September 24, 2021 •
News You Can Use Digest – September 24, 2021
A Republican Fundraising Vendor Wants More Small-Dollar Contributors to Replace Vanishing PAC Money
Campaigns and Elections – Staff | Published: 9/22/2021
A large Republican fundraising vendor is pushing its clients to reorient their strategies around small-dollar contributors as PAC donations have dried up in the wake of the January 6 insurrection and a move away from Washington, D.C. lobbying by corporations and trade associations. Fundraising Inc., a vendor that is under the Axiom Strategies corporate umbrella, announced it has “revamped the traditional PAC-focused GOP fundraising model” to an “updated approach … to better compete with Democrats for small-dollar donations.”
Dark News: The murky world of undercover EU lobbying
Politico – Mark Scott | Published: 9/16/2021
EU Reporter is not alone in offering companies and governments a paid-for platform to promote their views to European Union officials. Other Brussels-based outlets publish clearly labeled sponsored content from advertisers seeking to influence decision-makers. But EU Reporter presents its coverage as straight news, with rarely an indication that a company or government paid for the articles. In addition to undisclosed paid-for content, the site posts EU and corporate press releases, opinion articles from European lawmakers, and original material, making it impossible for readers to determine who is behind the coverage.
Democrats Begin Effort to Curb Post-Trump Presidential Powers
Yahoo Finance – Charlie Savage (New York Times) | Published: 9/21/2021
House Democrats introduced a package of proposed new limits on executive power on, beginning a post-Trump push to strengthen checks on the presidency that they hope will compare to the overhauls that followed the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War. Democrats have spent months negotiating with the Biden White House to refine a broad set of proposals that amount to a point-by-point rebuke of the ways Donald Trump shattered norms over the course of his presidency. The Democrats have compiled numerous bills into a package they call the Protecting Our Democracy Act.
Durham Prosecution Faces Hurdles in D.C. Court
Yahoo News – Josh Gerstein (Politico) | Published: 9/17/2021
For Special Counsel John Durham, obtaining an indictment of lawyer Michael Sussmann for allegedly lying to the FBI during its investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia may turn out to be the easy part. Getting a Washington jury to convict Sussmann could be far harder, judging by a case with significant parallels: the 2019 prosecution of former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig.
Huge Hack Reveals Embarrassing Details of Who’s Behind Proud Boys and Other Far-Right Websites
MSN – Drew Harwell, Craig Timberg, and Hannah Allam (Washington Post) | Published: 9/21/2021
Epik has been the favorite Internet company of the far right, providing domain services to QAnon theorists, Proud Boys, and other instigators of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, allowing them to broadcast hateful messages from behind a veil of anonymity. But that veil vanished when a breach by the hacker group Anonymous dumped more than 150 gigabytes of previously private data – including usernames, passwords, and other identifying information of Epik’s customers. Researchers have treated the leak as a Rosetta Stone to the far right, helping them to decode who has been doing what with whom over several years.
‘It’s Spreading’: Phony election fraud conspiracies infect midterms
MSN – David Siders and Zach Montellaro (Politico) | Published: 9/20/2021
Donald Trump may have started the “Big Lie” movement, but what was once the province of an aggrieved former president has spread far beyond him, infecting elections at every level with vague, unspecified claims that future races are already rigged. It is a fiction that is poised to factor heavily in the midterm elections and in 2024, providing Republican candidates with a rallying cry for the rank-and-file and priming the electorate for future challenges to races the GOP may lose.
Jan. 6 Investigation Accelerates as It Turns Toward Trump
Yahoo News – Kyle Cheney and Nicholas Wu (Politico) | Published: 9/22/2021
Six members of the U.S. House panel investigating the Capitol attack made clear they are prepared to fly past any obstacles they encounter, mindful of Trump’s past success at stymieing congressional investigators. The calendar makes their job tougher: panel members know they need to show results quickly as the midterms bear down, given Democrats’ thin majority. The potential hurdles are many, from high-powered lawyers representing the former president’s inner circle to the tech companies sitting on potential witnesses’ communications. But they are already getting results from some corners.
Lauren Boebert Paid Rent and Utilities with Campaign Funds, FEC Filings Show
Denver Post – Conrad Swanson | Published: 9/22/2021
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert paid rent and utility bills with campaign funds in violation of federal campaign finance laws, new filings with the FEC show. The filings also indicate Boebert reimbursed her campaign for the $6,650 worth of payments. Each of the four payments in question (two for $2,000 each and another two for $1,325 each) were amended to show payments for the same amount, description, and on the same days to John Pacheco, whose address is the same as Shooters Grill in Rifle, which Boebert owns. Pacheco’s relationship to Boebert was not immediately clear.
