Saturday, August 06, 2022

Flashback: Frix's $2k lobbyist-paid trip to National Popular Vote conference in NYC

State Rep. Avery Frix, running against former State Sen. Josh Brecheen in the 2nd Congressional District's GOP runoff, is keen to remind voters of Brecheen's greatest (single?) blemish from eight years ago in the state legislature, when Brecheen cast an ill-advised (and swiftly recanted) vote in support of a National Popular Vote compact bill authored by a fellow Republican.

Frix doesn't want voters to remember the time - just four years ago - after Donald Trump's 2016 election, that he took a lobbyist-paid junket to New York City for a National Popular Vote conference.

Does anybody remember this?

(In NYC on the IRPE-paid trip. L-R: Rep. Avery Frix, Rep. McDugle's then-mistress, Rep. Baker's husband, Rep. Kevin McDugle, Rep. Rhonda Baker)

In mid-December 2017, three Republican state representatives (among them being Avery Frix) took a trip to New York City to attend a conference put on by the Institute for Research on Presidential Elections. The group spent a little over $2,000 on Avery Frix. The purpose of the junket was to learn about the IRPE's efforts to change how we elect the President from the Electoral College system to a national popular vote.

I first learned about this after reading an article by Brianna Bailey of TheFrontier, entitled Oklahoma lawmakers can accept limitless hotel stays and travel subsidies from special interest groups. Bailey included a list of these "scholarships" here, dating back to 2015.

Listed first alphabetically on the Frontier's list, State Rep. Avery Frix (R-Muskogee) reported a scholarship of $2,063 to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission for a trip to New York City from December 14th, 2017, to December 17th, 2017. Frix was accompanied on the excursion by State Rep. Rhonda Baker (R-Yukon) and State Rep. Kevin McDugle (R-Broken Arrow). Baker attended with her husband, and McDugle brought his girlfriend/mistress along (he was currently going through a divorce, and was accused of adultery).

Must have been a fun trip for Frix, age 23 at the time. $2,000 from some lobbyist for an expense-paid trip to New York City? Pays to be a politician, apparently. Perks of the office -- just wait 'til Congress, right?

John Koza, "a California Democrat who made his fortune by inventing the scratch-off lottery ticket", started two non-profits about a decade ago to push his goal of discarding the Electoral College -- the Institute for Research on Presidential Elections, and National Popular Vote. IRPE is the group that paid for Frix, Baker, and McDugle to attend their NYC junket.

Politico did a profile on Koza and his campaign; here are some relevant snippets:
"[T]he most viable campaign to change how Americans choose their leader is being waged at booze-soaked junkets in luxury hotels around the country and even abroad, as an obscure entity called the Institute for Research on Presidential Elections peddles a controversial idea: that state legislatures can put the popular-vote winner in the White House."
Earlier in 2017, Koza's IRPE took journalists on "all-expenses-paid, three-day trip at a four-star resort" in Panama to introduce them to his project:
"The only way to ensure a nuanced, in-depth discussion of a national popular vote is to lock people in a conference room for hours—and the only way to do that is to lure them to a swanky location promising an otherwise leisurely weekend of free food, drink and entertainment. The seminars initially targeted state lawmakers—whose votes back home will shape the Compact’s fate—but beginning last fall they have also been organized for journalists and opinion leaders in an attempt to gain broader recognition."
Leading into 2016, Koza and his compatriots felt like they were on the verge of finally getting a Republican-led state to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC): "If the 2016 election had been normal, we believe we would have gotten enactments in red states in 2017,” Koza says. “We’ve been in a holding pattern, waiting to see if things cool down. … We’re currently in the process of figuring out what to do in 2018."

In early 2018, 10 blue states (CA, HI, IL, MD, MA, NJ, NY, RI, VT, WA, as well as DC) had signed on to the NPVIC, representing 165 electoral votes.

Here's another key quote from the Politico article: The plan, according to [former MI GOP chairman and NPV activist] Saul Anuzis, is to kick off the year by targeting not just any Republican states but Utah and Oklahoma—two of the most conservative in the union—in pursuit of a symbolic breakthrough. They boast only a combined 13 electoral votes, but Koza and his team believe passage there could open the floodgates. “A lot of Republicans don’t want their state to jump first,” Anuzis says. “But if we get those two, we’ll get four or five more.”

NPV and IRPE routinely used Republican figures such as former Michigan GOP Chair Saul Anuzis to recruit GOP support, once even touting an endorsement by Newt Gingrich. The NPV 'about' page has a mix of people who support the plan, ranging from Democrat mega-donors, consultants and a former Bernie Sanders staffer, to Anuzis and a former Republican State Senator from California.

This was not the first time that Oklahoma has been targeted by the National Popular Vote advocates, nor the last. In 2014, a version authored by [now former] State Sen. Rob Johnson passed the Senate 28-18. Amid instant grassroots outrage to the vote, Republican Senators Allen, Brecheen, and Stanislawski publicly admitted their error in lending support to the measure. Johnson and former State Rep. Don Armes (R-Faxon) authored NPV bills during their tenure, and have lobbied for the idea since leaving the legislature.

All told, between December 2017 and January 2019, IRPE and the National Popular Vote effort spent $30,740.62 on 15 GOP legislators and $16,276.91 on 13 Democrats to their conferences in places like New York City, Utah, California, Colorado, and Massachusetts. 

One would have thought that between the lessons learned by other Republical legislators in recent years, plus the Trump 2016 election, this would have been a no-brainer issue, but Avery Frix apparently needed a $2,000 wine-and-dine trip to New York City to make up his mind about the national popular vote proposal. What other issues does he need lobbyist-paid vacations to help decide his position on?


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