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Archive for the ‘corruption’ tag

Review: ‘The City’ podcast tells sordid tale of illegal dumping on Chicago’s West Side

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I wish I had time to listen to podcasts, this one sounds fascinating…

No Parking

Chicago Tribune’s Steve Johnson:

“Anytime you see anybody drive over (to) a vacant lot in a limo, you know it’s no good.”

When you’re a reporter trying to bring a complicated story to life, quotes like that — wry, sharply worded, evocative of a much larger scenario — are pure gold.

And in the promising, new Chicago-focused podcast “The City,” chronicling the battle over vacant lots in North Lawndale that became illegal dumping sites in the 1990s, lead reporter and narrator Robin Amer recognizes that quote for the gem that it is.

It comes from Gladys Woodson, one of the residents who tried to fight the illegal dumps, a story that would lead to FBI surveillance, court cases and a picture window into city corruption during the early years of the reign of the second Mayor Daley, the podcast asserts.

The first episode of “The City” debuts Monday, under the auspices of USA Today and available there and on iTunes, Stitcher and the like. In it, the host promises the first season’s Chicago illegal dump story will be one of “corruption, apathy and greed,” a story dark enough to stun even hardened city dwellers.

(click here to continue reading Review: ‘The City’ podcast tells sordid tale of illegal dumping on Chicago’s West Side – Chicago Tribune.)

Politicians and other elite from the dinosaur era (i.e., pre-internet) escaped being judged for a lot of bad behavior. I can just imagine stories like this becoming viral in today’s hyper-focused era. 

Written by Seth Anderson

September 24th, 2018 at 7:33 am

Shameless Grifter Pruitt Scored a $50-a-Day Condo From Lobbyists, Miraculously Their Client’s Project Got Approved

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Emotional Response to Swamp Trees
Emotional Response to Swamp Trees

Speaking of the demonic, shameless grifter Scott Pruitt

The NYT reports:

The Environmental Protection Agency signed off last March on a Canadian energy company’s pipeline-expansion plan at the same time that the E.P.A. chief, Scott Pruitt, was renting a condominium linked to the energy company’s powerful Washington lobbying firm.

Both the E.P.A. and the lobbying firm dispute that there was any connection between the agency’s action and the condo rental, for which Mr. Pruitt was paying $50 a night.

Nevertheless, government ethics experts said that the correlation between the E.P.A.’s action and Mr. Pruitt’s lease arrangement — he was renting from the wife of the head of the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen — illustrates why such ties to industry players can generate questions for public officials: Even if no specific favors were asked for or granted, it can create an appearance of a conflict.

“Entering into this arrangement causes a reasonable person to question the integrity of the E.P.A. decision,” said Don Fox, who served as general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics during parts of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

(click here to continue reading Pruitt Had a $50-a-Day Condo Linked to Lobbyists. Their Client’s Project Got Approved. – The New York Times.)

Staying in a 2 bedroom condo in a swanky DC neighborhood for $50 a night? That’s a good deal if you can stomp out of the swamp to get it. Pruitt’s daughter got to use the other room, but she stayed for free. And the $50 was only for nights he was there, not the entire time. You know, like a deal you would negotiate with your landlord. If your landlord was a lobbyist who had business in front of your agency, naturally.

However, an examination of Capitol Hill rentals suggests that rates typically are considerably higher and generally do not come with a provision, as Mr. Pruitt’s did, that the renter can pay for only the nights stayed at the condo.

“I’ll leave my stuff here for six months, will sleep here a few nights a month on an irregular schedule, and you’ll charge me only for the nights when the police don’t break down the door, and I wake up in your bed. Deal? Deal.“ 

Phil Marches On
Phil Marches On

Daily News:

 

Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt’s security detail broke down the door of the Capitol Hill condo he rented from the wife of an energy lobbyist last year because they believed the Trump cabinet member was unconscious, according to a report Friday.

 

The bizarre March 2017 incident unfolded after a member of Pruitt’s personal security became concerned about the administrator when he didn’t answer his phone, according to ABC News.

 

“They say he’s unconscious at this time,” a 911 operator is told, according to a recording obtained by the network. “I don’t know about the breathing portion.”

 

 

(click here to continue reading EPA boss Pruitt’s security worriedly broke down rental condo door – NY Daily News.)

Drugs? Weird BSDM? Spanking the Orange Dotard? Curious as to what really happened here.

Written by Seth Anderson

April 2nd, 2018 at 8:14 pm

Defense Department subpoena sought Re Federal Savings Bank

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The Federal Savings Bank
The Federal Savings Bank, West Loop, in the news again. 

Crain’s Chicago reports:

Two senior House Democrats are pushing to subpoena the Department of Defense on whether Trump administration officials considered nominating Chicago banker Stephen Calk as secretary of the Army after his small local bank made outsized loans to Donald Trump’s former campaign manager.

The request for a subpoena was made in a letter today—you can read it below—to U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Texas, chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, from the panel’s senior Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, and Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, senior Democrat on the House Oversight subcommittee on national defense.

The two Democrats said the Defense Department hadn’t produced any of the documents they asked for, nor said when it would.

The letter referenced “extremely troubling reports that a banker named Stephen Calk may have made loans of up to $16 million to President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in exchange for promises to name him secretary of the Army.”

Calk’s Chicago-based lender, Federal Savings Bank, made a total of $16 million in loans to Manafort in December 2016 and January 2017. They were collateralized by homes in New York City, the Hamptons and Virginia.

At just $364 million in assets, Federal Savings Bank is far too small to be making loans of that size to a single borrower.

“Although Mr. Calk ultimately was not given a position with the department, reports that he was being considered for a high-level and highly sensitive national security position within the Trump administration as part of a quid pro quo with Mr. Manafort raise serious concerns that, completely apart from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, warrant scrutiny by Congress,” the Democrats’ letter said.

They want to review all Defense Department documents and communications regarding a potential role for Calk, among other items.

(click here to continue reading Defense Department subpoena sought on Trump official – Government News – Crain’s Chicago Business.)

Previous coverage here and here  

Written by Seth Anderson

March 28th, 2018 at 5:19 pm

Nicolas Sarkozy, ex-French president, detained over Gaddafi bribery allegations

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Monument to Honore de Balzac
Monument to Honore de Balzac…

You’d think this would be a bigger story, but I guess the Trumpnado overwhelms the news cycle most days.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was taken into police custody Tuesday over allegations he illegally accepted 50 million euros ($68.5 million) from the government of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi to finance his successful 2007 presidential campaign.

The detention of Sarkozy — France’s president between 2007 and 2012 — represented a major development in what is likely to become an explosive political scandal.

If the allegations are true, it would mean Sarkozy knowingly violated France’s campaign finance laws, which in 2007 capped campaign funding at 21 million euros ($28.8 million). In the presidential election that year, Sarkozy narrowly defeated Ségolène Royal, a Socialist, in the final round of the vote.

Investigators and journalists have long scrutinized potential connections between the former center-right president and Gaddafi.

