Thursday, October 26, 2017

Hillary Clinton's Campaign Funding of Dossier Raises Possibility of Campaign Law Violations

The news broke yesterday that the infamous Steele Dossier was funded by the Hillary Clinton for President campaign.  This was after the dossier was originally funded by Republicans wanting to ammunition against Donald Trump.

It should be no surprise whatsoever that the dossier was funded as a result of opposition research funded by Trump opponents.  Anyone who works in politics knows that virtually all negative information about candidates comes to light via opposition research.  But what caused the Hillary funding revelation to be a much bigger issue than it otherwise would have been is that the attorney for
Hillary Clinton campaign spent nearly a year denying the campaign's funding of the dossier only to have to admit it happened as part of lawsuit.  Like so many things Hillary Clinton-related, the instinct to cover-up and lie makes a mountain out of a molehill.

President Trump immediately trumpeted the latest Hillary news as confirmation of his claim that the dossier was a complete fabrication.  Of course, that is utter nonsense.  The revelation of the funding source for the dossier does not prove the facts contained therein to be false.  In fact, a great deal of the information in the dossier have already been confirmed.  North Carolina Republican Senator Richard Burr, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee has confirmed as such as well as independent reporting on the subject.  Investigators from Burr's committee are meeting with former British Intelligence Office Christopher Steele who assembled the information in the dossier.  Special counsel Robert Mueller's team has already met with Steele. 

But the revelation of the funding source points to possible legal jeopardy by the Hillary Clinton campaign, in particular a campaign finance violation for reporting expenditures of a campaign in such a way as to shield the recipient and nature of dossier funding.  

Concealing contributions and expenditures is an increasing problem with Indiana political campaigns. Years ago, I wrote about red flags I saw when I reviewed the campaign finance report for the political action committee supporting the Wishard Hospital referendum.  One would think there would have been hundreds of contributions. There were six.  Three individuals gave the Wishard PAC $50 or less and one lobbyist gave $1,000.  Then there were two 501(c)(3) non-profit corporations (which unlike other types of political campaigns, can give legally to referendum campaigns), that gave $1.5 million.  All the doctors and other highly paid medical professionals who should have been interested in the issue did not appear to be giving at all to the cause.  What may well have been going on is that those medical professionals and other interested parties were instead giving their money to the two non-profits who were then giving the money to the Wishard PAC.  Using the non-profits as a conduit would have had the effect of laundering campaign contributions, i.e. turning non-deductible political contributions into deductible charitable donations.  At least until the day the IRS figures out the scheme.

On the contribution side, more relevant to our discussion here, my recollection is that there were only a tiny handful of recipient of Wishard PAC expenditures.  This included almost all of the money raised by the PAC going to a public relations firm.  There was no documentation as far as how that money was spent...only that it was paid to a public relations firm.  Thus, what was actually purchased with the Wishard contributions was effectively concealed by the practice.

Obviously the Clinton Campaign expenditures for the dossier was effectively concealed from the public by using an intermediary, apparently the campaign's law firm.  Apparently, the money was paid from the campaign to the law firm and then the law firm turned around and paid Christopher Steele.  Not only does that practice conceal the real purpose of the expenditure, the law firm can also make a claim (albeit bogus) of "attorney-client" privilege to provide additional protection from having the dossier funding exposed.

It is time for the Federal Elections Commission and state elections commissions to crack down on the use of intermediaries to conceal contributions and expenditures.  A good place to start is holding responsible those in the Hillary Clinton campaign who were responsible for the concealment of the dossier funding.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Support for President Trump in Hoosier State Plummets

The Indianapolis Star reports:

President Donald Trump's approval rating is upside down in Indiana, according to a new poll.
Just 41 percent approve of the job Trump is doing as president, compared to 45 percent who disapprove, according to the results of the Old National Bank/Ball State University 2017 Hoosier Survey.
The negative approval rating suggests a significant decline in support for Trump since he won the home state of his vice president, Mike Pence, by a margin of 19 percentage points nearly a year ago.
“These survey results add to the evidence that the president’s approval has slipped a great deal since January,” said Chad Kinsella, a political science professor at the Bowen Center for Public Affairs, which conducts the annual survey.
Other recent polling by Morning Consult showed Trump's approval rating in Indiana fell from plus 22 percentage points in January to plus 5 in September. 
This poll follows a Morning Consult poll which shows Trump's net approval rating dropping from 22% to 5% from January to September.  This 17% drop nearly mirrors a 19% national drop in the same poll.

