News You Can Use Digest - August 2, 2019 - State and Federal Communications

August 2, 2019  •  

News You Can Use Digest – August 2, 2019


Ex-McConnell Staffers Lobbied on Russian-Backed Kentucky Project
Politico – Natasha Bertrand and Theodoric Meyer | Published: 7/31/2019

Two former top staffers to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have lobbied Congress and the Treasury Department on the development of a new Kentucky aluminum mill backed by the Russian aluminum giant Rusal, according to a new lobbying disclosure. The filing comes as Democrats are pushing the Trump administration to review Rusal’s $200 million investment in the Kentucky project – concerned that the mill will supply the Defense Department – and as McConnell weathers criticism for helping block a congressional effort to stop the investment. The Russian firm was only able to make the investment after it won sanctions relief from penalties the Treasury Department initially imposed in April 2018.

Federal Inquiry of Trump Friend Focused on Foreign Lobbying
MSN – Sharon LaFraniere, Maggie Haberman, William Rashbaum, Ben Protess, and David Kirkpatrick (New York Times) | Published: 7/28/2019

Federal prosecutors are investigating the role of Thomas Barrack, a top campaign fundraiser and close friend of President Trump, and his connections to the foreign lobby. Barrack has been investigated for potentially violating the law requiring people who try to influence American policy or opinion at the direction of foreign governments or entities to disclose their activities to the Justice Department. Questions about Barrack complying with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) arose during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election before being referred to the U.S, attorney’s office in Brooklyn. Three former Trump campaign aides charged by Mueller acknowledged violating FARA in their guilty pleas: Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and Michael Flynn.

Federal Judge Rules IRS Donor Guidance Is Unlawful
The Hill – Naomi Jagoda | Published: 7/30/2019

A federal judge blocked an IRS policy change that stopped nonprofit groups from identifying their big donors on federal disclosure forms. U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris ruled the agency did not give proper public notice before it stopped requiring social-welfare groups, labor unions, and business associations to identify donors contributing more than $5,000. Republicans argue the guidance was important to protect taxpayers’ privacy and First Amendment rights. But Democrats have strongly opposed the guidance, arguing it could make it easier for foreign governments to influence U.S. elections through donations to “dark money” groups.

How Fundraisers Convinced Conservatives to Donate $10 Million – Then Kept Almost All of It.
ProPublica – Maggie Severns (Politico) and Derek Willis | Published: 7/26/2019

The Conservative Majority Fund has raised nearly $10 million since 2012 and continues to solicit funds, primarily from thousands of steadfast contributors to conservative causes. But it has made just $48,400 in political contributions to candidates and committees. Its main beneficiaries are the operative Kelley Rogers, who has a history of disputes over allegedly unethical fundraising, and one of the largest conservative fundraising companies, InfoCision, which charged millions of dollars in fundraising fees. The saga of how politically connected fundraisers used one of the nation’s leading conservative organizations as a springboard for fundraising that mainly benefited the fundraisers themselves sheds light on the growing problem of so-called scam PACs, organizations that take advantage of loosened campaign finance laws to reap windfalls for insiders while directing only a small portion of receipts to political advocacy.

It’s Not Just the Russians Anymore as Iranians and Others Turn Up Disinformation Efforts Ahead of 2020 Vote
MSN – Craig Timberg and Tony Romm (Washingtin Post) | Published: 7/25/2019

Twitter has shut down more than 7,000 phony accounts from Iran this year alone. Iran is far from the only nation that has the capacity to wage Russian-style influence operations in the U.S. ahead of next year’s election. That means American voters are likely to be targeted in the coming campaign season by more foreign disinformation than ever before, say those studying such operations. Researchers say it is not often clear exactly who runs these operations, whether it is the governments themselves or some other actors, but they typically echo the talking points of the ruling powers and back their geopolitical goals through tweets, posts, and online videos. The operations in all these countries, meanwhile, have the means and potentially the motives to seek to influence an American election shaping up as among the most hotly contested in decades.

