Running for statewide elected office in Pennsylvania is as expensive as it is exhausting. Would-be candidates commonly seek money pledges from major backers before jumping into a race.
State Sen. Doug Mastriano is doing that for the 2022 Republican primary for governor. He’s waiting on a financial sign. From God.
The Franklin County senator and his wife, Rebecca “Rebbie” Mastriano, spoke last week at Time Ministries Church in Bedford County.
It was a standard event for Mastriano, pushing debunked claims about 2020 voter fraud, complaining about public safety measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, and repeatedly mocking fellow Republicans for not measuring up.
You know, church talk.
Mastriano and his wife said they are praying about a campaign, according to a recording of the event obtained by Clout. She told the crowd the couple have “a monetary fleece out there,” meaning a prayer “that only God” can answer.
The couple have done this before. They issued a fleece before he entered politics in 2019. God kept them waiting until the day before their deadline, she said.
“Sometimes He does wait until the last minute,” she said.
While they wait, Mastriano showed no hesitation in attacking the primary competition. He mocked former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta of Hazleton, who released a poll this month showing him as the early favorite for the Republican nomination.
“That was a rigged poll,” said Mastriano, offering as proof his own poll showing himself as “the top guy in Pennsylvania.”
Mastriano’s most frequent target was Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, a Centre County Republican who might make a play for governor. Corman in August pulled Mastriano from his most public platform, a push for a partisan review of the 2020 election results.
“Maybe you should draw a line in the sand with Democrats, not someone in your own party,” Mastriano said of Corman. “You do reap what you sow. I don’t know that he’s going to last very long.”
Corman and Barletta declined to comment. Mastriano did not respond to Clout’s hails.
Pa.’s richest man knocks Johnny Doc
Pennsylvania’s richest man, billionaire Jeff Yass, is back at it with trickle-down economics in campaign contributions.
This time he’s funding a mailer linking state Superior Court Judge Maria McLaughlin, a Democrat seeking a state Supreme Court seat, with John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, the electricians union leader on federal trial, accused of bribing Philadelphia City Councilmember Bobby Henon.
The mailer, including a picture of McLaughlin and Dougherty, says she is “bankrolled by a powerful Philadelphia political insider” without naming him. It also touts the Republican nominee in the race, state Commonwealth President Judge Kevin Brobson.
Yass’ money traveled the same circuitous route that he used last year to assist Republicans running for state attorney general and auditor general. He gave the pro-charter school Students First PAC $10.5 million in the last year. That political action committee then gave Commonwealth Choice Fund $2 million this year. And then that PAC sent $1.3 million to Commonwealth Leaders Fund, which paid for the mailer. Yass is a leading donor to all the PACs.
Matt Brouillette, who runs the PAC that sent the mailer, did not respond to requests for comment. The PAC also gave Brobson’s campaign $205,000 in direct donations and $393,765 in in-kind contributions.
“It’s politics, like everything else,” a spokesperson for Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said Thursday. The local gave McLaughlin $50,000 in February.
McLaughlin’s camp noted the money came from the union’s members, not Dougherty.
Could make for some awkward courthouse moments should Brobson win. Dougherty’s brother, Kevin Dougherty, has been a Supreme Court justice since 2016.
Parking Authority punts on political policy
The Philadelphia Parking Authority, that last bastion of Republican power in the city, punted Tuesday on a chance to scale back politics in the patronage-laden agency.
City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican, presented his five fellow board members with a proposal to prohibit future employees from holding political office like ward leader or ward committee posts, running campaigns, or hosting fund-raisers.
The other board members stalled after removing Schmidt as chair of the agency’s human resources committee.
Beth Grossman, a Republican who joined the board in August and was elected chair last month, called for the delay because the PPA is negotiating union contracts for some employees.
Schmidt countered that it “doesn’t make any sense to wait” since his proposal would launch after the contracts were completed. Schmidt initially considered a ban on political office for all employees but amended that to apply only to new employees.
About 100 of the agency’s 1,000 employees hold political office. Of that smaller group, a little more than half are Republicans and the rest Democrats. Committee posts are up for election in 2022. An employee in office now and reelected next year could continue working for the PPA under Schmidt’s proposal.
Schmidt said he was trying to “insulate” the PPA so it can evaluate employees “strictly based on how much of an asset they are to the authority as opposed to ever considering how much of an asset they are to the party.”
The board is expected to revisit the issue next month.
“I certainly intend to bring it up at the next public meeting and the one after that and the one after that until we confront this issue,” Schmidt said. “Because it is an issue that hurts the operation of the authority and it hurts the reputation of the authority.”
A 2020 city controller’s audit faulted the PPA for patronage, suggesting jobs are handed out based on “who you know” rather than what is best for the agency and the city.
