Krebs Daily Briefing 30 March 2016

Thomas L. Krebs, Securities Litigation, Regulation and Compliance Attorney Lawyer (c)2014 Brandon L. Blankenship
Thomas L. Krebs


FBI warned Dutch about El Bakraoui brothers week before Brussels attacks

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) told Dutch police that two brothers were being sought by Belgian authorities a week before the pair blew themselves up in suicide attacks in Brussels, the Dutch interior minister said on Tuesday. Ard van der Steur was responding by letter to questions from Dutch legislators about Belgian brothers Ibrahim (‘Brahim’) and Khalid El Bakraoui, who prosecutors say took part in the March 22 attacks which killed 35 people, excluding the attackers. A series of missteps and blunders by Belgium’s security and intelligence agencies have come to light since the attacks, as well weaknesses in communication between intelligence agencies across Europe. Ibrahim was deported to the Netherlands from Turkey in July 2015, a month after being picked up by Turkish police near the Syrian border. The Netherlands said that when he arrived, his name did not appear on any blacklists so he was not detained. Why he was not deported to Belgium is not clear. “On March 16, the FBI informed Dutch police over the fact that both brothers were sought by Belgian authorities,” the minister wrote. Van der Steur said the FBI told the Dutch authorities that Ibrahim was sought by the Belgian authorities for “his criminal background”, while Khaled was wanted for “terrorism, extremism and recruitment”. In an earlier version of the letter, the minister wrote that the FBI had informed the Dutch authorities of the two brothers, without mentioning that they were wanted by Belgium. This information was then shared at a meeting between Belgian and Dutch authorities on March 17, the minister wrote. More:

A wave of political defections spells new trouble for Afghanistan

KABUL — Afghanistan’s embattled government is facing a new challenge to its rule: former supporters, disillusioned by what they think is its incompetence, who now want fresh elections to remove the president from power. The discontent comes as the country is confronting a robust Taliban insurgency and an economy crippled by the withdrawal of foreign troops. Over the past few months, politicians, warlords, former ministers and other powerbrokers have come out against the government, which they say is paralyzed by infighting and unable to govern. Critics have slammed the administration of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who together formed a national unity government after flawed elections in 2014, and they are calling for a snap presidential election to break the deadlock. The government says it is dedicated to implementing reforms and has made targeting corruption and unemployment priorities. But adding to the urgency is the looming September deadline for launching the mechanism to create a new legitimate government. If that deadline is not met, which is likely, Afghanistan could face a power vacuum that would destabilize the country further. “If it performed well, people were willing to give the [national unity] government the benefit of the doubt. But it hasn’t. It has proved disastrous for this country,” said Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi, a former Ghani supporter and onetime finance minister under the previous president, Hamid Karzai. In January, Ahadi announced the formation of his own opposition movement, the New National Front of Afghanistan, to pressure the government and to call for new elections. Recent polls show a sharp decline in confidence in the government and public institutions. “Given how weak the government is, if there is any more instability, it is unlikely it will be able to rule” after September, Ahadi said. “They have mismanaged the country and lost their legitimacy. They should go back to the people and ask for a new mandate.” More:

FTC sues Volkswagen over ‘deceptive’ diesel claims

The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday filed a four-count complaint against Volkswagen Group in a California federal court, accusing the company of deceptively advertising “clean diesel” vehicles. The lawsuit compounds the German automaker’s troubles in the U.S., where it is already facing a criminal probe and numerous lawsuits after it admitted that it rigged more than half a million vehicles with software to cheat emissions regulations. The FTC is seeking “permanent injunctive relief, rescission, restitution, the refund of monies paid, disgorgement of ill-gotten monies, and other equitable relief,” according to the lawsuit. Though FTC attorneys did not specify an amount, a person familiar with the case said the government is seeking more than $15 billion in damages. “For years Volkswagen’s ads touted the company’s ‘Clean Diesel’ cars even though it now appears Volkswagen rigged the cars with devices designed to defeat emissions tests,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. “Our lawsuit seeks compensation for the consumers who bought affected cars based on Volkswagen’s deceptive and unfair practices.” Volkswagen TV commercials, print advertisements, press releases, emails and online videos invariably promoted the company’s “clean diesel” slogan, claimed that VW diesels had low emissions and describing the cars as “environmentally-conscious,” “eco-conscious,” or “green,” according to the lawsuit. “It was very emotionally appealing campaign,” Kelley Blue Book analyst Rebecca Lindland said in an interview. “You felt like you were a good human being, it made you feel better about buying a diesel and it also made you feel like you were buying the last technology.” According to the lawsuit, VW marketers studied potential diesel customers and determined that they “rationalize themselves out of their aspirations and justify buying lesser cars under the guise of being responsible.” The company has already set aside $7 billion to pay for repair costs on the approximately 11 million vehicles globally that are affected by the emissions scandal.  But analysts expect tens of billions of fines and settlements before the episode is complete. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court Northern District of California, which is also handling the consolidated litigation from consumers seeking economic damages over the emissions violations. That could expedite what attorneys describe as a global settlement involving the various claims against Volkswagen, which corporations often prefer over years of uncertain litigation. “Volkswagen has received the complaint and continues to cooperate with all relevant U.S. regulators, including the Federal Trade Commission,” VW said Tuesday in a statement. “Our most important priority is to find a solution to the diesel emissions matter and earn back the trust of our customers and dealers as we build a better company.” Volkswagen diesel cars on models ranging from 2009 through 2015 are emitting harmful pollutants — namely nitrogen oxide (NOx), which can exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma — at rates of up to 40 times U.S. standards.

Pentagon orders military families out of parts of Turkey

The Pentagon is ordering families of U.S. troops to leave certain areas of Turkey because of “security concerns in the region,” according to a statement today from the U.S. European Command. The order applies to the cities of Ismir, Mugla and Adana, where Incirlik Air Base is located. The order comes after the State Department issued a travel warning, urging U.S. citizens to avoid southeastern Turkey because of “increased threats from terrorist groups.” The State Department also ordered family members of U.S. government civilians posted in Turkey to leave certain areas of the country. In its statement, European Command said the step “does not signify a permanent decision to end accompanied tours at these facilities. It is intended to mitigate the risk to Do elements and personnel, including family members, while ensuring the combat effectiveness of U.S. forces and our mission support to operations in Turkey.”

