May 31, 2019 •
News You Can Use Digest – May 31, 2019
A Hefty Donation to Trump’s Inaugural Comes Under Scrutiny
AP News – Richard Laudner | Published: 5/27/2019
Real estate mogul Franklin Haney contributed $1 million to President Trump’s inaugural committee and all he has to show for the money is the glare of a federal investigation. The contribution from Haney, a prolific political donor, came as he was seeking regulatory approval and financial support from the government for his bid to acquire the mothballed Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in Alabama. More than two years later, he still has not closed the deal. Haney’s donation to the inaugural committee is being scrutinized by federal prosecutors in New York who are investigating the committee’s finances. Their probe is focused in part on whether donors received benefits after making contributions.
Anti-Corruption Group Hits Congress for Ignoring K Street, Capitol Hill ‘Revolving Door’
The Hill – Mike Lillis | Published: 5/29/2019
An international anti-corruption group is criticizing Congress for what it considers an ongoing failure to restrict the “revolving door” between K Street and Capitol Hill. The Group of States Against Corruption, an offshoot of the Council of Europe of which the U.S. is a participant, charged that while Congress has taken steps to restrict influence peddling by sitting lawmakers, it has failed to put similar restrictions on those who migrate to the lobbying world upon leaving office. Watchdogs were quick to pile on, noting Congress has not enacted any new restrictions on the “revolving door” since 2007, when it adopted the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.
Congressional Panel Calls for Lobbying Disclosure Reforms
The Hill – Alex Gangitano | Published: 5/23/2019
A bipartisan select committee is sending Congress a proposal on how to modernize the lobbying disclosure system. The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress voted on recommendations they said would improve transparency for lobbyists, part of a larger package of congressional reforms the panel approved. The recommendations will be drafted into legislation and sent to the appropriate committees. Primarily it seeks to standardize how the disclosure system files and tracks the names of lobbyists, by giving each lobbyist a unique identifier. In addition, the House Clerk’s office would clarify and simplify the lobbying registration and disclosure process, to make filing the required paperwork easier.
Deceased G.O.P. Strategist’s Hard Drives Reveal New Details on the Census Citizenship Question
New York Times – Michael Wines | Published: 5/30/2019
After Thomas Hofeller died last summer, his daughter found hard drives in his home that revealed he played a crucial role in the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Hofeller was prominent in Republican circles as the architect of partisan political maps that cemented the party’s dominance across the country. Files on those drives showed he wrote a study concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats. He wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act, the rationale the administration later used to justify its decision. Those documents have emerged only weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of the citizenship question.
Emails, Letters Detail Prosecution’s Case against Greg Craig
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 5/29/2019
Federal prosecutors have laid bare more of their most compelling evidence that former White House counsel Gregory Craig lied to and misled authorities about his work for Ukraine, but the newly disclosed proof also highlights one of the most glaring weaknesses in the government’s case. In court filing, prosecutors included copies of internal emails Craig sent to colleagues at his then-law firm Skadden Arps, as well as drafts of a letter he prepared for the Justice Department in response to its request that the firm register as an agent for Ukraine under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Prosecutors said the letters and emails show Craig crafting a false narrative that understated his involvement in distributing to the media a 2012 report Skadden prepared on the corruption trial of Yulia Tymoshenko.
Faked Pelosi Videos, Slowed to Make Her Appear Drunk, Spread Across Social Media
MSN – Drew Harwell (Washington Post) | Published: 5/24/2019
Distorted videos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, altered to make her sound as if she is drunkenly slurring her words, are spreading rapidly across social media, highlighting how political disinformation that clouds public understanding can now grow at the speed of the Web. The video of Pelosi’s onstage at a Center for American Progress event, in which she said President Trump’s refusal to cooperate with congressional investigations was tantamount to a “coverup,” was subtly edited to make her voice sound garbled and warped. It was then circulated widely across Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. The videos raised concerns about the roles of digital manipulation, misleading videos, and misinformation in politics going forward, particularly in the lead-up to the 2020 election.
