Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.
Democrat Conor Lamb has raised an impressive $3.2 million since the beginning of 2018 in his upstart bid to win a heavily Republican House seat outside of Pittsburgh, he announced Tuesday.
That’s the type of fundraising haul House Democratic candidates could only dream about in past years, and explains how he’s been able to keep close in his bid to win a seat left vacant when scandal-plagued Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) resigned last year.
The haul isn’t much compared to the whopping $23.6 million John Ossoff raised in his failed bid for Georgia’s Sixth District, the most ever raised by a House candidate by a wide margin, or the $22 million Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) brought in during his eight-month campaign to defeat former Judge Roy Moore. But it’s more than enough to keep him in the game even as GOP outside groups deluge the district with ads and national Democrats mostly steer clear of public help for his bid.
Lamb has been almost even with Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone (R) in most recent public and private polls shared with TPM, and has a real shot at pulling off Democrats’ first big House special election upset of the Trump era in two weeks.
While the biggest problem for Republicans is how revved up the Democratic base is right now, Republicans also privately admit that Democrats simply have the better candidate. Lamb has an impressive personal biography, and Saccone has badly struggled to raise enough money for the campaign. President Trump’s own numbers aren’t that bad in a district he carried by 20 points — which is why Saccone has been bear-hugging the president in the race. But a loss in this race would be a blow to Republicans, and a sign that their somewhat revived hopes of avoiding a 2018 campaign bloodbath based on some marginally better poll numbers since the new year may not be so well-founded.
While Republican outside groups have spent millions to tear down Lamb, because candidates get TV advertising at much lower cost the candidates’ own fundraising matters greatly. As the Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter points out, even though Lamb and his allies have been badly outspent by Saccone and his allies, Lamb’s own ads have been on the air a lot more than Saccone’s — and he’s been able to hang in there in total fundraising.
Looking at @CMAGAdFacts data on total # of ads run in PA-18: Connor Lamb has aired 1,985 ads to just 345 for Saccone. Overall, thanks to outside groups & NRCC, the Pro-Saccone forces have run 743 more ads than Lamb + allies. (2,963 to 2,220)
Both candidates are expected to get a big boost in the coming days from outside support. Trump is looking to reschedule a campaign rally for Saccone before the election that he canceled in the wake of the recent Florida school shooting, while former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to be in town for Lamb next week.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has ended his Hamlet act and decided once and for all not to run for reelection, his chief of staff said in a statement, a move that eliminates the possibility of a brutal primary between him and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and likely boosts Republicans’ chances of holding the seat.
Corker had announced his retirement last fall, leading to swift announcements from Blackburn and former Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) that they’d run for his seat. But earlier this month he pulled a surprising about-face, floating the idea that he might run again after all as his allies questioned whether Blackburn’s flaws might put the seat at risk for the GOP.
But his backtrack didn’t play particularly well with many GOP voters in the state. Corker’s past criticism of President Trump had hurt him with the party base, and a number of polls conducted by Blackburn allies made it clear she’d have a solid edge over the two-term senator should he decide to run again. While Fincher dropped out of the race to make room for Corker, Blackburn made it clear she wasn’t going anywhere as her team blasted away at the senator for his indecisiveness.
Corker’s team argued he could have won, but decided against a bid.
“Over the past several months, Senator Corker has been encouraged by people across Tennessee and in the Senate to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election. Based on the outpouring of support, we spent the last few days doing our due diligence and a clear path for re-election was laid out,”Corker Chief of Staff Todd Womack said a statement emailed to TPM. “However, at the end of the day, the senator believes he made the right decision in September and will be leaving the Senate when his term expires at the end of 2018.”
Corker’s latest decision was first reported by Politico.
Corker likely would have needed a hearty endorsement from President Trump to have a real shot at defeating Blackburn — and he made efforts to cozy up to the president in recent months after publicly worrying about Trump’s leadership last summer. But that endorsement didn’t seem forthcoming, and while Senate GOP leaders like Corker they had already moved on to backing Blackburn after his initial retirement, leading to frustration about his back-and-forth.
