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Gov: Bad Politics

At News in FiVe, we try to keep our discussions focused directly on laws and public policies. We try to avoid things like rhetoric, posturing, and procedural games that distract from the issues.

Unfortunately, there are times things get so ugly that it becomes obvious a representative is working against the interests of the people they elect to represent them. We think you ought to know when that happens.

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Santos' lies make following the money difficult

2023-Jan-30By: Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman

In his successful 2022 Congressional campaign, Rep. George Santos told a number of outlandish lies about his past.

Some of those lies were just plain silly. Others, however, hid a history of apparent financial difficulties - a history that makes it difficult to explain how he obtained more than $700,000 to lend his campaign.

That explanation could determine which federal campaign laws he broke in the process.

Santos has record of financial difficulties

In the past decade, Santos has lost several lawsuits stemming from unpaid rent, unpaid personal loans, unpaid credit card debt, and bad checks. Judgements against him added up to approximately $20,000.

During his first (failed) bid for the House of Representatives in 2020, Santos declared earnings of $55,000 as vice president of LinkBridge Investors, which connects investors to hedge funds.

Fortunes began to change at company named in fraud complaint

In June 2020 he became a regional director of Harbor City Capital - a company already under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC would would accuse the company of operating a $17 million Ponzi scheme.

Santos was not named in the SEC complaint and he claims he left the company prior to the complaint.

His own company - and mysterious income - lasted only through his campaign

In May 2021, while in the middle of his successful House campaign, Santos incorporated Devolder Organization LLC in Florida (he claims his full name is George Anthony Devolder Santos). He was the sole owner.

Santos claimed the company managed $80 million in assets. In his congressional financial disclosure, he reported a $750,000 salary and more than $1 million in dividends.

According to Santos, it was the company's purported revenue that allowed him to lend his own campaign $705,000.

However, Santos' congressional disclosures listed no client who paid him more than $5,000 for his services, as required by the House Ethics Committee.

The company had no public website or LinkedIn page.

Devolder Corporation did not file annual reports. In September 2022, toward the end of the campaign, Santos dissolved the corporation.

Where did half a million dollars for his campaign come from?

In January 2023 the Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The complaint states that Santos' claims of legitimately coming up with the hundreds of thousands of dollars he lent his campaign are "vague, uncorroborated, and non-credible in light of his many previous lies."

The unlikeliness of Santos being able to supply that much money indicates that "unknown individuals or corporations may have illegally funneled money to Santos' campaign," the complaint states.

So what laws may have been broken?

If the company actually did have clients, not disclosing them could be an election law violation

It is illegal for a corporation or foreign national to contribute directly to a political campaign. If the company did not have clients, then these laws might have been violated.

More mysteries around Santos' campaign finances

The complaint also asserts that Santos illegally used campaign funds for personal expenses.

Santos' campaign reported 37 payments of $199.99. The FEC requires receipts for campaign expenses greater than $200.

Besides the unusually large number of such expenses, some of them simply seem implausible on their face - for example a charge for a hotel whose lowest-priced room at the time cost more than triple that amount.

The campaign reported payments totaling more than $13,000 purportedly for services - including rent - at an address that Santos was living at. It is illegal to use campaign funds for personal expenses.

The FEC already had Santos in its sights, issuing several Requests for Additional Informaion (RFAI) such as this one citing incomplete donor information and donations that exceed the allowed limit.

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The lies of George Santos (if that's his real name)

2023-Jan-02  (Updated: 2023-Jan-13)By: Rob Dennis

George Santos claimed his maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors. He claimed his mother survived 9/11. He claimed to have earned an MBA. He claimed to have worked for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.

None of it was true.

Jewish heritage completely fabricated

The newly-elected Congress member claimed his maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors - that they "fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine." His grandparents were born in Brazil long before the Nazis came to power.

He has described himself as a "non-observant Jew," yet he also claims to be Catholic and there is no evidence he has any Jewish ancestry.

Santos claimed his mother was "the first female executive at a major financial institution," and was in the World Trade Center at the time the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He claimed she survived, but later posted on Twitter that "9/11 claimed my mothers life." Santo's mother was a domestic worker who died in 2016. And according to immigration records, she was not even in the United States on the day of the attacks.

