December 17, 2021 •
News You Can Use Digest – December 17, 2021
A New Lawsuit Accuses the FEC of Failing to Investigate Russia’s ‘Coordination’ with the 2016 Trump Campaign
Yahoo News – C. Ryan Barber (Business Insider) | Published: 12/8/2021
A pair of advocacy groups sued the FEC, alleging the agency has failed to act on a complaint against the Russian government and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign alleging violations of campaign finance law. They argue the FEC’s delay has potentially deprived the American public of information that was not revealed during Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference. They noted Mueller’s work and separate congressional investigations but said those inquiries, “pursuing different angles for different purposes and with different mandates, have not focused on bringing transparency to campaign financing – the FEC’s mandate.”
Agency Overseeing Trump’s D.C. Hotel Lease Failed to Examine Ethical, Constitutional Conflicts, Report Says
NBC News – Rebecca Shabad | Published: 12/15/2021
The federal agency managing the government’s lease of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. failed to examine ethical conflicts and constitutional issues posed by then-President Trump’s refusal to divest from the property. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s report found the General Services Administration did not track foreign government payments to the hotel or identify the origins of more than $75 million in loans made by Trump and his family to shore up its troubled finances.
Big Law Firms Promised to Punish Republicans Who Voted to Overthrow Democracy. Now They’re Donating to Their Campaigns
Yahoo News – Andy Kroll (Rolling Stone) | Published: 12/9/2021
In the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection, some of the country’s biggest law firms joined blue-chip corporations and other industry trade groups by halting all political donations and rethinking their giving strategy. But major law firms in Washington have resumed donations to those Republicans whose support for election-fraud theories and refusal to certify posed a threat to democracy. The law firms donated through their in-house PACs, which allow the firm to donate to a candidate’s campaign, a party-wide political committee, or a leadership committee that politicians use to raise money they can later spend to help reelect their allies.
Congress and Top Capitol Hill Staff Have Violated the STOCK Act Hundreds of Times. But the Consequences Are Minimal, Inconsistent, and Not Recorded Publicly.
MSN – Camila DeChalus, Kimberly Leonard, and Dave Levinthal (Business Insider) | Published: 12/15/2021
Congress has an inconsistent method for collecting fines from members and top staff who break a law designed to stop insider trading and conflicts-of-interest. Business Insider’s investigation of financial disclosures found 49 members of Congress and at least 182 of the highest-paid Capitol Hill staffers were late in filing their stock trades during 2020 and 2021. The lack of transparency makes it impossible to independently determine whether STOCK Act lawbreakers truly face consequences, and if so, to what degree. It is a situation that ethics experts say leaves the public in the dark, lets Congress off the hook, and renders the law toothless.
Democrats Introduce Bill to End Political Spending by Foreign-Owned Corporations
MSN – Karl Evers-Hillstrom (The Hill) | Published: 12/14/2021
House Democrats reintroduced a bill that would block foreign-owned corporations from spending company funds to influence U.S. elections. The bill would extend the federal ban on political donations from foreign nationals to multinational companies that are at least partially owned by foreign nationals. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed corporations to spend unlimited sums to influence elections, some American subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies have made large donations to super PACs.
House ‘Democracy’ Bill Would Cap Executive Power, Expand Disclosure
MSN – Kate Ackley (Roll Call) | Published: 12/9/2021
Seeking to avoid a repeat of the scandal-plagued Trump presidency, House Democrats approved a bill almost entirely along party lines that would put new limits on executive branch power and subject presidential candidates to more disclosure. The Protecting Our Democracy Act would require presidents, vice presidents, and anyone running for those offices from a major political party to disclose their tax returns. It also would toughen the fines for executive branch officials who violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits nearly all such employees from engaging in campaign activities in their official capacity, among other provisions.