Starwood Bidder Is an Ambitious Chinese Insurer With Opaque Backing

He is often compared in the media to Warren E. Buffett. Like the American billionaire, he is leveraging his control of an insurance company to become one of the biggest names in global finance. Like Mr. Buffett, he looks to be acquiring an immense personal fortune. But that is where the comparisons between Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of the Anbang Insurance Group of China, and Mr. Buffett come to a halt. Mr. Buffett is a public figure who built his fortune over decades. Mr. Wu avoids interviews. The fax number on his company’s website connects to a dentist’s office. And, unlike Mr. Buffett, whose net worth can be easily calculated, Mr. Wu’s fortune is a cipher, lost in Anbang’s labyrinthine shareholding structure made up of 37 interlocking holding companies. At a time of growing demands for transparency in business and finance, some experts say it is striking that an opaque Chinese insurer is forging headline-grabbing deals in the United States, especially in an election year that has put China’s economic influence under scrutiny as never before. Mr. Wu’s company, which says it has assets of more than $291 billion, is now in an intense bidding war with Marriott International for control of Starwood Hotels & Resorts. On Monday, Anbang raised its offer to $14 billion. Earlier this month, Anbang agreed to pay $6.5 billion to the Blackstone Group for a portfolio of luxury hotels such as the Essex House in New York. In late 2014, Anbang bought the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York for almost $2 billion. Anbang, founded only in 2004, exploded in size two years ago, as those same 37 companies poured billions of dollars into its coffers. “Any time somebody in China magically snaps their fingers and has a lot of money, in this case a colossal amount of money, that sets off red flags for me,” said Christopher Balding, associate professor of finance and economics at Peking University’s campus in Shenzhen, a city in southern China. “It’s in their interest to share information to say ‘we come in peace,’ but there’s just not that culture of information-sharing. In China, when people are hiding this amount of information, it’s for a reason.” More:


Wells Fargo plans quiet assault on Wall Street from glass tower

As Wall Street remakes itself on a former rail yard in the far west of Midtown Manhattan, one surprising name is leading the way. Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N), the San Francisco-based lender known for its retail banking business, has picked out space for a trading operation to use as a base for a stealth attack on the investment banking world. The bid for more capital markets business – from advising on deals and security issues to trading derivatives – is a potentially risky move by the third-largest U.S. bank by assets. The boom-and-bust of Wall Street offers lucrative fees if Wells Fargo can pick up business left behind by rivals in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, but trading brings extra risks and volatility. Jonathan Weiss, who runs Wells Fargo’s investment banking and trading division, said the bank’s plans were deliberately low-key. “We’re not getting into things that are going to rapidly or dramatically change our business,” he told Reuters in a phone interview earlier this month. “It’s just a consistent, slow build-out. Add a person here, add a person there.” Despite Weiss’s muted tone, Wells Fargo has made some headline-grabbing moves. In December it announced a deal to buy 500,000 square feet – or 10 football fields – of trading and office space at Manhattan’s Hudson Yards development. Its neighbors will include private equity firm KKR & Co and media titan Time Warner Inc. Earlier this month it clinched what is expected to be its most lucrative mergers and acquisitions (M&A) assignment in at least a decade. And it has acquired a license to trade credit derivatives, so it can take advantage of revival in demand for a product starting to overcome its association with the last financial crisis. Wells Fargo built itself into the world’s most valuable bank – with a market value of $243 billion – in the wake of the financial crisis partly because it did not rely on risky trades or complex derivatives to turn a profit.

Public employee unions dodge a Supreme Court bullet in tie vote

WASHINGTON — Conservatives bent on crippling the power of public employee unions lost their best opportunity in years Tuesday when the Supreme Court deadlocked over a challenge to the fees those unions collect from non-members. Rather than seeking to reschedule the case for their next term, the justices simply announced they were tied 4-4 — a verdict which leaves intact the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upholding the fee collections. That was a major victory for the unions and the court’s four liberal justices following Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last month. During oral argument in January, it had appeared almost certain that the court would strike down the requirement in 23 states that teachers and government workers contribute to the cost of collective bargaining, even if they disagree with their unions’ demands. The result would have been the demise of a nearly 40-year-old Supreme Court precedent that allows unions to impose such requirements on non-members. It would have made it harder for unions representing teachers, police and firefighters, and other government workers to maintain their power by affecting their pocketbooks. Instead, the judicial deadlock allows the California Teachers Association to keep collecting the fees, but it does not have nationwide impact. The 9th Circuit standard applies only to states within its jurisdiction, including Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington as well as California. It was the second time in two weeks that the justices had deadlocked in the wake of Scalia’s death, but the first major case to emerge in a tie. And it’s an indication that without Scalia, the justices may be equally divided in several other cases before the term ends in June. Although the court’s one-sentence opinion did not break down the vote, oral arguments on the hotly contested labor case made clear that the court’s four liberal and four conservative justices were on opposite sides. The justices could have rescheduled the case for when the court is back to full strength. But that could take a year or more, because Senate Republicans have refused to consider President Obama’s nomination of federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland to replace Scalia. The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, signified a major threat to public employee unions that represent nearly 36% of government workers — far more than the plummeting average for unions overall. Only 11% of Americans belonged to unions in 2014. If the justices had ruled that the free speech rights of non-members entitled them to contribute nothing to the costs of representation — they already could opt out of financing unions’ political activities — more workers likely would have become “free riders.” That would have led to a drop in membership and revenue. The 325,000-member teachers union, which spends more on politics than any special interest group in the state, warned in its high court brief that tens of thousands of contracts governing millions of workers nationally could be thrown “into disarray.” More than 4.5 million teachers are union members. More:

How PwC and The Washington Post Are Finding and Hiring External Talent

Corporations across the globe are increasing their use of external talent. In the U.S. alone, companies are engaging roughly 6.4 million independent contractors, freelancers, and other types of contingent workers. They’re doing this because hiring independent workers on a contingent basis increases business flexibility and agility, provides access to hard-to-hire specialized talent, and potentially reduces costs. Because of these benefits, contingent or contract-based external talent already makes up about one-third of the average large corporation’s total workforce. This percentage is expected to grow in the coming years. According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends study, 51% of global executives surveyed said their organizations plan to increase or significantly increase the use of contingent workers in the next three to five years; only 16% expect a decrease. As the use of external talent increases, so does the need for more efficient ways to find, hire, and manage contingent workers as well as integrate them into the company’s full-time employees and teams. Corporate external talent platforms — platforms that directly connect external talent with internal projects and teams — are emerging as the leading method for accomplishing these tasks. A good example is PwC’s recently announced Talent Exchange. This online platform provides skilled independent professionals direct access to PwC teams seeking talent for their projects. This benefits the Big 4 audit, assurance, tax, and consulting firm by allowing it to tap and build stronger relationships with the growing numbers of highly skilled independent workers, who in turn benefit by gaining access to project opportunities that fit their skills and interests. More:

The Men Who Gave Trump His Brutal Worldview

Fred Trump was a fiercely ambitious man who worked seven days a week and devoted few waking hours to his role as a parent. Although he pushed his son Donald to prevail in every arena—to be a “killer” and a “king”—Fred didn’t actually tell the young man how to achieve this destiny. His way of paying attention to his children was to let them watch him at work. As Donald Trump told me in an interview for the biography I was writing about him, he was expected to learn things up “by osmosis.” One such lesson came when Donald was seven years old, and his father was brought before a U.S. Senate committee investigating abuses in a housing program for war veterans and middle class families. President Eisenhower had been outraged to learn of the bribes that developers paid to bureaucrats and of the alleged profiteering practiced by Trump and others. Ike called them “sons of bitches.” As federal investigators had discovered, the elder Trump had collected an extra $1.7 million in rent—equivalent to $15 million today—before beginning to pay back his low-cost government loan. He was able to do this because a bureaucrat named Clyde Powell approved the paperwork. Powell, who had never been paid more than a modest government salary, had mysteriously amassed a small fortune. (While it was clear Powell accepted bribes, the sources were never officially identified.) In addition to collecting the extra rent, Trump paid himself a substantial architect’s fee. And he charged inflated rents based on an estimate of construction costs that was far greater than what he actually spent. All of this was legal, even if it did victimize taxpayers, veterans, and other renters. Like his father, Donald J. Trump seems to be a patriotic American, but like his father he’s also someone who never misses a chance to bend the rules. (Fred was not inhibited by patriotism when it came to exploiting federal housing programs, even those devoted to veterans. To him the profit motive was supreme.) More:

