Several prominent Russians, some in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle or high in the Russian Orthodox Church, now have been identified as having contact with National Rifle Association officials during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, according to photographs and an NRA source. The contacts have emerged amid a deepening Justice Department investigation into whether Russian banker and lifetime NRA member Alexander Torshin illegally channeled money through the gun rights group to add financial firepower to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid. Other influential Russians who met with NRA representatives during the campaign include Dmitry Rogozin, who until last month served as a deputy prime minister overseeing Russia’s defense industry, and Sergei Rudov, head of one of Russia’s largest philanthropies, the St. Basil the Great Charitable Foundation. The foundation was launched by an ultra-nationalist ally of Russian President Putin.
For every peso declared to Mexican electoral authorities by political parties and candidates, 15 more are moving under the table, according to a report Tuesday on the problem of illegal campaign finance. The nonprofit Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity published the report after months of investigation, concluding that Mexico’s public campaign finance system has failed to keep illegal money from influencing elections. The report says that the cash moving around electoral campaigns is such that Mexico’s central bank has documented inexplicable increases in the amount of cash circulating in the economy in the five months before elections. The money comes from both public and private sources. Money is siphoned from public programs and local governments to fund campaigns and is funneled to candidates by businesses interested in winning public contracts and having access to elected officials.
West Virginia: Dark money tactics used in West Virginia’s primary could spread as midterm season heats up | CNN
A pair of mysterious pop-up super PACs, one with Republican roots and another tied to Democrats, spent more than $3 million in hopes of swaying West Virginia’s GOP Senate primary while keeping their donor lists hidden from voters until after the election. The groups arrived on the scene with blurry names, like “Mountain Families PAC,” but blunt intentions: to quietly use truckloads of outside money to feather their political beds ahead of the November general election. By the time their donors were revealed a few days ago, the primary felt like a distant memory. To do this, the PACs used legal tactics that were nonetheless designed to defy the spirit of current campaign finance law, campaign finance experts say.
As tech companies and government agencies prepare to defend against possible Russian interference in the midterm elections, the Federal Election Commission has a different response: too soon. The four commissioners on Thursday deadlocked, again, on proposals to consider new rules, for example, for foreign-influenced U.S. corporations and for politically active entities that don’t disclose their donors. “We have reason to think there are foreign actors who are looking for every single avenue to try and influence our elections,” said Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat who offered two proposals for new regulations. Both proposals failed on partisan 2-2 votes.
Florida’s wide-open race for governor won’t be decided for another six months, but it’s already triggered a wave of expensive television ad buys from groups taking advantage of gray areas in the state’s campaign finance laws. Campaigns are interpreting the law so liberally — and some experts think they will get away with it — that it could essentially render the laws meaningless. So far, at least $13 million has been spent on television ads in the governor’s race that includes two Republicans and four Democrats vying for the job that will be vacated by Gov. Rick Scott. Television ads are poised to play a crucial role in the race since polls continue to show a majority of the state’s voters don’t really know the Republican or Democratic candidates vying to replace him.
National: Giuliani said the Stormy Daniels payment was legal. Here’s what campaign finance experts said. | The Washington Post
In interviews Wednesday and Thursday, President Trump’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani repeatedly asserted that a $130,000 payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels during the presidential campaign was legal. “It’s not campaign money,” he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “No campaign finance violation.” The settlement with Daniels, made by Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen in the fall of 2016, was a “personal thing,” Giuliani later told The Washington Post. “Was the president really wise to take it out of personal funds rather than from campaign funds?” he added. “Thank God he did, [or else] he’d get a campaign finance violation they’d try to drum up into a felony or something. The president is personally protected.” But under federal campaign finance rules, a contribution is “anything of value given, loaned or advanced to influence a federal election.” A “knowing and willful” violation of those rules can lead to criminal charges.
Editorials: Rudy Giuliani may have just implicated President Trump in serious campaign finance violations. | Richard Hasen/Slate
Donald Trump’s new lawyer Rudy Giuliani took to Sean Hannity’s Fox News program Wednesday night to defend the president from the ongoing Mueller investigation and to calm the waters for the Trump faithful. But it looks like he’s gotten the president into potentially greater legal jeopardy by admitting that Trump repaid his fixer Michael Cohen for the $130,000 payment to adult film performer Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet, seemingly contradicting the president and potentially implicating Trump and his campaign in some serious campaign finance violations. Just to review where we are so far. It is undisputed that Trump’s sometimes-attorney and fixer Michael Cohen negotiated an agreement with Daniels shortly before the 2016 election to get her not to discuss an alleged sexual encounter with Trump in exchange for $130,000. Cohen eventually said that he paid that money out of his own pocket, and he secured a loan to do so. He said that neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign reimbursed him (he did not say that he was not reimbursed at all, leaving open the possibility of a Trump reimbursement). The president told reporters he had known nothing about the payment.
Canada: Liberal elections bill looks to make voting easier, tighten rules on privacy, spending | National Post
The federal Liberal government wants to make it easier for Canadians to cast a ballot, while making it harder for political parties — or foreign entities — to violate their privacy or persuade them who to vote for using falsehoods or vast sums of money. Treasury Board President Scott Brison introduced a bill Monday meant to address several promises Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made on the campaign trail, including by tackling how much political parties and third-party advocacy groups can spend before and during election campaigns. It is also meant to buttress the Canadian electoral system against new threats to democracy by reining in the proliferation of so-called fake news and barring any organizations, including social media sites, from knowingly selling election advertising bought with foreign funds.
The National Rifle Association is finished answering questions. That’s what the organization told Senator Ron Wyden last week in a letter complaining about Wyden’s “time-consuming and burdensome” inquiries into the NRA’s ties to Russians. That answer isn’t good enough. The NRA’s relationship with Alexander Torshin, a Russian politician and deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who has been linked both to Vladimir Putin and to Russian organized crime, is too troubling to ignore. And the group’s dismissive response to Wyden has a larger significance: It underlines the need for full disclosure of sources of political funding. The Treasury Department recently put Torshin on a list of sanctioned Russians. He has been an NRA member since 2012 — tweeting (in Russian) repeatedly about his affiliation with the group and attending multiple NRA functions where he socialized with the group’s top leaders. At one such meeting in 2016, he’s reported to have spoken with Donald Trump, Jr.
Among the more painful moments for Mark Zuckerberg in his second day of Capitol Hill grilling was the angry dressing-down he got from Rep. John Sarbanes. The Maryland Democrat zeroed in not on Facebook’s relationship with the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, but on the fact that Facebook (like Twitter and Google) had employees embedded with the Trump campaign to help craft its digital advertising strategy. For free. That arrangement may have violated long-standing campaign finance rules that prohibit even in-kind donations from private companies to candidates. Perhaps more than any exchange Zuckerberg had with lawmakers, it is a clear reminder that everyone—including the big tech companies—would benefit from better, clearer rules.