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Cuomo Kept Fossil Fuel Pipeline Alive, Then Hired Pipeline’s Lobbyist to Run Reelection Bid

Co-published by WNYC New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration delayed — rather than blocked — a fracked-gas pipeline project just before Cuomo hired Maggie Moran, a registered lobbyist for the pipeline’s parent company, to run his reelection campaign.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Despite questions about special interests and revolving doors, Cuomo decided to hire a registered lobbyist to run his campaign.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo hired a lobbyist for a natural-gas pipeline company to run his re-election campaign at the same time his administration was throwing a potential lifeline to the company’s controversial New Jersey-New York pipeline project.

Less than three months before the administration postponed a decision on the project, the fossil fuel company in question also donated $100,000 to a Democratic Party governors’ organization that supports Cuomo, government records show.

Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi asserted that there was no link between the lobbying, the donations and the administration’s pipeline decisions.

“Protecting New Yorkers and our environment are this administration’s top priorities, which is why decisions on individual projects are made at the agency level by career public servants who conduct a rigorous review of the facts and the science,” Azzopardi said.

The company — Transco, a subsidiary of The Williams Companies, a Tulsa-based fossil fuel conglomerate — has been seeking permission from Cuomo administration regulators since June of 2017. The project is a 23-mile natural gas pipeline from Old Bridge, New Jersey to Rockaway, New York.

Cuomo touts his environmental record but has also declined to reject fossil fuel industry campaign cash.

As residential customers seek to switch from heating oil to natural gas, Williams has argued that the pipeline expansion is necessary to “help ensure that reliable gas supplies are available to support these conversions.” The company says the project will displace about 900,000 barrels of heating oil a year and reduce CO2 emissions in New York City and Long Island.

Critics say the location of the pipeline puts the waters and shores of Lower New York Bay at risk of contamination and other environmental damage, and that it will continue the region’s reliance on fossil fuels, thereby setting back the fight against climate change.

Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) temporarily denied a water quality certification for the pipeline in April. But the ruling also allowed the company to re-submit the proposal for approval “without prejudice” — a maneuver that keeps the embattled project alive. The company submitted a new application in May — and Cuomo has declined to answer questions about whether or not he agrees with Stringer that the proposal should be blocked.

Amid the intensifying battle over the pipeline, Williams hired lobbying firm Kivvit to advocate for its interests in Albany last fall, according to state ethics records. Among the lobbyists registered to represent Williams is Maggie Moran, a well-known operative who advised his gubernatorial campaign in 2010.

In June, while she was registered as a pipeline lobbyist, Cuomo hired her to take the reigns of this year’s campaign. Moran took over two months after Joe Percoco, who ran both of Cuomo’s previous campaigns, was convicted on federal corruption charges — one of several corruption scandals that have dogged the Cuomo administration in recent months. She took a leave of absence from Kivvit when she joined the campaign, a spokesman says.

In the last few years, Cuomo’s administration has faced multiple corruption scandals, fueling critics’ assertions that he is too close to Albany influence peddlers.

State records show that Moran, who declined an interview request, began lobbying on behalf of Williams in September 2017 — three months after Williams first submitted its pipeline proposal to Cuomo administration regulators. Those records also show that Moran’s lobbying has been specifically targeted at the executive branch that Cuomo heads. Kivvit’s website says Moran “oversees all aspects of Kivvit’s day-to-day operations” and Kivvit has continued to lobby for Williams in 2018. Kivvit’s managing director is former Cuomo communications director Rich Bamberger.

As Cuomo administration regulators were reviewing the pipeline, Williams made two donations totaling $100,000 to the Democratic Governors Association, which lists Cuomo as a member of its leadership team and which has provided the campaign with polling research.

Internal Revenue Service records show that in February, one $50,000 donation came from Williams Companies and another $50,000 contribution came from the “Williams Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company” — which is the overseer of the pipeline project before Cuomo’s administration. The New York Times on Friday reported that in that same month, Cuomo traveled to a Washington, D.C. DGA event on a chartered plane — and the association paid $10,725 for his trip.

Soon after the Williams donations to the DGA and Cuomo’s trip to the DGA event, the DGA gave more than $20,000 to Cuomo’s campaign, according to state disclosure records.

A Cuomo campaign spokesperson, Abbey Collins, said the governor did not solicit Williams’ contribution to the DGA.

Azzopardi, the spokesman for the governor’s office, said: “At no point did the agency or the governor’s office get approached on this project by Kivvit — any suggestion otherwise would be a trip into tinfoil hat country.”

The company has given regularly to both the Democratic and Republican governors’ associations in the past.

June 30, 2017 – Transco, a Williams subsidiary, submits an initial application to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation for a water permit for the NESE pipeline.

September, 2017 – The Williams Companies hires public-affairs firm Kivvit to represent the pipeline project to the Cuomo administration.

Feb. 13, 2018 – The Williams Companies make a $50,000 contribution to the Democratic Governors Association, which lists Andrew Cuomo on its leadership team.

Feb. 21, 2018 – Transco makes a separate $50,000 contribution to the DGA.

April 20, 2018 – Under pressure from environmental groups to permanently block the NESE, the state instead keeps the project alive by dismissing Transco’s application “without prejudice.”

May 17, 2018 – Transco resubmits the water permit application, effectively delaying a final decision on the project until 2019.

May-June, 2018 – New York State ethics records show that Maggie Moran, managing partner at public affairs firm Kivvit, was registered to lobby for Williams on “Energy Issues.”

June 13, 2018 – The DGA makes a $20,166.66 contribution to Cuomo’s reelection campaign.

June 15, 2018 – Cuomo hires Moran to run his campaign, according to Politico.

The 2018 donations appear to be among the company’s largest ever to the DGA. The DGA has said corporate donations to the group cannot be earmarked to specific campaigns or candidates, and therefore there is no link between donations and public-policy influence.

Williams spokesperson Keith Isbell declined to discuss the company’s lobbying activities, its relationship with Moran or its donations to the DGA on the record.

“New York’s energy demands continue to grow at a startling rate,” he said. “The Northeast Supply Enhancement project is a critical step toward ensuring New York has the infrastructure in place to meet that demand with a mix of energy sources that are reliable, affordable and clean.”

In the last few years, Cuomo has faced multiple corruption scandals, fueling critics’ assertions that he is too close to Albany influence peddlers. Percoco, one of his closest aides, was convicted in March on federal corruption charges, and in July several other top Cuomo allies were found guilty of perpetrating a massive bid-rigging scheme.

Despite questions about special interests and revolving doors, Cuomo decided to hire a registered lobbyist to run his campaign amid the corruption trials. That decision follows Cuomo’s 2015 hiring of lobbyist William Mulrow to serve as his top aide in Albany.

Cuomo is now facing a spirited Democratic primary challenge from actress Cynthia Nixon, who has demanded an end to pipeline approvals. During the campaign, the governor has touted his environmental record, including his formation of the U.S. Climate Alliance with other blue-state governors following the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement last year. The Cuomo administration has also rejectedtwo other proposed pipeline projects.

