December 11, 2020 •
News You Can Use Digest – December 11, 2020
Barr Taps Durham as Special Counsel, Pushing Probe into Biden Era
Politico – Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein | Published: 12/1/2020
Attorney General William Barr appointed U.S. attorney John Durham as a special counsel to investigate the origins of the FBI’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The appointment formalizes Durham’s ongoing probe but more significantly, would give Durham latitude to continue the politically explosive investigation after President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January. Democrats have long viewed Durham’s efforts as political payback by President Trump and his allies, seeking to deflect from evidence the Trump campaign capitalized on the Kremlin’s efforts.
Biden’s Choice for Pentagon Faces Questions on Ties to Contractors
New York Times – Eric Lipton, Kenneth Vogel, and Michael LaForgia | Published: 12/8/2020
Raytheon Technologies makes fighter jet engines, weapons, high-tech sensors, and dozens of other military products. Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin III of the Army, a member of Raytheon’s board, has been named by President-elect Joe Biden to be the next secretary of defense. Raytheon is not Austin’s only link to military contractors. He has also been a partner in an investment firm that has been buying small defense firms. The decision to nominate Austin has drawn a new wave of questions about the corporate ties of people Biden is choosing for his administration. Those ties are especially relevant when it comes to the Pentagon, which spends hundreds of billions of dollars every year on weapons and other supplies.
Conservative Nonprofit Group Challenging Election Results Around the Country Has Tie to Trump Legal Adviser Jenna Ellis
MSN – John Swain, Rosalind Helderman, Josh Dawsey, and Tom Hamburger (Washington Post) | Published: 12/7/2020
A conservative legal organization that has filed lawsuits challenging the election results in five states has a tie to President Trump’s legal team, raising questions about the independence of what has appeared to be an endeavor separate from the president’s last-gasp legal maneuvering. Senior Trump campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis serves as special counsel to the Thomas More Society, which has filed lawsuits through the newly formed Amistad Project alleging problems with the vote in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Her affiliation with the organization, as well as other links between Trump’s team and the conservative group, suggest a coordinated effort to flood the nation’s courts with repetitive litigation that allows the president to claim the election results remain contested.
Could Trump Pardon Family Members and Other Close Associates? His Prior Pardons May Set the Stage for More
USA Today – David Jackson, John Fritze, and Kevin Johnson | Published: 12/4/2020
As President Trump weighs granting pardons to close associates – and perhaps family members and even himself – experts said he may not pay much of a political price, no matter whom the recipients are. The number of pardons with a political sheen that Trump has signed, along with the unorthodox way he has wielded the power, may have desensitized the public to the issue. The reaction to former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s pardon, though muted, underscored the president’s broad clemency powers are increasingly viewed, like much else, along partisan lines: Democrats express outrage, and supporters of Trump cheer. That division, several experts said, may partly explain why some Americans shrug their shoulders.
EU Lobby Register Falls Short of Transparency Demands
Politico – Cristina Gonzalez | Published: 12/8/2020
It was hailed as a victory when negotiators from the European Parliament, Commission, and the Council found compromise on establishing a joint mandatory lobby register, but the definition of “mandatory” remains to be seen. The provisional agreement, which must still be approved by the respective institutions, sets out to make it compulsory for lobbyists to be registered in the European Union’s Transparency Register to carry out certain activities like meeting with top officials. But there is nothing explicitly mandatory in the compromise text. Instead, it gives each institution the license to individually interpret what it means, “and to define the activities that they decide to make conditional upon registration in the register,” the compromise reads. Now, each institution must outline its view in a forthcoming joint political statement.
GOP Women’s Record-Breaking Success Reflects Party’s Major Shift on Recruiting and Supporting Female Candidates
Washington Post – Rachael Bade | Published: 12/7/2020
There are 17 newly elected Republican women who will give the party a record number of female lawmakers in Congress, the results of a successful strategy of recruiting and supporting women running for office. Of the 13 Democratic incumbents who lost their seats on election night, Republican women were responsible for defeating 10. In January, Republicans will welcome their most ethnically diverse and gender-diverse freshman class in history as women and lawmakers of color join their predominantly White and male ranks. The recruitment effort behind their success reflects a major shift.
