DeVos Undoes Obama Student Loan Protections
New actions withdraw protections due to “inconsistencies and shortcomings”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has rolled back an Obama administration attempt to reform how student loan servicers collect debt.
President Barack Obama issued a pair of memorandums last year requiring that the government’s Federal Student Aid office, which services $1.1 trillion in government-owned student loans, do more to help borrowers manage, or even discharge, their debt. But in a memorandum to the department’s student aid office, DeVos formally withdrew the Obama memos.
The previous administration’s approach, DeVos said, was inconsistent and full of shortcomings. She didn’t detail how the moves fell short, and her spokesmen, Jim Bradshaw and Matthew Frendewey, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
DeVos’ move comes a week after one of the student loan industry’s main lobbies asked for Congress’ help in delaying or substantially changing the Education Department’s loan servicing plans. In a pair of April 4 letters to leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees, the National Council of Higher Education Resources said there were too many unanswered questions, including whether the Obama administration’s approach would be unnecessarily expensive.
A recent epidemic of student loan defaults and what authorities describe as systematic mistreatment of borrowers prompted the Obama administration, in its waning days, to force the FSA office to emphasize how debtors are treated, rather than maximize the amount of cash they can stump up to meet their obligations.
Obama’s team also sought to reduce the possibility that new contracts would be given to companies that mislead or otherwise harm debtors. The current round of contracts will terminate in 2019, and among three finalists for a new contract is Navient Corp. In January, state attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, along with the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, sued Navient over allegations the company abused borrowers by taking shortcuts to boost its own bottom line. Navient has denied the allegations.
The withdrawal of the Obama administration guidelines could make Navient a more likely contender for that contract, government officials said. Navient shares moved higher after the government released DeVos’ decision around 11:30 a.m. New York time. Navient stock ended up almost 2 percent.
The Obama administration vision for how federal loans would be serviced almost certainly meant the feds would have to increase how much they pay loan contractors to collect monthly payments from borrowers and counsel them on repayment options. Already, the government annually spends around $800 million to collect on almost $1.1 trillion of debt. DeVos, however, made clear that her department would focus on curbing costs.
“We must create a student loan servicing environment that provides the highest quality customer service and increases accountability and transparency for all borrowers, while also limiting the cost to taxpayers,” DeVos said.
With her memo, DeVos has taken control of the complex and widely derided system in which the federal government collects monthly payments from tens of millions of Americans with government-owned student loans. The CFPB said in 2015 that the manner in which student loans are collected has been marred by “widespread failures.”
DeVos’ move “will certainly increase the likelihood of default,” said David Bergeron, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank with close ties to Democrats. Bergeron worked under Democratic and Republican administrations over more than 30 years at the Education Department. He retired as the head of postsecondary education.
During Obama’s eight years in office, some 8.7 million Americans defaulted on their student loans, for a rate of one default roughly every 29 seconds.
Former Deputy Treasury Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin worked on student loan policy during the latter years of the Obama administration, in part over concern that borrowers’ struggles were affecting the management of U.S. debt. DeVos’ decision to reverse some of her work “with no coherent explanation or substitute” effectively means that the Trump administration is placing the welfare of loan contractors above those of student debtors, she said.
In a statement, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is suing Navient, agreed: “The Department of Education has decided it does not need to protect student loan borrowers.”
~~ Shahien Nasiripour, Bloomberg News ~~
Could the Education Department’s Days Be Numbered?
If this congresswoman gets her way, the days of federal education regulations are over.
U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx wants the federal Department of Education to disappear. She wants Washington to stop passing down rules and regulations schools have to follow.
As the new chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, the seven-term North Carolina congresswoman has a powerful forum to talk about all that.
Trouble is, she probably doesn’t have the votes to do much of what she wants. It takes 60 to get most legislation through the Senate, where Republicans control only 52 seats, and she’s up against a powerful education lobby that resists sweeping change in federal policy.
She’s trying. Foxx, who helped lead the writing of the 2016 Republican Party platform and served in House leadership, figures she’ll have to dilute Education Department power bit by bit. Already, she’s championing the use of a rare legislative tactic in Congress to eliminate some Obama administration regulations.
And Foxx is putting pressure on her colleagues in Congress to write the sort of legislation she wants, contending that some past laws were written sloppily and left too much leeway for federal departments to fill in gaps with rules and regulations.
Any federal educational policies, she told McClatchy in an interview, should come from lawmakers–not bureaucrats.
“We’ve got some good laws in place–let Congress do its oversight,” she said. “Sometimes doing nothing from the federal level is good.”
Foxx and her Republican congressional allies have a new favored tool for walking back regulations: the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn specific federal rules and regulations and prevent them from coming back up.
This year was the first time a Congressional Review Act was used to override an education regulation, and Congress has already overturned two of them.
One imposed a template on states under a requirement to submit detailed school-accountability plans to the federal Education Department. The other required states to build a rating system for local teacher education programs, including judging teacher preparation based on student performance.
Sure enough, Foxx stood beside President Donald Trump in March as he signed those Congressional Review Acts into law, repealing both regulations.
Democrats dislike tearing up Obama-era education regulations.
“The federal government needs to require certain things. … If you don’t have some (regulations), the law won’t get implemented,” said Representative Alma Adams, D-N.C., who sits on the House education committee.
Specifically, Adams says the Congressional Review Act rolling back regulations associated with the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act inhibits the Education Department’s ability to make sure states help low-performing schools–something the state accountability plans would address.
Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, the top Democrat on the House education committee, has also criticized the swift repeal of the accountability rule, saying it creates confusion for local education officials, who had been working on their state plans since last year.
But Foxx, who served on Watauga County’s school board for 12 years before joining Congress in 2005, wants decision-making left to states and local school districts.
“The closer you are to what’s happening, the more likely there is to be self-correction,” she said. “I want to devolve as much as possible to the localities and to the states.”
The National Governors Association–which has 33 Republican governors on its membership roll this year–supported Republicans in Congress using Congressional Review Acts to roll back education rules, saying the federal regulations attempt to usurp local power.
Others, like U.S. Representative David Price, D-N.C., worry that Congressional Review Acts move too quickly through Congress without much debate.
“It’s a scattershot process that so far, anyway, has not been accompanied by very much in the way of hearings or getting input from stakeholders,” he said.
Democrats in Congress will have limited power as Foxx and other conservatives look for a reset at the Education Department. Foxx said she’d found an ally in Secretary Betsy DeVos.
