A GOP Culture of Corruption Creeping Closer to Mitch McConnell?

Mitch McConnell’s having a rough week. His campaign manager, who all but disappeared earlier this summer, is tied to an endorsement-buying scheme in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses, and audio of Mitch’s closed-door address to the Billionaires of America club at the Father’s Day Koch Retreat was leaked to the public for all to hear.

If you missed the cash-for-endorsement story, Maddow covered it in depth last night — Ron Paul’s Iowa campaign paid a State Senator, Kent Sorenson, for his endorsement, an effort that appears to be spearheaded by and certainly entangles McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton. That State Senator yesterday plead guilty to related charges:

Jesse Benton has had a very quiet summer, surprising for a guy serving as campaign manager for McConnell in the most expensive Senate race in US history, and perhaps this guilty plea explains Benton’s absence.

Yesterday’s proceedings did not indicate who had arranged the payment, but, as the Washington Post reports, there are clues:

The court filings did not identify the Paul operative, but in a recording of a phone call posted last year by TheIowaRepublican.com, Sorenson identified him as Dimitri Kesari, then Paul’s deputy national campaign manager. TheIowaRepublican.com and OpenSecrets.org, the Web site of the nonpartisan research group Center for Responsive Politics, also reported last year on emails in which representatives of Paul and Sorenson allegedly discussed his demands for payment.

Paul’s campaign chairman at the time was Jesse Benton, who is now running the re-election bid of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

What’s interesting here is that Benton isn’t McConnell’s only tie to the Sorenson guilty plea — Dimitri Kesari has also been on the McConnell payroll, as OpenSecrets reported last year:

The campaign of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hired a former Ron Paul campaign aide accused of trying to buy the endorsement of an Iowa state senator in 2012, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. The aide, Dimitri Kesari, was also implicated in allegations made last week by a former National Right to Work Committee employee who says the politically active nonprofit broke Iowa state campaign finance rules and misled the Internal Revenue Service about its political activity.

An OpenSecrets.org review of FEC filings made by McConnell’s campaign found that it has paid a company called Hyllus Corp. $61,954 so far in 2013. There were four payments, all of which list “strategic consulting” as the service being purchased. The most recent check went out July 19.

….Besides the $61,954 paid by the McConnell campaign, the senator’s leadership PAC, Bluegrass Committee, also paid Hyllus $10,145 on Feb. 19 — the same day the campaign paid the firm $7,102.

Kesari, Paul’s deputy campaign manager, delivered a check to the guilty pleading Sorenson, and emails indicate that Benton, Paul’s campaign manager, was involved in negotiating with Sorenson for the endorsement — and both later worked for McConnell, with Benton, apparently, still in charge of McConnell’s campaign.

It will be interesting to see what happens next for McConnell and Benton, and in Iowa. Coupled with unfolding events in Wisconsin, where the Club for Growth was engaged in questionable political activities endeavored hand-in-hand with Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election campaign, the unending nonsense in New Jersey with Chris Christie, and the charming case of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell — the Republican mid-term hopes could be descending quickly into a “culture of corruption” October storyline.

The Iowa doings of Kesari, Benton and Sorenson are potentially even more interesting when one considers that Kesari is a former employee of the non-profit anti-union group the National Right to Work Committee, which is under scrutiny of its own for its political activities, allegedly running off-the-books direct mail campaigns [link].

Kesari worked at National Right to Work alongside Doug Stafford — and while at NRWC, Doug Stafford was hired to work on Rand Paul’s 2010 Senate campaign and is now widely considered to be Rand Paul’s top political advisor and is the head of Paul’s exploratory “50-State Campaign” prepping Rand’s presidential run [link].

Stafford’s wife is on the McConnell campaign’s payroll:

According to reports filed by McConnell’s campaign, Elizabeth Stafford has been paid a total of $30,000 so far this year for fundraising consulting. Stafford is the wife of Doug Stafford, the executive director of Reinventing A New Direction PAC (RAND PAC), Paul’s leadership PAC. The only other payments made by a federal campaign or political committee to Elizabeth Stafford were two checks from RAND PAC totaling $5,500.

In that other news — if you haven’t heard Mitch McConnell’s Koch audio, you’ll want to give it a listen. In a political world in which a host of well-funded “independent” conservative groups are popping up to push the campaigns and funnel money into helping Republicans like McConnell, Walker and others (for instance, one of the founding directors of the McConnell Dark Money group Kentucky Opportunity Coalition is the current state director for Rand Paul), much of that money is circling around (or at least near) the Koch’s and their shady allies.

Sonka has the breakdown on McConnell’s speech at InsiderLouisville and it’s worth the read if you haven’t yet. Here’s a taste:

“The worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law in the early part of his first Administration,” said McConnell.

