News You Can Use Digest - May 10, 2019 - State and Federal Communications %

May 10, 2019  •  

News You Can Use Digest – May 10, 2019


A Lawsuit About Trump and the NRA Could Upend How the Government Polices Campaign Finance
Mother Jones – Nihal Krishan | Published: 5/1/2019

A lawsuit involving the National Rifle Association (NRA) is poised to act as a major test for the FEC chairperson’s new strategy to force the agency to take more aggressive action to police campaign finance law. Chairperson Ellen Weintraub’s recent statements make it clear she does not plan on voting to defend the FEC in any cases involving delays in action. If she follows through, it would result in the first instance of her utilizing a new strategy to effectively sabotage her own agency in order to enforce campaign finance law, a move that one former FEC lawyer termed the “nuclear option.” It is not exactly clear what will happen in court after Weintraub decides not to use legal resources to defend her agency, but it is likely a judge will force the FEC to act and consider investigating the NRA for potential campaign finance violations.

Biden Faces Dilemma Over K Street Allies
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 5/3/2019

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s strong support from K Street poses a tough dilemma for his campaign. The influence world is stocked with former aides and supporters who have rallied around his previous bids for president. In this cycle, though, those lobbyist ties, past fundraising from corporate interests, and perceptions that Biden is more favorable to businesses could hurt his bid for the Democratic nomination. Biden has quickly solidified his Democratic front-runner status and focused his attention on President Trump. His campaign has said he will not take money from lobbyists and corporate PACs, but that is unlikely to be enough for progressive groups in the primary who have larger concerns about the candidate.

Desperate Drive to Make the Debate Stage Shakes Dem Campaigns
Politico – Elena Schneider | Published: 5/6/2019

There is a desperate scramble by presidential candidates to make it past a new threshold set by the Democratic National Committee – 65,000 individual donors – to the first primary debates in June and July. The televised debates could be make-or-break showcases, and the requirement has reshaped the strategy of candidates struggling to cross the donor mark. Such is the importance of the debates that some presidential campaigns have decided to prioritize Facebook advertising over hiring staffers in early states. Others noted the rules prioritize chasing viral moments early in the campaign over building traditional vote-getting infrastructure in Iowa and New Hampshire. But defenders of the new rules say they have just forced campaigns to prove they can compete in the 21st century before the election year.

Donald Trump Jr. Is Subpoenaed to Testify to Senate Panel on Russia Contacts
New York Times – Mark Mazzetti and Maggie Haberman | Published: 5/8/2019

The Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr., who met with Russians in June 2016 after being promised political dirt about Hillary Clinton. He is the first of President Trump’s children to be subpoenaed in the continuing congressional investigations into Russia’s 2016 election interference, and the move by the Republican-led committee is a sign some members of the president’s party are not aligned with his desire for a swift end to all of the inquiries. The committee is particularly interested in Trump Jr.’s account of the events surrounding the Trump Tower meeting, as well as his role in his father’s efforts to build a skyscraper in Moscow and comparing the testimony to his previous answers to Senate investigators in 2017.

Driverless Car Industry Luring Federal Safety Brass
Politico – Tanya Snider | Published: 5/5/2019

Driverless car companies are racing to scoop up top federal safety officials to fill out their ranks of advisers and lobbyists, creating worries that the fledgling industry will use its newly acquired influence to shape the coming wave of government regulations. Companies like Uber, Lyft, General Motors and Google’s sibling Waymo have hired a phalanx of current and former Washington officials, including Obama administration Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, several highway regulators, and two former chairs of the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates deadly crashes. One notable exception from the trend of self-driving companies hiring federal safety officials is Tesla.

Driverless Car Industry Luring Federal Safety Brass
Politico – Tanya Snider | Published: 5/5/2019

Driverless car companies are racing to scoop up top federal safety officials to fill out their ranks of advisers and lobbyists, creating worries that the fledgling industry will use its newly acquired influence to shape the coming wave of government regulations. Companies like Uber, Lyft, General Motors and Google’s sibling Waymo have hired a phalanx of current and former Washington officials, including Obama administration Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, several highway regulators, and two former chairs of the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates deadly crashes. One notable exception from the trend of self-driving companies hiring federal safety officials is Tesla.

Driverless Car Industry Luring Federal Safety Brass
Politico – Tanya Snider | Published: 5/5/2019

Driverless car companies are racing to scoop up top federal safety officials to fill out their ranks of advisers and lobbyists, creating worries that the fledgling industry will use its newly acquired influence to shape the coming wave of government regulations. Companies like Uber, Lyft, General Motors and Google’s sibling Waymo have hired a phalanx of current and former Washington officials, including Obama administration Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, several highway regulators, and two former chairs of the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates deadly crashes. One notable exception from the trend of self-driving companies hiring federal safety officials is Tesla.

