Philip Blumel: Another day, another congressional corruption scandal.
Philip Blumel: Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the term limits movement for the week of October 25th, 2021.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: Nebraska Term Limits foe and US representative, Jeff Fortenberry, faces three felony charges and potential prison time after his indictment last Tuesday of lying to authorities about his acceptance and cover-up of illegal campaign contributions from a Nigerian billionaire. Also, last week, President Joe Biden weighed in on whether he supported the idea of term limits for supreme court justices. We’ll discuss Biden’s two-letter answer as well as our latest corruption eruption with US Term Limits executive director, Nick Tomboulides. Hey, Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Hey.
Philip Blumel: The FBI has been helpful over the years, and here they’re again this last week in helping get term limits foes out of the US Congress. Have you heard the latest?
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, the FBI might as well be term limits advocates. The FBI director has term limits and FBI indictments and convictions seem to be the real… Only real type of term limits we have currently. I did see the news about 17-year congress member Jeff Fortenberry in Nebraska.
Philip Blumel: Right, right. It’s another one of these stories where they’re accepting illegal contributions and then lie about it, and in this case, he made false statements and lied to the FBI three times, that’s three felonies, about taking money. And it wasn’t even that much. It was like 30 grand total, from a Nigerian-born billionaire, Gilbert Chagoury. And it was one of those schemes where Chagoury had one of his henchmen meet with a local political fundraiser or somebody who has not been identified in Fortenberry’s district, handed him 30 grand in cash, and then that cash was funneled through a fundraiser and ended up in the coffers of Fortenberry, who apparently knew about it because Fortenberry later went back and tried to get the same henchmen to hold another fundraiser.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, and he’s denying that he knew about this guy laundering all this money, trying to exploit the legal process, because of course, it is illegal for foreign nationals to make contributions directly, but if you didn’t know about him, why did you call him back a second time and try to hit him up for money again for your campaign?
Philip Blumel: Well, because he didn’t know about him, obviously.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, I’m calling people that I don’t know all the time and asking them to donate to me.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, yeah.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, it’s an interesting story, and what’s really stunning about this is that both the congressmen and the foreign donor did not particularly handle this in a smart way because it is perfectly legal for foreign agents, foreign nationals, to hire American lobbyists and give that money to politicians, launder it through lobbyists here. In fact, that happens all the time. I think there was like $10 million that was given to American lobbyists working for foreign governments and then turned over to members of congress just in the last few election cycles. The only stick-up here is you can’t do it directly, you can’t directly get money to members of congress, you have to hire a lobbyist and do it, or you have to hire a family member, like the Hunter-Biden situation. So if he had just been a little bit more cunning about this, he probably could have gotten away with it.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, it’s true. There’s a very thin line really between the soft corruption that is legal and the hard corruption, which is not. In fact, ethically, often, they’re interchangeable. But you’re right, he crossed the line. Now, interestingly, there are gonna be some other congressmen that have taken money from this guy, and that we may see additional indictments come down the pike, but another thing that’s notable about this is that Representative Fortenberry of Nebraska is an opponent of term limits, of course. And you just have to wonder if these people really make that connection in their brain of why they oppose term limits and then given their actions, because when you are on the gravy train, you don’t want it to stop. And if you’re willing to act in an unethical manner, what would stop you from going and trying to prevent an important reform that would make government work better to further your own career? Nothing.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, and we’re told all the time by the three people left in America who still oppose term limits, that the longer you spend in office, the more you’re able to learn the rules and you become basically such an expert on the process, expert on Congress and all this stuff. Well, if that’s the case, then why did this long-term incumbent congressman not know that he was supposed to report these donations? How did he not know the house ethics rules? He’s since been stripped of his committee chairmanships because when you are under indictment, the house rules dictate that you’re not allowed to hold a spot on committee, but he knew better. I’m sure he knew these rules and he flouted them with intent.
Philip Blumel: Yep. Fortenberry is a Republican but there’s another story that’s sort of funny. [chuckle] This also happened last week, another indictment, but this is at the state level in Connecticut. This Connecticut legislator named Michael DiMassa, he was busted when he was working for the city of West Haven in helping dole out COVID relief funds, federal funds, and it turned out that about $600,000 of it ended up in his own possession, and a handful of that ended up buying poker chips, [laughter] I’m serious, you can’t make this stuff up. Buying poker chips at… What’s the name of that casino? You’re from Connecticut.