Even some of Corker’s closest allies were quick to tout Blackburn in the wake of his decision.
“Bob Corker is a terrific United States senator and a good friend. I was disappointed in his decision not to run for reelection but respect that decision. I invited Marsha Blackburn to breakfast this morning. We had a good discussion about a variety of issues that we both care about and how we might work together to make the Senate a more effective institution,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who is close to both Corker and GOP Senate leaders, said in a statement.
Some Republicans continue to worry Blackburn’s hardline conservatism and her backing of a deal that helped the pharmaceutical industry and critics say hurt efforts to fight opioid addiction make her a risky choice for the nomination, especially since Democrats landed a strong recruit in former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) for the race in the conservative state. But Corker’s dithering and eventual decision may have helped her in the race by clearing the primary field for Blackburn and eliminating the chance that a tough primary would hurt her chances at victory.
Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) has scheduled a Wednesday rally, sources close to the controversial lawmaker tell TPM, and is reportedly expected to run against Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) after months of consideration.
“McDaniel will do a rally on Wednesday,” one source close to his campaign told TPM. And while that source and others in his orbit wouldn’t confirm or deny Politico’s report that he’s “expected to run,” and McDaniel didn’t reply to text messages, it seems highly probable that he’d be using his rally at the Jones County Junior College Wednesday afternoon to say challenge Wicker, rather than that he’s decided against it.
The controversial lawmaker staged a Tea Party revolt against Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) four years ago, nearly toppling the veteran lawmaker in the primary, a race he maintains was stolen from him. Ever since then he’s been biding his time for another run, and for months debated whether to challenge Wicker or wait and see if Cochran resigns from office due to ongoing health issues. He’d also mulled a run for lieutenant governor. But he’s run out of time to decide, with a campaign filing deadline just days away.
On Sunday night, McDaniel said in a Facebook post that he’d “have some important information to share about our political future” in a Monday night Facebook Live event. Sources say that will be to tout the rally.
Unlike Cochran, who was clearly showing his age that election and had a long history of pork-barrel legislation that opened him up to a right-wing challenge, Wicker is both a much sharper and energized campaigner (his team helped Cochran win that election and he ran the National Republican Senatorial Committee last election cycle) and one who hasn’t given McDaniel as many openings to attack him from the right.
Wicker didn’t wait for McDaniel’s announcement to take a subtle swipe at him, launching a campaign ad with one of McDaniel’s 2014 supporters endorsing him:
McDaniel is a highly controversial figure with a long history of charged statements on race, religion and gender. He made headlines last year for attacking the women’s march, claiming that “almost all liberal women are unhappy.” In older comments McDaniel blamed hip-hop for gun violence, attacked Muslims, threatened to stop paying taxes if Congress authorized slavery reparations and said one of the only useful Spanish words he knew was “mamacita,” an apparent joke about cat-calling Hispanic women.
Just weeks ago, as TPM reported, he joined the radio show of an ardent conspiracy theorist who believes the 9/11 attacks may have been carried out by the “World Zionist Organization.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) moved yesterday to nuke a candidate in Texas that it sees as a bad ideological fit for the district. Progressive favorite Laura Moser has too much baggage (and carpetbaggage), the DCCC claimed. The attack infuriated many on the left — and had some Republicans feeling deja vu.
The GOP establishment has struggled for years with what to do about upstart challengers who have primary appeal but who, because of ideological extremism or personal flaws, might blow a general election. That goes back to the fringe campaigns of people like Christine “I’m Not A Witch” O’Donnell and Sharron Angle in 2010, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin in 2012, and continues through recent months (see: Moore, Roy).
The GOP establishment has at times stood up to whack down these candidates — easier said than done, as Moore proved. In other cases it has taken a more hands-off approach. Now, the Democratic establishment feels the need to figure out its own strategy to deal with candidates that it thinks are uncompetitive.
According to a former staffer to Mitt Romney and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the Democrats “are having their tea party moment.”