Drugmakers Will Have to Reveal Medication Prices in TV Ads
AP News – Ricardo Alonso-Saldivar | Published: 5/8/2019

Television ads for prescription drugs will soon reveal prices, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, responding to a public outcry for government action to restrain medication costs. Azar said the Trump administration has finalized regulations that will require drug companies to disclose list prices of medications costing more than $35 for a month’s supply. Drug pricing details are expected to appear in text toward the end of commercials, when potential side effects are disclosed. The government is hoping that patients armed with prices will start discussing affordability with their doctors, and gradually that will put pressure on drug makers to keep costs in check.

F.B.I. Sent Investigator Posing as Assistant to Meet with Trump Aide in 2016
MSN – Adam Goldman, Michael Schmidt, and Mark Mazzetti (New York Times) | Published: 5/2/2019

The conversation at a London bar in September 2016 took a strange turn when the woman sitting across from George Papadopoulos, a Donald Trump campaign adviser, asked if the Trump campaign was working with Russia. The woman had set up the meeting to discuss foreign policy issues, but she was a government investigator posing as a research assistant. The FBI sent her to London as part of the counterintelligence inquiry opened that summer to better understand the Trump campaign’s links to Russia. The U.S. government’s affiliation with the woman is one previously unreported detail of an operation that has become a political flash point in the face of accusations by Trump and his allies that American law enforcement and intelligence officials spied on his campaign to undermine his electoral chances.

FDA Approves the First Vaccine for Dengue Fever, but with Major Restrictions
STAT – Helen Branswell | Published: 5/1/2019

The FDA approved the first vaccine against dengue fever, one that protects against a common disease but has generated significant controversy due to evidence it can increase the risk of severe infection in some people. The agency ruled that Dengvaxia can only be used in individuals aged nine to 16 living in parts of the U.S. where the dengue virus is endemic – in other words, where it circulates on an ongoing basis. Dengue is found only in Puerto Rico and a few other offshore territories and protectorates. Furthermore, the vaccine can only be given to children and teens who have had one previous laboratory-confirmed case of dengue. The various restrictions mean the U.S. market for the vaccine is smaller still than the already modest market Sanofi had sought. Still, the company said it was pleased by the FDA’s decision.

Foreign Agents Introduced Ukranian Politician to US Political Figures in Secretive Lobbying Arrangement
Center for Responsive Politics – Anna Massoglia | Published: 5/8/2018

New Foreign Agent Registration Act records reveal foreign agents and lobbyists on the payroll of Livingston Group, a lobbying firm run by former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, played a previously unreported role in former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s meetings with lawmakers during a December 2018 trip to Washington, D.C. That week, former U.S. Rep.-turned-lobbyist Bob McEwen also quietly introduced Tymoshenko to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s attorney who joined Trump’s personal legal team amidst special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Giuliani is under scrutiny for his simultaneous “shadow lobbying” operations for foreign clients, including Ukrainian interests.

House Panel Approves Contempt for Barr After Trump Claims Privilege Over Full Mueller Report
MSN – Nicholas Fandos (New York Times) | Published: 5/8/2019

The House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend the House hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over special counsel Robert Mueller’s unredacted report, hours after President Trump asserted executive privilege to shield the full report and underlying evidence from Congress. The committee’s vote, taken after hours of debate over the future of American democracy, was the first official House action to punish a government official in the standoff over the Mueller report. The Justice Department denounced the move as unnecessary and intended to stoke a fight. After the vote, Judiciary Committee Chairperson Jerrold Nadler swatted away questions about possible impeachment, but added, “We are now in a constitutional crisis.”

Lawmakers Seek to Curb Foreign Influence by Closing Online Political Ad Loopholes
Center for Responsive Politics – Carl Evers-Hillstrom | Published: 5/8/2019

Lawmakers introduced a bill meant to close digital political advertisement loopholes that enabled Russian actors to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Lindsay Graham introduced the 2019 Honest Ads Act, which would mandate disclosure of those paying for online political ads and create a publicly available database of political ads that appear on major online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The bill would encourage major platforms to ensure that foreign entities are not buying political ads. It was introduced with the backing of several campaign finance watchdog groups.

