June 4, 2021 •
News You Can Use Digest – June 4, 2021
2 Nonprofits That Track Money in Politics Are Merging
Maryland Matters – Josh Kurtz | Published: 6/3/2021
Watchdogs, journalists, opposition researchers, and the civic minded have relied on data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in Politics to help them keep elected officials and the special interests that seek to influence them accountable. Now, the nation’s two leading money-in-politics data organizations, are joining forces. They announced they are merging into a combined entity called OpenSecrets. The merger will create a new one-stop shop for integrated federal, state, and local data on campaign finance, lobbying, and more.
Casino Mogul Steve Wynn Must File as Foreign Agent, U.S. Says
MSN – Ilya Banares (Bloomberg) | Published: 5/26/2021
The Justice Department told former casino magnate Steve Wynn to register as a foreign lobbyist for China and is ready to go to court if he does not comply. The order stems from allegations Wynn tried to persuade American officials to send Guo Wengui, a Chinese businessperson with ties to former President Trump, back to his home country. Guo was charged there with corruption, bribery, and fraud and is considered a fugitive by Chinese authorities. Under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, any person representing the interest of foreign entities in the U.S. must disclose their relationship. They also need to make public all the activities they’ have done on their behalf and, if applicable, how much they were paid.
Court to Name Special Master to Examine Materials Seized from Giuliani
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 5/28/2021
A federal judge denied a request from former President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani for the return of a trove of digital information the FBI seized in a raid on his Manhattan home and office as part of an investigation into potential violations of laws on lobbying for foreign entities. But U.S. District Court Judge Paul Oetken said he will appoint an outside lawyer as a so-called special master to oversee the process of making sure investigators do not get access to attorney-client privileged materials they are not entitled to.
Democrats Grapple with the Enemy Within: What to do about the filibuster rule that could kill their agenda
MSN – Michael Kranish, Mike DeBonis, and Jacqueline Alemany (Washington Post) | Published: 5/29/2021
As Senate Democrats work to solidify support within their conference to move on gun violence, climate change, voting rights, and an investigation into the Capitol riots, they are running up against the same stubborn reality: they need at least 10 Republican votes to overcome a filibuster and put their agenda into law. This requirement is not in the U.S. Constitution, nor is it in a law. It is a rule imposed by senators and could be eliminated by a united rank of Democrats. Yet Democrats are unable to repeal the filibuster and are feuding among themselves about whether they should make a more determined effort to do so before the midterm elections.
FEC Spares Trump but Fines Tabloid Publisher for Hush-Money Payment to Ex-Playboy Model Who Claimed Affair with Him
MSN – Felicia Sonmez (Washington Post) | Published: 6/1/2021
The FEC fined the National Enquirer’s parent company $187,500 for “knowingly and willfully” violating election law by making a payment in 2016 to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with former President Trump years before he was elected. Common Cause alleged the company’s $150,000 payment to McDougal months before the 2016 election was effectively an illegal in-kind corporate contribution to Trump’s presidential campaign. The payment allegedly benefited the campaign by suppressing McDougal’s story of an alleged relationship with Trump before voters went to the polls.
Federal Prosecutors Looking into Whether Gaetz Obstructed Justice
Politico – Marc Caputo | Published: 6/2/2021
Federal prosecutors are examining whether U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz obstructed justice during a phone call he had with a witness in the sex-crimes investigation of Gaetz. The witness was one of a handful of women who entered Gaetz’s orbit via former local tax collector Joel Greenberg, who pleaded guilty to a host of crimes, including sex-trafficking a 17-year-old. The obstruction inquiry stems from a phone call the witness had with Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend. The ex-girlfriend patched Gaetz into the call. While it is unknown exactly what was said, the discussion is central to whether prosecutors can charge Gaetz with obstructing justice, which makes it illegal to suggest a witness in a criminal case lie or give misleading testimony.
GOP Bill Would Codify IRS Rule Hiding ‘Dark Money’ Donors
Center for Responsive Politics – Alyce McFadden | Published: 5/27/2021
The Don’t Weaponize the IRS Act, introduced by U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, would prevent the IRS from mandating that 501(c)(4) nonprofits identify their top donors in filings to the agency, turning IRS guidance issued under former President Trump into law. Republican senators who signed on as co-sponsors say the measure would protect outside groups from discrimination by the IRS. The agency previously apologized for slow-walking conservative groups’ applications for nonprofit status and leaking nonprofit donors.
Sources: Dem lobbying firm under federal investigation for Burisma work
Politico – Betsy Woodruff Swan and Daniel Lippman | Published: 6/3/2021
The Justice Department is investigating the work of a consulting firm linked to President Biden’s son for potential illegal lobbying, four people familiar with the probe said. The firm, Blue Star Strategies, took on as a client the Ukrainian energy company Burisma while Hunter Biden served on its board. Republican operatives’ efforts to investigate Burisma and the alleged corruption that surrounded the firm were at the heart of the first Trump impeachment. The probe comes as the Justice Department ramps up its scrutiny of foreign governments’ efforts to influence U.S. politics through covert lobbying operations.
Steve Chabot’s Ex-Campaign Manager Facing More Than 2 Years in Prison After Guilty Plea
MSN – Kevin Grasha (Cincinnati Enquirer) | Published: 5/28/2021
Prosecutors say they will seek a prison sentence that is no longer than 32 months for U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot’s former campaign manager, who admitted he stole more than $1.4 million from the campaign. Jamie Schwartz signed a plea agreement admitting he embezzled the money between 2011 and 2019. Schwartz will pay $1,420,475 in restitution to the campaign. It is a conservative estimate of how much he obtained through the embezzlement, prosecutors said.
Trump Administration Secretly Seized Phone Records of Times Reporters
New York Times – Charlie Savage and Katie Benner | Published: 6/2/2021
The Trump Justice Department seized the phone records of four New York Times reporters in 2017 as part of a leak investigation. It was the latest in a series of revelations about the Trump administration secretly obtaining reporters’ communications records to uncover their sources. It also seized the phone logs of reporters who work for The Washington Post and the phone and email logs for a CNN reporter. After the disclosures, President Biden said he would not allow the department to take such a step during his administration, calling it ‘simply, simply wrong.”
Canada – Pierre Fitzgibbon Steps Down as Minister in Wake of Ethics Report
Montreal Gazette – Philip Authier | Published: 6/2/2021
Quebec Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon stepped down as a cabinet minister in the wake of an ethics commission report saying he has a conflict-of-interest. The ethics commissioner, Ariane Mignolet, had said Fitzgibbon should be barred from sitting in the in the provincial Legislature until he sells the stake that he holds in two firms doing business with the government.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Observers of Arizona’s GOP-Led Election Audit Document Security Breaches, Prohibited Items on Counting Floor
MSN – Felicia Sonmez and Rosalind Helderman (Washington Post) | Published: 6/2/2021
Observers of the Republican-led recount have found security gates left open, confidential manuals left unattended, and quality-control measures disregarded, according to the Arizona secretary of state’s office. A software update caused so many errors the company handling the recount abandoned the update and went back to the old software. In other instances, prohibited items including cellphones and pens with black or blue ink were allowed onto the counting floor. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and election security experts have criticized the audit as error riddled. Now, Hobbs’s office is documenting the alleged infractions online.
California – California Lawmakers Approve District Attorney Recusal Law
Courthouse News Service – Tim Cahill | Published: 6/2/2021
District attorneys in California whose campaigns were funded by police unions would have to recuse themselves from investigations of law enforcement officers under legislation approved by lawmakers. Supporters say the bill will prevent conflicts-of-interest and restore public faith that bad officers will be brought to justice. In the event both the district attorney and state Attorney General accepted banned law enforcement donations, a special prosecutor would then take over.