House Votes to Hold Meadows in Contempt for Refusing to Comply with Jan. 6 Committee Subpoena
MSN – Mariana Alfaro and Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 12/14/2021
The House voted to hold former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena issued by the bipartisan committee investigating the deadly January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. The resolution was approved with just two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, joining Democrats in voting “yes.” The matter now goes to the Justice Department, which will decide whether to pursue the contempt referral. Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor criminal offense that can result in up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Luxembourg Adopts Watered-Down Lobby Register
Luxembourg Times – John Monaghan | Published: 12/13/2021
Luxembourg adopted a register which will show which lobbyists have been meeting parliamentarians after years of discussion and pressure from the European Commission to act, although the bill contains several exemptions and no apparent system of checks. The legislation requires anyone wishing to meet a deputy to register their intention to do so, regardless of the location of the meeting. Responsibility for registration falls to the lobbyist, not the deputy.
Manchin Cites a Blind Trust to Justify Climate Votes. But Much Income from His Family’s Coal Company Isn’t
MSN – Michael Kranish and Anna Phillips (Washington Post) | Published: 12/13/2021
In U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s West Virginia home county, his family’s business has made millions of dollars by taking waste coal from long-abandoned mines and selling it to a power plant that emits air pollution at a higher rate than any other plant in the state. That enterprise could have taken a hit under a key part of President Biden’s climate agenda. But Manchin played a central role in killing that proposal. Contrary to his public statements, documents filed by the senator show his blind trust is too small to account for all his reported earnings from the coal company, as of his latest financial disclosure report.
Members of Congress Play Campaign Pundit All the Time. But Are They Any Good at It?
MSN – Jim Saska (Roll Call) | Published: 12/16/2021
A fundamental question in American politics is how a candidate can convince some of their neighbors and a lot of strangers to vote for them. Roll Call asked members of Congress who had eked out a narrow win or flipped a seat what the factors were that led to their victories. Several trend lines emerged. In an era where seemingly everything is viewed through partisan lenses, party affiliation did not seem to influence anyone’s responses. Most focused on convincing voters they were all on the same side.
Now in Your Inbox: Political misinformation
Yahoo News – Maggie Astor (New York Times) | Published: 12/13/2021
Lawmakers’ statements on social media and cable news are now routinely fact checked. But email – one of the most powerful communication tools available to politicians, reaching up to hundreds of thousands of people – teems with unfounded claims and largely escapes notice. Politicians have always exaggerated and dissemble, including in their email dispatches. But the volume, the baldness, and the reach of the false claims have increased. Both parties delivered heaps of hyperbole in their emails, but Republicans included misinformation in about 15 percent of their messages, compared with about two percent for Democrats.
Redistricting Is Drying Up Competitive Congressional Races
MSN – Michael Macagnone (Roll Call) | Published: 12/15/2021
Advancements in data science and long-term shifts in how Americans vote are making swing districts increasingly rare. State Legislatures and commissions control the redistricting process for most of the country. So far, 20 states have finished redrawing their congressional maps, which have produced only a handful of competitive U.S. House seats. Political parties burned by recent wave elections may have gotten skittish about drawing risky seats. Ken Kollman, a political science professor at the University of Michigan, said a House map with many competitive seats would mean a party could win a few from the other side, or totally wipe out.
Text Messages to Meadows Renew Focus on Trump’s Inaction During Jan. 6 Attack
MSN – Amy Wang (Washington Post) | Published: 12/14/2021
Newly released text messages that were sent on January 6 to Mark Meadows, a former chief of staff in the Trump White House, have put a renewed focus on President Trump’s failure to act quickly to stop the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol as it was unfolding, despite real-time pleas from lawmakers, journalists, and even his eldest son. At least half a dozen people reached out during the riot to Meadows to ask – in some cases, beg – Trump to intervene.
