With Trade Deal, Will Obama Be Wall Street’s Errand Boy?

Since the Republican takeover of the Senate, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty has been re-energized as a possible area of cooperation between the GOP and President Obama, who is seeking Fast Track Authority to push the deal through Congress without amendment. Activists gathered outside the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office on Monday, Dec. 8 to protest TPP generally and Fast Track specifically. I spoke with Ben Beachy, Research Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, and Erich Pica, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth, about the dangers of the trade deal many are calling ‘NAFTA on Steroids’ …

Did Mitch McConnell Fail to Disclose His Trip to the Koch Donor Conference?

This post first appeared in The Nation.

Mitch McConnell traveled to a secret meeting of donors connected to the Koch brothers network—and it now appears he didn’t disclose the expenses for that trip.

Documents obtained by The Nation, The Undercurrent and the Center for Media and Democracy from the Orange County Sheriffs Department reveal that Mitch McConnell was scheduled to arrive for the confab at the St. Regis Resort in Dana Point, California, on Saturday, June 14. Audio from the conference, which we reported in August, confirms that he gave a speech there the following day.

Yet the hotel expense for that night at the St. Regis does not appear to have been disclosed in McConnell’s filings with the FEC nor to Senate Ethics.

Federal legislators are required by law to disclose trips like this one, unless they pay for them personally. McConnell’s campaign did not return request for comment about how he paid for the hotel.

Melanie Sloan, the executive director of the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told me that personal payments are rare. “That’s just not the way members of Congress operate,” she said. “They have too many other pots of money at their disposal to pay for these things themselves.”

Politicians have very few requirements for travel disclosures and can easily obscure these trips when they don’t stay overnight. For example, flight expenses indicate the airline and costs, but not the destination or purpose of travel. Thus, hotel expenses are often the only way to tie a politician to a particular event.

Secrecy was of course the name of the game for this event. The Koch brothers paid a premium to conduct the donor event in private; they reserved the entire venue and hired private security officers to supplement their own security team.

There are many ways for McConnell to have paid for the trip if not out of his own pocket, according to Democratic attorney Joe Sandler, who specializes in campaign finance ethics. But there is no evidence of any of these routes.

McConnell could have sought approval from the Senate Ethics Committee as a third party expense, paid by a nonprofit or for-profit group—in this case Freedom Partners or Koch Industries. The Senate’s Outside Paid Travel Database shows no Ethics Committee filings for Mitch McConnell.

Moreover, the FEC reports for Freedom Partners Action Fund, the Koch outfit which funded the conference, likewise do not show any expenditure for McConnell’s stay at the St. Regis, though it’s possible they could have disguised it by lumping it with in-kind contributions to candidates. But McConnell still would have to have sought approval from Senate Ethics, which he didn’t.

McConnell theoretically could have listed it as a Senate office travel expense, paid for by taxpayers, but that is supposed to be restricted to home-state travel for the purposes of legislative business. Those disclosures aren’t due until after the election, but it is unlikely McConnell chose this flagrantly incorrect route.

Finally, McConnell could have had his trip paid for by his campaign committee, his leadership PAC or another PAC.

But the St. Regis in Dana Point appears nowhere in the FEC reports for the senator’s campaign committee nor his leadership PAC. And indeed, all of the other Senate candidates in attendance—Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst and Cory Gardner—disclosed in this fashion, via their campaign committees.

“The absence of any report of the expenditure by the campaign or leadership PAC raises serious questions about how the trip was paid for and why the costs were not treated as a campaign expense as they were by the other campaigns,” said Sandler.