Justice Department’s Interest in Hunter Biden Covered More than Taxes
Politico – Ben Schreckinger | Published: 12/9/2020
The federal investigation into President-elect Joe Biden’s son has been more extensive than a statement from Hunter Biden indicates, according to a person with firsthand knowledge of the probe. Hunter Biden said he had been contacted about a tax investigation out of the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware. The securities fraud unit in the Southern District of New York also scrutinized Hunter Biden’s finances, according to the source. The person said as of early last year, investigators in Delaware and Washington, D.C. were probing potential money laundering and Hunter Biden’s foreign ties. In addition to the probe into Hunter Biden, federal authorities in Pennsylvania are conducting a criminal investigation of a hospital business in which Joe Biden’s brother James was involved.
Murdoch’s Son and Daughter-in-Law Spent Millions on Progressive Causes in 2020 Cycle
Center for Responsive Politics – Ollie Gratzinger | Published: 12/4/2020
The Murdoch name has come to be associated largely with right-leaning politics, as Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who owns Fox News and other outlets spanning three continents, has built a family dynasty based largely on conservatism. But Kathryn and James Murdoch, daughter-in-law and youngest son of the news tycoon, are forging a new reputation for the Murdoch name, contributing heavily this cycle to progressive political groups, including super PACs supporting President-elect Joe Biden. James Murdoch resigned from his position at Fox last July over “disagreements over certain editorial content.”
Neera Tanden, Biden’s Pick for Budget Chief, Runs a Think Tank Backed by Corporate and Foreign Interests
MSN – Yeganeh Torbati and Beth Reinhard (Washington Post) | Published: 12/5/2020
Now that President-elect Joe Biden picked Neera Tanden to run the Office of Management and Budget, her ties to some of the most powerful players in the U.S. economy are drawing scrutiny from advocates for accountability in government. Tanden would have a hand in policies that touch every part of the economy after years spent courting corporate and foreign donors at the think tank Center for American Progress. Between 2014 and 2019, the center received at least $33 million in donations from firms in the financial sector, private foundations primarily funded by wealth earned on Wall Street. Critics also argued the hundreds of hours of relationship-building that goes into securing large donations from corporations and wealthy people give private interests the opportunity to influence the views of Tanden and others in her position.
Senate Restores FEC as Agency Confronts Massive Backlog of Cases
Center for Responsive Politics – Karl Evers-Hillstrom | Published: 12/9/2020
The U.S. Senate confirmed three new members of the FEC, giving the campaign finance regulator a full slate of six commissioners for the first time since February 2017. Senators confirmed Sean Cooksey, Allen Dickerson, and Shana Broussard, who will be the agency’s first Black commissioner in its 45-year history. The FEC faces a backlog of 388 enforcement cases. Broussard said during a Senate Rules Committee meeting that she would prioritize addressing important cases set to expire due to the agency’s statute of limitations. Commissioners are also tasked with changing outdated rules.
Steakhouses, Hill Bars and Ski Trips: GOP carries on amid the pandemic
Politico – Sarah Ferris, Melanie Zanona, and Daniel Lippman | Published: 12/7/2020
It is not just the White House flouting pandemic rules to mark Washington, D.C.’s schmooziest season. Some corners of the GOP, including members of Congress, are refusing to let the coronavirus intrude on their holiday gatherings and in-person fundraisers, whether it is on the slopes of Utah or in the steakhouses of Washington. Meanwhile, discussions are underway about holding the Conservative Political Action Conference in person early next year. The event planning comes as the nation is battered by another surge in coronavirus cases, prompting a fresh round of warnings from public health experts to avoid group settings, particularly indoors. And it underscores the resistance by many in the GOP, led by President Trump, to adjust to the new normal of the pandemic.
Supreme Court Denies Trump Allies’ Bid to Overturn Pennsylvania Election Results
MSN – Robert Barnes and Elise Viebeck (Washington Post) | Published: 12/8/2020
The U.S. Supreme Court denied a last-minute attempt by President Trump’s allies to overturn the election results in Pennsylvania, a blow to the president’s continuing efforts to reverse his loss to Joe Biden. The court’s brief order denying a requested injunction provided no reasoning, nor did it note any dissenting votes. It was the first request to delay or overturn the results of the presidential election to reach the court. The lawsuit was part of a blizzard of litigation and personal interventions Trump and his lawyers have waged to overturn victories by Biden in a handful of key states. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a sweeping complaint that asked the court to overturn Biden’s wins in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia.
Women Make Record-Breaking Gains Across State Legislatures
The Hill – Julia Manchester | Published: 12/8/2020
Women broke barriers in state Legislature races across the country in November, with a record number of women from both parties winning their races at the state level. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, women will hold more than 30 percent of seats in state Legislatures for the first time in American history. The gains women made at the state level this cycle appeared to have reflected the record gains women made at the federal level as well. For Republicans, this marks an improvement for a party that has struggled to recruit women to its ranks.
Canada – ‘Loophole’ in Civic Election Act Breeds Unfairness and Financial Secrecy, Experts Say
CBC – Angela King | Published: 12/5/2020
A section of Ontario’s Municipal Elections Act creates an unequal playing field, undermines transparency, and should be changed, election experts say. Concerns have been raised about a part of the legislation that allows a corporation to pay an employee while volunteering for a political campaign after a Toronto man revealed he was paid by a lobbying firm to help campaign for candidates in the 2018 civic election. Kevin Haynes said he felt like an “election hitman” when he was paid $20 per hour in cash by a major lobbying group to knock on doors for nine candidates, seven of whom won.
From the States and Municipalities
Alaska – FBI Questions Alaska Lawmakers on Topics Including Permanent Fund Dividend Votes
Anchorage Daily News – James Brooks | Published: 12/8/2020
The FBI has interviewed or sought to question at least 11 Alaska legislators this year, asking in at least some of the interviews whether any lawmakers received a financial benefit in exchange for their vote on the Permanent Fund dividend. Not all interviewed lawmakers would say what they were asked about, and it is not clear what the FBI is searching for. An interview may not mean a legislator is under investigation – several lawmakers said the FBI told them during the interviews that they were not personally under investigation. Uncertainty over the motive for the interviews is roiling lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, where Republicans are attempting to form a majority government.
Arizona – Arizona Legislature Shuts Down after Rudy Giuliani Possibly Exposed Lawmakers to COVID-19
MSN – Maria Polletta (Arizona Republic) | Published: 12/6/2020
The Arizona Legislature closed for a week “out of an abundance of caution” after Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney, possibly exposed several Republican lawmakers to COVID-19. Giuliani tested positive for the virus on December 6, less than a week after he visited Arizona as part of a multistate tour aimed at contesting 2020 election results. Giuliani had spent more than 10 hours discussing election concerns with Arizona Republicans, including two members of Congress and at least 13 current and future state lawmakers. He led the meeting maskless, flouting social distancing guidelines, and posing for photos.
Arizona – Judge Dismisses Dem Lawsuit Challenging Independent Redistricting Candidates
Arizona Mirror – Jeremy Duda | Published: 12/7/2020
Democratic legislative leaders’ lawsuit to disqualify two of the five finalists for independent chair of the state’s next redistricting commission fell flat after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Janice Crawford ruled the disputed applicants did not violate the criteria set out in the Arizona Constitution. Crawford ruled Thomas Loquvam, an attorney for the utility company EPCOR, does not violate the constitution’s prohibition on lobbyists serving on the Independent Redistricting Commission, and gun store owner Robert Wilson meets the qualifications to serve as an independent.
California – L.A. Fines Former City Official, Company $45,000 for Lobbying Violations
MyNewsLA.com – Staff | Published: 12/8/2020
The Los Angeles Ethics Commission imposed a fine of $45,000 on Daniel Ahadian and nur Corporation for violating city lobbying laws. Ahadian is a former city official who worked with the Planning Department, and the sole owner of nur, a planning and land use consulting firm. Ahadian and nur admitted failing to register as lobbying entities and file quarterly disclosure reports from the first quarter of 2018 through the fourth quarter of 2019. Lobbying entities are required to register with the Ethics Commission and report their activities on a quarterly basis to help the public identify who is attempting to influence city action.
California – L.A.’s Ethics Commission Gets a New Boss: A 29-year employee of the watchdog agency
Yahoo News – Dakota Smith (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 12/8/2020
David Tristan, deputy executive director of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, was named as the new executive director of the commission, replacing Heather Holt, who faces term limits. Commissioner Jeff Daar cited Tristan’s decades of experience at the agency. “Obviously, he has a passion for the mission of the Ethics Commission,” Daar said. Rob Quan, an organizer with Unrig LA, a good-government advocacy group, described Tristan as extremely responsive. He described how advocates have called Tristan over the years to discuss a variety of topics, including campaign filings and broken links on the commission website.
California – Real Estate Developer Pleads Guilty in Sprawling L.A. Campaign Money Laundering Case
Los Angeles Times – David Zahniser and Emily Alpert Reyes | Published: 12/3/2020
Businessperson Samuel Leung pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit campaign money laundering, admitting he took part in a scheme to reimburse campaign donors between January 2009 and February 2015 – just as his apartment project was being reviewed and approved at Los Angeles City Hall. State law prohibits donors from making political contributions in the name of another person. The guilty plea came more than four years after a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed a sprawling network of more than 100 people and companies with direct or indirect ties to Leung made political donations totaling more than $600,000 while Leung’s project was under review. The project was approved in 2015.
Connecticut – Audit Finds Lax Oversight of Public Campaign Financing
CT Examiner – Emilia Otte | Published: 12/3/2020
For the last nine years, the State Election Enforcement Commission (SEEC) has failed to report the use of grant money financing candidates running for the Connecticut General Assembly, according to a recent audit. The SEEC is responsible for the Citizen’s Election Program, which gives grant money to campaigns for state Senate or House through the Citizen’s Election Fund, a pool of money that comes from the sale of abandoned property. By law, the SEEC must report annually on the amount of money in the fund and the number of people who have contributed to it. The commission is also required to present an analysis each cycle to the General Assembly of the amount of grant money issued, how campaigns have spent the money, and how much leftover money was returned to the fund.
Florida – Disgraced Republican Lawmaker Planted No-Party Candidate in Key Senate Race, Sources Say
Miami Herald – Ana Ceballos and Samantha Gross | Published: 12/3/2020
As the results for a key Florida Senate race appeared on television screens in an Irish pub, former Sen. Frank Artiles boasted he planted a no-party candidate in the race, which Republican Ileana Garcia won by 32 votes over incumbent Jose Javier Rodriguez. “That is me, that was all me,” Artiles boasted to a crowd at Liam Fitzpatrick’s restaurant, according to a person who was there. Artiles recruited Alexis (Alex) Rodriguez, a longtime acquaintance. The no-party candidate with the same surname as the incumbent Democrat had been a registered Republican until just before his qualifying papers were filed to make him a Senate candidate. Sources have indicated Artiles’ involvement in launching Rodriguez’s bid was extensive.
Florida – Florida Police Raid House of Fired Data Scientist Who Alleged State Manipulated Covid-19 Stats
MSN – Reis Thebault (Washington Post) | Published: 12/7/2020
Florida police with guns drawn raided the home of an ousted health department data scientist, searching Rebekah Jones’ computer, phone, and other hardware that supports the coronavirus website she set up after accusing the state of manipulating its official numbers. Law enforcement officials allege Jones may have also used the devices to hack into a health department website to send an unauthorized message to Florida emergency personnel, urging them to speak out against the state’s pandemic response. After her dismissal, Jones launched her own data portal, advertising it as independent alternative to the state dashboard. Now, Jones says, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s raid is an attempt to silence her work.
Florida – Florida Voters Barred Ex-Lawmakers from Lobbying for 6 Years, but Revolving Door Still Swings
MSN – Gary Roher (Orlando Sentinel) | Published: 12/7/2020
The “revolving door” between government and lobbying firms in Florida was supposed to end after voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 banning elected officials and agency heads from lobbying for six years after leaving their posts. But that amendment does not take effect until the end of 2022, meaning the movement will continue for another two years. Since the November election, three Florida lawmakers have taken jobs as lobbyists, and one state agency director left her position in October to lead a trade group for an industry she used to regulate.
Georgia – Savannah Council Accepts Apology Kesha Gibson-Carter Says She Didn’t Make
Savannah Morning News – DeAnn Komanecky | Published: 12/9/2020
Savannah City Council members who filed ethics complaints against fellow Alderperson Kesha Gibson-Carter said they were ready to forgive the alderwoman. An ethics board found Gibson-Carter had violated the city’s ethics code. The three said they were ready to move forward instead of pushing for the only remedy available, a reprimand or censure, since Gibson-Carter had apologized privately to City Manager Michael Brown. Gibson-Carter is adamant she had not apologized to anyone, including the city manager, and had no intentions to do so.
Illinois – Ex-State Sen. Martin Sandoval, Snared in Political Corruption Investigation, Dies of Coronavirus: Attorney
Chicago Sun-Times – Jon Seidel, Mark Brown, and Mitchell Armentrout | Published: 12/5/2020
Former Illinois Sen. Martin Sandoval, who became a crucial figure in a series of ongoing public corruption investigations early this year when he admitted taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, has died from COVID-19. The Senate’s former Transportation Committee chair also agreed to “cooperate in any matter in which he is called upon” by federal prosecutors. In November, prosecutors told a judge that Sandoval had “provided valuable cooperation that is expected to last at least several more months.” Now, legal experts say Sandoval’s death has the potential to complicate the aggressive probe of Illinois politics.
Iowa – Iowa’s Contact-Tracing Firm Helped Trump, Reynolds Campaigns
Associated Press News – Ryan Foley | Published: 12/4/2020
After facing a workforce shortage for months, Iowa awarded an emergency $2.3 million contact-tracing contract to a company that has worked for the campaigns of President Trump and Gov. Kim Reynolds and is owned by a Republican insider. The Iowa Department of Public Health selected MCI for the two-month contract out of 14 applicants, saying it submitted the best proposal and its political connections were not considered. MCI is owned by GOP donor Anthony Marlowe, who has boasted it played a key role in Trump’s 2016 victory and was among the state’s top backers of Trump’s reelection bid.
Kentucky – Woman Faces 3 Counts of Lying to FBI, Jury in Bribery Case Tied to Lexington Council
Lexington Herald-Leader – Beth Musgrave | Published: 12/4/2020
A Kentucky woman was indicted by a federal grand jury for lying to the FBI and making false statements about campaign contributions to Lexington council members during the investigation trial of a former real estate executive. Elizabeth Stormbringer was charged with three counts related to lying about whether she was reimbursed by former CRM Executive Timothy Wellman for campaign contributions she made to Lexington council members in 2018. Wellman had a project the council would consider. He was found guilty on 11 charges relating to obstructing a federal investigation into illegal contributions.
Michigan – ‘Unambiguous, Loud and Threatening’: Trump supporters protest at home of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson
USA Today – Miriam Marini (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 12/6/2020
Dozens of protesters gathered in front of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s home recently, shouting through megaphones against the certification of the election and demanding a forensic audit. A portion of the demonstration was broadcast live on Facebook. The protesters are seen walking up to Benson’s home, some wearing President Donald Trump paraphernalia and carrying American flags. Throughout the election, Trump circulated false conspiracies about election fraud in Michigan. Benson said the protesters gathered in front of her home as she and her four-year-old son were finishing putting up Christmas decorations, just when the two were preparing to watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Missouri – Medical Marijuana Subpoena May Have Been Connected to Independence FBI Probe
Columbia News Tribune – Jason Hancock (Missouri Independence) | Published: 12/7/2020
Lyndall Fraker, director of medical marijuana regulation at the Missouri Department of Health and Seniors Services, testified a grand jury subpoena his agency received was likely connected to an FBI investigation in Independence. The revelation is the first indication of the target of the federal subpoena. The FBI questioned officials in Independence about a pair of contracts issued by the city council. One called for the city to pay a company $9.75 million to tear down a power plant. The bid was more than twice that of the other bidder. The other contract called for the city to pay nearly $1 million to purchase a golf club to build a solar farm with Gardner Capital. Days before the vote, PACs funded by Gardner made four $2,500 donations to Independence Mayor Eileen Weir, who has denied the donations were connected to her vote to endorse the project.
Nevada – Nevada Supreme Court Rejects Trump Campaign’s Appeal to Overturn Biden’s Win
MSN – Timothy Bella (Washington Post) | Published: 12/9/2020
The Nevada Supreme Court unanimously rejected an appeal from President Trump’s campaign to overturn the state’s election results, the latest loss in the president’s ongoing legal efforts to have states he did not win declare him victorious. The decision from the court came after a lower court gave a full-scale ruling against the Trump campaign’s efforts in the state. Nevada District Court Judge James Russell ruled there was no evidence supporting the claims of fraud and wrongdoing made by the campaign in a state that President-elect Joe Biden won by more than 33,000 votes.
New York – Election Reformers Love Ranked-Choice Voting, but NYC Immigrants See Doom
Courthouse News Service – Nina Pullano | Published: 12/9/2020
Some of New York City’s multinational communities say they are being left behind in the Board of Elections’ plans to implement ranked-choice voting, a system that lets voters choose multiple candidates in order of preference. These groups teamed up with local politicians in a complaint that asks a court to block the change. The complaint accuses the elections board of violating city charter requirements to implement ranked-choice voting in a timely manner, while also contending that the city’s software is not up to snuff and changes of this nature should not be contemplated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Paired with a failure to educate people on ranked-choice voting, the BLA Caucus says New Yorkers of color, seniors, and those who speak limited English are among 5 million voters in danger of disenfranchisement.
Ohio – Householder Dark Money Group Reputedly Broke Deal with AEP-Backed Nonprofit to Fund
MSN – Randy Ludlow and Marc Kovac (Columbus Dispatch) | Published: 12/5/2020
A board member of an American Electric Power-funded nonprofit said a separate group central in the nuclear plant bailout scandal appears to have used grants, including $550,000 newly disclosed in tax filings, for political purposes in violation of its agreement. J.B. Hadden, an attorney who serves on the board of Empowering Ohio’s Economy Inc., said the nonprofit’s grant agreement with Generation Now required the funding be used in compliance with IRS laws and for social welfare purposes only. Part of the agreement with Generation Now stated the money was not to be used “in furtherance of any political or campaign intervention activities.
Ohio – P.G. Sittenfeld Accepts Suspension from Cincinnati City Council After Arrest on Bribery Charges
MSN – Sharon Coolidge (Cincinnati Enquirer) | Published: 12/7/2020
Cincinnati City Councilperson P.G. Sittenfeld accepted a suspension from his seat, a process initiated by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost after Sittenfeld was arrested on federal bribery charges. Sittenfeld is one of three council members arrested and accused of “pay-to-play” schemes this year and the second member of council to accept a state suspension, which bars them from working, but allows them to collect their salary. The city charter does not address what happens in the event an elected official is arrested or convicted on charges of corruption, something that would directly affect their ability to do their job. But state law allows for the suspension of an elected official in the event of an arrest.
Ohio – Should an Ex-FirstEnergy Lobbyist Lead the Hunt for Ohio’s Next Utility Regulator? Consumer Advocate Asks
MSN – Jessie Balmert (Cincinnati Enquirer) | Published: 12/3/2020
Consumer advocates question whether a former FirstEnergy lobbyist should lead the effort to replace ex-Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairperson Sam Randazzo, who resigned after the FBI searched his property and a filing implied he received $4 million to terminate “a purported consulting agreement” with FirstEnergy. A nominating council is led by Michael Koren, a former FirstEnergy lobbyist. Koren lobbied for the company when House Bill 6 to subsidize FirstEnergy’s nuclear plants in Ohio was introduced. The bill is at the heart of a corruption scandal allegedly involving FirstEnergy.
