Tag Archives: ethics

The Manchin Dilemma

There is ample reason to detest Joe Manchin: in a closely divided Senate, he has single-handedly defeated much of Biden’s agenda–including the President’s efforts to combat climate change and voter suppression.

Manchin has been a critical and  mostly reliable vote for Biden’s judicial nominations, but a stubborn obstacle to passage of several measures that are absolutely central to the Democratic agenda, and popular with voters.

What makes his obdurate opposition worse is that it clearly isn’t motivated by principle. If his consistent obstruction was the result of philosophical conviction–part and parcel of a considered political ideology, no matter how wrongheaded–it would still be incredibly frustrating, but the anger would be different.

What infuriates policy wonks and party strategists alike is recognition that , with Manchin, it’s all about the money. (He evidently raised his children with the same self-serving values; his daughter’s fingerprints were all over the Epi-Pen scandal.)

As the New York Times reported,  the Grant Town power plant is

the link between the coal industry and the personal finances of Joe Manchin III, the Democrat who rose through state politics to reach the United States Senate, where, through the vagaries of electoral politics, he is now the single most important figure shaping the nation’s energy and climate policy.

Mr. Manchin’s ties to the Grant Town plant date to 1987, when he had just been elected to the West Virginia Senate, a part-time job with base pay of $6,500. His family’s carpet business was struggling.

When developers approached Manchin, he helped them clear what the Times calls “bureaucratic hurdles.” He then went into business with them.

Mr. Manchin supplied a type of low-grade coal mixed with rock and clay known as “gob” that is typically cast aside as junk by mining companies but can be burned to produce electricity. In addition, he arranged to receive a slice of the revenue from electricity generated by the plant — electric bills paid by his constituents.

The deal inked decades ago has made Mr. Manchin, now 74, a rich man.

If the story stopped there, it would be troubling enough, but it doesn’t.

While the fact that Mr. Manchin owns a coal business is well-known, an examination by The New York Times offers a more detailed portrait of the degree to which Mr. Manchin’s business has been interwoven with his official actions. He created his business while a state lawmaker in anticipation of the Grant Town plant, which has been the sole customer for his gob for the past 20 years, according to federal data. At key moments over the years, Mr. Manchin used his political influence to benefit the plant. He urged a state official to approve its air pollution permit, pushed fellow lawmakers to support a tax credit that helped the plant, and worked behind the scenes to facilitate a rate increase that drove up revenue for the plant — and electricity costs for West Virginians.

Records show that several energy companies have held ownership stakes in the power plant, major corporations with interests far beyond West Virginia. At various points, those corporations have sought to influence the Senate, including legislation before committees on which Mr. Manchin sat, creating what ethics experts describe as a conflict of interest.

Now that he has found himself in a position to cast pivotal votes in an evenly divided Senate, Manchin hasn’t hesitated to block legislation intended to speed the country’s transition to clean energy.  When the war in Ukraine led to calls to boycott Russian gas,  Manchin joined Republicans who are agitating for production of more American gas and oil to fill the gap.

Manchin’s protection of the Grant Town plant can’t be defended by claiming it helps West Virginia residents, either. As the Times article notes, while the power plant continues to pay Manchin handsome dividends, “it has harmed West Virginians economically, costing them hundreds of millions of dollars in excess electricity fees. That’s because gob is a less efficient power source than regular coal.”

The bulk of Manchin’s income since entering the Senate has come from one company: Enersystems, Inc., which he founded with his brother Roch Manchin in 1988, the year before the Grant Town plant got a permit from the state of West Virginia.

Enersystems Inc. is now run by Mr. Manchin’s son, Joseph Manchin IV. In 2020, it paid Mr. Manchin $491,949, according to his filings, almost three times his salary as a United States senator. From 2010 through 2020, Mr. Manchin reported a total of $5.6 million from the company.

Manchin will remain in a position to defy science and undermine his President and his party so long as the Senate remains equally divided. Meanwhile, the GOP is pulling out all the stops to keep Democrats from voting and their votes from being accurately counted.

 

We Don’t Need No Damn Ethics…Or Cities

As the Indiana General Assembly continues its assault on the goose that lays the state’s golden eggs–aka Indianapolis–members also demonstrate their utter lack of concern for ethical government behavior–state or municipal.

According to the Indianapolis Star, State Senator Jack Sandlin is proposing to void an Indianapolis ethics ordinance that prohibits a county chairperson from doing business with the city. Sandlin’s bill would allow a city employee to serve as both the county party chair and an employee, despite the rather obvious potential for conflicts of interest. 

