Even this Fox Business host knows the GOP tax plan will only help the wealthy

Wake Up America
January 2, 2018

Even this Fox Business host knows the GOP tax plan will only help the wealthy

Even this Fox Business host knows the GOP tax plan will only help the wealthy

Even this Fox Business host knows the GOP tax plan will only help the wealthy

Posted by Wake Up America on Monday, January 1, 2018

Washington Post

Home Depot just showed who will gain the most from corporate tax cuts

 

By David Lynch      December 7, 2017

With unemployment low and demand for new homes high, a company like Home Depot could be spending most of its surplus billions on raises for workers or the rollout of new stores.

Instead, the world’s largest home improvement chain this week announced that it is using $15 billion to buy back shares of its own stock, a move that will reward shareholders including chief executive Craig Menear and other top executives.

Even as lawmakers on Capitol Hill began hammering out the final version of a tax cut designed to give businesses more money to invest, Home Depot’s statement was a reminder that corporate America may have other plans for that cash.

Several companies already have indicated that they will use excess funds to pay off debt, increase dividend payments or repurchase their own shares rather than create new jobs or raise wages. On Wall Street, the consensus is that workers will be last in line behind shareholders, creditors and investment bankers when the extra corporate cash is distributed.

“If they’ve got good growth prospects for something, they’re already throwing money at that. I don’t think the world changes because of lower taxes,” said Tim Ghriskey, who manages $1.5 billion in assets as chief investment officer at Solaris Asset Management. “There’s clearly going to be a lot of share buybacks.”

Home Depot, which says its plans have nothing to do with the shifting tax landscape, is a special company for the president. The chain’s founder, Bernie Marcus, was among President Trump’s staunchest supporters during the 2016 campaign, once writing that “the fate of this nation” depended upon his election.

Now, the White House website features a Marcus opinion piece praising the tax cut as “the gift that keeps on giving.” As Congress debated the $1.5 trillion Republican tax plan, Home Depot last month issued a statement praising the plan for “improving the competitive position of companies so they can create more jobs.”

White House economists have said that more generous tax rules for corporations will lead to an increase in investment, which will in turn trigger more jobs and higher wages. In an October report, the Council of Economic Advisers bemoaned the “disappointing state of capital accumulation” and said underinvestment by big business explains disappointing wage growth in recent years.

Yet business investment by one measure has risen in four of the past five quarters, which economists say is a reminder that such big-ticket spending decisions often turn on more than the tax rate. Some outside experts also are skeptical that the tax changes will make much difference for companies already enjoying ­near-record corporate profits.

“I don’t anticipate much new investment,” said economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

To be sure, several corporations, including AT&T and CVS Health, have publicly touted plans to funnel tax savings into new spending on equipment or hiring. The telecom giant has vowed to boost its annual investment next year by $1 billion, about a 4 percent increase from last year’s $22 billion total.

Companies choose to buy their own shares, increase the dividend they pay shareholders, or pay off debt when they can’t earn a higher return by using the money some other way. With interest rates so low, letting cash sit idle doesn’t make sense.

“Companies have had so much cash, they could do ‘all of the above.’ They’re likely to continue to do so,” said Edward Yardeni, president and chief investment strategist at Yardeni Research.

Over the past five years, companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index spent $2.6 trillion acquiring their own shares. Information technology companies such as Google’s parent company Alphabet led the way with big banks such as Wells Fargo and Citigroup close behind. Dozens of companies so far this year, including marquee names such as Apple, JPMorgan Chase and Boeing, have spent big on their own stock.

As the stock market shattered records this year, the number of companies in the S&P 500 that have repurchased shares fell compared with last year.

With the corporate tax cut nearing final approval, Home Depot is far from alone in its buyback plans. Within hours of the retailer’s announcement Wednesday, T-Mobile US disclosed its own $1.5 billion plan to repurchase shares.

Such buybacks often lift stock prices, since they result in the same earnings being divided by a smaller number of shares. In Home Depot’s case, that will be good news for shareholders that include top management, a teachers pension plan and mutual funds run by Capital Group, Vanguard and BlackRock.

Home Depot also is increasing its investment, modernizing the front end of its top 40 stores and introducing more automation to its supply chain. Over the next three years, the company plans to spend $8.2 billion on capital improvements compared with more than $27 billion on share buybacks and dividends.

The retailer’s announcement, which included no major hiring, was just the latest indication that the $1.5 trillion tax cut may not have the intended effect upon corporate investment and the overall economy.

With extra cash freed up by the corporate tax cuts, buybacks could top the record value of $172 billion set in the third quarter of 2007. Around $129 billion was spent in the most recent three months, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.

“I definitely think it’s going up,” said Howard Silverblatt, senior analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices.

In a July survey of 302 companies, 65 percent said they planned to boost dividend payments, and 46 percent forecast share buybacks. A little more than one-third said they would invest the proceeds in new equipment, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

House and Senate conferees are working to reconcile competing tax cut packages in hopes of sending Trump a final bill before Christmas. The measure would cut the corporate income tax to 20 percent from the current 35 percent and allow companies to bring home roughly $2.6 trillion in cash parked overseas at sharply reduced tax rates.

Home Depot had $4.2 billion deposited in foreign accounts as of January, according to its Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

A spokesman for Home Depot said the tax legislation was not a consideration in the stock buyback or the unveiling of new financial targets for 2020, including a modest increase in capital spending.

“Tax reform benefit is not factored into any of this,” Stephen Holmes said.

The disappointing prospects for corporate investment echo prior tax-cutting episodes. In 2004, the U.S. granted companies a one-time opportunity to bring money home and pay a 5.25 percent tax rather than the full 35 percent corporate levy. Almost all of the repatriated funds were distributed to shareholders, according to a 2009 study by economists at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois.

“We’ve been down this road before and come up relatively empty-handed,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist for MUFG Union Bank. “You can give these companies more money, but if they don’t have any way to invest the money and get the return they want, they’re going to return the money to shareholders every single time.”

David J. Lynch is a staff writer on the financial desk who joined the Post in November 2017 after working for the Financial Times, Bloomberg News and USA TODAY.

Trump Shuts Down Funding For Already Approved Obama-Era Rail Tunnel Deal

PoliticalD!g

Trump Shuts Down Funding For Already Approved Obama-Era Rail Tunnel Deal

by Lance Perriman   December 31, 2017

After the passage of his controversial tax bill, President Donald Trump said he plans to kick off 2018 with a renewed push for a massive infrastructure spending program, a key campaign promise which he recently described as “the easiest of all.” However, his administration has shut down an Obama-era deal to have the federal government help fund a $13 billion rail tunnel project between New York and New Jersey.

In a letter obtained by Crain’s New York Business, an administration official calls the deal for the federal government to fund half of the project “non-existent.”

“Your letter also references a non-existent ’50/50′ agreement between USDOT, New York, and New Jersey. There is no such agreement,” Federal Transit Administration deputy administrator K. Jane Williams wrote in Friday’s letter, which came after New York and New Jersey requested federal loans to cover their part of the deal to split the cost of the work.

“We consider it unhelpful to reference a non-existent ‘agreement’ rather than directly address the responsibility for funding a local project where nine out of 10 passengers are local transit riders,” Williams continued.

The project would have funded necessary repairs to an Amtrak tunnel between New Jersey and New York City, as well as fixing a damage dual-tunnel conduct and rebuilding New Jersey’s Portal Bridge.

The federal government often helps to cover the cost of necessary infrastructure projects.

This is yet another sign that Trump’s agenda is driven by hate for Barack Obama. The list of what President Trump has done is staggering in its clear focus on undoing what was accomplished by the former president.

Trump hasn’t attempted to build on what is working to make things better. He instead is very specifically attempting to wipe out the legacy of President Obama, from healthcare to the Paris Climate Agreement, from protecting the rights of transgender people in the military to protecting our federal lands he is determined to leave no accomplishment by the former President untouched.

His pathological pre-occupation was demonstrated once again.

Newsweek

Trump halts $13 billion Obama Amtrak plan despite calls for infrastructure spending in 2018

By Grace Guarnieri        December 31, 2017

President Donald Trump and his administration halted a $13 billion federal spending plan to rebuild a crucial Amtrak passageway from New Jersey to New York. The administration said there was “no such agreement” to pay half of the cost to rebuild the commuter tunnel that services tens of thousands of New Jersey commuters despite Trump’s calls to spend more money on infrastructure in 2018.

Top Federal Transportation Authority officials pulled the plug on an Obama-era agreement with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Friday, Crain’s reported, after the governors sent a proposal to receive half of the project’s costs in loans from the federal government. The gateway tunnel project aims to rebuild a tunnel that brings New Jersey commuters into Penn Station, which sees about 600,000 commuters in a single day.

The White House plans to introduce President Trump’s infrastructure plan in January 2018. After signing the tax bill, Trump said that that he believed infrastructure agreements could be bipartisan.

GettyImages-895064974President Trump tweeted about the need for infrastructure spending after an Amtrak train derailed, killing at least six on December 18. PHOTO BY STEPHEN BRASHEAR/GETTY IMAGES

“Infrastructure is by far the easiest. People want it — Republicans and Democrats. We’re going to have tremendous Democrat support on infrastructure, as you know,” Trump told reporters after signing the GOP tax bill into law.

Earlier this month, after an Amtrak train derailed in Washington state, killing at least three people and injuring 100 more, Trump tweeted about the necessity of fixing roads and railways.

“The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, WA shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly,” President Trump tweeted “Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble! Not for long!”

Deputy Administrator K. Jane Williams of the Federal Transportation Administration, an agency under the federal Department of Transportation, responded to Christie and Cuomo’s Amtrak proposal in a letter. “Your letter also references a non-existent ’50/50′ agreement between USDOT, New York, and New Jersey. There is no such agreement,” Williams wrote.

Koch-Funded Anti-Climate Group Tells Women to Ignore Concerns About Toxic Chemicals

Alternet – Environment

Koch-Funded Anti-Climate Group Tells Women to Ignore Concerns About Toxic Chemicals

A chemical industry front group defends the freedom of corporations to pollute.

By Stacy Malkan, AlterNet       December 27, 2017

                                                                 Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey/Flickr CC

At a recent soiree at Union Station, the D.C. power elite gathered in an anti-public health confab dressed up as a celebration of women that should concern anyone who cares about the health and rights of women and children.

The Independent Women’s Forum drew an impressive array of Republican politicians to its annual gala sponsored by, among others, the American Chemistry Council, the tobacco company Philip Morris, the cosmetics industry trade group, Google and the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council.

Speakers included House Speaker Paul Ryan and Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, who won the IWF Valor Award for being a “passionate advocate for limited government” who does not embrace “the idea that being a woman is a handicap.” Conway is also an IWF board member.

So what is the Independent Women’s Forum? IWF got its start 25 years ago as an effort to defend now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as he faced sexual harassment charges. The group has since raised millions from the secretive foundations of the Koch brothers and other right-wing billionaires to carry out its mission of “increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty.”

In the world of the IWF—a group Joan Walsh described in The Nation as “the ‘feminists’ doing the Koch’s dirty work”—that means defending the freedom of corporations to sell toxic products and pollute the environment, while trying to frame that agenda as good for women and children.

E-cigarettes should be approved because of the unique biological needs of women, for example, and climate science education is too scary for students. (The e-cig letter is “standard Philip Morris PR,” says tobacco industry expert Stan Glanz, and Greenpeace classifies IWF as a “Koch Industries climate denial front group.”)

Women can also benefit by ignoring “alarmist” concerns about toxic chemicals, according to an IWF lecture series sponsored by Monsanto.

To give you a sense of the messaging on chemicals: Moms who insist on organic food are arrogant, snobby “helicopter parents” who “need to be in control of everything when it comes to their kids, even the way food is grown and treated,” according to Julie Gunlock, director of IWF’s “Culture of Alarmism” project, as quoted in an article titled “The tyranny of the organic mommy mafia” that was written by an IWF fellow.

At the IWF gala, Gunlock posed for a photo op with Monsanto staffer Aimee Hood and Julie Kelly, who writes articles casting doubt on climate science and pesticide risk, and once even called climate hero Bill McKibben “a piece of shit.”

Gunlock and Kelly are “rock stars,” Hood tweeted.

“I’m framing this,” Monsanto employee Cami Ryan tweeted in return.

Put a frame around the whole shindig and behold the absurdity of corporate-captured politics in America, where policy leaders openly embrace an anti-women “women’s group” that equates “freedom” with eating toxic pesticides, at an event sponsored by the chemical industry, a tobacco company, an extremist group that wants to do away with a voter-elected Senate and the world’s most influential news source.

Meanwhile in the rational world

Recent science suggests that if you want to get pregnant and raise healthy children, you should reject the propaganda that groups like the Independent Women’s Forum are trying to sell.

In just the past few weeks, the Journals of the American Medical Association published a Harvard study implicating pesticide-treated foods in fertility problems, a UC San Diego study documenting huge increases in human exposure to a common pesticide, and a physician’s commentary urging people to eat organic food.

I wrote about those studies in more detail here, “Trying to get pregnant? Science suggests: eat organic and regulate the pesticide industry”.

Mainstream groups have been giving similar advice for years.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended reducing children’s exposure to pesticides due to a growing body of literature that links pesticides to chronic health problems in children, including behavioral problems, birth defects, asthma and cancer.

In 2009, the bipartisan President’s Cancer Panel reported: “the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.”

The panel urged then-President George W. Bush “most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our Nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”

Unfortunately for our nation, acting on that advice has not been possible in a political system indentured to corporate interests.

Corporate capture of health and science

For decades, pesticide corporations have manipulated science and U.S. regulatory agencies to keep the truth hidden about the health dangers of their chemicals.

The details are being revealed by hundreds of thousands of pages of industry documents turned loose from legal discoverywhistleblowers and FOIA requeststhat have been examined in government hearings and by many media outlets.

For a synopsis of Monsanto’s “long-running secretive campaign to manipulate the scientific record, to sway public opinion, and to influence regulatory assessments” on its herbicide glyphosate, see this essay by my colleague Carey Gillam in Undark magazine.

As one example of government/corporate collusion: in 2015, on the Obama administration’s watch, the EPA official in charge of evaluating the cancer risk of glyphosate allegedly bragged to a Monsanto executive about helping to “kill” another agency’s cancer study, as Bloomberg reported.

Suppressing science has been a bipartisan, decades-long project. Since 1973, Monsanto has presented dubious science to claim the safety of glyphosate while EPA largely looked the other way, as Valerie Brown and Elizabeth Grossman documented for In These Times.

Brown and Grossman spent two years examining the publicly available archive of EPA documents on glyphosate, and reported:

“Glyphosate is a clear case of ‘regulatory capture’ by a corporation acting in its own financial interest while serious questions about public health remain in limbo. The record suggests that in 44 years—through eight presidential administrations—EPA management has never attempted to correct the problem. Indeed, the pesticide industry touts its forward-looking, modern technologies as it strives to keep its own research in the closet, and relies on questionable assumptions and outdated methods in regulatory toxicology.”

The only way to establish a scientific basis for evaluating glyphosate’s safety, they wrote, would be to “force some daylight between regulators and the regulated.”

Limited government means freedomtoharm

In Trump’s Washington, there is no daylight at all between the corporations selling harmful products and the agencies that are supposed to regulate them.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is pushing scientists off advisory boards and stacking the EPA with political appointees connected to the oil, coal and chemical industries, many of whom are connected to climate science deniers.

As one of his first official actions, Pruitt tossed aside the recommendation of EPA’s scientists and allowed Dow Chemical to keep selling a pesticide developed as a nerve gas that is linked to brain damage in children.

“Kids are told to eat fruits and vegetables, but EPA scientists found levels of this pesticide on such foods at up to 140 times the limits deemed safe,” Nicholas Kristof wrote in a scathing NYT op-ed. “Trump’s most enduring legacy may be cancer, infertility and diminished I.Q.s for decades to come.”

Pruitt has gone so far as to put a chemical industry lobbyist in charge of a sweeping new toxics law that was supposed to regulate the chemical industry.

It’s all so outrageous – but then, it has been for a very long time.

That sweeping new toxics law, which passed last year in a hailstorm of bipartisan glory, was opposed by many environmental groups but lauded by—and reportedly written by—the American Chemistry Council.

“The $800 billion chemical industry lavishes money on politicians and lobbies its way out of effective regulation. This has always been a problem, but now the Trump administration has gone so far as to choose chemical industry lobbyists to oversee environmental protections,” as Kristof described it.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics protested the administration’s decision on the nerve gas pesticide, but officials sided with industry over doctors. The swamp won. The chemical industry lobby, the American Chemistry Council, is today’s version of Big Tobacco…”

“Someday we will look back and wonder: What were we thinking?!”

The character of our country

A decade ago, the Independent Women’s Forum presented its Valor Award to Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the nation’s largest breast cancer organization – a group that has also drawn criticism for taking money from polluting corporations and promoting unhealthy food and toxic products.

At the 2007 IWF gala, in an acceptance speech she called “The Character of our Country,” Brinker warned that millions of lives will be lost unless America acts to avert the coming “cancer tsunami.”

But then, she said: “My friends, this is not a problem of politics. When it comes to cancer, there are no Republicans or Democrats, no liberals or conservatives.”

Rather, she said, invoking vagueness as she stood before a group that tells women not to worry about pesticides, at an event awash in corporate cash, beating cancer is a matter of summoning the will to make cancer a “national and global priority!”

But that is exactly a problem of politics. It’s about Republicans and Democrats, both of whom have let Americans down by failing to confront the chemical industry. It’s about summoning the political will to get chemicals linked to cancer, infertility and brain damage off the market and out of our food.

In the meantime, we can take the advice of science: eat organic and vote for politicians who are willing to stand up to the pesticide industry.

This article first appeared in Huffington Post.  

Stacy Malkan is co-director of U.S. Right to Know, a food industry research group that voluntarily discloses its funding. She is the author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry and also co-founded the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Follow her on Twitter @stacymalkan.

The CFPB’s Mission Statement Gets a Trumpian Makeover

 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created and passed by the Democratic controlled congress and the Obama Administration, to protect consumers, after the 2007/2008 financial collapse and Great Recession. It was part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The agency was originally proposed in 2007 by then Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren. The proposed CFPB was actively supported by Americans for Financial Reform, a newly created umbrella organization of some 250 consumer, labor, civil rights and other activist organizations.

The Republi-cons have been trying to cripple the CFPB since the day it was created.  trump and the republi-cons in congress have their marching orders from the powers that own them; defang the CFPB. But when trump and the republi-con’s in congress vote against the bureau, they vote against our Veterans and America’s middle-class, who they claim to support. Families who have a Veteran deployed are especially susceptible to predatory lenders. They are often under financial and emotional distress and are at the mercy of unscrupulous lenders, payday lenders and debt collectors. Thanks to true veteran advocates, like the Obama’s, the Bidens and Sen. Warren, The CFPB went a long way to protecting Veterans and their families. But this president, his administration and the Republi-con controlled congress couldn’t care less about our Veterans, only their campaign donors.   

John Hanno

MSNBC: The Rachel Maddow Show / The Maddow Blog

The CFPB’s Mission Statement Gets a Trumpian Makeover

U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., speaks at the Freedom Summit, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., speaks at the Freedom Summit, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Greenville, S.C.      Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP

By Steve Benen     December 26, 2017

The point of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is pretty easy to figure out: the agency’s name offers a pretty big hint. The CFPB was created to protect consumers’ interests against unfair financial industry practices.

At least, that was its intended purpose. As Slate  noted the other day, the bureau’s mission statement has received a Trumpian makeover:

The latest is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the crisis-era creation of Sen. Elizabeth Warren charged with investigating the deceptive practices of lenders, wire services, auto dealers, credit card companies, and so on. The banking watchdog’s mission statement now lists its first order of business as hunting down “outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome regulations.”

Slate has reached out to the CFPB for comment, but the change can likely be traced to the arrival of Acting Director Mick Mulvaney, who took over the CFPB on Nov. 27. The South Carolina Republican is also the director of Trump’s Office of Management and Budget, and as the Intercept’s Dave Dayen reports, has quickly moved to fill the ranks of the CFPB with Trump loyalists.

Mulvaney, as regular readers know, has repeatedly and publicly condemned the existence of the CFPB, which the president asked him to lead, and which he’s dramatically changing the direction of.

This is, of course, an important piece to a larger puzzle: when given opportunities to champion the interests of consumers and working families, Trump always seems to do the opposite.

The New York Times had a good piece along these lines two weeks ago, before the CFPB changed its mission statement in a more bank-friendly way:

[T]his week, the president hopes to sign with great fanfare a tax bill that would deliver its largest benefits, not only in dollar terms but also as a percentage increase in income, to corporations and the wealthiest Americans. […]

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission, led by Mr. Trump’s pick as chairman, Ajit Pai, reversed the Obama-era policy known as net neutrality, over the objections of consumer groups and owners of small internet businesses. […]

In the coming weeks, the Education Department plans to roll back protections for college graduates saddled with student debt from sham for-profit universities. And in the opening months of his presidency, Mr. Trump signed congressional resolutions permanently reversing rules that would have required companies seeking significant federal contracts to disclose violations of labor standards, and would have required oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments in exchange for access to drilling or mining rights.

By reversing one rule, the administration impeded states from establishing retirement programs for private-sector workers whose employers do not offer a retirement plan. Another rule that was eliminated would have required retirement planners to agree that financial advice had the client’s best interest at heart, not the investment company’s.

We’ve seen this play out in ways large and small. Note, for example, that shortly before the holidays, Trump scrapped an Obama-era rule on airline transparency on baggage fees, with the Republican administration once again siding against consumers.

I’m trying to think of a single example from 2017 in which Trump, the self-proclaimed champion of the “forgotten” working class, sided with consumers’ interests above businesses’ interests. Nothing comes to mind.

Explore:    The MaddowBlog and CFPB

The Real Reason Republicans Want to Pull the Plug on Obamacare Latest Episode

The Real Reason Republicans Want to Pull the Plug on Obamacare
Latest Episode

The Real Reason Republicans Want to Pull the Plug on Obamacare

Trump and McConnell haven't given up on repealing the Affordable Care Act, even without a replacement plan. The result would be 32 million Americans losing coverage, and a huge tax cut for the rich. Spread the word and let's defeat this thing once and for all.

Posted by The Reich Report on Monday, August 28, 2017

Putin critic Navalny barred from Russian presidential election

Reuters

Putin critic Navalny barred from Russian presidential election

Vladimir Soldatkin, Andrew Osborn   December 25, 2017

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was barred on Monday from running in next year’s presidential election after officials ruled he was ineligible to take part due to a suspended prison sentence he says was trumped up.

The decision by the central election commission was widely expected as election officials had repeatedly declared Navalny would be ineligible to run. Twelve members of the 13-member commission voted to bar Navalny. One member abstained, citing a possible conflict of interest.

Navalny, 41, who polls show would struggle to beat incumbent Vladimir Putin in the March election, said he would appeal and called on his supporters to boycott the election and campaign against it being held.

“We knew this could happen, and so we have a straight-forward, clear plan,” Navalny said in a pre-recorded video released immediately after the decision.

“We announce a boycott of the election. The process in which we are called to participate is not a real election. It will feature only Putin and the candidates which he has personally selected.”

Navalny said he would use his campaign headquarters across Russia to support the boycott and monitor turnout on voting day, March 18.

Polls show Putin, 65, who has dominated Russia’s political landscape for the last 17 years, is on course to be comfortably re-elected, making him eligible to serve another six years until 2024, when he turns 72.

Allies laud Putin as a father-of-the-nation figure who has restored national pride and expanded Moscow’s global clout with interventions in Syria and Ukraine.

Navalny says Putin’s support is exaggerated and artificially maintained by a biased state media and an unfair system. He says he could defeat him in a fair election, an assertion Putin’s supporters have said is laughable.

‘DO THE RIGHT THING’

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks to the media after submitting his documents to be registered as a presidential candidate at the Central Election Commission in Moscow, Russia December 24, 2017. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

Before the commission voted, Navalny, dressed in a dark suit, had demanded he be allowed to take part in the election delivering a speech that angered election officials.

In one heated exchange, he said Russian voters’ faith in the system hung in the balance.

“If you do not allow me to run, you are taking a decision against millions of people who are demanding that Navalny take part,” he said, referring to himself in the first person.

“You are not robots, you are living, breathing human beings you are an independent body … for once in your lives, do the right thing,” he said.

His supporters clapped him, but officials were unmoved.

Boris Ebzeev, one of the officials, said: “We’re talking about the law and abiding by the law.”

Ebzeev said there could not be “the slightest doubt” that Navalny was ineligible to run, a reference to Russia’s constitution that bars him running because of his suspended sentence relating to an embezzlement case.

Navalny has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and says the case is politically motivated.

There had been some speculation prior to the decision among the opposition that Navalny might be allowed to run in order to inject more interest into what looks like a predictable contest amid Kremlin fears that apathetic voters might not bother to vote.

Navalny has been jailed three times this year and charged with breaking the law by repeatedly organizing public meetings and rallies.

Additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk; Writing by Polina Ivanova and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Edmund Blair

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

“Swamp Thing”

John Hanno        December 25, 2017

               “Swamp Thing”

This Republi-con tax sham is what I call a “Dead skunk in the middle of the road,” one of my all time favorite song titles by Loudon Wainwright III. During my high school and Army days, friends and I would get together, drink beer and sing our favorite drinking songs at the top of our lungs…out in the woods, where no one could hear us…except the night critters.

 

Crossin the highway late last night

he shouda looked left and he shoulda looked right

He didn’t see the station….wagon…car…

the skunk got squashed….and there you are…

 

you got yer dead…skunk in the middle of the road

dead…skunk in the middle of the road

dead…skunk in the middle of the road

stinkin to high…..heaven

 

take a whiff on me…that ain’t no…rose

roll up your window… and hold…your nose

you don’t have to look and you don’t have to see

cus you can feel it in…your ol…factory

 

you got yer dead…skunk in the middle of the road

dead…skunk in the middle of the road

dead…skunk in the middle of the road

stinkin to high…..heaven

But trump’s congressional apparatchiks were so desperate to pass anything before year end, they were willing to vote for and attach their conservative bona fides and integrity onto what experts claim is the worst tax legislation ever; a bill that adds $1.44 trillion to the national debt or $1 trillion even after any increase in GDP. During the celebratory cabinet meeting and the photo op on the White House lawn yesterday, the fawnification by Mike “Glory Be” Pence and Republi-con congress folks, made for a queasy regurgitation.

Pence stated  “trump has been making history since the first day of this administration.” Well, you wouldn’t get any argument from the Democrats!

trump faithfully delivers daily historic and consequential levels of egocentric self dealing, flagrant dishonesty, institutional contempt and depraved indifference for what makes America relevant, its Democratic ethos!

The reason we expect our leaders to be forthcoming with their tax returns and financial disclosures is because our constitution has granted them the absolute power to tax individuals and businesses and control commerce.

But our income tax system relies heavily on voluntary compliance and honesty. If we’re to believe trump, that he’s been audited yearly for decades, its obvious the Internal Revenue Service routinely believes trump is neither compliant nor honest.

trump, championing this Republi-con tax scam and exuding extreme flim-flannery, claims this thing (his tax bill) will cost him a fortune, “believe me – belief…this is not good for me. I have rich friends who are not happy with me.”

I’m amazed; no one but trump could tell four lies in one short sentence.

Since he refuses to provide his tax returns, even those before 2008 and even after he repeatedly promised he would, experts must guess how much trump Inc. and family will benefit from the bill. Tax experts believe trump can expect to reap between $5 and 11 million or even more from this legislation each year. That’s a long way from “losing a fortune.”

trump and the Republi-cons continue to describe this tax cut as the largest in history, one that was designed primarily for the middle-class.

First of all, its only the seventh largest tax cut in history and by the end of the plan, those in the top 20% will receive 107% of the benefits and the bottom 80% of tax payers will actually be paying more. But most of us can see through the smoke; only 26% of America approves of the bill.

Why? Because, unlike the 1986 Reagan tax cuts, this trump-con is a 100% partisan bill with no input from the Democrats; its based on no expert testimony or critical analysis, is not revenue neutral, is clearly not tax reform, they held no public hearings and it doesn’t simplify the tax code, as trump and the Republi-cons still claim.

There are $1.6 trillion in tax breaks taken every year; this tax bill only attempted to eliminate $400 billion of those tax breaks. And one of the biggest tax break scams, the carried interest exemption – granted mostly to hedge fund managers, and roundly condemned by both Republicans and Democrats, survived this phony “Tax Reform.” And the goodies thrown into the bill in the dark of night to get the bill passed (like pass through business breaks and the Corkerkickback), added a whole new litany of tax dodges. That loophole alone will cost the treasury $414 billion.

Foreign investors will benefit more than all middle income Americans in the 30 states who voted for Trump combined. Everyone under $100,000 income will get a tax “increase” in the last 2 year of the plan.

But the most consequential element of this plan will cause America’s alarming and burgeoning income inequality to grow even worse.

As has been the record over the last 3 decades, those who benefit most from our rigged crony capitalist economy, are the military and prison industrial complexes, connected  millionaires, billionaires and multi-national corporations, and their executives, who will continue to get double digit annual increases, while those at the bottom will fall further and further behind.

Wells Fargo Bank just announced they will reap an 18% wind fall from this tax bill. Yes, that same bank who Trump owes $100’s of millions in real-estate loans to and who seems to be involved in monthly consumer scandals. Their ongoing litigation over the fake accounts scandal, the $100’s of millions in penalties and settlements, and the firing of 5,300 sacrificial low-level employees might have prodded them to raise their minimum wage for employees to $15 but that was supposedly already in the works before the tax bill was passed. The rest of America’s 7 largest banks will benefit on average 14% in additional profits from this tax bill.

trump and his departments of disinformation continue, with straight faces, to claim they are busy draining the swamp of miscreants and lobbyists, but its obvious they’re more entrenched than ever. K-Street wrote and then had to rewrite and then rewrite again this bill. The lobbyist’s fingerprints are all over the 1,000 or so pages.

The Republi-con sycophants in congress whooped and howled when trump admitted he pulled a fast one by not broadcasting to the fake media, that his slick plan to castrate the ACA by including repealing the individual mandate in the tax bill was a primary goal and a huge deal. Yes, taking healthcare away from 13 million hard working low income Americans was really a slick move. State treasuries will be tickled pink when they have to make up the difference. trump’s trumpery was almost as slick as holding hostage, to the self rewarding payments to his own family, his friends and his campaign donors, the 9 million children from low income families who depend on the Children’s Health Insurance Program for often serious health conditions.

trump incorrectly claims he “essentially repealed Obamacare” because more than 9 million Americans signed up for Obamacare this year in spite of the trump administration’s attempts to quell participation. The ACA is more popular than ever. The more trump and his cast of evildoers in congress try to cripple Obamacare, the more voters will turn against them. And if premiums grow by double-digits because of trump’s shenanigans, this administration will surely take the blame.

I wonder how the trump and Republi-con faithful, can continue to vote for toxic un-American representatives, so obviously engaged in self serving and morally and financially corrupt behavior; why are these uncritical voters standards and expectations so low?

Why can’t they see the American Democratic forest for the Republi-con trees?

Related: Article From DCReports follows…

Other Countries Have Already Launched a ‘Race to the Bottom’ to Undermine New U.S. Corporate Tax Cuts”

Unintended Consequences 101: Tax Scheme Ignites Global Tax War

The Bill Isn’t Signed Yet, But Other Countries Have Already Launched a ‘Race to the Bottom’ to Undermine New U.S. Corporate Tax Cuts

By James S. Henry, DCReport Senior Editor, Investigative Economics

Before Donald Trump has signed the new tax law, there are already troubling signs that it is the first shot in a global tax war that threatens working people and the public pensions plans that sustain them in old age.

