News You Can Use Digest - October 25, 2019 - State and Federal Communications

October 25, 2019  •  

News You Can Use Digest – October 25, 2019


‘C’est Moi’: Mitt Romney admits to running secret Twitter account under the alias ‘Pierre Delecto’
MSN – Allyson Chiu (Washington Post) | Published: 10/21/2019

For years, Pierre Delecto’s presence on Twitter largely went unnoticed. Operating a bare-bones account with the handle @qaws9876, the user’s limited activity revealed only an interest in politics – namely, supporting Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). So, when “Pierre Delecto” started trending recently on the social media platform, people were understandably confused. But they learned Pierre Delecto was not a bot or a random Romney superfan, but an account run by the senator himself. As Delecto, Romney, who has become one of President Trump’s most vocal GOP critics, used the account to like critical tweets about the president, while also occasionally defending himself against detractors.

Congress Has Long Sought to Bar Foreign Campaign Contributions
Roll Call – Todd Ruger | Published: 10/18/2019

In the decades before President Trump asked Ukraine to launch an investigation into his main political rival in the upcoming presidential election, Congress tried again and again to keep foreign nationals out of American elections and government decisions. The lawmakers’ adversaries over the years sound as if they come straight out of Hollywood scripts: the Nazi party in the 1930s, the Philippine sugar industry in the 1960s, a Greek industrialist in the 1970s, an international businessperson turned Chinese government agent in the 1990s. Congress passed laws to ban what they saw as threats to the integrity of elections, foreign policy, and national security. Foreign nationals found loopholes or new ways to contribute to campaigns.

Conservative Political Fundraiser Pleads Guilty to Felony
Center for Public Integrity – Sarah Kleiner | Published: 10/22/2019

One of Washington, D.C.’s most controversial political fundraisers pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the FEC. Scott Mackenzie “caused the submission of a number of materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements and representations” to the FEC from 2011 to 2018 on behalf of two PACs: Conservative StrikeForce and Conservative Majority Fund. Mackenzie has for years served as treasurer of more than 50 PACs, about a dozen of which purport to raise money for political and social causes but spend most of the money they raise from donors on fundraising, salaries, and overhead. “… The publicly available evidence shows [Mackenzie] has been at the heart of many of the worst scam PACs …,” said Adav Noti of the Campaign Legal Center.

Contradicting Trump, Ukraine Knew of Aid Freeze Before It Became Public
MSN – Andrew Kramer and Kenneth Vogel (New York Times) | Published: 10/23/2019

To Democrats who say that President Trump’s decision to freeze a $391 million military aid package to Ukraine was intended to bully Ukraine’s leader into carrying out investigations for Trump’s political benefit, the president and his allies have had a simple response: There could not have been any quid pro quo because the Ukrainians did not know the assistance had been blocked. But in fact, word of the aid freeze had gotten to high-level Ukrainian officials by the first week in August, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times. The problem was not a bureaucratic glitch, the Ukrainians were told then. To address it, they were advised, they should reach out to Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the interviews and records.

Facebook Takedowns Show New Russian Activity Targeted Biden, Praised Trump
MSN – Tony Romm and Isaac Baker-Stanley (Washington Post) | Published: 10/21/2019

Facebook introduced new efforts meant to fine-tune its defenses against disinformation ahead of the presidential election. They seek to remedy some vulnerabilities that malicious actors have tapped in recent months to spread false or misleading posts, photographs, and videos. Facebook also said it removed a network of Russian-backed accounts that posed as locals weighing in on political issues in swing states, praising President Trump and attacking former Vice President Joe Biden, illustrating the familiar threat of Russian interference looms over the next U.S. presidential race. Researchers said the efforts demonstrated how those seeking to interfere in American politics continue to exploit contentious topics, including racial and religious fault lines.

