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

January 10, 2020  •  

News You Can Use Digest – January 10, 2020


6 Million Democratic Donors Gave $1 Billion in 2019 Through ActBlue, Officials Say
Washington Post – Michelle Ye Hee Lee | Published: 1/9/2020

Democratic small-dollar donors gave $1 billion through the online fundraising platform ActBlue in 2019, highlighting the explosion of online giving on the left heading into the presidential election year. Of the 6 million donors who gave to Democratic candidates and organizations in 2019, half were first-time donors, pointing to the growing base of contributors who are giving online. Forty percent of the new donors gave multiple times, according to ActBlue, in a sign of the new donors’ sustained political interest and engagement. Donors contributing in low increments online gave $343 million in the final three months of 2019.

Bipartisan Group of Campaign Finance Lawyers Urge Leaders to ‘Immediately’ Restore Quorum at Federal Election Commission
MSN – Michelle Ye Hee Lee (Washington Post) | Published: 1/6/2020

A bipartisan group of campaign finance lawyers urged the White House and congressional leaders to “work together and immediately” to restore a voting quorum on the FEC, which cannot monitor compliance with election laws even as presidential primaries begin in February. The agency tasked with regulating federal campaign finance laws has long faced ideological divisions and polarization. But it lost its ability to do its official job after the August 2019 resignation of a commissioner left it to operate for the first time in 11 years without its necessary four-person quorum. While routine administrative work continues, the agency cannot enforce the law, vote on investigations, provide guidance, or conduct audits – activities that are especially crucial and timely for a presidential election.

Bolton Is Willing to Testify in Trump Impeachment Trial, Raising Pressure for Witnesses
MSN – Nicholas Fandos and Michael Schmidt (New York Times) | Published: 1/6/2020

John Bolton, the former White House national security adviser, said he was willing to testify at President Trump’s impeachment trial, putting new pressure on Republicans to call witnesses and raising the possibility of revelations as the Senate weighs Trump’s removal. Bolton’s surprise declaration was a dramatic turn that could alter the political dynamic of the impeachment process in the Senate and raise the risks for Trump of Republican defections. The former national security adviser is a potentially vital witness, with direct knowledge of presidential actions and conversations regarding Ukraine that could fill in blanks in the narrative of the impeachment case.

Duncan Hunter Resigns from Congress
Roll Call – Chris Marquette | Published: 1/7/2020

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter submitted his resignation from Congress, marking the end of an 11-year stint in the House marred by his misuse of campaign funds for a variety of endeavors, including spending money on Lego sets, movie tickets, a $14,000 family vacation to Italy, and flights for his family’s pet rabbit. Hunter said his resignation would be effective January 13. He pleaded guilty to using hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for his own enrichment. Hunter and his wife, Margaret, who also pleaded guilty, illegally converted over $150,000 in campaign funds from 2010 through 2016 to buy goods and services for their own interests, according to the plea agreement. Hunter’s sentencing is scheduled for March 17.

Ex-Tea Party Lawmakers Turn Heads on K Street
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 1/8/2020

A number of prominent former lawmakers associated with the Tea Party Caucus have joined the ranks of K Street in the last year, bringing their small government agendas to the lobbying world. K Street has always been a favored perch for ex-lawmakers, but the recent moves from conservatives are attracting controversy. Tea Party groups and Trump have long run on reining in the influence of special interests and Tea Party lawmakers often clashed with the influence world and a number of prominent industries in high-profile fights. In the Trump era, though, K Street has seen business grow as the Republican president’s agenda has sparked major battles over trade, health care, and taxes. Despite Trump’s vows to challenge Washington, the “revolving door” between K Street and his administration has been busy. For critics, that is a sign that it is business as usual in the nation’s capital.

