In an October 2018 article about the elections occurring in a matter of weeks, the Daily Beast said this:
“Elections are often a game played by the ultra-wealthy…Self-funding candidates don’t always win but having access to a fat bank account and a six-figure line of credit in the crucial final weeks of the election definitely gives Braun an advantage.”
The “Braun” in question is Senator Mike Braun, who won his campaign and began his first term as a U.S. senator at the beginning of 2019.
Mr. Braun, a Republican from Indiana, ran his campaign in a “self-funded” manner, but also using borrowed funds. As that report explained, more “than three of every four dollars in his war chest was loaned to the campaign, and the bulk of it has come from banks with executives who are Braun’s friends, professional acquaintances, or campaign donors.
At the same time, Braun has used a legal but controversial accounting maneuver to circumvent donation limits…and has reported less than $2 million in direct contributions for the effort, which is dwarfed by the $6.4 million in loans he’s used to bankroll the campaign.”
Borrowing money for a campaign is not within the purview of most candidates, and it “underscores the degree to which personal wealth can boost a candidate’s political prospects—and provide opportunities for campaign financing that are unavailable to less-affluent candidates.”
The ability to borrow large sums, however, is not just about opportunity but influence as well. After all, unsecured lines of credit from three banks and deep connections to the lenders raise eyebrows, and when it became public knowledge that Braun “received a contribution from the bank’s vice president of commercial lending, who also lists Braun as a personal reference on a publicly available version of his résumé,” it created more concerns.
One bank supplied $2 million, along with executives making substantial donations, and the bank’s CEO is a personal friend of Mr. Braun’s. “Braun also owns between $100,000 and $250,000 in non-public…stock, according to his personal financial-disclosure filings,” as well.
And that accounting maneuver mentioned earlier is also worthy of scrutiny. Essentially, Mr. Braun’s personal wealth allowed him to “circumvent contribution limits by effectively removing huge amounts of cash from the balance sheets of his Republican primary campaign and transferring it to the account used for the general election.”
The way he managed it was quite cunning. Donors are limited to $2,700 per election to federal candidates, but general elections and primaries are viewed as separate elections – meaning the cap is actually $5,400. However, there is another way to “give” and that is towards “debt retirement,” such as supporting a campaign that closed with debts rather than cash on hand. Mr. Braun used this to allow many “donors to effectively double the amounts they can donate—well exceeding the $5,400 limit—by routing the money through his own personal bank account,” for the purpose of debt retirement.
After he won the primary in 2018, he opened up channels for paying down the primary campaign debt, made debt reduction payments to himself and then loaned the exact same amounts to the general election war chest. This let him contribute nearly $100k. Impossible for candidates without the ability to keep their campaign’s line of credit, it was a maneuver that raised many eyebrows.
While he was using a common theme during his campaign, that he was self-funded and “not being supported by PACs, lobbyists and political insiders,” he altered his approach once the primary was won. According to an IBJ article in early 2018, Braun began “schmoozing at fundraisers and other events with the very types of contributors he once criticized.”
Why? In a word: votes.
As that same article explained, “drawback to self-financing is that it could lead to fewer grass-roots supporters, and those individuals are often the ones who vote on Election Day…[candidates] need $5 contributions, because that adds up…[they don’t get a] $5 donation from someone who then forgets to vote.”
However, before the general election ended, many began to wonder who would be paying back the loans Mr. Braun did take. As noted, fundraising invitations sent out during the campaign nudged individual contributors to donate to “debt retirement,” which meant that Mr. Braun intended to repay himself every penny of the $5 million-plus lent to the campaign.
All the back and forth about self-funding or donor-backed races cannot go unnoticed, but more significantly is how all of this might affect the Senator’s behaviors in office. In light of another series of gun-related tragedies in early August of 2019, many in Indiana (the Senator’s state) wondered about his connections to the NRA. As one so clearly explained, “I fear that … Sen. Mike Braun’s A ratings from the NRA and the thousands of dollars taken from gun lobbyists is clouding [his] judgment when it comes to passing sensible gun control measures. They can prove…they care more about the health and safety of Hoosiers than the influence of the NRA,” by supporting “H.R. 8, which was passed by the House back in February and which would require a background check before a firearm could be purchased. They can also support H.R. 1112 which would require a buyer to wait 10 days before they could complete their purchase of a firearm.”
And that is what we are going to explore in this article: Just which direction Senator Mike Braun leans into and whether he is influenced more by his constituents’ needs or by special interests that gave him crucial support during his first Senate campaign in 2018.
After all, he may still be under pressures from what is known as “dark money.” These are donations that are larger than traditional donations, difficult to identify or trace, and often channeled into campaigns through PACs (Political Action Committees), but also more questionable means; something the Senator is already seen doing with bank loans.
The problems with large-scale donations didn’t really emerge until the 2010 Supreme Court case known as the Citizens United ruling, in which the Court held that “the free speech clause of the first amendment prohibits the government from restricting corporations from making political expenditures.”
This paved the way for PACs and SuperPACS to channelhuge sums. These organizations vary in how they can or cannot operate. PACs can support parties or candidates, while SuperPACs can only spend on marketing and ads. Both are unlimited in the amounts they can accept or spend and can allow donors anonymity because are non-profit entities. Some 2017 changes in IRS rules (which remain controversial and frequently challenged) allowing donors to remain anonymous reinforced this.
As one source noted, the Senate tried to “prevent ‘dark money’ from getting even darker,” through a resolution designed to toss out the new “Treasury Department policy that no longer requires some 501(c) tax-exempt nonprofits — including politically active 501(c)(4) ‘dark money’ groups — to disclose donor names and addresses in tax returns submitted to the IRS.” It failed to pass the House.
It may have had something to do with comments and resistance from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; a major opponent changing the new rule, he repeatedly cited an incident in which “the IRS posted unredacted tax forms revealing donors to the Republican Governors Association Public Policy Committee.” Previously, all names and addresses of donors had to be reported to the IRS, and the IRS was tasked with upholding confidentiality.
Politicians and others opposed to any sort of outside spending still try to overturn the rule because of the impact such changes have made. For example, “spending of this kind (in which groups did not reveal their donors) climbed rapidly from five million dollars in the year 2006 to more than three hundred million dollars in 2012.”
Six hundred percent growth in six years can only be due to such rules, and it is not small donors causing the growth spurt. It is mega-rich donors, whom many feel are “effectively in control of American politics, writing six- and seven-figure checks to super PAC’s to support ad campaigns that confuse viewers and distort the views and records of candidates,” as one source said.
They are able to reshape everything from foreign policy to “subtle things that are less top of mind, less likely to be in the news — some amendment tucked into a larger bill…[and] greater access for friendly lobbyists.”
Senator Braun is under scrutiny for his campaign finance methods, connections and risks for influence. To determine if any of these worries are justified, we’ll look at:
- The Senator’s publicly stated priorities and issues
- Senator Braun’s committee and caucus activities
- The Senator’s key sources of campaign funding
- Senator Braun’s most recent legislative items sponsored or co-sponsored
We are also going to examine other facts, including bipartisanship ratings, conservative rankings, and more, to reach conclusions.
For example, Senator Braunis too new to the Senate to have a spot in the Lugar Center Bipartisanship Index, but his “Trump Score” from FiveThirtyEight for the 116th Congress is much higher than anticipated. It is almost 91%, though it was predicted he’d vote with the administration only 73% of the time. The Conservative Review ratingis 100% and holds a letter grade of “A,” meaning that on all conservative issues he has voted in favor of the conservative stance, and maintained a zero score in liberal and missed votes.
His approval ratings in the Senate are quite high, with a rank of 74 out of 100 senators and a net approval of 55 from his party. These figures show him to be both a dedicated Republican and one committed to conservative concepts, but it will take more data than to identify potential influences.
About Senator James Braun
Born in 1954 in Indiana, he graduated high school and went on to Wabash College, obtaining a bachelor’s in economics. He took a master’s at Harvard Business School and spent many years growing his wealth in tractor parts and then in asset management and real estate. While he had no political life for many years, he began serving in the Indiana House of Representatives in 2014, resigning his seat in 2017 to run for the Senate. Another IBJ article quoted him as saying “I’m interested in leading and taking on issues that are hard to tackle. That’s what you’re going to get out of me.”
It went on to say, “Once the road funding legislation passed, Braun started thinking about where else he could have an impact. He won re-election to his Statehouse seat in 2016, but he didn’t want to run for a state office again. He was thinking bigger.
This time, no one called or recruited him. It was all his thinking: He should run for U.S. Senate.”
It was among the costliest in the state and Braun was viewed as an outsider for a lengthy time. However, in the end, he took 52% of the votes.
At his official website, he says, “I ran for the U.S. Senate because I believed I could use my experience building a business to get real results for Hoosiers in Washington.” The site goes on to say that he has “ Also, he notes he has “always looked for ways to give back to his community…[and] partnered with conservative leaders like Vice President Mike Pence to deliver results,” going on to mention his dedication to conservative principles.
ProPublica monitors politicians for how they vote, the most common subjects of bills they sponsor and even what issues are the most common in their press releases. They have identified that Senator Braun focuses on the following legislative items:
- Armed Forces and National Security
- Economics and Public Finance
His press releases focus on unusual topics, including:
- Public Libraries
- Warning Labels
- Indiana Dunes
- Manufactured Products
He is unique among many politicians tracked by ProPublica in that his press releases have almost no overlap with his policies. That makes it essential to look a lot harder at what he has done since arriving in the Capitol.
Senator Braun’s Committee Work
For the 116th Congress, Senator Braun is assigned to the following committees and subcommittees:
- Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry
- Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry, and Natural Resources (Chairman)
- Subcommittee on Livestock, Marketing, and Agriculture Security
- Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy
- Committee on Environment and Public Works
- Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety (Chairman)
- Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife
- Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
- Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
- Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety
- Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security
- Committee on the Budget
- Special Committee on Aging
The role in budgeting is one to consider in terms of his links to banking, but it is not a strong connection or tie. We have to first delve into the publicly available information about campaign backers to get a good grasp on the potential for influence.
The Top Industries Funding Senator Braun Campaign Efforts
In 2018, Senator Braun’s campaign raised $18,430,272.00 and spent $18,358,686.88, leaving little cash on hand. His support came from an array of industries, and we’ll look at those contributors in three distinct groupings:
- The industries in which the Senator was a “favorite,” or top recipient in the last campaign cycle (2018)
- The industries that contributed the most substantial amount of financial support
- Individual organizations that donated the most
According to the Open Secrets Website, Senator Braun was not an industry favorite in any segment. He did, however, receive strong support from other industries, and the 20 sectors that gave the most, overall, in 2014 were (in ranking order):
- Securities & Investment
- Real Estate
- Leadership PACs
- Oil & Gas
- Lawyers/Law Firms
- Miscellaneous Manufacturing & Distributing
- Health Professionals
- General Contractors
- Miscellaneous Finance
- Crop Production & Basic Processing
- Building Materials & Equipment
- Food Processing & Sales
- Commercial Banks
- Miscellaneous Business
- Pharmaceuticals/Health Products
Finally, there were the companies and other groups that gave, individually. However, none of them donated directly to the campaign; instead, they worked with PACs or had direct employee contributions for the 2018 election, and were:
- Senate Conservatives Fund – “A United States political action committee (PAC) that supports conservative Republican Party candidates in primaries and general elections. The SCF primarily focuses on supporting United States Senate candidates. The PAC was founded by then-U.S. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina in 2008.”
- Club for Growth – “A 501(c)(4) conservative organization active in the United States, with an agenda focused on cutting taxes and other economic issues. The Club has two political arms: an affiliated traditional political action committee, called the Club for Growth PAC, and Club for Growth Action, an independent-expenditure only committee or Super-PAC…According to its website, the Club for Growth’s policy goals include cutting income tax rates, repealing the estate tax, supporting limited government and a balanced budget amendment, entitlement reform, free trade, tort reform, school choice, and deregulation. The group has opposed government action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The Club for Growth PAC endorses and raises money for candidates who meet its standards for fiscal conservatism.”
