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Update: We Found a “Staggering” 281 Lobbyists Who’ve Worked in the Trump Administration

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ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.

At the halfway mark of President Donald Trump’s first term, his administration has hired a lobbyist for every 14 political appointments made, welcoming a total of 281 lobbyists on board, a ProPublica and Columbia Journalism Investigations analysis shows.

With a combination of weakened rules and loose enforcement easing the transition to government and back to K Street, Trump’s swamp is anything but drained. The number of lobbyists who have served in government jobs is four times more than the Obama administration had six years into office. And former lobbyists serving Trump are often involved in regulating the industries they worked for.

Even government watchdogs who’ve long monitored the revolving door say that its current scale is a major shift from previous administrations. It’s a “staggering figure,” according to Virginia Canter, ethics chief counsel for the D.C.-based legal nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “It suggests that lobbyists see themselves as more effective in furthering their clients’ special interests from inside the government rather than from outside.”

We tracked the lobbyists as part of an update to Trump Town, our database of political appointees. We’ve added the names of 639 new staffers with the administration and the financial disclosures of 351 political appointees who have filled different positions over the past year, and we tracked the careers of 338 who departed government during the same period.

The full extent of the lobbying industry’s influence is hard to measure because federal agencies decline to share details of recusals granted to officials who disclose potential conflicts with their new government roles.

Consider Colin Roskey. Days after leaving a two-decade career as what one former employer called the “smartest” health care lobbyist, he joined the Department of Health and Human Services in January. As deputy secretary for legislation for mandatory health, he headed the portfolio that he tried to influence for most of his career.

HHS declined to reveal any recusals he signed while appointed. A spokesman said that “all employees are expected to abide by the ethics rules.”

Just days before joining HHS, Roskey listed among his clients major dialysis providers that receive federal payments through Medicare, including Fresenius Medical Care — an industry juggernaut, with more than 330,000 patients in thousands of dialysis clinics in the U.S. A third of the company’s billion-dollar revenue comes from Medicare. A recent revamp in the dialysis industry ordered by Trump, expected to shift millions of dollars from dialysis centers to cheaper home-based options, put Roskey’s office at the heart of regulating how much profit or loss some of his former clients will see in coming years. Roskey said in an interview that he recused himself from this matter.

Public records show that Roskey lobbied for at least 27 clients between January 2017 and December 2018 on an array of issues other than dialysis involving public health care programs, from prescription drugs to palliative care.

In early October, Roskey stepped out of government and went straight back to work for his old lobbying firm, Lincoln Policy Group, which specializes in health care policy. “Spending time at HHS will make [Roskey] even more valuable to our team — and we are so excited to have him back,” the lobbying firm announced in a statement.

Roskey said he had no knowledge of how the new kidney care regulations will be implemented.

After his monthslong stint with the Health Department, Roskey said he plans to lobby the legislative branch, which is not prohibited by the current ethics rules. “While working with the government I gained knowledge and background, intellectually and professionally, and I intend to unapologetically utilize those skills for my employer and clients,” he said.

The senior-level appointment of a key lobbyist raises concerns for ethics experts like Canter. “There’s no way [he would’ve been hired under Obama] because Trump dropped a key provision of the Obama ethics pledge,” she said.

Indeed, an Obama-era ethics pledge clause absent in Trump’s prevented registered lobbyists from seeking or accepting employment with any executive agency that they lobbied the two years prior.

Federal laws forbid government employees who have served as registered lobbyists in the two years prior to their appointment from handling the particular matters or the specific issue areas that they used to lobby. Similarly, after leaving the government, all appointees-turned-lobbyists are barred from seeking to influence their former agencies and engaging in behind-the-scenes work with other senior officials across the administration.

The revolving door, of course, has been spinning since well before the Trump administration. In 2009, after President Barack Obama took office, ProPublica built a smaller version of Trump Town. During his administration, government watchdog groups also decried the conflicts of interest brought by some political appointees, and The Washington Post tallied 65 lobbyists among Obama’s ranks in five years.

One Obama-era alum, for instance, has gone on to lobby for the nation’s largest pharmaceutical industry trade group, according to public records. Bridgett Taylor, who occupied Roskey’s position until Trump took office, left the government to lobby Congress and federal agencies on matters related to those she oversaw at HHS. Taylor declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Taylor’s employer, said that although Taylor was listed as a lobbyist and HHS as a contacted agency, “that does not mean that she lobbied them,” but that her colleagues did.

If it’s certainly not new, the enforcement of ethics provisions has lagged under Trump. In governmentwide surveys conducted by the Office of Government Ethics, federal agencies reported only 106 registered lobbyists who joined the administration. In their answers, ethics officers argued that they “don’t know” how many registered lobbyists had been hired or that they didn’t “track the number of individuals who fell into this category.” When asked about referrals for further enforcement of ethics violations, an officer admitted that they “don’t maintain a centralized database of the bases of proposed disciplinary actions.”

Jeff Hauser, who heads the Revolving Door Project at the nonpartisan Center for Economic and Policy Research, contends that “Trump has organized the executive branch as a mechanism to reward allies and their political power. Lobbyists are hired not because they’re great at the specific matter that they lobby for but because their specialty is delivering political results.”

Corporations also see value in hiring former government staffers, as they bring connections within the agencies and exceptional knowledge about regulation. Among the staffers who recently left their administration positions, 29 went to work for K Street firms — as registered lobbyist or not. At least 59 former employees have done so over the past three years.

One is Laura Kemper, a former HHS senior official who, within days of leaving her post in March, was hired by Fresenius. Now vice president for government affairs, Kemper heads the company’s policy group.

According to lobbying records, she is listed among the in-house lobbyists who have visited Congress, the White House and HHS since March, pushing everything from reimbursement for dialysis services to home dialysis. The records show Fresenius shelled out more than $2.2 million for lobbying activities during the first half of the year.

Kemper had also spent years lobbying Congress and federal agencies on behalf of health care companies before joining HHS in March 2017.

Her pass through the revolving door tests the boundaries of ethics rules. Indeed, Trump’s pledge prohibits staffers-turned-registered lobbyists from advocating for the special interests of their corporate bosses before the agencies where they used to work for at least five years. It also restricts former employees from behind-the-scenes lobbying with any senior federal official for the remainder of Trump’s presidency. Kemper signed that pledge.

Kemper declined to comment. In a statement, Fresenius said Kemper “has strictly followed her legal and ethical obligations and has not been involved in lobbying the administration or anything related to the Executive Order.” Disclosure forms filed by Fresenius “cite the general activity of a team and do not ascribe any particular lobbying activity,” according to its statement.

Recently, during an earnings call to investors, Fresenius CEO Rice Powell said that the company has talked to the “appropriate people in Washington,” without naming any particular Fresenius or government staffer. “We are in the midst of commenting and asking questions” with HHS officials, he added.

As ProPublica has reported, political appointees who return to lobbying have found ways to tiptoe around ethics rules. Some register as lobbyists but limit their interactions to Congress, leaving colleagues to lobby the executive branch. Ethics restrictions don’t apply to congressional lobbying.

One such case is Geoffrey Burr, a lobbyist who joined the Labor Department early in the Trump administration. More recently, he was chief of staff to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. He left the Transportation Department in January and soon became policy director at one of the nation’s largest lobbying firms.

According to records, Burr now lobbies for clients with a stake in transportation issues, including The Northeast MAGLEV, the company behind what would be the first high-speed train in the U.S. A January press release announcing his hiring praised Burr’s “high-level involvement with Transportation and Labor [that will] provide clients with the strategic guidance they need to navigate business issues with the administration.”

Burr signed the ethics pledge and, according to records, lobbies only Congress, abiding by the rule of not contacting the executive branch. Other partners at his firm lobby the Transportation Department and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.

The Transportation Department didn’t respond to requests for comment, and Burr declined to talk.

There are also former Trump administration staffers who go back to K Street but don’t register as lobbyists — the Lobbying Disclosure Act only requires those who spend 20% or more of their time lobbying to register.

Rebecca Wood and Brooke Appleton held senior Trump administration positions for more than a year at the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department, respectively. Both left the administration and returned to their former employers — this time, in more senior positions.

Wood now leads the food and drug practice at Sidley Austin, a powerful law and lobbying firm in Washington, where her colleagues lobby the FDA for various clients. Appleton went from being director to vice president for public policy for the National Corn Growers Association; she leads at least six people lobbying the Agriculture Department and other federal agencies.

Appleton declined to comment. Wood said she “advises clients on FDA-related issues and, in doing so, complies with all applicable ethics requirements.”

There is nothing illegal about returning to an old employer or being hired by a new one. Nor is there anything wrong with having colleagues who lobby the federal government. But the revolving door does present the possibility of conflicts of interests.

“The most important commodity in D.C. is information,” Hauser said. “Former insiders have rare access to strategic intelligence, which is of significant value to corporate entities, and they can do so without registering as a lobbyist.”

With the new data just released, Trump Town grew to include 3,859 names, 2,319 financial disclosures and hundreds of other records for Trump’s staffers. Our original goal remains intact: shining a light on the people in charge of running the government and how their career histories might influence their decisions.

