Italy: Lawmakers Want Salvini to Explain Alleged Russia Deal

Opposition lawmakers in Italy demanded Thursday to have Interior Minister Matteo Salvini appear in Parliament about allegations that a covert Russian oil sale scheme was devised to fund his pro-Moscow League party. Democratic Party lawmakers pressed for a parliamentary inquiry following another media report with allegations that a former Salvini associate proposed an under-the-table arrangement to pump money into the right-wing party. The alleged proposal for the multimillion-euro plan was made last year after the League became a partner in Italy’s populist coalition government and ahead of May’s European Parliament elections. Italian Senator Gregorio De Falco, top right, speaks at the Senate in Rome, July 11, 2019. Opposition lawmakers want to question Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini about allegations of a Russian oil deal to fund his pro-Moscow League party. As he did when the allegations first surfaced earlier this year, Salvini shrugged off the latest version. “Never took a ruble, a euro, a dollar or a liter of vodka of financing from Russia,” Salvini said after the BuzzFeed report was published Wednesday. Salvini has openly admired Russian President Vladimir Putin and vigorously advocates an end to European Union economic sanctions on Russia. The opposition lawmakers specifically want to question Salvini, the BuzzFeed journalist who reported the allegations, Italy’s ambassador to Moscow, and Russia’s ambassador to Rome. They also want to hear from Gianluca Savoini, a League associate close to the Russians who allegedly championed the proposed deal. Allegations The BuzzFeed article about a Moscow meeting aimed at arranging such a deal in 2018 largely mirrored allegations that appeared months ago in Italian magazine L’Espresso. BuzzFeed built on L’Espresso’s story, saying it had obtained an audio of the conversation about the purported deal among Italians and Russians at a Moscow hotel. Both articles said the alleged deal would have involved a Russian energy company selling fuel to an Italian energy company. The fuel would be allegedly offered at a discount, with part of the difference purportedly going to the League’s coffers.  Both L’Espresso and BuzzFeed stressed the reporters had no confirmation the deal was sealed or evidence that fuel was …


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France Adopts Pioneering Tax on Internet Tech Giants After US Threat

France adopted a pioneering tax on internet giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook on Thursday, despite U.S. threats of new tariffs on French imports. The final vote in favor of the tax in the French Senate came hours after the Trump administration announced an investigation into the tax under the provision used last year to probe China’s technology policies, which led to tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports. ”Between allies, we can, and we should, solve our differences without using threats,” Bruno Le Maire said. “France is a sovereign country. It will make its own sovereign decisions on fiscal measures.” The tax amounts to a 3% annual levy on the French revenues of digital companies with yearly global sales worth more than 750 million euros ($844 million) and French revenue exceeding 25 million euros. The tax primarily targets those that use consumer data to sell online advertising. ”Each of us is seeing the emergence of economic giants with monopolistic attributes and who not only want to control a maximum amount of data and make money with this data, but also go further than that by, in the absence of rules, escaping taxes and putting into place instruments that could, tomorrow, become a sovereign currency,” Le Maire said. The French Finance Ministry has estimated that the tax would raise about 500 million euros annually ($563 million) at first — but predicted fast growth. The tech industry is warning that consumers could pay more. U.S. companies affected included Airbnb and Uber as well as those from China and Europe. The bill aims to stop multinationals from avoiding taxes by setting up headquarters in low-tax EU countries. Currently, the companies pay nearly no tax in countries where they have large sales like France. France failed to persuade EU partners to impose a Europe-wide tax on tech giants, but is now pushing for an international deal with the 34 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. ”The internet industry is a great American export, supporting millions of jobs and businesses of all sizes. Global tax rules should be updated for …


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US Targets Venezuela Intelligence Agency with Sanctions

The Trump administration imposed sanctions Thursday on Venezuela’s military intelligence agency, which is accused of torturing to death a navy captain in its custody.   The latest move by the U.S. Treasury Department to pressure President Nicolas Maduro from power followed another round of negotiations in Barbados between Maduro’s government and opposition leaders aimed at ending Venezuela’s political crisis.   Maduro’s spokesman Jorge Rodriguez said the talks moderated by Norway that closed Wednesday resulted in a successful exchange, but gave no details and it wasn’t immediately clear if any agreements had been reached.   The U.S.-backed opposition is demanding early presidential elections, contending that Maduro’s re-election last year was invalid.   Few hold out hope for the most recent attempt at dialogue. Several rounds of talks have failed to lead to solutions as Venezuela’s political and financial crisis has deepened in recent years, sparking one of the worst migration crises in Latin America’s history.   Maduro often says he’s willing to negotiate to end hostilities and bring peace to the South American nation, bu the opposition accuses the socialist government of using talks as a stalling tactic while continuing to threaten, torture and kill political opponents.   The Vatican extended its institutional prestige in 2016, attempting to mediate a dialogue that the pope later said went up in smoke,” placing blame on Maduro. A year later, a fresh round of talks in the Dominican Republic also fizzled with no constructive outcome.<br />  <br /> Meanwhile, crippling U.S. oil sanctions have exacerbated a crisis marked by food, fuel and medicine shortages that sent 4 million people _ more than 10% of Venezuela’s population _ fleeing the country in recent years.<br />  <br /> The new U.S. sanctions target Venezuela’s General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence. The sanctions appear to be largely symbolic because they prohibit Americans’ dealings with the agency, which likely has few already.<br />  <br /> The agency arrested Capt. Rafael Acosta on suspicion of plotting to assassinate Maduro. His attorney says he showed signs of torture before dying after a court appearance.<br />  <br />The politically motivated arrest and …


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S. Korean Diplomat Complains to Pompeo About Japan’s Export Curbs

South Korea’s foreign minister told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Japan’s export curbs against South Korea are “undesirable” for trilateral cooperation, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday. Japan tightened curbs last week on exports of three materials crucial for smartphone displays and chips, saying trust with South Korea had been broken over a dispute with Seoul over South Koreans forced to work for Japanese firms during World War II The restrictions will affect companies such as Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd and SK Hynix Inc., which supply chips to companies such as Apple Inc., and South Korea is stepping up diplomatic overtures to their mutual ally the United States to step in. Widespread damage South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told Pompeo in a phone call late Wednesday that Japan’s trade restrictions may not only cause damage to South Korean companies but could also disrupt the global supply chain and hurt U.S. companies. Kang “expressed concern that this is undesirable in terms of friendly relations between South Korea and Japan and trilateral cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan,” the ministry said. Seoul hoped Tokyo would withdraw the curbs and that the situation would not deteriorate further, it said. Pompeo “expressed understanding” and both agreed to continue to cooperate and to strengthen communication between the three sides, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Kim Hyun-chong, deputy chief of South Korea’s National Security Office, arrived in Washington Wednesday in an unannounced visit and told reporters he was there to meet officials from the White House and Congress to discuss issues that included Japan’s export curbs.   …


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Britain, Canada Create Fund to Promote Global Free Press

Britain and Canada established a fund Wednesday to train and provide legal support for journalists in some of the world’s hot spots.   The two nations hope other countries will also contribute to the Global Media Defense Fund, which will be administered by UNESCO. Britain is donating about $3.8 million, and Canada kicked in about $765,000.  Britain also announced it was launching a separate, $18.8 million program to combat what many see as a growing crisis for independent media worldwide.  Two journalists relax in front of plaques memorializing journalists killed since 2016. The display was part of the Global Conference for Media Freedom. The new fund was announced in a keynote address by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt at the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London. The conference, which continues Thursday, is co-hosted by Canada and Britain. In his speech, Hunt told the story of reporter Francisco Romero Diaz, who was killed in May  in southern Mexico, to illustrate the dangers faced by a growing number of journalists each year. Last year, Hunt said, nearly 100 journalists were killed — more than twice the annual toll just a decade ago. Amal Clooney, a lawyer and activist who defended two Reuters reporters recently freed from jail in Myanmar, noted that Washington-based Freedom House, which publishes an annual report on world press freedom, recorded its 13th consecutive year of decline in its global freedom index. “This decline in media freedom doesn’t only mean that journalists have fewer rights,” she said. “It means we all have.” Money not enough The cash pledged Wednesday is earmarked for training journalists, paying legal expenses and creating other support systems.  But some of the reporters and editors covering the conference are calling for more direct and decisive action by world leaders to protect journalists and punish those who kill them. Clooney and Hunt both noted that more often than not, the killers of journalists aren’t punished for their crimes. That’s especially true when the perpetrators are government officials. And leaders of other nations often appear disinclined to try to hold their counterparts accountable. “When Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was …


