News You Can Use Digest - September 27, 2019 - State and Federal Communications

September 27, 2019  •  

News You Can Use Digest – September 27, 2019


Convictions Tossed Out Against Ex-Flynn Business Partner
AP News – Michael Barakat | Published: 9/24/2019

A federal judge tossed out convictions against a one-time business partner of former national security adviser Michael Flynn who was accused of acting as a Turkish foreign agent. U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Trenga ruled the evidence against Bijan Kian was insufficient to sustain a conviction even though a jury convicted him at a trial earlier this year. Trenga had expressed doubts about the government’s case throughout the trial. Trenga also ordered that Kian should be granted a new trial if an appeals court reverses his decision to grant acquittals. Kian was convicted on a conspiracy count and a count of acting as an unregistered agent of Turkey. At trial, Kian also presented evidence that he had intended to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act until a lawyer advised him it was unnecessary in his case.

DNC Raises Threshold to Make November Debate Stage
Politico – Zach Montellaro | Published: 9/23/2019

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has slightly raised the bar to qualify for the November primary debate. The new thresholds represent the DNC’s latest attempt to balance its mandate to cull the field while also facing complaints about excluding candidates with impressive resumes, including sitting senators and governors, who could not meet the previous, lower polling and donor marks. Even some of the major candidates who have appeared in each of the first three debates have been forced to adjust their strategies to boost their poll numbers or trawl for small-dollar donors on Facebook, often spending multiples more to advertise than the money they received in return.

Here’s a Business Plan: Wooing millennials to the polls with prizes, not guilt
The Fulcrom – Bill Theobald | Published: 9/25/2019

Traditionally, voter registration and turnout drives go right for the moral argument. Registering to vote and going to the polls is your obligation in a democracy, the organizers say. But the relatively poor turnout through the years argues for a different approach. Armed with their millennials’ native knowledge of social media, an understanding of behavioral economics from their graduate work as well as their own research, graduate school classmates Jess Riegel and Rachel Konowitz put together a business plan particularly focused on getting younger people to vote.

Justice Department Drops Probe of Mueller-Referred Lobbyists, They Say
San Francisco Chronicle – Tom Hamburger and Matt Zapotosky (Washington Post) | Published: 9/24/2019

A long-running U.S. Justice Department investigation of two of Washington, D.C.’s best-known lobbyists was closed, the latest sign of the challenges facing prosecutors attempting to more aggressively pursue possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Tony Podesta and Vin Weber said they were notified that federal prosecutors in Manhattan had closed the inquiry into work they did that benefited Ukrainian interests. As the investigation proceeded, Podesta closed his iconic lobbying firm, the Podesta Group. Weber left Mercury, a firm he had helped lead since 2011.

Koch-Linked Nonprofit Must Disclose Donors, Settlement Mandates
Bloomberg Government – Kenneth Doyle | Published: 9/19/2019

In a settlement with the FEC, the now-defunct Americans for Job Security (AJS) said it should have registered as a regulated PAC beginning in 2010 because it spent most of its money to influence elections. Such PACs must disclose their donors, unlike nonprofits that say they are mainly interested in policy issues rather than campaigns. While AJS acknowledged it had violated campaign finance law, the FEC said it would not seek an immediate fine because of the group’s defunct status and the long period of time since the spending occurred. The FEC approved the settlement before the departure of Commissioner Matthew Petersen, which left the agency without a four-member quorum to approve enforcement actions.

Pelosi Announces Impeachment Inquiry, Says Trump’s Courting of Foreign Political Help Is a ‘Betrayal of National Security’
MSN – Rachael Bade, Mike DeBonis, and Karoun Demirjian (Washington Post) | Published: 9/24/2019

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the extraordinary step of initiating impeachment proceedings against President Trump, accusing him of violating the Constitution in seeking help from a foreign leader to damage a political opponent. Pelosi’s move came after Trump acknowledged he urged the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination who holds a wide lead over Trump, polls show, in a potential general election matchup. The revelation prompted a rush of moderate House Democrats to call for an impeachment inquiry into Trump, a step they had resisted for months. The confrontation between the Democratic-led House and Trump is likely to further divide a polarized nation ahead of the 2020 election while carrying implications for both parties.