(click here to continue reading Nicolas Sarkozy, ex-French president, detained over Gaddafi bribery allegations – The Washington Post.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 21st, 2018 at 11:09 am

Posted in crime,News-esque

Tagged with , ,

Equifax executive charged with insider trading before data breach made public

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Where all hopes sank
Where all hopes sank

Equifax shouldn’t be allowed to exist, there should be some sort of 3 Strikes law for corporations that are rogue entities like Equifax…

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged a former Equifax executive with insider trading, alleging that he profited from confidential information about a data breach at the company that compromised sensitive data of 143 million people to make a profit.

Jun Ying, former chief information officer of a U.S. business unit of Equifax, faces both civil and criminal charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia.

”Ying used confidential information to conclude that his company had suffered a massive data breach, and he dumped his stock before the news went public,” Richard R. Best, Director of the SEC’s Atlanta Regional Office, said in a statement.  ”Corporate insiders who learn inside information, including information about material cyber intrusions, cannot betray shareholders for their own financial benefit.”

(click here to continue reading Former Equifax executive charged with insider trading before data breach made public – The Washington Post.)

Everyone is going to have to deal with fallout from the Equifax debacle for years to come, meanwhile, they have not made amends.

 

Equifax Inc. said more U.S. consumers were affected by its large data breach last year than originally disclosed.

 

The company on Thursday said that it identified about 2.4 million U.S. consumers whose names and partial driver’s license information were stolen. The company said the consumers affected “were not in the previously identified” population of cyberattack victims.

 

That brings the total number of U.S. consumers whose personal information was compromised by the breach to 147.9 million, up from 145.5 million previously.

The company also reported fourth-quarter earnings rose 40%, to $172 million, beating expectations due to a benefit from the new U.S. tax law and revenue growth in international markets. The U.S. division of Equifax that works closely with banks and other lenders reported a drop in year-over-year revenue, while overall operating expenses rose 8% as the company deals with security improvements and litigation costs.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Equifax Identifies Additional 2.4 Million Affected by 2017 Breach – WSJ.)

Voyeurs and a Handful of Change
Voyeurs and a Handful of Change

Take away their business license, send the executives to jail, or even better, strip them of their citizenship and deport them.

 

Equifax, one of the three main consumer-credit data companies, is paid to spy on and compile all of your personal financial records. The company holds sensitive data on almost every aspect of our lives, yet hackers were able to get past their weak protection systems. This is because you aren’t a customer of Equifax; you are the company’s product. As a result, Equifax has no incentive to provide you with good services. In the wake of the hack, Equifax offered a credit-monitoring tool, but to use it consumers needed to sign an arbitration agreement that said they wouldn’t sue the company. (Equifax has since dropped this requirement after an outcry.)

 

These kinds of arbitration agreements replace courts with a private judicial system of company lawyers, and they have since metastasized across the entire economy. The CFPB recently finalized a rule that would outlaw these mandatory agreements by financial companies starting next year. Among other things, the rule would prevent Equifax from forcing people into arbitration after it goes into effect. Yet under an obscure congressional procedure, Republicans have the ability to repeal this rule with only 50 votes in the Senate. Though they might still do it, they’re having a harder time now, since they would be on the hook for any further abuses.

 

As reported by David Sirota, Equifax was one of the lead companies lobbying against the CFPB rule. But Equifax’s calamitous blunder, more than any white paper, demonstrates the need for strong new regulations to protect our personal data. If the rule survives, we can thank the companies whose own horrible gaffes demonstrated the need for it in the first place.

 

 

(click here to continue reading The Financial Industry Is Its Own Best Enemy | The Nation.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 14th, 2018 at 9:31 am

Posted in Business,crime

Tagged with ,

Trump and Corruption

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What Are You Hiding Trump
What Are You Hiding, Trump?

If one had paid attention to Donald Trump over the years, either as a running joke, or as an example of crony capitalism run amok, one would have noticed his frequent skirting of ethical norms. I’ve always considered Trump to be a wanna-be gangster. Everything is permitted, as long as Donnie gets his beak wet. Sadly, in the 2016 election, Trump and his enablers were able to switch media focus onto other shiny objects: Hillary Clinton’s emails, “economic nationalism”, sexual misconduct and so forth. There could have been a thousand television segments aired in 2016 about Trump’s corrupt business practices in Panama, Vancouver, the Republic of Georgia, and wherever else, instead Trump was allowed to call in by telephone, guide the conversation, and get thousands of hours of free media coverage.

Trump has always been a swamp dweller, Bannon’s “Drain the Swamp” branding was ironic, but never based in reality. The Trump White House is filled with ethically challenged corrupt people of all levels of mendacity.

Anyway, can’t go backward. 

Ben Smith writes about Trump and Trump’s love of corruption…

When Donald Trump was elected, reporters and editors all over sat down to think through the possible reporting tracks on the Trump presidency: There was his new populist movement, his personality and family, his policy plans.

And then there was the corruption beat: Trump had a long history of enriching himself at taxpayers’ expense, and he and his circle did not come out of a tradition that knew the meaning of the term public service.

But a year ago, there was no reporting to do on the corruption story for a simple reason: The Trump administration hadn’t been around long enough.

Well, now it’s been around long enough.

And in recent weeks there has been an escalating series of stories about self-dealing, money flowing to cronies, and high-stakes policy decisions impossibly tangled with personal wealth. What Trump and his critics appear not to have realized is that this — not conspiracies, porn actresses, or divisive comments — is the starkest threat to his presidency.

That is another way of saying that what we typically call corruption isn’t a criminal matter. It’s a political one.

This is an axiom of politics: You can get away with horrible policy, bad leadership, and complicated conflicts of interest. But when you’re caught doing something easier to explain — sexually harassing staffers or stealing even modest amounts of money — you’re announcing your resignation.

Former Rep. Aaron Schock, for instance, is still fighting corruption charges — but his Downton Abbey–styled office made the appearance of corruption too easy to fight. Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. blew campaign funds on a Rolex, fur coats, and Bruce Lee memorabilia, and went to jail without even stealing any public funds. And while former secretary Tom Price dodged concerns about insider trading that could have been worth millions of dollars, expensive plane travel — mere thousands! — ended his career.

(click here to continue reading The Real Threat To Trump Isn’t Russia, Racism, Or Incompetence. It’s Corruption..)

Adam Davidson of The New Yorker:

 

Several news accounts have confirmed that Mueller has indeed begun to examine Trump’s real-estate deals and other business dealings, including some that have no obvious link to Russia. But this is hardly wayward. It would be impossible to gain a full understanding of the various points of contact between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign without scrutinizing many of the deals that Trump has made in the past decade. Trump-branded buildings in Toronto and the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan were developed in association with people who have connections to the Kremlin.

Other real-estate partners of the Trump Organization—in Brazil, India, Indonesia, and elsewhere—are now caught up in corruption probes, and, collectively, they suggest that the company had a pattern of working with partners who exploited their proximity to political power.

One foreign deal, a stalled 2011 plan to build a Trump Tower in Batumi, a city on the Black Sea in the Republic of Georgia, has not received much journalistic attention. But the deal, for which Trump was reportedly paid a million dollars, involved unorthodox financial practices that several experts described to me as “red flags” for bank fraud and money laundering; moreover, it intertwined his company with a Kazakh oligarch who has direct links to Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. As a result, Putin and his security services have access to information that could put them in a position to blackmail Trump. (Sekulow said that “the Georgia real-estate deal is something we would consider out of scope,” adding, “Georgia is not Russia.”)

