September 4, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – September 4, 2020

News You Can Use


1 Million Primary Ballots Were Mailed Late, Postal Service Watchdog Says
MSN – Luke Broadwater (New York Times) | Published: 9/1/2020

More than one million mail-in ballots were sent late to voters during the 2020 primary elections, underscoring concerns about whether the agency has the ability to process what is expected to be a major increase in mail-in votes for the presidential election in November. In a survey of mail-in ballots sent during primaries from June 2 to August 13, the agency’s inspector general found election boards across the country had sent more than one million ballots during the final week of the election, putting those votes at “high risk” of not making it back to officials in time to be counted. Hundreds of ballots were mailed after elections were over, meaning they could not be counted, and only a small percentage used the proper tracking procedures, the audit found.

As Clashes Between Armed Groups and Leftist Protesters Turn Deadly, Police Face Complaints of Tolerating Vigilantes
MSN – Joshua Partlow and Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 8/30/2020

As protesters march against racism and police violence in cities and towns across the nation, they are being confronted by groups of armed civilians who claim to be assisting and showing support for police battered and overwhelmed by the protests. The confrontations have left at least three people dead in recent days. The incidents have drawn complaints that local authorities abetted the violence by tolerating the presence of these self-appointed enforcers with no uniforms, varied training, and limited accountability. The stated motives of these vigilante actors, who are virtually indistinguishable from one another once massed on the streets, range from protecting storefronts and free speech to furthering White supremacy and fomenting civil war.

As Trump Appointees Flout the Hatch Act, Civil Servants Who Get Caught Get Punished
MSN – Lisa Rein (Washington Post) | Published: 8/28/2020

The Hatch Act, the anti-corruption law Congress passed in 1939, applies on paper at least to civil servants and political appointees alike. But the top Trump administration officials showcased in prime-time appearances and speaking slots at the Republican National Convention serve as a reminder that when it comes to flouting the separation between governing and politicking, there appears to be a two-tiered system of consequences. Special Counsel Henry Kerner, who was appointed by President Trump, cited at least nine high-level Trump appointees for abusing their government roles to further the president’s reelection or disparage his rivals. They have largely thumbed their noses at the law. Career employees, meanwhile, have faced warning letters, reprimands, suspensions without pay and, in extreme cases, been fired and debarred from returning to government.

Barr Tightens Rules on Surveillance of Political Candidates and Advisers
Washington Post – Devlin Barrett | Published: 9/1/2020

Attorney General William Barr imposed new rules tightening the use of government surveillance on political candidates or their staffers, a move likely to cheer conservatives who have long criticized how the FBI investigated the Trump campaign in 2016. Barr said before the FBI and Justice Department seek a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to secretly monitor the communications of an elected official, a declared political candidate, or any of their staff and advisers, officials must first consider warning that person foreign governments may be targeting them, and if they choose not to give such a warning, the FBI director must spell out in writing the reasons for not doing so.

D.C. Circuit Panel Guts House Subpoena Power
Politico – Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney | Published: 8/31/2020

A divided federal appeals court panel dealt a blow to the U.S. House’s investigative power, ruling the House cannot go to court to enforce subpoenas because there is no statute giving that chamber the authority to do so. The ruling marked the second time a District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals panel essentially voided a subpoena the House issued last year to Donald McGahn demanding the former White House counsel testify about his dealings with President Trump related to the investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. If the decision stands, it could cripple the House’s ability to demand information from sources unwilling to give it up readily.

Election Security Officials See No Sign of Foreign Threat to Mail-In Voting
MSN – Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 8/26/2020

Foreign governments such as Russia and China continue to try to interfere in the upcoming U.S. election, but officials have seen no evidence of countries trying to manipulate or manufacture mail-in ballots, officials said. Federal authorities are ramping up their efforts to keep state and local election systems secure, particularly in light of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race, which led to criticism the government had been slow and soft in its response. Those assurances are in contrast to statements by President Trump, who has repeatedly argued mail-in voting is so ripe for abuse that he would block additional funds for the U.S. Postal Service to handle a surge in mail ballots this year.

Facebook Will Block New Political Advertising the Week Before Election Day
Washington Post – Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg | Published: 9/3/2020

Facebook announced it would ban new political advertisements from its platform in the week leading up to the November election. The move to limit ads, part of a spate of election-related announcements, is an attempt to reduce misinformation that is expected to flood social networks as Election Day draws near. The company also said it would label posts by any candidate or campaign that tries to declare victory before the results are in, directing people to the official results from Reuters. It will do the same for any posts that try to delegitimize the outcome of the election. It has also started to limit users’ ability to forward articles on its Messenger platform to large groups of people.

Homeland Security Blocked Warnings of Russian Campaign Against Biden
New York Times – Zolan Kanno-Youngs | Published: 9/2/2020

The Department of Homeland Security declined to publish a July 9 intelligence document that warns of Russian attempts to denigrate Joe Biden’s mental health, prompting new scrutiny of political influence at the department. Before the bulletin was distributed, senior Homeland Security officials intervened to halt publication. U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson asked the inspector general for the department to review the matter. The department’s leaders and its intelligence office have already attracted criticism for appearing to shape decisions around the political whims of the White House, such as actions at the U.S.-Mexican border and the deployment of tactical teams to Portland and Washington, D.C., against the wishes of local governments.

How Trump’s Company Charged the U.S. Government More Than $900,000
Seattle Times – David Fahrenthold, Josh Dawsey, and Joshua Partlow (Washington Post) | Published: 8/27/2020

Donald Trump has now visited his own properties 270 times as president, according to a Washington Post tally. Through these trips, he has brought the Trump Organization a stream of private revenue from federal agencies and Republican campaign groups. Federal spending records show taxpayers have paid Trump’s businesses more than $900,000 since he took office. New documents give more detail about how the Trump Organization charged the Secret Service – a kind of captive customer, required to follow Trump everywhere. In addition to rentals at Mar-a-Lago, the Trump Organization charged daily “resort fees” to Secret Service agents guarding Vice President Pence in Las Vegas and in another instance asked agents to pay a $1,300 “furniture removal charge” during a presidential visit to a Trump resort in Scotland.

Inside Trump’s Pressure Campaign on Federal Scientists Over a Covid-19 Treatment
MSN – Laurie McGinley, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Josh Dawsey, and Carolyn Johnson (Washington Post) | Published: 8/31/2020

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made a series of missteps recently, following flip-flops earlier this year on authorizing and then revoking clearance for the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and its initial decision not to regulate Covid-19 antibody tests. It also feeds a long-running narrative of a White House repeatedly undermining its health and science experts, not just at the FDA but also at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “I’ve been following health regulatory decisions for decades and have never seen this amount of White House arm twisting to force agencies … to make decisions based on political pressure, rather than the best science,” said Jerome Avorn, a professor at Harvard Medical School.

Justice Department Zeroing in On Longtime GOP Fundraiser Elliott Broidy
Washington Post – Matt Zapotosky, Carol Leonnig, and Rosalind Helderman | Published: 9/1/2020

Republican fundraiser Elliot Broidy is under scrutiny for his alleged role in a campaign to persuade high-level Trump administration officials to drop an investigation of Malaysian government corruption, as well as for his attempt to push for the extradition of a Chinese dissident back to his home country. He has been in discussions with the Justice Department and could ultimately reach a plea deal in connection with efforts to influence the U.S. government on behalf of foreign interests. After the 2016 election, Broidy served as a national deputy finance chairperson for the Republican National Committee. He resigned in the wake of a report he had paid a woman $1.6 million in exchange for her silence about a sexual affair. Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen helped arrange the settlement, Broidy acknowledged.