But Cuomo has declined to reject fossil fuel industry campaign cash, and earlier this year affirmed his support for natural gas development — even as environmental groups continue to pressure his administration to block proposals for new gas-fired plants and pipeline projects around the state.

In the NESE pipeline fight, the Cuomo administration denied Williams’ subsidiary Transco a water quality certification, citing “potentially significant environmental impacts that raised serious concerns.”

“The construction of the project could have significant water quality impacts in New York State,” said Cuomo DEC appointee Thomas Berkman in a letter released just weeks after Nixon entered the primary race against the governor. “This includes potentially significant impacts from the resuspension of sediments and other contaminants, as well as to habitats due to the disturbance of shellfish beds and other benthic resources. In addition, the construction of the Project could potentially impact Atlantic sturgeon and other protected species.”

However, because state regulators rejected the application “without prejudice,” the state allowed Williams to resubmit its proposal in May. That has raised fears among environmental activists that Cuomo’s administration is delaying a decision on the pipeline until after next week’s gubernatorial primary and the general election in November.

According to bi-monthly reports filed with the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, Moran was registered to lobby the executive branch of New York State government on behalf of Williams as recently as May and June of this year — just as the pipeline’s water quality permit was resubmitted, and just before she joined the Cuomo campaign as manager.

Cuomo campaign spokeswoman Abbey Collins said “Maggie was not on the campaign when the decision was made by the governor’s administration.”

She said Moran’s firm handled media relations and advertising for the company but didn’t lobby the legislature or the executive branch. She said it was required to register as a lobbyist by new rules about companies that have contact with the press.

In a letter filed with state ethics regulators, an official from the Williams Companies said the conglomerate hired Moran’s firm to “engage in communications activities to the general public that spur communications to the executive and legislative branches of New York State government.”

Williams is not the only Moran client with business before Cuomo. State records show that as of June, Moran has also been registered to lobby “administrative branches of New York State government” on behalf of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which is currently negotiating with the New York Department of Health over the price of its cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi. Records show that Vertex hired Kivvit in May of this year, immediately following a state panel’s recommendation that New York’s Medicaid program impose a price cap on Orkambi.

Another of Moran’s clients at Kivvit is Tesla. The electric carmaker is the parent company of SolarCity, whose state-funded RiverBend factory is at the center of the ongoing Buffalo Billion probe. That investigation has seen Percoco convicted in federal court on three counts of bribery and fraud, and another former Cuomo aide, Todd Howe, plead guilty on similar charges.

Kivvit clients have contributed at least $544,000 to Cuomo’s campaigns since 2014, according to state campaign finance disclosures. Moran herself has donated $10,000 to Cuomo since 2015, records show.

In addition to approval from the Cuomo administration, Williams’ NESE pipeline also needs approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), whose five commissioners — four of whom are appointees of President Trump — are expected to issue a ruling on whether the project can move forward later this month.

The agency in March issued a report finding that the project “would result in some adverse environmental impacts” including “long-term impacts on air quality and noise” from a compressor station. However, the same report also asserted that most of the “impacts would be temporary and occur during construction.”

A coalition of environmental and citizens groups, Stop the Williams Pipeline, submitted more than 6,000 comments in opposition to the pipeline to the FERC during its public comment period. The group is also collecting signatures on a its members plan to submit to Cuomo later this year.

In announcing his opposition to the pipeline this week, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said he was concerned about the impact on many of the region’s sensitive ecosystems.

“The 23-mile pipeline would extend from New Jersey, along the Staten Island coast, past Coney Island and into the Rockaways,” he said in a statement. “Allowing the construction of the pipeline risks damage to many of New York’s most precious habitats and natural assets, including New York Harbor, Jamaica Bay, and the Rockaways’ many beaches.”

Kavanaugh’s Artful Dodging Leaves Roe v. Wade and Other Questions Unanswered

Legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky says the Supreme Court nominee “is going to move constitutional law very substantially to the right, and this will hurt a lot of people. I think he’s going to be the fifth vote to gut many federal civil rights laws.”

White House photo of Kavanaugh family with President Trump.

Throughout the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings on U. S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Capital & Main will discuss the proceedings with Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. Below is an excerpt of an interview that followed Wednesday’s testimony.

Capital & Main: Kavanaugh has written extensively on the idea of precedent and, on Wednesday, when asked about Roe v. Wade, described it as “precedent upon precedent.” What does that mean? Is he saying anything of substance?

Erwin Chemerinsky: He’s saying nothing of substance. First, even if the court doesn’t explicitly overrule Roe v. Wade, they can kill it by a thousand cuts by upholding the myriad of laws that impose restrictions on abortion. Two years ago, the court struck down a Texas law that would have closed most of the facilities in the state where abortions were performed. It was 5-3, with Justice [Anthony] Kennedy in the majority. The court can uphold laws like that and basically undercut Roe v. Wade. But beyond that, the fact that he says it’s precedent upon precedent, or that he respects precedent, doesn’t tell us what he’s going to do when he’s a justice and he has the power to overrule Roe v. Wade.

You can respect precedent until you don’t.

Exactly. And that’s true of every justice. I wrote a piece in the National Law Journal a few weeks ago saying that I don’t think the senators should waste their time asking his views on precedent. Because what he’ll say is, “Of course I believe in precedent.” Except sometimes precedent has to be overruled.

Earlier this week, the Brookings Institutionreleased a report in which the authors argued that Kavanaugh, if confirmed, must recuse himself from any future cases that deal with criminal investigations personally involving Trump.

I read it. We’re in an unprecedented situation. I can’t think of another time when a president who was under such active criminal investigation and being subjected to so many civil suits was nominating somebody to the Supreme Court. In the context of Richard Nixon, his appointments were in 1969 and 1971, and the Watergate burglary wasn’t until June of 1972. But it’s got to be remembered that whether a justice is recused is entirely up to that justice. Ultimately, if Kavanaugh is confirmed, whether he’ll recuse himself is up to Kavanaugh.

You were also among hundreds of legal scholars whosigned a letter opposing the nomination of Kavanaugh. The letter argued that he “reflects a backward-looking view of the Constitution” and that his record “reveals a predisposition to decide cases in order to achieve results that threaten fundamental rights and in some cases the very lives of Americans.” If he is confirmed, what might change?

I think he is going to move constitutional law very substantially to the right, and that this will hurt a lot of people. I think he will be the fifth vote to either effectively or explicitly overrule Roe v. Wade. I think he will be the fifth vote to find that all affirmative action is unconstitutional. I think he’s going to be the fifth vote to allow states much more latitude in imposing the death penalty and draconian punishments. I think he’s going to be the fifth vote to gut many federal civil rights laws. I think that no longer will the majority of the court protect gay and lesbian rights.