Resume was mostly fiction as well

Santos claimed on his resume that he graduated in the top 1 percent of his class from Baruch College (where he also claimed to have been a champion volleyball player), and earned an MBA from New York University. Neither school has any record he attended. Around the time Santos was supposed to be attending Baruch, he actually was being investigated for check fraud in Brazil.

One of Santos' former bosses, however, did attend and play volleyball for Baruch College.

He claimed to be "a seasoned Wall Street financier and investor" who worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. Both companies said they have no record he ever worked there. During the time Santos claimed to be working for Citigroup, he actually was a customer service representative for Dish Network.

Santos has since admitted that he "embellished" his resume.

What's his name? Where as he born?

Santos was elected to Congress in 2022 as George Santos.

He claims his legal name is George Anthony Devolder Santos. He has used the name Anthony Devolder to identify himself.

In 2021, he incorporated Devolder Organization LLC, listing his name as George A. Devolder Santos.

Santos has not provided a copy of his birth certificate, which would indicate his real name and provide evidence of his eligibility to serve in Congress.

His Congressional biography merely states his election history.

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McConnell: African American voters versus Americans

2022-Jan-19By: Barry Shatzman

Sen. Mitch McConnell at a press conference on voting rights...

"If you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans."

The phrasing obscures voting realities

Whether McConnell's labeling was a slip of the tongue or a dog whistle, his use of voting statistics misrepresents voter turnout for people of color.

While turnout for African-Americans is similar to Americans overall, turnout for Black Americans generally is lower than that for White Americans. In other words, Black voting turnout might be similar to the overall average, but White voting turnout is higher than that average.

Turnout for African-Americans also was enhanced in the 2020 presidential election by increased access to voting - such as with drive-thru voting and voting by mail. At least 19 states including Arizona, Georgia, Texas, are enacting laws to limit access to voting in ways that will have a disparate impact on voters of color.

States were given the ability to create these laws by the 2014 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision.

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Rep. Omar subjected to false accusations, death threats

2019-Oct-25By: Barry Shatzman

A North Dakota state senator posted a photo on social media of a woman wearing a headscarf and holding a rifle. He claimed her to be Rep. Ilhan Omar at an "Al' Qaida training camp in Somalia."

The photo is not of Omar. It was taken before she was born.

Since being elected to Congress, Omar has been subjected to ethnic insults and death threats.

She - along with representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib - were the subject of a Twitter post by President Donald Trump suggesting they "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."

Omar is a nationalized U.S. citizen whose family settled in the United States when she was 10. Pressley was born in Ohio. Tlaib was born in Michigan. Ocasio-Cortez was born in New York.

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State Dept. harassed employees for political leanings

2019-Aug-15  (Updated: 2019-Aug-20)By: Barry Shatzman

State Department officials harassed and mistreated employees based on their political affiliations, according to the department's Inspector General (OIG).

The behaviors - which violate State Department policy - took place in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO), the country's primary interface with the United Nations (UN).

The Inspector General's report details harassment, retaliation, and bypassing non-partisan hiring rules by Assistant Secretary Kevin Moley and Mari Stull, his senior advisor at the time.

Report: "Nearly every employee interviewed" raised concerns

Complaints included berating and reprimanding, such as accusing longtime employees of being traitors, part of "undermining the President's agenda", or being part of a Deep State.

Employees were reprimanded at times simply for following established State Department policies. Some career employees lost their jobs.

In one situation, an employee responsible for legislative affairs accompanied members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to the U.N. It was one of her assigned roles - a common practice because it helps the agency understand congressional issues.

Stull accused the employee of trying to thwart President Donald Trump's agenda because the delegation consisted only of Democrats. However, there are no Republican members of the CBC. After the incident, the employee was excluded from sensitive discussions and assigned mostly administrative tasks. She eventually resigned.

Retaliation stemming from Stull's career as a lobbyist

Before joining the IO, Stull had asked the bureau for special treatment regarding her employment with the United Nations. Bureau employees denied the request after being advised it would be inappropriate. When Stull eventually joined the agency, she retaliated against the employees.

One of the employees, an expert in food security, was removed from a delegation to the U.N., even though food security was one of the delegation's priorities.

