For many Americans, the fact that the 116th Congress has only been active for around two months seems impossible. So much has gone on since it was sworn in on January 3, 2019 that it can seem dizzying to review the activity swirling around it. First, the entire Congress was sworn in while the government was shutdown. Both houses got to work and remained active for more than a month before the government reopened, conditionally.
Negotiations on budget expenditures and methods for avoiding another harmful shutdown took up a great deal of time and attention. Though President Trump signed the budget that allowed the Treasury to release the funds, he also indicated he would declare a state of emergency in order to obtain full funding for the southern border wall between the United States and Mexico. This triggered an array of activity by Congress with both houses presenting bills, laws and resolutions meant to address this situation in one way or another.
In addition to the activity and even the conflicts this has created, the “regular” work of Congress has had to continue. Senators and House Representatives alike have been introducing or re-introducing items of significance to their constituents and causes, with both houses taking action on major issues.
Also, there has been a great deal of activity on the part of Senators and House Representatives where the “Russia Investigation” is concerned, as well as the appearance of former lawyer Michael Cohen, who testified before the House Oversight Committee about issues relating to his work for President Trump, and all while the President was meeting with North Korea’s leaders in order to negotiate some sort of nuclear weapons agreement.
Suffice it to say, anyone in a Congressional post is not going to be able to avoid long hours of work in the coming weeks or months. That applies to Senator Mike Crapo, a Republican senior Senator for the state of Idaho.
In this article, we are going to look at Senator Crapo, with the goal of exploring his background and political career, financial backers and the work he does in any Senate Committees and/or non-legislative caucuses. We will also look at any legislation he has introduced or re-introduced thus far in the 116th Congress. Our goal is to fairly gauge whether he operates under any undue influence from his financial backers or others.
About Senator Mike Crapo
Mike Crapo was born in 1951 in Idaho and attended high school in Idaho Falls before moving on to Brigham Young University, where he earned his BA in political science. He obtained a JD from Harvard Law School in 1977 and served as a clerk to a federal judge before practicing law in his brother’s firm. However, only three years after completing his legal studies he was already becoming active in politics, and when his brother Terry died in office in 1982 (in the Idaho State Senate), Mike Crapo ran for and won the open seat.
During his tenure, he was president of the Senate and even served as governor for a 12 hour period when both the governor and lieutenant governor were out of state. In 1992, he won a Congressional seat in the House of Representatives and served three terms before winning his seat in the Senate in 1988. He has run for and been re-elected to that post ever since. He is the first person of the Mormon faith to represent his state in the Senate and is a very popular politician.
At his official website, he credits his “commonsense approach and collaborative, creative problem-solving” for his ongoing success as a senator. Continuing, he states that it is also his willingness to listen that has enabled him to “achieve lasting solutions to issues of importance to Idahoans and the nation.”
Senator Crapo indicates that the key issues for Idahoans are:
- Banking and financial services
- Cultural diversity
- Defense and the global war on terrorism
- Domestic violence
- Economy, jobs and business
- Environment and natural resources
- Foreign affairs
- Native Americans
- Second Amendment
- Social Security
- The Constitution, Courts and Judiciary
Does the legislation he sponsors or cosponsors reflect any of these issues? Actually, the four items he has sponsored thus far do look at education, transportation, the judiciary and committee rules.
Additionally, he has backed another 31 pieces of legislation, with some bipartisan issues as well as party-line issues.
Rather than diving straight into the legislative issues, he has emphasized in the 116th Congress, it is important first to determine where other indicators of influence could appear. To get a clear idea, we’ll first consider the various committees and non-legislative caucuses that the senator is active within. By doing so, we may see some discrepancies or misalignment with his state priorities, and if we then look at financial supporters, it can help to clarify any concerns. Only then, can we see if legislative efforts are questionable.
