To Defend Democracy, We Must Demand Financial Transparency from Trump

From executive appointments to policy, understanding Trump’s personal financial interests will be essential to judging his adminstration

— by Jeff Hauser
_whereareyourtaxes

As we hear of a settlement in the “Trump University” civil fraud case brought in part by New York State Attorney General and learn more and more about potential Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the phrase “personnel is policy” takes on an unfortunate new meaning.
Will Trump’s appointees to high government office ensure Donald Trump does not use control of the executive branch to enrich himself and his family?

Trump enriching himself as president is not an idle or libelous question. Trump himself raised the prospect in 2000 to Fortune Magazine, telling them that “[i]t’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.”

Matt Yglesias puts the threat to the rule posed by Donald Trump and the “Trump Organization” in stark language, arguing “Trump’s first 100 days could also be the last 100 days in which America’s system of republican government can be saved.” Yglesias fears that the potential for corruption is so great that “political favor” might become “the primary driver of economic success.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial page employs less ominous language to come to a surprisingly similar conclusion, noting problems posed by the fact that “The President is exempt from federal conflict-of-interest law.”

As Bloomberg put it, the Trump family business poses an “unprecedented potential conflicts of interest.”

The last line of defense against the installation of a kleptocracy is the U.S. Senate, which can insist that President Trump meet the same standards for public disclosure and avoidance of conflict of interest as past presidents and presidential candidates of both political parties.

The U.S. Senate can and should demand transparency into Trump family finances. Moreover, the U.S. Senate can and should demand an end to the inherent conflicts of interest posed by the ongoing existence of “The Trump Organization.”

The Senate can do so by refusing to confirm any nominations until Trump takes the following steps to promote faith that a Trump presidency will not enrich himself and his family:

  1. Releases his tax returns;
  2. Releases a detailed and current financial disclosure that includes beneficial ownership information on all “shell companies”* that are part of the Trump Organization;
  3. Follows the advice of the The Wall Street Journal editorial page that “Mr. Trump’s best option is to liquidate his stake in the company” via “a leveraged buyout or an initial public offering”; and
  4. These disclosure requirements should be treated as annual requirements.

Having President Trump and his children reconstitute a “Trump Organization” to receive payouts from foreign countries and rent-seeking businesses is a serious concern that cannot be prevented merely by an ensuring initial clean post-liquidation start. The Saturday Washington Post includes an article suggesting that diplomats understand the advantages of spending money at Trump’s DC hotel.

There should be particular concern about all non-publicly traded assets he and his children might hold. Trump and his children cannot be allowed to use “shell companies” to hide his actual business partners, creditors, and assets, including dealings with foreign governments or companies with significant potential dealings with the executive branch.

Without these comprehensive actions, Senators have no way to know what conflicts of interest they should be concerned about.

Does the Trump Organization have business dealings with, for example, Japan? If so, that suggests a line of questions for a potential Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Is a Trump company being investigated by the SEC? That matters for potential SEC Commissioners.

Even a Trump infrastructure bill raises questions. Would Trump follow the Dennis Hastert precedent and put forward highway projects designed to increase value of Trump family owned properties?

Trump announces a tax plan – would it benefit him?

Trump Energy Department actions – would they boost Trump family energy investments?

And assets are not the only issue. Senators need to know if any appointments constitute Trump repaying literal debts.

Every part of the federal government can be used to benefit private interests, and thus for all positions, the Senate requires clarity into Trump’s financials.

That goes for Trump-era law enforcement as well. David Dayen has wondered if the Trump win provides “a massive lifeline to Deutsche Bank, the German financial firm that has been rocked recently by rumors that they would have to pay a $14 billion fine to the Justice Department over crisis-related mortgage abuses.”

What’s the basis of Dayen’s curiosity? The fact “that one of Deutsche Bank’s biggest borrowers – Trump – will soon be sitting in the White House.”

Senators need to know how to provide oversight of the executive branch. To have confidence in Trump appointments and governance, Senators must demand both transparency and an end to conflicts of interest. Otherwise, it is all too likely he and his family will make money off control of the executive branch.


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Jeff Hauser runs the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, an effort to increase scrutiny on executive branch appointments and ensure that political appointees are focused on serving the public interest, rather than personal professional

Do the WSJ & the NY Times agree?

by Kate Marshall, NV State Treasurer & candidate for NV Secretary of State

vote23_thumb.jpgThis last weekend the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times both ran articles on the misguided efforts by conservatives to limit voter access.

