria.

That is why this week’s debates are pivotal for most of the field, as struggling candidates look for a breakout moment that can propel their campaigns into September.

Campaigns are dishing out millions on digital ads ahead of the debate in an effort to boost name recognition and reach the higher donor threshold. Cumulatively, Democratic presidential candidates have spent more than $31 million across Twitter, Facebook and Google ads so far this cycle.

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Campaign strategists see online advertising as a way for candidates to gather small-dollar donors, who can chip in just $1 on platforms such as ActBlue. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who raised $12.7 million from small donors during the second quarter of 2019, leads all candidates in digital ad expenditures, with $4.1 million spent.

The Massachusetts senator has already qualified for the September debates, as have Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Sens. Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders. Each of those candidates has spent at least $1 million on digital ads so far.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has also spent nearly $2 million on digital ads. The senator has met the polling requirement for September but has not reached 130,000 donors, though her campaign has told supporters she is just 10,000 donors away.

The remaining candidates will likely be looking for ways to stand out during this week’s debates as their fundraising success –– and future debate appearances –– are on the line.

Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro had his moment during the first round of debates in June when he challenged O’Rourke on immigration policy. Castro’s campaign immediately capitalized on the exchange with a surge of digital ads, and the flow of small-dollar donors put the former San Antonio mayor over the 130,000 threshold within 10 days. However, Castro has yet to translate that fundraising to a significant gain in the polls. He needs to hit 2 percent in one more poll in order to qualify for September.

Another candidate looking for a breakthrough in Tuesday’s debate is Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, the only new candidate on the debate stage. The governor, who entered the race in late April, has campaigned on his record on combating the role of money in politics and his success as a two-term Democratic governor in a red state.

On the campaign trail, however, Bullock has struggled to stand out: according to polling by Morning Consult, he has only 56 percent name recognition among potential Democratic primary voters. Only Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer are less well-known.

Neither Steyer nor Moulton will be on the debate stage this week. Steyer, who said he would spend $100 million on his own campaign, has been aggressively recruiting donors online in an effort to make the September debates. His campaign has spent more than $1.2 million on digital ads since he declared his run on July 9.

“The DNC raised the number of donors you need to qualify for the debate stage: 130,000 individual donors by the end of August,” one ad reads. “Can you pitch in $1? Your support would mean so much.”

Steyer, along with former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), can afford to continue running expensive digital ads even if they fail to gain ground in the polls. Their campaigns have the cash — for Steyer and Delaney, due to self-funding, and for Gillibrand due to the $9.6 million that she transferred from her Senate committee.

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But candidates such as Bullock, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) don’t have the same ability to tap into reserves in the long hunt for donors. They are among the 10 candidates who had less than $1.5 million in cash on hand at the end of the second quarter and face the possibility of dropping out if they don’t gain traction soon.

Hickenlooper spent just over $5,000 on Facebook ads in the past week, a paltry sum compared to the leading candidates. But, ahead of the debate, the former craft brewer made clear that September was his target.

“We need 130,000 donors to get to the next round of the debates this fall,” one ad said. “Even $5, the cost of one glass of beer, will help us reach the goal.” 

The post Debate rules drive 2020 Dems’ digital ad spending over $31 million appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: 2020 Presidential, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, Bernie Sanders, campaign contributions, campaign finance, Cory Booker, Democratic National Committee, digital advertising, dnc, Elizabeth Warren, fundraising, google ads, Jessica Piper, Joe Biden, John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet, Pete Buttigieg, Pres2020, seth moulton, Steve Bullock, Tim Ryan, tom steyer, Tulsi Gabbard]

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[l] at 7/30/19 11:36am
Television (Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

As Americans increasingly watch their favorite channels go dark due to disputes between broadcasters and television providers, both sides of the escalating industry war are hoping to find a light at the end of the tunnel on Capitol Hill. 

Cable and satellite providers are increasingly balking at the retransmission fees broadcast networks charge to run their channels, leading to a record number of blackouts through the first half of 2019. When the two parties can’t agree on the right price, the broadcaster’s channels get blacked out, leaving the customer in the dark. 

Both sides of the industry battle are hiring armies of lobbyists to pitch Congress on why the other side is to blame for blackouts, which disportionately hit consumers in rural areas that rely on satellite providers. The lobbying and influence push comes as the 2014 Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), which governs the way television providers and broadcasters negotiate fees, is set to expire at the end of the year. 

Broadcasters want STELA to sunset, due in large part to its provision that allows satellite providers to air out-of-market programming rather than carry local stations. Television providers are pushing for the legislation to be extended with new rules to clamp down on retransmission fees charged by broadcasters, which have steadily risen and peaked at $10 billion last year. 

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), a trade group for major broadcast networks including ABC, FOX, CBS and NBC, is making the case to Congress that cable and satellite  providers are strategically creating blackouts to force reforms to retransmission fees.

