May 24, 2019 •
News You Can Use Digest – May 24, 2019
9th Circuit Rejects Challenge to Foreign-Donation Ban
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 5/16/2019
A federal appeals court rejected a legal challenge to Congress’ ban on most foreign nationals donating to state and local election campaigns. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban, saying a “summary” U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 upholding the foreign-donation prohibition left lower-court judges obliged to turn down all First Amendment challenges to the statute. But that high-court decision, issued without briefs or argument, dealt with a lawsuit focused on federal elections. Critics of the ban have said allowing it to extend into state and local political contests intrudes on the right of states and municipalities to control their own electoral processes.
A Conservative Activist’s Behind-the-Scenes Campaign to Remake the Nation’s Courts
Anchorage Daily News – Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Shawn Boburg (Washington Post) | Published: 5/21/2019
At a time when President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are reshaping federal courts by installing conservative judges and Supreme Court justices, few people outside government have more influence over judicial appointments now than Leonard Leo. He is executive vice president of the Federalist Society, a nonprofit group for conservative lawyers that has close ties to Supreme Court justices. Behind the scenes, Leo is the maestro of a network of interlocking nonprofits working on media campaigns and other initiatives to sway lawmakers by generating public support for conservative judges. The story of Leo’s rise shows how undisclosed interests outside of government are harnessing the nation’s nonprofit system to influence judicial appointments that will shape the nation for decades.
Bank CEO Charged with Bribing Manafort for Trump Administration Post
Politico – Natasha Bertrand | Published: 5/23/2019
A Chicago bank executive tried to bribe Trump campaign chairperson Paul Manafort with roughly $16 million in loans after the 2016 election in the hopes of scoring a top administration post, according to a federal indictment. Stephen Calk, then the chief executive officer of the Federal Savings Bank of Chicago, “sought to leverage his control over” Manafort’s proposed loans in order to obtain a senior administration position, said court documents. And Calk approved the loans even though he “was aware of significant red flags regarding” Manafort’s ability to pay back the money. The loans were first mentioned during Manafort’s Virginia prosecution on bank- and tax-fraud charges, when one of Calk’s colleagues described the potential quid pro quo during courtroom testimony.
Cohen Told Lawmakers Trump Attorney Jay Sekulow Encouraged Him to Falsely Claim Moscow Project Ended in January
MSN – Tom Hamburger, Ellen Nakashima, and Karoun Demirjian (Washington Post) | Published: 5/20/2019
Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, told a House panel during closed-door hearings that he had been encouraged by Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow to falsely claim in a 2017 statement to Congress that negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow ended in January 2016. Cohen later admitted discussions on the Moscow tower continued into June of the presidential election year, after it was clear Trump would be the GOP nominee. Cohen’s closed-door testimony led Democrats to press Sekulow and other Trump family lawyers who were involved in a joint defense agreement for more information about work they did preparing Cohen’s statement. The lawyers have so far rebuffed the request, calling it a threat to the protection of communications between lawyers and their clients.
Confidential Draft IRS Memo Says Tax Returns Must Be Given to Congress Unless President Invokes Executive Privilege
MSN – Jeff Stein and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 5/21/2019
A confidential Internal Revenue Service (IRS) legal memorandum says tax returns must be given to Congress unless the president takes the rare step of asserting executive privilege. The memo contradicts the Trump administration’s justification for denying lawmakers’ request for President Trump’s tax returns, exposing fissures in the executive branch. Trump has refused to turn over his tax returns but has not invoked executive privilege. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has instead denied the returns by arguing there is no legislative purpose for demanding them. The IRS memo says the law “does not allow the Secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing the information provided the statutory conditions are met” and directly rejects the reason Mnuchin has cited for withholding the information.
Congressional Report: Purdue Pharma influenced World Health Organization’s opioid guidelines
Washington Post – Katie Zezima | Published: 5/23/2019
A new congressional report claims the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines on treating pain were directly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, including a set of directions for prescribing powerful painkillers that appear to have been taken from Purdue Pharma. The investigation points to evidence that drug makers and those who profited from the increased prescribing of opioids aimed to push the WHO into endorsing use of the drugs across the globe. The WHO provides health guidance worldwide. The report alleges wo WHO reports that provide guidelines for treating severe pain, one in adults and the other in children, draw directly from Purdue’s strategies on how to market opioids.
