February 14, 2020 •
News You Can Use Digest – February 14, 2020
Business Groups Try to Avoid Partisan Crossfire
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 2/11/2020
Business groups are facing a new challenge as they look to advance their agendas in an increasingly polarized Washington and ahead of a contentious presidential election. K Street had expectations for some bipartisan actions in 2020, but those hopes are on hold after the feud between President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a turn for the worse at the State of the Union address. Now businesses and their lobbyists are worried about being drawn into the political crossfire. That is likely to prove even more difficult this year. Businesses already have a complicated relationship with Trump over his trade wars and with Democrats, whose presidential candidates are targeting many industries. One Republican lobbyist said the fresh turmoil in Washington is unnerving businesses.
Individual Members of Congress Can’t Sue Trump Over Business Dealings, Court Rules
Anchorage Daily News – Ann Marimow and Jonathan O’Connell (Washington Post) | Published: 2/7/2020
Individual members of Congress cannot sue President Trump to stop his private businesses from accepting payments from foreign governments. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously dismissed a lawsuit filed by more than 200 Democrats in Congress seeking to enforce the Constitution’s anti-corruption emoluments provision. Justice Department lawyers defending the president said the ban refers narrowly to compensation in exchange for official action or in an employment-type relationship and does not broadly include any profit, gain, or advantage.
Political App Faces Legal Challenge Over Donation Reveals
Forbes – John Scott Lewinski | Published: 2/11/2020
An app and web service designed to peer inside the world of corporate campaign finance is catching the ire of companies who would rather not share such information publicly. Goods Unite Us makes public who gives how much to whom on an industry-wide level. The user can view various scores on how much a brand invests on the left or right. The best numbers are reserved for firms that stays out of the fray entirely as the app’s creators would like to see dollars from public firms step out of politics in favor of individual donations. Clothing retailer Chico’s hired the national law firm of Arent Fox to send a legal request that changes be made to the Goods Unite Us data and reports.
Prosecutors Quit Amid Escalating Justice Dept. Fight Over Roger Stone’s Prison Term
Stamford Advocate – Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett, Ann Marimow, and Spencer Hsu (Washington Post) | Published: 2/11/2020
The entire prosecutorial team on Roger Stone’s case resigned after the Department of Justice asked a federal court to reduce the seven-to nine-year prison sentence the lawyers had initially recommended, sparking new questions about potential White House interference. In an extraordinary decision overruling career lawyers, the department recommended an unspecified term of incarceration for Stone. The move coincided with President Trump’s declaration on Twitter that the government was treating Stone too harshly. Stone has been a friend and adviser to Trump since the 1980s. His was the last conviction secured by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Secret Service Has Paid Rates as High as $650 a Night for Rooms at Trump’s Properties
Stamford Advocate – David Fahrenthold, Jonathan O’Connell, Carol Leonnig, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 2/7/2020
Secret Service personnel traveling with President Trump to his private properties pay rates as high at $650 per night for lodging. Records show more than $471,000 in such payments from taxpayers to Trump’s business between January 207 and April 2018. The full extent of the spending is not known. The Secret Service has not listed the payments in public databases, as is usually required for expenditures over $10,000. Instead, documents have come out piecemeal through public records requests. These payments appear to contradict the Trump Organization’s own statements about what it charges members of his government entourage. “If my father travels, they stay at our properties for free – meaning, like, cost for housekeeping,” Eric Trump said in 2019.
The Bloomberg Campaign Is a Waterfall of Cash
The World News – Rebecca Ruiz (New York Times) | Published: 2/13/2020
Michael Bloomberg, the multibillionaire behind Bloomberg LP, has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into his campaign for president, paying to make his voice omnipresent on television and radio. He has deployed his corporation in service of his campaign, reassigning employees from the various arms of his empire and recruiting new ones with powerful financial incentives, including full benefits and salaries well above national campaign norms. In under 12 weeks, Bloomberg’s operation has grown to a staff of thousands, with more than 125 offices around the country and a roster of slick events. Such spending has helped make Bloomberg an increasingly strong contender in the Democratic primary.
