December 6, 2018

Pennsylvania Republicans, Thwarted in Court, Are Trying to Deny Seatin...

Republicans in Pennsylvania went to court during the midterm campaign to try to get Democratic candidate Lindsey Williams kicked off the ballot over alleged residency deficiencies. A judge threw their challenge out, and Williams went on to upset her opponent, flipping a seat tucked inside Conor Lamb’s congressional district.

Now Senate Republicans, who still control the upper chamber despite losing five seats and the popular vote statewide, are trying to use the same residency argument to refuse seating the winner of the race.

Majority Leader Jake Corman, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, and the state GOP claim that by the time of the election, Williams was ineligible to run and therefore shouldn’t be able to take her seat in January. 

Scarnati wrote Williams, 35, a letter in late November telling the incoming senator that she’d have to pay back her December salary if it was determined that she did “not meet the constitutional requirements.” The letter offered Williams, an attorney who’s worked with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers for four years, a hearing in front of Scarnati and a bipartisan commission.

A federal judge in October threw out the initial lawsuit brought by two voters, supported by the state GOP, claiming that Williams didn’t meet residency requirements on the grounds that the filers had missed the deadline to challenge her eligibility. He wrote in that opinion that the question was an “untimely” and “barely colorable claim.” 

The race in itself was bizarre. Allegations surfaced that her opponent Jeremy Shaffer was behind campaign signs saying that Williams was a socialist, manufactured to look like her own. Shaffer says he did not create the signs, but his campaign manager is treasurer of the group that paid for them. And television ads he ran against Williams made the same claim.

If Senate Republicans declare Williams ineligible, the state would have to hold a special election to fill the seat.

“I’m not sure what’s gained by having to redo this election,” Williams’s lawyer Chuck Pascal told The Intercept. “To have a special election that will be costly to both the county and both parties, to have her run in a special where she will clearly be eligible. And deprive the people of the district of a senator for six months,” he explained. “I mean the last campaign cost almost a million dollars on each side. So, it would just seem to me to be a waste of money at this point.”

Williams is cooperating with GOP requests for documentation proving her residency, including but not limited to copies of her driver’s licenses, residential lease and purchase information, and tax documents for the past four years. They asked that Scarnati extend his original deadline for the documents to December 10.

“The constitution is not a guideline,” Corman spokesperson Jennifer Kocher said in response to criticism that a special election would be a waste of money. “If she can provide us with that information that will clear any of those questions up, then we’ll just move on,” she told The Intercept.

If Senate Republicans have more questions after they review those materials and decide to call a hearing, Pascal said he and his client would participate. “We don’t think it’s necessary,” he said.


In Pennsylvania, the governor is a Democrat, and Republicans still have an eight-seat margin in the chamber. Keeping Williams from taking office would likely do less to cement their legislative victories than it might to soften the blow from the party’s shrinking margins across the state.

People close to Democratic leadership say the party isn’t taking the GOP push seriously and that the chances they’ll succeed in keeping Williams from being sworn in in January are slim, since Williams stands a good chance of winning any special election they might force. But the effort reflects a similar pattern by Republicans in places like Wisconsin and Michigan, where lawmakers are thwarting democracy and democratic norms by making last-minute attempts to restrict the power of incoming Democrats. One measure in Wisconsin would keep the incoming Democratic Gov. Tony Evers from changing the state’s voter ID law. The Onion joked that Wisconsin Republicans planned to disband the state rather than turn power over to Democrats.

In North Carolina, meanwhile, Republicans appear to have committed widespread voter fraud in a contested congressional race, with the election board refusing to certify the results.

Pennsylvania Republicans have refused to cooperate with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s attempts to staff the state redistricting commission, which is attempting to undo a Republican gerrymander that keeps the GOP in control of the state legislature despite badly losing the statewide vote.

Williams, a Duquesne law grad and former law clerk with the Pittsburgh United Steelworkers Union, was fired in late 2012 along with four other employees for trying to start a union at the National Whistleblower Center in Washington, D.C. The organization maintains that the dismissals were part of mandatory layoffs. Williams later worked for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in the District of Columbia. In November 2014, she took a job with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and moved back to Pennsylvania around that time.

Scarnati did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

The post Pennsylvania Republicans, Thwarted in Court, Are Trying to Deny Seating the Democratic Winner of an Election appeared first on The Intercept.

FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2015 file photo, Alan Durning, author of an initiative passed by Seattle voters that created the nation's first voucher system for campaign contributions, poses for a photo in his office in Seattle while holding an artist's depiction of a possible design for the vouchers. A lawsuit filed Wednesday, June 28, 2017, is challenging the voucher system for publicly financing political campaigns. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
December 2, 2018

In Democrats’ First Bill, There’s a Quiet Push to Make Public Camp...

The first bill Democrats plan to move in January when they take control of the House will mark a major step forward on a longstanding progressive goal — public financing of congressional campaigns.

The provision is a largely overlooked part of a sweeping anti-corruption bill Democrats plan to start the year with, and will bestow with the symbolic designation of HR1. The program, based on Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes’ “Government By the People Act of 2017,” would offer subsidies for individuals who want to make small contributions to political candidates. And eligible candidates would qualify for matching contributions that vary based on a candidate’s agreement to restrictions on how they finance their campaigns.

Combined with the broad surge of small dollar contributions — Democrats alone raised more than a billion dollars that way in 2018 — the public financing system would dramatically reshape the political economy of federal politics. Of course, it stands no chance of being passed by a Senate controlled by Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, but it sets the stage for potential passage in 2021 if Democrats retake control of Congress and the White House.

H.R. 1, led in large part by Sarbanes, would revamp for the first time since the 1970’s the Watergate-era model for public financing of presidential campaigns and establish a national pilot program to fund congressional campaigns. The measure intensifies pressure to stop rewarding candidates with the most money from large donors and corporate PACs, or outside dark money groups propping them up, the status quo in a post-Citizens United electoral system. The idea driving H.R. 1 is to fight and end the dominance of big money in politics.

Successful candidates this year echoed calls to drain the swamp and dispense with corporate PAC funding, uniting people across ideology and mobilizing Americans in both the working and middle classes. Eighty-five out of 208 candidates who ran this year on pledges to disavow corporate or PAC money won their primaries, and 42 went on to win seats across both chambers.

Since then, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has pledged to give up corporate PAC money. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., a former co-chair, told The Intercept he has decided to do the same.

Joining the no corporate PAC team doesn’t mean a candidate won’t take any money from people who work for corporations, as many still receive individual donations directly from corporate executives and employees or indirectly through other PACs and dark money groups that don’t have to disclose their donors.

Under the H.R. 1 plan, individuals who contribute to House campaigns would be eligible for a one-time federal tax credit on up to $50 of political giving.. Those who make contributions of $300 or more to any candidate or committee, including PACs, would not be eligible for the credit. People in the states selected to pilot the voucher program would have the option to request a “My Voice Voucher” and allocate funds in increments of $5 to multiple candidates of their choice. Taking part in the voucher program also precludes eligibility for the tax credit.

Participating candidates are entitled to a 6 to 1 match of the amount they receive in small dollar contributions. If candidates agree to further financial restrictions outlined in the bill — that would cap them at accepting a maximum contribution of $1,000 from any individual, and require at least $50,000 in total individual contributions — the match they’re entitled to increases by 50 percent.  

The goal of the restrictions and requirements is to minimize the possibility that a scammer could get access to matching public funds, as raising $50,000 in individual donations is a difficult feat which separates serious candidates from unserious ones. By capping contributions at $1,000, but matching $150 contributions at a 6 to 1 rate, the law incentivizes candidates to target regular people for smaller donations rather than rich people for big ones.

House Democrats will also pursue related legislation, including but not limited to H.R. 1, that would enforce higher standards of disclosure and transparency with an aim to reveal sources of dark money in campaign funding, push for enhanced disclosure for online ads, limit coordination between super PACs and campaigns where current federal law has failed, and revamp the Federal Election Commission’s authority for oversight and enforcement action. A focus on reinstating voting rights, combatting partisan gerrymandering, addressing election security concerns and revamping the Office of Government Ethics are all also part of the overall strategy to expand and restore the role of voters in the electoral process.

“At the polls earlier this month, the American people sent us a clear message,” Rep. Sarbanes said in a statement emailed to The Intercept. “They want to end the culture of corruption in Trump’s Washington, hold elected officials accountable and make government more responsive to the people. On the first day of the new Congress, Democrats will introduce a bold and sweeping democracy reform package that will … ensure that public servants behave in Washington and make it easier, not harder, to vote.”

“And it will be strongly backed by the new Democratic House majority – which is built on a diverse class of freshmen who are unified in their promise to restore our democracy – along with a new coalition of nearly 100 grassroots organizations that want to get this reform package over the finish line,” the statement read.

While it won’t be part of the first bill they plan to push in January, House Democrats are also eyeing a resolution to recommend overturning Citizens United. Conservative policy analysts say the 2010 ruling upholds the crucial democratic pillar of free speech by allowing corporations and unions to make independent political expenditures without restrictions. A 2015 Bloomberg poll shows an overwhelming 78 percent of respondents think it should be overturned.


Recent local and state iterations of public campaign finance programs in places like Baltimore, New York City, Seattle, Denver, and Washington, D.C. offer teachable lessons for legislators developing a national framework. “I think it’s not an accident that we’re suddenly kind of seeing so many localities pass these things. There’s a frustration and a feeling that people don’t have a voice and they’re being ignored completely,” Larry Norden told The Intercept. He’s deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan, pro-campaign finance reform public policy institute at New York University Law School.

Proponents of local initiatives say shifting the bulk of campaign financing from the corporate to public sector encourages broader civic participation and helps people feel like they’re taking a meaningful part in the electoral process — and that the process itself is actually democratic. “Public financing programs, one of their big goals is increasing participation,” Aaron McKean at the Campaign Legal Center told The Intercept. A second goal is “changing how our public officials actually engage with voters or with their constituents,” he said.

Seattle used a $3 million tax on property owners to pilot a voucher program as part of a $4.2 million earmark for the 2019 city council race, where residents will get four vouchers totaling $100 which they can distribute in support of candidates of their choice. Choosing to participate in the program also limits a candidate’s funding pool to Seattle residents.

FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2015 file photo, Alan Durning, author of an initiative passed by Seattle voters that created the nation's first voucher system for campaign contributions, poses for a photo in his office in Seattle while holding an artist's depiction of a possible design for the vouchers. A lawsuit filed Wednesday, June 28, 2017, is challenging the voucher system for publicly financing political campaigns. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Alan Durning, author of an initiative passed by Seattle voters in 2015 that created the nation’s first voucher system for campaign contributions, poses with an artist’s depiction of a possible design for the vouchers on Nov. 12, 2015.

Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP

The Seattle model is designed to encourage and reward grassroots campaigns — only candidates who receive 150 individual contributions are eligible for funding via the public vouchers. But candidates can only exchange those vouchers for hard cash once they’ve received 400 individual contributions and gotten the same number of signatures verified.

The stance on big money has quickly become a litmus test among candidates, at least for Democrats. Before Election Day, 104 congressional candidates signed a letter refusing to take corporate money.

Support for the movement is more scarce amongst Republicans — Reps. Phil Roe of Tennessee and Francis Rooney of Florida are the only party incumbents who don’t take corporate or super PAC money, according to End Citizens United, a political action committee focused on campaign finance reform. That excludes the contributions they receive from their official committees.