It just so happens Senate Bill 415 would benefit Cindy Mowery, one of four people who have filed to become chair of the Marion County Republican Party.

Welcome to Indiana, where any pesky ethics law that promises to erect a barrier to problematic behavior can be eliminated by your political buddies!

The legislature’s war on municipal ethics is just one aspect of its constant assault on local control and urban life. There’s a reason that, most years, out-migration in Indiana exceeds  in-migration, and we routinely lose the young people we’ve paid to educate in our universities.

A recent discussion with my youngest son is–unfortunately–illustrative.

My son grew up in Indianapolis, attended college in Chicago, then traveled & worked in Japan. He fell in love with an Indiana woman, and (somewhat reluctantly) returned home. As he tells it, he  was an urban kid who loved cities, and initially, he didn’t see much promise of a vibrant urban life in Indianapolis. But that changed as Indianapolis changed. After living and practicing law in Chicago, he saw the promise of a great quality of life and a reasonable cost of living.  (Needless to say, this made his mother very happy.)

He bought a house in the Old Northside neighborhood, had a family. He and his wife work downtown, their children have attended excellent public schools, they have a wide circle of friends and neighbors with whom they enjoy the urban amenities Indianapolis offers.

So why–as they near college age–is he urging his children to leave Indiana?

He says that, while Indianapolis still has many great things going for it, its future—and especially the future it might be able to offer his children—looks far less rosy,  thanks to the culture of the state. As he says,

Even modest efforts to improve the quality of residents’ lives is threatened by a hostile General Assembly and radicalized state electorate. In most places, cities enjoy a measure of local control, or “home rule.”  Not Indianapolis — at least not today… 

Indiana’s Republicans have gerrymandered electoral districts, with predictable effects on Indiana’s politics. It turned a “conservative” state into something else entirely; the party of “limited government” has become the party of “intrusive central control.” Republican legislators have stripped (or sought to strip) Indianapolis voters of the right to decide quintessentially local matters: to decide how much in local taxes it can raise to provide essential services, to elect local judges, to decide questions of educational funding for public schools, and most recently, even to regulate local matters like zoning, landlord-tenant relations and the issuance of gun permits. None of these limits are placed on rural, largely white counties; only on Marion County (Indianapolis).

My kids are approaching college-age, and I am encouraging them to leave Indiana. Why?

Because I don’t know what life holds for them. I don’t know if they will be fortunate, healthy, and financially secure; or whether they will be dealt setbacks that might make them need assistance or the support and protection of local government.  What I do know is that I want them to find a place—a community—that cares for all its people, not just the wealthy, and not just white people.  Which is why I am strongly encouraging my kids to find universities outside of Indiana and, thereafter, to find a place where people care for each other more than we do in this state. 

 I chose Indianapolis for a quality of life that is, piece by piece, being eliminated as the Indiana General Assembly decides that city folk can’t be trusted to govern themselves or to invest in people or a better quality of place. 

Ultimately, I want my kids to find a place that cares for its people, even if doing so costs a little more.  I want them to live in a place where their vote over purely local affairs matters at least as much as the vote of a rural Trump-loving farmer—and, importantly, where the politics are not animated so much by white grievance. 

Unfortunately, that place isn’t Indiana.

 

 

 

Talk About Conflicts Of Interest….

A recent report issued by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) finds that President Trump has 2,300 conflicts of interest. (For some reason, I’m having trouble linking to the report, but it’s easily Googled.)

We see a number of vague accusations of this administration’s “corruption,” but that all-encompassing description doesn’t tell us what the improprieties are, or why the behaviors are unethical. As a result, we are in danger of normalizing them.

The most common definition of a conflict of interest is a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity. CREW puts meat on the bare bones of that definition. The report begins with an explanation of the importance of divestment and the reasons for it.

Prior to President Trump, every modern president divested their business interests before entering office. For decades, this norm of presidential conduct has served as an important signal for both Republican and Democratic administrations to show that, as the nation’s most powerful and prominent public servant, the president would not put personal financial interests before the interests of the country. Divestiture also served as an assurance to the public that the president would not open himself up to undue influence from special interests and foreign governments that might use his businesses as a way to curry favor with him and his administration.

And Trump?

The president has visited his properties 362 times at taxpayer expense during his administration, sometimes visiting multiple properties in a single day. The number of days he’s spent time at a Trump-branded property account for almost a third of the days he’s been president.

One-hundred eleven officials from 65 foreign governments have visited a Trump property.