As things unfold, Foxx’s simple advice to DeVos has been: “You can start with: Don’t do anything.”
Rules, regulations and “dear colleague” letters from the department in the past incensed Foxx. Too often, she said, federal departments use regulations or executive power to distort legislative intent.
“We’re gonna stop this foolishness of letters and then people saying, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ Where is the authority for that? There’s no authority, but the school systems are scared,” she said.
With DeVos, it’s unlikely the Education Department needs Foxx’s urging to lay off the rules and regulations. Before DeVos was confirmed, Trump invoked a government-wide regulatory freeze and DeVos herself has said she plans to run a limited-government department.
Still, Foxx promises she’ll scrutinize executive actions and department-level authority in Trump’s administration.
“I want to show our Democrat colleagues we’re just as concerned about that in a Republican administration as in a Democrat administration,” she said.
Chances are, though, Foxx won’t reach her most cherished goal: to abolish the Education Department.
The conservative drumbeat to get rid of the department or strip its power has been around for decades, starting with President Ronald Reagan, who campaigned on eliminating the department just a year after it was created.
This spring, Congress will consider Trump’s pitch to cut the Education Department’s funding by $3 billion, or 13.5 percent. The decision on spending, though, is not up to Foxx’s committee, but to the House and Senate Appropriations panels.
“It seems unlikely there will be cuts at the magnitude he proposed,” said Ed Lorenzen, a senior adviser at the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget who’s a former Capitol Hill staffer for two House Democrats.
Any shift of money away from traditional public schools will be met with resistance from powerful groups like the American Federation of Teachers, a labor union for educators and school employees that supports Democratic campaigns and candidates.
Federation President Randi Weingarten said Trump’s 2018 budget proposal “eviscerates public education.” Trump looks to cut money for after-school programs, professional development for teachers and college-prep programs for low-income students.
“This is taking a meat cleaver to the investments that are done to level the playing field for Americans who are not rich. This is not about giving locals more control,” Weingarten said.
Conservatives in North Carolina say there’s an appetite for reducing the federal role in the classroom.
“The primacy of federal influence and authority seems out of proportion, especially when you consider only 11 percent of all public school funds in North Carolina are provided by the federal government,” said Bob Luebke, a senior policy analyst with Civitas, a N.C.-based conservative think tank.
Foxx’s big idea? Which is highly unlikely to happen: Stop collecting federal taxes for education.
“I’d get rid of the Department of Education if I could,” she said. “But we cannot just devolve things without allowing (states) to have the money. … If we’re still hauling that money in up here, we haven’t solved the problem.”
~~ Anna Douglas, McClatchy ~~
Trump’s Five Worst Tax Secrets, Revealed
Thousands of demonstrators marched on Saturday to demand that Donald Trump release his tax returns. But, barring an unexpected surprise – a W2 form issued by Vladimir Putin, or a 1099 from mafia boss Anthony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno – we already know Trump’s ugliest tax secrets. We will reveal those secrets…
… right after this break.
Many readers will recognize this reference to Rachel Maddow’s televised release of Trump’s 2005 tax return, The MSNBC host kept her viewers in suspense for a total of 84 minutes before learning that Trump paid an effective federal tax rate of 24 percent that year. That was considered an anticlimax. It even led some observers that Trump might have leaked the return himself, since many people had assumed that Trump hadn’t paid any federal taxes at all for years.
That gets us to Trump’s first terrible tax secret: his tax return for that year was not unusual. Few wealthy individuals pay the official rate, which is currently 39.5 percent, even though the rich have never been richer at any point in this country’s history. Mitt Romney, for instance, released a tax return during his presidential run, which showed he paid just over 14 percent in 2011, and that year may have been chosen because others were even more embarrassing.
Over the years, lobbyists have worked to fill the tax code with giveaways for wealthy individuals and corporations. The resulting loopholes make it very rare for any individual or corporation, no matter how prosperous, to pay anything close to the top rate.
Given the eagerness of the rich to avoid paying their official rate, you might think that rate is excessive. But the top marginal tax rate in this country is much lower than it’s been for most of the last century, despite today’s extreme concentration of wealth at the top:
Although the official rate is only slightly more than one-third of its highest levels, an entire industry has been formed to help the wealthy avoid paying it. (This story shines a light on one small corner of that industry.) As James Kwak points out, Warren Buffett – who uses his vast wealth for philanthropic purposes, unlike Trump – takes advantage of today’s tax code on a much larger scale than Trump does.
Trump’s second terrible tax secret is one he shares with the entire Republican Party: Instead of being grateful toward the country that has allowed them to accumulate such wealth, Trump and the GOP are willing to let people die for an additional tax cut. They were willing to deprive millions of people of health insurance in order to repeal a 3.8 percent tax on investment income and a tax of less than one percent on high wages.
Trump’s third tax secret? The attack on the Affordable Care Act is just the start of tax clawbacks. His tax plan represents a massive tax giveaway to his billionaire friends and associates, and to corporations that are also paying far less than their official tax rate. Americans for Tax Fairness examine the injustice behind Trump’s tax plan, including the fact that it would raise taxes on roughly 9 million families while lowering the top tax rate even more.
The Trump/GOP assault on the estate tax, for instance, is a giveaway to America’s aristocracy>. Trump’s even trying to eliminate the biggest tax he pays personally – the alternative minimum tax.
The fourth secret is this: Trump and his party don’t believe in progressive taxation at all. As I wrote recently, Trump Budget Director Mick Mulvaney recently suggested that he preferred to let the ultra-wealthy “keep their money” – an extremist and inaccurate framing that is well outside the mainstream of both Republican and Democratic thought over the last century. They especially dislike the idea of taxing billionaires to help people in need.
That’s pretty terrible.
The fifth and final secret is this: Trump and his billionaire friends get away with paying low or no taxes because the rich have far too much influence over our political system. In fact, as political scientists Martin Gilens and Lawrence Page found in a 2014 study, “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”
In other words, the wealthy in our country almost always get the policies they want.
In a response to their critics, Gilens and Page wrote, “The affluent are, not surprisingly, (even) better at blocking policies they dislike than achieving policy change they desire. When a policy is strongly opposed by the affluent… that policy is adopted only 4 percent of the time.”
That’s why today’s tax code is so excessively favorable to the wealthy and corporations. It’s very difficult to make changes they dislike, and tax increases for the wealthy are certainly among the changes they dislike the most.
