May 29, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – May 29, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal ‘A Game-Changer’: Pandemic forces shift in black voter outreach Roll Call – Bridgett Bowman | Published: 5/21/2020 Success in November for Democrats may depend on turning out black voters, but a history of facing voter suppression has fueled skepticism among […]

National/Federal

‘A Game-Changer’: Pandemic forces shift in black voter outreach
Roll Call – Bridgett Bowman | Published: 5/21/2020

Success in November for Democrats may depend on turning out black voters, but a history of facing voter suppression has fueled skepticism among African Americans about voting by mail and a preference to vote in person. Strategies to ensure black turnout are being redrawn as Democratic groups and grassroots organizations test messages in real time to determine how best to educate African American voters reluctant about casting mail-in ballots and reassure them it is safe and secure. It is a three-front battle, playing out in the courts, in federal and state Legislatures, and on the campaign trail.

America’s Economic Pain Arrives on K Street
Politico – Theodoric Meyer and Daniel Lippman | Published: 5/23/2020

A recent survey conducted by the American Society of Association Executives – essentially a trade group for people who lead trade groups – found 35 percent of trade groups estimated they would lose at least a quarter of their revenue because of canceled events and conferences. The cuts have hit trade groups even as many of their lobbyists have been busier than ever, hustling to secure a piece of the trillions of dollars in coronavirus aid for their members. The cuts show Washington’s influence industry is not immune to the economic pain afflicting much of the rest of the country. While much of K Street has experienced a boom as companies have rushed to hire lobbyists to help them secure relief loans, others are hurting.

Appeals Court Denies Lobbyists’ Efforts to Access Small-Business Loan Program
The Hill – Harper Neidig | Published: 5/26/2020

A federal appeals court rejected an effort by a group of lobbyists and political consultants to obtain access to the Paycheck Protection Program and its emergency loans for small businesses hit by the coronavirus pandemic. A three-judge panel on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge’s decision not to grant a request by the American Association of Political Consultants for a preliminary injunction. The panel rejected the group’s argument that excluding lobbyists and political consultants from the loans violated the First Amendment.

Appeals Court Ruling Suggests Little Legal Traction for Trump’s Anti-Twitter Campaign
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 5/27/2020

A ruling that emerged from a federal appeals court recently is strong evidence the courts are unlikely to be receptive to President Trump’s claims that he and his political supporters are being silenced by social media platforms like Twitter. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a lawsuit the conservative legal organization Freedom Watch and right-wing provocateur Laura Loomer filed against four major technology companies: Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Apple. Platforms have banned Loomer, citing anti-Muslim statements. The appeals court judges said despite the companies’ power, they cannot violate the First Amendment because it regulates only governments, not the private sector.

As Residents Perish, Nursing Homes Fight for Protection from Lawsuits
Politico – Maggie Severns and Rachel Roubien | Published: 5/26/2020

As an unprecedented catastrophe unfolds in which more than 28,000 people have died of Covid-19 in care facilities, the nursing home industry is responding with an unprecedented action of its own: using its multi-million dollar lobbying machine to secure protections from liability in lawsuits. The industry is one of the lobbying world’s quiet powerhouses. The state actions came after it spent tens of millions of dollars in lobbying and other advocacy per year. At the federal level, the industry has spent more than $4 million on lobbying over the past year, employing more than a dozen full-time lobbyists and drawing on an army of contract lobbyists.

As Trump Removes Federal Watchdogs, Some Loyalists Replacing Them Have ‘Preposterous’ Conflicts
MSN – Lisa Rein and Tom Hamburger (Washington Post) | Published: 5/24/2020

For the first time since the system was created in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, inspectors general find themselves under systematic attack from the president, putting independent oversight of federal spending and operations at risk. Inspectors general, some in acting roles to begin with, have been fired and demoted with no notice, leaving their staffs in disarray, multiple inspectors general said. Adding to their alarm, several White House nominees awaiting Senate vetting for permanent roles do not meet traditional qualifications for the job. Some say the 40-year era of independent oversight of the executive branch is under threat more than ever.

‘Dark Money’ Groups Dodge Reporting Requirement in New Regulations
Politico – Toby Eckert | Published: 5/26/2020

The Treasury Department and IRS released final regulations under which certain tax-exempt groups will no longer be required to provide the names and addresses of major donors on annual returns filed with the IRS. The rules will affect groups organized under 501(c)(4) of the tax code. Those organizations have no legal obligation to publicly disclose their donors’ identities, but they previously had to give the IRS the names and addresses of donors who gave them more than $5,000. Under the new regulations, the groups will not have to provide the information to the IRS at all.

Facebook Ran Multi-Year Charm Offensive to Woo State Prosecutors
Bloomberg Law – Naomi Nix | Published: 5/27/2020

Facebook went to great lengths to develop friendly relationships with powerful state prosecutors who could use their investigative and enforcement powers in ways that could harm the company’s revenue growth. While state attorneys general are law enforcement officials, they are also politicians, and many see the post as a stepping-stone to higher office. Corporate lobbyists often donate to their campaigns and meet with them at legal conferences, while also pressing their case on state regulatory issues. In the end, the company’s charm offensive met with mixed results: most of those state attorneys general are now investigating Facebook for possible antitrust violations.

Horsford’s Extramarital Affair with Former Senate Staffer Shows How Narrow House Rules Are
Roll Call – Chris Marquette | Published: 5/21/2020

U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford had an extramarital affair with a former Senate intern spanning several years, an example that highlights how narrow the House prohibition against lawmakers sleeping with congressional staffers is. Gabriela Linder said the affair began in 2009 and continued sporadically until 2019. When they met, Horsford was a state senator in Nevada; Linder worked as an intern for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Horsford did not begin his first stint representing Nevada’s 4th Congressional District until 2013, after Linder stopped working for Reid. If Horsford were to have had a sexual relationship with Linder while he was a member of Congress and she was working in the Senate, although there is no indication he did, it would have been permissible under House rules.

Justice Dept. Ends Inquiries Into 3 Senators’ Stock Trades
New York Times – Katie Benner and Nicholas Fandos | Published: 5/26/2020

The Justice Department notified U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler, James Inhofe, and Dianne Feinstein it will not pursue insider trading charges against them after an investigation into stock transactions from the early days of the coronavirus pandemic did not find sufficient evidence that they had broken the law. All three had sold substantial amounts of stock when lawmakers were being briefed on the coronavirus threat but before the pandemic began roiling financial markets or was fully understood by the public. Law enforcement officials appear to still be investigating Sen. Richard Burr, whose own stock sales have drawn scrutiny from the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission.

Lawmakers Press GSA on Trump Hotel’s Request for Financial Relief During Pandemic
Government Executive – Ccourtney Buble | Published: 5/19/2020

House Democrats are pressing the General Services Administration (GSA) for information on the Trump Organization’s request for rent relief during the pandemic for its hotel in a federally leased building. The Trump Organization, for which President Trump’s sons run the daily operations, asked the GSA to treat it like other federal tenants and provide financial relief during the pandemic. Following the news about the request for financial relief, two House committees pressed the GSA for information on the potential conflict-of-interest. The lawmakers said the president is “serving as both tenant and landlord” for the hotel. They also pointed out the hotel is banned from receiving relief loans from the CARES Act under a conflict-of-interest provision.

Lobbyist Register to Be Tightened After Monsanto Case
EU Observer – Nikolaj Nielson | Published: 5/27/2020

Updated European Union (EU) transparency rules set for the end of this year means lobbyists will have to declare much more accurate, and thus likely larger, figures on what they spend to influence decision-making. The EU’s joint transparency register is shared between the European Commission and the European Parliament and lists thousands of entities that work to influence EU legislation. The authority that oversees the register recently announced in a letter it would impose clearer rules to make sure lobbyists do not skirt their reporting obligations.

Republicans Sue Pelosi to Block House Proxy Voting During Pandemic
New York Times – Nicholas Fandos and Michael Schmidt | Published: 5/26/2020

Republican leaders sued Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top congressional officials to block the U.S. House from using a proxy voting system set up by Democrats to allow for remote legislating during the coronavirus pandemic, calling it unconstitutional. Republicans argued new rules allowing lawmakers to vote from afar during the coronavirus outbreak would be the end of Congress as it was envisioned by the nation’s founders. The lawsuit will face an uphill battle in the courts, where judges have been reluctant to second-guess Congress’s ability to set its own rules. But it fits into a broader push by Republicans to put a cloud of suspicion over Democratic efforts to find alternative ways to vote during the pandemic, both in the House and in elections across the country.

Trump Pushes a Conspiracy Theory That Falsely Accuses a TV Host of Murder
MSN – Peter Baker and Maggie Astor (New York Times) | Published: 5/26/2020

President Trump smeared a prominent television host from the Rose Garden with an unfounded allegation of murder. Trump all but accused Joe Scarborough, a former Republican member of Congress who now hosts the MSNBC show “Morning Joe,” of killing a staff member in 2001 even though he was 800 miles away at the time and the police ruled her death an accident. The president’s charge amplified a series of Twitter messages in recent days that have anguished the family of Lori Klausutis, who died when she suffered a heart condition that caused her to fall and hit her head on a desk. Trump doubled down on the false accusation even after Timothy Klausutis pleaded unsuccessfully for Twitter to take down the posts about his late wife because they were causing her family such pain.

Twitter Labels Trump’s Tweets with a Fact Check for the First Time
MSN – Elizabeth Dwoskin (Washington Post) | Published: 5/26/2020

For the first time, Twitter called tweets from Donald Trump “potentially misleading,” a decision that prompted the president to accuse the company of election meddling. Twitter highlighted two of Trump’s tweets that falsely claimed mail-in ballots would lead to widespread voter fraud, appending a message the company introduced to combat misinformation and disputed or unverified claims. It linked to a fact-check page filled with further links and summaries of news articles debunking the assertion. Twitter, which has long grappled with how to address Trump’s tweets, may now find itself under even greater pressure than before to act in a consistent and transparent manner.

Wealthiest Hospitals Got Billions in Bailout for Struggling Health Providers
MSN – Jesse Drucker, Jessica Silver-Greenberg, and Sara Kliff (New York Times) | Published: 5/24/2020

The Providence Health System, one of the country’s largest and richest hospital chains, received at least $509 million in government funds, one of many wealthy beneficiaries of a federal program that is supposed to prevent health care providers from capsizing during the coronavirus pandemic. The Department of Health and Human Services has disbursed $72 billion in grants since April to hospitals and other health care providers through the bailout program. So far, the riches are flowing in large part to hospitals that had already built up deep financial reserves to help them withstand an economic storm. Smaller, poorer hospitals are receiving tiny amounts of federal aid by comparison.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona NoDDC PAC Violated Campaign Laws, Lawyer Rules
Scottsdale Progress – Wayne Schutsky | Published: 5/27/2020

The NoDDC PAC and its co-founder Jason Alexander committed multiple campaign finance law violations, according to a report by Phoenix City Attorney Cris Meyer, who proposed 1 $3,000 fine. Meyer found Alexander and NoDDC failed to report some payments over $250 and legal expenses, including a $5,000 city fine for a previous campaign violation that was paid for by Alexander’s personal account and then reimbursed through the PAC.

Arkansas Ruling Ends Wait for Political Donors
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Linda Satter | Published: 5/21/2020

A federal judge made his temporary injunction permanent in allowing Arkansas candidates for statewide office to accept campaign donations more than two years before an election. U.S. District Court Judge James Moody Jr.’s move reinforced his initial ruling that it is unconstitutional for the state to bar those contributions. In January, a three-judge panel of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Moody’s decision to grant a preliminary injunction against the state’s “blackout period” for accepting political donations

California Blind Spot: Lobbying behind California coronavirus contracts can stay secret
CalMatters – Laurel Rosenhall | Published: 5/26/2020

California law, despite all the disclosures it demands from lobbyists, does not require they report procurement work – including the $3 billion committed so far to masks, ventilators, and other supplies related to the coronavirus pandemic. As the state has signed hundreds of no-bid procurement contracts over the last two months, the public has very little information about the players involved in landing these deals and how much they are being paid. No lobbyist has been publicly accused of wrongdoing in connection with these contracts. A bill to require lobbyists to disclose procurement clients was vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016.

Colorado Hickenlooper Says He Won’t Appear Before Colorado Ethics Body for Video Trial in June
Denver Post – Alex Burness | Published: 5/22/2020

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is running for the U.S. Senate, says he will not appear for his own ethics trial if it proceeds by video, as currently scheduled. Hickenlooper’s attorney, Marc Grueskin, said their camp is prepared to sue in District Court if the state Independent Ethics Commission does not delay the hearing and allow for a new one at which Hickenlooper can consult in real time with his attorney. Hickenlooper was accused in 2018 of violating Amendment 41 of the Colorado Constitution, which bars state employees and officials from accepting gifts worth more than $53 per year.

Connecticut Dalios Pull Out of State Education Partnership, Attack GOP Reps
Connecticut Post – Kaitlyn Krasselt | Published: 5/20/2020

Barbara and Ray Dalio are exiting the Partnership for Connecticut, ending the arrangement that was touted in 2019 as a unique way to reach troubled youths, although they will maintain their commitment to the cause with at least $100 million. The partnership was plagued by problems almost from the start including criticism that Gov. Ned Lamont and the General Assembly made it exempt from Freedom of Information and state ethics laws.

Florida Federal Judge Guts Florida Law Requiring Felons to Pay Fines Before They Can Vote
MSN – Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 5/24/2020

A federal judge eviscerated a Florida law requiring felons to pay all court fines and fees before they can register to vote, clearing the way for thousands of Floridians to register in time for the November presidential election. Republican lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed the measure after voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 to expand voting rights to felons who have completed “all terms of their sentence including probation and parole.” The law’s backers said it was necessary to clarify the amendment, while critics said Republicans were trying to limit the effects of what would have been the largest expansion of the state’s electorate since poll taxes and literacy tests were outlawed during the civil rights era.

Florida Lobbyist Tied to Curry, JEA Bidder Paid City Hall’s Bar Tab at Jaguars Games
Florida Times Union – Staff | Published: 5/22/2020

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration allowed a company owned by his political strategist Tim Baker, who lobbied for companies seeking money from the city and was contracted by a company that tried to purchase JEA, to cover the bar tab at City Hall’s private suite at TIAA Bank Field during the last two football seasons. Taxpayers purchased more than $13,000 in food that was ordered for city officials and their guests during the last two seasons, but they did not pay for the $4,642 worth of alcohol ordered. Instead, the stadium’s concession vendor discounted 50 percent of the alcohol purchases, and the remaining $2,300 was paid for by Bold City Strategic Partners, a firm owned by Baker.

Illinois Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan Wins Latest Round in Suit Alleging Sham Candidates
Chicago Tribune – Ray Long | Published: 5/23/2020

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan won a federal court victory as he worked on wrapping up the shortened legislative session in Springfield. U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly denied a motion asking for him to reconsider his decision to dismiss a lawsuit that contended Madigan conspired to put up two “sham” candidates with Hispanic names to confuse voters in a 2016 Democratic primary.

Kentucky Citing Misuse of Funds, Kentucky Auditor Refers 3 County Attorney Offices to Law Enforcement
Louisville Courier Journal – Joe Sonka | Published: 5/21/2020

A report from state Auditor Mike Harmon identifies possible misuse of public funds in the offices of three county attorneys in Kentucky, including a lieutenant governor candidate in last year’s primary election. Harmon is referring his findings to the FBI and state Attorney General. The report found that of the $134,500 in bonuses Lawrence County Attorney Michael Hogan gave to his staff from delinquent tax fees from 2017 to 2019, 94 percent was paid to his wife, a secretary in the office. The audit report also found new information related to the former supervisor of the Boyd County Attorney’s Child Support Enforcement office, who was indicted on 77 charges last year relating to more than $113,000 allegedly fraudulently taken over a seven-year period.

Louisiana Judges’ Financial Disclosure Now Easily Available to the Public
KPLC – Staff | Published: 5/26/2020

For years, the public has been able to access financial disclosures of elected officials except for judges. But after being nudged by a watchdog group, the state Supreme Court is making such information more easily available to the public. The information is now easily searchable on the high court’s web site using the judge’s name or judicial district, while other elected state officials are on the state Board of Ethics site.

Maine Ethics Panel Wants to Look at Anti-Corridor Group’s Donors
AP News – Staff | Published: 5/23/2020

A group that opposes a hydropower transmission corridor in Maine must disclose financial information so the state ethics commission can continue investigating whether campaign finance laws were broken. Stop the Corridor spent more than $1 million on television and Facebook ads opposing the 145-mile transmission line earlier this year. But it never disclosed the source of the money.

Maryland Extra-Long Primary Season with Baltimore Mayoral Voters Behind Closed Doors Sees Spending on Mailers, Ads
Baltimore Sun – Talia Richman | Published: 5/26/2020

Under normal circumstances, Baltimore likely would know already who its next mayor is. The deep-blue city’s Democratic primary was supposed to be a month ago. But the coronavirus pandemic delayed the election, and that left candidates seeking funding for another 35 days of expensive campaigning. While earlier finance reports were peppered with $6,000 donations, the maximum amount a donor can directly give a candidate under state law, no candidate received more than a handful of such contributions during the most recent filing period. “If you were a low-financed candidates that was really going to be grassroots, you’re really stuck in a bad position [because of the pandemic],” said Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs. “Now you need more money because you have to be able to able to appeal on the airwaves.”

Michigan Feds Charge Ex-Macomb Public Works Boss Marrocco in Extortion Indictment
Detroit News – Robert Snell | Published: 5/27/2020

Federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment against former Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco, alleging he teamed with an underling to extort county contractors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The indictment portrays Marrocco as a tough-talking bully and a political kingmaker during a decades-long reign. He threatening to revoke municipal contracts, withhold permits and, in May 2016, removed an unidentified excavation firm from a multi-million-dollar sinkhole repair project because the company held a fundraiser for Marrocco’s political opponent, according to the government. Builders and contractors bought hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of tickets to fundraisers and some of the money financed Marrocco’s luxury lifestyle, prosecutors said.

Michigan Where Coronavirus Help on Facebook Is ‘Inherently Political’
New York Times – Jennifer Medina | Published: 5/28/2020

The coronavirus pandemic has unmoored already fragile institutions across the country, forcing many Americans to turn to one another for help instead of to the government or nonprofit organizations. With the belief that the system is so broken that assistance will never come, hundreds have formed mutual aid societies, designed to allow people to find help themselves. Though the groups’ efforts vary widely, similar attempts to offer assistance have formed in dozens of states. The groups are something of a throwback; such networks were popular in the heydays of communal activity, in the early 20th century and again in the 1960s and 1970s. The newest crop has been formed largely by young progressives, and their proliferation points to a new kind of organizing that could reshape politics long after the pandemic.

Mississippi Mississippi Lawmakers Approved $300M in Small Business Grants. Can They Apply for the Money?
Jackson Clarion-Ledger – Luke Ramseth | Published: 5/22/2020

The Mississippi Legislature passed a bipartisan bill that commits $300 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to small businesses. But can lawmakers who operate small businesses themselves apply for the money? That is the question Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann wants the state Ethics Commission to answer. The legislation specifically said lobbyists, businesses that hired a lobbyist, or ones involved in partisan political activities, could not apply for the program. But the bill did not say anything about the people who passed the bill.

Missouri No Lobbyist Gifts for State Lawmakers, But Local Officials in Missouri Still Get Freebies
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 5/21/2020

Although Missouri lawmakers are banned from accepting all but the smallest gifts from lobbyists, local officials continue to rake in freebies from companies doing business with cities and counties. A review of reports filed with state ethics regulators shows tickets to St. Louis Cardinals and Blues games remain a popular staple with lobbyists and local officials.

Missouri Suit Against Missouri Governor Over Public Records Gets New Life
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 5/26/2020

A state appeals court has revived a lawsuit against Missouri Gov. Mike Parson alleging his office violated the state’s public records laws. At issue is a 2018 lawsuit filed by Elad Gross, who is running for state attorney general. The suit accused Parson’s administration of breaking the Sunshine Law by requiring Gross pay more than $3,600 for a cache of records relating to former Gov. Eric Greitens, who left office under a cloud of scandal. In tossing the suit Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Joyce said Parson’s administration, under Missouri law, had the discretion to charge or waive fees. But the appeals court said Joyce erred on five of the 10 points Gross made during an appeal.

Nebraska Nebraska Sees Increase in Lobbyists, Spending on Lobbyists
AP News – Staff | Published: 5/22/2020

Lobbyists in Nebraska raked in more cash than ever last year and more people joined their ranks to try to influence public officials, according to a new report. Lobbyists collected $19.4 million in gross earnings in 2019, Common Cause Nebraska said. The watchdog group said the total is a record, up from $17.8 million in 2018.

New York De Blasio’s NYC Campaign Account Hit with $16K Fine by Regulator
New York Post – Nolan Hicks | Published: 5/23/2020

The Campaign Finance Board hit New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign with a $16,000 fine for violating a slew of regulations, including failing to promptly return excessive contributions from individuals with business before City Hall. It also determined de Blasio’s reelection effort broke other rules, including failing to report expenses or in-kind contributions that came from hosting 22 fundraisers, failing to disclose a dozen donations from late in the campaign cycle on required daily reports, and shelling out $6,700 in expenses it could not prove were in “furtherance of the campaign.”

Oklahoma Bill Could Hide Donor and Lobbyist Info from the Public
The Express-News – Ben Felder (The Frontier) | Published: 5/19/2020

A bill pushed through the Oklahoma Legislature in the final days of the session could prevent the public from knowing who is donating to PACs or who lobbyists are working for, a move that would bring significant secrecy to the legislative process. House Bill 3613 could result in the state’s electronic campaign reporting system being taken offline, according to Ashley Kemp, executive director of the state Ethics Commission. The bill would prevent state agencies from collecting any information that “identifies a person as a member, supporter, or volunteer of, or donor of financial or nonfinancial support to, any entity organized pursuant to Section 501(c) of the United States Internal Revenue Code.”

Rhode Island R.I. Senate Leaders Propose Allowing Email Voting
Providence Journal – Patrhick Anderson | Published: 5/26/2020

More than two months after Rhode Island General Assembly sessions were put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic, the state Senate is moving toward allowing lawmakers to vote remotely. A resolution sponsored by Senate Democratic leaders would give lawmakers who do not feel comfortable gathering at the statehouse the option of voting by email.

Washington Wash. Campaign Finance Watchdog Blocks Some Online Access in Wake of Unemployment Fraud
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Austin Jenkins | Published: 5/26/2020

At the request of a powerful state senator who warned of “foreign intrusion,” the Washington Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) temporarily suspended online access to the personal financial statements of elected officials, candidates, and other public officials. The F-1 statements, as they are known, include information about an individual’s income, assets, property holdings, debt, and business associations. Sen. Sam Hunt said he had both warned that the “PDC is being assaulted by international data thieves from China, Russia, and Germany.”

Washington DC Jack Evans Fined $35,000 by Ethics Board as Voters Weigh Returning Him to Office
Washington Post – Fenit Nirappil | Published: 5/22/2020

The District of Columbia’s ethics board fined former city council member Jack Evans $35,000 for violations related to his outside employment while in office, as voting started in the primary election where Evans is attempting to reclaim his old seat. The negotiated settlement wraps up a probe that started more than two years ago scrutinizing the ties between Evans and businesses that employed him as a lawyer or consultant. The board found Evans violated the city code of conduct governing conflicts-of-interest.

Wisconsin Wisconsin Elections Commission Votes to Send Absentee Ballot Applications to 2.7 Million Voters
Wisconsin Public Radio – Shawn Johnson | Published: 5/27/2020

The state would send about 2.7 million registered voters absentee ballot applications under a motion approved by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The state would send absentee ballot applications to nearly all registered voters to prepare for Wisconsin’s November election. Roughly 62 percent of all votes in Wisconsin’s April election were cast by mail as voters heeded advice from both state and federal government to stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19. Turnout for the November election is expected to double that of the spring election.

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May 22, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – May 22, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal Appeals Court Greenlights Emoluments Suit against Trump Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 5/14/2020 A lawsuit accusing President Trump of violating the Constitution by accepting foreign government money through his Washington, D.C. hotel can proceed to fact-gathering about Trump’s profits, […]

National/Federal

Appeals Court Greenlights Emoluments Suit against Trump
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 5/14/2020

A lawsuit accusing President Trump of violating the Constitution by accepting foreign government money through his Washington, D.C. hotel can proceed to fact-gathering about Trump’s profits, a federal appeals court ruled. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to reject Trump’s bid to shut down the lawsuit the governments of Maryland and the District of Columbia brought alleging violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Trump will now need relief from the U.S. Supreme Court if he wants to block Maryland and the District of Columbia from pressing demands for his business records as his reelection campaign gets into full swing.

Barr Installs Top DOJ Aide, Prosecutor of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Trespasser, Over U.S. Prosecutors in Washington
Beaumont Enterprise – Spencer Hsu and Keith Alexander (Washington Post) | Published: 5/18/2020

Attorney General William Barr installed a new top deputy over the federal prosecutor’s office for Washington, D.C., raising concerns that a key U.S. attorney’s office handling multiple investigations of interest to President Trump is becoming further politicized. The arrival of Associate Deputy Attorney General Michael Sherwin triggered new accusations that Justice Department leaders are bypassing career prosecutors in the office and intervening in cases favoring the president’s allies, current and former federal prosecutors in the office said.

Courts Hamper Efforts to Shine Light on Digital Campaign Ads
Bloomberg Law – Kenneth Doyle | Published: 5/19/2020

Partisan divisions in Congress and on the FEC have stalled efforts to require more disclosure of who is funding paid messaging on Facebook and other internet platforms. A recent ruling could set back efforts by states including California, New York, and Washington to fill the breach left by federal regulators. A court decision required Maryland to permanently cease enforcing parts of its online ad disclosure law against newspapers and television stations that have websites selling political ads. More than $600 million has been spent on online ads so far in the 2020 election cycle, according to Advertising Analytics, whose data includes only ads on Facebook and Google. The firm estimates about half of all digital political ads are on those platforms.

Democrats Open Investigation into Trump’s Replacement of Acting Transportation Department Inspector General
MSN – Ian Duncan and Michael Laris (Washington Post) | Published: 5/19/2020

Three leading House Democrats said they plan to open an investigation into the replacement of the Transportation Department’s acting inspector general, concerned the move was tied to an ongoing investigation of Secretary Elaine Chao’s dealings with Kentucky. Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and has faced questions about whether her department has given preferential treatment to projects in the state. In October 2019, Transportation Committee Chairperson Peter DeFazio said he first requested the inspector general’s office look into Chao’s influence on a discretionary grant program called Infrastructure For Rebuilding America.

Donors Can Now Give $620,600 to Biden and DNC, Expanding Democratic Big-Money Fundraising
Washington Post – Michelle Ye Hee Lee | Published: 5/16/2020

Joe Biden will ask donors to give as much as $620,600 to support his White House bid and down-ballot candidates, expanding his fundraising capability to compete with President Trump’s big-money machine. The Biden Victory Fund, a committee that raises money with the Democratic National Committee, filed an agreement that allows wealthy donors to give large checks that will be shared by the campaign, the party, and 26 state parties, the latest move by Democrats to ramp up the former vice president’s fundraising for the general election. The agreement is the latest example of the dramatically expanding fundraising power of national party committees, made possible through legal changes in 2014 that loosened restrictions on individual contributions.

Election Watchdog, Dormant for Months, Can Finally Move into Action
New York Times – Rebecca Ruiz | Published: 5/19/2020

The Senate confirmation of James Trainor to the FEC means the agency now will have a quorum to hold meetings and conduct official business. With Trainor, the FEC will have an equal number of Republican and Democratic appointees, so it likely will still be deadlocked on major action. Routine actions, including the collection and publication of campaign finance disclosures, continued to be performed by staff. But any effort to investigate or punish violations required action by the full commission, which could not meet. Trainor’s nomination had been in limbo since 2017 amid questions over his social media postings and a standstill among Senate leaders on an approach to appointing commissioners.

EPA Emails Reveal Talks Between Trump Officials, Chemical Group Before 2017 Settlement
The Hill – Rachel Frazen | Published: 5/17/2020

When the chemical company Brenntag received a fine in 2017, the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) asked for help from two new Trump administration appointees who previously worked in chemical lobbying. The two appointees were Mandy Gunasekara, a former NACD lobbyist who is now chief of staff at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Nancy Beck, former president of the American Chemistry Council. Beck, now detailed at the White House, has been nominated by President Trump to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Brenntag was ultimately fined, although the penalty it received was roughly 20 percent lower than the one initially proposed by the EPA.

Freed by Court Ruling, Republicans Step Up Effort to Patrol Voting
MSN – Michael Wines (New York Times) | Published: 5/17/2020

Six months before a presidential election in which turnout could matter more than persuasion, the Republican Party, the Trump campaign, and conservative activists are mounting an aggressive national effort to shape who gets to vote in November and whose ballots are counted. Its premise is that a Republican victory in November is imperiled by widespread voter fraud, a baseless charge embraced by President Trump, but repeatedly debunked by research. Democrats and voting rights advocates say the driving factor is politics, not fraud, especially since Trump’s narrow win in 2016 underscored the potentially crucial value of depressing turnout by Democrats, particularly minorities.

K Street, PACs Not Eager to Attend In-Person Fundraisers Yet
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 5/14/2020

Many lobbyists and corporate executives, cloistered in their home offices during the coronavirus pandemic, said they were unlikely to sign up for in-person political events in the coming weeks, and some were dismayed that lawmakers would even send invitations for so near in the future. Others, though, said they long for a return to the intimacy of real-life events that virtual events cannot replace. One lobbyist invited to upcoming events said it was appalling to see such solicitations now, adding, “Why expose members of the lobbying community to unnecessary risk?”

Liberals Embrace Super PACs They Once Shunned
The Hill – Max Greenwood | Published: 5/17/2020

Progressives are embracing super PACs with newfound vigor as they look to put their political influence and organizing tactics to use in the aftermath of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. A handful of new liberal outside groups have cropped up in recent weeks, many of them founded by former aides and allies of Sanders and other prominent progressives. Their goals range from boosting Joe Biden’s presidential campaign of to patching what they see as electoral holes in the Democrats’ organizing strategy. But the proliferation of super PACs has come at a cost for some in the progressive movement, which has long denounced the existence of such groups and the influence of money in politics.

Phantom Super PAC Says It Returned Donations
Politico – Zach Montellaro | Published: 5/18/2020

A phantom super PAC that reported dropping millions of dollars on the battle for the U.S. Senate said in a report it was returning money to its alleged donors following a media investigation. Politico reported there was little evidence that Americans for Progressive Action USA was spending the large outlays it reported to the FEC. The super PAC reported it returned more than $4.8 million in donations it said it received from three donors with Texas addresses. In memo lines explaining why the contributions were being returned, three reasons were listed: “refund due to Politico”, “refund,” and “refund after Montellaro” – the last name of a Politico reporter.

Pompeo’s Moves Against Inspector General Leave a Trail of Questions and a Department Divided
MSN – John Hudson and Carol Morello (Washington Post) | Published: 5/18/2020

The circumstances of Steve Linick’s removal as the State Department’s internal watchdog remain contentious. The nature of his work, which involved interviewing various officials and uncovering acts of wrongdoing, means any investigation could be suspected of causing his downfall and his list of enemies is long. Before he was fired, Linick was investigating an emergency declaration President Trump made last year to approve an arms sale to Saudi Arabia, a decision Secretary of State Mike Pompeo approved, said U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel. Pompeo’s vague criticisms of Linick have left questions about whether one of the inspector’s past or current investigations agitated Pompeo enough to prompt the decision to remove him.

Sen. Richard Burr Stepping Aside as Intelligence Committee Chair Amid FBI Investigation of His Stock Sales
Washington Post – Devlin Barrett, Seung Min Kim, and Katie Shepherd | Published: 5/14/2020

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr is stepping down as chairperson of the Intelligence Committee, following the seizure of his cellphone by FBI agents investigating whether any laws were broken when Burr sold a significant share of his stocks before the coronavirus outbreak crashed financial markets. The decision to step aside acknowledges the awkward, ethically fraught dynamic that would have existed if Burr had continued to lead a committee with oversight responsibilities for an agency conducting a criminal investigation of his conduct. But it also has implications for the delicate balance of power between the government’s executive and legislative branches, suggesting an investigation alone may be enough to remove a senior lawmaker from a key post.

States Push Millions of People Toward Absentee Voting Amid Pandemic
The Hill – Reid Wilson | Published: 5/21/2020

State and local election administrators are pushing millions of voters to cast their ballots by mail in upcoming elections amidst a pandemic that could spread widely where people gather. The applications raise the prospect of a massive surge of ballots pouring into election administration offices in the days leading up to the presidential election. They have also raised the ire of President Trump, who accused two states of acting illegally and raised the prospects of punishing those states by withholding funding.

Supreme Court Stops House Democrats from Seeing Secret Mueller Material for Now
Stamford Advocate – Robert Barnes and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 5/20/2020

The U.S. Supreme Court stopped House Democrats for now from seeing secret grand jury material from Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether President Trump obstructed the special counsel’s work. The court, without noted dissent, agreed to a request from the Justice Department to put on hold a lower court’s decision granting the House Judiciary Committee some previously undisclosed material from Mueller’s probe. The action could mean that Congress will not receive the full Mueller report, without redactions of certain grand jury material, until after the November election, or perhaps not even during lawmakers’ current term, which ends January 3.

Susan Pompeo Draws Scrutiny in Inquiry Over Dry Cleaning and Dog Walking
MSN – Lara Jakes (New York Times) | Published: 5/19/2020

Susan Pompeo, the wife of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is now under scrutiny after the firing of the State Department’s inspector general at her husband’s behest. A whistle-blower tipped off Democrats in Congress that she had her own security guards, and agents with the Diplomatic Security Service had been tasked with running errands for the family like picking up takeout food and collecting the family dog from a groomer. Before he was fired, the State Department’s inspector general, Steve Linick, was examining, among other issues, the potential misuse of an aide to do personal errands for both Pompeos.

Targeting Hunter Biden, Senate Panel Approves Subpoena for Lobbying Firm Over Democrats’ Objections
Washington Post – Mike DeBonis | Published: 5/20/2020

A Senate committee moved to subpoena documents related to the son of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in an election-year escalation of Republican congressional scrutiny of Biden’s time as vice president. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the subpoena on a party-line vote, more than two months after its chairperson, Sen. Ron Johnson, indicated he planned to seek the documents concerning Hunter Biden’s work for the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Johnson’s quest has generated fierce objection from Democrats, who argue the inquiry is simply an election-year witch hunt meant to sling mud at President Trump’s likely opponent.

Trump’s Company Has Received at Least $970,000 from U.S. Taxpayers for Room Rentals
MSN – David Fahrenthold and Joshua Partlow (Washington Post) | Published: 5/14/2020

The U.S. government has paid at least $970,000 to President Trump’s company since he took office, including payments for more than 1,600 nightly room rentals at Trump’s hotels and clubs. The payments create an unprecedented business relationship between the president’s private company and his government, which began in the first month of Trump’s presidency and continued into this year. Records show taxpayers have now paid for the equivalent of more than four years’ worth of nightly rentals at Trump properties, including 950 nights at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and 530 nights at the president’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.

Trump’s Vaccine Chief Has Vast Ties to Drug Industry, Posing Possible Conflicts
New York Times – Sheila Kaplan, Matthew Goldstein, and Alexandra Stevenson | Published: 5/20/2020

The scientist brought in to lead the Trump administration’s efforts to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus has spent the last several days trying to disentangle pieces of his stock portfolio and ties to big pharmaceutical interests as critics point to the potential for significant conflicts-of-interest. Moncef Slaoui is a venture capitalist and a former executive at GlaxoSmithKline. Most recently, he sat on the board of Moderna, a biotechnology firm that is pursuing a coronavirus vaccine. Slaoui did not come on board as a government employee. Instead, he is on a contract. That leaves him exempt from federal disclosure rules that would require him to list his outside positions, stock holdings, and other potential conflicts. And the contract position is not subject to the same conflict-of-interest laws and regulations that executive branch employees must follow.

Work from Home Congress? House OKs Proxy Votes
AP News – Lisa Mascaro | Published: 5/15/2020

The U.S. House approved a package of historic rules changes so Congress can keep functioning even while it is partly closed. The shift will dramatically change the look, if not the operation, of the legislative branch. Under the new rules, House lawmakers will no longer be required to travel to Washington to participate in floor votes. They will be allowed to vote by proxy – assigning their vote to another lawmaker who will be at the Capitol to cast it for them. Eventually, a provision allows for direct remote voting once the technology is approved. House committees be able to fully function remotely.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska Alaska Lawmaker Says Hitler Was Not White Supremacist After Comparing Coronavirus Measures to Nazi Rule
MSN – Hannah Knowles and Candace Buckner (Washington Post) | Published: 5/16/2020

An uproar began when Alaska Rep. Ben Carpenter emailed all 39 of his statehouse colleagues to compare health-screening stickers to the badges that singled out Jews during the Holocaust, sharing his dismay at a new requirement for legislators returning to the Capitol amid the coronavirus outbreak. Carpenter dug in against the criticism and sparked another backlash when he said Hitler was not a white supremacist. The comments echo comparisons made by some protesters opposed to stay-at-home orders who argue strict public health measures are akin to slavery and genocidal dictatorships, governors have been likened to Nazis, in rhetoric many view as inappropriate in a national debate about measures to curb the pandemic.

Alaska Complaint Alleges Dunleavy Violated Ethics Law by Auctioning Breakfast at Governor’s Mansion
Alaska Public Media – Andrewe Kitchenman | Published: 5/20/2020

A complaint alleges Gov. Mike Dunleavy violated state ethics law when an Alaska Republican Party fundraiser auctioned a breakfast with Dunleavy at the Governor’s Mansion in Juneau. The law prohibits the use of state facilities for partisan political purposes. It allows two exceptions for the mansion: meetings to discuss political strategy and the use of “communications equipment … so long as there is no charge to the state.” State GOP Chairperson Glenn Clary said the breakfast would fall under the legal exemption for political strategy meetings at the mansion. Clary also said the party used the gala to raise funds for party operations, rather than to benefit the governor or political candidates.

California Here’s a Closer Look at the Ex-Deputy Mayor Enmeshed in City Hall Corruption Probe
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes and Joel Rubin | Published: 5/20/2020

Raymond Chan earned praise at City Hall for his eagerness to smooth out city bureaucracy for developers, both as the head of Los Angeles’ building department and later as a deputy mayor focused on economic development. Now court records in an ongoing federal probe into corruption at City Hall tell a different story. Prosecutors have alleged a deputy mayor was paid by a real estate consultant to help shepherd a major project and leveraged his power as a city official to aid the development. Although federal investigators did not name the former deputy mayor in court papers, details about his employment history make clear it is Chan.

California Newsom Raises Record $26M in Donations for Covid-19, Some from Companies Lobbying State
Politico – Katy Murphy and Carla Marinucci | Published: 5/19/2020

Prominent business interests have poured nearly $26 million into fighting Covid-19 at California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request, a record amount that came as some of the companies lobbied the governor’s office on regulatory matters, state disclosures show. Informing citizens about how to protect themselves and others during the pandemic has clear societal benefits, government and ethics experts say. But, they add, the public should view any such private-sector assistance with a critical eye. Businesses or individuals lending a hand to government may enhance their ability to influence policymakers by generating goodwill, said Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director of California Common Cause.

California San Diego Ballot Measures for Ranked Choice Voting, ‘Clean Elections’ Take Key Step Forward
San Diego Union Tribune – David Garrick | Published: 5/14/2020

San Diego residents may get a chance this November to vote on ballot measures that would shift city elections to ranked-choice voting, provide public funding for local candidates, and change contracting laws in favor of union labor. The city council’s Rules Committee voted to allow further evaluation of those measures so the full council can decide this summer whether they should appear on the ballot. The ballot measure that would provide public funding for city elections aims to reduce the impact of campaign contributions on local elections. Supporters say such a system would encourage more qualified candidates to run for city office and reduce the influence of corporate interests and labor unions.

Colorado Two Lawsuits Filed Against Colorado Governor’s Decision to Allow Signature Collection Through Email, Mail
Colorado Sun – Jesse Paul | Published: 5/18/2020

Two groups, including one hoping to ask voters in November to ban abortions in Colorado after 22 weeks of gestation, filed separate lawsuits challenging Gov. Jared Polis’ executive order allowing signatures to be gathered for ballot initiatives through email and mail. The lawsuits appear to be the first direct legal challenges to Polis’ use of his executive powers under his disaster emergency declaration. Some critics say he has gone too far in reacting to the pandemic. The governor said the order is aimed at preventing the disease from compromising Coloradans’ democratic right to access the ballot during a time when groups are unable to canvas and gather signatures. The abortion-ban effort is the only pending ballot initiative that cannot benefit from the order issued by Polis, who supports abortion access.

Connecticut Lamont and His Party Don’t See Eye-to-Eye on Secrecy Rules for Partnerships with Private Sector
Connecticut Mirroir – Keith Phaneuf | Published: 5/20/2020

Some in Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s party are not enthusiastic about continuing to ease transparency and ethics rules to leverage private-sector resources. Lamont has tried to shield hedge fund giant Ray Dalio’s philanthropic arm, as well as dozens of private volunteers planning Connecticut’s economic re-emergence from the coronavirus pandemic, from the transparency rules that otherwise guide government functions. “… We were trying to create a hybrid of government officials and private officials and the lesson here is that’s just not possible,” said House Majority Leader Matt Ritter.

Florida Curry’s Former Chief Administrator, Political Strategist Worked for JEA Bidder, According to Documents
Florida Times Union – Christopher Hong | Published: 5/15/2020

NextEra Energy, the parent company of Florida Power and Light, hired Sam Mousa and Tim Baker, two local lobbyists with close ties to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, in connection to their attempt to purchase JEA. The revelation that Baker and Mousa worked for NextEra raises a number of questions, including whether Baker was offering policy advice to JEA while working for the company considered to be the front-runner to win the competition to buy the city-owned utility.

Maryland Super PAC Supporting Baltimore Mayoral Candidate Mary Miller Shuts Down After Email Details Strategy to Attract White Voters
Baltimore Sun – Talia Richman and Luke Broadwater | Published: 5/14/2020

A PAC that supported Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Miller is shutting down and returning unspent money after a leaked email revealed a strategy to target white voters in a majority-black city. The Baltimore Sun reported on the email Martin Knott Jr., treasurer for the Citizens for Ethical Progressive Leadership PAC, sent to potential donors in which he laid out the group’s plans for the June 2 primary. He said the PAC would use negative ads to take voters away from former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah and city council President Brandon Scott, candidates who, like Miller have polled well among white voters.

Michigan Bribery Case Against Detroit Councilman Could End in Plea Deal 3 Years After He Took Money
Detroit Free Press – M.L. Elrick | Published: 5/18/2020

Three years after Detroit City Councilperson Gabe Leland allegedly shook down a businessperson, Leland’s bribery case could end with a plea deal or a new felony charge in state court. Leland was indicted on three counts of bribery after a federal grand jury determined he demanded $15,000 from a businessperson in a land dispute with the city. Steve Fishman, Leland’s attorney, had vowed to take the case to trial, but recent court records signed by prosecutors and Fishman say “the parties have discussed a resolution of the matter and need additional time to determine whether a resolution is possible.”

Mississippi Nonprofit Officials Spent $400,000 in Welfare Dollars to Lobby State Government. Public Education Funding Flowed Their Way.
Mississippi Today – Anna Wolfe | Published: 5/19/2020

Prominent special education figure Nancy New spent hundreds of thousands of welfare dollars her nonprofit had received from the state to cull favor and lobby state government in Mississippi for her private school interests, according to interviews and documents. The nonprofit, at the center of what is now called the largest alleged public embezzlement scheme in state history, spent at least $400,000 in welfare funds to “maintain governmental revenue streams or to lobby on behalf of their organization,” the state auditor reported. She and her son’s separate private school companies received nearly $1.3 million from direct legislative appropriations. But as is the case with many of the purchases her Mississippi Community Education Center made, investigators have found little public documentation exists to show what influence their efforts may have had.

Missouri Clean Missouri Proponents Sue to Have Lawmaker-Approved Repeal Question Rewritten
Kansas City Star – Crystal Thomas | Published: 5/18/2020

A proposal to undo key portions of a redistricting plan passed by Missouri voters two years ago will mislead the public if it appears on the ballot, according to a lawsuit filed by supporters of the original measure. The lawsuit by backers of the Clean Missouri initiative contends the summary for the 2020 ballot proposal approved by the state Legislature should be struck down as insufficient and unfair. It asks a Cole County judge to either rewrite the summary or order lawmakers to do so. The revision by lawmakers included ethics provisions like lowering the limit for lobbyists gifts by five dollars and reducing contribution limits to state senators by $100.

Montana Dark Money Group Ordered to Disclose Details on Campaign Spending in Montana
Billings Gazette – Tom Lutey | Published: 5/19/2020

A secretive group airing election ads featuring state Attorney General Tim Fox has been violating Montana campaign finance laws, the state’s political practices commissioner found. Ads by American Prosperity Group (APG) began airing on cable television in March. There is still no record of a group by that name either with state or federal elections regulators. That lack of information puts APG in violation of laws intended to prevent “dark money” spending in state politics.

New Jersey Katie Brennan Settles Lawsuit Against State and Murphy Campaign for $1 Million Following Rape Allegation
Newark Star Ledger – Kelly Heyboer and Ted Sherman (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 5/15/2020

Katie Brennan, the former campaign volunteer whose rape allegations led to legislative hearings and promised reforms, has settled her lawsuit against the state and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign. The state and Murphy for Governor, Inc. will pay a total of $1 million, with $600,000 going to a charity of Brennan’s choice and $400,000 to her attorneys. Neither side admitted any wrongdoing. The settlement also says Brennan and Al Alvarez, the former Murphy campaign adviser she accused of raping her, will participate in a “restorative justice” program. Her case prompted conversations in Trenton about non-disclosure agreements in campaigns, how sexual assault cases are handled in state government, and an underlying culture of sexual harassment and misogyny in New Jersey politics.

New York New York Democratic Presidential Primary to Proceed Following Federal Appeals Panel Ruling
Washington Post – Shayna Jacobs and John Wagner | Published: 5/19/2020

New York’s Democratic presidential primary will take place after a federal appeals panel upheld the ruling of a judge who determined that scrapping it violated the constitutional rights of former candidates Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders. The three-judge appeals panel affirmed the May 5 ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Analisa Torres that the plaintiffs “had made a strong showing of irreparable harm.” Doug Kellner, co-chairperson of the state elections board, said the board will not appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, clearing the way for the June 23 Democratic primary to proceed.

New York Who Exactly Is a Lobbyist?
City & State – Rebecca Lewis | Published: 5/17/2020

Lobbying plays a key role in city and state government, but it is not limited to the stereotypical operator working out deals in smoke-filled back rooms. That is because the scope of actions that require individuals to register as lobbyists is especially broad in New York. According to New York City and state law, the definition of a lobbying covers a wide array of avenues through which someone may attempt to influence just about any decision that requires some form of action by a government body or agency.

Oklahoma Controversial Oklahoma Bill That Would Have Reversed Campaign Contribution Rules Permanently Killed
KFOR – Cassandra Sweetman | Published: 5/15/2020

A controversial bill in Oklahoma was pulled off the table almost as quickly as it was introduced after the state Senate author said it was never meant to become law in the first place. Sen. Roger Thompson amended House Bill 3996 to would allow campaign contributions to be used for personal expenses, including mortgages, vacations, athletic events, concerts, and country club dues.

Oregon Oregon High Court Halts Ruling Nixing Virus Restrictions
AP News – Gillian Flaccus and Andrew Selsky | Published: 5/19/2020

The Oregon Supreme Court halted a judge’s order which had tossed out statewide coronavirus restrictions imposed by Gov. Kate Brown in a case brought by churches arguing the governor exceeded her authority. Baker County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Shirtcliff ruled Brown erred by not seeking the Legislature’s approval to extend the stay-at-home orders beyond a 28-day limit. The Supreme Court’s decision stays Shirtcliff’s decree pending review by all the justices. Shirtcliff issued his opinion in response to a lawsuit filed by 10 churches around Oregon that argued the state’s social distancing directives were unconstitutional.

Oregon Oregon Republican Senate Nominee Backs Away from Election Day Support for ‘Qanon’ Conspiracy Theory
Portland Oregonian – K. Rambo | Published: 5/20/2020

Oregon Republicans nominated financial adviser Jo Rae Perkins to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley in November. Her Election Day address to voters ignited a social media firestorm. In a video posted on Perkins’ Twitter account, she expresses support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits a shadowy cabal of elites, often liberals, operates a global human trafficking ring and engages in the ritualistic abuse and sacrifice of children. Many supporters claim President Trump is carrying out a covert mission to break up the “deep state” and end the supposed trafficking ring. After her statements brought a wave of national attention, she appears to have retreated from her support and deleted the video from her Twitter account.

Pennsylvania Pennsylvania Auditor General Probing ‘Undue’ Outside Influence on Business Waivers
Clearfield Progress – Christen Smith (The Center Square) | Published: 5/17/2020

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said his office will investigate whether outside influence, from lobbyists or legislators, played a role in which businesses received waivers to stay open during the pandemic shutdown. DePasquale said he has heard from confused business owners frustrated by the apparent inconsistencies in the state’s waiver decisions. Now, DePasquale said, his staff will focus on what impact communications with legislators and lobbyists had on the decisions the Department of Community and Economic Development ultimately made.

Wisconsin Sweeping Federal Lawsuit Seeks Voting Changes in Wisconsin
AP News – Scott Bauer | Published: 5/18/2020

Advocates for people with disabilities and minority voters in Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to order that more poll workers be hired, every voter in the state receive an absentee ballot application, and a host of other changes be made to ensure the August primary and November presidential election can be held safely amid the coronavirus pandemic. Wisconsin has been at the center of the fight, both in court and out, over elections during the pandemic after it proceeded with its April 7 presidential primary even as other states delayed voting.

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May 15, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – May 15, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal Biden Plans to Stay Home, Testing Limits of Virtual Campaign AP News – Bill Barrow and Steve Peoples | Published: 5/12/2020 Joe Biden has no foreseeable plans to resume in-person campaigning amid a pandemic that is testing whether a national […]

National/Federal

Biden Plans to Stay Home, Testing Limits of Virtual Campaign
AP News – Bill Barrow and Steve Peoples | Published: 5/12/2020

Joe Biden has no foreseeable plans to resume in-person campaigning amid a pandemic that is testing whether a national presidential election can be won by a candidate communicating almost entirely from home. The virtual campaign Biden is waging from Wilmington, Delaware, is a stark contrast with President Trump, who is planning travel despite warnings from public health experts about the coronavirus’s spread. It also intensifies the spotlight on how Biden will manage his campaign, with some in his party fretting his still-developing approach is not reaching enough voters.

Court Asks Retired Judge to Oppose Justice Dept. Effort to Drop Michael Flynn Case, Examine Whether Ex-Trump Adviser Committed Perjury
Washington Post – Spencer Hsu, Matt Zapotosky, and Devlin Barrett | Published: 5/13/2020

Michael Flynn’s sentencing judge asked a former federal judge to oppose the Justice Department’s request to dismiss the former Trump national security adviser’s guilty plea and examine whether Flynn may have committed perjury. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan’s requested a nonbinding recommendation on whether Flynn should face a criminal contempt hearing for pleading guilty to a crime of which he now claims to be innocent: lying to the FBI in a January 2017 interview about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

Democratic Party Moves Toward Remote Voting for Its Summer Presidential Convention
MSN – Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 5/12/2020

The Democratic Party opened the door to remote delegate voting for its summer presidential convention, a clear indication the party is moving toward either a scaled-back event or a virtual gathering in August as the coronavirus threat continues to transform the election year. With a vote of the rules and bylaws committee, Democratic National Committee (DNC) leaders agreed to give convention planners broad flexibility to change the structure and tradition of the nominating convention. The proposal passed unanimously, and it will be taken up in the coming weeks for ratification by a vote by mail of the full DNC.

Democrats Accuse Conservatives of a ‘Dark Money’ Bid to Influence Judges
New York Times – Ben Protess and Rebecca Ruiz | Published: 5/12/2020

Some top Democratic senators accused the Federalist Society of supporting a conservative “dark money” campaign to influence the federal judiciary, including who gets selected to become a judge and how he or she rules once on the bench. In a sharply worded letter, the senators said they supported a proposal by a judicial ethics panel that would ban membership among judges in the conservative legal group. The Federalist Society has been instrumental in identifying judicial nominees with legal careers focused on causes that have appealed to Republicans, such as opposition to gay marriage and to government funding for abortion.

Ethics Committee Sitting on Alleged Misconduct Report Due to COVID-19
Roll Call – Chris Marquette | Published: 5/12/2020

The House Committee on Ethics is unable to vote because of the coronavirus pandemic, an impediment that is restricting action on alleged lawmaker misconduct. Until its members can physically reconvene to vote, the ethics panel cannot issue a subpoena, empanel an investigative subcommittee, nor discipline members for conduct unbecoming of the chamber. These actions all require an affirmative vote of a majority of committee members. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that ethics committee work should be done in-person and not use technology, like Zoom, because the material is so sensitive and open to cybersecurity breaches.

Federal Watchdog Backs Reinstating Ousted Vaccine Expert
Politico – Sarah Owermohle | Published: 5/8/2020

A federal watchdog is recommending that ousted vaccine expert Rick Bright be reinstated while it investigates whether the Trump administration retaliated against his whistleblower complaints when it removed him from a key post overseeing the coronavirus response, Bright’s lawyers said Friday.  The Office of Special Counsel is recommending that Bright be temporarily reinstated for 45 days as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a multibillion-dollar agency that funds companies to develop tests, treatments and vaccines.

Federal Watchdog to Examine Official’s Role in Tribal Fund Distribution
New York Times – Emily Cochrane and Mark Walker | Published: 5/11/2020

A federal watchdog is investigating whether a top Interior Department official – Tara Sweeney, the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs – violated ethics rules when she helped decide how a critical portion of funds for Native American tribes in the $2.2 trillion stimulus law should be distributed. Several tribal governments are suing the federal government over its decision to allow Alaska Native corporations, for-profit businesses that support tribal villages in Alaska, to receive a portion of the $8 billion set aside for tribes. Lawmakers have raised concerns about Sweeney’s involvement in that decision, given she is a shareholder in the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, the wealthiest of the Alaska Native corporations.

House Democrat Reintroduces Bill to Reduce Lobbyist Influence
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 5/11/2020

U,S, Rep. Jimmy Gomez reintroduced a bill to reduce the influence of lobbyists and to close the so-called revolving door. The Executive Branch Conflict of Interest Act, would, among other provisions, prohibit former officials who oversaw federal contracts from joining private sector contracting firms and ban senior government officials from lobbying the agencies they worked for two years after leaving the federal government.

House Democrats’ Relief Package Would Give Washington Lobbying Giants Access to Small Business Aid
Center for Responsive Politics – Karl Evers-Hillstrom | Published: 5/13/2020

House Democrats’ newest coronavirus relief proposal would allow influential Washington lobbying groups to access forgivable small business loans.  The bill would provide nearly $1 trillion in relief to states, cities, and tribal governments and authorize a second round of direct payments to American families. Buried in the 1,815-page bill is a provision that allows trade associations, unions, and 501(c)(4)s, not just charities, to access coveted small business loans. The legislation sets aside a portion of small business loans specifically for nonprofits with 500 or fewer employees. The Democratic Policy Center found that over 99 percent of trade associations and chambers of commerce have fewer than 500 employees.

Justice Dept. Moves to Drop Case Against Michael Flynn
Washington Post – Spencer Hsu, Devlin Barrett, and Matt Zapotosky | Published: 5/7/2020

The U.S.  Justice Department said it is dropping the criminal case against President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, abandoning a prosecution that became a rallying cry for the president and his supporters in attacking the FBI’s Russia investigation. The action was a stunning reversal for one of the signature cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. It comes even though prosecutors have maintained Flynn lied to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Flynn himself admitted as much, pleading guilty before asking to withdraw the plea, and became a key cooperator for Mueller as the special counsel investigated ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.

Justices Fear ‘Chaos’ If States Can’t Bind Electors’ Votes
AP News – Mark Sherman | Published: 5/13/2020

U.S. Supreme Court justices invoked fears of bribery and chaos to suggest they think states can require presidential electors to back their states’ popular vote winner in the Electoral College. The justices heard arguments on an unusual voting issue that could have important consequences for the 2020 presidential election in an era of intense political polarization. So-called faithless electors have not been critical to the outcome of a presidential election, but that could change in a contest with a razor-thin margin.

On the Same Day Sen. Richard Burr Dumped Stock, So Did His Brother-in-Law. Then the Market Crashed.
ProPublica – Robert Faturechi and Derek Willis | Published: 5/6/2020

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr was not the only member of his family to sell off a significant portion of his stock holdings in February, ahead of the market crash spurred by coronavirus fears. On the same day Burr sold, his brother-in-law, Gerald Fauth, also dumped tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of shares. In 2017, President Trump appointed Fauth to the three-person panel of the National Mediation Board. Fauth avoided between $37,000 and $118,000 in losses by selling off when he did, considering how steeply the companies’ shares fell in recent weeks.

Pence’s ‘Special Envoy’ in Foreign Aid Office Sparked an Ethics Complaint Just Weeks After He Started His Job
ProPublica – Yageneh Torbati | Published: 5/13/2020

In 2018, an incoming Trump political appointee and ally of Vice President Mike Pence made an unusual suggestion to a United Nations agency whose funding hinged on support from a skeptical Trump administration: he pitched them to do business with one of his private-sector clients. “Might merit your team’s consideration,” Max Primorac wrote in January, weeks before he formally started at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where he would eventually become an adviser to Pence. The client pitch by an incoming official sparked a complaint a month later from an anonymous State Department official. The U.N. agency, the United Nations Development Program in Iraq, had by then received over $190 million in funding from USAID, the complaint said.

Senate Committee Advances Nomination of FEC Commissioner
Washington Post – Michelle Ye Hee Lee | Published: 5/7/2020

A U.S. Senate committee voted to advance President Trump’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the FEC, which would restore the agency’s ability to conduct official business. The Senate Rules and Administration Committee voted along party lines to nominate James Trainor III and move his nomination to the full Senate. The nomination of Trainor had been in limbo amid questions over his social media postings and a standstill among Senate leaders on the logistics of appointing commissioners. Government transparency groups widely oppose Trainor’s confirmation.

Skadden Said to Have Paid $11 Million to Settle Ukraine Dispute
MSN – Kenneth Vogel (New York Times) | Published: 5/10/2020

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom paid $11 million to avoid being sued by Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s former prime minister. The law firm paid the money after Tymoshenko accused it of writing a report that was used to help justify her imprisonment by a political rival, former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych. The payments come after Skadden paid $4.6 million to settle an investigation by the Justice Department into whether its work for the Yanukovych government violated foreign lobbying laws. The firm subsequently revealed in it had been paid a total of more than $5.2 million for its work. One of the lawyers who assisted with the report, Alex van der Zwaan, admitted lying to federal investigators year about his communications related to the firm’s work for Yanukovych’s government.

States and Cities with Public Campaign Financing Lead on Paid Sick Leave Policies
Sludge – David Moore | Published: 5/9/2020

In Connecticut, a long-fought battle for paid sick leave resulted in the state becoming the first in the nation to pass a mandate in 2011. According to researchers who interviewed lawmakers and lobbyists, the state’s public financing program for governor and legislative campaigns was instrumental in electing officials who implemented paid sick leave policies. In several other states that have adopted paid sick leave policies, key players responsible for pushing the measures forward participated in the public financing system for their campaigns.

Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Releasing Trump’s Financial Records
MSN – Adam Liptak (New York Times) | Published: 5/12/2020

The very nature of the presidency was under scrutiny at the U.S. Supreme Court as the justices heard arguments on whether House committees and prosecutors may obtain troves of information about President Trump’s business affairs. The court’s ruling could require disclosure of information the president has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect. Or the justices could rule Trump’s financial affairs are not legitimate subjects of inquiry. But some of the justices’ questions raised a third possibility: that the court could return the cases to lower courts for reconsideration under stricter standards. That would have the incidental effect of deferring a final decision beyond the 2020 presidential election.

U.S. Judge Puts Justice Department’s Move to Drop Charges Against Michael Flynn on Hold
MSN – Spencer Hsu and Carol Leonnig (Washington Post) | Published: 5/12/2020

U.S. District Court Judge Emmitt Sullivan said he would allow interested parties to weigh in on Michael Flynn’s case, delaying the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) effort to drop the charges against the former national security adviser. The case was upended recently when the DOJ moved to dismiss its charge against Flynn for lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. in 2016. The attempt to dismiss the case prompted accusations the criminal justice system was caving to political pressure from the Trump administration. Legal experts said the order would permit requiring both sides to produce evidence and revisit the case for and against Flynn.

Canada

Canada Former Canadian Envoy to Washington Defends Work Pitching for Palantir
Politico – Andy Blatchford | Published: 5/7/2020

Canada’s former ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, says has done nothing wrong in his senior role with the data-analytics firm Palantir amid questions about whether he has been lobbying the top ranks of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government. A member of Parliament is drafting a letter to the federal lobbying regulator following suggestions MacNaughton has been engaging Canadian officials on how Palantir can help with the Covid-19 response. MacNaughton became president of Palantir’s Canadian branch shortly after leaving his envoy’s post last summer. Neither MacNaughton nor Palantir are registered as lobbyists with the Canadian government and, as a former designated public office holder, he is subject to a five-year prohibition on lobbying activities.

Canada Illegal Lobbyist Donations Not Significant Enough to Warrant Prosecution: Report
Powder River Peak – Graeme Wood | Published: 5/12/2020

Lobbyists and others who violated the Elections Act by filing their company’s donations under their own name will face no consequences. The investigation began in March 2017 in the lead up to British Columbia’s provincial election. A Globe and Mail article spurred the probe by reporting how some lobbyists were donating in their own names but being compensated by their employer, which is illegal. Mitigating factors played a role where there were violations. For instance, police concluded “many of the lobbyists identified in the reports quickly filed corrections with Elections BC, confirming that donations made by corporations or union employees were in fact made by their employees.”

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona Arizona Supreme Court Rejects Bid by Groups to Gather Online Initiative Petition Signatures
MSN – Andrew Oxford (Arizona Republic) | Published: 5/13/2020

The Arizona Supreme Court will not let initiative campaigns collect signatures online to qualify for the ballot in November, a move several campaigns had urged as a public health precaution as the coronavirus pandemic upended the usual practices of circulating petitions in public places or door-to-door. The court rejected a request by four ballot measure campaigns to use the same website, known as E-Qual, that candidates for state offices use to get signatures for their nominating petitions.

California Desperate for Coronavirus Help, California Spending Billions on No-Bid Contracts with Little Accountability
Los Angeles Times – Melody Gutierrez, Adam Elmahrek, Ben Poston, and Kim Christensen | Published: 5/7/2020

In a frantic effort to secure face masks and respond to the coronavirus crisis, California has committed to spend more than $3.7 billion on no-bid contracts, scores of them with businesses that have no track record with the state. There have already been examples of questionable deals and alleged fraud across the country. Spending watchdogs acknowledge state governments are under immense pressure to secure medical supplies during times of crisis. But they caution that if officials do not adhere to accepted purchasing protocols, such as dealing only with companies that have direct lines to manufacturers and proven track records in government contracts, they could result in bad deals.

California L.A. City Hall Corruption: Consultant agrees to plead guilty in bribery scheme
Los Angeles Times – David Zahniser, Emily Alpert Reyes, and Joel Rubin | Published: 5/13/2020

A real estate consultant agreed to plead guilty to a racketeering charge in the ongoing federal “pay-to-play” corruption probe at Los Angeles City Hall. George Chiang will admit to playing a lead role in a scheme in which a Chinese real estate company allegedly bribed a Los Angeles City Council member in exchange for help on a major development project. Under the agreement, Chiang will fully cooperate in the government’s ongoing investigation into cash payments, air travel, free tickets, and other perks prosecutors say were provided to the council member and other city officials.

Florida In Florida, Felons Must Pay Court Debts Before They Can Vote. But with No System to Do So, Many Have Found It Impossible.
Washington Post – Amy Gardner and Lori Rozsa | Published: 5/13/2020

The promise of an amendment to Florida’s state constitution seemed huge when it was overwhelmingly approved in November 2018: as many as 1.5 million felons previously barred from casting ballots in the state would soon be able to vote. But Republican-backed legislation circumscribing the reach of Amendment 4 had made it virtually impossible for most felons to participate. The law requires felons to pay all court-related fines, fees, and restitution before registering to vote and to swear, under penalty of perjury, that the debts are paid. But a vast number of felons are too poor to pay their fines. And even if they can afford to do so, a patchy system of court records does not always allow them to know what they owe or whether they have paid.

Florida Lee County Sheriff’s Office Classified Retirement Event Expenses as ‘Career Development’ Training
Fort Myers News-Press – Devan Patel | Published: 5/13/2020

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno and six high-ranking agency members spent thousands of taxpayer dollars earlier this year to attend the retirement celebration of Florida Highway Patrol Chief Derek Barrs, classifying their trip as a training course for “career development”” Between wages, per diems, transportation costs, and lodging, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office used more than $5,000 in public funds for its members to attend the event. Other than the two-hour celebration, no other training or educational purposes were noted or disclosed. Under Florida law, public funds must be spent for a public purpose with past advisory opinions stating expenditures need to be examined on a case-by-case basis.

Idaho Lobbying Disclosure Complaint Filed Against Ada GOP Chairman
KPVI – Thomas Plank (Idaho Press) | Published: 5/6/2020

Ada County Republican Party Chairperson Ryan Davidson, who is running for a seat on the county commission, is the target of a lobbying disclosure complaint filed with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office. The complaint alleges Davidson has breached a number of disclosure laws, including failing to report lobbying-related expenses for 2018 and for an $11,532 legislative event in 2019, as well as not registering as a lobbyist within 30 days after agreeing to work as one.

Illinois Judge Rejects Suit Over Ballot Obstacles for Constitutional Amendment
Peoria Journal Star – Rebecca Anzel (Capitol News Illinois) | Published: 5/9/2020

A judge ruled against an Illinois organization that claimed restrictions implemented to combat the coronavirus made it impossible to gather the necessary signatures to place a constitutional amendment on November’s general election ballot. The Committee for the Illinois Democracy Amendment is advocating for a constitutional change that would obligate the General Assembly to take roll call votes on bills proposing “stronger ethical standards for Illinois public officials.” It would also allow residents to propose related bills by submitting a petition with at least 100,000 signatures. The committee’s attorneys argued in a court document that social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions forced voters to weigh their health against their First Amendment rights.

Indiana Indiana Attorney General’s Law License Suspended for Groping
AP News – Tom Davies | Published: 5/11/2020

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill will have his law license suspended for 30 days over allegations he drunkenly groped a state lawmaker and three other women during a party, the state Supreme Court ruled. The decision said the state’s attorney disciplinary commission “proved by clear and convincing evidence that [Hill] committed the criminal act of battery.” But the court gave Hill a less serious punishment than a a suspension of at least 60 days recommended by a hearing officer for his actions during a party marking the end of the 2018 legislative session.

Kentucky Bill Banning Statehouse Sexual Harassment Fails to Pass, Again
WKYU – Ryland Barton | Published: 5/8/2020

The Kentucky Legislature again declined to pass a bill explicitly banning lawmakers from sexually harassing their employees during this year’s legislative session. The Legislature’s ethics rules do not currently ban sexual harassment, though lawmakers have been punished for harassing employees under a rule that bans misuse of their official positions. House Bill 168 would have defined sexual harassment as an ethical violation and created a process for the Legislative Ethics Commission to review sexual harassment complaints.

Maryland Super PAC Supporting Baltimore Mayoral Candidate Mary Miller Seeks to Win with White Votes in Majority-Black City
Baltimore Sun – Luke Broadwater | Published: 5/13/2020

A PAC supporting Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Miller is seeking to win the race by attracting white voters in the majority-black city. In an email sent in recent weeks to potential donors, Martin Knott Jr., treasurer for the Citizens for Ethical Progressive Leadership PAC, laid out the group’s strategy: use negative campaigning to lure white voters away from two candidates regarded by some as Miller’s chief rivals for white voters, former Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah and city council President Brandon Scott. Miller is the only white candidate among the leading Democratic contenders. Baltimore’s population is about 63 percent black and 30 percent white.

Michigan Armed Militia Helped a Michigan Barbershop Open, a Coronavirus Defiance That Puts Republican Lawmakers in a Bind
MSN – Moriah Balingit (Washington Post) | Published: 5/12/2020

Members of a militia group, the Michigan Home Guard, stood watch over Karl Manke’s business in case the police came to shut him down. They were determined to reopen his barbershop in defiance of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders designed to fight the coronavirus outbreak in Michigan, one of the nation’s worst hot spots. Protests over Whitmer’s actions forced Michigan’s Republican lawmakers to strike a delicate balance. GOP lawmakers, who hold narrow margins in both the state House and Senate, have tried distancing themselves from the most vocal protesters while being careful not to appear to hew too closely to Whitmer’s shutdown policies.

Missouri Missouri Lawmakers Send New Redistricting Proposal to Voters
AP News – Summer Ballentine | Published: 5/13/2020

Missouri lawmakers sent a ballot proposal to voters asking them to reconsider their earlier backing of a redistricting system that stresses fairness and competitiveness over everything else. The new plan would ask voters later this year to make those the least important criteria, reversing key parts of the earlier ballot initiative. The proposal is backed largely by Republicans, who argue the 2018 ballot initiative deceptively packaged popular ethics reforms with a redistricting plan that they say will split up communities and lead to gerrymandering. Senate Joint Resolution 38 also includes ethics changes, including a total ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and campaign contribution limits.

Missouri Probe into Roll Out of Missouri’s Medical Marijuana Expands
AP News – Staff | Published: 5/7/2020

A legislative probe into the roll out of Missouri’s medical marijuana program has expanded into Gov. Mike Parson’s office. A House panel is seeking records involving the governor’s deputy chief of staff, chief operating officer, and a longtime adviser to the governor who has been under FBI scrutiny. The House Special Committee on Government Oversight sent a letter to the Department of Health and Senior Services demanding records of interactions with industry insiders and details on how key decisions were made.

Nevada Las Vegas Mayor Faces Recall Effort Over Coronavirus Response
Las Vegas Review-Journal – Shea Johnson | Published: 5/6/2020

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman is facing a recall effort in the wake of her response to the coronavirus pandemic, including controversial comments she made recently on national television. Former professional poker player Doug Polk filed a notice of intent to circulate a recall petition with the city clerk’s office, the first step in seeking to oust a public official from their seat. From the start of the pandemic, the mayor has resisted measures to slow the spread of the virus. She said statewide business closures would be “total insanity.” But it was her appearances on national television in April that prompted the fiercest criticism.

New Jersey U.S. Supreme Court Throws Out Bridgegate Convictions, 6 Years After an Epic Traffic Jam
Newark Star Ledger – Ted Sherman (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 5/7/2020

The U.S. Supreme Court threw out the convictions of two government officials implicated in the 2013 Bridgegate scandal, in which then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s allies schemed to punish a local mayor. The justices said in their unanimous decision that while the scheme involved deception and corruption, it did not violate federal law. The case centered around convictions of Bridget Anne Kelly, a former aide to Christie, and Bill Baroni, a former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official, for their role in a scheme to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge to create traffic problems for the mayor of Fort Lee, who had refused to endorse Christie’s reelection. They were convicted of fraud for lying about a fake traffic study to justify the lane closures.

North Carolina The Southern Democrat with the Power to Shut Down Trump’s Convention
Politico – Maya King | Published: 5/8/2020

North Carolina’s Roy Cooper is a Democratic governor, up for reelection in a Republican-leaning Southern swing state, pushing a go-slow approach to reopening the economy as protests intensify and neighboring states move quicker. How the governor handles his state’s reopening will likely dictate whether President Trump and the Republican Party can forge ahead with a full-fledged convention in Charlotte this summer. Trump has been adamant about having a full-scale in-person convention, but as those plans forge ahead, Cooper will have to walk a fine line between protecting and alienating his constituents.

North Dakota North Dakota Governor Funds PAC Targeting Fellow Republican
AP News – James MacPherson | Published: 5/13/2020

North Dakota Gov. Burgum is helping bankroll a PAC that so far has set its sights on defeating one of the state’s most powerful legislators, a member of his own party. The move to campaign against House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Jeff Delzer in the June primary has drawn criticism that the first-term Republican governor and wealthy former software executive is crossing the separation-of-powers-line by reaching deep into his own pockets to buy a Legislature more obliging to his wishes. Political and election law experts say such a move by a governor to oust a member of his own party is unusual.

Rhode Island R.I. Ethics Panel Says Ex-IGT Chairman Had Nothing to Gain from Proposed Contract, Despite His 38,000 Shares
Providence Journal – Katherine Gregg | Published: 5/12/2020

A week after dismissing a complaint alleging unethically close ties between Gov. Gina Raimondo and former International Game Technology (IGT) chairperson-turned-lobbyist Donald Sweitzer, the Rhode Island Ethics Commission disclosed its reasoning. The complaint alleged Raimondo violated the state’s ethics code when she negotiated and promoted a stalled 20-year, no-bid extension of IGT’s contract that would potentially benefit a “business associate.” It was filed at a time when Raimondo chaired the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) and Sweitzer was the veteran Democratic fundraiser she chose as DGA treasurer. The commission decided neither had anything personal to gain from the contract extension.

South Carolina SC Statehouse Corruption Probe Has Concluded but Fight Over Its Methods Rages On
Charleston Post and Courier – Glenn Smith | Published: 5/13/2020

South Carolina’s long-running statehouse corruption probe has apparently run its course, with no new targets in the offing. But the special prosecutor leading the investigation is still taking on critics and defending his decision to allow companies to sidestep prosecution in return for financial payments. First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe revealed the state grand jury last met on the case about a year ago. No more sessions or indictments are anticipated. The probe will conclude once pending cases are resolved in court, Pascoe said. He also challenged a state Supreme Court justice’s description of the probe as a “prosecutive mess.”

Wisconsin Wisconsin Supreme Court Strikes Down Wisconsin’s Stay-at-Home Order That Closed Businesses to Limit Spread of Coronavirus
MSN – Molly Beck and Patrick Marley (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) | Published: 5/13/2020

The Wisconsin Supreme Court sided with Republican legislators and struck down the decision by Gov. Tony Evers to extend a stay-at-home order intended to quell the spread of the coronavirus, marking the first time a statewide order of its kind has been knocked down by a court of last resort. The decision curbed the power of Evers’ administration to act unilaterally during public health emergencies. Although the opinion centered on the technical method by which the limits had been set, several conservative justices conveyed their dismay at the restrictions themselves.

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May 8, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – May 8, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal Both Parties Wonder: How much do conventions even matter anymore? MSN – Adam Nagourney and Matt Flegenheimer (New York Times) | Published: 5/4/2020 This year, political conventions may join the list of crowded events like concerts and baseball games forced […]

National/Federal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada

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

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

From the States and Municipalities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May 1, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – May 1, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal Democrats Press General Services Administration Over Trump Hotel Payments Greenwich Time – Jonathan O’Connell, David Fahrenthold, and Joshua Partlow (Washington Post) | Published: 4/24/2020 Congressional Democrats are pressing the General Services Administration for information about President Trump’s District of Columbia […]

National/Federal

Democrats Press General Services Administration Over Trump Hotel Payments
Greenwich Time – Jonathan O’Connell, David Fahrenthold, and Joshua Partlow (Washington Post) | Published: 4/24/2020

Congressional Democrats are pressing the General Services Administration for information about President Trump’s District of Columbia hotel lease after Trump’s company said it asked the federal government to include it in any accommodations it may make for private tenants during the coronavirus shutdown. The letter is the latest attempt by congressional Democrats to prevent Trump from using his administration to benefit his business, which he owns but which his adult sons are running while he is in office. The renewed oversight comes at a time when the Trump Organization, like virtually all hotel and golf companies in the country, has seen business plummet to a small fraction of what it was due to shutdowns from the pandemic, and has been looking to cut costs.

Donna Shalala, on Coronavirus Oversight Board, Pays Fine for Not Revealing Stock Sales
Miami Herald – Alex Daugherty | Published: 4/28/2020

U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, who admitted she broke federal law requiring the disclosure of stock sales, will pay a $1,200 fine for six violations because she failed to report hundreds of transactions made last year by a broker setting up a blind trust. A report details 556 stock transactions made by Shalala n in 2019. She did not make any stock transactions in 2020. There is no indication Shalala engaged in insider trading, though her stock holdings on her previous financial disclosure, from 2018, led to criticism that her portfolio conflicted with her work on an oversight committee set up oversee $500 billion in taxpayer money being used for coronavirus-related payouts to large businesses.

Government Watchdog Seeks Ethics Investigation of Jared Kushner’s ‘Shadow’ Coronavirus Task Force
MSN – Jerry Lambe (Law & Crime) | Published: 4/28/2020

In a letter to the Office of Government Ethics, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the agency to conduct a review of whether members of a coronavirus task force overseen by Jared Kushner have complied with the disclosure obligations and conflict-of-interest restrictions required of special government employees under federal law. Kushner in March formed his own “shadow” coronavirus task force, separate from the official effort headed by Vice President Mike Pence, composed largely of private sector advisors whose primary focus was supposed to be expanding access to testing and acquiring life-saving personal protective equipment.

How a Digital Ad Strategy That Helped Trump Is Being Used Against Him
New York Times – Nick Corasaniti | Published: 4/28/2020

In the fast-paced world of digital advertising, the availability of real-time data beyond mere engagement is fairly small, leaving campaigns with a patchwork of clicks, old polling, and hunches to assess the impact of the millions of dollars they are spending on digital platforms. Facebook, with about 220 million users in the country, remains the central digital vehicle for reaching Americans who are spending more time online during the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has also forced campaigns to rely on a nearly entirely digital infrastructure, from fundraising to organizing to persuasion. Having fresh data to inform campaign arguments online is essential. A real-time testing project aims to help fill that gap.

Judges Worry Trump Position on McGahn Testimony Could Force Congress into Extreme Measures
Politico – Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney | Published: 4/28/2020

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. expressed skepticism about the Trump administration’s claim that Congress can never go to court to enforce its oversight and spending powers. The discussion occurred as lawyers for the U.S. House and Justice Department sparred over efforts by Democrats to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify about his knowledge of alleged wrongdoing by Trump. Throughout the arguments, judges raised concerns about whether cutting off the courts to Congress would remove any incentive for future presidents to cooperate or negotiate with lawmakers trying to check executive power.

Pollo Tropical, Which Employs Florida Congresswoman’s Husband, Gets Small Biz Loan
Miami Herald – Alex Daugherty | Published: 4/23/2020

The publicly traded parent company of Miami restaurant chain Pollo Tropical, which employs the husband of U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell as an executive, received a taxpayer-funded loan intended for small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Fiesta Restaurant Group, with more than 10,000 employees, was granted a $10 million Paycheck Protection Program loan, money that does not have to be paid back if it is used to keep employees on the job. Fiesta said it is “currently reviewing” the money to determine whether it is appropriate to keep it in light of new Treasury Department guidelines that will prevent most publicly-owned large companies from receiving loans.

Sen. Richard Burr Is Not Just a Friend to the Health Care Industry. He’s Also a Stockholder.
ProPublica – Robert Faturechi and Derek Willis | Published: 4/28/2020

In his 15 years in the U.S. Senate, Richard Burr has been one of the health care industry’s staunchest friends, advocated for legislation to benefit the industry. Burr also trades in and out of the industry’s stocks. Since 2013, he and his wife bought and sold between $639,500 and $1.1 million of stock in companies that make medical devices, equipment, supplies, and drugs. With weak laws and little oversight, such trading rarely trips any wires. Burr is also one of the Senate’s biggest beneficiaries of the industry’s largesse. Medical companies, trade groups, and their executives and lobbyists regularly donate to his political committees.

Spotify and Text-a-Thons: How the census is reaching out during coronavirus
Poilitico – Maya King and Danielle Muoio | Published: 4/23/2020

As the coronavirus bears down on cities and states across the nation, the Census Bureau has scrubbed in-person get-out-the-count work in favor of ad buys on Spotify, thousand-person text-a-thons, and virtual speakers series. But despite an extensive statistical database and h$500 million ad strategy to get a proper count, local officials warn millions could still slip through the cracks. The people who are not counted can lose political representation at both the state and federal levels. Legislative and congressional districts are drawn based on population, and the areas where people are hardest to count skew Democratic.

Start-Ups Pursue ‘Free Money’ with Relief Funds, Prompting Backlash
MSN – Erin Griffith and David McCabe (New York Times) | Published: 4/27/2020

Scrutiny of the Paycheck Protection Program, the $349 billion plan to save jobs at small businesses during the coronavirus outbreak, has reached technology start-ups. While many of these young companies have been hurt by the pandemic, they are not ailing in the same way that traditional small businesses are. Many mom-and-pop enterprises, which tend to employ hourly workers and operate on razor-thin margins, are shutting down immediately because of economic pain. But start-ups, which last year raised more than $130 billion in funding, have sometimes turned to the government loans not for day-to-day survival but simply to buy useful time. The start-up rush to tap the finite pool of government aid has stirred debate in Silicon Valley over whether these companies should have applied.

Supreme Court Casts Some Doubt on Whether It Should Settle Trump’s Fight with Congress Over His Finances
Washington Post – Robert Barnes | Published: 4/28/2020

The U.S. Supreme Court called for additional briefing on whether the court was authorized to settle a dispute about congressional subpoenas for President Trump’s financial records. The case is set to be argued May 12, and briefing was completed weeks ago. So the order from the court caught lawyers by surprise and raised at least the possibility the justices were looking for a way to avoid deciding the case’s merits. It may also be less dramatic than that. The request could reflect the interest of just one or a small group of the nine justices. Trump has raised sweeping arguments that the president is protected from investigation by congressional committees and, separately, a New York district attorney. The lower courts are considering the power of Congress to demand executive branch compliance with its investigations.

Thousands of Candidates Reinventing Politics on the Fly for the Age of Pandemic
MSN – Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 4/26/2020

There is a new reality for political professionals across the country as the social distancing clampdown has transformed the art and logistics of politicking. While much of the attention has focused on former Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, hunkering down in his basement to record his podcast, or President Trump seeking to monopolize the evening television airwaves, Covid-19 has transformed all corners of the political universe. Local candidates and name-brand leaders alike have been forced to abandon rallies, community centers, and campaign offices. Volunteers, organizers and operatives have been quarantined into virtual meetings, letter-writing campaigns, and mobile-texting blitzes. Entire organizations have pivoted to meet the moment.

Trump Allies Highlight New Claims Regarding Allegations Against Biden
MSN – Matt Viser (Washington Post) | Published: 4/27/2020

Some allies of President Trump pointed to new claims by a woman who said she was told about sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden decades ago, renewing attention to questions about the past behavior of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Apparent corroboration recently for elements of two accusations made by Biden’s former Senate aide Tara Reade, one involving harassment and the second a sexual assault. Biden has not commented on the allegations, but his campaign has denied them and pointed to his record on women’s rights and promotion of women in his offices.

Trump Appointees Manipulated Agency’s Payday Lending Research, Ex-Staffer Claims
New York Times – Nicholas Confessore and Stacy Cowley | Published: 4/29/2020

Last summer, on his final day of work at the nation’s consumer finance watchdog agency, a career economist sent a colleague a blunt memo. He claimed that President Trump’s appointees at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau had manipulated the agency’s research process to justify altering a 2017 rule that would have curtailed high-interest payday loans. The departing staff member, Jonathan Lanning, detailed several maneuvers by his agency’s political overseers that he considered legally risky and scientifically indefensible, including pressuring staff economists to water down their findings on payday loans and use statistical gimmicks to downplay the harm consumers would suffer if the payday restrictions were repealed.

Under Pressure, House Leaders Scrap Plans for Speedy Return to the Capitol
New York Times – Emily Cochrane and Nicholas Fandos | Published: 4/28/2020

Democratic leaders scrapped a plan to call the U.S. House back into session in the near future, abruptly reversing themselves after some rank-and-file lawmakers complained that doing so constituted an unnecessary risk as coronavirus continues to spread in the capital and throughout the country. The delay will give House leaders more time to try to reach a bipartisan agreement on rules changes that would allow remote voting and hearings for the first time in history. Democratic leaders were hoping to build Republican support for their plan to permit lawmakers who could not or did not want to travel to Washington during the pandemic to designate another member to vote by proxy in their stead.

Canada

Canada Alberta Premier Cleared in Ethics Probe Tied to Firing of Election Commissioner
National Post – Canadian Press | Published: 4/27/2020

Alberta’s ethics commissioner rejected accusations that Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative caucus broke the rules when they fired an election official investigating the party. Marguerite Trussler said there is no evidence the United Conservative Party (UCP) directly benefited when its caucus passed a bill late last year to fire Lorne Gibson as election commissioner. The New Democratic Party alleged that firing Gibson boosted the UCP’s long-term reputation and re-election prospects given that Gibson was investigating the party and had already levied more than $200,000 in fines tied to the 2017 leadership race won by Kenney.

From the States and Municipalities

Arkansas 14 PACs Sign Settlements, Accept Fines to Resolve Ethics Complaints, State Records Show
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Michael Wickline | Published: 4/21/2020

Fourteen PACs represented by attorney Brenda Vassaur-Taylor signed settlements of complaints in which the committees acknowledge violations of state ethics law in 2016, according to Arkansas Ethics Commission records. They agreed to pay fines collectively totaling $1,450 and each received a public letter of caution. Kendall Bond filed about 30 ethics complaints in January against these PACs, as well as candidates in the 2016 primary election over unregistered PACs making contributions to other PACs and candidates, and unregistered PACS receiving contributions before they were registered as a PAC.

California California Republicans Prepared to Match Democrats on ‘Ballot Harvesting.’ Then Came Coronavirus
Politico – Carla Marinucci | Published: 4/28/2020

Leaders of the embattled California Republican Party are reversing course during the coronavirus pandemic to demand Gov. Gavin Newsom ban a voting practice they until recently endorsed. The Republican leaders vowed to boost their “ballot harvesting” efforts, to allow people to pick up and deliver absentee ballots that others have cast, after a Democratic thumping in the 2018 midterms. But they are now arguing it is “an intolerable risk to public health and safety.” The practice allows party volunteers to collect mail-in ballots and submit them in groups to polling places or election offices. Republicans blame the Democrats’ ballot collecting as one factor for their 2018 midterm woes, which saw them lose seven congressional seats.

California National City Passes Campaign Contribution Limits
San Diego Union-Tribune – Gustavo Solis | Published: 4/27/2020

National City officials adopted campaign contribution limits recently. Individuals, businesses, and labor unions can now contribute up to $1,000 to candidates while political parties can give $2,000. The take effect in January 2021. Part of the reason behind limiting campaign contributions was the significant increase in outside money pouring into local elections in National City in recent years.

California Newsom Executive Orders Test Constitutional Bounds – and Legislative Goodwill
Politico – Debra Kahn | Published: 4/22/2020

Residents and leaders from both parties have given Gov. Gavin Newsom high marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic so far, especially after his early stay-at-home order was widely credited for helping control the spread of infection in California. But state lawmakers who have been on recess for more than a month are starting to bristle at the governor’s seemingly unilateral decision making. As Newsom shifts from crisis mode to managing the long-term economic fallout, his orders are coming under more scrutiny not just from lawmakers but industry groups, who are likewise re-engaging in Sacramento policymaking. The legislative branch has likewise shut down most activities for the time being. That leaves Newsom nearly alone to decide how to flex California laws in the coronavirus emergency.

Florida Federal Grand Jury Casts Wide Net for JEA Records, Communications
Jacksonville Daily Record – Mike Mendenhall | Published: 4/23/2020

A federal grand jury subpoena orders JEA to provide documents, communications, and records from top utility and Jacksonville City Hall officials related to a failed push to privatize the city-owned utility and the hiring of former Chief Executive Officer Aaron Zahn. Federal prosecutors also are looking for communications and documents from lobbyists, JEA’s contracted legal and financial firms and consultants involved in the utility’s invitation to negotiate and failed stock option style-employee bonus plan.

Georgia Supreme Court Rules States Can’t Copyright Annotated Laws
Courthouse News Service – Tim Ryan | Published: 4/27/2020

Extending a 19th century doctrine of copyright law to legal materials created by Legislatures, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled annotated versions of state codes cannot be copyrighted. Georgia contracts with Matthew Bender & Co., which is part of LexisNexis, to publish and distribute an annotated version of its official state code. LexisNexis publishes the full code without the annotations for free online and members of the public can access annotated versions for free at places like libraries and universities. Public.Resource.Org publishes official legal codes and other government documents online, bought 186 volumes of the annotated code and posted them online. Georgia sent the nonprofit cease and desist letters, but Public Resource refused to take the code down so the state filed a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Idaho IFF Accused of Disobeying IRS Rules by Encouraging Idahoans to Disobey Governor
Idaho Statesman – Cynthia Sewell | Published: 4/28/2020

A complaint filed with the IRS alleges Idaho Freedom Foundation, a libertarian policy group, violated nonprofit organization rules by “supporting illegal activities” and “engaging in excessive lobbying activities.” After Gov. Brad Little extended the statewide stay-home order through April 30 to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the foundation encouraged people to disobey the order. The foundation helped organized the “Disobey Idaho” protest at the Capitol, which a few hundred people attended and continued to organize, promote, or participate in several stay-at-home violations. The complaint says one way the foundation directly attempts to influence legislation is through its “Freedom Index,” which grades how each state legislator’s voting record meshes with the group’s agenda.

Illinois Bid to Strengthen Legislative Ethics Code on Sexual Harassment Blocked by Senate
State Journal-Register – Dalton Stokes | Published: 4/24/2020

Legislation to expressly prohibit sexual harassment by legislators and lobbyists in Illinois was one of many bills that did not become law in the 2020 session that was shortened by the coronavirus pandemic. The reasons for its failure in the state Senate remain unclear. After the bill passed the House, Senate leaders assigned it to the State and Local Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Wil Schroder. He said, “There were some Senate members who had questions regarding the new definitions contained in the bill and were not comfortable handling that section this session.”

Kansas Kansas Ethics Panel Fines Former Corrections Secretary for Taking $100K Job with CoreCivic
Topeka Capital-Journal – Sherman Smith | Published: 4/27/2020

The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission fined former corrections secretary Joe Norwood $5,000 for taking a job with CoreCivic after authorizing a lucrative state contract for the company. The commission also recommended authorities further investigate Norwood’s dealings with CoreCivic. As corrections secretary under former Gov. Sam Brownback, Norwood helped orchestrate a 20-year agreement for CoreCivic to build and operate a new prison facility, a $362 million deal panned by lawmakers and auditors as overly costly for the state. Norwood immediately went to work for CoreCivic after Gov. Laura Kelly took office in January 2019. Norwood said he was paid $100,000 by CoreCivic for consultant work last year.

Maryland Ex-NAACP Leader Kweisi Mfume Wins Maryland Seat in Congress
Miami Herald – Brian Witte and Julio Cortez (Associated Press) | Published: 4/28/2020

Democrat Kweisi Mfume won a special election to finish the term of the late Elijah Cummings, retaking a Maryland congressional seat he held for five terms before leaving to lead the NAACP. Mfume defeated Kimberly Klacik in the heavily Democratic Seventh Congressional District, capping a race reshaped by the coronavirus. Maryland opened just three polling stations and sent ballots weeks in advance to encourage mail voting because of the pandemic. Earlier in April, thousands of Wisconsin primary voters waited hours outside overcrowded polling stations, and Maryland’s contest could be a test for future races in a key election year.

Michigan Michigan Senator Apologizes for Mask That Looked Like Confederate Flag
New York Times – Sandra Garcia | Published: 4/26/2020

A Republican state senator in Michigan apologized for wearing a homemade mask that resembled the Confederate battle flag on the Senate floor. Dale Zorn said he told his wife, who made the mask, that it “probably will raise some eyebrows,” but he initially told a local television station that it was not a Confederate flag. He said his wife told the mask’s pattern was “more similar to” the state flags of Kentucky or Tennessee. The mask he wore, however, appeared to have more in common with the Confederate battle flag, which is all red and features a blue “X” with white stars inside it drawn across the flag.

New Mexico Coalition Asks for $8,000 Reimbursement from Legislator, Former Executive Director
Albuquerque Journal – T.S. Last | Published: 4/27/2020

The Regional Coalition of Los Alamos National Laboratory Communities (RCLC) is asking New Mexico Rep. Andrea Romero to pay back $8,000 in reimbursements paid to her while she served as the organization’s executive director and before her election in 2018. Romero previously reimbursed RCLC $2,200, but that was before the state auditor’s office released a report that included impermissible reimbursements for travel, meals, and alcoholic beverages and lobbying activities. The audit said more than $50,000 in improper payments were made to Romero, members of the coalition’s board, and third parties. More than half of those payments went to Andrea Romero Consulting.

New York New York Board of Elections Cancels Democratic Presidential Primary
New York Times – Stephanie Saul and Nick Corasaniti | Published: 4/27/2020

New York officials canceled the state’s Democratic presidential primary, prompting an immediate backlash from the campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and his supporters who had hoped to amass convention delegates and help shape the party’s platform in August. In making the decision against holding a primary, which had been scheduled for June 23, the chairperson of the New York State Board of Elections called the primary “essentially a beauty contest” that the state could ill-afford in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The Democratic primary will be held for other races, but because of the decision, voters in about 20 counties with no other contests will have no need to go to the polls, and no choice for president will appear on ballots in the remainder of the state’s 62 counties.

Ohio Biden Wins Ohio Primary, but the Real Contest Was Its Attempt at Mail-In Voting
WUSA – Will Weissert and Julie Carr-Smyth (Associated Press) | Published: 4/28/2020

Joe Biden won Ohio’s presidential primary, clinching a contest that was less about the Democratic nomination and more about how states can conduct elections in the era of the coronavirus. The primary was the first major test of statewide elections via mail amid an outbreak, and the results were mixed. There were reports of confusion but no widespread disruption. It was not like Wisconsin earlier in April, when voters were forced to overlook social distancing guidelines to stand in line wearing masks to cast a ballot. Still, overall turnout appeared to be off.

Ohio Former ODNR Chief Cited for Ethics Violation Over Free Fishing Trip
Toledo Blade – Mike Markey | Published: 4/28/2020

Former Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Director James Zehringer is among nearly 40 current and former state employees and elected officials who the state inspector general has determined violated ethics guidelines by accepting a free charter fishing trip in July 2018. While ethics laws prohibit public officials and employees from accepting gifts of substantial value, state officials wrongly employed a “questionable” interpretation of state law that the fishing trip could be accepted as a donation to the agency to promote tourism, the report said. It instead constituted a “wrongful act” on which natural resources officials also spent public money on lodging and meals for the walleye fishing trip out of Ashtabula County.

Ohio Ohio’s G.O.P. Governor Splits from Trump, and Rises in Popularity
MSN – Trip Gabriel (New York Times) | Published: 4/28/2020

The coronavirus crisis has made Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine something that decades in elected offices never did: a household name. A Republican, he took early and bold actions to lock down his state, even as President Trump dismissed the threat of the pandemic. DeWine’s decisiveness sent his popularity soaring. Now, DeWine is charting a way out of the shutdown, taking cautious steps while facing pressure from business leaders, conservative activists, and some GOP lawmakers who question the economic costs of a state in quarantine. DeWine is being guided by health experts while avoiding partisan fissures over stay-at-home orders that have been encouraged by Trump, who hopes a rebounding economy will carry him to re-election.

Oregon Oregon Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Campaign Contribution Limits
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Jeff Mapes | Published: 4/23/2020

Campaign contribution limits are legal in Oregon. The state Supreme Court said limits do not violate the Oregon Constitution, a ruling that potentially signals major reform in one of the few states that does  not restrict how much donors, including corporations and labor unions, can give to the candidates. The court ruled in favor of the $500 cap adopted by Multnomah County voters in 2016. The decision sends the case back to a lower court to decide whether Multnomah County’s limits themselves are too low, while tossing out limits that county voters set on campaign expenditures.

Oregon Portland to Begin Enforcing $500 Campaign Donation Limit Next Week, But It Won’t Apply Retroactively
Portland Oregonian – Everton Bailey Jr. | Published: 4/28/2020

In the wake of an Oregon Supreme Court ruling that campaign contribution limits do not violate the state constitution, Portland election officials say they will enforce a voter-approved $500-per-donor limit starting May 4 but would not retroactively enforce the cap. In their ruling, the justices asked lower courts to decide if $500-per-donor limits, approved first by Multnomah County voters and then by Portland voters, are too low. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said his campaign would limit donations going forward to $500 overall in light of the Supreme Court ruling. He also called on state lawmakers to establish uniform political contribution rules in 2021.

Rhode Island Ethics Commission Dismisses GOP Complaint vs. Raimondo
Providence Journal – Katherine Gregg | Published: 4/28/2020

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted to dismiss allegations that Gov. Gina Raimondo crossed a line when she negotiated a no-bid, 20-year lottery deal with International Game Technology (IGT). The complaint the state Republican Party filed against Raimondo centers on her relationship with former IGT Chairperson Donald Sweitzer, who was both an IGT lobbyist in Rhode Island and treasurer of the Democratic Governors Association while Raimondo led the group. The complaint alleges Raimondo violated the prohibition against public officials using their public positions to benefit a “business associate,” in this case Sweitzer.

Rhode Island Former State Representative-Elect Laufton Ascencao Charged with Felony Embezzlement
UpriseRI – Staff | Published: 4/28/2020

Former state Rep.-elect Laufton Ascencao was charged with embezzlement of funds from the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club, as well as not reporting expenditures on campaign finance filings and failing to appoint a treasurer to certify his campaign filings in 2017 and 2018. The state attorney general’s office said Ascencao, without authorization, diverted $16,379 from the checking account of the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club while he was serving as treasurer of that organization. Ascencao used the money to pay for expenses during his 2018 campaign for state representative.

South Carolina SC Officials Troubled by Senator’s Financial Ties to Richland County Church’s Nonprofit
The State – Andrew Kaplan | Published: 4/24/2020

The revelation that a prominent South Carolina senator sent nearly $500,000 in public money to help with the construction of a private development has some lawmakers and ethics experts crying foul. The money sent to a church’s nonprofit in 2007 was approved by state lawmakers, including state Sen. Darrell Jackson, who is pastor of the church and founder of its nonprofit. It is part of a long-held practice in which legislative leaders stash millions of dollars in the state’s budget each year, then send the earmarked money to pet projects. While a majority of legislators voted in favor of sending money to the private development, several recently interviewed issue with the vote and said they would not have supported later earmarks for the nonprofit had they known about its ties to their fellow lawmaker.

South Dakota 2 South Dakota Lawmakers Reprimanded for Intoxication at Capitol
Dickinson Press – Shannon Marvel | Published: 4/24/2020

State Sens. Brock Greenfield and Kris Langer apologized during an investigative committee meeting for drinking and returning to the South Dakota Capitol drunk in the early morning hours of April 1. March 31 was the scheduled Veto Day, and the actual legislative session ended at about 3 a.m. on April 1. House Speaker Steve Haugaard testified he witnessed Langer and Greenfield slur their words during a meeting with Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden. Rep. Fred Deutsch tweeted that the lawmakers should apologize to all of South Dakota. “We are elected to do the people’s work, not to booze it up – the tradition of lobbyist-provided all-you-can-drink free booze needs to stop,” Deutsch tweeted.

Virginia Va. Gun Range Wins First Victory Against Order Requiring Businesses to Close
Laredo Morning Times – Justin Jouvenal (Washington Post) | Published: 4/27/2020

A Virginia Circuit Court judge ruled Gov. Ralph Northam exceeded his authority by forcing an indoor gun range in Lynchburg to close as part of his order shuttering some nonessential businesses. The decision to grant a temporary injunction allowing Safeside Tactical to reopen marks the first victory by a business challenging the restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The judge ruled the state law that allowed Northam to declare a state of emergency gives him broad powers, but it specifically prohibits him from limiting the right to keep and bear arms, and found accessing indoor gun ranges falls under that right. Legal experts said the case could spur others as businesses begin to chafe under restrictive shutdown orders in Virginia and across the country.

Wisconsin Justice Daniel Kelly Rejoins Voter Purge Case After Losing Election
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Patrick Marley | Published: 4/29/2020

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly rejoined a lawsuit over the state’s voter rolls after earlier keeping away from the case.  Kelly recused himself from the case last year because he was on the April 7 ballot. The justice lost the election but will stay on the bench until the end of July, when his term ends. Days after the election results were announced, Kelly asked parties involved in the case to say what they thought he should do and on April 29 he issued an order saying he would participate in the case. His decision to participate in the case means the court will not deadlock on it, as it did in December.

Wisconsin Wisconsin Health Department: 36 people positive for coronavirus after primary vote
Politico – Noland McCaskill | Published: 4/27/2020

The state health department said at least three dozen Wisconsin voters and poll workers have tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Shortly after the state held an in-person election on April 7, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced “new tracing mechanisms” to help local officials track residents who might have been exposed to the virus while working the polls or casting a ballot. Health department spokesperson Jennifer Miller said “several” people within that group reported additional possible exposures, making it unclear whether the election itself is responsible for their contraction of the disease. If those people contracted the virus prior to the election, they could have also spread it to others who went to the polls that day.

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April 24, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – April 24, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal A Watchdog Out of Trump’s Grasp Unleashes Wave of Coronavirus Audits Politico – Kyle Cheney | Published: 4/20/2020 Lawmakers handed President Trump $2 trillion in coronavirus relief and then left town without activating any of the powerful new oversight tools […]

National/Federal

A Watchdog Out of Trump’s Grasp Unleashes Wave of Coronavirus Audits
Politico – Kyle Cheney | Published: 4/20/2020

Lawmakers handed President Trump $2 trillion in coronavirus relief and then left town without activating any of the powerful new oversight tools meant to hold his administration accountable. But with little fanfare, Congress’ independent, in-house watchdog is preparing audits that will become the first wide-ranging check on Trump’s handling of the national rescue effort. Even as Trump has gone to war against internal watchdogs in his administration, the Government Accountability Office remains largely out of the president’s grasp because of its home in the legislative branch.

‘All of It Is Happening All at Once’: When Congress works from home
New York Times – Nicholas Fandos and Sheryl Gay Stolberg | Published: 4/18/2020

With the Capitol shuttered until at least early May and the House now considering instituting remote voting to facilitate a more prolonged absence from Washington, D.C, members of Congress are sequestered at home like the rest of America, forced to reimagine how to do their jobs virtually. It is a singular challenge for lawmakers, whose tasks typically revolve around human contact with a rotating cast of constituents, staff, lobbyists, and fellow lawmakers. They have come up with creative (some more than others) solutions.

Biden Campaign’s Selection of Preferred Super PAC Stokes Strife in Democratic Party
Washington Post – Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Michael Scherer, and Matt Viser | Published: 4/16/2020

Joe Biden’s campaign signaled to donors that Priorities USA would be its main big-money partner for the general election, a move that has alarmed some of Biden’s ardent backers, who fear the campaign has given outsize influence to a super PAC that many donors associate with the party’s loss in 2016. At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars in independent spending for Biden by super PACs and politically active nonprofits that can raise and spend unlimited sums to try to influence elections. Democrats are scrambling to build an operation to compete with President Trump, who has been fundraising for his reelection since 2017. But as they seek to put up a unified front, Democrats have been dogged by internal battles over how to avoid the mistakes of 2016.

Biden Makes End Run Around Trump as the President Dominates the National Stage
MSN – Annie Linsky (Washington Post) | Published: 4/22/2020

Homebound at his estate in Wilmington, Delaware, Joe Biden’s quarantined campaign is adjusting to a new reality in which the prime-time television slots that would carry his rallies and speeches under normal conditions are now largely dedicated to subjects other than the 2020 presidential campaign. Making matters worse for Biden, President Trump dominates each evening with his coronavirus task force briefings, which mostly are carried live by cable and can have the feel of a daily campaign rally. That has left Biden with little choice but to spread his message around – bracketing the president by offering himself to local newscasts in battleground states that run his interviews. Biden’s appearances aim at groups of voters that he must attract to win in November, including suburbanites, younger voters, and nonwhite voters.

City Leaders to Trump: Help us fight the coronavirus by paying your bill
Center for Public Integrity – Dave Leventhal | Published: 4/16/2020

Fourteen municipal governments want President Trump’s campaign committee to clear a combined $1.82 million worth of public safety-related debt connected to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign rallies. Cities are girding for a coronavirus-induced financial disaster, with a new study indicating more than 2,100 U.S. cities are anticipating significant budget shortfalls and widespread cuts to local government programs and staff. These cuts are likely to fall hardest on low-income residents, people of color, the homeless, and the disabled, who are suffering disproportionately from the pandemic. “… During this [Covid-19] crisis, that loss is even more pronounced – $150,000, for instance, could pay for emergency rental assistance for 100 Minneapolis families,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.

Cory Gardner Attended Pricey Champagne Party in Palm Beach. A Colorado Lawmaker Wants an Investigation.
Denver Post – Jason Wingerter | Published: 4/19/2020

A February party in Palm Beach, whose gust list included U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, was put on by Krug Champagne, a French company owned by a multinational conglomerate of luxury brands called LVMH. For the past 20 years, LVMH has lobbied the Senate on a range of issues related to its brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Hennessy, and Krug Champagne. State Sen. Tom Sullivan says Gardner’s appearance at the party is an ethics violation. Sullivan claimed in a complaint to the Senate Ethics Committee that Gardner violated a ban on gifts of more than $50, as well as a ban on gifts from companies that hire lobbyists.

Donna Shalala, Lone Democrat Overseeing $500B Virus Fund, Didn’t Disclose 2019 Stock Sales
Tampa Bay Times – Alex Daugherty | Published: 4/22/2020

Rep. Donna Shalala, the lone U.S. House Democrat on the committee set up to oversee $500 billion in taxpayer money being used for coronavirus-related payouts to large businesses, violated federal law when she failed to disclose stock sales while serving in Congress. Shalala said she sold a variety of stocks throughout 2019 to eliminate any potential conflicts-of-interest after she was elected to Congress in November 2018. But the transactions were not publicly reported as required by the STOCK Act, which prohibits members of Congress and their employees from using private information gleaned from their official positions for personal benefit and requires them to report stock sales and purchases within 45 days. Shalala’s office said the she and her financial adviser made a mistake.

Ethics Guidance on Coronavirus Relief Package: Lawmakers may be able to apply for some loans
Roll Call – Chris Marquette | Published: 4/21/2020

The U.S. House ethics committee is recommending that lawmakers and their families exercise “caution” before applying for economic relief through the massive relief packages passed into law to quell the financial ruin caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Companies in which members of Congress or family members, such as a spouse or child own at least 20 percent equity interest cannot get any loans or other investments from the pool of funds to be disbursed by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. But those conflict-of-interest prohibitions do not apply to other components of the law, including the Paycheck Protection Program.

House Democrats Retreat on Remote Voting as Republicans Clamor to Reopen
New York Times – Catie Edmonson and Emily Cochrane | Published: 4/22/2020

Democratic leaders backed away from a plan to change the rules of the U.S. House to allow lawmakers to cast votes remotely for the first time in history, after Republicans who are clamoring to reopen Congress registered their opposition. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would no longer vote on a proposal to allow members to designate another lawmaker to cast votes for them by proxy. Instead, she said she and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy would have a bipartisan group of lawmakers consider remote voting proposals and plans to reopen the House.

K Street Is Booming. But There’s a Creeping Sense of Dread.
Politico – Theodoric Meyer and Elena Schneider | Published: 4/19/2020

Business is booming on K Street due to the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, but lobbyists are also dreading what might be on the horizon if the economy slumps into a protracted recession, according to interviews with more than a dozen lobbyists. Several privately expressed worry that business could dry up if the companies with falling revenue move to cut expenses. Some lobbying firms could even go under. But for now, the chaos has been unmistakably good for business. Hospitals, casinos, Indian tribes, pharmaceutical interests, and private equity firms have all hired lobbyists for help, along with companies from 3M to Ticketmaster to Six Flags. with companies from 3M to Ticketmaster to Six Flags.

Matt Gaetz Rents Office Space from Longtime Friend and Donor – at Taxpayer Expense
Politico – Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan | Published: 4/17/2020

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz has spent nearly $200,000 in taxpayer funds renting an office from a longtime friend, adviser, campaign donor, and legal client. Both men said Gaetz paid below market rent for the space, although Gaetz later shifted, saying the rent was “at or below market rate.” House rules explicitly state such arrangements are not allowed. The agreement between Gaetz and Collier Merrill highlights how a decades-long relationship can become intertwined with a lawmaker’s congressional duties. On top of being Merrill’s tenant, Gaetz attended fundraisers at Merrill’s restaurants and sought his counsel on policy matters.

Shell Companies Hide Trump Campaign’s Financial Dealings as Super PAC Coordination Rules Kick In
Center for Responsive Politics – Anna Massoglia | Published: 4/17/2020

President Trump’s official super PAC, America First Action, recently unveiled its first independent expenditures in the 2020 presidential election attacking presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden on his response to the coronavirus pandemic. But critical information about financial dealings of Trump’s re-election campaign remains hidden by shell companies, obscuring details critical to determine if the campaign is coordinating with his official super PAC. The FEC considers shared vendors when determining if communications constitute illegal coordination between a campaign and an outside group supporting it. The Trump campaign’s disclosure of payments through shell companies keeps the identities of sub-vendors it might share with its super PAC hidden.

Small Business Rescue Cash Isn’t for Lobbyists, Judge Rules
Washington Post – Erik Larson (Bloomberg) | Published: 4/23/2020

Political consulting and lobbying firms were rebuffed in an effort to tap coronavirus rescue money, as a federal judge ruled the funds for small businesses are essentially subsidies that lobbyists cannot receive from the government. The firms cannot tap Paycheck Protection Program loans disbursed by the Small Business Administration because a decades-old regulation bars the agency from subsidizing political speech, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth said.

The Quiet Hand of Conservative Groups in the Anti-Lockdown Protests
MSN – Kenneth Vogel, Jim Rutenberg, and Lisa Lerer (New York Times) | Published: 4/21/2020

Among those fighting the state and local orders intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus are FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots. Also involved are a law firm led partly by former Trump White House officials, a network of state-based conservative policy groups, and a coalition of conservative leaders known as Save Our Country that has advised the White House on strategies for a tiered reopening of the economy. The fight has emerged as a galvanizing cause for a vocal element of President Trump’s base and others on the political right. Organizers see it as unifying social conservatives, who view the orders as targeting religious groups; fiscal conservatives who chafe at the economic devastation wrought by the restrictions on businesses; and civil libertarians who contend the restrictions infringe on constitutional rights.

Trips to Ski Slopes, Beaches and Golf Courses Popular with House Leadership PACs
Roll Call – Chris Marquette | Published: 4/20/2020

U.S. Rep. K. Michael Conaway has spent $285,000 since 2011 from his leadership PAC, Conservative Opportunities for a New America PAC, on things such as golf, spring training tickets and meals in Florida, and stays at the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Conaway is not alone in using leadership PAC money for luxuries that ethics experts consider questionable. Added together, he and six House colleagues spent nearly $800,000 over the past 11 years on elaborate expenditures. Ski trips to mountain resorts were popular. So were fishing, golf, whitewater rafting, and plenty of food and drink.

Trump Interior Official Helped Clear Way for Payments to Ex-Employer
Politico – Adam Cancryn | Published: 4/16/2020

An Interior Department official is under fire over her role in securing access to billions of dollars in coronavirus aid for a handful of wealthy Alaska corporations, including one that previously employed her as a lobbyist and top executive. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney is among a group of Interior officials advising the Treasury Department on how to distribute $8 billion in rescue funding Congress earmarked for Native American tribes, an allocation that some lawmakers now say they intended solely for the 574 federally recognized tribes hit hard by the economic shutdown. But the Trump administration indicated it also plans to include more than 200 for-profit Alaska Native corporations among the eligible recipients.

Trump Team’s Use of Big Insurer to Dispense Recovery Funds Comes Under Scrutiny
Politico – Maggie Severns and Daniel Lippman | Published: 4/18/2020

A senior economist for the White House Council of Economic Advisers, whose nomination to a post overseeing health insurance floundered in the wake of revelations of his financial ties to UnitedHealth Group, is now playing a key role overseeing a $30 billion recovery program being administered by UnitedHealth. The choice of UnitedHealth, a leading health insurer, to serve as a conduit in funneling billions of dollars to hospitals and other providers, surprised many in health care, including employees at the Department of Health and Human Services who had assumed their department would administer the program itself. Though UnitedHealth says it will make no profit off of the deal, its role in handing the money to hospitals could boost its relationships with the White House and the public during a tumultuous year and possibly provide it with valuable health care data, experts say.

Trump-Backed Online Donor Platform Launches at State Level Ahead of Redistricting
Politico – Scott Bland | Published: 4/17/2020

The GOP online donation platform endorsed by President Trump is opening up to state legislative candidates and others outside federal office, hoping to drive a financial boost for Republicans in the states ahead of the 2020 elections and next year’s redistricting. WinRed, which launched last year, is partnering with the Republican State Leadership Committee to make the platform available to state-level candidates, another step in the group’s drive to get the entire Republican Party using one system for digital fundraising. While the presidential race will command the most attention in 2020, this election is also particularly consequential because state Legislatures will play a key role in the decennial redistricting process that starts next year, with the potential in some states to enact maps that favor one party for the next decade.

From the States and Municipalities

California Here’s Why L.A. County Plans In-Person Voting During Coronavirus Crisis While Riverside, Orange Went All-Mail
Los Angeles Daily News – Ryan Carter | Published: 4/22/2020

On May 12, Los Angeles County voters will decide who replaces former U.S. Rep. Katie Hill for her remaining term in Congress. Despite countywide “stay at home” orders spurred by the coronavirus outbreak, nine polling places will be available for residents to register and cast their ballots in person. Meanwhile, Riverside County plans its own May 12 special election in the 28th Senate District, but it will be mail-only with no in-person balloting. Orange County will stage a May 19 city council recall election in Santa Ana by mail only. In Los Angeles County, elections officials say it is one of 15 counties in California mandated under the Voter’s Choice Act to offer early-voting options by mail and by polling place. Those options include enabling voters to cast ballots in person at the voting center of their choice.

California San Diego Mayor’s Nonprofit a Prime Beneficiary of Political Donors’ Largesse
San Diego Union Tribune – Jeff McDonald | Published: 4/19/2020

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer solicited $35,000 in so-called behested payments so far this year for One San Diego, the tax-exempt organization he set up after he was elected mayor in 2014. In total he has raised more than $3 million in donations, with $1.6 million earmarked for One San Diego. State law requires they be disclosed so the public can see who is donating money to a public official’s favored cause. Many of the contributions have been made by people and companies with direct business interests before the city. Lani Lutar, a registered lobbyist who regularly meets with the mayor’s senior aides on behalf of her clients, has served as the One San Diego board chairperson for several years.

Connecticut Connecticut Presidential Primary Pushed Back Two More Months to Aug. 11 Due to Coronavirus Concerns
Hartford Courant – Christopher Keating | Published: 4/17/2020

In a second delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Connecticut’s presidential primary will be pushed back to August 11. Gov. Ned Lamont made the announcement that he was acting in concert with Secretary of the State Denise Merrill to postpone the date by an additional two months. The state has already set aside August 11 as the day for Republican and Democratic primaries for Congress, state Legislature, and local offices. As a result, towns will save money by opening polling places once, instead of twice. Since local conventions have not yet been held, the candidates for those primaries will not be settled until the coming weeks and months.

Illinois Mayor Lori Lightfoot Introduces Plan to Change Chicago’s City Ethics Rules, Again Allowing Some Elected Officials to Lobby City Government
Chicago Tribune – John Byrne | Published: 4/22/2020

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced a proposal to weaken rules against elected officials lobbying the city that was passed last year. Lightfoot’s amendment to the lobbying ordinance would allow elected officials from outside Chicago to lobby the city council, the mayor’s office, and other city government offices, as long as the public body they represent does not have pending or recurring legislative or contractual matters involving Chicago. That change would partially walk back the stricter standards the council passed following an impassioned debate in December, which barred all elected officials in Illinois from lobbying the city.

Louisiana Louisiana’s Presidential Primary, Local Elections to Be Delayed Again Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
New Orleans Advocate – Sam Karlin | Published: 4/14/2020

Louisiana’s presidential primary and other local elections have been delayed again until late summer as state leaders offer up a plan that includes expanded access to early voting and mail-in ballots but is expected to still feature in-person voting for most people. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Gov. John Bel Edwards agreed to delay the presidential primary election originally set for April 4th until July 11th to give Ardoin’s office more time to prepare. The subsequent general election for some local races was delayed until August 15th.

Michigan Brenda Jones Took Illegal Campaign Cash from Donors Doing Business with the City of Detroit
The Intercept – Matthew Cunningham-Cook | Published: 4/21/2020

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones accepted campaign contributions that violate Michigan’s “pay-to-play rules, according to a review of campaign finance records and interviews with ethics experts. During her 2017 bid for reelection to city council, Jones accepted $5,500 in campaign contributions from then-First Independence Bank Chief Executive Officer Barry Clay, and an additional $4,000 in political donations from First Independence Bank board member Douglas Diggs. The donations occurred as First Independence had a contract with the Detroit police and fire pension fund, of which Jones, as president of the council, is a trustee. First Independence runs a loan program for the pension fund.

Michigan Michigan Cancels Contract with Two Democratic-Linked Firms That Had Been Tapped to Track Coronavirus
Connecticut Post – Matt Viser and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 4/21/2020

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration canceled a no-bid contract to help track the spread of the coronavirus in Michigan, a day after announcing the hiring of a state Democratic consultant and a national firm that has worked for prominent Democratic causes. The reversal comes amid complaints the governor tapped politically connected firms to collect health data on state residents and monitor sensitive medical information. The episode illustrates the political and ethical pitfalls involved in the large amounts of money suddenly being spent across the country to curb the pandemic and boost the economy. Companies receiving aid and contracts have been criticized in recent weeks for ties to one party or the other, and Democrats and Republicans have wrangled over the best way to oversee the process.

New Mexico Ex-Rio Arriba Official Faces Allegations
Albuquerque Journal – Edmund Carrillo | Published: 4/19/2020

Former Rio Arriba County Commissioner Barney Trujillo made over $100,000 from three contracts with Española Public Schools, yet did so without the proper business licenses, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office says. As a contract holder with the school district, he also never disclosed he contributed to the campaigns of two school board members, which is a violation of governmental conduct laws, according to the attorney general’s office. Trujillo faces three counts of unlawful interest in a public contract and one count of failing to disclose campaign contributions. He could face up to six years in prison.

North Carolina Voting Rights Advocates File Lawsuit Over Allegedly Insecure North Carolina Voting Machines
The Hill – Maggie Miller | Published: 4/15/2020

A group of voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit alleging that voting machines used in almost two dozen North Carolina counties are not secure and could lead to voter disenfranchisement in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit alleges the use of the ExpressVote XL voting machine violates the constitutional right of individuals in the state to free and fair elections and has cyber vulnerabilities that could lead to election interference. The machines involve the voter inputting their choices digitally, with the machine then printing out a paper sheet with a barcode embedded with the voter’s choices. The voting rights advocates point to this system as making it impossible for the average voter to ensure their vote was not changed and was accurate.

Ohio Appeals Court Entertains Arguments on Whether Jimmy Dimora Should Receive New Trial
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Eric Heisig | Published: 4/16/2020

Federal appeals court judges grilled a prosecutor and a defense lawyer on whether former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora should get another chance to prove his innocence. Dimora has argued that errors in the instructions a judge gave to the jury that convicted him in 2012, as well as the judge’s decision to disallow the former commissioner to present his Ohio ethics reports, means he should get a new trial. Dimora is serving a 28-year prison sentence for corruption-related convictions.

Oregon Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler Violated Campaign Finance Disclosure Rules, City Elections Official Says
Portland Oregonian – Everton Bailey Jr. | Published: 4/21/2020

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler broke new city election rules by not properly disclosing his largest campaign contributors on his reelection website or two campaign social media accounts, the city auditor’s office ruled. Rules that took effect with this election cycle require candidates to prominently list the top five donors who have given more than $1,000 on campaign communications, said Elections Officer Deborah Scroggin. Wheeler announces “Paid for by Friends of Ted Wheeler” on his campaign website, but the top contributors are not identified there or on his re-election Facebook page or Twitter account.

Texas More Than Half of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Coronavirus Panel on Reopening Texas Are Campaign Donors
Dallas Morning News – Allie Morris, Ariana Giorgi, and Robert Garrett | Published: 4/18/2020

Gov. Greg Abbott named 39 prominent Texans, most business and industry leaders, to a panel that will help guide a reopening of the state’s economy after the coronavirus. Many of them are also campaign donors. Thirty-one of the counci’’s 39 members have contributed to Abbott’s past runs for governor and attorney general, and since 2015, 25 have given Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign at least $5.8 million combined. The choices are drawing fire from government-transparency advocates, union officials, and Democratic leaders who fear that public health could be subordinated to profit motives as tough judgment calls are made in the coming weeks and months about easing isolation edicts.

Texas Top Travis County Official Returns $5,000 After Campaign Ethics Violation
Austin American-Statesman – Ryan Autullo | Published: 4/16/2020

State Senate candidate Sarah Eckhardt, the acting county judge in Travis County, acknowledged accepting political contributions in violation of finance law. Candidates in statewide races are prohibited by the Texas Ethics Commission from knowingly accepting a contribution at a time when a campaign treasurer is not in place. The person who filed the complaint is University of Texas student Blake Beatty, who said he discovered Eckhardt’s impermissible fundraising, because “I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands during the quarantine.”

Washington Justices: $18M campaign finance penalty to be reconsidered
AP News – Gene Johnson | Published: 4/16/2020

A record fine levied against the Grocery Manufacturers Association for concealing the identities of the food and beverage companies that spent $11 million to defeat a GMO-labeling initiative in 2013 was upheld by the Washington Supreme Court. In a five-to-four decision, justices overruled an appeals court and reinstated an $18 million fine against the trade group, now known as the Consumer Brands Association. The decision does not fully settle whether the penalty will stand. The court did not rule on whether the penalty violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive punishment. The justices sent the case back to the appeals court to “scrutinize carefully” whether the fine is constitutional.

Wisconsin After Losing Election, State Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly Signals He Will Participate in Voter Rolls Case
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Patrick Marley | Published: 4/16/2020

Days after learning he was losing his seat on the state Supreme Court, Justice Daniel Kelly signaled he would participate in a case over who should remain on Wisconsin’s voter rolls after earlier stepping away from the lawsuit. The case is expected to determine whether tens of thousands of voters who are suspected of having moved can stay on the state’s voter rolls. Kelly issued a court order saying it appears he no longer has a conflict in the case. He asked those involved in the case to file briefs on what they think he should do before he makes a final decision. Kelly had stayed away from the case because it could have affected who was a registered voter for the April 7 election, when he was on the ballot.

Wisconsin At Least Seven in Wisconsin Contract Coronavirus During Voting
MSN – Nick Corasaniti and Reid Epstein (New York Times) | Published: 4/21/2020

Milwaukee health officials said they had identified at least seven people who contracted the coronavirus from participating in Election Day on April 7, which was held despite a stay-at-home order issued throughout the state. The officials say the number may be higher as they are still conducting testing. Other cities have not reported any cases tied to voting yet. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services said it would also be studying any voters or election workers who contracted the virus from voting.

Wisconsin Vote by Mail in Wisconsin Helped a Liberal Candidate, Upending Old Theories
New York Times – Reid Epstein | Published: 4/21/2020

The liberal candidate in the April 7 Wisconsin Supreme Court race prevailed in voting by mail by a significant margin, upending years of study showing little advantage to either party when a state transitions from in-person to mail voting. The gap suggests Democrats were more organized and proactive in their vote-by-mail efforts in an election conducted under extraordinary circumstances, with voters forced to weigh the health risks of voting in person against the sometimes unreliable option of requesting and mailing in their ballots. Still, it is likely to add to the skepticism President Trump and Republicans have expressed bout mail voting, which they worry would increase Democratic turnout at Republicans’ expense.

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April 17, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – April 17, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal Bloomberg Campaign Transfer of $18 Million to DNC Sparks Complaints to Federal Regulators MSN – Michelle Ye Hee Lee (Washington Post) | Published: 4/9/2020 Citizens United, the group known for its 2010 namesake landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that helped […]

National/Federal

Bloomberg Campaign Transfer of $18 Million to DNC Sparks Complaints to Federal Regulators
MSN – Michelle Ye Hee Lee (Washington Post) | Published: 4/9/2020

Citizens United, the group known for its 2010 namesake landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that helped pave the way for super PACs, filed a petition with the FEC asking regulators to create new rules to limit the amount of leftover money that a self-funded federal candidate can transfer to the national party once the candidate has dropped out of the race. The request followed two FEC complaints filed by other groups that alleged Michael Bloomberg made an improper transfer of $18 million to the Democratic National Committee. Bloomberg was the biggest self-funded candidate in U.S. history.

‘Choosing Winners and Losers’: Behind the battle to be deemed essential
Politico – Theodoric Meyer and Anna Gronwold | Published: 4/10/2020

As states and cities have forced what they consider “nonessential businesses” to close to slow the spread of coronavirus, lobbyists for industries have been hustling to make the case that they are too important to be shut down, a designation that could mean millions of dollars for companies and the employees who keep them running. Companies and trade groups seeking to shape the rules are lobbying governors, most of whom have issued executive orders detailing which businesses can remain open and which must close. They have also appealed to the Trump administration, which has put out recommendations outlining which industries it considers essential, although states and cities are not bound by the recommendations.

Democrats Scramble to Close YouTube Deficit Amid Quarantine Campaign
Politico – Alex Thompson | Published: 4/13/2020

Joe Biden is not much of a YouTuber. But his campaign and Democrats are hastily trying to address a longstanding weakness and reach the millions of Americans who are. The 2020 presidential campaign’s transition to a mostly digital experience, with the nation on lockdown, has spotlighted a long-term progressive deficit on YouTube that some concerned Democrats compare to the right’s command of talk radio. The country’s leading video platform is also one of its largest search engines and a key battlefield in campaigns’ fight to reach new voters and earn free media attention. While Democratic campaigns and groups spend heavily on advertising on YouTube, they lag in organic content, with dozens of conservative and right-wing figures cultivating enormous followings not yet matched by equivalents on the left.

GOP Pushes Voting by Mail – with Restrictions – While Trump Attacks It as ‘Corrupt’
MSN – Amy Gardenr and Elise Viebeck (Washington Post) | Published: 4/12/2020

Despite President Trump saying that voting by mail is “corrupt,” state GOP leaders across the country are aggressively urging their voters to cast ballots by mail. In addition, Republican officeholders in at least 16 states that do not have all-mail elections are encouraging people to vote absentee during the coronavirus pandemic. Their moves come after decades in which Republicans have encouraged their voters to take advantage of absentee ballot rules, running sophisticated mail programs that targeted GOP supporters most likely to vote from home. The apparent conflict between Trump’s attacks and his party’s long embrace of the tactic comes as the health crisis has spurred Democrats and civil rights groups to push to loosen restrictions on mail voting in many jurisdictions.

Lobbyists, Political Consultants Sue U.S. for Coronavirus Bailout
Washington Post – Robert Burnson (Bloomberg) | Published: 4/14/2020

A group representing political consultants, pollsters, and lobbyists sued the U.S. government for a slice of the $2.2 trillion Covid-19 bailout pie. The American Association of Political Consultants says it is unconstitutional for its members to be excluded from the small business loans provided by the CARE Act, which Congress passed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The group says its members should be granted access to $349 billion in “forgivable loans” provided under the Paycheck Protection Program. The program excludes various businesses including nonprofits, strip clubs, and those “primarily engaged in political or lobbying activities.”

Pentagon Looks to Undo Parts of McCain Anti-Lobbying Law
Roll Call – John Donnelly | Published: 4/14/2020

The Pentagon asked Congress to reverse key parts of a recent law that tightened the rules governing retired Defense Department officials influencing their former government colleagues on behalf of defense contractors. The new rules were authored by the late U.S, Sen. John McCain. They lengthened from one year to two years the period during which the most senior Pentagon officials were banned, upon leaving office, from lobbying their former colleagues. The McCain provisions added new limits on whom in the Defense Department former officials could lobby and how. A coalition of groups that monitor government spending urged congressional committee leaders to not only keep McCain’s provisions but to strengthen them.

Senator Richard Burr Sold D.C. Townhouse to Donor at a Rich Price
ProPublica – Robert Faturechi | Published: 4/14/2020

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr sold his Washington, D.C. townhouse for what, by some estimates, was for an above market price of $900,000 to a team led by lobbyist John Green. That is tens of thousands of dollars above some estimates of the property’s value by tax assessors, a real estate website, and a local real estate agent. Green is a longtime donor to Burr’s political campaigns and has co-hosted at least one fundraiser for him. In 2017, the year of the sale, Green lobbied on behalf of a stream of clients with business before Burr’s committees. If the home was purchased for more than the fair market value, it would be considered a gift. Senate ethics rules generally ban gifts of significant value from lobbyists, and those that are not are typically required to be publicly disclosed.

Sexual Assault Allegation by Former Biden Senate Aide Emerges in Campaign, Draws Denial
MSN – Beth Reinhard, Elise Viebeck, Matt Viser, and Alice Crites (Washington Post) | Published: 4/13/2020

A woman who last year said Joe Biden touched her neck and shoulders when she worked in his Senate office in 1993 is now accusing him of sexually assaulting her that year in a semiprivate area of the Capitol complex, an allegation the Biden campaign strongly denies. At the time, Tara Reade was a  staff assistant. The Washington Post has interviewed Reade on multiple occasions as well as people she says she told of the assault claim and more than a half-dozen former staffers of Biden’s Senate office. Reade filed a complaint recently with District of Columbia police. She said she did so because she is being harassed online and wanted law enforcement to be aware of her claim. A public record of the complaint does not name Biden but says Reade “disclosed that she believes she was the victim of a sexual assault” in 1993.

Sidelined by Coronavirus Pandemic, Congress Cedes Stage and Authority to Trump
MSN – Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane (Washington Post) | Published: 4/11/2020

Congress has responded to the incessant spread of the coronavirus and its devastating impact on the economy by passing, so far, three progressively larger relief bills, culminating in the $2 trillion Cares Act. While President Trump has commanded the stage at White House briefings, Democratic Party leaders have conducted frequent media interviews, committee chairpersons have sent flurries of letters, and individual members have scrambled to help their districts. But with lawmakers dispersed across the country, and with rules frequently out of step with modern telecommunications, the House and Senate are only starting to come to terms with how to conduct many of their most essential functions amid an extended national emergency.

Supreme Court for First Time to Hold Arguments Via Teleconference Next Month
Washington Post – Robert Barnes | Published: 4/12/2020

The U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hold oral arguments via teleconference for the first time in its history in May, on a set of cases that had been postponed in March and April, including President Trump’s legal battle to prevent congressional committees and a New York prosecutor from obtaining his financial records. The justices will hear another time-sensitive case involving whether presidential electors can be required to honor their state’s instructions to vote for the candidate who wins the state’s popular vote.

Treasury’s Mnuchin ‘Properly’ Followed Guidance in Refusing to Give Trump’s Tax Returns to Congress, Inspector General Finds
MSN – Jeff Stein, Erica Werner, and Tom Hamburger (Washington Post) | Published: 4/10/2020

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin followed internal protocols when he refused to give President Trump’s tax returns to Congress, Richard Delmar, deputy inspector general of the Department of Treasury, found in a report. Lawyers for the legal counsel’s office wrote in a 2019 opinion that House Democrats’ demands for Trump’s return should be denied because they did not serve a legitimate “legislative purpose.” Delmar’s opinion is a setback for congressional Democrats who have for years said the administration broke a 1924 law that appears to explicitly give congressional tax writing committees the authority to obtain the president’s returns.

Who’s Getting These Hundreds of Billions in the Government Aid? For Now, the Public May Be in the Dark.
Beaumont Enterprise – Peter Whoriskey and Heather Long (Washington Post) | Published: 4/13/2020

The Cares Act requires that the names of recipients of some forms of federal aid be published, but those requirements do not extend to significant portions of the relief. Though most of the $2.2 trillion in spending has yet to begin, disputes already have arisen about who will be responsible for making sure it is done ethically. The law requires several layers of oversight. It calls for a special inspector general, a congressional review commission, and a group that will be composed of inspectors general armed with enhanced powers to subpoena documents and testimony. But President Trump already has taken steps that undermine these reviewers. Regardless of what happens to the oversight panels, the public disclosure of who receives the trillions in emergency money could play a critical role in the public debate over the programs.

From the States and Municipalities

Alabama Alabama Supreme Court Upholds 6 Counts Against Mike Hubbard, Reverses 5
Montgomery Advertiser – Melissa Brown | Published: 4/10/2020

The Alabama Supreme Court overturned five of the ethics convictions that ended the political career of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, while upholding six others. Hubbard was sentenced to four years in prison in 2016 but has remained free on appeal. Prosecutors accused him of monetizing his public office to obtain clients and investments for his businesses. \The overturned counts dealt largely with several $150,000 investments in Hubbard’s troubled printing company. The court upheld other ethics counts involving Hubbard’s side work as a consultant, rejecting defense claims that those contracts were unrelated to his position as House speaker.

Arizona November Ballot Measures Threatened by Lack of Public Gatherings, Backers Warn. Judge Weighs Online Petitions
Arizona Republic – Andrew Oxford | Published: 4/14/2020

The coronavirus pandemic has prevented ballot initiative campaigns from gathering signatures outside libraries, on college campuses, and at other places people used to congregate. But does that mean they should be allowed to collect signatures online as an alternative? That is the question in front of a federal judge, who heard arguments from campaigns backing ballot proposals and lawyers from the Arizona attorney general’s office, which opposes the idea. The campaigns say social distancing guidelines in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 have squelched their usual methods for gathering the more than 200,000 signatures they need to qualify for spots on the general election ballot in November.

California Federal Investigation into L.A. City Hall Corruption Involves Downtown Project
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes and David Zahniser | Published: 4/15/2020

When federal prosecutors filed their latest corruption case involving Los Angeles City Hall, they filled their court filings with lurid details: a paper bag filled with cash for a council member, a bathroom meeting to discuss the alleged bribe, and insistent texts from that council member angling for the money. What investigators did not say was who allegedly provided a $500,000 bribe meant for a sitting council member in order to smooth the way for a new project. In court filings, prosecutors identified that figure only as “Developer C.” But numerous details in the case point to the project at the heart of the matter: a 20-story residential tower planned at the corner of Hill Street and Olympic Boulevard in downtown Los Angeles.

California FPPC Offers Guidance on Lobbying Filing Deadlines in Wake of COVID-19
Vallejo Times-Herald – Staff | Published: 4/13/2020

In light of the statewide shelter-in-place order, the California Fair Political Practices Commission is encouraging individuals subject to lobbying registration and reporting requirements to continue to make the best efforts to timely file all legally required reports and statements. If circumstances caused by COVID-19 inhibit the filing of a lobbying report or statement, the filer should communicate these issues to the secretary of state’s office and document all attempts to file and the issues faced. While quarterly lobbying reports are filed electronically, the law requires certain other statements be filed on paper with an original signature.

Florida Florida Ethics Panel Rejects COVID-19 Announcements Plan, Upholds Ban on Free Publicity or Exposure
Orlando Weekly – Jim Turner (News Service of Florida) | Published: 4/10/2020

The Florida Commission on Ethics blocked a request from Charter Communications to put public officials in coronavirus-related public service announcements. The use of public officials in such ads is a violation of the state’s gift ban, which prohibits elected officials and top appointees from taking anything of value from lobbyists or entities that employ them. Charter did not argue that point, but asked commissioners to make an exception because of the dire nature of the pandemic.

Florida Herald Drafted a Suit Seeking ALF Records. DeSantis Aide Pressured Law Firm Not To
Miami Herald – Daniel Chang | Published: 4/11/2020

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ general counsel called a representative of The Miami Herald’s law firm seeking to quash a public records lawsuit that would force the state to divulge the names of all elder-care facilities that have had a positive test for the coronavirus. The back-door pressure, through an attorney who had no involvement in the case, paid off. The law firm, Holland & Knight, told Sanford Bohrer, a senior partner with decades of representing The Herald, to stand down and abandon the lawsuit. The suit will still be filed, but by another law firm, said Miami Herald publisher Aminda Marqués González.

Georgia Ethics Commission Accuses Fulton DA of Disclosure Violations
AP News – Staff | Published: 4/16/2020

Georgia’s ethics commission filed a complaint against an Atlanta-area district attorney and accused him of violating public disclosure laws, including by not listing his supplemental salary funded by a nonprofit. It was reported that discrepancies were found between Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard’s personal financial disclosures and tax filings submitted to the IRS by a nonprofit Howard runs. The complaint said Howard committed several violations on five years of disclosure forms.

Georgia Ga. Lawmakers in COVID-19 Campaign Fundraising Limbo
Rome News-Tribune – Beau Evans (Capitol Beat News Service) | Published: 4/15/2020

A divided state ethics commission upheld a longstanding ban on campaign fundraising when Georgia lawmakers are still in session, even if the legislative session has been indefinitely suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. The 30-year-old ban was designed to curb the influence of money on lawmakers, but in the age of COVID-19, it has creating anxiety among incumbents who face opposition in the June 9 primary. They must continue to idle their fundraising while their challengers can raise money. The governor’s public health emergency declaration now runs through May 13 and there is no assurance the order will expire at that point.

Georgia Georgia Further Delays Primary Election to June
The Hill – Max Greenwood | Published: 4/9/2020

Georgia delayed its primary elections again, this time to June 9, amid concerns that the coronavirus outbreak may continue to pose a high risk to public health through most of May. Georgia was originally supposed to hold its primaries on March 24. But state officials postponed the contests until May 19 as the pandemic worsened and health officials urged the public to avoid large crowds and gatherings.

Kentucky Kentucky Legislature Overrides Veto of GOP Voter ID Measure
Washington Post – Elise Viebeck | Published: 4/15/2020

Kentucky’s Republican-controlled Legislature overrode a veto of a new voter ID law by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, setting the stage for the requirement to be enacted for the November general election. The move by lawmakers prompted an outcry from Democrats and voting-rights groups. They said the measure would suppress the vote and accused Republicans of exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to impose restrictions, even as other states seek to make voting easier. GOP legislators argued the requirement that voters show a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot would prevent voter fraud.

Michigan Chanting ‘Lock Her Up,’ Michigan Protesters Waving Trump Flags Mass Against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Coronavirus Restrictions
Washington Post – Meagan Flynn | Published: 4/16/2020

If all roads in Michigan lead to the Capitol, conservative protesters made sure they were closed. For miles, thousands of drivers clogged the streets to demand Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ease restrictions and allow them to go back to work. They drowned downtown Lansing in a cacophony of honking. They blared patriotic songs from car radios, waving all sorts of flags from the windows: President Trump flags, American flags, and the occasional Confederate flag. But in the massive demonstration against Whitmer’s stay-at-home executive order, which they have argued is excessive and beyond her authority, the pleas from organizers that protesters to stay in their vehicles went unheeded. Many got out of their cars and crashed the front lawn of the Capitol, with some chanting, “Lock her up!” and “We will not comply!”

Michigan Michigan Republican Party Loses Appeal in Attempt to Stop Redistricting Commission
MLive.com – Ryan Boldrey | Published: 4/15/2020

The Michigan Republican Party was again denied in an attempt to overturn the result of a November 2018 ballot proposal that changed how the state’s political districts are drawn. A three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision deeming the new law constitutional. Proposal 2 shifted the responsibility of drawing Michigan’s state and federal districts every 10 years to a new commission. Redistricting was previously handled by the Michigan Legislature and approved by the governor, something Proposal 2 supporters equated to politicians picking their own district lines.

Missouri Amid COVID-19 Funding Scramble, Missouri Senate Gets Ethics Panel Back on Track
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 4/9/2020

After three weeks in limbo, the commission that regulates Missouri’s campaign finance laws will be able to meet again following a rushed effort to appoint a new member. Maneuvering by Gov. Mike Parson and the state Senate resulted in the Legislature’s upper chamber confirming the appointment of Robert Cook to the Missouri Ethics Commission. The commission had been unable to meet after the terms of three of its six members expired on March 15.

New Hampshire New Hampshire Governor to Allow Absentee Voting in November Because of Coronavirus Outbreak
MSN – Amy Gardner and Colby Itkowitz (Washington Post) | Published: 4/9/2020

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced the state will allow voters to cast mail-in ballots in the November general election if the coronavirus is still a factor this fall. The decision is a significant departure from Sununu’s past stance against widespread absentee voting and stands in contrast to the rhetoric coming from some Republicans, including President Trump. Sununu said the state is considering other voting alternatives, too, including “drive-up voting,” in which a voter would not have to leave his or her vehicle.

New Jersey NJ Lawyer-Lobbyists Saw Big Payday in 2019, See Uncertainty For 2020
Law.com – Suzette Parmley | Published: 4/10/2020

Being heard has never been more expensive in Trenton, or lucrative for lobbyists. Last year’s booming economy, an activist governor, one-party rule, and more than 11,000 bills in the New Jersey Legislature generated a windfall of clients, and made 2019 a banner year for lobbying in the state, with expenditures by clients topping $100 million for the first time ever. And law firms with lobbying arms staffed by lawyers, typically those with extensive experience in dealing with or working in government, or lobbying firms made up of lawyers by trade, made out quite well, according to data from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

New York New York’s Smaller Political Parties Must Quickly Meet New Ballot Thresholds
Gotham Gazette – Samar Khurshid | Published: 4/13/2020

Included in the bills to approve a state budget in New York was the creation of a new campaign finance system with a public-matching program, lower individual contribution limits, and various other changes to campaign finance law. But the controversial inclusion of changes to ballot thresholds could prove to be a poison pill, not for the law but for the several minor political parties that operate in New York’s electoral system. The new thresholds to secure an automatic ballot line will be daunting for most, if not all, minor parties in the state, considering their showing in recent elections for governor and president. Only the Conservative Party has been able to consistently garner the number of votes the new thresholds would require for a party to easily nominate candidates for offices across the board for years at a time.

South Carolina SC Ethics Commission Launches Investigation into Horry County Chairman Over Campaign Loan
Raleigh News and Observer – Tyler Fleming | Published: 4/9/2020

The South Carolina Ethics Commission is investigating Horry County Council Chairperson Johnny Gardner for a loan and filings from his election campaign. A complaint claims Gardner, among other allegations, repaid too much money from a personal campaign loan. It also says the money used for the loan could not have belonged to Gardner and may count as an illegal campaign donation.

South Dakota South Dakota’s Governor Resisted Ordering People to Stay Home. Now It Has One of the Nation’s Largest Coronavirus Hot Spots.
MSN – Griff Witte (Washington Post) | Published: 4/13/2020

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem dismissed calls to issue a statewide stay-at-home order to combat the spread of the coronavirus. She said it was up to individuals, not government, to decide whether “to exercise their right to work, to worship and to play – or to even stay at home.” Now, South Dakota is home to one of the largest single coronavirus clusters anywhere in the U.S., with more than 300 workers at a giant ¬pork-processing plant falling ill. With the case numbers continuing to spike, the company was forced to announce the indefinite closure of the facility, threatening the American food supply.

Utah Utah Lawmakers Tackling Coronavirus impact in First Online Session
Deseret News – Lisa Riley Roche | Published: 4/15/2020

Utah lawmakers are meeting online only for the first time after calling themselves into an emergency special session focused on dealing with the effects of the global coronavirus pandemic. Only Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson are expected to be in the legislative chambers in the closed Capitol, facing new giant screens rather than lawmakers themselves, for the session, which can continue for up to 10 days. Because of technology constraints, work on the more than 20 items on the agenda will be tackled in one chamber at a time, starting in the House, Thomas said. Also, bills will not receive committee hearings, which are optional in a special session.

Washington Bankruptcy Judge Orders Tim Eyman to Pay $270,000 in State Court Contempt Fines by April 19
Seattle Times – Daniel Beekman | Published: 4/9/2020

Tim Eyman, the longtime anti-tax activist and initiative promoter, has until April 19 to pay $270,000 in fines and attorneys’ fees accrued for refusing to follow court orders in a Washington state campaign finance case. The payment will be due as part of a new plan approved by a federal bankruptcy court judge. Eyman owes more than $340,000 in contempt sanctions and related costs and has paid about $60,000. Sanctions continue to accrue. The new bankruptcy plan also will require Eyman to pay $10,000 a month starting in May and $13,500 a month starting in January 2022, until his debts have been satisfied.

Washington Washington AG Ferguson Sues Facebook Again, Saying It’s Still Selling Political Ads Without Adequate Disclosures
Seattle Times – Jim Brunner | Published: 4/14/2020

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a second lawsuit against Facebook over political ads, saying the company once again failed to make disclosures required under the state’s campaign finance laws. Facebook already paid $238,000 in 2018 to resolve a previous dispute over political advertising. Facebook announced later that year it would stop accepting political ads related to state or local initiatives in Washington, although it still permitted advertisements around “issues of national importance” targeting people in the state. Ferguson said Facebook had continued selling hundreds of ads to at least 171 state political committees since 2018, in violation of its own policy.

Wisconsin ‘Not as Wisconsin Nice as We Used to Be’: The divisions in Dairyland
MSN – Dionne Searcey (New York Times) | Published: 4/11/2020

The political war being waged in Wisconsin shows how partisanship pushed to its most strategic outer limits can ensnare not only primary election voters but also cow manure, a Christmas tree, a tourism agency, and in particular, farmers who need help. The battle became particularly heated during the tenure of Gov. Scott Walker, who outraged Democrats by taking on a key liberal tenet: organized labor. After he lost the statehouse in 2018, Wisconsin Republicans, who now control both chambers, pushed through measures to strip the powers of newly elected Democrats. In November, Republicans opened a special session the current governor had called to take up gun control measures, and then pounded the gavel to close the session after only a few seconds.

Wisconsin Upset Victory in Wisconsin Supreme Court Race Gives Democrats a Lift
MSN – Reid Epsein (New York Times) | Published: 4/13/2020

Democrats scored a significant victory in Wisconsin when a liberal challenger upset a Trump-backed incumbent to win a state Supreme Court seat, a down-ballot race that illustrated strong turnout and vote-by-mail efforts in a presidential battleground state. The large margin of victory came as a shock to Republicans and Democrats alike in Wisconsin, where contests for president, governor, and the state’s high court in the last four years have all been decided by about 30,000 votes or less. It followed weeks of Democratic anger over Republicans’ insistence on holding elections amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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April 10, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – April 10, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal Bernie Sanders Ends His Presidential Campaign Washington Post – Sean Sullivan and Chelsea Janes | Published: 4/8/2020 U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the liberal insurgent who rose from relative obscurity to build a movement and become a two-time runner-up for the […]

National/Federal

Bernie Sanders Ends His Presidential Campaign
Washington Post – Sean Sullivan and Chelsea Janes | Published: 4/8/2020

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the liberal insurgent who rose from relative obscurity to build a movement and become a two-time runner-up for the Democratic presidential nomination, ended his 2020 campaign, clearing the way for former Vice President Joe Biden to be the party’s choice to take on President Trump in November. The exit by Sanders marked the apparent close of a roller-coaster primary race that started more than a year ago. Sanders’ departure presents Democrats with an immediate challenge: can the party unify as it failed to do in 2016, when a feud between supporters of Sanders and Hillary Clinton damaged its efforts to win the presidency?

Democrats Have Found a Coronavirus Bright Spot. Her Name Is Earnestine.
New York Times – Sheryl Gay Stolberg | Published: 4/8/2020

Members of Congress grappling with how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic have few reasons to smile these days. But House Democrats have found one – Earnestine Dawson. She is kind of a mystery woman, Democrats agree. Most have never seen her, though they all know the sound of her voice. Dawson is the digital director for the House Democratic Caucus, but better known by lawmakers for her pandemic side-gig as moderator of a seemingly endless series of conference calls that have become the Democrats’ only means of communication and deliberation during the pandemic. She has brought them together through tense and serious business: the drafting of three coronavirus relief packages, hashed out during a series of calls that typically lasted two hours.

Foreign Governments Hire U.S. Lobbyists to Promote Their Efforts Fighting the Coronavirus Outbreak
NBC News – Andrew Lehren and Dan De Luce | Published: 4/2/2020

Japan, Saudi Arabia, and other foreign governments are hiring American lobbyists to promote their efforts to fight the coronavirus outbreak and safeguard their countries’ reputations in the U.S. capital. Even amid a pandemic that has locked down countries and sent the global economy into a tailspin, foreign governments are seeking out K St. firms to burnish their images as leading the battle against COVID-19.

Lawmakers Granted Extension on Financial Reporting During Pandemic
Roll Call – Chris Marquette | Published: 4/7/2020

The House ethics committee is allowing lawmakers an extra 90 days to file their annual financial statements and will waive all late filing fees with issues “reasonably related” to the coronavirus. The panel’s guidance pushes the deadline for members and senior staffers to file their yearly rundown of financial assets back from May 15 to August 13. This does not eliminate the requirement for members to file periodic transaction reports for individual securities within 45 days of a trade execution.

Politics Through the Looking Glass: Virus scrambles the left-right lines
New York Times – Jim Rutenberg | Published: 4/5/2020

In this stage of the coronavirus crisis, the national political debate is inside out and upside down, sending both sides of the national divide scurrying to figure out where the new political and ideological lines will settle. As Republicans prepare for a re-election battle certain to hinge on perceptions of the Trump administration’s efficiency in performing its duty to protect American lives, the debate over government’s role in American life has entered an unfamiliar phase of discombobulation. A conservative president is now responsible for the largest federal disaster response since the Great Depression. At the same time, lingering right-wing distrust of government combined with a red-and-blue fissure over the severity of the crisis have surfaced national divisions.

Progressives Built an Organizing Juggernaut for 2020. Then the Virus Hit.
MSN – Astead Herndon and Ian Prasad Philbrick (New York Times) | Published: 4/5/2020

When it became clear that former Vice President Joe Biden would almost certainly win the Democratic nomination, many of the progressive Democrats who supported other presidential candidates were disappointed but not deterred. They quickly shifted their electoral focus to candidates lower on the ballot. The plan was straightforward: they would donate to a slew of insurgent congressional candidates, and a stable of grassroots groups would be ready and waiting to organize for the general election and beyond. But that was in a pre-pandemic America. Now many progressive candidates and the organizations that support them are struggling to adapt to a bleak reality – dried up fundraising, unclear election dates, and a moratorium on political tactics like in-person phone banks and door-to-door canvassing.

SEC Rules Could Thwart Political Spending Disclosure Efforts
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 4/7/2020

Under pressure from big business lobbies like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, the Securities and Exchange Commission is considering new rules that could thwart efforts to mandate public disclosures of corporate political money. If adopted, the proposed regulations could block myriad shareholder resolutions targeting everything from companies’ political disclosures to environmental and corporate governance policies. Though the PACs of corporations must disclose the donations they make, there is no disclosure requirement for companies’ dues and other payments to trade associations that engage in election-related spending.

Sen. David Perdue Bought Stock in a Company That Produces Protective Medical Equipment the Same Day Senators Received a Classified Briefing on the Coronavirus
Business Insider – Sonam Sheth | Published: 4/7/2020

U.S. Sen. David Perdue bought stock in DuPont de Nemours, a chemical company that produces personal protective equipment, on January 24, the same day the Senate received a classified briefing on the spread of the coronavirus. The revelation came from Perdue’s financial portfolio disclosures. The latest included 110 items related to stock trades. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Perdue engaged in heavy trading in March, when markets plunged, and the virus gained a stronger foothold in the U.S.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Her CEO Husband Will Sell All Individual Stock Shares After Coronavirus Trade Furor
CNBC – Dan Mangan and Thomas Franck | Published: 4/8/2020

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler said she and her husband will liquidate their individual stock share positions and related options after weeks of criticism of the couple for selling millions of dollars in stock amid the coronavirus pandemic. Loeffler reiterated her defense of the prior stock sales as legally and ethically proper, and her claim that the couple’s trading was handled by third parties without her prior knowledge. Loeffler, who is the richest member of the Senate, said in a Wall Street Journal opinion page article announcing her decision that her stock holdings would be converted to mutual funds and exchange-traded funds by third-party advisors who handle her investments.

Trump Calls Fired Watchdog in Impeachment Probe a ‘Disgrace’
ABC News – Mary Clare Jalonick and Deb Reichmann (Associated Press) | Published: 4/4/2020

President Trump criticized the ousted inspector general who handled an anonymous whistleblower’s complaint that sparked his impeachment as a “disgrace” and suggested the independent watchdog should have discussed the complaint with him. Trump informed Congress he was firing Michael Atkinson, saying in letters to the House and Senate intelligence committees that he had lost confidence in him. Atkinson’s removal is part of a larger shakeup of the intelligence community under Trump, who has always viewed intelligence professionals with skepticism.

Trump, GOP Challenge Efforts to Make Voting Easier Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
Greenwich Time – Elise Viebeck, Amy Gardner, and Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 4/4/2020

President Trump and a growing number of Republican leaders are aggressively challenging efforts to make voting easier as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts elections, accusing Democrats of opening the door to fraud – and, in some cases, admitting fears that expanded voting access could politically devastate the GOP. Around the country, election officials trying to ensure ballot access and protect public health in upcoming contests face an increasingly coordinated backlash from the right. Much of the onslaught of litigation has been funded by the Republican National Committee, which has sought to block emergency measures related to Covid-19, such as proactively mailing ballots to voters sheltering at home.

Trump’s Resistance to Independent Oversight Draws Bipartisan Scrutiny
MSN – Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey, Tom Hamburger, and Mike DeBonis (Washington Post) | Published: 4/8/2020

Lawmakers are again confronting a president who has repeatedly defied oversight by the legislative branch, raising questions about whether new safeguards established amid the pandemic will be effective against Donald Trump. The president has shown little hesitation in dismissing independent watchdogs, ignoring congressional subpoenas, and barring current and former administration officials from cooperating with investigations. The resistance to the watchdog system come on two fronts that have largely defined the Trump presidency: his impeachment, which was triggered by his attempts to pressure Ukraine into conducting a political investigation of one of his domestic rivals; and his administration’s management of the coronavirus pandemic, in which trillions of taxpayer dollars are being disbursed.

With Campaigns in Remote Mode, Pandemic Upends Battle for Congress
New York Times – Carl Hulse | Published: 4/5/2020

The spread of Covid-19 has upended the nation’s congressional races as many were just getting started, altering the political landscape in unpredictable ways and forcing candidates in the battle for the Senate and House to adapt to unique circumstances. Campaign officials and strategists are trying to game out the new reality. The crisis could prove to be a boost for incumbents who have a built-in advantage in providing services to constituents at a time when voters are on edge and in need. But it is also shining a potentially unflattering spotlight on Washington’s response to the pandemic, which could hurt lawmakers who were already facing an uphill climb to re-election.

Canada

Canada Appeal Court Nixes Fresh Lobby Probe of Aga Khan in Trudeau Vacation Case
National Post – Jim Bronskill (Canadian Press) | Published: 4/2/2020

There is no need for the federal lobbying commissioner to take another look at whether the Aga Khan broke the rules by giving Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a vacation in the Bahamas, an appeal court has decided. The Federal Court of Appeal says the commissioner’s original decision not to investigate a complaint about the matter is not subject to review by a judge, effectively making it final. In September 2017, then-Commissioner Karen Shepherd said there was no basis to a complaint that the Aga Khan, a billionaire philanthropist and religious leader, had violated the code for lobbyists by allowing Trudeau and his family to stay on his private island in the Caribbean the previous Christmas.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona Mesa Politicians’ Spending Under Scrutiny After Spats Over Gift Cards, Las Vegas Trip
Arizona Republic – Alison Steinbach | Published: 4/8/2020

Mesa is tightening oversight of the city council’s $100,000 in yearly discretionary spending as members bicker over how the money is used. Some council members criticized Councilperson Jeremy Whittaker for what they say was a lavish trip he took to a technology conference at the city’s expense last year. Whittaker has his own concerns about numerous areas of council spending, including council members purchasing gift cards for firefighters. He asked the Goldwater Institute, a local conservative think tank, to investigate. Council members say they will no longer give gift cards and instead will find other ways to express their gratitude to public safety employees.

Colorado Colorado Election Officials Take Aggressive New Approach to Policing Campaign Violations
Colorado Sun – Sandra Fish | Published: 4/8/2020

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold is taking a more aggressive approach against possible campaign finance violations. The stance is drawing criticism from some observers who question the state’s authority to pursue complaints and whether the law is being fairly applied. Griswold said she sought the attorney general’s opinion on the new enforcement team to ensure its legality, and the office received money in the budget to create three new positions for the enforcement staff. The reliance on the public to file complaints often resulted in a process that involved political retribution rather than compliance with the law. And the complaints did not always result in sanctions.

Florida Federal Judge Expands Voting Decision to Apply to All Ex-Felons in Florida
Washington Post – Lori Rozsa | Published: 4/7/2020

The federal judge overseeing the ongoing dispute between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and released felons who want to vote handed the governor another defeat. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle said a previous ruling he made that allowed felons to vote, even if they owe fines and fees stemming from their convictions, covers all individuals statewide, not just the 17 people who originally sued DeSantis. The order applies to an estimated 1.4 million people. Though Florida voters passed an amendment to the state’s constitution to allow automatic restoration of voting rights after prison, Republican lawmakers have sought to impose requirements that would block many from registering.

Florida Florida Election Officials Sound the Alarm Ahead of November
Politico – Gary Fineout | Published: 4/7/2020

Election supervisors in Florida warned Gov. Ron DeSantis that he needs to change the law to give them more flexibility to avoid a presidential election meltdown in the nation’s biggest swing state. The county officials, who issued the alert on the same day Wisconsin held a primary amid widespread fears and irregularities due to the coronavirus, said the changes are needed to accommodate more absentee ballot voters, who could be scared away from the polls if the coronavirus outbreak persists into the August primary or the November general election.

Florida ‘Open Government’ Moves Online Amid COVID-19 Thanks to Push from Jacksonville Ethics Director
WTLV – Shelby Danielson | Published: 4/4/2020

On March 20, an executive order went into effect across Florida temporarily changing how elected officials can conduct government business amid the coronavirus pandemic. Typically, the Sunshine Law requires elected officials to meet in person. But with the social distancing standards in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus, officials were unable to meet as usual. That concern only grew early on in Jacksonville when city Councilperson Sam Newby tested positive for Covid-19. Days before Newby tested positive, Jacksonville City Ethics Director Carla Miller had already sensed something needed to be done as soon as possible in order to keep government business moving and maintain the public’s access to meetings.

Idaho A ‘Liberty’ Rebellion in Idaho Threatens to Undermine Coronavirus Orders
Seattle Times – Mike Baker (New York Times) | Published: 4/7/2020

In a state with pockets of wariness about big government and mainstream medicine, the sweeping restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus have run into rebellion in some parts of Idaho, which is facing its own worrying spike in cases. The opposition is coming not only from people like Ammon Bundy, whose armed takeover of a wildlife refuge with dozens of other men and women led to a standoff, but also from some state lawmakers and a county sheriff who are calling Gov. Brad Little’s statewide stay-at-home order an infringement on individual liberties. Health care providers have been horrified at the public calls to countermand social-distancing requirements, warning that failing to take firm measures could overwhelm Idaho’s small hospitals.

Michigan A Michigan Congresswoman, a Guy in Line in China and a Global Scramble to Find N95 Mask
Laredo Morning Times – Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) | Published: 4/6/2020

The race for masks and gowns to protect doctors, nurses, and paramedics from the coronavirus pandemic has consumed governors, presidents, prime ministers, and other politicians around the world. U.S. Rep. Elyssa Slotkin, the governor’s office, and the rest of the Michigan congressional delegation had been working closely with the Big Three auto manufacturers, which have long-standing relationships in China, to secure masks. But even with their help, the demand was far outpacing supply, leaving Slotkin to improvise as best she could as her office was being overwhelmed by increasingly desperate pleas from doctors and nurses begging for help.

Michigan As Coronavirus Scare Relaxes Michigan Transparency Laws, Experts Question Long-Term Effects
MLive.com – Taylor DesOrmeau | Published: 4/8/2020

Michigan’s Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act, both from 1976, set rules for meetings to ensure they are accessible to residents allow people to request and receive public documents. Neither transparency law was created with pandemics or internet capabilities in mind. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed executive orders in recent weeks to temporarily relax the laws due to the coronavirus pandemic. The changes are unprecedented, experts say, and happening across the country through executive order or legislative action. Michigan’s orders emphasize the need to keep up transparency and accountability more than many other states, said Robin Luce-Hermmann, Michigan Press Association general counsel.

Minnesota Lobbying on Hold as Minnesota Legislature Focuses on COVID-19
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Jessie Van Berkel | Published: 4/7/2020

From social advocacy to corporate lobbying, the work of influencing state lawmakers in person has been largely put on hold as the pandemic demands the Minnesota Legislature’s full attention and forces people to temporarily abandon the Capitol. While COVID-19 has forced a surge in online advocacy, the struggle to contain the virus has taken precedence over the anticipated legislative battles over guns, insulin, legal marijuana, building projects, and other controversies that dominated the early days of the session. The focus, instead, turned to Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency orders temporarily closing schools and most public places, including many businesses that sought exemptions from the “stay-at-home” directive. But the old needs have not disappeared.

Minnesota Minnesota Lawmaker’s New College Job Sparks Conflict-of-Interest Questions
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Torey Van Oot | Published: 4/3/2020

As the legislative session got underway in mid-February, Minnesota Sen. Erik Simonson introduced a bill to secure nearly $1 million in state infrastructure bonds for a major expansion at Lake Superior College. On April 1, Simonson started a new $100,053-a-year job as executive director of continuing education and customized training at the college. While he applied months earlier, the transition, he said, was “accelerated” when cuts prompted by the coronavirus pandemic threatened his previous job as chief executive officer of the Lake Superior Zoo. The timing of Simonson’s new job with Lake Superior College has sparked questions from some experts on government ethics.

Missouri JoCo Official May Have Violated Ethics Code, Report Says. City Council Disregards It
Kansas City Star – Sarah Ritter | Published: 4/8/2020

An outside investigator found Olathe City Councilperson Karin Brownlee may have violated the city’s code of ethics when she spoke to the employer of a gay rights activist about his conduct. In a second opinion, a retired judge disagreed. Advocate Brett Hoedl, who led the push for the city to adopt a nondiscrimination ordinance protecting the LGBT community, filed an ethics complaint against Brownlee in November. He accused the council member of complaining to his employer about his activism. He argued Brownlee used her position to silence residents with opinions that differ from her own. Brownlee has contended she engaged in a casual conversation.

New Jersey Murphy Officially Delays New Jersey Primary to July 7: ‘I don’t want a Wisconsin’
Politico – Matt Friedman | Published: 4/8/2020

Gov. Phil Murphy officially postponed New Jersey’s primary election from June 2 to July 7 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The widely expected delay allows the state more time to decide whether the election should be conducted solely by mail-in ballot or whether polling places will open. “Our democracy cannot be a casualty of Covid-19,” Murphy said.

New York Quest for COVID Gear Brings $119 Million Deal with de Blasio Donor
The City – Gabriel Sandoval | Published: 4/8/2020

New York City’s frantic hunt for protective masks and medical equipment to combat coronavirus led officials to sign emergency contracts totaling nearly $119 million with a firm run by a major donor to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s failed presidential campaign. Digital Gadgets entered into three contracts with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. Before March 25, Digital Gadgets had never appeared in the city comptroller’s decade old CheckbookNYC tracking system. Company Chief Executive Officer Charlie Tebele and family members made donations totaling $32,000 to de Blasio’s now-abandoned campaign for the Democratic nomination and related PACs. Tebele and family members also contributed at least $12,750 to de Blasio’s 2017 reelection campaign.

Ohio ‘Coingate’ Convict Tom Noe Among Ohio Inmates Gov. Mike DeWine Wants to Release Early Amid Coronavirus Fears
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Jeremy Pelzer | Published: 4/7/2020

Tom Noe, the central figure in the 2005 “Coingate” scandal, is among 200-plus Ohio prison inmates Gov. Mike DeWine is recommending for early release because of the coronavirus threat. Noe was once a rising Republican star, chairing the Lucas County Republican Party and serving on the Ohio Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s public colleges and universities. He was convicted of racketeering, money laundering, aggravated theft, forgery, and tampering with records. The jury estimated he stole $1.1 million from the state.

Ohio Federal Judge Denies Voter Advocates’ Lawsuit to Change Ohio Primary Election
Columbus Dispatch – Rick Rouan | Published: 4/3/2020

A federal judge denied a request for a temporary restraining order sought by voter advocates who want to move Ohio’s voter registration deadline and make other changes to the state’s new election plan. The League of Women Voters of Ohio and the A. Philip Randolph Institute argued the plan adopted by the Ohio General Assembly to extend absentee balloting until April 28, with limited in-person voting, violated the National Voter Registration Act and the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Attorneys for the state argued that changing the election again would sow more confusion among voters.

Tennessee Rep. Joe Towns Reaches Campaign Finance Violation Settlement After Board Takes Votes by Email
The Tennessean – Joel Ebert | Published: 4/3/2020

Despite facing more than $66,000 in penalties for failing to file certain documents, Tennessee Rep. Joe Towns is set to once again appear on the ballot thanks to an agreement reached by a public agency that took votes via email. The behind-the-scenes decision is raising questions over whether the Registry of Election Finance violated the state’s open meetings law and a recent executive order from Gov. Bill Lee. The arrangement allowed Towns to pay $22,000 in order to become eligible to appear on the fall ballot.

Virginia Northam Reschedules Va. Primary Elections to June 23
Washington Times – Sophie Kaplan | Published: 4/8/2020

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam delayed the June 9 primary elections by two weeks and asked the General Assembly to push back May’s elections to November due to the coronavirus. Governors can reschedule only primary elections, so he recommended that lawmakers move the May 5 elections to November 3 when they reconvene on April 22.

Wisconsin Rulings on Wisconsin Election Raise Questions About Judicial Partisanship
MSN – Adam Liptak (New York Times) | Published: 4/7/2020

The U.S. Supreme Court and the Wisconsin Supreme Court both rejected efforts to delay the state’s April 7 elections because of the coronavirus pandemic. Election law experts said the stark divisions in the rulings did not bode well for faith in the rule of law and American democracy. When the U.S. Supreme Court rules on emergency applications, it almost never gives reasons. But the court’s conservative majority spent four pages explaining why it had refused to extend absentee voting. The contrasting visions of the two sides, one viewing the case as minor and technical and the other as an effort to vindicate a fundamental constitutional value, amounted to a deep disagreement about the judicial role in voting rights cases.

Wisconsin Wisconsin Now Waits for the Spring Election Results – and Then the Lawsuits
Madison.com – Riley Vetterkind and Kelly Meyerhofer (Wisconsin State Journal) | Published: 4/8/2020

Wisconsin will not know the results of the April 7 election until April 13, but chances are the results will be challenged via a cascade of lawsuits in state or federal court if the margins in major races are as close as they have been in recent years. Possible legal challenges to the election results, fueled by voter complaints about voting hurdles, threaten to further undermine the perceived integrity of the election and the legitimacy of those elected as a result. Statewide, more than 10,000 voters who did not receive requested absentee ballots by Election Day, according to Wisconsin Elections Commission data, were forced to make the choice between sitting out the election or voting in person and risking their health.

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April 3, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – April 3, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal A History of the Trump War on Media – the Obsession Not Even Coronavirus Could Stop Washington Post – Manuel Roig-Franzia and Sarah Ellison | Published: 3/29/2020 President Trump’s initial downplaying of the spread of Covid-19 was due in part […]

National/Federal

A History of the Trump War on Media – the Obsession Not Even Coronavirus Could Stop
Washington Post – Manuel Roig-Franzia and Sarah Ellison | Published: 3/29/2020

President Trump’s initial downplaying of the spread of Covid-19 was due in part to his belief, stoked by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, that the media was using the pandemic as yet another way to attack him, according to four Trump advisers. The administration’s anti-media antagonism can manifest like an organized crusade in some cases but also more like a culture, a vernacular shared by the president and his allies on the right. Their battles are waged in the courts, on social media, and at rallies where Trump’s rants against the journalists who cover him goad his fans into taunting the camera crews and booing the press pens.

Bernie Sanders Says He’s Staying in the Presidential Race. Many Democrats Fear a Reprise of Their 2016 Defeat.
Washington Post – Sean Sullivan, Michael Scherer, and David Weigel | Published: 3/30/2020

Behind the growing fear among many Democrats that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s continued presence in the presidential race could spell doom in November is the belief they have seen it happen before – in the 2016 campaign. To some Democrats in that campaign, it was a lesson learned the hard way about the limitations of Sanders’ promises of support and the ferocity of his backers. Four years later, with the senator still running against former Vice President Joe Biden despite almost impossible odds of victory, some party leaders are increasingly worried about a reprise of the bitter divisions that many Democrats blame for Hillary Clinton’s loss.

Biden Faces a Cash Gap with Trump. He Has to Close It Virtually.
Salt Lake Tribune – Shane Goldmacher (New York Times) | Published: 3/31/2020

Joe Biden’s finance operation is plotting how to keep the checks coming. Top Biden fundraisers and donors, as well as campaign, super PAC, and Democratic Party officials, described urgent efforts to reimagine the ways they raise money during a pandemic and global economic slowdown. they expressed deepening concern the downturn could choke off the flow of small online donations as millions of people lose their jobs. President Trump and Biden face the same headwinds. But the president began March with an enormous financial advantage over the Democrats: a combined roughly $225 million in cash on hand between his reelection campaign, the Republican National Committee, and their shared committees. Biden and the Democratic National Committee had only $20 million.

Campaigning in the Age of Pandemic: Biden and Sanders as amateur video hosts
MSN – Annie Linskey and Matt Viser (Washington Post) | Published: 3/31/2020

Joe Biden is hosting a podcast from his Wilmington, Delaware, home, while Bernie Sanders is emceeing a live-streamed talk show from the first floor of his house in Burlington, Vermont. Welcome to campaigning in the age of pandemic. For Americans accustomed to candidates delivering lofty speeches before crowds of thousands or embracing voters in emotional moments, this new era of campaigning is yet another example of traditions upended, and expectations disrupted. But is what campaigning will look like for the foreseeable future, as candidates who spent years honing a sense of spectacle and rhetoric are reduced to amateur-style programs in their homes. Without studios or large event staffs, the programs do not so much resemble political events as they do, at best, local-access cable shows.

Campaigns Hit Up Lobbyists for Cash with In-Person Events Ending
Bloomberg Government – Megan Wilson | Published: 3/27/2020

The regular scramble for congressional campaigns to quickly amass funds before the March 31 reporting deadline has been hindered by anti-gathering rules put in place to slow the coronavirus outbreak or put aside because of the legislative rush to stop the bleeding in the economy. But it has not stopped completely. Money from wealthier donors and lobbyists, in addition to small-dollar grassroots contributors, are likely to fall as the country faces a recession and unemployment rises to historic levels. It could also impact the amount of money contributed to the PACs run by corporations, trade associations, unions, and lobbying firms, which are funded by employees to donate.

Democrats Postpone Convention Until August Because of Coronavirus
New York Times – Reid Epstein | Published: 4/2/2020

The Democratic National Committee postponed its national convention because of the coronavirus, moving it from mid-July to mid-August. It is the largest political event to be moved so far because of the public health crisis, which has already led to the cancellation of hundreds of state and local conventions from both parties. The convention will still be held in Milwaukee, as planned, the week of August 17, officials said, a week before Republicans plan to gather in Charlotte to renominate President Trump. An August convention is likely to be smaller than the planned July event. One senior Democratic official said the event would probably be a “bare minimum” convention, with scores of people who had planned to come staying away either because of health concerns.

Forget Washington – Corporate America Is Focused on Governors Right Now
Politico – Sam Sutton | Published: 3/30/2020

With the Trump administration taking a backseat to state leaders on coronavirus mitigation, companies and trade associations that traditionally rely on relationships with Washington, D.C. power brokers are instead being forced to reckon with newly emboldened statehouse executives to deal with the crisis. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce. and other business groups wrote to the National Governors Association asking governors take a uniform approach on stay-at-home orders that designate which “essential business” and “critical infrastructure” can operate. The sudden emergence of executive orders shutting down large components of the economy forced lobbying organizations, or their local affiliates, to play “whack-a-mole” as governors readied similar directives, said Jason Straczewski 0f the National Retail Federation.

Frustrated Gamblers Turn to Politics as the Only Game in Town
Politico – Tony Rehgan | Published: 3/30/2020

Gamblers have been sidelined as the Covid-19 pandemic has shut down sports in the U.S. But they have found an outlet for their need to wager – politics. Some savvy gamblers are finding they can chase shifting odds on the 2020 U.S. presidential election or turn a quick buck wagering on incidental proposition bets like whether Joe Biden will pick Elizabeth Warren as his running mate, and also a host of adjacent bets on the price of oil and the stock market. Interestingly, the surge in political betting has exposed a gray area in the law.

Georgia Senator Discloses Additional Stock Sales Worth Millions During Coronavirus Pandemic
Washington Examiner – Madison Dibble (Associated Press) | Published: 4/1/2020

Sen. Kelly Loeffler reported millions of dollars in stock sales this year as Covid-19 swept through the United States. Financial disclosures show the Georgia Republican, one of several senators accused of insider trading after reports showed they dumped stocks prior to the market plunge earlier this year, had even more stocks sold on her behalf. The latest transactions included $18.7 million in sales of stocks owned by her husband’s company Intercontinental Exchange in three separate dumps. The senator used to work for the same firm before taking office. These sales took place from mid-February through mid-March, when the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy were already being felt.

Justice Department Reviews Stock Trades by Lawmakers After Coronavirus Briefings
CNN – David Shortell, Evan Perez, Jeremy Herb, and Kara Scannell | Published: 3/30/2020

The Justice Department has started to investigate a series of stock transactions made by lawmakers ahead of the sharp market downturn stemming from the spread of coronavirus. The inquiry, which is being done in coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission, has so far included outreach from the FBI to U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, seeking information about the trades. Public scrutiny of the lawmakers’ market activity has centered on whether members of Congress sought to profit from the information they obtained in non-public briefings about the pandemic. The sales have come under fire after senators received closed-door briefings about the virus over the past several weeks, before the market began trending downward.

Tech Giants Prepared for 2016-Style Meddling. But the Threat Has Changed.
New York Times – Kevin Roose, Sheera Frenkel, and Nicole Perlroth | Published: 3/29/2020

Big tech companies have spent the past three years working to avoid a repeat of 2016, when their platforms were overrun by Russian trolls and used to amplify America’s partisan divide. The companies have since collectively spent billions of dollars hiring staff, fortifying their systems, and developing new policies to prevent election meddling. Although the companies are better equipped to deal with the types of interference that they faced in 2016, they are struggling to handle the new challenges of 2020. Their difficulties reflect how much online threats have evolved since the 2016 election. More problematic, partisan groups in the U.S. have borrowed Russia’s playbook to create their own propaganda and disinformation campaigns, forcing the tech companies to make tough calls about restricting the speech of American citizens.

The Race for Virus Money Is On. Lobbyists Are Standing By.
MSN – Kenneth Vogel (New York Times) | Published: 3/28/2020

The federal government is open for coronavirus business, and the scramble to get some of it is on. Across the country, companies see a chance to cash in, do some good for the country or both, making virus outbreak response one of the few thriving sectors of the economy. And because so much of the business runs through Washington, D.C., the rush has created new opportunities for those who can offer access, influence, and expertise in navigating bureaucratic hurdles and securing chunks of the relief package that President Trump signed into law. The law and lobbying firm Holland & Knight set up an entire “Covid-19 Response Team,” which is expected to grow to include as many as 60 lawyers.

Trump Administration Rules Gun Shops ‘Essential’ Amid Virus
AP News – Lisa Marie Payne | Published: 3/30/2020

The Trump administration ruled gun shops are considered “essential” businesses that should remain open as other businesses are closed to try to stop the spread of coronavirus. Gun control groups are balking, calling it a policy that puts profits over public health after intense lobbying by the firearms industry. After days of lobbying by the National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and other gun groups, the Department of Homeland Security issued an advisory declaring firearms dealers should be considered essential services — just like grocery stores, pharmacies, and hospitals – and allowed to remain open. The agency said its ruling was not a mandate but merely guidance for cities, towns, and states as they weigh how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Trump Won the Internet. Democrats Are Scrambling to Take It Back.
MSN – Jim Rutenberg and Matthew Rosenberg (New York Times) | Published: 3/30/2020

Since Hillary Clinton’s 2016 defeat, Democrats have been scrambling to reorder the digital campaign equation, an effort that has drawn a range of new donors, progressive activists, and operatives together with veterans of the Obama campaigns and the old-line contributors and party regulars of the Bill Clinton era. So far, Democrats and their allies have produced new apps to organize volunteers and register voters, new media outlets to pump out anti-President Trump content, and a major new data initiative to drive what the party hopes will be the biggest voter-mobilization effort in its history. But while Trump and his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, have brought conservatives together to build a technological juggernaut for 2020, the Democratic effort has been slowed by the party’s rivalries and divisions.

Watchdog Calls for Investigation into Mississippi Congressman’s Campaign Spending
Center for Responsive Politics – Karl Evers-Hillstrom | Published: 3/27/2020

The Campaign Legal Center is asking ethics officials to investigate campaign spending by U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo after the group found he channeled six figures of donors’ money to family-owned businesses. Palazzo used campaign funds to pay over $60,000 in rent to his own farm, according to FEC filings. His campaign also spent nearly $128,000 with his now ex-wife’s accounting firm. Federal election law prohibits candidates from using campaign funds for personal use. But candidates can justify funneling contributions to themselves or family members if they make the case the spending is campaign related. The Campaign Legal Center argues Palazzo had an existing accounting firm and his campaign did not need the services of Palazzo & Co.

Canada

Canada New B.C. Lobbying Laws Come into Force in May
Business in Vancouver – Haley Woodin | Published: 3/31/2020

In just over a month, new legislation to make government lobbying in British Columbia more transparent will come into force. As of May 4, all government lobbyists will be required to register and begin reporting their monthly lobbying activities. The changes are part of the new Lobbyists Transparency Act, which replaces the Lobbyists Registration Act, and includes amendments already passed by the provincial government.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona Arizona Campaign Finance Initiative Campaign Suspends Signature Gathering
Ballotpedia.com – Ryan Byrne | Published: 3/30/2020

Former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, co-chair of Outlaw Dirty Money, announced the campaign was suspending signature gathering efforts for its ballot initiative due to the coronavirus pandemic. The campaign needs to gather at least 356,467 signatures by the July 2 deadline. The ballot initiative would add language to the state constitution providing people with a right to know the identity of the original source of an aggregate contribution of $5,000 or more used for campaign media spending. Goddard called on the Legislature to allow for signatures to be gathered online.

California Former L.A. Councilman Mitchell Englander to Plead Guilty in Corruption Case
Los Angeles Times – David Zahniser, Dakota Smith, and Joel Rubin | Published: 3/27/2020

Former Los Angeles City Councilperson Mitchell Englander, accused of obstructing a public corruption investigation, agreed to plead guilty to scheming to falsify facts. He has been investigated for allegedly accepting gifts from a businessperson. According to the plea agreement, he schemed to cover up cash payments, meals, escort services, and other gifts. He admitted to accepting a total of $15,000 in cash from the businessperson among other things during trips to Las Vegas and Palm Springs in 2017. “Businessman A” worked for local companies related to major development projects while Englander was on the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which oversees most of the significant development projects in the city.

California ‘They’re All Tainted by It.’ Federal Corruption Cases Deal New Blow to Trust in City Hall
Yahoo News – David Zahniser and Emily Alpert Reyes (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 4/1/2020

As city leaders face urgent pleas for help from Los Angeles residents reeling from the ripple effects of a global pandemic, they are also confronting distrust and revulsion over the alleged bribe and other “pay to play” activities that are at the heart of a widespread corruption investigation. Even those who are doing good work at have been tarnished by the scandals, said former Councilperson Greig Smith. Corruption probes are not new to City Hall. What makes the ongoing federal investigations so unusual, and potentially damning for city government, is that they touch on so many politicians at once.

California Watchdog to Review Rules Letting California Politicians Raise Money for Charity
Calmatters – Laurel Rosenhall | Published: 3/31/2020

The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) is preparing to update the regulations and laws that govern “behested payments” – donations made to charities at a politician’s request. Such donations have become an increasingly common way for politicians to raise and spend money outside the limits of campaign finance law. FPPC Chairperson Richard Miadich cited Calmatters’ recent “Sweet Charity Series,” which revealed the amount of money flowing to nonprofits controlled by California lawmakers or their staff has skyrocketed over the last decade to $2.9 million in 2019 and showed much of the money comes from corporations and unions that lobby the Legislature.

Florida Council Committee Plans to Subpoena Bidders, Investment Banks in JEA Probe
Jacksonville Daily Record – Mike Mendenhall | Published: 3/30/2020

A Jacksonville City Council committee investigating JEA will subpoena the private companies that bid in the city utility’s failed invitation to negotiate. It also will subpoena the investment banks that advised JEA senior leaders in the sale attempt. Special Investigatory Committee Chairperson Rory Diamond said the panel will issue subpoenas for the names of the lobbying firms hired by nine private companies.

Illinois Pandemic Derails Illinois’ Lobbying Reform Commission Ahead of Key Deadline
The Center Square – Greg Bishop | Published: 3/31/2020

Unable to meet during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Illinois Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reforms missed its March 31 deadline to provide recommendations to clean up some questionable practices in Springfield, but a member of the commission said it will get back to business. The commission, made up of state lawmakers and members appointed by the offices of the Illinois governor, secretary of state, and attorney general, was created in the fall amid a wide-ranging federal corruption probe that included allegations of bribery involving lawmakers, lobbyists, and business leaders.

Massachusetts Sen. Dean Tran Stripped of Leadership Position After Committee Report Says He Used Public Staff for Campaign Work
MassLive.com – Steph Solis | Published: 3/26/2020

Massachusetts lawmakers voted to strip state Sen. Dean Tran of his leadership role after a committee report found he used his Senate staff for work related to his 2018 and 2020 re-election campaigns during business hours. Tran is also banned from interacting with his staff except for written communications, The Senate Committee on Ethics report states that Tran “received repeated advice” that it was inappropriate for his staff to do campaign work during regular business hours, funded at the taxpayer’s expense, and for staff to participate in most fundraising activities. But Tran did not heed the advice and his current campaign manager threatened at least one staffer with termination if the person did not work on the 2020 campaign.

Michigan Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith Resigns Amid Criminal Charges Against Him
Detroit Free Press – Christina Hall | Published: 3/30/2020

Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith, accused of embezzlement and misconduct in office over how drug and alcohol forfeiture funds were spent, resigned from office. The announcement came less than week after the longtime prosecutor was charged with 10 criminal counts by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office in a nearly yearlong probe of how his office spent the funds. Investigators found Smith and other defendants used the money to buy flowers and makeup for select secretaries, a security system for Smith’s residence, garden benches for staffers’ homes, country club catering for parties, campaign expenditures, and more.

Michigan Whitmer to Clerks: Send all new registrants an absentee ballot for May 5
Detroit News – Beth LeBlanc | Published: 3/28/2020

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order temporarily changing state voting laws for jurisdictions with a May 5 election and allowing some May elections to be postponed to August 4 or later in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In those jurisdictions still holding elections, all clerks are required to send absentee ballots to new registrants under the order and absentee applications must be mailed to all currently registered voters in those areas. The order was opposed by Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, who argued the May elections should be delayed instead.

New York Cuomo Pulls Back on Proposed Donor Disclosures for Nonprofits
City and State – Kay Dervishi | Published: 3/31/2020

Changes to the state budget in New York ease reporting requirements for charities and nonprofits concerning their donors, though their financial reports may be made public. The latest budget language also includes new provisions expanding oversight of nonprofits through the Department of State. Certain nonprofits, such as those who have spent more than $10,000 in communication endorsing or opposing legislation, will have to submit annual financial disclosure reports to the agency. The department will then examine the relationship between charitable nonprofits and political advocacy organizations, filed as 501(c)(4) tax-exempt nonprofits, who share staff, office space, or supplies, among other provisions.

New York New York Delays Presidential Primary, Special Election to June
Roll Call – Bridget Bowman | Published: 3/28/2020

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state’s presidential primary and a special election in the 27th Congressional District will be postponed from April 28 to June 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic.  The elections will now coincide with the state’s primaries for congressional and state legislative races. The special election in the 27th District will replace former U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, who resigned in September and was sentenced to prison for insider trading.

New York Organizing for Sanders in New York When the City’s on Lockdown and You Can’t Leave Your Apartment
Washington Post – Chelsea James | Published: 4/2/2020

Bernie Sanders’ campaign has spent two presidential cycles building a grassroots movement unparalleled among Democrats in reach and loyalty. For nearly eight years, that network has measured enthusiasm by doors knocked and rallies organized. Now though, as the coronavirus ravages the country, Sanders’ staffers and organizers have found themselves stuck in their homes, unable to hold, concertlike events that have become a staple of the campaign. Instead, they are reduced to connecting to people over Zoom, erasing a major advantage they had over Joe Biden, an ability to fill communities with volunteers and have thousands of conversations about their candidate.

New York Previously Struck Down in Court, New Campaign Finance System and Political Party Ballot Threshold Passed in Budget
Gotham Gazette – Samar Khurshid | Published: 4/1/2020

A new campaign finance system in New York, with public matching money for candidates who choose to participate and lower individual contribution limits, will be enshrined in law through inclusion in the new state budget. It is accompanied by controversial ballot-threshold requirements for political parties. The campaign finance system had been approved last year based on the recommendations of a state-created commission but was struck down in mid-March by a state Supreme Court judge who ruled such a commission could not be tasked with writing laws. The budget bill addressed that mistake and passed the same recommendations the commission made.

Pennsylvania Pennsylvania Moves Primaries to June 2 Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
Roll Call – Bridget Bowman | Published: 3/27/2020

Pennsylvania moved the state’s presidential and congressional primaries from April 28 to June 2. Gov. Tom Wolf made the move official by signing a bill moving the primary date into law. Pennsylvania, which President Trump narrowly won in 2016, will be a key state in the presidential race in November.

Washington Justices Decline Challenge to Seattle ‘Democracy Vouchers’
AP News – Gene Johnson | Published: 3/30/2020

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to Seattle’s “democracy vouchers” campaign finance program. Two local property owners said the vouchers violated their constitutional rights to free speech by forcing them through their tax dollars to support candidates they did not like. The Supreme Court has generally upheld the public financing of campaigns, within the limits of the First Amendment, saying “public financing as a means of eliminating the improper influence of large private contributions furthers a significant governmental interest” of helping to eliminate corruption.

Wisconsin Wisconsin Goes It Alone, Holding Elections Next Week Amid Fears of Infection and Voting Chaos
Washington Post – Amy Gardner | Published: 4/1/2020

Across Wisconsin, voters, election officials, and civil rights leaders are angry the state Legislature is going forward with the April 7 presidential primary and local elections even as the coronavirus continues its march across the country. The public-health risk is too high and asking voters to venture out of their homes directly contradicts state and local emergency orders to shelter in place, they say. Leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature say moving the voting date so late in the process would sow confusion and create a leadership vacuum in cities and towns holding contests for municipal posts that will be vacant as early as mid-April.

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March 27, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – March 27, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal As Campaigns Move Online, America’s Chief Watchdog Isn’t Following Politico – Nancy Scola | Published: 3/23/2020 American electioneering has moved almost entirely online: voter townhalls are being replaced by digital meetups, campaign rallies are now streamed speeches, and donor one-on-ones […]

National/Federal

As Campaigns Move Online, America’s Chief Watchdog Isn’t Following
Politico – Nancy Scola | Published: 3/23/2020

American electioneering has moved almost entirely online: voter townhalls are being replaced by digital meetups, campaign rallies are now streamed speeches, and donor one-on-ones are moving to FaceTime. In campaign advertising, that shift was long underway, with money moving from old-school broadcast and print ads to a flurry of custom messages on social media and search engines. As this change has transformed politics over the past several years, and quickly accelerated in recent weeks, one national player has been noticeably silent: the FEC. The last time the FEC updated its rules to address online advertising was in 2006. More recently it has been paralyzed by an internal argument about whether its mandate should extend further into online campaigning.

Bernie Sanders Is Considering Several Options as He Ponders His Campaign’s Future
MSN – Sean Sullivan (Washington Post) | Published: 3/21/2020

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has convened a series of weighty discussions about the future of his presidential campaign with his closest confidants, and at least three potential paths forward have come up in the private talks. People with knowledge of the talks stressed that Sanders had not yet made up his mind and was still trying to reach out to supporters. Few if any dilemmas in recent political history have been fraught with so many variables and such significant potential consequences.

Bloomberg Makes Massive $18M Transfer from Campaign to DNC
Politico – Zach Montellaro | Published: 3/20/2020

Michael Bloomberg is sending $18 million from his defunct presidential campaign to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), an investment in the national party that appears to push the boundaries of campaign finance law. The money will support the DNC’s “Battleground Build-Up 2020” program, an initiative in 12 swing states across the country. The money could fund potentially hundreds of organizers in those states. The transfer signals a change of plans for Bloomberg, who is nixing an earlier idea to form his own super PAC to take on President Trump in 2020.

Bloomberg Sued by Aides for Stiffing Them on Yearlong Pay Promise
Politico – Christopher Cadelsgo | Published: 3/23/2020

Former campaign workers for Michael Bloomberg are suing the billionaire former presidential candidate for fraud, alleging in a nationwide class action lawsuit that as many as 2,000 employees were promised to be paid through the general election before he laid them off. Plaintiffs in the class action include two organizers who halted the interview process for other jobs to join the Bloomberg campaign, and another former organizer who postponed law school to work on Bloomberg;s 2020 effort. The filing comes on the same day as another class action brought by a former Bloomberg field organizer that similarly argues the employees were tricked into taking jobs they were told would continue for a year.

Burr Asks Senate Ethics Committee for Review of His Stock Sales
Stamford Advocate – John Wagner, Michelle Ye Hee Lee, John Swain, and Karoun Demirjian (Washington Post) | Published: 3/20/2020

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review stock sales he made weeks before the markets began to tank in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Burr has faced calls to resign from across the ideological spectrum since it was reported he dumped between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings in 33 different transactions a week before the stock market began plummeting amid fears of Covid-19 spreading in the U.S. Burr also come under fire for a secret recording in which he issued a much more dire warning to a group of attendees at a private luncheon about the potential outbreak than the prognosis he was offering publicly at the time. If Burr traded stocks based on information that was not available to the public, it could not only be an ethics issue, but a criminal matter as well.

Coronavirus Response Includes $400 Million in Election Assistance. Will It Be Enough?
Roll Call – Bridget Bowman | Published: 3/25/2020

A sweeping federal spending package responding to the coronavirus pandemic will include millions to help states administer elections, but some fear it will not be enough to prevent chaos in November. The enormous spending bill includes $400 million in election assistance, according to a partial bill text released by the Senate Appropriations Committee. That figure is a fraction, however, of the $2 billion the Brennan Center for Justice estimated is necessary for states to prepare for a surge of voters casting ballots by mail and to ensure safe in-person voting.

Democratic Convention Planners Look at Contingency Options
New York Times – Reid Epstein | Published: 3/23/2020

Planners for the Democratic National Convention are looking at “contingency options” in case the mid-July gathering in Milwaukee cannot take place because of the coronavirus, officials said for the first time. Among the complicating factors are the uncertain nature of the professional basketball season – the arena hosting the convention is home to the Milwaukee Bucks, a top NBA team likely to play deep into the playoffs if the league’s season were to restart – and how the party’s delegates will be selected. Delegates in most states are elected to the national convention from state conventions, but many state conventions, scheduled for late spring and early summer, are also being postponed.

FLRA Sets Sights on Official Time for ‘Lobbying Activities’
Government Executive – Erich Wagner | Published: 3/24/2020

The federal agency tasked with administering federal labor law announced it will reexamine whether federal employee unions may receive official time to communicate with members of Congress. The Federal Labor Relations Authority requested comments on whether the agency should overturn decades of precedent stating that a ban on the use of federal funds for lobbying applies to federal employees who are members of a labor union. The development is in response to a request from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an anti-union advocacy group.

From Jets to Juleps, SCOTUS Perks Aren’t Always Reported
Courthouse News Service – Megan Mineiro | Published: 3/24/2020

A self-appointed U.S. Supreme Court watchdog tallied the private flights and other hidden perks justices enjoy when invited to speak at universities. In addition to the private plane trips, the report from the group Fix the Court details a $500-a-plate VIP dinner that Justice Stephen Breyer attended before a 2016 lecture at the University of Texas, as well as undisclosed gifts like Wisconsin football gear given to Justice Elena Kagan, and silver julep cups to Justice Neil Gorsuch.

House Report Tables Remote Voting
Roll Call – Katherine Tullyu-McManus | Published: 3/24/2020

Remote voting is not coming to the U.S. House anytime soon, according to a Rules Committee report. But some advocates say the report did not fully consider the options available and members are still pushing for emergency alternatives. A public report and letter sent to lawmakers outlines the options for voting procedures during this unprecedented pandemic that is spreading across the country and even the Capitol. The report was commissioned by Speaker Nancy Pelosi after pressure grew from rank-and-file lawmakers for leadership to identify alternatives to gathering 435 members in a room to vote, which makes following social distancing protocols nearly impossible. Pelosi had previously shot down the idea of remote voting when raised by her caucus and reporters.

‘It Can Be Catastrophic’: Coronavirus tanks campaign fundraising
Politico – Maggie Severns and James Arkin | Published: 3/20/2020

Campaigns across the country have canceled face-to-face fundraisers for the foreseeable future in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and are scrambling to figure out how to raise enough money to stay solvent. Big donors’ stock portfolios are tanking and small-dollar, online contributors, who have never been more important to campaigns, are facing sudden financial uncertainty and the real possibility of unemployment. Major donors from both parties already are beginning to scale back after years of riding high off of a booming stock market, donors and fundraisers said.

Joe Biden Found His Footing – Then Coronavirus Changed Everything
Yahoo News – Evan Halper and Janet Hook (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 3/24/2020

Even as President Trump fumbles his way through the Covid-19 outbreak, there are risks for Joe Biden if he remains in the background of this ever-changing public crisis. Fresh polling shows a diminished lead for Democrats in November, and Trump’s approval rating mostly stable despite criticism of his early efforts to downplay the significance of the pandemic. That leaves Biden in uncharted territory, a candidate awkwardly adjusting to the new reality of virtual campaigning and struggling to find a message that gets him back on voters’ radar.

Six Days: Tracking Sen. Rand Paul from coronavirus testing to positive diagnosis
MSN – Seung Min Kim, Michael Scherer, and Paul Kane (Washington Post) | Published: 3/23/2020

Aware of his extensive travel and compromised health, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul quietly got himself tested for the coronavirus on March 16. But for the six days that his results were pending, the Kentucky Republican took no steps to self-quarantine – continuing to cast votes on the Senate floor, delivering a speech lambasting a coronavirus aid bill, and meeting with other Republican senators in strategy sessions that defied federal advisories warning against gatherings of more than 10 people. Paul was defiant that he did nothing wrong, despite bipartisan criticism for his behavior and even sharper private furor among senators and aides because he had potentially exposed them to the virus.

Super PACs Step In to Attack Trump’s Coronavirus Response
New York Times – Nick Corasaniti | Published: 3/24/2020

The presidential campaign has largely shifted to the recesses of public consciousness during the coronavirus outbreak. So, too, has political broadcast advertising. Calls for unity to stop the pandemic are widespread, and candidates could be accused of politicizing a crisis if they put out attack ads. But with President Trump on television constantly, Democratic strategists are worried his unabated free airtime, even amid a crippling national crisis, gives him a messaging advantage. In that vacuum, two Democratic groups have started multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns attacking Trump for his previous comments that played down the threat of the virus.

Supreme Court Rejects Keeping GOP Super PAC Donor Secret
Bloomberg Government – Kenneth Doyle | Published: 3/23/2020

The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court decision allowing a trust fund to be named that was used by a donor to give $1.7 million to a Republican super PAC. The trust and a trustee sued to keep their identities secret. Once the lower court follows up on the Supreme Court’s order, FEC member Ellen Weintraub said she would release a statement with the names of the trust and trustee used to funnel money to the super PAC. Enforcement actions and court decisions are making it harder for some big donors to attempt to hide their identities, usually by funneling money to super PACs through obscure limited liability companies or other entities.

Trump Cannot Block Critics on Twitter, Federal Court Affirms in Ruling
Washington Post – Ann Marimow | Published: 3/23/2020

A federal appeals court let stand a ruling that prevents {resident Trump from blocking critical voices from the Twitter account he uses to communicate with the public. The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied the administration’s request to revisit an earlier holding that Trump violated the First Amendment when he blocked individual Twitter users who were critical of the president or his polices. The decision leaves in place a unanimous three-judge panel ruling from July. The court held that because the president uses his Twitter account to conduct official government business, he cannot exclude voices or viewpoints with which he disagrees.

Virus Brings States to a Standstill: Sessions halt, budgets crater, plans wait
MSN – Michael Powell and John Eligon (New York Times) | Published: 3/24/2020

The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on statehouses across the U.S., derailing policy agendas, forcing legislators to set aside plans for spending on education, road construction, and opioid addiction, and draining state coffers with startling speed. Vast numbers of businesses have been forced to close their doors and millions of Americans face unemployment, creating a sudden need to spend on virus-related assistance, the certainty of sharp drops in tax collections and a turning of once optimistic budget projections upside down. The outbreak has forced at least 22 state Legislatures to close or postpone sessions at the busiest time of the year. The toll on state policies and spending appears likely to extend far beyond a single legislative season.

Canada

Canada COVID-19 Is Forcing Lobbyists to Significantly Shift Their Strategies
Hill Times – Beatrice Paez and Palak Mangat | Published: 3/23/2020

As the federal government in Canada ramps up its effort to control the pace of the coronavirus pandemic and stabilize the economy, lobbyists say much of their focus has either pivoted to responding to the immediacy of the crisis, or giving officials the breathing room they need. “I just don’t think there is lobbying during the coronavirus; I really think the focus has to be on getting through this,” said Joe Jordan, senior associate at Bluesky Strategy Group. As a former member of Parliament, Jordan said he may not react too kindly to being approached by a lobbyist during this type of crisis, in which thousands of people are being effectively laid off and the health-care system is under strain.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska Alaska Democrats Cancel In-Person Primary Voting, Extend Mail-In Deadline
Anchorage Daily News – Associated Press | Published: 3/24/2020

The Alaska Democratic Party will hold its party-run presidential primary exclusively by mail and is moving back the deadlines for returning and tabulating ballots. The party announced it is canceling in-person voting sites planned for April 4 due to concerns with the coronavirus. But it is extending the deadline to return ballots by mail. The party now says they must be received in Anchorage no later than April 10 to be counted.

California California Fair Political Practices Commission Offers Guidance on Campaign Filing Deadlines in Wake of COVID-19
Vallejo Times-Herald – Staff | Published: 3/21/2020

The California Fair Political Practices Commission issued an advisory acknowledging that in light of the statewide shelter-in-place order, filing of campaign statements and reports will be difficult. All candidates and committees that file campaign statements and reports with the secretary of state’s office may use the office’s online filing system. Local candidates and committees should contact their local filing officers to determine if electronic filing is available in their jurisdiction.

California California Lobbyists Adjust to a World Without Handshakes and Hallway Conversations
Politico – Carla Marinucci and Jeremy White | Published: 3/18/2020

After the California General Assembly shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sacramento’s powerful “third house’’ – the lobbyists, advocates, and attorneys who represent powerful interests – has had to adjust on the fly. Political influence has long relied on personal connections, face-to-face conversations, and buttonholing political players in the hallways, committee rooms, and fundraisers in and around the Capitol, and none of that can happen for now. Lawmakers, too, are adjusting to their new remote reality.

California Political Fundraiser Admits to Delivering Bribes in L.A. City Hall Corruption Probe
Los Angeles Times – Joel Rubin, David Zahniser, and Laura Nelson | Published: 3/19/2020

A federal corruption probe into relationships between developers and Los Angeles elected officials made a major move forward with prosecutors saying a political fundraiser will plead guilty to facilitating a $500,000 bribe of an unnamed city council member. Justin Jangwoo Kim will plead guilty to a single count of federal program bribery and will cooperate in the continuing City Hall corruption probe. Prosecutors said Kim facilitated a $500,000 cash payment to the unnamed council member in a developer’s effort to resolve a labor group’s environmental challenge to a major real estate project. The council member is referred to only as a member of the powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee.

Connecticut Political Gift Limits Suspended in Latest Coronavirus Order
Stamford Advocate – Ken Dixon | Published: 3/23/2020

The latest executive order from Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont suspends limitations on gifts that were enacted after the corruption scandal that sent former Gov. John Rowland to prison in 2005. It also takes limits off political campaign contributions. Peter Lewandowski, executive director of the Office of State Ethics, said while the governor’s order falls outside the jurisdiction of his agency, it appears to apply only to large state contractor gifts. Those contractors who contributed in current or recent election cycles could have fallen into a legal limbo if the new executive order had not been addressed.

Georgia Loeffler Stock Trades Roil Georgia Special Election
Politico – James Arkin | Published: 3/21/2020

One of Kelly Loeffler’s most appealing traits to Republicans who embraced her for a coveted U.S. Senate appointment – her ability to self-fund a competitive election this fall through immense wealth – is suddenly looking like a serious liability for her and the GOP. Loeffler’s rivals in a special election pounced on revelations that the recently appointed senator dumped millions of dollars in stocks after a classified Covid-19 briefing in January, damaging her bid against a formidable GOP opponent in U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a close ally of President Trump. Collins is seizing on the stock trades by Loeffler, who is married to the head of the New York Stock Exchange.

Indiana All Indiana Voters Can Choose to Cast Ballot by Mail for June 2 Primary Election
Northwest Indiana Times – Dan Carden | Published: 3/25/2020

All Indiana voters have the option to cast their ballot by mail in the upcoming primary election to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19. The Indiana Election Commission authorized “no excuse” absentee voting by mail for this election only, along with numerous other temporary changes to accommodate Gov. Eric Holcomb’s decision to shift the state’s primary to June 2 from May 5 Vote by mail typically only is available to Hoosiers who satisfy at least one of 11 statutory excuses for being unable to get to their polling place on Election Day.

Kentucky As Coronavirus Creates ‘Unprecedented Obstacles’ to Voting, Kentucky GOP Takes Step to Add Another: Voter ID
Washington Post – Isaac Stanley-Becker | Published: 3/20/2020

As states across the country took steps to make voting to make voting easier in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the Republican-controlled Legislature in Kentucky approved a new measure requiring a government-issued photo ID to vote, prompting an outcry from voting-rights groups. Gov. Andy Beshear has 10 days to decide whether to sign or veto the bill. Beshear, who restored voting rights to former felons in an executive order days after he took office, previously said he opposed “unnecessary roadblocks” to voting. But the governor’s power to block the measure, which would go into effect for the November election, is limited.

Maine Maine Expands Campaign Finance Laws About PACs in State
AP News – Staff | Published: 3/24/2020

A new law in Maine defines caucus political action committees as subject to the same rules as other PACs. Supporters said the rule change means the state’s ethics commission will be able to fully enforce ethics rules about PACs that are led by legislators. The law takes effect on June 16.

Maryland Baltimore Comptroller Pratt Repeatedly Voted to Approve Spending for Groups on ‘Abstentions List,’ Report Finds
Baltimore Sun – Talia Richman | Published: 3/19/2020

Baltimore Comptroller Joan Pratt voted 30 times in three years to approve city spending on organizations with which she appeared to have a connection, a review from the Office of the Inspector General found. Pratt, a member of the city’s powerful spending board, maintained an evolving “abstentions list,” noting companies and organizations with which she is affiliated. Each of the board’s five members have had such a list and used it to refrain from voting on items for which they may have a conflict-of-interest.

Michigan Ballot Drive to Change Michigan Lobbying Laws Suspended Due to Coronavirus Pandemic
MLive.com – Lauren Gibbon | Published: 3/20/2020

The group behind a ballot petition drive to change Michigan lobbying laws announced it was suspending the effort, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the cause. The Coalition to Close Lansing Loopholes said they were postponing the campaign until the 2022 election cycle. The coronavirus “has made the already difficult task of collecting more than 425,000 signatures to put lobby reform on the ballot in 2020 a relatively impossible one,” the group said in a statement. Getting a citizen-led initiative on the ballot typically requires in-person contact all over the state as volunteers or paid signature gatherers collect hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Minnesota In ‘the Cathedral of Hockey,’ Bipartisanship Still Exists in Minnesota
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Briana Bierschbach | Published: 3/20/2020

It is not their usual scene in St. Paul, but for decades, a group of current and former legislators, lobbyists, staffers, state employees, and anyone else they could persuade to show up have gathered every Sunday during the legislative session for a game of ice hockey. Somehow the tradition has survived contentious budget fights, government shutdowns, and increasingly divisive state and national politics. It has outlasted at least three Minnesota governors who have played on the team, too.

Montana State GOP Spent $100k to Qualify Montana Green Party for the Ballot
Helena Independent Record – Holly Michels | Published: 3/24/2020

The Montana Republican Party bankrolled the signature-gathering effort to get the Montana Green Party certified for the 2020 election ballot, an official for a political committee said. Democrats, who had asked the state commissioner of political practices to find out who paid for the signature gathering effort, immediately accused the GOP of election fraud and of propping up a leftist political party as a means to siphon votes from Democratic candidates this fall.

New Jersey Belmar Mayor, Three Council Members Repay Questioned Campaign Gifts After Dispute
Asbury Park Press – Ken Serrano | Published: 3/25/2020

The mayor of Belmar, New Jersey, and three council members returned campaign contributions after a resident questioned whether the donations violated the borough’s “pay-to-play” ordinance that seeks to limit the role of money in politics. Borough attorney Jerry Dasti said it was debatable whether the officials violated the ordinance, but they returned the money anyway. An expert on “pay-to-play laws” said the elected officials’ actions were a clear breach of the ordinance.

New Jersey Sparta BOE in Flap Over Promotion of Member’s Son
New Jersey Herald – Eric Obernauer | Published: 3/19/2020

A school board member in Sparta, New Jersey resigned her seat after admitting she voted on a new contract and pay increase for Superintendent Michael Rossi in the fall while her son was employed in the school district as a substitute custodian, an action that was followed by her son’s promotion to a full-time $36,000-a-year custodian’s position that the board rescinded. Karen Scott acknowledged she also neglected to disclose the employment of her son in the district on her 2019 and 2020 personal disclosure forms, which all school board members and administrators must file annually with the state School Ethics Commission, after having previously included it on her 2018 form.

New Jersey State Ethics Commission Recommends Removal of Paterson BOE Member Emanuel Capers Over Arizona Trip
Paterson Times – Jayed Rahman | Published: 3/20/2020

The New Jersey School Ethics Commission recommended the removal of Paterson school board member Emanuel Capers for taking an all-expense paid trip to Arizona. Ethics officials rejected Administrative Law Judge Kimberly Moss’s legal conclusions that absolved Capers in December 2019. Moss had ruled Capers did not violate any provisions of the ethics code for school board members. Capers attended the Effective Schools Conference in 2018 paid for by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s education company Woz U. Capers has argued he is not a school district employee, but an elected official.

New York Nassau Inspector General: Courthouse contractor did not ID key principals
Newsday – Scott Eidler | Published: 3/21/2020

Nassau County Inspector General Jodi Franzese questioned the “business integrity” of the company that won an $85.6 million construction contract for the new Family and Matrimonial Court building in Mineola in Mineola because it failed to identify key officials or disclose campaign contributions they made. Citing requirements in a county law enacted after contracting scandals involving former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, the report said Antonios Vournou and Jenny Sakalis failed to identify themselves as principals of E & A Restoration when they bid on county contracts.

Ohio Ohio Lawmakers Sets All-Mail Primary Election Through April 28; Legal Challenge Still Possible
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Andrew Tobias | Published: 3/25/2020

Ohio lawmakers approved a plan for an all-mail primary election running through April 28, the Legislature’s fix to wrap things up after the original March 17 Election Day was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The plan would send postcards to every Ohioan with instructions on how to apply for an absentee ballot. Anyone who has not cast an early ballot already would have to print off a paper application, or call their county elections and request one be mailed to them, and mail it in. Elections officials then would mail an empty ballot with a postage-paid envelope. Voters would have until April 27 to mail it back or drop it off at a curbside county ballot box, and votes would be counted on April 28. But it might not be the last legal word on the issue.

Rhode Island Rhode Island Presidential Primary Moving to June 2
WPRI – Steph Machado | Published: 3/23/2020

After the Rhode Island Board of Elections voted to move the state’s presidential primary from April 28 to June 2, Gov. Gina Raimondo said she would sign an executive order to move the date of the primary, which will take place mostly by mail. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea had initially asked the elections board to keep the primary on April 28 but do it mostly by mail-in ballots. But elections board staffers expressed concern there would not be enough time to distribute mail ballots and certify the large influx before April 28. The Board of Elections instead voted to delay the primary in order to have more time to prepare to hold it mostly by mail.

Texas Texas Delaying May Primary Runoff Elections in Response to Coronavirus
Texas Tribune – Alexa Ura | Published: 3/20/2020

The May 26 primary election runoffs in Texas will be delayed until July in response to the growing outbreak of the coronavirus under an order signed by Gov. Greg Abbott. Dozens of runoffs are ongoing for party nominations to congressional and local offices. The elections are now scheduled for July 14; early voting will begin July 6.

Texas Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Comes Under Fire for Saying Seniors Should ‘Take a Chance’ on Their Own Lives for Sake of Grandchildren During Coronavirus Crisis
Connecticut Post – Felicia Sonmez (Washington Post) | Published: 3/24/2020

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick faced a sharp backlash for suggesting older Americans should sacrifice their lives for the sake of the economy during the coronavirus pandemic, with Democrats arguing that public health should remain the country’s top priority. “Let’s get back to living,” Patrick said. “Let’s be smart about it. And those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country.” Experts have warned that loosening federal guidelines for social distancing would likely accelerate the spread of the virus and put many more Americans at risk.

Utah Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow, Ousted by Scandal, Wants His Old Post Back
Salt Lake Tribune – Benjamin Wood | Published: 3/20/2020

John Swallow – the one-time Utah attorney general, driven from office by one of the state’s largest political scandals before being acquitted at trial – is running to reclaim his former office. Swallow won the 2012 election, but days after his inauguration, The Salt Lake Tribune reported his involvement in an alleged scheme to help a friend, Jeremy Johnson, enlist then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s help to avoid criminal prosecution. Johnson secretly recorded a meeting with Swallow where they discussed the deal. Subsequently, Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, were accused of extorting gifts and favors. Swallow denied the allegations, which prompted a probe by state and federal investigators, as well as a separate investigation into potential election law violations by the lieutenant governor’s office.

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March 20, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – March 20, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal At Party for Donald Trump Jr.’s Girlfriend, Donors Helped Pick Up the Tab New York Times – Kenneth Vogel, Steve Eder, and Nicholas Confessore | Published: 3/17/2020 It was a lavish birthday party for Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle. […]

National/Federal

At Party for Donald Trump Jr.’s Girlfriend, Donors Helped Pick Up the Tab
New York Times – Kenneth Vogel, Steve Eder, and Nicholas Confessore | Published: 3/17/2020

It was a lavish birthday party for Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle. The setting was Mar-a-Lago, President Trump’s private club in Palm Beach. The guest list included dozens of Trump family members and friends. But when it came to picking up the tab, hands went out to other attendees. Among them were at least four whose families are financial supporters of the president’s re-election campaign, for which Guilfoyle helps lead the fundraising. They ended up pitching in tens of thousands of dollars, passed along to Mar-a-Lago, to help pay for what two people familiar with the planning said was a $50,000 celebration of Guilfoyle’s 51st birthday. Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center said the party created the appearance of supporters of the president currying favor with his family by steering money into his private business, which he continues to profit from.

Biden Notches 3 More Victories; Sanders Reassessing Campaign
AP News – Will Weissert and Brian Slodysko | Published: 3/18/2020

Joe Biden swept to victory in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona, increasingly pulling away with a Democratic presidential primary upended by the coronavirus and building pressure on Bernie Sanders to abandon his campaign. Biden’s third big night in as many weeks came amid tremendous uncertainty as the Democratic contest collides with efforts to slow the spread of the virus that has shut down large swaths of American life. Polls were shuttered in Ohio, and although balloting went ahead as scheduled in the three other states, election workers and voters reported problems. Still, Biden’s quest for his party’s nomination now seems well within reach.

Biden’s Promise to Choose a Woman Veep Reignites Hopes of a Female President
MSN – Annie Linsky (Washington Post) | Published: 3/16/2020

After watching Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016 and the departure of prominent female candidates from this year’s Democratic primary race, women in the party expressed hope Joe Biden;s vow to name a woman as his running mate could spell an end to the starkest gender barrier in American politics. Women have been tapped twice before as vice-presidential candidates, but with polls showing Biden leading President Trump in a general election, many see this as the most realistic possibility that a woman could wind up a heartbeat from the presidency. Biden has described himself as a “bridge” to the next generation of leaders, a comment interpreted as a signal he would serve just one term, meaning his running mate would be even more of a president-in-waiting than usual.

Coronavirus Forces Brussels Lobbying to Go Digital
Politico – Cristina Gonzales | Published: 3/17/2020

The coronavirus has put traditional networking and lobbying in Brussels on ice. The long-term impact of the pandemic on European Union lobbying industry will depend to a large extent on how much Brussels is able to legislate and regulate through a period of Europe-wide lockdowns and economic slowdown, and how willing and able policymakers are to continue engaging with outside stakeholders during that time. For now, with formal and informal meetings on hold, influencers are practicing “telelobbying” – trying to strategize and advance agendas through phone calls, video calls, webinars, emails, and instant messages.

Coronavirus Shakes Up K Street
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 3/13/2020

K St. lobbyists said corporate leaders are looking for answers about what Capitol Hill and the White House are going to do to assist the economy and combat the spread of Covid-19. As the virus brings changes to daily life, with schools closing, events being cancelled, and people taking new precautions, lobbyists are being forced to rethink plans for meetings and high-profile events. Lobbyists who are not based in Washington have been forced to move to virtual meetings. Shoe leather lobbyists walk the halls of the Capitol or head to the White House to work for their clients, but increasingly those meetings are being handled over the phone. But as long as the work of Congress goes on, advocacy groups would need to stay engaged, said Lincoln Clapper, Prime Advocacy’s director of sales and marketing.

Coronavirus Tests American Democracy as Planning Begins for ‘Worst Case’ in November Election
Washington Post – Isaac Stanley-Baker and Amy Gardner | Published: 3/16/2020

The coronavirus pandemic is presenting a singular test for American democracy, prompting states to postpone their primaries while already causing attorneys and voting-rights groups to take steps to ensure access to the November election in the event the outbreak is not contained by then. Hardly any precedent exists for the dilemma now facing campaigns and voters in the states pressing ahead with their contests. Experts said President Trump lacks the legal authority to change the date of the election. But some cautioned that increasingly stringent public health guidelines advising Americans to stay in their homes, or potential government-imposed lockdowns stretching into the fall, could present unprecedented obstacles to voting.

DOJ Memo Shows Clinton, Obama, and Trump Donor’s Shady Foreign Campaign Finance Schemes
Washington Examiner – Jwerry Dunleavy | Published: 3/17/2020

Federal prosecutors detailed the alleged foreign lobbying schemes carried out by Imaad Zuberi in a lengthy memo, alleging the campaign fundraiser who donated to Democrats and Republicans concealed work for shadowy interests around the world. Zuberi pleaded guilty in October to charges of tax evasion, making nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions using straw donations and foreign funds and falsifying records of his extensive work as a foreign agent on behalf of Sri Lanka as well as lobbying for individuals and governments from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, Bahrain, and Libya. The Justice Department said Zuberi repeatedly violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act in receiving millions of dollars from foreign actors and lobbying Congress on their behalf.

Former Rep. Duncan Hunter Gets 11 Months in Prison for Campaign Finance Violations
Los AngelesTimes – Morgan Cook and Greg Moran (San Diego Union-Tribune) | Published: 3/17/2020

Former U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter was sentenced to 11 months in prison after pleading guilty to stealing campaign funds for his personal use. He resigned from Congress in January. Hunter and his wife were accused of stealing more than $250,000 in campaign contributions and trying to hide it on financial disclosure records. The funds bankrolled private school tuition for Hunter’s children, his wife’s shopping sprees, weekend trips with his mistress, and drinking parties in Washington, D.C. After he was indicted, Hunter ran for reelection and tried to convince voters in the district that as a staunch supporter of President Trump, he was the victim of a political witch hunt by left-leaning prosecutors trying to drive him out of office in Democratic California.

Full Appeals Court to Hear McGahn, Border Wall Cases
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 3/13/2020

The full District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to weigh in on two legal fights critical to President Trump: whether the U.S. House can use the courts to enforce a subpoena for testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn, and whether the House can sue to block Trump’s effort to fund border wall construction over congressional objections. The announcement wiped out a major victory Trump scored when a smaller panel of the same court ruled the courts should not wade into subpoena fights between Congress and the White House. There seems to be little chance the Supreme Court will resolve the issues definitively before the November election, but rulings in the House’s favor could lead the justices to intervene with a stay in the coming months.

Fundraisers Shifting Strategies to Cope with Coronavirus Pandemic
Campaigns and Elections – Sean Miller | Published: 3/17/2020

Handshakes are taboo, major cities are being ordered to shelter in place, President Trump has told Americans to limit gatherings to 10 people, and the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are starting to be felt far and wide. In this stark reality, political fundraising consultants are having to reinvent their strategies to keep money coming in for their clients, even as the country shuts down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In-person fundraisers have been canceled, and launch events (traditionally prime opportunities to raise money) have been postponed for campaigns across the country. Campaign and fundraising plans are also being rewritten to account for what many expect will be fundraising shortfalls, at least in the near term.

Justice Dept. Moves to Drop Charges Against Russian Firms Filed by Mueller
MSN – Katie Benner and Sharon LaFraniere (New York Times) | Published: 3/16/2020

The Justice Department moved to drop charges against two Russian shell companies accused of financing schemes to interfere in the 2016 election, saying they were exploiting the case to gain access to delicate information that Russia could weaponize. The companies, Concord Management and Concord Consulting, were charged in 2018 in an indictment secured by special counsel Robert Mueller, along with 13 Russians and another company. Prosecutors said they operated a scheme to use social media to subvert the election. Prosecutors complained that a cache of documents that could potentially be shared with the defendants included details about the government’s sources and methods for investigation, among its most important secrets. Prosecutors feared Concord might publish them online.

K Street Looks to Ride Coronavirus Relief Efforts
Politico – Theodoric Meyer | Published: 3/16/2020

Lobbyists for the private sector are looking to hitch a ride on the federal government’s coronavirus response. The deluge of “asks,” as K Street refers to such pleas, include policies that might help address the crisis and revive the economy. But other proposals are similar to ones the same industries have pushed for years and have only a tenuous connection to the pandemic. Even some in the influence industry are calling foul. “Some of the requests for aid appear opportunistic on their face while others seem truly desperate,” lobbyist Dave Oxner wrote in a recent note to clients.

Lobbyist Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy
Albuquerque Journal – Mike Gallagher | Published: 3/13/2020

A Washington, D.C. lobbyist pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the federal government while lobbying for the Big Crow Program Office, a government program based at Kirtland Air Force Base that could not legally pay for lobbying activities from government funds under federal law. George Lowe became the third person indicted in the scheme to plead guilty in the case. Lowe was charged with participating in a conspiracy to defraud the United States through false claims for payment of federal appropriated funds. Lowe received payment for his lobbying services with appropriated funds provided by third-party private contractors hired to provide support to Big Crow.

Omar’s Marriage to Political Consultant Renews Scrutiny of Campaign Spending
Connecticut Post – Michelle Ye Hee Lee (Washington Post) | Published: 3/13/2020

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s marriage to a political consultant has drawn renewed focus on her campaign’s payments to her new husband, Timothy Mynett, and his firm, which are at the center of a pending complaint with the FEC. Following Omar’s marriage announcement, conservative critics raised concerns about payments by her campaign to E Street Group, which is run by Mynett. Payments to the firm in the 2019-2020 cycle for Omar’s reelection campaign comprised 40 percent of total campaign expenses. Representatives for Omar’s campaign and Mynett’s firm said there was nothing improper about the payments because they were made for legitimate work.

Senior Judge Calls Out FEC for Changing Arguments ‘In Its Own Self-Interest’
Law.com – Jacqueline Thomson | Published: 3/13/2020

A senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sharply criticized the FEC for arguing that a legal challenge to the agency’s decision to not prosecute certain campaign finance violations cannot be reviewed by the court. The panel upheld a District Court ruling that granted the FEC summary judgement in a lawsuit from the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, finding the reasons commissioners gave for throwing out complaints of campaign finance violations were reasonable. The FEC had argued that because the challenge was over a prosecutorial decision by the commission, it was not subject to judicial review.

Some Democrats Urge Party to Weigh Alternatives for National Convention Amid Coronavirus Outbreak
MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker and Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 3/12/2020

Some Democratic Party officials have expressed concern about plans to bring tens of thousands of people to Milwaukee for the July convention, even as the party’s leadership said it was not entertaining canceling the event or holding it remotely. The fate of the convention presents a potential conundrum for Democrats. Thousands of delegates, activists, and others in the party faithful are expected to cram into the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee for the event. But the quest to showcase the nominee they hope will oust President Trump could run counter to the advice of public health experts, who are advising against large gatherings, if the coronavirus outbreak remains severe in the summer.

Super PACs Outmaneuver Outdated Rules to Leave Voters in the Dark
Center for Responsive Politics – Kark Evers-Hillstrom | Published: 3/18/2020

Super PACs are required to disclose their donors. But by launching a new super PAC just before an election, political actors can spend unlimited sums influencing races without disclosing their funding sources until after votes are counted. The current reporting rules were crafted more than four decades ago, when committee treasurers typed their reports with typewriters and mailed their disclosures to the FEC. Now, campaigns and outside groups maintain electronic databases of their contributions and spending, making it easy to file reports quickly. But the rules have not been updated to keep up with technological changes.

Two Congressmen Test Positive for the Coronavirus
Anchorage Daily News – Colby Itkowitz (Washington Post) | Published: 3/18/2020

Two members of Congress said they had tested positive for the coronavirus, the first lawmakers to contract the deadly disease, forcing other lawmakers who came into contact with them to announce they were self-quarantining. U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ben McAdams said they began developing symptoms less than 24 hours after they had stood on the crowded House floor and voted for the coronavirus relief package. That Diaz-Balart and McAdams began feeling sick and tested positive so soon after the House adjourned on March 14 raises questions about how contagious they were during their recent time on Capitol Hill.

With 2 Lawmakers Sick, the Rest Take Turns Voting in an Empty Chamber
New York Times – Jesse McKinley and Luis Ferre-Sanduri | Published: 3/19/2020

As the coronavirus continues to radically change the day-to-day rituals of tens of millions of Americans, state lawmakers across the country are scrambling to balance their sworn duties with fears of infection and legislative priorities that have been upended and reshuffled. At least 17 statehouses have postponed their legislatives sessions, with lawmakers effectively retreating from public view, reshaping a core function of government, and the way constituents are able to access their elected officials at the height of a pandemic.

From the States and Municipalities

Alabama Alabama Governor Postpones Runoffs, Prolonging Sessions-Tuberville Battle
Roll Call – Bridget Bowman | Published: 3/18/2020

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced she is postponing the state’s March 31 runoff elections until July 14, citing concerns about the new coronavirus. The move postpones the U.S. Senate Republican primary runoff between former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville. There are also primary runoffs in the open seats in Alabama’s 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts. The federal government has recommended gatherings not exceed 10 people in order to limit the spread of the virus.

California Political Dilemma: Make ballot statement, or spend more on campaign? The answer is shaping O.C. politics
Orange County Register – Brooke Staggs | Published: 3/18/2020

Orange County candidates running for state Senate and Assembly seats had to make a strategic gamble heading into the March 3 primary. They could pay $1,000 or more to print a 250-word candidate statement in the sample ballots mailed to all 1.64 million registered voters in Orange County. Such a statement might give them a needed edge in competitive races, but it came with a catch: any candidate who prints a statement on the primary ballot has to agree to strict campaign spending limits, both for the primary and, if they go forward, the November general election. Those decisions may play an even bigger role in the general, since some candidates in close races have agreed to spending limits even as their challengers did not.

California ‘Team Newport’ Pays $27,000 to Settle with State Over Allegations of Campaign Finance Disclosure Violations
Los Angeles Times – Hillary Davis | Published: 3/10/2020

The current and former Newport Beach City Council members known collectively as “Team Newport,” along with their political consultant and campaign treasurer, have paid the state $27,000 to settle a dispute over their 2014 campaign finance disclosures. The settlement dramatically cuts the original 44 counts that California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) staff returned against the group early last year. The agreement is subject to the FPPC’s approval when it meets March 19. The allegations centered largely on how contributions for mailers and door hangers were reported.

Florida Andrew Gillum Entering Rehab to Treat Alcohol Abuse After Hotel Incident
Tampa Bay Times – David Smiley and Steve Contorno | Published: 3/15/2020

Days after police say they found him in a hotel room with a collapsed companion and baggies of crystal meth, former Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum announced plans to enter rehab for alcohol abuse. Gillum was not arrested and was allowed to return to his hotel in Miami. According to a Miami Beach police report, officers responding to an overdose call at the found Gillum in a hotel room with two other men and too inebriated to talk. Gillum issued a statement saying he was in Miami to celebrate a wedding and had too much to drink. He said he has never used methamphetamine. His decision to step away from the spotlight clouds a political career that seemed to have no ceiling.

Florida Increase in City Oversight Is Meeting Resistance
Jacksonville Daily Record – Mike Mendenhall | Published: 3/18/2020

Some Jacksonville City Council members are pushing back on legislation that would increase the city ethics director’s oversight authority because they worry it could dissuade private companies from doing business with the city. Proponents say strengthening independent oversight of city agencies is necessary in light of JEA’s failed push to privatize the city-owned utility The proposed ordinance would grant the ethics director the same unrestricted access to records and documents as Jacksonville’s Office of Inspector General from all city employees, elected officials, and independent agencies and authorities. That access extends to private companies and their subcontractors doing business with the city and companies receiving financial incentives through economic development agreements.

Georgia Georgia Delays Primary Election
Politico – Zach Montellaro | Published: 3/14/2020

Georgia delayed its presidential primary due to coronavirus. The primary, which was originally scheduled for March 24, will now be held on May 19. The presidential primary in the state will now be held on the same day as primaries in the state for local, state, and congressional offices. In-person early voting has also been halted. A statement from state Sen. Nikema Williams, the chairperson of the Democratic Party of Georgia, indicated that in-person and absentee ballots that have already been cast in the presidential primary will count.

Hawaii This Hawaii Defense Contractor Has Emerged as a Major Political Player
Honolulu Civil Beat – Nick Grube | Published: 3/18/2020

Over the past decade, Martin Kao has become one of the most prolific political donors to come out of Hawaii. Kao is the chief executive officer of Navatek LLC, a Honolulu-based defense contractor that designs state-of-the-art ship hulls for the U.S. Navy. Kao has maintained a relatively low profile while he and his family have quietly pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign coffers of dozens of state and federal politicians. Now, some of these donations are coming under increased scrutiny, especially as Navatek expands its operations beyond Hawaii’s borders.

Louisiana Louisiana’s Presidential Primary Election to Be Delayed Because of Coronavirus
Baton Rouge Advocate – Sam Karlin | Published: 3/13/2020

The presidential primary elections in Louisiana slated for April 4 will be delayed until June 20, the latest in a series of dramatic steps government leaders have taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said the administration would use a provision of state law that allows them to move any election in an emergency situation.  More than half of the state’s election-day commissioners are 65 or older, and 32 polling locations are in nursing homes or other senior facilities, Ardoin said. “This decision has been made out of an absolute abundance of caution for Louisiana’s voters, voting officials, and the general public as a whole,” Ardoin said.

Maryland Maryland Postpones Primary, Shifts Special Election to Mail Voting Over Coronavirus
Politico – Alice Miranda Ollstein and Zach Montellaro | Published: 3/17/2020

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced he was postponing the state’s primaries, originally scheduled for late April, to June 2 as the country grapples with the spread of the coronavirus. But Maryland will still hold one election on April 28, foreshadowing a potentially broad move toward mail voting that could pave the way for elections across the country to continue during the crisis. Hogan said he believed the special election to fill the seat of the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings should forward on as a mail-in only election, the first federal election to be shifted to mail voting in response to coronavirus.

Maryland Senate Confirms Nominees to Overhauled University of Maryland Medical System Board After Self-Dealing Scandal
Baltimore Sun – Luke Broadwater | Published: 3/16/2020

The Maryland Senate voted to confirm nearly two dozen nominees to the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) board, which was overhauled last year after a self-dealing scandal rocked the hospital network and led to the resignation of Baltimore’s mayor. Senators voted unanimously to approve all new nominees to the board. But three Democratic senators voted against the five returning members, citing a report from state auditors that said the hospital network “hindered” a probe of the system’s finances. The Baltimore Sun reported on a new report from the auditors on UMMS finances, which uncovered more financial dealings between board members and their organizations than previously known. It revealed nearly $115 million in payments to more than two dozen board members and their related businesses in recent years.

Maryland States Are Banning Discrimination Against Black Hairstyles. For Some Lawmakers, It’s Personal.
Washington Post – Ovetta Wiggins | Published: 3/12/2020

Maryland Del. Stephanie Smith said many of her friends have been told over the years they should style their hair differently if they want to advance professionally. It is one of the main reasons Smith introduced legislation in the Maryland General Assembly that expands the state’s discrimination law to protect hair texture, Afro hairstyles, and protective hairstyles, such as braids, twists, and locs. “To require people to pretty much alter chemically or in some type of extreme way how their hair grows out of the head seems to me so beyond intrusive,” said Smith. A growing number of states and localities are taking steps to ban such discrimination, often led by young African American lawmakers like Smith.

Michigan ‘New Evidence’ to Retry Rep. Larry Inman for Attempted Extortion, Bribery, Prosecutors Say
MLive.com – John Agar | Published: 3/18/2020

Federal prosecutors say Michigan Rep. Larry Inman’s sworn testimony at trial has been contradicted by other lawmakers, including then-House Speaker Tom Leonard. Prosecutors want to retry Inman after a jury deadlocked on charges of attempted extortion and soliciting a bribe. Jurors acquitted him of lying to the FBI. Inman was accused of asking for campaign contributions in exchange for his vote on a 2018 repeal of a prevailing-wage law. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker in January suggested the line between seeking legitimate campaign funds and taking part in illegal activity may not be “bright and clear.”

Missouri Amid FBI Inquiry, Controversial Figures in Play for Another Huge City Power Project
Kansas City Star – Kevin Hardy, Steve Vockrodt, and Jason Hancock | Published: 3/15/2020

Two individuals involved in controversial energy projects in Independence that have drawn FBI scrutiny submitted a formal proposal to help repurpose a separate, soon-to-be shuttered city power plant. A collection of businesses led by Titan Fish Partners has a proposal with a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars to repurpose the Blue Valley Municipal Power Generating Plant in Independence into a biofuels production facility. Numerous businesses and individuals are involved in the proposal, including Steve Tilley, a lobbyist and former Missouri House speaker who is ab adviser to Gov. Mike Parson. According to people who were interviewed by the FBI, Tilley has been a central figure in questions focused on a pair of questionable utility contracts in Independence and the rollout of Missouri’s fledgling medical marijuana program.

New Jersey Controversial N.J. Law to Unmask Secret Campaign Donors Is Officially Dead
Newark Star Ledger – Brent Johnson and Ted Sherman (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 3/11/2020

U.S. District Court Judge Brian Martinotti permanently halted a New Jersey law requiring increased political donor disclosure. Martinotti issued a permanent against the law that required political organizations and some nonprofits to disclose all spending over $3,000, up from $1,600. It also mandated that contributors giving more than $10,000 would be disclosed. Supporters said the law was designed to shed more light on the donors who give secret donations to groups that have an effect on state government. Critics said the law curbs free speech because it would keep people who do not want their names to become public from getting involved in politics.

New York Judge Strikes Down New State Campaign Finance Law
Gotham Gazette – Samar Khurshid | Published: 3/13/2020

A New York Supreme Court judge struck down recommendations made by the state’s Public Finance Commission and ruled it did not have the authority to create laws. The commission was tasked with formulating a new campaign finance system for state elections. It also recommended changes to ballot petition requirements and party qualification thresholds, claiming too many candidates of various parties on the ballot would bankrupt any new system and raising questions about how valid some of the state’s parties really are. The commission recommendations became law in December after the state Legislature took no action to amend or reject them.

New York Top Lobbyist Suri Kasirer Enjoys Strong Ties to NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson
New York Daily News – Michael Gartland | Published: 3/15/2020

The lobbying firm that once employed two top staffers for New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has successfully persuaded the council on several controversial land-use projects, raising hackles among good-government advocates. The Kasirer firm, the highest-earning lobbyist in the city for the past three years, has enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Johnson since 2017, when its namesake president Suri Kasirer backed him for speaker. Jason Goldman and Genevieve Michel, two Kasirer alums, also now work for Johnson, with Goldman serving as his chief of staff and Michel as deputy chief of staff. John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said while it appears no rules are being broken, the relationship raises serious ethical concerns.

North Carolina ‘Tip of an Iceberg’: Evidence in NC bribery case hints at more intrigue
WRAL – Travis Fain | Published: 3/12/2020

Evidence in the bribery trial of North Carolina’s biggest political donor hints at a wider world of intrigue than even his $5.5 million in documented campaign contributions previously revealed. Recorded conversations, texts, and emails name-checked a who’s who of North Carolina elected officials as Greg Lindberg, who owns a slew of businesses, pressed for a lighter regulatory touch on his insurance companies. A jury convicted Lindberg and his political fixer, a John Gray. Jurors agreed with the FBI and prosecutors that the men offered state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey campaign donations if he would replace a key regulator in his department. Causey wore an FBI camera that took in not only evidence of the crime, but also offhand remarks that tease at a larger tale, leaving substantial questions unanswered.

Ohio Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s Move to Close Primary Polls Due to Coronavirus Spawns Confusion, Criticism
Washington Post – Timothy Bella | Published: 3/17/2020

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s decision to close the polls for the state’s primary election due to the coronavirus pandemic created confusion and drew criticism from voting advocates. The governor said Amy Acton, the state’s health director, ordered the polls to be closed. DeWine acted after a judge rejected his effort to have the polls closed, saying the governor’s push to reschedule the election would “set a terrible precedent.” The decision from DeWine has led to increased uncertainty for how the state will proceed. It is rare for a governor to delay an election. While some praised DeWine for putting safety ahead of an election, others online decried the governor’s order as voter suppression and “an absolute tragedy of democracy.”

Rhode Island ‘Fall Guy’ Says House Speaker’s Chief of Staff Asked Him to Sign False Affidavit
Boston Globe – Edward Fitzpatrick | Published: 3/14/2020

In newly filed court papers, political operative Jeffrey Britt says the chief of staff for Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello asked him to sign an affidavit about a controversial campaign mailer, but he refused to sign it because it was false. Britt is charged with money laundering and making a prohibited campaign contribution during Mattiello’s 2016 re-election campaign. He is accused of funneling money to Republican Shawna Lawton, so she could put out a mailer endorsing Mattiello, a Democrat, who ended up edging another Republican by 85 votes.

Tennessee Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron’s Campaign Finance Fines Stay at $80K, Board Rejects Request
MSN – Scott Broden and Joel Ebert (Murfreesboro Daily News Journal) | Published: 3/12/2020

Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron still faces a recent $10,000 campaign finance fine after the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance Board rejected his reconsideration request. “I’ve got a serious, serious problem with any consideration on anything that he’s got,” said Tom Lawless, chairperson of the registry. It brings the total to eight unpaid $10,000 fines to Ketron for late filing of campaign finance reports. Lawless also questioned why Ketron kept his daughter as the treasurer of the campaign accounts until recently replacing her while she faced criminal charges of fraudulent insurance practices and theft of $65,000 from her father’s campaign accounts.

Washington DC Jack Evans Withdraws from D.C. Special Election Triggered by His Resignation
Washington Post – Fenit Nirappil | Published: 3/18/2020

Former District of Columbia Council member Jack Evans said he will not run in the special election to fill the vacancy he created by resigning before he could be expelled for ethics violations. Evans is still running in the June 2 Democratic primary to reclaim the Ward 2 seat for a permanent four-year term that starts in January. “I have decided it is best to not seek to run for the position which I resigned from in January and instead focus on a new start for the next four years,” Evans said. “Not running in the special is also a way of showing my sincere regret for the mistakes I made.”

Wisconsin Democrats Sue to Extend Wisconsin Primary Voting Deadlines
Courthouse News Service – Joe Kelly | Published: 3/18/2020

A lawsuit filed by Democrats in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., asks state election officials to extend absentee voting deadlines and suspend certain voter registration rules for the April 7 primary in light of widespread disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The complaint brought by the Democratic National Committee and Wisconsin Democratic Party names the six commissioners of the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission as defendants. The Democrats argue that forced confinement and social distancing implemented to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus will prevent people from voting, regardless of whether they are able or willing to leave their homes.

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March 13, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – March 13, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal Biden Surge Brings Sense of Relief to K Street Politico – Theodoric Meyer | Published: 3/11/2020 When Bernie Sanders won the Nevada caucuses by a commanding margin in February, a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm sent out a memo to clients […]

National/Federal

Biden Surge Brings Sense of Relief to K Street
Politico – Theodoric Meyer | Published: 3/11/2020

When Bernie Sanders won the Nevada caucuses by a commanding margin in February, a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm sent out a memo to clients girding them for what a Sanders administration might look like. Less than three weeks later, the same firm is preparing clients for a much less worrying prospect: the likelihood that Joe Biden, a more conventional candidate, will win the Democratic nomination after he rocketed past Sanders with a string of big victories. “There’s an immense amount of relief – make no mistake,” said Democratic lobbyist Scott Eckert. But a Biden administration, if he were to secure the nomination and defeat President Trump in November, could pose its own problems for K Street.

Bloomberg Aides Cut Loose Despite Yearlong Employment Promise
Politico – Christopher Cadelago and Sally Goldenberg | Published: 3/10/2020

Michael Bloomberg’s shuttered presidential campaign is dismissing staffers across the country and inviting them to reapply for jobs on his new independent committee, despite extending guarantees of being paid through the November election when they were hired. The former New York mayor is now underwriting an outside effort to help Democrats defeat President Trump. The Bloomberg campaign has said it plans to remain active in six battleground states and could give priority to the aides still on payroll. But it is unclear how many positions the new independent expenditure will have. Federal rules require Bloomberg to designate a new vehicle to fund Democratic efforts and pay staffers.