Commentators have noted that McConnell’s tenure in the Senate has included two government shutdowns, multiple wars, the 9/11 attacks, and the financial collapse of 2008. Regarding the latter, McConnell said at the time that the passage of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout for firms directly implicated in the crash was “the Senate at its finest.”

In other words, legislation limiting political spending by the wealthy was his worst day in the Senate, and legislation giving a $700 billion handout to the wealthy was his finest day in the Senate.


READ ALSO: 

INSIDER LOUISVILLE: Will Mitch McConnell’s campaign be sucked into Iowa pay-for-play scandal?


 

In the secretly recorded speech, McConnell profusely praises the Kochs, from whom he’s directly taken tens of thousands of dollars (not to mention indirect aid) and goes on to blast efforts to raise the minimum wage or help the long-term unemployed, or well, here:

“We’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. All we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage (inaudible), extending unemployment. The student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse. These people believe in all the wrong things.”

There are 150,000 unemployed Kentuckians and overwhelming numbers of Kentucky voters favor raising the minimum wage (see here, here).

The McConnell campaign has tried hard to pretend the leaked audio simply represents McConnell’s usual stump speech, but when reporters tried to talk to him about it, Mitch just ran away:

If you’ve missed that audio in full, here it is:

A Few More Thoughts on Karl Rove’s Banker, Kathy Stein and the Family Court Judge race

On Tuesday, we took a look at the Family Court Judge race between Ms. Kathy Stein and Ms. Jennifer McVay Martin. The post received a great deal of interest and it is worth re-visiting some of the issues raised in its wake.

In that post, practically nothing was said about Ms. Martin or her capabilities for the job. Instead, the post focused on who was funding her campaign — and what we find is that Ms. Martin’s candidacy is heavily underwritten by Terry Forcht and his associates at the Forcht Group.

Forcht is known throughout state politics because he and his associates in election cycle after election cycle give heavily (often maxing out) to conservative Republican candidates. Forcht, his company and its employees are among the very tip-top donors to the state GOP if not the top donor to it. On top of that, Mr. Forcht’s company serves as the bank for Karl Rove’s American Crossroads Super PAC. In 21st century American politics, the candidate’s campaign donors quite often tell us about the candidate.

The vast majority of readers clearly understand this. Some did not. Let me address them and their misconceptions. Let’s start with this — late last night, I received an email. It read, in its entirety:

Why would you write about a NON PARTISAN race and call it partisan.
YOU do not know Jennifer nor her motive and she has met Mr. Forcht once.
YOU ARE WRONG>>>>>>>>

The emailer is not alone in angrily pointing out that this is a “non partisan” race and that this blog has somehow magically made it partisan. That assertion, unfortunately, is absurd and here’s why.

This blog did not make the race partisan — the Republican Party did.

Ms. Martin is heavily underwritten by Terry Forcht. Forcht almost exclusively funds Republican candidates. He does sometimes give to Democrats in the state but his primary function is to fund a conservative agenda. The presence of his money in the race raises partisan red flags, especially when one considers who his money is aimed at defeating (we’ll get to that).

Even if one wishes to believe that the presence of Mr. Forcht’s money does not itself make the race partisan, the Angry Emailer and those of like mind will have a considerably harder time complaining about this:

JenniferMcVayMartinRepublican1

That’s a screen shot of the website of the Fayette County Republican Party. As you can quite clearly see, they Fayette County GOP has dared to make this “non partisan” race (and several others, I might add) indeed quite partisan.

If you are reading this web page and are upset that Ms. Martin’s campaign against Ms. Stein is being portrayed as “partisan” then you should direct your anger at the Republican forces that are very actively and very publicly supporting Ms. Martin — the Republican Party itself and their top funder, Terry Forcht.

The angry emailer and others upset that this blog mentioned the fact that Karl Rove’s banker is underwriting Ms. Martin’s campaign or, for that matter, the fact that the Republican Party is actively pushing Ms. Martin’s “non partisan” candidacy quite simply have no leg to stand on — their complaints are ill-informed, misdirected, or disingenuous.

Now, the Emailer makes another interesting point.

YOU do not know Jennifer nor her motive and she has met Mr. Forcht once.
YOU ARE WRONG>>>>>>>>

On this, the Emailer is at least half right. I do not know Jennifer nor her motive. As a point of fact, I never claimed to know Jennifer or her motive and I cast no aspersions on Jennifer or her motive. All I did was question why the Republican Party and their top funder are so actively engaged in her campaign.

The emailer, who seems to know Jennifer very well, tells me that Ms. Martin has only “met Mr. Forcht once” as if somehow that might allay any one’s concern. Again, the initial post not once questioned Ms. Martin or her character but rather raised legitimate questions about why Karl Rove’s banker would be so interested in seeing Ms. Stein removed from office — a mission the State Republican Party, which Mr. Forcht heavily funds, has been keenly pursuing for years.

The fact that Ms. Martin has only “met Mr. Forcht once” only raises more questions about his intent in this race. If he’s only met her once, why are he and his key associates so heavily underwriting Ms. Martin’s campaign?

Even more interesting — the same emailer also left a comment on the original post letting everyone know about Ms. Martin’s upcoming fundraiser and inviting them to attend. I appreciate that effort because now I can’t be blamed for bringing Ms. Martin’s upcoming fundraiser into the conversation.

Here are the details for that fundraiser:

McVayMartinForchtFundraiser

Yes! That’s right. Ms. Martin is holding her fundraiser at Terry Forcht’s bank — which in some circles is just known as “Karl Rove’s Bank.”

Clearly, Mr. Forcht’s presence is front and center in this campaign. If the Martin campaign does not wish this to be an issue, all they need to do is move the location of their fundraiser and return Terry Forcht’s money. That’s up to them, but they can hardly say that this blog is the one making the race “partisan.” I appreciate the compliment, but worry that may be considerably overstating this website’s influence.

A separate Martin supporter commented on the original post:

The name calling is ridiculous. This is the most absurd blog post I’ve ever read. Get your facts straight before you post something online.

This blog post was un-researched, unfounded, and uncalled for. Just embarrassing.

Let reply to that point by point:

a) The only name I called anyone was “Karl Rove’s Banker” and that’s not ridiculous because Terry Forcht actually is Karl Rove’s banker.

b) If this is the most absurd blog post you’ve ever read, I encourage you to read more blog posts.

c) It’s unclear which facts were not straight — Ms. Martin takes money from the state GOP’s top funder, the Republican Party is actively promoting her candidacy, the state GOP has for years sought to remove Kathy Stein from office.

d) The post was embarrassing, yes. I’m sorry.

Some have sought to assert that Ms. Martin is dedicated to families while at the same time attacking Ms. Stein, calling her names and claiming that she is not dedicated to families or to her role as a Family Court judge.

Let me state once more: I never questioned Ms. Martin’s character or her intent. I questioned the intent of the people underwriting her campaign and I am questioning why she would accept their support if it is so antithetical to whatever it is she believes. In the case of the two candidates, one could assume them to be totally equally (as the original post essentially did) in terms of their qualifications and then one could make an objective determination about the need to replace the sitting Judge. If they are totally equal, there is no need to replace Ms. Stein. Ms. Martin may be a great person and setting aside her unfortunately misinformed supporters, from what I’ve read online and have been told by some who know her, she is an immensely sweet lady and would be a great asset in state government — and I accept all of that to be essentially true, but that comes with the simple caveat that there is absolutely zero need to replace Ms. Stein as Family Court Judge. The only people who seem to think otherwise are either highly partisan Republicans of the Karl Rove variety or rather angry internet commenters (who may also be highly partisan Republicans of the Karl Rove variety).

Kathy Stein has dedicated her entire professional career to helping families and standing up for families, I could on go at length but Ms. Stein recently summed it up perfectly herself in a recent (and unrelated) Facebook post:

The experience I have as a Domestic Violence Prosecutor, which led me to run for the KY General Assembly and spend 17 years working on issues affecting women, children and families, has given me the life’s experience to understand the circumstances of families who appear daily in our courts.

I was also privileged to be the first woman named Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, a committee recognized as the one assigned the largest number of bills each session, but also the one to consider the most vital and controversial pieces of legislation every session there is in Frankfort.

Hence, I was very pleased to discuss my professional experience, my public service commitment proven by the 17 years in both houses of the Kentucky General Assembly, and the many years I have spent practicing in Fayette County courts as qualification to be considered by the voters in the November election as the best and most qualified candidate.

The person who emailed me is upset that Karl Rove’s banker is deeply underwriting the campaign to oust Ms. Stein and is also deeply upset that the state’s Republican Party has chosen to make this race partisan. I can understand why those facts are upsetting. It certainly is upsetting to watch such powerful conservative forces zero in and politicize an obviously nonpartisan race for a position as Judge in a courtroom where the most important issue isn’t Karl Rove’s political agenda or the state GOP’s pursuit of far right lawmaking but is instead, simply, families — which, it must be said, has been the central focus of Kathy Stein’s entire career.

If you can’t make the fundraiser for Ms. Martin at Karl Rove’s bank, you can attend Kathy Stein’s fundraiser tonight or you can give to Ms. Stein online:

THE COMMITTEE FOR JUDGE KATHY STEIN IS HOLDING A FUNDRAISER THIS THURSDAY – YOU CAN FIND THE DETAILS ON FACEBOOK

OR… IF YOU CAN’T MAKE THE THURSDAY EVENT, YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE ONLINE HERE.