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US Border Apprehensions Decline Amid Summer Heat, Mexico Deal

The number of people apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border declined in June, breaking a six-month streak of dramatic increases and prompting the Trump administration to quickly — though cautiously — claim an early victory in its negotiations for stricter border enforcement in Mexico.  The number of unauthorized border crossers detained by the U.S. Border Patrol in June fell to 94,897, a 28% decline from May, according to Wednesday’s data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  Apprehensions declined as summer temperatures climbed and Mexico ramped up its own border enforcement following an agreement with the U.S. to avoid a tariff President Donald Trump threatened to levy. “What we see in June is that our strategy is working. The president’s engagement with Mexico, the deal to enforce immigration security on their southern border … that’s clearly having an impact on the flow,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told CNN on Tuesday, hours after his agency released preliminary estimates for June. Reasons behind fluctuations Migrants from Central America’s Northern Triangle countries — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — make up the majority of apprehensions. However, migration numbers fluctuate for various reasons, including changes in season, political climate, policy and weather. In part, “we generally do have a small decline in June due to the high summer temperatures,” a senior CBP official told reporters, acknowledging that there may be more than one factor causing last month’s decrease in apprehensions. The official added that the agency is “very optimistic … as Mexico continues to deploy resources to their southern border and continues to beef up their border security.” The number of apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border usually reaches a peak in March, before declining steadily over the summer months. But this year, that reversal did not happen. Instead, that number spiked in May to more than 132,000. “The logistics of this flow is different than the U.S. has ever seen. And the size is different than Mexico has ever seen,” Andrew Selee, president of the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, told VOA. The drop in apprehensions from May to June shows “clearly there’s an …


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UN: Global Warming Threatens to Defeat Effort to Fix World Ills

Relentless global warming threatens the potential success of a sweeping set of goals established by the United Nations to tackle inequality, conflict and other ills, officials said on Tuesday. Climate change imperils food supplies, water and places where people live, endangering the U.N. plan to address these world problems by 2030, according to a report by U.N. officials. Member nations of the U.N. unanimously adopted 17 global development goals in 2015, setting out a wide-ranging “to-do” list tackling such vexing issues as conflict, hunger, land degradation, gender inequality and climate change. The latest report, which called climate change “the greatest challenge to sustainable development,” came as diplomatic, business and other officials gathered for a high-level U.N. forum to take stock of the goals’ progress. “The most urgent area for action is climate change,” said Liu Zhenmin, U.N. Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, in the report. “The compounded effects will be catastrophic and irreversible,” he said, listing increased extreme weather events, more severe natural disasters and land degradation. “These effects, which will render many parts of the globe uninhabitable, will affect the poor the most.” Progress has been made on lowering child mortality, boosting immunization rates and global access to electricity, the report said. Yet extreme poverty, hunger and inequality remain hugely problematic, and more than half of school-age children showed “shockingly low proficiency rates” in reading and math, it said. Two-thirds of those children were in school. Human trafficking rates nearly doubled from an average 150 detected victims per country in 2010 to 254 in 2016. But it was unclear how much of the increase reflected improved reporting systems versus an increase in trafficking, said Francesca Perucci of the U.N.’s statistics division, who worked on the report. “It’s hard to exactly distinguish the two,” she said at a launch of the report. But climate change remained paramount. Greenhouse gases have continued to climb, and “climate change is occurring much faster than anticipated,” the report said. At this week’s goals summit, 47 countries were expected to present voluntary progress reviews. Almost 100 other countries and four cities including New …


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Despite Funding Loss, Cities Vow to Continue Resilience Push

In the Dutch port city of Rotterdam, nine “water plazas” have been created that soak up excess rainfall while offering people a green space to meet and children to play. The city is also planting gardens and putting solar panels on a growing area of its nearly 20 square kilometers (8 square miles) of flat roofs. Paris, meanwhile, is redesigning and opening green schoolyards as cooler places for locals to escape extreme heat, while in New Zealand, Wellington is rolling out neighborhood water supplies to keep the taps on when an earthquake hits. More than 70 cities that are part of the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) network, set up in 2013, have crafted “resilience strategies” that include about 3,500 activities designed to combat shocks and stresses – everything from floods to an influx of refugees. The United Nations estimates that by 2050 nearly 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, which are increasingly impacted by extreme weather and sea level rise, while producing about 75% of planet-warming emissions. Michael Berkowitz, president of 100 Resilient Cities, told a gathering of the network’s cities in Rotterdam on Tuesday that efforts to build resilience had now become established as an approach to improving quality of life in cities. Those efforts to keep people safe and well in the face of rising climate, economic and social pressures will continue, despite the closure this month of the organization that helped them craft those plans, officials said. At the end of July, 100RC will shut its offices after the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation said in April it would no longer fund the body, having given about $176 million for its work. That funding helped pay initial salaries for chief resilience officers in member cities, for example, though about 80% of the cities now have made the role a part of their staff, 100RC officials said. The Rockefeller Foundation said on Monday it would provide an additional $8 million over 18 months to help 100RC cities and their chief resilience officers transition to a network they will lead themselves. “Ultimately, we aim to ensure continued …


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Woodstock 50 Organizers Still Hopeful Despite Second Venue Setback

The organizers of the beleaguered Woodstock 50 festival said on Tuesday they still hoped to get a permit for the event due to take place next month despite being turned down at a second site. Authorities in the town of Vernon in upstate New York turned down the organizers’ application to stage the three-day event, marking the 50th anniversary of the famed 1969 “peace and music” festival. Oneida County Administrator Anthony Picente Jr. told Hollywood trade publication Variety that efforts to stage the festival at Vernon Downs for some 65,000 people at short notice had been “chaotic.” Picente said he thought the chances of it taking place were “highly unlikely.” However, Woodstock 50 producers said they would appeal. “With a venue chosen, financing assembled and many of the artists supporting Woodstock’s 50th Anniversary event, the organizers are hopeful that their appeal and reapplication” will prevail, the producers said in a statement. Tickets have yet to go on sale. The Aug. 16-19 festival was originally due to take place at the Watkins Glen motor racing venue in upstate New York with a line-up including Jay-Z and Miley Cyrus. Watkins Glen in June pulled out, throwing the festival into further uncertainty after the original investors withdrew their support, citing problems with permits and arranging security and sanitation. Woodstock 50 announced in March that more than 80 musical acts, including 1969 festival veterans John Fogerty, Canned Heat and Santana, would take part. Some 100,000 fans, including campers, were originally expected to attend, but that number was later reduced to 60,000. …


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Indonesian Woman Convicted of Recording Boss’ Sexual Advances Seeks Presidential Amnesty

The widely-publicized case of Baiq Nuril Maknun, the 41-year-old school bookkeeper sentenced to six months in prison for recording sexually-suggestive phone calls she received from the principal at her school, has gained traction after the Indonesian government indicated a willingness to grant her amnesty – which would eliminate any traces of wrongdoing from her part. After a meeting in Jakarta with Nuril and her counsel on Monday, Indonesia’s Law and Human Rights Minister, Yasonna Laoly, told reporters an amnesty could be announced after Indonesia’s newly-elected president, Joko Widodo, through the state secretariat, discusses the legal proceedings with the House of Representatives. One of Nuril’s lawyers, Joko Jumadi, confirmed to VOA that they will meet with the House of Representatives Wednesday.   “I think it sounds to me like a green light,” he said. “We are optimistic. We have to be.” Several law experts were also invited to the meeting, one of whom was Bivitri Susanti who confirmed to VOA that the president was indicated to have favored amnesty. Last week, Joko told reporters in Manado, a city on Sulawesi island, that though he would not intervene with the Supreme Court ruling, he advised that Nuril and her counsel apply for amnesty. Talk of granting Nuril amnesty followed a controversial rejection of Nuril’s appeal from Indonesia’s Supreme Court last week – one that upheld her prison stay and a $35,000 (500 million rupiahs) fine. Case history Nuril’s case began in 2012, when Muslim (who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name), the newly-minted principal of her school in Mataram, called her repeatedly. In the phone calls, he used sexually inappropriate language and even went as far as to tell her about his own affair with his own treasurer. As word spread suggesting Nuril and Muslim had indeed embarked on an affair, Nuril determined to disprove the rumor to her colleagues by recording the call.   Learning of the recordings, Muslim reported Nuril to the police, citing a clause in Indonesia’s controversial electronic information and transactions law that presides over defamation. Deemed innocent by the local court (though she still went to …


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Sri Lanka To Slash Airline Charges To Help Boost Tourism

Sri Lanka’s government announced Tuesday it will reduce ground handling charges for airlines and slash aviation fuel prices and embarkation fees to help the country’s vital tourism industry recover after Easter suicide bombings killed more than 250 people. Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said the decision will lead to an increase in flights to Sri Lanka and a reduction in ticket prices, which will attract more tourists to the Indian Ocean island nation, famed for its pristine beaches. Seven suicide bombers from a local Muslim group, National Thowheed Jammath, attacked three churches and three luxury hotels on April 21, killing 258 people, including 45 foreigners mainly from China, India, the U.S. and Britain.   Tourist arrivals declined 57% in June from a year earlier, dealing a severe blow to the tourism industry, the country’s third-largest foreign currency earner after remittances from overseas workers and textile and garment exports. The cuts in charges and fees will be in place for six months, said Johanne Jayaratne, head of the government’s tourism development agency. About 2.3 million tourists visited Sri Lanka in 2018, when 29 airlines offered 300 flights per week. After the April 21 attacks, 41 fights per week were canceled, amounting to a loss of 8,000 passenger seats. Several airlines have reinstated their normal schedules since then, but others have not. Dimuthu Tennakoon, chairman of the Board of Airline Representatives, said the government decision will encourage airlines to increase their capacity and offer attractive fares.   “That will definitely happen with this reduction because fuel and ground handling contribute a significant percentage of the total cost element of any airline,” he said. Tourism accounts for 4.9% of Sri Lanka’s GDP. Around half a million Sri Lankans depend directly on tourism and 2 million indirectly.   The government currently predicts $3.7 billion in revenue from tourism this year, down from an initial forecast of $5 billion.   …


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Greece’s New, Conservative Cabinet is Sworn In

