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Election Day Live Updates: Vote Counting Is Underway in Virginia and New Jersey Governor’s Races



Jeremy W. Peters

In heavily blue Fairfax County, the early and absentee results so far, roughly 75-25 for McAuliffe, is where Republicans think they need to be if this is going to be close.

Timothy Arango

In Minneapolis, Democrats are divided over a charter amendment to replace the Police Department. Progressives – like Rep. Ilhan Omar – have been vocal in support. Moderates like Sen. Amy Klobuchar oppose the measure but have not campaigned against it.

Credit…Jenn Ackerman for The New York Times
Reid Epstein

In Lexington, Va., where Joe Biden won 65 percent of the vote, Terry McAuliffe is at just 50 percent with about half the vote counted so far. It’s a good representation of how far behind Biden McAuliffe is running in tonight’s results.

Doug Mills

At a watch party for Terry McAuliffe in in Fairfax, Va., supporters checked their laptops to see the early return numbers.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Tariro Mzezewa

Credit…Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

Atlanta residents had 14 mayoral candidates to choose from, but the choice, many voters said, came down to just three: Kasim Reed, the former mayor; Felicia Moore, the City Council president; and Andre Dickens, a City Council member.

Kenya Leonard, 23, said that she voted for Mr. Reed because she remembered that when he was mayor of Atlanta, from 2010 through 2018, her family spoke favorably about him. “I know that he brought business to Atlanta, I remember that he was active in the community and he fixed problems in the past, so he can probably start to fix them now,” she said.

Regina McMurray, 31, said that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s decision not to run for re-election left many residents feeling abandoned. “I don’t like that Keisha gave up on us, and I want someone who won’t just quit when it gets tough,” she said.

Ms. McMurray considered voting for Mr. Reed because he was successful in the past. However, after hearing friends speak highly of Mr. Dickens, she did her own research on Monday and decided to vote for him. “I liked the way he talked about homelessness and getting people out of poverty,” she said. “He feels relatable. He knows his stuff and cares about this city. There’s something about him that makes me have faith that he’s the kind of person who will do the right thing.”

If none of the candidates receives a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters will advance to a runoff on Nov. 30.

Outside the Israel Baptist Church on Tuesday, Mr. Dickens shook hands and greeted voters. He said he was feeling good about his chances of making it to the runoff and touted his citywide appeal. “I go young, not so young, white, Black,” he said.

Mr. Reed, at a campaign stop during the day, said that he, too, was feeling confident about the race and had already had conversations with his team about a strategy for the runoff. “This is my sixth mayoral election, so I have some sense of how this feels and how it goes,” he said. “I think I know how the movie is going to end.

Credit…Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Shontel Brown, a Democrat, won a House seat in a special election in Cleveland on Tuesday, defeating her Republican opponent, Laverne Gore.

Ms. Brown had narrowly won the Democratic primary for the seat earlier this year, after its previous occupant, Marcia L. Fudge, was appointed by President Biden as the secretary of housing and urban development. Ms. Brown defeated Nina Turner, a former state senator and a top surrogate for Bernie Sanders when he ran for president, in that primary, which attracted big Democratic names and millions of dollars.

The district, Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, encompasses most of Cleveland and much of Akron and is heavily Democratic.

It was one of two special elections in Ohio on Tuesday. Local election officials predicted low turnout, saying there had not been many absentee and early voters.

Mr. Biden issued a last-minute endorsement in the campaign for the other seat, in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District, which was vacated earlier this year by Steve Stivers, a Republican. Mr. Biden praised Allison Russo, a Democrat who faced an uphill battle against Mike Carey, a Republican and the chairman of the Ohio Coal Association.

In the 2020 election, President Donald J. Trump won the district, which includes the outskirts of Columbus and the surrounding areas, by 14 points. Mr. Trump had endorsed Mr. Carey.

Nate Cohn

McAuliffe is ever so slightly underperforming. The latest example is Fairfax: McAuliffe is at 74 percent of the advance vote, but our estimate was that he needed 76 percent. It’s early and not much, but it’s starting to add up.

Tracey Tully

Gov. Phil Murphy’s supporters are filing into Asbury Park’s Convention Hall in New Jersey, the same place he celebrated his 2017 win.

Jennifer Medina

Credit…Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Polls have closed in New Jersey, ending voting for a contest for governor that will provide clues about how voters feel about strict pandemic-related mandates, even as Virginia’s governor’s race has drawn far more attention.

Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, is widely favored to win the race, with some late polls showing him with a double-digit lead. If Mr. Murphy defeats Jack Ciattarelli, a former state assemblyman, he would become the first Democratic governor to be re-elected in the state in more than four decades.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in New Jersey by about one million voters, and the state has voted for a Democrat in every presidential election since 1992.

Public polls showed that voters gave Mr. Murphy high marks for his response to the pandemic, and he has indicated that he is open to a statewide mandate for Covid-19 vaccines for all students.

Much of the campaign also focused on the state’s tax rates, with Mr. Ciattarelli constantly reminding voters that New Jersey homeowners pay the highest property taxes in the country and calling Mr. Murphy a “tax and spend liberal.” But Mr. Murphy hardly apologized for the state’s tax policies, instead arguing that the money translates into good schools and health care. And like Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for governor in Virginia, Mr. Murphy repeatedly tried to tie his opponent to Mr. Trump.

Tracey Tully

A judge rejected a request to keep polls open in New Jersey until 9:30 p.m. He said it would cause disarray, and there’s no proof that voters were turned away because of snags with the new electronic poll books.

Nate Cohn

Youngkin has an early lead in Virginia. That may be deceptive. So far, we mainly have heavily Republican Election Day vote. Over all, 12 percent of Election Day votes have been counted by the state, compared to just 5 percent of early and 2 percent of absentee votes.

Nate Cohn

It’s early, but so far more than 100 precincts have reported in Virginia and they’re generally consistent with a highly competitive race with a very high turnout.

Credit…Melissa Lyttle for The New York Times
Reid J. Epstein

Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

CENTREVILLE, Va. — In Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County, which in the last decade has become among the nation’s most reliable Democratic bastions, few precincts are more closely divided than the one that votes at Virginia Run Elementary School in Centreville.

In 2016, Donald J. Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by 75 votes out of 1,746 cast. A year later, as the first laps of the coming Democratic wave swept Ralph Northam into the governor’s office, Mr. Northam lost the Virginia Run precinct to his Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, by 80 votes out of 1,410 cast.

Fairfax County didn’t separate 2020 absentee votes by precinct, making a comparison for that year difficult, but Mr. Trump did handily win the in-person vote last year at Virginia Run.

On Tuesday afternoon, as volunteers from the local Democratic and Republican parties offered sample ballots on the sidewalk, a steady stream of voters reflected the neighborhood’s split.

Thomas O’Connor, a 39-year-old attorney and father of five children, said he backed the Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, for governor because he is concerned the Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, would reduce parental influence over the local schools.

Mr. O’Connor, 39, said he’s been happy with his children’s education — one is in college and the four others attend local public schools — but said Mr. Youngkin would be a better steward of the state’s education policy.

“He’s going to allow more parents’ voice, parents will have an opportunity to be heard,” Mr. O’Connor said. “Terry McAuliffe and the Democratic Party are trying to limit parental involvement.”

There were signs, however, that Mr. McAuliffe’s efforts to tie Mr. Youngkin to Mr. Trump had convinced some voters.

Gordon Hall, 29, a speech pathology student who said he cast his first ballot for Mitt Romney in 2012, said he couldn’t vote for Mr. Youngkin or for any Republican who fails to denounce Mr. Trump.

“I want to avoid the Republican Party for now because Trump’s hold on them is so strong,” he said. “Terry McAuliffe, he’s fine, but Trump is just a stain on Republicans now.”

Richard Fausset

In Atlanta, a runoff is likely in this crowded mayor’s race. Mayor Kasim Reed and council president Felicia Moore have polled well. A wildcard: Andre Dickens, a critic of Reed’s.

Trip Gabriel

Democratic strategists in Chesterfield County last week told me they did not expect McAuliffe to win there, even though Biden carried the traditionally conservative region.

Jeff Mays

All is quiet here at the New York Marriott where Eric Adams is set to hold his election night party. “I think we’re going to win,” joked one adviser to the likely next mayor.

Trip Gabriel

Credit…Carlos Bernate for The New York Times

Democrats’ historic margins in Virginia in recent years are suddenly looking as though they may have been the result not of an inexorable demographic tide, but of a furious resistance to Donald J. Trump — one that exaggerated the true strength of the Democratic Party in a state that could be returning to its previous role as a battleground.

Without Mr. Trump in office, Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic governor seeking a new term in that post, is fighting for his political life, four years after the current Democratic governor coasted to a 9-point win.

Greater Richmond, including the capital city and its diversifying suburbs, is the second-fastest-growing region in the state and a key to the governor’s race, as well as to control of the Legislature.

A poll released last week by Christopher Newport University suggested that Democrats were falling well short in the region. While it mirrored most other polls in showing the governor’s race deadlocked statewide, it said Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate, had pulled away from Mr. McAuliffe in the Richmond media market — an area extending beyond the city and its populous suburbs into rural counties.

For Mr. McAuliffe to prevail in greater Richmond, Democrats need to drive up turnout in the city; maintain their gains of the past 15 years in Henrico County, north and east of the city; and not cede too much ground in Chesterfield County, which includes more conservative western suburbs.

Jennifer Medina

Republicans tried to make critical race theory a central part of the Virginia governor’s race, but parents’ anger over schools may have had more to do with pandemic shutdowns.

Reid Epstein

Fairfax is usually among Virginia’s last counties to report final results in statewide elections and has in past elections given Democratic candidates a boost at the end of election nights.

Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times
Reid Epstein

Fairfax County is delayed in reporting its early vote ballots. We do not know when we are expecting those ballots to be counted, but it will not be by the self-imposed 8 p.m. deadline.

Nate Cohn

For Youngkin to win, he’s going to need it all: a favorable turnout and gains across the state. But there are two big counties he all but must flip back: Virginia Beach and Chesterfield, outside Richmond.

Shane Goldmacher

In the final tally, $66.3 million was spent on television ads in the Virginia governor’s race general election, according to AdImpact. Democrats spent more: $34.6 million to $31.7 million.

Richard Fausset

In Atlanta, the focus is on former Mayor Kasim Reed, a familiar figure burdened by his administration’s scandals. The question is whether his high name recognition will trump high negatives.

Credit…Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times
Thomas Kaplan

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

President Biden on Tuesday predicted a Democratic victory in the Virginia governor’s race and contended that the status of his domestic agenda was not a major factor in the contest.

The Democratic candidate, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, was locked in a tight race with his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, even though Mr. Biden carried the state by 10 percentage points in last year’s election. A victory for Mr. Youngkin would be a perilous indicator of the Democratic Party’s standing heading into next year’s midterm elections.

“We’re going to win,” Mr. Biden said at a news conference in Glasgow after he was asked about the contest. But he conceded that the race was “very close” and said that “the off-year is always unpredictable.”

Mr. McAuliffe sought election against a backdrop of Democratic infighting in Washington, where lawmakers have been wrangling over the size and scope of Mr. Biden’s proposed social policy bill. The $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill has been stalled in the House after passing the Senate in August, and Mr. Biden’s approval ratings have fallen.

As the election approached, Mr. McAuliffe all but pleaded with lawmakers in his party to pass the infrastructure bill, which would have given Democrats a major accomplishment to highlight to voters.

“We are facing a lot of headwinds from Washington,” Mr. McAuliffe said in October, adding, “The president is unpopular today, unfortunately, here in Virginia, so we have got to plow through.”

But Mr. Biden, who was attending the U.N. climate conference in Scotland, argued on Tuesday that the lack of progress on his agenda was not dragging down Mr. McAuliffe.

“I don’t believe and I’ve not seen any evidence that whether or not I am doing well or poorly, whether or not I’ve got my agenda passed or not, is going to have any real impact on winning or losing,” Mr. Biden said. “Even if we had passed my agenda, I wouldn’t claim we won because Biden’s agenda passed.”

Tracey Tully

Credit…Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Voters in New Jersey may get an extra 90 minutes to cast ballots Tuesday night.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the League of Women Voters filed an application with State Superior Court on Tuesday evening, asking that polling locations be kept open until 9:30 p.m. The extension, they said, would offset morning delays linked to problems connecting new electronic polling books to the internet.

“The late opening of numerous polling locations spread across the state and ongoing operational issues throughout the day has resulted in dozens of voters being turned away, asked to return later, or leaving because of the long waits,” the court filing stated.

This year, for the first time, voters in New Jersey were able to cast ballots early on machines over nine days.

The new system utilized tablet-like devices known as e-poll books, which require internet connectivity.

Early morning technology glitches were reported at isolated polling spots in Piscataway, Long Branch and Dunellen, among other towns. The delays were linked mainly to an unfamiliarity with the new technology by poll workers, not hardware problems, election officials said.

But it did lead to frustration, and lines.

The emergency request is expected to lead to a possible court hearing with representatives of the two leading candidates for governor, Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat, and Jack Ciattarelli, a Republican. It was unclear when a decision might be made by a Superior Court judge in Mercer County, where the application was filed.

Most of the state’s roughly 3,400 polling sites operated smoothly, according to Alicia D’Alessandro, a spokeswoman for New Jersey’s secretary of state, the top election official.

“If any voters were unable to vote due to these issues, we encourage them to return to their polling location and cast a ballot,” Ms. D’Alessandro said late Tuesday morning.

Jeanne LoCicero, legal director for the A.C.L.U. of New Jersey, said the goal was to make sure that anyone who wanted to vote was able to do so.

“We know there were systemic problems and we want to make sure that everyone has a chance to cast their ballot,” Ms. LoCicero said.

Nate Cohn

Democrats might jump to an early lead in Virginia, where counties are now allowed to pre-process absentee votes. That should allow for quick reporting of votes that are expected to be heavily Democratic.

Maggie Astor

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The polls are now closed in Virginia, ending a bitterly fought and unexpectedly close governor’s race between Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, and Glenn Youngkin, a Republican. (If you’re waiting at your polling place, though, stay there — anyone who was in line by 7 p.m. can vote.)

Just a few months ago, few people expected the race to be particularly competitive. Virginia has become much bluer in the past decade or so. In 2017, when Gov. Ralph Northam defeated his Republican opponent Ed Gillespie, the race was called before 9 p.m., and last year, it was called for President Biden barely half an hour after the polls closed.

But tonight is likely to be much longer.

Polls in the final days of the race showed a dead heat, and the race could end up being decided by a couple of percentage points or less. That means we may not know who won until well after midnight.

If you plan to follow the results in real time, keep in mind that they will almost certainly shift as the night goes on.

That’s a normal consequence of geography (conservative counties in southwestern Virginia tend to start reporting before the Democratic strongholds of Northern Virginia) as well as the partisan divide in who votes by mail and who votes in person.

Dana Rubinstein

Polls close in New York City in about two hours. Anecdotally, turnout appears low, which is unlikely to affect the outcome of the mayor’s race. But it could affect some down-ballot contests.

Timothy Arango

Minneapolis recorded the most homicides since the mid-1990s last year. As voters weigh whether to replace the city’s police department, many are caught between two beliefs — that policing needs to be drastically reformed, and that more policing is needed to confront the surge in gun violence.

Credit…Carlos Barria/Reuters
Reid J. Epstein

Credit…Reid J. Epstein/ The New York Times

HAYMARKET, Va. — By the time Election Day comes, there’s not much left for the candidates to do. They invite the news cameras to watch them cast ballots, glad-hand voters outside polling places and do a couple last-minute interviews urging supporters to vote.

Dan Helmer, a Democrat seeking his second term in a Virginia House of Delegates district that had been represented by Republicans for decades before he was elected in 2019 on a platform of implementing gun control measures, spent a rainy afternoon going door-to-door in search of the sort of voters his party’s political algorithm determined were least likely to vote.

He drove around Prince William County, through neighborhoods of large homes, some with tennis courts or full-size soccer fields in their yards, making a final pitch to voters who hadn’t been paying all that much attention to this year’s political campaigns.

“I’m for whoever the Democratic nominee is,” said Liz Fallah, a 34-year-old analyst for a federal contractor who answered the door while cradling a laptop computer in one arm. She was in the middle of a video conference meeting and said she still planned to vote. “I didn’t realize this election was going on until we started getting the ads in the mail,” she said.

Some of the voters Mr. Helmer encountered thought Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic governor who spent the day at home with his family, was already the governor (he’s been out of office since 2018) or praised his response to the coronavirus pandemic (Gov. Ralph Northam has been responsible).

One voter, a consultant named Brad Clark, said he planned to cast his ballot for Mr. Helmer but, with just hours to go, he remained undecided on whether to back Mr. McAuliffe or his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin.

“Terry, he has lots of experience and when he was governor before he did a good job,” Mr. Clark said. “Glenn Youngkin, he’s a businessman and there’s this controversy about parents and children and what’s being taught in the schools.”

Mr. Youngkin, a former private equity executive, has seized on conservatives’ concerns about instruction on race and the rights of transgender children to argue that Democrats want to come between parents and their children’s education.

Mr. Clark, 66, said he planned to look online and do a little more research on the schools issue before heading out to vote Tuesday evening.

Ellen Barry

Many Boston voters cited the need for affordable housing. “A lot of people realize they won’t be able to live in this city in 10 years if this continues,” said Andrew Conant, 28.

Nick Corasaniti

Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

Expect it to be a late night in Virginia. And possibly a long week.

In 2020, President Biden won the state by 10 percentage points, and the race wasn’t called until well after midnight. No one expects the margin of victory for either Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate, or Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate, to reach double digits, meaning a large percentage of the vote total will likely need to be counted before it is clear who won.

If the margin is fewer than 10,000 votes, Virginians may have to wait a few days. The state requires that all mail ballots postmarked by Election Day be counted if they are received by the following Friday at noon. In 2020, the count included 10,901 ballots that fell in that post-Election Day window.

And as voters navigate the relatively new early voting process, both campaigns expect an uptick in provisional ballots, which also can take days to be counted.

The state has made some improvements since the 2020 election.

Counties are now required to prepare their early absentee ballots for processing, meaning the ballots can be opened, checked for eligibility and scanned up to a week before Election Day. That is likely to help alleviate the type of bottlenecks in tabulating absentee votes that delayed the 2020 vote count.

So while it may take time for results to be counted, Virginia is not expected to repeat what happened in Pennsylvania in 2020, when election officials were restricted by law from getting a head start on processing early votes, leading to a delay in counting.

In New York City, voters will likely not have to wait long at all. Eric Adams, the Democratic candidate, is the overwhelming favorite in the race to succeed Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the election is expected to be called early in the night.

But for City Council seats and other closer races, the results could take some time. The New York City Board of Elections has not had a recent history of timely results or orderly counting. It took weeks for the agency to release certified election results in nearly all the races after the primary in June.

New Jersey expanded early voting this year and can expect an election night as swift as the one in New York. Gov. Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat, has been maintaining a double-digit lead in his re-election bid for most of the year. Though that lead has waned slightly, there has not been any major swings to indicate a shift in support.

The state has also seen steady early voting, with nearly 500,000 people voting by mail as of Thursday. All those votes can be prepared and ready for tabulation on Election Day.

In Atlanta, the race to replace Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms — who decided not to seek re-election — is almost certainly headed to a runoff election. It may take late into the night to learn which candidates make it to the runoff.

The race that will give Boston its first female mayor appears headed to an early night. Michelle Wu has maintained a large lead over her opponent, Annissa Essaibi George, with recent polling from Suffolk University showing Ms. Wu with a 32-point advantage.

Reid J. Epstein

Credit…Cliff Owen/Associated Press

Along with the governor’s contest, Virginians on Tuesday will separately choose a lieutenant governor, an attorney general and all 100 members of the state’s House of Delegates.

The new lieutenant governor, who is elected independently from the top of the ticket, will make history as the first woman to hold the office. Both major candidates are also people of color. The Democrat, Hala Ayala, is a two-term delegate from Prince William County who is of Salvadoran and Lebanese descent. The Republican, Winsome Sears, is a Black businesswoman who served one term in the House of Delegates two decades ago.

The state’s attorney general, Mark R. Herring, is a Democrat seeking his third term in office. Mr. Herring was widely expected to run for governor this year before it emerged that he, like Gov. Ralph Northam, had worn blackface during his college years.

Mr. Herring faces Jason Miyares, a Republican delegate from Virginia Beach and the son of a Cuban immigrant.

Democrats hold a 55 to 45 majority in the House of Delegates, though Republicans are optimistic they can take back the majority that Democrats won in the state’s 2019 elections. The last two years marked the first time in a generation that Democrats held unified control of Virginia’s state government.

Jennifer Medina

When voting began this morning, nearly 1.2 million Virginians had already cast ballots. By comparison, 2.6 million voters turned out in 2017, the last time the state picked its governor.

Shane Goldmacher

There are several interesting mayor’s races nationwide that pit more progressive versus more moderate Democrats, including in Boston, Seattle, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Buffalo

Astead W. Herndon

Credit…Lucas Jackson/Reuters

On a consequential Election Day in Virginia, voters in Richmond are deciding on Tuesday on a hotly contested ballot measure that could result in the country’s only Black-owned casino.

The proposed gambling facility would cost more than $500 million and be located on Richmond’s South Side, in a predominantly Black area that has long struggled with economic development.

Proponents of the casino argue that it could spur job creation and further business investment. Its critics say that it could siphon money from low-income residents while introducing other problems such as traffic congestion, late-night revelry and increased crime.

The casino would be owned by Urban One, a media group that caters to Black audiences and owns several radio and television stations. The project has been supported by Richmond’s mayor, a majority of City Council members, Gov. Ralph Northam and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is seeking to be elected governor once more on Tuesday.

Just this week, the rapper and producer Missy Elliott, a Virginia native, urged voters to back the project. The singer Anthony Hamilton also sent a message to his followers this week.

Even outside Richmond, some voters said the outcome of the casino referendum was their foremost concern. William Joyner, 54, who voted in Newport News, said he hoped the facility would be built.

“We’re all looking to Richmond,” he said. “A Black-owned casino? Just think if that was here.”

Mitch Smith

Credit…Jenn Ackerman for The New York Times

MINNEAPOLIS — When Minneapolis was overwhelmed by protests last year after a police officer murdered George Floyd, Jacob Frey became one of the country’s most visible mayors.

On Tuesday, Mr. Frey and his vision for policing were both on the ballot. Voters were not only deciding whether to give the mayor a second term, but also whether to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new public safety agency.

Mr. Frey, who was heckled by protesters last year after rejecting calls to defund the police, has campaigned on the issue. Policing, he has argued, needs to be improved, but replacing the entire department would be counterproductive, especially at a time when violent crime is rising.

“When you tell the truth,” Mr. Frey said Tuesday before a lunchtime stop at an Eastern European deli. “You don’t cave and you keep an honest and steady approach, and chart a progressive path, people over time respect it and value it.”

Mr. Frey and his best-known challengers are all Democrats, but they have been sharply divided over the question of whether the Minneapolis Police Department is worth salvaging. Kate Knuth, a former state lawmaker running against Mr. Frey, has argued for a clean break with the current policing structure, calling for it to be replaced with a new public health-focused agency.

“I’ve been very clear: My vision of the Department of Public Safety absolutely includes police,” Ms. Knuth said after canvassing a dorm at the University of Minnesota. “But we need to dig in and not ask the police to do the things we don’t need them to do.”

Another mayoral candidate, Sheila Nezhad, who decided to run for mayor after working as a street medic during last year’s protests, said the election had the potential to send a national message about the need to rethink safety and law enforcement.

“Today, we’re really choosing the future of public safety,” Ms. Nezhad said as she waved to voters at an intersection on the city’s South Side. “We get to choose stepping forward into a world with more safety, more justice, away from the violent system of policing that has encompassed Minneapolis for 154 years.”

Timothy Arango

Minneapolis will decide whether to keep or replace its long-troubled Police Department. I’m interested to see returns in North Minneapolis, which has high rates of gun violence and where many people want more police.

Trip Gabriel

In Richmond, Va., a deep blue city, voters found many ways to say they’re nervous: “I’m really on pins and needles.’’ “I was hoping we’d be up by a higher margin.” “My anxiety level is high.”

Nick Corasaniti

Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

One candidate for governor stands apart in a red vest amid a sea of men in suits walking like zombies, eager to proclaim himself an outsider.

The other appears in a suit with a lapel pin fit for a governor, a proud former official touting a track record of achievement in government.

The closing ads from the McAuliffe and Youngkin campaigns are not the overly emotive pitches so common in campaigns grasping for a connection in the homestretch of a long election. Instead, the ads are quick distillations of one of the most basic distinctions between the two candidates: a former popular governor, or a rising outsider.

The ad by Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate, focuses on three conservative issues animating the base of the party and bleeding into moderate voters’ concerns: public safety, education and lower taxes.

Though the campaign has centered on a caustic debate over mask mandates and how to teach racism in schools, Mr. Youngkin only makes a passing reference to these issues by lamenting “more government control.” Instead, he touches on crime, as a law enforcement officer is shown wading through the suited politicians to get to the front.

The candidate’s voice drives the ad. But the zombie politicians and Mr. Youngkin’s supporters get almost as much screen time as he does.

Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate, appears first in his ad. He focuses the first half on bipartisanship and his record as governor from 2013 to 2017, boasting of “moving Virginia forward” through job creation and investment in education.

But the former governor pivots halfway through to talk about two key issues in his campaign: abortion rights and education funding.

Much like an address from a sitting official, the closing ad from the McAuliffe campaign provides a kind of response to the Youngkin ad. Mr. McAuliffe seems to proudly claim the mantle of a former elected official, conveying the message that he is more prepared for success than an outsider.

We spoke to residents of Chesterfield County, Va., about the issues that matter to them. This county was a Republican stronghold for 72 years until it turned blue in 2020.

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How ‘gate’ became the syllable of scandal




(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)

Roger J. Kreuz, University of Memphis

(THE CONVERSATION) On June 17, 1972, Washington, D.C., police arrested five men for breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Although the administration’s press secretary, Ron Ziegler, dismissed the crime as a “third-rate burglary,” its scope would grow to consume Richard Nixon’s presidency and then bring it to an end 26 months later.

As with other infamous episodes, such as the Teapot Dome scandal or the Chappaquiddick tragedy, the event would come to be known by the place where it occurred.

But unlike those two precedents, the Watergate Office Building would be immortalized as the catchall term for political scandal.

“Watergate,” in this context, is an example of metonymy. A part – the site of the break-in – comes to stand for the larger whole: the illegal acts committed by Nixon’s administration, as well as the subsequent investigation into them.

Metonymy is a common way in which English is fortified with new vocabulary – think of “the Pentagon” as a stand-in for the U.S. military, or “Hollywood” as a way to refer to the motion picture industry.

What’s unusual about Watergate is that one syllable splintered off to become the universally recognized designator for political malfeasance. When boozy government-sponsored parties that broke COVID-19 lockdown rules came to light in the U.K., the scandal quickly became known as “partygate.” But the syllable has also migrated beyond politics, becoming a tag for wrongdoing of virtually any kind.

Other splinters have also been pressed into service to create new words. For example, “-athon,” from “marathon,” can emphasize an event’s long duration – telethon, dance-a-thon, and hackathon. Similarly, “-aholic,” from “alcoholic,” denotes an addiction: shopaholic, workaholic, sexaholic.

But in terms of sheer productivity, “-gate” has no peer. Wikipedia’s list of -gates has over 260 entries.

During its remarkable career, it has often been wielded as a linguistic cudgel, and few other four-letter strings have such power to stigmatize and to demonize.

The early years

A year after the Watergate break-in, the humor magazine National Lampoon referenced “Volgagate” – a fictitious Russian scandal – in its August 1973 issue. This seems to have been the first use of -gate as a generic label for a political scandal.

A month later, Newsweek characterized a scheme to peddle cheap Bordeaux as “Winegate.” Its extension to viniculture suggested that -gate might have a life outside of politics.

But the real popularizer of -gate was William Safire, Nixon’s former speechwriter. As a conservative political columnist with The New York Times for over 30 years, Safire created or promoted many such terms. These included Billygate, Lancegate and Briefingate to describe scandals that emerged during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. He also popularized Travelgate and Whitewatergate during the Clinton years.

These episodes didn’t rise to the seriousness of Watergate, of course. But by making them into -gates, Safire was implying that Democrats could be just as corrupt as Republicans.

Apart from Safire’s inventions, few episodes from the 1970s to the 1990s were referred to as -gates. Only about 10% of the terms on Wikipedia’s list date from the 20th century. Even major political scandals of the period only occasionally received this epithet.

Consider the Reagan administration’s scheme to use Iranian arm sales to fund the Nicaraguan Contras. All the attributes for a Watergate-style comparison were present: illegal activity, conspiracy and an attempted cover-up.

Despite this, The New York Times referred to the episode as “Reagangate” just twice, “Contragate” only 11 times and “Irangate” about 100 times. In contrast, the paper used the phrase “Iran-Contra” nearly 6,000 times in its coverage.

Opening the ‘flood-gates’

In the new millennium, however, -gate became totally unmoored from politics.

It has been employed to describe kerfuffles in almost every field of human endeavor – sports (Astrogate), journalism (Rathergate), technology (Antennagate) and entertainment (Nipplegate).

Already in 2022, hashtags referring to a number of events – such as #slapgate and #lettergate – have trended on Twitter.

For those who value precision in language, this as a problem – because if everything is a scandal, then nothing is.

Consider “Ponytailgate.” In 2015, New Zealand’s prime minister, over a period of several months, repeatedly tugged on the ponytail of a young café waitress. He persisted despite repeated requests from both the waitress and the prime minister’s wife that he stop. Such behavior is boorish at best.

But does it belong in the same category as events involving corruption, a conspiracy, or a cover-up?

A pleasing sounding suffix

It may be that -gate is used because nothing better has come along. Replacement terms have enjoyed only limited popularity.

The splinter “-ghazi” arose in reference to the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. It was occasionally deployed against the Obama administration. For example, when President Obama wore a tan suit to a press conference, “Beigeghazi” was born. But -ghazi probably failed as a suffix for scandal because it was too much of a mouthful.

This can be seen in the 2014 debate over what to call former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s lane closure scandal. Should it be “Bridgeghazi” or “Bridgegate” – or even “Bridgeaquiddick”?

Bridgegate won out – undoubtedly because it was shorter and simpler. Resonance also seems to apply for other scandals: “Deflategate” simply sounds better than “Ballghazi” as a name for the New England Patriots football scandal.

One size fits all?

Not content with its domination of English, -gate has also wormed its way into other languages, such as German, Serbo-Croatian, Greek and Hungarian.

But like most successful trends, the widespread use of -gate has engendered significant backlash. As with Ponytailgate, many of these coinages fail to differentiate the mundane from the momentous. This invites accusations of journalistic laziness, in which events are merely lumped together rather than analyzed.

In addition, overuse has transformed -gate constructions from the somewhat clever coinages of Safire’s day into the tired clichés of today. It can also be difficult to tell when a -gate construction is intended ironically, which makes interpretation difficult.

Finally, sometimes shorthand is just too short. “Reagangate” may have failed as a label for Iran-Contra because it wasn’t specific enough. The term could have referred to any of several different episodes during Reagan’s eight-year administration.

At the other extreme, the same -gate has been applied to very different controversies. “Sharpiegate” referred to Terrell Owens’ signing of a football in 2002. But it was also trotted out for President Donald Trump’s edit of a map of Hurricane Dorian’s path in 2019. And in 2020, it became associated with allegations of ballot fixing in Arizona.

But even half a century later, -gate is still finding gainful employment in politics. It was used, for example, to tag several Trump scandals, from Russiagate to Ukrainegate. And President Joe Biden has had to contend with Kabulgate and #formulagate.

No president has resigned since Nixon, arguably in the face of worse scandals than Watergate.

As with the wear and tear on an overused suffix, one has to wonder: Have voters become numb to political scandal, too?

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here:

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Why The Place Beyond The Pines Director Derek Cianfrances Called Ray Liotta An ‘American Treasure’




Perhaps predictably for a director who made a film concerning American masculinity and its intersection with crime and corruption, Cianfances has long been a fan of “Goodfellas.” Martin Scorsese‘s epic biographical drama follows the exploits of Henry Hill (Liotta), charting the rise and fall of his New York mafia star. As such, Cianfances made it a career goal to cast Liotta in one of his own films. In a 2013 interview with GQ ahead of the film’s wide release, the director explained his affinity for the actor’s work — and his opinion concerning Liotta’s status as an outright national treasure.

“My favorite movie — and the favorite movie of my co-writer, Ben Coccio — is ‘Goodfellas.’ On the first day we met, we agreed to write a role for Ray Liotta. Flash forward five years and I’m sitting in a room with Ray and he’s actually considering the movie. To me he’s an American treasure — I feel like someday they’re going to carve his face in mountaintops.”

While the prospect of having Liotta’s striking profile carved into stone certainly seems fitting, the actor has effectively crafted a monument to himself merely through emitting a palpable power within all of his roles.

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What You Were Supposed To Know About Two State Senators




A promising political career unraveled this spring when New York’s lieutenant governor Brian Benjamin was arrested. Benjamin, only 45 years-old, was an up and comer in state Democratic politics, having served four years in the state Senate before rising to the position of lieutenant governor in the wake of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s downfall. 

Brian Benjamin is no longer the lieutenant governor of New York. Today, he is awaiting trial for a litany of felony charges accusing him of bribery, conspiracy, and wire fraud, among other things. A federal judge is in possession of his passport.

And he may never have been charged with any of it — he may never have been caught at all — if it weren’t for the paper trail.

In Benjamin’s case, the paper trail consisted of campaign finance filings and personal financial disclosures. The discrepancies in the documents contributed to what ultimately became a federal investigation into Benjamin’s actions as a state senator. Prosecutors now allege that he used his legislative position to award grants of state money to entities which then steered that money to Benjamin’s campaign funds.

It is unlikely that this saga would ever happen in Colorado — not because Colorado is somehow immune to corruption, but because no one in Colorado’s government is actually tasked with investigating it.

When people think of corruption, they don’t tend to think of Colorado. They think, instead, of states like New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. When the Center for Public Integrity examined the systems for ethics enforcement in all fifty states, though, all three of those states ranked higher than Colorado.

New Jersey came in 18th place in the category ranking state ethics enforcement agencies, with Illinois trailing behind in 26th place. New York, perhaps unsurprisingly, ranked 38th.

Colorado ranked 44th.

Source: Center for Public Integrity

As was covered in the first part of this series, Colorado’s state government has systems to require financial transparency from elected officials, but does not have systems to enforce those requirements. Elected officials must file annual financial disclosures, but no one is tasked with auditing those disclosures for accuracy and completeness. Elected officials are supposed to recuse themselves from votes which present a potential conflict of interest, but there is no one tasked with monitoring those conflicts of interest–and, if there were, they would be unable to do so without first ensuring that the financial disclosures were complete and accurate. Even if these gaps were closed, the financial disclosures were audited, and the conflicts of interest were monitored, Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission would not have the authority to investigate potential violations unless a third party first filed a complaint. 

In New York, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics is not only authorized but required to audit legislators’ financial disclosures. Based on those audits, the commission determines the need for further action and, if necessary, has the authority to initiate investigations, convene hearings, and levy penalties. 

Colorado’s failure to do the same due diligence leaves Coloradans at unnecessarily high risk of corruption. Each layer of the system–the disclosure forms, the recusal rules, and the Independent Ethics Commission–is supposed to be a safeguard, a line of defense, and yet none of them function as such. Instead, it is a system which leaves the people of Colorado unable to know what they do not know. There is, after all, no way to know if a senator is voting to award state money and contracts to his own business interests when there is no system ensuring that the senator has honestly reported those business interests.

New York passed the law instituting its audited disclosure and transparency system in 2011. By 2015, both the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader had been arrested for bribery and corruption.

A Sliding Scale

If judged by the exact letter of the law — in this case, Colorado’s Public Official Disclosure law–the Colorado Times Recorder’s audit of the financial disclosures filed by every current member of the state senate found widespread criminality: of the chamber’s thirty-five members, nearly all of them have committed at least minor violations of the law. 

Filing late is the most widespread minor violation committed by members of the senate. Each member’s personal financial disclosure must be submitted to the Secretary of State’s office annually by January 10. A broad, bipartisan coalition of lawmakers has a habit of missing that date by a week or two every year.

The fault for other minor violations may lay more with the disclosure form itself than with the senator filling it out. For instance, certain life insurance policies valued at $5,000 or more should be disclosed, but the form does not spell-out what is meant by “assets,” the category in which those insurance policies should be reported. 

This particular class of violations — the minor ones attributable more to ambiguity and negligence than malice, the omissions of assets which would be highly unlikely to impact a legislator’s votes — still constitutes criminal conduct under Colorado law, meaning that the majority of state senators commit a misdemeanor almost every January. 

These minor offenses, however, are not the focus of our investigation.

Beyond the small-ball, crimes-by-clerical-error violations, our audit found that there are members of the state Senate who have failed to disclose millions of dollars’ worth of assets and business interests, all while serving in legislative roles with the power to impact their personal financial situations. 

Several of the more moderate violators in this category will be named in a later installment of this series.This installment, though, focuses on two members of the Colorado senate who have seemingly exceeded the rest in terms of the size and scope of what they have failed to disclose. During their times in office, one has assembled vast land holdings. The other, a web of business and real estate interests. Neither has properly declared these developments to their voters in the disclosure forms they are required by law to file. 

The two are Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) and Sen. Paul Lundeen (R-Monument). 

During his time in the legislature, Sonnenberg has failed to disclose his ownership of five companies and more than 5,000 acres of land–holdings which he spent more than one and a half million dollars acquiring. Despite the requirement to file a personal financial disclosure every year of his decade-plus in the legislature, Sonnenberg never declared his interest in any of these assets.

Lundeen, meanwhile, failed to properly disclose his involvement with at least one of his many companies, has never declared any capital gains income despite being an investment adviser, and may have omitted or improperly reported rental income and out-of-state business interests. In addition to the omissions, Lundeen’s professional role as an investment adviser raises questions about potential conflicts of interest concerning certain votes on his legislative record.

Having been conducted by a small news outlet and not a government agency, there are surely details which our audit has missed. Lundeen, for instance, has holdings spread out across at least three U.S. states, each of which provides a different level of public access to the relevant business and property documents. The reporting here does not guess at what is hiding behind the state of Nebraska’s public records paywall or speculate on anything beyond our actual findings. Whenever a question or claim encountered in our research could not be answered or substantiated directly by official documentation, it was left on the cutting room floor. All of that to say: an independent audit of the relevant financial disclosures, such as the kind conducted in many other states, may find more than is reported here – but it would not find less. 

What follows are the details the Colorado Times Recorder has uncovered about the assets these two senators have withheld from their annual disclosures.

The Land Baron

There is a property empire hidden in Logan County, some forty miles south of the indistinguishable point where the ochre fields of Colorado bleed over into Nebraska. It consists of more than 5,000 acres of agricultural land in the county’s southeastern quadrant. On paper, it appears as fifteen separate parcels of land controlled by five separate owners. In reality, it was carefully assembled over the past decade by the man representing Logan County in the state legislature, Jerry Sonnenberg.

It makes sense for Sonnenberg to own ranchland in Logan County: it’s where he’s from, and it’s what he does. The Sonnenbergs have been ranching and farming in the county for decades, and Senator Sonnenberg has made a proud display of his affinity for the agricultural life during his sixteen years at the state Capitol.

The problem is that Sonnenberg has never disclosed his ownership of a single acre of land in his annual personal financial disclosures. He has never even claimed a personal residence. 

The Colorado Times Recorder is in possession of every financial disclosure form filed by Sonnenberg since 2010, the earliest year for which we could locate the records. Incidentally, 2010 is also the last time Sonnenberg updated the paperwork. Since then, he has opted to only file one-page annual updates consisting of a checked box marked “ANNUAL UPDATE-NO CHANGE.”

By filing the “no change” version of the annual update every year, Sonnenberg is declaring that his personal financial situation has not changed since the last time he filed a full disclosure, which was on February 26, 2010.

In the February 2010 disclosure form, then-Rep. Sonnenberg declared his ownership of a company named Sonnenberg Farms, and that his only sources of income were the company and his legislative salary from the state of Colorado. He also declared his wife’s teaching income and three small loans. Every year since then, he has filed an annual update stating that this financial situation has not changed.

According to records held by the Colorado Secretary of State and the county assessors for Logan and Washington Counties, that is not true – Sonnenberg’s financial situation has changed dramatically since 2010.

For starters, records show that Sonnenberg has business interests beyond the previously disclosed Sonnenberg Farms — such as that company’s spinoff, Sonnenberg Farms-Trucking, LLC, or the short-lived R&S Feeders, LLC, which was dissolved in 2018. 

But that’s not all. The records also show that Sonnenberg replaced his father, Gordon, as the registered agent for Gordon Sonnenberg Farms, Inc. in 2020, and that he has registered a company under the name Sonnenberg & Sons Cattle, LLC. Sonnenberg also received a roughly $21,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan for a company listed as a sole proprietorship simply named Jerry Sonnenberg. Though the latter company appears in records of PPP loans, it does not appear in Colorado business databases. 

With the exception of Gordon Sonnenberg Farms, each of the companies listed above was registered during Sonnenberg’s time in office, yet none of them ever appear on his personal financial disclosures. Even in the instance of the company Sonnenberg disclosed ownership of, he failed to disclose the property owned by the company.

There is a possible caveat: Sonnenberg could claim that none of these businesses ever attained a value of at least $5,000 and therefore were not required to be reported. The caveat could possibly apply to R&S Feeders, and maybe even to Sonnenberg Farms-Trucking, but not to any of the others. Sonnenberg’s undisclosed cattle company owns more than 1,200 acres of land, exceeding $5,000 in value, while Gordon Sonnenberg Farms, Inc. owns two parcels worth a combined $60,000. By those valuations, both should have been reported. Neither was.

Sonnenberg did not respond to requests for comment.

Sonnenberg controls one other company which has never been revealed on his personal financial disclosures: Sonnenberg & Sons Land, LLC. It is through this last company that Sonnenberg has shelled-out more than $1.5 million in recent years to assemble thousands of acres of agricultural land. 

Sonnenberg filed the paperwork to form the company in September 2019. After that, he wasted little time in assembling his empire. On Jan. 3, 2020, just three months after the company was formed, Sonnenberg paid $127,530 for a 316-acre parcel of land. Three days later, he filed his annual financial disclosure update, in which he made no mention of either the newly formed company or the six-figure land deal. On January 6, the same day he filed that disclosure, Sonnenberg also filed the paperwork taking over as the agent for Gordon Sonnenberg Farms. 

With these two transactions, the state senator gained control of more than 1,100 acres of land in three days.

He didn’t stop there. The following year, in August 2021, Sonnenberg & Sons Land spent $535,200 on a transaction which included four parcels of land totaling 1,217 acres. Four months later, in December, the company laid down $800,000 in a transaction to acquire another five parcels of land amounting to 1,481 additional acres. Despite spending more than a million dollars on land over the course of four months, Sonnenberg never disclosed a single dime spent nor a single acre acquired.

To say that Sonnenberg omitted these purchases from his 2022 financial disclosure would be putting it lightly: he hasn’t even bothered to file the token annual update in the past two years.

During the time he was assembling his agricultural empire, and concealing that empire from the public in violation of the law, Sonnenberg served on the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Despite the fact that Sonnenberg registered several businesses and spent more than $1 million on land acquisitions during the decade in which he submitted nothing but detail-free annual updates (and later, not even those), there is no evidence that anyone ever raised a red flag. 

