Trump’s New FERC Commissioner Rob Powelson Accepted Gifts From Energy Industry

Screen shot of Robert Powelson during his FERC nomination hearing. Credit: U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, public domain

By Itai Vardi for Desmog Blog – Robert Powelson, President Donald Trump’s newly appointed commissioner to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), received both gifts and reimbursements for travel, lodging, and hospitality from the energy and utility sectors in his previous position as a state regulator. He will now regulate those sectors at the federal level. Powelson, a Republican, began his tenure at FERC last week. Documents and emails recently uncovered by the Energy & Policy Institute, a watchdog monitoring attacks on renewable energy, indicate that he maintained a close relationship with industry groups as a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. In addition, earlier this year, Powelson said pipeline opponents are engaged in “jihad,” a statement which drew criticism from activists and further solidified his pro-industry image. NFL Game and Industry Conferences. DeSmog has found that according to Powelson’s financial interest disclosures at the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission, in September 2013 he accepted two tickets from NRG Energy to attend a football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and San Diego Chargers. Each ticket cost $105. Powelson attended the game with James Steffes, a senior vice president at NRG Energy, a large energy company operating numerous power generating stations throughout the U.S.

The Corruption Of Mike Pence And The Privatization Of Infrastructure

Gov. Mike Pence (R) signing Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” while surrounded by anti-LGBT activists. CREDIT: TWITTER/MICAH CLARK

By David Sirota for IB Times – In 2015, then-Gov. Mike Pence made the controversial decision to keep the Indiana Toll Road under the control of a consortium of private corporations, which was represented by a local lobbying firm that had funneled large donations to Pence’s gubernatorial campaign. This year, the same lobby firm signed up to press the Donald Trump administration on behalf of IFM Investors — the same foreign company that Pence originally approved to run the toll road consortium. In fact, documents reviewed by International Business Times show the lobbying firm that bankrolled Pence has been in direct contact with the vice president on federal infrastructure policy. The firm has lobbied Pence on behalf of Melbourne-based IFM as Pence has explicitly extolled IFM in his work spearheading a White House plan to privatize roads, bridges and airports. That trillion-dollar initiative, which Trump is scheduled to promote on Tuesday and which could enrich foreign investors, comes as Trump has said he is focused on “putting America first.” In response to IBT’s questions, White House spokesperson Natalie Strom said in a written statement that Trump “has made it clear that his priority is investment in American infrastructure” and that White House staff “welcome foreign companies who recognize that under President Trump, building American infrastructure is a good investment.”

Youngstown Residents Push To Oust Corporations From Election Campaigns

After several attempts to ban fracking in Youngstown, Ohio, the community rights movement is focusing on ending outside industry contributions to local election campaigns.   (Image: protectyoungstown.org)

By Staff of In These Times – Today, a long-standing community rights group in Youngstown, Ohio, submitted over 1,900 signatures to qualify their Youngstown Fair Election Bill of Rights initiative for the November ballot. The measure is the first of its kind in the state, limiting campaign contributions to registered voters within the City, and capping those contributions at $100. The Youngstown Community Bill of Rights Committee drafted the initiative with the support of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). CELDF has been assisting Youngstown residents to advance their democratic and environmental rights since 2013, when residents launched their community rights work to protect themselves from fracking activities. Fracking threatens their drinking water and has caused earthquakes in the area. “We have fought to keep fracking projects out of our City for several years, with six ballot measures that asserted our right to clean water and to local community self-government,” says Lynn Anderson, a lead organizer with the Youngstown Committee.

Not News: Politicians Take Hundreds Of Thousands Of Dollars From Pipeline Companies

"We will fight back through through the courts, protests, and any means available and necessary," says Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chippewayan First Nation. (Photo: Pax Ahimsa Gethen/flickr/cc)

By Lorne Stockman for Oil Change International – Legislators in Virginia got 75% of the money as the state has lax campaign finance rules, with unlimited contributions from corporations and individuals. But every signatory has received something from one of these two companies over their electoral career; even those in West Virginia where contribution limits are the tightest. The proposed 600-mile pipeline, which would carry fracked gas from West Virginia over the Allegheny highlands through Virginia to North Carolina, has become a hotly contested project. Opposition along the pipeline route has flared up around the threat to mountains, rivers, local water sources, public safety, environmental justice, climate change and use of eminent domain for private gain. It’s even become an issue in Virginia’s upcoming gubernatorial race. Tom Perriello, who emerged earlier this year as a challenger to Democratic establishment favorite Ralph Northam, has distinguished himself in large part by his opposition to both the ACP and the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).

