Money in Politics Snapshots

The most important things happening in the world of money in politics and ethics.

Each month, we sort through the news to to give you a rundown of the most important things that happened in the world of money in politics and ethics. From the executive to the legislative branch, to state-level fights and beyond, our handpicked “snapshots” are what you need to know if, like most Americans, you’re ready to return government to the people.

November 2017

Here is the news from last month that you need to know:

Legislative

  1. Stories of sexual harassment by members of Congress continued to rock Capitol Hill
  • The good news is there has been swift, bipartisan agreement about addressing the systemic flaws in reporting harassment and consequences for violators.
  • The bad news is that the House and Senate Ethics Committees traditionally avoid these high-level cases. However, they have been unwillingly thrust into the spotlight as leadership in both parties use them as political cover, calling for investigations into allegations against sitting lawmakers, including Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), Joe Barton (R-TX) and Blake Farenthold (R-TX).
  • Meanwhile, the House Ethics Committee requested all materials related to harassment and misconduct accusations against sitting members of Congress — even if its track record on acting on the information is questionable.
  1. Not to be forgotten, the Senate Ethics Committee resumed its investigation into Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
  • This followed the judge in the case declaring a mistrial when the jury could not come to a decision on whether Sen. Menendez’s actions on behalf of a donor constituted bribery and corruption.
  1. Bipartisan support for the Honest Ads Act grew
  • Two more Republican and Democratic lawmakers co-sponsored the legislation, which is the best first step to combat the problem of hidden foreign disinformation campaigns targeted at the United States.

Executive

  1. A White House ethics lawyer resigned 
  • The ranks of ethics lawyers in the White House shrunk by one as James Schultz, who tackled ethics and financial disclosure issues, resigned to return to private practice.

Elections

  1. The normally gridlocked Federal Election Commission (FEC) took action
  • In an unusually busy month, the FEC voted unanimously to draft rules for labeling paid, digital advertisements in the wake of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. This is significant considering Facebook and Google both lobbied years ago against similar regulations.
  • The FEC also levied a $350,000 fine, its largest since the 2010 Citizens United decision, on American Conservative Union for illegal contributions to a super PAC.

November 2017 Snapshots Graphic

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October 2017

Here is the news from last month that you need to know:

Executive

  1. Special Counsel Mueller filed his first charges 
  • The president’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was indicted on money laundering charges in connection with the Justice Department’s special investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election (and likely ties to campaigns and candidate-Donald Trump). Manafort’s former business associate Rick Gates was also charged.
  • Meanwhile, former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos plead guilty to lying to the FBI during their Russia inquiry.
  1. Trump’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) pick resigned after an investigation into his role in the opioid crisis
  • After a bombshell joint investigation by The Washington Post and 60 Minutes exposed lobbyists’ and members of Congress’ alleged role in the opioid epidemic, President Trump’s DEA nominee Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) withdrew from consideration. Rep. Marino was prominently featured in the story, and even painted as “the chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA.” Read more about the fallout.  

Legislative 

  1. The bipartisan, bicameral Honest Ads Act was introduced
  • The carefully crafted legislation, introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mark Warner (D-VA) and John McCain (R-AZ) and Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Mike Coffman (R-CO), is the best first step at restricting foreign interference in U.S. politics. It would also fix loopholes that allow foreign actors to anonymously interfere in U.S. elections through paid online advertising.
  • The legislation spurred Facebook and Twitter to propose new transparency guidelines when it comes to paid advertisements on their platforms. But, as Meredith McGehee pointed out, voluntary measures are not a replacement for rules and standards that every candidate, campaign and politically-active outside group must abide by.
  1. The Democratic Party’s new fundraising committee paved the way for huge contributions
  • The new mega joint fundraising committee, dubbed the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund, “seems to be drawing a roadmap for how wealthy people can give more than half a million dollars a year in a single check to the political party of their choice,” said Meredith McGehee. Read our statement.
  1. A judge refused to throw out any of the 18 charges in the Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) corruption trial
  • The move was especially notable considering a recent Supreme Court decision made substantiating public corruption far more difficult — and resulted in the overturning of a spate of high-profile corruption convictions. Additionally, the judge refused Sen. Menendez’s request for a mistrial.
  1. An Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) report found Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) violated insider trading laws
  • OCE found Rep. Collins’ ‘official acts’ on behalf of a pharmaceutical company that he invested in (and where he sits on their board of directors) may have violated federal law. OCE has recommended to the House Ethics Committee that these potential violations warrant review — but the Committee “tends to have a track record of wanting to defend their own,” said Issue One’s Chief of Policy, Programs and Strategy Meredith McGehee. Here’s why this case shows the OCE needs to be strengthened.