Senator Mike Crapo’s Committee Work
For the 116th Congress, Senator Mike Crapo is a member of the following Senate Committees:
- Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs (chair)
- Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development
- Subcommittee on Financial Institutions
- Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance and Investment
- Committee on the Budget
- Committee on Judiciary
- Committee on Finance
- Subcommittee on Health Care
- Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure
- Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness
- Committee on Indian Affairs
He also serves on a few caucuses and non-legislative committees that include:
- Air Force Caucus
- Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus
- Congressional COPD Caucus
- Congressional Fire Services Caucus
- Congressional Internet Caucus
- Congressional Sportsman’s Caucus
- Co-Chair, Congressional Sportsman’s Caucus
- Congressional Word Trade Organization Caucus for Farmers & Ranchers
- Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Caucus
- Potato Caucus
- Renewables and Energy Efficiency Caucus
- Senate 4-H Caucus
- Senate Biotechnology Caucus
- Senate Medical Technology Caucus
- Senate Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children Caucus
- Senate National Guard Caucus
- Senate Native Americans Caucus
- Founder, Senate Nuclear Cleanup Caucus
- Co-Chair, Senate Nuclear Cleanup Caucus
- Senate Nuclear Cleanup Caucus
- Senate Philanthropy Caucus
- Senate Produce Caucus
- Senate Republican Conference Task Force on Hispanic Affairs
- Senate Rural Healthcare Caucus
- Co-Chair, Senate Sweetener Caucus
- Senate Sweetener Caucus
- Co-Chair, Senate Western Caucus
- Senate Western Caucus
- United Service Organization (USO) Congressional Caucus
- Western Water Caucus
- Zero Capital Gains Tax Caucus
- National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, 2010
- Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, United States Senate, 2001-2008
- Founder, Congressional Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Caucus, 2003
- House Republican Leadership, 1993-1994
Does this high volume of committee and subcommittee work indicate undue influence? An accurate evaluation would deem it an indicator of the Senator’s priorities. After all, he clearly says he is concerned with agriculture, natural resources, foreign affairs, banking, and more. It is easy to see such issues behind his participation in these committees and caucuses.
As already indicated, though, if we hope to see any undue influence we need to highlight where such influences might originate. That begins with a look at the industries and other groups that supported Senator Crapo during the 2016 election cycle.
The Top Industries Funding Senator Mike Crapo’s Campaign Efforts
According to the Open Secrets Website, Senator Crapo was a top recipient from a few specific industries. Note that any with a #1 next to them indicate that he was the Senator who received the highest amount from that specific industry, i.e., an “industry favorite”.
- Credit Unions (#1)
- Mortgage bankers and brokers (#2)
The list does not mean that those industries were his highest contributors, i.e., contributed the most towards the campaign. Specifically, the top 20 industries that contributed to Senator Crapo’s Campaign Committee in 2016 were (in ranking order):
- Securities & Investment
- Leadership PACs
- Commercial Banks
- Real Estate
- Health Services/HMOs
- Finance/Credit Companies
- Lawyers and Law Firms
- Miscellaneous Finance
- Pharmaceuticals/Health Products
- Health Professionals
- Oil and Gas
- Miscellaneous Manufacturing & Distributing
- Miscellaneous Issues
- Crop Production & Basic Processing
- Electronics Manufacturing and Equipment
- Hospitals/Nursing Homes
Again, we see some overlap in Senator Crapo’s established priorities, i.e., railroads, banking, healthcare, and so on. Yet, it takes an even more refined examination of the specific firms contributing to his campaign to gauge a heavy or unanticipated amount of influence. Thus far, we looked at very broad industry support (those in which the Senator ranked highly), the more itemized headings that pointed towards the industries that gave the most. Now, we can look at specific businesses.
Note that the entities in the list below did not donate directly to the campaign but worked with PACs or had direct employee contributions in order to beidentified as the largest individual campaign contributors. For the 2016 campaign, Senator Crapo’s greatest contributions came from:
- Stephens Group – Private investment firm
- DaVita HealthCare Partners – National managed care provider
- Votesane PAC – Non-partisan portal to stay informed and get involved
- Capital Group – American financial services company and one of the oldest in the world
- Sullivan & Cromwell – International law firm
- Watco Companies – Kansas-based transportation firm
- MetLife Inc – National insurance firm offering life, auto, home, dental, vision and other forms of insurance
- Carlyle Group – “American multinational private equity, alternative asset management and financial services corporation”
- Apollo Global Management – American public equity firm
- Blackstone Group – Global investment firm
Does the basic nature of the businesses that support Senator Crapo offer any illumination into the matter of influence? We see a lot of financial and investment firms, a single transportation group and a single insurance company. This doesn’t really clarify matters unless we find that Senator Crapo’s activities focus on anything of benefit to such groups specifically.
Using all that we have learned about Senator Crapo, and contrasting it against any bills, laws or resolutions that he has backed during the 116th Congress, is the best way to determine solid answers to any questions we might have about influence and other issues.
A Review of Senator Mike Crapo’s Activities for the 116th Congress – To Date
The 116th Congress is around two months into its term, and there are already more than 875 pieces of legislation presented. This is half of what the House of Representatives is dealing with but still illustrates how active Congress has already been.
To date, Senator McConnel has sponsored 4 pieces of legislation and put his name as a cosponsor to 31. That is substantially less than many fellow senators, but that does not mean he is inactive. In fact, the senator is an active writer of editorials and opinions as well as a busy legislator. We’ll look at a few of the items with his name appearing as a co-sponsor as well as sponsor to help us get a clear portrait of Senator Crapo’s focus and the issues he’s addressing.
A brief review of the items he has co-sponsored thus far include:
- J.Res 3 – A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to balancing the budget.
This was a Republican-led initiative that meant to amend the Constitution and prohibit “total outlays for a fiscal year from exceeding total receipts for that fiscal year unless Congress authorizes the excess by a two-thirds vote of each chamber. The prohibition excludes outlays for repayment of debt principal and receipts derived from borrowing.”
It would have also required the President to submit a budget in which outlays did not exceed total receipts and 18% of the GDP of the U.S. It would have prohibited any court ordering a revenue increase to enforce the requirements.
The goal, ultimately, and according to Senator Hyde-Smith who introduced it would be to require “the President to submit, and Congress to approve, a balanced budget each year,” and was clearly inspired by the shutdown.
He also co-sponsored the End Government Shutdowns Act, introduced on January 10, which was also in response to the shutdown. That same day, Senator Crapo also sponsored S.92 – Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2019 which describes itself as the REINS Act and legislation meant to “result in more carefully drafted and detailed legislation, an improved regulatory process, and a legislative branch that is truly accountable to the American people for the laws imposed upon them.” This, however, is a response to the shutdown as it says it intends to “amend chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, to provide that major rules of the executive branch shall have no force or effect unless a joint resolution of approval is enacted into law.”
Constitutional issues are important to any Senator or House Rep, and Senator Crapo seems to take firmer stands on very specific issues relating to Constitutional changes.
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is something that Senator Crapo is passionate about defending, and he has also cosponsored a few of the gun law related items presented to the 116th Senate, including:
- 69 – Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2019
- 94 – Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act
- 202 – the SHUSH Act
- Res. 44 – A resolution raising awareness and encouraging the prevention of stalking by designating January 2019 as “National Stalking Awareness Month”
Though S.542 – A bill to protect the right of law-abiding citizens to transport knives interstate, notwithstanding a patchwork of local and State prohibitions is not gun-related, it is linked to weapons’ laws and has the Senator’s co-sponsorship.
In addition to gun laws, he is also outspoken as a pro-life (anti-abortion) politician, and he co-sponsored almost every piece of pro-life legislation introduced to the Senate thus far, including:
This complexly worded bill would prohibit any facility or provider in receipt of federal funding to provide, counsel or recommend abortion.
This is often referred to as the Defunding Planned Parenthood Actand it seeks to end federal support to the organization as it continues to offer abortions and counsel about them.
This bill is also entitled the “implement equal protection under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States for the right to life of each born and preborn human person,” and would deem an unborn human (fetus) equal under the law.