The Judges Drawing America’s Political Maps
Yahoo News – Ally Mutnik (Politico) | Published: 12/13/2021
Between reforms aimed at reducing politics in redistricting, dysfunction in states where both parties have some control and the reduced role of the federal judiciary in policing gerrymandering, state Supreme Courts are playing a greater role than ever as mapmakers or traffic cops that could swing the fortunes of some 120 congressional seats in next year’s midterms. Across the country, these courts are poised to be outsized political players. While some of these judges campaign for their position, many of them are appointed, meaning the decisions come from the hands of unelected arbiters.
Trump Tax Records Can Be Released by Treasury Department to House, Judge Rules
MSN – Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 12/14/2021
A federal judge rejected former President Trump’s long-running effort to block the Treasury Department from turning over his tax records to the House Ways and Means Committee but put the ruling on hold pending an expected appeal. U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden, a former Trump Justice Department official appointed to the court in 2017, said even if the former president’s attorneys were correct that House Democrats wanted his records only to expose them for political gain, they were “wrong on the law.”
Trump White House Records Can Be Released in Jan. 6 Probe Pending Supreme Court Review, Appeals Court Rules
MSN – Spencer Hsu and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 12/9/2021
A federal appeals court rejected former President Trump’s bid to keep his White House documents secret from a congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol, setting up an emergency U.S. Supreme Court review. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously upheld a lower court’s opinion, which said in a dispute between a current and past president over whether to release White House records, the sitting president must prevail.
Canada – Judge Upholds Ontario Rules Limiting Third-Party Election Advertising Spending
Global News – Paola Loriggio (Canadian Press) | Published: 12/8/2021
An Ontario judge upheld the province’s restrictions on third-party election advertising, ruling the measures do not infringe on voters’ right to meaningfully participate in the election process. The Working Families Coalition challenged the rules on grounds that they infringe on the right to vote by limiting the ability of third parties to share information on matters of public policy for a year before an election. But Ontario Superior Court Justice Ed Morgan found the rules meet the legal requirement to allow for broad and egalitarian participation in the campaign.
From the States and Municipalities
California – City Employees Solicit Funds for Garcetti-Backed Charity. Ethics Experts Have Concerns
Yahoo News – Dakota Smith (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 12/15/2021
Employees in Eric Garcetti’s office play a key role in creating programs for the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, a charity that pays for civic programs. They also seek funding during the course of their jobs and use their city emails – in some cases from companies that do business with the city. Such solicitations are allowed because they are made in support of a charity and not a political campaign. Some ethics experts, however, say the city needs to be more transparent about solicitations sought by city employees, or restrict them altogether.
California – Former DWP Chief Information Security Officer Agrees to Plead Guilty to Lying to Authorities
MSN – Dakota Smith (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 12/13/2021
A top executive who worked on security operations at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) agreed to plead guilty to one felony charge of making false statements. Former Chief Information Security Officer David Alexander lied to the FBI about a job offer that he “secretly solicited” in return for helping pass contract money to a lawyer, prosecutors said. Alexander used his role at Southern California Public Power Authority, a group of several utilities, including the DWP, to help give a $17-million contract focused on cybersecurity work to three companies.
Colorado – Major ‘Dark Money’ Nonprofit Ordered to Reveal Its Donors in Colorado
Colorado Public Radio – Andrew Kenny | Published: 12/9/2021
Unite for Colorado, a “dark money” group that spent $4 million on signature gathering and digital advertisements for statewide ballot measures in 2020 was ordered to pay a $40,000 fine and to divulge their donors. Critics argued Unite for Colorado crossed the line between nonprofits and political groups by spending so heavily – and was so closely involved in politics – that it should have registered as a political issue committee and reported more detail on its financial activities.
Colorado – Weiser’s Fundraiser in Hawaii Draws Complaint
Denver Gazette – Christopher Osher | Published: 12/9/2021
Following a fundraiser at an exclusive resort in Hawaii, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser is facing a complaint accusing him of violating the state’s campaign finance laws. Defend Colorado filed a formal complaint alleging the Democratic attorney general did not pay the full cost of his campaign’s use of the Grand Wailea Grand Dining Room at the Grand Wailea Maui. The group also accused him of using the event to cozy up to corporate lobbyists.