North Carolina AG won’t defend anti-LGBT law in court

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced on Tuesday he won’t defend in court the recently enacted measure in his state that’s considered the worst anti-LGBT law in the nation. Cooper, a Democrat who’s running to become the state’s governor, declared he won’t defend House Bill 2 in court at an 11 am news conference at his office in Raleigh. “Over the last 15 years, our office has defended the state, its officials and agencies when they’ve been sued,” Cooper said. “Our office will continue to do that, except it will not defend the constitutionality of the discrimination in House Bill 2.” House Bill 2, signed into law last week by Gov. Pat McCrory after an emergency session of the state legislature, undos all pro-LGBT city ordinances in North Carolina, including the recently approved measure in Charlotte, and prohibits transgender people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity in schools and government buildings. Cooper said his decision is based on LGBT non-discrimination policies in place both in his office and the North Carolina treasurer’s office, which he said are “in direct conflict” with House Bill 2. The treasurer’s office, Cooper said, asked him to represent the office in court to defend the policy in opposition to House Bill 2. “In order to protect our non-discrimination policy and employees along with those of our client, the state treasurer’s office, part of our argument will be that House Bill 2 is unconstitutional,” Cooper said. “Therefore, our office will not represent the defendants in this lawsuit, nor future lawsuits involving the constitutionality of House Bill 2.” Citing the potential economy penalty and loss of business for North Carolina, Cooper said McCrory should call on the state legislature to “fix” House Bill 2 to eliminate what he called discrimination enshrined into state law and avoid litigation altogether. “The fact is we shouldn’t have to be dealing with these lawsuits in the first place,” Cooper said. “This shameful, new law has brought them upon us. Discrimination is wrong. Period. The governor and the legislature should repeal this law. Repeal will save needless litigation costs and will begin to repair our national reputation.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards to Rescind Bobby Jindal’s Horrific Anti-Gay ‘Religious Freedom’ Order

Following GOP Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal‘s decision to veto a horrendous anti-gay “religious freedom” bill on Monday, there is more good news for LGBT rights in the Deep South. On Monday the press secretary for Democratic Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards announced he will rescind the sweeping anti-LGBT executive order signed by his predecessor, former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal last May. Jindal’s order, which resulted in a lawsuit from the ACLU, allows businesses and state agencies to turn away LGBT people based on their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Back in December, after defeating Republican David Vitter in the race to replace Jindal, Gov. Edwards had said he also plans to sign an executive order extending nondiscrimination protections to LGBT government employees and contractors. “Governor Edwards will issue the executive order, but it is in the drafting stage,” his press secretary, Shauna Sanford, told Deadline Hollywood Monday. “As far as Jindal’s religious liberty order, the governor intends to rescind it in the near future.” Jindal issued the executive order after lawmakers killed a bill that would have accomplished the same thing, and just as he was preparing to launch his failed bid for president, in which he polled at around 1 percent among GOP voters.  A similar anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bill has been introduced in Louisiana this year, according to a report from The Advocate of Baton Rouge, but even if it passes, Gov. Edwards likely would veto it.  Meanwhile, Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace is calling for lawmakers to remove the state’s bans on sodomy and same-sex marriage from the books, but she concedes this is also unlikely. More:

Daschle is officially a lobbyist now

Tom Daschle is officially embracing lobbying after a decade of shunning the scarlet L. Health care giant Aetna will be the first official client for the former Democratic leader, who’s now running his own consulting shop within the law firm Baker Donelson. Daschle will lobby for the health insurer on Obamacare implementation and Medicare and Medicaid rule changes, according to a filing with the Senate Secretary. After his 2004 upset loss to John Thune, Daschle joined law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird as a “special policy adviser,” earning as much as $2.1 million a year, but he never registered as a lobbyist. His journey through the revolving door, later with DLA Piper and finally Baker Donelson, helped popularize the now well-trodden path for former officials to cash in on K Street without formally registering as a lobbyists. Under the statutory definition of a lobbyist, policy advisers don’t have to register if they avoid direct contact with lawmakers or spend less than 20 percent of their time lobbying. The provision became widely known as the Daschle loophole. Daschle has maintained that his activities didn’t qualify as lobbying, but those who worked with him said he didn’t want the scarlet L to jeopardize his prospects of returning to public office. His nomination to be Obama’s health secretary was nevertheless thwarted by a tax error. He still became a key adviser to the White House on the Affordable Care Act. Daschle previously registered with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act to represent Taiwan. He’s currently promoting a book co-authored with his Republican counterpart, Trent Lott, now also a lobbyist. The filing for Aetna also names Nicole Carelli and Veronica Pollock. Daschle didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

This presidential campaign is making Americans like Obama — and that’s good for Dems in November

Political scientist Alan Abramowitz emailed over an interesting insight about the effect the presidential race is having on Barack Obama’s numbers — and what that might mean in November:  All the noise being made by the presidential campaign, especially by the Republican campaign, has taken attention away from what may turn out to be more significant for the general election — Barack Obama’s rising approval rating. Obama’s weekly approval rating in the Gallup tracking poll (I ignore the daily fluctuations which are largely meaningless) has risen to its highest level in many months — 53 percent approval vs. 44 percent disapproval for the past week. This is potentially very significant for the November election because much research, including my own, has found that the president’s approval rating is a key predictor of the election results even when the president is not on the ballot. Thus a very unpopular George W. Bush probably doomed John McCain to defeat in 2008 no matter what happened during the campaign that year. A 53-44 approval-disapproval balance would give Democrats a good shot at keeping the White House even if they were not running against a badly divided Republican Party led by perhaps the most unpopular nominee in decades. So why has Obama’s approval rating been rising recently? Several factors may be involved including an improving economy but one of the most important [may] well be the GOP presidential campaign. The more voters see of the leading GOP candidates, the better Obama looks. Along these lines, it is probably not a coincidence that there has been an especially large jump in Obama’s approval rating among women which now stands at 58 percent. For context, Obama’s approval rating at this point in the 2012 cycle was 47 percent, and George W. Bush’s approval rating in 2008 was 28 percent.

L.A. in the Age of O.J.

