Cathy’s Coffers Part II, The “Dream” Project

A Roadmap for understanding campaign finance

This diagram is from a 2014 interactive article in the NYTimes. It is a great place to start understanding the effect of money in our politics. The limits on contributions are indexed to inflation, so the illustrated limits are now higher, e.g. $5400 can be given directly to a Candidate’s election committee ($2700 for the Primary and $2700 for the General election), and a conventional political action committee (PAC) can receive $5000 from an individual donor. 

McMorris Rodgers American Dream Project  campaign fund receipts for January 1,2017 to March 31, 2018

Dear Group,

Orientation: Yesterday in Part I, we looked at McMorris Rodgers individual campaign coffer, Cathy McMorris Rodgers for Congress. The take home message is 1) a lot of her money comes from corporate PACs, 2) she has fewer donors than Lisa Brown who give larger amounts of money, 3) on account of well-meaning campaign finance laws limiting the size of the donations, what you see in Cathy McMorris Rodgers for Congress does not necessary represent the full financial clout wielded by the donors. Seeing that requires more sleuthing.

Look at above diagram. In today’s post we are still just looking at those three categories in the upper left part of the diagram, Candidate, Party, and PAC political committees. We haven’t even had a whiff of the money unleashed by Citizens United. What we are looking at so far is only the money sloshing in the traditional, pre-Citizens United efforts to get around campaign finance law.

While combing through Cathy McMorris Rodgers for Congress, I ran onto MCMORRIS RODGERS AMERICAN DREAM PROJECT; THE (C00543199). This is a traditional Political Action Committee. It is sub-classified as “NonQualified – Joint Fundraising Committee.” It is non-qualified because being “qualified” requires that the PAC contribute to at least five federal candidates. The American Dream Project contributes to only three: Cathy McMorris Rodgers for Congress, the NRCC (National Republican Congressional Committee), and yet another McMorris Rodgers PAC, “CMR POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE (C00469429)

Do you get a sense of the complexity…and the intertwining…of all these PACs wielded by McMorris Rodgers?

I encourage you to visit the American Dream Project website. In light of what is going on in the federal government today the rhetoric on this website made my skin crawl. Here’s an example: “It is the Cathy McMorris Rodgers joint fundraising committee to help recruit and fund candidates who believe in the American Dream and want to make America a land of opportunity, again.” So the “American Dream,” is, I guess, code for repealing the Affordable Care Act, passing a tax bill that rewards corporations and the rich, exploiting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), and dismantling the social safety net using the excuse that, now that we’ve rewarded the rich, well, now we’re broke.

The MR American Dream Project PAC accepts large donations and makes them legal by breaking them up and passing them through to the three recipients listed in the third paragraph above. I guess if you are a major business owner in the 5th Congressional Distrcit, you happen to have $300,000 you wish to contribute to this “Dream,” and you don’t mind having your name on the FEC website, this is really convenient. You and your wife just write a couple of checks for 150K and let the American Dream Project parcel the money out and keep it all legal. Under FAQs on the American Dream Project website you can see how it’s done, although their posted contribution limits are outdated.

The updated limits would send $5400 ($2700 X2) to CMR’s individual coffer, CMR for Congress. The next $5000 goes to the CMR PAC, then $33,800 to the National Republican Congressional Committee. For a $150,000 personal donation I haven’t yet worked out where the Dream sends the excess $105,800 dollars and keeps it legal, but I’m sure there’s a way.

I encourage you to visit the list of donors to the Dream, Click the “Amount” column heading on the right to sort the 265 unique contributions by size. There will be names you’ll recognize. Click the names to learn the contributor’s employment details, presumably an indicator of the business that made the contributor wealthy enough to contribute this money. Ask yourself what they hope to get in return. 

PAY ATTENTION: We’re still only talking about that part of the campaign finance picture represented by the circles in the crescent in the diagram above. We haven’t even glimpsed superPAC and Dark Money.

Here’s a really sobering fact: in the midterm election cycle (2 years) only 0.33 percent (1 of 300) U.S.adults makes a contribution of $200 or greater to ANY political candidate, party, or Political Action Committee. (I believe this is federal only, not state or local.) These >$200 donors provide 2/3 of all campaign funding (1/3 comes in smaller amounts). Ask yourself what a $300,000 donation must buy. Finally, recognize that these unimaginably wealthy mega-donors are just the ones willing to be publicly identified on the FEC website. We haven’t glanced at SuperPACs or at the dark money.wielded in the non-profit sector. 

