May 8, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – May 8, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal

Both Parties Wonder: How much do conventions even matter anymore?
MSN – Adam Nagourney and Matt Flegenheimer (New York Times) | Published: 5/4/2020

This year, political conventions may join the list of crowded events like concerts and baseball games forced off the stage because of the coronavirus. And it may not matter. Some Democratic leaders are discussing replacing their convention with a virtual gathering, and some Republicans are unsure about holding the big spectacle that President Trump wants. Yet even before the pandemic, a more fundamental debate was playing out: has the American political convention become a ritual holdover from another age? For all the organizing, money, time, and energy poured into an extravaganza of parties, speeches, lobbying, and networking, there is an argument they have become among the less consequential events on the political calendar.

Cash-Starved Candidates Trade Swanky Cocktail Hours for $5K Zoom Meetings
Politico – Elena Schneider and Theodoric Meyer | Published: 5/1/2020

Online fundraising events show that even with coronavirus bearing down, the money machine of electoral politics is still cranking, albeit at a distinctly lower gear and in dramatically different form. Candidates are having to adapt in real time to not only the stilted nature of online interaction but to the sensitivity of asking for money in the midst of a nosediving economy. Recreating the intimacy of big-money events is not easy, but consultants are testing strategies to come as close as they can. Many corporate PACs have preset budgets for donations to lawmakers. The venues where the money gets doled out is less important than ensuring it gets in the right hands.

Joe Biden Denies He Sexually Assaulted a Former Senate Aide, Calls on National Archives to Release Complaint If One Exists
Stamford Advocate – Matt Viser, Annie Linskey, and Sean Sullivan (Washington Post) | Published: 5/1/2020

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden denied he sexually assaulted a former Senate aide, delivering his first public comments about an allegation that has prompted a collision between the presidential race and the #MeToo movement and forced a difficult reckoning in a party determined to unseat President Trump in November. The allegation has pushed the topic of sexual assault to the forefront of the campaign after a primary cycle that featured a field with multiple female candidates and Biden’s pledge to name a woman as his running mate. Though Biden has prided himself on a long record of promoting women, his campaign also has been marked by struggles as the longtime politician has tried to keep up with cultural shifts reflected within his party.

K Street Requests Taxpayer Bailout of Corporate Lobbyists
The Intercept – Lee Fang | Published: 5/5/2020

K Street may soon have its own taxpayer-funded bailout. Industries as varied as oil refining, construction, fast food restaurants, and chemical manufacturing are seeking federal cash to support their lobbyists in Washington, D.C. Many of the largest lobbying forces are organized under the 501(c)(6) section of the tax code as trade groups. Corporations with similar concerns pool their money together to fund trade groups, which in turn employ thousands of lobbyists to shape elections and legislation. But the Paycheck Protection Program, the centerpiece of the small business rescue program, excluded such organizations. That could change in the next round of stimulus legislation, which Congress is scheduled to debate later this month.

Knock, Knock, Who’s There? No Political Canvassers, for the First Time Maybe Ever
New York Times – Shane Goldmacher | Published: 5/7/2020

For decades, showing up on a voter’s doorstep has been one of the most reliable ways to get people to the polls. Now political parties and candidates that put tens of millions of dollars into training and deploying door knockers are grappling with costly, consequential, and imminent decisions about whether they should even invest in traditional brick-and-mortar infrastructure that powers such operations. In the fall of 2020, volunteers might have to knock on a door and then sprint 10 feet away, making a pitch from a safe social distance. That is one tactic some strategists have floated as they consider a pandemic-safe update to the humble door knock.

Lawmakers Made Hundreds of Stock Transactions During Pandemic, Watchdog Finds
Politico – Alice Miranda Ollstein | Published: 4/29/2020

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have bought and sold stocks hundreds of times throughout the coronavirus pandemic, some of them lucrative moves to invest in industries buoyed by the crisis and divest from sectors like restaurants and hotels that have tanked. From February 2 to April 8 of this year, the Campaign Legal Center found, 12 senators made a combined 127 purchases or sales, while 37 House representatives made at least 1,358 transactions. In most cases, the lawmakers have not been accused of wrongdoing, but the watchdog group says the frequency of such stock trades underscores the need for more transparency and ethics protections, particularly in a time of crisis.

Push to Revive FEC Could Curb Court Action on Campaign Finance
Bloomberg Government – Kenneth Doyle | Published: 5/6/2020

Advocates of stricter campaign finance law enforcement fear a Senate Republican push to restore a quorum on the FEC could thwart their ability to pursue alleged violations in court. The Senate Rules and Administration Committee is expected to advance James Trainor to fill a GOP vacancy on the panel. With his confirmation, an equally divided FEC could resume its pattern of deadlocking on enforcement cases, leading to dismissal of alleged violations of disclosure requirements and other campaign finance laws, says a watchdog. FEC staff lawyers would also be able to defend such dismissals in court and prevent alleged violators from being sued, said Adav Noti, chief of staff at the Campaign Legal Center.

Secret Service Paid Trump’s D.C. Hotel More Than $33,000 for Lodging to Guard Mnuchin in ’17
Seattle Times – David Fahrenthold, Joshua Partlow, Josh Dawsey, and Carol Leonnig (Washington Post) | Published: 4/30/2020

The Secret Service rented a room at President Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel for 137 consecutive nights in 2017, paying Trump’s company more than $33,000, so it could guard Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin while he lived in one of the hotel’s luxury suites. The Washington Post has identified dozens of instances where the Secret Service paid money to Trump’s businesses, spending taxpayer dollars, often with little or no disclosure at the time. Often, these payments were triggered by Trump’s own travel to his properties. This case is different because it was set in motion by Mnuchin, one of Trump’s top appointees. In 2017, he chose a living arrangement that produced two revenue streams for Trump’s company. One came from Mnuchin. The other came from taxpayers.

Should News Organizations Take Coronavirus Bailout Loans? While Some Fear a Conflict of Interest, Many Are Desperate for Cash
Greenwich Times – Paul Fahri (Washington Post) | Published: 4/29/2020

As advertising has collapsed, a handful of news organizations have taken the once unthinkable step of turning to the government for a lifeline. Media companies have traditionally resisted any such financial relationship, viewing it as a serious conflict-of-interest: how could they commit to independent and aggressive coverage of a government they are accepting money from? Some news companies that have snagged loans have had no such qualms amid layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts that have slammed the industry. A coalition of newspaper and television trade groups is even lobbying Congress and President Trump to expand the program to include some of the industry’s biggest players, which have been ineligible for bailout money.

Southern Company’s Lobbying Disclosures Obscure State-Level Information from Investors, Public
Energy and Policy Institute – Daniel Tate | Published: 4/30/2020

Southern Company’s sparse disclosures have enabled lobbying activity that has conflicted with the policy objectives the utility company has espoused to investors and the public. Southern has actively lobbied against environmental regulations and action on climate change at the federal level. The company’s state-level disclosures offer almost no indications of whether its state lobbying follows its federal pattern or aligned with Southern’s stated corporate “low- to no-carbon” goals. Investors have led calls for the company to increase its lobbying disclosures, particularly at the state level, in light of its substantial federal lobbying. Southern has opposed shareholders’ calls for increased transparency.

The Bizarro Tale of a Phantom Super PAC – and Our Sleuthing to Find It
Politico – Zach Montellaro | Published: 5/5/2020

A new super PAC made a splashy entrance onto the U.S. Senate battleground scene recently, reporting millions of dollars in spending backing Democrats in key races. There is just one problem: the ads do not exist. Americans for Progressive Action USA filed reports showing more than $2.5 million in advertising and associated costs. But six ad makers and advertising platforms listed in the filings said they have never heard of the super PAC and have no records of doing business with the group. It is not unheard of for people to make false filings with the FEC. But more than a dozen political operatives and campaign finance watchdogs contacted for this story were baffled why someone would file apparently made-up spending reports.