Ignoring complaints

When concerns were raised with Stull about her treatment of employees, she claimed to be a victim of harassment. She told at least one employee that raising concerns was pointless because the Trump administration "has my back".

Moley, in turn, ignored complaints against Stull. He continued to ignore such complaints even while the OIG was investigating the complaints and his ignoring of them.

When one senior employee expressed concern to Moley about issues with management, Moley fired her.

Moley lied about rejecting candidate due to political differences

When looking to hire a deputy director for the Office of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs (IO/HRH), Moley closed the position after Stull informed him him of the leading candidate's prior work on LGBT rights and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Moley told investigators that he had decided to close the position because the U.S was withdrawing from the U.N. Human Rights Commission (OHCHR). However, Moley closed the position before the decision to withdraw was made.

After the U.S. did withdraw from the Human Rights Commission, the bureau decided to fill the position.

Stull left the State Department in January. Moley remains in charge of the bureau.

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DOT helps Mitch McConnell's state fund projects

2019-Jun-10  (Updated: 2019-Jun-17)By: Barry Shatzman

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has helped secure more than $75 million for transportation projects in his state of Kentucky. It's helped that his wife runs the Department of Transportation (DOT) in the Trump administration.

The projects included reclassifying a local parkway as an Interstate spur which could attract private businesses. They also included a $67 million grant to upgrade roads in a rural Kentucky county.

Bringing business to their state is something representatives use as bragging points in re-election campaigns. It often is done in the form of earmarks attached to bills. McConnell may have found an easier way.

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who is married to McConnell, assigned a staff member to personally advise McConnell and Kentucky officials in obtaining grants for the projects. She did not assign staff members to similarly assist other states.

The staff member, Todd Inman, also is from Kentucky. He now is Chao's chief of staff.

Special treatment?

Kentucky officials have publicly acknowledged the help, thanking McConnell, Chao, and Inman in speeches.

The DOT says that Kentucky has not received special favors, and the amount of money it has received is consistent with its population. Even if Chao did help her and her husband's home state receive money, it likely did not violate any laws, according to John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

However, one of the projects was denied twice before being approved with Inman's help, and it at least demonstrates a conflict of interest, according to Hudak and other ethics experts.

"Where a Cabinet secretary is doing things that are going to help her husband get reelected, that starts to rise to the level of feeling more like corruption to the average American," Hudak wrote on Twitter.

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Sen. Josh Hawley: Watergate "living in the past"

2019-Jun-10By: (External links)

Missouri senator says it's a waste of time to study history because it was a long time ago

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Racist remarks cost Iowa Rep. King committees

2019-Jan-17By: Barry Shatzman

Rep. Steve King has been removed from his committee assignments after his most recent comment supporting white supremacy.

In an interview with the New York Times., King pondered how the term "white supremacist" had become offensive.

King has a long history of defending white supremacy.

In a 2018 interview with an Austrian site having ties to the alt-right movement, King lamented about a dilution of European culture - what the alt-right terms the Great Replacement...

"It is all interconnected. In the U.S., we have almost a million abortions a year, babies who would be raised by American parents. Then we bring in 1.2 million legal immigrants a year and add another 600,000 or so illegal immigrants. The U.S. subtracts from its population a million of our babies in the form of abortion. We add to our population approximately 1.8 million of somebody else's babies who are raised in another culture before they get to us."

He also claimed there is a "two-front war" taking place - with Muslims and liberals "squeezing Western civilization".

King on immigrants

In 2013, King stated why he opposes legal status for DREAMers...

"For everyone who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act."

The day before winning re-election in 2018, he was caught on tape referring to immigrants as "dirt".

King on diversity

In the Austrian interview, King explained what diversity means to him, speaking about an advisor hired by his home town in Iowa, who suggested more diversity was needed...

"I know these people because I grew up with them: they are Danes, they are Germans, they are Norwegians, they are Irish. That is a great deal of diversity! ...(Liberals) think we're racists, that diversity is a variety of skin colors."

King was a member of the Judiciary and Agriculture Committees.

