News You Can Use Digest - February 21, 2020 - State and Federal Communications

February 21, 2020  •  

News You Can Use Digest – February 21, 2020


Bloomberg Would Sell Business Interests If Elected President
AP News – Kathleen Ronayne | Published: 2/19/2020

Michael Bloomberg would sell the financial data and media company he created if he is elected president, adviser Tim O’Brien said. The former New York City mayor would put Bloomberg LP into a blind trust, and the trustee would then sell the company, O’Brien said. Proceeds from the sale would go to Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable giving arm that funds causes from climate change to public health and grants for American cities. The only restriction Bloomberg would put on the sale is that it not be sold to a foreign buyer or a private equity company, O’Brien said. Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, said such an action would need to follow complex rules and be approved by the ethics office.

Bloomberg’s Meme Spree Prompts Changes in Facebook, Instagram Rules
Politico – Nancy Scola | Published: 2/14/2020

Presidential contender Michael Bloomberg’s spree of often-surreal social media memes is having one concrete impact – it prompted Facebook to make another change in its rules for paid political content. From now on, Facebook and its Instagram subsidiary will allow “branded content” from candidates, a practice in which a campaign pays so-called influencers to place supportive posts on their accounts. Previously, a Facebook spokesperson said, the platforms had banned such content from politicians by default. Under the new rules, the content will have to be clearly marked as sponsored.

Buttigieg and Super PAC Improperly Coordinated on Nevada Ads, Watchdog Group Says
Greenwich Time – Michelle Ye Hee Lee (Washington Post) | Published: 2/18/2020

The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint alleging the presidential campaign of Pete Buttigieg improperly coordinated with VoteVets, a super PAC supporting the campaign of the former mayor of South Bend. The watchdog alleged Buttigieg’s campaign improperly accepted more than $639,000 in contributions, in violation of federal rules barring candidates from coordinating with independent groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. The complaint filed with the FEC centers on a tweet by Buttigieg senior strategist Michael Halle analyzing the strengths of a particular campaign message in Nevada, and a subsequent ad campaign in that state by VoteVets that appeared to follow the strategy outlined in the tweet.

DOJ Drops Probe into Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 2/14/2020

The Justice Department abandoned its efforts to seek criminal charges against former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. His lawyers were told last September that he should expect to be indicted on charges stemming from inaccurate statements he made to FBI investigators about his actions around the time of the 2016 election. But no indictment was ever returned, leading to speculation that the grand jury probing the matter took the rare step of rejecting charges. The confirmation of a formal end to the criminal investigation into McCabe’s conduct came amid a highly public tug-of-war between President Trump and the Justice Department over the handling of cases and investigations he has taken a keen interest in.

Mike Bloomberg for Years Has Battled Women’s Allegations of Profane, Sexist Comments
MSN – Michael Kranish (Washington Post) | Published: 2/15/2020

Several lawsuits have been filed over the years alleging women were discriminated against at Michael Bloomberg’s business-information company. While allegations about Bloomberg’s comments and treatment of women have received notice over the years, a review by The Washington Post of thousands of pages of court documents and interviews with witnesses underscores how Bloomberg and his company have fought the claims. As Bloomberg is increasingly viewed as a viable Democratic candidate for president and the #MeToo era has raised the profile of workplace harassment, he is finding his efforts to prevent disclosure are clashing against demands he release former employees and complainants from their nondisclosure agreements.

Political Ads Are Flooding Hulu, Roku and Other Streaming Services, Revealing Loopholes in Federal Election Laws
Washington Post – Tony Romm | Published: 2/20/2020

Four years after Russian agents exploited popular online platforms to push propaganda, sow unrest, and promote Donald Trump’s candidacy, the U.S. government has made virtually no progress on bringing more transparency to paid political speech. The risks remain high that voters could be duped by candidates, advocacy groups, and foreign governments – particularly online, where major regulatory gaps exist. Campaign finance experts say they are especially concerned about video-streaming services at a moment when more Americans are shifting their viewing habits from cable to the Web. Politicians have followed people online, and over the past year, their ads have appeared on popular platforms such as Roku. But nothing requires these fast-growing digital providers to disclose whom these ads targeted and who viewed them.