Mitch McConnell: Dodd Frank Finance Reform Is Obamacare for Banks

I went to Louisville last week to ask Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to elaborate on how he would “go after” Democrats on financial services, as he told donors at the June Koch brothers retreat he would do if Republicans take control of the Senate, in audio released by The Undercurrent in August.  McConnell doubled-down on those remarks, calling the Dodd Frank financial reform bill “Obamacare for Banks.”  Check out my exchange with him here…

Koch Hits

I’m very proud to say that my web-show, The Undercurrent broke all the audio tapes from the Koch brothers retreat over the past several weeks.  The tapes have had an incredible impact in the media leading up to the election, with stories in The Nation, Huffington Post, New York Times, and many others.  Majority Leader Harry Reid discussed them on the floor of the Senate and called on Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who attended the retreat, to repudiate offensive statements made there.  Bill Clinton talked about them at the Harkin Steak Fry.  And reporters around the country have been asking the candidates who attended about their connection to the Kochs.

Check out this compilation video to see some of the best media hits so far…

EXCLUSIVE AUDIO: AZ Governor Candidate Doug Ducey at Koch Retreat





June 16, 2014



KEVIN GENTRY: So I’d like to actually invite our next panel to come up. Uh, Jeff, if you want to get your team to start getting positioned up here. Jeff Crank leads Aegis. That is the candidate recruitment support effort that really came out of 2012 as well, and we have a little bit of a panel discussion, but until, until we’re getting organized, what I’d also like to do –

Yesterday at lunch we heard from, um, Pete Ricketts, who’s long been a member of this group, who recently was chosen as the Republican nominee for governor of, uh, of Nebraska. But we also have another one in our midst who’s also decided to step into the arena, uh, Doug Ducey, who’s the state treasurer in Arizona. He took Coldstone Creamery from about three stores to an international enterprise. He’s been part of this group. And also a little neat thing last year, really stood up to a lot of the cronyism in the business community in Arizona and led the charge against a tax hike ballot initiative that was successful.

And, Doug, we appreciate if you’d step into the arena — you’re around here somewhere, and if you would just stand up and say a few words. There, there you go. Thank you. And, please, share a few words. I know your primary is not until August, but uh, it’s great for you to step into the arena as well.

DOUG DUCEY: Thank you, Kevin. Thanks for having me here. I want to say thank you to Charles and David as well. I have been coming to this conference for years. It’s been very inspirational. Uh, Charles, I asked what I would do if I wasn’t afraid, and I said I’d run for governor.


DOUG DUCEY: So uh, in this business, you’re known by the company you keep, and uh, we’re proud that we’re off to a fast start. Uh, we’re proud that Governor Scott Walker from Wisconsin has come out and endorsed our campaign. And a lot of this resonates in a State like Arizona because I don’t come from any political background. Uh, I grew up in Toledo, Ohio. Uh, my dad was a cop. I’m very much a product of the Midwest and the working class. For full disclosure, though, my first elective office was homeroom representative in the fifth grade (inaudible).


DOUG DUCEY: That, that was a tough primary, and a lot of those kids are still mad at me, so they’re coming after us.


DOUG DUCEY: But I think to tell the story in Arizona, uh, my folks splitting up my junior year, my mom moving West, and the high school counselor literally pointing to a map and saying, “Doug, schools are plentiful out there, and there’s a lot of opportunity.”

So I got in my Datsun B210 and drove from Toledo to Tempe. I didn’t know one person and I had never been in Arizona, and it’s been quite an adventure. But when I tell the story in Arizona, I’m able to ask people, uh, how many of you were born somewhere other than the State of Arizona, and it seems like 90 percent of the hands in the room go up. So I say, let’s make certain that the bad ideas that are crossing the Midwest and killing California are not reapplied in the state of Arizona. And it doesn’t matter what room that’s said, in everyone starts applauding. It gives you confidence in the messaging we have here at the conference. Uh, the fact that my entire adult life has been in the private sector, studying finance at Arizona State, worked my way through college at Anheuser-Busch, and then began my career with Proctor and Gamble. And then along with a few others we built an ice cream company called Cold Stone Creamery.

We started small with a good idea, and we built 1,440 stores in all 50 states. We operate in 25 countries around the world today, and I want everybody to know we did it without government. We did it without subsidies. We did it without tax incentives for chocolate-dipped waffle cones.


DOUG DUCEY: We did it the right way — big dreams, hard work, and great people. And things like that happen when states embrace free enterprise.

When I did run for Treasurer in 2010 after I sold the business in 2007, I learned a lot at this conference, and I learned a lot when I stepped forward to battle a $1 billion permanent sales tax increase called Proposition 204. Prop 204 looked like it was a shoo-in to pass in September of 2012. We started to message against it. It was polled at over 60 percent. And on Election Day we won. We literally flipped the electorate. And last year for a change, taxes went down in the State of Arizona.


DOUG DUCEY: So I can’t emphasize enough the power of organizations like this and engagement from those in the business community. The other side was completely financed by government entities and special interests, and we didn’t have to raise as much as they did. We just had a better idea, and that was lower taxes for all Arizonans, and flip that argument that they had that it would help education and help the children that we were able to expose that these dollars were not going to the classroom.

So what’s next? The real action is in the governor’s office. And I have to tell you, uh, Charles Murray, if you want to lead a textured life and get out of Paradise Valley, Arizona, you can come to Kingman and Bullhead City and Lake Havasu. But by and large this year will resonate because no one, whether they’re in a Republican room, or a Kiwanis Club, or a Rotary Club, is happy with what’s going on in our economy, or what their children are learning in traditional K-12 classes.

So I’m very confident we’re going to take back the Senate here in 2014, but then the battle for freedom comes back to the states, and who’s in the governors’ offices is important. And I’m grateful for what this conference does. Thanks for having me.



GOP Legislator Dodges Koch Retreat Question





June 16, 2014


KEVIN GENTRY: As you’re transitioning off, I actually realized that Congressman Jim Jordan is here. He’s been here this weekend. I’d like him to come as well up for a few brief remarks just as we did with, uh, Doug.

Uh, first of all, background. Uh, Jim Jordan from Ohio was a four-time state champion high school wrestler for a 150 and one record, and then, uh, records in college as well. But, uh, uh, maybe that’s appropriate for Congress, I’m not sure.


KEVIN GENTRY: But he has been really one of the leaders in the House, just as Senator McConnell mentioned yesterday in the Senate, on the IRS abuses. And I think he’s going to share with us a few words about what the situation is like, uh, and maybe what the path looks like moving ahead with respect to some of the Lois Lerner stuff.

But also I know that you all have anecdotally shared with us that you feel like within the past couple of years you’ve seen a little bit more overreach from the IRS than might be typically possible. So, uh, perhaps, uh, you might (inaudible) a little bit more on that, too. Jim, take it away.

JIM JORDAN: Thank you, Kevin. Uh, I had one loss to some guy named Charles Koch.


JIM JORDAN: Good to be with you all. I, I, I said the other night, I learned a long time ago good things don’t just happen. If you want to accomplish something (inaudible) of significance, it takes work, it takes effort, it takes sacrifice. Most importantly, (inaudible) is to get off the sidelines, and get in the game. So thank you for what you are doing and the impact that you are having.

The last year of my life has been primarily focused on getting to the bottom of this IRS scandal. This is fundamentally an attack on your First Amendment right to speak out in a political fashion against the government. And we are so focused on it because the Justice Department’s criminal investigation is a complete sham.

The FBI leaked to the Wall Street Journal January 13th of this year that no one is going to be prosecuted. The President goes on national television and says there’s no corruption, not even a smidgen. On Super Bowl Sunday he said that. And the person heading the investigation, the attorney assigned to the Justice Department, Barbara Bosserman, was a mascot (inaudible) the President’s campaign investigation. He’s got a vested interest in its success, and yet he’s supposed to be impartial and balanced about doing the investigation.

So we’re doing everything we can to get to the truth. And of course just this past week we learned that, shazam, we lost the e-mails. We can’t find them. So we are, we are going to do all we can to get to that.

Many of you have talked to me already.  If you got any, anyone who hasn’t, please let us know. We’re requesting that kind of information. That is helpful as we go, uh, through the investigation. We’re going to continue to do everything we can to get to the (inaudible). Um, I still haven’t (inaudible) wrestling.

When you think about the people who impacted your life in a positive fashion, most people, next to your parents, it was probably a coach or teacher you had along the way. And for me, with, without a doubt it was my high school wrestling coach (inaudible). He was the toughest teacher (inaudible), and he was the toughest wrestling coach in the whole darn State of Ohio.

And this is not an exaggeration. Every single day he talked about discipline. He said, “Hey, Jordan, this is not any class, an (inaudible) class. You want to do well in my class, it’s going to take discipline. You’re going to have to read the material the night before (inaudible), participating in class, meaning it’s going to take self-discipline if you want to do well in this class, my class.”

And then the rest (inaudible) used to drive me nuts. Every day when self-discipline, the most important character quality necessary to achieve something of importance, and he would say it over, and I was like, that guy is stuck up.


JIM JORDAN: He sounds like my dad. I get it from my dad every day, and now I’m getting it from my coach. But he had a great definition, and it hangs in our wrestling room today.

My brother is a coach at our high school. He’s won the state championship the last 14 years in a row (inaudible) Ron McCann’s wrestling room. In a statement Ron McCann says that “Discipline is doing what you don’t want to do when you don’t want to do it.” That meant doing it coach’s way or we’re going to do it your way. But more importantly, we need to be doing things the right way when (inaudible).

We are at a point in history in this country (inaudible) where we have got to do things the right way, not the convenient way, not the easy way. The right way. And if you do that, we will continue to be the greatest Nation ever.

We had the opportunity a year ago to (inaudible). This, this will remind you what a great country we have. You all know this is what’s involved. This is the Wright brothers (inaudible). Two pictures — first picture, 1903, Kitty Hawk. The first flight, they flew 101 feet. You remember you all learned that from school in class, time to take you back. They put that picture down. The next picture they hold up, 44 years later, Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. Amazing country.

And literally as I’m walking out of the room, it hit me, why should it stop there? I represent Wapakoneta, Ohio, hometown of Neil Armstrong. Why didn’t they show us the third picture of Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon? Think about this Nation. In 66 years two guys flying 101 feet in a contraption they call an airplane, and 66 years later we put a man on the moon. It’s the greatest country ever. And if we have the discipline to remember that, and remember the principles that made it great, it will stay the greatest country. God bless you. Thanks.



EXCLUSIVE AUDIO: VA Scandal Driven by Koch-Funded Group to Undermine Obamacare



June 16, 2014


KEVIN GENTRY: Okay. So just as a reminder, if we do need to enforce the time discipline, we do have that new device. Just so everybody and our speakers are aware, if you go over time, this is what you will hear, let’s be clear. (Inaudible) wakeup call tomorrow morning. If you want it on your cell phones as a ringtone, we can do that, too.

KEVIN GENTRY: So one of the key capabilities I know that you all helped build a group called Concerned Veterans for America. And obviously there are a lot of folks who have had military service that quite obviously are very patriotic, love this country, but are no longer actively engaged as they may be into this process. And this has been a really helpful effort. But not surprisingly, too, is the whole crazy debacle of the Veterans Administration. Concerned Veterans for America has arisen to the forefront. In fact, you all may recall them bringing this issue up last fall and really driving hard on it and continuing the drive as well.

We’ll have Pete Hegseth come up in just a minute. Pete is the — well, he was at Princeton, was editor of the conservative newspaper there, the Princeton Tory. He went on into the Army, served three tours of duty as an infantry officer in Iraq, Afghanistan, and also Guantanamo Bay.
So I’m going to have Pete come up after we watch this little video to show a little bit about what they’re doing, and we’ll hear from Pete Hegseth.

[Video Presentation.]

PETE HEGSETH: I don’t think he wanted to accept. I want to thank Kevin for that introduction and for this opportunity. My name is Pete Hegseth. I’m the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America. It’s an absolute honor to be here. And I’m excited to share some of the things Concerned Veterans for America has accomplished over the last year with the help of this network and how we’re building for the future.
Concerned Veterans for America is an organization this network literally created to empower veterans and military families to fight for the freedom and prosperity here at home that we fought for in uniform on the battlefield. Quite simply, to fight for the well-being of veterans, their families, and all Americans.
Which brings me to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of months, you know about the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs. What you probably don’t know is the central role that Concerned Veterans for America played in exposing and driving this crisis from the very beginning.

After years of effort behind the scenes privately and publicly, the scandal eventually made national headlines when initially in Phoenix it was exposed that veterans were waiting on secret lists that were meant to hide the real wait times veterans had at VA facilities of months and months and months. Veterans literally dying while waiting on secret lists that benefitted only bureaucrats.
In driving (inaudible) and monitoring this crisis, we utilized the competitive advantage that only this network provides: the long-term vision to invest and the resources to back it up. We focused relentlessly on both exposing the failures of VA bureaucracy and improving the lives of veterans, meeting our people where they’re at.

The Concerned Veterans for America issue campaign pushing for systemic reform of VA bureaucracy is of critical importance, we think, for three key reasons. First, it is going — it has produced and will produce more market-based public policy victories that will improve the lives of veterans and their families; second, it provides the perfect opportunity to educate the American people about the failures of big government; and three, to position us for the long term as a trusted, effective, and credible grassroots organization we can build upon.

A perfect example of this approach has been what we call our VA Accountability Project, which was launched earlier this year to highlight the problems at VA. Before the scandal broke we launched this project to highlight the problems, talk about market-based solutions, and then organize veterans to take tangible actions to do something about it.

Now, when veterans and military families aggressively and professionally made their charge on Capitol Hill and in their communities, the status quo in Washington literally had no ammunition to fight back. The emperor has no clothes. Credible, intellectually-armed, motivated veterans are a formidable force, and a lesson that Nancy Pelosi herself and her friend Harry Reid learned firsthand.

Now, case in point. Two pieces of groundbreaking VA reform legislation passed the House of Representatives with an overwhelming majority. Now, most bills that pass 390 to 33 or the other one (inaudible) passed 426 to nothing are nothing-burgers, they’re insignificant. They’re the name of a post office because that’s all they can bring up. But both of these bills that were passed were real reform, and I’ll go into that in a second. And Nancy Pelosi and the majority of collectivists voted for them. They didn’t like the bills, but they had to vote for the bills because they were outnumbered by a new, nimble, and principled movement of veterans.

But those bills didn’t just die, shockingly enough, in the do-nothing Harry Reid Senate. Ten days ago, the Senate struck a historic deal, a deal that Concerned Veterans for America was central to in every aspect literally ensuring that the language stay focused on real market-based reform, and we pushed the ball across the finish line.

Now usually deals in the Senate include only one thing: billions and billions of dollars in more spending. Not this one. This deal, as with the legislation in the House, was instead built on two market-based reforms that were injected by Concerned Veterans for America and advanced the entire point, the entire way. The first is accountability, the central belief that you can fire, and should be able to fire quickly under-performing VA managers for cause, restoring basic accountability in the Department. (Inaudible) Ronald Reagan said the closest thing to eternal life is a government program.

PETE HEGSETH: The closest thing to an eternal job is being a manager at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans died in it, and no one has been fired still. This bill would empower the Secretary to actually fire a manager for cause, a reform the new Secretary said he needed immediately.
The second is choice — and that’s the crown jewel of this — the choice to see a private doctor if they cannot be seen in a timely manner in the VA. Veterans will literally get a card and the ability to visit a private doctor if they need.

The latter reform, which seems like a no-brainer to everyone in this audience, is a huge development, rocking the core of big government status quo in Washington. The option for veterans to choose private care upends how the VA has fundamentally done business for the last seventy years, attacking the very heart of the failed top-down government-run single payer healthcare system that’s failed veterans.
Now, frustrated veterans across the country have been clamoring for this choice for decades, but Washington special interests have squashed their pleas. Not anymore. As a result, we hope to improve the lives of nine million veterans in America and their families, while at the same time stopping bad legislation of just throwing more money at a dysfunctional department.

