July 19, 2019 •
News You Can Use Digest – July 19, 2019
Acting Labor Secretary Pizzella Lobbied for Russian-Connected Front Group, Worked with Jack Abramoff
Center for Responsive Politics – Reid Champlin and Jessica Piper | Published: 7/12/2019
Patrick Pizzella will take the reins at the Department of Labor as acting secretary after Alex Acosta announced his resignation due to criticism for his light prosecution of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago. But Pizzella’s record as a lobbyist is likely to come under scrutiny. In the late 1990s, his clients included a Russian front group, the government of the Marshall Islands, and a trade association fighting against the minimum wage in a U.S. commonwealth. For these and other clients, he worked with Jack Abramoff, who was at the forefront of a corruption scandal in the 2000s that ultimately resulted in 21 convictions and major reforms to lobbying laws. Pizzella was never accused of any wrongdoing.
Alex Acosta Resigns as Labor Secretary Amid Intense Scrutiny of His Handling of Jeffrey Epstein Case
MSN – David Nakamura, John Wagner, Ashley Parker, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 7/12/2019
Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s resignation amid the mushrooming Jeffrey Epstein investigation made him the latest in a growing list of President Trump’s Cabinet members to depart under a cloud of scandal, plunging an administration that has struggled with record turnover into further upheaval. Trump said Acosta had chosen to step down a day after defending himself in a contentious news conference over his role as a U.S. attorney a decade ago in a deal with Epstein that allowed the financier to plead guilty to lesser offenses in a sex-crimes case involving underage girls. The sole Hispanic member of Trump’s Cabinet said the intense media focus on his role in Epstein’s case threatened to become a distraction that would undermine his work for the administration.
CNN Doesn’t Tell Whole Story About Trump-Loving Panel
San Francisco Chronicle – Paul Fahri (Washington Post) | Published: 7/17/2019
The panel of women CNN interviewed about President Trump liked him a lot and do not think he is a racist, despite a congressional resolution to the contrary. And no question the women are, as CNN identified them, “Republicans.” But the network missed telling its viewers a few other things about the women it put on the air in a segment surveying their reaction to criticism of Trump. The seemingly random group of eight women were, in fact, members of an organized group dedicated to promoting Trump. The group calls itself the Trumpettes of America 2019 Palm Beach Team, although CNN and correspondent Randi Kaye did not mention anything about such a group. Nor did the anchors, including Anderson Cooper, who introduced Kaye’s report.
Consultant Who Worked with Manafort Retroactively Registers as Foreign Agent
Politico – Theodoric Meyer | Published: 7/12/2019
A British consultant who helped publicize a report commissioned by the government of Ukraine in 2012 retroactively registered as a foreign agent with the U.S. Justice Department. The filing sheds a little more light on an elaborate lobbying and public relations effort orchestrated by Paul Manafort starting more than seven years ago on behalf of the Ukrainian government and Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s president at the time and Manafort’s client. Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, looked into the effort as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The consultant, Jonathan Hawker, registered through FTI Consulting, the firm at which he worked at the time but has since left.
Court Filings Show Trump, Cohen Contacts Amid Hush Money Payments
The Hill – Jacqueline Thomsen and Morgan Chalfant | Published: 7/18/2019
President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohn was in contact with Trump multiple times as he arranged hush money payments to women alleging affairs with Trump ahead of the 2016 election. The previously redacted details of the probe on the payments indicate investigators were aware of calls made between Cohen and Trump, as well as other campaign officials. Cohen pleaded guilty to committing campaign finance violations in relation to the payments and implicated Trump in the scheme. The documents were released after federal prosecutors said they had concluded their investigation into the hush-money payments. The closure of the probe strongly suggests prosecutors will not bring criminal charges against anyone besides Cohen, who pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance violations, lying to Congress, and financial crimes.
F.E.C. Allows Security Company to Help 2020 Candidates Defend Campaigns
New York Times – Nicole Perlroth | Published: 7/11/2019
The FEC said a Silicon Valley security company could immediately start helping 2020 presidential candidates defend their campaigns from the kinds of malicious email attacks that Russian hackers exploited in the 2016 election. The FEC made its advisory opinion one month after lawyers for the agency advised it to block a request by the company, Area 1 Security, which had sought to provide services to candidates at a discount. The FEC lawyers said Area 1 would be violating campaign finance laws that prohibit corporations from offering free or discounted services to federal candidates. The same law also prevents political parties from offering candidates cybersecurity assistance because it is considered an “in-kind donation.”
