Tag Archives: cash

CREW sues to stop Trump from receiving payments from foreign governments

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a federal lawsuit to stop President Donald Trump from violating the Constitution by receiving payments from foreign governments.

The lawsuit was being filed on Jan. 23 in the Southern District of New York.

The foreign emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the president from receiving anything of value from foreign governments, including foreign government-owned businesses, without the approval of Congress.

“We did not want to get to this point. It was our hope that President Trump would take the necessary steps to avoid violating the Constitution before he took office,” CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder said. “He did not. His constitutional violations are immediate and serious, so we were forced to take legal action.”

CREW said Trump is getting cash and favors from foreign governments, through guests and events at his hotels, leases in his buildings, and valuable real estate deals abroad.

Trump, who won the Electoral College vote and was sworn into office on Jan. 20, does business with China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and other countries. CREW said in a news release that “when Trump the president sits down to negotiate trade deals with these countries, the American people will have no way of knowing whether he will also be thinking about the profits of Trump the businessman.”

“President Trump has made his slogan ‘America First,’” said Bookbinder. “So you would think he would want to strictly follow the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, since it was written to ensure our government officials are thinking of Americans first, and not foreign governments.”

CREW is represented in the case by Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, the top ethics lawyers for the last two presidents, constitutional law scholars Erwin Chemerinsky, Laurence H. Tribe and Zephyr Teachout and Deepak Gupta of Gupta Wessler PLLC.

Campaign cash: Wisconsin GOP gains most from higher contribution limits

Republican statehouse candidates benefited more than Democrats from Wisconsin’s doubled campaign contribution limits during the first six months of the year, a new analysis has found.

The net GOP advantage was about $25,000, or less than 1 percent of the $2.6 million raised by all legislative candidates in the first half of 2016, the Wisconsin State Journal reported over the weekend.

But Matthew Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which conducted the analysis, said it reflects how a smaller number of people are playing a larger role in funding candidates and influencing public policy.

“That is not a healthy development,” Rothschild said. “Our democracy should not be a tug of war between a few extremely rich people on the left, and a few extremely rich people on the right, which is what it’s becoming. Instead, we all, as citizens, should have an equal voice and an equal say.”

The watchdog group found 290 donations that exceeded the old limits, which were doubled under new laws that took effect at the beginning of the year.

Previously, individuals could give $500 to Assembly candidates, $1,000 to Senate candidates and $10,000 to statewide candidates annually. This year marked first time the amounts were raised since the 1970s.

GOP legislative campaigns collected $90,402 extra thanks to the change, or about 38 percent more than the extra $65,491 that Democratic legislative campaigns took in.

There were 159 donations that exceeded the old limits for legislative Republicans and 120 such donations for Democrats. Altogether Republican Legislative campaigns raised $1.35 million and Democratic Legislative campaigns raised $1.29 million in the first half of the year.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign raised an extra $50,000. Nonpartisan and independent candidates raised about $46,000 extra.

The analysis looked at single donations that exceeded previous limits, and didn’t include donors who exceeded the old caps via multiple donations.

Treasury: Front of new $20 to feature Harriet Tubman

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced a portrait of Harriet Tubman will be featured on the front of the new $20.

Lew also announced plans for the reverse of the new $10 to feature an image of the historic march for suffrage that ended on the steps of the Treasury Department and honor the leaders of the suffrage movement — Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul.

The front of the new $10 note will maintain the portrait of Alexander Hamilton.

The secretary also announced plans for the reverse of the new $5 to honor events at the Lincoln Memorial that helped to shape U.S. history and prominent individuals involved in those events, including Marian Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr.

The reverse of the new $20 will feature images of the White House and President Andrew Jackson.

The secretary announced these changes in a letter addressed to the American people and noted that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing will work  with the Federal Reserve to accelerate work on the new $20 and $5 notes,

The goal will be to put the three new notes into circulation as quickly as possible, consistent with security requirements.

The text of the letter follows: 

April 20, 2016

An Open Letter from Secretary Lew:

When I announced last June that a newly redesigned $10 note would feature a woman, I hoped to encourage a national conversation about women in our democracy.  The response has been powerful.  You and your fellow citizens from across the country have made your voices heard through town hall discussions and roundtable conversations, and with more than a million responses via mail and email, and through handwritten notes, tweets, and social media posts.  Thank you for sharing this thoughtful and impassioned feedback.

Over the course of the last 10 months, you put forth hundreds of names of people who have played a pivotal role in our nation’s history.  Many of you proposed that our new currency highlight democracy in action and reflect the diversity of our great nation.  Some of you suggested we skip the redesign of the $10 note, which is the next in line for a security upgrade, and move immediately to redesigning the $20 note.  And others proposed unconventional ideas, such as creating a $25 bill.

I have been inspired by this conversation and today I am excited to announce that for the first time in more than a century, the front of our currency will feature the portrait of a woman — Harriet Tubman on the $20 note.

Since we began this process, we have heard overwhelming encouragement from Americans to look at notes beyond the $10.  Based on this input, I have directed the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to accelerate plans for the redesign of the $20, $10, and $5 notes.  We already have begun work on initial concepts for each note, which will continue this year.  We anticipate that final concept designs for the new $20, $10, and $5 notes will all be unveiled in 2020 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

The decision to put Harriet Tubman on the new $20 was driven by thousands of responses we received from Americans young and old.  I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy.  You shared your thoughts about her life and her works and how they changed our nation and represented our most cherished values.  Looking back on her life, Tubman once said, “I would fight for liberty so long as my strength lasted.”  And she did fight, for the freedom of slaves and for the right of women to vote.  Her incredible story of courage and commitment to equality embodies the ideals of democracy that our nation celebrates, and we will continue to value her legacy by honoring her on our currency.  The reverse of the new $20 will continue to feature the White House as well as an image of President Andrew Jackson.

As I said when we launched this exciting project: after more than 100 years, we cannot delay, so the next bill to be redesigned must include women, who for too long have been absent from our currency.  The new $10 will honor the story and the heroes of the women’s suffrage movement against the backdrop of the Treasury building.  Treasury’s relationship with the suffrage movement dates back to the March of 1913, when advocates came together on the steps of the Treasury building to demonstrate for a woman’s right to vote, seven years prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment.  The new $10 design will depict that historic march and honor Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul for their contributions to the suffrage movement.  The front of the new $10 will continue to feature Alexander Hamilton, our nation’s first Treasury Secretary and the architect of our economic system.

The reverse of the new $5 will depict the historic events that have occurred at the Lincoln Memorial.  In 1939, at a time when Washington’s concert halls were still segregated, world-renowned Opera singer Marian Anderson helped advance civil rights when, with the support of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, she performed at the Lincoln Memorial in front of 75,000 people.  And in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech at the same monument in front of hundreds of thousands.  Honoring these figures will bring to life events at the Lincoln Memorial that helped to shape our history and our democracy.  The front of the new $5 will continue to feature President Lincoln.

Due to security needs, the redesigned $10 note is scheduled to go into circulation next.  I have directed the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to work closely with the Federal Reserve to accelerate work on the new $20 and $5 notes.  Our goal is to have all three new notes go into circulation as quickly as possible, while ensuring that we protect against counterfeiting through effective and sophisticated production.

This process has been much bigger than one square inch on one bill, and along the way, we heard about countless individuals who contributed to our democracy.  Our website, modernmoney.treasury.gov, will highlight many of the names that we heard throughout this process, and help tell some of the many stories that inspired us.  Of course, more work remains to tell the rich and textured history of our country.  But with this decision, our currency will now tell more of our story and reflect the contributions of women as well as men to our great democracy.

Thank you,

Secretary Jacob J. Lew

Read more: Modern Money.

Mystery money pays for pro-Republican television ads

Opportunity News Media wants people to believe it’s OK to be a Republican, and it is spending $3 million to say so in the presidential battleground states of Ohio and Colorado.

