Welcome to the preview edition of our weekly, members-only Sludge column to let you know about the sludgiest characters in politics!
Let’s get right to the sludge.
5. The Swamp
In the latest revolving door news, Trump’s former director of national intelligence Dan Coats, who appears to have been ousted because he believed Russian election interference actually happened, is back at his old lobbying firm, King & Spalding, where he’ll advise clients on national security. In his previous stint there, Coats lobbied on behalf of Bank of America, Google, and weapons giant Lockheed Martin. Coats has passed through the revolving door between government and the private sector several times—a very sludgy character!
U.S. rep, then U.S. senator → counsel at huge law firm now called DLA Piper → U.S. ambassador to Germany during the George W. Bush administration → Cooper Industries lobbyist, then King & Spalding lobbyist → back to U.S. Senate → Trump administration → back to King & Spalding
And then there’s former Republican Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania—who had an affair with a lobbyist for an airline trade association while chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee—whom Raytheon just hired as a lobbyist. It’s been less than a year since Shuster retired from Congress and joined major lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs, so he can only lobby the Trump administration for now, per congressional ethics rules. (Politico Playbook)
Related: One of Sludge’s first investigations uncovered how spouses of congressional staffers are lobbying Congress.
4. Joe Biden, Waning Presidential Candidate
Former VP Biden is still doing pretty well in the polls, although he recently gave up his frontrunner status to Elizabeth Warren, but his recent fundraising numbers don’t bode well for the future. In 2019’s third quarter, Biden raised $15.7 million, nearly $10 million less than Bernie Sanders and $9 million less than Elizabeth Warren. And he’s burning through that money, having spent more than he raised last quarter. Meanwhile, Liz and Bernie have tens of millions in the bank.
Biden’s primary way of raising money—attending top-dollar fundraising events hosted by business executives and corporate lobbying leaders—has many drawbacks. First, a lot of these kinds of donors are giving the maximum allowed amount, $2,800, for the primary election. They’re all tapped out and can’t donate again unless Biden makes it to the general election. Meanwhile, Sanders and Warren have prodigious online, small-donor fundraising. When you’re giving $20 or $40 to a candidate, there’s a lot more money you can potentially give during the primary. So not only do Bernie and Warren have far more overall donors, but most can keep supplying small contributions.
Now here’s the juicy stuff: Raising money via luxurious canape-filled events isn’t cheap. The Biden campaign devoted huge chunks of its third-quarter spending on efforts to raise more money. It spent nearly $1 million on private jets, more than $230,000 on pricy fundraising consultants, and lots more “on high-end hotels in cities that serve as donor hubs but aren’t centrally located in early-voting states.” That includes about $20,000 at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City, $14,000 at the Coronado Island Marriott in San Diego, $4,400 at the Hotel Jerome Auberge in Aspen, and $10,500 at the W Hotel in Los Angeles. (Daily Beast)
And keep in mind that the fundraiser hobnobbing takes up time—time that candidates should be using to hold rallies and town halls, speak to voters, and make their case to the general public, not the wealthy few. Biden simply isn’t prepared for today’s Democratic politics, which have headed sharply in the economic populist direction since Sanders announced his 2016 presidential campaign. I couldn’t help but LOL at this one: The campaign discussed with its finance committee (AKA wealthy donors) “ways to improve their appeal to grassroots donors.” I’m sure the finance executives have a lot of strong insight into this! (CNBC)
Check out our Sludge scoops on Biden’s first campaign fundraising event, hosted by Comcast’s head of lobbying; his several connections to a natural gas firm; his health care executive donors; and a lobbyist fundraiser who is fighting rules that crack down on foreign election influence.