Krystal and Kyle Kulinski of the Krystal Kyle and Friends podcast talk to journalist Peter Goodman about today’s billionaires who speak in grand terms at Davos forums while rigging the economy
Aaron Reinas was just blocks from his home when a San Bernardino, California, sheriff accosted and accused him of burglarizing cars. What happened next reveals the dangers of unchecked police power and the dire consequences individual citizens can face for standing up for their rights. PAR investigates Reinas’s questionable arrest and why police often ignore the law in pursuit of phantom crimes.
Saagar looks at how the ego of Jeff Bezos has thwarted NASA’s plans to land on the moon in what constitutes a massive blow to the future of Space exploration
Russia? China? No. The rising world superpower is the billionaire class. Our problem, says Sean McFate, is that we’re still thinking in nation states.
Nation states have only existed for the last 300-400 years. Before that, wealthy groups – tribes, empires, aristocracies, etc – employed mercenaries to wage private wars.
As wealth inequality reaches combustion point, we could land back in the status quo ante of the Middle Ages. Who will our overlords be? Any or all of the 26 ultra-rich billionaires who own as much as the world’s 3.8 billion poorest. What about Fortune 500, which is more powerful than most of the states in the world? Random billionaires, multinational corporations, and the extractive industry may buy armies and wage war on their own terms.
Dr. Sean McFate is an adviser to Oxford University’s Centre for Technology and Global Affairs, as well as a professor of strategy at the National Defense University and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington, DC. Additionally, he is the author of several books, including Shadow War, The New Rules of War, and The Modern Mercenary.
SEAN MCFATE: The United States, especially, has been now accustomed, for 25 years, as being the universal and unitary superpower. That’s not going to last forever. I think most people know this, even though some may be in cognitive dissonance over this. The truth is there are rising powers like Russia and China, but there are other rising powers too. One of our problems is that we live in a state-centric view of the universe. International relations, for most of us, is run by states. Nation states are the global, political unit of the international order. And this is what we learn in social studies as kids. But that is actually not the way the world has worked for most of human history. States are actually about 300 or 400 years old. Before there were states, there were empires, and there were tribes, and everything else. The reign of states and only states can wage war legitimately that is coming to a close. We’re actually going back to the status quo ante of when global order was a free-for-all of like the Middle Ages of antiquity, to what came before. And one of the things of that free-for-all is that: Who else were superpowers? It wasn’t just states. So in the Middle Ages, the papacy was a superpower. Rich aristocracies were superpowers. Are we going back this world again?
So you know we have random billionaires today who have as much power as states. There are 62 people in the planet who own the equivalent of half the world’s wealth. 62 people. You can put them all onto a bus. You have multinational corporations. We have the Fortune 500, which are more powerful than most of the states in the world. Of the 190, 194 states in the world, most are fragile or failed. We only think the top 25 states, like the US, Western Europe, Eastern Asia, et cetera. But that’s an anomaly. The vast majority of states in the world are more either regimes hiding inside states or just outright dumpster fires. So what we’re going to see in the future is those who have wealth and political power, who can also hire their own private armies now, become super powers. The world used to wage a lot of private war in military history. In fact, most of military history is privatized. Mercenaries have always been a major component of war. And what happens when you privatize war is that now military strategies blend with business ones. And this puts us at risk because our four stars who are in charge of our military and our policymakers are not prepared for that type of warfare.
So mercenaries were around for millennia. Mercenaries have been around since forever. And it’s anomalous in history that 150 years ago they sort of went away. And why that is is still a mystery. People say, well, after the 30 Years War, or after the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, where mercenaries ran amok, both rulers and ruled were tired of them, and rulers and kings started to invest in their own standing armies, which is very expensive. I mean, mercenaries are cheaper than standing armies, just like it’s cheaper to rent than to own…
The new Rising staff is outraged that there are leaks of Billioinaire tax returns.
Warren Buffett appears to be the safest kind of billionaire: the good kind. Mr. Buffett is neither Zuckerbergian messiah nor Musky provocateur, neither Bezosist space cadet nor Sacklerian undertaker. He is, or seems to be, quiet, humble, indifferent to money, philanthropic and critical of the system that allowed him to rise. Years ago, a proposed tax increase was named after him.
It’s easy for people to think: If only members of the Sackler family were more like Mr. Buffett, imagine how many lives would have been saved. If only the billionaires who haven’t signed the Giving Pledge would give away as much as Mr. Buffett has pledged to, imagine the impact on the world. If only more billionaires would make use of the system without feeling the need to pervert it, so many of our troubles would vanish.
So I regret to inform you that Mr. Buffett is actually the most dangerous kind of billionaire we have. The worst billionaires are the Good Billionaires. The sort who make it seem like the problem is the distortion of the system when, in fact, the problem is the system.
Actually malevolent and disastrously negligent plutocrats get most of the attention. And when we hear about these Bad Billionaire exploits, it is possible to conclude from them that the system needs better policing, updated regulations and maybe slightly higher taxes. The system needs to be made to work again.