This isn’t the first time the Democratic establishment has had to play candidate whack-a-mole. They spent millions to defeat former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) in his Senate primary last year (a decision that, in hindsight, may not have been worth it — establishment favorite Katie McGinty failed to defeat Republican Pat Toomey and proved to be a mediocre candidate herself). They’ve also played favorites among other Democrats in House primaries, as I laid out in my story today on Moser, with mixed results. But these days, after the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders DNC blowup, things are just a little bit more sensitive.
Plenty of Democrats weren’t happy with the DCCC’s moves against Moser — including some with deep ties to the establishment.
But as Republicans can attest, there’s no easy solution for the party establishment when it dislikes a candidate that appeals to the base.
And there’s a risk that the DCCC’s attack on Moser, which even some former DCCC staff told TPM was “ham-handed,” could backfire. Part of why then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost a primary shocker to now-Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) was because he panicked and ran bad ads looking to destroy Brat. They had the opposite effect, elevating Brat’s name recognition in the district.
Only time will tell whether the DCCC made the right call in going after Moser (and attacking her in the way they did) — and it remains to be seen if it will use the same approach with other candidates it dislikes going forward. But the DCCC has to weigh its tactics carefully. Control of the House may depend on it.
House Democrats’ official campaign committee took a very public swipe at one of its own candidates Thursday night, a sign that it’s willing to risk fury from its base to push forward what it sees as the best general-election nominees.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) posted damaging research on Laura Moser, a favorite of progressives running in a crowded primary who national Democrats worry would cost them a shot at defeating Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) this fall.
The move is by far the most aggressive and public stance the DCCC has taken this cycle against one of its own, a risky move given the current tensions between parts of the liberal base and the party establishment but one they argue is necessary given Moser’s flaws. While party operatives have signaled for months that they’d step in to block candidates they see as unelectable, this shows how much they’re willing to risk the wrath of the left to do so — not just in Texas, which holds the nation’s first primaries, but throughout the coming year as the battle for the House heats up.
“We’ve gotten involved in primaries in the past when there’s a disqualified general election candidate and have noted all cycle we might need to do that again,” DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly told TPM Friday morning, arguing the committee was stepping up to help make sure local activists’ efforts weren’t squandered with a flawed candidate. “This potential involvement in primaries is about ensuring voters have a fighting chance to flip these districts in November. These people have been fighting all year organizing against Republican incumbents and we don’t want to rob them of the opportunity to be competitive in November.”
Those decisions are risky ones, threatening to infuriate liberal activists locally and nationally as the party is seen strong-arming locals and picking favorites, potentially the party with a split base heading into the general election. This year, Democrats have a glut of candidates in many top races, a good problem to have but one that risks letting flawed candidates sneak through with a plurality of the vote and blow winnable races.
The DCCC’s move left many liberals livid.
“In this vital year, with so much at stake, the DCCC should be using their limited resources to go after Republicans, not peddle false and misleading garbage against a progressive Democratic woman who has been an outspoken leader in the resistance. It is hard see how the DCCC thinks turning its own voters against each other is a winning strategy,” MoveOn.org Political Action Executive Director Ilya Sheyman told TPM.
The move could also backfire by elevating the very candidates the DCCC wants to stop.
“The DCCC just managed to get a lot more people into this race for Laura,” Progressive Change Campaign Committee head Adam Green told TPM.
On the flip side, national Democrats don’t think they can stay pat — they’ve stayed out of past races where they saw one candidate as their best chance, had another get the nomination and then blow a potentially winnable race.
“Which backlash is worse? Neither of these is a good option,” one former top DCCC staffer who’s grappled with this dilemma in the past told TPM. “The question is which option is less bad — upsetting the apple cart now or ending up with a nominee you don’t think can win in November. If they’re right that this is essential to winning this seat, then they have to do something. But I don’t know if they’re right.”
Another former top DCCC staffer warned that while stopping flawed candidates was necessary, this particular move was “ham-handed” in its execution.
“It’s a hell of a risk,” said the staffer of the public opposition research dump, pointing out that other DCCC-backed candidates were also carpetbaggers and warning the move opened up the party to criticism. “It’s got the subtlety and nuance of a barbarian horde.”