Trump’s Rhetoric Has Changed the Way Hundreds of Kids Are Bullied in Classrooms
MSN – Hannah Natanson, John Woodrow Cox, and Perry Stein (Washington Post) | Published: 2/13/2020
Since Donald Trump’s rise to the nation’s highest office, his inflammatory language, often condemned as racist and xenophobic, has seeped into schools across America. Many bullies now target other children differently than they used to, with kids as young as six mimicking the president’s insults and the cruel way he delivers them. Trump’s words, those chanted by his followers at campaign rallies, and even his last name have been wielded by students and school staff members to harass children more than 300 times since 2016, a Washington Post review of 28,000 news stories found. At least three-quarters of the attacks were directed at kids who are Hispanic, black, or Muslim. Although many hateful episodes garnered coverage just after the election, The Post found Trump-connected persecution of children has never stopped.
When Your Doctor Is Also a Lobbyist: Inside the war over surprise medical bills
Kaiser Health News – Rachana Pradhan | Published: 2/11/2020
Federal lawmakers are grappling over several approaches to curtail the practice of surprise medical billings, which can leave patients on the hook for huge costs, even if they have insurance. As it has emerged as a hot-button issue for voters, doctors, hospitals, and insurers have been lobbying to protect their own money flows. Television and internet ads are the most visible manifestation of the battle. But in taking their cause to politicians, physicians have waged an on-the-ground stealth campaign to win over members of Congress. Their professional credentials give them a kind of gravitas compared with other lobbyists.
Canada – Federal Court of Appeal Dismisses Challenges of Ethics, Lobbying Commissioners Appointment
iPolitics.ca – Marco Vigliotti | Published: 2/13/2020
The Federal Court of Appeal dismissed a complaint from a watchdog challenging the government’s appointment of new ethics and lobbying commissioners in Canada. The presiding judges said they were not convinced by Democracy Watch’s arguments that the actions of the governor-in-council in making the appointments were “unreasonable.” Democracy Watch argued the governor-in-council acted inappropriately in naming the commissioners because both offices were actively investigating complaints implicating the government. Democracy Watch said the governor-in-council was inextricably biased in naming the new commissioners as they would ultimately be responsible for ruling on the appropriateness of the actions of officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Arizona Bill Seeks to Tighten Rules on Recall Efforts
Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol News Services) | Published: 2/6/2020
An Arizona Senate committee voted to erect some new hurdles in the path of those seeking to recall state and local elected officials. Senate Bill 1434 adds new requirements for paid circulators and those from other states to first register with the secretary of state. This mirrors changes the Republican-controlled Legislature already imposed on those proposing new laws through initiatives. The legislation also spells out in detail exactly how petitions must be formatted, with language allowing legal challenges if the forms are not in “strict compliance” with those standards.
Arizona – Senate Leaders Not Interested in Investigating Sexual Harassment Allegation Against Ugenti-Rita
Arizona Capitol Times – Julia Shumway | Published: 2/6/2020
Republican leadership in the Arizona Senate has no interest in investigating allegations of sexual harassment made against state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita. Senate Democrats said they hoped Senate President Karen Fann would investigate allegations that Ugenti-Rita sexually harassed a lobbyist in 2016 and threatened the woman in 2018. But Fann and Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray dismissed calls for an investigation in separate interviews and rank-and-file Republicans largely declined to comment. Gray said Democrats can file a complaint if they want. But he warned Democrats to be careful because one of their own members, whom he declined to name, also could be investigated.
California – California Newspaper Asked for Sutter County Concealed Gun Permits. Then the Threats Rolled In.
Sacramento Bee – Ryan Sabalow | Published: 2/10/2020
The San Francisco Chronicle’s request to Sutter County’s sheriff for information about every concealed weapon permit holder in the conservative county set off threats and vitriol – after the sheriff announced he was legally obligated to provide the names. The Chronicle has been forced to increase security at its newsroom and for its reporters. Gun owners across the country are livid, fearing a newspaper in one of America’s most liberal cities wants to “dox” the state’s gun owners by releasing a list of names of people with a concealed-carry weapons permit. The Chronicle says it will use the information to look for trends and ensure the concealed weapons system is not being abused. The blowback is the latest flare-up in tensions between defenders of the Second Amendment and the news institutions protected by the First Amendment.