This is a bill that would result in the banning of abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless it was deemed medically necessary to save the life of the mother. It also indicates that any abortion done after 20 weeks would provide every opportunity to allow the fetus to survive the procedure.
This is a reintroduction of legislation based on the 2017 “Mexico City Policy” that applies to foreign NGOs receiving funding for global health assistance. Such funding would be withdrawn or blocked if that NGO offered abortions. It prohibits those entities from receiving any financial support if they “lobby for, refer for, perform, advertise for, or promote abortion in foreign countries or if they provide funding to other foreign NGOs that participate in these activities.”
This is simply a resolution to make the Mexico City Policy permanent U.S. foreign policy.
Identical bills, S.311 has had movement on the Senate floor. The bills createlegislation that “requires that when an abortion results in the live birth of an infant, health care practitioners must exercise the same degree of professional skill and care to protect the newborn as would be offered to any other child born alive at the same gestational age. It also requires that the living child, after appropriate care has been given, be immediately transported and admitted to a hospital.”
Currently, federal law does not protect a child who survives an abortion, and this bill targets late-term abortions, requiring medical care for any live births that result.
It is not necessary for us to go through the specifics of each piece of the abortion-related legislation that Senator Crapo has supported to seek undue influence. There is not going to be any pressure from financial backers because a pro-life stance is a Republican party stance. The senator is simply supporting his fellow Republicans AND voting on behalf of the majority of voters who elected him to office, most of which are Republican and/or pro-life advocates.
He also supports his fellow Idaho senator, James Risch, by co-sponsoring some of his legislation. This includes S.79 – A bill to authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to maintain or replace certain facilities and structures for commercial recreation services at Smith Gulch in Idaho, and for other purposes, which relates to S.47 the Natural Resources Management Act that actually passed the Senate on February 12, 2019.
Senator Risch also introduced S.372 Statistical Area Fairness Act of 2019 in early February, and which Senator Crapo co-sponsored. This bill aims to limit the “impact of the presence of large Federal installations” in rural counties.
Other legislation he has co-sponsored includes:
- 164 – TRICARE Reserve Improvement Act
- 174 – Securing Energy Infrastructure Act
- 177 – Promotion and Expansion of Private Employee Ownership Act of 2019
- Rex.23 – A resolution supporting the goals and ideals of Countering International Parental Child Abduction Month and expressing the sense of the Senate that Congress should raise awareness of the harm caused by international parental child abduction
- 215 Death Tax Repeal of 2019
- 226 – Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2019
- Res.27 – A resolution calling for a prompt multinational freedom of navigation operation in the Black Sea and urging the cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline
Clearly, these are not related concepts, but each is a reflection of one or more of the Senator’s stated interests. Veterans and active service members, energy, taxes and finance, Native Americans…these are all touched on within such legislative acts. There are other items he has supported, and these look at everything from foreign policy to transparency in government, immigration, and more.
He does not always lean towards Republican initiatives alone and voted in a unique bipartisan bill on immigration, S.386 meant to “amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrants, to increase the per-country numerical limitation for family-sponsored immigrants, and for other purposes.”
Taking these pieces of legislation on their own, we cannot see any undue influence from financial supporters of Senator Crapo.
5 of Senator Mike Crapo’s Bills for the 116th Congress – To Date
Now that we have done a very general overview of his action let’s take a much closer look at five specific items.
A bicameral (meaning it was introduced to both the House and Senate) bill with bipartisan support, it is the work of Senator Cory Gardner and House Rep. Ken Buck. As Congressman Buck said, “The WATER Act is a commonsense, free-market solution that will help support our local economies, address the rising cost of water and assist our farmers and ranchers to ensure funds are reinvested in rural water infrastructure.”
If passed into law, it would allow “mutual irrigation and ditch companies to use their own assets to pay for infrastructure improvements that are vital to their operations, which keeps water prices lower for users.”
Good for consumers, farmers and ranchers, it would “supply an avenue for water infrastructure to be built … supporting agricultural communities by providing access to an affordable water supply.”