October 2017 Snapshots Graphic

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September 2017

Here is the news from last month that you need to know:

Legislative

  1. Facebook came under fire for foreign ads
  • After news broke that fake Russian Facebook accounts bought more than $100,000 in political ads (and the ensuing outcry), the social media company turned over the ads to Congress.
  • Facebook also announced internal measures to address foreign misuse of its platform, but notably, hasn’t yet reached out to ethics and transparency experts (including Issue One) on how to best move forward.
  • Revelations related to Russian interference in America’s elections through online platforms continues to highlight how laws written in the 1970s are inappropriate for a 21st-century democracy.
  1. HHS Sec. Tom Price resigns
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned following ethical questions of his more than $1 million in taxpayer-expensed travel since May. Similar criticisms have extended to other members of the Trump cabinet.
  1. Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) corruption trial began
  • Sen. Menendez pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of fraud and bribery tied to campaign donations, gifts and vacations. It has been nine years since a sitting U.S. senator faced federal bribery charges.
  • This is the latest public corruption trial since the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of former Virginia Republican Governor Bob McDonnell. That case has made substantiating public corruption far more difficult — and resulted in the overturning of two high-profile New York state corruption convictions.
  1. The U.S. House of Representatives passed harmful campaign finance riders
  • Tucked in a dozen appropriations bills, these provisions would dramatically affect campaigns and elections that fall under the jurisdiction of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Federal Election Commission (FEC). They now move to the Senate for consideration.
  1. Congressional staffers engage in potential stock-trading conflicts
  • A report showed how “senior staffers buy and sell shares in companies that benefit from legislation in their committees,” a behavior that Congress has largely refused to crack down on.
  • Issue One’s Chief of Policy Meredith McGehee said of such behavior: “If a member does it, he can get defeated. A staff person can wield enormous amounts of power that isn’t seen, and there’s really no way to hold that staff accountable.”
  1. Democracy = National Security
  • Members of Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus — the largest bipartisan coalition of its kind ever assembled to advocate for political reform — joined national security experts, including former National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones, at a press conference to discuss how a stronger democracy will improve our national security. More than 160 ReFormers signed onto a bold statement calling on Congress to address money’s power in the political system.

Executive

  1. President Trump mixed it up at the FEC
  • FEC commissioner Matthew Petersen was nominated to the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., leaving the dysfunctional agency to potentially go on with the bare-minimum number of commissioners needed to take official action.
  • The next week, President Trump nominated veteran Texas campaign finance lawyer Trey Trainor to serve at the FEC, causing Issue One and other groups to raise concerns about his prior stances on “dark money.” Issue One encourages the U.S. Senate to fully vet Trainor before his potential confirmation.
  1. The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) caused a stir
  • After conflicting reports that OGE would allow legal defense funds to accept anonymous contributions, the office issued a new advisory in an attempt to clarify that it would not allow such contributions. Though this was a step in the right direction, legal defense funds for executive branch employees still remain a murky issue and Issue One will continue to monitor the situation.  
  1. Another round of potential Trump conflicts arise
  • Despite a campaign promise to not work with foreign entities, a Chinese government-owned company was hired to work on a Trump Dubai golf course, yet again sparking emoluments concerns.
  • Meanwhile, an investigation by the USA Today discovered that “dozens of lobbyists, contractors and others who make their living influencing the government” are paying for membership to Trump golf courses—and potential access to the president.