During the second day of the confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh was pressed by Democratic senators about his views on executive power—specifically about whether a president has the ability to pardon himself, or whether he can be forced to respond to a subpoena.

So if we’re not going to get any new information from Kavanaugh during the hearing, what does a look at his past tell us about his views on executive power?

He’s got a paper trail on that. He wrote a law review article saying that he doesn’t believe that a sitting president should be subject to criminal or civil investigations. He gave a speech in which he said the case he most wants to see overruled in the Supreme Court is a case called Morrison v. Olson. That was a 1988 case that was 7-1, and which upheld the constitutionality of the independent counsel. He gave a speech where he said that the United States v. Nixon was likely wrongly decided. This was the unanimous Supreme Court case that said President Nixon had to release the Watergate tapes. This is something that makes Kavanaugh very troubling at this moment in history. Now more than ever, we need the courts to enforce the Constitution and check the president. This is a president who shows no understanding of the Constitution at all, who shows enormous autocratic impulses, and we have a Congress that so far has been unwilling to check the president. That means it’s the courts or nothing.

Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh Faces a Low Admissions Bar

“Kavanaugh,” says UC Berkeley law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky, “doesn’t have to say any more than is needed to make sure he doesn’t lose the Republican vote, and he knows that.”

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Throughout the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings on U. S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Capital & Main will discuss the proceedings with Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. Below is an excerpt of an interview that followed Tuesday’s testimony.

Capital & Main: The first day saw more than 70 arrests of protesters, along with an attempt by Democrats to delay Kavanaugh’s hearing. How unusual are these sorts of tactics?

Erwin Chemerinsky: It was very unusual for the Democrats to, in such a coordinated way, say that the hearing should be postponed until they have access to documents. Their point is: There’s no hurry. What’s the rush? Why not give us a chance to look at the documents? The problem is, of course, that the Republicans have the majority of the committee, and there’s nothing the minority party can do about it.

What might these documents reveal?

They could contain information that is very relevant to evaluating Brett Kavanaugh. As an example, the memos regarding Jay Bybee, the judge on the Ninth Circuit of Appeals, didn’t come out until after [Bybee] was already confirmed. Among the documents that came out was [his approval of] the so-called torture memos. [Bybee was confirmed by the Senate in 2003; his role in the torture memos wasn’t revealed until the following year.] Bybee would not have been confirmed if those documents had been known prior to his confirmation. So what the Democrats are saying is, “We should have access to all these documents—and we just got 42,000 of them last night. We need time to process them.”

Overall, did the American public learn anything new Tuesday?

No, not anything that we didn’t know before. We knew that Kavanaugh was going to give an opening statement filled with platitudes. And that’s what we got.

Supreme Court confirmation hearings can feel like a public performance in which very little, by design, is actually revealed.

In January 2006, I testified against the confirmation of Samuel Alito. At a break in the proceeding, then-Senator Joe Biden came up to me and said, “This is all an exercise in Kabuki theater.” He said that everyone knew that Samuel Alito was going to be a very conservative Supreme Court justice. The Republicans were all pretending he had no ideology, and the Democrats were all trying to ask him a question to trip him up, and he was too smart for that. I think that’s what we’re seeing again. Kavanaugh doesn’t have to say any more than is needed to make sure he doesn’t lose the Republican vote, and he knows that. I’m guessing that’s what we’re going to see this week.

Right, exactly. What he knows is that he doesn’t have to actually answer questions.

Ohio, NJ and California Pension Funds Invested $885 Million in Hedge Fund That Controls National Enquirer Parent

Co-published by MapLight and Fast Company
Under Republican governors, two states pumped hundreds of millions of dollars of pension cash into a high-risk hedge fund that took control of the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

During the last five years, taxpayers in New Jersey, Ohio and California  have owned large financial stakes in the owner of the media company that allegedly helped the Trump campaign bury negative stories, according to documents reviewed by Capital & Main and MapLight.

Under Republican governors, New Jersey and Ohio committed at least $650 million of pension cash into Chatham Asset Management, a high-risk hedge fund that has taken control of the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., which is at the center of the federal investigation into President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. California’s pension fund also has a $235 million stake in a Chatham fund.

The hedge fund is run by Anthony Melchiorre, a GOP donor who reportedly met with the president and AMI CEO David Pecker at the White House soon after Trump took office. Melchiorre and his wife have donated more than $100,000 to Republican candidates and party committees since 2010.

Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, recently pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws stemming from payments he made to women to hide affairs with the former reality TV star and real estate magnate. AMI executives helped Cohen purchase stories that could have hurt Trump’s presidential bid, according to the Wall Street Journal.

AMI has denied it helped Trump’s campaign, although Pecker was recently granted immunity as part of the Cohen probe. Former FEC commissioner Trevor Potter, the head of the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, last week said the situation “presents a serious legal problem for AMI.” If those legal troubles end up depressing the market value of AMI, teachers, firefighters, cops and other public employees also could potentially suffer losses at a time when their pension funds are already facingshortfalls.

A New Jersey Treasury Department spokesperson said in an email that its Division of Investment “is in regular contact with its investment partners regarding underlying portfolio companies and provides feedback when appropriate. While DOI plays no role in the management of a fund’s portfolio companies, it expects the funds to invest in good businesses with strong management teams that follow all applicable laws.”

“I am personally appalled by the Enquirer being an accessory to Cohen’s criminal behavior on behalf of the candidate,” said Tom Bruno, a state union representative who is the chairman of the pension’s board of trustees and serves on New Jersey’s State Investment Council, which oversees the pension system’s investments.

“If the allegations are true, I would vote and argue for full divestiture,” he said. “I cannot talk on behalf of the entire SIC, but I will be doing everything in my power to convince a majority to vote the same way.”

Chatham did not respond to questions about how exposed taxpayers and pension systems might be to AMI and any financial consequences of its legal entanglements. A spokesman for the Ohio pension system said Thursday that the state asked for its money to be withdrawn from the Chatham fund in 2015; the money was redeemed in 2017.

“State officials are well-positioned and duty-bound to investigate allegations of potential wrongdoing in hedge fund portfolios,” said former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney Edward Siedle.

In 2013, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration moved$300 million of pension cash into the Chatham Fund, LP, which has owned a stake in AMI, according to SEC records. Last year, barely three months before Christie left office, his administration steered another $200 million to another Chatham vehicle.

In 2013 and 2014, an Ohio pension system partially controlled by Gov. John Kasich’s appointees committed $150 million to Chatham. The hedge fund finalized its deal to buy an ownership stake in AMI in the summer of 2014.

The Christie administration’s shift of $500 million into Chatham makes New Jersey retirees a substantial investor in the hedge fund, which manages $3.2 billion in assets, according to state records. Those records show the original $500 million investments are now worth as much as $692 million.

Best known for its lurid Enquirer headlines (“Aliens Are Living in My Toilet”), AMI has been beset by a difficult environment for print publications. Chatham has warned that its investments are risky and that a client “may lose its entire investment in a troubled company.” In early 2018, private equity giant Blackstone removed Chatham from one of its major investment funds.