CREW has recorded 630 visits to Trump properties from at least 250 Trump administration officials. Ivanka Trumpand Jared Kushner are the most frequent executive branch officials to visit Trump properties, other than the president himself. Jared has made 28 known visits, while Ivanka has made 23.

Members of Congress have flocked to President Trump’s properties: 90 members of Congress have made 188 visits to a Trump property.

President Trump has used the presidency to provide free publicity for his properties, which he still profits from as president. As president, Trump has tweeted about or mentioned one of his properties on 159 occasions, and White House officials have mentioned a Trump property 65 times, sometimes in the course of their official duties.

Political groups have spent $5.9 million at Trump properties since President Trump took office. In more than a decade prior to his run for president, Trump’s businesses never received more than $100,000 from political groups in a single year.

Foreign governments and foreign government-linked organizations have hosted 12 events at Trump properties since the president took office. These events have been attended by at least 19 administration officials.

There is much more.

Trump’s behavior has been a truly shocking departure from that of previous presidents, but in all fairness, the expectation that government officials will avoid both conflicts and the appearance of conflicts has been eroded over the years by practices in the Senate.

An article a few weeks ago in The Guardian focused on those practices.

As they set national policy on important issues such as climate change, tech monopolies, medical debt and income inequality, US senators have glaring conflicts of interest, an investigation by news website Sludge and the Guardian can reveal.

An analysis of personal financial disclosure data as of 16 August has found that 51 senators and their spouses have as much as $96m personally invested in corporate stocks in five key sectors: communications/electronics; defense; energy and natural resources; finance, insurance and real estate; and health.

The majority of these stocks come from public companies, and some are private.

Overall, the senators are invested in 338 companies – including tech firms such as Apple and Microsoft, oil and gas giants including ExxonMobil and Antero Midstream, telecom companies including Verizon, and major defense contractors such as Boeing – in the five sectors as categorized by Sludge.

As the article noted, this ownership is not illegal, but such investments raise real questions about lawmakers’ motivations.

We have a lot of work to do.

In 2020, Americans’ first priority must be delivery of an overwhelming, crushing defeat to Trump and the obsequious Republicans who continue to enable him.

Our second must be a wholesale “clean up” of government– reform of electoral systems and governmental structures that facilitate unethical behavior, from state-level gerrymandering and voter suppression, to Senate-level conflicts of interest.

 

About All Those “Best People”…Again

Talk about pots and kettles…take a look at the resume of Trump’s new press secretary–you know, the person charged with repeating the Administration’s unending accusations of sleaze and improprieties by journalists.

As Juanita Jean reports in her inimitable style:

If you’re wondering why Trump’s new press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, is not talking to the press or holding press conferences it’s because she’s … well… probably drunk or stealing something.

She was arrested for driving under the influence, speeding, and driving with an invalid license in 2013, according to the report, and the charges were later reduced to reckless driving. Grisham was also arrested for driving under the influence in December 2015, ultimately pleading guilty. She paid a fine and was ordered by the court into a treatment program.

One of the DUIs took place while she was a press aid to Trump’s campaign.

There’s more. Juanita notes that Grisham’s performance at previous jobs was–well, let’s just say substandard. She reportedly left AAA under a cloud for filing false travel and expense claims. She lost a job at something called Mindspace for plagiarism. She worked for an Arizona Attorney General who was fined for campaign finance violations, and on his behalf, responded to reporters’ inquiries by accusing the press of “overreaching, an invasion of privacy and abusive use of your role in the media.”

I’ve seen her picture, though, and she is attractive. When it comes to women, Trump’s definition of “best people’ usually revolves around physical appearance. (Big boobs are a plus.)

With men, of course, “best people” means one thing only: loyalty. Which brings us to the despicable William Barr. As both Talking Points Memo and the Washington Post have reported,

Attorney General Bill Barr has booked a $30,000 Gaelic-themed holiday party at the Trump D.C. hotel, the Washington Post reports.

The event is slated to occur Dec. 8 and will feature a four-hour open bar.

Again, there’s much more. (If Barr’s only ethical violation was improper enrichment of his boss, that would be a real improvement.)

Barr has yet to respond to multiple calls to recuse himself from the Jeffrey Epstein case–a case that could easily ensnare Epstein’s former good friend, Donald Trump.

He joined Wilbur Ross in refusing to comply with subpoenas issued as part of the Congressional probe of the Administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census–a refusal that led to a symbolic House vote of criminal contempt. (Symbolic, because the Department of Justice, which Barr heads, would have to enforce it.)