Facebook Bans Deepfakes, but New Policy May Not Cover Controversial Pelosi Video
MSN – Tony Romm, Drew Harwell, and Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 1/6/2020

Facebook banned users from posting computer-generated, highly manipulated videos, known as deepfakes, seeking to stop the spread of a novel form of misinformation months before the 2020 presidential election. But the policy does not prohibit all doctored videos: Facebook’s new guidelines do not appear to address a deceptively edited clip of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that went viral on the social network last year. Monika Bickert, the company’s vice president for global policy management, will testify at a congressional hearing on “manipulation and deception in the digital age.” The inquiry marks the latest effort by House lawmakers to probe Facebook’s digital defenses after Russian agents weaponized the site to stoke social unrest during the 2016 race.

Facebook Says It Won’t Back Down from Allowing Lies in Political Ads
Seattle Times – Tony Romm, Isaac Stanley-Becker, and Craig Timberg (Washington Post) | Published: 1/9/2020

Facebook decided not to limit how political ads can be targeted to specific groups of people, as Google did to fight misinformation. Neither will it ban political ads outright, as Twitter did. And Facebook still will not fact check them, as it has faced pressure to do. Instead, Facebook announced much more limited “transparency features” that aim to give users slightly more control over how many political ads they see and to make its online library of political ads easier to use. These steps appear unlikely to assuage critics who say Facebook has too much power and not enough limits when it comes to its effects on elections and democracy itself.

FBI Raids Home, Office of Lobbyist Michael Esposito
Connecticut Post – Devlin Barrett, Jonathan O’Connell, and Beth Reinhard (Washington Post) | Published: 1/3/2020

FBI agents investigating a lobbyist who has claimed to have close ties to President Trump and his family searched the man’s home and K Street office for evidence of possible fraud, according to people familiar with the matter. Michael Esposito’s business has boomed in the Trump era, but Trump, White House officials, and senior Republicans have said he greatly exaggerated his claims of access to the president and his inner circle. Following a story on Esposito’s business, the FBI is investigating to determine whether he may have defrauded his clients or engaged in any other type of financial fraud, the people said.

Judges Struggle Over Trump Bid to Block McGahn Congressional Testimony
Reuters – Jan Wolfe and Lawrence Hurley | Published: 1/3/2020

Appeals court judges appeared skeptical about broad legal arguments by President Trump’s administration seeking to block a former White House lawyer from testifying to Congress as part of the impeachment effort against Trump, but also seemed wary about stepping into the heated political fight. Judge Thomas Griffith asked tough questions of the Justice Department lawyer who argued on the administration’s behalf and the lawyer for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee that subpoenaed former White House Counsel Don McGahn and could be the pivotal vote in deciding the case. A second case involved the administration’s appeal of a judge’s October ruling that grand jury information in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe should be provided to lawmakers.

Mnuchin Seeks Delay of Proposed Disclosure of Secret Service Spending on Presidential Travel Until After Election
MSN – Carol Leonnig and David Fahrenthold (Washington Post) | Published: 1/8/2020

The Trump administration is seeking to delay a Democratic effort to require the Secret Service to disclose how much it spends protecting President Trump and his family when they travel until after the 2020 election. The issue has emerged as a sticking point in recent weeks as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and key senators have been negotiating draft legislation to move the Secret Service back to his department, its historic home. Mnuchin has balked at Democratic demands that the bill require the Secret Service to disclose the costs related to the travel of the president and his adult children within 120 days after it is passed.

Shadow Group Provides Sanders Super PAC Support He Scorns
AP News – Bruian Slodysko | Published: 1/8/2020

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders says he does not want a super PAC. Instead, he has Our Revolution, a nonprofit political organization he founded that functions much the same as one. Like a super PAC, Our Revolution can raise unlimited sums from wealthy patrons that dwarf the limits faced by candidates and conventional PACs. Unlike a super PAC, however, the group does not have to disclose its donors, a stream of revenue commonly referred to as “dark money.” Our Revolution appears to be skirting campaign finance law, which forbids groups founded by federal candidates and officeholders from using large donations to finance federal election activity, including Sanders’ presidential bid.