While Trump enjoys a steady, albeit unspectacular support of 77% of Hoosiers in the Ball State poll, the real fall off is with non-Republican voters.  As the Morning Consult poll shows, any support Trump had among Democrats during his election is long gone and independent voters have also turned sharply against him.

Trump supporters have long forgotten that Trump did not even win the popular vote, and barely eked out an Electoral College win, against the weakest candidate the Democratic Party has ever nominated.  Trump's 35% base only got him half way around the track.  It was the anti-Hillary Clinton voters who put him over the finish line.  Unless the Democrats are dumb enough to nominate Hillary again, any chance President Trump has of getting re-elected are slim and none.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Indiana Considering Following Up Large Gas Tax Increase With Tolls

In the highway bill last year passed by the Indiana legislature this Spring, the focus was on the substantial increase in the gas tax which supporters urged was needed to fund road improvements.  Unfortunately what didn't get sufficient publicity at the time was another provision of the bill that gives the Governor unfettered power to establish tolls on Indiana interstates.  On the few occasions the tolling provision was discussed, it was emphasized that it was merely a funding option for some governor well into the future.

That future didn't take long to get here.  The Indianapolis Star reports that there is already talk of tolling Indiana interstates, including possibly I-465.

The state hasn't decided yet whether it wants to put tolls on its interstates, but if Indiana does, it will look first at the most congested routes where tolls could help pay for needed improvements such as extra lanes.
The state is seeking a firm to study tolling on specific legs of I-65, I-70 and I-94, according to a request for proposal issued by the Indiana Department of Transportation. The department also wants to take a closer look at I-465, not ruling out tolls for commuters in the Indianapolis area. 
"No decisions have been made on whether to do tolling at all, let alone on a given route," said Scott Manning, strategic communications director for INDOT. "We're calling those (routes) out because we know there are significant needs there we'd want to address."
A feasibility study is underway, Manning said, that will answer the big question of whether additional tolling makes sense for the state. If it does, Manning said, the strategic plan INDOT is advertising for now would start to look at how the state could implement tolls.
Although most polls should tolls are unpopular, they do have supporters.  Typically toll supporters like to point out that tolls are pure "user fees."  It is not an argument I find persuasive.  Everyone benefits from good roads, so I don't see the need to fund road with "fees" paid only by those who traverse on roads.  Nonetheless, the gas tax is already a user fee. 

A few years ago I drove a car from New York to Florida.  I recall it cost me about $20 to drive from Long Island to New Jersey, not counting the bridges. Crossing one bridge into Staten Island cost me $17.  

While toll proponents will gush at that sort of revenue, what tolls do is cause people to change their driving behavior.  People opt to travel on secondary roads rather than pay tolls.  These secondary roads are often in rural areas.  These residents have to deal with increased traffic in their neighborhoods, which also leads to declining property values.  People don't like to live on busy roads.

Hopefully Indiana officials will shelve this really bad idea.

Friday, October 20, 2017

On Clash With Gold Star Family, the Media (Correctly) Refuse to Give President Trump the Benefit of the Doubt

Yesterday afternoon, Chief of Staff John Kelly gave a moving press conference that was no doubt intended to quell the controversy over President Donald Trump's phone call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, a serviceman slain during an operation in Niger.  During the phone call it was claimed that Trump came across as unsympathetic and used the phrase "he knew what he was getting into."

Kelly blasted Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson for listening in on the call, which was made
John Kelly, Chief of Staff
over a speaker, and "politicizing" what happened reporting what was allegedly said to the media.   It should be noted that Rep. Wilson's account was confirmed by other family members present during the call.

I don't fault Rep. Wilson, a long time family friend, for listening in on the phone call as she no doubt was asked to do so by family members.  Hence the use of the speaker.  I do, however, agree with Kelly that Rep. Wilson no doubt politicized the phone call, using it to take a shot at the President.

However, the reason Wilson was in that position to attack the President on the issue is 100% the fault of the President.  Trump is well-known for having attacking Gold Star parents, the Khans, after the Democratic convention.  He has also demonstrated a marked inability to empathize with people suffering through difficult circumstances. In that regard, witness Trump's callous attitude toward Puerto Ricans following the hurricane that hit that island a month ago.

