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What Joe Manchin and No Labels Share: Financial Self-Dealing
Both the third-party political organization and the West Virginia senator have a history of using politics for profit.
ON MONDAY, WEST VIRGINIA SENATOR JOE Manchin headlined the New Hampshire gathering of No Labels, the group seeking to put a third-party presidential candidate on the ballot, which could hand the 2024 election to Donald Trump.
No Labels is courting Manchin to lead its potential 2024 ticket. The senator and his suitors share a self-serving quality—treating political money as a family affair.
In Manchin’s case, it’s about using influence to steer patronage jobs and public salaries to his spouse, Gayle, who can then help their daughter’s business, which, in turn, helps her dad.
In No Labels’s case, it’s about funneling some of its donations to a firm connected to Mark Penn, husband of No Labels CEO Nancy Jacobson.
No Labels claims its 2024 ballot effort is on the up-and-up, simply giving voters another choice if President Biden and Trump are nominated. But savvy political observer Joe Klein believes “the No Labels campaign is shady.”
One reason: Per Mother Jones, No Labels raises dark money, and does it through Anedot, an online donation system favored by Republicans and various right-wing causes and groups ranging from mildly MAGA to extremist.
Not all No Labels contributors have remained secret. One $130,000 donor is Republican billionaire Harlan Crow, Justice Clarence Thomas’s luxury trip benefactor. Another reported donor is John Catsimatidis, billionaire owner of the supermarket chain, Gristedes. He gave the 2020 Trump Victory Fund $600,000, according to Politico.
Jacobson defends No Labels’s acceptance of unaccountable cash: “What’s best for Democracy is confidentiality.” Here she parts company not only with common sense, but also with the celebrated Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who, in a 1913 article entitled “What Publicity Can Do,” wrote that “sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant.”
Two decades ago, former Connecticut Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, the founding chairman of the board of No Labels, blazed the trail of a “slow motion divorce” from the Democratic party. In 2008, he praised Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin as “a reformer who has taken on the special interests and reached across party lines.” By 2017, Lieberman had “become a vocal Trump supporter.”
Not the best advertisement for No Labels's claims to be a “middle-of-the-road” alternative to Trump and Biden in 2024. One of the group’s founders, the Brookings Institution’s William Galston, resigned this spring, citing the likelihood that a third-party option would hand the presidency back to Trump.
Manchin is reportedly angry at President Biden, whom he accuses of breaking a deal by expanding funding for electric vehicles under the Infrastructure act, which Manchin supported. Per Open Secrets, Manchin has made millions from fossil fuels.
The West Virginia wheeler-dealer is playing coy about whether he’ll run for re-election as senator or for president. One early poll of the race for Manchin’s senate seat had Manchin 22 points behind West Virginia’s Republican Governor Jim Justice.
As the insightful Jill Lawrence wrote here yesterday, everything about Manchin’s increasingly Republican turn could simply be about running for re-election in a state in which Trump’s 2020 victory margin was 40 percent. It’s obvious that Manchin enjoys the spotlight, and it would certainly be on him if he were to run for president. Not to mention that political relevance has boosted his family’s fortunes.
In 2021, the Senate confirmed the appointment of Manchin’s wife, Gayle Manchin, to a $163,000-per-year post as co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal-state investment partnership.
Mylan, 2021’s poster child for corporate greed, manufactures EpiPens, the injection device to treat life-threatening allergic reactions. Curiously enough, in 2012, when Gayle Manchin headed the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), she spearheaded a campaign to promote the use of EpiPens in the nation’s schools. The campaign helped produce Mylan’s near-nationwide monopoly in schools.
What was Gayle Manchin’s stepping-stone to the NASBE? In 2007, then-Governor Joe Manchin appointed her to West Virginia’s Board of Education.
Similarly, No Labels likes keeping it all in the family. According to Mother Jones, No Labels has paid $428,000 to polling firm Harris X. Its corporate parent, Harris Poll, is chaired by Mark Penn, Jacobson’s husband, and a one-time Democrat who became a Trump White House visitor and pro-Trump Fox News contributor.
No Labels and Manchin have been criticized for helping Republicans and harming Democrats while claiming to be independent and principled advocates of a bipartisan, consensus-driven politics. As the political group continues to hide its donors, with some who’ve been revealed being pro-Trump billionaires, and with their CEO’s husband also leaning heavily toward Trump, it’s natural to wonder about No Labels’s real objectives. The filling of family coffers with public money suggests that something a little more nefarious than principle might be at work.
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