The Surreal Lives of 2020 Campaign Spouses: What happens when your loved one wants to be president
Greenwich Time – Jada Yuan (Washington Post) | Published: 1/8/2020

A modern presidential candidate’s significant other has the dual jobs of being an uncomplaining source of support for their partner, making sure he or she is getting fed and sleeping and has someone to vent to, plus often being the mouthpiece for your partner and attending events he or she cannot get to. Some, such as Jill Biden and Jane Sanders, have done this before, but no one could have prepared for this historically large and diverse field, with so many potential first gentlemen campaigning, or a primary season that is coinciding with the third presidential impeachment in the nation’s history.

Trump Donor Charged with Obstructing Inauguration Inquiry
AP News – Jim Mustian and Alan Suderman | Published: 1/7/2020

Federal prosecutors charged a major donor to President Trump’s inaugural committee with obstructing a federal investigation into whether foreign nationals unlawfully contributed to the inaugural celebrations. The donor, Imaad Zuberi, recently pleaded guilty in a separate case in Los Angeles to campaign finance violations, tax evasion, and failing to register as a foreign agent. A criminal information accuses Zuberi, a venture capitalist, of taking “numerous steps” to interfere with the investigation into where the inaugural committee received its funding. Prosecutors say Zuberi backdated a $50,000 check and deleted emails.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska Sponsor Says Alaska Elections Initiative Has Enough Signatures to Be Placed on Ballot
Alaska Public Media – Andrew Kitchenman | Published: 1/3/2020

Sponsors of an initiative to overhaul Alaska’s election laws said they have enough signatures for the measure to be placed on the ballot in November. The initiative is among several issues that are expected to be the focus of state government ahead of the start of the legislative session on January 21. The Better Elections Initiative would create an open primary that would send the top four vote-getters to the general election. Then voters would be able to rank their choices in the general election. The initiative also would increase campaign finance disclosures.

California L.A. to Curb Developer Donations, but Some Fear Corporate Contributions Could Mask Source of Giving
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes | Published: 1/5/2020

A new campaign finance ordinance in Los Angeles prohibits real estate developers from contributing to city council members that vet their projects. Critics say an additional provision is needed – barring donors from giving through limited liability companies and other business entities that can make it difficult to tell who is donating. Los Angeles allows political donors to give not only as individuals, but also through companies and other groups. But some corporate entities do not have to publicly reveal who owns them, leaving it unclear to the public who is giving the money. In some cases, donors have funneled money through such companies to evade restrictions on campaign contributions.

Florida JEA Paid $25,000 to Lobbyist with Business Ties to Then-CEO Aaron Zahn Through JaxChamber
Florida Times-Union – Christopher Hong | Published: 1/8/2020

Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Daniel Davis confirmed a JEA official instructed one of his staffers to hire Deno Hicks, a local lobbyist who at the time had an undisclosed business partnership with then-CEO Aaron Zahn, to raise money for an innovation conference that JEA and the chamber organized in 2018. JEA, a community owned electric, water, and sewer utility, paid the chamber $25,000. Davis said he approved the request to hire Hicks’ firm, the Southern Strategy Group. He said hiring someone to raise money for an event was not unusual, although he did not know Zahn and Hicks co-owned a piece of undeveloped property in the city, which they have tried to sell for nearly $2 million.

Florida Nonprofit Group Criticizes Lawmakers’ Move Toward Limiting Local Power
South Florida Sun Sentinel – Jim Turner (News Service of Florida) | Published: 1/7/2020

A research group wants Florida lawmakers to temper a trend of tying the hands of city and county officials by “preempting” local regulations. Integrity Florida issued a report raising concerns that lawmakers, with the backing of powerful lobbying groups, are strategically attacking home-rule authority on issues ranging from sunscreen bans to regulating businesses. Ben Wilcox, research director for Integrity Florida, said a trend of preemption measures is growing, with 119 bills filed during the past three legislative sessions that included some form of preemption and nearly 20 filed for the 2020 session.