Trump Endorsed a Super PAC Supporting Him – and Here’s Why That Might Not Be a Legal Problem
Washington Post – Michelle Ye Hee Lee | Published: 5/8/2019

President Trump publicly endorsed America First Action, a super PAC run by his allies that aims to raise millions of dollars to ensure his second term. Candidates and the independent super PACs that support them have increasingly found ways to work together without breaking laws barring outright coordination. But the Trump re-election campaign’s statement appeared to go further than any other. When it opened the door to super PACs with its Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court said unlimited donations for independent political spending could not be corrupting because it would not be coordinated with candidates. But Trump, advocates said, is taking advantage of a legal gray area that candidate committees and super PACs have used to stretch the legal boundaries of how much they can work in tandem with each other.

Trump Would Have Been Charged with Obstruction Were He Not President, Hundreds of Former Federal Prosecutors Assert
MSN – Matt Zapotosky (Washington Post) | Published: 5/6/2019

More than 370 former federal prosecutors who worked in Republican and Democratic administrations have signed on to a statement asserting special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings would have produced obstruction charges against President Trump, if not for the office he held. The statement, signed by myriad former career government employees as well as high-profile political appointees, offers a rebuttal to Attorney General William Barr’s determination that the evidence Mueller uncovered was “not sufficient” to establish Trump committed a crime. Mueller declined to say whether Trump should have been charged, citing a Justice Department legal opinion that sitting presidents cannot be indicted.

Trump’s Tweet Derails House Bill Opposed by Lobbyist with Close White House Ties
MSN – Mike DeBonis, Felicia Sonmez, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 5/8/2019

President Trump helped derail a bipartisan casino bill opposed by a key White House ally. The intervention by Trump, contained in a morning tweet, eroded Republican support and prompted House Democrats to postpone a vote on the measure, which would pave the way for a new Massachusetts tribal casino. Opponents, including Rhode Island lawmakers, have argued the bill would harm the business of two neighboring casinos across the state line. A key Trump ally, American Conservative Union Chairperson Matthew Schlapp, is lobbying for Twin River Management Group, which operates both Rhode Island casinos. Schlapp’s wife is the White House strategic communications director. In a tweet that blindsided lawmakers of both parties, Trump urged Republicans to oppose the measure.

Watergate Had the Nixon Tapes. Mueller Had Annie Donaldson’s Notes.
MSN – Carol Leonnig (Washington Post) | Published: 5/3/2019

The notes scribbled on a legal pad captured the fear inside the White House when President Trump raged over the Russia investigation and decreed that he was firing the FBI director who led it. The angst-filled entry is part of a shorthand diary that chronicled the chaotic days in Trump’s West Wing, a trove the special counsel report cited more than 65 times as part of the evidence the president sought to blunt a criminal investigation bearing down on him. The scribe keeping track of Trump’s actions was Annie Donaldson, then-White House Counsel Don McGahn’s chief of staff, who figures in Robert Mueller report as one of the most important narrators of internal White House turmoil. Her daily habit of documenting conversations and meetings provided the special counsel’s office with its version of President Nixon’s tapes.

White House Imposes New Rules on Reporters’ Credentials, Raising Concerns About Access
MSN – Paul Farhi (Washington Post) | Published: 5/8/2019

The White House implemented new rules it says will cut down on the number of journalists holding “hard” passes, the credentials that allow reporters and technicians to enter the grounds without seeking daily permission. The new policy has been met with some confusion and even worry among journalists, some of whom suspect the aim is to keep critics in the press away from the White House and President Trump. Journalists will qualify to renew their hard passes only if they have entered the White House grounds at least 50 percent of the time in the 180 days before renewal. A nonrenewal does not preclude journalists from entering the White House entirely, but it does subject them to a more cumbersome process.

From the States and Municipalities

Florida Florida Legislators Agree to Limit Felons’ Voting Rights. Critics Call It a New Poll Tax.
Washington Post – Amy Gardner | Published: 5/5/2019

The largest expansion of voting eligibility in the country since the elimination of poll taxes and literacy tests in the 1960s suffered a setback when Republican legislators in Florida voted to limit the scope of a new constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to most convicted felons. The measure, which would require felons to pay all court-ordered fines, fees, and restitution before their eligibility to vote is restored, quickly drew accusations of voter suppression. Supporters of what is known in Florida as Amendment 4 said the law effectively reinstitutes a poll tax by requiring felons to satisfy financial obligations before they can vote again.

Georgia A Mayor Reportedly Said Her City Isn’t Ready for Black Leader. A Council Member Went Further.
Washington Post – Michael Price-Saddler | Published: 5/7/2019

Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly is facing calls to resign following reports she dismissed a candidate for a top city position based on his race. Racist remarks from one of her defenders further inflamed the controversy, revealing what some say are outdated racial attitudes long pervasive in a small, predominantly white city in Georgia. It was reported that Kenerly withdrew the application of Keith Henry for city administrator, “because he is black, and the city isn’t ready for this.” Councilperson Jim Cleveland defended the mayor then delivered an unprompted opinion on interracial marriage. “I have black friends, I hired black people. But when it comes to all this stuff you see on TV, when you see blacks and whites together, it makes my blood boil because that’s just not the way a Christian is supposed to live,” Cleveland said.