Where that money comes from is anybody’s guess.

The television ads serve as coming attractions of a sort for the 2016 campaign, for which politically minded donors have already given half a billion dollars to candidates and outside groups eager to back them. All that money ensures television viewers will be inundated by commercials good, bad and confusing.

Add in campaign finance regulations that are still evolving in the wake of the landmark Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United, and it’s easier than ever for all kinds of groups to wade into politics and do so in ways that keep from the public the identities of who is paying for it all.

The commercials by Opportunity News Media have already aired some 3,000 times on stations that broadcast into Ohio and Colorado, according to data from political ad tracker Kantar Media CMAG. They’re scheduled to continue through the first week of September at an estimated cost of $3 million. There is also a smaller cable- and radio-based campaign running in Pennsylvania.

Filled with children, workers and people of different ethnicities, the ads promote Republicans as interested in creating jobs, improving access to education and caring for the middle class. Many of the 30-second spots end with rays of sunlight peeking out from clouds as an upbeat female narrator says, “There are people who still believe opportunity lives in America, and we call ourselves Republicans.”

That’s the sort of theme the GOP should take to voters, the Republican National Committee found in its assessment of why Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama in 2012.

“Very powerful, uplifting and unifying,” Ari Fleischer, one of the GOP report’s authors and a longtime party strategist, said of the ads.

“I’ve never heard of the group running it,” he added.

He’s not alone.

Representatives of the Republican National Committee, the Republican Governors Association, the Ohio Republican Party and six well-known Republican outside groups all said they were not familiar with Opportunity News Media, even though the group is doing more to promote the GOP on television right now than anyone else.

So who are they?

Opportunity News Media LLC is identified as the sponsor at the end of the ads, in accordance with federal regulations. That company incorporated last year in Delaware, a state that requires very little information for such registration. As a private company without any direct connection to politics, it isn’t required to disclose the source of its money.

The ads point viewers to a news website, opportunitylives.com. Its editor is John Hart, who used to work for recently retired Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn. He describes the site’s news content as “unapologetically conservative.”

Hart said about a dozen people work for or regularly contribute articles to the site. Several writers also have bylines in right-leaning publications such as the National Review and the Federalist.

But while Hart compares the ads to MSNBC’s “Lean Forward” campaign, which cheers progressive and left-leaning ideas while aiming to build brand identification for the cable news network, the Opportunity News Media commercials do not promote the news site. Instead, they’re focused broadly on Republicans.

Hart declined to identify any of the news site’s backers or provide information about who paid for the ad campaign. But there are some clues on the site.

Its “terms of use” page calls it a project of the Center for American Opportunity, a nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia. Bill Kristol, founder of the conservative political magazine The Weekly Standard, was one four board members of that group as of 2013, according to its most recent tax documents available online. Kristol said he is no longer on the board.

Those tax records show the center spent about $3.6 million in 2013 to underwrite the Washington Free Beacon, a brash conservative website that announced its new business model last year with a short video of bikini-clad model Kate Upton.

Hart said Opportunity Lives separated from the Center for American Opportunity a few months ago. He declined to say how much money the center had invested to that point _ a total that won’t likely be known until late next year, when the center files its 2015 tax forms.

Pete Snyder, a Virginia businessman whose investment firm Disruptor Capital advises media and technology startups, said he served on the center’s board to guide the formation of Opportunity Lives — although he said he did not invest in the project.

Snyder said he believes there’s a market for a right-of-center news service that floats above the fray and emphasizes feel-good stories.

“Sure, people want to see a train wreck, but plenty of other people want to see the Disney movie,” Snyder said. Indeed, in his editor’s note, Hart emphasizes, “We don’t believe our role is to settle intra-movement debates.”

The portrayal of Republicans in the commercials comes as several of the GOP presidential candidates are trying to rally the party’s most conservative voters in ways that don’t fit with the recommendations of the party’s 2012 post-mortem. On the debate stage last week, for example, several candidates emphasized their staunch opposition to abortion and to an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system that isn’t focused on border security.