Family Ties Have Troubled Many National Politicians
Newsday – Tom Brune | Published: 10/21/2019

Former Vice President Joe Biden is not the only national politician who has been accused of having a conflict-of-interest involving a family member. He joins a long list that includes some of the nation’s earliest leaders and President Trump. It is a thorny problem, lawyers and experts specializing in government ethics said, as family members find ways to cash in on their ties to politicians’ prominence and power despite attempts to curb that exploitation with laws and federal personnel restrictions. Over the past 50 years, family scandals, many involving siblings, have erupted on presidents, prompting public outcry, investigations, and eventually new laws.

‘Get Over It’: Defiant chief of staff rides out storm over Ukraine remarks
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Michael Crowley and Maggie Haberman (New York Times) | Published: 10/19/2019

On the day after he made more news than any chief of staff in recent White House history, Mick Mulvaney went about his business as usual. But Mulvaney’s job has been anything but normal since the news conference at which he seemingly undermined the Trump administration’s strategy for avoiding impeachment by acknowledging the president had sought a quid pro quo for providing Ukraine with American aid. In the chaotic aftermath, Trump’s Republican allies are questioning Mulvaney’s savvy and intelligence. As he approaches his anniversary in the White House, Mulvaney finds himself in a strange netherworld.

How a Beltway Power Couple and a Political Newcomer Learned to Thrive in the Trump Era
Houston Chronicle – Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey, and Anu Narayanswamy (Washington Post) | Published: 10/23/2019

When Brad Parscale was looking for advice about how to navigate Washington. D.C. after running the digital strategy for Donald Trump’s upstart presidential campaign in 2016, the political newcomer turned to a Beltway power couple. Katie Walsh and Mike Shields, both former chiefs of staff at the Republican National Committee, advised him on how to make the most of his new perch, he said. Since then, the three have helped each other flourish inside the Republican Party ecosystem, recommending each other’s services to top party officials and candidates. Together, the trio have broad influence across the GOP, drawing millions of dollars from 23 party committees and organizations since the beginning of 2017. Their dominance has alarmed other GOP strategists, who say the three have a disproportionate amount of sway and have helped each other sustain that power.

Lobbying Business Booms Despite Gridlock and Investigations
Bloomberg Law – Megan Wilson | Published: 10/21/2019

Lobbying revenue continued to increase throughout 2019, despite turbulence surrounding the Trump administration and partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill. The third quarter of 2019 was lucrative for many K Street firms, with 20 reporting an uptick in revenue, compared to the same time last year. In addition, 16 of those firms also had increased lobbying fees from January through September of this year, compared to 2018. It is a continuation of a growth in lobbying fees since President Trump took office.

Man to Plead Guilty to Funneling Foreign Money to US Campaigns
Courthouse News Service – Nathan Solis | Published: 10/22/2019

A California venture capitalist agreed to plead guilty to falsifying records to hide his work as a foreign agent and making illegal campaign contributions on behalf of foreign entities seeking to influence U.S. elections. Imaad Zuberi has donated large sums of money to both Republicans and Democrats, including $900,000 to President Trump’s inauguration committee and $600,000 to then-candidate Hillary Clinton. Zuberi told foreign nationals and representatives from foreign governments that he could influence American policies in their favor through his influence in Washington and flaunted his apparent sway to create business and investment opportunities for clients and himself, federal prosecutors say.

New EPA Chief in New England Barred from Many Decisions Because of Conflicts
Boston Globe – Dave Abel | Published: 10/22/2019

A former chemical industry lobbyist who was recently appointed as regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency has been barred from overseeing a range of vital issues in New England because of conflicts-of-interest that could compromise his public duties. Dennis Deziel, who spent five years as director of federal government affairs for Dow Chemical before his appointment in August, must recuse himself from decisions involving nearly one-fifth of the region’s Superfund toxic waste sites, the agency’s ethics office said. The scope of Deziel’s entanglements has alarmed environmental groups, who say his years at Dow potentially undermine his ability to regulate certain industries. Dow is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of chemicals and has a history of violating environmental rules.

Rep. Katie Hill Investigated Over Allegations of Improper Relationship with Staffer
Politico – John Bresnahan | Published: 10/23/2019

The House ethics committee announced it has launched an investigation into U.S. Rep. Katie Hill following allegations she engaged in an improper sexual relationship with a male congressional staffer. Hill denied that allegation and she blamed the controversy on an “abusive husband” whom she is in the midst of divorcing. But in a letter to her constituents sent out just before the committee announcement, Hill admitted to having an “inappropriate” relationship with a female campaign staff member during her run for Congress in 2018. Hill apologized for the relationship.

Republicans Storm Closed-Door Impeachment Hearing as Escalating Ukraine Scandal Threatens Trump
Washington Post – Toluse Olorunnipa, Josh Dawsey, and Mike Debonis | Published: 10/23/2019

Republicans’ defense of President Trump grew more frantic with House members storming a closed-door meeting, delaying the testimony of an impeachment witness as the GOP grappled with a growing abuse-of-power scandal centered on the president. A group of Trump’s congressional allies escalated their complaints about the impeachment inquiry by barging into a secure facility on Capitol Hill where a Pentagon official was to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. Their intrusion, which caused the testimony to be delayed for about five hours over security concerns, came a day after the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine testified under oath that the White House had threatened to withhold military aid unless the Ukrainian government announced investigations for Trump’s political benefit.

The Student Vote Is Surging. So Are Efforts to Suppress It.
MSN – Michael Wines (New York Times) | Published: 10/24/2019

After decades of treating elections as an afterthought, college students have begun voting in force. Their turnout in the 2018 midterms was more than double the rate in the 2014 midterms, easily exceeding an already robust increase in national turnout. Energized by issues like climate change and the Trump presidency, students have suddenly emerged as a potentially crucial voting bloc in the 2020 general election. And almost as suddenly, Republican politicians around the country are throwing up roadblocks between students and voting booths. Students overwhelmingly lean Democratic, with three in four supportive of impeaching President Trump, according to a recent poll.

The Trump Administration Says It Has Violated Its Own Ethics Pledge
ProPublica – Derek Kravitz | Published: 10/23/2019

A government-wide review has acknowledged for the first time that at least several Trump political appointees violated the administration’s ethics pledge, which was put in place to try to “drain the swamp” by imposing lobbying restrictions and penalties. The details are tucked away in the Office of Government Ethics’ (OGE) latest annual report, which attracted little notice when it was released this summer. While President Trump’s ethics pledge was weaker than previous rules, the OGE still found violations in 2018 at three federal agencies: The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the National Labor Relations Board. No federal agency reported a violation of the Trump ethics pledge in 2017.

Trump Lawyer Says Even if He Shot Someone on Fifth Ave., He Can’t be Prosecuted
MSN – Benjamin Weiser and Azi Paybarah (New York Times) | Published: 10/23/2019

A federal appeals panel expressed skepticism that President Trump had a right to block state prosecutors in Manhattan from enforcing a subpoena that sought his personal and corporate tax returns for the last eight years. The judges peppered a lawyer for Trump with questions, expressing skepticism about the president’s argument that he was immune from criminal investigation. A lower court judge earlier rejected Trump’s claim, which has not previously been tested in the courts. A deal struck with the district attorney’s office will allow the president time to seek a speedy review of the appellate ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court on the condition he ask that the court hear the case in its current term, which ends in June.

Trump’s Cabinet Meetings Have Become About Everything but the Business of His Cabinet
Stamford Advocate – Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 10/21/2019

Under President Trump, Cabinet meetings have become less about the business of his Cabinet than an opportunity for the president to invite in the assembled press to boast of his own accomplishments, lash out at his critics, and to hear the praise flow forth from advisers. The gatherings, with the press in attendance, often stretch for 60 to 90 minutes. Much of the most recent Cabinet meeting seemed about self-validation as Trump’s allies describe a presidency under siege, and a president frustrated with an onslaught of criticism.

