September 6, 2019 •
News You Can Use Digest – September 6, 2019
Andrew Yang’s Speaking Fees, Including from JPMorgan, Raise Campaign Finance Questions: Experts
ABC News – Armando Garcia | Published: 8/30/2019
Months after announcing his bid for the presidency as a Democrat, Andrew Yang was paid for a number of speaking engagements. Yang described the speaking engagements as speeches about the subject matter of his book, “The War on Normal People.” But a PowerPoint presentation that Yang used shows his 2020 campaign logo on the opening slide and an abbreviated campaign symbol on most of the other slides. While campaign finance law allows candidates to be compensated for work independent of their campaigns, payments may be considered campaign contributions and subject to federal rules, unless “the compensation results from bona fide employment that is genuinely independent of the candidacy,” according to the Code of Federal Regulations. It is unclear whether Yang’s speaking engagements would in fact be considered campaign-related activities and subject to FEC regulations, experts said.
Biden Taps Influence Industry Despite Pledge on Lobbyists
AP News – Brian Slodysko | Published: 9/3/2019
Former Vice President Joe Biden promised not to accept political contributions from lobbyists during his latest campaign for president. Yet hours after his campaign kickoff, Biden went to a fundraiser at the home of a lobbying executive. It is difficult to quantify how much Biden has raised from the lobbying industry, but the roughly $200,000 he accepted from employees of major lobbying firms is far more than any of his rivals has received. The money demonstrates a comfort with an industry that is the object of scorn of Democratic activists and some of Biden’s principal opponents. Biden’s pledge to reject money from lobbyists is a change for him. Before he entered the 2020 race, his American Possibilities PAC had no such prohibition.
‘Business as Normal’: Pence’s stay at Trump hotel in Ireland follows a trend
MSN – Maggie Haberman and Eric Lipton (New York Times) | Published: 9/3/2019
During his taxpayer-funded trip to Ireland, Vice President Mike Pence did not stay in Dublin, where he had meeting with Irish officials, but 181 miles away at the Trump International Golf Links & Hotel in Doonbeg. The person who suggested he stay there was the hotel’s owner himself, President Trump. Pence’s stay at the Trump hotel may have been the highest-profile example of a member of the president’s inner circle patronizing one of his businesses. But it was far from the first time that a top American official in Trump’s administration had picked one of the president’s hotels when needing a place to stay or to be seen. Trump himself has visited one of his family-owned properties on at least 293 days, or just over 30 percent of the days he has been in office.
Democrats Examining Impeachment Target Trump’s Pardon Offers to Immigration Officials
ENM News – Nicholas Fandos (New York Times) | Published: 9/4/2019
The House Judiciary Committee ordered homeland security officials to hand over records related to reported offers by President Trump to pardon aides willing to break the law to carry out his immigration policies. House Democrats indicated they were continuing to expand the scope of their investigation into whether to impeach the president beyond the special counsel’s core findings on Russian election interference and possible presidential obstruction of justice. A president who knowingly directed government officials to break the law and dangled pardons to appease them would constitute an abuse of power, Judiciary Committee Chairperson Jerrold Nadler said.
Former Highland Heights Mayor Admits to Stealing $160,000 from Ohio Rep. Dave Joyce’s Campaign
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Eric Heisig | Published: 8/29/2019
Former Highland Heights Mayor Scott Coleman admitted he embezzled $160,000 from U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce’s campaign when he worked as the campaign treasurer. Coleman pleaded guilty to a grand theft charge that carries a penalty of up to 18 months in prison. Joyce’s attorneys sent a letter to the FEC in February that said Coleman embezzled from the campaign between 2015 through 2018. The letter said an investigator used bank camera footage to confirm Coleman used the campaign’s ATM card to make unauthorized withdrawals.
Former Obama Counsel Found Not Guilty of Lying to Investigators Probing Work to Aid Ukraine President
Duluth News Tribune – Spencer Hsu and Rosalind Helderman (Washington Post) | Published: 9/4/2019
A jury acquitted former Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig over allegations he lied to the federal government about his work with Ukrainian officials. Prosecutors accused Craig of violating the Foreign Agent Registration Act by misleading authorities about the nature of his work and whether it required him to register. The acquittal marks a setback for the Justice Department’s crackdown on foreign lobbying the U.S., exposing flaws in a difficult prosecution of events from 2012 that was handed off among several investigative offices before Craig’s indictment. The trial revealed the involvement of a half-dozen powerful Washington, D.C. public relations, lobbying, consulting, and law firms in the project to rehabilitate Ukraine’s image.
Judge Tells White House to Reinstate Reporter’s Pass
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 9/3/2019
A judge blocked the White House’s decision to revoke the press pass of Playboy correspondent Brian Karem over a Rose Garden showdown with former White House aide Sebastian Gorka. U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras granted a preliminary injunction restoring Karem’s so-called hard pass because the reporter had no clear notice of the rules governing press behavior at events like the presidential appearance that preceded the heated exchange. In imposing a 30-day suspension, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Karem’s behavior had violated widely accepted standards of “professionalism” and “decorum.” Contreras said precedent regarding White House press credentials requires such rules be clear and that they be laid out in advance.
Pro-Trump PAC Paid Thousands to Firm Owned by Campaign Manager’s Wife
San Jose Mercury News – Vicky Ward (CNN) | Published: 8/30/2019
A company owned by the wife of Brad?Parscale,?President?Trump’s campaign manager, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the president’s flagship PAC, which is barred from coordinating with the campaign. FEC records show Red State Data and Digital, which was founded by Candice?Parscale, has received?$910,000 from?America First Action,?the super PAC formed in 2017 to support Trump’s agenda and Republican?candidates. Brad Parscale and his wife insist their arrangement is legitimate and there is no coordination. Experts in federal election law say the appearance of a connection between Trump’s main super PAC and a firm set up by his campaign?manager’s?spouse that handles political ads walks right up to the line.
Top Interior Official Who Pushed to Expand Drilling in Alaska to Join Oil Company There
MSN – Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson (Washington Post) | Published: 9/3/2019
Joe Balash, who oversaw oil and gas drilling on federal lands before resigning from the Interior Department recently, is joining a foreign oil company that is expanding operations on Alaska’s North Slope. The company is drilling on state lands that lie nearby, but not inside, two federal reserves where the Trump administration is pushing to increase oil and gas development. During his time at Interior, Balash oversaw the department’s work to hold lease sales on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Balash declined to disclose his specific role and said while he would oversee employees who would work with the federal government on energy policy, he would abide by the Trump ethics pledge barring appointees from lobbying their former agencies for five years.
Vin Weber, Longtime Washington Lobbyist and Consultant, Resigns from Lobbying Firm
Danbury News Times – Tom Hamburger (Washington Post) | Published: 8/30/2019
Former U.S. Rep. Vin Weber resigned his position as a partner in a prominent consulting firm amid ongoing questions about lobbying work he did for Ukrainian interests. Weber’s activities at Mercury LLC have been under scrutiny by federal prosecutors in New York investigating whether he and others complied with laws requiring those working for a foreign country or political party to register with the Justice Department. Weber’s resignation is the latest turn in a drama that has engulfed several top Washington figures as a result of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Canada – 2 Montreal Companies Told to Pay Nearly $450K Over Illegal Election Donations
Global News – Christian Paas-Land (Canadian Press) | Published: 8/29/2019
Two companies have agreed to pay almost $450,000 in fines after admitting they made illegal political donations between 2004 and 2009. Groupe AXOR Inc. acknowledged a senior executive, who is no longer employed with the company, asked some employees and their families to make donations totaling about $66,000 while offering to reimburse them for the contributions. A similar scheme happened at Axor Experts-Conseils Inc. In both cases, the companies reimbursed donors through personal expense claims, and in the case of Axor Experts-Conseils Inc., also through bonuses and other benefits. Because of those reimbursements, the companies acknowledged that what they made amounts to corporate donations, which are not allowed in Canada.