Michael Flynn Case Does Not Have to Be Immediately Dismissed, Appeals Court Rules
Washington Post – Ann Marimow and Spencer Hsu | Published: 8/31/2020

A federal judge can scrutinize the Justice Department’s decision to drop the criminal case against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, allowing the legal saga to continue. The decision from the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit gives U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan the go-ahead to question prosecutors’ unusual move to dismiss Flynn’s case ahead of sentencing. Flynn twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts before Trump took office in 2017. The decision by the full court reverses a ruling by a three-judge panel that ordered Sullivan to close the case. Judge Thomas Griffith said it would be premature for the appeals court to intervene and force Sullivan’s hand before he had rendered a decision.

Postal Chief DeJoy Has Long Leveraged Connections, Dollars
Associated Press News – Matthew Daly, Brian Slodysko, and Anthony Izaguirre | Published: 8/30/2020

How Louis DeJoy was hired as postmaster general is among the questions Congress is trying to unravel as lawmakers scrutinize a series of operational changes at the Postal Service that have resulted in widespread mail delays and fears the agency will not be able to handle an expected surge in mail-in ballots this fall as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Trump administration denies any impropriety in the selection of DeJoy, a former supply chain chief executive who is the first postmaster general in nearly two decades not to be a career postal employee. DeJoy’s prolific giving to organizations and Republican candidates, including $1.2 million to President Trump, has also drawn a spotlight to the transactional appearance of some of his contributions.

PPP Loans Helped Out Congressional Spouses’ Workplaces
Roll Call – Chris Marquette | Published: 8/28/2020

The Paycheck Protection Program is not accepting loan applications anymore, but the extent to which members of Congress and their families benefited from it continues to roll in. The law firm where U.S. Rep. Martha Roby’s husband works – and engages in a 401(k) profit sharing plan at the firm worth up to $1.8 million – received a loan between $5-$10 million. Conflict-of-interest prohibitions do not apply to the Paycheck Protection Program, a component of the $2 trillion CARES Act. As such, members of Congress and their families are allowed to get Paycheck – Protection Program relief, an effort they helped pass into law.

Top Lobbying, Public Affairs Firms Join to Form Holding Company
Bloomberg Law – Megan Wilson | Published: 8/28/2020

Five lobbying and public affairs firms have set up their own holding company, an unconventional partnership in the influence industry that allows them to expand their businesses while remaining independent. The Public Policy Holding Company will specialize in advocacy and is owned by the participating firms, a contrast to the more common practice of massive multinationals gobbling up K Street firms. The benefits for the firms include being able to offer clients a suite of lobbying, public affairs, and state-level advocacy without sacrificing their individual brands or businesses.


Canada Montreal-Based Ventilation Company Becomes Fourth Company Banned from Federal Contracts for 10 Years
National Post – Christopher Nardi | Published: 9/1/2020

For the first time in four years, the federal government added a new company to its blacklist of suppliers. Les Industries Garanties Limitée is banned from bidding on federal contracts for a decade after an employee admitting bid-rigging in 2017. The company, which bills itself as “Montreal’s largest and most innovative leader in air conditioning services for commercial, industrial, residential and institutional sectors,” is only the fourth company to be deemed ineligible for federal contracts or real property agreements under the Integrity Regime. The regime aims to weed out and sanction any potential federal supplier who has been convicted of certain crimes, such as bribery, bid-rigging, or illegal lobbying.

From the States and Municipalities

Alabama AG: Time for former Alabama speaker to go to prison
Associated Press News – Kim Chandler | Published: 8/31/2020

The Alabama Supreme Court refused to reverse its decision upholding much of the 2016 ethics conviction of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, and the state attorney general said it is time for the once-powerful Republican to report to prison. The court this spring overturned five of the counts in Hubbard’s ethics convictions while upholding six others. Prosecutors accused Hubbard of leveraging his powerful public office to obtain clients and investments for his businesses. His defense lawyers maintained the transactions were all aboveboard.

Arizona Charity Founded by Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb Has $18,000 in Unaccounted Spending
Arizona Republic – Andrew Oxford | Published: 8/31/2020

A charity founded by Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb reported raising more than $50,000 during its first year in operation but has not reported how it spent a single penny during that time. Instead, tax filings by the American Sheriff Foundation are largely blank, leave at least $18,000 unaccounted for, and do not disclose business relationships between board members that must be reported to the IRS. While the organization touts itself as building bridges between community and law enforcement, records obtained by The Arizona Republic leave unclear how much money the foundation is spending on charity and where the rest of its funds are going.

Arkansas 2 Measures Kicked Off State Ballot
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – John Moritz | Published: 8/28/2020

The Arkansas Supreme Court removed a pair of proposed changes to the state constitution from the November ballot, halting attempts to enact ranked-choice voting and a new method for drawing legislative and congressional districts. The court disqualified both measures on technical grounds, finding fault with the wording the groups behind the measures used to certify their paid canvassers met all the requirements to collect signatures. Arkansas Voters First and Open Primaries Arkansas wrote in submissions they “acquired ” criminal background checks for each of their canvassers. Secretary of State John Thurston’s office, however, said the groups needed to certify that the canvassers “passed” the background checks.

California Biden-Linked Firm Won California Voter Outreach Contract
Associated Press News – Kathleen Ronayne and Chris Blood | Published: 8/27/2020

The California agency that oversees elections has signed a $35 million contract with a firm linked to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign to produce advertising to encourage voters to participate in the November election. Under the contract, SKD Knickerbocker, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm, will help run the “Vote Safe California” campaign, which will urge people to vote during the pandemic. Anita Dunn, the firm’s managing director, is a senior strategist for Biden’s presidential campaign. The firm’s work for Biden is highlighted on its website, with a headline saying the company is “proud to be a part of Team Biden.”

California He Paved the Way for Big Electronic Billboards. Then $75,000 Poured in for His Reelection
Los Angeles Times – David Zahniser and Emily Alpert Reyes | Published: 8/30/2020

When a real estate developer proposed a $1.2-billion skyscraper near downtown Los Angeles, city council member Curren Price stepped forward to champion the project, despite warnings it would accelerate gentrification in the area. Price urged his colleagues to approve the development in 2016, saying it would create hundreds of jobs. He also ensured that developer Ara Tavitian received permission to install three digital billboards on a 12-story building already located on the site, over objections from city planning commissioners. Months later, three of Tavitian’s real estate companies poured $75,000 into a PAC working to reelect Price.

Connecticut Connecticut Judge: Public campaign grants can pay for child care
Connecticut Post – Emilie Munson | Published: 8/28/2020

A Connecticut judge ruled candidates for elected office can use public campaign funding to pay for childcare while they are campaigning, clearing the way for more parents to run for office in the state. The plaintiff, Caitlin Clarkson Pereira ran for state representative in 2018. The state agency that oversees campaign finance laws rebuked her attempt to use public election grants to cover childcare. The grants can be used to pay for travel and other expenses produced by a campaign.

Georgia State Ethics Commission Says Atlanta Mayor Not Cooperating with Election Investigation
WSB – Richard Belcher | Published: 9/2/2020

The fallout from a long and expensive 2017 Atlanta mayor’s race is still being felt some three years later as ethics investigations dog the participants. In August, the Georgia’s ethics commission fined the losing candidate, Mary Norwood, $27,000 which she immediately paid off. But the commission said Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is not cooperating with its investigation into hundreds of thousands of dollars in suspected illegal campaign contributions. The commission notified Bottoms this past December they found evidence of nearly $400,000 of financial irregularities within the campaign.

Illinois Former Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski Admits to Bribery and Extortion
WBEZ – Dan Mihalopoulos | Published: 9/1/2020

Jeff Tobolski, a former Cook County commissioner and mayor, admitted he took “multiple extortion and bribe payments” worth a total of more than $250,000. He admitted conspiring with an unnamed McCook police officer to get cash payments from a restaurant owner in exchange for giving permission to the business to sell liquor. Media reports said a factory owner in Tobolski’s county board district felt pressured to give a campaign contribution to the commission while the businessperson’s application for a county property-tax break was pending. In one email, Tobolski said the tool-and-die business should contribute campaign cash annually and budget for the expense as if it were a “fixed cost” of doing business in his district.

Illinois Former SafeSpeed Executive Who Wore FBI Wire Charged with Bribery Conspiracy Involving Oak Lawn Red-Light Camera Scheme
Chicago Tribune – Jason Meisner | Published: 8/31/2020

Federal prosecutors charged a central figure in their ongoing corruption probe in Chicago involving red-light camera company SafeSpeed. The one-count criminal information alleges Omar Maani, who was co-owner of the company, conspired with Patrick Doherty, who has worked as a paid consultant for SafeSpeed, and another sales agent for the company to pay $4,000 in bribes to pay off the relative of an Oak Lawn trustee to expand the number of red-light cameras there. To hide the purpose of the bribes, the money would come from a company where Doherty was a manager. Maani’s cooperation with federal authorities already has led to charges against a number of politicians and power players, including then-Illinois Sen. Martin Sandoval.

Illinois Naperville Council Member Proposes Ethics Policy to Limit Influence of Campaign Donations on City Business
Chicago Tribune – Erin Hegarty (Naperville Sun) | Published: 9/2/2020

Naperville City Councilperson Theresa Sullivan requested the city look into whether it could enforce stricter ethics policies to keep campaign donations from influencing city council votes. Sullivan proposed city staff research amending Naperville’s ethics code to require council members and the mayor to recuse themselves from voting on an agenda item if the petitioner, or a representative of the petitioner, donated more than $500 to the mayor or council member’s most recent campaign.

Indiana Whiting Mayor, Wife Pulled $255K from Campaign to Fuel Gambling Habit, Pay Credit Card Debt, Feds Say
Northwest Indiana Times – Lauren Cross | Published: 8/27/2020

Longtime Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura illegally spent $255,000 in campaign money to fuel his and his wife’s gambling habits, pay down debts, and support his adult daughter, federal prosecutors said in announcing felony charges against him. Diane Stahura transferred money from the campaign committee’s bank account to the Stahuras’ personal bank account, authorities said. Prosecutors said Joe Stahura filed a false tax return in 2019, falsely listing his gross income and not accounting for $51,480 stolen from the campaign account in 2018. Additionally, on his campaign finance report he overstated the loan repayment amount to his campaign by approximately $40,000, prosecutors said.

Iowa Judge Voids 50,000 Absentee Ballot Requests in Iowa County
Associated Press News – Ryan Foley | Published: 8/28/2020

A judge ordered an Iowa county to invalidate 50,000 requests for absentee ballots, agreeing with President Trump’s campaign that its elections commissioner overstepped his authority by pre-filling them with voters’ personal information. Judge Ian Thornhill issued a temporary injunction ordering Linn County Auditor Joel Miller to notify voters in writing the forms should not have been pre-filled with their information and cannot be processed. Instead, they will have to either fill out new requests for absentee ballots or vote on Election Day. Republicans said the ruling would hold a “rogue auditor” accountable and enhance voting security, while Democrats called it an act of voter suppression.

Kentucky Kentucky’s New Election Finance Reporting System Plagued with More Delays
Louisville Courier-Journal – Joe Sonka | Published: 8/28/2020

When it passed a law in 2019 requiring candidates and committees to file their campaign finance reports electronically, the Kentucky General Assembly was aiming for increased transparency. The new system would let taxpayers know as soon as possible who was contributing to whom. The law went into effect this year, but so far has fallen short of that aim. The system delays run counter to the essential mission of the agency, providing timely transparency on who is bankrolling political campaigns. It makes any major financial push by special interest groups difficult to detect.

Missouri Judges Redo Voter Summary of Missouri Redistricting Measure
Associated Press News – Summer Ballentine | Published: 8/31/2020

A Missouri appeals court panel rewrote a summary for voters describing a November ballot measure that would revamp the state’s model for drawing fair and competitive legislative districts. The Legislature’s combined the redistricting changes with popular measures to lower campaign contribution limits and restrict lobbyist gifts to lawmakers. “We believe that voters need to be informed that they are being asked to reconsider, and substantially modify, a measure which they only recently approved,” according to the ruling written by Judge Alok Ahuja.

Montana COPP Dismisses Complaints Against Bullock, Warns of Fees for Future Faulty Claims
Great Falls Tribune – Phil Drake | Published: 8/28/2020

The Montana Commissioner of Political Practices dismissed two complaints filed by the state Republican Party against Gov. Steve Bullock, saying they did not meet ethics code violations. In one case, Commissioner Jeff Mangan warned that ethics complaints, with and without basis in law and fact, are on a “steep rise” and he will begin charging complaints when cases fail to meet legal standards. He said conclusory statements, assumptions, or opinions are not enough to support a proceeding under the ethics code.

Montana Judge Upholds Montana Political Spending Disclosure Rule
Associated Press News – Amy Beth Hanson | Published: 8/31/2020

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Lovell upheld Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s executive order that requires companies to report political spending if they want to bid on large state contracts. Lovell ruled the Illinois Opportunity Project does not have the legal standing to challenge the order, which requires reporting of contributions even to “dark money” groups. Under Bullock’s order, companies submitting bids for contracts valued at more than $25,000 for services or $50,000 for goods must disclose two years’ worth of political spending if it exceeds $2,500.

New York Court Shields Trump Tax Returns, Likely Until After Election
ABC News – Michael Sisak (Associated Press) | Published: 9/1/2020

A federal appeals court granted President Trump a temporary reprieve in the fight over his tax returns, barring Manhattan’s top prosecutor from getting the records while Trump’s lawyers embark on another bid to overturn the subpoena seeking them. With a temporary stay in place and Trump expecting a return to the U.S. Supreme Court, it is unlikely the case will be resolved or any tax returns will be turned over before the November election. A lawyer for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office argued further delays to the enforcement of a subpoena issued nearly a year ago would only hamper their investigation, which he said covers a wide range of business dealings connected to the Trump Organization.

Ohio FirstEnergy, Caught Up in FBI Investigation, Used Its ‘Political Might’ to Pressure the Ohio Statehouse
MSN – John Caniglia (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 8/27/2020

Interviews and a review of hundreds of pages of court documents and campaign finance reports, show FirstEnergy and its affiliates have used an army of lobbyists, lawyers, and consultants, as well as political contributions, to pressure Ohio lawmakers to get what they want when they want it. The companies have used a rough-and-tumble political style to gain legislators’ support through fear or favor, according to interviews and court records. The tactics have sought to mold even the most independent lawmakers into compliant followers. The strategy became clear when the racketeering indictment of Former Speaker Larry Householder and four associates linked to House Bill 6 underscored the political influence of FirstEnergy and its former subsidiary, FirstEnergy Solutions.

Ohio Ohio Elections Commission Fines Anti-Nuclear Bailout Campaign Group for Not Disclosing Donors
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Andrew Tobias | Published: 8/27/2020

The Ohio Elections Commission fined the group behind the failed 2019 campaign to repeal House Bill 6, the nuclear bailout law, for failing to disclose who funded their efforts. Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts faces a fine of at least $5,225, or $25 for each day that has passed since a January 31 campaign finance deadline. Commission members approved the fine recommended by staff after the group failed to file a routine report detailing donors and campaign expenses. Particularly since House Bill 6 was implicated in a federal corruption investigation, advocates and state lawmakers have cited the fight over the bill in calls for reforms to increase transparency in Ohio’s campaign finance system.