DC Circuit OKs Payment-Plan Rules for Campaign Donors
Courthouse News Service – Brad Katner | Published: 5/21/2019
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will keep in place an installment plan for nearly $250,000 bequeathed to the Libertarian Party. When Joseph Shaber died in 2014, he left $235,000 to the Libertarian National Committee, the campaign arm of the party. While federal elections rules permit individuals to give up to $339,000 per year to such entities, that total comes with certain specifications. Shaber’s gift came with no strings attached, but the Libertarian Party says the $33,900 limit on general-expenditure donations forces it to collect the money in installments each year, leaving the rest in an escrow account. The party argued such limits are a violation of free-speech rights and spreading the payments out under the FEC-mandated plan would violate Shaber’s post-mortem wishes. U.S. Circuit Court Judge David Tatel noting Congress created donation limits to avoid political corruption, even in death.
Deutsche Bank Staff Saw Suspicious Activity in Trump and Kushner Accounts
MSN – David Enrich (New York Times) | Published: 5/19/2019
Anti-money-laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank recommended in 2016 and 2017 that multiple transactions involving legal entities controlled by Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be reported to a federal financial-crimes watchdog. The transactions, some of which involved Trump’s now-defunct foundation, set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity, according to bank employees. Compliance staff members who then reviewed the transactions prepared so-called suspicious activity reports that they believed should be sent to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes. But executives at Deutsche Bank, which has lent billions of dollars to the Trump and Kushner companies, rejected their employees’ advice. The reports were never filed with the government.
Elizabeth Warren Decries Big Money in Politics. Her Campaign Treasurer Embodies It.
Center for Responsive Politics – Lateshia Beachum | Published: 5/23/2019
U.S. Sen. Elizabet Warren has rejected traditional sources of campaign money, from PACs to lobbyists, in her bid for the White House. Everyone will have access to her, she says, not just wealthy donors. She has instituted “selfie lines” at rallies, and releases videos of herself personally calling donors who have contributed just a few dollars. But Warren has also selected for her presidential campaign treasurer a man whose contributions run counter to Warren’s statements, among the most emphatic among the more than 20 Democrats running for president, against big money in politics. Dubbed a “personal PAC machine” by The Boston Globe, retired software engineer Paul Egerman has quietly established himself as a key benefactor and rainmaker for Democratic political committees and liberal causes.
EPA Watchdog Suggests Agency Recover $124,000 in Pruitt’s ‘Excessive’ Travel Expenses
San Jose Mercury News – Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis (Washington Post) | Published: 5/16/2019
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should consider recovering nearly $124,000 in improper travel expenses by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the agency’s inspector general recommended. The findings, issued nearly a year after Pruitt resigned amid controversy over his spending, travel, and ties to lobbyists and outside groups, highlight the fiscal impact of his penchant for high-end travel and accommodations. Investigators concluded that 40 trips Pruitt either took or scheduled during a 10-month period were excessive and cost taxpayers $985,037. The “questioned amount” the inspector general’s office identifies for possible recovery is the $123,941 that taxpayers spent on flying both Pruitt and a security agent in first- or business class, instead of coach.
‘It’s Entirely Inappropriate’: Trump shot a political video on Air Force One
MSN – Colby Itkowitz (Washington Post) | Published: 5/17/2019
Seated behind a desk on Air Force One, the presidential seal over his left shoulder, President Trump shot a short video recently, blasting New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s entry into the 2020 race. “If you like high taxes and if you like crime, you can vote for him – but most people aren’t into that,” the president said to the camera. Trump’s use of taxpayer-funded transportation to post a political message raises some legal and ethics questions. But possibly the greatest crime, some experts say, is the breakdown of norms.
Judge Orders Public Release of What Michael Flynn Said in Call to Russian Ambassador
MSN – Carol Leonnig and Rosalind Helderman (Washington Post) | Published: 5/16/2019
A federal judge ordered prosecutors to make public a transcript of a phone call that former national security adviser Michael Flynn tried hard to hide with a lie: his conversation with a Russian ambassador in late 2016. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan also ordered the government also to provide a public transcript of a November 2017 voice mail involving Flynn. In that sensitive call, President Trump’s attorney left a message for Flynn’s lawyer reminding him of the president’s fondness for Flynn at a time when Flynn was considering cooperating with federal investigators. The transcripts, which the judge ordered be posted on a court website by May 31, would reveal conversations at the center of two major avenues of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Judge Rejects Trump’s Request to Halt Congressional Subpoenas for His Banking Records
MSN – Renae Merle, Michael Kranish, and Felicia Sonmez (Washington Post) | Published: 5/22/2019
A federal judge rejected a request by President Trump to block congressional subpoenas for his banking records, dealing the latest blow to the president in his bid to battle Democratic investigations into his personal finances. The decision in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York could clear the way for Deutsche Bank and Capital One to hand over the president’s financial records to Democrats in the House. Trump’s attorneys could appeal the decision. But U.S. District Court Judge Edgardo Ramos said Trump’s lawsuit was unlikely to succeed.