Low in Cash and Polls, 2020 Democrats Get Creative with Accounting
New York Times – Shane Goldmacher | Published: 7/30/2019

Staff members for a half dozen Democratic presidential candidates did not receive their final June paycheck that month. Instead, their campaigns nudged payday into July, an accounting maneuver that obscured payroll costs and temporarily made it look like candidates had more cash on hand than they did. That does not violate campaign laws, but it is a symptom of the high stakes of the 2020 money race and a crowded field with some candidates struggling to stay alive ahead of the second round of debates. In a presidential primary with many Democratic hopefuls competing for campaign money, a candidate’s viability is often judged by donors, the news media, and even rivals with a cursory look at campaign balance sheets.

Meet the Man Who Created the Fake Presidential Seal – a Former Republican Fed Up with Trump
MSN – Reis Thebault and Michael Brice-Saddler (Washington Post) | Published: 7/25/2019

Graphic designer Charles Leazott used to be a proud Republican. But he felt Donald Trump’s GOP was no longer his party. So, he created a mock presidential seal to prove his point. He substituted the arrows in the eagle’s claw for a set of golf clubs, a nod to the new president’s favorite pastime. In the other set of talons, he swapped the olive branch for a wad of cash and replaced the United States’ Latin motto with a Spanish insult. Then is inserted a two-headed imperial bird lifted straight from the Russian coat of arms. The seal was not meant for a wide audience. But then, years later, it wound up stretched across a huge screen behind an unwitting President Trump as he spoke to a conference packed with hundreds of his young supporters.

Republicans Rattled After Surge of Retirements
Politico – Melanie Zanona | Published: 7/31/2019

The House GOP caucus has been hit by a wave of retirements over the past few weeks, but some Republicans fear the worst is yet to come. With the GOP relegated to the minority for the first time in eight years, a mix of veteran and vulnerable members have decided to call it quits instead of sticking around to see whether the party wins back power in 2020. Most of the seats being vacated thus far are in solidly red districts, which Republicans will have no problems keeping. But at least two of the races have become more competitive in the wake of the retirement announcements, and more vulnerable members could jump ship if they do not want to duke it out another term, especially if they are pessimistic about the GOP’s prospects.

Should Regulators Let Jet-Setting Tom Price Use Campaign Cash for Nonprofit Travel and Expenses?
Center for Public Integrity – Laura Zornosa | Published: 7/25/2019

Former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned in 2017 amid criticism of his taxpayer-funded private charter flights. Now, Price wants the FEC to allow his new nonprofit group to use $1.7 million worth of leftover campaign money from his old congressional committee, a move that would create a path for former congressional candidates to transfer surplus campaign cash to 501(c)(4) “social welfare” groups, a type of nonprofit that operates with fewer restrictions than charities, though Price’s lawyers promise the group would not pay salaries to Price or his family members or use the money for political purposes.

Socialism Goes Local: DSA candidates are winning in big cities
Governing – Alan Greenblatt | Published: 7/24/2019

Around the country this year, democratic socialists and other ultra-left candidates have met with success in city council races. Several such candidates have already won seats in Chicago and Denver, while others are running this fall in Los Angeles and San Francisco. In Seattle, Kshama Sawant, a member of Socialist Alternative, which is a democratic socialist party, is seeking reelection to the city council against concerted opposition from business groups. These candidates do not all hold the same positions, but they are at the leading edge of a trend. As in national politics, local candidates on the left, including many mainstream Democrats, are moving further left.

Texts, Sex, Lies and Corruption: Here’s what has forced governors out of office
New York Times – Adeel Hassan | Published: 7/25/2019

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico announced his resignation after an uprising and looming impeachment proceedings had derailed his administration. Though residents said they were fed up by years of corruption, the tipping point proved to be the publication of hundreds of pages of crass and often profane chat messages among Rosselló and 11 men in his inner circle. The texts confirmed what many Puerto Ricans thought, that they held disdain for the public. The vast majority of governors in the U.S. fulfill their terms, though many have resigned to take a cabinet position, or to join the Senate. Since World War II, two have left governor’s mansions to move to the White House. But a few have met ignominious ends in office.