FEC Approves Free Cybersecurity for Campaigns Despite Influence Concerns
Lewiston Sun Journal – Joseph Marks (Washington Post) | Published: 5/23/2019
The FEC gave the go-ahead to a nonprofit organization seeking to offer free cybersecurity services to political campaigns, upending rules that typically consider such free services illegal campaign contributions. The agency’s reasoning was that it ordinarily bans such services due to the possibility people might try to cash in on political favors later. But in this case, the risk of Russian and Chinese hackers running roughshod over the 2020 elections is far worse. The nonprofit Defending Digital Campaigns, which made the appeal, now plans to run cybersecurity boot camps for staffers on presidential and congressional campaigns.
Freshman Lashes Out After House Ethics Rules Bar Promoting Bone Marrow Drive
Roll Call – Katherine Tully McManus | Published: 5/29/2019
U.S. Rep. Katie Porter learned recently that one of her constituents, Liyna Anwar, needed help finding a donor in her fight against myeloid leukemia. After her aides reached out to the House ethics committee, Porter learned she could not promote any of the nine bone marrow registry events happening in California on May 31, where Anwar’s possible match could join the database of donors. House rules include a blanket prohibition on lawmakers promoting events held by private entities, including nonprofits. That includes DKMS, an international organization that advocates for more people to register as blood stem cell donors. Now Porter is questioning whether rules designed to prevent misuse of taxpayer dollars need to be reviewed.
‘He Always Brings Them Up’: Trump tries to steer border wall deal to North Dakota firm
MSN – Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 5/23/2019
President Trump has personally and repeatedly urged the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to award a border wall contract to a North Dakota construction firm whose top executive is a Republican Party donor and frequent guest on Fox News, according to four administration officials. Fisher sued the U.S. government after the Army Corps did not accept its bid to install barriers along the southern border, a contract potentially worth billions of dollars. Trump has latched on to the company’s public claims that a new design and innovative construction method would vastly speed up the project and deliver it at far less cost to taxpayers. The push for a specific company has alarmed military commanders and Department of Homeland Security officials.
Mueller Suggests Only Congress Can ‘Formally Accuse a Sitting President of Wrongdoing’
Anchorage Daily News – Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett, and Felicia Sonmez (Washington Post) | Published: 5/29/2019
Special counsel Robert Mueller reiterated that his office could not clear President Trump of obstructing justice, asserting in his first public remarks about his investigation that federal prosecutors cannot accuse a president of a crime. Mueller, who noted he was closing his office and formally resigning from the Justice Department, said he hoped the news conference would be his last public comments and if he were compelled to testify before Congress, he would not speak beyond what he wrote in his report. He also said while Justice Department policy prohibits charging a sitting president with a crime, the Constitution provides for another process to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing, a clear reference to the ability of Congress to begin impeachment proceedings.
Republicans Spend More Than $4 Million at Trump Properties
The Hill – Reid Wilson | Published: 5/24/2019
Republican candidates and campaign committees have spent more than $4 million at hotel, golf, and other properties that bear President Trump’s name since he was inaugurated in 2017. More than three dozen members of Congress have held fundraisers or spent the night at Trump properties. Watchdogs have raised concerns over the propriety of Trump profiting off businesses as foreign governments and corporate interest groups currying favor in Washington book rooms at Trump hotels. There is nothing in the Constitution that bans a campaign from spending money at a company that benefits a candidate. But those good-government groups say the mixture of business and politics creates a combustible potion. “The behavior itself is corrupting, and it’s creating corruption and the appearance of corruption,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, a group that advocates for ethics in government.
September Debate Rules Could Winnow 2020 Democratic Field
Washington Post – Michael Scherer | Published: 5/29/2019
The Democratic National Committee announced new criteria for the party’s September presidential debate that could dramatically winnow the sprawling field of 23 candidates, raising the stakes on the summer campaign season. To appear in the party’s third debate, candidates will have to earn two percent support in four party-sanctioned polls between late June and August. In addition, they will have to show they have attracted at least 130,000 donors since the start of the campaign, including at least 400 from 20 different states. As the race now stands, only eight candidates in the field would meet the two percent threshold in recent party-sanctioned polls. Many are also struggling to reach the donor requirements.
