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Exclusive: California Grand Jury Probing Shadowy Money Groups

Jul 17, 2013 1:16 PM EDT

A California grand jury has been convened in a probe that began when a PAC didn’t disclose the sources of its spending, as required by California law. Peter Stone reports.

A grand jury is now involved in a high-stakes California probe that is looking into whether a PAC and three so-called dark-money groups—including one with ties to the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch—broke a campaign disclosure law by funneling $11 million from secret sources to influence ballot initiatives in the state’s 2012 election, The Daily Beast has learned.

The state grand jury, previously unreported, is part of an expanding investigation that’s been spearheaded by the state’s attorney general and the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), according to two people familiar with the probe, who requested anonymity since they weren’t authorized to discuss the ongoing grand jury proceedings, which are secret.

The existence of a grand jury, something typically convened to obtain sworn testimony from witnesses, appears to signal increased prosecutorial interest in the inquiry to uncover the actual donors. Launched last fall, the probe could lead to eight-figure civil penalties and possible criminal charges, according to statements last year from the A.G.’s office and the FPPC, the state’s election watchdog agency.

Neither Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, nor Ann Ravel, the head of the state FPCC, would comment on the probe or the grand jury’s activities.

The inquiry, focused on three out-of-state dark-money groups and a California business PAC, was triggered when the PAC, the Small Business Action Committee, reported in October 2012 spending $11 million on two ballot initiatives—but did not reveal its donors’ names, a legal requirement in the state for contributors to ballot initiatives.

The PAC used the funds in what turned out to be two losing efforts: opposing Proposition 30, a measure supported by Gov. Jerry Brown to temporarily raise the state income tax as well as the person tax for wealthier voters, and supporting Proposition 32, which would have barred unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political spending.

Since the probe’s inception, the FPPC, in tandem with the A.G., has issued subpoenas for documents and financial records to the PAC and the dark-money groups as well as individuals and other groups suspected of involvement in channeling the funds for the ballot drives, according to a person familiar with the inquiry. In recent weeks, the A.G.’s office, which has been ramping up its involvement, sent out another round of subpoenas, according to the same person.

Charles R. Schwab, the chairman of the Charles Schwab Corp., or an entity affiliated with Schwab has received a subpoena, according to a person familiar with the probe. In 2011 Schwab was one of about 30 wealthy donors who was cited in a speech by Charles Koch as having given at least $1 million the prior year to Koch backed conservative projects.

A spokesperson for Schwab declined to comment, as did Jason Torchinsky, a lawyer who has represented the PAC and also the three dark-money groups.

The involvement of a grand jury often indicates that an inquiry is intensifying. Grand juries are commonly used in cases where prosecutors are moving to bring chargesor pressuring targets to cut deals, say white-collar lawyers. It’s not known whether any of the three dark-money groups, the PAC, or others have received target letters, which often signal that charges are in the works.

“The largest contribution ever disclosed as campaign money laundering in California history.”

“The convening of a state grand jury is as serious a step in a state investigation as a federal grand jury is in a federal probe,” white-collar attorney Stan Brand told The Daily Beast. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that someone will be charged, but it indicates a heightened level of prosecutorial interest.”

Brand added that California’s disclosure law for ballot initiatives would trump the IRS rules that allow dark-money groups that have “social welfare” tax status to keep their donors secret.

Other lawyers concur. “The Internal Revenue Code would not prevent California law from requiring disclosure of donors,” said Marc Owens, the former head of the IRS tax-exempt unit and now a partner at Caplin & Drysdale.

If prosecutors do move forward, their investigation could shine light on parts of the burgeoning network of conservative “social welfare” outfits that spent hundreds of millions in the last two elections. Under IRS rules, social-welfare groups can engage in political activities so long as that work is not their primary purpose, a loosely enforced rule often interpreted to mean that 49 percent of a group’s spending can go toward political work.