The Job of Campaigning Is Extremely Family-Unfriendly
The Atlantic – Joe Pinsker | Published: 7/27/2019

The FEC ruled that M. J. Hegar, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate from Texas, can spend campaign funds on child care for her two kids while she is running for office. The ruling builds on the FEC’s determination that Liuba Grechen Shirley, who at the time was running for a House seat in New York, could do the same. Campaign finance laws prohibit candidates from drawing from their own political funds for “personal use,” and legally, it was not clear whether child-care expenses associated with campaigning fell under that category. Now, whether candidates have to take on child-care costs in order to run (as Grechen Shirley did) or keep paying for child care as they already had been (as is the case with Hegar), they can cover those expenses knowing they are not running afoul of federal regulations.

Top House Lawyer Takes Center Stage in Legal Battles Against Trump
Politico – Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney | Published: 7/31/2019

U.S. Reps. Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff are the public faces of the House Democrats’ battles with Donald Trump, appearing on television regularly to harangue the president for his resistance to their investigations. But the job of fighting the president in federal court – and, lately, winning – has been left to a lesser-known figure: House General Counsel Douglas Letter. Last year, Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked him to take on a new and unfamiliar role as the guardian of congressional power. What Letter may not have realized when he took the job was that he would find himself in the vanguard of an unprecedented constitutional power struggle between House Democrats, who are weighing whether to impeach Trump, and a litigious president blocking congressional oversight in an unprecedented way.

Trump Fundraiser Thomas Barrack Jr. Lobbied for Saudi Nuclear Deal, New Report Alleges
USA Today – Deirdre Shesgreen | Published: 7/29/2019

The Trump administration’s move to sell sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia took shape even before the president took office and was championed by Trump’s longtime personal friend and fundraiser, Thomas Barrack Jr., according to a new report by congressional Democrats. The report details how Barrack used his personal connections to the president and other Trump administration officials to win support for the controversial Saudi nuclear deal, at the same time he was seeking funding from the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates for a bid to purchase Westinghouse Electric Company, the only U.S. manufacturer of large-scale nuclear reactors.

From the States and Municipalities

Arizona Arizona State Senator Criticized for Remarks on Immigrants, Birthrates of Hispanic Women
Arizona Republic – Kyra Haas | Published: 7/26/2019

Arizona Sen. Sylvia Allen is facing criticism following recent comments she made about immigration, white birth rates, and the “browning” of America. During a speech to Republicans, Allen said America would “look like South American countries very quickly” and warned immigrants were “flooding” the United States at a rate that did not allow for them to “learn the principles of our country.” In her comments, Allen noted declining white birth rates compared to Hispanic birth rates, saying it was an issue “because of immigration.” She referred to a “browning of America,” a term she attributed to a well-known demographer, though he is not critical of immigration in his research.

California California Insurance Commissioner Met with CEO Who Has Cases Pending Before His Department
Sacramento Bee – Hannah Wylie | Published: 7/29/2019

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, under fire for accepting campaign contributions from insurance executives and their spouses, has yet to release his office calendars in response to public requests. But Lara acknowledged he did meet with an executive whose company has multiple complaints against it in cases before his department. Lara said he met with Steven Menzies, who heads Applied Underwriters, a workers’ compensation agency that the department formerly settled with for “bait and switch” marketing tactics in 2017. Berkshire Hathaway is in the process of selling the company, a sale Lara must approve. Lara, who was serving as his own campaign treasurer, accepted $46,500 in donations to his 2022 reelection campaign in April from out-of-state executives with ties to the company.

California Sitting Judge Who Promoted His Candidacy for Calif. Attorney General Barred from Bench
San Francisco Chronicle – Bob Egelko | Published: 7/31/2019

The California Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Steven Bailey, the former judge who ran for state attorney general last year and then was permanently barred from returning to the bench by a state commission because he used his judicial position to promote his political campaign. Bailey, a former Superior Court judge, argued the Commission on Judicial Performance violated his freedom of speech by enforcing rules that prohibit judges from using their positions to run for non-judicial office. The commission disagreed, and the state’s high court, which has the last word on judicial discipline in California, denied review of his appeal without comment.

