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June 19th, 2022:

Weekend link dump for June 19

“A Texas entrepreneur is bringing back the woolly mammoth. Well, sort of.”

“This bears repeating: Judicial supremacy is an institutional arrangement brought to cultural ascendancy by white people who wanted to undo Reconstruction and the rise of organized labor that had followed. And that makes sense, as judicial supremacy can harness the power of an entrenched minority and use that power to undermine the more democratic legislative branch.”

“But the most important thing the hearings can do — given that, if someone tries to steal the next election, they won’t do it precisely the way Trump and his allies tried in 2020 — is to shift our gaze forward: They can highlight continuing vulnerabilities in our electoral system and propose ways to fix them, before it is too late.”

“But there is another subtext informing this European reaction, one which Friedman studiously sidesteps: the reality that the commitments of the United States can no longer be counted on to defend Europe, thanks in large part to the memory of Donald Trump’s administration—specifically Trump’s peculiar sycophancy towards Putin and the Russian Federation.”

“Kim Phúc and Nick Ut on “Napalm Girl,” 50 years later.”

“Now, a little more than five years later, 25 percent of Republicans identify as believers of the Pizzagate successor QAnon, and the far right’s capacity for street violence has grown. At the same time, where once most elected Republican officials would at least nominally distance themselves from Pizzagate-pushers out on the fringe, that wall has largely eroded.”

“The Warning About Trump That JFK Never Got to Deliver”.

“The hearings in Congress provide an opportunity for the public to see Christian nationalism for what it is.”

“You might’ve forgotten about rapper Kanye West’s bizarre ties to ex-President Donald Trump’s election steal scheme – but investigators in Georgia apparently haven’t.”

“So Reiter’s new projection is that there are at least 100 American drivers veering their cars into buildings each day, or 36,500 a year, and that’s the low bound. The revised figure corresponds to 16,000 Americans injured in car-on-building crashes each year, he believes, and more than 2,500 people killed.”

“After signing a pledge opposing anti-LGBTQ+ state legislation last spring, companies like AT&T, Amazon, Pfizer, and CVS Health gave thousands of dollars to the campaign efforts of lawmakers who had been backing such bills, according to a recent analysis from Data for Progress, a left-leaning polling firm.”

RIP, Internet Explorer, put out to pasture after 26 years.

“A new Florida law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks with some exceptions violates religious freedom rights of Jews in addition to the state constitution’s privacy protections, a synagogue claims in a lawsuit.”

Lock them up.

“It is difficult to imagine a more humiliating conclusion to this sad chapter in Wisconsin history for those in the state pushing Trump’s Big Lie. The lawyers who were supposed to find evidence of fraud have destroyed their professional careers. The GOP politicians who supported this bogus audit are in contempt of court. And no one has produced an iota of evidence to suggest that Democrats stole the election. While attempting to discredit Joe Biden’s victory, Wisconsin Republicans have only bolstered its legitimacy.”

“It has been nearly 48 hours since a water line broke in Odessa, leaving the entire city without water amid a dayslong heat wave and bringing the community’s daily lives to a screeching halt. The West Texas city has about 112,000 residents, but the water outage included parts outside the city limits, bringing the number of people affected closer to 165,000, officials have said.”

Recount updates

We have a winner in CD15.

Today, after Wednesday’s manual recount of the votes in the CD-15 primary runoff election, the Texas Democratic Party announced that Michelle Vallejo has secured enough votes to earn the Democratic nomination for U.S. Congress from the 15th Congressional District.

“The Texas Democratic Party is fully behind our nominee, Michelle Vallejo, and we’re going to put in the hard work required to send her to Washington D.C. to represent South Texas,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. “We congratulate Michelle and her team for the work they put into this campaign to show voters that Democrats are fighting for them – and thank Ruben Ramirez and his campaign for their dedication to this community as well.”

See here for the background. Vallejo had already declared victory, while Ramirez said he would until the state officially canvasses the results next week before issuing a statement. I suspect that a concession will be forthcoming soon. In the end, Vallejo added seven votes to her total, while Ramirez picked up two, making the final margin 35 votes.

Meanwhile, in CD28, we’re still waiting.

A recount was underway Thursday in a Texas primary race between Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar and progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros following their tight runoff in May.

Before the recount, Cuellar had been leading Cisneros by 187 votes, or 0.4 percentage points, out of 45,429 ballots counted as of last week, according to an Associated Press count. The AP will not declare a winner until the recount is completed.

It was not clear Thursday when the recount would be finished.

I don’t expect anything different. I’ll let you know when I see a further update.

Look for the grifters

In any rightwing political movement, there will always be grifters. It’s absolutely an ants-to-a-picnic situation.

Over the last two presidential election cycles, True the Vote has raised millions in donations with claims that it discovered tide-turning voter fraud. It’s promised to release its evidence. It never has.