Elections

  1. The FEC fines a contractor for illegal donations
  • In an apparent first for the FEC, a government contractor was fined for illegal contributions to a pro-Clinton super PAC.
  1. Alabama’s GOP U.S. Senate special election saw a flood of outside spending
  • Of the $20 million reported spending invested into the race, approximately 60 percent was controlled by outside groups such as super PACs and “dark money” organizations.

September 2017 Snapshots Graphic

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August 2017

Issue One and Congress took a break this month, but here are a handful of newsworthy events to tide you over:

Legislative

  • The House Ethics Committee failed to ensure compliance with its own standards of conduct, clearing Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) of ethical violations. In 2015, Williams, who owns an automobile dealership in Texas, offered an amendment exempting such dealerships from requiring businesses renting automobiles to pull recalled vehicles from their fleets.

Executive

  • Here’s how President Trump and his administration have changed the influence game in Washington.

Elections

  • The national party committees trafficked in a new — and perfectly legal — kind of soft money, enabled by a 2014 Supreme Court decision that continued to gut the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (BCRA).
 

July 2017

Here is the news from last month that you need to know:

Legislative

  1. A new poll showed why we must return democracy to the American people
  • According to the Associated Press-NORC poll, three-quarters of all Americans believe that people like them have too little power in Washington, and only six percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence in Congress.
  1. A bipartisan bill to increase transparency and save money gained momentum
  • The bill, called the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, would require all Senate candidates to electronically file their campaign finance reports. Unlike presidential and House candidates, the Senate’s reports are still on paper. The bill currently has overwhelming bipartisan support, with 44 cosponsors.
  1. Lawmakers moved to strengthen foreign lobby rules
  • Democratic Senators introduced legislation to crack down on foreign lobbyists that fail to disclose their work under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
  1. Campaign finance related-riders passed in House Appropriations Committee bill
  • The measures would dramatically affect campaigns and elections that fall within the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Executive

  1. The head of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) resigned
  • Walter Shaub announced he was leaving OGE for the Campaign Legal Center, saying the office’s “recent experiences have made it clear that the ethics program needs to be strengthened.” We agree: Here are Issue One’s recommendations for strengthening OGE and ensuring its independence.
  • President Trump filled the position with a temporary appointment (who has reportedly clashed with colleagues over the agency’s role).
  1. The White House named — and fired— a new communications director who had possible conflicts of interest.
  • Anthony Scaramucci reportedly faced potential conflicts as he tried to sell his stake in a firm, SkyBridge Capital, to a Chinese conglomerate. Issue One’s Chief of Policy Meredith McGehee told Bloomberg : “Particularly given the record so far of this administration, there are so many questions already about possible mixed motives. The only thing this does is expand those claims.”

States

  1. Seattle’s “democracy voucher” program in motion, faced challenge
  • Here’s an explainer on how this first-of-its kind citizen-funded campaign program works — and an explanation of the legal challenge it faces.
  1. New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s 2015 corruption conviction overturned
  • Meredith McGehee’s statement: “When the law is divorced from reasonable reality and commonplace understandings of corruption, it undermines public confidence in the judiciary and our elected leaders.”
  1. New Mexico released a revised dark money proposal
  • After a period of public comment largely in favor of strong disclosure rules for so-called “dark money” nonprofit groups, the New Mexico secretary of state rolled out the details of the revised plan, with the final rule expected to be completed in fall.

KEY BILLS INTRODUCED Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) S. 1640 – Fair Elections Now Act

June 2017

Here is the news from last month that you need to know:

States

  1. Money swamped the Georgia special election
  • The race, in which outside groups pumped huge sums, was the most expensive U.S. House election in history. Many of the ads kept voters in the dark about who was behind them.
  • After yet another special election defeat, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi faced criticism over her leadership. One outcome: light was shed on the role her fundraising ability plays in keeping her in power.
  1. Good: A bill to publicly finance campaigns gained traction in Washington, D.C.
  • Called the Fair Elections Act, the legislation would empower small donors and candidates in the District of Columbia.
  1. Bad: Seattle’s ‘democracy vouchers’ program slapped with a lawsuit
  • The suit claimed the first-of-its-kind system is unconstitutional.