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Pelosi suggests no State of Union address during shutdown

2019-Jan-16By: (External links)

Pelosi asks Trump to postpone State of the Union address because of government shutdown - or deliver it in writing

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Trump tweets Schitt - gets Constitution wrong

2018-Nov-18  (Updated: 2018-Nov-21)By: Barry Shatzman

It wasn't the first comment from Trump disparaging elected representatives who disagree with him - regardless of their political party. By the time you're reading this, it probably won't have been the last.

But we mention these comments Trump made about Rep. Adam Schiff for two reasons.

Source: Twitter

The first reason is that it sinks to more of an adolescent level than many others. Trump has not claimed it to be a typing error, nor has it changed on Twitter as of this writing.

Second, it is based on an incorrect interpretation of the Constitution - the basis of government for the country. The president is the highest-ranked individual responsible for supporting its provisions.

The Twitter post refers to an ABC News interview in which Schiff answered a question regarding Trump's naming of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general after he fired Jeff Sessions.

"I think the appointment is unconstitutional. He is clearly a principal officer and the fact that he is a temporary principle officer doesn't mean that that is any less subject to Senate confirmation."

According to the Constitution's Appointments Clause, high-ranking officials (such as attorney general) need to be approved by the Senate. Secondary appointments - such as a special prosecutor (Robert Mueller) or the attorney general's chief of staff (the position Whitaker held) do not.

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Republican ads show Jewish candidates holding money

2018-Nov-06By: (External links)

Republicans attack Jewish candidates across the U.S. with an age-old caricature: Fistfuls of cash

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Grassley - Judiciary Committee too much work for women

2018-Oct-06  (Updated: 2018-Oct-13)By: Barry Shatzman

All 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are white males. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley - the committee's chair - was asked to explain why there are no women on the committee.

"It's a lot of work - maybe they don't want to do it. My chief of staff of 33 years tells me we've tried to recruit women and we couldn't get the job done," Grassley replied.

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Republicans discuss protecting Trump from Russia probe

2018-Aug-08By: Rob Dennis

Rep. Devin Nunes told donors that Republicans must win in November to protect President Donald Trump from the probe into his campaign's ties to Russia, according to a recording of a closed-door meeting.

Nunes heads the House Intelligence Committee - the committee in the House of Representatives investigating Russia's influence in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

"If [Attorney General Jeff Sessions] won't unrecuse and Mueller won't clear the president, we're the only ones," Nunes said at the July fundraiser for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Sessions recused himself from investigations involving Russia due to his involvement with a Russian official during Trump's presidential campaign. The investigation into the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russia to win the 2016 election is being supervised by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

If Republicans lose their majority in the House of Representatives in the 2018 election, Democrats would take over as chairs of committees.

"I mean we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away," Nunes said.

Nunes also told donors that Republicans will time their actions to help them retain power. He said Republicans want to impeach Rosenstein, but would wait until after the November elections. He said that pursuing impeachment before the midterms could delay Senate hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, and that it possibly could put his confirmation at risk.

Nunes, who served on the president's transition team, has repeatedly tried to derail the investigation by his own committee into Russian interference in the election to help Trump win.

Republicans on the committee issued a partisan report in April that claimed the Russians did not interfere to help Trump. This contradicted reports from the intelligence community and from the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The meeting, which was closed to reporters and the public, was recorded surreptitiously by progressive group Fuse Washington. It was released publicly on Aug. 8 on MSNBC by news show host Rachel Maddow.

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SC Rep. Norman pulls loaded gun at meeting

2018-Apr-07By: Barry Shatzman

Rep. Ralph Norman displayed a loaded handgun during a constituent meeting.

Norman said he did it to tell those who attended that "guns don't shoot people, people shoot guns," and to protect them.

"I'm not going to be a Gabby Giffords," he said. Giffords was a representative from Arizona who was shot during an assassination attempt in 2012.

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Rep. Devin Nunes has his own news site

2018-Feb-26By: Barry Shatzman

People in politics will do whatever they can to get good press. But one member of Congress has taken this a step further.

Rep. Devin Nunes created his own "news" website.

The California Republican - classified on its Facebook page as a "Media/News Company" - is paid for by Nunes' campaign committee, as this screen capture from the bottom of one of its pages shows...

