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Guinta $$ for Settlement: “What got promised in return?”

By Paul Brochu, Stamp Stampede Lead Organizer

Not2BUsed_NHRebellionI’ve had a lot of interesting conversations while working for the Stamp Stampede.  Last week, one of them was with a woman who used to do political fundraising for a US congressman.

She gave me an “insider’s view” of the recent settlement between Congressman Frank Guinta and the Federal Election Commission. After a four-year investigation, the Guinta campaign agreed in April to pay a $15,000 fine and refund a $355,000 loan.

The former fundraiser’s first point was that Guinta really benefitted from the timing of the announcement.

She said that under normal circumstances, the FEC investigation should have been a career-ender.  The $15,000 “administrative penalty” is a high fine, by FEC standards.  Only six other House campaigns have ever received higher fines – and only one of those candidates is currently a Congressman.

But the agreement was released early in Guinta’s two-year term of office.  Yes, there was a flurry of media coverage after the announcement, but that’s already beginning to die down.  And New Hampshire is in the throes of a #FITN primary season featuring two dozen presidential candidates.

“If I was Frank Guinta and I couldn’t persuade the FEC to drop their investigation,” she said, “then I would take an enforcement agreement and get it public using exactly this same timing.  It’s basic campaign strategy: we call it ‘inoculation.’  If you can’t make a problem go away, then you get it out in the press early so it will be old news by the time the election rolls around.”

Her second point was more troubling.  At the end of last year, Guinta’s campaign had a cash-on-hand balance that was just barely enough to pay the FEC fine – and not anywhere near enough to pay back the $355,000.  Then there was a flurry of high-dollar fundraising in the first quarter of this year.

“It looks to me like that $300,000 in Q1 fundraising made it possible for the Guinta campaign to sign the FEC agreement and get the investigation over with,” she said.  “But I have to wonder.  What got promised in return for all those donations?

“Political fundraising is like hunting, it has seasons,” she explained.  “You don’t usually fundraise right after an election.  Donors have just given; and you don’t want to seem greedy, you don’t want go back to the same well so soon.”

After the 2012 election, Guinta’s campaign didn’t report any contributions at all until nine months into the next election cycle.  But this time around, donors were “maxing out” almost immediately after the 2014 election – and they were giving the maximum donation not just for next year’s primary, but also for the 2016 general election.

“What were all those donors thinking?  Or, rather, what did they know?” she sked me.  “These are sophisticated donors.  They didn’t just wake up the last week in March and all decide to send large sums of money to the Guinta campaign.  It’s pretty obvious that the campaign solicited the money, and the timing of that solicitation must have raised some eyebrows.  If you’re fundraising out-of-season, there’s a reason.  And I can’t believe that no one asked what that reason was.”

Did former New Hampshire Governor Craig Benson know about the then-pending FEC enforcement agreement?  On March 31st, he “maxed out” for a general election that was still 18 months away.  The previous cycle, Benson made his general election contribution just three weeks before the election.

What about the folks at the Koch Industries PAC?  They donated $5,000 on March 27th.  Last time, they didn’t start contributing until much later in the election cycle.

Did the “Friends of John Boehner” question the timing?  The Guinta campaign reported receiving donations on March 20th for both the 2016 primary and the 2016 general election.  Last time around, the Friends of John Boehner didn’t donate anything at all until two weeks after the primary.

“I just wonder what was behind all those super-early donations,” the woman told me.  “I’ve done the ‘Dialing for Dollars’ thing during the off-season, myself.  Donors asked ‘What’s going on, why are you calling me now?’

“And after I answered,” she said, “they’d tell me what they wanted my boss to do.”

She’s had enough of political fundraising and, like tens of thousands of other Americans, she’s now part of the Stamp Stampede.  She’s working to #GetMoneyOut of politics by legally rubber-stamping anti-corruption messages on US currency.  Her favorite stamp says “Not to be Used for Bribing Politicians.”

“It’s just crazy,” she said.  “You’re there in your little cubicle making notes on the call sheet, what the donors care about, even the specific bill numbers. And you don’t ever tell them ‘no’.”

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The Stamp Stampede is tens of thousands of Americans legally stamping messages on our nation’s currency to #GetMoneyOut of Politics. As more and more stamped money spreads, so will the movement to amend the Constitution and overturn Citizens United.

You can get your own stamp online at www.stampstampede.org. Or, if you’re a member of CWA, you can get a stamp from your LPAT coordinator. The average stamped bill is seen by 875 people – which makes stamping a highly-effective way to get the message out about how money in politics is corrupting our government.

It’s time to #GetMoneyOut of politics and take back our government.

Warning: More Campaign Fundraising Ahead

warning extreme danger

Photo by Paul Klintworth via Flikr

Some thoughts on the news that Rep. Frank Guinta has reached an agreement with the Federal Elections Commission to pay a $15,000 fine and repay $355,000.

First thought: this is a really big deal. Fifteen thousand dollars is a pretty big fine for the FEC.  In fact, it’s apparently the 24th-biggest fine the FEC has issued since 2000.  It’s more than three times the fine for failing to return excess campaign contributions issued to the campaign committee for House Speaker John Boehner earlier this year.

Second thought: it’s a minor miracle this happened at all.  The FEC has been mired in partisan gridlock for a long time now.  As FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel told the New York Times a couple of weeks ago, “The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim.”  FEC fines are at record lows.  If the FEC was able to agree on this enforcement action, that says something about how serious it was.

Third thought: repay $355,000?  How?   According to the *ahem* latest FEC report, Guinta’s campaign only has $312,432 cash on hand.  Which – I’m just guessing here – probably means the campaign is going to have to do some fundraising.