The ‘New Normal’ Takes Shape on Capitol Hill
The Hill – Scott Wong and Mike Lillis | Published: 5/4/2020

Lawmakers hoping for a return to pre-coronavirus life on Capitol Hill might find themselves waiting awhile. The pandemic has already upended daily routines and legislative calendars during the extended recess, forcing lawmakers to adapt to Zoom hearings and cloistered campaigning. But now Congress’s leading medical authority is warning the upheaval will extend to virtually all facets of life in the Capitol complex, and those changes are likely to last years. For lawmakers and their staffs, that means life when they resume a more regular schedule in Washington will be, in many aspects, almost unrecognizable.

Trump Sparks Fight Over IRS Relief Payments
The Hill – Naomi Jagoda | Published: 5/2/2020

President Trump has sparked concerns about politicizing the IRS by putting his name on the coronavirus relief checks and letters sent to Americans informing them of their payments.  The moves are seen as a way for Trump to take credit for the pandemic aid that households are receiving just months before an election where his handling of the outbreak and the economic damage it has caused will play a prominent role. While presidents regularly tout their economic policies, critics say Trump’s actions unnecessarily inject partisanship into a government agency that should be viewed as nonpartisan. They also argue his move could backfire politically.

Virus Whistle-Blower Says Trump Administration Steered Contracts to Cronies
MSN – Sheryl Gay Stolberg (New York Times) | Published: 5/5/2020

A federal scientist who says he was ousted from his job amid a dispute over an unproven coronavirus treatment pushed by President Trump said top administration officials repeatedly pressured him to steer millions of dollars in contracts to the clients of a well-connected consultant. Rick Bright, who was director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority until his removal in April, said in a whistleblower complaint that he had been protesting contract abuse since 2017. Questionable contracts have gone to “companies with political connections to the administration,” the complaint said, including a drug company tied to a friend of Jared Kushner’s, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

Well-Connected Trump Alumni Benefit from Coronavirus Lobbying Rush
MSN – Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Tom Hamburger, and Anu Narayanswami (Washington Post) | Published: 4/30/2020

As businesses lobby Washington for a piece of the massive federal response to the global pandemic, a group of former Trump administration officials and campaign alumni are in the center of the action, helping private interests tap into coveted financial and regulatory relief programs. Businesses hit hard by the virus and health-care manufacturers seeking approval for their products have rushed to hire Trump alumni, who are leveraging their connections in a variety of ways. In all, at least 25 former officials who once worked for the Trump administration, campaign, or transition team are now registered as lobbyists for clients with coronavirus needs. The activity shows how, despite Trump’s repeated claim he would “drain the swamp,” his former aides and onetime administration officials have embraced Washington’s lobbying world.

Why Biden’s Choice of Running Mate Has Momentous Implications
MSN – Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns (New York Times) | Published: 5/3/2020

The vice-presidential selection process has usually had an air of cloak-and-dagger to it. The party’s nominees would say little about their thinking, the would-be running mates would reveal even less, and an elaborate game of subterfuge would unfold that mostly captivated political insiders and usually had little bearing on the election. But a convergence of forces has transformed Joe Biden’s search for a running mate on the Democratic ticket. His pledge to pick a woman immediately limited the pool of potential candidates and intensified the competition. Biden himself has increasingly pushed into the political foreground the overwhelming reason his choice may be the most consequential in decades: the expectation that the 77-year-old would be a one-term president.

Will Americans Lose Their Right to Vote in the Pandemic?
New York Times – Emily Bazelon | Published: 5/5/2020

The April 7 election in Wisconsin showed the coronavirus pandemic can block access to the ballot just as it has closed stores and schools and so much other civic activity. “Ultimately, there were no provisions, no accommodations in state law for the pandemic when it came to our administration of this election,” said Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission. If states and the federal government do not do more to help voters in November, the barriers for some of them may be insurmountable. The outcome of the presidential contest will most likely be decided in a handful of swing states. But only one swing state is already set up for most people to vote by mail.

Canada

Canada Ontario Allowing ‘Secret Lobbying’ Amid COVID-19: Critic
National Post – Emma McIntosh | Published: 5/1/2020

The Ontario government is allowing businesses to do “secret lobbying” by inviting them to ask for temporary law changes during the coronavirus pandemic, Democracy Watch says. The Progressive Conservative government, which was elected on promises to reduce red tape, announced it would open an online portal where businesses could ask for regulation or rule changes to help them weather the pandemic. Democracy Watch, a non-profit which advocates for government accountability, said that portal is an invitation to use a loophole in Ontario’s lobbying rules, which is especially worrying given the government’s temporary rollbacks of some environmental protections.

From the States and Municipalities

California Dem vs. Dem: Do fractures in California presage a Democratic Party crack-up?
Politico – Jeremy White | Published: 5/5/2020

In modern California politics, the critical fault line is not between Democrats and Republicans. It is between Democrats, thanks to an election system that allows two Democrats to advance out of primaries and collide in the general election. There is no other state where Democrats wield the absolute power the party enjoys in California. Before 2011, when the state replaced party primaries with a general primary after which the top two vote-getters square off in the general election, establishment-backed Democrats running in safe seats could often sail to assured victories; now, they often find themselves fighting for their political lives against a rival from their own party.

Colorado Demoted Denver Firefighter Tried to Pass Off Hot Tub, Leather Sofa as Medical Expenses
Denver Post – Shelly Bradbury | Published: 5/5/2020

A Denver Fire Department lieutenant who fell through a floor and broke his hip while fighting a fire in 2016 subsequently tried to pass off purchases of a hot tub, stove, specialty mattress, and seven-piece leather sofa as medical expenses, according to a disciplinary action letter from the city Department of Public Safety. Lt. Demetrius Granado was demoted to the rank of firefighter first-grade and technically fired for his actions, although the firing will not take effect if he does not violate the fire department’s rules for two years.

Florida Florida Concedes It Has No Plan on Felon Voting
Tampa Bay Times – Dara Kam | Published: 5/6/2020

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle decided more than six months ago that Florida cannot deny the right to vote to felons who have served their time behind bars and are genuinely unable to pay “legal financial obligations” as required by a controversial state law passed last year. But as a trial in a challenge to the law draws to a close, a top Florida elections official told the judge the state has not settled on a process that will carry out his ruling and permit people who cannot afford to pay their court-ordered debts to vote.

Georgia GBI Opens Criminal Investigation into DA’s Nonprofit Funds
Lexington Herald-Leader – Associated Press | Published: 5/6/2020

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation launched a criminal probe into a district attorney accused of using at least $140,000 in city of Atlanta money paid to a nonprofit to supplement his own salary. The state ethics commission filed a complaint against The Georgia Ethics Commission filed a complaint against Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, accusing him of violating public disclosure laws.

Hawaii Honolulu Ethics Commission OKs Gifts for First Responders
Honolulu Star Advertiser – Gordon Y.K. Pang | Published: 5/2/2020

The Honolulu Ethics Commission voted to allow city police officers and other first responders to accept gifts from the public that are considered :tokens of aloha and acts of kindness” for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak. The temporary change in ethics guidelines was triggered by the surge in public support for those on the front lines of the battle to stem the outbreak. The change applies only to police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and lifeguards employed by the city, since other first responders are outside the jurisdiction of the commission.

Idaho Belated Campaign Finance Report Filed by Pro-Gun Group
Idaho Falls Post-Register – Betsy Russell (Idaho Press) | Published: 4/28/2020

After a campaign finance complaint was referred to the Idaho attorney general for investigation, Greg Pruett of the Idaho 2nd Amendment Alliance belatedly filed a campaign finance report on his television ad campaign in favor of Rep. Christy Zito, who is running for the state Senate. Pruett acknowledged that under Idaho law, he was required to file a report and disclose his donors of $50 or more when he distributed an “electioneering communication” that “unambiguously refers to any candidate,” and was sent out within 30 days before a primary election.