Executive

  1. Lobbyists at home in the Trump administration
  • More than 100 of them are currently working for the president—2/3 of which work in agencies they once lobbied.
  • More ethics waivers for lobbyists were released after a demand from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). Three previously unknown Obama-era waivers came out in the process.
  • On a related note, the head of OGE called the waiver granted to White House aide Stephen Bannon “problematic” because it was issued retroactively, “inconsistent with the very concept of a waiver.”
  1. OGE released President Trump’s voluntary, updated financial disclosure
  • According to NPR, the report “adds some insight into the president’s sprawling business network. But not too much insight.” Nor was it meant to.
  1. Trump hosted a fundraiser for his 2020 reelection campaign
  • The venue? The Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., which once again raised questions about the ethics of the business arrangement.

Legislative

  1. Ethics allegations leveled at three Democrats
  • The independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) forwarded a complaint against two top House lawmakers and a staffer to the House Ethics Committee. Each case will be made public in August.
  1. Major players in 2018 elections began gearing up
  • The Koch brothers’ political network has already pledged to spend more than ever to secure and expand GOP control of the Senate.
  1. A former lobbyist shed light on our broken system
  • In a must-read piece, Jimmy Williams laid bare the “legalized bribery” both sides accept. One important message: “It’s a wonder members of the House and Senate actually have time to legislate when they spend so much of their damn time raising money.”

KEY BILLS INTRODUCED: 


May 2017 Snapshots Graphic

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May 2017

Here is the news from last month that you need to know:

Executive

  1. The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) won fight for access to White House ethics waivers
  • After the White House asserted that the OGE lacked the authority to demand ethics waivers issued to administration officials (and tried to block their disclosure), it publicly backed down, posting more than a dozen waivers at the end of the month.
  • “It is an important step to see this list to see who is getting waivers and what is waived,” said Issue One’s Meredith McGehee. “Transparency is the key element for a White House which has basically declared it’s immune from conflict of interest laws and standards.”
  • Issue One also released a slate of proposed measures to modernize and empower OGE.
  1. The White House announced that President Trump would disclose 2016 personal finances
  • The move was voluntary. However, correspondence with OGE shows that Trump’s lawyer originally encouraged him to submit the report without signing to affirm it as true, but relented under pushback from OGE.
  1. The Trump Organization is not tracking foreign government profits to hotels
  • Despite promising to donate all profits from foreign governments back to the U.S. Treasury, news broke that the Trump Organization was not tracking all possible payments, once again raising questions about a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

Judicial

  1. Highest court upheld ‘soft money’ ban
  • The Supreme Court once again affirmed the ban on ‘soft money’ to state and local parties.

Legislative

  1. The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) launched investigation, received complaint
  • OCE announced it was investigating Rep. Chris Collins’ (R-NY) role in persuading individuals, including Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, to invest in an Australian biotech company. A report found that 28 House members and six senators also traded stocks with potential conflicts within the last two years.
  • OCE received a complaint against Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) after reports of his ”blatant attempt at intimidation” against the employee of a donor.

States

  1. Money swamped special elections  
  • The special election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District officially became the most expensive U.S. House race in history.  
  • The special election for Montana’s sole congressional district also saw a flood of money, with one candidate benefiting from nearly 90 percent of the race’s outside spending.
  1. Good state news
  • In Maryland, the Montgomery County Council approved an $11 million public campaign financing fund for the 2018 elections. This will be the first public financing fund in the state.
  1. Bad state news
  • A federal judge blocked portions of a Missouri voter-approved constitutional amendment to limit the influence of money in politics.