More in Part III. 

Keep to the high ground,


Cathy’s Coffers Part III, The CMR PAC

A Roadmap for understanding campaign finance

This diagram is from a 2014 interactive article in the NYTimes. It is a great place to start understanding the effect of money in our politics. The limits on contributions are indexed to inflation, so the illustrated limits are now higher, e.g. $5400 can be given directly to a Candidate’s election committee ($2700 for the Primary and $2700 for the General election), and a conventional political action committee (PAC) can receive $5000 from an individual donor. 

The CMR PAC receipts for January 1,2017 to March 31, 2018

Dear Group,

Orientation: We are still looking only at the political money in those three circles in the upper left of the diagram above. This is the money you can trace if you spend the time. This is the money BEFORE the Citizens United decision (i.e. SuperPACs) and it is money that is not “Dark” (i.e. money spent for political ends by non-profits with undisclosed donors–the little circle down and right).

McMorris Rodgers, like all candidates, has her “for Congress” coffer, aka “Committee.”. By law money can only enter this coffer in relatively small chunks, $2700 per Election from an individual ($5400 per two year election cycle with a Primary and General Election) and $10,000 per cycle from a PAC. If stop looking after you’ve examined CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS FOR CONGRESS (C00390476), though, you’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.

Among these three circles in the upper left part of the diagram is MCMORRIS RODGERS AMERICAN DREAM PROJECT; THE (C00543199). Here you get at hint of the big donors that keep an incumbent like McMorris Rodgers in office. Of course, this is merely a conduit used to squeeze money through the legal knotholes into the CMR for Congress coffer and the CMR PAC. Any excess of donations given to the “Dream” passes through to the National Republican Congressional Committee. 

Finally, there is the CMR POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE (C00469429), today’s topic. So far this cycle less money has sloshed through this one than the other two entities (600K vs. 2.7M vs. 2.1M), but it is still interesting. I urge you to click the link and explore.

Contributions: Under “itemized individual contributions” of 100K we have only 36 contributors, only 16 from Washington State. (See the P.S. below for a closer look.) 

“Other committee contributions” of $369K is another laundry list of PACs, nearly all corporate PACs, 109 of them, nearly half in legal maximum per election packages of $5000 . Check it out here

The $148K under “Transfers from Affiliated Committees” all comes from 38 individuals (12 from WA), psss-throughs from the McMorris Rodgers American Dream Project. These must represent the ones who contributed to the “Dream” in excess of the $5400 that the “Dream” first sends to Cathy McMorris Rodgers for Congress. Is your head spinning yet?

Expenditures: Where does the money go? $398K went as 163 contributions mostly to Republican candidates “For Congress” campaign committees. A few of those, unbelievably, went to yet other PACs, thus continuing the endless sloshing of the washtub of political money.

Another $113K was spent under “Other federal operating expenditures.” The recipients: fundraising consulting firms (>$50K), legal fees (>$30K), food, hotels, and “compliance consulting.”

Closing points: 1) With a bit of digging it is clear that large amounts of money from very wealthy corporate donors have attached themselves to McMorris Rodgers, many but not all from outside of Washington State. There are a few local notables.

2) Even within the small segment of campaign finance we’ve been examining (that is, NOT Super-PACs and NOT non-profits), even within this segment money is not easy to trace. The mega-wealthy can make contributions in so many ways that after the funds are washed (laundered?) and mixed through the traditional (non-Super) PAC system the money comes out gray. Indeed, much of our politics is fueled by “gray” money. 

3) Remember that all the small contributions (<$200) make up only 1/3 of political contributions. Two thirds of political money is contributed in >$200 chunks. Those larger contributions are made by only 1 in 300 American adults in the midterm election cycle. (Only .04% of adults…1 in 2500…gives $2700 or more.) So who do we expect McMorris Rodgers to listen to?

