Justin Miller

 Justin Miller is a writing fellow for The American Prospect.

Recent Articles

Another First for Trump: A Policy Arm Operating Totally in Secret

Donald Trump isn’t the first president to enjoy the support of nonprofit groups that promote his policy agenda, but he may be the first whose outside backers operate entirely in secret.

When Trump allies announced last week the formation of America First Policies, a 501(c)(4) issue group that will be the president’s main outside advocacy vehicle, observers immediately drew comparisons to Organizing for Action, the nonprofit that allies of Barack Obama launched after he won reelection in 2012. But unlike Organizing for Action, which agreed under pressure to publicly disclose its big-money benefactors every quarter, Trump’s America First has given no indication that it intends to disclose who its funders are.

Such political nonprofits are not required by law to disclose their donors, but watchdogs worry that without public reporting, advocacy operations like America First could become dark money slush funds that allow anonymous donors to influence critical policy debates—with the public none the wiser. The group is run by conservative operatives like the Trump campaign’s digital director Brad Parscale and Vice President Mike Pence’s former top advisor Nick Ayers, and will run digital and TV ads to promote such Trump priorities as winning Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, repealing Obamacare, and cracking down on immigration.

“There’s nothing wrong with policy advocacy,” says Meredith McGehee, of the bipartisan campaign-finance reform group Issue One. “The problem here is that you have a group that is directly connected with the president, and it can well be anticipated that the donors who make contributions to this entity will ensure that the president or his aides know exactly what they’ve done. That will buy them both access and influence.”

Moreover, America First won’t be the only top-secret group advocating for Trump. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani, both prominent supporters of Trump during his campaign, are also leading a nonprofit called the Greater America Alliance that will reportedly advocate for various parts of Trump’s agenda. At the top of the list will be the Gorsuch nomination and Trump’s economic and infrastructure plans. The group plans to spend $80 million on policy fights in 2017 alone, Politico reports. Two GOP operatives who ran the Great America super PAC, which spent about $22 million on behalf of Trump’s presidential campaign, will run the Alliance. And like America First, the Greater America Alliance has announced no plans to disclose its donors.

Yet another group, a 501(c)(4) dubbed the 45 Committee, is investing at least $4 million in ads to ensure that Trump’s cabinet picks are confirmed, according to a Washington Examiner report. The 45 group is also expected to finance attack ads on Democratic senators it deems vulnerable in the 2018 midterm elections. That group is affiliated with a super PAC dubbed Future45, which is financed by conservative mega-donors Sheldon Adelson and the Chicago-based Ricketts family. Together, the two groups spent tens of millions backing Trump in the presidential campaign.

The secrecy surrounding pro-Trump advocacy groups is in line with the president’s own hostility to transparency, says Adam Smith, communications director for the money-in-politics watchdog Every Voice. Smith pointed to Trump’s refusal to disclose all his business ties, release his tax returns, or even publish a list of his campaign bundlers. This culture of secrecy could have real ramifications for pending policy battles on the Hill, says Smith, including the administration’s push for Wall Street deregulation.

“When it comes to the Dodd-Frank fight, when Congress starts introducing bills and these groups start running ads, we deserve to know whether its his Wall Street friends funding them,” Smith says. “If you’re the president of the United States and you have all these ties to Wall Street and rich people, people deserve to know who they are.”

Gary Cohn: Trickle Downer of the Week

In which Goldman Sachs deregulates itself—and tells you it’s for your own good. 

AP/FEREX Gary Cohn, Trump's head of the National Economic Council, in the lobby of Trump Tower. L ast Friday, Donald Trump signed two dramatic—albeit largely symbolic—executive orders that outlined his plans to pick apart Dodd-Frank financial regulations and review Obama’s conflict-of-interest rule that require retirement advisors to act in their clients’ best interest. The move is unsurprising (Trump campaigned against Dodd-Frank) but the president’s rationale for rolling it back borders on the comically absurd. In a room full of billionaire business leaders, Trump said, “We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank, because frankly I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses and they can’t borrow money. They just can’t get any money because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank.” The man behind this deregulatory scheme is Gary Cohn, the former chief operating officer at Goldman Sachs and the current White...

Veterans of Obama’s Labor Department Look Ahead in Anguish

The Department of Labor was the regulatory hub for advancing Obama’s second-term agenda. Trump endangers all of that. 

Ed Brown/Wikimedia Commons The Frances Perkins Building headquarters of the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. T he Department of Labor during President Obama’s second term was the epicenter of a domestic policy agenda aimed at helping working families. Shepherding that agenda in the face of entrenched opposition from congressional Republicans and well-funded business groups was Labor Secretary Tom Perez. With muscular wonkery, he and his top labor lieutenants successfully implemented an impressive array of rules and regulations that have come, in part, to define Obama’s legacy. They implemented executive orders that, by leveraging the federal government’s contracting power, required federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, provide paid sick leave, and disclose past labor law violations. They promulgated a new overtime rule that doubled the salary threshold for eligibility—a powerful tool aimed at lifting pay for millions of moderate-income workers. They...

Republican Governors: Trickle Downers of the Week

GOP leaders in the states are using regressive tax policy to address massive revenue shortfalls. 

(Photo: AP/Orlin Wagner) Gov. Sam Brownback waves to guests before delivering his state of the state address to a joint session of the Kansas legislature in Topeka, Kansas in early January. O ver the last couple weeks, state governors around the country have unveiled their budget proposals amid political tumult. Not only are state governments unclear how Trump and the GOP Congress may impact their funding, but nearly 40 states are facing some level of short-term, or more structural long-term, revenue shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year. While the factors behind these deficits vary, many are driven by aggressive, and regressive, tax cuts of yesteryear, which a number of GOP-controlled states endeavored to offset by cuts to schools and other social essentials. Confronted by deficits that their own cuts created, many Republican governors are now calling for further cuts to state education spending and other critical services. Even more boldly, they continue to call for further...

Trump’s Immigration Crackdown is Dangerous for Workers (Not Just Immigrants)

With more aggressive immigration enforcement and less stringent labor law enforcement on the horizon, labor advocates are concerned about the undocumented workforce.

(Photo: AP/Ed Andrieski) Relatives and supporters, left, of Swift & Co. meat processing plant workers, face off with Immigration Police at the entrance of a Swift & Co. meat processing plant, during a raid in Greeley, Colo., Dec. 12, 2006. T he Trump administration’s dramatic rollout of executive actions last week was the opening act of what is certain to be an aggressive crackdown on unauthorized immigration. To make good on his campaign promise to deport millions of “criminal” undocumented immigrants, Trump issued an executive order that directs Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to broaden the definition of “criminal” and focus deportation efforts not only on those who have been convicted, but also those who have been charged, or “have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense”—which could include immigration crimes like illegal entry. Trump is tripling the number of agents in the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations office and giving them broad...