Category: OpenSecrets

Outside groups — mostly party establishment — playing big in GOP’s vulnerable districts

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UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 1: Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., attends a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere hearing in Rayburn Building, October 1, 2014, on Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi who is imprisoned in Mexico. Tahmooressi, who suffers from PTSD, has been held in Mexico since being arrested in March for carrying guns across the border. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Roll Call named Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) the most vulnerable incumbent in the House. The DCCC and the liberal House Majority PAC have spent $2 million benefiting his Democratic opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

With scorching news about Donald Trump dominating the media, along with his equally blistering pushback, GOP members of Congress have had to make some tough decisions about where to position themselves vis-a-vis the top of the ticket.

And situation’s trickle-down volatility has done them no favors, helping to ensure that the latest Roll Call list of the 10 most vulnerable House members is entirely made up of Republicans in districts from Florida to Nevada.

As it turns out, outside spending groups are pretty excited about these 10 districts, too. Much of the trench warfare has been waged by established party vehicles on both sides: The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the liberal House Majority PAC, each of which has spent a large share of their resources on these 10 races. The NRCC has poured in $8.6 million out of the $28.5 million it has spent so far on independent expenditures, or 30 percent; the DCCC allocated $5.7 million of $22.5 million, or one-fourth of its independent spending to date; and House Majority PAC has spent nearly half of its $12.6 million in outlays, about $6 million. That’s a lot of attention for these contests, considering that elections are being held for all 435 House seats.

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It’s late in the game, and the party vehicles are madly rearranging their spending plans depending on what their internal polling shows. In most of these 10 races, the parties apparently have decided the train has left the station one way or another.
The NRCC, however, is supplying some last-minute backup, reporting spending $3.1 million this week up to Oct. 13, ten times more than the two liberal bastions combined.
“Republicans are clearly on defense, even in traditionally uncompetitive Republican districts, because the map is expanding every day,” said Jeb Fain, communications director for the House Majority PAC. The NRCC and DCCC didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The Democratic groups have taken the opposite approach, reallocating resources to other states and investing only minimal amounts in these seats this week.
And the party’s polling is showing some significant spreads: A DCCC-commissioned poll last week showed former Gov. Charlie Crist leading the GOP incumbent by a 50-39 percent margin in Florida’s 13th district. In New Jersey’s 5th, a DCCC survey found Democrat Josh Gottheimer beating Scott Garrett by 7 points, and in Florida’s 7th, Democrat Stephanie Murphy appears to be besting John Mica by two points.

Previous liberal investments may have helped: Overall, the Democratic challengers in these 10 districts appear to be benefiting more from the outside cash, getting a boost valued at $18.6 million compared to $14 million in backing for the GOP incumbents.

But these Republican seats aren’t the only races the GOP is fretting over: POLITICO reported that in the wake of the release of a recording of Donald Trump making lewd and aggressive comments about women, GOP groups poured $10 million into districts that historically have leaned Republican.

Rep. David Jolly

Jolly comes in as the nation’s most vulnerable incumbent member of Congress. After running initially for the Florida Senate seat, Jolly dropped out in June, when incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio (R) — his presidential hopes dashed — joined the race.

Jolly, who represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District, outraised his opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist, $3 million to $1.1 million through June 30. But the Dems made a late push to help Crist; in fact, all outside spending in the race happened after Sept. 23. House Majority PAC and the DCCC spent a combined $2 million in the past month. House Majority PAC, a super PAC formed by a former DCCC official, has spent more trying to gain this seat than all others but one, that of GOP Rep. Scott Garrett in New Jersey. The group is largely funded by prominent Democratic go-to millionaires like Newsweb’s Fred Eychaner, hedge fund manager Donald Sussman and architect Jon Stryker.

Jolly lacks equivalent establishment backing; party leaders seem to have abandoned him after he spoke out publicly against his colleagues for being obsessed with fundraising. His only outside help has been almost $300,000 spent by the super PAC People for Pinellas, which is largely funded by Miguel Fernandez, the founder of MBF Healthcare Partners.

Rep. Cresent Hardy

Hardy sits in a tight spot; his 4th Congressional District in central Nevada voted for President Obama in both 2008 and 2012. He and his opponent, Democratic State Sen. Ruben Kihuen, had raised similar amounts as of June 30. While Hardy has not yet filed his third quarter report, due this weekend, Kihuen announced that he had raised over $570,000, bringing his total up to around $1.7 million.

Hardy has benefited from $1 million more in outside group support compared with Kihuen, though: $3.4 million to $2.4 million. Most of this comes down to the two parties’ chief fundraising committees: The NRCC poured in all $3.4 million of the spending benefiting Hardy, and the DCCC ponied up $2 million to help Kihuen. 

Most of the smaller groups boosted Kihuen. The liberal pro-union Unite Here spent $240,000 to support the Democrat. And Hardy faced almost $100,000 in negative exposure by the Environmental Defense Action Fund, which doesn’t disclose its donors, while a group funded entirely by George Soros, Immigrant Voters Win, spent $75,000 to benefit the Democratic contender.

Rep. Frank Guinta

If history is to be a guide, incumbent Guinta may have trouble keeping his New Hampshire seat. He and his opponent, Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, have traded off representing the first district since 2008, with the Democrat winning in presidential years and the Republican victorious in midterm elections. The two major party candidates had raised nearly equal money as of June 30, and independent Shawn O’Connor was close on their heels (within $100,000 of Shea-Porter).

Overall, the Republican incumbent has an advantage with outside forces, with around $800,000 in support, compared to the Democratic challenger’s $93,000 in assistance. The NRCC made another late appearance, spending about $780,000 so far attacking Shea-Porter and boosting Guinta. (About $716,000 was spent in the last two weeks.) Granite Voices PAC, whose general consultant is a former executive director of the Republican State Committee, spent $48,000 against Guinta and $4,500 in support of his losing primary opponent, Richard Ashooh. On the left, Ocean Champions and the Sierra Club, both 501(c)(4) groups, pitched in $20,000 in positive messages for Shea-Porter.

Rep. Bob Dold

Dold, the incumbent in Illinois’ 10th Congressional District, has a difficult race but plenty of cash on hand; he was sitting on more than $2.2 million after the third quarter deadline, the Chicago Tribune reported. The Republican and his Democratic opponent, former Rep. Brad Schneider, each pulled in more than $1 million between July and the end of September, they told the Tribune, bringing their totals up to $4.8 million and $3.8 million, respectively. As in the New Hampshire contest, Dold and Schneider have gone back-and-forth representing the district, which covers Chicago’s northern suburbs.

The NRCC has spent $1.1 million to attack the Democratic candidate, almost all in the last three weeks, while House Majority PAC and the liberal End Citizens United PAC spent a combined $350,000 to tear down the GOP incumbent. The second largest outside force, after the NRCC, is the National Association of Realtors super PAC; it has spent $775,000 propping up Dold.

Rep. John Mica

Mica, another Floridian on the list, has served in Congress since 1993, and had outraised his Democratic challenger Stephanie Murphy about threefold as of June 30. But liberals arrived on the scene in full force: The DCCC, House Majority PAC and the pro-gun safety super PAC Americans for Responsible Solutions have supported Murphy with an additional $2 million in funds so far.

After the DCCC found Murphy besting Mica by two points, the group cooled its spending, going from $565,000 the first week in October to a big goose egg this week.

Rep. Will Hurd

First-term incumbent Hurd narrowly unseated Rep. Pete Gallego in 2014 and now faces the Democrat again for the right to represent southwestern Texas’ 23rd Congressional District. Hurd had collected a total $2.55 million by midyear, outraising Gallego by almost $1.3 million, but there has been significant outside spending in the race: The DCCC has laid out $1.6 million and the NRCC, about $1.3 million to support their candidates. The conservative PAC VIGOP has also pitched in $80,000 for Hurd, about 10 percent of all its spending this election. One the whole, outside spending picked up most in late September, when the DCCC and NRCC both disbursed more than $600,000 on the race.

The district is a volatile one. No incumbent has won reelection to the seat since 2008 and the district has had five different representatives in 10 years. Three leading elections predictors – Cook Political ReportSabato’s Crystal Ball and Rothenburg & Gonzales – have rated the race a toss-up.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo

Curbelo faces off against Democrat Joe Garcia in Florida’s 26th District, raising almost six times more than him as of June 30. Democratic leadership originally threw its support behind the former Miami Dade Democratic Chairwoman Annette Taddeo, who lost in the primary. Despite losing its preferred candidate, the DCCC has backed Garcia with $560,000 in independent expenditures and attacked Curbelo with another $1.4 million. The House Majority PAC joined in with $86,000 to help Garcia. The NRCC poured in resources of its own, tearing down Dems with $2.3 million.

