Follow the money
September 22, 2020

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress allocated trillions of dollars to address medical supply shortages, and President Trump even invoked the Defense Production Act to move U.S. contractors to make those supplies. But at least $1 billion of that money wasn't used for ventilators, masks, and other still-needed supplies, The Washington Post reports.

Congress allocated $1 billion under the DPA in March to "prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus." Yet a few months later, Defense Department lawyers determined the $1 billion didn't actually have to be used for coronavirus-fighting projects, the Post reports. So the Pentagon sent $183 million to Rolls-Royce and ArcelorMittal to bolster their shipbuilding industry, $80 million to an aircraft parts manufacturer, and $2 million to a company that made Army dress uniform fabrics, among others. Some of those manufacturers already received Paycheck Protection Program loans meant to keep them afloat during the pandemic.

Today, items that $1 billion was supposed to cover still remain in need. Many hospitals still desperately need N95 masks, while Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield recently asked for $6 billion to help states distribute COVID-19 vaccines once they're ready.

Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told the Post the spending was necessary to maintain America's "industrial base," which is key to "economic security and national security." The Democratic-controlled House Appropriations Committee meanwhile contended the funding was meant to "address the need for PPE industrial capacity," not bolster the defense industry. Read more at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

September 9, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) may have sworn off receiving big money donations for her Democratic presidential campaign, but not everyone has taken kindly to the decision.

It's no secret that the foundation for Warren's campaign — which is determined to decrease the power and influence of the wealthy, especially in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street — was, in part, funded by big donors who supported her earlier Senate campaigns, The New York Times reports. Last winter and spring, Warren reportedly transferred $10.4 million in leftover funds from her 2018 Senate campaign to underwrite her presidential campaign. Some of that money came from the pockets of the people she's targeting in her current campaign, the Times writes.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) criticized Warren for her new policy of being funded totally by grassroots donations. "Can you spell hypocrite?" Rendell said. Rendell donated $4,000 to Warren in 2018 and recruited donors to attend a fundraising dinner for the senator at a swanky Philadelphia steakhouse, where a cheesesteak reportedly costs $120. Rendell said he received a "glowing thank you letter" from Warren after the event, but when he co-hosted former Vice President Joe Biden's first presidential campaign fundraiser this spring, Warren's campaign attacked Biden for schmoozing with the wealthy. "She didn't have any trouble taking our money the year before," Rendell said. "All of a sudden, we were bad guys and power brokers and influence-peddlers. In 2018, we were wonderful."

Not all of her past donors have taken the switch personally, however. Sean Curran, who donated $5,400 to Warren's Senate campaign, said the practice is consistent with Warren's values. "If any other candidate did this, I'd say they were looking for the cheap political advantage," he said. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

February 28, 2018

Kushner Cos., the family business of President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, received a loan of $184 million last November from Apollo Global Management, a firm whose founder made several visits to the White House over the year, three people with knowledge of the matter told The New York Times.

Apollo's Joshua Harris met with Kushner multiple times to discuss infrastructure policy, and they also spoke about Harris possibly getting a job with the administration, the Times reports; this never came to fruition. The money from Apollo was used to refinance the mortgage on a Chicago skyscraper owned by Kushner Cos., and according to security filings, it was triple the size of an average property loan made by Apollo's real estate lending division. Kushner Cos. also received a $325 million loan last spring from Citigroup after Kushner met with Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat in the White House; a person with knowledge of the meeting told the Times they discussed financial and trade policy, not Kushner Cos.

"This is exactly why senior government officials, for as long back as I have any experience, don't maintain any active outside business interests," Don Fox, former acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, told the Times. "The appearance of conflicts of interest is simply too great." Kushner resigned as CEO of Kushner Cos. when he joined the White House last year, and while he sold a small portion of his stake to a trust run by his mother, government filings show he still has real estate holdings and other investments that could be worth as much as $761 million.

A spokesperson for Kushner's attorney Abbe Lowell did not dispute the meetings took place, and said Kushner has "taken no part of any business, loans, or projects with or for" the business since joining White House. Read more at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

November 16, 2017

On Thursday, journalist Leeann Tweeden accused Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) of groping her and kissing her without her consent in 2006, providing photo evidence of Franken touching her breasts while she was asleep. The allegations against Franken are but the latest of mounting stories of inappropriate conduct or unwanted contact by government figures, including Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore as well as former President George H.W. Bush.

