May 24, 2019 •

News You Can Use Digest – May 24, 2019

News You Can Use

National/Federal 9th Circuit Rejects Challenge to Foreign-Donation Ban Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 5/16/2019 A federal appeals court rejected a legal challenge to Congress’ ban on most foreign nationals donating to state and local election campaigns. The Ninth Circuit Court […]

National/Federal

9th Circuit Rejects Challenge to Foreign-Donation Ban
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 5/16/2019

A federal appeals court rejected a legal challenge to Congress’ ban on most foreign nationals donating to state and local election campaigns. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban, saying a “summary” U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 upholding the foreign-donation prohibition left lower-court judges obliged to turn down all First Amendment challenges to the statute. But that high-court decision, issued without briefs or argument, dealt with a lawsuit focused on federal elections. Critics of the ban have said allowing it to extend into state and local political contests intrudes on the right of states and municipalities to control their own electoral processes.

A Conservative Activist’s Behind-the-Scenes Campaign to Remake the Nation’s Courts
Anchorage Daily News – Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Shawn Boburg (Washington Post) | Published: 5/21/2019

At a time when President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are reshaping federal courts by installing conservative judges and Supreme Court justices, few people outside government have more influence over judicial appointments now than Leonard Leo. He is executive vice president of the Federalist Society, a nonprofit group for conservative lawyers that has close ties to Supreme Court justices. Behind the scenes, Leo is the maestro of a network of interlocking nonprofits working on media campaigns and other initiatives to sway lawmakers by generating public support for conservative judges. The story of Leo’s rise shows how undisclosed interests outside of government are harnessing the nation’s nonprofit system to influence judicial appointments that will shape the nation for decades.

Bank CEO Charged with Bribing Manafort for Trump Administration Post
Politico – Natasha Bertrand | Published: 5/23/2019

A Chicago bank executive tried to bribe Trump campaign chairperson Paul Manafort with roughly $16 million in loans after the 2016 election in the hopes of scoring a top administration post, according to a federal indictment. Stephen Calk, then the chief executive officer of the Federal Savings Bank of Chicago, “sought to leverage his control over” Manafort’s proposed loans in order to obtain a senior administration position, said court documents. And Calk approved the loans even though he “was aware of significant red flags regarding” Manafort’s ability to pay back the money. The loans were first mentioned during Manafort’s Virginia prosecution on bank- and tax-fraud charges, when one of Calk’s colleagues described the potential quid pro quo during courtroom testimony.

Cohen Told Lawmakers Trump Attorney Jay Sekulow Encouraged Him to Falsely Claim Moscow Project Ended in January
MSN – Tom Hamburger, Ellen Nakashima, and Karoun Demirjian (Washington Post) | Published: 5/20/2019

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, told a House panel during closed-door hearings that he had been encouraged by Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow to falsely claim in a 2017 statement to Congress that negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow ended in January 2016. Cohen later admitted discussions on the Moscow tower continued into June of the presidential election year, after it was clear Trump would be the GOP nominee. Cohen’s closed-door testimony led Democrats to press Sekulow and other Trump family lawyers who were involved in a joint defense agreement for more information about work they did preparing Cohen’s statement. The lawyers have so far rebuffed the request, calling it a threat to the protection of communications between lawyers and their clients.

Confidential Draft IRS Memo Says Tax Returns Must Be Given to Congress Unless President Invokes Executive Privilege
MSN – Jeff Stein and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 5/21/2019

A confidential Internal Revenue Service (IRS) legal memorandum says tax returns must be given to Congress unless the president takes the rare step of asserting executive privilege. The memo contradicts the Trump administration’s justification for denying lawmakers’ request for President Trump’s tax returns, exposing fissures in the executive branch. Trump has refused to turn over his tax returns but has not invoked executive privilege. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has instead denied the returns by arguing there is no legislative purpose for demanding them. The IRS memo says the law “does not allow the Secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing the information provided the statutory conditions are met” and directly rejects the reason Mnuchin has cited for withholding the information.

Congressional Report: Purdue Pharma influenced World Health Organization’s opioid guidelines
Washington Post – Katie Zezima | Published: 5/23/2019

A new congressional report claims the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines on treating pain were directly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, including a set of directions for prescribing powerful painkillers that appear to have been taken from Purdue Pharma. The investigation points to evidence that drug makers and those who profited from the increased prescribing of opioids aimed to push the WHO into endorsing use of the drugs across the globe. The WHO provides health guidance worldwide. The report alleges wo WHO reports that provide guidelines for treating severe pain, one in adults and the other in children, draw directly from Purdue’s strategies on how to market opioids.

DC Circuit OKs Payment-Plan Rules for Campaign Donors
Courthouse News Service – Brad Katner | Published: 5/21/2019

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will keep in place an installment plan for nearly $250,000 bequeathed to the Libertarian Party. When Joseph Shaber died in 2014, he left $235,000 to the Libertarian National Committee, the campaign arm of the party. While federal elections rules permit individuals to give up to $339,000 per year to such entities, that total comes with certain specifications. Shaber’s gift came with no strings attached, but the Libertarian Party says the $33,900 limit on general-expenditure donations forces it to collect the money in installments each year, leaving the rest in an escrow account. The party argued such limits are a violation of free-speech rights and spreading the payments out under the FEC-mandated plan would violate Shaber’s post-mortem wishes. U.S. Circuit Court Judge David Tatel noting Congress created donation limits to avoid political corruption, even in death.

Deutsche Bank Staff Saw Suspicious Activity in Trump and Kushner Accounts
MSN – David Enrich (New York Times) | Published: 5/19/2019

Anti-money-laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank recommended in 2016 and 2017 that multiple transactions involving legal entities controlled by Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be reported to a federal financial-crimes watchdog. The transactions, some of which involved Trump’s now-defunct foundation, set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity, according to bank employees. Compliance staff members who then reviewed the transactions prepared so-called suspicious activity reports that they believed should be sent to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes. But executives at Deutsche Bank, which has lent billions of dollars to the Trump and Kushner companies, rejected their employees’ advice. The reports were never filed with the government.

Elizabeth Warren Decries Big Money in Politics. Her Campaign Treasurer Embodies It.
Center for Responsive Politics – Lateshia Beachum | Published: 5/23/2019

U.S. Sen. Elizabet Warren has rejected traditional sources of campaign money, from PACs to lobbyists, in her bid for the White House. Everyone will have access to her, she says, not just wealthy donors. She has instituted “selfie lines” at rallies, and releases videos of herself personally calling donors who have contributed just a few dollars. But Warren has also selected for her presidential campaign treasurer a man whose contributions run counter to Warren’s statements, among the most emphatic among the more than 20 Democrats running for president, against big money in politics. Dubbed a “personal PAC machine” by The Boston Globe, retired software engineer Paul Egerman has quietly established himself as a key benefactor and rainmaker for Democratic political committees and liberal causes.

EPA Watchdog Suggests Agency Recover $124,000 in Pruitt’s ‘Excessive’ Travel Expenses
San Jose Mercury News – Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis (Washington Post) | Published: 5/16/2019

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should consider recovering nearly $124,000 in improper travel expenses by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the agency’s inspector general recommended. The findings, issued nearly a year after Pruitt resigned amid controversy over his spending, travel, and ties to lobbyists and outside groups, highlight the fiscal impact of his penchant for high-end travel and accommodations. Investigators concluded that 40 trips Pruitt either took or scheduled during a 10-month period were excessive and cost taxpayers $985,037. The “questioned amount” the inspector general’s office identifies for possible recovery is the $123,941 that taxpayers spent on flying both Pruitt and a security agent in first- or business class, instead of coach.

‘It’s Entirely Inappropriate’: Trump shot a political video on Air Force One
MSN – Colby Itkowitz (Washington Post) | Published: 5/17/2019

Seated behind a desk on Air Force One, the presidential seal over his left shoulder, President Trump shot a short video recently, blasting New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s entry into the 2020 race. “If you like high taxes and if you like crime, you can vote for him – but most people aren’t into that,” the president said to the camera. Trump’s use of taxpayer-funded transportation to post a political message raises some legal and ethics questions. But possibly the greatest crime, some experts say, is the breakdown of norms.

Judge Orders Public Release of What Michael Flynn Said in Call to Russian Ambassador
MSN – Carol Leonnig and Rosalind Helderman (Washington Post) | Published: 5/16/2019

A federal judge ordered prosecutors to make public a transcript of a phone call that former national security adviser Michael Flynn tried hard to hide with a lie: his conversation with a Russian ambassador in late 2016. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan also ordered the government also to provide a public transcript of a November 2017 voice mail involving Flynn. In that sensitive call, President Trump’s attorney left a message for Flynn’s lawyer reminding him of the president’s fondness for Flynn at a time when Flynn was considering cooperating with federal investigators. The transcripts, which the judge ordered be posted on a court website by May 31, would reveal conversations at the center of two major avenues of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Judge Rejects Trump’s Request to Halt Congressional Subpoenas for His Banking Records
MSN – Renae Merle, Michael Kranish, and Felicia Sonmez (Washington Post) | Published: 5/22/2019

A federal judge rejected a request by President Trump to block congressional subpoenas for his banking records, dealing the latest blow to the president in his bid to battle Democratic investigations into his personal finances. The decision in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York could clear the way for Deutsche Bank and Capital One to hand over the president’s financial records to Democrats in the House. Trump’s attorneys could appeal the decision. But U.S. District Court Judge Edgardo Ramos said Trump’s lawsuit was unlikely to succeed.

Judge Rules Against Trump in Fight Over President’s Financial Records
Washington Post – Devlin Barrett, Spencer Hsu, Rachael Bade, and Josh Dawsey | Published: 5/20/2019

President Trump lost an early round of his court fight with Democrats after a federal judge ruled the president’s accounting firm must turn over his financial records to Congress as lawmakers seek to assert their oversight authority. Lawyers for the president are fighting document and witness subpoenas on multiple fronts, and Mehta’s ruling came hours after former White House Counsel Donald McGahn was directed not to appear before a congressional committee seeking testimony about his conversations with Trump. In his decision, Mehta flatly rejected arguments from the president’s lawyers that the House Oversight Committee’s demands for the records from Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, were overly broad and served no legitimate legislative function.

Justin Amash, Tea Party Star, Earns Primary Challenge for Backing Impeachment
Washington Post – Isaac Stanley-Baker | Published: 5/20/2019

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash said President Trump engaged in activity worthy of impeachment, becoming the first Republican on Capitol Hill to break with the party’s line on impeachment. Amash’s announcement on Saturday came after he had finished reading the report prepared by special counsel Robert Mueller, as the lawmaker explained in a lengthy Twitter thread. On Sunday, it prompted an intraparty rival, Michigan Rep. Jim Lower, to declare he would run in the Republican primary next year for Amash’s seat. Amash’s survival may now depend on whether he has cultivated devotion among voters sufficient to override their loyalty to the president.

Women Strive to Close Gender Gap at Biz Groups
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 5/21/2019

Trade associations have made strides in gender diversity, with more women taking on prominent roles at industry groups. It is a trend advocates are pushing to build on. Women account for 41 percent of the chief executives or executive directors of trade associations. K Street observers are hopeful these trends will continue, especially with a record number of female lawmakers in the current Congress and growing pressure on the influence world to expand its hiring practices.

From the States and Municipalities

California Brawl Erupts at Convention of Local Politicians, Roils Upscale Resort
Los Angeles Times – Adam Elmahrek, Ruben Vives, and Anh Do | Published: 5/20/2019

A conference of local government officials from California at the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa erupted into violence over when several attendees began throwing punches, with at least one person apparently knocked unconscious. It was not immediately clear who started the fight, but it involved members of the Commerce City Council and other public officials, according to a written statement from Mayor John Soria and several witnesses. Some witnesses said the melee involved more than seven people and included political consultants, government vendors, and elected officials from the Los Angeles area. One or more women were screaming, the sources said. “It was a hectic scene,” one witness said.

Mississippi How Mississippi Lawmakers Gave $1.5 Million of Education Money to Weight Watchers
Jackson Clarion-Ledger – Giacomo Bologna | Published: 5/20/2019

Teachers in Mississippi shed pounds thanks to Weight Watchers courses paid mostly with state education money. But the biggest loser was taxpayers. Lawmakers gave Weight Watchers about $300,000 a year from 2011 to 2016, but documents from the Mississippi Department of Education show the voucher program at times needed about half that amount, or less, to operate. Weight Watchers never appeared in any education funding bills and never had a contract with the state. Weight Watchers paid $276,100 to lobbyist Beth Clay between 2010 and 2016. During that time, lawmakers directed nearly $1.5 million to New York-based Weight Watchers through a legislative side door.

Nevada Where Women Call the Shots
Washington Post – Emily Wax-Thibodeaux | Published: 5/17/2019

Since Nevada seated the nation’s first majority-female state Legislature in January, the male old guard has been shaken up by the perspectives of female lawmakers. Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmaker to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices. A coordinated campaign of political groups and women’s rights organizations recruited women to run in Nevada. Emerge Nevada, said it trained twice as many female candidates ahead of the 2018 midterm election as it had in the preceding 12 years. Meanwhile, the election of Donald Trump mobilized Democratic women nationwide, including in Nevada, where women already held 40 percent of statehouse seats.

New Jersey Governor’s Feud with Party Boss Rocks New Jersey Politics
Politico – Ryan Hutchins | Published: 5/21/2019

An intraparty fight among Democrats in New Jersey has turned into an open civil war, pitting the state’s novice governor against an old-school political boss who has ruled for more than two decades, and potentially reordering the political landscape in what has become a national Democratic stronghold. The protagonists are Gov. Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive who pledged to clean up state government, and George Norcross, an insurance executive who is the state’s most powerful unelected official. Murphy launched an unprecedented public attack on Norcross, who is among the people targeted by an inquiry into the state’s multi-billion-dollar tax incentive programs. Norcross has responded by opening fire on the governor, breaking his typical silence to compare Murphy to the king of England and call him a “liar” and “politically incompetent.”

New York A Cuomo Donor’s Nonstop Connections
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 5/19/2019

Beyond being a prolific campaign fundraiser, aviation magnate Adam Katz has himself been one of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s largest campaign donors. Katz has given Cuomo six-figure sums though a wide array of limited liability companies, prompting business rivals to allege he has had undue influence with administration agencies. State records also indicate a more unusual pattern: many people with ties to Katz – lawyers, business associates, an extended family tree – have contributed to Cuomo’s campaign in large, often identical amounts and on the same days. Aside from the gifts to Cuomo, many of those people had never contributed similarly large amounts to New York candidates.

New York New York Passes Bill Giving Congress a Way to Get Trump’s State Tax Returns
MSN – Jesse McKinley (New York Times) | Published: 5/22/2019

New York lawmakers gave final approval to a bill that would clear a path for Congress to obtain President Trump’s state tax returns, injecting another element into the battle over the president’s refusal to release his taxes. The bill, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will authorize state tax officials to release the president’s state returns to any one of three congressional committees. The returns – filed in New York, the president’s home state and business headquarters – would likely contain much of the same information as the contested federal returns, though it remained unclear whether congressional committees would use such new power in their investigations.

Oregon Kate Brown’s Top Aides Went Into Overdrive Doing Campaign-Like Work During Heated Governor’s Race, Records Show
Portland Oregonian – Hillary Borrud | Published: 5/18/2019

Publicly, the governor’s office said there was a bright line drawn between the work of Kate Brown’s campaign, which was explicitly political and focused on her re-election, and the state-paid employees in the governor’s office, who are to administer state business. But newly released records show Brown’s state staff in fact shifted into overdrive during that period to lay out her policy positions and accomplishments on education and other central campaign issues. Her most influential aides orchestrated a series of “white papers” and planned public events designed to show her as someone who had gotten things done and had strong policy views, according to nearly public records.

Tennessee Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada to Resign Position After Sexually Charged Texts
USA Today – Joel Ebert and Natalie Allison (The Tennessean) | Published: 5/21/2019

Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada will resign from his leadership post following a vote of no confidence by his Republican caucus amid a scandal over explicit text messages. His political support began to waver when his former chief of staff, Cade Cothren, was pressured into resigning after the release of racist texts and the sexually explicit messages, and Cothren’s admission that he used cocaine in his legislative office before becoming Casada’s top aide. Casada was included in one of the group texts with a racist message but has said he never saw it. Other allegations continued to pile up, ranging from accusations Casasda spied on legislative members to a colleague’s claim that Casada tried to “rig and predetermine” an ethics review regarding his controversies.

Virginia Investigators Could Not Determine If Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam Is in Racist Yearbook Photo
Washington Post – Laura Vozzella and Jim Morrison | Published: 5/22/2019

A nearly four-month inquiry into a racist photograph on the medical school yearbook page of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was unable to determine whether Northam was in the image – which showed one man dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe and another in blackface – deepening a mystery that threw the state government into chaos. But the investigation also found no evidence the photo had been mistakenly published in a yearbook section with Northam’s name and other pictures of him alone. The investigators, including a former state attorney general, noted, though, that they could not confirm “the origin” of the image. Northam spoke with investigators twice and told them he was “positive” he was not in the photograph.

Washington ‘Gray Money’: New Washington law to lift the cloak on PAC funders
Seattle Times – Joseph O’Sullivan | Published: 5/19/2019

Washington’s transparency law has tried to help voters determine funders for PAC ads. On the advertisements, PACs must disclose their top five contributors who meet a certain dollar threshold. That could be an individual or an entity such as a corporation or labor union. But what happens when the donor is another PAC with a generic, soft-focus name? It is a tactic called “gray money” and it is a popular strategy around the nation for shielding the flow of money. Through a series of “nesting doll” PACs, campaigns or political parties can cloak donations by individuals, corporations, industry associations, or labor unions. Now, a measure passed by state lawmakers this year could aid voters by revealing some of the top donors or organizations behind the cryptic groups.

Washington DC Clients of D.C. Council Member Jack Evans Had Interests Before D.C. Government
Washington Post – Steve Thompson | Published: 5/23/2019

District of Columbia Councilperson Jack Evans, one of the most powerful politicians in the city, has used his legislative position in ways that could benefit clients of his private consulting business, an examination of his record shows. Over several years, Evans has introduced legislation, championed projects and promoted tax incentives connected to his private clients. Some efforts have met with more success than others. Evans is the focus of an investigation by a federal grand jury, which subpoenaed records from the city related to Evans and his constellation of private legal and consulting clients. At least three of these businesses have had interests before the District of Columbia government.

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May 17, 2019 •

News You Can Use Digest – May 17, 2019

News You Can Use

National/Federal At the N.R.A., a Cash Machine Sputtering MSN – Danny Hakim (New York Times) | Published: 5/14/2019 A review of tax records by The New York Times shows that, to steady its finances, the National Rifle Association (NRA) increasingly relied on cash […]

National/Federal

At the N.R.A., a Cash Machine Sputtering
MSN – Danny Hakim (New York Times) | Published: 5/14/2019

A review of tax records by The New York Times shows that, to steady its finances, the National Rifle Association (NRA) increasingly relied on cash infusions and other transactions involving its affiliated foundation, at least $206 million worth since 2010. The role of the foundation is among the issues being examined in a new investigation into the NRA’s tax-exempt status by the New York attorney general. At issue for investigators, tax experts say, would be whether that money was being used for charitable purposes, as required by law, and not to help finance the NRA’s political activities.

‘Being Governor Ain’t What It Used to Be’: How their road to the White House became an uphill climb
Governing – Alan Greenblatt | Published: 5/8/2019

Governors were once a dominant force in presidential politics, winning seven of the eight elections between 1976 and 2004. Those days appear to be over. In 2016, no fewer than 10 current or former governors ran for president. None of them came close to winning a major-party nomination. This year, the Democratic field is dominated by U.S. senators, while governors are at the back of the pack in the polls. Historically, governors fared well in national politics when voters were fed up with Washington, noted Saladin Ambar, a political scientist at Rutgers University. Yet the public’s trust in the federal government is near an all-time low, and governors are still failing to gain any traction.

Complaints Grow That Trump Staffers Are Campaigning for Their Boss
Politico – Anita Kumar | Published: 5/15/2019

A Trump appointee displayed a “Make America Great Again” hat at her Housing and Urban Development office. A top official at the Office of Management and Budget used his official Twitter account to promote President Trump’s campaign slogan. And White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway delivered a scathing and unprompted attack on Trump’s potential opponent, Joe Biden, during a television interview. Those three instances, all in the last few months, are just a few of the growing number of complaints since Trump took office that federal employees are using their platform to campaign for the president or his allies, a violation of the Hatch Act. In Trump’s first year on the job, formal complaints to the government office that oversees compliance with the 80-year-old law jumped nearly 30 percent.

Donald Trump Jr. Strikes Deal for ‘Limited’ Interview with Intelligence Committee
MSN – Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos (New York Times) | Published: 5/14/2019

Donald Trump Jr. and the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee reached a deal for the president’s eldest son to return for a time-limited private interview with senators in the coming weeks, an accord that should cool a heated intraparty standoff. The terms of the compromise include an appearance by Trump Jr. in mid-June, with the questions limited to about a half-dozen topics and the time limited to no longer than two to four hours. Senate investigators are particularly interested in asking the younger Trump about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, as well as about his knowledge of a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow. Some Democrats have accused Trump Jr. of potentially misleading other congressional committees.

Duped into Making a Bogus Campaign Donation? Call a Prosecutor
Bloomberg Government – Kenneth Doyle | Published: 5/8/2019

It seems to be equally true that federal authorities are cracking down on grifters who live large on money Americans thought they gave to legitimate political campaigns, and federal authorities might be encouraging scammers by doing nothing about misleading appeals for political money. The first set of authorities work for the U.S. Justice Department. The other is the FEC, made up of two Democrats and two Republicans. When their views clash, it is a tie and nothing can happen. “The Justice Department has become the primary enforcer of campaign finance laws because the FEC is unable to do its job,” said election attorney Brett Kappel. A potential downside, he said, is that prosecutors focus on the most egregious cases that can lead to a criminal conviction, so many other cases can slip through the cracks.

Evidence of Illegal Campaign Donations by Boston’s Thornton Law Firm Found, Case Dismissed Anyway
Boston Globe – Andrea Estes | Published: 5/15/2019

Staff lawyers at the FEC found Boston’s Thornton Law firm likely used a phony program to repay partners for political donations, but the case was dismissed after commissioners deadlocked on whether to pursue it. FEC staff found extensive evidence that Thornton, a major supporter of the Democratic Party and its candidates, illegally reimbursed partners for more than $1 million in donations. But commission voted along party lines and produced a tie vote, which dismisses the complaint instead of opening a full-scale investigation. Now, the group that filed the complaint against Thornton, the Campaign Legal Center, is considering pursuing the matter in federal court.

Federal Election Commission Lays Bare Internal Conflicts and Challenges in Letter to Congress
Center for Public Integrity – Dave Levinthal | Published: 5/9/2019

The FEC’s four leaders are offering lawmakers clashing perspectives on the agency’s very purpose. The commissioners’ comments are part of 171 pages’ worth of responses to dozens of questions Committee on House Administration Chairperson Zoe Lofgren sent the agency. Lofgren has openly doubted the FEC’s ability to function as it struggles with deadlocked votes, internal conflict, chronic vacancies, and low morale. Her inquiries come at a time when “dark money” and the specter of foreign election interference have captured the attention of the public amid historically long and expensive federal campaign seasons.

How William Barr, Now Serving as a Powerful Ally for Trump, Has Championed Presidential Powers
Connecticut Post – Tom Hamburger (Washington Post) | Published: 5/14/2019

Embracing a theory that the Constitution grants presidents sweeping authority, Attorney General William Barr is part of a group of conservative intellectuals who have been leading the charge to expand the powers of the executive branch over the past four decades. The doctrine, which gained support amid a backlash against post-Watergate constraints on the presidency, is back in the fore as President Trump and Congress are locked in a bitter fight over the bounds of executive power. Back at the helm of the Justice Department, Barr is in a singular position to put his philosophy into action. Critics say Barr is providing the intellectual framework to enable Trump’s view of an imperial presidency and stonewall legitimate requests for information from Congress.

Rudy Giuliani Cancels His Trip to Ukraine, Blaming Democrats’ ‘Spin’
MSN – Kenneth Vogel (New York Times) | Published: 5/11/2019

Facing accusations of seeking foreign assistance for President Trump’s re-election campaign, Rudolph Giuliani announced he had canceled a trip to Kiev in which he planned to push the incoming Ukrainian government to press ahead with investigations that he hoped would benefit Trump. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, explained that he felt as if he was being “set up” by Ukrainians critical of his efforts, and he blamed Democrats for trying to “spin” the trip. The Ukrainian trip raised the specter of a lawyer for Trump pressing a foreign government to pursue investigations his allies hope could help him win re-election. And it comes after Trump has spent more than half of his term facing scrutiny about whether his 2016 campaign conspired with Ukraine’s hostile neighbor, Russia.

Scrutiny of Russia Investigation Is Said to Be a Review, Not a Criminal Inquiry
MSN – Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman, and Nicholas Fandos (New York Times) | Published: 5/14/2019

The federal prosecutor tapped to scrutinize the origins of the Russia investigation is conducting only a review for now and has not opened any criminal inquiry. U.S. Attorney John Durham is broadly examining the government’s collection of intelligence involving the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russians. The additional details about the scope and limits of his role emerged a day after it was reported that Attorney General William Barr had put Durham in charge of scrutinizing the early stages of the Trump-Russia investigation during the 2016 election. The distinction means Durham for now will not wield the sort of law enforcement powers that come with an open criminal investigation, such as the ability to subpoena documents and compel witnesses to testify.

Trump and His Allies Are Blocking More Than 20 Separate Democratic Probes in an All-Out War with Congress
MSN – Rachael Bade and Seung Min Kim (Washington Post) | Published: 5/10/2019

President Trump and his allies are working to block more than 20 separate investigations by Democrats into his actions as president, his personal finances, and his administration’s policies, according to a Washington Post analysis, amounting to what many experts call the most expansive White House obstruction effort in decades. Trump’s noncooperation strategy has shifted from partial resistance to all-out war as he faces mounting inquiries from the Democratic-controlled House, a strategy many legal and congressional experts fear could undermine the institutional power of Congress for years to come. House Democrats say the administration has failed to respond to or comply with at least 79 requests for documents or other information.

Trump’s Lawyers Question Congress’ Power to Investigate Him, Battle House Over Demand for Financial Records
USA Today – Bart Jansen | Published: 5/14/2019

Lawyers for President Trump and the U.S. House clashed in federal court over the extent of Congress’ power to investigate him in the first legal test of Trump’s effort to block sprawling probes of his finances and private business. Trump wants a judge to prevent a congressional committee from obtaining financial records from his longtime accountant, Mazars USA. It is the first court test of how much information the half-dozen committees conducting investigations of Trump and his businesses might be able to obtain. Trump’s personal lawyer argued Congress was seeking the president’s financial information for what is essentially a law-enforcement purpose, which was outside its authority, rather to work on legislation. Douglas Letter, the general counsel for the House, argued that Congress has broad investigative authority.

Want a Bridge? Trump Blurs Line Between Governing, Campaign
AP News – Jill Colvin | Published: 5/15/2019

President Trump stood before a Louisiana crowd at an official taxpayer-funded event and tossed out an enticing promise. “If we win this election, which is just 16 months away, we’re giving you a brand new I-10 bridge.” Trump’s commitment drew cheers from his audience. But it generated immediate criticism from ethics experts who have already sounded alarms about Trump’s apparent willingness to put the federal bureaucracy to work for his own political gain. All presidents benefit from the trappings of the office. But as Trump heads into his re-election campaign, historians and observers are wondering just how far the president might be willing to go in using the levers of presidential power to energize his supporters and help bolster his election chances, especially if the polls are tilting against him.

White House Asked McGahn to Declare Trump Never Obstructed Justice
MSN – Michael Schmidt (New York Times) | Published: 5/10/2019

White House officials asked at least twice in the past month for the key witness against President Trump in the Mueller report, Donald McGahn, to say publicly he never believed the president obstructed justice. Trump asked White House officials to make the request to McGahn, who was the president’s first White House counsel. McGahn declined. His reluctance angered the president, who believed McGahn showed disloyalty by telling investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller about Trump’s attempts to maintain control over the Russia investigation. McGahn initially entertained the White House request. But after Meuller’s report was released, detailing the range of actions Trump took to try to impede the inquiry, McGahn decided to pass on putting out a statement supportive of the president.

Canada

Canada – Watchdog Warns Lobbyists About Partisan Fundraisers, Expressing Political Views
National Observer – Carl Meyer | Published: 5/13/2019

Federal Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger warned lobbyists in Canada to be careful about participating in partisan activities such as fundraising events and expressing personal political views in public, to avoid placing themselves in a conflict-of-interest. She delivered the warning in updated guidelines for lobbyists posted a few days after a significant court ruling that also appeared to expand the scope of the federal Lobbying Act. The new guidelines shift some activities that Bélanger’s office had previously considered to hold “no risk” into a new category she said does carry risks of placing a lobbyist in a conflict-of-interest situation.

From the States and Municipalities

Florida – Former Palm Bay Deputy Manager Dave Isnardi Arrested, Charged with Racketeering, Other Felonies
Florida Today – John McCarthy | Published: 5/10/2019

Former Palm Bay Deputy City Manager Dave Isnardi was arrested on charges of racketeering and conspiracy. Isnardi is the husband of Brevard County Commission Chairperson Kristine Isnardi. A second man, Jose Aguiar, a former candidate for the Palm Bay City Council, also was arrested. The arrest warrants show the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement have been investigating allegations of corruption and undue influence on city officials in Palm Bay since at least 2015. Though not arrested or charged, the warrants allege city Councilperson Jeff Bailey had an addiction to oxycodone and former Councilperson Tres Holton had sex with prostitutes and used cocaine. It also alleges Holton obtained prostitutes for Mayor William Capote while the men were in Tallahassee.

Florida – NRA Pays Lobbyist Marion Hammer Big Bucks, But You Won’t Find That Disclosed in Tallahassee
Florida Bulldog – Dan Christensen | Published: 5/14/2019

The National Rifle Association (NRA) paid Tallahassee lobbyist Marion Hammer more than $250,000 last year in the wake of the Parkland school massacre. But that payment is not disclosed on quarterly compensation reports that lobbying firms and contract lobbyists are required to file with the Florida Senate. Hammer, both an NRA board member and a registered NRA lobbyist in Florida, has not filed any compensation reports with the state since at least 2007. During Hammer’s tenure with the NRA, the Florida Legislature passed the landmark “Right to Carry” law, allowing weapons, including handguns, to be carried in public in a concealed manner. She also helped secure many other pro-gun laws, including the “Firearms Preemption Law” that eliminated hundreds of gun-control ordinances in cities and counties across the state.

Georgia – Georgia Insurance Commissioner Indicted on Fraud Charges
AP News – Kate Brumback | Published: 5/14/2019

Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Jim Beck was indicted on federal charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering that stem from alleged crimes that preceded his election. The indictment accuses Beck of devising an elaborate fraudulent invoicing scheme to defraud his employer out of more than $2 million over a five-year period just prior to his election. The charges relate to Beck’s time as general manager of operations for the Georgia Underwriting Association. The indictment says Beck used the money for personal expenses and to fund personal investment, retirement, and savings accounts, as well as his statewide election campaign. The indictment also says he used the funds to buy and improve personal rental property and for personal state and federal income taxes.

Louisiana – Why the ‘Most Egregious’ Ethics Case in Louisiana Remains Open Nine Years Later
ProPublica – Andrea Gallo (The Advocate) | Published: 5/16/2019

In 2010, the Louisiana Board of Ethics accused former state Sen. Robert Marionneaux Jr. of failing to disclose he was being paid to represent a company in a lawsuit against Louisiana State University (LSU). The lack of transparency was only part of the problem. Marionneaux offered to get the Legislature to steer public money toward a settlement, according to charges the board later filed against him. The money would also help pay off his contingency fee, which an LSU lawyer pegged at more than $1 million. The case is pending and Marionneaux has not been punished. Watchdogs and ethics advocates say the glacial pace of the Marionneaux case and its limited scope exemplify the weaknesses of Louisiana’s ethics enforcement system.

Massachusetts – New Rules Mean Chick-fil-A Is Now a Registered Lobbyist at City Hall – Along with Many Others
Boston Globe – Milton Valencia | Published: 5/15/2019

Under a first-of-its-kind lobbying ordinance that went into effect this year, more than 230 lobbyists, firms, and their clients have registered in Boston, and the list reads like a who’s who of players in local politics. The new regulations are intended to make public those who influence city business, especially at a time when Boston has been regulating burgeoning industries, such as cannabis and short-term rentals. Prior to this, only a handful of lobbying and law firms complied with a little-known and unenforced city ordinance that required them to notify the clerk’s office that they had be doing business with the city council. Any lobbyists or advocates who dealt with the city otherwise went virtually undetected.

Massachusetts – Regulators Slash the Dollar Amount Unions Can Donate to Candidates in Mass.
Boston Globe – Matt Stout | Published: 5/9/2019

The Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) released a new regulation that reduces how much unions and nonprofit groups can contribute to individual candidates in Massachusetts. It limits contributions to $1,000 per candidate, $5,000 per party, and $500 per PAC. Currently, labor unions can give up to $15,000 annually to a single candidate. Derided by critics as a loophole for unions, the $15,000 cap survived a challenge before the Supreme Judicial Court when the justices upheld the longstanding ban on direct corporate gifts. But the court implied the OCPF should review the regulation about the cap. The limits take effect May 31.

Michigan – Michigan Lawmaker Indicted on Bribery Charge Over Prevailing Wage Repeal Vote
Detroit News – Jonathan Oosting | Published: 5/15/2019

Michigan Rep. Larry Inman is facing federal charges for allegedly soliciting bribes and attempted extortion ahead of a 2018 vote to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law for construction workers. A grand jury indictment includes text messages from Inman that show the him seeking campaign contributions from the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights union, which opposed the initiated legislation. Authorities are accusing Inman of unlawfully and corruptly soliciting those contributions in exchange for a potential “no” vote on the legislation, which he ended up voting for instead. “We only have 12 people to block it,” Inman said in a text to a union representative. “You said all 12 will get $30,000 each to help there (sic) campaigns. That did not happen, we will get a ton of pressure on this vote.”

Missouri – St. Louis Aldermen Push New Lobbyist Gift Limits, Campaign Donation Rules
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Mark Schlinkmann | Published: 5/14/2019

A ban on lobbyist gifts of more than five dollars to elected city officials and restrictions on campaign donations from individuals or entities seeking city contracts are part of a set of ethics proposals to be introduced at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. The package also bars contributions to candidates for city offices made with the intent of concealing the identity of the money’s source. The three city charter amendments, if endorsed by the board, would go before voters at the November 2020 election.

New Jersey – Will Murphy’s CV Deal a Death Blow to NJ’s Dark-Money Bill?
NJ Spotlight – Colleen O’Dea | Published: 5/14/2019

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued a conditional veto of a bill that would have required certain independent expenditure committees to disclose their donors. The legislation required groups to disclose all spending over $3,000, and said donors giving over $10,000 must be listed. Murphy said because the measure applied to groups influencing legislation and regulations, it could go beyond the scope of disclosure allowed under the Constitution. The governor also said those who receive tax credits over $25,000 should be required to disclose donors, and any entity with $17,500 or more in contracts with a public body should disclose all contributions to outside advisory groups. Lawmakers can vote to agree with Murphy’s conditions, in which case it would become law. They could also try to override the veto.

South Dakota – Federal Judge Strikes Down IM 24 as Unconstitutional
Sioux Falls Argus Leader – Lisa Kaczek | Published: 5/9/2019

A federal judge struck down a ban on out-of-state contributions to South Dakota ballot question committees. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Kornmann issued an order declaring Initiated Measure 24 as unconstitutional because it violates “the First Amendment rights to engage in political speech and to associate with others to fund political speech.” It is also unconstitutional because it interferes with the “free flow of money” between people and entities from another state, Kornmann wrote in his judgment. Kornmann ordered that the state is barred from implementing or enforcing the law, which was scheduled to take effect July 1.

Tennessee – After Bragging About Sex at Party Fowl, Former Chief of Staff’s Tab May Have Been Paid by Glen Casada Donors
The Tennessean – Joel Ebert | Published: 5/15/2019

When Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada’s former chief of staff boasted to his boss in 2016 about having sex with a woman at Party Fowl, the food and drink purchases made at the restaurant may have been paid for by campaign donors. The finding comes amid a larger review of spending by lawmakers, including Casada, who utilize PACs. The review highlights a loophole in state law that allows lawmakers to create PACs and spend thousands of dollars on items they would normally be prohibited from purchasing using traditional campaign funds. Casada faces calls for his resignation as he reels from a scandal involving a series of racist and misogynistic text messages sent by his former chief of staff, including the exchange about sex in a bathroom at a Nashville restaurant.

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May 10, 2019 •

News You Can Use Digest – May 10, 2019

News You Can Use

National/Federal A Lawsuit About Trump and the NRA Could Upend How the Government Polices Campaign Finance Mother Jones – Nihal Krishan | Published: 5/1/2019 A lawsuit involving the National Rifle Association (NRA) is poised to act as a major test for […]

National/Federal

A Lawsuit About Trump and the NRA Could Upend How the Government Polices Campaign Finance
Mother Jones – Nihal Krishan | Published: 5/1/2019

A lawsuit involving the National Rifle Association (NRA) is poised to act as a major test for the FEC chairperson’s new strategy to force the agency to take more aggressive action to police campaign finance law. Chairperson Ellen Weintraub’s recent statements make it clear she does not plan on voting to defend the FEC in any cases involving delays in action. If she follows through, it would result in the first instance of her utilizing a new strategy to effectively sabotage her own agency in order to enforce campaign finance law, a move that one former FEC lawyer termed the “nuclear option.” It is not exactly clear what will happen in court after Weintraub decides not to use legal resources to defend her agency, but it is likely a judge will force the FEC to act and consider investigating the NRA for potential campaign finance violations.

Biden Faces Dilemma Over K Street Allies
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 5/3/2019

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s strong support from K Street poses a tough dilemma for his campaign. The influence world is stocked with former aides and supporters who have rallied around his previous bids for president. In this cycle, though, those lobbyist ties, past fundraising from corporate interests, and perceptions that Biden is more favorable to businesses could hurt his bid for the Democratic nomination. Biden has quickly solidified his Democratic front-runner status and focused his attention on President Trump. His campaign has said he will not take money from lobbyists and corporate PACs, but that is unlikely to be enough for progressive groups in the primary who have larger concerns about the candidate.

Desperate Drive to Make the Debate Stage Shakes Dem Campaigns
Politico – Elena Schneider | Published: 5/6/2019

There is a desperate scramble by presidential candidates to make it past a new threshold set by the Democratic National Committee – 65,000 individual donors – to the first primary debates in June and July. The televised debates could be make-or-break showcases, and the requirement has reshaped the strategy of candidates struggling to cross the donor mark. Such is the importance of the debates that some presidential campaigns have decided to prioritize Facebook advertising over hiring staffers in early states. Others noted the rules prioritize chasing viral moments early in the campaign over building traditional vote-getting infrastructure in Iowa and New Hampshire. But defenders of the new rules say they have just forced campaigns to prove they can compete in the 21st century before the election year.

Donald Trump Jr. Is Subpoenaed to Testify to Senate Panel on Russia Contacts
New York Times – Mark Mazzetti and Maggie Haberman | Published: 5/8/2019

The Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr., who met with Russians in June 2016 after being promised political dirt about Hillary Clinton. He is the first of President Trump’s children to be subpoenaed in the continuing congressional investigations into Russia’s 2016 election interference, and the move by the Republican-led committee is a sign some members of the president’s party are not aligned with his desire for a swift end to all of the inquiries. The committee is particularly interested in Trump Jr.’s account of the events surrounding the Trump Tower meeting, as well as his role in his father’s efforts to build a skyscraper in Moscow and comparing the testimony to his previous answers to Senate investigators in 2017.

Driverless Car Industry Luring Federal Safety Brass
Politico – Tanya Snider | Published: 5/5/2019

Driverless car companies are racing to scoop up top federal safety officials to fill out their ranks of advisers and lobbyists, creating worries that the fledgling industry will use its newly acquired influence to shape the coming wave of government regulations. Companies like Uber, Lyft, General Motors and Google’s sibling Waymo have hired a phalanx of current and former Washington officials, including Obama administration Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, several highway regulators, and two former chairs of the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates deadly crashes. One notable exception from the trend of self-driving companies hiring federal safety officials is Tesla.

Driverless Car Industry Luring Federal Safety Brass
Politico – Tanya Snider | Published: 5/5/2019

Driverless car companies are racing to scoop up top federal safety officials to fill out their ranks of advisers and lobbyists, creating worries that the fledgling industry will use its newly acquired influence to shape the coming wave of government regulations. Companies like Uber, Lyft, General Motors and Google’s sibling Waymo have hired a phalanx of current and former Washington officials, including Obama administration Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, several highway regulators, and two former chairs of the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates deadly crashes. One notable exception from the trend of self-driving companies hiring federal safety officials is Tesla.

Driverless Car Industry Luring Federal Safety Brass
Politico – Tanya Snider | Published: 5/5/2019

Driverless car companies are racing to scoop up top federal safety officials to fill out their ranks of advisers and lobbyists, creating worries that the fledgling industry will use its newly acquired influence to shape the coming wave of government regulations. Companies like Uber, Lyft, General Motors and Google’s sibling Waymo have hired a phalanx of current and former Washington officials, including Obama administration Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, several highway regulators, and two former chairs of the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates deadly crashes. One notable exception from the trend of self-driving companies hiring federal safety officials is Tesla.

Drugmakers Will Have to Reveal Medication Prices in TV Ads
AP News – Ricardo Alonso-Saldivar | Published: 5/8/2019

Television ads for prescription drugs will soon reveal prices, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, responding to a public outcry for government action to restrain medication costs. Azar said the Trump administration has finalized regulations that will require drug companies to disclose list prices of medications costing more than $35 for a month’s supply. Drug pricing details are expected to appear in text toward the end of commercials, when potential side effects are disclosed. The government is hoping that patients armed with prices will start discussing affordability with their doctors, and gradually that will put pressure on drug makers to keep costs in check.

F.B.I. Sent Investigator Posing as Assistant to Meet with Trump Aide in 2016
MSN – Adam Goldman, Michael Schmidt, and Mark Mazzetti (New York Times) | Published: 5/2/2019

The conversation at a London bar in September 2016 took a strange turn when the woman sitting across from George Papadopoulos, a Donald Trump campaign adviser, asked if the Trump campaign was working with Russia. The woman had set up the meeting to discuss foreign policy issues, but she was a government investigator posing as a research assistant. The FBI sent her to London as part of the counterintelligence inquiry opened that summer to better understand the Trump campaign’s links to Russia. The U.S. government’s affiliation with the woman is one previously unreported detail of an operation that has become a political flash point in the face of accusations by Trump and his allies that American law enforcement and intelligence officials spied on his campaign to undermine his electoral chances.

FDA Approves the First Vaccine for Dengue Fever, but with Major Restrictions
STAT – Helen Branswell | Published: 5/1/2019

The FDA approved the first vaccine against dengue fever, one that protects against a common disease but has generated significant controversy due to evidence it can increase the risk of severe infection in some people. The agency ruled that Dengvaxia can only be used in individuals aged nine to 16 living in parts of the U.S. where the dengue virus is endemic – in other words, where it circulates on an ongoing basis. Dengue is found only in Puerto Rico and a few other offshore territories and protectorates. Furthermore, the vaccine can only be given to children and teens who have had one previous laboratory-confirmed case of dengue. The various restrictions mean the U.S. market for the vaccine is smaller still than the already modest market Sanofi had sought. Still, the company said it was pleased by the FDA’s decision.

Foreign Agents Introduced Ukranian Politician to US Political Figures in Secretive Lobbying Arrangement
Center for Responsive Politics – Anna Massoglia | Published: 5/8/2018

New Foreign Agent Registration Act records reveal foreign agents and lobbyists on the payroll of Livingston Group, a lobbying firm run by former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, played a previously unreported role in former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s meetings with lawmakers during a December 2018 trip to Washington, D.C. That week, former U.S. Rep.-turned-lobbyist Bob McEwen also quietly introduced Tymoshenko to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s attorney who joined Trump’s personal legal team amidst special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Giuliani is under scrutiny for his simultaneous “shadow lobbying” operations for foreign clients, including Ukrainian interests.

House Panel Approves Contempt for Barr After Trump Claims Privilege Over Full Mueller Report
MSN – Nicholas Fandos (New York Times) | Published: 5/8/2019

The House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend the House hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over special counsel Robert Mueller’s unredacted report, hours after President Trump asserted executive privilege to shield the full report and underlying evidence from Congress. The committee’s vote, taken after hours of debate over the future of American democracy, was the first official House action to punish a government official in the standoff over the Mueller report. The Justice Department denounced the move as unnecessary and intended to stoke a fight. After the vote, Judiciary Committee Chairperson Jerrold Nadler swatted away questions about possible impeachment, but added, “We are now in a constitutional crisis.”

