Elizabeth Warren Pushes Further Restrictions on Lobbyists

Ahead of a major address in New York City, the Democratic hopeful is wrapping her campaign in an anticorruption pitch to Democratic primary voters

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is proposing a federal ban on all fundraising activities hosted by lobbyists as part of a new, broad set of anticorruption proposals, adding weight to a theme that has underpinned her White House bid.

The plan, outlined Monday morning on the blog site Medium, builds on anticorruption legislation Ms. Warren announced last year. It adds the new lobbying prohibitions, as well as a ban to prevent senior executive branch officials and members of Congress from serving on for-profit boards—whether or not they receive compensation from such positions. Ms. Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, unveiled the proposal ahead of one of the splashiest events of her presidential campaign: an evening speech at New York City’s Washington Square Park.

The ideas are unlikely to become law while Republicans control the Senate and the White House. GOP lawmakers have generally lined up against similar proposals, citing constitutional concerns.

Typically, new restrictions on registered lobbyists lead to more Washington operatives deciding not to register, instead referring to themselves as consultants or strategic advisers. Ms. Warren says her plan would close that workaround by expanding the definition of lobbyist to include “all individuals paid to influence government.”

Such appeals to the idea that Washington is corrupt could pay off at the ballot box in 2020. In a WSJ/NBC News poll conducted last fall ahead of the midterm elections, 77% of all respondents said reducing the influence of special interests and corruption in Washington ranked as either the most important or a very important factor in deciding which candidate should get their vote. The only issue that ranked higher was the economy. Many Democrats who won House seats in 2018 campaigned on decreasing the influence of money in politics.

“Look closely, and you’ll see—on issue after issue, widely popular policies are stymied because giant corporations and billionaires who don’t want to pay taxes or follow any rules use their money and influence to stand in the way of big, structural change,” Ms. Warren wrote Monday.

Ms. Warren is also pushing to alter the definition of a “thing of value” in campaign finance laws to include tangible benefits made for campaign purposes, in what appeared to be a nod to President Trump.

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The Wall Street Journal reported in November 2018 that Mr. Trump intervened to suppress stories about alleged sexual encounters with women, including the former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the former adult-film star known professionally as Stormy Daniels, citing interviews with three dozen people, court papers, corporate records and other documents. The president’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, told a federal judge that Mr. Trump had directed him during the 2016 campaign to buy the silence of two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty in August 2018 to eight criminal charges, including campaign-finance violations. Mr. Trump has denied the encounters.

Ms. Warren is additionally proposing making it harder for corporations to seal settlements of product liability litigation, something Democrats have called for in the past, notably in 2014 following a faulty ignition switch installed on 2.6 million General Motors vehicles.

David Koch Was the Ultimate Climate Change Denier

How a playboy billionaire built a political army to defend his fossil fuel empire.

A few years ago, I was sitting in the book-lined study of an elegant condo with a view of downtown Washington, interviewing a former senior Koch Industries lobbyist about his job. I asked him what got him up in the morning when he worked for Koch. He gave me a one-word answer: “Carbon.”

At the time, I had been reporting for years on Koch Industries, one of the largest and most confusingly complex private companies in the world. Its annual revenue is larger than that of Facebook, Goldman Sachs and U.S. Steel combined, and it makes everything from gasoline to nitrogen fertilizer to nylon, paper towels and windows. For all this complexity, one business inside Koch Industries remains more important than the rest — processing and selling fossil fuels.

David Koch, who died Friday at the age of 79, is best known as a major funder of right-wing political causes, from tax cuts to deregulation, an enthusiastic patron of the arts and a man-about-town. But to his critics, his most lasting political legacy might very well be the rapidly warming world that he has left behind.