Along with the public pension funds, four other private pension funds — including those for Ford and Toyota Motors employees — have had investments with Chatham, according to financial research firm Preqin.

AMI represents a large portion of Chatham’s portfolio. Internal hedge fund records from late 2017 show that AMI investments comprised 23 percent of the Chatham Asset Partners High Yield Fund’s portfolio. The hedge fund also has officials who serve as directors at AMI.

Attorney Jay Youngdahl, a former Harvard researcher who has served as a steelworkers pension trustee, said state officials may be able to take action to try to protect retiree investments.

“There are often clauses in agreements between pension funds and hedge funds that give states certain rights and recourse if they believe retirees’ money has been invested in companies engaging in criminal activity,” he said.

This story has been updated from its original version.

Cuomo Received $25,000 From Weinstein Lawyer’s Firm as He Suspended Probe

Co-published by Sludge
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo halted an investigation into the Manhattan DA’s handling of the Harvey Weinstein case just as the law firm representing the Hollywood producer gave Cuomo’s campaign $25,000.

Andrew Cuomo photo by Diana Robinson.

Last year, a political firestorm erupted when journalists revealed that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer David Boies gave $10,000 to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. in the months after Vance declined to prosecute the movie producer on sexual assault charges. Now, less than a year later, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has halted an investigation into the handling of the Weinstein case just as Boies’ law firm gave Cuomo’s campaign $25,000, according to state records reviewed by Capital & Main and Sludge.

The controversies spotlight ongoing questions about whether law enforcement actions in New York are being inappropriately influenced by campaign donations.

Amid explosive headlines about Boies’ donations to Vance and the district attorney’s decision not to prosecute Weinstein, Cuomo in March called for the New York Attorney General’s office to investigate the handling of the case, which revolved around accusations that Weinstein groped an Italian model.

While Vance in May opted to reverse course and charge the Hollywood producer, Cuomo declared that an investigation into Vance’s original decision to not prosecute Weinstein was necessary because, the governor said, “it is critical not only that these cases are given the utmost attention but also that there is public confidence in the handling of these cases.”

However, BuzzFeed on Tuesday reported that Cuomo reversed himself in June, sending a letter to New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood asking her to suspend the investigation for six months. The suspension effectively shields Boies from scrutiny of any potential relationship between his 2015 donation to Vance and Vance’s decision not to prosecute Weinstein.

Cuomo’s June order came six days  after Boies, Schiller & Flexner gave $25,000 to Cuomo’s reelection campaign, according to New York campaign finance records. In all, Boies and his law firm have given Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaigns more than $245,000 since 2009.

“Neither Mr. Boies, nor anyone from his firm, ever discussed Harvey Weinstein or Mr. Vance with Mr. Cuomo, or anyone from his office, at any time,” a spokesperson for Boies Schiller & Flexner said in an emailed statement. “Mr. Boies is a longtime supporter of Mr. Cuomo and his contribution in June was consistent with his contributions to Mr. Cuomo over years past.”

Cuomo’s spokesperson said the investigation was suspended temporarily in order to avoid interfering with Vance’s ongoing prosecution of Weinstein.

“As we said when the Governor directed the Attorney General to investigate the Manhattan DA’s Office, it should not interfere with the DA’s ongoing criminal case,” Cuomo press secretary Dani Lever told Buzzfeed. “Given the recent indictment and prosecution of Harvey Weinstein by the district attorney, the attorney general’s investigation has been postponed for six months.”

However, Buzzfeed’s report pointed out that as criminal proceedings against Weinstein could drag on for years, the attorney general’s investigation may effectively be suspended indefinitely.

Update: After this article was published, a state official responded, saying that suspending the investigation had nothing to do with Boies’ campaign contributions: “The attorney general’s investigation was suspended to avoid situations in which Weinstein’s defense attorneys would be able to constantly petition the attorney general’s office for information about what they uncovered and undermine a criminal prosecution.”

Top Republican on Tax Subcommittee Received Yacht Loan From Foreign Bank Lobbying on 2017 Tax Bill

Federal records show that one of Rep. Vern Buchanan’s LLCs financed foreign bank loans to purchase a yacht and a private luxury jet.

Vern Buchanan, center. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

As Republicans were finalizing tax cut legislation in late 2017, a foreign-owned bank seeking to shape the bill gave a seven-figure yacht loan to a top GOP lawmaker on the committee writing the measure, according to documents reviewed by Capital & Main and MapLight.

Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL), who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and leads its tax policy subcommittee, has been under fire in recent weeks for purchasing a yacht on the same day he voted for the GOP tax package. Buchanan registered a 73-foot Ocean Alexander vessel named Entrepreneur with the U.S. Coast Guard a month later, according to federal records.

Although Buchanan is one of the wealthiest members of Congress — worth at least $80 million — federal records show one of his limited liability companies financed the purchase with a BMO Harris Bank loan worth as much as $5 million. Since 2016, Buchanan’s companies have received three loans worth as much as $35 million from BMO Harris, which is the American subsidiary of the Bank of Montreal. In total, since he was appointed to the Ways and Means Committee in 2010, Buchanan and his companies have received between $17 million and $85 million worth of loans from four lenders.

At the time Buchanan’s company received the 2017 yacht loan, BMO Harris was lobbying congressional lawmakers on tax policy overseen by the Ways and Means Committee, according to federal records. Buchanan received a separate BMO Harris loan for a plane in 2016. Records show that loan, worth between $5 million and $25 million, was made around the same time that the bank began lobbying lawmakers on “tax reform proposals.”

In all, BMO spent $760,000 lobbying lawmakers in 2017, and records show the bank paid for tax reform lobbying from Tony Podesta, whose firm is being investigated for potential violations of foreign lobbying laws.

In recent years, lending to lawmakers has been a source of controversy, with some critics alleging that politically connected banks can use favorable loan terms as a stealth conduit of political influence. Buchanan did not list the terms of the BMO Harris loans in his 2017 financial disclosure report, which was filed in May, and his office did not respond to questions about the deal.

“For privacy reasons we do not disclose information about specific loans,” said BMO Harris spokesperson Patrick O’Herlihy. “We do not provide services or products to public officials that are not also available to the general public.”

Craig Holman, an ethics advocate at Public Citizen, said that the bank’s loans to Buchanan’s company pose a “particularly egregious” conflict of interest.

“It isn’t just business for Buchanan,” he said. “The loans grant Buchanan the luxuries of a personal jet and a yacht. It is very reasonable to assume those luxuries could well influence Buchanan’s official actions.”

Both BMO Harris and Buchanan could reap a financial windfall from the tax legislation.

