May 3, 2019 •
News You Can Use Digest – May 3, 2019
Acting Defense Secretary Cleared of Wrongdoing in Probe of His Ties to Boeing
Washington Post – Dan Lamothe and Heather Ryan | Published: 4/24/2019
The Pentagon’s watchdog cleared Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan of wrongdoing in an investigation examining whether he used his influence at the Defense Department to favor Boeing, his former employer. The results seemingly clear the way for President Trump to nominate Shanahan to take over as Pentagon chief. The probe was launched after the department’s inspector general received reports saying Shanahan had boosted Boeing in meetings, disparaged Boeing’s competitors, pressured Pentagon officials to buy Boeing products, and sought to influence the Air Force’s decision on accepting a Boeing aircraft after technical problems delayed its delivery.
As Buttigieg Builds His Campaign, Gay Donors Provide the Foundation
New York Times – Jeremy Peters and Shane Goldmacher | Published: 4/30/2019
After vaulting into the top tier of presidential candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is building a nationwide network of donors that is anchored by many wealthy and well-connected figures in LGBT political circles. Buttigieg’s candidacy has struck a powerful chord with many top LGBT donors. Though many said they believed they would see a gay man or lesbian become a serious contender for the White House, most of them had never considered it beyond the abstract. But the LGBT community is no monolith, and Buttigieg’s candidacy is exposing tensions that have been papered over during the period of relative unity and common purpose that has taken hold since President Trump took office.
Biden Faces Conflict of Interest Questions That Are Being Promoted by Trump and Allies
MSN – Kenneth Vogel and Iuliia Mendel (New York Times) | Published: 5/1/2019
Then-Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Kiev in March 2016 and threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees if Ukraine’s leaders did not dismiss the country’s top prosecutor, who had been accused of turning a blind eye to corruption in the country. The prosecutor general was soon voted out by Parliament. Among those who had a stake in the outcome was Hunter Biden, the younger son of the former vice president, who at the time was on the board of an energy company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch who had been in the sights of the fired prosecutor general. The broad outlines of how the roles of the father and son intersected have been known for some time. New details about Hunter Biden’s involvement have pushed the issue back into the spotlight just as the elder Biden is beginning his campaign for president.
Congressional Democrats’ Emoluments Lawsuit Targeting President Trump’s Private Business Can Proceed, Judge Says
MSN – Jonathan O’Connell, Ann Marimow, and Carol Leonnig (Washington Post) | Published: 4/30/2019
A federal judge ruled Democrats in Congress can move ahead with their lawsuit against President Trump alleging his private business violates the Constitution’s ban on gifts or payments from foreign governments. The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan adopted a broad definition of the anti-corruption law and could set the stage for Democratic lawmakers to begin seeking information from the Trump Organization. The Justice Department can try to delay or block the process by asking an appeals court to intervene. Sullivan refused the request of the president’s legal team to dismiss the case and rejected Trump’s narrow definition of emoluments, finding it “unpersuasive and inconsistent.”
In Its Fight to Keep Drug Prices High, Big Pharma Leans on Charities
Los Angeles Times – Ben Elgin (Bloomberg) | Published: 4/29/2019
Many self-styled patient-advocacy groups with murky origins or hidden funders have cropped up since 2017. With names like the Doctor-Patient Rights Project or the Defenders Coalition, such groups pursue various policy aims that include effectively aiding pharmaceutical companies’ efforts to defeat drug-price proposals. The nonprofits take public positions in newspaper op-eds and letters to Congress while drug makers, beset by years of negative publicity over price hikes, tend to remain in the background. The groups say they are independent. That is not true for all of them, said Marc Boutin, chief executive of the National Health Council, which has more than 50 patient groups and dozens of drug makers as members. “There are a number of groups created by pharma companies that look and act like patient organizations, but they’re 100 percent funded by industry,” said Boutin, who did not name any specific examples.