Colorado – Despite New Transparency Law, State’s Online Lobbying Database Incapable of Basic Search Functions; State Refuses to Provide Data
Colorado Springs Gazette – Evan Wyloge | Published: 2/10/2020
A new Colorado law requires more immediate reporting of lobbyists’ activity. But problems with the online system impede the ability to look up electronic registrations and activity records for some of those required to file the disclosures. Even though the system allows the public to search for lobbyists and activity reports using the name of the client, the search results omit some filings. Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s staff acknowledged the problems, but because of them, the agency’s spokesperson could neither identify who the agency’s own registered lobbyist was in 2017 and 2018, nor locate their activity reports for those years for four days. The agency’s staff estimated the problem affects more than one out of every 25 of the state’s registered lobbyists.
Connecticut – Child Care Would Be Eligible Campaign Expense Under Bill Spurred by Fairfield Mom’s Run for Legislature
Hartford Courant – Amanda Blanco | Published: 2/6/2020
After state election officials rejected a candidate’s request to use her publicly financed election grant to pay for childcare, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont proposed legislation that would allow candidates to be reimbursed for such costs. Under the bill, candidates in the Citizens’ Election Program would be reimbursed for childcare services for any child under age 13 for whom the candidate is the parent or legal guardian. The services must be necessary as a direct result of campaign activity. Clarkson Pereira, who ran for a House seat in 2018, brought the issue to the commission when a lawyer advised her not to use her public campaign funds to hire a babysitter for her young daughter.
Florida – Cutting Backlog by Half, Gov. Ron DeSantis Imposes Ethics Penalties on Gillum, Others; Shirk’s Fate Undecided
Florida Times-Union – Jeff Schweers | Published: 2/12/2020
Gov. Ron DeSantis imposed penalties against 14 public officials for ethics code violations, cutting by half the number of final orders from the Florida Commission on Ethics that had been languishing on his desk. DeSantis’ failure to act had left $50,000 in uncollected civil fines in limbo and public officials not held accountable months and sometimes years after they were found guilty. Among those final orders was a $5,000 fine and public reprimand against his one-time political rival, former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor who lost to DeSantis in 2018. Six months after DeSantis took office, the commission had approved a joint settlement agreement in June with Gillum for accepting gifts from former lobbyist Adam Corey.
Florida – Florida Bar Investigating Ross Spano for Campaign Finance Violations from Irregular Loans
Tampa Bay Times – Steve Contorno | Published: 2/10/2020
U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, already facing a federal probe into his 2018 campaign, may have more trouble on his hands. The Florida Bar is also investigating whether alleged campaign finance violations by Spano ran afoul of the rules of conduct for state lawyers. If they did, Spano could face punishment from the Bar. Spano acknowledges his campaign likely broke the law, but he insists it was a mistake and not malicious. Complaints to the FEC and the Office of Congressional Ethics alleged Spano illegally loaned his campaign $180,000 that was borrowed from two friends. Those loans should have been considered contributions to his campaign and subject to donation limits. In a recent interview, Spano offered a new explanation for why he took the loans: He saw someone else do it.
Illinois – Yanking Out the Chair? Bill Would Strip Criminally Charged Legislators from Key Posts
Chicago Sun-Times – Neal Earley | Published: 2/12/2020
After Illinois Sen. Tom Cullerton was indicted for allegedly embezzling money from the Teamsters, he was removed as chairperson of the Senate Labor Committee. But instead of losing a powerful leadership position and the additional $10,327 stipend that comes with it, Cullerton simply took over as the chair of the Senate’s Veteran Affairs Committee. Hoping to make sure tainted lawmakers truly face the music, state Sen. Melinda Bush introduced a bill that would bar members of the General Assembly who face criminal charges from serving in any leadership or committee positions. The bill would allow the legislative inspector general to issue subpoenas without needing approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission and require reports on current and former lawmakers be made public.