Indiana Casino Company Turned to State Lawmaker for Title Work. He Voted for Massive Gaming Bill.
Indianapolis Star – Tony Cook and Kaitlin Lange | Published: 5/2/2019

When gaming company Spectacle Entertainment bought two casinos in Gary last year, it turned to a state representative for title insurance and closing services. That same lawmaker, Indiana Rep. Jerry Torr, then voted in favor of legislation that could allow Spectacle to move those casinos to new, more lucrative locations in the state. The business ties are the latest to raise questions about Spectacle and its possible attempts to influence elected officials at the statehouse. The company also paid for at least two private jet flights for Gov. Eric Holcomb and one of Spectacle’s principal investors arranged a contract for House Speaker Brian Bosma last year with Vigo County.

Kentucky ‘He Is a Whiny, Off-Topic Social Media Troll.’ Why Bevin Banned Critics on Social Media.
Lexington Herald-Leader – John Cheves | Published: 5/1/2019

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has banned almost 3,000 people from his Facebook and Twitter accounts, sometimes reading negative comments online in the middle of the night and directing his communications staff to act against his critics. Among the keywords Bevin’s office uses to flag Facebook posts for possible deletion and banning are dictator, weirdo, crook, jerk, narcissist, nimrod, and hypocrite, according to documents produced by the state. According to screen shots of their comments recorded by Bevin’s staff, all have been critical of the governor or his policies at some point since he took office three years ago. A lawsuit alleges Bevin’s policy of banning individuals from state-run social media forums constitutes an unlawful prior restraint on speech.

Maryland Baltimore Mayor Pugh Resigns After Month on Leave Amid Investigation into Her Business Deals
MSN – Ian Duncan, Jean Marbella, and Luke Broadwater (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 5/2/2019

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned, ending her tenure that unraveled amid a scandal over payments for a self-published children’s book series she sold to customers including a $4 billion hospital network she once helped oversee and companies with business before the city. FBI and IRS agents had searched her City Hall offices, homes, and other locations. Pugh came to office contrasting her clean image with her main opponent, Mayor Sheila Dixon, who was forced to resign in 2010 as part of a plea deal for misappropriating about $500 in gift cards meant for needy families. A federal grand jury has been empaneled and state and local inquiries are also underway into the roughly $800,000 Pugh made over the years in exchange for her “Healthy Holly” paperbacks about health and nutrition

Michigan Unlike the Rest of America, Michigan Lawmakers’ Personal Finances Are a Secret – Lauren Gibbons and Taylor DesOrmeau | Published: 5/6/2019

Michigan is one of two states – and the only one with a full-time Legislature – with no requirement for public officials to disclose basic financial information, including income sources, business investments, gifts, and travel compensation. Without any legal requirement on financial disclosures, Michigan residents only know about potential conflicts-of-interest if their lawmakers choose to reveal them. The lack of financial disclosure requirements is one?of the biggest?reasons?Michigan ranked last in a survey that rated each state’s transparency laws.?Potential conflicts or corruption in the state “remain buried in an honor system with no honor,” the?report concluded. Not much has changed in the past four years.

Mississippi How Mississippi Lawmakers Quietly Funnel Millions of Education Dollars to Pet Vendors
Jackson Clarion-Ledger – Bracey Harris and Giacomo Bologna | Published: 5/8/2019

Top Mississippi lawmakers carve out millions of dollars for handpicked education vendors and pet projects each year, bypassing state bid laws and steering money to companies that know the right people or hire the right lobbyists. A Jackson Clarion Ledger analysis of education appropriations for the last four years uncovered millions of dollars in earmarks for select vendors, most of them represented by three lobbying firms. In at least four cases, key lawmakers received campaign contributions from vendors who received those earmarks.

New Hampshire What Counts as a Campaign Expense? For Some Lawmakers, It Includes Flowers and Dry Cleaning
New Hampshire Public Radio – Casey McDermott | Published: 5/6/2019

Candidates running for office in New Hampshire can run up a tab on all kinds of expenses: lawn signs, postage, snacks for fundraisers, advertising, and more. But some lawmakers lean on campaign donations to cover other, less obvious expenses that pile up on the campaign trail, or even while they are in office, things like car repairs, dry cleaning bills, and floral arrangements. The state’s campaign finance laws provide little guidance on what counts as a legal campaign expense, but an effort under way at the Legislature would take a step toward more explicitly acknowledging the personal costs that can come with public service. It has prompted a debate over where candidates should draw the line between personal and political expenses on the campaign trail.

