SLUDGE REPORT: Corporate Lobbyist Fundraisers, ‘Financial Gerrymandering,’ and Suspicious Toilet Removal

Your biweekly summary of the most shameful corruption in politics.

SLUDGE REPORT: Corporate Lobbyist Fundraisers, ‘Financial Gerrymandering,’ and Suspicious Toilet Removal
Pete Buttigeig, mayor of South Bend, Indiana and a Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during a news conference January 23, 2019 in Washington, D.C.

Welcome to the fourth installment of our new biweekly 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.

Here are the 10 sludgiest political figures in the last two weeks.

10. Karen Handel, candidate for GA-06

Georgia Republican Handel is, yet again, running to represent Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, which she briefly represented before being ousted by Democrat Lucy McBath. Her fundraising is off to a decent start—just not as good as her campaign portrayed it, given that it misleadingly included rolled-over funds from the last election cycle in the 2019 first-quarter fundraising numbers it gave to the press, according to Roll Call reporter Simone Pathe.

9. Joe Biden, former vice president and soon-to-be presidential candidate (again)

Three times the charm? This morning, Biden announced his candidacy for president, again. Unlike most Democratic candidates, he’s openly embracing lobbyist support. In fact, his first fundraising event as a candidate, in Philly on Thursday night, will be hosted by David Cohen, Comcast’s senior executive vice president who leads the company’s lobbying efforts in Washington D.C.

Sludge co-founder Donald Shaw found that Biden has in the past been skeptical of net neutrality, rules that “prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from giving priority treatment to certain types of traffic, such as content produced by the ISPs or their corporate partners.” Naturally, Trump’s FCC director, former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai, opposes reinstituting net neutrality.

This isn’t surprising, as Biden has a reputation as a corporate-friendly Democrat. But is he out of step with today’s Democratic voters? Time (a short time, I think) will tell.

Read our story.

8. Beto O’Rourke, Democratic presidential candidate

The Beto/oil and gas saga continues as rally attendees keep asking him about his large donations from fossil fuel executives, and O’Rourke continues to either ignore the questions or offer dishonest answers.

We looked through his first-quarter campaign finance report to find that eight executives, including two CEOs, of three connected oil and gas companies from his state of Texas all gave the maximum allowed amount of $2,800 to his campaign in March. Less than one month later, at a rally in Virginia, O’Rourke claimed he “doesn’t plan to” accept donations from fossil fuel CEOs.

Here’s the reality: If O’Rourke were to refuse these kinds of contributions, it wouldn’t make a dent in the millions he’s already raised. It’s a bit strange, given the increasing popularity of climate action such as the Green New Deal, that he’s holding out on this one.

Read the details.

And it’s true—Beto doesn’t accept any PAC donations. But the same guy is gearing up for a May fundraiser in New York, where the price of admission is $250. If you can swing $25,000, though, you’ll get access to Beto at a “host committee reception.” Are these the rank-and-file natural gas workers Beto speaks of? (Splinter)

7. The Federal Election Commission

Everybody knows we have a huge problem with Big Money in politics. And guess what else? The government agency that’s supposed to enforce election laws is almost entirely neutered.

A new report details the shambles that the Federal Election Commission finds itself in after years of attrition from politicians who would rather the agency not function at all. Besides the constant gridlock of the six four commissioners (two seats are vacant, and the terms of the four commissioners who do exist have all expired), the agency as a whole is understaffed and underfunded. As a result, fines issued by the FEC have dropped dramatically, while campaign finance violations surely have not. And those who do still work there are crippled with “brain drain and low morale.” (Issue One)

The blame for this dire situation surely goes to Congress, but it should also go to the two Republican commissioners and some who came before them (including former White House counsel Don McGahn), whose mission has clearly been to gum up the works and prevent the commission from doing anything substantive to hold big political spenders accountable.

Can’t believe a hostile foreign nation was able to penetrate the 2016 elections!

Read all of our SLUDGE REPORTS.