U.S. Envoy Says He Was Told Release of Ukraine Aid Was Contingent on Public Declaration to Investigate Bidens, 2016 Election
MSN – Anne Gearan, Rachael Bade, Karoun Demirjian, and John Wagner (Washington Post) | Published: 10/22/2019

The senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine said he was told release of military aid was contingent on public declarations from Ukraine that it would investigate the Bidens and the 2016 election, contradicting President Trump’s denial that he used the money as leverage for political gain. Acting Ambassador William Taylor Jr. testified in the House impeachment probe of Trump that he stands by his characterization that it was “crazy” to make the assistance contingent on investigations he found troubling. Taylor walked lawmakers through a series of conversations he had with other U.S. diplomats who were trying to obtain what one called the “deliverable” of Ukrainian help investigating Trump’s political rivals.

Why Trump Dropped His Idea to Hold the G7 at His Own Hotel
MSN – Maggie Haberman, Eric Lipton, and Katie Rogers (New York Times) | Published: 10/20/2019

He knew he was inviting criticism by choosing his own luxury golf club in Miami for the site of a gathering of world leaders at the Group of 7 summit in June, President Trump told his aides opposed to the choice, and he was prepared for the inevitable attack from Democrats. But what Trump was not prepared for was the reaction of fellow Republicans who said his choice of the club, the Trump National Doral, had crossed a line, and they could not defend it. So, Trump did something that might not have been a surprise for a president facing impeachment but was unusual for him: he reversed course, abruptly ending the uproar touched off earlier by the announcement of his decision by Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff.

From the States and Municipalities

California Company at Center of Insurance Commissioner’s Contributions Scandal Sold Without California Approval
San Diego Union-Tribune – Jeff McDonald | Published: 10/18/2019

The insurance conglomerate behind tens of thousands of dollars in political donations to California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has been sold, even though state regulators say they have not approved the transaction. Applied Underwriters was purchased for $920 million by its founder, Steven Menzies. The agreement is significant because Menzies is a central figure in a scandal surrounding Lara, who met privately with the insurance executive multiple times and accepted more than $46,000 in campaign donations from people connected to his company.

California Former Mayor Anthony Silva Sentenced, Charges Dismissed Against Sharon Simas
Stockton Record – Nicholas Filipas | Published: 10/21/2019

Former Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva was formally sentenced to one felony conflict-of-interest charge that closed a three-year financial-malfeasance case. A judge sentenced Silva to 90 days in county jail. Silva was also ordered to pay $19,783 in restitution, be under three years of formal probation, and was given a lifetime ban on owning guns or ammunition. The conflict-of-interest charge stemmed from Silva’s decision to direct $5,000 in public money from a mayoral discretionary fund to the Kids Club of Stockton before leaving office in 2013.

California Glendale Officials Take First Steps to Regulate Lobbying
Los Angeles Times – Lila Seidman | Published: 10/17/2019

Glendale City Council members directed the city attorney’s office to draft an ordinance that would require lobbyists to identify themselves, who they are working for, and how much they are being compensated. Each year, lobbyists would need to register with the city for a fee or face possible civil or criminal penalties. Quarterly reports with the information would be available to Council members and the public, under the tentative regulations. If the ordinance is adopted, Glendale would join cities like Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood, which all regulate how lobbyists interact with local elected officials in Southern California.

California Real-Estate Company Admits Violating Campaign-Finance Rules with $7,000 in Contributions to LA Council District 4 Candidate
Los Angeles Daily Breeze; City News Service –   | Published: 10/22/2019

Hillcrest LLC, a company owned by real estate developer Bruce Makowsky, was fined $71,000 for reimbursing donors to a Los Angeles City Council candidate during the 2015 election. City law prohibited individuals from contributing more than $700 to a council candidate in 2015. Campaign donors are barred from giving in the name of someone else, a practice that can be used to sidestep limits on how much each person can donate. Ethics Commission staffers recommended a penalty of $71,000 for the company, the maximum it could have been fined, because reimbursing donors is “an extremely serious violation,” they wrote in a report.

