Tag Archives: Rep. Mike Thompson

Investors Bought Nearly $1 Billion in Land Near a California Air Force Base. Officials Want to Know Who Exactly They Are.

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: Apparently, Solano officials have long wondered about the identities of those behind Flannery Associates, the group that invested $1 billion in 5 years to become Solano County’s largest landowner. The group has successfully outbid anyone else interested in this land, raising serious concerns and prompting everyone from environmentalists to national security buffs to sit up and take note. If you have more information on this matter that you can share with BenIndy, please email benindy@beniciaindependent.com with your tip. This article leaves us with more questions than answers.]

Flannery Associates’ purchases near Travis Air Force Base have alarmed local and federal officials

Flannery Associates, an investment group, has purchased at least 20 parcels of land near Travis Air Force Base in California. | Heide Couch/US Air Force.

Wall Street Journal, By Kristina Peterson, Jack Gillum and Kate O’Keeffe, July 7, 2023

WASHINGTON—Government officials are investigating large land acquisitions near a major air force base northeast of San Francisco, concerned that foreign interests could be behind the investment group that purchased the land.

At the center of the probes is Flannery Associates, which has spent nearly $1 billion in the last five years to become the largest landowner in California’s Solano County, according to county officials and public records.

An attorney representing Flannery said it is controlled by U.S. citizens and that 97% of its invested capital comes from U.S. investors, with the remaining 3% from British and Irish investors. Flannery previously told Solano County the entity “is owned by a group of families looking to diversify their portfolio from equities into real assets, including agricultural land in the western United States.”

“Any speculation that Flannery’s purchases are motivated by the proximity to Travis Air Force Base” is unfounded, the attorney said.

The Air Force’s Foreign Investment Risk Review Office has been investigating Flannery’s purchases of roughly 52,000 acres, including around Travis Air Force Base, according to people familiar with the matter. But the office, which has been looking into the matter for about eight months, has yet to be able to determine who is backing the group, one of the people said.

Note: county data is as of June 6 from the Solano County assessor. Sources: Solano County property records; federal court filings. Brian McGill and Jack Gillum / The Wall Street Journal.

“We don’t know who Flannery is, and their extensive purchases do not make sense to anybody in the area,” said Rep. John Garamendi, (D., Calif.) the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness panel. “The fact that they’re buying land purposefully right up to the fence at Travis raises significant questions.”

Garamendi and Rep. Mike Thompson (D., Calif.), whose districts include the area where land has been bought, have asked for an investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., a multiagency panel that can advise the president to block or unwind foreign acquisitions for security concerns.

The U.S. Agriculture Department also has inquired about Flannery’s ownership, according to correspondence reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Nearly all of the land is in unincorporated parts of Solano County, and most of it is zoned for agricultural use, records show. Several of the parcels include wind turbines.

The Journal found that at least 20 parcels surround Travis, known as the “Gateway to the Pacific” and home to the largest wing of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, which provides planes to refuel other aircraft and those to transport military personnel and supplies, including munitions used in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

The Flannery attorney declined to provide more details about Flannery’s investors. Local and federal officials also say they have been unable to learn the identities of those in the Flannery group.

Rep. John Garamendi (D., Calif.) has asked the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to investigate Flannery Associates. Mariam Zuhaib / AP.

Flannery’s statement that it is U.S.-owned can’t be confirmed or denied by federal agencies at this time, a congressional aide said. Cfius, which is led by the Treasury Department and includes the Departments of Defense, Justice, State and others, declined to comment.

If Cfius takes up the case, the Treasury Department could subpoena Flannery to get more information about its backers, but people familiar with the panel, whose operations are confidential, have said they couldn’t think of a time when the department had used that authority.

Acquisitions around Travis Air Force Base have raised security concerns among Solano County officials, who have been trying to determine the investors in Flannery and their plans for the land for years, said Bill Emlen, the county administrator.

County supervisor Mitch Mashburn said if Flannery intends to develop the land, it would make sense for the group to engage with local officials—but it hasn’t.

“The majority of the land they’re purchasing is dry farmland,” he said. “I don’t see where that land can turn a profit to make it worth almost a billion dollars in investment.”