California – Ex-San Francisco Official Arrested for Attempted Robbery
Associated Press News – Staff | Published: 6/3/2021
San Francisco’s former public works director, who resigned after being charged in a City Hall corruption case, was arrested after allegedly trying to rob someone at knifepoint, authorities said. Mohammed Nuru was booked on suspicion of attempted robbery after someone reported being approached by a man who pulled a knife and demanded the man’s property, according to a police statement. Nuru resigned his post last year after being charged with fraud and lying to the FBI. Prosecutors allege he took thousands of dollars in gifts and cash from contractors.
California – Multimillionaire Recall Candidate John Cox Owes Consultants from Failed Gubernatorial Bid
MSN – Seema Mehta (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 5/27/2021
Recall candidate John Cox’s prior gubernatorial campaign has been ordered by a judge to pay about $100,000 to a political consulting firm that produced television ads for his unsuccessful 2018 race, one of a string of unpaid bills detailed in a lawsuit and campaign filings. Cox’s campaign has refused to pay, leading to a “debtor’s examination” hearing over the financial status of that campaign committee. A spokesperson for Cox’s current gubernatorial campaign said the invoices were submitted late and Cox contests the amount owed.
Colorado – Court Blocks Portion of Aurora Campaign Finance Measure in Case Brought by Mayor Mike Coffman
Denver Post – Sam Tabachnik | Published: 6/1/2021
An Arapahoe County District Court judge blocked portions of an Aurora campaign finance reform measure from going into effect in a case that featured the mayor accusing his own city of targeting him through law. Judge Peter Michaelson agreed with the First Amendment arguments in Mayor Mike Coffman’s filing that the ordinance’s prohibition on a political candidate campaigning for other candidates or ballot initiatives is unconstitutional.
Florida – Florida Sued Over Law to Ban Social Media Content Blocking
Associated Press News – Brendan Farrington | Published: 5/27/2021
Two groups representing online companies sued Florida over a new law that seeks to punish large social media businesses like Facebook and Twitter if they remove content or ban politicians. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that will allow the state to fine large social media sites if they inactivate a statewide politician’s account and will let any Floridian sue those companies if they feel like they have been treated unfairly.
Florida – Nikki Fried Amended Past Financial Disclosures Before Jumping into Florida Governor’s Race
Politico – Gary Fineout | Published: 6/2/2021
Shortly before jumping into the race for Florida governor, state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried amended two separate financial disclosure forms, including one showing previously unreported earnings of $351,480. In both instances, Fried reported earning substantially more money from her lobbying business than she initially disclosed, money that in part came from work she did on behalf of a nursery that was eventually acquired by a medical marijuana company. Fried, a former lobbyist for the cannabis industry, is engaged to the former chief executive of one of the nation’s largest medical marijuana companies.
Idaho – Idaho Lieutenant Governor Banned Mask Mandates While the Governor Was Out of town. It Didn’t Last.
MSN – Derek Hawkins (Washington Post) | Published: 5/28/2021
Idaho Gov. Brad Little rescinded an executive order canceling mask mandates that his second-in-command issued while he was away at a conference, calling it an “abuse of power.” It was the latest clash in a pandemic-long feud between Little and Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin over public-health measures designed to protect Idahoans from the coronavirus. McGeachin, who recently announced she is running for governor, has spent months criticizing Little’s response to the crisis as too heavy-handed.
Illinois – Lawyers for 4 Charged in ComEd Bribery Case Say No Quid Pro Quo with Madigan, Ask for Charges to Be Dismissed
MSN – Jason Meisner (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 6/1/2021
Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan had no arrangement with anyone to help Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) win key legislation in Springfield in exchange for bribes, lawyers for four people charged in the corruption case argued. The court filing on behalf of Michael McClain, Anne Pramaggiore, John Hooker, and Jay Doherty asked U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber to toss several of the key elements of the case, including allegations of bribery conspiracy involving jobs doled out by ComEd to associates of the then-powerful speaker.