But that’s no reason to quit. Americans have overthrown oligarchies before, most notably at the end of the era Mark Twain described as “the Gilded Age.” We are, by any reasonable definition, going through a second Gilded Age today.
You don’t need Donald Trump’s tax returns to know that we need a more just tax system, one that calls upon the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share. What’s more, the fight for fair taxation is inseparable from the fight against oligarchical wealth. That’s more reason to keep fighting.
Donald Trump tweeted that “someone should look into who paid for” the “small” rallies demanding that he release his tax returns.
The real question is, who pays for all the tax breaks that are given to people like Donald Trump?
The answer is, we all do.
~~ Richard Eskow ~~
Opinions | Commentary | G-LtE™ | G-Comm™ | G-OpEd™
Politics | Government | Election
~~~ Readers' Comments ~~~
The fix could be simple. First, everyone pay 10 percent federal, 3 percent state, and 1 percent local taxes on all income. Straight forward, no arguments, taken from pay checks and paid to the proper authorities (that is if we can get good ones elected that will use the money properly for education, infrastructure, defense, aid for the true disabled/welfare, etc). Second, there are no deductions(sorry accountants). Third, no taxes on corporations so they are free to reinvest into their business and hire more people to work(that is if you can find qualified people not on drugs these days). Fourth, get people off government support that don’t belong there(sorry again druggies and lazies). Now if you find someone taking advantage of the current tax laws, don’t blame them for wanting to keep their own money. That’s correct, their money, not yours. We have elected the people and keep doing that who make these laws. The Clinton’s and the Bush’s and the Kennedy’s, life long politicians. If you get rich being a politician, then you need to go. At least Trump got rich first and then became a politician. Sort of did it backwards didn’t he. Each and every person that wants Trump to produce his tax returns, it is time for all of them to produce theirs. The world is full of them. Me, I can care less what he makes. Good for him. Good for me. Get over it, the left lost the election, just like the right did 8 years ago. The reason Trump is president is because the last 8 years the left didn’t get it done and Clinton was a horrible candidate. Too much baggage and ran a horrible campaign also. I think she thought she couldn’t lose but she did. Now the left is acting like babies that they can be at times and it doesn’t look good. Instead of trying to run Trump(who used to be a democrat) down, why not give him a bit of support so our country will come back stronger. It seems the media is completely against Trump, all we see is negative articles. Never positive articles so the media is losing support from the people. Sorry for the long post but it is what it is. Thanks.
By RC on 04.18.2017
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Our Fight for Health Care During Recess and Beyond
It’s time to ramp up our resistance to the Trump-Ryan agenda on health care. We scored our biggest legislative victory so far on March 24, when Speaker Paul Ryan called off his bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), because he didn’t have the votes. This was an inspiring, hard-fought win for everyone who believes health care is for all.
But Republican leaders in Congress are still gunning for our health care; their radical plans for our economy leave them no choice. Without gutting healthcare and other essential economic benefits, how else will they pay for the massive tax giveaway for corporations and billionaires that they’ve set their sights on?
During Resistance Recess, now until April 23, as lawmakers visit their home districts, we will let them know we’re still fighting to make sure everyone in the country gets the care they need.
Twenty thousand members of People’s Action, MoveOn.org, the Center for Popular Democracy, the Working Families Party and others gathered on a conference call April 9 to strategize with Reps. Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee and other progressive leaders. Is there strength in numbers? You bet.
Why is this urgent? Last week, the Trump administration and House GOP leaders were scrambling to revive the health care repeal legislation by trading away protections for people with preexisting conditions to appease the far right. They didn’t get a vote on the bill before heading home for congressional recess, but we can be sure that gutting health care is still on their minds, and still a top priority.
Proposals like block-granting Medicaid or privatizing Medicare aren’t just about pushing people off good, government-guaranteed health care into an uncertain market – though that’s certainly bad enough. These proposals are also designed to take resources from working and poor families in order to hand ever more wealth to corporations and the rich.
The stalled Trump-Ryan health care repeal would have forced 24 million people off health care to make way for $600 billion in tax giveaways largely for corporations and the rich. If that tax break is huge, the tax reform giveaways that Donald Trump has proposed come in at a jaw-dropping $6 trillion – ten times the amount of the health repeal tax giveaway.
So they’ll be looking for more places to cut, which is why health care will loom large in the upcoming showdowns over the federal budget and taxes, where food, housing, and the other essentials for survival will also be at stake.
This will all play out in the upcoming tax and budget battles that will extend through the summer and beyond. The first round will come on April 28, when the continuing resolution that’s keeping the government funded in 2017 expires. Then Congress will turn to the fiscal year 2018 budget and hammering out the tax plan.
And, to complicate matters, while the tax and budget fight is underway we need to stay alert for any attempts to pump life back into health repeal. There’s also the possibility that Congress and the administration will try to make their misinformation about ACA implosion come true by sabotaging the underpinnings of the system. One avenue would involve stopping payments to insurers that lower deductibles and other cost-sharing for 58 percent of those enrolled in ACA coverage. Refusing these payments would be a big blow to the 7.1 million people who receive the support, and it also could prompt insurers to withdraw from ACA markets.
These details aside, the fight is clear. We can start guaranteeing an essential quality of life for all, or we can drive further inequality and corporate power. While your members of Congress are home for recess, tell them to stand on the right side of this choice.
Here are some ways they can start doing just that:
Protect our public health insurance programs, including Medicaid, Medicare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, from any cuts or changes that would mean less care or more expensive care. Instead of cutting these programs, we should expand them to begin to serve the real need.
Reject any legislation that would penalize people for having a preexisting condition, cut essential health benefits such as prescription drugs, or let insurance corporations put caps on our care.
Open public options for coverage in every state so insurance corporations like Anthem can’t hold us hostage, especially in rural and less-populated counties.
Make our health care stronger by making it more affordable and less profit-driven. We can start by negotiating lower prices with drug corporations.
Oppose any tax plan that would result in corporations, hedge funds, and the rich contributing less in taxes than they do now. Our economy is already too unequal.
Support a budget that protects and expands the basic rights of people, families, and communities to thrive. This means ensuring that all people get the health care, food, housing, and other essentials that form the basis of just and democratic society.
What can you do? Join our fight. Visit the Resistance Recess website to find an event in your area, or organize one of your own. We can win!
~~ Sarah Warner ~~
Join The Resistance: Resistance Recess Starts This Weekend
After hearing from We the People, the Republican Congress didn’t take away our health care after all! Lesson learned: keep it up.