Canada – Unlike U.S., Canada Plans Coordinated Attack on Foreign Election Interference
Politico – Alexander Panetta and Mark Scott | Published: 9/3/2019
Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election rattled America’s next-door neighbor so badly that Canada spent the last three years developing the most detailed plan anywhere in the Western world to combat foreign meddling in its upcoming election. But with the country’s national campaign to begin in a matter of weeks, one question remains: Will the efforts pay off? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government passed new transparency rules for online political ads, tougher than what is required in the U.S. Canada also housed a G-7 project to share the latest intelligence between allies about possible foreign disinformation and created a non-partisan group to warn political parties and the public about outside interference.
From the States and Municipalities
Alabama – Alabama’s Republican Governor Apologizes for Wearing Blackface in College, Refuses to Resign
Stamford Advocate – Reis Thebault (Washington Post) | Published: 8/29/2019
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey apologized for wearing blackface decades ago, becoming the latest politician to face scrutiny over racially insensitive photos and actions from their university days. Ivey issued the apology after a 1967 radio interview surfaced in which her now-ex-husband describes her actions at Auburn University. In the interview, Ben LaRavia describes Ivey as wearing coveralls and “black paint all over her face” while pretending to search for used cigars on the ground in a skit at the Baptist Student Union party. Ivey joins the collection of white politicians to face scrutiny and scorn for their caricatures of black people.
Arizona – AZGOP Chair’s Consulting Firm Working on Legislative Races
Arizona Mirror – Jeremy Duda | Published: 8/29/2019
A political consulting firm owned by Arizona Republican Party Chairperson Kelli Ward and her husband is soliciting work for legislative campaigns, raising questions among Republicans about conflicts-of-interest. State political parties are generally expected to remain neutral in intra-party fights. One hallmark of that neutrality is not taking sides in contested primary elections. Michael Ward said Atlas Alliance does not get involved in races with contested primaries, and the firm would not stay engaged in any race in which a primary challenger emerges. But the Wards and the state GOP refused to answer other questions, including whether the involvement of a consulting firm owned by the state party chair would discourage potential candidates and give people the impression that the candidates it works for are officially backed by the party.
California – After a PAC Donated $16,000 to an El Rancho Board Member’s Campaign, Its Controlling Officer Won a Contract
Whittier Daily News – Bradley Bermont | Published: 9/3/2019
El Rancho Unified School District board member Leanne Ibarra’s campaign accepted more than $16,000 from a PAC whose principal officer and major donors were all seeking, and later received, contracts with the district. In a $96,000 contract approved for Presidio Strategic Communications, Ibarra provided the critical third vote to renew the public relations company’s annual contract. It is a $39,000 pay bump for the firm, which has been operating as the district’s public information officer for more than a year. The company’s owner, Daniel Fierro, is the principal officer for Citizens for Leadership in Education, which donated to Ibarra’s 2018 campaign. “I know how it looks, but from my perspective as a board member, I’m there to trust in the process,” Ibarra said. “If people want to perceive [impropriety], there’s nothing I can do.”
California – California Democrat Halts Fundraising Amid Scrutiny into Donations from Industry He Regulates
Sacramento Bee – Hannah Wiley | Published: 9/3/2019
California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara is halting fundraising while his staff reviews how he vetted contributions from the industry he regulates. Lara has faced scrutiny in recent months for accepting more than $50,000 from industry executives in April, with most of the money coming from out-of-state donors. Lara then admitted to meeting in May with the chief executive of Applied Underwriters, a workers’ compensation agency with pending matters before the department. Lara promised to increase oversight of future donations and said he terminated his “longtime contractual relationship” with unnamed fundraising personnel.
California – LAPD Commissioner Sandra Figueroa-Villa Failed to Disclose Income from City Contracts
Los Angeles Times – Mark Puente | Published: 8/30/2019
Los Angeles Police Commissioner Sandra Figueroa-Villa failed to disclose income from a nonprofit she runs that received millions of dollars from the city to work with police on gang initiatives, records show. Figueroa-Villa has never reported her income or the nonprofit’s funding from the city on annual financial disclosures required by the city. She also did not disclose a donation a controversial technology firm with ties to the police department made to her group. Individuals who fail to report information on disclosures could face stiff fines from the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. Figueroa-Villa has not been fined to date.
Connecticut – Lamont, Legislators: Quasi-publics are here to stay
Connecticut Mirror – Mark Pazniokas | Published: 9/5/2019
Gov. Ned Lamont and legislative leaders said after a closed-door meeting that mismanagement and contracting irregularities at the Connecticut Port Authority demonstrate a need for greater oversight of quasi-public agencies, not their abandonment. The Connecticut Lottery Corporation is one of several quasi-publics whose severance packages to departing employees have been flagged by state auditors, and Lamont recently ordered a review of the relatively new port authority. All of the state’s 15 quasi-public agencies are subject to audits, and their operations fall under the state ethics code and freedom of information act. But they have more freedom than state agencies in personnel, purchasing, and contracting decisions.
Florida – A Pasco Roofer and School Official Had an Affair. Corruption Investigation of $1.5 Million School Roofing Job Followed
Tampa Bay Times – C.T. Bowen | Published: 9/4/2019
Kevin Ryman, a building contractor and appointed Pasco County planning commissioner, carried on an intimate relationship with the former purchasing director for the Pasco County School District and was suspected of colluding with another contractor to win a $1.5 million school roofing job. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office determined it had probable cause to arrest Ryman, but state prosecutors declined to file charges, citing the civil lawsuits facing Ryman. Prosecutors also said they would not charge former school purchasing director Nicole Westmoreland. There was probable cause to pursue a bribery case, a sheriff’s office report said, because evidence showed Westmoreland received gifts from Ryman after working with him to create a pool of five companies, including Ryman’s, to bid on roofing jobs.
Georgia – Ex-Contract Chief Pleads Guilty in Atlanta Corruption Case
AP News – Jeff Amy | Published: 9/4/2019
Larry Scott, who helped control contracting for the city of Atlanta pleaded guilty to federal crimes in connection with his efforts to hide his consulting activities with businesses seeking contracts from the city. Scott, who resigned from his post as director of the Office of Contract Compliance, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and filing false tax returns. Scott is the sixth person to plead guilty in a probe of city government corruption under former Mayor Kasim Reed. Scott incorporated Cornerstone U.S. Management Group in 2011 with Reed’s sister-in-law. The ex-mayor’s brother in 2013 became the registered agent for the consulting company, which prosecutors said advised vendors seeking government work across the Atlanta region. The Georgia secretary of state’s office dissolved Cornerstone in August for failure to register.
Kentucky – How Kentucky Gambled for Hundreds of Millions of Dollars from a Broadband Program It Didn’t Qualify For
ProPublica – Alfred Miler (Louisville Courier Journal) | Published: 9/4/2019
In 2015, KentuckyWired, the state’s plan to bring high-speed internet access to rural areas, had ground to a halt. Officials were in talks with Macquarie Capital to build and manage the new network. But the bank wanted $1.2 billion over three decades, money Kentucky did not have on its own. To make the public-private partnership work, then-Gov. Steve Beshear and his administration needed to tap into a federal program that awarded money for broadband projects. But the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had already signaled concern over Kentucky’s eligibility. That is when Macquarie brought in a consultant to help: Frank Lassiter. Neither Lassiter nor his consulting firm had any experience in telecommunications or in navigating the FCC rules. But Lassiter had connections. His wife was Beshear’s cabinet secretary, the highest appointed position in the executive branch.
Kentucky – Top KY Democratic Consultant Was Targeted in FBI Probe. Candidates Still Hired Him.
Lexington Herald-Leader – Daniel Desrochers | Published: 8/30/2019
The trial of Jerry Lundergan and Dale Emmons has dragged on in a Frankfort courthouse as federal prosecutors make their case the two men violated campaign finance laws by illegally funneling corporate money to Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes’ 2014 U.S. Senate campaign. There was a third man, however, who allegedly helped them skirt the law, according to court documents – Jonathan Hurst, Grimes’ 2014 campaign manager. Hurst became the key cooperating witness for the government. As the saga unfolded, Hurst’s political consulting business did not dry up. Hurst Consulting was the most used campaign consultant for Democrats elected to the Kentucky House in 2018.
Massachusetts – How One Routine Zoning Vote Turned into a Federal Investigation
Boston Globe – Tim Logan and Milton Valencia | Published: 9/1/2019
A nondescript piece of land is the focal point of a federal investigation that has again reached into Boston City Hall and shows signs of spreading beyond the one official who has already been charged. The property had been owned by developer Steven Turner when it received an extension of some zoning permits in 2017. While Turner was not named in court records, two people familiar with the case say it was he who paid then-Boston Planning & Development Agency staffer John Lynch $50,000 to encourage a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals to vote in favor of Turner’s plan to build a condominium on the property. While the board’s public votes are often unanimous, many of its decisions are first hashed out through backroom negotiations among developers, neighborhood groups, and city officials.
Michigan – Michigan Ranks Dead Last for Transparency: How bills could change that
Detroit Free Press – Kathleen Gray | Published: 9/4/2019
The Michigan Legislature has tried for years to extend transparency to the House, Senate, and statewide elected officials by requiring elected officials to file financial disclosure reports and open themselves up to Freedom of Information laws. The bills have gotten widespread support in the House but stalled in the Senate. And that could be the fate of another package of financial disclosure bills that were approved with bipartisan support in the House Elections Committee. The Center for Public Integrity ranks Michigan 50th in the nation in terms of transparency because the governor and Legislature are exempt from disclosure of documents through the Freedom of Information Act, as well as for the lack of any financial disclosure.
New Jersey – Assemblyman Ryan Peters to Introduce EDA, Lobbying Reforms
Burlington County Times – David Levinsky | Published: 9/3/2019
State Assemblyperson Ryan Peters will introduce a multi-bill package to boost accountability and oversight within the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. Peters wants to create an independent inspector general’s office within the agency, along with a permanent auditor to ensure recipients awarded tax incentives comply with and deliver the promised jobs and investment. The package includes two bills to revise the state’s requirements for lobbyists. Peters proposes changing the registration threshold to anything more than lobbying one hour in a calendar year. He also proposes extending a $250 limit on any gifts made to lawmakers or government officials to local officials.
New Mexico – Residents to Weigh in on Democracy Dollars Proposal This Fall
Albuquerque Journal – Jessica Dyer | Published: 9/3/2019
Albuquerque voters will decide this fall whether to overhaul the city’s public financing system by giving candidates another way to access taxpayer dollars, albeit one that routes the money through individual citizens. The November ballot will ask voters to weigh in on “Democracy Dollars,” a program that would provide each eligible city resident with a $25 coupon to give to the publicly financed candidate of their choice. Advocates contend the vouchers would reduce wealthy donors’ influence in local government and give more voice to citizens who might not otherwise be able to contribute. But some say it could make public financing less fair and create new disparities in the system.
New York – Billboard Questions Role of JCOPE Chairman
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 9/4/2019
A new billboard advertisement asks why Michael Rozen, chairperson of the New York Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), has not recused himself from a controversial ongoing inquiry into possible lobbying violations committed by Kat Sullivan. Sullivan, an alleged rape victim, spent a portion of her settlement money to lobby for the Child Victim’s Act, a law giving legal recourse to minors that were past victims of sexual abuse. JCOPE is investigating whether Sullivan’s advocacy violated the $5,000 annual threshold requiring her to register as a lobbyist in New York. Sullivan is now questioning why Rozen has not recused himself given his past work for Penn State University in response to a massive child sex abuse scandal a decade ago, and she suggests in the billboard advertisements that the motivation may be financial.
New York – Fallout of Guilty Plea for Elected Officials Not Always Clear
Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 8/28/2019
Following the recent guilty plea of Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse, city officials scrambled to determine whether his admission to a felony wire fraud charge in federal court would result in his immediate removal from elected office. The town’s common council swore in council President Chris Briggs as acting mayor, despite conflicting opinions on their ability to take the official action, and after Morse had reached out to his colleagues, warning he could remain in his position until his December sentencing. Morse may have been right: There is wide disagreement among state officials and legal experts on whether a guilty plea in federal court requires the immediate removal of an elected official in New York.