FEC Gets New Internal Watchdog Following Tumultuous Search
Center for Public Integrity – Dave Levinthal | Published: 7/12/2019
The FEC has a new inspector general, ending a 28-month period that included the de facto neutering of its office charged with investigating and defending against agency waste, fraud, and abuse. Christopher Skinner will begin work as the FEC’s inspector general on August 5. Skinner served as deputy inspector general for the Office of Naval Research for six years, including one year as acting inspector general. Before that, he served as assistant chief of inspections for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command. It took commissioners about a year to begin an earnest search for McFarland’s replacement. Once they did, agency infighting resulted in a disgruntled human resources official canceling an inspector general job posting and, in mid-2018, derailing the search.
Former Flynn Partner on Trial for Illegal Lobbying Charges
Courthouse News Service – Brandi Buchman | Published: 7/15/2019
Though special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into foreign influence in the 2016 election has officially wrapped up, a trial began for a former business partner of convicted ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn accused of acting as an illegal agent of the Turkish government. Bijan Rafiekian, an Iranian American businessperson who also goes by Bijan Kian, was indicted on a charge of conspiracy and failure to register as a foreign agent. The charges stemmed from lobbying work done by Kian and Flynn in 2016.
House Condemns Trump’s Attack on Four Congresswomen as Racist
MSN – Julie Hirschfeld Davis (New York Times) | Published: 7/16/2019
The U.S. House voted to condemn as racist President Trump’s attacks against four congresswomen of color, but only after the debate over the president’s language devolved into a bitterly partisan brawl that showcased deep rifts over race, ethnicity, and political ideology in the age of Trump. The measure passed nearly along party lines after one of the most polarizing exchanges on the floor in recent times. Only four Republicans and the House’s lone independent voted with all Democrats to condemn the president. It is virtually unheard-of for Congress to rebuke a sitting president. The last one to be challenged was William Howard Taft, who served from 1909 to 1913. He was accused of having tried to influence a disputed Senate election, but in the end, the Senate passed a watered-down resolution.
House Holds Barr and Ross in Contempt Over Census Dispute
New York Times – Nicholas Fandos | Published: 7/17/2019
The U.S. House voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt of Congress for their refusal to turn over key documents related to the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The citations for two cabinet officials will breathe new life into a dispute that has touched all three branches of government over why administration officials pushed to ask census respondents if they were American citizens and what that question’s effect would be. Democrats investigating the issue believe the documents and testimony being shielded would confirm the administration’s long-stated rationale for collecting the data, to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, was merely a cover for a politically motivated attempt to eliminate noncitizens from population statistics used to allocate political representation, diminishing Democratic power.
How Pharma, Under Attack from All Sides, Keeps Winning in Washington
STAT – Nicholas Forko and Lev Facher | Published: 7/16/2019
Even though Washington has stepped up its rhetorical attacks on the industry and focused its policymaking efforts on reining in high drug prices, the pharmaceutical industry’s time-honored lobbying and advocacy strategies have kept both lawmakers and the Trump administration from landing any of their prescription-drug punches. Even off Capitol Hill, it found a way to block perhaps the Trump administration’s most substantial anti-industry accomplishment in the past two years: a rule that would have required drug companies to list their prices in television ads. The industry has also benefited from a fractured Congress and discord between President Trump’s most senior health care advisers.
Trump Says He Will Seek Citizenship Information from Existing Federal Records, Not the Census
MSN – Katie Rogers, Adam Liptak, Michael Crowley, and Michael Wines (New York Times) | Published: 7/11/2019
President Trump abandoned his quest to place a question about citizenship on the 2020 census and instructed the government to compile citizenship data from existing federal records instead, ending a bitterly fought legal battle that turned the nonpartisan census into an object of political warfare. Trump announcedt he was giving up on modifying the census two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court rebuked his administration over its effort to do so. Trump made the clearest statement yet that his administration’s ultimate goal in obtaining data on citizenship was to eliminate noncitizens from the population bases used to draw political boundaries, a longstanding dream in some Republican circles. Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce who spearheaded the effort to add the citizenship question, had long insisted the data was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
Trump Tells Freshman Congresswomen to ‘Go Back’ to the Countries They Came From
MSN – Katie Rogers and Nicholas Fandos (New York Times) | Published: 7/14/2019
President Trump said a group of four minority congresswomen feuding with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should “go back” to the countries they came from rather than “loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States” how to run the government. Wrapped inside that insult, which was widely established as a racist trope, was a factually inaccurate claim: only one of the lawmakers was born outside the country. Even though Trump has repeatedly refused to back down from stoking racial divisions, his willingness to deploy a lowest-rung slur, one commonly and crudely used to single out the perceived foreignness of nonwhite, non-Christian people, was largely regarded as beyond the pale.