Fewer than a handful of Republican candidates in rare cases have parroted the anti-big money message to their advantage. Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte — who quickly began accepting PAC money after his election — ran his 2016 gubernatorial campaign on a pledge against it, echoing in his 2017 special election campaign calls to “drain the swamp.” Other Republicans have explicitly expressed that they believe voters don’t care if elected officials take corporate money.

Rep. Ro Khanna started the “No PAC Caucus” last summer. The Congressional Progressive Caucus announced in April that it would not longer accept corporate donations, but nearly all of its members, except Khanna, Jayapal, Tulsi Gabbard and David Cicilline, still take corporate money. Representatives-elect Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jahana Hayes and Ayanna Pressley have all also said they’ll reject corporate PAC money, joined now by Pocan and Grijalva

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in March reversed her previous opposition to the idea and signed a bill creating a public financing program for local campaigns in the District that’s expected go into effect for 2020. Like the Seattle program, it incentivizes small dollar financing, but instead it requires candidates to meet a threshold in order to qualify for a base grant to their campaign, and to be eligible for a 5 to 1 match for individual contributions. Bowser in January criticized the bill for what she said was a diversion of tax dollars at a time when residents have more immediate concerns. The bill unanimously passed the D.C. council in February.


Opponents of a national public campaign finance system argue that individuals shouldn’t be forced to pay for the campaigns of politicians they don’t support. Or that people who don’t want to put their money into a failing political system should not have to. Local pilot programs have been criticized for not actually keeping money out of politics, and instead making it easier for financially and politically connected incumbents and otherwise already well-established figures to win reelection, crushing newcomers who don’t have as much financial support out of the gate. Some say the idea creates unintended pressures that encourage fraud and misuse of public funds instead of enhancing the overall integrity of the system.

“I think that you could say that, sort of the alternative to that does the same thing to a higher level though,” said Austin Graham at the Campaign Legal Center. In the current system, he said, “candidates relying on what we would call a privately financed campaign are going to have the same benefits in terms of established networks. And they can actually raise money to much larger amounts. Whereas with the voucher program, at least the program basically directs the focus of the candidates to their prospective constituents.” He had heard about confusion among candidates regarding qualification requirements for Seattle’s voucher program, but noted that the city council had since taken feedback and amended the program ordinance for the next cycle.

Democrats should also be wary, David Keating said, of creating a mechanism for public campaign finance that could be weaponized by one party against the other.  He’s president the Institute for Free Speech, a conservative, pro-deregulation non-profit, previously known as the Center for Competitive Politics. Ostensibly, President Trump would be the one to appoint people to any committee tasked with auditing potentially corrupt campaigns, Keating explained. “Why would they want to trust someone like Trump to appoint a majority of the people who are on the enforcement commission to audit these campaigns? Basically you would have Trump allies who could go through and audit all the Democratic candidates across the country and make announcements during the campaign, that ‘Oh, look here. This is something that was not done right. We’re going to slap this candidate with a fine and announce he’s broken the law.’”

Democrats say they’re clear-eyed on the bill’s prospects in the Senate, where Majority Leader McConnell has long been an outspoken opponent of efforts to reform the campaign finance system. The bill, then, is more of a nod to the burgeoning support for the movement against big money, and Sarbanes’ office hopes it will establish a party-wide standard that Democrats are taking seriously calls to fix a broken electoral system that rewards fundraising prowess over effective policy or messaging.

Both parties, however, tend to be good at passing legislation important to their respective bases when the opposition party is in the White House and it has little chance of passage. With George W. Bush in the White House, Democrats passed sweeping labor law reforms through the House. When a Democrat took the White House, that same Democratic caucus failed even to bring it to the floor for a vote. Tea party Republicans, with Obama in the White House, repealed Obamacare on what seemed like a weekly basis. Once they had a president willing to sign it, the votes to repeal evaporated.

Passing H.R. 1 will set a marker for progressives in 2019, but it’ll require continuous pressure to see it made into law.

The post In Democrats’ First Bill, There’s a Quiet Push to Make Public Campaign Finance a Reality appeared first on The Intercept.

Porter County Clerk and Election Board member Karen Martin. Press conference held at noon Thursday outside the voter registration department on the lower level of the Porter County Administration Center in Valparaiso.
November 16, 2018

Fallout From Election Day Chaos Continues in Indiana’s Porter County...

Agents from the FBI walked into an office building in the town of Valparaiso, in Porter County, Indiana, last Thursday. County officials had called them for help.

Two full days after the election, ballots for local races still had not been counted. Final election results weren’t released until early the next morning. The delays have caused alarm among local politicians and angered some voters and poll workers, who are calling on the county clerk to resign. More than a week later, one county council race is still too close to call — hanging on a margin of just 15 votes.

Since last week’s elections, reports have come in that raise concerns about alleged efforts to suppress and or manipulate votes across the country, particularly in places like Georgia and Florida. Accounts from local poll workers and voters on Twitter and in the news indicated a broader national breakdown of an overwhelmed electoral system: polling places that ran out of supplies, lines much too long for the elderly or chronically ill to wait in, malfunctioning machines, and even instances where some machines changed votes from one candidate to another. (President Donald Trump and some other Republican politicians, meanwhile, have amplified unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.)

But in Porter County, the logistical problems were so bad that local officials felt they needed to call for outside help getting to the bottom of things. And as in many other places, it’s not clear whether the issues were caused by politics, mismanagement, or some messy combination of both.

“My concern was more about the lack of organization, the lack of planning, the lack of communication, quite frankly,” said Vicki Urbanik, a Democratic incumbent who was re-elected as county auditor. “Clearly they dropped the ball on this.”

This year, the county’s three-person election board voted to transfer administration of elections from the Voter Registration Office to the county clerk’s office, mirroring the way other counties in the state run elections. But Urbanik and other Democrats, as well as Republicans, say that the change caused unusual disruptions in voting this year.

“I will say that [in] most counties that I’m aware of in Indiana, the clerk’s office actually does run the elections. But this represented a real change here in Porter County, because the Voter Registration Office always ran the elections,” Urbanik explained.

County Clerk Karen Martin was one of the board’s two Republican members who voted in favor of the transition; the Democrat, J.J. Stankiewicz, opposed it. Martin was Urbanik’s Republican opponent for county auditor this year. None of the board members responded to multiple requests for comment. Reached by phone, a deputy in Martin’s office declined to comment.

Martin was on the election board for eight years, Urbanik said. “So, in some people’s minds, the switch really should not have been that big of a deal, in terms of disruption to the election process.” But, she added, “when the Voter Registration Office ran the elections, we never had the problems that we experienced like we had this year.”

Porter County Clerk and Election Board member Karen Martin. Press conference held at noon Thursday outside the voter registration department on the lower level of the Porter County Administration Center in Valparaiso.

Porter County Clerk Karen Martin at a press conference at the Porter County Administration Center on Nov. 8, 2018 in Valparaiso, Ind.

Photo: Tony V. Martin/Courtesy of Times of Northwest Indiana

At least 13 polls in Porter County did not open until between one and two hours after the slated 6 a.m. start — and one poll opened two and a half hours late.

“I do know for a fact the people left,” Urbanik said. Other poll workers independently confirmed this in interviews with The Intercept. A local Republican judge had to issue an order — requested by the county election board and Indiana’s Democratic State Central Committee, and opposed by the state GOP — to keep 12 of those locations open late so voters could make up for the time lost.

On the morning of the election, more than 18,000 absentee and early voter ballots had not yet been sorted for delivery to designated polling places, where they would be tabulated alongside in-person votes. Sheriffs reportedly delivered the missing ballots at 6 a.m., when polls were supposed to open. (Another court order was issued later that day to ensure absentee votes were counted as normal rather than provisional ballots, which are tallied the next day.)

Several voters who requested absentee ballots never received them, Drew Wenger told The Intercept. He chairs the Valparaiso Democratic Committee, which called Tuesday for state police “to investigate any potential wrongdoing connected to the 2018 Porter County election fiasco.” One 85-year-old woman who voted absentee in every election, Wenger said, didn’t receive her ballot for more than two and a half weeks after her initial request. That was only after she inquired in person with the clerk’s office about the delay.

By county law, two inspectors — one from each party — are appointed to monitor polls on each election. But this year, there weren’t enough inspectors, and when polls were supposed to open, several locations still didn’t have their team assembled.

“My husband and I had been contacting Republicans the day before by phone to try and get the gap filled that there weren’t enough Republican inspectors to run the election,” said Candace Shaw, whose husband, Democrat Frank Szczepanski, failed to unseat the local state representative, Ed Soliday, in Indiana’s 4th District. Soliday has himself called for the Indiana secretary of state’s office to investigate what happened in Porter County.

A self-described political junkie, Shaw has been deeply involved in Indiana politics for years, working polls and coordinating poll staffers on Election Day. She offered that growing up, she identified as a Republican and was vice chair of her local young Republicans committee, until she began to study political science in college and re-evaluated her political views. She said most of her family voted for Trump and remains “very, very Republican.” Despite posturing between the state parties on each side, the mishandling of the election isn’t a partisan issue, Shaw said. “I’m friends with a lot of Republicans here in Porter County, and a lot of them are really upset as well about what happened.”

On top of the absence of coordination and communication, poll workers cited myriad technical difficulties. “At 6am the ballot boxers weren’t working. Inspectors were still MIA. We couldn’t open. My stomach sank. I was trying to do something good and now I’d probably be on the local evening news,” poll worker Michelle Senderhauf wrote in a viral thread posted last week on Twitter. She also echoed Shaw’s account, saying that at her polling place, inspectors appointed by each party to monitor voting were not present.

The clerk’s office had also listed the incorrect address for one precinct, and the local newspaper reprinted the error. When voters from that precinct arrived, mistakenly, at Senderhauf’s polling place, workers didn’t have ballots for them. Senderhauf had to call the election hotline for guidance and redirect voters to the correct location.

Senderhauf told The Intercept that lack of training played a major part in the understaffing of precincts. Poll workers didn’t receive training until less than two weeks before election day. “Classes were announced last minute or would only be during the work day. I’m not surprised people refused to show up,” she wrote in an email. “Even though I watched the online training videos and read through the dense state election manual, I didn’t feel confident at all about what I was going to be doing on Election Day. … The incredibly kind and patient woman who was a clerk with me basically gave me on the job training.”

She added that “the state and county have standard procedures, though, and it sure seems that if those procedures had been followed, much of the chaos that day would have been avoided. I can’t help but think that disorganization and ineptitude caused the problems I saw in Porter County on Election Day. I certainly hope it wasn’t done out of malice.”

Other poll workers and county officials interviewed by The Intercept say the problems were not merely a matter of the clerk’s office being unprepared and overwhelmed, and placed the blame squarely on Martin.

Election board member Stankiewicz raised concerns as early as October 31, at a board meeting, that polling locations would not open on time because inspectors had not yet been assigned. “And nothing was done,” Wenger said.

At 1 a.m. the day after the election, the Northwest Indiana Times reported that poll workers were sitting on the floor of the county courthouse counting early and absentee ballots that were delivered late. That situation was avoidable, Shaw argues.

“We did not want to have 18,000 early voters disenfranchised just because of what the clerk chose to do,” Shaw said. “Those are choices that she made.”

The election fiasco has led to calls for Martin to resign. The clerk has been difficult to reach in the days following the election; she was most recently seen hiding behind a voter at an election board briefing, a local affiliate of CBS Chicago reported.

The FBI confirmed that the Porter County Board of Commissioners contacted them regarding the election, but could not comment on any investigation. “The FBI is always willing to accept information, complaints and tips from public officials and community members,” Chris Bavender, public affairs officer for the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis, wrote in an email to The Intercept. “Per DOJ policy I can neither confirm nor deny an investigation.”

Members of the Porter County Board of Commissioners did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The county is set to verify vote totals Friday.

Urbanik, Martin’s challenger, believed that the elections were clearly mismanaged. While she made clear that she did not suspect a deliberate attempt at voter suppression, as a former reporter who observed elections in the county for 25 years, she said it was not out of the question.

“When you look at the polling sites that were not adequately staffed, and that they didn’t open on time, most of them were in one particular area. Which tends to vote Democrat. Not necessarily Democrat, but it tends to be Democrat,” Urbanik told The Intercept in a phone interview.

Shaw called the chaos that ensued in Porter County and elsewhere “completely un-American.”

“It goes against everything that I’ve ever been brought up to believe. Even when I was a Republican, compared to now that I’m a Democrat,” she said. “It’s against everything that we believe about the way that our voting system is supposed to work.”

The post Fallout From Election Day Chaos Continues in Indiana’s Porter County appeared first on The Intercept.

UNITED STATES - APRIL 26: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., participates in a press conference on medical cannabis research reform on Thursday, April 26, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)
November 10, 2018

House Committee Leadership Is About to Get a Lot Less White. What That...

All but two of the 21 House committees are currently chaired by white, male members of Congress. The two exceptions are committees chaired by white women.

That’s all about to change.

With Democrats having seized control of the House of Representatives, a historic number of women and people of color are poised to take the helm of at least eight powerful committees when the 116th Congress takes shape. Some of these chair positions would be held for the first time by a woman or a person of color.

New York Rep. Nita Lowey on the Appropriations committee, Virginia’s Bobby Scott on Education and Workforce, California’s Maxine Waters on Financial Services, Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson on Homeland Security, Arizona’s Raúl Grijalva on Natural Resources, Maryland’s Elijah Cummings on Oversight and Government Reform, Texas’s Eddie Bernice Johnson on Science, Space, and Technology, and New York’s Nydia Velázquez on Small Business all hold the position of ranking member on their respective committees.

California Rep. Mark Takano, vice ranking member of Veterans’ Affairs, has announced his bid to chair the committee. He’s been endorsed by ranking member Tim Walz — now Minnesota’s governor-elect — who’s retiring at the end of the year.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California is vice ranking member on both the Administration and Judiciary committees; she’s positioned to chair Administration following the retirement of Pennsylvania Rep. Robert Brady.

South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn announced Wednesday that he’d run again for majority whip, a seat he held from 2007 to 2011. And Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., said he’d run to replace Clyburn as assistant Democratic leader.

Also contested is the coveted leadership position as chair of the Democratic Caucus. Reps. Barbara Lee of California and Hakeem Jeffries of New York are in the running to replace Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, who earlier this year lost his re-election bid to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

UNITED STATES - APRIL 26: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., participates in a press conference on medical cannabis research reform on Thursday, April 26, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., at a press conference on medical cannabis research reform on April 26, 2018.

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP

“That’s gonna be a really competitive race,” lobbyist Mike Williams told The Intercept.

Williams is a partner with United by Interest, a lobbying firm started earlier this year to leverage the growing size and influence of groups like the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses, in the service of corporate clients, both of which are being bolstered by the record number of women and people of color entering Congress. UBI recently signed with the American Petroleum Institute, the lobby for Big Oil.

As for who else he thinks might pitch a run to lead the Democratic Caucus, “That is the $64,000 question,” Williams said. “I think everybody’s holding their cards close to the vest because they want to figure out what’s up for grabs, and what deals are gonna get cut.”

Those dynamics are becoming increasingly complicated as the caucuses are set to pull more weight in the next session. Those competing influences will play a role in how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi positions herself in the fight, Williams said. Pelosi is confident in her path to the speakership despite a significant number of the freshman class who have said they won’t support her.

“Maybe she wants to throw her weight in behind somebody else at a different caucus’s behest,” Williams told The Intercept. “All of those things are in play right now.”

Williams, for his part, is joining other lobbyists seeking to make the most of the growing potential in both caucuses. While Williams plans to lobby the CBC for the American Petroleum Institute, another firm, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, is forging a connection to the caucus in partnership with former Missouri state Rep. Don Calloway and his firm, Pine Street Strategies. The firm represents the Environmental Defense Fund, but also a slew of corporate clients, including the National Bankers Association, a lobbying group for minority and women-owned business.

K Street firms have long employed lobbyists they call “CBC specialists,” whose mission is to find CBC members willing to sign onto legislation, or letters to regulatory agencies, and give progressive cover to a corporate agenda. Many of the members of the incoming class of freshmen, however, have vowed not to take corporate PAC money and made cleaning up Washington central parts of their campaigns. What comes of the collision between those twin dynamics will determine what the next House is able to produce legislatively.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., center, speaks at a Congressional Tri-Caucus news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, on injustice and inequality in America. The Congressional Tri-Caucus is comprised of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Cedric Richmond, center, speaks at a Congressional Tri-Caucus news conference in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 27, 2017.

Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

A Failure to Reflect Constituents

Committee chairs are less powerful than they once were, but the person with the gavel still sets the agenda and determines which bills to consider, what issues to hold hearings on, and who will testify at those hearings. In some cases, they have subpoena power. House Democrats have said they won’t hold leadership elections until after December 5, but women and people of color are slowly building momentum to expand their stake in the chamber. Unless their colleagues launch challenges, legislators in the position of ranking member or with the most seniority usually ascend to chair without issue. Pelosi has said she doesn’t anticipate any deviations this year from the standard process, according to Democratic committee staffers.

The current Congress is already the most diverse in history, across both chambers — if you don’t count legislative staffers. Only six out of 40 top House aides aren’t white, according to a September report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington-based think tank focused on issues impacting communities of color. In 2015, the center found similarly poor showings among Senate staffers, underscoring a persistent inability within the legislative branch, regardless of party, to build offices that reflect both the country and constituents.

But the next Congress stands to break new records. And members are itching for change.

On November 1, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Cedric Richmond, called for an African-American representative to take “at least one of the top two positions of elected House Democratic leadership,” i.e., House speaker or majority leader. House leadership has not directly addressed the request since the chamber flipped Tuesday.

The letter was initially reported as representing the views of the CBC as a whole, but it was a solo letter sent from Richmond’s office.

Clyburn’s campaign also distributed materials this week outlining his strategy to build “a new model for African-American engagement and turnout, initially deployed in special elections in 2017, including for Doug Jones’s historic victory in the Alabama Senate race.” Clyburn is the only one of the top three in leadership positions to have so far drawn a challenger, Rep. Diana Degette, D-Colo.

Congressional leaders and aides interviewed by The Intercept say they want to push for stronger oversight of President Donald Trump’s cabinet, compelling secretaries to attend more hearings on issues ranging from the influence of industry at the Department of Interior to the Department of Education’s regulation of for-profit institutions. Staffers say they’ll also advance issues related to sexual harassment in the workplace, workforce development, health care access, raising the minimum wage, climate change and environmental justice, and Indian country.

UNITED STATES - JULY 25: Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, attend a House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing titled "James Webb Space Telescope: Program Breach and its Implications," in Rayburn Building on July 25, 2018. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, and Tom Young, chairman of the JWST Independent Review Board, testified. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Chair Lamar Smith, R-Texas, right, and ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, attend a House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing on July 25, 2018.

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP

Breaking New Ground

If Barbara Lee is elected to lead the Democratic Caucus, she would be the first woman of color to ever hold the position. (Rep. Linda T. Sánchez withdrew her bid Thursday after a federal grand jury in Connecticut indicted her husband, James Sullivan, for allegedly stealing federal grant money.)

Similar firsts are expected throughout the chamber.

Eddie Bernice Johnson would be the first person of color, and the first woman, to chair the Science, Space, and Technology committee. She pushed a bill earlier this year to address sexual harassment in STEM fields, and plans to improve STEM education for women and minorities to create a stronger pipeline into the industry.

“It’s been a big deal for her, her whole career,” an aide told The Intercept, referencing discrimination Johnson faced as a black nursing student. As a young woman, she was barred from attending nursing school in her hometown of Waco, Texas, because of her race. “She’s always tried to make sure that underrepresented groups drive U.S. innovation.”

Nita Lowey would be the first woman and the first Jewish person to chair the Appropriations committee. “She has served in Congress for quite a while now. And she’s been on the committee for 26 years,” an aide said in a phone interview with The Intercept. Lowey oversaw foreign assistance as chair of the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee from 2006 to 2010.

In addition to negotiating a new two-year deal to lift budgetary restrictions imposed by the 2011 sequestration, Lowey wants to reverse the efforts of the current majority to use “appropriations bills as a way to limit women’s access to reproductive health care, defund Planned Parenthood, cut Title X family planning, [and] reduce resources for teen pregnancy prevention.”

“I think with her in the chair, that stops,” the aide said. “We’ll write bills that instead actually promote women’s access to health care. And that would include internationally.”

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 10: Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) speaks during a news conference regarding the separation of immigrant children at the U.S. Capitol on July 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. A court order issued June 26 set a deadline of July 10 to reunite the roughly 100 young children with their parents. (Photo by Alex Edelman/Getty Images)

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., speaks on the separation of immigrant families during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on July 10, 2018.

Photo: Alex Edelman/Getty Images

Industry in Charge

As chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Raúl Grijalva, a former co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, says he would use the legal tools at his disposal to hold Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke accountable for ongoing ethics scandals surrounding his office, something he says his colleagues in the majority have failed to do.

“Me being a Latino in charge of the environment, I think 10 years ago that would have been unheard of,” Grijalva told The Intercept in a phone interview. “It’s a positive, and I think, in the long term, a very integrative and educational experience for the American public. Because people of color and women can chew gum and walk at the same time.”

Grijalva easily won his district, which he’s led since 2003. His opponent, Nick Pierson, a former financial adviser to the health insurance industry, said Grijalva was “not a good example of a Mexican.” Both are of Mexican descent.

Grijalva is unopposed in his path to chair the committee, which he says “has deteriorated” over the past two years “from a coequal branch that does oversight, that pushes on accountability, to basically just being there as cheerleaders for the administration, and for Zinke in particular.” He called out the Interior secretary for replacing career professionals with key advisers from the gas, oil, and mining extraction industries.

Chairing the committee would be an opportunity “to be strong about demanding information,” Grijalva said. That includes “Zinke on one end,” as well as “what I perceive to be conflicts of interest throughout that department in terms of who makes decisions. And some level of corruption that hasn’t been truly clarified. So, we have to look at that.”

“The oversight that the majority has done has been about how horrible the Endangered Species Act [is]. That’s not oversight,” he added.

Grijalva criticized his Republican colleagues for not taking seriously mounting ethics questions clouding the Interior Department. He said the minority had to initiate investigations into Zinke’s Montana land deal with Halliburton chair David J. Lesar. “We had to raise the issue,” he said, “and then asking the inspector general, who then referred it to Justice. And that was work we had to do on our own. That shouldn’t be the case.”

He also raised questions about little-understood plans to reorganize the department — “some whim of Zinke’s,” according to Grijalva.

“He has not provided to the minority, or I’m assuming to the majority either, what the rationale is, what the cost is, what the impact is, how it’s gonna work. And we want to revisit that before any effort is made to fund that,” Grijalva said.

“My belief is that that’s industry that’s in charge right now of the Interior Department. Industry has a role, but they don’t have the sole role. And right now they have the sole role.”