In total, all outside players on the right outspent liberals, $3.1 million compared to Democrats’ $2.4 million. On the left, money flowed from the Environmental Defense Action Fund ($450,000) and Soros’ Immigrant Voters Win ($120,000). On the right, support came from American Unity PAC (funded largely by Elliott Management‘s Paul Singer) and ClearPath Action, whose largest donor is Jay Faison, founder of SnapAV.

Rep. Bruce Poliquin

While incumbent Poliquin raised $1 million more than his opponent through June 30, Emily Cain, the score evens out due to Democratic groups’ $1 million independent spending advantage compared with their counterparts on the right. Spending by House Majority PAC, the DCCC and End Citizens United backing Cain in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District has totaled $2.2 million, with the lone Republican group, the NRCC, spending $1.9 million on the other side.

While House Majority PAC went from spending $330,000 two weeks ago to zero this week, the NRCC continues to pour in funds, doubling its efforts from the first to second week in October. This is despite polls that show Poliquin leading the race by a hefty margin — though they were taken in September, which in the current climate might as well be six months ago.

Rep. Rod Blum

While Blum has had a shaky relationship with the NRCC after he voted against Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) for speaker, the group has still anted up $980,000 in outside spending against his Democratic opponent, Monica Vernon, in Iowa’s 2nd District. That’s been supplemented by a few stalwarts of the right, including the Koch Brothers’ FreedomWorks for America, the National Rifle Association and Club for Growth.

Vernon, on the other side, is receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in backing from multiple giants such as House Majority PAC, Women Vote! (EMILY’s List’s super PAC) and the DCCC. Blum has an edge of only about $20,000 with outside players, as the NRCC poured in $935,000 just this past month to try to get him over the finish line.

Rep. Scott Garrett

As of June 30, Garrett trailed his Democratic rival, Josh Gottheimer, by $1.5 million in fundraising. He’s doing even worse with outside allies: Gottheimer gained $3.5 million in backing from big establishment players and the National Association of Realtors ($1.3 million) — House Majority PAC and the DCCC have spent almost $2.1 million in total on independent expenditures. Garrett, meanwhile, has benefited from a mere $191,000 in similar spending by the anti-establishment Club for Growth and American Principles Fund, funded largely by Sean Fieler, president of Equinox Partners. He’s seen no outside spending by the NRCC.

Garrett’s distance from the NRCC shouldn’t come as a surprise: the Republican infamously refused to donate to the group because it backs gay candidates. As POLITICO reported, a number of high-spending companies, including Goldman Sachs and State Farm, have since backed out of donating to Garrett’s campaign.

Researcher Robert Maguire contributed to this post. 

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Liberal big money is pouring into elections

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Climate change activist Tom Steyer is the top megadonor of the 2016 cycle so far. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli,File)

Climate change activist Tom Steyer is the top megadonor of the 2016 cycle so far. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli,File)

If you think campaign finance is just a right-wing billionaires’ spending spree, take another look. Liberal money has been pouring into federal elections in recent years.

In 2012, when post-Citizen United money started flowing in earnest, wealthy Republicans took the leading roles. The number of individuals making contributions of $1 million or more grew from 16 in 2010 to 108 in 2012. That year, 69 percent of the $380 million coming from the top 100 individual donors was conservative money.

This election, liberal benefactors have worked to close the gap. So far this cycle, about 40 percent of the $558 million provided by the top 100 donors has come from Democrats.

In fact, seven of the 10 biggest donors this cycle are liberal, with the top slot occupied by climate change activist Tom Steyer. The San Francisco billionaire has spent a total of about $39 million so far, with most of it going to his own super PAC, NextGen Climate Action. NextGen, in turn, has spent more than $4.5 million opposing GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Now, don’t get us wrong: Most of the big money goes to outside groups like super PACs, and conservative groups are outspending liberal ones by almost two-to-one. But individual liberal donors come close to holding their own versus conservative ones in the upper reaches of those who have given most.

More from Dems or less from Republicans?

While liberal megadonors have gained ground this cycle over the last presidential election, the 2014 midterms saw them actually out in front: 61.5 percent of funds from the 100 biggest individual donors came from liberals; conservatives on the list gave just $112 million, roughly, of the $303 million total.

Top100megadonors

Current top donor Tom Steyer has been making small contributions since the early 1990s, but he wasn’t close to making the top donors roster until 2014, when he forked over $75 million. That was twice as much as second-place donor Michael Bloomberg, even though the New York news mogul had doubled his outlays from $14 million in 2012 to $28.5 million — most of which went to his super PAC, Independence USA PAC. And it was almost seven times the sum given by the biggest conservative megadonor, Paul Singer.

Campaign Finance Institute Executive Director Michael Malbin said top liberal donors may have arrived on the scene more slowly because they took more time to learn how to exploit the new landscape and build their own full-blown political staffs. Unlike Steyer and Bloomberg, who were using their own super PACs, conservative donors were giving to large existing outside spending groups such as American Crossroads in 2012.

Public Citizen lobbyist Craig Holman said another factor was the “Obama Phenomenon,” which allowed Democrats to avoid relying on large scale donations in 2012.

“Obama excelled at candidate fundraising,” Holman said. “Though he also made use of super PACs — where megadonors contribute — most of his money came in direct and limited candidate contributions. Super PACs were not the chief fundraising vehicles for Democrats until 2014.”

In a marked difference with then-GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s campaign, 43 percent of President Barack Obama’s $540 million in individual contributions came from donations of $200 or less in 2012.

Big liberal donations seem to have accelerated even more this cycle.

New York financier Donald Sussman, long a source of largess in Democratic politics, had only given $1.6 million by the end of the 2012 cycle, but has already spent about $26 million so far this cycle. Most of that has gone to Priorities USA Action in support of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Money from liberal megadonors may be on the rise this cycle “because they are aghast at the thought of a Trump presidency and are putting their money where there brains and hearts are,” said Miriam Galston, a law professor at George Washington University.

That’s what has brought Hungarian-born investor George Soros out of his self-imposed dormancy as a big donor since his vigorous, but unsuccessful, 2004 effort against former President George W. Bush. Soros had said Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz are “doing the work of ISIS.” 

This cycle to date, he has given $17 million, mainly to Priorities USA Action and to House Majority PAC.

So where are the conservative megadonors?

Republicans lost two of their biggest donors in 2013. Texas homebuilder Bob J. Perry and a fellow Texan, Harold Simmons, gave a combined $50 million in the last presidential election cycle, mostly to conservative outside groups such as American Crossroads and Restore Our Future (the pro-Romney super PAC) in 2012. But both passed away the next year.

Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is still around, but he has been relatively quiet until now.

In the 2012 cycle, Adelson dumped a total of $93 million into the system, making him by far the single biggest individual donor.

The GOP billionaire wrote several $5 million checks to Winning our Future, a super PAC backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich‘s presidential bid. When Gingrich dropped out of the race, Adelson quickly shifted gears and continued funding Restore our Future and American Crossroads.

This year, he halted at a mere $1.7 million until summer, when he and his wife Miriam each gave $10 million to the Senate Leadership Fund to back Republican Senate candidates.

Adelson has recently committed to giving more than $40 million by the end of this cycle to super PACs supporting congressional bids. And two GOP operatives told the Guardian that Adelson had given $10 million to a 501(c)(4) group called One Nation this year, though the group has not confirmed that. The “social welfare” organization isn’t required to disclose its donors.

That group is the successor to Crossroads GPS, a dark money outfit masterminded by GOP operative Karl Rove that was very active in previous election cycles but faded as it became mired in a long battle with the IRS. One Nation has already spent at least $25 million on broadcast time this cycle, according to an analysis of FCC political ad buy records, but FEC data shows only about $1.5 million in expenditures by the group because its spending prior to early September didn’t have to be reported to the agency.

One Nation and other 501(c) groups demonstrate a major caveat to any list of top donors: Unless there’s a leak, there’s no way to know whether individuals are giving heavily to nondisclosing groups.

Adelson appears finally to be coming off the sidelines in the presidential contest, though: He has recently pledged at least $25 million to a pro-Trump dark money group, 45Committee, and an associated super PAC, Future45, according to Politico. The groups are run by Todd Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs and has a history of big Republican donations; he’s urging other Republicans to fall in line. According to CNN, a Ricketts family insider said the family now has $35 million in the bank thanks to Adelson and is planning on boosting the number up to $70 million exclusively for the presidential bid.

“There is a substantial appetite for a nondisclosing vehicle, because it’s embarrassing to support Trump,” a GOP finance insider told Politico. “There are more donors who are willing to support Donald anonymously than with their names on it.”