Illinois – Package of Government Ethics Reforms Passed by Illinois Legislature, Sent to Pritzker
Bloomington Pantagraph – Dean Olsen (State Journal-Register) | Published: 6/1/2021
Illinois lawmakers approved ethics reforms following numerous indictments, convictions, and investigations in recent years involving legislators and powerful interests. The bills would bar elected officials from lobbying other units of government and would give the legislative inspector general the power to initiate investigations of lawmakers without first receiving approval from a bipartisan commission. It prevents lawmakers from holding campaign fundraisers across the state on any day the General Assembly is in session, or on a day immediately preceding a session.
Iowa – State Auditor Says Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Illegally Promoted Herself with Mask Ads; She Denies It
MSN – Stephen Gruber-Miller (Des Moines Register) | Published: 6/2/2021
State Auditor Rob Sand is alleging Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds violated the state’s self-promotion law by appearing in a video last year to promote mask wearing during the pandemic, but Reynolds says the public awareness campaign falls under the law’s exemption for disaster emergencies. In the video, Reynolds appears in the governor’s formal office with her name and title onscreen and tells Iowans about steps to take to avoid the virus, like mask wearing, social distancing, and isolating from others. The video also featured health care officials.
Kansas – Ethics Panel Fines Anti-Abortion Activist $5,000 for Campaign Report Failures
Kansas Reflector – Tim Carpenter | Published: 5/27/2021
Conservative activist Mark Gietzen received a $5,000 fine from the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission for failure to submit timely campaign finance reports in the wake of an unsuccessful bid for mayor of Wichita. Gietzen, founder of the Kansas Coalition for Life, missed deadlines for submitting reports in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Those documents have now been completed, but the case was not dismissed because Gietzen had a track record of noncompliance after racking up $2,860 in civil penalties for violations of campaign law.
Louisiana – Lawmakers Back Removal of PAC Limits for Louisiana Campaigns
Associated Press News – Staff | Published: 5/28/2021
Louisiana lawmakers agreed to let candidates for office take unlimited sums directly from PACs, in a significant change to campaign finance limits governing donations that come largely from special interest groups. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ed Price, described his measure as a transparency effort.
Maine – Maine Lawmaker Will Sit Out House Work After Disobeying Mask Mandate
Bangor Daily News – Caitlin Andrews | Published: 6/2/2021
Maine’s only Libertarian lawmaker agreed to sit out work in the House for a few days after delaying proceedings as the lone member to disobey a statehouse mask mandate. State Rep. John Andrews was one of seven members who initially defied the mask mandate after Gov. Janet Mills lifted the requirement for vaccinated people in indoor settings. While those other members indicated they may continue the protest after House Speaker Ryan Fecteau removed them from their committee, they wore masks in the chamber.
Michigan – There Are a Lot of Proposals to Increase Michigan Government Transparency. We Break Them Down.
Michigan Advance – Allison Donahue | Published: 6/2/2021
Bills aimed at boosting ethics, transparency, and financial disclosure laws have been introduced in the Michigan Legislature this year from both parties. Michigan received a grade of “F” in the last State Integrity Investigation from the Center for Public Integrity and ranked worst in the country for accountability and transparency. But it can be challenging to navigate all the proposals reforming conflicts-of-interest, the Freedom of Information Act, and lobbying. Some open government advocates say not all these bills pass the smell test because they lack accountability measures or are monitored by in-house committees rather than giving the public full access.
Michigan – Whitmer’s Campaign Will Pay for Controversial Florida Flight
MSN – Paul Egan (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 5/27/2021
A Michigan chemical company that arranged for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to fly to Florida in its private jet is under scrutiny from the Federal Aviation Administration, prompting a change in how the flight will be paid for, Whitmer’s campaign disclosed. The governor’s re-election campaign will pay PVS Chemicals for the $27,521 cost of the flight to visit Whitmer’s father, not a nonprofit corporation she controls, as announced earlier, Whitmer campaign attorney Christopher Trebilcock said.