Florida – Nikki Fried Mired in Ethics Dispute Over Her Finances
MSN – Gary Fineout (Politico) | Published: 12/9/2021
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, one of the leading Democratic nominees for governor, is coming under fire for her failure to promptly report how much lobbying money she made prior to taking office. The Florida Commission on Ethics voted unanimously that there is probable cause Fried, who was an attorney and lobbyist, violated state law by failing to properly disclose income from her lobbying business. Just days before she began her campaign for governor this year, she amended two separate financial disclosure forms, including one showing previously unreported earnings of $351,480.
Florida – The Coffee Shop at This Non-Profit Florida Hospital Pours Cash into Political Coffers
Miami Herald – Kirby Wilson | Published: 12/14/2021
For the past three years, the Starbucks at Tampa General Hospital’s main campus has been making large campaign contributions to a select group of Florida candidates. It does this even though Tampa General operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Federal law prohibits it from giving money to candidates. House of Coffee Tampa, which owns the coffee shops inside two Tampa General properties is a for-profit corporation. That means it can make campaign contributions.
Georgia – Georgia Appeals Judge Agrees to $25,000 Fine in Ethics Case
MSN – Associated Press | Published: 12/9/2021
A suspended Georgia Court of Appeals judge agreed to pay a $25,000 fine to settle ethics charges he spent campaign funds for personal use. The Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission voted to approve a consent decree with Judge Christian Coomer. A complaint accused Coomer, a former state House member, of transferring money from his old legislative campaign account to financially prop up his former law firm between 2015 and 2019. Commission staff said it was the largest fine ever against a Georgia judge in an ethics case.
Illinois – Illinois Moves to Prohibit ‘Dark Money’ in Judicial Races, but It’s Unclear What Effect That Will Have on State’s Free-Spending Campaigns
MSN – Dan Petrella (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 12/8/2021
With the balance of power on the Illinois Supreme Court at stake in next year’s election, Democrats who control Springfield took steps this fall aimed at curbing the influence of outside money in a state that holds the record for the nation’s most expensive judicial race. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill that bans judicial candidates from receiving campaign money from out-of-state contributors and groups that do not disclose their donors. One of the state’s leading campaign finance experts said the new law likely will do little to stem the tide of cash from powerful interests trying to influence who sits on the state’s highest court.
Kansas – Kansas AG’s Natural Gas Well Presents Possible Conflict of Interest as He Investigates Industry
Kansas Reflector – Alison Kite | Published: 12/14/2021
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has a financial interest in the sale of natural gas, prompting calls for him to disclose more information about his earnings as he investigates gas companies. Schmidt is investigating whether companies raised natural gas prices, which increased by as much as 200 times almost overnight in February, in violation of Kansas consumer protection law and will consider whether to pursue litigation. At the same time, Schmidt, who is running to unseat Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, could be receiving thousands of dollars a year in income from his own natural gas well in the state.
Maryland – Maryland Gov. Hogan’s Campaign Pays Fine for Accepting Excess Donations
MSN – Pamela Wood (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 12/15/2021
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s campaign paid a $2,500 fine for accepting political donations above the state’s limits. The campaign did not immediately provide a total number and dollar amount of the excess contributions, but it has been sending money back to donors and updating prior campaign finance reports for the last few years. Under Maryland law, donors may not give more than $6,000 to a candidate over each four-year election cycle.
New York – Cuomo Advisors Used Campaign Aide to Dig Up Dirt on an Accuser Who Was Running for Office, Records Show
CNBC – Brian Schwartz | Published: 12/9/2021
Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s closest advisors used a campaign aide to seek potentially damaging information on Lindsey Boylan, who has accused him of sexual harassment. Melissa DeRosa, who was the top aide to the governor, told investigators about the effort to find the information and potentially plant a negative story about Boylan during a probe into Cuomo’s alleged sexual harassment of former aides and associates. DeRosa told investigators she believed Boylan was working together with other prominent New York politicians to bring down Cuomo.