The site mostly contains links to other stories favorable to Nunes' views, with headlines such as...

o "Nunes sets the record straight on unmaskings, the memo, Russia investigation"

o "Mueller's missteps began from the get-go. They've gotten worse."

o "CNN busted for peddling fake news AGAIN!"

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NY Rep. Tenney claims mass shooters are Democrats.

2018-Feb-22By: Barry Shatzman

In the wake of the Feb. 14 Florida school shooting that resulted in the death or wounding of more than 30 students and teachers, Rep. Claudia Tenney said during a radio discussion...

"Obviously, there's a lot of politics in it. It's interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats. But the media doesn't talk about that."

Tenney provided no evidence for the claim.

However, a 2018 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center documents more than 100 people killed or injured by those with links to the alt-right movement.

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National official's European vacation (on public dime)

2018-Feb-15  (Updated: 2018-Feb-16)By: Barry Shatzman

Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) David Shulkin used government money for personal travel and illegally accepted gifts, according to the agency's inspector general. He and his staff manufactured lies both to allow it to happen and to cover it up, the report says.

According the Office of Inspector General (OIG) report...

o Shulkin had the agency pay for a 2017 European business trip that included more personal time than official days. The agency also payed for his wife, because his chief of staff altered an email to a VA ethics official to make it appear that Shulkin would be receiving an award in Denmark (there was no such award).

o In order for Shulkin to mix personal travel with the business trip, he needed to submit a form declaring the added cost of the personal time. Shulkin did not submit the form.

o Shulkin directed a staff member to arrange personal activities for Shulkin and his wife during the trip - essentially acting as their personal travel agent while being paid by the government.

o Shulkin and his wife accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament from someone they had conducted business with. This would be illegal, as gifts to public officials are legal only if they come from a personal friend. When the person who gave Shulkin the tickets was interviewed by the OIG, she could not remember Shulkin's wife's name. When providing written responses to questions about the gift, Shulkin wrote, "there is no business relationship, but purely a social friendship between the two of them."

o Shulkin also made misleading statements to the media about the incident. A Shulkin spokesperson told the Washington Post that, "All activities including Wimbledon were reviewed and approved by ethics counsel." When the ethics office informed the spokesperson that wasn't the case, he took no action to correct it. Shulkin told the OIG that he had no role in that response. The publicist told the OIG that Shulkin helped draft it.

The investigation had started with an anonymous tip. Shulkin first called the report "entirely innaccurate" and said it "reeks of an agenda."

He reversed course the following day, telling a Congressional committee "I do recognize the optics of this are not good", and said he already had written a check to the U.S. government.

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Ryan hushes McCarthy on Putin paying Trump

2017-May-17By: Rob Dennis

When House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told fellow Republican leaders that he thought Russian President Vladimir Putin could be paying then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, he was immediately hushed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, according to transcript obtained by the Washington Post.

"There's two people I think Putin pays: (Rep. Dana) Rohrabacher and Trump," McCarthy said in the June, 2016 conversation, according to the Post,

House Speaker Paul Ryan then stopped the conversation and swore those present to secrecy, the Post reported.

"What's said in the family stays in the family," Ryan added.

Spokespersons for McCarthy and Ryan initially denied that the conversations had taken place. When informed that a recording existed, McCarthy spokesperson Matt Sparks called the conversation "a failed attempt at humor."

The Post, which said it listened to and verified a recording of the exchange, noted that it is difficult to tell the extent to which the remarks were meant to be taken literally.

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Rep. Labrador: Nobody dies from lack of health care

2017-May-05By: Barry Shatzman

At an Idaho town hall meeting the day after the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act, a constituent of Rep. Raul Labrador said that the bill's $800 billion cuts to Medicaid would lead to people dying.

Labrador's response...

"No one wants anybody to die. That line is so indefensible. Nobody dies because they don't have access to health care"

A 2009 study concluded that...

"Uninsurance is associated with mortality. The strength of that association appears similar to that from a study that evaluated data from the mid-1980s, despite changes in medical therapeutics and the demography of the uninsured since that time."

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Paul: Republicans shouldn't investigate Republicans


Sen. Rand Paul on whether the Senate should investigate the situation regarding former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's illegal meetings with Russian officials while Barack Obama still was president...