Lawmakers Launch Investigation into Climate Crisis Disinformation by Fossil Fuel Industry
MSN – Ella Nilsen (CNN) | Published: 9/16/2021
The House Oversight and Reform Committee announced it is launching an investigation into fossil fuel industry disinformation on the climate crisis. The committee invited the heads of six oil companies and major lobbying groups to testify in October. The announcement comes after reports the industry participated in campaigns aimed at creating confusion about the cause of the climate crisis, or sowing skepticism in the science.
Outside Ethics Group Says 7 House Lawmakers Didn’t Disclose Stock Trades
National Public Radio – Deidre Walsh | Published: 9/22/2021
The Campaign Legal Center filed ethics complaints against seven U.S. House members for failing to report stock trades. It is the latest example of a bipartisan trend that has emerged almost 10 years after Congress overwhelmingly passed a law to provide transparency and show lawmakers are not profiting from their jobs: Members of Congress are ignoring the disclosure law. What makes the complaints filed Wednesday different is that it appears these members never filed reports at all.
Powell Orders Ethics Review After Fed Presidents Disclosed Multimillion-Dollar Investments
CNBC – Thomas Franck | Published: 9/16/2021
Federal Reserve Chairperson Jerome Powell directed staff to review the central bank’s ethics rules for appropriate financial activities after disclosures that several senior officials made multiple multimillion-dollar stock trades in 2020, while others held significant investments. News of Powell’s inquiry broke after U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent 12 letters to the Fed’s regional bank presidents demanding stricter ethics from the nation’s top central bank officials. She called on each Fed president to institute a ban on the ownership and trading of individual stocks by senior officials at each regional office.
Roger Stone Served ‘a Big, Big Stack of Papers’ from Capitol Riot Lawsuit During Radio Interview
Seattle Times – Timothy Bella (Washington Post) | Published: 9/16/2021
As he was asked in a phone interview whether former President Trump would run in 2024, Roger Stone paused to answer the front door. Stone, a longtime confidant to the former president, apologized to the St. Louis radio show, but he had a good reason: he was being served with papers related to the lawsuit filed by seven U.S. Capitol Police officers against him, Trump, far-right “violent extremist groups,” and others accused of being responsible for the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
The FEC Unanimously Rejected Matt Gaetz’s Complaint Against Twitter Over an Alleged 2018 ‘Shadow Ban’
Yahoo News – Brian Metzger (Business Insider) | Published: 9/17/2021
The FEC unanimously rejected a complaint by U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz against Twitter that alleged the company violated campaign finance regulations by “shadow-banning” Gaetz in 2018, limiting the visibility of his account on the website’s search results. Twitter said Gaetz was caught up in an automated process by the company to improve discourse on Twitter because his account was “associated with other accounts that already had high indicia of misuse or abuse.”
Threats Against Members of Congress Are Skyrocketing. It’s Changing the Job.
Yahoo News – Sarah Wire (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 9/20/2021
In a year that kicked off with the deadly January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, threats against lawmakers are soaring. In the first three months of 2021, the Capitol Police recorded 4,135 threats against members of Congress. If that pace continues, total threats this year will double those in 2020. It is changing the job for lawmakers, who must tread a fine line between being accessible to those they represent and keeping themselves, their families, and their staffs safe. After January 6, some members temporarily relocated their families over concerns their homes would be targeted. Some wore bulletproof vests to the presidential inauguration.
Trump Campaign Knew Lawyers’ Voting Machine Claims Were Baseless, Memo Shows
Yahoo News – Alan Feuer (New York Times) | Published: 9/21/2021
A team of lawyers allied with Donald Trump held a news conference after the 2020 election and laid out a conspiracy theory claiming a voting machine company had worked with an election software firm, the financier George Soros, and Venezuela to steal the presidential contest from Trump. But by the time the news conference occurred on November 19, Trump’s campaign had already prepared an internal memo on many of the outlandish claims about the company, Dominion Voting Systems, and the separate software company, Smartmatic, according to court documents The memo determined those allegations were untrue.
Trump Just Sued the New York Times and His Niece. If History Is a Guide, He Probably Won’t Win.