Maria Butina, Russian Who Conspired to Infiltrate Conservative U.S. Political Groups, Sentenced to 18 Months
Boston Globe – Spencer Hsu and Rosalind Helderman (Washington Post) | Published: 4/26/2019
A federal judge sentenced Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina to 18 months in prison Friday after calling her plot to penetrate conservative U.S. political circles without disclosing she was working as a foreign agent for the Kremlin “dangerous” and “a threat to our democracy.” Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring with a senior Russian official to access the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other groups without registering with the U.S. Justice Department from 2015 until she was arrested and detained in July. Butina admitted she worked under the direction of Alexander Torshin, a former Russian government official, and with an American political operative on a multiyear scheme to establish unofficial lines of communications with Americans who could influence U.S. politics.
‘No Corporate PAC’ Pledges Aren’t Always So Pure
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 4/29/2019
Many incumbents in the club of Democratic lawmakers who refuse corporate PAC dollars still accept donations from colleagues and party committees that take the funds. Numerous freshman Democrats who ran on a no-corporate-PAC-money mantra opened their re-election coffers to donations this year from party leaders and committees, such as the New Democrat Coalition Action Fund, that are full of funding from some of the nation’s best-known companies. Taking donations from party leaders and committees allows pledge-takers to stick to their vows while cleansing some of the “dirty” dollars and diluting the influence of the companies, but not banishing such money entirely.
Pete Buttigieg Swears Off the Lobbyist Money He Once Accepted
New York Times – Jeremy Peters and Shane Goldmacher | Published: 4/26/2019
Pete Buttigieg, whose upstart presidential campaign has benefited from an early surge of donations and national attention, will no longer accept contributions from federal lobbyists, bowing to pressure from fellow Democrats who want to reform the way campaigns raise money. Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was somewhat isolated among his rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination because he initially accepted lobbyist money, putting him at odds with the more progressive wing of his party. He will return the contributions he had already accepted from lobbyists, which his campaign said totaled $30,250 from 39 individuals.
Trump Views the Supreme Court as an Ally, Sowing Doubt About Its Independence Among His Critics
MSN – Robert Barnes and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 4/27/2019
President Trump’s tweets demonstrate he views the U.S. Supreme Court as an ally, and safeguard against lower court defeats and congressional opponents. His administration’s lawyers have tried to leapfrog the legal process to seek the high court’s quick review of adverse rulings and nationwide injunctions by lower courts. They are also ready to go to court as the president resists demands from congressional Democrats investigating his conduct, business dealings, and personal finances. Critics of the president say his rhetoric seeds doubts about the Supreme Court’s independence, complicates the role of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., and could taint the victories Trump achieves there.
When the Mueller Investigation Ended, the Battle Over Its Conclusions Began
MSN – Mark Mazzetti and Michael Schmidt (New York Times) | Published: 5/1/2019
Special counsel Robert Mueller wrote a letter in March complaining to Attorney General William Barr that a four-page memo to Congress describing the principal conclusions of the investigation into President Trump “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of Mueller’s work. What followed was a dayslong, behind-the-scenes tussle over the first public presentation of one of the most consequential government investigations in American history. A richer picture of that battle has emerged, one of testy letters (Barr described one as “snitty”) and at least one tense telephone call between the special counsel Mueller and Barr. The two were longtime friends who found themselves on opposite sides of an embattled president. The growing evidence of a split between them also brought fresh scrutiny on Barr.
From the States and Municipalities
California – State Officials Keep Hiring Their Relatives. Will Newsom Crack Down on Nepotism?
Los Angeles Times – Patrick McGreevy | Published: 5/1/2019
California agencies have a long history of nepotism, along with pledges to end such favoritism, but the practice continues. Workers in at least seven state agencies have alleged favoritism shown to family members and friends of administrators in the last decade. Getting a desirable job in state government too often depends on who you know, say watchdogs and employees who have raised red flags. A 2017 investigation found 835 employees of the Board of Equalization, or 17.5 percent of its workforce at the time, were related by blood, adoption, marriage, or cohabitation.
Florida – Former David Straz Staffers Say Nashville Consultant Played Big Role in Campaign’s Failure
Tampa Bay Times – Charlie Frago and Christopher O’Donnell | Published: 4/30/2019
A few days before voters went to the polls in the first round of Tampa’s mayoral election, the David Straz campaign was in an uproar over a missing $225,000. Straz said he was freezing campaign spending until the missing money could be accounted for, members of his team said, but no one could come up with an answer. The reason, they said: political consultant Bill Fletcher was the only one who knew how campaign money was being spent. The Nashville-based consultant had the purse strings while also directing millions of dollars to his own company to buy television, radio, and digital advertising. He answered only to Straz, a political novice. Near-total power wielded by a single consultant is highly unusual and potentially dangerous, said veteran political consultant Adam Goodman.