Business Money Flows Through Gaps in Anti-Corporate PAC Pledge
Roll Call – Kate Ackley and George LeVines | Published: 3/11/2020

More than 50 sitting federal lawmakers have taken a pledge not to accept direct donations from the PACs of corporations. The pledge has led to growing concerns among corporate PAC leaders about what it means for their future. Yet a review of contribution records found the political money of business interests – to the tune of $2.6 million last year alone – continued to find a way to most of the lawmakers who have taken the pledge. Typically, that route is through the PACs of trade associations and professional organizations. Trade association and member organization PACs are not designated as corporate PACs under the FEC’s classification process and therefore do not violate the no-corporate-PAC pledge as crafted by advocacy groups promoting it.

Coronavirus Threatens to Pose an Unprecedented Challenge to the 2020 Elections
Washington Post – Isaac Stanley-Becker and Elise Viebeck | Published: 3/9/2020

Presidential campaigns, parties, and state election officials are scrambling to heed health warnings while safeguarding the democratic process against a growing coronavirus epidemic whose scope is difficult to predict. Their planning has included advising voters not to lick their mail-in ballots, relocating polling places away from senior living communities, and weighing whether to move forward with plans to bring tens of thousands of visitors from around the world to Milwaukee and Charlotte for the planned Democratic and Republican summer conventions. The virus suddenly brought every assumption about the unfolding of the 2020 race into question, even the viability of activities as core to campaigning as knocking on doors. It also intensified fears about election interference and disinformation.

Democrats Boost National Fundraising for State Legislatures
Roll Call – Jacob Fischler | Published: 3/11/2020

After nearly a decade of virtually ceding state legislative races to Republicans, the Democratic Party organization dedicated to winning those seats and other allied groups nationally are ramping up fundraising in a bid to win control of state chambers ahead of census-driven redistricting. But funding disadvantages in individual races show the headwinds that persist. Flipping chambers as the Democrats did in Virginia in 2019 is about flipping individual seats. And the boost in funding to outside groups has not trickled down to individual Democratic candidates in key states.

Democrats Should Get Mueller Evidence, Judges Rule
Politico – Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney | Published: 3/10/2020

House Democrats scored a legal victory as a federal appeals court panel granted them permission to access grand jury secrets from Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. The ruling from the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision in favor of the House’s ability to see the deleted passages in the public version of the Mueller report, the tome that describes the two-year investigation into potential links between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. The report also examines Trump’s attempts to stymie the Russia probe. If it stands, the ruling would give lawmakers access to all the report’s blacked-out words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and entire pages – nearly 1,000 portions in all – as well as underlying interviews and memos cited in Mueller’s review.

Erik Prince Recruits Ex-Spies to Help Infiltrate Liberal Groups
MSN – Mark Mazzetti and Adam Goldman (New York Times) | Published: 3/7/2020

Erik Prince, a security contractor with close ties to the Trump administration, has in recent years helped recruit former American and British spies for secretive intelligence-gathering operations that included infiltrating Democratic congressional campaigns, labor organizations, and other groups. Two operations were run by Project Veritas, a conservative group that has used hidden cameras and microphones for sting operations on news organizations, Democratic politicians, and liberal advocacy groups. Whether any Trump administration officials or advisers to the president were involved in the operations, even tacitly, is unclear. But the effort is a glimpse of a vigorous private campaign to try to undermine political groups or individuals perceived to be in opposition to Trump’s agenda.

Facebook Decides to Take Down Trump 2020 Campaign’s ‘Census’ Ads
Reuters – Elizabeth Culliford and Mark Brown | Published: 3/5/2020

Facebook removed ads by President Trump’s re-election campaign that asked users to fill out an “Official 2020 Congressional District Census” because the ads violate the company’s policy against misinformation on the government’s census. The ads, which come from the pages of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, link to a survey on an official campaign website and then to a page asking for donations. “We need Patriotic Americans like YOU to respond to this census, so we can develop a winning strategy for YOUR STATE,” the ad read. The online newsletter Popular Information, which first reported on the ads, said Facebook had originally said they did not violate its policy.

GOP Rep. Steve Watkins’ Woes Mount with FEC Probe into His Father
Politico – Melanie Zanona and John Bresnahan | Published: 3/6/2020

The FEC is investigating potentially improper straw donations to U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins’ 2018 campaign that were paid for by his father, the latest political headache for the embattled Republican. At the heart of the FEC probe is whether Watkins’ father made illegal contributions to boost Watkin’s congressional bid. Steve Watkins Sr. confirmed the FEC is investigating him for giving thousands of dollars to his daughters, a home-building contractor, and the contractor’s wife, which they then used to max out to Watkins’ campaign. Those types of contributions violate campaign finance laws. The elder Watkins, who also dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into a super PAC to support his son’s election, insisted he did not know what he was doing was illegal.

House Democrats Request Appeal Asking Court to Enforce Subpoena for Former Trump White House Counsel Donald McGahn
Seattle Times – Spencer Hsu and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 3/6/2020

House Democrats asked a federal appeals court to reconsider enforcing a congressional subpoena for President Trump’s former White House counsel Donald McGahn. The request comes after a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found the courts have no authority to resolve the separation-of-powers dispute between the White House and Democrats in Congress. Lawyers for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi want a full complement of judges on the appeals court to overturn the ruling from a three-judge panel of the same court. If the ruling stands, it means the president’s former White House counsel can defy the subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee. Even if the full appeals court agrees to take a second look, the case is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court.

How The Trump Campaign Took Over The GOP
MSN – Danny Hakim and Glen Thrush (New York Times) | Published: 3/9/2020

President Trump’s campaign manager and a circle of allies have seized control of the Republican Party’s voter data and fundraising apparatus, using a network of private businesses whose operations and ownership are cloaked in secrecy, largely exempt from federal disclosure. Working under the aegis of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, with the cooperation of Trump appointees at the Republican National Committee (RNC), the operatives have consolidated power – and made money – in a way not possible in an earlier, more transparent analog era. Since 2017, businesses associated with the group have billed roughly $75 million to the Trump campaign, the RNC, and a range of other Republican clients.

Intelligence Officials Temper Russia Warnings, Prompting Accusations of Political Influence
New York Times – Julian Barnes, Nicholas Fandos, and Adam Goldman | Published: 3/10/2020

Intelligence officials told lawmakers behind closed doors that Russia was not directly supporting any candidates as it tried to interfere in the presidential race, an assertion that contradicted an earlier briefing and prompted accusations from Democrats that the Trump administration was politicizing intelligence. President Trump attacked the briefings earlier in the day, accusing U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, of dwelling too much on Russian election interference. Two intelligence officials pushed back on any suggestion the officials were politicizing their assessments. They said career professionals had made the conclusions about Russia and they represented the current view of various intelligence agencies.

Joe Biden Has Another Big Primary Night, Wins 4 More States
AP News – Will Weissert and Laurie Kellman | Published: 3/11/2020

Joe Biden decisively won Michigan’s Democratic presidential primary, seizing a key battleground state that helped propel Bernie Sanders’ insurgent candidacy four years ago. The former vice president’s victory there, as well as in Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho, dealt a serious blow to Sanders and substantially widened Biden’s path to the nomination. Biden again showed strength with working-class voters and African Americans, who are vital to winning the Democratic nomination. Sanders’ narrow hopes for good news rested on North Dakota and Washington state. Washington’s primary was too early to call, and because all votes there are cast by mail or by dropping them off in a ballot box, many ballots were marked for candidates who have since dropped out of the race.

Judges Wrestle with Power of House Ethics Office
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 3/9/2020

A federal appeals court is wrestling with the powers of House investigators to get accurate information when pursuing ethics investigations into members of Congress and their staff. The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments stemming from the prosecution of David Bowser, a former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, on charges of misleading investigators about the hiring of a House-paid employee to do political work for Broun. The appeals judges who took up Bowser’s case offered some glimmers of hope for his defense, but it sounded unlikely he would see a ruling that wipes out all the guilty verdicts against him. Judge Robert Wilkins expressed concern that the court not be seen as criminalizing the widespread practice of congressional staffers moonlighting for campaigns.

Juul Labs Sought to Court AGs as Teen Vaping Surged
AP News – Matthew Perrone and Richard Lardner | Published: 3/9/2020

The nation’s largest electronic-cigarette company, Juul Labs, has met with state attorneys general from around the country and donated tens of thousands of dollars to their campaigns, part of an effort to build relationships with these powerful officials and potentially head off legal challenges over how Juul promoted and sold its vaping products. The company also donated $50,000 each to the Republican and Democratic fundraising committees that support the election of attorneys general candidates. Those donations won Juul corporate membership in both groups, a status that came with invitations to semiannual retreats and conferences attended by attorneys general and their staff. These events provide opportunities for companies to lobby state officials.

Matt Gaetz Made Light of Coronavirus by Wearing a Gas Mask. Now He Is in Quarantine.
MSN – Kim Belllware and Donna Cassata (Washington Post) | Published: 3/9/2020

Days after U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz wore an enormous gas mask during a floor vote on an emergency funding package for the coronavirus response, he announced he would self-quarantine for 14 days after coming into contact with a Conservative Political Action Conference participant who tested positive for the novel virus. He said he will close his Washington office while he is in quarantine. Gaetz said he has not experienced any symptoms but was tested and expects results soon. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar and Douglas Collins, who attended the same conference, also announced they would self-quarantine.

Newly Obtained Documents Reveal More Secret Service Payments to Trump Properties
Seattle Times – David Fahrenthold, Joshua Partlow, Jonathan O’Connell, and Carol Leonnig (Washington Post) | Published: 3/5/2020

The U.S. Secret Service was billed $157,000 more than was previously known by President Trump’s clubs and properties for nightly room rentals in the last three years, documents show. In total, the agency – and by extension, taxpayers – has been billed at least $628,000 by the properties since Trump took office in 2017. The payments show Trump has an unprecedented, and still partially hidden, business relationship with his own government. The Secret Service accompanies the president and family members wherever they go, and while on protective duty its agents are exempt from federal limits on hotel room spending. But there appears to be no requirement that presidents must charge the Secret Service. In fact, most recent presidents and vice presidents have allowed the Secret Service to use space on their properties free.

Tens of Thousands of Political Ads on Facebook Lacked Key Details About Who Paid for Them, New Report Finds
Washington Post – Tony Romm and Isaac Stanley-Becker | Published: 3/6/2020

Experts at New York University performed a security audit of Facebook’s online ad archive between May 2018 and June 2019. Their conclusions, spelled out in a new paper, point to myriad opportunities malicious actors may have had to exploit the platform’s powerful targeting tools while hiding their tracks, misleading users and evading Facebook’s enforcement. In the years after Russian agents weaponized the social-networking platform as part of their efforts to sway the 2016 presidential election, Facebook developed verification measures designed to prevent foreign actors from purchasing political ads. It also undertook transparency initiatives that placed paid posts in a public archive. But researchers found a series of defects that still could “enable a malicious advertiser to avoid accurate disclosure of their political ads,” as they wrote.

Trump FEC Pick Offers Mixed Messages on Donor Disclosure
Center for Responsive Politics – Karl Evers-Hillstrom | Published: 3/10/2020

Trey Trainor, President Trump’s Republican nominee to the FEC, tried to quell concerns from Democrats and some good government groups that he would avoid enforcing campaign finance law if confirmed. During his nomination hearing, Trainor said he believes political donors should be disclosed despite his past support for secret election spending. He defended a “dark money” group from state regulators and previously invoked the Federalist Papers to defend undisclosed political spending. Trainor followed that statement by indicating he would abide by the FEC’s current system of tackling undisclosed election spending.

Watchdog Group Says Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s Hong Kong Lobbying Broke the Law
Miami Herald – Alex Daugherty | Published: 3/6/2020

The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the Justice Department alleging that former U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen broke the law when she signed on as a consultant for the Hong Kong government during her one-year lobbying ban after she left office. In April 2019, Ros-Lehtinen was named a “team leader” for the Hong Kong Trade Development Council as part of her work with Akin Gump, according to a filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Ros-Lehtinen retired from Congress in January 2019 and was barred from lobbying Congress for one year. The one-year lobbying ban also includes a blanket ban on any work for a foreign government for at least a year.

From the States and Municipalities

California Ex-L.A. Councilman Englander Charged with Obstruction in Probe Alleging Lavish Spending and Escorts
Los Angeles Times – Joel Rubin and Emily Alpert Reyes | Published: 3/9/2020

Former Los Angeles City Council member Mitchell Englander was charged with obstructing an investigation into him accepting cash, escort services, hotel rooms, and meals from a businessperson. Englander is the first City Hall figure to be publicly charged in connection with a probe that has delved into the worlds of politics and real estate development. In 2017, Englander and one of his top aides went to a Las Vegas resort and casino with the businessperson. At the resort, Englander took an envelope containing $10,000 in cash from the businessperson in a bathroom, according to the charges. The indictment also details meetings Englander had with the businessperson in Palm Springs. Englander allegedly accepted an envelope with $5,000 in cash from the businessperson during a brief encounter in a casino bathroom while the men attended a golf tournament.

California Glendale Officials Now Must Disclose Familial, Business Relationships to Those Seeking the City’s Ear
Los Angeles Times – Lila Seidman | Published: 3/10/2020

Glendale adopted a lobbyist and disclosure ordinance that imposes rules on how city officials and individuals attempting to influence them can interact, with the intent of bringing more transparency to City Hall. Lobbyists will now have to identify themselves, who they are working for, and how much they are being paid or risk being slapped with fines or a misdemeanor charge. Each year, lobbyists – whether they are individuals or firms – will now need to register with the city.

Connecticut Lawmakers Question Funding Behind Anti-Vaccine Groups Who Swarmed State Capitol
Hartford Courant – Christopher Keating | Published: 3/5/2020

Democratic senators in Connecticut said three groups that are working against a bill to end the state’s religious exemption to vaccines for schoolchildren “have active social media presences, have purchased billboard advertising, created professional websites, and have distributed paraphernalia such as stickers and posters at legislative hearings,” appearing to exceed the $3,000 threshold that requires such groups to register as lobbying organizations with the Office of State Ethics. The senators said the groups are also soliciting online donations.

Florida Federal Prosecutors Open Investigation into Nonprofit That Enriched CEO
Miami Herald – Mary Ellen Klas | Published: 3/11/2020

Federal prosecutors have launched an investigation into the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, adding the prospect of criminal charges to the government actions mounting against former Chief Executive Officer Tiffany Carr and the agency’s board of directors, accused of misusing millions in taxpayer dollars. The investigation is the latest response to revelations that members of the board allowed Carr to be paid $7.5 million in executive compensation over three years. Florida lawmakers have passed a bill to end the state contract with the coalition, which had been the clearinghouse for $52 million in annual state and federal funding for 42 domestic violence shelters.

Florida Leon County Commission Gives Green Light to Stronger Lobbying Ordinance
Tallahassee Democrat – Karl Etters | Published: 3/10/2020

The Leon County Commissioners moved forward changes to the lobbying ordinance that would clear up ambiguity on who is required to register and streamline enforcement efforts. The proposed language, which will go before a public hearing, comes after recent reporting that highlighted the blurry lines at the intersection of lobbying, private business, political campaigns, and public policy. No lobbyist has ever been cited for a violation in the county, said outgoing County Attorney Herb Thiele, who added that any instances that could have resulted in a fine were handled by instead reminding lobbyists to register. But he described the process, if a lobbyist were to be cited, as “cumbersome.”

Florida Lobbyist Sought City Benefits for Westside Property He Owned with Ex-JEA CEO Aaron Zahn
Florida Times-Union – Christopher Hong | Published: 3/6/2020

Local lobbyist Deno Hicks sought financial incentives from Jacksonville City Hall for a city property he co-owns with JEA’s now-fired chief executive officer Aaron Zahn and that he is now trying to sell to a company affiliated with Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Florida’s former lieutenant governor. Zahn’s business partnership with Hicks came under scrutiny in his final days at JEA – a community owned electric, water, and sewer utility – which had hired Hicks’ former lobbying firm during Zahn’s tenure. Zahn did not disclose his ownership stake in the land to JEA’s ethics department. City attorneys who investigated Zahn concluded he failed to disclose business and personal conflicts-of-interest, which was one of two dozen instances of misconduct the board of directors used as evidence to fire Zahn earlier this year.

Louisiana In Louisiana, Casinos Bet on Political Donations Not Banned by Campaign Finance Law
Houston Public Media – Patrick Madden (WWNO) | Published: 3/5/2020

In Louisiana, casinos are prohibited from making campaign contributions to state politicians or campaigns. But casinos can donate money to federal groups such as the Democratic and Republican governors associations. These outside groups can spend freely on state races.  This money can be hard to trace because governors. associations don not disclose their donors until months after an election. Many other states have similar “pay-to-play” laws that prohibit specific special interests from making campaign contributions. But with outside groups free to raise and spend unlimited money without the same restrictions, watchdog groups worry these state-level “pay-to-play” laws could lose their effectiveness.

Maine CMP Project Backers Urge Lawmakers to Defeat Bill Barring Foreign Influence in Maine Elections
Maine Public – Steve Mistler | Published: 3/11/2020

Maine lawmakers are considering a bill that would bar foreign nationals and certain foreign corporations from spending to influence ballot campaigns. It is designed to close a loophole in the election law, but it could also have an immediate impact on Hydro-Quebec, the electricity supplier for a controversial $1 billion transmission line through western Maine. Hydro-Quebec formed a ballot question committee to support the project, and it has since been buying print and digital ads, touting its purported environmental benefits to Maine. But the Canadian utility’s involvement immediately raised questions about foreign influence in a Maine election and highlights an election law loophole that allows foreign nationals and companies controlled by foreign governments to spend on state ballot initiatives.

Maryland Baltimore Businessman Admits to Bribing Former Lawmaker
AP News – Regina Garcia Cano | Published: 3/9/2020

A Baltimore businessperson Lance Lucas pleaded to federal charges stemming from bribes totaling $42,500 he paid to former state Del. Cheryl Diane Glenn while she was still in office. Glenn pleaded guilty to accepting more than $33,000 in bribes from people other than Lucas. Lucas made 11 payments to Glenn, starting with four money orders, each for $500, in May 2018 after he told her about the significant costs that an unnamed company had incurred in its pursuit of a medical marijuana dispensary license. During a lunch meeting, Glenn suggested she would have drafted a bill benefiting the company had he paid her the money spent in the effort to get the license, according to the charging document.

Maryland Maryland House of Delegates Passes Campaign Finance Reform Package
Baltimore Sun – Luke Broadwater | Published: 3/12/2020

The Maryland House of Delegates passed a package of campaign finance reform legislation. One bill would help the State Board of Elections investigate suspicious campaign donations by requiring the State Department of Assessments and Taxation to forward a list of businesses that have forfeited their registrations to the elections board. Another bill prohibits a candidate’s family member or employee of the candidate from serving as the campaign’s treasurer. The four bills now move to the Senate for consideration.

Maryland Minority Contractors Protest Baltimore City Council Bill That Would Require Union Agreements for Major Contracts
Baltimore Sun – Lance Lucas | Published: 3/9/2020

A bill that would allow labor unions to set the terms for how employees are hired on city construction projects has run into early opposition from Baltimore’s minority and nonunion contractors. Speaking in front of City Hall, representatives of several construction firms said the proposed legislation would be a burden on the city’s nonunion shops, many of which are minority-owned and employ people rejected by union groups like those with criminal records. The proposed bill would require project labor agreements, a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement between a contractor and a labor organization that establishes a labor group to represent everyone who works on the project. It would apply to all city construction projects valued at $25 million or more, or long-term capital improvement plans of more than $15 million that involve projects at multiple locations.

Missouri Businessman Involved in St. Louis County Scheme Sentenced
AP News – Jim Salter | Published: 3/5/2020

A businessperson who admitted to providing bribes as part of a “pay-to-play” scandal that led to the downfall of St. Louis County’s former top elected official was sentenced to 17 months in federal prison. John Rallo pleaded guilty to three bribery counts as part of a scheme involving former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges for providing political favors in exchange for campaign donations. He is serving a sentence of nearly four years in prison. Two others also pleaded guilty to federal crimes as part of the scheme.

Missouri Kansas City Mayor Is Turned Away from Polls, Told He ‘Wasn’t in the System’
Kansas City Star – Allison Kite, Robert Cronkelton, and Glenn Rice | Published: 3/10/2020

Moments after making a plea for people to get out and vote in the Missouri primary on March 10, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said as turned away from the polls and told he “wasn’t in the system.” Lucas tried to cast his vote at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, where he said he has voted since 2009. Election officials later blamed the incident on a mistake by a poll worker, and Lucas returned later in the day and voted. But the mayor said the incident pointed to a larger problem in how elections are run.

New York Cuomo Resurfaces Nonprofit Donor Disclosure Plan
City and State – Kay Dervishi | Published: 3/5/2020

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is again trying to require nonprofits and political advocacy organizations to publicly disclose their donors, after a similar law he spearheaded was struck down in October. But representatives from nonprofits fear the proposal would quash charitable giving and violate free speech protections. Nonprofits already disclose their major donors on tax forms to both the IRS and state attorney general’s office, but that information is currently kept confidential. This proposal in the state budget would require the state to list the donors online who give more than $5,000.

North Carolina Durham Businessman Found Guilty of Bribing NC Official
WRAL – Travis Fain | Published: 3/5/2020

A federal jury convicted businessperson Greg Lindberg on public corruption and bribery charges in a scheme to influence North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. Lindberg offered Causey up to $2 million more to ease regulations on Lindberg’s insurance companies. The jury also found John Gray, a Lindberg consultant, guilty of helping set up the deal. Causey recorded those conversations for the FBI. Former North Carolina Republican Party Chairperson Robin Hayes had already pleaded guilty in this case, admitting he lied to federal investigators about the deal, which included money flowing through the state party but ultimately bound for Causey’s campaign coffers.

Vermont House Panel Seeks to Weaken Corporate Campaign Contribution Bill
Seven Days – Paul Heinz | Published: 3/10/2020

Campaign finance reformers have spent years seeking to limit the flow of corporate money into Vermont elections. Now a bill that would do just that is being watered down by a House committee. Senate Bill 47 was originally drafted to prohibit corporations from making direct donations to Vermont candidates and political parties. It passed the Senate last March but has languished in the House thereafter. The House Committee on Government Operations is now poised to approve the bill with one major change: it would continue to allow political parties to accept corporate contributions.

Virginia PR Consultants Linked to Social Media Campaign Opposing Northern Va. Slots Won’t Say Who’s Behind It
Virginia Mercury – Graham Moomaw | Published: 3/11/2020

Someone has been running a social media campaign built to look like grassroots opposition to slot machines in Northern Virginia. In almost $50,000 worth of Facebook ads, a group called Not in Nova has warned that “out-of-state Big Gambling special interests and their lobbyists” were sneaking a bill through the General Assembly that would make the area more crowded and expensive. But none of the group’s public materials connect back to any identifiable citizen activists working against a proposal to allow Colonial Downs to operate hundreds of slots-like historical horse racing machines in Dumfries. The secretive nature of the advocacy campaign and the fingerprints of the public relations firms that seem to be carrying it out have fueled questions on social media and around the Capitol about who is actually behind it.

Washington Grant County Pair to Pay $250,000 in Campaign Finance Case
AP News – Gene Johnson | Published: 3/9/2020

Businessperson Ken Greene and attorney Jerry Moberg agreed to pay $250,000 in fines and legal expenses after a judge found they violated Washington’s campaign finance law, but the defendants insist the case is a serious overreach by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Thurston County Superior Court Judge John Skinder ruled Greene and Moberg unlawfully concealed they were responsible for spending $3,900 on political fliers mailed to voters during the 2014 campaign for Grant County prosecutor. Moberg was assessed the bulk of the settlement: $230,000. That includes $115,000 in fines and $115,000 for legal costs incurred by the state. “Intentionally violating Washington’s campaign finance laws and lying to investigators about your conduct will result in a significant penalty,” Ferguson said.

Washington DC Jack Evans Probably Qualifies for Public Campaign Money in Comeback Bid, Records Show
Washington Post – Fenit Nirappil | Published: 3/11/2020

Jack Evans appears to qualify for public campaign funds in his bid to reclaim the District of Columbia Council seat he gave up amid an ethics scandal. The city’s new public financing program allows ward council candidates to receive taxpayer dollars if they collect at least $5,000 in small campaign contributions from 150 residents. Evans’ filing showed he raised nearly $10,000 from more than 200 residents. If regulators verify that he met the requirements to qualify for public financing and this summer’s election ballots, Evans would receive $40,000 in grants and up to $50,000 in matching donations. Public financing for Evans would mark a dramatic shift for the former council member, who has relied on raising money from developers, businesses, and moneyed interests over three decades.

West Virginia Ethics Panel Clears Justice’s Flights to, from Lewisburg
Huntington Herald-Dispatch – Phil Kabler | Published: 3/6/2020

Gov. Jim Justice may fly in the state plane from his home in Lewisburg to destinations other than Charleston to participate in official state business, and while in those locations, may take part in campaign activities before making the return flight home, the West Virginia Ethics Commission determined. In an advisory opinion, the commission said Justice has to meet several criteria to assure his travel does not violate the Ethics Act’s prohibition against using public office for private gain. The commission stressed it was not addressing a current legal challenge before the state Supreme Court contending that, by living in Lewisburg, Justice is violating a requirement in the state constitution that the governor reside at the seat of state government.

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March 6, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – March 6, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal Biden Claims 9 Super Tuesday Victories, Including Texas AP News – Steve Peoples and Will Weissert | Published: 3/4/2020 A resurgent Joe Biden scored victories from Texas to Massachusetts on Super Tuesday, revitalizing a presidential bid that was teetering on […]

National/Federal

Biden Claims 9 Super Tuesday Victories, Including Texas
AP News – Steve Peoples and Will Weissert | Published: 3/4/2020

A resurgent Joe Biden scored victories from Texas to Massachusetts on Super Tuesday, revitalizing a presidential bid that was teetering on the edge of disaster just days earlier. But his rival Bernie Sanders seized the biggest prize with a win in California that ensured he would drive the Democrats’ nomination fight for the foreseeable future. And suddenly, the Democratic Party’s presidential field, which featured more than a half-dozen candidates, transformed into a two-man contest.

Bloomberg Drops Out of Presidential Race, Endorses Biden
AP News – Kathleen Ronayne and Alexandra Jaffe | Published: 3/4/2020

Michael Bloomberg ended his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden. It was a surprising collapse for the former New York City mayor, who pumped more than $500 million of his own fortune into the campaign. Bloomberg announced his departure from the race after a disappointing finish on Super Tuesday in the slate of states that account for almost one-third of the total delegates available in the Democratic nominating contest. He won only the territory of American Samoa and picked up several dozen delegates elsewhere.

Cashing in On Justice
Roll Call – Joshua Eaton, Ilana Marcus, and Ed Timms | Published: 3/3/2020

Before they put on their robes, dozens of federal judges appointed during the Trump and Obama administrations made significant campaign contributions to Senate Judiciary Committee members and their home-state senators, the very people who could make or break their nominations. Three Republican senators – Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina – got more money than the rest of the Judiciary Committee combined. Virtually all those contributions came from judicial nominees they ultimately backed. Home-state senators who have not served on the panel also wield considerable influence on who becomes a federal judge. They have received significant contributions from donors who ended up on the bench.

Inspector General to Probe Whether VA Chief Robert Wilkie Tried to Discredit Woman Who Reported Sex Assault
Fayetteville Observer – Lisa Rein (Washington Post) | Published: 2/28/2020

The Veterans Affairs Department’s inspector general has opened an investigation into allegations that Secretary Robert Wilkie tried to dig up dirt on an aide to a top Democrat in Congress after she said she was sexually assaulted at the agency’s Washington, D.C. hospital. Inspector General Michael Missal, after a preliminary review of Wilkie’s conduct following the woman’s report last fall, told lawmakers on Capitol Hill he has decided to move forward with a full-blown inquiry. Wilkie, who previously ran the Pentagon’s personnel and readiness operation, has denied making inquiries about the woman, Andrea Goldstein.

Judge Says Ken Cuccinelli Was Appointed Unlawfully to Top Immigration Post
National Public Radio – James Doubek | Published: 3/1/2020

A federal judge ruled Ken Cuccinelli’s appointment to a top immigration position in the Trump administration was unlawful, saying several directives issued by Cuccinelli to tighten asylum rules must now be “set aside.” U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss said the administration violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act when it tapped Cuccinelli in June 2019 to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency within the Department of Homeland Security that oversees legal immigration into the country. The ruling invalidated a pair of directives issued by Cuccinelli, an immigration hardliner and the former attorney general of Virginia, that introduced new restrictions on the asylum process.

Klobuchar Is Ending Her Presidential Bid, Will Endorse Biden
AP News – Sara Burnett | Published: 3/2/2020

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar ended her Democratic presidential campaign and endorsed Joe Biden in an effort to unify moderate voters behind the former vice president’s White House bid. Klobuchar outlasted several better-known and better-funded Democrats, thanks to a better-than-expected third-place finish in in New Hampshire. But she could not turn that into success elsewhere, as she struggled to build out a campaign that could compete across the country and had poor showings in the next contests. Klobuchar could not match her top competitors in fundraising. The lack of finances early on in the campaign meant she was not able to expand her operation on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire until months after her rivals.

Pete Buttigieg Is Ending His Presidential Bid
MSN – Chelsea Janes and Amy Wang (Washington Post) | Published: 3/1/2020

Pete Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who rose from virtual unknown to top-tier Democratic contender and became the first openly gay candidate to make a high-profile presidential run, ended his campaign as he confronted the reality that his prospects of victory had all but collapsed. Buttigieg struggled to win support from black voters, a key pillar of the Democratic coalition and a vulnerability that was emphasized in South Carolina, where he finished fourth in the primary. Buttigieg’s departure may help add some clarity to a Democratic presidential field that at one point included more than two dozen candidates but has dwindled to just a handful.

Rep. Matt Gaetz Wore Gas Mask While House Voted on Coronavirus Response Bill
USA Today – Savannah Behrmann | Published: 3/4/2020

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz wore a gas mask on the House floor while the chamber voted on a coronavirus funding bill. It was not clear whether Gaetz was wearing the gas mask to troll those panicking over the outbreak, as multiple health organizations have repeatedly stated not to wear face masks. But Gaetz, one of President Trump’s staunchest supporters on Capitol Hill, reportedly told journalists that he believes “members of Congress are human petri dishes.”

Sanders’s Rise Unnerves K Street
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 2/28/2020

The rise of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary is unnerving K Street lobbyists and their clients. The self-described democratic socialist, who has touted an ambitious agenda to rein in special interests and corporations, has been gaining in the polls and is the Democratic frontrunner after wins in two primary states. While there is a long road ahead in the 2020 election, the senator’s new status is provoking sharp reactions on K Street, where lobbyists say clients are already asking about the fallout of a Sanders nomination, and maybe even presidency. Sanders has vowed to shake up how the influence world does business, with proposals to ban donations from federal lobbyists and corporations and to prohibit the corporate funding of party conventions.

Senate Breaks Tradition by Advancing Only GOP FEC Nominee
Bloomberg Government – Kenneth Doyle | Published: 3/4/2020

Senate Republicans are set to advance a Republican nominee to the FEC, which would restore a working quorum to the agency but break with a tradition of confirming nominees in bipartisan pairs. The Rules and Administration Committee announced it will hold a confirmation hearing March 10 on President Trump’s nomination of James Trainor, an election lawyer from Austin, Texas, who advised Trump’s 2016 campaign. If the committee approves him, Trainor could be confirmed by a simple majority vote in the Senate. Senate Democrats have recommended Shana Broussard, an FEC staff attorney, for a Democratic commission vacancy, but Trump has not nominated her.

Trump Signs Bill to Strengthen Presidential Transition Ethics Requirements
Government Executive – Courtney Buble | Published: 3/4/2020

President Trump signed into law a bill to clarify the General Services Administration’s (GSA) responsibilities during changes in presidential administrations as well as require presidential candidates to publicly release ethics plans for their transitions before elections. The GSA, presidential transition teams, and federal agencies will now have new obligations in the lead-up to Election Day and during the ensuing change in administrations. The law requires presidential candidates to create and release an ethics plan for their transition team prior to the election. The plans must indicate if there are any current or former lobbyists on the teams, disclose conflicts-of-interest for the candidate and team members, and include a code of ethics that all members must sign.

Trump Wins Bid to Block McGahn Testimony Sought by House Democrats
Reuters – Jan Wolfe and Lawrence Hurley | Published: 2/29/2020

A divided three-judge panel handed President Trump a victory by dismissing a congressional panel’s lawsuit seeking to enforce a subpoena for testimony from former White House Counsel Donald McGahn. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit endorsed the Trump administration’s argument that the court had no place in settling the dispute between the executive and legislative branches. In doing so, it appeared to endorse an expansive view of presidential powers and prerogatives. The panel overturned a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson that the House Judiciary Committee’s subpoena to McGahn was lawful. In that ruling, Jackson declared “no one is above the law.”

Union Lobbying Question Confounds at 1st Circuit
Courthouse News Service – Thomas Harrison | Published: 3/4/2020

The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals appeared conflicted as to whether private-sector unions can ever force members to subsidize lobbying. Appearing skeptical of the National Labor Relations Board’s holding that lobbying is not germane to a union’s legal duty to represent workers, Judge Bruce Selya emphasized in oral arguments that “lobbying activity is not monolithic.” But when the court then tried to come up with a rule as to what specific types of lobbying were germane, it struggled.

Warren Ends 2020 Presidential Bid after Super Tuesday Rout
AP News – Will Weissert | Published: 3/5/2020

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who electrified progressives with her “plan for everything” and strong message of economic populism, dropped out of the Democratic presidential race. The exit came days after the onetime front-runner could not win a single Super Tuesday state, not even Massachusetts.  For much of the past year, Warren’s campaign had all the markers of success, robust poll numbers, impressive fundraising, and a political infrastructure that featured staffers on the ground across the country. She was squeezed out, though, by Bernie Sanders, who had an immovable base of voters she needed to advance. Warren never finished higher than third in the first four states and was routed on Super Tuesday.

Canada

Canada Senate Votes to Suspend Lynn Beyak Again Despite Her Apology for Posting Offensive Letters on Website
Edmonton Journal – Canadian Press | Published: 2/27/2020

The Senate has voted to suspend Lynn Beyak a second time over derogatory letters about Indigenous Peoples posted on her website. Senators approved a report from the upper house’s ethics committee, which recommended Beyak be suspended without pay for the duration of the current parliamentary session. Beyak, a senator from Ontario appointed in 2013, was kicked out of the Conservative caucus and eventually suspended without pay last May after refusing to remove the offensive letters from her website. She apologized recently, after which some of her Conservative colleagues tried unsuccessfully to refer the matter back to the ethics committee. But Independent senators took the position that Beyak needed to be suspended again while undergoing anti-racism training and that the matter could be revisited after that.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska Alaska House’s Minority Republicans Put Controversial Wasilla Representative on Probation
Anchorage Daily News – James Brooks | Published: 3/4/2020

The Republican minority in the Alaska House will temporarily remove Rep. David Eastman from legislative committees for disrupting the work of fellow members and delaying legislative action in order to draw public attention. House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt said the action is a one-month “pause” that is a step short of ejecting Eastman from the caucus. While Eastman has a reputation as an iconoclast willing to challenge established norms, members of the GOP said two recent actions stood out and prompted the action.

Arizona Agriculture Industry Lobbyist Out of Job Amid Ethics Investigation into Arizona Lawmaker
Arizona Republic – Andrew Oxford | Published: 3/5/2020

An agricultural trade association said it no longer employs a lobbyist at the center of an ethics investigation into alleged conflicts-of-interest at the Arizona Legislature. The House is looking into two complaints regarding state Rep. David Cook. The first involves an allegation he carried on a romantic relationship with the lobbyist, AnnaMarie Knorr. Another complaint alleges Cook intervened to stop the local sheriff from seizing property from her family’s farming business to pay for back taxes. Knorr worked for the Western Growers Association. When intimate letters from Cook to Knorr emerged in January, the group said it had placed her on administrative leave and was probing allegations of professional misconduct. The association recently said Knorr is no longer its lobbyist.

Arizona Lobbyists Navigate Lawmakers’ Bad Behavior, Professional Relationships
Arizona Capitol Times – Julia Shumway and Andrew Nicla | Published: 2/28/2020

At the Arizona Capitol, where relationships are everything and the caprice of a single lawmaker can derail months of policy work, lobbyists must balance representing clients and fighting for policy positions with the costs of not calling out bad behavior. And as women at the Capitol and across the country grow more empowered to speak out about behavior that would have been ignored in years past, some male lawmakers have responded by doubling down on a boys’ club mentality, granting greater access to male lobbyists than their female counterparts out of a stated wish to avoid even a whiff of impropriety. In some instances, lobbyist Tory Roberg said, lobbying for issues she cares about means putting up with a lot in the hopes that it will someday get a bill across the finish line.

Arkansas Election Funding Law’s Hold to Resume
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Linda Satter | Published: 3/4/2020

In June, U.S. District Court Judge James Moody Jr. issued a preliminary injunction blocking the enforcement of a law that prohibits campaign contributions more than two years before an election, in response to a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. Moody then agreed to stay the injunction, keeping the law in effect, while the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considered the appeal. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the injunction in January, leading the plaintiffs’ attorney to ask Moody to lift the stay and make the law unenforceable again. Moody lifted the stay on March 3, again enjoining the state from enforcing the law while the lawsuit is pending.

California Legislators’ Charity Use Has Prompted Calls for Reform – But Not from the Assembly Speaker
CalMatters – Laurel Rosenhall | Published: 3/2/2020

As CalMatters reported in its series of articles, nonprofits created by individual California lawmakers or special caucuses of lawmakers are an increasingly common way to raise and spend money outside the limits of campaign finance law. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said these affiliated nonprofits “can provide valuable resources” and he has no problem with them “if people are going about their activities ethically and with full transparency.” But even as he called for transparency, Rendon did not endorse changing any laws or rules of the Assembly, nor did he call on his members to change their conduct.

California Sacramento Mayor Steinberg Recruiting Ownership Group in Effort to Buy Sacramento Bee
Sacramento Bee – Ryan Lillis | Published: 3/4/2020

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg is working to form a local ownership group that could purchase The Sacramento Bee, separating the 163-year-old publication from its parent company and more than two-dozen sister newspapers across the U.S. The Bee’s current owner, McClatchy Co., is moving through Chapter 11 bankruptcy to restructure its debt. If the restructuring plan is approved by a judge, the likely owner of The Bee and 29 other publications would be Chatham Asset Management, a New Jersey-based hedge fund. “Are we better off in any way if we lose one of the most important voices for independent journalism? The answer is obviously no, and so it’s my job to rally and to organize and to help bring forward some real ideas that might … save the day,” Steinberg said.

California SF Corruption Investigation Yields 14 New Subpoenas Served as Nuru Probe Widens
San Francisco Chronicle – Dominick Fracassa | Published: 2/27/2020

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued a flurry of subpoenas in a widening public corruption investigation started after former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru’s recent arrest on fraud charges. Herrera’s office issued 14 subpoenas to firms with ties to either Walter Wong, a San Francisco building permit consultant, or Zhang Li, a billionaire real estate developer from China. FBI agents raided Wong’s offices on the same day that Nuru and restaurateur Nick Bovis were arrested. Federal officials have alleged Nuru accepted a trip to China and gifts, including a $2,070 bottle of wine, from a billionaire Chinese developer in exchange for help with a development deal. The San Francisco Chronicle has previously reported Zhang was the billionaire developer referenced anonymously in the federal complaint against Nuru and Bovis.

Florida Florida Sues Nonprofit and Its Former CEO Who Was Paid $7.5M
Tampa Bay Times – Mary Ellen Klas and Samantha Gross | Published: 3/4/2020

The Department of Children and Families filed a lawsuit against the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) as ongoing investigations reveal millions of dollars were funneled into bonuses for the nonprofit’s staff. Since 2003, the coalition has managed about $52 million annually as the single state clearinghouse for 42 domestic violence centers. The suit accuses the FCADV of misrepresenting how state and federal funds were used to pay its former chief executive officer, Tiffany Carr, more than $7.5 million over three years. The investigations show a small group of members of the coalition’s board, as appointed by Carr, operated as the compensation committee and allowed Carr to claim she had a brain tumor while she padded her compensation and produced no evidence of a medical condition.

Florida Florida’s CFO Called Lobbyist Before Suspending State Banking Regulator, Records Show
Tampa Bay Times – Lawrence Mower | Published: 2/28/2020

Records show Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis made multiple phone calls to a Tallahassee lobbyist on the day he illegally released a woman’s sexual harassment complaint, raising fresh questions about last year’s ouster of the state’s banking regulator. Patronis faces a criminal investigation by the Leon County State Attorney’s Office for disclosing the sexual harassment complaint against the regulator, Ronald Rubin. An ethics complaint has also been filed against Patronis for disclosing another complaint. Rubin sued Patronis last year, accusing him and lobbyist Paul Mitchell, who represents financial companies that work with Patronis’ office, of fabricating the woman’s complaint against him. Phone records show Mitchell and Patronis were in close contact before the complaint against Rubin was made public.

Florida Former Tallahassee Ethics Officer Julie Meadows-Keefe Lands Job with Firm Handling Her Lawsuit Against City
Tallahassee Democrat – Jeff Burlew | Published: 3/2/2020

Tallahassee’s former independent ethics officer, who exited her post amid acrimony, has been hired by the same firm representing her in her lawsuit against City Hall. Meadows-Keefe, who served more than five years as the city’s first ethics officer, recently announced on social media she has accepted a position as an attorney with the Mattox Law Firm. Last year, Meadows-Keefe said she would step down following controversy over a personal relationship she had with a top appointed official. She later sued the city, saying she was forced out, and the Ethics Board, which she said did nothing to stop it.

Florida Parks Chief Sold Jerseys from His Company to City Football Team. Now He’s on Leave
Miami Herald – Aaron Leibowitz | Published: 3/4/2020

North Miami’s parks and recreation director was not disciplined last year after a police investigation found he had committed ethics violations by selling jerseys from his personal company to a city-funded football team. But now, after the details were exposed at a city council meeting, Derrick Corker has been placed on paid administrative leave. Parents and officials involved in the North Miami Jaguars football and cheer program complained that Corker inserted himself in a bid process for new uniforms after the team was asked to change its name from the Redskins, which is a slur for Native Americans, to the Jaguars.

Illinois 3 Illinois Racing Board Members Forced Out Over Campaign Contributions They Made in Violation of 2019 Gaming Law
Chicago Tribune – Dan Petrella | Published: 2/28/2020

Three members of the state board that oversees the Illinois horse racing industry were forced out after making campaign contributions that are prohibited under the major gambling expansion legislation Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law last summer. Illinois Racing Board Chairperson Jeffrey Brincat and commissioners Greg Sronce and Edgar Ramirez resigned at the governor’s request. The resignations come after the previous chair of the Illinois Gaming Board, which oversees the casino and video gambling industries, resigned over political contributions. Gaming board members have long been prohibited from engaging in political activity.

Illinois Joe Berrios Must Pay $168,000 in Fines after Cook County Judge Dismisses His Complaint Against Ethics Board
Chicago Tribune – Gregory Pratt | Published: 2/27/2020

Former Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios and his political committees must pay $168,000 in fines after a judge dismissed his complaints challenging the county Ethics Board’s findings and ability to sanction him. The board previously fined Berrios, the Committee to Elect Joseph Berrios Cook County Assessor, and his 31st Ward Democratic Organization for accepting campaign contributions in excess of legal limits. At the center of the ethics board’s rulings was a 2016 county ordinance stating that donors who seek “official action” with the county may contribute no more than $750 in nonelection years. Attorneys for Berrios sought to overturn the rulings, arguing the county limits are unconstitutional and higher limits set by state law should apply, among other objections.

Iowa State of Iowa Signs $50 Million Computing Contract Without Typical Competitive Bidding
Cedar Rapids Gazette – Erin Jordan | Published: 2/28/2020

In signing a $50 million contract for a new cloud-based computer system, Iowa sidestepped traditional competitive bidding procedures and chose Workday, a company with little state government experience whose lobbyist is Gov. Kim Reynolds’ former chief of staff. What concerns some lawmakers is the way the state chose Workday. Instead of seeking proposals from multiple companies to see which best met Iowa’s needs and was most affordable, state officials chose a generic contract that Workday had signed in 2015 with a for-profit procurement organization in Texas. A company spokesperson said Jake Ketzner, Reynolds’ chief of staff for more than a year, had no role in Workday’s contracts, but there have been further questions.

Maryland ‘Any Means Necessary to Win’: How prosecutors say Pugh used ‘Healthy Holly’ scam in 2016 Baltimore mayor’s race
Baltimore Sun – Luke Broadwater | Published: 2/28/2020

As federal prosecutors laid out what they described as a “shocking” corruption case against former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, they ticked off a list of victims: buyers who paid for her self-published children’s books that were never printed; schoolchildren who never received copies; and the federal government, which Pugh shorted of thousands of tax dollars. But there was another victim in the background: the voters of Baltimore. That is because the “Healthy Holly scam,” as prosecutors called it, was not just a years-long self-enrichment scheme. It also was a way for Pugh to try to illegally influence an election and achieve her dream of becoming mayor, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

Michigan Detroit Official Wooed Investment Dollars from Billionaire – Now He’s Going to Work for Him
Detroit Free Press – Joe Guillen | Published: 3/4/2020

Ryan Friedrichs, Detroit’s chief development officer who is tied to an ongoing criminal investigation into deleted government emails, is quitting his city job. Friedrichs will work for real estate mogul Stephen Ross in development of a new innovation center on the site of the aborted Wayne County jail project. Friedrichs is a central figure in the ongoing criminal investigation by the attorney general’s office concerning deleted city emails related to conflict-of-interest and preferential treatment allegations against Mayor Mike Duggan. Friedrichs was one of two officials identified who carried out orders from Duggan’s chief of staff to delete the emails, which were later recovered. Friedrichs said that his decision to leave his city job was unrelated to the controversy involving the deleted emails.

New Hampshire Proposal Advances to Strengthen N.H. Legislature’s Conflict of Interest Rules
New Hampshire Public Radio – Josh Rogers | Published: 3/4/2020

A committee in the New Hampshire House approved a bill to require lawmakers to recuse themselves when they have a “special interest” in a bill’s outcome. The legislation spells out that lawmakers should recuse themselves when they or a member of their household have anything more at stake in the bill’s outcome than a member of the general public would. In November, the Legislative Ethics Committee found House Majority Leader Doug Ley violated ethics guidelines because of his involvement in legislation that affected the teachers union that employs him.

New York Ethics Commissioner: Cuomo leak probe was a ‘sham’
Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 3/1/2020

A longtime member of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) said the state inspector general’s investigation last year into the alleged unlawful disclosure of confidential information to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was a “sham” that led him to refuse to sign a sworn statement affirming he was not responsible for the leak. Commissioner Gary Levine confirmed his decision to decline to sign the affidavit after The Albany Times Union, following a months-long Freedom of Information struggle with the inspector general’s office, was provided copies of the affidavits that had been signed by other commissioners and employees of JCOPE, affirming they were not responsible for the leak. The inspector general’s office had previously declined to identify any individuals who had declined to sign the affirmations.

New York Ethics Office Lacks Some LIPA Lobbying Records
Huntington Now – Donna Deedy | Published: 3/4/2020

Taxpayers could save money under a New York Senate bill that prevents the Log Island Power Authority (LIPA) from collecting back taxes should the utility win its challenge to a power plant’s tax assessment. The Senate easily passed the bill during each of the last two legislative sessions. The Assembly’s companion bill has faced a different fate. Industry lobbyists have waged fierce opposition to the bill, including LIPA itself. Not all of it, though, appears to be as fully and publicly documented as state ethics laws that govern lobbying require. LIPA retained Millennial Strategies in 2019 specifically to fight the Assembly bill. But the state has no record of that activity.

Ohio Cincinnati City Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard Resigns ‘with Great Sadness’
Cincinnati Enquirer – Sharon Coolidge and Dan Horn | Published: 3/2/2020

Cincinnati City Councilperson Tamaya Dennard resigned her office, less than a week after being arrested on federal charges that accuse her of trading votes on a development deal for cash. Dennard did not have to resign under the city’s charter, which has no provisions spelling out what happens when a council member is accused of a crime in office. Dennard is facing federal charges of bribery, wire fraud, and attempted extortion for what federal prosecutors say was an attempt to trade her votes for cash payments totaling $15,000. The votes were related to a complicated land swap and construction of a music venue at The Banks on Cincinnati’s riverfront.

Ohio Ginther Returns State of the City Donations After Ethics Warning
Columbus Dispatch – Bill Bush | Published: 2/28/2020

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther will return $66,000 in donations, including from city vendors, that funded his State of the City address. The decision came after the Ohio Ethics Commission contacted the city attorney’s office to warn the practice could potentially violate state law. “There was a potential for a conflict-of-interest and that was an ongoing practice,” Ethics Commission Executive Director Paul Nick said. “It was a practice that we were not aware of, [and] no one had sought advice.” The city will work with the commission to clarify the process of how and under what circumstances the city solicits vendors, something that is happening in municipalities across Ohio, Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein said.

Rhode Island Why A RI Supreme Court Justice Has Been Fighting a $200 Ethics Fine for Over A Year
WPRI – Eli Sherman | Published: 3/4/2020

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission in 2019 fined state Supreme Court Justice Francis Flaherty $200 for failing to disclose he was the president of a Catholic legal group while he was ruling on a priest’s sexual abuse case. Flaherty has contested the fine, claiming the violation stemmed from an unknowing mistake that resulted in a decision denying him due process. Flaherty also argues former commission Chairperson Ross Cheit should have recused himself because Cheit, a professor who specializes in repressed memory and child abuse, has written extensively on the topic, including some cases involving sexual abuse of minors and the Catholic Church. The commission noted its members do not participate in the investigation or prosecution of ethics complaints. It also refuted the implication that Cheit is biased.

South Carolina Joe Biden Wins South Carolina Primary, Potentially Reshaping the Democratic Race
MSN – Cleve Wootson Jr. and Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 2/29/2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden decisively won the South Carolina primary, as the first Southern contest reshaped the race and dealt a blow to the candidacy of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. The win pumped new life into Biden’s struggling campaign, as he became the first candidate to score a clear-cut victory against Sanders this year. What is not clear is whether Biden’s triumph in a state supporters have long called his “firewall,” where African American voters had a significant say for the first time, will provide only a momentary lift, result in a two-person race between Biden and Sanders, or result in a long slog to the convention.

Vermont In Bernie Sanders Country, It’s Super Tuesday. It’s Also ‘Town Meeting Day.’
New York Times – Sarah Lyall | Published: 3/4/2020

It can seem like neighbors cannot speak to neighbors of differing political persuasions without rancor and recrimination. Though Super Tuesday should theoretically offer some relief to voters eager to have their voices heard, politics itself seems suffused by alarm and dread. And so, Vermont’s annual town meetings, traditionally held on the first Tuesday in March, provide a welcome corrective. They are a chance for voters in the state’s municipalities to discuss taxes, budgets, roads, schools, the environment, and whatever else might be on their minds.

Washington Washington Agency Rejects Facebook Settlement, Refers Campaign Ad Violation Charge to AG’s Office
Seattle Times – David Gutman | Published: 2/27/2020

The Public Disclosure Commission rejected a settlement to allow Facebook to walk away from charges of violating campaign finance law with a $75,000 fine, no admission of guilt, and no written promise to fully comply with Washington’s political ad disclosure law going forward. Commisssioners voted to refer the matter to Attorney General Bob Ferguson for further investigation and possible prosecution. The case has its roots in requests for local Facebook political ad data made by The Stranger and, separately, a private citizen. Facebook has refused to respond to those requests even though state law requires the company to disclose significant information on the financing and reach of election ads sold to influence this state’s local races and ballot measures.

Wisconsin Day After Milwaukee Rampage, Dan Kelly Campaign Holds Fundraiser at Shooting Range
Madison.com – Riley Vetterkind | Published: 3/3/2020

A day after a gunman shot and killed five co-workers and himself at Milwaukee’s Molson Coors facility, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly’s campaign hosted a fundraiser at a shooting range. The fundraiser invited people to contribute by amounts tied to gun calibers: the “10mm” level of $1,000, the “0.25 ACP” level of $2,500, or the “50 Cal M2HB” level of $5,000. Donors had the opportunity to shoot and were advised to visit the range before the fundraiser to complete a background check.

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February 28, 2020 •

News You Can Use Digest – February 28, 2020

News You Can Use

National/Federal ‘All Traitors Must Die’: Feds charge man for threatening whistleblower attorney Politico – Natasha Bertrand | Published: 2/20/2020 Federal prosecutors in Michigan charged a man with making a death threat against one of the attorneys for a whistleblower who initiated […]

National/Federal

‘All Traitors Must Die’: Feds charge man for threatening whistleblower attorney
Politico – Natasha Bertrand | Published: 2/20/2020

Federal prosecutors in Michigan charged a man with making a death threat against one of the attorneys for a whistleblower who initiated the impeachment inquiry of President Trump. The man, Brittan Atkinson, allegedly emailed the attorney in November, calling him a “traitor” who “must die a miserable death.” The attorney, Mark Zaid, confirmed he received the email the day after Trump held up Zaid’s photo and read some of Zaid’s tweets during a rally. The indictment follows months of rhetorical salvos by the president and his allies against the whistleblower, whose purported identity has been posted on social media and even read aloud in the U.S. Senate despite federal laws that allow whistleblowers to remain anonymous.

Dressing for the Campaign Trail Can Be Tough for Female Candidates. M.M. LaFleur Is Lending Free Clothes to Ease the Burden.
Washington Post – Taylor Telford | Published: 2/19/2020

Research shows physical appearance remains a point of scrutiny for female candidates, while the looks or dress of their male peers are scarcely factored into their potential. Women running for office say they often feel pressure to look the part lest they not be taken seriously. But the expense and upkeep of a professional wardrobe can be a barrier for many. That is why workwear retailer M.M. LaFleur is offering to lend clothing to female candidates this election season. The company has received more than 550 responses from women in state, local, and federal races and an outpouring of support from customers. M.M. LaFleur is leaving the onus on candidates in local or state races to ensure the donation of clothing is acceptable under their jurisdiction’s campaign finance laws.

Environment Regulator’s Husband Listed as Lobbying Her Agency
Bloomberg Environment – Stephen Lee | Published: 2/27/2020

A disclosure form lists the husband of the general counsel of the White House Council on Environmental Quality as lobbying his wife’s employer on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the council’s top issue. Both the council and lobbying group deny any such lobbying happened. The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued a proposal to speed environmental permitting for major projects recently. The proposed changes have also prompted scrutiny of the work of the council. Viktoria Seale is the agency’s general counsel. Her husband, John Seale, is director of federal affairs at the American Chemistry Council. On its lobbying disclosure form for the last quarter of 2019, the group lists NEPA among its many lobbying issues. It also lists CEQ among the agencies the group has approached, and John Seale among the individuals “who acted as a lobbyist in this issue area.”

Group Asks Congress to Investigate How Devin Nunes Is Paying for His Lawsuits
Fresno Bee – Kate Irby | Published: 2/26/2020

A watchdog group filed an ethics complaint against U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, calling for a congressional investigation into how the California Republican is paying for his lawsuits against media companies and critics. Nunes filed six lawsuits and sent two letters implying possible legal action in 2019. He has not disclosed how he is paying for the legal work, and the kind of lawsuits he is filing – alleging defamation and conspiracies against him – can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The complaint argues he would only be able to pay if he received legal services for free, at a discounted rate, or based on a contingency fee. In all those cases, the complaint says, Nunes must disclose the legal help he is receiving by filing a legal expense fund, otherwise it would represent an illegal gift given to Nunes under congressional ethics rules.

How Conservatives Learned to Wield Power Inside Facebook
MSN – Craig Timberg (Washington Post) | Published: 2/20/2020

The debate over Facebook’s “Project P,” which resulted in a few of the worst disinformation pages being removed while most others remained on the platform, exemplified the political dynamics that have reigned within the company since Donald Trump emerged as the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee in 2016. A company led mainly by Democrats repeatedly has tilted rightward to deliver policies, hiring decisions, and public gestures sought by Republicans, according to employees. These sensitivities have affected Facebook’s responses to a range of major issues, from how to address fake news and Russian manipulation of American voters to the advertising policies that have set the political ground rules for the 2020 election.

In a Historically Old Presidential Field, Candidates Refuse to Release Health Records
MSN – Matt Viser and Lenny Bernstein (Washington Post) | Published: 2/24/2020

Donald Trump became the oldest person to win the presidency in 2016 after a campaign in which he released only a letter from his doctor attesting to his “astonishingly excellent” health. Now, the contenders for the Democratic nomination are following his lead. Four of the six major Democratic candidates are 70 or older, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders suffered a heart attack about five months ago, an episode he at first failed to disclose. But the candidates, for the most part, have declined to release full dossiers on their health, relying instead on a physician testimonial. No law requires presidents to divulge intimate medical details, and previous occupants of the White House have not always done so. But in general, presidential candidates have felt an obligation to assure voters they are physically up to the job.

Once Cold War Heroes, ‘Miracle on Ice’ Team Struggles with Backlash from Donning ‘Keep America Great’ Hats at Trump Rally
MSN – David Nakamura (Washington Post) | Published: 2/25/2020

Mike Eruzione and his teammates from the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team had not meant to make a political statement when they appeared onstage as President Trump’s surprise guests at a recent campaign rally in Las Vegas. They happened to be in town to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice” when they got a call from Trump’s campaign inviting them to a private photo line with the president. The next thing they knew, Eruzione said, Trump was introducing them at the rally and a campaign aide was handing them “Keep America Great” hats as they took the stage. Four of the former players chose not to wear them, but 10 others did, prompting a backlash on social media from Trump’s critics, who view the distinctive red hats as politicized symbols of hate, racism, and xenophobia.

Reliability of Pricey New Voting Machines Questioned
AP News – Frank Bajak | Published: 2/23/2020

In the rush to replace insecure, unreliable electronic voting machines after Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race, state and local officials have scrambled to acquire more trustworthy equipment for this year’s election, when U.S. intelligence agencies fear even worse problems. But instead of choosing simple, hand-marked paper ballots that are most resistant to tampering because paper cannot be hacked, many are opting for pricier technology that computer security experts consider almost as risky as earlier discredited electronic systems. Nearly one in five U.S. voters will be using ballot-marking machines this year, compared with less than two percent in 2018, according to Verified Voting.

Republican Lobbying Firms Riding High Despite Uncertainty of 2020 Race
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 2/26/2020

Republican lobbying firms are riding high after three years of President Trump and a GOP-controlled Senate. But those firms also face a tumultuous presidential election, a heated fight for the Senate, and a wave of Republican retirements from both chambers. That is sparking questions about whether they can keep that stretch going. K Street as a whole has been booming in recent years, but the gains for Republican lobbyists in particular have been notable, as firms have beefed up their Washington teams and seen revenue surge. Some question whether GOP firms should brace themselves for the uncertainty ahead and the prospect their party could lose the White House. Many lobbyists from Republican firms who spoke to The Hill, however, said they expect the boom to continue no matter how 2020 shakes out.

Richard Grenell’s Paid Consulting Included Work for U.S. Nonprofit Funded Mostly by Hungary
MSN – Emma Brown, Beth Reinhard, and Dalton Bennett (Washington Post) | Published: 2/24/2020

Richard Grenell’s public relations consulting and foreign policy commentary are part of an unusual résumé for a leader of the U.S. intelligence community, a job Grenell assumed when President Trump named him acting director of national intelligence. That promotion is drawing scrutiny of Grenell’s past, including his foreign affairs commentary and consulting work after he served as U.S. spokesperson at the United Nations. His work for a Hungarian-funded nonprofit is the type of activity that has drawn the attention of Justice Department investigators tasked with enforcing the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The law requires people who advocate in the U.S. on behalf of a foreign power to register and disclose their activities, but Grenell did not register.

‘Scam PAC’ Treasurer Sentenced to Federal Prison
Center for Public Integrity – Sarah Kleiner | Published: 2/21/2020

A federal judge sentenced political operative Scott Mackenzie to 12 months and one day in prison for making false statements to the FEC. He also must pay $172,200 in restitution. Mackenzie, one of Washington’s most prolific and controversial political fundraisers, has served as treasurer of more than 50 federal PACs. At least a dozen of these purported to raise money for political and social causes, but they spent most of the money they raise from unsuspecting donors on fundraising, salaries, and overhead. Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer, said the decision is “a historic campaign finance prosecution” – the first time he is aware a professional PAC accountant has been sentenced to prison for filing false reports with the FEC.

Senior Intelligence Official Told Lawmakers That Russia Wants to See Trump Reelected
Philadelphia Inquirer – Ellen Nakashima, Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey, and Anne Gearan (Washington Post) | Published: 2/21/2020

A senior U.S. intelligence official told lawmakers that Russia wants to see President Trump reelected, viewing his administration as more favorable to the Kremlin’s interests. After learning of that analysis, which was provided to House lawmakers in a classified hearing, Trump grew angry at his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, seeing Maguire and his staff as disloyal for speaking to Congress about Russia’s perceived preference. Trump replaced Maguire with a vocal defender, Richard Grenell. The shake-up at the top of the intelligence community is the latest move in a post-impeachment purge. Trump has instructed aides to identify and remove officials across the government who are not defending his interests, and he wants them replaced with loyalists.

Steve Bannon’s Use of Private Jet Linked to Chinese Businessman Could Violate Campaign Finance Law
ProPublica – Justin Elliott | Published: 2/25/2020

President Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, used a private jet apparently owned by a wealthy Chinese businessperson to fly to events to promote Republican congressional candidates in 2018. The previously unreported flights could run afoul of a campaign finance law that bars foreign money from U.S. elections, according to campaign finance experts, though it depends on several factors that are not known. One of the unknowns is whether Bannon paid Guo Wengui, who is a vocal critic of the Chinese regime, and with whom he has other reported financial ties, for the use of the jet.

Trump Campaign Says It Is Suing New York Times Over Russia Opinion Piece
Reuters – Steve Holland | Published: 2/26/2020

President Trump’s re-election campaign said it was filing a libel suit accusing The New York Times of intentionally publishing a false opinion article that suggested Russia and the campaign had an overarching deal in the 2016 U.S. election. In an escalation of the Republican president’s long-running battle with the news media, campaign officials said the lawsuit was being filed in state court in New York. Trump’s criticism of what he calls liberal bias in the American news media plays well with his conservative political base and generates applause at his political rallies, where his supporters often jeer journalists. Trump regularly refers to various media outlets as “fake news” and has called elements of the U.S. media “the enemy of the American people.”

Watchdog ‘Disappointed’ with Review of State’s Lobbying Act
Irish Times – Jack Horgan-Jones | Published: 2/25/2020

Ireland’s lobbying watchdog criticized the government for failing to give it extra powers to police the “revolving door” between the private and public sectors. Sherry Perrault, who is in charge of ethics and lobbying at the Standards in Public Office Commission, said it was “disappointed none of its recommendations were adopted” during a review of lobbying laws. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform found there was no convincing case for updating the laws introduced in 2014.

Where Does All the Swag Go After Campaigns Fail? Everywhere
Chicago Tribune – Mihir Zaveri and Alan Yuhas (New York Times) | Published: 2/25/2020

For decades, American presidential campaigns have churned out enormous quantities of swag – buttons, mugs, guacamole bowls – to promote candidates, fill campaign coffers, and gather data about supporters. Less attention has been paid to what happens to all those things after most of those campaigns end, sometimes abruptly. Surplus items often end up in storage or in the homes of staff members and volunteers. Some are given a second life with a new campaign. Most are thought to be recycled or thrown away. Lori Ferber Collectibles has been gathering campaign ephemera for over 40 years, said Steve Ferber, the company’s vice president. He said the company had sold everything from Reagan yo-yos to a Nixon pizza box. “It can get pretty strange, but everything sells eventually,” Ferber said.

Canada

Canada Facing Senate Suspension, Sen. Lynn Beyak Apologizes ‘Unreservedly’ for Posting Racist Letters Online
National Post – Canadian Press | Published: 2/25/2020

Sen. Lynn Beyak sought to stave off suspension from the upper chamber, pledging to do more to make amends for the harm she caused by posting offensive letters online. The letters were sent to Beyak, a senator from Ontario, in support of her defense of the residential school system. While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded the system caused horrific abuse and alienation for generations of First Nations, Metis and Inuit children, Beyak has suggested there were benefits to the program that have been overshadowed. The letters she received and published online echoed her views, but some also went further, including suggestions that Indigenous Peoples and their cultures were inferior.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska Alaska Marijuana Industry Works to Curry Favor with Local Politicians
Anchorage Daily News – Aubrey Wieber | Published: 2/23/2020

Since recreational marijuana became legal in Alaska, local businesses have joined other industries in the state like oil, fishing, and tourism in working to influence how their trade is regulated. By holding fundraisers and interacting with local and state leaders, Alaska’s marijuana industry is building its political capital, aiming to shape everything from rules restricting signage to how the industry is taxed. In Anchorage, the marijuana industry uses its growing political influence to suggest local regulation changes.

Arizona A Veteran Running for Congress Is Suspending His Campaign After a Heroin Overdose
Washington Post – Meryl Kornfield | Published: 2/26/2020

An Arizona Republican running for the U.S. House suspended his campaign to go into treatment after a heroin overdose. Chris Taylor, a 33-year-old Army veteran and city council member in Safford, said he was sober for “many solid years” before the relapse. He was found unresponsive in his home, where paramedics revived him with naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioids. As the opioid crisis has continued to make headlines, only a few politicians, especially at the federal level, have come forward with their own stories of addiction.

Arkansas Ex-Nonprofit Chief Sentenced to 2 Years in Corruption Case
Texarkana Gazette – Eric Besson (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) | Published: 2/27/2020

The founder and executive director of South Arkansas Youth Services received a two-and-one-half year prison sentence after he pleaded guilty as part of a public corruption investigation spanning Arkansas and Missouri. Jerry Walsh pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge and was convicted in July 2018 of funneling more than $380,000 of the nonprofit’s money to former Arkansas lobbyist Milton Cranford, one of Cranford’s relatives, and an unnamed former Arkansas senator. Walsh spent the money, without his board’s approval, as part of an effort to preserve the agency’s state contracts to run youth detention facilities in Arkansas and to otherwise secure favorable treatment from officials, he said in his plea.

California A New Voting System in L.A. Raises the Stakes for California’s Primary
Los Angeles Times – John Myers and Matt Stiles | Published: 2/24/2020

When Los Angeles County set out to build a new voting system from scratch more than a decade ago, election officials knew the challenges in serving an electorate larger than those found in any of 39 states. But what they did not know was that their efforts were on a collision course with a series of statewide election changes and the most consequential presidential primary in modern California history. Should Angelenos not understand what to do or where to go, the effects could be felt both statewide and – in terms of the Democratic presidential race – across the country.

California Steak Dinners, Secret Donors: How the Tech Caucus is courting Silicon Valley with charity
CalMatters – Laurel Rosenhall | Published: 2/20/2020

As the number of nonprofits run by California lawmakers or staff has grown in the last decade, most have publicly reported donors to the Fair Political Practices Commission. But the Foundation for California’s Technology and Innovation Economy, overseen by three board members with close ties to Assemblyperson Evan Low, last year stopped disclosing where its money comes from. The choice highlights the potential for secrecy in the growing niche of nonprofits run by government officials. “Legally they’re not required to give a lot of detail, which is one reason these groups can be so opaque and remain in the shadows; It just depends on what a group chooses to disclose,” said Anna Massoglia of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Colorado Denver Auditor Finds Serious Deficiencies in Ethics Board, Gift Reporting
Colorado Politics – Michael Karlik | Published: 2/24/2020

City Auditor Timothy O’Brien found in a new report that Denver’s volunteer ethics board suffers from lack of enforcement powers and inability to take complaints anonymously. In a survey question that 1,237 city employees responded to, 41 percent said they had observed unethical behavior and did not report it to the board. They cited fear of retaliation and the expectation of no corrective action taken as the most common justifications for non-reports. The report also discovered noncompliance with deadlines among elected officials and their appointees for disclosure of gifts worth $50 or more.

Florida A Side Parking Business at PortMiami Ends for Firefighters After County Ethics Probe
Miami Herald – Douglas Hanks | Published: 2/21/2020

Parking for a week at the Port of Miami costs about $175 unless your girlfriend happened to use a travel agent who went to high school with a local firefighter who could rent you a parking spot at the county rescue station there for a fraction of that price. That is the scenario Chad Burg outlined to a county ethics investigator last fall, explaining how he wound up parking his truck at Miami-Dade Fire Station No. 39 for just $20 during a week-long cruise in September out of the county-owned port. That kind of parking deal at the world’s busiest cruise port has come to an end on the heels of an ethics investigation into a longstanding perk for county firefighters that evolved into a funding source for the station’s kitchen and recreational options.

Kentucky Lexington Businessman Found Guilty of Lying About Alleged Illegal Campaign Donations
Lexington Herald-Leader – Beth Musgrave | Published: 2/25/2020

A federal jury convicted a real estate executive on 11 charges relating to obstructing a federal investigation into alleged illegal contributions to Lexington council members in the May 2018 election. Timothy Wellman could face decades in prison if given the maximum sentence on all 11 counts. Prosecutors alleged Wellman circumvented state campaign finance limits that prohibit individuals from donating more than $2,000 to a candidate by giving money to more than a dozen straw contributors and then reimbursing them. Wellman told his co-workers at CRM Companies to lie to FBI agents and a federal grand jury and created false documents to cover up where money for those campaign contributions came from, prosecutors said.

Louisiana Ending of 10- Year-Old Ethics Case Sets ‘a New Low Standard’ for Louisiana Public Officials
New Orleans Advocate – Andrea Gallo | Published: 2/21/2020

Former state Sen. Robert Marionneaux Jr. has come to an agreement with the Louisiana Board of Ethics to resolve charges from 10 years ago that he failed to disclose he was paid to represent a company in a lawsuit against Louisiana State University. State public servants are required to disclose when their financial interests overlap or conflict with the state’s, yet Marionneaux was able to delay doing so for years without penalty. Former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s “gold standard” ethics reforms in 2008 required new financial disclosures from public officials. But the other ways in which Jindal rejiggered the state’s ethics system have led to a falloff in enforcement, particularly for legislators, The New Orleans Advocate reported last year.

Maryland Ex-Lawmaker’s Campaign Treasurer Gets Probation for Fraud
AP News – Staff | Published: 2/26/2020

The campaign treasurer and daughter of a former Maryland lawmaker has been sentenced to probation for misusing her mother’s campaign funds. Anitra Edmond pleaded guilty to converting more than $35,000 in campaign funds for her personal use and failing to disclose contributions on state campaign finance reports. In a plea agreement, Edmond says she used the money for fast food, hair styling, personal phone bills, and rent for a separate business. Former Del. Tawanna Gaines pleaded guilty to a related charge of wire fraud and was sentenced to six months in prison followed by two months of home detention.

Maryland Former Baltimore Mayor Sentenced to 3 Years in Book Scheme
AP News – Regina Garcia Cano | Published: 2/27/2020

Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh was sentenced to three years in federal prison for a fraud scheme involving her children’s book series. She also must serve three years of supervised release after getting out of prison and pay more than $411,000 in restitution. Pugh resigned under pressure as authorities investigated bulk sales of her “Healthy Holly” paperbacks, which netted her hundreds of thousands of dollars. Federal authorities accused her of double selling the books, keeping many for self-promotion purposes, and failing to deliver them to institutions they were purchased for, including the Baltimore City Public Schools. Pugh had a deal with the University of Maryland Medical System, where she sat on the board of directors, to buy 100,000 copies of her books for $500,000.

Maryland The NAACP Paid $100,000 To A Woman Who Accused Him of Sexual Harassment. Now He’s Likely Headed to Congress.
BuzzFeed News – Addy Baird | Published: 2/25/2020

It has been nearly three years since the #MeToo movement began, ushering in the downfall of dozens of powerful men. But slowly, in recent months, those who faced serious allegations of misconduct have begun to reenter the mainstream. How to handle their reinventions remains an open question, and it is one U.S. House Democrats will have to answer given the near certainty that Kweisi Mfume, a former member of Congress and NAACP president who was accused of sexual harassment and admitted to dating a subordinate more than a decade ago, will join their ranks in late April. The NAACP paid the subordinate $100,000 in 2004 to avoid a lawsuit. Mfume recently won the special election primary to replace the late Rep. Elijah Cummings.

Massachusetts Following Bribery Scandal, Walsh Revamps Zoning Board Policies
Boston Globe – Tim Logan and Milton Valencia | Published: 2/24/2020

Six months after a bribery scandal rocked the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh detailed changes he hopes will prevent such an incident from happening again. Walsh signed an executive order designed to strengthen conflict-of-interest and financial disclosure rules for the seven-member board, which governs small and midsize development projects across the city. More substantial changes, such as adding seats to the board, would require state legislation and probably take months, if not years, to win approval. But Walsh and key city council members said such measures are crucial to restoring faith in a board that wields enormous influence on the look and feel of Boston’s neighborhoods.

Nevada Bernie Sanders Decisively Wins Nevada Caucuses
MSN – Matt Viser (Washington Post) | Published: 2/22/2020

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders won the Nevada caucuses, providing another boost to an insurgent campaign that is challenging the Democratic establishment and stifling the plans of rivals who still hold out hope of stopping him. Sanders’ advantage in Nevada was overwhelming, with substantial leads in nearly every demographic group, allowing him to set down a marker in the first state with a significant share of nonwhite voters.

New Hampshire Lawmakers Reprimanded for Skipping Anti-Harassment Training
AP News – Holly Ramer | Published: 2/20/2020

Seven Republican members of the New Hampshire House were publicly reprimanded for failing to attend mandatory training on sexual harassment prevention in a contentious session that lasted far longer than the two-hour course. Over the course of four hours, each lawmaker was given the opportunity to explain why they did not attend the training sessions. Some said they believed the mandate was unconstitutional, others said they did not need the training. Throughout the afternoon, Republicans made their displeasure known through a variety of unsuccessful procedural stunts that delayed the votes.

New Jersey Court Ruling Bolsters Convicted Former Jersey City Council President’s Bid for His Pension Benefits
Newark Star Ledger – Ron Zeitlinger (Jersey Journal) | Published: 2/20/2020

A former Jersey City politician caught in a federal corruption sting more than 10 years ago may be entitled to pension benefits, a state appellate panel ruled. The panel reversed the state pension board’s 2018 decision that denied benefits to former City Council President Mariano Vega because of his guilty plea to corruption charges in 2010. The court did not grant Vega benefits earned from his 22 years as a Hudson County employee, but instead sent the question of benefits back to the pension board with instructions to weigh all the factors before deciding if Vega should receive all, some, or none of his pension.

New Jersey N.J.’s Oddest Political Tradition to Roll Along with Less Booze, Fewer People After #MeToo Allegations
Newark Star-Ledger – Susan Livio and Kelly Heyboer (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 2/26/2020

The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s annual train trip has long been a political tradition. Politicians, lobbyists, business leaders – and anyone who wants to get close to power – can buy $700 tickets to shake hands, drink, and schmooze as they walk through a series of packed train cars on their way to Washington, D.C. This year, the Chamber is debuting new rules designed to make the trip less raucous in response to a report on sexual harassment in New Jersey politics. The report included comments from women who said they were groped and subjected to sexual comments from often-drunk men on the crowded train. Though the trip is considered a must-attend event for many, some women said they no longer attend or take other transportation to the receptions because they felt uncomfortable on the packed train.

New Mexico Ethics Panel Wants Charges Against Padilla Refiled
Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 2/25/2020

In its first court filing, the State Ethics Commission says the New Mexico Court of Appeals should reverse the dismissal of criminal charges against former Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla. The Ethics Commission took no position on Padilla’s guilt or innocence. But it said the state Governmental Conduct Act established specific, mandatory duties prohibiting abuse of office that can be enforced through criminal charges. Padilla had fair warning, the agency said, that she could face criminal enforcement if she were to abuse her office. The filing comes after Padilla’s attorney won dismissal of five ethics charges last year, arguing Padilla had been charged under parts of the law that are too vague to be enforced and were never meant to be used in criminal cases.

New Mexico NM Lobbyists Spend $151,000 on Legislators
Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 2/26/2020

New Mexico lobbyists and their clients reported about $151,000 in spending this session. That is just part of the expenditures. More-detailed reports are due in May. But what is not reported might be more interesting. Lobbyists are not required to report which specific bills they are supporting or opposing, and they often do not reveal which legislators they met or shared a meal with. Sen. Jeff Steinborn said he will push again next session to expand the disclosure requirements for lobbyists. One priority, Steinborn said, is for lobbyists to reveal which bills they are working on.

New York Even Defunct, de Blasio Campaign Draws Financial Ethics Concerns
Politico – Joe Anuta | Published: 2/24/2020

As New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s presidential campaign coffers ran dry, he paid consultants and staff from a pair of PACs ostensibly created to help other Democrats, a questionable fundraising setup that helped boost the mayor’s profile even as he positioned himself as a reformer looking to get big money out of politics. Politico has reported that de Blasio’s campaign accepted the maximum from a small group of wealthy benefactors and then took additional contributions from the same people through his PACs. The PACs then spent money to help his White House bid in what one watchdog group called a shell game, but which the de Blasio camp has defended as a legal setup.

New York New Bill Would Close Loophole for Reporting on Independent Expenditures to Influence Ballot Referenda
Gotham Gazette – Samar Khurshid | Published: 2/26/2020

New York City Councilperson Brad Lander introduced legislation that would close a loophole in city campaign finance law that currently allows groups to hide their donors when they try to influence voting on a ballot referendum. The law now requires independent expenditure committees to disclose their contributors only when they spend money to favorably or negatively affect a candidate’s campaign for elected office. The law does not require that for ballot measures, such as the five that were approved by voters in November of last year.

Ohio Tamaya Dennard: Councilwoman facing charges of bribery and extortion, court documents show
Cincinnati Enquirer – Sharon Cooledge | Published: 2/25/2020

Cincinnati City Councilperson Tamaya Dennard was arrested on federal charges of wire fraud, bribery, and attempted extortion. According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, between August and December 2019, Dennard engaged in acts and attempted acts of bribery and extortion, attempting to exchange her votes for money. Dennard is accused of requesting between $10,000 and $15,000 from an individual to pay for her personal expenses. An individual working with the FBI and Dennard exchanged a total of $15,000, in increments of $10,000 and $5,000, for upcoming votes on a matter scheduled to be heard by council. Dennard deposited $10,000 in a personal bank account the same day she received it.

South Carolina SC School District Officials Hit with Ethics Fines for Votes Tied to Spouses
Charleston Post and Courier – Joseph Cranney and Avery Wilkes | Published: 2/26/2020

South Carolina’s Ethics Commission sanctioned a pair of Columbia school district commissioners who each voted for contracts that netted hundreds of thousands in public dollars for nonprofits partly controlled by their spouses. Jamie Devine, board chair for Richland County School District One, said in a statement that a commission’s ruling against him went contrary to legal advice he received regarding his spouse’s board position with the EngenuitySC, which has partnered with the district on science education programs. Fellow Commissioner Beatrice King, who once warned Jamie Devine about his potential conflict, was fined for her own failure to recuse herself on votes for district contracts that went to Prisma Health. Her husband sits on that group’s board.

Washington Tim Eyman Violated Campaign Finance Law, Concealed Payments, Judge Rules
Seattle Times – David Gutman | Published: 2/21/2020

Tim Eyman has been in violation of Washington’s campaign finance laws for at least the last seven years, concealing more than $766,000 in political contributions, a Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled. Eyman raised the money to compensate himself for the political work he does – serially running anti-tax ballot initiatives. But he did not report any of that money to the state Public Disclosure Commission, as is required. The judge said Eyman is at least 2,706 days late in registering as a political committee. He is also a combined 173,862 days late in filing 110 monthly campaign finance reports. The penalty for filing a late report is $10 a day, and that could be bumped to $30 a day if the judge rules the violations were intentional, which could potentially leave Eyman vulnerable to a fine of more than $5 million.

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