New Mexico Padilla Claims AG Concealed Recording Device in Coffeepot
Albuquerque Journal – Dan Boyd | Published: 5/2/2019

Former New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla is asking a judge to dismiss public corruption charges against her, claiming investigators in Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office violated her due process rights by secretly recording a conversation with her attorney – via a coffeepot outfitted with a recording device – before she was arrested in December 2016. But the attorney general’s office denies surreptitiously listening in on Padilla’s privileged chat, saying the coffeepot recording device, which was on loan from the Albuquerque Police Department, stopped recording while she was talking with her attorney.

New York For Years, Top NY Lobbying Firm Went Unpaid for Campaign Work
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 5/7/2019

The lobbying firm Patrick B. Jenkins and Associates offers paid, professional campaign fundraising services for candidates, even as the firm lobbies members of the New York Legislature. But it has gone unpaid for months or even years in its political and fundraising work on behalf of the several state Assembly members, work that is worth tens-of-thousands of dollars. Sources said fundraising work included Patrick B. Jenkins and Associates soliciting campaign donations from its long roster of lobbying clients during the 2019 budget season. Under the state’s gift law, registered lobbyists such as Patrick Jenkins are prohibited from giving a gift of more than “nominal” value – $15 – to a public official, if it can be reasonably presumed the gift is meant to influence the official.

Ohio Federal Judges Declare Ohio Congressional Map Unconstitutional
Washington Post – Robert Barnes | Published: 5/3/2019

A panel of federal judges declared Ohio’s congressional map unconstitutional, adding to a growing number of states where partisan gerrymandering has been outlawed. That decision and a similar one in Michigan could be seen as signals from the lower courts to their superiors. The U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether judges even have a role in such disputes. While the high court regularly polices redistricting plans for racial gerrymandering, it has never found lawmakers’ partisan efforts to preserve power so extreme that their actions violate the constitutional rights of voters. But with the ruling in Ohio, federal courts in five states have struck down maps as partisan gerrymanders. The decisions will either guide the Supreme Court to find there is a way for judges to identify extreme partisanship or make the rulings short-lived.

Oklahoma Donations to Lawmakers Keep Flowing Even as They Vote on Bills
Oklahoma Watch – Trevor Brown | Published: 5/6/2019

Since November 6, donors have given more than $1.7 million to sitting lawmakers and top state leaders in Oklahoma, with about 20 percent donated while the Legislature has been in session. The amount will likely climb because of fundraising in the second half of the session, a total that will not be disclosed until second-quarter campaign finance reports are filed by the end of July. Campaign finance reform advocates say even though these types of donations are allowable under state law, they are troubling because they raise serious conflict-of-interest issues for public officials.

Pennsylvania Dark Money Under Spotlight as Campaign Finance Law Changes Right Before Philly Primary
Philadelphia Inquirer – Julia Terruso and Chris Brennan | Published: 5/2/2019

Philadelphia 3.0, an independent PAC, has circulated thousands of fliers supporting Jamie Gauthier for city council and accusing incumbent Jannie Blackwell of being too cozy with developers. But the group’s support has proved somewhat polarizing in the race. The lasting backlash against 3.0 has been that it doesn’t legally have to publicly identify many of its donors. In 2015 it spent more than $500,000 on council races but kept secret the origin of seven out of every 10 dollars transferred from its nonprofit. A change to the city’s campaign finance law that is now in effect aims to make sure anyone who pays for political communications is named. The new law requires PACs like 3.0 to disclose all donors who contribute to political activity that costs more than $5,000, whether the funding originated from a nonprofit or a PAC.

Tennessee Cocaine, Racy Texts and a Potentially Fraudulent Email: A week of chaos roils one statehouse
Washington Post – Eli Rosenberg | Published: 5/9/2019

Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada’s chief of staff, Cade Cothren, resigned amid reports he solicited sex in text messages to interns and lobbyists and used illegal drugs in the legislative office building. Cothren also faced scrutiny over racist text messages. His resignation came hours after a news article said Cothren allegedly solicited sex and nude photographs from an intern, sought sex with a lobbyist, and suggested he would make sexual advances toward another intern. Casada’s participation in some of the text messages has kicked off calls for his resignation. The messy political drama is another chapter in the long-running discussion about the treatment of women in the halls of power, in this case the statehouse.

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