Iowa Court Upholds Dismissal of Suit Over Iowa Governor’s Flight
AP News – David Pitt | Published: 5/1/2020

The Iowa Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by an attorney who challenged a 2017 flight that Gov. Kim Reynolds and her family took on a private jet to a football game in Memphis, Tennessee Gary Dickey filed a complaint with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, alleging the $2,880 claimed for four seats on the private jet in campaign disclosure documents underestimated the flight’s value by thousands of dollars. The plane was owned by a company that has contracts with the state.

Maryland Progressive Maryland Files Complaint Against Super PAC Backing Baltimore Mayoral Candidate Mary Miller
Baltimore Sun – Talia Richman | Published: 5/5/2020

A nonprofit advocacy group filed an ethics complaint with the Maryland elections board, alleging campaign finance violations by a super PAC that is backing Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Miller. The Citizens for Ethical Progressive Leadership PAC was established April 30, state records show, and is supporting Miller. The group recently circulated a memo describing a poll by Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group of 500 likely Democratic primary voters, conducted April 13 to 16. Progressive Maryland’s complaint says the date of the poll signals a campaign finance violation.

Mississippi MS Welfare Scandal Audit: Money went to cars, family, paying Brett Favre for speeches he never gave
Jackson Clarion-Ledger – Luke Ramseth | Published: 5/4/2020

Money meant to help poor Mississippians was instead used to buy expensive cars, sponsor a college baseball tournament, hire family members of a top state official, and pay Brett Favre for speeches he never gave, according to a report from State Auditor Shad White. The audit of the Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS) shows how federal welfare grant funds flowed from DHS into two nonprofits, which then frequently spent the cash in inappropriate or suspicious ways.  More than $94 million in welfare money spending was “questioned” by auditors, according to the report, alleging either outright misspending or lack of documentation showing it was spent properly.

Nevada Ethics Complaint ‘Credible’ Against Ex-Las Vegas Planning Official
Las Vegas Review-Journal – Shea Johnson | Published: 5/1/2020

Former Las Vegas Planning Commissioner Christina Roush voted several times on short-term rental applications presented by a City Hall lobbyist but failed to disclose that lobbyist had also reportedly been hired by her husband to secure a similar permit. Now Roush will have to attend ethics training if she returns to the public sector within two years under a proposed agreement with a state ethics panel. The panel, consisting of three members of the Nevada Commission on Ethics, recently said there was “credible evidence” for the full commission to weigh in on the accusations that Roush violated two conflict-of-interest laws by voting on short-term rental applications presented by lobbyist Nathan Taylor through much of 2018.

New Jersey Juul Donated to New Jersey Politicians Even as They Considered Vaping Restrictions
Politico – Matt Freidman | Published: 5/4/2020

As New Jersey lawmakers considered restrictions on vaping products, a leading e-cigarette maker donated to political organizations with close ties to both state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Gov. Phil Murphy.  The donations from Juul Labs came even after Sweeney called for a ban on all vaping products and then pushed a bill that would severely restrict their sales in New Jersey. Juul’s $7,500 donation to General Majority, a Sweeney-tied super PAC, was dated less than two weeks after the Legislature passed a Sweeney-backed bill that could have banned the company’s products from store shelves, and three days after Murphy vetoed it.

New York New York Must Hold Democratic Presidential Primary, Judge Rules
New York Times – Sean Sullivan and Nick Corasaniti | Published: 5/5/2020

A federal judge ordered elections officials in New York state to hold its Democratic primary election in June and reinstate all qualifying candidates on the ballot. The ruling came after the presidential primary was canceled over concerns about the coronavirus. Douglas Kellner, co-chairperson of the New York Board of Elections, said the board was “reviewing the decision and preparing an appeal. “The initial move to cancel the presidential primary sowed confusion around the state; though the statewide presidential primary was canceled, dozens of local elections were not, leaving some candidates and political operatives nervous that voters might presume the entire primary had been called off.

North Carolina Should NC Politicians Be Banned from Paying Themselves Rent with Campaign Money?
Raleigh News and Observer – Will Doran | Published: 4/30/2020

The North Carolina State Board of Elections is considering whether politicians should be able to use their campaign donors’ money to pay for a home they already own after the board previously signed off on such arrangements. Specifically, the potential rule change  would ban politicians from using their campaign funds to pay the rent or mortgage of any residence owned by them or a family member. If state officials do decide to ban such practices, it would appear to be a change aimed one of the most powerful politicians in the state, Senate leader Phil Berger.

Ohio Ohio Elections Chief Pushes for Changes Before Fall Vote
AP News – Julie Carr Smyth | Published: 5/5/2020

Ohio needs to take the application process for mail-in ballots online, agree to pay postage on return applications and ballots, and make other voting-law changes in order to assure a smooth presidential election in November, the state’s top elections official said. Secretary of State Frank LaRose said he has begun lobbying lawmakers on the need to act quickly. The state’s primary election was postponed from March 17 to April 28 due to the public health threat posed by the coronavirus. The experience spotlighted several weaknesses in Ohio’s vote-by-mail system, already criticized as cumbersome of some voting-rights groups.

Ohio Ohio House Republicans Move to Limit Health Director Amy Acton’s Authority
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Seth Richardson | Published: 5/6/2020

The Ohio House moved to strip state Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton’s authority to issue lasting state orders, a direct attack on Gov. Mike DeWine and his response to the coronavirus pandemic. House Republicans amended and passed a 2019 regulatory reform bill that would limit health department orders to 14 days. Under the amended Senate Bill 1, an order could only be extended if it receives approval from the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review. Republicans said they were trying to check the governor’s power through legislative oversight, saying Acton’s authority was too broad.

Oregon Campaign Finance Limits Lose Twice in Oregon
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Rebecca Ellis and Jeff Mapes | Published: 5/1/2020

Backers of strict curbs on campaign money in Oregon lost twice in their attempt to quickly impose limits on donations to candidates for public office. The actions, involving limits at the statewide level and in Portland’s mayoral campaign, came after the Oregon Supreme Court ruled strict limits do not violate state constitutional protections on freedom of expression. In doing so, the court reversed a long-standing ruling barring limits on political donations.

South Carolina SC Supreme Court Rules Against Statehouse Probe Prosecutor’s Call to Reverse Plea Deal
Charleston Post and Courier – Andy Shain | Published: 5/6/2020

The special prosecutor in South Carolina’s statehouse probe was dealt a blow when the state Supreme Court ruled against his efforts to throw out a guilty plea by a former lawmaker. The court also says it has questions about how First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe was able to get $352,000 from businesses and state agencies to avoid prosecution in the investigation. The case led to guilty pleas and convictions of five lawmakers and effectively ended one of South Carolina’s most influential political consulting firms.

South Dakota Ethics Board Dismisses Complaint Against Councilor After Trip to Republican Convention
Sioux Falls Argus Leader – JoeSneve | Published: 4/30/2020

The Sioux Falls Board of Ethics will not decide if a city councilor broke the rules by accepting an expense-free trip to a conference of Republican municipal and county officials. Last October, Councilor Greg Neitzert, along with Mayor Paul TenHaken, attended the group Community Leaders of America’s convention in Dallas. The trip recently became the subject of scrutiny when Sioux Falls resident John Cunningham filed an ethics complaint against Neitzert, alleging he violated the city’s ethics rules when Community Leaders of America covered expenses for airfare and hotel stays.

Tennessee Media Groups Sue Campaign Finance Board Over Email Vote, Contend Violation of Open Meetings Law
The Tennessean – Joel Ebert | Published: 4/29/2020

A coalition of media organizations filed a lawsuit against a state panel for violating Tennessee’s open meetings law. The lawsuit stems from the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance’s decision to reduce previously issued fines against state Rep. Joe Towns. According to the suit, the email vote violated the state’s Open Meetings Act, as well as an executive order from Gov. Bill Lee seeking to allow government agencies to conduct business electronically during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Texas Texas AG Helped Donor Fight Virus Lockout
AP News – Paul Weber and Jake Bleiberg | Published: 4/29/2020

When a small county in Colorado banished everyone but locals to blunt the spread of the coronavirus, an unlikely outsider raised a fuss: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who called it an affront to Texans who own property there and pressed health officials to soften the rules. A review shows Paxton’s moves stood to benefit an exclusive group of Texans, including a Dallas donor and college classmate who helped Paxton launch his run for attorney general and had spent days trying to get a waiver to remain in his $4 million lakeside home. Robert McCarter’s neighbors in the wealthy Colorado enclave of Crested Butte are also Paxton campaign contributors, including a Texas oilman who has given Paxton and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, more than $252,000.

Wisconsin Conservative Justices Appear Skeptical of ‘Safer at Home’ Extension
Madison.com – Ed Treleven | Published: 5/5/2020

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative justices expressed skepticism about the authority of a cabinet secretary to extend Gov. Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order for controlling the spread of COVID-19. “Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to be imprisoned for going to work, among other ordinarily lawful activities?” asked Justice Rebecca Bradley. Republican lawmakers are seeking to suspend the Department of Health Services’ extension of the order to May 26. Opponents say it has wrecked the state’s economy. Proponents counter that Wisconsin’s infection rate would be much higher if nothing had been done. One justice likening the restrictions to the World War II Japanese internment camps.

Wisconsin Unexpected Outcome in Wisconsin: Tens of thousands of ballots that arrived after Election Day were counted, thanks to court decisions
MSN – Amy Gardner, Dan Simmons, and Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 5/3/2020

In early April, Wisconsin voters navigated a number of rule changes governing the state’s spring elections as officials tussled over the risks of the coronavirus, prompting a backlog of absentee ballot requests and fears that many would not be able to participate. But in the end, tens of thousands of mail ballots that arrived after the April 7 presidential primaries and spring elections were counted by local officials, the unexpected result of last-minute intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court. What happened in Wisconsin has potentially far-reaching implications as the two parties square off in courtrooms across the country, hoping to notch legal victories that will shape the electorate in their favor before November.

September 29, 2020 •

Tuesday’s LobbyComply News Roundup

Campaign Finance National: “Some Democrats Worry Millions Flowing from Super PACs Prioritize White Swing Voters Over Minorities” by Michelle Ye Hee Lee for Washington Post National: “Florida Republican Cooperating with Campaign Finance Probe” by Staff for Associated Press California: “California […]

Campaign Finance

National: “Some Democrats Worry Millions Flowing from Super PACs Prioritize White Swing Voters Over Minorities” by Michelle Ye Hee Lee for Washington Post

National: “Florida Republican Cooperating with Campaign Finance Probe” by Staff for Associated Press

California: “California NAACP President Aids Corporate Prop Campaigns – Collects $1.2 Million and Counting” by Laurel Rosenhall for CalMatters

Elections

Pennsylvania: “Pennsylvania Republicans Ask Supreme Court to Stop Voting Accommodations” by Robert Barnes for Washington Post

Wisconsin: “Appellate Court Halts Wisconsin Ballot-Counting Extension” by Todd Richmond for Associated Press News

Ethics

National: “Judges Propose Making Disclosure of Their Personal Details a Crime” by Josh Gerstein for Politico

Illinois: “Speaker Madigan And Several Former ComEd Lobbyists Decline to Appear Before House Committee” by Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold for WBEZ

New York: “Appeals Court Judges Skeptical of Trump Effort to Block Release of Financial Info” by Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney for Politico

Lobbying

National: “Political Groups Begin Dueling Over Barrett in a Costly Clash” by Kenneth Vogel, Maggie Haberman, and Jeremy Peters for New York Times

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September 28, 2020 •

Monday’s LobbyComply News Roundup

Campaign Finance Washington: “Freed Agrees to Civil Penalty to Resolve Campaign Finance, Reporting Violations” by Alexis Krell for Tacoma News Tribune Elections Missouri: “Voters See ‘Unfair’ Ballot Language on Cleaner Missouri in Two Counties” by Austin Huguelet for Springfield News-Leader […]

Campaign Finance

Washington: “Freed Agrees to Civil Penalty to Resolve Campaign Finance, Reporting Violations” by Alexis Krell for Tacoma News Tribune

Elections

Missouri: “Voters See ‘Unfair’ Ballot Language on Cleaner Missouri in Two Counties” by Austin Huguelet for Springfield News-Leader

Ethics

National: “Amy Coney Barrett, a Disciple of Justice Scalia, Is Poised to Push the Supreme Court Further Right” by Michael Kranish, Robert Barnes, Shawn Boburg, and Ann Marimow for Washington Post

National: “Long-Concealed Records Show Trump’s Chronic Losses and Years of Tax Avoidance” by Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig, and Mike McIntire for New York Times

Illinois: “3 Ethics Board Exits Later, Cook County Commissioners Unveil First Draft of Ethics Code Reforms” by Alice Yin for Chicago Tribune

Illinois: “Top Lightfoot Adviser on Intergovernmental Affairs to Marry Chicag Alderman, Raising Ethical Concerns from City Staff” by Gregory Pratt and John Byrne for Chicago Tribune

Tennessee: “Tennessee Registry of Election Finance Violated Open Meetings Act with Secret Vote” by Mariah Timms for The Tennessean

Lobbying

National: “Women Rise on K Street – Slowly” by Alex Gangitano for The Hill

Florida: “NextEra Energy’s Failed Attempt to Purchase JEA Highlights Web of Murky Spending, Lobbying” by Daniel Tait for Energy and Policy Institute

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September 28, 2020 •

Connecticut Governor Announces Special Session

Connecticut State Capitol

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced a special session to convene on Tuesday, September 29. The General Assembly will consider legislation for several policy issues including: performance-based regulation of the state’s electricity, gas, and water companies; securing absentee ballots for the […]

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced a special session to convene on Tuesday, September 29.

The General Assembly will consider legislation for several policy issues including: performance-based regulation of the state’s electricity, gas, and water companies; securing absentee ballots for the general election; school construction projects; and opportunities for the state’s hemp program.

The Legislature will also consider four nominations announced by the governor in July to fill a vacancy in the state Supreme Court and three seats in the Appellate Court.

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September 28, 2020 •

Governor Signs Bill Restoring Non-Presidential Year Primaries to June

elections

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill moving non-presidential year primaries back to June. Senate Bill 970 will return California to the traditional midterm primary date. The bill becomes effective January 1, 2021.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill moving non-presidential year primaries back to June.

Senate Bill 970 will return California to the traditional midterm primary date.

The bill becomes effective January 1, 2021.

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September 28, 2020 •

South Dakota Governor Calls Special Session of Legislature

South Dakota Capitol Building

South Dakota Capitol Building

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced she is calling a special legislative session on Monday, October 5, 2020. The main purpose of this session is to consider legislation related to the use of federal stimulus relief funds, including the $1.25 […]

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced she is calling a special legislative session on Monday, October 5, 2020.

The main purpose of this session is to consider legislation related to the use of federal stimulus relief funds, including the $1.25 billion allocated to South Dakota in Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF).

Unless an extension is granted, South Dakota has until December 30, 2020 to spend all CRF dollars.

The administration has spent about $114 million of the $1.25 billion in federal funds allocated to the state.

Noem has mapped out a plan to spend the bulk of the money, including up to $400 million in small business grants.

However, some House members said lawmakers should be included in the decision.