The bank’s first annual report after the passage of the GOP measure said corporate tax cuts in the bill are “expected to increase our annual net income from what it would have otherwise been.” In late May, shortly after its report was published, the company announced record U.S. profits. BMO Harris had publicly celebrated the bill in January and said it would increase its minimum wage to $15 per hour as a result of the tax cut. Both the Trump administration and House Republicans touted BMO Harris as an example of the tax cut’s success.

The bank also announced a plan to repurchase as many as 20 million shares of its own stock — providing ammunition to critics who predicted that companies would use the tax cut windfall to enrich executives and shareholders, rather than to create new jobs.

For his part, Buchanan has promoted the tax cut as a boon to working families.

“The sweeping tax reform bill signed into law last month is already producing results,” he said in a statement posted on his website soon after the tax bill passed. “As the son of a factory worker who grew up in the blue-collar suburbs of Detroit, I know firsthand how important a bonus or pay raise can be for a family struggling to make ends meet.”

The tax bill could also boost Buchanan’s earnings from various corporate entities that he controls, which include real estate holdings and an auto dealership. The legislation slashed rates on “pass-through” income that flows to individuals through businesses that include limited liability corporations, S-corporations and partnerships.

In the case of Buchanan’s new yacht, the Republican’s financial disclosure forms show that the BMO Harris loan for the vessel — as well as the earlier loan for the purchase of an Embraer luxury jet airplane that can seat 10 people — were made to Buchanan’s company, Aircraft Holding and Leasing, LLC.

Buchanan’s financial disclosure forms report that he has collected as much as $5 million in pass-through income from Aircraft Holding and Leasing since being elected to Congress in 2006. Buchanan’s 2017 disclosure forms report that he had between $1.5 million and $3.3 million of assets in a BMO Harris investment account.

The House Ethics Committee says that it is a violation of congressional gift rules if a lawmaker “is given a loan at a below-market interest rate,” though members of Congress aren’t required to publicly disclose the terms of loans they receive.

In 2012, congressional investigators found that mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp. had a special unit that made discounted loans and gave preferential treatment to lawmakers, congressional staff and other high-ranking government officials. A 2016 Institute for New Economic Thinking study by researchers at the London Business School found that lawmakers who join financial oversight committees receive larger, more favorable loans than other lawmakers.

Proposed Los Angeles Law Would Give Tenants Access to Attorneys

The City Council is considering a ‘right to counsel’ program that could help curb evictions and homelessness.

Photo by B-A Graphix

An estimated 30,000 eviction cases are filed in court each year against Los Angeles city residents. Many more tenants do not show up in court since they know “they have limited legal rights and they have limited access to legal representation,” according to a recent report by Tenants Together, a renter advocacy organization.

Urged on by renter advocates, a Los Angeles City Council housing committee voted August 8 to support the creation of a ‘right to counsel’ law similar to ones that have been adopted by San Francisco and New York.

The committee approved a motion, authored by L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, which directs staff to craft a program that would give more tenants facing eviction access to attorneys.

“Basic fairness dictates that if one side of an eviction proceeding has legal representation, the other side should have representation, too, and that equality before the law shouldn’t depend on income level,” said Jerry Jones, director of public policy at the Inner City Law Center. Jones joined about a dozen speakers at the committee meeting.

Compared to the high cost of addressing the homeless crisis, eviction defense is a relatively inexpensive means to prevent people from becoming homeless, according to Jones.

County and city officials are struggling to find temporary and permanent housing for the tens of thousands of residents who become homeless every year. And while there has been a slight decrease in the county’s homeless population since last year, the number of homeless – 53,000 – is still staggering, according to the last count. In addition, more people were homeless for the first time this year than last, suggesting unaffordable rents may be pushing people onto the street.

At the hearing, Janet Gagnon, a representative of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, complained that a right-to-counsel program would “simply give money to defense attorneys.” She said that public money would be better spent on vouchers “so that the people can avoid the eviction process entirely.”

But a 2017 analysis of pilot programs that offered free legal service to tenants concluded that providing counsel does have benefits. Eviction cases involving represented tenants are more likely to end in settlement, and most of those settlements reduced back-owed rent or helped protect tenants’ credit by keeping eviction notices off the public record.

The study, which was conducted by the Judicial Council of California, also found that 67 percent of cases involving represented tenants settled, as compared to 34 percent of cases in which people represented themselves. While all clients in the study received eviction notices, only 6 percent were ultimately evicted from their homes.

Jim Bickhart, a representative of Councilman Paul Koretz, said that the intent of the proposed measure was to expand the capacity of the current network of legal services, which currently serves “several thousand clients a year.”

“There is no way this proposal could provide free legal service to every tenant faced with eviction, but we should start somewhere,” he added. The motion is scheduled to be voted on by the full City Council on August 17.

Cuomo’s Cable Company War Could Enrich His Campaign Donors

Last week New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Public Service Commission revoked the authorization of the state’s largest cable TV provider to operate. The action could enrich other cable industry giants that, together, rank among Cuomo’s largest campaign donors.

Andrew Cuomo photo by Diana Robinson.

When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration recently moved to shut down New York City’s largest cable television provider, Cuomo cast the maneuver as an initiative to defend consumers from a company he claimed had failed to build out service to rural customers. He did not mention that the action could end up enriching other cable industry giants that are together among Cuomo’s largest campaign donors — and that have delivered large contributions to Cuomo’s campaign in the year leading up to the decision.

Cuomo, a Democrat, is facing a primary battle against progressive actress Cynthia Nixon, who has accused him of shaping policy to benefit his largest campaign contributors.

In the current battle over New York’s telecommunication regulation, Cuomo’s Public Service Commission (PSC) last week revoked Charter Spectrum’s authorization to operate in the state. The commission’s order said the company — which is the largest cable provider in New York — had failed to build out high-speed Internet service to rural areas, as required in its 2016 merger agreement with Time Warner. Cuomo declared that the company “has been executing fraud on the people of this state.”

Cuomo aired his criticism after a reporter from a Charter-owned news outlet had asked him about corruption scandals engulfing his administration. Later, Nixon asserted that the governor was employing a Donald Trump-esque tactic to try to intimidate journalists. Whether that was in fact Cuomo’s motive, there is little doubt that his administration’s move could also open up a rare — and highly lucrative — expansion opportunity for well-positioned telecom industry competitors such as Comcast or Altice, which have delivered big money to Cuomo.

Campaign finance records reviewed by Capital & Main show that Comcast and Cablevision — the latter of which is owned by Altice and operates in New York — have together given Cuomo more than $830,000 during his career as New York attorney general and then governor – a sum that dwarfs the $191,000 that Charter subsidiary Time Warner gave to Cuomo in the same time period. Nearly $200,000 of the cash from Comcast and Cablevision was delivered to Cuomo in the last year – while Time Warner made no contributions to the governor in that period.

Meanwhile, a Cuomo aide was recently hired by a lobbying firm that represents Altice, and Cuomo’s PSC in 2015 approved the company’s merger with Cablevision over the objections of the Communications Workers of America, which argued to the Federal Communications Commission that the deal would “starve Cablevision of resources needed for service, network investment and jobs.”