Georgia Ex-Atlanta Official Gets 2-Year Sentence in Corruption Probe
AP News – Kate Brumbeck | Published: 1/7/2020

A man who was tasked with ensuring equal opportunities for those seeking contracts with the city of Atlanta was given a two-year prison sentence for failing to disclose outside consulting work and not reporting some income to tax authorities. Larry Scott was director of the city’s Office of Contract Compliance and resigned shortly before he pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud and filing false tax returns. Scott was also ordered to pay about $124,000 in restitution. He was the sixth person to plead guilty in a long-running federal investigation into corruption at City Hall during the administration of former Mayor Kasim Reed.

Illinois Vendor Bribed CPS Employee with Vacation Home Stay During Bid for $30M Contract, Inspector General Says
Chicago Sun-Times – Nader Issa | Published: 1/6/2020

A vendor looking to win a $30 million nursing services contract with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) tried to sway the bidding by letting a district employee stay at her vacation home. Although CPS ended up not awarding the contract to the vendor, she eventually was given a different, much smaller contract for the nursing services just a few years later and still has that work with the school district. Those were the key findings of an investigation by CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s office, which released its 2019 year-end report detailing the office’s most significant cases of the past year.

Indiana Former Indiana State Lawmaker Won’t Face Felony Charges Related to Violating Lobbying Laws
Indianapolis Star – Chris Sikich and Tony Cook | Published: 1/3/2020

Former state Sen. Allen Paul will not face felony charges related to violating Indiana’s lobbying laws. An Indianapolis Star investigation  revealed a secretive employment deal with a temp agency, in which Paul had been paid more than $150,000 to push the agenda of the Indiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) among legislators. He did so without registering as a lobbyist or tracking his hours, as required by his contract. Both the temp agency, KHI Solutions, and the IDVA were sanctioned for failing to register their lobbying efforts. The state ethics commission also told Paul to register, but he refused.

Kansas Group Resists Naming Donors After Pro-Kobach Ads in Kansas
AP News – John Hanna | Published: 1/2/2020

A group that sponsored ads promoting Republican Kris Kobach during his failed 2018 run for Kansas governor is arguing it is not legally required to disclose its donors. The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has given Per Aspera Policy until January 15 to file public reports on its activities during the last governor’s race. The commission warned the group it could face a potential fine of up to $300 for each missing report and intentionally failing to disclose the information is a misdemeanor. But an attorney representing the group told the commission it is not required to disclose any information under Kansas law because its ads did not “expressly advocate”{ for Kobach’s election.

Maryland Former Maryland Delegate Sentenced to Six Months in Prison for Misusing Campaign Funds
AP News – Michael Kunzelman | Published: 1/3/2020

Former Maryland Del. Tawanna Gaines was sentenced to six months in prison followed by two months of home detention for misusing campaign funds for her personal benefit. Gaines also must pay $22,565 in restitution. Gaines pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. She faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom has said Gaines spent campaign money on personal expenses including fast food, hair styling, dental work, a cover for her swimming pool, and an Amazon Prime membership.

Maryland Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Announces Ethics Reform Legislation, Fends Off Questions About His Firm
Baltimore Sun – Luke Braodwater and Pamela Wood | Published: 1/7/2020

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he will introduce legislation to punish corrupt state lawmakers after a recent spate of convictions. At the same time, Hogan brushed off questions from reporters and some Democratic lawmakers about his transparency and ethics as he continues to make hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from real estate deals managed by a trust, approved by the State Ethics Commission, and run by his associates. Hogan’s Ethics and Accountability in Government Act would increase state penalties for bribery of public officials to a maximum of $100,000 and authorize the ethics panel to impose civil penalties against state employees and public officials without first going to court, among other proposals.