California Trump’s Tax Returns Required Under New California Election Law
Los Angeles Times – John Myers | Published: 7/30/2019

President Trump will be ineligible for California’s primary ballot next year unless he discloses his tax returns under a state law that immediately took effect, an unprecedented mandate that is almost certain to spark a court fight and might encourage other states to adopt their own unconventional rules for presidential candidates. The law requires all presidential candidates to submit five years of income tax filings. State elections officials will post the financial documents online, although certain private information must first be redacted.

Florida Ethics Complaint Filed Against CFO Jimmy Patronis for Releasing Harassment Allegation
Tampa Bay Times – Lawrence Mower | Published: 7/26/2019

An activist is asking for an investigation into Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis for releasing an ethics complaint in a possible violation of state law. Emma Collum, an attorney and president of Women’s March Florida, filed the complaint with the state Commission on Ethics. Patronis sent to the media a redacted copy of a woman’s sexual harassment complaint against former Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Ronald Rubin, along with a request for Rubin to resign. The complaint form was marked “confidential and exempt” under state law, citing a statute that requires employee complaints to remain secret until they’re investigated. Breaking it is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.

Florida Modified Sentences and ‘Rocket Dockets’ Aim to Ensure Felons Can Still Register to Vote
Washington Post – Lori Rozsa | Published: 7/30/2019

Florida judges and prosecutors are working with felons and public defenders to find ways to register former inmates to vote, a process approved by voters last year that Republican legislators have made more difficult. To work around a law passed in the spring, which requires individuals to pay all fines, fees, and restitution before they can register, court officials in cities such as Miami and Tampa are modifying sentences and making plans to allow some debts to be converted to community service. In smaller towns, volunteers are holding fundraisers to pay off penalties for residents. Voting rights activists applaud these efforts are worried a patchwork of changes may confound hundreds of thousands of potential voters in the months leading up to the state’s March 17 presidential primary.

Florida Suspended Commissioner Scott Maddox to Plead Guilty to Some Charges in Public Corruption Case
Tallahassee Democrat – Jeff Burlew | Published: 7/31/2019

Scott Maddox, whose long political career in Tallahassee came crashing down after his indictment on public corruption charges, is expected to plead guilty to some of the counts against him. Attorneys for the suspended city commissioner and former mayor filed a notice that both he and his close friend Paige Carter-Smith will change their pleas. It is a major development in the federal government’s long-running investigation into public corruption in Tallahassee and a possible signal that Maddox and Carter-Smith are cooperating with authorities to try to get their sentences reduced. If they are cooperating, it is possible the FBI and prosecutors are using their help to build cases against other prominent politicians and businesspeople.

Hawaii The Kealoha Corruption Case Cost These Two Investigators More Than Their Jobs
Honolulu Civil Beat – Nick Grube | Published: 7/30/2019

Honolulu Ethics Commission Executive Director Chuck Totto and Letha DeCaires, a former police officer who was working for the commission, expected a backlash from their investigation of then-Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, who was a city prosecutor. They were a politically connected power couple that had access to every level of Honolulu law enforcement. There was outside pressure from Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration, and Totto and DeCairs were ousted from their jobs after their commission, which was supposed to support their review of the Kealohas, turned on them. They also faced a lawsuit that targeted them both professionally and personally.

Illinois How Will Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Ethics Rules Affect Aldermen Like Edward Burke? It’s Not Entirely Clear.
Chicago Tribune – Gregory Pratt, John Byrne, and Juan Perez, Jr. | Published: 7/26/2019

The ethics ordinance passed by the city council recently that further restricts the outside work aldermen can do was seen as a signature win for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s reform agenda. But it is not yet clear how the ordinance will play out or how the new limits on private employment will affect aldermen like Edward Burke, who has long had a lucrative sideline as a property tax attorney. One question that might need to be addressed is whether council members like Burke, whose involvement with a law firm largely prompted the provision, need to fully divest themselves of their ownership stake in their firm, or whether they could comply with the law by not working on cases that create conflicts with the city and also refrain from taking money from the firm’s work on those cases.

Illinois Politically Connected Ex-Teamsters Boss Pleads Guilty to Extorting Chicago Film Studio, Agrees to Cooperate
Chicago Tribune – Jason Meisner | Published: 7/30/2019

Longtime Chicago union boss John Coli Sr. does not seem like the type to cooperate with authorities. A politically connected fixture in the Teamsters, has dodged controversy for years, from suspicious appointments to state boards to allegations of organized crime ties, often accusing his accusers of using overzealous investigative tactics. But In pleading guilty to corruption charges stemming from an extortion scheme, Coli agreed to cooperate with federal authorities in any ongoing investigations, including “complete and truthful testimony’ in any criminal or civil proceeding. Coli for years used his national position with the Teamsters to hold sway with some of the city and state’s most powerful elected officials.

Iowa Iowa Restrictions on Lawmaker-to-Lobbyist Revolving Door Praised
The Gazette – James Lynch | Published: 7/25/2019

Iowa is being praised for its restrictions to prevent former state lawmakers from becoming lobbyists for two years after leaving office. Overall, Iowa has the best “revolving-door” policy, with a two-year cooling off period that applies to both legislative and executive officials and staff, and broadly prohibits both “lobbying activity” as well as “lobbying contacts” during the waiting period, according to an analysis of state ethics laws by Public Integrity. The restriction on the lawmaker-to-lobbyist transformation was among ethics changes the state Legislature enacted following a 1990s scandal involving the deposit of local government property tax receipts in an investment scheme known as Iowa Trust.

Minnesota Complaint: Corrections official lobbied for husband’s group on state time
Minnesota Public Radio – Briana Bierschbach, Brian Bakst, and Nina Moini | Published: 7/25/2019

A top Minnesota prison official who resigned recently had been under investigation for weeks for allegedly lobbying on behalf of her husband’s nonprofit and for leaking private, internal data, according to newly released records. The redacted investigative documents were released by the Department of Corrections after former Deputy Commissioner Sarah Walker suddenly departed from her post to seek “unique opportunities” at the local and national level. Allegations against Walker include leaking of information about a co-worker’s sexual assault by a corrections employee. Investigators were also looking into concerns that Walker lobbied privately for legislation related to her husband’s nonprofit while on state time.

Missouri Former Missouri Public Safety Director Abused State Contracting Process, Audit Says
Kansas City Star – Crystal Thomas | Published: 7/31/2019

The director of Missouri’s Department of Public Safety under former Gov. Eric Greitens abused the state’s contracting process to award an organization that he was previously affiliated with, according to a state audit. It also found Charles Juden, who served as director from the beginning of 2017 to August of last year, did not claim leave when taking personal trips to Florida to watch the Daytona 500. Before Juden became director, the Missouri Highway Patrol managed fingerprinting technology for local law enforcement agencies at no cost to the state. After he took over, the Missouri Police Chiefs Charitable Foundation was selected to manage the $1.25 million technology contract, at a cost of $58,000. Prior to his appointment, Juden was the foundation’s chairperson, which the audit said posed a “conflict-o- interest.”

Missouri Northwest Plaza Owners Ask Court to Quash Subpoenas in St. Louis County Council Inquiry
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Jeremy Kohler | Published: 7/31/2019

The owners of the former Northwest Plaza shopping center in St. Louis filed a lawsuit seeking to block subpoenas issued to them in an inquiry into the county’s lease for office space at their complex. Robert and P. David Glarner, who own the complex, claimed they should not be forced to defend themselves to the county council at a time when federal prosecutors are investigating whether crimes were committed in their dealings with former County Executive Steve Stenger that resulted in a 20-year lease. If the court does not quash the county subpoena outright, the Glarners claimed, it should wait until the conclusion of the federal investigation. The Glarners’ lawsuit also claims the council’s ethics committee lacked authority to compel their cooperation.

Nebraska Nebraska Lets Legislators Shift from Lawmaking to Lobbying
AP News – Grant Schulte | Published: 7/28/2019

State officials in Nebraska who want to profit off their government experience and connections after leaving office face virtually no obstacles in becoming lobbyists, unlike most other states that bar their leaders from immediately switching role. Nebraska is among seven states with no restrictions on former lawmakers, governors, or other elected officials working to influence their former colleagues, according to the analysis by Public Citizen. The result is clear during the legislative session, when on most days a dozen or so senators-turned-lobbyists gather outside the chamber, ready to talk with lawmakers about bills that could help or hurt their clients.

New Mexico Legislative Leaders Take Command of Campaign Resources
AP News – Morgan Lee | Published: 7/29/2019

New rules for funneling resources toward political races in New Mexico may provide legislative leaders and political parties with a stronger hand in influencing the outcomes of elections, as Democrats assert their control over the Legislature and key statewide elected offices. The Democratic House speaker and Republican minority leader registered specialized political committees that can command vast resources and make unlimited non-cash contributions to campaigns. The so-called “legislative caucus committees” can collect five times as much cash per donor as other New Mexico political committees.

New York A Luxury Box at Citi Field, an M.T.A. Contract and $188,000 for Cuomo
New York Times – Emma Fitzsimmons, J. David Goodman, and Augustin Armendarez | Published: 7/28/2019

Since New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office in 2011, his campaigns have received more than $3 million from Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) contractors and industry groups that represent them. New York does not limit contributions from contractors that do business with state entities. Donors with ties to the MTA, including board members, their employers, and transit unions, have given another $1.5 million. There is no evidence the MTA awarded contracts as a reward to Cuomo’s donors, but people in the industry see political contributions as important for their business.

New York Abuse Victim’s 3 Billboards Called for Stronger Laws. Then the State Showed Up.
New York Times – Vivian Wang | Published: 7/31/2019

The New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) is investigating Kat Sullivan, a sexual abuse survivor, for allegedly lobbying while she was not registered. She took out a billboard ad near the Capitol urging lawmakers to pass the Child Victims Act and set up a website on the issue. Sullivan believed she was using her own time and money to make her voice as an abuse survivor heard. She was shocked when JCOPE afterward told her she faced a fine of more than $40,000 if she did not register. Sullivan’s case is unusual; few unpaid advocates spend more than $5,000 on an issue, the annual threshold for registering in the state. It also illuminates a larger dilemma facing lawmakers across the country: who counts as a lobbyist in the age of social media and renewed grassroots involvement, when it is easier than ever for people to make themselves heard?

New York Potential Conflicts of Interest the Real Reason Lhota Left the MTA
Politico – Dana Rubenstein | Published: 7/30/2019

When Joe Lhota, the embattled chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, resigned last fall, he and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo omitted the real reason for the departure. While Cuomo and Lhota painted the resignation as a natural development in what was always intended to be a limited engagement, Lhota actually quit because the Joint Commission on Public Ethics had deemed him too burdened by potential conflicts-of-interest to continue serving as the head of the country’s biggest transit network. The cause of Lhota’s departure emerged in his resignation letter, which the governor’s office initially declined to provide under the state’s public information law.

North Carolina Bladen County Political Operative Faces New Perjury, Obstruction of Justice Charges
Raleigh News and Observer – Carli Brosseau, Josh Shaffer, Dan Kane, and Will Doran | Published: 7/30/2019

Leslie McCrae Dowless, a Republican political operative who worked for former congressional candidate Mark Harris, faces felony charges in connection with the 2018 general election in North Carolina. Dowless was previously indicted on charges related to an absentee ballot harvesting operation he allegedly ran in 2016 and during the 2018 primary. North Carolina law allows volunteers and campaign workers to collect absentee ballot request forms, but not the ballots themselves. According to the most recent indictment, Dowless directed his workers to pick up ballots and sometimes to indicate falsely with a signature that they had watched the person cast their vote.

North Carolina NC Elections Board Chairman Resigns, Apologizes Following Sexist Joke at Convention
Raleigh News and Observer – Will Doran | Published: 7/30/2019

State Board of Elections Chairperson Bob Cordle resigned following reports about a joke he made at a conference with hundreds of elections officials from across North Carolina. Cordle told a lengthy joke about women, sex, and cows that many in the audience found inappropriate. His current tenure on the board has been short but eventful, as it faced issues involving election fraud and voting machines. The board also dismissed the elections director and replaced her.

