In today's edition, Robert Mueller testifies, President Trump seeks a restraining order, Senators look to boost transparency and FOIA, the FEC takes a shot at zombie campaigns, and more.
- Wealthy candidates have a built in funding advantage, but the end results are mixed. "Self-funded candidates have had mixed track records. Political scientist Jennifer Steen look at success rates of self-funders in congressional races in her 2006 book, “Self-Financed Candidates in Congressional Elections.” She found that, on average, candidates’ odds of winning actually decreased as they spent more on their campaigns, even among candidates who had political experience. A prominent counterexample, of course, is President Donald Trump, who gave $66 million to his 2016 campaign, though he also raised an additional $130 million from individual donors. But in 2018, 41 candidates ultimately self-funded to the tune of at least $1 million. Only nine of them won." (Center for Responsive Politics)
- The FEC's opening shot against "zombie" campaigns hit Representative turned lobbyist Cliff Stearns. "Campaign finance regulators dinged former Rep. Cliff Stearns Tuesday for spending leftover campaign funds on personal expenses, the opening salvo in a new crackdown on so-called “zombie campaigns." Stearns illegally reached into his old campaign committee, Friends of Cliff Stearns, to pay for dues to a Washington, D.C., Republican club, meals and hotel stays for years after his departure from Congress seven years ago, according to a settlement agreement between the former Florida legislator and the Federal Election Commission Stearns will reimburse more than $8,00 to his “zombie” campaign committee and pay a $6,900 penalty." (Roll Call)
- Facebook agreed to a $5 billion fine for privacy violations, but self-regulation indicates that it won't have to change its behavior. "When the Federal Trade Commission announced today that it had reached an agreement with Facebook over privacy violations, the massive $5 billion fine stuck out. But critics argue that any monetary penalty — even the second-largest ever imposed by the FTC — won’t be enough to change Facebook’s behavior in the future…With the eye-popping fine and talk of unprecedented oversight, you could think the FTC hit Facebook with everything in its power. But the fine print suggests the company still escaped any major changes to its business model." (The Verge)
- The GPO has had 5 inspectors general in the past year. The latest to hold the office has some concerns about the agency's stability. "The Government Publishing Office’s fifth inspector general in the last year painted a grim picture of the agency at a Senate Rules Committee hearing Wednesday, noting the agency’s top jobs are plagued by instability, the workforce is shrinking and its buildings are in dire need of repair to keep workers safe…Leary said he’s committed to the agency and plans to stay at the GPO until he sees substantial improvements." (Roll Call)
- Senate panel approves bipartisan legislation to boost transparency around program performance. "Senate overseers on Wednesday approved a bipartisan bill that would require federal agencies to be more transparent about the performance and costs of their programs. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee advanced by voice vote “The Taxpayers Right to Know Act” (S. 2177), introduced last week by Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla.; Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.; Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; and Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz. The legislation would require agencies to make public detailed information on how well programs are working and how much is being spent on them." (Government Executive)
- Bipartisan group of Senators moves to strengthen FOIA following Supreme Court setback. "A bipartisan team of senior U.S. Senators has introduced legislation to clarify important sections of the Freedom of Information Act and codify a presumption of disclosure for commercial records. According to the lawmakers, the executive and judicial branches have both undermined the intent of FOIA, which was originally passed in 1966 to provide the public access to the records and business of its democratic government." (MuckRock)
- President Trump, along with his children and business, will have to face suit over alleged pyramid scheme. "President Donald Trump, his company and three of his children must face a class-action lawsuit in which people claim they were scammed into spending money on fraudulent, multilevel marketing ventures and a dubious live-seminar program. U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield in Manhattan ruled Wednesday that the case can go forward with claims of fraud, unfair competition, and deceptive trade practices." (Bloomberg)
- Trump is asking for a restraining order to keep the House from gaining access to his New York State tax returns. "President Donald Trump’s attorneys asked a federal judge Wednesday to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent the House’s top tax writer from asking New York officials to turn over the president’s state tax returns. Trump filed suit in the District of Columbia on Tuesday to keep House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) from taking advantage of a New York law that would give him access to the state returns upon request. New York officials are also named in the suit. But Trump's attorneys said Wednesday they fear Neal could ask for the returns before the case proceeds." (POLITICO)
- Takeaways from Robert Mueller's testimony before two House committees yesterday. "After months of anticipation, Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel, on Wednesday delivered nearly seven hours of dry, sometimes halting testimony before Congress. Republicans and Democrats sparred over his conclusions, but in back-to-back hearings, Mr. Mueller mostly reiterated the findings of his two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election without offering any significant new disclosures." (New York Times)
- The Justice Department won't charge Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in wake of contempt vote. "The Justice Department will not bring criminal charges against Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross after the Democrat-led House voted last week to hold them in contempt. In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said the Cabinet officials’ defiance of congressional subpoenas seeking information about the 2020 census 'did not constitute a crime.'" (POLITICO)
- The top federal ethics official reminded Trump administration officials that their agreements with his office are not aspirational. "The federal government’s top ethics official is warning political appointees in the Trump administration they cannot change their agreements with his office without his signing off and cautioned that he can take disciplinary action when necessary. In a memorandum issued last week to agency ethics officials, Office of Government Ethics Director Emory Rounds cautioned federal agencies against unilaterally making changes to agreements that spell out appointees’ potential conflicts of interest and steps those officials will take to avoid them. OGE is responsible for reaching those agreements with each presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed (or PAS) appointee." (Government Executive)
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