Those aren’t subjects that come up in the Opportunity News Media ads.

In one, a woman shown playing with young children says, “A government that doesn’t spend more than it has — I really don’t think that’s too controversial. If that makes you more Republican, I’m OK with that.”

Scott Walker’s jobs agency gave out $124 million without review

More than two dozen awards worth more than $124 million were made to companies without a formal staff review by the underwriting department of Gov. Scott Walker’s economic development agency, it reported this week.

Documents detailing the awards were made public late on June 19 in advance of a Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation board meeting on July 20 to discuss one troubled unsecured loan that went to a failing company owned by a Walker donor.

The Republican Walker, who is expected to formally launch a presidential campaign in mid-July, has been hounded by troubles with the quasi-private jobs agency he created shortly after taking office in 2011.

An internal review released showed that WEDC gave out 27 award contracts to 24 companies between July 2011 and June 2013 without staff review, which WEDC said was not required at the time. Those were discovered during a review of 371 awards WEDC made in its first two years of operation.

Rep. Peter Barca, the Assembly’s Democratic leader, called the situation “outrageous.” He said there are many unanswered questions about how many loans were approved over underwriters’ objections.

“I am not at all confident we have even a fraction of the troubling details board members need in order to carry out our fiduciary responsibility,” he said. “This is yet another example of how senior WEDC officials have kept the board and Wisconsin taxpayers in the dark about serious problems surrounding the governor’s jobs agency.”

Some of the companies on the list are owned or affiliated with donors to Walker’s political campaigns.

Kenneth C. Stock, the chief executive of KCS International, a luxury boat builder in Oconto, donated $8,500 to Walker. Members of the Sonnentag family, which owns County Materials, have donated at least $36,000 to Walker. Laona-based WD Parket LLC, is a fifth-generation company run by the Connor family, longtime Republican donors.

The three highest un-reviewed awards all came through the enterprise zone program. The largest, $62.5 million, went to Kohl’s Department Stores for an expansion of its corporate headquarters on June 28, 2012, for a project that was expected to create 3,000 jobs but that has created just 473 so far.

The next highest was $18 million to Kestrel Aircraft Company for an expected 665 jobs, but just 24 have been created. The third highest was $15 million to Plexus Corp. to create 350 jobs, but none have been created, according to a tally provided by WEDC.

Of the 27 awards, just over 6,100 jobs were expected to be created, but to date only about 2,100 have been. Nearly 8,900 jobs have been retained, according to WEDC. The projects made about $490 million in investment, the report said.

One of the 27 unsecured awards was a $500,000 loan to the now-defunct Milwaukee construction company Building Committee Inc. that was collapsing at the time and created no jobs. That was among several loans questioned by state auditors that led Walker in May to call for scrapping the loan program.

The loan to BCI came after its owner William Minahan had given Walker’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign a last-minute $10,000 donation on Election Day — the maximum individual contribution.

A memo from Jake Kuester, the vice president of credit and risk at WEDC, outlined what he called an “extensive review” of all awards the agency made worth more than $200,000 during its first two years in operation.

Kuester said employees of the former Department of Commerce, which WEDC replaced, said it was an “acceptable practice” for the secretary of the agency to approve an award with no formal written staff review “when the need to be flexible and reactive to a business’s needs warranted it. That practice was carried forward into WEDC during its early days.”

In July 2013, the WEDC board approved a new policy that included requiring a written review on all program awards. Since then, WEDC says it has approved more than 760 awards, all of which were reviewed by staff.

Divided Supreme Court upholds campaign limits for judicial candidates

A divided Supreme Court ruled this week that states can ban judicial candidates from personally asking for campaign contributions. The justices’ 5-4 ruling means that restrictions on soliciting campaign cash can remain in place in 30 states that elect state and local judges. In all, 39 states hold elections for judges and some allow personal appeals for donations.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in a rare break with fellow conservatives, said in his majority opinion that laws barring judicial candidates from personally asking for campaign cash do not run afoul of First Amendment free speech rights. He said the state has a compelling interest “in preserving public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”

“Judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot,” Roberts wrote. “A state may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor – and without having personally asked anyone for money.”