New York – De Blasio Violated Fundraising Ethics Rules Even After Warning – Yet Mayor Faced No Penalty
The City – Yoav Gonen | Published: 12/8/2021
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio violated ethics rules twice by hitting up real estate industry players for donations to a nonprofit he created to boost pet projects, but he got away with just warning letters. The Conflicts of Interest Board cited de Blasio in 2014 for personally soliciting $150,000 in donations from people or entities with business before the city. He kept making similar fundraising calls, asking for contributions from James Capalino, a lobbyist who had helped his campaign for mayor. The board noted de Blasio also failed to provide a disclaimer to potential donors that their giving would not influence any decision making.
New York – Ethics Panel Demands Cuomo Repay $5M
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 12/14/2021
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) will require former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to return the proceeds from his book about his response to the coronavirus pandemic. The order came after JCOPE voted to rescind the approval it had given Cuomo before he entered into the $5.1 million book deal. JCOPE staff approved the deal when his counsel told the commission that Cuomo agreed to not use any state personnel or resources to produce his book and he would write it “entirely on his own time.” But complaints surfaced that state property, resources, and personnel were used to prepare, write, edit, and publish the book.
New York – Trump Fraud Inquiry’s Focus: Did he mislead his own accountants?
Yahoo News – William Rashbaum, Ben Protess, and Jonah Bromwich (New York Times) | Published: 12/14/2021
As prosecutors in Manhattan weigh whether to charge Donald Trump with fraud, they have zeroed in on financial documents he used to obtain loans and boast about his wealth. The documents, compiled by Trump’s longtime accountants and known as annual statements of financial condition, could help answer a question at the heart of the long-running criminal investigation into the former president: did he inflate the value of his assets to defraud his lenders?
North Carolina – North Carolina Delays 2022 Primaries to Give Redistricting Challenges More Time
National Public Radio – Steve Harrison | Published: 12/8/2021
The North Carolina Supreme Court ordered that the state’s March 2022 primary be delayed until May 17 so it can settle two lawsuits challenging Republican-drawn maps for Congress and the state’s Legislature. The nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project has rated the recent North Carolina congressional map a grade of “F” for fairness, calling it one of the most gerrymandered maps in the nation, along with a Republican-drawn congressional map in Texas and a Democratic-drawn map in Illinois.
Pennsylvania – Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez Wants to Ban Lawmakers from Making More Than $25,000 from Side Jobs
MSN – Sean Collins Walsh (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 12/15/2021
Philadelphia City Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez introduced legislation prohibiting city lawmakers from making more than $25,000 from side jobs and requiring them to disclose more information about outside employment. It would be the most significant ethics reform proposal since the convictions of council member Bobby Henon and former union leader John Dougherty on federal corruption charges.
Pennsylvania – DA Larry Krasner’s Campaign and Real Justice PAC Have Admitted to Breaking Philly’s Campaign Finance Law, Again
MSN – Sean Collins Welch (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 12/9/2021
For the second time in as many elections, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s campaign and a political group that supports him have admitted to violating the city’s campaign finance law. The Krasner campaign agreed to pay $10,000 in penalties and admitted making misstatements and omissions in its campaign finance reports during the prosecutor’s successful reelection bid this year. The Real Justice PAC agreed to pay $30,000 in penalties after admitting to making omissions in its reports.
South Carolina – Orangeburg Coroner Marshall Gets $17K Fine After Neglecting Ethics Forms for Years
Charleston Post and Courier – Avery Wilks | Published: 12/15/2021
A chronic failure to file her required financial disclosures will cost Orangeburg County’s elected coroner $17,000. That is even after the State Ethics Commission reduced Samuetta Marshall’s original fine by $5,000 following her appeal for leniency. Marshall has a long history of failing to file reports detailing her campaign fundraising and spending, as well as forms disclosing her sources of income. She also ignored the Ethics Commission’s repeated efforts to reach her about those forms and the late-filing fees she was accumulating. She did not attend her ethics hearing to defend herself.
South Dakota – Ex-Official Says She Felt ‘Intimidated’ in Meeting with Kristi Noem That Led to Daughter’s Appraiser License
MSN – Hannah Knowles (Washington Post) | Published: 12/14/2021
A former state official testified she felt “intimidated” at a meeting last year with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, and it resulted in an unusual third chance for the governor’s daughter to get her real estate appraiser license. Noem has claimed her daughter “went through the exact same process that others did in South Dakota to become an appraiser” and denied seeking “special treatment” for her. But the governor’s meeting last year with officials overseeing the state’s licensing process sparked allegations of nepotism and led state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg to launch a review.
Tennessee – Tennessee Republican Leaders Agree to Drop Judges from Mandatory Candidate Fees for Now Amid Ethics Ruling
Yahoo – Andy Sher (Chattanooga Times Free Press) | Published: 12/15/2021
Tennessee Republican Party leaders have decided for now to drop judges and judicial candidates from a rule they adopted earlier this year that requires GOP candidates running for office to pay the party a fee to run in primary elections. The decision came as judges have worried for months over paying the fee because of an advisory opinion issued by the Administrative Office of the Court’s Judicial Ethics Committee. The panel wrote said one of the rules of judicial conduct “generally prohibits a judge from paying an assessment to a political organization.”
Texas – Dallas Approves New Office to Investigate City Corruption Claims
Dallas Morning News – Everton Bailey, Jr. | Published: 12/8/2021
Dallas will create a new office to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by city officials and make other changes to ethics rules that are meant to cut down on corruption. A key part of the reform is the creation of an inspector general division in the city attorney’s office, which would receive and investigate all internal fraud, waste, abuse, and corruption complaints. It will also prohibit anyone seeking a public subsidy, such as tax credits, from lobbying a council member about the matter before it is decided, and will increase training for city officials, staff, and registered lobbyists on Dallas’ ethics code.
Texas – Texas Appeals Court Throws Out Indictment of Groundbreaking Black Sheriff
Courthouse News Service – Cameron Langford | Published: 12/15/2016
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed a campaign finance and records tampering indictment spearheaded by state Attorney General Ken Paxton against the state’s first Black female sheriff. While state law allowed an unusual choice of venue – though Stephens’ alleged crime occurred in Jefferson County, she was indicted in neighboring Chambers County – the court ruled the prosecution had violated the separation of powers clause in the state constitution. The court determined the Legislature had unconstitutionally granted the attorney general independent authority to prosecute election law offenses in the election code.
Washington DC – D.C. Attorney General Sues Proud Boys, Oath Keepers Over Jan. 6 Attack
MSN – Devlin Barrett, Tom Hamburger, and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 12/14/2021
District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine sued the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers over the January 6 attack on Congress, seeking to use a law written to cripple the Ku Klux Klan to exact stiff financial penalties from the far-right groups Racine alleges were responsible for the violence. Racine’s lawsuit is the first effort by a government agency to hold individuals and organizations civilly responsible for the violence at the U.S. Capitol on the day Congress ceremonially confirmed President Biden’s 2020 election victory.
Wisconsin – US Supreme Court Rejects Appeal from MacIver Institute Over Press Access in Wisconsin
Wisconsin Public Radio – Shawn Johnson | Published: 12/13/2021
The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that sided with Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers in a dispute with a conservative think tank over media access. The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy sued after the governor’s office denied the MacIver News Service access to a media briefing. MacIver argued the governor had violated its First Amendment right to freedom of the press based on the institute’s editorial stances. MacIver was denied access, according to the governor’s office, because its lobbying activity, policy advocacy, and self-described status as a “think tank” did not meet the criteria for a news organization.
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