March 18, 2022 •
News You Can Use Digest – March 18, 2022
Biden Doles Out Ethics Waivers at Greater Clip Than Trump, Watchdog Reports
Washington Examiner – Andrew Kerr | Published: 3/16/2022
President Biden pledged to lead “the most ethically rigorous administration in history,” but his administration has excused top officials from federal ethics regulations at a greater rate than Donald Trump, a watchdog group reported. Biden’s ethics pledge and federal laws prohibit officials from engaging in matters involving their former employers for at least one year after being sworn in, but those regulations can be waived if the interests of the federal government outweigh possible ethical concerns.
Document in Jan. 6 Case Shows Plan to Storm Government Buildings
Yahoo News – Alan Feuer (New York Times) | Published: 3/15/2022
A document found by federal prosecutors in the possession of a far-right leader contained a detailed plan to surveil and storm government buildings around the Capitol on January 6 last year. The document, titled “1776 Returns,” was cited by prosecutors in charging the far-right leader, Enrique Tarrio, the former head of the Proud Boys extremist group, with conspiracy. The indictment of Tarrio described the document in general terms, but people familiar with it added substantial new details about the scope and complexity of the plan it set out for directing an effort to occupy six House and Senate office buildings and the Supreme Court.
Exxon Mobil’s Lobbying Report Sets Benchmark, ESG Advocates Say
MSN – Ellen Meyers (Roll Call) | Published: 3/10/2022
A report from Exxon Mobil outlining its lobbying activities is giving investors insight into how one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies advocates on climate policies and other issues and sets a benchmark to measure disclosure on political spending by other companies, advocates say. Exxon Mobil released the report on its 2020 lobbying efforts on climate in response to a shareholder resolution from the United Steelworkers trade union and the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids.
Fearing Political Violence in 2024, Judges Sentence Jan. 6 Defendants to Probation Through the Next Election
MSN – Spencer Hsu and Tom Jackman (Washington Post) | Published: 3/15/2022
Federal judges are increasingly sentencing defendants who participated in the January 6, 2021, breach of the Capitol to three-year terms of court supervision, fearing they could be misled into committing political violence in the 2024 presidential election. James Little became the first defendant to receive a combination of a 60-day jail term and 36 months of probation. Little pleaded guilty after telling the FBI he saw President Biden’s election victory as “the second Bolshevik revolution” and warned agents and the Democratic Party of civil war if it were not overturned.
Ginni Thomas, Wife of Supreme Court Justice, Says She Attended Jan. 6 ‘Stop-the-Steal’ Rally Before Capitol Attack
MSN – Mariana Alfaro (Washington Post) | Published: 3/14/2022
Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, for the first time publicly acknowledged she participated in the January 6, 2021 “Stop-the-Steal” rally on the Ellipse that preceded the storming of the U.S. Capitol, raising questions about the impartiality of her husband’s work. Ginni Thomas said she was at the rally for a short period of time, got cold, and went home before Trump took the stage that day. In February 2021, she apologized to her husband’s former law clerks after a rift developed among them over her election advocacy of Trump and endorsement of the rally that led to violence and death at the Capitol.
GOP Pushes for an ‘Earthquake in American Electoral Power’
MSN – Zach Montellaro (Politico) | Published: 3/9/2022
A legal argument lurking in two U.S. Supreme Court cases could give Republican legislators in battleground states sweeping control over election procedures, with ramifications that could include power over how states select presidential electors. Republicans from Pennsylvania and North Carolina challenged court-ordered redistricting plans in their states based on the “independent legislature” theory. It is a reading of the Constitution, stemming from the 2000 election recount in Florida, that argues legislators have ultimate power over elections in their states and that state courts have a limited ability, or none at all, to check it.
Inside the Effort to Disbar Attorneys Who Backed Bogus Election Lawsuits
MSN – Tierny Sneed (CNN) | Published: 3/10/2022
Lawyers who backed former President Trump’s bogus election reversal gambits are facing fresh opposition for their involvement in the form of a flashy new campaign, launched by fellow members of the legal community, aimed at potentially disbarring the Trump-aligned attorneys. Those who have sought disciplinary responses say the post-election conduct crossed ethical lines into the realm of professional misconduct, and that the tactics were well outside the normal bounds of legal challenges to election procedures. Already several ex-Trump lawyers have found themselves subject to state bar reviews.
K Street Firms Starting to Tap Private Equity, Even Go Public
MSN – Kate Ackley (Roll Call) | Published: 3/16/2022
Some K Street firms are seeking investment dollars, often to hire up in areas such as polling, public relations, digital and grassroots organizing, and state-level lobbying. Some policy and lobbying shops have inked deals with private equity firms, and more are likely on the way. In another twist for the industry, a group of prominent firms banded together and went public on a stock exchange in London late last year. These moves represent a clear shift from two decades ago when advertising conglomerates acquired many of Washington’s biggest operations.