But as America slouches toward plutocracy, our problem isn’t the virtue level of billionaires. It’s a set of social arrangements that make it possible for anyone to gain and guard and keep so much wealth, even as millions of others lack for food, work, housing, health, connectivity, education, dignity and the occasion to pursue their happiness.
There is no way to be a billionaire in America without taking advantage of a system predicated on cruelty, a system whose tax code and labor laws and regulatory apparatus prioritize your needs above most people’s. Even noted Good Billionaire Mr. Buffett has profited from Coca-Cola’s sugary drinks, Amazon’s union busting, Chevron’s oil drilling, Clayton Homes’s predatory loans and, as the country learned recently, the failure to tax billionaires on their wealth.
The Good Billionaire myth took a hard blow in recent days when Mr. Buffett won a dubious distinction. A staggering exposé published by ProPublica revealed just how little the biggest plutocrats pay in taxes, despite mounting piles of wealth. And at the very top of that list of plutocrats — many of them with troubled reputations — was the cleanest, grandfatherliest plutocrat of them all: Mr. Buffett.
ProPublica’s story was unusual in that, for once, it was the Good Billionaire at the top of the naughty list. This was helpful, because it served to indict the system that makes him possible, even when it is working perfectly, wholly lawfully.
From 2014 to 2018, Mr. Buffett’s wealth soared by $24.3 billion, according to ProPublica. (To underline, this is just the amount the fortune grew.) The amount of taxes Mr. Buffett paid over this period? $23.7 million. If middle-class Americans in their 40s enjoyed such a low effective tax rate, they would have paid a few dozen bucks per household over this same time period. Instead, as the ProPublica story notes, they paid around $62,000.
Imagine if Mr. Buffett had to pay the same fraction of the growth of his net worth that regular people do. Taxing that money could have helped pay for bridge repairs, mammograms, and free day care. More important — and this isn’t said enough — there is intrinsic value in shrinking gargantuan fortunes. The sway plutocrats have over public life is inconsistent with a one person, one vote democracy.
The important point here is that Mr. Buffett’s tax payments as detailed by ProPublica are fully legal. Though Mr. Buffett has called for changing the tax system, while we have the one we have, he will continue to benefit from the madness of taxing billionaires for their income, rather than their wealth, when their income is pretty much just a number they can construct.
I asked Mr. Buffett last week, via his longtime secretary, Debbie Bosanek, if he could think of even one tax or accounting practice that he has come to regret. Sure, he may have followed the letter of the law. But was there any aspect of his patriotism or humanity that left him feeling guilty for hoarding so much untaxed when regular people pay so much in taxes? Though Ms. Bosanek responded to an initial inquiry, she declined to offer any such examples.
In a long statement last week, Mr. Buffett defended himself by pointing to his long advocacy for a fairer taxation system, and then he immediately told on himself by undermining the very idea of taxes in the same letter. “I believe the money will be of more use to society if disbursed philanthropically than if it is used to slightly reduce an ever-increasing U.S. debt.”
In other words: I believe in higher income taxes on people like me, but I’m highly organized to avoid having income to report, and I don’t really believe in taxes because I think I should decide how these surplus resources are spent.
And this points to another way in which the Good Billionaire is hard to deal with. The crooks and the scoundrels and the people manifestly looking for quick P.R. highs come to philanthropy for the marketing payoff. When Goldman Sachs announces a new initiative on fighting the racial wealth gap despite having done little to repair the damage it did to Black homeowners in contributing to the 2008 financial meltdown, some may be fooled, but, more and more, many are not.
Supposed Good Billionaires like Mr. Buffett and his friend Bill Gates are more complicated because they give real money. They may benefit from marketing but also seem to many people to be motivated by more than that, and they apply their smarts to the work.
Yet because of this, it is often the Good Billionaires who end up with the most illegitimate influence over public life. No one is asking members of the Sackler family for public health advice. But Mr. Gates has become a major policy voice on vaccines despite holding no elected position. Mr. Buffett, for his part, has shied away from that kind of lane hopping and richsplaining, but in donating his fortune to Mr. Gates’s foundation he has pumped up that undemocratic influence.
Mr. Buffett is almost the perfectly made billionaire for this moment in which, at last, many Americans are beginning to question not only corruptions of the system but the matter of whether billionaires should exist at all. He doesn’t do the things the worst of them do. He isn’t in it for what they’re in it for. He clearly must care about money, but he also kind of doesn’t care about money. Even in his generosity, he has avoided the imperial lording over that others cannot resist.
And this is what makes him so troubling, because through him we are tempted into believing that a system can be defended that allows a man to accumulate more than $100 billion while people are sleeping, in hock to him, in his mobile homes, shortening their lives with the beverages he’s invested in, scampering around the warehouses whose nonunion status has redounded to his money pile.
It can’t. And who keeps us from seeing that simple, stark truth more effectively, more perniciously, than the Good Billionaire?