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September 25, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – September 25, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal Behind Trump’s Turkish ‘Bromance’: Lev Parnas, oligarchs and a lucrative lobbying deal NBC News – Aubrey Belford, Adam Klasfeld, Andrew Lehren, and Dan De Luce | Published: 9/22/2020 On January 19, 2017, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavusoglu, sat down with […]

National/Federal

Behind Trump’s Turkish ‘Bromance’: Lev Parnas, oligarchs and a lucrative lobbying deal
NBC News – Aubrey Belford, Adam Klasfeld, Andrew Lehren, and Dan De Luce | Published: 9/22/2020

On January 19, 2017, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavusoglu, sat down with Brian Ballard, a well-connected lobbyist serving as vice chair of Donald Trump’s inaugural committee. Also at the table were the two men who set up the meeting: Mübariz Mansimov, a shipping magnate now in a Turkish jail facing terrorism charges, and Lev Parnas, a colorful businessperson whose backchannel dealings in Ukraine would, two years later, feature prominently in Trump’s impeachment. The meeting, which has never before been disclosed, marked the start of Turkey’s ambitious lobbying of the Trump administration that involved back-channels, Russian-linked oligarchs, and Parnas. The lunch eventually led to multi-million-dollar contracts for Ballard Partners to lobby on behalf of Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Campaigns Adjust as Voters Cast Ballots Before Election Day
Roll Call – Bridget Bowman | Published: 9/17/2020

More voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail or in person before Election Day this year due to concerns about crowding at polling places amid the coronavirus pandemic. For campaigns and outside groups, a surge in early voting, by mail or in person, means there is less time to get their messages out to voters. But it also means they need to spend more time on turnout efforts. In past election cycles, the end of summer was the unofficial start of campaign season, when political ads started to blanket the airwaves. But that has not been the case this year.

Chamber to Lay Off a Dozen Employees, Expand Advocacy Efforts Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 9/17/2020

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest spender on federal lobbying, is laying off 12 employees as part of a restructuring that the group’s insiders say will also aim to expand its policy advocacy. Most of the laid-off employees were tied to the operation of the group’s building, across from the White House, or to putting on in-person events. Chamber of Commerce President Suzanne Clark said the organization will accelerate efforts to be a leader in virtual events. She also announced Executive Vice President Neil Bradley will oversee a new umbrella group called Strategic Advocacy, with three divisions – government affairs, policy, and political affairs and federal relations.

DeVos Under Investigation for Potentially Violating Hatch Act Because of Fox News Interview
Politico – Daniel Lippman and Michael Stratford | Published: 9/21/2020

The Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) has started investigating Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for potentially violating the Hatch Act after she criticized Joe Biden in a Fox News interview and her agency promoted it through official channels. The law prohibits most political activity by federal employees, but the Trump administration has not paid much attention to it, even hosting parts of the Republican National Convention at the White House with multiple Cabinet members giving primetime addresses. At least 12 Trump senior officials violated the Hatch Act, according to the OSC. In most cases, the office decided the violation was minor enough to merit only a warning letter. Only one case, that of former senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, was sent to President Trump for action, and he did not act on it.

How Republicans Are Trying to Use the Green Party to Their Advantage
New York Times – Maggie Haberman, Danny Hakim, and Nick Corasaniti | Published: 9/22/2020

With President Trump trailing Joe Biden in most national and swing-state polls, Republicans are again trying to help third parties that may appeal to Democratic voters and siphon off votes from Biden. This is taking place alongside a broader pattern of disinformation and skepticism by the president and his allies that has sown confusion and undermined confidence in the election. Republican efforts to aid the Green Party are not new. In 2016, a billionaire backer of Trump, Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot, provided support to Jill Stein, the Green candidate, according to people with knowledge of the strategy, who said the effort was done with the knowledge of some officials at the Trump campaign and its chairperson at the time, Paul Manafort.

Judges in D.C. Threatened, Harassed After High-Profile, Political Legal Battles
Washington Post – Ann Marimow | Published: 9/18/2020

In the last three years, the number of threats tracked by the U.S. Marshals Service has dramatically increased as attacks targeting federal judges and their rulings have proliferated on social media. The animosity directed at judges is particularly persistent in Washington, D.C. with legal battles over President Trump’s financial records and access to secret material from Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Deputies recorded about 4,500 “inappropriate” communications or threats directed a judges and other court officials, an increase of 40 percent from fiscal 2016. It is a crime to threaten a federal judge, but not every nasty message or social media post is considered a threat and deputies must balance free speech considerations.

Pelosi Unveils Watergate-Style Anti-Corruption Reforms – Tailored for the Trump Era
Politico – Kyle Cheney | Published: 9/23/2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her top lieutenants unveiled a sweeping anti-corruption package they are billing as a successor to post-Watergate reforms, updated for a potential post-Trump Washington. The measure, a 158-page Democratic wish list that includes curbs on pardons for close associates of the president, a requirement for campaigns to publicly report many foreign contacts, and a requirement for courts to prioritize congressional subpoenas, is House leaders’ version of an antidote to what they see as weaknesses in democratic government exposed by President Trump.

Pentagon Used Taxpayer Money Meant for Masks and Swabs to Make Jet Engine Parts and Body Armor
MSN – Aaron Gregg and Yeganeh Torboti (Washington Post) | Published: 9/22/2020

The CARES Act passed by Congress in March granted the Department of Defense $1 billion to both prevent and get ready to respond to the coronavirus. Months after the funding was allocated, Pentagon lawyers concluded the money could be used for defense production, including projects that had little to do with responding to the pandemic, Hundreds of millions of the taxpayer money was utilized to obtain military supplies, such as jet engine parts, body armor, dress uniforms, and other needs. The payments were made even though U.S. health officials think major funding gaps in pandemic response remain.

Republican Inquiry Finds No Evidence of Wrongdoing by Biden
MSN – Nicholas Fandos (New York Times) | Published: 9/23/2020

An investigation by Senate Republicans into corruption allegations against Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, involving Ukraine found no evidence of improper influence or wrongdoing by the former vice president, closing out an inquiry its leaders had hoped would tarnish the Democratic presidential nominee. The investigation found Hunter Biden had “cashed in” on his father’s name to close lucrative business deals around the world. It also concluded his work for Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company then mired in a corruption scandal, while the former vice president was directing American policy toward Kyiv had given the appearance of a conflict-of-interest. But a report summing up the findings contained no evidence Joe Biden improperly manipulated American policy toward Ukraine or committed any other misdeed.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Death Brings New Uncertainty to the Battle Over Voting Rights in 2020
MSN – Elise Viebeck and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 9/21/2020

The vacancy left by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg came just over six weeks before the election, a critical point in a campaign already defined by hundreds of lawsuits over voting rules and an outsize role for the courts in determining how ballots are distributed, cast, and counted. As Democrats and voting rights advocates seek to lower barriers to voting during the pandemic, the Supreme Court has largely deferred to local and state officials, showing a reluctance to upend rules close to the election. Legal experts disagree about whether the blizzard of election-related lawsuits this year makes it more or less likely that the Supreme Court could end up playing a role in determining the winner of the presidential race, as it effectively did in 2000.

The Russian Trolls Have a Simpler Job Today. Quote Trump.
New York Times – David Sanger and Zolan Kanno-Youngs | Published: 9/22/2020

Four years ago, when Russian intelligence agencies engaged in a systematic attempt to influence the American presidential election, the disinformation they fed voters required some real imagination at the troll farms producing the ads. This year, their task is much easier. They are largely amplifying misleading statements from President Trump, mostly about the dangers of mail-in ballots. That campaign is at the heart of the disinformation efforts that FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Congress was meant “to both sow divisiveness and discord: and “to denigrate” Joe Biden.

Trump Says He Will Move ‘Without Delay’ to Fill Ginsburg’s Supreme Court Seat
Washington Post – Robert Barnes, Seung Min Kim, and Josh Dawsey | Published: 9/19/2020

President Trump said he will nominate a woman to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, opening a ferocious political battle that could transform the nation’s highest court and alter the presidential election. Even as flags were lowered to half-staff and mourners filled the plaza of the Supreme Court where Ginsburg served for 27 years as a liberal icon, the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell contemplated her successor. Trump said he prefers a Senate vote before the election. A Trump replacement for Ginsburg can hardly be overstated in its implications for the court’s docket, the influence of Chief Justice John Roberts and perhaps even the outcome of the election, if what is shaping up to be one of the most contentious presidential elections in history ends up before the justices.

