April 3, 2020 •
News You Can Use Digest – April 3, 2020
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.
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