Ironically, earlier in the year, the Ricketts family helped lead the #NeverTrump movement, giving millions to Our Principles PAC in an effort to stop the combative billionaire from winning the Republican nomination. And they weren’t alone in not supporting Trump — which makes this cycle far different from 2012, when the biggest conservative spenders almost unanimously funneled the majority of their dollars to super PACs of similar purpose, American Crossroads and Restore Our Future, to attack President Obama and support Romney.

Another big donor to Our Principles? New York hedge funder Singer, who had spent $3.7 million, mostly on congressional elections, by the end of 2012; he has spent about $19.7 million already in 2015-16.

Earlier this year, Singer gave $5 million to Conservative Solutions PAC in support of former Republican candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and $2.5 million to Our Principles PAC, attacking Trump.

Singer still has not joined the Trump bandwagon. Since the Republican primaries ended, he’s been focusing entirely on congressional bids, records show.

One of the few Republican top contributors who declared relatively early for the GOP nominee is another hedge fund manager, Robert Mercer. As the biggest conservative donor this cycle, Mercer has given $22.6 million so far, more than three times the $6 million he invested four years ago.

He began 2015 by dumping $11 million into an outside group backing Cruz called Keep the Promise I and then focused mainly on funding down-ticket races until after the super PAC refurbished itself as Make America Number 1 in late June 2016. The New Yorker has since given additional $2 million to the super PAC aiming to “defeat crooked Hillary.

Mercer’s daughter Rebekah Mercer has been running the anti-Hillary group since September.

Doug Weber and Alex Baumgart contributed to this post.

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Trump’s tax losses, and the political power of real estate

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event in the atrium of the Old Post Office Pavilion, soon to be a Trump International Hotel, Monday, March 21, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at a campaign event in the atrium of Washington, D.C.’s Old Post Office Pavilion, now a Trump International Hotel. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The possibility that Donald Trump avoided paying income tax for nearly two decades has stirred debate about how, exactly, he managed to report almost $1 billion in net operating losses on his 1995 tax return. It has also triggered buzz about the copious benefits available to the real estate industry in our tax code.

The exact provisions that Trump and his tax lawyers exploited aren’t clear, because only three pages of the return were leaked to The New York Times — not the full document. (Trump, in a break with the pattern of presidential nominees for four decades, has refused to release his tax returns.)

But real estate development firms on average only pay about 1 percent of their income in taxes, according to data from Aswath Damodaran, a New York University professor of finance. To put into context, the average of all industries in his data (that include oil and gas, restaurants, mining and many more) is about 11 percent.

How can that be? There are a handful of perks the industry takes advantage of: For one, real estate firms are usually created as pass-through businesses as opposed to more traditional “C” corporations, so profits and tax losses are passed through to owners’ personal returns. This way, the losses can limit or cancel out taxes owed on other kinds of income. So Trump could use his losses to offset taxes owed on other types of income he brought in from his agglomeration of businesses (part of a 1993 provision pushed by the real estate industry) and carry them forward to use against income in future years.

Real estate developers in general benefit from more tax breaks than the average taxpayer. For instance, some can count losses that impacted creditors in addition to personal losses. It’s possible that Trump’s $916 million in losses included money loaned to him. Developers can also deduct depreciation of their properties over the course of a few decades, even though real estate typically gains value over time.

Investing in Washington: A good bet

Attempting to limit these kinds of lucrative real estate tax breaks and benefits is an uphill battle, to say the least.

That has a lot to do with the industry’s sway in Washington. Real estate interests have contributed more than $1.1 billion to campaigns, parties and outside groups since 1990, including $143 million in this election so far. Compared to other donor industries categorized by the Center for Responsive Politics, real estate has ranked in the top five out of 80 or so for almost 30 years.

“The potential tax benefits can far outstrip the expense” of making campaign contributions, said Matthew Gardner, executive director of the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. “It’s an incredibly good investment. We all know very well that a million dollar political investment can yield a much larger tax break.”

Trump himself lobbied to have tax breaks for the industry restored after they were stripped out in a huge overhaul of the code in 1986 that was inspired by outrage over the rampant use of tax shelters. In a 1993 bill signed by then-President Clinton, real estate interests got much of what they wanted.

The tax code keeps the industry churning, and lawmakers who most directly oversee that bible get a lot of love from the developers, brokers, agents and others who benefit from it. The industry ranked fourth — behind behind insurance, health professionals and securities and investment, or Wall Street — in contributions to members of the House Ways and Means Committee and their leadership PACs through June 30 of the 2016 cycle, at more than $2.8 million. In 2014, they gave $3.7 million. The equivalent body in the Senate, the Finance Committee, has received $5.5 million from real estate through the same date, more than the industry has given to any other Senate committee. Two years earlier, the committee received $3.7 million.

Among the industry’s many friends on the tax-writing committees, though, former Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who retired in 2015, was not in the top tier — despite being chair of the Ways and Means panel. In the 2012 election, the last one in which he ran, Camp received about $114,000 from real estate, not breaking the top 20 recipients of the industry’s cash that cycle. For comparison with other members of the committee, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) got $353,000, Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.) received $259,000 and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) took in $170,000.

The feeling seemed to be mutual. As one of his final acts as head of Ways and Means, Camp released a Tax Reform Act of 2014; the overhaul would have lengthened depreciation timelines and repealed tax loopholes that could allow developers to defer capital gains taxes indefinitely, among other provisions.

“Many stakeholders in the real estate community, including NAR, viewed these proposals as a significant threat, even though there was little chance of the bills advancing in the near-term,” said an NAR statement posted on its website.

The bill also took aim at the sacrosanct home mortgage interest deduction that allows individuals to deduct interest on mortgages of less than $1 million. The Obama administration has also proposed limiting the deduction in its budget plans.

Camp’s move was a symbolic one, though; he knew he’d be gone soon and the bill would go nowhere — and he was goring too many of Congress’ cash cows.

Overall, the industry has given marginally more to Republicans since 1996, but in the last presidential election, the Republican nominee blew President Obama away: Mitt Romney‘s $15.4 million from real estate interests was nearly triple Obama’s $5.7 million.

Then there’s the lobbying piece of the picture: Real estate interests spend tens of millions influencing government officials each year, peaking at $95 million in 2014.

The National Association of Realtors is the industry’s single largest spender on lobbying; it has laid out almost half of the $41 million these interests have poured into lobbying in the first half of this year. (Worth noting: the NAR, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce but unlike many other corporations or trade groups, includes state and local lobbying activities in its figures.)

realestate

And taxes are high on the industry’s agenda. Since 1998, real estate lobbying reports have mentioned tax bills 2,876 times, the second highest total after housing bills.

Not all of this lobbying on taxes rewards only high-rolling developers and real estate financiers. The industry has lobbied in support of the first time homeowners’ credit and extending tax relief for mortgage debt forgiveness, meant to help homeowners whose mortgages are underwater due to the housing crisis. But many groups do address the advantages we mentioned earlier. On the NAR’s website, the trade group outlines its stance on several key federal tax issues. In many cases, the materials explain that there’s no clear and present danger to the industry’s current benefits, but stress the crucial need to tell lawmakers about their usefulness in case of a tax overhaul.

The trade group also monitors “closely” and pushes back against any attempts to tinker with the mortgage interest tax deduction, saying it’s a “remarkably effective tool that facilitates homeownership.”

“It’s totally credible that these guys would be doing preventative lobbying just to try to stamp out any possibility of a threat,” Gardner said. “You’re certainly not going to wait for a threat to emerge.”

Lobbying isn’t limited to Congress: The real estate industry has listed the Treasury Department and the IRS 30 times on lobbying reports in the past four years. Industry interests weighed in strongly when the two agencies released proposed rules in 2014 to basically shut down leveraged partnerships, which would impact real estate; current rules allow tax-free transfers of property from individuals to partnerships.

Presidential tax plans

Real estate PACs and those who work in the industry have given almost $10 million to Hillary Clinton and her outside allies and $3.2 million to Donald Trump and his supporting groups — surprising, given that Trump is in the field himself, but he got a very late fundraising start.

(Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who dropped out of the race months ago, actually tops the list at $14.6 million due to contributions from two wealthy Texans to one of the super PACs supporting him; Faris and Dan Wilks made a fortune selling equipment to the fracking industry, and then went on a land-buying spree in Idaho, Montana and elsewhere.)

Clinton’s largest real estate donor is Jon Stryker, a liberal megadonor and president of Depot Landmark LLC, a Michigan-based real estate development company. Stryker gave $2 million to Priorities USA, the pro-Clinton super PAC.

Trump’s top industry donors are controversial Los Angeles developer Geoff Palmer, with $2 million to the Trump-backing super PAC Rebuilding America Now; and Kushner Companies, whose CEO, Jared Kushner, is Trump’s son-in-law, with $100,000.

The National Association of Realtors gave a mere $11,000 to Clinton and $250 to Trump.

The candidates’ tax plans both would impact the industry, touching on issues that have cropped up on NAR lobbying reports.

The first involves transactions called “like-kind exchanges.” Currently, developers can defer paying taxes on profits made on the sale of a property if they buy another similar property, using what are sometimes called “1031 exchanges” for the 1920s-era section of the tax code that created them. While other industries can use them too, such as art investors, it’s not available to your typical investor – such as someone trading stocks or bonds. 

Clinton would limit these tax breaks.

“The benefit was originally intended for small farmers, or others who are trading in or upgrading property or livestock but may not have the fiscal ability to pay taxes on their property at that time,” said Hunter Blair, a budget analyst at the Economic Policy Institute.

But they have become mightily important to real estate interests. “Any tax reform plan repealing like-kind exchanges would hurt investors and small businesses, increase financial leverage, weaken growth and the economy, and result in the loss of jobs,” said NAR president Chris Polychron in a press release.

Clinton would also close the related loophole known as “step-up basis.” Say you bought a house for $10,000, it appreciated to $100,000, and you passed away, leaving it to an heir. If you had sold the house before you died, you would have had to pay capital gains on that $90,000 profit. But  when your heir gets his hands on the property, under current law the value basis is reset to $100,000, and nobody pays that capital gains tax. 

Trump would end the use of step-up basis above $10 million. On the other hand, he’d eliminate the federal estate tax. Currently, only estates valued at less than $5.45 million (the 2016 level — double for married couples) can pass tax-free to heirs. Raising or eliminating the cap would be a boon to those holding many millions, or billions, in property.

“Ending that is pretty good for the industry,” Blair said.

Overall, Clinton’s plan overwhelming gets its revenue from the top one percent of taxpayers, and the bottom 95 percent would see little if any change, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Trump’s plan gives the biggest breaks to the top one percent, giving that bracket 44 percent of the tax cut, while the bottom 80 percent get a 27 percent share of the cuts, according to an analysis from the liberal Citizens for Tax Justice

NAR declined to comment to OpenSecrets Blog on either of the tax plans. But the organization is always vigilant, putting out regular briefs outlining provisions of concern that may or may not be on the front burner in Washington. One from last year, for example, warned the trade group’s members that while “no viable comprehensive tax reform legislation has been introduced…leaders of the tax committees have begun discussions on the outline of tax reform” and that legislators needed to be educated on their “vital roles.”

Vía OpenSecrets Blog http://ift.tt/2dG96yM

FEC challenged again to find coordination in current campaigns

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Donald Trump, left, reacts to the crowd as he shakes hands with co-host David Bossie at the Freedom Summit, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

David Bossie, shown last year with Donald Trump, cycled quickly from running a pro-Trump super PAC to being the GOP nominee’s deputy campaign manager — too quickly, says a watchdog group. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

New allegations that a pro-Hillary Clinton outside spending group and two that are backing Donald Trump have illegally coordinated with the candidates’ campaigns are refocusing attention on a concept that regulators have never quite nailed down.

In a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission today, the Campaign Legal Center contends that the pro-Clinton group, Correct the Record, was off base when it announced that coordination rules don’t apply to its work because it provides free online content, rather than producing and placing ads with TV stations. CLC argues that because the content is produced by professionals, rather than by volunteers, the group is misapplying a narrow 2006 FEC regulation.

The pro-Trump super PACs named in a second complaint are Rebuilding America Now and Make America Number 1. Rebuilding America Now was formed by two top Trump staffers almost immediately after they left Trump’s campaign — ignoring the FEC’s 120-day cooling-off period intended to keep former staffers from carrying their knowledge elsewhere.

Make America Number 1 was the former home of Trump’s now-campaign manager and deputy campaign manager — in fact, they ran the outside spending organization. According to news reports, they were hired by the campaign thanks to Rebekah Mercer, chair of the group. Also, the group and the campaign use the same data analytics firm — which is owned by the Mercer family.

Together, the three groups have reported spending more than $20 million — $6.2 million by Correct the Record, $14 million by Rebuilding America Now, and more than $1 million by Make America Number 1 since June, after its original beneficiary, Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, had dropped out of the race. (The super PAC spent more than $13 million prior to that.)

Said Larry Noble, general counsel of CLC, “We have been forced to file these complaints because a dysfunctional FEC has been sitting idly by as the campaigns of the presidential candidates of both major parties are involved in unprecedented coordination with super PACs in violation of the law.”

And while the FEC’s six commissioners have been stuck in a bitter standoff over many issues, coordination is one of the trickiest.

It’s central to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United majority opinion, which opened up a flood of unlimited outside money under the theory that independent groups’ spending in elections should be upheld as freedom of expression.

“By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy. “The separation alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments from the candidate.”

But what sounded black-and-white in a court opinion has proven to be anything but. Coordination remains a fuzzy area, thanks in no small part to the FEC’s inability to tackle it head on.

The rules

Even before Citizens United, coordination was an issue. After a good bit of wrestling with it, the FEC in 2007 approved a set of guidelines for determining whether coordination has occurred. First, an ad has to be paid for by someone other than a candidate, the candidate’s campaign committee or a political party committee. The ad also has to meet certain broad timing and content conditions.

But it’s the last part of the test, which looks at interactions between the ad’s sponsor or funder and the candidate’s campaign, that is key to finding legally impermissible coordination, and it has proved a tough hurdle.

If an ad is created or distributed at the request or suggestion of a candidate or her staff, it can accordingly be considered a coordinated communication.That’s perhaps the action that is most clearly verboten.

Other wording in the test, though, is more vague, referring to, for instance, a campaign being “materially involved” in various aspects of the production or placement of the ad, or whether there were “substantial discussions” between the outside spending group and the candidate’s committee prior to the ad running. A vendor shared by a campaign and an outside group doesn’t necessarily violate the coordination ban, depending on timing and, more importantly, what information was shared.

The various ambiguities and loopholes in the guidelines make for a “weak, weak definition of coordination,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, which favors an overhaul of the campaign finance system.

According to Holman, the vendor provision is particularly elastic. A campaign and an outside group can simply deny that they are sharing any information through a common vendor. An ad consultant can plan out all campaign strategies with a candidate and her staff well in advance and move over to launch a super PAC or a 501(c) group after a “cooling-off period” of 120 days with all the necessary information in hand.

Several campaigns have found this to be an extremely easy and effective way to go around the FEC rules and receive unlimited financial support from super PACs and dark money nonprofits.

DC Appeals Court ruled the FEC regulations ambiguous in 2012 and the DC District Court ordered the Commission to change the language to close loopholes in 2014. But instead of amending the rules, the federal agency has been dithering and blowing past deadlines. The appellate court reversed the 2014 district court decision earlier this year and concluded the rules are consistent and valid, but reiterated the previous direction for the agency to “fill in the statutory gaps.”

Lashing with a wet noodle

“The FEC receives scores of complaints alleging coordinated communications every election cycle, but [the commissioners] hardly ever pursue any of them,” Holman said.

The agency conducted just three investigations into alleged coordination between a campaign committee and an individual or organization making independent expenditures from 1999 through 2011, according to a review of the agency’s enforcement actions by the Center for Public Integrity. (More recent figures were not available.)

In 2006, the Club for Growth filed a complaint against former Michigan Rep. Joe Schwarz’s campaign for illegally coordinating with the Republican Main Street Partnership PAC to secure his seat.

The FEC ruled in 2009 that the case met the test: The group paid for the ad, which called for voters to “support Congressman Joe Schwarz, the Congressman with a real Republican record.” Most importantly, according to emails uncovered in the agency’s investigation, Schwarz’s campaign director not only asked the PAC to run radio ads but also suggested which stations they should target.

Schwarz and the PAC each paid fines of $2,500.

Three other complaints alleging coordinated communications reviewed by the FEC the same year were closed without even being investigated.

In one of them, former Minnesota Sen. Norman Coleman was accused of cozying up with the conservative 501(c) nonprofit U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But the case died because sufficient time had passed between the employment of a shared vendor, Jeff Larson, by the Chamber and the campaign.

In a more high-profile case in 2004, John Kerry’s campaign, liberal PAC MoveOn and a community website, Fan the Vote, dedicated to raising funds for Kerry in exchange of goods and services, were accused of improper linkage.

But the agency’s general counsel’s office didn’t find any evidence of Kerry’s campaign representative sharing information with the independent groups.