President Pardons Ex-GSA, OMB Official
Government Executive – Tom Shoop | Published: 2/18/2020

The series of pardons that President Trump issued on February 18 included one for David Safavian, a top official at the General Services Administration (GSA) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) during the George W. Bush administration. Safavian served time in federal prison for lying about his dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff in a high-profile scandal. Safavian was convicted on four counts relating to a golf trip he took with Abramoff to Scotland in 2002. The former head of federal procurement policy at OMB was found guilty of obstructing a GSA investigation, lying on a financial disclosure form, and two counts of making false statements.

Roger Stone Sentenced to 40 Months for Lying to Congress, Witness Tampering Amid Turmoil Between Justice Dept. and Trump on Penalty
MSN – Rachel Weiner, Matt Zapotosky, and Tom Jackman (Washington Post) | Published: 2/20/2020

Roger Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison for obstructing a congressional inquiry in a bid to protect President Trump. The penalty from U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson comes after weeks of infighting over the politically charged case that threw the Justice Department into crisis, and it is likely not to be the final word. Even before the sentencing hearing began, Trump seemed to suggest on Twitter he might pardon Stone, who was convicted on seven counts of lying to Congress and tampering with a witness about his efforts to learn about hacked emails related to Hillary Clinton. Stone was the sixth Trump associate convicted and the last person indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Rohrabacher Confirms He Offered Trump Pardon to Assange for Proof Russia Didn’t Hack DNC Email
Yahoo News – Michael Isikoff | Published: 2/20/2020

Former U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher confirmed that during a three-hour meeting at the Ecuadorian Embassy in August 2017, he told Julian Assange he would get President Trump to give him a pardon if he turned over information proving the Russians had not been the source of internal Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails published by WikiLeaks. In an interview with Yahoo News, Rohrabacher said his goal during the meeting was to find proof for a widely debunked conspiracy theory: that WikiLeaks’ real source for the DNC emails was not Russian intelligence agents, as U.S. officials have since concluded, but former DNC staffer Seth Rich, who was murdered in July 2016 in what police believe was a botched robbery. A lawyer for Assange cited the pardon offer during a court hearing on the U.S. government’s request to extradite the WikiLeaks founder.

Trump Campaign Hires Alum of Controversial Data Company
Politico – Alex Isenstadt | Published: 2/19/2020

President Trump’s campaign is bringing on an alumnus of the data firm Cambridge Analytica, a move likely to raise alarms among Trump critics and data privacy advocates who worry the president will push the technological envelope to get reelected in 2020. Matt Oczkowski, who served as head of product at Cambridge before it went bankrupt and shut down, is helping oversee the Trump campaign’s data program. Cambridge gained notoriety for its work on psychological voter profiling and because it allegedly improperly obtained the personal information of tens of millions of Facebook users. Trump aides have denied they used Cambridge’s Facebook data in 2016 and say they will not in 2020, either. They insist they have no interest in using psychographic voter targeting. But that has not allayed fears among Democrats that the president will resort to online dirty tricks to win another term.

Trump Commutes Former Illinois Gov. Blagojevich’s Sentence
AP News – Michael Tarm | Published: 2/18/2020

President Donald Trump commuted the 14-year prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted in a wide-ranging political corruption case just months after he appeared on Trump’s reality television show. Blagojevich’s conviction was notable, even in a state where four of the last 10 governors have gone to prison  for corruption. Judge James Zagel, who sentenced Blagojevich to the longest prison term yet for an Illinois politician, said when a governor “goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured.” He was originally convicted on 18 counts, including lying to the FBI, trying to trade an appointment to a U.S. Senate seat for contributions and attempting to extort a children’s hospital executive. An appeals court tossed five of the convictions.