Now, not surprising, as has been a theme of this couple of days, during Senate negotiations between John McCain and the (inaudible) of the toadie bill and our favorite socialist from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, Concerned Veterans for America’s name explicitly came up, both in private and on the floor of the Senate. But their shallow name-calling didn’t work. (Inaudible) Senator McCain, and Senator Burr, and Senator Rubio and others called them out. The merits of our cause and the credibility of veterans leading the charge have carried the day. Judge us by our work. It speaks for itself.

Perhaps most importantly to this effort, we have created a new line of defense against the march towards socialized medicine, educating veterans and Americans in the process. Veterans have had government-run healthcare for decades. We’ve had the preview of Obamacare, and the scandal has exposed the inevitable result of central planning for all Americans: massive wait times, impenetrable bureaucracy, de facto rationing, wasted tax dollars. It goes on and on.

Throughout this effort, Concerned Veterans for America, along with our network partners, have intentionally broadened the debate to include big government dysfunction generally, further fortifying a new skepticism that AFP and others have brought to what government-run healthcare does.

Now finally, Concerned Veterans for America’s efforts have been successful because they’re based on a multi-year outlook that requires time, time and investment that only this network and our incredible partners in this network can provide. Our tangible and targeted grassroots efforts have worked because we’ve been on the ground day in and day out, and not just in an election cycle, investing in the community. The same activists calling congressional offices about VA accountability, then pick up the phone with the i360 database and call their fellow voters to engage them in garnering data. That’s useful now, in 2016, and into the future.

To that end, we’re doing a Defend Freedom Summer Concert Tour in Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia with a patriotic rock band that vets just love. It’s been amazing to watch hundreds and hundreds of folks come out for these events, clamoring for something that fights the status quo and gives them an opportunity to get back into it. And they’re not just there to clap and (inaudible). They’re taking action, signing up to be volunteers to make phone calls and knock on doors. They want to be part of something greater than themselves. They’re tied not just to us, but also the success that we have. What started as an organization (inaudible).

In closing, it’s not just the VA. We’re also fighting out-of-control spending and mounting debt, both of which present a clear and present national security threat, not to mention pushing for reform in defense spending and fighting burdensome regulations on business.


We are Concerned Veterans for America, not Concerned Veterans of America or for Veterans. We had to raise their right hand to defend the Constitution of this country. And there’s no reason why that service should ever stop. When you’ve seen the fragile nature of freedom on the battlefield, it motivates you to say there’s something I’ve got to do about it here and that’s what I’m trying to do with Concerned Veterans for America.
Our recent legislative victories, as historic as they may be, is really just a first step for us. Now, when I say “us,” I mean us. I include you in this entire network in what we’ve accomplished. And I want to include every single supportive element of this fantastic network that helps us do what we do and they in government do what they do. This win for accountability and choice at the VA is a tangible return on investment, for our assets. And the central role that Concerned Veterans for America plays gives us priceless private and public credibility with veterans and citizens who are looking for a challenge to that status quo and are ready to be activated in countless ways.

I want to thank you for this opportunity. I thank Charles and David, Marc Short, Kevin Gentry, everyone that puts in the sweat equity that makes this possible. And I want to thank you for your courage for standing up and being here. Thank you for your incredible commitment to a free society. This network is making history, and we’re just getting started. Thank you.

KEVIN GENTRY: (Inaudible) Libre Initiative and Generation Opportunity, Concerned Vets is something that came out of this network, and you all as investors are the ones who made this happen.

I Challenged Mitch McConnell on Offensive Koch Remarks

During Senate debate on a constitutional amendment to limit money in politics, Harry Reid discussed offensive remarks made by Richard Fink, the Koch brothers’ top strategist, in audio recently released by The Undercurrent, from their June retreat.  Reid called on Mitch McConnell, who spoke at the retreat, to repudiate the statements.  At the daily Senate press briefing that afternoon, I asked McConnell if he would do so…  Check out his priceless reaction…



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