“Many congressional candidates, and I would say all presidential candidates, coordinate with outside groups in one way or another,” Holman said. “It’s a very common routine.”

In 2011, right-wing super PAC American Crossroads even explicitly asked the FEC to if candidates could appear in the group’s ads. The commissioners deadlocked by 3-3 and took no action.

Deadlocks are no news for the FEC. The deeply partisan split on the federal agency has prevented it from fulfilling one of its biggest missions: enforcing its own rules.

According to a Public Citizen report published in July, the number of split votes has jumped from 0.9 percent to 21 percent in the last decade. This year alone, 209 cases have been abandoned without any conclusion.

It was the Justice Department rather than the FEC that brought a case against a former Virginia campaign consultant; in June 2015, he became the first to be criminally convicted of illegal coordination between a federal campaign and an outside group.

Tyler Harber, who managed the unsuccessful 2012 campaign of Virginia Republican congressional candidate Chris Perkins, was operating a super PAC, National Republican Victory Fund at the same time. Justice took the position that Harber’s $325,000 ad buy on Perkins’ behalf with the outside group’s money was an obvious case of coordinated communication.

Harber pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 24 months in prison. “The significant prison sentence imposed on Tyler Harber should cause other political operatives to think twice about circumventing laws that promote transparency in federal elections,” said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell.

One of the latest coordination complaints came from Maryland Democratic Rep. John Delaney last month.

Delaney, who is running to secure his third term in Montgomery County filed a complaint against his Republican challenger Amie Hoeber, claiming that her super PAC Maryland USA has illegally coordinated with the campaign. Almost the entire $1.6 million Maryland USA spent in support of Hoeber came from her own husband, Mark Epstein, except for $1,000.

The Baltimore Sun reported that Epstein had been listed as an assistant treasurer for Hoeber’s campaign, but his name was removed shortly before the super PAC started spending.

 

Vía OpenSecrets Blog http://ift.tt/2dOsfOc

New role for Trump adviser and former lawmaker: lobbyist for Syrian opposition

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Former U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston speaks during a press conference Monday, Sept. 14, 2015, at Tybee Island to mark the beginning of the outer harbor deepening in Savannah. Dredging the outer harbor is the first step in deepening the entire 40-mile shipping channel in Savannah. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News via AP)

Former GOP Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, a Trump senior adviser, is now lobbying for the Syrian opposition coalition. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News via AP)

Paperwork filed this week indicates that current Donald Trump campaign senior adviser and former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), now of lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs, has become a registered lobbyist for the High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian Opposition.

The committee leads a wide coalition of groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but excludes two of the region’s most prominent militant groups, the Islamic State and al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front. Last month, the High Negotiations Committee, which receives Saudi support, negotiated the recent short-lived ceasefire with Assad’s forces.

While the registration itself is hardly groundbreaking given the revolving door between Congress and K Street, Kingston’s position as a Trump surrogate is noteworthy, if only because the Republican nominee’s policy on Syria has been so sparse thus far. Trump has thus far focused his Syrian strategy on bombing ISIS, though his partner on the presidential ticket, Gov. Mike Pence, articulated a need to “be prepared to use military force to strike the military forces of the Assad regime” during Tuesday’s vice presidential debate. “Provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength,” he said.

Russia, which has aligned itself with Assad’s regime, recently stepped up its joint bombing campaign on opposition-held areas, including Aleppo, leading the United States to withdraw from tortured peace negotiations. Given Trump’s praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pence’s comments opposing Russian military action in Syria struck a note of discord.

But Trumpworld has always had a complicated relationship with Russia. As OpenSecrets Blog recently reported, a Russian-born oil magnate gave more $150,000 to Trump’s campaign and joint fundraising committee, and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s business dealings with pro-Russian Ukrainian leaders have been well established.

Kingston’s lobbying registration represents a new twist in the Trump-Russia-Syria matrix, one that seems to comport more closely with the stance Pence took in the vice presidential debate. More broadly, however, the news is yet one more manifestation of the ability of former elected officials to continue to influence Washington, moving fluidly between the lobbying and campaign worlds.

Vía OpenSecrets Blog http://ift.tt/2e37MbO

Pence, Kaine share long histories in the fundraising trenches

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FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2016 file photo, Republican vice presidential candidate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks in Des Moines, Iowa. With the first presidential debate complete and its spin cycle nearly over, the two understudies are getting ready to take the main stage. The vice presidential debate on Oct. 4, will be the only time Pence and Democrat Tim Kaine will have the nation’s attention all to themselves, away from their much more well-known running mates. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Mike Pence of Indiana has raised funds for six House races and two gubernatorial campaigns, the second of which was aborted when he was added to the GOP’s presidential ticket.  (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Though divided ideologically, Indiana’s Republican Gov. Mike Pence and Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia have traced similar paths through state and federal politics on their way to being nominated for vice president. Both have served in Congress and as governors, and now hope to assume the government’s second-from-the-top job.

Though they may not discuss it tonight during the campaign’s only vice presidential debate, their common ground extends to fundraising, too — at least in broad strokes. The two have relied on lawyers, Wall Street types and a handful of other well-heeled individuals to raise the copious sums they’ve needed for their past campaigns.

A Hoosier’s hunt for cash

Mike Pence, tonight’s surrogate for GOP White House nominee Donald Trump, was elected to the House six times, collecting $1.1 million for his first run in 2000 and almost $2.7 million for his final contest; his 12-year haul came to more than $10.3 million.

After retirees, who contributed $716,789 to Pence’s congressional campaigns and leadership PAC (it’s not unusual for seniors to be No. 1 on any candidate’s list of top donors), the securities and investment industry — aka Wall Street — was his most generous industry, kicking in $376,311. Lawyers and law firms were third, providing $337,914.

The governor’s top donors fall outside those industries, however. The conservative Club for Growth donated $90,762 to Pence’s congressional campaigns through its PAC and earmarked contributions from individuals. Cummins Inc, an engine manufacturer, and Eli Lilly & Co, a pharmaceutical company, round out Pence’s top three campaign contributors. Employees and PACs of these Indiana-based corporations gave $78,500 and $64,350, respectively.

When Pence ran for governor of Indiana in 2012, he raised more than $14.8 million — including $425,000 from the late Dean White, a billionaire businessman from the state; that made White Pence’s top individual donor that year. Big shots of party cash came via the Republican Governors Association and the Indiana Republican Party, which gave $1.1 million and $811,504, respectively.

Pence also picked up $220,000 and $200,000 contributions from conservative bigwigs like Texas homebuilder Bob Perry, who passed away in 2013, and billionaire industrialist David Koch.

After joining the presidential ticket in July, Pence dropped his 2016 re-election bid, having already raised more than $16.1 million. The RGA, Pence’s top funder in 2012, had contributed more than $3 million, and the governor also collected $300,634 from Anthony Moravec, the CEO of Columbus-based Applied Laboratories, Inc., and another $100,000 from David Koch. White, who died in September, also contributed $350,000 to Pence’s 2016 reelection effort.

Trump and the governor will be unable to cultivate much hedge fund or private equity industry cash in 2016 — at least not directly. That’s because the SEC’s so-called pay-to-play rule, implemented in 2010, caps the amount “SEC registered hedge fund advisers” can contribute to sitting state or local officials at $250-$350. Designed to prevent bankers and politicians from exchanging campaign contributions for the lucrative right to manage state pension funds, the rule triggered a Goldman Sachs memo banning certain categories of employees from donating to campaigns that feature a sitting state or local official. The Trump-Pence ticket is specifically listed as an example of a campaign to which employees may not contribute. Are there workarounds? Sure, including gifts to the Republican party.

Pence’s personal finances are less robust than his campaign coffers. His net worth in 2012 was estimated at $211,511. New documents are no more revealing: Pence’s 2016 financial disclosure form reports his $173,860 gubernatorial salary and lists student loans for his children’s education as his only liabilities.

Multiple Kaine candidacies required millions

Tim Kaine has moved relatively quickly between jobs over his political career. He was mayor of Richmond, lieutenant governor and then governor of Virginia, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and finally U.S. senator, the position he still holds, in a span of 18 years.

FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2016, file photo, Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., speaks in Wilmington, N.C. With the first presidential debate complete and its spin cycle nearly over, the two understudies are getting ready to take the main stage. The vice presidential debate on Oct. 4, 2016, will be the only time Republican Mike Pence and Kaine will have the nation’s attention all to themselves, away from their much more well-known running mates. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia has had to raise money to run for mayor of Richmond, lieutenant governor and governor, and senator — and a huge part of his job at the DNC involved harvesting cash for his party. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

For his 2001 lieutenant governor’s race, Kaine raised almost $2.4 million, according to National Institute on Money in State Politics records. At the top, his haul included $50,000 from the DNC and $40,000 from Virginia real estate magnate Gerald Halpin.