Why Corporate PACs Have an Advantage
Center for Responsive Politics – Karl Evers-Hillstrom | Published: 2/14/2020

To increase their clout in Washington, D.C., corporations and trade associations often use affiliated PACs to boost the campaigns of candidates. Corporations themselves cannot give directly to traditional PACs, candidates, or parties. But they are allowed to cover almost all expenses incurred by their affiliated PAC, including staff salaries, fundraising expenses, and administrative costs. And corporations may spend their treasury funds to create incentives for their employees to fund the PAC. Grassroots political organizations say the current rules create an uneven playing field in the world of PAC giving. By paying for PAC expenses with corporate funds, these companies can maximize their political giving. Issue-focused PACs, on the other hand, must spend donors’ money to pay for salaries and hefty fundraising fees.


Canada Remicade Maker Janssen Recruits Former Doug Ford Adviser as Lobbyist
The Globe and Mail – Jill Mahoney and Kelly Grant | Published: 2/17/2020

A former top policy adviser to Ontario Premier Doug Ford registered as a lobbyist for a pharmaceutical company that is trying to persuade the provincial government to keep funding the country’s most lucrative drug. Greg Harrington, who played a senior role on government health policy, registered as a lobbyist for Janssen on January 31. During his time in the premier’s office, Harrington said he met with Janssen officials once or twice over concerns the province would force patients on government-sponsored drug insurance to switch from the company’s drug Remicade to cheaper alternatives called biosimilars. Harrington is the latest in a group of lobbyists with close ties to Ford and his Progressive Conservative Party that Janssen has enlisted.

Canada Stephen McNeil’s Meeting with Premier-Turned-Lobbyist Draws Fire
CBC – Jean Laroche | Published: 2/14/2020

A year ago, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and one of his senior advisers sat down to breakfast at Halifax’s Marriott Harbourfront Hotel with representatives from the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, a gathering arranged and hosted by former Quebec premier and one-time deputy prime minister Jean Charest, who lobbies on the group’s behalf. The private meeting coincided with a national aerospace industry effort called Vision 2025, a campaign Charest noted was part of his lobbying activities on the federal government’s lobbyist registry in November 2018. Although Charest is registered federally, he has not registered as a lobbyist in Nova Scotia.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska State Challenges Ballot Measure That Would Install Ranked-Choice Voting Statewide
Anchorage Daily News – James Brooks | Published: 2/19/2020

State attorneys asked the Alaska Supreme Court to split a proposed election-reform ballot measure into two or more separate votes. If not, Assistant Attorney General Laura Fox said, the justices should rule the measure unconstitutional and prevent it from coming to a vote. Fox’s request came as the justices listened to arguments over the validity of the Better Elections ballot initiative, which would eliminate party-specific primary elections, install ranked-choice voting for general elections, and impose tough new disclosure rules on campaign contributions.

Arizona Migrant-Rights Advocates File Ethics Complaint Against Sen. Eddie Farnsworth After He Cuts Off Testimony
Arizona Republic – Maria Polletta | Published: 2/18/2020

Migrant-rights advocates announced they filed an ethics complaint against Arizona Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, who had them removed from a committee hearing as they protested a controversial immigration measure. Lobbyist Hugo Polanco was testifying at the hearing on behalf of Living United for Change in Arizona, saying the resolution would be “a return to the racism, divisiveness, and hate of [Senate Bill] 1070” when Farnsworth stopped him and told him not to be “vitriolic.” When Polanco insisted the legislation at hand was also “racist, divisive, and hateful,” Farnsworth cut him off. Farnsworth asked security personnel to remove Polanco if he continued to argue and announced the committee was done hearing public comment on the measure. Several members of the group were told they could be arrested and charged with trespassing if they did not leave the hearing voluntarily.

Arizona Republican Lawmaker Files Ethics Complaints After Chaotic Voting Law Hearing at Arizona Legislature
Arizona Republic – Andrew Oxford | Published: 2/19/2020

House Elections Committee Chairperson Kelly Townsend will file an ethics complaint against two Democratic lawmakers after a hearing devolved into a fracas. The hours-long hearing culminated in Townsend attempting to cut off public testimony, throw a speaker out of the committee room, and force a vote on a multifaceted piece of legislation all while Democrats objected and the gallery jeered. Democrats accused Townsend of stifling discussion and public testimony.

Arizona Scandals Reveal Murky Workplace Standards in Legislature
Arizona Capitol Times – Arren Kimbel-Sannit and Julia Shumway | Published: 2/14/2020

Arizona Rep. David Cook and lobbyist AnnaMarie Knorr have said their relationship is proper and platonic, even after love letters Cook wrote to Knorr surfaced. But Cook and Knorr have faced disparate consequences since the story broke. Cook has continued to serve on committees and vote on legislation. Knorr was placed on administrative leave by her employer, the Western Growers’ Association, pending an investigation into whether her relationship with Cook presented ethical violations. That one is on leave while the other remains in the public eye highlights the different standards between the Legislature, where lawmakers have balked at adopting a code of conduct,  and private sector firms, where experts say written expectations on proper interpersonal relationships are ubiquitous.

California Gift SF Mayor Breed Received from Mohammed Nuru May Have Violated City Law
KQED – Scott Shafer | Published: 2/14/2020

San Francisco Mayor London Breed acknowledged not only having a past romantic relationship with disgraced former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, but also accepting a $5,600 gift from him for car repairs. While the California Fair Political Practices Commission does not require disclosure of gifts “by an individual with whom the official has a long term, close personal friendship unrelated to the official’s position,” Breed said she would voluntarily report the gift on her Statement of Economic Interests form. What Breed did not mention is that the gift she received from Nuru appears to violate city ethics rules.

California Judge Set to OK Bulk of San Francisco Political Ad Disclosure Rules
Courthouse News Service – Nicholas Iovino | Published: 2/14/2020

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer said he will uphold the majority of Proposition F, a San Francisco ordinance that requires print, audio, and video political ads disclose the top three donors who contributed at least $5,000. If one of those donors is a PAC, that committee’s top two donors must also be disclosed. While refusing to block most of the law, Breyer agreed that requiring lengthy disclaimers for small-print and short-length political ads is likely unconstitutional because they would “clearly just overwhelm the message.”

California The New Thing for California Politicians? Sweet Charity
CalMatters – Laurel Rosenhall | Published: 2/17/2020

Nonprofits run by state lawmakers and their staff host fundraisers where lobbyists can mingle at the Disneyland Hotel with politicians, and policy conferences where tech executives can dine with legislators shaping California law on data privacy and the gig economy. While state law caps the amount donors can give to campaigns, contributions to nonprofits are not limited. These groups underwrite charitable work and let public officials help the state or advance causes they care about without using taxpayer money. But unlike campaign accounts, they often offer a tax break and can raise unlimited sums from special interests, with fewer disclosure requirements. Experts say the practice has become an increasingly common way for politicians to raise and spend money outside the limits even of California’s tough regulations.

Florida Florida Loses Appeals Court Ruling on Felon Voting Law
Politico – Gary Fineout | Published: 2/19/2020

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Florida law limiting the voting rights of people with felony convictions was unconstitutional. The judges upheld a lower court decision that found the state could not deny ex-felons the right to vote just because they cannot afford to pay outstanding court fines, fees, and restitution, as required by the 2019 law. The ruling said the law violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

Illinois Aldermen Relied on a Study to Approve $1.3 Billion for Sterling Bay’s Lincoln Yards. Turns Out That Sterling Bay Hired the Consultant Who Wrote It.
Chicago Tribune – Hal Dardick | Published: 2/18/2020