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. Through their “Employees” (I think it is safe to say that in these cases “Employees”= substantial owners of), Inland Empire Paper Co. of Spokane and Nelson Irrigation Corp. of Walla Walla are major contributors to the CMR PAC (10K and 20K respectively, a total of 30% of the individual contributions to CMR PAC). You can explore other major monetary sprinklings of these contributors here and here. They total $60,400 and $40,800, respectively, just in this election cycle (1/1/17-present).

P.P.S. Among the interesting contributors is one “Petrizzo, Thomas J.” listed for the purposes of the CMR PAC as a resident of Seattle, WA, occupation “Government Relations”, and “employed” by The Petrizzo Group, the D.C. lobbying firm Megan Perez joined recently after leaving McMorris Rodgers. You can explore his other 64 political donations here along with several different listed addresses. One of The Petrizzo Group’s clients, of course, is Omeros, the drug company for which McMorris Rodgers slipped in a nice perk via the Appropriations Bill.

P.P.P.S. A cynical point: Is it an accident that all three of the McMorris Rodgers-linked campaign funds have different name labels: “Cathy McMorris Rodgers,” “McMorris Rodgers.” and “CMR?” Or was this intentionally done to discourage figuring it all out? There is no answer to this question, but there is reason to wonder.

What is Avista saying about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act?

Dear Group,

I was going to take the day off today, but then I read my email from Avista…and I can’t resist a comment. (The full text of the email is copied below, just to show I’m not making this up.)

McMorris Rodgers, as you know, has been beating her messaging drum about the Republican Tax Law in an effort to sell it to the voters. She is so committed to her canned message she even dragged out “money in your pocket” for her opening remarks to high school students at a town hall on School Safety on Maundy Thursday at Ferris. Is she tone deaf…or was she nervous the students would want to talk about guns? Did “money in your pocket” come out as a reversion to comfort zone?  In any case, polls have suggested her hand-crafted message is not sitting particularly well with the general populace. That fact only seems to make her more anxious to repeat her same talking points.

When she pulls the string that activates her talking points on the Republican Tax Law the sound bite that falls out always includes “money in your pocket.” Then comes the well-worn calculation about the extra $2000 or so some hypothetical “average” taxpayer with a family income of $70,000 is supposed to get next year. A favorite local example of a bonus (and the one she memorably touted to the students at Ferris) is the “up to” $1000 Home Depot said last January it would give its employees.  Earlier in the day of the Ferris event McMorris Rodgers had spent a few minutes as a stand-in employee. (You can see a clip of how that went here on the Katie Tur Show on MSNBC.) Of course, a one-time bonus offered by a huge company to their employees (more than a year before the effect of the Tax Law is actually felt) is nothing more than a public relations thank you to the Republican Party, a thank you for the eighty percent of the tax law proceeds (and increase in the national debt) that accrues to these companies and their owners. That eighty percent McMorris Rodgers seems incapable of discussing.

The Home Depot bonus McMorris Rodgers touted was particularly sour since one of the founders of Home Depot, Ken Langone (current net worth 3.3 billion according to Forbes, up from 2.7 billion in 2014), is one of the frequent fliers in the Koch donor group chronicled in Jane Mayer’s book “Dark Money.” (See References below). The Koch group was among the most insistent in pushing the Tax Bill. Self interest knows no bounds.

So why did the Avista email catch my eye? Here’s the excerpt (bold is mine):

You may have heard that the Commission recently made a decision on our filings that will change your electric and natural gas rates beginning May 1, 2018. We’re pleased that these new rates include passing benefits of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to our customers through rates. Based on average monthly usage, residential customers in Washington can expect the following bill changes:


• Electric: Bill increase of $1.87 or 2.2 percent, for a revised monthly bill of $88.45.

• Natural gas: Bill decrease of $0.77 or 1.5, percent for a revised monthly bill of $52.03.

I burst out laughing when I read that. The “benefits” of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” they’re passing along results in a net $1.10 increase in the average monthly bill! Are they math challenged at Avista or are they saying the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a complete hoax? I know. I know. Mr. Christie, the author of the Avista email, only said the new rates “include” the “benefits” of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Must be monstrous “benefits” to result in a net increase in your utility bill…

Keep to the high ground,


Full text of the email I received from Avista May 2, 2018 at 5AM:

Dear Avista Customer,

 In May 2017, we told you about filings we made with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission to recover costs related to infrastructure, system maintenance, technology and power supply to serve our customers that would change the price you pay for energy.