On the policy side, Grijalva said, he wants to focus on “how we build the budget for Interior. How we reclaim the conservation ethic for our public lands and waters. And conservation extending to species and to the public process which is NEPA,” referring to the National Environmental Policy Act, which Grijalva described as “deteriorating and undercut now for two years.” He has criticized Chair Rob Bishop, R-Utah, for proposing that NEPA’s environmental review requirements be waived to expedite recovery efforts in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

The congressman said the committee has also supported “the dumbing down of science.”

“If you look at the mission statement and the goals of the majority this previous session, the word climate change was scrubbed from the whole thing,” he told The Intercept.

“We’re dealing with issues of the environment, of our land and our water, of our species,” Grijalva said. “That requires science and fact. And certainly the idea of climate change, and what role the public assets of land and water play in mitigating and adaptation for that.”

As the committee stands now, “We have one mission for our public lands and public assets including water. And that is extraction, and nothing else,” Grijalva said. “It’s always been a multimission, multipurpose idea that this committee has worked on, and I want to get back to that.”

Grijalva also plans to work with the House Energy and Commerce committee on various environmental justice issues, including restoring the land removed from Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument — which the state itself supports — and protecting the federal ban on uranium mining around the Grand Canyon, a measure the Supreme Court recently declined to review.

The Arizona congressman said that as chair, he would also heighten the profile of Native constituents in his district, nearly half of which is on Native American tribal land. “I think they’ve been diminished in status, and we want to raise that back up again,” Grijalva told The Intercept. He wants to bring the committee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs to its full capacity at 56 staff members — it currently has only 26.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 13: Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) speaks during a news conference held by House Democrats condemning the Trump Administration's targeting of the Affordable Care Act's pre-existing condition, in the US Capitol on June 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images)

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., at a news conference held by House Democrats condemning the Trump administration’s targeting of the Affordable Care Act on June 13, 2018.

Photo: Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images

Increasing Cabinet Oversight

Bobby Scott would be the second African-American to chair the Education and Workforce committee, following a pioneering civil rights leader. New York Democrat Adam Clayton Powell, whose parents were of multiracial heritage, chaired the Committee on Education and Labor in 1961, which predated the committee as established in its current form.

When you have a “more diverse group of people at the table, you tend to get better policy,” a Scott aide told The Intercept during a phone interview. Scott’s office said he would take a strong stance against the Trump administration’s approach to for-profit education if elected chair.

“I would expect a great degree of oversight in that area,” the aide said, criticizing “a long track record, both among congressional Republicans and the Trump administration, of prioritizing these for-profit institutions over the students that too often are harmed by predatory behavior.”

In December 2017, the committee majority proposed the PROSPER Act, a measure that would cut $15 billion in student federal lending programs and reduce regulations on for-profit institutions, according to a February analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.

“There are a number of senior officials in the Trump administration who have come from for-profit institutions, or for-profit lobbying companies” the aide continued, “and there’s a conflict of interest angle there.” The committee has only called Education Secretary Betsy DeVos before one hearing this year.

The committee is also tasked with leading the charge to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. That means allocating future federal funding for colleges and universities and tackling the second worst segment of consumer debt in the country: federal student loans.

At the K-12 level, Scott’s constituents can expect continued pressure on the Department of Education to comply with Obama-era federal laws holding states accountable for addressing the achievement gap, his office said. He also wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025.

As the first woman to chair the Financial Services committee, Maxine Waters would prioritize heavier regulations on the financial industry, her office said, along with issues of affordable housing and homelessness. Over the past several terms, she has battled with other members of the CBC who serve on the committee and are closer to banking interests, over the committee’s direction.

Bennie Thompson’s office doesn’t expect a challenge to his path to chair the Homeland Security committee. He was the first person of color to chair the committee from 2007 to 2010. He’s also the only Democrat from Mississippi.

His office criticized Republicans on the committee for lack of oversight, something they say Thompson will change in the next session. Topics to watch in hearings that could start as early as February include immigration, disaster response, and election security.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: House Small Business Committee Ranking Member Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) speaks during a House Small Business Committee hearing on President Donald Trump's ban of Chinese Telecom Maker ZTE on Capitol Hill  June 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Ranking member Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., speaks during a House Small Business Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on June 27, 2018.

Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Nydia Velázquez, the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress, is next in line to lead the Small Business committee, which she chaired from 2007 to 2011. “The congresswoman has made it no secret she plans to run for chair of the committee,” an aide wrote in an email to The Intercept, adding that Velázquez would “continue working to expand inclusiveness and diversity on the committee and to promote those goals in terms of small business policy.”

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., is in line to be chair of the Judiciary subcommittee that oversees the federal courts, and he has pledged to continue to investigate whether Brett Kavanaugh committed perjury during his confirmation process, or continue to probe areas where the Trump administration and Senate Republicans stopped short, he told The Intercept.

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia is ranking member on the Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight, where he’s been vocal this year on redesigning the IRS. His office declined to discuss any pursuit of the chair position.

Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois is in line to chair the Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on information technology. That’s only if she doesn’t end up moving to the Energy and Commerce committee to focus on her office’s priorities in STEM and workforce development, according to Communications Director James Lewis.

IT is currently the only House committee in which both the chair and ranking member are people of color — should Kelly take the chair position, she’d be replacing Texas Republican Will Hurd.

“That would be pretty significant, given all the conversation around tech diversity and inspiring women and people of color to go into STEM,” Lewis told The Intercept in a phone interview.

As chair, Kelly would focus on the role that Facebook and Russian-backed hackers played in the 2016 presidential election.

“We work really well with Mr. Hurd. We don’t think the problem is Mr. Hurd. We think it’s his bosses,” Lewis explained, referring to Rep. Trey Gowdy, chair of Oversight and Government Reform. Kelly and Hurd both agree that workforce training is necessary to grow jobs in an economy in which artificial intelligence plays a larger role.

As chair of the Veterans’ Affairs committee, Mark Takano would continue to bring attention to the issue of veterans deported from the United States, which is poorly understood, his office says, because there isn’t much data. Takano wants to make sure the changing population of veterans, which each year includes more women and minorities, has appropriate services to address their needs. He also plans to target deficient oversight of for-profit educational institutions that prey upon veterans as part of his joint work on the Education and Workforce committee.

Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush is expected to chair the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy, where he is currently vice ranking member, spokesperson Ryan Johnson wrote in an email to The Intercept. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., will chair the committee.

Rush’s office said he plans to work on clean and sustainable energy technology, particularly in rural communities, and moving an infrastructure package to improve the electric grid and upgrade old water pipes made of lead, as well as natural gas pipelines. “His other priorities would include promoting a 21st-century energy workforce that reflects the diversity of the nation, and highlighting the economic benefits, as well as the positive national security implications, of addressing the issue of climate change,” Johnson wrote.

Elijah Cummings, positioned to chair the committee on Oversight and Government Reform, did not respond to requests for comment. His office put out a statement Wednesday indicating plans to “investigate the real reason” for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s termination the day after the midterm elections.

The post House Committee Leadership Is About to Get a Lot Less White. What That Means Remains to Be Seen. appeared first on The Intercept.

Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill is surrounded by family as she accepts cheers from supporters after being elected over incumbant Republican Sen. Jim Talent during an election watch party Wednesday morning,  Nov. 8, 2006, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
November 7, 2018

Women Built the 2018 Midterm Blue Wave — but the Last One Washed The...

Twenty-seven years ago, Anita Hill sat before a Senate committee and explained that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her. At the time, only two women served in the upper chamber, and neither were on the Judiciary Committee.

The optics of Hill’s hearing, along with the events that led up to and followed it, drove a record number of women to action — and into the Senate.

In 1992, the year following the hearing, now famously known as the “Year of the Woman,” Americans voted four women into the Senate. That constituted a historic, 100 percent increase in the number of sitting women senators: Barbara Mikulski’s re-election pushed the total to seven (North Dakota’s first female senator Jocelyn Burdick, appointed to fill her husband’s seat after he died, did not run for re-election). That included the first African-American woman to serve in the chamber, Carol Moseley Braun. And it wasn’t just the upper chamber: The number of women in the House almost doubled from 30 to 48.

Amid another era of historic reckoning with sexual harassment and hostility toward women in the workplace, men are again falling out of positions of power. The #MeToo movement has taken down some 200 men from the worlds of government, corporations, and media. And women have been replacing them, almost one for one.

Though Democratic women have historically outnumbered their Republican counterparts, blue waves like the one that came to pass Tuesday excluded women more often than not.

In politics, that’s a fact most evident in the massive number of women — 589 — who have run, or said they’ll run, in races this year for the Senate, House, and governor’s mansions.

Yet the wave of women candidates is not always what it seems. Election observers tend to conflate the advancement of women in electoral politics with Democratic gains. While women are certainly, if slowly, increasing their numbers in the legislative branch and across statehouses, the correlation between Democratic victories and victories for women hasn’t always been as strong as many think. This is true even in recent elections, as this year’s momentum for a clutch of Republican women shows.

Though Democratic women have historically outnumbered their Republican counterparts, blue waves like the one that came to pass Tuesday excluded women more often than not.

Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill is surrounded by family as she accepts cheers from supporters after being elected over incumbant Republican Sen. Jim Talent during an election watch party Wednesday morning,  Nov. 8, 2006, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

Claire McCaskill is surrounded by family after being elected during an election watch party on Nov. 8, 2006, in St. Louis. Mo.

Photo: L.G. Patterson/AP

People forget what happened in 2006.

Americans were beginning to sour on the Iraq War in large numbers, and swing voters who backed President George W. Bush in 2004 were moving to support Democrats.

EMILY’s List, the well-known Democratic political action committee that supports pro-choice women, endorsed 43 candidates for Senate, House, and gubernatorial races. Nineteen won — four senators, 12 representatives, and three governors. In total that year, 148 women were elected to Congress, and six became governors. The push put Nancy Pelosi in the seat of the speaker of the House — the first woman to hold the position.

Pundits and analysts memorialized the win as a teachable moment for Democrats. It was a replicable model. The party picked up 32 seats and flipped both the House and Senate for the first time in 12 years, despite criticisms that the candidates who won were too centrist. Naftali Bendavid’s popular book, “The Thumpin’,” chronicled the then-chair of the moderate Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Rahm Emanuel’s successful strategy.

These pundits, though, miss one point.

While a record number of women served in the 110th session of Congress — as has been the case each Congress since — the legislative branch was still overwhelmingly male. In 2006, Americans elected eight men and two women — Amy Klobuchar and Claire McCaskill — to begin new terms in the Senate, bringing the chamber total to 84 men and 16 women. Of 53 newly elected representatives, 10 were women, bringing the House total to 361 men, almost five times the number of women at 74.

In 40 districts rated as competitive in 2006, men won all but eight of the seats between the parties — two of those went to Republican women. The majority that came in was also male-dominated: Women who mounted primary challenges that year were all but completely wiped out.

This year, women challenged their male counterparts in record numbers. “The women who are running are very well aware of the fact that they could lose,” said Julie McClain, EMILY’s List campaign communications director.

“EMILY’s List exists because we believe you get better policy outcomes when you have more women at decision-making tables across the country, at every level of government,” she said. “With more women running, you will get more women winning.”

Still, there are reasons — especially in 2018 — for people who want to see women in power, and not just in the Capitol, to be reasonably optimistic.

While Democratic waves haven’t always included women, what has endured is the growing number of women in the pipeline. “What we find so exciting about this cycle is that we’ve had more women than ever before, by several degrees, 1,000 degrees, reaching out to us for help running for office,” McClain said. “Both this year, but for cycles to come. Women who are making running for office part of their life plans.”

This year’s surge is an equal reflection of grassroots momentum that’s been building for decades, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., told The Intercept.

“Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the first African-American woman elected to Congress, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm,” Lee said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “She was elected 50 years ago on November 5. And we worked with a variety of women around the country to lift her legacy up and to encourage women, and African-American women, to run for office, to be involved in campaigns and in get-out-the-vote efforts.”

Lee pointed out that four women are poised to chair important House committees, and that three of them are women of color. Reps. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, and Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., are in line to chair, respectively, the House Financial Services, Small Business, Science, Space and Technology, and Appropriations committees.

“We have an unheard of number, an unprecedented number of women of color running for state, local, and federal races this year.”

After Rep. Robert Brady’s retirement from Pennsylvania’s 1st District earlier this year, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., is technically next in line to chair the House Administration Committee. She also serves as ranking member on the powerful Judiciary Committee, which will almost certainly be chaired by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. Lofgren’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

“We have an unheard of number, an unprecedented number of women of color running for state, local, and federal races this year,” Lee said. “And so I just think the moment is here where women say, ‘We’re not going back … and we’re going to run for public office,’” Lee said.

“I think it’s going to be women, really, quite frankly, who are going to take control of this country,” she continued. “Women are mounting races that are really unheard of. They’re smart, they have experience, and they’re bringing their perspective to policy, to their constituents, that has not been there. And they’re authentic.”

Democratic congressional candidate Ilhan Omar is greeted by her husband?s mother after appearing at her midterm election night party in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Miller     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC194080F1B0

Ilhan Omar is greeted by her husband’s mother after appearing at her midterm election night party in Minneapolis, Minn., on Nov. 6, 2018.

Photo: Eric Miller/Reuters

EMILY’s List followed the relative disappointment of 2006 by fervently backing Hillary Clinton’s bid for the White House in 2008. Her eventual loss to Barack Obama in the Democratic primary sent the group looking for ways to regain its footing.

This year has changed all of that. The number of women in Congress is expected to reach another record at 117. At the time of publication, women won 96 seats in the House and 12 in the Senate, and nine women out of the 16 who ran are headed to governors’ mansions.

More than 250 women, including 83 incumbents, won primaries this year — 233 in the House and 22 in the Senate. And, according to McClain, hundreds more are waiting in the wings.

“We believe that with more women in Congress and more women in state legislatures, the way that we prioritize legislation will be more advantageous for women and families — which is sorely lacking,” she said.

At the state level, McClain continued, that means “adding more voices of women in other communities who have not always been equitably treated by their state and local governments.”

“By adding more women to the ranks of Congress, and then seeing more women who have been serving move up in the leadership,” she said, “we will see better policy outcomes.”

The post Women Built the 2018 Midterm Blue Wave — but the Last One Washed Them Out appeared first on The Intercept.

October 19, 2018

South Carolina Is Lobbying to Allow Discrimination Against Jewish Pare...

The Trump administration is considering whether to grant a South Carolina request that would effectively allow faith-based foster care agencies in the state the ability to deny Jewish parents from fostering children in its network. The argument, from the state and from the agency, is that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act should not force a Protestant group to work with Jewish people if it violates a tenet of their faith.

The case being made by South Carolina is an extension of the debate around RFRA, which is more commonly associated with discrimination against LGBTQ people, but by no means applies exclusively to that group.

If granted, the exemption would allow Miracle Hill Ministries, a Protestant social service agency working in the state’s northwest region, to continue receiving federal dollars while “recruiting Christian foster families,” which it has been doing since 1988, according to its website. That discrimination would apply not just to Jewish parents, but also to parents who are Muslim, Catholic, Unitarian, atheist, agnostic or other some other non-Protestant Christian denomination.

Miracle Hill covers Greenville, Pickens and Spartanburg counties, and its foster care services have becoming increasingly in demand as an opioid epidemic has torn through a generation of young parents.

The request has been made to the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency has been quietly taken over by hardline evangelical activists, a perk for their unwavering support of Trump’s presidential bid and his administration.

Miracle Hill has told the local press that while they themselves will not place children with families who don’t meet their standards, they refer them to agencies that will. But as the provider with the region’s highest quality of service, making referrals means sending people to deal directly with the state Department of Social Services, or to agencies in other parts of the state that are several hours away by car.

Beth Lesser is a Jewish parent who was turned away by Miracle Hill. “Understand, in the upstate of South Carolina, if you want to be a foster parent or a mentor, there’s DSS, which is the government. And there’s Miracle Hill. There really isn’t anybody else,” Lesser told The Intercept.

When she still lived in Greenville, Lesser participated in a three-day training co-hosted by Miracle Hill and Fostering Great Ideas, another regional child welfare agency. On the third day, two officials running the training, David White of Fostering Great Ideas, as well as a Miracle Hill representative, told the group that non-Protestants wouldn’t be able to mentor with Miracle Hill, let alone foster a child.

“I’ve never felt that sort of discrimination before,” she said. “Once they get [the children] in one of their group homes, they don’t let non-Christian Protestants mentor them, foster them, or anything.” Lesser couldn’t recall the name of the Miracle Hill representative, but White confirmed the exchange to The Intercept, saying that they were explaining Miracle Hill’s policy, and that his agency, FGI, does not itself discriminate. Miracle Hill did not respond to a request for comment.

Originally from New Jersey, she and her husband lived in Florida before moving to South Carolina for 18 years. They’ve fostered and mentored other children through various agencies, and have since returned to Florida.

“What Miracle Hill does, is they scoop up these kids from foster care, and they have these group homes. And then once they get the kids in there, their whole objective is to indoctrinate them into their brand of Christianity,” Lesser said.

Lesser said that while she and her husband were licensed foster parents while they lived in South Carolina, they “hardly got any calls” to foster children.

“I think that if Trump knew about this in detail, he wouldn’t be for it,” Lesser said. “Because he’s not a religious nut.” She’s a proud supporter of the president — and, she offered, she wanted Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh to be confirmed.

For the state’s DSS, the practice of discriminating against Jewish families was too much. As early as January 2018, DSS sent a letter raising concerns that the agency was violating federal and state nondiscrimination laws, as well as DSS policy, by requiring applicants to meet strict religious standards — namely, being a practicing Protestant and not being in a same-sex relationship. The letter was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union, which provided it to The Intercept.

“In telephone conversations with the Department, Miracle Hill has given the Department reason to believe Miracle Hill intends to refuse to provide its services as a licensed Child Placing Agency to families who are not specifically Christians from a Protestant denomination,” the letter reads, offering Miracle Hill 30 days to resolve the issue and 30 more days to implement a new approach.

But Miracle Hill, which is closely allied with the top GOP leadership of the state, had a different response: It went to lawmakers and the governor, who changed state law to shield Miracle Hill from DSS. The state officials in turn pleaded Miracle Hill’s case to the Trump administration.

Miracle Hill is one of 11 Christian-affiliated foster care agencies serving over 4,000 children in foster care and group homes in South Carolina, a the state that, like many others, has historically had a shortage of foster homes.

It is the only one of those Christian agencies, according to DSS, with religious qualifications for parents.

David White is the founder and CEO of Fostering Great Ideas, a nonprofit working to improve the child welfare system, though it does not itself foster children. FGI works closely with Miracle Hill in South Carolina and is expanding to Denver, but does not share its recruitment policy. He argued that families rejected by Miracle Hill do have other places to go. There are 11 foster care providers in Greenville, according to FGI data pulled from DSS. Seven of those provide therapeutic as opposed to regular care for children.

A number of agencies do allow gay couples or Catholic families to foster, White said. “There is the ability to have an intelligent conversation, versus a ‘we’re right, you’re wrong’ — ’cause it is subtle. It’s very difficult. And I know the CEO of Miracle Hill. I know him well. And he is not a bigot. And that’s what makes this a human story.”

The organization’s last provisional state license expired July 25, and DSS won’t issue a permanent one until Miracle Hill proves it’s not discriminating — or DSS gets a federal order to make an exception.

Such an order is already drafted. It’s awaiting final signature on the desk of Secretary Alex Azar at the Department of Health and Human Services. If granted, Miracle Hill will be allowed to continue denying qualified families from adopting kids based on religious views.

The ACLU is litigating a similar case in Philadelphia against Catholic Social Services. Bethany Christian Services, another Philadelphia agency originally involved in the complaint, has since stated it will comply with federal law and accept same-sex couples. Philadelphia’s DHS has since resumed doing business with the agency. CSS is now suing DHS.

“There are many, many faith-based agencies doing work in the child welfare field,” Leslie Cooper, deputy director for the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project told The Intercept. “And doing really important work. And regardless of their religious belief, the vast majority comply with professional child welfare standards  … which include: you accept all qualified families; you don’t discriminate based on characteristics unrelated to ability to care for a child.”

The few agencies unwilling to do that, Cooper said, are “seeking to maintain state contracts for many millions of dollars to provide this government service to wards of the state — the service being, find families for these children who desperately need them. But ‘Oh, we’re gonna throw away the ones that don’t meet our religious test.’ Even though they may be fantastic parents and may be the only family for a particular child, that that child is waiting for. So it’s pretty outrageous, in my view, that the states are actually passing laws to authorize this.”

Those states include Alabama, Michigan, Texas, South Carolina, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Mississippi.

Even in the Miracle Hill’s online application for interested foster parents it’s clear they intend for children to be raised in a Christian home.

In addition to basic information, the application asks for “denominational affiliation,” a pastor’s name, phone number, and “a brief, personal testimony of your faith/salvation,” and that of a spouse, if applicable. If you and your partner are the same sex, Miracle Hill will not allow you to adopt children in their network, according to lawyers, foster parents and employees at agencies who have worked closely with Miracle Hill.


A screenshot of a portion of Miracle Hill’s foster care inquiry form on their website.

Screenshot: The Intercept

Lesser said DSS eventually asked her to foster a child with another agency in the state, but she was never asked to foster with Miracle Hill. But she said working directly with DSS — as opposed to through a service provider like Miracle Hill — is often overly burdensome, bureaucratic and ultimately ineffective. Advocates agree. So does another Jewish foster mother, Lydia Currie, who tried, unsuccessfully, to work with Miracle Hill.

That’s in part because Miracle Hill really does good work. And DSS in South Carolina, unlike in many other states, handles not only child welfare but disaster response and emergency management. They’re currently orchestrating the state’s response to Hurricane Michael.

“Your worker at Miracle Hill picks up the phone,” Currie told the Intercept. “Which workers at DSS do not do.”

A Jewish foster mother who lived in Greenville until moving to Philadelphia this year, Currie adopted twice through DSS, in 2012 and again in 2018.

“DSS is chronically understaffed, chronically underfunded, chronically over-caseloaded. And that’s why they dump so much on Miracle Hill,” Currie said.

“The standard of service offered by DSS workers is significantly inferior to what’s offered at Miracle Hill. The support for foster families is significantly inferior,” Currie said. “It is a tremendous barrier to access for people who aren’t highly educated and highly motivated.”

She dealt extensively with Miracle Hill during her time in South Carolina, both as a prospective parent and as a guardian ad litem. She and her husband have three biological children. After deciding to grow their family, they adopted two children, in 2012 and in 2018, who spent extended periods of time in Christian orphanages.

“Miracle Hill offers continuity of services,” she continued. “It creates a burden upon non-narrowly defined Protestant Christians that does not exist for families who pass their religious test for the use of public funds.”

“It was a doctrinal test, they made it very clear,” she said, recalling the first time she saw the agency’s foster parent application.

“In other situations I’ve had, Christian agencies have been happy to work with Jewish families, when it’s a matter of at-risk children. Particularly if they take public funding,” she said.