One of the three groups that allegedly channeled the funds to California was the Arizona-based Center to Protect Patient Rights, founded in 2009 by Koch operative Sean Noble, who has emerged in recent cycles as a big player in conservative political and fundraising circles. Noble has spoken at least twice at the billionaire brothers’ biannual conferences aimed at tapping other wealthy conservatives for their favorite projects, and he has been a key strategist at small Washington meetings with other GOP allied groups such as the Karl Rove-founded American Crossroads.

“Sean is the wizard behind the screen” for the Kochs and their network of wealthy donors, said one GOP operative familiar with Noble’s political work.

In 2010 and 2012, Noble’s Center appeared to act mainly as a cash conduit, shipping millions to allied conservative groups. In the 2010 cycle, for instance, it channeled almost $55 million—a sum almost identical to its revenues—to a couple dozen conservative bastions including Americans for Tax Reform and the American Future Fund, according to the group’s filings with the IRS. Most of that largess went to pay for advertising backing GOP candidates or attacking Democrats.

“We had no involvement whatsoever, financial or otherwise, neither directly nor indirectly, on anything to do with Prop. 30 or Prop. 32,” a spokesman for Koch Industries, Rob Tappan, said in an email. Tappan, however, indicated he spoke only for Koch and not “independent entities,” such as Noble’s Center. Asked if the Kochs had received subpoenas from the grand jury, Tappan said it was company policy not to comment on “the existence or nonexistence of investigations.” Noble did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Koch Industries, a sprawling energy and manufacturing conglomerate, is the country’s second-largest privately held company, with annual sales of about $100 billion and some 70,000 employees.

The circuitous routes apparently used to funnel the $11 million into the state were deemed “the largest contribution ever disclosed as campaign money laundering in California history” by the Fair Political Practices Commission.

But the PAC only disclosed that the funds came from a group in Arizona, Americans for Responsible Leadership, a two-year-old “social welfare” entity that had never before spent funds in California. When the FPPC asked the Arizona group for more information and was rebuffed, the commission went to the California Supreme Court, which ordered the outfit to reveal where it received the funds.

To comply, the Arizona group said the $11 million came initially from another dark-money group, the Virginia-based based Americans for Job Security, which is registered with the IRS as a “business league,” which like social-welfare groups can shield the names of its donors.

Making the money trail even murkier, the Virginia group passed the $11 million along to Noble’s Center to Protect Patient Rights which, in turn handed it over to Americans for Responsible Leadership. (Notably, Noble’s Center donated $4.8 million to Americans for Job Security in a separate 2010 money transfer, according to the center’s IRS filings.)

As the California probe has intensified, it has sparked the hiring of some of Washington’s high-powered election-law specialists. For several months, Jason Torchinsky was representing the PAC and the three dark-money groups, but other lawyers with big-name firms are now involved on behalf of unspecified clients. One firm, not previously reported, is Patton Boggs, whose attorneys include Ben Ginsberg, the famously plugged-in election lawyer for numerous GOP campaigns and committees, and William McGinley; also involved in the case is Wiley Rein, home of Jan Baran who for many years has represented Koch in election-law matters. Both McGinley and Baran declined to discuss their clients or the probe.

The grand jury and the widening California probe has stirred considerable unease among some Koch allies and in certain conservative quarters, according to multiple GOP operatives who asked not to named. “People are very puckered up about it,” said one such operative.

SOURCE

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GOP-Statistic

By: RmuseMay. 3rd, 2013

Politicususa

The concept of America as a representative democracy has worked relatively well for over 2 centuries, and it is ultimately superior to other forms of government that are oppressive and despotic; Americans can thank the Founding Fathers for protecting this country from becoming an authoritarian dictatorship. It is difficult to imagine many Americans agreeing to abandon democracy for another form of government, but there are a frightening number of citizens who hate America’s representative democracy with such passion that they are leaning heavily toward overthrowing the government and installing a fascist dictatorship. The group in question is not an extremist militia organization and they are not  concealing their plans from plain view, and in fact, have begun the transition to fascism from within the conservative movement with full cooperation and assistance from establishment Republicans in Congress and state legislatures around the nation.