So many people have been calling their representative and senators, showing up at their offices and especially at their town hall meetings, and it is having an effect. It tells Republicans not to follow through on the destructive Trump agenda, and it tells Democrats they have support when they resist Trump and fight for We the People.
Resistance Recess April 07 to 23
Members of Congress are leaving Washington and heading home for their “spring break” recess from April 7 to 23. Many of them will be holding town halls, where you and others can ask questions, express your views and otherwise do your job of holding your representative and senators accountable face-to-face. Elected officials too chicken to hold town halls still have offices you can visit – you and maybe a few hundred of your best friends, that is.
On top of that, people are organizing their own “constituent town halls” in places where their representative and senators are hiding or only meeting with big-money donors and lobbyists. This lets the local news media and pubic know that their elected officials are hiding from them.
MoveOn.org, People’s Action and other organizations are calling this recess period, when members of Congress come home from April
07 to 23, the Resistance Recess. This is an opportunity to be seen and to make your voice be heard.
Attending local events makes a big, national difference and this is your chance to get involved.
Click here to find a Resistance Recess event near you. You can also organize an event if there isn’t one already planned in your area.
The Indivisible Guide Town Hall Project also has an event list, click here. Take a look at the Indivisible Guide, which goes into detail on town hall best practices and other ways to hold your elected representatives accountable.
Tax March April 15
Right in the middle of the Resistance Recess, on April 15, there will be a big “Tax March” in Washington, DC. And there will also be lots of April 15 Tax March events around the country.
We the People will be demanding that “President” Trump release his tax returns and come clean about his business dealings. He is the first president in four decades to refuse to release his taxes. What is he hiding? How is he making money off of his job as “president?” Is he violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause by receiving foreign payments? What is he hiding behind layers of “shell” companies?
Don’t let him get away with this grift and graft. Go to TaxMarch.org to learn about the big Washington, DC march, or scroll down to see local Tax March activities you can join.
This Sunday, MoveOn, Indivisible, The Working Families Party, People’s Action, and The Center for Popular Democracy will host a Ready to Resist Emergency Conference Call to get ready for these recess actions. Click here to RSVP for this call.
We Can Make A Difference
We the People can still make a difference — if we show up. We must #resist the takeover of our government by the corporatists, oligarchs and far-right, racist weirdos who have illegitimately seized power. We can win this, we can restore democracy, we can regain control of the levers of power — but only if we get involved, get organized and show up.
~~ Dave Johnson ~~
ED Programs Set To Lose Another $3 Billion
A plan to fund defense spending would eliminate billions more from the federal education budget for the rest of this fiscal year
Donald Trump is asking Congress to cut almost $3 billion from the federal education budget for the remainder of the fiscal year, according to a document obtained by Politico.
The memo offers an in-depth look at some of the proposed cuts and program eliminations.
These latest cuts are in addition to next year’s proposed budget, which would see $9 million slashed from the U.S. Department of Education.
The cuts are intended to increase military spending and finance the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Congress must pass a plan to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year to avoid a partial government shut-down. As Bloomberg News reports, Congress is likely to reject the White House’s additional proposed budget cuts, which total nearly $18 million in all, making the prospect of a shutdown all the more real.
The proposed additional cuts would cut $1.3 billion from this year’s Pell grant surplus–this is on top of the cuts proposed for next year.
Title II, Part A funding, which helps ensure teacher and principal quality and preparedness through PD programs, would be cut in half this year. As previously reported, Trump’s FY 2018 budget would eliminate the program entirely.
“This program provides formula grants to States to improve instruction and reduce class sizes,” the document states. “Funding is poorly targeted and supports practices that are not evidence-based. Other funding at ED can be used to support improved instruction.”
The Striving Readers program, which helps fund literacy instruction in low-income schools, also faces elimination. “A recent study found that more than half of the reading interventions used by grantees had no effects on student achievement. Also, other funding at ED (e.g. Title I grants) can be used to support literacy instruction,” according to the document.
Under President Trump’s proposed FY 2018 education budget, school choice would receive a massive $1.4 billion while the Education Department undergoes a $9 billion, or 13 percent, cut.
Overall, the proposed education budget cuts the Education Department’s budget from $68 million to $59 billion.
Title I funds would receive a $1 billion increase, but the funds would follow individual students should they decide to change schools.
IDEA funding for programs that support students with special needs and disabilities would remain stable at $13 billion.
In a statement, AFT President Randi Weingarten said the proposed education budget “takes a meat cleaver to public education.”
~~ Laura Ascione ~~
WV Senate Bill Makes Secret Election Money Problem Even Worse
U.S. SUPREME COURT GAVE PERSON HOOD TO AMERICAN CORPORATIONS TO DONATE ENDLESS MONEY TO U.S. CAMPAIGNS
The West Virginia Senate passed a major campaign finance overhaul bill (SB 539) that would allow even more big money in our elections, and create new loopholes to make it harder for West Virginians to know who is trying to influence our votes. This secret money bill, SB539, weakens our disclosure laws while allowing more money into an already out of balance system that favors the wealthy and special interests. For example, the bill would require less disclosure for spending on independent expenditures by raising the spending thresholds that require groups to report and disclose their contributors, making it easier for front groups running dirty attack ads can keep their big-money donors secret.
Even worse, the bill also creates new loopholes and worsens existing ones that make it possible for groups that spend money on political ads to hide the identity of their donors.
At the same time, the bill increases the amount of money that can be contributed to candidates by nearly three times, the amount of money that can be contributed to PACs by five times, and the amount the can be contributed to party committees by 10 times.
That means state and local elections that suddenly look more like the worst big-money congressional elections. The bill also allows transfers of money between certain entities that aren’t allowed under current law, making the job of average West Virginians trying to figure out who their candidates are accountable to even harder.
This bill completely fails to address the flood of secret money in our elections. After spending $5.6 million during the previous presidential election year, outside groups reported spending nearly $20 million to influence West Virginia elections in 2016.
Although the spending itself was disclosed, its origin most often was hidden behind the very loopholes and money transfers that SB 539 makes even worse. In fact, many groups spending money on our elections listed no other contributors on their financial disclosures other than the sponsoring organization, while others filled our mailboxes and airwaves without filing a single report with either the Secretary of State or the Federal Election Commission.