“The foster adoption world is full of Christian organizations that work with any fit and willing foster parents. So Miracle Hill is very much an outlier on that in an intensely creepy way.”

Miracle Hill’s practices discriminate against Christians too — just not those who are Protestant, she said. “I also know a Catholic family that was excluded from fostering with Miracle Hill,” Currie said. “And they’re mad too.” Lesser said that she had also learned of a Catholic family turned away.

That caveat is a particular point of turmoil for Miracle Hill’s president and CEO, Reid Lehman, according to FGI’s White. “I believe that Reid has definitively, definitely wrestled with this. I know he has. And he would like to have that ability to have that conversation with you, I would imagine.” Lehman did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

On top of that, Currie said, the agency “practices coercive Protestant Christianity.”

“Many, many children who have absolutely no religious affiliation, or have a religious affiliation other than Christianity, are placed by the Department of Social Services with Miracle Hill,” Currie said. That means, Currie said, “effectively mandatory Sunday school, mandatory after school Bible study. Mandatory prayer. Including teenagers, including children for whom this is terrifyingly inappropriate.”

“Church and state are so co-mingled,” Currie went on, “that I don’t think it would survive a constitutional test. No one’s interested in giving it one. It needs one actually. And Miracle Hill might be a good test case.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks with South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Henry Dargan McMaster (L) during a press conference at the Hanahan Town Hall in Hanahan, South Carolina, February 15, 2016.  / AFP / JIM WATSON        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks with South Carolina Lt. Gov. Henry Dargan McMaster, left, during a press conference in Hanahan, S.C., on Feb. 15, 2016.

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The Protestant agency may well see its request granted.

The Trump administration has made clear that religious freedom, at least for those of the Christian faith, is a priority. And following Governor Henry McMaster’s March executive order supporting Miracle Hill, tucked into a 2018-2019 budget proviso bill that passed the General Assembly on June 28, South Carolina added a clause that would keep DSS from discriminating or taking “any adverse action against a faith-based child placing agency” on the basis that the agency is declining services that conflict with its faith.

McMaster personally awarded Miracle Hill’s president and CEO Reid Lehman the state’s highest civilian honor this summer. Senator Lindsey Graham’s office in June also made appeals to HHS to speed up process.

Lehman reached McMaster’s office after initial appeals to South Carolina State Rep. Garry R. Smith, with whom he was in contact regarding the state’s budget proviso that weakened DSS’s power to scrutinize his agency. Lehman asked Smith to press McMaster, suggesting “a call [to HHS] from the Governor’s office” reminding them “that the federal response is needed to put this to bed.”

Both Lehman and Miracle Hill’s spokesperson did not respond to multiple calls, emails and voicemails from The Intercept.

The president in January established a new HHS division within the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) dedicated to “restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.”

HHS officials at a Heritage Foundation event in May “directly solicited faith-based providers to request a RFRA exemption if they feel that they are experiencing a ‘burden’ to their religious expression from federal nondiscrimination laws,” as described in an October 3 letter from Sen. Ron Wyden to Azar opposing the contested waiver.

HHS has acknowledged receipt of the letter, but has not responded, a Wyden aide told the Intercept.

HHS officials have spoken out about a department culture that favors Christianity over other faiths, a phenomenon The Intercept’s Rachel Cohen reported on last year.

Where the waiver stands now is unclear. ACF told The Intercept that HHS does not comment on pending policy decisions. The question may come down to whose faith matters. “The whole faith-based initiative under [former President George W.] Bush has all kinds of language in there about when you’re providing federally funded social services, that you can’t discriminate against people based on faith,” the ACLU’s Cooper said, “And these are federally funded social services.”

Top photo: The Miracle Hill Industries office in Greenville, S.C., in December 2016.

The post South Carolina Is Lobbying to Allow Discrimination Against Jewish Parents appeared first on The Intercept.

October 16, 2018

A Super PAC Is Spending Millions Attacking Democrats Who Can’t Lose....

For the first time since he was elected statewide in Delaware in 1976, Sen. Tom Carper faced a political scare this summer, when an insurgent challenger picked up late momentum by highlighting Carper’s fealty to corporate interests over the people of the state.

The insurgent, Kerri Harris, ended up with 35 percent of the vote in the September primary, ultimately swamped by record-setting turnout that included hordes of Democrats who hadn’t heard of the Air Force veteran, community organizer, and electoral novice.

That was largely a function of money — or rather, Harris’s lack thereof — stacked up against Carper’s decades of public service in the state. She waged a robust grassroots campaign with the backing of Justice Democrats, the group that helped Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign eclipse that of New York Rep. Joe Crowley. Still, Carper massively outspent Harris, $2,431,733 to $120,540.

It turns out that there was an eccentric Super PAC waiting just over the hills that could have stormed in and changed the tide in Harris’s favor.

That calvary that never rode goes by the name of Patients for Affordable Drugs, or P4AD, and it elected to hold its fire against Carper until after he had eased through the primary. Now, as he faces a negligible challenge in the general election, the Super PAC has unloaded, releasing attack ads against the incumbent. The same group is also spending money against Rep. Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat who is running effectively unopposed. Meanwhile, the group is also backing Democrats in other races who have decent chances at victory.

P4AD is spending $10.8 million on seven races this cycle. In three of those, the group is going up against Republicans, spending enough money to potentially affect the final outcome and elect a Democrat. In the two races where it is attacking Democrats, P4AD is essentially throwing money away, since the incumbents have no real opposition in their general elections. The group is also supporting a red-state Democrat in a tight Senate race for re-election, where the money will matter, as well as a House Republican with a 30-point advantage who doesn’t need the cash infusion.

The political action committee’s odd spending decisions are a window into the absurd campaign finance world ushered into existence by the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling made by Chief Justice John Roberts and the four other Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Through those floodgates has rushed John Arnold, a billionaire trader who made his fortune at Enron and then as a natural gas speculator. He provides 99 percent of the funding for Patients for Affordable Drugs Action, P4AD’s political wing, with the ostensible purpose of pressuring lawmakers to drive down prescription drug prices.

Patients for Affordable Drugs touts itself as a bipartisan organization, which means that come election time, it needs to spend money targeting both Republicans and Democrats.

Why on earth would an organization spend money against a Democratic candidate it has no chance of beating? P4AD touts itself as a bipartisan organization, which means that come election time, it needs to spend money targeting both Republicans and Democrats. The Democrats being targeted by P4AD are virtually guaranteed to win re-election, which allows the group to claim a bipartisan label without actually harming any Democratic incumbents. (A P4AD spokesperson defended the group’s spending decisions, saying they were made based on a candidate’s voting record, not partisan affiliation.)

P4AD is run by David Mitchell, a veteran of GMMB, a Democratic lobbying and public relations firm. For its spending against Republicans who have virtually no chance of defeating their Democratic opponents, P4AD appears to be using GMMB as a consulting firm, while relying on GOP firms for the rest of its spending, according to Federal Election Commission records. (FEC records list payments from P4AD to an entity called “Pier 91 Media” in Washington, D.C. A Google search of the company’s name returns information on a Texas firm, and nothing else. But the P4AD address on an FEC filing is identical to GMMB’s Washington, D.C., address.)

To be sure, the group has found a ripe target in Carper, as he has been one of Big Pharma’s reliable Democratic supporters.

In Delaware, P4AD appears to have put out a survey in the field during the primary, according to people who heard about it from voters. Drew Serres, Harris’s campaign manager, said he got wind of the survey at the time, but had no idea who was behind it. But the questions it asked lined up neatly with the attacks that P4AD later ran against Carper, who now faces an ineffectual opponent in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican senator since 1994.

Carper’s opponent, Robert Arlett, isn’t exactly turning heads across the state; a Navy veteran from Sussex County, Arlett has raised only $78,310 for the 2018 cycle. If nothing else, he’s fomenting the fracturing of the state GOP. Peter Kopf, a member of the Delaware GOP executive committee, recently resigned from his position as chair of the New Castle County Republican Committee, citing information about Arlett that “will eventually derail his candidacy,” according the Delaware News Journal.

But P4AD Action, which sat dormant when Carper faced a real challenge in the September primary, is now spending $1.4 million in mail, digital, and TV ads to target the three-term senator.

P4AD, launched in 2017, is a nonprofit whose principal funding comes from Action Now Initiative, a 501(c)(4) organization run by Arnold and his wife, Laura. P4AD describes itself as bipartisan, and it has a record of targeting both Republicans and Democrats. But the group is now pitting its resources against Democrats in traditionally safe seats. In an election year as consequential as 2018, why waste resources?

Even if they won’t tip the scales of the race, P4AD Executive Director Ben Wakana said the ads against Carper have educational value. “The people of Delaware deserve to know that Tom Carper has done the bidding of drug companies for a long time,” said Wakana, a former spokesperson for the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services who also served as Barack Obama’s 2012 press secretary in New Hampshire. “And whenever someone is willing to expose his ties to drug companies, [it] is worth doing, because he needs to do better on this issue. People should push him, not during any specific time, but every chance they get. … That is something that is worth doing.”

P4AD has found an equally safe Democrat in California to oppose. The group is spending $500,000 on ads opposing Eshoo, the incumbent in the state’s solidly blue 18th Congressional District. The prognosticators at FiveThirtyEight, the political polling website, estimate that Eshoo’s chances of winning are greater than 99.99 percent. Her opponent, Christine Russell, a Republican who finished second to Eshoo in the state’s top-two primary, is effectively not running a campaign. She has raised less than $5,000, which means that she’s not qualified to be listed in the FEC’s 2018 register of House candidates.

In addition to targeting safe Democrats without a clear strategy, the group is pouring out money to prop up Republicans facing meager challenges.

“I don’t believe in spending money on political campaigns. I am not accepting money from donors and I am not spending any of my own money. This is strictly a grassroots campaign,” Russell boasts on her campaign website. But she is not organizing that grassroots energy into any canvasses, house parties, or any other activity beyond what a voter might want to do on their own. “If you like what you have found out about me, I only ask for your vote and for you to become a ‘goodwill ambassador’ for me with your family, friends and colleagues residing in the 18th Congressional District,” her website reads.

The Intercept could not reach Russell’s campaign, which does not list any contact information online, for comment on the surge of Super PAC spending against her opponent.

As with Carper, if P4AD were looking for a Democrat to target who is allied with Big Pharma, the group could hardly do better than Eshoo. Over her 25-year career, Eshoo’s campaigns have pocketed more than $1.5 million from employees of pharmaceutical firms and other health care companies. In Congress, Eshoo has consistently voted in favor of the industry.

In addition to targeting safe Democrats without a clear strategy, the group is pouring out money to prop up Republicans facing meager challenges. P4AD spent a massive $5.4 million to boost Rep. David McKinley, pro-pharma Republican incumbent in West Virginia’s reliably red 1st Congressional District.

Meanwhile, P4AD is backing Democrats in races where there are real stakes, showing that P4AD does know how to play in close races. The group has spent half a million dollars backing Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a vulnerable red-state Democrat and an outspoken advocate against rising drug prices, who will face off against the state’s attorney general, Josh Hawley, in November. In September, the group spent $75,640.75 on three ad buys, including television and radio spots, supporting McCaskill.

In New Jersey, P4AD spent a whopping $6.5 million on ads against Republican Bob Hugin, who is running to topple the beleaguered, albeit unyielding, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez. The incumbent does not perfectly fit the P4AD mold: Since 2009, Menendez has voted at least five times against importing cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, and is no champion when it comes to battling the industry, which has a significant presence in New Jersey. But Hugin, a former pharmaceutical executive at Celgene, actually comes from Big Pharma.