 

 

(click here to continue reading Trump’s Business of Corruption | The New Yorker.)

Trump Tax Chicken
Trump Tax Chicken

Matthew Yglesias of Vox:

 

The reality of Trump’s presidency has been just the reverse.

 

There is nothing blind about his finances — his business empire is merely managed on a day-to-day basis by his adult sons, with whom he is in regular contact and who also work as leading members of his political operation.

 

His daughter and son-in-law serve as high-ranking officials in the White House, he operates a hotel in the nation’s capital that serves as an informal headquarters for his administration, and he spends a majority of his weekends at his private resorts in Florida, Virginia, and New Jersey.

 

Some of the grifting that results from this is almost comical, as in the periodic stories about the Secret Service spending thousands of dollars at a time renting golf carts from clubs that the president owns.

 

But lining his pockets with vast sums of public money is the least of the problems with Trump’s conduct in this regard. The real issue is that by joining one of Trump’s private clubs, wealthy individuals are putting cash directly in the president’s pocket while also gaining access to him. Trump seems to regularly — and quite openly — poll Mar-a-Lago members for their thoughts on the issues of the day. But it’s also an opportunity for more subtle lobbying in unprecedented ways.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Trump’s corruption deserves to be a central issue in the 2018 midterms – Vox.)

It Pays to Play
It Pays to Play

and

 

An early Trump administration controversy that now seems almost quaint came when presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway used a television news appearance from the White House grounds to tout Ivanka Trump’s shoe brand. It wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but this kind of low-level legal violation keeps happening in the Trump era, right up to an apparent Hatch Act violation from Jared Kushner as he touted Brad Parscale’s appointment as campaign manager of the Trump 2020 reelection bid.

 

But the list gets longer and contains more serious violations:

 

US intelligence agencies have reports of multiple foreign governments discussing ways to use Kushner’s business interests to compromise his work for the federal government.

This week, four political appointees at the Commerce Department lost their jobs after they flunked background checks.

Even as Ben Carson’s tenure at the Department of Housing and Urban Development was facing an inspector general investigation over improper involvement of the Carson family in public business, Carson apparently demoted a career staffer after she objected to his plan to spend $31,000 on a dining set for his office.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was caught improperly accepting Wimbledon tickets and charging the public for his wife’s travel.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is flying first-class at public expense so he could avoid having unpleasant interactions with fellow passengers. T

hese kinds of problems will only grow worse the longer Trump’s own conflicts of interests are permitted to go unabated. Maintaining a high standard of ethical conduct across a sprawling bureaucracy overseen by dozens of political appointees is genuinely challenging, even when elected officials are trying to do it.

 

When the president of the United States doesn’t care about ethics and the predominant attitude of his co-partisans in Congress is that ignorance is bliss, corruption will grow like mushrooms in the shade.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Trump’s corruption deserves to be a central issue in the 2018 midterms – Vox.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 6th, 2018 at 11:13 am

Kushner’s Family Business Received Loans After White House Meetings

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225 W Randolph St
225 W Randolph St is owned by Kushner Co’s.

Speaking of the dimpled slumlord, Jared Kushner, apparently he is his father-in-law’s favorite for a reason: corruption comes as easily as breathing…

Early last year, a private equity billionaire started paying regular visits to the White House.

Joshua Harris, a founder of Apollo Global Management, was advising Trump administration officials on infrastructure policy. During that period, he met on multiple occasions with Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said three people familiar with the meetings. Among other things, the two men discussed a possible White House job for Mr. Harris.

The job never materialized, but in November, Apollo lent $184 million to Mr. Kushner’s family real estate firm, Kushner Companies. The loan was to refinance the mortgage on a Chicago skyscraper.

Even by the standards of Apollo, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, the previously unreported transaction with the Kushners was a big deal: It was triple the size of the average property loan made by Apollo’s real estate lending arm, securities filings show.

It was one of the largest loans Kushner Companies received last year. An even larger loan came from Citigroup, which lent the firm and one of its partners $325 million to help finance a group of office buildings in Brooklyn.

(click here to continue reading Kushner’s Family Business Received Loans After White House Meetings – The New York Times.)

For the record, I walked by 225 W. Randolph today, currently the regional headquarters of AT&T, leased from Kushner, and the building looked pretty run-down from the outside.

Slightly Run Down Entrance to 225 W Randolph
Slightly Run Down Entrance to 225 W Randolph

Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post adds:

 

“Kushner represents a total failure in every possible dimension,” says ethics guru Norm Eisen. “His appointment was a violation of the federal anti-nepotism statute. We now know that he has the worst ethics and conflicts issues of anyone in the administration with the possible exception of his father-in-law. He could not even fill out his financial disclosures and security clearance forms properly, with dozens of amendments being required.” He adds, “His contacts with the Russians and other foreign governments are deeply problematic. His security clearance has been downgraded to the level of a White House intern, making it impossible for him to do the jobs for which he is purportedly there. He must go before he does any more damage.”

 

News this week that Kushner received jumbo loans from two banks after meeting with Citigroup and Apollo Global Management highlights the risk he poses. How many other suspect meetings have been taken? What ones are planned? Kushner apparently has no appreciation for the appearance of conflicts of interest, let alone actual conflicts. Because he is so heavily indebted and still operates his real estate company, we cannot be sure whether performance of his White House duties are for his own benefit or the country’s. If he meets with a bank executive, or representatives of one of the four countries attempting to influence there is at the very least the appearance of corruption. And because Kushner’s portfolio is so broad it seems unlikely he wouldn’t inevitably make some decision that affects his own financial interests and/or those of his lenders.

 

All of this goes to the legal and ethical implications of his continued presence in the White House. However, the political ramifications are nearly as bad, It’s now painfully obvious he is there solely by nepotism and that the president knew or should have known about the security risks and conflicts Kushner brought with him. To allow him to remain simply reaffirms the president’s comfort level with ethical malfeasance. Just as keeping Rob Porter for so long signaled the White House really didn’t think spousal abuse was that big a deal, Trump’s retention of Kushner suggests that the president doesn’t much care if his inner circle is beholden to foreigners.

 

 

(click here to continue reading The Jared time bomb – The Washington Post.)

Don t Say I Never Warned You
Don’t Say I Never Warned You

From NBC:

 Federal investigators are scrutinizing whether any of Jared Kushner’s business discussions with foreigners during the presidential transition later shaped White House policies in ways designed to either benefit or retaliate against those he spoke with, according to witnesses and other people familiar with the investigation.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has asked witnesses about Kushner’s efforts to secure financing for his family’s real estate properties, focusing specifically on his discussions during the transition with individuals from Qatar and Turkey, as well as Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates, according to witnesses who have been interviewed as part of the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 election.