Transportation Secretary Failed to Sever Financial Ties to Construction Company
New York Times – Eric Lipton | Published: 5/28/2019
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao failed last year to cash out her stock options in one of the nation’s largest suppliers of highway construction materials, despite a promise she had made to do so in a signed ethics agreement when she joined the Trump administration. Chao had served for about two years on the board of directors of the company, Vulcan Materials. She owned this stock because in April 2018 Vulcan paid her for her stock options in the company instead of cash. A Transportation Department official said there was no ethics violation because Chao continued to recuse herself from any agency decisions directly related to the company. Vulcan is mentioned as one of the stocks that would benefit from any big increase in federal infrastructure spending.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Chevron Executive Is Secretly Pushing Anti-Electric Car Effort in Arizona
Arizona Republic – Ryan Randazzo | Published: 5/28/2019
A California lobbyist for Chevron Corp. is urging retirees of the oil company in Arizona to oppose electric-car policies there, saying the vehicles are too expensive for most people and should not be promoted. A handful of people who either retired from Chevron or from Unocal, which Chevron acquired in 2005, have used the form letter to urge Arizona Corporation Commissioners not to require electric companies here to build electric-car charging stations. Form letters are commonly used to lobby commissioners, but the secretive nature of this campaign has drawn criticism, including from a retiree who alerted commissioners to the lobbyist’s effort.
Arizona – Hot Mic Captures GOP Lawmakers’ Frustration with Colleagues Over State Budget
Arizona Republic – Rachel Leingang, Lily Altivina, and Yvonne Winget Sanchez | Published: 5/23/2019
Arizona House Republicans were caught on a hot microphone discussing how to penalize two of their colleagues for not going along with the state budget. An audio clip of the meeting features multiple members of the House GOP suggesting bills from two lawmakers not get hearings next year. The clip also suggests some lawmakers could be interested in pursuing an ethics inquiry involving state Sens. Paul Boyer and Heather Carter. “I’ve got kids …. Once you give in and there are no repercussions, you’ve encouraged all kinds of bad behaviors. There has to be repercussions of some kind,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairperson Ben Toma said.
Arkansas – Former Arkansas Senator Case Shows Gray Area in Ethics Rules
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – Lisa Hammersly | Published: 5/26/2019
As federal prosecutors see it, a series of payments to former Arkansas Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson by former executives of Preferred Family Healthcare constituted bribery. Prosecutors say Hutchinson deposited the money before he filed an amendment to a bill that appeared to benefit the nonprofit. Hutchinson supporters have argued those checks and others like them were lawful compensation for services performed by the Little Rock lawyer outside of his legislative duties. After a string of corruption investigations targeted a half-dozen former state lawmakers, the Legislature has embraced new ethics-related laws. One focus has been a relatively unregulated practice in Arkansas politics: payments by lobbyists and their companies to lawmakers’ businesses, including their law and consulting firms.
Colorado – $120 Million in Requests and $40 Million in the Bank. How an Obscure Theory Helped Prioritize the Colorado Budget.
Colorado Sun – Brian Eason | Published: 5/28/2019
Midway through Colorado’s 2019 legislative session, the appropriations committees in each chamber faced backlogs totaling more than 100 bills carrying a cumulative price tag of more than $120 million. The supporters for each bill were fighting for a piece of the same $40 million that budget writers set aside. The limited pot of money forced unenviable decisions for the Democratic majority with the power to set spending priorities. To find an answer, Democrats attempted a novel approach to public policy: quadratic voting. The obscure economic theory is designed to do what seems impossible at the Capitol – limit the influence of politics and self-interest. The experiment made the Colorado House one of the nation’s first test cases for the theory in the political realm.
Illinois – Illinois Video Gambling Tax Hike Will Be Decided by Lawmakers with Financial Ties to the Industry
ProPublica – Jason Grotto (ProPublica Illinois) and Dan Mihalopoulos (WBEZ) | Published: 5/28/2019
With the Illinois General Assembly poised to consider a tax hike on video gambling, some key lawmakers and their family members have developed previously undisclosed financial connections to the industry, meaning the fate of any proposal could lie in part on votes of legislators with a stake in the outcome. These ties, coupled with campaign donations by the industry, reveal how video gambling operators are building political influence at a time when the state is desperate to identify much-needed revenue to balance the budget. Those operators hope to block a tax increase, pushing instead to raise the maximum bet and increase the number of machines allowed in each location.