Barely recovered from four years of Menendez fever, Hollywood is obsessed with the O.J. Simpson circus. Every player in town has his own news and clues, sources and theories—as does the author. When I returned to New York last February, after seven months here covering the first Menendez trial, it never occurred to me that another cataclysmic event, another double homicide in high circles, would bring this city to a halt again so soon. But it has, and I’m back, and there’s quite a lot going on, even though neither trial has started yet. The Menendez brothers, who held the city of Los Angeles in their thrall for four years, have ceased to fascinate the town, so overwhelming is the interest in O. J. Simpson. Simpson is the most famous American to be charged with a violent crime since Fatty Arbuckle was tried for manslaughter back in the 20s, amid rumors that he had inserted a Coca-Cola bottle into a young woman’s vagina during an orgy at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, thereby causing her death. Arbuckle was acquitted after three trials, but his reputation and career were ruined. In the wake of the killings of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman last June, O.J. has superseded all others in history as the town’s top topic, a topic that will continue to captivate until the jury arrives at a verdict, if it does arrive at a verdict. The cynicism of the citizenry about the possibility of a conviction, after two non-verdicts in the Menendez trial, makes “hung jury” and “acquittal” the most often repeated words in the community. More:

Americans are buying more legal pot than Oreos, Girl Scout cookies, and Pringles combined

One of the benefits of marijuana legalization is the rise of a new, multibillion-dollar industry that provides legal jobs to thousands of taxpaying workers. This is one of the main reasons advocates have used to get legalization enacted in Colorado, Washington state, Oregon, and Alaska. But how big is that industry, really? A new chart from Statista puts it in context: US purchases of legal marijuana in 2015, counting retail sales in states where marijuana is legal for medical or recreational purposes, were bigger than Dasani, Girl Scout cookies, Oreos, and Pringles sales combined in 2014. More:


Alabama ranked 3rd most federally dependent state

ith the tax deadline less than a month away, the personal finance website WalletHub followed up on its report on the States with the Highest & Lowest Tax Rates with an in-depth analysis of 2016’s Most & Least Federally Dependent States to determine how dependent states with the lowest tax rates are compared with those paying the highest. The results? For a state that pride’s itself on conservative, small-government values Alabama and Uncle Sam are a lot closer than many Alabamians would imagine.

According to the analysis, Alabama ranked as the 3rd most federally dependent state in the nation, relying heavily on Uncle Sam to support the state’s finances.


Alabama lawmakers weigh what to do with the booming fantasy sports industry

When the Alabama legislature returns from spring break next week, one of the first bills that will receive consideration would create a structure by which the state government can regulate the booming fantasy sports industry. Over 700,000 Alabamians — roughly 20% of the state’s population over the age of 18 — played fantasy sports last year, with the vast majority participating in various NFL and NASCAR fantasy leagues. Here’s how it works:  Season-long fantasy leagues often consist of groups of friends who play for free on websites like ESPN and Yahoo. Daily and weekly fantasy games, however, begin by team managers paying an entry fee — ranging from as little as 25 cents up to $1,000 — to compete against opponents — ranging from dozens of them, to hundreds — for a prize pool that can sometimes be as large as $2 million. Team managers bid on real-life players to assemble a roster, then win or lose based on how their fantasy players perform in real games. Senate Bill 114 — and a companion bill in the House (HB56) — would clarify that fantasy sports are legal in Alabama and “establish the Fantasy Contests Act to regulate the operation of fantasy or simulated contests in the state.” The fantasy sports companies are in favor of the regulation, which clarifies their legitimacy in the state and creates a transparent system of accountability. But some interest groups in Montgomery are pushing for more onerous regulations that would make it difficult for the fantasy sports industry — which generated a jaw-dropping $4.6 billion in revenue in 2015 — to operate in Alabama. The debate over daily fantasy sports really boils down to one fundamental question: Are they games of chance (gambling), or contests of skill? More:


Gov. Bentley, Rebekah Mason no longer attend First Baptist, pastor says

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and his top advisor, Rebekah Mason, with whom he admitted having inappropriate sexual conversations, no longer attend First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, according to a statement from the pastor.  “While church discipline is a church family matter, both Governor Robert Bentley and Mrs. Rebekah Mason are no longer members of First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa,” Senior Pastor Gil McKee told Christian News Network on Friday. “I continue to pray for each of them.” McKee’s administrative assistant Becky Hall this morning said the church had no plans to comment further. There was no elaboration on whether Bentley and Mason gave up their membership voluntarily, or were urged to do so by church leaders.


UNCOVERED: Bentley and Mason co-own secret safe deposit box together

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and his senior advisor and mistress Rebekah Mason share a secret safe deposit box at a Montgomery bank, Yellowhammer News has exclusively learned. The names on the box are Robert J. Bentley and Rebekah A. Mason, who alone share access to the box’s contents. The addresses on the box are the Governor’s Mansion in Montgomery, and Mrs. Mason’s private residence in Tuscaloosa. The box was initially opened on Tuesday, January 5th of this year, and remains open as of this week.  Proof of the box’s existence, which has not been known to the public until now, was provided to Yellowhammer by a confidential source, who shared the indisputable evidence on condition of anonymity. Reasons to open a safe deposit box typically include protecting items from natural disasters at home (fire, flood, etc.); keeping valuables safe; storing important documents; and, perhaps most notably in this instance, storing confidential information in a private and secure location. Yellowhammer asked the governor’s office if Bentley and Mrs. Mason co-own anything together, “for instance, a bank account, safe deposit box or financial instrument of any kind that bears only their names on it together.”  “The Governor has said everything he plans to say on this issue,” replied the Governor’s spokesperson Jennifer Ardis. “He is moving forward.” Revelations of the safe deposit box’s existence further reveal the depth of the governor’s relationship with his senior advisor. Yellowhammer first broke the news of audio recordings exposing their intimate and sometimes explicit conversations last week. Since then, Yellowhammer has released the full audio recordings and transcripts. Governor Bentley has repeatedly denied having a physical relationship with Mrs. Mason, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Yellowhammer sources have confirmed that both the Alabama Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney’s office have launched criminal investigations into possible wrongdoing stemming from Governor Bentley’s inappropriate relationship with Mrs. Mason. Multiple sources close to the investigations say the U.S. Attorney is looking into the possible misuse of state and campaign resources, which former Alabama Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier said he warned Bentley in 2014 could lead to criminal charges. According to Collier, Bentley told him at the time he had not broken any laws, but that he could not end the relationship with Mrs. Mason. On the state level, sources say the AG’s office, which has endured its own share of allegations of impropriety in recent months, is looking into whether Bentley improperly involved himself in the state’s case against House Speaker Mike Hubbard. Additionally, State Auditor Jim Ziegler filed an ethics report questioning Mrs. Mason’s sources of income. She is not a state employee, but in her role as senior advisor is paid through private entities that are not required to reveal their financial information. “It is clear that he is misleading the people of the state about the nature of his relationship, but it is also clear that Ms. Mason is required to either be classified as a public official, or file as a lobbyist, in her capacity as an advisor who is paid by an outside source,” Zeigler said. Zeigler also says the couple “have been using state property and resources in furtherance of their personal relationship.” Bentley denies any wrongdoing.