"I just don't think it's useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party. We'll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we're spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense."

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Republicans vote to gut ethics office (but then reverse)

2017-Jan-02  (Updated: 2017-Jan-03)By: Barry Shatzman

On Jan. 2, in one of the first actions of the new Congress - Rep. Bob Goodlatte, along with other Republicans in the House of Representatives, voted to strip the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) of its independence.

The office performs preliminary investigations of allegations of misconduct against representatives and their staffs. It operates independently of the House itself. If it finds a case worthy of further investigation, it refers the case to the Ethics Committee.

On. Jan. 3, after being sworn in, they withdrew the plan - agreeing to keep the office independent.

The differences are important...

o Because the office is independent, it decides when there is enough evidence to investigate a representative (or House employee). Had control over it been given to the House, House leadership would have more say in which of its own members to investigate.

o Even if the Ethics Committee decides to not pursue a case referred to it by the OCE, the OCE's findings still are required to be made public. Had the office been moved to be under House authority, there would be no such requirement - and the public might never find out about investigations turned down by the committee.

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Rep. Gohmert urges boycott of Target over LGBT policies

2016-Apr-21By: Barry Shatzman

Rep. Louie Gohmert on proposing a boycott of Target stores because of their stated policy allowing people to use a bathroom or fitting room that fits the gender they identify themselves as...

"Why not let the transgender, LGBT,Q,R,S,T - whatever the initials are - let them have their activities where they don't impose upon the privacy of someone who wants to go to the restroom or shower without someone from the opposite sex being there with them."

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Rep. Bill Flores blames Baltimore unrest on same-sex marriage

2015-Apr-29By: Barry Shatzman

Rep. Bill Flores seems to think that same-sex marriage is the cause of civil unrest in Baltimore, Maryland...

"You look at (the riots) going on in Baltimore today, you know, you see issues that are raised there. And healthy marriages are the ones between a man and a woman because they can have a healthy family and they can raise children in the way that's best for their future, not only socially but psychologically, economically, from a health perspective."

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Attorney General nomination held up for Trafficking bill

2015-Mar-16  (Updated: 2015-Apr-21)By: Barry Shatzman

Sen. Mitch McConnell said the Senate would not consider the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be attorney general until Senate Democrats allow a bill on human trafficking to be voted on.

The bill - unrelated to the attorney general nomination - has become controversial because of an abortion provision included in it. We explain the bill and these issues here.

There is an irony to this. As a federal attorney, Lynch has been one of the fiercest fighters in the nation against human trafficking - including working to reunite children with their mothers who had been held captive.

For more, read the New York Times story.

For more on Lynch's record as an advocate for human trafficking victims, read the Guardian story.

Update: The Senate confirmed Lynch on April 23. Read the Lobby99 story

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Human Trafficking bill held up over abortion, politics

2015-Mar-15By: Barry Shatzman

It seems like a bill that easily could pass Congress and become law. The Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking Act would provide support for victims of human trafficking and increase penalties for those who commit the crime. What is holding up the bill, however, isn't its merits. It's a clause that would prevent any money received under this new program from being used for abortions - even those pregnancies that result from the coerced sex the law is intended to prevent. And those using the program's services would likely be those who are least able to afford them.

The bill doesn't mention abortion specifically. Rather, it refers to a clause known as the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal tax money from being used to pay for abortions.

This amendment would have been a broader use of the Hyde Amendment than ever before, and Senate Democrats are filibustering the bill in order to have the clause removed. Both of the major parties in the Senate have been accusing each other of not acting in good faith...

o Democrats claimed the provision was added at the last moment and they weren't informed about it.

o Republicans claimed the bill had included the clause for months, and that Democrats either didn't see it or ignored it.

o Democrats acknowledged that the clause really had been there, but they didn't notice it and Republicans did not include it in a list of changes.

o Republicans claimed that Democrats had to have seen it, and simply waited until the last minute to raise the concern.

For more, read the story.

Update: The Senate approved a modified version of this bill on April 23. Read the Lobby99 story.

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Sen. James Inhofe uses snow to tell Senate global warming isn't problem

2015-Feb-26By: Barry Shatzman

Arguing that global warming is not a problem, Sen. James Inhofe brought a snowball from outside of the Capitol into the Senate chamber.