The idea that America’s democratic form of government could fall to an authoritarian regime began taking shape shortly after the election of Barack Obama, and after a little over four years of constant propaganda by Republican politicians incensed that their reign came to an end in 2009, almost half of Republicans believe “an armed revolution might be necessary to protect our liberties.” A recent poll reveals that it is worse than it seems because more Republicans believe armed revolution might be necessary to overthrow the legally elected government than believe is not required, and GOP politicians have been hard at work inciting their base and putting the brakes on democracy since January 2009.

On Tuesday, a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll revealed that despotism is rampant among the Republican rank and file who are following the lead of Republicans in Congress who have taken extraordinary steps to bring America’s democracy to a halt through not-so-devious machinations and with stunning impunity. In the Senate, for example, the inordinate use of the filibuster has given minority Republicans control of the upper legislative chamber, and around the nation Republican-controlled states are taking extraordinary steps to bring an end to free and fair elections for non-Republican voters. If Americans are foolish enough to believe the Republican’s use of armed revolution to install a permanent Republican government is predicated on the right to unrestricted firearm possession, democracy is already doomed and all that is left is ceding control of the government to the Koch brothers and their fascist regime.

MORE HERE

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Think Progress Justice

By Rebecca Leber  on Aug 14, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS (an affiliate of the super PAC American Crossroads) and the Koch brothers’ Americans For Prosperity have spent more on TV ads than every super PAC combined, according to a ProPublica analysis of CMAG data. Unlike super PACs, these groups do not have to disclose donors. That has allowed a handful of unknown billionaires  — like Sheldon Adelson and the Kochs — to funnel millions into attack ads through outside groups.

SOURCE

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Crooks & Liars

By karoli

August 11, 2012 06:00 AM

As I write, the only thing lacking is official confirmation by the Romney campaign that Mittens will adopt young Paul Ryan as his running mate. It would appear as though Mittens’ disaster-laden campaign of the past few weeks has prompted his billionaires to lay down the law and require Ryan as the Very Serious Running Mate.

Ah, yes. Paul Ryan, “zombie-eyed granny starver” extraordinaire. The guy who loved Ayn Rand until he didn’t.

Here’s a nice video of Paul Ryan. I’ll bet it would make a great commercial, this lovefest with Glenn Beck.

AUDIO

.
Paul Ryan is a disaster, but that doesn’t mean the Villagers won’t treat him as a Very Serious VP Candidate Who Will Give Mittens A Much-Needed Bump. They will treat him that way. Meanwhile, the Very Serious conservatives will rejoice and forget Mitt is their candidate, substituting Paul Ryan in their minds for the first name on the ballot, and the Kochs will open their wallets wider for Their Black-Haired Boy. See, for example, the fawning by Chuck Todd and David Gregory over Ryan As Visionary.

I suppose that’s enough bashing for one post. (Can Ryan ever be bashed enough?) Let’s review some of the facts on Paul Ryan and whether he’s a good fit with Mitt:

Also? President Obama turns him into a whining, sniveling wimp.

I have a theory about why Ryan is the Boy Wonder, and no, it’s not the one that says Mitt is really Herman Munster and Ryan is his sixth son, Eddie. I think Mitt’s billionaires were tired of his very terrible, awful campaign and decided they’d better get the base fired up before they gave up entirely. And so word was passed to Mitt: It’s Ryan or we’re done with you.

After that, all that was left was tapping Tagg to fire TPaw and Rob Portman. Mitt seems to be quite good at delegating tasks, even firing people.

Over on the left, there is much rejoicing about Mitt’s the billionaires’ choice for the veep slot, and for good reason. After all, for eighteen months we’ve been trying to get the general electorate to see the do-nothing Congress in all its glory, from the debt ceiling debacle to the Ryan budget monstrosity to the zillionth meaningless vote to climb into women’s reproductive systems. Now it will be on display for all to see, naked, fat and ugly.

