I’ve been tracking campaign finance related stories at my blog Democracy Trending (and related sites) for the last couple months and, with the anniversary of Citizens United coming up, I wanted to share some of the more interesting, unusual, or egregious examples of contributions buying access, assistance or favors that I’ve come across. These examples demonstrate the corruption, poor policy decisions, and erosion of confidence in our elected officials that accompanies big spending in politics. In all of these stories, even if nothing nefarious is going on by the elected official, it looks pretty bad and it would be better to avoid the appearance of corruption altogether.
Hopefully these will be useful to convince undecideds, inspire someone to join one of the many Citizens United protests on Wednesday or just be good conversational fodder.
I’ve left out any reference to name or party in the hope that everyone will evaluate the example without pre-judging or partisanship.
I’m cross-posting this at Democracy Trending, Red State and DailyKos in order to encourage widespread discussion.
Jury: State Senator Interfered in Child Abuse Investigation, Custody Hearing to Help Contributor
In a particularly disgusting example, a former Louisiana state Senator and mayor was found guilty of calling a police officer charged with investigating claims of child abuse and attempting to get him to change his testimony at an upcoming child custody hearing. The father contributed $1,000 to the senator’s campaign in July 2006. In December 2006, the mother was arrested and accused of simple assault when the boyfriend attempted to take custody of the child. A child abuse investigation into the mother ensued and the senator personally called the police officer handling the investigation and, according to testimony, asked the officer to help the father at the hearing. The mother later sued the Senator, the city, and the police department, winning a $400,000 verdict.
US Senator, Lobbying Firm Enable Contributor to Get nearly $20M in Research Contracts for Ebola, other Diseases; Contributor Defrauds Govt of $3.9M, Likely Delays Vaccine
This story centers around a company called GenPhar, its president and CEO Jian-Yun “John” Dong, his wife Dahner Wang and an unnamed US Senator. Dong, Wang, their daughter and GenPhar employees contributed over $50,000 to this Senator and his PAC even as the Senator helped direct over $19.6 million in earmarks and grants towards the company, many of which the Senator specifically requested. GenPhar hired American Defense International (ADI), spending $280,000 to help the company get grants from the US military and National Institute for Health to research vaccines for the dengue fever, Marburg virus and the Ebola virus. Dong and Genphar were later accused of misusing or stealing $3.6 million of the funds intended for Ebola and Marburg research, using it, among other things, for travel and to pay at least some of ADI’s expenses. The jury deadlocked on Dong, but convicted the company. Genphar did conduct some research, but as of November 2014 the fate and usefulness of the Ebola research was unknown.
Dong was convicted of making illegal contributions for using at least $31,000 he received from a foreign business partner to make contributions to federal candidates in other people’s names, including many of the contributions identified above. The Senator has not been accused of any wrongdoing or illegal activity in this investigation. It’s important to remember that, while the source of the contributions was illegal, the same outcome (the Senator helps Genphar with grants and Genphar proceeds to defraud the government) likely would have happened if Genphar had been able to generate the contributions legally.
Mayor Pushed $1 Lease for George Lucas Museum in Controversial Location, Campaign Took nearly $50K from Related Parties
In agreeing to bring the Lucas Museum for Narrative Arts to their city, the mayor agreed to and strongly supports an agreement to lease property located on a protected waterfront for $1 a year. In 2011, the mayor took $50,000 from Lucas’ wife Melody Hobson and executives at the Walt Disney Company, who will benefit from the deal. Hobson, a native of the city, first reached out to the Mayor about the museum.
Was Your Ambulance Driver Selected because of Union & Corporate Contributions?
A California city recently decided to replace its longtime emergency service provider Gerber Ambulance, with a new provider, McCormick Ambulance for a one-year contract after a fund supporting the mayor took in $35,000 from related interests. This followed a contribution of $25,000 from McCormick Ambulance gave $25,000 to the Torrance Voters Political Action Committee to Support [the] Mayor, while the Firefighters Union, which opposed Gerber, contributed $10,000, both significantly more than other independent expenditures or contributions in the race. The Fire Department has been a long-time critic of Gerber’s services, partly because, reportedly, the department wants to bring ambulance services under its control. McCormick, in an email to the selection committee, indicated that it would be willing to work with the Fire Department to transition services.
States, Counties & Cities Regularly Hire Major Contributors as Attorneys, Outsource Work to Them
State attorneys general are increasingly dependent on outside attorneys to take on lawsuits in return for 20% of any financial reward. Meanwhile, these attorneys make large contributions to the attorney general, often just before or after signing contracts to take on cases. In one state, attorneys have won $57.5 million in fees while contributing over $395,000 to the AG’s campaigns. In cities and counties, meanwhile, legal contractors are closely tied to one party and regularly contribute to that party and its candidates, with legal representation changing when a new party takes over. In one California city, this takes the form of the City Attorney hiring campaign contributors to handle probes into police conduct, sparking a federal investigation into whether these contributions influenced the decision to hire the firms.
Further examples & related articles: