June 1, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
Ethics National: “Pence Chief of Staff Owns Stocks That Could Conflict with Coronavirus Response” by Tim Mak for National Public Radio National: “Trump Signs Order That Could Punish Social Media Companies for How They Police Content, Drawing Criticism and Doubts […]
National: “Pence Chief of Staff Owns Stocks That Could Conflict with Coronavirus Response” by Tim Mak for National Public Radio
National: “Trump Signs Order That Could Punish Social Media Companies for How They Police Content, Drawing Criticism and Doubts of Legality” by Elizabeth Dwoskin and Tony Romm (Washington Post) for Seattle Times
California: “Corruption Probe Takes Down Another at LA City Hall” by Nathan Solis for Courthouse News Service
Colorado: “John Hickenlooper Must Testify in Ethics Hearing, Commission Rules” by Saja Hindi for Denver Post
Kentucky: “Beshear Makes Appointments to Executive Ethics Commission” by Staff for AP News
North Carolina: “A Confrontation Between NC Senators, a Police Report, and a Secretive Ethics Process” by Jessica Huseman (ProPublica) and Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan (Raleigh News and Observer) for MSN
Pennsylvania: “Pa. House Democrats Say They Were in the Dark for a Week About Republican’s Positive Coronavirus” by Julia Terruso (Philadelphia Inquirer) and Angela Couloumbis for Spotlight PA
National: “Veteran Lobbyists Flex Muscles in K Street’s New Normal” by Alex Gangitano for The Hill
Idaho: “Ada Co. GOP Chair Used Party Funds on Private Expense, Allowed Questionable Audit” by James Dawson for Boise State Public Radio
May 29, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
National/Federal ‘A Game-Changer’: Pandemic forces shift in black voter outreach Roll Call – Bridgett Bowman | Published: 5/21/2020 Success in November for Democrats may depend on turning out black voters, but a history of facing voter suppression has fueled skepticism among […]
‘A Game-Changer’: Pandemic forces shift in black voter outreach
Roll Call – Bridgett Bowman | Published: 5/21/2020
Success in November for Democrats may depend on turning out black voters, but a history of facing voter suppression has fueled skepticism among African Americans about voting by mail and a preference to vote in person. Strategies to ensure black turnout are being redrawn as Democratic groups and grassroots organizations test messages in real time to determine how best to educate African American voters reluctant about casting mail-in ballots and reassure them it is safe and secure. It is a three-front battle, playing out in the courts, in federal and state Legislatures, and on the campaign trail.
America’s Economic Pain Arrives on K Street
Politico – Theodoric Meyer and Daniel Lippman | Published: 5/23/2020
A recent survey conducted by the American Society of Association Executives – essentially a trade group for people who lead trade groups – found 35 percent of trade groups estimated they would lose at least a quarter of their revenue because of canceled events and conferences. The cuts have hit trade groups even as many of their lobbyists have been busier than ever, hustling to secure a piece of the trillions of dollars in coronavirus aid for their members. The cuts show Washington’s influence industry is not immune to the economic pain afflicting much of the rest of the country. While much of K Street has experienced a boom as companies have rushed to hire lobbyists to help them secure relief loans, others are hurting.
Appeals Court Denies Lobbyists’ Efforts to Access Small-Business Loan Program
The Hill – Harper Neidig | Published: 5/26/2020
A federal appeals court rejected an effort by a group of lobbyists and political consultants to obtain access to the Paycheck Protection Program and its emergency loans for small businesses hit by the coronavirus pandemic. A three-judge panel on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge’s decision not to grant a request by the American Association of Political Consultants for a preliminary injunction. The panel rejected the group’s argument that excluding lobbyists and political consultants from the loans violated the First Amendment.
Appeals Court Ruling Suggests Little Legal Traction for Trump’s Anti-Twitter Campaign
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 5/27/2020
A ruling that emerged from a federal appeals court recently is strong evidence the courts are unlikely to be receptive to President Trump’s claims that he and his political supporters are being silenced by social media platforms like Twitter. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a lawsuit the conservative legal organization Freedom Watch and right-wing provocateur Laura Loomer filed against four major technology companies: Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Apple. Platforms have banned Loomer, citing anti-Muslim statements. The appeals court judges said despite the companies’ power, they cannot violate the First Amendment because it regulates only governments, not the private sector.
As Residents Perish, Nursing Homes Fight for Protection from Lawsuits
Politico – Maggie Severns and Rachel Roubien | Published: 5/26/2020
As an unprecedented catastrophe unfolds in which more than 28,000 people have died of Covid-19 in care facilities, the nursing home industry is responding with an unprecedented action of its own: using its multi-million dollar lobbying machine to secure protections from liability in lawsuits. The industry is one of the lobbying world’s quiet powerhouses. The state actions came after it spent tens of millions of dollars in lobbying and other advocacy per year. At the federal level, the industry has spent more than $4 million on lobbying over the past year, employing more than a dozen full-time lobbyists and drawing on an army of contract lobbyists.
As Trump Removes Federal Watchdogs, Some Loyalists Replacing Them Have ‘Preposterous’ Conflicts
MSN – Lisa Rein and Tom Hamburger (Washington Post) | Published: 5/24/2020
For the first time since the system was created in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, inspectors general find themselves under systematic attack from the president, putting independent oversight of federal spending and operations at risk. Inspectors general, some in acting roles to begin with, have been fired and demoted with no notice, leaving their staffs in disarray, multiple inspectors general said. Adding to their alarm, several White House nominees awaiting Senate vetting for permanent roles do not meet traditional qualifications for the job. Some say the 40-year era of independent oversight of the executive branch is under threat more than ever.
‘Dark Money’ Groups Dodge Reporting Requirement in New Regulations
Politico – Toby Eckert | Published: 5/26/2020
The Treasury Department and IRS released final regulations under which certain tax-exempt groups will no longer be required to provide the names and addresses of major donors on annual returns filed with the IRS. The rules will affect groups organized under 501(c)(4) of the tax code. Those organizations have no legal obligation to publicly disclose their donors’ identities, but they previously had to give the IRS the names and addresses of donors who gave them more than $5,000. Under the new regulations, the groups will not have to provide the information to the IRS at all.
Facebook Ran Multi-Year Charm Offensive to Woo State Prosecutors
Bloomberg Law – Naomi Nix | Published: 5/27/2020
Facebook went to great lengths to develop friendly relationships with powerful state prosecutors who could use their investigative and enforcement powers in ways that could harm the company’s revenue growth. While state attorneys general are law enforcement officials, they are also politicians, and many see the post as a stepping-stone to higher office. Corporate lobbyists often donate to their campaigns and meet with them at legal conferences, while also pressing their case on state regulatory issues. In the end, the company’s charm offensive met with mixed results: most of those state attorneys general are now investigating Facebook for possible antitrust violations.
Horsford’s Extramarital Affair with Former Senate Staffer Shows How Narrow House Rules Are
Roll Call – Chris Marquette | Published: 5/21/2020
U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford had an extramarital affair with a former Senate intern spanning several years, an example that highlights how narrow the House prohibition against lawmakers sleeping with congressional staffers is. Gabriela Linder said the affair began in 2009 and continued sporadically until 2019. When they met, Horsford was a state senator in Nevada; Linder worked as an intern for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Horsford did not begin his first stint representing Nevada’s 4th Congressional District until 2013, after Linder stopped working for Reid. If Horsford were to have had a sexual relationship with Linder while he was a member of Congress and she was working in the Senate, although there is no indication he did, it would have been permissible under House rules.
Justice Dept. Ends Inquiries Into 3 Senators’ Stock Trades
New York Times – Katie Benner and Nicholas Fandos | Published: 5/26/2020
The Justice Department notified U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler, James Inhofe, and Dianne Feinstein it will not pursue insider trading charges against them after an investigation into stock transactions from the early days of the coronavirus pandemic did not find sufficient evidence that they had broken the law. All three had sold substantial amounts of stock when lawmakers were being briefed on the coronavirus threat but before the pandemic began roiling financial markets or was fully understood by the public. Law enforcement officials appear to still be investigating Sen. Richard Burr, whose own stock sales have drawn scrutiny from the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission.
Lawmakers Press GSA on Trump Hotel’s Request for Financial Relief During Pandemic
Government Executive – Ccourtney Buble | Published: 5/19/2020
House Democrats are pressing the General Services Administration (GSA) for information on the Trump Organization’s request for rent relief during the pandemic for its hotel in a federally leased building. The Trump Organization, for which President Trump’s sons run the daily operations, asked the GSA to treat it like other federal tenants and provide financial relief during the pandemic. Following the news about the request for financial relief, two House committees pressed the GSA for information on the potential conflict-of-interest. The lawmakers said the president is “serving as both tenant and landlord” for the hotel. They also pointed out the hotel is banned from receiving relief loans from the CARES Act under a conflict-of-interest provision.
Lobbyist Register to Be Tightened After Monsanto Case
EU Observer – Nikolaj Nielson | Published: 5/27/2020
Updated European Union (EU) transparency rules set for the end of this year means lobbyists will have to declare much more accurate, and thus likely larger, figures on what they spend to influence decision-making. The EU’s joint transparency register is shared between the European Commission and the European Parliament and lists thousands of entities that work to influence EU legislation. The authority that oversees the register recently announced in a letter it would impose clearer rules to make sure lobbyists do not skirt their reporting obligations.
Republicans Sue Pelosi to Block House Proxy Voting During Pandemic
New York Times – Nicholas Fandos and Michael Schmidt | Published: 5/26/2020
Republican leaders sued Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top congressional officials to block the U.S. House from using a proxy voting system set up by Democrats to allow for remote legislating during the coronavirus pandemic, calling it unconstitutional. Republicans argued new rules allowing lawmakers to vote from afar during the coronavirus outbreak would be the end of Congress as it was envisioned by the nation’s founders. The lawsuit will face an uphill battle in the courts, where judges have been reluctant to second-guess Congress’s ability to set its own rules. But it fits into a broader push by Republicans to put a cloud of suspicion over Democratic efforts to find alternative ways to vote during the pandemic, both in the House and in elections across the country.
Trump Pushes a Conspiracy Theory That Falsely Accuses a TV Host of Murder
MSN – Peter Baker and Maggie Astor (New York Times) | Published: 5/26/2020
President Trump smeared a prominent television host from the Rose Garden with an unfounded allegation of murder. Trump all but accused Joe Scarborough, a former Republican member of Congress who now hosts the MSNBC show “Morning Joe,” of killing a staff member in 2001 even though he was 800 miles away at the time and the police ruled her death an accident. The president’s charge amplified a series of Twitter messages in recent days that have anguished the family of Lori Klausutis, who died when she suffered a heart condition that caused her to fall and hit her head on a desk. Trump doubled down on the false accusation even after Timothy Klausutis pleaded unsuccessfully for Twitter to take down the posts about his late wife because they were causing her family such pain.
Twitter Labels Trump’s Tweets with a Fact Check for the First Time
MSN – Elizabeth Dwoskin (Washington Post) | Published: 5/26/2020
For the first time, Twitter called tweets from Donald Trump “potentially misleading,” a decision that prompted the president to accuse the company of election meddling. Twitter highlighted two of Trump’s tweets that falsely claimed mail-in ballots would lead to widespread voter fraud, appending a message the company introduced to combat misinformation and disputed or unverified claims. It linked to a fact-check page filled with further links and summaries of news articles debunking the assertion. Twitter, which has long grappled with how to address Trump’s tweets, may now find itself under even greater pressure than before to act in a consistent and transparent manner.
Wealthiest Hospitals Got Billions in Bailout for Struggling Health Providers
MSN – Jesse Drucker, Jessica Silver-Greenberg, and Sara Kliff (New York Times) | Published: 5/24/2020
The Providence Health System, one of the country’s largest and richest hospital chains, received at least $509 million in government funds, one of many wealthy beneficiaries of a federal program that is supposed to prevent health care providers from capsizing during the coronavirus pandemic. The Department of Health and Human Services has disbursed $72 billion in grants since April to hospitals and other health care providers through the bailout program. So far, the riches are flowing in large part to hospitals that had already built up deep financial reserves to help them withstand an economic storm. Smaller, poorer hospitals are receiving tiny amounts of federal aid by comparison.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – NoDDC PAC Violated Campaign Laws, Lawyer Rules
Scottsdale Progress – Wayne Schutsky | Published: 5/27/2020
The NoDDC PAC and its co-founder Jason Alexander committed multiple campaign finance law violations, according to a report by Phoenix City Attorney Cris Meyer, who proposed 1 $3,000 fine. Meyer found Alexander and NoDDC failed to report some payments over $250 and legal expenses, including a $5,000 city fine for a previous campaign violation that was paid for by Alexander’s personal account and then reimbursed through the PAC.
Arkansas – Ruling Ends Wait for Political Donors
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Linda Satter | Published: 5/21/2020
A federal judge made his temporary injunction permanent in allowing Arkansas candidates for statewide office to accept campaign donations more than two years before an election. U.S. District Court Judge James Moody Jr.’s move reinforced his initial ruling that it is unconstitutional for the state to bar those contributions. In January, a three-judge panel of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Moody’s decision to grant a preliminary injunction against the state’s “blackout period” for accepting political donations
California – Blind Spot: Lobbying behind California coronavirus contracts can stay secret
CalMatters – Laurel Rosenhall | Published: 5/26/2020
California law, despite all the disclosures it demands from lobbyists, does not require they report procurement work – including the $3 billion committed so far to masks, ventilators, and other supplies related to the coronavirus pandemic. As the state has signed hundreds of no-bid procurement contracts over the last two months, the public has very little information about the players involved in landing these deals and how much they are being paid. No lobbyist has been publicly accused of wrongdoing in connection with these contracts. A bill to require lobbyists to disclose procurement clients was vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016.
