Welcome to a special bonus edition of Popular Information!
Before we start, a quick announcement: Today (July 11) at 10 AM Eastern, I'll be answering questions from readers for about an hour. Ask me about corporate power, Alex Acosta, the 2020 campaign, or whatever is on your mind. You can join the conversation HERE.
Last month, Popular Information exposed nine rainbow flag-waving corporations who have given millions to anti-gay politicians over the last two years. Topping the list was AT&T, which gave $2,755,000 to 193 anti-gay politicians in 2017 and 2018. This money went to members of Congress who scored a zero on the Human Rights Campaign's Congressional scorecard.
To celebrate Pride Month in June, AT&T swapped in a new rainbow Twitter avatar.
But it also continued to shower anti-gay politician with cash. During June alone, AT&T gave $144,500 to more than 40 anti-gay politicians and their leadership PACs, a new FEC filing reveals.
Among the recipients of AT&T's money during Pride Month was Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), who received $1000. In 2017, Hartzler proposed legislation to deny medical treatment to trans members of the military. Hartzler said trans people who served in the military posed a danger to the United States that was similar to "North Korea, and Putin and ISIS." Hartzler's bill was defeated, but the policy was later adopted by the Trump administration.
Hartzler "made a name for herself as an anti-gay crusader." In 2004, she "drew national and international attention for her work in the campaign for a constitutional amendment in Missouri to ban gay marriage." Mother Jones described her as the "most anti-gay candidate in America." A spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign described Hartzler as someone who wakes up "in the morning thinking about what she can do to harm the LGBT community."
When Popular Information's previous reporting on AT&T was picked up by the New York Times, the company defended its donations to anti-gay officials. "We support candidates on both sides of the aisle who are addressing the issues that impact our business, our employees and our customers. That doesn’t mean we support their views on every issue," Michael Balmoris, an AT&T spokesman said.
But isn't LGBTQ rights an issue that impacts AT&T's business, employees, and customers? The company's Twitter account sure makes it seem that way.
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Acosta is not sorry
Labor Secretary Alex Acosta is under scrutiny for the sweetheart deal he struck with accused pedophile and child rapist Jeffrey Epstein in 2008 when Acosta was a federal prosecutor. President Trump encouraged Acosta to hold a press conference to quiet the controversy. It did not go well.
Acosta repeated a message to victims: "Come forward."
The implication was that Acosta cut the best deal that he could in 2008 because many Epstein's victims were not willing to talk to prosecutors or testify publicly. In other words, Acosta argues that the behavior of the victims forced him to give Epstein a favorable deal. It's victim blaming, wrapped in slightly more respectable language.
It also ignores that many of Epstein's victims did come forward during the investigation that ended in the 2008 plea deal. Their allegations were contained in a 53-page draft federal indictment. Acosta, according to a federal judge, broke the law by failing to inform those victims about the plea deal.
Acosta also attempted to blame the state prosecutor, Barry Krischer, who Acosta says was "ready to let [Epstein] walk." By Acosta's telling, it was only his heroic intervention that sent Epstein to jail. “I wanted to help them. That is why we intervened. And that’s what the prosecutors of my office did — they insisted that he go to jail and put the world on notice that he was and is a sexual predator,” Acosta said.
Krischer, however, said Acosta was "completely wrong."
Acosta let Epstein plead guilty to two state counts of soliciting prostitution. (In the press conference, Acosta admitted that Epstein's victims were not prostitutes.) Epstein ended up serving a 13-month sentence, spending 12 hours every day in a nearby luxury office on "work release."
Acosta noted that he was not responsible for the terms of Epstein's incarceration. That's true, but only because Acosta agreed to let Epstein plea to state charges.
Acosta accused his critics of holding him to an unfair standard, saying "[w]e live in a very different world. Today's world treats victims very, very differently." But Acosta's plea deal with Epstein was heavily criticized at the time. That's why Acosta penned an open letter in 2011 defending his role in the Epstein plea. The arguments that Acosta presented in Wednesday's press conference were nearly identical to his 2011 letter.
Reporters asked Acosta several times if he would apologize to Epstein's victims. Acosta did not.
The primary audience for the press conference was not Epstein's victims, but Trump. "My relationship with the president is outstanding. He has very publicly made clear that I’ve got his support,” Acosta said.
Acosta is hoping that an unapologetic show of strength will allow him to keep his job.
Acosta proposed a massive cut in funds that protect children from sex trafficking
As Secretary of Labor, Acosta is in charge of overseeing much of the federal government's efforts to combat child sex trafficking. Acosta's proposed 2020 budget contains an 80% funding cut for the section of the Labor Department that fights "against the sexual exploitation of children." That section, known as the International Labor Affairs Bureau, would see its funding reduced from $68 million to $18.5 million.
Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA) called the proposed cuts "reckless" and "amoral." Kathleen Kim, a law professor at Loyola Law School, said the proposed cuts are "bound to expose children to more risk of sexual trafficking" and "will undoubtedly eliminate many of the US government’s anti-human trafficking efforts that have been critical in encouraging action by law enforcement."
Asked about the proposed cuts at his press conference, Acosta didn't have much of an answer. He said that those kinds of grants could be cut and restored later.
For now, Trump is sticking by Acosta. But the scrutiny of his deal with Epstein isn't over.
On Wednesday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) sent Acosta a letter, asking him to appear before the committee on July 23. "The hearing will examine your actions as United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida in authorizing a non-prosecution agreement for Jeffrey Epstein, as well as the finding by a federal court that you violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act by keeping this non-prosecution agreement secret from the victims of Mr. Epstein's crimes," Cummings wrote.
Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) went a step further and called for Acosta to be impeached and removed from office.
At the press conference, Acosta did not say whether he would voluntarily appear before the committee.
Thanks for reading!