Pennsylvania – Firm Ran Pa. Senator’s Campaign and Worked with Super PAC to Attack Opponent, but Denies Coordination
Spotlight PA – Sam Janesch (The Caucus) and Angela Couloumbis | Published: 12/8/2020
In the closing days of this year’s election, an ad attacking Democrat George Scott appeared in his race for the Pennsylvania Senate against incumbent John DiSanto, which was paid for by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC). Direct coordination between groups like the RSLC, which run super PACs, and campaigns is forbidden. To create the ad, the group turned to a middleman, the same firm running DiSanto’s campaign: Red Maverick Media, headed by strategist Ray Zaborney. No one has accused Zaborney’s firm or RSLC of wrongdoing. But watchdogs and campaign finance experts said the arrangement is another example of how weak state and federal campaign finance rules, combined with meager oversight, create gray areas and loopholes.
Pennsylvania – Trump Asks Pennsylvania House Speaker for Help Overturning Election Results, Personally Intervening in a Third State
MSN – Amy Gardner, Josh Dawsey, and Rachael Bade (Washington Post) | Published: 12/7/2020
President Trump called the speaker of the Pennsylvania House twice to make an extraordinary request for help reversing his loss in the state, reflecting a broadening pressure campaign by the president and his allies to try to subvert the 2020 election result. The president’s outreach to Pennsylvania’s Republican House leader came after his campaign and its allies decisively lost numerous legal challenges in the state in both state and federal court. Trump has continued to press his baseless claims of widespread voting irregularities both publicly and privately.
Tennessee – Rutherford Mayor Bill Ketron Faces Audit Hearings on Campaign Finance Violation Accusations
MSN – Scott Broden (Murfreesboro Daily News Journal) | Published: 12/7/2020
Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron will face audit hearings in 2021 on campaign finance accusations. The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance approved staff audits of Ketron’s state senate and Quest PAC accounts between January 2018 and July 2019. Another pending audit of Ketron’s mayoral campaign finance account is expected to be done by February. The registry issued subpoenas in 2019 while the mayor’s daughter, Kelsey Ketron, faced insurance fraud charges as part of an indictment pertaining to her job with the family-owned insurance company. Kelly Ketron served as treasurer during his campaigns, and indictments accused her of pocketing over $65,000 from her father’s political funds.
Texas – California-Based Independent Voter Project Hosts Trip to Hawaii for State Legislators, Raising Ethics Filing Probe
The Center Square – Bethany Blankley | Published: 12/9/2020
A California-based organization paid for roughly 100 legislators from four states, including Texas, to attend a four-day fundraising event in Hawaii. The Independent Voter Project (IVP) is a 501(c)3 organization created to “re-engage nonpartisan voters and promote nonpartisan election reforms through initiatives, litigation, and voter education.” Despite Hawaii’s stringent lockdown, IVP received special permission to hold a conference with more than the 12-person limit. The Dallas Morning News found that over the last three years of IVP hosting this trip, potential financial disclosure violations exist for Texas lawmakers who attended.
Texas – Texas Senate Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying
The Center Square – Bethany Blankley | Published: 12/9/2020
Each year, local governments in Texas spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on lobbyists whose job it is to persuade state lawmakers to allow for bigger government. It is a practice some legislators say must end. The Senate Affairs Committee held a hearing on the issue of taxpayer-funded lobbying at the Capitol. State Sen. Bob Hall filed legislation to end the practice after a companion bill was filed in the House. Hall said at the meeting that taxpayer-funded lobbying has been used to work against taxpayers. Tom Forbes, president of the Professional Advocacy Association of Texas, said if the Legislature were to ban the practice next year, taxpayer-funded lobbying would continue, it just would not be as visible and would operate in the shadows.
Washington DC – Ivanka Trump Confirms She Was Questioned by the D.C. Attorney General’s Office Over Inaugural Committee Spending
MSN – Jacqueline Alemany and David Fahrenthold (Washington Post) | Published: 12/2/2020
Ivanka Trump said she was questioned for more than five hours by investigators from the District of Columbia attorney general’s office, which has accused President Trump’s Inaugural Committee of wasting donating money on an overpriced ballroom at the president’s hotel in the city. In early 2017, when the Inaugural Committee booked ballrooms at the hotel, that meant the president was effectively on both sides of the transaction: his committee paid his hotel, using donors’ money. Attorney General Karl Racine said the committee and the hotel took advantage of that arrangement.
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