News You Can Use Digest - June 7, 2019 - State and Federal Communications

June 7, 2019  •  

News You Can Use Digest – June 7, 2019

National/Federal

A ‘Bridge’ to China, and Her Family’s Business, in the Trump Cabinet
MSN – Michael Forsythe, Eric Lipton, Keith Bradsher, and Sui-Lee Wee (New York Times) | Published: 6/2/2019

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has no formal affiliation or stake in her family’s shipping business, Foremost Group, which has deep ties to the economic and political elite in China. But she and her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have received millions of dollars in gifts from her father, who ran the company until last year. And McConnell’s re-election campaigns have received more than $1 million in contributions from Chao’s extended family. Over the years, Chao has repeatedly used her connections and celebrity status in China to boost the profile of the company. Now, Chao is the top Trump official overseeing the American shipping industry, which is overshadowed by its Chinese competitors. Her efforts on behalf of the family business have come as Foremost has interacted with the Chinese state to a remarkable degree for an American company.

FEC to Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and 48 More Zombie Campaigns: Why are you still here?
Tampa Bay Times – Christopher O’Donnell, Eli Murray, Connie Humburg, and Noah Pransky | Published: 5/31/2019

The FEC demanded explanations from about 50 politicians who are operating zombie campaigns – political committees that keep spending contributions long after the campaign has ended. The agency sent letters to the campaigns asking why their campaign accounts were still open. It flagged specific expenses by at least 17 campaigns and asked them to justify the spending. It is the first action taken by the FEC since it announced in April 2018 that it would start scrutinizing the spending of what it called “dormant” campaigns. Federal law does not allow campaign money to be spent improving politicians’ personal lives.

How Payday Lenders Spent $1 Million at a Trump Resort – and Cashed In
ProPublica – Alice Wilder (WNYC) and Anjali Tsui | Published: 6/4/2019

In March, the payday lending industry held its annual convention at the Trump National Doral hotel outside Miami. A month earlier, Kathleen Kraninger, who had just finished her second month as director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, had delivered what the lenders consider an epochal victory: Kraninger announced a proposal to eviscerate a crucial rule that had been passed under her Obama-era predecessor. This year was the second in a row the industry’s trade group, the Community Financial Services Association of America, held its convention at the Doral. In the eight years before 2018, the organization never held an event at a Trump property.

In Need of Cash, Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Turn to Wealthy Donors
MSN – Michelle Ye Hee Lee (Washington Post) | Published: 6/2/2019

Across the Democratic field, presidential candidates are embracing the big donors they distanced themselves from early on – a sign of increasing doubt the small, online donations the campaigns have been chasing will be sufficient to sustain two-dozen primary contenders. Many of the candidates previously had held a handful of high-dollar fundraisers or avoided them altogether, seeking to tap into the populist sentiment that has animated the Democratic base. But after a disappointing fundraising haul in the first quarter of the year, and as the primary drags on with no clear front-runner, many of the candidates are turning their focus to wealthy donors, a strategy that could help keep their campaigns viable but may hamper their ability to connect with base voters.

Liberals Rip Democratic Leaders for Writing Drug Pricing Bill in Secret
The Hill – Peter Sullivan | Published: 6/6/2019

Progressive House Democrats are growing increasingly frustrated with their party’s leadership, accusing them of writing Democrats’ signature bill to lower prescription drug prices in secret and without their input. At issue is a plan Pelosi’s office has been working on for months that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, a top priority for Democrats and one the party stressed in its campaign last year to win back the House. There is now an intense debate within the Democratic caucus over the details of that proposal, with the Progressive Caucus pushing for a bill that it says is stronger because it would strip a company of its monopoly on a drug if the manufacturer refuses to agree to a reasonable price in Medicare negotiations.

Meet the GOP Operatives Who Aim to Smear the 2020 Democrats – but Keep Bungling It
MSN – Manuel Roig-Franzia and Beth Reinhard (Washington Post) | Published: 6/4/2019

Like notorious dirty tricksters before them, Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl operate in a realm where it matters little whether their outrageous claims against political opponents are proved – they hardly ever are – but only whether they somehow slip into the national consciousness. But today it is a more dangerous game: they operate in an era when notions about truth and fiction have been upended and in which many Americans get their information from self-affirming, partisan silos, making their brand of political cyberwarfare hyper-relevant.