Lobbying Broke All-Time Mark in 2021 Amid Flurry of Government Spending
MSN – Jonathan O’Connell and Anu Narayanswamy (Washington Post) | Published: 3/12/2022
President Biden’s domestic agenda has taken a back seat to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but it drew unprecedented attention from K Street lobbyists and special interest groups last year. The lobbying industry had a record year in 2021, taking in $3.7 billion in revenue as companies, associations, and other organizations pressed Congress and the administration over trillions of dollars in new pandemic spending and rules affecting health care, travel, and other industries. The revenue figures show lobbying spending began steadily growing in 2017 before mostly flattening in 2020 as the pandemic began.
Omarosa Manigault Newman Ordered to Pay $61,000 Over Trump-Era Ethics Violation
HuffPost – Nina Golgowski | Published: 3/16/2022
Former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman was ordered to pay more than $61,000 after a federal judge said she “willfully” refused to file financial disclosure documents after being fired from the Trump administration. A law required Manigault Newman to file a public financial disclosure report within 30 days of her termination on December 12, 2017. Her report was not received until September 2019, three months after a lawsuit was filed against her over her failure to comply.
Russian Oligarch Andrey Muraviev Indicted in Political Contribution Scheme Linked to Illegal Donors to Trump PAC
CNBC – Dan Mangan | Published: 3/14/2022
A Russian oligarch linked to men accused of making illegal donations to a PAC set up for former President Trump was himself indicted by a federal grand jury for using those men to funnel contributions to other politicians. The oligarch, Andrey Muraviev, already was publicly known to have been the source of donations made on his behalf by Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. Those two Soviet-born former associates of Trump’s ex-lawyer Rudy Giuliani used money from Muraviev for contributions to try to get licenses for retail cannabis and marijuana businesses.
Trump Accused of Breaking Campaign Laws by Teasing 2024 Run
MSN – Meg Kinnard (Associated Press) | Published: 3/14/2022
As former President Trump continues to tease a future White House bid, a pro-Democratic super PAC accused him of violating federal campaign laws by raising and spending money for a run without officially filing his candidacy. Alleging that Trump has already privately decided to mount a 2024 campaign, American Bridge says he was then obligated to file a candidacy intent statement within 15 days of receiving contributions or making any expenditure over $5,000.
U.S. Lobbyists Connect Ukraine Officials with Powerful Allies to Help in War Against Russia
CNBC – Brian Schwartz | Published: 3/15/2022
Lobbyists are working to connect Ukrainian officials with powerful allies in the U.S., including mayors, governors, and representatives of at least one firearm’s dealer to help the war-torn country in its fight against Russia. At least one American firm and a separate lawyer each recently disclosed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act that they started pro-bono work for Ukrainian government officials since the start of Russia’s invasion. The move for these types of advisors to start helping Ukrainian leaders comes as Western sanctions have led to lobbyists distancing themselves from Russian backed entities.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry Set to Go on Trial, Which Will Focus on His Memory and Money
Lincoln Journal-Star – Todd Cooper (Omaha World-Herald) | Published: 3/13/2022
U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska is on trial over accusations he lied about illegal campaign contributions from a Nigerian billionaire. The trial is the first of a sitting member of Congress in 21 years. Fortenberry has pleaded not guilty to charges he intentionally misled FBI agents and prosecutors who were investigating a $30,000 donation from Gilbert Chagoury during a 2016 fundraiser in Los Angeles.
From the States and Municipalities
California – ‘Abstain’: Are OC officials using a public meeting ethics check to dodge accountability?
Voice of OC – Noah Biesiada and Brandon Pho | Published: 3/16/2022
At any given public meeting, local officials in Orange County could make rent control or high-rise developments part of their residents’s lives with a simple “Yes” or “No” vote. But some elected leaders are turning to a third way to vote on controversial policies during public meetings: the abstention. It is traditionally used by elected officials to shield against conflicts-of-interest when voting on issues they may have a personal stake in. At least one city is raising questions about whether the abstention has now become a way for elected officials to avoid taking any stance at all, dodging accountability by invoking the non-vote for vague or unpersuasive reasons.