Trump’s Businesses Charged Secret Service More Than $1.1 Million, Including for Rooms in Club Shuttered for Pandemic
Washington Post – David Fahrenthold and Josh Dawsey | Published: 9/17/2020

President Trump’s properties have charged the U.S. government more than $1.1 million in private transactions since Trump took office, including for room rentals at his Bedminster, New Jersey, club this spring while it was closed for the coronavirus pandemic, new documents show. The receipts and invoices shed new light on the unprecedented relationship Trump has with his own government, where Trump’s presidential travel brings a stream of public money to the private businesses the president still owns. When Trump and his family members visit Trump properties, aides and Secret Service agents follow. When those federal employees rent rooms, Trump’s businesses get the revenue. Taxpayers foot the bill.

US Judge Blocks Postal Service Changes That Slowed Mail
Associated Press News – Gene Johnson | Published: 9/18/2020

U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Bastian blocked Postal Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide, calling them “a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service” before the November election. He said he was issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction sought by 14 states that sued the Trump administration and the U.S. Postal Service. The states challenged the Postal Service’s so-called leave behind policy, where trucks have been leaving postal facilities on time regardless of whether there is more mail to load. They also sought to force the Postal Service to treat election mail as first-class mail. Many more voters are expected to vote by mail this November because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Watchdog Group Calls on FEC to Investigate Donations to Trump and Others by Relatives and Associates of Louis DeJoy
Washington Post – Aaron Davis | Published: 9/18/2020

A pattern of campaign contributions by former employees and family members of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy indicates a possible effort to reimburse his associates for donations as recently as 2018, according to an FEC complaint. It has been reported DeJoy and his aides urged employees at New Breed Logistics, his former company, to write checks and attend fundraisers on behalf of Republican candidates. The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) said an analysis of more recent contributions shows a portion of the employees who gave in clusters at New Breed continued to do so after the company was acquired by XPO Logistics, where DeJoy served as an executive. Donations among some XPO employees continued in similar or identical amounts, on the same days, and were made to the same candidates, the CLC found.

From the States and Municipalities

Alabama Former Alabama Sen. David Burkette Gets Probation, $3K Fine in Campaign Finance Case
Montgomery Advertiser – Brad Harper | Published: 9/21/2020

Former Alabama Sen. David Burkette was sentenced to 12 months of probation and ordered to pay a $3,000 fine but avoided jail time for misusing campaign finance funds. State prosecutors said Burkette failed to deposit $3,625 in campaign donations between April 2015 and January 2016, when he was running for Montgomery City Council, and instead deposited them into his personal bank account. The crime carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $6,000 fine. Burkette resigned from the Senate as part of a plea deal. In turn, the state agreed not to pursue additional charges.

Alaska In Secret Tapes, Mine Executives Detail Their Sway Over leaders from Juneau to the White House
MSN – Juliet Eilperin (Washington Post) | Published: 9/22/2020

Two top executives of a company trying to build the Pebble Mine in Alaska boasted about their influence over public officials in the state and Washington, D.C. in videotapes secretly recorded by an environmental group. It was a rare glimpse into the private discussions surrounding the company’s campaign to win federal permits for the project, which environmentalists say will destroy a pristine part of Alaska and decimate its salmon fishery. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found in July the project would have “no measurable effect” on the area’s fish populations, but informed Pebble Limited Partnership it had to do more to show how it would offset the damage caused by the operation. Even as the executives jump through several regulatory hoops, they focused on wooing Republican politicians. In the taped conversations, they detailed their plan to manage all the decision-makers.

California California Prison Guard Union Places Bull’s-Eye on Black Lawmaker’s Photo in Political Ad
Los Angeles Times – Anita Chabria | Published: 9/17/2020

The union representing California prison guards posted pictures and video online of a new political ad announcing its intent to “target” state Assemblyperson Reggie Jones-Sawyer, obscuring the Black lawmaker’s face with a bull’s-eye and drawing criticism the image amounted to a threat. The incident highlights mounting acrimony in Los Angeles and across the country between law enforcement and those who seek police reforms, and it comes days after two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were ambushed by a gunman, leading Sheriff Alex Villanueva to warn that “words have consequences.”

California CalPERS Board Supportive of Move to Restrict Investments by Top Staff
Sacramento Bee – Wes Venteicher | Published: 9/17/2020

California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) board members expressed support for a proposal to limit personal investments by future chief investment officers. The board weighed in on a plan that would force its chief investment officers to divest from some or all of their investments or place them in a blind trust as a condition of employment. They expect to consider a specific proposal from the system’s staff in November. The proposal follows the sudden departure of former Chief Investment Officer Ben Meng, who was the subject of an ethics complaint after approving a $1 billion CalPERS investment with a firm in which he held stock. The Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating a complaint related to Meng’s investments.

California LA City Council Aims to Increase Accountability of Development Process
Los Angeles Daily Breeze – City News Service | Published: 9/23/2020

A Los Angeles City Council committee advanced several proposals intended to create more oversight and transparency of city development projects in response to recent corruption cases. One of the proposals the Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee approved was to develop policies that would expand the requirements for when council members have a conflict-of-interest and must exclude themselves from voting on certain projects. These standards would be the same ones used by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Authority. The committee also approved a motion for full council consideration to seek ways to require any meetings between developers and individual council members be disclosed if they are held outside of a public forum.

California San Bernardino to Cap Campaign Contributions at $4,700 Per Individual Per Election
San Bernardino Sun – Brian Whitehead | Published: 9/21/2020

San Bernardino intends to follow legislation that on January 1 sets a $4,700 limit on how much an individual can give a candidate per election. There presently are no restrictions on such contributions. City staffers had reported Assembly Bill 571 would institute a yearly cap on campaign donations. A majority of the city council supported the bill’s guidelines, but Mayor John Valdivia vetoed the move. After further review, city staffers reported the $4,700 limit is per election, not per year.

Florida Florida AG Calls for Criminal Inquiry into Bloomberg’s $16M Felon Voter Donation
Politico – Matt Dixon and Gary Fineout | Published: 9/23/2020

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody asked state and federal law enforcement officials to investigate “potential violations of election laws” over Michael Bloomberg’s decision to help pay felons’ fines, fees, and restitution to be eligible to vote in the state. The move comes two weeks before Florida’s voter registration deadline and 12 days after a federal appeals court upheld a restrictive new state law that requires former felons to clear court debts before registering to vote. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition set up a fund to help people pay their court debts. Bloomberg recently announced he helped the group raise $16 million. State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis asked the FEC to investigate whether Bloomberg is “breaking the law by giving direct cash for voters.”

Illinois Alderman Lavished with Cash, Luxury Trips by Program for Caribbean Med Students
Chicago Sun-Times – Tim Novak | Published: 9/18/2020

A Chicago doctor is suing his business partner, Theresa Shaw, accusing her of “looting” more than $3.7 million from their business to finance an “extravagant lifestyle” and to lavish Ald. George Cardenas with luxurious trips, an expensive watch, and a monthly stipend for consulting services. Cardenas had been hired to drum up business for Omni Medical Student Training, which places students from Caribbean medical schools in residency programs with Chicago hospitals. The alderman was not very successful in getting hospitals to sign up, though, according to the suit. City Hall Inspector General Joseph Ferguson questioned Siaw earlier this year as part of an investigation into Cardenas’ campaign finances.

