Common Cause: Trump Business Conflicts of Interest Are Real Regardless of What He Believes

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Editor’s Note: Much has been said about President-Elect Donald Trump’s business conflicts of interest. We wanted to share with you this piece from nonpartisan nonprofit Common Cause.

Americans expect their President to be completely above reproach on ethics and transparency, and to put the business of the nation first. Donald Trump’s actions and rhetoric to date have been tone deaf to legitimate concerns raised about the myriad ways his business empire raises serious conflict of interest problems during the transition, as well as when he takes office.   The President-elect has made a series of troubling statements stating that president cannot have conflicts of interest.

There is no way that the President-elect can maintain any sort of effective firewall between the White House and his business holdings if they are controlled by his children. Mr. Trump must liquidate his holdings and create a true blind trust administered by individuals with no link to the Trump family or businesses. A failure to completely separate himself and his family from his personal fortune would reduce our nation to a something far closer to Putin’s Russia than Lincoln’s United States.

Since the election, the Trump transition team has reportedly sought top-level security clearances for the very children he proposes will run his business while he runs the nation. In addition, his children have been present in recent days for meetings with foreign heads of state and his son-in-law is reportedly being considered for a top White House position. The actions by Mr. Trump and his children in the days since his election are inappropriate and will undermine the integrity of his Administration. The innumerable conflicts between the interests of the nation and the interests of his business will prove a constant distraction and a major impediment to his Administration’s ability to govern and further it will undermine the credibility of the United States.

Mr. Trump needs to liquidate his business holding and place the funds into a blind trust as is presidential custom. He must eliminate the temptation and the inevitable distraction inherent in his holdings. His current proposal to turn his business empire over to his kids does not even begin to address the very serious conflicts of interests he would face in office, nor does it pass the laugh test.   The nation expects and deserve far more from its leader.

Federal Court rules that Wisconsin’s 2011 Gerrymandering of State Legislative Districts is Unconstitutional

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Editor’s Note: We know the issue of gerrymandering has been one we’ve talked about on this blog for the past year—so we wanted to make sure you had up-to-date information on issues regarding political map-making from across the country. Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections—as well as Fair Districts PA—continue to push for reforms in the way political districts are drawn in the Keystone State.

A federal three-judge court panel issued an unprecedented decision last week that is a huge victory for all of those voters of Wisconsin who want and deserve a real choice in their elections and a system of redrawing state legislative districts after each Census in a non-partisan, transparent and reputable process.

Never before in the nation’s history has partisan gerrymandering been struck down as unconstitutional. 

That standard changed for the betterment of democracy – not just in Wisconsin, but nationally, nonpartisan nonprofit Common Cause indicated on its website.

For more on this significant and hopeful development go here and here.

Watchdog Group: Despite Trump’s Claims, No Evidence of Voter Fraud

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Editor’s Note: With a flurry of news related to voter fraud, we wanted to share these resources from watchdog group the Brennan Center.

President-elect Donald Trump claimed on Twitter Sunday that millions of people voted illegally and “serious voter fraud” occurred in three states. His comments follow news that Wisconsin will conduct a recount, initiated amid concerns that voting system infrastructure in the state wasn’t secure.

Much has been reported by the nonpartisan nonprofit about the issue of voter fraud. Here are some resources to consider if you’re concerned alleged voter fraud:

  • Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth. There is no basis to the claims of pervasive voter fraud. Every major investigation, study, and court decision has found little evidence of fraud. Instead, these claims lead to significant disenfranchisement since they are used to falsely justify restrictive laws that block legitimate voters from having their voice heard at the polls.
  • Voting Machines and Recount Procedures: There is a legal process that allows recounts to happen if elections are exceptionally close, or if a party or candidate pays for them. There is little evidence to suggest anything will be found in Wisconsin to change the results of the election, but a recount can illuminate small problems we can work to avoid next time. One thing that was clear even before the recount was initiated is America’s voting machines and election administration infrastructure is old, which increases the risk of crashes and failures. A comprehensive Brennan Center study in 2015 examined America’s voting machines and found 42 states use ones that are at least 10 years old.

Click here for more on the Brennan Center’s voting rights and elections work.

Nearly 1,500 Votes Being Counted Because of Action NC v. Strach

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As a result of a court decision in Action NC v. Strach, the N.C. State Board of Elections is required to count provisional ballots in this fall’s election if voters registered or updated their registration at a DMV office and were not added to voter rolls in the last 16 months and are otherwise eligible to vote.

Earlier today the N.C. State Board of Elections completed its review of the DMV data and issued a list of provisional votes that must be counted.  According to the directive, about 1,500 votes will be counted.

Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, issued the following statement after the release of the provisional ballot count:

“Thanks to the court’s action, 1,500 North Carolinians will now have their votes counted and their voices heard.  We need to continue making sure our elections are fair and accessible.  If it weren’t for community groups standing up for people being disenfranchised and the court intervening, those votes may have never been counted.  While we applaud this action, we are looking into whether additional citizens who used the DMV are entitled to have their provisional ballots counted.”

Reform Groups Urge Members to Oppose All Campaign Finance Riders to Funding Bills

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Reform groups this week urged members of Congress to oppose all campaign finance riders and other “poison pill” riders to any CR or omnibus bill to be considered in the remaining days of this Congress.

The groups included the Brennan Center for Justice, Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, CREW, Democracy 21, Demos, Every Voice, Issue One, League of Women Voters, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Represent.Us, The Rootstrikers Project at Demand Progress and U.S. PIRG.

Last year, “poison pill” campaign finance riders were enacted in the Omnibus Appropriations bill to prevent the IRS from doing any work on new regulations to govern the political activities of section 501(c)(4) organizations, and to prevent the SEC from issuing any final regulations to require public corporations to disclose their political activities to shareholders. In September 2016, Congress passed a CR that extended the SEC rider.

The letter stated:

The two campaign finance riders currently in the law serve to keep the American people in the dark about hundreds of millions of dollars in secret contributions that have been poured into federal elections. Secret campaign contributions prevent voters and others from holding officeholders and influence-seeking donors accountable for their potentially corrupt practices. These two riders should be rejected and not included in any funding measures passed in the lame duck session.

The letter continued:

Unsuccessful efforts also were made last year during the FY 16 Omnibus bill negotiations to add other campaign finance riders. This included riders to do away with the presidential public financing system and checkoff fund, to repeal the longstanding limits on the amounts parties can spend in coordination with their candidates, and to prevent the Obama administration from issuing an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending.

The presidential public financing system served the American people and presidential candidates well for more than two decades until it became outdated. The system needs to be repaired, and not eliminated as the rider would have done.

The unprecedented role played by the Super Rich and outside spending groups in the 2016 election has made an overwhelming case for providing candidates with incentives to raise small contributions from millions of ordinary Americans. Candidates need an alternative means to finance their presidential campaigns without becoming obligated to big money funders.

The letter concluded:

Any effort to rewrite the Nation’s campaign finance laws and to restrict related campaign finance measures must be done by regular order and through the legislative process. This should not be done by a back door misuse of the appropriations process.

Poison pill riders have no place in any budget bill. We urge you to oppose any campaign finance riders or other poison pill riders from being included in any funding measures for FY 2017.

To read the letter: click here. 

How to Solve Gerrymandering in PA

Editor’s Note: Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections is a proud member of Fair Districts PA – a nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the way in which political lines are drawn in the Commonwealth. We wanted to share with you a blog that was posted to the organization’s website. Read it below. Read more about the group at its website.

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When politicians manipulate district lines to benefit themselves and their parties, the public always loses.

This week Carol Kuniholm, election reform specialist for the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and co-chair of Fair Districts PA, addressed members of the League of Women Voters of Berks County and guests on the gridlock and dysfunction that result from partisan gerrymandering.

Liam Migdail-Smith of the Reading Eagle reported the discussion in detail:

“The 7th District – which meanders from Spring Township to the Delaware border – is often cited as a national poster child for gerrymandering. But Kuniholm said the “crime” is the 16th District, which groups the entire city of Reading with the bulk of rural Lancaster County.

“‘You’re taking a primarily urban, primary minority, primary poor population and who are they voting with? Lancaster farmers . . . To me, this is a tragedy.'”

“Pennsylvania is an attractive target for national Republicans or Democrats seeking to gain the upper hand in Congress by gerrymandering. It’s one of the largest swing states and lax campaign finance laws enable national groups to influence state races.”

Read more from the Reading Eagle.

Watchdogs: Trump Must Divest Himself of All Business Holdings

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The Campaign Legal Center, along with other watchdog groups and individuals, sent a letter calling on President-elect Donald Trump to alter his plan to have his children handle the Trump Organization business assets while he is president.

The letter encourages the president-elect to either place all business assets and investments into a genuine blind trust or the equivalent, or convert the Trump Organization businesses to cash and buy treasury bills and widely diversified mutual funds. “The failure to follow this course of action will create conflicts of interest of unprecedented magnitude,” the letter asserts.