The Trump bill, which reads like a wish list for Goldman Sachs and its clients, has already triggered an aggressive “race to the bottom” in international corporate tax rates, rules and regulations. It is the exact opposite of his campaign promise to help the middle class.

What the mainstream American news has failed to notice are the global responses, including:

South Korea, Mexico and Chile are also actively considering corporate tax cuts, in response to the US measure, my interviews with key global tax analysts around the planet reveal.

The Argentinean corporate tax cuts are especially troubling because they may well turn out to be an ominous precursor for what may happen to Social Security in America.

Macri, channeling how the American tax cuts were drafted in secret and then rammed through without hearings, “Trumped” deep cuts in pensions through Argentina’s Congress this week.

In Washington, Congressional Republicans have tried for years to weaken Social Security and undermine its finances in the hopes they can kill the most popular social support program in the country. They are expected to step up their efforts to weaken Social Security, arguing that with the tax cut legislation there just isn’t enough money to sustain the social safety net.

An indication of this approach emerged with regard to CHIP, the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program. It finances often life-saving medical care for more than nine million children and 300,000 pregnant women.

CHIP was enacted in 1997. One of its cosponsors was Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican.  On December 17 Hatch indicated that America cannot afford to continue the program, which will begin cutting children off in January unless funding is restored.

The cost of CHIP is about $15 billion annually, roughly a tenth of what the Trump/Goldman Sachs tax bill will add each year to the federal debt.

The complex and hastily drafted Trump/ Goldman tax bill makes at least 121 key tax changes that will impact more than $8 trillion of federal tax revenues over the next decade.

Trump and his sycophants claim that the corporate tax favors will more than pay for themselves. They assert that the big cuts in corporate tax rates and other favors for business will prompt much more U.S. economic growth, with many new jobs and higher wages. Wishful thinking is the response of numerous economists who are not on the Trump/Goldman Sachs payroll.

HuffPost

Donald Trump Falsely Claims Tax Bill Means ‘We Have Essentially Repealed Obamacare’

Marina Fang, HuffPost          December 20, 2017 

Donald Trump Falsely Claims Tax Bill Means 'We Have Essentially Repealed Obamacare'

WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump on Wednesday heralded Republicans’ tax bill for its provision repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate by incorrectly asserting that the health care law as a whole had been repealed.

“When the individual mandate is being repealed, that means Obamacare is being repealed,” Trump said at a Cabinet meeting that seemed to double as his airing of grievances before the holidays. “We have essentially repealed Obamacare, and we will come up with something much better.”

This is demonstrably false. The law still remains, after Republicans’ failed efforts to repeal it earlier this year. Republicans have devised ways to fundamentally weaken Obamacare’s provisions because they have not yet figured out how to repeal it outright, as HuffPost’s Jonathan Cohn reported.

GOP lawmakers added the elimination of the individual mandate to the tax bill, partly as a concession to some Republicans who had held out supporting the bill and partly as a way to offset the economic costs of it.

Repealing the individual mandate will worsen insurance markets, but the tax bill does not affect other important structures of the Affordable Care Act, such as protections for people with pre-existing conditions, tax credits for people who buy their own insurance and the expansion of state Medicaid programs. And Obamacare enrollment continued this year, despite the Trump administration’s attempts to undermine the program.

The president said Wednesday that he did not want the media discussing his claim about the health care law.

“Obamacare has been repealed in this bill,” Trump said. “We didn’t want to bring it up. I told people specifically, ‘Be quiet with the fake news media,’ because I don’t want them talking too much about it.”

NowThis Politics

President Trump’s attacks on Obamacare aren’t just cruel – they’re grounds for impeachment

Robert Reich on Obamacare

President Trump’s attacks on Obamacare aren’t just cruel – they’re grounds for impeachment

Posted by NowThis Politics on Friday, December 22, 2017

Mother Jones

Wells Fargo Accidentally Admits the Truth: The Republican Tax Bill Has No Connection to its $15 Minimum Wage

Kevin Drum      December 22, 2017

Richard B. Levine/Levine Roberts/Newscom via ZUMA

Sucking up to Donald Trump is tricky business. On Wednesday Wells Fargo announced that it was raising its minimum wage thanks to the passage of the Republican tax bill:

Wells Fargo to Raise Minimum Hourly Pay Rate to $15, Target $400 Million in 2018 Philanthropic Contributions, Including Expanded Support for Small Businesses and Homeownership

Company announces initial actions to support economic growth with tax reform

“We believe tax reform is good for our U.S. economy and are pleased to take these immediate steps to invest in our team members, communities, small businesses, and homeowners,” said President and CEO Tim Sloan.

That press release is a little vague. Was Wells really doing all this because of the tax bill? A pair of LA Times reporters called the press office to find out:¹

Asked by the Times to clarify the connection Wednesday, Wells Fargo spokesman Peter Gilchrist said there was none….Asked directly to confirm that the pay raises were not a result of the tax bill, Gilchrist said, “That is correct.”

But wait:

On Thursday, Gilchrist backtracked. “We believe tax reform is good for our U.S. economy and are pleased to raise our minimum hourly pay to $15 as a result.” …He would not comment on the reason for the earlier statement.

Needless to say, Wells Fargo is in a heap of trouble these days over a series of scandals that never seems to stop, so flattering the president is just good business. Maybe it won’t help, but it can’t hurt.

In any case, I think we can take this as a case study in what’s really going on with all those companies announcing new initiatives thanks to the tax bill: they have nothing to do with the tax bill at all. It’s just business as usual. But they’re certainly eager to say it’s because of the tax bill. I suppose I would be too if I had a lot of business with the Justice Department or the SEC or the Pentagon.

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Kevin is a political blogger for Mother Jones. Email Kevin calpundit@cox.net. For more of his stories, click here

Trump Tells Rich Mar-A-Lago Friends “You All Just Got A Lot Richer” After Tax Bill 

Newsweek

Trump Tells Rich Mar-A-Lago Friends “You All Just Got A Lot Richer” After Tax Bill

By Grace Guarnieri     December 24, 2017

President Donald Trump joined his family at their “Winter White House” for the holidays Friday night after signing the GOP Tax Bill into Law, and reportedly told wealthy friends dining at Mar-a-Lago “you all just got a lot richer.”

Days before heading away for the holidays, Trump told White House reporters that the tax bill would be “one of the great Christmas gifts to middle-income people.” However, Mar-a-lago’s exclusive dinner guests would have paid a $200,000 initiation fee and $14,000 in annual dues to Trump’s golf club and resort.