In another House racein Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, the group spent $713,365 to oppose incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a pro-pharma Republican facing Democratic challenger Jared Golden. The district voted for Obama in 2012, but flipped for Donald Trump in 2016. Maine voters may remember Poliquin’s 2017 split from Sen. Susan Collins on the long-fought GOP battle to repeal the Affordable Care Act. As noted by Maine’s local Sun Journal, Poliquin has since tidied up his campaign website’s anti-ACA references.

It may sound irrational to spend $2 million on losing races simply to maintain the “bipartisan” label. But it’s all relative: John Arnold’s net worth is publicly listed at over $3 billion.

The post A Super PAC Is Spending Millions Attacking Democrats Who Can’t Lose. What’s Going On? appeared first on The Intercept.

October 4, 2018

In Letter to Trump, House Democrats Promise to Investigate Brett Kavan...

Even as Brett Kavanaugh inches closer toward his confirmation as a Supreme Court justice, congressional Democrats are making a last-ditch attempt to bring attention to the nominee’s potential perjury, including about his role in the warrantless surveillance programs of the post-9/11 Bush White House.  

Dozens of members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter Thursday to President Donald Trump committing to leverage subpoena power in an effort to investigate the full record of Kavanaugh’s time in the White House for evidence of perjury. House Democrats will have subpoena power if they retake the lower chamber in the midterm elections, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who will likely chair the House Judiciary Committee should that happen, has already promised to investigate any credible allegations of perjury if Kavanaugh is confirmed. Nadler did not sign the letter.

The Senate reviewed today the FBI’s report on its six-day investigation into claims by Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually and physically assaulted her in the early 1980s, when they were in high school. But the CPC letter raises distinct concerns regarding Kavanaugh’s credibility that extend far beyond his time at Georgetown Prep, the suburban Maryland high school that has drawn intense scrutiny for its partying culture in recent weeks.

The CPC members raised not only Kavanaugh’s involvement in the Bush administration’s widespread, secret, and illegal surveillance of Americans following the events of September 11, 2001, but also testimony he made before the Senate during his time in the Bush White House that has since been called into question.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., raised questions about the nominee’s Bush-era record on the second day of Kavanaugh’s nomination hearings last month, but the issue has otherwise received little of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s attention. In the lower chamber, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has demurred when faced with questions of how Democrats would approach a Kavanaugh confirmation, post-midterm season. “We are not about impeachment,” she said Tuesday at the Atlantic Festival in Washington, D.C.

“Judge Kavanaugh has made misleading statements under oath on a variety of highly questionable actions and episodes,” the CPC letter, which is first being reported by The Intercept, reads. “For example, he likely misled the Senate about his alleged involvement in Bush-era warrantless surveillance” as well as “the administration’s legal rationale for torture and indefinite detention.” As of now, the Senate Judiciary Committee has been given access to “only roughly 10 percent” of Kavanaugh’s White House record, the signatories to the letter point out.

The letter also notes the possibility that Kavanaugh perjured himself, as The Intercept previously noted, in statements he made denying any knowledge of the sexual misconduct allegations against his mentor, former 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, prior to their being made public in 2008.

Thirty-nine CPC members signed the letter to the White House. By asking Trump to withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination before the upcoming confirmation vote, they joined a growing chorus of calls from Georgetown Prep alumni, members of the Yale Law community, law professors, and Senate Judiciary Democrats.

Some Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee — Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Zoe Lofgren of California, Hank Johnson of Georgia, Karen Bass of California, David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Ted Lieu of California, and Steve Cohen of Tennessee — are among the signatories.

Trump has doubled down on his support for Kavanaugh in recent days, and the White House is unlikely to be moved by the CPC’s efforts. Meanwhile, another organization has been attempting to get the Senate Judiciary Committee to revisit Kavanaugh’s record on civil liberties. They’ve gotten little response.

EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a leader in advocacy on issues of privacy and civil liberties, submitted three letters to the Senate Judiciary Committee — on August 8, September 4, and September 12 — outlining concerns over the handling of documents related to Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House, as well as Kavanaugh’s own interpretation of privacy law.

The letters specify particular concern over “the ongoing secrecy” surrounding “documents from Judge Kavanaugh’s years in the White House.” Those documents, which have only been partially released to the committee, contain “strong evidence that Brett Kavanaugh was a central figure” in activities “including specifically the renewal of the unlawful warrantless wiretapping program and the secret expansion of the PATRIOT Act,” according to EPIC.  

The group filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act seeking the public release of documents from Kavanaugh’s time as a top White House adviser. On Wednesday, the National Archives confirmed the existence of hundreds of records regarding Kavanaugh’s role in controversial surveillance programs. Those include at least 11 emails between Kavanaugh and John Yoo, who authored a legal opinion backing the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

Those emails, in addition to 300,000 pages of Kavanaugh’s records from his time in the Bush administration, are expected to be released this month, pending White House approval, according to EPIC.

Yoo, the Bush-era Department of Justice lawyer who helped write the Patriot Act and built the legal case for the President’s Surveillance Program, was, according to a 2009 OIG report, “responsible for drafting the first series of legal memoranda supporting the program.”

During the same time period he was exchanging emails with Kavanaugh, Yoo was also arguing in favor of “the President’s authority to conduct warrantless searches” to justify “expanded electronic surveillance techniques” in the wave of nationalist posturing that followed the attacks on 9/11, he wrote in a May 2002 memo.

Between 2001 and 2003, Kavanaugh also sent “227 emails about ‘surveillance’ programs and the ‘Patriot Act’” and 119 emails concerning “CAPPS II” (passenger profiling), “Fusion Centers” (government surveillance centers), and the “Privacy Act,” EPIC learned through its FOIA litigation.

Kavanaugh’s involvement in the programs isn’t necessarily more alarming than the cloud of sexual assault allegations surrounding him, said EPIC spokesperson Marc Rotenberg. “But it sure as heck matters,” Rotenberg told The Intercept, “if someone going on the Supreme Court believes that the government has the right to conduct warrantless surveillance.”

Rotenberg said the organization’s only interest in the nomination debacle pertains to questions surrounding what Kavanaugh knew, and what official actions he took, as the federal government designed, implemented, and orchestrated the surveillance of American citizens.

“We believe he had a key role in the creation and expansion of the warrantless wiretapping, of the PATRIOT Act, of passenger profiling, of government surveillance [fusion] centers,” Rotenberg said. “All of this material, which had been previously withheld from the American public is now apparently in the possession of the National Archives and has been documented as a consequence of our FOIA case.”

The second EPIC letter, sent to the Judiciary Committee on September 4, references Kavanaugh’s dissenting opinion in Klayman v. Obama — concerns about which were also raised in a CATO Institute blog post on July 13. The majority found that the federal government did not have legal standing under the Fourth Amendment to collect bulk data from Verizon customers. EPIC argues that Kavanaugh, through his dissent, “went out of his way to set out theories to defend the suspicionless surveillance of the American public that surprised even conservative legal scholars.”

EPIC has submitted similar concerns to the Senate over Supreme Court nominees — including Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan — in the past, but it has never taken an official position.

“The Senate simply can’t vote on the nominee until we know more about his role in the surveillance programs,” Rotenberg said.

With no filibuster, Senate Republicans need 60 votes to confirm Kavanaugh.  

Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and Jeff Flake of Arizona are considered key swing votes. On Thursday, both Collins and Flake described the FBI’s most recent investigation into Kavanaugh, much decried by the Democrats, as “thorough.”

Flake is still undecided and has asked his Judiciary Committee colleague, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, to speak “at length later,” according to The Atlantic’s Elaina Plott. Coons has been a key force in attempts to further probe Kavanaugh’s relationship with Kozinski.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, another red-state Democrat, broke her silence Thursday afternoon, saying she’d vote “no” on Trump’s pick. Red-state Democrat Joe Manchin said he will not make a decision until tomorrow. The Judicial Crisis Network, the organization which, according to POLITICO, has spent the most money on ads related to Kavanaugh’s nomination, this week announced a $400,000 buy aimed at pressuring both Manchin and Heitkamp to support Kavanaugh.

Top photo: Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in on Sept. 27, 2018, before testifying during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court.

The post In Letter to Trump, House Democrats Promise to Investigate Brett Kavanaugh for Perjury If Confirmed appeared first on The Intercept.

September 25, 2018

How One Senator Cornered Brett Kavanaugh About His Mentor’s Sexually...

Two days from now, Brett Kavanaugh will resume testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. As a confirmation vote looms as early as Friday or Saturday, the question of his credibility has never been more critical.

Throughout his confirmation process, Kavanaugh has consistently denied knowledge of his mentor Judge Alex Kozinski’s years of sexual harassment, for which he was finally brought down in December 2017.

The news, Kavanaugh told the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath, was a “gut punch.” Under follow-up questioning from Sens. Mazie Hirono and Chris Coons, Democrats from Hawaii and Delaware respectively, he expanded his denials to include any knowledge of the email list Kozinski used to distribute pornography and off-color jokes to court employees. That denial is crucial, because if it’s false, it demonstrates that Kavanaugh lied about what he knew of Kozinski’s behavior. And that he’s still lying.

And the answer is knowable. Following the hearing, Coons asked Kavanaugh a set of direct written questions that was met with a tellingly vague response.

Coons: It has been reported that Judge Kozinski had a sexually explicit email list, called the Easy Rider Gag List. Did you ever receive an email from this list? If it is necessary to refresh your recollection, please review your email accounts before answering this question.

RESPONSE: I do not remember receiving inappropriate emails of a sexual nature from Judge Kozinski.

Coons: Have you conducted a search of your email accounts and/or correspondence with Judge Kozinski in an effort to provide an accurate response to the preceding question? If not, why not?

RESPONSE: I do not remember receiving inappropriate emails of a sexual nature from Judge Kozinski.

Coons does not have the authority to order a search of Kavanaugh’s emails to prove that he did receive Kozinski’s emails. But if Democrats take control of the House or Senate in January, the chair of each judiciary committee would have such subpoena power.

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, however, said that he has no immediate plans to do so, and instead would wait for a referral of wrongdoing from the judiciary.

“[I]n no case since 1980 have we (Congress) initiated an impeachment inquiry without an official referral from the Judicial Conference,” Dan Schwarz, Nadler’s communications director, told The Intercept. It’s also “rare,” Schwarz says, for a complaint of misconduct to ever reach formal impeachment proceedings “because most judges accused of that kind of wrongdoing resign long before we see the file.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. However, Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democratic committee member, said Monday that the panel should indeed launch impeachment hearings whether or not Kavanaugh is confirmed. “Even if he is not confirmed, he will still be making decisions critical to American life in his current position on the U.S. Court of Appeals. The House Judiciary Committee has the power and authority to determine Kavanaugh’s suitability to serve as a federal judge at all. We should,” he said.

In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, Kavanaugh reiterated his denials of two allegations of sexual misconduct, one while he was in high school at Georgetown Prep and the second while he attended Yale College. “There is now a frenzy to come up with something — anything — that will block this process and a vote on my confirmation from occurring.”

“These are smears, pure and simple. And they debase our public discourse. But they are also a threat to any man or woman who wishes to serve our country. Such grotesque and obvious character assassination — if allowed to succeed — will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from service.”

Evaluated against a timeline, it seems unlikely that Kavanaugh could have been completely unaware of Kozinski’s behavior after allegations were made public in 2008.

Coons followed up with a simple legal question. “If a judge provides intentionally false testimony to Congress on an issue of significance, is impeachment the appropriate remedy?”