There is no evidence that anyone ever even noticed.

The good news for Sonnenberg is that the time for consequences — if ever there was one — is over: last week the rancher concluded his sixteen years of service in the legislature and returned to the ranch. Now, he is running for a seat on the Logan County Commission, a position from which he can more directly govern his holdings.

The Businessman

The violations of the Public Official Disclosure law committed by Sen. Paul Lundeen, Republican of Monument, are of a different sort than those committed by Sonnenberg. Where Sonnenberg seems to have written-off the entire transparency enterprise as a waste of time, Lundeen appears to have made genuine attempts to abide by the law. 

“For me, if there’s something going on, I try to disclose it,” Lundeen told the Colorado Times Recorder. “I’m just trying to comply with the law.” 

The forms he has submitted support that claim: Lundeen has often opted to include information on his disclosures which was not required. In many cases, though, Lundeen’s attempts at compliance have fallen short of the law’s requirements. In other cases, the senator’s filings highlight the shortcomings of the law itself. 

Lundeen, who is currently seeking his second term in the state senate, has been subject to disclosure laws since his first candidacy for the State Board of Education in 2010. He won that race and has served in office ever since, next as the state representative for an El Paso County house district, then as a member of the state senate. The Colorado Times Recorder, as part of its ongoing investigation, is in possession of every personal financial disclosure Lundeen has submitted since that first race.

Like Sonnenberg, Lundeen has submitted many one-page annual updates to his disclosure. Unlike Sonnenberg, Lundeen included notes on many of his updates, indicating changes to his assets, liabilities, or income. Unfortunately, the manner in which Lundeen reported those changes often fell short of compliance with the law in significant ways -– and, ironically, served in some cases as signposts pointing to assets the senator had previously failed to disclose. 

Also unlike Sonnenberg: the most noteworthy potential for conflicts of interest in Lundeen’s legislative career comes not from what he has omitted, but from a business interest which he has consistently reported accurately, showing that even properly disclosed conflicts are not policed, and that recusal is not required.

An investment advisor by trade, Lundeen has had a long and eclectic career. In his mid-twenties, he attended the 1984 Republican National Convention with the Nebraska delegation and served as the spokesman for the 1986 Nebraska gubernatorial campaign of Kermit Brashear, a man who later rose to the helm of the state’s unicameral legislature. Over the course of two decades, Lundeen traversed an array of interesting opportunities from landscape management to broadcast journalism.

The thing Lundeen seems to take the most pride in, though, is his career as an entrepreneur. Like the rest of his career, Lundeen’s entrepreneurial life has been multifaceted. According to his campaign website, Lundeen started and ran a series of companies “ranging from brain training & learning centers to real estate development to golf course association landscape management, and investment management.” The website for his investment firm adds to the resume, boasting that the senator “built and maintains several businesses in Colorado and California in the fields of real estate development, golf course association landscape management, and tree farming.”

Despite these claims, Lundeen has only ever declared income from two companies during his career in public office: Arkenstone Financial, which he still runs, and LPC Corp, which he sold in 2013 and subsequently properly disclosed the sale of, as required by law.

Though some of the businesses linked to him in the public record have occasionally been disclosed as assets — such as on his January 2011 disclosure form – others have not. The companies Lundeen listed as assets on his earlier disclosures disappeared by the time of his August 2015 disclosure, though he never reported selling any of them other than LPC Corp. He has not submitted a full disclosure form since 2015.

Records held by the Colorado Secretary of State, in addition to various public offices in Nebraska and California, present a more complex picture of Lundeen’s businesses than can be gleaned from his disclosures. In addition to the assets and income sources which have been half-reported in some of Lundeen’s filings, these records show the senator’s involvement with at least three companies which he has never properly disclosed during his time in the legislature. 

Of the three companies Lundeen has failed to properly disclose, one of them is now defunct: Alpine Mobile Gourmet, which was registered in September 2018 and dissolved in May 2019. 

Another of the companies, LunCom, LLC, was registered with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office on exactly the same day Lundeen filed the paperwork to dissolve Alpine Mobile Gourmet, May 13, 2019. Companies in Colorado must file annual reports to remain active in the state’s business registry. The most recent annual report for LunCom was filed on April 25, 2022 by Paul Lundeen, indicating that the company is extant and that Lundeen remains aware of its existence despite having omitted it from both disclosure updates he has filed since registering the company in 2019. 

The same caveat applies here as applied to two of Sonnenberg’s undisclosed companies: it is possible that LunCom never reached $5,000 in value and thus would not need to be reported. 

When reached for comment, Lundeen confirmed this to be the case, saying that neither LunCom nor Alpine Mobile Gourmet ever reached the valuation threshold. 

“They’re just LLCs that are filed,” the senator told the Times Recorder. “They’re ideas that could have been something but they never attained $5,000 in revenue or valuation. They were just ideas that never went anywhere.”

The third company, though, seems unable to lay claim to that caveat: Oleander Indio Commerce Center, LLC, a company Lundeen owns in California. The company, which has been active for several years and owned at least one multimillion-dollar piece of property, provides a good example of a complication in the disclosure law: out-of-state holdings.

According to the Public Official Disclosure Law, out-of-state property is not required to be disclosed, but out-of-state business ventures are. In the case of rental income, for instance, the law unequivocally requires the disclosure of income from an out-of-state property, but does not require the disclosure of the property itself. This can understandably lead to confusion among those filing disclosures.

In his 2015 update, Lundeen voluntarily disclosed – via a short note – that he had purchased a piece of property in California, and that it was held in Oleander Indio Commerce Center, LLC. Despite the note, Lundeen failed to actually disclose the company itself as an asset, and has never disclosed it as a source of income. Additionally, the property in question sold for $3 million in 2021, but Lundeen did not disclose any income from the sale in his 2022 disclosure, despite the statutory requirement to list and name all sources of income.

While the property itself was not required to be disclosed, Lundeen may have omitted rental income received from the property: 81760 Oleander Avenue, Indio, CA is commercial property, currently home to a hardware supply store. Though public property records do not list tenants, Google StreetView images show that the hardware supply store has occupied the building since at least March 2019.

If the property had a tenant at any time during Lundeen’s ownership, he was required to disclose the associated rental income. When Lundeen later sold the property, he was required to disclose his income from the sale. 

According to Riverside County property records – which do not readily provide owner names, but do include a sale history – the building has only been sold once since Lundeen initially declared purchasing it: in November 2021 it was sold for $3 million. Lundeen’s 2022 disclosure form made no mention of the sale.

Oleander Indio Commerce Center, LLC was registered in the opaque Nebraska business registry, which prevents certain information from being obtained. According to California’s business registry, though, the company remains active as of this writing, with Lundeen having filed the most recent annual paperwork in June 2021.

Reporting the companies and possible income associated with the commercial property on Oleander Avenue has not been Lundeen’s only hiccup in navigating which out-of-state interests do and do not require disclosure.

In his 2018 update, Lundeen notes that he sold a piece of property in California, but it was not the Indio property. Rather, Lundeen’s note describes it as “approximately 10 acres of undeveloped land.” If the land was held in an LLC or holding company, such company should have been disclosed. If Lundeen’s ownership of the land was purely an investment, or if the land was owned by him personally rather than through an LLC, he arguably should have disclosed it as an asset.

Later, in his 2021 PFD update, Lundeen appended another note: “Sold real property in Colorado. Bought real property out of Colorado. Potential income increase from rental income of out of state property in 2021 and in future years.” As in the 2018 note, Lundeen failed to provide any information about the properties he bought and sold, other than that one of them was “in Colorado,” and another was “out of Colorado.” While Lundeen was under no obligation to disclose the out-of-state property, the law requires that he provide the full legal description of the Colorado-based property, which he did not do. 

Then there’s Lundeen’s note that he may see a “potential income increase” from rental income at an undisclosed property. Not only does this not satisfy the statutory requirement that filers list “the names of any source or sources of income, including capital gains,” but his 2022 disclosure failed to clarify if any rental income had actually materialized. Furthermore, if “potential income” is a standard, it is one Lundeen failed to meet when he neglected to disclose the various businesses he registered during his time in office.

In terms of income, Lundeen’s disclosure forms include another noteworthy absence: despite being an investment adviser, he has never declared any income from capital gains or securities. Lundeen is not alone in this: fewer than five members of the Senate have declared any capital gains income whatsoever in recent years. 

Where Sonnenberg declined to provide any information whatsoever during most of his time in office, Lundeen’s filings show at least some intention to abide by the law — though, perhaps, to do so in the least time-consuming way possible, by filing a slightly annotated annual update form.

Though substantial and consequential, it is not Lundeen’s omissions that raise the specter of potential conflicts of interest. Rather, it is his role at Arkenstone Financial – the only company he has consistently and accurately reported his involvement with.

Financial and investment advisers operate in a fairly regulated industry. In fact, by virtue of the nature of the role, Lundeen is required to disclose his involvement with Arkenstone in two additional sections of the disclosure form: a section asking filers to list any fiduciary duties they hold, and a section asking if the filer works in an industry directly regulated by the state. In his most recent full disclosure, filed in August 2015, Lundeen properly listed Arkenstone in both of those sections. 

In theory, disclosures of this kind are intended to inform the need for recusal from certain votes. As an example: former Rep. Jon Becker (R-Fort Morgan), who served as an executive at a telecom company, was diligent about recusing himself from votes pertaining to rural broadband deployment programs from which his company could benefit. 

The potential for conflicts of interest in Lundeen’s scenario is not difficult to imagine: any piece of legislation which touches the kinds of funds Arkenstone manages or advises on presents an opportunity for him to be incentivized by his professional role, as opposed to his legislative one. This closeness between a legislator’s governmental and professional interests is, again, inherent to the “citizen legislature,” and has a potential to actually benefit the people of Colorado–but there are no guardrails in place to ensure that it does benefit them.

Despite having properly declared his role with Arkenstone, Lundeen has voted on legislation during his time in office which could impact the company. This is not to say that those votes were illegal or even necessarily improper–rather, the votes serve to highlight a major problem with the legislature’s system for recusal: it is entirely voluntary.

In the state’s lower chamber, where Lundeen served for some of the votes in question, the recusal rule (21c) states that any member with a conflict of interest on legislation “shall disclose the fact to the House, and shall not vote upon such bill or measure.” While the rule in the senate uses the same language, the senate’s rules also make explicit that every senator has a right to vote on any piece of legislation, and that they will be “presumed to act in good faith and in the public interest” in doing so.

In other words, no senator can be forced to recuse from any vote, no matter how known or glaring the conflict. 

There is nothing to indicate that Lundeen has been wantonly benefiting his business via his votes–but there are certain aspects of his record which indicate that the bar for recusal which senators set for themselves is often not as high as the public may hope.

Source: Colorado Legislative Rules

For instance: during his time in the legislature, Lundeen has voted in lockstep with the trade group representing his industry, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, or NAIFA. The group, in addition to being one of Lundeen’s campaign donors, lobbies on bills at the state capitol. Colorado’s lobbying database shows that Lundeen has voted no on every single bill NAIFA has lobbied in opposition to since he entered the legislature–except for one bill in 2016 which died before he had an opportunity to vote on it. 

In 2017, Lundeen faced a more direct potential for conflict when the legislature debated a bill which would have placed an additional requirement on financial advisers and firms like Arkenstone: to report financial abuse of seniors to the proper authorities. 

HB17-1253–entitled, simply, “Protect Seniors From Financial Abuse”–would have required financial advisers like Lundeen to report known or attempted financial exploitation of eligible adults to the commissioner of securities, who would then be required to forward the report to local law enforcement and protective services for additional action. 

Financial exploitation is more common than some might think, with the National Council on Aging reporting that seniors are defrauded of more than $36.5 billion annually.  

The bill to address the problem in Colorado – which had bipartisan sponsorship and passed the senate on the back of a bipartisan coalition, but which would have placed a small additional requirement on his company, Arkenstone Financial – seems to have been a bridge too far for Lundeen. He voted no. 

Perhaps an ethics commission would declare that Lundeen should have recused himself from voting on the bill, perhaps it wouldn’t. By the rules of the system, though, the decision was his to make.

The Cost

Every incomplete, false, or otherwise inaccurate filing listed above is a crime–specifically, a crime committed against the Colorado public. And unless an enterprising district attorney or local sheriff takes an interest in enforcing transparency laws none of the implicated senators will ever pay a price for that lawbreaking.

The price, then, is paid by the people of Colorado – and the price of corruption is steep. According to the United Nations, corruption siphons-off at least 5% of the world’s GDP every single year. 

That a small news outlet could uncover violations of the Public Official Disclosure Act on this scale by simply comparing filed financial disclosures against various public databases is an indictment of Colorado’s transparency laws. Even though every omission or false filing detailed in this story is a crime committed by an elected official, not a single one of those violations has ever been investigated, much less punished. In other states, this task is not left to small news outlets: it is taken seriously, and is the work of government offices with commensurate staffs and budgets. 

Approaching transparency in a serious way, treating it with the importance and caution it deserves as a cornerstone of representative government, is a choice those other states have made. It is not a choice Colorado has made. Instead, Colorado’s government has abdicated, boiling-down the practice of transparency to nothing more than, literally, a box to be checked. The citizens are left to deal with the problem.

The problem is not that Jerry Sonnenberg owns 5,000 acres of land – he has every right to do so. The problem is that the public has a right to know about it, by virtue of Sonnenberg’s role as a public official, and that he violated that right by withholding the information. 

Likewise, the problem is not that Paul Lundeen cannot seem to recall all of his various income streams in any given year, but that the opacity of his business interests and the gaps in his disclosures render any potential conflicts of interest impossible to police. 

The bigger problem, though, is what could have followed. The Colorado Times Recorder’s investigation has not uncovered evidence of bribery and self-dealing – there is not enough information available to the public to ever really do so – but it has uncovered that a bad actor could easily engage in those acts with little fear of being detected. There is no evidence or allegation that Sonnenberg, by way of example, ever used his position as the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee to reap undue profits for his agriculture businesses. Rather, there is the disquieting realization that there are no guardrails in place which could have stopped him if he had chosen to do so.

Unless these personal financial disclosures are required to be audited and enforced by an independent government body, lawmakers will not be properly incentivized to live up to their duty of transparency to the public–and corruption only grows and festers in the absence of transparency.

Unless transparency is prioritized, the rest of the state’s defenses against public corruption are meaningless. You cannot police what you cannot see.

In the next installment of Capitol Gains, we will conclude our look at the financial disclosures filed by members of the state Senate by examining a slew of moderate violations and naming several additional violators – both Republicans and Democrats – and will propose commonsense changes to improve Colorado’s systems for ethics and transparency in government.

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