Outside spending

  1. Sec. Hillary Clinton launched a new 501(c)(4) political group
  1. Groups geared up work to reelect President Trump
  • Pro-Trump super PACs have already spent $1 million dollars on his 2020 reelection bid.

May 2017 Snapshots Graphic

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April 2017

Here are the things from April 2017 that you need to know:

Executive

  1. Trump appointees faced widespread reports of potential conflicts
  • With little transparency, the Trump White House and federal agencies have reportedly been stocked with former lobbyists, in some cases crafting policies for industries in which they previously served.
  • Some may have already violated ethics rules, but because of the secrecy around administration ethics waivers, it’s difficult to know the extent of the details. One senior adviser, departing the White House for a business lobby group, acknowledged that he was granted a waiver.
  • The Office of Government Ethics has been inundated with complaints.
  1. The White House announced it would not publish its visitor logs
  1. Trump, Pence allies traded connections for cash
  • Numerous people with ties to the president and vice president, including former campaign aides and fundraisers, cashed in on their connections with lobbying work, USA Today reported. Inaugural donor reports release
  1. Inaugural donor reports released
  1. POTUS will not release his tax returns
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that President Trump “has no intention” of publicly releasing his tax returns.
  1. Foreign money lands former national security adviser Michael Flynn under investigation 
  • The Pentagon’s top watchdog launched an investigation into money collected by retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn from foreign interest groups.
  • According to a 2014 letter, Flynn was warned by the Defense Department that he was “forbidden from receiving payments from foreign sources” without receiving permission from the U.S. government first.

Judicial

  1. Gorsuch took Supreme Court oath
  • Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as a justice of the Supreme Court, overcoming a Democratic Party attempt to filibuster his nomination, in part due to money-in-politics concerns. During his nomination hearing, his views on money in politics remained unclear.

Legislative

  1. Congress introduced a bipartisan bill to overhaul the Federal Election Commission (FEC)
  • Re-introduced by Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Jim Renacci (R-OH), with five Republican and five Democratic original cosponsors, the Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act (H.R. 2034) would reduce the number of FEC commissioners from six to five—eliminating partisan gridlock—and create a chair of the agency which serves a 10-year term. The bill also would establish a blue-ribbon commission to recommend nominees to the president.
  1. Rep. Ken Buck blasted the “pay to play” system in Congress
  • Buck (R-CO) released a tell-all book detailing the dues system both parties use to reward fundraising over policy experience when it comes to assigning top committee seats in Congress.
  1. House Oversight Committee questions Trump property emoluments
  • GOP Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings sent a letter to Trump’s lawyer inquiring about the president’s treatment of foreign government payments to his Washington, D.C. hotel.

States

  1. The Colorado House of Representatives killed two bills to shine a light on “dark money.”
  1. The governor of New Mexico vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have mandated disclosure of donors to  dark money political groups.
  1. After the South Dakota state government overturned voter-approved ethics measures, supporters announced plans to return with an anti-corruption constitutional amendment in 2018.
  1. The governor of Mississippi signed into law a campaign finance reform bill banning the use of campaign money for personal expense.
  1. The North Dakota House passed a new campaign finance report bill.
  1. A Maryland prohibition on foreign donations for ballot initiatives was signed into law.

Aprils 2017 Snapshots Graphic

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March 2017

Here are the things from March 2017 that you need to know:

Executive

  1. Former administration officials failed to sign ethics pledges
  • Three former Trump administration officials never signed mandatory ethics pledges, including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, leading Issue One’s Meredith McGehee to tell the Associated Press: “At least so far, the ethical standards that are being applied to high-level officials coming in are quite incoherent and seemingly haphazard.”
  1. Ivanka Trump became an official White House employee (after backlash)
  • After backlash to the announcement that Ivanka Trump would join her father’s White House as an adviser without an official role (and according to White House counsel, not subject to an ethics agreement), Ivanka issued a statement saying she would become an official White House employee. (But, experts says problems remain.)
  1. Ethics concerns plague Trump administration— from transition to present
  • Carl Icahn’s dual role as investor and adviser to President Trump raised major ethics red flags.
  • The Center for Responsive Politics found the Trump administration’s ‘beachhead’ transition team was comprised of dozens of lobbyists.
  1. Trump White House rejects ethics course
  • The Trump White House reportedly rejected an ethics and management course designed to prepare officials for “some of the same issues that have become major stumbling blocks in the early days of the administration.” Both the Bush and Obama transition teams received the training.
  • The actions of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin publicly promoted ‘The LEGO Batman Movie,’ which his company produced, raised further questions of what ethics training (if any) high-level administration officials have received. Mnuchin later acknowledged he should not have made the statement.