Politicians and Pundits Used to Refrain from Publicly Attacking Kids. Not Anymore.
Stamford Advocate – Hannah Natanson (Washington Post) | Published: 9/24/2019

Greta Thunberg is “mentally ill.” Emma González is a “skinhead lesbian.” David Hogg is “a special kind of stupid.” These may sound like playground taunts, but they are not: All are epithets applied by politicians, pundits, or political elites (adults) to the young leaders of global movements against climate change and gun violence. Thunberg is 16, and González and Hogg are in their late teens. This kind of rhetoric, experts say, is the hallmark of a new era of American political discourse: one that allows, even encourages, vitriolic verbal abuse of children and teenagers.

Trump’s Other Ukraine Problem: New concern about his business
Washington Post – Jonathan O’Connell and David Fahrenthold | Published: 9/26/2019

Buried in the controversy over President Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was an effort by the Ukrainian leader at currying favor with Trump through his business. “Actually, last time I traveled to the United States, I stayed in New York near Central Park, and I stayed at the Trump Tower,” Zelensky told Trump, according to a rough transcript of the July 25 call. Zelensky’s comments mark the first known example of an interaction Democrats and ethics experts warned about when Trump took office: that foreign leaders would try to influence Trump by spending money at his properties and telling him about it.

Whistleblower Claimed Trump Abused His Office and That White House Officials Tried to Cover It Up
Portland Press Herald – Matt Zapotosky, Carol Leonnig, and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 9/26/2019

An intelligence community whistleblower raised alarms that President Trump used his office to pressure a foreign government to influence the 2020 U.S. election and his staff orchestrated a cover-up to keep details of a telephone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky off normal channels. In the call, Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter. Trump offered to enlist U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s help in that effort. While the whistleblower’s primary concern is the president’s phone call with Zelensky, it is clear from the document that its author also was troubled by what appeared then to be a four-month pattern of election season misconduct involving the president, his personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, and White House aides who sought to keep the whole thing quiet.

From the States and Municipalities

Alaska Ben Stevens Once Left the Alaska Senate in Disgrace. Now He’s Gov. Dunleavy’s Top Deputy.
Alaska Public Media – Nathaniel Herz | Published: 9/25/2019

Former Alaska Senate President Ben Stevens has been out of the public eye for a decade after he decided against running for re-election amid an ethics controversy that grew into bribery allegations against him. He was investigated by four federal agencies but was never charged with a crime. In December, Stevens was hired as a policy advisor to Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Then, in July, Dunleavy made Stevens his chief of staff, making him one of the most powerful unelected officials in the state. Stevens’ rise to an influential, public role revives some of the questions raised by Legislature’s 2006 corruption scandal, like the allegations by two former oil industry executives who said their company paid him bribes when he was a senator.

Arizona Federal Judge Hears Arguments in Challenge to Initiative Law
Arizona Capitol Times – Howard Fischer (Capitol News Services) | Published: 9/25/2019

An attorney for the state asked a federal judge to uphold a law that challengers say is designed to make it more difficult for people to propose their own laws. Arizona Assistant Attorney General Joseph La Rue acknowledged the measure requires a judge to throw out all the signatures of paid or out-of-state circulators of initiative petitions if that person does not respond to a subpoena, regardless of whether the signatures gathered are actually valid. La Rue argued, however, that restriction is necessary to protect the integrity of the election process. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton questioned why, if such automatic disqualification is necessary, that same provision does not apply when initiative signatures are collected by volunteers who are Arizona residents.

Arkansas Lobbyist Fined $50 Over Late Reports
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; Staff –   | Published: 9/24/2019

Lobbyist Keith Emis was fined $50 and issued a public letter of caution by the Arkansas Ethics Commission in a settlement of a complaint filed against him. February is the only month in this three-month period in which Emis reported lobbyist expenses on his reports. Emis said he contracts with another accounting firm to file his reports with the state and there was some type of communication problem between the firm and the secretary of state’s website.

California Commissioner Enjoyed Fine Dining, ‘Relationship Building’ with Insurance Executives Before Donations, Action in Their Favor
San Diego Union Tribune – Jeff McDonald | Published: 9/19/2019

Following Ricardo Lara’s swearing in as California insurance commissioner, Eric Serna, a New Mexico lobbyist who more than a decade ago resigned in disgrace as that state’s most senior insurance regulator, began turning up at meetings between the new insurance chief and industry executives. The second meeting between Lara and Serna included the proposed buyer and seller of Applied Underwriters, a workers’ compensation insurer that has been the subject of dozens of complaints. The pending sale requires the approval of the California insurance commissioner. The meetings raise questions about Lara’s statements in July, when he said he was unaware that donors with ties to Applied Underwriters had contributed some $54,000 to his campaign. After The San Diego Union-Tribune disclosed the donations, Lara issued a statement apologizing for what he called an oversight and pledged to return the contributions.

California Judge Blocks California Law Requiring Trump Tax Returns
Courthouse News Service – Nick Cahill | Published: 9/19/2019

Delivering a legal win for President Trump, a federal judge temporarily barred California from enforcing a law enacted to force the president to release his tax returns in order to appear on the state’s upcoming primary ballot. U.S. District Court Judge Morrison England Jr. said he is concerned the statute could overstep federal ethics laws regarding candidates’ financial disclosures and granted Trump and the Republican National Committee’s motion for preliminary injunction. The sides are fighting over first-of-its-kind legislation that requires presidential and gubernatorial candidates to release at least five years of recent tax returns in order to land on the state’s primary ballot. State Democrats want to force Trump’s hand and give California voters access to his tax returns before the February primary.

Florida Orlando Airport Board, Facing Criticism, Reverses Course on No-Bid Lawyer Contracts
Orlando Sentinel – Beth Kassab and Jason Garcia | Published: 9/18/2019

The board that controls Orlando International Airport backed down from a plan to give no-bid contracts to new lawyers. The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority scrapped a controversial proposal to name a pair of law firms to serve as co-general counsel for the next six months. Instead, they agreed to solicit proposals from any law firms interested in the temporary job, with plans to pick the new lawyers in November. “I do believe the process was flawed,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said.

Florida Sen. Farmer Says There Is No Conflict of Interest Over His Relationship with Lobbyist
Orlando Sentinel – Gary Roher | Published: 9/19/2019

Florida Sen. Gary Farmer, slated to be Democratic leader after the 2020 elections, said he has not broken any laws or Senate rules by engaging in a relationship with a lobbyist and dismissed any notion of a conflict-of-interest. “Look at my voting record and compare it to her clients before you do any kind of story,” Farmer said in an interview with The Orlando Sentinel. Farmer told some colleagues he has begun a relationship with Andreina Figueroa, a lobbyist for several clients, including the Florida Justice Association, a trial lawyer group Farmer used to lead. Figueroa also has ties to the Miami-Dade GOP, and Farmer is in charge of Senate Democratic campaign efforts for the 2020 election.

Florida Shiver’s Checkered Past Includes Role as FBI Informant in Opa-locka Corruption Case
Miami Herald – Jay Weaver | Published: 9/24/2019

Homestead mayoral candidate Steve Shiver’s résumé has had many highs (past commissioner of Homestead, Miami-Dade County manager) and many lows (personal and business bankruptcies, unproven allegations of drug use). But there is one thing no one would have seen until now: “FBI confidential informant.” The FBI tapped him for that part when he was hired as city manager by Opa-locka, a notoriously corrupt city, in 2015. As an FBI source, Shiver had to keep quit when he was publicly accused by a local contractor of soliciting a $150,000 bribe. The contractor’s allegation against Shiver turned out to be false, part of an FBI sting operation. Shiver is hoping the revelation of his role as a confidential source will help his bid for Homestead mayor.

Illinois Federal Agents Raid Springfield, Cicero Offices of Illinois Sen. Martin Sandoval, Says Source
Chicago Tribune – Jason Meisner, Jaime Muncks, and Ray Long | Published: 9/24/2019

Federal agents raided the Springfield and Cicero offices of Illinois Sen. Martin Sandoval as part of an ongoing criminal investigation, according to a source. The exact nature of the investigation was not disclosed. The raids on Sandoval’s offices come amid ongoing corruption probes at Chicago City Hall. Several allies of House Speaker Michael Madigan have also come under scrutiny in recent months. Sandoval, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, has worked with Madigan over the years on a variety of legislative issues.

Maryland Hogan Raising ‘Dark’ Money to Boost His Agenda, Stop Costly Education Plan
Connecticut Post – Erin Cox (Washington Post) | Published: 9/19/2019

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is launching a campaign to oppose Democratic policy initiatives in the state. Hogan asked supporters to donate to his new super PAC to fund the lobbying and public relations efforts. Campaign finance watchdogs said the governor’s solicitation illustrates a troubling trend that has escalated over the past decade, as public officeholders find methods to raise unlimited money – some from undisclosed donors – in ways often prohibited for traditional candidate committees. Entities similar to Hogan’s caused political trouble for District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser in 2015 and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio this year, after transparency advocates said the fundraising activity can blur ethical boundaries.

Massachusetts House Approves Campaign Finance Reporting, OCPF Changes – Matt Murphy (State House News Service) | Published: 9/25/2019

A bill overhauling campaign finance rules for legislative candidates passed the Massachusetts House. While many Republicans cheered the proposed switch to a reporting system that would require more frequent disclosures of campaign fundraising and spending, GOP leaders objected to changes in the way the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) is chosen. House Bill 4087 would create a new commission in charge of hiring the director of OCPF that would no longer include the chairs of the Democratic and Republican parties. OCPF Director Michael Sullivan was reappointed to new six-year term last November, but there is speculation that he may soon retire. “This is an obvious power play to eliminate any say that the minority party has when it comes to selecting the next OCPF director,” said state GOP Chairperson Jim Lyons.

Massachusetts Sen. Jo Comerford Bill Would Ban Use of Public or Campaign Funds for Sexual Harassment Payouts – Katie Lannan (State House News Service) | Published: 9/18/2019

A bill sponsored by Massachusetts Sen. Jo Comerford would prohibit elected officials in the state from using public or campaign funds to pay settlements or fines in sexual assault or harassment cases. In cases where an official is unable to pay with private funds, a public entity could use its money to cover the claim or settlement. The official would need to reimburse the entity, potentially by having portions of their salary withheld. Comerford was elected last year after a successful write-in campaign for the seat last held by former Senate President Stan Rosenberg, who resigned after an Ethics Committee report criticized his conduct in connection with sexual assault and harassment allegations against his husband, Bryon Hefner.

Michigan Ex-Detroit Official Sent to Prison in Demolition Scandal
Detroit News – Robert Snell | Published: 9/23/2019

A city official who received as much as $26,500 in bribes from a contractor while rigging bids to tear down homes in Detroit’s federally funded demolition program was sentenced to one year in federal prison. The sentence for Aradondo Haskins represents the latest fallout from a corruption scandal clouding Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s program to rehabilitate the post-bankrupt city. Haskins is one of two people convicted of a pattern of corruption involving demolition contractors and dozens of secret payoffs. The corruption undermined the integrity of an unprecedented plan to remove thousands of dangerous, blighted structures in a city decimated by the Great Recession, prosecutors said.

Michigan Lobbyists Spend Big on Food and Drink for State Lawmakers in 2019 – Alyssa Burr | Published: 9/26/2019

Michigan lawmakers have consumed $540,637 worth of lobbyist-funded food and drink in the first seven months of 2019, a new report says. Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network who put out the report, said lobbyists’ main strategy is to build relationships with lawmakers. “A lot of these meals take place like that. … It’s about talking about policies that are maybe before these lawmakers,” said Mauger. The lobbying law does not require lobbyists to tie all of their food and drink purchases directly to specific officeholders. Lobbyists only have to disclose which lawmakers they buy food for if they spend more than $62 in a month on an individual officeholder or more than $375 in a year on an individual officeholder.

Missouri Ferguson Mayor Candidate Nabbed – Again – for Spending Campaign Cash on Himself
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 9/24/2019

Former Missouri Rep. Courtney Curtis, who is running to be mayor of Ferguson, used his campaign account like a personal piggy bank, spending money on visits to spas, hotels, and concert events, state ethics regulators said. Curtis, who has had multiple run-ins with the state Ethics Commission over his campaign accounts, was fined more than $77,000 by the panel for a variety of alleged transgressions, including spending money from his account on gas and hotels while also receiving daily expense reimbursements from the state during his time as a House member. Curtis’ fine could be waived if he pays $7,750 and stays in compliance with state law for two years, the commission said.

Montana Campaign Contribution Limits Go Up in Montana
The Missoulian – Holly Michels | Published: 9/23/2019

Campaign contribution limits are going up in Montana following an adjustment to match inflation required under state law. The new caps took effect September 21. Contributions made before that were subject to the older limits, but those who have already given money can donate again up to the new limit. The increases are slight: the amount an individual person can give to a campaign for governor rose from $710 to $680 per election, for example.

Nebraska Prosecutors Drop 1 Charge Against UNL Researcher Accused of Defacing Republicans’ Signs, Office Door
Omaha World-Herald – Rick Ruggles | Published: 9/24/2019

Prosecutors have dropped one of two vandalism charges against a researcher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln accused of defacing U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s campaign. Patricia Wonch Hill was accused of putting “googly eyes” on some campaign signs that promoted Fortenberry. At least one of the signs had been altered so it read “Fartenberry.” The charge associated with the Fortenberry allegation was dropped. The remaining charge against Wonch Hill is an allegation she put stickers on state Sen. Deb Fischer’s office door in Lincoln. Wonch Hill has denied that.

New York De Blasio to Developers: Donate to my nonprofit. $125,000 came
ENM News – Jeffrey Mayes (New York Times) | Published: 9/20/2019

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) announced it reached settlements with three developers to pay a combined $65,000 for potential violations of New York’s lobbying law. The regulations preclude lobbyists and their clients from “giving gifts to a public official or to third parties on behalf of or at the designation or recommendation of a public official,” according to JCOPE. All three companies had hired lobbyists to influence New York City at the same time they donated money to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s political nonprofit group, the Campaign for One New York. The organization was used to support de Blasio’s political agenda. According to a report from the New York City Department of Investigation, the mayor and his intermediaries solicited donations from individuals and companies with business before the city.

New York Trump Lawyers Argue He Cannot Be Criminally Investigated
MSN – Michael Gold (New York Times) | Published: 9/18/2019

Lawyers for President Trump argued he cannot be criminally investigated while in office as they sought to block a subpoena from state prosecutors in Manhattan demanding eight years of his tax returns. Taking a broad position that the lawyers acknowledged had not been tested, the president’s legal team argued in the complaint that the Constitution effectively makes sitting presidents immune from all criminal inquiries until they leave the White House. The lawsuit was filed in response to a subpoena issued to Trump’s accounting firm. The subpoena sought eight years of the president’s personal and corporate tax returns as the office investigates the role Trump and his family business played in hush-money payments made in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

North Carolina Duke Energy PAC Donations, Refunds Spark Complaint
WRAL – Travis Fain | Published: 9/18/2019

A campaign finance watchdog filed a complaint against Duke Energy’s PAC, arguing more than $40,000 in now-refunded campaign donations to key North Carolina legislators were illegal contributions. The donations caught Bob Hall’s eye because the checks were logged just before the start of this year’s legislative session, then refunded in the following weeks and months. Most of the campaign involved said Duke’s PAC asked for the refunds. In some cases, they said, they were not entirely sure why. A company spokesperson said it was a timing issue: The checks were printed in December but given out in January because the PAC had already hit campaign contribution limits for the 2018 election cycle. Hall accused the company of making excess donations in 2018, then hiding it.

North Dakota Extent of North Dakota Ethics Commission’s Authority Already Questioned
Grand Forks Herald – Jack Dura (Bismarck Tribune) | Published: 9/22/2019

Without any rules or even office space yet, North Dakota’s new Ethics Commission is already facing questions of how far its authority might extend, including a query about oilfield spills. The panel has not yet begun crafting rules related to transparency, corruption, elections, and lobbying. Commissioners say such rules will help guide their actions and decision-making as to investigations of complaints. For now, the board is working to address office and staffing details. One major item for its next agenda likely will be to outline apparent conflicts in constitutional and statutory language related to the board’s duties and definitions, such as confidentiality of complaints permitted by the constitution but not allowed by state law. The board might eventually request an attorney general opinion.

Oklahoma Oklahoma Legislator Rents Apartment from Energy Lobbyist
The Oklahoman – Carmen Forman | Published: 9/23/2019

Oklahoma Rep. Kevin Wallace, chairperson of the House Appropriations Committee, rented an apartment from lobbyist OGE Energy lobbyist Ken Miller during the legislative session and in other months when Wallace had to be at or near the Capitol for meetings and other events. The arrangement between Wallace and Miller is not illegal, nor does it violate state ethics rules. But it gives the appearance that a special interest group may have outsized influence over legislative actions, said Beth Rotman of Common Cause. “When you have powerful policymakers literally sharing living space with people whose paid role it is to influence policy, things look way too cozy,” said Rotman.

Oregon Case Closed: In Oregon campaign investigations, ‘I did not’ is all it takes
Portland Oregonian – Rob Davis | Published: 9/17/2019

When Oregon’s election watchdogs investigate potential violations of campaign laws, critics say they take a lackadaisical approach to ferreting out wrongdoing. The state’s weak enforcement gives powerful politicians and their financial supporters an easy out, even when they admit to behavior that may have violated state law. Steve Trout, the Oregon elections director, defended the state’s oversight of campaign finance laws. “Is it 100 percent rock solid? No,” Trout said. “Is it close? Yeah. We have to make decisions based on resources and priorities on how close to 100 percent we get.”

Pennsylvania Philly Voting Machine Vendor Engaged in Years-Long Effort to Win Contract, City Watchdog’s Investigation Finds
Philadelphia Inquirer – Jonathan Lai | Published: 9/25/2019

Election Systems and Software (ES&S), the vendor that won a $29 million contract to supply Philadelphia with new voting machines, engaged in a years-long effort to lobby elections officials, who then rushed an opaque process that was biased toward that company, City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart said. ES&S spent more than $428,000 since January 2014 in lobbying efforts, the investigation found. Rhynhart said the findings raise questions about the process and whether election commissioners acted ethically when they chose ES&S’ touchscreen ExpressVote XL machines to be used beginning this November.

Rhode Island Former Providence City Councilman Released from Court After Ethics Fine Paid
Providence Journal – Madeline List | Published: 9/25/2019

Constables with the Rhode Island Division of Sheriffs brought former Providence City Councilperson Luis Aponte into court after he was found in contempt for failure to appear to pay a debt owed to the state Ethics Commission. Aponte was released after “a woman showed up with cash” and paid the $1,623 fine, said Paul Grimaldi, spokesperson for the Department of Revenue. Aponte resigned from the council this summer after pleading no contest to embezzling $13,942 from his campaign account.

Tennessee Former Davidson County Chancellor Bill Young Selected to Oversee Watchdog Agencies
The Tennessean – Joel Ebert | Published: 9/24/2019

Former Nashville Chancellor Bill Young was selected to serve as the next director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance. Young, who twice served in the state attorney general’s office, was chosen to succeed Drew Rawlins, who retired earlier this year, by members of the state Ethics Commission and the Registry of Election Finance. Janet Williams has served in an interim role since Rawlins’ retirement. Several of the candidates for the job talked in their interviews about the need for the watchdog groups to revamp their website, continue collecting civil penalties assessed against candidates and public officials, and the importance of having the registry begin holding its meetings throughout the state.