Although SB 539 increases disclosure in some small ways, like requiring PACs and entities making independent expenditures to file reports electronically, the overall effect of the bill would be disastrous for ordinary working West Virginians who can’t afford to compete with wealthy special interests.
Unfortunately, both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate rejected opportunities to support an equal voice in our elections for everyday — amendments offered by Senators Mike Romano, D-Harrison, and Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, that would have required disclosure of “dark money” by closing the “covered transfers” loophole, which currently allows wealthy donors and special interests to funnel money through multiple PACs and organizations in order to obscure its origin.
We need more disclosure in our elections, NOT more money. If the West Virginia Legislature wants to discourage negative attack ads, give candidates the ability to respond, and inform voters about who’s trying to influence their votes, the best thing they can do is support transparency and require those who are spending money on our elections to disclose the source of the money. We deserve to know who’s trying to influence our votes and persuade our public officials, not be kept in the dark.
Secret money has no place in West Virginia elections. West Virginians stand up for what they believe in. The House of Delegates should reject the secret money bill, SB 539.
Julie Archer and Natalie Thompson are co-coordinators of WV Citizens for Clean Elections
Politics | Government | Election
~~~ Readers' Comments ~~~
This is totally unacceptable.
EVERY elected that voted for this needs spanked and sent home.
This is not good for West Virginia as a whole, just a self given gift for the political class.
Shameless group of money grabbers.
By Legislators Selling Out our State on 04.07.2017
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Some Retired Military Oppose Rolling Back Climate-Change Regs
Retired military such as West Point graduate Jon Gensler say national security planners are strongly opposed to Trump plans to roll back climate-change limits.
Many in the military community are opposing the Trump administration’s plans to roll back regulations to slow climate change.
Trump has said he wants to roll back the Clean Power Plan carbon limits to help industries such as coal mining. But uniformed officers with an eye on national security often will acknowledge that climate change is a real, immediate and growing threat.
West Point graduate and former tank captain Jon Gensler, a native of West Virginia, said people from his home state have to face reality the way their ancestors did.
“They had to make hard decisions. They had to put in long hours. We honor and revere them for their hard work,” Gensler said. “Why then now are we so gun shy of making the same hard decisions for our own future?“
Now a fellow with the Truman National Security Project, Gensler said Trump’s position is more than a little frustrating. He called it politically motivated and “extremely shortsighted.“
“Now we have a commander-in-chief who’s in direct disagreement with the generals who he claims to support and trust,” he said. “I think you would be hard pressed to find senior leadership at the Pentagon that doesn’t take the threat of climate change seriously, all the way up to and including his own Secretary of Defense.“
Gensler said Defense and State departments planners believe climate change is an extremely serious threat - one that puts the lives of American troops directly at risk. He called it a “conflict multiplier” that contributes to instability in areas such as Iraq and Syria.
“The roots of the Syrian civil war itself are tied to a decade-long drought that caused massive crop failures and pushed rural farmers into the cities, crowding the cities and breaking down the ability of the cities to provide services,” he said.
He said the U.S. military now finds itself responding to climate change-driven disasters such as a recent typhoon in the Philippines that killed 8,000 people. He said the U.S. lost more than 1,000 Marines and soldiers escorting fuel convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan - deaths that could be avoided in the future by using more renewable fuels.
More information is available at AmericanSecurityProject.org.
~~ Dan Heyman ~~
Did You Vote For Unfair Pay and Unsafe Workplaces?
Who could be against fair pay and safe workplaces? Give you one guess.
President Trump just signed a bill, passed by the Republicans in the House and Senate, that repealed President Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order.
“Fair pay and safe workplaces” says it all. The rule stated that our government should contract with companies that have “a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics.”
It required companies to report if the had violations of workplace laws covering wage theft, discrimination and safety, when applying for new government contracts of $500,000 to $1 million. The federal procurement officers would take that into consideration, and work with the companies to remedy the problems.
That is what President Trump and the Republicans repealed. This Trump/Republican government does not care if companies that have “a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics.” In fact, repealing this rule signals to companies that it is OK to “save money” by stealing pay from employees, violating their civil rights and threatening their safety.
This rule was a big deal, because companies that get federal contracts employ one in five American workers.
This is the Republicans, not just Trump. This is who they are.
But, of course, the “working class” voters who helped elect Trump and the Republicans all voted for this, right? They all clearly understood that electing Republicans meant that their pay and civil rights and job-safety were going to be rolled back so that the giant corporations could pass ever-higher profits to their “investors.” Right?
Of course they did. And they understood that the things our government does to make our lives better would be rolled back so that investor class could get huge tax cuts. Right? Of course they did.
But wait, there’s more.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) “recordkeeping rule” is also under the gun. This rule requires employers with more than 10 workers to keep records of safety incidents for five years. The Republicans in the Senate voted last week to gut that rule, too.
UAW President Dennis Williams called it “a slap to the face of American workers” and urged Trump to veto it. Williams said if employers can legally dispose of incident records after six months, “it will be extremely difficult to identify and fix hazards and incident patterns that cause illnesses, severe injuries, or even deaths on the job.”
“It will now cross the desk of President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.”
But this is only right, because this is clearly what the country voted for. Right?
~~ Dave Johnson ~~
Reaffirm Our National Community By Forgiving Student Debt
The election of 2016 forced us, like so many Americans, to reconsider much of what we imagined we knew about our country and our society. For example, only a few months ago there was a growing, nation-wide movement for tuition-free higher education. At the time, we proposed debt forgiveness for the many Americans – the figure now stands at 43 million – who carry the burden of student loans.
Now, all three branches of government are under the control of ideologues who espouse a harsh and individualistic brand of conservatism. That forces us to ask ourselves: How can we pursue such an ambitious and visionary goal when we are confronted with a direct challenge to the communitarian ideals that have guided this nation to its best achievements?
And yet, individually and together, we have reached the same conclusion: this is a more important time than ever to reaffirm our bravest and highest values. Jubilee – the ancient concept of debt forgiveness as an affirmation of community – reflects those values. We can reject the reactionary principles that the right wing represents by embracing the concept of a student debt jubilee as the symbol of our long-held community values.
Democratic societies are founded on two, seemingly conflicting principles: individual liberty and collective responsibility. If individual liberty is taken to an extreme, society collapses in an orgy of Darwinian competition. If collective responsibility is taken too far – something that has not happened in this country but has occurred in communist totalitarian states – personal freedoms are trampled under the iron heel of the state.