Illinois Cook County Board of Ethics Appoints New Chair After Previous Two Ousted Amid Earlier Shakeups
Chicago Tribune – Alice Yin | Published: 9/17/2020

The board in charge of enforcing Cook County’s ethics ordinance ushered in a new chairperson, the third to hold the position this year after a series of recent shake-ups. Thomas Szromba, currently the longest serving of four members seated on the Cook County Ethics Board, was voted in without opposition. Szromba’s appointment came during the board’s first meeting since the pandemic and after Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle ousted the two previous chairs, Margaret Daley and Juliet Sorensen. Daley has said she wondered whether their attempts to roll out proposed reforms to the ethics ordinance irked Preckwinkle.

Illinois CUB’s ‘Conflict’: How a utility watchdog got millions from the utilities it watches
WBEZ – Dave McKinney and Dan Mihalopoulos | Published: 9/21/2020

After winning Illinois lawmakers’ support for a multibillion-dollar piece of legislation in 2016, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) decided to celebrate with a pair of invitation-only events. At the second, more exclusive soiree, ComEd’s retiring top lobbyist was being toasted for getting the bill passed and for a long career in and around state government. The guest list included executives from ComEd. There were also company lobbyists and House Speaker Michael Madigan, whose son was also invited. But there was another invitee who stood out. David Kolata and the organization he has led for 15 years, the Citizens Utility Board, are supposed to be thorns in the side of ComEd. But in 2016, Kolata’s consumer advocacy group instead sided with the power companies, enabling them to boost ratepayers’ electricity bills by billions of dollars over a decade to subsidize underperforming nuclear plants.

Illinois Former State Sen. Terry Link Pleads Guilty to Tax Evasion Charge in Federal Court
Chicago Tribune – Jason Meisner | Published: 9/16/2020

Former state Sen. Terry Link to pleaded guilty to a federal count of filing a false tax return, marking the latest conviction in a series of wide-ranging investigations against Illinois Democratic political leaders. While the felony conviction capped a swift fall from grace for Link, his case is far not over. It was reported Link agreed to wear a wire for the FBI in a bribery investigation of then-state Rep. Luis Arroyo in exchange for what Link hopes will be leniency at sentencing. Link’s plea agreement said he listed his 2016 income as $264,450 when in fact it was at least $358,000. It is unclear where Link’s income came from that year. Link and other lawmakers went much of that year without pay because then-state Comptroller Leslie Munger withheld their salaries amid the long-running budget standoff.

Kentucky Kentucky GOP Lawmaker Indicted on Assault, Accused of Strangling Woman with Ethernet Cable
Washington Post – Teo Armus | Published: 9/21/2020

As a freshman legislator, Kentucky Rep. Robert Goforth joined his colleagues to pass a bill that would make it easier to prosecute strangulation. That same bill, now a state law after it passed at the urging of domestic violence advocates, became a factor in his own case. A grand jury indicted Goforth, a former candidate for governor, on one count of first-degree strangulation and one count of assault. Earlier this year, a woman said Goforth strangled her with an ethernet cable to the point where she had trouble breathing and threatened to “hog tie” her, according to a police report.

Louisiana In Parting Shot, Resigning New Orleans IG Says Audubon Institute Possibly Made Unlawful Deals
Nola.com – Jessica Williams | Published: 9/18/2020

In one of the last reports of his career in New Orleans, Inspector General Derry Harper rapped the private Audubon Nature Institute for spending almost $1 million over two recent years in deals he said might be unlawful. Harper said the institute spent $416,000 on federal lobbying contracts, deals that could violate rules that he said bar agencies from using public dollars to influence politicians. Another $579,570 the institute paid to employees in commissions on top of their regular salaries could run afoul of state rules meant to prevent conflicts-of-interest.

Maryland Baltimore Could End Contract with Pugh-Connected Financier After IG Details Failure to Disclose Donations to Her
Baltimore Sun – Talia Richman | Published: 9/22/2020

Baltimore’s top lawyer will recommend the city consider ending its contract with Grant Capital Management after the city’s inspector general found troubling omissions in the company’s bid for a lucrative contract regarding founder J.P. Grant’s donations to former Mayor Catherine Pugh. The investigation was spurred by revelations about Grant’s role in Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” children’s book scandal. Grant wrote Pugh checks for $170,000, according to federal prosecutors, despite knowing she was illegally funneling the funds into her campaign and toward buying a bigger house. Grant Capital Management has an agreement to help city agencies pay for large contracts. The company quickly provides money upfront to pay for capital projects, with the city paying it back with interest over time.

Minnesota Preparing Minnesotans of Color to Wield More Power at the Capitol
MPR News – Melissa Townsend | Published: 9/22/2020

Aarcia Coleman was part of a surge in the number of Minnesotans of color running for elected office in August. Although she lost the primary, she credits a program with helping her prepare for her foray into politics and igniting a passion for influencing policy. Coleman graduated from the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation’s Community Equity Program, a free, nine-month program specifically for Black, Native American people, and people of color to get to know the lay of the land at the Capitol. Her cohort spent nearly a year getting to know their way around the buildings, the underground tunnel system, the policymaking protocols, and the culture of the place. By the end of the program, Coleman, who was seeking to be the first Black woman elected to the state Senate in its history, said she felt comfortable being in those halls of power.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’ Inaugural Nonprofit Has Dissolved. Where Did the Money Go?
Jacson Clarion-Ledger – Giacomo Bologna | Published: 9/23/2020

Less than a year after soliciting thousands of dollars from secret donors, the nonprofit that paid for the inauguration of Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has dissolved and it is unclear where its funds went. For All Mississippi’s filing documents show it was created for a political purpose – the 2020 inauguration of Reeves and his transition to office – but nonprofits are shielded from the normal disclosure laws for political organizations. There is no contribution cap, public disclosure of donors, and no public accounting of how the money was spent.

New Jersey Two NM Groups Pushed to Disclose Political Spending
Albuquerque Journal – Dan Boyd | Published: 9/21/2020

A group that sent out political advertisements targeting several progressive Democrats in the run-up to the June primary election has been ordered to disclose its donors. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver recently directed the Council for a Competitive New Mexico to make the disclosure within 10 days or face possible civil penalties. The group reported spending more than $134,000 on campaign mailers, radio ads, and phone calls in support of five incumbent Democratic senators, with some of that money also being spent on mailers that targeted four of their primary election opponents. But the Council for a Competitive New Mexico did not disclose its funding sources for the campaign-related expenditures, which is required in most cases under state law.

New York Judge: Eric Trump must give NY deposition before election
Associated Press News – Michael Sisak | Published: 9/23/2020

President Trump’s son Eric has until October 7 to speak to New York investigators probing his family’s business practices, a judge ruled rejecting his lawyers’ contention that his “extreme travel schedule” on the campaign trail warranted a delay until after the November election. State Judge Arthur Engoron said Eric Trump, an executive at the family’s Trump Organization, had no legal basis to postpone a subpoena seeking his deposition testimony under oath, concluding that neither the probe nor the court were “bound by the timelines of the national election.”

New York New York Ethics’ Panel Renews Search for a Leader
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 9/18/2020

After 15 months without an executive director, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) re-posted the job listing for the position, a sign the marathon search for a new top staffer is not yet close to a finish. In March, six JCOPE members called on the panel’s chairperson, Michael Rozen, to conduct a search for an “independent” executive director amid longstanding criticism the commission’s leadership and operations have been too closely aligned with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature. The last executive director, Seth Agata, was before his appointment a counsel to Cuomo.

New York Trump Could Be Investigated for Tax Fraud, D.A. Says for First Time
New York Times – Benjamin Weiser and William Rashbaum | Published: 9/21/2020

The Manhattan district attorney’s office, which has been locked in a legal battle with President Trump over obtaining his tax returns, suggested for the first time in a court filing that it had grounds to investigate him and his businesses for tax fraud. The filing by the office of the district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., offered rare insight into the office’s investigation of the president and his business dealings, which began more than two years ago. The inquiry has been stalled by the fight over a subpoena the office issued for eight years of Trump’s tax returns.