The DCCC has already been heavily involved in recruiting candidates and quietly picking favorites in some districts — like convincing Lexington Mayor Jim Gray to challenge Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) after former fighter pilot Amy McGrath (D) raised big money with a viral announcement video. Four candidates the committee has endorsed have primary challengers that have raised at least $100,000: Those running for the top-targeted seats held by Reps. Rod Blum (R-IA), Mike Coffman (R-CO), Leonard Lance (R-NJ) Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ). California will prove especially problematic: The top two candidates of any party advance to the general election in that state, and Democrats have blown races in the past as two Republicans have advanced in winnable districts. That’s a risk for the party in four different key races.
The last time the DCCC got this aggressively involved in a primary was in 2014, when they tore down former Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) to make sure that didn’t happen again in a district now held by Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA).
National Democrats have long worried Moser’s progressive views could prove disqualifying in a traditionally Republican suburban district that Hillary Clinton narrowly carried in 2016, but Mitt Romney won by 20 points four years earlier.
The committee highlights that she just moved back to the Houston-area district from Washington, D.C., recently claimed a homestead tax credit for her D.C. home, her campaign has paid her husband’s consulting firm to work on her race, and in a 2014 Washingtonian article wrote that she’d “rather have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia” than live in rural Texas.
Moser fired back against the DCCC attacks Thursday night.
“We’re used to tough talk here in Texas, but it’s disappointing to hear it from Washington operatives trying to tell Texans what to do. These kind of tactics are why people hate politics. The days when party bosses picked the candidates in their smoke filled rooms are over. DC needs to let Houston vote,” she said in a statement.
The DCCC’s gambit here may not even work, as the party has made similar moves in past years with mixed results. In 2012, the committee tried to push party leaders’ favored candidate past left-wing physician David Gill when he first ran against Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL). Gill still won the nomination, the DCCC belatedly came back in to help him after realizing he had a path to victory, and he ended up losing that race by a narrow margin. Gill is running again this year (his sixth run for Congress) against two candidates national Democrats would vastly prefer to see nominated. He’s raised almost no money this time around, but has a fervent if small base and is the type of candidate they may decide they need to try and block in the coming months. Another victim of national party involvement was Sheyman, who the party blocked in favor of now-Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL).
And they saw stronger candidates lose primaries in winnable races in recent years against Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) and in the swing district once represented by former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and now held by his brother Brian.
“Better to be a jerk than a loser,” a Democratic strategist who’s doing some work with the DCCC this cycle told TPM.
Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) has spent his career sticking his fingers in the eyes of progressives, vocally bucking his party on everything from abortion to Obamacare to gay rights, with few repercussions. In less than a month, they have their first real chance to strike back.
The congressman has long been able to get away with a laundry list of conservative votes in his seven terms in Congress and has avoided a real primary challenge for years, aided by close ties to Chicago’s powerful old-school Democratic machine.
But in the year of red-hot Democratic activism, the #MeToo movement and brutal urban and suburban backlash against President Trump , those old-guard powers are facing a reckoning. And just weeks ahead of Illinois’ March 20 primary, the congressman is coping with perhaps his biggest political threat since his father, longtime Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-IL), retired and anointed him his successor in 2004.
Marie Newman, a former advertising executive, anti-bullying and gun control advocate is gunning for his seat — and has won a number of endorsements from heavy-hitting liberal groups.
“There is a definite path to victory for her, where in past primaries I haven’t really seen that materialize. I think this is a good year in that district for a real Democrat, and a woman. This is going to be a very good year for women,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who endorsed Newman in what she told TPM is the first time she’s ever campaigned against another sitting Democratic congressman. “There’s this sense of unity, of being off the sidelines, in the fray, going to vote, and all of that significantly plays into the energy around her candidacy.”
The younger Lipinski has followed in his father’s footsteps in carving a fairly conservative record, especially on social issues. A co-chairman of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, he’s one of only three remaining House Democrats who voted against the Affordable Care Act. He’s regularly stood against legislation backed by gay rights groups, long opposed gay marriage and is one of the only House Democrats who opposes the Equality Act, a bill that would offer LGBTQ Americans protections against discrimination in housing and employment. He supported the war in Iraq, has regularly voted against keeping House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as party leader, and only recently switched to supporting the DREAM Act. He also recently had to walk back comments opposing unions’ long-sought push for a $15 minimum wage.
But his biggest and most vocal apostasy to liberals has been his steadfast opposition to abortion. A devout Catholic, he’s long served as the co-chairman of the Pro-Life Caucus and has regularly voted with Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood and ban most legal abortion.
Liberal organizations have fumed for years over his votes and views, especially since he holds a district that both Hillary Clinton and President Obama carried by roughly 15 points. But Lipinski easily defeated early primary challengers with the support of one of the country’s few remaining powerful Democratic machines. Party boss and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D) then gifted him a personalized gerrymander that stretched the 3rd District from his and Lipinski’s base in Chicago’s South Side into whiter, more socially conservative southwestern suburbs after 2010, possibly at the expense of drawing another gerrymandered Democratic district. He hasn’t faced a real challenge since.
But Newman has shown herself to be a capable candidate, with decent if less-than-dazzling fundraising figures, and she has the backing of some of the left’s most powerful groups. She has support from the pro-abortion rights NARAL Pro-Choice America, EMILY’s List and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, MoveOn.org, and the Service Employees International Union, as well as Schakowsky, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
“The Lipinski monarchy supported by the Chicago machine has continued because nobody’s had the time or resources to do this,” Newman told TPM last week. “We’ve had 36 years of Lipinskis, and everyone’s pretty clear they’re completely out of touch with the district.”
In recent days, outside groups said they’d put their money where their mouths are with a combined $1 million in TV, digital and print advertising attacking Lipinski’s record on social issues, Obamacare and immigration and tying him to President Trump.
“You can’t fight Trump when you agree with him. It’s time for Dan Lipinski to go,” both of the groups’ ads conclude.
Newman needs that help: She had just $237,000 in the bank as of Jan. 1 to his $1.65 million war chest, not enough by itself to give him a serious challenge in a district that’s squarely within Chicago’s expensive media market.
Even with all the groups gunning for him, Lipinski doesn’t seem to think he’s in much trouble in the safely Democratic district.
“I’m not sure why anyone believes this is going to be a close race to begin with,” he told TPM in a phone interview last week, pointing to an internal poll conducted for his campaign in late January that had him up by more than 30 points.
Lipinski acknowledged that the progressive base is spoiling for a fight with the president, and was quick to tout votes against Obamacare repeal and the GOP tax plan, his longtime support for gun control, environmental protections and his endorsement from the AFL-CIO. But he argued that Democrats shouldn’t cast out moderates like himself.
“It’s understandable that people are as incensed by Trump as I am, the things he has done and said. It’s important, though, that we do not form a Tea Party of the left, I think that’s detrimental to the party,” he said. “We’re in a position where we’re down 24 seats in the House, we’ve lost 1000 seats across the country since 2010, and we need to make sure we’re a big tent party, not closing down. That’s not good.”
Lipinski largely ignored Newman’s repeated barbs Wednesday night during their only scheduled debate, only firing back when she criticized his views on gay rights and abortion.
“Religious freedom is under attack,” he warned, saying he now accepts gay marriage as the “law of the land” but arguing that churches and religious organizations shouldn’t be forced to honor it or pay for contraception.
But the congressman does seem to be acting a bit skittish as of late. He called for nonpartisan redistricting during the debate, which Newman was quick to point out for its hypocrisy given his earlier gerrymandering. His reversal on the DREAM Act is a sign he knows the position is untenable in a district with a fast-growing Hispanic population. And while he hasn’t shied away from defending his pro-life views during the campaign, he backed out of a scheduled speech at the national March for Life last month at the last minute.
“I did not want to be up onstage with Donald Trump speaking,” he said. “But a lot of the issues we’re voting on when it comes to abortion are things the majority of Americans, even the majority of Democrats agree with – the Born Alive Infant Protection Act we voted on in January, even the ban on abortion at 20 weeks, national polls show there’s a majority of Democrats who support that. It’s my opponent who has the radical position on this.”