Maine – Company That Studied Grid May Have Had Conflict of Interest
Associated Press – Staff | Published: 2/12/2020
A company paid $500,000 by Maine regulators to study the state’s electric grid may have been ineligible to receive the contract based on conflict-of-interest rules. London Economics International was the winning bidder on the study and was tasked with evaluating the pros and cons of converting Maine’s two investor-owned electric utilities, Central Maine Power and Emera Maine, to consumer ownership. To avoid any conflicts, the Maine Public Utilities Commission said any firm that had worked for either utility in the past five years would be ineligible. But London Economics International was paid $37,000 for work done for Emera in 2018.
Maine – Tangled Web of Campaign Cash Connects Hawaii to Maine
Honolulu Civil Beat – Nick Grube | Published: 2/7/2020
Navatek LLC, a Honolulu-based company that received an $8 million contract for defense work in Maine, appears to be linked to a mysterious campaign donation made to a super PAC backing U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in her bid for re-election. That donation, which came through another Hawaii based entity, the Society of Young Women Scientist and Engineers LLC, is now the subject of an official complaint before the FEC. The Campaign Legal Center says the $150,000 donation appears to be illegal, in part because there is no record of the Society of Young Women Scientist and Engineers having legitimate income. Instead, the watchdog argued, it appears the company was set up as a “dark money” front to mask the true identity of the donor to a pro-Collins super PAC.
Maryland – More Baltimore Women Running for City Council, Mirroring National Trend: ‘We sure can’t go backward’
Baltimore Sun – Talia Richman | Published: 2/12/2020
The national wave of women running for public office following President Trump’s election has hit Baltimore with almost 20 women running for city council in the Democratic primary, waging campaigns in a majority of districts. There has been a surge in women holding public office across the region over the past two years. The seven-member Anne Arundel County Council flipped in 2018 from all-male to majority female, and women now outnumber men in Howard County, as well. Prince George’s County elected its first female executive and Carroll County choose a woman to sit on its Circuit Court bench for the first time.
Maryland – The Lobbyist for a Baltimore County Project Happens to Be the County Executive’s Father. A ‘Clear Line’ Prevents Conflict, They Say.
Baltimore Sun – Pamela Wood and Wilborn Nobles III | Published: 2/7/2020
The owner of a historic industrial property in Middle River, Maryland, is getting help with his redevelopment efforts from a lobbyist who knows plenty about Baltimore County government: John Olszewski Sr., a former county council member who is the father of County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. Olszewski Sr. has been leading Blue Ocean Realty’s efforts to get the General Assembly to approve a tax break for the project, which would turn a warehouse into a sports, entertainment, and retail complex. The arrangement does not appear to violate any ethics laws or restrictions on lobbying, experts say, but it is unusual to have close relatives working as a lobbyist and a top politician.
Mississippi – Auditor: More than $4M stolen from Mississippi welfare funds
AP News – Jeff Amy and Emily Wagster Pettus | Published: 2/7/2020
Mississippi’s state auditor said investigators believe at least $4 million in federal money was stolen by the former head of the state welfare agency and others in the nation’s poorest state. At least $48,000 of that paid for a luxury drug rehabilitation program for a former professional wrestler, according to indictments, which also alleged a politically connected nonprofit administrator and her son took more than $4 million. Federal welfare money was once spent mostly on cash assistance to poor families, but after changes in the 1990s, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families money is given to states in block grants, and states can use the money on other activities meant to help people.
Missouri – Missouri Senate Passes Another Legislative Redistricting Plan for Voters to Consider
KCUR – Jaclyn Driscoll | Published: 2/10/2020
The Missouri Senate approved a ballot item that would change how state legislative districts are drawn, repealing a system approved by voters in 2018. The proposal now heads to the House, where it is almost certain to be approved, and then will head to voters again. They will choose between keeping a system they overwhelmingly passed as Clean Missouri, in which a nonpartisan demographer holds much of the power, or a modified version of the previous system. The new initiative completely bans lobbyist-paid gifts, whereas Clean Missouri lowers the amount to a five-dollar maximum for each one. The measure also lowers contribution limits for state Senate candidates from $2,500 to $2,000.