Fourth thought: the FEC itself has some real transparency issues.  I spent quite a while trying to find this enforcement agreement on the FEC website – and never found it.  I would have expected that large a fine would have merited a press release, but apparently I was wrong.

Fifth thought: does Guinta’s campaign even care about federal campaign laws?  Earlier this year, news broke that Guinta’s campaign was in trouble with the FEC over 2014 campaign violations.  Put this in context: even while the campaign committee was under FEC investigation, it didn’t pay close attention to the laws.  That’s sort of like running a red light when you know there’s a police car pursuing you for speeding.  Who does that?  And, what does it say about respect for the laws?

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A few other random thoughts:

Congratulations to the citizens of Newport!  Yesterday, Newport became the 69th New Hampshire municipality to pass a local resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and limit #MoneyInPolitics.   (See the complete list here.)  Special recognition to Robert Seavey and Robert Naylor for their work on the resolution.

If your town isn’t on that list – and you want it to be – click here for more information about how to pass a local resolution to #GetMoneyOut of politics.

Did you think 2012 was bad?  This presidential election is shaping up to be a real doozy.  In January, The Hill was predicting that the 2016 elections would cost about $5 billion (with a B) – or, about twice what was spent on the 2012 election.  Now they’re guessing it will be $10 billion (with a B).  How high will it go?  Nobody knows.

Worth reading: Why are Corporate Lobbyists the Only Ones Heard?  “Corporations and organizations representing corporations spent $2.6 billion on lobbying last year and labor unions spent $45 million.”  That’s almost a 60-to-one spending ratio.  When it came time to issue regulations to prevent another Wall Street meltdown, “among the lobbyists who had contacted the agencies, 78.2 percent represented financial institutions, 7.9 percent were law firms representing financial institutions, and 7.2 percent were financial trade association. Only 4.1 percent represented public interest and labor groups.”

I’m feeling old this morning.  I’ve been working on #MoneyInPolitics since the 1980s, when we were all concerned about PACs.  That seems positively quaint, in retrospect.

A quick trip down memory lane: 1984 was the first year that any presidential candidate raised the maximum contributions under the public financing system spending limits.  That candidate was Ronald Reagan.   That amount was about $10 million (with an M).  The spending limit was $20.2 million (with an M).

Lessee.  Accounting for inflation, that campaign spending limit that Ronald Reagan agreed to would be equal to about $46 million in today’s dollars.

And yes, that sea change in campaign spending is why “The US government does not represent the interests of the majority of the country’s citizens, but is instead ruled by those of the rich and powerful.”

There is some light on the horizon.  People around the country are working toward a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United – and there has been a lot of progress made in a remarkably short time (particularly given the resistance from federal elected officials).

There are a whole lot of groups working on this.

And people are even having fun doing it.  Watch this, from the “1% News Network”:

An organizing pitch: these days, I’m working for the Stamp Stampede — and I hope you will join us in our campaign to help #StampMoneyOut of politics.

The Stamp Stampede is tens of thousands of Americans legally stamping messages on our nation’s currency to #GetMoneyOut of Politics. As more and more stamped money spreads, so will the movement to amend the Constitution and overturn Citizens United.

You can get your own stamp online at www.stampstampede.org. Or, if you’re a member of CWA, you can get a stamp from your LPAT coordinator. The average stamped bill is seen by 875 people – which makes stamping a highly-effective way to get the message out about how money in politics is corrupting our government.

It’s time to #GetMoneyOut of politics and take back our government.  Join the #MoveToAmend!

You Will Not Believe What Wal-Mart is Doing

Image via WikiCommons

Image via WikiCommons

You have got to be kidding me.  

Wal-Mart is rewarding associates who donate money to the Wal-Mart PAC, which works to elect candidates like Speaker John Boehner and Senator Ted Cruz who vehemently oppose raising the minimum wage.

In this excellent article (Wal-Mart’s Unusual Rewards for Employees Who Give to Its PAC) by Josh Eidelson, he reports:

“Liberal groups and a union-backed Walmart worker group are asking the Federal Election Commission to investigate Wal-Mart Stores’ (WMT) policy of rewarding contributions to its political action committee with donations to charity. Under the policy, every $1 an employee donates to Wal-Mart’s PAC, which supports such probusiness candidates as Ohio Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, and Arkansas Democratic Senator Mark Pryor, triggers a $2 donation to a charity for Wal-Mart employees in need.”

Using charitable contributions to reward PAC donations has become a widespread practice among U.S. corporations, which are restricted by law from donating directly to their PACs. At least seven times over the past two decades, FEC commissioners have been divided over whether to restrict companies from matching the political donations with philanthropic cash.

While such companies as Coca-Cola (KO) and Boeing (BA) also match PAC dollars with charity dollars, Wal-Mart’s policy is unusual. Rather than just a 1-to-1 match, it offers 2 to 1. And instead of giving employees a choice of charities to support, it sends all the matching money to its Associates in Critical Need Trust, which benefit employees facing “extreme economic hardship due to situations outside of their control, including natural disasters.”

That’s right, for every one dollar that workers give to the Wal-Mart PAC, the corporation will donate two dollars to their own charity organization for workers who are suffering financial difficulties.

The Associates in Critical Need Trust is a 501 (c)(3) charity that provides “up to $1,500 to employees facing challenges such as homelessness or illness.”

Here are three suggestions for Walmart. 1) Start by paying your workers a living wage so they aren’t forced into homelessness. 2) Provide workers with paid sick time so they can heal without the fear of losing their job for being sick. 3)  Provide workers with healthcare so they will not be forced into financial ruin when they become sick or injured. (Note: Wal-Mart just cut another 30,000 part time workers out of their employee healthcare, but thanks to the Affordable Care Act they can get coverage through their state exchange.)

I hope the FEC tears Wal-Mart apart for violating the Federal Election Campaign Act.

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