MSN – Paul Farhi and Sarah Ellison (Washington Post) | Published: 9/22/2021
Donald Trump has once again sued a news organization alleging its reporting was unfair to him. If history is any guide, this one is also likely to generate a flurry of attention before quietly stalling out. Trump’s latest lawsuit is aimed at the New York Times and his niece, Mary Trump. It centers on the newspaper’s publication in 2018 of a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of Trump’s alleged tax-avoidance tactics and the history of his family inheritance.
Two GOP Operatives Indicted for Allegedly Routing Money from Russian National to Support Trump Campaign
MSN – Felicia Sonmez and Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 9/20/2021
President Trump after being convicted in a 2012 campaign finance scheme is facing new charges related to an alleged 2016 plot to illegally funnel donations made by a Russian national to support then-candidate Trump’s White House bid. Jesse Benton, who was previously a top aide to U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and later ran a pro-Trump super PAC, and Roy Wead, a conservative author and former special assistant to President George H.W. Bush, were charged in the case.
Canada – Trudeau’s Party Wins Canada Vote but Fails to Get Majority
MSN – Rob Gilles (Associated Press) | Published: 9/21/2021
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party secured victory in parliamentary elections but failed to get the majority in a vote that focused on the coronavirus pandemic, but many Canadians saw as unnecessary. Trudeau entered the election leading a stable minority government that was not under threat of being toppled but was hoping Canadians would reward him with a majority for navigating the pandemic better than many other leaders. Still, Trudeau struggled to justify why he called the election early given the virus, and the opposition accused him of holding the vote two years before the deadline for his own ambition.
From the States and Municipalities
Alabama – Candidates Will Not Be Able to Fundraise During the Special Session
Alabama Reporter – Brandon Moseley | Published: 9/23/2021
Alabama legislators will convene for a special session on September 27. This means state lawmakers, candidates for the Legislature, and statewide officeholders and candidates for statewide office will not be able to accept campaign contributions. The secretary of state’s office said any contribution postmarked prior to the blackout and received after the blackout may be accepted.
Alaska – Protect Juneau’s Future Shared Who Paid for Its Campaign, but No Laws Require It
KTOO – Jeremy Hsieh | Published: 9/21/2021
A deadline passed for local candidates and issues groups all over the state to disclose their campaign finances ahead of local elections on October 5. But the public probably will never know exactly who paid how much for the campaign that helped quash a ballot initiative to limit cruise ships in Juneau. That is because campaign finance disclosure laws would not apply in this case until after it cleared the signature-gathering stage.
California – Kern County Under Investigation After Denying Group COVID Contract Over Support for Defunding Police
Yahoo News – Sam Morgen (Bakersfield Californian) | Published: 9/22/2021
Kern County may end up paying for a decision by the board of supervisors to withhold a $1.2 million coronavirus contract from a nonprofit group that had voiced support for defunding police. The nonprofits were selected because of their community ties. The Kern County Public Health Department said the groups would be a more trusted resource to communities at the greatest risk than county officials. Building Healthy Communities said in Facebook posts funding for the Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern High School District Police Department should be diverted to other causes. That was enough for supervisors to withhold approval of a contract to the organization even though preparation and hiring had already taken place.
Florida – A Local Government Candidate Claimed to Be the City’s ‘Most High-Profile Hispanic Democrat.’ She’s Not Hispanic.
MSN – Jaclyn Peiser (Washington Post) | Published: 9/22/2021
Speaking before a group of Democratic leaders in Florida’s Miami-Dade County on Zoom, Miami Beach City Commission candidate Kristen Rosen Gonzalez made her pitch as to why the party should endorse her. She called herself “the most high-profile Hispanic Democrat in the city of Miami Beach.” Not endorsing her, she continued, “would be upsetting and confusing” for constituents. But Rosen Gonzalez is not Hispanic.
Florida – Anti-Mask FL GOP Bookkeeper Dies of COVID – Leaving Party Without Access to Finance Software
MSN – Brett Bachnman (Salon) | Published: 9/19/2021
After spending months railing against COVID-19 precautions, a Republican Party official in Florida passed away recently, leaving his county-level GOP organization without access to critical financial accounts. Gregg Prentice served as accountant for the Hillsborough County GOP and chaired the organization’s committee for election integrity, and was responsible for filing its monthly reports to the FEC. A filing claims Prentice died without sharing login information for these accounts, or any sort of instructions for how to use them.
Florida – Senate Redistricting Chair Vows to Redeem Process as He Plans to Limit Public’s Input
MSN – Mary Ellen Klas (Miami Herald) | Published: 9/20/2021
The Florida Senate announced new rules that put limits on the input the chamber gets from average citizens, political consultants, and lobbyists. The Senate will require more disclosure from anyone who attempts to address legislators in a public meeting by requiring them to submit a disclosure form that indicates if they are a lobbyist or getting their expenses paid. Legislators will be required to retain all records of communications they get about maps. The goal is to prevent lawmakers from using political consultants to illegally influence redistricting as they did 10 years ago, when the courts invalidated the legislatively drawn Senate maps.
Florida – Tallahassee Ethics Board Proposing Stronger Lobbying Ordinances, Expanded Role
MSN – Karl Etters (Tallahassee Democrat) | Published: 9/17/2021
The Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board wants to strengthen policies governing lobbyists as the glare of a federal corruption probe and investigative reporters have illuminated paid work and deal-making done behind the scenes on projects and policies. The board is recommending two ordinances and one change to the city charter that requires a ballot amendment in language sent to the city commission. The ethics panel has been working for months to add more teeth to its role in regulating lobbying in the city.
Georgia – Fulton Board Gets New Chair as Georgia Reviews Its Elections
Yahoo News – Kate Brumback (Associated Press) | Published: 9/16/2021
Commissioners in Fulton County picked former Atlanta City Council President to lead their election board as a state panel reviews how elections are conducted in Georgia’s most populous county. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican facing a primary challenge next year, objected to what he called a “blatantly political appointment” because Woolard had registered earlier this year as a lobbyist for Fair Fight Action, a group started by Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who narrowly lost the race for governor in 2018.
Illinois – Sources Say Chicago Ald. Jim Gardiner Allegedly Tried to Pay Campaign Worker with Tax Dollars
WBEZ – Mariah Woelfel | Published: 9/19/2021
Chicago Ald. Jim Gardiner allegedly tried to use taxpayer funds to pay an employee for work they did on his 2020 campaign for ward committeeman, sources said. It is the latest allegation to unfold as Gardiner is facing inquiries by multiple agencies, including the FBI, and possible censure by his city council colleagues for crude texts he wrote about constituents and colleagues, as well as allegedly withholding city services from critics.
Indiana – Longest Serving State Senator Forced Out of His Seat in Redistricting Process: ‘This is a classic example of gerrymandering.’
Chicago Daily Herald – Alexandra Kukulka (Post-Tribune) | Published: 9/22/2021
Frank Mrvan, the longest serving member of the Indiana Senate, has been effectively forced out of his seat after the redrawing of Senate maps would require him to move or run against a colleague. “This is a classic example of gerrymandering,” said Lake County Democratic Party Chairperson James Wieser. “It’s disrespectful to a public official that’s given his heart and soul, as has his whole family, to our party for 50 years plus.”
Massachusetts – Ex-Mayor, Elected at Age 23, Gets 6 Years in Corruption Case
Yahoo News – Alanna Durkin Richer (Associated Press) | Published: 9/21/2021
Former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia was sentenced to six years in prison after being convicted of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana businesses that wanted to operate in his city. The judge handed down his punishment after tossing several convictions stemming from allegations that Correia swindled investors who backed a smartphone app he created. “If we can’t trust each other, if we can’t trust our government, where are we?” U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock asked.
Michigan – Facing Tight Timeline, Voter-Led Michigan Redistricting Commission on Steep Learning Curve
MSN – Clara Hendrickson (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 9/20/2021
Michigan’s first-ever citizen redistricting commission is finding itself on a steep learning curve as members race against the clock to draw new maps ahead of the 2022 election, crunching a monthslong process into a matter of weeks following an unprecedented delay in census data. The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission blew past a deadline in the state constitution for proposing the new districts. But with four weeks of mapping under its belt, the commissioners, who have never drawn political districts before, have raised concerns the group might not get the job done in the time it has allotted for itself.
Missouri – Lawmakers Renting from Lobbyists Less Often in Jefferson City
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Jack Suntrup | Published: 9/16/2021
Lobbyists are no longer leasing housing to Missouri lawmakers in Jefferson City, with one exception. State Rep. Adam Schwadron is the only legislator renting from a registered lobbyist, according to disclosures filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission. Leases between lobbyists and state officials have drawn scrutiny in the past and have been less common in recent years: between 2016 and 2018, lobbyists reported renting to a dozen lawmakers and state officials.