When Kaine ran for governor in 2005, he ratcheted up his fundraising efforts, collecting more than $18 million over the course of the cycle. Like Pence, he benefited from hefty cash infusions from the party, including $1.5 million from the DNC and $685,242 from the Virginia Democratic Party. Kaine also earned $662,964 in unitemized (small) donations and did well with unions, too: the SEIU, Laborers Local 980, Virginia AFL-CIO and IBEW each kicked in six-figure contributions.

Among individuals backing Kaine, billionaire Sheila Johnson, who cofounded Black Entertainment Television and now heads Salamander Hotels and Resorts, made six donations worth a total $392,490 that year. Cisco Systems cofounder Sandy Lerner and real estate developer B. Mark Fried each gave Kaine more than $175,000.

After leaving Richmond and serving as the chairman of the DNC (where corralling cash was a major part of the job), Kaine ran in 2012 for the Senate seat fellow Democrat Jim Webb announced he would be vacating. Kaine ultimately outraised Republican former Sen. George Allen in the general election, pulling in $18 million to his opponent’s $14.5 million.

Over the course of his Senate career, Kaine has raised the most cash from lawyers and affiliated PACs, taking in more than $2.7 million. Like Pence, he has benefited from heavy support from retirees, who have given the senator more than $2.1 million. Employees and PACs in the securities and investment industry come in at No. 3 on Kaine’s list, having contributed almost $1.1 million.

Kaine’s top contributor has been JStreetPAC, a liberal pro-Israel group, leads the way. The PAC and individuals earmarking gifts to Kaine through it have provided him with $178,283 during his Senate run and since. Running just behind is the League of Conservation Voters, which also passed along gifts marked for Kaine; it provided $177,129. Employees of Covington & Burling, a D.C.-based law firm, gave more than $100,000.

Kaine’s net worth, estimated to be roughly $1.45 million in 2014, was far below the Senate average of $10.2 million. The senator’s single outstanding liability then was a 15-year mortgage, and his financial reports list his board memberships at the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation and the US-Spain Council. Kaine’s income tax returns, released in August, show that he and his wife, former Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton, together earned $313,441 last year.

While Kaine was lieutenant governor and then governor, he also accepted more than $160,000 worth of gifts, including vacation lodging, clothes and airfare, Politico reported. While the gifts were properly disclosed and legally permissible under Virginia law, the state’s in-kind donation laws recently came into the spotlight when the U.S. Supreme Court in June unanimously overturned former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) ethics conviction, which stemmed from undisclosed gifts and charges of quid-pro-quo corruption.

Pence and Kaine face off at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., tonight at 9 p.m. ET.

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Donald Trump’s fractional fundraising

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FILE - This March 3, 2016, file photo, 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney weighs in on the Republican presidential race during a speech at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City. The Pew Research Center survey found that just under half of Mormon registered voters, 48 percent, describe themselves as Republican this year. That's down from 61 percent four years ago when Romney was the party's presidential nominee. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Mitt Romney weighs in on the Republican presidential race last spring. Donald Trump has outraised Romney in just three of 93 industries tracked by OpenSecrets.org, according to data going through the end of August 2016 for Trump and the same time four years earlier for the previous GOP nominee. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Donald Trump and Mitt Romney may not have much in common, and the 2012 GOP presidential nominee has made no bones about his visceral dislike of the pugilistic businessman who is carrying his party’s banner this time around. When it comes to campaign fundraising, though, there’s a lot of overlap in their pools of donors.

Through August, Trump’s donors this cycle and Romney’s four years ago came from many of the same interest groups. Their campaigns both counted the real estate industry, health professionals and lawyers among their top five donor industries, and retirees were No. 1 for each of them.

The difference is that Trump has raised just a fraction of Romney’s take from each industry, and lags far behind his predecessor in overall fundraising.

Retirees normally are at or near the top of candidates’ donor lists. America’s retired people are campaign finance juggernauts: They contributed more than any other group to both Romney and President Barack Obama in 2012, giving a total $126.6 million to presidential candidates over the course of the cycle.

Still, while they’re tops on Trump’s roster, by the end of August they’d given only $14.5 million, less than half the $36.1 million they had donated to Romney at the same point in 2012. Hillary Clinton, this year’s Democratic nominee, had raised around $45.2 million from seniors as September began, more than either Romney or Trump — although retirees rank second, not first, among her leading donor industries.

Wall Street ranked second for Romney; for Trump, it ranked only seventh. By the end of August 2012, Romney’s campaign had pulled in more than $18.7 million from the securities and investment industry, while Trump’s had raised a breathtakingly small amount from the normally high-rolling employees and PACs in the field in the same time frame this cycle: just $541,780.

Clinton had received more than $7.2 million in Wall Street funds.

For Trump, employees and PACs in our miscellaneous business category — chemicals, textiles, retail, restaurants and a hodgepodge of other enterprises — gave Trump his second-highest yield, roughly $1.5 million. While the industry came in only seventh on his list, Romney had raised $4.85 million from its members.

While Trump is perhaps best known as a real estate magnate, even employees and PACs in that industry weren’t as generous to Trump through August as they had been to Romney. The 2016 nominee has collected more than $1.5 million from that interest area, while Romney had taken in a full $10.7 million by the same point.

Rounding out the top five for both candidates were contributions from health professionals and lawyers, plus their related PACs, but again, Trump’s numbers pale: $1.1 million and $635,000, respectively, compared with Romney’s $6.6 million and $9.5 million.

Overall, in fact, there were only three industries — out of the 93 used by CRP to classify contributions — that have given Trump more than they gave Romney through August. But the three — industrial unions, transportation unions and miscellaneous unions — provided mere pocket change to each candidate, combining to give Trump $4,829 and Romney $500.

Trump has been far more successful raising money from individuals than from political action committees. In fact, only a handful of corporate PACs have shared their funds with him: Taco Bell’s TACO PAC; IHOP’s Pancake PAC; the PAC of Salem Media, a chain of Christian radio stations; the Ohio Coal Association’s PAC; and the PACs of oil and gas firm Continental Resources and Nexstar Media.

Trump’s overall numbers are low in part because he didn’t really start a concerted fundraising push until this summer; before that he said he was “self-funding” his campaign. And Kyle Kondik, managing editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a University of Virginia election forecasting outlet, noted that Trump’s efforts have generally skewed toward small-dollar donors.

“Trump’s small-dollar fundraising has actually been pretty decent,” he said. “Some of the big money people aren’t as excited about him.” In fact, about twice as much of Trump’s total haul from individuals has come from small ($200 and under) donors as from larger ones. The FEC doesn’t require candidates to release detailed information — name, address, employer and so on — about these donors to the public, so we can’t sort them by industry. Overall, 29 percent of his cash has come from small donors, compared with 19 percent of Clinton’s.

The Republican’s campaign said it raised $18 million on Tuesday, the day after the first presidential debate; but while some of that no doubt came from small donors, the campaign also had a “National Call Day” in which big donors were asked to come to Trump Tower and call their dearest friends and associates to hit them up for larger sums.

Trump has raised more than Clinton in just a handful of industries thus far. Predictably, he had taken more from Republican/conservative and gun rights interests, earning $529,797 and $180,204 more than the Democrat, respectively. He also holds the lead in contributions from those working in mining, building equipment and materials, poultry and eggs, trucking and a category we call “miscellaneous agriculture,” into which we put donors who list vague occupations like, well, “farmer.”

And there are only four industries from which Trump collected more than $1 million (the aforementioned retirees, health professionals, real estate and miscellaneous business). Clinton, on the other hand, had 31 industries that have been at least that generous to her, while Obama and Romney enjoyed seven-figure sums from 26 and 29 industries, respectively, through Aug. 31.

Trump’s fundraising capabilities going forward likely will hinge on impressions about his electoral chances, Kondik said, noting that some of the traditional Republican donors who have been wary thus far might kick in if they sense that he can win. Trump’s perceived weakness in Monday’s debate, though, didn’t help.

“I think elite opinions of Trump have always been low,” Kondik said, “but they may be lower now.”

Senior Researcher Douglas Weber contributed to this report.