Oklahoma Lawmaker’s Firm Reaps Payment to Help Throw Speaker’s Ball
Oklahoma Watch – Trevor Brown | Published: 7/26/2019

A company headed by a Republican House member was paid tens of thousands of dollars to help throw a lavish party in honor of Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall, raising conflict-of-interest questions. An Oklahoma Ethics Commission filing shows Poligram, an event planning and management firm founded and run by state Rep. Mike Osburn, was paid $40,000 in operating expenses related to planning the 2019 Oklahoma Speaker’s Ball. The event traditionally attracts lawmakers, lobbyists, business leaders and advocates as they prepare to kick off the legislative session each year. Minority Floor Leader David Perryman said privately funded events that benefit politicians are “rife with the potential for political favor and influence.”

Pennsylvania Longest-Serving Philly Sheriff Is Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison for $675K Bribery Scheme
Philadelphia Inquirer – Craig McCoy | Published: 8/1/2019

Former Philadelphia Sheriff John Green was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to selling his office for more than $675,000 in benefits, ranging from a secret job for his wife to a renovated and price-reduced home to hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions. Prosecutors, who brought a sweeping indictment against Green in 2015, said he essentially had sold the office to secret benefactor James Davis, who Green rewarded with $35 million in contracts to advertise and run the office’s foreclosed property sales, often with nothing in writing. In return, Davis plied the sheriff with bribes and illegal campaign contributions.

Rhode Island Aponte Pleads No Contest to Embezzlement, Must Resign from City Council
Providence Journal – Katie Mulvaney | Published: 7/29/2019

Providence City Councilperson Luis Aponte admitted to embezzling $13,942 from his campaign account and, in doing so, agreed to resign. He must also file outstanding campaign finance reports within 60 days. Prosecutors said Aponte used the money to pay for personal expenses such as Netflix and XBox Live, iTunes, and cable bills. Councilperson David Salvatore called on his colleagues to pass an ordinance tightening ethics requirements and prohibiting indicted people from holding leadership positions. He noted that Aponte ran for reelection in 2018 while under indictment.

Texas ‘They Will Have to Resign’: Texas lawmakers allege House Speaker said he’d pull credentials from media outlet
Dallas News – Lauren McGaughy and James Barragan | Published: 8/1/2019

State lawmakers who listened to a conversation that a conservative activist secretly recorded with top GOP leadership said Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen suggested he would take floor access away from a credentialed media outlet. Reps. Jonathan Stickland, Steve Toth, and Travis Clardy said they listened to the audio of the meeting between Bonnen, House Republican Caucus Chairperson Dustin Burrows, and Michael Quinn Sullivan of Empower Texans, a group that targets GOP lawmakers it deems not conservative enough. Bonnen said he could strip media credentials from Scott Braddock, editor of the Quorum Report, and give media access to Empower Texans’ writers at its website, the lawmakers said. Sullivan had previously alleged the credentials were offered if Empower Texans agreed to target a list of 10 Republicans the speaker wanted ousted.

Wisconsin A Wisconsin Lawmaker Who’s Paralyzed Isn’t Allowed to Call into Meetings; He Says That Keeps Him from Doing His Job
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Patrick Marley | Published: 7/29/2019

Republicans who control the Wisconsin Assembly will not allow a paralyzed Democratic lawmaker who is in a wheelchair to phone into committee meetings. Rep. Jimmy Anderson said enforcing the rule keeps him from performing his job as well as he should. He said the rule discriminates against him because he has difficulty getting to some meetings because of health reasons. “I think it’s disrespectful for someone to be asking questions over a microphone or a speakerphone when individuals are actually taking the time out of their day to come and testify in person,” Speaker Robin Vos said. Anderson said he is considering suing if Assembly leaders do not change their stance. He is researching whether he would qualify as an employee under the Americans with Disabilities Act since he is a lawmaker, not an employee.

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