As Senator Crapo has stated that agriculture is one of his key priorities, as well as the environment, this greener initiative shows he has his constituents’ interests as a guiding point, here.
This bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
Introduced to the Senate on January 10, 2019, this bill is co-sponsored by Senator Risch (the other senator from Idaho). The goal is simple – getting a third federal judge for the state. As a press release from the Senator’s office noted, “Idaho is one of only three states (North Dakota and Vermont are the others) with only two authorized judge seats for the entire state….Since 2003, the Judicial Conference of the U.S. has consistently found Idaho to be facing a judicial emergency based on weighted caseload numbers per active judge. Idaho is in a precarious position with only two authorized federal judges, and faces further difficulties and shortages with current judges reaching retirement eligibility.”
Senator Crapo, himself, pointed out that “The ability to deliver justice to people in Idaho has been severely delayed due to the lack of a third federal district judge.” Noting that other judges have stepped in to help, it is resulting in huge backlogs and lots of overtime required. Citing population growth, challenging geography and that huge caseload, the senators hope to get the state a new judge as soon as possible.
With three different titles:
- BRACE Act of 2019
- Building Rail Access for Customers and the Economy Act of 2019
- A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to extend the railroad track maintenance credit permanently, and for other purposes
The goal of this bill is straightforward – it seeks to “make permanent a critical tax credit used to repair and upgrade short line railroads”.
As Senator Crapo noted upon introducing the bipartisan bill on January 24, 2019, “Our agriculture communities rely on small business freight railroads to connect their products to markets across the nation and around the globe. These are crucial economic corridors that serve our communities across the nation. This measure will allow short line railroads to make long-term plans for infrastructure repairs and upgrades, improving the link between our rural communities and the national freight railroad network.”
In the past, this tax credit has enabled rail expansion projects across the senator’s home state of Idaho, and his hope that making permanent would allow communities across the nation to upgrade, maintain, repair and greatly benefit from the use of railroad as a means of shipping or transportation.
Dating to 2006, Congress has “acted periodically to extend the credit, often retroactively. This uncertainty causes private investment in short line rail to decline, reduces safety and customer service, and provides uncertainty to businesses, farmers, and employers that cannot be globally competitive without freight rail.” If passed into law this legislation would allow credits for 2018 investments to be applied retroactively.
The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
At the opening of the 116th Congress, Senator Crapo was chosen to serve once again as the Chair of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. This is the committee that oversees “matters regarding financial services, capital markets, mortgages, urban development, transit, international sanctions and reviewing foreign investment activity.”
This Resolution was introduced on February 6, 2019. It is one in which the Senate was asked to authorize expenditures by the Committee for the 116th Congress. Plain and simple legislation, it is broken out into several key sections:
Section 1. General Authority.
Sec. 2. Expenses.
Sec. 3. Expenses and Agency Contributions.
It explains that the expenses of the Committee for the period ending February 28, 2010 “under this resolution shall not exceed $2,317,085”.
With the shutdown fresh in the minds of all members of Congress, and not solid plans made for avoiding another, this may have felt like a crucial step for any Committee seeking to continue its work without delays or problems in the future.
The Resolution was referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration but is not agreed to in the Senate.
Another bipartisan initiative on the part of Senator Crapo, it was reintroduced to the Senate on February 11, 2019. It had been introduced to the 115th Congress late in 2018 but did not pass the Senate.
At that time, Senators Crapo and Wyden (Democrat from Oregon) said it would “provide much-needed financial certainty for rural counties to ensure they have the long-term funding needed for schools, road maintenance, law enforcement and other essential services.”
Known then as the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act it sought to make the Secure Rural Schools Act permanent. That act had expired at the end of the 2018 fiscal year. The goal of the December 2018 bill was to establish an “endowment fund to provide stable, increasing and reliable funding for county services.”