 

***EARLIER***

8.26.2014: Karl Rove’s Banker, State Republicans Target Judge Kathy Stein for Extinction (again)

 

FORCHT, MARION
500 SCENIC VIEW DR
CORBIN, KY, 40701
Employer : THE FORCHT GROUP
Occupation : EXECUTIVE
INDIVIDUAL Contribution
$500.00 on 04/09/2014
MARTIN, JENNIFER for
CIRCUIT JUDGE – 22ND DISTRICT-6TH DIVISION FAMILY
PRIMARY – 05/20/2014

FORCHT, TERRY
500 SCENIC VIEW DR
CORBIN, KY, 40701
Employer : THE FORCHT GROUP
Occupation : CHAIRMAN/ CEO
INDIVIDUAL Contribution
$500.00 on 04/09/2014
MARTIN, JENNIFER for
CIRCUIT JUDGE – 22ND DISTRICT-6TH DIVISION FAMILY
PRIMARY – 05/20/2014

MARTIN, JENNIFER
729 EAST MAIN STREET / SUITE 220
LEXINGTON, KY, 40502
Employer : 
Occupation :
CANDIDATE Contribution
$8,500.00 on 02/14/2014
MARTIN, JENNIFER for
CIRCUIT JUDGE – 22ND DISTRICT-6TH DIVISION FAMILY
PRIMARY – 05/20/2014

REYNOLDS, DEBBIE
750 GRANGE LANE
LEXINGTON, KY, 40509
Employer : THE FORCHT GROUP
Occupation : PRESIDENT
INDIVIDUAL Contribution
$500.00 on 04/10/2014
MARTIN, JENNIFER for
CIRCUIT JUDGE – 22ND DISTRICT-6TH DIVISION FAMILY
PRIMARY – 05/20/2014

SHOCKLEY, RODNEY
3275 GEORGETOWN ROAD
PARIS, KY, 40361
Employer : THE FORCHT GROUP
Occupation : ATTORNEY
INDIVIDUAL Contribution
$500.00 on 04/10/2014
MARTIN, JENNIFER for
CIRCUIT JUDGE – 22ND DISTRICT-6TH DIVISION FAMILY
PRIMARY – 05/20/2014

Karl Rove’s Banker, State Republicans Target Judge Kathy Stein for Extinction (again)

donttreadonkathy

Our Lady of Perpetual Awesomeness, Ms. Kathy Stein, former State Rep and State Senator and current Family Court Judge for the 6th Division, 22nd Circuit is running for re-election.

Races for Family Court Judge don’t normally garner much attention, but as is often the case with Kathy Stein, it appears there’s some Republican tomfoolery afoot to once again try and remove her from public office.

As of mid-July, Kathy Stein had raised $600 for her re-election. That seems like a perfectly fine amount for an office of this size. Especially since Kathy Stein is so immovably awesome that she’s a shoo-in to win her re-election, right?

One would think so, but… Jennifer McVay Martin, Kathy’s Republican opponent, has different ideas. As of mid-July, Ms. Martin has raked in $16,000 in campaign contributions. A shocking disparity between the two.

When you scratch the surface of Ms. Martin’s numbers, however, that difference becomes less remarkable and much more interesting. Of the sixteen grand, Martin gave her own campaign more than half of it — $8,500. Another $2,000 came from within her own family — meaning that Martin’s actual haul from individual contributors is just $5,500.

Martin’s campaign filings to date list 10 other individual contributors. Of that ten, seven of them gave $500 a piece and one gave a thousand.

Four of these Big Donors share one thing in common — they all work for the Forcht Group. Of the $5,500 Martin has raised, $2,000 of it comes from Terry Forcht and associates, among the leading funders of Kentucky’s Republican Party who also hold deep ties to Karl Rove and his Super PAC American Crossroads:

FORCHT, MARION
500 SCENIC VIEW DR
CORBIN, KY, 40701
Employer : THE FORCHT GROUP
Occupation : EXECUTIVE
INDIVIDUAL Contribution
$500.00 on 04/09/2014
MARTIN, JENNIFER for
CIRCUIT JUDGE – 22ND DISTRICT-6TH DIVISION FAMILY
PRIMARY – 05/20/2014

FORCHT, TERRY
500 SCENIC VIEW DR
CORBIN, KY, 40701
Employer : THE FORCHT GROUP
Occupation : CHAIRMAN/ CEO
INDIVIDUAL Contribution
$500.00 on 04/09/2014
MARTIN, JENNIFER for
CIRCUIT JUDGE – 22ND DISTRICT-6TH DIVISION FAMILY
PRIMARY – 05/20/2014

MARTIN, JENNIFER
729 EAST MAIN STREET / SUITE 220
LEXINGTON, KY, 40502
Employer : 
Occupation :
CANDIDATE Contribution
$8,500.00 on 02/14/2014
MARTIN, JENNIFER for
CIRCUIT JUDGE – 22ND DISTRICT-6TH DIVISION FAMILY
PRIMARY – 05/20/2014

REYNOLDS, DEBBIE
750 GRANGE LANE
LEXINGTON, KY, 40509
Employer : THE FORCHT GROUP
Occupation : PRESIDENT
INDIVIDUAL Contribution
$500.00 on 04/10/2014
MARTIN, JENNIFER for
CIRCUIT JUDGE – 22ND DISTRICT-6TH DIVISION FAMILY
PRIMARY – 05/20/2014

SHOCKLEY, RODNEY
3275 GEORGETOWN ROAD
PARIS, KY, 40361
Employer : THE FORCHT GROUP
Occupation : ATTORNEY
INDIVIDUAL Contribution
$500.00 on 04/10/2014
MARTIN, JENNIFER for
CIRCUIT JUDGE – 22ND DISTRICT-6TH DIVISION FAMILY
PRIMARY – 05/20/2014

 

Terry Forcht’s bank, Forcht Bank, is the bank of Karl Rove’s Super PAC American Crossroads. Terry is Karl Rove’s banker. (See: here, here, here.)

Forcht’s money is omnipresent in Kentucky politics and in particular among Kentucky Republicans where he is widely considered to be one of the top, if not the top, contributor to the state’s GOP and its candidates. Over the past two years, Forcht and these associates that are donating heavily to Ms. Martin have also donated big, usually maxing out, to Mitch McConnell, Andy Barr, Thomas Massie, Rand Paul… the list goes on.

That Forcht — the main moneyman behind the state’s Republican Party — would be targeting Kathy Stein for defeat is unsurprising. She’s a strong woman, a strong voice within the Democratic Party, and has been a thorn in the side of the old white male RPK for a very long time, so much so that in 2011 the state’s Republican leadership tried to remove her from office by re-writing her district into extinction (see here).

So it appears the big money men in the State Republican party are at it again, once again targeting Kathy Stein.

Which means, once again, it’s time to rally behind the immovable Ms. Stein, our Lady of Perpetual Awesomeness.

The Committee for Judge Kathy Stein is holding a Fundraiser this Thursday – you can find the details on Facebook

Or… if you can’t make the Thursday event, you can contribute online here.

He never seems to learn, but it’s one more chance to tell Karl Rove’s banker to stop shoving his money into our politics.

Mitch McConnell: “I’ve often wished we had more women in the Senate.” (VIDEO)

“I’ve often wished we had more women in the Senate.” — Mitch McConnell, 1992.

In 1992, American voters tripled the number of women in the United States Senate — from 2 to 6 — in a wave that was called “The Year of the Woman.” Asked about this in 1992, Mitch McConnell expressed his firm belief that the US Senate desperately needs more women… and then lamented the fact that the Republican Party fails time and again to appeal to women and consistently fails to elect them.

In 1992, there were just 2 women in the United States Senate. After that year’s election, there were a whopping 6. Clearly more women were needed.

To be fair to Mitch McConnell, that interview was given in 1992. Today, there are 20 women in the US Senate and it is quite likely that Mitch McConnell believes 20 is all that we need — despite the fact that women make up 51% of the US population.

And while McConnell lamented the Republican Party’s systemic inability to appeal to women, today there are a few Republican women in the US Senate. Mitch McConnell is probably keenly aware of their presence. Back in 2012, when Mitch McConnell and 30 other Republican Senators voted against the Violence Against Women Act, all five of the Republican Women in the Senate voted in favor of it.

tumblr_m33ydx0sAD1ql6jblo1_r1_500

Setting aside McConnell’s professed desire for more women in his governmental body, Mitch’s record on women’s issues is woefully lacking.

  • Mitch McConnell is stridently pro-life and wants to further limit women’s choice.
  • Mitch McConnell the leader of a party that is waging a war on birth control.
  • Mitch McConnell tried to block the University of Louisville from awarding scholarships to any woman who would not pledge to never have a child out of wedlock.
  • Mitch McConnell opposes equal pay for women.
  • Mitch McConnell opposes raising the minimum wage which would help millions of women, many of them single moms.

That list goes on.

Earlier this year, McConnell was caught on tape espousing his 21st Century belief that

  1. Sexism is over;
  2. Women face no barriers in the professional world;
  3. A Republican Party that’s rife with men belittling victims of rape and calling women who take birth control “sluts” is not hostile to women. 
  4. Women, who constitute a majority of our population, don’t need “preferential treatment.”

I could be wrong, but I think most of the barriers have been lowered. And I’m a little skeptical about arguments that – particularly people like my party who are hostile to women – what kind of nonsense is that? I think my opponent is going to make that argument to all of you this fall, that somehow I’m promoting policies that are harmful to women…. I don’t grant the assumption that we need to sort of give preferential treatment to the majority of our population, which is in my view, leading and performing all across the… you know, maybe I’m missing something here. But I’ve, um, I think the efforts on the part of my opponent, in particular, to try to convince people that women should vote for her because she’s a woman are likely to fail, because I think women voters are going to be looking at the same kind of issues that men are.