Judicial

  1. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s money-in-politics views remain unclear
  • U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing testimony left senators and the public with “less clarity on his views on political spending, the Citizens United decision and the role of disclosure of money in politics” than before.

Legislative

  1. 15 years of congressional inaction on money-in-politics reform
  • March 27 marked the 15th anniversary of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, also known as “McCain-Feingold’ or BCRA, putting in stark relief the lack of a bipartisan, federal response to our dysfunctional campaign finance system since then.
  • State legislatures, however, have been busy working on bipartisan reform, as ReThink Democracy outlined.
  1. Current and former representatives under investigation
  • California Rep. Duncan Hunter is under a Justice Department criminal investigation for alleged campaign finance violations.
  • Texas Rep. Steve Stockman was indicted on federal corruption charges for allegedly stealing from conservative foundations.
  1. The House Ethics Committee held its first public meeting this Congress

States

  1. South Dakota gets weaker reforms
  • After the South Dakota Legislature nixed voter-approved ethics reforms, the South Dakota governor signed a weaker package of bills into law.
  1. The New Mexico legislature sent a bipartisan ‘dark-money’ bill to the governor’s desk.

KEY BILLS INTRODUCED:


March 2017 Snapshots Graphic

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February 2017

Here are the things from February 2017 that you need to know:

Executive

  1. Issues with President Trump’s Cabinet keep popping up
  • Betsy DeVos, a major Republican Party donor, was confirmed as the Secretary of Education, with 22 of the 23 Republican senators to whom the DeVos family donated voting for her confirmation.
  • Tom Price was confirmed as Health and Human Services Secretary (despite raising major ethics concerns along the way).
  • Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, appeared on Fox News to urge people to buy Ivanka Trump-brand products, igniting bipartisan condemnation and calls from the Office of Government Ethics for her to be disciplined.
  1. Commissioner Ann Ravel announces her resignation from the broken Federal Election Commission (FEC)
  • Upon making her announcement, Ravel also released a damning report and a New York Times op-ed, claiming the FEC’s partisan gridlock was “betraying the American public and jeopardizing our democracy.”
  • This establishes the first test for how President Trump will actually address money in politics reform: Will he fix the FEC, or further water down its enforcement abilities? Initial reports have not been promising.

Judicial

  1. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s money-in-politics stance called into question
  • After President Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the Campaign Legal Center released a report diving into his record on democracy law. One key finding? “Gorsuch’s judicial record on money in politics, while sparse, raises concerns.”

Legislative

  1. A previously under-the-radar change to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) shows the need for vigilance going forward
  • After Issue One’s Chief of Policy Meredith McGehee pointed out one important, under-the-radar change to the OCE last month, the story finally gets larger publicity.
  • McGehee took the opportunity to detail one new development to the story, namely Speaker Ryan’s appointment of “Doc” Hastings as OCE chair. Rep. Hastings formerly served as House Ethics Committee chair and has a checkered history with the OCE.
  • In the same piece, she also outlined three ways that Congress could sneakily further weaken the office, requiring constant vigilance from the reform community going forward.

TRUMP’S FIRST ADDRESS TO A JOIN SESSION OF CONGRESS

  • In his joint address to Congress, President Trump laid out a broad agenda, from jobs and health care, to taxes and national security, for change in Washington. However, it failed to address the real culprit behind gridlock in Washington: the undue influence moneyed interests have on decision-making by elected and appointed officials. Here is Issue One’s full response.