With Name-Calling and Twitter Battles, House Republican Campaign Arm Copies Trump’s Playbook
New York Times – Catie Edmonson | Published: 7/17/2019
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), with the blessing of House Republican leaders, has adopted a no-holds-barred strategy to win back the House majority next year, borrowing heavily from President Trump’s playbook in deploying such taunts and name-calling. After losing 40 seats and the majority in November, U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, the NRCC’s new chairperson, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy decided their messaging needed to be ruthless. The offensive hinges largely on the notion that by tagging all House Democrats as socialists, anti-Semites, or far-left extremists, Republicans will be able to alienate swing-state voters.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Utility Panel OKs New Limits on Campaign Contributions to Commission Candidates
Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol News Services) | Published: 7/11/2019
State utility regulators approved a new code of ethics, including new limits on how much anyone with business before them can donate to candidates running for the Arizona Corporation Commission. But two of the panel members said the wording has a gaping hole that could still give utilities a way of financing their favorite commission candidates, at least indirectly. The language technically does not keep current and would be commissioners from taking campaign money from utilities and others who are trying to convince the panel to approve or reject some pending issue. Instead it says if a candidate for the commission takes campaign money from someone who has business before the commission they cannot vote on that matter when it goes before the panel.
Hawaii – Defiant Ethics Commission Defends Decisions on Kealohas
Honolulu Civil Beat – Nick Grube | Published: 7/17/2019
The Honolulu Ethics Commission is under renewed scrutiny for how it handled a series of investigations into retired city police chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, who is a former city prosecutor. The Kealohas were convicted along with two police officers of framing Katherine’s uncle, Gerard Puana, for the theft of their mailbox and then trying to cover it up. Two other Honolulu police officers pleaded guilty to other charges stemming from the federal probe. The commission launched a series of investigations into the Kealohas in 2014. Those inquiries stalled in 2015, however, after the commission yanked its main investigators, Chuck Totto and Letha DeCaires, from the case and made a series of decisions that effectively ended their careers.
Illinois – Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s City Council Ethics Plan Advances
Chicago Tribune – John Byrne | Published: 7/17/2019
The Chicago City Council’s Ethics Committee advanced a package of reforms to give the city watchdog more oversight of the body and tighten rules on outside jobs and lobbying. In a late change to the proposal, people acting on behalf of nonprofits would not need to register as lobbyists if they are unpaid or if they are providing technical assistance to the agencies. Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s ethics proposal also include measures to tighten the rules for aldermen holding outside jobs and increase fines for ethics violations, from the current $500 to $2,000 up to $1,000 to $5,000.
Missouri – Since Voters Approved A $5 Cap on Gifts, Lobbyist Spending on Missouri Lawmakers Dropped 94%
St. Louis Public Radio – Aviva Okeson-Haberman | Published: 7/11/2019
Voters approved a five-dollar limit on gifts for lawmakers in November. An analysis of data from the Missouri Ethics Commission shows there has been a 94% decrease in spending from the 2019 to 2018 legislative session. In this year’s session, lobbyists spent less than $17,000 on lawmakers. That is a significant drop from the about $300,000 spent in the 2018 session. University of Missouri political science professor Peverill Squire said most of the spending is now on larger events that all lawmakers can attend. There is still a five-dollar limit per lawmaker for those events.
New York – Ex-IDC Members Pay $275,000, Settling Sugarman Suit
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 7/11/2019
In January, Risa Sugarman, chief enforcement counsel for the State Board of Elections. sought more than $8.6 million in penalties and fines from senators, campaign staff, and party officials connected to a fundraising partnership between the Independence Party and the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which controversially partnered with Republicans to run the New York Senate for half a decade. Eight former IDC members recently paid $275,000 to settle the allegations they took millions of dollars in unlawful campaign donations. The settlement agreement does not include the state Independence Party or its officials. Sugarman’s case against the Independence Party, which seeks $17,000 in fines and the return of $171,000 party money to donors, is still pending.
New York – Mt. Vernon Has 2 Mayors, and Its Police Commissioner Was Just Arrested
New York Times – Sarah Maslin Nir | Published: 7/18/2019
Shawn Harris was taken into custody when he arrived at Mount Vernon police headquarters to begin work as the city’s police commissioner. Harris was appointed by Andre Wallace, who purports to be the acting mayor after the city council deemed Richard Thomas to have forfeited the mayor’s office when he pleaded guilty to misusing $12,900 in campaign funds. Thomas insists he is still in power and remains in the mayor’s office in City Hall, with a pair of police officers standing guard. Further confusion came when the city council issued a statement disavowing Wallace’s appointment of Harris. Things were in such flux that staff members in the city clerk’s office needed to print out organizational charts as they tried to explain who in the administration is currently who.