It is, of course, twenty years since Mitch McConnell claimed he’d like to see more women in the United States Senate. Today women — again, 51% of the population — make up 1/5th of the U.S. Senate. Perhaps Mitch McConnell believes that’s equality (if you’ve heard him talk about the deficit, it’s obvious he’s not very good at math).

McConnell claims there’s no need for “preferential treatment” because if you look across the American landscape you will see that women are leading just as much as men… but if you actually look across that landscape, you’ll see nothing of the sort. For example, women make up just 4.2% of the CEOs of the top 500 corporations in America, and just 5.1% of the top 1000 [source].

Either Mitch McConnell is wrong today, or he was wrong yesterday, but either way it seems he’s wrong.

“I do think it’s very good to have more women in the Senate.” — Mitch McConnell, 1992

Barr vs. Jensen, #KY6: Student Loan Debt Crisis

  • In 2012, Student Loan Debt surpassed the $1 Trillion mark.
  • Student Loan Debt is now the second highest form of consumer debt, behind only home mortgages (and ahead of credit card debt).
  • 37 million Americans have outstanding student loan debt
  • The $1 Trillion in current student loan debt could create as much as $4 Trillion in lost wealth as borrowers struggle to pay back payments with interest.

Over the past decade, as the cost of college has increased, wages have stagnated or decreased, making it even harder to pay back student loans that have only gotten bigger. In these past 10 years, the number of borrowers has ballooned, up 70%.

In 2004, 23 million people had student loans, and the average balance was $15,651. By 2013, 39 million people had student loans, and the average balance was nearly $25,000.

Screen_Shot_2014-04-08_at_12.09.55_PM

This is a bubble. Worse, with debt repayments drowning graduates, adult children are increasingly relying on their parents for money and often housing. This drains still more wealth from the economy, stifles growth and, thus, employment and wages.

In short, it is obviously a problem.

One which should require serious attention. In the 6th District Congressional race there is clearly only one candidate who’s given the issue of student debt any serious consideration.

Garland H. Barr IV, the incumbent Republican Congressman, makes zero mention of this trillion dollar issue on his campaign website.

BarrDebt1 BarrDebt2

Andy Barr’s opponent, the Democratic candidate Elisabeth Jensen, on the other hand, directly addresses the issue on her campaign site:

We have a student loan crisis in the United States. Young people are graduating from college with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and so are moving back in with their parents and delaying their contributions to community and economic life – marriage, buying a car, buying a home, starting a business, or taking the next step toward a successful career.

Jensen goes on to lay out a few simple, initial steps to make college more affordable and reduce the debt burden on the 1 in 5 Americans currently struggling to pay back their student loans.

  • Jensen cites the need for increasing the number and amount of merit based scholarships.
  • Jensen cites her own professional background, founding two foundations that have raised and awarded over $5 million in scholarships.
  • Jensen states that we must help “families struggling with high student loan debt as part of a broader plan to get the economy moving” which she says she will work to achieve by “offering lower interest rate refinancing to graduates and former students with crippling loan debt.”
    • Specifically, on this point, Jensen says: “Interest rates have been lowered for new student loan debt but this is no help to students who have already left school with massive loans at higher interest rates.”
  • Essentially, give graduates and former students with existing debt at high interest rates a chance to refinance at the lower rates now available to for current students.
  • Increased “financial literacy” for high school students so that they have the proper understanding of what massive loans will ultimately do to their credit histories and the long term effects they will face.

Jensen ends with a loose proposal that demonstrates a keen interest in finding creative ways to lessen student debt through the types of legislation Democrats routinely seek and Republicans routinely block.

 “Student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt nationally and this is potentially the next bubble that could burst. This is all the more reason to get creative in ways these young people can give back to society, and also repay their loans. This could include caps on the percentage of after graduation salary students must pay. This could include student loan forgiveness for military or civilian service, or for taking lower paying but vitally important jobs. Any steps we take to keep student loan payments and interest rates at reasonable levels helps make it possible for young people to pay back their student loans and get their financial lives in order.

While Jensen’s platform doesn’t address other pertinent issues (Kentucky’s per student higher ed spending is down 24% since 2008; universities are admitting record numbers of students while increasing costs each year and increasingly shifting the teaching load on to lower paid adjunct professors and siphoning resulting bounties off into colossal infrastructure projects and administration salaries), it is quite clear that Elisabeth Jensen has a much firmer grasp on the very real issue of student loan debt — and how it affects families and the overall economy — than does her opponent, Rep. Andy Barr.

Which is not to say Andy Barr has been completely silent on this issue. In an interview last year with the Kentucky Kernel’s Matt Young, Garland H. Barr IV expounded at some length around the issue of the trillion dollar student loan bubble without ever saying much of substance or of truth.