- National Republican Senatorial Committee – “The Republican Hill committee for the United States Senate, working to elect Republicans to that body. The NRSC was founded in 1916 as the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. It was reorganized in 1948 and renamed the National Republican Senatorial Committee.The NRSC helps elect Republican incumbents and challengers primarily through fundraising. Other services include campaign activities using media and communications, as well as research and strategy planning.”
- Jasper Engines & Transmissions – Remanufacturer of automotive, truck and marine drivetrain products.Based in Indiana.
- Alliance Coal – A “diversified producer and marketer of steam coal to major United States utilities and industrial users. ARLP, the nation’s first publicly traded master limited partnership involved in the production and marketing of coal, began mining operations in 1971 and, since then, has grown through acquisitions and internal development to become the second-largest coal producer in the eastern United States.”
- Reyes Holdings – An ”American foodservice wholesaler and distributor. Its divisions include McDonald’s distributor Martin-Brower, foodservice company Reinhart FoodService, and beer distributor Reyes Beverage Group. In 2016 it was the 12th-largest private company in the United States”
- Wabash Valley Produce – This firm “offers poultry and related products. The Company engages in egg and turkey production.” Based in Indiana.
- Streicher Construction – A “general contractor specializing in the commercial, industrial, institutional, and residential project markets… provides a team of skilled craftsmen and design/build representatives who use quality service and complete customer satisfaction as benchmarks for success.” Based in Indiana.
- Magnolia Health Systems – “Founded in 1997. The Company’s line of business includes providing health and allied services.” Based in Indiana
- Ackerman Oil – “Retails petroleum products. The Company offers lubricants, bio fuels, ethanol, propane, transformer, and process oils, as well as transportation, supplemental filtration, and terminaling services… distributes its products in the United States.” Based in Indiana.
With so many in-state firms it is difficult to detect influence without also delving into some of the work Senator Braun has done in the Senate during the current Congress.
7 Legislative Items Senator Braun Has Sponsored During the 116th Congress – To Date
For the 116th Congress, to date, Senator Braun has 191 pieces of legislation; he sponsored only 31 thus far and co-sponsored the remaining 128. The Senator’s official Congressional page indicates that his emphasis in this Congress has been primarily on health, congress, education, armed forces and national security and economics and public finance.
Introduced during the longest government shutdown on record, Senator Braun brought this bill before the Senate on January 8 as part of plan to “prevent Congress from being paid without passing a budget.”
The item was added to the Government Shutdown Accountability Act in June and cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Speaking of it to Congress in January, Senator Braun said: “In the real world nobody gets rewarded for not doing their jobs, and today’s victory for No Budget No Pay is a big step toward pulling Washington out of la-la land and getting Congress working for the American people again. I’m proud to join fellow job creator Senator Rick Scott in moving the ball down the field for this legislation, because there are consequences businesses and families when they don’t make a budget and it’s time we hold Washington to the same standard.”
Senator Rick Scott, one of 13 cosponsors said, the amendment “simply requires Congress to pass an annual budget and meet appropriations bill deadlines, or forgo their own salaries until the job is done… There is no reason members of Congress should be held to a different standard than American families and businesses across the nation. Accountability shouldn’t be controversial.”
The original bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs where it passed in June and now heads to the Senate.
Introduced on February 12, this bill seeks to “end taxpayer-funded congressional pensions…[and] help the D.C. swamp,” according to a press release from Senator Braun’s office about the legislation.
The End Pensions in Congress Act, if passed would allow eliminate the congressional pension plan. Currently, lawmakers obtain “a taxpayer-funded pension if they work in Congress for five years and their pension can rise even higher depending on their years of service and average of the highest three years of salary.” This, Senator Braun believes, leads to professional legislators and cutting this benefit might help to “drain the swamp,” of those who are viewed as creating inefficient bureaucracy.
Speaking about it, he said, “It’s time we make Washington more like the private sector and the best place to start is to end taxpayer-funded pensions – like Nancy Pelosi’s six-figure annual pension – that senators and congressmen are entitled to in retirement. If we remove the luxurious perks from Congress, we’ll get better leaders: that’s why I’ll never accept my Senate pension and, if forced to, I pledge to donate every penny to Hoosier charities…Our job in Congress is to serve the American people, and not enrich ourselves with special taxpayer-funded benefits By ending congressional taxpayer-funded pensions, we will take one more step toward draining the swamp in Washington.”
The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Introduced on February 28, the Banning Lobbying and Safeguarding Trust Act (BLAST), it would implement a “permanent lobbying ban for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate,” according to a press release from cosponsor Senator Rick Scott.
Of the legislation, Senator Braun said, “One of the reasons I left the private sector for Washington was to help President Trump drain the swamp and we can accomplish this by permanently banning Congressmen and Senators from lobbying Capitol Hill. Together we can end the revolving door of career politicians coming to Washington, spending time in Congress, then enriching themselves from their service to the American people.”
The language of the bill is simple and explains: “Any person who is a Senator, a Member of the House of Representatives, or an elected officer of the Senate or the House of Representatives and who, after that person leaves office, knowingly makes, with the intent to influence, any communication to or appearance before any Member, officer, or employee of either House of Congress or any employee of any other legislative office of Congress, on behalf of any other person (except the United States) in connection with any matter on which the former Senator, Member, or elected official seeks action by a Member, officer, or employee of either House of Congress, in his or her official capacity, shall be punished as provided in section 216.”.
It was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
One March 5, Senator Braun introduced three separate pieces of legislation designed to lower prescription drug costs, and they included:
S.658 – ADAPT Act – This would “amend the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (Title 21) to create an expedited drug approval process at FDA (6 months maximum review time)—specifically for drugs that are currently approved for sale in developed countries (e.g. EU members, Israel, Australia, Canada, and Japan).” The goal would be to “encourage FDA to expeditiously review prescription drug applications for qualifying products (prescription drugs already approved and sold in developed nations with satisfactory history of clinical trials and data) under this new pathway.”
The Drug Price Transparency (DPT) Act is also part of this legislation and it would “eliminate current legal safe harbors for pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to receive rebates from drug manufacturers. Specifically, the proposed rule relates to price reductions offered by a drug manufacturer to a Medicare Part D plan sponsor and Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (government payers)…. extend the idea of the HHS OIG PBM rebate rule to the commercial insurance market and amend the Public Health Service Act (Title 42) to prohibit PBMs from receiving any rebates or reductions in price from drug manufacturers,” and more.
Lastly, is S.660 — Efficiency and Transparency in Petitions Act which amends “section 505(q) of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act to require any petition submitted to the FDA regarding a pending generic drug application be submitted within a year of when the petitioner first discovers the issue that is the basis for the petition.”
All three were read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Another initiative designed to allow Americans to see the cost of healthcare, this bill was introduced on March 27 without any cosponsors and would, if passed, require “health plans and health insurance companies to disclose the full cost of healthcare they receive,” according to an article in .The Times
The piece went on to explain that the bill would “require providers to disclose secret prices of healthcare, which would put more decision-making power into the hands of patients and could lower the cost of healthcare.”
Speaking about it, the Senator explained, “Transparency is the key to holding healthcare providers accountable and empowers consumers to get the best healthcare possible for the lowest price. The same drug can vary in price by hundreds of dollars despite be sold only blocks apart and Americans deserve to know how this racket operates and who is getting rich.”
This would be the fourth bill focused on reducing healthcare costs that he has introduced since taking office in January. It reflects his time in state government when he worked to bring “affordable healthcare to his employees [including] keeping premiums flat for nearly a decade and providing healthcare for those with pre-existing conditions.”