Minnesota Legislator’s Work as St. Paul Mayor’s Aide Raises Red Flag
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Jim Walsh | Published: 1/6/2020

Kaohly Vang Her, policy director for St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and a state representative, so liked the mayor’s idea to give every capital city newborn $50 for a college savings plan that Her authored a bill to help pay for it. That is a potential problem, say authorities on government ethics. Because Carter is Her’s boss, he could show her favor, or withhold it, based on what she might accomplish as a legislator, said Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota. Her defended the advocacy for the savings plan as good for St. Paul children. It is no different, she said, than other legislators – farmers, teachers, doctors, and businesspeople – promoting their professional interests at the Capitol.

Minnesota Proposed Changes to Campaign Spending, Lobbying Laws Put on Ice
Minnesota Public Radio – Brian Bakst | Published: 1/3/2020

Sensing resistance, Minnesota’s campaign and lobbying regulatory board intends to hold back on sweeping legislative recommendations that would redefine advocacy rules and expand a program aimed at encouraging small-dollar campaign contributions. The Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board decided instead to write a letter to the Legislature to encourage a debate over a campaign and lobbying structure that has not changed much in recent years. Board members said they and board staffers would work to refine their suggestions in the meantime. Board Chairperson Robert Moilanen said the letter would stress to legislators that current laws are outdated but acknowledge there is “not a consensus on the solution.”

Missouri Clean Missouri Redistricting Changes to Be Discussed by Legislators
Columbia Missourian – Lillie Hegeman | Published: 1/6/2020

From its early days of gathering signatures in the beginning of 2018 to the final week of the 2019 legislative session, Clean Missouri has been at the center of public, legislative, and judicial debate. And that is not going to change as lawmakers begin the 2020 legislative session. The ballot initiative limits lobbyist gifts to lawmakers to five dollars or less, tighten limits on campaign contributions that legislators can accept, and changed the process and criteria for drawing state legislative districts and create a “nonpartisan state demographer” position to carry out the task. When the amendment passed, however, legislators were not done with the debate. Some lawmakers in 2019 proposed resolutions to alter or repeal the portion that most troubles some of them: the redistricting changes. The issue will continue to be a focus of the 2020 session.

Missouri Town and Country Mayor, Who Is a Registered Lobbyist, Tripped Up by Recent Ethics Law Change
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Jack Suntrup | Published: 1/7/2020

Jon Dalton, a registered lobbyist and the mayor of Town and Country, must shut down his campaign committee in response to a 2016 state law, the Missouri Ethics Commission said. In a consent order Dalton signed, the commission cited the relatively new requirement that “any person who registers as a lobbyist shall dissolve his or her campaign committee.” Dalton, who has lobbied since 1994 and was first elected mayor in 2005, said he was caught between two different statutes when the Legislature approved the ethics bill: one requires lobbyists to register with the state and the other requires candidates to form campaign committees.

Montana Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Bullock
Helena Independent Record – Holly Michels | Published: 1/2/2020

A federal judge ruled a group suing to overturn a Montana executive order requiring disclosure of contributions to dark money groups has to fix their lawsuit or it will be permanently dismissed. Gov. Steve Bullock’s order requires any company wanting to bid on state contracts in Montana worth more than $25,000 for services or $50,000 for goods to disclose donations of $2,500 or more to political groups including organizations that are not required to disclose donors. Illinois Opportunity Project sued, arguing it wanted to spend in Montana’s 2020 gubernatorial election, but it faced difficulty finding corporate donors due to the governor’s order.

Nevada Nevada Redistricting Group Files Amended Petition
Las Vegas Review-Journal – Bill Dentzer | Published: 1/7/2020

A group seeking to change how Nevada redraws state legislative and congressional districts has resubmitted a proposed state constitutional amendment after a judicial order that found the original petition misleading. Fair Maps Nevada, a local group involved in a national effort to counter state-based gerrymandering, filed in November to put a petition on this year’s ballot establishing a commission to redraw districts based on the decennial census. Under current state law, reapportionment is done by the Legislature subject to the governor’s signoff. The change would establish a seven-member commission to handle the task. Anyone who had worked during the preceding four years in certain state jobs; as a lobbyist, campaign consultant, or party official; or had run for or held elected office, and their close relatives, would be ineligible to serve on the commission.