Ohio Ohio Elections Commission to Consider 162 Campaign Finance Complaints Related to Larry Householder’s Campaign for Speaker
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Andrew Tobias | Published: 8/27/2020

Larry Householder and his allies committed dozens of violations of state campaign finance law, including bribery, while helping Householder become and retain his power as speaker of the House, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said. LaRose referred 162 elections complaints to the Elections Commission against Householder and four other men: his former top political aide Jeff Longstreth and lobbyists Matt Borges, Juan Cespedes, and Neil Clark. The alleged violations parallel a federal investigation, which has charged Householder and the others of accepting more than $60 million in bribes, funneled through a network of political groups, from FirstEnergy and its affiliates to help Householder get elected as speaker in 2019.

Ohio Ohio House Poised to Remove Householder from Legislative Ethics Panel Following Corruption Arrest
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Andrew Tobias | Published: 9/1/2020

The Ohio House is moving to remove state Rep. Larry Householder from his seat on a legislative ethics board, six weeks after Householder was arrested in a federal corruption probe. Republicans added language to an unrelated bill to make it possible to remove Householder from the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee (JLEC), which oversees lobbying and ethics rules for the Legislature. Householder had gotten an automatic seat on the JLEC board when he was speaker, and state law otherwise was designed to prevent removing a lawmaker once they are on.

Oregon Oregon Voters to Decide on Limitless Corporate Political Donations
Sludge – David Moore | Published: 8/30/2020

As the first state in the nation to adopt vote-by-mail and automatic voter registration, Oregon has built a reputation for high voter turnout. But while Oregon voters have their say at the ballot box, corporations have their say more frequently in the Legislature, by keeping the state’s politicians awash in campaign cash. Oregon is one of five states that lack any limits on campaign contributions made by corporations, and one of eleven that lack any limit on individual donations to a candidate. The result is the state is number one in per capita corporate political donations and sixth overall in total corporate political donations. Heading into the November election, a coalition of state groups is putting the issue of unlimited corporate money in state politics before voters in a ballot initiative that would amend the state constitution.

Virginia Virginia Agrees to Make Mail-In Voting Accessible to Blind Voters Who Sued
Washington Post – Meagan Flynn | Published: 9/1/2020

For vision-impaired voters in Virginia, there was no easy way to vote. They would either have to risk their health during a pandemic to vote in person or forgo voter privacy by asking someone to fill in the blanks on their mail-in ballot forms. Now, after the center and several other groups advocating for the blind filed a federal lawsuit, the Virginia Department of Elections has agreed to offer a new option. A consent decree will allow vision-impaired individuals to electronically receive mail-in ballots compatible with screen-reader assistive technology. The agreement applies only to the November 3 election.

Washington Washington One of the Few States Without a ‘Cooling Off’ Period for Public Servants Turned Lobbyists
Seattle Times – Joseph O’Connell and Patrick Malone | Published: 9/2/2020

Nearly one in five of Washington’s roughly 800 registered lobbyists previously worked in state government or elected office. That includes about 60 lobbyists who came from high-ranking public positions. They include former chiefs of staff of governors, Cabinet secretaries, and deputy directors for state agencies. Several are former state lawmakers or attorneys for the Legislature. Government-reform advocates say the “revolving door” creates the potential for powerful interests to influence public servants who could be in line to land a job outside government. Then, as lobbyists, former officials can use their extensive knowledge and contacts to potentially exercise outsized influence on policy and legislation.

West Virginia Lawsuit Reveals Lobbyist Drama
Wheeling News-Register – Steven Allen Adams | Published: 8/30/2020

Depositions filed in federal court revealed the internal drama behind the selection of standardized tests and the rivalry between the former state superintendent of schools and a lobbyist. It was a rivalry that spilled into social media with attacks on the West Virginia Department of Education, state education officials allegedly threatening one major testing supplier and even pressuring another testing supplier to hire their own lobbyist to “combat” and “neutralize” the other lobbyist. The lawsuit filed by lobbyist Jason Webb against Steve Paine, former state superintendent of schools, and Jan Barth, assistant superintendent for the Division of Teaching and Learning at the Department of Education, showcases the fight between two companies to become the state’s new standardized test.