Virginia Millions of Dollars Are Missing. The Sheriff Is Dead. A Small Virginia Town Wants Answers.
MSN – Antonio Olivo (Washington Post) | Published: 9/24/2019

A corruption probe involving current and former public officials resulted in 14 indictments in Warren County, Virginia – including all five county supervisors. The charges resulted from an investigation into the financial dealings of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority. It has been alleged that at least $21 million has been embezzled in Warren County. The money was discovered missing last March and led to the authority suing its former executive director, Jennifer McDonald, and former Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron, who resigned and then committed suicide after McDonald’s arrest. Critics say the scandal reflects the perils of weak oversight in quasi-public economic development agencies.

Virginia Virginia Senator Says She Never OK’d Ad Vowing to ‘Shoot Down’ Anti-Gun
Connecticut Post – Laura Vozzella (Washington Post) | Published: 9/23/2019

Virginia Sen. Amanda Chase blamed her digital advertising firm, the Prosper Group, for a political ad that shows her vowing to “shoot down” anti-gun activists, releasing a recorded phone conversation she said backs up her claim. A gun rights champion who caused a stir this year by wearing a gun on her hip on the Senate floor, Chase is running for a second term in November. In a recent Facebook ad, she is pictured pointing a gun. “I’m not afraid to shoot down gun groups,” it reads. “SIGN my petition to help end the assault on our liberties.” The backlash was swift, with local and national gun-control groups accusing her of threatening violence against them. The Prosper Group said the campaign had signed off on “shoot down” language for the “website landing page” that accompanies the ad, where supporters can sign a petition.

Washington Food-Makers Fight Record Fine in Washington GMO Case
Capital Press – Don Jenkins | Published: 9/23/2019

The Washington Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) violated state election law by not naming the companies that spent $11 million to defeat a genetically modified-labeling initiative in 2013. The court also will decide whether to uphold the largest-ever fine levied in the U.S. for a campaign finance violation: $6 million. The GMA argues lower courts were insensitive to internet-fueled reprisals that businesses face. By funneling campaign contributions through an umbrella organization, food-makers preserved their right to band together and take political stands, according to the GMA. The association collected the money and reported itself as the donor.

Washington DC Why a D.C. Lawmaker Under Investigation Votes on His Own Probe and Discipline
Washington Post – Fernit Nirappil | Published: 9/18/2019

The District of Columbia Council, frustrated by roadblocks in its investigation of possible ethics violations by member Jack Evans, voted to allow city officials to ask a court to compel the lawmaker’s private clients to cooperate. The lone dissenting vote was cast by Evans. It was one of several votes taken by Evans that have pertained to investigations of his conduct in office. The idea of recusal was never broached by Evans or his colleagues on the council during the recent vote. Council rules give lawmakers discretion to decide when to sit out votes. But critics say Evans had an obvious conflict.

Wyoming Wyoming Is Looking to Close a Campaign Finance Loophole. But It May Not Matter.
Casper Star Tribune – Nick Reynolds | Published: 9/21/2019

Wyoming lawmakers are patching the loopholes that were revealed during the 2018 mid-term election, assembling a reform package ahead of the upcoming legislative session. Among the proposed reforms is a bill intended to close a loophole in the state’s campaign finance law which, previously, allowed corporations and nonprofits to contribute funds or services to campaign committees or PACs who “directly coordinate with a candidate or a candidate’s campaign committee.” This suggestion would knock down a piece of low-hanging fruit that should, if passed into law, create an explicit barrier between politicians and the private sector. But campaign finance experts say the law, while well-intended, does little to obstruct the use of special interest funding to influence the outcome of state elections. Not because the statute itself is a bad law, but because of the lack of any means to enforce it independently.

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