We have always been plagued by the sins of racism and greed. But, in its finest historical moments, including our recovery from the Great Depression and the years during and immediately after the Second World War, our nation seemed to find a better balance between individual and community values. During that time, it is important to remember that public colleges were practically tuition free in almost all states. Students could “work their way through college” without incurring debt in most cases.
This was the great opportunity the community gave to the younger generation so it could build a sustainable and prosperous future. In return, an educated and prosperous society led to sustained economic growth.
Unfortunately, the last several decades have seen us tilt toward individualistic extremism and the runaway greed of the wealthy few. Our finest community values – “ask not what your country can do for you,” in John F. Kennedy’s words, “ask what you can do for your country” – have been crushed by an economic and political philosophy of selfishness and predation. The result is a growing wealth and income gap and, as a sad side effect, reduced trust in each other. We are losing our cohesion as a society and as a nation.
This trend has challenged the notion of government as a force for good and public service as a higher calling. The Republican Party has led this trend, but the Democratic Party has far too often indulged in it as well, by diminishing the value of government and overselling the virtues of privatization, a “public-private partnership” concept that in reality leads to the transfer of government resources to the ever-wealthier few.
Donald Trump is the very personification of this destructive trend. He embodies the vision of a society where every rich person is out for him- or herself. He and his cabinet reflect the notion that government is a place where the powerful go to increase their own fortunes. His plans apparently include further giveaways of public resources to private interests, who would then use them to make an unequal society even more unequal. He campaigned on a promise of tax cuts that would enrich those who are already wealthy while crippling (or ending altogether) programs that help those in need.
It is time to reaffirm a vision of society as a community where people come together to help one another. Government is a fundamental tool of our national community. It is a way for us to come together and help one another. One of the right’s most successful and misleading tactics was to convince many Americans to think of government as an alien and occupying force. It is not. In a democracy, the government is us. The first three words in the Constitution are, “We, the people.”
We need to renew our sense of a sustainable community by fighting for immigrants’ rights, women’s rights, the rights of religious minorities – and the rights of the young, the indebted, and those who are trying to build a meaningful future in an economy that is currently unsustainable.
Today more than 43 million Americans collectively owe more than $1.4 trillion in student debt. They owe this debt because we as a society chose to abandon our collective obligation to educate the young people who will build our future. This debt is haunting many of us from the cradle to the grave. It is preventing young people from forming households, from buying cars, from having children, from starting businesses, and from realizing their dreams in a million different ways we can’t imagine.
This debt is also holding our economy and society back. It is robbing us of the creative contributions these Americans can make, and it is depriving our economy of the stimulus effect their spending and their behavior could provide.
This debt must be forgiven – and not just some of it, but all of it. It must be forgiven because these Americans do not deserve to be punished for our loss of collective values. It must be forgiven universally, because an unjust debt is always unjust. It must be forgiven because we can all benefit, materially and morally, from the act of forgiveness. And it must be forgiven as a sign that we have emerged from a dark period of selfishness to an age of renewed community.
The election of Donald Trump has reawakened something in millions of Americans. For them, this is a frightening and troubling moment. But it is exciting to see women lead marches against oppression. It is heartening to see Americans stand up for immigrants and refugees. The future is still ours to build together, as a national community. It is the right time to liberate 43 million Americans from the oppressive burden of student debt – for their sake, and for everyone’s.
~~ Mary Green Swig | Steven L. Swig | Richard Eskow ~~
Attorney General Morrisey Fights to Defend Laws Banning Dismemberment Abortion
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey recently joined a 22-state effort urging a federal appeals court to uphold state laws banning a particular type of abortion.
The Attorney General signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief this month defending a law similar to that implemented in West Virginia and six other states, all of which prohibit dismemberment abortion practices.
“I support and defend life at every stage,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “Our action seeks to defend the right of individual states to protect the lives of unborn children.”
West Virginia’s law, enacted last year, makes it unlawful for any person to purposely perform or attempt to perform a dismemberment abortion.
A federal trial court ruling blocked enforcement of Alabama’s law, which has called into question the authority of other states to abolish this particularly gruesome abortion method.
This month’s brief, filed before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, supports Alabama’s appeal and argues the lower court applied the wrong legal standard. It cites Supreme Court case law in arguing states have an interest in protecting and fostering respect for human life, including unborn life.
West Virginia joined the Louisiana-led brief along with attorneys general from Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin, along with governors from Kentucky and Mississippi.
Read a copy of the brief HERE .
Trump’s ed budget: A ‘betrayal’ and a ‘meat cleaver’ to public education
Ed groups decry the proposed federal education budget, which invests heavily in school choice
Under Trump’s proposed FY 2018 education budget, school choice would receive a massive $1.4 billion while the Education Department undergoes a $9 billion, or 13 percent, cut.
Overall, the proposed education budget cuts the Education Department’s budget from $68 million to $59 billion.
Within the proposed $1.4 billion school choice investment, charter schools get a $168 million boost, and $250 million is allocated toward a new private school choice program.
Title I funds would receive a $1 billion increase, but the funds would follow individual students should they decide to change schools.
IDEA funding for programs that support students with special needs and disabilities would remain stable at $13 billion.
In a statement, AFT President Randi Weingarten said the proposed education budget “takes a meat cleaver to public education.”
Next page: Reaction from education groups
The education budget would eliminate Title II funding, which allocates $2.4 billion to help states with teacher hiring and PD.
It also eliminates the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program–a $1.2 billion program for community schools, before- and after-school programs, and summer programs. The education budget document notes that the program “lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement.”
“These are the biggest cuts to the education budget we can recall—even during times of great fiscal stress,” Weingarten said. “Only someone who doesn’t know what public schools do and what kids need would contemplate or countenance these kinds of cuts.”
The proposed education budget level-funds the Pell Grant program but would eliminate $3.9 billion from unobligated carryover funding, which could have gone to students.
It also maintains $492 million in funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions and for programs that serve high percentages of minority students.
Reaction from education groups came almost immediately.
Michelle Asha Cooper, President of the Institute for Higher Education Policy: “The Trump Administration’s Budget Blueprint, also referred to as the ‘skinny budget,’ touts budget savings, but in truth, harms the neediest Americans seeking to improve their life circumstances and ascend to the middle class by earning a college degree. Skyrocketing college costs mean students are shouldering a heavier burden than ever before. And the proposed cuts to Department of Education programs hurt the very Americans who have the most to gain from a college education. The Trump Administration is masquerading harmful budget cuts as smart savings — all of which will be borne on the backs of the neediest students.”