Colorado – A State Lawmaker Dropped His Firearm Inside the Capitol While Hurrying to a Vote
Colorado Public Radio – Bente Birkeland | Published: 3/14/2022
A Colorado lawmaker accidentally dropped his handgun in a public area inside the state Capitol recently. The firearm did not discharge, and no one was injured. State Rep. Richard Holtorf was hurrying up a short set of steps outside the House chamber when his handgun fell out of his pants onto the marble floor. The witnesses said Holtorf quickly picked it up and proceeded to enter the chamber. “This incident was unacceptable and created a dangerous situation for lawmakers, staff, and the public visiting the Capitol,” said House Speaker Alec Garnett.
Colorado – Colorado Campaign Donation Limits Stand – for Now – After Federal Court Ruling
Colorado Sun – Sandra Fish | Published: 3/11/2022
A federal judge denied a request for a preliminary injunction to suspend Colorado’s campaign contribution limits. Individual donors are limited to giving $400 to state legislative candidates and $1,250 to candidates for statewide office. Senior U.S. District Court Judge John Kane said a full trial based on more extensive evidence must be held before the donation caps are rejected. Still, Kane agreed the limits are likely too low, leaving open the possibility they could be overturned after a trial in the coming months.
Florida – Disney Suspends Political Donations in Florida After Bill Restricting LGBTQ Discussion
MSN – Kelsey Ables (Washington Post) | Published: 3/12/2022
Disney announced it would pause all political donations in Florida in the wake of a state bill that restricts discussion of LGBTQ issues in public schools. Over the last few weeks, the company had received criticism for remaining about what critics call the “don’t say gay” bill, which is expected to be signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek also said the company would increase support for advocacy groups fighting similar laws elsewhere and would reassess Disney’s political donation policies.
Hawaii – Honolulu Councilwoman Tupola Likely Violated Ethics Laws, Commission Finds
Honolulu Civil Beat – Christina Jedra | Published: 3/10/2022
Honolulu City Councilperson Andria Tupola likely violated the law when she tried to use $1,500 in city funds to reimburse herself for items purchased for her former employer’s events, the Honolulu Ethics Commission determined. The commission determined Tupola had a conflict-of-interest, likely violated the city’s fair and equal treatment law and should repay the money.
Illinois – Ethics Board Fines Cook County Official Who ‘Flagrantly’ Disregarded Nepotism Ban; She Must Now Fire Her Cousin as Her Top Aide
Yahoo News – Alice Yin (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 3/15/2022
Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Tammy Wendt must fire her cousin from his chief of staff position in her office and pay the county $2,000 for violating rules against nepotism, the county Ethics Board ruled. The formal admonishment comes after Wendt hired her cousin, Todd Thielmann, as her top staffer, triggering an investigation from the board tasked with disciplining employees who flout the ordinance governing best practices within their offices.
Iowa – Democrats Move Closer to Cutting Iowa’s First-in-the Nation Status for 2024 Presidential Calendar
MSN – Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 3/11/2022
Democratic leaders took another step toward ending Iowa’s status as the first state in the party’s presidential nominating process during a sometimes contentious meeting that showed clear support for a new path that would prioritize more diverse and competitive states. The Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee came to no final decisions, but for the second time this year, a majority of speakers made clear their openness to shaking up the presidential primary calendar to better reflect what speakers described as the party’s values.
Louisiana – Louisiana Lobbyist Arrested for Domestic Violence Faces Restrictions, Questions at Capitol
Louisiana Illuminator – Julie O’Donoghue | Published: 3/10/2022
Kevin Hayes, a Louisiana lobbyist who was arrested for domestic violence, has been visiting the Capitol, even though one of his alleged victims works in the building and has a protective order in place against him. The circumstances have raised red flags for domestic violence prevention advocates who question why Hayes is not facing more restrictions inside the statehouse. The incident also brought attention to his clients who have stuck with him in spite of his arrest.
Maryland – Maryland Court Delays State’s Primary Until July Amid Redistricting Challenge
MSN – Ovetta Wiggins and Erin Cox (Washington Post) | Published: 3/15/2022
Maryland’s highest court moved the state’s gubernatorial primary elections to July 19, a three-week delay, to allow time to resolve a legal challenge to recently redrawn legislative districts. Several candidates in the crowded race for governor welcomed the court decision, which gives them more time to raise their profile before the primary. But some observers worried that pushing the election into prime vacation season could prompt voter confusion or disenfranchisement.
Maryland – Top Maryland Democratic Party Official Resigns After Questioning Electability of Black Candidates
MSN – Ovetta Wiggins (Washington Post) | Published: 3/15/2022
A top Maryland Democratic Party official who questioned whether voters would elect a Black candidate for governor stepped down as calls for her departure escalated. Barbara Goldberg Goldman, a prolific donor who was the party’s deputy treasurer, resigned and publicly apologized for the comments. Goldberg Goldman wrote in an email: “Consider this: Three African American males have run statewide for Governor and have lost. Maryland is not a Blue state. It’s a purple one. This is a fact we must not ignore.”