Judge Rules Against Trump in Fight Over President’s Financial Records
Washington Post – Devlin Barrett, Spencer Hsu, Rachael Bade, and Josh Dawsey | Published: 5/20/2019
President Trump lost an early round of his court fight with Democrats after a federal judge ruled the president’s accounting firm must turn over his financial records to Congress as lawmakers seek to assert their oversight authority. Lawyers for the president are fighting document and witness subpoenas on multiple fronts, and Mehta’s ruling came hours after former White House Counsel Donald McGahn was directed not to appear before a congressional committee seeking testimony about his conversations with Trump. In his decision, Mehta flatly rejected arguments from the president’s lawyers that the House Oversight Committee’s demands for the records from Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, were overly broad and served no legitimate legislative function.
Justin Amash, Tea Party Star, Earns Primary Challenge for Backing Impeachment
Washington Post – Isaac Stanley-Baker | Published: 5/20/2019
U.S. Rep. Justin Amash said President Trump engaged in activity worthy of impeachment, becoming the first Republican on Capitol Hill to break with the party’s line on impeachment. Amash’s announcement on Saturday came after he had finished reading the report prepared by special counsel Robert Mueller, as the lawmaker explained in a lengthy Twitter thread. On Sunday, it prompted an intraparty rival, Michigan Rep. Jim Lower, to declare he would run in the Republican primary next year for Amash’s seat. Amash’s survival may now depend on whether he has cultivated devotion among voters sufficient to override their loyalty to the president.
Women Strive to Close Gender Gap at Biz Groups
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 5/21/2019
Trade associations have made strides in gender diversity, with more women taking on prominent roles at industry groups. It is a trend advocates are pushing to build on. Women account for 41 percent of the chief executives or executive directors of trade associations. K Street observers are hopeful these trends will continue, especially with a record number of female lawmakers in the current Congress and growing pressure on the influence world to expand its hiring practices.
From the States and Municipalities
California – Brawl Erupts at Convention of Local Politicians, Roils Upscale Resort
Los Angeles Times – Adam Elmahrek, Ruben Vives, and Anh Do | Published: 5/20/2019
A conference of local government officials from California at the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa erupted into violence over when several attendees began throwing punches, with at least one person apparently knocked unconscious. It was not immediately clear who started the fight, but it involved members of the Commerce City Council and other public officials, according to a written statement from Mayor John Soria and several witnesses. Some witnesses said the melee involved more than seven people and included political consultants, government vendors, and elected officials from the Los Angeles area. One or more women were screaming, the sources said. “It was a hectic scene,” one witness said.
Mississippi – How Mississippi Lawmakers Gave $1.5 Million of Education Money to Weight Watchers
Jackson Clarion-Ledger – Giacomo Bologna | Published: 5/20/2019
Teachers in Mississippi shed pounds thanks to Weight Watchers courses paid mostly with state education money. But the biggest loser was taxpayers. Lawmakers gave Weight Watchers about $300,000 a year from 2011 to 2016, but documents from the Mississippi Department of Education show the voucher program at times needed about half that amount, or less, to operate. Weight Watchers never appeared in any education funding bills and never had a contract with the state. Weight Watchers paid $276,100 to lobbyist Beth Clay between 2010 and 2016. During that time, lawmakers directed nearly $1.5 million to New York-based Weight Watchers through a legislative side door.
Nevada – Where Women Call the Shots
Washington Post – Emily Wax-Thibodeaux | Published: 5/17/2019
Since Nevada seated the nation’s first majority-female state Legislature in January, the male old guard has been shaken up by the perspectives of female lawmakers. Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmaker to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices. A coordinated campaign of political groups and women’s rights organizations recruited women to run in Nevada. Emerge Nevada, said it trained twice as many female candidates ahead of the 2018 midterm election as it had in the preceding 12 years. Meanwhile, the election of Donald Trump mobilized Democratic women nationwide, including in Nevada, where women already held 40 percent of statehouse seats.
New Jersey – Governor’s Feud with Party Boss Rocks New Jersey Politics
Politico – Ryan Hutchins | Published: 5/21/2019
An intraparty fight among Democrats in New Jersey has turned into an open civil war, pitting the state’s novice governor against an old-school political boss who has ruled for more than two decades, and potentially reordering the political landscape in what has become a national Democratic stronghold. The protagonists are Gov. Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive who pledged to clean up state government, and George Norcross, an insurance executive who is the state’s most powerful unelected official. Murphy launched an unprecedented public attack on Norcross, who is among the people targeted by an inquiry into the state’s multi-billion-dollar tax incentive programs. Norcross has responded by opening fire on the governor, breaking his typical silence to compare Murphy to the king of England and call him a “liar” and “politically incompetent.”