In Alabama, New Life for the Onetime Sock Capital of the World

FORT PAYNE, Ala. — Nine years ago, when she was 27 and unhappily selling real estate, Gina Locklear went to her parents with a proposition. She wanted to make socks. Not the basic white socks the family had specialized in, but fashionable socks, with organic cotton and dyes. “I want to get into the sock business,” she told them. “I want to make a sustainable sock.” Ms. Locklear, now 36, grew up in the business. Her parents, Terry and Regina Locklear, started a mill in Fort Payne, Ala., in 1991. They made white sport socks for Russell Athletic, millions of them, destined for big-box stores and your own feet if you took gym class. Gina’s younger sister, Emily, recalled the girls going to the mill after school, where they helped their parents sort socks into dozens or played in the bins. Named after the two daughters, Emi-G Knitting bought the Locklears a house, bought Terry a vintage Corvette and paid for the girls’ college educations. Still, the idea of Gina and her parents making organic fashion socks, or any socks at all, seemed totally crazy, given the time and place. The mid-2000s was a devastating period for Fort Payne. Nestled in the state’s mountainous northeast, the town of 14,000 had for decades billed itself as “the Sock Capital of the World.” The cushioned sock was invented here, and one in every eight pairs of socks sold globally was said to be knitted in Fort Payne. At the industry’s peak in the 1990s, more than 120 mills employed roughly 7,500 workers. But cheap foreign labor and free-trade agreements made the town a loser in the game of global economics. Seemingly overnight, the mills closed, and the new Fort Payne became a town in China called Datang. The 2008 financial crisis finished off those who were still hanging on. “It was like a vacuum cleaner pulled all the people out of town,” Terry said. The Locklears held on to their mill, but barely. Orders dried up, including those from Russell Athletic, and they cut the work force to almost nothing. Terry’s goal was to keep the lights on, because he knew if he and Regina closed the doors and turned the power off, they’d never start back up. More:

Paul Ryan coming to Birmingham Wednesday to raise funds for GOP

House Speaker Paul Ryan will be in Birmingham tomorrow to help raise money for Republican congressional candidates. “Speaker Ryan is glad to be in Alabama raising the resources necessary to keep a strong Republican majority in the House of Representatives this November,” said Zack Roday, a spokesman for Team Ryan, the speaker’s political operation. “The Alabama Republican delegation is an important part of that majority; and they are helping lead the way to push bold, conservative reforms to meet the challenges facing our country.” At least two members of Alabama’s House delegation — Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, and Mike Rogers, R-Saks — will be in attendance, according to their offices. A spokesman for Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, said he will be out of the country. Offices for the other three Alabama House Republicans could not immediately be reached. Donations from the Birmingham fundraiser will be going to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the political arm of the House Republicans. The NRCC recruits candidates for House elections and assists vulnerable incumbents. Aderholt is the dean of the Alabama congressional delegation while Rogers, who has been in office since 2003, sits on the Republican Steering Committee. The body determines Republican membership on House committees and decides committee chairmen.

Alabama Republican Assembly Demands Bentley Be Impeached

On Tuesday, March 29, the Alabama Republican Assembly released a statement announcing that it has passed a resolution, calling for both Houses of the Legislature to impeach the embattled Governor Robert Bentley (R). Alabama Republican Assembly President Jennifer Montrose said that the resolution was in response to the allegations of an affair between Governor Bentley and his top political aid, Mrs. Rebekah Caldwell Mason. The group referenced the public accusations by Alabama’s former top law enforcement officer Spencer Collier, and the release of highly sexually suggestive audiotapes as evidence that Bentley acted inappropriately. Montrose said that it is the stated goal of the Alabama Republican Assembly to act as the conscience of the Republican Party and, “this extramarital affair is a violation of the values and beliefs of the Alabama voters, and a betrayal of their trust, and WHEREAS, the Alabama Constitution does specifically state in Section 173 that “moral turpitude while in office” is an impeachable offense.” “THEREFORE, the Alabama Republican Assembly and its members do publicly request that the Republican supermajority in both houses of the Alabama Legislature impeach Governor Robert Bentley in the manner proscribed by the Constitution in the event that he does not willingly resign his position in a timely manner. Jennifer Montrose, President Alabama Republican Assembly.” More:

No Prosecutorial Misconduct, Hubbard Motion Denied

MONTGOMERY—For over 18 months, Speaker Mike Hubbard and his criminal lawyers have accused the State of Prosecutorial Misconduct in its investigation and indictment of Hubbard. They enlisted an army of media hacks, talk show bullies, politicos and PR specialists to persuade, not only the trial judge, but also the public, that the State’s Attorney General’s Office had engaged in a corrupt prosecution of Hubbard, who is charged with 23 felony counts of public corruption. Trial Judge Jacob Walker, III, laid those false claims to rest, late yesterday evening. His order denying Hubbard’s motion to dismiss on prosecutorial misconduct stated, “After considering the briefs of the parties and the testimony and evidence presented at the hearings, the Court is of the opinion that the actions of Mr. Hart do not rise to the level of prosecutorial misconduct as outlined in Nova Scotia, 517 U.S. 456 (1996). Therefore, the Defendant’s motion to dismiss for prosecutorial misconduct is DENIED.” SEE ORDER More:

Education Expert: Alabama ground zero for inappropriate student-teacher sexual relationships

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) – The Alabama Department of Education is tracking the number of investigations they’ve conducted of inappropriate sexual relationships between students
and teachers. As of March 22, that number was 10. That number may not include investigations that occurred in last two to three weeks. Between 2014-2015, the Department of Education investigated nearly 100 cases. Terry Abbott, a former Education Chief of Staff chairman, who is now a chairman of Drive West Communications, has been tracking these cases nationwide. Abbott calls it an epidemic, and said Alabama is ground zero for the problem. In, 2013 the state investigated 35 cases. In 2012, that number was slightly lower at 27. In 2011, the number was 25. “We can’t pretend this isn’t a problem anymore. In some ways when you look at the rate of these cases per population, Alabama is the epicenter of that problem. Too many districts in Alabama and elsewhere have no policy prohibiting secret electronic communication between teachers and students. That’s a highway to hell,” said Abbot. A survey from 2014 conducted by Abbott’s firm revealed that 40 percent of the cases nationwide involved secret communications from teachers to students. Abbott said “classroom predators” are using social media as a tool to lure students into illegal relationships. He said teachers who are women are more likely than men to do this. “Very often the teachers involved in these cases pick on students who they know have problems at home or who have physiological issues that they are dealing with. They know these children are, frankly, easy prey,” Abbott continued. From August through October of 2015, Abbott’s firmed tracked 253 cases of illegal student and school employee relationships. Of that number, 76 were school coaches.
“If I was advising a school district on how to stop this problem, the first thing I would tell them is to go see your coaches because that’s where the biggest group of these cases come from. Coaches are the probably the folks who spend the most time with kids outside of the classroom,” Abbott says. More:


Our view: To keep his job, Gov. Bentley must reveal all, fire Rebekah Mason now

It is tempting to make this a one-sentence editorial: Gov. Robert Bentley, you must resign. And maybe, in the end, that’s the only option. Right now, only Gov. Bentley knows the extent of his actions. If he has violated the law, he should step down. It should be clear to him by now that a full investigation by the press, by state and federal investigators and by his peers will root out any evidence of wrong doing. Mr. Bentley, if there is anything more hidden, you must resign. But, if the man elected by the people to lead this state plans to stay, then he has a more difficult task: to step up, come clean and rid himself of the secrets and compromises clouding his life, his career and the future of our state. Alabamians have set the bar pretty low for their political leadership. Speaker Mike Hubbard was re-elected despite an indictment on 23 felony ethics counts, and then the House re-appointed him as Speaker. The Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore, has previously been evicted from his office by the Federal Government but was easily reelected. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump garnered 43 percent of Alabama Republican support, despite a history of transgressions both personal and public. We find Bentley’s actions embarrassing — to our state, to Bentley, to his senior political adviser, Rebekah Mason. We do not believe the governor’s claims there was nothing more than adolescent phone calls and “inappropriate comments.” One can’t listen to a recording of the governor talking about caressing Mason’s breasts, doing things that warrant locking the office door and declaring love more than a dozen times and reasonably believe this was just a flight of fantasy. And one can’t hear or watch Bentley’s awkwardness at his press conference when asked whether he is in love with Mason and believe it was either just talk, or that it ended long ago. The governor looked very much like a man struggling for balance between saying something that might get him off the hook publicly without getting him in trouble with the woman in questions. But if this was “just” an affair or “just” some sexual hanky-panky, Alabamians could disapprove but separate it from Bentley’s role as governor. That bar was set decades ago by President Bill Clinton and has been reinforced by numerous politicians nationwide. The controversy surrounding Bentley is much more, though, leading to questions about Mason’s political influence. Neither he nor she can hide behind personal privacy on this. Alabamians deserve to know what went on, when it started, and when it ended, if it has. If Bentley intends to stay in office, he must take several immediate and transparent steps: More:


