Category Archives: conflict of interest laws

Wisconsin: “Speaker Robin Vos keeps open option of impeaching newly elected Justice Janet Protasiewicz”

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos continues to leave the door open to launching impeachment proceedings against state Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz if she does not recuse herself from lawsuits challenging the state’s electoral maps.

The Rochester Republican raised the possibility earlier this month, adding that he does not take the issue lightly. Since then, behind-the-scenes battles among justices and court employees have escalated with the court’s conservative chief justice accusing its new liberal majority of pulling off “an unprecedented coup.”

Asked about the court during a Tuesday news conference in Oak Creek, Vos told reporters he respects the judiciary’s independence as a co-equal branch of government and said most of the dispute appears to be an internal struggle over how the court should operate.

But asked specifically about the possibility of impeaching Protasiewicz, Vos said it’s “common sense” that she should not rule on a case she has “prejudged.”

In January, Protasiewicz called the state’s legislative maps “rigged” in a public forum and in March, she told Capital Times reporters in a podcast interview she would “enjoy taking a fresh look at the gerrymandering question.”

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“‘I could sell golf’: How DeSantis and aides courted lobbyists for campaign cash”


When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took office in 2019, his political team made a list of the state’s top 40 lobbyists and about 100 of their “Suggested Clients to target” for political contributions, according to a fundraising document reviewed by The Washington Post.

Next to the name of each lobbyist was a dollar figure, an “ask” that the DeSantis team hoped they would raise based on their book of clients, whose names were also listed in the document and included large corporations such as Disney and Motorola, as well as sports organizations, billionaires and interest groups with extensive business before the state.

The Florida governor’s fundraisers hoped that nine lobbyists would raise at least $1 million each for DeSantis’s political action committee, the state and the Republican Governors Association, according to the document, which was drafted by Heather Barker, a top DeSantis aide and his primary fundraiser, and shared with others.

o help them haul in large sums of money, the document suggested that lobbyists be allowed to offer their clients certain perks, such as meals and rounds of golf with DeSantis, who loves the sport. DeSantis’s fundraisers envisioned that some golf outings with the governor would net contributions of $75,000 or more, according to other emails among DeSantis’s political advisers.

“I could sell golf for $50k this morning,” Barker wrote to other DeSantis aides in a 2019 email obtained by The Post, noting that a prominent Tallahassee lobbyist and his wife wanted to play golf with the recently elected DeSantis and first lady Casey DeSantis at a course the governor favored. The lobbyist would “get money through a client” to contribute in exchange for golfing with DeSantis, she wrote. It is unclear if the meeting happened. Barker did not respond to a request for comment.

The 2019 document detailed other avenues for securing contributions. “METHODS FOR FIRMS TO DELIVER SUPPORT: Golf, lunch, meetings, dinner, tours, events, etc. — Each have a threshold (ex. Golf $25k per person, which is a deal),” reads the document, whose authenticity was confirmed by multiple people with knowledge of it. Like others interviewed for this story, the people spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

While it is common for politicians to seek donations from lobbyists, the efforts by DeSantis to effectively auction off his leisure time to those seeking to influence state policy created a special pathway of access for wealthy donors to the governor that is striking in the way that it was documented in writing, ethics experts said. The golf-related fundraising was part of a broader push by DeSantis to cultivate relationships with big contributors, some of whom have received state appointments or benefited from state policies, as The Post has previously reported.

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Wisconsin: “Vos says lawmakers may consider impeachment if Protasiewicz doesn’t recuse from redistricting cases”

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

If Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz does not recuse from lawsuits challenging the state’s legislative boundaries, Republicans who control the state Legislature might consider impeachment proceedings, the Assembly’s top Republican said Friday.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican from Rochester, said in an interview on WSAU he does not believe impeachment should be considered lightly by lawmakers. But he said the idea could move forward if Protasiewicz does not recuse herself on cases he said she “prejudged” during her campaign for a seat on the state’s highest court.

“If there’s any semblance of honor on the state Supreme Court left, you cannot have a person who runs for the court prejudging a case and being open about it, and then acting on the case as if you’re an impartial observer,” Vos told conservative WSAU host Meg Ellefson when asked whether the Legislature could successfully defend the current boundaries with a liberal-controlled state Supreme Court.

“You cannot have a judge who said, you know, the maps are rigged because she bought into the argument that that’s why we’re winning elections, not the quality of our candidates, and then she sits on that trial acting like she’s gonna listen and hear both sides fairly − that just can’t happen.”

Protasiewicz did not immediately respond to an interview request.

In January, Protasiewicz called the state’s legislative maps “rigged” in a public forum and in March, she told Capital Times reporters in a podcast interview she would “enjoy taking a fresh look at the gerrymandering question.”

“They do not reflect people in this state. I don’t think you could sell any reasonable person that the maps are fair,” Protasiewicz, a former Milwaukee County judge, said in the January forum. “I can’t tell you what I would do on a particular case, but I can tell you my values, and the maps are wrong.”

Vos suggested if Protasiewicz does not recuse from cases involving the maps, she would violate her oath of office, which might push lawmakers to consider impeaching her.

“I want to look and see, does she recuse herself on cases where she has prejudged? That to me is something that is at the oath of office and what she said she was going to do to uphold the Constitution. That to me is a serious offense.”

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“Trump Team Creates Legal-Defense Fund to Cover His Allies’ Bills”


Former President Donald J. Trump’s team is creating a legal-defense fund to handle some of the crush of legal bills stemming from the investigations and criminal indictments involving him and a number of employees and associates, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The fund, which is expected to be called the Patriot Legal Defense Fund Inc., will be led by Michael Glassner, a longtime Trump political adviser, according to the people familiar with the planning, who were not authorized to discuss it publicly. Another Trump aide who worked at the Trump Organization and then in Mr. Trump’s administration, Lynne Patton, will also be involved, the people said.

It is unclear how broad a group of people the legal-defense fund will cover, but one person said it was not expected to cover Mr. Trump’s own legal bills. In recent months Mr. Trump’s political action committee has paid legal bills for him and several witnesses, spending over $40 million on lawyers in the first half of 2023.

But a wide swath of people have become entangled in the various Trump-related criminal investigations, both as witnesses — of which there are many who work for Mr. Trump personally or did in the White House — as well as defendants….

Last month, Mr. Trump appeared at a fund-raiser at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., for a group that assists those arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 riot and their families. “I’m going to make a contribution,” Mr. Trump told them, according to a video of his remarks. That group’s name, the Patriot Freedom Project, echoes the new name of Mr. Trump’s legal fund.

Mr. Trump had long resisted such an entity. For years, he told people that only guilty people have legal-defense funds.

Mr. Trump, a wealthy businessman, has been using money parked in Save America to pay legal bills for himself and a number of witnesses in the four criminal investigations into his actions in and out of office. Save America was created to house the more than $100 million that Mr. Trump raised shortly after the November 2020 election, as he claimed he needed his supporters’ help to combat widespread voter fraud.

No such widespread fraud was ever proved, but Mr. Trump had tens of millions of dollars at his disposal. He cannot spend the money directly on his 2024 presidential candidacy, but has been using it for legal bills. Last year, he made the $60 million transfer to the super PAC that is backing him, well before the refund request was made.

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Brennan Center: “How a Renewed Code of Ethics Can Strengthen the Election Administration Profession”

The article by Derek Tisler, Ruby Edlin, and Daniel Weiner was originally published in the Journal of Election Administration, Research, and Practice. Here’s the abstract:

Although election officials have successfully managed recent election cycles amidst significant challenges, they have faced a relentless onslaught of attacks fueled by false perceptions about their work. As part of a multifaceted response to these attacks, election officials should elevate the ethical principles that guide their work to safeguard democracy. This can be achieved through the adoption of an expanded code of ethics that seeks to foster professional identity, express shared values, and promote accountability. A profession’s code of ethics establishes a foundation for expected behavior, enabling officials to navigate complex challenges while aligning with their values. Equally important, a code of ethics communicates shared values to the public, enhancing credibility and facilitating explanation of difficult decisions. For this effort to have success, election officials themselves must drive the effort, with the Election Center playing a pivotal role in leading and supporting this vital work.

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“Senators to Propose Ban on U.S. Lawmakers, Executive Branch Members Owning Stock”


Two U.S. senators are set this week to introduce bipartisan legislation to bar members of the federal executive branch and lawmakers from owning stock in individual companies, as new polling shows broad public support for such a measure.

The bill from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) and Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) would permit the president, vice president, lawmakers, Capitol Hill aides and employees of the executive branch to own mutual funds and broad industry and index funds. 

But it would prohibit them from owning stocks in individual companies, even in blind trusts. 

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About That Black’s Law Dictionary Definition of Facilities Cited by Justice Alito in His WSJ Defense of Not Reporting the Free Ride on the Private Plane of a Billionaire Litigant…

In my earlier post on Justice Alito’s laughable defense that he did not have to report the free ride on the private plane because it was “hospitality … on …facilities” owned by a person, I noted that one of the sources Alito cited was Black’s Law Dictionary. (The relevant part of Alito’s discussion: “Legal usage is similar. Black’s Law Dictionary has explained that the term ‘facilities’ may mean ‘everything necessary for the convenience of passengers.'”) I noted that I could not find it in the current version of Black’s Law Dictionary.

But now, via a 1911 Supreme Court of Oklahoma case, I found the relevant citation in Volume 19, Page 106 of a 1905 treatise, the Cyclopedia of Law and Procedure. The section provides a number of definitions of “facilities,” including the part that Justice Alito only partially quoted: “Applied to railroads it means everything necessary for the convenience of passengers and the safety and prompt transportation of freight.”

Here’s the full discussion of “facilities” in the Cyclopedia, and a mighty thin reed to hang Justice Alito’s hat on that he could ride on a private jet of a billionaire litigant without reporting it, particularly when the statute itself allows only an exception for personal provision of “food, lodging, or entertainment:”

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Justice Alito’s Bad Textualism Extends to His Mangling of Words to Justify Not Reporting a Seat on a Private Jet Paid for by a Billionaire Litigant

Years ago in conversation with an originalist and textualist, the person I was speaking to defended originalism and textualism as constraining judges. The counterexample on the right was Justice Alito voting his values. The idea is that if all judges embraced these supposedly neutral methods of interpretation, their values would matter less, and this would be good for everyone on the left and right.

I’ve always been skeptical about these claims, and believe that in the most salient cases (the ones that make the front page of the New York Times) a justice’s values matter the most whether or not they claim they are doing originalism and textualism. (I make this argument most fully in my book on Justice Scalia’s jurisprudence, The Justice of Contradictions.)

Justice Alito didn’t start off a textualist but in more recent years, he has purported to be one. But his purported textualism never constrains his bottom line, which is relentlessly tied to his socially conservative values. I developed this argument most fully in my Senate Judiciary Committee testimony analyzing Justice Alito’s particularly poor textual analysis in Brnovich v. DNC. Justice Alito completely mangled the words of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to create a state-friendly test that severely weakens the Voting Rights Act in the context of vote denial claims. He made a similar move in his dissent in last week’s Allen v. Milligan case.

So it should be no surprise that Justice Alito engaged in bad faith (and simply bad) textualism in his attempt in the Wall Street Journal opinion pages to prebut a Propublica report that showed that he took an unreported trip on a private plane owned by billionaire Paul Singer to go to a lodge (paid for by another person) in Alaska for a fishing trip. Propublica estimates that such a ride could cost $100,000 (though Alito said the seat would have been empty if he didn’t take it, somehow rendering the free seat valueless).

Justice Alito argues that he need not have reported the free travel on his disclosure forms under the rules as they existed because (now quoting Alito quoting the rules): “[p]ersonal hospitality need not be reported,” and “hospitality” was defined to include “hospitality extended for a non-business purpose by one, not a corporation or organization, . . . on property or facilities owned by [a] person . . .” 

Now one problem with this is that it was not clear that this was “personal” hospitality. Justice Alito goes out of his way to say multiple times that he barely knew Paul Singer (despite Singer being on the trip, introducing Alito at FedSoc events, etc.) This is an argument that boxed Alito in, as Charles Geyh told Propublica:

“If you were good friends, what were you doing ruling on his case?” said Charles Geyh, an Indiana University law professor and leading expert on recusals. “And if you weren’t good friends, what were you doing accepting this?” referring to the flight on the private jet.

But the even weaker part of Justice Alito’s textualist argument is arguing that transportation (on a private jet) constitutes “hospitality on … facilities” owned by a person. Here’s what Justice Alito says about this in his WSJ piece:

The term “facilities” was not defined, but both in ordinary and legal usage, the term encompasses means of transportation. See, e.g., Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language 690 (2001) (defining a “facility” as “something designed, built, installed, etc., to serve a specific function affording a convenience or service: transportation facilities” and “something that permits the easier performance of an action”). Legal usage is similar. Black’s Law Dictionary has explained that the term “facilities” may mean “everything necessary for the convenience of passengers.” Federal statutory law is similar. See, e.g., 18 U.S.C §1958(b) (“ ‘facility of interstate commerce’ includes means of transportation”); 18 U.S.C §2251(a) (referring to an item that has been “transported using any means or facility of interstate commerce”); Kevin F. O’Malley, Jay E. Grenig, Hon. William C. Lee, Federal Jury Practice and Instructions §54.04 (February 2023) (“the term ‘uses any facility in interstate commerce’ means employing or utilizing any method of . . . transportation between one state and another”)

This analysis is, to use a techical legal term, bullshit. The ordinary speaker of the English language would not refer to a ride on a plane as hospitality on Singer’s “facilities.” (It might apply to use of the bathroom on the plane, a different meaning of “facilities”.) Under the noscitur a socciis canon, a word is known by the company it keeps. Here, facilities appears with the term “on property or facilities,” and the ordinary reading here would be on real property owned by a person, not on a plane, boat, or car.

Justice Alito mangled the Random House definition of “facilities,” trying to bootstrap the definition’s meaning because the definition included the example of “transportation facilities.” See here:

As used in the Random House definition, an airport might be a “transportation facility,” not an airplane.