NAB spent $6.9 million on lobbying through the first half of 2019. The group’s 48-person lobbying team includes 43 former government employees, three of whom are former members of Congress. 

The trade group’s members aren’t shy about flexing their lobbying muscle in Washington. Formed after 21st Century Fox sold its film and television studios to Disney in March, Fox Corp reported spending $990,000 on lobbying in the second quarter of 2019. For the first time, Rupert Murdoch’s television company dispatched its lobbying chief Danny O’Brien, former aide to Vice President Joe Biden, as a registered lobbyist as it pushed for STELA to expire. 

Multi-million dollar lobbying spender Disney is also lobbying on STELA’s sunset, and the massive broadcast network has launched its own public relations campaign to blame Dish Network and Sling for the loss of Fox Sports channels across the country. 

On another wavelength, the satellite and cable backed American Television Alliance (ATVA) is placing the blackout blame squarely on broadcasters, calling on Congress to reform “outdated rules” that allow broadcasters to charge retransmission fees. The group also notes that if STELA were to sunset, hundreds of thousands of satellite customers would lose access to certain channels. 

The group, which is bankrolled by satellite giants DISH Network and DirectTV owner AT&T, spent $370,000 on lobbying through the first half of the year. Its influence operation is run by Fierce Government Relations, a lobbying firm that deploys eight members of the revolving door including former aides to legislators on key committees. 

The 501(c)(4) has deployed creative strategies to reach its preferred audience. ATVA has run more than $25,000 worth of Facebook ads since its page was launched in mid-June, targeting Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland residents almost exclusively as it makes apparent attempts to reach Washington lawmakers and their aides. 

Currying favor

If campaign contributions build goodwill, both sides of the blackout battle have cultivated their fair share of it with key lawmakers overseeing the legislative process.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that is considering STELA reauthorization, has already received $20,500 from affiliates of NAB in 2019, making the trade association his top donor so far this cycle. 

The committee’s ranking member and former chairman, Greg Walden (R-Ore.), has raked in nearly $393,000 from affiliates of NAB, making the group his top all-time donor. On the other side, Comcast arrives as his second-largest donor at $195,250, while AT&T comes in sixth, giving $101,800. 

Walden introduced the successful 2014 STELA reauthorization, which satellite providers enthusiastically celebrated and NAB begrudgingly supported

NAB CEO Gordon Smith, a former U.S. senator from Oregon, has only contributed to a handful of lawmakers since leaving public office in 2009. Walden is his top recipient, receiving $9,600 since 2016. 

Smith made the broadcasters’ case to Pallone and Walden’s subcommittee on STELA in June,  arguing that satellite providers should air local channels rather than import distant signals.

“To put this in practical terms, DIRECTV subscribers in Ottumwa, Iowa, recently saw a news story about a garbage truck catching fire in Los Angeles,” Smith told the subcommittee. “The local news they should have seen is that of crop insurance prices rising and the impact on farmers across the Hawkeye State.”

Although a few members, including Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Michael Cloud (R-Texas), have come out in favor of letting STELA expire, cable and satellite providers appear to have an early leg up on their opponents. 

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), both situated on the key House committee, introduced legislation last week that repeals retransmission consent and introduces an outside arbitration system for stalled negotiations. Television providers cheered the bill, while broadcasters scoffed. 

“Amid cord-cutting, growing video options and internet-based platforms, broadcasters use their special protections in current law to continue to demand price increases from the customers of cable and satellite distributors for TV programming that consumers watch less and less,” AT&T told Multichannel News in a statement. 

The bipartisan bill is expected to be considered as the committee explores STELA reauthorization. In the upper chamber, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) has expressed interest in reauthorizing the law.

Wicker receives much of his minimal campaign cash from various television interests, taking $103,600 from employees of BGR Group, a lobbying firm that represents cable giants such as Comcast and Cox Enterprises. Also among Wicker’s top 10 donors to his campaign and leadership PAC from 2015 to 2020 are Charter Communications ($75,100), NAB ($73,200) and Cox Enterprises ($70,500). 

“I think it should be reauthorized …” Wicker told Politico in June. “Members of the committee are being thoroughly courted by all parties concerned from a variety of angles. And it’s not for me to say what the result will be.”

Legislators have so far placed their focus on consumers, stressing blackouts as the main problem that needs fixing. The urgency comes as 6.5 million AT&T customers continue to go without access to CBS channels — one of several disputes that have left viewers in the dark.

The post Blackout battle between broadcasters and cable providers spills into Washington appeared first on OpenSecrets News.

[Category: Influence & Lobbying, American Television Alliance, AT&T, blackout, broadcaster, directv, dish network, disney, Fox News, Frank Pallone, Gordon Smith, Greg Walden, karl evers-hillstrom, lobbying, National Association of Broadcasters, Roger Wicker, Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, STELA, STELAR, television, tv]

As of 8/19/19 3:14pm. Last new 8/15/19 11:54am.

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