New York – New York to Decide on Public Funding of Political Campaigns
Governing – Michael Gormley (Newsday) | Published: 9/2/2019
New Yorkers will soon provide up to $100 million in public financing to help fund campaigns, but exactly how the landmark reform will be implemented is up to a special commission. What it does will help determine whether it will succeed in reducing the influence of big-money donors or whether it will turn into what critics fear will be a taxpayer-paid boondoggle. The Public Financing of Elections Commission has the potential to drastically change New York politics more than at any moment in decades by making races more competitive and reducing a pipeline for money that has played a role in corruption scandals.
New York – Second Judge Rejects Outside Income Restrictions on State Lawmakers
Albany Times Union – David Lombardo | Published: 8/29/2019
A second judge has ruled New York lawmakers do not have to follow restrictions on outside income that were recommended by a special compensation committee. The same committee awarded the lawmakers pay raises, which they will get to keep, according to the ruling. State Supreme Court Justice Richard Platkin said the committee exceeded its authority by imposing limitations on the private income earned by state legislators. The limits were set to take effect in 2020 and would have drastically curtailed outside employment options for members of the Senate and Assembly.
North Carolina – North Carolina Judges Toss Districts Drawn for GOP Advantage
AP News – Emery Dalesio and Gary Robertson | Published: 9/3/2019
A North Carolina court struck down the state’s current legislative districts for violating the rights of Democratic voters, forcing districts to be withdrawn ahead of the 2020 election. The three-judge panel of state trial judges gave the General Assembly until September 18 to issue remedial maps. The judges unanimously ruled that courts can step in to decide when partisan advantage goes so far it diminishes democracy. Their ruling comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June in a separate case involving North Carolina’s congressional map that it is not the job of federal courts to decide if boundaries are politically unfair, though state courts could consider whether gerrymandering stands up under state laws and constitutions.
North Dakota – North Dakota Democratic Lawmaker Aims to Livestream Committee Meetings to ‘Shame’ Legislature into Increased Transparency
Dickinson Press – John Hageman | Published: 8/30/2019
A North Dakota lawmaker said he plans to livestream legislative committee meetings in an effort to “shame” the Legislature into improving transparency. Rep. Marvin Nelson said he is working out technical issues but plans to livestream meetings of his interim study committees and may recruit people to record others. He said he may continue airing committee meetings online during the next regular session, which begins in 2021. Nelson said the idea was sparked by his bill proposing a legislative study of disabled people’s access to the Capitol. “We have handicapped people around the state who literally cannot attend a legislative meeting,” Nelson said. “Government has a great deal of importance to them because they tend to rely on assistance from programs or laws that improve accessibility.”
Oregon – Portland’s New Public Campaign Financing Software Faces Looming Deadlines
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Amelia Templeton | Published: 8/30/2019
With just weeks to go until candidates can opt into a new public campaign financing program, Portland is still testing the software that will run it. A recent oversight report shows the software, developed by the nonprofit Civic Software Foundation, is at risk of not being delivered on time before the 2020 primary election cycle starts. But city staff and technology advisors said the project is in better shape than the report suggests. They said the software should be ready in time to handle the influx of candidates, and the project, though not without risk, has been a significant innovation.
Pennsylvania – In Lieu of Flowers, Elect My Son
Allentown Morning Call – Nicole Radzievich | Published: 9/1/2019
Over the years, candidates and their supporters have found myriad ways to raise money to get their messages out to voters. But obituaries? That is what emerged in the race for Northampton County district attorney. The father of the Republican nominee, Tom Carroll, died a week ago, and his obituary included a reference to the political race. The last line reads: “In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to – Elect Tom Carroll ….” It is perfectly legal – as long as expenses for obituaries are included on campaign finance reports as in-kind contributions, if done in coordination with a campaign, and if any resulting donations are reported). And it is not unprecedented.