Ohio Dems Blast Bogus FirstEnergy PAC Campaign Report
Youngstown Business Journal – Staff | Published: 9/19/2020

FirstEnergy’s PAC wrote $158,000 worth of checks to Ohio politicians in the weeks before an FBI corruption probe was disclosed. But those checks were never sent, the company said. The contributions were detailed on an August 20 campaign finance report, but several politicians said they had no record of receiving the money. FirstEnergy spokesperson Jennifer Young said donations were made and recorded but were held “out of an abundance of caution” after the announcement of the investigation into Larry Householder and others. She said the checks are recorded in the PAC’s report once they are put into the accounting system to generate a check. Young said the PAC was catching up “after several months of limited contributions due to the lack of fundraising events during the coronavirus shutdown.”

Pennsylvania Alarm Grows Over ‘Naked Ballot’ Ruling in Pennsylvania
The Hill – Max Greenwood | Published: 9/22/2020

Pennsylvania election officials and voting rights advocates are sounding the alarm over a state Supreme Court ruling ordering officials to toss out “naked ballots,” warning the decision could cause widespread voter disenfranchisement and a legal controversy following the November elections. The ruling on so-called naked ballots – mail ballots returned to election offices without an inner secrecy envelope – carries potentially sweeping electoral ramifications for a state that President Trump won in 2016 by only 44,000 votes and that Joe Biden now sees as a critical part of his path to the White House.

Pennsylvania Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules Green Party Will Not Appear on State’s 2020 General Election Ballot
ABC News – Alicia Weirsema | Published: 9/17/2020

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the Green Party presidential ticket would not be included on the state’s general election ballot this year. The move comes three days after the Wisconsin Supreme Court similarly decided Howie Hawkins and his running mate, Angela Walker, would not be on their state’s ballot. Hawkins and Walker were replacing another set of Green Party candidates on the ticket, but the submitted documents for the initial candidates’ filing were inadequate which ultimately barred those candidates, and their replacements, from appearing on the ballot. The ruling clears the way for Pennsylvania officials to begin certifying ballots, which they previously were unable to do due to a lack of a finalized candidate list. Once the ballots are certified, they can be printed and disseminated to voters across the state.

South Carolina Wearing Masks at the SC Capitol Is Required, but Many Found a Way Around the Order
Charlotte Observer – Maayan Schechter | Published: 9/20/2020

Anyone who enters a state government building in South Carolina is required to wear a mask. But inside the state’s top government building, lawmakers and members of the public flouted the rule recently. Though Gov. Henry McMaster’s authority does not extend into chambers, protesters without masks inside told statehouse security they could not wear a mask, invoking the health exemption in the governor’s order. One lawmaker repeatedly coughed into a tissue, her mask cradling her chin, as others observed, and a handful of other lawmakers walked around their respective chambers without any masks on at all. Security and law enforcement watched, unable to take any action.

Virginia Virginia Legislator Who Tested Positive for Coronavirus Warned His Church, but House Colleagues Say They Weren’t Informed
Washington Post – Laura Vozzella | Published: 9/22/2020

The day after Thomas Wright Jr. tested positive for the coronavirus, his office sent an email to Victoria Christian Church, warning fellow worshipers the Virginia delegate might have unwittingly exposed them. But House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn said neither Wright nor his office officially notified his fellow legislators, who had met with him a week earlier when the House convened for one day in a basketball arena before moving the rest of a special legislative session to an online format.

Washington DC D.C. Official Who Sought Howard Job After Negotiating a Tax Break for School Fined $2,500
Washington Post – Fenit Nirappil | Published: 9/21/2020

A former high-ranking District of Columbia government official was fined $2,500 by the city ethics board for his involvement in legislation providing a $225 million tax break for Howard University on the same day he discussed taking a job at the university. Former city administrator Rashad Young “inadvertently committed a technical violation” of the ethics code when he rejected amendments to increase the tax break hours after the university president spoke to him about creating a job for him, according to the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. The board found it was inappropriate for Young to be involved in matters at all while in active job discussions with the university. But his actions did not benefit Howard in its bid to build a university hospital with taxpayer support.

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September 24, 2020 •

Thursday’s LobbyComply News Roundup

Campaign Finance New Jersey: “Two NM Groups Pushed to Disclose Political Spending” by Dan Boyd for Albuquerque Journal Elections National: “How Republicans Are Trying to Use the Green Party to Their Advantage” by Maggie Haberman, Danny Hakim, and Nick Corasaniti […]

Campaign Finance

New Jersey: “Two NM Groups Pushed to Disclose Political Spending” by Dan Boyd for Albuquerque Journal

Elections

National: “How Republicans Are Trying to Use the Green Party to Their Advantage” by Maggie Haberman, Danny Hakim, and Nick Corasaniti for New York Times

National: “The Russian Trolls Have a Simpler Job Today. Quote Trump.” by David Sanger and Zolan Kanno-Youngs for New York Times

Florida: “Bloomberg Raises $16 Million to Help Florida Felons Pay Fines to Vote in November” by Stephanie Ruhle and Julia Jester for NBC News

Pennsylvania: “Alarm Grows Over ‘Naked Ballot’ Ruling in Pennsylvania” by Max Greenwood for The Hill

Ethics

National: “Pentagon Used Taxpayer Money Meant for Masks and Swabs to Make Jet Engine Parts and Body Armor” by Aaron Gregg and Yeganeh Torboti (Washington Post) for MSN

Maryland: “Baltimore Could End Contract with Pugh-Connected Financier After IG Details Failure to Disclose Donations to Her” by Talia Richman for Baltimore Sun

Virginia: “Virginia Legislator Who Tested Positive for Coronavirus Warned His Church, but House Colleagues Say They Weren’t Informed” by Laura Vozzella for Washington Post

Lobbying

Alaska: “In Secret Tapes, Mine Executives Detail Their Sway Over leaders from Juneau to the White House” by Juliet Eilperin (Washington Post) for MSN

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September 23, 2020 •

Wednesday’s LobbyComply News Roundup

Campaign Finance Alabama: “Former Alabama Sen. David Burkette Gets Probation, $3K Fine in Campaign Finance Case” by Brad Harper for Montgomery Advertiser California: “San Bernardino to Cap Campaign Contributions at $4,700 Per Individual Per Election” by Brian Whitehead for San […]

Campaign Finance

Alabama: “Former Alabama Sen. David Burkette Gets Probation, $3K Fine in Campaign Finance Case” by Brad Harper for Montgomery Advertiser

California: “San Bernardino to Cap Campaign Contributions at $4,700 Per Individual Per Election” by Brian Whitehead for San Bernardino Sun

Elections

National: “Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Death Brings New Uncertainty to the Battle Over Voting Rights in 2020” by Elise Viebeck and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) for MSN

Ethics

National: “DeVos Under Investigation for Potentially Violating Hatch Act Because of Fox News Interview” by Daniel Lippman and Michael Stratford for Politico

New York: “Trump Could Be Investigated for Tax Fraud, D.A. Says for First Time” by Benjamin Weiser and William Rashbaum for New York Times

Washington DC: “D.C. Official Who Sought Howard Job After Negotiating a Tax Break for School Fined $2,500” by Fenit Nirappil for Washington Post

Legislative Issues

Minnesota: “Preparing Minnesotans of Color to Wield More Power at the Capitol” by Melissa Townsend for MPR News

Lobbying

National: “Behind Trump’s Turkish ‘Bromance’: Lev Parnas, oligarchs and a lucrative lobbying deal” by Aubrey Belford, Adam Klasfeld, Andrew Lehren, and Dan De Luce for NBC News

Illinois: “CUB’s ‘Conflict’: How a utility watchdog got millions from the utilities it watches” by Dave McKinney and Dan Mihalopoulos for WBEZ

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