 These requests were driven by the ongoing maintenance and improvements we make every year to the massive infrastructure of poles, dams, turbines, substations, pipes, and other equipment that provides you with safe and reliable power and natural gas.

 You may have heard that the Commission recently made a decision on our filings that will change your electric and natural gas rates beginning May 1, 2018. We’re pleased that these new rates include passing benefits of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to our customers through rates. Based on average monthly usage, residential customers in Washington can expect the following bill changes:

 • Electric: Bill increase of $1.87 or 2.2 percent, for a revised monthly bill of $88.45.

• Natural gas: Bill decrease of $0.77 or 1.5, percent for a revised monthly bill of $52.03.

 It’s important to remember that the Commission sets the rate you pay for the energy you use. You can learn more about this and your energy prices here.

 Take control of your energy use

Your monthly energy bill is influenced not only by the price of energy but also by the amount of energy you use. Avista offers a variety of ways for you to manage or reduce your usage and save on your bill. Learn more here.

 We know you want prices that are fair and reasonable, and so do we.

 Thank you,

 Kevin Christie,

Vice President, External Affairs and Chief Customer Officer

Avista Utilities

CMR and Term Limits

Dear Group, 

On Good Friday at Centerplace, McMorris Rodgers was asked about term limits. The question brought to mind the attack George Nethercutt unleashed on Tom Foley in 1994 when Foley argued honestly against term limits. At the time Nethercutt’s argument resonated as part of a national drumbeat against incumbent politicians. Four years later, after Nethercutt’s first two terms, he had a change of heart and ran again, a term beyond the limit he had promoted. The power of incumbency and the fading of the term limit argument allowed him to remain in office.

Like so many issues that make convenient sound bites in one argument and inconvenient sound bites in another (State’s Rights comes to mind), the term limit issue requires careful deployment. 

McMorris Rodgers’ answer? She’s against mandatory term limits for Representatives. No surprise there. I agree with her. I even agree with the bulk of her argument. In four years (two two-year terms) a typical Representative is likely to have barely figured out the job. When new Representatives go to Washington, D.C. they need to establish relationships, learn the personalities, figure out who does what. After McMorris Rodgers’ thirteen and a half years in office she feels she is just hitting her stride. 

The Congressional Representative does not go to D.C. and work alone. There is staff to hire and manage. These offices are small beehives swarming with people, some from the home district and some who have been enmeshed in the D.C. social and legislative machine for years. Between the D.C. and home district offices the Representative hires (with taxpayer money), interacts with, and is influenced and nurtured by around twenty worker bees. (For a look at CMR’s operation visit my post on the “Member’s Representational Allowance.”)

The Representative’s office personnel doesn’t count the swarm of well-paid career lobbyists circulating through their offices, forming relationships and interacting with the staff. For a recent and pertinent example of how Congressional staff rolls from a Representative’s service to the service of the lobbyists with whom they’ve formed relationships visit my post “M Perez And CMR” detailing Megan Perez’ migration to the Petrizzo Group and possibly to the service of the Petrizzo Group’s client Omeros. 

In sum, it takes time for a Representative to establish a foothold. For a Representative to continue to serve their District and not become a cog in the D.C. machine requires qualities of diligence, intelligence, integrity and exceptional skill in choosing staff.

McMorris Rodgers has become a cog in the machine. She has joined the club. On a broad scale she functions as the message spreading and crafting maven of the Republican machine. She knows no other voice. She cheerleads the Tax Bill, the Repeal of the Individual Mandate, and oil drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge with no hint of nuance or substantive, reasoned argument. Hers are polished one-liners and short memorized paragraphs. “Never stray from the canned message” could be her motto. On a smaller scale she has succumbed to the siren song of the lobbyists. She defends an expensive perk to small Seattle drug company with a big lobbying budget by chanting that their obscure pupillary dilator (“Omidria”) as an example of “innovative, life-changing drugs,” something it certainly is not. See A Nice Business Perk With Your Omnibus Spending Bill, Sir?

I find myself in unusual agreement with McMorris Rodgers on the subject of mandatory Term Limits. Longevity in Congress can have value for the home district, but only if the Representative is not mostly or wholly subsumed by the ideology of the national Party and the lobbying machine of the District of Columbia. McMorris Rodgers fails on both counts. 