Key to the $1.3 billion taxpayer subsidy for the Lincoln Yards development in Chicago was a report declaring the project met the requirements to get the money. As Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration promoted the record tax increment financing (TIF) deal at a public meeting, a planning official introduced the author of that report as “the city’s TIF consultant.” What the administration and consultant did not tell the crowd was that developer Sterling Bay had both picked the consultant and paid the firm. That consultant also had been retained by a Sterling Bay subsidiary to lobby City Hall on the final terms of the Lincoln Yards agreement. Experts say such arrangements pose obvious conflicts, given that the consultants who certify such projects are being paid by the very developers who are seeking approval for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Illinois Aldermen Tighten Reins on Outside Jobs for City Employees
WBBM – Staff | Published: 2/19/2020

The Chicago City Council is placing new limits on side jobs for some city employees, closing a loophole that allowed them to work for private contractors who have government deals they oversee. The ordinance that was approved would prohibit any city official or employee with contract oversight from working for subcontractors or consultants on any contract they manage as part of their government job.

Indiana Lawmaker Wants to Deregulate Wetlands. Her Family Once Was Cited for Bulldozing Them.
Indianapolis Star – Chris Sikich | Published: 2/17/2020

Environmental advocates are worried a bill that would prevent the state from protecting certain wetlands will lead to more flooding, less clean water, and the loss of wildlife in Indiana. But it is not just what the bill would do that has drawn criticism. Good government experts are also expressing concern over the appropriateness of who is authoring the legislation. Sen. Victoria Spartz wrote Senate Bill 229, which removes state oversight of certain wetlands near what are called regulated drains. Spartz  has her own complicated history with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s regulation of wetlands, one she did not disclose as the bill has moved through the Legislature.

Kentucky Prosecutors Contend Lexington Executive Lied About Campaign Donations as Trial Opens
Lexington Herald-Leader – Beth Musgrave | Published: 2/18/2020

Federal prosecutors told a jury that a Lexington real estate executive went to great lengths to cover up his scheme to funnel money to co-workers and family members, who allegedly used the money to make illegal donations to candidates for city government two years ago. Timothy Wellman, an executive with CRM Companies, told co-workers to lie to FBI agents and a federal grand jury, and created false documents to cover up where money for those campaign contributions came from, prosecutors said. Kent Wicker, Wellman’s lawyer, said Wellman often loans money to people without asking to be repaid and contends a disgruntled businesses competitor hired a law firm to investigate him and spread unfounded rumors.

Maine Latest Resignation Leaves Maine Ethics Panel with Only 3 of 5 Seats Filled
Portland Press Herald – Scott Thistle | Published: 2/14/2020

A Republican member of Maine’s ethics commission has stepped down, leaving the panel with just three of the five members it is authorized to have as the state heads into the 2020 election cycle. Bradford Pattershall is running for a state Senate seat and by law cannot also serve on the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. Although the commission often reaches consensus in its findings, Chairperson William Lee III raised concerns about a depleted membership even before Pattershall’s resignation. Lee warned in November that an understaffed commission could leave it unable to do its job.

Massachusetts State Representative David Nangle Arrested on Charges of Using Campaign Funds to Fuel Alleged Gambling at Area Casinos
Boston Globe – Tonya Alanez and Travis Anderson | Published: 2/18/2020

Massachusetts Rep. David Nangle, who sits on the House Committee on Ethics, was arrested on federal charges alleging he raided his campaign account to pay personal expenses and sustain his casino gambling habit. An indictment says Nangle used his campaign fund to pay thousands of dollars in Lowell Golf Club dues and personal charges; rental cars for casino travel; flowers for his girlfriend; gas, hotel, and restaurant charges that he had already received state reimbursement for; gift cards for personal use; and cash withdrawals.

Michigan Ballot Language Approved for Proposal to ‘Change the Culture’ of Lobbying in Michigan – Malachi Barrett | Published: 2/19/2020

Supporters of a ballot initiative to regulate how lobbyists in Michigan interact with lawmakers hope to start collecting signatures by the March 10 presidential primary following approval of a summary of the measure from a state board. Republicans expressed concerns that the language did not reflect how the proposal regulates the speech of Michigan residents. Board member Norm Shinkle also questioned whether the proposal is overly broad, saying it would apply to many obscure state boards and commissions. Former state Democratic Party Chairperson Mark Brewer argued Michiganders have a right to know whenever a lobbyist tries to contact a public official.

