Connor Flotten, an American Promise Research Associate, has the roundup you need to stay on top of fast-evolving corruption, election spending, and reform news.
From OpenSecrets: Many lobbying firms, after taking in more than $17 million from foreign companies connected with Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline since 2017, are just now cutting ties with those foreign companies in response to U.S. sanctions on the pipeline. The sanctions are a response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Although Putin has been amassing troops on the Ukrainian border for months, and has occupied the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine since 2014, these firms have, coincidentally, only cut ties now that sanctions on the pipeline are confirmed and there is little reason for partner companies to fund further lobbying efforts.
Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, lobbying for the pipeline has occurred under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, enabling lobbyists for the pipeline to meet with government officials without disclosing the meetings to the public, despite the pipeline being owned by the Russian state-run company Gazprom. The Biden administration has previously waived sanctions on the pipeline and asked Congress to not pass any sanctions without giving the White House the authority to waive them.
OpenSecrets has found that since 2016, Russia has reported spending more than $182 million on lobbying, foreign influence, and propaganda in the U.S.
From CNBC: Activision CEO Bobby Kotick, who has been accused of permitting a culture of pervasive sexual harrassment at the gaming company, has multiple secret companies he uses to funnel money to Republican campaigns, although it is not clear whether he wishes to avoid association with the Republican Party or they wish to avoid association with him. The first, Norgate LLC, contributed $500,000 to the Republican Senate Leadership Fund PAC in 2021, and the other, 807080A LLC, shares an address with Norgate and two of Kotick’s foundations and has contributed at least $100,000 to Republican organizations, including a PAC backing Pennsylvania Senate candidate David McCormick.
A spokesperson for Kotick claims that Kotick donates equal amounts of money to Democrats and Republicans, as though the problem was that the CEO of a company that’s been sued by state and federal employment agencies and is under SEC investigation was buying political influence in a partisan fashion.
Others have used shell companies to hide political donations. For example, real estate executive Stephen Rosenberg, who had previously donated to Democrats, used a shell company to hide donations to President Donald Trump in 2020.
From CNBC: Even before President Biden announced his nominee to replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court, several Democratic groups announced their spending plans to support the eventual nominee. Despite a lack of information on who the nominee would be, what their qualifications are, or whether they would be a good Supreme Court justice, these Democratic groups prepared to spend millions of dollars in support of the nominee. Dark money group Demand Justice, run by Democratic strategists, indicated that it would spend “whatever it takes” to get the nominee confirmed, relying on its access to incredible amounts of money from undisclosed donor networks. Building Back Together, another dark money group, has signaled it likely will raise and spend up to $10 million in support of the eventual nominee.
From The New York Times: This article profiles tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who has already spent more than $20.4 million on candidates for 2022, making him one of the two largest individual Republican donors for this cycle. Thiel, who was also one of the biggest donors to President Trump’s 2016 campaign, has dedicated his political spending not just to backing a single party, but to reshaping that party according to his ideological preferences. These include his recent comments that Americans live in a “deranged society.”
Thiel appears to have decided that his ability to deploy millions of dollars in campaign spending gives him the right to hold court at lavish fundraisers and personally dictate the fortunes of the Republican party, and in doing so push the entire country toward his extreme views. As long as political spending is effectively unregulated, wealthy individuals and organizations that hold fringe views can force their way into the mainstream instead of being relegated to the political fringe.
From Politico: As cryptocurrency companies like crypto exchange FTX, which is valued at $32 billion, break into the mainstream with Super Bowl ads and high-profile endorsements, they are also attempting to break into Washington. These companies and their executives are spending millions to get the attention of lawmakers — many of whom have struggled with technological concepts like how Facebook makes money (they run ads) — as lawmakers attempt to understand the complex topic of cryptocurrencies and how best to regulate them. Given the lack of technological expertise on Capitol Hill, crypto companies able to leverage their resources to buy congressional access and attention could gain massive influence over how their industry is regulated. Hopefully the people who have made billions of dollars off of an entirely unregulated financial market will decide they’ve made enough money and promote sensible regulation and consumer protections.
Or perhaps not. FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried spent $5.2 million supporting Joe Biden in 2020, and has directly donated to several Republican senators in the last several months. As Timi Iwayemi, senior researcher and director of political education at the Revolving Door Project put it, “They want to work with lawmakers, but the goal is to create legislation that would absolve them of any current violations of securities law.”
From the Bangor Daily News: The current environment of unchecked political spending and lax regulation has led to the emergence of scam PACs that raise funds on the premise of supporting policies or candidates but ultimately spend the vast majority of their income on overhead and funnel money to obscure vendors. They are differentiated from traditional PACs in that they spend their money on directly enriching themselves, rather than purchasing political influence and undermining democracy to enrich their donors.
U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, who represents Maine’s 2nd District, has called for the American Veterans Support Group PAC to be shut down after it raised over $400,000 last year using Golden and other veteran members of Congress in its fundraising materials without permission. PACs like this are taking advantage of an environment in which it is expected, and often necessary, for voters to donate money to have their voices heard. With no regulations requiring these PACs to disclose their donors or preventing them from spending most of their funds on overhead, they are able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and further erode trust in the political system.
From OpenSecrets: Many international companies, particularly those based in Asia and the Asian Pacific, are lobbying the U.S. on provisions in the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), which contains sanctions on China for human rights abuses and other measures intended to enhance American competitiveness abroad. Chinese drone company DJI Technology spent over $1 million in 2021 lobbying against a provision that would bar the federal government from purchasing drones from countries such as China.
DJI, in an unfortunately accurate analysis of how business and government function in the U.S., explained its lobbying efforts as necessary to compete with American companies that “actively lobby federal and state government agencies to gain preferential treatment for their products.” In December 2021, the Treasury Department sanctioned DJI over allegations that the company’s drones were being used to spy on Uyghur Muslims. Other major companies lobbying on the USICA include Korean electronics manufacturer Samsung, which spent $3.7 million on lobbying in the U.S. last year, and Japanese carmaker Toyota, which spent over $6.2 million.
From the Philadelphia Inquirer: Republican Pennsylvania State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano has discovered nearly $600,000 in undisclosed donations, and more than $200,000 in undisclosed expenditures (more than 15 times what he initially reported), in an amended campaign finance filing more than three weeks after the official deadline.
It is common practice for campaigns to play fast and loose with campaign finance deadlines and reporting periods, through practices such as accepting larger-than-permitted donations immediately before a deadline and not reporting that they have been refunded until afterward, inflating their fundraising totals around key milestones. Mastriano’s original filing, however, which reported almost no expenditures for 2021, raised significant questions. The filing omitted basic expenditures like website registration and email services.
Although his campaign only filed a corrected report hours after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the irregularities, the Franklin County DA has declined to prosecute the Mastriano campaign. Franklin County District Attorney Matthew Fogal has suggested that there may still be “consequences” for the campaign, despite declining to impose any himself. Fogal delegated responsibility to the media to investigate these sorts of campaign finance irregularities, and to the public to decide how to react to the information.
One wonders how we’re supposed to impose consequences for potential campaign finance violations when candidates are free to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars influencing the media narrative and public opinion.