Montana – Lawsuit Takes Aim at Bill Affecting Montana Campuses, Judicial Campaigns
Missoula Current – Mike Dennison | Published: 6/1/2021
Another lawsuit was filed to strike down a law passed by Montana Republicans, this time taking aim at language the suit says was unconstitutionally inserted into a bill in the closing hours of the session. The suit from a county prosecutor, attorneys, and a political organization says Senate Bill 319 was improperly “hijacked” to ban voter-registration and other political activity on parts of Montana college campuses and require judges to step down from certain cases. The changes violate a constitutional requirement that bills include only one subject, the suit said.
Nevada – Nevada OKs Bill in Try for 1st Presidential Nominating State
Associated Press News – Michelle Price and Sam Metz | Published: 5/31/2021
Nevada lawmakers passed a bill that aims to make the state the first to weigh in on the 2024 presidential primary contests. The move upends decades of political tradition and is likely to prompt pushback from other early states that want to retain their places in the calendar. The push for Nevada to jump past Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary follows a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign. Proponents argued Nevada is a diverse state with a population that mirrors the demographics of the nation, and therefore is a better choice for testing presidential hopefuls than Iowa and New Hampshire.
Nevada – To Build a Crowd for a Pro-Trump Rally, Nevada GOP Consultant Sought Help from Proud Boys
MSN – Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 6/2/2021
Two days after the 2020 election, as then-President Trump railed that his victory had been stolen, a small group of men dressed in yellow-and-black Proud Boys shirts appeared with dozens of other Trump supporters to protest the counting of ballots at Nevada’s biggest voting center. The rally looked like an organic response to a president then trailing in early returns and threatening anew to contest his defeat. But private messages from Facebook and interviews show the extent of the efforts, in at least one battleground state, to demonstrate the appearance of grassroots energy to spread Trump’s falsehoods about the election. His claims would only grow over the coming months, culminating in a violent attack on the Capitol.
New Jersey – Phil Murphy Took on New Jersey’s Democratic Machine. Now He Needs It to Win.
Politico – Matt Friedman | Published: 5/31/2021
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, seeking reelection to a second term, has broken with his progressive base as they have turned their attention to an institutional foe: that same boss-dominated power structure Murphy had shunned. The governor has made peace with George Norcross, New Jersey’s most feared political power broker, and is embracing the state’s unusual primary ballot system, which gives prominent placement to party-endorsed candidates awarded the party’s “line” on the ballot, moving independent challengers to far-flung positions.
New York – Eric Adams Pays for Mayoral Campaign Advice from Lawyers Who Lobby Him
The City – Greg Smith and Reuven Blau | Published: 5/31/2021
In July 2018, Eric Adams’ campaign hired a law firm called Pitta LLP as a political and legal consultant. By then, talk had started that the Brooklyn borough president was planning a run for City Hall. The same lawyers who run Pitta also operate one of the city’s biggest lobbying outfits, Pitta Bishop Del Giorno, and had for years lobbied Adams personally on behalf of multiple clients, including vendors seeking city contracts and several unions. They continued to do so, even after Adams hired the Pitta law firm for his campaign. In the gaggle of major mayoral candidates, Adams is unique in this regard.
New York – Feds Subpoena Powerful Lobbyist with Close Ties to Carl Heastie
New York Post – Ben Fuerherd | Published: 5/28/2021
Federal prosecutors subpoenaed an influential lobbyist and Democratic fundraiser who is a friend and former college roommate of New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie as part of a public corruption probe. The New York Timers reported investigators from the Southern District of New York have also sought records from two clients of the lobbyist, Patrick Jenkins, as well as an unnamed state agency,. The clients who were subpoenaed include Draftkings, an online fantasy sports betting platform, and del Lago Resort & Casino in Seneca County.