The court’s four liberal justices joined Roberts in the majority.

In a sharp dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia called the Florida rule a “wildly disproportionate restriction upon speech” that should be struck down under the First Amendment.

Roberts, who has written other major First Amendment decisions protecting speech rights, might at first glance be a surprising fifth vote to uphold the limits on judicial fundraising. He also previously sided with conservatives in the court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that freed corporations and labor unions from some limits on campaign spending.

But this case could be seen to bring out his role as the leader of the judicial branch, even if he and other appointed federal judges are not affected by the case. Roberts at several points drew a distinction between candidates for judgeships and other offices. The ruling took note of concerns that lawyers, in particular, might have a hard time refusing to contribute when a judge personally asks for campaign money.

Scalia noted in his dissent that the high court in recent years has used the First Amendment to protect depictions of animal torture, sale of violent video games to children and people who lied about having won military medals.

“It’s no great mystery what is going on here,” Scalia wrote. “The judges of this court … evidently consider the preservation of public respect for the courts a policy objective of the highest order. So it is – but so too are preventing animal torture, protecting the innocence of children, and honoring valiant soldiers.”

In a separate dissent, Justice Anthony Kennedy said he wanted to “underscore the irony in the court’s having concluded that the very First Amendment protections judges must enforce should be lessened when a judicial candidate’s own speech is at issue.”

The case of Lanell Williams-Yulee of Tampa, Florida, arose after she signed a mass mailing asking for money for her campaign for a local judgeship and posted the letter on her website. The appeal didn’t bring in a penny, but Williams-Yulee received a public reprimand for violating a Florida Bar rule that bans candidates for elected judgeships from personally soliciting donations.

Lawyers for Williams-Yulee had argued that the rule has a chilling effect on political speech and does nothing to prevent a candidate’s campaign committee from requesting contributions.

Lower courts have been split on the issue in the Florida case.

The justices had previously struck down limits on what judicial candidates can say during campaigns. In 2002, the court struck down rules that were aimed at fostering impartiality among judges and barred candidates for elected judgeships from speaking out on controversial issues.

But in 2009, the court held in a case from West Virginia that elected judges could be forced to step aside from ruling on cases when large campaign contributions from interested parties create the appearance of bias. Roberts dissented in that case.

The Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance reform advocacy group, praised the decision, but said it was disappointed that “what the court rightly finds untenable in the judicial context – responsiveness to campaign donors – it would tolerate for legislative and executive candidates.”

The case is Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, 13-1499.

On the record …

• “The court today has upheld the ability of states to safeguard the integrity of their courts by putting reasonable limits on fundraising by judges and candidates for judicial office,” said Common Cause president Miles Rapoport. “The plaintiffs in this case apparently saw no problem with permitting judges to make direct appeals for money to lawyers and litigants. It is difficult to imagine a more direct invitation to corruption. We’re gratified that the court’s majority recognized the case as an attack on judicial integrity and was unpersuaded by the plaintiffs’ specious First Amendment arguments.”

• “Tthe Supreme Court recognized the paramount importance of protecting the integrity of our courts,” said Matthew Menendez, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “At a time of rising spending in judicial elections, rules that preserve the public’s confidence in the judiciary are more important than ever. As the court found, campaign contributions can create an appearance and risk of favoritism. This decision allows states to protect the fairness of our courts.”

•  Eric Lesh, fair courts project manager at Lambda Legal, said, “We are delighted at the decision from the Supreme Court. As the country prepares for another election year, this rule and others like it are critically important to keeping courts fair and making sure that justice cannot be bought. This flood of money has dramatically altered the politics of judicial races, blurring the line that separates justice from politics. The stakes in this case are high with our due process rights at risk. Judges have a responsibility to render decisions based on the law and a firm commitment to the Constitution’s core principles of equality and fairness.”

