Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Trump, Bannon, Conway, and Mercer Money

AZBlueMeanie (Blog for Arizona) has a lengthy post this morning on the ascension of Steve Bannon to power in the Trump administration, ‘Trump’s brain’, Stephen K. Bannon, elevated to National Security Council. The Blue Meanie reviews the dangers of salting the NSC with political operatives. I think that is the correct emphasis. The danger to our national security is not so much the diminished role of the Director of National Intelligence and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs as I posted Sunday in Fact-checking the National Security Council executive order. The danger is in the elevation of Bannon, the alt-right guy.

How did Bannon come to such power? Follow the money. Consider his financial sponsors covered in this Newsweek report from back in November, Meet Robert Mercer, the mysterious billionaire benefactor of Breitbart.

… by giving millions to a conservative super PAC, Make America Number 1, which his daughter Rebekah chaired, Mercer seems to have bought more influence over Trump’s campaign than any other donor. Rebekah also has ties to Stephen Bannon, the controversial Breitbart News Network executive chairman who was recently named the new administration’s chief strategist and senior counselor, records show. A campaign ethics watchdog and a political group are now calling on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the FBI to investigate those connections because they believe the entanglements between the Mercers, the super PAC and the Trump campaign are illegal.

If Mercer had been content to spend his fortune on just model trains and player pianos, the United States might have just elected its first female president. But the billionaire has been contributing to federal political committees since 1998, according to FEC filings, and began giving to super PACs in 2010, after the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that such committees could receive unlimited donations. Since then, he has given $36.8 million to super PACs.

Close to half of that PAC money—$15.5 million—went to Make America Number 1. When that super PAC was formed in April 2015 (as Keep the Promise 1), it backed Ted Cruz, but in June 2016 it changed names and candidates, shifting to Trump. At around the same time, one of its leaders, Kellyanne Conway, took on a major role in Trump’s campaign, as campaign manager. Some two months later, another leader of that super PAC, David Bossie, joined Trump too. Rebekah Mercer took over the super PAC. “When they get engaged in something, it’s in a big way,” says a person involved in Republican fundraising circuits. “They don’t do anything small.”

So basically what you have here is Rebekah Mercer using the influence of the Robert Mercer money infecting Donald Trump’s campaign - and now the Trump administration - with Bannon, Conway, and Bossie.

The Mercers don’t just support federal candidates. In 2014, the Mercer Family Foundation, a nonprofit Rebekah leads, awarded $18,300,979 in grants and contributions, according to financial filings. Those recipients include a few mainstream ones, such as the American Museum of Natural History and the Moving Picture Institute (Rebekah sits on the boards of both). But the majority of the foundation’s beneficiaries are conservative, even fringe groups: the Heritage Foundation (Rebekah is on the board there too), the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute (Rebekah is a board member) and Citizens United. Some advocate for limited government, free markets and “Judeo-Christian values.” Another is led by researchers who have denied that humans caused global warming.

One of Mercer’s biggest and most intriguing investments was not in a nonprofit and does not appear listed anywhere—he gave at least $10 million to Breitbart News, according to someone involved in Republican fundraising circuits who asked that Newsweek not name him in order to protect his political relationships (he says he knows firsthand about the transaction). Bloomberg reported the money was invested in 2011.

This past August, Bannon left Breitbart to help run the Trump campaign and is about to assume a vital position in the administration. His appointment as a top aide has prompted widespread criticism, including accusations that he is a darling of misogynists, white supremacists and anti-Semites. …

Bannon critics can apparently blame Rebekah; she pushed Trump to bring him on board, the Republican fundraising insider says. Her ties with Bannon go back a few years or more. They served together as officers of at least two nonprofits, Reclaim New York and the Government Accountability Institute. They have also produced at least one documentary together, Clinton Cash, a fearmongering look at the Clinton family’s finances. It was also Rebekah who convinced Trump to hire Conway, according to the fundraising insider. …

With Rebekah Mercer, Conway and Bossie on Trump’s transition team, and Bannon in a top administration role, the Mercer family’s influence now extends deep into the White House. This could be seen as contrary to some of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, such as when he vowed “to fight for every person in this country who believes government should serve the PEOPLE—not the donors,” called super PACs “total scams” and “very corrupt,” and slammed his opponent for receiving money from “hedge funders.” In January, he even criticized Ted Cruz for receiving “$11M from a NY hedge fund mogul,” precisely the amount Mercer had given Make America Number 1 at that point in its previous iteration.

By giving millions to get Trump elected, what did the self-made billionaire hope to get in return? Hillary Clinton proposed a tax on high-frequency trading of securities, which is reportedly a favorite of Renaissance Technologies. A Senate subcommittee has even questioned the company about its use of the tactic. The conservative-leaning advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform had said Clinton’s proposed tax would “burden markets by discouraging trading and investment,” and experts from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center estimated that such a tax could cost finance companies $185 billion over 10 years. Carrie Levine of the Center for Public Integrity points out that Mercer has previously put money behind opponents of candidates who supported that type of tax.

… L. Brent Bozell, founder and president of the conservative nonprofit Media Research Center—Rebekah Mercer is a board member, and it gets a lot of money from the Mercer Family Foundation … insists that the Mercers have no motive besides patriotism and that they fall outside of any D.C. oligarchy. “When you’re a billionaire or a multibillionaire, you really don’t need anything,” he says. “These people are driven by what they believe is good for the country.”

Apparently they think that Trump, via Bannon and the Mercer money, is “good for the country.” I don’t know about that but it’s clear that they think Trump is good for the Mercers.

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