David Mora is a reporting fellow for Columbia Journalism Investigations, a team of reporters, faculty and postgraduate fellows who examine issues of public interest. Funding for CJI’s work on this project is provided by the Investigative Reporting Resource, the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism and the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation at the Columbia Journalism School.

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jad
4 days ago
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Friday Squid Blogging: Apple Fixes Squid Emoji

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Apple fixed the squid emoji in iOS 13.1:

A squid's siphon helps it move, breathe, and discharge waste, so having the siphon in back makes more sense than having it in front. Now, the poor squid emoji will look like it should, without a siphon on its front.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

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jad
7 days ago
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I can see clearly now

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I thought this day was coming, but I didn’t expect it to come so soon. I don’t believe Beijing expected it to come so soon either: the Chinese authorities were playing a long game, biding their time and building their power, and I do not think they were relishing an immediate confrontation with Western capitalism. But the Hong Kong protests forced their hand. Beijing clearly perceives these protests as an existential threat, and have decided that the moment has come to go all-in. They have pushed all their chips into the center of the table … and the capitalists immediately folded like a Chinese-made lawn chair. 

NBA officials are bowing and scraping to Beijing and begging forgiveness while trying to tell Americans that they’re not really apologizing. (Adam Silver says he’s not apologizing for Daryl Morey’s exercise of free speech, but then what is he apologizing for?) ESPN/Disney is muzzling its employees. Apple is banning apps that Beijing wants banned, for whatever reason

This has all gone better for Beijing than CCP officials probably dared hope, but in fact they held the strongest hand. Tim Cook, who got his job as Apple CEO after spending years proving that he was a wizard of the supply chain, knows better than anyone that China has a stranglehold on Apple’s supply chain, and it would take years or even decades to loosen that hold. I don’t know how much revenue the NBA gets from China, but even if it’s far less than they get in this country, that Chinese revenue can be cut off altogether in an instant; by contrast, not one American NBA fan in ten thousand will care enough about what happens in China to stop buying jerseys and tickets and League Pass. 

If nothing else, this whole shameful display should put an end, once and for all, to the ridiculous idea that there is some natural and intrinsic connection between democracy and capitalism. There very obviously ain’t. When shareholders and the bottom line are not benefitted by democracy, then democracy gets flushed down the toilet. American big business has firmly decided for a totalitarian regime and against people who want democratic freedoms. The business of America really is business after all. 

But here’s an interesting question: How woke will our woke capitalists remain if an emboldened Chinese regime starts to rail against moral perversion in the form of homosexuals and trans people? 

UPDATE: This

“Believe me, the China situation bothers me. . . . But at the end of the day, I have a responsibility to my owners to make money,” then–NBA commissioner David Stern said in a 2006 interview. He may not have known then where his allegiance to the bottom line would lead the league and the game he helped to grow.

To hear him tell it then, Stern was intent on turning the NBA into an exporter of American values. Under his leadership, the league began its “Basketball Without Borders” program, which initially sent NBA players to run basketball camps in geopolitically tense parts of the world. “NBACares” television spots dominated game breaks. “We’re going to keep right on showing them,” Stern told Sports Illustrated when asked about public annoyance with the frequency of the ads. “Because social responsibility is extremely important to us.”

You know it was an article of faith for Stern that “make money” and “social responsibility” could never come into irreconcilable conflict with each other. No doubt Adam Silver and Tim Cook have been similarly catechized. But their religion is in vain, so what will they do? They’ll keep making money and tell themselves that they are also socially responsible, no matter what happens on the ground. For faith is the evidence of things not seen. 

UPDATE 2: Paul Farmer, in Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, on WLs (White Liberals): “I love WLs to death, they’re on our side. But WL’s think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves.” (More about Farmer, on related themes, here.) 

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jad
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acdha
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Washington, DC
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DACA Renewal Fees & Helado de Tres Leches

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Incredibly, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy remains the law of the land–at least for now. However, Dreamers must still pay a $495 every two years to keep their status, or else the risk of being torn away from their lives, families, and communities becomes much greater.

That’s why United We Dream is currently raising money for a DACA Renewal Fund that will provide direct financial assistance to Dreamers paying their $495 fee as well as DACA renewal clinics. That’s what our ice cream is funding this week.

The flavor? Tres leches.

INGREDIENTS

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 can evaporated whole milk
1 pint (2 cups) heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons creme de cacao
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
Dash of salt

DIRECTIONS

I’m gonna start on a bit of a detour: You ever had banoffee pie? It’s English and it’s delicious–two things that (sorry) aren’t typically true at the same time. Its preparation includes creating soft, spoonable toffee by submerging a can of sweetened condensed milk in water and boiling it for 3 hours. Really. We want to do something similar, but we don’t want the texture to get quite as thick, so we’ll be boiling for 2 hours.

DSC_0115

To start, fill the biggest pot you’ve got with water. Once it’s boiling, remove the condensed milk can’s label and submerge the can (without opening). Boil at a low boil for two hours. Top off with boiling water from your kettle if the water gets low.

Once the two hours are up, remove the can–CAREFULLY– and let it rest on the countertop for an hour. Open it–CAREFULLY–and scrape the contents into a large bowl with a spatula. Add the other ingredients in whatever order, blend it (either an immersion blender or countertop blender will do), and chill it in the fridge for several hours until cooled. Churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Makes 1.5 quarts (6 cups).



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jad
11 days ago
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Grappling with the climate crisis, DC’s preservation board rejects front-facing solar panels

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“I applaud your greenness and your desire to save the planet,” said architect and preservation board member Chris Landis, “and I realize that we are in crisis politically as well as sustainably. But I just have this vision of a row of houses with solar panels on the front of them and it just — it upsets me.”

DC’s Historic Preservation Review Board wrestled Thursday with the question of how to balance a climate crisis and the possibility of millions or billions of humans dying versus the danger of a less even roof line in neighborhoods such as Takoma. The board and Historic Preservation Office held to their practice of not allowing solar panels on the fronts of sloped roofs.

Homeowner Steven Preister has lived in his home on 5th Street NW for 35 years, during which time he painstakingly restored an 108-year-old house in need of major repairs to fine condition. Preister testified that he had an independent appraiser look at the house who “said I had extended the life of the house for an additional 100 years.” He added, “My main concern right now is, if we do not change and loosen these standards, will the District be habitable in 100 years?”

The house already has solar panels on the rear of the house and the board approved some on the porch roof and front dormer, but didn’t allow them on the main front roof. Preister was back with a revised plan for panels closer to the roof, just 4 inches instead of 6 off the surface, and with a “skirt” to hide the undersides. All of the neighbors on his block support his proposal, he said, as did Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4B by a unanimous vote.

That wasn’t enough to sway the board, which voted to again deny Preister’s application.

Preister’s house on 5th St NW by DC Historic Preservation Office.

At the meeting, most of the members struggled with how to reconcile the climate crisis, which might make DC uninhabitable or destroy most of its historic buildings, with historic preservation’s day-to-day aversion to visible changes in buildings. The ANC resolution and Preister himself noted that DC’s new clean energy law requires the District to reach 100% renewable energy by 2032 including 10% from locally-generated solar power, and the ANC “calls on the Historic Preservation Office … to require consideration of urgent climate considerations … in any design principle relating to ‘achieving a reasonable balance’ with historic preservation.”

Member Gretchen Pfaehler asserted that “I am in favor of sustainability,” but “this detracts from the slope of the roof” in a way that was unacceptable to her. She did suggest she might be open to some other technology which blends in more with the roof. “I think there is a solution but this is not that solution,” she said.

Greta Thunberg told the World Economic Forum in Davos, “I want you to act as if our house is on fire.” The board’s sentiment, in effect, was akin to saying, “We should put out this fire, but maybe the fire department can go back and get a different color hose first.”

ANC commissioner Erin Palmer (whom GGWash endorsed) said in her HPRB testimony, “I’m not sure what we are preserving if we don’t take serious efforts to stem climate change, in part through a more sensible approach to solar panel installations in historic districts.”

The board voted 5-1 against Preister’s proposal with Andrew Aurbach, a historian member of the board, casting the lone vote in favor. Aurbach argued that the sustainability issues outweighed the potential obstrusiveness. He did tell Preister, however, that “there are solutions that might help” make the solar panels less visible.

Marnique Heath, the board’s chair, said, “I share your passion and I applaud you for all that you’re doing both to preserve this house but also to preserve our climate. I hope you will be able to find another solution that you’ll [bring] back to us, because people like you who are real champions for sustainability are going to hopefully help save the planet. We need to do all that we can personally in order to do that, particularly as our governments are not cooperating.”

Some didn’t act like there was a fire at all, like architect Outerbridge Horsey. He said, “Step back and forget about the energy impact, just think about the color and the texture. Would this board think about allowing a glass roof on a historic structure? That’s basically what we’re talking about if you remove the sustainability issues.” Some might say removing the sustainability issues thereby misses the entire point.

Horsey and other members spent some time debating whether this house is different from another nearby, on Dahlia Street NW, where the board in February allowed solar panels facing the street. Members of the board and staff argued that the house there was higher up on a hill and more obscured by trees, as well as that the panels were actually not on the house’s front but a side that, since it’s a corner, also faced the street.

The previously-approved Dahlia St NW solar panels. by DC Historic Preservation Office.

The board also discussed an argument in the 4B resolution that since solar panels are simply mounted on the roof and don’t last as long as the roof itself, they’re “reversible” and “temporary” and thus shouldn’t face the same level of scrutiny as other changes to a building. Aurbach concurred, but Horsey and others argued, essentially, that they weren’t all that temporary and that anything is, at some level or another, reversible.

Despite some hopes that February’s Dahlia Street case would be “precedent-setting,” Steve Callcott of the preservation office, a part of the Office of Planning, was uninterested in making changes to the policies unless the board asked him to. HPO has been issuing successive drafts of sustainability guidelines for historic properties, which have continued to say solar is acceptable on secondary roofs or side or rear elevations but not on fronts.

Callcott did note that they’ve come some way since guidelines said solar panels should never be visible at all from any street. He said that the Department of Energy and the Environment has been asking for them to allow solar panels more broadly, but that he was going to release a final version of the guidelines for public comment without changing their standard.

This might be interesting to John Falcicchio, the mayor’s chief of staff and interim deputy mayor overseeing OP, who said last month he would “ask [OP] to look into this more” after a Twitter thread with Vox’s Matt Yglesias. Yglesias wrote,

I would like to install solar panels on my roof, but first I need to go in person to a DC Historic Preservation Review Board meeting to beg for permission to do this and it seems like bullshit to me. This is ostensibly a progressive jurisdiction that ostensibly believes climate change is a big problem and ostensibly would like to promote clean energy … why throw roadblocks in the way of doing it?

Apparently what we’re supposed to do as we beg and scrape at the meeting is promise that the panels won’t be visible from the street. But why is that the standard? The whole problem is that old energy technology is extremely harmful. So why should everything look old? Like obviously if we transitioned to being a country that derived its electricity from different sources, heated its houses in different ways, and powered its transportation differently then as a consequence some stuff would look different aesthetically … why is that bad?

“Things shouldn’t change too much” is, obviously, a conservative doctrine and it’s insane that notionally progressive jurisdictions have decided to entrench it as a core legal principle in land use. Imagine if we just hadn’t done electricity in the first place because the wires are visible from the alleys.

Personally, I think it would be *better* if the panels were prominently visible from the street as well as the adjacent alley because then more passersby would see them and think about going solar themselves. Change is viral and that’s good.

Falcicchio replied:

Historic Takoma co-founder Loretta Neumann and former ANC commissioner Sara Green testified against Preister’s panels at the HPRB meeting. Neuman said, “I don’t ask anyone else to do what I would do or not do. I would never put solar panels on the front of that house. If you approve this I’m extremely worried that not just in Takoma but around the city that these could go up everywhere.”

She continued, “We do have places outside of our historic district where the fronts do have solar panels, for example across the street from our Safeway there are 2 bungalows with shiny installations and it’s too bad because they could have put them on the other side because it’s a north south facing house.” (In fact, for a north-south facing house the choice of side matters a lot, since there’s much more sun on the south.)

Bungalows with solar panels on Van Buren St NW. by Google Maps.

Whether solar should be highly visible, as on these houses, to spread the word about solar as Yglesias suggests, or permitted but with obtrusiveness minimized, as 4B and preservationists like Aurbach advocate, allowing them is still a minority viewpoint in DC’s preservation system. Barring action from the DC Council or stronger intervention by the Bowser administration, residents may have to make their voices heard when the preservation offices releases new guidlines in the coming weeks. Calcott said they anticipate a hearing before HPRB in December.

“I just think that the world is in crisis and we don’t have a lot of time,” said Preister. “Do I want solar panels there forever? No, but if it can relieve carbon emissions I don’t see what choice we have.”

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acdha
11 days ago
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I’m bracing for another round of inter-generational criticism.

«Greta Thunberg told the World Economic Forum in Davos, “I want you to act as if our house is on fire.” The board’s sentiment, in effect, was akin to saying, “We should put out this fire, but maybe the fire department can go back and get a different color hose first.”»
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jad
11 days ago
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mareino
11 days ago
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Abolish the Historic Preservation Review Board. It is no longer able to accomplish anything good.
Washington, District of Columbia
HarlandCorbin
10 days ago
Historical review boards. For when HOAs are too lenient!

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for October 08, 2019

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Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for October 08, 2019

Source - Comics RSS - Patreon

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