Michigan – Michigan House Republicans Introduce Ethics Reforms Amid Chatfield Probe
Business News Street – Craig Mauger (Detroit News) | Published: 3/16/2022
Michigan House Republicans proposed a series of ethics reforms that respond to controversies surrounding former Speaker Lee Chatfield, who is under investigation by the State Police and Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office. The new bills would stop elected officials from paying immediate family members’ wages out of their campaign accounts and would ban lawmakers from having their travel paid for by lobbyists. The legislation also bans lawmakers from being reimbursed for trips, travel, or lodging through a nonprofit organization.
New York – Adams Quietly Undoes de Blasio-Era Lobbying Disclosure Requirement
MSN – Sally Goldenberg (Politico) | Published: 3/14/2022
New York City Mayor Eric Adams is ending a policy implemented under his predecessor, Bill de Blasio, of having top administration officials disclose meetings with lobbyists. De Blasio’s policy was voluntary and not required by law. Adams spokesperson Jonah Allon said the City Hall counsel’s office regularly trains staff about the “proper rules and regulations governing interactions with lobbyists,” who, by law, are required to report their meetings with government officials to the city clerk’s lobbying bureau. The move is the latest evidence that transparency may not be a priority for Adams.
New York – Chinese Operative Accused in Plot to Undermine US Candidate
MSN – Eric Tucker (Associated Press) | Published: 3/16/2022
Five people accused of acting on behalf of the Chinese government have been charged with plotting to stalk and harass Chinese dissidents living in the United States. One of the victims is a little-known congressional candidate in New York whose election bid a Chinese operative sought to undermine by seeking to uncover or even manufacture derogatory information that would cause him to lose the race, prosecutors said.
New York – Hochul Campaign Repays Almost $11K More for Aircraft Misuse
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 3/16/2022
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s campaign reimbursed taxpayers an additional $10,742 stemming from three days in which she used state aircraft for campaigning but improperly billed taxpayers for the travel. The Albany Times Union flagged three initial, problematic days of Hochul air travel. Those trips mixed campaign and state business, but the administration charged taxpayers with the entire cost of each. In January, the administration said it would review all flights; the campaign subsequently paid back an initial $19,949 for the three days of travel examined by the reporting.
New York – State Board of Elections Begins Enforcing Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws
New York Focus – Sam Mellins | Published: 3/11/2022
The New York State Board of Elections has begun to enforce a law that is meant to limit “dark money” in elections by notifying thousands of corporate donors they are violating it. For three years, key provisions of the law went unenforced, and limited liability companies (LLCs) continued to make anonymous donations to campaigns. Notifying the companies is the first step towards enforcement. But imposing consequences on campaigns and donors would be more difficult. Current law, which the board has asked the Legislature to update, does not allow it to bring penalties against LLCs that are in violation.
New York – To Force Cuomo to Repay Millions, Ethics Commission Mulls New Tactic
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 3/15/2022
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics may adopt a new strategy in their attempt to force ex-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to repay $5.1 million in book royalties, according to people with knowledge of the deliberations. Some commissioners are mulling a plan that would cut state Attorney General Letitia James out of the process of seeking the repayment. James’ office has expressed concern that the commissioners could not seek Cuomo’s “disgorgement” of the royalties he earned in 2020 without a full investigation into whether he misused state resources to produce the book, an inquiry that could last months or years.
Ohio – Ohio Supreme Court Rejects Statehouse Maps, Ending Hopes of Full May Primary
MSN – Jessie Balmert and Laura Bischoff (Columbus Dispatch) | Published: 3/17/2022
The Ohio Supreme Court struck down the third set of state House and Senate redistricting maps, effectively ending any hope of a May 3 primary with both legislative and statewide races. The decision marks the third time the justices have rejected legislative maps drawn by the Ohio Redistricting Commission. The court ordered the commission to draw a new set of state House and Senate maps by March 28. It also made suggestions for the next round of mapmaking: draft maps in public, convene frequent meetings, and use a different mapmaker.
Ohio – PUCO Orders Long-Awaited Audit into Whether FirstEnergy Used Customer Money for HB6 Lobbying
MSN – Jeremy Pelzer (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 3/9/2022
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) will hire an auditor to examine whether any customer money collected by FirstEnergy was wrongly used to pay for lobbying to pass House Bill 6. FirstEnergy has reported its own investigation did not find any such spending, though a federal audit determined the company the company did improperly use ratepayer money for House Bill 6 lobbying. Once an auditor is chosen, the firm will have until December 16 to issue its report.