Before his historic victory to the U.S. Senate, Braun was an entrepreneur who created hundreds of American jobs, while providing “healthcare to his employees that include[d] keeping premiums flat for nearly a decade and providing healthcare for those with pre-existing conditions.”
With only Senator Braun sponsoring the bill, it was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Introduced on April 9, and another bill sponsored exclusively by Senator Braun, it is a bicameral item that “would reform the Pell Grant program to allow for grants to be used by students in skills-based programs, in order to address the widening skills gap in America,” according to the bill’s sponsor in the House of Representatives, Congressman Jim Banks (also of Indiana).
As that news item explains, when supplying background details about the need for such legislation:
- “To improve job placement, reduce the crushing burden of student loan debt, and address the crisis of the workforce skills gap, higher education must adapt to meet the needs of employers. Federal grants prioritizing skills-based programs is a critical step in that direction.
- Under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, institutions of higher education are eligible to participate in federal student aid programs—the foundational program of this system being the federal Pell Grant.
- Under the Pilot program created by the Pell Flexibility Act, Title IV-eligible institutions with programs between 320-600 hours in length would apply to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to participation in the program, with a limit of eight programs at each institution eligible to participate.
- Institutions must demonstrate that their program(s) addresses the skills gap by using evaluations from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics Office of Employment Projections; local and regional workforce needs assessments created under recent updates to Title V of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act; Workforce Investment Boards; or other state agencies.
- The program will be monitored and evaluated by ED and a report will be issued to relevant Congressional committees using both qualitative and quantities evidence. The report must include how these programs meet workforce needs, retention rates, job placement rates in relevant fields, and other pertinent information.”
When speaking of the bill, Senator Banks said “We need to do more to equip students with the knowledge and training they need to find a job after graduation, and that begins with restructuring federal grant money to prioritize highly demanded skills. Pell Grant flexibility is a common-sense step in the right direction, and is a top priority…”
The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Cosponsored by two other senators, this bill bicameral was introduced July 24 and is designed to “cap federal spending, right-size the government, grow the economy, and balance the budget,” according to a press release from cosponsor Senator Todd Young (also of Indiana).
Speaking of the Bill, Senator Braun said. “As a Main Street businessman, I believe we need to reduce runaway federal spending and address our national debt and the MAP Actprovides Congress with the tools to accomplish this goal. This commonsense bill will cap federal spending, then cut any spending over the caps, which will ultimately lead to a balanced budget.”
An informational document about the legislation, from Congressman Kevin Brady, explains the need for the law, and says “Washington doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has aspending problem. In fact, the Treasury Departmentrecently reported that while receipts are up 2.7percent, spending has increased by 6.6 percent.
The CBO’s most recent projections show revenuesincreasing from 16.5 percent of GDP this year to 19.5percent by 2049, while spending will grow from 20.7percent of GDP this year to over 28 percent in thesame period.
With annual deficits projected to hit $1 trillion this year,and national debt now over $22 trillion, the time hascome to curb runaway spending.”
The three steps that the MAP Act seeks to use to achieve such goals are:
- Capping non-interest spending
- Potential GDP to be used as a base for spending gap (rather than GDP)
- Emergency spending (one percent of annual budget) to be set aside
In the Senate, the bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Budget.
Senator Braun also introduced legislative items like A bill to amend title XXVII of the Public Health Service Act to establish requirements with respect to prescription drug benefits, the Consider Teachers Act, as well as a bill to provide for a report on the maintenance of Federal land holdings under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior, a bill to prohibit the Export-Import Bank of the United States from providing financing to persons with seriously delinquent tax debt, the End Plush Retirements Act, the Crossroads of America Act of 2019, and the Student Loan Tax Elimination Act, among others.
Within these many items there are no signs of influence by any of the groups with which he has deeper connections. Instead, it is abundantly clear that he has the best interests of the people of Indiana, as well as the broader needs of the United States, as his key motivators. He is extremely conservative in his every action and deed, and is clearly using his role as a lawmaker to pursue his goals for the economy, stability and prosperity of the U.S.