October 1, 2020 •

Thursday’s LobbyComply News Roundup

Campaign Finance Arizona: “Court Reopens Door to ‘Dark Money’ in Arizona Political Races” by Howard Fischer (Capitol News Services) for Arizona Daily Star Rhode Island: “Judge Upholds R.I. Campaign Finance Law; Conservative Groups Appeal” by Patrick Anderson for Providence Journal […]

Campaign Finance

Arizona: “Court Reopens Door to ‘Dark Money’ in Arizona Political Races” by Howard Fischer (Capitol News Services) for Arizona Daily Star

Rhode Island: “Judge Upholds R.I. Campaign Finance Law; Conservative Groups Appeal” by Patrick Anderson for Providence Journal


Alaska: “Alaska Mining Executive Resigns a Day After Being Caught on Tape Boasting of His Ties to GOP Politicians” by Juliet Eilperin for Washington Post

California: “Lobbyist Pleads Guilty in LA City Hall Bribery Case” by City News Service for

Georgia: “Choudhary Sentenced to Jail for Bribing Atlanta Official to Win Airport Contract” by Everett Catts for Rome News-Tribune

Maryland: “HUD Inspectors Find Ben Carson’s Actions Didn’t Benefit Son in Baltimore Deals, but Had the ‘Appearance’ of Ethical Issues” by Meredith Cohen for Baltimore Sun

New York: “City Council Ethics Committee Moves to Expel Bronx Councilmember Andy King” by David Cruz for Gothamist


Europe: “Ethics Watchdog Seeks Stronger Powers to Police Rules Covering Public Officials” by Jack Horgan-Jones for Irish Times

National: “U.S. Chamber of Commerce Abruptly Ousts Top Political Consultant Scott Reed, Alleging Leaks” by Tom Hamburger for Washington Post

Illinois: “Former ComEd VP Pleads Guilty, Agrees to Cooperate with Feds in Bribery Case Orbiting House Speaker Michael Madigan” by Jason Meisner for Chicago Tribune

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September 30, 2020 •

Wednesday’s LobbyComply News Roundup

Campaign Finance Indiana: “Indiana Casino Executive Charged in Illegal Campaign Scheme” by John Davies for Associated Press News Elections National: “Trump Incessantly Interrupts and Insults Biden as They Spar in Acrimonious First Debate” by Anne Gearan, Philip Rucker, and Annie […]

Campaign Finance

Indiana: “Indiana Casino Executive Charged in Illegal Campaign Scheme” by John Davies for Associated Press News


National: “Trump Incessantly Interrupts and Insults Biden as They Spar in Acrimonious First Debate” by Anne Gearan, Philip Rucker, and Annie Linskey for Washington Post

National: “Courts View GOP Fraud Claims Skeptically as Democrats Score Key Legal Victories Over Mail Voting” by Elise Viebeck (Washington Post) for MSN

National: “Ransomware Attacks Take on New Urgency Ahead of Vote” by Nicole Perlroth and David Sanger (New York Times) for MSN

Florida: “Felon Voting: Forcing fees to be paid not an issue for some wealthy felons” by John Pacenti for Palm Beach Post

Ohio: “Ohio Republican Party Pulls Attack Ad After Realizing It Attacked the Wrong Person” by Andrew Tobias for Cleveland Plain Dealer


National: “Trump’s Debts and Foreign Deals Pose Security Risks, Former Intelligence Officials Say” by Greg Miller and Yeganeh Torboti (Washington Post) for MSN

National: “Michael Flynn Judge Emphasizes He Is Not a ‘Rubber Stamp’ in Justice Dept. Bid to Drop Prosecution” by Spencer Hsu and Ann Marimow for Washington Post


Florida: “JEA Bidder Florida Power and Light Discussed Donating to Charities Led by City Council Members” by Christopher Hong for Florida Times Union

Massachusetts: “Former Massachusetts Senate President Stanley Rosenberg Returns to Beacon Hill as Lobbyist” by Matt Murphy (State House News Service) for MSN

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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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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 […]


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 – 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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