Altice and Comcast did not comment in response to questions from Capital & Main. A statement from Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo, read in part:

“If your theory were correct and anyone was influenced by contributions, Charter would not have been granted the franchise in the first place‎. Rather than serve the people of New York, for the past two years Charter has sought to advance its own interests at their expense. In addition to its failure to expand broadband service to rural, poor, and underserved communities that is at the heart of the PSC’s action, Charter misled New Yorkers through advertisements on its stations that they took down only yesterday.  At every turn they have put their own interest first, rather than keep the promises to New Yorkers they made in exchange for their exclusivity and the PSC rightly exercised its authority as a regulator.”

Potential Charter replacements like Altice “would arguably be very happy to expand their footprint in New York,” said Harold Feld, vice president of the consumer group Public Knowledge.

Altice reportedly has about three million customers in New York — and has in recent years been aiming to expand its Internet service in New York City. Comcast does not operate in New York, but does operate in neighboring New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“For them, this would be an opportunity that is adjacent to their existing operations,” Feld told Capital & Main. “There are just so few opportunities to add a significant expansion of cable systems, and this one in particular includes New York City, which is a very significant and profitable market.”

The PSC’s order revolves around conditions Charter agreed to as part of its merger with Time-Warner. According to PSC , that deal required Charter to expand broadband service to “an additional 145,000 homes and businesses in less densely populated areas across the state” — an obligation that Cuomo administration officials say the company did not follow through on.

For its part, Charter denies the allegations.

“We believe we’re in compliance with the plain reading and the buildout requirements that the state imposed on us in merger conditions, and we have a very strong legal case and ability to defend ourselves,” Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge said this week during an earnings call. “And it could play out over a lengthy period of time if required.”

Restless Valley: Can Devin Nunes Hold His Seat in November?

For years the California backbencher was a quiet blip on Congress’ radar. Then he burst into the news by trying to disrupt the House’s Russia probe. Today he finds himself increasingly on the receiving end of constituent anger.

Devin Nunes photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images.

The eight-term congressman could not be less visible to locals if he wore a magic cloak.  Some visiting constituents have had to interact with Nunes’ people through an outdoor intercom.

The conversations swirling around at Pride Visalia blended in with feathery dance beats from a drag contest, here in Tulare County’s largest town. Southern Central Valley LGBT people and their allies had taken cars, trains and buses out of map dots from miles around to gather in fellowship at Visalia’s Old Lumberyard. All about this outdoor downtown party in America’s agricultural center, the undeniable future — even more brown than it is queer — was celebrating.

In the middle of this revelry Ruth McKee, a retired Visalia deputy district attorney, began to rail against Devin Nunes, California’s 22nd Congressional District’s representative and a major impediment to the House Intelligence Committee’s Russian-collusion investigation. He won reelection in 2016 to his drawn-safe seat with 67 percent of the vote. (Donald Trump won the district with 52 percent.)

“Nunes spews ‘Water! Water! Water!’ and won’t do anything to help get that water.”

“Nunes has been in office for 16 years. He hasn’t brought one drop of water to our family farmers,” complained McKee, who runs Tulare’s Democratic Central Committee. “Agriculture is our base, agriculture is our life, and he spews, ‘Water! Water! Water!’ and won’t do anything to help get that water.”

McKee was directly contradicting a local pro-Nunes narrative driven by AM talk radio and 300 miles of billboards appearing along Highway 99. It’s one heavily promoted by Valley Republicans.

Democratic challenger Andrew Janz says he’ll debate Nunes, but the incumbent has opted to stick with his bulk mailers.

“Congressman Nunes is doing a great job, and in the face of a lot of pressure in Washington,” Michael Der Manouel Jr., a prominent Fresno businessman and chairman of the local Lincoln Club, told Capital & Main.

The eight-term congressman has cultivated a reputation as both a water warrior and a DC representative who could not be less visible to the local public if he wore a magic cloak. From ag-rich Tulare County, wherepublic school students are eligible for reduced-priced lunches, north to Fresno County Democrats in the wealthy, conservative suburb of Clovis, constituents fed up with Nunes have become focused on finding ways to unseat him. They seem to have made some headway.

In April, the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ influential Sabato’s Crystal Ball newsletter readjusted CA-22’s longstanding status from “safe” to “likely Republican,” in large part because 34-year-old challenger Andrew Janz, a Fresno County prosecutor, is Nunes’ first competitively-funded opponent. California’s June primary saw Nunes take 58 percent of the vote, while his Democratic rival earned a 32 percent second-place finish – and a spot on the November ballot. Businessman and Democrat Bobby Bliatout — controller of the district’s significant Hmong vote — took five percent.

The only local media Nunes remotely engages with is the conservative talk radio station KMJ, through call-in appearances.

District voters talk about Trump, of course. But water’s the greater concern in this farm country where folks with Latinate surnames are the majority and many of them are poor. And, while many residents assume, from his name, that Nunes is Latino, he belongs to the region’s powerful, mostly conservative Portuguese-American community – some of whose members, like Nunes’ family, originally came from the Azores Islands. How much water the rural South Valley gets, and to what extent it’s drinkable, are issues topping a list of voter grievances against state and national Republicans, including Nunes. In CA-22, poverty and substandard air quality are issues that trail close behind.

Energized Democrats in Clovis aren’t going to be the difference in November. Nor will Republican “Never Trumpers.” (It’s thought that, more likely, Nunes could be hurt by Republicans who just won’t bother to vote this fall.) No, the most up-for grabs-votes are here in Tulare County, where prospective voters work hard at low-paying, ag-associated jobs and have myriad reasons to not get to the polls.

“Sometimes I think the average constituent doesn’t truly understand what it means to have Devin Nunes as a representative,” said Abigail Solis, an Earlimart school board president. “They have become accustomed to living in an area that’s underserved, they have a congressman who never shows up. That’s just been the way it is. They don’t know anything different.”

Nunes has raised $7.3 million in the current election cycle, with only about 12 percent of that coming from within his district.

Nunes calls himself a family farmer, even though he sold his share of the family dairy farm in 2006 and bought into a Napa winery. The only local media Nunes remotely engages with is the conservative talk radio station KMJ, through call-in appearances. He hasn’t held a town hall meeting since 2009, when a public Affordable Care Act conversation went sideways. Some constituents who visit his Visalia office have had to interact with Nunes’ people through an outdoor intercom. (His office did not respond to requests for an interview with Nunes for this article.)

He does, however, send a breathtaking deluge of mailers. Nunes has raised $7.3 million in the current election cycle, with only about 12 percent of that coming from within his district.

Fred Vanderhoof, the Fresno County Republican Party chair, dismisses criticisms of Nunes’ absence from his district.

“The people Devin Nunes associates himself with, especially those that run his district offices and his office in Washington, have close ties with major corporations and wealthy families.”