‘Gyrocopter Guy’ Still Has A Message To Deliver

Doug Hughes, 63, holds letters to Congress he intended to deliver nearly two years ago. His dog, Rosie, is at his feet. | Ben Montgomery

By Ben Montgomery for Politico Magazine – Ruskin, Florida—Two years ago this week, Douglas Hughes, a slender, bespectacled mailman, age 61, climbed aboard a one-man flying machine called a gyrocopter on the narrow runway of a small airport in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He wore a white helmet and blue postal jacket and his craft carried just enough fuel to reach Washington, D.C., about 60 miles south as the crow flies. He had strapped to the landing gear two mail trays containing 535 envelopes stuffed with letters over which he had had fretted, writing and editing until he had pared down his screed to two pages each, 837 words. He used three exclamation points, but the contents were short of explosive. “As I see it, campaign finance reform is the cornerstone of building an honest Congress,” he had written. “Erect a wall of separation between our elected officials and big money.” The first part of Hughes’ audacious, two-years-in-the-making plan—to penetrate protected airspace, buzz down the length of the National Mall and land his craft on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol—went off without a hitch. Somewhat miraculously he wasn’t shot down.

Paul Ryan Fundraised With Health Insurance Lobbying Firm Just Before His PowerPoint

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By Lee Fang and Nick Surgey for The Intercept – JUST HOURS BEFORE House Speaker Paul Ryan held a press conference to sell his health care overhaul legislation — using a PowerPoint presentation mocked for misrepresenting basic facts — he was doing something he’s much better at: fundraising. The two things were related. The Thursday morning breakfast fundraiser he attended was hosted by a lobbying firm working to unwind the Affordable Care Act on behalf of health insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield, one of the big winners of Ryan’s proposed legislation. The breakfast, according to an invitation, was sponsored by McGuireWoods PAC, the political action committee for the lobbying firm McGuireWoods.

Trump’s White House Counsel “Architect” Of Corrupt Big Money Politics

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By Jon Schwarz for The Intercept – Jon McGahn, soon to be Donald Trump’s White House counsel, bears as much responsibility as any single person for turning America’s campaign finance system into something akin to a gigantic, clogged septic tank. From 2008 to 2013, McGahn was one of the six members of the Federal Election Commission, the government agency in charge of civil enforcement of campaign finance laws. While there, he led a GOP campaign that essentially ground enforcement of election laws to a halt. “I’ve always thought of McGahn’s appointment as an FEC commissioner as analogous to appointing an anarchist to be chief of police,” said Paul S. Ryan, vice president at Common Cause.

3 Reasons To Be Worried About Blackstone Group

Wikileaks releases show John Podesta and Neera Tanden, pictured here with Clinton in October 2013, planning for the campaign to cozy up with Blackstone executives. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

By Branko Marcetic for In These Times – Buried among the thousands of John Podesta’s emails released over the last week, you’ll find a short, revealing exchangebetween Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta and Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and Clinton advisor-in-waiting. “I saw Jon Grey [sic] today,” writes Podesta. “We both sang your praises.”

Is FCC Making It Difficult To Find Funders Of Political Ads

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By Soo Rin Kim for Open Secrets – Four years after it began requiring TV stations to upload their records of political ad sales to a central government website, the Federal Communications Commission maintains a recordkeeping system that makes finding out who an ad’s sponsor is feel like a treasure hunt. In 2012, the FCC approved a rule requiring broadcast stations in the largest markets to upload the files showing who bought time for political ads

Leaked Documents Reveal Secretive Influence Of Corporate Cash On Politics

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker holds up a dollar bill while speaking at the American Legislative Exchange Council in 2015. Photograph: Denis Poroy/AP

By Ed Pilkington for The Guardian – The pervasive influence of corporate cash in the democratic process, and the extraordinary lengths to which politicians, lobbyists and even judges go to solicit money, are laid bare in sealed court documents leaked to the Guardian. The John Doe files amount to 1,500 pages of largely unseen material gathered in evidence by prosecutors investigating alleged irregularities in political fundraising. Last year the Wisconsin supreme court ordered that all the documents should be destroyed, though a set survived that has now been obtained by the news organisation.

Big Money vs. Black Lives: Connecting Money In Politics To Racial Justice

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By Chris Kromm for Facing South – This week, a coalition of more than 50 organizations connected to the Black Lives Matter movement released a highly-anticipated policy agenda document, “A Vision for Black Lives.” Rooted in the cause launched in 2013 to protest the killings of African Americans by police, the document began to take shape at a gathering in Cleveland last year. According to the coalition’s website, it aims to “articulate a common vision and agenda” for the movement.

DNC Emails: Entrenched Pay-To-play Culture In Democratic Party

DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz stands with shipping magnate George Logothetis, a major donor to the Democratic Part, and philanthropist Cindy Hensley McCain. (Leigh Vogel / Getty)

By Branko Marcetic for In These Times. Some of the nearly 20,000 Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails released by WikiLeaks illustrate a pervasive culture of pay-to-play within the Democratic Party, where wealthy donors are granted the type of unprecedented access to party officials and lawmakers that ordinary citizens can only dream of, all in the hope that doing so will unlock access to their checkbooks. In advance of this week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, the DNC was engaged in a furious scramble for cash. In an April 25 email, one staffer sent Naomi Aberly, a vice chairwoman of the DNC’s national finance committee and major Democratic fundraiser, a list of donors to contact “who have maxed the past few years but have yet to max this year.” Part of this scramble involved selling special “convention packages” to big money donors that promised them ever more impressive perks the more money they gave or raised. One of the documents released by WikiLeaks outlines these packages. The top-tiered package, called “Rittenhouse Square,” promises any individual who either raises $1.25 million or gives $467,600 to the DNC by June 1 a variety of benefits. Along with “priority booking in a premiere hotel,” nightly access to VIP lounges and parties, and an exclusive photo opportunity, the package also tempts donors with seats at “an exclusive roundtable and campaign briefing with high-level Democratic officials,” and participation in various business roundtables and industry panels taking place throughout the event.

These States Are Stepping Up To Reform Money In Politics In 2016

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Voters in Washington state will have the chance to clean big money out of politics this fall.

By Paul Blumenthal for The Huffington Post – WASHINGTON — The next front in the battle for campaign finance and lobbying reforms will likely be on the ballot in Washington state and South Dakota in November. Activists there have either succeeded or are well on their way to securing ballot positions for omnibus reform initiatives to change the states’ campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws. The two ballot initiatives mark the continuation of a strategy pursued by national reform groups like Represent.Us

The Not-So-Hidden Fracking Money Fueling The 2016 Elections

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By David Turnbull for Oil Change International – The New York Times today has pulled together a list of all the individuals who have contributed over 1 million dollars in the 2016 election…and there’s some major fracking money hiding in plain sight. If you take a quick glance at the Times’ list of big contributors, you’ll see a hodgepodge of hedge fund managers, CEOs of major companies, and, of course oil industry executives. But, if you dig a little deeper, one family quickly emerges as a major player in the 2016 race: The Wilks family.

Report: Growing Movement For Democracy Reform Throughout Country

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By Staff of Common Cause – A citizens’ movement to break the power of big money in politics with tougher disclosure laws, financing systems that elevate small dollar donors, and other reforms is winning important victories in states and localities across the country, Common Cause and several allied groups advocates argue in a report released today. “Our Voices, Our Democracy,” highlights calls by voters, state legislatures and local governing bodies in 16 states and more than 680 localities for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC