Rob’s Rundown: Week of July 27 – July 31, 2020

July 31, 2020 | Rob's Rundown

Senator Portman was in Washington this week as discussions continued on the next COVID-19 legislative response package. On Thursday, Portman urged his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to put aside their differences and work in a bipartisan manner to address the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and help the American people. He expressed disappointment that Senate Democrats rejected a simple, common-sense proposal offered by Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) to extend, for one week, the $600 enhanced federal unemployment insurance benefit that is set to expire today, July 31. Such a proposal would have given both parties additional time to continue bipartisan discussions without federal UI benefits expiring.   

On Wednesday, Portman delivered remarks on the Senate floor highlighting critical tax incentives aimed at promoting a safe and effective reopening of the U.S. economy by bolstering employment and ensuring healthy and safe workplaces. He went on to tout his Safeguarding American Innovation Act, which is included in the Senate Republicans’ HEALS COVID-19 response package, as a necessary measure to help protect taxpayer-funded COVID-19 research as troubling reports emerge of China actively attempting to steal American COVID-19 vaccine and treatment research. Portman’s bipartisan legislation would help safeguard the additional research funding being considered for the next COVID-19 response package. In addition, Portman urged the Senate to swiftly address the current multiemployer pension crisis that threatens to eliminate the retirement security of millions of Americans, and to impede the return of strong economic growth in Ohio, if no action is taken.  

On Wednesday, Portman, as Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, released a new bipartisan report detailing how Russian oligarchs have used the secrecy of the art industry to evade U.S. sanctions. The result of a two-year investigation, which included the major auction houses, private New York art dealers, and seven financial institutions, the report shows how a lack of regulation allows the art industry to avoid the same anti-money laundering requirements that apply to financial institutions.  

In addition, Portman had the honor of introducing Judges Michael Newman, James Knepp, and Philip Calabrese at their Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing to serve on the United States District Courts for the Southern and Northern Districts of Ohio. 

Finally, Portman introduced the Repairing Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees Act or the REPLANT Act - sweeping bipartisan legislation to expand funding for the U.S. Forest Service to carry out reforestation and conservation projects in U.S. forestland damaged by events such as wildfires, insects, and disease, while creating nearly 49,000 jobs over the next ten years.

For a more detailed look at Senator Portman’s week, please see the following:  

Monday, July 27, 2020 

Portman Applauds $1.9 Million Federal Dept. of Transportation Grant to The Ohio State University 

Portman applauded the U.S. Department of Transportation for awarding a $1.9 million University Transportation Centers (UTC) grant to The Ohio State University. UTC grants support college and university consortiums that are working to advance transportation research and technology. This grant will help support assured position, navigation, and timing to match with (A-PNT) engineering for GPS in automated transportation education and research. Portman released the following statement: 

“This is great news for the students at OSU, and will help further their mission of advancing transportation research and technology for our state and the nation.  The UTC grant program is designed to help address our nation’s ever-growing need for the safe, efficient and environmentally sound movement of people and goods, and it’s great to see OSU playing a significant role in achieving progress towards that goal.” 

Portman Announces Next COVID-19 Package Includes Tax Incentives to Help Employers & Workers, Including New Healthy Workplaces Tax Credit to Help Businesses to Safely Reopen & Acquire Necessary Safety Measures 

Portman announced that the new COVID-19 legislative response package unveiled by Senate Republican leaders, includes the Healthy Workplaces Tax Credit Act he introduced last week. The bill is designed to help businesses and nonprofits continue to safely reopen while ensuring the safety of employees and consumers through a refundable tax credit against payroll taxes for 50 percent of the costs incurred by a business for increased testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfecting, extra cleaning and reconfiguring work spaces to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Congressman Tom Rice (R-SC) has introduced this legislation in the House of Representatives. The package also expands and repurposes the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Employee Retention Credit from the CARES Act into a more encompassing employment or hiring credit to incentivize hiring and job creation. 

“As businesses and nonprofits in Ohio and across America continue reopening and welcoming back employees and consumers, we must ensure the safety and security of everyone involved and the new tax credits included in the next COVID-19 response package will employers take responsible steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace,” said Portman. “A successful reopening of our economy is dependent on both employees and consumers feeling comfortable going back and this tax credit will help make that happen. We must also do more to incentivize new hiring and help businesses to ramp up operations, and I’m pleased that this package also builds upon our efforts in the CARES Act to help bring more individuals back off of unemployment and into the workforce.  I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting these tax incentives to ensure the successful reopening of our economy. This proposal is a good starting point for discussions and I look forward to working with my colleagues to reach a bipartisan agreement that addresses the health care crisis and supports our schools, our local governments, our employers, and our families.”

 Tuesday, July 28, 2020 

At Hearing, Portman Highlights Importance of Bringing PPE Production Back to U.S. 

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing, Portman highlighted the need to bring back production of personal protective equipment (PPE) to the U.S. to ensure American workers, students, health care professionals, and more have the PPE they need as the economy continues to reopen. Domestic production of PPE supplies will also create and protect American jobs. Last month, Portman urged the COVID-19 Joint Acquisition Task Force (JATF) to prioritize the procurement of American-made PPE, and to consider comprehensive measures to incentivize the reshoring of additional PPE production back to the United States. Portman intends to introduce legislation soon to re-shore PPE by requiring the JATF to issue long-term contracts for American-made PPE. 

Portman has been instrumental in helping to facilitate PPE production in Ohio-based companies, including encouraging the USTR to implement key tariff exclusions necessary for Gojo in Akron to be able to distribute larger quantities of Purell hand sanitizer, a key tool in slowing the spread of the virus. Portman also facilitated a donation by Dublin-based Cardinal Health of 2.2 million non-surgical gowns to the federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile. 

Excerpts from the hearing can be found here and a video can be found here

Portman, Rubio Announce HEALS Package Includes Bipartisan Legislation to Stop Theft of U.S. Taxpayer-Funded Research & Intellectual Property by Global Competitors 

Senators Rob Portman and Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced that the HEALS package of legislation includes the Safeguarding American Innovation Act, bipartisan legislation to help stop foreign governments from stealing American taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property developed at U.S. colleges and universities. There are already troubling reports that China, and other global competitors, may be trying to steal COVID-19 related research. The inclusion of the Safeguarding American Innovation Act will safeguard the billions of taxpayer dollars included in the HEALS package for vaccine, treatment, and other COVID-19 related research and the inclusion of this legislation will help ensure that we are doing everything possible to protect this vital research and to safeguard the investment of the American people 

Portman and U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), led a year-long investigation into this issue culminating in a bipartisan report and hearing that detailed how American taxpayers have been unwittingly funding the rise of global competitors over the last two decades while federal agencies have done little to stop it. Starting in the late 1990s through its “talent recruitment programs,” China, and other foreign competitors, began recruiting U.S.-based scientists and researchers to transfer U.S. taxpayer-funded IP for their own economic and military gain. This legislation will ensure that the federal government is taking decisive action to safeguard American innovation. 

This legislation also addresses the findings of PSI’s February 2019 report, which highlighted the Department of Education’s lack of enforcement of foreign gift reporting at U.S. colleges and universities, which the department admitted was “historically lax.” This bill gives the department increased authority to enforce foreign gift reporting rules and lowers the reporting threshold to increase transparency and prevent foreign interference on U.S. campuses.

“HEALS will provide billions of taxpayer dollars for vaccine, therapeutic, and other COVID-19 related research. We know China and other foreign actors are actively trying to steal this research. That’s why it’s important that the Safeguarding American Innovation Act has been included in the HEALS package. We need to ensure that research is protected and that we safeguard the massive investment being made by the American taxpayer. And that’s exactly what this legislation will do. The Safeguarding American Innovation Act takes decisive action to safeguard American innovation, hold foreign adversaries like China accountable for their continued actions, and ensure our world-class research enterprise is protected here in America,” said Portman. “For too long, foreign adversaries, like China, have exploited the lack of transparency in our education system to steal our taxpayer-funded research and innovation, and the federal government has done little or nothing to stop it. The inclusion of this legislation in the HEALS package will stop foreign governments from stealing our research and innovation as we make marked investments to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.  It also increases transparency to ensure that taxpayers know when colleges and universities accept significant foreign funding. I’m pleased this legislation has been included in the package, and I’m committed to continue advancing this discussion in a bipartisan way.”   

Wednesday, July 29, 2020 

Portman, Carper: Bipartisan Report Reveals How Russian Oligarchs Use Secretive Art Industry to Evade U.S. Sanctions 

Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, released a new bipartisan report detailing how Russian oligarchs have used the secrecy of the art industry to evade U.S. sanctions. Following a two-year investigation, which included the major auction houses, private New York art dealers, and seven financial institutions, the report shows how a lack of regulation allows the art industry to avoid the same anti-money laundering requirements that apply to financial institutions. The Subcommittee found that the art industry’s secretive nature allowed art intermediaries to purchase more than $18 million in high-value art in the United States through shell companies linked to Russian oligarchs after they were sanctioned by the United States in March 2014.  The Subcommittee also found the shell companies linked to the Russian oligarchs were not limited to just art and engaged in a total of $91 million in post-sanctions transactions. 

“This bipartisan report demonstrates that Russian oligarchs like the Rotenbergs have used the secrecy of the art industry to evade U.S. sanctions,” said Senator Portman.  “It is shocking that U.S. banking regulations don’t currently apply to multi-million dollar art transactions, and we cannot let that continue.  The art industry currently operates under a veil of secrecy allowing art advisors to represent both sellers and buyers masking the identities of both parties, and as we found, the source of the funds.  This creates an environment ripe for laundering money and evading sanctions.  I look forward to working with Senator Carper on legislation to ensure necessary reforms in the art industry as well as working with federal agencies to make sure American sanctions are effective.” 

On CNBC, Portman Discusses the Importance of Healthy Workplace Tax Credit in Next COVID Package 

On CNBC’s Squawk Box Senator Portman discussed the prospects for the next COVID-19 relief package and how the proposal outlined by Majority Leader McConnell is a credible starting point in negotiations. Portman believes Congress has an opportunity to work together in a bipartisan way to help the American people deal with the ongoing health care and economic crisis. 

Portman discussed the benefits of McConnell’s proposal, including the inclusion of the Healthy Workplaces Tax Credit Act he introduced last week. The bill is designed to help businesses and nonprofits continue to safely reopen while ensuring the safety of employees and consumers through a refundable tax credit against payroll taxes for 50 percent of the costs incurred by a business for increased testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfecting, extra cleaning and reconfiguring work spaces to adhere to social distancing guidelines. The package also expands and repurposes the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Employee Retention Credit from the CARES Act into a more encompassing employment or hiring credit to incentivize hiring and job creation. Excerpts from the interview can be found here and a video can be found here.  

Portman Introduces Judges Michael Newman, James Knepp & Philip Calabrese at Nomination Hearing to Serve on U.S. District Courts for the Southern and Northern Districts of Ohio 

Portman introduced Judges Michael Newman, James Knepp, and Philip Calabrese at their Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing to serve on the United States District Courts for the Southern and Northern Districts of Ohio. Judge Newman, based in Dayton, currently serves as a federal magistrate judge in the Southern District of Ohio. Judge Knepp, an Ohio native, serves as a federal magistrate judge in the Northern District of Ohio. Judge Calabrese was appointed by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine to sit on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in June 2019. All three nominees were recommended through a bipartisan judicial commission and have the support of Senator Portman and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). 

A transcript of his remarks can be found here and a video can be found here

At Hearing, Portman Highlights Bipartisan Legislation to Reform the World Trade Organization 

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing, Portman highlighted the importance of reforming the World Trade Organization (WTO). Portman believes reform is necessary in order to put America on the same level playing field as the rest of the world.  Earlier this month, Senators Portman and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced a bipartisan resolution expressing support for U.S. leadership at the WTO while also calling for reform to parts of the institution. The resolution describes the long history of productive American leadership at the WTO, as well as the ways in which the WTO has failed to address new trade barriers and market distortions by countries like China. The resolution also offers specific reform proposals of the WTO. 

Excerpts of the hearing can be found here and a video can be found here 

Portman Leads Bipartisan, Bicameral Introduction of Major Legislation to Expand Funding to Restore America’s National Forests 

Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and U.S. Representatives Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Kim Schrier M.D. (D-WA), and Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) introduced the Repairing Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees Act or the REPLANT Act, legislation to expand funding for the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to carry out reforestation projects in U.S. forestland damaged by events such as wildfires, insects and disease, while creating nearly 49,000 jobs over the next ten years. 

To address the Forest Service’s reforestation backlog and continued annual reforestation needs, the REPLANT Act removes the current $30 million annual funding cap for the Reforestation Trust Fund, the primary source of funding for USFS’s replanting needs, making an average of $123 million annually available for reforestation in National Forests. In addition, the REPLANT Act will direct USFS to quantify the backlog of replanting needs, reduce delays by expanding stewardship contracting, and encourage state and Tribal partnerships. Among other associated activities, reforestation includes planting tree seedlings on forests that are unlikely to regenerate on their own in order to reestablish native plants and ensure the health of ecosystems and wildlife that depend on forests. Replanting forests is an effective way to create jobs in rural America, support natural ecosystems and improve natural carbon sequestration. Estimates show that the REPLANT Act would help plant 410,000 acres, or 123 million trees annually, for a total of 4.1 million acres (1.23 billion trees) over the next ten years. That’s the equivalent of sequestering 75 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, or avoiding the use of 8.5 billion gallons of gasoline, in a decade. 

“I am pleased to join Senators Udall and Stabenow and Reps. Panetta, Simpson, Schrier, and LaMalfa in introducing this bipartisan legislation to address the reforestation needs within our national forests. This legislation provides a wide range of benefits, including improving our environment by sequestering carbon dioxide and reinvigorating the ecosystems and native plant and animal species that depend on healthy forests, while also creating jobs and recreation opportunities on our forestland. I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting this common-sense, bipartisan legislation to address the replanting needs across our nation’s forests,” said Portman.

 

On FOX News, Portman Discusses Next COVID-19 Response Package & Highlights Need to Incentivize Returning Safely to Available Jobs 

On FOX News’s Your World With Neil Cavuto, Portman discussed the prospects for the next COVID-19 relief package and how the proposal outlined by Majority Leader McConnell is a credible starting point in negotiations. Portman believes Congress has an opportunity to work together in a bipartisan way to help the American people deal with the ongoing health care and economic crisis. Specifically, Portman discussed the need to include incentives for those on expanded unemployment benefits to return to safe and available jobs. Portman discussed what he’s hearing from employers across Ohio who are having trouble bringing employees back to safe and available jobs because of this disincentive to work. Portman hopes both sides will hammer out a bipartisan agreement that incentivizes returning safely to the workplace to bolster the economy. Excerpts from the interview can be found here and a video can be found here.  

On Senate Floor, Portman Highlights Tax Incentives to Ensure Healthy Workplaces & Bolster Employment in Next COVID Response Package 

On the Senate floor, Portman praised the inclusion in Senate Republicans’ HEALS COVID-19 response package of critical tax incentives that promote a safe and effective reopening of the U.S. economy by bolstering employment and ensuring healthy and safe workplaces. Specifically, the package announced by Leader McConnell contains Portman’s Healthy Workplaces Tax Credit Act he introduced last week. The bill is designed to help businesses and nonprofits continue to safely reopen while ensuring the safety of employees and consumers through a refundable tax credit against payroll taxes for 50 percent of the costs incurred by a business for increased testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfecting, extra cleaning and reconfiguring work spaces to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Congressman Tom Rice (R-SC) has introduced this legislation in the House of Representatives.  

Portman also highlighted the expansion and repurposing of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Employee Retention Credit from the CARES Act into a more encompassing employment credit to incentivize hiring and job creation in the new package, a reform for which Portman has advocated during this negotiation process. 

A transcript of the speech can be found here and a video can be found here

On Senate Floor, Portman Urges Passage of Safeguarding American Innovation Act to Protect COVID-19 Research 

On the Senate floor, Portman spoke on the need for the Senate to pass his bipartisan Safeguarding American Innovation Act to help stop foreign governments from stealing American taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property developed at U.S. colleges and universities.  

Recently, both FBI Director Wray and Attorney General Barr have spoken about the threat to American taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property from foreign governments, particularly China, which would be addressed by this legislation. In fact, FBI Director Wray announced that the FBI is opening a new China-related investigation every 10 hours with around 2,500 open counterintelligence investigations across the country.   

In addition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has reported that 54 scientists have resigned or been fired as a result of a NIH investigation into American taxpayer-funded grant recipients’ failure to disclose financial ties to foreign governments, particularly China. In fact, according to the NIH investigation, more than 90 percent of the scientists had undisclosed ties to China. 

There are already troubling reports that China, and other global competitors, may be trying to steal COVID-19-related research.

The Safeguarding American Innovation Act, which passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week, will help prevent this from happening. For that reason, it was recently announced that this legislation has been included in Senate Republicans’ HEALS coronavirus rescue package. 

A transcript of the speech can be found here and a video can be found here

On Senate Floor, Portman Urges Swift Action to Reform Multiemployer Pension System 

On the Senate floor, Portman highlighted the need for Congress to act to address the current multiemployer pension crisis that threatens to eliminate the retirement security of millions of Americans, and to impede the return of strong economic growth in Ohio, if no action is taken. The federally run guarantor of those plans, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, is set to become insolvent within five years, jeopardizing the retirement security of at least 1.4 million Americans.  

Portman also underscored the need for any bipartisan multiemployer pension reform legislation to address both the immediate crisis with respect to the PBGC, and the longer-term structural issues that created the conditions for the persistent underfunding of multiemployer pension plans in the first place.  He also emphasized that any solution to address the immediate crisis must involve a shared responsibility approach, with contributions from not just general public funds, but also employers and plan participants within the multiemployer pension system. 

A transcript of his remarks can be found here and a video can be found here.  

Thursday, July 30, 2020 

At Hearing, Secretary Pompeo Says Portman’s Bipartisan China Legislation is Needed to Combat Theft of U.S. Taxpayer-Funded Research 

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed with Portman on the need for the State Department to have the right toolset in order to combat China’s theft of U.S. taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property. Portman’s bipartisan Safeguarding American Innovation Act, which passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week, will help prevent this from happening. There are already troubling reports that China, and other global competitors, may be trying to steal COVID-19-related research. The Senate Republicans’ HEALS coronavirus rescue package provides for a massive taxpayer funded investment in more COVID-19 research and includes this legislation to ensure that research is protected. 

Pompeo also announced his support for the recent increase in funding for lethal aid to Ukraine in order for the country to better protect itself from ongoing Russian aggression. Portman, as co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, announced last week that the Senate-passed FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes $250 million in security assistance for Ukraine to fund additional training, lethal and non-lethal equipment, and advisory efforts for Ukraine’s forces.  Specifically, $125 million of that $250 million is designated specifically for lethal assistance, an increase of $75 million from FY20. 

Finally, Pompeo acknowledged the importance of the Global Engagement Center (GEC) and its efforts to combat disinformation and propaganda, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Portman and Senator Chris Murphy’s (D-CT) bipartisan legislation – the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act – was signed into law in December 2016 as part of the FY 2017 NDAA Conference Report. The law improves the ability of the United States to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation by establishing an interagency center, GEC, within the State Department to coordinate and synchronize counter-propaganda efforts throughout the U.S. government. 

Excerpts from the hearing can be found here and a video can be found here

At Hearing, University of Cincinnati Health Officer Thanks Portman for Help Acquiring COVID-19 Diagnostic Machine & Advises on Next Steps to Increase Testing & Supplies   

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing, the University of Cincinnati (UC) Health's Chief Supply Chain and Logistics Officer Rob Wiehe praised Portman for his role in helping the University of Cincinnati Health System acquire a Roche machine to increase their ability to run COVID-19 diagnostic tests.  In April, Portman worked with the Department of Health and Human Services to help secure a Roche testing machine to run COVID diagnostic tests, at a time when Southwest Ohio was in desperate need.   

Portman also asked Wiehe about what more Congress could do in order to speed up COVID-19 testing results and increase testing supplies for testing sites. Portman has been vocal about the need for increased COVID-19 testing and reshoring production of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) in the United States. Reshoring production will ensure American workers, students, health care professionals, and more have the PPE they need as the economy continues to reopen. Domestic production of PPE supplies will also create and protect American jobs. Last month, Portman urged the COVID-19 Joint Acquisition Task Force (JATF) to prioritize the procurement of American-made PPE, and to consider comprehensive measures to incentivize the reshoring of additional PPE production back to the United States. Portman intends to introduce legislation soon to re-shore PPE by requiring the JATF to issue long-term contracts for American-made PPE. Excerpts from the hearing can be found here and a video can be found here.   

On Senate Floor, Portman Urges Colleagues to Put Differences Aside & Work in a Bipartisan Manner to Address Challenges Caused by COVID-19 Pandemic 

On the Senate floor, Portman urged his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to put their aside their differences and work in a bipartisan manner  to address the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and help the American people.  He expressed disappointment that Senate Democrats rejected a simple, common-sense proposal offered by Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) to extend, for one week, the $600 enhanced federal unemployment insurance benefit that is set to expire tomorrow, July 31. Such a proposal would have given both parties additional time to continue bipartisan discussions without federal UI benefits expiring.   

Portman discussed how the proposal introduced by Majority Leader McConnell earlier this week is a credible starting point in negotiations that includes substantial funding for many of the same priorities Senate Democrats are asking be included. Portman believes, given the importance of this legislation and the amount of taxpayer funds being spent, that it is critical that both parties work together in a bipartisan way to ensure the health care, economy, education, and other needs of Americans during this ongoing pandemic are addressed. A transcript of his remarks can be found here and a video can be found here.  

Portman, Bipartisan Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Provide Assistance, Support for Ukraine 

Portman, co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, joined U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-ID) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chris Murphy (D-CT), John Barrasso (R-WY), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to introduce the bipartisan Ukraine Security Partnership Act to provide security assistance and strategic support to Ukraine. 

“I’m pleased to introduce this legislation which sends a clear message that America stands with the Ukrainian people in their struggle to secure a democratic, prosperous, and independent future in the face of Russian aggression,” said Portman. “Our relationship with Ukraine is strategic and this bill makes clear statements regarding a whole of government strategy focused on enhancing all elements of Ukrainian security. The United States Congress will continue to make sure the Ukrainian military has the capabilities it needs to defend its sovereign territory—on the land, sea, and air. As co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, I will continue to lead efforts in the Senate to ensure the Ukrainians have the equipment, resources and capabilities they need to defend themselves against Russian aggression.” 

Friday, July 31, 2020

Portman Announces Additional Federal Aviation Administration CARES Act Grants to Assist Ohio Airports Impacted By COVID-19 

Portman announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded an additional $363,719 in federal grants to help provide economic relief for lost revenue because of COVID-19.   

Recently, Portman announced that the FAA awarded Northeast Ohio airports with more than $46.5 million in federal grants. In addition, Portman announced 28 Ohio airports with more than $42.1 million in federal grants. In May, Portman announced additional FAA grants. Last month, Portman announced $782,000 in FAA grants to help address the impacts of COVID-19. Last week, Portman announced a $11.4 million grant for Cleveland Hopkins airport. In total, Ohio airports have received nearly $120 million in federal grants.  

These grants come from funds accessible thanks to the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which Portman supported and was signed into law by President Trump. Portman released the following statement:     

“A functioning and effective aviation industry is critical to our U.S. economy. During this ongoing coronavirus pandemic, travel has significantly changed, thus leaving the aviation industry in a tough economic position,” said Portman. “I’m pleased to see this CARES Act rescue money helping this industry so these airports can continue to serve Ohio, and beyond this assistance, I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure Ohioans have the resources they need during these uncertain times.”    

Portman, Peters Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen Reentry Opportunities Through Skills Trainings & Apprenticeships

Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced bipartisan legislation that strengthens reentry programs that provide workforce training, as well as pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship opportunities. The Reentry Employment Opportunities Act would codify into law the U.S. Department of Labor’s Reentry Employment Opportunities (REO) Program, which supports national, regional, and local organizations that administer skills training programs. The REO program provides critical opportunities for returning citizens to be able to have a smooth transition back into society and learn skills that will help them secure good jobs. 

“Providing reentry support services to vulnerable youth and young adults at risk of recidivism is vital to ensuring we give them a second chance at living up to their God-given potential,” said Senator Portman. “I am proud to introduce the Reentry Employment Opportunities Act with Senator Peters, which authorizes this important grant program that has been a successful pilot program at the Department of Labor. This bipartisan legislation builds on my previous work to ensure that those re-entering society have access to the skills training and jobs necessary to stay out of the criminal justice system and contribute to their communities.” 

SOCIAL MEDIA

 

 

Senate Report: Opaque Art Market Helped Oligarchs Evade Sanctions

Companies linked to two Russian oligarchs exploited the opaqueness of the art world to buy high-value art, bypassing U.S. sanctions, according to a report by the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that was published on Wednesday. 

American companies are barred from doing business with sanctioned individuals. But the report said the oligarchs, Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, two brothers who are close to President Vladimir P. Putin of Russia, were able to hide behind an intermediary who made the purchases on behalf of companies owned or funded by the Rotenbergs.

 The purchases of works at auction houses and through private art dealers in New York totaled $18.4 million in value and were made after the Rotenbergs came under United States sanctions in 2014.

 The report said the financial transactions were enabled by the secrecy and anonymity with which the art market operates and it called for tighter rules to force greater transparency. The investigators concluded that the auction houses — including Christie’s and Sotheby’s — and private sellers never knew the true identity of the oligarchs who were buying the art, but they said that was a loophole that needs to be closed for a sanctions policy to be truly effective.

 “It is shocking that U.S. banking regulations don’t currently apply to multimillion-dollar art transactions, and we cannot let that continue,” Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, who is chairman of the subcommittee, said in a statement. “The art industry currently operates under a veil of secrecy allowing art advisers to represent both sellers and buyers masking the identities of both parties, and as we found, the source of the funds. This creates an environment ripe for laundering money and evading sanctions.”

 None of the auction houses or dealers were accused of any wrongdoing. The report said they stopped doing business with the intermediary as soon as they learned of the Senate investigators’ concerns.

 In a statement, Christie’s said it welcomed “the opportunity to work with U.S. legislators on appropriate and enforceable A.M.L. guidelines for all tiers of the art trade here.” Sotheby’s said in a statement that it “takes Anti-Money Laundering and United States sanctions policies extremely seriously and voluntarily participated in the Senate Subcommittee’s investigation.”

The Rotenberg brothers were the subject of sanctions in March 2014, in an expansion of sanctions to wealthy businessmen with close ties to President Putin that came in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

The Rotenbergs had amassed fortunes through their ties to the government, the administration said. They were awarded an estimated $7 billion in contracts for the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. President Putin later entrusted the construction of a bridge to Crimea to Arkady Rotenberg, a longtime friend and judo partner.

Despite the prohibition against U.S. entities doing business with the oligarchs, the Senate investigators traced numerous art transactions in a period of just a few months following the imposition of the sanctions back to anonymous shell companies that they said were linked to the Rotenbergs 

The report identifies a Moscow-based art adviser named Gregory Baltser, whom it described as a naturalized U.S. citizen, as an intermediary who bought art for companies it said were linked to the Rotenbergs. Mr. Baltser typically operated through his company, Baltzer, a private art agency and club, that he established in 2013, the report said. 

In one case, in May 2014, Baltzer bought multiple works at a Sotheby’s sale in New York for $6.8 million, including works by Henry Moore, Marc Chagall and Georges Braque. A Belize company called Steamort, which the report links to the Rotenbergs, wired funds from an Estonian bank account to Baltzer’s London account and from there to Sotheby’s bank in New York. 

In another case, in June 2014, a company called Highland Ventures bought a painting, René Magritte’s “La Poitrine,” for $7.5 million via a private New York art dealer, with funds it traced to a company owned by Arkady Rotenberg. 

Just a few months later, in November, Baltzer bought a painting, “Un port sous la lune,” by the artist Tamara De Lempicka, at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Day Sale in New York, for $665,000 using funds wired by Highland Ventures and Steamort. 

In a statement, a lawyer representing Mr. Baltser, David A. Vicinanzo, said Baltzer “maintains a strict compliance program, and has never conducted any transaction prohibited by any sanctions list.” 

“Baltzer can confirm that neither it nor Gregory Baltser has ever, at any time, represented or transacted in any way with Boris or Arkady Rotenberg." the statement said. 

It also said that Baltzer had relied on a list of sanctioned entities compiled by the U.S. Treasury Department and noted that the companies cited by the Senate investigators as being tied to the Rotenbergs were not included on that list. 

“Baltzer had urged the Subcommittee not to make unfair and untrustworthy allegations on the basis of information from unconfirmed sources,” the statement said, “and is deeply disappointed that the Subcommittee has chosen to do just that.” 

Investigators said Mr. Baltser had refused multiple requests to be interviewed by the subcommittee when he could have laid out his position. 

A representative for the Rotenbergs said in a statement that they had never circumvented sanctions. 

“Any statement asserting that any member of the Rotenberg family ever contemplated using art as a money movement tool is totally absurd,” the representative said. “All transactions with works of art made by Rotenberg family members or on their behalf were made openly, strictly with lawful personal purposes and always on market terms.” 

The art market lacks the formal regulatory requirements that the Bank Secrecy Act imposes on financial institutions. Instead, the industry relies on voluntary money-laundering policies to identify counterparties in transactions, but the report said in the case of the Rotenberg transactions, these were easily circumvented. 

Any due diligence carried out was only done on Mr. Baltser, the report found, satisfying the voluntary auction houses’ anti-money-laundering and sanctions policies, but failing to determine who was really behind the acquisitions. 

“Despite having voluntary A.M.L. and sanctions policies, auction houses failed to ask basic questions of Mr. Baltser, including for whom he purchased art,” the report concluded. “This allowed Mr. Baltser to continue to purchase art despite the imposition of sanctions by the United States on the Rotenbergs, completely undermining any action taken by the auction houses to block transactions by sanctioned individuals.” 

To force greater transparency on the art industry, the report called for Congress to amend the Bank Secrecy Act to add businesses handling transactions involving high-value art. This would bring the United States, and the New York art industry, more in line with recent European Union changes, it said, requiring the verification of the identity of art sellers, buyers and ultimately who owns the art or benefits from its sale. 

“There are reforms that we know can be put in place to ensure that wealthy bad actors cannot use valuable works of art to evade U.S. sanctions,” said Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware and the ranking member on the committee. 

The report’s authors said the activities the investigation was able to trace were likely only the “tip of the iceberg” of illicit activities in the art market. 

The investigation was started after the ineffectiveness of the sanctions became apparent, since Russia has not withdrawn from Ukraine, and the report’s authors said the activities they had uncovered raised questions about the effectiveness of sanctions policy. 

“If wealthy Russian oligarchs can purchase millions in art for personal investment or enjoyment while under sanction, it follows that their businesses or hidden resources could also continue accessing the U.S. financial system,” the report said.

 

 

How Two Sanctioned Russian Billionaire Brothers Bought Art Anyway

Two months after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russian construction billionaires Arkady and Boris Rotenberg in March 2014, the brothers sent their art adviser on a shopping spree, according to a Senate investigation report released Wednesday. At a Sotheby’s auction that month in New York, the Rotenbergs, who are lifelong friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, paid $6.8 million for 10 works of art, including a cubist still life by Georges Braque and a swirling tableau by Marc Chagall, the report said. 

Days later, the Rotenbergs again added to their collection, paying a private U.S. dealer $7.5 million for “Chest,” René Magritte’s 1961 painting of a colorful pile of buildings, according to the report. When Senate investigators later asked the art dealer if she had vetted the buyers’ identities to make sure they weren’t blacklisted, she said she never asked. When it comes to due diligence, the report said, “She relies on her gut.” 

Who is buying art these days? Such disclosure details in art deals like these are being scrutinized following a two-year investigation by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which alleges art is increasingly being used as a tool by blacklisted individuals to evade sanctions. The report directed sharp criticism at auction houses and art dealers for doing little to screen or stop sanctioned people from trading art in the U.S. 

Companies based in the U.S. are forbidden by law from having any financial dealings with sanctioned individuals. Americans caught transacting with the Rotenbergs or any sanctioned individual can face steep fines or even jail terms. The seller of a painting isn’t required to ask or know the identity of the buyer to close a deal, though, because blue-chip art isn’t subject to the same anti-money-laundering disclosure laws that govern U.S. banks. 