Bentley tried to neuter the guard dog, now he’s gonna get bit

Just when it seemed the junkyard dog of Alabama public corruption investigations might get neutered, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has reminded everyone why we need someone like Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart guarding the grounds. Last month, Hart was on the defensive. A political operative, radio talk show host, lawyer and one-time Kirby vacuum cleaner salesman, Baron Coleman, had flipped on him. Coleman, who Hart insists was a confidential informant, said that he and Hart had as many as 100 conversations about Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard and that Hart had shared information that Coleman inferred had come from the grand jury. Hart is the lead prosecutor in the Hubbard case and he led the grand jury investigation of the speaker, among others. Alabama law has a long list of people who can’t share what goes on behind the grand jury’s doors, including the jurors themselves, witnesses and court reporters. In hearings last month, the prosecution argued that, even if Hart did share information from the grand jury, prosecutors are not named in that list. As a defense goes, that’s pretty thin gruel. Even if technically true, it comes off as a technicality. And it came after a series of blunders by Hart that seemed to endanger the case. Already he had copped to accidentally leaking a sealed document to the media. Hart has had a reputation for being a public corruption avenger, bordering on a zealot. He’s helped put two-year college officials, Jefferson County commissioners, petty bureaucrats and crooked contractors behind bars, but he’s let a few slip the noose, too. Defense lawyers have complained bitterly about his tactics in the grand jury room, hotboxing and bullying witnesses. Even his own colleagues in the Alabama Attorney General’s Office have found themselves there after pushing back against him. All this came to a head with Coleman’s affidavit and the courtroom circus that ensued because of it. For a moment, it seemed that even if Hart survived those accusations and were he allowed to take the Hubbard case before a jury, that might be his last case. And then Bentley and Rebekah Caldwell Mason intervened. Among the allegations Coleman made, he said he had been in contact with state investigators regarding Hart. Hart, in turn, sought affidavits from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency about Coleman and the status of any investigations. ALEA had found no string to pull among Coleman’s claims, and there was no on-going investigation. Court could hear taped conversations between informant, prosecutor on March 3. Nonetheless, Bentley told then-ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier to say the investigation was ongoing. When Collier gave an affidavit telling the truth, Bentley called him and other ALEA employees into a meeting at his office to berate them. Later all those employees were either fired, demoted or transferred. In Collier’s place, Bentley appointed one of his bodyguards, Stan Stabler, who had little to no experience qualifying him to lead the largest law enforcement bureaucracy in the state. His only apparent qualification was that he is loyal to the governor. The whole thing just stinks. It smells of corruption and coverup. And that wretched stench wafts up from the sewers coursing beneath all Montgomery — through state agencies, the State House and the governor’s office. As much as we in the media wish we had the power, we cannot compel public officials to tell the truth. We cannot jail them when they lie. We cannot force them to turn over documents they don’t want us to see, no matter that the law says those documents belong to the public. We cannot break open the impenetrable seal on the governor’s dark money 501(c)4. But there’s someone who can. That someone is Matt Hart. Bentley and Mason tried to neuter the state’s most vicious guard dog. Instead, they showed again why that rabid dog needs to be let off the chain.


Gov. Robert Bentley tries to keep job as politics burns Alabama to the ground

This isn’t politics. Not anymore. It’s some kind of war. Thermonuclear, scorched earth, mutually assured destruction at the highest levels of Alabama government. There’s gonna be nothing left. And we all lose. Look. Gov. Robert Bentley is desperately trying to save his job and his name and his dignity – and he is failing. He tries to hold on, refusing to see that he has no chance to stay governor as long as the object of his misguided affection, political adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason, keeps her job. He’s worried about whether he can stay as his administration has already fallen apart. He is being pounded on social media, hounded at every public appearance. Industrial recruiters are scrambling to hold potential deals together, to gloss over the fact that Gov. Doctor Dr. Robert Bentley (he had his name legally changed to Doctor so it would appear on the ballot) has become nothing but a punch line. And Alabama is the joke. He has to go. That Mason stays in her job is stunning. Questions continue to arise about the money she and her husband were paid, why he received raises in 2014 when no one else did. There are questions of how Bentley and Mason used state aircraft as their own personal Uber-Air, and whether state and federal agencies are looking to see if the governor used state money to carry out an improper relationship. State Auditor Jim Zeigler filed an ethics complaint, ostensibly paving the way for a state investigation. But while some Legislators have called for him to step down, there has been no great wave to push him out. Because, frankly, many lawmakers fear what would happen if Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey were to take over as governor.  It doesn’t matter to them that she – just like the rest of them — was duly elected by the people of Alabama, or that one of her most important reasons for being is to take over if the governor cannot fulfill his duties. Lawmakers whisper she’s unfit to serve as governor, though nobody wants to talk about anything but the failure of the Prepaid Affordable College Tuition (PACT) Program on her watch. It’s just destruction all around. The State’s top law enforcement officer, Spencer Collier, spilled the beans on Bentley’s indiscretions last week, and was fired the same day in the crossfire of accusations. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has  said it forwarded  information on alleged financial improprieties on Collier’s watch to the Alabama Attorney General’s office for potential investigation. Attorney General Luther Strange, by the way, is the guy who recused himself from two of the biggest cases in Alabama right now, including the investigation of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard. Hubbard, of course, is awaiting trial on 23 felony ethics violations. And the Legislature has been as gutless in dealing with him it has been with Bentley. So to recap: The governor is an embarrassment. The lieutenant governor is distrusted. The state’s top cop is fired under a cloud. The House Speaker is indicted. The Legislature looks away. The attorney general, who is supposed to clean it all up, has a habit of stepping aside. And if any of this comes before the courts Roy Moore is there to decide right and wrong. This is not a war. It’s a massacre, and annihilation. The very people Alabama elected to manage the state and help it to prosper are the ones who burned our village to the ground and salted the fields. And the only one – the only one – to make sense these days is Zeigler, who was the guy in this inaugural class voted least likely to make sense. Now he looks like the best Alabama has to offer. It is time we demanded better. Not just from them, but from ourselves.