Kansas – Former Salina Senator Pads State Salary with Travel, Food Vouchers
Topeka Capital Journal – Tim Carpenter | Published: 4/30/2019
The former state senator hired as Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer’s regulatory fixer billed taxpayers thousands of dollars for driving to and from the job in Topeka after his official work station was quietly switched from a state office building near the Capitol to his residence in Salina. Tom Arpke, who burnished a political reputation in the Senate and House as a fiscal conservative eager to expose spending he considered superfluous, was chosen by Colyer to serve as the executive branch’s regulatory ombudsman. The decision to designate Arpke’s office as his personal residence 112 miles away from the Curtis State Office Building adjacent to the Capitol was necessary to justify Arpke’s monthly claims that taxpayers should pay him extra every time he drove to Topeka for work.
Massachusetts – For Sale in the Pot Industry: Political influence
Boston Globe – Andrew Ryan, Beth Healy, Dam Adams, Nicole Dungca, Todd Wallach, and Patricia Wen | Published: 5/1/2019
The law that legalized recreational marijuana in Massachusetts tried to make room for the little guy by limiting the number of cannabis shops a company could own or control. It also directly encourages proposals from black and Latino entrepreneurs whose community members were often unfairly targeted for arrest when pot was illegal. But so far, winning a license to sell marijuana in Massachusetts often seems to be determined by whom you know, or if you can afford to pay a lobbyist or consultant who knows people. Frank Perullo, the owner of Novus Group – which claims to be “one of the nation’s leading cannabis consulting firms” – estimates he has deployed his political connections and expertise to help push 40 to 50 proposed pot shops in Massachusetts.
Michigan – Federal Court: Michigan political maps illegally rigged to ‘historical proportions’
Detroit News – Jonathan Oosting | Published: 4/25/2019
A federal court in Michigan became the latest in the country to strike down its state’s legislative and congressional district maps, ruling they were examples of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. A panel of three judges in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan cited evidence that showed Republicans loaded some districts with Democratic voters and divided Democratic communities between other Republican-held seats, practices known as packing and cracking. The panel is giving the Republican-led House and Senate until August 1 to redraw the maps and get them signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. If state officials do not finalize new maps by then, the court would draw new boundaries itself and could appoint a special master to do so.
Missouri – ‘Pay to Play’ Case Sinks St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Jeremy Kohler, Jacob Barker, and Robert Patrick | Published: 4/30/2019
A federal grand jury indicted St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger on charges of bribery, mail fraud, and the theft of honest services for trading political favors for campaign contributions. Stenger is accused of ensuring that donor John Rallo and his companies obtained contracts with the county and received other favors. Stenger also is accused of ensuring that an unnamed company obtained a state lobbying contract from the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and taking actions to conceal the illegal conduct. Recent investigations by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch have raised concerns about county contracts going to Stenger’s political donors, and the county council began an ethics investigation into the matter.
New Hampshire – Sununu Inaugural Team Releases Conflict of Interest Policy, Months After Declining to Do So
New Hampshire Public Radio – Casey McDermott | Published: 4/25/2019
When faced with questions earlier this year about the thousands of dollars paid out from his inaugural committee to his sister and top political advisor, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s team said those payments followed state and federal regulations, and “the organization’s bylaws and conflict of interest policy.” New Hampshire lacks comprehensive disclosure and compliance rules around gubernatorial inaugural committees, and Sununu is the first sitting governor required to detail how his committee raises and spends money in reports filed with the secretary of state’s office.
New Jersey – The Tax Break Was $260 Million. Benefit to the State Was Tiny: $155,520.