Earlier this week, CNN reported that women on Capitol Hill, past and present, circulate a word-of-mouth "creep list" that warns of "the male members most notorious for inappropriate behavior." Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) additionally testified before the House that two sitting lawmakers — one Republican, one Democrat — have been accused of sexual harassment.

On Thursday, the Office of Compliance released a year-by-year itemization of the money spent toward settling such cases. While the OOC's numbers account for other types of discrimination, including on racial or religious grounds, in addition to sexual harassment suits, the numbers are staggering. In 2007 alone, for example, more than $4 million of taxpayer money was put toward settling claims:

In sum, over 21 years, $17,240,854 of taxpayer dollars has been spent on 264 settlements of harassment claims. (For reference, $17 million is more than double the entire net worth of Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali.)

Read more about the rules of reporting sexual harassment in Congress here, or read Damon Linker explain how the Franken allegations are just the beginning of the "hurricane of sexual abuse allegations" coming for Washington here at The Week. Kimberly Alters

November 9, 2017

On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that the "financial contributions will stop" if the GOP does not pass tax reform. The senator's blunt prediction was reported by NBC News producer Frank Thorp V and later retweeted by Graham himself:

Graham is not first the GOP congressman to admit that the party's financial contributions are somewhat reliant on the passage of a tax bill; earlier this week, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) told a reporter, "My donors are basically saying, 'Get it done or don't ever call me again.'" Politico reported in early October that many GOP donors were frustrated by Congress' inaction and that donations to the Republican Party had stalled after their repeated failures to repeal ObamaCare.

Last month, Graham predicted also that the Republican Party would lose control of Congress if they did not pass tax reform. He echoed that sentiment Thursday, saying Republican incumbents would likely lose in primary challenges in 2018 if the tax effort failed.

President Trump has previously said that he wants to sign a tax reform bill by Christmas, though he has repeatedly and falsely claimed that the proposed tax plan would be "the biggest tax cut in the history of our country." Kelly O'Meara Morales

April 7, 2017

NPR is making it even easier to track the real-world effects of President Trump's tweets. On Friday, NPR's Planet Money podcast introduced BOTUS, a bot that has the sole duty of monitoring the president's Twitter activity to see how it moves the stock market:

[BOTUS] looks at President Trump's Twitter feed, and when he tweets about a company, it trades stocks, with real money. Because the official Twitter handle of the president of the United States is @POTUS, we named our bot @BOTUS, bot of the United States. There's $1,000 on the line invested by the staff members of the Planet Money podcast from their personal funds. [NPR]

To see whether money is lost or gained when Trump tweets, follow @BOTUS on Twitter. To learn more about the project, listen to the podcast episode below. Becca Stanek

August 20, 2015

Clinton campaign disclosures reveal that 316 lobbyists and corporate PACs have donated more than $600,000 so far to put Hillary in the White House. The number of contributors — more than double runner-up Jeb Bush's 140 lobbyist backers — makes Clinton the clear K Street favorite for 2016.

While the Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012 refused donations from registered lobbyists as part of a poorly kept promise to limit lobbyist influence in the administration, Clinton has long been noted for her ties to corporate interests, particularly on Wall Street. "[T]here is a list of people who are very committed to her from eight years ago," said Al Motteur, a lobbyist who is bundling donations for Clinton.

At the other end of the spectrum, Bernie Sanders, one of Clinton's rivals for the Democratic nomination, took in just $420 in lobbyist donations, while Republicans Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul received the least K Street support on their side of the aisle. Bonnie Kristian

June 8, 2015

The Washington Free Beacon has revealed that the Clinton Family Foundation donated $100,000 to The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund in 2008. That year, the Times endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary.

According to the Free Beacon, the Times was reportedly leaning toward endorsing Obama in 2008, rather than Clinton, but the board was overruled by Times chairman and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. At the time, Vanity Fair reported that one of Clinton's financial backers lobbied Sulzberger for the Times' endorsement.

On January 25, 2008, the Times' editorial board wrote that Clinton was "more qualified" to be president than Obama and John Edwards.

For the Times' part, a spokesperson told Politico that "the Free Beacon story is preposterous from start to finish." The Free Beacon notes, however, that the Clinton Family Foundation, which distributes more than $1 million a year to various causes, hasn't donated to the Neediest Cases Fund since its gift in 2008. Meghan DeMaria

See More Speed Reads