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N.Y. and N.J. agree on one thing in fight over mob watchdog. The Supreme Court should make the call.

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New York and New Jersey have reached an agreement to jointly ask the U.S. Supreme Court decide a dispute between the two states over the future of the watchdog agency that regulates the region’s docks and port terminals.

Rather than continue fighting over whether the high court should even hear the case, the states in a filing on Friday made a request to have the court directly take up the matter — which would determine whether New Jersey can unilaterally withdraw from the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.

“As New Jersey and New York agree, this important question of compact interpretation falls well within the heartland of this court’s original and exclusive jurisdiction,” they wrote, referring to the interstate compact, or agreement, that created the commission. “Because the commission, a bistate agency, exercises broad regulatory and law-enforcement authority within the borders of both states, New York and New Jersey share an interest in expeditiously resolving their dispute regarding its continued authority.”

The Supreme Court in March had ordered an abrupt halt to New Jersey’s planned exit, just four days before the state was ready to call it quits, pending a decision to take on the case.

The Waterfront Commission — which includes one member from each state appointed by its governor — has jurisdiction over all the region’s piers and terminals, including the ports in Newark, Elizabeth, Bayonne, Staten Island and Brooklyn. It certifies that those hired on the waterfront are not tied to organized crime and are otherwise fit to work in the shipping trade.

New Jersey has been fighting a four-year legal battle to withdraw from the agency, which was created nearly 70 years ago to fight mob control and corruption in one of the nation’s largest ports. The state, arguing that the commission had outlived its usefulness, seeks to kill the agency and assign the State Police to take over enforcement of port activities on the New Jersey side of New York harbor.

Its bid to leave the compact that created the agency was set in motion after lawmakers, amid political pressure from the New York Shipping Association and the ILA — both major contributors to legislators — voted in 2018 to withdraw. Despite having once vetoed it as unconstitutional, then-Gov. Chris Christie signed the bill into law by in his final week in office.

The Waterfront Commission itself went to court to challenge the decision, ultimately losing its fight. But earlier this year, New York itself went to the Supreme Court, arguing that Trenton lawmakers could not simply decide for themselves that they no longer wanted to honor their obligations under the bilateral agreement that joined the two states as partners. New York also criticized New Jersey for its failure to consider the impact the commission had on the fight against organized crime.

In the filing on Friday, the states asked the court to take the case and “resolve the core legal questions itself.”

Even so, New Jersey reiterated its arguments over why it should be permitted to exit the commission.

“In short, the Waterfront Commission compact’s plain text is silent as to withdrawal, and this court has repeatedly refused to construe silence in an interstate compact as stripping the states of their sovereign powers,” New Jersey wrote. “Member states retain a sovereign right to withdraw except when the compact says otherwise.”

Accordingly, said New Jersey, if the court grants the parties’ joint motion to hear the case, it should ultimately hold that New York’s claims that New Jersey cannot decide on its own to withdraw “fail as a matter of law.”

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Ted Sherman may be reached at tsherman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TedShermanSL




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How ‘gate’ became the syllable of scandal

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(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: https://theconversation.com/how-gate-became-the-syllable-of-scandal-177314.


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

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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

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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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