A few other random thoughts. Does anyone giggle at the thought that Bill Kristol picked Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan?  How will Newt Gingrich cover his tracks? Has anyone asked Paul Ryan about Ponzi schemes, particularly those he benefits from?

Who does Eddie Munster’s hair? Quick, hire them for Pretty Paul’s campaign appearances.

SOURCE

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Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson speaks at a news conference for the Sands Cotai Central in Macau Wednesday, April 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

HuffPost

Peter H. Stone

Posted: 06/16/2012 12:24 am Updated: 06/16/2012  2:06 am

WASHINGTON — Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, whose net worth makes him one of the world’s richest men, is on a check-writing spree that will soon bring his total political contributions in this election cycle to at least $71 million, according to sources familiar with his spending. That money is spread across the spectrum of GOP super PACs, which are required to disclose donors, and nonprofits, which are not.

Adelson and his wife, Miriam, along with other family donations, have already reached $36 million, including $10 million to the Romney-backing super PAC Restore Our Future that was reported this week. But two GOP fundraisers familiar with his plans say that Adelson has given or pledged at least $35 million more to three conservative nonprofit groups: the Karl Rove-linked Crossroads GPS, another with ties to billionaires Charles and David Koch and a third with links to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Adelson, 78, is a staunch supporter of the Israeli right and a strong foe of American unions. In recent years, Adelson has been a major financier of GOP-allied groups, but has emerged this year as the consummate super donor in the wake of 2010 court rulings that permitted corporations, unions and individuals to supply unlimited amounts of money, sometimes anonymously, to independent groups that can advocate directly for candidates.

Adelson has told friends that he might give as much as $100 million in donations this year in support of GOP candidates and conservative issues. That target now seems easily within reach and could be surpassed, say the two GOP fundraisers with ties to the casino magnate.

Crossroads GPS — founded by GOP consultants Rove and Ed Gillespie in 2010 alongside the super PAC American Crossroads — could wind up as the major recipient of the casino titan’s largess, due to Adelson’s longstanding and close ties to Rove. Crossroads GPS has already received one $10 million cash infusion this cycle from Adelson, who, according to the two GOP fundraisers, recently committed to another donation of the same amount.

MORE HERE

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Politico

By KENNETH P.  VOGEL and TARINI PARTI |  6/15/12 4:35 AM EDT

The Koch brothers’ political operation has increasingly come to resemble its  own political party — and later this month in San Diego, it will hold what  amounts to its most ambitious convention to date.

Many of the dozens of rich conservative invitees are expected to write huge  checks to a pool of cash distributed among Koch-approved groups, potentially  boosting the Kochs’ 2012 spending plan beyond their historic $395 million goal. And it’s also a chance for the Kochs to  show off their increasingly robust political machine, including a growing voter  database project called Themis that played a major role in conservatives’ recent efforts in Wisconsin and in which  POLITICO has learned Koch operatives have discussed investing $20 million.

It’s part of an ambitious expansion of the billionaire brothers’ political  operation that includes the recruitment of new donors and fundraisers into their  network by a development team led by summit emcee Kevin Gentry, and their recent  hiring of in-house political operative Marc Short to oversee the spending of  funds raised at the summits.

The expansion is also reflected in Charles and David Kochs’ bid to take over the libertarian Cato Institute as well as  their operations steering cash to groups that aren’t commonly thought of as Koch affiliated. The 60 Plus Association, American Energy  Alliance, American Future Fund, Americans for Limited Government and National  Right to Life have all received funds through the Koch donor network.

MORE HERE

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By: Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei

May 30, 2012 04:34 AM EDT

Republican super PACs and other outside groups shaped by a loose network of prominent conservatives – including Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and Tom Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – plan to spend roughly $1 billion on November’s elections for the White House and control of Congress, according to officials familiar with the groups’ internal operations.