At that time, Senator Crapo explained, “Establishing a growing endowment for the Secure Rural Schools program will end the need for short-term or retroactive reauthorizations of this program. The Secure Rural Schools program has become vital in budgeting for essential services in Idaho’s forested counties with large tracts of tax-exempt federal lands. This endowment will stabilize the program for generations and maintain the important link between economic growth and forest management in our forested counties, while ending the perpetual temporary band-aids that create instability and uncertainty…In the coming year, I will work with Senator Wyden to advance and refine today’s proposal by gathering the input of other stakeholders and our Senate colleagues. The Secure Rural Schools program is important to dozens of states and this proposal should receive strong, bipartisan support.”
The original Act was created almost twenty years earlier, in 2000, as a method of offering financial assistance to counties with tax-exempt forest lands. Vital services at county levels have usually been funded by timer receipts from federal lands as well as grant lands under U.S. Bureau of Land Management control. Sadly, revenues have declined for many reasons, and the monies from this act were able to help support rural schools and other essential services.
With a lapse in federal funding, it has left many areas of California, Oregon, Idaho and other areas with great uncertainty around basic services. This bill, if passed into law would bring the uncertainty and instability to an end. It has the support of multiple organizations, including the National Education Association, National Association of Counties, American Forest Resource Council, and others.
The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
What does all of this say about Senator Crapo? If we look strictly at his background, his stated priorities, committee efforts, and legislative actions, and compare them against his financial backers, there does not seem to be any glaring signs of undue influence.
Senator Crapo is going to have to begin contemplating his steps for a re-election bid in 2022, so we are still a bit too far out to monitor him for unusual activities. However, this is where Senator Crapo’s history with campaign funds seems to become problematic.
Several organizations, including the Campaign for Accountability, have noted that there are some rather pronounced issues concerning the Senator’s handling of his campaign funds and/or their management.
In particular, was a loan made in 2009 by his then campaign manager to an Idaho-based investment firm. The funds were never repaid, and the loss not reported for more than three years afterward. This resulted in an FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request by journalists to the FBI in July of 2018.
There is also another issue relating to campaign funds, and these focus specifically on the senator’s wife. In June of 2018, a watchdog group filed a complaint with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics because of the Senator’s failure to disclose his wife’s earnings from his leadership PAC.
As one article in an Idaho newspaper reported, “In 9 of the past 11 years, Crapo’s elections staff failed to properly report certain campaign spending or donations — for an employee’s loan, an annual fundraising event and the use of a lobbyist’s Washington, D.C., townhouse, federal records show.
And over the past two decades, Crapo’s campaign has paid nearly $200,000 to his wife, Susan Crapo, for work that included creating gift bags for that yearly fundraiser.”
A bit later in the article, it notes that “Crapo’s campaign committees underwent an internal review in 2012, according to an FEC report from February 2016.
This review was conducted by Crapo’s new chief of staff, Susan Wheeler. It revealed other reporting errors: Campaign committees were spending significant amounts of money on an annual fundraising event, but had not documented the costs nor reported them to the FEC for three years.”
They were also repeatedly failing to report “in-kind contributions” relating to fundraisers. They addressed it with a “suasponte” letter that disclosed the oversight and went as far as to reimburse one of the donors, repaying him for his sponsorship of an event. The FEC decided that this was due to a failure of oversight and entirely unintentional.
There is also the issue of a townhouse that is the focus of a great deal of attention. Owned by a healthcare lobbyist, it was discovered that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had been allowed to rent it for only $50 per night for several months in 2017. Senator Crapo’s name was also associated with the property when it was determined that his campaign had used it 81 times for only $100 per night.
Does this say “undue influence,” though? While those ethics-oriented groups are certainly identifying issues that could say “corrupt”, they do not spell out any clear signs that the Senator is failing to act on behalf of his constituency. As the focus of this article is to seek the latter, not the former (potential fraud), it is something that has to be considered but also set aside.
Senator Crapo typically follows party lines, seems to take actions on the part of his home state’s best interests, as well as those of the nation. Though we have looked for actions he might have taken in response to demands from one or more of financial backers, we haven’t found any.