Missouri – Sinquefield Donated $700,000 to Stenger, Much of It Through a Fire District Nonprofit
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Jacob Barker | Published: 2/9/2020
In October 2018, a campaign committee that was helping then-St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger finance his political efforts reported a $250,000 donation from a nonprofit that supports fire districts. But it did not really come from the fire district nonprofit. It came from Great St. Louis, a nonprofit whose president is an operative for philanthropist and political donor Rex Sinquefield. The true source of the contribution sheds more light on how Sinquefield’s operation was able to funnel approximately $700,000 to Stenger. It also raises questions about why the disclosure was made over a year later, and whether the organizations tried to conceal Sinquefield’s support for Stenger, who pleaded guilty in a “pay-to-play” scheme in May.
Montana – Montana Supreme Court: Political cop wrong to censure regents
Billings Gazette – Tom Lutey | Published: 2/12/2020
The Montana Supreme Court ruled against the state commissioner of political practices for censuring Montana’s Board of Regents. The justices concluded that Commissioner Jeff Mangan erred when concluding the regents were illegally politicking for the six-mill levy during board meetings. The levy is a voter-approved property tax that raises about $20 million a year for Montana’s public universities and colleges. Mangan ruled the regents were public employees who were politicking on government time and using government property to do so. He fined the Regents $3,000. But the state Supreme Court ruled education boards have the right to discuss levies at meetings, and also take public positions on levies.
Nevada – Nevada Democrats Lay Out New Plan for Caucuses, Trying to Alleviate Growing Concerns About the Process
Connecticut Post – Holly Bailey (Washington Post) | Published: 2/11/2020
After scrapping a pair of apps similar to the one that caused chaos in Iowa, the Nevada State Democratic Party said it would use paper ballots and an online check-in process in its presidential caucuses, a plan unlikely to end growing concerns about the coming vote. Party officials outlined several new procedures for early caucusing. Multiple campaign officials have complained about a lack of transparency from the party. Though there have been multiple conference calls between the state party and the campaigns, several Democrats said party officials had been “tight-lipped” and slow to offer specific information about how the state’s ambitious early-voting plan would work without the use of the apps.
New Hampshire – Bernie Sanders Wins New Hampshire Democratic Primary; Buttigieg, Klobuchar Are Top Moderate Candidates
MSN – Matt Viser and Sean Sullivan (Washington Post) | Published: 2/12/2020
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders claimed unchallenged control of the Democratic Party’s left wing with a victory in the New Hampshire presidential primary as two moderates, Pete Buttigieg and a newly surging U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, vied for the opposition mantle in a campaign that has been remade over the past eight days. Sanders and Buttigieg marked their second straight strong showings – they essentially tied in the Iowa caucuses, with Sanders carrying the popular vote and Buttigieg winning a slight edge in delegates. The night brought devastating returns for Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, both of whom appeared to have lost support to Klobuchar and Buttigieg and were not on course to earn any delegates.
New Mexico – The Legislature: A tangled web of relationships and potential conflicts
New Mexico In Depth – Michael Gerstein (Santa Fe New Mexican) | Published: 2/10/2020
In a small state where face-to-face connections are critical and political ties almost inescapable, potential conflicts abound in New Mexico. It is no surprise to learn of state lawmakers who are married to lobbyists, or have lobbyists within their own families, or who regularly vote or even sponsor legislation that would support an industry in which the lawmaker has a personal business interest. “Conflict of interest is built into the New Mexico Legislature by virtue of the fact that it’s a citizens’ Legislature where legislators keep their day jobs,” said former state Sen. Dede Feldman.