The Face of Our ID problem, Wall Street Journal

Ohio Mistrusts Democracy, New York Times

Does this mean that Wall Street Journal & the New York Times both agree that voter ID does not work?  We cannot let Nevada become another failed experiment by the Koch Brothers who are looking out for their own political agenda instead of everyday Nevadans.

SIGN OUR PETITION TO PROTECT YOUR ACCESS TO THE BALLOT.

Why You Should Fear Big Bad Cable

Comcast’s plan to merge with Time Warner Cable could leave millions of Americans stranded on the digital equivalent of a winding dirt road.

— by 

Timothy  Karr

Twenty-five years ago this month, Sir Tim Berners-Lee introduced an open protocol for sharing information that gave everyday Internet users the power over what they created and whom they connected with online.

His concept quickly evolved into the World Wide Web. One British research scientist’s idea for people-to-people communications became a global engine for empowerment, economic growth and free speech.

Berners-Lee’s idea was to create a web of limitless access and choice. And he was largely successful.

We can use YouTube to share and watch videos, or we can switch over to Vimeo, Instagram, or Blip. We can speak directly with friends using Skype, Hangout, FaceTime or other voice and video services. We can connect and communicate anything with anyone at any time.

But all of that could change.

Big phone and cable companies want to turn the open network into their private fiefdoms — and take away many of the freedoms Internet users now take for granted. And regulators are letting them get away with it.

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable Internet provider, recently announced a $45 billion deal to buy our nation’s second-largest cable company, Time Warner Cable. If the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approve the merger, the new communications giant will operate in 43 of the 50 largest metropolitan markets. It would control service more than one-third of all broadband Internet subscribers depend on for their access to the digital world.

This new mega-company would be able to leverage its power to set industry standards for price and services. This isn’t hypothetical. Comcast is already moving on plans to favor one online business or website over another.

In February, Comcast brokered a deal to prioritize Netflix videos over other streaming video content. This is likely the first of similar arrangements to give fast-lane privileges to certain companies while relegating the rest of our communications to the digital equivalent of a winding dirt road.

A federal appeals court paved the way for this maneuver in January when it overturned the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules. This means that Internet service providers are now free to block or degrade connections to websites and services they don’t like.

Comcast’s plan to re-route online content is happening at a time when it profits immensely from control over access. Over the past 17 years, the price of basic cable service has grown at more than twice the annual rate of inflation. And analysts put the company’s profit margins on providing broadband at 80 percent or higher.

It’s no wonder cable Internet is so profitable: There’s no competition. Most U.S. consumers have just one choice of cable provider. And this situation will only get worse if the government approves Comcast’s merger.

Given its many anti-competitive, anti-consumer elements, the combination of the two biggest cable companies should be a non-starter for regulators. But Washington has a mixed record on media consolidation. In January 2011, the FCC and Justice Department gave Comcast’s takeover of NBCUniversal a green light. Yet by the end of that same year they blocked AT&T’s attempt to purchase T-Mobile.

The move against AT&T offers reason for hope. But the government won’t block Comcast’s new merger unless the public speaks out. More than 60,000 people have already told regulators to stop it.

And customers of Comcast and Time Warner Cable should oppose the deal in even bigger numbers: Both companies regularly rank among the worst of the worst in consumer surveys.

Letting these two corporations join forces to control all things online could be the end of Berners-Lee’s vision of a people-powered Web — and the beginning of the reign of big, bad cable.


Timothy Karr is the senior director of strategy for Free Press. FreePress.net.  Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

Spending Growth by Presidency

Mitt Romney claims on his campaign website: “Since President Obama assumed office three years ago, federal spending has accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history.”

The truth is, the President’s supposed “spending binge” is nothing but a myth, repeatedly debunked by independent fact checkers. Federal spending growth has actually been slower under President Obama than under any other president since Dwight Eisenhower.

President Obama has a plan to reduce the deficit by over $4 trillion, cutting federal spending while still making critical investments in education, innovation, infrastructure, and clean energy. It’s a balanced and responsible approach to creating an economy built to last.

Sources:

Congressional Budget Office (CBO), nonpartisan analysis for the U.S. Congress
Office of Management and Budget (OMB
MarketWatch, The Wall Street Journal

1. Spending by president begins with the fiscal year that started during the calendar year they took office

2. 2009 Recovery Act was attributed to Obama

Fact-Checker’s Reports

“… federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since President Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s.” The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch