Welcome to the second installment of a new semi-regular Sludge newsletter to let you know about the most swampy (or, as we like to say, sludgiest) characters in politics!
I’m senior investigative reporter Alex Kotch, and I’ll be hosting this SLUDGE REPORT.
Without further ado, here is our top 10 list of the sludgiest political figures in the last week or so.
10. ED ROYCE, former California Republican U.S. representative
Royce, the former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has already joined lobbying shop Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck after retiring from Congress in January. Although congressional ethics rules prevent him from officially lobbying until next year, Royce has already begun advising clients.
Royce plans to register as a lobbyist and will be “giving insights, giving advice, giving direction to companies that are involved in international business.” (Politico)
9. STAFFERS of BOB CORKER, former Tennessee Republican U.S. senator
Three former staffers of the recently retired Corker have already registered to lobby their former colleagues on the Hill. According to Legistorm, Brent Wiles, Todd Womack, and John Goetz will join two more former Corker staffers who launched a new Tennessee-based lobbying firm, Bridge Public Affairs, in recent weeks.
It’s not just staffers of retired lawmakers who move over to K Street; plenty of staffers leave their posts because working on the Hill simply doesn’t pay great—and lobbying definitely does.
8. CHRISTIAN MARRONE, former chief of staff to former Homeland Security Sec. Jeh Johnson
After working for Obama’s Homeland Security secretary, Marrone took a job as a vice president at CSRA, an information technology government contractor that was acquired by weapons manufacturer General Dynamics in April 2018.
Marrone had earlier occupied several positions at the Department of Defense. Maybe we need some real ethics rules to prevent this swinging door from constantly revolving.
7. ANDER CRENSHAW, former Republican Florida representative
Crenshaw, who served in Congress from 2001 to 2017, has been using his old campaign account to purchase Apple products, eat at expensive restaurants, and visit Disney World. Something tells me that the donors to his previous campaigns weren’t intending to finance his personal slush fund. (Tampa Bay Times)
Florida Reps. Kathy Castor (D) and Gus Bilirakis (R) have an amendment to end these “zombie campaigns.” The measure passed the House as part of the Democrats’ sweeping elections and ethics bill, H.R. 1, but Senate Majority Leader and Big-Money-in-politics enthusiast Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is extremely unlikely to allow a vote in his chamber.
6. MIKE CAPUANO, former Democratic Massachusetts representative
When now-Rep. Ayanna Pressley primaried Progressive Caucus member Capuano, she got some pushback from Capuano fans, including one who even argued that Capuano was to the left of Pressley on Medicare for All. Welp, as it turns out, Capuano has already joined a lobbying firm that lobbies against Medicare for All on behalf of a number of health care companies and trade groups.
5. RICHARD BURR, North Carolina Republican senator
FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb recently announced his impending resignation after aggressively attempting to regulate the tobacco and e-cigarette industries. Burr was one of his biggest critics, opposing Gottlieb’s effort to ban menthol cigarettes, somehow claiming that their elimination would lead to more weed smoking.
Totally by chance, Burr’s state is the top tobacco producer in the country and home to cigarette giant Reynolds American, a huge GOP donor that gave far more campaign cash to Burr than to any other congressional candidate during the 2016 election cycle, the most recent year he was up for re-election.
Burr may claim his support for the tobacco industry’s interests is purely about North Carolina jobs, but I’ll put it this way: It’s very unlikely he’s not aware that a huge tobacco company from his state is his biggest campaign donor—by a mile. (Yours Truly)
4. MARK KELLY, astronaut and 2020 Arizona Senate candidate
Former Rep. Gabby Gifford’s husband Kelly, a Democrat, is running for Senate and has already pledged to reject corporate PAC money. But Kelly provides a perfect example of why merely saying you won’t take campaign donations from corporate PACs isn’t enough to truly detach yourself from special-interest cash.
The Intercept reports that Kelly’s got a D.C. fundraiser in the works, hosted by a major corporate lobbying firm with clients such as Exxon, J.P. Morgan, Lockheed Martin, and the top pharmaceutical trade group. The invitation specifies that corporate executives and lobbyists need to donate to Kelly individually, not through their company PACs. (The Intercept)
3. CHARLIE SPIES, corporate lobbyist, and NEIL BUSH, Jeb’s brother
Not only did Jeb! openly coordinate with his super PAC in the 2016 election, that super PAC illegally accepted $1.3 million from a Chinese-owned company. On Monday, in response to a complaint from the Campaign Legal Center, based on The Intercept’s scoop, the Federal Election Commission issued its biggest fine since Citizens United—$940,000—including $550,000 for American Pacific International Capital, Inc. (APIC) and $390,000 for the super PAC, Right to Rise. Foreign money is illegal in U.S. elections. (Mother Jones)
Charlie Spies, a key Republican lawyer who was treasurer and general counsel of Right to Rise, wrote a memo detailing how the super PAC could circumvent the ban on foreign political donations. But as it turns out, the plan neither won Jeb the nomination nor escaped punishment from the FEC.
And get this—Jeb’s younger brother, investor Neil Bush, is on the board of APIC and solicited the money from the company’s Chinese owners.
2. LI YANG, Florida spa owner and Trump donor
This is a tale that only the sludgiest White House in history could be involved in. Trump donor Yang, originally from China, founded a chain of spas and massage parlors, including one where Patriots owner and GOP donor Bob Kraft allegedly solicited prostitution. But she also runs an investment company that offers to sell access to Trump and his family to Chinese clients.
It appears that Yang has been successful in connecting the Trump family and U.S. government officials with her clients at the Trumps’ Florida-based swamp headquarters, Mar-a-Lago. Now she’s seeking help from some big fans of indicted Trump adviser Roger Stone. (Mother Jones)
1. JOE DONNELLY, former Democratic Indiana senator
Sometimes things work out the way you thought they would. After cosponsoring a bipartisan bank deregulation bill in 2018 and then losing his senate seat despite receiving large campaign donations from the finance industry, Donnelly will join the corporate lobbying firm Akin Gump, the largest on K Street. He’ll be a partner and will advise clients in the financial services, health, and defense sectors. Congressional ethics rules prevent Donnelly from officially lobbying Congress for two years, but he’s allowed to lobby the White House. (Roll Call)
Recent Akin Gump clients include the American Bankers Association, investment firm Apollo Management, and Bain Capital.
Donnelly was a member of the Senate Banking Committee and worked with Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) on the S.2155, the bank deregulation bill. As Sludge co-founder Donald Shaw reported last October, Donnelly received campaign contributions from at least two individuals who lobbied Congress on S.2155 on behalf of banking interests, including one Akin Gump lobbyist.
Check out this similar Maplight/Splinter story on Donnelly’s and Medicare for All.