The below statement can be attributed to Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center:

“The potential for conflicts of interest in this administration are unprecedented.  For the last 40 years, every President has taken appropriate steps to address potential conflicts of interest arising from their financial portfolio, usually through divestment or the establishment of blind trusts.

The Trump Organization is a multi-billion dollar company with business interests around the world.  Setting up a proper blind trust is a critical requirement to avoid conflicts of interest. Having Trump’s children run his business – while serving on his transition team – would not be meet this requirement.

Should President-elect Trump turn over the management of his business interests to his three adult children while retaining ownership, those conflicts will not go away. In fact, such an arrangement could endanger the President-elect. As owner of the business, he would remain legally liable for any violations of the law by his businesses.

Assets he has with foreign entities raise their own special set of questions and might be better handled with divestment. The best option for the President-elect is to enter into a genuine blind trust with control of the company in the hands of an independent Trustee with whom he and his family have had no business dealings. Failing that, he should sell his business to his children and establish a firewall regarding discussions of those interests during his Presidency.”

The following groups and individuals signed onto the letter:

  • Gary D. Bass
  • Campaign for Accountability
  • Campaign Legal Center
  • Center for American Progress
  • Center for Media and Democracy
  • Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
  • Common Cause
  • Democracy 21
  • Ambassador (ret.) Norm Eisen, chief White House ethics lawyer, 2009-2011
  • Essential Information
  • Issue One
  • Thomas E. Mann
  • OpentheGovernment.Org
  • Norman Ornstein
  • Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer, 2005-2007
  • People for the American Way
  • Project on Government Oversight
  • Public Citizen
  • Sunlight Foundation

Watchdogs: We’re Keeping an Eye on Trump’s Conflicts of Interest

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Editor’s Note: We wanted to pass along this message from good-government nonprofit Common Cause.

President-elect Donald Trump’s extensive and far-flung business interests make him unique in the history of the American presidency. Common Cause, a watchdog on behalf of open, honest and accountable government since our founding 46 years ago, is committed to keeping a close eye on how Mr. Trump and his administration answer the ethical questions raised by his awesome new responsibilities. Here’s a sampling of our commentary so far:

“He has campaigned on a platform of getting rid of corruption and that Washington is broken and we need new, refreshing change. As President, the American public expects that Mr. Trump will be held to a higher standard.” – Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn in The New York Times (Donald Trump’s Far-Flung Holdings Raise Potential for Conflicts of Interest; 11/14/16)

“Having your children run your business is not a blind trust no matter what his attorneys choose to call it. And having those same children involved in the transition only compounds the conflict.” – Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn in The Washington Post (Donald Trump’s questionable ‘blind trust’ setup just got more questionable; 11/11/2016)

“If he doesn’t address this problem, every single decision he makes will be questioned as a conflict of interest. President-elect Trump campaigned against corruption, and America deserves his making good on that promise and cleaning up government.” – Common Cause Vice President for Policy & Litigation Paul S. Ryan in Politico (Watchdogs question Trump’s plans to keep his empire in the family; 11/11/2016)

“It certainly veers drastically from the campaign rhetoric. It’s business as usual in Washington. He’s gathering the same old guard around him. It hardly rings of change.” – Common Cause National Media Strategist David Vance in The Star Ledger (Lobbyists and big donors reviled by Trump in campaign join transition; 11/12/2016)

Common Cause: Fix the Broken Electoral College

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Common Cause, the good-government nonpartisan nonprofit, is asking for your support—and your signature—related to the state of the Electoral College.

The group has launched a petition—here’s why:

Many Americans are outraged that for the second time in five elections, the presidential candidate who won the most popular votes lost the election. And every presidential election, candidates are forced to only compete in a handful of swing states, and effectively ignore voters in every other state in the union.

The winner-take-all Electoral College system that led to this anti-democratic outcome must be changed, so that voters in all 50 states have a say in choosing our president.

Here’s how to do it: states can decide how they award their electoral votes, so if enough require their electors to vote for the winner of the nationwide popular vote (instead of who won in that state,) it would fix the problems of the Electoral College without needing to amend the Constitution.

This National Popular Vote compact wouldn’t take effect until enough states joined in, but we’re closer to that than you might think — ten states and the District of Columbia have already signed on, totaling 165 electoral votes of the needed 270.

Activating the National Popular Vote compact would reshape our democracy for the better. Not only would it ensure that the person who actually got more votes win the presidency, but it would also force candidates to spend time engaging with voters in all 50 states, instead of just a handful swing states.

Interested in signing or learning more? The Common Cause website is where to go.