Kushner’s family real estate business, Kushner Companies, approached Qatar multiple times, including last spring, about investing in the company’s troubled flagship property at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York, but the government-run sovereign wealth fund declined, according to two people familiar with the discussion. Another discussion of interest to Mueller’s team is a meeting Kushner held at Trump Tower during the transition in December 2016 with a former prime minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, or HBJ, according to people familiar with the meeting.

HBJ had been in talks with Kushner Companies about investing in its Fifth Avenue property, which is facing roughly $1.4 billion in debt that is due in 2019, these people said. Those talks with the company continued after Kushner entered the White House and stepped away from the business, but last spring HBJ decided against investing, these people said.

In the weeks after Kushner Companies’ talks with the Qatari government and HBJ collapsed, the White House strongly backed an economically punishing blockade against Qatar, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, citing the country’s support for terrorism as the impetus. Kushner, who is both President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a key adviser, has played a major role in Trump’s Middle East policy and has developed close relationships with the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

 Some top Qatari government officials believe the White House’s position on the blockade may have been a form of retaliation driven by Kushner who was sour about the failed deal.

 

(click here to continue reading Mueller team asking if Kushner foreign business ties influenced Trump policy – NBC News.)

Trump Eventually We Will Get Something Done
Trump: Eventually We Will Get Something Done

From Newsweek:

 

New York’s banking regulator has reportedly requested loan information about Jared Kushner, his family and real estate business Kushner Companies, from three banks including Deutsche Bank AG, which is steeped in another controversy involving the presidential adviser.

 

New York State’s Department of Financial Services last week sent letters to Deutsche Bank, Signature Bank and New York Community Bank requesting loan applications and processes, and information about the institutions’ relationships with Kushner and his business assets, a person familiar with the correspondence told Bloomberg in a report published Wednesday.

Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, took on more debt over the past year from lenders including Signature Bank and New York Community Bank, recent government disclosures show. The couple had unsecured lines of credit of $5 million to $25 million from each of the three banks, according to a disclosures filing from late December.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Jared Kushner’s Loans From Deutsche Bank, Other Lenders Sought by Banking Regulator: Report.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 2nd, 2018 at 8:16 pm

Mueller, Manafort and Federal Savings Bank

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Entrance to The Federal Savings Bank
Entrance to The Federal Savings Bank

Follow up on the local FSB bank in Fulton Market we wrote about a few months ago…

Federal investigators are probing whether former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort promised a Chicago banker a job in the Trump White House in return for $16 million in home loans, two people with direct knowledge of the matter told NBC News.

Manafort received three separate loans in December 2016 and January 2017 from Federal Savings Bank for homes in New York City, Virginia and the Hamptons.

The banker, Stephen Calk, president of the Federal Savings Bank, was announced as a member of candidate Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers in August 2016.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is now investigating whether there was a quid pro quo agreement between Manafort and Calk. Manafort left the Trump campaign in August 2016 after the millions he had earned working for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine drew media scrutiny. Calk did not receive a job in President Donald Trump’s cabinet.

The sources say the three loans were questioned by other officials at the bank, and one source said that at least one of the bank employees who felt pressured into approving the deals is cooperating with investigators.

(click here to continue reading Mueller asking if Manafort promised banker White House job in return for loans – NBC News.)

The Federal Savings Bank
The Federal Savings Bank

Bloomberg adds:

 

The Federal Savings Bank, where Calk is founder, chairman and chief executive officer, also got a “seven-figure” investment from a firm run by one of Trump’s closest friends, Howard Lorber, according to court testimony not previously reported.

Lorber is CEO of the Vector Group, parent company of the New York real estate powerhouse, Douglas Elliman Real Estate LLC. Last year, Trump described Lorber, who is also chairman of Douglas Elliman, as one of his two best friends. In 1996, Trump and Lorber were together in Moscow exploring business opportunities, accompanied by Bennett LeBow, the Vector Group’s founder and chairman.

 

Bennett LeBow in 1998Photographer: Chuck Robinson/AP Images LeBow is a longtime player in both the cigarette and real estate industries in Russia and Ukraine. Among his former business partners is Vadim Z. Rabinovich, a Ukrainian politician who was elected to parliament in 2014 as part of the pro-Russia party that employed Manafort before he signed onto Trump’s campaign.

 

The Vector Group made a “seven-figure” investment in Calk’s bank, according to a 2015 deposition by Calk; Lorber in a 2015 deposition put the figure at $2 million, though he wasn’t sure if the investment was made by Vector or Douglas Elliman. Neither of the men said when the investment was made.

Calk was little known in political circles, even in Chicago. He built a mortgage business in Kansas with his brother John by focusing on military veterans. He moved the bank’s headquarters to Chicago in 2014 after being promised millions in grants and tax credits from the city.

According to a 2016 article in the trade publication, National Mortgage News, about 90 percent of the bank’s lending at the time was directed toward single-family home purchases, most through the Veterans Administration.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Behind Manafort’s Loans, a Chopper Pilot Who Flew Into Trump’s Orbit – Bloomberg.)

Written by Seth Anderson

February 22nd, 2018 at 10:47 am

House Republicans Back Down on Bid to Gut Ethics Office For Now

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Already Waited Too Long
Already Waited Too Long

Well, that little trip down Unethical Lanewas sidetracked quickly…

House Republicans, facing a storm of bipartisan criticism, including from President-elect Donald J. Trump, moved early Tuesday afternoon to reverse their plan to kill the Office of Congressional Ethics. It was an embarrassing turnabout on the first day of business for the new Congress, a day when party leaders were hoping for a show of force to reverse policies of the Obama administration.

The reversal came less than 24 hours after House Republicans, meeting in a secret session, voted, over the objections of Speaker Paul D. Ryan, to eliminate the independent ethics office. It was created in 2008 in the aftermath of a series of scandals involving House lawmakers, including three who were sent to jail.

Mr. Trump criticized House Republicans on Tuesday for their move to gut the office, saying they should focus instead on domestic policy priorities such as health care and a tax overhaul.

(click here to continue reading House Republicans Back Down on Bid to Gut Ethics Office – The New York Times.)

Tabled for now, but I expect we’ll hear more about the Office of Congressional Ethics soon…

Written by Seth Anderson

January 3rd, 2017 at 2:05 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with , ,

Sneak Attack on Ethical Restrictions: Republicans vote to dismantle independent ethics body

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Get Out of Jail Free
Get Out of Jail Free

And so it begins – the very first vote the newly installed House Republicans take is a vote to encourage the next generation of Jack Abramoffs. Amazingly brazen, why else conduct this vote in secret, on a national holiday no less? Symbolic, and telegraphing where the GOP wants to focus their energy – on  looting the public trough, without consequence…

House Republicans have gutted an independent ethics watchdog, putting it under their own control, in a secret ballot hours before the new Congress convened for the first time.

The unheralded vote severely weakens the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which was set up after a lobbying scandal in 2008 to investigate corruption allegations against members of Congress. The move, led by the head of the House judiciary committee, defied the Republican congressional leadership and was reportedly supported by several legislators currently under OCE scrutiny.

Republicans’ plan to erase Obama legacy starts with chipping away at Obamacare Read more The amendment was voted through by the House Republican conference over the New Year’s holiday with no prior notice or debate and inserted in a broad rules package the House will vote for on Tuesday. It turns the formerly independent OCE into the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, a subordinate body to the House Ethics Committee, which is currently run by the Republican majority and has a long history of overlooking charges of malfeasance by lawmakers.