Colorado – Hickenlooper Says He Won’t Appear Before Colorado Ethics Body for Video Trial in June
Denver Post – Alex Burness | Published: 5/22/2020
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is running for the U.S. Senate, says he will not appear for his own ethics trial if it proceeds by video, as currently scheduled. Hickenlooper’s attorney, Marc Grueskin, said their camp is prepared to sue in District Court if the state Independent Ethics Commission does not delay the hearing and allow for a new one at which Hickenlooper can consult in real time with his attorney. Hickenlooper was accused in 2018 of violating Amendment 41 of the Colorado Constitution, which bars state employees and officials from accepting gifts worth more than $53 per year.
Connecticut – Dalios Pull Out of State Education Partnership, Attack GOP Reps
Connecticut Post – Kaitlyn Krasselt | Published: 5/20/2020
Barbara and Ray Dalio are exiting the Partnership for Connecticut, ending the arrangement that was touted in 2019 as a unique way to reach troubled youths, although they will maintain their commitment to the cause with at least $100 million. The partnership was plagued by problems almost from the start including criticism that Gov. Ned Lamont and the General Assembly made it exempt from Freedom of Information and state ethics laws.
Florida – Federal Judge Guts Florida Law Requiring Felons to Pay Fines Before They Can Vote
MSN – Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 5/24/2020
A federal judge eviscerated a Florida law requiring felons to pay all court fines and fees before they can register to vote, clearing the way for thousands of Floridians to register in time for the November presidential election. Republican lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed the measure after voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 to expand voting rights to felons who have completed “all terms of their sentence including probation and parole.” The law’s backers said it was necessary to clarify the amendment, while critics said Republicans were trying to limit the effects of what would have been the largest expansion of the state’s electorate since poll taxes and literacy tests were outlawed during the civil rights era.
Florida – Lobbyist Tied to Curry, JEA Bidder Paid City Hall’s Bar Tab at Jaguars Games
Florida Times Union – Staff | Published: 5/22/2020
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration allowed a company owned by his political strategist Tim Baker, who lobbied for companies seeking money from the city and was contracted by a company that tried to purchase JEA, to cover the bar tab at City Hall’s private suite at TIAA Bank Field during the last two football seasons. Taxpayers purchased more than $13,000 in food that was ordered for city officials and their guests during the last two seasons, but they did not pay for the $4,642 worth of alcohol ordered. Instead, the stadium’s concession vendor discounted 50 percent of the alcohol purchases, and the remaining $2,300 was paid for by Bold City Strategic Partners, a firm owned by Baker.
Illinois – Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan Wins Latest Round in Suit Alleging Sham Candidates
Chicago Tribune – Ray Long | Published: 5/23/2020
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan won a federal court victory as he worked on wrapping up the shortened legislative session in Springfield. U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly denied a motion asking for him to reconsider his decision to dismiss a lawsuit that contended Madigan conspired to put up two “sham” candidates with Hispanic names to confuse voters in a 2016 Democratic primary.
Kentucky – Citing Misuse of Funds, Kentucky Auditor Refers 3 County Attorney Offices to Law Enforcement
Louisville Courier Journal – Joe Sonka | Published: 5/21/2020
A report from state Auditor Mike Harmon identifies possible misuse of public funds in the offices of three county attorneys in Kentucky, including a lieutenant governor candidate in last year’s primary election. Harmon is referring his findings to the FBI and state Attorney General. The report found that of the $134,500 in bonuses Lawrence County Attorney Michael Hogan gave to his staff from delinquent tax fees from 2017 to 2019, 94 percent was paid to his wife, a secretary in the office. The audit report also found new information related to the former supervisor of the Boyd County Attorney’s Child Support Enforcement office, who was indicted on 77 charges last year relating to more than $113,000 allegedly fraudulently taken over a seven-year period.
Louisiana – Judges’ Financial Disclosure Now Easily Available to the Public
KPLC – Staff | Published: 5/26/2020
For years, the public has been able to access financial disclosures of elected officials except for judges. But after being nudged by a watchdog group, the state Supreme Court is making such information more easily available to the public. The information is now easily searchable on the high court’s web site using the judge’s name or judicial district, while other elected state officials are on the state Board of Ethics site.
Maine – Ethics Panel Wants to Look at Anti-Corridor Group’s Donors
AP News – Staff | Published: 5/23/2020
A group that opposes a hydropower transmission corridor in Maine must disclose financial information so the state ethics commission can continue investigating whether campaign finance laws were broken. Stop the Corridor spent more than $1 million on television and Facebook ads opposing the 145-mile transmission line earlier this year. But it never disclosed the source of the money.
Maryland – Extra-Long Primary Season with Baltimore Mayoral Voters Behind Closed Doors Sees Spending on Mailers, Ads
Baltimore Sun – Talia Richman | Published: 5/26/2020
Under normal circumstances, Baltimore likely would know already who its next mayor is. The deep-blue city’s Democratic primary was supposed to be a month ago. But the coronavirus pandemic delayed the election, and that left candidates seeking funding for another 35 days of expensive campaigning. While earlier finance reports were peppered with $6,000 donations, the maximum amount a donor can directly give a candidate under state law, no candidate received more than a handful of such contributions during the most recent filing period. “If you were a low-financed candidates that was really going to be grassroots, you’re really stuck in a bad position [because of the pandemic],” said Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs. “Now you need more money because you have to be able to able to appeal on the airwaves.”
Michigan – Feds Charge Ex-Macomb Public Works Boss Marrocco in Extortion Indictment
Detroit News – Robert Snell | Published: 5/27/2020
Federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment against former Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco, alleging he teamed with an underling to extort county contractors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The indictment portrays Marrocco as a tough-talking bully and a political kingmaker during a decades-long reign. He threatening to revoke municipal contracts, withhold permits and, in May 2016, removed an unidentified excavation firm from a multi-million-dollar sinkhole repair project because the company held a fundraiser for Marrocco’s political opponent, according to the government. Builders and contractors bought hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of tickets to fundraisers and some of the money financed Marrocco’s luxury lifestyle, prosecutors said.
Michigan – Where Coronavirus Help on Facebook Is ‘Inherently Political’
New York Times – Jennifer Medina | Published: 5/28/2020
The coronavirus pandemic has unmoored already fragile institutions across the country, forcing many Americans to turn to one another for help instead of to the government or nonprofit organizations. With the belief that the system is so broken that assistance will never come, hundreds have formed mutual aid societies, designed to allow people to find help themselves. Though the groups’ efforts vary widely, similar attempts to offer assistance have formed in dozens of states. The groups are something of a throwback; such networks were popular in the heydays of communal activity, in the early 20th century and again in the 1960s and 1970s. The newest crop has been formed largely by young progressives, and their proliferation points to a new kind of organizing that could reshape politics long after the pandemic.
Mississippi – Mississippi Lawmakers Approved $300M in Small Business Grants. Can They Apply for the Money?
Jackson Clarion-Ledger – Luke Ramseth | Published: 5/22/2020
The Mississippi Legislature passed a bipartisan bill that commits $300 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to small businesses. But can lawmakers who operate small businesses themselves apply for the money? That is the question Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann wants the state Ethics Commission to answer. The legislation specifically said lobbyists, businesses that hired a lobbyist, or ones involved in partisan political activities, could not apply for the program. But the bill did not say anything about the people who passed the bill.
Missouri – No Lobbyist Gifts for State Lawmakers, But Local Officials in Missouri Still Get Freebies
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 5/21/2020
Although Missouri lawmakers are banned from accepting all but the smallest gifts from lobbyists, local officials continue to rake in freebies from companies doing business with cities and counties. A review of reports filed with state ethics regulators shows tickets to St. Louis Cardinals and Blues games remain a popular staple with lobbyists and local officials.
Missouri – Suit Against Missouri Governor Over Public Records Gets New Life
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 5/26/2020
A state appeals court has revived a lawsuit against Missouri Gov. Mike Parson alleging his office violated the state’s public records laws. At issue is a 2018 lawsuit filed by Elad Gross, who is running for state attorney general. The suit accused Parson’s administration of breaking the Sunshine Law by requiring Gross pay more than $3,600 for a cache of records relating to former Gov. Eric Greitens, who left office under a cloud of scandal. In tossing the suit Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Joyce said Parson’s administration, under Missouri law, had the discretion to charge or waive fees. But the appeals court said Joyce erred on five of the 10 points Gross made during an appeal.
Nebraska – Nebraska Sees Increase in Lobbyists, Spending on Lobbyists
AP News – Staff | Published: 5/22/2020
Lobbyists in Nebraska raked in more cash than ever last year and more people joined their ranks to try to influence public officials, according to a new report. Lobbyists collected $19.4 million in gross earnings in 2019, Common Cause Nebraska said. The watchdog group said the total is a record, up from $17.8 million in 2018.
New York – De Blasio’s NYC Campaign Account Hit with $16K Fine by Regulator
New York Post – Nolan Hicks | Published: 5/23/2020
The Campaign Finance Board hit New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign with a $16,000 fine for violating a slew of regulations, including failing to promptly return excessive contributions from individuals with business before City Hall. It also determined de Blasio’s reelection effort broke other rules, including failing to report expenses or in-kind contributions that came from hosting 22 fundraisers, failing to disclose a dozen donations from late in the campaign cycle on required daily reports, and shelling out $6,700 in expenses it could not prove were in “furtherance of the campaign.”
Oklahoma – Bill Could Hide Donor and Lobbyist Info from the Public
The Express-News – Ben Felder (The Frontier) | Published: 5/19/2020
A bill pushed through the Oklahoma Legislature in the final days of the session could prevent the public from knowing who is donating to PACs or who lobbyists are working for, a move that would bring significant secrecy to the legislative process. House Bill 3613 could result in the state’s electronic campaign reporting system being taken offline, according to Ashley Kemp, executive director of the state Ethics Commission. The bill would prevent state agencies from collecting any information that “identifies a person as a member, supporter, or volunteer of, or donor of financial or nonfinancial support to, any entity organized pursuant to Section 501(c) of the United States Internal Revenue Code.”
Rhode Island – R.I. Senate Leaders Propose Allowing Email Voting
Providence Journal – Patrhick Anderson | Published: 5/26/2020
More than two months after Rhode Island General Assembly sessions were put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic, the state Senate is moving toward allowing lawmakers to vote remotely. A resolution sponsored by Senate Democratic leaders would give lawmakers who do not feel comfortable gathering at the statehouse the option of voting by email.
Washington – Wash. Campaign Finance Watchdog Blocks Some Online Access in Wake of Unemployment Fraud
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Austin Jenkins | Published: 5/26/2020
At the request of a powerful state senator who warned of “foreign intrusion,” the Washington Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) temporarily suspended online access to the personal financial statements of elected officials, candidates, and other public officials. The F-1 statements, as they are known, include information about an individual’s income, assets, property holdings, debt, and business associations. Sen. Sam Hunt said he had both warned that the “PDC is being assaulted by international data thieves from China, Russia, and Germany.”
Washington DC – Jack Evans Fined $35,000 by Ethics Board as Voters Weigh Returning Him to Office
Washington Post – Fenit Nirappil | Published: 5/22/2020
The District of Columbia’s ethics board fined former city council member Jack Evans $35,000 for violations related to his outside employment while in office, as voting started in the primary election where Evans is attempting to reclaim his old seat. The negotiated settlement wraps up a probe that started more than two years ago scrutinizing the ties between Evans and businesses that employed him as a lawyer or consultant. The board found Evans violated the city code of conduct governing conflicts-of-interest.
Wisconsin – Wisconsin Elections Commission Votes to Send Absentee Ballot Applications to 2.7 Million Voters
Wisconsin Public Radio – Shawn Johnson | Published: 5/27/2020
The state would send about 2.7 million registered voters absentee ballot applications under a motion approved by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The state would send absentee ballot applications to nearly all registered voters to prepare for Wisconsin’s November election. Roughly 62 percent of all votes in Wisconsin’s April election were cast by mail as voters heeded advice from both state and federal government to stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19. Turnout for the November election is expected to double that of the spring election.
May 28, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
Campaign Finance National: “‘Dark Money’ Groups Dodge Reporting Requirement in New Regulations” by Toby Eckert for Politico Elections National: “‘A Game-Changer’: Pandemic forces shift in black voter outreach” by Bridgett Bowman for Roll Call Ethics National: “Trump Pushes a Conspiracy […]
National: “‘Dark Money’ Groups Dodge Reporting Requirement in New Regulations” by Toby Eckert for Politico
National: “‘A Game-Changer’: Pandemic forces shift in black voter outreach” by Bridgett Bowman for Roll Call
National: “Trump Pushes a Conspiracy Theory That Falsely Accuses a TV Host of Murder” by Peter Baker and Maggie Astor (New York Times) for MSN
National: “Twitter Labels Trump’s Tweets with a Fact Check for the First Time” by Elizabeth Dwoskin (Washington Post) for MSN
National: “Justice Dept. Ends Inquiries Into 3 Senators’ Stock Trades” by Katie Benner and Nicholas Fandos for New York Times
Colorado: “Hickenlooper Says He Won’t Appear Before Colorado Ethics Body for Video Trial in June” by Alex Burness for Denver Post
Connecticut: “Dalios Pull Out of State Education Partnership, Attack GOP Reps” by Kaitlyn Krasselt for Connecticut Post
National: “Republicans Sue Pelosi to Block House Proxy Voting During Pandemic” by Nicholas Fandos and Michael Schmidt for New York Times
Europe: “Lobbyist Register to Be Tightened After Monsanto Case” by Nikolaj Nielson for EU Observer
National: “As Residents Perish, Nursing Homes Fight for Protection from Lawsuits” by Maggie Severns and Rachel Roubien for Politico
National: “Facebook Ran Multi-Year Charm Offensive to Woo State Prosecutors” by Naomi Nix for Bloomberg Law
May 22, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
National/Federal Appeals Court Greenlights Emoluments Suit against Trump Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 5/14/2020 A lawsuit accusing President Trump of violating the Constitution by accepting foreign government money through his Washington, D.C. hotel can proceed to fact-gathering about Trump’s profits, […]
Appeals Court Greenlights Emoluments Suit against Trump
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 5/14/2020
A lawsuit accusing President Trump of violating the Constitution by accepting foreign government money through his Washington, D.C. hotel can proceed to fact-gathering about Trump’s profits, a federal appeals court ruled. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to reject Trump’s bid to shut down the lawsuit the governments of Maryland and the District of Columbia brought alleging violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Trump will now need relief from the U.S. Supreme Court if he wants to block Maryland and the District of Columbia from pressing demands for his business records as his reelection campaign gets into full swing.
Barr Installs Top DOJ Aide, Prosecutor of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Trespasser, Over U.S. Prosecutors in Washington
Beaumont Enterprise – Spencer Hsu and Keith Alexander (Washington Post) | Published: 5/18/2020
Attorney General William Barr installed a new top deputy over the federal prosecutor’s office for Washington, D.C., raising concerns that a key U.S. attorney’s office handling multiple investigations of interest to President Trump is becoming further politicized. The arrival of Associate Deputy Attorney General Michael Sherwin triggered new accusations that Justice Department leaders are bypassing career prosecutors in the office and intervening in cases favoring the president’s allies, current and former federal prosecutors in the office said.
Courts Hamper Efforts to Shine Light on Digital Campaign Ads
Bloomberg Law – Kenneth Doyle | Published: 5/19/2020
Partisan divisions in Congress and on the FEC have stalled efforts to require more disclosure of who is funding paid messaging on Facebook and other internet platforms. A recent ruling could set back efforts by states including California, New York, and Washington to fill the breach left by federal regulators. A court decision required Maryland to permanently cease enforcing parts of its online ad disclosure law against newspapers and television stations that have websites selling political ads. More than $600 million has been spent on online ads so far in the 2020 election cycle, according to Advertising Analytics, whose data includes only ads on Facebook and Google. The firm estimates about half of all digital political ads are on those platforms.
Democrats Open Investigation into Trump’s Replacement of Acting Transportation Department Inspector General
MSN – Ian Duncan and Michael Laris (Washington Post) | Published: 5/19/2020
Three leading House Democrats said they plan to open an investigation into the replacement of the Transportation Department’s acting inspector general, concerned the move was tied to an ongoing investigation of Secretary Elaine Chao’s dealings with Kentucky. Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and has faced questions about whether her department has given preferential treatment to projects in the state. In October 2019, Transportation Committee Chairperson Peter DeFazio said he first requested the inspector general’s office look into Chao’s influence on a discretionary grant program called Infrastructure For Rebuilding America.
Donors Can Now Give $620,600 to Biden and DNC, Expanding Democratic Big-Money Fundraising
Washington Post – Michelle Ye Hee Lee | Published: 5/16/2020
Joe Biden will ask donors to give as much as $620,600 to support his White House bid and down-ballot candidates, expanding his fundraising capability to compete with President Trump’s big-money machine. The Biden Victory Fund, a committee that raises money with the Democratic National Committee, filed an agreement that allows wealthy donors to give large checks that will be shared by the campaign, the party, and 26 state parties, the latest move by Democrats to ramp up the former vice president’s fundraising for the general election. The agreement is the latest example of the dramatically expanding fundraising power of national party committees, made possible through legal changes in 2014 that loosened restrictions on individual contributions.
Election Watchdog, Dormant for Months, Can Finally Move into Action
New York Times – Rebecca Ruiz | Published: 5/19/2020
The Senate confirmation of James Trainor to the FEC means the agency now will have a quorum to hold meetings and conduct official business. With Trainor, the FEC will have an equal number of Republican and Democratic appointees, so it likely will still be deadlocked on major action. Routine actions, including the collection and publication of campaign finance disclosures, continued to be performed by staff. But any effort to investigate or punish violations required action by the full commission, which could not meet. Trainor’s nomination had been in limbo since 2017 amid questions over his social media postings and a standstill among Senate leaders on an approach to appointing commissioners.
EPA Emails Reveal Talks Between Trump Officials, Chemical Group Before 2017 Settlement
The Hill – Rachel Frazen | Published: 5/17/2020
When the chemical company Brenntag received a fine in 2017, the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) asked for help from two new Trump administration appointees who previously worked in chemical lobbying. The two appointees were Mandy Gunasekara, a former NACD lobbyist who is now chief of staff at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Nancy Beck, former president of the American Chemistry Council. Beck, now detailed at the White House, has been nominated by President Trump to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Brenntag was ultimately fined, although the penalty it received was roughly 20 percent lower than the one initially proposed by the EPA.
Freed by Court Ruling, Republicans Step Up Effort to Patrol Voting
MSN – Michael Wines (New York Times) | Published: 5/17/2020
Six months before a presidential election in which turnout could matter more than persuasion, the Republican Party, the Trump campaign, and conservative activists are mounting an aggressive national effort to shape who gets to vote in November and whose ballots are counted. Its premise is that a Republican victory in November is imperiled by widespread voter fraud, a baseless charge embraced by President Trump, but repeatedly debunked by research. Democrats and voting rights advocates say the driving factor is politics, not fraud, especially since Trump’s narrow win in 2016 underscored the potentially crucial value of depressing turnout by Democrats, particularly minorities.
K Street, PACs Not Eager to Attend In-Person Fundraisers Yet
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 5/14/2020
Many lobbyists and corporate executives, cloistered in their home offices during the coronavirus pandemic, said they were unlikely to sign up for in-person political events in the coming weeks, and some were dismayed that lawmakers would even send invitations for so near in the future. Others, though, said they long for a return to the intimacy of real-life events that virtual events cannot replace. One lobbyist invited to upcoming events said it was appalling to see such solicitations now, adding, “Why expose members of the lobbying community to unnecessary risk?”
Liberals Embrace Super PACs They Once Shunned
The Hill – Max Greenwood | Published: 5/17/2020
Progressives are embracing super PACs with newfound vigor as they look to put their political influence and organizing tactics to use in the aftermath of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. A handful of new liberal outside groups have cropped up in recent weeks, many of them founded by former aides and allies of Sanders and other prominent progressives. Their goals range from boosting Joe Biden’s presidential campaign of to patching what they see as electoral holes in the Democrats’ organizing strategy. But the proliferation of super PACs has come at a cost for some in the progressive movement, which has long denounced the existence of such groups and the influence of money in politics.
Phantom Super PAC Says It Returned Donations
Politico – Zach Montellaro | Published: 5/18/2020
A phantom super PAC that reported dropping millions of dollars on the battle for the U.S. Senate said in a report it was returning money to its alleged donors following a media investigation. Politico reported there was little evidence that Americans for Progressive Action USA was spending the large outlays it reported to the FEC. The super PAC reported it returned more than $4.8 million in donations it said it received from three donors with Texas addresses. In memo lines explaining why the contributions were being returned, three reasons were listed: “refund due to Politico”, “refund,” and “refund after Montellaro” – the last name of a Politico reporter.
Pompeo’s Moves Against Inspector General Leave a Trail of Questions and a Department Divided
MSN – John Hudson and Carol Morello (Washington Post) | Published: 5/18/2020
The circumstances of Steve Linick’s removal as the State Department’s internal watchdog remain contentious. The nature of his work, which involved interviewing various officials and uncovering acts of wrongdoing, means any investigation could be suspected of causing his downfall and his list of enemies is long. Before he was fired, Linick was investigating an emergency declaration President Trump made last year to approve an arms sale to Saudi Arabia, a decision Secretary of State Mike Pompeo approved, said U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel. Pompeo’s vague criticisms of Linick have left questions about whether one of the inspector’s past or current investigations agitated Pompeo enough to prompt the decision to remove him.
Sen. Richard Burr Stepping Aside as Intelligence Committee Chair Amid FBI Investigation of His Stock Sales
Washington Post – Devlin Barrett, Seung Min Kim, and Katie Shepherd | Published: 5/14/2020
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr is stepping down as chairperson of the Intelligence Committee, following the seizure of his cellphone by FBI agents investigating whether any laws were broken when Burr sold a significant share of his stocks before the coronavirus outbreak crashed financial markets. The decision to step aside acknowledges the awkward, ethically fraught dynamic that would have existed if Burr had continued to lead a committee with oversight responsibilities for an agency conducting a criminal investigation of his conduct. But it also has implications for the delicate balance of power between the government’s executive and legislative branches, suggesting an investigation alone may be enough to remove a senior lawmaker from a key post.
States Push Millions of People Toward Absentee Voting Amid Pandemic
The Hill – Reid Wilson | Published: 5/21/2020
State and local election administrators are pushing millions of voters to cast their ballots by mail in upcoming elections amidst a pandemic that could spread widely where people gather. The applications raise the prospect of a massive surge of ballots pouring into election administration offices in the days leading up to the presidential election. They have also raised the ire of President Trump, who accused two states of acting illegally and raised the prospects of punishing those states by withholding funding.
Supreme Court Stops House Democrats from Seeing Secret Mueller Material for Now
Stamford Advocate – Robert Barnes and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 5/20/2020
The U.S. Supreme Court stopped House Democrats for now from seeing secret grand jury material from Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether President Trump obstructed the special counsel’s work. The court, without noted dissent, agreed to a request from the Justice Department to put on hold a lower court’s decision granting the House Judiciary Committee some previously undisclosed material from Mueller’s probe. The action could mean that Congress will not receive the full Mueller report, without redactions of certain grand jury material, until after the November election, or perhaps not even during lawmakers’ current term, which ends January 3.
Susan Pompeo Draws Scrutiny in Inquiry Over Dry Cleaning and Dog Walking
MSN – Lara Jakes (New York Times) | Published: 5/19/2020
Susan Pompeo, the wife of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is now under scrutiny after the firing of the State Department’s inspector general at her husband’s behest. A whistle-blower tipped off Democrats in Congress that she had her own security guards, and agents with the Diplomatic Security Service had been tasked with running errands for the family like picking up takeout food and collecting the family dog from a groomer. Before he was fired, the State Department’s inspector general, Steve Linick, was examining, among other issues, the potential misuse of an aide to do personal errands for both Pompeos.
Targeting Hunter Biden, Senate Panel Approves Subpoena for Lobbying Firm Over Democrats’ Objections
Washington Post – Mike DeBonis | Published: 5/20/2020
A Senate committee moved to subpoena documents related to the son of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in an election-year escalation of Republican congressional scrutiny of Biden’s time as vice president. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the subpoena on a party-line vote, more than two months after its chairperson, Sen. Ron Johnson, indicated he planned to seek the documents concerning Hunter Biden’s work for the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Johnson’s quest has generated fierce objection from Democrats, who argue the inquiry is simply an election-year witch hunt meant to sling mud at President Trump’s likely opponent.
Trump’s Company Has Received at Least $970,000 from U.S. Taxpayers for Room Rentals
MSN – David Fahrenthold and Joshua Partlow (Washington Post) | Published: 5/14/2020
The U.S. government has paid at least $970,000 to President Trump’s company since he took office, including payments for more than 1,600 nightly room rentals at Trump’s hotels and clubs. The payments create an unprecedented business relationship between the president’s private company and his government, which began in the first month of Trump’s presidency and continued into this year. Records show taxpayers have now paid for the equivalent of more than four years’ worth of nightly rentals at Trump properties, including 950 nights at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and 530 nights at the president’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.
Trump’s Vaccine Chief Has Vast Ties to Drug Industry, Posing Possible Conflicts
New York Times – Sheila Kaplan, Matthew Goldstein, and Alexandra Stevenson | Published: 5/20/2020
The scientist brought in to lead the Trump administration’s efforts to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus has spent the last several days trying to disentangle pieces of his stock portfolio and ties to big pharmaceutical interests as critics point to the potential for significant conflicts-of-interest. Moncef Slaoui is a venture capitalist and a former executive at GlaxoSmithKline. Most recently, he sat on the board of Moderna, a biotechnology firm that is pursuing a coronavirus vaccine. Slaoui did not come on board as a government employee. Instead, he is on a contract. That leaves him exempt from federal disclosure rules that would require him to list his outside positions, stock holdings, and other potential conflicts. And the contract position is not subject to the same conflict-of-interest laws and regulations that executive branch employees must follow.
Work from Home Congress? House OKs Proxy Votes
AP News – Lisa Mascaro | Published: 5/15/2020
The U.S. House approved a package of historic rules changes so Congress can keep functioning even while it is partly closed. The shift will dramatically change the look, if not the operation, of the legislative branch. Under the new rules, House lawmakers will no longer be required to travel to Washington to participate in floor votes. They will be allowed to vote by proxy – assigning their vote to another lawmaker who will be at the Capitol to cast it for them. Eventually, a provision allows for direct remote voting once the technology is approved. House committees be able to fully function remotely.
From the States and Municipalities
Alaska – Alaska Lawmaker Says Hitler Was Not White Supremacist After Comparing Coronavirus Measures to Nazi Rule
MSN – Hannah Knowles and Candace Buckner (Washington Post) | Published: 5/16/2020
An uproar began when Alaska Rep. Ben Carpenter emailed all 39 of his statehouse colleagues to compare health-screening stickers to the badges that singled out Jews during the Holocaust, sharing his dismay at a new requirement for legislators returning to the Capitol amid the coronavirus outbreak. Carpenter dug in against the criticism and sparked another backlash when he said Hitler was not a white supremacist. The comments echo comparisons made by some protesters opposed to stay-at-home orders who argue strict public health measures are akin to slavery and genocidal dictatorships, governors have been likened to Nazis, in rhetoric many view as inappropriate in a national debate about measures to curb the pandemic.
Alaska – Complaint Alleges Dunleavy Violated Ethics Law by Auctioning Breakfast at Governor’s Mansion
Alaska Public Media – Andrewe Kitchenman | Published: 5/20/2020
A complaint alleges Gov. Mike Dunleavy violated state ethics law when an Alaska Republican Party fundraiser auctioned a breakfast with Dunleavy at the Governor’s Mansion in Juneau. The law prohibits the use of state facilities for partisan political purposes. It allows two exceptions for the mansion: meetings to discuss political strategy and the use of “communications equipment … so long as there is no charge to the state.” State GOP Chairperson Glenn Clary said the breakfast would fall under the legal exemption for political strategy meetings at the mansion. Clary also said the party used the gala to raise funds for party operations, rather than to benefit the governor or political candidates.
California – Here’s a Closer Look at the Ex-Deputy Mayor Enmeshed in City Hall Corruption Probe
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes and Joel Rubin | Published: 5/20/2020
Raymond Chan earned praise at City Hall for his eagerness to smooth out city bureaucracy for developers, both as the head of Los Angeles’ building department and later as a deputy mayor focused on economic development. Now court records in an ongoing federal probe into corruption at City Hall tell a different story. Prosecutors have alleged a deputy mayor was paid by a real estate consultant to help shepherd a major project and leveraged his power as a city official to aid the development. Although federal investigators did not name the former deputy mayor in court papers, details about his employment history make clear it is Chan.
California – Newsom Raises Record $26M in Donations for Covid-19, Some from Companies Lobbying State
Politico – Katy Murphy and Carla Marinucci | Published: 5/19/2020
Prominent business interests have poured nearly $26 million into fighting Covid-19 at California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request, a record amount that came as some of the companies lobbied the governor’s office on regulatory matters, state disclosures show. Informing citizens about how to protect themselves and others during the pandemic has clear societal benefits, government and ethics experts say. But, they add, the public should view any such private-sector assistance with a critical eye. Businesses or individuals lending a hand to government may enhance their ability to influence policymakers by generating goodwill, said Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director of California Common Cause.
California – San Diego Ballot Measures for Ranked Choice Voting, ‘Clean Elections’ Take Key Step Forward
San Diego Union Tribune – David Garrick | Published: 5/14/2020
San Diego residents may get a chance this November to vote on ballot measures that would shift city elections to ranked-choice voting, provide public funding for local candidates, and change contracting laws in favor of union labor. The city council’s Rules Committee voted to allow further evaluation of those measures so the full council can decide this summer whether they should appear on the ballot. The ballot measure that would provide public funding for city elections aims to reduce the impact of campaign contributions on local elections. Supporters say such a system would encourage more qualified candidates to run for city office and reduce the influence of corporate interests and labor unions.
Colorado – Two Lawsuits Filed Against Colorado Governor’s Decision to Allow Signature Collection Through Email, Mail
Colorado Sun – Jesse Paul | Published: 5/18/2020
Two groups, including one hoping to ask voters in November to ban abortions in Colorado after 22 weeks of gestation, filed separate lawsuits challenging Gov. Jared Polis’ executive order allowing signatures to be gathered for ballot initiatives through email and mail. The lawsuits appear to be the first direct legal challenges to Polis’ use of his executive powers under his disaster emergency declaration. Some critics say he has gone too far in reacting to the pandemic. The governor said the order is aimed at preventing the disease from compromising Coloradans’ democratic right to access the ballot during a time when groups are unable to canvas and gather signatures. The abortion-ban effort is the only pending ballot initiative that cannot benefit from the order issued by Polis, who supports abortion access.
Connecticut – Lamont and His Party Don’t See Eye-to-Eye on Secrecy Rules for Partnerships with Private Sector
Connecticut Mirroir – Keith Phaneuf | Published: 5/20/2020
Some in Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s party are not enthusiastic about continuing to ease transparency and ethics rules to leverage private-sector resources. Lamont has tried to shield hedge fund giant Ray Dalio’s philanthropic arm, as well as dozens of private volunteers planning Connecticut’s economic re-emergence from the coronavirus pandemic, from the transparency rules that otherwise guide government functions. “… We were trying to create a hybrid of government officials and private officials and the lesson here is that’s just not possible,” said House Majority Leader Matt Ritter.
Florida – Curry’s Former Chief Administrator, Political Strategist Worked for JEA Bidder, According to Documents
Florida Times Union – Christopher Hong | Published: 5/15/2020
NextEra Energy, the parent company of Florida Power and Light, hired Sam Mousa and Tim Baker, two local lobbyists with close ties to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, in connection to their attempt to purchase JEA. The revelation that Baker and Mousa worked for NextEra raises a number of questions, including whether Baker was offering policy advice to JEA while working for the company considered to be the front-runner to win the competition to buy the city-owned utility.
Maryland – Super PAC Supporting Baltimore Mayoral Candidate Mary Miller Shuts Down After Email Details Strategy to Attract White Voters
Baltimore Sun – Talia Richman and Luke Broadwater | Published: 5/14/2020
A PAC that supported Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Miller is shutting down and returning unspent money after a leaked email revealed a strategy to target white voters in a majority-black city. The Baltimore Sun reported on the email Martin Knott Jr., treasurer for the Citizens for Ethical Progressive Leadership PAC, sent to potential donors in which he laid out the group’s plans for the June 2 primary. He said the PAC would use negative ads to take voters away from former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah and city council President Brandon Scott, candidates who, like Miller have polled well among white voters.
Michigan – Bribery Case Against Detroit Councilman Could End in Plea Deal 3 Years After He Took Money
Detroit Free Press – M.L. Elrick | Published: 5/18/2020
Three years after Detroit City Councilperson Gabe Leland allegedly shook down a businessperson, Leland’s bribery case could end with a plea deal or a new felony charge in state court. Leland was indicted on three counts of bribery after a federal grand jury determined he demanded $15,000 from a businessperson in a land dispute with the city. Steve Fishman, Leland’s attorney, had vowed to take the case to trial, but recent court records signed by prosecutors and Fishman say “the parties have discussed a resolution of the matter and need additional time to determine whether a resolution is possible.”
Mississippi – Nonprofit Officials Spent $400,000 in Welfare Dollars to Lobby State Government. Public Education Funding Flowed Their Way.
Mississippi Today – Anna Wolfe | Published: 5/19/2020
Prominent special education figure Nancy New spent hundreds of thousands of welfare dollars her nonprofit had received from the state to cull favor and lobby state government in Mississippi for her private school interests, according to interviews and documents. The nonprofit, at the center of what is now called the largest alleged public embezzlement scheme in state history, spent at least $400,000 in welfare funds to “maintain governmental revenue streams or to lobby on behalf of their organization,” the state auditor reported. She and her son’s separate private school companies received nearly $1.3 million from direct legislative appropriations. But as is the case with many of the purchases her Mississippi Community Education Center made, investigators have found little public documentation exists to show what influence their efforts may have had.
Missouri – Clean Missouri Proponents Sue to Have Lawmaker-Approved Repeal Question Rewritten
Kansas City Star – Crystal Thomas | Published: 5/18/2020
A proposal to undo key portions of a redistricting plan passed by Missouri voters two years ago will mislead the public if it appears on the ballot, according to a lawsuit filed by supporters of the original measure. The lawsuit by backers of the Clean Missouri initiative contends the summary for the 2020 ballot proposal approved by the state Legislature should be struck down as insufficient and unfair. It asks a Cole County judge to either rewrite the summary or order lawmakers to do so. The revision by lawmakers included ethics provisions like lowering the limit for lobbyists gifts by five dollars and reducing contribution limits to state senators by $100.
Montana – Dark Money Group Ordered to Disclose Details on Campaign Spending in Montana
Billings Gazette – Tom Lutey | Published: 5/19/2020
A secretive group airing election ads featuring state Attorney General Tim Fox has been violating Montana campaign finance laws, the state’s political practices commissioner found. Ads by American Prosperity Group (APG) began airing on cable television in March. There is still no record of a group by that name either with state or federal elections regulators. That lack of information puts APG in violation of laws intended to prevent “dark money” spending in state politics.
New Jersey – Katie Brennan Settles Lawsuit Against State and Murphy Campaign for $1 Million Following Rape Allegation
Newark Star Ledger – Kelly Heyboer and Ted Sherman (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 5/15/2020
Katie Brennan, the former campaign volunteer whose rape allegations led to legislative hearings and promised reforms, has settled her lawsuit against the state and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign. The state and Murphy for Governor, Inc. will pay a total of $1 million, with $600,000 going to a charity of Brennan’s choice and $400,000 to her attorneys. Neither side admitted any wrongdoing. The settlement also says Brennan and Al Alvarez, the former Murphy campaign adviser she accused of raping her, will participate in a “restorative justice” program. Her case prompted conversations in Trenton about non-disclosure agreements in campaigns, how sexual assault cases are handled in state government, and an underlying culture of sexual harassment and misogyny in New Jersey politics.
New York – New York Democratic Presidential Primary to Proceed Following Federal Appeals Panel Ruling
Washington Post – Shayna Jacobs and John Wagner | Published: 5/19/2020
New York’s Democratic presidential primary will take place after a federal appeals panel upheld the ruling of a judge who determined that scrapping it violated the constitutional rights of former candidates Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders. The three-judge appeals panel affirmed the May 5 ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Analisa Torres that the plaintiffs “had made a strong showing of irreparable harm.” Doug Kellner, co-chairperson of the state elections board, said the board will not appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, clearing the way for the June 23 Democratic primary to proceed.
New York – Who Exactly Is a Lobbyist?
City & State – Rebecca Lewis | Published: 5/17/2020
Lobbying plays a key role in city and state government, but it is not limited to the stereotypical operator working out deals in smoke-filled back rooms. That is because the scope of actions that require individuals to register as lobbyists is especially broad in New York. According to New York City and state law, the definition of a lobbying covers a wide array of avenues through which someone may attempt to influence just about any decision that requires some form of action by a government body or agency.
Oklahoma – Controversial Oklahoma Bill That Would Have Reversed Campaign Contribution Rules Permanently Killed
KFOR – Cassandra Sweetman | Published: 5/15/2020
A controversial bill in Oklahoma was pulled off the table almost as quickly as it was introduced after the state Senate author said it was never meant to become law in the first place. Sen. Roger Thompson amended House Bill 3996 to would allow campaign contributions to be used for personal expenses, including mortgages, vacations, athletic events, concerts, and country club dues.
Oregon – Oregon High Court Halts Ruling Nixing Virus Restrictions
AP News – Gillian Flaccus and Andrew Selsky | Published: 5/19/2020
The Oregon Supreme Court halted a judge’s order which had tossed out statewide coronavirus restrictions imposed by Gov. Kate Brown in a case brought by churches arguing the governor exceeded her authority. Baker County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Shirtcliff ruled Brown erred by not seeking the Legislature’s approval to extend the stay-at-home orders beyond a 28-day limit. The Supreme Court’s decision stays Shirtcliff’s decree pending review by all the justices. Shirtcliff issued his opinion in response to a lawsuit filed by 10 churches around Oregon that argued the state’s social distancing directives were unconstitutional.
Oregon – Oregon Republican Senate Nominee Backs Away from Election Day Support for ‘Qanon’ Conspiracy Theory
Portland Oregonian – K. Rambo | Published: 5/20/2020
Oregon Republicans nominated financial adviser Jo Rae Perkins to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley in November. Her Election Day address to voters ignited a social media firestorm. In a video posted on Perkins’ Twitter account, she expresses support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits a shadowy cabal of elites, often liberals, operates a global human trafficking ring and engages in the ritualistic abuse and sacrifice of children. Many supporters claim President Trump is carrying out a covert mission to break up the “deep state” and end the supposed trafficking ring. After her statements brought a wave of national attention, she appears to have retreated from her support and deleted the video from her Twitter account.
Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania Auditor General Probing ‘Undue’ Outside Influence on Business Waivers
Clearfield Progress – Christen Smith (The Center Square) | Published: 5/17/2020
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said his office will investigate whether outside influence, from lobbyists or legislators, played a role in which businesses received waivers to stay open during the pandemic shutdown. DePasquale said he has heard from confused business owners frustrated by the apparent inconsistencies in the state’s waiver decisions. Now, DePasquale said, his staff will focus on what impact communications with legislators and lobbyists had on the decisions the Department of Community and Economic Development ultimately made.
Wisconsin – Sweeping Federal Lawsuit Seeks Voting Changes in Wisconsin
AP News – Scott Bauer | Published: 5/18/2020
Advocates for people with disabilities and minority voters in Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to order that more poll workers be hired, every voter in the state receive an absentee ballot application, and a host of other changes be made to ensure the August primary and November presidential election can be held safely amid the coronavirus pandemic. Wisconsin has been at the center of the fight, both in court and out, over elections during the pandemic after it proceeded with its April 7 presidential primary even as other states delayed voting.
May 21, 2020 • Written by Mario Dalessandro
The Alaska Legislature adjourned after approving Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plan to spend over $1 billion in federal coronavirus funding. Lawmakers were spurred by a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the plans Gov. Dunleavy submitted to the Legislative Budget and Audit […]
The Alaska Legislature adjourned after approving Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plan to spend over $1 billion in federal coronavirus funding.
Lawmakers were spurred by a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the plans Gov. Dunleavy submitted to the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee.
They were submitted through a process allowing a governor to submit plans to accept and spend additional federal or other program funds on a budget item.
In addition, the committee agreed to more than $1 billion in plans despite concerns some of the items fell outside the scope of what can go through the committee process.
Following the vote, the Legislature adjourned the 2020 regular session, though members of the House and Senate have said a special session may be needed later in the year.
May 19, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
Campaign Finance National: “Donors Can Now Give $620,600 to Biden and DNC, Expanding Democratic Big-Money Fundraising” by Michelle Ye Hee Lee for Washington Post Oklahoma: “Controversial Oklahoma Bill That Would Have Reversed Campaign Contribution Rules Permanently Killed” by Cassandra Sweetman […]
National: “Donors Can Now Give $620,600 to Biden and DNC, Expanding Democratic Big-Money Fundraising” by Michelle Ye Hee Lee for Washington Post
Oklahoma: “Controversial Oklahoma Bill That Would Have Reversed Campaign Contribution Rules Permanently Killed” by Cassandra Sweetman for KFOR
National: “Freed by Court Ruling, Republicans Step Up Effort to Patrol Voting” by Michael Wines for New York Times
National: “Trump’s Company Has Received at Least $970,000 from U.S. Taxpayers for Room Rentals” by David Fahrenthold and Joshua Partlow (Washington Post) for MSN
Alaska: “Alaska Lawmaker Says Hitler Was Not White Supremacist After Comparing Coronavirus Measures to Nazi Rule” by Hannah Knowles and Candace Buckner (Washington Post) for MSN
National: “Work from Home Congress? House OKs Proxy Votes” by Lisa Mascaro for AP News
National: “EPA Emails Reveal Talks Between Trump Officials, Chemical Group Before 2017 Settlement” by Rachel Frazen for The Hill
New York: “Who Exactly Is a Lobbyist?” by Rebecca Lewis for City & State
May 18, 2020 • Written by John Cetor
On May 12, the South Carolina Legislature met to approve a resolution allowing the state to continue to spend money until the budget can be addressed later this year. In addition to the budget and any potential legislation regarding the […]
On May 12, the South Carolina Legislature met to approve a resolution allowing the state to continue to spend money until the budget can be addressed later this year.
In addition to the budget and any potential legislation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature may take up any legislation that has passed either the House or the Senate during the fall session.
As of May 14, the Legislature stands recessed until September 15
May 8, 2020 • Written by Marilyn Wesel
At the request of the Executive Director of the Board of Ethics, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, at the last City Council meeting, proposed an amendment to the lobbying ordinance passed late last year. Lightfoot’s proposed Ordinance 2020-2328 would amend Chapter 2-156 […]
At the request of the Executive Director of the Board of Ethics, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, at the last City Council meeting, proposed an amendment to the lobbying ordinance passed late last year.
Lightfoot’s proposed Ordinance 2020-2328 would amend Chapter 2-156 of the Municipal Code regarding lobbying to allow elected officials from outside Chicago to lobby the City Council, the mayor’s office and other city government offices, as long as the public body they represent doesn’t have pending or recurring legislative or contractual matters involving the city of Chicago.
If passed the ordinance would become effective immediately.
May 8, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
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 […]
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 – 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.
May 7, 2020 • Written by Marilyn Wesel
The Office of the North Dakota Secretary of State approved a petition for a proposed constitutional amendment. This amendment will make several changes to election procedures, and make the Ethics Commission responsible for state legislative redistricting procedures. The Legislature is […]
The Office of the North Dakota Secretary of State approved a petition for a proposed constitutional amendment.
This amendment will make several changes to election procedures, and make the Ethics Commission responsible for state legislative redistricting procedures.
The Legislature is responsible for redrawing district lines every 10 years following each U.S. Census and is scheduled to do so again in 2021.
The group proposing the measure, North Dakota Voters First, will need to obtain signatures of 4% of eligible voters by July 6 to get the proposal on the ballot in November.
The group has now filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Al Jaeger in U.S. District Court claiming it should be allowed to collect electronic signatures during the pandemic.
The state law requiring petition circulators to collect necessary signatures in-person is unrealistic and dangerous.
Additionally, the inability to get the measure on the ballot this year would mean the current redistricting rules stay in place for another decade.
May 5, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
Elections Wisconsin: “Unexpected Outcome in Wisconsin: Tens of thousands of ballots that arrived after Election Day were counted, thanks to court decisions” by Amy Gardner, Dan Simmons, and Robert Barnes (Washington Post) for MSN Ethics National: “Lawmakers Made Hundreds of […]
Wisconsin: “Unexpected Outcome in Wisconsin: Tens of thousands of ballots that arrived after Election Day were counted, thanks to court decisions” by Amy Gardner, Dan Simmons, and Robert Barnes (Washington Post) for MSN
National: “Lawmakers Made Hundreds of Stock Transactions During Pandemic, Watchdog Finds” by Alice Miranda Ollstein for Politico
National: “Secret Service Paid Trump’s D.C. Hotel More Than $33,000 for Lodging to Guard Mnuchin in ’17” by David Fahrenthold, Joshua Partlow, Josh Dawsey, and Carol Leonnig (Washington Post) for Seattle Times
Hawaii: “Honolulu Ethics Commission OKs Gifts for First Responders” by Gordon Y.K. Pang for Honolulu Star Advertiser
Iowa: “Court Upholds Dismissal of Suit Over Iowa Governor’s Flight” by David Pitt for AP News
National: “The ‘New Normal’ Takes Shape on Capitol Hill” by Scott Wong and Mike Lillis for The Hill
National: “Well-Connected Trump Alumni Benefit from Coronavirus Lobbying Rush” by Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Tom Hamburger, and Anu Narayanswami (Washington Post) for MSN
May 1, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
National/Federal Democrats Press General Services Administration Over Trump Hotel Payments Greenwich Time – Jonathan O’Connell, David Fahrenthold, and Joshua Partlow (Washington Post) | Published: 4/24/2020 Congressional Democrats are pressing the General Services Administration for information about President Trump’s District of Columbia […]
Democrats Press General Services Administration Over Trump Hotel Payments
Greenwich Time – Jonathan O’Connell, David Fahrenthold, and Joshua Partlow (Washington Post) | Published: 4/24/2020
Congressional Democrats are pressing the General Services Administration for information about President Trump’s District of Columbia hotel lease after Trump’s company said it asked the federal government to include it in any accommodations it may make for private tenants during the coronavirus shutdown. The letter is the latest attempt by congressional Democrats to prevent Trump from using his administration to benefit his business, which he owns but which his adult sons are running while he is in office. The renewed oversight comes at a time when the Trump Organization, like virtually all hotel and golf companies in the country, has seen business plummet to a small fraction of what it was due to shutdowns from the pandemic, and has been looking to cut costs.
Donna Shalala, on Coronavirus Oversight Board, Pays Fine for Not Revealing Stock Sales
Miami Herald – Alex Daugherty | Published: 4/28/2020
U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, who admitted she broke federal law requiring the disclosure of stock sales, will pay a $1,200 fine for six violations because she failed to report hundreds of transactions made last year by a broker setting up a blind trust. A report details 556 stock transactions made by Shalala n in 2019. She did not make any stock transactions in 2020. There is no indication Shalala engaged in insider trading, though her stock holdings on her previous financial disclosure, from 2018, led to criticism that her portfolio conflicted with her work on an oversight committee set up oversee $500 billion in taxpayer money being used for coronavirus-related payouts to large businesses.
Government Watchdog Seeks Ethics Investigation of Jared Kushner’s ‘Shadow’ Coronavirus Task Force
MSN – Jerry Lambe (Law & Crime) | Published: 4/28/2020
In a letter to the Office of Government Ethics, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the agency to conduct a review of whether members of a coronavirus task force overseen by Jared Kushner have complied with the disclosure obligations and conflict-of-interest restrictions required of special government employees under federal law. Kushner in March formed his own “shadow” coronavirus task force, separate from the official effort headed by Vice President Mike Pence, composed largely of private sector advisors whose primary focus was supposed to be expanding access to testing and acquiring life-saving personal protective equipment.
How a Digital Ad Strategy That Helped Trump Is Being Used Against Him
New York Times – Nick Corasaniti | Published: 4/28/2020
In the fast-paced world of digital advertising, the availability of real-time data beyond mere engagement is fairly small, leaving campaigns with a patchwork of clicks, old polling, and hunches to assess the impact of the millions of dollars they are spending on digital platforms. Facebook, with about 220 million users in the country, remains the central digital vehicle for reaching Americans who are spending more time online during the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has also forced campaigns to rely on a nearly entirely digital infrastructure, from fundraising to organizing to persuasion. Having fresh data to inform campaign arguments online is essential. A real-time testing project aims to help fill that gap.
Judges Worry Trump Position on McGahn Testimony Could Force Congress into Extreme Measures
Politico – Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney | Published: 4/28/2020
A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. expressed skepticism about the Trump administration’s claim that Congress can never go to court to enforce its oversight and spending powers. The discussion occurred as lawyers for the U.S. House and Justice Department sparred over efforts by Democrats to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify about his knowledge of alleged wrongdoing by Trump. Throughout the arguments, judges raised concerns about whether cutting off the courts to Congress would remove any incentive for future presidents to cooperate or negotiate with lawmakers trying to check executive power.
Pollo Tropical, Which Employs Florida Congresswoman’s Husband, Gets Small Biz Loan
Miami Herald – Alex Daugherty | Published: 4/23/2020
The publicly traded parent company of Miami restaurant chain Pollo Tropical, which employs the husband of U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell as an executive, received a taxpayer-funded loan intended for small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Fiesta Restaurant Group, with more than 10,000 employees, was granted a $10 million Paycheck Protection Program loan, money that does not have to be paid back if it is used to keep employees on the job. Fiesta said it is “currently reviewing” the money to determine whether it is appropriate to keep it in light of new Treasury Department guidelines that will prevent most publicly-owned large companies from receiving loans.
Sen. Richard Burr Is Not Just a Friend to the Health Care Industry. He’s Also a Stockholder.
ProPublica – Robert Faturechi and Derek Willis | Published: 4/28/2020
In his 15 years in the U.S. Senate, Richard Burr has been one of the health care industry’s staunchest friends, advocated for legislation to benefit the industry. Burr also trades in and out of the industry’s stocks. Since 2013, he and his wife bought and sold between $639,500 and $1.1 million of stock in companies that make medical devices, equipment, supplies, and drugs. With weak laws and little oversight, such trading rarely trips any wires. Burr is also one of the Senate’s biggest beneficiaries of the industry’s largesse. Medical companies, trade groups, and their executives and lobbyists regularly donate to his political committees.
Spotify and Text-a-Thons: How the census is reaching out during coronavirus
Poilitico – Maya King and Danielle Muoio | Published: 4/23/2020
As the coronavirus bears down on cities and states across the nation, the Census Bureau has scrubbed in-person get-out-the-count work in favor of ad buys on Spotify, thousand-person text-a-thons, and virtual speakers series. But despite an extensive statistical database and h$500 million ad strategy to get a proper count, local officials warn millions could still slip through the cracks. The people who are not counted can lose political representation at both the state and federal levels. Legislative and congressional districts are drawn based on population, and the areas where people are hardest to count skew Democratic.
Start-Ups Pursue ‘Free Money’ with Relief Funds, Prompting Backlash
MSN – Erin Griffith and David McCabe (New York Times) | Published: 4/27/2020
Scrutiny of the Paycheck Protection Program, the $349 billion plan to save jobs at small businesses during the coronavirus outbreak, has reached technology start-ups. While many of these young companies have been hurt by the pandemic, they are not ailing in the same way that traditional small businesses are. Many mom-and-pop enterprises, which tend to employ hourly workers and operate on razor-thin margins, are shutting down immediately because of economic pain. But start-ups, which last year raised more than $130 billion in funding, have sometimes turned to the government loans not for day-to-day survival but simply to buy useful time. The start-up rush to tap the finite pool of government aid has stirred debate in Silicon Valley over whether these companies should have applied.
Supreme Court Casts Some Doubt on Whether It Should Settle Trump’s Fight with Congress Over His Finances
Washington Post – Robert Barnes | Published: 4/28/2020
The U.S. Supreme Court called for additional briefing on whether the court was authorized to settle a dispute about congressional subpoenas for President Trump’s financial records. The case is set to be argued May 12, and briefing was completed weeks ago. So the order from the court caught lawyers by surprise and raised at least the possibility the justices were looking for a way to avoid deciding the case’s merits. It may also be less dramatic than that. The request could reflect the interest of just one or a small group of the nine justices. Trump has raised sweeping arguments that the president is protected from investigation by congressional committees and, separately, a New York district attorney. The lower courts are considering the power of Congress to demand executive branch compliance with its investigations.
Thousands of Candidates Reinventing Politics on the Fly for the Age of Pandemic
MSN – Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 4/26/2020
There is a new reality for political professionals across the country as the social distancing clampdown has transformed the art and logistics of politicking. While much of the attention has focused on former Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, hunkering down in his basement to record his podcast, or President Trump seeking to monopolize the evening television airwaves, Covid-19 has transformed all corners of the political universe. Local candidates and name-brand leaders alike have been forced to abandon rallies, community centers, and campaign offices. Volunteers, organizers and operatives have been quarantined into virtual meetings, letter-writing campaigns, and mobile-texting blitzes. Entire organizations have pivoted to meet the moment.
Trump Allies Highlight New Claims Regarding Allegations Against Biden
MSN – Matt Viser (Washington Post) | Published: 4/27/2020
Some allies of President Trump pointed to new claims by a woman who said she was told about sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden decades ago, renewing attention to questions about the past behavior of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Apparent corroboration recently for elements of two accusations made by Biden’s former Senate aide Tara Reade, one involving harassment and the second a sexual assault. Biden has not commented on the allegations, but his campaign has denied them and pointed to his record on women’s rights and promotion of women in his offices.
Trump Appointees Manipulated Agency’s Payday Lending Research, Ex-Staffer Claims
New York Times – Nicholas Confessore and Stacy Cowley | Published: 4/29/2020
Last summer, on his final day of work at the nation’s consumer finance watchdog agency, a career economist sent a colleague a blunt memo. He claimed that President Trump’s appointees at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau had manipulated the agency’s research process to justify altering a 2017 rule that would have curtailed high-interest payday loans. The departing staff member, Jonathan Lanning, detailed several maneuvers by his agency’s political overseers that he considered legally risky and scientifically indefensible, including pressuring staff economists to water down their findings on payday loans and use statistical gimmicks to downplay the harm consumers would suffer if the payday restrictions were repealed.
Under Pressure, House Leaders Scrap Plans for Speedy Return to the Capitol
New York Times – Emily Cochrane and Nicholas Fandos | Published: 4/28/2020
Democratic leaders scrapped a plan to call the U.S. House back into session in the near future, abruptly reversing themselves after some rank-and-file lawmakers complained that doing so constituted an unnecessary risk as coronavirus continues to spread in the capital and throughout the country. The delay will give House leaders more time to try to reach a bipartisan agreement on rules changes that would allow remote voting and hearings for the first time in history. Democratic leaders were hoping to build Republican support for their plan to permit lawmakers who could not or did not want to travel to Washington during the pandemic to designate another member to vote by proxy in their stead.
Canada – Alberta Premier Cleared in Ethics Probe Tied to Firing of Election Commissioner
National Post – Canadian Press | Published: 4/27/2020
Alberta’s ethics commissioner rejected accusations that Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative caucus broke the rules when they fired an election official investigating the party. Marguerite Trussler said there is no evidence the United Conservative Party (UCP) directly benefited when its caucus passed a bill late last year to fire Lorne Gibson as election commissioner. The New Democratic Party alleged that firing Gibson boosted the UCP’s long-term reputation and re-election prospects given that Gibson was investigating the party and had already levied more than $200,000 in fines tied to the 2017 leadership race won by Kenney.
From the States and Municipalities
Arkansas – 14 PACs Sign Settlements, Accept Fines to Resolve Ethics Complaints, State Records Show
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Michael Wickline | Published: 4/21/2020
Fourteen PACs represented by attorney Brenda Vassaur-Taylor signed settlements of complaints in which the committees acknowledge violations of state ethics law in 2016, according to Arkansas Ethics Commission records. They agreed to pay fines collectively totaling $1,450 and each received a public letter of caution. Kendall Bond filed about 30 ethics complaints in January against these PACs, as well as candidates in the 2016 primary election over unregistered PACs making contributions to other PACs and candidates, and unregistered PACS receiving contributions before they were registered as a PAC.
California – California Republicans Prepared to Match Democrats on ‘Ballot Harvesting.’ Then Came Coronavirus
Politico – Carla Marinucci | Published: 4/28/2020
Leaders of the embattled California Republican Party are reversing course during the coronavirus pandemic to demand Gov. Gavin Newsom ban a voting practice they until recently endorsed. The Republican leaders vowed to boost their “ballot harvesting” efforts, to allow people to pick up and deliver absentee ballots that others have cast, after a Democratic thumping in the 2018 midterms. But they are now arguing it is “an intolerable risk to public health and safety.” The practice allows party volunteers to collect mail-in ballots and submit them in groups to polling places or election offices. Republicans blame the Democrats’ ballot collecting as one factor for their 2018 midterm woes, which saw them lose seven congressional seats.
California – National City Passes Campaign Contribution Limits
San Diego Union-Tribune – Gustavo Solis | Published: 4/27/2020
National City officials adopted campaign contribution limits recently. Individuals, businesses, and labor unions can now contribute up to $1,000 to candidates while political parties can give $2,000. The take effect in January 2021. Part of the reason behind limiting campaign contributions was the significant increase in outside money pouring into local elections in National City in recent years.
California – Newsom Executive Orders Test Constitutional Bounds – and Legislative Goodwill
Politico – Debra Kahn | Published: 4/22/2020
Residents and leaders from both parties have given Gov. Gavin Newsom high marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic so far, especially after his early stay-at-home order was widely credited for helping control the spread of infection in California. But state lawmakers who have been on recess for more than a month are starting to bristle at the governor’s seemingly unilateral decision making. As Newsom shifts from crisis mode to managing the long-term economic fallout, his orders are coming under more scrutiny not just from lawmakers but industry groups, who are likewise re-engaging in Sacramento policymaking. The legislative branch has likewise shut down most activities for the time being. That leaves Newsom nearly alone to decide how to flex California laws in the coronavirus emergency.
Florida – Federal Grand Jury Casts Wide Net for JEA Records, Communications
Jacksonville Daily Record – Mike Mendenhall | Published: 4/23/2020
A federal grand jury subpoena orders JEA to provide documents, communications, and records from top utility and Jacksonville City Hall officials related to a failed push to privatize the city-owned utility and the hiring of former Chief Executive Officer Aaron Zahn. Federal prosecutors also are looking for communications and documents from lobbyists, JEA’s contracted legal and financial firms and consultants involved in the utility’s invitation to negotiate and failed stock option style-employee bonus plan.
Georgia – Supreme Court Rules States Can’t Copyright Annotated Laws
Courthouse News Service – Tim Ryan | Published: 4/27/2020
Extending a 19th century doctrine of copyright law to legal materials created by Legislatures, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled annotated versions of state codes cannot be copyrighted. Georgia contracts with Matthew Bender & Co., which is part of LexisNexis, to publish and distribute an annotated version of its official state code. LexisNexis publishes the full code without the annotations for free online and members of the public can access annotated versions for free at places like libraries and universities. Public.Resource.Org publishes official legal codes and other government documents online, bought 186 volumes of the annotated code and posted them online. Georgia sent the nonprofit cease and desist letters, but Public Resource refused to take the code down so the state filed a copyright infringement lawsuit.
Idaho – IFF Accused of Disobeying IRS Rules by Encouraging Idahoans to Disobey Governor
Idaho Statesman – Cynthia Sewell | Published: 4/28/2020
A complaint filed with the IRS alleges Idaho Freedom Foundation, a libertarian policy group, violated nonprofit organization rules by “supporting illegal activities” and “engaging in excessive lobbying activities.” After Gov. Brad Little extended the statewide stay-home order through April 30 to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the foundation encouraged people to disobey the order. The foundation helped organized the “Disobey Idaho” protest at the Capitol, which a few hundred people attended and continued to organize, promote, or participate in several stay-at-home violations. The complaint says one way the foundation directly attempts to influence legislation is through its “Freedom Index,” which grades how each state legislator’s voting record meshes with the group’s agenda.
Illinois – Bid to Strengthen Legislative Ethics Code on Sexual Harassment Blocked by Senate
State Journal-Register – Dalton Stokes | Published: 4/24/2020
Legislation to expressly prohibit sexual harassment by legislators and lobbyists in Illinois was one of many bills that did not become law in the 2020 session that was shortened by the coronavirus pandemic. The reasons for its failure in the state Senate remain unclear. After the bill passed the House, Senate leaders assigned it to the State and Local Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Wil Schroder. He said, “There were some Senate members who had questions regarding the new definitions contained in the bill and were not comfortable handling that section this session.”
Kansas – Kansas Ethics Panel Fines Former Corrections Secretary for Taking $100K Job with CoreCivic
Topeka Capital-Journal – Sherman Smith | Published: 4/27/2020
The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission fined former corrections secretary Joe Norwood $5,000 for taking a job with CoreCivic after authorizing a lucrative state contract for the company. The commission also recommended authorities further investigate Norwood’s dealings with CoreCivic. As corrections secretary under former Gov. Sam Brownback, Norwood helped orchestrate a 20-year agreement for CoreCivic to build and operate a new prison facility, a $362 million deal panned by lawmakers and auditors as overly costly for the state. Norwood immediately went to work for CoreCivic after Gov. Laura Kelly took office in January 2019. Norwood said he was paid $100,000 by CoreCivic for consultant work last year.
Maryland – Ex-NAACP Leader Kweisi Mfume Wins Maryland Seat in Congress
Miami Herald – Brian Witte and Julio Cortez (Associated Press) | Published: 4/28/2020
Democrat Kweisi Mfume won a special election to finish the term of the late Elijah Cummings, retaking a Maryland congressional seat he held for five terms before leaving to lead the NAACP. Mfume defeated Kimberly Klacik in the heavily Democratic Seventh Congressional District, capping a race reshaped by the coronavirus. Maryland opened just three polling stations and sent ballots weeks in advance to encourage mail voting because of the pandemic. Earlier in April, thousands of Wisconsin primary voters waited hours outside overcrowded polling stations, and Maryland’s contest could be a test for future races in a key election year.
Michigan – Michigan Senator Apologizes for Mask That Looked Like Confederate Flag
New York Times – Sandra Garcia | Published: 4/26/2020
A Republican state senator in Michigan apologized for wearing a homemade mask that resembled the Confederate battle flag on the Senate floor. Dale Zorn said he told his wife, who made the mask, that it “probably will raise some eyebrows,” but he initially told a local television station that it was not a Confederate flag. He said his wife told the mask’s pattern was “more similar to” the state flags of Kentucky or Tennessee. The mask he wore, however, appeared to have more in common with the Confederate battle flag, which is all red and features a blue “X” with white stars inside it drawn across the flag.
New Mexico – Coalition Asks for $8,000 Reimbursement from Legislator, Former Executive Director
Albuquerque Journal – T.S. Last | Published: 4/27/2020
The Regional Coalition of Los Alamos National Laboratory Communities (RCLC) is asking New Mexico Rep. Andrea Romero to pay back $8,000 in reimbursements paid to her while she served as the organization’s executive director and before her election in 2018. Romero previously reimbursed RCLC $2,200, but that was before the state auditor’s office released a report that included impermissible reimbursements for travel, meals, and alcoholic beverages and lobbying activities. The audit said more than $50,000 in improper payments were made to Romero, members of the coalition’s board, and third parties. More than half of those payments went to Andrea Romero Consulting.
New York – New York Board of Elections Cancels Democratic Presidential Primary
New York Times – Stephanie Saul and Nick Corasaniti | Published: 4/27/2020
New York officials canceled the state’s Democratic presidential primary, prompting an immediate backlash from the campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and his supporters who had hoped to amass convention delegates and help shape the party’s platform in August. In making the decision against holding a primary, which had been scheduled for June 23, the chairperson of the New York State Board of Elections called the primary “essentially a beauty contest” that the state could ill-afford in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The Democratic primary will be held for other races, but because of the decision, voters in about 20 counties with no other contests will have no need to go to the polls, and no choice for president will appear on ballots in the remainder of the state’s 62 counties.
Ohio – Biden Wins Ohio Primary, but the Real Contest Was Its Attempt at Mail-In Voting
WUSA – Will Weissert and Julie Carr-Smyth (Associated Press) | Published: 4/28/2020
Joe Biden won Ohio’s presidential primary, clinching a contest that was less about the Democratic nomination and more about how states can conduct elections in the era of the coronavirus. The primary was the first major test of statewide elections via mail amid an outbreak, and the results were mixed. There were reports of confusion but no widespread disruption. It was not like Wisconsin earlier in April, when voters were forced to overlook social distancing guidelines to stand in line wearing masks to cast a ballot. Still, overall turnout appeared to be off.
Ohio – Former ODNR Chief Cited for Ethics Violation Over Free Fishing Trip
Toledo Blade – Mike Markey | Published: 4/28/2020
Former Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Director James Zehringer is among nearly 40 current and former state employees and elected officials who the state inspector general has determined violated ethics guidelines by accepting a free charter fishing trip in July 2018. While ethics laws prohibit public officials and employees from accepting gifts of substantial value, state officials wrongly employed a “questionable” interpretation of state law that the fishing trip could be accepted as a donation to the agency to promote tourism, the report said. It instead constituted a “wrongful act” on which natural resources officials also spent public money on lodging and meals for the walleye fishing trip out of Ashtabula County.
Ohio – Ohio’s G.O.P. Governor Splits from Trump, and Rises in Popularity
MSN – Trip Gabriel (New York Times) | Published: 4/28/2020
The coronavirus crisis has made Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine something that decades in elected offices never did: a household name. A Republican, he took early and bold actions to lock down his state, even as President Trump dismissed the threat of the pandemic. DeWine’s decisiveness sent his popularity soaring. Now, DeWine is charting a way out of the shutdown, taking cautious steps while facing pressure from business leaders, conservative activists, and some GOP lawmakers who question the economic costs of a state in quarantine. DeWine is being guided by health experts while avoiding partisan fissures over stay-at-home orders that have been encouraged by Trump, who hopes a rebounding economy will carry him to re-election.
Oregon – Oregon Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Campaign Contribution Limits
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Jeff Mapes | Published: 4/23/2020
Campaign contribution limits are legal in Oregon. The state Supreme Court said limits do not violate the Oregon Constitution, a ruling that potentially signals major reform in one of the few states that does not restrict how much donors, including corporations and labor unions, can give to the candidates. The court ruled in favor of the $500 cap adopted by Multnomah County voters in 2016. The decision sends the case back to a lower court to decide whether Multnomah County’s limits themselves are too low, while tossing out limits that county voters set on campaign expenditures.
Oregon – Portland to Begin Enforcing $500 Campaign Donation Limit Next Week, But It Won’t Apply Retroactively
Portland Oregonian – Everton Bailey Jr. | Published: 4/28/2020
In the wake of an Oregon Supreme Court ruling that campaign contribution limits do not violate the state constitution, Portland election officials say they will enforce a voter-approved $500-per-donor limit starting May 4 but would not retroactively enforce the cap. In their ruling, the justices asked lower courts to decide if $500-per-donor limits, approved first by Multnomah County voters and then by Portland voters, are too low. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said his campaign would limit donations going forward to $500 overall in light of the Supreme Court ruling. He also called on state lawmakers to establish uniform political contribution rules in 2021.
Rhode Island – Ethics Commission Dismisses GOP Complaint vs. Raimondo
Providence Journal – Katherine Gregg | Published: 4/28/2020
The Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted to dismiss allegations that Gov. Gina Raimondo crossed a line when she negotiated a no-bid, 20-year lottery deal with International Game Technology (IGT). The complaint the state Republican Party filed against Raimondo centers on her relationship with former IGT Chairperson Donald Sweitzer, who was both an IGT lobbyist in Rhode Island and treasurer of the Democratic Governors Association while Raimondo led the group. The complaint alleges Raimondo violated the prohibition against public officials using their public positions to benefit a “business associate,” in this case Sweitzer.
Rhode Island – Former State Representative-Elect Laufton Ascencao Charged with Felony Embezzlement
UpriseRI – Staff | Published: 4/28/2020
Former state Rep.-elect Laufton Ascencao was charged with embezzlement of funds from the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club, as well as not reporting expenditures on campaign finance filings and failing to appoint a treasurer to certify his campaign filings in 2017 and 2018. The state attorney general’s office said Ascencao, without authorization, diverted $16,379 from the checking account of the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club while he was serving as treasurer of that organization. Ascencao used the money to pay for expenses during his 2018 campaign for state representative.