Then he spoke...

"In case we have forgotten, because we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, I ask the chair, do you know what this is? It's a snowball. And it's just from outside here. So it's very, very cold out. Very unseasonable."

Inhofe chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

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Republicans doctor State of Union Address


If you watch President Obama's 2015 State of the Union Address on the Republican Party's official YouTube channel, you'll miss a few points that have been edited out - regarding climate change and torture.

(43:25) "I've heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists; that we don't have enough information to act. Well, I'm not a scientist, either. But you know what - I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we'll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe."

(44:51) "As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened, which is why I've prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained. It's why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world."

It was presented by the Republican Party as the complete speech, without mention of the redactions.

For more, read the Think Progress story.

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Just so you'll know how your representatives act


A Twitter post from Rep. Steve King prior to President Obama's State of the Union Address.

For more, read the story.

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How to borrow money while making it look like revenue

2014-Aug-10By: Barry Shatzman

What happens when there's something the country needs, yet there isn't enough money to pay for it? Congress has only two choices - it can increase revenue through some sort of tax. Or it can borrow the money.

Borrowing often is a pleasing option for elected representatives, because they can appear to be providing the needed service at no cost. This is especially true if an election is coming - because they don't want to be accused of "raising taxes" during a campaign.

Of course, that money needs to be repaid at a later date... and it needs to come from taxpayers just as if it originally came from there.

Congress has created a third way, however. It essentially is a way to borrow money while making it look like revenue. It's called Pension Smoothing. In a nutshell, Pension Smoothing allows companies to pay less into their pension plans for a certain time - thus increasing their profits and the taxes they pay. The problem is those payments into pension plans will need to be made up in later years, meaning these companies will pay less in taxes in the future.

And that's the best case. It gets worse if the company declares bankruptcy before adding the extra money into its pension fund. In that case, not only might the government lose even more tax revenue, but it also may need to pay pensions that the company otherwise would have paid.

Pension Smoothing was first used in 2012 to make up for a shortfall in fuel taxes used to pay for transportation projects. It again was used in 2014 to extend that funding for an additional 10 months.

Click here to read our explanation of how Pension Smoothing works.

Click here for our discussion of the Highway Trust Fund - which has been funded by Pension Smoothing.

For more on Pension Smoothing, read this New York Times story.

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GA Rep. Jack Kingston: Poor kids should sweep floor for lunch

2014-Jan-23By: Barry Shatzman

Should school children who are in poverty through no fault of their own be treated more harshly than those who aren't? Rep. Jack Kingston thinks so.

Discussing the National School Lunch Program a local Republican Party meeting, Kingston suggested that children in the program find a way to compensate for what might be their only nutritious meal of the day....

"Why don't you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria..."

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Members of Congress take expense-paid vacations with lobbyists

2014-Jan-19  (Updated: 2014-Jan-23)By: Barry Shatzman

Members of Congress are not allowed to receive gifts from lobbyists. But the 2007 law that prohibits this gift-giving has not prevented the people you elect to represent you from going on fully-paid trips to exotic locations - with lobbyists having exclusive access to them.

Here's the trick... the trips are paid for by Political Action Committees (PACs) controlled by the representative. The PAC gets the money for the trip in the form of a contribution by the lobbyists or the corporations they represent.

Recipients include both Democrats and Republicans. In some cases, legislation favoring a lobbyist who attended such an event was introduced soon after the event took place.

For more, read the New York Times story.

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Just so you'll know how your representatives act


This is Rep. Don Young questioning Energy Secretary Ken Salazar during a Congressional committee hearing.

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J.D. Hayworth... same-sex marriage could lead to marrying horses

2010-Mar-15By: Barry Shatzman

Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth says that allowing same-sex marriages could lead to unintended consequences.

"I don't mean to be absurd about it, but I guess I can make the point of absurdity with an absurd point. I guess that would mean if you really had affection for your horse, I guess you could marry your horse," Hayworth said.

It will take more than allowing same-sex marriage for that to happen, however. Marriage in the United States needs to be between parties who can legally consent. The horse will always say Nay.

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