The new body will not be able to receive anonymous tips from members of Congress or make its findings public.

The vote comes at a time when the Republicans control all three branches of government and are seeking to remove some of the residual constraints on their powers.

(click here to continue reading Outcry after Republicans vote to dismantle independent ethics body | US news | The Guardian.)

What reason do they have to hide their actions? Draining the swamp in the dark I guess

But the House Ethics Committee, even if it dismisses the potential ethics violation as unfounded, is required to release the Office of Congressional Ethics report detailing the alleged wrongdoing, creating a deterrent to such questionable behavior by lawmakers.

Under the new arrangement, the Office of Congressional Complaint Review could not take anonymous complaints, and all of its investigations would be overseen by the House Ethics Committee itself, which is made up of lawmakers who answer to their own party.

The Office of Congressional Complaint Review would also have special rules to “better safeguard the exercise of due process rights of both subject and witness,” Mr. Goodlatte said. The provision most likely reflects complaints by certain lawmakers that the ethics office’s staff investigations were at times too aggressive, an allegation that watchdog groups dismissed as evidence that lawmakers were just trying to protect themselves.

“O.C.E. is one of the outstanding ethics accomplishments of the House of Representatives, and it has played a critical role in seeing that the congressional ethics process is no longer viewed as merely a means to sweep problems under the rug,” said a statement from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an ethics watchdog group that has filed many complaints with the Office of Congressional Ethics

(click here to continue reading With No Warning, House Republicans Vote to Gut Independent Ethics Office – The New York Times.)

Talking Points Memo is trying to figure out how the little creeps actually voted:

As I noted last night, the House GOP caucus just voted to kill the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (it loses its independence and now needs Congress’s permission to investigate anyone or report anything it finds). But the vote is secret. But you can find out! Yes, you can! If you live in a district represented by a Republican member of Congress you can call their office and ask how they voted on the Goodlatte proposal. Here are the details of what happened. And here’s an example of how we did this back the last time something like this happened back in 2004.

Call your Republican Rep. and ask how the member voted on the Goodlatte proposal. Remember, always be polite and courtesy. You’re not speaking to the member. You’re more than likely speaking to a junior staffer who is just their to do their job. Being polite but firm is not only more effective it’s just the right thing to do.

Remember Trump’s on-board with Ryan on this (even though Ryan nominally warned against the decision). Kellyanne Conway said this morning on GMA that ditching oversight was necessary because “There’s been an overzealousness in some of the processes over the years.”

As I wrote last night, the last time the GOP achieved unified Republican control in Washington, their first move was to loosen ethics oversight. First they pushed through the “DeLay Rule”, which allowed House leaders to stay1 in their leadership roles while under indictment. A couple months later, when putting through the rules for the new Congress (the same step that happened last night), they created another new rule which held that any question that deadlocked the Ethics Committee was automatically dismissed. In other words, unless a member of the party of the person being investigated was willing to support the investigation, it was automatically dismissed.

(click here to continue reading Help Us Count the Vote!.)

I think we should start referring to our nation as America-stan…

It Pays to Play
It Pays to Play

and a bit of history from Josh Marshall:

Before we get to what happened this evening, a bit more background. When the Democrats took back control of the House in the 2006 wave election, they did so with the rampant corruption of the congressional GOP as one of their major campaign themes. So in the Spring of 2008 they created Office of Congressional Ethics, a congressional oversight office which was independent of the members themselves. The House Ethics Committee is supposed to handle ethics questions. But it’s run by members and was generally as good at sweeping ethics issues under the rug as addressing them. More generously, in an era of intense partisanship, it was often simply un-runnable. In any case, the OCE was able to do a lot of things the Ethics Committee could not. It could look into anything it wanted to. It could issue recommendations to the Ethics Committee.

This may all seem a bit like inside baseball. But in the world of oversight, it was actually a pretty big step in having someone with some actual power keeping an eye on members.

…in a sort of kick off to the Trump Era, the House GOP Caucus voted to put the OCE back under the authority of the Ethics Committee, which of course has a GOP Chair. Basically that means abolishing the OCE since the whole point of the OCE is that it’s independent of the Committee. One of the sales’ points for this new set up is that it “provide[s] protection [for Members of Congress] against disclosures to the public or other government entities” of the results of any investigations. In other words, if wrongdoing is found the newly-neutered OCE can’t tell anyone. Awesome. They can’t have a press person, issue reports, do anything without the say of the Ethics Committee. In other words, the whole thing is a joke, both the new version of the OCE (now the ““Office of Congressional Complaint Review”) and this whole move. But it’s the Trump Era. Members want to get down to business, get their piece of the action and not have anyone giving them any crap. Just like the big cheese down Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s the Trump Era.

Now, here’s the good part, as it was with the DeLay Rule, the vote is secret. Why? Because this is a caucus vote, i.e., not an actual congressional vote. Let me digress for a moment and explain just one more bit of detail. With each new Congress the majority puts together a bundle of rules that will govern how the House works during that Congress. Mostly this just puts the old rules back in place. But there are always a few changes. All those rules get bundled into one bill and it’s the first thing or one of the first to get voted on. That bill gets approved on a party line vote, just like the Speaker gets elected. If the caucus votes for it, it’s a sure thing. So even though this was just a secret caucus vote, in effect it is binding as law since all Republicans will vote for it in the official vote.

(click here to continue reading Back to The Auction House.)

Footnotes:
  1. corrected typo []

Written by Seth Anderson

January 3rd, 2017 at 9:21 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , , ,

Donald Trump’s Far-Flung Holdings Raise Potential for Conflicts of Interest

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Memorial to the Great War and a poser
Memorial to the Great War and a poser

More details on Trump’s walking conflicts of interest from the failing NYT:

The Trump International operates out of the Old Post Office Building, which is owned by the federal government. That means Mr. Trump will be appointing the head of the General Services Administration, which manages the property, while his children will be running a hotel that has tens of millions of dollars in ties with the agency.

He also will oversee the National Labor Relations Board while it decides union disputes involving any of his hotels. A week before the election, the board ruled against Mr. Trump’s hotel in a case in Las Vegas.

The layers of potential conflicts he faces are in many ways as complex as his far-flung business empire, adding a heightened degree of difficulty for Mr. Trump — one of the wealthiest men to ever occupy the White House — in separating his official duties from his private business affairs.

Further complicating matters are Mr. Trump’s decision to name his children to his transition team, and what is likely to be their informal advisory role in his administration. His daughter Ivanka Trump joined an official transition meeting on Thursday, the day before Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey was removed from his post leading the effort.

Mr. Trump has said he will eliminate ethical concerns by turning the management of his company over to his children, an arrangement he has referred to as a blind trust. But ethics lawyers — both Republicans and Democrats — say it is far from blind because he would have knowledge of the assets in the trust and be in contact with the people running it, unlike a conventional blind trust controlled entirely by an independent party.

“To say that his children running his businesses is the equivalent of a blind trust — there is simply no credibility in that claim,” said Matthew T. Sanderson, a Washington lawyer and Republican who has worked on the presidential campaigns of John McCain, Rand Paul and Rick Perry. “Yes, the American public elected him knowing he has these assets, but unless he deals with this properly there will just be a steady trickle of these conflict-of-interest stories, and it could be a drag on his presidency.”

Perhaps most troubling for Mr. Trump, several ethics lawyers said, is a relatively obscure provision of the Constitution, called the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits any government official from taking payments or gifts from a foreign government, or even from sharing in profits in a company that has financial ties to a foreign government.

 Mr. Trump has had business deals with foreign governments or individuals with apparent ties to foreign governments, including multimillion-dollar real estate arrangements in Azerbaijan and Uruguay. His children have frequently traveled abroad to promote the Trump brand, making trips to Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Scotland. Closer to home, the Bank of China is a tenant in Trump Tower and is a lender for another building in Midtown Manhattan where Mr. Trump has a significant partnership interest.

(click here to continue reading Donald Trump’s Far-Flung Holdings Raise Potential for Conflicts of Interest – The New York Times.)

Perplexed By the Light Of Your Moon
Perplexed By the Light Of Your Moon

plus there is this minor detail that the Trumpsters will have to ignore or overturn:

As president, Mr. Trump will be exempt from a federal ethics rule that prohibits government employees and members of Congress from taking actions that could benefit their financial interests.

But the president still must comply with a law that requires annual financial disclosures of his assets. The first will not be due until May 2018, although President Obama filed one voluntarily during his first year in office.

Experts said that even if Mr. Trump was exempt from some federal ethics rules, the public will expect him to not use his office to benefit his personal finances.

(click here to continue reading Donald Trump’s Far-Flung Holdings Raise Potential for Conflicts of Interest – The New York Times.)

Of course, we must remember that Ms. Clinton used a private email server.

Written by Seth Anderson

November 14th, 2016 at 9:18 pm

Trump Has a Serious Conflict-of-Interest Problem

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Moon Over 58th Street
Moon Over 58th Street

There were a plethora of reasons to oppose Donald Trump, his massive international businesses is a rather large and important one.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) requested a formal congressional investigation into Donald Trump’s “financial arrangements” Monday, urging a key congressional committee to examine the president-elect’s sprawling business empire for any conflicts of interests.

“I am writing to request that the Oversight Committee immediately begin conducting a review of President-elect Donald Trump’s financial arrangements to ensure that he does not have any actual or perceived conflicts of interest, and that he and his advisors comply with all legal and regulatory ethical requirements when he assumes the presidency,” Cummings wrote in a Nov. 14 letter to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, wrote that the United States has “never had a president like Mr. Trump in terms of his vast financial entanglements and his widespread business interests around the globe.” Given Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, Cummings added, it’s impossible to know how the real estate mogul’s many businesses will affect his future decision-making.

(click here to continue reading Trump Has a Serious Conflict-of-Interest Problem. Maybe Congress Will Investigate Him. | Mother Jones.)

If there is a business that has dealings with the US government, how are we to know if those businesses are going to make a big cash donation to Trump’s “not-blind trust”? We won’t see this cash on his tax returns, that’s for sure.

Laid Your Hand On Me
Laid Your Hand On Me

Some backstory from before the rigged election:

In his most recent financial disclosure statement, Donald Trump notes he has billions of dollars in assets. But the presumptive GOP nominee also has a tremendous load of debt that includes five loans each over $50 million. (The disclosure form, which presidential candidates must submit, does not compel candidates to reveal the specific amount of any loans that exceed $50 million, and Trump has chosen not to provide details.) Two of those megaloans are held by Deutsche Bank, which is based in Germany but has US subsidiaries. And this prompts a question that no other major American presidential candidate has had to face: What are the implications of the chief executive of the US government being in hock for $100 million (or more) to a foreign entity that has tried to evade laws aimed at curtailing risky financial shenanigans, that was recently caught manipulating markets around the world, and that attempts to influence the US government?

Trump’s disclosure form lists 16 loans from 11 different lenders, totaling at least $335 million, and the aggregate amount is likely much more. Deutsche Bank is clearly his favorite lender, and Trump’s financial empire has become largely dependent on his relationship with this major player on Wall Street and the global markets. The German bank has lent him at least $295 million for two of his signature projects. In 2012, Deutsche provided Trump with $125 million to help him buy Trump National Doral golf course. Last year, it handed Trump a $170 million line of credit for his new hotel project on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.

Should Trump move into the White House, four blocks away from his under-construction hotel, he would be its first inhabitant to owe so much to any bank. And in recent years, Deutsche Bank has repeatedly clashed with US regulators. So might it be awkward—if not pose a conflict of interest—for Trump to have to deal with policy matters that could affect this financial behemoth?

Richard Painter, an attorney who teaches at the University of Minnesota and who was the chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007, says a situation in which a sitting president owes hundreds of millions of dollars to any entity, especially a bank that jousts with regulators, is disturbing. There have been wealthy presidents and vice presidents, Painter notes, pointing to John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, and Nelson Rockefeller, but none were as heavily leveraged as Trump. “They had large assets and usually diversified assets. They weren’t in a situation where someone could put pressure on them to do what they want,” Painter remarks. “Whereas having a president who owes a lot of money to banks, particularly when it’s on negotiable terms—it puts them at the mercy of the banks and the banks are at the mercy of regulators.” Painter adds: “In real estate, the prevailing business model is to own a lot but also owe a lot, and that is a potentially very troublesome business model for someone in public office.”

(click here to continue reading Trump Has a Conflict-of-Interest Problem No Other White House Candidate Ever Had | Mother Jones.)

Another Loony
Another Loony

and from the failing NYT:

For example, an office building on Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan, of which Mr. Trump is part owner, carries a $950 million loan. Among the lenders: the Bank of China, one of the largest banks in a country that Mr. Trump has railed against as an economic foe of the United States, and Goldman Sachs, a financial institution he has said controls Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, after it paid her $675,000 in speaking fees.

Real estate projects often involve complex ownership and mortgage structures. And given Mr. Trump’s long real estate career in the United States and abroad, as well as his claim that his personal wealth exceeds $10 billion, it is safe to say that no previous major party presidential nominee has had finances nearly as complicated.

 As president, Mr. Trump would have substantial sway over monetary and tax policy, as well as the power to make appointments that would directly affect his own financial empire. He would also wield influence over legislative issues that could have a significant impact on his net worth, and would have official dealings with countries in which he has business interests.

Yet The Times’s examination underscored how much of Mr. Trump’s business remains shrouded in mystery. He has declined to disclose his tax returns or allow an independent valuation of his assets.

Mr. Trump’s opaque portfolio of business ties makes him potentially vulnerable to the demands of banks, and to business people in the United States and abroad, said Professor Painter, the former chief White House ethics lawyer.

“The success of his empire depends on an ability to get credit, to get loans extended to his business entities,” he said. “And we simply don’t know a lot about his financial dealings, here or around the world.”

(click here to continue reading Trump’s Empire: A Maze of Debts and Opaque Ties – The New York Times.)