North Dakota – North Dakota Focuses on Ethics
U.S. News & World Report – Cinnamon Janzer | Published: 7/12/2019
In February 2018, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and his wife took a Super Bowl trip funded by Xcel Energy (which he later paid back), and state Rep. Jim Kasper took multiple trips involving the internet gambling industry in 2005. In response, a coalition of citizens pushed for a state ethics commission. Voters in 2018 passed Measure 1, amending the North Dakota Constitution to add Article 14, which required the Legislature to pass laws to regulate campaign finance disclosures and established an ethics commission designed to “support open, ethical, and accountable government” among other responsibilities. The commission is being formulated this summer, and its creation has not been without controversy. Experts have concerns about how effective tit will be, largely due to changes in the legislation that established the panel.
Ohio – City Elections Commission Offers Guidance on Campaign Finance Change
WVXU – Jay Hanselman | Published: 7/11/2019
Contributions made by made by limited liability corporations (LLC) to Cincinnati mayoral and city council candidates prior to December 1, 2018, will not count toward a donor’s limits under the city’s new campaign finance charter amendment. The ballot measure said an LLC cannot contribute to mayoral or city council candidates “solely in the name” of the business. Those donations must be associated with the person, owner, or partner making it. Attorney Micah Kamrass had asked the city’s Elections Commission “whether contributions made to a city council or mayoral candidate by an LLC will be counted as contributions made by an individual if the contributions were made prior to the effective date” of the Charter amendment.
Texas – Ellis Proposes Ethics Reforms for Harris County Government
Houston Chronicle – Zach Despart | Published: 7/12/2019
Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis has proposed two ethics reforms he says are needed to improve transparency in county government, though Texas counties’ limited rule-making power may scuttle his plan. Commissioners Court unanimously backed Ellis’ request to study how the county can establish mandatory registration of lobbyists and a blackout period for campaign contributions to elected officials from firms who seek or receive county contracts. Harris County since 2009 has allowed lobbyist registration on a voluntary basis. Participation has been dismal – just 17 lobbyists have signed up in the past decade, according to records.
Texas – State Leaders Again Want to Review How Texas Elects Judges. Will They End Partisan Judicial Elections?
Texas Tribune – Emma Platoff | Published: 7/15/2019
After a punishing election for Republican judges, state leaders are set to take a look at Texas’ often-criticized judicial selection system. Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law creating a commission to study the issue, signaling the Legislature could overhaul the system as soon as 2021. One of just a few states that maintains a system of partisan judicial selection all the way up through its high courts, judges are required to run as partisans but expected to rule impartially. They are forced to raise money from the same lawyers who will appear before them in court. And in their down-ballot, low-information races, their fates tend to track with the candidates at the top of the ticket. That means political waves that sweep out of office good and bad, experienced and inexperienced judges alike.
Washington – In Win for Public Campaign Financing, State Supreme Court Upholds Seattle’s Unique ‘Democracy Vouchers’
Governing – Daniel Beekman (Seattle Times) | Published: 7/15/2019
The Washington Supreme Court upheld Seattle’s “democracy vouchers” program, which allows residents to direct taxpayer money to qualifying political candidates. The Pacific Legal Foundation supported a lawsuit to block the program on behalf of a pair of residents, claiming it would effectively force them to support candidates they might not agree with. The justices ruled because any candidate can qualify to receive the funds the program is effectively neutral. Proponents say the vouchers counter big money in politics by involving people who otherwise would not donate and by helping lesser-known candidates compete.
Washington DC – Tensions Reach a New High on D.C. Council as Lawmakers Grapple with Scandal
Washington Post – Peter Jamison and Fenit Nirappil | Published: 7/13/2019
Heated fights at the District of Columbia Council over how to discipline a lawmaker under federal investigation and whether to approve a controversial gambling contract have deepened a growing rift among city leaders. Tensions have been simmering after repeated revelations about Councilperson Jack Evans and his private business dealings with companies with interests before city government. The divisions escalated at a recent meeting when a group of lawmakers tried but failed to strip Evans of all committee assignments. Next, they tried unsuccessfully to stop a no-bid sports betting and lottery contract that several said “stinks” of cronyism. Instead, council Chairperson Phil Mendelson and allies were able to approve the contract and avoid harsh penalties for Evans.
West Virginia – A Resolution Condemning Pipeline Challengers Passed Easily. A Pipeline Lobbyist Wrote It.
ProPublica – Kate Mishkin (Charleston Gazette-Mail) | Published: 7/11/2019
House Resolution 11, sponsored by nearly half of West Virginia delegates, praised the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a major natural gas project. Then, the resolution sharply condemned the citizens’ groups that challenged the project in court. The resolution passed 80 to 17. What was not mentioned on the House floor was the resolution was drafted by the pipeline company itself. Bob Orndorff, a lobbyist for Dominion Energy, wrote the resolution and sent it to the House. It is not abnormal for a lobbyist to provide insight or help draft legislation. But Orndorff’s resolution was different from other pieces of legislation because it singled out a specific group. It sheds light on the close relationship between West Virginia’s growing natural gas industry and its legislative branch.
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