The Justice also purported to quote Black’s Law Dictionary. I searched Black’s Law Dictionary on Westlaw in many ways and I cannot find the phrase “everything necessary for the convenience of passengers.” (Update: more on the origins of this phrase in this later post.) Perhaps that phrase is in an earlier version of that dictionary but without a citation I cannot check. And those technical legal definitions of a “facility in interstate commerce” that Alito cites—those are technical uses of the word. 18 U.S.C §1958, which Justice Alito quotes, is a statute making it a federal crime to engage in murder for hire in certain circumstances!

There is no reason to believe that the reporting requirements for judges should be read in their technical sense rather than in the sense that an ordinary reader would give to the words. That’s Scalia Textualism 101. Ordinary parlance says that a free ride on a plane is not “hospitality on facilities” owned by a person.

In the end, the reporting requirement is aimed just at this: an ordinary reader would expect (and the public would want to know) if a Supreme Court Justice got a ride on a private jet paid for by a billionaire with business before the Court. Anyone who says otherwise upon reading the reporting rule is not engaged in honest textualism.

Justice Alito’s textualist prebuttal a masterstroke? More like a horrible embarrassment.

UPDATE: It is far worse than my original analysis from last night shows. Justice Alito’s reference to “facilities” was quoting from the filing instructions. The statute itself exempts only “food, lodging or entertainment received as personal hospitality of an individual….” 5 U.S.C. s 13104. A plane is not food, lodging or entertainment (though perhaps Alito slept on his flight and would claim lodging!). Kathleen Clark develops this argument here.

Further, if Singer’s corporation owned the jet, rather than Singer personally, the exception would not apply even on Justice Alito’s own terms, because the instructions exclude corporate-owned facilities.

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“McCarthy Proposes Gutting Office of Congressional Ethics in Bid for Speaker”


House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spent the first two days of the new year trying to shore up GOP support for his bid to be Speaker by releasing a series of proposals aimed at winning over hard-right detractors who stand to torpedo his ascension.

The part of his proposed changes to House rules that drew the most attention was allowing just five House members to call for a vote at any time on ousting the Speaker; that would render McCarthy beholden to the most extreme members of his caucus, should he get on their wrong side. But buried in the text was another provision that could be highly consequential for the new Congress being sworn in on Tuesday: language that would effectively gut the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), as the independent panel faces pressure to investigate lawmakers who participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Most significantly, McCarthy’s proposal would require OCE to hire its staff for the 118th Congress within 30 days of the resolution’s adoption, a requirement that sources familiar with the process tell TIME would make it exceedingly difficult for the office to have the resources it needs to conduct its investigations, given how long it takes to hire candidates for roles in the federal government. The proposal would also block OCE from hiring new employees over the next two years if someone leaves their position, sources say.

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“While advising Trump on judges, Conway sold her business to a firm with ties to judicial activist Leonard Leo”


Longtime judicial activist Leonard Leo appears to have helped facilitate the sale of former White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway’s polling company in 2017 — as she was playing a key role in advocating for Leo’s handpicked list of Supreme Court candidates, according to previously unreported financial documents reviewed by government ethics and finance experts.

The transaction came at a critical moment for Conway — shortly after her ownership of The Polling Company had come under scrutiny from a congressional oversight committee for potential “conflicts of interest,” likely creating pressure to unload it even though its value was unclear because she was its biggest asset and committed to her White House job.

It appearsLeo, via one of his dark money groups, helped finance the transaction between the firm, Creative Response Concepts Inc., and Conway — worth between $1 million and $5 million, according to experts citing the timing of the transactions filed through the same attorney and bank. At the time, CRC was also bringing in millions of dollars from dark money groups to promote Leo’s picks….

If Leohelped facilitate the transaction, it could violate ethics laws designed to prevent executive branch employees from obtaining benefits from people with whom they interact in their official capacities, said Bruce Freed, president of the nonpartisan Center for Political Accountability, which tracks corporate spending in politics. Federal ethics laws prohibit executive branch employees from using their positions for private personal gain and from accepting gifts.

“It really shows Kellyanne as a vehicle for Leo, the leading role Leo has played and how Trump became his instrument,” said Freed, after reviewing the documents.

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In Ohio and North Carolina, Children of Political Leaders Sit on State Supreme Court Deciding on Legality of Latest Redistricting Plans Challenged as Gerrymanders

In North Carolina, Justice Phil Berger, Jr. will decide himself whether he can rule on lawsuits against his dad, a leading Republican state senator.

In Ohio, Justice Pat DeWine “has chosen not to recuse himself. DeWine says he’ll hear arguments in a trio of lawsuits against the Ohio Redistricting Commission. His father, Gov. Mike DeWine, is a member.”

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