New York Times – Nick Corasaniti and Matthew Haag | Published: 5/1/2019
The Economic Opportunity Act, a measure intended to kick-start the sputtering post-recession economy in New Jersey, particularly in its struggling cities. The state would award lucrative tax breaks to businesses if they moved to New Jersey or remained in the state, creating and retaining jobs. But before the bill was approved by the Legislature, a series of changes were made to its language that were intended to grant specific companies hundreds of millions of dollars in additional tax breaks. Many of the last-minute changes to drafts of the bill were made by a real estate lawyer, Kevin Sheehan, whose influential law firm has close ties to Democratic politicians and legislative leaders in New Jersey. Sheehan was allowed to edit drafts of the bill in ways that opened up sizable tax breaks to his firm’s clients.
New York – Mayor de Blasio and City Hall Staff Cozied Up to Lobbyists and Special Interests in Hundreds of Meetings, News Analysis Shows
New York Daily News – Anna Sanders | Published: 5/2/2019
“I don’t sit down with lobbyists, I don’t talk to lobbyists, and I haven’t for years,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said recently. But a New York Daily News analysis of public records shows otherwise. De Blasio’s deputy mayors, commissioners, and high-ranking aides had at least 358 meetings and talks with both contract and in-house lobbyists in just 11 months, records show. They spoke with 332 different lobbyists during that time, between March 1, 2018, and January 31 of this year. Six of the contract lobbyists are with Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, a law firm that represented de Blasio during a probe into his fundraising. City taxpayers paid the firm $2.6 million for representing the mayor.
New York – Some Top Albany Lobbyists Aren’t Following Sweeping Disclosure Rule
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 4/27/2019
New requirements imposed by the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) say lobbyists must disclose the names of lawmakers, agency employees, or local elected officials they directly lobby concerning legislation, regulations, and other matters. A review of the first filings covered by the requirement, reflecting lobbying performed in the first two months of the year, shows many top firms are trying to comply – some in extreme detail – but several prominent firms are not. Bolton St. Johns has not disclosed lobbying any lawmakers or agency officials this year despite employing a lengthy roster of lobbyists and having dozens of clients with legislative business. Whether JCOPE would penalize powerful lobbyists for not following the rule remains to be seen. Critics said it is also far from clear that the new disclosure rule would survive a court challenge.
North Dakota – Legislature Approves Republican-Written Ethics Measure
Dickinson Press – John Hageman (Forum News Service) | Published: 4/25/2019
North Dakota lawmakers approved a bill that sets rules to comply with a voter-approved constitutional amendment aimed at ethics reform. The ballot initiative bans lobbyist gifts to public officials, requires the disclosure of the “ultimate and true source of funds” spent to influence elections and state government action, and creates a new state ethics commission that could investigate malfeasance. Greg Stites, an attorney hired by Measure 1 supporters to lobby lawmakers, said the implementation bill falls short by narrowing the definition of lobbyist and leaving holes in reporting requirements.
Ohio – Ex-Dayton Commissioner, State Lawmaker Arrested; More Arrests Coming, Feds Say
Dayton Daily News – Laura Bischoff, Josh Sweigart, Thomas Gnau, Cornelius Frolick, and Mark Govaki | Published: 4/30/2019
An investigation by federal agents into suspected public corruption in the Dayton area led to charges against Joey Williams, a local bank executive and former city commissioner; former state Rep. Clayton Luckie; city employee RoShawn Winburn; and Brian Higgins, a local man who once owned a dead body hauling business. Four separate federal indictments detail allegations of bribes, fraud, and contract steering. The charges involve allegations of wrong-doing starting in 2014. The separate schemes arose out of the same investigation, authorities said. FBI Assistant Special Agent Joseph Deters said the lengthy investigation used sophisticated methods to “uncover what appears to be a culture of corruption in Dayton-area politics.”
Tennessee – Why This Republican Lawmaker Hired His Own Personal Lobbyist to Work the Capitol Halls
The Tennessean – Joel Ebert | Published: 5/2/2019
Tennessee Rep. Martin Daniel officially hired a lobbyist recently, making him the first lawmaker in recent memory to have such an employee at his disposal. Nashville resident Drew Lonergan filed his lobbyist registration with the Tennessee Ethics Commission on March 25. Lonergan said he had been “consulting” for Daniel since January but registered as a lobbyist after consulting ethics officials. Lonergan’s sole employer listed on his lobbyist registration is Daniel, who is the only current lawmaker to have a personal lobbyist. Daniel said he pays Lonergan out of his own pocket and does not use campaign money to cover the expense.
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