New York – A Cuomo Donor’s Nonstop Connections
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 5/19/2019
Beyond being a prolific campaign fundraiser, aviation magnate Adam Katz has himself been one of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s largest campaign donors. Katz has given Cuomo six-figure sums though a wide array of limited liability companies, prompting business rivals to allege he has had undue influence with administration agencies. State records also indicate a more unusual pattern: many people with ties to Katz – lawyers, business associates, an extended family tree – have contributed to Cuomo’s campaign in large, often identical amounts and on the same days. Aside from the gifts to Cuomo, many of those people had never contributed similarly large amounts to New York candidates.
New York – New York Passes Bill Giving Congress a Way to Get Trump’s State Tax Returns
MSN – Jesse McKinley (New York Times) | Published: 5/22/2019
New York lawmakers gave final approval to a bill that would clear a path for Congress to obtain President Trump’s state tax returns, injecting another element into the battle over the president’s refusal to release his taxes. The bill, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will authorize state tax officials to release the president’s state returns to any one of three congressional committees. The returns – filed in New York, the president’s home state and business headquarters – would likely contain much of the same information as the contested federal returns, though it remained unclear whether congressional committees would use such new power in their investigations.
Oregon – Kate Brown’s Top Aides Went Into Overdrive Doing Campaign-Like Work During Heated Governor’s Race, Records Show
Portland Oregonian – Hillary Borrud | Published: 5/18/2019
Publicly, the governor’s office said there was a bright line drawn between the work of Kate Brown’s campaign, which was explicitly political and focused on her re-election, and the state-paid employees in the governor’s office, who are to administer state business. But newly released records show Brown’s state staff in fact shifted into overdrive during that period to lay out her policy positions and accomplishments on education and other central campaign issues. Her most influential aides orchestrated a series of “white papers” and planned public events designed to show her as someone who had gotten things done and had strong policy views, according to nearly public records.
Tennessee – Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada to Resign Position After Sexually Charged Texts
USA Today – Joel Ebert and Natalie Allison (The Tennessean) | Published: 5/21/2019
Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada will resign from his leadership post following a vote of no confidence by his Republican caucus amid a scandal over explicit text messages. His political support began to waver when his former chief of staff, Cade Cothren, was pressured into resigning after the release of racist texts and the sexually explicit messages, and Cothren’s admission that he used cocaine in his legislative office before becoming Casada’s top aide. Casada was included in one of the group texts with a racist message but has said he never saw it. Other allegations continued to pile up, ranging from accusations Casasda spied on legislative members to a colleague’s claim that Casada tried to “rig and predetermine” an ethics review regarding his controversies.
Virginia – Investigators Could Not Determine If Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam Is in Racist Yearbook Photo
Washington Post – Laura Vozzella and Jim Morrison | Published: 5/22/2019
A nearly four-month inquiry into a racist photograph on the medical school yearbook page of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was unable to determine whether Northam was in the image – which showed one man dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe and another in blackface – deepening a mystery that threw the state government into chaos. But the investigation also found no evidence the photo had been mistakenly published in a yearbook section with Northam’s name and other pictures of him alone. The investigators, including a former state attorney general, noted, though, that they could not confirm “the origin” of the image. Northam spoke with investigators twice and told them he was “positive” he was not in the photograph.
Washington – ‘Gray Money’: New Washington law to lift the cloak on PAC funders
Seattle Times – Joseph O’Sullivan | Published: 5/19/2019
Washington’s transparency law has tried to help voters determine funders for PAC ads. On the advertisements, PACs must disclose their top five contributors who meet a certain dollar threshold. That could be an individual or an entity such as a corporation or labor union. But what happens when the donor is another PAC with a generic, soft-focus name? It is a tactic called “gray money” and it is a popular strategy around the nation for shielding the flow of money. Through a series of “nesting doll” PACs, campaigns or political parties can cloak donations by individuals, corporations, industry associations, or labor unions. Now, a measure passed by state lawmakers this year could aid voters by revealing some of the top donors or organizations behind the cryptic groups.
Washington DC – Clients of D.C. Council Member Jack Evans Had Interests Before D.C. Government
Washington Post – Steve Thompson | Published: 5/23/2019
District of Columbia Councilperson Jack Evans, one of the most powerful politicians in the city, has used his legislative position in ways that could benefit clients of his private consulting business, an examination of his record shows. Over several years, Evans has introduced legislation, championed projects and promoted tax incentives connected to his private clients. Some efforts have met with more success than others. Evans is the focus of an investigation by a federal grand jury, which subpoenaed records from the city related to Evans and his constellation of private legal and consulting clients. At least three of these businesses have had interests before the District of Columbia government.
State and Federal Communications, Inc. provides research and consulting services for government relations professionals on lobbying laws, procurement lobbying laws, political contribution laws in the United States and Canada. Learn more by visiting stateandfed.com.