Nick Tomboulides: Mohegan Sun Casino.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, Mohegan Sun. Right.
Nick Tomboulides: Yes.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So anyway. So he steals all this money. He goes gambling with it. He’s busted. He’s a 30-year-old guy. He just got elected to the legislature. And this just goes on all the time, and there’s no other business in the world, there’s no other industry that’s just plagued with this kind of unethical behavior as politics, it just invites people like this.
Nick Tomboulides: No, absolutely not. And this guy’s entire story was just riddled with conflicts of interest. He was not only an elected member of the Connecticut General Assembly, but he was also working as a legislative aide for the City Council of West Haven. So it sounds as if he was advising these local crooked politicians to write him a check so that he could go play poker, and so maybe he could dole a few kickbacks to them. So I wouldn’t be surprised if you had a bunch of local politicians getting nabbed in the aftermath of this.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. Something else interesting about this guy is that… Well, one, let’s point out that he is not a signer of the US Term Limits Pledge calling for term limits on the US Congress, I think that goes pretty much without saying, but also this guy got into politics when he was 18 years old. He’s only 30 now.
Nick Tomboulides: That’s always a red flag.
Philip Blumel: It sure is.
Nick Tomboulides: The ones who are really young and they’ve never had a real job in their lives and they just wanna jump head first into politics and spend the next 60 years doing it, that is always a red flag. [chuckle]
Philip Blumel: All of his jobs so far have been politics. And he was a teenager thinking to himself, like looking around the wide world and looking at all these interesting professions and great things you can do to improve the world and to live in and make your fortune, and he says, “I wanna be a politician.” [chuckle] I don’t know. There should be some rule that bars somebody like that from running for office. [chuckle]
Nick Tomboulides: Well, I’ll be honest. I think he and I graduated from college in Connecticut around the same time. The job market wasn’t very good. Obviously, we took different paths. We diverted. He became a criminal. I moved to Florida, but no. It’s really an amazing story how quickly they can just fall into a life of corruption. And he had run and displaced a 20-year incumbent. He supposedly represented the new wave of more accountable politicians in that state. And five years into the job, he’s already on the take and he’s already exploiting it and misusing his power. It’s no surprise.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, welcome the new boss, same as the old boss.
Philip Blumel: About a decade ago, an organization called Our Generation, which was a nonpartisan, free-market advocacy group of some kind, had a contest which challenged people to write songs about term Limits. Well, the contest is long gone and I don’t know who won, but one of the legacies of Our Generation’s term limits contest is this next number, a rap song written and performed by a guy named Elias Sims, also known as E-Sain, and his buddies, Brandon, Trexten and Tyler, who put this thing together 10 years ago and are still getting hits on YouTube. Take it away.
Speaker 4: Yo, check this out. I’m a politician. And as of right now, I got no limitation. I don’t give a hoot about my reputation. I always win again at the re-election.
Speaker 5: I’m a common citizen. I’ll tell you what we need. We need term Limits to remove the greed. You can’t help in eight years. Why give you more? We need new Congress, fresh ideas on the floor.
Speaker 6: What would GW do? The father of term limits would say were past due. Sign a petition for our generation, bestow term limits upon our nation. You wanna make a difference? Well, here’s your chance. Without a step forward, will we ever advance?
Philip Blumel: By the way, another lifetime politician who’s really done nothing else with his time over a far longer period of time, is the President of the United States, Joe Biden.
Philip Blumel: And he was…
Nick Tomboulides: You might have to cut that part, but okay.
Philip Blumel: [chuckle] Oh, really?
Nick Tomboulides: Maybe, maybe.
Philip Blumel: Did I misspeak?
Nick Tomboulides: ‘Cause that’s going to insult half of the country. It’s 100% true, but it’s going to insult half the country.
Philip Blumel: Okay. But anyways, speaking of lifetime career politicians, Joe Biden, President of the United States, was asked last week also about the commission that he called for the purpose of looking for reforms of the Supreme Court. And as you know, one of the reforms they’re looking at is term limits. And they asked him about it, and they asked him if he supported the idea. And he said…
Nick Tomboulides: “No way, Jack.” What does he call people? Joe? Jack?
Philip Blumel: Man, man.
Nick Tomboulides: Man, man.
Philip Blumel: “You know, man. You know, man.”
Nick Tomboulides: “No way, man.”
Philip Blumel: Yeah. [chuckle] He didn’t even give us the, “No way, man.” He just gave us the, “No, and that’s it.” But we knew that, ’cause he came out back when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and they were going through the nomination hearings for her replacement, and he came out and said he was opposed to it.
Nick Tomboulides: At least when it comes to term Limits, Joe Biden is consistent, consistently awful on term Limits for every office. And it’s also very on-brand of Joe Biden to create a commission to study something and then just when they are about to make a recommendation say, “It’s completely useless, and you’re not going to move forward with it.”
Jen: Go ahead, Karen.
Karen: Thanks, Jen. The President was asked Friday night by ABC if he supported term Limits for the Supreme Court and he said no. He has said that before. He talked about that during the campaign season, but that appears to be the area in that draft report materials last week that has agreement, bipartisan agreement. Why is he ruling that out now before getting the final report in a couple of weeks?
Jen: As you know, he hasn’t reviewed the final report, which again is an assessment. It’s not recommendations. Obviously, you all have seen the draft out there and there was a public meeting on Friday to discuss. So I think it’s more a reflection that his position hasn’t changed. He hasn’t reviewed the report yet. And I’m sure when he does, we’ll have more to say.
Karen: But if he’s indicating publicly now that he doesn’t support it. He said just no, one-word answer, that he doesn’t support the proposal that does have the most widespread and bipartisan support as stated by that committee. Is the takeaway now that any changes to the court are not likely to happen?
Jen: I think the takeaway should be, he hasn’t reviewed the report or the assessment from the Supreme Court Committee and that is consistent with what his position has been in the past.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, you know how these politicians are. People are tugging at his sleeve about it and he didn’t wanna… He’s against it and he didn’t wanna do anything about it. So he just said, “I will start a commission.” Well, the commission is going to come out with its results. It has not yet, but we just have rumblings, we have notes. We know for a fact that what they’re discussing, and we know there’s pretty broad consensus about the idea of term limits for the Supreme Court and little else. They were talking about court-packing, etcetera, which by the way, Biden refused to say whether he opposed.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. And what’s also surprising about this is Supreme Court term limits is an issue that has really gotten more traction with the Democratic Party as of late than the Republican Party. This is a hot issue in Democratic ranks. Even Mitch McConnell has already come out against it. I think he said it was a radical idea or something. He’s also consistently against all forms of term limits, but what’s surprising is Biden is… It’s not like he has to reflexively oppose something because this is what Republicans want, which is true for 90% of things that politicians do these days. He is opposing this because he genuinely believes that anyone holding a government position should be able to squat there for an eternity, just like he’s done. [chuckle]
Philip Blumel: Oh, sure. That was his precise quote back in 2020 when he was asked about this, he said… This is a direct quote, “It’s a lifetime appointment. I’m not going to try to change that at all.”
Nick Tomboulides: I sleep a lot easier knowing that the President of the United States has no official role in passing term Limits because we can get it done through a constitutional amendment and through a term Limits convention.
Philip Blumel: Right.
Philip Blumel: Thanks for joining us for another episode of No Uncertain Terms. The Term Limits Convention bills are moving through the state legislatures. This could be a breakthrough year for the Term Limits movement. To check on the status of the Term Limits Convention Resolution in your state, go to termlimits.com/takeaction. There, you will see if it has been introduced and where it stands in the committee process on its way to the floor vote. If there’s action to take, you’ll see a Take Action button by your state, click it. This will give you the opportunity to send a message to the most relevant legislators, urging them to support the legislation. They have to know you are watching. That’s termlimits.com/takeaction. If your state has already passed the Term Limits Convention Resolution or the bill has not been introduced in your state, you can still help. Please consider making a contribution to US Term Limits. It is our aim to hit the reset button on the US Congress and you can help. Go to termlimits.com/donate, termlimits.com/donate. Thanks. We’ll be back next week.
Stacey Selleck: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have the No Uncertain Terms podcast.