Outside special interests rule Wisconsin at the expense of its citizens

Our nation’s founders wrote the Federalist Papers to articulate their vision for a new independent nation and justify their proposed design for a new government. They wrote using pseudonyms due to fear for the authors’ liberty and life if the crown discovered their true identities.

Writing as “Publius” in Federalist No. 52, one of the founders — widely thought to be James Madison or Alexander Hamilton — argued for a “government, which ought to be dependent on the people alone.” 

He outlined principles of representation through elections that would produce such a condition.

A government dependent on the people alone. That was the founders’ design. That was their gift to us.

But that design has been fundamentally corrupted.

Today’s government officials are not dependent on the people alone. They have conflicting dependencies. Competing dependencies.

Elected representatives are supposed to take their cues from the voters. But with election campaigning so insanely expensive, those representatives have little choice but to also take cues from their campaign donors. And the donor population is not the same as the voting population.

On average, state legislators get two-thirds of the campaign money from people who live outside their districts and thus can’t vote for them. Gov. Scott Walker gets more than half of his money from such people. 

This corruption of the founders’ design has very tangible costs.

A Democracy Campaign report identified close to four dozen actions taken by legislators and the governor since January 2013 that provided at least $760 million worth of benefits to special interests in the form of tax breaks and other policy favors.

Those decisions cost the average family of four $528. If you read the entire list of actions, you will be hard-pressed to find a single one that benefits you. There is a sales tax exemption for companies that print and deliver junk mail. There is another sales tax exemption for aircraft parts.

When you go to the department store to buy a pair of shoes or some clothing, you pay the sales tax. But if you have enough money to own an airplane, you no longer have to pay tax on parts for your plane. If you are in the junk mail business, you don’t have to pay the state sales tax anymore either.

Manufacturers of lead paint have been given protection from future product liability lawsuits. Those who send their children to private schools now get an income tax deduction. The list goes on and on.

Here in Wisconsin we’ve been told repeatedly that the state is broke and government must do less for us. Yet those who bankroll election campaigns have been given more. At least $760 million more.

The few benefit at the expense of the many because we do not have a government dependent on the people alone.

Mike McCabe is the author of Blue Jeans in High Places: The Coming Makeover of American Politics and director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

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Foundation funding for LGBT issues tops $100 million

A review of grants for LGBT issues shows that domestic funding exceeded $100 million in 2012, according to Funders for LGBTQ Issues.

The organization also reported that funding in 2012 was largely stable.

The report, considered the most comprehensive of its kind, captured data on 4,068 grants awarded by 399 foundations “to identify gaps, trends, and opportunities in LGBTQ philanthropy.”

The review found that foundation funding of LGBT issues totaled $121.4 million in 2012, a slight decrease from the $123 million in 2011, which was a record.

Other findings in the survey:

• The top five funders in 2012 were: Anonymous, Ford Foundation, Gill Foundation, Arcus Foundation and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, which collectively provided 45 percent of all LGBTQ funding for the year.

• Corporate funders increased grantmaking by 26 percent; public funders increased grantmaking by 20 percent.

• Youth were the top funded sub-population in the United States, receiving $20.4 million in funding.

• 25 percent of recipient organizations in the U.S. were not exclusively LGBTQ-focused, the other 75 percent were.

• New York received $11.7 million, the most local and statewide funding of any state.

• International funding for LGBTQ issues totaled $20.2 million in 2012, down from its record high of $27 million in 2011.

• Refugees, asylees and migrants were the top funded sub-population for international funding, receiving $3.4 million.

• Of funding devoted to international LGBTQ issues, 43 percent (or $8.8 million) went to organizations based in the U.S. The second-most funded region was Sub-Saharan Africa, which secured $3.4 million.

“This report documents how funders are responding to a range of issues and needs in LGBT communities, from marriage equality and gender identity rights to safe schools and HIV/AIDS,” Ben Francisco Maulbeck, president of Funders for LGBTQ Issues, said in a news release. “It also helps us identify gaps and serves as a barometer for our progress toward engaging more funders in LGBTQ issues.”  

On the Web …


Potential GOP presidential candidates quietly seek Romney money

Three years before the next presidential election, several prospective Republican White House contenders are quietly courting senior members of Mitt Romney’s money machine.

For the candidates, Romney’s team represents a well-connected group of influential donors who can quickly generate – or divert elsewhere – the financial resources that have become the lifeblood of modern presidential politics. The former Republican presidential nominee had questionable political skills, but his fundraising operation was considered an overwhelming success.

And Romney’s fundraising lieutenants – some new to national politics and others well-entrenched political players – are beginning to look for a new home as the potential field of Republican presidential candidates grows. Some caution against reading too much into their early contact with candidates, but acknowledge that it’s never too early to begin strengthening relationships with major donors.

“We built an interesting network of people. A lot of them would be inclined to get involved again,” Romney finance chairman Spencer Zwick said in a recent interview. “I would love to be heavily involved.”

But expect the donors to be selective. Romney himself suggests that only one – “or perhaps two” – of the growing crop of Republicans is electable. And his top donors, at least for now, tend to agree.

Interviews with more than a dozen senior donors suggest that the men and women who generated hundreds of millions of dollars for Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign represent the more pragmatic wing of the Republican Party – a group likely to shy away from candidates driven by rigid conservative ideology. But few donors have committed to a contender this early. And Republican heavyweights across the political spectrum are aggressively seeking face time with Romney donors at presidential “cattle call” events around the country and in get-to-know-you meetings in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and elsewhere.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently met privately with Zwick in Boston, while several possible 2016ers have courted Charlie Spies, who created the super PAC devoted to Romney’s 2012 presidential bid.

Spies’ group alone raised more than $150 million, while Romney’s campaign collected $446 million, shattering the previous fundraising record by a Republican presidential candidate.

“I’ve had multiple conversations with people who may consider running,” Spies said while downplaying his focus on the next presidential contest ahead of the 2014 midterms.

Half a dozen Republican leaders weighing presidential bids are expected to attend a Sept. 23 fundraiser at the home of senior Romney donor Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets. The attendees, who include Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, will also attend a Washington fundraiser for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad the next day. The Washington event was organized, in part, by Lisa Spies, the wife of the pro-Romney super PAC founder, who helped raise more than $23 million last year as head of the Romney campaign’s women’s outreach program.

It’s unclear how much influence Romney maintains over his former fundraising network, but he addressed the 2016 election last month at a New Hampshire Republican Party fundraiser, calling on his party to “stay smart,” in part, by backing candidates who can win.

“My guess is that every one of the contenders would be better than whoever the Democrats put up,” Romney said. “But there will only be one or perhaps two who actually could win the election in November.”

While Romney didn’t name names, donors privately suggest that they’d likely avoid conservative firebrands like Paul or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, or those like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who have been critical of Romney’s campaign. Romney’s network has shown an early interest in Rubio in particular.

Just this year alone, Rubio’s PAC has attracted donations from seven Romney “bundlers” – a term used to describe people who help steer contributions from several donors to a candidate – that generated a combined $1.8 million for Romney’s campaign, according to campaign finance reports. Another four Romney bundlers are organizing a Washington fundraising reception for Rubio later this month.

Christie, by contrast, has received donations from just two Romney bundlers this year so far.

But those candidates still weighing presidential runs may not need Romney’s team as they begin to shape their own national networks. Most are also courting donors outside Romney’s orbit, a group that includes so-called megadonors who can give unlimited sums of money.

Conservative businessman Foster Friess, who almost single-handedly fueled Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential run, reports that “some” potential candidates are reaching out to him, although he declined to name them.

Fred Malek, a prominent Republican fundraiser, characterized this period as more about building relationships with potential fundraisers. He noted that some potential candidates have more pressing needs that could prove helpful for 2016.