Sounds just about right, if Trump ends up being the last president of the American experiment in democracy. Well, 240 years, we’ve had a good run.

Written by Seth Anderson

November 14th, 2016 at 6:01 pm

Going Clear and the Ridiculousness of Tax Exemption for Religious Organizations

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Ideas and Not Battles…
Ideas and Not Battles…

I hope you’ve seen, or plan to see, the documentary by Alex Gibney called Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. Besides the whole insanity of Xenu, and thetans and Suppressive Persons, a big question raised is why exactly did the IRS classify L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction stories as a religion, entitled to evade taxes? Was it a result of Operation Snow White? Or some other reason?

The latter half of Going Clear delineates how David Miscavige uses the above dogma to create a financial empire built on celebrity outreach, with the organization’s Celebrity Centre being a major landmark, and Hubbard’s directive of “fair game” (i.e., harassment and threats to enemies labeled “suppressive persons”). The result is extensive research and testimony based on the experiences of former church members, some of them former senior members, with allegations of torture, labor camps, re-education camps, human trafficking, and a non-profit religion that has at least $1.5 billion in the bank. If you or I paid someone who worked for us 40 cents an hour or forced someone to mop a bathroom with their tongue, we would probably be looking at spending some time in a courtroom.

However, because Scientology has tax-exempt status as a religion, these practices are protected by the First Amendment as “self-inflicted” punishments by adherents of a religion.

That tax-exempt status was also important in saving Scientology from bankruptcy. Going Clear asserts the church was looking at a $1 billion tax bill in 1993 after fighting the IRS for decades. Not only was the tax debt forgiven, but the classification of Scientology as a religion also means sales of Dianetics and other Hubbard books are not taxed either, since they’re considered “religious texts.” And all of this is supposed to be given a happy face by trotting out celebrities like Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and others so they can peddle Scientology in other countries and attempt religious recognition in Europe and elsewhere. However, Cruise is shown to be the equivalent of manipulated royalty within the church. Church insiders paint a picture of him as pampered and coddled to be Scientology’s ambassador to the world, with his every whim attended to, but Miscavige dictates who can be close to Cruise and is jealously protective of his own relationship with the star. And Travolta is implied to be either indifferent to the religion’s abuses or a “captive” who stays in his place because of the threat of blackmail.

(click here to continue reading ‘Going Clear’ offers a devastating exposé of greed and abuse.)

Truthfully, I don’t understand why any mega-rich church gets to be tax exempt. My taxes partially go to support schools, I don’t object to that despite me having no children of my own. I understand the idea of the public good – a well educated society is better for all of us. I pay for the park district, and I don’t object to that. I use the parks, I am happy to see others using the parks, families, dogs, whatever. But what good to society is Scientology doing? or any of us who aren’t Tom Cruise or John Travolta?

I don’t think the Catholic Church should be tax-exempt either, but at least they seem to do a small amount of good for the public – soup kitchens, outreach, etc. What is Scientology doing for the community? Other than separating rubes from their money? 

The Nonprofit Risk Management Center reports that more than 100 501(c)(3) organizations are stripped of their tax-exempt status each year. The reasons can vary, covering the violation of laws that govern private benefits, lobbying, political campaign activity, unrelated business income, the obligation to report annually and maintaining operation in accord with stated exempt purpose.…

According to the film, Church of Scientology Chairman David Miscavige ordered the organization’s members to file individual lawsuits against the IRS for its failure to recognize it as a church. Overwhelmed by 2,400 individual suits and the prospect of defending itself against all of them, the IRS agreed to grant Scientology tax-exempt status in exchange for the withdrawal of the cases.

A 2011 tax filing reveals that the three organizations comprising Scientology claim a combined value of $1.5 billion, a sum that has allegedly been built on the backs of members who pay thousands of dollars to rise within the organization, are paid 40 cents an hour for labor and have been tortured for dissent, combined with the organization’s vast international property portfolio. “This issue is not about whether Scientology is a religion,” Gibney told TheWrap. “The issue is whether or not Scientology is pursuing policies that are not in the public interest.” The government simply needs to determine whether there’s a “fundamental overriding interest” in declassifying an organization involved in the above activities as exempt from taxation.

According to the IRS website, to be tax-exempt, an “organization’s purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy.” An IRS representative told TheWrap he’s unable to comment on whether there’s currently an investigation into any organizations or individual cases.

(click here to continue reading HBO’s ‘Going Clear’ Triggers New Scrutiny of Scientology’s Tax-Exempt Status.)

Church of Scientology London
Church of Scientology London

So how exactly did the Scientologists get the IRS to reverse itself? There are many still unanswered questions:

For 25 years, I.R.S. agents had branded Scientology a commercial enterprise and refused to give it the tax exemption granted to churches. The refusals had been upheld in every court. But that night the crowd learned of an astonishing turnaround. The I.R.S. had granted tax exemptions to every Scientology entity in the United States.…The landmark reversal shocked tax experts and saved the church tens of millions of dollars in taxes. More significantly, the decision was an invaluable public relations tool in Scientology’s worldwide campaign for acceptance as a mainstream religion. On the basis of the I.R.S. ruling, the State Department formally criticized Germany for discriminating against Scientologists. The German Government regards the organization as a business, not a tax-exempt religion, the very position maintained for 25 years by the American Government.

The full story of the turnabout by the I.R.S. has remained hidden behind taxpayer privacy laws for nearly four years. But an examination by The New York Times found that the exemption followed a series of unusual internal I.R.S. actions that came after an extraordinary campaign orchestrated by Scientology against the agency and people who work there. Among the findings of the review by The Times, based on more than 30 interviews and thousands of pages of public and internal church records, were these:

*Scientology’s lawyers hired private investigators to dig into the private lives of I.R.S. officials and to conduct surveillance operations to uncover potential vulnerabilities, according to interviews and documents. One investigator said he had interviewed tenants in buildings owned by three I.R.S. officials, looking for housing code violations. He also said he had taken documents from an I.R.S. conference and sent them to church officials and created a phony news bureau in Washington to gather information on church critics. The church also financed an organization of I.R.S. whistle-blowers that attacked the agency publicly.

*The decision to negotiate with the church came after Fred T. Goldberg Jr., the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service at the time, had an unusual meeting with Mr. Miscavige in 1991. Scientology’s own version of what occurred offers a remarkable account of how the church leader walked into I.R.S. headquarters without an appointment and got in to see Mr. Goldberg, the nation’s top tax official. Mr. Miscavige offered to call a halt to Scientology’s suits against the I.R.S. in exchange for tax exemptions.

After that meeting, Mr. Goldberg created a special committee to negotiate a settlement with Scientology outside normal agency procedures. When the committee determined that all Scientology entities should be exempt from taxes, I.R.S. tax analysts were ordered to ignore the substantive issues in reviewing the decision, according to I.R.S. memorandums and court files.

The I.R.S. refused to disclose any terms of the agreement, including whether the church was required to pay back taxes, contending that it was confidential taxpayer information. The agency has maintained that position in a lengthy court fight, and in rejecting a request for access by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act. But the position is in stark contrast to the agency’s handling of some other church organizations. Both the Jimmy Swaggart Ministries and an affiliate of the Rev. Jerry Falwell were required by the I.R.S. to disclose that they had paid back taxes in settling disputes in recent years.