“The outcry against him nationally has raised support within his district,” said Vanderhoof. “With what’s going on in DC, people understand that he can’t be here as much. He’s still very strong in the district.”

Nunes was first voted into office back in 1996, fresh out of College of the Sequoias. According to a New York Times profile, Nunes campaigned for a seat on the college’s board of trustees on a questionable allegation involving the school’s sale of 160 acres of campus farmland. The win marked him as a young conservative on the rise. He was 23. In 2001 President George W. Bush appointed Nunes California state director for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development section. Two years later he was elected to Congress.

Democrats have no choice but to explore deep get-out-the-vote strategies—including networks with Hmong constituents.

Although he sold his farm, Nunes has kept his aggie reputation and connections. His work with Valley congressmen David Valadao (R-Hanford) and Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) to pass 2014’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act kept the goodwill coming from farmers. Nunes could tap his chief of staff Anthony Ratekin from the employ of Stewart Resnick, the Beverly Hills-based “world’s richest farmer” and Central Valley land baron — and experience no question of conflicts.

“It seems like the people Devin Nunes associates himself with, especially those that run his district offices and his office in Washington, have close ties with major corporations and wealthy families, like the Resnicks,” Visalia native Janz told me a week after Pride Visalia, having just climbed down from his campaign’s flatbed truck. “As a member of Congress, the staff that you choose should be representative of the district.”

To beat the inherently high odds of winning a seat designed to produce Republican representation in DC, the Democrats will need to over-perform in Tulare County, and that means engaging its most glaring issues. Janz said that he’ll debate Nunes, but the incumbent has opted to stick with his bulk mailers. Democrats have no choice but to explore deep get-out-the-vote strategies—including networks with Bobby Bliatout’s Hmong constituents—especially in the 459,000-resident county’s hinterlands. There, clean water is so scarce that in towns like Monson, rich farmers with drills that can reach 2,000 feet into the ground drain aquifers and leave adjacent communities with little of the clean stuff.

Andrew Janz: “We’ve seen agencies like ICE come out and target immigrant communities in a clear attempt to drive [down] their turnout numbers in November.”

“People don’t understand that there are school districts without water, in their own backyard,” said Becky Quintana, 62, the founder of Committee for a Better Seville. According to Quintana, who until recently lived in water-scarce Seville, it’s common to run into public school teachers at Walmart buying water for their students.

Not only Janz, but the 250 organizers and canvassers that his party has on the streets will have to remind constituents that having 76 percent of a county’s school kids on reduced-priced lunches is not typical — and to amplify the concerns about pesticides that farm workers are exposed to while they toil in the fields.

“We like to brag about being the breadbasket of the world,” admitted Salvador Cazarez, secretary of Tulare County Stonewall Democrats. “And I think that blinds us to some of the issues.”

I can tell you, as a prosecutor, that the Latino community and the undocumented community are disproportionately targeted by criminals,” said Nunes’ Democratic opponent Janz, an outspoken water advocate who speaks his mother’s native Thai. And they do this because they know that these folks are very shy about going to the police and law enforcement to report what’s happening.”

“Latinos make up about 65 percent of the Valley, and sadly a lot of us are tricked into voting for somebody, or we’re told to vote for somebody.”

What’s remarkable is that some of the “criminal” tactics Janz described included those of voter intimidation of minority citizens — “Something,” he said, “we’ve been worried about from day one.”

“We see the same tactic being used to intimidate them to not come out and vote, because of what we see with what’s going on with the census,” he added, referring to the U.S. Census Bureau’s insertion of a controversial  question about citizenship in its 2020 survey forms. “They’re trying to add a new checkbox, basically saying, ‘Hey, are you a U.S. citizen?’ I think that’s completely unconstitutional.”

“Beyond that,” Janz continued, “we’ve seen agencies like ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] come out and target immigrant communities in a clear attempt to drive [down] their turnout numbers in November. I think it’s purposefully done by the Trump administration, and it’s designed to scare people.” (ICE did not respond to requests for comment.)

The domination of ag culture in the Central Valley has evolved so that many of the 22nd District’s inhabitants seem unable to comprehend the fact that their government is not run by a CEO.

Census manipulation and ICE scares are newish threats, but critics claim that Valley Republicans have historically practiced nuanced forms of voter intimidation and dissuasion. While locals interviewed for this story said some farmers directly tell their overwhelmingly Mexican-American workforce who to vote for, others opt to tie policy to personal outcomes. A Tulare County grower, for example, might tell his employees that he won’t be able to help buy textbooks for their children unless a proposed tax hike fails. Valley workers also report having been threatened over their voting choices in the workplace and in classrooms.

“Latinos make up about 65 percent of the Valley, and sadly a lot of us are tricked into voting for somebody, or we’re told to vote for somebody,” said Cazarez. “It’s super common [with] farm workers that the boss is going to come over and say, Look, you’re going to vote for this person or I will fire you.”

Add to this the inherent distrust of local politicians that many Mexican immigrants bring to the Valley. For a population disproportionately concerned that voting might expose holes in their families’ documentation, the barriers to mass electoral engagement can appear to be on the verge of insurmountable.

Those are major problems, and they lead back to the question over which McKee became so exercised: Why don’t the locals get it? Examples of Valley residents “not getting it” seem to abound.

The week before Pride Visalia, Tulare Mayor Carlton Jones had come under heavy political fire, after saying on Facebook that the agriculture industry can be destructive to the environment. Farmers began calling for his ouster.

“He’s kinda like the CEO of the town,” said Xavier Avila, a Tulare dairy man, told a reporter. It was soon in doubt whether Mayor Jones could survive the backlash. He didn’t — a few weeks later he was booted out of office by Tulare’s city council.

The domination of ag culture in the Central Valley has evolved so that many of the 22nd District’s inhabitants seem unable to comprehend the fact that their government is not run by a “CEO” and that agribusiness has no legal role in dictating the quality of the air they breathe and the water they drink. The job of Andrew Janz between now and November isn’t just to tease out these issues for a numbed and neglected pool of voters, but for his campaign to convince these Americans to put more than a vote on the line. The job of Devin Nunez during that same period will be to ensure that those same voters continue to vote for him.

How a Young Progressive Democrat Is Shaking Up Michigan Governor’s Race

Abdul El-Sayed, a 33-year-old physician, is running for Michigan’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination on a promise to create a single-payer health-care system in the state.

Abdul El-Sayed image: Michael Buck/Wood-TV8 via AP, Pool.

In 2016, Michigan was supposed to be part of the Democrats’ Blue Wall — the nickname given states that have traditionally voted Democratic in presidential elections. But it didn’t turn out that way — Donald Trump won the state, which helped him win the whole election.

Now, less than two years later, the state faces a hotly contested governor’s race — one that is part of an intensifying debate over the future of the Democratic Party. At the center of that debate is Abdul El-Sayed — a 33-year-old physician who is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination on a promise to create a single-payer health-care system in Michigan.