New York – Sen. Ortt Seeks Probe of State Police Role in Lobbying Inquiry
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 2/11/2020
State Sen. Robert Ortt is calling for a Senate investigation of the New York State Police’s unusual involvement in a controversial lobbying investigation of activist Kat Sullivan. “It is my hope that our highly-esteemed State Police are not being weaponized to stifle free speech,” Ortt said. A major in the State Police called the owner of the South Albany Airport last September inquiring about a flight flown out of the airport in 2018. Sullivan, an alleged rape victim, had hired the plane to fly over the Capitol, which towed a banner pushing for passage of the Child Victims Act. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) then investigated whether Sullivan had spent more than $5,000 on her efforts, which would require her to register as a lobbyist. The State Police say the call to the airport, as JCOPE was ramping up its inquiry, was made as a “courtesy” to someone at the commission.
North Carolina – NC Senate Leader Phil Berger Made $80,000 Selling His House to a Lobbyist
Raleigh News and Observer – Will Doran | Published: 2/12/2020
North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger sold his townhouse in Raleigh to a lobbyist for an $80,000 profit. Berger was previously the subject of an ethics complaint for paying himself monthly rent for that townhouse with campaign funds. State ethics officials knew ahead of time that this sale was in the works and signed off on it, saying it did not appear to violate ethical rules. But Bob Hall, the former Democracy North Carolina leader who filed the complaint, says it deserves a closer look from a different set of officials. Norma Houston, a legislative ethics expert at the University of North Carolina, said while there is a prohibition against lawmakers taking gifts from lobbyists, state law specifically exempts contracts and other commercial arrangements that are “made in the normal course of business if not made for lobbying.”
Ohio – Ohio’s Most Unlikely Political Hotspot Is a Coffeeshop Nook
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Jeremy Pelzer | Published: 2/7/2020
At the back of a Starbucks in a hotel across the street from the Ohio Statehouse, there is a narrow space that is just large enough to fit three chairs and a small table. But this semi-secluded area is where a surprising amount of government and political business gets done, according to Capitol Square regulars. It is a convenient meeting spot for many politicians and lobbyists. And as it is frowned upon (though not technically illegal) for state lawmakers to accept campaign contributions on public property, they often head across the street from the Statehouse for donors to hand them checks.
Oregon – Should Oregon’s Top Transparency Official Be Independent? Lawmakers Will Decide
Portland Oregonian – Hillary Borrud | Published: 2/9/2020
A bill was introduced to enshrine the independence of Oregon’s public records advocate in law and end the governor’s role in hiring and firing the advocate. The Public Records Advisory Council pitched the idea of shielding the records advocate from the governor’s control last fall. It did so in the wake of news that Gov. Kate Brown’s top lawyer, Misha Isaak, told then-Public Records Advocate Ginger McCall that she reported to him and should vet any public records legislation, policy proposal, or report with the governor’s office before releasing them.
Pennsylvania – PA Government Watchdog Is Working Questionable Side Job with Philly’s New Sheriff
Bily Penn – Max Marin | Published: 2/6/2020
As executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, Micah Sims aids the nonprofit’s mission to “create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest” in the Keystone State. In an unusual arrangement, however, Sims has been moonlighting as a consultant for an elected official in Philadelphia. Unbeknownst to his employers at Common Cause, Sims has been working on the side as a senior advisor to Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal as she sets out to transform the scandal-plagued office left behind by her predecessor. Sims first said his consulting for Bilal was business, then switched to a claim that it was “pro bono” as a favor to a friend. Other potential questions have risen around Sims’ work.
Pennsylvania – Philly Progressives Used to Criticize Weak Campaign Finance Laws. Then They Learned How to Use Them.
Philadelphia Inquirer – Sean Collins Walsh | Published: 2/11/2020
While the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling has primarily benefited Republicans on the federal level, in Philadelphia, it is the progressive left that has best capitalized on the campaign finance decision and other opinions. Liberals have been beating establishment Democrats with the help of outside groups that outspend the candidates themselves. And campaign finance reform is no longer the rallying cry it once was. “It’s an interesting reality to have folks or groups who may decry Citizens United then utilizing the tools that are made available by it,” said Patrick Christmas, policy director for the Committee of Seventy. “But in campaigns, people play to win, and I don’t think that will ever change.”