Kavanaugh demurred. “That is a question for the House and the Senate,” he said.

Top photo: Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., speaks to reporters after his meeting with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Aug. 23, 2018.

The post How One Senator Cornered Brett Kavanaugh About His Mentor’s Sexually Explicit Emails appeared first on The Intercept.

September 20, 2018

What Did Brett Kavanaugh Know About His Mentor Alex Kozinski’s Sexua...

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s credibility and truthfulness has become central in the final stretch of his confirmation process. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a crucial swing vote, has said that if she believes the sexual assault allegations of his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, over the denials of Kavanaugh, she will vote against him.

Both Kavanaugh and Ford will — if Ford accepts the Senate Judiciary Committee’s invitation — testify under oath next week, and Kavanaugh’s confirmation may come down to who is more believable.

Kavanaugh, however, has a record of issuing categorical denials in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, such as his claim never to have exploited documents stolen from Senate Democrats. He has issued an equally categorical denial when it comes to having any knowledge about the behavior of his longtime friend and mentor, former 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.

Kozinski resigned in December 2017 after articles in the Washington Post exposed years of sexual harassment. Though Kavanaugh claims to have been “gut-punched” by the revelations of Kozinski’s behavior, the outlines of it have been public in various forms for decades.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, on September 5 gave Kavanaugh the opportunity to respond to claims that he must have known about the allegations against Kozinski. Hatch asked Kavanaugh if he was on the “Easy Rider gag list,” a listserv of friends, colleagues, and journalists to whom Kozinski frequently distributed crude material. Kavanaugh told Hatch, “I don’t remember anything like that, Senator.”

Hatch pressed him: “Did you know anything about these allegations?” “Nothing.” “OK. Before they became public last year?” “No. … It was a gut punch for me.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, asked Kavanaugh the same questions later that day, describing the allegations against Kozinski as an “open secret.”

Hirono: “Are you telling us that you may have received a steady diet of what people on the list have described as ‘a lot of vulgar jokes, very dirty jokes,’ but you don’t remember it?”

Kavanaugh: “No, I don’t remember anything like that.”

Hirono: “Have you otherwise ever received sexually suggestive or explicit emails from Judge Kozinski even if you don’t remember whether you were on this gag list or not?”

Kavanaugh: “So Senator, let me start with, no woman should be subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, and —”

Hirono: “Judge Kavanaugh, you already went through all of that. And I will get to your perspective about making sure that women in the judiciary do not get sexually harassed. I just want to ask you, during and after your clerkship with Judge Kozinski, did you ever witness or hear of allegations of any inappropriate behavior or conduct that could be described as sexual harassment by Judge Kozinski?”

Kavanaugh: “No, Senator. And I worked in Washington, D.C. There were 10 judges in the courthouse with him in Pasadena. Prominent federal judges in the courthouse with him. Worked side by side with him day after day while he was chief judge in the 9th Circuit.”

Hirono: “To be clear, while this kind of behavior on the part of Judge Kozinski was going on for 30 years — it was an open secret — you saw nothing, you heard nothing, and you obviously said nothing. Judge Kavanaugh, do you believe the women who recently came forward to accuse Judge Kozinski of this kind of behavior?”

Kavanaugh: “I have no reason not to believe them, Senator.”

Hirono: “This is why the Me Too movement is so important. Because often in these kinds of situations where there are power issues involved, as certainly there are between judges and clerks, that, often, you know, it’s an environment where people see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing. And that’s what we have to change.”

Kavanaugh: “I agree with you, Senator. I agree completely.”

Kozinski, according to the Washington Post, for years would sexually harass colleagues, force them to view pornography in his chambers, send it to them using federal servers, and lobby the court to stop monitoring internet activity in the judiciary. According to L. Ralph Mecham, former director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Kozinski disabled the software put in place by the United Judicial Conference and moved the porn-sharing to his personal website. He left the bench in disgrace — but with his pension still intact.

Attorney Cyrus Sanai, who first blew the whistle on Kozinski and has long tangled publicly with the judge, said earlier this week that federal court employees had information to share with the Judiciary Committee about what Kavanaugh knew about Kozinski, and would share under the right conditions.

Kavanaugh’s efforts to distance himself from Kozinski appear increasingly strained when lined up against a timeline of the pair’s professional lives.

A few years ago, in a light moment, Kozinski quipped that he was surprised he lasted as long as he did. “I made it by dint of age, years of service, and having deftly avoided impeachment,” he explained.

Kavanaugh and Kozinski: A History

Alex Kozinski clerks for 9th Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kennedy.

Kozinski is deputy legal counsel to President-elect Ronald Reagan. Kozinski also serves in the Office of the Special Counsel, where he faces scrutiny for allegedly helping to facilitate the firing of Jack Spadaro, a Department of Interior whistleblower.

January-June 1981
Kozinski is assistant White House counsel.

Early 1980s
Kavanaugh allegedly sexually assaults Christine Blasey Ford in the Maryland suburbs. Ford told the Washington Post she believed it took place in 1982.

August 20, 1982
Senate confirms Kozinski as chief judge of U.S. Claims Court.

October 1, 1982
Kozinski’s term begins.

Kavanaugh graduates from Georgetown Prep.

Kozinski ends his tenure as chief judge of U.S. Claims Court.

Reagan nominates Kozinski to the 9th Circuit. After approving his nomination, the Judiciary Committee takes the unusual step of re-opening the hearing, after former Kozinski employees charge Kozinski with “sadistic” and “abusive” behavior. Nevertheless, the Senate confirms Kozinski to the 9th Circuit.

Kavanaugh graduates from Yale College.

Kavanaugh graduates from Yale Law School.

Kavanaugh clerks for 3rd Circuit Judge Walter Stapleton.

Kavanaugh clerks for Kozinski in the 9th Circuit.

Kavanaugh is an attorney in the Office of the Solicitor General.

October 1993
Kavanaugh, on the recommendation of Kozinski, clerks for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Kavanaugh serves as associate counsel for Ken Starr.

Kavanaugh becomes partner at Kirkland & Ellis, where he remains until 2001. He works again with Starr in 1998.

September 1997
Judicial Council adopts a policy streamlining judiciary internet access via computers connected to the judiciary’s internal data communications network through three national gateway connections maintained at the 9th and 5th Circuits and the Administrative Office, respectively.

Judiciary obtains knowledge of employees using federal computers and servers to access pornography, per a memo, “Internet Access to Pornographic Material,” authored by Gregory Walters to the Judicial Council on April 23.

September 4, 2001
Kozinski writes an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal arguing against the proposed monitoring of internet use by judiciary employees.

Kavanaugh is associate counsel and then senior associate counsel to President George W. Bush.

July 2003-May 2006
Kavanaugh is assistant, and then staff secretary to the president.

Heidi Bond clerks for Kozinski.

Bush nominates Kavanaugh to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

May 6, 2006
Kozinski introduces Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearing: “I give Brett Kavanaugh my highest recommendation. I gave him my highest recommendation when he applied to Justice Kennedy, my own mentor. And I continue to give him the highest recommendations.”

May 26, 2006
After a drawn-out, three-year battle, Senate confirms Kavanaugh to D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

June 11, 2008
Scott Glover reports in the Los Angeles Times the existence of Kozinski’s website, that it hosts porn, and that he sends sexually oriented material on his listserv.

June 12, 2008
Kozinski calls for the 9th Circuit Judicial Council to initiate proceedings to investigate allegations raised by Glover’s article.

June 16, 2008
Kozinski’s misconduct case transferred to the 3rd Circuit.

December 8, 2008
Glover reports in the LA Times on the “Easy Rider gag list.”

June 5, 2009
The Judicial Council of the 3rd Circuit delivers an opinion on Kozinski’s judicial misconduct proceedings without further sanctions, stating that Kozinski’s “acknowledgement of responsibility together with other corrective action, his apology, our admonishment, combined with public dissemination of this opinion, properly conclude this proceeding.”

December 5, 2014
Kozinski steps down as chief judge of the 9th Circuit, succeeded by Judge Sidney R. Thomas. Kozinski remains on the 9th Circuit bench. He jokes, “I have been very fortunate and privileged to be Chief Judge of this great institution. Not everybody gets to serve, as Judge [Michael Daly] Hawkins explained. I made it by dint of age, years of service, and having deftly avoided impeachment” at the “Passing of the Gavel” ceremony at the 9th Circuit courthouse in San Francisco.

March 30, 2015
Kavanaugh, in an address titled “The Judge as Umpire” at Catholic University of America’s Columbus Law School, says: “Fortunately we had a good saying that we’ve held firm to to this day, as the dean was reminding me before the talk, which is ‘What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep.’ That’s been a good thing for all of us, I think.”

November 14, 2015
Kozinski and Kavanaugh sit side by side at a Federalist Society panel. Kavanaugh praises a 1991 article, “Confessions of a Bad Apple,” authored by Kozinski. In response to an audience question asking panelists to complete the sentence “being a judge means blank,” Kozinski replies, “Never having to say you’re sorry.”

November 17, 2017
Trump White House issues initial list of potential Supreme Court nominees, which includes Kavanaugh.

December 8, 2017
Matt Zapotosky publishes in the Washington Post allegations by Heidi Bond, Emily Murphy, and four other former clerks and externs of Kozinski’s inappropriate sexual conduct and misconduct, including — but not limited to — asking them to view porn in his chambers.

December 14, 2017
Thomas, the 9th Circuit chief judge, launches an investigation into Kozinski.

December 15, 2017
Zapotosky publishes in the Washington Post allegations by nine more women of Kozinski’s sexual comments and inappropriate conduct. Four of the women allege inappropriate touching. Maura Dolan reports in the LA Times that at least two of Kozinski’s clerks have resigned.

December 18, 2017
Following his resignation, Kozinski steps down from the 9th Circuit.

June 27, 2018
Anthony Kennedy announces retirement from the Supreme Court, recommending Kavanaugh as his replacement.

July 3-5, 2018
The media reports that President Donald Trump has narrowed his short list of potential Supreme Court nominees to three, including Kavanaugh

July 6, 2018
Christine Blasey Ford, yet to go public, writes a letter to Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. Ford also anonymously contacts the Washington Post and tells friends that she plans to come forward.

July 9, 2018
Trump nominates Kavanaugh.

July 30, 2018
Ford writes to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

August 2, 2018
Leah Litman, Emily Murphy, and Katherine H. Ku, all of whom have publicly accused Kozinski of misconduct, publish a column in the New York Times outlining the gutting of Kozinski’s judicial misconduct proceedings following his retirement.

September 4-6, 2018
Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee begins, during which he is asked about Kozinski.

September 12, 2018
Ryan Grim reports in The Intercept that Feinstein is withholding a letter from fellow Democrats that describes an incident in high school between Kavanaugh and an unidentified woman.

September 14, 2018
Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer publish Ford’s allegations of Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct in the New Yorker, though Ford declined to comment or be named in the story. Former Kozinski clerk Heidi Bond writes an op-ed in Slate challenging Kavanaugh’s assertions that he was unaware of Kozinski’s behavior.

September 16, 2018
Christine Blasey Ford comes forward.

September 17, 2018
Cyrus Sanai makes public a letter claiming that federal court employees with information on Kozinski and Kavanaugh are willing to speak to the committee.

Top photo: Ninth Circuit Appeals Court Judge Alex Kozinski during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on March 16, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

The post What Did Brett Kavanaugh Know About His Mentor Alex Kozinski’s Sexual Harassment? A Timeline Suggests an Awful Lot. appeared first on The Intercept.