Center for Responsible Lending Policy Counsel Yana Miles: “Although education is generally viewed as the ladder to financial security, this budget would widen economic divides for some and deepen societal divisions for others. Its $9 billion cut in current education funding includes $3.9 million in cuts to Pell Grant revenues that would have been carried over. Despite public commitments to support Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the budget would not increase finding to institutions that serve high percentages of minority students, and significantly reduce the Federal Work Study program.”
Bob Wise, President of the Alliance for Excellent Education and Former Governor of West Virginia: “President Trump wants to make America great, but you can’t do that without investing in the nation’s future–its students. Like too many of the nation’s students, the president’s proposed budget for the U.S. Department of Education is in need of remediation. As states plan to implement the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, they need resources to fuel reform. This budget proposes cuts to investments in literacy, after-school programs, and programs that help students transition to and succeed in postsecondary education. In a knowledge-based economy, these education cuts begin building a wall preventing many millions of students from contributing fully to our nation’s economic growth.”
Teach Plus Founder and CEO Coline Coggins: “President Trump’s proposal to slash the Education Department’s budget by 13 percent and cut billions of dollars of support for public education will have dire consequences for our nation’s students and severely limit their access to equitable learning opportunities. Eliminating funding for Title II, which helps states and districts hire and provide professional development for teachers, will dismantle critical efforts to improve teacher quality.”
AASA Executive Director Daniel A. Domenech: “AASA is deeply concerned that the first budget proposal from the new administration doesn’t prioritize investment in the key federal programs that support our nation’s public schools, which educate more than 90 percent of our nation’s students. While we would normally applaud a proposal that increases funding for Title I by $1 billion, we cannot support a proposal that prioritizes privatization and steers critical federal funding into policies and programs that are ineffective and flawed education policy. The research on vouchers and portability has consistently demonstrated that they do not improve educational opportunity and leave many students, including low-income students, student with disabilities and students in rural communities-underserved.”
Jodi Grant, Executive Director, Afterschool Alliance: “The Trump administration’s call for zero funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers afterschool initiative is a betrayal of the millions of students and parents who depend on afterschool and summer learning programs. This proposal would devastate working families. It is painfully short-sighted and makes a mockery of the President’s promise to make our country safer and to support inner cities and rural communities alike.”
Lindsey Burke, Director of the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation: “For the first time in decades, the Trump administration is significantly trimming the budget at the U.S. Department of Education, demonstrating a commitment to restoring federalism in education. … While the budget makes great strides in reducing federal spending on ineffective education programs, it also suggests spending $250 billion on new ‘private school choice program.’ This is well-intentioned but not the best role for the federal government, as it could entangle Washington in local school policy and private education.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos: “Today’s Budget Blueprint keeps with President Trump’s promise to focus the U.S. Department of Education on its mission to serve students. The budget places power in the hands of parents and families to choose schools that are best for their children by investing an additional $1.4 billion in school choice programs. It continues support for the nation’s most vulnerable populations, such as students with disabilities, while streamlining and simplifying funding for college and continuing to help make college education more affordable.”
A Heavy-Handed Take On How The World Is Going To Hell
Frightbart: The View From Steve Bannon’s Propaganda Site Will Scare the Bejeezus Out of You… Which Is Its Point
The home page of Breitbart.com, the quasi-official voice of Steve Bannon’s White House, is a virtual stew of menace, a pit of monsters, an unending onslaught of apocalyptic horsemen rearing up at full gallop, coming straight at you, drawing closer. . . . But what the Breitbart reader is not being warned against is poisoned water, eviction, a melting glacier, a rising sea, a pauper’s grave, a burning cross, a bank swindle or a loss of medical care. Those are the kind of fears that afflict liberal wimps brainwashed by “the enemy of the people.”
A Breitbart reader quivers, all right, hunkered down in the safe spaces of Fortress America while enemies gather outside the gates. But what he or she needs protection from is, to take a recent dozen, (1) a “mass-murdering bureaucrat;” (2) an armed home invader in Louisiana who demanded money and wouldn’t accept food stamps; (3) naked, mushroom-crazed brothers running amok through an apartment complex in Indianapolis; (4) machete and axe attacks in Germany; (5) a woman in Belgium suspected of plotting a terror attack; (6) man-hating Swedish feminists; and, speaking of Sweden, (7) a growing number of fatal shootings there, and also there, (8) a suspected car bomb; and back at home, (9) a Trump-defying Paul Ryan who “targets his own Republicans, not Democrats, on Health Care”; (10) Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) warning that the CIA is spearheading “authoritarian government”; (11) to our north, “Women Kicked Out of Women’s Shelter to Make Room for a ‘Transgender’ Man,” and, if you like your fright more graphic, (12) “Mexican Cartel Spreads ISIS-Like Beheading Video to Gain Border Turf near Texas.”
And the next thing you know, when you’ve barely recovered from reading about the machete mayhem in Germany, here comes a report of tear gas released into the Hamburg metro. How dangerous is that? It depends where you look. If you read all the way to the bottom of the post, you earn this correction: “Due to a translation error, the original version of this article said 50 people were injured. In fact 50 people on the train were affected and at least six people are known to have been injured so far.”
In tune with Steve Bannon’s watered-down remake of “Apocalypse Now,” the world is going to hell. There are vultures, vultures everywhere. There is not only “American carnage” but European carnage, carnage just over the border, the French covering up for the sinister Mexicans, carnage sloshing throughout the entire Judeo-Christian world — though the agitated reader will occasionally find consolation in the bull market and in the knowledge that U.S. Marines are “inching closer” to the ISIS-held Syrian city of Raqqa.
This reader will not learn from Breitbart that those Marines constitute a single artillery unit that, according to Reuters, has not yet opened fire. Odds are that this reader takes Breitbart’s word about Scandinavian carnage and will fail to dive deeper into the official Swedish murder statistics, so as to discover, for example, that between 2001-05 and 2011-15, deadly violence declined, although guns were more frequently used during the latter period, a fact officially attributed to the growth of gangs. By the way, in 1997, the rate of murder and manslaughter, with and without guns, was 1.77 per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with almost four times that rate, 6.80, for the United States — assuming that one feels like cherry-picking dates to prove points.
You, unsuspecting reader, you taxpaying innocent, you American babe in the woods, you, peacefully going on about your business in your apartment complex, you, pathetically offering up your unacceptable food stamps — They have it in for you. They are everywhere. As the man in the White House said about Obama body language he didn’t approve of: “There’s something going on.”