A spokesperson for Travis said that its officials and other Air Force offices “are aware of the multiple land purchases near the base and are actively working internally and externally with other agencies.”

In a recent federal court filing, Flannery Associates said it is a wholly owned subsidiary of Flannery Holdings, a limited liability company registered in Delaware. LLCs registered in Delaware don’t have to publicly disclose the identity of their owners.

Use of LLCs to purchase land is a common practice. Nearly one in five homes were purchased by investors in early 2023, including LLCs and other corporate entities, according to data compiled by real-estate firm Redfin of more than 40 of the largest U.S. metro areas.

“While I can see Cfius being interested in who owns real estate near a military base, the fact that a property’s ownership is opaque does not mean anything nefarious is going on,” said Rick Sofield, an attorney at Vinson & Elkins who used to run the Justice Department’s Cfius team.

In May, Flannery filed a price-fixing lawsuit in federal court in California, alleging that landowners had colluded against it to drive up prices, in some instances overcharging Flannery and in others refusing to sell their properties.

Attorneys for the defendants didn’t respond to requests for comment or declined to comment. Flannery settled with one group of defendants in late June and filed notice of a contingent settlement with another group of defendants Thursday.

The 52,000 acres Flannery now owns in Solano County is spread out over more than 300 parcels, a Journal analysis of property records shows. The company said in court filings that it has invested more than $800 million in its acquisitions and acknowledged paying prices of “multiples of fair market value.”

A plan by a Chinese-owned company to develop land near Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota was halted after the Air Force said it posed a national security risk. Lewis Ableidinger / WSJ.

Flannery has offered various explanations for its purchases over time. In 2019, Flannery attorney Richard Melnyk said in an email to a Solano County official that Flannery planned to work with local farmers and might explore “new types of crops or orchards,” he said, ruling out any cannabis operations.

In its May price-fixing lawsuit, Flannery said it planned to use the land for renewable energy and related projects. The entity has allowed many sellers to continue farming or remain on the land and collect income from wind turbine leases for the remainder of the lease, according to court filings.

In a June 5 email to Emlen reviewed by the Journal, Melnyk said Flannery was considering leasing “a substantial portion” of its land to olive growers, including some near Travis Air Force Base.

“Nobody can figure out who they are,” said Ronald Kott, mayor of Rio Vista, Calif., which is now largely surrounded by Flannery-owned land. “Whatever they’re doing—this looks like a very long-term play.”

Flannery’s holdings near Travis raised concerns similar to those sparked by a Chinese-owned company’s plan to develop land 12 miles from the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. The plan was halted after the Air Force said it posed a national security risk, and lawmakers have continued to introduce bipartisan legislation restricting foreign ownership of U.S. farmland or increasing transparency around these acquisitions.

The Chinese company’s U.S. arm said at the time the planned facility wouldn’t be used to spy on the U.S.

Flannery told USDA in June that it didn’t need to register its holdings in Solano County because no foreign person “holds any significant interest or substantial control” of Flannery, according to a letter provided by the group’s attorneys.

Hello/Goodbye Party in Benicia for U.S. Reps. Garamendi & Thompson

Progressive Dems of Benicia invite you to say hello to John Garamendi, our new US Representative, and to offer thanks and goodbye to our longtime US Rep. Mike Thompson

By Progressive Democrats of Benicia, June 17, 2020

Hello/Goodbye Party – Sunday, June 26

Mark your calendar to attend a Hello and Goodbye Summer Social on Sunday June 26, from 2 to 4.  We will welcome our new U.S. Rep. John Garamendi and say goodbye to Benicia’s longtime U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson.  It will be held right here in Benicia, at the Veterans Memorial Hall, 1150 First Street, across from the Gazebo.  (See info about tickets below.)

Both Thompson and Garamendi will remain in Congress – the change is due to a redrawing of California Congressional Districts.

The party is also a fundraiser for our fellow Democratic Club the United Democrats of Southern Solano County. This is a great opportunity to connect with these important legislators and our fellow Democrats. Ticket information below, purchase your ticket(s) here.

Rep. Mike Thompson on long overdue need for gun control

Thompson lauds Biden’s steps against ‘ghost guns’ – Congressman hopes his background check bill is next

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, praised the president's announcement on gun safety measures. (Rich Freedman--Times-Herald)
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, praised the president’s announcement on gun safety measures. (Rich Freedman–Times-Herald)
Vallejo Times-Herald, by Richard Freedman, April 8, 2021

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson has long emphasized he’s a Second Amendment believer. He just doesn’t believe some weapons should be legal or purchased without extensive background checks.

So it wasn’t a surprise that the Democratic congressman from St. Helena was thrilled hearing President Biden’s announcement of a series of executive actions to curb what he called an “epidemic” of gun violence across the country at Thursday’s Rose Garden Ceremony.

“Today is a new day and I’m proud to have a president willing to do the tough work needed to help prevent gun violence and save lives,” Thompson said in a statement. “We need action on all fronts, from the President and the Congress, to help keep our communities safe. Gun violence takes thousands of lives each year and costs our country nearly $300 billion each year. It’s an epidemic and we must act to combat it.”

Calling gun violence “a public health crisis,” Biden announced six executive actions, adding that “nothing impinges on the Second Amendment.”

Biden is tightening regulations of buyers of “ghost guns” — homemade firearms that usually are assembled from parts and milled with a metal-cutting machine and often lack serial numbers used to trace them. It’s legal to build a gun in a home or a workshop and there is no federal requirement for a background check.

Another action — more heavily regulating arm braces used to make firing a pistol more accurate — directly relates to the March shooting in Boulder, Colo., where such a device used to kill 10 people.

“Today’s Executive Actions are an important piece of what is needed to get ahead of the curve,” Thompson said in the morning statement. “These actions will better regulate ghost guns which increasingly are being used in gun violence incidents and concealable rifles like the gun used in the Boulder mass shooting. These are actions I have led the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force in asking the president to take.”

The executive actions “are critical steps forward in our work to prevent gun violence. But they cannot be our last steps as more action is still needed. I remain firm in my work to ensure the Senate holds a vote on H.R. 8, my bipartisan bill to expand background checks and save lives. Our work must continue,” Thompson said.

Later Thursday afternoon in a brief phone interview, Thompson reiterated his support of Biden’s actions.

“I’ve been lobbying for this,” Thompson said before catching a flight back to the Bay Area. “I’ve been pushing this ever since the president was elected.”

The Rose Garden event “was very exciting,” Thompson said, attending the ceremony with “a handful of members of Congress, two senators, and I think four House members. There were a number of people who had gun violence prevention groups and a number of those who have lost their children, wives, husbands, loved ones to gun violence.”

Thompson was invited after the ceremony to the Oval Office, where he chatted briefly with Biden.

“I mentioned that the last time I had been to the White House was to have a meeting on gun violence with his (Biden’s) predecessor (Donald Trump), who made all kinds of promises of what he was going to do and how he was going to fix it. By the time I got to my office, the NRA called him and he already reversed his position.”

Thompson hinted that it was a relief working a president good on his word.

“This president not only knows this policy and knows what he is talking about, he’s heartfelt and committed,” Thompson said. “Every victim here (at the ceremony), this president sat down with.”

Biden “has worked with us to find solutions to gun violence,” Thompson said.

A pro-gun organization, The Second Amendment Foundation, sent a press release out Thursday morning, warning the Biden administration “that if it steps over its legal authority with any executive action or order regarding the constitutionally-protected right to keep and bear arms, legal action is a certainty.”

The threatening lawsuit didn’t surprise Thompson.

“That’s what they do,” he said. “There were cops there today who experience violence every day. They’re not for suing. The victims aren’t for suing. Members of Congress who have come forward with solutions weren’t for suing. I don’t think the American people are.”

Thompson said his background check bill headed to the Senate is supported by 90 percent of the public.

If and when it passes the Senate and is signed by the president, “I’m going to jump for joy,” Thompson said. “There should be background checks and not soon enough.”

Rep. Mike Thompson: ‘Trump an enemy of the state’ following ‘armed insurgence, treasonous effort to topple our government’

Congressman Thompson: ‘Trump an enemy of the state’

Hopes 25th Amendment, impeachment ousts president

Vallejo Times Herald, by Richard Freedman, January 7, 2021 UPDATED: 6:24 p.m.

With 24 hours to take a breath, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson hasn’t wavered. He wants Donald Trump ousted, no matter that the one-term president’s time expires at noon, Jan. 20.

After Wednesday’s siege by an unruly mob at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., the congressman Tweeted that he’s “calling on the Vice President to initiate proceedings under the 25th Amendment to gather the Cabinet and remove the President from office. On this dark day for our nation, we need to stand up and end this immediately. Nothing less than the future of our democracy is at stake.”

In a 20-minute phone interview Thursday afternoon, Thompson reiterated that he “absolutely” wants Trump’s reign finished immediately.

“We need to do whatever we can to remove him from this position of power,” Thompson said. “In addition to that, he needs to be impeached for a second time. The articles of impeachment have been drafted and I’ve signed onto that effort. I believe it should be done as quickly as possible.”

There’s no waiting out Trump’s term, Thompson emphasized.

“You saw how much damage he did yesterday — one day. I’m frightened to think about what else he could do,” Thompson said.

Rep. Mike Thompson. (Rich Freedman–Times-Herald)

Trump “is completely off the rails. He’s become an enemy of the state,” said Thompson, believing the president incited the rioters to seize the Capitol building “to try and prevent a peaceful transition of power” to President-elect Joe Biden.

“He set up a coup attempt yesterday (Wednesday), trying to encourage the vice president to steal this election,” Thompson said, calling the siege aftermath “a sad, sad day in this country.”

Trump “encouraged people to break the law, take up laws against their own country and march to the Capitol and stop the peaceful transition. He asked them to march with him, but when they started marching, he went back to the White House,” said Thompson. “That speaks volumes to what kind of person he is.”

Explaining the lack of law enforcement to help thwart the Capitol siege “is the $64 million question,” said Thompson, adding that he sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “asking to do a top-to-bottom review to find out what went wrong and that we ensure it never goes wrong again.”

Thompson said he also sent Pelosi a text Wednesday night requesting the head of the Capitol State Police be terminated.

“Folks that run security should be fired by morning,” Thompson said. “Whomever was in charge not only put our institution of representative government at risk, but put at risk of the lives of every person in that Capitol building, every staff person, every member of the House, every janitor. And they put the life of every cop at risk by putting them out there ill-prepared to do the job they were asked to do.”

Thompson said he was safely in his office when the mob entered the Capitol, though he was evacuated once when “some kind of explosive device” was located and a second time when shots were fired.

“When hooligans broke through security, I was over in the library,” Thompson, managing to quip, “I don’t think they could find a library with a GPS.”

Seriously, added Thompson, “they need to arrest every one” of the infiltrators “and try them for treason.”

“They call themselves ‘patriots’ but they are really traitors,” Thompson said.

Four people died during the siege, including one woman by gunfire.

“I think the president bears full responsibility for what happened,” Thompson said. “He did this. He did this whole thing. He convinced people to participate in a coup. That’s why he needs to be impeached.”

Thompson said Trump will “definitely be impeached by the House, I’m sure of that. I hope the Senate drums up some courage since they didn’t last time.”

Thompson sees a window of opportunity.

“The dam is starting to break. Some Republicans are calling for his removal. I move to convict him,” Thompson said.

Though 9/11 and school shootings “were terrible, this is in a different league,” Thompson said. “It’s armed insurgence with a treasonous effort to topple our government. It’s an attack on the institution, an attack on democracy, an attack on our republic.”

Almost lost in the scuffle — Democrats flipped the Senate earlier this week, thanks to Georgia, with Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff emerging with run-off wins.

“That’s a shining light in all of this,” Thompson said, reflecting on 500-plus bipartisan bills languishing on Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s desk.

With McConnell on the verge of becoming Senate minority leader and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaker in a potential 50-Democrat, 50-Republican vote, “it’s now a different story,” said Thompson, awaiting the Inauguration Jan. 20.

“Everybody I know — Democrats, Republicans, Independents — don’t want a revolution. They want a return to normalcy,” Thompson said. “It’ll be a much better world.”