Recent Ex-Members of Congress Head to K Street as ‘Shadow Lobbying’ Escalates
Center for Responsive Politics – Karl Evers-Hillstrom | Published: 5/30/2019

Nearly two dozen former members of the 115th Congress have already found jobs at lobbying firms.  Lobbying is a natural next step for recently departed members who spent years cultivating relationships with their colleagues and interest groups. While former members of Congress must wait two years before lobbying their respective chamber’s ex-colleagues, they often engage in so-called shadow lobbying – participating in activities that might be considered lobbying but declining to register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). “[The] LDA is nothing more than an honor system,” said Paul Miller, president of the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics.

Tech Giants Amass a Lobbying Army for an Epic Washington Battle
New York Times – Cecilia Kang and Kenneth Vogel | Published: 6/5/2019

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google have built themselves into some of the largest players on K Street as they confront threats from the Trump administration and both parties on Capitol Hill. Amazon’s expansion has been met with unease over labor conditions and the company’s effect on small businesses. The four companies spent a combined $55 million on lobbying last year. Of the 238 people registered to lobby for the companies in the first three months of this year, both in-house employees and those on contract from lobbying and law firms, about 75 percent formerly served in the government or on political campaigns. Amazon’s Washington office is led by a former Federal Trade Commission official, Brian Huseman. Its roster of contract lobbyists includes three Democratic former members of Congress and two former Justice Department lawyers.

Ted Cruz and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Team Up to Ban Lawmakers from Lobbying
National Public Radio – Sasha Ingber | Published: 5/31/2019

Two lawmakers who have often been at odds found common ground in a place that often highlights polarizing opinions: Twitter. That is where U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez vowed to set aside their differences and work on new lobbying restrictions for lawmakers. Now an unlikely coalition is forming around their joint effort. Craig Holman, who lobbies on ethics, campaign finance, and lobbying on behalf of Public Citizen, said it is “heartening” that Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez moved to bridge the deep partisan divide. “I am not sure if Congress will be willing to adopt their proposed lifetime ban, but the sheer fact of a left-and-right agreement that the revolving door is a grave problem that must be addressed is going to move the ball forward,” Holman said.

The Campaign Finance of Women’s Suffrage
WHYY – Kimberly Adams | Published: 6/4/2019

Women’s suffrage took more than seven decades of political struggle and included marches, hunger strikes, and arrests. And, like political campaigns of today, it required a lot of money. While women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were on the front lines of the movement, there were other women working behind the scenes to fund it. “We don’t tend to teach about the suffrage movement as a major lobbying force, a major well-funded organization in American political history, but it was,” said Corrine McConnaughy, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University and author of “The Woman Suffrage Movement in America: A Reassessment.”

Trump Resort Revenue Has Gone Up After Presidential Visits
Politico – Anita Kumar | Published: 6/6/2019

President Trump’s week-long trip to Europe included a tour of his own businesses. Trump traveled to his luxury resort on Ireland’s west coast for a visit that brought world-wide publicity and increased security to the location, and, if past trends hold, more revenue. The president’s trip to Trump International Golf Links in Doonbeg, Ireland has once again led to criticisms that he is using his office to make money for his own business. It marks the second time he has visited one of his properties outside the United States since he was sworn into office. “U.S. foreign relations should never rise and fall on the financial interests of the president and the ability to promote his own property,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which examined his financial disclosures.

Trump Urges Customers to Drop AT&T to Punish CNN Over Its Coverage of Him
Portland Press Herald – Craig Timberg, Taylor Telford, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 6/3/2019

President Trump called for a boycott of AT&T, the corporate owner of CNN, saying the network paints a “false picture” of the U.S. The comment, which Trump tweeted in response to seeing CNN coverage while traveling during a European tour, fueled criticisms the president was using his power inappropriately to intimidate critics. Historians struggled to cite an equivalent threat even from presidents such as Richard Nixon renowned for their hostility toward the press. Less democratic nations with more tenuous press freedoms often use government regulatory power, criminal investigations or tax audits to punish news organizations seen as providing unflattering coverage, but past U.S. presidents rarely have taken such public shots at the businesses of the owners of major American news organizations, historians said.

From the States and Municipalities

Alabama Dunkin’ Donuts Owner Accuses Ethics Commission Investigator of Abuse of Power
Montgomery Advertiser – Kirsten Fiscus | Published: 5/31/2019

When Damon Dunn received notification of a discrimination complaint against his Dunkin’ Donuts store, he was concerned at first, then confused, and then angry. It is corporate policy that customer complaints are reviewed and handled in a timely manner, but the majority of those are disgruntled customers upset about a long wait time or food prepared incorrectly. Byron Butler, a man Dunn would learn is an investigator with the Alabama Ethics Commission, accused the store of charging black customers more for extra pumps of coffee flavoring known as “swirl” at the restaurant, a claim that Dunn says is unfounded. Butler told an employee he was an investigator and took a verbal statement from her about the charging practices. The employee, who is 18, thought she would face legal trouble if she did not talk with him.

Florida Lawmakers Call for Probe of NRA Lobbyist Marion Hammer’s Failure to Disclose Payments
Miami Herald – Samantha Gross | Published: 5/30/2019

Some Democratic lawmakers in Florida are calling for an investigation into whether prominent National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbyist Marion Hammer violated state law by failing to disclose payments from her organization while lobbying on NRA priorities like banning the sale of bump stocks. According to Florida law, non-employee lobbyists for both legislative and executive branches are required to register and disclose their total compensation. Hammer is not an in-house lobbyist for the NRA, and therefore is required under law to submit a compensation report for each quarter during which she was registered to lobby. The Florida Bulldog reported Hammer failed to file any compensation reports with state since at least 2007.

Florida Top City Law Firm Broke County Lobbying Rules
Fort Myers News-Press – Bill Smith | Published: 5/31/2019

One of the region’s biggest law firms is among several business interests that did not meet required deadlines for registering as lobbyists, Lee County’s inspector general said in an investigative report. Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt, a Fort Myers based law firm; John Gucciardi, a consultant to Fort Myers Beach developer TPI Hospitality; and Waldrop Engineering each missed filing deadline. Waldrop went seven years without filing the statement. It has since filed registrations for its employees.

Georgia Abrams Probe Highlights Wide Reach of State Ethics Commission
Georgia Public Broadcasting – Stephan Fowler | Published: 6/5/2019

Lawyers for former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams say the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission did not follow its own rules in an investigation of her 2018 campaign. The commission alleges illegal coordination between the Abrams campaign and four outside organizations. The campaign argued the ethics panel failed to follow its rules for opening an inquiry and sharing probable cause for the allegations. But according to state law, the commission is following the rules. Rick Thompson, a former executive secretary of the commission, said in terms of procedure, the subpoenas are above board. The full scope of the probe will not be made clear until it is put before a meeting of the full commission.

Illinois Ald. Edward Burke Indicted on Expanded Federal Racketeering, Bribery Charges
Chicago Tribune – Jason Meisner, Todd Lighty, and Gregory Pratt | Published: 5/30/2019

Chicago Ald. Edward Burke was meeting with a fellow alderman in October 2017 when he allegedly expressed his displeasure over the way developers of the old main Chicago post office had so far failed to throw any business to Burke’s private law firm. “As far as I’m concerned, they can go f— themselves,” Burke told Ald. Daniel Solis, who was secretly recording the conversation. The conversation is at the center of a 14-count indictment outlining a series of alleged schemes in which prosecutors say Burke abused his City Hall clout to extort private legal work from companies and individuals doing business with the city. Also charge Burke in attempting to shake down two businesspeople seeking to renovate a Burger King restaurant in the ward.

Kentucky Appellate Court Upholds State Ban of Gifts, Money to Kentucky Lawmakers
Lexington Herald-Leader – Jack Brammer | Published: 5/30/2019

A federal appeals court upheld a Kentucky law that prohibit lobbyists from giving gifts to state legislators or donating to their campaigns. The ruling by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge William Bertelsman, who struck down the bans, ruling Kentucky’s laws burdened “core political speech” and curtailed freedom of association. The appeals court reversed the ruling and said the measures “enacted to prevent corruption and protect citizens’ trust in their elected officials, comport with the Constitution.”

Massachusetts Convicted of Corruption, DiMasi Now Wants to Be a Lobbyist. The State Has Other Ideas
Boston Globe – Matt Sout and Andrea Estes | Published: 6/5/2019

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin’s office rejected former state House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi’s application to become a lobbyist just days after he registered to lobby both the Legislature and executive branch. DiMasi appealed and is due to appear before an administrative hearing officer. His attempt at entering the lucrative industry came after he completed his supervised release following his conviction on corruption charges. DiMasi argued that because lawmakers did not include any of the specific federal statutes on which he was convicted into the state law, he should not be prohibited from registering. Laurie Flynn, Galvin’s chief legal counsel, argued DiMasi’s criminal record includes “conduct in violation” of state lobbying and ethics laws, which automatically bars him from lobbying for 10 years after his conviction, or until June 2021.

Michigan Emails Show MDOT Let Lobbyist Steer Report on Gravel Shortage for Michigan Roads
Detroit Free Press – Paul Egan | Published: 6/6/2019

When Michigan gravel companies wanting to open or expand a mine are opposed by neighbors objecting to the noise and dust, they point to a 2016 consultant’s study, commissioned by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), that says the state is running out of gravel to rebuild its busted roads. But in fact, the Michigan Aggregates Association (MAA) – the lobbying organization for the sand and gravel industry, which is pushing for legislation that would severely restrict the ability of local governments to deny permits for new or expanded gravel mines – was behind the study, records show. The MAA recommended the consultant MDOT hired, set out the scope of work and how to price the study, and even spelled out the expected findings. The group also had a role in initiating the study.

Missouri Free Acupuncture and Eye Exams for Lawmakers Are No-Nos, Missouri Ethics Commission Says
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Jack Suntrup | Published: 6/3/2019

Two opinions from the Missouri Ethics Commission, which read as lists of dos-and-don’ts for lawmakers and their employees, were issued in response to questions following the passage of Amendment 1 last year. One of the provisions of what is known as “Clean Missouri” limits lobbyist gifts to five dollars. Accepting engraved plaques worth more than five dollars from lobbyists or organizations that lobby is prohibited, the commission said. It also said lawmakers should avoid free use of conference rooms owned by organizations that retain lobbyists. The opinion outlines a number of other scenarios in which lawmakers or their staffs may face ethical dilemmas.

New Jersey Murphy Officials ‘Seriously Mishandled’ Katie Brennan Assault Allegation, Inquiry Finds
Bergen Record – Dustin Racioppi | Published: 6/5/2019

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s staff “seriously mishandled” a sexual assault claim by not investigating it and not telling Murphy before the hiring of the alleged assailant – details of which remain a mystery – for a top position, a legislative inquiry has found. The report by the Select Oversight Committee chronicles a series of missteps made by some of the highest-ranking officials in Murphy’s orbit in response to the allegation, made by former campaign volunteer Katie Brennan, and calls into question the “competence and culture of state government as a whole.” Brennan, now a housing official in the administration, had accused Al Alvarez, a former Murphy aide, of sexually assaulting her during the 2017 campaign. Alvarez was not charged and has denied the allegation.

New York Nassau County Implements New Ethics Rules
Newsday – Candice Ferrette | Published: 6/5/2019

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran signed new rules for county vendors, including a ban on gifts to county procurement officials, aimed at stemming contracting abuses that were central to federal corruption cases involving prominent local officials. Under the new Vendor Code of Ethics, county employees involved with contracting cannot accept gifts “of any kind” from vendors, “no matter how small.” Contractors also cannot discuss or offer jobs to county employees involved with procurement or to their family members. Under the new rules, vendors will be required to certify they have read and accepted the terms of the ethics code and have distributed it to all subcontractors and suppliers.

Rhode Island The Providence Mayor Raised Thousands of Dollars for a Nonprofit with Ties to His Campaign, Then He Reimbursed Himself from Its Coffers
Boston Globe – Dan McGowan | Published: 6/6/2019

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for a nonprofit organization with close ties to his political campaign and one that later reimbursed him and other high-ranking city employees for travel expenses to conferences all over the country. Now, the practice of soliciting donations for the Providence Tourism Fund – often from law firms and other companies that have contracts with the city – has come under fire from watchdogs who say Elorza is sidestepping Rhode Island’s strict campaign finance laws so he can collect unlimited amounts of money from corporations. Elorza did not create the fund. It was established in 2009 to raise money for a national conference that was held in Providence, but he has been far more aggressive about using it for travel than his predecessors.

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