Ohio – City Council Votes Not to Suspend Wendell Young after April Indictment
WCPO – Staff | Published: 5/26/2021
Cincinnati City Council voted not to suspend Councilperson Wendell Young following his indictment on a tampering with evidence charge related to the “Gang of Five” scandal. Councilperson Betsy Sundermann brought the motion to suspend Young after the passage of Issue 2, which allows council to vote on the suspension of another member if that member is indicted. “How could people not vote for this when they all wanted it on the ballot and the voters passed it by 78 percent?” Sundermann said after the council’s vote.
Oregon – Oregon Lawmakers Appear Unlikely to Limit Campaign Contributions, as Key Proponent Moves to Drop Effort
MSN – Hillary Borrud (Portland Oregonian) | Published: 6/1/2021
Despite voters’ overwhelming support for campaign contribution limits, Oregon lawmakers appear close to giving up on efforts to pass such limits this legislative session. A central proponent proposed the Legislature scrap donation caps and instead focus on creating a state program to match small donations with public funds. “We just felt this was the one thing we could get agreement about,” said Rep. Dan Rayfield, a chief sponsor of the proposal that received the most consideration this session, House Bill 2680.
Pennsylvania – Allentown Buys More Time on Proposed Campaign Finance Regulations
Allentown Morning Call – Andrew Wagaman | Published: 6/2/2021
Allentown City Council postponed proposed campaign finance regulations, seeking more time to determine how to enforce reporting requirements and contribution limits. While three council members on the Rules Committee liked the idea, they felt the bill did not adequately empower the city clerk and board of ethics to give the regulations teeth. Councilperson Joshua Siegel has been calling for campaign finance reform since 2017, arguing “electoral guardrails” might have prevented the “pay-to-play” corruption scandal that ensnared former Mayor Ed Pawlowski and members of his administration.
Texas – A False Date Rape Drugging Accusation Against a Lobbyist Exposed Claims of His role in the Texas Capitol’s Culture of Sexual Harassment
Texas Tribune – Cassandra Pollock | Published: 5/26/2021
A Texas Department of Public Safety investigation concluded Rick Dennis, a lobbyist with one of Austin’s most prominent firms, was not guilty of using a date rape drug on two female legislative staff members. Rumors that Dennis had been accused of doing so rocked the Capitol in April, prompting outraged reactions from state lawmakers. The report said the false allegation was fueled by two female staffers, one of whom was trying to cover up behavior of her own that had nothing to do with Dennis. Still, the incident laid bare larger questions about a Capitol culture that many female staffers say often leads to allegations of misconduct and harassment being brushed under the rug by those with the power to act.
Texas – After Defeating Restrictive Voting Bill, Texas Democrats Send Loud Message: ‘We need Congress to do their part’
MSN – Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 5/31/2021
Texas Democrats who defeated a Republican effort to pass a suite of new voting restrictions with a dramatic late-night walkout from the state House chamber have a message for President Biden and his allies in Congress: If we can protect voting rights, you can, too. The surprise move by roughly 60 Democratic lawmakers headed off the expected passage of Senate Bill 7, a voting measure that would have been one of the most stringent in the nation, by denying Republicans a required quorum and forcing them to abruptly adjourn without taking a vote.
Virginia – Stoney Campaign Donors Among ONE Casino Investors; Illustrates Cross Between Politics and Public Projects
WRIC – Ben Dennis | Published: 6/2/2021
Several of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s campaign donors are among the named investors in the Urban ONE casino project and the organization says some of them committed support for the development before Stoney recommended it to city council. Virginia does not restrict who or how much someone can donate to a candidate or cause, though the connection between the city’s casino race and key players does illustrate the role of transparency between politics and public projects.
Wisconsin – Top Wisconsin Republican Robin Vos Hires Former Cops to Investigate November Election
MSN – Patrick Marley (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) | Published: 5/26/2021
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is hiring retired police officers to investigate aspects of the November election, joining with Republicans from around the country who have questioned President Biden’s victory. Vos said he hopes the investigators can get to the bottom of issues Republicans have raised unsuccessfully in court. Ann Jacobs, who leads the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said she was worried the investigation would undermine confidence in an election that was conducted properly.
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