Trump made the comment to friends eating dinner at a nearby table, two of whom spoke of the encounter with CBS News.

“It’s going to be a tremendous thing for the American people. It’s going to be fantastic for the economy,” Trump told reporters at the Oval Office signing on Friday. “It’s going to keep companies from leaving our shores and opening up in other countries.”

When Trump signed $1.5 trillion tax overhaul into law, ultra-wealthy earners in the 95th to 99th percentile received the biggest tax cuts, even though the top 1 percent already holds about 40 percent of American wealth. Instead of the 35 percent tax cut that he promised middle class voters, their taxes decreased by just 10 percent.

According to a report by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, every income group received a tax cut from the Republican tax reform, but most individual tax cuts will sunset by 2025. A whopping 53 percent of Americans will be paying more in taxes by 2027.

During his presidential campaign in 2016 Trump told his millions of Twitter followers, “We’re going to cut taxes BIG LEAGUE for the middle class,” and added that Democratic candidate for president, Hillary Clinton wanted to raise taxes for the middles class.

“I consider this very much a bill for the middle class and a bill for jobs. And jobs are produced through companies and corporations, and you see that happening. Corporations are literally going wild over this,” Trump told White House reporters on Friday.

How Putin’s proxies helped funnel millions into GOP campaigns

The Dallas Morning News – Commentary

How Putin’s proxies helped funnel millions into GOP campaigns

By Ruth May, Contributor      December 15, 2017   

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team probes deeper into potential collusion between Trump officials and representatives of the Russian government, investigators are taking a closer look at political contributions made by U.S. citizens with close ties to Russia.

Buried in the campaign finance reports available to the public are some troubling connections between a group of wealthy donors with ties to Russia and their political contributions to President Donald Trump and a number of top Republican leaders. And thanks to changes in campaign finance laws, the political contributions are legal. We have allowed our campaign finance laws to become a strategic threat to our country.

An example is Len Blavatnik, a dual U.S.-U.K. citizen and one of the largest donors to GOP political action committees in the 2015-16 election cycle. Blavatnik’s family emigrated to the U.S. in the late ’70s from the U.S.S.R. and he returned to Russia when the Soviet Union began to collapse in the late ’80s.

Data from the Federal Election Commission show that Blavatnik’s campaign contributions dating back to 2009-10 were fairly balanced across party lines and relatively modest for a billionaire. During that season he contributed $53,400. His contributions increased to $135,552 in 2011-12 and to $273,600 in 2013-14, still bipartisan.

In 2015-16, everything changed. Blavatnik’s political contributions soared and made a hard right turn as he pumped $6.35 million into GOP political action committees, with millions of dollars going to top Republican leaders including Sens. Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham.

In 2017, donations continued, with $41,000 going to both Republican and Democrat candidates, along with $1 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund.

Touch chart to see info:

So is this legal?

 

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking Democratic leader on the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC News in September: “Unless the contributions were directed by a foreigner, they would be legal, but could still be of interest to investigators examining allegations of Russian influence on the 2016 campaign. Obviously, if there were those that had associations with the Kremlin that were contributing, that would be of keen concern.”

Under federal law, foreigner nationals are barred from contributing directly or indirectly to political campaigns in local, state and federal elections.

Should Blavatnik’s contributions concern Mueller’s team of investigators? Take a look at his long-time business associates in Russia.

The Oligarchs

Oleg Deripaska is said to be one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s favorite oligarchs, and he is founder and majority shareholder of Russia’s Rusal, the second-largest aluminum company in the world. Blavatnik holds a stake in Rusal with a business partner.

Further, nearly 4 percent of Deripaska’s stake in Rusal is owned by Putin’s state-controlled bank, VTB, which is currently under U.S. sanctions. VTB was exposed in the Panama Papers in 2016 for facilitating the flow of billions of dollars to offshore companies linked to Putin.

Earlier this year, The Associated Press reported that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, began collecting $10 million a year in 2006 from Deripaska to advance Putin’s interests with Western governments. Deripaska’s name turned up again in an email handed over to Mueller’s team by Manafort’s attorneys. According to The Washington Post, in the email dated July 7, 2016, just two weeks before Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president, Manafort asked an overseas intermediary to pass a message on to Deripaska: “If he [Deripaska] needs private briefings, tell him we can accommodate.”

Viktor Vekselberg is one of the 10 richest men in Russia. He and long-time business partner Blavatnik hold a 20.5 percent stake in Rusal. (They met while attending university in Russia.)

In 1990, Blavatnik and Vekselberg co-founded the Renova Group for large-scale investments in energy, infrastructure, aluminum and other metals. One of their earliest investments was in Tyumen Oil Co. (TNK), founded in 1995. TNK is best known for its contentious partnership with British Petroleum after the two entities formed a joint venture in 2003. That rocky relationship ended 10 years later when they sold out to the state-controlled energy giant, Rosneft, under pressure from the Russian government.

As for BP, that pressure took the form of growing harassment and intimidation from Russian authorities who at one point, according to Forbes, refused to renew visas for BP employees, forcing BP’s joint venture chief Robert Dudley (who is now chief executive of BP) to flee Russia and manage TNK-BP from a foreign outpost in a secret location.

Vekselberg has connections to at least two Americans who made significant GOP campaign contributions during the last cycle. They are among several Americans who also merit Mueller’s scrutiny.

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The Americans

Andrew Intrateraccording to Mother Jones, is Vekselberg’s cousin. He is also chief executive of Columbus Nova, Renova’s U.S. investment arm located in New York. (FEC records list his employer as Renova US Management LLC.)

Intrater had no significant history of political contributions prior to the 2016 elections. But in January 2017 he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s Inaugural Committee. His six-figure gift bought him special access to a dinner billed as “an intimate policy discussion with select cabinet appointees,” according to a brochure obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

Alexander Shustorovich, chief executive of IMG Artists, attempted to give the Republican Party $250,000 in 2000 to support the George W. Bush presidential campaign, but his money was rejected because of his ties to the Russian government, according to Quartz. So why didn’t the Trump team reject Shustorovich’s $1 million check to Trump’s Inaugural Committee?

Simon Kukes is an oil magnate who has something in common with Intrater. From 1998 to 2003, he worked for Vekselberg and Blavatnik as chief executive of TNK. Redacted CIA documents released in 2003 under the Freedom of Information Act said “TNK president Kukes said that he bribed local officials.” The CIA confirmed the authenticity of the reports to The Guardian newspaper but would not comment further. In 2016, Kukes contributed a total of $283,000, much of it to the Trump Victory Fund. He had no significant donor history before last year’s election.