ALSO OF NOTE:

  • A steady stream of conflicts arose between the Trump Organization and the office of the presidency. The Defense Department announced it would lease space at Trump Tower, which Issue One’s Chief of Policy, Programs and Strategy Meredith McGehee cited as “one more example of how Trump has managed to use his business interests to profit off the presidency in ways never seen before.” See these other conflict stories that also broke last month.
  • Seattle launched its campaign finance reform voucher program. “This feels like just extra money that I can use to start participating more,” said one Seattle resident.

KEY BILLS INTRODUCED:


February 2017 Snapshot

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January 2017

Here are three things from January 2017 that you need to know:

Executive

  1. President Trump’s conflict of interest saga continues
  • Donald J. Trump, elected in part on promises to “drain the swamp,” was sworn into office as the 45th president of the United States.
  • Trump’s first press conference made clear that he would not put his assets in a blind trust, instead turning over control to his children, leaving the public with more questions than answers as to how, if at all, his administration would avoid conflicts of interest.
  • A prominent bipartisan group of lawyers, including White House ethics advisers and Issue One advisory board members Norm Eisen and Richard Painter, and constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe, launched a suit in an attempt to answer the pressing question of whether President Trump is in violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.
  • President Trump maintained his refusal to release his tax returns—yet that remains the only way the public can know for certain whether or not conflicts exist.
  • Additionally, President Trump fulfilled his promise to sign an executive order addressing executive branch ethics and the revolving door, though it was not made a day-one priority.
  • Ethics experts, including Issue One’s own Chief of Policy, Programs and Strategy Meredith McGehee, pointed out that, although much of the executive order mirrors President Obama’s own, there are several notable omissions. And at points, it actually strengthens the previous order.
  • A number of President Trump’s cabinet nominees have also faced ethical issues, including: Betsy DeVos, Steve MnuchinScott PruittAndrew Puzder, Rex Tillerson.

Legislative

  1. Congress tries (and fails) to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics
  • In the dead of the night on a holiday, right before the 115th Congress convened, House GOP leaders attempted to gut the independent, bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).
  • The Office was established in 2008 after the Jack Abramoff scandal showed the House Ethics Committee was unable to conduct credible investigations into allegations of congressional ethics violations.
  • The office is the only source for a credible investigation into congressional ethics, and as such, is little-loved by some elements in each party.
  • After a flood of calls and emails from livid constituents, fueled by intense scrutiny from journalists and groups like Issue One, House leadership took the unprecedented step to pull the proposal.
  • One little-noticed piece of the OCE amendment that did pass taints its bipartisan integrity. The amendment eliminates the requirement that both party leaders sign off on those individuals appointed to the OCE’s board. This makes clear that despite our early victory, the reform community must remain vigilant to further attacks on ethics in Congress.

States

  1. A fight for ethics reform in deep-red South Dakota unfolds
  • The South Dakota Legislature declared a “state of emergency” in order to repeal the state’s voter-approved Anti-Corruption Act.
  • Lawmakers claimed the measure is overly broad and perhaps unconstitutional, and South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard even asserted that voters were somehow ‘’misled’’ by the ballot initiative.
  • The attempt to ram through the repeal invited comparisons to the embarrassing OCE drama.
  • National attention and public outcry (and even calls from Republicans to slow down the process) caused the vote to be delayed one week. Despite this, the South Dakota Senate voted to repeal the measures. It now heads to Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s desk, where he is expected to sign the repeal bill.

KEY BILLS INTRODUCED:


January 2017 Snapshot

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Read “Why We Left Congress: How the Legislative Branch Is Broken and What We Can Do About It”

Issue One’s new joint report with the R Street Institute examines the legislative branch’s dysfunction through conversations with members who have voluntarily departed in the 2018 cycle. Read the full report and proposed solutions in “Why We Left Congress: How the Legislative Branch is Broken and What We Can Do About Ithere.