New Jersey Fix the ‘Toxic Culture’ in N.J. Politics, Top Senator Demands after Report on Sexual Harassment
Newark Star Ledger – Kelly Heyboer and Susan Livio (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 12/30/2019

State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said she is forming an ad hoc committee to look for ways to change the “toxic culture that women face in New Jersey politics.”  The committee, which will include several top female lobbyists and political operatives, will be created in response to an NJ Advance Media report detailing the sexual harassment, groping, and sexual of women working in state and local politics. The ad hoc panel will look for solutions to the climate of misogyny, harassment, and sexual assault that pervades New Jersey politics, said Weinberg.

New Jersey N.J. Won’t Dismiss Ethics Complaint in $40M School Named After the Lt. Gov.
Newark Star Ledger – Adam Clark (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 1/3/2020

Voting to name a $40 million school after your boss might be unethical, even if your boss is New Jersey’s lieutenant governor, according to the School Ethics Commission, which found probable cause to sustain two of the eight ethics charges levied against Terry Swanson-Tucker, president of the East Orange School Board and chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver. The case now moves to an investigation and hearing by the Office of Administrative Law. It will determine if Swanson-Tucker violated state ethics law when she voted in December 2018 to suspend a district naming policy and rename the George Washington Carver Institute the Sheila Y. Oliver Academy.

New Mexico New State Watchdog Ready to Investigate Ethics Complaints
Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 1/3/2020

Decades in the making, New Mexico’s ethics panel is now ready to accept and investigate complaints. The agency has appointed two hearing officers, established a website, and may issue its first advisory opinion in February. It is the result of a 40-year push to establish an independent watchdog with jurisdiction over allegations against legislators, candidates, lobbyists, and others. Voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment establishing the State Ethics Commission in 2018, after several ethics scandals, including the corruption conviction of a former state senator.

North Carolina NC Voter ID Law Written with ‘Discriminatory Intent,’ Says Judge Who Just Blocked It
Raleigh News and Observer – Wil Doran | Published: 12/31/2019

Racial discrimination was at least part of the motivation for a new voter ID law in North Carolina, a federal judge wrote, striking the law down for now. U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Biggs’ ruling means that although voters statewide approved a voter ID mandate as an amendment to the state constitution in the 2018 elections, people most likely will be able to vote without showing ID in at least the March primary election. The last time North Carolina’s Republican-led General Assembly passed a voter ID law, in 2013, it was also struck down for racial discrimination. But GOP leaders have said they believed this newer version of the law, which was passed a year ago, avoided the racial issues the previous law ran into.

Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Campaign Rules Curb Contributions, but Punish Some Candidates
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Rich Lord | Published: 1/5/2020

Pittsburgh’s decade-long effort to limit the influence of money in city politics now faces both a court challenge and complaints from some candidates that it threatens to stifle democracy. The city first put limits on contributions to campaigns for mayor, controller, and council in 2009, and revised the rules in 2015. Now, outgoing Councilperson Darlene Harris is challenging the constitutionality of the limits in a lawsuit. And as the city’s Ethics Hearing Board pursues enforcement actions, candidates facing fines are speaking out.

Texas Jerry-Rigged? Second Garcia Withdraws from Harris County Constable’s Race but Remains on Ballot
Houston Chronicle – Zach Despart | Published: 1/8/2020

One of the two candidates named Jerry Garcia who filed to run for Houston’s Precinct 2 constable – the one who did not appear to be actively campaigning – has withdrawn from the race. His short, strange trip as a candidate is not over yet, however. He will remain on the ballot for the March 3 Democratic Party primary, though votes for him will not count. Garcia, who is a cousin of Democratic incumbent Constable Chris Diaz’s wife, was one two men who had filed for the seat bearing the same name as the late Grateful Dead guitarist. The other Jerry Garcia said the turn of events is further evidence the former candidate never intended to mount a serious campaign. That Garcia, a lieutenant in a neighboring constable precinct, alleges the incumbent Diaz pushed his wife’s cousin to run solely to confuse voters, ensuring his re-election.

