News You Can Use Digest - April 10, 2020 - State and Federal Communications

April 10, 2020  •  

News You Can Use Digest – April 10, 2020


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 – 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 – Riley Vetterkind and Kelly Meyerhofer (Wisconsin State Journal) | Published: 4/8/2020

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

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