South Dakota – Concerns Arise That New S.D. Electronic Bill Monitoring System Makes State Government Less Transparent
Keloland – Nick Lowrey (South Dakota News Watch) | Published: 2/9/2020
A new online system for drafting, co-sponsoring, and tracking bills through the South Dakota Legislature has some people concerned that the modernized system has made the legislative process less transparent and removed some of the human element from lawmaking. State officials said the new system was needed to make legislative work more efficient. Jason Hancock, director of the Legislative Research Council, which manages the drafting and flow of proposed laws, said the new workflow system is housed within the Legislature’s website and replaced the old pen-and-paper-based system for drafting, seeking co-sponsors, and amending legislation.
Texas – Local Governments Aren’t Posting Lobbying Records Despite New Law
Texas Monitor – Steve Miller | Published: 2/8/2020
Local governments across Texas are resisting a state law that took effect in September requiring they publicly post their lobbying information on their websites. But the resistance does not appear to be based on opposition to the intent of the new law. Rather, cities, counties, school districts, and other local governments object to the statute’s admittedly murky language and differing reads on what it requires. For the most part, Senate Bill 65 relates to increasing oversight on state agencies’ contracting practices. The posting requirement for lobbying was added via an amendment co-authored by Rep. Mayes Middleton, who tried last session to make it illegal for many local governments to spend money on lobbying.
Washington – Voting by Smartphone in Seattle Pushes the Limits of Electronic Balloting
Washington Post – Jay Greene | Published: 2/11/2020
The failure of an app meant to help tally the results of Iowa’s caucuses led to days of partial and unreliable results. Despite the mess in Iowa, mobile voting has its supporters. Proponents say the technology will boost election participation by making balloting available anywhere voters have phones. It could be helpful for boosting turnout in small elections. Moreover, it could help with the current primary system, which often appeals to voters on the political extremes because they tend to be the most engaged in the process. But mobile voting is prone to cybersecurity breaches just as other forms of election technology are, said Andrew Appel, a computer science professor at Princeton University who studies digital election security.
Washington DC – D.C. Ethics Board Reopens Investigation into Former Lawmaker Jack Evans
Washington Post – Fenit Nirappil | Published: 2/12/2020
The District of Columbia’s ethics board reopened its investigation into former city council member Jack Evans. The revival of the probe raises the possibility of additional penalties for the Evans, who has been the subject of federal investigations and multiple examinations of his private business dealings. Evans resigned from the council days before his colleagues were set to expel him for repeated ethics violations. He then filed to reclaim his old seat and is slated to compete both in the June 2 Democratic primary for a full term starting in 2021 and in the June 16 special election to serve out the remainder of the current term.
Washington DC – D.C. Statehood Bill Advances to House Floor; Likely to Pass for First Time in History
Washington Post – Jenna Portnoy | Published: 2/11/2020
A divided U.S. House committee advanced a District of Columbia statehood bill to the floor for the first time in nearly three decades, bringing advocates closer to their goal of making the nation’s capital the 51st state. The bill has a good chance of passing the House because Democrats have a solid majority and the cause of statehood has become a favorite of Democratic leaders, national civil rights groups, and presidential candidates. But it faces almost certain death in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.
Wisconsin – 81,000 Absentee Voters in Wisconsin to Receive Two Ballots, Raising Concerns About Election Confusion
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Molly Beck | Published: 2/11/2020
Tens of thousands of Wisconsin absentee voters will soon receive not one but two ballots to use in the spring election, laying the groundwork for potential confusion among the voters who receive them. Under federal law, absentee ballots for the April 7 presidential primary must go out on February 20, or two days after the February 18 primary for state and local races. That means there is no way to get a complete ballot to absentee voters that includes candidates who advance through the February 18 primary election without violating state law. Election officials’ solution is to send two ballots: One will be labeled by the letter “A” and will include just presidential candidates. A second “B” ballot will be mailed in March, after spring primary election results are certified. The B ballot will include presidential candidates and candidates competing in state and local races.
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