Vermont Some Legislators’ Financial Disclosures Were Late, Report Says
Seven Days – Colin Flanders | Published: 1/7/2020

The 2018 election was the first for which Vermont lawmakers were required to disclose their financial interests when filing to run for office, allowing voters to see potential conflicts-of-interest before casting their ballots. But according to the House Ethics Panel, disclosure forms for “multiple” legislators were not publicized by the last election. Multiple as in about 30, or a fifth of the House members, according to panel Chairperson John Gannon. State law says House candidates must file financial disclosure forms with their town clerks when submitting petitions to run for office. The documents detail sources of income for candidates and their spouses or partners greater than $5,000, including investments. They must also disclose whether they own 10 percent of any companies, and whether such companies do business with the state.

Vermont VPIRG Head Calls for End to ‘Worthless’ Ethics Commission – Mark Johnson | Published: 1/8/2020

The head of the organization that pushed hardest for a state Ethics Commission in Vermont says it should be disbanded. Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said the commission was “worthless” and provided lawmakers “a fig leaf of protection” that they were addressing ethics concerns. Vermont was one of the last states to establish an ethics commission in 2017. That came after years of discussion and receiving a grade of “F” from the Center for Public Integrity on ethics enforcement. The panel and part-time executive director have no powers to investigate or levy punishment. It essentially operates as a referral agency, taking in complaints about state officials and sending them to another agency. Burns said the Legislature established the commission simply to “get off the list of states without one.”

Washington Seattle Council Advances Ban on Most Political Spending By ‘Foreign-Influenced’ Companies
Seattle Times – Daniel Beekman | Published: 1/7/2020

Seattle moved closer to banning most political spending by “foreign-influenced” corporations, as a city council committee advanced legislation that Council President M. Lorena González said could companies from using money to shape elections. But González postponed a committee vote on other legislation that would limit all contributions to the PACs that businesses, labor unions, and other interests used to bundle and spend a record $4 million in last year’s elections. She said the council needs to further vet the nationally watched proposal, which would likely be challenged in court, though she and her colleagues did narrow a loophole that could have advantaged unions and grassroots groups.

Washington DC D.C. Council Member Jack Evans to Resign Over Ethics Violations; Was City’s Longest-Serving Lawmaker
Stamford Advocate – Fenit Nirappil and Paul Schwartzman (Washington Post) | Published: 1/7/2020

District of Columbia Councilperson Jack Evans announced he will resign on January 17. The council took a preliminary vote to expel Evans and had scheduled a hearing to summarize the case against him and offer him an opportunity to speak before a final expulsion vote. Evans’s close ties to business eventually proved to be his undoing, as his outside employment with law firms and as a consultant to prominent companies with interests before city government came under scrutiny. He stepped down from the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority after an investigation there found ethics violations. Federal prosecutors are investigating Evans and FBI agents searched his home, but he has not been charged with a crime.

Washington DC Top D.C. Ethics Investigator Resigns Amid Scrutiny of His Office
Laredo Morning Times – Fenit Nirappil (Washington Post) | Published: 1/7/2020

The District of Columbia’s top ethics investigator has resigned amid criticism of the agency’s failure to promptly investigate complaints. Brent Wolfingbarger resigned as the director of government ethics at the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability effective December 31, agency officials said. Wolfingbarger’s two-year tenure at the helm of the city’s internal watchdog had come under scrutiny by lawmakers and watchdogs. Several city council members had criticized the ethics board for staying on the sidelines of an ongoing ethics issue involving another member, Jack Evans. The board was formed in 2013 after several scandals involving council members.

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