Instead, the Texas-based nonprofit organization has engaged in a series of questionable transactions that sent more than $1 million combined to its founder, a longtime board member romantically linked to the founder and the group’s general counsel, an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

A former PTA mom-turned-Tea Party activist, True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht has played a pivotal role in helping drive the voter fraud movement from the political fringes to a central pillar in the Republican Party’s ideology. Casting herself as a God-fearing, small-town Texan, she’s spread the voter-fraud gospel by commanding airtime on cable television, space on the pages of Breitbart News and even theater seats, as a new feature film dramatizing her organization’s exploits, “2000 Mules,” plays in cinemas across the country.

Along the way, she’s gained key allies across the conservative movement. Former President Donald Trump, who shouts her out by name during rallies and held a private screening for the film at his Mar-a-Lago resort, exploited the group’s declarations to proclaim that he won the popular vote in 2016. Provocateur Dinesh D’Souza partnered with Engelbrecht on the film. And she’s represented by the legal heavyweight James Bopp Jr., who helped dismantle abortion rights, crafted many of the arguments in the Citizens United case that revolutionized campaign finance law and was part of the legal team that prevailed in Bush v. Gore.

A review of thousands of pages of documents from state filings, tax returns and court records, however, paints the picture of an organization that enriches Engelbrecht and partner Gregg Phillips rather than actually rooting out any fraud. According to the documents, True the Vote has given questionable loans to Engelbrecht and has a history of awarding contracts to companies run by Engelbrecht and Phillips. Within days of receiving $2.5 million from a donor to stop the certification of the 2020 election, True the Vote distributed much of the money to a company owned by Phillips, Bopp’s law firm and Engelbrecht directly for a campaign that quickly fizzled out.

Legal and nonprofit accounting experts who reviewed Reveal’s findings said the Texas attorney general and Internal Revenue Service should investigate.

“This certainly looks really bad,” said Laurie Styron, executive director of CharityWatch.

And while the claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election have been dismissed out of hand by courts and debunked by audits, even those led by Republicans, the story of True the Vote highlights how exploiting the Big Lie has become a lucrative enterprise, growing from a cottage industry to a thriving economy.

The records show:

  • True the Vote regularly reported loans to Engelbrecht, including more than $113,000 in 2019, according to a tax filing. Texas law bans nonprofits from loaning money to directors; Engelbrecht is both a director and an employee.
  • Companies connected to Engelbrecht and Phillips collected nearly $890,000 from True the Vote from 2014 to 2020. The largest payment – at least $750,000 – went to a new company created by Phillips, OPSEC Group LLC, to do voter analysis in 2020. It’s unclear whether OPSEC has any other clients; it has no website and no digital footprint that Reveal could trace beyond its incorporation records. The contract, which one expert called “eye-popping” for its largess, did not appear to be disclosed in the 2020 tax return the organization provided to Reveal.
  • True the Vote provided Bopp’s law firm a retainer of at least $500,000 to lead a legal charge against the results of the 2020 election, but he filed only four of the seven lawsuits promised to a $2.5 million donor, all of which were voluntarily dismissed less than a week after being filed. The donor later called the amount billed by Bopp’s firm “unconscionable” and “impossible.”
  • The organization’s tax returns are riddled with inconsistencies and have regularly been amended. Experts who reviewed the filings said it makes it difficult to understand how True the Vote is truly spending its donations.

In one instance, True the Vote produced two different versions of the same document. A copy of the 2019 tax return Engelbrecht provided to Reveal does not match the version on the IRS website.

There’s more, but that will get you started. I hope this story will lead to a criminal investigation of Engelbrecht and Phillips and TTV; it seems to me that perhaps both state and federal laws may have been broken, so there’s room to go around. We know that Ken Paxton won’t touch this, but surely one of the local Democratic DAs could give it a go.

I wrote about Engelbrecht and her crowd a couple of times in 2010 and 2012. I’m honestly a little surprised they’re still around, but given the money people seem to have been willing to throw at them, why wouldn’t they milk that cow till it’s all dried out?

Juanita has far more experience with this crowd, and she just enjoyed the heck out of that story. I can add a little context to the story she tells in return, which you can see here.

Readers with long memories may also recognize the name of Engelbrecht’s co-conspirator, who has his own long history of grifting, which of course later morphed into Trumpian “election fraud” bullshit, because that’s where the money is these days. As I said in one of those posts, guys like Gregg Phillips are basically cockroaches – you just can’t get rid of them. But this time it sure would be nice to try.

Charlene Ward Johnson wins HCC2

Charlene Ward Johnson

Final voting for the HCC2 runoff was yesterday. You can see the results here. Charlene Ward Johnson won with 1,278 votes, out of 2,390 cast, for 53.7% of the vote. I said there had been 4,662 ballots cast in the May special election for this and that we might not see half as many this time around. I’m glad to say I was a tad bit pessimistic about that.

Be that as it may, Charlene Ward Johnson is the newest member of the HCC Board of Trustees, and she will hold that position through 2025, when the seat is next up for election. I didn’t see any news reports about this at a first glance – perhaps something will be reported on Monday. You can still listen to my interview with her if you need to get acquainted. Congratulations and best of luck to Charlene Ward Johnson.