He’s also looked to bolster his standing as with women in recent months. Lipinski’s State of the Union guest this year was Faith Ann Rys, a clinical therapist who treats female victims of sexual assault. Even as he spoke at the Chicago March for Life last month, he worked in a nod to the #MeToo movement.
“We have heard so many stories over the last year. They’ve been horrible stories about assault, harassment, and terrible mistreatment of women. And when this happens it scars all of us. We all, everyone needs to stand up for the dignity of every single individual, every single woman, man, and especially the most vulnerable, the child in the womb. That is what we do everyday int he pro-life movement,” he said onstage.
That effort was a dealt a blow in recent days, however. Madigan has become embroiled in his own scandal, accused of protecting a number of longtime aides who harassed female staffers, and Lipinski was just about the only Democrat who stood up to defend his old friend.
Most local Democrats think Lipinski still has the edge in the contest, where the primary winner will face an avowed Neo-Nazi in the general election. But they think Newman’s chances look better every day. And if she doesn’t pull off an upset this time around, they hope she’ll take another shot next election.
“Although I think she has a wonderful opportunity now, laying the groundwork for 2020 is wonderful,” said Gutierrez.
While working on our exclusive about Jared Kushner’s latest amendments to his financial disclosure forms, I got a first-hand look at just exactly how tangled and complicated Kushner’s assets are.
I went through just a tiny sliver of the financial documents associated with a handful of his holdings, and to say they’re convoluted is an understatement. It’s also true that Kushner, like the rest of Trump-world, was caught wholly unprepared for his father-in-law’s election win, and was flying by the seat of his pants for much of the first few months after the election.
But it’s also been more than a year since Kushner became a top White House official, and nearly a year since he filed his personal financial disclosure, so it’s unclear why his team still hasn’t been able to get this right—especially given the high level of scrutiny his finances continue to face.
It’s also highly unlikely that the blame for Kushner’s many updates to his disclosure forms lies with his attorneys. He’s been represented by the white-shoe law firm WilmerHale since the start, and added powerhouse criminal defense attorney Abbe Lowell and his firm Norton Rose Fulbright last summer.
“I know he’s well represented, I just have to believe his representatives didn’t have all the information they needed up front, or even six months,” former Office of Government Ethics head Don Fox told me.
But as Fox pointed out, “The information is only as good as the client is producing.”
Jared Kushner quietly filed an addendum to his personal financial disclosure adding even more previously undisclosed business interests in recent weeks — and may have even more to disclose, according to real estate documents shared with TPM.
Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a top adviser, wrote a letter to White House Deputy Counsel Stefan Passantino dated Jan. 3, 2018 adding a number of additional business interests that had not previously been on his personal financial disclosure form.
That letter, which has not been previously reported, corrects and adds new corporate positions and details of his companies’ structures that he legally was required to disclose, in a seeming attempt to square his filing with spouse Ivanka Trump’s as well as clean up some previously overlooked items.
“Following the certification of my spouse’s financial disclosure report by the Office of Government Ethics on December 26, 2017, I am writing to provide conforming information and other updates to the financial disclosure report that I signed on March 9, 2017,” Kushner wrote in the letter:
The White House passed along the letter to the Office of Government Ethics, which signed off on it on Jan. 8 with a note that Kushner remains “in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.”
This is Kushner’s latest attempt to fully lay out all of his sprawling real estate and other holdings in the legally required filings to the Office of Government Ethics, after previous efforts fell far short. Kushner added 77 additional assets and more than $10 million in previously undisclosed holdings last July, months after his initial filing, saying they were “inadvertently omitted.”
Top ethics experts say that while corrections and amendments happen from time to time, the number and scope of amendments Kushner has filed are highly unusual.
“This is really out of the ordinary,” said Don Fox, a former acting director and general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics who served during the administrations of both President Obama and President George W. Bush. “It’s really uncommon you’d still be trying to get the form correct at this stage in the game and there’d have been as many amendments over such a protracted period of time that we have.”
