Friday grab bag.
A report today in The Intercept exposes yet another way President Trump and his family are enriching themselves through their public service.
The website reports that the National Mining Association, a lobby for mining companies, has decided to hold a major conference next month at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, just a few blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. The group is a favorite of the president, whose promises to revive the coal industry helped him roll up overwhelming majorities in the coal mining counties of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky.
“President Trump has refused to divest from the Trump Organization, so money spent at the president’s D.C. hotel will make it into the president’s pocket,” Brendan Fischer, an election law expert with the Campaign Legal Center, told the Intercept.
“The National Mining Association or any other lobbying group has likely concluded that spending money at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. is a solid way of currying favor with the administration — and that spending money anywhere else runs the risk of offending our very sensitive president,” Fischer added.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s claim that concerns about national security were behind his request to use a government airplane for his honeymoon last June “just doesn’t hold up,” former White House ethics czar Norm Eisen writes today in USA Today.
Other than the secretaries of State and Defense, and a few other senior military and law enforcement figures, American officials generally do not fly government jets — especially not for personal travel like a honeymoon,” Eisen writes.
Eisen, who served as President Barack Obama’s chief ethics officer, now heads Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). His group has filed suit against the Treasury Department to compel the release of documents relating to another Mnuchin trip, that one to Fort Knox, KY, the military base which houses the Treasury’s gold reserve. That jaunt coincided with the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, nearly total when it passed over Fort Knox and observed by Mnuchin, his wife and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, from the roof of the gold depository building.
“President Trump, has created the environment for these kinds of serial ethics problems through his own contempt for ethics and law,” Eisen writes. “He has kept his highly conflicted personal business interests, and used the Oval Office to promote them. No wonder Mnuchin may feel entitled to use public office for private gain. Improper use of government jets is small beer compared to the emoluments the president is collecting.”
Longtime Federal Election Commission member Ellen Weintraub has an op-ed in today’s Washington Post beating the drum for an overhaul of FEC regulations governing the disclaimers required in online political ads.
At Weintraub’s urging, the commission agreed on Thursday to solicit written comments from citizens and groups on the types of disclaimers it should require on internet ads. That could be a first step toward rewriting the rules, though to succeed in securing a rewrite Weintraub would have to convince at least one of the FEC’s three Republican members to join in the effort – an unlikely prospect.
The disclosure issue is a hot one these days in the wake of Facebook’s acknowledgement last week that internet “trolls” linked to Russia were behind at least $100,000 worth of political ads placed on the social networking site last year. The ads were crafted to advance issue positions aligned with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and undercut the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Federal law bars foreign governments and individuals from advertising in U.S. elections; Facebook says that when it accepted and ran the ads it had no hint the accounts involved were tied to Russia.
“Make no mistake: Foreign interference may well have favored Republicans in the 2016 election, but it could just as easily go another way the next time around,” Weintraub writes. “We have every reason to think that the driving force here is not any lasting party preference but a pure desire to disrupt our democracy.”
Other FEC News. President Trump’s nomination of Austin, TX lawyer Trey Trainor to fill a vacancy on the FEC already is drawing fire from advocates of strong election law enforcement, Huffpost reports.
“(Trainor’s) prior stances on the regulation of dark money, his clashes with the Texas Ethics Commission and support for the Texas Senate defunding the (Ethics Commission) raise serious concerns as to whether he will be fully committed to enforcing the law, or like former FEC commissioner Don McGahn, more interested in nullifying long-standing election regulations and laws,” said Meredith McGehee, Issue One’s chief of policy, programs and strategy.
Office: Common Cause National