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Palm Beach prosecutor: Ron DeSantis can’t block Donald Trump's extradition to New York

Palm Beach County's top prosecutor said Sunday that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis could delay — but not prevent — former President Donald Trump's extradition if he is indicted in New York.

Officials in Palm Beach, where Trump currently lives in his Mar-a-Lago resort, have "actively prepared" for the possibility that he will be indicted in Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's years-long criminal investigation, Politico reported last week, but they've raised concerns that an "obscure clause" in state law could allow DeSantis to block any possible extradition.

Dave Aronberg, the state attorney for Palm Beach County, said that his office has not been involved in those conversations.

"I can clear that up because I'm the state attorney here in Palm Beach County, and we have not had conversations with prosecutors in New York about this," he told CNN on Sunday. "The story that you saw was informal conversations with the clerk of courts and other local officials in case an indictment happens."

Joe Abruzzo, the Palm Beach County Circuit Court clerk, told Politico that Florida law "leaves room for interpretation that the governor has the power to order a review and potentially not comply with the extradition notice." The New Yorker's Jane Mayer also reported in March that Trump's social circle in Palm Beach has speculated that DeSantis "might not honor an extradition request from New York if a bench warrant were issued for Trump's arrest."

But Aronberg pushed back on that argument.

"So that's a conversation we're having: What is the governor's power? And the governor's power to stop an extradition is really nonexistent," he told CNN. "He can try to delay it, he can send it to a committee and do research about it, but his role is really ministerial, and ultimately the state of New York can go to court and get an order to extradite the former president. But DeSantis could delay matters."

CNN's Jim Acosta asked if Aronberg would fight such a delay by the governor.

"We would be part of it. But it's really ministerial," Aronberg replied, adding, "But, then again, I thought that when Congress counted the votes on Jan. 6, that would be ministerial too — and look what happened then. So you have to be prepared for anything."

It may not come to that if a warrant is issued while Trump is out of state. Trump is expected to spend the summer at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Although New Jersey has an extradition law similar to Florida's, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is not likely to intervene on Trump's behalf after accusing him of "inciting insurrection" at the Capitol earlier this year.

Trump's attorneys could also negotiate a voluntary surrender agreement with prosecutors, if it comes to that.

It's unclear how far along Vance's investigation into Trump and his businesses has gotten, but Mayer of the New Yorker reported in March that it is expected to wrap up before Vance's term concludes at the end of this year. Vance finally obtained years of Trump's tax returns earlier this year after a lengthy Supreme Court battle. He has since hired prominent outside attorney Mark Pomerantz to help with the investigation and has brought on an outside forensic accounting firm.

Investigators are reportedly looking into whether Trump or his businesses have committed loan, bank or insurance fraud, have interviewed former Trump fixer and Trump Organization vice president Michael Cohen more than a half-dozen times.

Prosecutors in recent weeks have turned their focus to gaining the cooperation of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization's longtime financial chief. Prosecutors last month obtained a trove of documents from his former daughter-in-law, Jennifer Weisselberg, related to Allen Weisselberg's finances and those of his son Barry, also a Trump Organization employee. The Washington Post reported that the documents "show an array of payments and perks" from the company, raising questions about whether "proper taxes were paid" on that income. Barry Weisselberg previously said during his 2018 divorce deposition that he was not sure whether he paid taxes on the Trump-owned apartment where he lived rent-free and could not answer questions about income discrepancies reported to the IRS.

Shortly after that report, Vance's office subpoenaed the private school where Allen Weisselberg and Trump himself had paid more than $500,000 for Weisselberg's grandchildren's tuition, according to The Wall Street Journal. Jennifer Weisselberg told the outlet that she understood the tuition payments to be part of her then-husband's compensation package from the Trump Organization.

Prosecutors have also asked the Trump Organization to turn over any documents related to any benefits Trump or the company provided to any other employees, according to The New York Times.

"Prosecutors often seek the cooperation of someone possibly involved in a crime to obtain confidential information and provide a potential road map to records or documents," The Wall Street Journal reported. "Typically, prosecutors offer a potential defendant leniency in exchange for their help. Putting pressure on a possible defendant's family is one way to encourage cooperation."

Sources close to Weisselberg told the outlet that he is "faithful to the Trump Organization" and is close to Trump. But Weisselberg previously cooperated with the 2017 New York attorney general's investigation that forced the Trump Foundation to shut down and the 2018 federal investigation into the hush money payments Cohen paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels during Trump's 2016 campaign.

"Trump doesn't care about Allen," Jennifer Weisselberg told Air Mail last month, "but Allen knows every bad thing he ever did."

Mitch McConnell privately assures GOP that Kyrsten Sinema will kill Biden’s tax hike

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has privately assured his Republican colleagues that centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., is likely to block President Joe Biden's proposed tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations, according to The Washington Post.

Biden has introduced a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan that would be paid for with tax increases on corporations and a $1.8 trillion "American Families Plan" that would be funded with higher taxes on the wealthy and investors and increased IRS enforcement. Republicans are pushing a much smaller infrastructure counterproposal that would shift the tax burden from corporations to workers, and have loudly objected to the proposed tax increases. McConnell, however, does not seem worried about the hikes clearing the 50-50 Senate where a single Democrat can block any party-line vote.

McConnell has privately "reassured allies of Democrats' long odds in approving tax hikes, pointing in particular to the voting record of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema," according to the Post.

That suggests McConnell sees Sinema as a bigger impediment to Biden's proposals than Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has called for raising taxes to pay for an infrastructure proposal as large as $4 trillion but wants a smaller increase on corporate taxes. Manchin has also rejected gas taxes and user fees proposed by Republicans as a tax on workers and commuters.

It's not the first time McConnell has touted the record of Sinema, who has angered many Democrats by opposing Biden's proposed minimum wage increase and calls from her party to eliminate the filibuster.

McConnell told Senate Republicans at a party meeting last month to "publicly praise" Sinema and Manchin for their opposition to Biden's proposals, according to Politico. "It's nice that there are Democrats left who respect the institution and don't want to destroy the very essence of the Senate," he told the outlet.

Economists have argued that Biden's proposed corporate tax increases would ultimately help corporations by improving critical infrastructure. A group of five former IRS commissioners last week wrote an op-ed backing Biden's proposal to boost IRS enforcement after the cash-strapped agency estimated it loses $1 trillion each year to unpaid taxes.

The IRS workforce has shrunk dramatically over the past decade due to repeated budget cuts and as a result "audit rates for millionaires have fallen more than 70 percent since 2011; audits of large corporations decreased from essentially 100 percent a decade ago to less than 50 percent," the former commissioners wrote in a Washington Post editorial.

"President Biden's proposal would restore our tax administration system to make it far fairer and more effective. This would benefit everyone who pays their taxes. It would produce a great deal of revenue by reducing the enormous gap between taxes legally owed and taxes actually paid," they added.

In fact, Sinema and Manchin are not the only Democrats who may stand in the way of Biden's tax proposals. Some Democrats worry that the IRS enforcement measure could result in "political backlash," according to the Washington Post, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has privately warned that the tax plans could hurt vulnerable Democrats up for re-election next year. Although Democrats generally support a corporate tax increase, a "handful" of Democrats have balked at Biden's proposed 28% rate even though that would not even fully reverse former President Trump's 2017 tax bill, which cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%.

Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Senate Banking Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., have released their own plan to tax multinational corporations, which is at odds with Biden's proposal. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has balked at Biden's proposed tax increase on capital gains and investment income for those who earn more than $1 million per year. A group of about a dozen Democrats in farm states have expressed concerns about Biden's proposed increase on assets passed down to heirs.

Meanwhile, a growing coalition of Democrats in high-tax states like New York, California and New Jersey have called for Biden to use the proposals to repeal the $10,000 cap on the State and Local Tax deduction, a move that research strongly suggests would primarily benefit the wealthy.

Biden has signaled that he is open to compromise and is scheduled to meet with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle this week, insisting he wants a bipartisan agreement — a prospect that seems out of reach. But the lack of a deadline on negotiations and numerous competing proposals show that Biden and his own party are also "worlds apart," Republican economic adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin told the Post.

"Biden deserves some credit for trying to pay for permanent programs, but congressional Democrats do not want the politics of these tax hikes on their record in the midterms," he said. "There's a major disagreement here."

Some Democrats have urged the administration not to fund the proposals completely and finance them instead through deficit spending, as with the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package passed in March.

"The whole point is that we are making generational investments that will provide value for 30 or 50 or 100 years," Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, told the Post. "With interest rates at a historic low, it makes sense to pay for these initiatives over a longer period of time."

But Biden insisted last week that he is "not willing to not pay for what we're talking about. I'm not willing to deficit-spend."

Anita Dunn, a senior White House adviser, sent a memo to fellow Democrats last month seeking to tamp down concerns that the party may face political backlash next November if it supports tax increases, pointing to polls showing that the public supports tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy. Some polls even show that voters are more likely to support the infrastructure package if it is funded with higher corporate taxes than without a tax increase.

"We need to restore basic fairness to the tax code, and in the process generate revenues to invest in our competitiveness, children, and economy," Dunn wrote. "And, the American people agree."

"If critics want to turn this into a debate over taxing the wealthy and big corporations to pay for investments in the middle class, we're happy to have that fight," a White House official told Politico, which obtained the memo. "The American public is squarely on our side — it's not even close."

Now it's largely a matter of Biden convincing his own party.

"This is a puzzle, and it's a very personal puzzle to a lot of people who have parochial investment agendas trying to get their own things stuffed into these plans," Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, told the Post. "Biden is full-throated with his endorsement of making the rich and corporations pay their fair share. Democrats need to come in behind him."

'Crackdown on democracy': Republican lawmakers across the country are trying to overrule voters

Amid growing concerns that Republicans will try to use new voting laws to overturn elections in the wake of a campaign of lies stoking unfounded fears about vote-rigging, GOP-led state legislatures across the country are already trying to reverse popular ballot initiatives approved by majorities of voters.

Missouri voters last year passed a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid. Arizona approved a new tax on the wealthy to fund schools. South Dakota legalized marijuana. But Republicans are trying to block those measures from being implemented and dozens of state legislatures are pushing new bills to make it harder to get voter initiatives on the ballot in the first place.

"As more progressive issues are winning at the ballot, from Medicaid expansion to legalization and decriminalization of marijuana to raising the minimum wage, paid family and sick leave, increasing access to the voting process, we have seen concerted efforts by state legislators to undermine the will of the people," Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, executive director of the progressive Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC), said in an interview with Salon.

BISC is tracking 125 bills to change the ballot measure process in 28 states, including measures that would increase the thresholds to get initiatives on the ballot or approved. Other proposals would require ballot initiatives to pass multiple times, increase filing fees and change the signature requirements. Republican lawmakers have also introduced more than 300 bills to restrict voting, dozens of anti-protest bills, and numerous measures that would undermine or snatch power from state courts and local election boards.

The effort to reverse voter-led ballot measures is "deeply connected to what we're seeing across the country after yet another election where people of color and young people turn out in record numbers demanding a different future," Figueredo said. "We see all of this as a concerted effort to limit and reduce people-led and people-initiated power."

Missouri voters last year approved a state constitutional amendment to expand Medicaid to more than 200,000 low-income residents, with 53% supporting the proposal in a state Donald Trump won easily. Republican lawmakers opposed the measure, arguing that it would be too expensive even though the federal government would cover 90% of the costs and research found that it would save the state an estimated $39 million per year. Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who opposed the amendment, said he would respect the vote and introduced a budget funding the expansion. But last week, the Republican-led state legislature rejected Parson's additional $130 million in spending and voted not to fund the expansion.

Parson may still decide to allow newly eligible residents to enroll in the program and risk running out of funding. But "if he chooses not to do that then the fight will go to the courts," Missouri House Democratic leader Crystal Quade said in an interview with Salon.

"We are extremely frustrated by this but frankly not surprised," Quade continued. "In Missouri, the initiative petition process has been used to pass a lot of things that the legislature is not doing, or is trying to do that the voters disagree with. We've seen time and time again the Republican majority here undo the will of the voters and continue to just not listen to them."

Republican legislators are also trying to make it more difficult to get these initiatives on the ballot after voters approved the Medicaid expansion as well as other initiatives to legalize medical marijuana, overturn the state's right-to-work law and implement redistricting reforms (which were also later overturned with backing from Republicans). Supporters already need to collect signatures from at least 8% of voters in six of the state's eight congressional districts. Republicans have introduced a bill that would raise the signature requirement to 10% to 15% of voters in all districts and raise the vote threshold to pass an initiative to 60% or 66%. Other bills would require the legislature to approve a constitutional amendment before it becomes a ballot measure and raise the filing fee for initiative petitions.

"The issue with initiative petitions all over the country — it's outside influences, outside of Missouri, that are coming in and influencing state policy," state Rep. John Simmons, a Republican who backs one of the measures, told the Associated Press, arguing that outside groups misled voters about the cost of the program.

But Quade said legislation to change the ballot initiative process will only require campaigns in the state to spend even more money.

"Then we will only see more money having to come in to do these measures, and so that argument does not make sense to me," she said. "In terms of them thinking that it's too easy, my response to that is that it shouldn't be difficult for regular citizens to hold their legislature accountable when we're not doing what they want us to be doing. We do not believe that it is too easy. Every year there are hundreds of initiative petitions that are filed. Only a handful make it to the ballot, sometimes none at all. There's no data to back up that argument."

Simmons argued that outside influences are trying to subvert the power of the legislature.

"To me, it's an end-around from the federalist system that we have, it's an end-around to the checks and balances system," he told the AP. "It's us, the legislature, that needs to decide and do these things. And if not, then we get voted out."

But in the era of hyper-partisan redistricting, it's not that simple. Because Missouri's legislative districts are already heavily gerrymandered, Quade said, "the legislature doesn't reflect the same values that citizens are wanting to get done."

In fact, Quade argued, "We're going to potentially become more gerrymandered as a state" after the redistricting initiative was repealed. "So by changing the initiative petition process, this is taking away one of the things that voters have when the legislature isn't doing what they want. … It's a slap in the face to voters."

Missouri is hardly alone in trying to reverse popular votes. In South Dakota, where Republican Gov. Kristi Noem argued that voters made the "wrong choice" last year by voting to legalize marijuana and directed law enforcement officials to file a lawsuit blocking the measure, Medicaid expansion supporters have run into their own roadblocks just trying to get an initiative on the ballot.

South Dakota, which was the first state in the country to adopt the initiative process more than a century ago, passed a resolution by a single vote in March to put an initiative on the primary ballot that would require a 60% threshold to pass any initiative that will cost more than $10 million. Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, the Republican Senate president pro tem who introduced the resolution, admitted to local news outlet Argus Leader that the measure was directly aimed at heading off the Medicaid expansion initiative backed by the grassroots group Dakotans for Health.

"It's obviously by design because you've got fewer people participating in the primary and in our state there's not a lot of Democrats to begin with and there aren't a lot of Democratic primaries," Adam Weiland, co-founder of Dakotans for Health, said in an interview with Salon, adding that the group has filed a lawsuit to move the initiative to the November general election ballot.

Weiland said the push in South Dakota and other states to undermine "vehicles by which ordinary people participate in the political process" was tantamount to a "crackdown on democracy."

He continued, "The bad actors here are obviously Republican governors and Republican legislatures around the country, but it's also organizations like the Koch network and ALEC, who are the brainchild and financial backers of a lot of what's going on here to push this sort of broader national campaign.

"They can't win at the ballot box so they're going to try to figure out ways to win on technicalities, by cheating, by trying to prevent things from getting to the ballot box. That's where they're at, because I think they probably realized that the people aren't with them on it."

Idaho Republican Gov. Brad Little signed a law last month requiring supporters to collect signatures from at least 6% of voters in each of the state's 35 state legislative districts, arguing that ballots have become "cluttered with initiatives that have not demonstrated sufficient grassroots support" after voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of Medicaid expansion.

"The Idaho Legislature is attempting to ensure that no citizen initiative like Medicaid expansion ever appears on the ballot again," Luke Mayville, co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, which campaigned for the Medicaid initiative, said in a statement to Salon. "That they would go to such lengths seems strange on the surface, considering that the legislature already has the right to repeal any initiative that voters enact. But the truth is that Idaho's GOP establishment wants to prevent voters from even expressing their will on issues like health care, education, and wages. Every expression of popular will on these issues reveals how out of touch elected officials are with those they claim to represent. In Idaho and many other states, initiatives like Medicaid expansion undermine the legitimacy of the political establishment."

In Arizona, where repeated Republican budget cuts prompted a statewide teacher strike in 2018, voters last year approved a ballot measure to boost underfunded schools by imposing a new 3.5% tax on individuals earning over $250,000 and couples making $500,000 to raise more than $900 million in estimated annual revenues. But Republicans have introduced Senate Bill 1783, which would exempt business earnings from the new tax, and GOP lawmakers filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the entire measure, arguing that it is unconstitutional because it violates legal limits on increases to school district funding that can only be overridden by the legislature.

Joe Thomas, the president of the Arizona Education Association, the state's largest teacher union, said Republicans were trying to undo "years of organizing efforts" prompted by "decades of neglect and underfunding from the state."

"Despite the need for school funding and the support of voters, those in power are still trying to stop these funds through lawsuits and legislation like Senate Bill 1783, which is a direct attack on the Invest in Education Act," Thomas said in a statement to Salon. "This bill creates a tax evasion scheme to divert up to $378 million of #INVESTinED dollars away from our schools and back into the pockets of the greedy 1%. These efforts by GOP leadership will not stop us from providing our students with the public schools they deserve. We will continue to fight because we know our students are worth the effort."

In Florida, where Republican lawmakers took a sledgehammer to a voter-backed initiative to restore voting rights to more than 1 million former felons, voters last year overwhelmingly voted to pass a ballot measure to increase the state's minimum wage to $15 by 2026, even though Trump won the state and Republicans did well in other races. Now a new Republican measure aimed to undermine the vote seeks to put another amendment on the ballot that would reduce the minimum wage increase for workers under 21, those convicted of felonies and "other hard-to-hire employees."

Florida has also spent years making it harder to pass initiatives. Last year, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill raising the signature threshold for a petition to be reviewed by the state Supreme Court from 10% of registered voters to 25%, and previously signed a bill imposing restrictions on petition gatherers. This year, Republicans are pushing measures to limit contributions to groups promoting ballot initiatives and to raise the threshold to pass an amendment from 60% to 66%.

DeSantis has argued that additional restrictions are needed because he believes too many policies have been approved by voters in recent years without input from the state legislature. But Figueredo noted that Florida already has a 60% threshold to pass any amendment, which "is more than DeSantis and many people who are currently state legislators or in seats of government" received in their elections. That's clearly true: DeSantis received 49.5% of the vote in his 2018 election, eking out a win by about 40,000 votes.

Florida is one of dozens of states trying to make it harder to pass ballot initiatives, along with Republican-led states like Oklahoma, North Dakota, Arkansas and Utah. Figueredo argued that the effort is an extension of Republican backlash since the election of former President Barack Obama, when red states introduced a slew of voting restrictions and moved to consolidate power through redistricting.

Partisan redistricting, which is expected to get worse this year due to single-party GOP control in many states and court decisions that have undermined previous redistricting limits, has created disproportionately Republican legislatures that are often at odds with large swaths of voters in their states.

"There is a long history of elected officials resisting or sometimes subverting the implementation of laws that voters pass through the initiative," Chris Burnett, a political science professor and direct democracy expert at Hofstra University, told Salon. "In recent years, we have seen several high-profile liberal initiatives come under attack. This occurs because, in part, the initiative process is adversarial to the legislature.

"That is, initiatives produce outcomes that the median voter prefers, while legislatures are often not reflective of the median voter because the individual districts that produce legislators often result in aggregate outcomes that are either too liberal or too conservative. As a result, whenever you have a legislature that does not mirror the preferences of the median voter — in this case, the legislatures are too conservative — you would expect them to be more likely to undermine an initiative."

Figueredo said citizen-led initiatives should not be seen as "adversarial" to the power of state lawmakers. "It is another form of our democracy in action," she said, and an "opportunity for state legislators to even more deeply engage with their constituents."

She, too, blamed redistricting for contributing to growing tensions between Republican lawmakers and the voters they theoretically represent.

"They're supposed to be our voice in government, and it is unfortunate that power has been consolidated at the state level to one particular party," she said. "What we see with so many of these initiatives is they're much more values-aligned with what people want, what people are demanding for their communities. … It's really about listening to the will of the people. Any person in government should be responding to the needs of the people, not a political party."

Kushner company broke numerous laws by ripping off tenants: Judge's 252-page decision

A Maryland judge found that a real estate management company co-owned by Jared Kushner violated multiple consumer protection laws by improperly collecting debts, charging sham fees and misleading tenants.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Administrative Law Judge Emily Daneker wrote in a 252-page decision last week that Westminster Management and JK2 had committed "widespread and numerous" violations, in response to a lawsuit from Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh.

Kushner held a 50% stake in JK2, which is now called Westminster, as did his brother Joshua, according to the Baltimore Sun, which first reported the decision. Kushner, former President Donald Trump's son-in-law, stepped down as CEO of Kushner Companies when he joined the administration in 2017 but kept his stake in the apartment company.

Frosh filed the lawsuit against the companies and two dozen others in 2019, accusing them of having "victimized consumers, many of whom are financially vulnerable" and alleging "hundreds of thousands" of violations in Westminster's Baltimore apartment units. Frosh, a Democrat, accused the company of charging illegal fees and failing to address unhealthy conditions and rodent infestations.

Westminster alleged that Frosh's lawsuit was politically motivated, but Daneker rejected that assertion.

"The evidence does not establish differential treatment or selective enforcement based on any politically motivated basis, as opposed to motivation to protect Maryland consumers," she wrote in her decision.

Daneker found that Westminster misled tenants about apartment conditions by showing them model units but not allowing them to see their actual apartments they were renting until move-in day.

One man testified that he was shown a recently remodeled apartment but the apartment he actually rented in 2014 was dirty and smelly and his kitchen ceiling caved in the same day he moved in, according to the Sun. The company never repaired it, the man said.

A woman testified that in 2013 she was shown a newly renovated apartment, while the one she actually rented was infested with mice.

The judge said the companies had also charged illegal fees thousands of times over more than two years, and collected debts without obtaining required licenses. Maryland law allows landlords to charge up to $25 to process applications, but Westminster charged as much as twice that to more than 15,000 applicants. The companies also charged "agent fees" for costs they did not actually incur more than 28,000 times. The companies also charged $80 fees for court costs, when they only paid $50.

"This occurred a total of 2,642 times over the course of more than two years," Daneker wrote. "These circumstances do not support a finding that this was the result of isolated or inadvertent mistakes."

But Daneker said she disagreed with Frosh's claims that the companies had illegally misrepresented their ability to provide maintenance services and that the violations were committed during the entire time period cited in the lawsuit.

Both sides have 30 days to respond to Daneker's decision before the state's Consumer Protection Division issues a final order, which could include penalties or restitution. Frosh has estimated that Kushner's companies may be on the hook for millions in damages.

Kushner Companies, which recently announced it would sell half its apartments in the Baltimore area, including some mentioned in the lawsuit, framed Daneker's decision as a win.

"Kushner respects the thoughtful depth of the Judge's decision, which vindicates Westminster with respect to many of the Attorney General's overreaching allegations," Christopher Smith, an attorney for the company, told the Baltimore Sun.

Frosh has not commented on the decision. He said in 2019 that the companies put "consumers' health and well being" at risk and that tenants "have had to endure living in the units that are infested with rodents and vermin, plagued with water leaks that have caused mold and other issues, and, at times, lacking basic utilities."

Baltimore County, where most of the apartments are located, previously found in 2017 that the company had violated housing codes more than 200 times in just a 10-month span.

ProPublica published an in-depth investigation in 2017 finding that the company aggressively pursued tenants who failed to pay rent on time.

Dionne Mont, who faced numerous dubious fees after moving into a rodent-infested apartment badly in need of repairs, told ProPublica that she was "elated" by last week's decision.

"People were living in inhumane conditions," she said. "Deplorable conditions."

Rudy Giuliani's allies return to beg Trump for money after he 'balked' at $20,000 a day legal bill

Rudy Giuliani's allies are pressing former President Donald Trump's team to help pay for his former attorney's own growing legal bills as he faces multiple lawsuits over his efforts to overturn Trump's election loss.

Giuliani's attorney, son, and allies like convicted former New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik have urged Trump aides to dip into his massive war chest to help cover the former New York City mayor's mounting lawyer bills after Giuliani's home was raided by the FBI last week in a years-long Justice Department investigation into his dealings in Ukraine, according to The New York Times. Giuliani also faces two multi-billion-dollar defamation lawsuits from voting tech firms Dominion and Smartmatic after he made false claims tying them to a baseless vote-switching conspiracy theory.

The pleas from Giuliani's supporters come after Trump refused to pay his former lawyer for his work on his election legal challenges. Trump "balked" at paying Giuliani after his associate sent a bill for $20,000 for a day of his work and told aides he did not want Giuliani to receive "any payment," according to the report. Trump ultimately agreed to reimburse Giuliani $200,000 for expenses but has "stridently refused to pay" Giuliani's fees.

The notoriously stingy former president bombarded supporters with fundraising appeals after his election loss, raising some $250 million to ostensibly fund his legal battle. But Trump spent a tiny fraction on actual legal costs as his many court challenges were quickly rejected by dozens of federal judges, including ones he appointed. Now, Giuliani's allies are asking Trump to use the quarter-billion he raised with the Republican National Committee to help pay Giuliani's costs in the federal probe and defamation lawsuits.

The federal investigation is focused on Giuliani's business dealings in Ukraine as he sought to help Trump find dirt that would damage President Joe Biden's then-nascent campaign. Prosecutors are reportedly looking at whether Giuliani lobbied the Trump administration to fire its ambassador to Ukraine on behalf of Ukrainian officials or oligarchs accused of corruption. Giuliani has denied any wrongdoing.

Giuliani also faces a $1.3 billion lawsuit from Dominion for making "demonstrably false" claims that the company's voting machines switched votes from Trump to Biden and a $2.7 billion lawsuit from Smartmatic, whose software he linked to the Dominion conspiracy even though it was not used in any of the states where Giuliani baselessly alleged election-rigging.

Kerik, who was appointed commissioner by Giuliani, took the complaints about the fees public on Twitter this week, though he aimed his attack at the RNC and avoided naming Trump, despite the fact that Giuliani was his personal attorney.

"I want to know what the @GOP did with the quarter of $1 billion they collected for the election legal fight," Kerik tweeted on Sunday. "Lawyers and law firms that didn't do shit were paid lots of money and the people that worked their ass off, got nothing."

Kerik privately made similar complaints to Trump's advisers, according to the Times, arguing that Giuliani incurred the growing legal costs because of actions he took on behalf of Trump. He has also argued that Trump used Giuliani's name to raise money for his futile election challenges.

Giuliani's son Andrew echoed Kerik's complaints in an interview with ABC News this week.

"I do think he should be indemnified," he said. "I think all those Americans that donated after Nov. 3, they were donating for the legal defense fund. My father ran the legal team at that point. So I think it's very easy to make a very strong case for the fact that he and all the lawyers that worked on there should be indemnified… I would find it highly irregular if the president's lead counsel did not get indemnified."

Robert Costello, Giuliani's attorney, has also "raised the question of paying" Giuliani in discussions about the federal probe with one of Trump's lawyers, according to the Times. Another person close to Giuliani has argued that Trump needs to spend the leftover money on expenses related to his election effort because the funds were solicited for that purpose.

Giuliani's camp is also "disappointed" that he did not receive a pre-emptive pardon from Trump, according to the report, even though Giuliani declared in January that he did not need one because "I don't commit crimes."

Attorney Alan Dershowitz, who is advising Giuliani on his legal battles, told CNN that he also hopes that Trump will join the case because the FBI raid last week seized communications that may fall under attorney-client privilege. The Justice Department has since asked a court to appoint a special master to review the seized files to identify any potentially privileged materials.

"Hope the people whose information is privileged, like Donald Trump, would join the lawsuit and say look you can't see my stuff," Dershowitz told CNN, though Costello told the network that since Trump rarely texts or emails it is unlikely the seized files include direct communications with him. Costello told news outlets that the warrant served at Giuliani's home and office sought communications with about a dozen Ukrainian officials and others related to the ouster of former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

Trump had a similar deal with former attorney Michael Cohen, whose home and office were likewise raided by the FBI in a sweeping federal probe in 2018. Trump joined Cohen in filing a civil action against federal prosecutors to prevent them from seeing potentially privileged material. Trump's company also paid some of Cohen's legal bills but cut him off after he agreed to cooperate with investigators. Cohen ultimately testified against Trump to former special counsel Bob Mueller and to Congress. He later sued the Trump Organization for refusing to pay $1.9 million in legal costs.

Cohen told CNN last week after the FBI raid that he warned Giuliani that Trump "doesn't care about anyone" and "that he will be the next one thrown under the bus." But Cohen added that "Trump is scared today" because "Rudy knows he's in trouble."

"I think Donald understands that Rudy will provide whatever information that he has to the [prosecutors]," he said, "because Rudy has no interest in going to prison and spending the golden years of his life behind bars. That I'm certain of."

Now Florida Republicans worry their new voting restrictions may backfire and hurt GOP turnout

Florida Republicans passed a series of voting restrictions aimed at cracking down on mail ballot access in response to false claims by former President Donald Trump and his allies, but some Republican operatives are now worried that the new measures could backfire in a state where more than a third of Republicans vote by mail.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has vowed to sign Senate Bill 90, which will impose stricter ID requirements for mail ballots, restrict the use of ballot drop boxes and require voters to request ballots instead of automatically receiving them from an absentee voting list, among other provisions. But some Florida Republicans are "reacting with alarm" after the party spent decades and millions of dollars promoting mail voting, according to the Washington Post.

DeSantis and former Gov. Rick Scott, who now represents the state in the U.S. Senate, both benefited from the rise of mail voting among the party as GOP lawmakers passed laws to make it easier to cast ballots. In 2020, nearly 35% of all Republican voters submitted ballots by mail, according to the report. Democrats have worried that the bill will disproportionately affect voters of color, some Republicans are concerned the party will damage its own electoral prospects while rushing to respond to Trump's election lies.

"Donald Trump attempted to ruin a perfectly safe and trusted method of voting," a longtime Republican consultant told the Post. "The main law that we pass when we pass election bills in Florida is the law of unintended consequences."

Republicans have spent decades boosting mail voting, going all the way back to 1988. GOP operatives encouraged elderly voters to cast absentee ballots and in 2002 implemented a no-excuses vote-by-mail system that allowed anyone to cast a ballot by mail, including Trump himself. Republicans later passed a law creating a mail-ballot request list, which allowed voters who request mail ballots to automatically receive them for two subsequent election cycles because the use of mail ballots had become so popular. As recently as 2018, the GOP passed a law that required a drop box at every early voting site.

"That was before their leader's attack on mail balloting," former Leon County Election Supervisor Ion Sancho told the Post.

The bill passed last week will prevent voters from automatically receiving mail ballots and will require any drop boxes to be staffed at all times and available only during early voting hours.

The law's supporters dismissed concerns that the law may adversely impact Republican turnout.

"It's not going to hurt anybody, Republicans or Democrats," state Sen. Joe Gruters, the chairman of the Florida GOP, told the Post. "People are going to understand the changes that were made long before another election comes around. People will have a full grasp of what we're dealing with. … My goal is to make it as easy as possible to vote and as hard as possible to cheat, period."

Research has consistently shown that cheating or fraud in mail ballots is virtually nonexistent. Multiple recounts and audits in the 2020 election found no evidence of any widespread fraud.

Gruters told the Post that his goal is to expand early in-person voting, an ironic twist given the state's recent electoral history.

Republicans, led by Scott, cracked down on early voting after Barack Obama carried Florida in 2008, in large part due to increased early in-person voting by Black voters. The state severely limited early voting hours, a move critics said was directly aimed at shrinking Black turnout.

"Fifty-four percent of African American votes that year were cast at in-person early-voting sites," Sancho told the Post, arguing that law was intended to "frustrate" Black voters.

But the move resulted in long lines and prompted widespread backlash that caused the legislature to reverse the restrictions.

Democrats, meanwhile, tried to promote mail voting in response to the GOP success but did not see the same results, former Obama campaign aide Steve Schale told the Post. Black voters, who make up a large proportion of the state's Democratic base, were often distrustful of mail voting and wanted to ensure their ballots were counted. Democratic use of mail voting grew over time but Republicans still cast 1.08 million ballots by mail in 2018, compared to 1.027 million from Democrats. DeSantis and Scott both won their 2018 races by razor-thin margins.

When mail voting became a key issue amid the coronavirus pandemic last year, Trump responded by baselessly stoking fears in the voting method ahead of an election he ultimately lost by more than 7 million votes.

"It was comical to watch Trump light on fire 20 years of Republican work and tens of millions of Republican investment — literally lighting a match to it," Schale told the Post. "Every time he sent a tweet out, I'd get a text from a Republican operative here in Florida with an eye-roll emoji."

Republicans tried to counter Trump's rhetoric, trying to reassure voters that the state's system was fine with the president. Trump himself repeatedly tried to parse the difference between mail voting and absentee voting, even though there is no difference under Florida's no-excuse system.

More than 34% of Republicans still voted by mail in 2020 but Democrats saw a much bigger increase in mail voting amid Trump's attacks. The number of Black voters who cast mail ballots more than doubled from the 2016 election, according to Daniel Smith, an elections expert at the University of Florida.

Some Republicans "privately expressed concerns" that SB 90 would hurt GOP turnout as the bill made its way through the legislature, according to the Post. Some even suggested exempting elderly voters and military members from the provision requiring voters to request ballots each election cycle.

"Key lawmakers said, 'You can't do that.' It would raise equal protection problems," a former state party official told the outlet. "Now, you'll have military personnel who might not think they have to request a ballot who won't get it. And we've got senior voters who have health concerns or just don't want to go out. They might not know the law has changed, and they might not get a ballot, because they're not engaged."

Multiple Republican operatives told the outlet that members did not publicly speak up because they feared attacks from their own party leaders or voters who have framed the issue against the backdrop of increased Democratic mail voting last year.

But Schale warned that the trend may not continue, given that two of the biggest factors driving Democrats to vote by mail were the coronavirus and Trump's rhetoric. A paper published by Smith found that nearly one-fifth of Florida Republicans who said they would not vote by mail ended up doing so despite Trump's attacks.

"Make no mistake: Senate Bill 90 targets newly registered and younger voters, African Americans, as well as Democrats, who disproportionately switched to requesting and voting a mail ballot in November due to health concerns," Smith told the Post. "The GOP leadership has discounted any collateral damage, calculating that the benefit to the party outweighs any harm done to its party faithful."

FBI seizes phone from lawyer who helped Rudy Giuliani hunt for Biden dirt in Ukraine

The FBI executed a search warrant at the home of attorney Victoria Toensing the same day that it raided the home and office of former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, according to multiple reports.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

FBI agents executed the warrant Wednesday morning at Toensing's Washington-area home, The New York Times first reported. Investigators only seized a single cell phone and did not search her home, according to Politico.

Toensing, a former federal prosecutor who along with her husband Joe diGenova served as informal legal advisers to Trump, in 2019 assisted with Giuliani's search for dirt on then-candidate Joe Biden in Ukraine and signed on to represent Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch with ties to the Kremlin who is facing extradition to the United States on bribery and racketeering charges. Firtash claimed in 2019 that he paid $1.2 million to Toensing and diGenova in a scheme orchestrated by Giuliani while he was on his expedition in Ukraine, which Giuliani denied.

Toensing's law firm claimed that she was told that she was not the target of the federal probe after the FBI seizure on Wednesday.

"Ms. Toensing is a former federal prosecutor and senior Justice Department official," the firm said in a statement. "She has always conducted herself and her law practice according to the highest legal and ethical standards. She would have been happy to turn over any relevant documents. All they had to do was ask. Ms. Toensing was informed that she is not a target of the investigation."

Toensing, a former federal prosecutor who along with her husband Joe diGenova served as informal legal advisers to Trump, in 2019 assisted with Giuliani's search for dirt on then-candidate Joe Biden in Ukraine and signed on to represent Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch with ties to the Kremlin who is facing extradition to the United States on bribery and racketeering charges. Firtash claimed in 2019 that he paid $1.2 million to Toensing and diGenova in a scheme orchestrated by Giuliani while he was on his expedition in Ukraine, which Giuliani denied.

Toensing's law firm claimed that she was told that she was not the target of the federal probe after the FBI seizure on Wednesday.

"Ms. Toensing is a former federal prosecutor and senior Justice Department official," the firm said in a statement. "She has always conducted herself and her law practice according to the highest legal and ethical standards. She would have been happy to turn over any relevant documents. All they had to do was ask. Ms. Toensing was informed that she is not a target of the investigation."

"It is outrageous that the Trump Derangement Syndrome has gone so far that hatred has driven this unjustified and unethical attack on the United States Attorney and Mayor who did more to reduce crime than virtually any other in American history," the statement said. "Mr. Giuliani respects the law, and he can demonstrate that his conduct as a lawyer and a citizen was absolutely legal and ethical."

Daniel Goldman, who was lead counsel in the House impeachment inquiry into Trump's hunt for Biden dirt, said he was not surprised that the FBI had targeted Toensing along with Giuliani.

"This makes sense because, during the Ukraine impeachment investigation, we obtained draft retainer agreements between a Ukrainian official and Toensing and diGenova that Giuliani brokered," he tweeted.

Goldman's tweet appeared to refer to a draft contract between Giuliani, Toensing, diGenova and former top Ukrainian prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko to represent him in a corruption case for $200,000 after Ukrainian authorities seized Lutsenko's assets. Lutsenko fed Giuliani false claims about Biden, before later admitting they were untrue.

While that deal ultimately fell apart, Toensing and diGenova did sign an agreement to represent Firtash.

Firtash told the Times in 2019 that he had paid Toensing and diGenova $1.2 million to help with his legal case and got "sucked into" Giuliani's hunt for Biden dirt. An attorney for former Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, who is charged with unrelated crimes, told the outlet that Parnas convinced Firtash to hire the pair and help with Giuliani's effort "as part of any potential resolution to his extradition matter." Toensing and diGenova ultimately lobbied then-Attorney General Bill Barr on Firtash's behalf, according to the report.

Giuliani admitted in an interview with the Times that he sought information that would help Trump from Firtash's original legal team but denied that he instructed Parnas "to do anything with Firtash."

Toensing and diGenova also represented John Solomon, a former columnist at The Hill who helped spread Giuliani's false claims in the media. The warrant executed at Giuliani's home on Wednesday sought communications between the former New York mayor and Solomon, among others, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Ukrainian escapade ultimately led to the first of two Trump impeachments, though he was ultimately acquitted. In an interview with Fox Business on Thursday, Trump said that Thursday's raid on Giuliani was "like, so unfair" and a "double standard like I don't think anybody's ever seen before."

Though Giuliani's representatives claimed that the search was politically motivated, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York launched the probe while Trump was still in office and sought to serve the warrant last year, but were reportedly rebuffed by Trump appointees.

Biden told MNSBC on Thursday that he had "no idea this was underway."

"I learned about that last night when the rest of the world learned about it, my word," Biden said, adding, "I made a pledge I would not interfere in any way, order or try to stop any investigation the Justice Department had. … I'm not asking to be briefed. That's the Justice Department's independent judgment."

Key Democrats want to keep most of Trump’s corporate tax cut — and slash more taxes for the rich

After decrying Republican tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefited the rich and corporations, some Democrats, including progressive House members, are pushing to revise President Biden's infrastructure proposal to include tax breaks that will largely flow to the wealthy.

Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure proposal would be primarily funded by raising the corporate tax rate to 28%, after former Donald Trump signed the 2017 Republican tax cut law that cut the rate from 35% to 21%. But after torpedoing Biden's proposed minimum wage increase and forcing reduced unemployment benefits and stimulus checks in the American Rescue Plan, some moderate Democratsm led by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., are intent on preserving most of Trump's corporate tax cut.

Senate Democrats' plan is expected to increase the corporate tax rate to just 25%, sources told Axios last week, which would raise about $600 billion over the next 15 years. That would fall far short of the price tag of the bill, though Biden's proposal also includes a hike on corporate foreign earnings that is expected to raise another $700 billion. The White House has not changed its proposal, but Democrats close to the administration told Axios that Biden would accept the 25% as a "political win." Sources likewise told Reuters and other outlets that they expect the final bill to include a 25% corporate tax rate.

Manchin, who called for a 28% corporate tax rate before the Trump tax cuts, said he would oppose the bill unless the hike was pared back to 25% and would use his "leverage" in the 50-50 Senate to force the change.

"If I don't vote to get on it, it's not going anywhere," he told CNN earlier this month. "So we're going to have some leverage here. And it's more than just me, … There are six or seven other Democrats who feel very strongly about this."

The other Democrats calling to preserve most of Trump's corporate tax hike include Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Mark Warner of Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, according to Axios. Some moderate House Democrats, like Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., have also called to reduce the proposed corporate tax rate to 25%, which would effectively result in a bipartisan 10% corporate tax cut from Obama-era levels. Earlier, Biden vowed to "get rid of the bulk of Trump's $2 trillion tax cut," which he labeled "irresponsible."

"I'm not trying to punish anybody, but damn it, maybe it's because I come from a middle-class neighborhood, I'm sick and tired of ordinary people being fleeced," Biden said in a speech earlier this month. "It's just not fair. It's not fair to the rest of the American taxpayers. We're going to try to put an end to this."

Manchin defended his opposition to the higher rate, echoing a frequent Trump talking point that lower corporate tax rates were necessary to keep American corporations "competitive." But even the massive Trump corporate tax cut largely failed to result in the much-hyped windfall that was promised. Even before the pandemic, the tax cut failed to boost longterm corporate investment, spark hiring, boost wages or pay for the deficit it caused, though it did result in record stock buybacks.

Of course, many corporations pay no federal income taxes at all. The Trump tax cut doubled the number of companies that had an effective 0% tax rate, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), while giving the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies an average federal tax rate of 11.3% the year it went into effect.

The Senate Democrats' 25% corporate tax rate puts them to the right of corporate executives like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Lyft cofounder John Zimmer and even former Trump economic advisr Gary Cohn, who backed a 28% rate.

"To me, 28% is probably a good number to land on, to end up being attractive to corporations to be in the United States," Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs, told Yahoo Finance last year.

There is no data suggesting that a 25% tax rate would make the United States more competitive than a 28% rate, said Zach Liscow, a professor at the Yale Law School who studies tax policy.

"There are good reasons to think that those higher taxes will not do much to affect corporations' investment in the U.S., owing in part to the tax incentives the U.S. has adopted over the past few decades to encourage investment, which just get more valuable when the tax rate goes up," Liscow told Salon. "At the same time, there are lots of reasons — based on considerable economic research on the importance of infrastructure to economic growth — to think that better infrastructure will encourage investment in the U.S. and help corporations grow here. All in all, it's a good bet that a somewhat higher corporate tax rate to fund infrastructure would actually be good for U.S. competitiveness, not bad."

A Quinnipiac poll earlier this month found that voters are also significantly more likely to support Biden's infrastructure proposal if it is funded through tax hikes on corporations.

The Senate Democrats' proposal comes as House progressives call on Biden to do more, not less, in his infrastructure proposal.

"This is not nearly enough," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said of the $2.25 trillion proposal.

"This package can and should be substantially larger in size and scope," agreed Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, calling for the plan to ensure that "large corporations finally pay their fair share in taxes."

Nina Turner, the Ohio House candidate backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other progressives, argued that the corporate tax rate should be even higher than Biden's proposal.

"Saying 'corporations must pay their fair share' should mean that pre-Trump rates are the starting point," she said on Twitter.

But some progressives have been pushing for their own preferred tax cut in the proposal that would primarily benefit the rich.

Every member of the California House delegation, except House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has called on Biden to lift the $10,000 limit on the State and Local Tax Deduction, a provision of tax law that is massively unpopular in affluent suburban areas increasingly represented by Democrats. Those California members include prominent progressives like Reps. Katie Porter and Ro Khanna, the former national co-chair of Sanders' presidential campaign.

"Enactment of the SALT cap specifically targeted states and localities that have chosen to provide strong taxpayer support for critical government services such as education, health care, transit, and social services," the lawmakers argued.

Every member of New York's congressional delegation, except for Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., went further, signing a letter vowing to oppose the entire infrastructure bill unless it includes a repeal of the SALT cap. The letter's signatories included newly-elected progressives like Reps. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., and Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y.

"This issue is so critical to our state and our constituents that we will reserve the right to oppose any tax legislation that does not include a full repeal of the SALT limitation," the letter said.

The New York lawmakers claimed that a full repeal would ensure "that New York State middle-class families were not taxed twice on their income." But an analysis by ITEP found that 86% of the benefits of repealing the SALT cap would go to the richest 5% of the population. In New York, 83% of residents earning under $100,000 would get no benefit at all while the other 17% would gain, on average, about $190 per year.

An analysis by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) similarly found that the bottom 80% of households would receive just 4% of the benefit of the repeal, calling it "very regressive." An analysis by the Tax Policy Center found that 96% of households earning between $52,000 and $93,000 would see no tax reduction, while the remaining 4% would get an average tax cut of $400. On the other hand, 93% of those earning over $1 million would see an average tax cut of $48,000. An analysis by the Brookings Institution concluded that a repeal of the cap would be three times more favorable to the rich than the overall benefits of the heavily pro-rich Trump tax cut.

ITEP also warned that repealing the cap would "worsen economic disparities and exacerbate racial inequities baked into the federal tax system," noting that Black families are 42% less likely to benefit from the cut than white families, while Hispanic families are 33% less likely to benefit. Roughly 72% of the benefit would go to white households.

"There is also a long history of tax and other public policies that have allowed white families to build more wealth," said Carl Davis, the research director at ITEP who authored the report. "Repealing the SALT cap without replacing it with a stronger limit on tax breaks for the rich would cement yet another inequitable policy that advantages rich white families."

Bowman, who will deliver the progressive response to Biden's first congressional address on Wednesday, defended his support for the repeal but backed off the threat to oppose the bill unless it is included, telling Salon that he does "not intend to hold up its passage based on that single provision alone."

"Many of our constituents have communicated to us that repealing the cap on the SALT deduction imposed by Trump is important to them, especially given the economic impacts of the pandemic," Bowman said in a statement. "While it is true that a repeal of the cap would benefit wealthy Americans, the benefits are not exclusive to the wealthy, and we want to be responsive to the needs and priorities of our constituents, which includes first-time homeowners and homeowners of color. For this portion of SALT filers, repealing the cap can present a material opportunity to disrupt intergenerational wealth gaps."

Bowman's district includes part of the Bronx but also part of affluent Westchester County, where the median $89,968 annual income dwarfs the $62,765 median income across the state. Prior to the cap, Bowman said, about 230,000 Westchester County residents used the SALT deduction.

"In communities like Westchester County, where residents pay the highest property taxes in the nation, the SALT deduction cap leaves families in need of additional relief. In addition, the cap limits states' abilities to provide the essential social services needed to recover from this pandemic and ensure our constituents are able to get the resources needed to thrive," Bowman told Salon, noting that he also supports a federal wealth tax and a New York proposal to tax the wealthy, and is working on his own tax legislation.

A full repeal would also undermine the efforts to find revenue to pay for Biden's infrastructure proposal. Repealing the cap entirely would cost about $357 billion over the next five years, according to an analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation, more than half the revenue to be raised by the Senate Democrats' proposed 4% corporate tax hike over 15 years. An analysis by CBPP estimated that the repeal would cost $600 billion over nine years, effectively canceling out the corporate tax increase revenue.

The issue has caused a rift among progressives. Jayapal told reporters that the Congressional Progressive Caucus "doesn't have a position" on the repeal, but Ocasio-Cortez called it a "giveaway to the rich" and a "gift to billionaires."

"I don't think that we should be holding the infrastructure package hostage for a 100% full repeal on SALT," Ocasio-Cortez told reporters earlier this month. "I think we can have a conversation about the policy, but it's a bit of an extreme position, to be frank."

The issue has resulted in an unusual coalition of progressive Democrats and most Republicans, who oppose the repeal as well. Many Democrats have complained that the cap, which was included in the Trump tax cuts, was intended to punish blue states. Tax fairness groups have long argued that it was a rare progressive measure in a bill that otherwise overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy.

"I think there's better ways to get money to people who need it, rather than folks who have very large values in homes," Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., the former chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told The Hill last week.

The White House, meanwhile, said it was open to discussing the repeal if Democrats find a way to offset the massive cost.

"If Democrats want to propose a way to eliminate SALT — which is not a revenue raiser, as you know; it would cost more money — and they want to propose a way to pay for it, and they want to put that forward, we're happy to hear their ideas," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this month.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., has suggested that increasing IRS audits on the wealthy and corporations could pay for the repeal. Biden supports a plan to boost IRS funding by $80 billion to increase audits and enforcement, which the administration believes will bring in an additional $700 billion over the next decade, according to The New York Times, effectively canceling out the cost of the repeal.

But even the New York Times editorial board, which has supported similar policies, warned the repeal would be "bad politics and bad policy," instead calling to eliminate the deduction entirely. The limited deduction, the Times argued, primarily benefits the wealthy and drives inequity by burdening lower-income households with a larger share of the tax burden.

"Most members of this editorial board are paying more in federal taxes because of the SALT deduction cap. In a narrow financial sense, we would benefit from its repeal," the op-ed said. "But we believe in the broader benefits of progressive taxation, and in the necessity of concrete steps toward creating a more equal society. Members of Congress who have espoused those principles repeatedly now have an important opportunity to demonstrate their sincerity."

Even Emory University professor Dorothy Brown, the Democrats' lead witness at last week's Senate Finance Committee hearing on the tax code, warned that repealing the SALT cap would benefit the wealthy and worsen racial income disparities.

"Since roughly one in 10 Americans itemize deductions — and you only get this tax benefit if you itemize — repeal of the cap will benefit the highest-income taxpayers," Brown, the author of "The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans and How We Can Fix It," told Salon. "If you want to help fix how tax laws exacerbate racial inequality, you won't support repeal of the SALT cap."

Did Trump 'sabotage' the Census?

Democratic lawmakers and election experts expressed concerns that Monday's release of the Census Bureau's congressional apportionment data reflected a systematic undercount of Latino residents that may be linked to former President Donald Trump's efforts to change census rules.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

The Census Bureau announced that Texas would gain two House seats after the latest population count, while Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, Oregon and Montana would each gain one. California, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia will each lose a seat. But those numbers were well short of the projected changes, particularly in states with fast-growing Latino populations like Texas, Florida and Arizona. All three of those states were projected to gain one additional seat apiece, sparking concerns that Latino residents were undercounted, which could have important effects on political power and the distribution of federal funds.

"There is a serious issue with undercounting of Hispanics in this Census," warned Sam Wang, a professor who runs the Princeton Election Consortium and Princeton Gerrymandering Project. "The states that underperformed relative to July 2020 population estimates included Texas, Florida, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada — all Hispanic-rich states. A real risk of poor representation."

Dave Wasserman, an election data expert at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, agreed that lower-than-expected counts in Arizona, Florida, Texas and California may suggest a "larger-than-expected, systemic undercount in heavily Hispanic areas."

It will be months before the Census Bureau releases more detailed data in August, and only after that can the congressional redistricting process begin.

"The initial results are surprising enough that once more details are released, we will be able to better determine to what extent the Latino population was fairly and accurately counted," Arturo Vargas, president of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, told The Los Angeles Times.

Myriad factors undoubtedly affected the census count, not all of which are political. "The census numbers as a whole have been shaped by a lot of negative and positive forces," Thomas Wolf, senior counsel at Brennan Center for Justice, told Mother Jones. "We had wildfires, COVID, displacement, hurricanes."

But many were quick to blame Trump's failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the census for a potential undercount of Latino voters after accusing the administration of trying to "sabotage" an accurate count. The Supreme Court ultimately rejected the attempt and advocacy groups spent months on outreach to traditionally undercounted communities, but some fear damage may already have been done.

"It caused people to not respond to the census," Kimball Brace, president of the redistricting consulting firm Election Data Services, told the Arizona Daily Star. "And, as a result, they were all lower than what they were anticipating. … If you got all of those press reports and commentary and everything else talking about how much Trump doesn't want people to respond if they're Hispanic, you don't necessarily have to have a question on the survey."

The reapportionment data stunned political observers in Arizona, which saw its population grow by 11% over the last decade but failed to gain a House seat. Some lawmakers faulted Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who invested nearly $2 million to boost response rates, for not doing enough to counter Trump's impact on the count.

Arizona state Sen. Martín Quezada, a Democrat from Phoenix, faulted Trump's census efforts for costing the state an additional seat but said Ducey deserves blame too after Quezada's bill to fund census efforts in areas heavily impacted by COVID-19 was rejected by the Republican-led legislature.

Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., said in a statement that "Ducey refused to stand up for Arizona and instead followed former President Trump's strategy to intimidate Latinos and discourage their participation."

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said on Twitter that he had helped lead the effort to extend the census deadline "because we *knew* Latinos, Native Americans, and Arizonans in rural & hard-to-reach areas weren't being counted. This undercount is an intentional part of Trump's legacy."

A spokesperson for Ducey pushed back on the claims, telling KPNX-TV that the state's rates were similar to other states and that response rate from tribal communities was high.

Census Bureau officials also told NPR they are confident in the accuracy of the population number.

But the missed projections were evident in other states with large and growing Latino populations, including California, which lost a House seat for the first time in history. Democrats widely blamed Trump.

"The Trump administration did everything it could to prevent an accurate count in the #2020Census, and now Californians are paying the price," tweeted Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif. "The culture of fear he instilled within our communities jeopardizes billions in funding that our state deserves."

Though Texas emerged as the big winner with two additional seats, state Democrats slammed Republican officials for failing to counter Trump's efforts to "manipulate" the census.

"Knowing we were at risk of a considerable undercount, Gov. Greg Abbott and our Republican leaders did nothing," Rep. Chris Turner, chairman of the state House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement. "Last session, House and Senate Democrats filed bills and attempted to amend the budget to ensure Texas invested in counting every resident. All these efforts were blocked by the Republican majority," he added.

Monday's release was largely touted as a win for Republicans, with states carried by Trump seeing a net gain of three seats while states won by President Biden lost three. While red states will see a slight boost in their Electoral College power, it's not entirely clear how the data will affect redistricting.

"Reapportionment itself means little compared to the redistricting fights to come. The bigger shift in House seats are likely to come from how districts are drawn, not how many districts each state gets," Wasserman, of the Cook Political Report, told Axios. "On balance, I think this reapportionment offers a small boost for Republicans, but the bigger boost is likely to come from how Republicans draw these seats in Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia."

California is expected to lose a Democratic seat while West Virginia will lose a Republican seat, presumably canceling each other out. Illinois and Ohio already have heavily partisan maps so Illinois' Democratic majority and Ohio's Republican majority are each expected to lose a seat, also canceling each other out, according to Wang, the Princeton University professor. Pennsylvania is expected to lose a Democratic seat, but since Democrats control the map-drawing process in New York, they are likely to cancel that out by eliminating a seat that favors Republicans, Wang predicted. New "fair map" laws and independent redistricting commissions in Ohio and Pennsylvania may lessen the partisan impact.

Michigan's new independent redistricting commission is expected to reverse the state's heavily partisan Republican gerrymander, but it's not clear how that state's map will shake out. Colorado also has an independent commission that will likely add a Democratic seat, according to Wang, but Oregon's bipartisan process is expected to cancel that out with an additional Republican seat. Montana's new seat (doubling the state's House delegation from one to two) will almost certainly favor Republicans, and North Carolina's Republican-led legislature is also likely to add a favorable seat, although the state's districting maps have faced numerous legal challenges in recent years.

That means few changes to the makeup of Congress across those states, leaving Republican-led Texas and Florida as the major question marks.

Texas's all-Republican state government will almost certainly try to draw two new favorable seats, but Wang warned that may prove challenging. The Lone Star State's map is already heavily tilted toward the GOP, while rapid demographic changes increasingly threaten to unseat Republicans in previously favorable districts.

Florida's Republican government is expected to try to add a favorable seat but that effort could be challenged under Florida's new "Fair Districts" requirement approved by voters. Since the state's Supreme Court is all Republican, however, advocates have been skeptical that law will actually be enforced.

"Republicans seem likely to get a net advantage from redistricting. But it's mainly because of single-party redistricting in states like Florida and North Carolina," Wang wrote on Twitter.

The Cook Political Report projects that Republicans will gain three to four additional House seats from the next round of redistricting.

"The most predictable effect of redistricting is that red states' delegations are likely to get redder and blue states bluer," Wasserman wrote on Twitter, "meaning the nation's political conditions are likely to continue to deteriorate."

Bills targeting local officials who resisted Trump could allow GOP to 'overturn election results'

Republicans in at least 14 states have introduced legislation that would seize power from election officials or limit their authority, apparently in response to unfounded attacks from former President Donald Trump and allies who sought to overturn his election loss.

This article first appeared on Salon.

Republican state legislators across the country have responded to Trump's baseless election challenges, which were roundly rejected by dozens of judges, by rolling out more than 360 bills aimed at restricting voting access in nearly every state. But while much of the attention has focused on measures that would limit ballot access, like Georgia's sweeping election bill, which Democrats have compared to Jim Crow-era restrictions, some of the proposals include provisions that would strip election officials of power and even impose criminal penalties for officials who defy the new restrictions.

Coverage of Georgia's massive bill has largely focused on provisions that would restrict absentee ballot access and make it a crime to provide water or food to voters in long lines. But the bill also includes more insidious measures that could allow Republicans to give "themselves power to overturn election results," Sylvia Albert, director of the voting and elections program at the nonpartisan voter advocacy group Common Cause, said in an interview with Salon.

For instance, the new law would allow the Republican-led state legislature to replace Georgia's secretary of state — currently Brad Raffensperger, who pushed back on Trump's efforts to overturn his defeat — as chair of the state elections board, and then fill a majority of the panel with their own appointees. The bill further allows the newly-appointed election board majority to suspend and temporarily replace local election officials and take over county election offices. County boards determine voter eligibility and certify election results, meaning the state board appointee would theoretically have the power to disqualify certain voters or to refuse to certify the results, according to the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The law also bars local election officials from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications or accepting grant money that is used by some cash-strapped counties to run elections. Voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams decried the provision as an "unprecedented power grab" intended to "alter election outcomes."

"This bill is a tragedy for democracy, and it is built on the lie of voter fraud," Lauren Groh Wargo, who heads the Abrams-founded voter advocacy group Fair Fight Action, said in a press call last month. "It means that radical, right-wing legislators, if they don't like how elections are being run ... can wholesale replace those election administrators and put folks from the other side of the state in charge."

It remains to be seen how this would work in practice. Some election experts have noted that there are guardrails that could prevent officials from overturning election results. The law limits such takeovers to four counties at a time and includes measures requiring the board to show multiple violations in at least two election cycles and a process that would drag out for at least 30 days. But it would be easy for the board to find multiple violations in "any county," argued Marilyn Marks, the executive director of the nonpartisan Coalition for Good Governance.

The law could "absolutely" be used to overturn election results, Albert said, given the repeated attempts by Trump supporters, including many Georgia Republicans and even Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, to overturn the state's results last year. "Politicians will look to use any avenue available to them to maintain power. Just because it might have a few steps doesn't mean that they won't do it or figure out ways to get around those steps."

But it's more likely this law would be used to "ensure that their suppression measures are successful," Albert added. "What this is doing is saying, 'Hey, we enacted suppressive state laws and we want to make sure no local election official actually attempts to help people overcome the burdens of those state laws.'"

Some of the provisions in the Georgia law appear directly aimed at heavily Black and Democratic Atlanta-area Fulton and DeKalb counties. Texas lawmakers have introduced their own sweeping set of proposed voting restrictions that similarly target Harris County, the state's most populous, including the city of Houston, where Democratic officials expanded ballot access last year.

Texas Senate Bill 7 explicitly bans 24-hour early voting, drive-through voting, and the mailing of unsolicited absentee ballot applications, all of which were measures taken or attempted by Harris County officials last year. Texas House Bill 6 would make it a felony for election officials to mail pre-filled absentee ballot applications or even encourage eligible voters to cast ballots by mail or take any action to change election rules without the consent of the state's Republican secretary of state.

While those two bills have already advanced in their respective chambers, a third proposal that is still pending would shift all power over voter registration and voter roll maintenance from county officials to the Republican secretary of state.

Republicans in Arizona also pushed a proposal that would have allowed the GOP-led legislature to overturn election results and appoint their own electors, though that effort was ultimately quashed. But the state legislature, which has introduced two dozen restrictive bills, is still looking at bills that would bar the secretary of state from sending unsolicited mail-in ballots and another proposal that would shift approval of the state's election manual to the legislature.

"They don't serve any purpose, except for the Legislature just trying to insert themselves into the process, create obstruction, and say that they did something in the name of election integrity without actually doing anything that does that," Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, told The New York Times. "The Legislature wasn't interested in control over elections until I got here and happened to have a 'D' by my name."

Iowa Republicans have already passed a package of voting restrictions that include measures making it a felony for election officials to disobey any guidance from the Republican secretary of state and imposing $10,000 fines for any "technical infractions" of the state's election laws. It also bars county officials from sending unsolicited absentee-ballot applications and restricts their ability to open satellite early-voting sites.

"This is a total takeover of elections by the state," Linn County Auditor Joel Miller, who was among several local election officials in Iowa targeted by Trump and Republicans, told the Associated Press. "We did everything we could to increase participation and engagement in the democratic process, and evidently some people thought that more people participated than they wanted and they decided to put limitations on it."

Arkansas Republicans have advanced bills that would give partisan county election boards total power over local election officials, move oversight of election law violations from county officials to the state election board, and ban officials from mailing unsolicited absentee-ballot applications. A pending proposal would also allow the state election board to take over local election offices.

Missouri lawmakers recently advanced a bill that would allow the secretary of state to audit and purge voters from any local election office's voter rolls. The bill threatens to cut funding to noncompliant offices and restricts mail-in voting. Another pending proposal would impose misdemeanor penalties on election officials who failed to purge voters within 10 days of their death.

South Carolina Republicans have rolled out a bill that would give the state legislature more oversight over the members appointed to the state's independent election commission.

An analysis by FiveThirtyEight identified 14 states with bills aimed at undermining election officials, including proposals to ban the mailing of unsolicited absentee-ballot applications in Michigan, Tennessee, Connecticut and South Dakota and bills restricting the mailing of absentee ballots in New Jersey, New York, Illinois and Wisconsin.

While the measures are not expected to get far in Democratic-led states — except in Michigan where Republican state lawmakers are plotting to subvert Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's vow to veto any voting restrictions — they are likely to advance in states where the GOP has attacked "election officials who did not support Trump's lies," Albert said.

Republicans have justified the proposals by arguing that election officials overreached in their efforts to expand mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic and took "the law into their own hands" against the wishes of elected state lawmakers.

"It's a bunch of BS," Albert said in response to the Republican argument. "It is clearly an attempt to take power away not just from local election officials, but from Americans." Republicans, she added, are effectively giving themselves "the power to eliminate democracy in elections … what they're saying they want to do is take away the rights of Americans to elect their representatives."

Some advocates have also warned that many of these measures are aimed at counties with quickly changing demographics after record turnout among voters of color in 2020.

"The part that I think is so concerning is the retaliation," Myrna Pérez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told FiveThirtyEight. "Look at who on the ground would actually be impeded [by these laws]. That suggests to me a real opposition to an expanded electorate."

Democrats have responded to the voting restrictions proposed in dozens of states by championing the For the People Act, also known as H.R. 1 and S. 1, a massive legislative package including voter protections, anti-corruption measures and other provisions. It is unlikely to pass in its current form unless Democrats can reform the filibuster and convince conservative Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., to back it. But while the bill could protect voters from some restrictions, it would do little to prevent partisan power grabs of local election powers.

That issue has been raised as the bill goes through the Senate, but "off the top of my head, I honestly don't know what type of provision one would add to H.R. 1 that would address this," Albert said.

Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus have urged Democrats to focus instead on passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the Voting Rights Act requirement for states with a history of racial discrimination to pre-clear any electoral changes with the Justice Department, which was scrapped by the Supreme Court in 2013.

Albert argued that there may be a legitimate way to address these attacks on local authorities through pre-clearance. "A strong argument could be made that changing the power of local election officials is definitely a change to election law that would have an effect on Black and brown communities," she said.

Albert compared the Republican push to take over local election powers to authoritarian regimes in Russia and North Korea.

"America is one of the only democracies that does not have elections run by a nonpartisan government entity," she said. "What you're seeing right now is the danger of politicians running elections. We should all be very much on guard."

'Wrong and dangerous': Taxpayers are still funding Trump’s defense against rape accuser

Attorneys for longtime magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll, who has accused former President Donald Trump of raping her more than 20 years ago, argued on Friday that it was "wrong and dangerous" for the Justice Department to defend him against her defamation lawsuit.

Carroll filed the lawsuit in 2019 after Trump denied her claim that he raped her in a department store fitting room in the mid-1990s. The Justice Department intervened last year to defend the then-president, arguing that Trump, who accused Carroll of "totally lying," made the comment in his official capacity as the nation's chief executive. A federal district judge last year rejected the DOJ's attempt to intervene but the department appealed the ruling before Trump left office, potentially leaving taxpayers on the hook for his defense.

Carroll's lawyers said in a court filing on Friday that the DOJ is trying to convince the court to "adopt a new rule that would create categorical immunity for any federal official who defames anyone while speaking to the press or responding to perceived critics."

"This rule is both wrong and dangerous," the filing said, adding that it "reflects a disturbing belief that federal officials should have free rein to destroy the reputations and livelihoods of any perceived critic — no matter how unrelated to the business of governance."

Carroll's attorneys asked the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals court to rule that "Trump did not act within the scope of his employment as President of the United States when he repeatedly, willfully defamed a private citizen to punish and retaliate against her after she revealed that he had sexually assaulted her decades before he took office."

The DOJ in its appeal argued that Trump discussed a matter of public concern in denying the allegation, which lawyers said was "an issue potentially relevant to his ability to perform the duties of his office effectively."

"The President … acts within the scope of his office when he responds to public critics," the DOJ said in a court filing.

Carroll first alleged that Trump raped her during an encounter at a Bergdorf Goodman in her 2019 book "What Do We Need Men For?" Trump responded by accusing Carroll, best known as a columnist for Elle Magazine, of lying and told reporters, "She's not my type."

"Trump has tried and failed repeatedly to get my lawsuit booted," Carroll said in a statement on Friday. "Last fall, he had his Justice Department intervene and try to get it dismissed in federal court. He lost. Then, just a week before President Biden's inauguration, Trump's private lawyers and the DOJ joined forces to argue on appeal that when Trump called me a liar who was too ugly to rape, he was somehow being presidential. This is offensive to me."

Carroll added that she is "confident that the Second Circuit will make it clear that no president, including Donald Trump, can get away scot free with maliciously defaming a woman he sexually assaulted."

In October, Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled that the Federal Tort Claims Act, which protects federal employees from personal liability in lawsuits, "does not include presidents." Kaplan said that if the DOJ got its way, Carroll "would be left with no remedy, even if the president's statements were false and defamatory."

"The undisputed facts demonstrate that President Trump was not acting in furtherance of any duties owed to any arguable employer when he made the statements at issue. His comments concerned an alleged sexual assault that took place several decades before he took office, and the allegations have no relationship to the official business of the United States," Kaplan wrote. "To conclude otherwise would require the Court to adopt a view that virtually everything the president does is within the public interest by virtue of his office."

Carroll's attorney Roberta Kaplan, who is not related to the judge, predicted that the 2nd Circuit would uphold the October ruling.

"As the district court properly recognized, while the facts in this case are unique, the legal principles are not," she said in a statement. "In this country, no one, not even the president, is above the law."

Carroll's lawyers are also seeking a DNA sample from Trump to compare to the dress Carroll says she wore during the alleged assault.

"After Trump sexually assaulted me, I took the black dress I had been wearing and hung it in my closet," she said last year.

A ruling upholding the previous decision to reject the DOJ intervention would likely clear the way for Trump to be deposed in the case.

Trump is facing a similar lawsuit from Summer Zervos, a former contestant on "The Apprentice" who in 2016 accused Trump of groping and kissing her without consent in 2007 and 2008. Zervos filed a defamation lawsuit in 2017 after Trump accused her of lying.

Last month, the New York State Court of Appeals granted Zervos' motion to dismiss an appeal from Trump's lawyers seeking to halt the suit on the argument that sitting presidents are protected from legal action, at least partly because Trump had left office. That ruling means that Trump can be compelled to testify under oath in the case.

"Now as a private citizen, the defendant has no further excuse to delay justice from Ms. Zervos and we are eager to get back to the trial court and prove her claims," Zervos' attorney Beth Wilkinson told The New York Times.

Trump is expected to face questions about other allegations against him if he is deposed. More than two dozen women have accused Trump of sexual assault or misconduct. Trump has denied several individual allegations while repeatedly issuing blanket denials of all the claims against him.

"There are many other similar allegations made against former President Trump and his responses to them would appropriately be the subject of questioning," Kevin Mintzer, an attorney who has represented numerous women in sexual misconduct cases, told the Times. "I would expect he's going to have to answer those questions."

Big corporate donors claim to support racial justice — but fund Republicans pushing voting limits

Corporate America is taking a stand against new voting restrictions around the country, boycotting states that imposed harsh new laws and speaking out against proposed limits in others. But many top corporate political donors who have touted their commitments to racial equity and diversity have also funded the Republican lawmakers who are pushing bills aimed at making it more difficult to vote.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Three of the top five corporate donors to state lawmakers in Texas promoted their commitments to racial justice — but have also donated $493,000 to state senators who sponsored Senate Bill 7. That legislation would limit early voting and absentee voting while empowering partisan poll watchers and clearly targets Houston, the state's densest population center, where a majority of voters are people of color, according to a new report from the left-leaning government watchdog Accountable.US.

Top corporate donors in Arizona, including defense contracting giant Raytheon, which made a $25 million commitment to help "racially and ethnically marginalized communities," have donated $76,647 to three sponsors of state Senate bills that would limit mail-in voting and purge residents from voter rolls, as the state tilts blue as a result of quickly changing demographics.

Four of the top five corporate donors in Florida, including Disney, have contributed more than $230,000 to state legislators behind bills that would restrict mail-in voting and make it a crime to give water or food to voters in long lines — despite vowing their support for inclusion, racial equity and Black Lives Matter.

The effect these laws may have on voter turnout is not entirely clear, but the bills — which are among more than 360 introduced across the country in response to former President Trump's and his allies' baseless claims of election fraud — will inherently make it more difficult to vote. Some, like many of Trump's election lawsuits, appear directly targeted at areas with large numbers of voters of color. One Black Texas pastor has condemned the Texas legislation as Jim Crow "in a tuxedo."

"These corporations tout commitments to diversity and racial equity, then they turn around and donate thousands to lawmakers responsible for stripping voting rights away from Black and brown Americans," Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig said in a statement to Salon. "As these states actively attempt to suppress voter participation, corporations need to live up to their values and disavow racist attacks on our democracy."

Utility firms Exelon Corp. and Oncor and the tax firm Ryan LLC, the three biggest corporate donors in Texas behind Blackridge and AT&T, all expressed commitment to equality and diversity in the wake of the 2020 racial justice protests. Exelon even features a Black Lives Matter page on its website to highlight its "fierce commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity." But the companies have given nearly a half-million to sponsors of SB 7, including some that have "troubling prior histories of racism, discrimination, or voter suppression," according to the Accountable report. The voting bill has sparked concerns that lawmakers are targeting "innovations that were especially effective last year in reaching voters of color," according to the Austin American-Statesman, and could contribute to a "surge in voter intimidation" by empowering partisan poll watchers.

"This bill is anti-democratic, anti-voter, and once again, demonstrates how far current leadership is willing to go to protect their own partisan interests," the nonpartisan government watchdog group Common Cause Texas said in a statement.

Exelon CEO Chris Crane vowed to "speak up if I see behavior that isn't consistent" with the company's commitment to diversity and inclusion. Ryan LLC has also touted its commitment to these values after it was named to Fortune Magazine's "Best Workplaces for Diversity" list for the fourth time in five years in 2019. Oncor promotes its dedication to diversity and disadvantaged communities and commemorated Black History Month by posting Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote, "It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people."

All three firms have contributed to SB 7 sponsors, including some who have supported controversial bills and made offensive statements well before the voting restriction effort. State Sen. Charles Creighton, a sponsor of SB 7, previously sponsored a failed bill that would ban local governments from taking down Confederate monuments. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who is backing seven bills that would impose new voting restrictions, previously resigned as a Harris County official after he was accused of voter suppression for delaying thousands of voter applications that were disproportionately Democratic. State Sen. Bob Hall defended a self-declared "white nationalist" in 2018 after he called for a "rope and a tree" for a Black lawmaker.

The top five corporate donors in Arizona have also touted their racial justice credentials. Utility firm Pinnacle West says on its website that "equity and inclusion is a key force driving" the company's principles and promotes its inclusion in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's 2020 Corporate Equality Index. Salt River Project, another utility company, trumpets its contributions to racial justice groups and support for diversity and underserved populations. Defense contractor Raytheon committed $25 million to support racial justice programs and support for "racially and ethnically marginalized communities." Southwest Gas, the largest distributor of natural gas in the state, says it prides itself on "our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion." The mining company Freeport McMoRan has an entire page devoted to "inclusion and diversity."

All five firms have contributed to Republican state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who sponsored several bills that drew alarm from voting rights groups. Senate Bill 1485, which would purge inactive voters, "could lead to voters being tossed off the rolls for missing a single election," voting rights groups warn. Ugenti-Rita also co-sponsored Senate Bill 1713, which would increase voter ID burdens for mail voters. The senator previously sponsored a 2016 "ballot harvesting" law struck down by a federal court for violating the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by disproportionately impacting Native American, Hispanic and Black voters. Ugenti-Rita made headlines last year when she called to expand the rights of business owners to shoot vandals during the 2020 racial justice protests.

The five firms have also contributed more than $45,000 to state Sen. Javan Mesnard, the lead sponsor of SB 1713. Mesnard, the former speaker of the Arizona House, in 2018 formally reprimanded the only two Black members of the Arizona legislature for calling out a Republican colleague who used a racial slur.

All five companies have also donated to state Sen. David Gowan, the sponsor of Senate Bill 1593, which would limit the mail voting window. The bill could disproportionately impact Native American voters, many of whom do not have home mail service. Gowan, another former Arizona House Speaker, previously came under criticism in 2016 for authorizing a "civil rights conference" on the House floor held by a group that claims the civil rights movement had been "hijacked" by Black people and denigrates "English-speaking white citizens."

A similar trend is playing out in Florida, where lawmakers have unveiled a laundry list of proposed voter restrictions that Democrats have decried as a "voter suppression tactic" and a "backlash" to record vote-by-mail turnout that favored Democrats. Four of the five top corporate donors to state lawmakers have funneled $230,500 to legislators pushing the restrictions despite espousing their commitment to racial justice.

HCA Healthcare last year said it was "united in the public outcry to put an end to systemic racism." Walt Disney released a video last year in support of Black Lives Matter and promoted messages of racial justice from the company's Black employees. FCCI Insurance says that diversity, equity and inclusion are "integral" to the company's mission. The GEO Group, a real estate firm that invests in private prisons, includes "embracing diversity and inclusion" among its core values.

HCA and Disney have both contributed to state Sen. Dennis Baxley, the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 90. Baxley was accused by advocacy groups in 2019 of "proudly parrot[ing] white supremacist" rhetoric by echoing the white "replacement" theory, claiming that Europeans are being "replaced by" immigrants. Baxley was the only member of the Senate Education Committee to vote against renaming a Florida State University building named for a segregationist in 2019.

These contributions underscore the cognitive dissonance between corporate statements and their political spending, which has drawn increasing public scrutiny in the wake of Republican lies about election fraud that led to the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol and a slew of restrictive legislation. Major companies like Coca-Cola, Delta and Home Depot are among dozens that spoke out against Georgia's new sweeping restrictive law, drawing complaints and retaliation from Republicans who previously sought to increase corporate influence in politics. But Coke, Delta, Home Depot and numerous other corporate critics all contributed tens of thousands to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Republican state lawmakers who sponsored the law.

It's possible that the growing internal pressure from inside corporate America could prompt more firms to back away from supporting lawmakers that back divisive and often racist policies. Hundreds of companies signed a statement led by Black corporate executives condemning the Republican effort to restrict ballot access.

"We all should feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot," the statement said. "Voting is the lifeblood of our democracy and we call upon all Americans to join us in taking a nonpartisan stand for this most basic fundamental rights of all Americans."

Big corporate donors claim to support racial justice — but fund Republicans pushing voting limits

Corporate America is taking a stand against new voting restrictions around the country, boycotting states that imposed harsh new laws and speaking out against proposed limits in others. But many top corporate political donors who have touted their commitments to racial equity and diversity have also funded the Republican lawmakers who are pushing bills aimed at making it more difficult to vote.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Three of the top five corporate donors to state lawmakers in Texas promoted their commitments to racial justice — but have also donated $493,000 to state senators who sponsored Senate Bill 7. That legislation would limit early voting and absentee voting while empowering partisan poll watchers and clearly targets Houston, the state's densest population center, where a majority of voters are people of color, according to a new report from the left-leaning government watchdog Accountable.US.

Top corporate donors in Arizona, including defense contracting giant Raytheon, which made a $25 million commitment to help "racially and ethnically marginalized communities," have donated $76,647 to three sponsors of state Senate bills that would limit mail-in voting and purge residents from voter rolls, as the state tilts blue as a result of quickly changing demographics.

Four of the top five corporate donors in Florida, including Disney, have contributed more than $230,000 to state legislators behind bills that would restrict mail-in voting and make it a crime to give water or food to voters in long lines — despite vowing their support for inclusion, racial equity and Black Lives Matter.

The effect these laws may have on voter turnout is not entirely clear, but the bills — which are among more than 360 introduced across the country in response to former President Trump's and his allies' baseless claims of election fraud — will inherently make it more difficult to vote. Some, like many of Trump's election lawsuits, appear directly targeted at areas with large numbers of voters of color. One Black Texas pastor has condemned the Texas legislation as Jim Crow "in a tuxedo."

"These corporations tout commitments to diversity and racial equity, then they turn around and donate thousands to lawmakers responsible for stripping voting rights away from Black and brown Americans," Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig said in a statement to Salon. "As these states actively attempt to suppress voter participation, corporations need to live up to their values and disavow racist attacks on our democracy."

Utility firms Exelon Corp. and Oncor and the tax firm Ryan LLC, the three biggest corporate donors in Texas behind Blackridge and AT&T, all expressed commitment to equality and diversity in the wake of the 2020 racial justice protests. Exelon even features a Black Lives Matter page on its website to highlight its "fierce commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity." But the companies have given nearly a half-million to sponsors of SB 7, including some that have "troubling prior histories of racism, discrimination, or voter suppression," according to the Accountable report. The voting bill has sparked concerns that lawmakers are targeting "innovations that were especially effective last year in reaching voters of color," according to the Austin American-Statesman, and could contribute to a "surge in voter intimidation" by empowering partisan poll watchers.

"This bill is anti-democratic, anti-voter, and once again, demonstrates how far current leadership is willing to go to protect their own partisan interests," the nonpartisan government watchdog group Common Cause Texas said in a statement.

Exelon CEO Chris Crane vowed to "speak up if I see behavior that isn't consistent" with the company's commitment to diversity and inclusion. Ryan LLC has also touted its commitment to these values after it was named to Fortune Magazine's "Best Workplaces for Diversity" list for the fourth time in five years in 2019. Oncor promotes its dedication to diversity and disadvantaged communities and commemorated Black History Month by posting Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote, "It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people."

All three firms have contributed to SB 7 sponsors, including some who have supported controversial bills and made offensive statements well before the voting restriction effort. State Sen. Charles Creighton, a sponsor of SB 7, previously sponsored a failed bill that would ban local governments from taking down Confederate monuments. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who is backing seven bills that would impose new voting restrictions, previously resigned as a Harris County official after he was accused of voter suppression for delaying thousands of voter applications that were disproportionately Democratic. State Sen. Bob Hall defended a self-declared "white nationalist" in 2018 after he called for a "rope and a tree" for a Black lawmaker.

The top five corporate donors in Arizona have also touted their racial justice credentials. Utility firm Pinnacle West says on its website that "equity and inclusion is a key force driving" the company's principles and promotes its inclusion in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's 2020 Corporate Equality Index. Salt River Project, another utility company, trumpets its contributions to racial justice groups and support for diversity and underserved populations. Defense contractor Raytheon committed $25 million to support racial justice programs and support for "racially and ethnically marginalized communities." Southwest Gas, the largest distributor of natural gas in the state, says it prides itself on "our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion." The mining company Freeport McMoRan has an entire page devoted to "inclusion and diversity."

All five firms have contributed to Republican state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who sponsored several bills that drew alarm from voting rights groups. Senate Bill 1485, which would purge inactive voters, "could lead to voters being tossed off the rolls for missing a single election," voting rights groups warn. Ugenti-Rita also co-sponsored Senate Bill 1713, which would increase voter ID burdens for mail voters. The senator previously sponsored a 2016 "ballot harvesting" law struck down by a federal court for violating the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by disproportionately impacting Native American, Hispanic and Black voters. Ugenti-Rita made headlines last year when she called to expand the rights of business owners to shoot vandals during the 2020 racial justice protests.

The five firms have also contributed more than $45,000 to state Sen. Javan Mesnard, the lead sponsor of SB 1713. Mesnard, the former speaker of the Arizona House, in 2018 formally reprimanded the only two Black members of the Arizona legislature for calling out a Republican colleague who used a racial slur.

All five companies have also donated to state Sen. David Gowan, the sponsor of Senate Bill 1593, which would limit the mail voting window. The bill could disproportionately impact Native American voters, many of whom do not have home mail service. Gowan, another former Arizona House Speaker, previously came under criticism in 2016 for authorizing a "civil rights conference" on the House floor held by a group that claims the civil rights movement had been "hijacked" by Black people and denigrates "English-speaking white citizens."

A similar trend is playing out in Florida, where lawmakers have unveiled a laundry list of proposed voter restrictions that Democrats have decried as a "voter suppression tactic" and a "backlash" to record vote-by-mail turnout that favored Democrats. Four of the five top corporate donors to state lawmakers have funneled $230,500 to legislators pushing the restrictions despite espousing their commitment to racial justice.

HCA Healthcare last year said it was "united in the public outcry to put an end to systemic racism." Walt Disney released a video last year in support of Black Lives Matter and promoted messages of racial justice from the company's Black employees. FCCI Insurance says that diversity, equity and inclusion are "integral" to the company's mission. The GEO Group, a real estate firm that invests in private prisons, includes "embracing diversity and inclusion" among its core values.

HCA and Disney have both contributed to state Sen. Dennis Baxley, the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 90. Baxley was accused by advocacy groups in 2019 of "proudly parrot[ing] white supremacist" rhetoric by echoing the white "replacement" theory, claiming that Europeans are being "replaced by" immigrants. Baxley was the only member of the Senate Education Committee to vote against renaming a Florida State University building named for a segregationist in 2019.

These contributions underscore the cognitive dissonance between corporate statements and their political spending, which has drawn increasing public scrutiny in the wake of Republican lies about election fraud that led to the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol and a slew of restrictive legislation. Major companies like Coca-Cola, Delta and Home Depot are among dozens that spoke out against Georgia's new sweeping restrictive law, drawing complaints and retaliation from Republicans who previously sought to increase corporate influence in politics. But Coke, Delta, Home Depot and numerous other corporate critics all contributed tens of thousands to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Republican state lawmakers who sponsored the law.

It's possible that the growing internal pressure from inside corporate America could prompt more firms to back away from supporting lawmakers that back divisive and often racist policies. Hundreds of companies signed a statement led by Black corporate executives condemning the Republican effort to restrict ballot access.

"We all should feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot," the statement said. "Voting is the lifeblood of our democracy and we call upon all Americans to join us in taking a nonpartisan stand for this most basic fundamental rights of all Americans."

Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley want to 'break up' MLB as punishment for protesting Georgia voting restrictions

Three Republican senators introduced a bill on Tuesday that aims to punish Major League Baseball for its decision to move the All-Star game out of Georgia over the state's new voting restrictions.

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, introduced a bill that would end the MLB's antitrust exemption, which dates back to a 1922 Supreme Court decision, in response to its protest of the Georgia law.

The senators discussed the proposed change as a matter of fairness at a news conference on Tuesday, criticizing corporations for seeking "handouts" and "subsidies," even though all three of them voted to drastically slash corporate taxes and have backed numerous corporate subsidies they like. The trio made clear that the bill was in response to a corporate action they disagreed with.

"This past month we have seen the rise of the 'woke' corporation," Cruz said. "These woke corporations have decided to become the political enforcer for Democrats in Washington."

Cruz accused the companies of "spreading disinformation" about the law, which Republicans dubiously claim expands voting access, even though more than a dozen provisions will make it harder to vote and could allow Republican state lawmakers to subvert elections. Cruz himself has spread misinformation about voting in Colorado, where the MLB moved its All-Star Game, falsely arguing that the state's all-mail elections are more restrictive than the new Georgia rules that Democrats have lambasted as "Jim Crow in the 21st century."

Cruz, who along with Hawley was among the biggest backers of former President Donald Trump's false election claims that sparked the restrictive efforts in Georgia and dozens of other states, argued that the Georgia bill was in response to concerns about voter integrity, even though multiple recounts and audits have confirmed Trump's loss.

"Major League Baseball's decision is indefensible on the merits," he said. "Major League Baseball made a decision that the more than half of its fans that happen to be Republicans are now disfavored and that voter fraud is not a concern legislatures should focus on. That decision was harmful. It's going to hurt baseball."

Hawley, who has previously waded into antitrust legislation amid his ongoing feud with tech companies he accuses of censoring conservatives, said that the solution to corporations trying to "amass" political power is to "break them up."

"This is about preserving the ability of the democratic process to go forward," he said. "The fact that Major League Baseball would get together and punish a state because the elected representatives of that state and the elected governor of that state signed a law to preserve election integrity is unbelievable."

Hawley claimed that the MLB and other corporations that have criticized voter restrictions in Georgia and other states are doing "exactly what the railroad barons tried to do a century ago."

Major League Baseball is the only sports league not subject to federal antitrust laws and there's nothing new about lawmakers seeking to change that. At least a half-dozen efforts have tried and failed to overturn the exception. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in 2019 called on Congress to "reconsider its antitrust exemption" in response to the league's decision to eliminate dozens of minor league baseball teams. But the senators' effort to cancel the MLB's antitrust exemption comes amid a growing GOP campaign against "cancel culture." It follows years of Republicans pushing to make it easier for corporations to influence politics. It also comes amid a nationwide Republican push to make it harder to vote after Trump lost an election that saw record turnout but zero evidence of any widespread fraud.

Georgia's law limits absentee voting and requires a voter ID for mail-in ballots, restricts the use of drop boxes, bans Fulton County's mobile voting buses, makes it difficult to correct ballot mistakes, and makes it a crime to serve water or food to voters in long lines, although it does expand early voting in rural areas. It would also allow the Republican state legislature to replace the secretary of state, who pushed back against Trump's false claims, as head of the state election board and allow the board to take over local election offices, a move that appears aimed at Atlanta-area counties where Biden ran up the score in November. The New York Times identified more than 15 provisions that would make it harder to vote or give more power over elections to Republican lawmakers, though the original version of the bill also included a complete ban on no-excuse absentee voting and automatic voter registration and other provisions that would disproportionately impact voters of color.

MLB is hardly the only corporation protesting the law. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola have come out against the law and nearly 200 companies signed a statement against state legislation "threatening to make voting more difficult." A coalition of more than 100 corporate leaders recently met on Zoom to discuss how to respond to the Georgia law and others proposed in states like Texas.

The criticism has led to backlash from Republican lawmakers, who have courted corporate support and funding for decades.

The Georgia House voted to strip a tax break from Delta, though that effort was shot down in the state Senate. A group of Republican state lawmakers called for Coca-Cola products to be removed from their state house offices.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who filibustered efforts to restrict corporate donations and led a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission to remove those limits before backing the Citizens United lawsuit that allowed corporations to pour unlimited sums of cash into politics, warned corporations to "stay out of politics" in response to the criticism.

He walked those comments back a day later, saying, "I'm not talking about political contributions."

GOP rallies behind 'Big Lie' Republicans -- only months after Trump's insurrection

Just three months after political pundits predicted a seismic shift in the Republican Party in the wake of the deadly Capitol riot, the GOP is all but embracing the members blamed for inciting it.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, awarded former President Donald Trump with the group's newly-invented "Champion for Freedom Award" over the weekend as top Republican donors descended on Trump's adopted hometown of Palm Beach to hear him bitterly relitigate baseless complaints about his election loss.

"President Trump is a proven champion for all Americans," Scott said in a statement alongside a photo of him presenting Trump with a small ceremonial bowl, reminiscent of a third-place trophy in a local golf tournament. "Throughout his administration, he made clear his commitment to getting government out of the way of people's success, paving the way for American families and job creators to reach new heights. … We are grateful for his service to our country and are honored to present him with the NRSC's first Champion for Freedom award."

The award came ahead of Trump's speech to donors at a Republican National Committee retreat near Mar-a-Lago, where the former president ripped into Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as a "dumb son of a bitch" for not backing his efforts to overturn his electoral defeat. Much of Trump's speech was devoted to bashing fellow Republicans who did not support his attempt to block the certification of votes in certain states, including former Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump has vowed to campaign against Republicans who voted to convict him of inciting the riot, like Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. That could soon put him against groups like the NRSC after Scott vowed to back her re-election campaign.

Trump's speech was widely panned by attendees, some of whom left early, according to The Washington Post. "It was horrible, it was long and negative," one attendee told Politico, which noted that donors are worried about their "money going toward his retribution efforts."

But donors and lawmakers are afraid to speak out publicly against the former president because of the grasp he maintains on the party's voter base. Even potential presidential contenders are nervous to tip their hands because Trump has continued to tease a possible third run himself.

"No one knows what the Trump effect will be in 2022 or 2024. He has promised to primary [Republicans who don't support him], so a great number of them don't want to risk that," GOP donor Fred Zeidman told CNN. "He has not made a statement about not running in 2024, so it limits what anyone can do now, for fear of alienating the Trump supporters."

Republican voters have widely rejected the clearly visible images of Trump supporters hunting lawmakers through the halls of Congress, with a majority instead buying into false (and contradictory) claims that the riot was actually a peaceful protest or the work of left-wing activists "trying to make Trump look bad." Polls suggest that a majority of Republicans would back Trump in the 2024 primary campaign if he decides to run again. A straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year found that 68% of attendees want him to seek another term while a whopping 95% want the party to advance his policies and agenda. Trump has continued to raise staggering amounts of money off his election falsehoods, with his Save America PAC reporting 10 times more money in the bank than his campaign had in the first three months after he took office in 2017.

But it's not just Trump. The biggest supporters of Trump's election lies have cashed in on the controversy as well.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who led the Senate objections to the certification of election results in several states, raised more than $3 million in the three months since he pumped his fist to the mob that would soon attack Capitol Police officers and overrun the halls of Congress. That number is more than 10 times what some of his colleagues raised at a similar point in their terms, according to Politico, and a massive increase from the $43,000 he raised in the first quarter of the last election cycle. He even brought in nearly $600,000 in the two and a half weeks immediately following the riot despite temporarily pausing his fundraising efforts.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., also one of the most ardent backers of Trump's election lies, raised an even more eye-popping $3.2 million in the first three months of the year despite largely having to self-fund her campaign in 2020 — and despite representing a deep-red district where Democrats are unlikely to mount meaningful opposition.

But while Republicans have long relied on big-money donors, support for the likes of Hawley and Greene is coming from the party's grassroots, primarily through the donation platform WinRed, despite the scam-adjacent tactics employed by Trump's campaign and Republican fundraising groups. Hawley received more than 57,000 donations with an average contribution of $52. Greene received 100,000 donations, averaging $32 each.

Corporations that swore off making political donations in the wake of the riot have also started to reverse course. Just months after the attack, companies like AT&T, Intel and Cigna already appear to have broken their pledges to stop donating to Republicans who voted to overturn the election, making big contributions to the NRSC and the National Republican Campaign Committee.

JetBlue Airways' PAC became the first to end its pause on direct contributions to Republicans who voted to block the election results with a donation to Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., who continued to echo Trump's lies even after the deadly insurrection of Jan. 6.

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