(click here to continue reading Scientology’s Puzzling Journey From Tax Rebel to Tax Exempt – NYTimes.com.)

Xenu dot Net
Xenu dot Net

From the IRS manual, your organization only needs to check these boxes off to be classified as a religion, and not even check all the boxes:

The Service considers all the facts and circumstances in determining whether an organization is a church, including whether the organization has the following characteristics:

  • a distinct legal existence
  • a recognized creed and form of worship
  • a definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
  • a formal code of doctrine and discipline
  • a distinct religious history
  • a membership not associated with any other church or denomination
  • a complete organization of ordained ministers ministering to their congregations
  • ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study
  • a literature of its own
  • established places of worship
  • regular congregations
  • regular religious services
  • Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young
  • schools for the preparation of its ministers

The above list of 14 church characteristics (first published by the Service in 1978 as a news release, IR–1930) is not exclusive—any other facts and circumstances that may bear upon the organization’s claim for church status must also be considered.

An organization need not have all of the characteristics (few churches do, and newly-created churches cannot be expected to); thus, no single characteristic is controlling.

Some of the characteristics may be given more weight than others in a given case.

(click here to continue reading Internal Revenue Manual – 7.26.2 Private Foundations Defined – IRC 509(a)(1) Exlcusions (Other Than IRC 170(b)(1)(A)(vi)) and IRC 509(a)(4) Exclusion.)

Church of Scientology
Church of Scientology

Written by Seth Anderson

March 31st, 2015 at 11:46 am

Posted in News-esque,religion

Tagged with , , ,

Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Republican Attorneys General

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The Dark Doesn't Hide It
The Dark Doesn’t Hide It.

Here are real world consequences of removing all vestiges of restraint of corporate purchase of elected officials, only partially hidden corruption. We are getting the best politicians money can buy, in other words, with the obvious point being it isn’t our money, but corporate dollars that have all the buying power.

The letter to the Environmental Protection Agency from Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma carried a blunt accusation: Federal regulators were grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in his state.

But Mr. Pruitt left out one critical point. The three-page letter was written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying.

The email exchange from October 2011, obtained through an open-records request, offers a hint of the unprecedented, secretive alliance that Mr. Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general have formed with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

Attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year.

(click here to continue reading Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General – NYTimes.com.)

Cheap for corporations, $16,000,000 isn’t very much when gutting environmental law is the end result. Remember your high school history books and how indignant the outrage was when discussing the Teapot Dome Scandal? Well, this is a gazillion or two times worse…

Unconventional Solutions
Unconventional Solutions…

Here’s a brief refresher of the Teapot Dome Scandal via Wikipedia:

In the early 20th century, the U.S. Navy largely converted from coal to oil fuel. To ensure the Navy would always have enough fuel available, several oil-producing areas were designated as Naval Oil Reserves by President Taft. In 1921, President Harding issued an executive order that transferred control of Teapot Dome Oil Field in Natrona County, Wyoming, and the Elk Hills and Buena Vista Oil Fields in Kern County, California from the Navy Department to the Department of the Interior. This was not implemented until 1922, when Interior Secretary Fall persuaded Navy Secretary Edwin C. Denby to transfer control.

Later in 1922, Albert Fall leased the oil production rights at Teapot Dome to Harry F. Sinclair of Mammoth Oil, a subsidiary of Sinclair Oil Corporation. He also leased the Elk Hills reserve to Edward L. Doheny of Pan American Petroleum and Transport Company. Both leases were issued without competitive bidding. This manner of leasing was legal under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920.

The lease terms were very favorable to the oil companies, which secretly made Fall a rich man. Fall had received a no-interest loan from Doheny of $100,000 (about $1.32 million today) in November 1921. He received other gifts from Doheny and Sinclair totaling about $404,000 (about $5.34 million today). It was this money changing hands that was illegal, not the leases. Fall attempted to keep his actions secret, but the sudden improvement in his standard of living prompted speculation.

(click here to continue reading Teapot Dome scandal – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Discarded Cautions
Discarded Cautions.

Sound familiar? Except in this case, the public isn’t outraged, or even well informed that elected officials are getting paid off in such a brazen manner. 

Out of public view, corporate representatives and attorneys general are coordinating legal strategy and other efforts to fight federal regulations, according to a review of thousands of emails and court documents and dozens of interviews.

“When you use a public office, pretty shamelessly, to vouch for a private party with substantial financial interest without the disclosure of the true authorship, that is a dangerous practice,” said David B. Frohnmayer, a Republican who served a decade as attorney general in Oregon. “The puppeteer behind the stage is pulling strings, and you can’t see. I don’t like that. And when it is exposed, it makes you feel used.”

For Mr. Pruitt, the benefits have been clear. Lobbyists and company officials have been notably solicitous, helping him raise his profile as president for two years of the Republican Attorneys General Association, a post he used to help start what he and allies called the Rule of Law campaign, which was intended to push back against Washington.

(click here to continue reading Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General – NYTimes.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

December 7th, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Rosemont passes law to prevent release of Garth Brooks contract

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Rich Play - Poor Pay - Chicago Tribune
Rich Play – Poor Pay – Chicago Tribune.

There aren’t many times when we align unequivocally with the Chicago Tribune, but this is one such time. What the hell is the Village of Rosemont doing?1 Corporate welfare at its most transparent, and then trying to cover up their tracks? They are spending taxpayer money, right? So why shouldn’t the taxpayers know the details?

Whatever Rosemont had to do, it doesn’t want the public to know about it.

The village recently passed an ordinance to keep secret the financial details related to Brooks’ record-breaking concert run — an unusual move that came after the Chicago Tribune filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to his September shows at Allstate Arena.

The ordinance gives the mayor and other officials the power to withhold documents if they believe the release would put village-owned entertainment venues at a competitive disadvantage. In addition to the arena, the town owns and operates the Rosemont Theatre and the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

Village officials declined comment on the new law this week, citing the ongoing dispute with the Tribune over the Brooks documents.

The Tribune requested the records on Sept. 11, while Brooks was in the middle of his 11-concert run at Allstate Arena. Brooks, who had not toured in 16 years, sold 183,535 tickets for his Rosemont shows and broke the North American ticket sales record for a single city with an estimated gross of $12 million.

None of those entities, however, rely upon concert and convention revenues as much as Rosemont, which owes more than $400 million on taxpayer-backed loans taken out primarily to build an entertainment district. In 2013, the arena, theater and convention center together generated nearly $38 million in operating revenue and attracted more than 1.9 million visitors, according to village officials.

(click here to continue reading Rosemont passes law to prevent release of Garth Brooks contract – Chicago Tribune.)

To be clear, we are befuddled why such a profitable touring artist would need financial incentives from the public: the government isn’t getting a percentage of the gate. In fact, just the opposite – Rosemont gave a share of concessions, parking, and the like to the promoter. Wacky, just wacky. Smells like corruption to me.

Footnotes:
  1. a suburb of Chicago, five minutes from O’Hare Airport []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 5th, 2014 at 11:04 am