His pandering to Trump included a highly controversial and obviously partisan decision to launch an inquiry into the origins of the FBI’s 2016 Russia investigation–a decision that  fueled understandable concerns about the politicization of the Justice department.

And of course, there was his utterly dishonest 4-page “summary” of the Mueller Report.–a summary so inaccurate it received a reprimand from the famously taciturn Mueller himself.

A quote from Adam Schiff in Newsweek was focused upon Barr and Rosenstein, but it really applies to any of the “best people” who work for Trump for any length of time.

Congressman Adam Schiff harshly criticized Attorney General William Barr as well as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, suggesting they acquiesced to pressure from President Donald Trump to act unethically.

“What we are seeing is anyone that gets close to Donald Trump becomes tainted by that experience,” the California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee said in an interview with CNN’s New Dayon Wednesday morning. “And the fundamental conundrum is, How do you ethically serve a deeply unethical president?” Schiff said. “And as we are seeing with Bill Barr, and as I think as we saw with Rod Rosenstein, you can’t.”

 In all fairness, it’s not a problem for most of the President’s “best people.” They can’t even spell ethics, let alone define the term.

 

 

Corruption And The Piety Party

Over the past few years, surveys have documented the growth of the so-called “nones”–Americans who have abandoned religion. Some are atheists or agnostics, others simply see religion as irrelevant to their lives. For many, that irrelevancy is the result of distaste for the hypocrisy and amoral behaviors of many self-described “pious” people.

I thought about the distance between ostentatious religiosity and ethical behavior when I read a Dana Milbank column in the Washington Post, titled “The Unimpeachable Integrity of the Republicans.”The GOP, as we all know, has become the piety party–Vice-President Mike Pence is its perfect, smarmy embodiment.

Milbank wasn’t addressing Republican faux religiosity–he was just marveling at the efforts of deeply dishonest Representatives to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. As he noted, tongue-in-cheek, the charges are serious: inappropriately redacting lines in documents turned over to Congress by the Justice Department, and explaining the legal basis upon which the department is declining to produce others. Horrific behavior! I may swoon…

Redacting the price of a conference table is clearly a far more serious offense than those committed by other members of the Trump Team: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has been accused by former associates of stealing roughly $120 million; former EPA Chief Pruitt got a bargain condo rental from a lobbyist’s wife, used his job to find work for his wife and had taxpayers buy him everything from a soundproof phone booth to  moisturizing lotion.

Who else doesn’t merit impeachment?

Not the former national security adviser who admitted to lying to the FBI,not the former White House staff secretary accused of domestic violence, not the presidential son-in-law who had White House meetings with his family’s lenders, not the housing secretary accused of potentially helping his son’s business, not the many Cabinet secretaries who traveled for pleasure at taxpayer expense, not the former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director who bought tobacco stock while in office.

And certainly not the president, whose most recent emolument bath was poured by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince: Bookings by his highness’s entourage spurred a spike in the quarterly revenue at the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan.

None of these “public servants” generated the indignation being focused on Rosenstein the Redactor.

Milbank helpfully described the pious paragons so determined to expel this scofflaw from governance–the same Republicans “so above reproach” that one of their first votes was an attempt to kill the House ethics office. He began by identifying some who are regretfully  no longer available:

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), an obvious candidate, resignedover his use of public funds to settle a sexual-harassment lawsuit.

Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.), another ideal choice, resigned after word got out of a sexual-harassment settlement with a staffer the married congressman called his “soul mate.”

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) also can’t be of use. He resignedover allegations that he urged his mistress to seek an abortion.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) likewise won’t be available. He quit when a former aide alleged that he offered her $5 millionto have his child as a surrogate.

But never fear–as Milbank demonstrates, the GOP has a truly impressive bench.

There’s Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), who remains “tentatively available” despite his arrest this week for insider trading, along with the five other House Republicans who invested in the same company but haven’t been charged yet. There’s also Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), “assuming he has free time”–he’s battling allegations that he covered up sexual misconduct when coaching at Ohio State.

Others who could judge Rosenstein: Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), who pleaded guilty to assault after body-slamming a reporter; Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), who is retiring after a naked photograph of him leaked online; and Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), who is under investigation by the FBI over the alleged use of campaign funds for his children’s tuition, shopping trips and airfare for a pet rabbit.

Nunes himself is battling allegations that he got favorable terms on a winery investment and used political contributions to pay for basketball tickets and Las Vegas trips.

Eighty-one percent of white Evangelicals voted for Trump, and research suggests their support for him and his band of thugs and thieves remains strong. No wonder people who actually care about ethics and morality are repelled by “faith.”