Keep to the High Ground,


Drip, Drip, Drip–The Changing of Minds

Dear Group, 

A few weeks ago I received a Facebook message from a high school classmate. He is the Pastor of Crossroads Church somewhere in Indiana. He’s a nice guy. He means well. He offered me a link to a 2 minute video originating on a Facebook site called “Uplift Post.” I’ve transcribed the presented text below:

Here’s something you may not know about Denzel Washington. Remember this the next time you walk up to the ticket window of your movie theater with $10 in your hand. The media (accidentally?) missed this one. The troops overseas would like you to tell everybody you know. Subject: Denzel Washington and Brooks Army Medical Center. Don’t know whether you heard about this but Denzel Washington and his family visited the troops at Brooks Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, the other day. This is where soldiers who have been evacuated from Germany come to be hospitalized in the United States, especially burn victims. The Fisher House is a Hotel where soldier’s families can stay for little or no charge while their soldier is staying in the Hospital. BAMC has quite a few of these houses on base, but as you can imagine, they are almost filled most of the time. While Denzel Washington was visiting BAMC, they gave him a tour of one of the Fisher Houses. He asked how much one of them would cost to build. Days later Fisher Houses received a huge donation for an undisclosed amount from Denzel Washington. The soldiers overseas were amazed to hear this story and want to get the word out to the American public because it warmed their hearts to hear it. The question is do: Beyonce, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Tom Cruise, the Kardashians and other Hollywood fluff make front page news with their ridiculous antics and Denzel Washington’s Patriotism doesn’t even make page 3 in the Metro section of the any newspaper except the local newspaper in San Antonio. A true American and a friend to all in uniform. This needs as wide a distribution as we can create. Please share it.

Step back for a moment and consider what you just read. The hook, the vehicle, is a heartwarming parable of generosity woven around a beloved actor and his family visiting injured soldiers and their families and offering monetary assistance. You want to share this message of Good News, don’t you?

But that’s just the vehicle for an Us v. Them message. The propagandist has activated and re-enforced pre-constructed mental frames of sympathy for soldiers, veterans, and Patriots; anger toward the media in general; and suspicion and distrust of Hollywood (excepting Mr. Washington). This modified story is a message of division riding piggyback on a mostly factual story everyone tends to unquestioningly accept. 

Warm fuzzy stories with nasty, divisive subtexts have been circulating by email since long before Facebook and Cambridge Analytica weaponized such messages. How many of you have read an email forward like this one from an otherwise benign friend and email correspondent? How many times have you quietly reacted to yourself, “Yuck. Where did that come from? Who was paid to write that?” How many times have you not written back to your friend, the forwarder, to ask them if they caught the subtext? Would they have told you the story with subtext included if you’d been talking face-to-face? 

Here’s the unsettling thing: When I wrote back as blandly as I could to my high school classmate, the well-meaning Pastor of a church in Indiana. He responded, “Sorry I bothered you sir. I sent this because I had read it before and feel like he needed the recognition! I just wanted to pass this along to people who were not aware of that deed. Will not bother you again.” In my mind’s eye I saw him turn and disappear down his rabbit hole into the warren of his congregation where he could comfortably read such emails, pass them along to his parishioners, and not be bothered to consider the subtext or research the details of the real story. A visit to his current Facebook page is an unsettling experience.

My pastor friend is one reason I canvass here locally, knocking on doors, listening, interacting face-to-face, making it clear I share the angst people often express, making it clear the local Democrats are real people, their neighbors, people who, like they, feel the need to change the hateful, divisive direction our country seems headed.

Attend a canvass training, get out and meet people, show your face and your concern. You don’t need an answer to every (or any) political question. You just need to listen, be nice, be friendly. Contrary to what you’d think from the news, your fellow citizens are by far and away decent people. They do not bite. Having knocked on around a hundred doors, I have yet to encounter a nasty person. When I do, I’ll remember their nastiness is not about me, it’s about them…and it is not my task to engage their nastiness or fix their attitude. “Have a nice evening. Thanks for your time.” goes a long way.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. It turns out the real underlying story around Denzel Washington’s visit dates from 2004. You can read about it’s evolution to its current use here at Snopes.

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