Michigan Ex-Detroit Metro Official Sentenced to 10 Years for Bribery
Detroit News – Robert Snell | Published: 2/5/2020

James Warner, a former Detroit Metropolitan Airport supervisor convicted of receiving more than $6 million in bribes – the third-largest amount in U.S. history – was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Prosecutors say he steered $43.7 million worth of airport contracts to three co-conspirators in return for the kickbacks. At one dinner, Warner and Gary Tenaglia, a contractor who was sentenced to 14 months in prison, discussed contracts and kickbacks, prosecutors said. “During the meal, James Warner wrote ‘5k,’ a proposed kickback amount, on a napkin,” prosecutors wrote in the indictment. “He folded it and slid it across the table to Gary Tenaglia. After Gary Tenaglia acknowledged the meaning of the writing on the napkin, James Warner retrieved the napkin and ate it.”

Missouri ‘No Evidence of Any Wrongdoing’: Eric Greitens fined $178,000 by ethics commission
Kansas City Star – Jason Hancock | Published: 2/13/2020

Former Gov. Eric Greitens was fined $178,000 by the Missouri Ethics Commission for two campaign finance violations, while a host of other allegations contained in a complaint filed shortly after he resigned from office in 2018 were dismissed. The commission said in a consent decree released that while there were reasonable grounds to believe Greitens’ campaign broke Missouri law, its investigation “found no evidence of any wrongdoing on part of Eric Greitens, individually, and no evidence Gov. Greitens knew” about any violations. If Greitens pays $38,000 of the fine and commits no more violations, the rest would be forgiven.

New Hampshire Legislature Considers Whether to Tighten Its Own Conflict of Interest Rules
New Hampshire Public Radio – Casey McDermott | Published: 2/19/2020

Responding to a pair of high-profile ethics cases that highlighted the lack of clear restrictions on conflicts-of-interest at the statehouse, New Hampshire lawmakers are weighing how best to balance their role as citizen legislators with a desire to prevent politicians from exploiting public office for private gain. One proposal would prevent lawmakers “from introducing legislation, testifying, voting, participating in, or influencing any legislative matter directly related to [their] employment.” A related proposal would require lawmakers to recuse themselves from official legislative activities if someone in their household is being paid by an organization with “a special interest” in that activity.

New Jersey Governor Unveils Broader State Ethics, Transparency Bill
Associated Press – Mike Catalini | Published: 2/19/2020

The Legislature will be subject to the state’s open records law, lobbying registration requirements will be tightened, and bills would not get come to a vote unless they were posted online for at least three days under bipartisan ethics legislation to be introduced in New Jersey. The legislation would require public relations experts and lawyers who are currently exempt to register as lobbyists. It would also lower the threshold for registering as a lobbyist from 20 hours a year lobbying to one hour. Other changes include “zero tolerance” for gifts to lawmakers’ offices.

New York NYC Councilman Andy King Faces New Allegations of Harassment and Misuse of Public Funds
New York Daily News – Anna Sanders | Published: 2/14/2020

New York City Councilperson Andy King faces new ethics charges and calls for expulsion less than four months after the council sanctioned him for past misconduct. He was accused of trying to circumvent an independent monitor the council voted to place in his office after rampant unethical behavior. King was also charged with violating conflict-of-interest rules and the council’s anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy, as well as disorderly conduct and misappropriating public money for his personal benefit.

North Carolina Another Court Blocks NC Voter ID Law, Citing ‘Racially Discriminatory Intent’
Raleigh News and Observer – Will Doran | Published: 2/18/2020

The state’s new voter ID law appears to have been enacted with racially discriminatory intent and will be at least temporarily blocked during the 2020 elections, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday. A federal court has already blocked the voter ID mandate through at least the 2020 primary elections. The most recent decision, in a separate lawsuit in state courts rather than federal courts, could also extend that block until the general election in November. It is now the second court to rule African American voters could be harmed by the way the Republican-Led legislature wrote the law behind the amendment. The activists who sued appear likely to be able to prove “that discriminatory intent was a motivating factor behind” the voter ID law, the judges wrote.

