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GOP Resignation Derails Federal Election Commission

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The Federal Election Commission has continued to shrink in size: Republican Commissioner Matthew S. Peterson has announced his resignation, which will bring the FEC down to only three members.

With only three commissioners, the FEC, which enforces election law, won’t be able to form a quorum — the minimum number of members — required to take substantial actions. As the New York Times reported, this includes: “holding board meetings, starting audits, making new rules and levying fines for campaign finance violations.”

As the 2020 presidential election is only 15 months away, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow finds Peterson’s departure to be a “very alarming” development — and Maddow voiced her concerns when FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub appeared on her show on Monday night.

Maddow asked Weintraub, a Democrat, if she could assure her that Peterson’s departure is “not as bad as it seems.”

“Well, it’s not great,” the chair responded. “It’s definitely not great, Rachel. But I want to assure the American people that the agency is not closing its doors. We have a dedicated staff who will continue to show up for work every day, and we will make sure that we fulfill our core mission of disclosure — of following the money and making sure the American people can follow the money, and finding out who is supporting which candidates, and how they’re spending their money.”

Weintraub quickly added, however, that lacking a quorum poses some major problems for the FEC.

“It is definitely not good for us not to have a quorum because we can continue to do investigations that have already been authorized, but we can’t authorize any new investigations,” Weintraub told Maddow. “We can’t issue any rules. We can’t issue any advisory opinions.”

Weintraub added, “We’ve been limping along with four members for a while now…. It’s hard to maintain a quorum when you’ve only got the bare four.”

The FEC chair told Maddow that it would be quite possible for new FEC commissioners to be nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate “in fairly short order if they decide to do so.” But when the FEC “ran out of a quorum” in 2008, Weintraub noted, it “took months before they decided to fill the empty seats and bring us back to full strength.”

“I am sincerely hoping we are not going to run into that situation again,” Weintraub told Maddow.

Former FEC Chairman Picked For Trump’s White House Counsel

By Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump on Friday chose Washington insider Donald McGahn to be his White House counsel, giving him the job of untangling potential conflicts of interest that the New York businessman’s presidency may present.

McGahn, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, had been the chief counsel of the Trump campaign and was one of the few members of the Republican establishment to embrace the outsider candidate.

While Trump during his campaign frequently promised to “drain the swamp” of the political establishment in Washington, McGahn has an extensive history in the capital, especially in conservative politics.

McGahn served for years as counsel to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the arm of the Republican Party that oversees campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives.

During his time at the FEC, McGahn was an advocate for loosening restrictions on campaign spending and was widely praised for opening up more of the commission’s internal processes to the public.

Along with providing guidance on ethics issues, the White House Counsel’s office advises the president on the legality of proposed executive orders and legislation passed by Congress and vets potential administration appointees, including Supreme Court justices.

“Don has a brilliant legal mind, excellent character and a deep understanding of constitutional law,” Trump said in a statement.

Trump, a businessman who has never held public office, has real estate and leisure holdings all over the world, sparking concerns that his investments could color his decision-making in office. Trump has said that he will hand over day-to-day responsibilities of running his company to his children, but he has resisted calls to place his assets in a blind trust.

Trump also has expressed interest in finding a way to bypass a federal anti-nepotism law in order to give his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a formal White House role.

When Trump met with President Barack Obama earlier this month, Obama advised Trump during their Oval Office chat that his White House counsel would be an important job.

Trump has vowed to reverse Obama’s executive orders in a number of areas, including immigration and gun control. He also must nominate someone to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. McGahn will be tasked with shepherding the nominee through confirmation hearings.

Trump, who is spending the Thanksgiving holiday weekend at his home in Palm Beach, Florida, also continued to round out his national security team on Friday, naming Kathleen Troia “K.T.” McFarland, as his deputy national security adviser.

McFarland served in three Republican administrations and was an aide to Henry Kissinger in the 1970s. A strong backer of Trump during the election campaign, McFarland will work with Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick as his national security adviser.

Neither position requires confirmation by the U.S Senate.

The appointments came amid reports that Trump’s aides are divided about his choice for secretary of state, with some preferring 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who harshly criticized Trump during the campaign, and others backing Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor.

Transition officials on Friday downplayed any internal tension, calling reports of discord “overblown.”

Officials said that after returning to New York, Trump will meet with several more potential cabinet picks on Monday, including John Allison, the former chief executive of BB&T Corp who has been mentioned as a possible choice for U.S. Treasury secretary, and Paul Atkins, a former commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

(Writing by James Oliphant; Editing by Caren Bohan and Leslie Adler)

IMAGE: Donald McGahn, lawyer and Trump advisor, exits following a meeting of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s national finance team at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City, U.S., June 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Still No Evidence That Donald Trump Has ‘Self-Funded’ His Campaign

Donald Trump has contributed a total of $395,508 to his campaign, as of his latest Federal Election Commission filing in June.

The number Trump refers to when he talks about “self-funding” his campaign — usually $50 million, though the latest government figure is $45.7 million — is the amount he has loaned his campaign.

And though Donald claims to have converted these loans into outright contributions, there is no evidence that this is the case.

According to Lawrence Noble, general counsel of the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center, Trump must submit public documentation to the FEC at some point recording the conversion of his loans into contributions. Representatives of the FEC said Monday that they still have not received any such documentation from the Trump campaign.

The next FEC filing deadline, July 20, comes one day after Trump is scheduled to become the official Republican nominee for president. On Wednesday, we will have another opportunity to see whether Trump’s loans have been paid off — by himself, or by his supporters.

Though Noble noted that regulations on candidates loaning their campaigns money are fairly new, he said “it would probably be unprecedented” for a candidate to publicly go back on a pledge such as Trump’s.

The scam, were Trump to try it, would work like this: As long as his loans remain loans, not contributions, he can legally pay himself back with money from his campaign’s bank account until 20 days after the primary election ends — likely on Tuesday, when Trump becomes the official Republican nominee.

If he does pay himself back within those 20 days, we likely wouldn’t know until his campaign files its August financial report, in mid-September.

Taking into account the millions of dollars Trump has already paid to his own companies, family, and friends, were Trump to pay himself back millions of dollars in loans, he would become the first presidential candidate in modern history to legally profit off of a campaign.

I’ve been writing about this possible scam since March. In May, MSNBC’s Ari Melber reported on Trump’s loan situation, and in June, Trump publicly declared that he would not be paying himself back — and then followed up angrily on Twitter. Weeks after his public declaration, Trump has made no effort to assure supporters and donors and he won’t use their money to pay himself back.

Meanwhile, Trump has launched a frantic fundraising effort — holding high, high-dollar private fundraisers, pledging in fundraising emails to match supporter contributions dollar-for-dollar, and selecting Koch Brother favorite Mike Pence as his running mate.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request to comment.

 

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., July 5, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Does Donald Trump Even Have $45 Million To Repay His ‘Loans’?

A few weeks ago, the Trump campaign tried to quash rumors of its financial demise by announcing that Trump would write off the $45 million in loans he had used to “self-fund” his campaign.

After that statement, a far-too-small-handful of political journalists responded: Show us the money.

Why? As The National Memo has reported, since Trump began bragging about his financial independence, “self-funding” doesn’t really mean self-funding. It’s a talking point: Trump can repay his loans with donations from supporters at any time before the Republican convention and walk away from this campaign having pulled off the most cost-efficient advertising campaign in history.

So far, that seems to be the case. According to NBC News, whose Ari Melber has tracked the promise in recent days, the FEC maintains that Trump hasn’t converted any of his loans into donations, and the Trump campaign itself is refusing to release any documentation that would prove Trump has donated his campaign anything.

Campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks told NBC that the paperwork “will be filed with the next regularly scheduled FEC report [on July 20],” but declined to provide any documentation proving that claim.

Of course, that’s what she did last time.

In the meantime, what about the rest of Trump’s campaign? His fundraising efforts may have just broken federal law, and it is currently tens of millions of dollars in debt on top of what Trump has promised to pay. By all financial measures, billionaire Donald Trump can’t afford his own ego trip.

 

Photo:  Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech at the Alumisourse Building in Monessen, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Louis Ruediger