Philip Blumel: Caught on tape. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits Movement for the week of October 31st, 2022.
Speaker 2: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: In 2020, nearly 68% of citizens of Warren, Michigan, voted to change the term limits for the mayor of their city. Rather than 20 years, that is, five four-year terms, the voters changed the mayor’s term limit to 12 years, or three four-year terms, just like the other elected officials in Warren. Mayor Jim Fouts, however, wasn’t happy. First elected in 2007, this meant the 80-year-old Fouts would not be eligible to run again when his term expired. After the election, he told WXYZ in Detroit he was, “Exploring all options, legal and other things, and we’ll see what the future will hold.” As WXYZ reported last week, we now know what one of those other things are, and it probably isn’t legal. We will share the full report and get some insight from US Term Limits Executive Director Nick Tomboulides in this episode of No Uncertain Terms. Hey, Nick. So you heard what’s going on in Warren. What a report from WXYZ.
Nick Tomboulides: It’s incredible, ain’t it?
Philip Blumel: It is.
Nick Tomboulides: You know, there are some politicians who are capable of very advanced, sophisticated, undetectable schemes. These are not those types of politicians.
Philip Blumel: [laughter] No, no, not at all. Not very subtle, not very subtle.
Nick Tomboulides: No.
Philip Blumel: And it’s not too surprising it comes out of Michigan, considering what’s going on right now.
Nick Tomboulides: Not at all. You know, there’s more than one term limits scam on the ballot in Michigan right now. You’ve got what’s happening here in Warren, of course, as well as Measure 1, which is the legislature’s attempt to trick the voters of Michigan into doubling term limits for every member of the State House, so, it’s really incredible what we’re seeing in Michigan right now.
Philip Blumel: It really is, and boy, that language…
Nick Tomboulides: The shamelessness of it is incredible, I should say.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. That language on that state-wide ballot, it really sounds like you’re voting for term limits when you’re voting to weaken them tremendously. You know, it’s such a scam. It’s… Well…
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. And it’s covered in window dressing of providing financial disclosure and ethics reform, so that some people won’t know that it’s a term limits question at all, because the term limits part is buried in all of that flowery, fake language about financial transparency.
Philip Blumel: Wow. Well, these Michigan politicians can really go low. So I’m gonna play the whole report from WXYZ, ’cause it’s really explosive. And I guess, you know, at the end of it, we can decide whether or not that what they’re doing at the state level with that scam is more or less criminal than what they’re doing in Warren, Michigan. Let’s hear it.
Speaker 4: War and politics are certainly never dull. In 2020, 68% of the voters in Warren passed term limit reform, which means all elected city officials have the same limit of three terms in office.
Speaker 5: Those new rules mean Mayor Jim Fouts cannot run again in 2023 after his current term is up. Now despite voters’ clear message on term limits in 2020, some recently tried to get those rules changed yet again.
Speaker 4: And it’s how they went about it that’s raising eyebrows. 7 investigator Heather Catallo has the story for us.
Heather Catallo: On two hot July days this summer, Warren residents trickled into a cool banquet hall with the promise of free lunch and free gas.
Speaker 7: Alright, I have gas card 696-525.
Heather Catallo: But prizes and pasta were not the only things on the menu.
Speaker 8: We are, at the same time too… Well, we’re also circulating a petition today. This is for term limit reform for our Warren elected officials. This is to place term limit reform on the ballot for November.
Heather Catallo: Our undercover cameras were rolling inside these public events after we got a tip that Warren city employees were helping to gather signatures for a new ballot proposal. That proposal aimed to extend term limits for the mayor, clerk, and treasurer, potentially allowing current mayor Jim Fouts to stay in office longer than 16 years.
Speaker 9: This is just to get it on the ballot so all the residents can vote whether they’re for it or not.
Heather Catallo: Sources confirmed for us that’s Gail Dietz at the petition table. She works in the mayor’s office. Next to her is Sean Clark, Warren’s Senior Housing Director of Administration. Also at the event, some city blight inspectors and the supervisor of the city’s property maintenance division, Robert Scott. Warren Economic Development Director Tom Bommarito was also seen leaving the luncheon.
Speaker 10: Hello, everybody. Our property maintenance, we feel, is second to none.
Speaker 11: What I’d like you to do is listen to the mayor. He’s gonna come up here. This is our leader from the City of Warren.
Heather Catallo: Mayor Fouts was the featured speaker at the event.
Jim Fouts: All of you are my boss. The city council is not my boss.
Heather Catallo: It’s no secret Fouts and the city council have been at odds lately. They’ve taken each other to court at least seven times.
Patrick Green: There are high level people in City Hall.
Heather Catallo: Patrick Green is the Warren City Council President.
Patrick Green: There’s a line that should be bright between government work and campaigning, and they’ve done their best to erase it.
Heather Catallo: Michigan election law prohibits city employees from campaigning on city time. The 7 investigators requested the time cards for the eight employees we saw at the petition drive. They all asked for the day off, but several of the approvals were hand-written, with no computerized date stamp to determine whether the employees put in for time before the event or after we requested the information.
Patrick Green: The time and attendance system is to control just the accountability of everyone. And for these appointees, I’m concerned that all appearance, it looks like it was filled out after the fact.
Heather Catallo: Beyond the use of city employees, there are questions about the group funding this petition drive. According to newspaper ads like this one, a group called Citizens’ Alliance of Michigan hosted the events. State of Michigan business records show Citizens’ Alliance is registered as a 501 [c] , a non-profit that doesn’t have to disclose who gives them money.
Simon Schuster: 501 [c]  organizations become that black box that can obscure this origin of money. They’re generally, actually, the primary source of dark money that gets into our elections.
Heather Catallo: Simon Schuster is the former Michigan Campaign Finance Network Director.
Simon Schuster: Because there’s no transparency in this situation, we don’t know exactly who’s benefiting from the donations given to it, and even who is contributing to the non-profit in the first place.
Heather Catallo: Even though we can’t see who’s donating to the Citizens’ Alliance fund, we can see where they’ve been spending their money. In late June, they gave $10,000 to the Ballot Question Committee called Citizens for Term Limit Reform, and that’s not all. The directors of Citizens’ Alliance are all City of Warren employees. Senior Housing Director of Administration, Sean Clark, is the secretary. Warren Public Service Director, Gus Ghanam, is the group’s treasurer, and their president is Cecil St. Pierre.
Speaker 15: What’s your reaction to be being suspended by the Attorney General?
Cecil St. Pierre: I resigned.
Speaker 15: No, you were suspended first.
Cecil St. Pierre: I resigned.
Heather Catallo: The former Warren City Council President and probate lawyer is no stranger to the 7 investigators.
Speaker 17: Hey, Mr. St. Pierre, we just wanna talk to you for a minute.
Cecil St. Pierre: Go away. Go away.
Heather Catallo: And now members of the current City Council are questioning St. Pierre’s non-profits financial contributions to the term limits effort that would benefit Fouts just days before St. Pierre was hired as an Assistant City Attorney this summer.
Speaker 18: If you give $10,000 on a Friday and you get hired on a Monday, and then on that same week, on a Thursday, the six-month probation that’s required for a new hire is waved, it just… It looks like corruption.
Speaker 19: Did this administration break the civil service and union rules to hire Cecil St. Pierre as a payback for his dark money fundraising?
Heather Catallo: According to the IRS, non-profits like Citizens’ Alliance of Michigan are required to have their tax forms on site for the public to inspect. But when we visited the non-profits address, St. Pierre and his files, were gone.
Heather Catallo: Legally, we’re supposed to be able to get a copy of the 990s for this non-profit.
Speaker 20: Then Heather, I would just suggest calling Cecil.
Heather Catallo: In an email, St. Pierre told us he changed the address for Citizens’ Alliance, but that wasn’t done with the state until four days after we went looking for them. St. Pierre would not talk to us on camera, but did release a statement that says in part, “Citizens’ Alliance was formed to foster communication about important issues in our state among members of our community, and to promote social welfare. Our Spaghetti Luncheons did exactly that, connecting various elected officials and candidates with members of the public. This grassroots organization is driven by unpaid volunteers, who help on their personal time.” We have requested the IRS forms for the non-profit, but so far, St. Pierre has not provided them, despite IRS rules that require them to be available to the public.