Montana – Montana Doesn’t Always Draw a Straight Line from Groups to Their Lobbying
Helena Independent Record – Sam Wilson (Lee Newspapers State Bureau) | Published: 9/19/2021
Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan acknowledged the state does not have a perfect system for connecting principals to the on-the-ground lobbying efforts they are paying for. Along with the inability to track reported lobbying expenses in a centralized database, there were a number of groups that paid lobbyists during the 2021 session without saying what legislation they were lobbying for or against, or that funneled lobbying expenses through other groups. In other instances, the flow of dollars from groups or corporations through multiple lobbying firms further obscured the money’s source.
New Mexico – Grand Jury Indicts Ex-Lawmaker in Alleged Kickback Scheme
MSN – Morgan Lee (Associated Press) | Published: 9/20/2021
Former New Mexico Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton was indicted by a grand jury on charges of racketeering, money laundering, fraud, and ethics violations in connection with an alleged kickback scheme. She was fired in August by the Albuquerque public school system from her position in vocational education amid administrative and criminal probes into her ties to a private contractor for the state’s largest school district.
New York – Aides of Former Gov. Cuomo on Hook for New Legal Bills
MSN – Marina Villeneuve (Associated Press) | Published: 9/23/2021
New York state has stopped paying legal bills for state employees who worked for former Gov. Andrew Cuomo as he faced ongoing investigations on the state and federal level. The state stopped paying for those aides’ legal bills after September 2. The Hochul administration is now deciding whether there is a legal basis for the state to pay bills for legal services on or before September 2. The administration did not specify how many staffers had legal bills paid for by the state.
New York – State Inspector General Resigns Amid Controversy
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 9/17/2021
New York Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro, a longtime aide to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, resigned from her post as the executive branch’s top internal-affairs watchdog. Tagliafierro’s departure comes less than a month after Cuomo’s resignation and two weeks after the Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted to ask state Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the conduct of the inspector general’s office in its probe of an illegal leak of confidential information from the ethics commission to Cuomo in January 2019.
North Carolina – North Carolina Judges Strike Down State’s Voter ID Law
MSN – Gary Robertson (Associated Press) | Published: 9/17/2021
North Carolina judges struck down the state’s latest photo voter identification law, agreeing with minority voters that Republicans approved rules tainted by racial bias to remain in power. Two of the three trial judges declared the December 2018 law is unconstitutional, even though it was designed to implement a photo voter ID mandate added to the North Carolina Constitution in a referendum just weeks earlier. They said the law intentionally discriminates against Black voters, violating their equal protections.
Pennsylvania – New Equity Report Required of Lobbyists & Lobbying Firms in Pennsylvania
JD Supra – Staff | Published: 9/22/2021
Starting this year, Pennsylvania is requiring all registered lobbyists and lobbying firms to file an Annual Equity Report. The report must disclose how much equity, as a percentage, the lobbyist or firm holds or has held in an affiliate principal, and for whom the lobbyist or firm lobbied during the reporting period. The report must be filed even if the lobbyist or firm has no equity to report.
Pennsylvania – Pa. Legislators Promised #MeToo Reforms Inside Capitol. So Far, Few Changes Have Become Law
LancasterOnline.com – Lindsay Weber (Allentown Morning Call) | Published: 9/22/2021
Three years after a handful of sexual harassment and assault cases plagued the state Capitol and prompted calls for reform, little has changed in how Pennsylvania’s political leaders handle new accusations. Legislation inspired by the #MeToo movement designed to hold accountable those involved in sexual misconduct and those who cover it up would have created independent, streamlined ways for staffers and others to report complaints. But those proposals have gone nowhere. Bills that would have banned nondisclosure agreements and prevented the use of taxpayer money for settlements have met the same fate.
Rhode Island – Former State Official to Pay Fine to Settle Ethics Complaint
Bowling Green Daily News – Associated Press | Published: 9/21/2021
A former state official in Rhode Island will pay a $4,500 fine to settle an ethics complaint over his solicitation of campaign donations from state vendors for a mayoral run. Brett Smiley, who is running for Providence mayor, resigned as director of the Rhode Island Department of Administration early this year. The agency oversees hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of state contracting and spending. Smiley admitted that six separate solicitations from an owner or officer of a company that does business with the state violated the code of ethics.
Rhode Island – RI Donor-Disclosure Laws Upheld Again; Conservative Group Says It Will Appeal to High Court
MSN – Patrick Anderson (Providence Journal) | Published: 9/16/2021
A federal appeals court upheld Rhode Island’s campaign-spending disclosure laws against a constitutional challenge by a coalition of conservative groups. Those groups say they intend to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. A three-judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals on said the law that makes top donors identify themselves in certain election advertising does not infringe on those donors’ free-speech rights.
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