Koch Industries realized early on that it would be a financial disaster for the firm if the American government regulated carbon emissions or made companies pay a price for releasing carbon into the atmosphere. The effects of such a policy would be measured over decades for Koch. The company has billions of dollars sunk into the complex and expensive infrastructure of crude-oil processing. If a limit on greenhouse gas emissions were imposed, it could dampen demand for oil and diminish the value of those assets and their future sales. The total dollar losses would likely be measured in trillions over a period of 30 years or more.

Construction on the Koch political machine began in the 1970s, after Charles Koch took over the family company. He and David began funding and orchestrating a political project to restrain government power in the United States through lobbying, think tanks and political donations. The effort accelerated in the 1990s after a Senate committee, following a long investigation, accused Koch Industries of stealing oil from Native American reservations where the company was operating. That experience convinced David and Charles Koch that they needed to have a stronger presence in Washington to fend off their critics.

The machine reached full fruition in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president. The machine is so effective because it is multifaceted. In addition to one of the largest registered corporate lobbying offices in the country, located about two blocks from the White House, there is a constellation of Koch-funded think tanks and university centers. They all convey a consistent message: that government programs can only cause more harm than good and that market forces alone must shape human society. And their work is bolstered by a private network of donors that David and Charles Koch assembled over the years, a network that gives donations at levels rivaling a political party.

Finally, Koch controls a “boots on the ground” army in the form of Americans for Prosperity, a network of employees and volunteers who knock on doors, attend rallies to protest climate change legislation, and visit the offices of any lawmakers who seem likely to cross Koch Industries on the issue.

This machine has been employed to great effect to ensure that no government action is taken to control greenhouse gas emissions. In the early 1990s, President George H.W. Bush made it clear that he would support a treaty to limit carbon emissions. The Republicans even had a market-based solution to tackle the problem, a system called “cap and trade” that put a price on pollution and allowed companies to buy and sell the right to pollute. Cap and trade had been used to great effect to reduce power plant pollution and acid rain. But in 1991, the Cato Institute, a Koch-funded think tank, held a seminar in Washington called “Global Environmental Crises: Science or Politics?” This was part of a decades-long effort to cast doubt about the reality of climate change.

David Koch worked tirelessly, over decades, to jettison from office any moderate Republicans who proposed to regulate greenhouse gases. In 2009, for example, a South Carolina Republican, Representative Bob Inglis, proposed a carbon tax bill. KochIndustries stopped funding his campaign, donated heavily to a primary opponent named Trey Gowdy and helped organize teams of Tea Party activists who traveled to town hall meetings to protest against Mr. Inglis. Some of the town hall meetings devolved into angry affairs, where Mr. Inglis couldn’t make himself heard above the shouting. Mr. Inglis lost re-election, and his defeat sent a message to other Republicans: Koch’s orthodoxy on climate rules could not be violated.

Mike Pence, who was then a congressman in Indiana, and others soon signed a “carbon pledge” circulated by Americans for Prosperity, which effectively prohibited the government from putting a price on carbon emissions. Those efforts and others effectively derailed the effort to pass a cap and trade plan for greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, the level of atmospheric carbon concentration hovered around 370 parts per million. In the decade since, levels have surpassed 400 parts per million, the highest level recorded in human existence.

Since the 2016 election, and in the face of more urgent scientific warnings about climate change and a growing popular movement for action, the Koch network has tried to build a Republican Party in its image: one that not only refuses to consider action on climate change but continues to deny that the problem is real. Just this week, Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, dismissed data about climate change by pointing out on Twitter: “It’s summer.” In doing so, he reflected the politics of a party — and a world — that has been profoundly shaped by David Koch.

Banks Plan to Boost Campaign Spending in 2020

With the financial crisis fading, firms renew political engagement for presidential election year

WASHINGTON—Banks plan to be more active in the 2020 elections, with a large industry group promising to boost campaign spending and political advertising after keeping a relatively low profile in the decade after the financial crisis.

The industry’s re-emergence in the political arena comes amid a friendlier tone in Washington during the Trump administration. Congress and financial regulators have sought to ease capital rules, limits on trading and other restrictions placed on banks by the Obama administration after the 2008 crisis, arguing the financial system is more resilient now.

“They’re using the current thaw in what had been a pretty contentious relationship between Wall Street and D.C. to tell their story a little better,” said Ed Mills, managing director at Raymond James Financial.

The American Bankers Association, a trade group that represents banks of all sizes, said it plans to spend more than $10 million in the 2020 election cycle on its political program, including donations and advertisements to back Republicans and Democrats in congressional races. The amount also includes operational costs that aren’t subject to federal filing requirements; the group declined to say how that total compares with its spending in previous election cycles.

“Our goal is to support candidates who understand and appreciate the critical role banks of all sizes play in the economy,” Rob Nichols, the ABA’s chief executive, said in a statement. “We plan to expand our efforts in 2020 on a rigorously bipartisan basis.”

Banking on 2020 The American Bankers Association has increased political donations ahead of the2020 election. Contributions to federal candidates and other political committees Source: Federal Election Commission Note: Donations January through July in the first year of each two-year election cycle.
20062008201020122014201620182020$0 million$0.5$1$1.5

In the 2018 midterm election cycle, the ABA spent more than $1.5 million on political ads, polling and other research, the group said. In addition, it contributed $3.5 million to candidates and other political committees, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

The group backed four Democratic and eight Republican candidates, including Dean Heller, a former Republican senator from Nevada, and Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat.

So far this year through the end of July, it contributed  $1.31 million to federal candidates and political committees, the fastest its donations have topped $1 million since at least the 2010 cycle, according to Federal Election Commission data.

The group also contributed $10,000 each to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and $15,000 a piece to the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The group declined to comment on the difference in the amounts.

The Consumer Bankers Association, which represents big and regional banks, expects to raise upwards of $200,000, on par with previous years, and the Independent Community Bankers of America, representing smaller banks, said it plans to focus more on social-media ads in 2020.

The American Bankers Association ran an ad backing U.S. Rep. Ted Budd (R., N.C.) in his successful 2018 re-election race. PHOTO:WOODY MARSHALL/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The ABA’s advertisements in the 2018 cycle included one supporting Rep. Ted Budd (R., N.C.) that featured Kelly Earnhardt Miller—a North Carolina banker and the daughter of race-car legend Dale Earnhardt. The group also ran Spanish-language video ads and a print ad in Vietnamese in support of Rep. Lou Correa (D., Calif.).

So far this election cycle, the ABA is the biggest political action committee in terms of donations to federal candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Goldman Sachs recently released a documentary commemorating its 150-year history, while JPMorgan Chase & Co. sponsored a multimedia Politico article about its community development initiatives in Detroit.

The industry’s efforts haven’t always hit their marks. “ Is Bank of America really sponsoring this?” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), a 2020 presidential candidate who has advocated for breaking up big banks, said at a July Washington Post event on the presidential election, with the bank’s logo overhead. “Well, let’s just get into the interview,” journalist Robert Costa replied, to audience laughter.

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The industry has pressed for regulatory victories by focusing on what it says are burdens faced by small and midsize banks, arguing that lower costs to comply with rules and regulations could mean more loans are made to small businesses and consumers. Last May, this approach led to bipartisan support for the most comprehensive rollback of the financial rulebook since the crisis.

“We’re far enough away from the financial crisis,” Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat and then-senator who backed the bill, said in an interview. “We definitely have normalized the discussion, taking it out of a hyper, you-caused-this-and-you-should-be-punished to a discussion about what works for American consumers.”

The power split in Congress—Democrats control the House, Republicans control the Senate—has complicated efforts by banks to lobby for their policy priorities. Some progressive Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee, for instance, are shunning political donations from the industry.

“We’re still in the early-stage process of developing relationships with all of them. Some we haven’t met,” Richard Hunt, the head of the Consumer Bankers Association, said of new lawmakers of all stripes in an interview. “Eighty percent of my so-called lobbying time is with regulators.”