Vía OpenSecrets Blog http://ift.tt/2daZsYE

And the good times rolled: 17 donors gave three-quarters of Dems’ convention money

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FILE - In this July 28, 2016 file photo, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton waves to delegates after her speech during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Clinton is facing the most important debates of her life as she squares off against Donald Trump beginning Monday, Sept. 26, 2016 _ three high-stakes contests that could set the momentum for the remainder of the presidential campaign. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

The Democratic committee organizing the party’s national convention raised $4 million more than its Republican equivalent. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Talk about disproportional giving: The group organizing the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this year raised almost three-fourths of its donations from only 17 sources.

The Dems’ host committee raised $69.7 million, with $51.2 million of that coming in from contributions, grants, or in-kind donations worth $1 million or more each. That includes a $10 million grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and $5.6 million in Comcast-donated services and equipment. Excluding those large sums, 15 donors still gave $35.6 million, or about half, to the four days of festivities that began July 25. (The committee listed $74.9 million in contributions in its FEC report, but we deducted a $5.2 million refund from a deposit the Dems paid to a transportation company to get this total.) 

In comparison, the Republicans raised $65.7 million, or about $4 million less than the Democrats — quite a turnaround from the 2012 season, when the Dems struggled to fund their celebration. Nineteen donors gave at least $1 million each. The GOP’s Cleveland 2016 host committee spent about $49.8 million, while the Philadelphia committee spent almost all of its funds, or $73.4 million.

The Democrats owe $6.3 million in loans to entities such as PIDC-LOCAL Development Corporation ($3 million) and Hargrove, Inc (2.4 million). The conservative convention owes about $1 million.

realrrrrr

Several companies made large contributions to both conventions: AT&T topped both lists with $4.3 million in in-kind donations to the Republicans and $1.5 million to the Democrats; Microsoft’s gifts came to  $1.8 million for Cleveland and $650,000 for Philly. Facebook gave $1.4 million to the Democrats, $400,000 more than to the Republicans. Google, Xerox and Twitter gave evenly to both sides.

Many big contributions unsurprisingly flowed in from unions, with at least 11 labor groups giving $250,000 or more. The biggest checks came from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ($2.2 million), the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers ($1.4 million) and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters ($800,000). Labor leans left: So far, 85 percent of union campaign donations to candidates and parties, or $39 million, have gone to Democrats this election cycle.

As with the Republicans, only one individual Democratic donor gave a seven-figure check: $1.25 million came from billionaire J.B. Pritzker, the heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune and cofounder of the private equity firm, The Pritzker Group. His wife, Penny Pritzker, is the current Secretary of Commerce, and founder of PSP Capital Partners and Pritzker Realty Group. (The Republicans grabbed $1.5 million from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson a month after the festivities.)

Other generous donors included media entrepreneur H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest with $500,000, SlimFast founder S. Daniel Abraham with $350,000 and Michael J Sacks, CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management, with $300,000. Former Pennsylvania state senator Constance H. Williams pitched in $300,000, renowned gardener Amy Goldman-Fowler giving $250,000, philanthropist Marsha Laufer gave $250,000 and Alexander Soros, son of business magnate George Soros, chipped in $200,000.

Large checks came from groups based in the City of Brotherly Love: the PIDC-LOCAL Development Corporation, a nonprofit founded by the City of Philadelphia and Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, gave $5 million, while the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau chipped in $4.5 million. Back in July, the IRS turned down the host committee’s request for tax-exempt status, which had been granted to previous host committees as well as this year’s Republican one. To work around the denial, donors instead could give to the Convention & Visitors Bureau and claim tax deductions, and the bureau passed the money along.

The City of Philadelphia’s gift of $8.6 million was actually federal funding from the Department of Justice for security measures, according to the mayor’s office. In total, $43 million, or almost 60 percent, came from the state of Pennsylvania alone. 

Other, more purely political organizations also jumped into the ring: The Democratic Governors Association contributed $2 million, while Priorities USA, the main super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton, gave $1.5 million. The group has spent more than $92 million this cycle to boost the Democratic nominee for president, including the host committee donation.

A handful of big names that contributed to the Charlotte convention four years ago didn’t bring out their checkbooks this year, like Fred Eychaner, CEO of Newsweb Corp; he gave $500,000 in 2012 through his charitable fund, as well as a $100,000 personal donation. Democrats can hardly complain about Eychaner being stingy, though, given his $16 million in contributions to their campaigns and groups this cycle.

The last convention also took in $500,000 from former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer. But he, too, has spent heavily in 2016 — he’s the top megadonor and, with his wife Kathryn, has donated almost $40 million to boost Democratic candidates. Others who vanished from this year’s donors’ list: real estate guru Constance Milstein, who gave $300,000 for Charlotte, and James Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, a North Carolina-based corporation; he gave $340,000 personally to the Charlotte host committee and his company made almost $10 million in in-kind contributions.

The Philly host committee raised more than twice as much as the one organized for the 2012 convention in Charlotte, which brought in about $35 million, including a $10 million loan. But the Charlotte committee was hamstrung when the Dems initially nixed corporate contributions. When individual contributions lagged, the Democrats went back on their word and created a second committee, New American City, to grab an additional $20 million, mostly from corporations. Bank of America, Duke Energy and Dreamworks were among the largest contributors to the second entity.

Obama’s first nominating convention in Denver 2008 secured almost $61 million in funds.

Democrats also had the help of the Democratic National Committee’s convention account, which had $15.2 million in contributions, compared to Republicans’ $19.3 million. The DNC account can accept contributions up to $100,200 per person to cover political activities, like delegate expenses, while the host committee pays for general uses, like outside parties.

Senior Researcher Dan Auble contributed to this report. 

Vía OpenSecrets Blog http://ift.tt/2daO773

Gaping holes, confusion mar FCC’s data on political ad buys

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An ad sponsored by the NRA-ILA attacking Indiana Senate candidate Evan Bayh (D).

An ad sponsored by the NRA-ILA attacking Indiana Senate candidate Evan Bayh (D).

Four years after it began requiring TV stations to upload their records of political ad sales to a central government website, the Federal Communications Commission maintains a recordkeeping system that makes finding out who an ad’s sponsor is feel like a treasure hunt.

In 2012, the FCC approved a rule requiring broadcast stations in the largest markets to upload the files showing who bought time for political ads, how much they paid and other details, saving journalists and others from having to visit to individual TV stations to get the info. The directive was gradually expanded and now includes most broadcast, cable, satellite and radio outlets.

But the victory for open government turned out to be a website that is searchable only by station call letters, channel number, facility ID number and similar data — not by sponsoring group, candidate mentioned and other terms that would make it easier to track who is running ads in particular federal races, and how much they’re spending.

The current filing system is “pretty useless” for the public, said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, which put out a report on the system’s shortcomings this week.

The political ad purchase records, also known as political files, were basically an unorganized pile of mostly non-machine readable documents with no uniform filing system.

Earlier this month, the Center for Responsive Politics launched an ad data tracking tool searchable by state and zip code (and soon, by other terms) to continue efforts started by watchdog groups and news outlets such as Sunlight Foundation and ProPublica when the data first came out.

But the federal agency responsible for the data still maintains only a vague “due diligence” standard when it comes to stations’ responsibility for ensuring the forms contain complete and accurate information.

How it shouldn’t work

Here’s an example: This particular ad-buy record of the National Rifle Association of America–Institute for Legislative Action–a 501(c)(4) that does not disclose its donors–from a Pennsylvania CBS affiliate, WHP-TV, is a short, casual thread of emails titled “NETWORK BUY.”

Figure1

The WHP-TV email thread seems like a version of a contract document as it shows dates and times of ads to be aired, but the it doesn’t include any information on the amount charged for the broadcast time, contrary to the law.

Under the Section 315 of the Communications Act, all broadcasters have to maintain a complete record of requests to purchase air time that includes ad buyer and content information. Forms drawn up by the National Association of Broadcasters usually contain the same information. Contracts and invoices generally detail dates and times ads were aired and amount paid to purchase broadcast time.

Most stations use the NAB form — but not all. And byond that, there is absolutely no standardization in filing.

Figure2

According to a Campaign Legal Center consultant’s analysis of the whole archive, broadcasters nationwide were using about 80 different forms to report the same type of information, making it difficult for anyone to sort the information.

It doesn’t look like change is coming soon. Asked whether the FCC is building a standardized filing system for ad buy information, an agency spokesperson replied it is looking into the costs and benefits of making the political files machine-readable and machine-searchable.

Under the current system, ads don’t have unique identification numbers, making it extremely difficult to match ads seen or heard on TV or radio to corresponding purchase records.

The NAB form for its buy from WHP-TV lists “National Rifle Association of America–Institute for Legislative Action” where it should have identified specific issues referenced in the ad.

With thousands of ad clips uploaded on YouTube by the NRA in the last few months, it is impossible to match the NAB form and the email contract with a specific ad.