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There is no doubt that Kukes has close ties to the Putin government. When he left his job as CEO of TNK in June 2003, he joined the board of Yukos Oil, which at the time was the largest oil company in Russia owned by the richest man in Russia, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Four months after Kukes joined the board, authorities arrested Khodorkovsky at gunpoint on his private plane in Siberia on trumped up charges of tax evasion and tapped Kukes to be CEO. This decision could only have been made at the highest levels in the Kremlin. The arrest of Khodorkovsky rattled the nerves of international investors and was the first tangible sign that Putin was not going to be the kind of leader that global executives and Western governments had expected him to be when he first took office in 2000.

Khodorkovksy was given a 13-year sentence in a Siberian prison and served 10 years before being released by Putin in December 2013, a month before the start of the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi, as a sign of goodwill. As for the fate of Khodorkovksy’s company, its largest oil subsidiary was sold in a sealed bid auction to Baikal Financial Group, a shell company with an unpublished list of officers. Baikal was registered at an address that turned out to be a mobile phone store in Tver, Russia. Three days after the auction, all of Baikal’s assets were acquired for an undisclosed sum by Rosneft, the Russian oil giant that went on to buy TNK-BP in 2013.

In total, Blavatnik, Intrater, Shustorovich and Kukes made $10.4 million in political contributions from the start of the 2015-16 election cycle through September 2017, and 99 percent of their contributions went to Republicans. With the exception of Shustorovich, the common denominator that connects the men is their association with Vekselberg. Experts who follow the activities of Russian oligarchs told ABC News that they believe the contributions from Blavatnik, Intrater and Kukes warrant intense scrutiny because they have worked closely with Vekselberg.

Even if the donations by the four men associated with Russia ultimately pass muster with Mueller, one still has to wonder: Why did GOP PACs and other Trump-controlled funds take their money? Why didn’t the PACs say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” like the Republicans said to Shustorovich in 2000? Yes, it was legal to accept their donations, but it was incredibly poor judgment.

McConnell surely knew as a participant in high level intelligence briefings in 2016 that our electoral process was under attack by the Russians. Two weeks after the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint statement in October 2016 that the Russian government had directed the effort to interfere in our electoral process, McConnell’s PAC accepted a $1 million donation from Blavatnik’s AI-Altep Holdings. The PAC took another $1 million from Blavatnik’s AI-Altep Holdings on March 30, 2017, just 10 days after former FBI Director James Comey publicly testified before the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s interference in the election.

And consider Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s campaign finance chairman. Could he have known that the Trump Victory Fund, jointly managed by the Republican National Committe and Trump’s campaign, took contributions from Intrater and Kukes? Mnuchin owned Hollywood financing company RatPac-Dune with Blavatnik until he sold his stake to accept Trump’s appointment as the Treasury secretary.

Which PAC officials are making the decisions to accept these donations?

The Supreme Court

The contributions are legal because the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling, Citizens United, and several subsequent decisions, allowed American corporations and citizens to give unlimited amounts of money to PACs and non-profit 501c4 organizations, regardless of how they make their money, where they make their money, or with whom they make their money. The only caveat is that PACs and non-profits cannot coordinate their activities with the political candidates they support.

The man who led the winning fight for Citizens United was David Bossie, president of the conservative non-profit since 2001. In 1996, Bossie was hired by Republican Rep. Dan Burton to lead an investigation into President Bill Clinton’s campaign fundraising. Burton fired him 18 months later for manipulating recordings of conversations among law officials and Webb Hubbell, a Clinton confidant who resigned as associate attorney general and pleaded guilty to tax fraud during the Whitewater investigation. CNN reported at the time that Newt Gingrich, who was speaker of the House, called Bossie’s tampering with the Hubbell recordings an embarrassment to the Republicans.

Bossie served as Trump’s deputy campaign chairman.

The Super PAC, Make America Number 1, is primarily funded by Trump’s largest donor, Robert Mercer. His Renaissance Technologies hedge fund donated $15.5 million to the PAC.

Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, assumed control of Make America Number 1 in September 2016 and is now tainted by her role in the communications between Wikileaks and Cambridge Analytica, the firm that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, hired for $5.9 million to handle the digital portion of the Trump campaign.

Robert and Rebekah Mercer are major investors in Cambridge Analytica. According to The Wall Street Journal, Rebekah Mercer asked Cambridge chief executive Alexander Nix if the firm could compile stolen emails related to Hillary Clinton so that they could be more easily searched. (This suggestion came from someone she met at an event supporting Sen. Ted Cruz, according to The Hill. Cambridge Analytica had worked on digital marketing for Cruz before he dropped out of the Republican primary.)

Nix confirmed that he had asked Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to forward the Clinton-related emails. Assange said he declined the request.

Rebekah Mercer also heads the non-profit Making America Great, formed in March 2017. The non-profit ran a seven-figure ad campaign highlighting Trump’s achievements. Bossie is the group’s chief strategist.

Erik Prince, brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, contributed $150,000 to Mercer’s Make America Number 1 PAC and another $100,000 to the Trump Victory Fund. Prince has recently testified to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence about his trip to the remote Seychelles for a secret meeting in December 2016 with a close ally of Putin, Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The purpose of the meeting was allegedly to setup a back channel of communication between then president-elect Donald Trump and the Russians, though Prince has denied this allegation. Before the 2015-16 elections, Prince’s political contributions totaled a mere $31,800 as far back as 2007, according to FEC records.

The hybrid super-PAC, The Committee to Defend the President, was formed in 2013 under the name Stop Hillary PAC. It is managed by Dan Backer, the lead attorney who won the McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission case in 2014. The Supreme Court decision eliminated the cap on how much wealthy individuals can donate to federal candidates, parties and PACs in a single, two-year election cycle.

Like Bossie, Dan Backer helped to open the floodgates to millions of dollars of influence brought to bear on incumbents and their political challengers who are now pressured to kowtow to their donors with the biggest bank accounts, even if their billions are earned in Russian rubles.

Backer was born in Russia and emigrated with his family to the U.S. in 1978.

The changes to our campaign finance laws created an avenue for Russia to try to influence our elections. There are holes in our firewall and they aren’t on the internet.

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Ruth May is a business professor at the University of Dallas and an expert on the economies of Russia and Ukraine. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News. Email: rmay@udallas.edu.

Graphics by Michael Hogue/Staff Artist

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