Judge: Mike Hubbard will go to trial and prosecutor did not leak

It has been a tough few days for Alabama’s top public officials. First Gov. Robert Bentley had his embarrassing phone sex moments blasted across the internet, and now Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard has his best hopes dashed. His trial, on 23 felony ethics violations, will go on. Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker today ruled against Hubbard on claims of prosecutorial misconduct and vindictive prosecution by special prosecutor Matt Hart. Walker set a trial date for May 9. So the case goes on. Walker in his order said he reviewed evidence from Hart’s many conversations with radio host Baron Coleman, who had testified that he and Hart talked often about the case. “Upon review of the recorded and written materials, the Court is of the opinion that Mr. Hart appears to have been investigating reported grand jury ‘leaks’ by asking Mr. Coleman where certain information originated rather than ‘leaking’ information to Mr. Coleman himself,” the judge wrote. “The Court could not infer that Mr. Hart ‘leaked’ grand jury information to Mr. Coleman or others.” Walker did rule that Coleman may testify about those conversations. Hubbard Ruling

Morning Money

LEW DEFENDS SANCTIONS — Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in remarks to be delivered this morning at the Carnegie Endowment for Int’l Peace: “Not long ago, conventional wisdom dismissed sanctions as blunt, ineffective instruments … . The sanctions we employ today are different … [They are] a powerful force in service of clear and coordinated foreign policy objectives — smart power for situations where diplomacy alone is insufficient, but military force is not the right response.

“They must remain a powerful option for decades to come … we must be strategic and judicious in how we apply sanctions to challenging situations around the world.” Live stream 8:45AM:

INSANITY 2016: LEWANDOWSKI CHARGED — POLITICO’s Hadas Gold and Nick Gass: “Donald Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was charged on Tuesday with simple battery related to an incident earlier this month in which a reporter for Breitbart accused Lewandowski of roughly grabbing her arm. Within minutes, Trump’s campaign blasted out a statement defending its top aide, who turned himself into Florida authorities earlier in the day.

“Trump himself followed up on Twitter, strongly defending Lewandowski and asserting that footage of the encounter proves that he’s innocent. ‘Wow, Corey Lewandowski, my campaign manager and a very decent man, was just charged with assaulting a reporter. Look at tapes-nothing there!’ Trump wrote. .. Fields, who has since resigned from Breitbart, shot back on Twitter, ‘Because my story never changed. Seriously, just stop lying.’”

STRAIGHTFORWARD CASE — POLITICO’s Marc Caputo: “Despite … Trump’s insistence that it’s a flimsy case, the battery charge against his campaign manager is straightforward for Florida prosecutors, according to independent attorneys and a reading of state statute. The strength of the allegations against Corey Lewandowski revolve around multiple factors that most simple battery cases don’t have: video, audio and eye-witness evidence that indicates he grabbed reporter Michelle Fields by the arm and yanked her out of Trump’s way without her permission”

FIRST LOOK: CONSERVATIVE GROUPS ON REGULATORY COSTS — From a letter to members of Congress going out Wednesday from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform and other conservative groups: “The undersigned organizations call on Congress to implement a regulatory cost budget to address federal regulations, which frequently have the effect of tax increases. Like federal spending, regulations and their costs should be capped, tracked and disclosed annually.

“The need for reform is urgent. The government’s cost burden imposed on American families and businesses extends well beyond taxes, deficits, and borrowing. The country spends hundreds of billions of dollars annually on red tape. That’s a big drain on the economy, entrepreneurship and job creation”

AMERICA IS WINNING — NYT’s Binyamin Appelbaum: “The United States is in the midst of one of the longest economic expansions in its history. Even American factories have lately added hundreds of thousands of jobs. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is stumbling. Even China. Yet at perhaps the least likely moment in the last several decades, misgivings about globalization are playing a starring role in the presidential election.

“Why now? Anger about unbalanced trade has helped to fuel the rise of … Trump … and the success of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont … It is a situation that has surprised many experts because polls show voters’ concern about the overall health of the American economy has declined significantly in recent years. … The United States is no longer losing factory jobs. It has added 600,000 over the last five years. Beijing is no longer suppressing its currency; it’s now trying to prop up the value. Politically, however, it appears that the moment is perfectly ripe.”

WE ARE NOT “LOSING” TO CHINA — FT’s Sam Fleming: “Trump … has repeatedly pledged to bring millions of jobs back to the US as he claims unfair overseas competition has stopped the US from’ winning’. A new report claims, however, that the movement of factory jobs out of the country was last year more than balanced by the number of new posts being brought into the US. …

“Research from the non-profit Reshoring Initiative shows that foreign direct investment and reshoring of activity by US-headquartered companies added 67,000 manufacturing jobs to the US in 2015. That slightly exceeded the organisation’s estimate for the number of jobs moving abroad.”

GOOD WEDNESDAY MORNING — Greetings from Wisconsin, where MM is talking to business owners and entrepreneurs about the state of the 2016 race. Spoiler alert: They aren’t real happy about it. Look for more coming soon. Email me on and follow me on Twitter@morningmoneyben.

WHY WE LOVE WHAT WE DO — So many of you sent kind notes on what and where to eat in Wisconsin. Thus far it’s been mostly all work, no fun. But we hope to follow up on some of the great suggestions on Wednesday.

Here is a great sample of the many tips, from Jim Picard, Vice President at Denali Home Loans in Alaska: “If you make it anywhere near Marinette, WI, stop at Mickey Lu’s, a hamburger joint that has been around for 50 plus years. When visiting family in that area, we stop in for lunch or dinner at least every other day, and will order 50 cheeseburgers frozen and hauled back to Alaska.” That’s a lot of cheeseburgers!

THIS MORNING ON POLITICO PRO FINANCIAL SERVICES — Patrick Temple-West on the potential that the CFTC will accommodate blockchain — and to get Morning Money every day before 6 a.m. — please contact Pro Services at (703) 341-4600

HAPPENING TODAY: WOMEN IN HOUSING AND FINANCE — At 6pm in DC, an all star roster including Sarah Bianchi, Head of Global Policy Development, Airbnb and Jill E. Sommers, Senior Advisor, Patomak Global Partners and a former CFTC.

ARE WE SLEEPING ON BREXIT? — Via Political Alpha: “Three of the last four individual polls since early March have given an edge to the ‘leave’ campaign … The ISIS attacks on Brussels Airport and metro station Maelbeek are more grist to the mill of the pro-Brexit camp, who are exploiting the attacks for their own political gain. …

“[T]here is increasing concern within the Bank of England about the negative consequences of Brexit. … The moment the ECB or other continental central banks start leaking that they have actually estimated the fallout of Brexit, we should expect additional volatility in the markets.”

YELLEN GOES SLOW — POLITICO’s Jon Prior: “The Federal Reserve is going to raise its main borrowing rate at a slower pace than officials expected when they raised it from near zero at the end of last year, Chair Janet Yellen said … ‘Reflecting global economic and financial developments since December, however, the pace of rate increases is now expected to be somewhat slower,’ Yellen said in her prepared remarks at the Economic Club of New York. …

“Since earlier in the year, the market has been expecting the Fed to move slower than officials have signaled, which Yellen said has pushed borrowing rates lower and offset some of the impact from economic struggles abroad”

WHEN DOVES CRY — Mohamed A. El-Erian on Bloomberg View: “Markets had a predictable immediate reaction to comments by … Yellen on Tuesday that they interpreted as relatively dovish signals about the thinking of the world’s most important central bank. Within minutes of her remarks, risk assets rose, government bond yields fell, the dollar weakened and the VIX declined.