General Kelly approaches the issue with enormous credibility.  In addition to having to make tough phone calls to family members of those killed in action, Kelly lost his own son in combat.  Thus, he is a Gold Star parent himself.  During the press statement, Kelly suggests that Trump's supposed uncaring attitude toward the Johnson family might have been simply a misunderstanding, the product of inartful communication by an inarticulate President.  Given Trump's only passing familiarity with the English language, Kelly's suggestion that there was simply miscommunication is quite believable.

The problem is that President Trump was the one who first politicized the issue. When asked at a press conference about the four soldiers killed in Africa, a fact Trump never had addressed publicly or privately, the President responded defensively and inaccurately, claiming that his predecessors often did not call or write the families of fallen soldiers.  Thus, Trump politicized the matter long before Rep. Frederica Wilson appeared on the scene.

Trump supporters argue that that the President should be given the benefit of the doubt regarding the words uttered during these difficult Gold Star family phone calls.  Because the media refuses to do that, Trump supporters point to that as yet more example of media bias against this particular President.

Balderdash.  The reason Donald Trump isn't given the benefit of doubt, why the media is skeptical of his version of what happened during the Johnson call is not believed, is because the President has spent the first eight months of his Presidency telling one lie after another.  Trump is like the shepherd boy in  "The Boy Who Cried Wolf."  In that story, the boy falsely claimed wolves were present so many times that villagers did not believe him when a wolf actually did arrive to attack his sheep.  That legendary Aesop fable ends with the line uttered by a villager to the boy:  "Nobody believes a liar...even when he is telling the truth."  

That is a lesson that the President should try to learn.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Fox News Poll Shows Alabama Senate Race a Dead Heat

A new poll commissioned by Fox News shows the special election Senate race between Republican Ray Moore and Democrat Doug Jones to be a deadheat, at 42-42.  Two other recent polls have shown Moore's lead to be in the single digits at 6 and 8 points, both within the margin of error of those polls.

Roy Moore
Moore and Jones are fighting for the former Senate seat of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which was held temporarily by former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. When this seat was last on the ballot in 2014, Sessions won with over 97% of the vote when the Democrats didn't even bother to field a Senate candidate in ruby red Alabama.   Two years later, Republican Richard Shelby won re-election to his Alabama Senate seat with 64% of the vote while, in the presidential race, Trump won 62% of thevote in Alabama, besting Hillary Clinton by 28 points.

Unfortunately for Jones, the surprising closeness of this race is a double edged sword.  While it means more money for his campaign, it also means more publicity on Jones' more unpopular positions on such issues as abortion and guns.  While Moore has been tarnished by the recent revelation that the former Alabama Chief Justice successfully fought against repeal of a (no-longer enforced) segregation clause in the state Constitution, Jones' being pro-choice and against gun rights may prove worse offenses to Alabama voters.   Further, close polls mean the race becomes nationalized and that is not good for Jones.  He does not want to have to defend Democratic leaders and coastal liberals Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.  If Jones could convince Alabama voters he is a moderate to conservative Democrat, then he could pull off an upset.  Unfortunately for Jones though, he is not a moderate to conservative Democrat.  He is liberal, i.e. progressive, Democrat trying to win in very conservative Democrat.

Breitbart's Steve Bannon enthusiastically supported Moore in his primary win against Strange.  He is exactly the type of bomb-throwing candidate that Bannon wants running all over the country, challenging "establishment" Republicans in primaries.  If Moore loses in Alabama, or if he only wins narrowly, that should send shock waves through the GOP about the dangerous approach Bannon is taking.  The Moore-types can win primaries, but can they win general election, especially if they are not in heavily-Republican states?  Doubtful.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Pence Chief of Staff Urges that Anti-Trump Republicans be Purged from GOP

This story made it under the radar this week.  Politico reports:
Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff railed against congressional leaders in closed-door remarks to wealthy donors and called for a “purge” if GOP lawmakers don’t quickly rally behind President Donald Trump’s agenda.