Young is now at the Herald Leader and last month Barr accused Young of colluding with the White House in a bizarre conspiracy in which Young had simply lent his byline to an attack orchestrated by Barr’s political enemies, but a year ago the two were on friendlier terms. (Or was this Young’s first act in his conspiratorial collusion with Nancy Pelosi and Washington Democrats to attack Andy Barr?).

It’s classic Andy. His usual overly-emphatic delivery, the condescending notion that you will never check the veracity of his claims, and a barrage of doublespeak and half-truths that define the Garland H. Barr IV Experience:

B&P examined this Young/Barr video closely back in June, so let’s recap:

  • Asked about the Trillion Dollar Student Loan Bubble, Barr responds, “We’ve gotta do something about it, there’s more student loan debt in this country than credit card debt.”

All good so far…

  • His first example of how he’s addressing the problem of 40 million people struggling to pay back their student loans is to tout his efforts to expand investment options for people with newborns… which, you probably understand, does not one thing to help the 40 million people who currently have $1.3 Trillion in crippling student loan debt. 
    • (This does help investment firms and banks though. Give them more money! You can trust them. That’s why they underwrite Barr’s entire campaign.)
  • Barr’s next example of how he’s addressed the student loan crisis is that last summer Congress passed with his support a bill that would keep interest rates from doubling and “got the politicians out of student loans.”
    • First of all… the only reason the rates were going to double is because the Republicans wanted the rates to double.
    • Second of all… The only reason the bill prevented those rates from doubling was because the President and Democrats were using the doubled rates the GOP had pushed for to bludgeon the Republicans.
    • Thirdly, the whole “getting the politicians out” was a veiled reference to tying student loan rate increases to the market which was a Republican initiative to bring in more money off the backs of those taking out student loans.

Regarding that last point, the Republican plan goes something like this: As interest rates go up with the market, those with student loan debt have to pay more and thus the government brings in a bigger profit off the loans the government made to these students — it’s the same basic principle as a credit card lender; they get you on the hook, then hike up your rate, and they make more money.

Republicans like Andy Barr call the profit this GOP policy creates “revenue.” All that means is that this is a tax hike on middle and working class families and students.

So long as it’s being brought in off people who can’t afford to get a higher education, Republicans are okay with creating backdoor tax hikes like this — but if that “revenue” were being collected off the handful of people who make over $1,000,000 a year, they’d call it “taxes” and they’d fight tooth and nail to stop it. 

When the GOP controlled House passed the bill Andy Barr is so proudly touting, Barr had this to say:

The Smarter Solutions for Students Act gets the government out of the business of setting interest rates, provides more predictable interest rates to millions of families who borrow money

Again, Andy Barr thinks you are an idiot who can’t understand what he’s saying — or that what he’s saying is nonsensical double-speak. Barr claims that his bill would “get the government out of the business of setting interest rates” and that it would “provide more predictable interest rates” to borrowers. But the fact is, the government sets rates on its student loans because a) it can and b) it helps students have predictable rates on their loans. Barr’s plan provides “predictable rates” in as much as it necessitates “predictable” increases in those rates — as the market goes up, you can safely predict that with the Republican bill, so too will the rates on student loans. That is predictable, but it’s not good.

Here’s a brief primer on how this bill Andy is so proud of works:

In the end, the bill passed the House but was made marginally better in the Senate before being passed there as well. The Democrats in the Senate weakened some of the provisions and while it did ultimately pass, 18 Senate Dems voted against it, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

Noting that the government stood to bring in nearly $200 billion over the next 10 years because of the higher rates, Ms. Warren denounced the bill.

“This is obscene,” she said. “Students should not be used to generate profits for the government.”

In his interview with the Kernel, Andy Barr answers a question about how to address the Student Loan bubble and make college more affordable by saying that:

  • People with kids now should be able to invest differently, which does nothing to address either the existing student loan crisis nor the exponentially rising cost of education.
  • He is proud to have voted for a bill that raised rates on people who can’t afford the exponentially rising cost of tuition, essentially raising taxes on middle class Americans.

Andy Barr is not offering serious solutions to a very serious problem and, in fact, it doesn’t appear he even understands the seriousness of the issue — nor possibly even the issue itself.

If Garland H. Barr IV did understand the Student Loan Debt Crisis, he wouldn’t be offering solutions that kick the can down the road (savings accounts for newborns don’t help the 40 Million already in debt or even the next decade’s worth of future college grads) nor would he be using the Student Loan Debt Crisis as an excuse to essentially raise taxes by raising “revenue” off the backs of middle and working class Americans.

If you’re a student, a parent of a student, a graduate in debt, a parent of a graduate in debt who now lives in your basement, or a person who believes saddling even more debt onto the American public-at-large is not an effective way to grow an economy — then Andy Barr is not for you.

If you do not understand that the Student Loan Debt Crisis is real, that it’s getting worse, and that doing nothing to address it will cripple the nation’s economy, then you should vote for Andy Barr. In fact, you may actually be Andy Barr.