The latest amendments to Kushner’s personal financial disclosure filings come amidst increasing scrutiny of his assets, which have drawn interest for months given the potential conflicts of interest posed by the extensive business interests of Kushner and his family, including some troubled projects that reportedly have squeezed them financially and forced them to borrow heavily.
The Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department have issued subpoenas to lenders and investors in real estate projects managed by Kushner’s family, Bloomberg reported Thursday, seeking information from people who lent money for Kushner Cos. projects in New York and New Jersey. According to Bloomberg, that likely stems from a separate investigation than the ongoing FBI probe into possible ties between Russia and Trump’s team.
According to a separate recent update from Ivanka Trump, Kushner appears to have taken out millions more in loans in recent months, a sign that his business may be on the rocks. The couple are currently battling a lawsuit filed in December that accuses them of illegally omitting information for 32 other companies, raising the possibility of hidden conflicts of interest.
Kushner’s letter added that he made between $5,000 and $15,000 from Calamos Convertible Opportunities and Income Fund and that he was a director for RealCadre Company, Inc., which during the covered disclosure period became another entity he’d already disclosed, as well as his position on the board of his family’s charitable trust. He also adds more than a half-dozen previously undisclosed LLCs that were part of the corporate structure of assets he’d previously reported, changed the description of a few assets Ivanka owns, and added more LLCs related to her ownership stake in Trump Old Post Office, LLC.
Even with Kushner’s latest updates, however, it appears as though his financial disclosure forms still may not fully be up to snuff under ethics law.
The liberal group American Bridge combed through public records to identify Kushner holdings that he failed to report on his form, unearthing a handful more corporations that from publicly available information appear as though they should be disclosed. The documents were pulled as part of a new effort from American Bridge to lay out all public records related to Kushner’s complex financial holdings.
TPM provided Kushner’s legal team with an array of publicly available corporate documents obtained by American Bridge showing Kushner’s undisclosed business interests and corporate positions. Kushner’s lawyers declined to comment on the record on the specific examples provided. A spokesperson for Kushner told TPM that he “has provided complete information on his disclosure forms” but left open the possibility of further updates being filed.
Some of the examples American Bridge found appear to be clear-cut violations, while with others it’s impossible to know from publicly available information whether or not Kushner had a financial stake that he would have had to report them.
For example, Kushner has not disclosed his involvement with Park Valley Owner, LLC. Kushner signed a limited warranty deed in December 2015 as manager for Park Valley Owner, LLC. Ethics law requires all executive branch employees to include in their personal financial disclosure forms all “positions outside the U.S. government” they held for the two calendar years prior to their federal employment. The omission appears to violate that rule. Kushner may not be required to disclose this specific property if he signed the deed as a representative of previously disclosed company that controlled Park Valley Owner LLC. But even in that case, Fox says, Kushner would likely have to disclose Park Valley Owner LLC because of underlying assets.
“The property is an apartment complex just outside Cincinnati. I assume it has considerable value. Jared is listed as manager in December 2015. The reporting period for positions outside the government is two previous years,” Fox said. “I think it’s certainly reportable.”
Another potential violation: Landings Building, LLC, which was controlled by The Landings, Inc., where Kushner served as vice president, was not disclosed. Leaving off this sub-LLC would only be allowable if Kushner had no stake in the underlying assets. But Kushner’s latest addendum adds four other similarly named Landings LLCs under The Landings, Inc. that hadn’t been previously disclosed under the same umbrella organization, and it’s unclear why Landings Building 136A LLC wouldn’t meet the same requirements.
Other Kushner-connected LLCs that aren’t on his personal financial disclosure include Bauer Realty Corporation and Bauer Drive Associates. Bauer Realty Corporation is the managing member of Bauer Drive Associates, according to public filings. Bauer Drive Associates owns a $3 million property at 128 Bauer Drive in northern New Jersey, according to public records covering the past three years. Kushner disclosed his stake in the property and his position with 128 Bauer Drive Associates but not in these controlling LLCs.