Connecticut State Says Pols Missed Deadline to Have Their Day in Court
Connecticut Mirror – Mark Pazniokas | Published: 10/22/2019

State Sen. Rob Sampson and his predecessor, Joe Markley, wanted a legal debate over political speech and campaign finance law; all they got before the Connecticut Supreme Court were arguments over missed deadlines. They say the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) violated their First Amendment rights by imposing fines of $5,000 on Sampson and $2,000 on Markley over campaign mailers promoting them in 2014 as reliable defenders against the policies of Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat. At issue was the question of whether the mailers were just a benefit to Sampson and Markley, who disagreed with Malloy on everything from taxation to criminal justice? Or did they also benefit Tom Foley, the Republican nominee for governor in 2014? The SEEC viewed the attacks on Malloy by Sampson and Markley as at least partially benefitting Foley, making the mailers an improper contribution to Foley.

Florida Being Poor Shouldn’t Stop Florida Felons from Voting, Judge Rules in Amendment 4 Case
Tampa Bay Times – Lawrence Mower | Published: 10/19/2019

Florida must allow felons to vote if they cannot afford to pay back their court-ordered fees, fines, and restitution, a federal judge ruled in a case challenging the Legislature’s crackdown on Amendment 4. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle wrote in his decision that the historic amendment voters passed in 2018 allowing felons to vote does require they pay back their financial obligations to have their voting rights restored. But if they are too poor to pay those costs, the judge ruled, that should not keep them from voting. The judge granted a preliminary injunction that prevents Florida officials from using the bill to keep the 17 plaintiffs suing the state from voting. But the ramifications of Hinkle’s ruling is expected to affect other felons seeking to vote.

Florida Tallahassee Ethics Officer Demands $450,000 and An Apology in Exchange for Early Exit
USA Today – Jeff Burlew (Tallahassee Democrat) | Published: 10/23/2019

Julie Meadows-Keefe, Tallahassee’s independent ethics officer, announced in July she was planning to step down in February 2020, a move that came after mounting criticism over a personal relationship she had with an appointed city official and other matters. Mayor John Dailey questioned her during a recent city commission meeting and later wrote an opinion piece in a local newspaper, accusing her of “unethical behavior.” Meadows-Keefe is now demanding that Dailey apologize to her and the city pay her $450,000 in exchange for her stepping down by the end of the year. “[The mayor] has pushed publicly and privately for her termination in a malicious and calculated way,” Marie Mattox, a lawyer for Meadows-Keefe, wrote in a letter to the city attorney.

Maine Candidate for Maine Governor Paid Clean Elections Money to Future Employer
Portland Press Herald – Scott Thistle | Published: 10/20/2019

Former state Sen. Garrett Mason, who is running as a Clean Elections candidate for governor last year, directed taxpayer money to a consulting firm that hired him just after he lost the primary election in June. Mason spent just over $100,000 in taxpayer funds with Eaton River Strategies, a firm headed by lobbyist Kathie Summers-Grice. Although the move does not violate any state campaign finance laws or ethics rules, it raises concerns that Clean Elections funds could be used by candidates for personal financial gain or as a gateway to lucrative employment when they lose an election or leave public office.

Maine Ethics Commission Staff Recommends Against Investigating Sara Gideon for Finance Violation
WGME – Caitlin Andrews (Bangor Daily News) | Published: 10/23/2019

The staff of Maine’s ethics commission is recommending against investigating state House Speaker Sara Gideon for her past use of a partially corporate-funded committee to reimburse herself for political contributions, saying Gideon, who is running to replace U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, did not violate state law because she did not intend to conceal the true source of the donations. Gideon’s use of her state political committee, which has since dissolved, to reimburse herself for political contributions came to light over the summer and became the subject of a campaign finance complaint.

Michigan Judge Weighs Rep. Larry Inman Fundraising: Bribery or protected speech? – John Agar | Published: 10/17/2019

A federal judge refused to dismiss bribery and extortion charges against Michigan Rep. Larry Inman. He contends he accepted legal campaign contributions. Prosecutors allege Inman appeared willing to sell his vote – and influence others, if they received campaign contributions, too – in repealing Michigan’s prevailing-wage law. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker said the case “inevitably raises First Amendment issues about the line between criminal bribery or extortion, on the one hand, and protected political activity on the other hand.” He thinks the issue should be left to a jury.