 

Daddy Issues: Soap Opera Politics in Battle of Super Wealthy Families

That’s the most recent Alison Lundergan Grimes ad. It attacks Mitch McConnell for spending 30 years in Washington and getting insanely rich. Technically, as several fact checkers have pointed out, the vast sum of McConnell’s accumulated wealth does not come from the repeated pay raises he gave himself (though those didn’t hurt) but rather from the fact that in his first decade in Washington, McConnell was able to woo another DC insider and eventually marry her — and it turns out her daddy’s a billionaire shipping magnate.

Which helps.

In 2004, Mitch McConnell’s net worth was just $3.1 Million; by 2007, it was a measly $7.8 million; but in 2008 it leapt to somewhere around $23 Million.

That giant leap for Mitch McConnell came at a time when the rest of Mankind was taking one small step backwards — America’s economy had imploded and trillions in personal wealth were lost. But Mitch was okay thanks, in part, to a vast monetary gift from McConnell’s father-in-law to his wife, then the sitting Secretary of Labor in the Bush Administration, Elaine Chao.

When Grimes released the above ad a few days ago, the McConnell folk did some leaping of their own, quick were they to dismiss Mitch’s wealth as purely the burden of having in-laws rather than the result of some power couple politicking or Mitch’s own three decades of power consolidation.

Which is fine. Sometimes your in-laws show up unannounced for the Holidays, sometimes they give you $15,000,000. It’s all part of the sanctity of marriage.

The Kentucky Senate race seems to have moved from a deadening tit-for-tat about which candidate will burn more coal over the next six years into a Hatfield/McCoy inter-family grudge match — if the Hatfields and McCoys were multi-millionaires.

Yesterday the race was all atwitter over Alison Lundergan Grimes’ sweet family deal on a fleet of campaign busses.

Tomorrow, perhaps we’ll be trying to figure out the answer to this riddle: If Mitch McConnell’s campaign says the vast majority of his wealth isn’t the result of him enriching himself on the taxpayers dime but is rather just a gift from his father-in-law to his wife, whose money is it that keeps underwriting loans at vast sums to McConnell’s own campaign? Is that the Foremost family gift money, or is that the couch-cushion change from all those raises McConnell’s given himself?

McConnellLoans4

McConnellLoans1

McConnellLoans2

McConnellLoans3

If the McConnell people were so quick to leap to their bosses defense to suggest that his vast wealth was really barely his at all but actually belonged to his wife, then where’d the $250,000 Mitch McConnell loaned his own campaign come from?

Where McConnell’s money comes from doesn’t really matter. He’s got a lot of it, his wife has even more of it, it’s theirs to share — and it’s also rather sweet. After a couple decades of marriage, Mitch’s in-laws have given him over $100,000 in contributions, $27,500 in 2012 alone. That’s the sign of a healthy relationship. So good for Mitch & Elaine!

What all this comes down to, really, is the most expensive Senate race in history being waged by two enormously wealthy families in one of the poorest states in the Union.

The bickering about whose family has more money and whose money is more tainted by family is entertaining (though I still prefer Days of Our Lives) but it’s also a little off-putting.

Take, for example, this ad from the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition — a dark money group that funnels cash from billionaires into the Kentucky Senate with, thanks to the decades long service of Mitch McConnell, absolutely no telling which billionaires are actually paying for the ad:

That’s an advocacy ad against the “Death Tax.” The “Death Tax” is just a pretty name for the “Estate Tax.”

Billionaires and mega-millionaires hate the Estate Tax, which explains why the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition and Mitch McConnell want to end the “Estate Tax” but doesn’t particularly explain why Kentucky voters should care about the issue.

The ad’s nice. Guy talking, seems real, says “family farm” about 80 times in 30 seconds, you see a standard Kentucky home on a hill, not exactly a mansion.

But the Estate Tax only actually affects estates that are worth more than $5,000,000. ["Death Tax" Myths Debunked, CBPP].

If your estate isn’t worth $5,000,000 or more, repealing the estate tax will do nothing for you.

The median annual household income in Kentucky is $42,000. Twenty percent of the state population lives below the poverty line.

But — when you’ve got a political debate being dictated by billionaires and millionaires, perhaps ending the “Death Tax” is the kind of issue they like to see raised in the ads that they pay for.

estatetaxmyths1

Oh… also… tax relief for the wealthy is just what Kentucky needs:

While the poorest 20 percent of Kentuckians pay 9.1 percent of their income in state and local taxes and the middle 20 percent pay 10.9 percent, the wealthiest one percent pay only 5.7 percent, according to the fourth edition of “Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States,” released today by the Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP).

“Our tax system is upside down,” said Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. “It’s the wealthiest Kentuckians who have the greatest ability to pay taxes and whose incomes have grown the most over the past couple of decades. Many poor and middle-class Kentuckians have seen their wages stagnate or decline. Yet the wealthiest pay far less of their income in taxes.”