That total includes previously undisclosed plans for newly aggressive spending by the Koch brothers, who are steering funding to build sophisticated, county-by-county operations in key states. POLITICO has learned that Koch-related organizations plan to spend about $400 million ahead of the 2012 elections – twice what they had been expected to commit.

Just the spending linked to the Koch network is more than the $370 million that John McCain raised for his entire presidential campaign four years ago. And the $1 billion total surpasses the $750 million that Barack Obama, one of the most prolific fundraisers ever, collected for his 2008 campaign.

(PHOTOS: Republican money men)

Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, proved its potency by spending nearly $50 million in the primaries. Now able to entice big donors with a neck-and-neck general election, the group is likely to meet its new goal of spending $100 million more.

And American Crossroads and the affiliated Crossroads GPS, the groups that Rove and Ed Gillespie helped conceive and raise cash for, are expected to ante up $300 million, giving the two-year-old organization one of the election’s loudest voices.

“The intensity on the right is white-hot,” said Steven Law, president of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. “We just can’t leave anything in the locker room. And there is a greater willingness to cooperate and share information among outside groups on the center-right.”

In targeted states, the groups’ activities will include TV, radio and digital advertising; voter-turnout work; mail and phone appeals; and absentee- and early-ballot drives.

The $1 billion in outside money is in addition to the traditional party apparatus – the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee – which together intend to raise at least $800 million.
MORE HERE

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Posted at  09:04 AM ET, 04/17/2012

The Washington Post

By

Despite recent signs that gas prices may be about to fall, the Obama team harbors very real fears that pain at the pump could very well deprive him of credit for the recovery. It could impose additional financial hardships on swing voters who might otherwise be inclined to accept the premise that things are improving.

So today, the White House will unveil a new proposal designed to reframe the debate. The Associated Press reports:

Under pressure to take action on rising gasoline prices, President Barack Obama wants Congress to strengthen federal supervision of oil markets, increase penalties for market manipulation and empower regulators to increase the amount of money energy traders are required to put behind their transactions.

The White House plan, which Obama was to unveil Tuesday, is more likely to draw sharp election-year distinctions with Republicans than have an immediate effect on prices at the pump. The measures seek to boost spending for Wall Street enforcement at a time when congressional Republicans are seeking to limit the reach of federal financial regulations.

Details in the link. The move seems like an effort to take hold of a gas-prices narrative that has mostly eluded the White House’s control. Previously, Obama and Dems had sought to deflect public anger over high gas prices by highlighting GOP protection of oil industry subsidies; by pointing out that Big Oil interests are pumping big money into ads attacking them; and by picking a sustained fight with the oil billionaire Koch brothers.
MORE HERE

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Think Progress reporter Lee Fang interviewed David Koch in a sidewalk ambush last year.

February 20, 2012 10:00 AM

Crooks and Liars  By- Susie Madrak

Boy, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, huh? What a swell family those Kochs are:

Billionaire David Koch has vowed to defend Wisconsin governor Scott Walker against the union-backed recall election underway in that state. In aninterview with the Palm Beach Post, Koch said that, “We’ve spent a lot of money in Wisconsin. We’re going to spend more.”

The we in question is Koch and his equally well-off brother Charles, who together have financed much of the conservative tea party movement through their group Americans For Prosperity.

Koch also told the Post that “there will be no stopping union power” if they win the recall election versus Walker, who jammed through legislation that strips public employee unions of their power to collectively bargain.

In the interview, Koch lavishes praise on his father Fred Koch who was a founding member of the far-right John Birch Society.

Fred Koch once wrote that the “colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America” and claimed welfare was designed to create a “vicious race war.”

The John Birch Society was founded in opposition to the civil rights movement, and promoted numerous conspiracy theories of a UN-led “one world” government. The group also famously opposed fluoridation of water, which it described as a communist mind-control plot.

SOURCE

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