Trump actions illustrate why Congress must pass the For the People Act

reprinted from The Hill

BY Matt Keller, opinion contributor

01/22/21 04:30 PM EST 253

President Trump took the United States down the path trod by scores of developing-world nations which — after letting their guard down for just a second — ended up on a path of violence, insurrection and dictatorship.

When Trump began sowing the seeds of doubt in vote by mail and absentee balloting, he set the stage for both inciting and organizing an insurrection whose violence is not yet over. Before this, his shameless purges of administration officials who questioned both the legality and the morality of his attempts to pressure Ukraine into assisting his reelection campaign were done to clear his administration of any pesky naysayers who might give voice to democratic values.

These ploys are reminiscent of the various strongmen who have ruled many foreign nations for decades. In my 16 years of work that stretched from Libya to South Africa, from Sri Lanka to Brazil, from Afghanistan to Moscow, I saw the same brazen lying, the same awful cynicism, and the same clear-eyed contempt for any rule designed to check absolute power. In many of these countries, the playbook is the same. Sophisticated propaganda methods, force, denigration of the press, and a contemptible cabal of enablers who live in the reflected sunlight of the great man they choose to serve.

And let’s not forget the equally brazen ways in which Trump — like those same strongmen — enriched himself while in office.

Let’s not forget Vice President Mike Pence staying at a Trump property on the west coast of Ireland while his meetings were across the country in the east. Let’s not forget the hundreds of foreign dignitaries paying thousands of dollars to stay at the Trump Hotel just blocks from the White House, directly benefiting the president. Let’s not forget the ugly and brazen nepotism as the president appointed family members to key positions in his administration even though they are unable to pass basic background checks. These appointments are for jobs that demand extensive background checks precisely because they require access to highly classified material.

And let’s never forget candidate Trump taking from his charitable foundation to enrich both himself and his campaign. Some of these charitable contributions were used to buy a nine-foot portrait of Trump that he later had displayed at one of his country clubs. As any tin-pot dictator will tell you: Above all, omnipresence.

Zimbabwe’s late dictator Robert Mugabe and a dozen other corrupt leaders like him were masters of no-bid contracts, and of tribute payments to the strong man. Mugabe’s government was infamous for using public money entrusted to the government for personal and political gain.

Trump and the late Mugabe would probably have a good laugh about how easy it is to get away with self-dealing right in plain sight. Indeed, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington cites over 2,000 conflicts of interest involving Trump and his administration, his businesses and those seeking to influence him.

Our duty as reformers is to root out corruption by officeholders and government officials at every level of government. We must demand that all future presidents divest themselves completely of any assets or holdings that can be used to benefit them monetarily during their time in office. And we must pass the kinds of comprehensive campaign finance laws that restore faith in the men and women who represent us in the United States Congress.

Many of the provisions of H.R. 1 — the For the People Act — would go a long way in ensuring that the representatives we send to Washington would work for the common good, and not primarily for their own political advantages or personal financial gain. Other H.R. 1 provisions would bolster much-needed election integrity measures so that a master propogandist crying foul will never be taken seriously again.

Now is not the time for small steps or half-measures designed to provide incremental solutions to the deep wounds that the lawless and utterly corrupt Trump administration has inflicted upon our nation.

Now is the time to act.

If we don’t, then we will become indistinguishable from those countries where corruption and violence are simply a matter of course. Countries where corrupt strong men rule, and notions of democratic representation are thrown aside. Where the strong man’s personal gain is put ahead of the people he is entrusted to serve.

If we do nothing after watching the president of the United States enrich himself, lie about the election, and use the tools at his disposal to incite unspeakable violence against the American people, then the specters of corruption and violence that have haunted the Trump administration will never be put to rest. They will be as embedded in the American system of government as they are in any country ruled by those for whom corruption and violence are a way of life.

The For the People Act can help us make sure that a would-be tinpot dictator can never take advantage of our political system again.