Rhode Island – A Small Campaign with a Six-Figure Problem
Boston Globe – Edward Fitzpatrick | Published: 9/4/2019
Samuel Tassia only raised $50 – a single contribution from a friend – when he ran for the Rhode Island House in 2010. Tassia submitting one campaign finance report and then missed the deadlines for 36 subsequent filings. His campaign fund contained just $32.50, but since he never closed the account, he began racking up fines of two dollars per day per report. When he came before the state Board of Elections, Tassia owed $118,120 for failing to file his reports on time. His was one of nearly a dozen campaign finance cases that came before the board recently, prompting renewed calls to revise the state’s campaign fine structure and to establish a standardized system for appeals.
Vermont – Ethics Commission Withdraws Opinion Critical of Gov. Scott
VTDigger.org – Mark Johnson | Published: 9/5/2019
The Vermont State Ethics Commission has taken back a controversial advisory opinion that was critical of Gov. Phil Scott’s financial relationship with his former company. The withdrawal comes after the commission concluded the “process used at the time was incorrect.” The commission in October 2018 ruled Scott violated the ethics code because the company he had co-owned, Dubois Construction, also did business with the state. Scott had sold his half of Dubois back to the company, but was being paid over a period of time, which the commission determined amounted to a continued financial stake in the firm. In withdrawing the opinion, the commission said it erred when it allowed an outside party to file a request for an advisory opinion.
Virginia – Virginia Beach Leased Building from State Senator, Hoping to Make It New Elections Office
Virginian-Pilot – Peter Coutu and Marie Albiges | Published: 9/4/2019
Virginia Beach recently signed a lease worth nearly $3 million over the next decade to rent a building owned by state Sen. Bill DeSteph, raising conflict-of-interest questions for the local politician who is currently battling for re-election and used to serve on the city council. Officials had hoped to move the voter registrar’s office, and also set up an absentee voting location, in the space. The move to relocate absentee voting to that space is now on hold after the city council punted twice on deciding whether to change the address for the central precinct. But Virginia Beach leaders say they would still find another use for the building. Alex Keena, assistant professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University, called the senator’s connection “troubling,” describing it as the “ugly mingling of personal business interests and public political decisions.”
Washington – Some Corporate Donors Turn Away from Washington Rep. Matt Shea After Controversies
Seattle Times – Joseph O’Sullivan | Published: 9/3/2019
In recent years, PACs and large corporations have funded the bulk of Washington Rep. Matt Shea’s reelection campaigns. Perhaps unwittingly, those donors have bankrolled a campaign operation used by Shea to air his far-right views on a regular radio program, advance plans to secede from Washington by forming a 51st state, and even travel to “anti-terrorism” training. Shea is now subject of a House investigation to determine whether he planned or promoted political violence and the extent of his association with those involved in such activities. Several big contributors, including AT&T, BNSF, and the Washington Association of Realtors, have asked for their money back. Shea has no legal obligation to do so.
Washington DC – Corbett Price, Under Fire for Concealing Ethics Violation, Resigns from Metro Board
Washington Post – Fenit Nirappil and Robert McCartney | Published: 8/30/2019
Corbett Price resigned as the District of Columbia’s second voting board representative for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) following growing demands for his ouster over his attempts to conceal an ethics violation by council member and former WMATA board chairperson Jack Evans. An investigation by the transit agency found Evans had failed to disclose a conflict-of-interest arising from his private consulting work for Colonial Parking, the city’s largest parking company that was secretly paying his consulting firm $50,000 per year. Records show both Evans and Price, in addition to falsely stating that Evans was cleared of wrongdoing, badgered WMATA’s general counsel and maneuvered in other ways to prevent the findings from becoming public.
Washington DC – DC Government Contractor Gets Six Months for Illegal Contributions to DC Council Candidates
DC Post – Larry Hamilton | Published: 9/4/2019
Keith Forney was sentenced to six months in prison for making illegal campaign contributions to candidates for the District of Columbia Council. He also received a three-year suspended sentence for “committing fraud and perjury to illegally obtain contracting preferences.” Forney owns a general contracting company, He allegedly falsely stated that he lived at a Washington, D.C. address to obtain preference points for his company in bidding for city contracts.
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