An examination of the records shows this isn’t unusual. In fact, count yourself lucky if you find any responses to questions asking for candidates names, issues the ad may mention or names of the sponsoring organizations’ board members.

For instance, this NAB form shows that the conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofit One Nation has purchased TV time for “a message relating to any political matter of national importance,” but the document is missing required information on what the ad is about.

Figure 3

According to Campaign Legal Center’s report, several stations have also incorrectly labeled ads as not “of national importance” when the contrary was true.

In June 2015, multiple broadcasters in Wisconsin, including ABC affiliate WBAY-TV, CBS affiliate WFRB and Fox affiliate WLUK aired ads from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in support of Ron Johnson’s Senate race. The corresponding NAB form, on the other ad, fails to say the ad is a “matter of national importance.”

Not only does the federal law clearly require broadcasters to identify ads that target any election to federal office, the NAB form kindly reminds filers to mark a communication “a message relating to any political matters of national importance” if the ad references “legally qualified federal candidate,” “any election to Federal office” or a “national legislative issue of public importance.”

Campaign Legal Center was able to confirm this was a false filing only after checking with the Chamber of Commerce itself, something that would be extremely difficult for an individual to do; super PACs and 501(c) groups often don’t reveal their contact information to the public.

Sometimes, different stations put down completely different information for the same advertisement.

Last month, conservative dark money group One Nation spent about $1 million on airing an ad against the Obama administration’s Medicare overhaul across Missouri, including Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia.

While Kansas City station KMBC clearly marked the program as a message relating to a political matters of national importance and listed Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) as the target of the ad on its NAB form, Columbia’s NBC affiliate KOMU and St. Louis’ Fox affiliate KTVI left the boxes empty.

Ad buyer information reported for One Nation ads are even more baffling. Several One Nation documents show that either broadcast stations or ad buying agents have been mixing up the nonprofit group One Nation with One Nation PAC, which has no relation to One Nation and has purchased no ads in 2016.

In this particular ad purchase record for WMUR in New Hampshire from last month, the contract document lists One Nation PAC as the advertiser but the NAB Form identifies One Nation as the organization that will use the broadcast time.

Figure4-1

The contract lists One Nation PAC as the advertiser.

Figure4-2

The NAB form lists One Nation as the organization to use the broadcast time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As similar as they sound, there’s an important between the two. One Nation is a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) nonprofit that has a legal privilege to keep its donors secret. One Nation PAC, on the other hand, is a Carey Committee, a hybrid that can contribute to candidates as well as make independent expenditures. But the PAC must disclose its donors.

Vermont’s WCAX consistently lists One Nation as the advertiser in all its documents; but it uploaded all its One Nation filings under a folder named One Nation PAC on the FCC website.

WCAX General Sales Manager Nick Hasenecz, who files the reports for the station, told OpenSecrets Blog he wasn’t aware that the political action committee and the nonprofit group were separate entities. The station changed the folder’s name to One Nation after the conversation with OpenSecrets Blog.

But WMUR and WCAX aren’t alone in mixing up the two groups.

Because the database isn’t sortable, it’s difficult to check the whole archive, but an analysis shows that at least 10 different stations have listed One Nation and One Nation PAC interchangeably on their NAB forms, records of requests and contracts.

“The reason for this [missing and inaccurate information] is that the stations feel absolutely no pressure to fill in all the required information accurately,” McGehee said.

Under current rules, broadcast licensees have the sole burden of “due diligence” to report complete and accurate information. But because of the lack of precise definition for “due diligence,” stations can simply say they “asked” sponsors or ad-buying agencies for missing information but failed to get an answer.

An FCC spokesman said the agency conducts periodic audits to ensure compliance with its rules and also reviews complaints filed with the FCC.

The agency usually issues warnings to stations that have failed to comply with the rules. Last month, a Florida radio station WQBQ (AM) was fined $15,000 by the FCC for failing to include required information in a public file.

However, McGeehee says fines and warnings don’t happen often enough and aren’t sufficient.

When the Campaign Legal Center and Sunlight Foundation filed complaints against TV stations in 2014, the FCC responded immediately with letters of inquiry to each of the stations and issued a statement claiming to take the matters seriously. However, the complaints still have not been resolved.

“It seems reasonable to assume that FCC is not making reasonable effort to provide the important information to the public,” McGehee said.

The devil’s in the details

McGehee said easy access to accurate political ad buy information is especially critical since the Citizens United decision in 2010 because sometimes that’s the only way to track huge amounts of dark money spending in elections.

Federal Election Commission rules allow 501(c) groups to spend millions without disclosing their activities to the agency as long as the ads run more than 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election. Political nonprofits have deliberately avoided spending within the window to avoid filing reports with the FEC.

One Nation’s ad buy records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show that the dark money group has spent tens of millions of dollars already this election — a fact that can be partially gleaned from its website.

One Nation has already spent at least $25 million in 2016, but the FEC’s database shows its outlays as a little over $200,000, because the only began reporting its spending to that agency two weeks ago.

The Campaign Legal Center, along with Common Cause, the Sunlight Foundation and the Benton Foundation, filed more complaints this week against several broadcasters across the nation that have failed to comply with the rules by leaving out important information or reporting false information on their political ad records.

In its new report, CLC called for building a machine-readable standardized filing system, updating the “due diligence” definition to clarify the responsibilities of broadcasters and requiring ad sponsors, under penalty of perjury to provide media outlets with accurate information.

Vía OpenSecrets Blog http://ift.tt/2d7JE54

Russian-born oil magnate gives big to Trump Victory

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Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Simon TKTK Kukes in 2000, when the oil company Kukes then headed (T.....) received assistance from the ExIm Bank. (Photo: Kremlin.ru)

Vladimir Putin (r) shakes hands with Simon Grigorievich Kukes in 2000 at the signing of an agreement between Tyumen Oil, which Kukes then headed, and the U.S. ExIm Bank. (Photo: Kremlin.ru)

Donald Trump has an interesting relationship with Russia, to say the least. He’s praised Vladimir Putin. His former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, had business dealings with pro-Russia leaders in Ukraine. U.S. intelligence officials are investigating whether one of Trump’s foreign policy advisers met with senior Russia officials to discuss lifting economic sanctions in the event of a Trump presidency.

Here’s another tie: Simon Grigorievich Kukes, former chief executive of a now-defunct Russian state-owned oil company, who contributed more than $150,000 to Trump’s campaign and joint fundraising committee, Trump Victory. This is the first election cycle he has contributed, according to FEC documents. Kukes gave $2,700 directly to Trump’s campaign in March, and then a total of $149,000 to Trump Victory in June and July; another $2,700 of that went to Trump directly, while the remainder was divided between the Republican National Committee’s main account, its convention account and its headquarters account.

Kukes headed Yukos Corp. for a year starting in June 2003, replacing Putin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the wealthiest man in Russia at the time. In what was widely seen as a political prosecution, Khodorkovsky was charged with fraud and sent to prison for 10 years. An international court ruled in 2014 that Putin’s government would have to pay $50 billion for using tax claims to take control of and bankrupt Yukos. The court said the government was trying to silence Khodorkovsky, who was using his riches to fund opposition parties to Putin.

Born in the then-U.S.S.R., Kukes immigrated to the U.S. in his twenties and became an American citizen, but has gone back and forth between Russia and the U.S. since then. Kukes served as president and CEO of Russia’s Tyumen Oil Company from 1998 to 2003. Kukes is a partner at Hess Corporation, a New York-based oil and gas company. He was previously general director of ZAO Samara-Nafta, a Russia-based oil producing company and subsidiary of Lukoil, one of Russia’s largest oil companies.

Although he listed his occupation as “retired” in FEC documents, Kukes appears to be busy:

Simon Kukes, new chief executive of oil giant Yukos, speaks at a news conference in Yukos headquarters in Moscow, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2003. Russia's embattled Yukos oil giant said Tuesday that it had appointed a new chief executive to replace Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has been jailed on charges of fraud and tax evasion in what is widely seen as a politically driven probe. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

Kukes at a news conference after he was appointed CEO of oil giant Yukos in 2003. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

He’s CEO of NAFTA Consulting, a firm that advises American and Russian oil and gas companies on how to do business together. And he’s also on the board of Leverate, an on-demand software company for foreign exchange brokers. 

Kukes has another link with Trump: He bought a five-room condominium at Trump Parc in Midtown West for $1.7 million in 2000, according to the Observer, (which is published by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.)

Trump isn’t the only beneficiary of Kukes’ funds: He also contributed the max to Elizabeth Cheney’s campaign for Wyoming’s congressional seat in June. Cheney is the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney.

Neither Kukes nor the Trump campaign had responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

 

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