July 3, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
National/Federal A Common Thread Among Many Trump Press Staffers: They’re related to other Trump staffers MSN – Paul Fahri (Washington Post) | Published: 6/23/2020 Landing a White House job is a highly competitive sport, and who manages to get those jobs […]
A Common Thread Among Many Trump Press Staffers: They’re related to other Trump staffers
MSN – Paul Fahri (Washington Post) | Published: 6/23/2020
Landing a White House job is a highly competitive sport, and who manages to get those jobs has always been a subject of fascination. In the Trump White House, being the relative of someone with a big administration job seems to be one crucial advantage. Family connections, through marriage or direct blood ties, turn up in several places among the people who are in charge of communicating the administration’s agenda or involved in his reelection effort. In a legal opinion written in early 2017, the Justice Department concluded the president has “special hiring authority” and that a decades-old anti-nepotism statute did not apply to the White House.
A Dozen Donors Paid Nearly $480,000 in Legal Fees for Pence in Mueller Inquiry, New Filing Shows
MSN – Michelle Ye Hee Lee (Washington Post) | Published: 6/30/2020
A dozen donors gave about $480,000 to cover Vice President Mike Pence’s legal bills in the special counsel’s investigation into President Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia. Jim Atterholt, Pence’s former gubernatorial chief of staff, started the fund with $25 in December 2018. Since then, donors gave between $5,000 and $100,000, including business executives from Pence’s home state of Indiana and longtime Republican contributors. Federal ethics rules prohibit executive branch officials from receiving excessive gifts, and watchdogs have called on clearer guidelines for legal expense funds to prevent the potential for conflicts-of-interest or undue influence.
As Support for Mask-Wearing Grows, So Do Political Risks for Forgoing Them
MSN – Annie Linskey and Colby Itkowitz (Washington Post) | Published: 6/26/2020
President Trump makes a point of not wearing a mask in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, meanwhile, has gone in the other direction. A mask is part of his 2020 signature look. This divergent accessorizing once highlighted yet another partisan divide. For Trump allies, going barefaced is about individual liberty. For Biden supporters, the mask is a symbol of science and sound policy. But as infections spike in red states, support for masks has grown. Some Republicans have urged the public to cover their faces in public, arguing it is the best way to slow the virus. This shift in rhetoric highlights the potential risks for the president as he continues to ignore the advice of public health experts, who agree masks are crucial to slow the spread of the virus.
Congressional Black Caucus Seizes on Push for Racial Justice to Wield Greater Influence
MSN – Rachel Bade, Karoun Demirjian, and Paul Kane (Washington Post) | Published: 6/27/2020
The Congressional Black Caucus is seizing the national moment of reckoning over systemic inequality and racial injustice to wield its greatest level of influence inside the Capitol and in national politics. The caucus took the lead in crafting policing legislation the House passed, an expansive measure to stop police brutality after the death of George Floyd. Three caucus members – Sen. Kamala Harris and Reps. Val Demings and Karen Bass – are on the shortlist of potential running mates for Joe Biden. And with black candidates around the nation channeling the public clamor for equality into likely primary upsets recently, the group is poised to expand its ranks next year when it marks its 50th anniversary.
Democrats Confirm Plans for Nearly All-Virtual Convention
AP News – Bill Barrow | Published: 6/24/2020
Democrats will hold an almost entirely virtual presidential nominating convention August 17-20 in Milwaukee using live broadcasts and online streaming. Joe Biden plans to accept the nomination in person, but it remains to be seen whether there will be a significant in-person audience there to see it. The Democratic National Committee said in a statement that official business, including the votes to nominate Biden and his yet-to-be-named running mate, will take place virtually, with delegates being asked not to travel to Milwaukee.
Devin Nunes Can’t Sue Twitter Over Statements by Fake Cow, Judge Rules
McClatchy DC – Kate Irby | Published: 6/24/2020
A judge ruled U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes has no right to sue Twitter over statements made by a fake Internet cow, someone parodying his mother, and a Republican strategist. Judge John Marshall said Twitter was “immune from the defamation claims of” Nunes due to federal law that says social media companies are not liable for what people post on their platforms. Nunes sued Twitter, the two parody accounts known as Devin Nunes’ Cow and Devin Nunes, and strategist Liz Mair. He alleged the latter three had defamed him online, ruining his reputation and causing him to win his 2018 election by a narrower margin than normal. He accused Twitter of being negligent for allowing the alleged defamation.
DOJ Files Charges Against Disgraced Lobbyist Jack Abramoff
Politico – Theodoric Meyer | Published: 6/25/2020
Jack Abramoff is set to return to prison after agreeing to plead guilty to violating the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). He is the first person charged with violating the LDA, which was amended in 2007 after his earlier scheme was uncovered. It was one of the biggest corruption scandals in recent history, resulting in 20 convictions or guilty pleas. Prosecutors said that in 2017, Abramoff agreed to seek changes in federal law and met with members of Congress on behalf of the marijuana industry without registering as a lobbyist. He was also charged with marketing a cryptocurrency to potential investors with a series of false claims. Abramoff made a public showing of rehabilitating himself after he was released from prison in 2010.
For Months, Trump Allies Hunted for Tapes of Biden in Ukraine. Now They’re Turning Up.
Washington Post – Paul Sonne, Rosalind Helderman, Josh Dawsey, and David Stern | Published: 6/30/2020
President Trump’s allies were in pursuit last year of tape recordings of Joe Biden speaking to Ukrainian officials while he was vice president, conversations they believed could help them damage Biden’s current bid for the White House. Now, with just months to go before Election Day, that material is surfacing in Ukraine and being touted by some of the president’s backers in the U.S. Recordings show Biden, as he has previously said publicly, linked loan guarantees for Ukraine to the ouster of the country’s prosecutor general. The tapes do not provide evidence to back Rudolph Giuliani’s accusation that Biden sought to have him fired to block an investigation of a gas company that had hired his son Hunter. The authenticity of the audio files, which appear heavily edited, could not be verified.
GOP Appointee Resigns from Federal Election Commission, Once Again Leaving It Without a Quorum
Washington Post – Michelle Ye Hee Lee | Published: 6/26/2020
Caroline Hunter, a Republican commissioner on FEC, announced he is stepping down on July 3, leaving the agency without a quorum and unable to vote on enforcement actions. Hunter’s resignation came just weeks after the FEC had regained a quorum of four commissioners following the confirmation of Republican James Trainor. The White House announced its plans to nominate campaign finance lawyer Allen Dickerson to replace Hunter. Dickerson is the legal director of the Institute for Free Speech, a nonprofit that opposes limits on political speech and advertising. The FEC, which is ideologically split by design, is now left with one Republican, one Democrat, and an independent who often caucuses with Democrats.
Hickenlooper Rolls to Victory in Colorado Senate Primary
Politico – James Arkin and Ally Mutnick | Published: 6/30/2020
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper won the Democratic Senate primary in Colorado and will face U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, one of the most vulnerable Republicans on the ballot this fall. It was just one of several major races across the country. Hickenlooper was the prohibitive favorite for months, leaning on his successes in his two terms as governor and his universal name recognition and positive image among voters. But he stumbled in the closing stretch of the race, apologizing for racially insensitive comments, and being held in contempt by the Independent Ethics Commission, which ruled he twice violated state ethics laws as governor.
House Republican Leaders Support GOP Nominee Open to QAnon Conspiracy Theory
Washington Post – Paul Kane and Colby Itkowitz | Published: 7/1/2020
Republican leaders stood by the upset winner of the GOP primary in a competitive U.S. House seat despite her openness to the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory. The National Republican Congressional Committee, overseen by top GOP leaders, embraced Lauren Boebert as their nominee following her defeat of five-term Rep. Scott Tipton. Boebert is the ninth individual to win the Republican nomination for a seat in the House or Senate who is either a full supporter of the QAnon movement or has voiced support for some of its tenets, none of which have a foundation in truth. Conspiracy theory experts consider it a webbed network filled with activists who wrongly believe a secret group of elites inside of and outside of government is working against Trump, as well as other false allegations of pedophilia among top Democratic officials.
Human Rights Groups Turn Their Sights on Trump’s America
Politico – Nahal Toosi | Published: 7/1/2020
International activists, groups, and institutions are increasingly focusing on the United States as a villain, not a hero, on human rights. While the country has never fully escaped such scrutiny, former officials and activists say that under President Trump, American domestic strife is raising an unusual level of alarm alongside U.S. actions on the global stage. Some groups also flag what they say is an erosion of democracy in a country that has long styled itself as a beacon of freedom.
Judge Sets July 14 Surrender Date, Immediate Home Confinement for Roger Stone
Politico – Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein | Published: 6/26/2020
A federal judge ordered longtime Donald Trump confidant Roger Stone to prison on July 14 and into home confinement until then, citing Stone’s own evidence of medical issues that he cited to request a delay of his June 30 surrender date to begin a 40-month jail term. U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson denied Stone’s request to delay the start of his sentence until September 3. Jackson sentenced Stone to his 40-month jail term in February following his conviction on charges of repeatedly lying to Congress and intimidating a witness to impede the House’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
New York Court Sides with Publisher of Explosive Book by President Trump’s Niece
Seattle Times – Michael Kranish (Washington Post) | Published: 7/1/2020
A court lifted a temporary restraining order against the publication of a book by President Trump’s niece, enabling publisher Simon & Schuster to continue printing and distributing the insider account by Mary Trump. A New York Supreme Court judge agreed to impose the restraining order to allow the parties to present their arguments, raising doubts about whether it would be published. But the Supreme Court’s appellate division lifted the restraining order that had been imposed on Simon & Schuster, while leaving in place the one regarding Mary Trump. That effectively enables the publisher to continue distributing copies of the book in preparation for the planned July 28 publication, even as the overall merits of the case are argued.
Reddit Closes Long-Running Forum Supporting President Trump After Years of Policy Violations
MSN – Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin (WashingtonPost) | Published: 6/29/2020
Reddit shut down its popular but controversial forum devoted to supporting President Trump, following years in which the social media company tried but often failed to control the racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, glorification of violence, and conspiracy theories that flourished there. The move by Reddit comes amid a broader crackdown by technology companies to try to rein in hateful, deceptive. and other problematic content on their platforms, typically after high-profile scandals prompted action. Reddit also implemented its first policy banning hate speech and closed about 2,000 individual forums, what the company calls “subreddits.” The company already had a policy against “divisive language” in advertising.
SBA Exempted Lawmakers, Federal Officials from Ethics Rules in $660 Billion Loan Program
Washington Post – Jonathan O’Connell and Aaron Gregg | Published: 6/26/2020
A brief and barely noticed “blanket approval” issued by the Trump administration allows lawmakers, Small Business Administration (SBA) staff, other federal officials and their families to bypass long-standing rules on conflicts-of-interest to seek funds for themselves, adding to concerns that coronavirus aid programs could be subject to fraud and abuse. Policy experts and watchdogs said the blanket waiver could allow officials to write the rules to benefit themselves. Josh Gotbaum, a Brookings Institution scholar who has worked in economic policy under Democratic and Republican administrations, said he was “appalled” by the waiver.
The Lincoln Project Is Trolling Trump. But Can It Sway Voters?
Politico – Tina Nguyen and Elena Schneider | Published: 6/29/2020
In the past few months, the Lincoln Project, an anti-President Trump PAC run by Republicans, has successfully established itself as a squatter in Trump’s mental space, thanks to several factors: members each boasting hundreds of thousands of social media followers, rapidly cut ads that respond to current events, and a single-minded focus on buying airtime wherever Trump is most likely to be bingeing cable news that day, whether it is the District of Columbia. market or his golf courses across the country. And every time Trump responds, the Lincoln Project scores an incalculable amount of earned media, and millions of views online. But though the PAC has successfully caught the president’s attention, Trump’s critics worry the ads may not work to “prosecute the case” against his reelection, as the group vowed to do in December.
Zuckerberg Once Wanted to Sanction Trump. Then Facebook Wrote Rules That Accommodated Him.
MSN – Elizabeth Dwoskin, Craig Timberg, and Tony Romm (Washington Post) | Published: 6/28/2020
Facebook constrained its efforts against false and misleading news, adopted a policy allowing politicians to lie, and altered its news feed algorithm to neutralize claims it was biased against conservatives, according to documents and employees. A document shows it began in 2015 when as a candidate, Donald Trump posted a video calling for a ban of Muslims entering the U.S. Facebook executives declined to remove it, setting in motion an exception for political discourse. Concessions to Trump paved the way for a growing list of digitally savvy politicians to push out misinformation and incendiary political language. It has complicated the understanding of major events and contributed to polarization. Fear of Trump’s wrath pushed Facebook into more deferential behavior toward its growing number of right-leaning users, tilting the balance of news people see on the network.
Canada – Alberta Local Elections Bill Gets Mixed Reaction from Experts, Former Candidates
CBC – Madeleine Cummings and Michelle Bellfontaine | Published: 6/28/2020
Policy experts and former candidates are giving a mixed reaction to amendments to Alberta’s Local Authorities Election Amendment Act. Among the changes proposed are removing the requirement for candidates to disclose their donors prior to Election Day, removing limits on spending by third-party advertisers outside the local election campaign period, and allowing individuals to donate up to $5,000 to as many candidates as they want during an election.
Canada – Records Show Charity Closely Linked to Trudeau Has Received Multiple Sole-Source Contracts from Liberal Government
Canada.com – Christopher Nardi | Published: 6/29/2020
WE Charity, which has close ties to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family, and which will get millions of dollars to administer a federal student volunteer grant program. has received a series of exclusively sole-source contracts from the federal government over the last three years. Sole-source contracts are government contracts that are handed directly to a chosen supplier, without the opportunity for others to provide competing bids for the business. The contracts were for vague services such as “Management consulting,” “Public relations services,” and, in three cases, “Other professional services not otherwise specified,” according to records.
From the States and Municipalities
Alabama – Alabama Asks Supreme Court to Review COVID-19 Election Ruling
Roll Call – Todd Ruger | Published: 6/29/2020
Alabama officials asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step into the debate over how to conduct elections in the midst of a national health crisis in a legal dispute over absentee ballot requirements in three of the state’s largest counties. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill filed an application to the high court to overturn a lower court’s injunction that found the requirements could violate the constitutional right to vote for some elderly and disabled voters during the coronavirus pandemic. At issue in Alabama are two requirements state officials say combat voter fraud. Voters must submit a copy of their photo ID with their absentee ballot application, and absentee ballots must contain a voter affidavit that is either notarized or signed by two witnesses.
Arizona – Witness in Rep. David Cook Investigation Says Lawmaker Sent Threatening Message
Arizona Republic – Andrew Oxford | Published: 6/29/2020
The day before a legislative ethics committee released a critical report on Arizona Rep. David Cook, the lawmaker got a copy for himself and a few hours later sent a message to one of the witnesses that the witness took as a threat. Patrick Bray was interviewed by investigators looking into claims that Cook had a romantic relationship with a lobbyist at the same time he was supporting her legislation. The investigation also looked into allegations Cook intervened to stop a local sheriff from seizing property belonging to the lobbyist’s family.
California – Feds Say Tower Project Shows Toll of Bribery in Huizar Case: Less affordable housing
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes and David Zahniser | Published: 6/26/2020
In 2018, a real estate developer received the blessing of the Los Angeles City Council for a new high-rise in the Arts District. The real estate executive said the council had approved the tallest building yet in the Arts District, and with “minimal” requirements for affordable housing, according to federal prosecutors. Now l investigators are describing the Arts District project as one of the real estate developments entangled in an alleged criminal scheme headed by Los Angeles City Councilperson Jose Huizar. U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna cited it as an example of “the harm that comes with bribery.”
California – Huizar, Facing Felony Charge, Will No Longer Receive L.A. Council Salary, Official Says
Los Angeles Times – David Zahniser | Published: 6/29/2020
Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin moved to have the city stop paying Councilperson Jose Huizar his salary, saying it would be “unacceptable” for Huizar to continue receiving taxpayer funds while facing a felony charge in a federal corruption case. Huizar had been earning nearly $214,000 per year. Galperin said Huizar’s last day receiving a city salary was June 23, the day he was charged with racketeering in a case in which he is accused of receiving $1.5 million in bribes and other improper financial benefits. A Galperin spokesperson said the City Charter allows the controller to stop salary payments when a council member is not “devoting his time to duties related to his office.”
California – Nuru Scandal Prompts New Rules for Public Works to Prevent Corruption
San Francisco Examiner – Joshua Sabatini | Published: 6/29/2020
The alleged public corruption engaged in by former San Francisco Public Works head Mohammed Nuru was able to go on unchecked for years due to gaps in city contracting and gift rules he exploited, according to a new report. The city controller’s investigation of the Public Works department resulted in eight recommendations to reform its operations to prevent the sort of behavior for which Nuru is accused. Federal prosecutors have accused Nuru of trading favors for city contractors and developers in exchange for gifts. Nuru also created a culture conducive to public corruption, the report said.
California – Permit Expediter Accused of Fraud to Cooperate in FBI City Hall Corruption Probe
San Francisco Examiner – Michael Barber and Joseph Sabatini | Published: 6/25/2020
A San Francisco permit expediter is facing criminal charges for allegedly engaging in “pay-to-play” schemes with public officials including former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru for more than a decade. Prosecutors charged Walter Wong with two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy to engage in money laundering. He has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the FBI investigation into public corruption at City Hall. Wong has helped developers navigate San Francisco’s complicated permitting process for more than a decade and is also a building contractor. He is the seventh person to be charged as a result of the expanding FBI corruption probe.
Florida – A Lawsuit to Kick Carlos Gimenez Off the Ballot for Congress Continues – For Now
Miami Herald – Alex Daugherty | Published: 6/25/2020
A typographical error led to a two-month legal fight between Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and firefighter Omar Blanco, and the dispute that began with a misspelled check now has Blanco accusing Gimenez of using illegal funds to qualify for the ballot in Florida’s 26th Congressional District. The back-and-forth will continue, at least for now, after a judge denied Gimenez’s motion to dismiss Blanco’s lawsuit. An attorney for Blanco said Gimenez’s candidacy is illegal if his $10,400 check, written in April to qualify for the primary ballot, was paid for with funds from a PAC instead of Gimenez’s campaign account. The bank that issued Gimenez’s check said it did not have any records of a campaign account bearing Gimenez’s name, or the misspelled version – “Giminez” – that appeared on his qualifying check.
Florida – Conflict-of-Interest Issues Spark Conflict Among Tourism Development Council Members
Florida Today – Dave Berman | Published: 6/25/2020
A behind-the-scenes dispute involving members of the Brevard County Tourist Development Council over perceived conflicts-of-interest has become public, as Giles Malone and Bob Baugher repeatedly sniped at one another during a recent meeting. Their debate focused on Malone’s role in helping bring the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic Games to Brevard County and his involvement in linking athletes with hotels. The debate could lead to a larger examination of how the council handles business dealings involving its members and their companies. That includes when members must abstain from voting on certain matters and when they must formally declare they have a conflict of interest. County officials plan to ask the Florida Commission on Ethics to help sort things out.
Georgia – Georgia Lawmakers Pass New DeKalb Ethics Bill
The Champion – Asia Ashley | Published: 6/28/2020
On the final day of the legislative session, Georgia lawmakers passed a new proposal to the DeKalb County ethics laws. The county’s ethics board has been dormant and unable to make recommendations on complaints received since August 2018 when the state Supreme Court ruled the board was unconstitutional due to its members being appointed by non-elected entities. If House Bill 1243 is approved by voters in November, the new ethics board would begin their roles on January 1, 2020.
Maryland – Baltimore Comptroller Pratt Responds to Report Alleging She Approved Contracts for Groups on Abstention List
Baltimore Sun – Emily Opilo | Published: 6/24/2020
Baltimore Comptroller Joan Pratt asked the city inspector general to correct a report on her voting history, saying it may have left a misleading impression that she approved contracts in which she had a conflict-of-interest. In her response to the report, Pratt said she maintains a long “abstentions list” – organizations that she has worked with, belonged to, or filed tax returns for as a private accountant – in an effort to be transparent as a member of the city’s powerful Board of Estimates. Inspector General Isabel Cumming said she stood by the report.
Mississippi – Mississippi Governor Signs Bill Changing State’s Flag, Abandoning Confederate Symbol
Philadelphia Inquirer – Mark Berman and Ben Guarino (Washington Post) | Published: 6/30/2020
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill that retires the only state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem. The new flag’s design will be determined later, but lawmakers have barred it from including the most recognizable icon of the Confederacy, which many people associate with racism, slavery, and oppression. Mississippi voters chose to keep the flag in a 2001 election, with supporters saying they saw it as a symbol of Southern heritage. But a growing number of cities and all the state’s public universities have abandoned it. The issue was still broadly considered too volatile for legislators to touch until the death of George Floyd set off protests against racial injustice, followed by calls to take down Confederate symbols.
Montana – Official Finds Montana GOP Violated Campaign Finance Laws
AP News – Mary Beth Hanson | Published: 6/26/2020
The Montana Republican Party and two minor party qualification committees violated state campaign finance laws in a successful effort to qualify the Green Party of Montana for the primary ballot without the Green Party’s knowledge. The Montana GOP has acknowledged paying Advanced Micro Targeting $100,000 to gather signatures to certify the Green Party for the ballot. The money was also listed as an in-kind contribution to a group called Montanans for Conservation, which did not register as a minor party qualifying committee until after the Green Party was certified for the ballot on March 6. The Legislature passed a law in 2019 requiring groups to report any spending for paid signature gatherers to qualify issues or parties for the ballot to ensure transparency.
New Jersey – Buried in N.J.’s Budget Cuts: A break for a billionaire
New York Times – Tracey Tully | Published: 7/2/2020
New Jersey lawmakers passed a stopgap three-month budget that included $4 billion in cuts. It was fast-tracked to meet the July 1 deadline, leaving watchdogs and advocacy organizations largely in the dark about key details during a time when most traditional lobbying and legislative activities have been sidelined by the virus. Somewhere along the way a one-paragraph clause was quietly inserted. The wording could clear the way for private development in Liberty State Park, which has been eyed for decades by developers. Liberty National, an exclusive private golf club, has been pressing for years to expand into a nearby section of the park. Key lawmakers said they were blindsided by the maneuver that would likely reward the wealthy at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is exposing the nation’s economic and racial divide.
New York – NYC Board of Elections Director Fined for Violating Ethics Law
Gothamist – Brigid Bergin (WNYC) | Published: 6/25/2020
New York City Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan was fined $2,500 for violating the city’s ethics law. In 2016, Ryan served as an unpaid member of an advisory board for Election Systems and Software (ES&S), a vendor the board purchases its election machines and other supplies from. In 2018, it was revealed Ryan took nine trips paid for by ES&S. Ryan sought guidance from the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board who advised him ES&S could pay for his travel expenses to attend board meetings as needed for him to fulfill his city duties. But Ryan committed an ethics violation while attending a meeting in Manhattan in 2016.
North Carolina – NC Legislators Notified After a Lobbyist Tests Positive for Coronavirus
Raleigh News and Observer – Lucille Sherman, Danielle Battaglia, and Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan | Published: 7/1/2020
A lobbyist who met with as many as five members of the North Carolina General Assembly tested positive for COVID-19. “I am told no legislators who met with the lobbyists have symptoms or have tested positive,” House Speaker Tim Moore said in a text message. Moore said the lobbyist went to meetings and did not linger in the building. This is the second time a person who was in the Legislative Building has been reported as testing positive for COVID-19. In March, a cafeteria staff member tested positive one day after working in the building.
Ohio – Federal Agents Charge Four Toledo City Council Members in Bribery Probe
Toledo Blade – Allison Dunn and Sarah Elms | Published: 6/30/2020
Four Toledo City Council members and a private attorney were arrested on charges of accepting cash and other things of value from business owners in exchange for favorable votes on issues before the council, federal prosecutors said. Council members Tyrone Riley, Yvonne Harper, Larry Sykes, and Garrick Johnson, along with Keith Mitchell, an attorney who Harper allegedly used to solicit and funnel bribe payments, all face bribery and extortion charges. Details in the complaint suggest up to $34,260 changed hands between business owners, the council members, and Mitchell during the two-year investigation.
Ohio – ‘The World Will Never Break Me.’ Tamaya Dennard Pleads Guilty; Sentencing Coming Later.
Cincinnati Enquirer – Sharon Coolidge and Kevin Grasha | Published: 6/28/2020
Former Cincinnati City Councilperson Tamaya Dennard pleaded guilty to accepting $15,000 as part of a scheme to exchange her votes for money. According to court documents, on two separate days in September 2019, Dennard requested and received a $10,000 cashier’s check, then $5,000 in cash from an attorney to pay for her personal expenses. In exchange for the money, documents say, “Dennard promised and did provide favorable official action on behalf of” the lawyer’s unnamed client. After receiving the $15,000, Dennard continued to solicit additional money from the attorney.
Texas – U.S. Supreme Court Declines Texas Democrats’ Request to Allow All Texans to Vote by Mail
Texas Tribune – Alexa Ura | Published: 6/26/2020
The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an initial bid by state Democrats to expand voting by mail to all Texas voters during the coronavirus pandemic. The high court denied the Texas Democratic Party’s request to let U.S. District Judge Fred Biery’s order to expand mail-in voting take effect while the case is on appeal. Biery ruled in May that Texas must allow all voters fearful of becoming infected at polling places to vote by mail even if they would not ordinarily qualify for mail-in ballots under state election law. The decision means the state’s strict rules to qualify for ballots that can be filled out at home will remain in place for the July 14 primary runoff election. Under current law, mail-in ballots are available only if voters are 65 or older, cite a disability or illness, will be out of the county during the election period, or are confined in jail.
Utah – Lobbyists and a Utah Senate Leader Create What Critics Call a ‘Fake PAC’ to Help Friends
Salt Lake Tribune – Lee Davidson | Published: 6/27/2020
Lobbyist Spencer Stokes and Utah Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert were upset when the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Term Limits attacked two state Senate candidates they like, including the cousin of Hemmert’s wife. So, they helped form a new local PAC, called Utah Term Limits, to send competing mailers. They created it one day after deadlines that would have required disclosing its donors and expenses before the June 30 primary election. So, the source of the money remains hidden. Senate candidate and former Utah Rep. Rich Cunningham said it appears to have little if any membership beyond lobbyists who use dark money and late ads to muddy up who in his race really favors limiting the terms of politicians.
Washington DC – Milestone House Vote on DC Statehood Is Where It Likely Ends … For Now
Roll Call – Chris Cioffi | Published: 6/26/2020
A U.S. House approved a bill to admit the District of Columbia as the 51st state, the first time a such legislation passed either chamber of Congress. It is also expected to be the bill’s last stop, at least until next year. The bill has little chance of making it to the floor in the Republican-controlled Senate. The vote does mark a milestone for many who have spent years fighting for statehood, and if Democrats keep their focus, it might one day become reality if the party controls both chambers of Congress and the White House.
June 26, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
National/Federal A Winner on Election Day in November? Don’t Count on It New York Times – Shane Goldmacher | Published: 6/24/2020 The cliffhanger elections in Kentucky and New York did not just leave the candidates and voters in a state of […]
A Winner on Election Day in November? Don’t Count on It
New York Times – Shane Goldmacher | Published: 6/24/2020
The cliffhanger elections in Kentucky and New York did not just leave the candidates and voters in a state of suspended animation wondering who had won. Election officials, lawyers, and political strategists in both parties said the lack of results was a bracing preview of what could come after the polls close in November: no clear and immediate winner in the presidential race. With the coronavirus pandemic swelling the number of mailed-in ballots to historic highs across the nation, the process of vote-counting has become more unwieldy, and election administrators are straining to keep up and deliver timely results. The jumble of election rules and deadlines by state, including in presidential battlegrounds, all but ensure the victor in a close race will not be known on November 3.
Amid Threats and Political Pushback, Public Health Officials Are Leaving Their Posts
MSN – Rachel Weiner and Ariana Eungjun Cha (Washington Post) | Published: 6/22/2020
Public health workers are confronting waves of protest at their homes and offices in addition to pressure from politicians who favor a faster reopening. Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, said more than 20 health officials have been fired, resigned, or have retired in recent weeks “due to conditions related to having to enforce and stand up for strong public health tactics during this pandemic.” Although shutdown measures are broadly popular, a vocal minority opposes them vociferously. There have been attacks on officials’ race, gender, sexual orientation, and appearance. Freeman said some of the criticisms “seem to be harsher for women.”
Appeals Court Panel Orders End to Michael Flynn Case
New York Times – Charlie Savage | Published: 6/24/2020
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit directed a federal judge to drop a criminal case against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The panel ruled in favor of Flynn and the Trump administration in preventing U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan from exercising his discretion on whether to grant the Justice Department’s motion to clear Flynn. The order was rare and came as a surprise, taking its place as yet another twist in the legal and political drama surrounding the prosecution of Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents in the Russia investigation about his conversations in December 2016 with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Ex-Sens. Lott, Breaux Announce Move to Crossroads Strategies
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 6/15/2020
A week after exiting Squire Patton Boggs, former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott and his longtime K Street colleague, ex-Sen. John Breaux, said they were joining the lobbying shop Crossroads Strategies. Both Lott and Breaux had been at Squire Patton Boggs for the past decade. Lott’s reported ousting from the firm, amid a national reckoning on racism, led some on K Street to speculate it was tied to comments he made that drove him from Senate GOP leadership in 2002. Lott, however, said the split was based on business.
Facebook Removes Trump Ads with Symbol Once Used by Nazis to Designate Political Prisoners
MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 6/18/2020
In its online salvo against antifa and “far-left mobs,” President Trump’s reelection campaign displayed a marking the Nazis once used to designate political prisoners in concentration camps. A red inverted triangle was first used in the 1930s to identify Communists, and was applied as well to Social Democrats, liberals, and other members of opposition parties. In response to queries from The Washington Post, Facebook deactivated ads that included the inverted red triangle. The symbol appeared in paid posts sponsored by Trump and Vice President Pence, as well as by the “Team Trump” campaign page.
FEC to Take Public Comments on Petition to Close ‘Bloomberg Loophole’
Center for Responsive Politics – Karl Evers-Hillstrom | Published: 6/18/2020
The FEC agreed to take public comments on a petition to close a loophole that allowed former presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg to transfer millions of dollars to the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Bloomberg transferred $18 million from his self-funded campaign to the DNC in March, abusing a rule that allows candidates to funnel unlimited amounts of leftover campaign cash to party committees. Citizens United is seeking to limit the amount of money federal candidates can transfer to a party committee but noted the loophole could be closed in other way.
Judge: Bolton can publish book despite efforts to block
AP News – Eric Tucker | Published: 6/21/2020
A federal judge said former national security adviser John Bolton can move forward in publishing his tell-all book despite efforts by the Trump administration to block the release because of concerns that classified information could be exposed. The decision from U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth is a victory for Bolton in a court case that involved core First Amendment and national security issues, even as the White House pledged to keep pursuing the onetime top aide. Lamberth also made clear his concerns that Bolton had taken it upon himself to publish his memoir without formal clearance from a White House that says it was still reviewing it for classified information.
Justice Dept. Officials Testify on Politicization Under Barr
MSN – Katie Benner, Nichokas Fandos, and Charlie Savage (New York Times) | Published: 6/24/2020
Two U.S. Justice Department officials delivered stinging congressional testimony, accusing political appointees of intervening in criminal and antitrust cases to serve the personal interests of President Trump and Attorney General William Barr. Aaron Zelinsky, a career prosecutor who worked on the Russia investigation, told the House Judiciary Committee that senior law enforcement officials intervened to seek a more lenient prison sentence for Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone for political reasons. John Elias, a senior career official in the antitrust division, charged that supervisors improperly used their powers to investigate the marijuana industry and a deal between California and four major automakers. Democrats say the hearing is part of a broader investigation into Barr’s leadership of the department.
K Street May Mostly Skip Political Conventions This Year
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 6/24/2020
Typically, this close to the political conventions, lobbyists would have booked hotel rooms, arranged for event spaces to host receptions, and scored passes to attend high-profile speeches, including those of the party nominees. But that has not happened this year as the influence industry faces fear of the coronavirus and fallout from location and date changes for the events. K Street’s biggest shops are among those with undetermined plans. The virus is not the only thing weighing on corporate lobbying interests. Even before COVID-19 upended Americans’ lives, many corporations, worried about associating their brands overtly in politics, had been assessing whether the large investments would be worth it.
Russia. Ukraine. China. Bolton Account Highlights Pattern of Trump Welcoming Foreign Political Help.
MSN – Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger (Washington Post) | Published: 6/18/2020
John Bolton’s book highlights Trump’s pattern of welcoming foreign political help and a casual comfort with what was once unthinkable in American politics – foreign intervention in U.S. elections. Experts fear Trump’s behavior may embolden nations to try to sway American voters in the 2020 campaign, particularly if foreign leaders conclude that helping lift Trump to a second term would be an effective way to curry favor with the White House. While Trump’s past outreach to foreign powers for political assistance triggered widespread condemnation, he has not suffered serious consequences. Bolton’s new allegations come as experts warn Russia, China, Iran, and other countries have been stepping up their efforts to interfere in U.S. elections.
Sign of the Times: The return of campaign door knockers
Politico – Christopher Cadelago | Published: 6/20/2020
When the pandemic forced a national quarantine, campaigns were confronted with the daunting prospect of permanently sidelining the most reliable method to reach voters: knocking on their doors. But recent days have marked a shift in that thinking as states reopen for business and more Americans venture out in public. President Trump and Republican allies have resumed some level of in-person field operations in every state where they are campaigning. GOP-paid door knockers are now back in nearly every November battleground, party officials said. While Joe Biden’s campaign is not expecting an immediate return to the field, aides are in touch with local health officials and state parties to weigh their comfort level and are making assessments on a weekly basis about when it is safe to resume in-person campaigning.
Trade Groups Make Lobbying Push to Be Included in Small Business Loan Program
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 6/19/2020
The group that represents trade associations lobbied for professional and advocacy organizations struggling through the coronavirus to be eligible to receive small business loans. The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) hosted a virtual fly-in to call for changes to the Paycheck Protection Program so 501(c)(6) organizations can receive loans. The groups, which include trade associations, professional societies, and local chambers of commerce, were left out of the program when Congress passed its $2.2 trillion relief bill in March. “As the unemployment rate has skyrocketed, other revenue sources for associations are down as well, including membership dues, and things like advertising, and sponsorships,” said Chris Vest, ASAE director of public policy.
Treasury, SBA Cave to Demands for Bailout Transparency
Politico – Victoria Guida | Published: 6/19/2020
The Treasury Department and Small Business Administration bowed to congressional pressure and said they will disclose information on companies that received loans under the government’s small business rescue program. The names of companies and nonprofits that got loans larger than $150,000 under the Paycheck Protection Program will be released, along with other identifying information. Loan amounts will only be given within a certain range. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the move represents an agreement with the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Small Business Committee. Those lawmakers had asked for all borrowers to be identified; the deal will cover nearly 75 percent of the more than $500 billion that has been lent out, though only a minority of the 4.5 million total beneficiaries.
Trump Crony’s Gas Deal Reignites Conflict-of-Interest Concerns
Courthouse News Service – Adam Klasfeld | Published: 6/19/2020
On the campaign trail a year before his election, Donald Trump boasted in a radio interview that his real estate holdings in Istanbul could influence U.S.-Turkish foreign policy as president. “I have a little conflict-of-interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul, and it’s a tremendously successful job,” Trump disclosed. As a second election cycle looms, Trump’s Turkish business partner on that Istanbul property is homing in on a liquefied natural gas deal that can dramatically boost the U.S.-Turkey energy trade for more than a decade. The man at the center of the gas deal is Mehmet Ali Yalçindag, chairperson of Turkey’s oldest state-sponsored trade group, who brought Trump’s real estate empire into Istanbul in 2012. He is the son-in-law of Aydin Dogan, who owns Trump Towers Istanbul.
Trump Ousts Manhattan U.S. Attorney Who Investigated President’s Associates
MSN – Rosalind Helderman, Ellen Nakashima, Matt Zapotosky, and Seung Min Kim (Washington Post) | Published: 6/20/2020
Attorney General William Barr said President Trump fired the top federal prosecutor in New York, ending an unprecedented standoff between Barr and U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who had resisted being removed from his post. Barr informed Berman of the president’s move in a sharply worded letter, explaining that Berman’s deputy, Audrey Strauss, will serve as the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan until the Senate can confirm a permanent replacement. Under Berman, the office managed a number of sensitive investigations involving people close to Trump. The fight between Barr and the nation’s most powerful U.S. attorney deepened alarm among Democrats over Barr’s management of the Justice Department, generating fresh accusations the attorney general is placing the president’s interests above those of the public.
Twitter Labels Trump Video Tweet as Manipulated Media, Continuing Its Crackdown on Misinformation
MSN – Kat Zakrzewski (Washington Post) | Published: 6/18/2020
Twitter took the rare step of appending a warning label to one of President Trump’s tweets after the company determined it violated its policies on manipulated media. The president tweeted a doctored version of a popular video that went viral in 2019, which showed two toddlers, one black and one white, hugging. In the version Trump shared, the video has been edited with ominous music and a fake CNN headline that says, “Terrified toddler runs from racist baby.” The label is the latest flash point in an increasingly contentious debate over tech companies’ responsibility to police falsehoods and hoaxes spread by politicians on their platforms.
Why Obsessive K-Pop Fans Are Turning Toward Political Activism
MSN – Joe Coscarelli (New York Times) | Published: 6/22/2020
Amid a pandemic, a forthcoming presidential election, and inescapable conversations about race, K-pop fans – the typically young and diverse international enthusiasts of Korean pop music who congregate daily on social media – is trying to exert its influence in a new realm: the American political arena. Spurred at first by the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, K-pop stans made themselves known outside of music circles hen some took credit for helping to inflate expectations for President Trump’s rally in Tulsa by reserving tickets they had no plans to use. But while the Trump campaign denied he prank affected attendance, the call to action in K-pop circles revealed a growing realization that fans’ efficient social-media tactics for fundraising or making a song go viral can also be used for political activism.
Canada – Conservative Senator Victor Oh Faces Censure for Free Trip to China
The Globe and Mail – Robert Fife and Steven Chase | Published: 6/18/2020
The Senate Ethics and Conflict of Interest Committee is recommending Senator Victor Oh be censured for violating the chamber’s conflict-of-interest and ethics code by accepting an all-expenses paid trip to China for himself and two of his colleagues. Senate Ethics Officer Pierre Legault criticized Oh for providing incomplete testimony and withholding information, saying his conduct “raises questions about his integrity.” Censure in Parliament is a form of severe disapproval for the ethical actions of a parliamentarian. The committee did not recommend further sanctions but urged Oh to formally apologize.
Canada – Senate Ethics Committee Recommends Rescinding Suspension of Senator Lynn
The Globe and Mail – Kristy Kirkup | Published: 6/22/2020
The Senate should rescind the suspension of Lynn Beyak ordered in February, the standing committee on ethics and conflict-of-interest for senators. The recommendation is the latest development in a drawn-out controversy for the Ontario senator who posted letters to her website the committee found contained racist content. In February, the Senate voted to suspend Beyak for a second time after it approved a previous ethics committee report on her conduct. The report recommended she be suspended without pay for the duration of the parliamentary session, apologize, and participate in educational programs.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Arizona House Ethics Chair Weighs Holding Hearings into Claims Against Lawmaker
Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 6/22/2020
The House Ethics Committee chairperson is weighing whether to hold hearings into its investigation of Arizona Rep. David Cook, Rep. John Allen said he is still reviewing the evidence presented by outside investigators as well as the response submitted by Cook’s attorneys. That response demanded a full hearing to be “given the right to the fundamental protections every citizen of our country would reasonably expect to have.” Allen said there are issues to be resolved about how to handle the two basic complaints against Cook, one involving allegations of an affair with a lobbyist and the other about efforts to intervene on the lobbyist’s behalf to halt the tax sale of property.
Arizona – Scottsdale Rejects Ban on Anonymous Donations, Including GoFundMe Campaigns, to Council Members
Arizona Republic – Lorraine Lonhi | Published: 6/22/2020
What began as an effort to tweak Scottsdale’s gift policy grew complicated as some residents and council members saw an opportunity to push for campaign finance reform. A growing chorus of residents in recent years have raised concerns about developers and others who do business with the city donating to council members election campaigns. When the city proposed amending its ethics policy pertaining to gifts that might be offered to elected officials of a non-campaign nature, many advocated to extend the rules to campaign donations.
California – After Court-Ordered Recount, Controversial San Jose Ballot Measure Falls Short
San Jose Mercury News – Maggie Angst | Published: 6/22/2020
Following a court-ordered recount, a controversial ballot measure to shift the San Jose’s mayoral race to presidential election years and limit campaign contributions failed to garner the required number of signatures to qualify for the November election. The Fair Elections Initiative called for aligning mayoral elections with presidential years to boost voter turnout, particularly among people of color, and placing a cap on certain political donations, including those from any person or entity that has received city contracts of at least $250,000.
California – Former East Bay Elections Chief Charged with 34 Felony Counts Related to Illegal Campaign Spending
San Jose Mercury News – Annie Sciacca | Published: 6/17/2020
Joe Canciamilla, the former Contra Costa County elections chief, was charged with 34 felony crimes for illegally spending campaign funds for several years. He was charged with perjury involving campaign disclosure statements and grand theft of campaign funds spent on a vacation in Asia, airfare, restaurants, and other personal expenses. The charges stem from conduct starting in 2010, when Canciamilla failed to report investment gains in a campaign bank account. Though the gains were legal, using the proceeds for personal use is prohibited, said Deputy District Attorney Steve Bolen, adding that Canciamilla covered up the gains and losses from the investment account.
California – L.A. County Has Found the Cause of Its Hourslong Poll Lines. It Wasn’t the New Voting Machines.
Politico – Kim Zetter | Published: 6/17/2020
The long wait times that snarled the March 3 primary in Los Angeles County stemmed from malfunctions in the electronic tablets used to check in voters at the polls, according to an county report that adds to questions about the nation’s readiness for November. The report concludes these devices, known as electronic poll books, and not the county’s new $300 million voting machines were the source of those delays. Although the voting machines also had problems, the report faults inadequate planning, testing, and programming of the poll books that workers used to check in voters and verify they are registered, technology that has also been implicated in the recent Georgia primary.
California – LA Councilman Jose Huizar Arrested in Pay-to-Play Scheme
Los Angeles Daily News – Elizabeth Chou | Published: 6/23/2020
Los Angeles City Councilperson Jose Huizar was arrested in an investigation into corruption at City Hall. Federal prosecutors have been probing allegations that real estate developers were shaken down for cash bribes and campaign donations in exchange for Huizar’s help getting high-rise development projects through the city’s approval process. Huizar and his associates are accused of enjoying free plane travel, lavish meals, poker chips, and other perks offered by developers. In plea deals struck with the government, a former aide to the council member, one of his political fundraisers, and a real estate consultant agreed to cooperate with the investigation into Huizar and others in City Hall.
Colorado – Campaign Contribution Not a Reason to Disqualify Judge from Case, Court of Appeals Rules
Colorado Politics – Michael Kralick | Published: 6/18/2020
A prominent attorney donated more than $200,000 against an Adams County judge’s retention election. But that did not mean the judge should have recused himself from a case involving the firm’s lawyers, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled. At trial, Lyubov Bocian attempted to disqualify Adams County District Court Judge Edward Moss from her case, alleging he was biased against her attorneys at Franklin D. Azar and Associates. The Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure require a judicial substitution if there is a reasonable inference of a judge’s partiality toward either of the litigants or opposing counsel. The appellate court did not find Moss exhibited any hostility or prejudice toward the Azar firm based on his actions, nor did the panel determine Moss harbored ill will because Azar himself made a $224,000 campaign contribution against Moss’s retention election in 2018.
Florida – FBI Investigating Mayor Milissa Holland, Palm Coast Ex-Officials Say
Daytona Beach News-Journal – Matt Bruce and Erica Von Braun | Published: 6/22/2020
Two former city employees say FBI agents have interviewed them regarding Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland’s connection to Coastal Guard. The company has a unique arrangement with the city to provide some digital services. It is also Holland’s daytime employer. Michael Schottey, the city’s former communications director and now a candidate for mayor, read emails during a virtual press conference that he said show Holland used her position as mayor to solicit business for Coastal Cloud with the city of Orlando.
Florida – ‘Suspicious’ Car Rental, Other Payments by Mayor’s Campaign Not Criminal, Probe Finds
Miami Herald – Aaron Leibowitz | Published: 6/22/2020
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office investigated payments related to the 2016 mayoral campaign of Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, finding a “suspicious” car rental and some “haphazard” accounting but insufficient evidence to prove any criminal activity. The investigation delved into whether Gilbert’s rental of an Infiniti QX80 constituted an unreported campaign expenditure; whether he instructed the Miami Gardens city clerk to falsify the date on an amended campaign treasurer’s report; and whether Gilbert directed his campaign to make improper payments to a for-profit company and to incorrectly label those payments as donations to a nonprofit.
Georgia – Ethics Commission Fines Group That Backed Stacey Abrams $50,000
WAGA – Dale Russell | Published: 6/19/2020
A group backing Stacey Abrams’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign was fined $50,000 by Georgia’s ethics commission for failing to report the money it raised and spent to help her get elected. The independent committee, Gente4Abrams (People for Abrams), was set up out of state and raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campaign without ever registering with the commission or disclosing how much it raised.
Georgia – House Republican Leaders Condemn GOP Candidate Who Made Racist Videos
Politico – Ally Mutnick ans Stephanie Zanona | Published: 6/17/2020
The House’s highest-ranking Republicans are racing to distance themselves from a leading GOP congressional candidate in Georgia after Facebook videos were uncovered in which she expresses racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic views. The candidate, Marjorie Taylor Greene, suggested Muslims do not belong in government; thinks black people “are held slaves to the Democratic Party”; called George Soros, a Jewish Democratic donor, a Nazi; and said she would feel “proud” to see a Confederate monument if she were black because it symbolizes progress made since the Civil War. Greene is entering an August runoff as the favorite to secure the Republican nomination for a district where that is tantamount to winning the general election in November.
Illinois – Rules Requiring Nonprofits to Register as Lobbyists Delayed Until 2021
WTTW – Heather Cherone | Published: 6/18/2020
Rules requiring nonprofit organizations to register as lobbyists in Chicago were set to go into effect on January 1, 2020 but were initially delayed until April after dozens of nonprofit groups objected, saying the regulations would force them to pay costly registration fees or risk $1,000 fines. The Board of Ethics attempted to clarify the new rules, issuing three advisory opinions that exempted grassroots groups or residents who press city officials on issues they are concerned about. But that effort was still underway when the coronavirus pandemic forced City Hall to shut down, and the delay was extended until July, and will now last through the end of 2020.
Maryland – Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh Pleads Guilty in State Court to Perjury in ‘Healthy Holly’ Scandal
Baltimore Sun – Tim Prudente | Published: 6/19/2020
A judge sentenced former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh to six months in prison for deliberately lying on financial disclosures forms to hide her lucrative “Healthy Holly” children’s book business. Under terms of Pugh’s plea deal, her time will be served concurrent with a separate, pending three-year prison sentence. Pugh pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of perjury, admitting she withheld hundreds of thousands of dollars from the disclosure forms she filed during her years as a state senator.
Missouri – Missouri Attorney General Candidate Files Ethics Complaint Against Former Governor Greitens
KDSK – PJ Randhawa and Erin Richey | Published: 6/20/2020
Former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens filed paperwork to run for an unspecified statewide office in 2024. Elad Gross, a candidate for state attorney general, is asking the Missouri Ethics Commission to decide if Greitens should be able to do that even though he has not publicly announced any interest in running for office again. Experts say it is part of a trend of campaign committees avoiding the state law that requires them to close their accounts and distribute the leftover money as refunds or donations if they will not be running for office again.
Missouri – Missouri Politicians Get Around Contribution Limits by Using PACs
Columbia Missourian – Jordan Meier, Mawa Iqbal, and Spencer Norris | Published: 6/23/2020
In Missouri, contributions for state elections have been in place off and on since 1994, when voters approved a ballot measure. The limits withstood several court tests, but the Legislature repealed them twice. State voters reinstated them in 2016 and approved slightly lower caps in 2018, through passage of Clean Missouri. Even with limits in place, candidates have found creative ways to receive large donations. PACs have no restraints on the amount they can receive in donations, which makes them an ideal way to collect large checks from millionaires and special interests such as casinos, labor unions, and tobacco companies.
New Jersey – N.J. Corruption Scheme Involving Pay-to-Play Contracts Leads to Charges Against Law Firm Partner
Newark Star Ledger – Ted Sherman (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 6/19/2020
Attorney Elizabeth Valandingham was charged with lying about alleged “pay-to-play” violations in New Jersey. Valandingham, was accused of falsely claiming her law firm had not made any reportable political contributions to candidates in two towns where the firm had been vying for contracts to provide legal services, when in fact it had. While the charges against Valandingham arose from a corruption investigation in which five New Jersey political figures are accused of accepting a total of $74,900 in bribes in the form of campaign donations, they are not directly related to the bribery allegations.
New York – JCOPE Commissioners Mull Filing Criminal Complaint Over Alleged Leak
Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 6/22/2020
Members of the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) are contemplating whether a criminal complaint should be filed in connection with a leak investigation last year by the state inspector general’s office that failed to confirm allegations Gov. Andrew Cuomo received details of JCOPE’s confidential vote on a matter involving a former top aide to the governor. The apparent leak, which would be a criminal offense, surfaced when Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s top counsel, Howard Vargas, called Commissioner Julie Garcia and told her that Cuomo had complained to the speaker about how his appointees to the commission had voted on the matter.
Pennsylvania – Top Pa. GOP Lawmaker Fast-Tracking a Lucrative Gambling Expansion That Would Benefit a Major Campaign Donor
Philadelphia Inquirer – Angela Couloumbis (Spotlight PA), Brad Bumsted (The Caucus), and Sam Jenesh (The Caucus) | Published: 6/19/2020
The top lobbyist for a gaming company seeking a lucrative gambling expansion in Pennsylvania helped host a fundraiser in Las Vegas for the leading Republican in the state Senate, Joe Scarnati. Several months later, executives from the gaming company, Golden Entertainment, poured thousands of dollars into a campaign committee controlled by Scarnati and close associates. Now, Scarnati and other top Republicans are working to secure votes for a bill that would help Golden and others like it cash in on the next frontier of expanded gambling, potentially worth millions of dollars: video-gaming terminals, known better as VGTs.
South Carolina – Conflict of interest? Councilman with Ties to Richland Mega Church Pushed Road Project
The State – Andrew Kaplan | Published: 6/18/2020
Richland County Council member Chip Jackson voted nine times for improvements to Atlas Road in the county during the last three years, even though he worked for a church and its nonprofit arm that would benefit from the work. The popularity of the megachurch, Bible Way Church of Atlas Road, and its plans to sell surrounding property to developers, were part of the reason the road was originally slated for $17 million in improvements, according to the county’s transportation director. The money was to come from the county’s sales-tax program that voters approved. Jackson’s dual roles as a council member and consultant for the church is a potential ethics violation, according to experts.
Utah – Utah Gave Group $400,000 to Sue the Feds on Public Lands Issues. It Never Did. What Happened?
Salt Lake Tribune – Brian Maffley | Published: 6/23/2020
In 2016, the Utah Legislature opened up its wallet to a nonprofit called the Foundation for Integrated Resource Management (FIRM), one of several groups that have received millions of dollars in recent years to push greater local and state control over Utah’s large expanses of federal land and imperiled wildlife. But FIRM’s taxpayer-supported charge was specific: file lawsuits against the federal government on behalf of Utah counties. The goal was to reverse restrictive land-use policies to promote “integrated” use of natural resources. Four years and $400,000 later, FIRM has yet to pursue a single legal action, according to ethics complaints filed with the IRS, the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, and state auditor.
Vermont – Candidate Incomes Outpace Average Vermonter; Advocates Seek More Disclosure
VTDigger.org – Jasper Goodman and Kit Norton | Published: 6/22/2020
Most of the top candidates seeking statewide office reported substantially higher incomes than the average Vermonter. There is no tax return requirement for individuals seeking seats in the state Legislature. Those candidates only need to fill out a brief financial disclosure form which requires reporting any source of income of $5,000 or more. But the statute requiring candidates to file the forms includes no enforcement mechanism for non-compliance. Larry Novins, executive director of the Vermont Ethics Commission, said the agency has “no ability to do anything about” candidates who do not file the forms because it has “no authority” over them. The commission can review ethics complaints but has no investigative or enforcement power.
June 19, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
National/Federal Appeals Judges Reluctant to Force Immediate End to Flynn Case Politico – Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney | Published: 6/12/2020 A federal appeals court panel appears poised to reject, at least for now, Michael Flynn’s effort to force a judge […]
Appeals Judges Reluctant to Force Immediate End to Flynn Case
Politico – Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney | Published: 6/12/2020
A federal appeals court panel appears poised to reject, at least for now, Michael Flynn’s effort to force a judge to dismiss the criminal case against him. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, is urging the courts to swiftly toss out his case after Attorney General William Barr moved to drop the prosecution. But the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit expressed serious reservations about cutting short the typical process and forcing the trial judge assigned to Flynn’s case, Emmet Sullivan, to act before he has a chance to consider his options.
As Trump Warns of Leftist Violence, a Dangerous Threat Emerges from the Right-Wing Boogaloo Movement
MSN – Craig Timberg (Washington Post) | Published: 6/17/2020
A far-right extremist movement born on social media and fueled by anti-government rhetoric has emerged as a real-world threat in recent weeks, with federal authorities accusing some of its adherents of working to spark violence at largely peaceful protests roiling the nation. At a time when President Trump and other top U.S. officials have claimed, with little evidence, that leftist groups were fomenting violence, federal prosecutors have charged various supporters of a right-wing movement called the “boogaloo bois” with crimes related to plotting to firebomb a U.S. Forest Service facility, preparing to use explosives at a peaceful demonstration, and killing a security officer at a federal courthouse.
Bolton Says Trump Impeachment Inquiry Missed Other Troubling Episodes
MSN – Peter Baker (New York Times) | Published: 6/17/2020
John Bolton, the former national security adviser, says in his new book the U.S. House in its impeachment inquiry should have investigated President Trump not just for pressuring Ukraine but for a variety of instances when he sought to use trade negotiations and criminal investigations to further his political interests. While other books by journalists and lower-level former aides have revealed much about the Trump White House, Bolton’s volume is the first tell-all memoir by such a high-ranking official who participated in major foreign policy events and has a lifetime of conservative credentials. It is a portrait of a president ignorant of basic facts about the world, susceptible to transparent flattery by authoritarian leaders manipulating him, and prone to false statements, and snap decisions that aides try to manage or reverse.
Ethics Probe into Rep. Alcee Hastings Ends After Disclosure He Married Aide
Politico – John Bresnahan | Published: 6/12/2020
An investigation into whether U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings had an improper relationship with one of his aides was dropped after it was disclosed the Florida Democrat has been married to the staffer since January 2019. The House ethics committee also announced it was creating a special investigative subcommittee to investigate allegations Del. Michael San Nicolas of Guam had an improper sexual relationship with a congressional staffer, broke campaign finance laws, and lied to governments. San Nicolas’ former chief of staff has accused the delegate of having an affair with the woman in question and then hiring her in his congressional office.
Justice Department Seeks Emergency Order to Block Publication of Bolton’s Book
MSN – Tom Hamburger, Rosalind Helderman, Devlin Barrett, and Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 6/17/2020
The Justice Department sought an emergency order from a judge to block the publication of former national security adviser John Bolton’s forthcoming White House memoir, escalating a legal battle against him. The move came after the Trump administration filed a civil suit against Bolton, targeting the proceeds of the book and asking a court to order him to delay its scheduled June 23 release. Less than 24 hours later, The Wall Street Journal released an excerpt of the memoir, and lengthy accounts were published by other news organizations. The latest action sought to formally enjoin Bolton from allowing his book to be published, a legal strategy experts said was unlikely to succeed, particularly given the book has already been printed and shipped to warehouses and copies distributed to the media for review.
K Street Backrooms Morph Into ‘the Zoom Where It Happens’
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 6/15/2020
The upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic along with the wave of protests for racial justice and equality will leave a lasting imprint on the lobbying sector – on the strategies for influencing lawmakers and on the policy agenda. This moment also has expedited the long-running, but slow-to-change conversations about spurring diversity on K Street and in its pipeline for personnel, Capitol Hill. Some of the permanent transformations, like more Zoom conferences and fewer in-person meetings even after the pandemic ends, may appear minor adaptations. For an industry, like politics itself, built around face-to-face relationships with conversations sparked at high-dollar fundraising events, even some of the seemingly little shifts may galvanize a larger metamorphosis in the long run.
Members of Congress Took Small-Business Loans – and the Full Extent Is Unknown
Politico – Sarah Ferris, Melanie Zanona, and Zachary Warmbrodt | Published: 6/16/2020
A group of lawmakers acknowledged close ties to companies that received loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, businesses that are either run by their families or employ their spouse as a senior executive. There are almost certainly more, according to aides and lawmakers. But only the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Treasury Department have that information, and the Trump administration is refusing to provide any details. That leaves it entirely up to business owners, including elected officials, to decide whether to come forward about a loan, which can be as large as $10 million. The program is being dogged by growing transparency complaints, with Treasury and SBA refusing to disclose recipients.
New Generation of Activists, Deeply Skeptical of Democratic Party, Resists Calls to Channel Energy into the 2020 Campaign
MSN – Cleve Wootson Jr. (Washington Post) | Published: 6/14/2020
George Floyd’s killing ignited protests in more than 750 U.S. cities, with participants of all races in every corner of the country. The uprising is also a potential boon for Democrats, inspiring thousands of new grassroots organizers just as the party seeks to mobilize young voters and other core liberals to defeat President Trump and retake the U.S. Senate. Many of the country’s top Democrats have exhorted the activists to channel their energy toward the election. But the Democrats have so far failed to tap into the newly emerging protest movement, even turning off some activists who see early outreach efforts as hollow gestures. Many said they remain skeptical of the political system and the Democratic Party, which they said has a history of promising change and falling short.
Now You Can Opt Out of Seeing Political Ads on Facebook
New York Times – Mike Isaac | Published: 6/16/2020
Facebook said it would allow people in the U.S. to opt out of seeing social issue, electoral, or political ads from candidates or PACs in their Facebook or Instagram feeds. The ability to hide those ads will begin with a small group of users, before rolling out to the rest of the United States and later to several other countries. The move allows Facebook to play both sides of a complicated debate about the role of political advertising on social media ahead of the November election. With the change, Facebook can continue allowing political ads to flow across its network, while also finding a way to reduce the reach of those ads and to offer a concession to critics who have said the company should do more to moderate noxious speech on its platform.
Police Unions Face Lobbying Fights at All Levels of Government
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 6/12/2020
Police unions are gearing up for their biggest lobbying fights in years as lawmakers at all levels of government push to reform law enforcement practices and protections. In Congress, the brewing battle comes as House Democrats have introduced sweeping legislation to overhaul aspects of the criminal justice system, with Senate Republicans expected to unveil their proposal soon. The National Fraternal Order of Police, the country’s largest police group that represents over 330,000 officers, is expected to play a major role. Police unions also have to prepare for fights outside the Beltway.
QAnon Marches Toward the Halls of Congress
Politico – Tina Nguyen | Published: 6/15/2020
QAnon adherents are now filtering into electoral politics. According to Media Matters, there are 51 candidates running for Congress who have promoted the messages of “Q” – a mysterious internet figure who drops digital “crumbs” about a secret war President Trump is waging against a cabal of pedophile political elites in Washington, D.C. Seven of them emerged recently in congressional Republican primaries. One, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, is favored to eventually end up in Congress. Trump invited one of Qanon’s top promoters to pose with him in the Oval Office, and retweeting over 130 tweets that directly reference QAnon-related claims. Now the president is seeing a tangible political benefit from the relationship, the GOP candidates who reference QAnon are also those who cling most closely to Trump.
Senate Aides Say There’s Work to Be Done on Staffer Diversity, After Tim Scott Airs Criticism
Roll Call – Katherine Tully-McManus and Kathryn Lyons | Published: 6/11/2020
Sen. Tim Scott called out the lack of racial diversity among staff in certain U.S. Senate offices, which highlighted how little data is available on staffer demographics. It also got staff and senators talking about how to tackle the problem. Although there are varying opinions on how to boost diversity, many agree that a major problem is a lack of data on diversity of race, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds among staff. Scott, the only black Republican in the chamber, said he would like the Senate to conduct a study of staff member demographics and pay.
Senate Ethics Panel Dismisses Insider-Trading Inquiry into Sen. Loeffler
Washington Post – Colby Itkowitz | Published: 6/16/2020
The Senate Ethics Committee dismissed its investigation into U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler for alleged insider trading ahead of the coronavirus pandemic, notifying her it found “no evidence” she violated the law or chamber rules. The panel’s decision follows the Justice Department, which closed its probe of Loeffler’s stock sales before the pandemic crashed the markets. The Justice Department dismissed similar probes into U.S. Sens. James Inhofe and Dianne Feinstein but is still looking into U.S. Sen. Richard Burr for alleged insider trading.
‘Sharpiegate’ Controversy Laid to Uneasy Rest
Courthouse News Service – Tim Ryan | Published: 6/16/2020
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Neil Jacobs violated the agency’s ethics policy when he contradicted and silenced a local National Weather Service office about a hurricane’s path. President Trump wrote on Twitter that Hurricane Dorian would hit Alabama “harder than anticipated.” A few minutes later, the National Weather Service office in Birmingham posted on Twitter: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian.” Days later, Jacobs’ office issued an unsigned statement calling the Birmingham office’s posting “inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.” That statement turned out to be the result of pressure from the White House on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who threatened to fire the political staff at the agency unless the contradiction of Trump was addressed.
The Rising Trump Lawyer Battling to Reshape the Electorate
New York Times – Danny Hakim and Stephanie Saul | Published: 6/15/2020
In 2013, a lawyer named William Consovoy appeared on a Brookings Institution panel to discuss his leading role in a recently decided voting-rights case. Days earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled certain states, particularly in the South, would no longer need Justice Department approval before redrawing districts, moving polling places or making other electoral changes. Consovoy’s work on voting cases across the country is drawing increased attention in this presidential election year roiled by pandemic and protest. In recent weeks, his firm, Consovoy McCarthy, has fought against extending the deadline for mail-in voting in Wisconsin, sought to thwart felons from being re-enfranchised in Florida, and sued to block California’s plan to send absentee ballots to all registered voters.
Trump Health Official’s Approach to Contracts Faces Scrutiny
Roll Call – Emily Kopp | Published: 6/10/2020
A company that won a $628 million contract from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is one that Robert Kadlec, the official who leads the agency’s pandemic response, knows well. Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response, served as a consultant to Emergent Biosolutions until 2015. Since Kadlec’s 2017 confirmation, the company has received more than $1.2 billion from the division Kadlec oversees, including a part of HHS known as the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). The contract raises questions because a complaint by former BARDA Director Rick Bright alleges Kadlec and other officials may have broken the law by awarding lucrative contracts to former business acquaintances and friends.
Trump Rally Attendees Must Agree Not to Sue Campaign Over Potential Coronavirus Exposure
Politico – Caitlin Oprysko | Published: 6/11/2020
Supporters of President Trump will soon be able to attend one of his signature, raucous campaign rallies again after a months-long hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, but first, they must agree not to sue the campaign if they contract the virus after the event. The Trump campaign sent out registration information for the president’s first rally since March, with the campaign’s chief operating officer, Michael Glassner, proclaiming there is “no better place” to restart rallies than Tulsa, Oklahoma. But the fine print on the registration page for the event that has been rescheduled for June 20 underscores the continued health risks associated with reviving the “Make America Great Again” rallies, which pack thousands of supporters into arenas for hours at a time.
Canada – Canada’s Ethics Czar Investigates Former Canadian Envoy to Washington Over His Work for Palantir
Politico – Abby Blatchford | Published: 6/13/2020
Canada’s ethics watchdog is investigating David MacNaughton, Ottawa’s former envoy to the U.S., to determine if he broke conflict-of-interest laws after taking a senior role last year with the data analytics firm Palantir. Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion says he launched a probe into MacNaughton’s interactions with senior government officials since he became president of Palantir’s Canadian branch. MacNaughton, who has close ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, took the job shortly after leaving the ambassador’s post. Dion said he will explore whether MacNaughton violated a rule that prohibits him from “taking improper advantage” of his previous public office and another forbidding him from making representations to anyone with whom he had “direct and significant official dealings” during his last year in public office.
Canada – Lobbying Watchdog Seeks Budget Hike Amid Pandemic-Induced Surge in Lobbying
Yahoo Finance – Canadian Press | Published: 6/11/2020
The federal lobbying watchdog is asking for a budget increase to enable her office to modernize the way it registers lobbyists and keeps track of their activities in Canada, just as it is seeing a surge in lobbying sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lobbying commissioner Nancy Belanger says 441 lobbyists have registered with her office to make their case to the federal government on matters related to the pandemic. Belanger’s request for a budget hike is not directly related to the pandemic-induced increase in lobbying. She said she put in the request before COVID-19 began wreaking havoc on the global economy.
From the States and Municipalities
Alabama – Judge Rules Birmingham Airport Authority Employees Not Under Ethics Law
AL.com – Mike Cason | Published: 6/15/2020
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Brooke Reid agreed with lawyers for the Birmingham Airport Authority, who argued airport employees are not public employees because they are not paid from taxpayer funds. Their salaries come from fees that airlines, car rental companies, and other vendors pay to use the airport. The ruling rejected an advisory opinion from the Alabama Ethics Commission. The ethics law is intended to prevent public officials and public employees from using their public positions for personal gain and to require them to disclose conflicts of interest. Airport Authority attorney Mark White said it was not meant to cover employees for public corporations like the authority.
Alaska – Alaska Supreme Court Approves Election-Reform Ballot Measure
Anchorage Daily News – James Brooks | Published: 6/13/2020
In November, Alaskans will decide whether to impose ranked-choice voting, nonpartisan primary elections, and tough new rules on campaign finance disclosure. The Alaska Supreme Court upheld a lower-court decision and confirmed the legality of a proposed multipart ballot measure including all three topics. The state had argued the measure violated a constitutional requirement that ballot measures be limited to one subject.
Arizona – Arizona Asks Appeals Court to Block Laws That Regulate Campaign Finance
KAWC – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 6/10/2020
An attorney for the state asked the Court of Appeals to block the Citizens Clean Elections Commission from enforcing certain laws that regulate how much candidates and others in Arizona can spend on campaigns and what the public must be told about it. Tim Berg said the Legislature was within its power in crafting exceptions to campaign finance laws. He said the changes were not directly part of the Clean Elections Act which voters enacted. But commission attorney Joseph Roth said the changes violated the Voter Protection Act, which bars legislators from tinkering with what voters enacted because it effectively nullified what voters approved because of the way lawmakers crafted the proposal. He said that unconstitutionally undermined the intent of the law which was designed to reduce the influence of money on politics.
Arizona – House Committee Report Says Globe Lawmaker Had Romantic Relationship with Lobbyist
Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 6/12/2020
A report by the Arizona House Ethics Committee accuses state Rep. David Cook of having an undisclosed relationship with a lobbyist, one that the investigators said was romantic. The report prepared by outside lawyers hired to investigate Cook also says he called Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb about plans to seize property in which the lobbyist, AnnaMarie Knorr, had an interest and Lamb subsequently called off the sale. It also says there is evidence of Cook’s “use of alcohol while conducting official business, including a meeting at the governor’s office.”
California – Public Health Funds Are Needed More Than Ever but Lack ‘Lobbying Muscle’ in California
Los Angeles Times – Angela Hart (California Healthline) | Published: 6/15/2020
California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature are expected to reject a plea from local public health officials for an additional $150 million a year to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and protect against future threats. Public health officials vow to continue making their case. Persuading lawmakers to increase spending in a time of cuts will be difficult because public health does not carry the same political clout in the Capitol as power players such as hospitals, doctors, or public employee unions, which plow millions of dollars into lobbying each year. “I’ve not met anybody who is a lobbyist for public health,” said Assemblyperson Jim Wood, who chairs the Assembly Health Committee.
Colorado – Ethics Panel Fines Former Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper $2,750
AP News – Staff | Published: 6/13/2020
The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission fined U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper $2,750 for ethics violations he committed as governor that included accepting a private jet flight to an official event and receiving benefits he did not pay for at a meeting of government, business, and financial leaders in Italy. Hickenlooper insisted his intent was to promote Colorado’s economy as governor. But he acknowledged that on several occasions he did not seek an opinion from the commission on individual gifts. He also acknowledged he did not get formal training on the state’s ethics law.
Connecticut – Family Investments, Coronavirus Pandemic Put Gov. Ned Lamont on Ethical Tightrope
Hartford Courant – Edmund Mahoney | Published: 6/14/2020
As the first Connecticut governor married to a venture capitalist with a $1.9 billion portfolio, Ned Lamont anticipated conflict between his decisions about where to spend the state’s billions and his wife’s about where to invest hers. Ann Lamont is a successful financier – one whose business has its investments divided between the health care industry during a viral pandemic and financial technology while married to a governor pledging to drag the state government into the digital age. The torrent of state money poured into coronavirus mitigation has produced at least one convergence of state and family money, much as Gov. Lamont anticipated. But it also shows the Lamonts expected such an eventuality and, early in the new administration, drafted an ethics plan they believe insulates them from a variety of personal and state business decisions that could otherwise create an appearance of self-dealing.
Florida – Could Potential for Conflicts Influence Review of Miami’s Powerful Zoning Code?
Miami Herald – Andres Viglucci | Published: 6/15/2020
Should three prominent Miami developers’ attorneys be permitted to participate in a new task force that is revising the city’ Miami 21 zoning code? That is the question that kept the three lawyers specializing in land use from joining eight other experts at the task force’s inaugural meeting. All three attorneys are registered to act as lobbyists for dozens of developers seeking waivers and city zoning and development approvals under Miami 21, including some proposing controversial projects.
Iowa – Kim Reynolds Confirms She Will Sign Felon Voting Rights Executive Order
Des Moines Register – Stephen Miller-Gruber and Ian Richardson | Published: 6/16/2020
Gov. Kim Reynolds said she will sign an executive order restoring voting rights to people with past felony convictions, a move that will address Iowa’s status as the last state in the country with a lifetime ban on felon voting. More than 60,000 Iowans, including nearly one in ten African American adults, are barred from voting in the state due to a prior felony conviction. Reynolds has pushed the Legislature to approve an amendment to the state constitution to make the process of regaining voting rights automatic once felons have completed their sentences. But Republicans in the Iowa Senate killed the proposal each year. The Legislature this year without the Senate voting on the measure.
Maine – Would-Be Clean Elections Candidates Find It Harder to Qualify During Pandemic
Portland Press Herald – Scott Thistle | Published: 6/17/2020
Officials at the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Campaign Finance said fewer candidates who wanted to participate in the state’s clean elections program were able to qualify. To qualify, candidates must collect qualifying five-dollar contributions from at least 60 registered voters in their district. Two candidates said physical distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic made it far more difficult to collect the qualifying funds. “The law is designed for legislative candidates to meet their neighbors in their districts and ask for … contributions documented with a signature on a form,” Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne said. “That was much harder because candidates could not go door-to-door, as they had in years past.”
Maryland – Payments by Auto Insurer for Former Baltimore Mayor Pugh Were Illegal, State Review Finds
Baltimore Sun – Meredith Cohn | Published: 6/17/2020
Payments made by Maryland’s quasi-governmental auto insurer to then-Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh for her Healthy Holly children’s books violated state law, according to a letter that state regulators sent to the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund. The ruling by the Maryland Insurance Administration (MIA) is likely among the last of the outstanding reviews into the book deals that led to Pugh’s resignation and guilty plea for a fraud scheme that brought her hundreds of thousands of dollars. The MIA had said it was investigating at least three insurers that acknowledged making payments for the books, but officials deferred action until other law enforcement agency investigations were complete.
Nebraska – Nebraska Democrats Renounce Their Senate Pick Over Comments
AP News – Grant Schulte | Published: 6/17/2020
The Nebraska Democratic Party called on its U.S. Senate nominee to drop out of the race after he made graphic sexual comments about a campaign staff member in a group text with her and other staffers. The party said its state executive committee voted unanimously to withdraw all of its resources from Chris Janicek’s campaign. Janicek tried walk back those comments as “a joke,” and texted an apology to the group. The female staffer texted back that she was appalled by his comments and could no longer support his campaign.
New Jersey – Candidates Would Not Be Able to Use Campaign Cash to Settle Sexual Harassment Claims Under Bill
Newark Star Ledger – Samantha Marcus (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 6/15/2020
Legislation passed by the New Jersey Senate would bar candidates for public office from using campaign money to settle allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment and bar the state from entering into non-disclosure agreements. #MeToo movement advocates say these nondisclosure agreements have kept workplace disputes under wraps and mask the pervasiveness of the sexual harassment problem in the workplace.
North Dakota – Judge Nixes North Dakota Group’s Call for Online Signatures
AP News – Staff | Published: 6/16/2020
A federal judge said he will not waive North Dakota’s ban on electronic signature gathering for a group attempting to get a wide-ranging measure on the November ballot. North Dakota Voters First asked to allow online signature gathering because of the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. District Court Judge Peter Welte said the group was not likely to succeed on a First Amendment rights violation because petitioners have up to a year to collect signatures. The judge added that the state did not issue any stay-at-home orders and Gov. Doug Burgum on May 1 “revoked nearly all the previously imposed pandemic-related restrictions.”
Ohio – Ex-Cuyahoga County Jail Director Lied to Investigators to ‘Protect Armond Budish and Those in His Inner Circle,’ Prosecutors Say
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Cory Shaffer | Published: 6/15/2020
The indicted former director of the Cuyahoga County Jail lied to criminal investigators in 2018 to protect County Executive Armond Budish and his cabinet from scrutiny over a failed attempt to privatize healthcare delivery in the county’s lock-up, prosecutors said. The court filing did not include copies of all of the evidence that prosecutors referenced in it, but it marks the most extensive disclosure yet of the case investigators have built against the man Budish tapped in 2015 to run the county’s jail complex and oversee a plan for the county to house prisoners from the city of Cleveland and surrounding suburbs despite having no experience in corrections.
South Carolina – Special Prosecutor Pascoe Under Fire, and Firing Back, in SC Supreme Court
The State – John Monk | Published: 6/11/2020
At a recent hearing, South Carolina Supreme Court justices peppered special prosecutor David Pascoe and opposing attorney Bobby Stepp with questions about whether Pascoe’s conviction of a former lawmaker on public corruption charges should be overturned. State Rep. Jim Harrison’s guilt or innocence was not argued. The jury that convicted him heard overwhelming evidence that showed Harrison illegally taken nearly $900,000 from the influential consulting firm of Richard Quinn and Associates. What was in dispute was whether Pascoe had exceeded his lawful authority as a special prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Alan Wilson to investigate potential targets named in a confidential section of a State Law Enforcement Division report on allegations of financial wrongdoing in the General Assembly.
Tennessee – Audits: Glen Casada failed to report contributions, keep expense receipt
The Tennessean – Joel Ebert | Published: 6/10/2020
Former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada failed to accurately report $26,000 in campaign contributions and expenditures and lacked receipts for $104,000 in expenses during a nearly 18-month period, making it difficult to determine their legitimacy, according to a pair of audits. Casada also accepted money during a period when lawmakers are banned from receiving contributions. The Registry of Election Finance indicated it planned to levy just $10,500 in penalties and show significant leniency to Casada, who vowed to maintain better campaign records.
Tennessee – State Election Finance Committee Grants Rep. Staples ‘Grace’ in Campaign Spending Complaint
The Tennessean – Tyler Whetstone | Published: 6/11/2020
Tennessee Rep. Rick Staples’ plea earlier this year for “grace and mercy” from state regulators is closer to being granted and forgiveness is likely on the way. Staples opened his portion of the meeting with the state Registry of Election Finance by admitting he had some $11,000 in unallowable campaign expenditures. He asked for the opportunity to pay them back. The panel, in return, praised Staples’ openness and opted to defer a ruling until July. These conversations followed a number of reports in recent months that uncovered more than $10,000 in questionable campaign spending.
Texas – Texas Democrats Ask U.S. Supreme Court to Weigh in on Voting by Mail
Texas Tribune – Alexa Ura | Published: 6/16/2020
After a series of losses in state and federal courts, Texas Democrats are looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to expand voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. The Texas Democratic Party asked the high court to immediately lift the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ block on a ruling that would allow all Texas voters who are seeking to avoid becoming infected at in-person polling places to instead vote by mail. Under existing law, mail-in ballots are available only if voters are 65 or older, cite a disability or illness, will be out of the county during the election period, or are confined in jail.
Virginia – Rep. Riggleman Ousted in Virginia GOP Convention After Presiding Over Same-Sex Marriage
Beaumont Enterprise – Jenna Portnoy (Washington Post) | Published: 6/14/2020
U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, who drew criticism from within his party for presiding over a same-sex wedding, lost the GOP nomination to challenger Bob Good, a former Liberty University fundraiser who describes himself as a “biblical conservative.” The defeat of Riggleman puts the Virginia seat potentially within reach for Democrats in the general election for the first time in more than a decade, analysts say.
Washington – Ethics Complaint Dismissed Against Kennewick Mayor. Should Ethics Code Cover Personal Life?
The Tri-City Herald – Annette Cary | Published: 6/15/2020
The ethics officer for the city of Kennewick, Washington, reversed his finding that there should be a hearing to consider evidence that Mayor Don Britain may have violated the city’s ethics code. Attorney Thomas Atwood, who serves as the ethics officer on an as-needed basis, was convinced to change his recommendation based on the mayor’s argument the ethics policy for city council members should only apply to conduct directly related to city activities or council business. Atwood said an exception could be made to consider personal conduct if there were egregious behavior outside of city business, such as a felony conviction or conviction of a crime of moral turpitude, neither of which applies to Britain’s case, Atwood wrote in his decision.
Washington – Tim Eyman’s Lawyer Says Anti-Tax Activist Is Victim of ‘Judicial Lynching’
Seattle Times – David Gutman | Published: 6/12/2020
Tim Eyman’s lawyer said the gubernatorial candidate and longtime anti-tax activist is the victim of a “judicial lynching.” It is the latest incident in recent weeks in which Eyman, or his team, has used inflammatory language to compare himself to victims of racism. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, in a case that has dragged on for years, has charged Eyman with violating campaign finance law to enrich himself, laundering political donations and accepting kickbacks. Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon ruled Eyman has been in violation of campaign finance laws for at least the last seven years, concealing nearly $800,000 in political contributions. Ferguson asked Dixon to impose unspecified sanctions on Sanders, accusing him of filing a “repetitive, unfounded, misleading, and offensive” brief.
June 12, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
National/Federal Amid Pandemic and Upheaval, New Cyber Risks to the Presidential Election MSN – David Sanger, Nicole Perlroth, and Matthew Rosenberg (New York Times) | Published: 6/7/2020 The rush to accommodate remote voting is leading a small number of states to […]
Amid Pandemic and Upheaval, New Cyber Risks to the Presidential Election
MSN – David Sanger, Nicole Perlroth, and Matthew Rosenberg (New York Times) | Published: 6/7/2020
The rush to accommodate remote voting is leading a small number of states to experiment with or expand online voting, an approach the Department of Homeland Security deemed “high risk” in a recent report. It has also put renewed focus on the assortment of online state voter registration systems, which were among the chief targets of Russian hackers in 2016. Their security is central to ensuring that, come November, voters receive their mail-in ballots or can gain access to online voting. While Russian hackers stopped short of manipulating voter data in 2016, American officials determined the effort was likely a dry run for future interference.
Appeals Court Upholds Order to Restore Reporter’s White House Press Pass
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 6/10/2020
A federal appeals court endorsed a judge’s order restoring a White House press pass to a reporter who wound up in a verbal altercation with one of President Trump’s most loyal and outspoken supporters in the Rose Garden last year. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously ruled the White House violated the constitutional due process rights of Playboy reporter Brian Karem by suspending his pass for 30 days after the heated exchange with talk show host and former White House aide Sebastian Gorka at the end of a social media summit.
‘Bloomberg Loophole’ Paves the Way for Rich Donors to Ignore Contribution Limits
Sludge – David Moore | Published: 6/5/2020
After suspending his presidential bid, Michael Bloomberg transferred $18 million from his campaign to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to back its organizing push in 12 battleground states. The DNC’s windfall far exceeds the $35,500 maximum legal contribution an individual can give to a national party committee in the 2019-2020 election cycle, and watchdogs immediately flagged it as pushing the boundaries of campaign finance law. The legal justification for the transfer comes down to a quirk of FEC reporting practice, said Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center.
Coronavirus Was Paul Manafort’s Ticket Home. Many Other Old, Ill, Nonviolent Inmates Are Still in Prison.
USA Today – Kristine Phillips | Published: 6/9/2020
Attorneys and advocates say there are many old and nonviolent prisoners who are not a threat to public safety and yet remain behind bars, even as the coronavirus continues to infect hundreds of inmates and staff. The way in which the federal Bureau of Prisons has implemented Attorney General William Barr’s order to expedite moving vulnerable prisoners to home confinement has been inconsistent, confusing, and slow, attorneys and advocates say. The agency has broad discretion in determining who can spend the rest of their sentence at home, but how this gets decided is cloaked in secrecy.
Crapo Staffer Told FBI the Senator Gave Permission for $250K Campaign Investment into Get-Rich-Quick Scheme
The Post Register – Betsy Russell | Published: 6/1/2020
Newly released FBI documents say U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo’s campaign told the FBI the senator “was aware of and approved” the investment of $250,000 of his campaign donors’ funds into a risky get-rich-quick scheme “at the time of the transaction” in 2008, in which the money disappeared. Crapo, who now chairs the banking committee, has said repeatedly since 2013, when the news broke of the loss of his campaign funds in the scheme, that he knew nothing about it until late 2010, after the money was gone. Documents showed Crapo’s then-campaign manager, Jake Ball, invested the money into the scheme at a time when the campaign was between treasurers.
‘Everything about this is irregular’: Ex-judge tapped to review Flynn case blasts Trump DOJ
Politico – Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney | Published: 6/10/2020
A former federal judge selected to advise on a path forward in the criminal case against Michael Flynn is accusing the Justice Department of exercising a “gross abuse of prosecutorial power” to protect an ally of President Trump, distorting known facts and legal principles to shield former national security adviser from a jail sentence. Former U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson skewered Attorney General William Barr’s handling of the case, describing it as an “irregular” effort that courts would “scoff” at were the subject anyone other than an ally of Trump. The brief featured a reconstruction of the Flynn case and accused the department of contradicting its own arguments and precedents to justify dropping the case against Flynn.
Ex-Sen. Trent Lott: Squire Patton Boggs took ‘low road’ in split
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 6/9/2020
Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott says his ex-firm Squire Patton Boggs “took the low road” in reportedly firing him. Lott added that another former senator, John Breaux, was also planning to leave the lobby shop. Coming amid worldwide demonstrations against killings by police against African Americans, Lott’s exit was viewed on K Street as potentially linked to comments he made that drove him from Senate GOP leadership. Speaking at an event for U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday, Lott recalled Mississippi had supported Thurmond’s segregationist run for president in 1948. “And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either,” Lott said in 2002.
Feds Press Criminal Case Against Flynn Partner
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 6/7/2020
The Justice Department is pressing forward with its criminal case against Bijan Rafiekian, a onetime business partner of Michael Flynn, despite Attorney General William Barr’s decision to seek to abandon the prosecution of the former national security adviser to President Trump. The filing mentions Flynn’s integral role in the work that led to the two foreign-agent-related felony charges against Rafiekian and maintains the government’s position that Flynn was a co-conspirator in his business partner’s crimes. While the case included an admission by Flynn that he signed off on inaccurate Foreign Agent Registration Act filings about the project that led to Rafiekian’s prosecution: a $600,000 contract Flynn signed for his Flynn Intel Group at the height of the presidential campaign in 2016 to lobby on behalf of a Dutch firm.
GAO Offers Congress Steps to Protect Independence of Federal Watchdogs
Politico – Kyle Cheney | Published: 6/8/2020
Lawmakers could take steps to prevent President Trump or other executive branch leaders from undermining the independence of federal watchdogs, according to a new report from Congress’ internal audit agency. Trump, who has bristled at the independence of inspectors general, has leaned heavily on temporary appointees to fill the powerful posts, leaving them more susceptible to pressure from within the administration. In some cases, he has turned to officials who already serve in senior roles inside the agency. The Government Accountability Office says lawmakers could require those “dual-hatted” employees to recuse themselves when their independence could be called into question and to vow in writing to protect the identity of whistleblowers who normally turn to inspectors general for protection.
How the Black Lives Matter Movement Went Mainstream
MSN – Jose Del Real, Robert Samuels, and Tim Craig (Washington Post) | Published: 6/9/2020
The three words were once a controversial rallying cry against racial profiling and police violence. Now, “Black lives matter” is painted in bright yellow letters on the road to the White House. Celebrities and chief executives are embracing it. Even U.S.Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican former presidential candidate, posted the phrase on Twitter. As consensus grows about the existence of systemic racism in American policing and other facets of American life, longtime organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement are trying to extend its momentum beyond the popularization of a phrase. Activists sense an opportunity to demand policy changes that once seemed far-fetched.
Joe Biden Let Police Groups Write His Crime Bill. Now, His Agenda Has Changed.
Laredo Morning Times – Michael Kranish (Washington Post) | Published: 6/8/2020
Joe Biden’s close relationship with police groups while crafting the landmark 1994 crime bill legislation reflected his decades-long partnership with them as he embraced a tough-on-crime persona, one that extended to his work as vice president when he served as a liaison between police and the White House. Now, as Biden runs for president amid a national reckoning over police violence and racial injustice, that long alliance is threatening to undermine a cornerstone of his candidacy. The presumptive Democratic nominee is seeking to channel the anger of African Americans, one of his party’s most important voting blocs, by calling for “real police reform” and promising to combat systemic racism. In doing so, Biden is promising to undo some of the very measures he helped enact.
Political Advertising Grows on Streaming Services, Along with Questions About Disclosure
CNN – Fredreka Schouten | Published: 6/3/2020
Campaign commercials are running more often on services like Hulu, a sign of streaming’s growing importance in the world of politics as more Americans cut the cord on cable subscriptions and independent groups, candidates, and political parties seek new ways to reach their target audiences. The coronavirus pandemic and the stay-at-home orders it triggered across the country appear to have accelerated growth for streaming services. But the migration by candidates, super PACs, and parties to streaming services has set off alarms for some campaign finance watchdogs because the advertising is not subject to the same disclosure requirements that have governed traditional media for decades.
Political Donations Dropped Off as Coronavirus Pandemic Peaked
Center for Responsive Politics – Karl Evers-Hillstrom | Published: 6/9/2020
Political fundraising took an intense dip as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the nation in mid-March and early April, according to an analysis of campaign contributions. The pandemic forced the leading presidential candidates to cancel in-person fundraisers that would have netted their campaigns millions of dollars. High-profile congressional candidates paused their fundraising activities to assist relief efforts. And the virus’ economic damage that forced 40 million to file for unemployment may have prompted potential donors to save their money.
Rep. Steve King Toxic to K Street
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 6/3/2020
U.S. Steve King, a pariah within his own party for racist comments, would be too controversial for lobbying firms, trade associations, and corporations after losing his primary election, say lobbyists and K Street headhunters, even as many former lawmakers decamp for such jobs. Many companies and lobbying groups issued statements offering support for racial justice efforts amid protests over the death of George Floyd that have gripped the nation. King also had lost influence among his colleagues well before he lost the Republican primary in Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District.
Tech Group Files First Lawsuit Against Trump Over Executive Order Targeting Social Media
Washington Post – Tony Romm | Published: 6/2/2020
A tech group supported by Facebook, Google, and Twitter filed a lawsuit against President Trump, alleging his executive order targeting social media giants threatens to “curtail and chill constitutionally protected speech” during the presidential election. The challenge brought by the Center for Democracy and Technology marks the first major legal test of Trump’s directive, which paves the way for federal agencies to investigate and penalize some of Silicon Valley’s most popular platforms over the way they police politically oriented posts, photos, and videos across the Web.
Trump Draws Rebukes for Suggesting 75-Year-Old Protester Pushed to the Ground in Buffalo Was Part of a ‘Set Up’
Laredo Morning Times – John Wagner (Washington Post) | Published: 6/9/2020
President Trump put forth an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory about Martin Gugino, a 75-year-old protester in Buffalo who suffered head injuries after he was pushed to the pavement by police. A cellphone video of the encounter has now been seen by millions of people and led to assault charges against two officers. Trump tweeted that the confrontation may have been a “set up” coordinated by anti-fascist demonstrators. Trump drew a rebuke from James Martin, a Jesuit priest. “[Gugino] is a peace activist and volunteer with the Catholic Worker movement,” Martin tweeted. “Why spread rumors about someone who embodies the Beatitudes? … Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ not the rumormongers.”
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Attorney for Arizona Tells Federal Court Legislature Can Remove Members with Two-Thirds Vote
KAWC – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 6/3/2020
Attorneys for the state and a former Arizona House speaker told a federal court the Legislature is free to remove members for any reason at all, including political affiliation and race, as long as they can muster a two-thirds vote. Steve Tully said there was nothing wrong with the procedures used by J.D. Mesnard, who was speaker in 2018, to investigate then-Rep. Don Shooter and eventually have a vote that resulted in his ouster. The claim drew a skeptical response from Judge Marsha Berzon. She asked whether if the Democrats controlled most of the seats, they could simply decide to remove all Republicans.
California – Fundraiser Pleads Guilty in L.A. City Hall Corruption Case
Los Angeles Times – Joel Ebert | Published: 6/3/2020
A political operative pleaded guilty to bribery, admitting he helped a real estate developer pay off a Los Angeles City Council member for help with a major development project. The guilty plea by Justin Jangwoo Kim is the latest turn in an on-going investigation by the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office into “pay-to-play” schemes and other corruption in City Hall. Many details included in the court records have identified the council member as Jose Huizar, who served on a council committee that handles real estate projects and whose offices and home were raided by FBI agents in 2018. Huizar has not been charged with a crime in the case.
California – L.A. Police Union Spent Big in Local Elections. Some Politicians Now Shun the Money
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes | Published: 6/10/2020
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file officers, has been a significant force in local elections. In the past decade, the union has given more than $100,000 directly to city candidates. Its independent expenditure committees, which cannot legally be controlled by candidates and do not have the same limits on donations, have spent millions of dollars more. Now, that money is under scrutiny by city residents supporting a national movement against police brutality, and some local politicians say they will not accept it anymore.
California – ‘This Is Money Laundering 101’; More People Charged in Widening SF Public Corruption Probe
KPIX – Staff | Published: 6/8/2020
Three defendants in San Francisco’s public corruption scandal – Sandra Zuniga, Balmore Hernandez, and Florence Kong – were charged with a variety of federal crimes including money laundering, bribery, and making false statements to investigators stemming from a probe of Mohammed Nuru, the former San Francisco Public Works Chief. Nuru was charged for an alleged scheme to bribe a San Francisco Airport commissioner. The complaint against Nuru also alleged he engaged in several additional schemes, including obtaining free and discounted labor and construction equipment from contractors to help him build a personal vacation home while those contractors were also engaging in business with the city.
Colorado – Ethics Commission Concludes Hickenlooper Violated Colorado’s Gift Ban for Public Officials
Colorado Public Radio – Andrew Kennedy | Published: 6/5/2020
The Independent Ethics Commission ruled U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper violated Colorado ethics law as governor by accepting a private jet flight to an official event and by receiving benefits he did not pay for at a meeting of government, business, and financial leaders in Italy. The commission dismissed four other complaints against Hickenlooper that were filed by a conservative group led by a former Colorado House speaker. It scheduled a June 12 hearing to discuss possible fines for the violations as well as for a contempt order it issued when Hickenlooper ignored a subpoena to appear at its hearing.
Florida – GOP Expects to Move Its Convention to Jacksonville After Dispute with North Carolina Over Pandemic Safeguards
MSN – Annie Linskey and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 6/9/2020
Seeking a city willing to allow a large-scale event amid the coronavirus pandemic, Republicans have tentatively settled on Jacksonville, Florida, as the new destination for the premier festivities of the Republican National Convention (RNC) in August. The details of the arrangement are still in flux and RNC aides are scrambling to determine whether the city has enough hotel rooms to accommodate the quadrennial event, which typically kicks off the final stretch of the presidential campaign. The highly unusual decision to seek an alternative location for the convention’s marquee events stems from President Trump’s desire to accept his party’s nomination before an enormous crowd.
Georgia – Georgia’s Election Mess: Many problems, plenty of blame, few solutions for November
New York Times – Richard Fausset and Reid Epstein | Published: 6/10/2020
As multiple investigations begin into what went wrong during with the Georgia primary elections, and as Democrats accuse the state’s Republicans of voter suppression, a picture emerged of a systematic breakdown that both revealed general incompetence and highlighted some of the thorny and specific challenges the coronavirus pandemic may pose to elections officials nationwide. As it seeks answers, Georgia is being roiled by a politically volatile debate over whether the problems were the result of mere bungling, or an intentional effort by Republican officials to inhibit voting. Georgia is expected to be a presidential battleground in November, as well as the site of two contested Senate races that could determine control of the chamber.
Hawaii – How A Major Campaign Donor Got A Million-Dollar Cleaning Contract in Honolulu
Honolulu Civil Beat – Blaze Lovell | Published: 6/8/2020
The city and county of Honolulu in March gave a $1.4 million contract to a local industrial cleaning company to clean Oahu’s buses every night so the fleet could operate through the coronavirus pandemic. But H2O Process Systems got the contract without having to go through the usual competitive bidding process because the law governing purchases for government agencies was suspended as part of Hawaii Gov. David Ige’s emergency proclamation. H2O Process System’s owner, Milton Choy, has been a prolific political donor to Hawaii’s mayors, governors, and lawmakers.
Iowa – Gov. Kim Reynolds Signs ‘Compromise’ Felon Voting Restriction Bill into Law
KGAN – Caroline Cummings | Published: 6/4/2020
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law that will establish some restrictions if voters ratify a constitutional amendment automatically restoring felons’ voting rights at the completion of their sentence. Current law, the strictest in the nation, bans people with felony records from voting for life unless they successfully petition the governor to get those rights restored. The policy is enshrined in the state constitution and the governor has advocated for the last two years to pass an amendment to change that.
Maryland – Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh Expected to Plead Guilty to Perjury in State Case
Baltimore Sun – Tim Prudente | Published: 6/9/2020
Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is expected to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of perjury in state court, Maryland State Prosecutor Charlton Howard III said, before she departs for federal prison in Alabama. Prosecutors charged her with perjury for willfully omitting her lucrative “Healthy Holly” children’s book business from the financial disclosure forms she filed as a state senator. The perjury charge carries a maximum of 10 years in state prison. Pugh’s federal prison term has been postponed pending the resolution of the state case.
Missouri – Democratic Club in North St. Louis County Fined $2,500 for Cash Withdrawal, Reporting Failures
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Jack Suntrup | Published: 6/4/2020
A St. Louis County Democratic club faces a $2,500 fine after the Missouri Ethics Commission found the group made cash payments to 13 campaign workers and did not properly document the spending in disclosure reports. The Norwood Township Democratic Club’s will have to pay the state $1,600 if it pays within 45 days. The group will have to pay the full fine if it commits any more violations within two years.
Nevada – Judge Extends Signature-Gathering Deadline for Proposed Redistricting Commission Ballot Question
Nevada Independent – Riley Snyder | Published: 5/29/2020
An effort to place a ballot question creating an independent redistricting commission on the 2020 ballot will have a second chance at life after a federal judge agreed to extend a June deadline to turn in signatures for the petition under “unique factual circumstances” brought by the COVID-19 pandemic U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du partially granted the request of Fair Maps Nevada to extend the deadline to collect signatures for the petition, which needs to garner 97,598 signatures by June 24 to make it on to the ballot. Attorneys for the group had said it collected around 10,000 signatures before Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered nonessential business shutdowns and other social distancing directives in mid-March.
New Jersey – N.J. Legislative Aide Accused of Rape Resigns Though Investigation Found No Proof of Wrongdoing, Sources Say
Newark Star Ledger – Susan Livio (NJ Advance Media) and Kelly Heyboer (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 6/4/2020
A staff member in the New Jersey Assembly accused of raping a female lobbyist is stepping down from his job after an internal investigation. No charges are expected to be filed against the man, however, after an internal investigation initiated by the state Legislature did not find enough evidence to prove the sexual assault claim. The alleged victim in the case has appealed the ruling and the case is ongoing.
New York – State Ethics Panel Split Over Charges of Cuomo Influence
Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 6/10/2020
Six members of the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) have called on the panel’s chairperson, Michael Rozen, to conduct a search for an “independent” executive director amid longstanding criticism that JCOPE’s leadership and operations have been too closely aligned with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature. JCOPE’s top staff position has been vacant since the departure a year ago of former Cuomo counsel Seth Agata, whose resignation left the embattled commission in search of its fourth executive director in eight years.
Ohio – Councilman Matt Zone, Chair of Police Oversight Committee, Acknowledges Son Is a Cleveland Officer
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Robert Higgs | Published: 6/9/2020
Cleveland City Councilperson Matt Zone publicly acknowledged for the first time his son is serving as an officer with the city police department that Zone oversees as chair of council’s Public Safety Committee. Zone said he checked with the Ohio Ethics Commission when his son joined the police force in December 2015 and was assured that retaining his leadership position on the committee would not pose a problem. Zone also said he chose not to make a public disclosure at the time so as not to cause a distraction for his son as he started his new job. Zone’s disclosure comes as police leaders face criticism from some members of the public about whether the department was adequately prepared for demonstrations on May 30 that evolved into looting in downtown Cleveland.
Oregon – Oregon Redistricting Campaign Hopes Huge Mailing Will Help Initiative Qualify for November Ballot
Portland Oregonian – Hillary Borrud | Published: 6/10/2020
Oregon voters by the hundreds of thousands are receiving letters asking them to help get an independent redistricting proposal on the November ballot, as coronavirus social distancing guidelines largely rule out traditional signature gathering strategies. Initiative Petition 57 would transfer the job of redrawing Oregon’s legislative and congressional district lines from the state Legislature to a new 12-member commission. Supporters must gather 149,360 valid signatures by July 2 to qualify the initiative for the ballot.
Oregon – The Oregonian/OregonLive’s ‘Polluted by Money’ Wins Inaugural Collier Prize
Portland Oregonian – Staff | Published: 6/10/2020
“Polluted by Money,” a four-part series by Portland Oregonian reporter Rob Davis, won the inaugural Collier Prize for State Government Accountability. The prize is administered by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The series exposed how Oregon’s lack of campaign finance limits led to an easy tolerance of polluters by state lawmakers who benefited from campaign contributions. After the series ran, lawmakers referred a long-stalled constitutional amendment to the November 2020 ballot, which will allow Oregonians to decide whether they want to make political contributions limits legal.
Pennsylvania – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Staff Revolts Over Sidelining of 2 Black Colleagues
New York Times – Rachel Abrams and Marc Tracy | Published: 6/10/2020
Two prominent black staff members, a reporter, and a photojournalist at The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said newsroom leaders had unfairly kept them from covering the protests against racism and police violence. The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, the union that represents the paper’s staff members, called on readers to send letters demanding that reporter Alexis Johnson and photojournalist Michael Santiago be allowed to cover the protests. More than 80 Post-Gazette staff members have taken the side of their sidelined colleagues in social media posts, the guild said.
South Carolina – Judge Throws Out Upstate Lawmaker’s Suit Against SC GOP, Primary Challenger
The State – Maayan Schechter | Published: 6/5/2020
A South Carolina judge threw out a lawsuit filed by a lawmaker who sued the state Republican Party and its primary backed challenger, Vaughn Parfitt, over allegations the GOP spent beyond the legal expenditure limits. State Rep. Jonathon Hill alleged the party violated ethics laws by spending more than $5,000 on Hill’s primary challenger by way of campaign mailers on multiple dates. Hill’s complaint said the GOP is limited to spending no more than $1,000 per election cycle in support of any campaign.
Tennessee – Campaign Finance Officials Uphold $465,000 Fine Against Ex-Lawmaker Jeremy Durham
MSN – Joel Ebert (The Tennessean) | Published: 6/10/2020
The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance rejected an administrative law judge’s decision regarding a $465,000 fine levied against former state Rep. Jeremy Durham. The registry unanimously voted in favor of rejecting an opinion from Administrative Law Judge Steve Darnell, who said the panel excessively fined Durham while saying auditors failed to prove his expenditures were illegal. Darnell’s decision came after Durham, who was ousted from the Legislature after facing allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with at least 22 women, appealed the registry’s massive fine against him for violating campaign finance law hundreds of times.
Tennessee – Judge: Tennessee must allow postal voting for all amid virus
Politico – Associated Press | Published: 6/4/2020
Tennessee must give all its 4.1 million registered voters the option to cast ballots by mail during the coronavirus pandemic, Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled. Lyle said the state’s limits on absentee voting during the pandemic constitute “an unreasonable burden on the fundamental right to vote guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution.” The decision upends a determination by Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office that fear of catching or unwittingly spreading the virus at the polls would not qualify someone to vote by mail. The state argued such an expansion would not be feasible for the 2020 elections, claiming lack of money, personnel, and equipment for increased voting by mail, among other concerns.
Texas – Federal Appeals Court Extends Block on Voting-by-Mail Expansion in Texas
Texas Tribune – Alexa Ura | Published: 6/4/2020
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals extended its order blocking a lower court’s sweeping ruling that would have allowed all Texas voters to qualify to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. With early voting for the primary runoff elections starting later in June, and the state Supreme Court also blocking expanded voting by mail is a separate case, the ruling effectively eliminates the possibility that Texas voters will be able to legally request mail-in ballots solely because they fear a lack of immunity to the new coronavirus will put them at risk if they vote in person. The issue is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Texas – Furor in Texas GOP After Leaders Post Racist Memes That Suggest Floyd’s Death Is a Hoax
Washington Post – Ted Armus, Meryl Kornfield, and Annie Gowan | Published: 6/6/2020
One Facebook post falsely claimed that the killing of George Floyd in police custody last month was a “staged event,” meant to rile up opposition to President Trump. Another showed a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. next to a banana, an established racist trope. A third claimed that George Soros, the liberal billionaire, paid “white cops to murder black people” and “black people to riot because race wars keep the sheep in line.” All these posts were shared in recent days by Republican county leaders in Texas, some of whom are now facing calls to resign from top officials within their own party. The posts have unleashed controversy in the state where Republicans are struggling to beat back Democratic advances in the diversifying electorate.
Washington – Judge Orders Freedom Foundation to Pay $80,000 in Attorney General’s Campaign Finance Case
Access Washington – Washington Attorney General’s Office | Published: 6/8/2020
A Thurston County Superior Court judge ordered the Freedom Foundation to pay $80,000 for violating Washington’s campaign finance law. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit asserted the organization failed to properly and timely file independent expenditure reports disclosing the value of the legal services it provided to support ballot propositions in the cities of Sequim, Chelan, and Shelton, as required. In January of this year, a judge found the Freedom Foundation violated the law.
Washington DC – Trump-Connected Lobbyist Ends Coronavirus Contract with D.C. Amid Bowser, White House Feud
Washington Post – Josh Dawsey and Fenit Nirappil | Published: 6/5/2020
A lobbyist with ties to President Trump, ended his relationship with the District of Columbia as tensions grew between the president and Mayor Muriel Bowser. Brian Ballard was hired by the city to secure coronavirus funding. “We can’t be effective under the current situation,” Ballard said, about an hour after Trump lambasted Bowser on Twitter as part of a days-long feud over protests in the nation’s capital. Ballard has become one of the most profitable lobbyists in Washington during the Trump administration and he fundraises for the president’s campaign.
June 5, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
National/Federal As Trump Attacks Voting by Mail, GOP Builds 2020 Strategy Around Limiting Its Expansion MSN – Amy Gardner, Shawn Boberg, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 6/1/2020 President Trump’s persistent attacks on mail-in voting have fueled an unprecedented effort […]
As Trump Attacks Voting by Mail, GOP Builds 2020 Strategy Around Limiting Its Expansion
MSN – Amy Gardner, Shawn Boberg, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 6/1/2020
President Trump’s persistent attacks on mail-in voting have fueled an unprecedented effort by conservatives to limit expansion of the practice before the November election, with tens of millions of dollars planned for lawsuits and advertising aimed at restricting who receives ballots and who remains on the voter rolls. The strategy, embraced by Trump’s reelection campaign, the Republican National Committee, and an array of independent conservative groups, reflects the recognition by both parties that voting rules could decide the outcome of the 2020 White House race amid the electoral challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Campaign Funds for Judges Warp Criminal Justice, Study Finds
New York Times – Adam Liptak | Published: 6/1/2020
In Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled poor people accused of serious crimes were entitled to lawyers paid for by the government. But the court did not say how the lawyers should be chosen, and many states settled on a system in which the judge appoints the defendant’s attorney. That system has long been criticized for promoting cronyism and dampening the zeal of lawyers who want to stay in the good graces of judges. A new study documents a more troubling objection. Elected judges, the study found, tend to appoint lawyers who contribute to their campaigns. “Campaign finance is perverting the criminal justice system,” said Neel Sukhatme, a professor at Georgetown Law and an author of the study.
Houston Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s Bestselling New Book Got Boost from Purchases by House GOP Campaign Arm
Dallas Morning News – Tom Benning | Published: 5/28/2020
U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s bestselling new book, Fortitude: American Resilience in the Era of Outrage, has been boosted by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) making a large bulk-order purchase. The House GOP’s campaign arm recently spent nearly $400,000 to buy more than 25,000 copies of the freshman Republican’s tome. The purchases were then used in a fundraising appeal that allowed donors to the NRCC to obtain a signed copy of the book. A Crenshaw aide would not answer if the lawmaker received royalties from the NRCC purchase. But the aide said the House ethics committee, signed off on Crenshaw’s book deal when he took office last year.
How Trump’s Idea for a Photo Op Led to Havoc in a Park
MSN – Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman, Katie Rogers, Zona Kanno-Youngs, and Katie Benner (New York Times) | Published: 6/2/2020
After a day in which President Trump berated “weak” governors and lectured them to “dominate” demonstrators that were protesting the death of George Floyd, the president emerged from the White House and made his way to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he posed stern-faced, holding up a Bible. The resulting photographs of Trump striding purposefully across Lafayette Square satisfied his desire to project strength. The scene of mayhem that preceded the walk evoked images more commonly associated with authoritarian countries. Trump and his inner circle considered it a triumph that would resonate with many Americans turned off by scenes of urban riots and looting that have accompanied nonviolent protests. But critics were aghast at the use of force against Americans who posed no visible threat at the time.
Interior Watchdog: Agency official pressed EPA to hire relative
Politico – Ben Lefebvre | Published: 5/29/2020
The Interior Department’s internal watchdog said a senior appointed official violated federal laws by using his official email to push the Environmental Protection Agency to hire his son-in-law. The report General is the second time in six months the inspector general has found that Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Areas Doug Domenech broke federal ethics statutes. Domenech was earlier found to have met in 2017 with attorneys for his former employer, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, while the conservative think tank and the Interior Department were battling over a lawsuit, creating the appearance of a conflict-of-interest.
Judge Asks Court Not to ‘Short Circuit’ His Review of Flynn Case
New York Times – Charlie Savage | Published: 6/1/2020
The Justice Department’s conduct in abruptly deciding to end the case against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn was so unusual it raised a “plausible question” about the legitimacy of the move, a lawyer for the trial judge overseeing that case told a federal appeals court. In a court filing, the lawyer for U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan asked a three-judge panel not to cut short his review of the factual and legal issues surrounding the case. A defense lawyer for Flynn had asked the appellate panel to issue a so-called writ of mandamus ordering the judge to immediately dismiss it without letting him complete an assessment.
Lawmakers Have Been Sleeping in Their Capitol Offices for Years, Coronavirus Is Reviving a Push to End It
USA Today – Cristal Hayes | Published: 5/28/2020
Dozens of lawmakers on Capitol Hill have made their offices a second home, sleeping on couches, makeshift mattresses, or fold-out beds at night and getting ready for work before their staffs arrive the next morning. An estimated 100 lawmakers sleep in their offices, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. But the coronavirus outbreak has reignited a years-old fight to stop what has become known as the “couch caucus,” with some lawmakers arguing that their colleagues sleeping in their offices is not only improper, it also increases the chances of spreading COVID-19 to colleagues and staff at the Capitol.
Pence Chief of Staff Owns Stocks That Could Conflict with Coronavirus Response
National Public Radio – Tim Mak | Published: 5/28/2020
Marc Short, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, owns between $506,043 and $1.64 million worth of individual stocks in companies doing work related to the Trump administration’s pandemic response, holdings that could run afoul of conflict-of-interest laws. Many of the medical, pharmaceutical, and manufacturing companies in which Short and his wife hold stock have been directly affected by or involved in the work of the Coronavirus Task Force, chaired by Pence. Other companies have been publicly touted by the White House for their work with the federal government on the coronavirus response.
Steve King Ousted on Historic Primary Night
Politico – Allie Mutnick, James Arkin, and Zach Montellaro | Published: 6/2/2020
Rep. Steve King will leave Congress after this year, ending a nearly two-decade-long career that included numerous inflammatory comments on race and immigration. The Iowa Republican lost his bid for a 10th term when GOP voters in his Iowa district awarded state Sen. Randy Feenstra with the nomination after a fierce primary battle. Feenstra’s decisive victory is a boon to leaders in both parties, including Republican leaders who stripped King of his committee assignments last year and had long felt his offensive and racist rhetoric cast a shadow on the party.
This Treasury Official Is Running the Bailout. It’s Been Great for His Family.
ProPublica – Justin Elliott, Lydia DePillis, and Robert Faturechi | Published: 6/2/2020
Federal Reserve Chairperson Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have become the public faces of the $3 trillion federal coronavirus bailout. Behind the scenes, however, the Treasury’s responsibilities have fallen largely to the deputy secretary, Justin Muzinich. A major beneficiary of that bailout so far: Muzinich & Co., the asset manager founded by his father where Justin served as president before joining the administration. He reported owning a stake worth at least $60 million when he entered government in 2017.
Trump Signs Order That Could Punish Social Media Companies for How They Police Content, Drawing Criticism and Doubts of Legality
Seattle Times – Elizabeth Dwoskin and Tony Romm (Washington Post) | Published: 5/28/2020
President Trump signed an executive order aimed at increasing the ability of the government to regulate social media platforms. The new directive seeks to change a federal law that has spared tech companies from being sued or held liable for most content shared by users on their sites. Trump has argued these protections allow Facebook, Google, and Twitter to censor conservatives. The order seeks to channel complaints about political bias to the Federal Trade Commission, which the White House asked to probe whether the companies’ content-moderation policies adhere to their pledges of neutrality. It also created a council in cooperation with state attorneys general to probe allegations of censorship based on political views.
Veteran Lobbyists Flex Muscles in K Street’s New Normal
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 5/28/2020
K Street lobbyists are trying to deliver coronavirus relief funds for their clients while also learning to navigate the new digitally focused landscape, a change from their routine of attending fundraisers and meeting with lawmakers and their staffs in person on Capitol Hill. The difficulty in establishing new connections means many are relying on existing ties, making it harder for newcomers and those who desperately need to expand their networks. “The Zoom lobbying period had made it particularly difficult for starting a relationship with a member or staff and building the level of trust necessary to do our job,” said Ivan Zapien, a partner at Hogan Lovells. That has also put veteran lobbyists at an advantage.
From the States and Municipalities
California – Corruption Probe Takes Down Another at LA City Hall
Courthouse News Service – Nathan Solis | Published: 5/27/2020
George Esparza, a former aide to Los Angeles City Council member Jose Huizar, agreed to plead guilty in the ongoing corruption investigation at City Hall, becoming the closest associate of the councilperson so far to be snared in the federal “pay-to-play” probe. Esparza’s indictment details bribes paid to an unnamed councilperson to move ahead development projects in their district, to help a relative’s political aspirations, and settle a sexual harassment lawsuit. The corruption probe has resulted in multiple arrests All previous indictments corroborate evidence that the unnamed council member in the money-making scheme is Huizar and Esparza’s cooperation and indictment furthers that theory.
California – DAs Demand Ban on Endorsements and Donations to Prosecutors by Police
Courthouse News Service – Maria Dinzeo | Published: 6/1/2020
A coalition of current and former district attorneys called on the American Bar Association and the California State Bar to pass an ethics rule prohibiting prosecutors from accepting political donations and endorsements from law enforcement agencies and police unions. The request follows a weekend of mass demonstrations against police brutality following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer who has since been fired and charged with third-degree murder. The district attorneys, who review use of force incidents and make charging decisions against police officers, said they must cut money and politics out of the equation to help build the public’s trust in the judicial system.
California – Lawyer at Center of Tax-Sharing Deals Being Probed on Ethics Law
Bloomberg Tax – Laura Mahoney | Published: 5/28/2020
Robert Cendejas, a lawyer who has brokered sales-tax incentive deals between cities and major e-commerce companies that included multimillion-dollar payouts for himself, is being investigated by the California Fair Political Practices Commission for possible conflict-of-interest violations. In the case of the city of Ontario, Cendejas has represented or consulted for the city on tax policy. He has also represented a number of California cities in tax disputes with the state’s Board of Equalization. The deals typically last for decades and, in deals he helped negotiate, Cendejas has reached separate agreements to get a percentage of the additional tax collections for himself.
California – Legislative Inquiry Finds Assemblyman Committed Sexual Harassment
Politico – Carla Marinucci | Published: 5/27/2020
A Legislative Counsel investigation determined California Assemblyperson Bill Brough engaged in sexual misconduct on multiple occasions, including an offer of political help in exchange for going to his apartment. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon removed him from all of his committee assignments and suggested Brough would face additional punishment. In the meantime, Brough is required to take “additional harassment, discrimination, and retaliation prevention training.”
California – More Costly Campaigns During COVID? Councilwoman Asks About Raising Contribution Limits
Long Beach Post – Jason Ruiz | Published: 5/27/2020
A changing election landscape and a global pandemic has some Long Beach politicians asking how the city can raise its cap on political contributions to help fuel campaigns through a longer election cycle and, presently, one where volunteers may be hesitant about knocking on doors. Councilperson Mary Zendejas, who chairs the Elections Oversight Committee, asked the city attorney’s office to start looking at the issue. Zendejas said the city should look at increasing the $400 limit from individual donors to help those campaigning through the pandemic and beyond.
Colorado – John Hickenlooper Must Testify in Ethics Complaint, Denver Judge Rules Hours Before Hearing
Colorado Sun – John Frank | Published: 6/3/2020
John Hickenlooper, the former Colorado governor who is running for the U.S. Senate, must testify at a hearing about whether his travel on private planes amounts to a violation of the state’s gift ban. Denver District Court Judge Christopher Baumann issued a ruling that declined Hickenlooper’s request to block a subpoena and delay the remote hearing before the Independent Ethics Commission. The judge dismissed Hickenlooper’s concerns about the format of the hearing and questioned the last-minute lawsuit given the remote hearing was initially scheduled in early May.
Connecticut – Jon Lender: Despite COVID-19, legislators and PACs still put the touch on lobbyists, others for contributions; but now the touch is virtual
Hartford Courant – Jon Lender | Published: 5/29/2020
While the coronavirus pandemic has shut down nations and states, it cannot stop the machinery of campaign fundraising whether in the presidential campaign or down at the level of Connecticut General Assembly candidates. And, just as experts now say that viruses adapt during a pandemic, so do political fundraising methods. Under the subject “Virtual Fundraiser” from Connecticut Deputy House Majority Leader Jeff Currey, read: “CURREY PAC was hoping to host a summer fundraiser, but in light of our social distancing efforts, I’d like to offer some 1-on-1 time, via Zoom. To donate, click the link below. If you would also like to schedule a 1:1 virtual chat, please reply to this email with the preferred time ….” The email recipients included past donors and lobbyists.
Florida – Florida Demands State Vendors Identify Links with China
The Center Square – John Haughey | Published: 5/28/2020
The Florida Department of Financial Services has requested 100,000 private companies registered as vendors authorized to bid on state contracts to verify within 30 days whether they are “majority-owned by United States interests.” Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said the goal of the query is to “better identify businesses that are majority Communist Party of China-owned that do business with the state of Florida.”
Idaho – Ada Co. GOP Chair Used Party Funds on Private Expense, Allowed Questionable Audit
Boise State Public Radio – James Dawson | Published: 5/27/2020
Ryan Davidson, chairperson of the Ada County Republican Central Committee, used his own party’s money to pay for advice related to his private lobbying business in 2018. A review of the organization’s finances under Davidson’s watch has also been conducted by an insider who pleaded guilty to misusing public money in the past. Facebook messages show Davidson admitting he “inadvertently’ paid $100 from county GOP funds to Holly Cook, a public relations professional and political consultant.
Kansas – Kansas Agencies Say Senate Candidate’s Raffle of Signed Chiefs Jersey Violates Law
McClatchy DC – Bryan Lowry | Published: 5/27/2020
Dave Lindstrom’s campaign for the U.S. Senate may be violating Kansas law by raffling a Kansas City Chiefs jersey signed by Patrick Mahomes, according to two state agencies. Lindstrom, a former Chiefs player, is running the Republican nomination to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts. The campaign began selling $20 tickets recently for a June 23 raffle of the Super Bowl MVP’s jersey. Kansas law only permits charities to conduct raffles. All other entities are restricted, including political campaigns, according to Zach Fletcher, spokesperson for the state Department of Revenue.
Kentucky – Beshear Makes Appointments to Executive Ethics Commission
AP News – Staff | Published: 5/28/2020
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is reorganizing a state commission that promotes ethical conduct by elected officials in the executive branch. The governor said he wanted to “restore the Executive Branch Ethics Commission to what it should be.” Beshear, a Democrat, made three appointments to the five-member board and said he would take recommendations from the state attorney general and state auditor for two more positions. Both the attorney general and the auditor are Republicans.
Michigan – Bucci Pleads Guilty in Macomb Extortion Scandal
Detroit News – Robert Snell | Published: 5/28/2020
Former Macomb Township Trustee Dino Bucci pleaded guilty to embezzling money, extorting contractors, and serving as the bagman for ex-county public works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco during a decades-long extortion conspiracy. The allegations were outlined in a new criminal case that accused Bucci of stealing public tax dollars and extorting businesspeople during a crime spree that spanned his tenure as a Republican politician and his county job working for Marrocco. The criminal case was filed hours after Marrocco was indicted and accused of orchestrating a conspiracy that extorted money from country contractors that prosecutors say was spent on personal luxuries.
Michigan – Gov. Whitmer: I didn’t OK Dem firm for coronavirus project, despite emails
Bridge Michigan – Jonathan Oosting | Published: 5/28/2020
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer disputed a health official’s characterization that her office gave a “green light” for the state to hire a Democratic campaign consultant’s firm to lead a volunteer COVID-19 contact tracing program. Whitmer said she did not personally learn about the contract until after it was signed on April 20, despite an email that showed her communications director discussing the “arrangement” days before the $194,250 deal was finalized. Her denial follows a news report about emails that appear to show Michigan officials tried to avoid controversy over the contact tracing contract by shifting planned work to apolitical subsidiaries of firms with known partisan leanings.
Mississippi – Lt. Governor Withdraws Request for Ethics Decision Over Small Business Grants for Lawmakers
Jackson Clarion-Ledger – Luke Ramseth | Published: 5/27/2020
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann withdrew a request to the Mississippi Ethics Commission asking whether lawmakers could apply for coronavirus small business relief funding the Legislature approved. The panel discussed the issue at a special meeting and was expected to make a decision soon. Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Hood said no explanation was given for why the request was withdrawn. Sente Bill 2772 specified that lobbyists, businesses that hired a lobbyist, or ones involved in partisan political activities could not receive the grants. But the bill did not say anything about the people who passed the bill.
Montana – U.S. Supreme Court Won’t Hear Challenge to Montana Campaign Finance Law
Bozeman Daily Chronicle – Holly Michels | Published: 6/1/2020
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case that challenged Montana’s law on disclosing the spending for political ads within 60 days of an election. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the state law that nonprofit groups running ads that mention candidates, political parties, or ballot issues in the 60-day window before an election have to report any spending of $250 or more and say who funded their efforts.
Nevada – Nev. Elections Office Reviewing MedMen Donation Allegations
AP News – Michelle Price | Published: 5/27/2020
The Nevada secretary of state’s office is reviewing allegations made by a former executive of the cannabis company MedMen Enterprises that the company’s co-founders made illegal campaign donations to Gov. Steve Sioslak. In a lawsuit, MedMen Chief Financial Officer James Parker alleged board member Adam Bierman, the company’s co-founder, gave the maximum $10,000 campaign donation allowed by law to a Nevada politician. The lawsuit alleges Bierman illegally forced Parker to make a similar contribution and company funds were illegally used to buy furniture for co-founder and executive Andrew Modlin in order to reimburse Modlin for a similar campaign donation made in his name.
New Mexico – Mixed Ruling on State’s Ethics Law
Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 6/2/2020
The state Court of Appeals has ruled that part, but not all, of New Mexico’s anti-corruption law is too vague to be enforced. In a complex ruling, the court ordered the reinstatement of at least one ethics charge against three defendants: former Doña Ana County Treasurer David Gutierrez, Sixth Judicial District Attorney Francesca Estevez, and former San Juan County Magistrate Judge Connie Lee Johnston. The judges did not rule on the defendants’ guilt or innocence, just that charges could proceed. By contrast, the court dismissed a series of other charges against them and against former Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla.
New York – New Round of Subpoenas Issued in Investigation into Mayor Warren Campaign Funds
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle – Gary Craig | Published: 5/29/2020
The investigation into whether there were irregularities with Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren’s 2017 re-election campaign is not over. The Monroe County district attorney’s office subpoenaed businesses and other entities that assisted the campaign. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported in December 2018 that vendors who were contracted by the Warren campaign or political committees had been subpoenaed for campaign-related records. But, afterward, there was no public word on how the investigation was progressing, or whether it had or had not unearthed evidence of campaign financing fraud. However, the investigation was a joint probe with the state Board of Elections, which last year was locked in an internal struggle over whether it was sluggish or unwilling to aggressively pursue political investigations.
North Carolina – A Confrontation Between NC Senators, a Police Report, and a Secretive Ethics Process
MSN – Jessica Huseman (ProPublica) and Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan (Raleigh News and Observer) | Published: 5/27/2020
North Carolina Sen. Erica Smith filed a complaint accusing other state lawmakers of bullying and making sexual comments and verbal insults to her and asked for expulsion from the Senate for two of them. The Legislative Ethics Assembly recently dismissed parts of her complaint. Documents show a conclusion by police that state Sen. Paul Lowe assaulted Smith during an altercation at a Democratic caucus meeting last September 11. He has not been charged. The records also reveal infighting between Senate Democrats and allegations against multiple senators that include sexually harassing comments.
North Carolina – Raleigh Mayor Now Working for Company That Got $6M City Contract. No Conflict, She Says.
Raleigh News and Observer – Anna Johnson | Published: 5/28/2020
Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin began interviewing for her new job with a construction company nine days after the company received a $6.3 million city contract. The job and its timing have some of the mayor’s frequent critics calling it a conflict-of-interest. Baldwin says she was not yet in touch with the company when the Raleigh City Council unanimously voted on the contract. A former five-term council member who was elected mayor in 2019, Baldwin is now director of Business Development for Barnhill Contracting’s Triangle and Streamline Divisions. She was formerly vice president at Holt Brothers Construction and executive director of the Holt Brothers Foundation, which supports children who have a parent with cancer.
North Carolina – Republicans Will Move Trump Convention Speech Out of Charlotte
New York Times – Annie Karni | Published: 6/2/2020
Republicans said they were moving President Trump’s convention speech out of Charlotte, North Carolina, and to another city, after coming to a stalemate with Democratic officials in the state about safety and crowd size restrictions because of the coronavirus. But Republican officials also said they could still hold other convention business in Charlotte, so as not to break a formal contract they signed with the city more than two years ago. Party officials are planning a visit to Nashville to assess its suitability for the convention. Other cities under consideration are Las Vegas, Orlando, and Jacksonville, as well as sites in Georgia.
Pennsylvania – A Congressman Caught in the 1970s Abscam Sting Is Now at the Heart of a Philly Election Fraud Probe, Sources Say
Philadelphia Inquirer – Jeremy Roebuck, Chris Brennan, and Andrew Seidman | Published: 5/27/2020
A central question lingered after federal recently disclosed a Philadelphia poll worker had admitted taking bribes to stuff ballot boxes in local elections: who was the unnamed “Campaign Consultant #1” described in court filings as the man who paid Domenick DeMuro to inflate vote totals on behalf of favored candidates between 2014 and 2016? Prosecutors have declined to say. But two sources briefed on the matter and an analysis of campaign finance data and court filings in DeMuro’s case point to one man: former U.S. Rep. Michael Myers, who was a key figure in the Abscam scandal of the 1970s.
Pennsylvania – Pa. Can’t Ban Everyone Involved in the Gaming Industry from Donating to Political Campaigns: U.S. court
PennLive.com – Matt Miller | Published: 6/1/2020
A federal appeals court agreed that a provision of Pennsylvania law barring campaign contributions from individuals holding ownership stakes in businesses with gaming licenses ran violated constitutional free speech protections. That is so even though the prohibition included in the Race Horse Development and Gaming Act adopted in 2004 is aimed at preventing corruption in state politics, Judge Richard Nygaard wrote in the opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Pennsylvania officials have not proven their total ban is justified when those other states impose lesser restrictions that do not severely infringe free speech rights, Nygaard wrote.
Pennsylvania – Pa. House Democrats Say They Were in the Dark for a Week About Republican’s Positive Coronavirus
Spotlight PA – Julia Terruso (Philadelphia Inquirer) and Angela Couloumbis | Published: 5/28/2020
Republican Rep. Andrew Lewis confirmed he tested positive for the coronavirus in May, leading at least one of his Pennsylvania House colleagues, Russ Diamond, to self-quarantine. Diamond has been one of the Legislature’s most vocal opponents of mask-wearing, boasting on social media that he goes shopping without one. The admission immediately ignited outrage among Democrats in the chamber who said they were recklessly left in the dark for nearly a week about Lewis’s condition.
Rhode Island – Ethics Commission Rejects Staff Advice: Opens door for Sen. Lynch Prata to potentially get Supreme Court seat
Providence Journal – Katherine Gregg | Published: 6/2/2020
The Rhode Island Ethics Commission ignored its own staff advice and opened the door for Sen. Erin Lynch Prata to seek a seat on the state Supreme Court. The “revolving door” ban requires a year out of office before a legislator can take a state job, including a judgeship. A 1991 Providence Journal investigation found 49 of the 311 people who had served in the General Assembly the previous decade had gotten state jobs, many of which had never been advertised, while in office or within a year of leaving.
South Carolina – SC Republican House Member Sues His Own Party, Claiming It Helped Primary Opponent
Charleston Post and Courier – Andrew Brown | Published: 6/3/2020
A Republican member of the South Carolina House is suing his own party after it allegedly paid for campaign ads assisting his political opponent in the leadup to the state’s primary election. Rep. Jonathon Hill filed the lawsuit, arguing the state GOP should not be allowed to contribute more than $5,000 to assist his primary opponent’s campaign. Hill has often clashed with the House’s Republican leadership. That animosity grew to the point that other members of the Legislature voted last year to kick him out of the Republican Caucus. Hill believes the spending shows the GOP is illegally influencing the election.
Tennessee – Tennessee House Approves Measure Reducing Campaign Finance Disclosures in Election Years
The Tennessean – Joel Ebert | Published: 6/3/2020
The Tennessee House approved a measure that would claw back campaign finance disclosures during election years. This year, like other election years, lawmakers are required to file five disclosures outlining how they raised and spend campaign money. An additional disclosure is required early next year outlining activity in the final months of 2020.In non-election years, lawmakers are required to file two disclosures. The bill would remove the requirement to file disclosures before the primary and general elections. Those reports currently must be filed no later than seven days before the elections.
Washington DC – Brandon Todd Loses His D.C. Council Seat, and Voters Soundly Reject Jack Evans
Washington Post – Julie Zauzmer and Fenit Nirappil | Published: 6/3/2020
Former District of Columbia Councilperson Jack Evans, who was trying to reclaim the seat he relinquished in January while facing expulsion for ethics violations, finished near the bottom of a crowded field in the Democratic primary, with about 300 votes of nearly 8,000 ballots cast. Evans had asked voters to forgive his transgressions and return him to the office he held for nearly three decades. But two years of scandal, including an FBI search of his home and investigations finding he violated ethics rules at the council and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority where he served as board chairperson, proved too much to overcome.
West Virginia – This Billionaire Governor’s Been Sued Over Unpaid Bills. A Judge Just Ordered Him to Pay More.
ProPublica – Ken Ward Jr, and Alex Mierjeski | Published: 5/28/2020
The billionaire governor of West Virginia, whose business empire has amassed more than $128 million in judgments and settlements against it for unpaid bills, lost another court case recently that adds millions more to that tally. Gov. Jim Justice’s Bluestone Resources was ordered to pay nearly $2.8 million to a financing company after it stopped making payments on a lease for a bulldozer used in coal mining. The ruling comes as Justice campaigns for a second term as governor, touting his experience as a longtime businessperson. But in advance of the state’s June 9 primary, opponents in both political parties are branding the Republican incumbent as a billionaire scofflaw.
Wisconsin – Wisconsin Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Voter Purge Case
AP News – Scott Bauer | Published: 6/2/2020
The Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to hear a case seeking to purge about 129,000 voter registrations from the rolls ahead of the November presidential election after previously deadlocking on whether to get involved. Democrats oppose the voter purge, arguing it is intended to make it more difficult for their voters to cast ballots. Conservatives who brought the lawsuit argue the integrity of the vote is at stake, saying when records indicate voters may have moved, their registrations should be deactivated.
May 29, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
National/Federal ‘A Game-Changer’: Pandemic forces shift in black voter outreach Roll Call – Bridgett Bowman | Published: 5/21/2020 Success in November for Democrats may depend on turning out black voters, but a history of facing voter suppression has fueled skepticism among […]
‘A Game-Changer’: Pandemic forces shift in black voter outreach
Roll Call – Bridgett Bowman | Published: 5/21/2020
Success in November for Democrats may depend on turning out black voters, but a history of facing voter suppression has fueled skepticism among African Americans about voting by mail and a preference to vote in person. Strategies to ensure black turnout are being redrawn as Democratic groups and grassroots organizations test messages in real time to determine how best to educate African American voters reluctant about casting mail-in ballots and reassure them it is safe and secure. It is a three-front battle, playing out in the courts, in federal and state Legislatures, and on the campaign trail.
America’s Economic Pain Arrives on K Street
Politico – Theodoric Meyer and Daniel Lippman | Published: 5/23/2020
A recent survey conducted by the American Society of Association Executives – essentially a trade group for people who lead trade groups – found 35 percent of trade groups estimated they would lose at least a quarter of their revenue because of canceled events and conferences. The cuts have hit trade groups even as many of their lobbyists have been busier than ever, hustling to secure a piece of the trillions of dollars in coronavirus aid for their members. The cuts show Washington’s influence industry is not immune to the economic pain afflicting much of the rest of the country. While much of K Street has experienced a boom as companies have rushed to hire lobbyists to help them secure relief loans, others are hurting.
Appeals Court Denies Lobbyists’ Efforts to Access Small-Business Loan Program
The Hill – Harper Neidig | Published: 5/26/2020
A federal appeals court rejected an effort by a group of lobbyists and political consultants to obtain access to the Paycheck Protection Program and its emergency loans for small businesses hit by the coronavirus pandemic. A three-judge panel on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge’s decision not to grant a request by the American Association of Political Consultants for a preliminary injunction. The panel rejected the group’s argument that excluding lobbyists and political consultants from the loans violated the First Amendment.
Appeals Court Ruling Suggests Little Legal Traction for Trump’s Anti-Twitter Campaign
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 5/27/2020
A ruling that emerged from a federal appeals court recently is strong evidence the courts are unlikely to be receptive to President Trump’s claims that he and his political supporters are being silenced by social media platforms like Twitter. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a lawsuit the conservative legal organization Freedom Watch and right-wing provocateur Laura Loomer filed against four major technology companies: Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Apple. Platforms have banned Loomer, citing anti-Muslim statements. The appeals court judges said despite the companies’ power, they cannot violate the First Amendment because it regulates only governments, not the private sector.
As Residents Perish, Nursing Homes Fight for Protection from Lawsuits
Politico – Maggie Severns and Rachel Roubien | Published: 5/26/2020
As an unprecedented catastrophe unfolds in which more than 28,000 people have died of Covid-19 in care facilities, the nursing home industry is responding with an unprecedented action of its own: using its multi-million dollar lobbying machine to secure protections from liability in lawsuits. The industry is one of the lobbying world’s quiet powerhouses. The state actions came after it spent tens of millions of dollars in lobbying and other advocacy per year. At the federal level, the industry has spent more than $4 million on lobbying over the past year, employing more than a dozen full-time lobbyists and drawing on an army of contract lobbyists.
As Trump Removes Federal Watchdogs, Some Loyalists Replacing Them Have ‘Preposterous’ Conflicts
MSN – Lisa Rein and Tom Hamburger (Washington Post) | Published: 5/24/2020
For the first time since the system was created in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, inspectors general find themselves under systematic attack from the president, putting independent oversight of federal spending and operations at risk. Inspectors general, some in acting roles to begin with, have been fired and demoted with no notice, leaving their staffs in disarray, multiple inspectors general said. Adding to their alarm, several White House nominees awaiting Senate vetting for permanent roles do not meet traditional qualifications for the job. Some say the 40-year era of independent oversight of the executive branch is under threat more than ever.
‘Dark Money’ Groups Dodge Reporting Requirement in New Regulations
Politico – Toby Eckert | Published: 5/26/2020
The Treasury Department and IRS released final regulations under which certain tax-exempt groups will no longer be required to provide the names and addresses of major donors on annual returns filed with the IRS. The rules will affect groups organized under 501(c)(4) of the tax code. Those organizations have no legal obligation to publicly disclose their donors’ identities, but they previously had to give the IRS the names and addresses of donors who gave them more than $5,000. Under the new regulations, the groups will not have to provide the information to the IRS at all.
Facebook Ran Multi-Year Charm Offensive to Woo State Prosecutors
Bloomberg Law – Naomi Nix | Published: 5/27/2020
Facebook went to great lengths to develop friendly relationships with powerful state prosecutors who could use their investigative and enforcement powers in ways that could harm the company’s revenue growth. While state attorneys general are law enforcement officials, they are also politicians, and many see the post as a stepping-stone to higher office. Corporate lobbyists often donate to their campaigns and meet with them at legal conferences, while also pressing their case on state regulatory issues. In the end, the company’s charm offensive met with mixed results: most of those state attorneys general are now investigating Facebook for possible antitrust violations.
Horsford’s Extramarital Affair with Former Senate Staffer Shows How Narrow House Rules Are
Roll Call – Chris Marquette | Published: 5/21/2020
U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford had an extramarital affair with a former Senate intern spanning several years, an example that highlights how narrow the House prohibition against lawmakers sleeping with congressional staffers is. Gabriela Linder said the affair began in 2009 and continued sporadically until 2019. When they met, Horsford was a state senator in Nevada; Linder worked as an intern for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Horsford did not begin his first stint representing Nevada’s 4th Congressional District until 2013, after Linder stopped working for Reid. If Horsford were to have had a sexual relationship with Linder while he was a member of Congress and she was working in the Senate, although there is no indication he did, it would have been permissible under House rules.
Justice Dept. Ends Inquiries Into 3 Senators’ Stock Trades
New York Times – Katie Benner and Nicholas Fandos | Published: 5/26/2020
The Justice Department notified U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler, James Inhofe, and Dianne Feinstein it will not pursue insider trading charges against them after an investigation into stock transactions from the early days of the coronavirus pandemic did not find sufficient evidence that they had broken the law. All three had sold substantial amounts of stock when lawmakers were being briefed on the coronavirus threat but before the pandemic began roiling financial markets or was fully understood by the public. Law enforcement officials appear to still be investigating Sen. Richard Burr, whose own stock sales have drawn scrutiny from the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission.
Lawmakers Press GSA on Trump Hotel’s Request for Financial Relief During Pandemic
Government Executive – Ccourtney Buble | Published: 5/19/2020
House Democrats are pressing the General Services Administration (GSA) for information on the Trump Organization’s request for rent relief during the pandemic for its hotel in a federally leased building. The Trump Organization, for which President Trump’s sons run the daily operations, asked the GSA to treat it like other federal tenants and provide financial relief during the pandemic. Following the news about the request for financial relief, two House committees pressed the GSA for information on the potential conflict-of-interest. The lawmakers said the president is “serving as both tenant and landlord” for the hotel. They also pointed out the hotel is banned from receiving relief loans from the CARES Act under a conflict-of-interest provision.
Lobbyist Register to Be Tightened After Monsanto Case
EU Observer – Nikolaj Nielson | Published: 5/27/2020
Updated European Union (EU) transparency rules set for the end of this year means lobbyists will have to declare much more accurate, and thus likely larger, figures on what they spend to influence decision-making. The EU’s joint transparency register is shared between the European Commission and the European Parliament and lists thousands of entities that work to influence EU legislation. The authority that oversees the register recently announced in a letter it would impose clearer rules to make sure lobbyists do not skirt their reporting obligations.
Republicans Sue Pelosi to Block House Proxy Voting During Pandemic
New York Times – Nicholas Fandos and Michael Schmidt | Published: 5/26/2020
Republican leaders sued Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top congressional officials to block the U.S. House from using a proxy voting system set up by Democrats to allow for remote legislating during the coronavirus pandemic, calling it unconstitutional. Republicans argued new rules allowing lawmakers to vote from afar during the coronavirus outbreak would be the end of Congress as it was envisioned by the nation’s founders. The lawsuit will face an uphill battle in the courts, where judges have been reluctant to second-guess Congress’s ability to set its own rules. But it fits into a broader push by Republicans to put a cloud of suspicion over Democratic efforts to find alternative ways to vote during the pandemic, both in the House and in elections across the country.
Trump Pushes a Conspiracy Theory That Falsely Accuses a TV Host of Murder
MSN – Peter Baker and Maggie Astor (New York Times) | Published: 5/26/2020
President Trump smeared a prominent television host from the Rose Garden with an unfounded allegation of murder. Trump all but accused Joe Scarborough, a former Republican member of Congress who now hosts the MSNBC show “Morning Joe,” of killing a staff member in 2001 even though he was 800 miles away at the time and the police ruled her death an accident. The president’s charge amplified a series of Twitter messages in recent days that have anguished the family of Lori Klausutis, who died when she suffered a heart condition that caused her to fall and hit her head on a desk. Trump doubled down on the false accusation even after Timothy Klausutis pleaded unsuccessfully for Twitter to take down the posts about his late wife because they were causing her family such pain.
Twitter Labels Trump’s Tweets with a Fact Check for the First Time
MSN – Elizabeth Dwoskin (Washington Post) | Published: 5/26/2020
For the first time, Twitter called tweets from Donald Trump “potentially misleading,” a decision that prompted the president to accuse the company of election meddling. Twitter highlighted two of Trump’s tweets that falsely claimed mail-in ballots would lead to widespread voter fraud, appending a message the company introduced to combat misinformation and disputed or unverified claims. It linked to a fact-check page filled with further links and summaries of news articles debunking the assertion. Twitter, which has long grappled with how to address Trump’s tweets, may now find itself under even greater pressure than before to act in a consistent and transparent manner.
Wealthiest Hospitals Got Billions in Bailout for Struggling Health Providers
MSN – Jesse Drucker, Jessica Silver-Greenberg, and Sara Kliff (New York Times) | Published: 5/24/2020
The Providence Health System, one of the country’s largest and richest hospital chains, received at least $509 million in government funds, one of many wealthy beneficiaries of a federal program that is supposed to prevent health care providers from capsizing during the coronavirus pandemic. The Department of Health and Human Services has disbursed $72 billion in grants since April to hospitals and other health care providers through the bailout program. So far, the riches are flowing in large part to hospitals that had already built up deep financial reserves to help them withstand an economic storm. Smaller, poorer hospitals are receiving tiny amounts of federal aid by comparison.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – NoDDC PAC Violated Campaign Laws, Lawyer Rules
Scottsdale Progress – Wayne Schutsky | Published: 5/27/2020
The NoDDC PAC and its co-founder Jason Alexander committed multiple campaign finance law violations, according to a report by Phoenix City Attorney Cris Meyer, who proposed 1 $3,000 fine. Meyer found Alexander and NoDDC failed to report some payments over $250 and legal expenses, including a $5,000 city fine for a previous campaign violation that was paid for by Alexander’s personal account and then reimbursed through the PAC.
Arkansas – Ruling Ends Wait for Political Donors
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Linda Satter | Published: 5/21/2020
A federal judge made his temporary injunction permanent in allowing Arkansas candidates for statewide office to accept campaign donations more than two years before an election. U.S. District Court Judge James Moody Jr.’s move reinforced his initial ruling that it is unconstitutional for the state to bar those contributions. In January, a three-judge panel of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Moody’s decision to grant a preliminary injunction against the state’s “blackout period” for accepting political donations
California – Blind Spot: Lobbying behind California coronavirus contracts can stay secret
CalMatters – Laurel Rosenhall | Published: 5/26/2020
California law, despite all the disclosures it demands from lobbyists, does not require they report procurement work – including the $3 billion committed so far to masks, ventilators, and other supplies related to the coronavirus pandemic. As the state has signed hundreds of no-bid procurement contracts over the last two months, the public has very little information about the players involved in landing these deals and how much they are being paid. No lobbyist has been publicly accused of wrongdoing in connection with these contracts. A bill to require lobbyists to disclose procurement clients was vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016.
Colorado – Hickenlooper Says He Won’t Appear Before Colorado Ethics Body for Video Trial in June
Denver Post – Alex Burness | Published: 5/22/2020
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is running for the U.S. Senate, says he will not appear for his own ethics trial if it proceeds by video, as currently scheduled. Hickenlooper’s attorney, Marc Grueskin, said their camp is prepared to sue in District Court if the state Independent Ethics Commission does not delay the hearing and allow for a new one at which Hickenlooper can consult in real time with his attorney. Hickenlooper was accused in 2018 of violating Amendment 41 of the Colorado Constitution, which bars state employees and officials from accepting gifts worth more than $53 per year.
Connecticut – Dalios Pull Out of State Education Partnership, Attack GOP Reps
Connecticut Post – Kaitlyn Krasselt | Published: 5/20/2020
Barbara and Ray Dalio are exiting the Partnership for Connecticut, ending the arrangement that was touted in 2019 as a unique way to reach troubled youths, although they will maintain their commitment to the cause with at least $100 million. The partnership was plagued by problems almost from the start including criticism that Gov. Ned Lamont and the General Assembly made it exempt from Freedom of Information and state ethics laws.
Florida – Federal Judge Guts Florida Law Requiring Felons to Pay Fines Before They Can Vote
MSN – Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 5/24/2020
A federal judge eviscerated a Florida law requiring felons to pay all court fines and fees before they can register to vote, clearing the way for thousands of Floridians to register in time for the November presidential election. Republican lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed the measure after voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 to expand voting rights to felons who have completed “all terms of their sentence including probation and parole.” The law’s backers said it was necessary to clarify the amendment, while critics said Republicans were trying to limit the effects of what would have been the largest expansion of the state’s electorate since poll taxes and literacy tests were outlawed during the civil rights era.
Florida – Lobbyist Tied to Curry, JEA Bidder Paid City Hall’s Bar Tab at Jaguars Games
Florida Times Union – Staff | Published: 5/22/2020
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration allowed a company owned by his political strategist Tim Baker, who lobbied for companies seeking money from the city and was contracted by a company that tried to purchase JEA, to cover the bar tab at City Hall’s private suite at TIAA Bank Field during the last two football seasons. Taxpayers purchased more than $13,000 in food that was ordered for city officials and their guests during the last two seasons, but they did not pay for the $4,642 worth of alcohol ordered. Instead, the stadium’s concession vendor discounted 50 percent of the alcohol purchases, and the remaining $2,300 was paid for by Bold City Strategic Partners, a firm owned by Baker.
Illinois – Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan Wins Latest Round in Suit Alleging Sham Candidates
Chicago Tribune – Ray Long | Published: 5/23/2020
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan won a federal court victory as he worked on wrapping up the shortened legislative session in Springfield. U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly denied a motion asking for him to reconsider his decision to dismiss a lawsuit that contended Madigan conspired to put up two “sham” candidates with Hispanic names to confuse voters in a 2016 Democratic primary.
Kentucky – Citing Misuse of Funds, Kentucky Auditor Refers 3 County Attorney Offices to Law Enforcement
Louisville Courier Journal – Joe Sonka | Published: 5/21/2020
A report from state Auditor Mike Harmon identifies possible misuse of public funds in the offices of three county attorneys in Kentucky, including a lieutenant governor candidate in last year’s primary election. Harmon is referring his findings to the FBI and state Attorney General. The report found that of the $134,500 in bonuses Lawrence County Attorney Michael Hogan gave to his staff from delinquent tax fees from 2017 to 2019, 94 percent was paid to his wife, a secretary in the office. The audit report also found new information related to the former supervisor of the Boyd County Attorney’s Child Support Enforcement office, who was indicted on 77 charges last year relating to more than $113,000 allegedly fraudulently taken over a seven-year period.
Louisiana – Judges’ Financial Disclosure Now Easily Available to the Public
KPLC – Staff | Published: 5/26/2020
For years, the public has been able to access financial disclosures of elected officials except for judges. But after being nudged by a watchdog group, the state Supreme Court is making such information more easily available to the public. The information is now easily searchable on the high court’s web site using the judge’s name or judicial district, while other elected state officials are on the state Board of Ethics site.
Maine – Ethics Panel Wants to Look at Anti-Corridor Group’s Donors
AP News – Staff | Published: 5/23/2020
A group that opposes a hydropower transmission corridor in Maine must disclose financial information so the state ethics commission can continue investigating whether campaign finance laws were broken. Stop the Corridor spent more than $1 million on television and Facebook ads opposing the 145-mile transmission line earlier this year. But it never disclosed the source of the money.
Maryland – Extra-Long Primary Season with Baltimore Mayoral Voters Behind Closed Doors Sees Spending on Mailers, Ads
Baltimore Sun – Talia Richman | Published: 5/26/2020
Under normal circumstances, Baltimore likely would know already who its next mayor is. The deep-blue city’s Democratic primary was supposed to be a month ago. But the coronavirus pandemic delayed the election, and that left candidates seeking funding for another 35 days of expensive campaigning. While earlier finance reports were peppered with $6,000 donations, the maximum amount a donor can directly give a candidate under state law, no candidate received more than a handful of such contributions during the most recent filing period. “If you were a low-financed candidates that was really going to be grassroots, you’re really stuck in a bad position [because of the pandemic],” said Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs. “Now you need more money because you have to be able to able to appeal on the airwaves.”
Michigan – Feds Charge Ex-Macomb Public Works Boss Marrocco in Extortion Indictment
Detroit News – Robert Snell | Published: 5/27/2020
Federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment against former Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco, alleging he teamed with an underling to extort county contractors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The indictment portrays Marrocco as a tough-talking bully and a political kingmaker during a decades-long reign. He threatening to revoke municipal contracts, withhold permits and, in May 2016, removed an unidentified excavation firm from a multi-million-dollar sinkhole repair project because the company held a fundraiser for Marrocco’s political opponent, according to the government. Builders and contractors bought hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of tickets to fundraisers and some of the money financed Marrocco’s luxury lifestyle, prosecutors said.
Michigan – Where Coronavirus Help on Facebook Is ‘Inherently Political’
New York Times – Jennifer Medina | Published: 5/28/2020
The coronavirus pandemic has unmoored already fragile institutions across the country, forcing many Americans to turn to one another for help instead of to the government or nonprofit organizations. With the belief that the system is so broken that assistance will never come, hundreds have formed mutual aid societies, designed to allow people to find help themselves. Though the groups’ efforts vary widely, similar attempts to offer assistance have formed in dozens of states. The groups are something of a throwback; such networks were popular in the heydays of communal activity, in the early 20th century and again in the 1960s and 1970s. The newest crop has been formed largely by young progressives, and their proliferation points to a new kind of organizing that could reshape politics long after the pandemic.
Mississippi – Mississippi Lawmakers Approved $300M in Small Business Grants. Can They Apply for the Money?
Jackson Clarion-Ledger – Luke Ramseth | Published: 5/22/2020
The Mississippi Legislature passed a bipartisan bill that commits $300 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to small businesses. But can lawmakers who operate small businesses themselves apply for the money? That is the question Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann wants the state Ethics Commission to answer. The legislation specifically said lobbyists, businesses that hired a lobbyist, or ones involved in partisan political activities, could not apply for the program. But the bill did not say anything about the people who passed the bill.
Missouri – No Lobbyist Gifts for State Lawmakers, But Local Officials in Missouri Still Get Freebies
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 5/21/2020
Although Missouri lawmakers are banned from accepting all but the smallest gifts from lobbyists, local officials continue to rake in freebies from companies doing business with cities and counties. A review of reports filed with state ethics regulators shows tickets to St. Louis Cardinals and Blues games remain a popular staple with lobbyists and local officials.
Missouri – Suit Against Missouri Governor Over Public Records Gets New Life
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 5/26/2020
A state appeals court has revived a lawsuit against Missouri Gov. Mike Parson alleging his office violated the state’s public records laws. At issue is a 2018 lawsuit filed by Elad Gross, who is running for state attorney general. The suit accused Parson’s administration of breaking the Sunshine Law by requiring Gross pay more than $3,600 for a cache of records relating to former Gov. Eric Greitens, who left office under a cloud of scandal. In tossing the suit Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Joyce said Parson’s administration, under Missouri law, had the discretion to charge or waive fees. But the appeals court said Joyce erred on five of the 10 points Gross made during an appeal.
Nebraska – Nebraska Sees Increase in Lobbyists, Spending on Lobbyists
AP News – Staff | Published: 5/22/2020
Lobbyists in Nebraska raked in more cash than ever last year and more people joined their ranks to try to influence public officials, according to a new report. Lobbyists collected $19.4 million in gross earnings in 2019, Common Cause Nebraska said. The watchdog group said the total is a record, up from $17.8 million in 2018.
New York – De Blasio’s NYC Campaign Account Hit with $16K Fine by Regulator
New York Post – Nolan Hicks | Published: 5/23/2020
The Campaign Finance Board hit New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign with a $16,000 fine for violating a slew of regulations, including failing to promptly return excessive contributions from individuals with business before City Hall. It also determined de Blasio’s reelection effort broke other rules, including failing to report expenses or in-kind contributions that came from hosting 22 fundraisers, failing to disclose a dozen donations from late in the campaign cycle on required daily reports, and shelling out $6,700 in expenses it could not prove were in “furtherance of the campaign.”
Oklahoma – Bill Could Hide Donor and Lobbyist Info from the Public
The Express-News – Ben Felder (The Frontier) | Published: 5/19/2020
A bill pushed through the Oklahoma Legislature in the final days of the session could prevent the public from knowing who is donating to PACs or who lobbyists are working for, a move that would bring significant secrecy to the legislative process. House Bill 3613 could result in the state’s electronic campaign reporting system being taken offline, according to Ashley Kemp, executive director of the state Ethics Commission. The bill would prevent state agencies from collecting any information that “identifies a person as a member, supporter, or volunteer of, or donor of financial or nonfinancial support to, any entity organized pursuant to Section 501(c) of the United States Internal Revenue Code.”
Rhode Island – R.I. Senate Leaders Propose Allowing Email Voting
Providence Journal – Patrhick Anderson | Published: 5/26/2020
More than two months after Rhode Island General Assembly sessions were put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic, the state Senate is moving toward allowing lawmakers to vote remotely. A resolution sponsored by Senate Democratic leaders would give lawmakers who do not feel comfortable gathering at the statehouse the option of voting by email.
Washington – Wash. Campaign Finance Watchdog Blocks Some Online Access in Wake of Unemployment Fraud
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Austin Jenkins | Published: 5/26/2020
At the request of a powerful state senator who warned of “foreign intrusion,” the Washington Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) temporarily suspended online access to the personal financial statements of elected officials, candidates, and other public officials. The F-1 statements, as they are known, include information about an individual’s income, assets, property holdings, debt, and business associations. Sen. Sam Hunt said he had both warned that the “PDC is being assaulted by international data thieves from China, Russia, and Germany.”
Washington DC – Jack Evans Fined $35,000 by Ethics Board as Voters Weigh Returning Him to Office
Washington Post – Fenit Nirappil | Published: 5/22/2020
The District of Columbia’s ethics board fined former city council member Jack Evans $35,000 for violations related to his outside employment while in office, as voting started in the primary election where Evans is attempting to reclaim his old seat. The negotiated settlement wraps up a probe that started more than two years ago scrutinizing the ties between Evans and businesses that employed him as a lawyer or consultant. The board found Evans violated the city code of conduct governing conflicts-of-interest.
Wisconsin – Wisconsin Elections Commission Votes to Send Absentee Ballot Applications to 2.7 Million Voters
Wisconsin Public Radio – Shawn Johnson | Published: 5/27/2020
The state would send about 2.7 million registered voters absentee ballot applications under a motion approved by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The state would send absentee ballot applications to nearly all registered voters to prepare for Wisconsin’s November election. Roughly 62 percent of all votes in Wisconsin’s April election were cast by mail as voters heeded advice from both state and federal government to stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19. Turnout for the November election is expected to double that of the spring election.
May 22, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
National/Federal Appeals Court Greenlights Emoluments Suit against Trump Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 5/14/2020 A lawsuit accusing President Trump of violating the Constitution by accepting foreign government money through his Washington, D.C. hotel can proceed to fact-gathering about Trump’s profits, […]
Appeals Court Greenlights Emoluments Suit against Trump
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 5/14/2020
A lawsuit accusing President Trump of violating the Constitution by accepting foreign government money through his Washington, D.C. hotel can proceed to fact-gathering about Trump’s profits, a federal appeals court ruled. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to reject Trump’s bid to shut down the lawsuit the governments of Maryland and the District of Columbia brought alleging violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Trump will now need relief from the U.S. Supreme Court if he wants to block Maryland and the District of Columbia from pressing demands for his business records as his reelection campaign gets into full swing.
Barr Installs Top DOJ Aide, Prosecutor of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Trespasser, Over U.S. Prosecutors in Washington
Beaumont Enterprise – Spencer Hsu and Keith Alexander (Washington Post) | Published: 5/18/2020
Attorney General William Barr installed a new top deputy over the federal prosecutor’s office for Washington, D.C., raising concerns that a key U.S. attorney’s office handling multiple investigations of interest to President Trump is becoming further politicized. The arrival of Associate Deputy Attorney General Michael Sherwin triggered new accusations that Justice Department leaders are bypassing career prosecutors in the office and intervening in cases favoring the president’s allies, current and former federal prosecutors in the office said.
Courts Hamper Efforts to Shine Light on Digital Campaign Ads
Bloomberg Law – Kenneth Doyle | Published: 5/19/2020
Partisan divisions in Congress and on the FEC have stalled efforts to require more disclosure of who is funding paid messaging on Facebook and other internet platforms. A recent ruling could set back efforts by states including California, New York, and Washington to fill the breach left by federal regulators. A court decision required Maryland to permanently cease enforcing parts of its online ad disclosure law against newspapers and television stations that have websites selling political ads. More than $600 million has been spent on online ads so far in the 2020 election cycle, according to Advertising Analytics, whose data includes only ads on Facebook and Google. The firm estimates about half of all digital political ads are on those platforms.
Democrats Open Investigation into Trump’s Replacement of Acting Transportation Department Inspector General
MSN – Ian Duncan and Michael Laris (Washington Post) | Published: 5/19/2020
Three leading House Democrats said they plan to open an investigation into the replacement of the Transportation Department’s acting inspector general, concerned the move was tied to an ongoing investigation of Secretary Elaine Chao’s dealings with Kentucky. Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and has faced questions about whether her department has given preferential treatment to projects in the state. In October 2019, Transportation Committee Chairperson Peter DeFazio said he first requested the inspector general’s office look into Chao’s influence on a discretionary grant program called Infrastructure For Rebuilding America.
Donors Can Now Give $620,600 to Biden and DNC, Expanding Democratic Big-Money Fundraising
Washington Post – Michelle Ye Hee Lee | Published: 5/16/2020
Joe Biden will ask donors to give as much as $620,600 to support his White House bid and down-ballot candidates, expanding his fundraising capability to compete with President Trump’s big-money machine. The Biden Victory Fund, a committee that raises money with the Democratic National Committee, filed an agreement that allows wealthy donors to give large checks that will be shared by the campaign, the party, and 26 state parties, the latest move by Democrats to ramp up the former vice president’s fundraising for the general election. The agreement is the latest example of the dramatically expanding fundraising power of national party committees, made possible through legal changes in 2014 that loosened restrictions on individual contributions.
Election Watchdog, Dormant for Months, Can Finally Move into Action
New York Times – Rebecca Ruiz | Published: 5/19/2020
The Senate confirmation of James Trainor to the FEC means the agency now will have a quorum to hold meetings and conduct official business. With Trainor, the FEC will have an equal number of Republican and Democratic appointees, so it likely will still be deadlocked on major action. Routine actions, including the collection and publication of campaign finance disclosures, continued to be performed by staff. But any effort to investigate or punish violations required action by the full commission, which could not meet. Trainor’s nomination had been in limbo since 2017 amid questions over his social media postings and a standstill among Senate leaders on an approach to appointing commissioners.
EPA Emails Reveal Talks Between Trump Officials, Chemical Group Before 2017 Settlement
The Hill – Rachel Frazen | Published: 5/17/2020
When the chemical company Brenntag received a fine in 2017, the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) asked for help from two new Trump administration appointees who previously worked in chemical lobbying. The two appointees were Mandy Gunasekara, a former NACD lobbyist who is now chief of staff at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Nancy Beck, former president of the American Chemistry Council. Beck, now detailed at the White House, has been nominated by President Trump to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Brenntag was ultimately fined, although the penalty it received was roughly 20 percent lower than the one initially proposed by the EPA.
Freed by Court Ruling, Republicans Step Up Effort to Patrol Voting
MSN – Michael Wines (New York Times) | Published: 5/17/2020
Six months before a presidential election in which turnout could matter more than persuasion, the Republican Party, the Trump campaign, and conservative activists are mounting an aggressive national effort to shape who gets to vote in November and whose ballots are counted. Its premise is that a Republican victory in November is imperiled by widespread voter fraud, a baseless charge embraced by President Trump, but repeatedly debunked by research. Democrats and voting rights advocates say the driving factor is politics, not fraud, especially since Trump’s narrow win in 2016 underscored the potentially crucial value of depressing turnout by Democrats, particularly minorities.