South Carolina – SC Officials Troubled by Senator’s Financial Ties to Richland County Church’s Nonprofit
The State – Andrew Kaplan | Published: 4/24/2020
The revelation that a prominent South Carolina senator sent nearly $500,000 in public money to help with the construction of a private development has some lawmakers and ethics experts crying foul. The money sent to a church’s nonprofit in 2007 was approved by state lawmakers, including state Sen. Darrell Jackson, who is pastor of the church and founder of its nonprofit. It is part of a long-held practice in which legislative leaders stash millions of dollars in the state’s budget each year, then send the earmarked money to pet projects. While a majority of legislators voted in favor of sending money to the private development, several recently interviewed issue with the vote and said they would not have supported later earmarks for the nonprofit had they known about its ties to their fellow lawmaker.
South Dakota – 2 South Dakota Lawmakers Reprimanded for Intoxication at Capitol
Dickinson Press – Shannon Marvel | Published: 4/24/2020
State Sens. Brock Greenfield and Kris Langer apologized during an investigative committee meeting for drinking and returning to the South Dakota Capitol drunk in the early morning hours of April 1. March 31 was the scheduled Veto Day, and the actual legislative session ended at about 3 a.m. on April 1. House Speaker Steve Haugaard testified he witnessed Langer and Greenfield slur their words during a meeting with Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden. Rep. Fred Deutsch tweeted that the lawmakers should apologize to all of South Dakota. “We are elected to do the people’s work, not to booze it up – the tradition of lobbyist-provided all-you-can-drink free booze needs to stop,” Deutsch tweeted.
Virginia – Va. Gun Range Wins First Victory Against Order Requiring Businesses to Close
Laredo Morning Times – Justin Jouvenal (Washington Post) | Published: 4/27/2020
A Virginia Circuit Court judge ruled Gov. Ralph Northam exceeded his authority by forcing an indoor gun range in Lynchburg to close as part of his order shuttering some nonessential businesses. The decision to grant a temporary injunction allowing Safeside Tactical to reopen marks the first victory by a business challenging the restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The judge ruled the state law that allowed Northam to declare a state of emergency gives him broad powers, but it specifically prohibits him from limiting the right to keep and bear arms, and found accessing indoor gun ranges falls under that right. Legal experts said the case could spur others as businesses begin to chafe under restrictive shutdown orders in Virginia and across the country.
Wisconsin – Justice Daniel Kelly Rejoins Voter Purge Case After Losing Election
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Patrick Marley | Published: 4/29/2020
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly rejoined a lawsuit over the state’s voter rolls after earlier keeping away from the case. Kelly recused himself from the case last year because he was on the April 7 ballot. The justice lost the election but will stay on the bench until the end of July, when his term ends. Days after the election results were announced, Kelly asked parties involved in the case to say what they thought he should do and on April 29 he issued an order saying he would participate in the case. His decision to participate in the case means the court will not deadlock on it, as it did in December.
Wisconsin – Wisconsin Health Department: 36 people positive for coronavirus after primary vote
Politico – Noland McCaskill | Published: 4/27/2020
The state health department said at least three dozen Wisconsin voters and poll workers have tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Shortly after the state held an in-person election on April 7, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced “new tracing mechanisms” to help local officials track residents who might have been exposed to the virus while working the polls or casting a ballot. Health department spokesperson Jennifer Miller said “several” people within that group reported additional possible exposures, making it unclear whether the election itself is responsible for their contraction of the disease. If those people contracted the virus prior to the election, they could have also spread it to others who went to the polls that day.
April 29, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
Elections National: “How a Digital Ad Strategy That Helped Trump Is Being Used Against Him” by Nick Corasaniti for New York Times Wisconsin: “Wisconsin Health Department: 36 people positive for coronavirus after primary vote” by Noland McCaskill for Politico Ethics […]
National: “How a Digital Ad Strategy That Helped Trump Is Being Used Against Him” by Nick Corasaniti for New York Times
Wisconsin: “Wisconsin Health Department: 36 people positive for coronavirus after primary vote” by Noland McCaskill for Politico
National: “Trump Allies Highlight New Claims Regarding Allegations Against Biden” by Matt Viser (Washington Post) for MSN
Kansas: “Kansas Ethics Panel Fines Former Corrections Secretary for Taking $100K Job with CoreCivic” by Sherman Smith for Topeka Capital-Journal
Michigan: “Michigan Senator Apologizes for Mask That Looked Like Confederate Flag” by Sandra Garcia for New York Times
Rhode Island: “Ethics Commission Dismisses GOP Complaint vs. Raimondo” by Katherine Gregg for Providence Journal
Virginia: “Va. Gun Range Wins First Victory Against Order Requiring Businesses to Close” by Justin Jouvenal (Washington Post) for Laredo Morning Times
Georgia: “Supreme Court Rules States Can’t Copyright Annotated Laws” by Tim Ryan for Courthouse News Service
April 24, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
National/Federal A Watchdog Out of Trump’s Grasp Unleashes Wave of Coronavirus Audits Politico – Kyle Cheney | Published: 4/20/2020 Lawmakers handed President Trump $2 trillion in coronavirus relief and then left town without activating any of the powerful new oversight tools […]
A Watchdog Out of Trump’s Grasp Unleashes Wave of Coronavirus Audits
Politico – Kyle Cheney | Published: 4/20/2020
Lawmakers handed President Trump $2 trillion in coronavirus relief and then left town without activating any of the powerful new oversight tools meant to hold his administration accountable. But with little fanfare, Congress’ independent, in-house watchdog is preparing audits that will become the first wide-ranging check on Trump’s handling of the national rescue effort. Even as Trump has gone to war against internal watchdogs in his administration, the Government Accountability Office remains largely out of the president’s grasp because of its home in the legislative branch.
‘All of It Is Happening All at Once’: When Congress works from home
New York Times – Nicholas Fandos and Sheryl Gay Stolberg | Published: 4/18/2020
With the Capitol shuttered until at least early May and the House now considering instituting remote voting to facilitate a more prolonged absence from Washington, D.C, members of Congress are sequestered at home like the rest of America, forced to reimagine how to do their jobs virtually. It is a singular challenge for lawmakers, whose tasks typically revolve around human contact with a rotating cast of constituents, staff, lobbyists, and fellow lawmakers. They have come up with creative (some more than others) solutions.
Biden Campaign’s Selection of Preferred Super PAC Stokes Strife in Democratic Party
Washington Post – Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Michael Scherer, and Matt Viser | Published: 4/16/2020
Joe Biden’s campaign signaled to donors that Priorities USA would be its main big-money partner for the general election, a move that has alarmed some of Biden’s ardent backers, who fear the campaign has given outsize influence to a super PAC that many donors associate with the party’s loss in 2016. At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars in independent spending for Biden by super PACs and politically active nonprofits that can raise and spend unlimited sums to try to influence elections. Democrats are scrambling to build an operation to compete with President Trump, who has been fundraising for his reelection since 2017. But as they seek to put up a unified front, Democrats have been dogged by internal battles over how to avoid the mistakes of 2016.
Biden Makes End Run Around Trump as the President Dominates the National Stage
MSN – Annie Linsky (Washington Post) | Published: 4/22/2020
Homebound at his estate in Wilmington, Delaware, Joe Biden’s quarantined campaign is adjusting to a new reality in which the prime-time television slots that would carry his rallies and speeches under normal conditions are now largely dedicated to subjects other than the 2020 presidential campaign. Making matters worse for Biden, President Trump dominates each evening with his coronavirus task force briefings, which mostly are carried live by cable and can have the feel of a daily campaign rally. That has left Biden with little choice but to spread his message around – bracketing the president by offering himself to local newscasts in battleground states that run his interviews. Biden’s appearances aim at groups of voters that he must attract to win in November, including suburbanites, younger voters, and nonwhite voters.
City Leaders to Trump: Help us fight the coronavirus by paying your bill
Center for Public Integrity – Dave Leventhal | Published: 4/16/2020
Fourteen municipal governments want President Trump’s campaign committee to clear a combined $1.82 million worth of public safety-related debt connected to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign rallies. Cities are girding for a coronavirus-induced financial disaster, with a new study indicating more than 2,100 U.S. cities are anticipating significant budget shortfalls and widespread cuts to local government programs and staff. These cuts are likely to fall hardest on low-income residents, people of color, the homeless, and the disabled, who are suffering disproportionately from the pandemic. “… During this [Covid-19] crisis, that loss is even more pronounced – $150,000, for instance, could pay for emergency rental assistance for 100 Minneapolis families,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.
Cory Gardner Attended Pricey Champagne Party in Palm Beach. A Colorado Lawmaker Wants an Investigation.
Denver Post – Jason Wingerter | Published: 4/19/2020
A February party in Palm Beach, whose gust list included U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, was put on by Krug Champagne, a French company owned by a multinational conglomerate of luxury brands called LVMH. For the past 20 years, LVMH has lobbied the Senate on a range of issues related to its brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Hennessy, and Krug Champagne. State Sen. Tom Sullivan says Gardner’s appearance at the party is an ethics violation. Sullivan claimed in a complaint to the Senate Ethics Committee that Gardner violated a ban on gifts of more than $50, as well as a ban on gifts from companies that hire lobbyists.
Donna Shalala, Lone Democrat Overseeing $500B Virus Fund, Didn’t Disclose 2019 Stock Sales
Tampa Bay Times – Alex Daugherty | Published: 4/22/2020
Rep. Donna Shalala, the lone U.S. House Democrat on the committee set up to oversee $500 billion in taxpayer money being used for coronavirus-related payouts to large businesses, violated federal law when she failed to disclose stock sales while serving in Congress. Shalala said she sold a variety of stocks throughout 2019 to eliminate any potential conflicts-of-interest after she was elected to Congress in November 2018. But the transactions were not publicly reported as required by the STOCK Act, which prohibits members of Congress and their employees from using private information gleaned from their official positions for personal benefit and requires them to report stock sales and purchases within 45 days. Shalala’s office said the she and her financial adviser made a mistake.
Ethics Guidance on Coronavirus Relief Package: Lawmakers may be able to apply for some loans
Roll Call – Chris Marquette | Published: 4/21/2020
The U.S. House ethics committee is recommending that lawmakers and their families exercise “caution” before applying for economic relief through the massive relief packages passed into law to quell the financial ruin caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Companies in which members of Congress or family members, such as a spouse or child own at least 20 percent equity interest cannot get any loans or other investments from the pool of funds to be disbursed by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. But those conflict-of-interest prohibitions do not apply to other components of the law, including the Paycheck Protection Program.
House Democrats Retreat on Remote Voting as Republicans Clamor to Reopen
New York Times – Catie Edmonson and Emily Cochrane | Published: 4/22/2020
Democratic leaders backed away from a plan to change the rules of the U.S. House to allow lawmakers to cast votes remotely for the first time in history, after Republicans who are clamoring to reopen Congress registered their opposition. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would no longer vote on a proposal to allow members to designate another lawmaker to cast votes for them by proxy. Instead, she said she and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy would have a bipartisan group of lawmakers consider remote voting proposals and plans to reopen the House.
K Street Is Booming. But There’s a Creeping Sense of Dread.
Politico – Theodoric Meyer and Elena Schneider | Published: 4/19/2020
Business is booming on K Street due to the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, but lobbyists are also dreading what might be on the horizon if the economy slumps into a protracted recession, according to interviews with more than a dozen lobbyists. Several privately expressed worry that business could dry up if the companies with falling revenue move to cut expenses. Some lobbying firms could even go under. But for now, the chaos has been unmistakably good for business. Hospitals, casinos, Indian tribes, pharmaceutical interests, and private equity firms have all hired lobbyists for help, along with companies from 3M to Ticketmaster to Six Flags. with companies from 3M to Ticketmaster to Six Flags.
Matt Gaetz Rents Office Space from Longtime Friend and Donor – at Taxpayer Expense
Politico – Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan | Published: 4/17/2020
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz has spent nearly $200,000 in taxpayer funds renting an office from a longtime friend, adviser, campaign donor, and legal client. Both men said Gaetz paid below market rent for the space, although Gaetz later shifted, saying the rent was “at or below market rate.” House rules explicitly state such arrangements are not allowed. The agreement between Gaetz and Collier Merrill highlights how a decades-long relationship can become intertwined with a lawmaker’s congressional duties. On top of being Merrill’s tenant, Gaetz attended fundraisers at Merrill’s restaurants and sought his counsel on policy matters.
Shell Companies Hide Trump Campaign’s Financial Dealings as Super PAC Coordination Rules Kick In
Center for Responsive Politics – Anna Massoglia | Published: 4/17/2020
President Trump’s official super PAC, America First Action, recently unveiled its first independent expenditures in the 2020 presidential election attacking presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden on his response to the coronavirus pandemic. But critical information about financial dealings of Trump’s re-election campaign remains hidden by shell companies, obscuring details critical to determine if the campaign is coordinating with his official super PAC. The FEC considers shared vendors when determining if communications constitute illegal coordination between a campaign and an outside group supporting it. The Trump campaign’s disclosure of payments through shell companies keeps the identities of sub-vendors it might share with its super PAC hidden.
Small Business Rescue Cash Isn’t for Lobbyists, Judge Rules
Washington Post – Erik Larson (Bloomberg) | Published: 4/23/2020
Political consulting and lobbying firms were rebuffed in an effort to tap coronavirus rescue money, as a federal judge ruled the funds for small businesses are essentially subsidies that lobbyists cannot receive from the government. The firms cannot tap Paycheck Protection Program loans disbursed by the Small Business Administration because a decades-old regulation bars the agency from subsidizing political speech, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth said.
The Quiet Hand of Conservative Groups in the Anti-Lockdown Protests
MSN – Kenneth Vogel, Jim Rutenberg, and Lisa Lerer (New York Times) | Published: 4/21/2020
Among those fighting the state and local orders intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus are FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots. Also involved are a law firm led partly by former Trump White House officials, a network of state-based conservative policy groups, and a coalition of conservative leaders known as Save Our Country that has advised the White House on strategies for a tiered reopening of the economy. The fight has emerged as a galvanizing cause for a vocal element of President Trump’s base and others on the political right. Organizers see it as unifying social conservatives, who view the orders as targeting religious groups; fiscal conservatives who chafe at the economic devastation wrought by the restrictions on businesses; and civil libertarians who contend the restrictions infringe on constitutional rights.
Trips to Ski Slopes, Beaches and Golf Courses Popular with House Leadership PACs
Roll Call – Chris Marquette | Published: 4/20/2020
U.S. Rep. K. Michael Conaway has spent $285,000 since 2011 from his leadership PAC, Conservative Opportunities for a New America PAC, on things such as golf, spring training tickets and meals in Florida, and stays at the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Conaway is not alone in using leadership PAC money for luxuries that ethics experts consider questionable. Added together, he and six House colleagues spent nearly $800,000 over the past 11 years on elaborate expenditures. Ski trips to mountain resorts were popular. So were fishing, golf, whitewater rafting, and plenty of food and drink.
Trump Interior Official Helped Clear Way for Payments to Ex-Employer
Politico – Adam Cancryn | Published: 4/16/2020
An Interior Department official is under fire over her role in securing access to billions of dollars in coronavirus aid for a handful of wealthy Alaska corporations, including one that previously employed her as a lobbyist and top executive. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney is among a group of Interior officials advising the Treasury Department on how to distribute $8 billion in rescue funding Congress earmarked for Native American tribes, an allocation that some lawmakers now say they intended solely for the 574 federally recognized tribes hit hard by the economic shutdown. But the Trump administration indicated it also plans to include more than 200 for-profit Alaska Native corporations among the eligible recipients.
Trump Team’s Use of Big Insurer to Dispense Recovery Funds Comes Under Scrutiny
Politico – Maggie Severns and Daniel Lippman | Published: 4/18/2020
A senior economist for the White House Council of Economic Advisers, whose nomination to a post overseeing health insurance floundered in the wake of revelations of his financial ties to UnitedHealth Group, is now playing a key role overseeing a $30 billion recovery program being administered by UnitedHealth. The choice of UnitedHealth, a leading health insurer, to serve as a conduit in funneling billions of dollars to hospitals and other providers, surprised many in health care, including employees at the Department of Health and Human Services who had assumed their department would administer the program itself. Though UnitedHealth says it will make no profit off of the deal, its role in handing the money to hospitals could boost its relationships with the White House and the public during a tumultuous year and possibly provide it with valuable health care data, experts say.
Trump-Backed Online Donor Platform Launches at State Level Ahead of Redistricting
Politico – Scott Bland | Published: 4/17/2020
The GOP online donation platform endorsed by President Trump is opening up to state legislative candidates and others outside federal office, hoping to drive a financial boost for Republicans in the states ahead of the 2020 elections and next year’s redistricting. WinRed, which launched last year, is partnering with the Republican State Leadership Committee to make the platform available to state-level candidates, another step in the group’s drive to get the entire Republican Party using one system for digital fundraising. While the presidential race will command the most attention in 2020, this election is also particularly consequential because state Legislatures will play a key role in the decennial redistricting process that starts next year, with the potential in some states to enact maps that favor one party for the next decade.
From the States and Municipalities
California – Here’s Why L.A. County Plans In-Person Voting During Coronavirus Crisis While Riverside, Orange Went All-Mail
Los Angeles Daily News – Ryan Carter | Published: 4/22/2020
On May 12, Los Angeles County voters will decide who replaces former U.S. Rep. Katie Hill for her remaining term in Congress. Despite countywide “stay at home” orders spurred by the coronavirus outbreak, nine polling places will be available for residents to register and cast their ballots in person. Meanwhile, Riverside County plans its own May 12 special election in the 28th Senate District, but it will be mail-only with no in-person balloting. Orange County will stage a May 19 city council recall election in Santa Ana by mail only. In Los Angeles County, elections officials say it is one of 15 counties in California mandated under the Voter’s Choice Act to offer early-voting options by mail and by polling place. Those options include enabling voters to cast ballots in person at the voting center of their choice.
California – San Diego Mayor’s Nonprofit a Prime Beneficiary of Political Donors’ Largesse
San Diego Union Tribune – Jeff McDonald | Published: 4/19/2020
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer solicited $35,000 in so-called behested payments so far this year for One San Diego, the tax-exempt organization he set up after he was elected mayor in 2014. In total he has raised more than $3 million in donations, with $1.6 million earmarked for One San Diego. State law requires they be disclosed so the public can see who is donating money to a public official’s favored cause. Many of the contributions have been made by people and companies with direct business interests before the city. Lani Lutar, a registered lobbyist who regularly meets with the mayor’s senior aides on behalf of her clients, has served as the One San Diego board chairperson for several years.
Connecticut – Connecticut Presidential Primary Pushed Back Two More Months to Aug. 11 Due to Coronavirus Concerns
Hartford Courant – Christopher Keating | Published: 4/17/2020
In a second delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Connecticut’s presidential primary will be pushed back to August 11. Gov. Ned Lamont made the announcement that he was acting in concert with Secretary of the State Denise Merrill to postpone the date by an additional two months. The state has already set aside August 11 as the day for Republican and Democratic primaries for Congress, state Legislature, and local offices. As a result, towns will save money by opening polling places once, instead of twice. Since local conventions have not yet been held, the candidates for those primaries will not be settled until the coming weeks and months.
Illinois – Mayor Lori Lightfoot Introduces Plan to Change Chicago’s City Ethics Rules, Again Allowing Some Elected Officials to Lobby City Government
Chicago Tribune – John Byrne | Published: 4/22/2020
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced a proposal to weaken rules against elected officials lobbying the city that was passed last year. Lightfoot’s amendment to the lobbying ordinance would allow elected officials from outside Chicago to lobby the city council, the mayor’s office, and other city government offices, as long as the public body they represent does not have pending or recurring legislative or contractual matters involving Chicago. That change would partially walk back the stricter standards the council passed following an impassioned debate in December, which barred all elected officials in Illinois from lobbying the city.
Louisiana – Louisiana’s Presidential Primary, Local Elections to Be Delayed Again Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
New Orleans Advocate – Sam Karlin | Published: 4/14/2020
Louisiana’s presidential primary and other local elections have been delayed again until late summer as state leaders offer up a plan that includes expanded access to early voting and mail-in ballots but is expected to still feature in-person voting for most people. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Gov. John Bel Edwards agreed to delay the presidential primary election originally set for April 4th until July 11th to give Ardoin’s office more time to prepare. The subsequent general election for some local races was delayed until August 15th.
Michigan – Brenda Jones Took Illegal Campaign Cash from Donors Doing Business with the City of Detroit
The Intercept – Matthew Cunningham-Cook | Published: 4/21/2020
Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones accepted campaign contributions that violate Michigan’s “pay-to-play rules, according to a review of campaign finance records and interviews with ethics experts. During her 2017 bid for reelection to city council, Jones accepted $5,500 in campaign contributions from then-First Independence Bank Chief Executive Officer Barry Clay, and an additional $4,000 in political donations from First Independence Bank board member Douglas Diggs. The donations occurred as First Independence had a contract with the Detroit police and fire pension fund, of which Jones, as president of the council, is a trustee. First Independence runs a loan program for the pension fund.
Michigan – Michigan Cancels Contract with Two Democratic-Linked Firms That Had Been Tapped to Track Coronavirus
Connecticut Post – Matt Viser and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 4/21/2020
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration canceled a no-bid contract to help track the spread of the coronavirus in Michigan, a day after announcing the hiring of a state Democratic consultant and a national firm that has worked for prominent Democratic causes. The reversal comes amid complaints the governor tapped politically connected firms to collect health data on state residents and monitor sensitive medical information. The episode illustrates the political and ethical pitfalls involved in the large amounts of money suddenly being spent across the country to curb the pandemic and boost the economy. Companies receiving aid and contracts have been criticized in recent weeks for ties to one party or the other, and Democrats and Republicans have wrangled over the best way to oversee the process.
New Mexico – Ex-Rio Arriba Official Faces Allegations
Albuquerque Journal – Edmund Carrillo | Published: 4/19/2020
Former Rio Arriba County Commissioner Barney Trujillo made over $100,000 from three contracts with Española Public Schools, yet did so without the proper business licenses, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office says. As a contract holder with the school district, he also never disclosed he contributed to the campaigns of two school board members, which is a violation of governmental conduct laws, according to the attorney general’s office. Trujillo faces three counts of unlawful interest in a public contract and one count of failing to disclose campaign contributions. He could face up to six years in prison.
North Carolina – Voting Rights Advocates File Lawsuit Over Allegedly Insecure North Carolina Voting Machines
The Hill – Maggie Miller | Published: 4/15/2020
A group of voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit alleging that voting machines used in almost two dozen North Carolina counties are not secure and could lead to voter disenfranchisement in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit alleges the use of the ExpressVote XL voting machine violates the constitutional right of individuals in the state to free and fair elections and has cyber vulnerabilities that could lead to election interference. The machines involve the voter inputting their choices digitally, with the machine then printing out a paper sheet with a barcode embedded with the voter’s choices. The voting rights advocates point to this system as making it impossible for the average voter to ensure their vote was not changed and was accurate.
Ohio – Appeals Court Entertains Arguments on Whether Jimmy Dimora Should Receive New Trial
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Eric Heisig | Published: 4/16/2020
Federal appeals court judges grilled a prosecutor and a defense lawyer on whether former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora should get another chance to prove his innocence. Dimora has argued that errors in the instructions a judge gave to the jury that convicted him in 2012, as well as the judge’s decision to disallow the former commissioner to present his Ohio ethics reports, means he should get a new trial. Dimora is serving a 28-year prison sentence for corruption-related convictions.
Oregon – Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler Violated Campaign Finance Disclosure Rules, City Elections Official Says
Portland Oregonian – Everton Bailey Jr. | Published: 4/21/2020
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler broke new city election rules by not properly disclosing his largest campaign contributors on his reelection website or two campaign social media accounts, the city auditor’s office ruled. Rules that took effect with this election cycle require candidates to prominently list the top five donors who have given more than $1,000 on campaign communications, said Elections Officer Deborah Scroggin. Wheeler announces “Paid for by Friends of Ted Wheeler” on his campaign website, but the top contributors are not identified there or on his re-election Facebook page or Twitter account.
Texas – More Than Half of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Coronavirus Panel on Reopening Texas Are Campaign Donors
Dallas Morning News – Allie Morris, Ariana Giorgi, and Robert Garrett | Published: 4/18/2020
Gov. Greg Abbott named 39 prominent Texans, most business and industry leaders, to a panel that will help guide a reopening of the state’s economy after the coronavirus. Many of them are also campaign donors. Thirty-one of the counci’’s 39 members have contributed to Abbott’s past runs for governor and attorney general, and since 2015, 25 have given Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign at least $5.8 million combined. The choices are drawing fire from government-transparency advocates, union officials, and Democratic leaders who fear that public health could be subordinated to profit motives as tough judgment calls are made in the coming weeks and months about easing isolation edicts.
Texas – Top Travis County Official Returns $5,000 After Campaign Ethics Violation
Austin American-Statesman – Ryan Autullo | Published: 4/16/2020
State Senate candidate Sarah Eckhardt, the acting county judge in Travis County, acknowledged accepting political contributions in violation of finance law. Candidates in statewide races are prohibited by the Texas Ethics Commission from knowingly accepting a contribution at a time when a campaign treasurer is not in place. The person who filed the complaint is University of Texas student Blake Beatty, who said he discovered Eckhardt’s impermissible fundraising, because “I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands during the quarantine.”
Washington – Justices: $18M campaign finance penalty to be reconsidered
AP News – Gene Johnson | Published: 4/16/2020
A record fine levied against the Grocery Manufacturers Association for concealing the identities of the food and beverage companies that spent $11 million to defeat a GMO-labeling initiative in 2013 was upheld by the Washington Supreme Court. In a five-to-four decision, justices overruled an appeals court and reinstated an $18 million fine against the trade group, now known as the Consumer Brands Association. The decision does not fully settle whether the penalty will stand. The court did not rule on whether the penalty violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive punishment. The justices sent the case back to the appeals court to “scrutinize carefully” whether the fine is constitutional.
Wisconsin – After Losing Election, State Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly Signals He Will Participate in Voter Rolls Case
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Patrick Marley | Published: 4/16/2020
Days after learning he was losing his seat on the state Supreme Court, Justice Daniel Kelly signaled he would participate in a case over who should remain on Wisconsin’s voter rolls after earlier stepping away from the lawsuit. The case is expected to determine whether tens of thousands of voters who are suspected of having moved can stay on the state’s voter rolls. Kelly issued a court order saying it appears he no longer has a conflict in the case. He asked those involved in the case to file briefs on what they think he should do before he makes a final decision. Kelly had stayed away from the case because it could have affected who was a registered voter for the April 7 election, when he was on the ballot.
Wisconsin – At Least Seven in Wisconsin Contract Coronavirus During Voting
MSN – Nick Corasaniti and Reid Epstein (New York Times) | Published: 4/21/2020
Milwaukee health officials said they had identified at least seven people who contracted the coronavirus from participating in Election Day on April 7, which was held despite a stay-at-home order issued throughout the state. The officials say the number may be higher as they are still conducting testing. Other cities have not reported any cases tied to voting yet. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services said it would also be studying any voters or election workers who contracted the virus from voting.
Wisconsin – Vote by Mail in Wisconsin Helped a Liberal Candidate, Upending Old Theories
New York Times – Reid Epstein | Published: 4/21/2020
The liberal candidate in the April 7 Wisconsin Supreme Court race prevailed in voting by mail by a significant margin, upending years of study showing little advantage to either party when a state transitions from in-person to mail voting. The gap suggests Democrats were more organized and proactive in their vote-by-mail efforts in an election conducted under extraordinary circumstances, with voters forced to weigh the health risks of voting in person against the sometimes unreliable option of requesting and mailing in their ballots. Still, it is likely to add to the skepticism President Trump and Republicans have expressed bout mail voting, which they worry would increase Democratic turnout at Republicans’ expense.