In remarks at a Republican National Committee event at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington
Nick Ayers
on Tuesday morning, Nick Ayers also warned that Republicans are “on track to get shellacked” in next year’s midterm elections if GOP lawmakers don’t pass Trump’s legislative priorities.
But Ayers reserved his harshest criticism for congressional leaders and members who have not offered full-throated support for the president.
“Just imagine the possibilities of what can happen if our entire party unifies behind him? If — and this sounds crass — we can purge the handful of people who continue to work to defeat him,” Ayers said, according to an audio recording of the remarks obtained by POLITICO.
“I’m not speaking on behalf of the president or vice president when I say this,” Ayers responded. “But if I were you, I would not only stop donating, I would form a coalition of all the other major donors, and just say two things. We’re definitely not giving to you, No. 1. And No. 2, if you don’t have this done by Dec. 31, we’re going out, we’re recruiting opponents, we’re maxing out to their campaigns, and we’re funding super PACs to defeat all of you.”
The comments also offer a stark departure in tone from Pence’s team, with the vice president having often served the role of soothing tensions between the White House and Capitol Hill. The remarks reveal both a deep frustration within the White House with congressional leadership and a political tactic of placing the onus on Congress to advance the agenda on health care, tax reform and other legislative priorities that have failed to gain momentum.

Ayers warned that the Republican Party is on track for a repeat of the massive electoral backlash that came after President Barack Obama was elected and the GOP took control of Congress and statehouses across the country. 
“Not because anything that the president or the vice president has done or hasn’t done, but we’re on track to get shellacked next year,” Ayers said....
Spare me, Nick Ayers.  When it comes to the Trumpers, the President is never at fault.  In fact, we have a President who has been floundering since his inauguration. Trump has not learned the first thing about the job he is supposed to be doing and has spent most of his time tweeting insults to try to settle personal scores than providing real leadership for the country.  On his signature "repeal and replace" of Obamacare, Trump knew nothing about the details of the bill, undercut Republicans at every opportunity, and failed to use his office to advocate for the GOP legislation.

As far as not supporting the Trump agenda, exactly what is that agenda?  After two years of campaigning and being President, Trump's tax plan consists of one page of bullet points.  Like most issues, Trump was all over the map on health care, including at times sounding like Bernie Sanders, promising universal health care paid for by "the government."   After eight months, Trump's agenda seems to be nothing more than a demand for personal loyalty and praise for his being a great leader....while being anything but a great leader.   Fortunately, many Republicans, both in and out of Congress, refuse to part with their integrity and independence to kiss President Trump's ring.

Some prominent Republicans like George Will and Joe Scarborough chose to leave the Republican Party because of President Trump.  While I understand their motivation, I think it is misguided.  My parents were conservative Democrats.  Becoming politically active in the early 1980s, I chose to become a Republican because I believe that party, with its conservative, limited government agenda, more closely matched my political views.  Starting with Reagan in November 1980, my Republican Party over the next 35 years enjoyed a number of successes punctuated by occasional failure.  Did we in the GOP fall show of our policy goals?   Quite often.  But does that mean we Republicans should hand the reigns of power to the Democrats and give up on those goals completely?  Of course not.   And it sure does not mean conceding the GOP brand to redesign by a life-long New York liberal.

Nick Ayers was born in 1981.  I cast my first ever vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980.  That vote was also cast more than three decades before Trump began pretending he was a Republican just 6 years ago.

My Republican Party is about lower taxes, limited government, being pro life and supporting traditional values.  It is not about Trump and his ilk hating people because of their skin color, ethnicity or religion.  It is about standing up for the Constitution and the ideals contained in that document.  When our President denounces American traditions and values, things like freedom of press, religion or speech, that is not my Republican Party.

Trumpism is not about a political philosophy, and certainly not about being a conservative.  It is about a cult of personality.   Donald Trump could announce tomorrow that he is going to support the Pelosi-Schumer liberal agenda across the board, and the vast majority of Trumpers would convince themselves that "Mr. Trump" is doing the right thing, indeed something brilliant.  After all, to most Trumpers the particular political agenda the President is pursuing is not important. What is important is blind adoration for all things Trump says or does.  Just praise "Mr. Trump" and drink the Kool-Aid.

Even if it were worthy of support, the Trump GOP brand is doomed to failure.  Trump's success depends on winning the support of a strong majority of white people.   Yet, the collective skin hue of the country is steadily getting darker.  Millennials, who overwhelmingly oppose Trump, will be a much bigger part of the electorate in 2020 than 2016.  Any Republican candidate chaining himself to the Trump brand, will find that the President to be an anchor instead of a sail.

Ayers seems to be calling for a Republican civil war. Great. Bring it on.  I, like many other Republicans, want my party back.  And we will get it back.  Make no mistake about it.