North Carolina Bribery Trial of Megadonor Greg Lindberg Opens with New Details, All-Star Witness List
Raleigh News and Observer – Colin Campbell, Michael Gordon, and Michelle Battaglia | Published: 2/18/2020

As the bribery trial of insurance conglomerate owner and political donor Greg Lindberg gets under way, new details are emerging through court documents and public records about allegations that Lindberg tried to work with the chairperson of the North Carolina Republican Party to bribe the state’s insurance commissioner. Lindberg and two of his business associates, John Gray and John Palermo, were indicted along with then-GOP Chairperson Robin Hayes, who has since taken a plea deal and could testify at the trial. The trio is accused of trying unsuccessfully to bribe Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey with campaign money in exchange for actions favorable to Lindberg’s companies, including the removal of a top Department of Insurance official that Lindberg disliked.

Tennessee Proposal Would Overhaul Blocked Tennessee Voter Signup Law
AP News – Kimberlee Kruesi | Published: 2/19/2020

Tennessee lawmakers introduced a new proposal to amend the state’s legally contentious voter-registration restrictions that are currently blocked from being enforced during the 2020 elections. Last year, Gov. Bill Lee signed legislation that made Tennessee the first state in the country to fine registration groups for turning in too many incomplete signup forms. It also criminalized intentional infractions of other new rules with misdemeanor charges. But the law prompted two lawsuits and sparked national criticism from those who argued the law would suppress efforts to register minorities and other voters.

Texas Donate or Leave: Harris County constable accused of pressuring employees for political contributions
Houston Chronicle – Zach Despart | Published: 2/14/2020

Harris County Precinct 2 Constable Chris Diaz pressured employees to donate to his re-election campaigns and punished those who refused, deputies and civilian staff said. Thirty-eight percent of the $491,000 Diaz has raised since taking office in 2013 has come from Precinct 2 employees or their relatives, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis. Fourteen current and former Precinct 2 employees told The Chronicle that Diaz expected staff to aid his campaign by donating money and items to be auctioned, purchasing supplies for fundraisers, and block walking in the jurisdiction. Three of those former employees are part of a wrongful termination lawsuit against Diaz, who they say reassigned or withheld promotions from deputies and civilian staff who stopped participating.

Vermont Lawmakers Take a Step on Ethics Code, but Enforcement Still a Ways Off – Colin Meyn and Mark Johnson | Published: 2/14/2020

Vermont Senators moved a step closer to creating a code of ethics for state officials and lawmakers but approving that code and giving teeth to an ethics commission created three years ago remain at least a year away. The Government Operations Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 198, which requires the State Ethics Commission to produce a proposed ethics code by November 15, at the latest. That code would then be considered by the Legislature in the next biennium. The bill also asks the commission to present enforcement options. Commission Executive Director Larry Novins worries that including the issue of enforcement, which would inevitably introduce questions of funding, could be used by opponents to derail efforts to get a code passed into law.

West Virginia Death Threats and Illegal Voting: The war over a luxury resort in Harpers Ferry
MSN – Peter Jamison (Washington Post) | Published: 2/16/2020

The strife seizing Harpers Ferry, population 281, cannot compare to the raid by abolitionist John Brown on the eve of the Civil War that made this rural hamlet famous. But the bitter political drama unfolding there easily rivals the one 60 miles away in Washington, D.C. The conflict has spilled far beyond the half-square-mile that constitutes Harpers Ferry. Voting irregularities are being examined by the West Virginia Supreme Court and secretary of state. Lawmakers are debating a bill that would strip this tiny municipality of much of its authority to govern itself, legislation that could dramatically affect other small towns in West Virginia.  Looming over this drama, figuratively and literally, is the ruin of a 130-year-old hotel.

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