Matt Keller is Vice President of Democracy 21 in Washington, DC, former Executive Director of the Global Learning XPRIZE, and legal counsel at the United Nations World Food Programme.

Progressive group urges corporations to halt donations to conservative Federalist Society after riot

Published Fri, Jan 15 20211:29 PM EST

  • Demand Justice told CNBC that it wants corporations to stop giving to the Federalist Society after senior member John Eastman, a lawyer and former law professor at Chapman University, spoke at the rally.
  • At the rally, Eastman and pushed the claim that there was voter fraud in the past election. President Trump has erroneously claimed that the election was stolen from him.
  • Eastman reportedly tried to convince Vice President Mike Pence that he had the authority to stop Congress from validating the election.

A progressive group is urging corporations to stop contributing to the Federalist Society after one of the conservative legal organization’s leaders was featured at last week’s rally that preceded the deadly riot on Capitol Hill. Demand Justice told CNBC that it wants corporations to stop giving to the Federalist Society after member John Eastman, a lawyer and former law professor at Chapman University, spoke at the rally.

Several of the companies that have given to the Federalist Society as recently as 2019 have said they would either not contribute to Republicans who challenged the results of the presidential election, or would reevaluate or pause donations from their corporate political action committees. These companies and groups include Facebook, Google, T-Mobile, Verizon and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Federalist Society’s 2019 annual report shows that the five companies combined to give up to $400,000 to the group. The group finished that fiscal year with over $25 million in revenue. That report is the most recent available on the Federalist Society’s website. It is not clear whether these companies donated money to the Federalist Society recently. The next disclosure of donors could come later this year.

“These corporations can either take a stand against those who have supported acts of sedition or they can continue funding the Federalist Society, but they can’t do both,” Brian Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice, told CNBC.

In a statement to CNBC, End Citizens United, a political action committee that has advocated for big money to be taken out of politics, blamed Eastman and the Federalist Society for the riot that occurred at the U.S. Capitol. Tiffany Muller, the group’s president, noted they are going to pressure corporations to end cut off funding for the group.

“We will make sure no one forgets the Federalist Society’s role on that dark day, and we’ll continue pressuring corporations to cease their funding to all traitors and terrorists,” Muller said.

None of the companies mentioned in this story responded to a request for comment. The Federalist Society did not return CNBC’s requests for comment.

The Federalist Society lists Eastman as chairman of its Federalism & Separation of Powers practice group. The Federalist Society’s board of directors includes Leonard Leo, who acted as an outside judicial advisor to President Donald Trump.

At the rally, Eastman pushed the claim that there was voter fraud in the past election. Trump has erroneously claimed that the election was stolen from him. Federal and state officials, including former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, have said there was no widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election.

“We know there was fraud. Traditional fraud that occurred. We know that dead people voted. But we now know because we caught it live last time in real time, how the machines contributed to that fraud,” Eastman said at the rally, while standing next to Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. Part of Eastman’s speech was included in a tweet by Liz Harrington, a former spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

Later, as Congress attempted to confirm Joe Biden as the president, Trump’s supporters marched on the Capitol. Scores broke in, and the ensuing riot left five dead, including a police officer. House Democrats, along with 10 Republicans, voted to impeach Trump earlier this week for inciting the riot.

“It is alarming that a senior official in the Federalist Society was goading Vice President Pence to mount an illegal coup, and corporations should stop supporting this organization the same way they’ve stopped donations to members of Congress,” said Demand Justice’s Fallon. Demand Justice is a 501(c)(4) dark money group that does not publicly disclose its donors.

Eastman reportedly tried to convince Vice President Mike Pence that he had the authority to stop Congress from validating the election. Pence, who presided over the joint session of Congress that eventually confirmed Biden’s victory, has said that he did not have such authority.

This angered Trump, who tweeted criticism of Pence while the attack on the Capitol was unfolding. Rioters were caught on video chanting “Hang Mike Pence!”

Eastman recently left Chapman University after his remarks.

Eastman was also reportedly in line to join Trump’s impeachment defense team.