Lawmakers Seek to Curb Foreign Influence by Closing Online Political Ad Loopholes
Center for Responsive Politics – Carl Evers-Hillstrom | Published: 5/8/2019

Lawmakers introduced a bill meant to close digital political advertisement loopholes that enabled Russian actors to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Lindsay Graham introduced the 2019 Honest Ads Act, which would mandate disclosure of those paying for online political ads and create a publicly available database of political ads that appear on major online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The bill would encourage major platforms to ensure that foreign entities are not buying political ads. It was introduced with the backing of several campaign finance watchdog groups.

Trump Endorsed a Super PAC Supporting Him – and Here’s Why That Might Not Be a Legal Problem
Washington Post – Michelle Ye Hee Lee | Published: 5/8/2019

President Trump publicly endorsed America First Action, a super PAC run by his allies that aims to raise millions of dollars to ensure his second term. Candidates and the independent super PACs that support them have increasingly found ways to work together without breaking laws barring outright coordination. But the Trump re-election campaign’s statement appeared to go further than any other. When it opened the door to super PACs with its Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court said unlimited donations for independent political spending could not be corrupting because it would not be coordinated with candidates. But Trump, advocates said, is taking advantage of a legal gray area that candidate committees and super PACs have used to stretch the legal boundaries of how much they can work in tandem with each other.

Trump Would Have Been Charged with Obstruction Were He Not President, Hundreds of Former Federal Prosecutors Assert
MSN – Matt Zapotosky (Washington Post) | Published: 5/6/2019

More than 370 former federal prosecutors who worked in Republican and Democratic administrations have signed on to a statement asserting special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings would have produced obstruction charges against President Trump, if not for the office he held. The statement, signed by myriad former career government employees as well as high-profile political appointees, offers a rebuttal to Attorney General William Barr’s determination that the evidence Mueller uncovered was “not sufficient” to establish Trump committed a crime. Mueller declined to say whether Trump should have been charged, citing a Justice Department legal opinion that sitting presidents cannot be indicted.

Trump’s Tweet Derails House Bill Opposed by Lobbyist with Close White House Ties
MSN – Mike DeBonis, Felicia Sonmez, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 5/8/2019

President Trump helped derail a bipartisan casino bill opposed by a key White House ally. The intervention by Trump, contained in a morning tweet, eroded Republican support and prompted House Democrats to postpone a vote on the measure, which would pave the way for a new Massachusetts tribal casino. Opponents, including Rhode Island lawmakers, have argued the bill would harm the business of two neighboring casinos across the state line. A key Trump ally, American Conservative Union Chairperson Matthew Schlapp, is lobbying for Twin River Management Group, which operates both Rhode Island casinos. Schlapp’s wife is the White House strategic communications director. In a tweet that blindsided lawmakers of both parties, Trump urged Republicans to oppose the measure.

Watergate Had the Nixon Tapes. Mueller Had Annie Donaldson’s Notes.
MSN – Carol Leonnig (Washington Post) | Published: 5/3/2019

The notes scribbled on a legal pad captured the fear inside the White House when President Trump raged over the Russia investigation and decreed that he was firing the FBI director who led it. The angst-filled entry is part of a shorthand diary that chronicled the chaotic days in Trump’s West Wing, a trove the special counsel report cited more than 65 times as part of the evidence the president sought to blunt a criminal investigation bearing down on him. The scribe keeping track of Trump’s actions was Annie Donaldson, then-White House Counsel Don McGahn’s chief of staff, who figures in Robert Mueller report as one of the most important narrators of internal White House turmoil. Her daily habit of documenting conversations and meetings provided the special counsel’s office with its version of President Nixon’s tapes.

White House Imposes New Rules on Reporters’ Credentials, Raising Concerns About Access
MSN – Paul Farhi (Washington Post) | Published: 5/8/2019

The White House implemented new rules it says will cut down on the number of journalists holding “hard” passes, the credentials that allow reporters and technicians to enter the grounds without seeking daily permission. The new policy has been met with some confusion and even worry among journalists, some of whom suspect the aim is to keep critics in the press away from the White House and President Trump. Journalists will qualify to renew their hard passes only if they have entered the White House grounds at least 50 percent of the time in the 180 days before renewal. A nonrenewal does not preclude journalists from entering the White House entirely, but it does subject them to a more cumbersome process.

From the States and Municipalities

Florida Florida Legislators Agree to Limit Felons’ Voting Rights. Critics Call It a New Poll Tax.
Washington Post – Amy Gardner | Published: 5/5/2019

The largest expansion of voting eligibility in the country since the elimination of poll taxes and literacy tests in the 1960s suffered a setback when Republican legislators in Florida voted to limit the scope of a new constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to most convicted felons. The measure, which would require felons to pay all court-ordered fines, fees, and restitution before their eligibility to vote is restored, quickly drew accusations of voter suppression. Supporters of what is known in Florida as Amendment 4 said the law effectively reinstitutes a poll tax by requiring felons to satisfy financial obligations before they can vote again.

Georgia A Mayor Reportedly Said Her City Isn’t Ready for Black Leader. A Council Member Went Further.
Washington Post – Michael Price-Saddler | Published: 5/7/2019

Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly is facing calls to resign following reports she dismissed a candidate for a top city position based on his race. Racist remarks from one of her defenders further inflamed the controversy, revealing what some say are outdated racial attitudes long pervasive in a small, predominantly white city in Georgia. It was reported that Kenerly withdrew the application of Keith Henry for city administrator, “because he is black, and the city isn’t ready for this.” Councilperson Jim Cleveland defended the mayor then delivered an unprompted opinion on interracial marriage. “I have black friends, I hired black people. But when it comes to all this stuff you see on TV, when you see blacks and whites together, it makes my blood boil because that’s just not the way a Christian is supposed to live,” Cleveland said.

Indiana Casino Company Turned to State Lawmaker for Title Work. He Voted for Massive Gaming Bill.
Indianapolis Star – Tony Cook and Kaitlin Lange | Published: 5/2/2019

When gaming company Spectacle Entertainment bought two casinos in Gary last year, it turned to a state representative for title insurance and closing services. That same lawmaker, Indiana Rep. Jerry Torr, then voted in favor of legislation that could allow Spectacle to move those casinos to new, more lucrative locations in the state. The business ties are the latest to raise questions about Spectacle and its possible attempts to influence elected officials at the statehouse. The company also paid for at least two private jet flights for Gov. Eric Holcomb and one of Spectacle’s principal investors arranged a contract for House Speaker Brian Bosma last year with Vigo County.

Kentucky ‘He Is a Whiny, Off-Topic Social Media Troll.’ Why Bevin Banned Critics on Social Media.
Lexington Herald-Leader – John Cheves | Published: 5/1/2019

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has banned almost 3,000 people from his Facebook and Twitter accounts, sometimes reading negative comments online in the middle of the night and directing his communications staff to act against his critics. Among the keywords Bevin’s office uses to flag Facebook posts for possible deletion and banning are dictator, weirdo, crook, jerk, narcissist, nimrod, and hypocrite, according to documents produced by the state. According to screen shots of their comments recorded by Bevin’s staff, all have been critical of the governor or his policies at some point since he took office three years ago. A lawsuit alleges Bevin’s policy of banning individuals from state-run social media forums constitutes an unlawful prior restraint on speech.

Maryland Baltimore Mayor Pugh Resigns After Month on Leave Amid Investigation into Her Business Deals
MSN – Ian Duncan, Jean Marbella, and Luke Broadwater (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 5/2/2019

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned, ending her tenure that unraveled amid a scandal over payments for a self-published children’s book series she sold to customers including a $4 billion hospital network she once helped oversee and companies with business before the city. FBI and IRS agents had searched her City Hall offices, homes, and other locations. Pugh came to office contrasting her clean image with her main opponent, Mayor Sheila Dixon, who was forced to resign in 2010 as part of a plea deal for misappropriating about $500 in gift cards meant for needy families. A federal grand jury has been empaneled and state and local inquiries are also underway into the roughly $800,000 Pugh made over the years in exchange for her “Healthy Holly” paperbacks about health and nutrition

Michigan Unlike the Rest of America, Michigan Lawmakers’ Personal Finances Are a Secret
MLive.com – Lauren Gibbons and Taylor DesOrmeau | Published: 5/6/2019

Michigan is one of two states – and the only one with a full-time Legislature – with no requirement for public officials to disclose basic financial information, including income sources, business investments, gifts, and travel compensation. Without any legal requirement on financial disclosures, Michigan residents only know about potential conflicts-of-interest if their lawmakers choose to reveal them. The lack of financial disclosure requirements is one?of the biggest?reasons?Michigan ranked last in a survey that rated each state’s transparency laws.?Potential conflicts or corruption in the state “remain buried in an honor system with no honor,” the?report concluded. Not much has changed in the past four years.

Mississippi How Mississippi Lawmakers Quietly Funnel Millions of Education Dollars to Pet Vendors
Jackson Clarion-Ledger – Bracey Harris and Giacomo Bologna | Published: 5/8/2019

Top Mississippi lawmakers carve out millions of dollars for handpicked education vendors and pet projects each year, bypassing state bid laws and steering money to companies that know the right people or hire the right lobbyists. A Jackson Clarion Ledger analysis of education appropriations for the last four years uncovered millions of dollars in earmarks for select vendors, most of them represented by three lobbying firms. In at least four cases, key lawmakers received campaign contributions from vendors who received those earmarks.

New Hampshire What Counts as a Campaign Expense? For Some Lawmakers, It Includes Flowers and Dry Cleaning
New Hampshire Public Radio – Casey McDermott | Published: 5/6/2019

Candidates running for office in New Hampshire can run up a tab on all kinds of expenses: lawn signs, postage, snacks for fundraisers, advertising, and more. But some lawmakers lean on campaign donations to cover other, less obvious expenses that pile up on the campaign trail, or even while they are in office, things like car repairs, dry cleaning bills, and floral arrangements. The state’s campaign finance laws provide little guidance on what counts as a legal campaign expense, but an effort under way at the Legislature would take a step toward more explicitly acknowledging the personal costs that can come with public service. It has prompted a debate over where candidates should draw the line between personal and political expenses on the campaign trail.

New Mexico Padilla Claims AG Concealed Recording Device in Coffeepot
Albuquerque Journal – Dan Boyd | Published: 5/2/2019

Former New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla is asking a judge to dismiss public corruption charges against her, claiming investigators in Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office violated her due process rights by secretly recording a conversation with her attorney – via a coffeepot outfitted with a recording device – before she was arrested in December 2016. But the attorney general’s office denies surreptitiously listening in on Padilla’s privileged chat, saying the coffeepot recording device, which was on loan from the Albuquerque Police Department, stopped recording while she was talking with her attorney.

New York For Years, Top NY Lobbying Firm Went Unpaid for Campaign Work
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 5/7/2019

The lobbying firm Patrick B. Jenkins and Associates offers paid, professional campaign fundraising services for candidates, even as the firm lobbies members of the New York Legislature. But it has gone unpaid for months or even years in its political and fundraising work on behalf of the several state Assembly members, work that is worth tens-of-thousands of dollars. Sources said fundraising work included Patrick B. Jenkins and Associates soliciting campaign donations from its long roster of lobbying clients during the 2019 budget season. Under the state’s gift law, registered lobbyists such as Patrick Jenkins are prohibited from giving a gift of more than “nominal” value – $15 – to a public official, if it can be reasonably presumed the gift is meant to influence the official.

Ohio Federal Judges Declare Ohio Congressional Map Unconstitutional
Washington Post – Robert Barnes | Published: 5/3/2019

A panel of federal judges declared Ohio’s congressional map unconstitutional, adding to a growing number of states where partisan gerrymandering has been outlawed. That decision and a similar one in Michigan could be seen as signals from the lower courts to their superiors. The U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether judges even have a role in such disputes. While the high court regularly polices redistricting plans for racial gerrymandering, it has never found lawmakers’ partisan efforts to preserve power so extreme that their actions violate the constitutional rights of voters. But with the ruling in Ohio, federal courts in five states have struck down maps as partisan gerrymanders. The decisions will either guide the Supreme Court to find there is a way for judges to identify extreme partisanship or make the rulings short-lived.

Oklahoma Donations to Lawmakers Keep Flowing Even as They Vote on Bills
Oklahoma Watch – Trevor Brown | Published: 5/6/2019

Since November 6, donors have given more than $1.7 million to sitting lawmakers and top state leaders in Oklahoma, with about 20 percent donated while the Legislature has been in session. The amount will likely climb because of fundraising in the second half of the session, a total that will not be disclosed until second-quarter campaign finance reports are filed by the end of July. Campaign finance reform advocates say even though these types of donations are allowable under state law, they are troubling because they raise serious conflict-of-interest issues for public officials.

Pennsylvania Dark Money Under Spotlight as Campaign Finance Law Changes Right Before Philly Primary
Philadelphia Inquirer – Julia Terruso and Chris Brennan | Published: 5/2/2019

Philadelphia 3.0, an independent PAC, has circulated thousands of fliers supporting Jamie Gauthier for city council and accusing incumbent Jannie Blackwell of being too cozy with developers. But the group’s support has proved somewhat polarizing in the race. The lasting backlash against 3.0 has been that it doesn’t legally have to publicly identify many of its donors. In 2015 it spent more than $500,000 on council races but kept secret the origin of seven out of every 10 dollars transferred from its nonprofit. A change to the city’s campaign finance law that is now in effect aims to make sure anyone who pays for political communications is named. The new law requires PACs like 3.0 to disclose all donors who contribute to political activity that costs more than $5,000, whether the funding originated from a nonprofit or a PAC.

Tennessee Cocaine, Racy Texts and a Potentially Fraudulent Email: A week of chaos roils one statehouse
Washington Post – Eli Rosenberg | Published: 5/9/2019

Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada’s chief of staff, Cade Cothren, resigned amid reports he solicited sex in text messages to interns and lobbyists and used illegal drugs in the legislative office building. Cothren also faced scrutiny over racist text messages. His resignation came hours after a news article said Cothren allegedly solicited sex and nude photographs from an intern, sought sex with a lobbyist, and suggested he would make sexual advances toward another intern. Casada’s participation in some of the text messages has kicked off calls for his resignation. The messy political drama is another chapter in the long-running discussion about the treatment of women in the halls of power, in this case the statehouse.

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May 3, 2019 •

News You Can Use Digest – May 3, 2019

News You Can Use

National/Federal Acting Defense Secretary Cleared of Wrongdoing in Probe of His Ties to Boeing Washington Post – Dan Lamothe and Heather Ryan | Published: 4/24/2019 The Pentagon’s watchdog cleared Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan of wrongdoing in an investigation examining whether he […]

National/Federal

Acting Defense Secretary Cleared of Wrongdoing in Probe of His Ties to Boeing
Washington Post – Dan Lamothe and Heather Ryan | Published: 4/24/2019

The Pentagon’s watchdog cleared Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan of wrongdoing in an investigation examining whether he used his influence at the Defense Department to favor Boeing, his former employer. The results seemingly clear the way for President Trump to nominate Shanahan to take over as Pentagon chief. The probe was launched after the department’s inspector general received reports saying Shanahan had boosted Boeing in meetings, disparaged Boeing’s competitors, pressured Pentagon officials to buy Boeing products, and sought to influence the Air Force’s decision on accepting a Boeing aircraft after technical problems delayed its delivery.

As Buttigieg Builds His Campaign, Gay Donors Provide the Foundation
New York Times – Jeremy Peters and Shane Goldmacher | Published: 4/30/2019

After vaulting into the top tier of presidential candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is building a nationwide network of donors that is anchored by many wealthy and well-connected figures in LGBT political circles. Buttigieg’s candidacy has struck a powerful chord with many top LGBT donors. Though many said they believed they would see a gay man or lesbian become a serious contender for the White House, most of them had never considered it beyond the abstract. But the LGBT community is no monolith, and Buttigieg’s candidacy is exposing tensions that have been papered over during the period of relative unity and common purpose that has taken hold since President Trump took office.

Biden Faces Conflict of Interest Questions That Are Being Promoted by Trump and Allies
MSN – Kenneth Vogel and Iuliia Mendel (New York Times) | Published: 5/1/2019

Then-Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Kiev in March 2016 and threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees if Ukraine’s leaders did not dismiss the country’s top prosecutor, who had been accused of turning a blind eye to corruption in the country. The prosecutor general was soon voted out by Parliament. Among those who had a stake in the outcome was Hunter Biden, the younger son of the former vice president, who at the time was on the board of an energy company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch who had been in the sights of the fired prosecutor general. The broad outlines of how the roles of the father and son intersected have been known for some time. New details about Hunter Biden’s involvement have pushed the issue back into the spotlight just as the elder Biden is beginning his campaign for president.

Congressional Democrats’ Emoluments Lawsuit Targeting President Trump’s Private Business Can Proceed, Judge Says
MSN – Jonathan O’Connell, Ann Marimow, and Carol Leonnig (Washington Post) | Published: 4/30/2019

A federal judge ruled Democrats in Congress can move ahead with their lawsuit against President Trump alleging his private business violates the Constitution’s ban on gifts or payments from foreign governments. The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan adopted a broad definition of the anti-corruption law and could set the stage for Democratic lawmakers to begin seeking information from the Trump Organization. The Justice Department can try to delay or block the process by asking an appeals court to intervene. Sullivan refused the request of the president’s legal team to dismiss the case and rejected Trump’s narrow definition of emoluments, finding it “unpersuasive and inconsistent.”

In Its Fight to Keep Drug Prices High, Big Pharma Leans on Charities
Los Angeles Times – Ben Elgin (Bloomberg) | Published: 4/29/2019

Many self-styled patient-advocacy groups with murky origins or hidden funders have cropped up since 2017. With names like the Doctor-Patient Rights Project or the Defenders Coalition, such groups pursue various policy aims that include effectively aiding pharmaceutical companies’ efforts to defeat drug-price proposals. The nonprofits take public positions in newspaper op-eds and letters to Congress while drug makers, beset by years of negative publicity over price hikes, tend to remain in the background. The groups say they are independent. That is not true for all of them, said Marc Boutin, chief executive of the National Health Council, which has more than 50 patient groups and dozens of drug makers as members. “There are a number of groups created by pharma companies that look and act like patient organizations, but they’re 100 percent funded by industry,” said Boutin, who did not name any specific examples.

Maria Butina, Russian Who Conspired to Infiltrate Conservative U.S. Political Groups, Sentenced to 18 Months
Boston Globe – Spencer Hsu and Rosalind Helderman (Washington Post) | Published: 4/26/2019

A federal judge sentenced Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina to 18 months in prison Friday after calling her plot to penetrate conservative U.S. political circles without disclosing she was working as a foreign agent for the Kremlin “dangerous” and “a threat to our democracy.” Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring with a senior Russian official to access the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other groups without registering with the U.S. Justice Department from 2015 until she was arrested and detained in July. Butina admitted she worked under the direction of Alexander Torshin, a former Russian government official, and with an American political operative on a multiyear scheme to establish unofficial lines of communications with Americans who could influence U.S. politics.

‘No Corporate PAC’ Pledges Aren’t Always So Pure
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 4/29/2019

Many incumbents in the club of Democratic lawmakers who refuse corporate PAC dollars still accept donations from colleagues and party committees that take the funds. Numerous freshman Democrats who ran on a no-corporate-PAC-money mantra opened their re-election coffers to donations this year from party leaders and committees, such as the New Democrat Coalition Action Fund, that are full of funding from some of the nation’s best-known companies. Taking donations from party leaders and committees allows pledge-takers to stick to their vows while cleansing some of the “dirty” dollars and diluting the influence of the companies, but not banishing such money entirely.

Pete Buttigieg Swears Off the Lobbyist Money He Once Accepted
New York Times – Jeremy Peters and Shane Goldmacher | Published: 4/26/2019

Pete Buttigieg, whose upstart presidential campaign has benefited from an early surge of donations and national attention, will no longer accept contributions from federal lobbyists, bowing to pressure from fellow Democrats who want to reform the way campaigns raise money. Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was somewhat isolated among his rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination because he initially accepted lobbyist money, putting him at odds with the more progressive wing of his party. He will return the contributions he had already accepted from lobbyists, which his campaign said totaled $30,250 from 39 individuals.

Trump Views the Supreme Court as an Ally, Sowing Doubt About Its Independence Among His Critics
MSN – Robert Barnes and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 4/27/2019

President Trump’s tweets demonstrate he views the U.S. Supreme Court as an ally, and safeguard against lower court defeats and congressional opponents. His administration’s lawyers have tried to leapfrog the legal process to seek the high court’s quick review of adverse rulings and nationwide injunctions by lower courts. They are also ready to go to court as the president resists demands from congressional Democrats investigating his conduct, business dealings, and personal finances. Critics of the president say his rhetoric seeds doubts about the Supreme Court’s independence, complicates the role of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., and could taint the victories Trump achieves there.

When the Mueller Investigation Ended, the Battle Over Its Conclusions Began
MSN – Mark Mazzetti and Michael Schmidt (New York Times) | Published: 5/1/2019

Special counsel Robert Mueller wrote a letter in March complaining to Attorney General William Barr that a four-page memo to Congress describing the principal conclusions of the investigation into President Trump “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of Mueller’s work. What followed was a dayslong, behind-the-scenes tussle over the first public presentation of one of the most consequential government investigations in American history. A richer picture of that battle has emerged, one of testy letters (Barr described one as “snitty”) and at least one tense telephone call between the special counsel Mueller and Barr. The two were longtime friends who found themselves on opposite sides of an embattled president. The growing evidence of a split between them also brought fresh scrutiny on Barr.

From the States and Municipalities

California – State Officials Keep Hiring Their Relatives. Will Newsom Crack Down on Nepotism?
Los Angeles Times – Patrick McGreevy | Published: 5/1/2019

California agencies have a long history of nepotism, along with pledges to end such favoritism, but the practice continues. Workers in at least seven state agencies have alleged favoritism shown to family members and friends of administrators in the last decade. Getting a desirable job in state government too often depends on who you know, say watchdogs and employees who have raised red flags. A 2017 investigation found 835 employees of the Board of Equalization, or 17.5 percent of its workforce at the time, were related by blood, adoption, marriage, or cohabitation.

Florida – Former David Straz Staffers Say Nashville Consultant Played Big Role in Campaign’s Failure
Tampa Bay Times – Charlie Frago and Christopher O’Donnell | Published: 4/30/2019

A few days before voters went to the polls in the first round of Tampa’s mayoral election, the David Straz campaign was in an uproar over a missing $225,000. Straz said he was freezing campaign spending until the missing money could be accounted for, members of his team said, but no one could come up with an answer. The reason, they said: political consultant Bill Fletcher was the only one who knew how campaign money was being spent. The Nashville-based consultant had the purse strings while also directing millions of dollars to his own company to buy television, radio, and digital advertising. He answered only to Straz, a political novice. Near-total power wielded by a single consultant is highly unusual and potentially dangerous, said veteran political consultant Adam Goodman.

Kansas – Former Salina Senator Pads State Salary with Travel, Food Vouchers
Topeka Capital Journal – Tim Carpenter | Published: 4/30/2019

The former state senator hired as Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer’s regulatory fixer billed taxpayers thousands of dollars for driving to and from the job in Topeka after his official work station was quietly switched from a state office building near the Capitol to his residence in Salina. Tom Arpke, who burnished a political reputation in the Senate and House as a fiscal conservative eager to expose spending he considered superfluous, was chosen by Colyer to serve as the executive branch’s regulatory ombudsman. The decision to designate Arpke’s office as his personal residence 112 miles away from the Curtis State Office Building adjacent to the Capitol was necessary to justify Arpke’s monthly claims that taxpayers should pay him extra every time he drove to Topeka for work.

Massachusetts – For Sale in the Pot Industry: Political influence
Boston Globe – Andrew Ryan, Beth Healy, Dam Adams, Nicole Dungca, Todd Wallach, and Patricia Wen | Published: 5/1/2019

The law that legalized recreational marijuana in Massachusetts tried to make room for the little guy by limiting the number of cannabis shops a company could own or control. It also directly encourages proposals from black and Latino entrepreneurs whose community members were often unfairly targeted for arrest when pot was illegal. But so far, winning a license to sell marijuana in Massachusetts often seems to be determined by whom you know, or if you can afford to pay a lobbyist or consultant who knows people. Frank Perullo, the owner of Novus Group – which claims to be “one of the nation’s leading cannabis consulting firms” – estimates he has deployed his political connections and expertise to help push 40 to 50 proposed pot shops in Massachusetts.

Michigan – Federal Court: Michigan political maps illegally rigged to ‘historical proportions’
Detroit News – Jonathan Oosting | Published: 4/25/2019

A federal court in Michigan became the latest in the country to strike down its state’s legislative and congressional district maps, ruling they were examples of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.  A panel of three judges in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan cited evidence that showed Republicans loaded some districts with Democratic voters and divided Democratic communities between other Republican-held seats, practices known as packing and cracking. The panel is giving the Republican-led House and Senate until August 1 to redraw the maps and get them signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. If state officials do not finalize new maps by then, the court would draw new boundaries itself and could appoint a special master to do so.

Missouri – ‘Pay to Play’ Case Sinks St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Jeremy Kohler, Jacob Barker, and Robert Patrick | Published: 4/30/2019

A federal grand jury indicted St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger on charges of bribery, mail fraud, and the theft of honest services for trading political favors for campaign contributions. Stenger is accused of ensuring that donor John Rallo and his companies obtained contracts with the county and received other favors. Stenger also is accused of ensuring that an unnamed company obtained a state lobbying contract from the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and taking actions to conceal the illegal conduct. Recent investigations by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch have raised concerns about county contracts going to Stenger’s political donors, and the county council began an ethics investigation into the matter.

New Hampshire – Sununu Inaugural Team Releases Conflict of Interest Policy, Months After Declining to Do So
New Hampshire Public Radio – Casey McDermott | Published: 4/25/2019

When faced with questions earlier this year about the thousands of dollars paid out from his inaugural committee to his sister and top political advisor, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s team said those payments followed state and federal regulations, and “the organization’s bylaws and conflict of interest policy.” New Hampshire lacks comprehensive disclosure and compliance rules around gubernatorial inaugural committees, and Sununu is the first sitting governor required to detail how his committee raises and spends money in reports filed with the secretary of state’s office.

New Jersey – The Tax Break Was $260 Million. Benefit to the State Was Tiny: $155,520.
New York Times – Nick Corasaniti and Matthew Haag | Published: 5/1/2019

The Economic Opportunity Act, a measure intended to kick-start the sputtering post-recession economy in New Jersey, particularly in its struggling cities. The state would award lucrative tax breaks to businesses if they moved to New Jersey or remained in the state, creating and retaining jobs. But before the bill was approved by the Legislature, a series of changes were made to its language that were intended to grant specific companies hundreds of millions of dollars in additional tax breaks. Many of the last-minute changes to drafts of the bill were made by a real estate lawyer, Kevin Sheehan, whose influential law firm has close ties to Democratic politicians and legislative leaders in New Jersey. Sheehan was allowed to edit drafts of the bill in ways that opened up sizable tax breaks to his firm’s clients.

New York – Mayor de Blasio and City Hall Staff Cozied Up to Lobbyists and Special Interests in Hundreds of Meetings, News Analysis Shows
New York Daily News – Anna Sanders | Published: 5/2/2019

“I don’t sit down with lobbyists, I don’t talk to lobbyists, and I haven’t for years,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said recently. But a New York Daily News analysis of public records shows otherwise. De Blasio’s deputy mayors, commissioners, and high-ranking aides had at least 358 meetings and talks with both contract and in-house lobbyists in just 11 months, records show. They spoke with 332 different lobbyists during that time, between March 1, 2018, and January 31 of this year. Six of the contract lobbyists are with Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, a law firm that represented de Blasio during a probe into his fundraising. City taxpayers paid the firm $2.6 million for representing the mayor.

New York – Some Top Albany Lobbyists Aren’t Following Sweeping Disclosure Rule
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 4/27/2019

New requirements imposed by the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) say lobbyists must disclose the names of lawmakers, agency employees, or local elected officials they directly lobby concerning legislation, regulations, and other matters. A review of the first filings covered by the requirement, reflecting lobbying performed in the first two months of the year, shows many top firms are trying to comply – some in extreme detail – but several prominent firms are not. Bolton St. Johns has not disclosed lobbying any lawmakers or agency officials this year despite employing a lengthy roster of lobbyists and having dozens of clients with legislative business. Whether JCOPE would penalize powerful lobbyists for not following the rule remains to be seen. Critics said it is also far from clear that the new disclosure rule would survive a court challenge.

North Dakota – Legislature Approves Republican-Written Ethics Measure
Dickinson Press – John Hageman (Forum News Service) | Published: 4/25/2019

North Dakota lawmakers approved a bill that sets rules to comply with a voter-approved constitutional amendment aimed at ethics reform. The ballot initiative bans lobbyist gifts to public officials, requires the disclosure of the “ultimate and true source of funds” spent to influence elections and state government action, and creates a new state ethics commission that could investigate malfeasance. Greg Stites, an attorney hired by Measure 1 supporters to lobby lawmakers, said the implementation bill falls short by narrowing the definition of lobbyist and leaving holes in reporting requirements.

Ohio – Ex-Dayton Commissioner, State Lawmaker Arrested; More Arrests Coming, Feds Say
Dayton Daily News – Laura Bischoff, Josh Sweigart, Thomas Gnau, Cornelius Frolick, and Mark Govaki | Published: 4/30/2019

An investigation by federal agents into suspected public corruption in the Dayton area led to charges against Joey Williams, a local bank executive and former city commissioner; former state Rep. Clayton Luckie; city employee RoShawn Winburn; and Brian Higgins, a local man who once owned a dead body hauling business. Four separate federal indictments detail allegations of bribes, fraud, and contract steering. The charges involve allegations of wrong-doing starting in 2014. The separate schemes arose out of the same investigation, authorities said. FBI Assistant Special Agent Joseph Deters said the lengthy investigation used sophisticated methods to “uncover what appears to be a culture of corruption in Dayton-area politics.”

Tennessee – Why This Republican Lawmaker Hired His Own Personal Lobbyist to Work the Capitol Halls
The Tennessean – Joel Ebert | Published: 5/2/2019

Tennessee Rep. Martin Daniel officially hired a lobbyist recently, making him the first lawmaker in recent memory to have such an employee at his disposal. Nashville resident Drew Lonergan filed his lobbyist registration with the Tennessee Ethics Commission on March 25. Lonergan said he had been “consulting” for Daniel since January but registered as a lobbyist after consulting ethics officials. Lonergan’s sole employer listed on his lobbyist registration is Daniel, who is the only current lawmaker to have a personal lobbyist. Daniel said he pays Lonergan out of his own pocket and does not use campaign money to cover the expense.

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April 26, 2019 •

News You Can Use Digest – April 25, 2019

      National:  Constraints on Presidency Being Redefined in Trump Era, Report Fallout Shows MSN – Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 4/22/2019 The events that have followed the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report threaten to redefine […]

 

 

 

National: 

Constraints on Presidency Being Redefined in Trump Era, Report Fallout Shows
MSN – Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 4/22/2019

The events that have followed the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report threaten to redefine the legal and ethical standards that have long served as constraints on the American presidency. They also suggest that few, if any, of the traditional guardrails that have kept Donald Trump’s predecessors in check remain for this president and possibly those who will follow him. Current and former aides say they do not expect Trump to change his behavior, saying he is unlikely to be responsive to anything other than political pain in the form of a real revolt by Republican leadership or a sharp drop in poll numbers.

How the IRS Gave Up Fighting Political Dark Money Groups
ProPublica – Maya Miller | Published: 4/18/2019

“Dark money” spending is legal because of a massive loophole. Section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code allows organizations to make independent expenditures on politics while concealing their donors’ names as long as politics is not the organization’s “primary activity.” The IRS has the daunting task of trying to determine when nonprofits in that category, known colloquially as C4s, violate that vague standard. But the IRS’ attempts to police this class of nonprofits have almost completely broken down. Since 2015, thousands of complaints have streamed in that C4s are abusing the rules. But the agency has not stripped a single organization of its tax-exempt status for breaking spending rules during that period. The IRS’ abdication of oversight stems from a trio of causes.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama – How a Lawyer, a Lobbyist and a Legislator Waged War on a Birmingham Superfund Site
AL.com – Steven Mufson (Washington Post) | Published: 4/24/2019

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wanted to clean up toxic soil in the 35th Avenue Superfund site in Birmingham. The agency notified Drummond, a coal company, and four other manufacturers nearby that they would have to dig up and replace the soil on hundreds of residential yards. David Roberson, Drummond’s vice president and top lobbyist, worried it would cost his company $100 million or more. Roberson and his lawyer, Joel Gilbert, decided they needed someone who could persuade the people living on contaminated land to protest not the pollution, but the cleanup. They chose Oliver Robinson Jr. then a state representative. Prosecutors ultimately charged Robinson with receiving bribes, while Gilbert and Roberson were charged with bribery, conspiracy, and money laundering in the scheme to stop the EPA.

Alaska – As Capitol Reporters Dwindle, Alaska Lawmakers Grapple with Rise of Political Blogs
KTOO – Nat Herz | Published: 4/23/2019

The press corps in Juneau has a new addition this year: Jeff Landfield, a failed candidate for state Senate who is now running a colorful political blog called the Alaska Landmine. He is one of a growing number of political bloggers who are trying to fill in gaps left by Alaska’s shrinking mainstream media, posing challenges for both lawmakers and the bloggers themselves. Landfield was standing outside the chambers where the House meets recently, and he was getting some attention because he had a black eye. It was a souvenir, Landfield said, from when a legislative aide punched him a few days before at a Juneau bar.

Connecticut – Two Rival Politicians Accused Each Other of Using Drugs. The Result Was a Showdown at a Urinalysis Lab.
Washington Post – Antonia Noori Farzen | Published: 4/22/2019

Two feuding politicians in Bridgeport, Connecticut’s largest city, spent much of the past week accusing each other of being on mind-altering substances after getting into an ugly fight in the comments section of a local political blog. Bridgeport City Councilperson Ernest Newton and Board of Education member Maria Pereira concluded they could only settle their dispute one way: by challenging each other to a public drug test. Newton, whose political career was interrupted by a five-year prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, once struggled with an addiction to crack cocaine. Both tested negative for all 10 substances. But the feud did not die down.

Florida – Andrew Gillum Agrees to Pay $5,000 Ethics Fine
News Service of Florida – Tampa Bay Times | Published: 4/24/2019

Former Tallahassee Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum agreed to pay a $5,000 fine to settle a complaint he violated state law by accepted gifts worth more than $100 from lobbyists or their clients who had interests in the city and failed to report them. The Florida Commission on Ethics agreed to drop four additional counts in the settlement. The commission had found probable cause that Gillum violated ethics laws for allegedly accepting gifts from Tallahassee entrepreneur Adam Corey and undercover FBI agents posing as developers. Corey had been a close friend of Gillum and lobbied city officials. The charges related to trips to Costa Rica and New York, a boat ride around the Statue of Liberty, and a ticket to the Broadway hit, “Hamilton.”

Florida – Opioid Lawsuit Bill Stalls in Florida Committee Chaired by Sister-in-Law of Walgreens Lobbyist
Tampa Bay Times – Lawrencwe Mower | Published: 4/22/2019

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is suing the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors, accusing them of recklessly supplying Floridians with millions of drugs per year. But a bill that is critical to the lawsuit moving forward has stalled in the committee of a powerful lawmaker: Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who said her committee would not hear it because of concerns the bill could invade the privacy of patients. Benacquisto said her objections are not related to her brother-in-law, Chris Hansen, a lobbyist whose clients include Walgreens – one of the defendants in Moody’s lawsuit.

Maine – Numbers of Maine Lawmakers Who Went on to Lobby
AP News – Marina Villeneuva | Published: 4/21/2019

At least 14 Democratic and eight Republican lawmakers in Maine have gone on to register as paid lobbyists over the past three decades, a practice that is being targeted by a bill moving through the state Legislature. The House and Senate advanced a bill to ban future lawmakers from any paid lobbying within their first year out of office. The state ethics commissions had called for the change in 2017. The Associated Press (AP) compared state lobbying reports with legislative rosters and found that nearly half of the 22 former lawmakers who registered as lobbyists over the past three decades did so within the same year of leaving office. The lawmakers-turned-lobbyists have raked in $3.6 million in total compensation for their firms, according to the AP analysis.

Maryland – Federal Agents Search Baltimore City Hall and Mayor Catherine Pugh’s Home
Washington Post – Ann Marimow, Peter Hermann, and Lynh Bui | Published: 4/25/2019

Federal agents searched Baltimore City Hall and Mayor Catherine Pugh’s home among other sites amid fallout from lucrative children’s book deals she cut with businesses connected to the government she has run since 2016. Pugh took an indefinite leave of absence beginning April 1 attributed to health issues following criticism of the more than $700,000 she was paid for her self-published “Healthy Holly” book series. The book-deal revelations have led to calls from the city council and state lawmakers for Pugh’s resignation; an investigation by the state prosecutor; and to the firing of several of her aides. Investigators are scrutinizing Pugh’s deals with entities including Kaiser Permanente, which was awarded city contracts, and the University of Maryland Medical System, on whose board she sat for many years.

Massachusetts – Amid ‘Slush Fund’ Criticism, Nearly All Legislative Caucuses Will Forgo Outside Donations
Boston Globe – Matt Stout | Published: 4/24/2019

All but one of the nearly two dozen caucuses formed by Massachusetts lawmakers say they will not solicit outside contributions, weeks after a new internal rule allowing legislative groups to raise private funds stirred controversy on Beacon Hill. The rule, which requires all caucuses to register with the House Committee on Rules, also bars lobbyists from donating and says caucuses must receive approval from House counsel before taking any gift of more than $50. The potential of taking donations outside of campaign finance disclosure laws drew intense heat, including criticisms it could create a legislative “slush fund.”

Minnesota – Minnesota Lawmakers, Lobbyists Describe Cautious Capitol in Wake of #MeToo
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Jessie Van Berkel | Published: 4/21/2019

A year and a half after reports of sexual harassment rocked the Minnesota Legislature and prompted two resignations, lawmakers and lobbyists describe a changed atmosphere at the Capitol. People are more cautious and aware of what crosses the line. There is also a new group of House members, many of them younger women, who are outspoken about addressing harassment and gender equality. But some at the Capitol say they worry the good behavior and awareness will fall by the wayside if the energy of the #MeToo movement fades from the spotlight.

Missouri – Lobbyist’s Crusade to Change Title IX in Missouri Stems from His Son’s Expulsion
Kansas City Star – Edward McKinley | Published: 4/23/2019

After his son was expelled from Washington University last year through the school’s Title IX process, a leading Jefferson City lobbyist launched a campaign to change the law for every campus in the state. Richard McIntosh has argued to legislators that Title IX, the federal law barring sexual discrimination in education and mandating that schools set up internal systems to police sexual violence, is tilted unfairly against the accused. His proposals create more protections for those accused of Title IX violations. Had McIntosh’s amendment been enacted, it would have allowed his son to appeal the result of his hearing to the state Administrative Hearing Commission, where his mother and McIntosh’s wife is the presiding and managing commissioner.

South Dakota – S.D. House Speaker Paid $12,000 for Lobbyist’s Legal Fees
KELOLAND – Bob Mercer | Published: 4/23/2019

South Dakota House Speaker Steven Haugaard authorized a payment of $12,000 for a lobbyist’s legal fees after he banned her from the chamber floor, and South Dakota Municipal League Executive Director Yvonne Taylor’s attorneys have asked a federal judge to dismiss the league’s lawsuit against Haugaard. Court documents say Haugaard called Taylor into his office and brought up her column from the league’s magazine. In the article, which appeared prior to the June 2018 primary elections, Taylor suggested voters make a distinction between what she called “The Normals” and the “Wackies” in the Legislature. One sentence said: “We desperately need to get that ‘wacky ratio’ down.” A judge issued a temporary restraining order against Haugaard and said the speaker was not protected by legislative immunity.

Texas – Conservative Group Empower Texans Sues Lawmaker to Gain State House Media Credentials
Texas Tribune – Emma Platoff | Published: 4/18/2019

Months after being denied media credentials for the Texas House, the conservative organization Texas Scorecard – a product of Empower Texans, a Tea Party-aligned political advocacy group with one of the state’s best-funded PACs – filed a First Amendment lawsuit arguing its rejection from the chamber constitutes “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.” Before the legislative session began in January, two employees of Texas Scorecard applied for media credentials in the Legislature. In the Senate, their credentials were granted; in the House, they were denied. The two chambers follow similar rules about who is allowed special journalistic access to the floor, and both prohibit lobbyists. But the chambers’ political atmospheres are different.

Washington – A State Senator Said Nurses ‘Probably Play Cards’ at Work. Facing Mass Outrage, She’s Apologized.
Seattle Times – Allyson Chiu (Washington Post) | Published: 4/21/2019

While debating a bill that would give nurses uninterrupted meals and breaks at work and protect them from mandatory overtime, Washington Sen. Maureen Walsh arguing that hospitals in rural communities should be excluded from the measure because the requirements would place too much strain on those facilities. “By putting these types of mandates on a critical access hospital that literally serves a handful of individuals, I would submit to you that those nurses probably do get breaks – they probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day,” Walsh said. The comment sparked an online petition calling for her to shadow a nurse and “experience what really happens” during a 12-hour shift. The senator’s office has also been flooded with angry phone calls and emails as well as packages containing decks of playing cards.

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April 19, 2019 •

News You Can Use Digest – April 19, 2019

 

 

 

Federal:

Analysis: The many reasons to run for president when you probably don’t stand a chance
MSN – Matt Flegenheimer (New York Times) | Published: 4/14/2019

Presidential primaries tend to produce one nominee but many winners. Beyond the long-shot candidates effectively auditioning for cabinet positions or building a profile (and donor base) for future races, there are prospective books to sell and television contracts to sign, corporate boards to join, and paid speeches to make. Any setback is temporary. “There’s just absolutely no downside and only upside,” Republican strategist Antonia Ferrier said of quixotic presidential runs. “It is an industry of self-promotion. What better way to self-promote than run for president?”

Mueller Whacks Trump with Evidence of Obstruction
Politico – Josh Gerstein and Darren Samuelsohn | Published: 4/18/2019

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed President Trump tried to seize control of the Russia probe and force Mueller’s removal to stop him from investigating potential obstruction of justice by the president. On numerous occasions, Trump’s impulses to stymie the investigators were only halted by staffers’ refusal to carry out orders. While the document confirms Mueller found no conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin, it contains numerous unfavorable observations regarding potential obstruction of justice and sheds light on why the special counsel chose to neither exonerate Trump nor conclude he committed a crime.

Political Consultant Patten Sentenced to Probation After Steering Ukrainian Money to Trump Inaugural
Seattle Times – Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 4/12/2019

An American political consultant whose guilty plea marked the first confirmation that illegal foreign money was used to help fund Donald Trump’s inaugural committee was sentenced to probation by a federal judge who cited his cooperation with prosecutors. W. Samuel Patten admitted steering $50,000 from a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician to Trump’s committee in an investigation spun off from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Patten acknowledged he was helped by a Russian national who is a longtime associate of former Trump campaign chairperson Paul Manafort. U.S. District Court Judge Amy noted no federal sentencing guideline directly applies to his offense of failing to register as a foreign lobbyist, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Prosecution of Former White House Counsel Sets K Street on Edge – Again
Politico – Theodoric Meyer | Published: 4/11/2019

The Justice Department’s indictment of Gregory Craig, who served as White House counsel under President Obama, sent a signal to K Street that lobbyists who work for foreign interests without registering have reason to be afraid. Some lobbyists have been on edge since Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairperson, was indicted on charges of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, previously a rarely enforced law requiring lobbyists and others who work on behalf of foreign governments and political parties to disclose their activity. Some said Craig’s indictment is likely to reverberate on K Street as the crackdown continues. A letter from the FARA enforcement unit now “has to be taken as seriously as a heart attack,” said Matthew Sanderson, an attorney who advises clients on the law.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama: Lawmakers Pass Bill Saying Economic Developers Are Not Lobbyists
AL.com – Mike Cason | Published: 4/16/2019

A bill exempting economic developers from a requirement to register as lobbyists under the Alabama ethics law won final passage in the Legislature and could be signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey. Lawmakers and the state’s industrial recruiters say the bill was needed to protect the confidentiality of site selection efforts by representatives of companies interested in coming to Alabama. Lobbyists are required to report to the Ethics Commission who they represent and information about their activities, reports that are available to the public. The bill proved controversial last year, with critics saying it would create two classes of individuals under the ethics law and open loopholes.

California: Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Santa Clara Mayor in Conflict-of-Interest Case
San Jose Mercury News – Thy Vo | Published: 4/15/2019

Superior Court Judge Mark Pierce threw out a lawsuit that accused Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor of failing to divulge at least $180,000 in income on conflict-of-interest forms, ruling the documents are “political works” exempt from disclosure requirements. The forms require elected and appointed officials to report all their financial interests. But Gillmor’s attorney argued the lawsuit was hatched by political opponents and should be dismissed under a provision in the law concerning a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) that protects people against suits filed to intimidate them or silence their free speech rights. Pierce ruled Gillmor’s conflict-of-interest forms are related to her role as a politician and thereby qualify as “political works” that are protected speech under the anti-SLAPP statute.

Colorado: Denver’s Big 3 Lobbyists Have Deep Relationships with City Government and Mayor Michael Hancock
Colorado Public Radio – Ben Markus | Published: 4/11/2019

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is seeking a third term this year, and on the campaign trail he is often criticized for his close ties to the business community, particularly developers. Even critics say there is nothing wrong with the mayor and his staff being in close quarters with the business community. But a Colorado Public Radio investigation found several lobbying groups that travel with the mayor also have contracts to work for the city. At the same time, they are actively lobbying the city on behalf of corporate clients. Lobbyists often stock their firms with former city workers, who sometimes go back to work for Denver, perpetuating the “revolving door,” which is legal under city rules. The lobbying firms are also among the largest donors to city campaigns.

Florida: Internet Intrigue: Blitz of lobbyists, consultants worked behind scenes before broadband vote
Tallahassse Democrat – Jeff Burlew | Published: 4/16/2019

When talk of a city-owned broadband internet utility surfaced at the same time an out-of-town fiber-optic firm eyed Tallahassee as a potential new market, lobbyists, public relations people and industry consultants streamed into action. The debate during city commission meetings in March was contentious enough. But there was intrigue behind the curtain. By the time the dust settled, the commission reversed course on plans to explore creation of a new utility, something MetroNet, an Indiana-based company still considering coming to town, opposed. The drama that unfolded came after years of high-profile controversy involving lobbyists and consultants at City Hall. Watchdogs say it highlights the kind of murky dealings that undermine confidence in the city’s ability to police lobbying.

Indiana: Casino-Investor Ties Led Speaker Bosma to Skip Gaming Bill Vote. Here’s Why Questions Linger.
Indianapolios Star – Tony Cook and Kaitlin Lange | Published: 4/18/2019

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma is recusing himself from votes on legislation that would make some of the biggest changes to Indiana’s casino laws in years because of a potentially lucrative contract arranged by a casino owner. Bosma said his law firm is providing legal representation to the Vigo County Capital Improvement Board, a local entity that stands to benefit from the legislation, which would allow a casino in Terre Haute. The contract was arranged by businessperson Greg Gibson, one of two principal investors in Spectacle Entertainment. Spectacle is lobbying lawmakers for permission to move two casinos in Gary to more lucrative locations. Heightening the concerns are Bosma’s private discussions about the legislation with other lawmakers and casino companies, despite his decision to avoid any public votes on the topic.

Louisiana: Proposed Law Would Bar Legislators from Giving Tulane Scholarships to Immediate Family
New Orleans Times Picayune – Wilborn Nobles | Published: 4/16/2019

A new bill in the Louisiana Senate would bar close relatives of certain state politicians from being eligible to receive free tuition at Tulane University. Senate Bill 183 would make Tulane’s Legislative Scholarship unavailable for the immediate family members of a Louisiana legislator, statewide elected official, or an elected Louisiana official in Congress. The advantage of wealth and privilege in gaining access to elite universities has emerged as a hot topic following recent allegations that wealthy parents bribed university administrators and coaches at top schools to gain admission for their children. While no such payments are alleged in Tulane’s case, some critics say the university’s Legislative Scholarship Program is a “source of political patronage.”

Massachusetts: For the First Time, Boston Municipal Lobbyists Are Required to Register Their Work with City Hall
Boston Globe – Milton Valencia | Published: 4/17/2019

Lobbyists in Boston will now have to register with the city clerk’s office. Those who do not register could face a fine of up to $300, according to an ordinance that was passed last year. Under the ordinance, the city will set up a five-member commission that will be charged with reviewing an individual or entity’s work with the city, determining whether that work would be subject to the new law, and whether to hand out penalties, said City Clerk Maureen Feeney. She said her office was communicating the new requirements to lobbyists who had inquired about the process. Feeney also said an online portal system the city set up is similar to the one used by the state.

Mississippi: Public Universities Spend Millions Wining, Dining, Lobbying Mississippi Lawmakers
Jackson Clarion-Ledger – Luke Ramseth and Geoff Pender | Published: 4/10/2019

Seven of Mississippi’s eight public universities and their private foundations spent nearly $2 million on lobbying over the past four years, a Jackson Clarion Ledger analysis found. That amount includes money for staff lobbyists and private lobbying firms, plus entertaining lawmakers. These public universities lavish money on public officials in hopes of getting more public dollars. And they spend more than most any other special interest groups seeking influence in the Capitol. In Mississippi, it is all completely legal. The state’s lack of restrictions on gifts to public officials means elected officials, their families, and even friends can benefit from unlimited largesse without worry.

Missouri: After Controversial MSD Vote, Winners Donated More Than $150,000 to Stenger Campaign
St. Louis Post Dispatch – David Hunn and Jacob Barker | Published: 4/15/2019

A contract to build the Deer Creek tunnel was one of the largest the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) had awarded in years. MSD staff recommended awarding it to the low bidder, Jay Dee Contractors. The district board’s practice, almost without exception, was to approve the professional staff’s recommendation. But SAK Construction mounted a lobbying effort over the contract, and the company’s concerns reached St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s office, which appoints three of MSD’s six members on its Board of Trustees. A top aide to Stenger met with two key trustees to discuss the matter. After the meeting with Stenger’s aide, one of those two MSD trustees switched his vote, and SAK ultimately won the contract. Less than a month after the vote, SAK executives did something they had never done before: they began pouring money into Stenger’s campaign.

Nevada: Nevada Lawmaker Paid Her Sister Thousands for Campaign Work, But We Can’t See the Details
Reno Gazette-Journal – James DeHaven | Published: 4/15/2019

Nevada has routinely ranked at or near the bottom of nationwide political transparency surveys. But ex-state Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson’s downfall under a cloud of admitted election spending misdeeds has sparked renewed interest in strengthening anti-corruption statutes. Now, weeks after Atkinson’s resignation, a Reno Gazette Journal analysis reveals state Sen. Pat Spearman paid nearly $103,000 in campaign funds to a consulting firm with close ties to her sister. Reports show Donna Spearman-Davis and Crawford Management Group were the two largest recipients of Spearman’s campaign cash, accounting for about 30 percent of the nearly $500,000 the former congressional hopeful and longtime state senator spent between 2012 and 2018.

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April 12, 2019 •

News You Can Use Digest – April 11, 2019

      National: You Elected Them to Write New Laws. They’re Letting Corporations Do It Instead. USA Today – Rob O’Dell (Arizona Republic) and Mark Penzenstadler | Published: 4/4/2019 A two-year investigation reveals for the first time the extent to which special […]

 

 

 

National:

You Elected Them to Write New Laws. They’re Letting Corporations Do It Instead.
USA Today – Rob O’Dell (Arizona Republic) and Mark Penzenstadler | Published: 4/4/2019

A two-year investigation reveals for the first time the extent to which special interests have infiltrated state Legislatures using model legislation. USA Today and The Arizona Republic found at least 10,000 bills almost entirely copied from model legislation were introduced nationwide in the past eight years, and more than 2,100 of those bills were signed into law. In all, these copycat bills amount to?the nation’s largest, unreported special-interest campaign, driving agendas in every statehouse and touching nearly every area of public policy. For lawmakers, copying model legislation is an easy way to get fully formed bills to put their names on, while building relationships with lobbyists and other potential campaign donors.

Federal:

Courts Have No Say When FEC Wants to Ignore Alleged Wrongdoing
Bloomberg Government – Kenneth Doyle | Published: 4/5/2019

A decision by two federal judges is making it impossible to challenge the way the FEC enforces campaign laws. When the agency deadlocks along party lines, that is now the end of the line, no court can second-guess letting an accused wrongdoer off the hook. Judicial review was eliminated last June by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Critics of that ruling have waited for the better part of year to find out if they would be allowed to argue before the full court on reversing that precedent. Many FEC enforcement complaints have been dismissed on party-line votes, with Democrats voting to pursue action and Republicans opposed.

Democrats Are Cozying Up to Corporate Lobbyists Despite Purity Pledges
Politico – Theodoric Meyer | Published: 4/8/2019

Some Democratic lawmakers who have promised to steer clear of campaign donations from corporate PACs are allowing the same corporations’ lobbyists to write them personal checks, and in some cases even host fundraisers for them. Democrats on K Street are frustrated by what they view as arbitrary restrictions on which kinds of money lawmakers will take and which kinds are forbidden, according to interviews. Democrats’ rush to reject corporate PAC money falls heaviest on in-house Democratic lobbyists for big corporations. Some of those lobbyists have found it harder to mingle with House Democrats when they cannot attend fundraisers by writing a corporate PAC check to get in the door.

Scant Staffing Means Few Monitoring Whether Lobbyists Obey Law
Bloomberg Government – Megan Wilson | Published: 4/9/2019

In 2016, enforcement of the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) was handled by six part-time Justice Department lawyers and one full-time paralegal. Two years later, that work was being done by a much smaller staff: one part-time lawyer, one full-time paralegal, and one part-time paralegal. There has not been an enforcement action for an LDA violation in four years, and since the law was enacted in 1995, there have been a total of nine civil enforcement actions. For firms that want to stay on the right side of the law, “the lack of lawyers in the office has complicated matters when there are tricky legal issues to be resolved,” said Caleb Burns, a partner at Wiley Rein.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama: Ward: Bill allowing lobbyist gifts to lobbyists ‘dead’ in his committee
Montgomery Advertiser – Brian Lyman | Published: 4/10/2019

The Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee delayed a vote on a proposed bill that critics say would represent a major step back from ethics laws passed in 2010. The legislation’s sponsor, Sen. Greg Albritton, argued Senate Bill 230 would provide clarity by providing better definitions, explicit lines of enforcement and punishments for transgressions, and disclosures of gifts from lobbyists to officials. But the bill would lift any limits on what lobbyists could give to officials, provided they do not do so with corrupt intent. It also curtails the Alabama Ethics Commission’s ability to refer complaints to the attorney general’s office. “This bill is dead in my committee as far as I am concerned,” Judiciary Committee Chairperson Cam Ward wrote in a text.

California: To Block California Soda Taxes, Companies Paid for ‘Black Panther’ Tickets, Fancy Dinners
Los Angeles Times – Samantha Young (California Healthline) | Published: 4/7/2019

Dinners at an expensive restaurant in Maui, with ocean views. Tickets to professional sports games. A free screening of “Black Panther” at a Sacramento IMAX theater. And a $250,000 donation to a group that funds the governor’s travel. That is a sampling of the $11.8 million that soft drink companies and their lobbyists spent at the state and local levels in the past two years in California to block proposals such as taxing sugary beverages and imposing health warnings on their drinks, an analysis found. The beverage industry, like other interest groups, spends money to influence lawmakers in several ways. It makes financial contributions to their campaigns and lobbies them and their staffs, sometimes plying them with meals, events, and travel. It also donates to charities in lawmakers’ names.

Georgia: Georgia Ethics Chief to Issue Subpoenas in Investigation of Abrams Gubernatorial Campaign
The Hill – Zach Budryk | Published: 4/11/2019

David Emadi, the new executive secretary of the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission, will subpoena bank records from 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’ campaign. Emadi said he will also soon make a decision on whether to charge campaigns of Atlanta mayoral candidates for campaign finance fraud. Emadi replaced Stefan Ritter, who was accused of watching pornography at work and telling staff not to pursue potential campaign finance violations by candidates for city and statewide office. Ritter resigned in February.

Michigan: Mayor Mike Duggan Set Her Up to Succeed. That Raises Questions.
Detroit Free Press – Joe Guillen and Kat Stafford | Published: 4/4/2019

A charitable program run by a woman with close ties to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan received $358,000 in city grants and benefited from a fundraising campaign that a top city official spearheaded at the mayor’s direction. An email request shows Duggan ordered the city’s chief development officer to raise money for Make Your Date, which is a nonprofit medical organization where Dr. Sonia Hassan serves as president and director. Hassan was seen last year arriving after hours at the same suburban residence as Duggan in a surveillance video taken by a private investigator. The city’s financial support, attempted fundraising campaign, and Duggan’s repeated promotion of Make Your Date raises ethics questions about whether the mayor used city resources to benefit Hassan’s program.

Mississippi: Other States Ban Gifts to Lawmakers. Why Doesn’t Mississippi?
Jackson Clarion-Ledger – Luke Ramseth and Geoff Pender | Published: 4/9/2019

There are no restrictions on gifts from lobbyists to Mississippi lawmakers. A newspaper’s investigation found the state’s public universities alone spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on gifts for public officials from 2015 to 2018, including more than $200,000 in free sports tickets. In the 1990s, the Legislature passed a bill that required lobbyists and their clients to regularly report expenditures to the secretary of state. The reporting requirements caused lobbyists to “reign in” their spending some, said former legislator John Reeves, but it remains hard to tell if reporting now is honest and accurate. It not clear whether anyone in state government keeps a close eye on the lobbyist reports. Some contain errors, and most provide only vague details about what gifts were purchased.

Missouri: Appeals Court Upholds Joyce Ruling – Corporations Can Create PACs, but Not Donate Directly to Them
Jefferson City News Tribune – Bob Watson | Published: 4/10/2019

Missouri corporations may not make direct contributions to their own PACs, a three-judge panel of the state’s Western District appeals court ruled. The decision upheld a similar ruling by Cole County Presiding Circuit Court Judge Pat Joyce in the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s lawsuit against the state Ethics Commission. That lawsuit challenged the commission’s interpretation of voters’ intent, after more than two-thirds of the people who voted in November 2016 added the “Missouri Campaign Contribution Reform Initiative” to the state constitution.

New Hampshire: In Votes at N.H. State House, Lawmakers’ Personal and Public Interests Often Overlap
New Hampshire Public Radio – Casey McDermott | Published: 4/9/2019

New Hampshire lawmakers are paid $100 a year, so it is no surprise that many of them rely on other sources of income to get by. As a result, state lawmakers end up dealing with all kinds of proposals that can directly impact their family finances, the taxes they pay, the companies where they work, or the boards on which they serve. In policing these potential conflicts of interest, New Hampshire’s ethics rules tend to favor disclosure over recusal – which means that, with few exemptions, lawmakers are allowed to vote on or even sponsor legislation that has a clear benefit to their personal interests.

New York: To Get Trump’s Tax Returns, N.Y. Democrats Try a New Strategy
MSN – Jesse McKinley (New York Times) | Published: 4/8/2019

New York lawmakers introduced legislation that would make President Trump’s state income tax returns public, the latest step in a battle over details Trump has refused to release. Backers see the bill as an alternative way to Trump’s tax records, even if the president’s allies manage to stonewall efforts in the U.S. House to get his federal returns. A tax return from New York, the president’s home state and the headquarters of his business empire, could likely contain much of the same financial information as a federal return. Under the bill, the commissioner of the New York Department of Taxation and Finance would be permitted to release any state tax return requested by leaders of three congressional committees for any “specific and legitimate legislative purpose.”

Rhode Island: Rhode Island Reaches Lobbying Disclosure Agreement with Mastercard
Pensions and Investments – Hazel Bradford | Published: 4/4/2019

Mastercard Inc. reached a shareholder agreement with Rhode Island Treasurer Seth Magaziner to increase its disclosure of corporate lobbying expenses. Inadequate lobbying disclosure by publicly traded companies presents reputational risks, Magaziner said, particularly in recent cases where large companies have upset customers, investors, and other stakeholders by supporting controversial causes. Mastercard will publish an annual list of its lobbying priorities and amounts spent on lobbying and an annual list of U.S.-based trade associations receiving $25,000. It will also disclose the percentage of those payments used for lobbying and ask the trade associations for that information.

Washington: A Washington State Senator Praised the Cambodian Government Last Year. Then It Gave Him a $500,000 Lobbying Contract.
Seattle Times – Jim Brunner and Joseph O’Sullivan | Published: 4/5/2019

A company created by Washington Sen. Doug Ericksen landed a $500,000 lobbying contract from the Cambodian government he praised last year during a controversial visit as an election observer. Ericksen registered as a foreign agent for Cambodia in a recent filing with the U.S. Justice Department, along with former state Rep. Jay Rodne. Ericksen said his arrangement is “100 percent legal,” noting state legislators serve part time and are expected to have outside jobs. He also disputed characterizations of the deal as a lobbying contract, saying he is acting as a consultant. Neither Ericksen nor Rodne disclosed their ownership of PacRim Bridges in 2018 statements filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission. Ericksen said they did not have to list the business because he was not yet making money from it.

Wyoming: Wyoming’s Campaign Finance Reforms Leave Several Holes for Dark Money Influence
Casper Star Tribune – Nick Reynolds | Published: 4/5/2019

Campaign finance experts say the reforms passed by the Wyoming Legislature this year leave a number of gaps that could potentially be exploited by so-called dark money groups in the 2020 elections. While sponsors acknowledged Senate File 18 was not a perfect bill, it does make a number of changes to a system that, in the 2018 cycle, was exploited by multiple PACs of often mysterious origins. Some of these fixes include improving the reporting of late political activity, requiring PACs formed outside of Wyoming to disclose their activity, and defining “electioneering communications.”

 

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April 5, 2019 •

News You Can Use Digest – April 5, 2019

      National: What Is ALEC? ‘The Most Effective Organization’ for Conservatives, Says Newt Gingrich USA Today – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Rob O’Dell | Published: 4/4/2019 The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) became the nation’s best-known so-called model bill factory over […]

 

 

 

National:

What Is ALEC? ‘The Most Effective Organization’ for Conservatives, Says Newt Gingrich
USA Today – Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Rob O’Dell | Published: 4/4/2019

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) became the nation’s best-known so-called model bill factory over its four decades by providing more than fill-in-the-blank legislation. The industry-sponsored group has weathered controversy and flourished because it also offers conservative Republican elected officials a social network, access to campaign donors, and a blueprint for how to accelerate their political careers. The networking takes place at ALEC’s annual meetings, where the group fetes and entertains lawmakers and their families. Relationships are forged over drinks and dinners, where lawmakers sit alongside conservative luminaries and corporate chiefs. By the end of each ALEC conference, attendees leave motivated to evangelize for conservative policies and equipped with ready-made legislation.

Federal:

GAO: One-third of lobbying disclosures failed to include political contributions
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 3/29/2019

One-third of lobbyists’ disclosures do not include political contributions and one-fifth do not include previous jobs in government, a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report finds. The GAO audited compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act, which requires a person to register as a lobbyist if lobbying activities constitute at least 20 percent of their time working for a client. The watchdog examined lobbying disclosure (LD-2) reports and political contribution (LD-203) reports filed during the third and fourth quarter of 2017 and the first and second quarter of 2018. It also conducted interviews with lobbyists for the study.

Some on Mueller’s Team Say Report Was More Damaging Than Barr Revealed
MSN – Nicholas Fandos, Michael Schmidt, and Mark Mazzetti (New York Times) | Published: 4/3/2019

Some members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team have reportedly complained that the evidence they uncovered of obstruction of justice during their investigation was stronger than what U.S. Attorney General William Barr suggested. In his four-page letter to Congress, Barr wrote that Mueller did not uncover evidence to conclude the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to influence the 2016 election. Barr added that Mueller did not make a definitive conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. But Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided Mueller did not provide sufficient evidence of obstruction to pursue it. The summary noted Mueller did not exonerate the president on the obstruction matter. Some members of Mueller’s team felt Barr should have included more information from their own summaries of the probe.

From the States and Municipalities:

California: Judge Bars Former Ethics Panel Member from Running for L.A. City Council
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes | Published: 3/28/2019

A judge ruled that Former Los Angeles Ethics Commission member Serena Oberstein is barred from running for a city council seat that is up for grabs this summer. The legal battle revolved around a section of the City Charter that restricts ethics commissioners from running for any city office “concerning which the commission has made a decision during the term of the commissioner” – a ban that applies for two years after the end of their terms. In his ruling, Superior Court Judge James Chalfant wrote that voting to impose fines on two people who ran unsuccessfully in the past to represent Council District 12 made Oberstein ineligible to run for that seat, since “these decisions concern the very office for which Oberstein seeks election.”

Illinois: Lori Lightfoot Elected Chicago Mayor, Making Her the First African-American Woman to Lead the City
Chicago Tribune – Bill Ruthhart | Published: 4/2/2019

Former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot won a resounding victory to become both the first African-American woman and openly gay person elected mayor of Chicago. After waging a campaign focused on upending the vaunted Chicago political machine, Lightfoot dismantled one of its major cogs by dispatching Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, whose candidacy had been hobbled in part by an anti-incumbent mood among voters and an ongoing federal corruption investigation at City Hall. Both self-styled progressives, Preckwinkle and Lightfoot did not disagree much on the issues. As a result, the race largely boiled down to change versus experience.

Indiana: Casino Boss Treated Holcomb to Private Flights with Lucrative Gambling Deal on the Line
Indianapolis Star – Kaitlin Lange and Tony Cook | Published: 3/28/2019

An Indiana casino magnate last year treated Gov. Eric Holcomb to two private-jet flights and directed six-figure sums to Holcomb’s biggest 2016 campaign donor, all while pushing for changes to the state’s gaming laws that would benefit his new business. Rod Ratcliff, chief Executive Officer of Spectacle Entertainment, flew Holcomb to meetings in Colorado and Arizona that were hosted by the source of that campaign money, the Republican Governors Association. The flights gave Ratcliff and his business partners hours of exclusive access to the governor, who will have final say over their plans to move two Gary casinos to more lucrative locations. One of the flights was just a day before Ratcliff announced plans to acquire those two casinos.

Kentucky: Lobbyists Can’t Donate to Candidates but Give Big to Parties – Especially the GOP
Louisville Courier Journal – Tom Loftus | Published: 4/3/2019

State law forbids a lobbyist from donating to the campaigns of candidates for the Kentucky General Assembly. But lobbyists can give to the state political parties, which use much of that money to support their candidates for the Legislature. An examination of the state Republican Party’s finance reports shows ta relatively small group of lobbyists provide a significant and steady cash flow, even for an organization with a growing number of big donors, as it has gained total control of the two chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office.

Maryland: Baltimore Mayor Pugh to Take Leave of Absence in Midst of ‘Healthy Holly’ Book Controversy
MSN – Ian Duncan and Yvonne Wenger (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 4/1/2019

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh announced she is taking an indefinite leave of absence for health reasons, just as a political scandal intensifies over what critics call a “self-dealing” book-sales arrangement that threatens her political career. Kaiser Permanente disclosed it paid $114,000 for about 20,000 copies of Pugh’s self-published paperbacks for children featuring a young girl named Healthy Holly aimed at promoting exercise and good nutrition. In 2017, the city’s spending board, which Pugh controls, awarded a $48 million contract to Kaiser to provide health benefits to city employees. Since 2011, Pugh has received $500,000 selling her illustrated books to the University of Maryland Medical System while she served on its board.

Missouri: Federal Investigation Plunges St. Louis County into Chaos
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Jacob Barker and Jeremy Kohler | Published: 3/30/2019

The sudden delivery of wide-ranging subpoenas to St. Louis County, signaling an investigation by the U.S. attorney into the activities of County Executive Steve Stenger’s administration, has plunged the county, and the future of the region’s government, into chaos. Stenger’s ability to lead the county government, already limited by his toxic relationship with county lawmakers, now lies wounded. County employees openly speculate about who might be under investigation and for what conduct. Some county employees are concerned for their jobs, and all attention will shift to producing records to satisfy the subpoena.

New Jersey: Top Guns. These Are the Highest-Paid Lobbyists in N.J.
Newark Star Ledger – Ted Sherman (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 4/2/2019

Spending on lobbying in New Jersey hit $89.4 million last year, a decline after a record year for spending in 2017. But the number of registered lobbyists in the state, and how much they made, increased over the past year. Overall, 35 lobbyists made $200,000 or more, but many likely earned even more than what was reported. Lobbyists in New Jersey are not required to account for all their income. They do not report fees from lobbying local officials, and they do not have to list fees if their firm provides public relations advice to a client. Lobbyist Dale Florio described his role as “getting you in the door so you can make your case.” He said corporations and unions have thousands of members to make their voices heard to state officials. But for others, Florio said lobbying offers another avenue to make points to elected officials.

New Mexico: Governor Signs Bill for Ethics Commission
Santa Fe New Mexican – Andrew Oxford | Published: 3/28/2019

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a bill setting detailed guidelines for a new state ethics commission. Voters authorized an ethics commission by statewide ballot last year in the wake of a string of high-profile public corruption scandals. That vote still left lawmakers to determine the commission’s investigative powers and the extent of public access to documents and proceedings. Work in assembling the commission begins July 1, with a six-month startup period. The commission will have oversight of state officials and employees as well as candidates for state offices, lobbyists, and state contractors. New Mexico had been one of only six states without an independent ethics commission.

New York: In State Budget, More on Voting, Little on Ethics, and Half-Baked Campaign Finance Reform
Gotham Gazette – Samar Khurshid | Published: 4/2/2019

Government reform advocates are disappointed by what they see as half-measures on campaign finance reform and the exclusion of broader improvements to state procurement processes and ethics reforms in the New York state budget. The budget deal included additional measures and funding for voting, election, and campaign finance reforms approved in previous months. The headline, though, was the compromise to mandate a binding commission that is meant to create a public financing program for state elections and must issue a report by December 1. One proposal that was approved prohibits lobbyists, PACs, labor unions, and an individual registered as an independent expenditure committee from giving loans to candidates and political committees.

North Carolina: NC GOP Chairman, Major Political Donor Indicted in Alleged Bribery Scheme
WRAL – Travis Fain | Published: 4/2/2019

A federal grand jury indicted North Carolina Republican Party Chairperson Robin Hayes, along with major Republican campaign donor Greg Lindberg and two of his associates, on conspiracy and bribery charges for their attempts to influence state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. The alleged scheme would have traded more than $1 million in political contributions in exchange for regulatory help at the Insurance Department. The indictment mentions another person was in contact with Lindberg and Causey – “Public Official A.” Lindberg made a $150,000 contribution in February 2018 to a committee supporting the official at the same time Lindberg allegedly asked the politician to help sway Causey. A joint fundraising committee for U.S. Rep. Mark Walker logged a $150,000 donation from Lindberg on February 17, 2018.

Pennsylvania: Vestige of the Past, State House’s ‘Lobbyist Room’ Vanishes
AP News – Marc Levy | Published: 3/30/2019

The “lobbyist room” at the Pennsylvania House is now off limits to lobbyists. For decades, lobbyists in the room could watch floor proceedings on television, print out copies of legislation, and send messages to lawmakers in the chamber through a House page who was effectively assigned full-time to this task during floor sessions. The House’s chief administrative official said he decided the room is not appropriate and shut it down. The move comes after Gov. Tom Wolf challenged lawmakers last year to adopt the kind of gift ban that he imposed on the executive branch. Still, it seems to signal no broader effort to hold lobbyists at arm’s length, and the perk was not dramatically different than lobbyists’ accommodations in some other Capitols.

Virginia: ‘It Just Went Poof’: The strange aftermath of Virginia’s cascade of political scandals
MSN – Campbell Robertson (New York Times) | Published: 4/1/2019

In the space of a week in February, the public was stunned by revelations about each of the three highest statewide elected officials in North Carolina: the racist photograph in Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook; accusations of sexual assault against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax; and Attorney General Mark Herring’s appearance in blackface at a party in college. Protesters and news crews swarmed the statehouse. Calls for resignations came from fellow Virginia Democrats, Republicans, and even 2020 presidential candidates. And then? “It just went poof – it’s like it never happened,” said Richmond resident Natalie Draper. Virginians have various theories as to how this surreal normalcy set in.

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March 29, 2019 •

News You Can Use Digest – March 29, 2019

      Federal: Barr’s Declaration on Trump Puts Justice Dept. Back in Political Crucible MSN – Charlie Savage, Mark Mazzetti, and Katie Benner (New York Times) | Published: 3/25/2019 Attorney General William Barr’s decision to declare that evidence fell short of proving […]

 

 

 

Federal:

Barr’s Declaration on Trump Puts Justice Dept. Back in Political Crucible
MSN – Charlie Savage, Mark Mazzetti, and Katie Benner (New York Times) | Published: 3/25/2019

Attorney General William Barr’s decision to declare that evidence fell short of proving President Trump illegally obstructed the Russia inquiry was an extraordinary outcome to a narrative that spanned nearly two years. Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel to remove the threat of political interference from an investigation involving the president, but he reached no conclusion on the key question of whether Trump committed an obstruction-of-justice offense. Barr stepped in to make the determination, bringing the specter of politics back into the case. Senior Justice Department officials defended his decision as prudent and within his purview, but it reignited a debate about the role of American law enforcement in politically charged federal investigations.

‘No PAC Money’ Pledges Leave Corporations in a Partisan Bind
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 3/21/2019

It is not just the number of members of Congress pledging not to accept money from PACs for corporations and trade groups (more than 50 so far) that is a problem, but their party affiliation – almost entirely Democratic. If the trend spreads into the 2020 campaign cycle, it could put companies and associations in a bind. Many of the top PACs connected to businesses and trade associations maintain roughly balanced giving ratios and some of them have enshrined such practices. “Most PACs pride themselves on being bipartisan and supporting candidates who are understanding of their issues, so they can engage in a policy conversation. There’s a real fear of just losing that balanced approach,” said Kristin Brackemyre of the Public Affairs Council.

From the States and Municipalities:

California: A State Lawmaker Borrowed Nearly a Half-Million Dollars to Buy a Home. You Might Have Voted for Her Lender.
CALmatters – Matt Levin | Published: 3/26/2019

To buy a house, a state legislator received a $430,000 personal loan from a former member of Congress from Orange County, an arrangement that some legal experts labeled unusual, but that both politicians said was not improper. State Assemblyperson Sharon Quirk-Silva borrowed the sum from former U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, an unsuccessful 2016 U.S. Senate candidate, in the fall of 2017. Quirk-Silva and her husband repaid Sanchez with interest. While California law bans state and local elected officials from borrowing money from each other, nothing appears to prohibit the arrangement Quirk-Silva struck with Sanchez, who did not hold elected office at the time. In late 2018, Sanchez would announce her candidacy for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, going on to lose.

Colorado: Lawmakers Take Aim at Disclosure Loopholes in Colorado Lobbying Laws
Colorado Sun – Sandra Fish | Published: 3/25/2019

Colorado lawmakers have introduced a measure to eliminate loopholes in lobbying laws and require more disclosure to the public, part of an effort to address long-standing concerns about transparency. House Bill 1248 would require more frequent reporting by lobbyists what bills they were hired to follow, and the position taken by their clients. Lobbyists would need to file any changes in their positions on legislation within 48 hours during the session. Now, those updates are required only once a month. The legislation also aims to close loopholes that some lobbyists appear to use to avoid reporting income from clients.

Connecticut: Jon Lender: Lobbyists pay $13,000 in fines connected to tech schools controversy
Hartford Courant – Jon Lender | Published: 3/22/2019

The Office of State Ethics collected $13,000 in fines from the lobbying and consulting firm Kozak & Salina and one of its owners. The firm had a contract with the Connecticut Technical High School System (CTHSS) from 2014 to 2016 to provide “external relations and strategic consulting services,” and a similar contract for 2015 with the lighting fixture company Penn Globe. Kozak & Salina relayed communications between Penn Globe and CTHSS and charged both for the same services. So, when the lobbying firm submitted invoices to the state to obtain payment, it was getting paid twice, said Carol Carson, executive director of the ethics office. In addition to a $10,000 fine against his firm, David Kozak paid $3,000 for failing to file required registration and disclosure statements about his work for Penn Globe.

District of Columbia: As D.C. Leaders Tout Reforms, Latest Ethics Scandal Evokes City’s History of Corruption
Washington Post – Paul Schwartzman | Published: 3/23/2019

District of Columbia Councilperson Jack Evans admitted he violated the council’s code of conduct when he repeatedly used his government email account to offer potential clients the benefit of his political connections and the influence he amassed as a lawmaker and chairperson of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Civic groups chided the council as being too lenient when it reprimanded Evans rather than strip him of powerful committee posts. Reform activist Bryan Weaver said Evans’ actions, and the council’s response, evoke the worst aspects of the city’s history of official misconduct, one that has triggered periodic crises engulfing mayors, council members, government appointees, and employees.

Florida: ‘As American as Apple Pie’: How Miami commissioner’s aunt became a high-priced lobbyist
Miami Herald – David Smiley and Joey Flechas | Published: 3/26/2019

Some companies have chosen not to hire Barbara Hardemon as a lobbyist due to concerns about the perception of undue influence as she is the aunt of Miami City Commissioner Keon Hardemon. But in the years since his 2013 election, the commissioner’s aunt has emerged as a closer for some of Miami’s biggest businesses. Barbara Hardemon’s lobbying shop is allowed under state and local laws, which prohibit elected officials and their immediate family from profiting personally off the contracts they oversee but say nothing about their extended family. Her lucrative rise from occasional City Hall lobbyist to 11th-hour power broker has blurred the lines between negotiations and nepotism.

Florida: Ethics Board Aims to Put Teeth in Code, Seeks Greater Oversight of Tallahassee City Hall
Tallahassee Democrat – Jeff Burlew | Published: 3/23/2019

The Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board is finalizing proposals that could expand its oversight of City Hall and strengthen an ethics code that has long been seen as weak and toothless. The board currently has jurisdiction over only nine people. But proposed changes would extend its jurisdiction to cover all employees who work in procurement or are required by state law to file financial disclosures. The proposals include giving the board the power to issue subpoenas and take sworn testimony, a ban on all gifts no matter their value, and higher fines for lobbyists who try to influence city officials without registering and disclosing their clients.

Iowa: Iowa Treasurers End Scholarships Amid Ethics Law Inquiries
AP News – Ryan Foley | Published: 3/27/2019

County treasurers in Iowa canceled a scholarship program that benefited their relatives and employees amid criticism the vendor-funded awards were illegal gifts under state ethics law. The program consisted of four, $500 scholarships that were awarded each year to the college-bound children and grandchildren of county treasurers and their staffs. The money came from two companies that do extensive business with treasurers: GovTech Services, which runs the website that 88 counties use to collect property and motor vehicle taxes, and SRI Inc., which operates tax auctions for dozens of counties. Since the program’s inception, critics have worried the scholarships violated the gift law, which bars public employees and their immediate relatives from accepting money from contractors.

Maryland: Maryland House of Delegates Votes Unanimously to Reprimand Jalisi Over ‘Abusive’ Treatment of His Staff
Baltimore Sun – Luke Broadwater | Published: 3/27/2019

The Maryland House voted unanimously to publicly reprimand Del. Jay Jalisi for “an ongoing pattern of bullying and abusive workplace behavior.” The delegates voted after receiving a report outlining the investigation from the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics that alleged Jalisi forced his staff to work overtime without pay, bullied others, got kicked out of a hotel, and made a staffer stand in the delegate’s office and repeat: “I am incompetent. I am incompetent.” This is not the first time Jalisi’s actions have been scrutinized. In 2015, a Baltimore County judge issued a protective order barring Jalisi from contact with his then-teenage daughter.

Massachusetts: House Proposal for Caucus Funding Left Out of Budget Bill – but Caucuses May Still Fundraise
MassLive.com – Shira Schoenberg | Published: 3/25/2019

A controversial Massachusetts House proposal to let caucuses raise private money did not make it into the final version of a budget bill. But House leaders say that under their internal rules, caucuses will still be able to raise private money as long as they comply with ethics rules, which bar lobbyists from giving and require any gift of over $50 to be approved by House counsel to avoid conflicts-of-interest. When the House passed its rules in January, members approved a rule that would let caucuses raise money from public or private sources. But some advocates for open government worried this could create a legislative “slush fund” where special interests with business before the Legislature could donate to lawmakers with no transparency.

New Jersey: Dark Money Disclosure Bill Advanced to Gov. Phil Murphy’s Desk
Burlington County Times – David Levinsky | Published: 3/26/2019

Legislation to require so-called dark money groups operating in New Jersey to reveal their donors was sent to Gov. Phil Murphy. The bill has undergone several changes after being approved by the Senate, but it would still mandate the disclosure of donors who give more than $10,000 to nonprofit 501(c)4 groups that are not currently subject to disclosure requirements if they engage in political activities, lobbying, or campaigning. It would also mandate the disclosure of expenses of more than $3,000 and would also boost contribution limits to state and county political committees. Those groups are already subject to strict reporting requirements but have been usurped by “dark-money” groups in recent years.

Pennsylvania: GOP Legislator Prays to Jesus for Forgiveness Before State’s First Muslim Woman Swears In
MSN – Reis Thebault (Washington Post) | Published: 3/26/2019

Movita Johnson-Harrell brought 55 guests to her swearing in as the Pennsylvania Legislature’s first Muslim woman. Thirty-two of them were Muslim. She later for the General Assembly to censure State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, who delivered the opening prayer to begin the legislative session day. By the time she said “Amen,” Borowicz had invoked Jesus 13 times. She mentioned “Lord” and “God” another six times each and referenced “The Great I Am” and “the one who’s coming back again, the one who came, died, and rose again on the third day.” As the prayer reached a crescendo, at least one member shouted objections. Afterward, the protests only grew louder.

West Virginia: Governor Signs Bills Raising Campaign Contribution Limits, Cutting Coal Tax
Beckley Register-Herald – Erin Beck | Published: 3/27/2019

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed into law a bill that increases the limits on campaign contributions by individuals. Senate Bill 622 increases the limits to $2,800 for candidates, $5,000 for PACs, and up to $10,000 per year for party committees. Current limits for each category are set at $1,000. Julie Archer of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group said bill does nothing about “dark money.” She said Democrats attempted to amend the bill at least twice to require disclosures by donors that “funnel” money through groups.

Wisconsin: Judge Bocks GOP Lame-Duck Laws Limiting Tony Evers’ Powers; Evers Seeks to Remove Wisconsin from Obamacare Challenge
madison.com – Mark Sommerhauser | Published: 3/21/2019

A judge blocked several actions by Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature to limit the power of its incoming governor, Democrat Tony Evers, and preserve policies implemented by his predecessor, Scott Walker. The Legislature acted in what is known as an “extraordinary session,” called with little notice. It lasted two days and one night and sparked heated protests. The three bills enacted during the sessions were extraordinary in breadth. One of them gave the Legislature powers usually and exclusively reserved for the attorney general, such as approving legal actions by the state. At the time of the session, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos stated its purpose plainly: “We are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in,” Vos said.

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March 22, 2019 •

News You Can Use Digest – March 22, 2019

      National: AT&T Peels Off Layer of Political Spending Secrecy – Thanks to Pushy Investors and the Michael Cohen Fiasco Dallas News – David Saleh Rauf | Published: 3/20/2019 AT&T is bowing to activist shareholders calling for more transparency about the […]

 

 

 

National:

AT&T Peels Off Layer of Political Spending Secrecy – Thanks to Pushy Investors and the Michael Cohen Fiasco
Dallas News – David Saleh Rauf | Published: 3/20/2019

AT&T is bowing to activist shareholders calling for more transparency about the company’s political spending, agreeing to disclose millions of dollars in previously untraceable contributions after last year’s embarrassment over payments to President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen. For the first time, AT&T is divulging some contributions to outside groups that keep their donors secret, providing a fuller, if still incomplete, picture of the company’s vast spending on state and federal politics. A new report released by AT&T details payments totaling about $4.2 million to industry groups and think tanks that was used for lobbying during a portion of last year.

Federal:

Analysis: Devin Nunes is suing Twitter and a satirical cow over mean tweets. Does he have a case?
MSN – Deanna Paul (Washington Post) | Published: 3/20/2019

U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes filed a lawsuit claiming Twitter, two parody Twitter accounts, and a Republican political consultant violated the First Amendment and defamed him. In addition to $250 million in damages, Nunes is demanding Twitter disclose the identities behind the anonymous accounts that have caused him suffering, according to the suit: “Devin Nunes’ Mom” and “Devin Nunes’ Cow.” The suit, filed in state court, alleged violations of Virginia’s law against insults. It also brought claims against Twitter for conspiracy and negligence. Nunes has been ridiculed for the suit, and the case has been labeled by most experts as doomed to fail. But others believe there is more to the lawsuit than any desire by Nunes to create a spectacle. According to First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, the speech involved is protected for several reasons.

Former Spa Owner and Frequent Mar-a-Lago Guest Sparks Concerns About ‘Porous’ Environment at President’s Club
MSN – Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Emily Rauhala, Lori Rozsa, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 3/15/2019

Li “Cindy” Yang’s activities at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort have attracted attention after a spa she once owned was the target of a sex-trafficking sting involving the owner of the New England Patriots. Scrutiny has also centered on a company Yang ran offering foreign visitors access to the president and other GOP officials. Experts in Chinese influence say groups to which Yang has been tied have links to Communist Party’s efforts to spread influence in the West. Yang has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but because she attended so many events at Mar-a-Lago and had such ready access to high-ranking U.S. officials, it has renewed questions about security at the resort and about who can gain the ear of the president for the price of a ticket to an event.

Lobbying Case Against Democrat with Ties to Manafort Reaches Key Stage
MSN – Kenneth Vogel and Katie Benner (New York Times) | Published: 3/18/2019

A federal investigation into a former White House counsel in the Obama administration is reaching a critical stage, presenting the Justice Department with a decision about whether to charge a prominent Democrat as part of a more aggressive crackdown on illegal foreign lobbying. The case involving Gregory Craig was transferred in January from federal prosecutors in New York to those in Washington. The move reflects an eagerness within the department to prosecute violations of lobbying laws after special counsel Robert Mueller focused on foreign influence in his investigations. The probe centers on whether Craig should have disclosed work he did in 2012 while he was a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom on behalf of the Russia-aligned government of Viktor Yanukovych, then the president of Ukraine.

From the States and Municipalities:

California: California Is Awash in Cannabis Cash, Which Some Use to Bribe Public Officials
MSN – Patrick McGreevy (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 3/17/2019

In the more than two years since California voters approved the licensed growing and sale of recreational marijuana, the state has seen a half-dozen government corruption cases as black-market operators try to game the system, through bribery and other means. Proposition 64, approved in 2016, allowed the state to license businesses to grow and sell pot but required the firms to also get approval from the cities and counties, most of which have outlawed marijuana operations. Experts say that local resistance explains why many of the corruption allegations center on illegal attempts to buy help from city and county officials.

California: Donors to D.A. Jackie Lacey Included a Murder Suspect’s Parents and a Convicted Felon
Los Angeles Times – Matt Hamilton and Harriet Myers | Published: 3/18/2019

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey collected more than $125,000 in campaign contributions last year despite not holding any public fundraising events. Many giving to Lacey are longtime donors to local politicians, but others include people accused of serious crimes or misconduct, or relatives and associates of the accused. Among Lacey’s donors were the parents of a man awaiting trial for murder, a felon convicted of trying to smuggle missile parts to Iran, and a used car dealer previously sanctioned for an illegal campaign contribution. Campaign donations to prosecutors have come under national scrutiny in recent years. Experts said a district attorney is well advised to have a system in place to vet every donor.

District of Columbia: D.C. Council Votes to Reprimand Jack Evans Over Ethics Issues
Washington Post – Fenit Nirappil | Published: 3/19/2019

The District of Columbia Council reprimanded its longest serving member, Jack Evans, and announced plans to dilute the power of his committee after he repeatedly used his government staff and email to solicit business from law firms that lobby the city, offering to tap his influence and connections to help their clients. The unanimous vote comes as the veteran lawmaker is the target of a federal investigation into his business dealings and faces the threat of a recall election. The reprimand says Evans violated council rules but does not address the ties between Evans and private companies that are part of a federal probe. Multiple lawmakers say they want to reserve judgement on that until the federal investigation wraps up.

Indiana: Complaint Could Cost Attorney General Curtis Hill His Law License – and Elected Position
Indianapolis Star – Tony Cook, Ryan Martin, and Kaitlin Lange | Published: 3/19/2019

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill could lose his law license and his elected position after a little-known state body revived allegations that Hill inappropriately touched four women at an Indianapolis bar last year. The state Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint against Hill that says he engaged in acts of battery or sexual battery against the women. In doing so, the commission says, Hill broke the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct. The accusations are administrative in nature and are not considered criminal charges. Hill, who has denied wrongdoing, will have the opportunity to defend himself and ultimately the state Supreme Court would decide Hill’s fate. Discipline, if any, could range from public reprimand to disbarment. Disbarment would amount to a worst-case scenario for Hill because the law requires the state attorney general to hold a law license.

Kentucky: Former Lobbyist to Pay $15,000 Ethics Fine. He Was Already Convicted in Bribery Case.
Lexington Herald Leader – Bill Estep | Published: 3/18/2019

The Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission fined ex-lobbyist Jim Sullivan and one of his former clients for multiple lobbying violations. Sullivan agreed to pay $15,000 for failing to register from 2005 through 2014 and setting up a deal to represent a company with his pay contingent on an agency making a decision for his client. The commission also announced a $50,000 penalty against Cannon Cochran Management Services, an insurance provider. Sullivan lobbied for the firm. The company did not contest 14 counts of violating the ethics code, some for not registering after hiring an individual to lobby. Sullivan was convicted of giving a $1,000 bribe to Tim Longmeyer, the former head of the Personnel Cabinet, to get state work for company called MC Squared.

Kentucky: Kentucky Legislature Passes Bill Stripping Grimes of Authority Over State Board of Elections
ProPublica – Jessica Huseman | Published: 3/15/2019

The Kentucky Legislature passed a bill that strips Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes of her authority over the State Board of Elections (SBE), restructures the board, and makes misusing the voter registration system a misdemeanor crime. The bill takes multiple steps to scale back the level of control Grimes has asserted over the SBE in recent years, including removing the secretary of state as the chairperson of the board. New reports detailed the secretary of state’s use of the voter registration system to look up information on political rivals, as well as the range of misconduct allegations against Grimes being explored by state investigators. Records confirmed that staff in her office had looked up those named in the reports by ProPublica and The Lexington Herald-Leader, including members of a state ethics agency currently investigating Grimes’ conduct.

Maryland: Baltimore Mayor Pugh Didn’t Disclose Seat on Maryland Medical System Board, as Required on City Ethics Forms
Baltimore Sun – Doug Donovan and Luke Broadwater | Published: 3/14/2019

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has not reported on disclosure forms filed with the city’s ethics office that she sits on the board of directors for the University of Maryland Medical System, according to a review of records. Instructions on the form tell public officials to report any “office, directorship, salaried employment, or similar position with any business entity that was doing business with the city.” Also, the University of Maryland Medical System did not disclose on its federal tax form for the year ending June 30, 2017, that it had entered into a contract with Pugh to buy 20,000 copies of her book, “Healthy Holly: Exercising is Fun,” the form shows. Ethics officials confirmed Pugh should have disclosed the position. To avoid action against her by the city ethics board, she would need to file an amended form.

Missouri: Voters Approved Clean Missouri, but Lawmakers Want Them to Reconsider
Columbia Missourian – Galen Barcharier | Published: 3/19/2019

Last November, 62 percent of voters approved Amendment 1, the “Clean Missouri” proposal that included measures to limit the power of lobbyists, reduce campaign contributions, and create a new redistricting process. Now, lawmakers are moving to change or completely roll back parts of the ballot measure, with a focus on redistricting. Five resolutions were proposed between the House and the Senate, all of which relate to changing or repealing the redistricting measures enacted from Amendment 1, as well as lobbying and open records measures. All of them propose new constitutional amendments, which would send the issue back to voters to decide. Supporters of Amendment 1 issued a statement in response to the resolutions’ filing, condemning them and asserting the decision of the voters should remain in place.

Nevada: Municipal Election Voters Blind to Campaign Donors
Las Vegas Revierw-Journal – Shea Johnson | Published: 3/13/2019

A glitch in a two-year-old bill meant to strengthen campaign finance reporting has actually weakened transparency in eight Nevada cities, an investigation found, ensuring voters in Las Vegas and elsewhere will be blind to political donors when casting a ballot this spring. That is because reporting deadlines that formerly required reports linked to elections now require candidates to file quarterly. Instead of disclosing contributions and expenses 21 days and four days before an election, candidates now only need to submit paperwork 15 days after a quarter concludes. The first reporting period of 2019 is April 15, which is 13 days after the April 2 primary election.

New Mexico: Legislature Seals Deal on Independent Ethics Commission
New Mexico In Depth – Trip Jennings | Published: 3/16/2019

With just hours left in the session, New Mexico lawmakers reached agreement on legislation that would outline how a new voter-approved state ethics commission would operate. Lawmakers passed the legislation this session after seventy five percent of voters approved adding an independent ethics panel with subpoena power to the state constitution. The bill establishes a commission that would oversee public officials, including state lawmakers, state employees, and constitutionally elected officials like the governor. The seven-member commission could fine officials if they are found to have violated civil provisions of several state laws. People who file complaints would have to in the presence of a notary public attesting to the truth of their allegations under penalty of perjury.

New York: 9 Fund-Raisers in 1 Night: Democrats vow reform in N.Y., but money still flows
New York Times – J. David Goodman | Published: 3/20/2019

State officials have long talked about the need to revamp New York’s campaign finance laws and limit the influence of lobbyists, but little has changed. A bill has been introduced repeatedly for nearly two decades to ban fundraisers in Albany when the Legislature is in session, but it has gone nowhere. In at least 29 states, it is against the law for lobbyists or principals to make campaign contributions while the state Legislature is in session. The goal is to avoid what is commonplace in New York: elected officials spend their day meeting with lobbyists to discuss pending legislation, and then spend their night collecting checks from many of the same people. Yet that two-step is part of the culture in Albany, especially in the weeks before a new state budget is officially ironed out, when opportunities to win influence are abundant.

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March 15, 2019 •

News You Can Use Digest – March 15, 2019

      Federal: After Week of Infighting, Democrats Wonder Where to Draw Line on Speech MSN – Glenn Thrush and Sheryl Gay Stolberg (New York Times) | Published: 3/10/2019 A House resolution that condemned anti-Semitism and virtually every other form of bigotry, […]

 

 

 

Federal:

After Week of Infighting, Democrats Wonder Where to Draw Line on Speech
MSN – Glenn Thrush and Sheryl Gay Stolberg (New York Times) | Published: 3/10/2019

A House resolution that condemned anti-Semitism and virtually every other form of bigotry, passed with unanimous Democratic support. The measure, which began as a rebuke to U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and ended as a catchall declaration of tolerance that did not mention her by name, seemed to satisfy no one. Ultimately, the intraparty fight left unanswered a question that transcends partisan politics: In an era of shouting and provocation, how should Congress respond when its members say hateful or hurtful things? Many Democrats worry they have set a new standard, creating a precedent that mandates a major response every time a member transgresses rules of rhetorical decorum that are ill-defined and subject to dispute.

Election Watchdog Hits Jeb Bush’s Super-PAC with Massive Fine for Taking Money from Foreign Nationals
Mother Jones – Nihal Krishan | Published: 3/11/2019

The FEC issued a record fine to Right to Rise USA, the super PAC that backed Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential bid, for accepting a seven-figure donation from a company owned by Chinese nationals who were in business with Bush’s brother, Neil. It is illegal for foreign nationals to be involved in making donations to political committees. Neil Bush solicited a $1.3 million contribution from American Pacific International Capital (APIC), an international investment holding company where he is a board member. Although the contribution to the super PAC came from the American arm of APIC, the company’s owners are Chinese, and Neil Bush initially solicited the money from two Chinese nationals. The FEC fined APIC $550,000 and Right to Rise $390,000.

From the States and Municipalities:

Arizona: Brnovich to Rule on Legality of Tempe’s Ban Against ‘Dark Money’ in Politics
Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 3/13/2019

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich will rule whether cities can impose their own prohibitions on “dark money” in local campaigns. The move comes because Sen. Vince Leach invoked a state law that requires the attorney general to investigate allegations by lawmakers of violations of state laws by local officials. In this case, Leach contends a Tempe initiative approved by voters in 2017 requiring public disclosure of the true source of campaign donations is illegal. What Brnovich decides could affect the ability of cities and towns throughout the state to enact similar laws.

Florida: Former City Manager Rick Fernandez Fined $6K in Ethics Case
Tallahassee Democrat – Jeff Burlew | Published: 3/7/2019

The Florida Commission on Ethics agreed to settle civil charges against former Tallahassee City Manager Rick Fernandez that he solicited and accepted free Florida State University football tickets from a city vendor or lobbyist and did not report a catering discount on gift forms. Fernandez will pay $6,000 in fines and face public censure and reprimand as part of the settlement. The commission found probable cause Fernandez committed 20 ethics violations when he accepted the football tickets from lobbyist Adam Corey’s firm and took a nearly $7,000 catering discount at The Edison restaurant for his daughter’s wedding reception. The Edison, which Corey co-owns, got $2.1 million from the city and the Community Redevelopment Agency to rehabilitate the area where the restaurant is located.

Florida: Miami-Dade Ethics Board Dismisses Lobbying Complaint Against Beckham Group
Miami Herald – Joey Flechas | Published: 3/13/2019

The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust dismissed a complaint against David Beckham and associates trying to launch a Major League Soccer (MLS) team in Miami. A complaint alleged Beckham, his partners, and their lawyers had failed to properly register to lobby elected officials on matters related to the proposal to build a $1 billion soccer stadium and office park on city-owned land. One part of the complaint involved disclosure of stakeholders owning companies that employ lobbyists in the city. Lobbyists representing the Beckham group were not disclosing the identities of people or entities who own five percent or more of the corporations they are representing, a disclosure required under county law. But it turns out almost nobody was disclosing this due to the poorly formatted forms.

Illinois: Bombshell Filing Details FBI’s Two-Year Probe of Alleged Corruption by Ald. Daniel Solis
Chicago Tribune – Jason Meisner, Jeff Coen, Stacy St. Clair, and Christy Gutowski | Published: 3/13/2019

A search warrant lays out a laundry list of alleged federal crimes the FBI had compiled against Chicago Ald. Daniel Solis by the time he was confronted and agreed to cooperate with the investigation. Solis had received a “steady flow of personal benefits” in exchange for official action as an alderman or the promise of official action, the affidavit alleged, including Viagra pills and prostitution services from a political operative who represented a company seeking an exemption from the city’s water ordinance. As the powerful head of the Zoning Committee, Solis directed a legislative aide to maintain a running list of people and entities he would seek campaign contributions from, along with corresponding information about what official action each contributor needed from him, the affidavit alleged.

Iowa: County Officials Vacationed at Vendor’s Florida Beach Condo
AP News – Ryan Foley | Published: 3/13/2019

Two county treasurers from Iowa recently vacationed with a businessperson they have supported for a lucrative tax website contract, staying at his Florida beach property for free in an apparent violation of state ethics law. The trip highlighted a long, cozy, and ethically questionable relationship between county officials and an important vendor. Iowa law bans public employees from accepting gifts and favors worth three dollars or more from “restricted donors,” who include vendors, lobbyists, and others affected by their official actions. Vendors are barred from offering gifts, and the law does not contain an exception for friends.

Kansas: White Linen Restaurant Bans Lawmakers, Lobbyists After Altercation
Topeka Capital-Journal – Sherman Smith | Published: 3/8/2019

A group of Kansas lawmakers and lobbyists were asked to leave the White Linen restaurant in Topeka and were banned from returning after co-owner Adam Vandonge said they “completely disrespected everyone” with loud, drunken behavior. Vandonge described a boisterous scene that intensified in response to pleas to the 12-person party, which included House Speaker Ron Ryckman to be quiet. “They showed up and just started drinking and drinking and drinking,” said Vandonge. At one point, a manager told Rep. Blaine Finch that he would not be served any more alcohol. After that, servers heard cursing at the table. One member of the party entered the kitchen and began yelling at the sous chef, asking if he knew who Finch was.

Michigan: Dark Money Used to Evade Donor Disclosure Laws in Michigan
Detroit News – Jonathan Oosting | Published: 3/7/2019

A dark money group that spent more than $2 million to help promote Gretchen Whitmer successful gubernatorial bid in the 2018 exploited a legal loophole to avoid disclosing any donors to the state or federal governments, and it is not alone. Progressive Advocacy Trust is one of at least five local Democratic Party accounts in Michigan that have operated in the shadows since at least 2002, according to an investigation. The groups can accept unlimited corporate or union contributions but have evaded all disclosure requirements. It is not clear if the Michigan Democratic Party could shut down local dark money accounts, but the party also utilizes an administrative account that is not subject to disclosure rules for running issue-ad campaigns.

Nevada: RJ Investigation Finds Violations, No Enforcement of County Lobbying Disclosures
Las Vegas Review-Journal – Michael Scott Davidson | Published: 3/9/2019

On hundreds of occasions last year, lobbyists may have failed to disclose communications within five days of meeting with a Clark County commissioner as required by law. The Las Vegas Review-Journal discovered the meetings by comparing lobbying disclosure forms submitted to the county clerk’s office with commissioners’ work calendars and check-in logs outside their offices. The lack of compliance shows the vulnerability of a county lobbying program that operates without a watchdog. Even an easy-to-monitor rule – whether filed disclosure forms are submitted on time – is not tracked. Penalties for noncompliance, written into law a decade ago, have never been imposed by officials. Presented with the newspaper’s findings, county commissioners pledged to keep better tabs on lobbying efforts.

New Mexico: GOP Lawmakers Blast Campaign Finance Bill
Albuquerque Journal – Colleen Heild | Published: 3/13/2019

Campaign finance reporting legislation on its way to the governor is touted as a way to increase transparency and accountability in New Mexico elections. But some Republican lawmakers are crying foul because the measure was amended just days before final consideration to give top legislative leaders of both parties authority to create, in the words of one lawmaker, “super-caucus PACs,” that would be allowed to accept contributions up to $25,000 from a single donor for a primary election and another $25,000 for the general. Further, there would be no limit to in-kind contributions to a candidate from a legislative caucus committee. The additional fundraising ability, which also applies to political parties, puts legislative leaders in position to help boost political campaigns for chosen candidates and initiatives.

New Mexico: Senate Committee Spikes Lobbying Disclosure Bill
New Mexico Political Report – Andrew Oxford (Santa Fe New Mexican) | Published: 3/13/2019

A New Mexico Senate committee shot down legislation that would have required lobbyists to report which bills they are working on. House Bill 131 also would have barred lobbyists from making any expenditures on legislators while they are in session. The bill had passed the House with broad support, but the Senate Rules Committee voted to table it after little discussion.

New York: Lobbyists Accused of Misconduct Create Quandary at Capitol
Albany Times Union – Rachel Silberstein | Published: 3/11/2019

Former New York Sen. Jeff Klein was hired by Mercury Public Affairs after he lost his seat in the September primary. He remains under investigation by the Joint Committee on Public Ethics in response to an allegation he forcibly kissed a female staff member. Klein has denied the woman’s claim. Several lawmakers said they have serious reservations about meeting with any lobbyist who has faced allegations of sexual harassment, but they stopped short of saying they would cease doing business with those firms. In a Twitter campaign, a group of former legislative aides have taken aim at some of Mercury’s clients, urging them to ask the firm what it is doing to support employees. The women testified at a hearing, describing a culture that too often tolerates and protects harassers while maligning and ostracizing victims.

Tennessee: How Little-Known Meetings in Hard-to-Find Locations Can Make or Break Legislation in Tennessee
The Tennessean – Joel Ebert | Published: 3/12/2019

Legislative pre-meetings in the Tennessee General Assembly are informal gatherings where lawmakers and stakeholders openly discuss legislation. Defenders of pre-meetings, which lawmakers refer to as bill review, say they are beneficial because they provide legislators an opportunity to become more informed on legislation, but critics say pre-meetings are the antithesis of how the Legislature should operate. Although they are official meetings, audio and video livestreaming is absent and no notes are taken to provide members of the public with knowledge of what transpires. While much of what happens inside these often hard-to-find rooms is unknown to the public, what is clear is that pre-meetings can make or break a bill.

Vermont:Lawmakers Seek to Modify Ethics Commission Procedures After Scott Ruling
VTDigger.org – Mark Johnson | Published: 3/14/2019

The Vermont State Ethics Commission mishandled a case involving Gov. Phil Scott, according to key lawmakers who plan to “clarify” one of the commission’s few tools. Chairpersons of the House and Senate committees that created the commission said the ethics panel went beyond its legal authority and improperly injected politics into its advisory opinion that said Scott had violated state ethics law. The commission ruled Scott’s ongoing financial relationship with a construction company he owned that still does business with the state was improper. A draft bill would make clear that advisory opinions be general and not involve a specific person or case. They also said advisory opinions should only be issued by the commission’s executive director and not at the request of an outside individual or advocacy group.

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March 8, 2019 •

News You Can Use Digest – March 8, 2019

      Federal: Justice Department Taps Mueller Prosecutor to Enforce Foreign Lobbying Disclosure Reuters – Karen Freifeld and Suzanne Barlyn | Published: 3/6/2019 Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Van Grack was chosen to lead a team at the Justice Department that will make […]

 

 

 

Federal:

Justice Department Taps Mueller Prosecutor to Enforce Foreign Lobbying Disclosure
Reuters – Karen Freifeld and Suzanne Barlyn | Published: 3/6/2019

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Van Grack was chosen to lead a team at the Justice Department that will make sure the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), which requires disclosure of lobbying on behalf of foreign interests, is more aggressively enforced. One focal point may be Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies say waged a disinformation campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election for Donald Trump. Assistant Attorney General John Demers also warned that law firms should take FARA registration seriously, citing the example of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which agreed to pay $4.6 million and admitted it should have registered for a report aimed at discrediting a former Ukrainian prime minister.

From the States and Municipalities:

Connecticut: Election Officials: State contractor ban on political donations applies to marijuana producers, but not dispensaries
Hartford Courant – Neil Vigdor | Published: 3/7/2019

The State Elections Enforcement Commission ruled that a prohibition on campaign donations from state contractors extends to marijuana producers – but not dispensaries – because the value of licensing agreements they have with the state exceed $50,000. Medical marijuana has been legal in Connecticut since 2012. In anticipation of the legislative debate over recreational marijuana, the industry asked for guidance from last year about whether political contributions to legislators and statewide office holders comply with Connecticut’s 2005 clean elections law. A ban on state contractor contributions is a hallmark of the program.

District of Columbia: D.C. Council Member Jack Evans’ Use of Government Office for Personal Gain Inappropriate, Chair Says
Washington Post – Steve Thompson and Peter Jamison | Published: 3/4/2019

District of Columbia Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson said council member Jack Evans acted inappropriately when he emailed business proposals to potential employers and offered them his influence and connections as an elected official. Evans faces growing scrutiny after The Washington Post reported he sent solicitations on his government email to law firms that lobby city government, offering his contacts and sway as the council’s longest serving lawmaker and as chair of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The authority’s board of directors directed its ethics officer to investigate Evans. The Post reported a federal grand jury has also been investigating Evans and issued a subpoena to officials for documents related to legislation that Evans promoted in 2016 that would have benefited a digital sign company.

Kentucky: Kentucky Secretary of State Staff Searched Voting Records for Investigators and Rivals, Records Show
ProPublica – Daniel Desrochers (Lexington Herald Leader) and Jessica Huseman | Published: 3/6/2019

Kentucky officials released records that show employees in the secretary of state’s office used the voter registration system to look up political rivals, state investigators, and a range of political operatives. It is not clear in many instances why Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes’ office was looking up people and their personal information such as political affiliation, and some Social Security numbers but it has led critics to conclude her office abused its access to the system to gain information about her political opponents and those involved in multiple investigations of her conduct while in office. Grimes had maintained her office had done no inappropriate searches.

Louisiana: Entergy Fined $5M, Can Move Forward with New Power Plant
Louisiana Weekly – Michael Issac Stein (The Lens) | Published: 3/4/2019

The New Orleans City Council approved a new Entergy power plant in city limits while imposing a $5 million fine against the company for using paid actors to influence its decision during the approval process. The council concluded Entergy “knew or should have known” that one if its subcontractors was paying people to fill seats and speak in favor of the project at public hearings. Entergy agreeing to the fine was contingent on the council not revoking its prior approval of the plant. Critics of the vote noted most council members have either worked for Entergy or received campaign donations from their PAC. Councilperson Cyndi Nguyen’s non-profit received at least $27,625 from Entergy. Councilperson Jay Banks revealed he once worked for the company as a government relations consultant.

Maryland: Maryland Delegate Says She Won’t Resign after House Censures Her for ‘Racist and Hateful Slur’
MSN – Luke Broadwater and Pamela Wood (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 2/28/2019

The House of Delegates censured Del. Mary Ann Lisanti for her use of a racial slur, which members said, “brought dishonor to the entire General Assembly of Maryland.” After the vote, Lisanti said she would not resign, despite calls for her to do so. She also said she did not believe she had used an offensive term to describe African-Americans, although she acknowledged earlier in the week that she had done so. Lisanti came under fire after it was reported she used the racial slur during an after-hours gathering in January at an Annapolis bar. Lisanti told a fellow lawmaker that when he helped a candidate in Prince George’s County, he was knocking on doors in a “n—– district,” according to the report.

Nevada: Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson Resigns
Las Vegas Review-Journal – Colton Lochhead and Bill Dentzer | Published: 3/5/2019

Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson resigned after admitting to using campaign funds for personal use and said he will plead guilty to federal charges. Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro was elected by Senate Democrats as the new leader of the majority. Cannizzaro becomes the first woman to serve as Senate majority leader in the state’s history. Details of the investigation, including how much money was misappropriated and what exactly Atkinson used the money for, remain unclear. Atkinson’s resignation marks the first time a lawmaker has left mid-session since 2013. But it is far from the first time a state lawmaker has recently found themselves on the wrong side of campaign finance laws.

New Hampshire: GOP Lawmakers in N.H. Wore Pearls While Gun Violence Victims Testified. Activists Were Outraged.
Boston Globe – Reis Thebault (Washington Post) | Published: 3/5/2019

Republican members of the New Hampshire House are drawing scrutiny for wearing pearl necklaces while activists with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America shared their experiences with gun violence at a recent hearing on a bill that would make it easier to take weapons away from potentially dangerous people. Critics who posted the images on social media said the implication was clear: the politicians thought gun-control activists were “clutching their pearls” in overwrought and self-righteous outrage – and, specifically, female outrage. Some pro-gun advocates argued the legislators’ intent was to represent opposition to the bill. Kimberly Morin, president of the Women’s Defense League of New Hampshire, said opponents of gun control measures have been wearing pearls at gun-related hearings since 2016.

New Mexico: Former Public Servants Lobby Ex-Colleagues
Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 2/28/2019

Former Rep. Debbie Rodella Rodella is one of a few former officials who were public servants during the last legislative session and lobbyists this year, including Keith Gardner, the chief of staff under then-Gov. Susana Martinez. Also making the immediate transition are former Reps. Bealquin Gomez and Jim Smith. New Mexico law does not prohibit ex-lawmakers from lobbying once their terms end. Some legislators have tried repeatedly to change that, with proposals to impose a one- or two-year waiting period. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said a “cooling-off” period would be appropriate. “It just doesn’t feel right to immediately be in a position where you’re coming back to your colleagues, who you were an equal with, and the next day you’re lobbying them on behalf of a client,” said Wirth.

North Carolina: Why a Judge Ruled That the Entire North Carolina Legislature Is Illegitimate
Governing – Alan Greenblatt | Published: 2/27/2019

Wake County Superior Court Judge G. Bryan Collins struck down two constitutional amendments that had been approved by North Carolina voters in November. One regarded voter ID requirements and the other a cap on state income taxes. The amendments had been placed on the ballot by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Collins ruled the lawmakers had no standing to approve constitutional amendments because they were elected using maps that federal courts, up to the U.S. Supreme Court, found to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. “An illegally constituted General Assembly does not represent the people of North Carolina and is therefore not empowered to pass legislation that would amend the state’s constitution,” Collins wrote.

Oregon: Lawmakers Come and Go, but the Lobby Remains a Powerful Constant in Oregon Legislature
Portland Tribune – Claire Withycombe, Aubrey Wieber, and Paris Achen | Published: 3/1/2019

Interest groups in Oregon spent $12 million more on lobbying in 2017 than they did a decade earlier. That spending is only part of the cost of doing business in Salem. Donating to campaigns and other political operations is routine – interest groups sank $25 million into last year’s state elections. Now that the legislative session is underway, the focus is on trying to shape the laws and spending that will affect every Oregonian. The lobbyists return year after year, some decade after decade. In contrast, some legislators last only one term. “In a Legislature that has extremely high turnover, there are different institutional forces that have impact on the outcomes of legislation … but the one constant in Salem is gonna be the lobby,” said state Rep. Dan Rayfield.

Oregon: Oregon Legislature Reaches $1.3M Settlement Over Sexual Harassment
Portland Oregonian – Hillary Borrud | Published: 3/5/2019

Oregon legislative leaders announced they have signed a $1.3 million settlement with state labor regulators and nine women who experienced sexual harassment at the Capitol. The women will receive $1.1 million and the Legislature will pay the Bureau of Labor and Industries $200,000 to cover the agency’s legal costs. As part of the deal, the women agreed not to pursue legal action against the Legislature and other named defendants. For its part, the Legislature agreed to implement a list of reforms to make the Capitol a safer place to work, including adopting a definition of harassment with specific examples and using an independent lawyer to handle any discrimination and harassment complaints until it creates a new Equity Office.

South Carolina: SC Politicians, Lobbyists and More 0we $2.4M in Ethics Fines, But Many Will Never Pay
The State – Lucas Deprile | Published: 3/6/2019

There are 337 candidates, political parties, and lobbyists who owe the South Carolina Ethics Commission a total of $2.4 million in fines, many of which will likely never be collected. More than half of those who owed fines eight years ago still have not paid them, even though many large penalties have been reduced. The law says those who fail to file the appropriate forms must pay $10 per report every day after they are notified that they owe money. But after 10 days, that increases to $100 per missing report per day. The maximum fine is capped at $5,000, but until 2011, there was no ceiling to how much someone would owe.

West Virginia: Poster Linking Rep. Ilhan Omar to 9/11 Sparks Outrage at West Virginia Capitol
Los Angeles Times – Eli Rosenberg (Washington Post) | Published: 3/2/2019

The chairperson of the West Virginia Republican Party said the GOP does not condone an anti-Muslim poster displayed at the Capitol during a Republican event that linked U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar to the September 11 terrorist attacks. The poster featured a picture of planes flying into the World Trade Center with the phrase “never forget, you said” and then under it, a picture of Omar with the words “I am proof you have forgotten.” Del. Michael Angelucci said he heard Sergeant at Arms Anne Lieberman, the chamber’s principal law enforcement official, call all Muslims terrorists. Lieberman disputed that accusation yet submitted a resignation letter. Del. Mike Caputo admitted to kicking open the chamber doors out of anger, an act that reportedly injured a doorkeeper.

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March 1, 2019 •

News You Can Use – March 1, 2019

      Federal: Cohen Tells Congress Trump Knew About WikiLeaks’ Plans, Directed Hush-Money Payments MSN – Matt Zapotosky, Rosalind Helderman, Karoun Demirjian, and Rachael Bade (Washington Post) | Published: 2/27/2019 Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, laid out for Congress […]

 

 

 

Federal:

Cohen Tells Congress Trump Knew About WikiLeaks’ Plans, Directed Hush-Money Payments
MSN – Matt Zapotosky, Rosalind Helderman, Karoun Demirjian, and Rachael Bade (Washington Post) | Published: 2/27/2019

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, laid out for Congress for the first time a series of deceptions by the president. He charged that Trump lied to the public about business interests in Russia, lied to reporters about stolen Democratic emails, and told Cohen to lie about hush payments to cover up sexual misconduct. The accusations, aired at a daylong hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, exposed a dark underside of Trump’s business and political worlds in the voice of one of the ultimate insiders. Perhaps no close associate has turned on a president in front of Congress in such dramatic fashion and with such high stakes since John Dean testified against President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

From the States and Municipalities:

Arkansas: Arkansas Grapples with Ethics Cleanup Amid Federal Probes
4029tv – Andrew DeMillo (Associated Press) | Published: 2/24/2019

A flurry of corruption cases in the past two years has been eye-popping, even for the most jaded veterans of Arkansas politics. Among those who have been charged are a nephew of the current governor, a champion of campaign finance reform, and a top county official who admitted to taking bribes funneled through the church where he was a pastor. The recent cases have stirred fears the Capitol is becoming better known as a hotbed of corruption than for any policy achievements, and legislative leaders are scrambling to repair that image and find ways of deterring future misdeeds.

California: The Political Playbook of a Bankrupt California Utility
MSN – Thomas Fuller and Ivan Penn (New York Times) | Published: 2/23/2019

Despite evidence Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) was responsible for repeated safety violations and involved in deadly wildfires, lawmakers in California continued to benefit from political donations from the company. Investigators are now determining whether PG&E equipment was responsible for the state’s deadliest wildfire, the inferno in and around Paradise that killed 85 people and destroyed more than 13,000 homes. With the state’s tech giants focused on their influence in Washington, D.C., perhaps no company in California is more entangled with local Democratic politics than PG&E, which in January filed for bankruptcy. PG&E’s restructuring will test whether Gov. Gavin Newsom and other Democratic leaders can push to create a company free from what critics say has been a culture of cronyism between regulators and the regulated.

Florida: The SWAT Team Showed Up at a Florida Mayor’s Door. Then He Started Shooting, Police Say.
Washington Post – Reis Thebault and Eli Rosenberg | Published: 2/21/2019

The mayor of a small Gulf Coast town in Florida was arrested after shooting at a SWAT team that had come to arrest him on charges of illegally practicing medicine. Dale Glen Massad, mayor of Port Richey, a town of around 2,600 north of Tampa, fired two shots at officers who raided his home in the early hours of the morning. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was investigating Massad, a former doctor who gave up his license in 1992, after being tipped off that Massad was still practicing medicine. No officers were injured and Massad was arrested without further incident. He is charged with two counts of attempted homicide, according to the complaint.

Georgia: Nine Lawyers in Running to Head State Ethics Commission
Yahoo Finance – R. Robin McDonald (Law.com) | Published: 2/28/2019

Nine lawyers are in contention to become the new head of Georgia’s ethics commission, which has moved to replace former Executive Secretary Stefan Ritter. He resigned following an internal investigation, which stemmed from the discovery of hundreds of pornographic images on his state-issued computer. Complaints also accused Ritter of squelching ethics inquiries of several Atlanta mayoral candidates and possible campaign violations by a gubernatorial campaign. Finalists for the job include Robert Lane, deputy executive secretary of the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, and Michael Sullivan, director of the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Illinois: At Chicago City Hall, the Legislative Branch Rarely Does Much Legislating
ProPublica – Mick Dumke | Published: 2/25/2019

From 2011 through 2018, Chicago Ald. Pat Dowell was the chief sponsor of more than 900 separate ordinances in the city council, most of them pertaining to such hyperlocal issues as business sign permits, driveway alley access, and parking meter hours for single addresses. That volume of ward-specific legislation is typical for aldermen. Except in rare instances, the council signs off on the mayor’s agenda, even letting the city’s executive pick its legislative leaders. In return, aldermen are allowed to reign over matters large and small in their wards, which some openly describe as “fiefdoms.” The structure of the council has received new attention over the last several months, as the city’s political establishment has been rocked by scandals involving aldermen.

Louisiana: Louisiana Cap on Legislative Wining and Dining Grows to $62
Tacoma News Tribune; Associated Press –   | Published: 2/24/2019

When the new budget year begins in a few months, lobbyists can spend $62 per occasion on food and drink for a public official in Louisiana. The current cap is $61. The 2008 law that sets the limit allows annual adjustments tied to increases in the federal Consumer Price Index for food and beverages.

Maryland: Maryland Del. Mary Ann Lisanti Stripped of Leadership Post Over Use of Racial Slur
Washington Post – Ovetta Wiggins | Published: 2/26/2019

A Maryland lawmaker who witnesses say used a racial slur to describe a legislative district in Prince George’s County has been stripped of her leadership position and will undergo sensitivity training. Del. Mary Ann Lisanti issued a public apology after addressing the executive committee of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland. Lisanti used the slur in front of several colleagues at an Annapolis cigar bar in January. She told another white lawmaker that when he campaigned in Prince George’s on behalf of a candidate last fall, he was door-knocking in a “n—– district,” said Del. Jay Walker, who witnessed the comment and represents the district in question.

New Hampshire: NH Lobbyists Paid Record Fees in 2018 But Info Hard to Track
Manchester Union Leader – Kevin Landrigan | Published: 2/23/2019

Unofficially, the nearly 500 private or public interests that hired lobbyists in New Hampshire last year paid out nearly $10.7 million in fees. The Manchester Union Leader constructed a database of the fees paid to these lobbyists from information available on the secretary of state’s website. But the state’s website is not searchable. State officials scan all the forms and post them online. This means anyone trying to aggregate all the fees paid to any firm has to total up all the individual forms. In 2018, more than 1,000 lobbying firms filed these reports because several firms have more than one associate working for them. For example, the Sheehan Phinney Capitol Group has five registered lobbyists who represent 40 clients. To find out what the firm got paid in total requires looking at more than 120 forms.

North Carolina: In N.C., a Surprise: In the end, everyone agreed it was election fraud
Chicago Tribune – Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 2/23/2019

North Carolina will hold a new election in the Ninth Congressional District following a hearing that outlined how a political operative had orchestrated an absentee ballot scheme to try to sway the race in favor of Mark Harris, the Republican candidate. Harris was under scrutiny for hiring Leslie McCrae Dowless, who allegedly assembled a crew to illegally collect, fill out, and forge mail-in ballots in two rural counties in the district. Mark Harris’s son, John, testified before the State Board of Elections that he warned his father he believed Dowless had broken the law in a previous election and should not be hired for the 2018 campaign. The elder Harris had maintained in interviews with reporters that he was unaware of red flags about the operative’s alleged tactics.

Ohio: Even After FBI Probe of Ohio Speaker, Tracking Lawmakers’ Travel Remains Challenging
Cincinnati Enquirer – Jessie Balmert | Published: 2/24/2019

Each year, several Ohio lawmakers spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on out-of-state travel. They meet legislators from other states, learn about how foreign countries tackle problems, and make connections that could help them professionally and politically. But figuring out how much each lawmaker travels and who pays for those trips is far from easy. Legislators must report some travel for official business on annual ethics forms but not all. Some lawmakers use campaign contributions to pay for travel and document trips there. But lawmakers can also receive free trips from national groups or pay for the trips themselves – it is impossible to tell.

Oregon: Polluted by Money
Portland Oregonian – Rob Davis | Published: 2/22/2019

Over the last few years, Oregon’s most powerful industries have defeated, weakened, or stalled efforts to deal with climate change, air pollution, and other environmental matters. An investigation by The Portland Oregonian found the failure to regulate campaign finance has made Oregon one of the biggest money states in American politics, and the ready cash creates an easy regulatory climate where industry gets what it wants. A company might give as little as a few thousand dollars per lawmaker. But taken together, legislators receive millions from industries with a shared interest in weak environmental regulation. Some state lawmakers said the campaign finance system works by showing voters who is giving money and letting them judge whether it is significant.

Pennsylvania: How Philly’s Electricians Union and Johnny Doc Converted Payroll Deductions into Political Influence
Philadelphia Inquirer – Chris Brennan and Dylan Purcell | Published: 2/25/2019

From 2002 through 2018, small-dollar donations withdrawn from the paychecks of members of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers produced just under $41 million to invest in helping elect allies to local, state, and national offices. The yearly haul has increased six-fold over the last decade. The recent indictment on corruption charges of the union’s leader, Johnny “Doc” Dougherty, entangled only one elected official – Philadelphia City Councilperson Bobby Henon – and did not charge anyone with making or receiving improper campaign donations. For a probe that took at least two years, it also gave barely a nod to the breadth of the influence and impact that Local 98 and its leader have amassed.

Texas: Most Dallas City Council Members’ Campaign-Finance Reports Show Violations – But No One Enforces Rules
Dallas News – Corbett Smith | Published: 2/26/2019

Despite a limit on how much individuals and groups can donate to mayoral and council candidates, oversight by Dallas officials is essentially nonexistent. The Dallas News reviewed the past four years of campaign finance filings, finding more than 30 questionable donations reported by 10 of the 14 city council members. A dozen more issues showed up on reports of former council members and losing candidates, but no one is in charge of combing over the forms, raising questions or scrutinizing irregularities. And no one is filing official complaints that would prompt an investigation, city officials said. Even if someone filed a complaint about campaign finance violations, there’s disagreement whether the city’s own ethics panel can even investigate the matter.

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February 22, 2019 •

News You Can Use Digest – February 22, 2019

      National: The Growing Need for Opposition Research – on Yourself – in Today’s Political World Governing – Alan Greenblatt | Published: 2/15/2019 The series of recent scandals in Virginia was kicked off by the emergence of a 35-year-old yearbook page […]

 

 

 

National:

The Growing Need for Opposition Research – on Yourself – in Today’s Political World
Governing – Alan Greenblatt | Published: 2/15/2019

The series of recent scandals in Virginia was kicked off by the emergence of a 35-year-old yearbook page from Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school days. In September, members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee grilled then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh about entries in his high school yearbook and the calendar he kept as a student. Now reporters all over the country are scouring old yearbooks, looking for more examples of racist or otherwise disturbing images or language from the past of politicians. All this suggests that opposition research – as well as self-research, which refers to candidates hiring investigators to look into their own closets – will be a growing field in the years ahead.

Federal:

Elections Commission Chief Uses the ‘Nuclear Option’ to Rescue the Agency from Gridlock
Mother Jones – Nihal Krishan | Published: 2/20/2019

Ellen Weintraub, who has been on the FEC since 2002 and became chairperson in January, has become increasingly frustrated by the agency’s lack of enforcement, which has led to less disclosure, less transparency, and more “dark money” within the campaign finance system. Weintraub now says she will not allow FEC lawyers to defend the government when the commission has been sued for not enforcing the law. This drastic step, which one former FEC lawyer called the “nuclear option,” is effectively an effort to sabotage her own agency in order to enforce the law and create more campaign finance disclosure.

Intimidation, Pressure and Humiliation: Inside Trump’s two-year war on the investigations encircling him
MSN – Mark Mazzetti, Maggie Haberman, Nicholas Fandos, and Michael Schmidt (New York Times) | Published: 2/19/2019

President Trump’s public war on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has gone on long enough that it is no longer shocking. Trump rages almost daily to his 58 million Twitter followers that Muller is on a “witch hunt.” The president’s lawyer talks openly about a strategy to smear and discredit the special counsel investigation. Trump’s allies in Congress and the conservative media warn of an insidious plot inside the Justice Department and the FBI to subvert a democratically elected president. An examination by The New York Times reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement. Interviews with current and former government officials and others close to Trump, as well as a review of confidential White House documents, reveal numerous unreported episodes in a two-year drama.

From the States and Municipalities:

California: L.A. Ethics Commission Backs New Restrictions on Developer Donations
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes and David Zahniser | Published: 2/19/2019

Faced with complaints about a “pay-to-play” culture at City Hall, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission backed new restrictions on political donations from real estate developers seeking city approval for their building plans. The proposed ban would cover a broad array of people “substantially involved” in a proposed development project, including real estate executives, architects, engineers, and others. Such donors would also be barred from fundraising or gathering political donations for city officials. The commission also backed new restrictions on “behested payments” – donations solicited by politicians for charitable or governmental causes.

California: Nation’s First All-LGBTQ City Council Tests Modern Meaning of Diversity
San Francisco Chronicle – Scott Wilson (Washington Post) | Published: 2/18/2019

Palm Springs achieved a measure of fame a little more than a year ago when voters elected the nation’s first city council consisting entirely of members of the LGBTQ community. The gay and lesbian community, a majority of the electorate in this city of 45,000 people, cheered the milestone as an affirmation of the community’s model tolerance. The happy moment did not last long. The council elected in November 2017 also happened to be all white. What was viewed by many as a broad step toward greater diversity instead turned Palm Springs into a forum for a debate about what diversity means – and who, exactly, is best suited to represent whom in a state shaped for decades by identity politics.

California: Why Cities, Counties May Turn to the State Political Watchdog to Enforce Local Campaign Finance Issues
San Bernardino Sun – Joe Nelson and Sandra Emerson | Published: 2/20/2019

A law that took effect on January 1 in California essentially allows local agencies to draw on the state’s experience and expertise in dealing with campaign finance and ethics laws – for a price. Under its contract with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), San Bernardino County pays the agency a flat fee of $55,000 annually and is billed at hourly rates for any work exceeding the flat amount. In return, the FPPC audits the campaign accounts of all county elected officials each election cycle, investigates complaints, provides written and verbal guidance to elected officials and their donors regarding the county’s campaign finance and ethics ordinance.

Florida: ‘Who Gave It, Who Got It?’ How Political Influence in Miami Is Bought – and Concealed
Miami Herald – Joey Flechas and Sandra Emerson | Published: 2/21/2019

Whether it is candidates or ballot measures, moneyed interests use political groups that can receive and spend unlimited, untraceable “dark money” to influence elections in Miami and pay for attack ads. Florida’s lax campaign finance laws allow donors to seed thousands of dollars into committees that can give to one or more other committees. The money that pays for the ads can be difficult to trace back to the original donor. Because state authorities do not aggressively police campaign finance reports, political committees can easily get away with concealing their donors while flouting election laws. But political groups do not necessarily need to break campaign laws to hide the sources of their money. It is allowed to be moved through a byzantine web of political committees that mask its origins.

Montana: US Supreme Court Won’t Take Challenge to Montana Campaign Finance Law
Montana Public Radio – Corin Cates-Carney | Published: 2/19/2018

The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, declined to take up a case challenging Montana’s campaign finance disclosure law.  The justices left in place a lower court’s ruling that the state’s so-called Disclose Act is constitutional. The law requires groups that engage in last-minute advertising in elections to make public how they spend money to influence the state’s elections.

New Jersey: This N.J. Mayor Is Getting Paid to Fight Legal Weed. Here’s Why That’s Causing Trouble.
Bergen Record – Payton Guion (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 2/15/2019

The mayor of the first town in New Jersey to ban legal marijuana sales has also spent most of the past year on the payroll as a lobbyist for a prominent anti-marijuana group in the state. But Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Stephen Reid has not always been upfront about that connection, raising questions about ethics and conflicts-of-interest. More than 60 towns in New Jersey have taken some step to prohibit marijuana businesses from their borders. Reid has traveled around the state, offering his hand to other towns considering a ban as the mayor of a town that’ has already done it. Since May 2018, Reid has been a paid lobbyist for New Jersey Responsible Approaches to Marijuana, and his potential conflict is the subject of lawsuit against the town.

Oregon: ‘Give Me the Money, and I’ll Give It to Her.’ Former Oregon Lawmaker Describes Participating in Dubious Campaign Practice
Portland Oregonian – Rob Davis | Published: 2/17/2019

On paper, two contributions to candidates last year came from former Oregon Rep. Deborah Boone. She wrote the checks and her name is listed as the donor. In reality, Boone said, the money came from donors who asked her to pass it on under her name, creating a set of transactions and reports that may have violated state law. Boone described the practice as commonplace among legislators. State records show millions of dollars have moved between Oregon politicians in the past decade in what look like straightforward gestures of support. Lawmakers also routinely give money to committees run by legislative leaders, who then redistribute it to candidates in tough races. According to Boone, the transactions are not always what they seem.

Rhode Island: Political Donations by Strip-club Industry Made in Lobbying Firm’s Name
Providence Journal – Brian Amaral | Published: 2/15/2019

Mysterious errors in campaign finance records concealed the source of thousands of dollars in donations from the Providence strip-club industry to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. Instead of listing their actual employers, the series of contributions listed a lobbying firm, the Goldberg Law Offices. A lobbyist at that firm, Robert Goldberg, also worked on behalf of the strip-club industry. Goldberg said he did not know why donations from people involved in the strip-club industry – and not, in fact, employed by his firm – listed his firm as their employer. The errors raise questions about the working relationship between a high-powered lobbyist and an industry he represented and illuminate the many connections between the strip-club industry and the halls of power in the state.

Texas: Sen. Angela Paxton Files Bill That Would Allow Her Husband, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, to Issue Exemptions from Securities Regulations
Texas Tribune – Emma Platoff | Published: 2/16/2019

In what state Sen. Angela Paxton describes as an effort to safely expand Texas’ burgeoning financial tech industry, she filed a bill that would empower the office of her husband, state Attorney General Ken Paxton to exempt entrepreneurs from certain state regulations so they can market “innovative financial products or services.” One of those exemptions would be working as an “investment advisor” without registering. Currently, doing so is a felony in Texas, one for which Ken Paxton was issued a civil penalty in 2014 and criminally charged in 2015.

Virginia: Richmond’s Donor Class and the VMI Brotherhood Stand Behind Embattled Virginia Governor
Washington Post – Gregory Schneider | Published: 2/16/2019

Gil Minor, a local corporate titan and major donor to both political parties, and Tom Slater, a prominent lawyer, met with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam soon after the shocking news broke that a racist photograph had been unearthed from Northam’s medical school yearbook page. Minor and Slater are part of a political donor class in Richmond that has rallied behind the embattled governor. Perhaps more significant, they are part of a Virginia Military Institute (VMI) brotherhood, an elite alumni corps that includes several of the state’s power brokers. They did not want Northam, the first VMI graduate to become governor, to go down in disgrace. That support is a major reason Northam has clung to office when most of the political world has called for his resignation, leaving the state locked in a limbo of dysfunction that shows no sign of changing soon.

Washington: SEIU State Council to Pay $128,000 in Civil Fines Over Campaign-Finance Lawsuit
Seattle Times – Joseph O’Sullivan | Published: 2/19/2019

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Washington State Council 14 has agreed to pay a six-figure settlement over a campaign finance lawsuit. The settlement requires SEIU to pay $128,262.75 in civil fines, as well as $18,300.85 in costs and fees. Another $104,942.25 in civil fines is suspended, provided the organization has no violations over the next four years. The Freedom Foundation alleged the SEIU state council had been operating as a political committee without filing as such with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission. The state attorney general’s office determined that SEIU had made significant campaign contributions but failed to register and report as a political committee in for at least the years 2014 and 2016.

Wyoming: Legislature Reforms Campaign Finance
Staff – Sundance Times | Published: 2/20/2019

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signed Senate Bill 18 into law. It is intended to enhance transparency by requiring that candidates report their expenditures and contributions simultaneously and up to two weeks before the election. It also raises the threshold for reporting from $25 to $100 to account for inflation. The law also clarifies campaign advertising provisions to now include online advertising and defines “electioneering communications,” while requiring that campaign activity be subject to the disclosure of donors and expenditures whether or not that activity was done in coordination with a candidate. A disclosure must now explicitly state, “Paid for by ….”

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