Michigan Report: Duggan gave Make Your Date favor; chief of staff ordered emails deleted
Detroit News – Christine Ferretti and George Hunter | Published: 10/21/2019

Detroit’s inspector general released a scathing report that found Mayor Mike Duggan “unilaterally” directed city resources toward assisting a nonprofit, and his chief of staff and other top aides abused their authority by directing staff to delete emails detailing those efforts, undermining “the public’s trust in an open and transparent government.” The finding of preferential treatment for Make Your Date, a nonprofit aimed at addressing preterm births, is the culmination of a sixth-month probe by the inspector general’s office, which is calling on the city to reform its policies and staff training, and take disciplinary action against three employees, including Alexis Wiley, the mayor’s chief of staff.

New York Campaign Panel Weighs Bigger Public Match for Local Donations
Newsday – Michael Gormley | Published: 10/22/2019

The commission charged with implementing the public funding of political campaigns in New York moved away from a straight six-to-one match of state funds to all donations toward an idea proposed by an Uber driver that would provide a far greater match to contributions from within a candidate’s legislative district. The commission voted analyze a twenty-to-one match for donations made by constituents from within the legislative district the candidate seeks to represent, and no match for contributions from outside the district. The concept would apply only to state legislative races, not statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, or attorney general.

New York Council Refers King Ethics Complaints to Outside Authorities
Politico – Joe Anuta and Sally Goldenberg | Published: 10/23/2019

Outside enforcement organizations may be looking into ethics allegations against New York City Councilperson Andy King, meaning the Bronx lawmaker could face further reckoning beyond the suite of sanctions his colleagues are set to vote on. A report by the Committee on Standards and Ethics paints a damning portrait of King’s conduct over the last several years. The document alleges King misused city resources to benefit himself and his wife, who works for influential healthcare workers union. In one instance, city resources were allegedly used to support a retreat and a family wedding in the Virgin Islands. The report also accused King of mounting a campaign of retaliation and intimidation against staffers he believed were cooperating with council investigators.

New York NY Ethics Agency Defends Probe of Rape Survivor
New York Post – Carl Campanile | Published: 10/23/2019

The New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) is standing by its decision to investigate a rape survivor for violating lobbying laws by taking out billboards supporting a new sex abuse victims’ law. Kat Sullivan had allegedly used cash from the legal settlement in her rape case to pay $5,000 for the ads backing the Child Victims Act. The probe of an average person like Sullivan drew criticism from lawmakers. But JCOPE says the lobbying laws apply to everyone equally, correspondence reveals. “The Commission cannot pick and choose who is covered out of sympathy or hostility. Efforts to query a source or to urge compliance is mandated by the Legislature …,” JCOPE Chairperson Michael Rozen wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

Oklahoma Oklahoma PAC Accused of Repeated Violations of Campaign Finance Laws
The Oklahoman – Nolan Clay | Published: 10/19/2019

A PAC secretly and illegally funneled thousands of dollars from a wealthy Missouri businessperson’s companies to Oklahoma politicians, the Oklahoma Ethics Commission alleged after an investigation. The commission sued Oklahoman’s For Healthy Living for financial penalties, saying it “repeatedly and intentionally violated the campaign finance laws of Oklahoma.” The only donors to the PAC over the last four years were two Missouri companies, Capital Health Management and Affordable Equity Partners Inc. The commission alleged Capital Health Management donated $35,000 and Affordable Equity Partners donated $8,000 in that time period in violation of state ethics rules against corporate donations. The president of both companies is Jeffrey Smith.