The art world has installed its own disclosure protocols, but has long struggled to enforce them. Collectors prize discretion and don’t always want their identities or income sources shared. Dealers likewise tend to be tight-lipped about their major clients, and no one wants to cede business to rivals willing to ask less and sell more. This helps explain why so many catalogs brim with works whose only ownership clue is “private collection.” 

“I know the auction houses and dealers don’t always want to know who they’re selling to because they’re making significant money, but we also have a national-security interest in making sure sanctions work,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) who led the bipartisan report with Tom Carper (D., Del.). “Secrecy is the problem,” Sen. Portman added.

Even after meeting with Senate investigators in 2018, Sotheby’s and Christie’s competed last year for the chance to auction Lyonel Feininger’s “Bridge II,” a painting investigators said the Rotenbergs likely owned. Christie’s said later it didn’t know the work’s true seller at the time. When Sotheby’s won the consignment, it asked the Rotenbergs’ alleged adviser for the work’s owner and was told it belonged to a Marshall Islands company. The house gave the painting a $5 million estimate and included it in its February 2019 London sale. Just before the auction, the house pulled the work; Sotheby’s told investigators the work hadn’t elicited any potential bidders. 

Altogether, the report alleges the Rotenbergs used U.S. dollars to spend or move around funds totaling $91 million, including $18.4 million in art and antiques, since sanctions were imposed. 

Sen. Portman said he and Sen. Carper launched the investigation two years ago to research the efficacy of U.S. sanctions imposed on members of President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle in March 2014, weeks after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and launched a covert military operation in eastern Ukraine. Arkady Rotenberg, a St. Petersburg native and industrialist who befriended Mr. Putin when they joined the same judo club as children, was among those sanctioned. His brother Boris was added shortly thereafter. But after more sanctions were imposed on a wider circle of Russian oligarchs in 2018, Sen. Portman said he and other legislators “wanted to figure out why the sanctions didn’t appear to be working.” 

Senate investigators who briefed The Wall Street Journal on the report’s findings said they started looking broadly at blacklisted Russians but soon focused on Arkady Rotenberg’s art-collecting activity. Eventually, they expanded their investigation to art bought by his brother and son, Igor, who is also sanctioned. Investigators said the family offers a case study in how some blacklisted Russians are using the opaque art market to circumvent financial restrictions. 

Christie’s, Sotheby’s and the smaller London houses, Phillips and Bonhams, are all named in the report for doing business with the Rotenbergs. Spokespeople for each said they had zero tolerance for evasion of sanctions and were willing to work with the U.S. government on this issue. The houses also said they didn’t know the Rotenbergs were bidding through an alleged art adviser, Gregory Baltser, until investigators informed them of the connection. All said they stopped allowing him to bid after Senate investigators came asking questions.

“I was shocked when I found out,” Phillips’ Chief Executive Edward Dolman said. 

Mr. Baltser, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in Russia, confirmed that his company, Baltzer LLP (the misspelling is intentional), has aided Russian collectors in the past but through his lawyer denied that he ever bid on behalf of the Rotenbergs. His lawyer, in a statement, said the investigation has “done substantial collateral damage to Baltzer and its employees, and has forced Baltzer to largely suspend operations.” 

A representative for the Rotenbergs called the Senate allegations “totally absurd” and said they never used any tools, including art, to launder money or circumvent sanctions. “All transactions with works of art made by Rotenberg family members or on their behalf were made openly, strictly with lawful personal purposes and always on market terms,” the statement said. 

In 2018, the European Union amended its anti-money-laundering regulations to require businesses to verify the identities of sellers and buyers of art valued over €10,000. 

The Senate report recommended ways to alter U.S. laws to compel more disclosure in art sales, but so far two bills that could potentially address the issue are stalled. 

Arkady Rotenberg, now 68 years old, built a nearly $3 billion fortune, according to Forbes, overseeing infrastructure companies. His brother Boris and son have made fortunes in industries like energy and real estate. 

Until now, little was known about the composition or extent of the Rotenberg collection. The brothers have been seen at judo and ice hockey matches in Russia but seldom attend glamorous gallery dinners or make buzzy purchases. 

The report alleged that for at least a decade the brothers have been collecting modern art, particularly surrealists like Salvador Dalí and Giorgio de Chirico as well as Tamara de Lempicka and a few contemporary artists like Andreas Gursky. 

To unravel the trail of their art hunt, investigators culled records from auction houses as well as suspicious-activity reports submitted to the Treasury Department. They also tracked payments in Russia through one of their nine offshore accounts to an account managed by the public face of their collection, their alleged adviser Mr. Baltser, according to the report. 

Unlike the Rotenbergs, Mr. Baltser appeared to seek the art spotlight, opening a Moscow hangout called the Baltzer Club (the misspelling is intentional) where he invited Russia’s newly wealthy art lovers to watch global auctions and bid, ideally through him. His website offered to help collectors bid with “anonymity,” according to the report.