K Street, PACs Not Eager to Attend In-Person Fundraisers Yet
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 5/14/2020
Many lobbyists and corporate executives, cloistered in their home offices during the coronavirus pandemic, said they were unlikely to sign up for in-person political events in the coming weeks, and some were dismayed that lawmakers would even send invitations for so near in the future. Others, though, said they long for a return to the intimacy of real-life events that virtual events cannot replace. One lobbyist invited to upcoming events said it was appalling to see such solicitations now, adding, “Why expose members of the lobbying community to unnecessary risk?”
Liberals Embrace Super PACs They Once Shunned
The Hill – Max Greenwood | Published: 5/17/2020
Progressives are embracing super PACs with newfound vigor as they look to put their political influence and organizing tactics to use in the aftermath of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. A handful of new liberal outside groups have cropped up in recent weeks, many of them founded by former aides and allies of Sanders and other prominent progressives. Their goals range from boosting Joe Biden’s presidential campaign of to patching what they see as electoral holes in the Democrats’ organizing strategy. But the proliferation of super PACs has come at a cost for some in the progressive movement, which has long denounced the existence of such groups and the influence of money in politics.
Phantom Super PAC Says It Returned Donations
Politico – Zach Montellaro | Published: 5/18/2020
A phantom super PAC that reported dropping millions of dollars on the battle for the U.S. Senate said in a report it was returning money to its alleged donors following a media investigation. Politico reported there was little evidence that Americans for Progressive Action USA was spending the large outlays it reported to the FEC. The super PAC reported it returned more than $4.8 million in donations it said it received from three donors with Texas addresses. In memo lines explaining why the contributions were being returned, three reasons were listed: “refund due to Politico”, “refund,” and “refund after Montellaro” – the last name of a Politico reporter.
Pompeo’s Moves Against Inspector General Leave a Trail of Questions and a Department Divided
MSN – John Hudson and Carol Morello (Washington Post) | Published: 5/18/2020
The circumstances of Steve Linick’s removal as the State Department’s internal watchdog remain contentious. The nature of his work, which involved interviewing various officials and uncovering acts of wrongdoing, means any investigation could be suspected of causing his downfall and his list of enemies is long. Before he was fired, Linick was investigating an emergency declaration President Trump made last year to approve an arms sale to Saudi Arabia, a decision Secretary of State Mike Pompeo approved, said U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel. Pompeo’s vague criticisms of Linick have left questions about whether one of the inspector’s past or current investigations agitated Pompeo enough to prompt the decision to remove him.
Sen. Richard Burr Stepping Aside as Intelligence Committee Chair Amid FBI Investigation of His Stock Sales
Washington Post – Devlin Barrett, Seung Min Kim, and Katie Shepherd | Published: 5/14/2020
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr is stepping down as chairperson of the Intelligence Committee, following the seizure of his cellphone by FBI agents investigating whether any laws were broken when Burr sold a significant share of his stocks before the coronavirus outbreak crashed financial markets. The decision to step aside acknowledges the awkward, ethically fraught dynamic that would have existed if Burr had continued to lead a committee with oversight responsibilities for an agency conducting a criminal investigation of his conduct. But it also has implications for the delicate balance of power between the government’s executive and legislative branches, suggesting an investigation alone may be enough to remove a senior lawmaker from a key post.
States Push Millions of People Toward Absentee Voting Amid Pandemic
The Hill – Reid Wilson | Published: 5/21/2020
State and local election administrators are pushing millions of voters to cast their ballots by mail in upcoming elections amidst a pandemic that could spread widely where people gather. The applications raise the prospect of a massive surge of ballots pouring into election administration offices in the days leading up to the presidential election. They have also raised the ire of President Trump, who accused two states of acting illegally and raised the prospects of punishing those states by withholding funding.
Supreme Court Stops House Democrats from Seeing Secret Mueller Material for Now
Stamford Advocate – Robert Barnes and Ann Marimow (Washington Post) | Published: 5/20/2020
The U.S. Supreme Court stopped House Democrats for now from seeing secret grand jury material from Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether President Trump obstructed the special counsel’s work. The court, without noted dissent, agreed to a request from the Justice Department to put on hold a lower court’s decision granting the House Judiciary Committee some previously undisclosed material from Mueller’s probe. The action could mean that Congress will not receive the full Mueller report, without redactions of certain grand jury material, until after the November election, or perhaps not even during lawmakers’ current term, which ends January 3.
Susan Pompeo Draws Scrutiny in Inquiry Over Dry Cleaning and Dog Walking
MSN – Lara Jakes (New York Times) | Published: 5/19/2020
Susan Pompeo, the wife of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is now under scrutiny after the firing of the State Department’s inspector general at her husband’s behest. A whistle-blower tipped off Democrats in Congress that she had her own security guards, and agents with the Diplomatic Security Service had been tasked with running errands for the family like picking up takeout food and collecting the family dog from a groomer. Before he was fired, the State Department’s inspector general, Steve Linick, was examining, among other issues, the potential misuse of an aide to do personal errands for both Pompeos.
Targeting Hunter Biden, Senate Panel Approves Subpoena for Lobbying Firm Over Democrats’ Objections
Washington Post – Mike DeBonis | Published: 5/20/2020
A Senate committee moved to subpoena documents related to the son of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in an election-year escalation of Republican congressional scrutiny of Biden’s time as vice president. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the subpoena on a party-line vote, more than two months after its chairperson, Sen. Ron Johnson, indicated he planned to seek the documents concerning Hunter Biden’s work for the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Johnson’s quest has generated fierce objection from Democrats, who argue the inquiry is simply an election-year witch hunt meant to sling mud at President Trump’s likely opponent.
Trump’s Company Has Received at Least $970,000 from U.S. Taxpayers for Room Rentals
MSN – David Fahrenthold and Joshua Partlow (Washington Post) | Published: 5/14/2020
The U.S. government has paid at least $970,000 to President Trump’s company since he took office, including payments for more than 1,600 nightly room rentals at Trump’s hotels and clubs. The payments create an unprecedented business relationship between the president’s private company and his government, which began in the first month of Trump’s presidency and continued into this year. Records show taxpayers have now paid for the equivalent of more than four years’ worth of nightly rentals at Trump properties, including 950 nights at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and 530 nights at the president’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.
Trump’s Vaccine Chief Has Vast Ties to Drug Industry, Posing Possible Conflicts
New York Times – Sheila Kaplan, Matthew Goldstein, and Alexandra Stevenson | Published: 5/20/2020
The scientist brought in to lead the Trump administration’s efforts to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus has spent the last several days trying to disentangle pieces of his stock portfolio and ties to big pharmaceutical interests as critics point to the potential for significant conflicts-of-interest. Moncef Slaoui is a venture capitalist and a former executive at GlaxoSmithKline. Most recently, he sat on the board of Moderna, a biotechnology firm that is pursuing a coronavirus vaccine. Slaoui did not come on board as a government employee. Instead, he is on a contract. That leaves him exempt from federal disclosure rules that would require him to list his outside positions, stock holdings, and other potential conflicts. And the contract position is not subject to the same conflict-of-interest laws and regulations that executive branch employees must follow.
Work from Home Congress? House OKs Proxy Votes
AP News – Lisa Mascaro | Published: 5/15/2020
The U.S. House approved a package of historic rules changes so Congress can keep functioning even while it is partly closed. The shift will dramatically change the look, if not the operation, of the legislative branch. Under the new rules, House lawmakers will no longer be required to travel to Washington to participate in floor votes. They will be allowed to vote by proxy – assigning their vote to another lawmaker who will be at the Capitol to cast it for them. Eventually, a provision allows for direct remote voting once the technology is approved. House committees be able to fully function remotely.
From the States and Municipalities
Alaska – Alaska Lawmaker Says Hitler Was Not White Supremacist After Comparing Coronavirus Measures to Nazi Rule
MSN – Hannah Knowles and Candace Buckner (Washington Post) | Published: 5/16/2020
An uproar began when Alaska Rep. Ben Carpenter emailed all 39 of his statehouse colleagues to compare health-screening stickers to the badges that singled out Jews during the Holocaust, sharing his dismay at a new requirement for legislators returning to the Capitol amid the coronavirus outbreak. Carpenter dug in against the criticism and sparked another backlash when he said Hitler was not a white supremacist. The comments echo comparisons made by some protesters opposed to stay-at-home orders who argue strict public health measures are akin to slavery and genocidal dictatorships, governors have been likened to Nazis, in rhetoric many view as inappropriate in a national debate about measures to curb the pandemic.
Alaska – Complaint Alleges Dunleavy Violated Ethics Law by Auctioning Breakfast at Governor’s Mansion
Alaska Public Media – Andrewe Kitchenman | Published: 5/20/2020
A complaint alleges Gov. Mike Dunleavy violated state ethics law when an Alaska Republican Party fundraiser auctioned a breakfast with Dunleavy at the Governor’s Mansion in Juneau. The law prohibits the use of state facilities for partisan political purposes. It allows two exceptions for the mansion: meetings to discuss political strategy and the use of “communications equipment … so long as there is no charge to the state.” State GOP Chairperson Glenn Clary said the breakfast would fall under the legal exemption for political strategy meetings at the mansion. Clary also said the party used the gala to raise funds for party operations, rather than to benefit the governor or political candidates.
California – Here’s a Closer Look at the Ex-Deputy Mayor Enmeshed in City Hall Corruption Probe
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes and Joel Rubin | Published: 5/20/2020
Raymond Chan earned praise at City Hall for his eagerness to smooth out city bureaucracy for developers, both as the head of Los Angeles’ building department and later as a deputy mayor focused on economic development. Now court records in an ongoing federal probe into corruption at City Hall tell a different story. Prosecutors have alleged a deputy mayor was paid by a real estate consultant to help shepherd a major project and leveraged his power as a city official to aid the development. Although federal investigators did not name the former deputy mayor in court papers, details about his employment history make clear it is Chan.
California – Newsom Raises Record $26M in Donations for Covid-19, Some from Companies Lobbying State
Politico – Katy Murphy and Carla Marinucci | Published: 5/19/2020
Prominent business interests have poured nearly $26 million into fighting Covid-19 at California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request, a record amount that came as some of the companies lobbied the governor’s office on regulatory matters, state disclosures show. Informing citizens about how to protect themselves and others during the pandemic has clear societal benefits, government and ethics experts say. But, they add, the public should view any such private-sector assistance with a critical eye. Businesses or individuals lending a hand to government may enhance their ability to influence policymakers by generating goodwill, said Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director of California Common Cause.
California – San Diego Ballot Measures for Ranked Choice Voting, ‘Clean Elections’ Take Key Step Forward
San Diego Union Tribune – David Garrick | Published: 5/14/2020
San Diego residents may get a chance this November to vote on ballot measures that would shift city elections to ranked-choice voting, provide public funding for local candidates, and change contracting laws in favor of union labor. The city council’s Rules Committee voted to allow further evaluation of those measures so the full council can decide this summer whether they should appear on the ballot. The ballot measure that would provide public funding for city elections aims to reduce the impact of campaign contributions on local elections. Supporters say such a system would encourage more qualified candidates to run for city office and reduce the influence of corporate interests and labor unions.
Colorado – Two Lawsuits Filed Against Colorado Governor’s Decision to Allow Signature Collection Through Email, Mail
Colorado Sun – Jesse Paul | Published: 5/18/2020
Two groups, including one hoping to ask voters in November to ban abortions in Colorado after 22 weeks of gestation, filed separate lawsuits challenging Gov. Jared Polis’ executive order allowing signatures to be gathered for ballot initiatives through email and mail. The lawsuits appear to be the first direct legal challenges to Polis’ use of his executive powers under his disaster emergency declaration. Some critics say he has gone too far in reacting to the pandemic. The governor said the order is aimed at preventing the disease from compromising Coloradans’ democratic right to access the ballot during a time when groups are unable to canvas and gather signatures. The abortion-ban effort is the only pending ballot initiative that cannot benefit from the order issued by Polis, who supports abortion access.
Connecticut – Lamont and His Party Don’t See Eye-to-Eye on Secrecy Rules for Partnerships with Private Sector
Connecticut Mirroir – Keith Phaneuf | Published: 5/20/2020
Some in Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s party are not enthusiastic about continuing to ease transparency and ethics rules to leverage private-sector resources. Lamont has tried to shield hedge fund giant Ray Dalio’s philanthropic arm, as well as dozens of private volunteers planning Connecticut’s economic re-emergence from the coronavirus pandemic, from the transparency rules that otherwise guide government functions. “… We were trying to create a hybrid of government officials and private officials and the lesson here is that’s just not possible,” said House Majority Leader Matt Ritter.
Florida – Curry’s Former Chief Administrator, Political Strategist Worked for JEA Bidder, According to Documents
Florida Times Union – Christopher Hong | Published: 5/15/2020
NextEra Energy, the parent company of Florida Power and Light, hired Sam Mousa and Tim Baker, two local lobbyists with close ties to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, in connection to their attempt to purchase JEA. The revelation that Baker and Mousa worked for NextEra raises a number of questions, including whether Baker was offering policy advice to JEA while working for the company considered to be the front-runner to win the competition to buy the city-owned utility.
Maryland – Super PAC Supporting Baltimore Mayoral Candidate Mary Miller Shuts Down After Email Details Strategy to Attract White Voters
Baltimore Sun – Talia Richman and Luke Broadwater | Published: 5/14/2020
A PAC that supported Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Miller is shutting down and returning unspent money after a leaked email revealed a strategy to target white voters in a majority-black city. The Baltimore Sun reported on the email Martin Knott Jr., treasurer for the Citizens for Ethical Progressive Leadership PAC, sent to potential donors in which he laid out the group’s plans for the June 2 primary. He said the PAC would use negative ads to take voters away from former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah and city council President Brandon Scott, candidates who, like Miller have polled well among white voters.
Michigan – Bribery Case Against Detroit Councilman Could End in Plea Deal 3 Years After He Took Money
Detroit Free Press – M.L. Elrick | Published: 5/18/2020
Three years after Detroit City Councilperson Gabe Leland allegedly shook down a businessperson, Leland’s bribery case could end with a plea deal or a new felony charge in state court. Leland was indicted on three counts of bribery after a federal grand jury determined he demanded $15,000 from a businessperson in a land dispute with the city. Steve Fishman, Leland’s attorney, had vowed to take the case to trial, but recent court records signed by prosecutors and Fishman say “the parties have discussed a resolution of the matter and need additional time to determine whether a resolution is possible.”
Mississippi – Nonprofit Officials Spent $400,000 in Welfare Dollars to Lobby State Government. Public Education Funding Flowed Their Way.
Mississippi Today – Anna Wolfe | Published: 5/19/2020
Prominent special education figure Nancy New spent hundreds of thousands of welfare dollars her nonprofit had received from the state to cull favor and lobby state government in Mississippi for her private school interests, according to interviews and documents. The nonprofit, at the center of what is now called the largest alleged public embezzlement scheme in state history, spent at least $400,000 in welfare funds to “maintain governmental revenue streams or to lobby on behalf of their organization,” the state auditor reported. She and her son’s separate private school companies received nearly $1.3 million from direct legislative appropriations. But as is the case with many of the purchases her Mississippi Community Education Center made, investigators have found little public documentation exists to show what influence their efforts may have had.
Missouri – Clean Missouri Proponents Sue to Have Lawmaker-Approved Repeal Question Rewritten
Kansas City Star – Crystal Thomas | Published: 5/18/2020
A proposal to undo key portions of a redistricting plan passed by Missouri voters two years ago will mislead the public if it appears on the ballot, according to a lawsuit filed by supporters of the original measure. The lawsuit by backers of the Clean Missouri initiative contends the summary for the 2020 ballot proposal approved by the state Legislature should be struck down as insufficient and unfair. It asks a Cole County judge to either rewrite the summary or order lawmakers to do so. The revision by lawmakers included ethics provisions like lowering the limit for lobbyists gifts by five dollars and reducing contribution limits to state senators by $100.
Montana – Dark Money Group Ordered to Disclose Details on Campaign Spending in Montana
Billings Gazette – Tom Lutey | Published: 5/19/2020
A secretive group airing election ads featuring state Attorney General Tim Fox has been violating Montana campaign finance laws, the state’s political practices commissioner found. Ads by American Prosperity Group (APG) began airing on cable television in March. There is still no record of a group by that name either with state or federal elections regulators. That lack of information puts APG in violation of laws intended to prevent “dark money” spending in state politics.
New Jersey – Katie Brennan Settles Lawsuit Against State and Murphy Campaign for $1 Million Following Rape Allegation
Newark Star Ledger – Kelly Heyboer and Ted Sherman (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 5/15/2020
Katie Brennan, the former campaign volunteer whose rape allegations led to legislative hearings and promised reforms, has settled her lawsuit against the state and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign. The state and Murphy for Governor, Inc. will pay a total of $1 million, with $600,000 going to a charity of Brennan’s choice and $400,000 to her attorneys. Neither side admitted any wrongdoing. The settlement also says Brennan and Al Alvarez, the former Murphy campaign adviser she accused of raping her, will participate in a “restorative justice” program. Her case prompted conversations in Trenton about non-disclosure agreements in campaigns, how sexual assault cases are handled in state government, and an underlying culture of sexual harassment and misogyny in New Jersey politics.
New York – New York Democratic Presidential Primary to Proceed Following Federal Appeals Panel Ruling
Washington Post – Shayna Jacobs and John Wagner | Published: 5/19/2020
New York’s Democratic presidential primary will take place after a federal appeals panel upheld the ruling of a judge who determined that scrapping it violated the constitutional rights of former candidates Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders. The three-judge appeals panel affirmed the May 5 ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Analisa Torres that the plaintiffs “had made a strong showing of irreparable harm.” Doug Kellner, co-chairperson of the state elections board, said the board will not appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, clearing the way for the June 23 Democratic primary to proceed.
New York – Who Exactly Is a Lobbyist?
City & State – Rebecca Lewis | Published: 5/17/2020
Lobbying plays a key role in city and state government, but it is not limited to the stereotypical operator working out deals in smoke-filled back rooms. That is because the scope of actions that require individuals to register as lobbyists is especially broad in New York. According to New York City and state law, the definition of a lobbying covers a wide array of avenues through which someone may attempt to influence just about any decision that requires some form of action by a government body or agency.
Oklahoma – Controversial Oklahoma Bill That Would Have Reversed Campaign Contribution Rules Permanently Killed
KFOR – Cassandra Sweetman | Published: 5/15/2020
A controversial bill in Oklahoma was pulled off the table almost as quickly as it was introduced after the state Senate author said it was never meant to become law in the first place. Sen. Roger Thompson amended House Bill 3996 to would allow campaign contributions to be used for personal expenses, including mortgages, vacations, athletic events, concerts, and country club dues.
Oregon – Oregon High Court Halts Ruling Nixing Virus Restrictions
AP News – Gillian Flaccus and Andrew Selsky | Published: 5/19/2020
The Oregon Supreme Court halted a judge’s order which had tossed out statewide coronavirus restrictions imposed by Gov. Kate Brown in a case brought by churches arguing the governor exceeded her authority. Baker County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Shirtcliff ruled Brown erred by not seeking the Legislature’s approval to extend the stay-at-home orders beyond a 28-day limit. The Supreme Court’s decision stays Shirtcliff’s decree pending review by all the justices. Shirtcliff issued his opinion in response to a lawsuit filed by 10 churches around Oregon that argued the state’s social distancing directives were unconstitutional.
Oregon – Oregon Republican Senate Nominee Backs Away from Election Day Support for ‘Qanon’ Conspiracy Theory
Portland Oregonian – K. Rambo | Published: 5/20/2020
Oregon Republicans nominated financial adviser Jo Rae Perkins to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley in November. Her Election Day address to voters ignited a social media firestorm. In a video posted on Perkins’ Twitter account, she expresses support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits a shadowy cabal of elites, often liberals, operates a global human trafficking ring and engages in the ritualistic abuse and sacrifice of children. Many supporters claim President Trump is carrying out a covert mission to break up the “deep state” and end the supposed trafficking ring. After her statements brought a wave of national attention, she appears to have retreated from her support and deleted the video from her Twitter account.
Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania Auditor General Probing ‘Undue’ Outside Influence on Business Waivers
Clearfield Progress – Christen Smith (The Center Square) | Published: 5/17/2020
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said his office will investigate whether outside influence, from lobbyists or legislators, played a role in which businesses received waivers to stay open during the pandemic shutdown. DePasquale said he has heard from confused business owners frustrated by the apparent inconsistencies in the state’s waiver decisions. Now, DePasquale said, his staff will focus on what impact communications with legislators and lobbyists had on the decisions the Department of Community and Economic Development ultimately made.
Wisconsin – Sweeping Federal Lawsuit Seeks Voting Changes in Wisconsin
AP News – Scott Bauer | Published: 5/18/2020
Advocates for people with disabilities and minority voters in Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to order that more poll workers be hired, every voter in the state receive an absentee ballot application, and a host of other changes be made to ensure the August primary and November presidential election can be held safely amid the coronavirus pandemic. Wisconsin has been at the center of the fight, both in court and out, over elections during the pandemic after it proceeded with its April 7 presidential primary even as other states delayed voting.
May 15, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
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 […]
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 – 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.
May 8, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
National/Federal Both Parties Wonder: How much do conventions even matter anymore? MSN – Adam Nagourney and Matt Flegenheimer (New York Times) | Published: 5/4/2020 This year, political conventions may join the list of crowded events like concerts and baseball games forced […]
Both Parties Wonder: How much do conventions even matter anymore?
MSN – Adam Nagourney and Matt Flegenheimer (New York Times) | Published: 5/4/2020
This year, political conventions may join the list of crowded events like concerts and baseball games forced off the stage because of the coronavirus. And it may not matter. Some Democratic leaders are discussing replacing their convention with a virtual gathering, and some Republicans are unsure about holding the big spectacle that President Trump wants. Yet even before the pandemic, a more fundamental debate was playing out: has the American political convention become a ritual holdover from another age? For all the organizing, money, time, and energy poured into an extravaganza of parties, speeches, lobbying, and networking, there is an argument they have become among the less consequential events on the political calendar.
Cash-Starved Candidates Trade Swanky Cocktail Hours for $5K Zoom Meetings
Politico – Elena Schneider and Theodoric Meyer | Published: 5/1/2020
Online fundraising events show that even with coronavirus bearing down, the money machine of electoral politics is still cranking, albeit at a distinctly lower gear and in dramatically different form. Candidates are having to adapt in real time to not only the stilted nature of online interaction but to the sensitivity of asking for money in the midst of a nosediving economy. Recreating the intimacy of big-money events is not easy, but consultants are testing strategies to come as close as they can. Many corporate PACs have preset budgets for donations to lawmakers. The venues where the money gets doled out is less important than ensuring it gets in the right hands.
Joe Biden Denies He Sexually Assaulted a Former Senate Aide, Calls on National Archives to Release Complaint If One Exists
Stamford Advocate – Matt Viser, Annie Linskey, and Sean Sullivan (Washington Post) | Published: 5/1/2020
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden denied he sexually assaulted a former Senate aide, delivering his first public comments about an allegation that has prompted a collision between the presidential race and the #MeToo movement and forced a difficult reckoning in a party determined to unseat President Trump in November. The allegation has pushed the topic of sexual assault to the forefront of the campaign after a primary cycle that featured a field with multiple female candidates and Biden’s pledge to name a woman as his running mate. Though Biden has prided himself on a long record of promoting women, his campaign also has been marked by struggles as the longtime politician has tried to keep up with cultural shifts reflected within his party.
K Street Requests Taxpayer Bailout of Corporate Lobbyists
The Intercept – Lee Fang | Published: 5/5/2020
K Street may soon have its own taxpayer-funded bailout. Industries as varied as oil refining, construction, fast food restaurants, and chemical manufacturing are seeking federal cash to support their lobbyists in Washington, D.C. Many of the largest lobbying forces are organized under the 501(c)(6) section of the tax code as trade groups. Corporations with similar concerns pool their money together to fund trade groups, which in turn employ thousands of lobbyists to shape elections and legislation. But the Paycheck Protection Program, the centerpiece of the small business rescue program, excluded such organizations. That could change in the next round of stimulus legislation, which Congress is scheduled to debate later this month.
Knock, Knock, Who’s There? No Political Canvassers, for the First Time Maybe Ever
New York Times – Shane Goldmacher | Published: 5/7/2020
For decades, showing up on a voter’s doorstep has been one of the most reliable ways to get people to the polls. Now political parties and candidates that put tens of millions of dollars into training and deploying door knockers are grappling with costly, consequential, and imminent decisions about whether they should even invest in traditional brick-and-mortar infrastructure that powers such operations. In the fall of 2020, volunteers might have to knock on a door and then sprint 10 feet away, making a pitch from a safe social distance. That is one tactic some strategists have floated as they consider a pandemic-safe update to the humble door knock.
Lawmakers Made Hundreds of Stock Transactions During Pandemic, Watchdog Finds
Politico – Alice Miranda Ollstein | Published: 4/29/2020
Republican and Democratic lawmakers have bought and sold stocks hundreds of times throughout the coronavirus pandemic, some of them lucrative moves to invest in industries buoyed by the crisis and divest from sectors like restaurants and hotels that have tanked. From February 2 to April 8 of this year, the Campaign Legal Center found, 12 senators made a combined 127 purchases or sales, while 37 House representatives made at least 1,358 transactions. In most cases, the lawmakers have not been accused of wrongdoing, but the watchdog group says the frequency of such stock trades underscores the need for more transparency and ethics protections, particularly in a time of crisis.
Push to Revive FEC Could Curb Court Action on Campaign Finance
Bloomberg Government – Kenneth Doyle | Published: 5/6/2020
Advocates of stricter campaign finance law enforcement fear a Senate Republican push to restore a quorum on the FEC could thwart their ability to pursue alleged violations in court. The Senate Rules and Administration Committee is expected to advance James Trainor to fill a GOP vacancy on the panel. With his confirmation, an equally divided FEC could resume its pattern of deadlocking on enforcement cases, leading to dismissal of alleged violations of disclosure requirements and other campaign finance laws, says a watchdog. FEC staff lawyers would also be able to defend such dismissals in court and prevent alleged violators from being sued, said Adav Noti, chief of staff at the Campaign Legal Center.
Secret Service Paid Trump’s D.C. Hotel More Than $33,000 for Lodging to Guard Mnuchin in ’17
Seattle Times – David Fahrenthold, Joshua Partlow, Josh Dawsey, and Carol Leonnig (Washington Post) | Published: 4/30/2020
The Secret Service rented a room at President Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel for 137 consecutive nights in 2017, paying Trump’s company more than $33,000, so it could guard Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin while he lived in one of the hotel’s luxury suites. The Washington Post has identified dozens of instances where the Secret Service paid money to Trump’s businesses, spending taxpayer dollars, often with little or no disclosure at the time. Often, these payments were triggered by Trump’s own travel to his properties. This case is different because it was set in motion by Mnuchin, one of Trump’s top appointees. In 2017, he chose a living arrangement that produced two revenue streams for Trump’s company. One came from Mnuchin. The other came from taxpayers.
Should News Organizations Take Coronavirus Bailout Loans? While Some Fear a Conflict of Interest, Many Are Desperate for Cash
Greenwich Times – Paul Fahri (Washington Post) | Published: 4/29/2020
As advertising has collapsed, a handful of news organizations have taken the once unthinkable step of turning to the government for a lifeline. Media companies have traditionally resisted any such financial relationship, viewing it as a serious conflict-of-interest: how could they commit to independent and aggressive coverage of a government they are accepting money from? Some news companies that have snagged loans have had no such qualms amid layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts that have slammed the industry. A coalition of newspaper and television trade groups is even lobbying Congress and President Trump to expand the program to include some of the industry’s biggest players, which have been ineligible for bailout money.
Southern Company’s Lobbying Disclosures Obscure State-Level Information from Investors, Public
Energy and Policy Institute – Daniel Tate | Published: 4/30/2020
Southern Company’s sparse disclosures have enabled lobbying activity that has conflicted with the policy objectives the utility company has espoused to investors and the public. Southern has actively lobbied against environmental regulations and action on climate change at the federal level. The company’s state-level disclosures offer almost no indications of whether its state lobbying follows its federal pattern or aligned with Southern’s stated corporate “low- to no-carbon” goals. Investors have led calls for the company to increase its lobbying disclosures, particularly at the state level, in light of its substantial federal lobbying. Southern has opposed shareholders’ calls for increased transparency.
The Bizarro Tale of a Phantom Super PAC – and Our Sleuthing to Find It
Politico – Zach Montellaro | Published: 5/5/2020
A new super PAC made a splashy entrance onto the U.S. Senate battleground scene recently, reporting millions of dollars in spending backing Democrats in key races. There is just one problem: the ads do not exist. Americans for Progressive Action USA filed reports showing more than $2.5 million in advertising and associated costs. But six ad makers and advertising platforms listed in the filings said they have never heard of the super PAC and have no records of doing business with the group. It is not unheard of for people to make false filings with the FEC. But more than a dozen political operatives and campaign finance watchdogs contacted for this story were baffled why someone would file apparently made-up spending reports.
The ‘New Normal’ Takes Shape on Capitol Hill
The Hill – Scott Wong and Mike Lillis | Published: 5/4/2020
Lawmakers hoping for a return to pre-coronavirus life on Capitol Hill might find themselves waiting awhile. The pandemic has already upended daily routines and legislative calendars during the extended recess, forcing lawmakers to adapt to Zoom hearings and cloistered campaigning. But now Congress’s leading medical authority is warning the upheaval will extend to virtually all facets of life in the Capitol complex, and those changes are likely to last years. For lawmakers and their staffs, that means life when they resume a more regular schedule in Washington will be, in many aspects, almost unrecognizable.
Trump Sparks Fight Over IRS Relief Payments
The Hill – Naomi Jagoda | Published: 5/2/2020
President Trump has sparked concerns about politicizing the IRS by putting his name on the coronavirus relief checks and letters sent to Americans informing them of their payments. The moves are seen as a way for Trump to take credit for the pandemic aid that households are receiving just months before an election where his handling of the outbreak and the economic damage it has caused will play a prominent role. While presidents regularly tout their economic policies, critics say Trump’s actions unnecessarily inject partisanship into a government agency that should be viewed as nonpartisan. They also argue his move could backfire politically.
Virus Whistle-Blower Says Trump Administration Steered Contracts to Cronies
MSN – Sheryl Gay Stolberg (New York Times) | Published: 5/5/2020
A federal scientist who says he was ousted from his job amid a dispute over an unproven coronavirus treatment pushed by President Trump said top administration officials repeatedly pressured him to steer millions of dollars in contracts to the clients of a well-connected consultant. Rick Bright, who was director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority until his removal in April, said in a whistleblower complaint that he had been protesting contract abuse since 2017. Questionable contracts have gone to “companies with political connections to the administration,” the complaint said, including a drug company tied to a friend of Jared Kushner’s, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.
Well-Connected Trump Alumni Benefit from Coronavirus Lobbying Rush
MSN – Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Tom Hamburger, and Anu Narayanswami (Washington Post) | Published: 4/30/2020
As businesses lobby Washington for a piece of the massive federal response to the global pandemic, a group of former Trump administration officials and campaign alumni are in the center of the action, helping private interests tap into coveted financial and regulatory relief programs. Businesses hit hard by the virus and health-care manufacturers seeking approval for their products have rushed to hire Trump alumni, who are leveraging their connections in a variety of ways. In all, at least 25 former officials who once worked for the Trump administration, campaign, or transition team are now registered as lobbyists for clients with coronavirus needs. The activity shows how, despite Trump’s repeated claim he would “drain the swamp,” his former aides and onetime administration officials have embraced Washington’s lobbying world.
Why Biden’s Choice of Running Mate Has Momentous Implications
MSN – Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns (New York Times) | Published: 5/3/2020
The vice-presidential selection process has usually had an air of cloak-and-dagger to it. The party’s nominees would say little about their thinking, the would-be running mates would reveal even less, and an elaborate game of subterfuge would unfold that mostly captivated political insiders and usually had little bearing on the election. But a convergence of forces has transformed Joe Biden’s search for a running mate on the Democratic ticket. His pledge to pick a woman immediately limited the pool of potential candidates and intensified the competition. Biden himself has increasingly pushed into the political foreground the overwhelming reason his choice may be the most consequential in decades: the expectation that the 77-year-old would be a one-term president.
Will Americans Lose Their Right to Vote in the Pandemic?
New York Times – Emily Bazelon | Published: 5/5/2020
The April 7 election in Wisconsin showed the coronavirus pandemic can block access to the ballot just as it has closed stores and schools and so much other civic activity. “Ultimately, there were no provisions, no accommodations in state law for the pandemic when it came to our administration of this election,” said Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission. If states and the federal government do not do more to help voters in November, the barriers for some of them may be insurmountable. The outcome of the presidential contest will most likely be decided in a handful of swing states. But only one swing state is already set up for most people to vote by mail.
Canada – Ontario Allowing ‘Secret Lobbying’ Amid COVID-19: Critic
National Post – Emma McIntosh | Published: 5/1/2020
The Ontario government is allowing businesses to do “secret lobbying” by inviting them to ask for temporary law changes during the coronavirus pandemic, Democracy Watch says. The Progressive Conservative government, which was elected on promises to reduce red tape, announced it would open an online portal where businesses could ask for regulation or rule changes to help them weather the pandemic. Democracy Watch, a non-profit which advocates for government accountability, said that portal is an invitation to use a loophole in Ontario’s lobbying rules, which is especially worrying given the government’s temporary rollbacks of some environmental protections.
From the States and Municipalities
California – Dem vs. Dem: Do fractures in California presage a Democratic Party crack-up?
Politico – Jeremy White | Published: 5/5/2020
In modern California politics, the critical fault line is not between Democrats and Republicans. It is between Democrats, thanks to an election system that allows two Democrats to advance out of primaries and collide in the general election. There is no other state where Democrats wield the absolute power the party enjoys in California. Before 2011, when the state replaced party primaries with a general primary after which the top two vote-getters square off in the general election, establishment-backed Democrats running in safe seats could often sail to assured victories; now, they often find themselves fighting for their political lives against a rival from their own party.
Colorado – Demoted Denver Firefighter Tried to Pass Off Hot Tub, Leather Sofa as Medical Expenses
Denver Post – Shelly Bradbury | Published: 5/5/2020
A Denver Fire Department lieutenant who fell through a floor and broke his hip while fighting a fire in 2016 subsequently tried to pass off purchases of a hot tub, stove, specialty mattress, and seven-piece leather sofa as medical expenses, according to a disciplinary action letter from the city Department of Public Safety. Lt. Demetrius Granado was demoted to the rank of firefighter first-grade and technically fired for his actions, although the firing will not take effect if he does not violate the fire department’s rules for two years.
Florida – Florida Concedes It Has No Plan on Felon Voting
Tampa Bay Times – Dara Kam | Published: 5/6/2020
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle decided more than six months ago that Florida cannot deny the right to vote to felons who have served their time behind bars and are genuinely unable to pay “legal financial obligations” as required by a controversial state law passed last year. But as a trial in a challenge to the law draws to a close, a top Florida elections official told the judge the state has not settled on a process that will carry out his ruling and permit people who cannot afford to pay their court-ordered debts to vote.
Georgia – GBI Opens Criminal Investigation into DA’s Nonprofit Funds
Lexington Herald-Leader – Associated Press | Published: 5/6/2020
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation launched a criminal probe into a district attorney accused of using at least $140,000 in city of Atlanta money paid to a nonprofit to supplement his own salary. The state ethics commission filed a complaint against The Georgia Ethics Commission filed a complaint against Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, accusing him of violating public disclosure laws.
Hawaii – Honolulu Ethics Commission OKs Gifts for First Responders
Honolulu Star Advertiser – Gordon Y.K. Pang | Published: 5/2/2020
The Honolulu Ethics Commission voted to allow city police officers and other first responders to accept gifts from the public that are considered :tokens of aloha and acts of kindness” for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak. The temporary change in ethics guidelines was triggered by the surge in public support for those on the front lines of the battle to stem the outbreak. The change applies only to police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and lifeguards employed by the city, since other first responders are outside the jurisdiction of the commission.
Idaho – Belated Campaign Finance Report Filed by Pro-Gun Group
Idaho Falls Post-Register – Betsy Russell (Idaho Press) | Published: 4/28/2020
After a campaign finance complaint was referred to the Idaho attorney general for investigation, Greg Pruett of the Idaho 2nd Amendment Alliance belatedly filed a campaign finance report on his television ad campaign in favor of Rep. Christy Zito, who is running for the state Senate. Pruett acknowledged that under Idaho law, he was required to file a report and disclose his donors of $50 or more when he distributed an “electioneering communication” that “unambiguously refers to any candidate,” and was sent out within 30 days before a primary election.
Iowa – Court Upholds Dismissal of Suit Over Iowa Governor’s Flight
AP News – David Pitt | Published: 5/1/2020
The Iowa Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by an attorney who challenged a 2017 flight that Gov. Kim Reynolds and her family took on a private jet to a football game in Memphis, Tennessee Gary Dickey filed a complaint with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, alleging the $2,880 claimed for four seats on the private jet in campaign disclosure documents underestimated the flight’s value by thousands of dollars. The plane was owned by a company that has contracts with the state.
Maryland – Progressive Maryland Files Complaint Against Super PAC Backing Baltimore Mayoral Candidate Mary Miller
Baltimore Sun – Talia Richman | Published: 5/5/2020
A nonprofit advocacy group filed an ethics complaint with the Maryland elections board, alleging campaign finance violations by a super PAC that is backing Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Miller. The Citizens for Ethical Progressive Leadership PAC was established April 30, state records show, and is supporting Miller. The group recently circulated a memo describing a poll by Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group of 500 likely Democratic primary voters, conducted April 13 to 16. Progressive Maryland’s complaint says the date of the poll signals a campaign finance violation.
Mississippi – MS Welfare Scandal Audit: Money went to cars, family, paying Brett Favre for speeches he never gave
Jackson Clarion-Ledger – Luke Ramseth | Published: 5/4/2020
Money meant to help poor Mississippians was instead used to buy expensive cars, sponsor a college baseball tournament, hire family members of a top state official, and pay Brett Favre for speeches he never gave, according to a report from State Auditor Shad White. The audit of the Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS) shows how federal welfare grant funds flowed from DHS into two nonprofits, which then frequently spent the cash in inappropriate or suspicious ways. More than $94 million in welfare money spending was “questioned” by auditors, according to the report, alleging either outright misspending or lack of documentation showing it was spent properly.
Nevada – Ethics Complaint ‘Credible’ Against Ex-Las Vegas Planning Official
Las Vegas Review-Journal – Shea Johnson | Published: 5/1/2020
Former Las Vegas Planning Commissioner Christina Roush voted several times on short-term rental applications presented by a City Hall lobbyist but failed to disclose that lobbyist had also reportedly been hired by her husband to secure a similar permit. Now Roush will have to attend ethics training if she returns to the public sector within two years under a proposed agreement with a state ethics panel. The panel, consisting of three members of the Nevada Commission on Ethics, recently said there was “credible evidence” for the full commission to weigh in on the accusations that Roush violated two conflict-of-interest laws by voting on short-term rental applications presented by lobbyist Nathan Taylor through much of 2018.
New Jersey – Juul Donated to New Jersey Politicians Even as They Considered Vaping Restrictions
Politico – Matt Freidman | Published: 5/4/2020
As New Jersey lawmakers considered restrictions on vaping products, a leading e-cigarette maker donated to political organizations with close ties to both state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Gov. Phil Murphy. The donations from Juul Labs came even after Sweeney called for a ban on all vaping products and then pushed a bill that would severely restrict their sales in New Jersey. Juul’s $7,500 donation to General Majority, a Sweeney-tied super PAC, was dated less than two weeks after the Legislature passed a Sweeney-backed bill that could have banned the company’s products from store shelves, and three days after Murphy vetoed it.
New York – New York Must Hold Democratic Presidential Primary, Judge Rules
New York Times – Sean Sullivan and Nick Corasaniti | Published: 5/5/2020
A federal judge ordered elections officials in New York state to hold its Democratic primary election in June and reinstate all qualifying candidates on the ballot. The ruling came after the presidential primary was canceled over concerns about the coronavirus. Douglas Kellner, co-chairperson of the New York Board of Elections, said the board was “reviewing the decision and preparing an appeal. “The initial move to cancel the presidential primary sowed confusion around the state; though the statewide presidential primary was canceled, dozens of local elections were not, leaving some candidates and political operatives nervous that voters might presume the entire primary had been called off.
North Carolina – Should NC Politicians Be Banned from Paying Themselves Rent with Campaign Money?
Raleigh News and Observer – Will Doran | Published: 4/30/2020
The North Carolina State Board of Elections is considering whether politicians should be able to use their campaign donors’ money to pay for a home they already own after the board previously signed off on such arrangements. Specifically, the potential rule change would ban politicians from using their campaign funds to pay the rent or mortgage of any residence owned by them or a family member. If state officials do decide to ban such practices, it would appear to be a change aimed one of the most powerful politicians in the state, Senate leader Phil Berger.
Ohio – Ohio Elections Chief Pushes for Changes Before Fall Vote
AP News – Julie Carr Smyth | Published: 5/5/2020
Ohio needs to take the application process for mail-in ballots online, agree to pay postage on return applications and ballots, and make other voting-law changes in order to assure a smooth presidential election in November, the state’s top elections official said. Secretary of State Frank LaRose said he has begun lobbying lawmakers on the need to act quickly. The state’s primary election was postponed from March 17 to April 28 due to the public health threat posed by the coronavirus. The experience spotlighted several weaknesses in Ohio’s vote-by-mail system, already criticized as cumbersome of some voting-rights groups.
Ohio – Ohio House Republicans Move to Limit Health Director Amy Acton’s Authority
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Seth Richardson | Published: 5/6/2020
The Ohio House moved to strip state Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton’s authority to issue lasting state orders, a direct attack on Gov. Mike DeWine and his response to the coronavirus pandemic. House Republicans amended and passed a 2019 regulatory reform bill that would limit health department orders to 14 days. Under the amended Senate Bill 1, an order could only be extended if it receives approval from the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review. Republicans said they were trying to check the governor’s power through legislative oversight, saying Acton’s authority was too broad.
Oregon – Campaign Finance Limits Lose Twice in Oregon
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Rebecca Ellis and Jeff Mapes | Published: 5/1/2020
Backers of strict curbs on campaign money in Oregon lost twice in their attempt to quickly impose limits on donations to candidates for public office. The actions, involving limits at the statewide level and in Portland’s mayoral campaign, came after the Oregon Supreme Court ruled strict limits do not violate state constitutional protections on freedom of expression. In doing so, the court reversed a long-standing ruling barring limits on political donations.
South Carolina – SC Supreme Court Rules Against Statehouse Probe Prosecutor’s Call to Reverse Plea Deal
Charleston Post and Courier – Andy Shain | Published: 5/6/2020
The special prosecutor in South Carolina’s statehouse probe was dealt a blow when the state Supreme Court ruled against his efforts to throw out a guilty plea by a former lawmaker. The court also says it has questions about how First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe was able to get $352,000 from businesses and state agencies to avoid prosecution in the investigation. The case led to guilty pleas and convictions of five lawmakers and effectively ended one of South Carolina’s most influential political consulting firms.
South Dakota – Ethics Board Dismisses Complaint Against Councilor After Trip to Republican Convention
Sioux Falls Argus Leader – JoeSneve | Published: 4/30/2020
The Sioux Falls Board of Ethics will not decide if a city councilor broke the rules by accepting an expense-free trip to a conference of Republican municipal and county officials. Last October, Councilor Greg Neitzert, along with Mayor Paul TenHaken, attended the group Community Leaders of America’s convention in Dallas. The trip recently became the subject of scrutiny when Sioux Falls resident John Cunningham filed an ethics complaint against Neitzert, alleging he violated the city’s ethics rules when Community Leaders of America covered expenses for airfare and hotel stays.
Tennessee – Media Groups Sue Campaign Finance Board Over Email Vote, Contend Violation of Open Meetings Law
The Tennessean – Joel Ebert | Published: 4/29/2020
A coalition of media organizations filed a lawsuit against a state panel for violating Tennessee’s open meetings law. The lawsuit stems from the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance’s decision to reduce previously issued fines against state Rep. Joe Towns. According to the suit, the email vote violated the state’s Open Meetings Act, as well as an executive order from Gov. Bill Lee seeking to allow government agencies to conduct business electronically during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Texas – Texas AG Helped Donor Fight Virus Lockout
AP News – Paul Weber and Jake Bleiberg | Published: 4/29/2020
When a small county in Colorado banished everyone but locals to blunt the spread of the coronavirus, an unlikely outsider raised a fuss: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who called it an affront to Texans who own property there and pressed health officials to soften the rules. A review shows Paxton’s moves stood to benefit an exclusive group of Texans, including a Dallas donor and college classmate who helped Paxton launch his run for attorney general and had spent days trying to get a waiver to remain in his $4 million lakeside home. Robert McCarter’s neighbors in the wealthy Colorado enclave of Crested Butte are also Paxton campaign contributors, including a Texas oilman who has given Paxton and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, more than $252,000.
Wisconsin – Conservative Justices Appear Skeptical of ‘Safer at Home’ Extension
Madison.com – Ed Treleven | Published: 5/5/2020
The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative justices expressed skepticism about the authority of a cabinet secretary to extend Gov. Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order for controlling the spread of COVID-19. “Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to be imprisoned for going to work, among other ordinarily lawful activities?” asked Justice Rebecca Bradley. Republican lawmakers are seeking to suspend the Department of Health Services’ extension of the order to May 26. Opponents say it has wrecked the state’s economy. Proponents counter that Wisconsin’s infection rate would be much higher if nothing had been done. One justice likening the restrictions to the World War II Japanese internment camps.
Wisconsin – Unexpected Outcome in Wisconsin: Tens of thousands of ballots that arrived after Election Day were counted, thanks to court decisions
MSN – Amy Gardner, Dan Simmons, and Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 5/3/2020
In early April, Wisconsin voters navigated a number of rule changes governing the state’s spring elections as officials tussled over the risks of the coronavirus, prompting a backlog of absentee ballot requests and fears that many would not be able to participate. But in the end, tens of thousands of mail ballots that arrived after the April 7 presidential primaries and spring elections were counted by local officials, the unexpected result of last-minute intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court. What happened in Wisconsin has potentially far-reaching implications as the two parties square off in courtrooms across the country, hoping to notch legal victories that will shape the electorate in their favor before November.
May 1, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
National/Federal Democrats Press General Services Administration Over Trump Hotel Payments Greenwich Time – Jonathan O’Connell, David Fahrenthold, and Joshua Partlow (Washington Post) | Published: 4/24/2020 Congressional Democrats are pressing the General Services Administration for information about President Trump’s District of Columbia […]
Democrats Press General Services Administration Over Trump Hotel Payments
Greenwich Time – Jonathan O’Connell, David Fahrenthold, and Joshua Partlow (Washington Post) | Published: 4/24/2020
Congressional Democrats are pressing the General Services Administration for information about President Trump’s District of Columbia hotel lease after Trump’s company said it asked the federal government to include it in any accommodations it may make for private tenants during the coronavirus shutdown. The letter is the latest attempt by congressional Democrats to prevent Trump from using his administration to benefit his business, which he owns but which his adult sons are running while he is in office. The renewed oversight comes at a time when the Trump Organization, like virtually all hotel and golf companies in the country, has seen business plummet to a small fraction of what it was due to shutdowns from the pandemic, and has been looking to cut costs.
Donna Shalala, on Coronavirus Oversight Board, Pays Fine for Not Revealing Stock Sales
Miami Herald – Alex Daugherty | Published: 4/28/2020
U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, who admitted she broke federal law requiring the disclosure of stock sales, will pay a $1,200 fine for six violations because she failed to report hundreds of transactions made last year by a broker setting up a blind trust. A report details 556 stock transactions made by Shalala n in 2019. She did not make any stock transactions in 2020. There is no indication Shalala engaged in insider trading, though her stock holdings on her previous financial disclosure, from 2018, led to criticism that her portfolio conflicted with her work on an oversight committee set up oversee $500 billion in taxpayer money being used for coronavirus-related payouts to large businesses.
Government Watchdog Seeks Ethics Investigation of Jared Kushner’s ‘Shadow’ Coronavirus Task Force
MSN – Jerry Lambe (Law & Crime) | Published: 4/28/2020
In a letter to the Office of Government Ethics, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the agency to conduct a review of whether members of a coronavirus task force overseen by Jared Kushner have complied with the disclosure obligations and conflict-of-interest restrictions required of special government employees under federal law. Kushner in March formed his own “shadow” coronavirus task force, separate from the official effort headed by Vice President Mike Pence, composed largely of private sector advisors whose primary focus was supposed to be expanding access to testing and acquiring life-saving personal protective equipment.
How a Digital Ad Strategy That Helped Trump Is Being Used Against Him
New York Times – Nick Corasaniti | Published: 4/28/2020
In the fast-paced world of digital advertising, the availability of real-time data beyond mere engagement is fairly small, leaving campaigns with a patchwork of clicks, old polling, and hunches to assess the impact of the millions of dollars they are spending on digital platforms. Facebook, with about 220 million users in the country, remains the central digital vehicle for reaching Americans who are spending more time online during the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has also forced campaigns to rely on a nearly entirely digital infrastructure, from fundraising to organizing to persuasion. Having fresh data to inform campaign arguments online is essential. A real-time testing project aims to help fill that gap.
Judges Worry Trump Position on McGahn Testimony Could Force Congress into Extreme Measures
Politico – Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney | Published: 4/28/2020
A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. expressed skepticism about the Trump administration’s claim that Congress can never go to court to enforce its oversight and spending powers. The discussion occurred as lawyers for the U.S. House and Justice Department sparred over efforts by Democrats to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify about his knowledge of alleged wrongdoing by Trump. Throughout the arguments, judges raised concerns about whether cutting off the courts to Congress would remove any incentive for future presidents to cooperate or negotiate with lawmakers trying to check executive power.
Pollo Tropical, Which Employs Florida Congresswoman’s Husband, Gets Small Biz Loan
Miami Herald – Alex Daugherty | Published: 4/23/2020
The publicly traded parent company of Miami restaurant chain Pollo Tropical, which employs the husband of U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell as an executive, received a taxpayer-funded loan intended for small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Fiesta Restaurant Group, with more than 10,000 employees, was granted a $10 million Paycheck Protection Program loan, money that does not have to be paid back if it is used to keep employees on the job. Fiesta said it is “currently reviewing” the money to determine whether it is appropriate to keep it in light of new Treasury Department guidelines that will prevent most publicly-owned large companies from receiving loans.
Sen. Richard Burr Is Not Just a Friend to the Health Care Industry. He’s Also a Stockholder.
ProPublica – Robert Faturechi and Derek Willis | Published: 4/28/2020
In his 15 years in the U.S. Senate, Richard Burr has been one of the health care industry’s staunchest friends, advocated for legislation to benefit the industry. Burr also trades in and out of the industry’s stocks. Since 2013, he and his wife bought and sold between $639,500 and $1.1 million of stock in companies that make medical devices, equipment, supplies, and drugs. With weak laws and little oversight, such trading rarely trips any wires. Burr is also one of the Senate’s biggest beneficiaries of the industry’s largesse. Medical companies, trade groups, and their executives and lobbyists regularly donate to his political committees.
Spotify and Text-a-Thons: How the census is reaching out during coronavirus
Poilitico – Maya King and Danielle Muoio | Published: 4/23/2020
As the coronavirus bears down on cities and states across the nation, the Census Bureau has scrubbed in-person get-out-the-count work in favor of ad buys on Spotify, thousand-person text-a-thons, and virtual speakers series. But despite an extensive statistical database and h$500 million ad strategy to get a proper count, local officials warn millions could still slip through the cracks. The people who are not counted can lose political representation at both the state and federal levels. Legislative and congressional districts are drawn based on population, and the areas where people are hardest to count skew Democratic.
Start-Ups Pursue ‘Free Money’ with Relief Funds, Prompting Backlash
MSN – Erin Griffith and David McCabe (New York Times) | Published: 4/27/2020
Scrutiny of the Paycheck Protection Program, the $349 billion plan to save jobs at small businesses during the coronavirus outbreak, has reached technology start-ups. While many of these young companies have been hurt by the pandemic, they are not ailing in the same way that traditional small businesses are. Many mom-and-pop enterprises, which tend to employ hourly workers and operate on razor-thin margins, are shutting down immediately because of economic pain. But start-ups, which last year raised more than $130 billion in funding, have sometimes turned to the government loans not for day-to-day survival but simply to buy useful time. The start-up rush to tap the finite pool of government aid has stirred debate in Silicon Valley over whether these companies should have applied.
Supreme Court Casts Some Doubt on Whether It Should Settle Trump’s Fight with Congress Over His Finances
Washington Post – Robert Barnes | Published: 4/28/2020
The U.S. Supreme Court called for additional briefing on whether the court was authorized to settle a dispute about congressional subpoenas for President Trump’s financial records. The case is set to be argued May 12, and briefing was completed weeks ago. So the order from the court caught lawyers by surprise and raised at least the possibility the justices were looking for a way to avoid deciding the case’s merits. It may also be less dramatic than that. The request could reflect the interest of just one or a small group of the nine justices. Trump has raised sweeping arguments that the president is protected from investigation by congressional committees and, separately, a New York district attorney. The lower courts are considering the power of Congress to demand executive branch compliance with its investigations.
Thousands of Candidates Reinventing Politics on the Fly for the Age of Pandemic
MSN – Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 4/26/2020
There is a new reality for political professionals across the country as the social distancing clampdown has transformed the art and logistics of politicking. While much of the attention has focused on former Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, hunkering down in his basement to record his podcast, or President Trump seeking to monopolize the evening television airwaves, Covid-19 has transformed all corners of the political universe. Local candidates and name-brand leaders alike have been forced to abandon rallies, community centers, and campaign offices. Volunteers, organizers and operatives have been quarantined into virtual meetings, letter-writing campaigns, and mobile-texting blitzes. Entire organizations have pivoted to meet the moment.
Trump Allies Highlight New Claims Regarding Allegations Against Biden
MSN – Matt Viser (Washington Post) | Published: 4/27/2020
Some allies of President Trump pointed to new claims by a woman who said she was told about sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden decades ago, renewing attention to questions about the past behavior of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Apparent corroboration recently for elements of two accusations made by Biden’s former Senate aide Tara Reade, one involving harassment and the second a sexual assault. Biden has not commented on the allegations, but his campaign has denied them and pointed to his record on women’s rights and promotion of women in his offices.
Trump Appointees Manipulated Agency’s Payday Lending Research, Ex-Staffer Claims
New York Times – Nicholas Confessore and Stacy Cowley | Published: 4/29/2020
Last summer, on his final day of work at the nation’s consumer finance watchdog agency, a career economist sent a colleague a blunt memo. He claimed that President Trump’s appointees at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau had manipulated the agency’s research process to justify altering a 2017 rule that would have curtailed high-interest payday loans. The departing staff member, Jonathan Lanning, detailed several maneuvers by his agency’s political overseers that he considered legally risky and scientifically indefensible, including pressuring staff economists to water down their findings on payday loans and use statistical gimmicks to downplay the harm consumers would suffer if the payday restrictions were repealed.
Under Pressure, House Leaders Scrap Plans for Speedy Return to the Capitol
New York Times – Emily Cochrane and Nicholas Fandos | Published: 4/28/2020
Democratic leaders scrapped a plan to call the U.S. House back into session in the near future, abruptly reversing themselves after some rank-and-file lawmakers complained that doing so constituted an unnecessary risk as coronavirus continues to spread in the capital and throughout the country. The delay will give House leaders more time to try to reach a bipartisan agreement on rules changes that would allow remote voting and hearings for the first time in history. Democratic leaders were hoping to build Republican support for their plan to permit lawmakers who could not or did not want to travel to Washington during the pandemic to designate another member to vote by proxy in their stead.
Canada – Alberta Premier Cleared in Ethics Probe Tied to Firing of Election Commissioner
National Post – Canadian Press | Published: 4/27/2020
Alberta’s ethics commissioner rejected accusations that Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative caucus broke the rules when they fired an election official investigating the party. Marguerite Trussler said there is no evidence the United Conservative Party (UCP) directly benefited when its caucus passed a bill late last year to fire Lorne Gibson as election commissioner. The New Democratic Party alleged that firing Gibson boosted the UCP’s long-term reputation and re-election prospects given that Gibson was investigating the party and had already levied more than $200,000 in fines tied to the 2017 leadership race won by Kenney.
From the States and Municipalities
Arkansas – 14 PACs Sign Settlements, Accept Fines to Resolve Ethics Complaints, State Records Show
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Michael Wickline | Published: 4/21/2020
Fourteen PACs represented by attorney Brenda Vassaur-Taylor signed settlements of complaints in which the committees acknowledge violations of state ethics law in 2016, according to Arkansas Ethics Commission records. They agreed to pay fines collectively totaling $1,450 and each received a public letter of caution. Kendall Bond filed about 30 ethics complaints in January against these PACs, as well as candidates in the 2016 primary election over unregistered PACs making contributions to other PACs and candidates, and unregistered PACS receiving contributions before they were registered as a PAC.
California – California Republicans Prepared to Match Democrats on ‘Ballot Harvesting.’ Then Came Coronavirus
Politico – Carla Marinucci | Published: 4/28/2020
Leaders of the embattled California Republican Party are reversing course during the coronavirus pandemic to demand Gov. Gavin Newsom ban a voting practice they until recently endorsed. The Republican leaders vowed to boost their “ballot harvesting” efforts, to allow people to pick up and deliver absentee ballots that others have cast, after a Democratic thumping in the 2018 midterms. But they are now arguing it is “an intolerable risk to public health and safety.” The practice allows party volunteers to collect mail-in ballots and submit them in groups to polling places or election offices. Republicans blame the Democrats’ ballot collecting as one factor for their 2018 midterm woes, which saw them lose seven congressional seats.
California – National City Passes Campaign Contribution Limits
San Diego Union-Tribune – Gustavo Solis | Published: 4/27/2020
National City officials adopted campaign contribution limits recently. Individuals, businesses, and labor unions can now contribute up to $1,000 to candidates while political parties can give $2,000. The take effect in January 2021. Part of the reason behind limiting campaign contributions was the significant increase in outside money pouring into local elections in National City in recent years.
California – Newsom Executive Orders Test Constitutional Bounds – and Legislative Goodwill
Politico – Debra Kahn | Published: 4/22/2020
Residents and leaders from both parties have given Gov. Gavin Newsom high marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic so far, especially after his early stay-at-home order was widely credited for helping control the spread of infection in California. But state lawmakers who have been on recess for more than a month are starting to bristle at the governor’s seemingly unilateral decision making. As Newsom shifts from crisis mode to managing the long-term economic fallout, his orders are coming under more scrutiny not just from lawmakers but industry groups, who are likewise re-engaging in Sacramento policymaking. The legislative branch has likewise shut down most activities for the time being. That leaves Newsom nearly alone to decide how to flex California laws in the coronavirus emergency.
Florida – Federal Grand Jury Casts Wide Net for JEA Records, Communications
Jacksonville Daily Record – Mike Mendenhall | Published: 4/23/2020
A federal grand jury subpoena orders JEA to provide documents, communications, and records from top utility and Jacksonville City Hall officials related to a failed push to privatize the city-owned utility and the hiring of former Chief Executive Officer Aaron Zahn. Federal prosecutors also are looking for communications and documents from lobbyists, JEA’s contracted legal and financial firms and consultants involved in the utility’s invitation to negotiate and failed stock option style-employee bonus plan.
Georgia – Supreme Court Rules States Can’t Copyright Annotated Laws
Courthouse News Service – Tim Ryan | Published: 4/27/2020
Extending a 19th century doctrine of copyright law to legal materials created by Legislatures, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled annotated versions of state codes cannot be copyrighted. Georgia contracts with Matthew Bender & Co., which is part of LexisNexis, to publish and distribute an annotated version of its official state code. LexisNexis publishes the full code without the annotations for free online and members of the public can access annotated versions for free at places like libraries and universities. Public.Resource.Org publishes official legal codes and other government documents online, bought 186 volumes of the annotated code and posted them online. Georgia sent the nonprofit cease and desist letters, but Public Resource refused to take the code down so the state filed a copyright infringement lawsuit.
Idaho – IFF Accused of Disobeying IRS Rules by Encouraging Idahoans to Disobey Governor
Idaho Statesman – Cynthia Sewell | Published: 4/28/2020
A complaint filed with the IRS alleges Idaho Freedom Foundation, a libertarian policy group, violated nonprofit organization rules by “supporting illegal activities” and “engaging in excessive lobbying activities.” After Gov. Brad Little extended the statewide stay-home order through April 30 to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the foundation encouraged people to disobey the order. The foundation helped organized the “Disobey Idaho” protest at the Capitol, which a few hundred people attended and continued to organize, promote, or participate in several stay-at-home violations. The complaint says one way the foundation directly attempts to influence legislation is through its “Freedom Index,” which grades how each state legislator’s voting record meshes with the group’s agenda.
Illinois – Bid to Strengthen Legislative Ethics Code on Sexual Harassment Blocked by Senate
State Journal-Register – Dalton Stokes | Published: 4/24/2020
Legislation to expressly prohibit sexual harassment by legislators and lobbyists in Illinois was one of many bills that did not become law in the 2020 session that was shortened by the coronavirus pandemic. The reasons for its failure in the state Senate remain unclear. After the bill passed the House, Senate leaders assigned it to the State and Local Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Wil Schroder. He said, “There were some Senate members who had questions regarding the new definitions contained in the bill and were not comfortable handling that section this session.”
Kansas – Kansas Ethics Panel Fines Former Corrections Secretary for Taking $100K Job with CoreCivic
Topeka Capital-Journal – Sherman Smith | Published: 4/27/2020
The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission fined former corrections secretary Joe Norwood $5,000 for taking a job with CoreCivic after authorizing a lucrative state contract for the company. The commission also recommended authorities further investigate Norwood’s dealings with CoreCivic. As corrections secretary under former Gov. Sam Brownback, Norwood helped orchestrate a 20-year agreement for CoreCivic to build and operate a new prison facility, a $362 million deal panned by lawmakers and auditors as overly costly for the state. Norwood immediately went to work for CoreCivic after Gov. Laura Kelly took office in January 2019. Norwood said he was paid $100,000 by CoreCivic for consultant work last year.
Maryland – Ex-NAACP Leader Kweisi Mfume Wins Maryland Seat in Congress
Miami Herald – Brian Witte and Julio Cortez (Associated Press) | Published: 4/28/2020
Democrat Kweisi Mfume won a special election to finish the term of the late Elijah Cummings, retaking a Maryland congressional seat he held for five terms before leaving to lead the NAACP. Mfume defeated Kimberly Klacik in the heavily Democratic Seventh Congressional District, capping a race reshaped by the coronavirus. Maryland opened just three polling stations and sent ballots weeks in advance to encourage mail voting because of the pandemic. Earlier in April, thousands of Wisconsin primary voters waited hours outside overcrowded polling stations, and Maryland’s contest could be a test for future races in a key election year.
Michigan – Michigan Senator Apologizes for Mask That Looked Like Confederate Flag
New York Times – Sandra Garcia | Published: 4/26/2020
A Republican state senator in Michigan apologized for wearing a homemade mask that resembled the Confederate battle flag on the Senate floor. Dale Zorn said he told his wife, who made the mask, that it “probably will raise some eyebrows,” but he initially told a local television station that it was not a Confederate flag. He said his wife told the mask’s pattern was “more similar to” the state flags of Kentucky or Tennessee. The mask he wore, however, appeared to have more in common with the Confederate battle flag, which is all red and features a blue “X” with white stars inside it drawn across the flag.
New Mexico – Coalition Asks for $8,000 Reimbursement from Legislator, Former Executive Director
Albuquerque Journal – T.S. Last | Published: 4/27/2020
The Regional Coalition of Los Alamos National Laboratory Communities (RCLC) is asking New Mexico Rep. Andrea Romero to pay back $8,000 in reimbursements paid to her while she served as the organization’s executive director and before her election in 2018. Romero previously reimbursed RCLC $2,200, but that was before the state auditor’s office released a report that included impermissible reimbursements for travel, meals, and alcoholic beverages and lobbying activities. The audit said more than $50,000 in improper payments were made to Romero, members of the coalition’s board, and third parties. More than half of those payments went to Andrea Romero Consulting.
New York – New York Board of Elections Cancels Democratic Presidential Primary
New York Times – Stephanie Saul and Nick Corasaniti | Published: 4/27/2020
New York officials canceled the state’s Democratic presidential primary, prompting an immediate backlash from the campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and his supporters who had hoped to amass convention delegates and help shape the party’s platform in August. In making the decision against holding a primary, which had been scheduled for June 23, the chairperson of the New York State Board of Elections called the primary “essentially a beauty contest” that the state could ill-afford in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The Democratic primary will be held for other races, but because of the decision, voters in about 20 counties with no other contests will have no need to go to the polls, and no choice for president will appear on ballots in the remainder of the state’s 62 counties.
Ohio – Biden Wins Ohio Primary, but the Real Contest Was Its Attempt at Mail-In Voting
WUSA – Will Weissert and Julie Carr-Smyth (Associated Press) | Published: 4/28/2020
Joe Biden won Ohio’s presidential primary, clinching a contest that was less about the Democratic nomination and more about how states can conduct elections in the era of the coronavirus. The primary was the first major test of statewide elections via mail amid an outbreak, and the results were mixed. There were reports of confusion but no widespread disruption. It was not like Wisconsin earlier in April, when voters were forced to overlook social distancing guidelines to stand in line wearing masks to cast a ballot. Still, overall turnout appeared to be off.
Ohio – Former ODNR Chief Cited for Ethics Violation Over Free Fishing Trip
Toledo Blade – Mike Markey | Published: 4/28/2020
Former Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Director James Zehringer is among nearly 40 current and former state employees and elected officials who the state inspector general has determined violated ethics guidelines by accepting a free charter fishing trip in July 2018. While ethics laws prohibit public officials and employees from accepting gifts of substantial value, state officials wrongly employed a “questionable” interpretation of state law that the fishing trip could be accepted as a donation to the agency to promote tourism, the report said. It instead constituted a “wrongful act” on which natural resources officials also spent public money on lodging and meals for the walleye fishing trip out of Ashtabula County.
Ohio – Ohio’s G.O.P. Governor Splits from Trump, and Rises in Popularity
MSN – Trip Gabriel (New York Times) | Published: 4/28/2020
The coronavirus crisis has made Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine something that decades in elected offices never did: a household name. A Republican, he took early and bold actions to lock down his state, even as President Trump dismissed the threat of the pandemic. DeWine’s decisiveness sent his popularity soaring. Now, DeWine is charting a way out of the shutdown, taking cautious steps while facing pressure from business leaders, conservative activists, and some GOP lawmakers who question the economic costs of a state in quarantine. DeWine is being guided by health experts while avoiding partisan fissures over stay-at-home orders that have been encouraged by Trump, who hopes a rebounding economy will carry him to re-election.
Oregon – Oregon Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Campaign Contribution Limits
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Jeff Mapes | Published: 4/23/2020
Campaign contribution limits are legal in Oregon. The state Supreme Court said limits do not violate the Oregon Constitution, a ruling that potentially signals major reform in one of the few states that does not restrict how much donors, including corporations and labor unions, can give to the candidates. The court ruled in favor of the $500 cap adopted by Multnomah County voters in 2016. The decision sends the case back to a lower court to decide whether Multnomah County’s limits themselves are too low, while tossing out limits that county voters set on campaign expenditures.
Oregon – Portland to Begin Enforcing $500 Campaign Donation Limit Next Week, But It Won’t Apply Retroactively
Portland Oregonian – Everton Bailey Jr. | Published: 4/28/2020
In the wake of an Oregon Supreme Court ruling that campaign contribution limits do not violate the state constitution, Portland election officials say they will enforce a voter-approved $500-per-donor limit starting May 4 but would not retroactively enforce the cap. In their ruling, the justices asked lower courts to decide if $500-per-donor limits, approved first by Multnomah County voters and then by Portland voters, are too low. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said his campaign would limit donations going forward to $500 overall in light of the Supreme Court ruling. He also called on state lawmakers to establish uniform political contribution rules in 2021.
Rhode Island – Ethics Commission Dismisses GOP Complaint vs. Raimondo
Providence Journal – Katherine Gregg | Published: 4/28/2020
The Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted to dismiss allegations that Gov. Gina Raimondo crossed a line when she negotiated a no-bid, 20-year lottery deal with International Game Technology (IGT). The complaint the state Republican Party filed against Raimondo centers on her relationship with former IGT Chairperson Donald Sweitzer, who was both an IGT lobbyist in Rhode Island and treasurer of the Democratic Governors Association while Raimondo led the group. The complaint alleges Raimondo violated the prohibition against public officials using their public positions to benefit a “business associate,” in this case Sweitzer.
Rhode Island – Former State Representative-Elect Laufton Ascencao Charged with Felony Embezzlement
UpriseRI – Staff | Published: 4/28/2020
Former state Rep.-elect Laufton Ascencao was charged with embezzlement of funds from the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club, as well as not reporting expenditures on campaign finance filings and failing to appoint a treasurer to certify his campaign filings in 2017 and 2018. The state attorney general’s office said Ascencao, without authorization, diverted $16,379 from the checking account of the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club while he was serving as treasurer of that organization. Ascencao used the money to pay for expenses during his 2018 campaign for state representative.
South Carolina – SC Officials Troubled by Senator’s Financial Ties to Richland County Church’s Nonprofit
The State – Andrew Kaplan | Published: 4/24/2020
The revelation that a prominent South Carolina senator sent nearly $500,000 in public money to help with the construction of a private development has some lawmakers and ethics experts crying foul. The money sent to a church’s nonprofit in 2007 was approved by state lawmakers, including state Sen. Darrell Jackson, who is pastor of the church and founder of its nonprofit. It is part of a long-held practice in which legislative leaders stash millions of dollars in the state’s budget each year, then send the earmarked money to pet projects. While a majority of legislators voted in favor of sending money to the private development, several recently interviewed issue with the vote and said they would not have supported later earmarks for the nonprofit had they known about its ties to their fellow lawmaker.
South Dakota – 2 South Dakota Lawmakers Reprimanded for Intoxication at Capitol
Dickinson Press – Shannon Marvel | Published: 4/24/2020
State Sens. Brock Greenfield and Kris Langer apologized during an investigative committee meeting for drinking and returning to the South Dakota Capitol drunk in the early morning hours of April 1. March 31 was the scheduled Veto Day, and the actual legislative session ended at about 3 a.m. on April 1. House Speaker Steve Haugaard testified he witnessed Langer and Greenfield slur their words during a meeting with Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden. Rep. Fred Deutsch tweeted that the lawmakers should apologize to all of South Dakota. “We are elected to do the people’s work, not to booze it up – the tradition of lobbyist-provided all-you-can-drink free booze needs to stop,” Deutsch tweeted.
Virginia – Va. Gun Range Wins First Victory Against Order Requiring Businesses to Close
Laredo Morning Times – Justin Jouvenal (Washington Post) | Published: 4/27/2020
A Virginia Circuit Court judge ruled Gov. Ralph Northam exceeded his authority by forcing an indoor gun range in Lynchburg to close as part of his order shuttering some nonessential businesses. The decision to grant a temporary injunction allowing Safeside Tactical to reopen marks the first victory by a business challenging the restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The judge ruled the state law that allowed Northam to declare a state of emergency gives him broad powers, but it specifically prohibits him from limiting the right to keep and bear arms, and found accessing indoor gun ranges falls under that right. Legal experts said the case could spur others as businesses begin to chafe under restrictive shutdown orders in Virginia and across the country.
Wisconsin – Justice Daniel Kelly Rejoins Voter Purge Case After Losing Election
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Patrick Marley | Published: 4/29/2020
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly rejoined a lawsuit over the state’s voter rolls after earlier keeping away from the case. Kelly recused himself from the case last year because he was on the April 7 ballot. The justice lost the election but will stay on the bench until the end of July, when his term ends. Days after the election results were announced, Kelly asked parties involved in the case to say what they thought he should do and on April 29 he issued an order saying he would participate in the case. His decision to participate in the case means the court will not deadlock on it, as it did in December.
Wisconsin – Wisconsin Health Department: 36 people positive for coronavirus after primary vote
Politico – Noland McCaskill | Published: 4/27/2020
The state health department said at least three dozen Wisconsin voters and poll workers have tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Shortly after the state held an in-person election on April 7, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced “new tracing mechanisms” to help local officials track residents who might have been exposed to the virus while working the polls or casting a ballot. Health department spokesperson Jennifer Miller said “several” people within that group reported additional possible exposures, making it unclear whether the election itself is responsible for their contraction of the disease. If those people contracted the virus prior to the election, they could have also spread it to others who went to the polls that day.
April 24, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
National/Federal A Watchdog Out of Trump’s Grasp Unleashes Wave of Coronavirus Audits Politico – Kyle Cheney | Published: 4/20/2020 Lawmakers handed President Trump $2 trillion in coronavirus relief and then left town without activating any of the powerful new oversight tools […]
A Watchdog Out of Trump’s Grasp Unleashes Wave of Coronavirus Audits
Politico – Kyle Cheney | Published: 4/20/2020
Lawmakers handed President Trump $2 trillion in coronavirus relief and then left town without activating any of the powerful new oversight tools meant to hold his administration accountable. But with little fanfare, Congress’ independent, in-house watchdog is preparing audits that will become the first wide-ranging check on Trump’s handling of the national rescue effort. Even as Trump has gone to war against internal watchdogs in his administration, the Government Accountability Office remains largely out of the president’s grasp because of its home in the legislative branch.
‘All of It Is Happening All at Once’: When Congress works from home
New York Times – Nicholas Fandos and Sheryl Gay Stolberg | Published: 4/18/2020
With the Capitol shuttered until at least early May and the House now considering instituting remote voting to facilitate a more prolonged absence from Washington, D.C, members of Congress are sequestered at home like the rest of America, forced to reimagine how to do their jobs virtually. It is a singular challenge for lawmakers, whose tasks typically revolve around human contact with a rotating cast of constituents, staff, lobbyists, and fellow lawmakers. They have come up with creative (some more than others) solutions.
Biden Campaign’s Selection of Preferred Super PAC Stokes Strife in Democratic Party
Washington Post – Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Michael Scherer, and Matt Viser | Published: 4/16/2020
Joe Biden’s campaign signaled to donors that Priorities USA would be its main big-money partner for the general election, a move that has alarmed some of Biden’s ardent backers, who fear the campaign has given outsize influence to a super PAC that many donors associate with the party’s loss in 2016. At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars in independent spending for Biden by super PACs and politically active nonprofits that can raise and spend unlimited sums to try to influence elections. Democrats are scrambling to build an operation to compete with President Trump, who has been fundraising for his reelection since 2017. But as they seek to put up a unified front, Democrats have been dogged by internal battles over how to avoid the mistakes of 2016.
Biden Makes End Run Around Trump as the President Dominates the National Stage
MSN – Annie Linsky (Washington Post) | Published: 4/22/2020
Homebound at his estate in Wilmington, Delaware, Joe Biden’s quarantined campaign is adjusting to a new reality in which the prime-time television slots that would carry his rallies and speeches under normal conditions are now largely dedicated to subjects other than the 2020 presidential campaign. Making matters worse for Biden, President Trump dominates each evening with his coronavirus task force briefings, which mostly are carried live by cable and can have the feel of a daily campaign rally. That has left Biden with little choice but to spread his message around – bracketing the president by offering himself to local newscasts in battleground states that run his interviews. Biden’s appearances aim at groups of voters that he must attract to win in November, including suburbanites, younger voters, and nonwhite voters.
City Leaders to Trump: Help us fight the coronavirus by paying your bill
Center for Public Integrity – Dave Leventhal | Published: 4/16/2020
Fourteen municipal governments want President Trump’s campaign committee to clear a combined $1.82 million worth of public safety-related debt connected to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign rallies. Cities are girding for a coronavirus-induced financial disaster, with a new study indicating more than 2,100 U.S. cities are anticipating significant budget shortfalls and widespread cuts to local government programs and staff. These cuts are likely to fall hardest on low-income residents, people of color, the homeless, and the disabled, who are suffering disproportionately from the pandemic. “… During this [Covid-19] crisis, that loss is even more pronounced – $150,000, for instance, could pay for emergency rental assistance for 100 Minneapolis families,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.
Cory Gardner Attended Pricey Champagne Party in Palm Beach. A Colorado Lawmaker Wants an Investigation.
Denver Post – Jason Wingerter | Published: 4/19/2020
A February party in Palm Beach, whose gust list included U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, was put on by Krug Champagne, a French company owned by a multinational conglomerate of luxury brands called LVMH. For the past 20 years, LVMH has lobbied the Senate on a range of issues related to its brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Hennessy, and Krug Champagne. State Sen. Tom Sullivan says Gardner’s appearance at the party is an ethics violation. Sullivan claimed in a complaint to the Senate Ethics Committee that Gardner violated a ban on gifts of more than $50, as well as a ban on gifts from companies that hire lobbyists.
Donna Shalala, Lone Democrat Overseeing $500B Virus Fund, Didn’t Disclose 2019 Stock Sales
Tampa Bay Times – Alex Daugherty | Published: 4/22/2020
Rep. Donna Shalala, the lone U.S. House Democrat on the committee set up to oversee $500 billion in taxpayer money being used for coronavirus-related payouts to large businesses, violated federal law when she failed to disclose stock sales while serving in Congress. Shalala said she sold a variety of stocks throughout 2019 to eliminate any potential conflicts-of-interest after she was elected to Congress in November 2018. But the transactions were not publicly reported as required by the STOCK Act, which prohibits members of Congress and their employees from using private information gleaned from their official positions for personal benefit and requires them to report stock sales and purchases within 45 days. Shalala’s office said the she and her financial adviser made a mistake.
Ethics Guidance on Coronavirus Relief Package: Lawmakers may be able to apply for some loans
Roll Call – Chris Marquette | Published: 4/21/2020
The U.S. House ethics committee is recommending that lawmakers and their families exercise “caution” before applying for economic relief through the massive relief packages passed into law to quell the financial ruin caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Companies in which members of Congress or family members, such as a spouse or child own at least 20 percent equity interest cannot get any loans or other investments from the pool of funds to be disbursed by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. But those conflict-of-interest prohibitions do not apply to other components of the law, including the Paycheck Protection Program.
House Democrats Retreat on Remote Voting as Republicans Clamor to Reopen
New York Times – Catie Edmonson and Emily Cochrane | Published: 4/22/2020
Democratic leaders backed away from a plan to change the rules of the U.S. House to allow lawmakers to cast votes remotely for the first time in history, after Republicans who are clamoring to reopen Congress registered their opposition. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would no longer vote on a proposal to allow members to designate another lawmaker to cast votes for them by proxy. Instead, she said she and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy would have a bipartisan group of lawmakers consider remote voting proposals and plans to reopen the House.
K Street Is Booming. But There’s a Creeping Sense of Dread.
Politico – Theodoric Meyer and Elena Schneider | Published: 4/19/2020
Business is booming on K Street due to the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, but lobbyists are also dreading what might be on the horizon if the economy slumps into a protracted recession, according to interviews with more than a dozen lobbyists. Several privately expressed worry that business could dry up if the companies with falling revenue move to cut expenses. Some lobbying firms could even go under. But for now, the chaos has been unmistakably good for business. Hospitals, casinos, Indian tribes, pharmaceutical interests, and private equity firms have all hired lobbyists for help, along with companies from 3M to Ticketmaster to Six Flags. with companies from 3M to Ticketmaster to Six Flags.
Matt Gaetz Rents Office Space from Longtime Friend and Donor – at Taxpayer Expense
Politico – Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan | Published: 4/17/2020
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz has spent nearly $200,000 in taxpayer funds renting an office from a longtime friend, adviser, campaign donor, and legal client. Both men said Gaetz paid below market rent for the space, although Gaetz later shifted, saying the rent was “at or below market rate.” House rules explicitly state such arrangements are not allowed. The agreement between Gaetz and Collier Merrill highlights how a decades-long relationship can become intertwined with a lawmaker’s congressional duties. On top of being Merrill’s tenant, Gaetz attended fundraisers at Merrill’s restaurants and sought his counsel on policy matters.
Shell Companies Hide Trump Campaign’s Financial Dealings as Super PAC Coordination Rules Kick In
Center for Responsive Politics – Anna Massoglia | Published: 4/17/2020
President Trump’s official super PAC, America First Action, recently unveiled its first independent expenditures in the 2020 presidential election attacking presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden on his response to the coronavirus pandemic. But critical information about financial dealings of Trump’s re-election campaign remains hidden by shell companies, obscuring details critical to determine if the campaign is coordinating with his official super PAC. The FEC considers shared vendors when determining if communications constitute illegal coordination between a campaign and an outside group supporting it. The Trump campaign’s disclosure of payments through shell companies keeps the identities of sub-vendors it might share with its super PAC hidden.
Small Business Rescue Cash Isn’t for Lobbyists, Judge Rules
Washington Post – Erik Larson (Bloomberg) | Published: 4/23/2020
Political consulting and lobbying firms were rebuffed in an effort to tap coronavirus rescue money, as a federal judge ruled the funds for small businesses are essentially subsidies that lobbyists cannot receive from the government. The firms cannot tap Paycheck Protection Program loans disbursed by the Small Business Administration because a decades-old regulation bars the agency from subsidizing political speech, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth said.
The Quiet Hand of Conservative Groups in the Anti-Lockdown Protests
MSN – Kenneth Vogel, Jim Rutenberg, and Lisa Lerer (New York Times) | Published: 4/21/2020
Among those fighting the state and local orders intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus are FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots. Also involved are a law firm led partly by former Trump White House officials, a network of state-based conservative policy groups, and a coalition of conservative leaders known as Save Our Country that has advised the White House on strategies for a tiered reopening of the economy. The fight has emerged as a galvanizing cause for a vocal element of President Trump’s base and others on the political right. Organizers see it as unifying social conservatives, who view the orders as targeting religious groups; fiscal conservatives who chafe at the economic devastation wrought by the restrictions on businesses; and civil libertarians who contend the restrictions infringe on constitutional rights.
Trips to Ski Slopes, Beaches and Golf Courses Popular with House Leadership PACs
Roll Call – Chris Marquette | Published: 4/20/2020
U.S. Rep. K. Michael Conaway has spent $285,000 since 2011 from his leadership PAC, Conservative Opportunities for a New America PAC, on things such as golf, spring training tickets and meals in Florida, and stays at the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Conaway is not alone in using leadership PAC money for luxuries that ethics experts consider questionable. Added together, he and six House colleagues spent nearly $800,000 over the past 11 years on elaborate expenditures. Ski trips to mountain resorts were popular. So were fishing, golf, whitewater rafting, and plenty of food and drink.
Trump Interior Official Helped Clear Way for Payments to Ex-Employer
Politico – Adam Cancryn | Published: 4/16/2020
An Interior Department official is under fire over her role in securing access to billions of dollars in coronavirus aid for a handful of wealthy Alaska corporations, including one that previously employed her as a lobbyist and top executive. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney is among a group of Interior officials advising the Treasury Department on how to distribute $8 billion in rescue funding Congress earmarked for Native American tribes, an allocation that some lawmakers now say they intended solely for the 574 federally recognized tribes hit hard by the economic shutdown. But the Trump administration indicated it also plans to include more than 200 for-profit Alaska Native corporations among the eligible recipients.
Trump Team’s Use of Big Insurer to Dispense Recovery Funds Comes Under Scrutiny
Politico – Maggie Severns and Daniel Lippman | Published: 4/18/2020
A senior economist for the White House Council of Economic Advisers, whose nomination to a post overseeing health insurance floundered in the wake of revelations of his financial ties to UnitedHealth Group, is now playing a key role overseeing a $30 billion recovery program being administered by UnitedHealth. The choice of UnitedHealth, a leading health insurer, to serve as a conduit in funneling billions of dollars to hospitals and other providers, surprised many in health care, including employees at the Department of Health and Human Services who had assumed their department would administer the program itself. Though UnitedHealth says it will make no profit off of the deal, its role in handing the money to hospitals could boost its relationships with the White House and the public during a tumultuous year and possibly provide it with valuable health care data, experts say.
Trump-Backed Online Donor Platform Launches at State Level Ahead of Redistricting
Politico – Scott Bland | Published: 4/17/2020
The GOP online donation platform endorsed by President Trump is opening up to state legislative candidates and others outside federal office, hoping to drive a financial boost for Republicans in the states ahead of the 2020 elections and next year’s redistricting. WinRed, which launched last year, is partnering with the Republican State Leadership Committee to make the platform available to state-level candidates, another step in the group’s drive to get the entire Republican Party using one system for digital fundraising. While the presidential race will command the most attention in 2020, this election is also particularly consequential because state Legislatures will play a key role in the decennial redistricting process that starts next year, with the potential in some states to enact maps that favor one party for the next decade.
From the States and Municipalities
California – Here’s Why L.A. County Plans In-Person Voting During Coronavirus Crisis While Riverside, Orange Went All-Mail
Los Angeles Daily News – Ryan Carter | Published: 4/22/2020
On May 12, Los Angeles County voters will decide who replaces former U.S. Rep. Katie Hill for her remaining term in Congress. Despite countywide “stay at home” orders spurred by the coronavirus outbreak, nine polling places will be available for residents to register and cast their ballots in person. Meanwhile, Riverside County plans its own May 12 special election in the 28th Senate District, but it will be mail-only with no in-person balloting. Orange County will stage a May 19 city council recall election in Santa Ana by mail only. In Los Angeles County, elections officials say it is one of 15 counties in California mandated under the Voter’s Choice Act to offer early-voting options by mail and by polling place. Those options include enabling voters to cast ballots in person at the voting center of their choice.
California – San Diego Mayor’s Nonprofit a Prime Beneficiary of Political Donors’ Largesse
San Diego Union Tribune – Jeff McDonald | Published: 4/19/2020
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer solicited $35,000 in so-called behested payments so far this year for One San Diego, the tax-exempt organization he set up after he was elected mayor in 2014. In total he has raised more than $3 million in donations, with $1.6 million earmarked for One San Diego. State law requires they be disclosed so the public can see who is donating money to a public official’s favored cause. Many of the contributions have been made by people and companies with direct business interests before the city. Lani Lutar, a registered lobbyist who regularly meets with the mayor’s senior aides on behalf of her clients, has served as the One San Diego board chairperson for several years.
Connecticut – Connecticut Presidential Primary Pushed Back Two More Months to Aug. 11 Due to Coronavirus Concerns
Hartford Courant – Christopher Keating | Published: 4/17/2020
In a second delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Connecticut’s presidential primary will be pushed back to August 11. Gov. Ned Lamont made the announcement that he was acting in concert with Secretary of the State Denise Merrill to postpone the date by an additional two months. The state has already set aside August 11 as the day for Republican and Democratic primaries for Congress, state Legislature, and local offices. As a result, towns will save money by opening polling places once, instead of twice. Since local conventions have not yet been held, the candidates for those primaries will not be settled until the coming weeks and months.
Illinois – Mayor Lori Lightfoot Introduces Plan to Change Chicago’s City Ethics Rules, Again Allowing Some Elected Officials to Lobby City Government
Chicago Tribune – John Byrne | Published: 4/22/2020
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced a proposal to weaken rules against elected officials lobbying the city that was passed last year. Lightfoot’s amendment to the lobbying ordinance would allow elected officials from outside Chicago to lobby the city council, the mayor’s office, and other city government offices, as long as the public body they represent does not have pending or recurring legislative or contractual matters involving Chicago. That change would partially walk back the stricter standards the council passed following an impassioned debate in December, which barred all elected officials in Illinois from lobbying the city.
Louisiana – Louisiana’s Presidential Primary, Local Elections to Be Delayed Again Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
New Orleans Advocate – Sam Karlin | Published: 4/14/2020
Louisiana’s presidential primary and other local elections have been delayed again until late summer as state leaders offer up a plan that includes expanded access to early voting and mail-in ballots but is expected to still feature in-person voting for most people. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Gov. John Bel Edwards agreed to delay the presidential primary election originally set for April 4th until July 11th to give Ardoin’s office more time to prepare. The subsequent general election for some local races was delayed until August 15th.
Michigan – Brenda Jones Took Illegal Campaign Cash from Donors Doing Business with the City of Detroit
The Intercept – Matthew Cunningham-Cook | Published: 4/21/2020
Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones accepted campaign contributions that violate Michigan’s “pay-to-play rules, according to a review of campaign finance records and interviews with ethics experts. During her 2017 bid for reelection to city council, Jones accepted $5,500 in campaign contributions from then-First Independence Bank Chief Executive Officer Barry Clay, and an additional $4,000 in political donations from First Independence Bank board member Douglas Diggs. The donations occurred as First Independence had a contract with the Detroit police and fire pension fund, of which Jones, as president of the council, is a trustee. First Independence runs a loan program for the pension fund.
Michigan – Michigan Cancels Contract with Two Democratic-Linked Firms That Had Been Tapped to Track Coronavirus
Connecticut Post – Matt Viser and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 4/21/2020
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration canceled a no-bid contract to help track the spread of the coronavirus in Michigan, a day after announcing the hiring of a state Democratic consultant and a national firm that has worked for prominent Democratic causes. The reversal comes amid complaints the governor tapped politically connected firms to collect health data on state residents and monitor sensitive medical information. The episode illustrates the political and ethical pitfalls involved in the large amounts of money suddenly being spent across the country to curb the pandemic and boost the economy. Companies receiving aid and contracts have been criticized in recent weeks for ties to one party or the other, and Democrats and Republicans have wrangled over the best way to oversee the process.
New Mexico – Ex-Rio Arriba Official Faces Allegations
Albuquerque Journal – Edmund Carrillo | Published: 4/19/2020
Former Rio Arriba County Commissioner Barney Trujillo made over $100,000 from three contracts with Española Public Schools, yet did so without the proper business licenses, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office says. As a contract holder with the school district, he also never disclosed he contributed to the campaigns of two school board members, which is a violation of governmental conduct laws, according to the attorney general’s office. Trujillo faces three counts of unlawful interest in a public contract and one count of failing to disclose campaign contributions. He could face up to six years in prison.
North Carolina – Voting Rights Advocates File Lawsuit Over Allegedly Insecure North Carolina Voting Machines
The Hill – Maggie Miller | Published: 4/15/2020
A group of voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit alleging that voting machines used in almost two dozen North Carolina counties are not secure and could lead to voter disenfranchisement in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit alleges the use of the ExpressVote XL voting machine violates the constitutional right of individuals in the state to free and fair elections and has cyber vulnerabilities that could lead to election interference. The machines involve the voter inputting their choices digitally, with the machine then printing out a paper sheet with a barcode embedded with the voter’s choices. The voting rights advocates point to this system as making it impossible for the average voter to ensure their vote was not changed and was accurate.
Ohio – Appeals Court Entertains Arguments on Whether Jimmy Dimora Should Receive New Trial
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Eric Heisig | Published: 4/16/2020
Federal appeals court judges grilled a prosecutor and a defense lawyer on whether former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora should get another chance to prove his innocence. Dimora has argued that errors in the instructions a judge gave to the jury that convicted him in 2012, as well as the judge’s decision to disallow the former commissioner to present his Ohio ethics reports, means he should get a new trial. Dimora is serving a 28-year prison sentence for corruption-related convictions.
Oregon – Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler Violated Campaign Finance Disclosure Rules, City Elections Official Says
Portland Oregonian – Everton Bailey Jr. | Published: 4/21/2020
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler broke new city election rules by not properly disclosing his largest campaign contributors on his reelection website or two campaign social media accounts, the city auditor’s office ruled. Rules that took effect with this election cycle require candidates to prominently list the top five donors who have given more than $1,000 on campaign communications, said Elections Officer Deborah Scroggin. Wheeler announces “Paid for by Friends of Ted Wheeler” on his campaign website, but the top contributors are not identified there or on his re-election Facebook page or Twitter account.
Texas – More Than Half of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Coronavirus Panel on Reopening Texas Are Campaign Donors
Dallas Morning News – Allie Morris, Ariana Giorgi, and Robert Garrett | Published: 4/18/2020
Gov. Greg Abbott named 39 prominent Texans, most business and industry leaders, to a panel that will help guide a reopening of the state’s economy after the coronavirus. Many of them are also campaign donors. Thirty-one of the counci’’s 39 members have contributed to Abbott’s past runs for governor and attorney general, and since 2015, 25 have given Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign at least $5.8 million combined. The choices are drawing fire from government-transparency advocates, union officials, and Democratic leaders who fear that public health could be subordinated to profit motives as tough judgment calls are made in the coming weeks and months about easing isolation edicts.
Texas – Top Travis County Official Returns $5,000 After Campaign Ethics Violation
Austin American-Statesman – Ryan Autullo | Published: 4/16/2020
State Senate candidate Sarah Eckhardt, the acting county judge in Travis County, acknowledged accepting political contributions in violation of finance law. Candidates in statewide races are prohibited by the Texas Ethics Commission from knowingly accepting a contribution at a time when a campaign treasurer is not in place. The person who filed the complaint is University of Texas student Blake Beatty, who said he discovered Eckhardt’s impermissible fundraising, because “I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands during the quarantine.”
Washington – Justices: $18M campaign finance penalty to be reconsidered
AP News – Gene Johnson | Published: 4/16/2020
A record fine levied against the Grocery Manufacturers Association for concealing the identities of the food and beverage companies that spent $11 million to defeat a GMO-labeling initiative in 2013 was upheld by the Washington Supreme Court. In a five-to-four decision, justices overruled an appeals court and reinstated an $18 million fine against the trade group, now known as the Consumer Brands Association. The decision does not fully settle whether the penalty will stand. The court did not rule on whether the penalty violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive punishment. The justices sent the case back to the appeals court to “scrutinize carefully” whether the fine is constitutional.
Wisconsin – After Losing Election, State Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly Signals He Will Participate in Voter Rolls Case
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Patrick Marley | Published: 4/16/2020
Days after learning he was losing his seat on the state Supreme Court, Justice Daniel Kelly signaled he would participate in a case over who should remain on Wisconsin’s voter rolls after earlier stepping away from the lawsuit. The case is expected to determine whether tens of thousands of voters who are suspected of having moved can stay on the state’s voter rolls. Kelly issued a court order saying it appears he no longer has a conflict in the case. He asked those involved in the case to file briefs on what they think he should do before he makes a final decision. Kelly had stayed away from the case because it could have affected who was a registered voter for the April 7 election, when he was on the ballot.
Wisconsin – At Least Seven in Wisconsin Contract Coronavirus During Voting
MSN – Nick Corasaniti and Reid Epstein (New York Times) | Published: 4/21/2020
Milwaukee health officials said they had identified at least seven people who contracted the coronavirus from participating in Election Day on April 7, which was held despite a stay-at-home order issued throughout the state. The officials say the number may be higher as they are still conducting testing. Other cities have not reported any cases tied to voting yet. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services said it would also be studying any voters or election workers who contracted the virus from voting.
Wisconsin – Vote by Mail in Wisconsin Helped a Liberal Candidate, Upending Old Theories
New York Times – Reid Epstein | Published: 4/21/2020
The liberal candidate in the April 7 Wisconsin Supreme Court race prevailed in voting by mail by a significant margin, upending years of study showing little advantage to either party when a state transitions from in-person to mail voting. The gap suggests Democrats were more organized and proactive in their vote-by-mail efforts in an election conducted under extraordinary circumstances, with voters forced to weigh the health risks of voting in person against the sometimes unreliable option of requesting and mailing in their ballots. Still, it is likely to add to the skepticism President Trump and Republicans have expressed bout mail voting, which they worry would increase Democratic turnout at Republicans’ expense.
April 17, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
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 […]
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.
April 10, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
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 […]
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 – 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.
April 3, 2020 • Written by Jim Sedor
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 […]
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 – 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.