“Sustaining this trend will require two policy signals, one short-term and one longer-term — assuming that the global economic environment remains relatively stable.”

NEXT HIKE? WHO KNOWS?! — Bloomberg: “While the Fed chair steered clear of telegraphing an April or June rate hike, that was probably intentional. Neither she nor anyone else on the FOMC knows if the global climate for growth will have improved enough by then to warrant action. …

“For that reason, Yellen also drove home the message that when officials don’t know, they either don’t change policy at all, or only move gradually. … If her audience at the Economic Club of New York still didn’t get the message, a footnote in the text of her speech stated ‘uncertainty and greater downside risk’ when the Fed’s policy rate is so close to zero ‘call for greater gradualism.’”

MM TRANSLATION — We might hike rates this later this year or not, whatevs, go watch Trump and leave us alone.

NO ROOM TO GROW — FT’s Sam Fleming: “[Yellen] stressed that the Fed had little scope to reverse course and stimulate the economy … She homed in on risks still stewing in China and the oil markets as she argued … for the central bank to move carefully as it considers when to lift rates again. Treasuries rallied as Ms Yellen spoke, with traders at CRT Capital characterising the remarks as a ‘surprisingly dovish take on the current policy stance and near-term outlook’. …

“The dollar slid to its lowest levels in a week as investors shifted their bets of when the US central bank would next lift rates. Odds that the Fed will next increase benchmark rates in September slipped to 52 per cent from 59 per cent a day earlier, while the Federal Funds curve implied that rates would not top 1 per cent until mid-2018.”

TREASURY ON GOP PUERTO RICO BILL — Per a Treasury Spokesperson on Draft Puerto Rico Legislation Released by the House Natural Resources Committee: “We appreciate the constructive efforts by Chairman Bishop and the House Natural Resources Committee to begin drafting legislation to address Puerto Rico’s fiscal and economic crisis.

“But the current draft needs improvements. As the Administration put forth in its Roadmap for Congressional Action, Puerto Rico urgently needs the ability to comprehensively restructure its financial liabilities paired with independent oversight that respects the Commonwealth’s self-governance.”

XI IN CRISIS? — WP’s Simon Denyer: “A series of extraordinary outbursts of public criticism of Chinese President Xi Jinping in recent weeks has raised the question of whether his crackdown on dissent is backfiring. The sniping has come from the highest levels of the business community and the media, but most tellingly from within the Communist Party itself. At its core is a growing unhappiness with Xi’s attempts to centralize power and crush dissent, both within the party and outside.

“No one is predicting that China’s president is about to be toppled or even that he is about to change course. More likely is that Xi will be so preoccupied with internal politics that he continues to shy away from the painful changes needed to resuscitate China’s slowing economy. He may also continue to take policy in a more nationalist direction to bolster his support.”

SCOTUS IN CRISIS? — WSJ’s Jess Bravin: “The post-Scalia era burst forth Tuesday at the Supreme Court in a pair of developments that reveal the new dynamic of an eight-member panel equally divided between conservatives and liberals. The justices in one action deadlocked 4-4 over a lawsuit involving government-employee unions, dismissing with a single sentence a case many had expected to deliver a debilitating blow to a key segment of the Democratic Party base.

“The decision leaves intact a 1977 precedent authorizing the unions to collect mandatory dues from employees they represent, a practice allowed in more than 20 states. In a separate order later Tuesday, the justices took the extraordinary step of framing their own compromise to a dispute between religious organizations opposed to contraception and the Obama administration, which seeks to ensure female employees receive insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. At last week’s arguments the case appeared headed for another 4-4 split between the court’s conservatives and liberals.”

THE IPHONE GOT CRACKED. NOW WHAT? — NYT’s Katie Benner, John Markoff and Nicole Perloth: “Now that the United States government has cracked open an iPhone … the tech company is under pressure to find and fix the flaw. But unlike other cases where security vulnerabilities have cropped up, Apple may face a higher set of hurdles in ferreting out and repairing the particular iPhone hole that the government hacked.

“The challenges start with the lack of information about the method that the law enforcement authorities, with the aid of a third party, used to break into the iPhone … Federal officials have refused to identify the person, or organization, who helped crack the device, and have declined to specify the procedure used to open the iPhone. Apple also cannot obtain the device to reverse-engineer the problem, the way it would in other hacking situations.”

ASIA RISES — Reuters: “Asian shares rallied on Wednesday as markets scaled back expectations for how fast and how far U.S. interest rates might rise this year, bruising the dollar and boosting sovereign bonds. … The sea change came after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen emphasised global dangers to growth and inflation, and thus the need to proceed “cautiously” on tightening policy. … . Fed fund futures jumped as investors priced out any a chance of a hike in April and only a slim probability of a move in June. The December contract implies a rate of just 57 basis points compared to the current 37 basis points.”

POTUS Events

9:55 am || Hosts an Easter Prayer Breakfast; State Dining Room
11:00 am || Receives the Presidential Daily Briefing
3:15 pm || Meets with Secretary of State Kerry

All times Eastern
Live Stream of Easter Prayer Breakfast at 9:55 am and White House briefing at 12:45 pm

Floor Action

Senate out for a state work period and will return April 1.  House returns April 12.


Six Tips You Should Know about Employee Business Expenses

If you paid for work-related expenses out of your own pocket, you may be able to deduct those costs. In most cases, you can claim allowable expenses if you itemize on IRS Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. You can deduct the amount that is more than two percent of your adjusted gross income. Here are six other facts you should know:

  1. Ordinary and Necessary.  You can only deduct unreimbursed expenses that are ordinary and necessary to your work as an employee. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your industry. A necessary expense is one that is appropriate and helpful to your business.
  2. Expense Examples.  Some costs that you may be able to deduct include:
    • Required work clothes or uniforms not appropriate for everyday use.
    • Supplies and tools you use on the job.
    • Business use of your car.
    • Business meals and entertainment.
    • Business travel away from home.
    • Business use of your home.
    •  Work-related education.

This list is not all-inclusive. Special rules apply if your employer reimbursed you for     your expenses. To learn more, check out Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions. You should also refer to Publication 463, Travel, Entertainment, Gift and Car Expenses.

  1. Forms to Use.  In most cases, you report your expenses on Form 2106 or Form 2106-EZ. After you figure your allowable expenses, you then list the total on Schedule A as a miscellaneous deduction.
  2. Educator Expenses. If you are a K-12 teacher, you may be able to deduct up to $250 of certain expenses you paid in 2015. These may include books, supplies, equipment and other materials used in the classroom. You claim this deduction as an adjustment on your return, rather than an itemized deduction. For more on this topic see Publication 529.
  3. Keep Records. You must keep records to prove the expenses you deduct. For what records to keep, see Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax.
  4. IRS Free File. Most people qualify to use free, brand-name software to prepare and e-file their federal tax returns with IRS Free File. Free File software will help you determine if you can deduct your expenses. It will do the math, fill out the forms and e-file your return – all for free. Check your other e-file options if you can’t use Free File.

Visit to view, download or print IRS tax products anytime.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on