Greece’s new Cabinet was sworn in Tuesday, two days after conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis won early elections on pledges to make the country more business-friendly, cut taxes and negotiate an easing of draconian budget conditions agreed as part of the country’s rescue program.  The new Cabinet relies heavily on experienced politicians who have served in previous governments, but also includes non-politician technocrats considered experts in their fields.   FILE – Greece’s newly-elected prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, waves as he walks shortly after his swearing-in ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Athens, July 8, 2019. Mitsotakis appointed Christos Staikouras to the crucial post of finance minister. Staikouras is an economist and engineer who had served as deputy minister in a previous government.   The new foreign minister is Nikos Dendias, who held previous Cabinet positions in the ministries of development, defense and public order.   A former public order minister under a previous socialist government, Michalis Chrisohoidis, takes the reins of the ministry once again as one of Mitsotakis’ non-parliamentary appointees.   The new appointees headed to their ministries for official handovers after the swearing-in ceremony at the presidential mansion in central Athens.   Mitsotakis had barely announced his Cabinet selection Monday evening when Greece’s creditors bluntly rejected his calls to ease bailout conditions. Finance ministers from the 19 European Union countries that use the euro currency, who met in Brussels, insisted key targets must be adhered to.   “Commitments are commitments, and if we break them, credibility is the first thing to fall apart. That brings about a lack of confidence and investment,” Eurogroup president Mario Centeno said after the meeting.   Greece was dependent for years on successive international bailouts that provided rescue loans from other European Union countries and the International Monetary Fund in return for deep reforms to the country’s economy that included steep tax hikes and major spending cuts.   Unemployment and poverty levels soared in the country. Greece’s third and final international bailout ended last year, but the country’s economy is still under strict supervision by its creditors.           …


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Melania Trump in West Virginia for Opioid Talk

First lady Melania Trump is visiting West Virginia to learn how a city at the center of the nation’s opioid epidemic is grappling with the crisis. Trump on Monday participated in a roundtable discussion on opioids with federal, state and local officials in Huntington, West Virginia. Federal statistics show West Virginia has the highest opioid overdose rate in the U.S. During the roughly hour-long meeting, Trump heard about how police, schools and health care centers in the area are fighting the opioid scourge. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said it’s a grim task, and added that his city would still have to deal with the epidemic for at least the next 40 years even if all heroin sales were to abruptly stop. …


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Bible Shortage? Publishers Say Tariffs Could Cause It

Religious publishers say President Donald Trump’s most recent proposed tariffs on Chinese imports could result in a Bible shortage. That’s because millions of Bibles are printed in China each year. Stan Jantz, president and CEO of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, says more than half of worldwide Bible production takes place in China.    Critics of a proposed tariff say it would make the Bible more expensive for consumers. It would also hurt the efforts of Christian organizations that give away Bibles as part of their ministry. The proposed 25% tariff would apply to all books, but critics say it would disproportionately affect Bibles and children’s books. Both tend to have specialized printing requirements that Chinese printers are set up to meet, while many domestic printers are not.  …


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Warren Raises $19.1M, Tops Sanders During Second Quarter

Elizabeth Warren raised $19.1 million in the second quarter, her campaign said Monday, cementing her status in the top tier of Democratic presidential contenders and a leading voice of the party’s liberal base. The Massachusetts senator’s second-quarter contributions leave her behind only Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Ind., mayor who reported nearly $25 million in donations, and former Vice President Joe Biden, who tallied $21.5 million since his candidacy began in late April. Perhaps most notably, Warren’s donations exceeded those reported by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, her closest rival, who is also vying for liberal voters and is the only other candidate who has joined her in swearing off high-dollar fundraisers. Warren’s success underscores the threat she poses to both Sanders and California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose $12 million second-quarter fundraising got a major boost in the final days of last month from her performance in the first Democratic debate. While Sanders appeals to progressives seeking an ambitious Democratic agenda, Warren has staked a claim to his base with her now-trademark policy plans. And as Harris seeks a foothold with black voters as the primary’s lone black female candidate, Warren is making headway of her own with black women. “To sum it up: We raised more money than any other 100% grassroots-funded campaign,” said Roger Lau, Warren’s campaign manager. “That’s big.” Warren more than tripled the $6 million she raised in the first three months of 2019 , when she silenced some skeptics of her long-term fundraising viability following her decision to rely on grassroots rather than high-dollar donations. The campaign’s $19.1 million came from more than 384,000 contributors giving more than 683,000 donations. That’s less than the nearly 1 million individual donations Sanders’ campaign reported, but comparable with the 725,000 online donations that President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign reported during the second quarter. Warren’s extensive organizing apparatus, particularly in early voting primary states, remains both a formidable asset — and a significant cost — as the campaign prepares to report $19.7 million in cash on hand. Her operation currently counts more than 300 paid staff members, 60% of whom …


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