Breitbart dispenses a veritable potpourri of danger. Its front page is a sort of demonic Believe-It-Or-Not where the headlines signal violence lurking and hovering just over the heads of the virtuous. This is not Ripley’s brand of weird news — “Food Carvings by Japanese Artist Gaku: The artist eats them when he’s done;” “Rhea the Featherless Bird — AKA Naked Birdie;” “Secret Nazi Base Treasure Hunter Found in Arctic;” that sort of thing — Breitbart’s pattern is a guided tour. For instance: Might Breitbart’s fascination with violence in Sweden and Germany have something to do with their social-democratic propensities and immigrant populations, although nothing in the reports I’ve linked to above bears on the question of whether immigrants are the murderers (or victims, for that matter)?
Trump has channeled Breitbart since the days when Breitbartiana fueled his birtherist fantasy about Barack Obama. Lately, Breitbart, for one reason or another, has let go of birtherism, leaving it to another lunatic-right entry, Gateway Pundit, to keep the fires burning with the claim that a Trump-supporting Kenyan half-brother of Barack Obama has tweeted what purports to be a copy of the former president’s birth certificate showing that he was born at Coast Providence General Hospital, Mombasa, British Protectorate of Kenya (which Gateway Pundit, just above the “certificate,” spells “Mombassa”).
As Breitbart and Gateway Pundit seize the dark side, Fox News adopts a lighter touch, aiming to distinguish itself from outright hysteria. In fact, in the White House briefing room on March 10, Fox News Radio reporter Jon Decker, noting that Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Windrich was present, audibly declared that the site “hate[s] blacks, Jews, Hispanics,” and earned handshakes from other reporters. (Windrich is the author of this tweet: “Women’s suffrage was one of the country’s largest disasters.”) Online, Rupert Murdoch’s feel-good operation is mainly content to gloat, sneer and compile names for an enemies list. Rejoice: Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III “asks remaining 46 attorneys from Obama administration to resign.” Gloat: “Hillary Clinton campaign among worst, study finds.” Sneer at the French, always good for an enemies list: “French official rebukes world’s largest cement maker for being willing to help build Trump’s wall.” (Breitbart runs this item, too.) The universe that Fox News heralds these days is strangely benign. It radiates confidence. It offers solace to Breitbart’s bruised readers.
Who would have thought that Rupert Murdoch might be an also-ran at the great game of apocalypse? That it would prove, at least for a while, the Xanax of right-wing media, the kinder, gentler cop of Trumpland? Readers, shudder. Fox News’ next slogan might be: We’re Normal.
Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, the chair of the PhD program in communications
Running for President? Some States Want Tax Returns Public
Lawmakers in nearly half the states want to add a requirement for presidential candidates: Show us your tax returns.
The issue has dogged Donald Trump, who became the first presidential candidate in modern times to refuse to make his returns public. It flared anew this week after MSNBC said it had obtained two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal return, prompting the administration to release the documents preemptively.
State lawmakers around the country, mostly Democrats, want to ensure transparency in future presidential campaigns so voters can evaluate candidates’ sources of income and any possible conflicts of interest. Most of the bills would require presidential contenders to release copies of their returns as a condition for appearing on that state’s ballot, although it’s unclear whether they could pass constitutional muster.
The aim is to find out about potential conflicts that candidates might have before they take office, said Hawaii Representative Chris Lee, a Democrat who introduced one of the Hawaii bills.
“With what we’ve seen so far with this administration, there are clear conflicts with respect to whether or not parts of the president’s business empire are directly benefiting from federal contracts to house Secret Service at his own hotels, for example, or pressuring foreign dignitaries or other corporations indirectly to patronize the businesses that the president or his children run,“ Lee said. “And the real question is, What else don’t we know?“
Hawaii was the first state to have votes on the bills before the full Legislature. The Democratically controlled House and Senate recently passed separate but largely similar measures, which would prevent the state’s delegates to the Electoral College from voting for candidates who withheld their tax forms.
Lawmakers are likely to send just one of those to Hawaii Gov. David Ige, a Democrat who expressed concerns about whether the proposed changes are constitutional. He said he does not think the state can place limits on the presidential election that are inconsistent with how the election is conducted around the country.
Some legal experts raised similar flags, saying states do not have the power to create additional qualifications for the office of the president. That’s up to the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that states and the federal government cannot add to the qualifications of senators and congressional representatives outlined in the Constitution. Some legal experts said that guidance likely would extend to the office of the president.
“I think a requirement of revealing one’s tax returns would be regarded as an additional qualification,“ said Michael McConnell, a professor at Stanford Law School. “And then there’s the tax law problem, because federal law guarantees the confidentiality of tax returns. And I think that law would pre-empt any state law requiring someone to divulge their returns.“
But Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, said the Constitution has conflicting provisions.
“The question is whether a law that would deprive a presidential candidate of ballot access on the basis of a failure to provide a tax return would be creating an unconstitutional additional qualification, or whether it would be permissible within the state’s power to set the rules for presidential elections,“ Hasen said. “Nobody’s tried it before.“
Trump has refused to make his tax returns public, breaking a decades-long tradition among presidential candidates. He initially promised to do so but then claimed he was under audit by the Internal Revenue Service and said his attorneys had advised against it. Experts and IRS officials said such audits do not prohibit taxpayers from releasing their own returns.
Trump’s full tax returns would contain key information, including his sources of income, how much he earned from his assets and what strategies he used to reduce his tax bill.
Presidential tax return legislation has been introduced in at least 24 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most were introduced by Democrats, although bills in Kansas and Minnesota were introduced by Republicans.
New Jersey’s Democratic legislature approved a presidential tax return bill on Thursday. Its prospects are uncertain once it lands on the desk of Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump supporter.
New Jersey Republicans criticized the measure as a stunt.
“This is a doozy,“ GOP Assemblyman Jay Webber said. “This is both transparently political and blatantly unconstitutional.“
While bills in Democratic-leaning states such as Maryland and Vermont have had legislative hearings, those introduced in Republican-controlled statehouses such as Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania are stalling.
“I suspect that these bills will be very similar to the birth certificate legislation introduced after President Obama’s election — political statement bills that likely aren’t constitutionally sound or likely to be signed into law,“ said Daniel Diorio, senior policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “If one were to become law, I’m sure it would be challenged immediately.“
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