Financing the demolition of democracy

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Financing the demolition of democracy

Republican leaders in the Wisconsin legislature passed a wide-ranging bill last Wednesday to limit the power of incoming Democratic Governor Tony Evers. Popular Information covered the specifics last week:

It would strip the Governor's authority to administer public benefits programs without approval from the legislature. It ends the Governor's control of the economic development board, a key body which provides incentives to businesses. It even prevents the Governor from banning guns in the Wisconsin state capitol without permission. It also restricts the ability of the Governor to make political appointments, even on a temporary basis, without legislative approval.

The bill now awaits the signature of Scott Walker, the outgoing Republican Governor.

In the New York Times, David Leonhardt exposes several companies that are financing this effort to undermine democracy by donating to the Wisconsin legislature’s Republican leadership this year. Here are some details:

Walgreens ($8,000)

Microsoft ($1,000)

Dr Pepper Snapple ($1,000)

Humana ($3,000)

J.P. Morgan ($1,000)

He pays particular attention to Walgreens who apparently donated to protect a controversial tax break for its stores. Walgreens currently pays property taxes based not on the actual value of its stores but nearby vacant properties.

Leonhardt also notes that the reporting in this newsletter prompted companies like "Facebook, Google, Walmart, Major League Baseball and others" to ask for refunds of their donations to Cindy-Hyde Smith.

Asked about their contributions to GOP leaders in Wisconsin, Walgreens told Leonhardt that it is "in the process of evaluating" the situation.

North Carolina election official was in business with fraudster

The election scandal engulfing North Carolina's 9th district, where Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, took an unusual turn on Friday night. Jens Lutz, the Vice Chair of the Bladen County Board of Elections abruptly resigned, WBTV reports.

Why? We don't know for sure, but it may be related to his extensive connections to Leslie McCrae Dowless, the convicted felon at the center of the election fraud scandal in the 9th District.

A conservative political action committee called Patriots for Progress is also under investigation for possible election fraud by the State Bureau of Investigation. The group was founded in 2014 by Jeff Smith, who donated office space for McCrae Dowless' work on Republican Congressional candidate Mark Harris' campaign in 2018. In 2015, McCrae Dowless was the president of the PAC.

The first donation to Patriots for Progress came from Landon Bordeaux, the current president of the Bladen County GOP. Another early donation came from Politico Management Services LLC, a political consulting firm.

Lutz signed the articles of organization for Politico Management Services LLC and served as the registered agent. He was also one of two members of the LLC.

The other? Leslie McCrae Dowless.

Lutz, as Vice Chair of the Bladen County Board of Elections, was helping to coordinate the state's investigations into election fraud. But Lutz was business partners with the central figure in the investigation (McCrae Dowless) and a donor to one of the entities under investigation (Patriots for Progress).

So now, the Bladen County Board of Elections will have to continue its work without its Vice Chair.

Who is the Chair of the Bladen County Board of Elections? Bobby Ludlum, McCrae Dowless' cousin.

“I regret having to do this, but things have gotten way out of hand”

After Popular Information broke the news of Lutz's connections with McCrae Dowless, Lutz started talking. He issued a vague statement about his motivations for resigning.

Sometimes in life, circumstances reach the breaking point, especially when you’re trying to do the right thing. It becomes even more difficult when your family is (dragged) into the drama, plus your own party begins to attack you for compromising and common-sense decisions. I regret having to do this, but things have gotten way out of hand.

In an interview with WSOC, Lutz offered a tantalizing account of how someone would hypothetically commit systematic election fraud with blank absentee ballots.

Let’s just say somebody from previous elections (has) a database that they kept and they got copies of the absentee requests with vital information from the voter on it. Then this person can use that, if they are skilled enough to copy people’s signatures.

In an interview with the New York Times, Lutz claimed his decision to go into business with McCrae Dowless was a kind of unofficial sting operation.

In 2014, state records show, Mr. Dowless opened a consulting business with Jens L. Lutz, a local Democratic activist. Mr. Lutz, one of two Democrats on Bladen County’s four-member elections board, said Friday that he only went into business with Mr. Dowless as a kind of sleuthing operation to root out the unethical tactics he thought Mr. Dowless employed.

There is no evidence that Lutz reported any of McCrae Dowless' activity to the local or state election board.

Evidence that McCrae Dowless' team filled out blank ballots

The New York Times also uncovered shocking evidence that McCrae Dowless' team collected blank ballots, filled them out and cast them as votes.