Kushner was also an authorized signatory for Landings NYT MT LLC, Walkill NYT LLC, Oakwood NYT LLC and Elmwood NYT LLC, four LLCs that were involved in his purchase of the 229 West 43rd Street building in New York City in November 2015. The four weren’t dissolved until November 2016, according to public records — well within the required disclosure period.
A Kushner spokesperson argued that the updates in the letter were part of the normal personal financial disclosure process. Kushner’s representatives refused to discuss on the record whether he should have disclosed the business interests and corporate positions that American Bridge found through its public filings search or explain what spurred his latest update.
“Under the direction of financial advisors and experienced ethics attorneys, Mr. Kushner has provided complete information on his disclosure forms, often more than others in prior administrations ever did, and in compliance with the rules and requirements,” a Kushner spokesman told TPM. “As with anyone in government who has numerous financial holdings, he will update and supplement his disclosures whenever appropriate and will continue his transparent and thorough process.”
But that doesn’t line up with what ethics experts who’ve reviewed personal financial disclosures for earlier administrations say.
“It’s just sloppy, and he doesn’t take a great deal of interest at all in getting this public financial disclosure form correct,” said Fox. “If he did he would have accomplished it by now.”
Democrats won another hotly contested statehouse seat on Tuesday night, capturing a district on Florida’s Gulf Coast for their 36th state legislative seat flip of the Trump era.
Democrat Margaret Good defeated James Buchanan, the son of wealthy Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), by a seven-point margin in a suburban Sarasota-based district President Trump carried by almost five points.
The win is the latest for Democrats, who’ve captured Trump-leaning territory across the country, from Wisconsin to New Hampshire to Missouri to Virginia to Washington. And the 12-point shift towards Democrats in this contest is right in line with the average shift that’s occurred in statehouse races across the country towards Democrats since the 2016 elections.
Democrats took another victory lap.
“Representative-elect Margaret Good’s campaign was dedicated to the people of Sarasota County who are tired of Florida Republicans peddling a Trump agenda counter to their values,” Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee head Jessica Good said in a statement.
These wins show how committed Democrats are to turning out against Trump right now across the country, a factor that’s unlikely to change before this November’s midterm elections and a sign that at least one of the factors for a large wave election is firmly in place. And while this suburban seat isn’t as deep red as some others — a Democrat won it in 2006 and President Obama nearly won the county in 2008 — it’s a sign that Democrats can expand the map to areas they haven’t been able to compete in since those wave elections.
This race was highly targeted by both parties, with heavy spending on both sides, an endorsement from Vice President Biden and a visit from former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in the election’s closing days.
Special elections make it easier for the more fired-up party to pull off huge upsets, and more Republican voters are likely to turn up for this fall’s midterms, making these races an imperfect stand-in of what the future will look like. But most real elections from the past year — as well as big gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey and Democrats’ shocking win in an Alabama Senate race — suggest Democrats are set up to win big next fall.
Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) almost blew his last election by choke-slamming a reporter for daring to ask him questions, then lying about how the assault happened. But in his mind (or at least his latest fundraising email), he’s still the victim.
Gianforte’s campaign sent out an email asking for money on Monday that included a claim that he’d not only had to beat beat his Democratic opponent but the “leftist media” in his special election last year.
“We were able to win a tough, close victory against the Democrats and the leftist media in the most expensive Congressional contest in Montana history,” reads the fundraising letter, signed by Gianforte.
That’s an interesting turn of phrase for Gianforte, who won his race last year even after tackling Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, breaking his glasses in the process, after Jacobs pressed him on his stance on the GOP’s Obamacare repeal plan.
He compounded that attack by lying about what happened, a story he later had to walk back. After pleading guilty to the attack he promised Jacobs an in-person meeting, which he’s since refused to hold unless Jacobs agrees that it’s off-the-record.
Gianforte’s six-point victory last summer came partly because much of Montana’s vote had already been cast via early voting when he attacked Jacobs. Democrats think they have an outside shot at defeating him in the Republican-leaning state.
Gianforte’s team didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.