After 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning upset primary win over Rep. Joe Crowley in New York, one top Democratic leader, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, appeared on CNN and warned that “you can’t win the White House without the Midwest and I don’t think you can go too far to the left and still win the Midwest.”

El-Sayed faces former state senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer and entrepreneur Shri Thanedar in the August 7 primary. Whitmer, who has been leading in polls, has been boosted by Blue Cross Blue Shield executives and has declined to support single-payer health care. El-Sayed — who was previously appointed to run the Detroit Health Department after the city’s bankruptcy — recently received the endorsement of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who won the 2016 Michigan Democratic primary.

David Sirota: Michigan had been considered a Democratic-leaning state, but it has a Republican legislature, a Republican governor and Donald Trump won the state in 2016. Is Michigan now a GOP stronghold?

Abdul El-Sayed: I reject the premise that Michigan is a Republican state. If you look at what’s happened in our state legislature, that’s just the slow ticking away of the process of gerrymandering that Republicans have been pushing for a long time. You look at our Republican governor, and he’s center-right, relative to at least where the Republican spectrum is right now. And then this state went for Donald Trump by 10,000 votes because we had a Democratic nominee that was unwilling to come here, and didn’t have a message for the folks in this state.

More importantly, I point to the fact that Senator Bernie Sanders won his primary in 2016, and this is by all means a progressive state. Our job, though, is to put forward a politics and a message on the left that actually speaks to the lived experience of people in our state. Unfortunately, Michigan Democrats haven’t been able to do that for a very long time.

Almost everybody knows somebody who either lost a job and health-care, or was that person themselves in 2008. Everybody knows somebody who has been locked out of the economy since then. We all know that our public schools have suffered…And our teachers are trying to do more and more with less and less because of the Betsy DeVos agenda.

We are a progressive state that has failed to put up progressive candidates, and therefore lost our mantle to folks on the right who are talking about the same populist issues that Democrats are talking about, but ascribing it to, unfortunately, a virulent and disgusting strain of racism, saying, “The reason you don’t have a job is because the brown people took your jobs and the black people took all the benefits.” And that was in effect Donald Trump’s message.

Barack Obama twice won Michigan, and then Hillary Clinton lost it. What changed?

I don’t think much actually changed. I think people were frustrated by the message in 2016 from Democrats, which is to say that everything’s okay and the economy’s back.

And if you look at Barack Obama’s message in 2012, he was talking about the responsibility we continue to have to get the economy working for people again. To some degree, he presided over a “recovery” that didn’t really reach down for poor and working people in the way that it should have. And so it left Hillary in 2016 talking about an economy that was “back,” except for all we saw, corporate profits were up, labor participation had stagnated and real wages had fallen.

So for most people, like my Uncle Rick who voted for Donald Trump, [the] economy’s not back for them. They’re looking at an economy where they feel locked out, where they’re watching as the corporate elite are making out with more money than they ever made before the recession, and they’re left without jobs or even the means of building their own small businesses.

Your campaign has been cited as one of many high-profile progressive candidacies that are part of a larger national trend. Why are we seeing so many challenges to the Democratic Party establishment?

Progressives are sick and tired of watching our communities be sick and tired. We are standing up and saying that our politics have to stop trying to go halfway. We’ve got to go all the way there. And the only way that Democrats win is when we are honest and conscious about our message. When we stand up and we say that a government for people and by people means that we are not taking corporate money from the same old folks who tend to get away with pushing forward a set of policies that ultimately hurt people.

It means that we stand unabashedly for universal health care and the best means of getting there, which is clearly single-payer or Medicare-for-All style health care. It means we stand up for 100 percent renewable energy. No more halfway solutions. No more kowtowing to the corporations who have corrupted Democrats’ messaging…

You have put forward a detailed plan to create a single-payer health-care system in Michigan. The California legislature has beendebating moving in the same direction — but critics have argued that individual states just do not have the resources to do something like that on their own. Why do you disagree?

I think that is an absurd argument because number one, let’s learn from our history. The Canadian health-care system, which is a single-payer system, didn’t start at the federal level. It actually started because the province of Saskatchewan decided that they wanted to do something about the fact that too many people in their province didn’t have health-care. And so it started at the local level and then became federal policy in Canada.

Number two, I’m not about to sit back and wait while 600,000 people in my state go without access to health care. We put together what is the most thorough state-level single-payer health-care plan that’s been proposed. It would provide every Michigander access to health care. That’s number one. But beyond that, it actually saves the average Michigan family [that’s] earning about $48,000 a year $5,000. And it also saves businesses money. This is something we can do. The resources are there. Question is, whether or not the priorities are there.

Typically, the health-insurance industry has succeeded in blocking universal health-care proposals with fearmongering — basically, it’s a mishmash of claims that people will no longer be able to choose their own doctors, they will face long wait times and they will face crushing tax increases. Why do you think those arguments will fail this time around?

I think enough people in our state have enough experience without health-care or [with] being dominated by these corporations, that they are done with it. And yeah, the insurance industry is going to spend a ton of money against our plan. They’re already spending a ton of money against me, for my corporate Democratic opponent. But the fact of the matter is that it is about messaging. It’s about having the right conversation with people. And unfortunately with Democrats, sometimes we’re not very good at telling the story of the experience of the policy we want to push.

Here’s the thing: The way most people’s experience with insurance works right now is that your employer pays a tremendous amount of money so you have insurance — but you have to also pay a tremendous amount of money in your payroll that comes off the top of your salary. So now you’ve already paid for your [health care] and then when you want to actually use it you have to pay upfront in a co-pay, and it doesn’t kick in until you’ve actually made your deductible. So premiums, co-pays, deductibles.

Even beyond that, you’ve got to jump on the phone and have an argument with your insurer every time you want to use it because your doctor was out of network. That’s the experience that most people have with insurance, if they have it. And then there’s everybody who just doesn’t have insurance or, if they’re on Medicaid, can’t find a doctor who takes their insurance.

If you are elected, you would be the first Muslim governor in American history. Have you faced pushback from political power-brokers who argue that your Egyptian heritage and Muslim faith will harm your chances to win the election?

Obviously I knew when I jumped into this race that I was going to face bigotry and racism. And obviously the white supremacist extremists on the right have made a lot of hay of the fact that I’m Muslim and have sown a bunch of conspiracy theories. But what’s been worse is the blatant bigotry that says, “Well look, there are those white supremacists extremists and if our nominee is a Muslim and an Egyptian-American, that’s going to be used against him, and I just don’t think Michigan’s ready.”

What a lot of those folks, however well-meaning, don’t realize is that, if you are even second-order using my ethnicity or faith against me, you are playing to that same set of issues. I hope that we on the left, the party of inclusion, the party that has stood up against marginalization, that we can get past that because it’s quite sad to see, to be quite honest. We don’t win elections as Democrats because we’re able to get racists to vote for us. We win elections because we’re able to get our own people out because they’re excited about a vision for the future that includes all of us.

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