Kirby Wright, 47, and his mother, Doris Lee Hammonds, 77, recall that a woman they recognized as Ms. Eason came to their home one night to pick up their absentee ballots.

The pair had thick envelopes containing their absentee ballots but never filled them out. When Ms. Eason came by, she said she needed them.

“I told her I was going to throw it away,” Mr. Wright said in an interview. “It was blank. She said, ‘No, I’ve got to pick up all the empty ballots.’” Ms. Eason could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Wright said he isn’t sure what happened to the ballot designated for his mother, who is bedridden. It might have been thrown in the trash, he said. But state records show Ms. Hammonds cast an absentee ballot by mail. Ms. Hammonds, also interviewed, said she never filled it out or signed the absentee ballot at all.

North Carolina GOP knew, did nothing

McCrae Dowless and his crew were not only working for Mark Harris in the general election. They were also active in the primary election, where they may have had a decisive role in Harris' victory over Republican Congressman Robert Pittenger.

Harris received 437 absentee mail-in votes in the primary. Pittenger received just 17 and lost by less than 900 votes.

Pittenger believed fraud was a factor and told the state and national GOP, according to the Washington Post. The party ignored Pittenger's concerns and turned their focus to the general election.

In the days immediately after the race, aides to Pittenger told the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party and a regional political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee that they believed fraud had occurred, according to people familiar with their discussions.

GOP officials did little to scrutinize the results, instead turning their attention to Harris’s general-election campaign against a well-funded Democratic opponent, the people said.

Dallas Woodhouse, the Executive Director of the North Carolina Republican Party initially told the Washington Post that no one ever told him about election fraud in Bladen County but "called back a few moments later to say that he did remember hearing of anomalies." Woodhouse said he took a "cursory look" but "did not look real specifically at absentee ballots," attributing Pittenger's concern to sour grapes.

What's next

With overwhelming evidence of significant election fraud emerging, a new election appears increasingly likely. This could be ordered by the North Carolina Election Board, which will hold a hearing on the matter sometime before December 21, or the U.S. House of Representatives.

Politico reports Democrat Dan McCready is already preparing for another campaign. Republicans are concerned that Mark Harris, who knew McCrae Dowless and recommended him to other campaigns, will be "damaged goods." Another candidate can only replace Harris if he moves out of the state.

To understand Mueller, follow the money

There was a flurry of activity in the Mueller investigation last week, including sentencing memos for three key players -- Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Michael Cohen. A lot of the critical information in these documents was redacted, suggesting that Mueller isn't quite ready to show his entire hand because more indictments are forthcoming.

But there is a key piece of information from Mueller's office in the sentencing memo for Cohen. In his testimony before Congress, Cohen stated that plans for a Trump tower in Moscow were shelved by January 2016. This was false.

Cohen continued working on the project until at least June, after Trump had secured the Republican nomination, and discussed it with Trump. Notably, Mueller asserts that the project, if completed, would have netted Trump "hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources."

The defendant’s false statements obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government. If the project was completed, the Company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues. The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with Individual 1 well into the campaign was material to the ongoing congressional and SCO investigations, particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election.

Ethically, Mueller could not include the value of the Moscow Project to Trump if he could not provide it in court. So he is almost certainly not just relying on Cohen's testimony. He likely has documentary proof of the value of the Moscow Project to Trump.

What's striking is that the Moscow deal was worth exponentially more to Trump than a typical transaction. At TPM, Josh Marshall runs through some examples:

In 2016, Trump got $1 million in licensing fees from his Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto.

For his building in Vancouver for 16 months between January 2016 and April 2017 he received “more than $5 million.”

For a Trump Tower in Baku, Azerbaijan, the Trump Org got $2.5 million in 2014.

Trump was paid $1 million for a licensing deal in the country of Georgia in 2011. The project was later canceled.

One of the key questions, especially after Trump's humiliating performance in Helsinki, is why Trump consistently carries water for Russia. The enormous value of the Moscow Project appears to be a significant factor.

Trump also consistently denied that he ever had any business dealings with Russia. The New York Times reports that "on at least 23 occasions since the summer of 2016, Mr. Trump has said either that he had 'nothing' to do with Russia, or that he has 'no deals,' no investments and no 'business' in Russia."

Russia knew that was a lie and, therefore, had leverage over Trump.

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