Pennsylvania New Oversight Committee Examines Flaws in Pennsylvania’s Lobbying Disclosures
The Center Square – Dave Lemery | Published: 10/22/2019

Politicians and voters of all political stripes have lamented the influence of lobbying on governmental policy, with accusations that lawmakers’ votes can be bought for the right price. The members of the new House Oversight Committee in Pennsylvania sought to examine that issue in their first meeting when they convened to discuss a forthcoming report on lobbying disclosures in the state. Witnesses described a system where individuals or entities that want to get the attention of lawmakers – known as “principals” – can hire lobbying firms to bring their issue to the attention of lawmakers. If the lobbying firm uses gifts, trips to restaurants, or other forms of entertainment in an attempt to influence policy, that has to be reported to the state.

Pennsylvania Pennsylvania State Lawmakers Are Hiding Millions in Campaign Spending. And It’s All Legal.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Angela Couloumbis (Spotlight PA), Mike Wereschagin, Brad Bumsted, Paula Knudson, Sam Janesch, and Alyssa Bierdeman (The Caucus) | Published: 10/22/2019

An investigation found Pennsylvania lawmakers are shielding sometimes lavish campaign spending by not reporting the details to the public, making it difficult to assess if those expenditures was appropriate. From 2016 through 2018, state House and Senate candidates spent nearly $3.5 million that cannot be fully traced based on the information they disclosed. Charges included foreign trips, country club memberships, and a DNA test kit. In many cases, the expenditures were listed on publicly available documents with entries such as “meals” or “travel,” and a total amount, with no other details. Lawmakers have dismissed efforts to impose more restrictions, arguing they are unnecessary as long as details about where the money comes from, and how it is spent, are available to the public.

Rhode Island Ex-Mattiello Operative Charged with Money Laundering; Says He’s Been Made ‘Fall Guy’
Providence Journal – Katherine Gregg | Published: 10/18/2019

Political operative Jeffrey Britt was indicted on a money-laundering charge in connection with his work on Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s 2016 reelection campaign. The indictment charges Britt with one felony count of money laundering and one misdemeanor count of making a prohibited campaign contribution and “disguising it as the contribution of someone else,” state Attorney General Peter Neronha said at a news conference. The grand jury investigated alleged shenanigans in the final weeks of Mattiello’s tough 2016 campaign in his Cranston home district, and specifically the roles played by Britt and potentially other aides in arranging and financing a mailer endorsing Mattiello.

Texas Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen Says He Won’t Seek Re-Election After Scandal
Fort Worth Star-Telegram – Tessa Weinberg | Published: 10/22/2019

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen announced he will not seek re-election to the Legislature or as leader of the House following growing calls for his resignation. The announcement comes three months after conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan alleged Bonnen offered writers of the group’s news site long sought-after House press credentials in exchange for the organization’s firepower in targeting 10 Republican incumbents in their re-election bids. In July, Sullivan revealed he had secretly recorded the meeting. The audio appears to largely support Sullivan’s allegations and spurred a flood of renewed calls from House members for Bonnen to step down.

West Virginia Billionaire Governor’s Family Farms Get Subsidy
AP News – Anthony Izaguirre | Published: 10/17/2019

A farming business owned by the family of West Virginia’s billionaire governor has received $125,000 in soybean and corn subsidies, the maximum allowed from a federal program meant to help American farmers through the U.S. trade war with China. There is no evidence Gov. Jim Justice did anything illegal. But at least one analyst said the payments to the richest man in West Virginia are unseemly, given his wealth. And the subsidies have thrown the spotlight again on his business empire and the potential conflicts-of-interest it poses.

Wyoming Wyoming’s First Public Records Ombudsman Aims to Boost Transparency
Laramie Boomerang – Tom Coulter (Wyoming Tribune Eagle) | Published: 10/21/2019

After working for nearly 30 years in Washington, D.C., Ruth Van Mark was not expecting to take on a new job in Wyoming. Instead, she was planning to retire back in the state where she grew up. A few months later, Van Mark was announced as the state’s first public records ombudsman. In the position, she will settle disputes over records requests, determine the scope of what can be redacted in requests, and coordinate with state agencies to make the process for submitting requests more straightforward. The position was created this year. Cassie Craven, a lobbyist with the Wyoming Liberty Group, said there was lot of testimony last session about records disputes between state agencies and citizens that had gone wrong in court.

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