Ohio – Russia Business Deals Muddy Ohio GOP US Senate Primary
MSN – Julie Carr Smyth (Associated Press) | Published: 3/16/2022
Several Republicans competing for the party’s nomination to run for U.S. Senate in Ohio are facing scrutiny for their ties to Russia as the country intensifies its war against Ukraine. Much of the attention has focused on former Ohio Republican Party Chairperson Jane Timken, whose husband’s family founded a company that does business in Russia. But other candidates in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman, including J.D. Vance and Mike Gibbons, also have links to business deals in Russia that could become vulnerabilities in the primary.
Oregon – One of the Creators of Oregon’s Legal Psychedelic Mushroom Program Leaves Advisory Board
Portland Oregonian – Lizzy Acker | Published: 3/11/2022
Tom Eckert is stepping down as chair of the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board. Eckert, along with late wife, Sheri Eckert, worked for years to bring legal, regulated psilocybin to the state. The couple sponsored the bill that became law in 2020, which created a regulatory framework for therapeutic psychedelic mushrooms. A number of board members and subcommittee members are involved in for-profit psilocybin businesses and projects, including Tom Eckert.
South Dakota – South Dakota Secretary of State, Prosecutor Field Complaints About Ads Targeting Impeachment Committee
Yahoo News – Joe Sneve (Sioux Falls Argus Leader) | Published: 3/15/2022
State and county officials in South Dakota are fielding complaints about the legality of billboard advertisements targeting lawmakers and calling for the impeachment of Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. The formal complaints allege Dakota Institute for Legislative Solution violated campaign finance law when it began running attack ads accusing five state lawmakers of obstructing an ongoing impeachment investigation into the attorney general, who struck and killed a man with his vehicle in 2020.
Tennessee – Airbnb Legislation Shows How Capitol Hill Culture Affects Tennessee Communities
WTVF – Phil Williams | Published: 3/14/2022
Legislation being pushed by Airbnb, designed to limit Nashville’s ability to regulate short-term rentals, shows how special interests spread campaign contributions among state lawmakers before trying to secure their votes, and how lobbyists use their influence to get lawmakers to sponsor legislation benefiting their clients. Critics say it also reveals how those practices can affect ordinary Tennesseans.
Tennessee – Tennessee Kickback Scandal Leaves GOP Reps Feeling Betrayed
MSN – Jonathan Mattise (Associated Press) | Published: 3/10/2022
Tennessee House Republican lawmakers say they were betrayed by one of their own after they hired a shadowy political consulting firm talked up by a colleague who has since pleaded guilty to fraud in an alleged kickback scheme that also implicates a former House speaker and others. House GOP Caucus Chairperson Jeremy Faison said caucus members had no reason to suspect fraud when they hired Phoenix Solutions to perform campaign and related services for lawmakers. Faison promised “greater scrutiny every time” on hiring vendors, saying they will always be established companies.
Texas – A Texas County Didn’t Count 10,000 Ballots. Now the Parties Are at War Over Who’s to Blame.
MSN – Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 3/11/2022
During the March primary in Harris County, Texas, voting machines failed to power up, poll workers handed out the wrong-size ballots, and optical scanners rejected hundreds of votes. A weary election worker who had been on the job for at least 30 hours neglected to include about 10,000 of the roughly 360,000 votes in an unofficial tally. What Republicans and Democrats do not agree on is what went wrong. Republicans are demanding the state take over the Democratic-controlled elections office. Democrats say the problem is a new law enacted that made it harder to vote by mail and criminalized election mistakes.
Vermont – Ethics Bill Gets Green Light from Key Committee
VTDigger.org – Lola Duffort | Published: 3/9/2022
A bill creating a state ethics code binding all three branches in Vermont is moving forward after all. Despite earlier concerns from watchdogs that lawmakers would revise the legislation, the Senate Government Operations Committee voted to endorse its latest draft of and send it to the floor. Vermont is one of only five states without an ethics code. It created its first-ever ethics commission in 2017 after years of pressure from good-government advocates and the press.
Virginia – General Assembly OKs Bill Creating Candidate Finance Audits
Virginian-Pilot – Sarah Rankin (Associated Press) | Published: 3/10/2022
The Virginia General Assembly passed a campaign finance reform bill that adds a new layer of oversight to spending by candidates, but only after an amendment was added so it would not take effect until their next scheduled election cycle is over. The bill would both tighten record retention requirements and implement reviews of campaign committee financial records by the Department of Elections. Currently, candidates disclose their spending with varying degrees of specificity under what is effectively an honor system, with no state-sponsored review.
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