Michigan – 50 States of Financial Disclosure: How Michigan stacks up
MLive.com – Lauren Gibbons and Taylor DesOrmeau | Published: 5/24/2019
Michigan is one of two states, and the only one with a full-time Legislature, with no requirement for state public officials to disclose basic financial information, including income sources, business investments, gifts, and travel compensation. The lack of financial disclosure requirements is one?of the biggest?reasons?Michigan ranked last?in a 2015 report that documented several facets of each state’s transparency laws. Although some form of disclosure is required almost everywhere else in the country, how those documents are tracked, enforced, and made accessible to the public vary widely. Experts say having the information available is a good step towards addressing potential conflicts-of-interest and corruption.
Michigan – Michigan Lobbyist for Polluter Wrote Law Easing Toxic Cleanups, Emails Show
Bridge Michigan – Jim Malewitz and Craig Mauger | Published: 5/29/2019
In a single year, a self-described “lawyer-lobbyist” went from working on behalf of a company accused of poisoning groundwater to writing a law that could weaken Michigan’s standards for pollution cleanups. A media investigation found attorney Troy Cummings last year represented Wolverine Worldwide in behind-the-scenes negotiations concerning litigation brought against the company by then-state Attorney General Bill Schuette over contamination from one of the company’s tanneries. At the same time, Cumings was involved with fundraising accounts tied to Schuette, who was running for governor. Emails also show Cumings, a lobbyist from Warner Norcross and Judd, later helped write legislation that makes it more difficult for state environmental regulators to update pollution cleanup standards for hundreds of chemicals.
New York – Connections Can Mean Business for Some Lobbyists, Records Show
Newsday – Michael Gormley | Published: 5/25/2019
Lobbyists and legislators said Bolton-St. Johns, Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates, and the Parkside Group are among what one veteran lobbyist called “the flavors of month” in New York’s $261 million lobbying industry – firms that attract clients and higher fees at least in part because of their relationships with state officials. There always have been a few lobbying firms with such relationships, which can ebb and flow with whomever is in power. But outside the system, there is concern. “It may be that money doesn’t buy politicians, but it certainly buys access and people without money don’t have that access,” said Peter Galie, professor emeritus of political science at Canisius College. “The appearance of power is a form of power.”
New York – ‘So Completely Compromised’: New York watchdog agencies Have a credibility problem
Gotham Gazette – Samar Khurshid | Published: 5/29/2019
Created to monitor the behavior of more than 250,000 public officials and to enforce state lobbying laws, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) has become the epitome of New York state’s lax ethical oversight, and the agency’s opacity is a source of widespread consternation. As is the case with other watchdog entities, JCOPE must balance the privacy of individuals against its duty to inform the public and instill confidence it is effectively carrying out its work. By design, many of these agencies are not required to inform the public about the complaints they receive or are prohibited from doing so to prevent reputational harm against individuals or entities that may be the subject of a complaint. But good government groups say that must change in order to build trust in institutions, and the public would be better served if agencies provided more transparency about how they handle complaints and report on outcomes of investigations.
Tennessee – How a Large-Scale Effort to Register Black Voters Led to a Crackdown in Tennessee
Tulsa World – Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 5/24/2019
The Tennessee Black Voter Project took credit for turning in more than 90,000 voter registration applications in 2018. But the surge of forms that landed in the months before Election Day was chaotic and consuming, according to elections officials. Thousands of applications had errors or omissions, they said, and their workers were overwhelmed by the task of verifying all the forms. A new law that takes effect on October 1 will impose fines on groups that employ paid canvassers if they submit incomplete or inaccurate voter registration forms. The fallout is part of a national clash between the two parties over access to the polls – one fueled by efforts on the left to expand the voting pool and new limits backed by Republican lawmakers, who often echo President Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud.
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