Heather Catallo: If you could please give me a call back, do you have a minute to talk about that? I am calling in reference to the Citizens’ Alliance of Michigan.
Heather Catallo: None of the city employees who were at the luncheon returned our calls for comment. The petition drive did not gather enough signatures in time, so the term limits question did not make it onto the ballot. But questions still remain about who donated to the non-profit and why.
Speaker 21: Transparency in government is enormously important. We really have no insight into how that money is being spent.
Speaker 5: That was Heather Catallo reporting there. Now, Heather did speak with Mayor Fouts by phone. We asked him five times in that conversation to do an on-camera interview but he declined saying he doesn’t know much about the non-profit group, even though he has spoken at their events, as you saw in that video.
Speaker 4: He also said as long as his employees took the day off, he’s fine with them working at the Citizens’ Alliance events.
Philip Blumel: Wow! Nick, that’s too much. What do you think? Which one is more devious, the statewide deception to get pro-term limits voters to vote against term limits or what we just heard about in Warren, Michigan?
Nick Tomboulides: The state-wide deception is far more devious because this mayor of Warren, this guy who’s been in power for so long, his corruption was so open and obvious and incompetent.
Philip Blumel: Okay, alright. Fair enough.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. He put his leg right in the bear trap here. He bought pizza and gas cards for citizens so they’d show up and listen to his BS presentation about why we don’t need term limits. He gave every employee in City Hall the day off so that they could go campaign to get him an extra term in power. As much as I dislike the guys at the state level, they have been a lot more subtle with their corruption. They’ve done a lot better job concealing it from the public. So I think the state level term limit scam is far more devious.
Philip Blumel: Far more devious. Yeah, okay. I’m gonna have to agree with you on that. It is pretty rotten what’s going on here in Warren, and I give a lot of credit to WXYZ for uncovering it. But yeah, the thing that’s going on at the state level was massive and statewide too. But at root, it’s really the same story that we’ve talked about so many times on this podcast. Politicians going to incredible lengths to either prevent term limits and prevent the voters from having their say.
Nick Tomboulides: And the Mayor of Warren, Jim Fouts, he didn’t even succeed in qualifying this anti term limit measure for the ballot, correct?
Philip Blumel: Yeah. No.
Nick Tomboulides: I believe the ballot initiative short-circuited before he could get it there. So I guess he didn’t give the city employees enough time off. Probably should have given them weeks or months away from their job, abdicating their duties to help him rig the system and undo term limits, because just a couple of days didn’t cut it.
Philip Blumel: In one of our corruption segments, we featured US senator and term limits opponent Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who was indicted for accepting multiple bribes and gifts in exchange for political favors, for which he was severely admonished by the US Senate Select Committee on Ethics even after he escaped conviction in court. But apparently there’s a new investigation of the senator underway as MSNBC reported last week.
Katy Tur: Breaking News, NBC news is reporting that Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey is under federal criminal investigation by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, according to two people familiar with the matter. NBC’s Tom Winter has the details. Tom, the spokesperson for the senator is also confirming this.
Tom Winter: That’s correct. Confirming the investigation right now, the spokesperson says, “We’re not sure what the scope of the investigation is, but should somebody approach the senator about it, wanting to ask him any sort of questions… ” that he will offer his assistance. We don’t know the scope of the investigation either, Katy, so we’re trying to get a little bit of a better handle on this. It was first reported by the website Semafor earlier today that said that an individual had received a Grand Jury subpoena, but we don’t know when that subpoena was sent out. We do know that the prosecutorial office that’s handling that is the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, they’re declining to comment on this news today. Menendez is not a stranger to federal investigations as you know, Katy, he was indicted back in 2015 along with a doctor from South Florida, Salomon Melgen, part of a bribery and conspiracy case, that case did go to trial. Melgen was convicted and convicted of a massive… According to the federal authorities, a massive Medicare scheme. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison. His sentence was commuted by former President Trump prior to leaving office obviously, and according to Trump at the time, as well as the Senator, that was something that was pushed for by Senator Menendez.
Tom Winter: Now this… As far as Senator Menendez’s trial back then, it was found to be a mistrial, so he was not convicted of any charges, he was subsequently re-elected, but again, we don’t know the scope of this investigation.
Katy Tur: But it wouldn’t be the same indictment and investigation because of, I guess, double jeopardy, you can’t be tried twice or…
Tom Winter: Well, the Justice department already declined to re-try Menendez on those specific charges, so that would be a moot point. Every indication… And again, we’re still reporting this out, is that this does appear to be a new investigation in a new matter at this point.
Philip Blumel: With a new scandal rising, it’s worth refreshing our memories about the senator’s earlier brushes with corruption. It’s our view that corruption is highly correlated with tenure, as tenure encourages both the hubris and the opportunity that fuels corruption. The story of Senator Robert Menendez is a case in point.
Speaker 2: Corruption.
Philip Blumel: This week’s Profiling Corruption is of sitting US Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. Prosecutors documented Senator Menendez accepting multiple bribes and gifts in exchange for political favors, but nonetheless, he was reelected to the US senate in 2018. Menendez won his first political office in 1974 at the age of only 20. He served on the Union City School District’s Board of Education, as the mayor of Union City, as a New Jersey State Legislator. He served in the US House of Representatives and now is a third term US senator. All told, that’s 46 years in elected politics and 28 years in the US Congress. In 2013, reports surfaced that a federal grand jury in Miami was investigating Menendez regarding his role in advocating for the business interests of Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, one of his major donors. On April 1st, 2015, United States Department of Justice indicted both Menendez and Melgen. The charges against Menendez included bribery, fraud and making false statements. According to the indictment, Menendez asked top state department officials to pressure the Dominican Republic’s government into enforcing a port security contract that would benefit Melgen’s company.
Philip Blumel: While at the same time, Melgen was promising to give $60,000 to Menendez’s political campaign. Prosecutors also charged that Menendez acted as Melgen’s “personal senator”, that’s a quote, helping obtain visas for several of Melgen’s Dominican girlfriends to come into the US. But perhaps most egregious, Menendez put pressure on Medicare to end a dispute with Dr. Melgen over Melgen’s suspected over-billing, a spectacular fraud case which would later explode in the headlines. In return, Menendez was accused of accepting a range of perks from Melgen, including trips on Melgen’s private jet, three nights at a five-star Paris hotel, a round of golf at a private club in West Palm Beach, Florida, and the access to an exclusive Dominican resort. These gifts did not make it to his financial disclosure forms. Melgen also donated a substantial amount of money to benefit Menendez’s political campaigns and prosecutors claim that $750,000 of those contributions were tied to personal benefits Menendez accepted. His 2017 trial ended in a mistrial, due to the jury’s inability to secure a unanimous verdict. The case was complicated by the freshly minted 2016 Supreme Court decision, McDonald v. United States, which narrowed the legal definition of public corruption, it made it harder for prosecutors to prove that a political official engaged in bribery.
Philip Blumel: But this mistrial did not fool anyone. In April 2018, Menendez was “severely admonished” by the United States Select Committee on Ethics in a letter. In that letter the committee wrote, “The committee has found that over a six-year period you knowingly and repeatedly accepted gifts of significant value from Dr. Melgen without obtaining required committee approval, and that you failed to publicly disclose certain gifts as required by senate rules and federal law. Additionally, while accepting these gifts, you used your position as a member of the senate to advance Dr. Melgen’s personal and business interests. The committee has determined that this conduct violated senate rules, federal law, and applicable standards of conduct. Accordingly, the committee issues you this public letter of admonition and also directs you to repay the fair market value of all impermissible gifts not already repaid.”
Philip Blumel: So while Menendez got off on technicalities, at least in court, his doctor friend Melgen was sentenced to 17 years in prison for stealing $73,000,000 from Medicare by persuading elderly Medicare patients to undergo excruciating tests and treatments for eye diseases they didn’t have. Surely, it is no surprise that Senator Bob Menendez is a foe of congressional term limits. He has refused to sign the US Term Limits pledge to co-sponsor and vote for the Congressional Term Limits Amendment. In 2012, he voted Nay to a Sense of the Senate non-binding resolution asking whether congressional terms should be limited. In spite of all this, Menendez won re-election to his third term for the US Senate in 2018. Long tenure is highly correlated to corrupt behavior due to hubris and opportunity. Given the incumbent advantages that lead to a 90%+ re-election in Congress from voters, the corrupt have little to fear.
Philip Blumel: We will continue to follow the Menendez story in future episodes of No Uncertain Terms. But first, voters will go to the polls next Tuesday, November 8th, and term limits are on the ballot across the country. Join us in our next episode of No Uncertain Terms, Monday, November 7th, for a review of the most important term limits-related races and referenda.
Philip Blumel: Well, there’s some more establishment politicians trying to fight term limits elsewhere in the country, and of course, this occurs everywhere where term limits are on the ballot. We talked in a recent podcast about North Dakota, where citizens have put a measure on the ballot that would limit their legislature to eight years in office, and also their governor, in a non-retroactive vote. And it looks like, from the polling, that it’s very popular with voters, but wow, there is a unified front against it from the establishment.
Nick Tomboulides: And who are these people in North Dakota that I’m hearing are standing up and opposing the term limits, Phil? Surely, they must be a group of patriotic and selfless citizens, right?
Philip Blumel: Well, I can name two of ’em. There’s concerned citizen Rich Wardner and the altruistic Chet Pollert. Both of these gentlemen have led a press conference the other day with lots of organizations represented. They also happen to be the Senate Majority Leader…
Nick Tomboulides: What do those two gentlemen do for a living?
Philip Blumel: [laughter] Right. Rich Wardner would be the Senate Majority Leader, and… [chuckle] And Chet Pollert would happen to be the House Majority Leader. [chuckle]
Nick Tomboulides: So you mean to tell me that these are political insiders who see their grip on power slipping away, and they’re making like one last dying gasp for relevance? You don’t say. Those are the people opposing term limits?
Philip Blumel: Yeah. Well, they weren’t alone at the mic. I mean, they had a whole troop come up one after another. We’re talking about the Chamber of Commerce, we’re talking about the two Farm Bureaus statewide, other organizations, all of which lobby the legislature for legislation. They’re all people that benefit from and work to maintain long-standing relationships with decision makers, and one after another, they went to the mic to tell the vast majority of citizens that were polled that they’re wrong.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Unions, what do they all have in common? They love special access and they hate term limits, and it’s funny because at the very start of this North Dakota campaign, the opposition was claiming that term limits would actually benefit lobbyists. Now they’re admitting that was hocus-pocus, because the entire congregation of lobbyists from all over the state has joined together in one place to oppose term limits. Why are they opposing something that allegedly gives them more power unless they know that that is utter nonsense and they are gaslighting the public with false talking points?
Philip Blumel: Which could it be? Which could it be? [chuckle] Well, the voters will have their say. This is gonna be on the ballot in November, on election day, and we’ll see if this press conference last week was persuasive to voters. My guess, it won’t be.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, and we hear these same stupid talking points regurgitated all the time all over the country by the politicians and lobbyists, you know? They’re propped up by the media, who are complicit. And let’s call it what it is. It’s a pretext for being self-serving, because nobody is willing to come out, no elected official is willing to come out and say, “Hey, I’m a greedy sociopath, and I wanna keep power for 25 years.” They can’t admit that, so they rationalize it by claiming there are all these, you know, good touchy-feely policy-type reasons for why term limits are allegedly bad. It’s an ego thing, Phil. It’s like a protective shield for their egos.
Philip Blumel: Yep. Alright, North Dakotans, you know what to do.
Nick Tomboulides: Vote yes on Measure 1.
Philip Blumel: You got it.
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’re watching. That’s termlimits.com/takeaction. If your state has already passed the term limits convention resolution or the bill’s 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.
Speaker 2: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have the No Uncertain Terms podcast.
Speaker 24: USTL.