“Most of the leading contenders for 2016 have their own elections to run. Chris Christie has one in two months. Scott Walker has one in about 14 months,” Malek said. “So I think the connection with the national fundraising network is a natural.”

That’s the case for Christie in particular, who has aggressively courted out-of-state donors in recent months to help overcome fundraising rules in his home state.

Christie has maintained a relationship with the former Massachusetts governor over the phone and by email since the last election, despite lingering resentment among some Romney loyalists who question Christie’s dedication to the Romney campaign last fall. In particular, many Republicans were angry that Christie canceled campaign appearances and embraced President Barack Obama after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the New Jersey coast.

Since then, however, Christie was one of the featured speakers at a Utah conference in June, organized by Romney, that was attended by a number of prominent Romney donors. Two of Romney’s sons, Craig and Matt, attended a Christie fundraising luncheon in La Jolla, Calif., in February.

“We’ve obviously been seeking help from Mitt and his team for the governor’s re-election. There’s no secret about that,” said Bill Palatucci, Christie’s campaign chairman.

Christie is not alone.

“There’s an enormous number of folks who’d like to have Gov. Romney help them in all kinds of ways,” said former Romney aide Ron Kaufman.

Big Easy’s Southern Decadence brings Big Money

The symbol of gay Pride is a rainbow but if the Southern Decadence festival that draws to a close on this Labor Day proves anything it is that the ubiquitous “pride flag” could easily be the color of money.

For years, the loosely organized conglomeration of music and street parties centered around the bawdy gay bar scene at St. Ann and Bourbon Street has been – whether by design or not – making the case that gay commerce is a very  big deal.

Promoters of the celebration estimate that, in years when the weather cooperates, the economic impact on the city far exceeds $100 million. Promoters and police were expecting more than 125,000 participants this year.

Many of those people are visitors, filling hotel rooms at a traditionally slow time for tourism in a city dependent on travelers.

People who make a living in the tourism industry know this.

And, so, the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decisions striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act while upholding the right of gays to marry in California didn’t just advance the cause of marriage equality. It inspired a new element to the gay travel market: the promotion same-sex honeymoons.

The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and the separate Greater New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation each are promoting honeymoon trip giveaways on social media. NOTMC is spending an estimated $200,000 in gay travel marketing on gay travel websites.

Southern Decadence, meanwhile, gets a mention on the decidedly mainstream sites of the two New Orleans tourist promotion agencies, where it is sometimes referred to as the “gay Mardi Gras.”

While Decadence is welcomed by city officials, its appeal isn’t universal. It still draws street preachers raging against homosexuality.

And, even in the gay community, it has its critics, says John Hill, a longtime Louisiana journalist, a gay activist and past chairman of the Forum for Equality.

“There’s two lines of thought about this,” says Hill, “One is that Decadence is a very good thing because it’s a celebration of life. Another is that it plays to stereotypes.”

Hill is among those in the former category.

“We’re awfully glad that all of that money comes into this town.”

Again, this kind of “green” movement doesn’t address all of the issues driven by the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. And neither does Southern Decadence, where the crowd appears to be largely white gay men with disposable income.

Wesley Ware is director of an organization called BreakOUT, which advocates largely for young gays or transgendered women, often minorities, who find themselves on some of New Orleans’ meaner streets. Their alleged mistreatment at the hands of police is one element of a federal court-backed reform plan for the New Orleans Police Department.

“Certainly marriage equality and adoption rights and those types of things are important wins,” Ware says. “But they are not impacting our membership in the same way.”

New Orleans police officials and Justice Department lawyers have met with BreakOUT and Forum for Equality members to address issues including allegations that some police officers have harassed and intimidated young gays and transgendered people.

It resulted in police issuing “Policy 402” during the summer: two pages of guidelines aimed at preventing biased policing, including the statement that a person’s “actual or perceived gender identity, or sexual orientation” is not probable cause to suspect a crime.

“We really believe that by tackling those issues we are able to have a larger impact on the well-being of all LGBT people in this community,” Ware said.